Monday 21 April 2014

My first con

No, I haven't cheated a little old lady out of her life savings, I've just finished attending Eastercon, the British National Science Fiction Convention. It was in Glasgow this year, which was handy for me as I could pop in on the train every day rather than shelling out for a hotel room.

I was pretty nervous, because I only knew one other person who was attending (the soon-to-be-published Susan Murray, more about her in future, I'm sure). A few folk I chatted to on Twitter would be there, but apart from that I would be walking into a mass of strangers. Urk.

What I found was this: lots of friendly, interesting people who were enthusiastic about a wide variety of aspects of science fiction. I've made new friendships, cemented older ones and made plans to see people at future conventions.

The weekend was packed with interesting talks and panels about science, fiction, and where the two meet. I learned a lot, thought a lot, had a number of new novel ideas, laughed a lot, fell more in love with the genre, met authors and publishers I admire, and genuinely had one of the most amazing weekends I can remember. This con will definitely be the first of many!

Sunday 19 January 2014

When does "Write what you know" go too far?

Write what you know. It's something that every writer hears almost from the moment they're starting out. I've been thinking recently about what that means.

Now, it's not to be taken literally. It doesn't mean write only your own life story and experiences, because then the literature available in your average bookshop or library would be woefully anaemic. Kurt Vonnegut and H.G.Wells would have very different reputations if they had only written about things they had seen with their own eyes. I always take it to mean, start from what you know and build from there. Think of everything around you as potential inspiration, keep your senses open to anything that might appear.

Recently, however, I've had that pushed to the limit. I witnessed an unpleasant incident in a public place, which I reported to the police, so I won't put any more details here. The following day, however, I was mulling over a plot problem and it came to me that what I'd seen could happen to my main character. As soon as the idea struck me I was horrified with myself, using someone else's frightening experience as material for fiction. But then, fiction is full of characters experiencing nasty things, and surely some of those must be inspired by real events. That event would really help to develop both character and plot in a way I want, but a part of me wonders if it's ethical to use it. It would be adapted to fit the circumstances of my novel, of course, rather than being exactly the same, but is that still too close to the real thing?

I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions on this: when it comes to being inspired by real events, where do you draw the line?

Sunday 8 December 2013

Writing from someone else's imagination

I have never written fanfic. I know a lot of people who write it, often as well as writing their own original fiction, but it's not something I've ever been tempted to do. Why? Because it's hard! Taking characters that came to life in someone else's mind and putting them into a plot that came from mine never seemed to work for me. I'm a huge fan of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Sherlock, all of which have stacks of fanfic written about them every day, but I have never written any myself. I have plenty of my own original ideas to be getting on with, I tell myself.

That's why, when I first heard about the Dark Crystal Author Quest, I glossed over it. I absolutely adore the Dark Crystal, in fact I adore everything Henson, but I didn't think there was any way I could fulfil the requirements of the contest. What they're looking for, in effect, is fanfic. There's the original canon and a timeline, with guidance material for authors taking part in the contest that helps to evoke the general time in which they want the novel to be set. I glanced at the website, but didn't think any further about it.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I saw a tweet about it and decided to give the site another look. This time, I read the background material in much greater detail and downloaded the author's resource document, and something marvellous happened. I found myself getting ideas! Ideas that fit within the canon and utilised the characters provided, as well as some of my own characters who appeared in my head. Ideas that made me really excited. Within a day or two I had a whole novel briefly plotted out.

So, I'll be one of the many people entering the contest. I have no idea of my chances, but that's not really the point of this post. It's more of a celebration of my excitement, of the inspiration I felt to write a story that's built on someone else's world. I've always wanted to write harder fantasy, and this has given me that opportunity. Even if I'm not successful, I'll probably still put what I've written online as Dark Crystal fanfic, and use what I've learnt to begin world-building for some detailed fantasy of my own creation.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Age stats of the Empire Top 100 Sexiest Movie Stars

In a change from my usual type of post, I thought I'd stick this up here. I'm always fascinated by ages in films, including how often there's quite a disparity between the ages of male and female leads. As the Empire Top 100 Sexiest Movie Stars list has come out recently, I decided to a bit of statisticating (yes, it's a word now).

*I found all of these ages on IMDb on 6/10/13, and I'm well aware some of them may be inaccurate, as not everyone wants their real date of birth online. Still, I'm working with what I've got. Also, I'm not a statistician or anything, I just worked out some basic averages.

The Top 50 Men

Youngest: Daniel Radcliffe, 24
Oldest: Alan Rickman, 67
Age range: 43 years

Total age of the Top 50 men: 1980 years
Mean age: 39.6 years
Median age: 37.5 years
Mode age: 32 and 36 years

The Top 50 Women
(This posed a slight dilemma, as two of the women on the list are deceased. I chose to use the age they were when they died, rather than the age they would be were they still alive, as I felt that presented the most accurate portrayal of the list.)

Youngest: Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson, all of whom are 23
Oldest: Julianne Moore, 52, and Grace Kelly, who was 52 when she died
Age range: 29 years

Total age of the Top 50 women: 1761 years
Mean age: 35.2 years
Median age: 34.5 years
Mode age: 38 years

Without statistics on the people voting, it's not really possible to draw many scientific conclusions - I just worked these out simply out of curiosity. What does anyone else think of these stats?

Thursday 19 September 2013

Getting Too Comfortable

This is the first of my *proper* post-Festival of Writing blogs, so I thought I'd begin at the beginning. After all, it's a very good place to start. (Yes, I'm mixing my references, but it's my blog so I'll do what I want.)

On the Saturday morning, the first event was a keynote address from Adele Parks. Now, I must confess, I have never read any of her books, but I will be making the effort to. She spoke about her journey to being the successful published author she is today, and was a compelling speaker. There was one small point in particular that really resonated with me, however, and that was when she talked about her writing dropping off for a little while because she became too comfortable in her life as it was.

In the last six months I've gone from being really fired up about my writing and its potential to completely avoiding adding anything to the story. Before going to the Festival, I actually said to myself 'If nobody's keen on this one, I'm just giving up'. (Thankfully, someone did like it, but that story's for another day...) I thought this change in attitude came because I was being realistic - if I hadn't found any success so far, was it really likely to happen? Might as well just call it quits and not bother any more.

No! I had such a lightbulb moment last weekend when Adele Parks said those two words, "too comfortable" - that's exactly the problem I've been having! I enjoy my day job, which is more than many people can say. My little flat is really nice, and I like living where I do. The rest of my life is pretty good, and I don't have many worries about what I'm going to do or how I'm going to improve my situation. Sounds cushy, right? Not as far as my writing is concerned. For many people, maybe there isn't such a thing as "too comfortable", but for any artist there's got to be some sort of friction, some kind of working edge that's pushing you on to create, to change the world as you see it.

So, if my life is comfortable, how am I going to keep bringing myself back to my laptop and writing? I think an awareness of the situation will definitely make a difference - then, when I am coming up with endless excuses not to write, I can find a way to squash those excuses and just keep at it. Making a list of reasons why I write and why I want my novels to be published is another way I'm trying to keep myself going. I'm still riding high on the positive atmosphere of the Festival, so right now it's easy to write, but when that dies off I'll have to keep reminding myself that my life shouldn't be comfortable until I run out of stories to tell.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Riding High On Words! Post-York reflections.

The weekend of 13th-15th September was the annual Festival of Writing in York, run by the Writers' Workshop. Three days of mini-courses, workshops, keynote speakers, one-to-one sessions with agents and book doctors, competitions and a gala dinner, attended by writers and publishing professionals from around the UK and beyond. There are no words to describe just how incredible this experience is. 

I feel like my whole attitude to writing has turned around this weekend. I've had a big dip recently, but I'm finally back to the stage where I spend my day excited about writing later on, planning what I'm going to add to my chapters. There are so many things I can blog about, so I'll save a lot of the big things for future posts, but I wanted to do a quick blog this week while I'm still getting my head round everything. So here are a few things I've learnt this weekend:

  • Published and unpublished writers have a lot more in common than I realised.
  • It's really not that hard to walk across a room and talk to someone.
  • If you keep working at it, you will undoubtedly improve, provided you listen to advice.
  • Sometimes all you need is one other person to look over your work to figure out the improvements that are required.
  • I'm not as rubbish at characterisation as I thought, but I do need to put time and effort into making my characters engaging.
  • Writer friends are some of the best friends I will ever make.
  • Every Pixar film is a trail of tears with excellent story structure.
  • At the Gala dinner, the best table to sit at is the #funtable. 
More to come!

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Proactive or Reactive? How to respond to rejection

I'm currently ensconced in the cycle of submitting one of my novels to literary agents, which means a lot of research, crafting carefully worded query emails, checking word counts and rigorously following submission guidelines. There are lots of dos and don'ts out there to help unpublished writers find their way through the process, but there's just one of those that always boggles my mind: how to respond to a rejection.

Option one: react. React angrily. Rage and shout and send an angry email. Tell the agent just how ridiculous and stupid and ugly they are, and how they'll regret not recognising your genius when they had the opportunity.

Unsurprisingly, this is the "don't". I'm flabbergasted than anyone even needs to be told this. Surely this is just common courtesy, ordinary human decency, to avoid this response? But apparently not. Every agent will be able to tell you about writers who reply to rejections, sending emails that are full of insults and threats and the bile that's thrown up in the heat of the moment. Would you reply to a job rejection like this? Possibly, but you really shouldn't. If you asked someone out and they said no, would you rail and curse at them? I hope not! (If you would, then I do not want to be your friend). Apart from the fact that it's just plain rude, do the people who behave in this way think it's going to make the agent change their mind? All they're doing is showing they'd be difficult to work with.

Option two: be proactive. Take it on the chin and keep going. Accept that it's part of this business and move on.

I've now reached the dizzy heights of rejections in double figures (admittedly for three different novels, over several years, but still...) so I think I'm qualified to comment. Of course rejection is HORRIBLE, especially when it's the agent you desperately wanted to love it, but sitting and rocking in the corner of your bedroom isn't going to get you published. This week I've had three rejections, but I've also sent out more submissions. I am determined to keep going, because somewhere out there is the agent who will absolutely love this novel and believe in me as a writer. I'll only find her/him if I keep looking.

I'm not saying never respond to a rejection: I've responded to some myself, but only ever politely. Most of the time I've had form rejections, but some have clearly been worded specifically for me, so if that agent is willing to take the time to do that I'm going to thank them for their time. But that's all you should ever do. Take the energy that comes from disappointment and use it to keep you going - above all, be proactive.