Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 30 April 2012

Where do ideas come from?

The answer to that question is ‘everywhere’.

It’s not that we simply pluck them out of the air, and, heaven forbid we should ever steal one, but they are out there all the time, we just have to know how to exploit them.
I recently read an interview with China Mieville in which he was rather good on the subject of ideas. I agree with him that it helps to be unselfconscious; it helps to think like a child, and being enthusiastic is certainly a good thing.
The real trick, though, is to keep feeding your brain. 
The key to having ideas, the key to thinking, and one of the keys to success is to be engaged with the world, to be interested in what’s going on around us. The World is an interactive place; there are endless opportunities to live in it, either directly, by being around interesting people, or indirectly, via the internet.
The tools of our lives and work are only as good as the people using them, though. The internet will eat your life away if you let it, but it is also an amazing resource. I don’t spend time looking for footage of kittens on YouTube, or playing Farkle on FaceBook. I do, though, spend short bursts of time on Twitter where I follow thinkers and writers, and try to take an interest in the things that interest them.
I buy the weekend papers, the broadsheets, not the redtops, and not just to do the Sodukos, and as much as possible, I surround myself with intelligent people and ask them the tough questions. If I have the opportunity to talk to someone interesting, I take it; I stick my hand out and introduce myself, while quietly hoping that I don’t scare people away. I have never been rebuffed.
Nothing good happens in a vacuum. It is too easy to sit in front of crappy tv when we could be reading, and too easy keeping our mouths shut when our opinions differ from those of the people around us. I urge you to do otherwise. I urge you to grab the nettle and enter the debate. What’s the worse thing that can happen?

Sunday 29 April 2012

Wet Weekend

Some days I simply find I have nothing to say.
I have no opinions about anything. I am indifferent. It’s not that I’m miserable, or cross, because, let’s face it, we all know what I can be like when I’m having a good snark. 
A kind of ennui falls upon me, not a pall, exactly, just... I don’t know.
I’m sort of having one of those days today. 
I’m sitting in bed with my first cup of tea, the husband, and a pile of papers. The husband is reading out the interesting bits, headlines and straplines and whatnot, and do I care? Do I? Nope. Can I be arsed to engage? Not really. Am I surprised or interested by anything. Not in the slightest.
Writing can be like that.
This doesn’t happen very often in the middle of something, but I don’t generally stop writing in the middle. I usually stop writing at the end of a scene or chapter.
Some days, I come back to the work, and there is nothing. I’ve left everything neat and tidy, and I have no idea where things go next.
This can feel like a curse, and, more than once, I’ve sat down at my keyboard and begun typing, because that’s what you do if you’re disciplined about the work, you just keep on keeping on. It almost never works.
Some days it is simply better to step away from the computer, close the laptop and find something else to do, and, when you’ve got a house and a family, there’s always something else to do.
So today, just for once, I’m not going to exhort you to anything, I’m not going to extol the virtues of certain practices or people or things, and I’m not going to bang on about the latest thing that’s made me feel snarky.
Today, I’m going to leave you all to get on with whatever it is you were getting on with without comment.
Clearly, today was meant for something else, which is probably just as well, because the quarterly accounts are waiting, and neutral is generally the right gear for that particular job.

Saturday 28 April 2012


Most of being a writer is writing... OK, reading and writing... and editing... OK, writing can be about a lot of things.
One of the lovely things about being a writer, though, is the community that we begin to belong to. Partly as a result of being married to the husband, and partly as a result of entering the Mslexia competition, I find that I can now count a lot of writers among my friends and acquaintances, and I’m thrilled that a significant number of them are women.
I first heard about Kaaron Warren through Marc Gascoigne the publisher at Angry Robot Books. I’ve always been a fan of Marco’s, and I like to count him among my long-standing friends. Kaaron was one of his early signees, and he couldn’t wait to show me her books, “Slights”, “Mistification” and “Walking the Tree”. They quickly became favourites, and they are now among my top ten books of the past five years. That’s high praise from someone who’s very picky about what she reads, or rather what she finishes reading.
Kaaron is exactly the sort of storyteller that I wish I could be. Not only does she write beautifully, she also tells properly compelling tales, and those two skills are seldom to be found in one writer. “Slights” is probably the most quietly disturbing book I have ever read. It is every bit as good as many a thriller, and a good deal better than most horror fiction. I urge you all to go and buy a copy of it, immediately.
I do not understand why Kaaron Warren is not a household name, but the truth is, a lot of so-called ‘genre’ writers write great fiction, but only sell to relatively small audiences. 
It is a great shame.
I bang on about the division of fiction into ever narrowing bands, and I fear it hinders the sale of books rather than helps it. It isn’t complicated; I just want to read good fiction. I don’t want every shelf to be labelled and divided into, for example: SF, Hard SF, Space Opera, Steampunk, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Historic Fantasy and on and on. I was appalled when the YA label appeared, and now, I believe, there’s something called New Adult. What’s that about?
The best fiction, surely, transcends the labels imposed on it. When readers are forced to decide on a genre, in the first instance, because every book on every shelf is classified according to its type, it’s too easy for the good stuff to get lost. 
Jane Austen’s books weren’t labelled ‘chick lit’ and “Jane Eyre” never found its way onto a shelf marked ‘gothic horror’. No one still thinks Bill Bryson is just another travel writer, and, of course, anything written before about 1985 now gets shelved with the ‘classic’ label, which is enough to put off yet another breed of reader.
I know I can’t stop any of this from happening, and I know that, when I finally see my books on shelves in real-live shops, I’ll be happy with whatever label The Man chooses to impose; it’s hard enough to get published, after all.
In the meantime, can I just recommend a few writers that I believe suffer from, or have suffered from lousy shelf labels, stuck in various genres. Go read their work and tell me I’m wrong:
Kaaron Warren Peter Temple Adam Roberts
Dan Abnett Kelly Link Lauren Beukes

Friday 27 April 2012

More Competition Perks

As you all, no doubt know, and are probably sick of hearing, my novel was shortlisted for the Mslexia prize, and, with that accolade comes a series of opportunities.
I’m a great one for opportunities; I’m forever telling people to strike while the iron’s hot. It’s words exactly like those, spilling enthusiastically from my mouth that resulted in my lovely nephew signing up to climb Everest; he’s off in a couple of weeks, as a matter of fact. 
I’m a great one for enthusing, so, when the lovely people at Mslexia, in conjunction with the lovely people at New Writing North, invited me to a networking party in London this summer to introduce me, and a number of other writers, to a bevy of agents and editors, I was thrilled.
I now have an agent, of course, but being a runner-up for the Mslexia enthused me into setting up a little network with the other writers on that shortlist, and starting a community blog, called “The Full Nine Yarns”, with them; just one more example of me grabbing the bull by the horns, I suppose.
I do not know these women well, and have not met any of them, although I have exchanged e-mails with them, and have friended some on FaceBook, too, so this networking party seemed like the perfect opportunity for us all to get together in one place.
Before attending the networking party, I must first travel to Newcastle for a seminar. Newcastle is a beautiful city, and I haven’t been for ages. I have friends in Durham, whom I owe a visit, and, I get to sit in a seminar and learn something, which might just stand me in good stead in life as well as at networking parties. 
I’m going to take a good, long look at my schedule and do my best to fit this in, because opportunity doesn’t knock as often as it might, and just for once, I feel like I’m being offered something really worthwhile, on a plate. I’m being given the best chance of exploiting the toe-hold that being shortlisted for the Mslexia has given me on the ladder to becoming a published writer, and I plan to take it.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Fear is our Enemy, until we make it our Friend

I just noticed that I seem to spend an awful lot of time exhorting all of you to do more and do it better, having singularly managed to ignore or avoid my own advice for donkeys years.
This hardly seems fair to me... Or, rather, to you.
Now let me tell you all why I bang on and on about doing more, doing it better, being organised, working harder. I do it because it has taken me far too long to begin to make any sort of career for myself.
I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day, an artist, whom I have a particular fondness for. She and I are more-or-less the same age, and she, like me is just beginning to make her way in her creative field. She has been, and continues to be, a very successful business woman, and it is partly due to this success that she now has the opportunity to do the thing she loves to do.
The reason she could be successful, but not in her creative field is because she, like me, felt the fear.
The lesson for today is that fear is our enemy until we make it our friend. My artist friend kept her art to herself for decades when what would make her happy in the end was to share it. She was afraid, just as I was.
But, listen up, because I’m not just talking about fear of failure. 
I was one of those people who never tried too hard, because coming second wasn’t an option. If I went all-out on something and didn’t ‘win’ that counted as failure, so it was better not to try too hard and come in third or fifth or tenth. I did enough for teachers and parents and friends to be content, but I never exerted myself. I never put myself on the line... not until very recently.
Put that on one side, and let’s consider fear of success.
The Mslexia Novel Writing competition is a great example of this. Once I was longlisted, I became very anxious about being shortlisted. That’s fear of failure. Once I was shortlisted, I became very anxious about winning, because, if I won, there would be things to do: I might have to give an interview to Mslexia magazine, in which case I might make an idiot of myself. Jenni Murray was a judge, so... you know... I might get interviewed on Woman’s Hour. I’d be bound to trip over my words and give stupid answers. If I won, I might have to meet an agent, who might not like me. I might even be offered a book deal, for heaven’s sake! What the hell would I do then?
It’s OK to be afraid of those things. It’s also OK to know that, when push comes to shove, you can hold a reasonably intelligent conversation, answer a simple question, and even, who knows, make someone laugh.
The bottom line is, I was a runner-up in the Mslexia competition and that position signals success. I met my lovely agent, and was forgiven for spitting up my coffee when something was said that I wasn’t expecting. I was also forgiven my nervousness and my word-mangling, and we did get on. As far as I’m concerned, we had a great time.
I don’t know why it has taken me so long, but, I’m ready now... ready for anything: ready for failure, and to pick myself up and give it another good try; and ready for success, to reap the rewards of a job well done.
Can I suggest that you begin the process sooner rather than later. I’m glad I’m doing this now, but I wonder what on Earth prevented me from doing it ten, fifteen or even twenty years ago!

Wednesday 25 April 2012

How to Exploit Creativity

My mother used to say, “Violence begets violence”, and I know that she was right, because she’s my mother, and being a mother myself, I happen to know, for a fact, that mothers are always right.
Anyway, I bumped into my mother today, (and my brother-in-law, too, but that’s another story entirely), and I had to admit, in polite company, that I was a terrible daughter. It’s shocking, the things my mother can cause me, quite unwittingly, to do or say! I should probably clarify, at this point, that my admission had absolutely nothing at all to do with violence and everything to do with the fact that I am more likely to see her in the street of the town where we both live than I am to visit her on purpose.
The point of all this is to say that I am busy, and, just as ‘violence begets violence’ (thank heavens, we finally got there), I’m a great believer that energy, once tapped into, multiplies exponentially, and, if it’s creative energy, that’s all the better.
I have been writing a lot recently, and, since I’ve been writing so much, I also find myself reading more. Add to that the fact that I have, of late, taken up sewing and pattern-making, and that, only last week, I made a beautiful suede belt to go with a new dress, and I believe I am proof-positive that the old adage about wanting something done and giving it to a busy woman to do it must be a truism for our times.
Look again, though, and you’ll see the theme.
I honestly believe that indulging in creative activities, and, I know that writing’s a job, but it is also a huge indulgence, actually breeds creativity. The more writing I do, the more making I want to do in what little spare time I have left. I take an art class on a Friday, and the more writing I do, the more pleasing are my pictures (to me, at least). I also find that I’m cooking more, planning changes to the garden, and buying more art.
My point, I suppose, is this: There is no substitute for getting off our backsides and doing something... anything, because... you know what... that’s the only way that the stuff we tell ourselves we want to do is ever going to get done.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Creative Writing Courses - should you or shouldn't you?

I have now tried twice to write about creative writing courses, and twice I have failed. I have failed because I don’t see the value of an undergraduate degree in the subject.

I read Danuta Kean’s blog about choosing a creative writing course, and I thought it very good, and still I couldn’t find a way to write on the subject, despite wanting to.
I know lots of writers who belong to groups and who go on writers’ retreats, and who love this aspect of the writing process. I get it, and I think it has some value, despite not actually wanting to do it myself. I don’t play well with others, except those I know intimately, and then I can collaborate all over the place and have a wonderful time.
I also know lots of people who have completed or are studying for MAs in creative writing. Again, I wouldn’t do it, but I understand why people do. Some people find it hard to impose structure on themselves, some need a little external pressure or encouragement, and some simply want to learn more about publishing, and that’s fine. The other reason that it’s fine is because it implies the student already has some formal education, probably a degree, and the whole point of an undergraduate degree, as far as I’m concerned, is to teach the student to think.
My real issue is with the BA in creative writing.
Getting an education is an expensive business. I’m glad I did my degree in Eng Lit and History (in those days we simply called it English, because by the time we got to university we were expected to understand how the language part worked... We’d had formal grammar lessons and everything!). However, I did embark on a fine art degree a few years ago, so I do have some idea how this works now, and, in particular, how the system works for the mature student.
My fears are these: The mature student will not pick and choose his degree, as Danuta Kean so wisely suggests, because of location. Many mature students are already well-established in their homes and probably have families and other commitments, so moving to somewhere that has a good degree course on offer might not be an option. 
Criteria for mature students going back into education seem to be nebulous at best. The academic requirements for a mature student to qualify for any course can be virtually non-existent. In a worthy attempt to make themselves inclusive, courses often have students with a perilously broad range of abilities; the natural consequence of this is that the group functions at the attainment level of the least able.  On my degree course, I found that I was learning alongside mature students who were functionally illiterate. Literacy might not seem crucial to success for a fine art degree, but I believe that it is. I found that the worked produced often lacked intellectual rigor and seemed to have little cultural relevance, both important in the arts. Despite being very fond of most of my classmates, I nevertheless found the entire process frustrating.
There is also the knotty problem of teaching. I have looked at a number of short creative writing courses with a view to broadening my own horizons, and found that the people teaching them, when I checked a little deeper, were less qualified to be taking the class than I was, and that some visiting speakers were self-published or had not been published at all. It might yet be a decade or two before teachers of creative writing themselves have specific qualifications in the field.
The whole thing seems rather troublesome, but I think, for those who want to write, there might be a simpler solution than finding an undergraduate creative writing course. My advice would be to study English Literature. If you have any talent, reading widely and learning to be critical will only increase your chances of becoming a better writer, and any decent degree course will teach you to think. If you’re a writer, you ought to be writing any way, and, if you’re really, serious, buy yourself a decent grammar primer and study that, too. 

Monday 23 April 2012

The Blog in which Kieron Gillen gets me Drunk

You all know that the husband writes comic books, right?

Well, you do now.
As a result of his work in this particular area, the husband has been known to attend a comic convention from time to time, and I’m sure you can all conjure up images of what they must be like. You’d be wrong, of course.
Our local comic shop, The Grinning Demon, recently began putting on its own convention called Demoncon. It began in the caff around the corner, but Demoncon 3, which happened yesterday, filled several rooms at the local theatre complex. People turned up in impressive numbers, and there was even a wrestling display. It was cool.
I generally don’t go to comic book conventions. It’s not really my cup of tea, and there’s a lot about comics, especially American comics, that I’m not familiar with or don’t understand. Besides, Dan’s sometime writing partner (and inker), Andy Lanning, is his regular companion to these things. 
Yesterday, however, I went along for the ride. It was a Sunday and Demoncon happens in our home town, so I thought, ‘What the heck!’
I’m very glad I went.
I watched artists work, and bought some art. I took part in an auction. I watched some wrestling, standing mere feet from the ring, and I talked to people. It was cool.
The really cool stuff happened in the bar afterwards, though, and some of that was because of Mr Kieron Gillen.
I had not met Kieron before, although, his reputation precedes him, in the nicest way, and he’s regarded as a bit of a talent. He won me over immediately by handing me copies of his comic, “Phonogram”, drawn by Jamie McKelvie. I read a few pages, and was hooked immediately. It is clever and funny and grown-up, and there are no men in tights in it... Not in the superhero sense, anyway. (Of course, if you want cosmic superheroes check out issue 0 of Dan Abnett', Andy Lanning' and Brad Walker's "Hypernaturals", free on free comic book day).
Kieron talks fast and intelligently on a wide range of subjects. He’s happy in his work, and has sufficient humility to  keep him comfortably this side of arse-ish. He’s married to the poet Chrissy Williams, for heaven’s sake. Perhaps the nicest thing about him, though, was that he wasn’t afraid of the heated exchange that I offered him, or of telling me, very politely, but firmly to shut up and let him talk. The husband watched in quiet amusement. Comic book artist Ian Churchill and his wife Sasha were also at the table. It was Ian’s birthday (Happy Birthday again), and they laughed their pants off. 
OK, the truth is, I was a little in my cups, and when that happens, I tend not to censor what I say... I’m sure those who know me have no trouble imagining the scene. I’d do it again, though. I had a good time, and I hope that Kieron did too.
Now, go read his work. I think you’ll like it.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Gender Schmender!

When I’m not being Nicola Vincent-Abnett, I write some genre fiction. It’s a man’s world, or at least a big chunk of it is, but I’m happy to admit that women  writers might bring something else to the table. it might not be any more new and exciting than the stuff the guys bring, but... you know what? It might just be ‘other’.
I heard a woman writer of genre fiction (space opera as it happens), say that her being a woman was irrelevant and that she wouldn’t answer questions on a ‘woman’s perspective’, because there was no such thing as far as she was concerned. She was just another writer. 
I think she was wrong. 
I wanted to stand up and say, “That’s OK, if you want a woman’s perspective you can ask me.” 
You see, some readers will pick up her books for the very reason that she is a woman, and for the very reason that she might have something new and different to say, and that reader has as much right to have his or her question answered as anyone else in the audience.
I’ve heard it said that 85% of all books are bought by women. To be fair, I don’t know what the figures are for genre fiction, but I don’t know why any writer would want to alienate any of his or, in this case, more accurately, HER audience. It’s not good for her and it’s not good for other women writers. 
Gender has never been an issue for me. I have never hidden the fact that I am a woman, and, once or twice, I’ve been surprised to find my readers surprised to find that I am one. I call myself Nik Vincent when I’m writing genre fiction because that’s what my husband calls me, and always has, but you only have to Google me to know I’m a girl... there are photos and everything.
The Brontes felt they had to adopt masculine personae, and so did George Eliot, and various other women writers, but surely we’re past that. We’re past it in all forms of fiction, except perhaps for genre. We have a female Poet Laureate for goodness sake!
So, if you ever see me on a panel or you’re invited to ask questions for an interview with me, do feel free to ask about me being a woman, it’s one of the very few subjects that I actually know anything about.

Saturday 21 April 2012

I Am Only Human!

There is no trick to writing a daily blog.
Let’s face it, I’ve always got something to say.
There might, however, be a wrinkle, and it might be one that it’d be worth my loyal reader(s) bearing in mind. Yes... I’m talking about you.
Here’s the thing: I AM ONLY HUMAN!
It’s true. I swear it.
The reason I’m telling you this is because, as a human person - as opposed to other sorts of persons - I am fallible... horribly, horribly fallible.
I will be inconsistent. I will contradict myself. I will tell you true stories that, while all being true, seem to contradict each other. 
I do not think the same things today that I thought yesterday, or will think tomorrow.
One of the wonders of the human condition, should you choose to explore and take advantage of it, is that we can change. With every day, with every interface, with every piece of work that passes, we can change. We can change our minds or our perspectives on things by reading and talking and being out in the World.
Those of you who know me at all will no doubt be scoffing at this blog about now. Yes, I am the woman with the biggest voice and the loudest opinion, and I always have been, but there is, I promise you, a reason for that. It is not because I’m rigid and will not change my mind. It is because I believe passionately, and I hope I always will, in certain fundamental ideas. 
Once the basic rights of people are taken care of, everything else is up for grabs. One day, you might persuade me to think that TS Eliot was a genius and not just a funny little pretentious man. One day you might persuade me that any quantity of water greater than a bathful isn’t essentially evil, (apart from the open sea, as long as I’m not expected to paddle). One day you might even persuade me that David Duchovny is good looking. I’m listening!
I haven’t read back through any of the blogs I’ve written in the past X number of days, and, as yet, no one’s pulled me up on anything, but trust me, it’s the inconsistencies you’ll start to come back for... eventually.
In the meantime, I'm making up my mind what to have for lunch. It might be the same as yesterday, or even tomorrow, but I can’t and I won’t guarantee it.

Friday 20 April 2012

A Note on Character

The husband was once asked what he did when he wanted to write a character who was cleverer than he was. He did not bat an eyelid. He simply answered, “I ask my wife.”
I was impressed and touched by his reply, and I’m fearless in relating this little anecdote, because I think it makes both of us look good, but, there was intent behind the question.
I never wonder how it is possible to write one character or another. It never crosses my mind that I need to write convincing men, or gay characters, or kids or old people. On the other hand, I’ve often been unconvinced by characters in stories. So, what’s the problem?
The simple answer is that I don’t know. The simple answer is that, for me at least, a story is invariably about the characters, and, that being the case, I’m unlikely to build a character that I don’t believe in, and, if I believe in the people I’m writing, there’s a good chance that the reader will too.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a character as a cipher. I just feel that would be weird. I don’t think I’d insert a female character into a story to balance the numbers of men, either. What would be the point? Not only would I not have an incidental character based on race/creed/political persuasion/handicap for the sake of being politically correct, which might be the worst reason of all, I wouldn’t choose to have an incidental character, full stop. Why would I make life and writing more difficult for myself than it needs to be, and, as a consequence, less rewarding for the reader? Why would I muddy the waters?
I think there are ways of doing the thing. If the character simply isn’t present in the text, he or she can’t be found out as a stereotype. Readers who like a story are unlikely to say, “Oh, but you never write about seventy year old men”, or “Why have you never put an accountant in one of your stories?” They’ll fall in love with the characters that are there, not wonder about what is missing, unless, of course, something really is missing.
Hands up anyone who knows who did it in every episode of “Midsommer Murder” because it’s the most famous actor on-screen. Hands up anyone who knows who did it in every episode of almost any American cop-show, because it’s always the random relative, who has no apparent reason for being in the thing in the first place?
See what I mean?

Thursday 19 April 2012

The Blog that Never was

Inspired, or perhaps goaded, by a quote that appeared in my Twitter feed the other day, I sat down, there and then, and wrote a blog that I thought I’d post today.
I read it again, just now, to tidy it up, ready for publication, and then I stopped.
I am the luckiest person in the World. I live the life of Reilly. The husband is a very well-respected writer, and that affords me the time and space that I need to follow his very good example, and do a bit of writing myself. 
I entered my second novel, "Naming Names", for the inaugural Mslexia Novel Writing competition, and it was chosen as a runner-up to the eventual winner, Rosie Garland, for her novel “The Beast in all Her Loveliness”. Rosie went on to secure a very nice deal, thank you very much, with Harper Collins. There is nothing to suggest, with my agent now on board, that I won’t be in a position to announce a deal myself in due course.
What could I possibly have to get snarky about then? You might well ask.
The answer is: nothing. I have no right or reason to get snarky, except that I am of the human persuasion, and so, I’m as prone to getting snarky as anyone.
I used to get snarky about other people’s unruly children, but my brood has grown up, and I don’t have a whole lot to do with random kids any more. Once in a while, I might get snarky about someone criticising the husband or his work, but that doesn’t happen often enough for me to get exercised about it on a regular basis.
About eleven weeks ago, I began this blog, so writing is at the forefront of my mind an awful lot of the time. That happens when you throw yourself wholesale into a new and exciting phase of your life. For the first time in a long time, I’m working pretty much full-time, and only about half of that time is spent on commissioned things and peripheral activities. Mostly, I am now a writer.
I knew this would happen. It has happened to my husband, after all. I knew that people would be interested in all things writing-related, because we all seem to believe that we might one day be writers too. I was one of those believers. 
So today, I’m going to try to be gracious. Today, I’m going to wish all you writers well. I’m going to wish you the strength and determination you will need to plough this particular furrow. I’m going to wish you the drive and energy, and the skills you will need to fulfill your dream
I’m the lucky one, and I know it, and I wish you all the luck in the World, too, because, believe me, you’re going to need it... 
... Or are you?

Wednesday 18 April 2012

What are writers like?

It seems like an odd thing to wonder, but it crossed my mind that they’re really not all that alike.

When I think of a convention of midwives or accountants, dentists or teachers, I have a pretty clear picture in my head of what those groups of people might be like; I suspect that we all do. I know what a window cleaner or a wheel-clamper or a solicitor is like. I know how I’d characterise almost anyone from any profession from blacksmith to footballer and back again.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we’re not all different, that we don’t all have interior lives, but I honestly think there are archetypes for lots of people and their professions.
Here’s the thing, though. What are writers like? What do they have in common with one another? And what would they talk about en masse?
I’ve met a lot of writers, the husband is one of them for goodness sake, and I’ve been around him when he’s been around other writers, but they’re all essentially different. I’ve been at conventions with as many as a dozen writers who all work in the same genre, but who all approach their work differently, and who, in other respects, have nothing in common: A minor government official sits cheek by jowl with a body-builder, who sits opposite an engineer, next to a games designer, who sits adjacent to a journalist, who shares a bottle of wine with a PA. None of these people could do each others’ day jobs.
Not only that, but all the writers I know work differently. I know writers who like deadlines and those who don’t; I know writers who work by day and others who prefer the night; I know people who write a complete first draft before beginning edits and those who edit as they work. I know writers who write every day and others who work sporadically. 
I know shy writers and those who are gregarious; those who are secretive about the work and those who prefer to share everything. I know men and women, old and young; I know writers who like to work at home and those who rent a room; I know writers who hand work wholesale to editors and others who like to check every change. 
I could go on and on, but I’d hate to bore you.
Of course, I know plenty of writers for whom writing is their day job, but few of those began on day one of their working lives as wordsmiths.
Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe the things that make a person a writer have less to do with work and more to do with vocation. Perhaps, in the end, they simply worship at a different altar. Perhaps they pray to a different God. 
Most of us are wage-slaves, and there are good reasons for that, but writers, the best of them, are slaves to nothing but the ideas and the words that express them.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Tackling Rewrites

I’ve never been in the position of having to do a great many rewrites. I write pretty cleanly, and a lot of the stuff I’ve done has been short, or collaborative, so checks and balances have been pretty well in place from the outset.
When my agent signed me, we went through all the things I would need to do with “Naming Names” to turn it into the best possible book. It had been in my drawer for the better part of three years and I knew that it couldn’t go out to the general public in its first draft form. Apart from anything else, there were things that, after long reflection, I wanted to address. 
Fortunately, my agent and I were, roughly speaking, on the same page, and I went away from our meeting content that I would be able to make the changes that we both knew were necessary.
Then a lovely writer who had read my first draft also offered an opinion on the text, and, again, our minds were as one on the general principles.
All of that said, I still wasn’t entirely sure how the rewrites were going to work out until I began on them.
I started by taking out all of the linking chapters and discarding them wholesale. These were the problem chapters, and they were not at the core of the thing, so simply removing them seemed like the cleanest option. It did take a long moment making sure the original manuscript was well backed up, and even then, I took a deep breath each time I hit the delete key, but it was soon done.
Then I began to expand the remaining chapters that were still clinging like so much flotsam and jetsam to the core of “Naming Names”. Fortunately, this book always had a strong back, a great spine on which to build. I was grateful for it then, and I’m grateful for it now.
I am halfway through these re-writes, and, at this point, I have lucked into an idea for the other half of the process, which will involve going back to that spine, and building a strong ribcage around it to protect all those lovely organs.
Yep... I’ve clearly stretched that metaphor to breaking point.
Anyway, I had sketched out some thoughts, and I’d talked about it, but, now that I’m working on the book, and since a solution has presented itself organically, things are really beginning to work.
When I first wrote this novel, I didn’t even consider that it would need rewriting. The core was there, and, as far as I was concerned, I’d written exactly the book I wanted to write.
This is an entirely different experience, but I’m very glad that I’m having it.

Monday 16 April 2012

London Book Fair

It is London Book Fair this week, and it dawns on me that I know nothing about how these events work.

Now that I have an agent (I know... Wow! Right?) I feel like I really ought to know a little more about the industry I am, finally, officially a part of.
I know writers write, agents sell to publishers, and publishers make books and sell them to the public... more-or-less. I also know that there are any number of book fairs, and that Frankfurt and London are the two that are probably the most talked about. I know these are industry events, and that all the agents and publishers I follow on Twitter have been talking about prepping for the London Book Fair, and how exciting, and how much hard work it’s going to be. I shall, of course, keep an eye on my feed to hear all about what happens, as it happens.
What I feel I ought to know is just what goes on at one of these shindigs. Is it an excuse for otherwise hardworking and solitary creatures to get together for a knees-up? (In which case, that’s fair enough, as far as I’m concerned). Or is it where the main business of the year is done? Where new writers are sold in? Where the pace of bidding for new works hots up? Where publishers advertise their latest acquisitions and lists for the coming year?
I assume all of the above, but I don’t actually know.
This is what says about it:
Now in its 41st year, The London Book Fair continues to be the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.
So that clears it up nicely.
I think I’ll stick to what I know best, and get back to the writing.

Sunday 15 April 2012

On the Subject of being Snarky

I write a blog every day, and I have been doing so for 73 days; this is my 74th blog in 74 days. For a while, there, I wrote two blogs a day, so that I had a week’s worth in the virtual drawer, but, mostly, the husband brings me a cup of tea in bed, I check e-mails, write a  blog, and post it.
I like it this way. I like the immediacy of it. I like to write and post quickly, not least so that I don’t change my mind about what I’ve written. The husband thinks this is a bit mad, because I’m not much of a self-censor, and it’s a little bit risky. Perhaps, that’s part of the reason why I enjoy my method. In the end, the only person I’m exposing is myself. I’m not hurting anyone else, and, let’s face it, I’m not hurting myself for long. Today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s chip-papers... Except... you know... this is the web.
It doesn’t scare me much, because, and here’s the thing: YOU GUYS LIKE IT BETTER WHEN I’M SNARKY!
You’re all a little bit sadistic aren’t you? I wonder whether you like to watch me making an arse of myself? Or whether you think I’m right and you like to see, in someone else’s hand, the things you’d secretly like to say yourselves?
I don’t know.
I do know that I get about 4 times as many hits when I’m snarky as I do when I’m nice.
What you don’t seem to realise is that I’m always nice to someone! I am! I promise!
Take, for instance, “Stop Whining and Write a Better Book!” This is my most visited blog, and you’d think I was having a pop at people, but what I was actually doing was telling you all how much I respect hard work and talent.
Just so you know it’s not a fluke; take my second most read blog, “Self-Publishing”. You think I’m knocking wannabes and amateurs, but I’m actually bigging-up publishers, agents, artists, designers and all the amazingly talented people it takes to put a proper, beautiful book together.
If you like a good snark, I’ll give you one, and my most-read blogs are highlighted above, so they’re easy enough to find, but check out the sub-text and I think you’ll find a-whole-nother story.
Don’t you just love tmesis?

Saturday 14 April 2012

Cover Story

I have the best job in the World, so it doesn’t surprise me that other people seem to want it so badly.

I remember a family dinner at the end of 1999 when, one at a time, we stood up and said what we wanted more of for the millennium. That year, the husband and I had collaborated on “Gilead’s Blood”, and my thing was to write more. Gilead is an elf, and the book is about his adventures. He’s very much in the traditional melancholy but noble mold, and it was fun to work on something with the husband for the first time, even though he did the lion’s share of the writing.
At GamesDay UK 2010, “Hammer and Bolter”, the online magazine, was launched by the Black Library, and the husband and I were asked to write more Gilead. We obliged.
“Gilead’s Curse” is currently being serialised for the magazine, and, due to the husband’s increasingly demanding workload, I’ve done rather more of the writing for this one. It’s been a great pleasure.
Here’s the thing, though. The Black Library has decided to produce a paper edition of “Gilead’s Curse”, and to reissue “Gilead’s Blood”. I am, of course, thrilled.
Yesterday, the incomparable Stefan Kopinski sent me roughs of the cover(s) for both books. He’s come up with a great concept, and I was thrilled with the sketches. I offered him a couple of tiny tweaks to consider, and he’s off and running. I can't wait to see the finished artwork, which he’s working on this weekend. Why is it that so many of the artists and writers I know seem to work all the hours God sends? Oh, yeah, it’s because we love our jobs.
This is the first time I’ve ever been consulted on artwork for a book that I’ve had something to do with, so it’s a bit of a milestone, and you can rest assured that I’ll be the first to let you all know when the novel’s available.
(For those of you who might be wondering, Marilynne Robinson’s extraordinary book, “Gilead” was published in 2004, five years after “Gilead’s Blood”. The word Gilead means ‘hill of testimony’ and is a biblical reference to the mountainous region to the East of the Jordan River.)

Friday 13 April 2012


It is never a good idea to edit oneself. Trust me.
I’ve been editing for a long time. I began with a bit of proof-reading, and moved on from there. I edit everything that comes out of the husband’s office, and lots more besides.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that this would qualify me to proofread and edit just about anything? And, the truth is, it does... Just about.
Self-publishing is a thing now. I’m perfectly at ease with that. Anything that keeps rubbish off the slushpile (see my snarky rant: Bloody Amateurs) has got to be a good thing.
There’s a debate about the benefits of self-publishing, and ‘bestselling’ writers are being born on the web every day, it seems. I’ve heard enough about “50 Shades of Grey” to know that I won’t be reading it, though.
Self-publishing, like the old vanity publishing, is OK, I suppose, if you want your friends and family to be able to get their hands on your great opus, but it isn’t playing with the big boys, and, in my opinion, it isn’t smart.
Here’s the thing. Nobody reads my blog before it’s posted, except for me, and, as diligent as I am, and I am at least careful enough to read back what I’ve written before I post it, my sister found two typos in the last post that she read.
I know this because she told me. My sister has come to visit, which is lovely. She and I and our other sister are going out for breakfast this morning; it’ll be fab. I’m the only one of us not to be a grandmother (they are both a lot older than I am, obviously), so you see, we have long and enduring relationships with one another, which is why my sister was perfectly at liberty to point out my errors.
My sister is not much of a reader, her job doesn’t involve words or reading, and she doesn’t have any higher or further qualifications in English.
It is impossible to edit oneself for the simple reason that, having written the thing in the first instance, one knows what is supposed to be on the page, and, as a consequence one is, essentially blind to any errors that might have crept in. (I use ‘one’ because, although I’m talking about me, I am also talking about you!).
If this is true of writing and editing, and it clearly is, I can’t help thinking that there are a great many other filters between the writer and his audience that keeps him safe from most forms of ridicule. Laying out books, choosing fonts and covers, editing and proof-reading (and I’m only scraping the surface of what a publisher actually does) are skilled jobs, done by skilled people, who are paid to specialise.
If you’re a writer, and let’s assume that you are, because everyone seems to be these days... If you’re a writer, do yourself a favour and don’t think that you are also a publisher. If you honestly believe that you can do the job of at least half-a-dozen people, and do it as effectively as they can, you’re clearly delusional. Think about it, you might just be delusional about being a writer, too.

Thursday 12 April 2012

How to Write that Synopsis or Outline!

I don’t know how to write an outline.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It is, however, true.

My agent has asked me for outlines of two books. I pitched the ideas to her, and she liked them, but she wants to know where those ideas are going, and how they’re going to pan out.
The problem is, I don’t know where they’re going. That’s not how I write. I sit down and I begin writing, and the next bit is informed by the last bit. Then, I seed ideas back through the earlier text, as and when I need to.
Obviously, I don’t do this when I’m writing by invitation or when I’m commissioned to do something, but that’s what the husband’s for. He and I discuss the brief, and then he dictates an outline or synopsis, or whatever is required, with me chipping in my tuppence worth as we go along. It works like magic. The thing is, when I’m writing to these outlines, I generally only stick to them in the loosest sort of way. Sometimes, I don’t even read them again once I get started. 
Is that terribly wrong of me?
Yesterday, I sat down to write the two outlines for my agent. It was sort of OK for a few paragraphs, but I quickly ran out of things to say. I’m just not used to thinking about a project this thoroughly, this far ahead. I didn’t write synopses for “Naming Names” or “Savant” until after I’d finished those books, and it was still a struggle, “like trying to fit four elephants into a mini”, according to the writer Jane Harris.
At least I’m not alone.
At close of day, yesterday, I e-mailed the outlines to Dan in the office next door, and he came back with some ideas about introducing and framing the paragraphs I had, and I did a bit more, but I suspect putting these ideas on paper will take a while yet to achieve. In the meantime, I could be writing, but I’m a pro now, so, instead, I shall do as my agent asked, and do it happily.
Wish me luck.