In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Questions and Reflections

  Recently I filled out a set questionnaire on Smashwords, a site which publishes e-books at various sites around the web. I even added a question of my own at the end (I was feeling brave). So I thought I'd use this blog to show you some of them, as a sort of insight into how my mind works, how I write and why. The questions are below, and if you want to read the full interview you can do so at

How do you approach cover design?
I have a friend, Mark Watts, who's a graphic artist. He and I have a chat about the book and come up with an idea, which Mark then creates.

The only time I've decided on my own was for Blood and Gold, which most people seem to think is the worst of the covers so far. So I'll take a hint and stick to the writing from now on, and let Mark do the covers.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
"IT" (Stephen King) - the best evocation of childhood I've ever read.
"The Awakeners" (Sheri S Tepper) - a brilliant critique of zealotry, told in a thrilling Fantasy tale.
"The Lions of al-Rassan" (Guy Gavriel Kay) - friendship between supposed enemies, in the midst of war.
"Against a Dark Background" (Iain M Banks) - an SF carnival of hopes in a disintegrating world.
"The Silence of the Lambs" (Thomas Harris) - just a fabulous thriller.

Sorry there's no Tolkien here. Don't hold it against me.
What do you read for pleasure?
Anything. I have books on SF&F, thrillers and horror. I have some on alternate history, scientific inquiry, philosophy, climate change, religion, authorship, and of course a stack of dictionaries and thesauri. I've also got a lot on history and myth, as reference books for my own writing.

If it's made of paper I'll probably try to read it. But I don't usually stick with a novel unless it catches my attention: I don't see the point. There are so many books; why would I waste time finishing one I don't like?

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was raised in Somerset, England, in a tiny village miles from the nearest shop. My school friends all lived miles away too, which probably helped push me towards books. There's only so much fun you can have playing frisbee on your own.

I didn't enjoy my childhood much, in many ways. That might be why I write Fantasy - if reading is an escape into another world, then Fantasy is the same thing with bells on.
When did you first start writing?
I can't remember, I've always written. I know I first finished a novel when I was 10. It was rubbish - some old toot set in ancient Greece - but still it was finished, and that's no small feat for a child.

What is your writing process?
My process is simple - get an idea, flesh it out, start writing.

That's really it. I'm sure a lot of people will talk about preparation and habit, but the best habit of all is to write. Just sit down and write. You can't learn your craft by plotting a story, or drawing a map, or producing reams of detail on every character. You learn the craft by writing. That's all.

  I think every writer has a different way of doing things. What I've said here - or on the other questions at Smashwords - is just mine: I'm not suggesting anyone else follows the same path. All that matters is your path works for you.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Romance of Shining Armour

  In my novel Black Lord of Eagles, as yet unpublished, I try to show war as realistically as I can. Fantasy often shows it as an idealised thing, all shining swords and noble combat, and sometimes that annoys me. War is not a game. It's brutal, and ugly, and good people are killed and maimed for a cause they hardly care about.

  No author can show war in all its horror. We only have to look at Syria to realise that. But writers and film makers so often portray warfare as a heroic thing that it's easy for politicians, and the public, to believe it. The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery said "War is not an adventure. It is a disease", and he's right.

  We need to intervene in Syria, we're told, because Assad has used chemical weapons, which is illegal under international law. And yet the USA, Britain, and others openly state that if attacked, they reserve the right to retaliate with nuclear warheads. I can't understand why one of these weapons is illegal and the other not. Is it more horrible to be gassed than irradiated?

  We make all these rules - you can't attack without declaring war, can't use chemical or biological weapons, can't use landmines or cluster bombs - when we know perfectly well that when someone is driven into a corner, he'll break them. And besides, the deadliest weapons ever made are rifles, swords and spears. Over a million people were killed in Rwanda in the 1990's with blades and clubs. Twice as many - at least - have been killed across the border in DR Congo, almost all of them with nothing more complex than a bullet. And yet somehow we see this as being acceptable, a agreed-upon method of waging war, so we send a couple of peacekeepers (maybe) and then think about other things.

  Authors aren't to blame for this. But we can help to change perceptions, to take the romance out of war, if we stop portraying it as something romantic. We need to get away from the idea of the knight in shining armour, and see him instead smeared with mud and the blood of his friends and foes alike. No more female warriors in moulded breastplates, who look so sexy and imply that battle is the same.

  I know, I know - in Fantasy, people want escapism, not hard reality. Which is why I said at the top that I've tried to show war "as realistically as I can." I have to balance it within the story, and not nauseate people so badly that they stop reading. I don't, by the way, it isn't that graphic. But I did want to show that people die in war, some of them in ugly ways. I can say it no better than William T Sherman;

  "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine... war is hell."