In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, 30 December 2013

2013: The Best and the Worst

  It's the end of the year, and so we often look back and think about our successes and failures, don't we? Well, I do. 2013 was a big one for me. I moved out of Wales and into south-west England, and for the first time in ages have been (broadly) healthy throughout the year. I published the two volumes of Songs of Sorrow, to good reviews if not high sales. And I took part in NaNoWriMo, a new experience for me, and an enlightening one.

  But here, I thought I'd talk about the books and films that have impressed me this year, for good or bad. Let's begin with the good.

  The best film I saw all year was Oz the Great and Powerful. I expected something awkward and stilted, but the film captured the whimsy of the original and added modern effects and an updated feel. It's no small feat; huge credit goes to the writers, especially (Betraying my biases there... writers are great). The best new book I read - new to me, anyway - was The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, who sadly died of cancer in 2013. The novel actually dates to 1988, I think, but I'd never read it before, and I include it because Banks' death is such a severe loss to SF writing. If you haven't read his Culture novels, I recommend any of them.

  The worst? In films there's no contest: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Much of the story has been invented just for the film, it isn't original to Tolkien. That would be OK, except the extras don't actually add anything worth the time, they just make the story flabby and dull. I'm amazed that Star Trek: Into Darkness didn't end up being my worst film of 2013, because boy that's dreadful, but Smaug is even worse. As for books, if I've encountered a bad writer I avoid him thereafter, so I managed not to read Inferno by Dan Brown, which to judge by his previous work would have been utterly appalling. And if I'm struggling with a novel I tend to just put it aside: life's too short to waste on rubbish, and there are always more books. But I did read A Memory of Light, the long-overdue conclusion to the monster Wheel of Time series, and thought it was atrocious. Robert Jordan always wrote as though turning out a manual; he had all the deftness of touch of a drunken hippo, and Brandon Sanderson mimicked his style, unfortunately. But also the story was too rushed, which is weird for the 14th volume of a series, and in places was plain preposterous. A bitter disappointment after so long.

  Of course, most books and films were somewhere between all this - tolerably good, not too bad. But the ones we remember are the ones at the extremes, aren't they? Those are the ones which make an impression on us, one way or the other. I'm sure you readers will have your own best and worst of 2013, and some of the time you'll wish you could have broken a leg on the way to the bookstore so you'd have been spared the absolute cacky you just read.

  Usually I avoid New Year Resolutions, but I do hope in 2014 to find more good new books, whether SF and Fantasy or not. If you want to do the same, then good luck to you... and maybe you could try one of mine, eh? Meantime, Happy New Year to you all, I hope 2014 brings you lots of what you want and little or no back pain. Take care.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ego and Belief

  I had a new review a few days ago, of Blood and Gold. The full text is on Amazon, but here's an excerpt;

  "... it read like poetry. The book was painted into my mind's eye... flowing art forms and beautiful people. There has only been one other book like this book, and it was beautiful... a flowing song of beauty. It reads like an elegant thought." (Jennifer Elizabeth Hyndman)

  That, right there, is why I write. I'd like to make money from it, of course, enough to live on. That's incidental: if you want to be rich, don't become a writer, because most of them aren't. But to touch someone, to leave a reader affected by the story, the characters... that's the payoff. That, surely, is what writing is for.

  Stephen King says he was forty before he stopped feeling ashamed of what he wrote. Too many people had told him he was wasting his talent and ought to do something more serious, more worthy and worthwhile. (I'm reading On Writing again at the moment, can you tell?) I expect we've all heard something similar, but I don't understand it. No genre is automatically less valuable than another. All that matters is whether the story is well-told, whether it elicits an emotional response of some kind from the reader. It won't always do so, and when it does it won't always be the one the author aimed at. But sometimes, hopefully quite often, we can hit the mark.

  When we do, maybe we'll get reviews like the one above, which make all the effort worthwhile. It's validation. I read it and think I must be at least tolerably good, I can't be entirely talentless, if I can touch a reader like that.

  We have weak egos, we writers. We need the reinforcement of support, of enthusiasm for what we do and have done. It's hard to believe in yourself and the tale you're writing if people are just bashing your published work, and without belief... I'm sure that thousands of writers quit because they listen to the negative criticism and let it get under their skin. This isn't to say I've had such experiences myself, necessarily, but the positive feedback still matters to me.

  So on I go, into a new year and with plans for it. Probably Troy: A Brand of Fire will be my next published novel, though I'll have to do some work on volume two of the trilogy before I take the plunge. With luck you'll be able to look for the first book around February. I'll keep knocking on the doors of publishers and agents, keep blathering away here in my blog and on other social media, and above all I'll keep writing. I sometimes doubt my own qualities, but I'm not ashamed of what I do, and I intend to keep doing it.

  Meanwhile, best wishes to everyone for Christmas, or whatever mid-winter festival you might be celebrating. Best for the New Year too. Turn the page, and start a new chapter.