In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Hope for Better

 So the Christmas dinner is eaten (and very nice it was too). The presents have been opened, though Bella got so excited with some that she still hasn't unwrapped the others. The pop-up play-tent was especially popular. She likes to get inside and then roll it across the floor, so this afternoon has not been very restful.

 Still, happy kids, happy wife, and I even had a beer with lunch. Good day, eh?

 Usually my last blog of the year is a review - the best and worst of 2017, that sort of thing. I can't really do it now because I've done very little this year outside work and family. There are a few things though, and first among them is Blade Runner 2049. You've probably heard that it's too long, but that's not true - it's long because it has important themes to explore, about what makes us human and how we define ourselves. Every minute is worth it though. My three favourite films for years have been Blade Runner, Dances with Wolves and The Godfather; now I have a fourth to add to the list. 2049 is outstanding, a proper tour de force. Go and see it or you'll miss something special.

Otherwise, it's been a year of coming close. Twice I was offered a conditional publishing deal, as regular readers will know, and twice I turned it down. I'm right on the edge of a contract now, but there's nothing to say that my next submissions will be as well received. There are no guarantees until you've signed that paper. So I have to carry on as before, writing and submitting, doing what I can on social media - generally, as Churchill said, just Keep Buggering On. And though the old year has been great, hope for better in the new.

 I hope your 2018 is terrific too. Enjoy the rest of the festive season, and best wishes for the New Year. Pip pip!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Back to the Light

 So, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, eh?

I’ve never liked the festive season. It’s too commercial and too forced. The adverts start much too early, and they’re all pressure sells - “buy this for Dad to make him happy.” Then it’s as though you have to smile, all the time. Not allowed to be down, not allowed to have a blue day. Stores play the same trite songs on a loop and we all have to wear jumpers that show we’re just such fun guys. It rings fake to me.

But now I have kids, things have changed (Like that’s a surprise). Christmas is for children, isn’t it? Bella’s of an age where she still prefers wrapping paper to presents, and plays for hours with the boxes, but still, she likes tearing the wrap off things. And she does like new toys, at least after she’s destroyed the boxes and strewn the house with cardboard. Besides, this will be Evie’s first Christmas. It doesn’t matter if I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon. It stopped being about me when the kids were born.

Christmas grew out of the pagan midwinter festival. I wonder if people then felt the same about that?

In some ways, patently not. The old festival was about emerging from the winter. The shortest day meant the year had turned, and now began to move towards spring and the rebirth of life. It was something to celebrate, but something dark too. The gods of rebirth used to die at midwinter, their blood on the snow, because they had to before being reborn in spring when the shoots start to grow. Darkness and light, a mixed message. Hope and despair.

 But faced with that, people focus on the hope. We always look for the light of a candle in the night. I can imagine those old festivals being full of life and joy, laughing in the face of the dark. What else were they for? We know the darkness is there, but we don't have to dwell on it. Better to raise a glass and smile.

 My wife wants us all to have onesies. I've always refused to wear the dreadful things. No force on Earth will get me into one of those things... except there are the kids. Caz says she can get minions onesies for her and the girls, and a Gru one for me. And take photos.

 The things we do for our kids.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Mad, like Poets

 Well, as expected, Austin Macauley didn't want to negotiate over The Death of Ghosts. They said it would be unethical to keep the first £2,500 of my royalties, instead of me paying that up front. I don't really see that. I think it's an excuse, but there it is. I can't change it, so I'll just keep on as I was before.

 Two offers of publication rejected. It's not easy y'know.

 Having a laptop helps. I've completed more work in the past three weeks than the five months beforehand. That includes original work, first draft stuff, of which I'd done exactly none at all since Evie was born. Some editing, some publicity work and suchlike, but nothing original. It's sooo good to be doing that again. I think it's true for most authors that we write not because we choose to, but because we're driven to. Without writing we go a bit mad, like poets. At times I've felt the top of my head was going to come off if I didn't get some work done.

 So now the new edit of Death of Ghosts is nearly done. This one is because I decided to change the series from a tetralogy to a trilogy,which means adding about 20-30,000 words that would have gone into volume 2 but are now in volume 1. (Hence the original writing) I think it makes the series stronger and tighter. Volume 2 will now be called The Tower of Mages, and volume 3 is The King of Rain. All plotted out, ready to go. As is a standalone novel called Eternity, a series called The Pyramids of Saqoma, and also the new idea, as yet untitled. The Beast Beneath the Sea? Not sure that works, but it'll do for now.

 But first priority now is Fanged Fish, the sequel to Black Lord of Eagles. (Gosh, this is a lot of titles) It's due out in late February and I'm arranging the launch now. I'd like to do three or four events, in different towns, to publicise it. Bideford, Barnstaple, maybe then Tiverton and Minehead. We'll see. If anyone knows of a library or book shop in North Devon or Somerset that might be interested in hosting, let me know, eh?

 This must all be done on top of my job, and looking after the family. Quite a lot on my plate. Like I said, we're all mad, like poets, aren't we?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Temporary Deafness

 Hi all.

 I've had yet another conditional offer for Death of Ghosts. This one is from Austin Macauley publishers. I turned it down, for the same reasons that I refused Olympia back in the summer. AM then emailed back to say they really do want the book. Trouble is, I am not going to pay £2,500 up front. If they believe in the book they can push it themselves, and if not, I'll keep looking. I'll try to negotiate, but don't have high hopes.

 Still, and once more, it shows that I'm pretty close. The doors opening are the wrong doors, but soon (with luck) it will be the right one. I just have to keep working, keep improving, and keep ringing the bell.

 That's made easier because we bought a laptop last week. With two small children in the house it means any and every room is likely to be occupied, and if not now, it will be soon. So wherever I put the desktop I get interrupted. Now I can just slope off to another room and keep working. I've already written in the lounge, in the bathroom, and on break at work. The result is more work finished in ten days than the whole of the previous month - despite Evie deciding that whenever Mummy isn't there, she'll shriek at jetliner volume until a) Mummy is back, or b) Evie collapses in exhaustion.

 That takes about two hours. The first time I didn't get hearing back in my left ear for days. You can see why the laptop is important.

 I've also had an idea so stonkingly good that I can't shake it. In essence I've been wanting for years to write a story about Easter Island, or a Fantasy version of it, but my trouble is there's really nothing to say except what really happened. That's just history, not a Fantasy. So I needed something different, and couldn't think of anything original and interesting. Now I have. It will have all the things I wanted, like outrigger canoes and moai, but also include some elements of my own. I'm a little bit indebted to Terry Pratchett's Nation to be honest, for starting my mind down the path of thinking about the culture and people more than monuments and events. That's an outstanding book by the way. Meant for children, but excellent for adults too.

 See what happens when I have time to write? Although my temporary deafness might have played a part. It's hard to be distracted when you can't hear a bloody thing on one side.

 Bella has just arrived and is trying to work out what they keyboard is for. Her method involves hitting the keys with hands and feet. This may be a hint that Daddy's blog time is over.

 Pip pip.

Monday, 23 October 2017

More of our Time

 I wonder what my writing says about me, and how I think.

 Look at Stephen King. We all know his work, right? King himself says a lot of it is driven by his belief in good and evil, in forms that we encounter every day. He believes that in the end we all have to take a stand with light against the dark. (I think he's right. If you hear overt sexism on the bus, or you see racist bullying in a bar or nightclub, don't walk by. Not unless you want to live in a world where such things are accepted.)

 But King's work was coloured heavily after his accident. For a while it was full of crippled characters - in Dreamcatcher and Duma Key, for example. King's own pain seeped into his work. So some of it is conscious and some sneaks through without us poor writers noticing it. How then can we tell how much of us is in our work?

 Well, I try not to repeat ideas or memes, but I've noticed that I have. Alar in Risen King and Calesh in Songs of Sorrow are both reluctant warriors, drawn into battle as young men and now returning to fight again. There are big differences between them too, but that lies at the heart of both their characters. More broadly, several of my books are about the struggle to be free. Risen King and Sorrow feature here too, as well as Black Lord of Eagles. The situations are very different, and the stories change - those are three very different tales. But I can't deny there are similarities. So it seems I've returned to a theme without even realising it. I must be as dumb as a horse going to the same old watering hole, sometimes.

 Maybe I have an itch about the question of freedom. I admit, I've never been especially persuaded by the way we define freedom in the Western world. It seems to boil down to being free to vote once every four or five years, while also being free to be exploited by the wealthy, to be denied health care, and free to be cold in winter because we can't afford to turn the heating up. The gap between the richest people and the rest of us is wider than at any time in hundreds of years, and it's getting wider. We can't eat freedom. What good is it when it's just a word?

 Bizarrely, in some ancient societies even slaves were more free than we are today. A debtor in ancient Greece could work off what he owed, as a slave, but then regain his liberty. Serfs in England might work as little as one day a week for their landowner, and have the rest of their time to spend on their own crops. All right, these were grindingly hard lives, I know that. Still, on the road between then and now we've managed to give away more and more of our time, often for less compensation, and we call this freedom.

 Yes, I have a bee in my bonnet about this. It can only continue for as long as we let it. So in these days when Greeks are scavenging food from bins in Athens, when British people are fined for going to the dentist, and when Americans are being stripped of health insurance they paid for, why do we let it go on?

 In all my research into ancient cultures, I've learned one important thing. People build the culture they want. But then it changes, the society stops serving its people and the people begin to serve it instead, so the system (whatever it is) can be perpetuated. It's why change is so hard.

 But boy, do we need change.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Good, eh?

 So, I've been doing research for a new project recently. It involves finding the names of the three roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse myth. Just poke my nose onto the web, I thought, and the answer will pop up.

 It did not pop up. It continued not to, until after a month I quit looking. This doesn't usually happen. As I'm sure you know, you can find the answer to almost anything online - well, you can find an answer, at least. It might be utter nonsense, or an outright lie written by a swivel-eyed fanatic in the cellar of his Mum's house, so you have to check whatever you find. But still, answers are there. Except in this case.

 It surprised me, because I do a lot of internet research and the web very rarely lets me down. If that wasn't true I simply could not write my books, not in the form they take. The setting matters a lot. The people's myths, their habits, what they eat and how they speak, are important. Black Lord includes drinking venues called machanas, for example. Other books include Celtic superstitions about elves, the Greek belief in glory after death, and a heretical Christian concept of flesh as the domain of the Devil. I couldn't learn these things, couldn't add the colour they bring to my stories, without the internet.

 Yes, libraries would help, but no library can host the millions of sources you find online. In effect Google can take you inside every library in the world at the same time. So if a month of effort doesn't turn up the names of Yggdrasil's roots, I begin to suspect it's because the names aren't there to be found.

 Therefore I've made some up. After all, I'm writing Fantasy here, not a history of the Norsemen. Good, eh?

 Story is king. I draw from real cultures, and real history, but I take what I want and ignore the rest. I'll even invent something and throw it in if I need to - like Kai, the kamachi at the centre of Black Lord of Eagles. There was never a Servant of the teacher god among the Inca. But there Kai is, because I needed him to help me answer the question of why the Inca empire held together. It shouldn't have done. It was made up of dozens of cultural groups scattered across eight or nine climate zones, and ought to have collapsed in a few decades. It didn't, and nearly threw the Spanish back at the end, too. How? How could such a motley, divided empire turn out to be glued together so tightly?

 I researched that question. I read books and tracked down files, and found zilch. Nothing. But I knew that the Spanish dedicated a lot of effort to wiping out Inca culture, which means that for everything we know about them, there are a hundred things that were lost. So there's a great big void which I could fill with Kai. It means the novel isn't a history, but then it never was. It's just (I hope) a bloody good yarn.

Have a read and see if you agree. Pip pip.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

While I'm Not Looking.

 Hi all. Keeping well?

 I have a raft of submissions out again, to a range of publishing companies in the UK. I'm preparing a list for the USA next. The Death of Ghosts came so close with Olympia and I know now, from that and other comments, that it's more than good enough for publication. It's just a matter now of finding the right editor at a company which happens to have a space in their author roster.

 'Just', he says. Oh, my aching sides. As Napoleon once said of warfare, in publishing everything is very simple - but even the simple things are very difficult. Still, nobody ever found a publisher by sitting home and hoping, so out the submissions go. And back the rejection emails come, no doubt, but perhaps not every time.

 I'm also preparing for the launch of my next online novel, Fanged Fish, the sequel to Black Lord of Eagles. It concludes the story of the Ashir and their struggle for survival. There's plenty of room for further sequels, but I don't really want to write them because the tale I wanted to tell is told, that story arc is complete. Anything more would be a different tale in the same world, and I think it would probably be weaker. I can't really see the point. If I write at one novel a year my current "to do" list will last me 12 years anyway, so the Ashir and their Blessed Land go into a place of honour in my back catalogue.

 Amidst all of this I'm raising my troublesome girls, and staring at the TV in slack-jawed disbelief at whatever new fatuity Donald Trump has committed.

 I mean, his team uses private email servers? Really? After threatening Hillary with prison for doing that, he lets his people repeat the mistake? Wow. Now he's alienated most of the US sporting world and created a platform for protest against himself, just by being stupid. He uses a derogatory nickname to insult Kim of North Korea, even though an attack on Kim's personal prestige is more likely than anything else to provoke a response. Does Trump want war? Is he thinking that a brief exchange of destruction would make everyone forget about Russia, and email servers, and Russia, and White House infighting, and Russia...

 I'm not often distracted from my writing by current events. After 9/11, yes. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the USSR two years later.  But not much else, until now. I hardly dare turn away from Trump in case he burns the world while I'm not looking. He's like Sauron if the Dark Lord was on Twitter.

 "Heard Gondor is ready to fight. After years of bad leaders they're weaker than ever. Sad!"

 I'm going to spend more time in my Fantasy worlds. All those struggles, the rogue magic and goblins, and they're still safer than where I live. Portal, please. I want to get away.

 Mind how you go.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A Great Week

 It's been a tough week. Elder daughter Bella had gastroenteritis, which meant sleepless nights, crying, and a whole lot of sick. I mean, wow... wouldn't have thought one small girl could produce all that. We had to keep younger daughter Evie at the far end of the room to avoid contamination, bleached everything twice a day up to about quarter of a mile away, and somehow got through it. Bella's better now, she's eating and putting on weight, and best of all her tummy is not emptying itself every two minutes.

 All in all, not a great week.

 Better than for most people in Cuba, Florida, St Martin and all the rest, though. Better than for millions caught up in the South Asia floods, too. People are crying out about global warming again, but the floods in Asia are due almost wholly to overuse of the land - too much forest clearance, too many buildings, drainage of wetlands and so on. In short, they're due to population pressure. We're at a point where the Colorado river often runs dry before it reaches the sea, and the Yangtze brings down so much silt that it blocks its own channel. Orangutan habitats are so damaged by clearance that the species could soon vanish. Meanwhile forest clearance in West Africa has reduced evaporation, so the winds which flow east to the Ethiopian massif carry less water and the Horn of Africa suffers terrible droughts.

 David Attenborough says that when he started to make wildlife documentaries, there were 2.5 billion people on Earth. Now there are 7.5 billion, and they all need food and water, they need a place to live, a job, maybe a car. That all impacts on the land. We clear more forest so we can grow enough food, drain rivers so we have enough water. We use billions of tonnes of sand every year for concrete and that can never be replaced. Our impact on the world is enormous and almost entirely negative.

 Writers have used this theme before - remember the Matrix, when Agent Smith describes humankind as a virus? He's not far wrong, but hopefully there are more subtle ways to reflect our destructive behaviour back at ourselves. I have an idea myself (don't I always, squirrels?). Unfortunately I need to write at least three full novels, and probably four, before I reach the point in my story at which the idea becomes applicable.

 That's a pain, but the concept for that series is a really great one, and as far as I know it's original. I've never read anything that comes close to its central theme. So I'm going to throw everything else over the side for the moment and run with that idea. Volume one is already done, two through four are blocked out and ready to go, and I have the outlines for volumes five through ten. Quite a big project, eh?

 But as they say, if your project doesn't frighten you then it's not big enough... and as I say, God hates a coward.

 Pip pip.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Always be Fun

 I've had a publishing offer from a company called Olympia. They want to publish The Death of Ghosts!

Unfortunately Olympia want me to make a "contribution" to their costs. They're asking me to pay, in short, and that feels a lot like vanity publishing. Olympia have a network and they could market my book well, I'm sure, but with £2,000 or more to spend I could market it myself. I don't really see the point, so I've turned Olympia down.

 The right choice, there's no real doubt of that. But still, it feels terrible. What if nobody else offers? Ever?

 Obviously I think they will. Death of Ghosts is a good book, one which Olympia described as "well-written with an absorbing narrative, we see potential in the work." Well, if they see it, others likely will too - and if not with Death of Ghosts, they might see it with The Pyramids of Saqoma, or Isles of Eternity. And if not? Then I'll carry on publishing as an indie, building my audience inch by plodding inch, and I'll sure as hell carry on writing.

 A bump in the road. That's all.

 The important thing is too keep going. There's a saying that behind every successful author there's a failed author who didn't give up. That's the sort of glib comment which usually drives me mad, but there's truth in it. Keep writing, folks. Produce a bad book, that's fine, the gods and little fishies know I have. A bad book, if finished, is better than every unstarted novel in history. Go write it. If it stinks, who cares? You'll learn a lot and your next book will be better.

 And you'll have fun. There'll be moments of tearing out your hair, times when you can't force the words onto the page no matter how you try... but there'll also be fun. If this game is for you, if this is your calling, there will always be fun. That's what keeps you coming back until the words flow again, pouring out of your fingertips like water from a hose, and it's the best feeling there is.

 Please don't tell my wife I said that.

 Done for now. Take care squirrels.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Grubby and Desperate

 My wife and I welcomed our second child, and second daughter, early last month. As a result, in our house every day is filled with rushing about (Bella) and screaming for food (Evie), and then with cleaning up the worst of the wreckage. It's all very tiring, so it's a problem that the nights are disturbed too. But there's hope.

 On Friday morning I'll be having a vasectomy. I turn 50 next year (How? How?) so I can't really keep producing kids, not if I want to be around for the next 20 years to take care of them. Past a certain point it feels irresponsible. Plus my wife spent both pregnancies being quite unwell, so I don't want to put her through that again (Caz isn't keen either). So, time for the snip. Which means... several days of enforced rest.

 Or to put it another way, an excuse to sit on comfy cushions in front of my PC for days. With any luck Caz will bring me bacon sandwiches and beer at regular intervals, but never mind that. It's time to write that counts. Finally. Finally, a chance to get some solid work done.

 Strange thing, y'know, but having two small daughters doesn't half eat into your life.

 So, I have some adjustments to make to The Death of Ghosts, just tinkering at the edges really. There are a couple of things that need to be played up because they become important later, sometimes in volume two, but in once case not until volume four. The plot's laid out, I know the story in detail now, so the changes will be simple enough. Then run over the text, do another edit check for errors - you can never do too many - and push into volume two, titled The Life of Shadows. Quite a lot of nasty things start to happen in that. The main bad guy from volume one turns out to be very small fry indeed.

 I like a degree of unpleasantness in Fantasy. It shouldn't be all polished breastplates and men talking about honour. Sometimes life is just grubby and a bit desperate, and when the world is changing and there's danger all around that goes ten times over.

 Speaking of grubby and desperate, I need to get back to clearing up after the kids. Like I said, life isn't all glamour... but it'll do me.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Just as Cool

 When you write a character, it has to be genuine. We all know that, right? I produce pages of details I never use, because the reader doesn't need to know them all - but I do. They help me work out how the character will react in a given situation. I can't really have a bloke who's homophobic then turn out to be bisexual, can I?

 Motivation matters. A person's history, his family's background, a thousand other things; they all go into making that person who he or she is. That controls how the character behaves. And that's why I'm having trouble with the idea of Doctor Who as a woman.

 Let me say first that I like diversity. The BBC (who makes Dr Who) is in trouble for having too few ethnic minority stars, and above all for paying its male staff much, much more than their female counterparts. It deserves that trouble, too. It pays lots of men over £1 million a year, but no woman earns half that. It's a disgrace.

 But turning the Doctor into a woman doesn't feel like diversity. It feels like ticking a box. The current companion is Bill, who ticks three boxes - ethnic minority, female, gay. The BBC is straining so hard to be right-on politically correct that it risks losing sight of what the character actually is.

 The Doctor was conceived as an antidote to all the comic-book superheroes of the 1950's and '60's. Give them a spider bite or a radiation accident and they started to defy evil by hitting it a lot. By contrast, the Doctor never used violence. He used cleverness instead. He was intended to show young boys that cleverness was just as cool as flying about in a red cape and punching the bad guy on the nose.

 But girls know that already, you don't have to teach them. Women know how to talk better than men, how to compromise, because they don't have all this testosterone and ego thrashing about inside them. OK, these are generalisations, but they're largely true. So where does this leave the Doctor? A woman who prefers to talk and use her wits isn't anything out of the ordinary.

 As for the show, it's gained a transgender Doctor, but lost the multi-box ticking Bill. That needs to be addressed, gosh yes, I'm horribly afraid that the next season or two will give us a gay Cyberman, a female Dalek, maybe a Weeping Angel from a persecuted minority of the species. It's all very modern, but you know, modern changes. Twenty years from now the Doctor is likely to look as dated as the original Star Trek - the Sixties in space, more or less.

 Making the Doctor female is just tokenism. If the BBC wants to do diversity properly, instead of just filling quotas, here's how.

(Roly is my favourite)

Night night, Squirrels.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

In Times of Trouble

 A bit of personal news first. Caz and my second daughter was born last Sunday, July 9th, and we've named her Evelyn. A pretty annoying mistake by the midwife meant she was back in hospital on Thursday with jaundice, but she's home now and much better. And I, being who I am, dealt with all this by writing.

 Well, editing and proofreading, really. A bit of original stuff, but not much. It comes to the same thing though. I was at the PC, immersing myself in the worlds and characters of my stories; in other words, writing.

 That's what I do in times of trouble. Sometimes I think I write to escape the mundane world we live in, which is so often bitter and sour, or plain scary. It's a way to shout that no, that's wrong, this is how things ought to be. A lot of it comes down, I think, to people wanting to live as they choose. Alar in Risen King, Calesh in Songs of Sorrow, and almost any of the Ashir in Black Lord of Eagles, are all like that. For them it's about freedom. For me, it's about a need to write my issues out in novels (or blogs, hehe). A book can sometimes be a rooftop we can stand on to yell out a message.

 So I get irate when people say "I could write a book, if I had the time."

 You do have the time. Even if you have to make it by giving something else up. That's your choice. You have the opportunity, I'm sure you have the talent because most people do. But you obviously don't have the dedication, or the endurance, because if you did you would already have written your book. I might as well say I could be world darts champion, if I had time to practise. Well, I do. I'd have to give up everything else I do, that's all, and I choose not to. Just as these people have chosen not to write.

 Hell, I have two daughters under 18 months old, who need games to play, time to cuddle with Daddy, and putting to bed when play is over. They need feeding almost constantly, and produce more laundry each day than I do in a week. I've got a job to keep and a wife who needs to see me now and then. And I still write. Don't tell me you could write if you had time.

 Writers aren't people who write. Usually they're people who have to write, whose palms itch when they don't. Like mine do.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lives of Their Own

 Yesterday I held an author event at South Molton Library, not far from Barnstaple. South Molton's a small village, but the library is surprisingly large and very well laid out. Half a dozen people came to listen to me speak (the fools).

 I don't much like speaking in public, it makes me nervous. As I've said before, writers tend to be solitary types, who enjoy quiet hours sitting at a screen. To us, talking with six or seven people in a library is a bit too much like roistering. I like a good roister, mind you, but only when I can drink beer and talk nonsense. It's different when I have to talk sense.

 I'd like to say that the trouble is people who don't behave like characters in the books I write. Real people say odd things, they surprise me, whereas the characters go where I tell them to. The trouble is that they don't. My stories are forever being rewritten because Calesh (or Suchi, or Talac) comes to a point where he just wouldn't do what I want him to. I know the chap better by then, I've been telling his story for the past 80,000 words, and the blighter just would not do what the story needs him to do. I end up with him shaking his head at me with his arms folded, and I have to say Okay, Okay. I'll rewrite your back story, I'll bin four chapters and do them over, edit five more, and waste half the sodding work I've already done. Happy now?

 And he is. He goes cheerily down the new story path with his hat at a jaunty angle while I bang my head on the desk.

 But you know, when your characters do this, they're taking on lives of their own. They're not real, never can be, but they're close enough to fool me.. and so I guess they'll fool the reader too. We can believe they're real. And those are the good characters, the ones we root for and grieve with, and maybe share the triumph in the end. When the people in your book start saying Nope, not doing that, then you know you've written something genuine. Not a cutout figure with as much emotion as wet paper.

 So I try to be happy when I have to rewrite half the book, because I end up with a better story and truer characters in it. And that's pretty good.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Kind Readers

 I'm not terribly good with social media.

 I didn't grow up with it. I see kids today, and people in their 20's, writing text messages so fast I can't follow the words. I go on websites which advise me to link to this or that and I don't know how. I learn, bit by bit, but of course the platforms change so fast that I never seem to catch up. It's hard for my generation. In my youth we were all amazed by the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64, which played games from tapes that took ten minutes to load and made a screeching noise that drove us out of the room.

 So, I'm not good. But I'm trying, because for an indie author writing the book is only half the job. The rest is publicising it. I have a website and a Facebook page, of course, but I'm going further. I've joined Twitter now, despite avoiding it for years because of the people who tweet things like "Just bought lettuce!" 45 times a day and somehow have thousands of followers. I'm considering putting some videos on YouTube - if anyone's tried that, any advice would be gratefully received. Unless it's about lettuce.

 Still, I've already figured out how to make a poster with text and images, to publish online. Next I need to learn how to overlay pictures, so the cover of one novel can be partly visible behind the cover of another. Probably there's more I ought to learn too, but as yet I don't know enough to understand what it is. All this is most vexing.

 Not least because doing all this media work takes time away from writing - time which is already tight because I have a wife and daughter who need to see me now and then as well.  I know of one indie author who writes and does online advertising for 14 hours a day. I just don't have that time. I've got the commitment, got the desire, but I can't manufacture hours out of thin air.

 So I keep going, keep learning, and hope one day it's enough. And there's one thing you kind readers can do for me. If you've read one of my books, leave a review on Amazon. Short, long, good or bad, just leave a review. Please.

 Thank you.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Something Fresh

 Ignoring politics is hard. Especially now, when anyone can post anything on Facebook, true or not. The lies I've seen... if every claim that Labour has risen in the polls was true, they'd be at 200% by now. People are claiming the Tories want to close the NHS and starve primary school children. It's ludicrous, the politics of deception and deceit - but it works. People do believe it, and when the claims come thick and fast they reinforce one another. Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to take it for true.

 But I have work to do, so I'm trying to limit my involvement. I'm afraid that the voters in Britain is no smarter than the American electorate which voted for Trump. They'll fall for deceit and fake promises. Well, that's their business. I'll take care of my family and my writing, and leave the great social movements for others.

 I'm still editing Fanged Fish. 70,000 words are done now, so there's not too much left to do. My plan is to finish that, then rewrite The Death of Ghosts, which needs a few tweaks early on. I wrote it in such a flurry that I didn't give enough emphasis to a couple of things that become significant later in the series. Or I should say... that was my plan. Because I've had a great new idea.

 I'm still thinking through the structure, and a lot of the background isn't clear yet. But the basis of the idea is a portal Fantasy, in which magic interacts with the world we know. People can cross here from their world, and return. Intelligence services track them too, so there's a thread of modern surveillance and the suspicion of terrorism as well. The terrorism matters, because portal fantasies have been done before and if I'm to do this, it will have to feel different to them, something fresh. There are other things in the story to do that - but I'm not going to tell you what they are. You'll have to read the book, kiddos.

 I have to write it, first, and with a new baby due soon that might not be so easy. Oh well.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Do It Yourself

 Like Sci-Fi, Fantasy can sometimes hold a mirror up to our own world, by showing one in which things are nearly the same, but often worse. A writer can get away with Mad Mage of Zog Empire saying something you can't have the President say.

 It's a bit hard at the moment. I can't see how we could have a Fantasy allegory of today's politics, it would be ridiculous. Readers wouldn't believe it. I'd do better with Mad Mage and the Zogs. Good name for a 60's pop band, now I think about it.

 In truth, it's very hard anyway. Politics is labyrinthine, a mess of ironies and contradictions that only make sense to us (well, a bit of sense) because we live in the middle of it all. We pick up the little quirks as we go along, so we have a frame to fit everything into. It's not like that with ancient Rome, say. We might know some important figures like Emperors and writers, but we don't know the hundreds of minor issues that cropped up day by day. We can't really imagine them, so it's tricky to write a political Fantasy novel unless you go into tedious detail explaining everything all the time.

 Robert Graves did a wonderful job of this with I, Claudius, by the way. Read it if you can.

 The best we can do is broad strokes. I do some of that in the Songs of Sorrow books, which tell of the struggle to survive of a small religious group threatened by a much larger one. One character here to show such-and-such, one character there to show blah-blah, and leave it at that. Sometimes in writing the trick is to leave detail out and let the reader fill it in for himself. That way every reader has a subtly different mental image of the story, but isn't that why a book is nearly always better than the film version?

 I'm going to try to ignore the real world's politics for a while. Tough ask, in the middle of a General Election, but I'll give it a go. I think I prefer the struggle of the Ashir, and speaking of that, I'm closing in on finishing the final edit of Fanged Fish. The cover's being designed as I write this and we have a tentative publication date of November this year - a scant 6 months away. Meanwhile Kai is trying to change his people's culture to help them survive, and others are trying to stop him and cling to what they know.

 Politics, eh?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Revolution Baby

 Now and then, the world changes.

 Sometimes it's sudden and obvious. The nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945, or the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Other times it's harder to see, the effects uncertain for a while, like when Muhammad started preaching in 610 AD. Who would have said his teachings would spread so far and last so long?

 Or you can look at the 1960's, which are still seen as a sort of epochal change in attitudes. The decade gave us greater equality and Civil Rights, but in the end faded away with its dreams unfulfilled. That happened before, in the 1840's for example. People can live through social upheaval and think it's changing the world, only to find at the end that the same people hold the same power in the same places.

 That might be happening now.

 Americans are so disillusioned with politics that they elected a President who was never a politician. France might yet elect Marine Le Pen, of the far right. Later in the year Italy could elect a Five Star/Northern Alliance government that will take the country out of the EU. Of course Britain recently voted to leave, and we're now holding a general election that will either cement that decision or undermine it. All looks very impressive, doesn't it? The old power bases are crumbling. Change hangs in the air.

 Or does it? Big political movements come and go, and big political parties outlast them. Upheaval passes to leave the largest companies untouched, as secure as ever. The sons of rich men still go to the best schools. The gap between the richest and the rest still widens. What, exactly, has changed? Anything fundamental?

 This is how society works. Any social organisation starts because the people need it, but pretty soon it reverses, and the organisation uses the people to survive, to perpetuate itself. Close behind that comes coercion. Everyone is coerced. You, me, the neighbours, everyone who voted for the other guy... all of us. We always will be, though maybe not as badly. We can bring change. But it means tearing up society's rules and starting again, because otherwise the new boss will be just the same as the old boss.

 Understanding this is key to writing about ancient cultures. (See? Writing does come into the blog if you stick with it.) When threatened the holders of power always strike back. Maybe not at first, maybe not in plain sight, but they don't give up their wealth and status and walk away. So when a story's protagonist stirs the pot, someone always gets burned.

 By the way... watch out for the power brokers to react to today's populism. The Establishment Strikes back. It will.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Something New

 My last post, about the Inca nearly winning against the Spanish, got me thinking about times when history changed course. It's an old theme for me, but there are not many times when we can point to it clearly.

 The loss of the Native American civilisations is one, though. What if smallpox hadn't ravaged them? It would have been very hard for Spain to defeat them then, and we'd now live in a world with distinct societies and religions in the Americas. Maybe not Inca, but their cultural descendants. A second occasion is the Battle of Tours in 732AD, when Charles Martel defeated the Islamic Caliphate and stopped forever its expansion into Europe. If he'd lost, and France had fallen, Rome would have been taken soon after and that might be the end for Christianity.

 But then, we can always play 'what if'. Maybe the asteroid doesn't hit earth 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs evolve into birds before mammals can grow strong. The world now might be one of large flightless birds, small birds scavenging their eggs, and so on. You can play that game every time a species goes extinct, or a new one appears. History has only a few points when it might have changed in some fundamental way, but evolution has millions.

 This gives huge opportunities to Sci-Fi writers, who invent new species every time they create a new world. So why not Fantasy?

 We've got stuck in a rut. Non-humans are nearly always the same. Wise elves in the deep forests, grumpy dwarves under mountains, swarming goblins, dragons... seen it before. We've read those stories. Why not something new?

 A species descended from birds, all twitch and quiver, who roost in great halls. Maybe creatures like fish which come onto land every few years to breed, and while there hold councils to decide whatever issues they have. If expanding human peoples build a town on the council grounds, whew, that would get nasty. What about a collective consciousness, like a vast plant that can bud off parts of itself to move around? Sci-Fi is comfortable exploring races like these. Fantasy should be too.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Few Fables

 I admit, some of my recent posts haven't had much to do with writing. That's OK, because if I burbled on about my work time after time I'd bore myself, let alone you merry lot. But the launch of Black Lord of Eagles is close now, April 7th, so I really ought to chat a bit about that.

 The story is inspired by the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire in 1532. This is the last time that two cultures met with no previous knowledge of each other, having developed along completely different lines, The Inca thought at one point that the Spanish must be eating all the gold they stole, because they couldn't think why else they'd want it so much. It was an encounter with the Other - a completely alien culture.

 It ended in tragedy, with the Inca all but wiped out and their culture destroyed. But it was close. In 1536 the new king attacked the Spanish at Cuzco, and wiped out four relief armies before he was defeated. In the end it took until 1572 for the Spanish to kill the last king. If it hadn't been for the ravages of smallpox, the Inca might well have won.

 Imagine that tomorrow, we discover an invisible people that has been living alongside us humans all along, and now they want to conquer us. Their technology is better than ours and they're right here among us before we know they exist. Everything we thought was true about the world was nonsense. We would be shocked, stupefied, hardly able to think. That's what happens to the Ashir in Black Lord of Eagles, when they discover an alien culture on the border of their land. The invaders shouldn't exist. But they do, and the Ashir have to find a way to deal with that blow before they can begin to defend themselves.

 I love the Ashir. Their warriors are tattooed with society markings, wear their hair in crests and adore jewellery. People eat bread rolls filled with peppers or squirrel meat. They tell fables of monkeys who longed to be eagles, and of a lost people who carved the great stone heads which litter the land. They're hopeless romantics. Now me, I'm a cynic to my bones, but there's a part of me... a little whisper in my heart... that doesn't want to be. A part that wants some of the fairy tales to be just a little bit true.

 The Inca lost. Maybe the Ashir will too, when it all comes down to the last of the struggle. (What, did you think I'd spoil the ending?) But if they leave a few fables, and a sense of wonder, then we'll owe them something. I think that's largely what Fantasy is for, and it's what I aimed for with Black Lord.

 I really hope you like it.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Clever Clogs

 Well, this is odd. Michigan University research has apparently found the key characteristics of intelligent people.

 They are that you learn from your mistakes; you argue intelligently (i.e. without being confrontational;); you don't believe you're intelligent; you like sick humour; you enjoy being alone; you are physically lazy; you have used illegal drugs; you're an atheist; you don't post inspirational messages on Facebook; and you're the eldest child in your family.

 Really? Then basically, a first-born fatso who can't be arsed with going out because he's spent all his money on weed is a frickin genius.Especially if he has a taste for jokes about the Yorkshire Ripper.

 These claims are so generalised that they don't mean anything. It annoys me that people take a study like this seriously because it was done by 'scientists'. It's as though the white coat confers some sort of divine right to have all the answers, but y'know, that's priests, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Which means you're not clever, apparently). The truth is that some science is good, like evolution, and some is really bad, like homeopathy, which isn't really science at all but bollocks wearing the ol' white coat.

 In the same way, some clever people might be co-operative and low-energy, but others are confrontational Christians. People are different. Why this weird urge to compartmentalise and pigeonhole? Our greatest human attribute is the richness of our diversity. If you think people fit into this kind of neat packaging, go watch Susan Boyle's audition for Britain's Got Talent. Might change your mind a bit.

 Oh, and by the way, Black Lord of Eagles is due out in less than a month now, on April 7th. I promise to concentrate more on that next time.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Mobius Strip

 Hi all. This blog's been a long time coming, because for some reason my 'New Post' page refused to load. Sorry for that. I'm not a tech guy so it might have been due to pixies as far as I can tell.

 While I remember, I'm not on Twitter as @benblakeauthor. I have a dismal 20 followers and feel a wee bit overshadowed by these show-offs with hundreds or more. Help a poor chap and like my page, eh?

 OK, well the launch of Black Lord of Eagles is now a bare month away. I'm quite excited and also a bit nervous, because while I can write well enough (hopefully), that's done alone. Speaking in public is not, and at the launch I'll have to talk for 20 or 30 minutes and not make an utter jackass of myself. I do tend to wander off the subject, so there's a real risk of blather. I'll just have to focus, I suppose.

 I'm already editing volume two, title Tales of Fanged Fish. I need a cover for it too, and that book will also be published through Blue Poppy Publishing, either in November or the New Year. It feels weird to be talking about the coming New Year when March has only just begun, but plans need to be best-laid... or as best I can, anyway.

 I think then I'll work on Starfire. Volume one is finished, two and three are blocked out and plotted, and the story has potential to carry on for a long time beyond that. It could go a bit like the Shannara series, which reminds me of a Mobius Strip - it goes on and on without ever reaching an end. Starfire could reach between worlds though, because underlying the series is a mythic link between realms. I like that idea. It would let me incorporate all manner of weird and wonderful peoples and places into one story, told over generations but still continuous. When I felt like it I could come out and write a separate tale, like Isles of Eternity or The Pyramids of Saqoma. And that, my friends, is the rest of my writing life mapped out... unless I change my mind.

 Which I do. Quite a lot.

 Don't bank on anything much after Fanged Fish. There's no telling what a writer will do next.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Getting Close

 The house move went well. We're in and (sorta) settled, though there are still a few cardboard boxes stuffed into Bella's room. And we found time for a day trip to Dartmoor Zoo for Bella's birthday. It isn't very big - it doesn't even have penguins (gasp!). But you get really, really close to the animals they do have - about 5 feet, in the case of the tigers.

 This chap is so friendly he scent-marked an unfortunate girl standing to my right. That, my friends, is getting close. He's also 2 years old, and will get a lot bigger.

 I have decided I like fences. Fences are my friends.

 They have a Close Encounters room too, where you can handle animals like snakes and tortoises. And also, as it turned out, spiders. I turned my head to find a spider as big as a man's hand being held right behind me, and speedily left the room. Hate spiders. What are all those legs about, eh?

 With all this going on, writing time has once more been limited. But I start a new job tomorrow, as a porter at the local hospital, It pays more than my old job and also the hours will be better, with less travelling time too. So I'll be able to get more work done. That's important because the launch for Black Lord of Eagles is less than two months away now. I already have copies at home, and I love them - the cover looks fabulous. But I have to appear on the radio, put up posters, talk to the local papers... lots to think about, and it all needs time.

 Oh, and I have to buy wine for the book launch. Can't do it without wine. Gosh.

 Got to go now. It's an early start tomorrow and I need a quiet night. Cheerio.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Haven't Stopped Moving

 Hi y'all. Interesting times we live in.

 Brexit first, then Donald Trump. I can still hardly believe the buffoon is President, but he is, so America and the world just has to accept it now. As long as he doesn't do a Bush/ Blair and start running about starting wars, I suppose the time will pass.

 Anyway, thinking about the state of the world hurts my head at the moment, so I'm not going to. Perhaps if I ignore everything the problems will all go away. It's worth a try. So I'll focus only on my own issues. I have some sort of chance of sorting them out, at least.

 OK, first thing to mention is the Kickstarter project for Black Lord of Eagles. It's still short of target but there are four days left, so please, if you can, go to Anything would be great.

 Secondly, tomorrow night (Monday 23rd) I'll be on The Voice radio, the book club hosted by Olli Tooley. I expect to talk a lot of nonsense but somewhere in the drivel there might be a few interesting bits and odds about Black Lord of Eagles, and about Blue Poppy publishing as well. The Voice is on 106.1FM. Tune in and have a listen.

 And thirdly, on Tuesday I move house, and will lose my internet connection for a while. It should only be a few days but I've heard that song before, so who knows? I'll pop into the library to stay up to date as and when I can. Still, don't hate me if I can't respond immediately.

 So, interesting times for me, at least. I'm also in contact with Radio Devon, Radio Plymouth, and 10Radio Somerset about appearing on their shows, I'm expecting a second baby (vicariously), I'm preparing for a new job, and I think I died of exhaustion three weeks ago and just haven't stopped moving yet. If you see me, give me a poke just in case.

 Otherwise, speak to you soon.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Code Name Biscuit

 I'm going to launch Black Lord of Eagles at Barnstaple Library on Friday 7th of April. I might have done it at Sol Books, but I can't get hold of the guys I need to speak to, and time's a-wasting. So the Library it is. I've already got the poster done, with the cover and a bit of blurb. I think it looks pretty good.

 Meanwhile I'm behind target on Kickstarter. If anyone wants to make a pledge, or can share the link to others, just go to It would be a massive help for me to reach my goal, anything you can do would be great.

 Meanwhile I've already begun the edit of volume two, Tales of Fanged Fish. This continues the story, as the struggle for the Blessed Land becomes even more savage and bitter. One of the features of the story is the brutality of the fighting. It's not explicit very often, because that would make the book X rated and hard to read. But I did want to show the horror of warfare. In a lot of Fantasy the battles are all fought cleanly, by men of honour behaving in a noble way. But that's not what ancient war was like. It's not what modern war is like either, come to that - look at Syria. War is a cruel and nasty thing, and I didn't want to sanitise it.

 Anyway, all of this is happening as I prepare to move house, which happens on the 24th. Then we'll be starting to get ready for baby #2, code name Biscuit, who's due in July. There's a lot to do. I may have to give up sleeping at some point this year.

 Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Wrong Elite

 You know, there are things coming up this year that will be good, and others which will not.

 Having my second child will be great. He/she is due in early July. It will complete our family, and soon after I'll be having the snip - item #1 of the things I'm not looking forward to.

 Publishing Black Lord of Eagles is going to be good too. It's planned for April 7th, a collaboration with Blue Poppy Publishing, and will be my first new novel for nearly two years. I won't wait as long again, I promise.

 Now, bad things....

 In Italy, the Pascha di Siena bank is the oldest in the world. It's also crippled by toxic debt, and was given until the end of 2016 to raise billions in new assets. If it failed - which seems almost certain, though it's not official yet - it will collapse. Since it's tied into the Italian banking system, and that system is almost as weak as the di Siena, it will probably mean a broad banking collapse that will destroy the Italian economy. In turn, that will bring down the Euro currency and maybe break the EU itself.

 Apocalyptic? The EU Central Bank admits it is likely to happen that way.

 Second bad thing. In Iraq, the Mosul Dam was built on gypsum, which dissolves in contact with water. For 30 years concrete has been pumped into the ground to solidify it, day after day, with no pause. And then IS took over, and for somewhere between one month and eighteen months, no pumping was done. IS has been driven out now, but many engineers are missing and equipment is gone or destroyed too. Water downstream now shows high levels of gypsum. One end of the Mosul Dam has tilted by half an inch. Not much, but it shows the dam's integrity has begun to fail.

 In spring, mountain snow melt will fill the river Tigris and add pressure to the dam. A team of US engineers recently said they expect the Mosul Dam to collapse under that stress. That will mean a 100-foot wall of water hitting Mosul city within minutes, and a 15-foot wall reaching Baghdad four hours later. 1.5 million people are expected to die if the dam breaks.

 I mention all this because surely, surely, the Western World can stop these disasters. We have billions to spend on ridiculous wars, after all. America's next president plans to cut taxes for the richest so obviously he has money sloshing about, right? Perhaps tax cuts can wait. Perhaps it would be wiser to save over a million lives in the country America and Britain invaded and threw into chaos with such carelessness. Perhaps that would be the moral thing to do.

 As for the di Siena bank, £5 billion would at least buy it time. Given the possible scale of the catastrophe if it collapses, that's worth spending. Britain could do it. What a gesture of support as we leave the EU. And again, there's a moral aspect. I'm not comfortable watching people be impoverished while the elite sits on its hands and does nothing. It makes me think we have the wrong elite.

 These disasters are not certain - what is? But they're likely, and we can stop them, and yet I'm almost sure we won't.