Sunday 29 April 2012

Review: A Song of Ice and Fire

I'm pretty niggardly with new books. This isn't because I'm a tightwad; or at least, it isn't just because I'm a tightwad. Otherwise I'd just get them second hand, or from the library like I do with books I'm probably only going to read once and don't want badly enough to fork out cash. The main reason is so that I don't run out of books I really want to read. In particular, when I find a series I particularly like, I ration myself to one book at Christmas and one for my birthday, which conveniently falls approximately halfway round the year form Christmas. And I stick to this.

So when I finished the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire and within a day was on Amazon ordering the third, you can guess that I was pretty gripped by it.

I have to admit being a little put off George R. R. Martin when I noticed how he styles himself: although it appears that he does indeed have two middle names, both beginning with R, not many authors put middle initials on their cover at all, and it still looks a bit like ripping off Tolkien. But it's the only thing that does.

Ice and Fire gets compared to Lord of the Rings a lot, but I don't think it really should be. Yes, it's a fantasy series set in a world with pre-gunpowder technology and magic, and there's a lot of fighting going on. But it's not really the same kind of story at all. It's on a different level: much more about the people, some of whom are doing what might be termed mighty deeds, than the mighty deeds, which are done by some people since that's the traditional way for deeds of any sort to get done. And about power struggles and politics, petty grudges and love polygons of varying complexity more than about saving the world. Although there are hints of the world possibly needing saving at some point, but we're three books in and the power struggles certainly seem to be the main point.

It's a little like the bastard child of LoTR and Eastenders.

Warning: some spoilers for the first three books (up to the end of A Storm of Swords part 1) ahead

Saturday 21 April 2012

Writing Tips: Concentrate

If you're a writer, and you're like me, you make up stories. A lot. It's what I spend most of my free time doing, as well as a reasonable amount of time that's not exactly free, but I'm bored and struggling to concentrate on what I'm actually doing, and all the time - often upwards of an hour, same again if I wake up in the night - between going to bed and finally getting my insomniac self to sleep.

The net result of this is a head full of stories. Now, the majority of them are my own, personal stories. But a not insignificant number develop into full-blown Novels I Plan To Write. Currently I have six, at least two of which will probably be series, that I seriously, definitely intend to write, and a handful more that I might at some point.

And I'm only allowed to work on one of them for the next three years.

Because that's the thing: you have to focus, and concentrate on one piece of work at a time.
Otherwise, if you do a little of one and a little of another, as and when you feel like them, then at best, you'll spend years and years working on them, and then have a dozen finished at once.
And that's probably what you want. Doing the promotion and marketing as well as all the technical stuff for one book sounds pretty daunting, and even if you could handle all that it sounds like a much better idea to have a steady trickle of books coming out to publish like a shaken ketchup bottle.

But that's at best. I really do think you need to concentrate on one major project at a time to get it finished at all. I know all about wasting time and not getting anywhere with my writing; I did it for years, and the least progress of all, even sum total progress, was made when I just opened whichever file I felt like working on today.

So I'm refusing to work on any novel besides the one about the vampires (as yet untitled. How do people think of titles?) until that's finished. Or rather, until they're finished: it's - I think - going to be a trilogy, so at a rough estimate that's about three years before I can let myself put anything on paper for any of the others. Maybe two and a half, with a following wind, since I'm a good way through the first draft of the first one.

It's not easy. I recently allowed myself a short story (you can find it at the top of the page, if you like), which is part of the world of one of the Novels I Plan To Write: now I keep thinking of the characters and I want to write about them. And I even more recently read The Sword of Senack which reminded me ever so strongly of a sci-fi future universe I have, which I intend to write about, most likely in several novels, and now I want to write that one too, and the sole thing stopping me from doing so is willpower.

But it's worth it. It's so, so worth it, because as long as I keep concentrating, and keep up the willpower, I have a fighting chance of making it as an author. So concentrate.

On a somewhat related note, they do say that you should also pick one genre to concentrate your efforts on.  'They' are people who seem to know what they're talking about, so I'm sure they're right, but I'm trying not to think about that, because the Novels I Plan To Write range from vampires - but scientific vampires - to a brave stab at the supernatural, to historical fiction, to the aforementioned sci-fi.
I have a faint hope that vampires, being traditionally in the realms of the supernatural, will lead on to that one, the sci-fi element will lead on to that one, and the fact that half of it is set in Ancient Greece will lead on to the historical ones, but basically my plan is to put it out of my mind and cross that bridge when I come to it. I would advise you all to at least try and focus on one genre, though.

Friday 20 April 2012

The Sword of Senack: Review

The Mer-sons and The Sword of Senack is a young adult fantasy novel by EC Stilson.
It's set in the future, on another planet which humans have colonised from Earth, but it's definitely fantasy rather than sci-fi. As for the YA part: I think it would be a spectacular book for younger readers, but it's also good enough that the writing style isn't annoying for those who would usually choose something a bit more mature.

The plot is original and dramatic - very dramatic: within the first half-dozen pages we already have magic and a kidnapping, and rumours of hauntings - and keeps going with the action right the way through with plenty of twists and turns. Some of the twists I could see coming - and fictional characters can be frustratingly slow on the uptake sometimes, others were unexpected.

The world and the characters are nicely fleshed out and 3D. I had the feeling right the way through that there was a whole world there, even a whole galaxy, not just the immediate setting, and it's teeming with its own living things - peoples, animals and plants - and cultures and customs and geography and politics and everything a world should have.
Varied, relatable characters, not half! From devious villains, plotting and double-crossing away, with a little light sadism for entertainment, to brave and heroic warriors, and plenty more. There's Vander, for whom the word 'indomitable' might have been designed, and Hivis, whose first impression may be misleading, and he's not the only character who you might get the wrong idea of. I must say, I found myself getting a little exasperated sometimes with the main character, Aliya.

I'd heard about The Sword of Senack from following the author's blog, but I hadn't planned to read it: YA fantasy doesn't have a huge appeal for me these days. A few years ago, back when I was still very much into stuff like the Edge Chronicles, I'd have jumped at it, but now I usually prefer something a little more mature. In fact I only read it because I won a copy, and I'm extremely glad I did! I shall certainly look out fr the sequels promised by the ending, and I'll even go so far as to say I think this will be one of the books I'll reread a lot in the future.

Well worth a read, then: a fast-paced, original and immersive story, well-written, and recommended even if YA isn't really your thing.

Monday 16 April 2012

Please Can You Help?

I'm having one or two research difficulties. Well, one in particular:

I have a rather good character, who plays a pretty crucial role in the early stages of the story. Sadly, though, he is still just a designation in square brackets, because I can't find an appropriate name.

The problem is that he's a Maasai, so I need a Maasai name for him.

I did, in fact, manage to find a list of Maasai names, but I'm reliably informed that  in Maasai culture, meanings of names generally matter, and only a handful of the names listed had meanings listed, and none of those few suited.

So please, if you know any traditional Maasai boys' names, or the meanings to any of the names on the list, please tell me.

(UPDATE: I called him Sabore, though I don't know what it means or how to pronounce it)

Saturday 14 April 2012

Horseracing: Too Cruel?

It's that time of year again: the Grand National happens, and suddenly a lot more people than usual are shouting that horseracing is a bloodsport little better than dogfighting.

Well, I see where they're coming from. But I'm not sure I agree.

First of all, let's get out of the way the idea that horses dying is the big issue. I am not a vegetarian, and no-one who eats meat has any rational grounds to object to the deaths of farm animals. If you are a vegetarian on ethical grounds, and you object to horse racing because horses die, I respect your opinion. But I don't share it, and I have my doubts that all or even most of the people who complain about racing do. For those of us who have questioned eating meat and concluded that it is allowable, it would be hypocritical to raise thoroughbreds above cattle and say you can kill Betsy but not Dobbin.

The issue here is horses suffering.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Blogging About not Blogging

I really ought to write something, but I'm afraid you're going to have to make do with a repost about exactly why you're going to have to make do with a repost. Enjoy.

Rick Gualtieri writes about things like vampires and bigfoot, and his books sound brilliant although I can't honestly recommend them only because I haven't yet gotten around to reading them. He also blogs about writing at The Poptart Manifesto.

The Blogging Doldrums

I’m currently in the middle of writing The Mourning Woods, the third book in my foul-mouthed comedy series about a dorky vampire namedBill who’s been thrust into a world he isn’t ready for, and that definitely isn’t ready for him. Being smack dab in the middle of what I call writing mode definitely has its perks, not the least of which is constantly being able to pull more and more ideas out of the old grey matter. However, there is one definite drawback. For some reason, whenever I am in writing mode, that portion of my brain that comes up with blog post ideas just up and burns out...

Well, Rick's not the only one affected by this phenomenon (see above). But at least the novel's coming on well: the '>' bits of my daily '>1000 words' have just added up to an extra 1000, putting me at just over 68 000 words total, and an estimated two thirds of the way through.
How long is a novel supposed to be, anyway? No two estimates agree. But I digress.

...I could’ve been hit by a bus. But more than likely, barring any obituaries showing up in your local paper regarding bald men with hard to pronounce Italian names, it means that I’m busy killing off my brain cells in the mad pursuit of finishing another book...

Please don't get hit by a bus. It would be a terrible shame if you didn't finish the book, and I never got to find out what happens to Bill.
Funnily enough Gualtieri never struck me as hard to pronounce, which I guess probably means I'm getting it wrong. But I only have to write it, so that's ok.

...No idea why my mind works this way, after all one would think that all of our creative ideas come from one place, and if that lump of cells can spit out a plot point for one thing, then surely it came do so for another...

I always attributed it to that lump of cells only having so much creative juice to go around, so more novelling => less blogging.

..When calls came out for the A-Z Blog Challenge, I was like “yeah right!” I knew I’d be lucky to get out one post, let alone 26... 

I had a pretty similar thought, and I haven't even attempted the challenge. Good luck to those brave souls who are.

The rest is here.

Friday 6 April 2012

At the Bottom of the Garden: Part Two

Last week, I wrote about my recurring battles with the abomination that used to be our garden pond.

Well today my dad and brother finally got around to helping me sort it out properly.

What we removed from the swamp (most quantities estimates):
  • Nearly a mile of marsh marigold stems
  • Two or three pounds of dead leaves
  • Two golf balls
  • An entire rockery
  • One inexplicable Christmas-tree bauble which certainly never belonged to us
  • Four or five pounds of moss
  • At least twelve pounds of silty roots and unidentifiable things
  • About twenty litres of primordial ooze

What is left in the pond:
  • Two marsh marigolds
  • About ten yards of pondweed
  • Enough silt to cover the bottom of the liner
  • A couple of dozen tadpoles
  • A few snails
  • Two swamp beasts (to the uninitiated, they would appear to be mere frogs, but we know better)
So we have tamed the swamp, but I doubt that it will take very long for it to be well-covered with a thick growth of weed, and by next year it will probably be well on its way to being thoroughly choked again.

I also tried to tame our resident triffid (which to the inexperienced eye would seem to be no more than a large and unruly rosebush), but gave up when it bit me painfully in the thumb.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

A Basilisk's Feather: Short Story

Here is a short story I wrote. It belongs to a world I created for a novel I won't be writing until after my vampire trilogy and very likely some others as well. I wrote it for a contest, but it turned out too long for the word-limit, so I just posted it here.

Enjoy, and please do tell me what you think (I don't think you can leave comments on pages, so leave it here instead).