Saturday, 23 May 2009

Writing Jam! Maybe even marmalade!

Do you want to be a writer? Dreamed of having a line of books with your name up on the shelves? To be immortailized in print?
No? Well don't bother reading further and come back next week when I'll move onto a new topic, probably the new Terminator movie.
Anyway, for those still with me there's a small workshop on writing to be held by yours truly on Saturday 20th June at Herne Hill, South London.
It's at the old Apollo video shop which, for the month of June will transform into an arts venue with cinema, music, artwork and all sorts of weird and wonderful things.
Now, rather than me decide what we should do, it's up to you. It'll be open for 11+, so kids are more than welcome. The only limit is that it'll be focused on Writing for Children, and we'll be looking at basic principles, plotting, characterization, scene design or something similar. That's my background (well that and engineering but I'm not sure who'd take me up on running an engineering class) and I want it to be as interactive as possible, so bring pens and paper.
To get the ball rolling, here's my suggestions:
1. Scene writing. What is a scene, how does it work? Would you recognise one if it ran you over?
2. Characterization. Designing your story's hero or heroine and we'll discuss what makes a character work. This will overlap with...
3. Plotting a story. We'll look at the Hero's Journey and the common events that occur in most classical stories. Unless they're written by David Lynch.
It's a free event, and I'll blog the specific times and any further info closer to the day, but it'll be in the afternoon.
So, if you have any suggestions or ideas, do drop me a comment. This should be a laugh!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Who is Billi SanGreal?

I've been thinking about the extent a fictional character grows into life, so thought I'd share my musings, not quite sure where they'll lead.
Billi's fifteen, and recently I established her birthday being 15th January. So she was born in 1994.
Her mother was murdered when she was five, in 1999, and since then she's been brought up by her father.
She's not that academic, that's for sure. Since the age of ten she's lived a dual life, normal school-kid during the day, Templar squire at night. Her skills are swordplay, occult lore and ancient languages. These skills are not much in demand in the 21st Century marketplace.
What's she want to be? That's the question? What future does she want for herself, and what future will be decided for her by fate? As much as we like to believe we can create our own opportunities, we know that's not true. Our circumstances, our status and our environment have a huge influence on who we are and who we'll be.
For more years than I care to remember, I was trapped in a profession I'd fallen into, not picked, but had planned for me by others.
You're either seen as a science/maths/engineering type of person, or an arts orientated person. People get confused when you say you want to be both. I went to a purely technological university. No English students, no languauge students, no arts students AT ALL. Those things didn't exist in my world.
Which is a terrible shame.
People will give you all sorts of advice about what you should be and what's good for you. They all mean well. They want you to be successful, to be happy.
But do they know about your deepest dreams? Do they live in your skin and feel how your heart beats faster when you see your favourite actor, or singer, or when a brand new sports car is unveiled on Top Gear?
The things that quicken your pulse, that's your life beating away, telling you what you really want. It's the drum-beat of passion, of desire, of love.
Listen to it. When all the rest of the noise is exams, is university choices, is career paths, listen to that drum-beat. Hey, it may be too quiet to hear right now, or you might not know what it is. It's taken me twenty years to understand it, and there are many friends who still can't hear their own.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Devil's Kiss Launch Party

Yesterday we celebrated the launch of DEVIL'S KISS with a great big party in the park. It's totally self-gratifying, but what the hell, do you really need an excuse for a party? Especially one with medieval knights?
The Knights of Longshank provided security and the entertainments so a great big shout to Neil and his gang. They fought through rain, wind and lots of screaming children. True Templars.
It was great so many turned up, from Greenhouse, SCBWI, Puffin and from my old life as an engineer and all periods of the last 40 or so years of my existence. Tony, who read the VERY VERY FIRST draft of what eventually became DEVIL'S KISS, Steve and the Bigger Betty crew who first led me into the heady world of publishing with Krane, as well as the guiding gurus of my writing career, Lins and Sarah.
Speeches were spoken and I took the opportunity to, basically, give myself a huge pat on the back. Everyone clapped politely then carried on drinking.
Okay, a few other things have come up. I will be adding this to the website shortly, but will kick off now: FAQ...
1. How long did it take to write DEVIL'S KISS? Four years of totally trial and error. At first it was completely amateur but after about 3 years it was approaching something almost publishable. Another year then I got an agent. Then more work.
2. How long is it? About 60-65,000 words. My aim is to produce a story that doesn't waste time, yours or the characters. Things are desperate throughout and the clock is ticking towards disaster. I wanted to get that sort of urgency in the writing so made it as lean and mean as possible. Some of the best feedback I've had is people have ploughed through it in a single night. Some have missed their train stop and that's very satisfying.
3. How do I get published? Write loads. Learn. Don't give up and enter competitions. It worked for me.
4. Who's my favourite author and why? It changes but recently it's been John Connolly and Philip Reeve. JC because of the creepy terror of Book of Lost Things (major influence on The Dark Goddess) and PR for the Mortal Engines series. Utterly awesome. For setting, for characters you really love and for not taking the easy way out. And I forgive him for being Book of the Month the same month I came out. Oh well. Fever Crumb is brilliant and I'm trying to read it slowly, to make it last.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Wow. I mean WOW!!

This arrived on Friday, the Disney-Hyperion cover for DEVIL'S KISS, due out in September.
Seriously cool, don't y'think?
It's amazing what people take from the book and how they imagine the story, compared to your own image of who the characters are and what they look like.
Billi's both fey and hard. There's a touch of Burne-Jones and I love the almost Victorian gothic aspect of her in white and the darkness beyond. Then there's the bad boy in the back. Mike or Kay? Who knows?
Really, it is a cover of my most favourite things!
It'll look very cool beside the Puffin book with its dramatic bloody 'X' and the industrial London city-scape. The same book, two very different covers. And both so very right.
I've just come back from the first half of my school tour. Thursday was the Oswestry Book Festival in sunny and very beautiful Shropshire, and Friday was Barlow High School and Chorlton in brooding Manchester. The wind was hwoling outside the library during the afternoon as I read some of chapter 1, couldn't have asked for a better setting.
I've a few more visits planned as part of the 'official' launch tour, then I'm planning to carry on with them myself. If you're interested in me coming over to your school, do contact me and I'll do my best.
The Questions and Answers threw up a few interesting issues. "How old are you?". "Do you know J.K Rowling?". "Is it like Twilight?".
I answered them all as truthfully as I could (and there were no gasps of horror when I told them my age as they all thought "How can anyone be THAT old and still, like, be alive?"). The event included some swords and live roleplay, which in hindsight might have involved better safety guidelines but no one's been hurt. Which is nice. Well done to all those that took part and I hope to get some piccies up soon.
Have spotted my book in the bookshops, which still gives me a warm glow inside.
Once the tour is done, I'll update my main website with photos and a more thorough summary of what happened, so do check it out in a week or two. The blog will still be the main event, but I do want the website to evolve a bit.
Other news, there's the Dulwich Festival happening near where I am. Sadly I'm not involved but there's no need to be churlish about these things. Wendy French is running a Children's Poetry and Writing Workshop at Tea West on Sunday 17th May, between 11-1pm. It involves shipwrecks, which is always good.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Wow. It's finally out. This is a piccie from Village Books where it's on the front window. Right next to Gone (so I feel a sort of reflected cred) and I saw it at Foyles (St. Pancras) too.
So, after it feeling like it would nevere ever happen DEVIL'S KISS is at last on the bookshelves.
How do I feel?
Elated. Anxious. Heart's pumping and there's a definate thrill as well as stomach twisting 'Why aren't there hordes of people buying it?' sort of vibe.
The baby's out in the big bad world and we'll now see what happens next. The rollercoaster ride never ends. Not when you've got an agent. Not when you've got a publishing deal and not when it's on the shelves. I don't know how many careers create such intense emotions, certainly not building services, which is what I did in a past life.
Okay, while my name is on the cover there's been a hell of a lot of other people that have made this happen. I've brought their names up before but I'm going to do it again, now.
The Greenhouse crew and everyone and Working Partners and Rights People. Sara, Sara and Sarah for pulling me off the slush pile.
Puffin and Hyperion for all your enthusiasm and patience when the deadlines loomed and for doing such an excellent job on turning such raw material into a BOOK.
All the SCBWI gang. The Undiscovered Voices I shared my first book with have been totally enthusiastic and everyone's celebrated everyone's success. We're in this together and it's great to feel what's important is books and getting people reading. We write for ourselves but it's the readers that make us writers.
To family. Last but most important. They're the reasons I do any of this and made my life as a writer become the life of my dreams.
Thank you all!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Wot's it all about?

Liz de Jager runs a great fantasy-orientated blog and has very kindly interviewed me this week. She's also running a competition to win a copy of my book, which gives you another reason to visit her site, doesn't it? It's pretty cool to be added amongst her 'proper writers' as I still struggle to imagine myself as a one of them, with ruffled shirts and everything.

Actually, since first chatting with Liz it has re-awoken my old love for heroic fantasy. I've dusty off my old copy of Elric and am busy re-reading Sailor on the Sea of Fate, which is perhaps the coolest title ever.

So, here's my list of top five fictional heroes (in no particular order):

1. Elric. Michael Moorcock's anti-hero extreme has probably had a biggest influence in my writing career. Partially because reading his works made me write my own roleplaying adventures back in the 1980's. That was the beginning of my storytelling training and up in the loft I've still got my epic Dragon Warriors' campaign (War of the Magi) that was, truth be told, a blatant rip off of Elric and the entire Conjunction of a Million Spheres. Since a good idea can be ripped off more than once I've persuaded my neighbours we're going to set up a roleplaying group. The 1st edition AD&D stuff is out of storage and back on the shelves!

2. Bilbo Baggins. I've gone for the OG Rings hero. Let's face it, Aragorn and the fellowship are pretty two dimensional (I might have discussed this earlier) but not Bilbo.

3. Conan. He's great. No deconstruction required. Beyond the Black River is one of the best stories I've ever read, EVER. It's about a pictish assault on the border country and has Conan just as hardcore as can be. I have the old 80s Frazetta covers and even now, they just drip testosterone. I think tehre was a quote about Conan which said "it's not as the world was, but as it should have been". Too right.

4. Sharpe. I've talked about him a lot on this blog but bascially he's Conan during the Napoleonic Wars. Okay, I know he's not fantasy, but he's definately heroic.

5. Hester out of the Mortal Engines series. A truly tragic heroine who, when given happiness, is too damaged to accept it. If you haven't read Philip's Reeve's amazing series, you are missing out. IMHO the best children's series in the last decade. While I love Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights saga, the Mortal Engines just doesn't flag and the world setting is awesome as is the cast of characters. It's the strength of the second string players that really brings Reeves' stories to the heights of greatness. Plus there's a visual flare than does just take your breath away. Cannot praise this man enough. That said I didn't like Here Lies Arthur.
There are others, but I've already discussed Dorothy last week so won't repeat her. Others in the top ten would be Bond, Harry Potter, Roland (out of The Dark Tower), Lyra, and Toad out of Wind and the Willows.