Let the Christmas songs begin!
The modern world sucks.
No wait, I have a point, bear with me.
Now, I may be showing my age but I was partly raised by my elderly aunt and uncle, and in the 80s on rainy Saturday afternoons (there’s few other kinds in Yorkshire outside summer), it was TV time. After wrestling (Kendo Nagasaki was my favourite) and maybe the A Team if it was on, we’d get to the black and white films. My uncle loved the westerns, but they were never my thing. No, but give me a good Jason and the Argonauts, or even better, anything to do wit 19th century pirates and you couldn’t prize me away from that television for all the M.A.S.K. toys in the world.
I’ve thought a lot in the time since at why I loved those particular films since, and others set in what’s often called – if you’re being diplomatic – simpler times, and it always comes down to a unifying factor – the unknown. I grew up watching films and television programmes (think more Tin Tin than A-Team at this point) where there were still parts of the worlds considered unexplored, where a ‘Here Be Dragons’ scrawled on a map had to be taken seriously, because there’s might be a bloody dragon there.
And that’s why the modern world sucks. Because there are so few unknowns anymore. But one of those unknowns is the sea, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to contribute a story to Fox Spirit’s Pacific Monsters because it allowed me to tell a story about the kinds of monsters once thought to inhabit the less frequented corners of the world. Only, in this case, it just might.
Impossibly ancient and immense life form, yesterday.
For anyone who follows these things, more and more information about our oceans is being discovered. One those facts which keeps rearing its head is the ‘we know less about our oceans than we do about the moon’ and I love that. But that’s all oceans. What about the least-visited ocean? What percentage of that is explored?
The story the ningen hits all my interest points. Tales have been told about their (it’s, there?) existence for well over a century, there’s some (dodgy… yeah, let’s admit it, dodgy) photographic evidence (stop laughing, I said it was dodgy), and, best of all, it’s every so slightly and tantalisingly – maybe – plausible.
When I went to write ‘Grind’ for the collection I went a bit beyond my usual scope of research (IE, watching youtube videos and shouting “cool!” at the screen) and found one of those weird-arse conspiracy theory channels which in this case linked everything to the bible. While I’m sure these channels are filled with the kind of people who not only think fluoride has mind control properties, but also makes your skin glow, this one channels did link a particular bible passage to the potential existence of the ningen, and made a good enough linke between the two that I couldn’t help but include it in Grind. I won’t say what ti is, that, dear reader, is for you to discover and decide yourself.
And on that note – Pacific Monsters is out on November 30th at all good book shops and some dodgy ones too.
I love Twitter. Well, love / hate. As anyone who uses it regularly will know it’s has it times and uses, including shouting dad jokes into the ether. And every so often it throws up unexpected gems, and this morning it did just that.
Go ahead and read all that. I’ll wait.
See what I mean. That was insightful, and exceptionally well thought out, and brought something to mind about story telling in general and novel writing in particular.
Novel’s aren’t easy. You’re trying to tell a story over 100 thousand words, and no one on Earth can know ahead of times what those words will be ahead of time. The first draft is an exploration for the writer as for the reader, and even when the final draft is completed, there’s still 100k words on the page. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those words. Ever read a novel twice and come away with a whole new impression? That’s the effect in action, and here we see that again.
I doubt the writers of Friends had that particular sub narrative in mind when they were writing, but that’s how it came out, and now I can’t unsee it. It makes sense (and also makes Ross all that more pathetic… although he’s into dinosaurs, so he’s still my favourite). But the process of crafting such a rich world of deep, believable character, such unintended subplots are unanticipated and welcome. That’s something that makes long form story telling – Such as long-time overarching TV shows or novels – so special. There’s always more if we’re willing to look.
As the man says, good news! Fox Spirits have been releasing a series of anthologies based on folk tales and mythologies from around the world for a few years now. So far we’ve seen Europe, Africa and Asia (along with a few nominations and awards along the way) and now they’ve hit the Pacific, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ll be included!
Pacific Monsters had its table of contents released yesterday, and it’s very exciting. I’m honoured to be among such talented company, and I can’t wait to read the other stories in there.
Pacific Monsters will hit book shelves this November, and you know I’ll be here spruiking it as only a man with bills to pay could.
Did you know there’s a Drafts folder in WordPress? I didn’t. Until this morning, when I opened up the Dashboard, wondering with light interest what I would blog about today, when I sw it, and also notes from a post I was writing last November about impressions I had from The Girl on the Train. Anyone who reads this regularly (and if you do, I suspect you’re a Russian bot selling Raybans) will know I suck at organisation, so me forgetting all about this isn’t unusual. But what is is the reason I started that post to begin with was still in my mind.
Before we go on, spoiler alert for the post below. If you haven’t read the book go do that first. Go on, we’ll wait…
A train… presumably there’s a girl on it somewhere.
Good wasn’t it? What did you take from it? For me it was am excellent use of shifting sympathies. Hawkins made us pity than dislike Anna from one chapter to the next as each new piece of info was drip fed. I’m constantly amazed at writers who manage to do that (George RR Martin manages that with more than a few of his characters, Jaimie Lannister for EG). It unhinges the reader. Just when we think we know her something else happens and we know a little more.
Lesson one: You don’t need to reveal everything in one go.
Secondly, not all character arcs need to be complete. Thinking about Cathy’s (Anna’s landlady) boyfriend is one. He performs some necessary services up front, has his own little backstory, then quietly disappears.
As writers we’re often rpeached at that characters all need their own arc. Not true. Is it necessary to find out that Cathy’s boyfriend was only with her so he could steal her father’s Subbuteo collection? Newp.
Lesson two: Get the minor’s characters established, get their job done, anything else is window dressing.
Finally – major character changes are never pretty.
Here I’m talking about Tom. Goes from an entire book of being a despairing and caring ex to a murderous psychopath for five pages. Hawkins does use it good effect, as the change was ot reveal a character flaw which he himself would have tried to hide, but she went overboard I feel.
But then again she sells more books than me every second, so I’m willing to concede that’s, like, my opinion man.
The Girl On the Train Who was Gone and then Taken (to give the genre its full title) was a lot of fun and great lesson on character twists though.
I wish I had a conclusion to this post, but hey, that’s my own twist for today.
Break out the fairy bread and butter up a toadstool*, Haunted Futures is finally on the streets! It feels like it’s taken an inordinately long time, but Salome and good people at Ghostwoods have really put together a great anthology here. The reviews – including a starred one from Publisher’s Weekly – have begin rolling in and they’re all really positive.
And to mark the occasion, Salome hosted a hangout last night to speak to some of the authors, yours truly included, to chat about the book and, in my case, what not to include in children’s fiction.
I’m on first, but if you have…*looks at running time* …wow, six hours… but life is bleak and needs entertainment, and the other guys are all worth hearing, so get at it.
*I don’t know what I’m on about either.
It’s now only a few weeks until Haunted Futures hits the shelves – both digitally and physically – and the reviews have already begun and so far they’ve all been glowing.
Everyone involved is pretty hyped that the collection no less than a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and the most recent one comes from SF Book Reviews which kindly goes into every story individually, and was nice enough to say this about mine:
Future Noir by Michael Grey
Science fiction and Noir is a great combination and Michael Grey really nails it with Future Noir. This story asks the question – what would happen if they managed to prove the afterlife really does exist? If life after death is a proven fact how would this effect society, technology and of course religion? Throw in an investigation of the first murder in 20 years and you have a really cracking story.
If you want to pick up a copy of Haunted Futures (and why wouldn’t you?), get thine self yonder.
I have this suspicion that there’s a time fairy. She comes along when you’re not looking and – whoosh! – waves her wand and suddenly it’s 9pm, the dishes are still waiting to be done, you know the rubbish is being collected the next day, and and some point you’re going to have to ingest something or drop to the floor.
In my mind she’s related to the tooth and the sock* fairy.
Only the time fairy hasn’t been visiting me, instead I’ve been hit with a big dose of real life.
the past 7 months have seen my become a father again, get a new job and move into a newly built house. All ft very much into the ‘yay!’ category, but they also suck in time like a …. OK, I won’t use the analogy which sprung to mind. Let’s go with ‘vacuum cleaner’.
The problem is around 7 months ago I also agreed to write a novel and, well, it’s not going well. Well, it IS going well in that the story is solid, and the characters are so grounded they have birth certificates, but the time to write? Yeah, it’s eluding me.
So, I’ve found a way to streamline – the first draft is being written as a screenplay. economical in words and time, a screenplay is quickly allowing me to get the first draft out of the way, nailing down the nitty gritty, helping me spot plot hole without having to go through thousands of words to get there. Hoorah!
So, when the time fairy comes knocking next time, I’ll be waiting, with a length of two by four, and a camera to send a proof of life to the sock fairy to demand my socks back.
*The sock fairy is the one who leaves you with odd socks. She’s the most evil one.
And a yo ho ho to you too. Wait, is that pirates or Father Christmas? I do get them both mixed up.
Anyway, best wishes and season’s greetings! And just in time for the big day, the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine have run a Christmas-themed story compilation for the season, featuring a story from yours truly, and, for added hilarity, I do the narration.
Have at it, and have yourself a merry little Christmas!
There’s a fantastic podcast going on at the moment called The Bestseller Experiment which i urge you listen to. It’s two guys looking into how to write a best selling novel in one year, which sounds cynical andall about the filthy lucre on the surface, but it’s more about looking into writing craft, its business, and creativity in general.
Anyway, last week I was listening to the episode with Brian Cranston. Cranston had written screenplays, which was the link, but the conversation quickly turned ot creativity and artistry in general, and something he said stuck out to me. Cranston was speaking about an early audition he had and the advice he was given was ot give the interviewer what they want to see, and he said no, you give the audition the character deserves. And you may not get the part, but you will be remembered.
And I think the reason hat stayed with me was interviews with other artists I read as a kid that I still carry around with me now, and those were with James Hetfield of Metallica.
Whenever I’m asked my influences – which happens believe it or not – I include Metallica, and that always takes people by surprise. Not that this mild mannered chap would listen to such brash music (god help them if they ever see my CD collection*), but that a writer would list them as an influence. But the thing is Metallica came out fo nowhere in the 80s playing their own style of music. When everything was just getting faster, yellier and more distorted, they took their love of Euro glam rock and played their own version of it. Their love of their own art showed, and spawned a hundred copycats, but the point is they went against the grain. They ignored the market and played the music they wanted to.
They played it, and they did indeed come.
And that’s a lesson I take to writing – pay no mind what’s popular, ignore the zeigeist, write what you love. If you love it, there’ll be more. Trust me on this.
*For the kids in the audience, CDs were like tiny, limited MP3 players that doubled up as chicken hypotising discs