Tag: writing

Love the Art, Hate the Artist?

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Picture the scene; it’s 1998, your esteemed narrator still has the fresh glow of youth, long hair and the body of a Greek god (one of the above is untrue), and at the time is at a music venue in Wolverhampton with a friend who ran their marketing dept. There’s a band playing on stage, loud, not too heavy, touching lightly on melodic. They were quite good. Afterwards I was at the bar when the singer came up to it. I tried to speak to him. It was approaching 20 years ago and I still have yet to meet another person with the ego and sense of self entitlement which exceeded this knob-end of biblical proportions. All I wanted to do was say I liked his work and have a quick chat about influences, he didn’t even bother to say anything after it became apparent I wasn’t there to sign him and just walked off. “What are they called again?” i asked my friend later. “Coldplay, I think,” she said. I sniffed. “Shit name.”

And I stand by that, but that’s not my point. Since then they’ve achieved some modest success, and douche-singer married some lady with a fruit fixation, and if I’m quite honest I like the sound of some of their songs. Some of them I like quite a lot. Would I ever purposeful listen to them? Hell no, because they’re a bunch of egotistical dicks (backed up by said friend – so’s Craig David in case you were wondering (the venue staff were specifically instructed ‘not to look Craig in the eye’)), and there’s plenty of great music out there that I don’t think I need to make the effort and separate the art of the artist.

Coldplay, yesterday... I swear this wasn't me

Coldplay, yesterday… I swear this wasn’t me

This is something which has been popping up again and again recently. If you’re part of the sci fi and fantasy publishing community you would have almost certainly seen it brought up in the 2015 Hugo awards and the whole sad puppy debacle, or more recently with replacing the bust of HP Lovecraft as the statue for the World Fantasy Award. “Love the art, not the artist.” Well, I can’t, and to my ears it sounds like a last ditch attempt at defending a) the artists’ repugnance, and b) the tacit sign the defender harbours some agreement with what makes them repugnant.

I’m thinking more about this now as I move along with my own work. Part of what is selling my work is me (*waves*). In an age where the artist is more than ever responsible for advertising their work, the artist themselves becomes a part of that marketing. Who am I? What do I think? Who do I say would win in a fight between Batman and Superman (answer – whoever sold the tickets). If I strike a chord with the reader they’re more likely to buy into what I’m selling,

But does that mean I need to make myself as a person more likable? Mmh, good question.

I’m sure each person asked would have their own answer, and mine is no, no I do not. For a start I reckon I’m a pretty likable person as is (I even help my elderly neighbour take his rubbish bins out, and I worry that when we move the next people to live here might not), but also having opinions is what makes a person a person, it defines our character. Will I offend some people? Honestly as a writer if I don’t offend someone I think I’m doing something wrong, but most people are emotionally mature enough to know that not sharing an opinion does not mean you write someone off totally. Having opinions gives you something to talk about. Don’t believe me? At the next office party try having a conversation with someone without any.

So, yes, have opinions, pick a side, get off the fence. Do not be afraid. If you take anything from this little rant let it please be that – Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

Michael

Happy New Year From This Word Monkey!

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Hola, and welcome to 2016.  I hope all your holidays were fun and filled with whatever libations you enjoy most. Of course now the break is over and it’s back to the keyboard….. kind’ve.

The fam and I have come down to Rye on the Mornington Peninsula for some R&R before the day jobs start again, but for some of the us the work never ends, eh?  So right now you find me in the hellish, temporary office slaving away…..

I know, it’s awful.

But seriously, with the kids ready for the beach at pretty much every moment and wineries to go explore I still do need to get the works down.  It’s now 7:45am and I’ve been up since six, editing down some sci fi background for Mantic games.  It’s important to grab what times you can to write, and if you don’t have any to grab, make some. History is written by the people who set their alarm clocks quietly very early and woke up before the screaming starts.  I think Napoleon said that.

But I think I hear the first stirring of little feet, so I have to go. Have fun.

Michael

A Glimpse at the Amateur Wordsmith

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Alarm goes off at 5:50am.  Get out of bed – QUIETLY! Waking a sleeping Love of my Life ™ at this hour is never a good idea, and if either of the children has even the inkling of an idea Daddy is awake and I kiss my morning writing window goodbye to cuddling up on the sofa and watching Scooby-Doo…. actually that doesn’t sound s-no!  There is work to be done.

Sneak to the kitchen, avoiding all the floorboards I know through trial and error creak.  Put on water to boil (no kettle for me (too loud), so I need to go old skool and get a pan on the gas).  Get laptop out.  Realise I forgot to turn the volume down last night, so the gentle Windows log on chime sounds like a fire engine wired into a fog horn.

Freeze, listen for the sound of scampering feet.  Nothing.  Breath a sigh of relief, rub the sleep from my eyes and get typing.

Struggle with the suffocating feeling that all art is masturbation and who the hell am I to think I could force my writing on other people, and didn’t I know there’re Scooby-Doo episodes to watch?  Realise I just wasted five minutes, and pull myself together, ignore that inner voice and get writing.

6:30, and time to get ready for work.  There follows a whirlwind of making sandwiches, heating porridge, finding school uniforms and cleaning teeth (along with the usual “Look, the Batman and shark toothbrushes are equally good, there’s no need to argue over them” debate).

7:30 and time to go.  Get to the train station, pray that should there be limited seating you don’t get on with any elderly ladies or pregnant women (writing is important, but not that important).  Train arrives; cue Hunger Games style contest with high schoolers to get a seat – Ha!  In your face, hopeful youth!  Get laptop out (again), revel for once in the lack of Australian wifi connectivity, and get in an uninterrupted 40 minutes.

8:30, and the day job….. you really don’t need to know about this bit.

12:00  Lunch time, woohoo!  Get out the laptop (again x2)  Gobble down a sandwich and get writing.  Realise you forgot to put on your out of office alert and accidentally answer your phone.  Automatically say “Uh-huh…. yeah…totally… yeah I have capacity” while I’m not listening as my mind wonders if Character A would really say that to Character B.

1:00  Back to work, but first to check the word count – score!  Then I see my work in-box and wonder where all this extra work came from.  Vaguely remember something about a phone call and curse self.

5:00, off we go, walk to the furthest train station from office to try and get a seat, work out elbows with people who just want to sit and listen to music (don’t they realise what character A is about to say?).

6:00 Home, happiness, family and Lego.  Mainly Lego.  And convincing two young boys they really want to eat their meals and not play with Lego.  Did I mention Lego?

7:30 Kids in bed (minus Lego… hopefully), tidy up with Love of My Life ™.  She tells me about her day.  I wonder if that’s how Character B would have put it.  Accidentally call her Character B’s name.  Now Love of my life ™ thinks I’m either an idiot or having an affair.

9:00 Grab an extra hour before bed.  Thinks about how Love of my Life ™ said Character B’s words (OK, she didn’t, but things often happen in my head which don’t in reality).  Compare them to what I wrote.  Delete everything from that day and start again.

A Promise to Myself

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I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast last week (you know what the WE ‘cast is…. and if you don’t you really should), and Howard Taylor made a very good point when asked ‘How do you get your spouse to take your writing seriously?”

He theorised that, as in writing, showing is better than telling.  Give up something you really enjoy doing in order to make time for your writing.  Show your other half you care enough about this to make sacrifices, or why should they?

What stuck was not that my wife doesn’t take my writing seriously.  She does.  I could not be more lucky (other than the usual) in having a spouse who supports and encourages me….  And I have made sacrifices.  I’ve given up a lot in order to make more writing time…. but as most of you find, as you secure your time to write, you do what you can to witter away that time.  It’s part of the creative process, unhinging your brain to think in the background while you do mundane shit.

But I realised that that’s not being fair.  My wife fields the kids a lot for me.  She’s supportive enough that when I finally become a published author that I should be able to do it full time.  So then I should be making more time.  She is giving me a gift, and I will not waste it.

This is a round about way of saying get up that extra hour in the morning.  Do what you have to do to get those words down.  Do it.  Do it for yourself, but mostly, do it for your family.

Your Anger is a Gift

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I have a rule that I don’t post anything overtly political on my Twitter feed.  If you follow my Twitter feed you’ll know it’s a rule I fail miserably to follow.  You see dear reader, I’m an angry man.  I’m also a happy man, a sad man and everything in between, but when it comes to politics it’s hard to be anything other than angry.  And when it comes to Thatcher, I’m a child of the 80s from a Yorkshire mining town.  You can probably guess I’m no fan.

But I’m not here to harp on or dance or anything else.  I’ve had my own feelings I’ve vented elsewhere, but the level of my emotions on the subject surprised even me.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an emotional person.  I don’t mean I cry at the drop of a hat, I mean I swing from one to the other with little pushing.  It’s part of me I’m thankful I have, because a writer should feel.  We should care.  Because if we don’t, why should our readers?

It wasn’t until I sat back and assessed my feeling this week though that I realised the novel I’m writing (working title ‘Europa’ and subject to change when something cooler occurs) is partly my venting the machinations of government and the suppression of the self.  All this was going on beneath my fingertips, and I didn’t even know it.

So what I’m saying is go feel.  Go experience   Care for something, for anything. And most of all, be angry.

Michael

 

An Interview with Steve Rossiter

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So you’ve heard me banging on about this book The Life and Times of Chester Lewis recently, yes?  If not, perhaps I haven’t been shouting loud enough.  Anyway, Steve Rossiter, the man who got the ball rolling on Chester, gave up some of his time recently to answer a few questions regarding Chester Lewis, the Australian Literature Review and his own writing.

 

To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Grow up?

I was born in Hobart and grew up in Tasmania, until I moved to the Gold Coast as a teenager, later moved to Canberra to study at uni, lived in Melbourne for a number of years and have spent extended periods travelling around Australia.

 

Can you remember when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Was there a particular author or book which propelled you in this direction?

I first considered being an author at 9 years old when I started reading novels instead of shorter children’s books. At that age, some of the fiction books which appealed to me were Tintin books and Choose Your Own Adventure books. The following year, my Year 4 primary school teacher would read books out loud to the class one chapter each day. Ones that stood out were Charlotte’s Web by EB White, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I found more Cynthia Voigt novels (my favourite was The Wings of a Falcon), as well as The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier and others, but started running out of fiction books I liked in the primary school library and branched out to novels by Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett and Eric Lustbader.

 

You established The Australian Literature Review to help emerging Australian writers to find their feet. Do you think there’s a particular need in Australia for new writers to be helped find themselves?

The aim of The Australian Literature Review is not necessarily to help emerging writers find their feet. That is one aspect, but it is also about giving readers and writers access to interviews and articles so they can get first-hand insights into how authors go about their fiction writing and their thoughts on various aspects of fiction writing. This is useful for aspiring fiction authors, but also to published authors and readers who don’t necessarily want to write their own fiction.
Australia is a relatively small publishing market which makes building a sustainable career as a novelist generally more complicated for Australian writers than writers in countries such as the US and the UK. Australia also has less world class universities where novelists can build sophisticated knowledge and writing skills to compete on the same level as US and UK novelists.

 

The Life and Times of Chester Lewis is the latest in a series of books published under the Auslit banner. The way it was written, with one author taking on the next stage of Chester’s life with nothing but the previous stories to base it on, could have lead in quite a few different directions. Did the book unfold in the way you envisioned?

I put the initial book concept in place, which was to chart the approximately 100 year lifespan of the main character via a story per decade in that character’s life. Beyond that, and a general idea of some authors I might invite to each write a story, I did not have a pre-conceived idea of how the book would unfold. The first story, by Michael White, established Chester’s parents and the circumstances leading up to Chester’s birth,that Chester would be born in Perth in 1932, etc. If Michael had established the main character’s birth for 1900 or 1987 instead of 1932 it would have been a very different book.

 

The Life and Times of Chester Lewis has an associated fan fiction competition with a top prize of $2,000. What advice would you give to someone whom this has prompted to write their first short story?

In a recent interview, Kelly Inglis asked me what makes a compelling character and I said a combination of purpose and personality. In another recent interview, I told Jo Hart that a simple but important tip is to have a story concept in mind before writing the story. (You can click on the relevant interview link to find a fuller explanation.)

 

You’re working on your own novel right now, set in WW2 Poland. Tell us about it? Was there a particular reason you chose that period and country?

The 1939 invasion of Poland is a pivotal turning point in world history, marking the start of WW2. It is a time and place which has gravity for people around the world, yet it is not a setting which has been overdone in novels or films. Poland is a place rich in sophisticated history. For example, Nicolaus Copernicus (who famously advanced the idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way round) lived not far from where my story is set, around 400 years earlier. It is a time and place where high stakes conflict is all around in various forms while a conflict of ideas also plays out on a grand scale.

 

What authors do you particularly admire, or had an influence on your writing?

In a recent interview, Kerry Brown asked me which ten authors, living and dead, I might ideally select for a hypothetical book of similar concept to The Life and Times of Chester Lewis and I suggested the following might be in the running:
Stephen King
Robert Louis Stevenson
William Shakespeare
Jodi Picoult
Mark Twain
Michael Crichton
Cynthia Voigt
Isaac Asimov
Carl Sagan
EB White

 

Finally, the question all writers dread…. Keyboard or pen?

I prefer to do the first draft in pen and do the first edit as I type it onto the computer, or to do planning and write research notes in pen and/or on a whiteboard then to type the story.

 

 

Thanks Steve for taking to the time.  And if you’d like to try your hand at the fan fiction competition (and why wouldn’t you?  What’s there to lose?) head right on over to the Chester Lewis site or its Facebook page.  Happy writing.

 

Michael

The Bells! The Bells!

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The people who lived in this house before the wife and I moved in were kind enough to leave a wind chime in the outside entertaining area (I don’t like the word pergola… to me to sounds like some pacific battle from WW2), for which I was very greatful.

I love windchimes.  To the point where I don’t understand why otehrs wouldn’t.  Not that it matters, because I also don’t trust them.  I mean, who could trust someone who doesn’t love windchimes?

For me they herald they beginning of something.  Perhaps it’s my watching all those terrible late 80s and 90s horror films, where a few clink-clonks on them signalled someone was about be offed…. whatever the cause, I love them, and they aid my writing no end… even when the pigeons also took a shine to them.

There’s also a tree in our back garden.  And oak, I think, although I’m terrible at guessing trees without leaves and we moved in in winter, but to the local pigeons its the most comfortable tree around, and since I moved the windchomes to catch more breeze, well now they have something to play with too.

So, I’ll be writing, with a gentle tinkle-plinkle-plonk in the background, when suddenly it be like Bez from the Happy Mondays has been on the Vimto and decided to go at them with his maracas.

Exhibit A (minis Bez and maracas):

 

 

Get In Ma Head!

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Writing groups are, on the whole (he he),  a good thing for a writer.  That sentence should come with the caveat ‘the right writing group’, I suppose.  A bad writing group will undermine a writer’s confidence and, worse, soak up time which could be used to write, but let’s ignore those for now.

I’ve been a part of a group before, and I miss it, so when I saw another group advertised through the Victorian Writer’s Centre I jumped at it.

I met the guys last month for the first time, got along, and think I may have found a new home, but something which happened in the feedback session made me realise the ability to receive feedback is a necessity for a writer.

The guy in question (used here in the gender-non-specific sense to keep things nice and safe) when someone said they didn’t understand a particular paragraph, the writer was straight on the defensive, saying the reader ‘did not get them’, and suggesting it was her fault, not their’s.

Woah, woah, woah, I wanted to say (but didn’t, because it was my first time and I didn’t want to rock the boat).  If a reader says they did’t understand something then the writing is suspect, full stop.  Perhaps they’re wrong, but even if they’re not suspicion has been raised and needs to be satisfied.

What writing is is story telling.  We as authors need to get the message, be it action, descriptions, feeling or dialogue, across to the reader as clearly and concisely as possible.  If that does not happen, the fault lies at the source.

I was made more thankful for the CAE Novel Writing course I took which made receiving and giving feedback its own syllabus.  I’m happy for any feedback I get back, even if it’s only ‘It’s sucks’… at least as long as I can find out why said suckage happens.

To Clutter or not to Clutter?

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I’m a fairly spartan person.  I don’t know if this is natural or not, I mean I ache to buy a toy Warthog (of the HALO variety, not a pig) but I know it will just be something more to dust.

However, I may have been won over by New Crobuzon tube maps!

New Crobuzon tube map from society6.com

The talented people at society6.com have these for sale now, and I’m thinking this just may be a purchase for our new digs.  We’ll see if I can slip it past the missus.

In other news I’ve been a productive little writer.  Four short stories written, edited and submitted in three weeks is not bad, although O realise now it was an attempt by me to avoid working on the novel.  I subconsciously reached a point I knew I had to face I did not have a proper ending for a single book, just a jumper-ending to book 2, which will not help a first time novelist sell an MS.

Rather than be grown up and admit it, however, I of course stuck my head in the sane and wrote some short stories.  Time to get back on that horse, I think.  Wish me luck.

Michael