Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Oftentimes when the term "fantasy" is bandied about, people conjure up immediate Tolkien-esque images: wizards, Elvish warriors, Rings of Power, trolls, and other elements of the genre that have become very typical. It is because that imagery is so commonplace that when someone comes along like, say, Mervyn Peake or China Mieville, and darkens the notion of fantasy with grit, gloom and intensity, readers really take notice.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Some people in this country take political correctness to such an extreme that it exacerbates the very problem it seeks to eliminate. Extreme political correctness is a form of racism because it coddles and thereby demeans minority groups, helping to isolate them from the rest of society.
So forgive me if I was cynical when the media started screaming "racial abuse". Still, I was curious enough to go and find out what the Big Brother housemates have been saying about Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood star.
Danielle called Shilpa a "dog", and Jade said, "She makes me feel sick. She makes my skin crawl." While these are nasty things to say, they aren't necessarily racist. But Jackiey, who struggled to remember Shilpa's name, repeatedly referred to her as "the Indian", which is rude and discriminatory at the very least.
From there the bullying and prejudice escalates. Jo said that Indians are thin because they are always ill as a result of undercooking their food. Danielle sneered, "She should fuck off home. She can't even speak the language properly." And finally, yesterday in a conversation with Danielle, Jade Goody called her fellow housemate "Shilpa Poppadoom" and "Shilpa Fuckawallah".
These are undeniably racist, the last overtly so, despite claims to the contrary from Miss Goody and Channel 4.
The careers of Jade and Danielle are already suffering because of this, and rightly so. Bennetts have terminated their modelling contract with Danielle, removing her photograph from their website, while the Perfume Shop have ditched Jade's brand of scent "Shh..." Jade should have listened to her own perfume's advice.
Meanwhile, the vast amount of publicity won't harm Miss Shetty's career, and the Endemol executives can drool over their coffers as viewing figures rocket.
No doubt the three girls are bullying Shilpa because she's smarter, more attractive, and more dignified than any of them. They feel threatened. That's no excuse. Jade, Danielle and Jo should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Unfortunately this trio seem to be representative of the kind of ignorant trash which fills the UK today.
We'll have some idea of the state of the nation tonight, when the public will have decided to evict either Jade or Shilpa. Jade deserves to go. If Shilpa is voted out, it will be a sad day for this country.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Because Corsair asked, and because I've recently given an interview which focused on my experiences with commercial publishers, I thought I should blog about the subject.
A year and half ago I had what I considered to be the final draft of a manuscript I'd been working on for almost ten years -- actually three years if you omit the time I spent working as a code monkey for Rockstar. I'd gnawed my savings down to a stub. I was going to have to get a job, or get published. So I read all the writing forums, hoping for some advice.
If you visit writing forums, you'll have seen the same sort of posts as I did back then. You know the type of thing:
"You have NO CHANCE of finding a commercial publisher. Big publishers aren't looking for new talent. The Stephen Kings and John Grishams have it all sewn up. Give up now, you fucktard. You CAN'T make a living from writing. Publish it yourself, promote, promote, or get bitter, join our jackboot mob and crush the hopes of wannabees. This is the STARK, DEPRESSING truth. Persist and YOU WILL die penniless and alone."
Bollocks to that. There was one guy in particular who always riled me: a sadistic little misery peddler, always bashing the new writers who just wanted some advice or encouragement. I loathed the fucker. The truth was, he hadn't succeeded as a writer himself and, deep down, didn't want to see others do so. Oddly enough, he'd set himself up in business as an independent editor, so I asked him, on the public forum, to edit a paragraph of mine.
He trashed it, pointing out the many flaws with utter contempt. It was, he told me with a wink to his pack of fawning forum buddies, staggeringly awful. I'd better learn to write because no respectable publisher would bother with such amateur drivel. This pleased me, because I hadn't actually written the paragraph after all. I'd asked him to edit a rather wonderful piece of prose by Hemmingway.
He vented spume and excuses. But to this day he still charges a fee to batter other people's books into shape. What sort of shape, I don't know -- but I doubt it's pretty. You won't find him on the forum anymore. The moderator banned him. If you want his advice, you'll have to pay for the privilege. And why should you do that when the super-lovely and genuinely talented editors in commercial publishing houses do it for free?
Fine. But first you have to get a publishing deal, right?
Since I posted on that forum, I've become a full time writer. My first book has been published in a bunch of countries and translated into several languages. The advances were substantial. Reviews and articles appeared in the national press, and many established authors whom I respect and admire have said nice things about my novel. I've had book launches and signings and a bloody good curry.
So that's where I'm at now. For anyone who is writing their own first novel and might be interested, this is how I got here:
1) I wrote the book.
2) I rewrote the book.
3) I rewrote the book.
4) I rewrote the book.
5) I rewrote the book.
6) I rewrote the book.
7) I rewrote the book.
It took seven drafts because I still wasn't happy with it after six. For a 170,000 word novel, this meant a lot of work, much learning, and a large dollop of constructive criticism from friends. Were so many rewrites excessive? I don't think so. I love to read stories, but I didn't love the early drafts of my own. No doubt I would have rewritten the whole thing again, but my savings were now shavings. I had to find a publisher, or get a sodding job.
I sent the first 50 pages to two agents: the "no way are they going to accept me, because they already represent him" agent, and a second, very respectable lady, whom I thought might be sympathetic because I had a tenuous connection with one of her authors through a friend of a friend. You're supposed to send out manuscripts one at a time, but I couldn't wait. I could barely afford the printer ink and postage.
The first agent, the one whom I wasn't going to pin my hopes on, called two days later and asked to see the full manuscript. He read it over the weekend and phoned on Monday with an offer of representation. I was lucky, because he happens to be one of the finest literary agents in the world. Everything moved quickly after that, and, I'm ashamed to say, I quite forgot about the second agent who, as it turned out, decided to pass.
There was talk of an auction, but pre-emptive offers were made and a three-book deal was agreed with imprints of Macmillan and Random House. I worked with my agent and with editors in both the UK and USA to iron out the wrinkles in the book (no charge to me). The hardback came out in July, on my birthday. That was a nice day.
Occasionally I return to the writing forums. New writers are asking the same questions I asked back then. Often they find good advice. But there are still a few folks waiting in the wings, polishing their jackboots, ready to trample the unwary. People like to criticize. Bitter people like to lambaste. Don't let the bastards get you down.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Lately I've been reading Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985, edited by Anthony Thwaite. It's a funny and fascinating collection. Since I hadn't read Larkin's poetry since high school, I looked some of it up on the web.
The following poem struck a chord with me, so I'll post it here. If, like me, you're writing a book (whether it's the first or fifteenth), then you might appreciate this.
To Put One Brick Upon Another
To put one brick upon another,
Add a third and then a forth,
Leaves no time to wonder whether
What you do has any worth.
But to sit with bricks around you
While the winds of heaven bawl
Weighing what you should or can do
Leaves no doubt of it at all.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
I'm very pleased to report some more reviews.
From this month's Booklist:
Campbell, Alan. Scar Night. Jan. 2007. 432p. Bantam/Spectra, $22 (9780553384161).
A vast network of ponderous chains suspends Deepgate over a dark chasm. The church of Ulcis dominates the skyline and the citizens’ lives. When a Deepgate denizen dies, the body is cast, with appropriate rites, into the chasm. According to the church, Ulcis lies in the abyss. When he has enough of the sanctified dead to support him, he and they will rise and overthrow Ulcis’ mother, Ayen, who bars men from the joys of Paradise. In the meantime, Deepgate battles intermittently with the nomadic heathens of the surrounding deserts, who worship Ayen. Deepgate is home to two angels, the 16-year-old male last descendent of one of Ulcis’ companions, and the mad female Carnival, who, once a moon, hunts down and drains someone’s blood and soul to remain alive. Almost torturously crafted in characterization, plot, and setting, Campbell’s debut may appeal most to those who like novels in the manner of Dickens, whose highly evocative, occasionally overripe, memorable style Campbell’s recalls. ––Frieda MurrayYA/M: Complex and chilling; should attract fantasy and horror readers alike. CO.
And from Mania.com:
The debut novel from former GTA game designer / programmer Alan Campbell, Scar Night is an engaging fantasy read that combines Victorian detail with a dark, Gaiman-like tone. First in the Deepgate Trilogy, the book introduces us to the haphazard, industrial city of Deepgate. Suspended over a seemingly bottomless chasm, the city resides
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
And where are the hovercars we were promised?
Anyhoo, I hope you all have a good year. I'm giving up smoking. Again. A friend of mine gave me some good advice: Buy patches with the highest concentration of nicotine, then, when you want to move down a dose, cut the patch in half, or into quarters instead of paying the same ludicrous price for a box of weaker patches.
Each Hogmanay here in Biggar they have a Bonfire with a capital "B". It's a mountain of wood which is brought in from somewhere and dumped right in the centre of the village - as large, or larger than the houses around it. The road to Edinburgh is closed and a procession ensues with torches and drums (think Wicker Man), before the pile is set ablaze. They've been having a fire on this night for hundreds of years, much to the dismay of the fire brigade, who keep trying to put a stop to it. The windows of the nearest homes are boarded up to prevent the glass from shattering. Doors must be repainted afterwards. One year the bus stop melted. It's a big fire in a small village.
This year they had installed a CCTV camera right beside it. I hope that fucker melted.
The Bonfire was cancelled due to high winds on Hogmanay, but the good folks of Biggar torched it last night. There was much silly Scottish pipe music blasting out from the local pub (for local people... nothing for you here), but the revellers seemed tired, deflated after the night before. Or maybe that was just me.