Stories about stories and storytelling.
Written on the road between the past and the future, a writer explores his relationship with his dying father.
Literature, fantasy and science fiction come together in this unique and very personal piece.
Tony Ballantyne is the author of the acclaimed Penrose hard SF novels, Twisted Metal and Blood and Iron, as well as the groundbreaking and surreal fantasy novels Dream London and Dream Paris.
‘Sharp, touching, and very original, this collection uses stories of different genres to explore aspects of the same emotional landscape, creating a very personal and very satisfying whole.’ Chris Beckett, winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award
Category Archives: writing
Stories about stories and storytelling.
Shahrukh Husain’s A Restless Wind: “A rare glimpse of what life may or may not be like for modern Indian royalty.”
Over at The Asian Writer Shahrukh Husain talks about the background to her novel A Restless Wind:
“The story had been gestating since I was a teenager fascinated by the family events of a close relative, the Sufism, a certain annual festival held in the grounds of the house that I’ve renamed Qila. That house and its backyard community played a massive part in the formation of my values. There was a solidarity there, a unity, that transcended barriers and survived all the tittle-tattle, minor resentments and disagreements to be expected in all normal communities…”
Accompanying the interview, there’s a lovely review:
“Husain deftly handles a feast of characters and twisting plots. This is a cleverly written, challenging novel which asks the question what does it mean to be happy and fulfilled? … A rare glimpse of what life may or may not be like for modern Indian royalty. A fascinating read.”
Zara Hamilton leads an apparently charmed life as a human rights lawyer in London – but she is haunted by questions about her past. Why did her mother disappear? What made her college sweetheart, the Maharaja of Trivikrampur, abandon her? Why did her husband renege on a plan to return to her native India? And why has she avoided visiting her much-loved family home in Qila, Trivikrampur? After ten years as a Muslim in Britain, bereft of a homeland, Zara finally seeks the answers. When she returns to Qila, her world is shatteringly different, her aristocratic family mired in complications and far-right politics on the rise. Amid the unrest of a changing nation, Zara seeks the key to her mother’s secret as contemporary resentments clash with a harmonious past.
“A Restless Wind piques the reader’s interest from the very beginning with fine details and a strong and engaging protagonist.” The Deccan Herald
“A fascinating emotional narrative of an expatriate, A Restless Wind intertwines the old with the new in modern India.” Muneeza Shamsie, Newsline (Pakistan)
“When India Exotic meets India Embattled a great new transcontinental heroine is born. Husain has put the characters together with great care. But it is Zara who is the novel’s anchor and her confusion over her identity propels the plot.” Kaveree Bamzai, India Today
“One intriguing trait of Husain’s narration is its delicately filigreed details. Her descriptions are graphic, colourful and semiotically nuanced. The semiotized narrative brings home to the reader the contrasted cultural set-ups, or, in phenomenological terms, the conflicting ‘lifeworlds’ that the different characters in the novel inhabit.” Arnab Bhattacharya, The Telegraph, India
Shahrukh Husain writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She has written four themed retellings of folklore and myth for Virago and worked on scripts commissioned by Merchant-Ivory and Buena Vista among others. Currently, she is developing TV projects for SKY, KUDOS and BENDIT FILMS while working on her second novel.
She is a practising analytical psychotherapist and has worked extensively with asylum-seekers and PTSD survivors.
She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and divides her time between northwest London and East Sussex.
The guys over at the excellent Upcoming4.me website have just published a book of essays by speculative fiction authors about the writing of their books, and it’s a book I’m delighted to be a part of, with my own entry about the writing of Genetopia.
What’s more, it’s not only a great book for anyone interested in what goes into producing SF and fantasy novels, all proceeds are going to Epilepsy Action, a cause particularly close to my own heart, as EA have been fantastic in supporting my daughter Molly as she faces the challenges presented by the condition.
The ebook is a bargain (I just picked one up from Amazon for less than £2), and a paperback will follow very soon, so why not pick up a copy or two?
Story Behind the Book: Volume 1 collects nearly 40 non-fiction essays on writing and editing speculative fiction written by some of the most exciting authors and editors. Essays cover everything from getting an initial creative burst, worldbuilding, tackling writer’s block, to the final process of publication. Some of the essays are personal, some rather technical but all of them, without an exception, provide an unique and fascinating insight into the mind of an author.
Contributors include Ian Whates, Michael Logan, Mathieu Blais and Joel Casseus, Mark T. Barnes, Lisa Jensen, Lee Battersby, L. E. Modesitt Jr., Keith Brooke, Joanne Anderton, Jo Walton, F.R. Tallis, Ian R. MacLeod, Guy Haley, Gavin Smith, Francis Knight, Eric Brown, Clifford Beal, Susan Palwick, Rhiannon Held, Ben Jeapes, Nina Allan, Mike Shevdon, Mur Lafferty, Norman Lock, Seth Patrick, Gemma Malley, Freda Warrington, Freya Robertson and more.
All proceeds will be donated to Epilepsy Action.
Someone once said that aspiring writers are easily discouraged, and and followed up by saying “and they should be”. There’s a lot of bitter truth in that: writing is a very up and down business, and it’s certainly not a happy environment for the easily discouraged or the thin-skinned.
There’s also a sad truth in that observation: a lot of writers who have plenty of talent fall by the wayside just because they don’t have the resilience that this business needs.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of work with new writers, and one of the messages I hammer home (perhaps too much) is that stubbornness is a key part of a writer’s toolkit. We’ve all heard the stories of now-bestselling authors whose first novels were rejected dozens of times before finding a home. I’m not in that league, but my own first novel accumulated those rejections until the point where I had the choice of either consigning it to experience and a dusty box in the attic, or sending it to the last publisher on my list, one that really didn’t publish that kind of thing very often at all. I ended up with a three-book deal.
I was struck by this today, when I came across a piece on resilience on the excellent marketing blog, Wordofmouth. Yes, it’s about marketing and business, but the principles are the same. In the blog post, Mitch Joel argues that it’s not about winning or losing, but about resilience; in my experience, and the point I drum home when I’m teaching, it’s not about winning or losing, but about increasing your chances of getting that one victory that makes the big difference.
Pitching a novel isn’t about winning every time, it’s about winning once and resilience/stubbornness is a key part of how you can improve your chances of hitting that one victory that makes the difference between your book appearing, or it being consigned to the attic.
So I’m back in the thick of it and loving it: working on the final edits for the serial I’ve written for Aethernet, the magazine of serial fiction.
It’s the story of colonists on an incredibly placid planet. Getting on for a century since colonisation, the biggest upheaval encountered in that time was a storm, about forty years ago. Not much of a storm, even, but it was notable because, otherwise, the place has been so welcoming.
So when a wall of storm clouds stretching from horizon to horizon approaches Edge City one morning, people are slow to catch on, and even slower to take it seriously. Even Greta Arbonne, a trained scientist researching possible reasons for the planet’s environmental placidity, can’t really grasp the devastating scale of the approaching storm until it strikes; meanwhile, runaway rebel Shenita gets caught up in the novelty and excitement of raindrops the size of her fist and winds you have to lean into just to stay on your feet. But when the storm intensifies, ripping off roofs and destroying buildings, plucking people up into the air and away… Greta and Shenita are faced with their own journeys through the devastation and the horrors of past and present.
And then there is Luther. A man who regains consciousness in the ruins of a flattened building as the storm wreaks havoc all around. A man who has woken with recollections of distant Earth when no-one on Domus could possibly have such memories. A man who could be the answer to questions neither Greta nor Shenita have yet realised they need to ask.
The stories in this serial are:
Memento 1: From Out of a Blue, Blue Sky
Memento 2: There Came a Storm
Memento 3: To End All Storms
Memento 4: A Cleansing
It’s great to be working on big SF ideas again, lovely to be writing in a form I’ve not tackled before, the serial. My first reader loved it, providing only a fairly brief list of line-edit queries. And ever since I got to work on this set of stories, my head has been buzzing with what comes next, as the story continues and becomes novel-length…
We’ve all had it (or, at least, those writers among us have). Those days when the words just don’t come, whatever you try; days that turn into a week, two weeks, and suddenly the pressure to write is adding to the problem, weighing you down with a sense of failure, of literary impotence.
It just won’t happen, and you know you’ve got it: writer’s block.
Okay, so let’s break that down a bit. What do we mean by writer’s block? What exactly is it that’s just not happening?
The image that comes to mind straight away when you mention the dreaded WB is that blank page: either fed into the maw of a lovely old Corona typewriter, or the blank screen, a new Word file with that blinking line, just waiting for your words. Come on, type something, dammit!
That blank white canvas is pretty scary, isn’t it? It certainly is for me, particularly if I know I have something like a mere hundred thousand words to go. So skip that stage. Just as a sprinter’s starting block (see what I did there?) is a launch pad, so too should a writer use all the aids necessary to make that blank canvas less daunting, and more inviting.
A simple thing: my manuscript template has dummy text in the header (‘title goes here’ by Keith Brooke, and then the page number), and the opening page has my contact details at the top, and then a nice big bit of dummy text where the title will go. If you have a title already that’s great: put it in here. Your blank canvas is now the structure that will hold your story. If you don’t have a title, it doesn’t matter: look at that blank canvas and there are words on it, it’s not just a white void.
Another thing I do is have some working notes in my manuscript, even if it’s just a couple of lines about the scene I’m currently writing (but usually it’s more). So, right from the outset, I’m almost never faced with a blank page: it’s busy, it’s full of words, and that makes it so much easier to write yet more words. It sounds silly, but it works.
The opening sentence
I try to know the opening sentence before I open that new file with the not-blank first page. Then, even if I’ve written it down in my notes, I won’t copy and paste: I’ll type it afresh when I start the story. Sometimes it’ll be the same, sometimes I’ll tweak. But nearly always, the act of typing invites more words to follow: another sentence, the second paragraph, more.
Still no opening sentence? Who cares? Write what you do know: don’t worry if the opening sentence sucks, just start writing the scene. You can always return and fix the opening later; what matters is getting those words down.
Arse (aka ass) to seat
How awful is it to be sitting in your writing chair and not writing? If you know you’re struggling, it feels far better to just not sit there so you’re not confronted with it. After all, the grass needs cutting, the dinner needs preparing, the stairs need vacuuming the spare room needs painting the kettle needs descaling the gutters need clearing the car needs washing the aardvark needs…
There are so many ways to scratch that ugly arse rather than just applying it to your seat and writing.
But you’re waiting for your muse! Of course you are. I remember at one of my first ever science-fiction conventions, standing at the bar with Kim Newman as he advised the then-newby Nicola Griffith that professional writers never have that luxury: we sit down, we write. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it doesn’t, and often on those extra-sucky days we suddenly hit our stride and do some good stuff.
Hey, maybe the way to track down that errant muse is to sit down where it expects to find you and start doing what it’s supposed to influence! Just a thought.
The business of writing
So many things get in the way, right? Every writer is running a business, and that involves a lot of things that aren’t actually writing.
All that promotional tweeting, all the networking with authors and editors on Facebook and Google Plus, the pictures you really need to post for your follower on Pinterest. The blogging…
Oh, hang on: we’re talking distractions here, not blocks. I know all this stuff can get in the way, but when I’m writing I try to treat social media like the office water cooler: take a break, have a chat with someone, catch up on the gossip, then back to my desk. If you can’t do that, then how about, you know, switching the fuckers off for an hour or two? The world won’t stop.
That’s a good one. How could anyone question the assertion that you need to do just a bit more research before you start writing? Hell, even you believe it sometimes, don’t you?
Putting a block to writer’s block
We all love that whole suffering artist thing. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe it’s a bit annoying sometimes.
Yes, writing is creative, it’s artistic, and sometimes it’s harder than others. Maybe the more artsy among you might not like what comes next, but really, have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Or nurse’s block? Or teacher’s block?
Calling it a block might make it sound more arty; it might make you feel like you’re living the life of an artist, suffering for your work. But call it procrastination or distraction and suddenly it sounds more like work avoidance than anything remotely artsy.
Yes I’ve had times when I’ve been unable to write. There have been times when I’ve been on medications that just slow everything down and remove the urge to be creative; times when I’ve been so stressed by stuff going on elsewhere in my life that writing has fallen down the priorities list; times when I just can’t be arsed.
And I’ve had times when it would be very easy to say that I’ve been blocked, but I’ve always tried not to fall back on that. To me, it’s a cop-out. At times like that I’m not blocked, I’m choosing not to write, for whatever reasons. And when you get like that, there are lots of things you can do to try to get the words flowing again. Unless, of course, that seems too much like treating writing as a job and you’re too arty for that, darling, and you prefer to sit back and woo your errant muse.
So: you’ve got writer’s block? Well it’s time for some tough love. So sit down, and bloody well write, and then you can complain about how you suffer for your art and it’ll sound a whole lot more authentic.
So, Aethernet, the self-billed magazine of serial fiction. Great idea, great execution, great line-up (for starters they’re running the sequel to Chris Beckett’s Clarke Award-winning Dark Eden, long before its book publication).
So, me: taking a self-proclaimed from science fiction, sick of being messed around by the business side of things in particular, dealing with lots of other shit in the meantime.
Those two… well, they just don’t fit, do they?
Particularly when the lovely people at Aethernet kept reminding me about my invitation to contribute. And when the spec fic part of my imagination has been all fired up again by my Philip K Dick Award shortlisting earlier this year.
So, Memento: a set of four stories about one cataclysmic event on an alien planet. An idea that came pretty much fully-formed in a dream, although now it’s finding its own path in the writing.
Serial fiction: adventure, cliffhangers, real seat of the pants stuff. Which is exactly how I’m writing it: I know where I’m heading, but Hell there’s a lot to fill in! I’m digging myself deep, setting myself – and my characters – challenges and cliffhangers, and working it out with them as I go along.
I rarely write like this; I usually need to know more. But this is fun, it’s exhilarating.
And I hope it will be for readers, too.