Jul 16 2015

Season’s End

Tomato seedlings in pots

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was very small, my favourite place in the world was Dad’s greenhouse. It was an old-fashioned, timber-framed Alton, and I remember it as a place of endless dry warmth, with the cat asleep under the cucumber plants, and air that smelled of paraffin and Jeyes Fluid and long drowsy days.

In the greenhouse were rattling canes and balls of twine, a resident spider, dusty jam-jars full of plant labels and pencils that did double-duty as makeshift dibbers. Thompson & Morgan seed packets, sacks of John Innes No. 3, stacks of seed trays that it was my job to rinse out with the hose at the end of each season so they could be used again next year.

Under the potting bench lived big clay pots that were too heavy for me to lift but if Dad turned one upside-down for me, made a perfect stool from which to watch, with that grave solemnity possessed of four year old girls, the gardener at work.

It’s from Dad that I get my love of growing things. I was helping him plant seed potatoes, onion sets and runner beans before I went to school. He taught me the difference between male and female flowers on the cucumbers, how to remove the side-shoots from tomato plants, and, when I was old enough to be trusted with the small, rusty but still very sharp greenhouse scissors, how to tie the plants in to the canes.

Afterwards we’d troop back to the house for tea with my fingers all yellow and smelling of tom-cats (if you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you’ll know exactly what I mean). That tea often included home-grown new potatoes, carrots, peas or string beans from the vegetable patch: plant to pan in maybe 10 minutes – take that, Bird’s Eye! On the table would be a vase containing sweetpeas, or heady roses, and after dinner the peelings and spent flowers would be taken to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden to start the cycle all over again. Dad was an organic gardener long before it became fashionable.

Tomatoes on the vine

Image courtesy of zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I got a bit bigger he’d sit me on the tall stool at the potting bench and get me to prick out seedlings to pot up. In those days he grew everything except the cucumbers from seed: tomatoes, bedding plants, trays and trays of them that I’d water and patiently inspect each day for the first green shoots. Alyssum and marigolds for the borders, salvias, lobelia and petunias for the hanging baskets and planters.

Looking back, I can understand why he got me to do it: my Dad has hands like two pounds of butcher’s finest sausages – you’d never think he was quite a pianist when he was younger – so my small, nimble fingers were able to handle the tiniest plants with ease, and I had a strong young back and patience to spare.

In the autumn I’d help to harvest the apples – old English varieties, like James Grieve and Cox’s Improved – and then Mum and I would make batches of apple sauce, and crumbles and Eve’s pudding. Autumn was also the time of the chrysanthemums; whenever I smell that woody, spicy scent, I know that summer is over for another year.

Every child should get earth under their fingernails from time to time, and understand where their food comes from. Not out of a packet, or a cellophane-wrapped tray from Sainsbury’s, but out of the ground, off a plant. Some of my favourite memories are from Dad’s garden: leaning on the handle of a fork to lever up a potato plant and seeing the earth crumble around the pale pink-eyed King Edwards underneath; picking raspberries off the cane and cramming them into my mouth, warm and unwashed, with the taste of summer bursting on my tongue.

Apple blossom photo

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The apple and plum trees are long gone now, as are the roses. Dad’s getting on in years as well, and can’t manage the heavy digging for potatoes and the like, but he’s on his third greenhouse, and still carpets his garden with colour every year – though these days he buys micro-plants in vast trays and grows them on, rather than nurturing them from seed. He still grows his beloved chrysanthemums, and every other year or so sends me onto the internet to source just the right kind of greaseproof paper bags he needs to tie over the developing buds on the outdoor varieties to protect them from the rain.

I’ve never had the time or the land to have a vegetable patch or a greenhouse of my own, and lately my poor health has made it unlikely that I ever will. I can’t express how much I regret that. I miss those quiet hours of just me and Dad and the simple pleasure of things that grow. I miss them with a sharp sad pain that they’re gone and will never come again.

Or maybe I just miss being a kid, when we had proper summers that lasted forever and I had all the time in the world to enjoy them.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore — Virgil

 

Jul 03 2015

(Mis)direct marketing

Picture of mailboxYou’re probably going to think I’m making something out of nothing, but this bugged me enough to write a post, so . . .

I get quite a few emails from strangers – readers asking when the next book’s out (I’m working on it, I promise!), moms who want to know if my stories are an age-appropriate gift for their 12-year-old’s birthday, and even a few from schoolkids who have to write to an author for their class project.

So far, so unremarkable.

The one that inspired this post was different. It was a message was from a new author, independently published by a digital-only small press, wanting me to do her a favour and tweet some links to her first book. Perfectly pleasant, with a short, well-polished pitch for her work.

BUT.

This author is a complete stranger to me, someone I’ve never interacted with, who doesn’t follow me on social media (as far as I have been able to determine) and doesn’t appear to know anything about me or my books.

Our audiences don’t overlap much, if at all. She writes contemporary romance; I write epic fantasy.

She is asking me to asking me to take time away from my own work and write a tweet just for her. The effort is minor, but it’s still an interruption, an imposition on my day.

She gave me no reason why I might be moved to help her out, and no incentive to do so. Twitter works best when users network and interact, not when they just scream into the void “BUY MY BOOK!”. Yes, I know Sam Sykes likes to do just that, but he makes it amusing; others, with less imagination, become just noise.

So why pick me? It’s not like I’m John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman who command an audience of tens of thousands – or, in Gaiman’s case, 2.26 million – for their every utterance. And this isn’t even a one-click RT request for a worthy cause, which those authors field with grace on a daily basis. I’ve got less than 1,800 followers, and as already noted, write in a totally different genre, so she’s not only expecting effort on her behalf from a stranger, it’s likely to be a waste of time in any case.

 

“But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?”

 

Am I supposed to be flattered by the attention? That I’ve been noticed? I’d like to think she’s seen me on the Twitters and thinks I’m approachable. What I actually think is that I’m just one more entry on a list of people who got a scattergun form email from an author who thinks they’re entitled to someone else’s time and effort.

Which does not make me inclined to want to help them out.

Now I’m sure there’s people saying “But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?” and the answer is “None”. But that’s the thing with these types of requests. Once you’ve agreed to do it for one random stranger, it becomes very hard to say no to the next one who asks. And the one after that. And . . . you get the picture.

I’m also sure there’s going to be people saying “Typical trad-pub snob, thinks she’s too good to help out a fellow author!” To which I say, “Clearly you don’t know me any better than Ms Contemporary Romance does”. Yes, I’m traditionally published. No, I’m not a snob; I’m probably going to go hybrid at some point in the future, when I try my hand at some not-quite-so-long-form fiction, so I’m hardly likely to sneer at authors who’ve chosen to go the self/indie route from the start.

But here’s the other thing that I am.

I am so far behind on my fourth book it’s not even funny. I’m so far behind that I jealously guard every single minute I have that could possibly be spent finishing it. In fact, I’m so far behind that this blog post has actually taken me a couple of months to put together because I felt so guilty about taking any time away from my WIP. So the chances of me sparing a couple of minutes to Tweet – and by so doing, tacitly endorse – some unknown-to-me author’s unknown-to-me book, are nil.

I’m sorry, Ms Contemporary Romance. I wish you well; you’ve got a nice pitch and your book sounds like it might be a fun summer read, but I am not your market, nor your marketing department.

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

May 18 2015

Thinking stones

Stone eggs

A dozen eggs

I’ve always been the sort of person who cannot resist picking up small, interesting objects. Conkers, for instance. Shells on the beach, sea glass, striped or colourful pebbles. Last year, we had some shingle delivered for a landscaping project in the garden, and straight away I was poking through it for pieces that begged to be picked up and examined more closely. Round blackish stones that resembled musket balls, or fragments of golden flint like splintered toffee.

Sometimes it’s the colour that attracts me, or just a shape that fits my hand. Smooth and sun-warmed, with a pleasing curve; some objects practically ask to be stroked, cradled, their outline traced with a fingertip whilst my imagination runs riot. I’ve been like this since I was a kid, and the compulsion to touch these things is very similar to the grasping reflex of a small child. It’s purely instinctive.

A piece of carnelian

Tumbled carnelian

When I was growing up, a family friend was into rock tumbling as a hobby, and gave me a bag of mixed stones: amethyst, jasper, carnelian, agate and the like. I was fascinated by the shapes and colours; I saw landscapes in them, archipelagos and forests, sunset clouds and deep, silent pools. I knew the names of the different types of stones, and could tell anyone who asked that Apache Tears were actually volcanic glass, you know.

Thirty-five or so years on, long after the original tumbled stones were “put away” (parent-speak for “thrown out”), just writing about them has got me looking up the prices of rock tumblers and grit online. The appeal of cool, smooth stones in my hands, with patterns that tell stories, is as strong as ever.

Anyway, as I got a bit older, I discovered marble eggs. They were, at the time, A Thing in home décor, usually displayed in a bowl turned from the same kind of stone. To me, they were just bigger, heavier versions of the tumblestones of my youth, so naturally I started collecting. Not indiscriminately; I only selected those specimens whose patterns spoke to me, for want of a better description. They resonated with me in a way I could never adequately describe, without sounding like some kind of New Age harnessing-the-power-of-gems fruitloop.

While visiting an old schoolfriend in Plymouth, I ended up in a fascinating little shop in the Barbican, called Odd ‘n’ Interesting. They had a whole bunch of worked stones, semi-precious and mineral eggs, geodes and so forth, though I couldn’t tell you a thing about the rest of their stock. All I remember is the stones. That was where I found this solid tiger’s eye egg, and I knew the instant I saw it that I had to have it. Had to – never mind the price. This stone wasn’t just resonating, it was ringing like a damn tuning fork, in a manner of speaking. So home with me it came.

Tiger-eye egg

Seriously, this photo does not do it justice.

Tiger’s eye is what’s called a chatoyant stone, because the bands of lustre caused by inclusions in the material resemble the shimmer in a cat’s eye. Even its flaws are endlessly fascinating. The egg-shape is also pleasing to hold, to roll around in your palm like baoding balls: not too small, not too large. I kept it on my desk because it was beautiful to look at and I couldn’t stop picking it up, and gradually it became a kind of meditation object. Something to keep my hands busy whilst I was thinking (it also stopped me biting my nails). And lo, the thinking stone was born.

For the record, I don’t subscribe to all that healing-with-crystals malarkey. I don’t believe there is anything mystical about this stone that will grant me deeper insight or bring balance and harmony to my life. I just know that it’s beautiful, and that handling it is soothing, especially when it’s warm – it has some interesting thermal properties, I have to say: even in winter, it’s never completely ice-cold. Make of that what you will.

So that’s my thinking stones, and another peek into what passes for my mind. I never promised it was going to make sense.

 

Apr 06 2015

Women writing fantasy, round 2

After I posted my first list of women writing fantasy, I thought of a whole bunch of other writers I should have included. Then I saw my friend and fellow fantasy writer Teresa Frohock had a similar list on her blog, and there were quite a few names in common, but also quite a lot that weren’t.

I thought it would be cool to smoosh the two lists together, and this is what happened:

AC Crispin; AC Voss; Alaya Dawn Johnson; Aliette de Bodard; Alis Rasmussen; Alison Croggon; Amanda Downum; AM Dellamonica; Andre Norton; Andrea Hairston; Angela Carter; Anna Bradley; Anne Bishop; Anne Leonard; Anne Lyle; Anne McCaffery; Anne Rice; April Taylor

Barbara Friend Ish; Barbara Hambly; Beth Bernobich; Beth Cato; Betsy Dornbusch

CT Adams; Caitlin Kiernan; Carol Berg; Carole Nelson Douglas; Caroline Stevermer; Carrie Cuinn; Carrie Ryan; Carrie Vaughn; Cat Hellisen; Catherine Asaro; Catherine Cooke; Catherine Webb; Catherynne M Valente; Cathy Clamp; CE Murphy; Charlaine Harris; Charlie N Holmberg; Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro; Cherie Priest; Chloe Neill; Cindy Pon; CJ Cherryh; CL Moore; Claire North*; Clea Simon; Cornelia Funke; Courtney Schafer; CS Friedman

Damien A Walters; Danie Ware; Dawn Kurtagich; Deborah Harkness; Debra Doyle; Diana Paxson; Diana Rowland; Diana Wynne Jones; Diane Duane; Doranna Durgin; Doris Egan

E Catherine Tobler; EJ Swift; Ekaterina Sedia; Elaine Cunningham; Elizabeth A Lynn; Elizabeth Ann Scarborough; Elizabeth Bear; Elizabeth Hand; Elizabeth Haydon; Elizabeth Knox; Elizabeth Lynn; Elizabeth May; Elizabeth Moon; Elizabeth Wein; Elizabeth Willey; Ellen Kushner; Elspeth Cooper; Emily Carroll; Emily Gee; Emma Bull; Erica Hayes; Erika Johansen; Erin Hoffman; Esther Friesner; Evangeline Walton; Evie Manieri

Felicia Dale; Fiona McIntosh; Fiona Miller; Francis Knight; Freda Warrington; Freya Robertson; G Willow Wilson; Gail Carriger; Gail Z Martin; Genevieve Valentine; Gill Alderman; Glenda Larke; Gwenda Bond

Heather Brewer; Heather Gladney; Heather Tomlinson; Helen Lowe; Helen Oyeyemi; Helene Wecker; Holly Black; Holly Lisle; Hope Mirrlees

Ilona Andrews; Ilsa J Bick

J Kathleen Cheney; Jacey Bedford; Jackie Kessler; Jacqueline Carey; Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett; Jaime Lee Moyar; Jane Emerson*; Jane Lindskold; Jane Yolen; Janet Berliner; Janny Wurts; Jaye Wells; Jen Williams; Jennifer Estep; Jennifer Fallon; Jennifer Roberson; Jennifer Robinson; Jenny Jones; Jess Haines; JK Rowling; JL Murray; Jo Clayton; Jo Thomas; Jo Walton; Joan Aiken; Jo Anderton; Joan D Vinge; Joanne Hall; Joanne Harris; Josepha Sherman; Joyce Ballou Gregorian; Joyce Chng; Jude Fisher; Judith Tarr; Julian May; Julie Czernada; Julie Hutchings; Juliet E McKenna; Juliet Marillier; JV Jones

Kage Baker; Kameron Hurley; Karen Fowler; Karen Lord; Karen Miller; Kari Sperring; Karin Lowachee; Kate Elliott*; Kate Griffin*; Kate Jonez; Katherine Addison*; Katherine Kerr; Katherine Kurtz; Kathleen M Massie-Ferch; Kathleen Sky; Kelley Armstrong; Kelley Grant; Kelly Link; Kiera Cass; Kit Berry; Kristen Britten; Kristin Cashore; Kristine Kathryn Rusch; KT Davies; KV Johansen; Kylie Chan

LA Gilman / Laura Anne Gilman; Laini Taylor; Larissa Lai; Laura Bickle; Laura Lam; Laura Liddell Nolan; Laure Eve; Laurell K Hamilton; Lauren Beukes; Leigh Bardugo; Leigh Brackett; Lian Hearn; Liane Merciel; Libba Bray; Liesel Schwartz; Lilith Saintcrow; Lindsay Barraclough; Lisa Goldstein; Lisa Mannetti; Lisa Sheradin; Lisa Tuttle; Lish McBride; Liz de Jager; Liz Williams; Lois McMaster Bujold; Lorna Freeman; Lou Morgan; Louise Cooper; Lucy Hounsom; Lynn Abbey; Lynn Flewelling; Lynn Kurland

Madeleine L’Engle; Madeline Ashby; Maggie Stiefvater; Malinda Lo; Marcia Bennett; Margaret Atwood; Margaret Weis; Margo Lanagan; Maria Dahvana Headley; Maria Snyder; Marie Brennan; Marina Warner; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Marta Randall; Martha Wells; Mary Doria Russell; Mary Gentle; Mary Renault; Mary Robinette Kowal; Mary Shelley; Mary Stewart; Mary Victoria; Mazarkis Williams; Megan Lindholm*; Megan Whalen Turner; Mel Salisbury; Melanie Rawn; Melissa Scott; Mercedes Lackey; Meredith Ann Pierce; Michaela Roessner; Michelle Paver; Michelle Sagara; Mickey Zucker Reichert; Midori Snyder; Mishell Baker; ML Brennan; Morgan Llywelyn

Nalo Hopkinson; Nancy Asire; Nancy Springer; Naomi Novik; NK Jemisin; Nnedi Okorafor

Octavia Butler

Pamela Dean; Pat Murphy; Patricia Briggs; Patricia C Wrede; Patricia Geary; Patricia McKillip; Paula Brandon*; Paula Volsky; PC Hodgell; Phyllis Ann Karr; PL Travers

RA MacAvoy; Rachel Aaron; Rachel Caine; Rachel Hartman; Rae Carson; Rebecca Levene; RJ Anderson; Roberta Trahan; Robin D Owens; Robin Hobb; Robin McKinley; Rosemary Kirstein; Rowena Cory Daniels

Sabaa Tahir; Sabrina Vourvoulias; Samantha Shannon; Sarah Ash; Sarah Beth Durst; Sarah Douglass; Sarah Hoyt; Sarah J Maas; Sarah Monette; Sarah Pinborough; Sarah Remy; Sarah Silverwood; Sharon Shinn; Sheri S Tepper; Sherwood Smith; Silvia Moreno-Garcia; SL Huang; Sofia Samatar; Sophia McDougall; Stacia Kane; Steph Swainston; Stephenie Meyer; Stina Leicht; Storm Constantine; Susan Cooper; Susan Ee; Susan Palwick; Susan Shwartz; Susanna Clarke; Suzanne Collins; Suzanne Johnson; Suzanne McLeod; Suzanne Palmieri; Suzette Haden Elgin

Tamora Pierce; Tanith Lee; Tanya Huff; Tara Harper; Teresa Edgerton; Teresa Frohock; Terri Windling; TL Morganfield; Tove Jansson; Tricia Sullivan; Trudi Canavan

Ursula K LeGuin

VE Schwab; Veronica Roth; Vicki Ann Heydron; Viola Carr; Violette Malan; Vivian French; Vonda McIntyre

Wen Spencer

Yangtze Choo; Ysabeau S Wilce

Zoe Marriott; Zohra Greenhalgh

Note: entries with * are pen-names; entries in italics have been added since the list was last published

That’s now 336 names, and I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to suggest them in the comments, and I’ll update the list. Please don’t blame me if your to-be-read list expands dramatically.

Feel free not to use the comments to tell me I’m being sexist, or that I shouldn’t have included [X] because they’re self-published, or quibble about the precise definitions of what constitutes fantasy. They identify as women, they write, and the readers who helped crowdsource this list identify at least one of their books as fantasy. That’s good enough for me.

 

Edited To Add: Please note this list is not intended to be exhaustive. For some other excellent resources on this topic, check out the following:

which include some suggested titles for each author. Happy reading!

Apr 04 2015

Women writing fantasy

Fantasy fiction is being feted as never before, trumpets John Mullan in the Guardian and proceeds to laud all the usual suspects: Tolkein, Pratchett, Gaiman and the ‘reigning laureate’ George RR Martin.

Mainstream press coverage for fantasy has got to be good, right?

Wrong, when it’s as unbalanced as this.

You see, despite having a thousand words or so to play with, Mr Mullan forgot to mention that women write fantasy too. Quite a few of them, at that. Here’s a selection:

*takes a deep breath*

God's War coverDiana Wynn Jones, Anne Rice, Mary Gentle, Ursula Le Guin, Robin Hobb (also as Megan Lindholm), Sofia Samatar, NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Mary Shelley, Mercedes Lackey, Melanie Rawn, RA MacAvoy, Freda Warrington, Ellen Kushner, Katherine Kurtz, Fiona Miller, Katherine Addison (also as Sarah Monette), Emma Bull, Judith Tarr, Evie Manieri, Helen Lowe, Anne Lyle, Jen Williams, Leigh Bardugo, CL Moore, CS Friedman, Courtney Schafer, Marie Brennan, ML Brennan, Mary Victoria, JK Rowling, Angela Carter, CE Murphy, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nalo Hopkinson, Patricia Briggs, Susan Cooper (no relation!), Kameron Hurley, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hope Mirrlees, Jacqueline Carey, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Susanna Clarke, Naomi Novik, Samantha Shannon, Suzanne McLeod, Patricia McKillip, Elizabeth Bear, Rebecca Levene, Helene Wecker, Ekaterina Sedia, LA Gilman, Elizabeth Moon, Lucy Hounsom, Sabaa Tahir, Juliet E McKenna, Gail Z Martin, Tanya Huff, Trudi Canavan.

*takes another, even deeper breath*

Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, Madeleine l’Engle, Andre Norton, Liz de Jager, Liesel Schwartz, Gail Carriger, Julian May, CJ Cherryh, Elizabeth Hand, Vonda McIntyre, Leigh Brackett, Jo Walton, PL Travers, Martha Wells, Kate Elliott, Joan Aiken, Robin McKinley, Deborah Harkness, Kari Sperring, Michelle Sagara, Maremperorsknifey Robinette Kowal, Joyce Chng, Malinda Lo, Storm Constantine, Andrea Downum, Clea Simon, Maria Dahvana Headley, Barbara Hambly, Anne Bishop, Teresa Frohock, Mazarkis Williams, Suzanne Collins, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Tanith Lee, Veronica Roth, Jennifer Fallon, VE Schwab, Steph Swainston, Laini Taylor, Susan Ee, Elizabeth May, Karen Lord, Kristen Britten, Sarah J Maas, Aliette de Bodard, Stina Leicht, SL Huang, Sharon Shinn, Betsy Dornbusch, Rachel Aaron, JV Jones, G Willow Wilson, Kristin Cashore, Cindy Pon, Patricia C Wrede, Nnedi Okorafor, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, Margo Lanagan, Sarah Douglass, Alison Croggon, and your humble correspondent.

And that’s just the ones I thought of this morning while I ate my breakfast. Give me the rest of the day and I could probably double that list.

Women write fantasy. Why do we have to keep telling the world this? Why do we have yet another article that implies that the only fantasy worthy of calling out as remarkable is that written by white, straight men?

Seriously, Mr Mullan? Seriously?

Women have been writing fantasy, epic fantasy, fun fantasy, serious fantasy, dark fantasy, for a long, long while. We’re pretty good at it, too, judging by the various Hugos, Nebulas and World Fantasy Awards that women have won. Maybe Mr Mullan should try reading around the subject a bit. There’s lots to choose from.

 

Feb 05 2015

Sneak peek – The Dragon House

Blue gift box

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

Today I have some exciting news!

As a thank you for all your patience, I have released an exclusive extract from the upcoming conclusion to The Wild Hunt Quartet, THE DRAGON HOUSE, and you can read it here (opens as pdf).

Hope this whets your appetite for the rest of the book!

And who knows, if I need a break from writing there might be another wee extract coming your way soon . . .

 

 

 

Feb 03 2015

A long short story

For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, here’s the full story of the day I said farewell to an old friend, one who’s had my back, quite literally, for over twenty years.

I’m talking about TH. TH was there with me throughout my IT career. TH was in my wedding photos. TH even accompanied me to London to meet my agent for the very first time as a newly-minted authorial entity. But all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for me and TH to part ways.

If you haven’t met me, you’re probably wondering what I’m wittering on about. Ladies and gentlemen: meet The Hair.

 

Me with long hair

Me and TH

Me and The Hair were kinda like Foul Ole Ron* and his Smell, in the sense that The Hair was really the rock-star in our relationship. Never self-effacing, it always took up two seats on the plane and had a tendency to make people stare. It had Personality.

Unfortunately, The Hair also had some bad habits. It choked at least one vacuum cleaner to death. It could commit actual bodily harm just by turning over in bed, and as for the shower drain, let’s not even go there *shudder*.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to manage in terms of my MS: on most days I couldn’t stand for the 30-40 minutes required to wash and comb it. When I could manage it, I had to have no plans to walk anywhere afterwards for at least half an hour. The weight gave me headaches, and when it was wet it actually was heavy enough to affect my balance.

So something had to give. What gave was this:

My ex-braid

Yes, really. I measured it.

That’s 33 inches, y’all. THIRTY THREE. INCHES. OF HAIR. It hadn’t been cut since 2009, when I had these photos taken.

So what’s left? Not a lot. Here I am now, all shorn like a li’l lamb.

Me with my new short hair

Baaa.

My husband had never seen me with hair this short; when we met, some 17-anna-bit years ago, my hair was already past my waist. Amazingly, he’s still talking to me.

Do I miss it? A little bit. I used to love it all freshly curly, when I could toss it over my shoulder – swoosh! – like the girl in the shampoo commercial. However, when you have a long-hair perm, it takes something approaching a geological age to grow it out so you can go back to being curly-girl-in-a-shampoo-commercial again, and curly-girl doesn’t last long.

The vacuum cleaner, however, doesn’t miss The Hair at all.

 

* obligatory Terry Pratchett reference. Bugrit.

Feb 03 2015

I aten’t dead

Picture of alarm clockSo. I’m still here.

In case any of you had been wondering, like. I’ve just been a bit busy. And ill. And busying being ill – or being busy whilst ill, or ill whilst busy, or . . . You get the picture.

Chronic illness sucks. Who knew?

Anyway, it’s been a hard road so far, but I have ground out some words on THE DRAGON HOUSE and most of them I think I will actually keep. It’s not finished yet, but at 145k (give or take) I think I can see the end up ahead. Sort of. If I squint a bit.

I’m sorry it’s taking so long to get there. I’m not here to make excuses, but I genuinely am going as fast as I can. I want this book to be a fitting finale to the series, one that takes everything that has gone before and wraps it up into a conclusion that is satisfying for both me as the writer and you as the reader. I hope you’ll bear with me until we get there.

In order to make it worth your while, I have a little treat for you later this week: a sneak peek at what I’ve been working on. The usual disclaimers apply: raw as steak tartare, prod it and it’ll moo etc. I hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned!

 

Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at freedigitalphotos.net

 

Aug 11 2014

Incentivisation, I haz it

New books receivedToday brought me a modest haul of new books, these being the only ones I could remember from my missing-presumed-lost/recycled/eaten by dust-bunnies “Books to Buy” list. I have made myself a promise that I will not so much as crack the covers until THE DRAGON HOUSE is packed off to my editor.

Since I like reading about as much as I like breathing, I’d better crack on, eh?

I tweeted a picture of this lot as soon as I unpacked them, but for reasons known only to themselves HTC have seen fit to pair their phone’s pre-loaded Twitter client with bloody Yfrog, which has an unspeakably ill-formed splash page and does horrible things to image sizes, hence this post.

I really need to get my arse in gear and sign up with Tumblr or summat for those social-media-on-the-go moments. I am *such* a technophobe. Also too busy Actually Doing Stuff That Keeps The Lights On Around Here, which is likewise responsible for my lack of:

  • blogging regularly
  • self-promotion
  • updating the website
  • learning Scrivener
  • redrawing the map for the Wild Hunt Universe
  • getting a haircut

I don’t know how my fellow writers manage to do all this and hold down a day job.

 

 

Jul 30 2014

Where in the world . . . ?

Excerpt from original map. . . or why The Wild Hunt doesn’t have a map.

Pick up a fantasy book and you’re almost guaranteed to find a map somewhere upon its person: tucked in behind the flyleaf, gorgeously painted on the endpapers (Wheel of Time hardbacks, anyone?) or even as the outer jacket itself, like those splendid Joe Abercrombie ones.

The map seems to be an accepted – indeed expected – part of the fantasy furniture. Secondary world = must have a map (con-lang pronunciation guide, glossary and cast of characters optional). Some readers even feel faintly cheated if there isn’t one: a dimension to their immersion is missing.

I can completely understand this. Beyond being a visual treat, the map can be useful. In a military fantasy, where battlefield positions and objectives are fundamental to the drama unfolding on the page, it helps to see them laid out. Likewise in books that involve lots of travelling or a desperate race to reach Point X before the bad guys do, it’s fun to follow along on the map. Or maybe the plot revolves around small, peaceful Country Y which shares a border with the vast, acquisitive Evil Empire Z, and the map provides a graphic reminder of the stakes at play. There’s a reason the internet loves infographics so much: a picture really does paint a thousand words.

As for me, I love maps, especially old ones. Topographical maps, ancient place names and the roads that connect them, all these pieces of history under our feet – they have a thousand stories in them. Maps are like a seed catalogue for a storyteller and a worldbuilder like me, who’s a ‘gardener’ writer. I found out the other day that the Ordnance Survey people actually make a Map of Roman Britain, and I want a copy just because Maps! Romans! Awesome!

So it should be fairly obvious that I also love a good fantasy map. These days I’m not so fussed on the ones that appear geologically unlikely, or have only a few scattered settlements separated by large amounts of empty space in which nothing apparently exists but some plot-significant ruins. I prefer maps that show me a living world, one with navigable rivers and sea-ports for trade, a decent highway system, mixed population densities and variable terrain. A world that looks as though it ought to function reasonably well as a place in its own right, utterly independently of the story.

Another extract from the original mapBut what if the action in our fantasy story happens largely in one place, or the travelogue parts of the story are covered in summary rather than exhaustive detail? What if, at that point, the rest of the landscape is just *there*, in the background, doing nothing but keeping two oceans apart and stopping the mountains falling on your head? Does the book really need a map then?

When Songs of the Earth was about to be published, my editor at the time, Jo Fletcher, asked me if there was a map to accompany it. I explained that I’d drawn one mumblety years ago, before the Great Rewrite of 2004 destroyed the geography of the southern and eastern parts of the Empire [note, not Evil Empire Z above] thus rendering the map horribly inaccurate. Besides, it was a whimsical sketch, not to scale, and unrealistically constrained to fit a sheet of A4 paper as that was all I had at the time.

“Anyway, I’m not sure it really needs a map,” I said. “The story starts in the Holy City then fairly briskly moves to the Western Isles, and I’ve skipped over the dull travelling parts.”

Jo was cool with that, and then she left my publisher to start her own imprint. By the time me and my new editor all got in the groove and the question of maps came up again, it was too late to get one drawn up and in place whilst still keeping to the publishing schedule. Never mind, I thought, we can always do one later.

youarehere2Now here we are, three books down, and there’s still no map. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had to field an increasing number of questions in email, on forums and in interviews why this is so. This post is an attempt to answer them. Short version: it’s my fault.

After I decided that the first book didn’t need a map, it wasn’t until much, much later that it dawned on me that the *series as a whole* kinda did. I’d got tunnel vision with Book 2, and of course it was all perfectly clear to me where everything was, so not having a map isn’t that big a deal . . . Yeah. Right.

Now I could just say I’m the writer, it was my decision, so tough bananas, you’re stuck with it, but that sounds rather high-handed. The truth is I was concentrating so hard on writing the story that I lost sight of the fact that many readers like to see where said story is actually happening. I forgot that I’ve been noodling around this Empire place for twenty years, and you all only got here five minutes ago. It’s sort of my duty to make sure you don’t get lost on your way to the Plains of Nothing But Plot-Significant Ruins.

So, I’m sorry. I hope we can still be friends.

Nothing would please me more than to dust off the old Rotring pen and draw a new map (on a bigger sheet of paper!), or invest in some mapping software to play with, but I would probably enjoy that far too much. As some of you might have noticed, I am desperately behind on Book 4. THE DRAGON HOUSE has to be my priority just now, or my editor will glare at me, and I really don’t want that. She has range weapons, you know. She can pick me off from *anywhere*.

Nonetheless it bothers me that I don’t have a proper map to show you the world in which The Wild Hunt Quartet takes place. It bothers me so much that just as soon as I can, I am going to put some effort into making sure there will be a map (and a pronunciation guide, a gazetteer, a glossary, some deleted scenes and a list of characters) even if I have to make a special website on which to put it.

You can hold me to that.

 

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