Felix in print: Read This First anthology

readthisfirst_coverLadies, gents, and honoured readers of non-pedestrian gender, I am delighted to announce that an anthology featuring my short story “Ithaka” is now available in print! It’s available in full colour or black and white with beautiful illustrations by A. Cradduck.

This intriguing anthology is set in a post-apocalyptic world created by A C Macklin – the original short that inspired it all can be read online, along with many thought-provoking posts on the craft of writing. I first had the privilege of meeting Ms Macklin at a LARP event several years ago, where as a wide-eyed new character I was somewhat overwhelmed to find myself in the company of a coolly self-possessed, aristocratic fae who had among other achievements created a landmass. She’s one of those people I felt flattered to achieve as a Facebook friend, since she clearly has a sound idea of what she’s doing with her life and seemed unlikely to be keen on gathering moss; she regularly asks her friend list for prompts which she uses to produce evocative and quirky twitterature and is pleasingly nerdy about watching Supernatural.

Many of the other contributors – not all of whose stories I’ve read at the time of writing – are also LARPers, most of whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a field with. Possibly even all of them, although my memory for names is bad enough even when I don’t have to deal with a character name as well as a real one. The LARP experience – diving into someone else’s imaginative creation and fleshing it out to create a richer tapestry – is peculiarly well-suited to shared-world writing, and I’ve enjoyed both the process of creating this anthology and the community of people involved in it immensely.

Ithaka itself was inspired by the poem Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy, which I’ve loved for some time as a memorable distillation of one of life’s little nuggets of wisdom. It also feels very fitting somehow to create my own little tapestry of interconnections in honour of the larger one represented by Read This First itself – and indeed of the larger tapestry all fiction must be part of in the end.

I am, needless to say, overjoyed to be in print again (and for the first time in my current incarnation), and I sincerely hope you enjoy the book.

 

 

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The value of rage: RIP Sir Terry Pratchett.

pratchett_rats

Publicity shot from ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”.

Morbid? Yes, it is. Bandwagon-jumping? Absolutely. The sort of thing PTerry himself would probably despise? I doubt it not. However there are people looking at this blog apparently in the expectation that I’ll have said something about such a momentous event in fantasy as the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, and far be it from me to disappoint my future readers.

I’ve got a when-I-met-Pterry anecdote I’ll come to later, but the best article I’ve ever read about the man is this one, written by Neil Gaiman: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.”  It talks about Terry having a deep sense of justice, and anyone who’s read Pratchett can appreciate the near-perfect balance he struck between acute social awareness, blackest irony, and an infallible sense of petty, stupid humanity and all its attendant farce. Continue reading

The writer’s eye: punctuation

This isn’t a blog about the how-tos of writing, but since getting involved with a live roleplay group including several aspiring writers, I think I’ve got something useful to say on the subject. So pardon me while I interrupt normal service with something useful for a change!

Everything They Never Told You About Dots

No doubt you remember from school that punctuation is the most boring, irritating and incomprehensible part of written English.

Today I’d like to present an alternative view. Punctuation is straightforward, easy to understand, and an incredibly useful writing tool when you know what it’s trying to achieve.

Continue reading

Theatre with Felix, or, How Not To Do It

derby_playhouseI really must have a good rant about The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug at some point, if only to make lots of points about dragons in fantasy and rabbit on and on about Smaug. But since I just saw my first ever ancient Greek musical, for today I’ll rant about what it’s like to go to the theatre when you’re me. Continue reading

Thoughts on fanfiction

There’s been a featured post on the Livejournal homepage recently talking about the opinions of various well-known authors on fan fiction. It prompts me to consider more deeply what I think about it, now that I’m trying to start a Proper Author Blog  and considering the world of professional ficiton writing seriously.

There are various quotes in the post from everyone from George R R Martin (who objects to other people muscling in on his sadistic fun) to Charlie Stross (do what you like as long as I still get paid). It calls in at various barmy stops along the way – including Anne Rice’s hilarious comment “It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.”

The reason I find Anne Rice’s attitude funny is that fanfic is out there. It exists. It is part of Internet culture. Sticking your fingers in your ears and telling the horrible nasty fangirls to go away is just daft. Genies don’t go back into bottles. So if you’re a writer in a world where fanfic exists, how do you cope with it?

Now I’ll admit, in the interests of full disclosure, that I’ve written fanfic myself. No, I’m not telling you what fandoms or where you can read it, because I was having a crap time in my life back then and it’s all a little too obviously written as part of me processing my Issues. All of my writing is fundamentally about me reflecting on my inner life, but some parts of it are a little less embarrassingly transparent than others!

I came to fan fiction in my mid-to-late twenties, long after I started writing original fiction, and I’d call myself a dabbler – I never really became embedded in online fandom, just had fun for a while and then moved on when my inner conflicts were a little more settled and my neophilic fascination waned. But one thing I do know is that I wrote fanfic exactly the same way I write original fiction – as an exploration of myself, my life and my attitudes and ideas. I write to process the cultural world around me, and I do that whether the characters I’m using are mine or not.

And in fact, I think that’s what a lot of the best fan fiction is. During my time in fandom I saw, broadly speaking, two schools of fannish creativity. One was fanfic as a social hobby; these are authors who write mainly for their circle of friends. They may write scorching erotica, lingering romances or gloriously insane crackfic (and there are some exceptionally talented writers out there doing all of these), but they do it purely as something they can share and enjoy with the people they care about. I’ve always been very refreshed by the average fangirl’s acceptance of her own sexuality, too – there’s plenty of smut in fan fiction and most of it is created by women for women, but the nice thing is that as a rule the women doing the creating accept that their sexuality is a valid part of them. Even if, like most men, they still feel a little dirty for enjoying it at times. Equality can be a fascinating thing.

The second school of writers are very bright and deep-thinking people who write to examine, whether consciously or unconsciously, big personal and social issues. They’re just doing it through someone else’s characters. In some cases I think it’s because they’re either not people with a gift for original world creation, or they simply haven’t had enough practise to be good at it yet. Being a good writer is not easy and takes both ability and work. In others, however, I think it’s because that particular fandom, that particular world, speaks to that person about a given set of issues and makes them think. One such writer I knew in fandom was an academic who used fan fiction as a way of getting a different angle on questions she also considered in her professional work. Immoral? Invalid? Socially retrogressive? You decide. It’s this second school of fandom that’s closest to my own heart, but it’s clear as day to me that even for those in the first school, the practise of writing fan fiction is just another way in which to put in some of those legendary ten thousand hours.

Now, on the subject of plagiarism I’m firmly with Charlie Stross: you leave my (putative) money alone. If you’re writing in fandom I think it’s vital to have a clear sense of boundaries: to understand that your fannish adoration doesn’t confer any kind of ownership of the original work, or any right to expect rewards other than the social reward that comes from participating in fandom. Some people are self-centred and venal and are never going to accept that, so in a world where copyright means profit, creators are always  going to have to keep their own sense of boundaries tight and hold the big stick in reserve for those who don’t play by the rules. Passionate fans who know how to do fanfic right can be a huge help in policing that kind of miscreant. A lot of fan writers are young teens who simply haven’t developed a full sense of boundaries and personal responsibility yet, which is a different issue and best addressed by promoting a culture of responsibility within fandom. But – the reason I can’t quite agree with the “I do not permit fan fiction” attitude is that fan community makes such a huge difference to the profile and indeed profitability of a work that I would be mad to tell my future fans not to interact in the way fans like to do. Hell – if my work engages people enough that they want to write fanfic about it, then it has reached them. It has touched them. It’s become part of their inner life – part of culture. And isn’t that what we all, as writers, ultimately try to do?

But I’ll tell you one thing, future fans of my as yet unwritten work. Write, draw or edit up your fic; absolutely. Share it with your friends, go ahead. Love my work and enjoy your fan time; I made it for you to enjoy. I don’t need to know what you get up to in your private moments, so I don’t really need you to show it to me… but don’t imagine for a second that I don’t know the game. I’ll be watching, waiting, googling your fics once in a while – and meditating on whether to Joss the whole lot of you within an inch of your lives 😉

Of elephants, writing and mice

There’s an apocryphal quote that floats round the Internet about a sculptor who, when asked how to carve a statue of an elephant, replied “It’s easy. You just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”

I love to think about the writing process as a learning experience every time, and I’ve just finished the first draft of a short-deadline story (using Scrivener) which was written very much by this kind of process. I am happy to report that writing using the carve-an-elephant model is an excellent way to produce, as you might expect, an elephant. The problem is that when it’s a short story you’re writing, an elephant is not as useful as you thought.

At 10k words the story’s definitely failing on the “short” criterion. To be fair that’s a first draft and it’s now in the capable hands of my flatmate and fellow writer, who is gifted at wielding the Big Hatchet and will likely tear both the loose flesh and the sci-fi background to shreds for me. It started out as a longish, exploratory set of rambling paragraphs that established a world and a mystery but had no real plot; on being asked by an anthology editor whether I could come up with a different piece which was a better fit for the antho I submitted to, I’ve now spent a manic week (in between work and an assortment of irritating medical appointments) (a) outlining a proper plot, (b) producing enormous quantities of further verbiage which developed the irritating habit of redefining the plot plan without asking, then (c) throwing chunks of prose around like a mole in a temper and rewriting the linking material according to the brave new plot’s demands. In short, I’ve been lost in the attempt to chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

Well, now I’ve got an elephant. And the next task is to seek its inner mouse…