Augmented ‘reality’?

I’ve always had a fairly vivid imagination, and rarely have trouble imagining the scenes I’m writing, but sometimes I see something that inspires me – or just want to make it a little more real. 

When I don’t know that much about something I’m writing on, I’ll turn to the Internet or hands-on research, but if it’s about visualisation and style, then I tend to go a bit more left-field. So for example, I used these cards to help with certain parts of an underground city that I’m writing about for Small Places. I’ve been reading The Near Witch and playing the necromancer pack in Diablo 3 to get a feel for all things witchy. And this game gave me some surprise inspiration for a few locations. 

This isn’t something I did at all for Parasites – I wanted most of the plants and locations to be different to some of the common sci-fi tropes in literature and film. Oddly, the storm world came from a dream I had as a kid years ago, and Vega kind of grew by necessity. I really can’t remember where Carthusian, the vast cathedral ship, came from, but it’s one of my favourite locations in anything I’ve written. 

I basically cheated in Aenigma; it’s an alternate reality urban fantasy, so I could re-use real locations – with a few additions, obviously. Wild Court is similar, and the entire inspiration actually came from walking past Wild Court itself, which is a side street not far from Holborn in London, at a time when I had a fairly unpleasant job near there!

So I guess my inspiration is a real mish-mash of sources; hopefully the output is a little more orderly…

Exhausting Characters

When I was fairly close to finishing Parasites, I had a sudden concern that the characters were just a bit… boring. I mean, I loved the sturdy, faithful Kael and the hopeful, caring Alessia, but they were both from a society essentially built on being extremely careful, for good reason. Their long pre-flight checks are an endless source of eye rolls to their bodyguard Basteel, and I was concerned that readers would find them unsatisfying. 

Thankfully, the reviews I’ve had so far don’t seem to agree with my paranoia, and in fairness, Kael and Alessia have quite a lot to deal with on their trip. Curiously, I’ve also found high-energy characters quite tiring to write at times!

Matt, one of the protagonists on Wild Court, is a big, sweary bundle of elastic bands bouncing around life, drinking, smoking and shagging his way around London, completely different to his best friend Ben, an introverted librarian. 

I’ve struck a bit of a balance in Small Places. Jamie is a fairly regular guy, although a little beaten down by life, and Melusine, his arcane companion, is certainly larger than life. 

I’m still hoping to revisit Wild Court – I effectively got stuck at about the 40k word mark, but it’ll be interesting to see how I feel about the characters when I do. 

Why do I write?

I’d like to be a full-time author, but that’s not really why I write.

I’ve been working full-time for a long time now, and I’m pretty aware than ‘JK Rowling sydrome’ can be a dangerous thing. Thankfully, there are a lot of authors out there who are pretty up-front about how writing as a career can often … well, it sucks financially.

I remember reading a news article from the incredible Steph Swainston, essentially admitting that she was going back to be a chemistry teacher because writing was too stressful and insufficiently rewarding, financially. And I remember thinking: if this insanely electric writer can’t make it, then what hope does anyone have?

But I’m still writing. And it’s a little like that scene in the first alien movie: something needs to get out. I have an Evernote folder full of inspiration snippets, but there are some that revolve around in my head, joining other ideas, and then essentially demand to be planned and written.

There’s also the element of world creation; I was quite a big fan of the Myst series (although spoilers: I’m quite bad at puzzles) and love the idea of Atrus just sitting there, writing away and literally making worlds for people. I love that so much.

I suppose it’s an intensely personal reason as to why anyone writes, but I think those are my big two. Now I’ve reminded myself of how much I adore Steph Swainston’s work and I’m off to buy the novella of hers that I’ve been putting off for a while…

Introducing Small Places: The Best of Intentions, The Blackest of Magic

I’ve been intrigued by urban fantasy for a long time. As a teenager, I was quite into Shadowrun, the faery cyberpunk series, and later, I picked up Charles de Lint’s wonderful Spiritwalk and inhaled a host of his books, continuing with Moonheart (backwards I know), The Onion Girl, The Blue Girl, Widdershins and more. At the same time, I came across the Merry Gentry faery detective erotica series (it feels unkind calling it paranormal romance) which I also greatly enjoyed, and need to finish at some stage!

It’s something that I sort of explored in Aenigma (apologies – it still needs a bit of a re-write) which is set in a modern world very much like our own, with the simple addition of faery and humans trying to co-exist uneasily.

But I wanted to write something tighter, something closer to a modern faery story, closer to what might be considered a ‘classic’ tale with a modern twist. Partially inspired by a few concepts I’ve come across in a book I’m reading, at the same time (well, sort of) as going walking in the woods, and a host of other pieces of inspiration, I’ve started a draft provisionally entitled Small Places which looks at faery in modern day England.  

It’ll have witches and woodsmen, the seelie and the unseelie, fantastic beasts and weird alchemists, as well as friendship, hope, despair and growth. I’m still working on the structure a bit, but it really seems to be flowing much more easily than Wild Court was. So bear with me, and hopefully I’ll have updates soon.

Knowing when to stop

When I was growing up, I’d start writing books all the time and not finish them. In an idle weekend a few months ago, I started transposing a few exercise books of stuff I’d written when I was a child and so many of them don’t finish.

Admittedly, none of them have plot arcs either but that’s beside the point.

Every so often, I jot down an idea that comes to me, an introduction or a concept. But it’s rare that I’ll structure a book, get 40,000 words in and then just stop.

Only that’s exactly what’s happened to me. It’s really, really odd. Admittedly, I’ve been slowing down on Wild Court for a while – even during a writing weekend away, it was slower going than I’d like. And then I’d sit down at home and stare at the screen. It just wouldn’t come out. I’d fallen out of love with the characters a bit, the plot seemed stale, the magic system flawed, the arc lifeless.

So last week I decided to pause it and focus on something else entirely. And guess what? Ideas started flowing again. Concepts started connecting in my mind, inspiration came back, characters seemed full of life again. And now I have a whole other project to work on that seems a bit more rounded, a bit tighter in scope.

I’m hoping to rewrite Wild Court at some stage, or build on what I’ve got, but I think sometimes, it’s good to know when things aren’t working out – and I look forward to bringing you something new and exciting. More details soon!

Coming back to social media

I’d previously all but left social media; I’ve lingered on Facebook because I have a few family members I keep up with there, a few interest groups and a large group of friends who use it for news and events. I use a bit of Flickr and Instagram because I love photography, but I still feel the slightly insidious effects of the latter creeping up on me from time to time.

It’s two-fold; I’d left Twitter because of the sheer volume of it all: there’s just so much. It’s very, very distracting, and after a while, however much mental discipline I have, Twitter became akin to someone poking me repeatedly with a blunt stick. Instagram’s impact is less, but in some ways more … creeping. It’s the comparison thing; seeing other people at their best and comparing it to yourself right now.

But to promote Parasites, I’ve returned to Twitter and bizarrely, it’s had Instagram’s effect. I’ve been following a few authors who I enjoy but suddenly I’m seeing it through a different lens. Almost like I’m standing next to Ken MacLeod, who Iain Banks saw as a friend and mentor, and I’m like ‘hey, look at me as well’. It’s extremely daunting.

It’s also great. I’m finding communities that I never knew existed. I’m interacting with people I never knew existed and learning a lot – the resources on Twitter for authors are formidable. But sometimes I do see a lot of raw hatred and anger, not to mention just a lot of input. I guess like people, it’s the best and worst all at once (and some stuff in between).

Which authors do people best?

I wanted to spend more time on authors, because something struck me the other day and I wanted to explore it a little. There are clearly some writers that I love, others that create immersive worlds. But one thing that strikes me is that a lot of us create idealistic worlds, with flawed villains and great (often flawed) heroes … but some writers are especially gifted at creating very realistic people and I wanted to call out a few specifically.

  1. Arthur C Clarke: I’m always struck by how well Clarke gets people – or more importantly, societies, even in fantastical settings. I remember reading the Rama series for the first time and being downcast by how everything goes to hell and back again, the importance of understanding and compassion. Somehow, despite the fact that it’s set on a giant space station with crazy aliens, Clarke manages to portray an amazingly human science fiction story.
  2. Julian May: May has huge skill in constructing an array of very human characters. Statesmen, gutsy students, precocious geniuses – no-one is flat or two dimensional in May’s world. It obviously helps that she has a lot of time and many, many words to do it in (Intervention is huge) but I absolutely love the depth of her people.
  3. Becky Chambers: I’m not quite sure that Chambers exactly fits the bill here, but Chambers certainly has the view of humanity that I want to exist. Her characters are always kind, do the right thing and I’ve been left with a big warm and fuzzy feeling after reading her first two books.
  4. Adrian Tchaikovsky: I’ve ‘only’ read the Shadows of the Apt series, but I was blown away by how Tchaikovsky constructs very nuanced, very human characters. They do have a lot of time to develop – which makes it more impressive that he manages it so effectively – and they don’t always develop in positive ways, but over the course of the series, you slowly realise that there’s a master at work.

What have I been reading recently?

It’s been a mixed month or so after I finished Robin Hobb’s nine-part Assassin series – although in retrospect, I should have tagged the Dragon and Liveship trilogies on there for complete continuity.

Richter 10 was a rattling good yarn about stopping earthquakes. Apparently Arthur C Clarke came up with the structure and Mike McQuay did the bulk of the writing – I really enjoyed it. The characters were great, the setting interesting and the plot pretty tight – although Clarke does have an annoying habit of going slightly off-piste at the end of his books. Childhood’s end was a pretty textbook example of that – it was fairly enjoyable, and tackles some interesting themes, but there’s a complete right-angle turn towards the end and it just irritated me a bit.

I was also relatively disappointed at The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri, which promised great things and never really delivered. It’s the story of four friends who promise to meet up at a particular place every year, but one of them doesn’t turn up because he’s selling marijuana – or may be delving into the occult. There are a lot of mysterious goings-on, but Dimitri seems unwilling to really commit, so it just stays as being a story about friendship. Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying.

And most recently, I’ve just enjoyed Jodi Picoult’s Great Small Things. I’ve got a huge soft spot for Picoult – she’s not afraid of tackling tough topics and she tells a crazily good story. This was no exception.

Book bloggers and reviewers ahoy!

Review copies of my YA sci-fi solarpunk exploration novel Parasites are now available! If you review in any form and would like a copy to read, please contact me on twitter at @many_writings or email me on mail [at] I don’t have an infinite number of copies (that would be weird for everyone) so may run out, but if you’re keen, please contact me.

I slightly struggle for comparisons – you can read a better descriptor here or see a sample on Amazon – but if you like Becky Chambers or Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer trilogy, enjoyed the Mass Effect games or other space exploration titles, this may be up your street.

Who are the most immersive authors?

I wanted to do another ‘favourite books’ post because I’ve definitely neglected a few friends and had a couple of thoughts on how to make amends. It goes without saying that in the ‘favourite books’ section, most of these books suck you right in from the get-go, but there are also definitely a lot of noteworthy authors that seem to particularly have a skill for immersion! So, who would I recommend as a particularly immersive author? Here’s a few starters:

  • Laini Taylor: I absolutely love Taylor’s work. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of those books that I read on kindle and went straight out to buy in hardback so I could read it again (and managed to get a lush autographed copy as well!). But Night of Cake and Puppets, and Strange the Dreamer also manage this incredibly well. She’s a world-creator with mad skills!
  • Brandon Sanderson: I’d argue that Sanderson is fantasy royalty at the moment. There was a day when Final Empire sat alone on the shelves, but Sanderson now commands multiple shelves! I’m a huge fan of the first two / four books of the Stormlight Archive, as well as Elantris, Final Empire and the Rithmatist. Sanderson’s worlds – however fantastic – are always believable.
  • Charles De Lint: Urban fantasy is a tough gig. A modern world with magic, fairies and bikers? I came to De Lint’s work through Spiritwalk abnd Moonheart, and haven’t looked back since. His characters are complex, generally very loveable and his worlds completely compelling.

Who would you add?