Friday 25 December 2015

Red Rosa

Amazing Christmas present! 

My fabulous Aunty Heron & Uncle Clive bought me a graphic novel: Red Rosa by Kate Evans, the story of socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg. It is utterly, utterly brilliant. Should be compulsory reading in all schools.

I remember having a conversation over tea with Remittance Girl earlier this year. She was enlightening me as to why Americans seem to consider socialism a dirty word, in a way it is not in Europe. Hopefully a book like this could help change minds. 

Graphic novels bring history to life in a way textbooks just can't. This is an excellent introduction to socialism and the limits of Marxist theory. Brings home that we are living the prediction as it unfolds. A fascinating woman, a fascinating life - a life given in pursuit of what she believed. She doesn't appear to have been wrong.

A couple of my favourite quotes, perhaps more personal than political:

With every fly that one carelessly swats and crushes, the world comes to an end. In the refracting eye of the little fly it is the same as if the end of the world had destroyed all life. 
I cleave to the idea that a woman's character doesn't show itself when love begins but when it ends.

It came with a timeline bookmark of the miners' strikes of the 80s and a postcard that read:

I've learned so much from my mistakes... I'm thinking of making some more.

Ahem, yes. I'm sure 2016 will be full of happy mistakes.

Do go and pick up a copy of this. It is truly brilliant. I read the whole thing in a few hours and I'm ready for revolution! I shall leave you with my favourite Rosa quote.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Musical Interlude: Ludovico Einaudi

I'm a big admirer of Einaudi. He's done so many beautiful works, but Due Tramonti is my all-time favourite. Others I particularly enjoy include Fairytale, Le Onde, and Passaggio. If you like mood music for reading or writing to, you might also enjoy Aaron Zigman's work on The Notebook, such as the title track (which I've spent half of Christmas failing to master) and On the Lake. Another moody film epic is Ryuichi Sakamoto's 1992 Wuthering Heights theme. Transporting stuff.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

The Northern Antiquarian

Happy Winter Solstice.

Had some lovely news today. Since 2008, one of my oldest friends, Paul, has been running a datatbase of standing stones and ancient landscapes on his site The Northern Antiquarian (TNA for short - Facebook/Twitter). It's one of the largest databases in the UK, and has won praise from notable persons in the field. 

Whenever I go up to see Paul, we're up to our knees in bogs and heather, off tramping across marshes and moorland in search of forgotten stones. 

Over the past couple of years we've been discussing the idea of developing TNA into something a little more formal, so that we can continue to improve the website as a free resource, add mapping systems and apps, set up a few open digs to get communities interested in their local heritage, properly research and document unrecorded sites. 

We finally assembled a board of trustees earlier this year, and TNA received official incorporated status today - which is deliciously auspicious. 

Next stop - the Charity Commission. 

I spend much of my life helping other organisations through the paperwork of registration, so it's nice to be offering my time to an organisation I have a strong personal attachment to. I'm very excited to see how things progress over the coming years, and hope that this will be the start of something I will be involved with, in some capacity, into old age. 

A posse ad esse.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Old Bakehouse

Visited a quirky antiques shop today in Northampton. It's called The Old Bakehouse, and the back yard is full of beach huts, all crammed with fascinating objects and curios. Everything from dolls' houses to a fully functioning horse trap! I even found this Victorian picture upstairs, the background entirely made from thistledown. Who can resist a shop with its very own TARDIS outside?

Sunday 20 December 2015

Ihezie Foundation

This is what 5,000 books look like. Packed and ready to send to libraries and schools in Africa, thanks to Ihezie Foundation (Facebook/Twitter). Had a lovely time visiting their warehouse in the UK and seeing how much work and preparation goes into what they do. 

All of the books above come from publishers and distributors, and would otherwise be pulped. The staff have to pick through hundreds of containers to separate the educational books from the rest. They only send high quality, recently published works, and unlike similar organisations they don't charge recipients a penny for shipping. I'm really looking forward to working with them more closely in the New Year.

Saturday 19 December 2015

45k of Secrets

Got back from Scotland about a week ago. Managed to do a couple of days of writing, then sat down yesterday and bashed out 3k on Secret Order of the Literati

I was writing three stories - two novels and a novella, but I've ditched the novella for now. Focusing on the two novels, and loving them. Two very different styles, though both contemporary.

Secret Order just crossed the 45k mark, 165 pages. Yay! Woop woop. *happy dance*

Up until this point you can't be entirely sure whether all the weird stuff that's been happening is explainable or magical. I've finally committed to the reveal. The shit, so to speak, just got real. If only I knew what the shit was. I'm still not entirely sure where I'm going with any of this, but the characters are now strong enough to lead the way.

Recently I was in a café called Coffee & Curios in Gloucester. Along with a fabulous fried breakfast, they also have a selection of steampunk-esque pocket watches. I couldn't resist. But they also inspired a quirk in one of my characters (rough as ever):

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Aesop reached into the pocket of his skin-tight jeans. Suzan had never noticed the thin silver chain looping from his belt before. It was a delicate thing. On the other end was a pocket watch, one of those old ones with a window, where you can see all the inner workings. 
“Please don’t,” Aesop said, raising his hand to cover Evangeline’s. 
“Every morning, every evening, until the end of time,” she replied. 
Uncurling his fingers from hers, she pinched the winding mechanism and began to twist. When it would twist no further, she pressed down on the button and slipped the watch back into his pocket. 
“I preferred it when you wore waistcoats,” she said. “It belongs near your heart.”

It appeals to me, this character who religiously winds up his watch, uncertain whether he will die should it stop. Maybe he would, and this simple act keeps him alive forever. Or maybe he is immortal, and it wouldn't matter if he threw the watch away. But he will never, ever know. 

I needed a little something to make Aesop vulnerable, otherwise he's a bit sharp-edged to be lovable. Mortality and memento mori are always good levellers when you don't think you can love a character. 

On the whole, things are shaping up well. Only one character's gone missing entirely. He featured quite a bit at the beginning, then I rather lost the thread and have no idea what happened to him. I plan on getting to the end of the first draft and finding a way to write him back in.

One thing is certainly clear: this book will need editing like nothing I've written before. Usually everything falls out in more or less the right order. This just fell out in no particular order. I don't think I've ever had to rearrange chapters for continuity before. I'm not looking forward to it.

Friday 18 December 2015

Ray Caesar

I'm rather smitten by the work of Ray Caesar at the moment. Few people realise, but he was actually born a dog. Having mastered the mouse between two paws, he's gone on to birth some deliciously dark and seductive creations. I do love all of his work, but I think my favourites are Bound (above), Fallen, Self Examination and Aria.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Ancient Illustrations

Oh, bravo!

Old Book Illustrations was born of the desire to share illustrations from a modest collection of books, which we set out to scan and publish. With the wealth of resources available online, it became increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to explore other collections and include these images along with our own... We are not the only image collection on the web, neither will we ever be the largest one. We hope however to be a destination of choice for visitors more particularly interested in Victorian and French Romantic illustrations.

Essentially, they have taken illustrations that are out of copyright and made them freely available for anyone seeking artwork for their book. Enjoy - and be sure to follow along on Twitter: @obillustration

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Literary Festival Guidelines

I read this with interest. The Society of Authors (‏@Soc_of_Authors)  has issued Minimum Practice Guidelines which they hope all literature festivals will adhere to in order to make sure authors receive fair treatments and proper rates for attending festivals.

(click to enlarge)

The SoA has also issued a number of rates guidelines and general guidance covering everything from translation to school visits.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Chris Andrews Creations

I'm completely smitten by this:

Unique hand made art dolls with an emphasis on horror, halloween, and fantasy. All of my pieces are handmade and ooak. Please let me know if you are interested in any commissioned work.

He's created a whole world of creepy goodness. Check out his Etsy shop and follow him on Twitter at @chrispandres

Sunday 13 December 2015

Original Ink


Discovered in a pile of unopened mail - the original pen and ink sketch and a colour print from Stephanie Piro's review of Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran. Stephanie also makes incredibly beautiful Phantom-inspired jewelry. Check out her main website.

Saturday 12 December 2015

My Year in News 2015

2015 has been the first year I've issued a bi-monthly newsletter. Here's everything that happened. You can subscribe here.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Bye for Noo

It's my last day in Scotland today. Tomorrow I drive back south to begin Yule festivities with my family. I can't believe how fast time has flown - I've been here a month! Always hard to say goodbye to friends, knowing I probably won't see them again for a year or more.

Clackmannanshire bid adieu in dramatic style, with a weather display of four seasons in as many hours over the Ochils. From sunshine and rainbows to snow!

I ventured out to the Post Office at one point and decided to try to find the end of the rainbow. Amazingly, I succeeded!

Though, when I got to about the second car, it started moving behind the trees and up the hills. Sadly no crock of gold, just the river, but it was pretty.

Today is also Human Rights Day, so I thought I'd share a little insight into three refugee camps: Mugunga, Kiziba and Gihembe.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Mots d'Heures

I'm not sure whether this is utter madness or complete genius. I suspect both!

I have a friend who picks up second hand books in charity shops for resale online. He cites his biggest regret as having discovered a signed first edition work of Einstein on a charity shop shelf and, unable to reconcile with his conscience, taking it to the counter to point out their mistake in pricing. He got halfway down the street and had to hold to a lamppost whilst he came to terms with what he'd done. 

Every now and then he takes a chance on something he's never seen before - which is what happened here.

Originally assuming it to be a French work, closer inspection suggested something wasn't quite right. Mots D'heures: Gooses, Rams? I enquired, typing a rough approximation into Google...

Mots D'heures: Gousses, Rames (Mother Goose's Rhymes) is utterly, utterly fascinating. It was published in 1967 by Luis d'Antin van Rooten.

The idea behind it is:

  1. Choose an English nursery rhyme
  2. Speak said nursery rhyme in an incredibly thick, Monty Python-esque French accent
  3. Write down this homophonic translation, so the words mean something in French, but not the context (forming a nonsense poem in French)
  4. Back translate the French into English (forming a nonsense poem in English)

Here's an example from Wiki:

(click to enlarge)

Typo Equation

Thanks to my friend Fred for this. A fascinating equation for calculating the number of missed errors in a manuscript. Also, check out my post The Invisible Typo, which explains why typos are so hard to catch. 

Monday 7 December 2015

Kings Bookshop, Callander

Took a little drive out to Callander yesterday with my friend Paul. Popped into an iconic bookshop, Kings, on Main Street. I'd been once before a couple of years back.  

There are many special things about this bookshop. Partly that they're not online because they prefer people to 'pop in and look around.' Partly because the books are organised more by a sense of category rather than by any strict system - which means you can find surprises on any shelf. Partly for Finlay the cat, who is quite a character, and will come to greet - and play fight - any guests. And partly for the owners, Sally Evans and husband Iain King.

Iain has a passion for bookbinding, and many of the books on the shelves are rare, old or out-of-print works that he has lovingly re-bound.

There's something thrilling about pulling a beautifully smooth book from the shelf, only to glimpse rough, deckle-edging between the cover. They're a little pricier than you'd expect a second-hand copy to be, but essentially, you're purchasing a work of art. These books have lovingly been given a second shot at life, deservingly preserved.

As well as modern paperbacks for a pound, there are also shelves of good-condition classics, including a fascinating children's section.

Sally is a poet, who has spent over thirty years in the Scottish poetry community. She also set up Diehard Poetry, which publishes a wide range of international poetry. Both Sally's own works and those of Diehard are available for purchase in the shop. I picked up a copy of Poetic Adventures in Scotland by Sally Evans, and Light Caught Bending by Martha Modena Vertreace. 

I was really lucky that Sally was in the bookshop when we visited, so I managed to get a signed copy, including the lovely Finlay. It really is a gem of a bookshop. If you're up Stirlingshire, do take time to drop in and brows. 

Saturday 5 December 2015

SHJ School Essays

Last month I did a Skype interview with Year Seven at Sir Harry Johnston International School (@SHJSecondary), Malawi. It was part of a monthly author talk facilitated by my friend Col (@touristcol) who currently works there, and following in the footsteps of the lovely Adrian Magson.

We had a brilliant chat all about the books we love reading, the stories we love writing, and the publishing process. Each of the students went away and wrote up their accounts of what was said, and I'd love to share some of my favourite bits with you...

Marion is an amazing author because she enjoys writing books. She was born in the UK but lives in and loves Rwanda in Africa. The amazing author mostly writes books for adults. Let me tell you all about her... - Zahid 
Marion said she liked reading a lot us a child. She enjoyed reading lots of different books. She also just got to play or watch television... - James 
Marion was bad at punctuation and grammar. She said “I was good at other things but grammar was hard and so was punctuation”. But she didn’t give up; she kept on trying and then managed to get better at the technical part of writing. - Mphukira 
When we asked her what she does if she runs out of ideas, she said "you cannot run out of ideas. If you run out, the world is full of ideas.” Those words inspired us to write. Your mind is full of ideas so there is a limitless amount of stories that you can create. - Angelo 
“In all books there is always some part of real life. You write what you imagine, you imagine what you live,” explained Marion. She also said “In some books while you’re writing you run out of ideas, so if that ever happens, relax for a bit, take a break and eventually you will get your inspiration.” - Zahid 
If you get stuck on sentence or if you are generally stuck, go out and do something, that’s what she said. “Enjoy life and it will inspire you.” I think that’s true because life does inspire you to do more... Ms.Woolley told us she loves writing historical fantasy stories based in the past. She says, “It’s like having a time machine and going back to re-write the past.” - Adam 
She said that her favourite book depended on her age, but there were two series that she enjoyed most. The first was Point Horror. These were short and easy to get into, but it kept her awake at night. The other was Fighting Fantasy books which were very important, “It’s not a novel, you choose your own adventure,” she said. It taught her how to write and create worlds... Ms. Woolley told us that she doesn’t based characters on people she know. “It’s not a good idea.” People could get upset. Some people think they see themselves in characters because stories influence how people see themselves. - Trang Anh
When Marion is writing she likes villains because she says it is easier to surprise your reader. This author mostly reads dark stories because they used to keep her awake at night when she read them, also because they have very interesting villains. To write a scary story you have to remember it's what you don't tell them. “Don't give them monsters, give them footsteps.” - Sam 
Talking to Marion was a great experience because we have learnt new skills in our writing. She loves what she does and I think what she does is amazing too. Marion has told us a lot and I’m looking forward to applying it to my next piece of writing. I’d like to thank you Marion Woolley. I really enjoyed our Skype-a-view! - Tamika

What a thoroughly lovely, lively and engaging group of students. It really was a pleasure to talk with them. 

If you're an author interested in inspiring the next generation of readers, drop Col a tweet in the new year to ask about opportunities for outreach. 

Friday 4 December 2015

National Curriculum Caution

“We risk producing a generation of children who believe that a sentence such as ‘I bounded excitedly from my cramped wooden seat and flung my arm gracefully up like a bird soaring into the sky’ is always better than ‘I stood and put my hand up’.”

I'd hazard you also run the risk of putting kids who aren't literary-minded off attempting to write anything ever again. All good storytelling is about communication. If you're not communicating your story clearly, it holds no power - be it written or spoken.

The idea of banning any word from a classroom is, frankly, fucking (I bet that one's definitely banned) ridiculous. 

Hemingway would be turning in his grave, if we hadn't already ditched American literature from the syllabus

The greatest boosts to vocabulary, as Busby pointed out, are reading and talking. When you're engaged in a story or a conversation, and you don't know a word, you go and look it up, or you ask someone. And you remember that word, because it was a piece in a tale you had already invested your attention in.  

Forsooth, any nincom-ninny can conjure forth from their O-shaped goblets of toothy, tongue-tied enamel a sentence to confound the listener and confuse the grey-matter of the cranium. Yet 'tis no art to such tomfoolery. I grow wearisome of writing, and you, no doubt, splitting sentences hither and tither, should rather screw closed your pinkish eyelids than further subject yourself to such intemperate scribings. 

Odious, superfluous and discombobulating - there's three words longer than 'crap,' yet far less efficient.

I bet these dolts also extol the virtue of the semi-colon for aesthetic diversity, and build suspense with...


What hope is there for tomorrow's youth?

I'm instinctively suspicious of a creative syllabus endorsed by any institution whose sole interest lies in cultivating a generation who will vote for them.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Elena Kalis

Absolutely loving these Alice Through the Looking Glass underwater pictures by Russian-born artist Elena Kalis. Find her website here and an article about her here.

40k of Secrets

I have been woefully, woefully lax on my writing regime. Taken me almost a month to add 5,000 words to Secret Order since I've been traipsing about Scotland with friends.

I waddled over the 40k mark on Monday. In my mind that's a halfway point for the first book in the trilogy. If I can bring them in at 80k, 240k total, I think that's respectable.

I've been angsting a little, though.

Writing a series isn't like writing a one-off. In my mind, I have three books to wrap up one story. Yet, looking at other people's trilogies, there's often a part of the subplot that gets wrapped up each book.

In a series that isn't a neat three-booker, the main characters usually stay the same, the books can contain running themes, but there needs to be a satisfactory story arc within each book. Crime thrillers and detective series sort of stuff.

I'm adamant it's going to be three books. I've always wanted to write a trilogy. A trilogy is what I'll write. I'm not interested in a running series, though I suppose there's always a prologue and epilogue spin-off you could add ten years down the line if it remained popular. 

But it is difficult doing this.


A challenge.

At halfway through the first book, I feel as though I'm only just finding my feet - working out what the rules are. I'm writing multiple characters in short sections, and already it's clear that I'll need to rearrange those sections once I'm done, because none of the timelines match up. 

I'm stopping regularly because I made the mistake of adding a detective, not knowing a thing about the policing world other than what I've seen on The Bill. This necessitates frequent Facebook messages to an exceedingly patient and forbearing friend in the Met. Yes, it's magical surrealism, but it needs to be believable magical surrealism.

Honestly, I can't see any part of this I can wrap up neatly in the next 40,000 words. Especially when I can't even imagine where the second book will begin. Planning isn't my forte. With a trilogy I'm beginning to suspect this is not such an asset. 

I am enjoying it, though. I have a couple of stories on the go at the moment. This and my creepy one-off have me hooked, though not hooked enough to sit down and finish them. Planning to pay my rent once I get back to Kigali and sit down for a marathon couple of months' writing. Haven't even started edits with Ghostwoods on The Children of Lir yet, so it's highly likely I'll have Secret Order close to submission by the time that's out next year. 

The boring practicalities of a writer's career, eh?

Thought I'd come back to the UK and do lots of writing, but instead I've just done lots of eating and standing under hot showers. Think I'll just embrace this lifestyle until the New Year.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Split Worlds: Between Two Thorns

Finished reading Between Two Thorns, the first in Emma Newman's The Split Worlds trilogy:

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city. 
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer. 
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs. 
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

It's rollicking good fun. Humans like you and me ('mundanes') live on one side of the mirror, in Mundanus. On the far other side of the mirror is a world of Fay Lords and Ladies, who inhabit a 'beautiful prison' in Exilium. Creatures of great aesthetic and no morals.

In between the two, you have the Nether. Certain cities: Bath, London and Oxford, have mirror images in the Nether. Anchored to both the Nether and Mundanus by magic, their ruling families forever young and glorious.

The worlds are policed by the Arbiters, people with dislocated souls, who cannot be tricked by the faeries or their 'puppets' because they can't have their emotions manipulated.

Ever passed an old building and wondered what's inside? Possibly more than you think.

There's plenty more to come in The Split Worlds series, and if you pop over to The Split Worlds website, you'll find loads of short stories to pass the time whilst you wait. There's even a role-play masked ball slated for May 2016.

Emma is also a professional voice artist, Hugo-nominated for her Tea & Jeopardy podcast, and the narrator for Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran audiobook.