Neil Gaiman Talks and is Unsurprisingly Awesome

gaimans

I was lucky enough last night to pop along to Neil Gaiman’s talk at the Royal Society of Literature – lucky enough, in fact, to be randomly sitting down in the front row. As you might expect, Gaiman gave a lively, thoughtful and funny talk to an extremely enthusiastic crowd (indeed, it is always deeply pleasing to be in an audience of likeminded people) and I came away enthused, inspired, and tremendously excited about books and writing. What a top bloke. And I can’t wait to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it sounds fantastic.

I’ve seen him talk before, back when he was promoting Wolves in the Walls. He was brilliant then too of course, doodling a little wolf in my copy and generally being charming, but it strikes me that these days Gaiman is an even more accomplished speaker. He knows who he’s talking to, is unhurried, and has excellent comic timing – I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about his wife (the marvellous Amanda Palmer, of course) who apparently “doesn’t like fantasy”, followed by a beat of silence before mildly horrified laughter from the audience. Personally, I was a tiny bit moved (I’ll admit it) when he spoke about wanting to be a writer as a child but how that somehow seemed “mythical”, and that he’d probably end up being an English teacher. It is quite a thing to listen to your favourite author describe how you yourself felt growing up, when you are sitting in the audience next to your editor. It is possible, after all, and the mythical is sometimes reachable.

It was also quite lovely to come out of the talk to hear that the British Fantasy Award nominations had been announced and to realise I recognised so many names. Huge meaty congrats to everyone involved!

A Day of Audio Awesome: Space Danger! The Audio Book & An American Gods Discussion

Join the Space Navy. Life expectancy is debatable but the perks are minimal. The crew of HMSS Monstro have been given a mission, a very BIG mission. If they could only get around to it then the galaxy might be a safer place to live. Safer and, quite importantly, still existing. Now wash your hands please.

As you may or may not know, my lovely boyfriend Marty has been writing a series of pulp space opera novellas under the name of Douglas Strider. Marty is very funny (a lot funnier than me, annoyingly) and Space Danger! The Deadly Planet of Death is a space-riot; it’s a Hitch-Hiker’s flavoured Dan Dare with a side garnish of Robert Rankin.

The marvellous news is that the fab people at Spokenworld Audio have recorded an audio version of the first part, read by excellent voice actor and Doctor Who legend, Barnaby Edwards. I know right? All of the amaze balls.

And it is genuinely brilliant. I’ve been giggling at it like a loon. If you would like to have a listen to a snippet (and possibly snap up a copy) pop over here and get your ear’oles on the job.

In other audio news, I appeared as a guest on the Scrolls Book Group podcast a few weeks ago, when they were discussing one of my favourite books of all time, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had so much fun recording this, and I actually feel like I understand the book better (these people are really very clever) so do pop over and have a listen. Unless you haven’t read the book, because hello?! Spoilers sweetie.

The Pea Roast Post: Manticores and Mondays

Manticores and Mondays is an odd little story. It was one of the first written in what I like to think of as my “grown-up writing” period (that is to say, I wrote it in my twenties and actually managed to finish it) and it owes an awful lot to one of my favourite books, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I wanted to write something about how children behave when they are free of the watchful eyes of their parents. It’s also loosely based around tales my mum would tell me of her summer days spent in the fields behind my nan’s house.

 

It originally appeared in the Farrago Anthology.

 

 

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Book Meme!

Here we go! This one is doing the rounds at the moment, and it gives me the opportunity to waffle on about books for ages. Excellent stuff on this meme over at Unbound: http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/2010/07/meme-with-relish.html and at Adam Christopher’s Blog: http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/

One Book That Changed Your Life

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams– I read this when I had just started senior school I think. I’d had one life changing book previous to that; The Lord of the Rings had blown my tiny little mind the summer before, and caused me to dump the chronicles of Narnia faster than a very hot thing. LOTR opened my mind to the idea of epic adventure, of truly risking your life for a noble quest, of heroics and true love and all that good stuff. Hitch Hiker’s Guide had a more subtle, but altogether deeper impact, because it gave me an adult sense of humour. I don’t mean I developed a love of knob jokes, but rather that my idea of funny was utterly changed. Over the course of that book I think I grew up a bit, and it introduced me to science-fiction too.

It’s also the sort of book you can read over and over again at different times in your life and get something new from it every time. Douglas Adams gave us a gem with that book, and he remains my hero because of it.

One Book You Have To Read More Than Once

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett- I’ve read HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy around about 30 times now. Consequently, I don’t think I can read it again for a very long time without going slightly loopy, so for this one I’ve elected Good Omens. I have two copies of this book- the pristine one signed by Mr Pratchett and the copy that has since fallen to bits due to endless readings. It’s enormously funny, full of absolutely memorable characters and even has some nifty things to say about nature, nurture, and humanity. Odd phrases from this book continually float around in my mind, so that I will often think “Buggre ye alle this” when I’m stuck doing something boring, or think of Crowley when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

How could I not adore a book that combines two of my favourite authors?

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island

The Stand by Stephen King- Now, if I was really stuck on an island I’d want quantity as well as quality, and The Stand certainly has that. I love that King appears to have avoided all editing on this book (well, mostly. I’d make sure I’d have the uncut edition) and gives us the juicy details on all the characters and shows us the world falling apart in widescreen. This is King at his absolute best, introducing us to characters we know and love within a couple of pages, then taking us with them on a truly harrowing journey beyond the end of the world. I remember them all, and what they went through, as well as if a good friend sat me down and told me the story.

If nothing else, at least I could reflect that I’m only stuck on a desert island, which isn’t nearly as bad as dying of Captain Trips.

Two Books That Made You Laugh

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson– I don’t read much non-fiction. In fact, thinking about it Bryson is about the only non-fiction I do read, and that’s because he is both laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny, and incredibly knowledgeable. Small Island is my favourite because he’s writing about England, and even though I haven’t actually been to all of the places he talks about, the familiarity of the peculiar English character had me giggling like a loon. Gods, we are a strange bunch. An American with a deliciously dry sense of humour, he understands us better than we do, and managed the near impossible task of making me feel patriotic. Even if it’s only for our near obsessive love for stodgy puddings.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe– These little books have me in fits all the way through. Written for a bet to impress a girl (supposedly) they contain more thrilling pirate action, monkeys, and prize winning hams than you can throw your wooden leg at.

One Book That Made You Cry

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin– Alright, I’ve cheated slightly with this one, but I think it’s worth noting that as a whole, this series has caused more actual blubbings than anything else I’ve read- even a few in public! I read them only recently, finally giving in to the general hubbub of praise surrounding the books, and my goodness… they were an absolute joy. Apart from when I was crying, obviously.

The thing is, Martin is excellent at creating characters you really love (Tyrion might be one of my favourite characters in a fantasy book ever) and then really putting them through absolute hell. I had the misfortune to read about the Red Wedding while on the way to work- I had to catch my breath and stare furiously out of the window so that no one else on the bus would see me struggling not to cry. Strong stuff. Excellent stories.

It’s also worth noting that A Song of Ice and Fire has also given me the biggest number of “OH MY GOD WHAT THE CRAP- ??!” moments. Seriously good books.

One Book You’d Wish You’d Written

American Gods by Neil Gaiman– One of my favourite books of all time, so yes, it would be lovely if I’d written it. It contains all the stuff I’m crazy about; mythology, gods, horror, mystery and weirdness. It’s the sort of book that pleases me deeply as a reader because it gives you credit- there’s stuff running all the way through that’s right there for you to figure out, if you can see it. Each time I read it, I see a little more. I would love to write something that has so many layers to it, and uses the wealth of folklore and mythology so well.

Just before A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded in on itself, I realized it was my own sort of American Gods- a London Gods, perhaps. I hope I can finish it one day.

One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written

Dark Tower 7 by Stephen King– I don’t want to speak ill of books really, especially not when two of the books in this series are some of my absolute favourites. But let’s be honest- this is an easy choice for me. The last book in a series of 7 written over, I dunno, a very long time indeed, this was the biggest disappointment I’ve ever read. I can’t really go into why without major spoilers and getting all narked about it again, but suffice to say that I’d rather have had no ending than the one we got. This is a book where Stephen King himself interrupts before the final chapter to tell you that you probably won’t like the ending, so maybe you’d be better off not reading the rest… The only book I’ve ever thrown across the room at the finish. And it’s a really big book.

Two Books You Are Currently Reading

Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Dream Songs Part 2 by George R.R Martin– I’m also reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, but I’ve finished the first part so I’m taking a little break (apparently “fantasy literature” means completely bananas, but I am enjoying it). The first Harry Dresden book is great fun so far, and G.R.R.M is a master of short stories.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– I’ve wanted to read this since I read Stephen King’s comments on it in Danse Macabre, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to it. One of the panellists at Alt.Fiction mentioned it in the Genre Books You Must Read panel, so I really need to get my arse in gear.

On Advice

Fannying about on the Guardian Website yesterday, as you do, I came across this rather lovely article bringing together writing advice from all sorts of fabulous writers.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one
Having started reading it I realised of course that I had seen it linked in Neil Gaiman’s blog, and via writerly people on Twitter, but I had skipped over it somewhat, as I am normally a little reluctant to look over such advice. This is because it can either fire me up to get on with some writing now now now (and if I’m reading an article on a website, I’m normally in the wrong place for that) or it just irritates me and I spend ages stewing over it in a pointless nark.
But, to be fair, there are some gems in here, particularly from Roddy Doyle:
“Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide”
“Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.”
“Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.”

I really like that last one. The book often seems to take on its own identity once I’ve figured out what the title is, as if it is somehow more real once it has a name. And names are important. But no one ever talks about how we name our books…

Other lines of advice from other authors I found less helpful, such as those that suggest reading a certain person’s work, as if this is somehow essential. I know there are people out there who will froth at the mouth if I suggest that actually I can’t be arsed to read Austen or Chekov or what-‘ave-you, but I believe that we find our essential texts ourselves, through a process of trial and error and bloody mindedness. What is earth shattering and profound for me may not be for you, and I wouldn’t expect it to be the case. Read what you love, and you’ll write what you love.

(I firmly believe that in the future people will be saying “You must read Pratchett” alongside “You must read Dickens”, so I’m just getting in there early)

Several people suggest going for a long walk when you’re stuck on a plot point; I would love to have the time for long walk. That sounds fantastic. But the idea of a walk without a reason for getting somewhere, without a destination, is completely alien to me. I live in London, you have to be going somewhere, not meandering about. Meandering gets you evil looks. From me, mostly.

Anyway, whether or not the writing advice is appropriate or useful really depends on the writer receiving it. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for example are very famous and for good reason; but I look at them and feel a little depressed- no physical descriptions of characters? No descriptions of place or surroundings? The science-fiction and fantasy genres would be somewhat sadder and drabber without such things; or perhaps I’m a little bitter because I love a good prologue, me.

From my own (limited) experience, the only writing advice that matters is also the most obvious. There are two rules:

1) Write
2) Read

After all, the writing only actually gets done if you sit down and do it, and it’s also the only way you learn and get better. And if you’re not a reader, why on earth would you want to be a writer? (Believe it or not I did know someone who was attempting to write a book despite only having the vaguest interest in reading themselves- the mind boggles!). There’s other stuff that I’ve learnt along the way, but the more in depth you get the more tailored it is to me alone- write every day, keep a notebook with you, don’t have the internet on when you’re trying to get something done, don’t let the cat get comfy in front of the screen, have motivational post-its and a My Little Pony in your writing space, use chocolate as a reward… You see what I mean. In the end, Rule 1 and Rule 2 are the ones we have to stick to, and if we do, we’ll get there in the end.