Notes on surviving Nanowrimo AND KICKING ITS BUTT

It’s Halloween! Which not only means it’s time to eat lots of novelty shaped chocolates, it also means it’s practically Nanowrimo: that special month of the year where a bunch of very enthusiastic people attempt to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days.

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This pleases Skeletor.

I am, in my own small way, a Nano veteran. When I first started taking writing seriously, I decided to try Nanowrimo as a way of teaching myself some discipline, and much to my surprise (being an inherently lazy person) it worked! In 2008 I reached my wordcount with an odd little fantasy book for younger readers called Bird and Tower. In 2009 I won with a YA book called Ink for Thieves, and in 2010 it was with an oddly named SF crime romp called Dead Zoo Shuffle. 2011 was where it got complicated – I intended to write the rest of this odd little serial I was writing, called the Copper Promise or something, but then the first section of it received a lot of attention and Nanowrimo dropped off the radar for me…

I was back in 2012 with another YA book called London-Under-Sea, with which I did reach the 50K goal but the novel itself remains unfinished, alas. By then, The Copper Promise was on the verge of being a real book, and what I found was that publishing schedules neatly elbowed Nanowrimo out of the way. I never seemed to be writing a first draft when November rolled around – I was always in the midst of edits. Consequently, 2013 was a miss for me, but with 2014 I squeaked in with 50K words of The Silver Tide. Similarly, history records that last year I registered The Ninth Rain as the novel I would be working on, but edits for The Silver Tide put a stop to that.

This year I have decided, with a heavy heart, that I will not make the attempt. I love Nanowrimo dearly, but I am in the middle of the copyedits for The Ninth Rain now, and there is no greater antithesis to the spirit of Nano than the dreaded copy edit. However, I thought it would be fun to have a think about all the things I have learnt about surviving a month of super-fast writing, and collect some of it here. If you are about to experience the strange adventure that is Nano for the first time, it might be useful. Or it might at least indicate what not to do…

No edits
It’s the most obvious and tiresome piece of advice, and if you are doing Nano you will have heard it 800 times already but: take your inner editor by the hand, give her one last hug, and then give her a sharp shove down the basement steps. Ignore her squawk of outrage and snapping limbs – for the next 30 days, you don’t need her. Soz, lady.

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Stop! Put that editing pencil DOWN!

Time is precious
Nano is brilliant because it teaches you to give yourself periods of time dedicated solely to writing. This time is precious. It must be offered up in sacrifice to bring your characters to life. But with Nano I would also suggest looking closely at all those bits in your day where you briefly have nothing to do, and snaffle those as well. Write bits of your novel on the phone when you’re on the bus. Scribble a section on your lunch break. Stuck in a waiting room? Get those words out. It sounds a little, uh, over the top, but even 20 words or so will help when you’re dragging yourself towards that 1667 words a day.

With that in mind…
I almost always write in a linear fashion these days, with scene following scene, etc. But with Nano, all rules are out the window. I highly recommend, particularly when you’re on the bus or stuck at work, scribbling little extra scenes, snatches of dialogue, conversations that pop up out of nowhere. The beauty of these little isolated fragments is a) they add to your word count and b) they can often lead to unexpected things – a secret about a character you didn’t know, a piece of worldbuilding that suddenly slots into place, and so on.

Sweets
A more responsible writer would tell you to eat healthy snacks, and if you like them, go for it, but I am not a responsible person and I like sweets. Snickers Flapjacks are bloody amazing, and there’s always the trusty Peanut Butter Chunky Kit-Kat. PLUS I highly recommend buying up all the cheap Halloween candy on November 1st.

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Shredder cannot *wait* to get his mitts on those tasty kit-kats.

The Desk of Awesome
If you can, make yourself a base of operations for November. I like my desk to be quivering under the weight of a thousand toys, but you might like a more minimal approach. I dunno. I guess some people like that. Jeez. I found that having a dedicated space to return to for writing sessions made more of an occasion of the whole process, and helped to get my mind into the right head-space.

Share it
Get other people to do it with you. Or, at least tell other people that you’re doing it. Abandoning the project halfway through November is much easier when it’s your secret challenge – if you have friends and family asking you how it’s going, that little flicker of guilt can be enough to get your bum back in the writing seat. And with Nanowrimo the little things count.

Incentivize!
Decide beforehand some landmark word targets, such as 10,000 words, 15,000 words and so on, and treat yourself when you hit them. An hour playing videogames, a special cake, a big glass of booze, or a giant Lego set. Or all of the above.

Get involved with the community
Although I was always more of a lurker than a poster, I spent quite a bit of time on the Nanowrimo forums. It’s comforting to know the struggles other writers are facing, and I was always fascinated to see what other people were writing. It goes without saying that the forums are packed with advice themselves.

Above all, have fun! The spirit of Nanowrimo is wild abandonment, so write whatever you bloody well like, and relish the freedom! FREEEEDOOOOM!!!*

*Wild spelling and outrageous use of exclamation marks are an inevitable side-effect of Nanowrimo.

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Look! Mumm-Ra believes in you!

The Editing Process: A few random thoughts and a small dog

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Here is a small ceramic dog I saw at the British Museum. I appreciated his innate dogness. He has nothing to do with this post.

Gosh, blog posts. Remember when I used to do those?

In my defence, crazy busy times are afoot. In day job world, I’ve started a new position as a copywriter and I’m currently learning approximately 800 new things a day. It’s quite fun. In writing world, I’m still busily making book 3 (hopefully titled THE SILVER TIDE, you heard it here first) in a readable state for human beings. The good news is, it’s almost ready to send off to my lovely editors. The bad news is, it may break my brain before that happens.

Since I’m here, and editing is very much on my mind, I thought I would share some random and not entirely helpful* thoughts on the process.

Summarisation’s what you need

It occurs to me that although I know a lot about how other writers write, I don’t necessarily know much about how they edit (outside of ‘remove words, make better’) so I have no idea whether how I work is normal or totally batshit.

Soooo. When the first draft is done and a bit of time has passed, I will grab a notebook (usually a soft cover school exercise book, those are my favourites for this bit) and in the back I will note down everything I already know needs to change. There are always a few things, bits and pieces that have been bugging me the whole way through the first draft but haven’t had time to go back and change. Then, I will read the whole thing through again, summarising each chapter in black pen and then underneath in red pen I will make a note of all the big things that need to change.

Now, since I am weak and unable to resist, I will also do cosmetic edits as I go; chopping out the crap, tidying things up, tweaking dialogue. There will be a few more rounds of this sort of thing, but I usually need a couple of goes to catch everything.

Then, when I reach the end, I go back to the beginning and address everything I’ve highlighted in red pen, and anything that was written in the back of the notebook at the beginning that hasn’t been sorted yet. The useful thing about having these summaries of each chapter is that when you’re looking for a particular event or character moment later on in the edit, it’s much easier to find. Also, if you’re required to write a synopsis for any reason after the first draft is done, HELLO HANDY SUMMARIES.

Oh god continuity

Truly, the bane of my life when it comes to editing. Writing a book is a massive mental balancing act, and it’s natural that you drop a few balls here and there. Hehe, balls. So when you get to chapter 30 and remember that in chapter 7 someone shaved their head, but since then you’ve been lovingly describing their flowing auburn locks… This is a particular pain in the arse if like me, your book is heavy on weapons and the result of weapons flying about. People are continually pulling their swords out (steady on), putting them away, sustaining injuries or just losing their dagger under the rubble of an exploded building, and you have to keep track of all that. What is brilliant is that eventually a copy editor will read through the manuscript and point out all the ways in which I have been an idiot but for the next book, I am going to draw little pictures of my characters and as I write the first draft I will mark, with a red pen, all the various places they are injured. I’m not even kidding.

Accept Your Limits

I find that editing exhausts my brain in a completely different way to writing. Writing feels more like a trance state, when it’s going really well – words flow, your head is somewhere else, all is good – whereas editing is more like a heightened state of awareness, where your focus is narrowed down to a tiny point. If I do it for too long, my focus starts to bleed and my eyes slip over the page without catching the things I need to change. This is incredibly annoying, especially when you’re speeding towards a deadline and you have very little time to do anything.

It’s annoying, but it means it’s time for me to have a cup of tea, or a browse through tumblr, or watch an episode of Thundercats. Or even just time to stop for the day and go and have dinner. Or maybe, write a blog post about editing.

 

 

*almost certainly not helpful

Eggs, innit

Writing a good sentence is like holding an egg in your hand.

There’s something so wonderfully complete about an egg, even as it’s caught between two states. It has a satisfying weight, and it nestles perfectly in your hand. The shell has an agreeable texture, and the shape of it is oddly calming.

Holding an egg is an ineffably pleasing experience, and that’s how it feels when you write something good: complete, delicate, inevitable.

La la la. I am so tired.

Which is my way of saying, hello, I’m still alive, I know I haven’t blogged for ages but both my real life and my writing life have swarmed together to engulf me at the moment, so I’m surfacing briefly to wave at you all. At some point all this kerfuffle will pass and I will lie face down on the sofa for a few hours.

Oh, we went to see Age of Ultron last night and it was ACES. Sassy robots forever, please. BOOOOOOOOOM.

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A Brief Sentimental Post on Finishing a First Draft

DRAGON

Ephemeral is ready to melt your faces!

So I reached STAGE SEVEN with the third book yesterday – which is to say I finished the first draft. I tend to find the last few chapters difficult (they always take much longer than I think they will, for a start) so this weekend was one big writing sprint fuelled by chocolate, chocolate ice-cream, tea and eventually, mead. I typed THE END through a haze of honey wine and tears, and it has to be said I’m fairly glad no one was there to witness the sobbing mess I was by that point.

That’s not to say that the end is necessarily sad (I can’t comment either way in that regard because SPOILERLZ etc) but it was a very emotional moment to bring closure to a series I’ve devoted years of my life to, and to characters who are as close as family to me now.

Now there is an actual shit-ton (the correct technical term, I believe) of work to do, and I’m very much looking forward to editing the living heck out of final volume of the Copper Cat trilogy, until it is the best possible thing it can be. There will be more tears before I’m done, no doubt, and more mead.

For the moment though I will take a brief break to poke the sodden goo that is my brain back into working order, and to come to terms with the fact I’ve now got the bones of an actual trilogy on my hands. Crazy times.

The Eight Stages of the First Draft

I’m in Milton Keynes on Saturday! Yes. If you’re in the area, pop along to Waterstones between 12 and 2pm and I’ll totally draw a dragon in your book. At some point I will do a proper blog about the release of The Iron Ghost and how ridiculously fabulous it has been, but until then…

 

STAGE ONE

You have been waiting to write this book forever. You have been cradling this first chapter in your mind-bosom for months, and finally it is here. The first ten thousand words or so pass as if in some muffin-scented dream, and everything about this book is amazing. This is it. This is the book that expresses your soul in its purest form. Your writing has never been better and nothing can stop you.

 

STAGE TWO

The initially euphoric energy has been expended, and you start to slow down. Plots and characters are marching along certain paths now rather than running giddily around open fields, but that’s okay, because there is The Plan. It’s mostly composed of the densely written post-it notes that cover your corkboard and fill your groaning notebooks, and it will sustain you through this tricky period. Okay, so you might have had to go back and make some adjustments already because The Book is already veering away somewhat from The Plan, but that’s alright because this is the first draft and that kind of crazy, seat-of-your-knickers thinking is what the first draft is for. Everything is fine.

 

STAGE THREE

Everything is not fine. You are perhaps just over halfway through the book, or at least so far in to the draft that starting all over again feels a little like throwing yourself willingly into the Sun, and abruptly nothing makes sense. Why are the characters behaving like this? You have no idea. What happens in the next few chapters? The Plan is suspiciously silent. You realise that you’ve forgotten about at least two characters who last made an appearance thirty thousand words ago, and the names of several key places have changed at least twice. What is this staggering pile of nonsense? In fact, there’s this other book project that you’ve been fiddling about with in your time away from this book, and that one is starting to look a lot sexier. And easier. And like it would make a lot more sense than this current appalling mess. Temptation eats at you, but the wordcount, the wordcount won’t let you go. You take to forcing yourself to sit at the desk, even if you end up spending half an hour glaring at your laptop and rage-eating Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats. The Plan gets revisited, half of it is thrown out. You change the ending. You change the beginning. You change your trousers.

 

STAGE FOUR

Breakthrough! You are having a shower or rooting around behind the Playstation trying to find a lost Lego figure when BOOOOM part of the book-jigsaw randomly slots into place and not only does the book make sense again, it makes sense in ways you could never have imagined! You scramble for notebooks and post-its, grinning manically as you joy-scoff at least three Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats. You cover the corkboard in your most neon coloured Post-its (possibly enhanced with felt-tip pen), blithely covering over old, stupid bits of The Plan with the new, excellent bits. You contemplate that this feeling might be the best part of being a writer – finding the solution that makes it work – and how frustrating it is that your mind likes to drop it on you while you’re thinking about something else, and not, for example, during the three hours of resolute glaring at your laptop. You are still a genius though.

 

STAGE FIVE

Serious, unending, stoic-faced graft. You are pounding out the words, putting the hours in, and this book is getting it’s ass written, baby. You nurture the idea that you are dedicated and selfless, that every inch of you is a writing machine. You imagine friends and family gently taking your arm, genuine concern writ large on their faces. “But please, don’t you think you should rest? I know you are doing important work, my darling, but…” You brush their cheek, your eyes full of gentle regret. “I cannot stop,” you say, staring off into the distance. “Dragons do not write themselves.”

 

STAGE SIX

Things are out of control. When will this book ever end? The Plan does not say. The Plan promises there are only a handful of chapters left, but this is a blatant lie. Subplots need to be resolved, new characters are turning up out of nowhere, you’ve forgotten the place names again and replaced them with new ones, and your desk is awash in Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kat wrappers and dirty mugs. You don’t know when it will end, but you need it to, and soon. You rearrange the toys on your desk with a perplexed, faintly stunned expression on your face – when did I buy this My Little Pony? – and periodically stand up and wander around the room. You feel as though you have come unstuck in time somehow. Have you always been writing this book? Are you in fact trapped in a black hole somewhere? Will the Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats run out one day?

 

STAGE SEVEN

The last chapter is here. You storm through it, alternating between laughing wildly and sobbing uncontrollably. Now it’s here, you are sad to see it go – sad to see the characters go, who have been with you all the way: doing their own thing, surprising you, putting up with you when you forget their names or how many weapons they own or what sort of injuries they’ve sustained lately. How will you cope without them?

You write the final line – something pithy and emotionally impactful, which you know in your heart will change at least six times before anyone else reads it. You pour yourself a drink, and contemplate the Book of Your Heart. You shed a tear or two, and consider giving up kit-kits. At least the chunky ones.

 

STAGE EIGHT

The edit. You don’t remember writing any of this, for fucks sake…

What happens when I’m stuck: writing and dick jokes

“So you’re writing for the sake of writing?”

Wydrin leant over the table, pushing the point of her dagger into the swirly centre of a knothole. The writer shrugged.

“It’s just to keep my head in the book. If I don’t do a little bit every day, it gets harder and harder to get back into the flow of things.”

“But what you’re writing right now,” Wydrin nodded towards the fat leather bound volume that sat on the table between them, “doesn’t advance the story in any way. This is just you pissing about, isn’t it?”

The writer shrugged, and then realised that she’d already shrugged once in this section and turned it smoothly into a slight tip of the head. “I prefer to call it practise rather than pissing about.”

“It’s the same as training,” added Sebastian. “You use your sword every day and you get used to the weight of it in your hand. Fighting becomes easier.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about you using your sword every day.” Wydrin grinned, triumphant that she’d been able to get a dick joke in so easily. “Famous for it. Sir Sebastian Carverson, they say, you know he barely leaves his sword alone! Must be rusty with use. Surprised it doesn’t just drop off.”

“On the contrary, I oil it carefully every day.” Sebastian patted his sword belt fondly. “You have to take care of your weapon.”

“Ye gods, you two.” The writer sat back, shaking her head. “Frith? You have an opinion on this?”

“On oiling swords?”

“Frith.”

The young lord cleared his throat. “It seems to me that by writing for the sake of writing you are in fact, procrastinating. None of this is helping your cause. Currently, in the book you’re supposed to be writing none of us are even in the same room, let alone in a tavern called the Preening Fox.”

“Preening Fox?” Wydrin put her pint down. “I thought this was the Bloody Cock?”

“Please, don’t,” Sebastian waved a hand at the writer. “You’re just giving her an excuse to reel off ridiculous tavern names.”

“The point is,” continued Frith. “These words you are writing now will eventually be lost, thrown in a pile somewhere, and meanwhile we’re languishing in whatever terrible fate you have concocted. Usually with grievous wounds you’ve forgotten about.”

“Exactly,” said Wydrin. “Essentially, you’re doing a bunch of work right now for no profit. That’s no life for a mercenary.”

“Are you saying that writers are mercenary?” asked the writer. There was ink on her fingers so she wiped it on her trousers. “We’re not subject to the copper promise ourselves, you know.”

“Are you even paying for these drinks?” Wydrin nodded towards the half-finished bottle of mead placed precariously close to the writer’s book.

“Well, not really…” The writer cleared her throat. “You can’t say I don’t keep you in continual booze. Hardly a scene goes by without something alcoholic in a flask appearing. Look, if you lot were behaving yourselves then the words would just be flying by, and various terrible things would be happening, and you’d all be making heroic choices, I’ve no doubt. But this evening I only have half an hour to write, and everything you’re doing at the moment is so bloody… complex.” The writer took a deep breath. “Sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and talk to you all. And for some reason when we do this, it’s always in a tavern.”

“The Windy Miller,” said Wydrin. “I think that’s what it was called. Or the Truculent Sheep.”

“And so tonight when I get home, I can think to myself, well I didn’t get a huge amount done today, but I spent some time with my head in the world of the book, and there’s only a finite amount of that time left now.”

“We’ve been together a long time,” said Sebastian. For a moment the tavern grew quiet, as side characters who hadn’t quite made it into this section faded briefly from existence. There was the crackle of the fire, the smell of stale beer, and the company of old friends. “What will you do, when you’ve finished playing with us?”

“Hooray!” cried Wydrin. “And we’re back with the dick jokes.”

Update: THE IRON GHOST launch, Marco Polo, & a Dragon Age Love In

Top news! We’re launching The Iron Ghost at Forbidden Planet !

IronGhost_v2 jpg jpg

It’s at 6pm on the 26th of February at the Shaftesbury Avenue store, and we had such a brilliant time there for The Copper Promise I am super excited. If you can come along I will totally draw dragons in your copy!

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Just a bit of an awesome costume going on here…

So is anyone watching Marco Polo? Or as we now refer to it in our house, Marky P?

I’m just at the tipping point of a binge watch I think – three episodes in and I’m starting to hum the opening credits music to myself (which, if you’ve seen it, goes BWAAAAAARRRRRRM a lot) and develop attachments to certain characters. The series does some things that I traditionally don’t have a lot of time for; mainly, that the female characters are all defined by their relationships with men, or who they will or won’t have sex with (something that had me turning off Black Sails after a single episode). However, the female characters in it are very interesting and cool, and have interesting things to do, so I can see past that. Also, it features a huge cast of excellent actors from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds (*coughs in the direction of Ridley Scott*) and the sort of ridiculously lavish sets and costumes that mean I could happily sit and watch with the sound off. Oh, and Hundred Eyes, a character of the “bad ass cynical dude with a mysterious history” mould, which I have a particular weakness for.

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The moustache that is the true star of DA:I

In other news, Dragon Age Inquisition is incredible. I can’t really write about it properly yet because a) it’s huge and I’m nowhere near finishing it and b) my love for it is so enormous I’m not sure how to express it yet. Everything I loved from the first two games has been turned up to eleven; the worldbuilding, the writing, the exploration, the combat, the companions… So, I don’t love them all unconditionally like I did with Origins – Sera, who was initially amusing, now gets on my wick, and Blackwall needs to loosen up – but they are all interesting, and I’m learning more about them all the time. Clear favourites for me are Cassandra, who is secretly adorable under the bad assery, Dorian, who is immensely fabulous in a deeply world-weary way, and Solas, who spends his time saying deeply serious and portentous things with a slight Welsh twang – I am a big fan of this. I confidently predict I will be playing this game well into my forties.

Writing wise, book 3 is still rattling on, surprising me and alarming me in equal measure. There are some new characters who have been enormous fun to write and all in all I’m a little bit sad that it eventually has to come to an end – no doubt I will be a sobbing mess by the final chapter.

Hopefully I will do a WOAH 2014 WHAT A YEAR THAT WAS AYE? post at some point (I’ve already put together a folder of photographs from this year, aren’t you lucky? What? Wait, where are you going?) but until then, I hope you’re all having a stress-free festive period, with vast amounts of cake and rum. Yes. xxx

 

Women in Fantasy: Thoughts on Disrupting the Circle

Yesterday, I must be honest with you, I felt a little down about the fantasy genre. Mostly I am an optimist (an angry, angry optimist) but sometimes a flurry of stuff comes along that can (briefly) turn me the other way. I don’t like it much, but it’s true. There was the all male short-list for the Gemmell awards, the ongoing examination of what books tend to get display space in book shops, which books tend to get more review space (spoiler: books by men get the majority of both of these) and the usual stuff I see on forums devoted to SFF; someone asks for recommendations of what to read next, and they get a list of the usual five or six male names. Etc. And so on. I can deal with this most of the time but every now and then it gets a little much. It starts to feel like I might be unwelcome in this genre, what with my being a woman and my tendency to write characters who are women.

And I don’t have any answers, either. Do I think women just aren’t as good at writing fantasy, and the coverage/attention reflects that? Emphatic no. Do I think women just aren’t writing fantasy? Uh, obviously not. Do I think the fandom in general is sexist? No. Do I think the editors and the people in charge of getting the books out there, the “gatekeepers”, do I think they are sexist then? No, and certainly not in my experience. Is there, perhaps, a pervasive, insidious vicious circle of sexism that spins male authors into the spotlight and twirls women off into darker, less obvious corners? Possibly…

It would be a case of: here, these men are best-sellers. Let’s get more books like this, because this is what the reader wants. The reader thinks, hey, I like stuff by this bloke here, and oh, there are lots of very similar books by blokes on this table. I shall buy more of these. Books By Blokes are obviously a success, so let’s keep going round and round in this circle. A simplification, and one that has been written about by better and clearer thinkers than myself, but I suspect that is closer to being the answer than dolloping the weight of sexism on any one group.

So what can I, with my somewhat dented optimism, do? Well, I think we can try to disrupt that circle a little bit. Push some of these women who write fantasy (and other SFF) back into the spotlight a little. Talk about them, recommend them to each other. Get some titles on to tables and face-out in sections. Spread the love and disrupt the circle.

With this in mind, yesterday I asked the bookish denizens of Twitter to recommend me their favourite women writing fantasy, and/or their favourite female characters in fantasy books. I wanted to demonstrate that women are a powerful force in fantasy, both outside (as writers) and inside (as characters). I wanted to mention those men who also write excellent female characters because reminding readers that women are real people with their own agency and adventures also disrupts the circle. Fantasy isn’t a sausagefest, never has been.

SO, with enormous thanks to @Estetio who was kind enough to actually compile a list of everything that went down on the #WomenInFantasy hashtag, here are some of the writers,books and characters that twitter mentioned yesterday. It was an amazing thing to witness; so much passion for women in fantasy. By the end of it my optimism had been restored, and I had one monster of a TBR pile. Have a look. Get stuck in. And maybe we can disrupt the circle a little more.

P.S) The list is in no particular order, and we’ve included those authors who were mentioned but did not have a book attached. It’s a list pulled directly from twitter, so it’s rough and there may be mistakes, bits missing, etc, but I suspect you can find what you need with a quick google search. It’s meant as a starting point really, and is by no means exhaustive. A number of people were kind enough to recommend THE COPPER PROMISE too, which I haven’t included in the list because, well, I am British and we don’t do that sort of thing, but Wydrin salutes you.

(and feel free to add more in the comments!)

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

 

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

 

The Dragonlance books, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

 

Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

 

Hint of Frost, Hailey Edwards

 

Deryni books, Katherine Kurtz

 

Kushiel books, Jacqueline Carey

 

Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, Robin Hobb

Wild Rains Chronicles

The Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Quadrilogy)

 

Legend of Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron

 

Horsemaster, Marilyn Singer

 

Obernewtyn sequence, Isobelle Carmody

 

Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig

The Empire trilogy, Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

 

Pantomime, Laura Lam

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Catherynne Valente

 

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin

 

Miserere, Teresa Frohock

 

The Belgariad, Mallorean, and Elenium series, David and Leigh Eddings

 

Black Magician Trilogy, Trudi Canavan

 

Poison Study, Maria Snyder

 

Graceling, Kristen Cashore

 

The Split Worlds series, Emma Newman

 

Deverry series, Katherine Kerrs

 

Castle series, Steph Swainston

 

Paksenarrion books, Elizabeth Moon

 

Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett

(and Discworld in general, Granny Weatherwax forever, yo)

 

Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landy

 

The Black Jewels Trilogy, Anne Bishop

 

Seven Waters, Juliet Marillier

 

The Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher

 

Riddlemaster trilogy, Patricia A. McKillip

 

Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

 

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor

 

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve

 

Spellcracker books, Suzanne McLeod

 

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Deep secrets.

Charmed life.

Year of the Griffin

 

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

 

Sabriel, Garth Nix

 

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

 

Three Days Till Dead books, Kelly Meding

 

Empress, Karen Miller

 

King’s Dragon & Cold Magic, Kate Elliott

 

Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

“The Paladin of Souls”

 

Geist, Philippa Ballantine

 

Hero and the Crown, K. T. Davies

 

The Blue Sword and Sunshine, Robin McKinley

 

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull

 

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

 

Eon, Allison Goodman

 

Falling Kingdoms, Morgan Rhodes

 

Ash, Mary Gentle

 

Babylon Steel, Gaie Sebold

 

Blood & Feathers, Lou Morgan

 

The Drowning City, Amanda Downum

 

Perdition, Ann Aguirre

 

The Iron Hunt, Marjorie Liu

 

Skulk, Rosie Best

 

Wolf at the Door, J. Damask (aka Joyce Chng)

 

Shambling Guide to NY, Mur Lafferty

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson

 

The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper

 

Nights at the circus, Angela Carter

 

The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle

 

Immortal Empire series, Kate Locke

 

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes

 

Living with Ghosts, Kari Sperring

 

Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross

 

The Runemarks series, Joanne Harris

The Gospel of Loki

 

Threshold, Sara Douglass

 

Cherry St Croix, Karina Cooper

 

Toby Daye, Seanan McGuire

 

Symphony of Ages saga, Elizabeth Haydon

 

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

 

The Merlin Series, Mary Stewart

 

Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth

 

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

 

Outcast Chronicles, Rowena Corey Daniells

 

True Game books, Sheri Tepper

 

Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren

 

Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

 

Flesh & Fire, Laura Anne Gilman

 

The clever Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies, Kylie Chan

 

Otherland series, Tad Williams

 

Winter of Magic’s Return, Pamela F. Service

 

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

 

Outside Over There, Maurice Sendak

 

The Lark and The Wren, Mercedes Lackey

 

‘Parasol Protectorate’ series, Gail Carriger

 

Down the Long Wind, Gillian Bradshaw

 

Classic Trek novels, Ann Crispin

 

The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen

 

Urban Shaman series, CE Murphy

 

Mercy Thompson series, Patricia Briggs

 

Ash, Malinda Lo

Mindspace Investigation, Alex Hughes

God’s War, Kameron Hurley

Writers who were mentioned without a particular book attached:

Juliet E. McKenna,

Kate Griffin,

Aliette de Bodard,

Nnedi Okorafor,

Angela Slatter,

Helen Oyeyemi,

Tamora Pierce.

Early June Update of No Significance

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Random Picture of Our Cat Looking Incredibly Lazy

I thought I’d write one of those update blog posts, where I fart on a bit about what I’m doing at the moment and where I am in the writing process, la la la. It’s probably not spectacularly interesting but at least in November, when I’m locked in a room with my laptop and 800 packets of Halloween sweeties I can look back and think “What the Christ was I doing in June exactly?!” and I will know. So there’s that.

Book 2 in The Copper Promise sequence (there’s definitely a title for it at the moment but I’m not certain I’m allowed to tell you what it is yet) is currently with my editor and I’ll be getting notes back on it soonish. So far, reactions have been positive and feedback has made me feel like perhaps this is a real book after all. I’m looking forward to getting back into it, particularly now that I’ve had a break and some distance – in some places this wasn’t an easy book to write, and emotionally I feel like I put the characters (and myself) through The Giant Fantasy Wringer of Emotional Woe. I’m also looking forward to seeing the cover and getting used to the idea that next year I will have two books out in the world. Crazypants.

Book 3 (which also definitely has a title that I haven’t told anyone yet) is planned up the wazoo, and I’ve started writing bits of it. This one, the last book, is going to be both the most fun and the most painful. At the moment my corkboard has a half-inch thick layer of post-its on it, bristling with pins and scribbled over with felt-tip pens. It’s like a wee shrine to the Gods of Stationery.

And in the background to all that plans are afoot for the fantasy series that will come after The Copper Promise. It’s too early to say anything about this at all really, except that it’s more “epic” than “pulp”, but with the same emphasis on characters, banter, and drinking. I mean, adventure. Characters, banter, adventure, peril, etc. I’m cautiously excited as characters are turning up and introducing themselves at an alarming rate, and things like titles and names are coming really easily – something I often struggle with. We shall see where it goes.

Onwards!

Illustration and Early Book Planning: Rambling Thoughts

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My old banner! An example of the printing on to acetate thing

When I was at art college studying illustration (and the fine art of travelling everywhere with a portfolio and one of those big plastic shoulder tube things full of paper) I used to create a lot of my work on acetate. I would use a photocopier to print my rough sketches directly onto acetate, and then paint in the colour with acrylic paint, much like you would on an old fashioned animation cell. I used to love working like this, because you’d get a wonderful contrast between the smudgy pencil designs (magically turned an inky, smoky black by the photocopier) and the solid, vibrant colour of the paint. I wish I’d spent more time working this way, because you can do some much with it and it pleased my inner animation geek, but the photocopiers in art colleges are expensive and complicated – honestly, the one we had looked like you could use it to remotely control the International Space Station – and I never quite mastered it to the extent that I wanted to.

Anyway, at the moment I’m planning the third book in the Copper Promise sequence. As usual this involves a lot of frantic scribbling in notebooks, brewing of pots of tea, creation of sprawling pinterest boards, and gormless staring out of windows. And it occurred to me that planning a book is a bit like the illustrations I used to make on acetate. When I start trying to put a book together, I have a lot of separate elements swirling around in my head – character relationships, new characters, new locations, new mythology – all sorts of bits and pieces. At this stage it can even include strong visual images that have popped into my head that I want to include, even if I’m not sure what they mean just yet; for example, when I wrote Bird and Tower, my weird YA book that is still mouldering on a memory stick somewhere, I had an image of a small child sound asleep next to a sleeping griffin. I didn’t know what it meant when I started the book, but I knew it was part of it.

All these different pieces, unconnected as yet, are like lines on separate pieces of acetate. I need to bring them all together and then start moving them around until the lines meet up and start to make sense. Does this line go next to this one, or does it cross over this other smudge? Perhaps I need to turn them all over and see them reversed? Eventually, all these pieces will start to fall into place and the bigger picture will emerge, and often that is the most enjoyable part of writing; when the lines come together just so and there is the story, suddenly so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it before.