Tag Archives: writing

Need help writing short stories? Here is some inspiration…

My wife said if you want to write better short stories (I do) why not read some good examples, like Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of his works first published in 1999. What a wise woman (my wife, not Neil Gaiman, he is a wise man).

I have finished now and I am inspired. Generally I find anything less than a full-blown novel difficult to write, but Gaiman can’t stop himself launching into an extra short tale in his introduction to the book that is full of them.

Simple words, nothing pretentious or fancy, but so imaginatively and brilliantly written with such lifelike characters. I feel like I know Mrs Whitaker – I really should nip around for a cup of tea and check she is all right. And somehow it’s very credible that she came to posses the Holy Grail.

As I progressed through the collection I found the stories quite mixed, some would work for young readers and some would be unsuitable. I didn’t really get on with the narrative poems, but no doubt that says more about me than Mr Gaiman’s work.

What the book left me with , apart from excellent entertainment, was a fine demonstration that while an obvious truth, uttered tentatively or timidly, can become doubtful and unbelievable, the impossible, stated with confidence and conviction, can become plausible and even probable…

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Dear Mister Fantasy

Similarities abound, I love comparisons, how about the joy of reading and the joy of listening to music?

Helped in this example of some brilliant music (Dear Mr Fantasy performed by Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood) by the overlap of the word fantasy – my favourite reading and writing genre (possibly my favourite word).

And what about the lyrics (below) – it’s a short story in its own right…

Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy

You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years

Written by Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Good and bad writers

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It’s all the great writers out there that make me want to read.

It’s all the bad writers out there that make me want to write.

 

 

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Strong language from a protagonist in trouble!

Imagine [plot spoiler] a young woman falls down a hole out in the wild west. She can’t escape, her two friends may be dead. One arm is wedged, the other broken. It is nearly dark, there are bats, she is slipping further down. What harsh expletives will she utter?

“My thought was: This will not do.”

Then it gets worse, a rotting corpse with a nest of rattlesnakes coming out its ribcage, more slipping, a bad guy above – taunting. Does she finally lose it and curse or swear?

“This, thought I, is a pretty fix.”

Such restraint by Mattie in True Grit by Charles Portis (1968).

True Grit cover

The films were good, the book is excellent. Its all about Rooster Cogburn’s true grit, but of course it’s the girl who has even more grit in the end.

 

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Tom Bombadil – the terrible secret?

I’m a life-long Tolkien fan, but not one that bemoans the adaptations for the films – different perspectives can be stimulating.JRR Tolkien

So  Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil  was really interesting – thanks to my son for drawing my attention to it.

I don’t agree with the interpretation of Tom Bombadil as an evil force and don’t think Tolkien intended this either (nor does the writer). I saw Bombadil as a wild force, completely unconcerned with other people, and to be honest I didn’t really miss him in the films. But fantasy is about ‘what-ifs?’ and this post develops one of the great ‘what-ifs?’ of all time (Lord of the Rings) along a new direction (for me at least). It’s intriguing to consider this speculation and the comments it generated. And though I’m not convinced, it is a clever and very convincing argument.

Imagine what it would be like to discuss this with Tolkien himself over a pint of beer whilst sitting in front of a log fire…

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I saw an old lady knocked over by a car today…

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I saw an old lady knocked over by a car today. It was frightening seeing just how frail people can be. And inspiring that so many people rushed to her aid -no hesitation and nothing else mattered to them until she was taken care of.  But it was despicable that the driver could be so careless as to cause such harm, and so callous after the event.

Why is this relevant here? Writers need characters to write about. I draw inspiration for my characters from real people I come across and from fictional ones. Also, fantasy tales usually deal with the good versus evil argument – absolute or shades of grey?

She lay on the road bleeding as people rushed to her, others calling for emergency help. An ambulance arrived quickly and the paramedic was amazing. He treated her as he assessed the situation, directed everyone, reassured the lady and much more, all at the same time and all in a perfectly calm and controlled manner.

She didn’t fall far, the impact with the car was slight, but roads are hard. I heard only recently on the radio, health professionals talking about the fragility of the human head, despite our apparently hard skulls. We carry our brains high enough above the ground that simply an uncontrolled fall can be deadly. Bleeding but conscious and in such good hands, I hope the lady makes a full recovery. She obviously suffered some indignity in all this and I will refrain from writing about her any further.

Why was the driver careless? In a word anger. He was angry that he was blocked in, sounding his horn repeatedly and then reversing angrily. Why callous? It’s hard to understand. Perhaps the reality of what he had done had not even begun to filter into his mind when he got out of his car.  He stepped straight over the fallen woman to shout that we should all be blaming the man who blocked him in, that’s whose fault it was. His shockingly misguided reaction made me angry, and others, but our focus was on the poor woman on the ground so we told him to calm down and get out of the way.  Paramedics are rightly cautious with head injuries and they take their time. It was a good five minutes before the car driver came back and asked how she was.

Careless and stupid, or callous and despicable. Who am I to judge? A fellow human – is it not human to care for others?  So we all judged who saw the incident, but I don’t know the man, he may have been in a hurry to help someone, maybe he tirelessly works for a children’s charity. Good or bad is rarely clear and obvious, good people do bad things and vice versa. However, we can only judge people by their actions and those seemed very clear. At least there were plenty of witnesses speaking to the Police when they arrived and opinions were very clear.

Is it this mind-filling and focus-narrowing anger that is behind other crimes? You can imagine it may be responsible for hit and run drivers, furiously blaming their victims for being carelessly in the way as they speed off.

It would be easy to find all this depressing, but remember the context: one stupid man amid dozens of other people all caring and all immediately doing the right thing.

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New free samples added

 

CoverI have updated the free samples of Wildmind available – here,  or use the menus at the top of the page.

The Prologue was already posted.

Now the Complete Chapter 1 is available on this site to read.

Meet Commander Varik Tojen as he directs the defence of Castle Hurriden.

Wolfhound

Is that a wolfhound?

I have also added the complete Chapter 2.

Back in Espondre, the capital city, we meet Mal Respler, an unhappy and timid bureaucrat. Not yet touched by the invasion, he has no idea about the personal and world-changing events coming his way….

The full story is available for only

£1.75 Amazon UK

$2.99 Amazon US

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“We’re all a little dishonest. But cheating at bridge is a step too far…”

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Inspiring on two levels, this article by David Mitchell in the Guardian was both brilliantly written and raised some really interesting points.

Not about the card game bridge, but about honesty. You can extrapolate that to the age old good and bad decisions and actions. I’d like to think that when a moral decision is called for I choose good because it is the right thing to do. But is that really true – I don’t know that I’ve really been tested in that respect. And what about everyone else? Putting aside those that make the ‘bad’ choices, do people do the right thing for moral reasons, or because they don’t want to deal with the guilt, or because they fear discovery and punishment (or divine judgement).

 “The rare occasions when I’ve broken David-Mitchell Picrules or laws led to traumatic breaches in my peace of mind. It’s a frailty of gumption that, luckily for me, shares the symptoms of a moral compass.”

That’s an honest and humble opinion by David Mitchell and I suspect this would apply to more of us than would readily admit it. Perhaps it is about evolution, we couldn’t live in such busy and highly populated societies if everyone made the decisions that only favoured themselves, taking no heed of consequences for others. David has a much better way of saying that though:

 “Honesty is very convenient – and that’s probably why most of us are mostly honest most of the time. Society functions more smoothly if the statistical risk of being misinformed, robbed, ripped off or murdered in any given situation remains low. The fact that most people realise this is a felicitous confluence of common sense and laziness – as much a victory of apathy over enterprise as it is of righteousness over sin.”

All good thought provoking stuff to inspire writers….

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Today is Tolkien reading Day!

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Today is Tolkien reading Day!

The Tolkien Society says

“Tolkien Reading Day is an international event held on 25 March – the day of the destruction of the One Ring – each year. It is held to promote interest in the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien, with many local groups putting on events at local library and book-stores.”

Reading The Lord of the Rings (the first time) as a young teenager was inspirational – it had a lasting effect that is still with me now (a few years on, let’s not be too specific). Reading, writing, nature, nobility of spirit, morality, strength of character – all hugely important aspects of life Tolkien touches still, long after he left us.

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien

I love that the theme this year according to the Society is ‘hope‘ (I missed that above). He managed to take his characters and readers to places of such despair – but there was always hope that somehow shined through.

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Taking fantasy seriously.

cliveanthony smallEver noticed a speculative element in a book being treated in a cursory manner, or not taken too seriously? I have and it’s a problem for me. Fantasy and science fiction books are my favourite reads and are hugely popular with many – but obviously are not to everyone’s taste. So is it good news when a mainstream author dabbles in fantasy or sci-fi? In theory yes, for example bringing some wider audiences along and reducing the stigma, but in practice I’d say it doesn’t always work.

For me when an author doesn’t take the fantasy element seriously enough it can damage the story’s credibility overall. Credibility in fantasy? Absolutely – I would say it is even more important than in contemporary fiction. Fantasy is a medium for what-ifs, but that doesn’t work if the characters are not believable, or if the make-believe world is poorly imagined. For example you might say it is relatively easy to set any story in a dystopian world to give it a twist, but is it so straightforward? I loved Ursula K Le Guin’s recent review in the Guardian (On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee) where she addressed this issue excellently. Although I haven’t read the book she reviewed, I found myself cheering as I read her words.

Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)

Contrast this dabbling with the skilful writing of China Miéville for example. He is able to hop genres and craft fantasy that if you described it out of context would sound preposterously unbelievable. And yet he achieves highly credible and thoroughly engaging stories. I found that giant moth creatures sucking out sentience from people was highly believable, because they were embedded in a great story and written in a way that made you somehow unable to doubt it.

Tolkien was a master of course – everyone knows Middle Earth exists.

Stephen King is another example, topiary hedge creatures moving when you aren’t looking – absurd mentioned here and yet in The Shining it becomes chilling. Oh and Peter V Brett convinced me that demons rise at night, I had no time to doubt it in a such a believable world filled with scintillating action scenes.

So inspired by these examples I have a plea in two parts:

Let’s take fantasy seriously

      • as writers because it is not just something to spice up a story or appeal to a different audience
      • as readers because it can be so immensely rewarding to suspend that disbelief!

P.S.

I’ve deliberately avoided negative examples above (apologies to Chang-rae Lee) but would love to hear more positive examples of authors who make you believe irrational things….

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