September 16, 2011 § 10 Comments
I had to learn quite a lot of new things in the process of publishing my first e-book. One of the steepest learning curves was formatting. Not that it was that hard in the end: I say it was a steep curve because I’d never so much as thought about html before and suddenly I had to create an acceptable html version of my book from scratch.
Fortunately, I enjoy a challenge.
I didn’t strictly have to format my kindle edition from scratch, this is true. Amazon’s own publishing guidelines recommend that you simply save your word document as html, feed it into their handy dandy mobi creator programme and consider it done. But when I’d done that I discovered actual pages of hidden code crammed into the beginning, doing… I’ve no idea what. Apparently nothing. I’ve heard that quirks like this can cause problems on some devices, and I really don’t like things to be messy, so that had to be tidied up.
Then of course there’s the problem of Smashwords. They won’t accept an html file (not sure why); you have to submit a word document and they can be tricky about how it’s put together (or it won’t go through the “meatgrinder” properly). So that’s two lots of formatting to do. Sounds like a lot.
It’s quite possible to pay someone to take care of it – after all, as more and more authors recognise the benefits of indie publishing and decide to go it alone, more and more author services are cropping up, including options for e-formatting. But if you’re publishing on a budget, it’s quite possible to do it yourself. (No… it really is).
I have a few internet resources that I found extremely useful when putting together my Kindle edition (which does have to start the transformation process as an html file).
Guido Henkel has a detailed tutorial on his blog. It covers how to clean up your original document, then guides you through the steps to build a clean html version. Here is the link to the first page.
Paul Salvette has posted another tutorial on his blog. I found this one rather later, but it helped me to clear up a couple of residual problems that I had. Here’s the link.
Finally, I was sent this very useful page full of html codes. Don’t look at it too closely until you’ve gone through one of the tutorials, or it might look like a complete nightmare. Later, though, it’ll look more like a small miracle.
Going back to Smashwords, some argue against bothering with it. It appears to be true that Smashwords has a smaller audience of buyers – considerably smaller – than Amazon and probably Barnes and Noble. Where it comes into its own, however, is in the following areas:
- It allows you to give a piece of writing away for free, if you want to do that.
- You can create checkout codes to give specific people a free download of your book, which is useful for promotional stuff (or for making your friends happy!).
- It’s important for those of us not living in either the US or one of Amazon’s designated Kindle countries. B&N is closed completely to non-US users, and as for Amazon, I for one have difficulty purchasing from Amazon at all (payment methods issue). If that weren’t a problem I’d still have to swallow the big price increase they impose for users like me. I rely on Smashwords to get indie books for prices I can afford. This is an audience that isn’t very large at present, true, but it’ll grow – and besides, while it won’t make much difference to your bottom line, it’s a courtesy to your future fans and readers to make sure everyone who’s interested can get hold of your work if they want.
So, in my opinion it’s worth the effort of formatting separately for Smashwords. And in order to do that, simply follow the style guide. It’s long and detailed, and it’ll take a few hours of your life, but by just following the steps to the letter my upload to Smashwords (and its premium catalogue) went off without a hitch. Here’s the guide.
I hope these links are helpful to anybody preparing to jump into the indie-pub waters.
September 7, 2011 § 17 Comments
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that owning at least one cat seems to be a basic requirement for authorship.
So many of those three-or-four-sentence author bios at the backs of books make a point of mentioning the author’s ownership of both spouse and cats. I thought about this when I was writing my own brief blurb recently and I instinctively added that in too. I suppose it’s a matter of ingrained expectation about author bios, because really – pick up a few books from your bookshelf and probably one of those bios will talk about their cats.
Or maybe this is mostly a fantasy author thing. My findings are unscientific to say the least. But let’s discuss it anyway.
My theory? Writers spend so much time sitting by themselves staring at a screen – or a piece of paper – that we could, over a matter of years, come to feel seriously isolated and out of touch with the real world. Loneliness can be an occupational hazard, and the more you concentrate on building your career as an author – the more hours a day you spend pounding out the words – the greater the danger of suffering from a lack of companionship.
When I moved to the Netherlands in July, my partner ever so gloriously presented me with two kittens as a welcome gift, and there’s no doubt they transform the daily writing grind. Just having Emma sleeping on the windowsill behind my computer makes me feel that I have company. But unlike dogs it’s not intrusive company. Usually. (Don’t get me wrong about dogs: I love them. I used to own a beagle and he was seriously the cutest creature in existence. But they need a lot more attention than cats do).
There are exceptions, of course. Just now my kittens are sleeping, so I get the feeling of companionship without being interrupted while I write. But they are kittens. Once in a while I’m thrown out of my writing trance by a resounding crash as something is knocked off a shelf or a windowsill, and I’m still trying – repeatedly though unsuccessfully – to discourage them from destroying my plants.
But at least they take themselves to the loo when they need to go.
Am I right about cats? How many of my writer friends either own, or wish they owned, a cat or two? Or other animal companions? And do you ever start feeling isolated when you’ve been writing long hours for months at a time?
August 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
Thank you for reading the prologue to my upcoming novel Draykon last week. It’s Thursday again, so it’s time for the next part. If you missed the beginning though, please read the prologue first.
The stone polishing machine rattled its last and the barrel stopped spinning, its cycle complete. Opening it up, Llandry slipped a deft hand inside and extracted a few of the gems. They lay in the palm of her hand, glittering darkly indigo under the light-globes that hovered over her head. Smooth and perfect, they were quite ready for use.
She never cut the istore stones. It seemed wrong, somehow, to break these perfect jewels into pieces, so she merely gave them a day or two in the polisher to bring up the brilliancy of the surface. It was a pleasing test of her ingenuity as a jeweller to find ways to set them as they were.
She selected one of the smaller pieces, tucking the rest away in the top drawer of her work table. A setting was already prepared for this one, a large, handsome ring designed for a man to wear. Wrought from silver, her favourite metal, she had lightly engraved it with a pattern of tiny stars. This motif echoed the tiny points of light that winked in the depths of the stone.
In fact, Llandry had named it for the stars. She had discovered the gem by accident, walking one day under the glissenwol trees with Sigwide darting ahead. Thoughts lost in daydreams, she had drifted away from their usual route. Her reverie had been suddenly interrupted by the sensation of falling as she tumbled down a hole hidden beneath the bracken. The hard earthen walls of the underground grotto sparkled ferociously in the thin light beaming down from above. The gems fell easily into her hands when she touched them, shining like shards of night fallen from the skies. She had taken to calling them “istore”, after the Old Glinnish word for star.
Not that she was particularly familiar with the night sky. The permanent sun of the Dayland Realms hid the stars from her sight, and the moon only occasionally appeared as a pale and feeble disc in the heavens. Therein lay the nature of her fascination, perhaps. Llandry picked up her lapidary tools and bent over the ring, carefully and skilfully working the gem into its setting. Intent on her task, she barely noticed the faint scratching of Sigwide’s feet on the wooden floor as he wandered in. She distantly sensed an air of speculation about him as he paused before the table, haunches bunched to jump. But no: he knew better than to disturb her when she was working. He pattered off again, finding the blanketed basket she left for him on the other side of the room.
‘Just a few more minutes, Siggy,’ she murmured without looking up. He grumbled in reply, sending her a plaintive series of impressions: hunger, emptiness, imminent starvation. She stifled a laugh.
‘In theory, Sig, you are a wild animal. A feral beast, part of brutal, brilliant nature. You could go forth and forage for your own food. In theory.’
Sigwide ignored her. His claws scrabbled on the wicker as he turned in his basket, curling up with an offended air.
‘All right, fine. Food.’ She put down her tools and wrapped up the ring and the precious gem in soft cloth, unwilling to leave them lying abandoned on the table. Sigwide jumped joyfully out of his basket and wove his thin grey body around her feet, beating her to the door. She stepped over him with the nimbleness of long practice, chuckling.
Sigwide’s favourite food was a complex, carefully balanced mixture of dried bilberries, fresh rosehips, assorted nuts and a scattering of pungent mushrooms. He was completely spoiled, dining like a king on this rather expensive mixture every day, but she didn’t begrudge him his luxuries. He had been her faithful companion – her only reliable friend, other than her parents – for the last eleven years. He ought to be slowing down now that age was catching up with him, but so far he had never lost his inexhaustible energy.
Llandry leaned against the kitchen table, watching him eat. She tried to keep her thoughts focused on Sigwide, but as usual her mind betrayed her. Tendrils of nerves snaked through her belly and began to grip, clutching hard. She hadn’t wanted to stop working because as long as she was fully occupied, she was safe from apprehension. Now, though, her treacherous thoughts turned to tomorrow. Tomorrow.
It had been her mother’s idea to take the istore jewellery to the market. Ynara thought it would be popular. Doubtless she was right; the istore never failed to interest and attract those who saw it. Short of the money to cover the rent on her small, but pleasant tree, Llandry had allowed herself to be persuaded about the market; after all, it was preferable to having to ask her parents for help.
She had begun to regret it immediately. She was to have her own stall at the next Darklands market, which was held every full moon in Glour. It was a popular event attracting thousands of shoppers, which of course was why it was so suitable a venue for her glorious new jewellery. That fact also made it a prospect of pure terror for Llandry. Thousands of people pushing and shoving and jostling each other, staring at her jewellery, her stall, her face. She would have to talk to some of them. Talk, comfortably and persuasively, to a succession of complete strangers. The only saving grace about this hideous prospect was the opportunity to stand for a while under the stars and the light of the full moon. It was not nearly enough to balance out her fear.
Feeling the tell-tale tingling sensation beginning to creep up her arms, Llandry tried to pull back her thoughts. She walked about the room briskly, swinging her arms. It was no use. Within minutes her fingers had cramped and curled with tension and her whole body was tingling uncomfortably. Soon afterwards she began to shake uncontrollably, hyperventilating, growing dizzy and faint. She sat down with her head between her knees, trying to breathe deeply. Sigwide abandoned his repast and trotted over to her, thrusting his nose against her legs.
‘I’ll b-be fine, Sig. Just… give me a moment.’ At length the dizziness faded and her shaking eased. She stood up carefully, stretched and shook her befogged head. Her face was wet with tears; these attacks always left her feeling intolerably shamed and humbled. She patted her face dry on her sleeve, then picked up Sigwide. It comforted her to have him close for a time afterwards, the warmth of his little body soothing the vestiges of her fear.
‘Why did I agree to this, Siggy?’ She sighed. Hidden in her top kitchen cupboard rested a bottle of dark brown glass, containing a rather repulsive mixture her mother had purchased from one of Glinnery’s foremost herbalists. It tasted revolting, but it was effective. She took a small measure of the stuff, welcoming the feeling of lassitude that gradually swept over her afterwards. She would just have to keep herself dosed up on it until the market was over.
Furthermore, her mother had offered to accompany her. Llandry had refused, wanting to prove – to herself, more than anyone else – that she could manage it alone. Now she felt differently. Dosed or not, she knew she would be suffering more of these attacks on the morrow. She was going to need her mother’s help. She slid her feet into her boots, lacing them up tightly, and placed Sigwide into the carry-case she slung over her hip. Locking her tree, she launched herself into the air, letting her strong wings carry her in the direction of her parents’ residence.
‘Oh, love. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.’ Llandry stood in the circle of her mother’s arms, inhaling her familiar, comforting scent. Ynara held her for some time, rocking her gently the way she had done since her daughter was a small girl. Then she seated her firmly at the table and plied her with food. Somehow her mamma always seemed to have Llandry’s favourites on hand: fragrant white alberry tea with a pinch of freyshur spice, a bowl of creamed mushroom soup and a plate of tiny berry cakes appeared before Llandry in quick succession. She didn’t feel inclined to eat, but she forced down a few spoonfuls of the soup, unwilling to disappoint her mother. As always, the food began to make her feel better and she ate with a little more enthusiasm.
Ynara sat down opposite her and took a cake, breaking it into small pieces and eating them elegantly with her fingers. She watched Llandry affectionately, her expression soft. ‘You know, Pa would come as well, if we asked him.’
Llandry shook her head. ‘Bad enough that I have to drag you along, Ma. Pa’s busy.’ Pa, an engineer and inventor from Irbel, was always busy. He was remarkably good at his job and was high up in Glinnery’s well-regulated guild of Irbellian expatriate engineers. Llandry’s parents had always lived comfortably, even after Ynara had given up her position as an Enchanter to join the unpaid Council of Elders.
Ynara wrinkled her delicate nose and smiled. Even such an inelegant gesture did nothing to dampen her remarkable beauty. She did very little to encourage it: her tumbling black hair was often a little disordered, and she often wandered absent-mindedly about in clothes dotted with the stains left by her regular adventures in cooking. None of it mattered a bit. Llandry often felt something of a crow beside her magnetic mother, though this was a feeling she ruthlessly stifled whenever it threatened to emerge.
‘Just you and I, then, love. It’ll be like the old days. Do you remember when we used to visit the Darklands Market when you were a child?’
Of course Llandry remembered. Shy even then, the bustling market had unnerved her, but she had clung to her mother’s hand and felt reassured. Ynara used to go regularly in search of some of the rarer ingredients she used to create her edible delicacies. There were several fruits, grasses and mushrooms that would only grow under the endless night of the Darklands, and all of them were abundantly available at the Darklands Market. Mamma would buy new gems for Llandry’s collection each time they went, and return home laden with packets of unidentifiable objects for Aysun. Llandry had always enjoyed this quality time alone with her mother. She smiled, now, trying to weld that idea into her mind in place of her extreme trepidation.
‘Thanks, Ma,’ she said at last. ‘I’d better go and finish up that ring. It’s the last piece for tomorrow.’
Ynara kissed her cheek and gave her a brief hug. ‘I’ll be with you early in the morning, love. I’ll bring breakfast.’
Llandry made herself smile again and waved, trying to suppress the forlorn feeling she always suffered whenever she flew away from her mother’s house.
August 16, 2011 § 6 Comments
I know, I know. Three posts in the same seven-day period? What is going on here?
What is going on, Gentles All, is the magnificent crunch time. That time when Procrastination starts to seem like a girl’s best possible friend, but you soldier on anyway.
The book is done. There’s nothing else I can conceivably do to it that would improve it (or at least, not that I can identify or imagine at this point). The cover art is underway; I had some early sketches for it already and oh my giddy aunt it looks gorgeous. So much so that I have no idea what Elsa Kroese is going to do to it to make it look even more finished at this point, but I’ve no doubt it’ll be magnificent.
That means the book will be released sometime in the next few weeks, all being well. I’ve a notion it will feel a bit like jumping off a building. Did anyone else get that feeling on first publication?
I’m filling the time by working on the next book, which (so far) is a good way of keeping myself from imagining all the awful things that seriously could happen later on. Meanwhile, it seems like a good time to do something sort of promotional-like prior to the release of Draykon.
So, later this week I’ll be posting the prologue to the book. The week after that I will post the first chapter, and then after another week chapter two will appear. And so on until release day. I suppose for the sake of practicality I should pick a consistent schedule, so I shall arbitrarily pick Thursday.
See you in two days!
August 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Today I am blogging elsewhere, namely at Stephanie Verni’s blog “Steph’s Scribe.” Seeing as we are both raging Jane Austen fans, I inevitably chose the wonderful Ms. Austen as the topic. Find the link here.
August 10, 2011 § 4 Comments
Lately I have been reading reviews for a range of fantasy books and I have noticed a puzzling trend. Some reviewers are criticising books – that I enjoyed for being a little unusual – on the grounds that they aren’t real fantasy. Or they are only superficially fantasy courtesy of a few details tacked on over the top of a book that is definitely not fantasy.
Reviews like this puzzle me because while all of the books in question feature some elements that might be termed uncommon in fantasy, they also feature plenty of other elements that are pretty normal. There is always some form of magic. In each case the magic in question is central to the storyline. There are strange happenings and mysterious wizard-types and sinister dark magic aplenty. All of that sounds pretty fantasy-ish to me.
They differ in that they are, for example, set not in a pseudo-medieval world but in worlds based on much later periods of history. They feature technology of some kind (frequently steampunk inspired). There isn’t an artifact of power. Elements like these don’t seem to me to be so integral to the identity of a fantasy novel that their omission will entirely blast the book out of the genre. But then, what are the vital elements of a good fantasy book?
I might suggest that magic is the most basic requirement, but there are books that are considered fantasy and yet involve very little waving of magic wands. The “quest” storyline is very popular in fantasy, but it’s certainly possible to write one without it. And so on. On the other hand, writers can and do mix typical fantasy tropes with features more regularly found in mystery, science fiction, romance, thrillers and horror very successfully – without, I think, wandering too far away from the roots of fantasy fiction. It’s increasingly common to mix genre tropes these days, and that is a good thing in my mind as it leads to stories with much more depth and variety.
However, it seems it’s possible to carry it to the point that some readers will question a book’s right to exist alongside The Lord of the Rings as a fellow work of fantasy fiction. What, then, should go into the fantasy fiction pot, and what (if anything) should stay well clear of it? Do you welcome or resent the merging of genres?
July 30, 2011 § 15 Comments
It’s almost the end of July, which means my first month in the Netherlands has come to an end. So far I have seen a lot of windmills, a lot of water (both the flowing variety and the falling variety) and quite a lot of cat hair all over my new (pale-coloured) furniture. I’ve eaten a lot of good Dutch cheese, learned to love stroopwafels and heard far more Dutch than I can possibly process in a year, let alone four weeks. It’s been interesting.
What I haven’t seen – or heard so much as a peep about – is an e-reader. That’s not an idle observation. Seeing as we have a new house to stock, we’ve been doing an awful lot of shopping. It’s reached the sorts of painful levels that I don’t even want to think about. But while there are gadgets and gizmos galore in every conceivable shop, I haven’t even seen a Sony reader anywhere.
Let’s go back a step or two. I talked recently about book-hunting in the wilds of Amsterdam, which was moderately successful. To qualify that, I ought to explain that my definition of ‘moderately successful’ still means ‘quite a lot more expensive than buying books back in the UK’. Having subsequently tracked down that huge expat-owned second-hand bookshop I mentioned, that definition still stands. I’m lucky if I can find even a second-hand book that I’m interested in for much less than five euros so far, and that’s a matter of pot luck. This is quite painful.
Digital reading ought to be the ultimate answer to this problem. Digital books do not have to be physically shipped from country to country. They have no import costs. A customer can download an e-book from the US or from France and the essential costs of that download ought to be the same. I ought to be able to get most of my English-language reading for e-reader without difficulty, right? The first problem, though, would be getting an e-reader upon which to read e-books.
Let’s start with the current biggest manufacturer and distributor of e-readers and e-books, the mighty Amazon. They may be a huge corporation but I’ve been a fan for a long time, for many reasons which I won’t go into here. The disappointing thing about Amazon is the lack of Kindle coverage in most of Europe. You can purchase a Kindle from the US if you absolutely must, but Amazon’s attitude to Kindle users outside of their dedicated Kindle countries (the US, the UK and Germany so far, did I miss any?) is oddly grudging. You can only get your Kindle from the US, even if the UK is considerably closer and more convenient for you, and that means you can only purchase books from amazon.com, not .uk or .de. Furthermore, I hear worrying reports of $2 surcharges on each purchase made by a user outside of the US. Nobody knows why this happens, but it essentially means buying English language digital books as an expat isn’t much better than buying print. You’re still being penalised for being outside an English-speaking country, but for no discernible reason. Lamentable stuff.
Setting aside the surcharge issue, even, why are the amazon kindle bookstores so rigidly compartmentalised? I’m no expert on these matters so I may be missing something. But I can’t see why one’s geographical location ought to matter so much. If a person wants to use some of their money buying English language digital books, why shouldn’t they spend that money in whichever Kindle bookshop can supply the need? If one cannot do that without complications and rip-offs, one goes looking for an alternative.
So what are the alternatives? I’m told that the Sony reader is available in the Netherlands, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it. Where do I go to purchase such an exotic beast? No idea. Next. Nook? No luck there either. For some reason Barnes and Noble would rather not have non-US customers, leaving everyone else to spend their money elsewhere. Then I suppose I will have to rely on….
Kobo? Hrm. Kobo is the most promising of the bunch, in that I hear – through the Glorious Grapevine – that there is a Dutch-language Kobo store planned for the Netherlands ‘sometime soon’, whatever that means. Great. In theory, then, the Kobo reader will be available for purchase in this country. What of their ebookstore? Not that I’m inclined to be critical of Dutch-language options – bravo and the more language options available in digital books, the better – but this won’t resolve my particular problem. Will there be English books available in this store as well? If not then English-speaking expatriate kind is back to square one.
How many English-speaking expats are there around the world? And how many people are there who prefer to read fiction in English – because waiting for books to be translated takes far too long? I don’t have any numbers, but a lot, right? A lot. And all of us have difficulty getting printed books in English for anything less than a small fortune because of import costs. And while this post is inevitably focused on English, the fact is that digital reading should make it possible for anybody to obtain books in any available language for a fair price. (Yes, different people will have different definitions of ‘fair prices’; my definition here is that those prices should not fluctuate up or down based on geographical location).
It’s true that we are in relatively early days for digital reading, but only relatively. Dedicated e-readers have been available for a few years now, but still much of the world is left out in the cold with few or no options available. I applaud sites like Smashwords; as far as I know there are no territory restrictions on either uploading or downloading books from that site, nor any price fluctuations. That’s fair. There are also sites like the Book View Cafe, where authors group together to sell their work digitally over a dedicated site. As far as I know (disclaimer: I might be wrong), those are also free of illogical restrictions. So supposing you can get a device on which to read e-books, there are options. But there aren’t enough.
At the moment I’m still shopping from the UK Kindle store, but I don’t know if that will last. It certainly won’t last past the point where I want (or need) to upgrade my e-reader. So, I’m going to be sitting tight waiting for Kobo to get a move on with the Netherlands shop. When it arrives, I’ll be crossing my fingers that purchasing a Kobo reader will come with access to Kobo stores other than the Dutch one (either that or a truly extensive range of English-language books in the Dutch store, which doesn’t seem likely). In the meantime, I need more options. Can anybody recommend any other sites for digital book purchases that won’t hinder me, block me or rip me off?
July 24, 2011 § 25 Comments
So, about eight months ago I set out to write a fantasy novel without any particular plan in mind. I didn’t have a clear idea about what I would write: on the contrary, the fun of it was to put pen to paper and see what happened. I was interested to see what my imagination would produce if I gave it free rein. And that’s why I like to write fantasy: there are no real limits. I can write whatever my imagination can concoct.
I probably had a clearer idea about what I didn’t want to write. I’ve been a big fan of fantasy fiction since I was a child, and I’ve read an awful lot of it. These days that feels like I’ve read the same three stories about a thousand times each. So here are the fantasy tropes I was specifically avoiding:
- Elves, or any obvious derivative thereof;
- Dwarves, or any obvious derivative thereof;
- Any sort of ancient enmity between my obvious elf-and-dwarf-race derivatives;
- Wizards in pointy hats (much as I love pointy hats in themselves);
- The sort of magic that involves throwing fireballs;
- Unicorns of Power (for “unicorns” also read “dragons/gryphons/winged horses/etc”);
- A pseudo-medieval setting;
- An ancient, legendary sword/ring/orb of unthinkable power;
- An orphaned child hero who turns out to be the lost heir to a kingdom;
- A villain who is The Lord of Evil and is (inexplicably) determined to cover the world in Shadow;
- Any kind of prophecy whatsoever.
That sounds harsh. I do have a definite soft spot for all of the above, and I don’t mean to imply that a fantasy book that involves any of the items on my list is not worth reading. Far from it. I simply wanted to do something different.
So how did I do? It turns out that most of the above were pretty easy to avoid. I took a generally nineteenth-century society as a basis for my setting – my characters travel in carriages, have running water and proper bathing facilities – and I have an all human cast (though some of my humans are winged). There are no fireballs, pointy hats or unicorns and there are strictly NO prophecies. I have two protagonists, both female: one suffers, if anything, from an excess of family security rather than the opposite and the other is an entirely stable, high-ranking and powerful woman of 38 (why are so many fantasy heroes/heroines under twenty five, by the way?).
I also avoided the idea that if there’s magic, you can’t have science or technology. When I discussed this on twitter, it was pointed out (quite rightly) that “magic” usually means science that isn’t understood yet; totally true, but my beef with fantasy and sci-fi is that we tend to end up with one extreme or the other. If there’s “magic”, there’s no science, and if there is any form of advanced technology there can’t really be magic. Our fictional alter-egos either understand everything, or nothing. Now me, I am a fan of fanciful gadgetry. I enjoy steampunk, though not exclusively; steam power is terrifically fun but there’s a much broader category of mildly deranged fantasy-themed gadgetry one could imagine. So I did! So far my characters have cameras, elevators, tracking devices and a form of television. I’m looking forward to developing that further in the next book.
I probably had way too much fun with the weird and wonderful creatures and the peculiar places. In this I can see the influence of one of my lifelong favourites, Alice in Wonderland. Why have mundanity when you can have colourful unpredictability? I have characters living in giant mushroom houses and houses on stilts; I have distant worlds that generate a whole new landscape every hour or so; I have a world full of creatures that have never appeared in any zoological reference book save my own; I have madly civilised tea-drinking villains, carnivorous plants and countries where it’s always either light or dark, but never both in succession. And yet in spite of all this oddness I can see that the whole thing is utterly steeped in Englishness. I’m speaking of the national rather than the personal.
Ah well. That’s what you get for taking the chains off the imagination and letting it go.
Anyway, in the middle of all this madness there was one trope I utterly failed to avoid. The dragons. They snuck in in spite of my best efforts and took over the whole story. Why was that? I don’t know. The best I can say is that of all the most common fantasy tropes, dragons for some reason have always stayed with me the longest. I didn’t really want to write about dragons, but in the end I find that I don’t mind.
So, the sum total of all this fantasy trope avoidance is, apparently, that I have written a science fiction book instead. So say some of my beta readers. I’m not sure what to make of that, but fair enough: it stands as a work of mixed fantasy and sci-fi and we’ll see what happens. As of now, the newly-named Draykon is awaiting its cover art. There are a couple of formatting problems to iron out (with which, fortunately, I will have help) and a blurb to write (at which I am terrifically bad, so that may take me some time).
Then it’s time to start work on the sequel.
Hey ho. The road goes ever on and on…
July 16, 2011 § 15 Comments
It was inevitable that one of my first ports of call on arriving in Holland would be the American Book Centre in Amsterdam, or the ABC for short. This multi-storey bookshop has been a favourite for years, but never more so than now. They have something of everything in there – or actually quite a lot of everything. My favourite part is the first floor section with all the latest sci-fi and fantasy publications.
As the name implies, all these books are imported from the US. That means the average price per book is pretty expensive. Additionally much of the stock seems to be new releases or long-term favourites – there isn’t that much back stock. However, there are two reasons why it’s a blessing for expats like me:
1) They have a membership scheme offering a year-long 10% discount for an upfront fee of seven euros. Really? Seven? I’d save that much back on a single trip.
2) They have a really excellent discount section.
See, the branches of Waterstones at home frequently had book sales and discount tables but the majority of the stuff discounted was total tat. Celebrity (auto)biographies, throwaway gift books about stupid things, leftover copies of the latest rubbish ‘bestseller’. Not worth the time it took to look through them. The advantage to the ABC’s apparent shelf-stocking policy is that the discounted stock is usually just the older books that haven’t sold yet. Every time I go I find something I really want to read, for a few euros per book. It’s great.
On last week’s trip I managed to get:
- Elfland by Freda Warrington. Freda is one of my favourite authors and typically I try to read everything by her (sooner or later).
- The House on Durrow Street, by Galen Beckett. I’ve never read this author, but the premise really interested me. Here’s another advantage to the ABC: it appears this series of books was only ever published in the US, so I wouldn’t have been able to get it at home unless I imported it myself (expensive).
- Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills. I read the first book in this series a few weeks ago and I’m looking forward to reading the other three.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’ve read this book before, a few years ago. I borrowed a copy at the time and I’ve been meaning to get my own ever since. I bought this one so I can read it again, then finally read the sequel. I will subsequently force my partner to read it too.
Not bad, eh? Nothing cheers me up like a good book haul. Incidentally, there’s a branch of Waterstones just around the corner from the ABC, which is also terrifically expensive, but it’s like a little slice of home with its floor-to-ceiling book shelves and British editions of the latest releases. There’s a shelf full of the same beautiful cloth-bound classics that I’ve spent months making eyes at in England. AND! They appear to have started selling some British food. Tea, gravy granules, jam and English chocolate – many of the things it’s hard to get and equally hard to live without. What could be better than a multi-storey British bookshop with added Brit-food content?
In short, everything is going pretty well on the book front so far. Even better, there’s a second-hand expatriate-owned bookshop somewhere in Amsterdam that I still want to find (called The Book Exchange). Reportedly very good for English books. That’s in addition to the many second-hand bookshops in Amsterdam containing a mix of Dutch and English books, and of course the book market that takes place on some Fridays in the month.
Does it seem strange that identifying the best bookshopping venues was top of my priority list when I got here – right up there with buying an oven and figuring out where the nearest supermarket is? That’s book addiction for you. As long as I’ve got plenty to read, I’ll be more or less okay. And it looks like I won’t run out of reading anytime soon.
June 21, 2011 § 11 Comments
Hello, blog friends.
Today – in fact, all week – I am spending my time alternately filling in paperwork and discarding large quantities of stuff. I’m pausing in the midst of these noble and exhilarating endeavours to have a chat about books.
“Books” is a magic word, usually quite enough to Make Everything Better, but sadly the biggest thing going on in my book world right now is the ruthless reduction of my personal library. It is a painful process. I’ve spent years building it up, but I can’t reasonably drag that many books overseas with me. It would cost a fortune; I don’t think there’s space enough in our new house to store them all; and besides, once I made myself have a proper look at them, I realised I have a lot of books lying about that I not only don’t need but probably don’t want, either.
Probably. I have a covetousness about books that makes it hard to say “I don’t want this one.” I want them all, just because they’re books. But if I’ve had a book for two years and I either haven’t read it or haven’t re-read it, it’s surplus.
So far I have placed somewhere between half and two-thirds of my library on the discard pile. Or er, discard mountain.
I feel proud. And broken. After I stopped crying, though, I decided to console myself by acquiring a handful of new recruits to add back into my reduced book stash. Some special ones that I really want. Through July I expect to be very busy and happy playing in the new house and spending time with the Significant Other. Real Life begins on the first of August, and it’s after that that I may begin to feel slightly homesick. So, this is my special August reading list. As soon as the lower lip starts to wobble, I’m in the reading chair with one of these.
I got three books that I’ve previously borrowed from somewhere and loved enough to want my own copy.
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees. This little fantasy novel was written in the mid twenties, and it seems like nobody has everheard of it. It’s about the spread of the forbidden and feared “fairy fruit” through the town of Lud and the efforts of the Mayor, Nathaniel Chanticleer, to resolve the “problem”. It’s beautiful, quirky and eccentric. As such I’d place it into a category with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I read this a couple of years ago and I’m looking forward to reading it again.
Wish Upon a Star, by Olivia Goldsmith. Yes, this author wrote The First Wives’ Club. I’m a fan of her fiction because it’s some of angriest literature I’ve ever read, and sometimes that works nicely for me. This book is very different. It’s about an American woman in her twenties with a drab office job and no prospects. She’s taken to London for a weekend by a handsome (but essentially villainous) office colleague, and suddenly she decides to stay – even though she doesn’t know anybody and barely has the money to support herself. She builds a completely new life for herself one step at a time, which is a tremendously courageous thing to do. Uplifting stuff.
The Cybergypsies by Indra Sinha. I mentioned in a recent post that I’m a fan of some mildly obscure and thoroughly geeky online games, the type that are played entirely in text. I’ve a feeling writers won’t find this concept as weird as some. Anyway, one of the earliest of these was a game called “Shades”, which my father used to play. So did Indra Sinha. This book is a memoir that covers (among other things) his experiences playing this game back in the 80s, and some of the (eccentric if not outright weird) people he met by it. I loved it when I first read it, so I’m looking forward to the re-read.
The others are books I haven’t read yet. Most of them were recommended by friends, some I heard about from books blogs.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim. When I said to my friend Ellie that I wanted some pleasant reading, this one was top of her list. Italy in April? A mediaeval castle, four intriguing women and a touch of romance? Perfect.
The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden, by Katherine Swift. I’m not much of a gardener, but I’m not immune to the allure of a beautifully tended garden. Styled after a mediaeval book of hours, this book apparently includes a lot of history and a host of other information.
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. Anything set in the world of Alice in Wonderland is fine by me.
The Bird of the River by Kage Baker. Kage mostly wrote science fiction (which is great, by the way). This book is the third in her fantasy fiction series, the one which begins with “The Anvil of the World”. That’s one of my favourite fantasy books, but to my sorrow it’s proved hard (and therefore expensive) to get the other two in the UK. I’m finally treating myself to this one.
The Native Star by M. K. Hobson. I’ve been getting interested in books that mix fantasy and real-world history in interesting ways. This one I heard about via some book blog (I forget which). This one is set in nineteenth century America. It was compared to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which immediately got my attention.
Have you read any of these, got something to say about them? Or can you recommend me any more save-Charlotte’s-sanity reading material to pack along with my teddy bears and toothbrush? The comment box awaits.