Beagle’s Blot 15 | Making ‘Zon

We hopped for twenty-seven days and twenty-six nights.  Twenty-six.  Fifteen of those evenings were spent in suitable establishment hovels along the boggy coast, but eleven were spent under the stars.  In the open.  Exposed to the elements.  That was both incredible and terrible.

What was incredible?  The stars.  Only the Uncle knew it was that breathtaking.  Being a keen enthusiast of Celestia, I’ve always prided myself on my knowledge of the heavens.  But out there, with no man-made light to interfere, the effect was truly stunning.  It is actually difficult to identify a patch of true-dark.  The depth of the star blanket is staggering.

And then the terrible.  I woke one night to find huge lizard-like eyes peering down at me.  Huge.  My instinct told me it was a dragon, so I leapt up and scampered from the rock right into the boggy water.  Squelching around in the middy filth, the huge dragon-lizard proceeded to settle onto the rock and close its eyes.  Sleeping.  I had apparently stolen its spot.

“A dragon!”  I pointed at the vast scaly bulk and Hop-Man opened an eye.  Then closed it again.

Continue reading Beagle’s Blot 15 | Making ‘Zon

The Authorial Ventrilaquist

He’s back with the cryptic headings! What does this one mean? If you’ve read previous blogs, then you’ll know what this is about, but for those who don’t know, it’s all about “head-hopping” (which is a writing problem rather than something you do at a festival).

Now, this is part of a series of blogs I’m writing where I’m applying the principles outlined by Marcy Kennedy in her fantastic book: A Busy Writer’s Guide to Deep POV. So far I’ve taken a wider view and then grappled with that age-old advice: “show don’t tell”, and this month it’s time for another classic problem: head-hopping. Or more formally, POV violation. This is something that I can find jarring as a reader, and so I’ve always been more conscious of it as a writer, but I definitely feel I know it better now. Another invaluable lesson.
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Beagle’s Blot 14 | Hopping

Two days later, I was ready for my first hopping experience.  I had studied the map extensively and done numerous calculations, but could only conclude one thing: it was a long way.  A damned long way.

Now, the official measurement in Mandaria is called a quart, though they don’t seem to be aware of this in the First Fist.  A quart is what you get if you split the island of Mandaria into quarters and then measure from the centre along the line of one of those quarters.  A quart is therefore about half the width of Mandaria.  Go on, try it out.  It’s true.

The other thing about a quart is that it’s not strictly defined, but it is always about the same size.  About twenty-five kilo-skips in old-Mikaetan money.

Anyway, I digress.  The journey from Callij to Mallis was more than a quart, but I also took a rather mad route.  The trip through the mountains was draining, so in reality a quart is probably a little more than my journey from the merchant’s abode up to the tip of Mandaria.  That took me a good couple of days, but it was a pretty casual pace on solid roads.

So, time for a comparison.  What is the distance of this trip I am about to embark on?  It looks, by all my measurements, to be about twenty quarts.  Twenty!  That is a lot of days of travel, and I haven’t got to the worst of it yet.

Continue reading Beagle’s Blot 14 | Hopping

Show me the … err, action?

As you may (or indeed may not) have worked out from the title, this blog is about that age old piece of writing advice: “show don’t tell”. This blog is actually a part of a wider series of blogs on implementing deep POV (from this little beauty of a book by Marcy Kennedy), but “showing vs telling” goes much further than just deep POV. It is at the cornerstone of writing, whatever writing perspective is chosen, and it is therefore very important.

It’s also something I really struggle to get worked up about as a reader, which is a challenge. But as I’ve already concluded in an earlier blog, this is about being an author and not about being a reader. I shall get back in my box.

Now, it’s time (apologies in advance) to “show” my hand.

Continue reading Show me the … err, action?

Beagle’s Blot 13 | The First Foot

It’s fair to say that my first impressions of the First Fist are not great. This is First Foot, the place where it all began, and yet it is nothing to speak of. There was greater luxury on the boat.

Now, to put this in context, when the Jinq landed in Ahan, the place at which they landed eventually became the city called Jinalas. I have heard a great many things about Jinalas, but now I think on it, I have never heard anything fine about First Foot. Or indeed anything about First Foot. I now see why.

In fact, even calling it First Foot is becoming wearisome. First Foot. First Fist. How are we to make sense of any of this? I shall call this town Shithole.

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Book Review: Northern Lights

Book One of His Dark Materials

By Philip Pullman

Lyra is a wild child amongst a family of scholars. She has no known parents, but when her mysterious uncle comes to the university, her mischievousness saves his life. And her eyes are opened.

A deep yearning to follow her uncle and follow him north stirs, but no. She must stay where she is. That is until the fabulously cosmopolitan Mrs Coulter offers her the same opportunity. She leaves, but not before she is given a strange golden compass.

But her friend has been stolen by the Gobblers, and Mrs Coulter is involved. So she flees. She runs, and with the help of the Gyptians, a family she never knew she had, she treks north to save her friend and her uncle. But there is so much more to it than that. There is magic afoot, and she is at the centre of it all.

Another series I’ve failed to read for way too long, and another brilliant one at that. I got confused to start with and couldn’t work out where this book fitted into the . Wasn’t the first one called the ‘Golden Compass’, I asked myself? Of course, what I was missing was that the Golden Compass is the ‘US publication-name’. So in conclusion, Northern Lights is the Golden Compass. Got it?

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Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

Book Two of Kingkiller Chronicles

By Patrick Rothfuss

Kvothe has survived his first terms at the University, but not without building a bit of a reputation. Is it a good reputation? Maybe not, but it is a reputation. And with reputation comes those who want to break that reputation, and Kvothe is no exception. Perhaps it’s time to take a break? His tutors agree, and he sets foot into the wide world.

And although he has lost his most tangible link to his childhood obsession, he gains in other areas. His adventures take him far and wide, and his life is rich with adventure: hobnobbing with royalty; cavorting with faeries; and being humbled by the legendary Adem mercenaries.

But all roads lead to his past, and the heavy weight of his family’s fate still hangs around his neck. Now he has the tools to do something, so all that’s left is to find the murderers. Unfortunately, that has always been the problem. It still is.

Hurrah!  The second book in the fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles.  Book one – The Name of the Wind – is a rather hard act to follow, so does this achieve the impossible and live up to the lofty expectations that book one laid?  Yes.  Just yes.  This another multi-layered masterpiece and I’m left even hungrier for the sequel.  Come on Pat.  When’s it gonna be ready?

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The Deep POV Effect

In last month’s blog we looked back at the results of running a series deeppovcoverof tests as specified in Marcy Kennedy’s cracking little book: “A busy writer’s guide to deep POV”. Most of the work I’ve done into deep POV has been with Mandestroy, and I thought that was pretty tight. But what did Marcy’s recommendations suggest? Well…

  • 23% of the sentences had deep POV errors in them; and
  • 31% of the word count was “infected”.
  • Some sentences had three separate errors in them!
  • And there were some pretty heavy and clunky 50 word sentences lingering around.

All in all, there were a few belts to tighten. So, better get cracking.

Continue reading The Deep POV Effect

Book Review: The Name of the Wind

Book One of Kingkiller Chronicles

By Patrick Rothfuss

Kote is a simple innkeeper, man who hankers after the simple things. But Kvothe is a legend. And Kvothe is Kote’s past.

Born into a travelling family, Kvothe loses everything he knows. And he loses it to a fairy-tale. But where others would lose there mind, Kvothe finds a purpose. He finds it in vengeance.

A reckless but gifted student of the University, Kvothe gains access to some of the most incredible experiences in the world. And his skills gather notoriety too. But one thing still eludes him, and while it does,  he will only push harder.

The fairly-tale is still a fairy-tale. His vengeance is denied.

This review comes off the back of a re-read in advance of ripping into the sequel: A Wise Man’s Fear.  I gave this five stars before, and my re-read has only reaffirmed this fact.  This is a fantastic book and it excels on so many different levels.  I highly recommend this series to anyone who’s a fan of the fantasy genre, and indeed anyone who isn’t.  Just read it already!

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Author Newsletter: 2016 Review

It’s the end of my first year as an actual author. A time for celebration perhaps, but certainly a time for reflection. So, how is this self-publishing gig working out?

  • Was it everything I dreamed of? Of course not.
  • Was it everything I expected? Err, no. Not by a long shot.
  • Was it successful? Perhaps on a moderate level, but not really.
  • But did I learn a shit load? Yes.
  • So was it a success? Definitely.
  • And did I enjoy myself? Absolutely.

But let’s look at this a bit closer. What did I really love and hate in 2016? Well, here’s how I’ll break it up:

  1. Top five reads of 2016
  2. Blogging experience in 2016 & plan for 2017
  3. What I’ve achieved as a very amateur author

Top 5 Reads of 2016

Reading is good for the soul. Reading fantasy is good for the imagination. And reading great fantasy is better than … many other things. I’ve read quite a lot this year, ranging from indie newbies to stellar megastars, and I’ve really loved the experience. But some books stick in your head more than others. That is their nature. This is my top five reads for 2016.

# 5: The Destroyer by Michael-Scott Earle

This is a great novel from an up and coming indie author. Mixing a fantasy world, elves, magic, sex, violence, and an interesting story-line, there is much in here to enjoy. It certainly felt accomplished and with a depth which is very enticing – I congratulate the author. I look forward to reading the second book soon.

# 4: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

It’s fair to say that Mr Abercrombie is a bit of a hero of mine. I bloody love his work. The First Law trilogy is simply stunning, and I feel inclined to revisit it soon. Half the World is a YA (or cross-genre) novel, and while some of the blatant grit is removed for the younger target audience, it still retains a stunning “essence de Abercrombie”. This is book two, so make sure to pick up book one first!

# 3: The Thief Who… by Michal McClung

This book won the “Self-published fantasy blog-off” which is “hosted” / “championed” by Mark Lawrence. Having read this, it’s easy to see why it won. It’s brilliant. Fast-paced and energetic, and wonderfully inventive too. This feels professional on every level, and after just one book, the series feels sure to deliver. A must read.

# 2: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

My first foray into the world of Mr Weeks. And what a pleasure it was. Some of the detailing in this is exquisite, but in such a fast-paced novel with a heavy spoonful of action, it’s almost possible to lose sight of this finery. Almost. Rumour has it that the Lightbringer series is even better, so I look forward to treading that path when I get to it.

# 1: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

On the basis of pure scope, depth, and execution, this has to win my vote this year. It’s brilliant. Is it vast? Yes. Is it full of action in every corner? No. Is it therefore my natural choice for a book? No. But the characters are achingly lovely, and it is such a pleasure to read that it only felt half its length (which is still long). A masterpiece.


Blogging Experience

One of my major achievements of 2016 was getting the website setup. It doesn’t get much traffic, but it has become a personal hub for recording my writing experiences, which is actually really nice. It’s something to be proud of (I think it looks quite cool) and it offers an ongoing incentive for me personally. Hopefully others find it interesting too!

And one of the big parts of the website is the blog. I decided to start blogging about four things:

  1. Author Newsletter (what I’m up to)
  2. Writing Experience (experiences as a self-published writer)
  3. Book Reviews (why not?)
  4. Beagle’s Blot (a meandering adventure around my fantasy world)

Writing the blog has been an interesting experience. It’s a completely different type of writing, so definitely good to get some practise. And I think I’ve got better. Then again, I’ve got more to write about now, so things should get easier!

Then again, at times it has rather felt like I’ve been spending more time on blogging than writing. So I thought: how much effort has actually gone into these blogs? Well, being a statistician and accountant by trade, here’s the lowdown:

 

First thoughts: that’s a lot of blogging. To put it in context, a good length novel is 70,000 words, and Fear’s Union (which is “long”) is 120,000. So 100,000 blogging words looks like quite a lot. No wonder it felt like I was spending as much time blogging as not!

And you may not think that 100k words on blogs may not equate to 100k words in a carefully constructed novel, but you’d be wrong. Well maybe not wrong, but blogging takes more time than you might think. Even a 60 word picture-based newsletter takes about an hour or so just because of the formatting, review, setup, and inevitable IT hitches. There’s always something to sort out with the IT…

But let’s leave the effort aside and think about the output. By any mechanistic measure, if I look at the engagement on these blogs, it has been an … absolute fail. But that’s not really the point. I could have done a lot more to promote the blog, not least by looking at SEO-type stuff, but I’m not really inclined at the moment. As much as anything, this has been good experience and a documentation of my experiences over 2016. So that’s okay. It was worthwhile.

Then again, I would rather spend my time practising my craft and writing books. That is after all why I’m doing this, and I don’t exactly have a large doting audience to disappoint if I trim back my blogging. So, with that in mind, this is what I’m planning to do in 2017:

  • Author Newsletter: Two half yearly newsletter blogs (I will continue to do more frequent email newsletters).
  • Writing Experience: This was never quite monthly, although it was intended to be. However, I do actually have quite a lot to write about at the moment. I think I’ll alternate between Writing Experience and Beagle’s Blot – so one every two months.
  • Beagle’s Blot: I really like writing this one, mainly because it is a chance for me to get to know the world I write in. However, I’m actually planning some more heavy duty ‘world-crafting’ next year, and the extra time would be invaluable. So I will alternate with Writing Experience – so once every two months.
  • Book Reviews: These are probably less effort anyway, so I will continue as is. However, I did do a lot of review exchanges last year and ended up reading c. 30 books. No bad thing, but quite a lot of time if you consider that each review takes about an hour to craft. Next year, I’ll read as I read, but will target c. 12 books.
  • Book in a Blog: This was a bit of an experiment, and I’m not convinced it worked. There are better forums in which to post one’s book (e.g. Inkitt and Wattpad). I will probably stick to those in the future.

Experiences as an Author

Right, so this is where I was at the beginning of the year:

I have a really strong proposition in Fear’s Union. Now I just need to reach out and get people to find it and read it. I’m sure people will like it.

So, I built the website, decided to write a prequel novella (Mandestroy) which I would make available for free, and even entered Fear’s Union into a “self-published fantasy blog-off”. I had high expectation, but why wouldn’t you? Then again, I’m also a realist, which was a good thing, not least because expectations were well off the mark.

Here’s where I am with my current and past projects:

Fear’s Union

I spent quite a lot if time in the middle part of the year getting reviews of FU. Though there were certainly many positive points, there was also quite a lot of negative. Suffice to say that I quickly realised it wasn’t quite as polished as I thought it was… And just to confirm this, I re-read the first 10% on my way back from holiday, and didn’t like it. Hmm.

Aside from this, I’ve been thinking more about the wider fantasy world, taking influence from all the great books I’ve read this year, and had some really interesting ideas from people who reviewed it. Suffice to say that I think the entire shape of the novel needs to change and that a full re-write is on the cards.

Will this be in 2017? I don’t think so. I have other areas I’m going to focus on in the meantime, not least more comprehensive world building. What I am planning to do is rewrite the first 10% which I think is the weakest part, just so that anyone picking it up is given a fair product, but when it does get re-vamped, it will probably be only loosely recognisable. The title is likely to change too!

Mandestroy

I really enjoyed writing this. And having re-read it recently, I still like it. It’s fair to say that my Deep POV investigations have highlighted substantial prose edits, but the bones are thoroughly recognisable. And it is being picked up in a steady stream, which is nice, with positive feedback so far. So, what to do with Mandestroy?

You might think the answer is “leave it alone”, but you’d be wrong. This is my plan:

  • Release a v2 when the edited version is finished and checked over. I might also enter it into the blog-off this year.
  • Release the “full version” more widely by the end of the year. At the moment the extended version is a reward for subscribing to the newsletter, but when I have other gifts available, then I may decide to release the full version through all the usual channels.
  • I may also release a “first person” version too – as part of the deep POV experiment. I’ll have to think about the best way to do this, though.

The Mikaetan Chronicles

This is an interesting series. The first volume, the Dark Side of the Stone, is written and will be released this year. But this is actually the third book in the “chronicle”. The other two (Book of Elai and unnamed) are independent of DSotS, and chronologically before it. But having thought about it, I think it’s actually possible to connect them backwards. So it will be a loose series in reverse chronological order. Hence interesting.

Books 2 and 3 (or in fact 1 and 2) are not likely to be out this year, but I will look to make progress with them. I’ll update with the next newsletter in mid-2017.

Destination Happiness

This was a NaNoWriMo project in 2015. It is not fantasy at all, and is actually a bit of a love story, so completely outside my usual sphere. But if I recall, it was quite a nice little story that I think could have some legs. So I will try and edit that and get it released into the big bad world too. Can’t do any harm…


Thanks for Reading

So that’s my 2016. It’s been a huge learning experience, full of frustrations and head scratching, but if I look back, I am now in a much better position. A great place from which to move forward. Here’s to an equally interesting 2017!

All about James Hockley and his eclectic imagination