Not Much To Live Up To, Then

Hearing some interesting things about Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley.  Orbit supremo Tim Holman has described it as the most commercial debut fantasy from a British writer that he’s ever read. 

You can’t say that many times in a career without looking foolish so I’m looking forward to getting an advance copy.  It’s out in October.

Amazon describes it like this: “It is a godless world. An uneasy truce exists between the human clans and ancient races. But now the clan of the Black Road move south, and their arrival will herald a new age of war and chaos. Behind it all seems to be one man, Aeglyss, a man whose desire for power will only be sated when he has achieved his ultimate goal: immortality.”

I’ll keep you posted…

Writing What You Don’t Know

“Magicians-in-training, genies-in-exile, apprentice wizards, belligerent fairies, plucky orphans, kind dragons, kind orphaned dragons—a reader cant enter the children’s department of a bookstore these days without tripping on a wand or falling into a portal. Has the saturation point been reached?”

Editor Terry Whalin has some good advice for people thinking about writing fantasy.

A writer has a different idea.

While Alma Alexander has a good rant about writing fantasy fiction for a living.

But if you’re thinking about carrying your royalties home in a J K Rowling-style wheelbarrow, you might like to think again.

It’s A Love Thing

It’s 29 years since the ‘Summer of Love’ (now trade-marked, apparently, fact fans).  Thirty years would have made a nice, round figure, but I went and published the book a year early.

What’s this got to do with Jack of Ravens?  Read the book…

The whole hippie experience has developed its own mythology.  It has its own gods.  Its own Otherworldly home of these magical beings.  Its own mystical language.

If you’re looking for a good bit of background reading on the spiritual home of True Thomas, try here.  These things have shaped our future in a profound way, though many still try to confine them to fashion.

To some, hippies are a joke, but they’re the ones still fighting the Void, ‘sticking it to the man’ (thank you Jack Black)…through politics or just refusing to give up ideals in the face of bulldozer commercialism.  Or else they’re just getting stoned and admiring the pretty colours…

When Deepak Met Grant

“Myth is about archetypical characters that are used to speak about deeper values of the human experience,” said Chopra. “Myths are ‘collective stories’ from the people of the time trying to understand their own self,” said Morrison.

Comics legend Grant Morrison goes head-to-head with iconic writer Deepak Chopra on modern myth and superheroes as the new gods, at the San Diego Comicon.

Chocolate Chip or Cookie Dough?

The publishing world is a very strange place to be, sometimes.  It’s mostly filled with people staring into their crystal balls trying to guess what “the reader will want” in the coming 12 months to three years, desperately trying to keep hold of their jobs every time the latest round of sales figures come in, and trying to hunt the mythical new, unpublished, best-selling author.

For a long while, these arcane forces decreed that when a reader said they wanted fantasy, they actually wanted a very particular and narrow brand of fantasy.  Essentially Re-fried Tolkien.  Different map, same world.  The shelves would be full of them, and if anyone questioned why you had an ice cream store where they only sold vanilla, they would be told “it’s what the readers want”.

I’m not knocking the quality of the books – many were, and are, extremely engaging.  It’s the lack of diversity that always got me.  Fantasy is the uber-genre.  In it, you can write about anything at all in this world, the next world (after death), and any other world you could possibly imagine.  No other genre has that scope.  So to get a tiny little slice of that great potential was just a little…depressing.

Times are changing.  More and more books are reaching out from Tolkien’s well-trod patch into the great unknown.  Whether it’s China Mieville with Perdido Street Station or Hal Duncan with Vellum, the sense of some kind of change in thinking is palpable.

It helps that the people at the top of the main fantasy publishing houses know the SF/F genres and love them.  Orbit, Macmillan and my own publisher Victor Gollancz all have people with good taste and a depth of knowledge that allows them to seek new horizons.  That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped desperately trying to hang on to their jobs, of course, but there’s hope.

I only bring this up now because SF Site has branded me the “Anti-Tolkien”, which makes me think I should have some kind of number burned into my scalp.  It was meant as a compliment, and I certainly take it that way.

But one question remains: what do the readers want?

Riding the Broomstick

Witchcraft remains a prime source of interest for people intrigued by myth and legend.  Not only does the practice of Wicca tap into ancient archetypes and deities, it also has a huge continuum of its own myths whirling around it.

Many of those were – and are – designed to destroy it as a practising spiritual path.  Myths have always been powerful material for propaganda, utilised by politicians of every stripe down the centuries.  That’s because myths can imprint their message very deeply, on the unconscious, making it hard to shake.  Anti-Semites used mythic archetypes in an infamous and widely-distributed pamphlet – The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 20th century.  It purported to be a Jewish manifesto that built up the myths of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world through the media and finance.  A complete pack of lies, it has been discredited as a hoax many times.  Yet many in the Arab world still believe it to be true, and the Protocols are continually referenced even today.

Religions, of course, act in much the same way as politicians; both are involved in a struggle for power, over souls or voters, hearts and minds.  When the Christian church tried to get a foothold in Britain more than a millenium ago, it found a thriving nature-based religion.  The only way the new belief system could establish itself was to discredit the old religion.  And so stories grew up of the old religion’s ‘wise women’ eating babies and ruining crops.

It was very effective and continues up to the present day.  Effective, of course, might not be the best word.  Between 1450 and the mid-18th century anywhere between 40,000 and 100,000 women – branded as witches – were murdered.  Their Christian persecutors accused them of being in league with Satan – even though Satan is a Christian concept and witches do not believe in him.  We like to think that’s all part of an unenlightened past.  But even today we have ignorant head teachers outlawing Halloween and burning Harry Potter for fear its use of magic will lead impressionable young minds on ‘the path to Satanism’.  People still get get fired for being a Wiccan.  And regular scares appear in the media of witches involved in child abuse – the baby-eating myth retooled for a new age.

But Wiccans have also been accused of generating their own myths.  In 1921, Margaret Murray published her seminal work The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, which tried to establish an unbroken tradition from modern witchcraft back to the old, pre-Christian religion.  That was generally derided by many scholars as a way for modern practitioners to legitimise their beliefs.

Most people now believe Wicca to be pretty much a twentieth century revival.  And what’s wrong with that?

However, a new academic work now gives weight to Margaret Murray’s assertion.  Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits – Shamanistic Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic (Sussex Academic Press) compares beliefs from around the world and infers that modern witchcraft is a direct descendant of prehistoric shamanism.  The book is hard-going, but it shows that in the mythosphere – as in everywhere else – the ‘truth’ is hard to come by.

Yes, That Big Box in the Corner

Writers write.  And sometimes when you’re plumbing the dark depths of your head, you have ideas that won’t be confined to one genre or even one medium.  I’ve written fantasy and SF and horror, I’ve written crime and psychological mysteries and contemporary drama.  I’ve recently published a graphic novel in the US, and I’m about to do more comics.

But what many people don’t know is that I also earn a crust as a screenwriter.  Today I’ve just finished the second episode of a new science fiction series I’m developing with the BBC.  It’s still a long way from appearing on your TV screen, and, in fact, may never do so.  It’s a long, exhausting and arduous task to get a series from idea to commission, with numerous, increasingly higher hurdles to jump over.  And even if you’ve finally shaped the best idea in the world, it can still fall at the last because there’s not a free slot in the schedule.

Yet to a novelist, used to toiling away in a lonely room, it’s a fascinating, invigorating process.  You get to work with other committed, creative individuals who take your idea in a surprising direction, and then you get to do the same with their ideas.  (Whether I would enjoy it so much if I didn’t have the singular visions and sole authorship of my novels to fall back on, is a different matter – you can’t beat being in complete control).

I’ve also got another supernatural series in the early stages of development, and a movie project.  And there’s been some initial movie interest in World’s End.

It’s all wait-and-see, but that’s part of the excitement.  You never know what’s going to be around the corner.