R… r… r… research.

Just a quick one this week, and a new style of topic to keep you updated with.

This trimester I am teaching a module entitled “Research Practice and Society”

Why do we research? For fiction that is quite easy to answer – if I am writing in the real world, even historical fiction I must know how things are, how they work, the realities. Even in Science Fiction I need to know the physical realities so that I don’t break them and bring the reader out of the story – but in other contexts it’s more difficult. I often tell my students that it is the best way to learn something, and I honestly believe it. And, what else is academia for, but to learn?

Anyway, during the course of the module I will be asking my students to write blog posts based on discussions and research they have conducted. When they do that, I plan to do a similar blog post so that we can compare. This week I asked them to plot out a timeline out their module, including deadlines and how they would break down the work. I tried to do something similar, but as I don’t have any real deadlines I failed. Hence this blog post, which is more of an introduction to the concept.

We’ll see how it goes next week.


Book of the Week

I finished the book I was reading last week the day after I published the blog post about it, and I have to be honest, the end didn’t really redeem it.

This week I am reading another Arthur C. Clarke award nominee (I’m actually working through last years nominees and winner), The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.

It’s an interesting concept and quite a short novel, and there are bits that I have enjoyed. However, for the most part the prose doesn’t really interest me, and in some parts I would dare say that it becomes quite annoying. The main character is an accelerated human, who is only a matter of years old, and I suspect that the prose is written to reflect this, but it often comes across as naive and basic. This is especially frustrating when the main character has supposedly read thousands upon thousands of books in her short life, but seems amazed by the smallest detail. She also seems to fixate on food, which isn’t particularly interesting as far as the story goes.

I often find first person writing a struggle to get into. I often feel more distanced from the character, rather than finding myself in this story, and this is one of those examples. I have sixty pages left, and it is enjoyable enough that I will finish it, but I am not wowed by it.

If I were to be pedantic I would describe it as more of a fantasy novel than a science fiction novel, as none of the fantastical things that happen within its pages are explained, nor related to science. (I’m fairly sure the characters even break Newtonian Physics, but we’ll let that slide)

Anyways, I’m sure as in all things other people will enjoy the novel in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

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2016 is Dead, long li- Nah, scratch that.

So, I haven’t blogged in quite a while (March last year was the last time – eek!) and a couple of conversations over the past few days have encouraged me to say hello again.

Hello! Thank you for stopping by. I’m hoping to publish a weekly blog on all sort of writing things. This may be a Wednesday, but I’m looking at posting every Monday in future as that works better for me. What day is best for your readers? For now here’s an update of what I’ve been up to.

2016 was an odd year, and a bad year for many reasons (Let’s not talk politics right now!). I spent the second half with the worst sinus infection I have ever had. I haven’t felt that ill since before I was first diagnosed with ME in 1999. From about June I felt constantly exhausted and bunged up. Only now are things starting to clear up and I’m starting to feel like normal. I’m using that as my excuse for not blogging in so long. I wanted to, believe me! During that time I’ve self-referred myself to the local ME therapy clinic, and I’m booked in for some sessions, so I’ll keep you updated on how that goes. (When I was first diagnosed there was nothing like it).

Back in June I also started work on my PhD at Liverpool John Moores University. My thesis is currently “The Affect of the Second World War on Science Fiction”. I aim to keep you updated on it through this blog. At the moment I am plotting the novel and making sure it’s of a PhD standard. I may post some excerpts/updates on research from time to time.

In May, I finished my First World War novel Objection. I’m currently making a spreadsheet of agents that are accepting Historical Fiction submissions. (If you know of anyone, agent or publisher please get in contact!) Then I will begin querying them with the novel. I’ve sent it out to one agent that I know so far, so let’s see how that goes.

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’m currently toying with the idea of putting my MA Writing and Academic Teaching experience to good use and offering an editing/proofreading service to writers and students. I haven’t had a chance to contextualise it yet, but if you are interesting in some help then please feel free to comment below, or get in touch through my contact page and we can discuss it. I will post something more solid on this soon.

The final thing of this blog is for me to ask you, the reader, what kind of content you would like to read. If you have a particular idea you would like to know my thoughts on, or a particular writing issue that you have, then get in contact and I will try to help in a future blog. Even if you just have a question comment below and if it needs a long answer then I will incorporate it into a future blog. Another interesting question for you is, “how long should a blog be?” How far do you read before you get bored? Answers in the comments below!


One feature I would like to add to the blog is something I am currently calling “Book of the Week”.

Last year I tried to summarise all the books I had read that year with a single blog post. The problem was that I couldn’t remember much of the books I had read earlier in the year. So, from now on I will tell you which book I am currently reading and my thoughts on it. As it may take me more than a week to read some books you will see how my opinion changes throughout reading.

I’m currently about 40 pages from finishing Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. This book is published by Solaris who are predominantly a Sci Fi publisher, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award.

Honestly, I can’t see how it made the shortlist. It’s an interesting idea, and a Europe of the future is intriguing. There is some intriguing Le Carréesque espionage plotting, but its main downfall is the vast swathes of info dumping. Info dumping and exposition is a trope of Sci Fi, particularly when a large amount of world-building is involved. However, when you find yourself scan reading, you know something is wrong. As with most novels, I like to persevere till the end (I usually have to know how the story ends, or I get annoyed), but I don’t think I will be recommending this one to anyone. The ending might be enough to save it, but you’ll have to find out next week!


Once again, thanks for reading, and please do comment below.

New Short Story!

I’ve just had another story published in ‘Drainpipes for Strike Posts’ by Mantic Games, featuring such literary greats as David Guymer, Guy Francis Haley, and that Rob Knipe guy that keeps following me around.

The story is called ‘The Price of Success’, and it’s a suitably grimdark tale about what happens if you get too big for your own boots.

The blurb:

 

A DreadBall Xtreme Anthology

We’ve all watched pro-wrestling at some point.

Even if we don’t openly admit it, at some point or another we have sat and watched those big, oiled-up men in their costumes and carrying their gimmicks and their ‘steel chairs’, putting each other through the ‘Spanish Announcer’s table’ (why always the poor Spanish?) and whether it’s been a guilty pleasure or just something we’ve happened upon, we’ve all had some flavour of the same thought: ‘It’s all very fake.’

Dig a little deeper, and you will find that in order to get on that oh-so-shiny stage, there is an awful lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears that goes into getting noticed enough by the big boys.  Those TV cameras don’t turn on just anyone. Those wrestlers have to spend years – sometimes decades – working their way up through small, no-name leagues, playing in front of small, excitable crowds of people baying for blood.  Yeah, they have a great life when they get to the top, but they have a hell of a slog to get there.

DreadBall is the big leagues – the glamour, the bright lights and the big bucks. The gimmicks and stylised weapons and violence, al seamlessly choreographed to make the best possible show.  Sure, people get hurt, but generally between all the safety measures, the best armour that money can buy, and an understanding of the realities of corporate sponsorship, everyone gets to go home with the minimal amount of lasting injuries, as a rule.

Xtreme is what happens in the shadows.  A handful of these guys might make it to the big time, but they have to survive first.  There are no rules, the sponsors have more important priorities than the personal safety, comfort or breathing status of their players, and armour is either stolen, home-made or passed down – often all three.  There’s no cameras, no million cred player deals and definitely no glamour.  What there is, is good old-fashioned violence, the way that DreadBall started all those many years ago.

Here we have eight tales from that shadowy underbelly.  From enigmatic alien sponsors to good old-fashioned human gangsters.  From fresh-faced newbies hungry for their first taste to worn out old-timers just looking for the money, we have it all here for you.

So settle in, and experience the Galaxy’s Greatest Sport the way that it was meant to be played.  But remember, this isn’t fake.  When these guys, gals and aliens bleed, it’s all for real.

Greg D Smith

 

You can get the whole anthology for £3.99 on their website. Great as a Christmas present, or you can buy it to wish me a Happy Birthday for tomorrow!

15 Things to Tell a Writer

Okay, so it has been a while since I have added anything to my blog post.

I have been busy working on my first novel, which is also my portfolio for my masters degree. I thought I would have a break and update my blog. This blog post has been sat in my drafts folder for a while, so I guess point number 1 should really be ‘finish things.’

The last session we had on the masters was a visit from the lovley Jenn Ashworth. One of the things she talked about is her ’15 things to tell a novelist’, which I found quite interesting. Some of the points were things I probably take for granted, but it was nice to see them written down and they are often things that as a writer you forget.

It was mentioned that we could write our own list of 15 things, and I thought that it might be a nice idea. There are some things that I have come across and/or struggled with in my writing that it may help other writers to see. I’ve not called this a 15 things for novelist as I also write short stories and I think the disciplines apply to all types of story whether prose or otherwise. This list is in no way a rulebook, but merely some thoughts that might help you to either produce more, or better work.

Here is the list, in no particular order.

1. Plan your Work. 

There are two main writer paradigms, the ‘planners’ and the ‘seats-of-pantsers’, and either method is fine, but I think in any story there will come a point where the writer needs to know where they are going. This could be a fully outlined synopsis, or chapter breakdown, or by simply researching and knowing your world well enough to wing it. Synopsis have definitely helped me when I’ve got stuck with a story, even if they are the devil to write.

2. Know your Characters

I think that in order to qualify the names you have written in your work as characters then they need to have a backstory. You need to know as much about them as possible. That way when you write them, you will a) know where they are going, and b) give your readers something to care about. It doesn’t need to be a character-driven story, but the reader wants someone they can invest in.

3. Don’t be a Slave to your World-Building

Along the same lines as character backstory, world-building is important. In some genres more than others. But if you do create your own world, as much as you should know everything about it, it is there to serve the story, not the other way around. Don’t let what you want the world to be hold you back in writing the story you want to write. The latter is always more important.

4. Don’t Edit as you go Along

One of the biggest ‘mistakes’ a new writer can make is to try editing as they go along. I even tell this to my academic writing students. Get to the required word count (or end of scene/chapter is probably fine) and then go back and edit it. Otherwise you will spend hours berating yourself over one sentence and never getting anything finished. You may have one perfect sentence, but a sentence does not a story make.

5. Always Show your Writing to Someone Else

One of the main things we learnt on the masters was to be less precious about our work. We were all writing for it to be read, but even then it was a struggle to give it to someone else. One of the most valuable parts of the masters was the workshops we regularly engaged in, and we still meet as much as possible to carry them on outside the course. A reader can tell you things about your work that you take for granted, or simply miss. It may require having a thick skin, but it will definitely improve your work.

6. Set Yourself Targets

Writing regularly is an absolute must if you are serious about writing. Of all the advice I got from published writers when I was starting out that was what they all said, without exception. Obviously, the day job and other commitments can get in the way and things like family always come first. However, if you can set yourself targets then this can ease the pressure. I have a daily word count that I need to meet, which varies depending on the project. Others I know have a monthly word count, or simply set themselves a deadline for having something finished. This allows you to add an element of professionalism even before you have been published, or have a book deal. It will be important then.

7. Allow Yourself to Write Crap

I guess this sits with my ‘not editing as you write’ point, but one of the most difficult things to do as a writer is not worry about the writing. I honestly believe the best way is to turn your internal editor off and get the words down on the page. An analogy that I always use with my writing students is ‘a sculptor cannot sculpt without stone to chip away at, and a writer can not make good work without the words in place.’ I once went to a seminar on ‘Fear and Writing’ with the excellent Kim Newman and the one thing she said that has stuck with me is ‘Give yourself permission to write shit. The first draft is always shit, but you can improve it.’ Excellent advice.

8. Draft and Redraft

Never hand in your first draft for anything. For most editors – and I find the same in an academic setting – a first draft is very obvious. Often you need the first draft to get the story on the page and then use it to figure out your POV, key themes and subplots, to name a few. At the very least you should read it through once and make any obvious edits. I’m not talking spelling and grammar mistakes, everyone makes typos, but glaring story problems, etc.

9. Read Aloud

When I’m reading through a draft I find it immensely useful to read the work aloud to myself. I can’t remember who first told my this tip, but it has been useful to get things like dialogue right. Feel free to put on accents, but simply reading the words aloud helps you to see if the dialogue is wooden or unnatural. I also find that if you stumble over a sentence, or have to read it twice then that highlights that there is something wrong with that sentence and it needs a fix. This obviously can be difficult if you live with other people, but if you are serious about writing then I am sure they will understand. I often have conversations with myself to test dialogue. I’m not mad, honest…

10. Know your POV

One of the most distracting things for a reader is when they don’t know who is telling them the story, or is the prose is confused. This can often be caused by the writer not really knowing what POV (point of view if you don’t know the term) they are trying to employ. Third person past tense is very common these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write it in another style. Just make sure you know how you are trying to write it and stick to the same narrator and tense. That way the reader can get inside the characters head, or follow the story in the way you intended. It can also help you avoid story mistakes.

11. Think about the Function of each Scene/Chapter

Yes, fiction should be fun to read and that is the most important part. But to have a truly effective and fun story the reader needs to know why they are reading. We could talk about character development, arcs and such things, but it can be simpler than that. What is this scene doing? Is it designed to show us the character’s motivation? Is it simply setting out the world? Thinking about it lets you know what you need to include and what is unnecessary information. It will make the writing stronger and more focussed, not to mention fun.

12. Keep Reading

Never stop reading. Well, okay you can go have a wash, books get wet in the shower, yes, but you should always have a book on the go. A writer can learn so much from their peers. If you want to write Science Fiction see what other writers are doing and how they tackle issues. If you want to write historical fiction see how other writers get across the setting and dialogue. See what works and what doesn’t work. Even if you are reading ‘just for fun’, you are always learning. It can be worth trying to pinpoint why you really enjoyed a book, or what it was that meant you put that book down after fifty pages.

13. Don’t take all Feedback as Gospel

At the beginning I stated that these are in no way, shape, or form a list of rules. Find what works for you. If you show your work to others don’t always make the changes that they suggest. Learn to way the good and bad suggestions and edits. The more people you show it to the easier this will be, but there will always be subjective stuff that others don’t like. Be true to the story you are trying to tell, but take on board suggestions and see if you can compromise. If a few people are giving you the same feedback, then maybe you really should delete that needless sex scene…maybe.

14. Research is Key

You might think that certain genres of fiction require more research than others, but that’s not really the case. Readers of science fiction are just as particular as historians, or readers of historical fiction. If you have sound in space then someone is likely to put down your book and go read something else. Research is absolutely key, and it helps you to build a true world, whether it is fantastical or not. It helps make the characters more than just pronouns you have moved around on a page, but actual characters.

15. Always Backup

Almost two years ago I had my Macbook stolen at work. On this laptop was over 15,000 words of un-backed up writing. You can imagine how devastated I was. Sufficed to say, I am yet to return to those stories because I can’t bring myself to realise the loss. The most annoying things is that even then I used a word processor called ‘Scrivener’, that can automatically backup to dropbox. Only, I had not ‘got round’ to setting it up yet. Now I have and every single word I type on my laptop, or my iPad is automatically saved there, as well as a cloud storage device I have at home. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

(I almost lost this blog post because my internet connection keeps dropping on my Mac and I hadn’t realised when I clicked ‘publish’.)

Well I hope some of these rules help you, feel free to comment with your own suggestions, or maybe make your own list. I would love to read it!

Thanks for reading.

Fear of Failure

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when you want to do something. You may disagree, but it’s true, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. (It took me a few minutes to come up with that opening line for fear or getting it wrong).

As I sat here this morning, wanting to write and finding myself constantly distracted I came back to this idea. Every time we try to do something hard, or challenging, we as humans often try and find something else to do in its stead. Take for example, this very blog post. I really should be writing my novel, but instead I thought I would share my infinite wisdom with you, whether you like it or not.

We often don’t attempt things because we are scared of failing at them. Throughout our education, we’re warned off by failure, rather than encouraged by success. As such, there seems to be a general consensus that “If you don’t try, you can’t fail.” Which does seem somewhat backward, but it’s definitely out there. I often don’t blog because I’m scared that people might disagree with what I have to say, or probably more accurately, that no one will read it. Low blog stats or the most depressing thing for a writer. (Okay, maybe not the most depressing! But it still sucks.)

I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I suffer from fear. When I sit down to write, what stops me isn’t not knowing what to write (though my brain often tries to convince me that’s true.) I always outline my stories and know where they are going. It’s to do with the fact that I’m worried that it will be crap.

This all reminds me of a panel I went to at a convention, entitled “Fear and Writing” (Or something along those lines). It was hosted by Emma Newman (@emapocalyptic), who I believe was a teacher. One sentence she said then has stuck with me ever since: “Give yourself permission to write shit.” Which is probably one of the most important pieces of advice a writer can receive.

It’s okay to write crap, you can improve it. You can’t improve what isn’t there, no matter how awesome it might be in your head.

There are two types of writers “pantsers” (see: flying by the seat of your pants) or outliners. Both work fine if you can convince yourself to write and just write, then come back and edit it later, polishing it until it is as good as it deserves to be.

I do know of writers who “close edit” while they write, which is fine. It works for them, and they have learnt how to work that way in what I can only assume is a pretty exhausting and time consuming manner.

However if you find yourself sitting in front of a blank screen, convinced that you don’t know where the story goes. “Give yourself permission to write shit”. I dare say once you’ve got that first draft it will be better than you expected. Besides, you can always get out that red pen and start turning it into the masterpiece you envisaged.

I’ll leave you with an analogy. I always like to use sculpture as a defining point of art: A sculptor can chip away at stone and make a fantastic piece of art, but he can’t sculpt if he doesn’t have any stone.

Now I really should get back to writing that novel, huh?

Thanks for reading!

Far Worlds Released!

I meant to blog a few days ago, but I’ve been ill. Oh boy, have I been ill! 4 boxes of man size tissues was not enough to stall this manflu of epic proportions and getting up from the sofa still makes me feel dizzy. On Tuesday I had to drag my sorry arse to the driving theory test centre and spent a horrible 40 minutes curled over the desk. Thankfully I passed. I didn’t fancy having to do that again. (I already passed about ten years ago, but stopped pursuing the practical test after a couple of harsh fails.)

But that’s not the only good thing that happened on Tuesday, no!

Far Worlds was released.

Those of you that have been reading my blog regularly will know of this already, but Far Worlds is a speculative fiction anthology in which I have a story. Its been published by the lovely people of the Bolthole and is currently available on Kindle, here and will be available, I’m told, in paperback next month.

I just love the artwork for this book:

Image

I mean, look at it, how awesome is that? It’s a shame my kindle is black and white. I will be getting a paperback of it!

As part of the promotion for the book, the editors posted an excerpt from each story on the books Facebook page. So I might as well share the excerpt from my story again. Also, each story has its own internal illustration. Manuel Mesones (You can find him here) has done a fantastic job with each of these. I won’t tell you which character this is, but you can all guess in the comments.

Image

 

What he saw astounded him. He had uncovered a metal construction, approximately one metre in length, curved at one end. The most startling thing about the object was that it was fire-blackened from one end running along its surface, removing all detail, scouring it into a smooth plate. He had no idea what it was or where it had come from; he hadn’t seen anything like it before in his career. But whatever it was, he was sure of one thing.

 

It wasn’t from this world.

 

I hope that makes you want to go and read the story and please feel free to add your feedback and comments on here, Amazon or on Goodreads.

Once again, thanks for reading and I hope to be back with some more news soon!

 

 

Far Worlds

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, not quite believing it was true or trusting my own eyes, but I can now tell you: I have a story coming out!

My story ‘Endaris’ will feature in a science fiction anthology called ‘Far Worlds’ published by the lovely group at the Bolthole. (You can find the Facebook page by clicking here) It’s released on the 25th of March and you’ll find more about that over at the page.

I’m really excited about this, not only because you will all finally be able to read my story, but because of all the other stories that are coming out with it. There are thirteen stories included, not to mention the flash fiction that accompanies them.

The premise was to write a story based far away from Earth (without any link at all actually) and that in itself requires the building and writing of each writers own unique culture and characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow writers have come up with in their rich and fascinating worlds. I don’t want to give too much away about my story (you have to read it!), but I found the premise an interesting challenge. My world touched on new ground for me as a writer, far from the bright and shiny future dystopias I am used to writing. Instead I grounded it in a real world culture. A cookie for the first to get it right! (there may not be any actual cookies). To say anymore would give far too much away. There is also an overruling plot device, but again you’ll have to work that out for yourselves.

The editorial process was fascinating; realising what things other people can see in your story and helping to bring them out. If you were to look at the first draft then at the published piece, I think you would be amazed. It can also be good for the ego, when an editor tells you they love a particular part, but also crushing when something you wanted to show just didn’t come across. But it is always better for the story. You may feel precious about some parts, but that can be detrimental as writing a story is more often than not about how the reader reads your work.

The eagle eyed amongst you may be able to find an extract from Endaris in a previous blog. I’ll leave you to sift through, but I warn you it may be quite different!

That’s all from me for now.

Please go and take a look at the page to keep up to date with the publication and there are also some freebies on there in the shape of artwork and flash fiction stories.

Once again, thanks for reading!