Monday, 13 December 2010

A Circle in the Sand

I'm still editing, pushing that wobbly rock up its sand-covered ramp.  Time blurs, the world shrinks to the single chapter in which I'm mired for days on end, and all things grind increasingly fine until the damn thing rolls back down the hill again flattening me on its way through.

And other than this, I'm just waiting.

But I can feel it approaching.  Something stirs and at least the neighbors have it much worse.  Old fire-bringer and his vultures, what a laugh.  And at least no one is dripping venom onto my flesh.

Now where was I?  Oh yes, back to my rock.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Walking Clichés

Of late there has been discussion of tropes and clichés in fantasy.  They stand like sphinxes guarding the gates, eating the unwary.

Conversation on the topic can only lead to better writing.  It has caused me to think about their possible presence in my own novel as well.  I hope that to posses foreknowledge of the perishers, is to be sufficiently forewarned.

Clichés are not tropes.  Tropes and their execution however, can with time and mishandling, become clichés.  Clichés are never a welcome part of a good story; least of all those belonging to the fantasy genre.  To say otherwise I fear, is to misunderstand both.  

A good story can combine familiar, even mythic elements with more original fare.  A skillful writer will breathe life into the mix, leavening the comfortably familiar with the hopefully novel.  Otherwise, what you get is a flat, cliché laden confection that can only please the most undemanding of palates.

The bulk of commercial literature, in any genre, consists of this - true enough.  But what careful author or discerning reader could be fully satisfied, unless limited by their own meagre talents, with dwelling in such a literary ghetto?  One of the reasons why I think fantasy gets a bad reputation is that too many writers and readers aren't comfortable demanding more and breaking down the walls formed by low expectations.

Disliking clichés has nothing to do with hating fantasy.  Good fantasy, great fantasy, does not rely upon clichés more than any other genre of literature.  Clichés do occur in life, in dialogue, and likely enough in most authors' early drafts of their novels.  Clichés should serve as warning signs: alerting the writer to a turn on the tracks ahead that may dead-end the quality of the story being constructed.

I do not believe that clichés are ever valid story shortcuts.  By their very definition they are worn out ideas and expressions whose power has been leeched by overuse and overexposure.  If not used in a knowing, comedic way, few writers will be able to turn these base materials into gold - and even then, should be used most sparingly.

A cliché altered, a trope deconstructed, is no longer a cliché.  Or one being used as a knowing signifier to the reader saying "Ah-ha, you were expecting that - but we have given you this, instead" which is only meaningful and of value of course, if there is some meaning, some greater reason behind the reversal of expectations; a salient point to learn from the upending of the trope or the familiar scene rather than an empty flourish of craft.  Playing with clichés can be done, but it is not an unfair comparison to say it can resemble dancing above a pool filled with sharks.

That's a cliché, isn't it?  Circling fins and all.  But I'm not sure it adds anything to the sentence that I couldn't have done just as well by saying tread with care, watch your step, or is fraught with danger.  It's a playful flourish - at best.  Too many of these can weigh down a novel like rococo butter-frosting on a cake.

The element of play is present in most great novels, playing with words, playing with expectations, and playing with the vast repository of novels and stories which have gone before the one being created.  Most of the time, clichés are lead weights, false notes, missteps, and I would warn all but the most masterful of authors to treat them with the care that they require.

Else you risk a novel that is doomed to mediocrity before it is even finished - or worse still, an end product that's all frosting and no cake.


Sunday, 21 November 2010


Change is coming to Hidden Things.

The blog will soon be going dark in the way of excerpts, only to emerge more brightly lit on the other side.

I'm sending off packets for prospective agents *at this very moment* and partially as a result and partially because most of the excerpts have been rendered of interest only for archeological purposes by the long months of heavy re-writing and revising, I'll be removing access to the excerpts.

In their place a m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶t̶t̶y̶ ̶s̶e̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶e̶n̶t̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶a̶r̶g̶e̶r̶ ̶p̶r̶o̶c̶e̶s̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶w̶r̶i̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶o̶o̶ bunch of images & quotes from much more famous writers will take over the space.  Fireside chats if you will, minus the fire.  Just as importantly, I'll be putting up the first s̶i̶x̶ seven chapters in PDF - complete and unabridged.  This will give a current snapshot of the book, allow for more intelligible viewing, and will be, I hope, ample compensation for the removal of the old outdated content.

Enjoy and best wishes,


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Sleep of Reason

Revision on The Invisible City moves ahead goes on forever.  Hopefully I'll be seeking an agent in the next few weeks.



Thursday, 26 August 2010

Who Will Find The Finders?

The City approaches.

The hill and its temple soon fell behind them, though for the rest of the first day whenever they might choose to rest in the lee of a blue shadow, they could see it shimmering in the far distance, until finally replaced by its mirage.  They passed over the dunes and followed the broken line of columns, worn capitals and fluted lengths blasted into smooth, truncated teeth.  They saw many sights, none of them worth noting.
Only the violent sunsets, aswirl with particulate-fed glass visions like windows cut in a cathedral of air, gave their days any hope or measure.  Little was said amongst them, even at night; their voices falling silent as they stared at the flames of the fire, faces set and blank of meaning as the stones whose path they traced.  Each lost, in a wilderness of their own.
They traveled for three days without anything much happening.  Then the sun rose one morning, white and hot, and there before them as if sprung overnight from the lifeless soil, loomed the wasteland gates leading into the City.

News arrives from distant places:  I'm now editing chapters to send off to agents.  I've still some remaining work to do on the final sections of the book, but after six months of hard graft - the Invisible City has appeared in its preliminary shape.  Work on the first draft nears completion.

How long it will take to edit and how many submissions sent in my quest to find the right agent, is anyone's guess.  In the meantime, I've got plenty to work on as the last of the book comes together.

Keep your eye on this space for future announcements.

Until then, enjoy,


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Superstructures in the Night

"A post! A post!" squealed the nearest of the cubs, nestling into the soft folds of Barnabaris' vast chest.  The old muta smiled slyly and shifted his pale bulk upon the warmth of the trash heap.  The wound in his hind limb pained him yet.  His tail twitched, coiled around another club's kicking foot, and was still.

"A post?" asked the ex-pathfinder, his yellow eyes dampered to dim sparks in the darkness.  Let them ask again.  The tunnel walls on either side sweated great pearlescent drops of moisture, though they lay above the flood.  He groaned in mock distress and closed his eyes further.  More squeals of excitement arose at this well understood ritual; the conurbation of tightly packed bodies squirmed and quivered all around the greater island-like bulk of the story teller like the movement of the waves.

"I might have a tale, yet to tell, I reckon," said Barnabaris.  His eyes slowly opened, swelling like pools of reflected light; forming bright caves above the long greying muzzle of his face.  "If you'll have another..."


The cubs clamour and their excitement echoes down the branching passages; some of the dark furred children are unable to contain their anxiety and blindly nipp at their mates, their patron, and even their own twining tails.  The lame once-pathfinder ignores their sharp teeth and waits for the seething mass to slowly quiet once again.  Their barks diminish.  His eyes swim open to their fullest aperture and he begins.

"Come closer my lovelies, and cuddle near, for up above your dreaming empty heads, the City is a shifting shoal, awash with new events and strange affairs borne on tides and turns of the current which never sleeps, no more than do the stones on which the City stands.  And down it seeps to refresh us all - oh, but my throat, my dearies, if only the mould and nitre did not dry it so -"

And thus the cycle gets underway and small thimble sized libations are brought tumbling forth from paw to paw from what secret hoards and purloined skins, none likely even themselves the bearers later can recall.  But the medicine does its customary work and the tale, the most important tale of all, their tale and that of the wonderous and frightening metropolis in whose lower lime scaled and sloshing chambers they make their home, grinds on.


And so does mine.

The Invisible City and its ensemble cast grow ever less occluded as the days go on.

I've now hammered down the final structure of the novel and its plot - and I'm about two thirds of the way through filling each of its seven parts with the stuffing that changes it from mere dramatic framework into a book.  Many cracks remain - but my trowel is a silver blur.

As I've noted, less and less updates will now appear until the final chapters are written, dusted, and sent off to the lucky agent.  But the beginning of the bit that comes just before the start of the end, and definitely isn't just the start of the middle, and is a long way from the mere beginning itself or even the middle of the first and second parts, is now in sight.

With luck and a lot of damn writing, this will mark the end of the summer and then September shall bring a change in direction, as well as in the weather.  A book, perhaps not in its final form, but a book no less for it, will have been born.

Best wishes and enjoy,


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Ten Weeks & the Best of Intentions

Confessions of a Writer:

It's been a fine (mostly) ten weeks of speculative sailing since I began this blind voyage into my first concerted effort at fiction writing. Having set out on a day dedicated to fools, have I completed my efforts any the wiser? I suppose I have. Certainly I have learned a great deal and my confidence in my writing has grown, though completion of the task at hand is another matter.

Ten weeks ago I set myself the challenge of conceptualizing, plotting, and writing an entire full length fantasy novel in a fit of madness rarely seen in our modern age - or at least the first draft thereof, in said period of time.  Afterwards, it was to be given a final week's polish - cue laughter, and tied up with virtual string. I had other works I'd been tinkering with for longer, but I needed something that would represent a fresh start, I felt. Did I do it? Do I have an entire, ground-breaking work of speculative fiction in my pocket to present to you? Were my mad plans brought to fruition?

No. Of course not. Not entirely, that is. Even the best built plans and ships often go astray, only needing some fool to open a faulty bag of wind and blow you off course, grounding your efforts on some alien shore where the ill-tempered monocular locals eat your crew for breakfast. We're not home yet, but what a trip it's been!

I had hoped to produce forty-nine chapters plus a prologue - having arrived at that figure no more scientifically than an answer received from an oracle or one of these. I have written the fifty odd chapters undertaken, and more, so in that sense the experiment has been a success.  I have also come up with a really good story.

If that was the end of our tale, then the chapters would be on their way right now to your nearest literary agent - but somewhere along the ten weeks something happened: the book got longer, stranger, and I'd like to think, considerably better for it.

New and supporting characters crawled in from the margins, demanding more time on the center stage and their share of the text - and then some, be added to the already complex plot. The districts of the Invisible City grew wider and wilder, no mean feat in a place that defies maps and puts the blade in the concept of traditional boundaries. The dangers and difficulties which the protagonists need face, rose up like a wall of water, towering above them and in whose currents deadly indistinct shapes circled.

In short, the book isn't done. I haven't arrived yet at the fabled shore, but I can see it now and am closing in, passing through the shallows. Another month, perhaps two, and all should be well and the first draft lie sparkling in the sun, rich and strange, just beneath the receding waters. It's hard work steering a course between Scylla and Charybdis, and no doubt some of the book will be duly sacrificed to lighten the load.

Nothing for the agent though, not today. Not tomorrow, but soon. The Clos des Goisses '96 will go back under the bed and I'll be continuing to turn all my efforts to this increasingly epic work in progress. Between now and then, when that glad day should fall in the waning weeks of summer, I doubt very much that I'll be posting anything noteworthy in the way of updates to this page. I need all my concentration and both eyes, firmly fixed on that ghost-haunted horizon.



Monday, 26 April 2010

Bad Things to Worse

I have been busy working on chapters 16 and 17.  There has been discussion on a few sites about what happens unseen to the text of a book as it goes through the many re-writes and necessary edits that publishing generally demands.



Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Lucky Number Thirteen

Despite the lure of the sun and the airplane-free, ash flecked skies, work on Invisible City continues at a furious pace. Thirteen chapters now have passed under the many bridges and life is getting interesting both for the finder Sevius and his adopted sister, Alyia.

The metropolis is transfixed by the nightly spectacle of the festival of Veostalia/Uropolis while the days have been plagued with odd outbreaks of violence and simmering unrest across the great ruined quarters of the Invisible City.

As our intrepid finder emerges from the belly of the earth mother and three dark figures appear unbidden at the feast in the hall of the caravaners, the next chapters await.

I'm having a grand time as well living in interesting times, watching the story change and shift from its abstract conception into something that at times possess all but a will of its own.

Now, back to the chapters.


Saturday, 10 April 2010

There Is A City

There exists, or so it is whispered in hushed voices by the wise in those places of the world were great secrets are known, an Invisible City.  It is the centre and the beating heart of a vast unknowable empire.  Four diverse quarters span this uncertain terrain; alien zones pushing outwards in each cardinal direction.  Together they form a shifting endless sphere of city, each with their own ruling species, and not all of them human.  On the land, under the earth, beneath the waves, and high above the broken spires, each zone a part of this most secret of metropolises.  The great quarters of the city sprawl further fragmented into a mosaic pieced together from a thousand strange districts and unnumbered lesser wards.  Communes which like their denizens, can not all be sure of lying beneath the same sun and moon as their brethren.  Amid the ruins of long forgotten shrines and ancient boulevards, its citizen walk in circles, hands set perpetually upon each other’s shoulders, blindly seeking the way; each one following the next but none knowing where they go.  It is a city whose greatest walls are built not out of stones but of secrets.  Nameless and overlooked, it hides itself from the finding.  It is a city which has had so many names over the long march of eons that now in the present thin age of our day it has none.  There are of course those who argue that such a city belongs to no more than the annals of myth; a story told by passing fire-licked travelers to hold back the darkness and bifurcate the night.  To those who think such a capital a physical impossibility, these tales are not worth the re-telling save to be presented as evidence of the easy credulity and simplistic superstitions of those whose current state has not moved far apace from the primitive.  They are, of course, wrong and on all counts.  For the city exists, sat behind its occluded walls like a transparent spider hidden in the silken funnel of its web; a principality not of the lands on which it touches, but a wedge, an opening, a void of an un-place which hangs cradled like a crack in the walls of the world.

Welcome then traveler, welcome to the Invisible City.


Separate And Unequal

So I've taken the (bold, the foolish, the unadvisable) the maddening step of introducing multiple points of view to the novel. Let me rephrase that. I have taken the step of introducing a few chapters which follow more closely the actions of a handful of other characters important to the story.

Now in and of itself, this is old rope in my chosen trade. Large multi-book epics like those which are to comprise the Secret Quarto series are full of digressive bolt holes, swarms of characters, and the frequent switching between the main (or even minor) protagonists, sometimes chapter by chapter.

However, the book Invisible City follows a central path which revolves around a single character. He is not alone, but he is the flame to which most of the others are drawn.

For a while I wondered if I should simply keep the narrative anchored to his solitary viewpoint, as after all, the story unfolds mostly (or entirely) in traditional third person narrative. There are ample opportunities to give a bit of the light over to those others who crowd the scenery without bestowing on them more.

But I'm finding that it's not enough. Other voices and other stories are demanding to be heard. Reports from places just a little to the left or right of the centre, seem to clamour for their fair share of my words. Of course, to a degree I must deny them this or risk plunging into a morass of stories and characters from which the central tale might never emerge (George R. R. Martin might be able to pull it off, but for my first book I'd like to stay paddling in a smaller pond).

If they are to have a separate voice in the narrative, it will be one that is unequal. I simply have too much to do and say with the main character of the tale to leave him absent from the stage for long. Whether he shall turn out to be the hero of his own story, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, my pages must show.

I am left feeling a bit like a ship's captain on the night of a planned mutiny. I can see it coming. I'm uncertain if I'll survive it intact or even be able to influence the course it takes; but it is too late to stop it entirely with liberal rations of rum and the lash.

Perhaps I'll just tie myself to the wheel and see where the current takes us.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Prologues & Preludes

Work on Invisible City is progressing nicely at a glacial pace. I feel as if I'm getting a real sense of the place. Something so important to me, as otherwise, it's hard to feel the imaginary spaces my characters need navigate, and not just the physical ones but the hum and vibe and smells of a living place that only exists in my feverish imagination. Alongside them, the characters are drawing into clear focus as well.

One thing I'm struggling with, or perhaps a better description would be "considering," is whether or not I want a prelude or prologue in the work. I chose both. The nice thing with this, is that for now I can leave it hanging and always come back to one if I desire, further down the line.

Why bother? Many writers and critics are dismissive of prologues, but personally I enjoy them. And like maps (this is going to be another interesting knot to work out -how to map an invisible city whose very streets, houses, and districts frequently go wandering) they seem an important nod to the holy conventions of my chosen genre.  The solution, no maps.

Anyway, I like them because you can throw in something light and interesting, like a starter or even an amuse-bouche, with characters and outcomes only distantly related to the main thrust of the story, before moving on to the weightier courses.

We'll see. For now, I'm moving on, full steam into the next chapters.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Welcome to Hidden Things

Welcome to The Invisible City, citizen.

It's official: Book One of the four books I have planned to form the core of the Hidden Universe series, is in production. The project started on 1 April, a fools journey I know, but who but fools dare to try in the face of today's publishing industry.

As if that was not enough, I've decided to make thing more interesting: I'm outlining the entire book, from start to finish, in just 10 weeks. My goal is to produce around 5 chapters a week with a final count of about 50, resulting in a book of 480-600 untold pages, give or take a bit more or a bit less.

After that, I'll package it up with my already written cover letter and off it will go to the list of agents that I'm trying to seduce with the smell of its freshly inked pages. I'll spend more time editing and rewriting than all the time spent writing it to begin with.  And that's just a start, it seems.

I think it can be done, and more importantly, be done well. If nothing else, it will be exciting to see how things develop working to such a tight schedule.

I am now part way through chapter 5, with 97 pages under my belt. I've spent some time as well choosing my epigraph, plotting out the major events of book one, creating most of my major (and a few minor) characters, locations, world building, races, magic, technology and figuring out the various threads from other existing works that I want very much to weave into my own special creation.

The book holds quite a very few classic fantasy tropes, but I'd like to think it is a recipe leavened by liberal amounts of the weird, wonderful, strange, and down-right noir-ish, and that I've done them better than most.

Well, that's it for now. Keep your eye on this space for regular updates, though most of my limited time as a full time carer for two under fives has got to go into stealing those scant few hours each day to actually do the writing bit which I'll admit, is hard graff if you can get it.

I'm now on Twitter as well all the time, so some of my updates will likely find their way there as well.

I hope you enjoy the ride odyssey, and as they say, buy the book.

Best wishes,


The Shape of Things to Come

The Invisible City has shimmered into view. Enjoy it traveler. I've put up this blog to keep a watch on my newest creation, and what will be hopefully, my debut novel in the realm of fantasy fiction.

I hope you'll enjoy watching it go from a misty conception to a full-fledged creation. There are bound to be bumps and various cliffhangers along the way.

Watch this space for regular (but not too frequent, seeing as most of my time right now is to be tied up in my tight writing schedule of 10-12 weeks to kick things into motion) updates on how the project is progressing.

Thank you for stopping by,