Thursday, 25 September 2014

North by Southwest

A forthcoming anthology by North Bristol Writers



It's been a long trail already and we still have a ways to go. At the beginning of this year the writing group @NBCWG decided to bring out an anthology to showcase the writing of the various group members.

We now have all the stories in and our title - "North by Southwest"

We have art from the rather brilliant Claire M Hutt

& have lined up a typesetter, designer, printer etc

Now we just need the funding and have decided that we'll be doing a crowdfunding campaign which we'll be launching in the coming months.

NBCWG is a small friendly group that meets once or twice a month (currently in the Inn on the Green) to discuss writing & share creativity. The group's aims are to provide a fun and safe environment for writers at all levels of skill and experience to come together to be creative.

The anthology showcases the work of 10 writers and our artist. With stories by Jemma Milburn (founder of NBCWG), Kevlin Henney, Ian Millstead, Clare Dornan, Margaret Carruthers, Roz Clarke, Desiree Fischer, John Hawkes-Reed, Justin Newland & Yours truly.

More news soon!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Guest post - Nicholas Alan Tillemans

A Writer’s Account: Becoming an Extreme Horror Comedy Author in Today's Rough and Tumble Indie Publishing World

By Nicholas Alan Tillemans

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The indie publishing market of today offers exciting opportunities to a breed of authors whose works would have never been published by traditional publishers. This is good news for many writers. But don’t rush out and write your thousand-page fantasy trilogy just yet. Doing it right takes a lot of work, tenacity and patience. If you’re a self-starter and enjoy hard work, you’ll find that great things are feasible today for writers and readers alike that were not options in the past.

Naturally, not every book will sell enough copies to be a good fit for traditional publishers who have stables of artists, editors and marketers to feed. Hats off to traditional publishers for producing large print runs of quality books with mass market appeal. Today, just like in the past, traditional publishers loom large. Add a robust indie market; and customers have more choices than ever before to fit their unique tastes. Readers are just as unique as the writers who write for their enjoyment.

It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Many disgruntled readers complain about the new model. Some complain about poorly edited books with weak storylines and forgettable characters. While this may be a fair criticism of many titles, it does not characterize all independently published books. Some writers take a great deal of care to cover all the bases. Despite this care and concern, many indie authors find the costs of professional editorial services prohibitive. So, many self-edit their works; and some are less successful than others.

There is no gatekeeper anymore. So, almost anything can make it through; and, therefore, making it to market is not the accomplishment it once was. It does not directly equate to any sales whatsoever. Not everything that makes it through sells even a single copy or lands reviews to help it sell. So, in the indie model, the cream will probably eventually rise to the top. But it is incumbent upon the indie author to spread the word and to demonstrate the merits of his or her books.

This is easier said than done.

One can post about one’s books on social media, facebooking and tweeting about them ad nauseum to the initial delight and inevitable aggravation of one’s friends and acquaintances. There is a risk that people will simply stop paying attention. People will only buy a book once and will only be annoyed by constant reminders that it is available for sale. This means authors need to find a wide range of venues to showcase their books.

Seeking reviews from bloggers and review sites is a good idea and one way to make a case for a book’s merits. I’ve landed several such reviews for each of my books; but an indie author can’t expect a landslide of reviews. Many of those who would be interested in any given genre are currently overwhelmed and not accepting new requests. Giveaways are helpful. So far, I’ve landed two reviews and one five-star rating from the fifteen books I gave away through Goodreads.

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Of course, nothing is a given. Even if an author lands dozens of glowing reviews, those reviews won’t necessarily convert to sales. People have more choices today than ever before. There is stiff competition for the customer’s entertainment dollar; and the competition is hungrier than ever before. We’ve traded a gatekeeper for a hungry mob of writers. But it’s not a faceless mob. We all come from somewhere; and it’s not all about making money.

Myself, I write compulsively and have 'indie writer' written all over me. I have been writing horror fiction since I was a young child and hardly able to write at all. My earliest book was entitled “The Martians of Skull Island.”  It was a terrible book with an unsatisfying storyline. If not for the crude but whimsical artwork, it would have been a total miss. As I entered fourth grade, I started writing a book entitled “The Mysterious Man Wearing Sunglasses,” which was completely derivative fan fiction. I even made the laughable gaffe of writing myself in as a die-hard action hero. By fifth grade, I was writing very short horror stories and poetry. This reflected my fascination with the horror genre. I was a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and remember reading Stephen King’s Night Shift and Cujo in sixth grade.

Through high school and college, I had a preoccupation with morbid things and continued to write longer and longer books: Societal JunkieHard Ball and Ugly Stick. I majored in philosophy and psychology in college, finding these topics both fascinating and terrifying. My writing became more extreme as I continued testing the limits of reality and good taste.

Immediately after college, I started writing a romance novel with a headless female protagonist, “Acetone Enema.” I eventually gave up on it as a novel and turned it into a short story by the same name, which I submitted to an exposure market, The House of Pain. For the next several years, I wrote a dozen short stories in a similar vein—e.g. “Baby Hunter,” “The Mechanics of Perversion,” “The Purloined Lips of Destiny,” etc. Encouraged by the positive feedback I was receiving, I began writing The Torture of Girth, my first novel.

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I submitted various short stories to paying markets over the next several years with no takers. Ten years passed. During that time, I married my wife, we bought an old house, and my son was born. I noticed that the publishing landscape was changing dramatically. I tested the waters by independently publishing a collection of short stories and poetry: Acetone Enema: A Morbid Collection of Short Stories & Poetry. I landed positive reviews; and there seemed to be renewed interest in my writing. So, I hazarded a final rewrite of my novel The Torture of Girth; and I have now independently published the novel as well.

Unlike traditional publishers, I have never asked whether I would make money from my books, but rather only whether there was some public interest in them. I can’t help writing what I write. Life events and other creative endeavors have drawn me away from writing for years at a time. But I always come back to it. It’s an integral part of who I am. As such, I find myself inexorably diving into the indie mosh pit. For all of its problems, it looks like it’s here to stay. We should all be sure to stay on our feet and watch for hurdling bodies.

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Many thanks to Nicholas for dropping by and talking about his writing!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review of The Moon King & interview with the author, Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson lives in Glasgow, Scotland. His short stories can be found in The Ephemera (Infinity Plus Books), with Andrew J Wilson he edited Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction (Mercat Press), and his work has been nominated for British Fantasy, British Science Fiction and World Fantasy awards. 

Neil  is a longstanding member of the notorious school of literary pugilism known as the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, and he has the internal bruising to prove it. 



*****
twitter: @neiljwilliamson

Neil kindly agreed to answer questions about the book. The Bristol Book Blog review is after the interview.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review -Mind Seed

Mind Seed Edited by David Gullen and Gary Couzens

Mind Seed by Edited By David Gullen & Gary…

The T Party is a London based writers group that have put together this SF anthology in memory of one their members, Denni Schnapp, who took her own life in 2013. Proceeds from the book go to Next Generation Nepal, an anti-child trafficking charity supported by Denni. The introduction tells us that Denni wrote about How would technological developments affect us as humans, both individually and socially … Her stories were of travel and journey, interaction and transformation, of strong characters and their weaknesses. and the stories are from those that knew Denni and her storiesThey cover the themes that Denni tackled in her own work: exploration, interaction, the nature of intelligence, and communication with the unknown.There are nine solid tales in the book, including the title story Mind Seed an interesting speculation on rejuvenation and being on and off the grid.

The collection starts with Sex and the single hive mind by Helen Callaghan which is the best SF short story I’ve read for a long while, one that got my synapses buzzing from its inventiveness, tone and prose, highly recommended and a writer I’m looking forward to reading more from. It’s a story about all the themes promised in the intro, about a drug called Seething Green and of a cop on the drug squad. Other stand out stories are by Ian Whates with a creepy little tale of alien contact in Darkchild and Rockhopper by Martin Owton & Gary Couzens about a miner who discovers a derelict, which does that difficult thing in a short story of building an entire, plausible universe within the confines of the story. Nina Allen’s BSFA shortlisted Bird songs at eventide on top of her story in the previously reviewed Solaris Rising 3 also places her in my “writers to watch” category. 

But suffice to say there are no duff stories in the collection although of course I liked some more than others. 

Overall – A fine collection of SF shorts. Recommended.

Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaihovsky is the author of the Shadows of the Apt, an amazing 10 book series. He was born in Lincolnshire and studied zoology and psychology at Reading, before practising law in Leeds. He is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor and is trained in stage-fighting. His literary influences include Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake, China MiƩville, Mary Gentle, Steven Erikson, Naomi Novak, Scott Lynch and Alan Campbell..

A full bibliography can be found here

Adrian can be found on Facebook, Goodreads and on Twitter as @aptshadow


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Two reviews - Torture of Girth & The Reason I Jump

Torture of girth by Nicholas Alan Tillmans


The Torture of Girth by Nicholas Tillemans
Average

In Springwood, it’s never okay to talk about the world “outside.” People wonder about it. It can’t be helped. But there’s no point to talking about it. No one who’s been there shares anything. Besides that, it’s dangerous. “Talkers”—people who are overheard talking about the world outside—are routinely monitored. If they are caught sharing too much or saying something threatening or disparaging about the powers that be, they are arrested and often imprisoned or even put to death. All it takes is a mere mention of the world “outside” to warrant an arrest.

Harry Gorman is an underachiever, working in a butcher shop, spineslessly taking a pay cut, not really connecting with his wife (who he doesn’t know is having an affair) and not being able to summon the effort to properly clean out his fish tank. However he doesn’t know that the city he lives in is on top of an underground prison containing odd, evil, spiritual creatures perhaps his must be why no-one is allowed to leave the city? This is a tale of spiritual possessions and has a fair share of horror (both psychological and physical) and mostly the plot just scoots along. There were a few errors that crept in towards the end and there are important new characters being added even in the last few chapters (and sometimes it was hard to differentiate between some of them). I’d also have liked a bit more of an explanation of the setting and maybe more work to ground the plot. It’s a pretty dark tale but does have some levity, comedy horror is difficult to pull off well but mostly Tillmans succeeds. There is talent and story here but as with many self-pub you can’t help but feel it lacks a little bit in polish, however this is head and shoulders above many out there and worth parting with a bit of cash for an entertaining ride.

Overall – If you like Scott Sigler you’ll probably like this. Enjoyable horror. 

The Reason I jump by Naoki Higashida, translated by David Mitchell

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a…


This is a short book by a 13 year old Japanese boy with Autism who answers a series of questions such as “What is the reason I jump” – it is mostly sparse and honest prose but occasionally beautiful, and includes a highly symbolic story at the end. There isn’t much to say about this one. If you’ve ever wondered about what life is like with autism, or want an autistic perspective on the joys of repetition then this book will provide answers. I mostly picked this up because it’s translated by David Mitchell and I was at an event but it I’m very glad I did.

Overall - I think this should be read by everyone really, as it is a study in empathy

Friday, 12 September 2014

#FridayFlash

Seeds


He thought if he could find the right word seed it would all come together. Around that one word he would place two more, around those two four more until he had a sentence. Around that sentence he would place another either side, around those three another two each side until he formed a paragraph. On each side of the paragraph another and so on - scene to chapter to section to book. If only he could find the right word seed.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

David Mitchell visits Bath

Last night we attended a Mr B's event in Bath at the United Reformed chirch on Argyle street, which was an interesting venue.

After being regaled by the lovely Bookshop Band 


David Mitchell read from his new book - The Bone Clocks


and then Mr B interviewed him and the time just flew past as the erudite Mr Mitchell was never less than fascinating

We dashed to the front of the signing queue so we could escape early and try and catch up on the sleep we missed in York and got the book signed (having stupidly left his back catalogue at home) We did pick up a copy of the book he translated though (The reason I jump) and had a quick chat about it with him whilst his publicist nervously looked at the massive queue behind us.

Can't wait to start the book, although someone may have bagsied it first so I'll have to wait a couple of days...

The event was mentioned on Points West here (at around 19:56) worth a watch if you missed the Bookshop Band live ...

Another great evening in the company of Mr B's who really do put on superlative events.

So Fantasycon 2014 happened

Fantasycon 2014 has been and gone. We packed our bags and navigated across the country to York, stopping off along the way to ensure scurvy didn't set in on our epic journey.

York was lovely




and a major draw for getting us to Fantasycon if truth be told. We did a whole bunch of touristy stuff, including the obligatory museum of smells (Jorvik centre) but York is just pretty and well worth a visit. The hotel was right next to the train station (and the excellent York Tap in the station) and a pretty interesting building in its own right




The program didn't look hugely inspiring at first glance but we were glad to be pleasantly surprised at finding a bunch of enjoyable panels and other stuff to do. As a bonus York was also a bit of a foodie destination and we visited Trembling Madness (which really should be featured on @Badtaxidermy), El Piano and Krakatoa which were all brilliant

 Vegan Feast at El Piano

We learned about rejection in the first panel we attended


in what seemed to be the hottest room in the hotel. Luckily the panellists were entertaining enough to prevent the soporific heat having too much of an effect.

We also went to the horror panel which ranged all over and was really interesting

& Saturday we managed to squeeze into 3 panels in a row, which is unlike us so the program did really deliver. Best panel of the con for me was the swordfighting one



We also managed to catch Peter Newman reading from his forthcoming novel, as well as some other familiar faces - Jo Hall, Jonathan L Howard & Emma Newman. I also read, my story Thunder & Magpies which is part of the first story collection which is currently out with a publisher for consideration ...

Of course no con would be complete without bumping into old friends, making new friends, drinking over-priced alcohol, drinking free alcohol, going to launches, browsing the dealer's hall, going to signings and basically having lots of fun. Although we missed Tea & Jeopardy live (due to sitting in the restaurant for a long while) which is my largest regret of the weekend.

Overall Fantasycon was well-run (kudos to the Redcloaks who did a grand job) and thoroughly entertaining and we had great fun in York (there were books - York Minster library, bookshops, con freebies & dealer's room)





Will we be back next year? In Nottingham? Not sure, but only because we may be going to Archipelacon instead. Fantasycon was a good mid-size con & one that seemed friendly to newbies so I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Kameron Hurley Guest post

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God's WarInfidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineYear's Best SFEscapePodThe Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

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Kameron has dropped in to talk about Murder Boards - over to Kameron

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Acceptance review (and Annihilation & Authority)

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer


As this is the third book in the series if you’ve not read the previous do you must do so. At some point I will be re-reading all three books together and providing a Southern Reach review.

A reminder of my reviews of the first two:

Annihilation

Annihilation: A Novel (Southern Reach…

Area X has been contained behind the border for 30 years.

So starts the first book in a new trilogy from Jeff VanderMeer. The Southern Reach has sent 11 expeditions into Area X. Many of them have failed to come back, or have come back changed Our narrator is one of 4 in the 12th expedition, she is a biologist and joins a psychologist, surveyor and anthropologist. This is her story. This is the story of the 12th expedition. This is the story of, well let’s not reveal too much here shall we?

This is an example of isolation fiction with a hearty dollop of paranoia on top of the fear and mystery. VanderMeer weaves a web of wicked weirdness that conceals to reveal. We have so many questions that are not answered and may never be but this is because the mystery is, well mysterious. Our narrator is no more clued up than we are and, crucially, compromised. Can we trust her? Can we trust anyone on the team? Can we trust The Southern Reach? Why aren’t expeditions allowed to take cameras, or telecoms, or most other modern technology but are allowed to take guns? What is the true purpose of the expeditions? What is Area X? What is the significance of the Lighthouse? Do we really want to know what the strange noises in the night are? Why did the Biologist join the expedition?

There are several VanderMeerisms (yes that is a word) that will appeal to fans of his earlier work (no spoilers but I bet you can guess what I mean) but this is a slightly different tale to those he has told before. He describes a real and lush landscape in almost cinematic terms. He also manages to make it feel uncanny with a few deft touches and therefore even though the palette is light he achieves a darker tale. I was in the story from the first paragraph, rushing gladly through the book simultaneously desperate to know what was going to happen and deeply dreading knowing in case that knowledge were to change me irrevocably.

It will be compared to Roadside Picnic by the Strugatskys no doubt and possibly Dark Matter By Michelle Paver and there are brief elements of familiarity here if you are well read in the Weird. However VanderMeer has carved a compelling and fresh tale that may owe a passing nod to Lovecraft but only in the same way that a modern car would owe a nod to a Model T. If any complaint were to be levelled at this it would be that we are forced to wait some months before the second in the trilogy is released. Will we get our answers in that tome? Do we want answers? Perhaps it’s safer not to know.

Overall – I can only describe this as VanderMeerian (yes that is also a word) in its brilliance. If you’re a fan of VanderMeer go, buy, read! If you’re not a fan of VanderMeer why the hell not?

Authority

Authority: A Novel (The Southern Reach… 
In the aftermath of the 12th expedition we follow "Control" the nom de guerre of the new director of the Southern Reach. Some of the questions in the first book are answered but many mysteries remain, are deepened in fact. This is different in tone and style and yet the two books are so inextricably linked that whilst reading this volume I had to several times resist the urge to go back and re-read Annihilation. When I have completed all three books I can imagine re-reading all three as a "whole".

I won't go into the plot - that's a doorway you'll have to cross by yourself. This is less dream-like (although relies, in part, on dreams to build the experience) and less pared down than Annihilation but feels like a layering on of information, themes, character, plot, sense of place, and, to use a term from the book (and the wine world), terroir. It is a deeply sensuous experience that I gorged myself upon. Another reason to re-read once all three have been ravenously consumed will be to take it slower and appreciate the craft. For to be sure there is much craft in these books to admire.

Comparisons are useless, this is idiosyncratic and it is obvious that much thought and care has been put into this as a book, as the second in a trilogy, as a bridge, as a complex exploration of transformation and immersion. Everything becomes significant, it is like being indoctrinated by a conspiracy theorist. It is both a reflection and an intermingling with the first book. Themes are re-explored, re-examined, deepened.

Throughout, as per the word Annihilation in the first book, I was considering – what is authority?, what is control? There is a Russian doll feel to it. Turn over a phrase and find a concept which when considered is but a layer of a greater theme which in turn is reflected in character development, or description, or dialogue. Throughout is a key uncertainty, which in itself is another theme – surface detail is a concealment, an obfuscation of the truth, or is it?

Adding to this is the very form of the story. Presented in a paranoid spy thriller atmosphere as organisational politics meets intelligence meets counter-intelligence. Power struggles, suspicions, revelations, tug-of-war manoeuvres and the use of hypnosis (itself a recurrence of something explored in Annihilation) conspire to keep you immersed and engaged.

VanderMeer has parcelled out information, seemingly generously (in comparison to Annihilation) and yet the mystery remains and is, if anything, deeper following this book. At the end of Annihilation I wanted answers and yet wasn’t sure I’d like what the answers were and was simultaneously eager and afraid of reading the next book. At the end of Authority I wanted the next book to be there to hand, to tear straight into, the level of suspense and anticipation has been built to fever pitch.

Overall – This is a book and a series that deserves all the praise. I expect prizes in the future.

 Acceptance: A Novel (The Southern Reach…
Acceptance entwines several narratives from both the past and the present, as we understand it from the previous books. It is worth noting at the outset that although there are revelations and answers there is also still much mystery and those seeking an explanation for all that has gone before may be somewhat disappointed. But then if you’ve got this far you’re not really seeking an explanation are you? You’re revelling in the experience and frolicking with the ideas. Surely. Acceptance is non-linear and jumps chapter by chapter between the Lighthouse Keeper (yes that lighthouse keeper! Control, Ghost Bird and the Psychologist with one of those POVs being in second person, difficult to bring off but brilliant when it works (and VanderMeer is never less than brilliant). It is, again, a re-examination of the same events of the previous two books with a deepening and broadening of our perception of what happened and what is happening.

There is much in here that will take some pondering, there is a lingering unease and a sense of wonder and awe. Being able to read all three in the year of publication, across the year, devoured as soon as they arrived and waiting with bated breath for the next, has been an experience. Sharing that experience with a book club has only made it better. On this side of reading the series I am satisfied and yet want to explore more. Content with the experience and the world of the books and yet want to dive back in. This is a towering achievement and one that deserves a wide readership. I won’t cover the plot (why change now?) but suffice to say that as we follow the various narrators we get a variety of perspectives on Area X. Having heard the author talk about the books, and gained a little insight from various interviews I am sure that these books will spawn a “guide to Area X” and the next time I read them I’ll be keeping notes.

To dip back into wine (since terroir is of importance to these books) Acceptance is the long finish revealing the complexity of the robust first notes and the palate pleasing middle notes leaving you thirsty for another draught of the same.

Overall – If you’ve read Annihilation and authority there is no need for me to tell you to read this book. If you’ve not read them then I heartily recommend the entire series and this entirely satisfying conclusion.           

Monday, 1 September 2014

Reviews - The Knowledge & Premonitions

The knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from…




Dartnell sets out to outline the knowledge required to rebuild out modern society after an apocalypse. Full of interesting information it kind of fails at its stated aim, in my opinion, because it assumes that the apocalypse is a “nice” one (i.e. doesn’t destroy the infrastructure too much) and that the folk left behind will have a viable population for industrial society. However if you’re ready to take those two assumptions then Dartnell takes a whirlwind tour of restarting electricity, industrial chemistry, medicine, communications and all the rest of the technologies that make the modern world what it is. Along the way you’ll get a great, but brief, overview of all these things. It is, by necessity, brief and perhaps this is the greatest criticism that can be levelled at the book since anyone can tell you that the devil is in the details. There are a few illustrations but if anything it is a primer for the intelligent survivor to know what knowledge he needs to seek out.   


Overall – You’ll need more than this one book to help you restart civilisation, but having this one book will give you a good headstart

Premonitions by Jamie Schultz


Premonitions by Jamie Schultz

Karyn Ames hallucinates the future, she’s the leader of a small crew who procure antiquities and magical gewgaws using her skills to avoid trouble. However her hallucinations are bad, they can take over her life, so she takes a drug called blind, only really available from one fairly creepy drug dealer who lives in a ruin and is overly fond of rats. When the group are approached by a notorious crime boss who wants them to steal a relic from a cult the crew agree because there is a two million  dollar payout for them if they do. Told from a variety of POVs this is a smart, modern supernatural heist novel that is a whole ton of fun. This is the first in a series, with the intro to the second in the back, so could feel a bit unfinished in a lesser writer’s hands, however it has a very satisfying wholeness to the story and yet the world is such that you know you’re not done with the characters.

Schultz will no doubt be compared to Wendig as they both have female protagonists who glimpse the future and both writers have a knack for witty prose and fast moving plots.


Overall – Great start to a series & I’ll definitely be tracking the second book down

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