Monday, February 2, 2009

Of Swordsmen and Sorcery

I began writing again about two and a half years ago, having suffered a prolonged period of writer’s block that lasted the best part of a decade.

Learning to write again is, I discovered, a little like learning to use a limb that’s been out of action for a while (I broke my elbow a few years ago so the analogy is, for me, a pretty sound one). You remember how you used to do things and how they should be done but since it’s been a while and the muscles may have atrophied a little, it takes time for the process to become as natural as it once had been (that is, if you regard writing as a natural process to begin with).

I’ve always been a fabulist, my favourite literature from JG Ballard to Philip K. Dick, Norman Spinrad, Michael Moorcock and any one of a dozen other writers I could name has always been slanted towards the fantastic.

But here’s the thing. I used to write science fiction and horror but since rediscovering my passion for writing my current output has headed more and more towards the fantasy side of things, very specifically towards that branch of speculative literature that could roughly be called Sword and Sorcery: wizards, swordsmen, feats of derring-do, monsters and places with exotic sounding names.

And for the life of me, I’m not entirely sure where the turn around came from. I was, and remain, under the spell of JG Ballard, who is one of the finest writers ever to emerge from England, and of Philip K. Dick, who made me understand that a strong humanist or philosophical element is not simply necessary but almost obligatory in good SF.

Yet the dozen or so stories that I’ve had accepted in the last year have generally been fantasy rather than science fiction: now fair enough a couple of them are Dying Earth style fantasies written under the influence of Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance and M. John Harrison, and a few are allegorical fables or fairytales but the fact of the matter remains that I have shifted almost lock, stock and barrel from one branch of speculative writing into another.

Maybe that’s what cured my writer’s block or maybe its to do with the fact that a lot of what I had been reading during that unproductive decade had been from writers like the late, lamented David Gemmell, the equally late and lamented Karl Edward Wagner or the mercurial genius that is Michael Moorcock (in particular the Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon novels).

One of the things that I have discovered, both through writing and, perhaps more importantly, reading extensively in the genre is that what I had once believed to be a narrow field of focus turns out to be one of the most wonderful playgrounds that a writer could hope for.

By standing up and declaring rather proudly that ‘I write fantasy’ I’ve found that anything is possible, that the worlds which open up (even if I steadfastly continue to set the majority of my stories on earth or a recognisable simulacrum thereof) have begun to excite me about writing again. And for that I am profoundly thankful.

Of course it does make a slight nonsense of calling this blog Tales From the Computerbank but I like the title so it’s gonna stay.

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