Monday, August 24, 2009

Breaking Down The Wall

Some things are best achieved with subtlety, others with brute force, yet others are best achieved with some combination of the two. There is a drawing of the meeting between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin which shows Richard breaking an iron bar with his sword – a big European brute of a blade, best suited to smashing and bashing – while Saladin demonstrates the edge of his blade by cutting a piece of silk with it. That particular drawing sums up how I have managed to overcome – more or less – my recent bout with the blank page.

Sometimes the only way to write is to just do it – to be like Richard smashing your way through a problem and not allowing the niceties in life to get in the way – then to come back and do a Saladin – use the edge of your writing ability to shape the prose into a smoother form.

Of course, all writers have different ways of dealing with the problem of ‘lack of imaginative flow’ – this one just happened to work for me. And right pleased about it I am, too.

Now this doesn’t mean that the recently completed story is of any worth (although I rather like it) but more that I’ve conquered a personal demon.

The spectre of the white page can be one of the most daunting things for any writer to face, particularly on those days when you really don’t feel like writing, when the clichés pour from your mind and hands in an unstoppable torrent. But, and here’s the strange thing, once you manage to get those clichés out of the way, it very often frees the mind to move on to more original thoughts (original in this case being a very, very subjective thing).

I think that sometimes you have to have the courage to write badly and realise that not every word that you put on paper will be the ideal one, that not every sentence will be beautifully constructed or indeed that every plot will be a logical and gripping one.

No one sets out to write badly, but sometimes it helps to do just that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


The very lovely Carol Hightshoe recently accepted my short story Whisperthief for publication in the rather splendid ezine Sorcerous Signals, due to appear in October this year (and it will also appear in print in its sister publication Mystic Signals).

The story is part of what I frequently (and perhaps rather pretentiously) refer to as The Shining Cities Sequence – a series of stories set at the mythical end of the world – which currently consist of a grand total of four published or accepted, (The Glass Cage/ What Dread Words/ All That Grows/ Whisperthief) one still looking for a home (Pale Nations of the Dead) and at least three at the ‘where the hell does this go now’ stage (none of which currently have titles) and one ‘orphan story’ (The Bone House) which is thematically and stylistically linked to the others.

Of all the stories I have written in the last while, the Shining Cities tales are among my favourites, possibly because I rather enjoy writing them. This is not to say that the stories themselves are light and fluffy pieces packed with witty one liners (quite the reverse, if anything, coming as they do from the darkest part of the doom ‘n’ gloom aspect of my psyche) but rather because the creation of them gives me a lot of pleasure. Their basic set up is rather a grab bag of influences (although very much in the shadow of Clark Ashton Smith’s masterly Zothique stories) mixing together sword and sorcery, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, elements of the comedia del arte and anything else that takes my fancy at the time.

More than that, I tend to make them up as I go along. I know that, as a creator of the fantastic, there are certain ‘rules’ that my fiction should obey within their own framework (although these ‘rules’ are, by definition, rather elastic and open to interpretation) but sometimes it’s more important for a writer to enjoy his own work than to worry too much about pleasing others. Again, this is not to say that the stories lack either internal logic or narrative structure (at least I hope they don’t) but rather that they give me a certain freedom in their creation.

It’s a radical thought, I know, but works upon the principle that if you don’t enjoy your work then the chances are that no one else will either. In part it’s about chasing the muse, or allowing the muse to take you where it will.

It’s also to do with the fact that I find it difficult to tailor my imagination to strict parameters (I recently tried to write a story aimed at a very specific anthology which fell apart after two pages simply because I couldn’t get my initial idea to alter itself sufficiently). Not that there is anything wrong with chasing the market – some writers do it extremely well and are capable of creating great work in virtually any genre (the brilliant Roy Thomas, for instance) - unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m one of them.

Of course as a writer it’s both selfish and potentially damaging to your work to please no one but yourself, but the base line should always be ‘is this a story I want to write?’ or perhaps ‘is this a story I want to read?’ and if the answer to either (or preferably both) of those question is Yes then there is a good chance that both you and your audience will enjoy it.