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A number of circumstances have raised something inside me recently which I call The Writer Fear. The Fear is actually a mixture of many emotions which can be called upon at the touch of a delete key and sometimes is perpetuated by yourself, and sometimes by others.

Fear Emotion #1: Rejection

Ah, the eternal fear of being told no. I was told in January that my resolution should be to send more short stories out. I know a number of people who have had great success in magazines and e-zines, some in anthologies, who are trying to encourage me to do the same. But what if they say no?

That’s the thing, isn’t it? If they tell me it isn’t good, is it my writing, or what they’re looking for? What are these invisible hoops I have to jump through? The letters and e-mails which say ‘we enjoyed it, but…‘ don’t make you feel that much better. Because the ‘but’ is the only thing you see.

And the fear of the ‘but’ is what stops you sending. If they outright say they hate it, it’s better (marginally) than that mysterious ‘but’. Going on to…

Fear Emotion #2: Failure

When someone recommends you, that’s terrifying. Today, a friend asked me if their younger brother can read a story I wrote a long time ago. It hasn’t been edited for years and instantly that paralysing fear that a child would see through me was all over me like a rash.

Children are discerning readers. They are blunt and honest. If he hates it, what then? Have I ultimately failed at writing an engaging young adult text?

I don’t generally let people read what I write unless I have full control over its distribution and I am absolutely sure that it is as perfect as it can be. This story is not perfect and good God I want it to be. If it is not perfect then I have failed. Right?

Fear Emotion #3: Regret

While I’m busy wringing my hands and deliberating whether or not to send something to a contest, time is ticking by, and before I know it the deadline has passed. Part of me is relieved. The other part of me always, always, feels regret.

Am I stupid? How is anyone going to ever see my work if it is never read? If I don’t put myself out there, I am only stunting my own growth. The only person who suffers in this arrangement is me. And I know this.

If I send 100 stories out, if I get 100 rejections, I perpetuate The Fear. And yet, what happens if someone likes one? Or if I never send those 100 stories?

 

In short, I am my own worst enemy. I feel this fear while writing, after writing, and after editing. It is something I live with day in, day out. So much so that sometimes I fear reading in case it pushes that fear back into me, the fear my writing will never be publishable.

It is rather melodramatic. I think a bit of fear is good for you. It pushes you to strive for better. But when it’s a hinderance rather than a help, shouldn’t you do something about it?

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I suck.

I suppose the reason I haven’t really blogged a lot lately is large and varied. Firstly, work. Actual real life work. The whole thing has been hugely stressful lately due to a lot of circumstances totally out of my control. That’s fine. Secondly, I bought a PS4. Which really is no excuse but JESUS IT’S AMAZING. Thirdly, I have been (shock horror) writing.

Writing, then. I’m really getting into my new novel (still tentatively titled Ash-Brides). It’s really refreshing to feel like I don’t totally hate my characters. It’s nice, too, to write in a new style. This one is first person present tense, like The Hunger Games (I started writing it after I read said trilogy), and I find it a fluid, easy-to-create-in style. You retain the element of mystery that you lose in first person past tense, I think, because your character experiences in real time. Anything that happens outside that is unknown and can be brought in later.

It’s funny, too, because I am experimenting with a totally new kind of character. One of my characters clearly has a psychosis, or some form of post-traumatic stress. He behaves erratically and sometimes does things without reason or rhyme due to terrible experiences in his past. And I’m really enjoying that, too. He is a wholly sympathetic character, fighting against the protagonist who does not understand him at all. Personally, I know a few people who have mental health issues and I think it’s important that these, and people’s reactions to them, are explored.

However, my friend Laura gave me a book that sounds very, very similar to mine, so I’m having minor palpitations about the thought of writing it now, just in case.

Anyway, I’m 20 chapters in now and I’ve only seriously been writing it for a short amount of time. So I think it’ll be done quickly and then I can move onto Kings and Queens (REMEMBER THAT?!).

In terms of other things, like inspiration, I want to talk about some comics, some video games and other such nonsense, but later. And, of course, more ins-and-outs about Ash-Brides.

Hopefully, more regularly.

Yes, another post about how difficult Circle was to write and why I dislike it.

Right, well, here’s the thing. It’s actually not that bad. I re-read it just before I finished it, to give myself a little bit of a helping hand for the end. I started right at the beginning and read. Properly. Not skimming. I read it.

The characters are solid. The narrator is consistent. I kind of like the way the plot hangs together. Some of the turns of phrase are lovely. And in the midst of reading it I thought, ‘y’know, this isn’t actually that bad.’ Something of a revelation, I guess. I suppose when you’ve worked on something for as long as I’ve worked in Circle for, you do get sick of it. I know I was. I was fed up of how everything felt like it was dragging. For me. In the story, it’s quite pacey. And I’d forgotten that.

It had been nearly 6 months since I wrote anything substantial on Circle when I finished it. I was of the mindset that as long as I get the ending down, then at least it’s finished. Nothing fancy. Nothing decorative. Write the ending and get out.

I sat down, for a good five hours, and did it.

And when I finished it, I didn’t get that same feeling that I got when I finished Son of Songs. S.O.S. was like a rollercoaster. You wait in the line, you get on, you get through, and you come off the end with some sort of emotional attachment to everything you felt and everyone on that ride with you and everything you knew about it and all of the stories still left to tell. Circle was like driving to Russia from France. You’re stuck in the car, surrounded by people you thought you liked until you’ve been there with them for longer than you dared to count, and you’ve drunk all the water and eaten all the crisps and in the end the only feeling you have is sheer relief that you’re never going to have to do that again.

I think what I’m trying to say is that one of the most important qualities you can have as a writer is to keep going through it. I never leave anything unfinished. Even if it was going to kill me, I was going to finish Circle. You have to get through it. It’s the only way.

I will be going back to it, when I can bear it. There are a lot of places where things no longer make full sense and I need to sort the continuity. But for now, I’m going to start work on my magic flowers story which, for now, I’m going to call Ash-Brides.

I spent my August Bank Holiday this year up in Scotland, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which, for the first time, included graphic novels and comic books in a special festival they called Stripped.

In all honesty, if the lure of seeing Neil Gaiman live hadn’t been enough to drag me all the way up there, the only thing that would have persuaded me otherwise was the presence of Stripped. I find it fascinating how comic books, although having been around for nearly 80 years, are only just making their way into the gaze of literary critics and popular culture. In the last few years the amount of superhero films, while brilliant, has been sickening (I mean, a Green Hornet film? Really?), and all of a sudden there has been an explosion of art and colour in these things.

How has it taken so long? I mean, comics haven’t always been high brow, I admit. But Gaiman’s Sandman should have made people sit up and take note. Works like V for Vendetta and Watchmen have made the New York Times 100 Bestsellers list. And yet, this is the first time comic books have been represented at the EIBF.

And the names – Grant Morrison, Bryan Talbot, Neil Gaiman. They got the big guns in. The amount of people in the auditoriums for these events were overwhelming. It seems to me they’ve been missing a trick for years.

Comic books just keep getting better. Like a fine wine. The writing is artful, the drawings sometimes so close to art it’s unreal. The topics covered can be gritty, disturbing and close to the bone. They’re different. They can achieve so much books can’t. Like Alan Moore said, he’d never put his name to a film of one of his novels, because he was trying to do something only achieveable in one format – comic books. ‘Watchmen’ wasn’t a film flop, but fans struggled sometimes to see where the layering and depth they loved so much had gone. ‘V for Vendetta’ was changed so much for a Hollywood audience, it was almost unrecognisable. And let’s just not talk about ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’.

They reach a big readership, too. You have weeklies, who buy every week religiously. Novel readers, who wait until they’re collected into a volume. You can buy a comic book you’ve never seen before half way through and read it, and still get the gist in a way you can’t with a TV series or a film.

And let’s take a look at the leaps in comic books recently. Gay characters, a black Spider-man. They’re moving into the times in great strides because, all of a sudden, they mean something. Are comic books literature?

Well… yes. I think so. But just a different kind. And if you hear creators, writers and artists talk about them, like I did, you understand that better. There’s a different kind of consciousness required to create something like that, a sort of hive-mind of what came before you, what you want, what the artist wants, how it’ll look on the page, and how the hell you tell the story in 36 words a panel. It isn’t straight forward.

So are comics art?

Also, yes. Very much so. It’s a fine line that comic books tread, and they tread it beautifully.

The other thing? The support. The amount of people networking, sharing, creating there was extraordinary. The amount of people willing to help each other was amazing. I got about 15 business cards from people, just asking them for advice about ‘Son of Songs’. And the quality of the work at the mini comics fair was astounding.

We’re living in an exciting age for comic books, I think. Which is probably the best thing comic books have had for years.

Okay, post two.

As you may or may not be aware, this year I’ve been training to become an English teacher. Being a teacher is great – rewarding, inspiring, challenging, and above all it reminds you of how and why you got into your passions in the first place.

I loved English as a kid. I loved reading. I loved writing. The two were not mutually exclusive things; instead, it was what I read that inevitably inspired me to pick up a pen and begin writing. Over the last few years, the British Government has made some good changes to the curriculum: allowing teen fiction into the curriculum, such as the exceptional ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ by Mark Haddon, and ‘Martyn Pig’ by Melvin Brooks. Subversive, delicate, easy to read, wonderful books, that enhance a child’s reading and interest in the more difficult texts, like Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the new English framework. No children’s literature. Oh no. Instead? A 19th century novel.

… WHAT?!

Oh yeah. A 19th century novel. Most of which, by the way, I hate. No 14 year old boy is going to want to read Dickens. Hell, I’m 23, and I don’t want to read Dickens. Thomas Hardy and the Brontes are going to be not only lost on children, but it’s going to put them off reading for life. Imagine if you were a low achiever, struggling through Jane Eyre.

And not only that – it’s tested only at the end of the two year course. So you have to MEMORISE chunks of Jane Eyre over a two year period.

I’m sorry. What is this going to achieve?

Books are for enjoyment. No child is ever going to want to read again if they cannot even feel like they can access a text. And what does this, ultimately, mean for writing?

Perhaps I’m going a little bit off the wall here, but this can only spell disaster for the study of English and the enjoyment of the written word. I find it hard enough trying to get children to read, let alone read difficult texts. The correct book can change a child’s life. And if we’re meant to be pushing reading for pleasure, shouldn’t we push these books in class?

Hello all. It’s been quiet here for many reasons, but I’m hoping to rectify this with three posts in quick succession. So hold onto your metaphorical hats.

This first.

This is an article from The Guardian newspaper informing us of the way self-publishing is awful and ruining quality literature, masked as a statistical report on e-book sales.

Let’s get one thing straight: anyone who is brave enough to put anything of themselves out there for the wider world to see is brave and commendable in my books. I am not slagging off self-publishing or self-published authors. For some people, it works very well (see 50 Shades of Grey). For some people, it’s simply enough that one person might read their work and enjoy it – I know it’s that way for me.

But let’s be realistic. By the law of averages, not every self-published book out there is going to be a great shakes. Some of it will be awful (see 50 Shades of Grey). In fact, after reading some self-published novels myself, I have to say I was put off by the very idea of self-publishing my own work – partly due to the stigma that is generated by a) these not-very-good-books that someone, bless them, really did want to make successful and b) people who only like literature with a capital L.

Not all art is good. Not all music is good. Not all people are good. But it’s out there. And what can we do about it? If someone wants to publish their novel, fine. Let them. But let’s not all then beat them to death about how their work isn’t good enough. Yes, there are some self-published authors with chips on their shoulders, who militantly decimate anyone who dares say a bad word about their book, and the publishing world, and everyone. There are some who were rejected and can’t understand why, some even (dare I say it) delusional. But aren’t we all delusional? We all believe that someday someone will look back and think we were great. We believe we’re going to make some imprint on the world.

And look, people are buying these things. There is a market out there for it. It’s great to have cheap books. It’s great that people want to share. And self-publishing will never be regulated like Big Publishing because of the nature of the beast. Not every rock can be a diamond. Not every rock claims to be a diamond. There’s this huge thing about books, as if they’re sacred and can’t be touched, and somehow people reckon that self-publishing is making books base, dirty and worthless.

Not so. It is drawing fresh blood. It is bringing out those people who would otherwise shy away from writing anything, so certain they are that they will be rejected by Bloomsbury or Harper Collins. It is making people want to write and want to share.

And isn’t that, in the end, good?

I will never, ever try to degrade anyone publicly. If anyone is offended by what I’ve said, please take it in the best possible way. Self-publishing may not be for everyone, but for some people it is more than an outlet. It’s a sort of chance for them to get out there. I bet if Dan Brown self-published something tomorrow, nobody would bat an eyelid. There are good self-published books out there. The article says the self-publishing world is corrupt. Well, I’m sorry, but the whole publishing industry is corrupt. And that’s life, sweetcheeks.

My message? Do what you want. Self-publish if you want. Trad-pub if you want. As long as it makes you happy.

 

As of two minutes ago, I wrote The End on Son of Songs.

I feel… sweaty. Emotional sweaty. It’s been a couple of hours of fighting tears and tying loose ends, and leaving some loose for fun. My hands are a bit shaky and I feel kind of light headed, and happy and sad at the same time.

I always feel like this at the end of a project. It’s an emotional thing. For so long the same story has been part of you, and all at once it is no longer your story to tell. Because the story is told. And that’s a weird kind of feeling. It does feel very final.

Unlike most of my other projects, however, this isn’t really the end. There are still pictures to go with the words. Worlds to create in colour and line. Parts of the story will inevitably have to change to fit a medium I’ve never worked in before. That is at once exciting and frightening. Son of Songs will leave my hands and be crafted by someone else. There will be questions asked about how I chose to end it, and why. Why certain characters never appear, and why some do. But there’s time enough for that I guess.

I know I have other stories about these characters to tell. Probably not as comic books. But that’ll be good fun, exploring their lives in prose.

I can’t wait to see them alive.