Saturday, 22 November 2014

Leaving the zeitgeist for somebody else

Don't you love that word, zeitgeist?

To be honest, I'm never quite sure if I've pronounced it correctly. Is it more like zitegist or zeetgeest? Or zitegeest or zeetgiste? Oh well, as long as I don't have to say it. I know how to write it. And I think I have a rough idea of how to use it.

It always seems to be like a compliment that people pay to writers. Especially writers who are new and hip and happening. I suppose it must be one of the biggest accolades that any up-and-coming writer could receive - that they've really captured the spirit of our times in their writing - they've really captured the zeitgeist.

It's a funny kind of thing. Who decides what the spirit of our times is in the first place? Who has the faintest idea what this zeitgeist thingy actually is? I know I don't. And I'm not even sure that I want to try.

I sometimes feel like I'm working a bit out of time. That my stories exist outside the era that I'm working in, beyond any particularly modern influences. I know that's not true. We're all influenced by the here and now, and the things that are happening around us. But I often feel like I'm in a bit of a bubble, protected from some of the dominant aspects of culture that seem to be a big deal for most other people.

Do I have a problem with that? Not at all. Maybe I'm never going to be acclaimed as the "it now" writer who is capturing the spirit of the times, but so what? Times change. Spirits change. It's easy to be left behind. I like to think I'm creating stories with more of a timeless nature. Hopefully, people will be able to come back to them years later and not find them dated or linked to a specific time.

So I'm off now to write another story which, I hope, will live on for a long time after me. As for capturing the zeitgeist? Well, I'm more than happy to leave that to somebody else.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Only for kids? I never can tell

I really enjoy writing stories for children.

It's great to write stories for an audience that is endlessly imaginative. An audience that is more than happy to suspend belief, and take in the most amazing and outlandish events. An audience that doesn't have that jaded, "read it all before" feeling that can be an issue for adult audiences.

I also love working with illustrators. It's an amazing feeling to see the characters and events in a book come to life before your eyes. Characters and events that I've often seen only vaguely inside my mind, now taking on a life of their own.

It's funny though, because when I first began writing, I never saw myself as a creator of children's tales. My main influences were more about humour, particularly via writers such as Douglas Adams and the Monty Python crew. Sure, some of their stuff could be seen as suitable for younger audiences, but a lot of it definitely isn't.

I certainly didn't begin with a conscious effort to write children's stories. My first stories were meant purely to be stories that I hoped would make people laugh. It was only during a short story writing class, some years after I'd first began writing, that I realised I might be good at producing stories for a younger audience, purely by accident.

I'd submitted a story about a king who didn't get any respect. Nobody listened to him and everyone else in the palace walked all over him. I liked the humour of the role reversal, where someone who should have been the centre of attention and reverence ended up getting none (though I have to admit that more than a bit of it was based on my own experiences). Of course, a story where the main character gets walked over all the time would be pretty boring after a while, so I made sure that my king found his own ways to enjoy himself.

I was quite amazed when I got feedback from the class. Everyone was saying what a wonderful children's story I'd written. I even got compared to A.A. Milne. People actually seemed quite touched by the story.

And here I was thinking I'd just written a funny story. I had no idea that it might be suitable as a children's story. But it did make me think. Maybe writing for children was something I could do.

Now some things have changed. I definitely think of myself as a writer of children's stories (amongst many other things). But other things are still the same. Ultimately, to me it's mainly about the story. Is it for kids? Is it for adults? I'm never completely sure.

I just want to write the best stories I can.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

New Awesome Indies anthology - Awesome Allshorts

Last week, I told you about the changes the Awesome Indies people have made to their website. This week I have some more exciting news from this group which is a great supporter of independent authors.

Today marks the official release day of the very first Awesome Indies short story anthology, titled Awesome Allshorts. 21 different writers have all contributed stories. And guess what. One of those writers is me.

21 different stories means lots of variety and lots of different voices, so surely there'll be something for everyone. And the best bit is, because these are independent authors, there are sure to be fun surprises beyond the tightly-defined genre boundaries of the legacy publishing world.

So once again, I'd like to offer a big thanks to Tahlia Newland and her team for the work in preparing this anthology, and also for considering that something written by little ole me was considered as suitable company for some of the other fine writers featured.

So (as a great Australian once said) do yourself a favour and check out the Awesome Allshorts. You can find information on where to buy an ecopy at the Awesome Indies website, and it will appear in paperback form shortly.

And even better. If you buy a copy today, the Awesome Indies have a special offer where you can pick up a free copy of an Awesome Indies certified novel. Check out all the details of the special offer here.

Hope you enjoy. I know I did.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Awesome Indies site relaunch and special sale

Today I'm pleased to announce some exciting news from my friends at the Awesome Indies website. After lots of hard work from Tahlia Newland and her team, they've now relaunched the site with an exciting new look and some great new features.

The new look site will be set up as a shop with purchase buttons linking to all the major ebook sales outlets as well as the Book Depository (free shipping worldwide) for those who like paperbacks. In addition, all Amazon and iTunes links will be global links that will automatically send customers to their local store – no more ending up in the wrong store. And those with reading devices that take epub files will find plenty of books for their devices on the new site. 

Books to suit all tastes will be easy to find by searching categories and tags. And books can be listed in more than one category, making it easy to see exactly what mix of genres you’ll find inside. Books will have their own product page with a great deal more information about them than on the old site, so you won’t have to leave the site to find the information you need to make your decision. Reduced books will appear on a sale page and in a featured spot on the front page, making the bargains easy to find, and a streamlined menu will make negotiating the site a lot easier. 

To mark the opening of the new site, the Awesome Indies are having a sale. Over 50 books priced at less than $3, many of which are rarely discounted, will be on sale for November 1st and 2nd. Plus a lucky winner can win a Kindle Paperwhite ereader. The giveaway closes at the end of the weekend, so make sure to visit Awesome Indies Books next weekend to see the new site, show your support and pick up a bargain.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

I suppose I'm a grappler

I owe the topic of this post to my good friend Trev.

We were catching up for a drink a few weeks ago. Or maybe it was a few months ago - you know how time can slip away from you, and let's face it I don't get out much.

Anyway, we were having a chat about the general state of the universe - as you do. Talking about the struggles some of us have trying to make sense of all the crazy things around us, while others just seem to roll along, not really caring one way or another. And he came up with what I thought was the most wonderful title.

He called me a grappler.

I know, it probably doesn't exactly roll of the tongue. But it did make me smile, and in a funny sort of way, it felt kind of appropriate.

I just can't help grappling with the world I find myself in. It doesn't make any sense to me, and I find that terribly frustrating. I'm constantly trying to grab the world in my own two hands, and wrestle with it until I can get it tied down.

Of course, I never succeed. It's just that sort of world that we live in. But I can never let myself stop, even though I know the whole thing is nothing more than a mug's game. Though it drives me close to insane at times, still I'll continue to grapple with the world. I reckon that when they lay me down in the ground, I'll be grappling away inside my coffin.

Did I say above that it drives me close to insane. I guess there's probably one reason why it hasn't sent me the whole way, and that is my writing.

If anything, writer is like my release valve. When the grappling gets particularly frustrating, and I feel that my sanity is in question, I can always gain some sort of inspiration to channel this frustration into a story. And when I think of the main characters in my stories, like Neville Lansdowne or Magnus Mandalora or Kriffle the Flidderbug, I suppose I could probably categorise them as grapplers too.

So, whether you're happy to go along with the world, no matter how strange it seems to be, or whether you can't stop grappling, just like me, I hope you manage to find some vaguely reasonable answers. As to me, well I suppose I'll just keep on grappling.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I can't remember anything that I remember

I reckon I have a pretty good memory.

My brain seems to be pretty good at storing information. Ok, maybe not always quite so good at retrieving that information again, but I can usually catch it in the end.

People are often amazed at the stuff I can remember. My family is often blown away by the way I can give blow by blow descriptions of event that happened so long ago everyone else has long since forgotten them. I have vivid recollections of family holidays, sporting events, and books that I read when I was a little kid.

Except, here's the thing. I was reading up on some information about the latest research on the way the brain works (it's an occupational hazard of my job) and I discovered something that is either very interesting or very disturbing.

When we remember something, it's not like we just pull that information from our brain and then put it back again when we're done, as if our brain is like an organic filing cabinet. It's actually quite a bit more complicated than that.

Apparently, every time we recall some information, that information has to be re-encoded back into our memory (as if we're re-remembering it for the first time). And that re-encoding can be a highly imprecise thing. It can be affected by all sorts of things, like how we're feeling at the time, or what else is happening to us.

Basic upshot is, each time something is recalled from memory and then returned, it can change, maybe subtly or maybe in quite large ways. So in the end, what we think we are remembering are actually things that maybe never even happened (at least not in the way we remembered it).

Which kind of pisses me off. To think that for all these years I was walking around thinking I remembered stuff so well when I probably didn't. All these things I could remember that everybody else had forgotten - chances are they never ever happened in the first place.

Oh well. At least when I write things down, I can have some sense that things happened the way I thought they did. Maybe that's why I decided to be a writer. Maybe that's the only way I can provide some sense of permanence of memory, while everything else turns to vapour.

There was a reason I decided to use this topic for my blog post this week. I wish I could remember what it was.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A tale of Latvian backpackers

I'm going to get a bit nostalgic today.

I'm thinking about one of my great inspirations as a writer, Douglas Adams.

I learnt so much from his books. About how words written on a page can induce serious laughter. About how smart humour can be, getting into the realms of serious satire. About how characters can leap off the page, and dialogue can dance and sparkle.

But beyond the pure fun and enjoyment that I got (and still get) from reading his work, and the ways I try to duplicate that in my own writing (while at the same time trying to come up with my own voice and style, rather than slavishly copying), there's one additional message that I long ago learnt from his writing and which I'm always trying to follow.

It actually comes from one of his lesser known books. It's a non-fiction work titled Last Chance to See which describes his journeys around the world in the company of a zoologist to find a number of endangered species.

At one stage on his travels, they encounter a couple of German backpackers. Douglas Adams becomes really frustrated at the fact that this pair exhibit all the characteristics you would expect of stereotypical German backpackers (e.g. ridiculous efficiency and a strong sense of superiority) and hates the idea that he might be writing anything that would reinforce such stereotypes.

And that's when he decides that he won't. From here on in, these backpackers won't be German, they'll be Latvian instead.

He keeps to his word. In the chapters that follow, there are lots of references to those Latvian backpackers, and their sense of Latvian efficiency and superiority. It's a great part of what is already a great book (and highly recommended).

What did I learn from this? It's the basic idea that writers should not be reinforcing stereotypes. We should always be finding new ways to see the world and the people within it. In my writing, whenever I feel like I'm resorting to some sort of cliche or fixed type, I always try to pull back and think about how I could inject some originality or find some new way to express my ideas, rather than resorting to hoary old stereotypes.

Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes, it's a little bit unavoidable. But it's always something I aspire to. And just another reason to give thanks to the great Douglas Adams.