Four things I learned from going to Milford by Al Robertson

Over the years, I’ve had a wonderful run of Milfords; I was lucky enough to read and critique some excellent stories, and to have my own stories deftly critiqued by a wide range of knowledgeable, thoughtful readers. I learned some very important things while doing that. Oh, and I’ve (mostly) illustrated this post with pictures taken in the countryside around the Trigonos Centre, where Milford talks place.

Pic 1

Company matters more than you’d think

I once took a week to go and write in Devon, in a house where I’d be completely alone in a quiet little village where I didn’t need to see anyone. I thought it would be an insanely productive week; instead, I just nearly went insane. Of course, everyone works differently – but I found out that, for me, if I’m going to be writing I also need to be not-writing. I need to be feeding the part of my mind that makes stories with all the stuff that goes into stories. If I don’t, everything grinds to a halt.

Milford is where I realised that. On the one hand, it can be a very solitary place. There’s beautiful empty countryside to go walking in, a quiet little village to wander through, an abandoned slate mind that’s like every Dr Who location ever rolled into one uncanny whole. You can be as alone as you want to be.

But on the other hand, there’s company. Wonderful, crazy, stimulating company, as people writing every sort of imaginative fiction you can possibly imagine collide and spark off each other. I’ve done some very useful imaginative work up at Trigonos, over the years – but only because of all the fantastic conversations that triggered it.

Crashing HeavenMultiple viewpoints rock

Over the years, I’ve had Milford stories critiqued by *deep breath* hard SF writers, space opera writers, planetary romancers, cyberpunks, occultists, urban fantasists, mythic fantasists, epic fantasists, cosmic horror writers, alternate historians, classic English ghost writers, magic realists, zen fabulists, Gothic romancers and so on. I’ve learned different things from every single one of them.

Every different writer in every different genre brings a slightly different understanding of what story is and Waking Hellhow it works to their critiquing. And so, you get a slightly different view of what you’ve written, what makes it work and where it falls down. Sometimes the differences are minor, sometimes they’re pretty major, but they all bring useful perceptions to bear.

That’s worked really well for both books, too. I took the opening chapters of ‘Crashing Heaven’ to Milford in 2010, and of ‘Waking Hell’ in 2014. The 2010 critique of CH gave me invaluable guidance as I polished it up ready to submit to agents – in fact, I was signed by Susan Armstrong of C+W shortly afterwards. And the 2014 one of WH helped sharpen its opening ready for publication the next year.

15289558010_4deb0dd72d_zThe chocolate of doom is actually your friend

There’s a very particular Milford tradition that it’s easy to dread. If someone really doesn’t get on with your story, then they’ll slide some chocolate across the table towards you, while uttering the dread incantation: ‘I AM NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE FOR THIS STORY.’ Then they’ll talk in some depth about why it really doesn’t work for them, and because they’re smart, critically engaged people, widely read in genre and well-practised in critiquing, they’ll usually do a pretty good job of it. This should be pretty depressing. Actually, I’ve always found it rather liberating.

It helped me understand that, on one level, there’s no such thing as a final reading of any story; and there’s certainly not any such thing as a fully successful story. Brilliant people, who I like, respect and admire hugely, have been left entirely cold by stuff I’ve written. And that’s great, that’s how it should be; it’s a very useful reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and you’d be a little unhinged even to try. Rather, you should tell the stories that excite you, then let them find their own place in the world.

3015727157_a08d73b228_z

Learning how to read is learning how to write

I’ve learned a lot from having my stories critiqued. But I’ve learned more from learning how to critique other people’s. Reading something entirely fresh, working out what you like about it and what you think isn’t quite working, then finding a way of expressing that in helpful, objective terms, is a profoundly useful exercise. It trains your inner critic, which trains your inner editor. And the more you train your inner editor, the more effectively it can go to work on your own writing.

So, in effect, whenever I’ve been close reading a story for Milford, and trying to come up with helpful ways of making it better, I’ve actually been doing something selfish too. I’ve been finding new ways to critique my own work, so I can make it that much better when I get stuck back into editing it.

So those are the things that I don’t think I’d have realised without Milford. It’s had a huge impact on my writing life. If you’ve already been there, I’m sure you’ve got your own thoughts to add to the list (why not drop them into the comments below?) – and if you haven’t, then hopefully that’s given you a sense of why it can be such a great way to spend a week.

web-square-20170315160947-EditAl Robertson is the author of Crashing Heaven and Waking Hell, as well as award-nominated SF, fantasy and horror short stories. He’s also a poet and occasional musician. When he’s not working on his own projects, he helps companies communicate more clearly. He was born in London, brought up in France and is now based in Brighton.

You can find out more at his website http://www.allumination.co.uk. He’s also on Twitter as @al_robertson and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/alrobertsonwrites.

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Robert Louis Stevenson by Ben Jeapes

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_Knox_SeriesI read a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson by Claire Harman. Hmm. Interesting man, interesting life.

It’s also interesting to compare the life of a writer then and now – the similarities and the differences. The similarities: you can work for 10 or 20 years to be an overnight success. Stevenson was made famous by Treasure Island, and then went stellar with Jekyll & Hyde, but he had been writing for over 10 years when Treasure Island was written for serialisation in a magazine, earning a decent wage for a while but not creating much of a splash. It then sat in a drawer for two years until a friend had the idea of pushing it as a book to a publisher. Yup, I can sympathise with that.

The differences: the fact that Jekyll & Hyde could sell 40,000 copies in the UK, which Stevenson knew about, and 250,000 in the US (some legal, some pirated) which he didn’t. Copyright and IP wasn’t quite as vigorous then as now. And the whole publishing world was so much smaller. You get the feeling that it was like science fiction used to be in, say, the 50s – small enough that, in principle, you could read everything that was written.

Treasure IslandAnother difference, though: any successful author that I know today is organised, plans their plots, pays their tax and national insurance on time, and above all is disciplined in the writing. Stevenson was certainly a disciplined writer, but as for everything else he was vague, woolly minded, useless with money, constantly overflowing with noble dreams and projects which withered on the vine before he had got the first paragraph down. But for a few lucky breaks and an undeniable talent once he actually got writing, he would have been forgotten as yet another wealthy dilettante. This is probably why I would want to slap him if I had ever met him – except that I wouldn’t, because I’m nice and because one good blow would probably have killed him.

I frankly find it amazing that heroes such as Jim Hawkins and David Balfour – steadfast, brave, reliable, exemplary role models of integrity – could be created by someone like Robert Louis Stevenson, who wasn’t any of the above. It shows he was at least aware of the desirability of these virtues. Stevenson was the only son of a successful Scottish engineer, who was the wealthy head of a family firm that specialised in building lighthouses. His general uselessness at related subjects like maths made it clear to everyone, even eventually his reluctant father, that he wouldn’t be following the family trade, so instead he trained as a lawyer, in which after qualifying as an advocate he handled precisely one case, which didn’t even require him to speak and yet he still managed to bungle. The only interest he ever had was in being as writer and that was what he stuck at, living off his parents until eventually he got lucky.

Note that I do not criticise him for being useless at maths and physics, or not being a good lawyer, or even not following in his father’s trade. I do however get immensely fed up with the sense of entitlement shared by Stevenson and far too many wannabe writers that because they are clearly meant to be a writer, the world owes them a favour until such time as the fame kicks in. Like ‘eck it does. Get a job, you sponger. There is a poetic justice in that just as he got rich, he started having to support his own generation of parasites – mad wife, lazy stepson, not much less lazy stepdaughter and alcoholic stepson-in-law. Still, at his death he was probably the best known and best selling writer in the world, and to many was considered the best writer, period. That’s quite a hat trick.

To be fair, one thing against his ever settling down and earning a living – had he been so inclined – was that he had to travel constantly to stay alive. He was never well; in fact it’s astonishing that he made it through childhood, where received wisdom was to make a child’s room as hermetically airless as possible, and his mad Scottish nurse filled his head with Wee Free guilt and terrors, and then when this already highly strung child couldn’t sleep would dose him with strong coffee.

By the time he reached adulthood the cold and damp of Edinburgh was killing him. A pattern for over thirty years was that he would leave for a dryer climate, get better, return to Edinburgh and have a relapse. He was only ever really healthy when he settled in the South Pacific in the last ten years of his life, and that is when his life really gets interesting. I find it fascinating that he lived at a time when the world was mostly at peace and a well-off Victorian gentleman could go pretty well anywhere he liked. It is also amazing that in the 1880s and 90s there was already enough of a global communications network that a man could settle in Samoa and conduct a successful literary life, living off the earnings he was making in Europe and America. However, it was a one-way process as he lagged a long way behind what other writers were doing. It meant he was writing into a vacuum and it probably wouldn’t have worked at all if he didn’t have a loyal contingent of friends back home seeing that his stuff got into print. He could fire off manuscripts of all shapes and sizes and subjects with a reasonable expectation that they would still get into print regardless. (Another difference with today’s writers …) Inevitably he became more and more isolated from the contemporary writing scene and it is interesting to speculate whether he could have stayed quite so successful without suddenly dying at the age of 44 and making the matter academic. By the time he was my age, he had been dead for two years.

Weir of HermistonI must read Weir of Hermiston, which apparently ends mid-sentence because that’s where he put his pen down to take a break on the day he died.

The character I find most admirable in his story is his mother, Margaret. After her husband died when she was in her late fifties, this respectable Edinburgh widow decided to take an extended holiday with her son and his family across the US and then on a yachting cruise around the Pacific. In fact, she liked it so much that she then decided to move fulltime to Samoa. With her piano. Still a respectable widow throughout, photographs show her dressed and looking a bit like Queen Victoria, complete with starched widow’s cap. Go girl!

 

bjeapes01Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least. www.benjeapes.com

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Reading “Winter’s King” by Nancy Jane Moore

An earlier version of this post appeared on the Book View Cafe blog

Winters KingThe Library of America, a nonprofit that champions what it considers to be great U.S. literature, has published a two-volume edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Novels & Stories.  The edition, which includes everything she has written tied to the Hainish universe, is available on Amazon UK.

I have read most of these works, but some I got from the library and others are tattered mass-market paperbacks (I’m a reader, not a collector). I knew I wanted to have all of them at hand for reference and re-reading, so I got a copy when I first heard about it.

Being one who likes to start from the beginning, I read Ursula’s introduction to Volume I, and immediately came to her discussion of The Left Hand of Darkness and the short story, “Winter’s King,” which is set in the same world.

She writes that some feminists criticized the novel because she used male pronouns for her characters, who are, of course, not male or female. So, when she published the short story in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, she decided to make a small change:

“It occurred to me that I might make some amends for all the hes in Left Hand by using shes in a revised version of “Winter’s King.”

She goes on to observe:
“Yet if anybody noticed, nothing was said. Nobody got angry and nobody sighed, “Ah, now that’s better.” The experiment seemed to have no result at all. I still find it odd.”

I noticed.

My noticing didn’t make any difference in the SF lit crit world, because I read both The Left Hand of Darkness and “Winter’s King” in the late 70s and early 80s – some years after they both came out. And I wasn’t doing any critical writing about what I read at the time – I was just reading.

While I liked The Left Hand of Darkness very much, it did not affect me in a feminist way. I noted that the characters were neither (or both) male or female, which I found interesting, but I was mostly captivated by the story and the clash of cultures. It did not affect me nearly as much as The Dispossessed, which nailed my experiences in co-ops and leftist politics, and made me think hard about the way things could be.

But the use of male honorifics (“king” “Mr.”) and female pronouns in “Winter’s King” stunned me. It was in reading that story that I truly realized the Gethenians were not men who happened to be able to reproduce, but something very different. The default view of them could as easily be female as male, and a more sophisticated reading made it clear that neither binary was an appropriate short-cut.

That’s a lot of power from changing a few pronouns.

Ursula goes on to say:
I wish I could write a third version that truly represents the character’s lack of gender.

I’d like to see that, too, but I agree with her that the English language is still deficient in ungendered pronouns. Singular “they” works in some contexts, but it can cause confusion and may require info dumps in some stories. I find “they” works well in essays in place of the more cumbersome “he or she,” especially since it leaves open the possibility of “neither he nor she.” It’s also the pronoun of choice for some folks, and I find that effective.

But what I’d really like to see are gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics that can be used for anyone, regardless of their gender, and regardless of whether we’re dealing with specific people or talking generally. That way we wouldn’t need to pay attention to gender when it isn’t relevant, which is most of the time.

I have done my own experiments with such things. I wrote “Walking Contradiction,” my story about ambigender people, in first person and avoided pronouns in speaking of any ambigendered characters. The story runs some 13,000 words, and it took time and the modern advantage of search and replace to do it. (It’s in my collection of the same name.)

In The Weave,  I used “it” for my aliens when I was in their point of view. I wasn’t completely happy with that choice, but it seemed like the best fit. My humans were making guesses about alien gender for a good section of the book, so I had them use “he” and “she” until they discovered they had made a bad call. Perhaps if my humans had started out with a good gender-neutral term they wouldn’t have made that mistake.

I’m still hoping we’ll eventually get good all purpose gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics. Widespread acceptance of singular “they” is a start, and “Mx” may work on formal letters, but we can do better.

Given my reaction to “Winter’s King,” I’m sure changing gender terms is going to change how people think and respond to each other. A good thing.

By the way, The Hainish Novels and Stories is the second Le Guin project from the Library of America. They have also done The Complete Orsinia. Noted science fiction scholar Brian Attebery is the editor for the LOA Le Guin series.

 

nan300Nancy Jane Moore is the author of the science fiction novel The Weave, published by Aqueduct Press. Her other books include Conscientious Inconsistencies from PS Publishing, Changeling from Aqueduct, and Walking Contradiction and Other Futures from Book View Café. She is a founding member of Book View Café. In 2002 she made it to Milford and she’s been trying to get back ever since. A native Texan who spent many years in Washington, D.C., she now lives in Oakland, California.

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Introducing Scrivener for Novel Writers by Jacey Bedford

I love Scrivener with a deep love. Karen Traviss recommended it when I got my first three book deal back in 2013, and I thought I’d give it a try – after all there was a thirty day free trial and – hell – it’s cheap enough to take a chance on.

ScrivenerOn opening it up you’ll find three columns. The wide middle column is your actual word processor. The left hand (narrower) column is the binder where you can see each chapter and scene, plus research notes, character notes (or anything else you need for quick reference). The right hand column is the ‘inspector’ column which you can either have visible or hidden. Here you can have your scene by scene synopsis on the virtual 5 x 3 index card and/or you can enter General Meta-data and (below it) notes.

Untitled-6I pasted my novel into the word processor to give it a try, and proceeded to split it down into scenes. This was Empire of Dust (DAW, 2014). I’ve written every subsequent novel in Scrivener and wouldn’t be without it, now. I’d say you need to allow a couple of days to explore it and get to know its features before it starts to feel like an old friend.

Examining the full manuscript of Empire on a scene by scene basis – and being able to see all the scenes laid out in the binder (left hand column) was a revelation. Empire is a multiple viewpoint novel – each VP in tight third person. So in Scrivener I allocated colours to VP characters (in the general Meta-Data box) and could instantly see where I’d clumped too much from one individual too close together, or had too long a gap between a particular VP character’s scenes.

Editing to move scenes around in the narrative is easy – just drag and drop in the binder. And you don’t break things if you get it wrong because it’s easy to reverse any decision. There’s also a cork board which enables you to view your scenes as individual record cards (and move them at will). It’s great for plotting as well as editing.

You can split your screen if you want to edit two scenes side by side.

Scrivener 2

The other brilliant feature of Scrivener is that by selecting specific scenes you can view all of one person’s VP scenes as a continuous narrative, so you can see whether the story is logical from one character’s point of view. I have one secondary character whose VP is important, but limited, and I realised that I’d not given him a very good character arc because some of the things that drove his segment of the plot were happening off the page. Adding in very short scenes that were pivotal for him gave him a complete arc and added less than 1000 words to the total word count.

Similarly I had chosen to limit the viewpoint scenes from my three antagonists. (Sigh… yes a story with three villains… I know… but I think it works and only one of them is pure eeeevil.) When I viewed each of their arcs as a continuous narrative, I could see there were gaps that shouldn’t be there. I was trying to be mysterious, but I’d actually reduced the tension because my readers didn’t know there was a great plot bunny emerging from its bunny-hole unbeknownst to my main protagonists.

So I was able to swap scenes around, try them out, and return them to their original place or try them somewhere else. I’d never have been able to keep track of all that if I’d been cutting and pasting via a straightforward word processor.

Is Scrivener easy? Yes and no. The word processor section – the middle column – is pretty much like any other word processor you are likely to have used, but you need to make time to understand Scrivener’s other two columns. The binder column (left hand side) is my favourite resource. I write in scenes at the first draft stage (breaking it up into chapters later) so each named scene is listed in the binder, but you can also keep your character sketches and research notes there, too (including illustrations and photos). I’ve used it for my trilogies. When I start the second or third book, I simply duplicate the previous book into a new Scrivener file in a new folder, rename it as the new book, and remove the text from the previous book. It leaves me with the characters, locations and essential research in a binder ready for writing the next instalment.

HewsonScrivener’s own helpfiles are pretty good, but they cover a wealth of features (say, for academic writing) that, as a fiction author, you probably won’t need. My recommendation is that to get to grips with Scrivener for authors you need to read David Hewson’s book, “Writing a Novel with Scrivener,” available from the megacorp named after a South American river for a mere £4.48. It shows you the features you’re most likely to need in detail while ignoring the features less useful for fiction writing.

You can get a Scrivener free trial which I thought was for a month but turned out to be thirty days of use – and they didn’t need to be consecutive days, either, which is very generous and gives you plenty of time to see if you really like it.

 

jacey-novacon-2012-300pxsquJacey Bedford is the secretary of Milford and editor of this blog, to which she sometimes contributes. Her own blog is at https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels (mostly) with a few short stories. She’s British, but is published by DAW in the USA. Her science fiction trilogy – the Psi-Tech trilogy – is now complete (Empire of Dust, Crossways and Nimbus) and two books are available in the Rowankind historical fantasy trilogy (Winterwood and Silverwolf) with the third (Rowankind) due in November 2018. Find out more at Jacey’s own website. You can also follow her on Facebook an she tweets @jaceybedford

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Write the first line last? by Sue Thomason

1984Openings are important. You have to put something on Page One that ensures the reader will stay with you onto Page Two and beyond, right? This is the Tweet Age. Boredom sets in quickly. So you need a killer first line: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Which, up until the last word, is the unremarkable opening of a mainstream mimetic novel. And that last word, “thirteen”, does three pieces of work. It tells us we’re not in Kansas (or indeed England) any more, it tells us that the setting is one step beyond the known and familiar (for the clocks striking twelve would not be a remarkable thing), and it tells us that All Will End Badly – unlucky thirteen, and all that. So as killer first lines go, this one is nuclear.

But there are alternatives. Such as: start quiet. “There was a wall. It did not look important.” Midway through the first paragraph, the wall degenerates into “an idea of boundary”. And the paragraph finishes “For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.” So we know that this is a novel of ideas, and that the primary idea is separation, maybe implying the possibility of rejoining.

And here we get to one of the principal problems of The Opening: to write an effective opening, you have to know what it’s opening into. So perhaps it’s worth taking Colin Greenland’s advice: “Never promise what you’re not going to deliver. When you’ve found out what it is you’re actually delivering, go right back and start entering, from as early as possible, those tiny, sneaky little promises to deliver it.”

Red marsSo if your trilogy starts “Mars was empty before we came.” you know the trilogy starts with us coming to Mars, and will go on to show us the consequences of our act. And this unremarkable sentence is another triple-duty over-achiever, because it not only tells us what the story’s going to be about (Mars), it’s also part of a speech (or speech template) given by a major character, so it’s doing character-building for him and laying out one major philosophical strand of the book’s underpinnings, and also, by using the inclusive “we”, it’s building an instant community of Mars enthusiasts that we, the readers, are part of. We did that. We went to Mars. In our heads (so maybe there’s no need to go there irl?). This first line tells us that the story has already happened, so it’s almost a last line, too. The end of empty Mars, the end of the silence before the story.

And then there are the books that ease you in so gently that it’s hard to know where the beginning of the story is. How about a book whose first sentence states, in a dry, academic, “factual” prose style, “The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.”? This is followed by the title page, and then by a poem (on an unnumbered page I later deduce is Page One), then there’s another quasi-academic piece on the “Archaeology of the Future”, and then a story kind of narrative starts on page 7. And yes, the Northern Californians of this book will have given poems and stories and academic discourse equal weight, and will have seen them as the same kind of thing, parts of a whole.

Or what about a book that starts with a dictionary entry, then the contents page, then a Note to the Reader written in the didactic imperative (“know that the scene in which this book is set is not Earth”), and containing a 3-page, 7 000-year chronology which finishes at the point where the story starts. Which tells you, before you have met them, that the people who live here are nit-pickingly accurate, that they will define their terms, and that they are scholars speaking a language that’s good for talking about science and philosophy, but less good for sloppy stuff like emotions.

So what I need, as a reader, is not a killer first line. What I need, fairly soon but not necessarily immediately after starting to read, is something that engages me. I need a fascinating place to explore, or an interesting problem to solve, or to meet someone I want to spend more mental time with and get to know better, or to be drawn into a situation that I need to know the outcome of. I need a marshmallow now, not 2 marshmallows on page 77. And I need to trust you, that you know where you’re going, that you’ll take me somewhere interesting. So maybe write the first line last?

Openings quoted:

  1. George Orwell, 1984
  2. Ursula le Guin, THE DISPOSSESSED
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson, RED MARS
  4. Ursula le Guin, ALWAYS COMING HOME
  5. Neal Stephenson: ANATHEM

 

Sue ThomasonSue Thomason
I currently live in rural North Yorkshire, near the sea, with an ex-GP and up to 5 cats. Varied involvement with written SF has included a handful of published short stories, reviewing for both VECTOR and FOUNDATION, co-editing an anthology of locally-based SF/F stories, and being Chair of Milford.  I write fiction mostly for my own entertainment and to find out what happens (often this surprises me). My other interests include outdoor pursuits, gardening, classical/early/folk music, and collecting interesting or unusual paper clips.

 

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Research for Genre Fiction: by Sandra Unerman

If you write fantasy or science fiction, what kind of research do you need to do and why?

I write historical fantasy, where the story is set in the cracks between what we know of the past. Some of my themes concern the differences between life then and now. At a pragmatic level, the more historical details I can get right, the more thoroughly readers are likely to enter into my story. People who write fantasy set in alternative versions of the past or the present (as in urban fantasy) likewise will use research to explore core themes and to build up the plausibility of their settings. Science Fiction authors want their science to be accurate for similar reasons, except for the devices they’ve invented for the purposes of the story. They also need plausibility for the rest of the setting and for that, they will draw on research into the past or the present, for everything from the organisation of society to practical details about the material used to make clothes.

Different writers have different research methods, as became clear in a panel I moderated at FantasyCon this year. My novel, Spellhaven (Mirror World Publishing, 2017) is set partly on an island city ruled by magicians and partly in England before and after the First World War. Most of the historical detail did not come from a specific programme of research but from books I’d read out of general interest. In fact, the story grew out of a fascination with aspects of life in Europe, before the War changed so much. I’d been reading about Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, about Henry Irving, Bernard Shaw and the history of the theatre more generally. I wanted somehow to evoke the energy and excitement of those times, which is why my island city is full of unseen and powerful spirits, who must be entertained by all kinds of live shows.

Spellhaven postcard

Other writers on the FantasyCon Panel recommended working from primary sources, especially diaries and letters. Such sources can give a deeper insight into the mindset of the people who wrote them, as well as supplying the kind of quirky detail historians seldom mention. Some researchers attend historical re-enactments, to find out, for example, just how hot and uncomfortable medieval armour can be.

Then there’s the internet. Wikipedia is a good starting point for information on specific facts, though worth checking with other sources. The internet is also a portal, these days, to all sorts of online material. My next novel, Ghosts and Exiles, due out in 2018, is set in London in the 1930s. For that, I did some browsing in the Times Archive online, which I was able to access free through my local public library membership. I didn’t pick out any specific details but the newspaper reports helped me with the general atmosphere of the period. Online research doesn’t comes naturally to me, however, and tends to be a limited add-on. For immersion in any subject, I turn to books, in hard copy for preference. Other people, especially those who have grown up with the internet, may work differently and rely more on online resources.

The main impression I took away from the FantasyCon Panel, from audience contributions as well as the other Panel members, was that people enjoyed research for its own sake, not just as a chore for what they could get out of it. Deciding when to stop may be more difficult as a result but writers have to fight that battle all the time, in order to produce any kind of end result.

 

sandra-unermanSandra Unerman is a retired Government lawyer, who lives in London. She has attended Milford several times and has an MA in Creative Writing (SF and Fantasy) from Middlesex University. Her novel, Spellhaven was published this year by Mirror World and her most recent short stories are in Aurora Wolf online for September and the anthology Fall into Fantasy, Cloaked Press, 2017. She is a member of Clockhouse London Writers.

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NaNoWriMo and the Published Writer

A bunch of published writers undertook NaNoWriMo in November 2017. In some cases they were starting a project from scratch, in other cases pacing alongside NaNo to add 50k words to an ongoing project. Some completed 50k words in November, some didn’t – for various good reasons. Here are snippets from ongoing comments throughout the month of November.

NaNoWriMo used to be aimed at the beginning novelist. By writing less than 1700 words a day it’s possible to have fifty thousand words in the bag in one month. For someone who’s never managed to complete a novel, that’s an amazing achievement. For those who have finished novels (and had them published) then pacing their writing alongside NaNoWriMo gives an incentive to get words down on paper, or pixels on a screen.

1st November 2017
Jacey Bedford: I’ve done NaNo several times since 2008 (before I sold my first novel) but since I got my publishing deals (first one in 2013) I’ve used NaNo to my advantage, spurring me on to add words words words to my work in progress.

1st November 2017
Liz Williams: I’m pacing alongside as far as possible. I don’t want to sign up officially as I’m waiting to hear if a writing assignment is coming down the pike and if it does, this will need to take priority over the novel. I’m about halfway through with the latter and would like to use November as an excuse to get the bulk of it done.

1st November 2017
Dolly Garland: Honestly, I had no plans to do NaNoWriMo earlier this year. Until September, I hadn’t thought about it After all, my life is so crazy busy right now that even considering it was silly. But then in September I went to Milford Writers Conference and got this huge injection of writing mojo. That was a really good thing because I really needed that injection. After that, writing momentum has been going in full force, and I am really keen to make some solid progress on my novel. So enter NaNoWriMo.

At first I thought I would just do it without joining in officially. I figured I will do about 30,000 words and even that will be solid progress. But one thing led to another, and I ended up officially signing up to NaNo, and so of course now I have to try to do the whole 50,000.

The madness has begun.

I know I have some very busy days coming up when I will be lucky if I manage to do 500 words a day, so I wanted to get off to a really good start. On the first day, I’ve managed to 5485 words, which was way better than I was expecting. So the first day of NaNoWriMo2017 has been a success. And hopefully, I will hit that 50,000 mark.

3rd November
Jim Anderson: The Beast (my new nickname for the novel idea) had been hanging around for far far too long, as most people who know me will know. Too many people have seen bits and pieces, some now rewritten so many times as to be unrecognizable. And so I’m NaNo-ing this year to push through the weight of time and procrastination and make some serious progress. And dare we hope against hope for a zeroeth draft by December?

3rd November
Jacey Bedford: I got off to a great start on Wednesday, but I didn’t write much yesterday because life (in the shape of my day job) got in the way. I work from home, which is both a blessing and a curse. I love a job you can do in your jammys, but people do tend to call me out of hours. Because of that my hours tend to be 24/7. Compartmentalising the day job and my writing is the hard part. So I got up early this morning and managed a couple of hours at the keyboard before the phone started ringing. Ah… that’s better.

3rd November
Nancy Jane Moore: I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I am doing NaNoReWriMo. That is, I’m going to use the month of November to revise the novel I wrote a rough first draft of earlier this year (much of it during the Clarion West Write-a-Thon). My goal will be to devote a minimum of an hour per day on revisions. It will be interesting to see if this is an effective way to revise and rewrite.

6th November
Jacey Bedford: Good job I got ahead because my expected visitor arrived today, coinciding with an urgent day-job thing, so I managed barely a hundred words, but I’m still at over 15,000 words, so ahead of the curve. And I know that next week I have to attend a council meeting that will probably last for two days. No I’m not on the council, I’m protesting against plans to designate part of our village for quarrying. NIMBY? You betcha.

14th November
Jacey Bedford: I got back on track last weekend and managed to top 20,000 by Sunday evening, now it’s almost the halfway point and I’ve just topped 28,000 words. Are they good words? I don’t know. Time (and revision) will tell. With any luck I’m on track to do 60,000 words by the end of the month. Then the hard part is keeping it up. I need to keep going at an average of 2,000 words a day through December, too, to finish the first draft of Rowankind by the New Year. I want to have time to do a structural edit before I turn it in to my editor at the end of February. I need to do WriLitDeiDe, Write Like the Devil in December.

15th November
Suyi Davies Okungbowa Had to drop out. Exam date got moved backward, and suddenly I was struggling to study and write at the same time–one had to go. Will make amends sometime in Jan-March 2018, though.

15th November
Kari Sperring: I’m just over half way.

17th November
Steph Bianchini Only at 20,596, but next week I’m commuting more than 25 hours overall… I expect a huge jump in my word count.

24th November
Liz Williams: I’ve done 2 short stories this month, which is about as much as I could have accomplished. They’re stories for subscribers, but they have a destination. I’ve been going through runs of writing short fiction (May and September this year) so I’ve done 23 so far, and am planning another couple before the end of the year. It’s working out at about 2 per month.

25th November
Dolly Garland: My first half of the month was writing one novel – which I did 22849 words on. Second half of the month so far has been editing another novel, and brainstorming the novel I wrote words on in the first half, cause I gotta find some answers.

26th November
Jacey Bedford: I just passed the 45,000 mark with five days to go. I’m racing for the finish, but knowing that I’ll have to keep going. It’s like getting to the end of the Grand National and then having to go round again! When I look at my wordcounts, I’ve had some terrific days and some really slow days, but at least I’ve written something every day – even if it was only 60 words (7th November) or 179 words (23rd November). Some days I’ve done 4,000 plus words and I’ve had a lot of steady 2,000 – 2,500 days, which makes up for the ten days when I’ve not reached 1000.

30th November
Jacey Bedford: I verified my NaNo word count at something just over 51,000 a couple of hours before NaNo closed, and then kept writing, so at close of play on 30th November, I has 53,056 words.

3rd December
Jim Anderson: And it all started so well.  I’d set myself a reasonable goal, given other things going on, of 30 000 words for the month, so 1000 a day, and I was keeping up with that until the middle of the month. At that point, work got complicated in a way that absorbed not only time and energy but head space as well. (Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you the whole sad tale.) But I did get just under 15 000 words written, and as things calm down, I’ll get back to grips with the Beast. Overall, I found the experience to be interesting and stimulating and I’ll definitely give it a go again.

3rd December
Jacey Bedford: There’s a new ‘goal tracker’ feature on the NaNo website (under the drop down list on ‘My NaNoWriMo’ on your dashboard if you want to give it a go) so I’ve entered a new goal of 120,000 words by 10th January which should see my first draft of Rowankind finished. As of midnight on 2nd December I had 57,145 words. Can’t stop just because NaNo is over for another year. I reckon if I can do 2,000 words a day (and plan to take 5 days off at Christmas because we have family coming to stay) that I should just about hit that mark. It gives me 5,000 words leeway for those off days that we all have, but some days I’ll do more than 2000 words. Yesterday I did 2246 words, and today (Sunday) I’m planning on at least 3000.

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