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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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genrefiction

Interview: EJ Newman

EJ Newman

I was faffing about on the Twitter back in January when SF author Ken MacLeod retweeted a message about 20 Years Later, the debut novel from EJ Newman. I hadn’t come across her work previously, but a quick look at her website told me I had to get in touch to find out more, as her creative output puts mine to shame!  She found time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her debut novel (a mystery set in post-apocalyptic London), current projects (Split Worlds, which involves producing a new story every week for a year and a day) and supporting local bookshops.

“I’m often asked what it is about dystopian novels that grabs the YA reader’s imagination, and I always like to point out this is nothing new – every generation post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels have a surge in popularity. When I was growing up it was The Tripods and Empty World (that was the first post-apocalyptic novel I read) and there’s the perennial appeal of the books 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 for example. The only different today is that the “YA market” has been explicitly defined in a way it wasn’t the last time this sub-genre was popular.

That aside, the reason it keeps being popular is quite simple I think; dystopian fiction explores problems and threats that already exist all around us, but writ large. In most dystopian fiction the reader is given a hero who resists the system, who wants to fight despite how dangerous it is – thereby enabling us to live out our own fantasies vicariously. When I was a teen, I was constantly furious at adults who were simply ignoring terrible things going on in the world. In dystopian fiction, the heroes actually do something about it.

Continue reading “Interview: EJ Newman”

Should You Choose a Pseudonym?

Occasionally, the fact I sign my name as the fairly androgynous ‘Ali’ leads people to assume I am a man.  This belies the fact that however peppered with links to my online endeavours my email signature may be, most recipients of my missives can’t be arsed clicking them.

Continue reading “Should You Choose a Pseudonym?”

Opportunities for Writers

Now that I’ve written the bare bones of twelve books, every publisher and their granny have announced their intention to accept manuscript submissions from un-agented newbies.  Well, maybe not all of them.  But a few. 

image via http://www.spencergreengds.com

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August Thanks

Today is the last day of August and therefore it feels like time for a progress report.

I have just over 15,000 words of book 8 written in a delightful stream of consciousness that makes no sense whatsoever; a situation unlikely to be improved by the fact I have a full day of work ahead of me and guests staying in the flat for a few days who it would be churlish to ignore. 

I’ve been writing in first person from the point of view of several characters, and accidentally switching tenses all over the shop.  This will almost certainly make for a narrative that feels immediate and tense and worthy of all manner of high praise…  That or when I go back to it I’ll be so confused and irritated I’ll consign the whole lot to the recycle bin and try to forget it ever happened.  I considered posting an extract by way of example, but to give you a proper sense of the nonsense it’d need to be 1k +, which seems inappropriately long for a blog post.

I have mostly been writing on my laptop, which has been the case with the bulk of the project, although I did actually scribble quite a few notes by hand this month (how retro) and I also typed out a few sections on my phone in queues at the Book Festival.  To the untrained eye, I was the only loser who was playing on my phone instead of reading a book.  Little did the general public know that in a couple of years they’ll be picking up the very book I was writing on my phone from the festival book shop!  Muahahaha, etc.  Except they really won’t.  I can’t see book eight being my debut – not unless there is some kind of drastic book shortage that necessitates the publication of things that need so much re-writing it makes your eyes water. 

By way of research (it’s scifi this month, by the by) I have read half of The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross and the first chapter of Neuromancer by William Gibson.  Oh yes, I am that prolific a reader these days.  It turns out having a vast pile of recommended books did not translate into having time to look at them all – who saw that coming, after my amazing track record?!  The only book I’ve finished this month is The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein, which is a good story but doesn’t have much bearing on genre fiction.  Not this genre, anyway.

Naturally I am disinclined to take responsibility for my own actions and therefore lay the blame for this appalling lack of reading squarely at the feet of festival season.  To be fair the festival has been very distracting, although it has also been amazing in terms of making blog posts more diverse.  In fact I would like to thank Andrew BlairEmily Dodd, Ruth Dawkins, Harry Giles, Bethany Anderson and Mara from Toto Tales for their excellent guest posts; Amanda Palmer, Rod Jones and Andy Stanton for letting me interview them; and the Edinburgh International Book Festival for having me along to an amazing range of literary events over the past couple of weeks.  All of you have made things a lot more colourful around here, and generally helped to set a blogging precedent I am unlikely to maintain.

Which is nice.

Leith FM Interview

As promised, here is a link to my interview with Simon Fielding on Leith FM from last Friday.  It’s about 40 minutes long and is completely fascinating, so I urge you to make the time.  Unfortunately the last part (FAQs) is missing, but you’ll get the gist.

http://soundcloud.com/periwinklewine/leithfm

In other news, I’m still looking for stories from hacks, so if you want to help me out with book 6 leave a comment here or on facebook, or email ali.george85@yahoo.com.

#WIP: Chapter Three

It’s pretty rare that a human has the courage to face a monster as fearsome as a dragon.  Bearing that in mind, it’s almost unthinkable that a mere sheep might be brave enough to do it.  In actual fact, this was very probably the first time in the history of everything.  So naturally there had to be a meeting.

Continue reading “#WIP: Chapter Three”

Where Would You Want To Be Shelved?

My conversation with Edinburgh-based writer and tweeter Andrew Blair continues apace today, after a wee little break yesterday.  You may remember that in the last post I asked him what his view was of the BBC’s emphasis on Literary Fiction over all else for their World Book Day coverage, my own view being that it’s a little bit silly because it ignores a vast section of the reading population.

Andrew:

The documentary with Sue Perkins was a bit patronising.  It only really dealt with popular fiction aimed at women and even then managed to assume that this meant nothing more than Chick Lit.

It started with the assumption that Literary Fiction is objectively better, which is flawed. People do not read books based on objective critical analysis. Then an unsympathetic presenter tried not to ask people ‘But gosh, don’t you realise it makes you look thick?’

The next show featured a group of first-time authors of literary fiction and a brief history of the genre. It was amazingly dull, and represented a tiny fraction of the books that we sell. Ignoring genre-fiction for a second, I don’t think Non-Fiction even got a look in.

What’s more, quite a few of the new authors were writing books that were clearly science-fiction, fantasy or crime novels but had apparently managed to find publishers who would market them as literary fiction.

A general rule of thumb I’ve learned from working in a bookshop: if a new book is clearly genre fiction but is going to sell well, it will be moved as quickly as possible to the Fiction section so that everyone who has heard about it won’t have to mingle with the Martina Cole and Joe Abercrombie fans.

12 Books in 12 Months:

*Going into journo mode*

OK, so what’s in your Fiction section, if not genre fiction?  How does a major book retailer approach genres, and does this affect what publishers do?
And as an author of genre fiction, would you expect me and my readers to be looked down on by your litfic clientele?
Andrew:

Fiction is divided along the following lines in my store:

Crime, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Dark Fantasy, Romance, Erotica, Classics, Graphic Novels and Manga.

Everything else is under ‘Fiction’. This includes Historical Fiction (which includes Historical Romance if the author is popular enough to make it out from the Romance section), Literary Fiction, Chick-Lit, Modern Classics, Westerns, Popular Fiction, Thrillers and Comedies as well as stories that would happily fall under the smaller genre fiction banners.

So when I say ‘Genre Fiction’ I mean something that would fall outside of a Fiction section in most bookshops (other chains and indies usually shelve things along similar if not identical lines). In ‘Fiction’ you might find The Passage by Justin Cronin, or I am Number Four by James Frey (and some poor bastard he screwed over), and Ishiguro, Niffenegger or Atwood… People who have written Genre Fiction but managed to somehow avoid being shelved there.

The reasons for this, I assume, are to do with marketing and critical reception. Genre Fiction celebrates itself because all the works of Genre Fiction that have won major literary awards have been distanced from Sci-Fi or Fantasy or Crime by their authors. There is a perception of Genre Fiction as being niche, or popular within a certain audience. It cannot win, for it is both populist and niche simultaneously. So there is a stigma for Genre Fiction of being lowbrow and culty, as opposed to highbrow and selective. Then there is simply the fact that more people look at the Fiction Section than the Crime Section, so you want your book to get looked at more.

There are weird associations people have based on genre, shorthands and stereotypes that are propagated by a cyclical set of behaviours of authors and audience. If something is genre but popular, it gets assimilated as being representative. Hence all Dark Romance is brooding supernatural beings ploughing pale young whinos, and all fantasy is witches and wizards going on bloody long walks. Whereas you could quite easily say that The Time Traveller’s Wife sits comfortably in Dark Fantasy. Definitions are more fluid than the Genre Sections allow them to be.

Of course, there are simply books you like and books you don’t. But that’s more difficult to operate as a shelving system.

I mean, how would you deal with it? Would you rather your book be put in the Fiction section if it meant more sales? Do you think Fiction should just encompass all genres? And do you subscribe to the belief that there are just good and bad books, whether they be Literary Fiction or Crime Thrillers?

http://www.bookcountry.com
12 Books in 12 Months:

Before I started this project I didn’t particularly ascribe any of my story ideas to particular genres.  I tended to just write things and see how they came out.  And I think there are probably quite a few books out there where the lines between genres are a little bit blurred.
I suppose if it was up to me as a published author I’d want my books to be shelved in a way that would make people pick them up and have a look.  I’d like to be read by as wide an audience as possible.  But I know from my time working in a library that people do tend to stick to particular genres and indeed writers – if authors continue writing about the same character, so much the better.  It’s just occurred to me I maybe should have overlapped characters between the 12 books – that could have been quite good. Maybe when I get to second draft time!

Are there just good books and bad books?  What a very subjective question!  What you want to read depends on mood, where you are in life, and all kinds of other things. On holiday or in the bath you might want to read something light that you don’t have to think about, on a rainy weekend you might want something completely engrossing and escapist, if you’re miserable you might want something funny…

In addition, depending on your mood, age and whatever, slightly clunky writing can be forgiven when you’ve got a good story on the go, as with Magic Kingdom for Sale, Sold by Terry Brooks.  And well written prose can be really dull – I struggled to get to the end of Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, but there was nothing technically wrong with it and I’ve enjoyed articles written by her in the past, so I wouldn’t necessarily want to judge all her fiction on the back of the fact that one novel didn’t grab me.

What I hope to do is write engaging characters and storylines across all 12 genres, but I suspect that all 12 of my first drafts are more ‘fiction’ than genre fiction and will require a lot more research and tweaking to market them to fans of the particular genres.  And even then I suspect I’ll have got a few of them wrong…

Western Tropes

Obviously you can’t write a piece of genre fiction without researching the genre.

Well, technically you can, but chances are it won’t work.  Sometimes it doesn’t work even when you do research the genre, as with my first novel, which was supposed to be a Mills and Boon romance parody but became something very different – even though I read ‘The Millionaire’s Inexperienced Love Slave‘, one where an American tourist falls for a Greek Tycoon, something about a Rake, a deeply disturbing one in which a grieving widow falls in love with her dead husband’s long lost twin brother… the list goes on.  My one regret is that I never got around to the charmingly alliterative ‘Mediterranean Billionaire’s Blackmail Bargain‘.  I say regret, but that’s not what I mean.

Anyway, this week I’ve been researching the Western genre by reading short stories from a rather amazing website called Rope and Wire.  This is essentially a bunch of Western enthusiasts enthusing, and as such some of the stories are quite fun, whilst one or two are kind of terrible.  I enjoyed ‘Mexico George and the Cabin at Rio Del Poncho‘ in the same sort of way as I enjoyed the Owen/Gwen dialogue up against a tree in the ‘Countrycide‘ episode of Torchwood – slightly open mouthed in disbelief and going ‘really?  You thought that would work?’

As I go along I’ve been compiling a list of elements to consider including and updating for Book 3.  Here are some of them.

– Area used to be home to an industry such as mining (in my book could be steelworks, or some other factory) but is now very poor
– Injuns (maybe mine could literally be a person from India – possibly owner of a local business or something)
– Shaggy eyebrows (well, those are timeless)
– Whisky, straight up (ditto)
– A weatherbeaten complexion (he likes gardening…)
– A mysterious stranger to blame ill fortune on – who ends up saving the day (not sure how to use this yet)
– A trusty steed (scooter?)
– A nemesis (slightly older teenage lead of the gang)
– Guns (air guns?)
– Mention of the war (the one mentioned in Westerns is obviously the American Civil War between north and south – Victor’s would have to be one that happened in the 1950s or later – could potentially be a ‘war’ as in industrial action rather than armed combat?)
– A beautiful woman with a tragic past
– People in need of help (someone to stand up to the kids who are terrorizing the street)

Any more for any more?

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