2015-2016 Views and News

Standard

It’s late in the month but it’s still January so I’ll attempt one of these review/ preview things.

Reading

Through my fortnightly book group and some other recommendations, I read about 25 books or graphic novels. Highlights for me were:

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. As expected from the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin this was a deeply uncomfortable but thought-provoking read which raised all questions about relationships with food, diets, family and judging others. It generated one of the best book group discussions because there was just so much to talk about.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A beautifully quiet take on the post-apocolyptic. There was something quite folklorey about it and it reminded me of  Russell Hobban’s Riddley Walker.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It reminded me of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper booked that filled my childhood and I gobbled it all up in one train ride to London.

Fables by Bill Willingham. Having fallen in love with the TellTale choose your own adventure style computer games, my friend lent my the first few volumes of Fables and I was immediately hooked. Brilliantly realistic modern humans drawn from their fairytale tropes it had me laughing and crying in equal amounts. I have always wanted to get into graphic novels more but found the never-ending DC/Marvel sagas very daunting. I know I’m very late to the Fables game but it feels like a breakthrough to me. Having read Alan Moore’s excellent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Watchmen I was really looking for something similar for a long while now.

Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I was hooked from the first page. A modern love story with real life witticism and the diversity of alien characters and landscapes to rival Star Wars.

I’ve also been reading too many short stories to remember but standouts include Alyssa Wong’s ‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’ and JY Yang’s ‘A House of Anxious Spiders’.

In case you are wondering what my tastes in books normally are, my favourite authors are currently Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell. I grew up on a healthy dose of Pern, Valdemar, Krynn and Shannara. I wrote fan mail to Richard Adams and Robin Hobb. I will happily read what is considered literature, mainstream or SFF and like it best when I have a pick and mix of them all.

On my to read list are Ann Leckie’s books, Zen Cho’s debut novel that everyone is abuzz about and about a dozen others.

On Screen

2015 will be remembered for bringing equality to the cinema if not the toy industry with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other memorable highlights for me were Ex Machina, Inside Out and the Martian. On the small screen I enjoyed The Walking Dead (behind a cushion), RWBY for my anime kicks without the pants shots and  Game of Thrones. Obviously. We have so far resisted the call of Netflix because as much I want to watch all the superhero spin-off TV series, I also do not need more procrastination excuses. Although we might just get it for Jessica Jones.

Writing

Last year I did more writing than I had done in several years thanks to finding a great writing group since moving to Manchester. Speaking of which, these guys have managed to put out their first anthology called ‘Revolutions’ filled with Manchester-based short stories. This is great timing as Eastercon will be in Manchester this year and I’m going for the first time!

I managed to get two short stories accepted for publications last year, both due for release this spring. Fox Spirit are publishing a Winter Tales anthology in February featuring my story ‘Yukizuki’. Fox Spirit won the British Fantasy Award for best independent press in 2015 and they publish some lovely anthology and books.

Also being published is my short story ‘Spirit of Regret’ in Insignia‘s SE Asian SFF antho this spring. A few of my other stories are still under consideration so fingers and toes crossed! In November I also completed my first every NanoWriMo. I have the first 50,000 words of a novel that I’m very pleased with so far. I had absolutely no plan to do this until the last week of October when I was persuaded by a friend and it was through sheer caffeine, panic and a very supportive husband that I managed to make the word count and the month. It’s in bad shape and I haven’t touched it since but I have about 70% of a storyline down and I love my characters.

And a late edition to the round-up, another short story of mine ‘The Water Museum’ was accepted for publication by Holdfast for their #8 issue on Love, Sex and Romance! More details to follow.

All in all, a great 2015 and start to 2016! Hopefully will have lots of news and updates as the rest of the year unfolds.

NaNoWriMo

Standard

This month I’m attempting my first NaNoWriMo. It’s 7 days in and I’ve written 11800 words so far.

Even at this early stage I can say it’s been the best boost to my writing.  I’ve previously been daunted by NaNoWriMo. It’s insane.  It’s unrealistic.  I have a day job.  I have a social life.

Then two weeks ago,  a fellow member of the Manchester Spec Fic Writing Group just said something that convinced me.  It’s not about making the perfect novel in a month.  It’s about writing writing writing and ignoring the inner editor for the month.  The discipline of sitting down and writing  1667 words every night.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I realised fantasy novels ended and there was no way for me to permanently live in them.  I wrote an unwieldy first novel between the ages of 16-21. Then I abandoned all that for short stories.

The funny thing is that except Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl, I didn’t have a lot of experience with short stories.  They are a difficult and underappreciated fiction form in many ways to concisely provide a storyline, character and setting in about 4000 words. I’ve grown to really appreciate short stories as I’ve read more to improve my writing.  Odd gems and ideas that can be quickly absorbed over breakfast or on a bus ride.

But when was I going to wrote the novel?

I always had excuses.  I was doing a postgrad degree.  I was planning a wedding.  But really I was just afraid. I had an image of the novel as something sacred that would just magically come out in final draft form.

Nanowrimo has helped me get over that barrier. My husband reminds me every day of the goal I set and I drag myself over to the computer.  Even if I don’t finish,  this is the longest continuous piece of work I’ve written since that early and painfully bad first novel.

And that can only be a win.  I hope everyone who is attempting NaNoWriMo finds it as useful and successful as I have so far!

Spirit of Regret acceptance

Standard

My Vietnamese fantasy story “Spirit of Regret” has been accepted for publication in Insignia’s South-East Asian Fantasy Stories. I wrote it after living and working in Vietnam. In the cities, the young couples would sit in yoghurt shops and cafes reading manga and barely talking to each other and it inspired this story. There are also more motorbikes than people in Ho Chi Minh city. I found Vietnam to be a complex and gritty place that actually taught me more about other parts of Asia than I at first realised.

The anthology is due to be published in December/January but the editor is still looking for submissions if anyone has something suitable!

Winter Tales Contents page

Standard

Winter Tales’ very efficient editor Margret Helgadottir has been busy behind the scenes reading, shortlisting, sending out contracts and generally getting me very excited about the anthology which is due to published in spring 2016. Last week the folks over at Fox Spirit released the contents page which is as follows.

Contents

Mat Joiner: The frost sermon
Su Haddrell: The Bothy
Sharon Kernow: The Wolf Moon
Ruth Booth: The love of a season
Masimba Musodza: When the trees were enchanted
Fiona Clegg: Sunday’s Child
Tim Major: Winter in the Vivarium
Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi: Snow Angel
Amelia Gorman: Under your skin
B. Thomas: Among Wolves
Eliza Chan: Yukizuki
DJ Tyrer: Frose
G.H. Finn: Cold-Hearted
David Sarsfield: Voliday
Kelda Crich: Coldness Waits
K.N. McGrath: The Siege
Jonathan Ward: Spirit of the Season
James Bennett: The Red Lawns
Anne Michaud: Frost Fair
Jan Edwards: Shaman Red
Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Coming of The Cold
Verity Holloway: The Frost of Heaven

Of course as previously blogged about, I already knew I was in it but it’s just as exciting to find out which other writers are included. Quite a bit of Twitter stalking may have been done. :D Anyway it’s great to find out the huge range of other writers from those getting their first time publications (hooray!) to those with novels already out (jealous). In particular, a quirky blast from the past is DJ Tyrer who edits Monomyth magazine which featured my fourth wall destroying short story “Writing the Happily Ever After”(11.1)! Can’t wait to read more from the other contributors!

img 057

(Photo from Sapporo Snow Festival, not affiliated with the anthology, but snowy all the same)

Winter Tales

Standard

I’m very chuffed to announce my short story “Yukizuki” has been accepted for publication in Fox Spirit‘s Winter Tales anthology, due for publication in early 2016.

“Yukizuki” was written after my two year sojourn in snowy Hokkaido where I tentatively learnt to snowboard and grew to love the 4-5 months of snow we had each year. That’s all the backstory you get for now.

As for recent work, well I’ve always been heavily influenced by my surroundings. In my computer I have grouped my work as Mad Women in the Attic (stories written around my undergrad degree that were heavily influenced by English literature academia) and Japanese folktales (stories written around my 3 years in Japan). Since meeting my Afroken and embracing my Chinese roots more, my characters have become more and more Asian . Lately, I’m guessing due to the influence of living in London then Manchester, the brilliant Manchester Speculative Fiction group, and all of the YA dystopia series’, I’ve started on some more urban fantasy/ near future dystopia stories. Whilst I’m not always sure of what I’m doing, and panic when I need to explain the science, I’m enjoying dropping tantalising hints of a difference and leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks.

Blacksmithing

Standard

Ever since I started reading fantasy novels as a child, I, along with most other fans of the genre, have loved a blacksmith. The archetypical blacksmith’s son/ apprentice finds he has great powers and sword wielding skills in so many novels and films (Pirates of the Caribbean, How to Train your Dragon, Wheel of Time, Wizard of Earthsea). Along with wanting to be an elf, I was certain I could craft my own sword and that being a blacksmith was magic.

Well for our wedding anniversary, AfroKen and I went on a day workshop in Norfolk to make our own knives. It was in keeping with all of the other crafting we’ve done (e.g. making our own wedding rings) as well as living out our fantasy world dreams (e.g. survival weekend learning to start fires and snare rabbits). We had illusions of grandeur, of making a sword in a day, of being naturals. What actually happened was so much more interesting.

My vision of what we were doing was heating up some metal and hitting it with a hammer. That did happen. And it was so difficult to be fast and precise and strong all at the same time. After about 5 attempts, the blacksmith Nick offered to help me out and in one go, made a basic knife shape. Although I hate to admit weakness, I accepted straight away that his decades of experience were worth seeing.

But it doesn’t end at the hammer! To make one little bushcraft knife took us about 8 hours. We had to grind the edges down, sharpen the blade, temper the cutting edge, burn on the handle and then shape it, polish it up, make a leather sheath, and lots of other steps that makes me head spin. It gave me so much respect for the time and cost of handcrafted items.

What I loved even more were the stories. Nick was turning anything into a blade from old Landrover parts to century old ship pins. He made things from meteor and mammoth tusks. He had a backlog of quirky commissions to do and yet he seemed to savour the time telling his stories and teaching two rank amateurs on how to make a knife.

Of course in this day and age everything can be done quicker and cheaper but Nick, and the people who commissioned these items, wanted it for the history, the care and the beauty of a hand-forged item. He told us about making movie props, pieces for museums and when we stopped for lunch we could see his hand-craft in the cutlery, the door handles shaped like leaves and candlestick holders on the table. It was beautiful and the skills to make anything he needed from a chunk of ugly metal was astounding. I can entirely understand why blacksmiths were seen as magicians back in the day.

The sad thing is that it is a dying art. Knowledge and skills were passed down through generations and not in books or videos. I felt like I was being given a glimpse into an old world, another world where we didn’t just buy things from shops but used our hands to make it. And if the first attempt fails, we just keep trying. I know most of it is on youtube and Wikipedia these days, but hearing it from an experienced blacksmith was so much more satisfying. It was more in keeping with the oral tradition.

I’ve never felt closer to the fantasy books of my youth than listening to Nick’s stories about hunting with a bow and arrow, falconry and making his own set of tools in his apprenticeship.

A Summer Reverie

Standard

I was doing some writer admin today and looked through some of my old work. I have decided to share with you, a short story from 2008 called A Summer Reverie. This is one of my few non-genre pieces and written with Virginia Woolf and a little bit of James Joyce in mind. I haven’t written in this style since but I’m quite proud of how different it is to my other work. Perhaps it’s worth trying to write a genre piece as a stream of consciousness. Please let me know what you think!