Sunday, 24 February 2013

Short and Sweet

I'm keeping my post short this weekend. I've had a heck of a week, and have another one looming ahead of me. It's not all bad! Just busy, busy, busy. My energy is unable to match my fervour, and my enthusiasm depletes accordingly.

There's certainly been some productivity this week on the writing front. I do hope next week will be just as productive, if not more so. I have an  important meeting tomorrow evening which will no doubt set the tone for the writing week.

I've become so precious about my time over the last few years, probably since becoming a mother. There's so little of it that's just for me. And even less of that is for writing. I'm looking forward to the Easter holidays as I've got a writing holiday booked. Okay, so it's not a lake/loch side log cabin (the ultimate dream: my writing holiday home) but it's space, peace and quiet to crack on with The Heart Thief.

One thing that has struck me about writing the second book in Devils Light is how much more comfortable I am with the plot and with my character portrayals. Beforehand, when writing a chapter a week for this blog, I was never sure if my characters were convincing, or if the plot was intriguing. Those fears have been put to rest. This time around there's a lot more emotional content, which I perceive to be my next challenge in becoming a successful YA fiction author. Of course, you'll have to let me know on that score. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rising Steampunk (ROYA #7)

 
The popularity of Steampunk has mushroomed over the last few years. Some call it a movement, others argue it's a genre. Either way, steampunk has certainly struck a chord with a whole swathe of people. If you aren't familiar with this genre, it's essentially fantasy involving chimerical machinery inspired by the technology of the Industrial Revolution. Often it is set in a romanticised Victorian age or Wild West, or similarly harsh yesteryear where certain ideals are held about the almost magical possibilities of technology. Ideals that are best represented by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis [pictured right].


I first became aware of steampunk through Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices.  Those of you familiar with this series will be aware this means I only clicked to it about two years ago. That's not to say that I hadn't encountered it before, more that I hadn't realised what it was called. In my ignorance I'd never thought to question what type of fantasy it was, assuming it was simply historical fantasy, or something equally as dry sounding. The very word steampunk conjures up sizzling images of rebellion and excitement in my mind's eye. In fact, it's even given me the idea for another YA series I'd like to write. But I'm keeping the details of that to myself,  for now at least. What I will say though is that I'm going to be reading plenty more steampunk novels.


Turns out, practically everyone has been having a go of late.  I'm not saying I like everything that is produced. I wasn't particularly impressed with Hugo, Martin Scorsese's effort, finding it awfully cliched and lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. More recent, popular creations have been Hellboy and The City of Lost Children [pictured left], both coincidentally starring fire-hunting caveman Ron Pearlman.*  Steampunk litters book stores and cinema screens, spawning legions of fan groups and full-time dresser-uppers. What is it about it that appeals to so many, making it positively en vogue?

I was asked to review a steampunk anthology recently, and what struck me was how versatile a genre it really is. Much like Young Adult, although not quite so all-encompassing, it can be accessed through various fantasy levels. Sure, there are those who wish to define the genre, but why limit it? Why over-regulate something that has such broad appeal and accessibility? It seems akin to a child issuing the rules to their own little game, then throwing a huff when everyone else refuses to step in line. The way I see it, steampunk opens its arms to all who wish to tinker with its creative possibilities.  I've read criticisms that it whitewashes stories, and ignores some of history's harsher realities like racism and slavery.  The counter-argument is that it is fantasy, and not meant to be realistic. However, my belief is that keeping the genre open to adaptability is what is key in sustaining its success, as well as keeping both of these camps happy.




But why now? What is it about steampunk that gets us all ticking? In an age of ever advancing technology, with the world at our fingertips, it can't be the case that we all wish to regress, can it?  As employment and food prices continue to rise into the unattainable for all but the wealthy, I wonder if it is the idea of a time of hope and possibility that we all yearn for; The notion that the fruits of our manual labour can make our wildest dreams spring to mechanical life.  It appears that the ideals of an age past, where technology represented a bright and promising future, is more preferable to the reality of our technological age.



 
 
 
 
 
Above: Steampunk Heart by WilliemXSM
sourced from Deviantart 


*Okay, not in real life, but he was one in Quest for Fire.


Remember, if you have something that you think would be of interest to ROYA, email me at merrybawz@hotmail.com with ROYA and your name as the subject.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

For the Love of Art!

One thing I've noticed since I made a promise to myself to write more: I don't leave the house. It's no joke. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I've sacrificed almost my entire social life in order to dedicate myself to my writing career. Although it's been an easy choice in so far as it's something I want to do, I still feel guilty for not keeping in better contact with my friends and family.

I'm glad to have the peace in the evenings to work. I get so little opportunity to read during the day, so if I've been asked to review, or if I have an article to write, I have to squeeze my reading into my writing time.  I miss my friends, but my time is so precious these days. Between looking after my daughter and writing I have very little time for anything else. Including sleep.  Even trying to fit in a visit to my local gym seems too difficult to organise. This is mostly due to the fact that I refuse to pay the £2.60 peak hour price (I have to watch the pennies these days, and the 50p sessions seem far easier to justify). All the same, I could do with an extra day in the week.

I awoke this morning with a desire to take up Tai Chi again. Whether this comes from the fact that I've just finished reading Tao Te Ching, or simply because I feel the need some calm in my life, I couldn't tell you.  Either way, trying to find the time to fit a class of any description into my week seems impossible. If it's before 7pm, I have to arrange child care. Trust me, this not an easy thing for me to arrange, for a variety of reasons that I wont go into. However, I do find it ironic that I have no time to fit in a class that would essentially help me feel less hectic.

Anyone can churn out dross. I've met so-called authors who claim writing a book is easy. You only need to see how poorly their work is written to understand why they think this. Fact is, writing a book  - a good, well written one -  takes time, hard work, and quite often, tears. Unless you are either extremely privelaged, or already a well-published author, rarely do you have lots of time on your hands to write. To consistently produce quality work, most authors need to lock themselves away from civilisation any chance they get.

Dolly Parton has been known to harp on at concerts in between songs about the sacrifices she's made for her career. I'm no Dolly Parton, (I'm not a singer for a start) but I do agree with her that hard work and sacrifice to be a talented and prolific artist. Ah well, here's hoping it'll all be worth it. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cantona Music (ROYA #6)

I suppose I should expect to find musicians stocking shelves in the local supermarket. Supermarkets are ideal for those who dread daylight and take solace in the cake aisle. No matter what, unless you're born rich, seldom do you get to be an artist without working some job to support yourself. In the beginning at least. But there's even a stigma towards what minimum wage job an artist 'should' have. For example, being a writer and working in a coffee shop is almost chic these days. It's the writers in offices I feel for the most... but I digress.

A few weeks ago, in my local Co-op, I overheard a young lad talking about his need to tour with his band. I decided to butt in, and we got chatting. Turns out he's the front man to an indie rock band called Cantona , and they're looking for away gigs. What they need is some exposure, and I'm in a position to provide this. But not without giving my opinion along with it, of course.

When asked to describe the band, I was told Cantona was "four guys who like beating the living daylights out of [their] instruments, whilst making beautiful music all the same."

Indeed, the clanging-ly melodic tunes of Cantona have certainly got appeal. Listening to their tracks on bandcamp put me in mind of many Young Adult movie soundtracks. "We try our hardest to maintain a certain sound," Guitarist Matt Conlon told me in an interview "We're trying to play music that can suit everyones best strengths and tastes, as well as music that we think other people will enjoy."

Things are on the move for this group of young Scottish chaps, "We're about to film our first music video for our new single "See Sense in This" and we're having some very early discussions about recording our debut album."

Exciting times. I'm glad that I met Luke in my local supermarket. I may not be great at networking online, but you just watch me when I go out for bread. Knowing that Luke is Cantona's front man, it's easy to see why he takes it all so seriously, i.e. networking. As well as being a guitarist, when it comes down to it, as lead singer your neck is on the proverbial block. Well, rest easy Luke. Your neck isn't fully chopped off today. Maybe just a little nicked by my forthcoming cutting remark: You have an incredible talent for songwriting and musicianship, but I'm not sure your voice suits your music. Sorry.

I really enjoy where Cantona's music takes me, and the intricacy of the guitar riffs is sublime.   There's real, indisputable skill in their performance. Luke's voice isn't offencive, by any means.  He has a soft, Scottish lilt that carries over the epic waves of electric guitar, which come smashing down without reprieve.

Cantona show real promise, and I hope they get the attention they deserve. I can easily imagine them making soundtracks for book trailers. Maybe even movie soundtracks and more - they just need to be out there! So if you like their sound and want them for a gig, get in touch by emailing cantonauk@live.com

Thankfully, I hear that they aren't just waiting for "fame" to come knocking, and adopt a hard work ethic. "We're always writing new music and we're drawing more influences from all different kinds of books, plays and poems, as well as other music." Nice to know that literacy still plays a big part in modern music, "For example," guitarist Matt explains, "I've been inspired to write some music tonight after watching some skateboarding videos and reading some quotes from 'The Merchant of Venice'. You can't say we're not diverse!" No, I can't. Boy, I don't miss high school at all.

I'd love to know what you think of Cantona, and whethere you agree with me or not. Please feel free to leave a comment below. In the meantime, Good Luck Cantona!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Now We Are Six... Going on Sixty (Speakeasy #96)


I threw it on the ground and burst into tears.

Stars and hearts bring out my worst fears.


Being graded, degraded, for tasks and chores,

Stickers on charts, pinned up on doors.


“Do this! Do that! And do it quicker!

Do it the fastest, and you’ll get a sticker!”


Just because I cannot articulate


Doesn't mean I'm unable to stipulate:

Tough cookies, mummy, I don’t want to today!

I'm not tidying a thing, now let me go and play.
 
 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Forging Tragedy into Triumph: The Dark Company Story

After months of dedication and hard work, Dark Company is finally available to buy. A lot of effort has gone into ensuring its publication. I've enjoyed working with the other authors, they're a good bunch. It truly has been great to make something good out of the circumstances which befell us.
 
Last autumn we found ourselves in the same spot. We'd expected our work to be published together in an anthology through a publisher, but that fell through.  We were suddenly left hanging, our stories and poems just itching to be out there.  After a little online networking, a group of us were agreed: putting out our own anthology made sense. With Createspace there to be utilised, it seemed an awful waste not to. Then of course there was the issue of royalties. Splitting royalties over such a small amount seemed a little silly. Besides, we all still felt the sting from having our money taken from us in the shady practises of a certain publishing company. After a brief discussion it became clear that getting paid for it was not the issue. All any of us wanted was to get our work out there. We'd never expected to make any real money anyway, what with the royalties being split so many ways. Making a charity the beneficiary of all royalties seemed the perfect resolution.


But which charity? With our audience reaching across the Atlantic, I was positive that an international organisation was the way forward. I discovered buildOn in a Google search for literacy charities. What first grabbed my attention was their slogan on their web page: We are not a charity, we are a movement. Immediately I thought of all the wonderful art I associate with the word "movement". Build On recognise that a lack of the right kind of education can condemn poor people into an endless cycle of poverty. From tough urban schools in the states,  to actually building schools in some of the poorest countries in the world, their  dedication to giving young people the opportunity learn is unquestionable. It didn't take much to get the rest of the anthology authors on board with this.  Charity picked, and editing already in progress, it looked as though we were going to make this anthology happen.
 
Then we hit a snag just a couple of weeks ago. Finally formatted and ready to go on sale, we discovered something alarming. The cover art was identical to an image that was already being used on a cd cover, making ours copyright infringement. Whether it had been on purpose or a genuine mistake made no difference: we were left without a cover at the eleventh hour. Thankfully not all was lost.  Dark Company editor Amanda Wimer found Andrea Kozári, who came up with the new design [pictured]. It was a short wait to get the new cover, but it allowed me a little more time for some fine-tooth combing over the manuscript. Once the cover was uploaded there was nothing left to do but wait for the book to appear on Amazon. To purchase your copy simply follow the link to the top of this post, or alternatively go the the Books page on this blog and follow the link.
 
 
I think I speak for all of us involved when I say that this anthology is something to be proud of. Not just for the work that we have done to create our contributions, but for our team effort in getting the job done, and done well. It just goes to show what people can do when they have a common goal. At no point did any of the Dark Company team shirk responsibilities. We tackled every obstacle as a collective in a no-nonsense, positive manner. I'd like to think that it wasn't just the fact that publishing the book for charity made us feel that we were doing something worthwhile. I'm convinced that this is proof that authors can work in a group together to produce an anthology, without the need of a publisher, and feel good about it. 
 
I do hope you'll purchase this wonderful book, not just for what it contains, but for the wonderful opportunities your money will go towards creating for people in need. It really doesn't cost a  lot  either. So what are you waiting for?
 
 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Author Spotlight: Lily Crussell (ROYA #5)


Last week I reviewed Lily Crussell's Young Adult Paranormal Romance Of Darkness and Light (Shadow of the Nephilim #1).  Luckilly for me, Lily has been good enough to share her inspiration on writing this debut novel, as well as answering some all-important questions regarding my favourite character, the fallen angel. 

 
Girls!


If you caught last week's post, you'll  recall me mentioning that Lily Crussell's angel romance is definitly one for the girls. Fear not, my lovely non-girly readers, this interview is not as exclusive. The book, of course, is aimed at teen girls, and the rest of us teen-girls-at-heart.  Lily is similar to myself in this respect. We both prefer Young Adult books. "I have no desire to read about people going shopping all the time!" she told me. I agree wholeheartedly. Can you imagine reading anything more boring? Maybe a book about golf? (Feel free to leave your opinion in a comment below)

Lily sees Of Darkness and Light (ODAL)  as being a little more on the grim side to most other teen fiction she's encountered.  It certainly does have some very gruesome parts. I enjoy a little macabre merryment (yes I do). Elora, the female protagonist in the Shadow of the Nephilim series, certainly takes a bashing. All the same, she's a tough cookie. Her pragmatism and her delightfully cynical outlook, albeit slightly paranoid, make her great to read.
 

"Poor Elora is me," Lily confesses, "but an improved version of me. Her temper isn't quite so bad, and she's a lot braver and stronger than I am. I think all authors put pieces of themselves in their characters. It's unavoidable really because you can only write about things you've felt or seen as far as emotions are concerned." Absoloutely. That's one thing I have to give Lily credit for: whatever method she's using, she certainlyknows how to craft a well-rounded, complex heroine. One wonders though, if Elora and Lily have the same romantic experience in common...? "I wish I'd had a relationship as loving and special as Elora's, but it hasn't happened yet!"


"Girl meets boy. Boy has Wings"


That's how Lily describes her debut novel. However, it isn't the first book she's ever started writing.  Turns out,  she simply couldn't get  Elora and the angels out of her mind. "I had to write. It was like a compulsion. I'd lock myself in toilet cubicles at work and scribble maniacally on scraps of paper, then type then up when I got home." Of her writing method, she says, "The creative process isn't something I think through, it just happens. I don't plan where the story is going because it always changes as I write it." Must admit, this is where our creative methods differ. I like to have a general destination to aim towards. It is the journey my characters take to get there which tends to remain less planned. But what works for  one writer, may not work for the next.

For example, angels, or any other winged people, are simply not part of my writing repertoire, nor have they ever been. For Lily, they are ideas that have been in her mind for years. "I've always been obsessed with wings and feathers, I first got the idea from watching the movie The Prophecy."  A Christopher Walken movie that I haven't seen yet? How did I miss that?


I Love Lucy


Our writing methods differ slightly, but we do share an understanding of how a smaller character can suddenly take on a much bigger role. When I was writing the first chapter of The Ferryman's Wife, Percy Dunwrite literally appeared out of nowhere.  It was as though I turned around an there he was. I immediately knew he was going to play a major part in my story. As it turns out, Lily had a similar experience when creating my favourite character in ODAL, Lucifer.

"My darling Lucy!" Lily exclaims."He was supposed to be in one scene, but he wouldn't let that happen!"  I asked her what the inspiration was behind this thoroughly likable character, "I've always been fixated on the idea that no one is all good or bad, and Lucifer was one of God's most beloved angels until we came along. He's had a long time to stew, but he's not evil, he just has a different sense of right and wrong."

The fallen angel fast became my favourite character, as he brought humour and excitement with him to the story. That's not to say the rest of the book isn't funny. In fact, even at some of the darker parts, Elora's take on things put a smile on my face. "Life has moments of ridiculous humour when you least expect it," Lily explains, "I don't think any life is completely devoid of humour and laughter, even when things are falling apart around you." There's an almost Monty Python profundity to that. I like it.

 A Heavenly Host?


As ODAL is the first in a series of three, you can expect more  of Elora and her angels. However, there's more to come from Lily yet.  "One of my other YA Paranormal Romances is currently being critiqued, so that will probably be the next one out. Completely unrelated storyline, but the same genre."  And of course, she's also one of the authors featured in Dark Company, the anthology where all proceeds go to the charity buildOn. If you can't wait, then there are some deleted scenes from ODAL, as well as a sneaky peak at Of Blood and Feathers, next book in the series, available to read right now! Hop on over to Lily's Blog to find out more.

Connecting with Lily is easy. You will find her on: Twitter -- Goodreads -- Facebook -- Wordpress

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Lily's blog to read the first chapter of book two... Until next time!

 
Remember, if you have something that you think would be of interest to ROYA, email me at merrybawz@hotmail.com with ROYA and your name as the subject.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Crafting (Speakeasy #95)



A hush descended over the room.

Granny Annika grabbed her broom,

She cleansed the air

By sweeping it bare

Of past transgressions and unseen gloom.

 

On the alter two candles were lit,

For the goddess and god, to wit.

A small brass bell,

A goblet as well,

And some salt in a pink glass basket.

 

Aunt Sue, the twins and Cousin Sinéad

Had sweet meats and offerings made.

Dressed in purple,

They cast a circle,

Calling The Guardians to their aid.

 

Granny Annika then stepped forward,

Athame in hand, facing northward,

With hum and chant

She did then incant,

In a solemn voice she conjured:

 

“Give us your blessing, oh Sun, oh Moon,

That we may find happiness soon.

Please help our task,

And grant what we ask,

So we might with your wisdom commune.”

 

With white silk cloth and with thread of red

Each declared a hair from their head

As offering

For good luck to bring,

To return their sister, beloved.

 

Aunt Sue collected the offering.

Cousin Sinéad began to sing,

Ringing the bell

Thus ending the spell,

Dismissing whom they’d been conjuring.

 

They all then feasted on the sweet meats,

Then to the garden with their treats,

Holding hands tight,

They sat in the night,

Silently connecting their heartbeats.

 

Then after just a moment or three

The twins they dug a hole, you see.

In the gifts fell

For all time to dwell,

As the witches said “So mote it be.”

Monday, 4 February 2013

Le Miserable Git

It's funny, I can be full of confidence with my writing and know that it is good one day. The next, a couple of incidents can bring me sinking down into a murky pit of misery that not even a reading good book will cure. I don't think I'm bi-polar, but it's certainly a roller coaster ride. Self-doubt is the bane of the writer, I suppose. Being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, these seem to be more important in getting ahead in this game. Sometimes, even if you don't doubt your ability, you still never get that break.I often worry that I don't have what it takes to succeed in this area. It's not because I doubt my writing, rather that I'm completely rubbish with other professional aspects. I am no good at brown-nosing. Can't do it. It's not in me to give credit where it isn't due. At the same time, I'll always give it where it is. I also refuse to pretend to like people purely to network and further my career. I'd prefer to genuinely like you instead. Then we can help each other. I'll give everyone a chance, and always start any new relationship on an open, positive level. If I find someone to be hostile, or their practises shady, then I don't keep that connection, work or personal. It's really that simple. Why would anybody want anything remotely connected to hostility or shadiness? Greed. It would send my moral compass spinning. I guess this means I'm screwed.

There is the emotional side; continually trying to pick myself up and tell myself it's only a matter of time. On normal days I can stick it out, wear a protective armour of confidence and positivity, and plough full-steam ahead with projects. Other days I consider the point of continuing to pursue a writing career. I've always written, and will continue to do so. But professionally? Is it really worth constantly persisting, hoping? Well, my answer is yes.Yes it is.

Persistence and hope are all I've got, and I've not got much of them either. I may not be great at networking, but I'll continue do it. There's a good chance that somewhere along the way I'll encounter others who believe good business is a product of good practise. After all, I've met some pretty decent folks so far. Besides, writing is the only real cure for me. Perhaps I am using it as a form of therapy, but by golly does it make me feel better. When the words begin to flow it's as though I've been holding my breath for a long time and suddenly I'm able to breathe normally again. If I keep trying, at least I'll know if I don't succeed. I'd rather that then the alternative.