Tag Archives: Novel/s

Imagination Vs Technology – The Writer’s 21st-Century Faustian Pact?

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Imaginary things take time to write. Fantasy and horror and, to a lesser extent, science fiction can be among the toughest genres to write as they are works of pure imagination. Science fiction can be slightly researched and current trends can be followed to their logical conclusion. Educated guesses can be made as to what direction science will go in. Fantasy and horror mostly comprise world-building from scratch and, depending on the writer, the concepts can take time to generate.

Added to that, readers want new product yesterday. They’ve become ultra-impatient in the internet age. Some of them even refuse to read the first book in a series as they are unable to wait for the other books to be written and published. “Am I going to have to wait years for you to finish your Vorbing trilogy? I’m an impatient bitch,” one of my readers helpfully explained to me.

In their book, The Neuroscience of Clinical Psychiatry: The Pathophysiology of Behavior and Mental Illness, Edmund S. Higgins and Mark S. George note: “People who can delay gratification and control their impulses appear to achieve more in the long run. Attention and impulsivity are opposite sides of the same coin.” This is especially true of all those internet babies who have grown up in the technological age. So the internet is a bit like Brexit; we don’t know what the full implications of its arrival are yet.

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The web has its advantages. It’s a phenomenal communication tool. Twitter has definitely made me think faster and streamline messages better, that is certain. As a way of quickly disseminating a message or a product worldwide immediately, the web takes some beating. The net is like a giant synthetic brain our thought patterns are connected to (a strength and a weakness that can be exploited). There are concerns over privacy and who is doing what with our data and those worries will only increase as time goes on.

Back to the writing. This awareness of the disintegration of attention spans has unquestionably changed both the method and style I employ when writing books. I started writing my first book when the internet was in its infancy. I was able to remain in the world I had created all day interacting with my characters. I was totally immersed in it and wouldn’t notice hours passing. Now social media, that great thief of time, eats up chunks of my day without me noticing hours passing. I mostly interact online with people I don’t know instead of my characters. I’m totally immersed in the internet. Writing is done now in feverish bursts to meet my daily word count so I can get back online. Experience has enabled me to do much more in less time though. I no longer need to spend all day going down blind alleys trying to find myself creatively. So perhaps there is no damage done there.

There are writers who have given up social media for a month to get books out there. I’d be concerned about losing half my hard-earned followers. You can’t expect people to continue following you if you’re offline for weeks. Especially if you’re a self-published writer dependent on social media to market your books. It appears to be a 21st-century Faustian pact with the web.

Then there is the pace of the novel itself. I am only too aware that if you fail to hold the attention of your readers, social media is tickling their ears non-stop to woo them away. So they’re dealing with getting their electronic fix too (especially if they’re consuming your book on an e-reader or smartphone app that’s connected to the internet and the ejector seat button for your novel is half an inch away). The pacing of a novel has to match the online frenzy going on out there or you’re toast. Then again, if the flour is going rotten to begin with, maybe the quality of the toast isn’t so important these days. We shall see.

So the internet has rewired our brains, changed our expectations and how books are written, edited, sold and read (or not as the case may be). What form will books take in 2026? 2036? 2066? Will we be taking downloads directly into our brains as in a William Gibson cyberpunk novel? I have a saying: “The possible is just the impossible that we’ve come to accept.” It will happen.

My novel “The Vorbing” is available here

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

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A Hobbit, Four Beatles, a Queen and a Led Zeppelin: How Tolkien Influenced British Music In The 1960s and 7os

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Allow me to elaborate on my quote, dear readers. In the Second World war, Britain and Germany were gleefully bombing each other’s major cities into oblivion day and night. In the myopia of war, they thought they were engaged in a conflict to strengthen themselves, but were, in fact, destroying each other as major world powers. This created a vacuum into which stepped the new superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the aftermath of the war, Britain was devastated physically, financially and mentally. Rationing was still in force and luxuries were unheard of for a whole generation of children. The war was before their time but the impact and implications of it were a daily fact of life. Ruined areas called bomb sites still pockmarked the land and the new kids played on them, including a young David Bowie.

Bowie’s biographer Paul Trynka kicks off his excellent book Starman with this illustration of grim post-war austerity from Peter Prickett: “Everything seemed grey. We wore short grey flannel trousers of a thick and rough material, grey socks and grey shirts. The roads were grey, the prefabs were grey and the bomb sites seemed to be made of grey rubble.”

Behold the constraints of reality! Glam Rock in the 70s was going to be the antithesis of all that childhood drabness and deprivation. First though, Tolkien would unleash the beast that was The Lord of the Rings. Despite being written in stages between 1937 and 1949, three volumes were published over the course of a year between 1954 and 1955 (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and the Return of the king). There was a sudden glut of Tolkien product in the marketplace at just the right time. The books were manna from Heaven for a generation starved of good food, new ideas and hope. For the first time, they had in their hands an affordable escape and a template for a way out of their difficult situations. It was like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the world goes from monochrome to eye-popping technicolor as Dorothy reaches Oz. John Lennon was one of many British kids who became a fan of Tolkien’s.

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The Beatles turned everything on its head when they shot to fame in 1962. As well as topping the charts with monster hits on both sides of the Atlantic, they also made some remarkable films including A Hard Day’s Night, Help and the surreal, Pythonesque Magical Mystery Tour. Kicking around for ideas for a new Fab Four flick, John Lennon suggested an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson directed both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. In 2014, he said “The Beatles once approached Stanley Kubrick to do The Lord Of The Rings and he said no. I actually spoke about this with Paul McCartney. He confirmed it. I’d heard rumors that it was going to be their next film after Help.”

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It wasn’t just Kubrick who rejected The Beatles: “It was something John was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson added.

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Lennon had published two books himself, A Spaniard In The Works and In His Own Write, his love of wordplay being evident in the titles. Lennon was fan of Lewis Carroll as well as Tolkien and his writing has been compared to Carroll’s, particularly I Am The Walrus.

 

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It is arguable that many of the prog rock concept albums of the 70s were an attempt to transfer Tolkien’s epic fantasy imagery to the album format. Rick Wakeman played piano on Bowie’s Life On Mars and was the keyboard player with Yes. Wakeman did a 70s concert at an ice rink with skaters playing knights on horseback jousting to the music he was playing. He admitted recently that he had gone too far but it was excess-all-areas in the 70s.

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Lord of the Strings

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin was a serious Tolkien nerd, liberally sprinkling references to the books in his songs. Take these lines from Zeppelin’s Ramble On: “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her.”

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Queen, in turn, were big fans of Led Zeppelin. They played Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song during soundchecks and Plant turned up at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 to perform Innuendo and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It’s possible that Freddie and the boys imbibed some of Zeppelin’s Tolkien imagery by osmosis. Seven Seas of Rhye was Queen’s first hit. It came out in 1974 and was written by Freddie Mercury. Rhye was a fantasy world that Freddie had created with his sister Kashmira. Freddie sings of “the mighty Titan and his troubadours” in Seven Seas of Rhye. On other Queen albums there was “Ogre Battle” and “Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.” The imagery of Brian May’s The Prophet’s Song on A Night At The Opera is very Tolkienesque, although the images came to him in a dream. Queen would also go on to do the music for fantasy films like Highlander and Flash Gordon.

Tolkien was probably horrified by the bands and music he inspired but that would have been a typical reaction from his generation. None of it was intended for him. He was unable to foresee the consequences of publishing his books but it is interesting to see how one creative act can inspire many similar and dissimilar ones, spreading out like ripples in a pond. We pass the torch of inspiration down the generations, it is not ours to keep but ours to maintain and pass on.

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

Indie Authors: The New Punks

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We’ve all heard about the self-publishing revolution in books in the last few years with Amazon Kindle and all the other e-readers and websites. I was watching a BBC documentary called ArtsNight last week and the presenter made an interesting point: punk rock bands were the first indie authors. They learned their three chords, set up their own bands and, in some cases, record labels and self-published their own music. They took control of their own destinies in the same way novelists did recently. Even the punk fanzines were do-it-yourself wonders; stapled together, photocopied and distributed through record stores, mailing lists, by hand and by word-of-mouth in those pre-pre-internet days.

It’s a very cogent analogy. As with the self-published books, some of the DIY punk music that was put out was awful, but some of it has reached classic status in hindsight. Self-publishing until recently was called “vanity publishing,” but writers were no longer prepared to sit on their hands waiting months for a form rejection letter. They too seized their own destinies through the technology that was around them and turned the publishing industry on its head.

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Movies are even being made from self-published books for the first time like Ridley Scott’s The Martian starring Matt Damon and a future fantasy film that 20th Century Fox has purchased the rights to called Fall of Gods (even after that movie deal was signed, the book was taken down from Amazon due to formatting issues, the bane of indie authors everywhere. Luckily, it didn’t impact on the movie deal and Fox could see the merit of what was there despite the flaws.)

Fall of Gods

Punks and indie authors are strange bedfellows indeed, but both groups were and are pioneers in their fields. While the punk movement didn’t manage to overthrow the mainstream in the same way hippies in the previous generation hadn’t, they democratised their art form and showed others what was possible with self-belief and a little effort. Just as indie authors did. The shockwaves of the indie author revolution are still spreading out from the epicentre and nobody really knows where it will stop or what comes next. The most important thing is that books that would have gathered dust in drawers and on hard drives and memory sticks are now finding a worldwide audience. That can only be a good thing.

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

The Paper Tablet – Setting Your Writing In Stone

Writers in the 21st Century think they’re so sophisticated in the way they can store, transport and transmit stories. We worship at the altar of electronic technology. However, hard drives can fail. Memory sticks can get damaged, lost or stolen.

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Take my case, for example. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my cat Ginger was going blind. He thought he was in his litter box but was actually squatting over my memory sticks which had fallen onto the ground. He peed on them and wiped 8 gigabytes of data on me, a huge amount for those who don’t know what that means. The acid in his urine corroded and rusted the metal tips of the memory sticks, making them unreadable. Although I had saved the contents of my prime memory stick to a back-up, the cat had managed to pee on both of them. Through that freak accident, I lost things I can never get back.

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Similarly, I went away on holiday once. While I was gone, my sister decided to surprise me and clean up my place. She threw out a load of writing I had saved on disk, including about half a book’s worth of material. When I got back, I was shocked and not a little pissed off (we’re back to urine again, see a theme emerging here?). Luckily, she hadn’t thrown out a stack of hard copy printouts I’d done. I went through the pile, silently praying that my discarded work was there. It was and I breathed a massive sigh of relief. Now, I had to retype it all from scratch but the material wasn’t lost forever. I was able to retrieve it. You might think you can retype something verbatim from memory but every time you sit down to write, you make different choices. It’s never the same way twice. Retyping it all was actually a good way of revising what I’d done. I spotted some errors, fixed them and took the story in a different direction as result.

The point being, print out early drafts of your material as well as storing back-up copies separately from the primary source. If you’re blocked, reading what you’ve done so far gets you thinking. Even if the solution doesn’t present itself immediately, your mind is working on it. You may not find a way to progress the story ahead but, very often, you’ll see a way to link earlier sections of your book with new sequences. That all adds to the wordcount and gets you closer to completing your novel.

Yes, paper can be shredded or torn up but it’s far more difficult to do than wiping something electronically which can happen in an instant before you know it.

So there’s the writer’s life for you; sometimes we sabotage ourselves and sometimes it’s technology, those around us or even nature itself preventing us getting our work out there. (I wonder how many great books have been lost over the centuries in that way?) For all our perceived sophistication, you really can’t beat having that tangible paper copy in your hand. Some things never change.

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

5-Star Vampires

The latest 5-star review of my novel  # hails it “a classic in the vampire genre” with “incredible imagination.” Get it here and see for yourself; getBook.at/TheVorbingAmazon

The Vorbing Cometh: October 29th, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, at long, long last (19 years), my book The Vorbing is finally available for pre-order on Amazon.

US: 

UK: 

Exciting times ahead in the near future. Join me.

One Good Book?

Everyone has one good book in them. So the cliché goes. Well, maybe. We all have ideas passing through our minds; the difference is that writers capture theirs on paper. Some ideas can sustain the epic length of a novel but most do not. Let’s assume that creative lightning has struck; not everyone can express themselves well through language or they may not enjoy the writing process which can be tedious and solitary. Even if they did, have they the drive and/or obsession to take them from a blank page to a finished manuscript? The complete writer is a jigsaw made up of many disparate pieces.

We are all born with certain innate abilities. You either have a good sense of humour or you don’t. You can condition your mind to think certain ways but it is always easiest to go with the natural flow of the skill sets we possess.

There are some groups that refuse to believe that William Shakespeare wrote his phenomenal plays and sonnets. They argue that he did not have a sufficient level of education to come up with his great works. It is an elitist and narrow-minded argument. Education is not creativity. Education is the acquisition and interpretation of the ideas of others. Creativity is the generation of your own concepts, opinions, narratives and characters. Education is the known, creativity is an exploration of the unknown.

Great writers are born not made. We have all met extremely well-educated people who are unable to string a sentence together properly. Their skills may lie in rote learning and having an excellent memory in the exam hall. Someone with a lesser education may have an astonishing natural gift for invention and expression. I believe that is the case with William Shakespeare and that he was the author of his seminal body of work.

Life experience can teach you far more. We learn by doing. There is no exam to measure your life experience level, so it is wrongly discarded as a legitimate source of knowledge.

I meet people with great ideas all the time. When I ask what they are doing about them, their body language immediately changes and the excuses start flowing. “I can’t because of… (x,y,z),” they say. I try to encourage them but, again, they sabotage themselves with their negative inner dialogue. So those ideas in their heads stay there, they never come to fruition as anything tangible or rewarding and that is a great tragedy. The world is a poorer place for it. You can’t live someone else’s life for them. If they refuse to allow themselves permission to go for their dreams, that is their choice. It is hard to believe some people choose failure but human beings are complex creatures with many inherent paradoxes. Not everyone has the confidence to pursue their ambitions to their zenith. Depression and self-esteem issues hinder great swathes of the public daily.

So everyone may have one good book in them but, as you have seen, there are many, many obstacles to getting it out there. Many of those obstacles are the limitations we unnecessarily place on ourselves.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

Don’t Shoot The Watchman

Readership implies ownership. It is something I have said many times before and no doubt will again. Getting a book published is a struggle in itself, hoping that book finds its audience and building up a devoted readership is even harder and takes years. Keeping that readership happy while staying true to yourself, your characters and their world is perhaps the hardest thing of all. Once people financially invest in your book and become emotionally invested in your creations, there is an implied ownership. They feel they have the right to disagree and even to pillory the author and, through internet reviews and social media comments, that has never been easier.

Such is the case with Harper Lee’s second and probably final novel, Go Set A Watchman. It’s been touted as the sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning-classic To Kill A Mockingbird when, in fact, it is really a rejected early draft of Mockingbird. It was written before Mockingbird, so it is not as if Harper Lee sat down and took a chainsaw to her beloved book. We know that early drafts, especially by young writers who are trying to find themselves and their voices, can go through vast changes before the finished manuscript is ready. So be kind in your judgement of this work-in-progress. We are privileged to be able to read it. As a writing exercise, it will be fascinating to see where she started out, what was kept, discarded and shaped into what became To Kill A Mockingbird.

Ironically, in a novel with race and racism as its central themes, the characters in Mockingbird are morally as well as racially black and white. The good and evil characters are clearly delineated. While this makes it easier for readers to understand the story, it is not how people really are. We are flawed and various shades of grey, perhaps more than fifty. I have always felt that Atticus Finch was less of a realistic character and more of a mould into which we pour our noble aspirations about ourselves. He is the perfect father and the courageous lawyer taking on the case no one else wants because he feels it is right. If Atticus Finch has become the “bigot” that early reviewers claim (and I have not read Go Set A Watchman yet) then it just reflects how people can change and go against the principles of their youth. We know, for instance, that Elliot Ness, the Untouchable who enforced Prohibition and brought down Al Capone, developed a drink problem later in life. The heroic early Ness is what we focus on because we want to believe in brave, righteous people like him and Atticus. The reality is much different. No one is all good or all bad. All of us are capable of compassion and kindness or great evil. That is the imperfect human condition.

It could be one reason why people withdraw from the media tag of hero when some major incident happens. They are aware that it is an impossible ideal to live up to that will severely restrict them in the future. Harper Lee is finding that out right now with the role model she created in Atticus Finch.

There have also been allegations that 89-year-old Harper Lee, who is partially blind and deaf and in assisted living accommodation, has been duped into releasing this book against her wishes. It is as if people don’t want to believe she would willingly publish something that would change Atticus Finch so drastically. She insists that she wants the book released. I say good luck to her. Writers must be free to do as they please with their creations. That is the joy of the creative process. The racism Harper Lee wrote about was a legacy of slavery which was a form of extreme control and a denial of freedom. In a further irony, her readership is now trying to exert control to deny Harper Lee the freedom to express herself how she wants (one reviewer even went so far as to suggest that Watchman would change Harper Lee’s own legacy. Nonsense.) It is a form of censorship, and, as my old acting teacher used to say: “Don’t censor yourself, that’s when all the interesting stuff appears.” Very true.

So don’t shoot The Watchman. Welcome them in, give them a chance and listen, really listen, to their tale and the uncomfortable truths therein.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.