Monday, 30 September 2013

David Gemmell and Legends

an article by Ian Whates, co-chairman of the NSFWG

I will always regret never having the opportunity to meet David Gemmell, who passed away while I was still finding my feet in the genre community.  I first discovered his writing while going on holiday (in 1990?), buying The Last Guardian at the airport on impulse.  The book stayed glued to my hand throughout the flight and was finished during my first day in the sun.

The thing is, I didn’t come away thinking ‘wow, that was fantastic’ but rather ‘that was an enjoyable read; I might try this author again’.  And I did, devouring all the Sipstrassi Tales and then the Drenai books in the following few months and reading each subsequent title as it was released.  Somehow, without my even noticing it, David Gemmell had become one of my favourite fantasy authors.

It was at the Novacon convention in Nottingham, November 2011, that Stan Nicholls casually dropped into a conversation the prospect of producing an anthology of original stories in honour of David.  He wondered if such a project might interest me… Really?  Naturally, I jumped at the idea.

The first author I approached was Joe Abercrombie, whom I knew to be incredibly busy, but he said ‘of course’ and duly delivered a typically cracking tale.  In fact, while there were inevitably a few authors who simply couldn’t accommodate any further commitment in their hectic schedules, the response from the writing community as a whole has been fantastic, and I’m grateful to everyone who submitted.  James Barclay, for example, has provided a story that finally details how his mercenary cadre The Raven first formed; Adrian Tchaikovsky has contributed a wonderful new story set in his Shadows of the Apt milieu, and Stan Nicholls has written a piece set in a universe he’s intending to expand on in a future novel sequence.  One author I avoided inviting because I knew her to be not in the best of health was Tanith Lee.  But when I mentioned the project to a recovering Tanith, she said, “And you didn’t invite me?” before delivering a story of the sort that only Tanith can.  Inevitably, Legends features more than one high-tempo heroic action story, but there are also some gentler counterpoints, such as Sandra Unerman’s delightfully delicate “Mountain Tea”.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write something for the book myself.  As a Gemmell fan, I really wanted to be in this, but would it be narcissistic for the editor to include one of his own pieces?  Over the years I’ve produced three previous ‘Tales of the Fallen Hero’, stories featuring a cynical anti-hero with dubious moral values, and always thought him to be the most Gemmell-like character I was ever likely to write.  Two of those stories made passing reference to events at the Battle of Arden Falls, which had clearly been a traumatic experience for my ‘hero’ but I’d never specified in what way.  Primarily, because I hadn’t worked that out for myself as yet.  This seemed the perfect moment for the character to revisit Arden and confront his past.

Having completed the story, I was still undecided about its fate, so submitted “Return to Arden Falls” for ritual disembowelment… I mean ‘critique’, by the Northampton SF Writers Group, where it was met very favourably (by no means a given, trust me).  I then sent the story out to three readers, stripped of any identifiers, and asked for their opinions.  Two were highly enthusiastic, one lukewarm.  Finally, I sent it to Stan Nicholls and asked what he thought.  His response was the most positive of all, and he wondered why I had any reservations whatsoever, insisting that the story was perfect for the anthology… So, in it went (gulp).

At the end of the day, I’m delighted with Legends.  The book looks the part (thanks to Dominic Harman’s fabulous artwork and Andy Bigwood’s lettering) and the stories inside will, I believe, be appreciated by those who read it.  I’m not about to make any sweeping claims that “David Gemmel would be proud of this book” because I didn’t know the man and would certainly never dream of speaking for him; but I do hope that in some small way we’ve done justice to his legacy.

Legends will be launched at the reception immediately following this year’s David Gemmell Awards, which takes place on the opening night of World Fantasycon in Brighton, on Thursday October 31st.  The book will be available as a paperback, an e-book, and a numbered limited edition hardback signed by all the authors.

The full ToC is:

1. Introduction – Stan Nicholls
2. Or So Legend Has It – James Barclay
3. A Blade to the Heart – Gaie Sebold
4. Return to Arden Falls – Ian Whates
5. The Drake Lords of Kyla – Storm Constantine
6. A Tower of Arkrondurl – Tanith Lee
7. Who Walks With Death – Jonathan Green
8. Skipping Town – Joe Abercrombie
9. Land of the Eagle – Juliet E McKenna
10. All Hail to the Oak – Anne Nicholls
11. Swords and Circle – Adrian Tchaikovsky
12. Fairyland – Jan Siegel
13. Mountain Tea – Sandra Unerman
14. The League of Resolve – Stan Nicholls

This originally appeared on Ian's website here on August 28th 2013

Monday, 23 September 2013

Interviewed: NSFWG Member Donna Scott

In order to highlight and showcase the talents of the group members, each of us has completed the same interview.  Hopefully these will be interesting and enlightening and will also include links to websites and books.

Ninth up is Donna Scott.

What made you want to become a writer?
I can remember being very small and just wanting to be a reader, and I think becoming a writer felt like a natural extension of that.
At school in the Black Country, my first teacher, Mrs Taylor, was brilliant at praise and encouragement, so I learned to read very quickly. She was also a fantastic storyteller, so she made story-time absolutely magical for us. The first story I can remember writing was a piece of Elmer the Elephant fan-fiction, just for her. I had loved the story we heard at story-time so much, I wanted to write my own, and so the next day I was allowed to sit on my own at a table and write it while the rest of the class were seated on the mat listening to that day’s story. That’s also my first multi-tasking memory as well, as I couldn’t help sneaking a listen at the other story while I was trying to concentrate on my own. Story of my life! I am so busy these days with my editorial work – on other people’s writing – that my own work tends to take a bit of a back seat. If only I had the same energy I did when I was five, though – that Elmer story ran to three whole pages!
I was very lucky to have some lovely teachers early on who encouraged my love of books. My big sister – who is twelve years older than me – finished school at sixteen and was done with her school texts, so off they went into a box in the garage, from where they were going to be thrown away. So, aged five and thinking myself a competent enough reader, I would sneak in there and try to get my “big book” fix. Wuthering Heights intrigued me with its cracked-painting cover, but the words were much too hard to follow. However I can remember picking up the collection of Robert Browning poems and liking the “one about the dragon”. I think that must have been “Childe Roland”… I’d probably skipped over the “obstreperous joy” bit.
When my mom found me sneaking in the garage to read those dusty old school-texts, I think she had a bit of a guilt trip: there weren’t very many books at home when I was little. So, my mom got me and my younger siblings library cards and we’d pay a trip to the library every Saturday. Books then became a shared joy, and my mom would also take the opportunity to indulge herself in a bit of Barbara Taylor Bradford or Catherine Cookson.
The first I realised that I could make a career of writing was when I was seven. Another teacher, Mrs Wakefield, put me and my older friend Joanne forward to go and meet a local writer, Susan Price, who was giving a talk at Himley Hall. I can remember being absolutely fascinated by her. She told four stories based on folk tales, and the one I remember most clearly is the one I have never found since: the story of a bride and groom who are tricked and must leave their own bodies to save each other. When they go back to their bodies, they must pour a little of their blood into their shoes, but they get mixed up and end up in the wrong bodies… but they find it does not matter. If anyone knows it, please let me know!
I got a lot of encouragement from all quarters, including my next door neighbours, one of whom was a programmer for Spectrum, and he gave me reams of old code printout bound into books to write my stories in.
Now, I hope to encourage the next generation… I like giving books as presents to my nephews and great-niece (yes, I’m too young), and last year I gave the first Young Bard of Northampton, Ruby, a bound book for writing her poems in. I was so pleased to see her on stage at this year’s Bardic Picnic with it!
What was your first success?
I probably shouldn’t talk further about juvenilia, but the space shuttle hologram I won when I was eight from a Channel 4 competition – for writing about holograms – gave me a huge boost. I even took it to university for my bedsit wall (“Look! I could write… once…”) – even though, by then, the shuttle had started resembling a luminous bogie. As had my standard of writing.
Ashamed as I am to admit it, I tried on all the cool fantasy careers as a youngster (music journalist; singer, radio presenter; cartoonist) and like many people do, got afraid to try my luck with anything I was not instantly successful at, so it was not until I found encouragement from Wolverhampton’s then Literature Officer, Simon Fletcher, that I bothered trying to be a better writer and get my stuff ‘out there’. He’s a wonderful poet who really made me think about the quality of what I was writing and persuaded me to try poetry again. And I’m very glad I did.
He also encouraged me to develop my prose and to submit one of the pieces I wrote for his City Voices event, “Gingerbread”, to a short story competition running at the Midlands Art Centre, judged by My Summer of Love author, Helen Cross.… and I won! My parents came to see me at the event for it and they were so proud.
Poetry-wise, my first big success was being named as the very first Bard of Northampton, which was amazing! I’d only done one slam before, at which I’d misunderstood all the form and rules and everything and got flustered and forgotten my words, but this was a bit different, with an emphasis on creativity, community and heart. The Bard must live within a day’s walk of Delapre Abbey, where the contest is held, and this is important because they must pledge to work with the local community. I will always have a special place in my heart for the folks behind the Bardic Chair, because they do so much to make poetry and spoken word accessible and fun for all. It’s a fantastic event in a beautiful place, too.
What do you think the group does for you?
First of all, I am inspired by them. It meant so much to be accepted into the group – I’d been a fan of Ian Watson’s stories since I was fourteen! And it’s been amazing to see how each individual member has benefited and improved their work as part of the process of critique – and gone on to publishing success. I can remember saying years ago to Ian Whates at a party (over my nth glass of wine…) that he was fast becoming one of my biggest inspirations because of how prolific a writer he was becoming. And since then, he has achieved even more success! It all goes to show, talent plus hard work, plus a desire to improve on your faults – plus actually doing the work and sending it off – that’s what gets results.
Secondly, as I have probably already demonstrated, I need both the brickbats and the bouquets. I need to know when my writing is sloppy. But I also need encouraging words, the “you can do eet”! A good writing group can give you that, because it’s made of friends who want the same in return.
What was your last piece of work?
My last published story was “Hands” in Daughters of Icarus by Pink Narcissus Press. I thank Ian Watson for encouraging me to get this submitted.
What's coming up from you?
I’m currently working on some short stories and two novels… yes, I’m all over the shop, but I get easily distracted. I should have some narration work in the offing shortly, and though my performing work has recently been reduced to fit in more editorial work, I do have the odd gig planned in. The only one I can definitely tell you about is a cabaret show at The Labour Club on November 28th, and look out for me being a bit harsh about some local musicians on Unseenn’s Bedge Review show in the next couple of weeks.

On the web:

I am also Chair of the British Science Fiction Association –

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Art of "Unsee-ing"

This originally appeared on NSFWG member Mark West's blog on Friday 14th May 2010.

He now notes: "This was originally written three years ago and I still haven't seen 'The Serbian Film', though Gary did - in the end - watch it.  Last week I saw a picture on Facebook of children gassed in the Syrian conflict and it brought all this back to me."

I write horror, so I obviously enjoy the genre and I take a lot of enjoyment from it as a consumer - reading and films and some glorious soundtracks - and, in general, I don’t like censorship. I understand its importance, of course, because I have a little boy who’s almost five and very inquisitive and would love to read Daddy’s Fangoria. He knows about horror, because I’ve told him things that I’ve read and seen in a way that he might understand, but he’s never watched anything scary nor have I read anything particularly scary. He needs to be protected, but I’m an adult and I don’t want other adults telling me what I should and shouldn’t watch. So I have a little dilemma on that area.

I tend to self-censor, based on the concept that you can’t “unsee” something. I love horror in all its form - having said that, I’m not a big fan of the ‘torture-porn’ sub-genre, because I think it’s lazy and nasty to no purpose and Eli Roth is a rubbish film-maker - but I’m also very aware that it’s not real. Stephen King once wrote about the zipper on the monsters back and though we don’t get that so much anymore, I can tell latex and most people can spot CGI without too much trouble at all. Horror is about taking you away - certainly, it points you at things you find uncomfortable and, especially with books, prods at it until either you or the character breaks - and in films, it’s make-believe. It can scare you, often it can terrify you, a lot of the time it’ll make you groan with its ineptness but at the end of the day, the actors washed themselves off, Rick Baker packed away his make-up bag and everyone went home.

“Unsee”-ing is much harder if what you’re watching is actually happening and to real people. When I was at school, I loved history in the 5th year because it was ‘modern’ and focussed from about 1939 onwards. I vividly remember one Spring afternoon when sat in the little AV theatre at Montsaye and watched Stevens’ colour footage of the liberation of Auschwitz and I can still see the bulldozer and its terrible load. For VietNam, the images of Kim Phuc running and the Vietnamese man being executed are still lodged there, as is the footage of the burning monks (which makes the Rage Against The Machine album difficult for me to look at ). I feel uncomfortable watching this stuff because - and I must stress, our history teacher wasn’t trying to entertain us - it’s real people, whose lives are threatened or irrevocably altered or ended by the act I’m watching.

Later, two incidents I saw on the news stuck with me too. I was watching the BBC 9 o’clock news with the folks and there was a report from South Africa which, at the time, was still heavily in the grip of apartheid. The footage was in a football stadium and showed a fat black man, wearing a white shirt, running from one side to the other (ie, towards the camera). As he ran, people stepped in his way and he tried to run around them and I assumed they were punching him, but as he got closer to the camera, I noticed his shirt was changing colour. And that the men who were punching him had knives in their hands.

Later still (in 1988), my Mum & I were watching the lunchtime news and saw live the awful moment when those SAS officers drove into the path of a Republican funeral. I remember watching the crowd swarm around their car and the taxi that blocked their escape route, before the feed died and I was able to process how awful it would be to be in that situation. Real people, real problems, with literally life-and-death decisions to be made.

Those things weren’t entertainment, dreamed up and written or filmed for my enjoyment, they were real-life. And I can’t unsee them (and some of them have been in my head for more than a quarter of a century).

What’s prompted this was a discussion I had on Facebook with my friends Gary McMahon and Chris Teague yesterday. There’s a new film out called “A Serbian Film” and if you don’t like the idea or concept of extreme cinema, you have already read too much and I would advise you against further investigations. I first heard about this film a couple of months ago and as someone who believes that art should push against the envelope, I read up on the story - the précis and some early reviews - and I’ve decided it’s not for me. There’s one particular sequence that, as a father, I don’t think I could ever tolerate and it’s the inability to “unsee” that pushes me to make that decision - I can’t have that kind of imagery on my mind for the next 25 plus years. Chris is not going to watch it, but Gary is still torn, though he knows that in doing so, he might inflict something awful upon himself.

The ironic thing is, for all our discussion and my comments about censorship above, I can’t see the film getting any kind of major release - there aren’t too many companies who’d be willing to touch something that extreme and those that would don’t have the logistics to get it out to a wide audience. Do I think it should have been made? I’m not sure of the motives, but it certainly doesn’t read as exploitation for the sake of it so yes, if they’re making a point, they shouldn’t be stopped. But will I ever watch it? No. What I can see in my mind from what I’ve read is bad enough, I don’t want to be able to see the images.

So can you watch things that you know will frighten you to the core, even knowing that you’ll never be able to “unsee” them?

Friday, 13 September 2013

NSFWG member Mark West talks genre, on Friday 13th!

Today, Friday 13th, we are delighted to welcome Mark West to Romaniac HQ. Now, dim the lights, settle back, and listen to his story …

The Romaniacs, a group of writers who tend to concentrate on the romance genre, have chosen to spend Friday 13th with horror writer - and NSFWG member - Mark West, where he talks about the horror genre, its different styles and why he thinks it's wonderful.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Ian Watson, co-chairman, interviewed in Hungary

Group co-chairman Ian Watson was recently interviewed in the Hungarian on-line literary magazine Librarius by Peter Michaleczky.  This is the transcript.

If you mention sci-fi, many people associate with space travel, time machines and lightsabres. Your readers know that you are more interested about the man/human rather than technology, however everywhere you can find “Ian Watson, british sci-fi author”. Are you agree with this, and how do you interpret this genre for yourself?

I’m not a technological writer, true, but I do try to keep up with the latest developments in science and technology, so that I don´t invent my fictions ignorantly.  Also, I strongly believe that the human race must get out into space to exploit the resources of the solar system, and go further if possible, so that our eggs aren´t all in one basket, vulnerable to being broken by, for example, a biggish asteroid hitting us.  This said, my mental process are more metaphorical than strictly realistic, so some of my work is dark fantasy and horror, or surreal.  But I do like to be called a science fiction author.  The 4 novels which I wrote in the Games Workshop universe of Warhammer 40,000 (all translated into Hungarian) were my way of writing space opera, which I always loved reading but never found myself on the right wavelength to write before.  I approached this 40K work by entering a surreal, lurid, hectic, almost psychotic state of mind  -- but I was able to switch this off for lunch, then back on again the next morning.

Light sabres come from the Hollywood version of science fiction, which is often quite stupid even if it entertaining.  This is miles away from the best written SF, which far fewer people pay attention to than the masses of people who see movies.  I have written the screen story for one film, Spielberg´s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which was – shall we say – more poetic and intelligent than most American SF movies, so it did less well in America but Japanese housewives went to see it repeatedly.

In your novel, The Embedding (1973) you are dealing with the development of language and communication with aliens, and the aliens in Mockymen (2003) are capturing catatonic people’s bodies and using them as puppets. What do you think could the humankind survive the meeting with an alien intelligence?

If aliens visit us, they are likely to be much more advanced than humans technologically simply because they are able to travel here.  They might be united with artificial intelligences and therefore more advanced cognitively too.  This might make us feel diminished, but I don´t think so because we are an arrogant species.  I would hope that contact with aliens would erase our silly concepts of a “God” and diminish the social and psychological damage caused to ourselves by most human religions.  Realistically, however, intelligent life on Earth is the result of a long series of lucky accidents, like winning a lottery 20 times in succession, therefore I think we might be the only advanced intelligent self-aware life in our galaxy; and I don´t think that true “strong” self-aware artificial intelligence will happen either.  However, it’s important to speculate about the possibilities.  I create mirrors so that we might explore what we are, and what we might become, but also explore what we aren´t and what we cannot become.

Your latest novel, Waters of Destiny, is a historical thriller that takes place in a parallel time.  Central to the plot, readers will find the Black Plague and the modern bio-terrorism.  Where did the idea come from?

One of the biggest threats to civilisation nowadays is a global pandemic, arising spontaneously or else produced and spread deliberately, perhaps by religious lunatics.  The idea that the killer Black Death of the Middle Ages had anything to do with rats and fleas is completely wrong, as science is now beginning to realise.  Bubonic plagues also happened during the Middle Ages, but the real killer was a much more virulent haemorrhagic fever, which can come back out of hiding.  In Waters of Destiny myself and my co-author imagine that a 12th century Arab doctor of genius could have worked out the true cause of the Black Death and also stored the virus, within the mind-set and the medical technology of his time, on behalf of the Assassins of Alamut, and that the modern descendants of those Assassins recover and amplify and release the virus.  The science and the history in our book is completely plausible and realistic.

You co-authored the novel with Andy West, and as far I know you worked on the three books together for several years. Writing is usually a lonely job and it could be unusual for an author to work in partnership. Why you decide to work together and was this different for you?

In fact, collaborating isn´t all that unusual for me, though collaborations  probably only amount to 5% of what I have written.   Back in about 1980 I co-wrote with Michael Bishop the first transatlantic novel collaboration, Under Heaven´s Bridge, using typewriter and airmail post.  More recently, with Italian surrealist Robert Quaglia I wrote a complete book of linked stories, The Beloved of My Beloved, which may well be the only full-length genre book by two European authors with different mother tongues.  I´ve collaborated on poems with American poet Mike Allen.

All depends upon being on the same wavelength as the collaborator.  I´m fairly flexible to work with.  But I'm not advertising for more collaborators!  This has to happen spontaneously.  In the case of the big plague novel, The Waters of Destiny, the scope seemed too large for one person to work on, so I invited Andy West whom I already knew well – science background, keen interest in the big patterns of history, already author of a big ambitious SF novel (unpublished as yet), clever and congenial.  Thank goodness I did!  The scope of the novel became even bigger as we researched and wrote it.  A good reason for writing books, including novels, is to discover things and states of mind that you never knew before, and to infect readers with these.

When you started working on the novels you didn’t know there would be a revolution in the Middle-East soon, for example Kadhafi would be executed. Were you astonished at the events?  Didn't these events overturn the story?

Those events took us by surprise.  However, no publishers or agents were interested in our book (which is very well written, with a subject of world importance; idiotic publishers and agents! but this is normal), so the book got delayed for a couple of years and I was able to revise political aspects.  Finally we published it ourselves as 3 ebooks through a company I set up in Spain; see  Our major problem about recent events in the Arab world was Syria, which our characters must visit, and where the political outcome is still unknown, but I rewrote episodes in a way which I hope fits most outcomes except for anarchy.

Is traveling important for a writer? For example Jules Verne didn’t travel at all, and you traveled many places in the World. Which was the most astounding/amazin/stunning travel or experience?

What I remember first of all is driving through Tanzania along a rutted dirt road miles from anywhere, with no other vehicles on it, when a bush fire burst out along one side of the road.  [Bush = wild African countryside with some trees and bushes and grass]  So I drove faster.  Then the fire leapt the road and both sides were aflame; and I was driving as fast as possible.  Later, on the same road, after I got past the fire, I saw what looked like a branch lying across the road, so I aimed to hit it symmetrically because you don´t slow down on rutted roads or the ruts will try to shake your car to pieces.  Just as I got close, the “branch” reared up to strike at the windscreen; it was a poisonous black mamba about 3 metres long.  I saw the head coming right towards me, getting within less than a metre, but then the front of the car hit the majority of the snake and knocked it down.  On the positive side, the most amazing thing I saw was Mount Kilimanjaro.  I´d be driving for hours, looking out for it among the other mountains on the horizon.  Finally I stopped the car, got out to stretch my legs, and for some reason I looked up at the zenith of the sky.  There, high above clouds, was Kilimanjaro like a giant moon floating in space.

Travelling has always been very important to me, from the age of 16 when I hitchhiked from Rotterdam to Munich on my own, via the Rhineland and Nürnberg.  I´ve been inspired to write quite a lot of stories set in a whole range of countries.  Probably it seems that I travel more than I really do.  Also, I mustn’t travel too much or I won´t get enough writing down.  I´m not a writer who writes anywhere compulsively in any spare moment.  Nor do I read much when travelling, preferring to observe things and people.  I don´t carry a laptop with me, only a paper notebook.

You are living in Spain with your wife, Cristina. Was it hard to leave England?

On the contrary.  I've always been adaptable.  After I escaped from the North of England of my upbringing to Oxford as a student at the age of  17, I had no desire ever to go back “home” again.  Even my voice quickly mutated.  When I returned by boat to Europe, to Hamburg, after 3 years in Tokyo, myself by then accustomed to the subtleties of Japanese faces, Germans and then British faces looked freakishly exaggerated as if in some painting of peasants by one of the Brueghels.  Back in Britain I felt like an alien for a couple of years, though equally the Japanese regard a foreigner as a sort of alien.

I feel very at home in Spain.  I´m in the north where the weather is quite like England except that the winters aren´t so nasty, and the city of Gijón which I live in (unlike in the adjacent province) has all the beers of the world that I could desire, not to mention gorgeous wines at a third of the price in Britain.  Now that I breakfast on home-made bread with peppery olive oil upon it, I can´t understand how I could have spread so much grease and sugar on toast, I mean butter and marmalade.

Last year you wrote a cookbook with your wife, and this contains recipes and stories of famous chefs and restaurants. Specially interesting for us that you selected Gundel Crêpe as well. What do you think about the Hungarian cuisine, and generally what is your perception about Hungary nowadays?

To me Hungary seems a very congenial country, probably because of my Hungarian friends, but I’m aware that democracy might be disappearing rather fast and darkness may loom.  I´m aware that Hungary has had a – shall we say -- unfortunate history at times.  Recently I read a biography of Mátyás Corvinus, a great ruler whose achievements melted away so quickly.

I regard most Hungarians as specially clever, one reason being that they can speak Hungarian; after several years of effort I can only count up to 3 in Hungarian -- much more difficult than Japanese!  As for the lovely Hungarian cuisine, I have to be careful because I came back from my most recent trip to Budapest weighing 2  kilos more – probably the fault of roast duck with foie on top.

For our book we wanted to avoid mentioning too many French chefs.  So many meals which are named after people originated in France!  We tried hard to include other countries.  We managed to include the UK, the USA, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Uruguay, and New Zealand, as well as Hungary among the 50 meals – the Spanish book club commissioned our book for their 50th anniversary.

Also, we wanted a dish which would appeal to Spanish palates, with ingredients easy to find in Spain; hence the Gundel crêpes.  In fact the book is suitable for any country, so I´m trying to get it published in English because I wrote the stories of the meals in English to begin with.

This was originally published on-line in Librarius, the interviewer was Peter Michaleczky.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Interviewed: NSFWG Member Andy West

In order to highlight and showcase the talents of the group members, each of us has completed the same interview.  Hopefully these will be interesting and enlightening and will also include links to websites and books.

Eighth up is Andy West.

What made you want to become a writer?

Ultimately, I think it was the desire to say some things about the world that no-one else appeared to have said, at least as stories. Typically things about how life and society works, which might more usually be found in arcane biology or social science text-books. I am passionate about the science of evolution, and realised that its revelations could form the raw frameworks for stories which no-one else had told, and that, being underpinned by theory(ish), would have a persuasive ring of realism beneath the fiction. Somewhere along the line too I fell in love with myths (fictional and actual), and desired to create my own. I ‘just’ had to learn how to actually write enjoyable fiction, which took a lot longer than I thought (being young and over-confident). But I think I may be starting to get there now J. In short, I wanted to voice my own interests and observations to the world, and I figured the medium of story would be both the best and most rewarding way to go.

What was your first success?

Well I guess there are different success markers really, ones that feel different. The webzine Bewildering Stories published a work in 2006, and I was extremely pleased that I was ‘out there’ at last. Then the following year Ian Whates of the back-then nascent Newcon Press was kind enough to publish me in disLocations, an anthology packed with well-known writers and... me! That was hugely satisfying in a different way and I am eternally grateful to Ian for his faith in my writing. Then getting my tale Rescue Stories in a runner-up slot in the BSFA’s 50th anniversary short-story competition, with publication in a special edition of Focus (2009), was different  again. It definitely feels like success when Stephen Baxter hands you a prize J.

What do you think the group does for you?

The group is absolutely invaluable. For one thing, I’m not actually very widely read compared to most of the group members, and their immense knowledge of other works (as applied both to critiques of my own work or just in general exchange) is incredibly useful. As of course are all the different perspectives that each member supplies, each picking up errors and better approaches that I haven’t spotted. My own focus (as various of my stories are about narrative itself) is the underlying mechanics of how story works, and this is my angle that I attempt to return to the pool of ‘group skills’, if it can be so called. Then there’s the relationships, which have become very valuable over the years both in a direct writing context and in firm friendships too. I was very honoured to collaborate with Ian Watson on our techno-thriller trilogy The Waters of Destiny, not to mention enjoying getting to know him much better during the delightful process of working closely together. His (seemingly to me) instantaneous creation of colourful characters, cunning subplots and grand vistas was a great thing to behold, inspiring me to stretch with my own input. With Ian Whates I have shared culinary delights, but none quite so tasty to me as when his NewCon Press, which has gained such a fine reputation in the industry over the last few years, published my first novel The Outcast and the Little One.  And latterly I was hugely appreciative of Tim Taylor’s Greyhart Press publishing my first collection Engines of Life, plus some while back Tim also granted me an electronic home for the above mentioned Rescue Stories after its paper run in Focus. There’s a big positive feedback loop of confidence and improving skills and yes, publication too, within the group, without which I’d probably still be writing stuff that never saw the outside of my home!

What was your last piece of work?

Well the latest publication (only last July) was Engines of Life from Greyhart Press per above, comprising six novellas and novelettes of which one, The Curator, is unique to the collection. The Curator was the winning story in the University of Central Lancaster’s (UCLan) Science Fiction competition a year or so back. However they were then unable to publish because legal difficulties arose, apparently connected to the University’s charter. This same  collection also contains the novella Truth, which although it first saw the light of day back at the turn of this year, is the in fact most recent story I’ve written. Since then I’ve been working on a huge non-fiction piece that has absorbed all my time and effort (in-between the day job!). I hope, finally finally, to have this piece out of the way very soon now and return to fiction.

What's coming up from you?

Given the length unusual length of time I’ve been away from the fiction trail (due to the above mentioned project), I’m actually in the position of having various concepts on the queue and have no idea which one to go for! Watch this space J.

Andy on the Net

Also, beautiful sells ebook editions of The Waters of Destiny by me and Ian Watson.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Badgers Waddle, behind the novel by Nigel Edwards

My most recent publication though Greyhart Press is Badger’s Waddle, a rather peculiar book if I say so myself – actually, a number of other people have said so, too!

Badger’s Waddle (BW) isn’t a novel as such, more a collection of stories about some of the characters that live and die in the quaint and entirely mythical but quintessentially English village – or Hampton, to use the term suggested by my good friend Ian Watson! – of the same name.  There is a linear progression of sorts in that each chapter introduces (by and large) at least one new character who then becomes the focus for a subsequent chapter.  However, the story surrounding each character is not necessarily integral to the whole of the book, and this has upset some of the readers.  Convention dictates that a book needs a theme, and that the activities of protagonists are intrinsic to that theme but, for good or ill, that’s not the case here.  Certainly, the opening chapter ties in to the small collection of chapters at the end of the book, but in between there are stories that seem totally inconsequential to the gist of the work itself.

But, you see, that’s exactly what life in a real English village is like.  Although the inhabitants are bound together by virtue of the fact that they live in the same place, although they may interact for village-centric events such as fetes, or serve on committees together, or support their local church, their individual lives don’t overlap all the time.  Each has her or his own existence within the encompassing village environment.  Behind the door of every cottage is a story that no neighbour in any other cottage will know about, even in the most intimate of Hamptons.  This is why I decided to not observe the tradition of story structure in this case.

Another oddity of BW is that it crosses genre boundaries.  Again, convention says that a book should be classifiable as science fiction, or fantasy, or horror or whatever; but BW doesn’t conform to that either.  It’s a work of fiction so in the sense that all fiction is fantasy I suppose ‘fantasy’ is the most apposite term, but the tale does wander, crossing classification borders in the same way that Old Father Thames meanders across whatever counties happen to be around on his journey to the sea.

Then we come to the content and the debate that starts with chapter 3.  This is where the word ‘unpleasant’ starts to get used by readers, and chapter 4 about which the term ‘queasy’ has been used.  I’ll admit that these chapters (and one or two others) don’t make for easy reading by someone with easily offended sensibilities but they came from the same ether from where I plucked all the other mini-tales.  I didn’t set out to shock or offend or upset, but sometimes writing does that and the author isn’t – honestly – aware that there could be a negative side to what is written.  Stories write themselves, in my case.  I don’t plan ahead to chart a course; I just sit at the keyboard (I can’t even read my own hand-writing!) and watch the words appear by themselves on the screen before me.  It’s a kind of magic (the late, great Freddy) over which I have little control.  Sometimes it works smoothly; other times it can be a bit controversial.

Let me finish with a quote from one of many provided by readers (all viewable at Amazon or Good Reads or wherever).  This is from fibrochimp:

“Badger’s Waddle rocks, and rolls and sometimes makes you feel a bit queasy… but don’t let that put you off there are a lot of LOL moments!”

Badgers Waddle is published by Greyhart Press 
and is available in paperback from  | 
and in Kindle edition |  

Nigel Edwards, 2013

Monday, 2 September 2013

Interviewed: NSFWG Member Tim C. Taylor

In order to highlight and showcase the talents of the group members, each of us has completed the same interview.  Hopefully these will be interesting and enlightening and will also include links to websites and books.

Seventh up is Tim C. Taylor.

What made you want to become a writer?

I’m a late starter compared to many other writers, but only at literature, not at being creative. Before writing fiction, I wrote and performed music. I formulated recipes, brewed and drank my own beer. Professionally I designed, wrote and tested software, and in later years wrote the equivalent of several novels’ worth of procedure manuals, technical documentation and other writing for software organizations. Although I’ve always read fiction constantly, it never occurred to me to write any myself until 2002 when I decided that I’d taken such satisfaction from learning and applying brewing knowledge — such things as diastatic enzyme content and the proper use of high beta hops — that I’d apply the same principle and have a go at writing the kind of fiction I was reading at the time.

What was your first success?

The second story I wrote was for a flash fiction competition hosted by Focus, the writing magazine from the BSFA. The remit was to write an alien character with an original motivation. I won the competition.

The alien in my story was farming the creativity of Earth, the idea being that species emerging into a basic level of scientific and technological understanding are a precious commodity in the wider interstellar economy, because their fresh approach to old problems can be extremely valuable.

That basic concept led to the development of my White Knight universe, for which I’ve written over a million words so far.

What do you think the group does for you?

The breadth and depth of experience and perspective is spot on. So too is the size of the group. I’ve been in larger groups, but they tend to splinter into factions or overwhelm with the volume of feedback.

The other thing I admire about the group, is that the members are not mindless cheerleaders, but will tell you straight if they feel the story doesn’t work, especially if they feel you could have done better.

What was your last piece of work?

That would be ‘Dig!’ a short story written for The Repository of Imagination, an alien story collective for children that’s inspired by 2000AD of the 70s and 80s. ‘Dig!’ tells of a little girl overcome with a compulsion to burrow as deep underground as she can. She is not alone and all those afflicted with the Curse face a harsh penalty. It will probably get published at some point under the pseudonym of Crustias Scattermush.

What's coming up from you?

I’ve got five books I’m hoping to publish of my own fiction this year, but I’m not certain of the order of release. Next will probably either be the second edition of ‘Format Your Print Book with Createspace’, which has doubled in word count since the first edition, or a mini collection of short stories under the Scattermush name for the Repository of Imagination, which is likely to be called ‘The Treasure of the Last Dragon’. The title story was very much inspired by the Famous Five series, which I never read as a child but am reading to mine. What Enid Blyton would make of it, I have no idea. Actually, Enid Blyton did edge towards science fiction with her book ‘The Mountain of Adventure’ (1949) so I’m confident that she would approve of my gang of adventure-prone alien children having a dog-analogue who is secretly a sleeper soldier for an invasion of our galaxy that’s been a hundred thousand years in the planning. Probably.

Where to find Tim on the web