Friday 17 January 2014

Steam Punk and Speculative Fiction

Steam Punk and Speculative Fiction
Airships, Spaceships and Demon Lovers, with more than a dash of Swords and Sorcery

January’s RNA meeting welcomed an impressive four person industry panel. Liesel Schwarz, Erica Hayes and last year’s winner of the Elizabeth Gouge award, Kate Johnson,  three writers with a thrilling catalogue of Steam Punk and speculative fiction between them: from the darkest of historical and paranormal spook fests, to urban and contemporary, fantasy romance. The fourth person on the panel, Michael Rowley, is current Editorial Director for Sci-Fi and Fantasy at DEL RAY, an imprint of Edbury Publishing.

To begin each panel member introduced themselves to our group of eager RNA members, before some lively questioning began.

Liesel explained Steam Punk to be more of an aesthetic movement than a literary genre. Rooted in the subversion of Victorian fashion, Steam Punk revels in being an alternative reality. Typically featuring highly imaginative steam powered machinery, it's been described as a sort of, ‘Science-Fiction for girls’ or what can happen, “when Goths discover brown.’

Michael confirmed a surge in the success of genre fiction, leading publishers to seek first-rate, high quality concept writing, with an Edwardian, Belle Époque or Victoriana background, particularly when accompanied by an original hook. But its not only the women in corsets kind of Sci-Fi that's desirable, quality writing featuring spaceships is particularly sought after too, with romance not always being the central theme.

Erica mentioned high angst, high emotion, with dark epic, strong erotic paranormal themes are all the rage in USA, with the rise of e-books and digital first publication considerably widening the readers’ opportunity to enter such dangerous, paranormal worlds. But there’s always an appetite for any new style of complicated era romance. Apparently one of  Erica's current themes concerns a zombie lover. Let’s hope the wrong body parts don’t drop off.
Kate pointed out Steam Punk and speculative fiction is escapism. So, as it's a mash up of many ideas and styles, you can make it what you want. And plenty of readers have an appetite for such fiction. Although such writing is popular with all age groups, there’s a ready market with the Harry Potter/Twilight generation who have now moved into adult fiction.

With the growing rise of the nerd and with geekdom apparently becoming the done thing, alternative arts and crossover speculative fiction writing is becoming more popular than ever, but that doesn’t stop it being difficult for an unknown author to break through, no matter how high quality, and high concept their work may be. So if this type of writing is your thing, I wish you my very best luck, you'll need it ... unless you've a touch of weird magic to help you along.

(The illustration is by Leon Benett and is an 1880 illustration for The Steam House, by Jules Verne). 

Monday 6 February 2012

It's a Real Crime

In the last few days, all eager to get going, I’ve started a new novel. This is despite getting emails from two agents saying they are sad, but they’re passing on the opportunity to take my other one. This is not good news, but there are plenty others I tell myself - sticking stamps on the envelopes of the next batch - maybe this time ...
But still, it hasn’t helped to learn the public has developed a taste for reading crime over romantic fiction. It seems Public Lending Rights, who monitor what goes on in our public libraries, maintain Crime Fiction has overtaken Romantic Fiction in the library popularity stakes. Apparently what we want in these gritty social and economic times, is even grittier fiction. We’ve thrown over the chance of a 'will she won’t she,' good story, followed by a smoochy happy ending, in favour of yarns about the slayings of schoolgirls and other bloody thrillers of the likes written by James Patterson .
And if that’s not enough for me to deal with, a friend recently asked if she could read one of my short stories. Ignoring the publishers habitually repeated dictum, “The only person who gets a free copy is your mother,” I offered her A Cat About the House, recently published in the anthology, Its Never too Late to Fall in Love
 You’d think I was being seditious even offering it.
“What! I didn’t realise you wrote Romantic Fiction – Why?”
When friends respond like that, why indeed? Well to make money wouldn’t go amiss – not that at the moment there's much chance. I love doing it, sounds a bit weak and self indulgent, but its true, I really do. Getting stuck into writing a story is akin to going on holiday to my way of thinking. But in truth, I want others to have a good time, forget about their troubles for a short while and enjoy reading what I write. If I achieve that, then I'll have achieved the greatest thrill from writing.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Nice Girls Aren't Pushy

How to self-promote when you’re a new writer? This is tricky. When I still had a day job, my repeated mantra to diffident colleagues looking to improve their prospects tended to be, “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will." And I still believe this to be true, a real shame then I can’t take my own advice.
    At the risk of being controversial, there are times when I should just ditch my mother, not the real one of course, but that ‘censoring voice of mother’ that whispers in my ear, “Norma dear, nice girls aren’t that pushy.”
    Take last Thursday as an example. I’m at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Industry Panel event. three speakers have finished answering our questions and we’re having tea and a chat. There’s a really approachable agent and I’m dying to talk to her, but it is sooooo hard. I saunter up, she’s talking to another so, trying my hardest not to look like I’m waiting in line, I admire the paintings on the wall behind her head. Fiddling with a biscuit, I make inconsequential conversation with another writer, who’s also trying to look like she just admiring the paintings.
    Both of us fully know the truth. We really want to tell this guardian of a gateway to successful publication, our books are, ‘the next best thing,’ and she’d be mad not to grab us while she can.
    And when I get to speak to the agent, what do I say – not  a practised hard sell about my brilliance as a writer, or even that I’ve a finished book – oh no, I mumble something about how awful it must be to be approached by yet another pushy author. The agent, newly arrived from New York, where I guess they do things differently, gives me a quizzical look. I make some weakish joke about having my mother on my shoulder – she looks at me again as if I’m mad and I retire - to kick myself. In a previous existence I’ve actually run assertiveness training courses, I’ve advised others what to do, I know all the theory – so why the hell can’t I do it for myself. Eh?

Thursday 12 January 2012

Passion in the Potato Patch, or the art of finding an agent and other assorted writing trials

Anyone will tell you nowadays, a writer who wants to be published needs a literary agent. So where to begin? Online is an obvious place to start, or possibly a troll through the Writers’ and Artists’ Year book.
With rookie optimism I try both. Hours later and the only thing I’m certain about - writing the book’s the easy bit. Okay, I already knew sending an unrepresented baby off to a publisher, is a sure way straight to the shredder bin. But agents are tricky customers to catch and surprisingly few are in the least bit interested in Romantic Fiction.
I sort out a handful of hopefuls who look like they might be sympathetic. Treat it as a job application says one bit of advice, 'I'm only human so  spell my name right,' the plea from another. I only take electronic submissions says a third, I only take paper submissions, a forth. Some like particular fonts or a writing C.V. All want a one page synopsis. None of them seem likely to respond to a bribe of homemade blackberry jam or a basket of vegetables from my allotment, which is a pity as I seem to have a glut of both.

 And then there is something called The Agent’s Letter. This is the key. No matter how good your manuscript is, if you don’t catch their eye with your letter, you’ll never get off the slush pile. Start with a sure fire hook is the advice I find on the internet. But what exactly is a hook? A sentence or a phrase, or possibly a single word (if it's exactly the right word) that sums up the book. Which is where ‘Passion in the Potato Patch,’ comes in – sometimes I think that husband of mine doesn’t take my writing as seriously as he might – you wait, one day I’ll be signing copies in Waterstones ... and then who’ll be laughing? Eh! 

I have to write a Short Bio about myself. I look a few up to get some idea what to write. Have you noticed that no writer is ever run of the mill? One I find describes herself as being the sole child of a teacher and a circus clown. But I am ordinary. About the most exciting thing about me is that I’ve actually written 93,000 words in book form. I was a special needs teacher at one time, and I love gardening. I was feature of the month in a publication called Hot Stuff a while back, but don't get excited, it was only because I make lampwork glass beads as a hobby.  

Now my letter is written. I’ve got together my first three chapters, a synopsis and neatly compiled a writer’s C.V (at least with two short stories published I’ve something to put in it now, though it still looks like the shortest C.V ever) But even thus prepared, current wisdom says I might not get my manuscript read. With thousands of hopefuls sending off novels every year, finding an agent is starting to seem actually harder than getting published. But if you can’t get published without an agent ... I feel a ‘Catch 22’ situation coming on.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Christmas Pudding

Cleaning up this morning after our Boxing day family party, I unearthed the remains of the Christmas cake – and ate it. What with that moment of weakness and the assault I made on last night’s lemon mousse, I feel a new fitness regime is in order even before the New Year bites.

Friday 18 November 2011

A Moment of Modest Glory

Rumour has it that aspiring authors should avoid cliches like the plague, but at times like this I can’t see how they can be avoided. As with those mythical buses alleged to turn up in pairs, the moment you think getting one story into an anthology is excitement enough, another one gets published.
So please allow me to kill two birds with one stone; I’m so excited about my double moment of glory. I've had TWO stories published in almost as many weeks.
Okay, I’d be living in a fool’s paradise not to realise, two stories do not a writing career make and are a far cry from getting a complete book published, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
So it's time to start touting my newly finished novel around to an agent or two. (If you know of anyone interested in an upbeat romantic tale about a young woman gardener, please get word to me straight away.) In the meantime, should you fancy a good read, both anthologies are now available to order from your local bookshop or on Amazon:

Voices of Angels - Bridge House Publishing
It's Never Too Late To Fall in Love - U3A Press
And my apologies for all the cliches, I got a bit carried away in the excitement.

Monday 24 October 2011

What a Sloppy Blogger

What a sloppy little blogger I am. Summer’s come and gone – again – and I’ve not posted a word on here since the start of August. No excuses, except life tends to take over when daylight hours are long. Next week the clocks change and, despite this morning’s warm sun, the frost of a few days ago has done for the birch leaves, and they’ve yellowed and scattered all over the lawn. If the wind keeps up, no doubt the beech leaves will be next. The few flowers left in my garden, the cosmos and a straggling dahlia or two, have taken on that cold pinched look that tells me it won’t be long now before they blacken and wilt.  
The chill in the air comes as a bit of a shock. A little over a week ago I was travelling up the Douro valley on a cruise ship, sun hat and sunglasses at the ready, a glass of port wine close at hand. No way am I a hot house flower. I like my weather cool, my mood melancholy. My usual holidays are taken in Scotland, but a friend and I got tempted and I’ve just spent a week with her in what is really a very luxurious holiday camp.
Trips out to view ancient churches stuffed with gold, three gourmet meals a day and all with on board entertainment as part of the package. At times rather surreal, but I enjoyed the experience just the same. Sometimes it’s good to do something completely different. I realise I spend so much time being earnest and trying too hard, that I often forget to have fun. So thank you little boat on the Douro river, thank you kind friend who came with me. I am grateful you reminded me how to laugh.