Thursday, 29 May 2014

Once upon a time, not all that terribly long ago, I was one of those writers who thought that every word was precious. If it was somewhat short of brilliance - every phrase and sentence had at least the seeds of genius in it. While that may be true for some writers, it's certainly never been true for me.
While I do come out with my share of good, strong, dynamic sentences - I also conjure up more than my share of stinkers. And while I can write an engaging readable first draft, they do tend to be riddled with typos and awkward constructions. I often feel that I have made my case brilliantly, then upon re-reading three days later, end up wondering what the hell I was trying to say.
All of my life - fancying myself not only as a writer, but as a good writer - I have deluded myself into believing that I'm an exceptional writer. I've clung to every word, as hard-earned and precious.
What bullshit.
I think the problem was simply not having written enough. I used to write really good fourth drafts - now I write even better fourth drafts - because I am willing to believe that I can do better and I have become unafraid to flat-out erase things and start from scratch.
I remember the good stuff. I usually even remember my best lines and most cogent thoughts. The second and third time around I have a much better idea of where I want to get to and how to get there.
It's important not to forget that I occasionally nail it on the first draft and write something I can't improve on.   Sometimes a line, a paragraph, a page...once or twice even an entire story or chapter.
Recognizing the good stuff and knowing what I should keep and what I should throw out - that's the hardest part.
And now that I finally have the courage not only to recognize the stuff that falls short, but to recognize, rewrite or even scrap it - perhaps I'm finally on my way to achieving my goal of writing something that I can genuinely feel proud of - not to say that I'm ashamed of the valiant efforts I've made along the way - but these days I've also learned to take pride in being able to admit to myself that "a valiant effort" is all it really is.
A genius for self-criticism may not be as satisfying as a genius for writing, but I firmly believe it will get you to the same place in the end. And so, I write, delete, rewrite, delete some more. And every now and then - as in this little reflection, I trust myself to quickly make my point and get out. And if genius remains far away...at least now I've adjusted my delusions to believe that I get a little bit closer each and every day.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Ever heard of the word "Sluagh"? Neither had I. But according to Wikipedia, the "Sluagh" were spirits of the restless dead. They flew in groups like flocks of birds and were known to enter the houses of the dying, with the goal of carrying the souls away with them. Like the reanimated spirits in The Goblin's Cloak, they live in barrows and steal souls. 

My discovery of this worked out amazingly well, considering that I had never heard of the sluagh until long after I created my barrow-imps, which are essentially sluagh in human form. 



Which brings me back to what originally inspired my interpretation of the mythology I'm using in this novel. It is set during a very interesting time between the Druids and the Celts. Historians talk about this being the time of the Picts, but next to nothing is actually known about the Picts...which is wonderful for someone like me who likes to make stuff up.

Combining elements of Druidic faith with aspects of Gaelic and Celtic myth, I've managed to create something that seems to actually make sense. Who knows, maybe it really was an uprising of the restless dead that took down the Picts. I'm trying to decide whether it potentially qualifies as the First Zombie Apocalypse.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Having written horror fiction for most of the last 30 years, it never occurred to me how much I was influenced by my favourite fantasy authors, but in the course of writing The Goblin's Cloak, a couple of influences in particular have come to my attention – and they are not the usual suspects. Anyone writing epic fantasy in the 21st century is obviously going to owe a debt to J. R. R. Tolkien. Publishers spent most of the last half of the 20th century looking for the next Tolkien and even if fantasy written during that period did not consciously draw on Lord of the Rings, we were all influenced by it in some way.

But my major influences were considerably more obscure. Evangeline Walton wrote most of her incomparable Mabinogion tetralogy between 1920 and 1940 – even though most of her books were either obscure or unpublished until released as part of the wonderful Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the 1970s. Her books were wonderful, rich, compassionate retellings of Welsh myths. Her books instilled in me a love for Celtic mythology that inspired me to set The Goblin's Cloak in Iron Age Scotland.

But my biggest influences were two sword and sorcery heroes who inhabited the decadent world of Nehwon in a city called Lankhmar. These heroes were named Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser - a giant and a thief who were featured in a series of novelettes by the incomparable Fritz Leiber.

If you were as much of a fan of those two characters as I was, you may catch glimpses of them, or at least inverted images of them in my villains, Erik and Dhammalion. Any conjuring of them was completely subconscious and inadvertent, as was any oblique references you may catch to the mouser's patron, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes. But as unintentional as my homage may be, I can pretty much guarantee I would never have even attempted to write a sword and sorcery novel if I had never encountered those two particular characters.

If you like fantasy and you are not familiar with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, I urge you to visit your favourite book retailer now and give yourself a real treat. And while you're there - pick up another of the most unheralded masterpieces in the genre with Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion tetralogy.