Saturday, August 25, 2007

Larry Hartsell RIP

Just heard that Larry Hartsell passed away on 20th August.

Hartsell was a big name in martial arts. He studied under kenpo godfather Ed Parker and kung fu legend Bruce Lee. He served as a military policeman in Vietnam and bodyguarded various movie stars. He also pioneered grappling in the martial arts long before the Gracies and the Ultimate Fighting Championship made it fashionable.

I once went to one of his seminars. As he warmed up in preparation for the seminar he chatted amiably to me and a handful of the other students. We were all too awestruck to respond properly. Then, despite being jetlagged after his flight from America, he took us through a wide variety of techniques from judo and kali. Most of the stuff went right over my head (although I'm still hoping to use one of the knifefighting techiques he made us practice in a story one day) but his skill shone through.

It was a shock to hear of his death. My condolences to his family and friends.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Holy Horrors

Just heard that I've had a story accepted for Holy Horrors. This is an anthology of religious themed horror stories (just thought I'd mention that in case you couldn't figure it out from the title) edited by T.M. Wright and Matt Cardin.

Dead chuffed about this. The final contents list hasn't been officially announced yet but from what I understand there are several big names involved. And me.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I've finally got round to getting a myspace page. It's still a bit rough round the edges but it's at if anyone fancies taking a look.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What a Blunt

Are you one of those people who thinks James Blunt lacks street cred? Then you obviously haven't seen this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Take two posts into the shower?

Here's my reply to some comments on outlining stories in a discussion on the John Connolly message boards. Reusing it here is a lot easier than coming up with something original. Lazy, me?

>>Every now and again I get images and flashes of scenes, which I work toward. But they hardly ever end up in the finished story.

I think a lot of people tend to see outlining vs. making it up as you go as much more separate concepts than they really are. If you're outlining you don't have to stick to your outline, if you get a better idea once you start writing then use it. Similarly if you're making it up as you go and an idea suddenly pops into your head the idea isn't necessarily going to be something you can use at that exact moment in the story, you have to keep hold of the idea until you can fit it in, usually by steering the story towards scenes that will support that idea. Even if the idea is closely related to the scene you're writing -- e.g. "Hey, I just thought of a great way to end this scene!" -- you've still got to write the rest of the scene first and that means you're planning, if only only a very small scale.

Personally even when I'm working from a very detailed outline it tends to deal more with story structure than the actual words I'm going to use. So there's still a lot of improvisation in terms of the dialogue and descriptive writing.

Michael Moorcock discusses this at length in Death is No Obstacle. He is a big fan of outlining a story's structure but he still makes things up as he goes. He likens it to jazz improvisation, if he finds that he has used a few similies or metaphors relating to say, mirrors he doesn't think, "Oh crap, I'd better change that so I'm not constantly repeating myself" instead he turns it into a motif and tries to tie it in with the themes of the story.

Sorry, I'm not trying to come across a know-it-all, I realise that the writing process is different for everyone. A lot of times when I said "you" in this post I probably should have said "I" but I was just trying to give my ramblings a little more sense of immediacy.

Basically there's no one surefire way to write a story. Just use whatever works for you. But if your usual method suddenly stops working for whatever reason (it's happened to me) remember that there's other methods out there you can experiment with until normal service is resumed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Illusions of Style

One thing I neglected to mention when moaning about book length is font size. Generally speaking old books seem to contain smaller typeface which obviously helps contribute to their shorter page count. Although there are exceptions to this. A year or two back I read a David Baldacci novel which was over 600 pages long and had a typeface so small you'd have trouble reading it with an electron microscope. I had a headache by the time I finished reading that bastard.

Another important factor when it comes to long books is writing style. Some long books seem shorter as they have a breezier style. I recently read John Connolly's The Unquiet and found it a joy to read, much easier to digest than his previous novel in the Charlie Parker series. Although admittedly I wasn't in the best of moods when I read The Black Angel which might go some way as to explaining why I didn't enjoy it as much. But anyway Connolly claims that although a lot of people found TU the quicker read it is actually the same length as TBA. (My copy of TU seems to be shorter but that may be due to the difference in page size between paperbacks and hardbacks.) Connolly says that he took a different approach to writing the two novels as TBA was an epic novel full of metaphysical conceits and a sprawling plot that spanned the decades plus two continents whereas TU was a much more intimate affair. Therefore TBA just feels longer.

Coincidentally I recently read an old interview with Lee Child and he said that for his first novel The Killing Floor he deliberately avoided using long sentences as he didn't want to do anything to alienate his readers. He was trying to sell the novel before his redundancy money ran out and he didn't want to do anything to jeopardise his chances. Once he sold the first novel his style seems slightly less clipped but based on the novels I've read he's still making sure that you don't need a degree in English Literature to understand his prose.

And legend has it that James Ellroy created his staccato pseudo-beatnik style after the manuscript for one of his novels was too long and his agent advised him to cut out all the unnecessary words. This allowed him to cram tons of plot into a single book.

Of course if had been a Fanatasy novel his agent would have told him not to change a single word. They'd just cut the book into three sections and sell it as a trilogy.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Long And The Short Of It

I think one of the reasons I got pissed off with some of the books I've been reading for the last couple of years is that they seem so bloody long. As I've been sorting through my bookshelves recently I've noticed that a lot of my old books are only about 250 pages long. Nowadays it's hard to find anything under 350.

Not that I used to seek out short books, it's just that most of the writers I liked tended to write shorter novels. Which did me a favour because when I did read a long book I didn't feel any pressure to get it finished quickly in order to make time for all the other massive tomes I needed to read. The way I do now.

Now I know you're thinking, "Hang on, 350 pages isn't long!" And you're right, it isn't. But when the shortest books I can readily find are all 100 pages longer than what I used to read it soon starts to mount up. Especially as all the books that used to be 350 pages are now around 500 pages.

It used to be that if I didn't like a book I didn't mind so much because I hadn't wasted much time on it but now I'm ploughing through 500 odd pages in the hope that the story will turn out to be halfway decent. (Okay, I should be able to tell if the story's any good well before I finish the 500 pages but unless the story is truly awful I like to give the author the benefit of the doubt.) Whereas when I waded through Crime and Punishment as a teenager only to decide that Russian literature wasn't really my thing I didn't feel too bad, I still had lots of other novels that I could zip through.

I miss being able to do that. I miss being able to read a Michael Moorcock trilogy in a weekend. (Admittedly, that 's probably longer than it took him to write it.) Because then I had plenty of time left to tackle the longer stuff. And also because I like to reread stuff. Back in the day I read Dune three times; if I was going to attempt a book of similar size now I'd have to check my diary to see if I had time to read it even once.

I don't mind if a book is long because it needs to be but a lot of them feel padded. Even with authors I like such as Stephen Hunter and Lee Child I'm often left thinking that their longer books don't really need to be edging towards 600 pages.

I'm guessing a lot of this is due to the publishers. They think that the punters want long books. And seeing as the rare 250 page book that does get published these days go for the same price as a 500 pager then yes, the public probably do want longer books if only to feel that they're getting their money's worth. Because it won't occur to the publishers to charge less money for a book unless it's part of a promotional offer.

So a lot of modern books put me off with their length. Most of the cutting edge SF writers I hear about produce books the size of housebricks. The same with Fantasy (and then it's usually the first instalment of a bloody trilogy.) I think Horror might not be so bad, although to be honest I don't read a lot of Horror novels. Of course back in the Eighties and Nineties Horror novels were bloody massive in order to emulate Stephen King. There was an old Jonathan Carroll interview where he said he'd been interested in writing a full-blown Horror novel until his publisher told him it would have to be at least 600 pages. Carroll decided to stick with his usual Dark Fantasy stuff.

Anyway, I'd better stop now as I've just realised that this post is about three times longer than I intended it to be. Oh, the irony ...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Our survey said ...

There's been some comments made over on John Connolly's message board that not many SF/F/H fans have heard of him as most of his novels are marketed as crime. Just out of curiosity how many of you had heard of him before I mentioned him here? And out of those who had heard of him how many realised that his novels contain a supernatural element?