Ignore your synopsis at your peril (30/6/09)

Posted in News

What’s the point of a synopsis? I suppose you might think that’s pretty simple, really, that the synopsis is there to, you know, summarise the story and stuff like that. Actually that’s quite a hard thing to do; to be blunt, I find writing a synopsis a lot more challenging than writing a novel (although it is a bit quicker). What a synopsis is NOT is a summary of the plot. A synopsis is also not a dramatis personae. It is not a chapter-by-chapter summary of your story. You might think it’s one of those things, but it isn’t, even if it cunningly disguises itself as one. What a synopsis isn’t is a summary of what you want to say and nothing more. It needs to be a summary of how you mean to say it too. Remember, after all, what your synopsis is for, after all. It’s for making your agent, editor, other editors, preferably everyone in the whole world, be so convinced that the thing your synopsis is a synopsis of is so damn good that they salivate at the thought of being able to read it one day. It’s a marketing tool. In fact, when it comes down it, your synopsis doesn’t need to bear any actual resemblance to what you end up writing. By the time a manuscript finally arrives, it’s long done its job. Hasn’t it?

Well I think the answer is yes to the above. All of the above. Even the bits of the above that directly contradict each other. And while I certainly do worry about making sure my synopses are marketing tools (you have to bear in mind here that everything I’m under contract to produce has been on the basis of a synopsis and a few chapters being all there is to show) and that they reflect the tone and the style of what I plan to write, they do still, you know, summarise the story and stuff like that. Things might change a bit here and there, but quite a bit of thought goes into the story design at this stage. It’s all mapped out, at least as a sketch, and that’s what the synopsis is supposed to show – that you know the way. A map, that’s what a synopsis is to me. A really cool map that tells you how you’ll get from the start of the story to the end, and shows you just how irresistibly cool the journey is going to be. A map that always reminds you where you’re going and how to get there.

So, having extolled the virtues of the synopsis, can I know extol the virtues of actually following the damn thing. Just like I didn’t recently. Don’t look at your word count and think Hmmm… going a bit long here… Can recover that if I just skip a bit. That was just character development, after all.

No. Bad Steve. BAD Steve. Several tens of thousands of words later, Syannis the Thief-Taker does something that’s unexpectedly out of character. It needs to seem a bit off-kilter. Except it doesn’t. Why? Because Syannis the Thief-Taker hasn’t had the attention he needs to make an outburst of [spoiler deleted] seem a bit odd. Which means that the reaction of Berren, his apprentice, doesn’t work. Which makes what he was about to do next seem a bit odd. And thus the whole rest of my novel unravels before my eyes.

Bah. But like every boy scout knows, maps don’t work if you don’t follow them.

Well it’s spotted now, it’s easily fixed on this occasion and if I overrun, well then it won’t be by much and it won’t be the end of the world. It’s cost me a couple of days and a slight headache from too much brow-furrowing. It could have been a lot, lot worse. Still – note to self for the future: Write the story you set out to write, dammit.

Lots of other stuff bubbling about at the moment. Some signings, some world-building, a map (yes, you heard, a MAP!) of the dragon-realms and maybe some new stories. All on hold for now while I finish the first draft of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, but watch this space about a month from now.

The Speaker (23/6/09)

Posted in Critical Failures

Who will be the Speaker of the Realms? <dun-dun-daaaa>

For anyone who’s reading this and doesn’t already know, a significant part of the plot to The Adamantine Palace revolves around the Machiavellian manoeuvrings and machinations of a group of ruthless, selfish, murdering bastards for the position of Speaker of the Realms, a sort of Capo di tutti capi of the dragon-realms. Particularly astute reviewers have noted a sprinkling of contemporary social commentary (thank-you, Locus) present in this. Share with me for a moment, then, my amusement at the the current plight and manoeuvrings surrounding the appointment of the new Speaker of the House of Commons. Overlord of Fraud? Not for me to say; I’ll leave that to the bold men and women of the Daily Telegraph and merely observe that in many other countries, this level of expense-fiddling behaviour would be so mundane that no one would even raise any eyebrow. So let’s be glad we don’t live in any of those places, eh?

Yes, share my amusement and then share with me my disappointment at not having any say in who’s next to sit in the silly chair. Because, frankly, I’d like a say in the matter, and I’m not going to get one. Boo! Hiss!

Done with the disappointment now? Good. Let’s be honest, you didn’t actually care one way or another, did you? You were just pretending. No matter: Mere facts and reality should never be allowed to get in the way of a little bit of fun. Since any say I have in the matter will be purely a fictional say, I don’t see why I should stick to casting my fictional vote for people who are defined merely by their aspect of actually existing. No, far more fun to add my own candidates to the list (especially since the alternative would be ‘none of the above’, and using my fictional vote to tick ‘none of the above’ on my fictional ballet paper for a fictional election that exists only in my mind seems, well, noticeably unsatisfying).

Anyone with a serious interest in politics, look away now. They gone? Just closet geeks and nerds like me left now? Right. First the honourable mentions. These are the folks who didn’t quite make it into the top five, but deserve a mention anyway for the admirable qualities they could have brought to bear on the job, Starting with….

Conan the Barbarian: A personal favourite and old friend, Conan can be relied upon to clear up any mess, usually by turning it into a different kind of mess with more blood involved. Likely to be a short stint at the job, but probably very satisfying for almost all concerned.

Dr. Van Helsing, or indeed anyone else experienced in dealing with bloodsucking vampires. Um… because, well… because. Would probably have made it into the top five if Abnormal Lamont had still been in the house.

Severus Snape: Makes out like he’s one of the bad guys but actually isn’t. Worth a go for the withering sarcasm. “What is it now, Clegg?”

The wizard responsible for Pinocchio’s nose. Don’t know who he is, but we have people on the case.

John Connor and the heroes of all slasher flicks: They know what it’s like when everyone is out to get you and have good experience dealing with people that keep coming back again and again no matter how many times you think you’ve gotten rid of them.

Right. And now, without further ado, my own personal top five fantasy and SF candidates for the new Speaker of the House of commons:

Sneaking in at number FIVE is A Dalek! Can be any Dalek you like. Darren the Dalek, say. Rather let down by serious question marks over his ability to provide strong moral guidance, Darren the Dalek has nevertheless made the list simply for the satisfaction of hearing that the traditional call for “Order!” has been replaced by the familiar old favourite “Exterminate!” and general ensuing consequences.

In at number FOUR: HAL2000! Always calm, always patient, never losing his temper or raising his voice, HAL brings to the job a logical perfection and a guarantee to exactly follow the rules, perfectly and without question, whatever they are. May unexpectedly lock everyone out of Parliament on a point of order from time to time, but I’m sure we can live with that. Distinctive sound bite: “I’m sorry Gordon, I can’t let you do that.”

At number THREE: The X-men’s Professor Xavier. No more procrastination and tub-thumping during Prime Minister’s Questions, no with the Prof you get answers, plucked straight out of the mind of whatever minister matters. Now questions like “Does the Prime Minister truly believe that the Iraqi government is capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction against the United Kingdom in the space of forty-five minutes?” can have the answers they deserve. Like “No, actually, the Prime Minister is pretty damn sure that’s total bollocks, he was just hoping you wouldn’t ask.” Does that sound better? Thought so. Also brings a keen and willing intellect and a strong moral sense to the job. Telepathic powers may pose some security concerns, however.

At number TWO: Any D&D cleric of at least third level. Why? Silence 15′ Radius, that’s why. Extra credit may be given to higher level clerics who can throw a flamestrike or two into the mix.

But now for number one. This character brings both moral backbone and a certain flexibility to the job. He may not always be politically correct, in fact quite often he’s not, but he’s the perfect Servant to Society. With his trademark cry of “Oi! You lot! Shut it!”, expert in dealing with a rowdy rabble, my personal favourite, squealing into the lead around the last corner at the wheel of something that sure ain’t a Toyota Prius, the winner of this blog’s Fantasy Speaker award, let’s hear it for… DCI Gene Hunt!


I’ve missed something. What is it?

Oh yes. Psst… Hey Cameron… “Exterminate!

Damn. Now sitting and writing a piece about the Gemmell awards seems positively drab and mundane. I guess that can wait. Laters dudes. Got to roll with my Dalek fantasy for a while now.

Vive La France (Dragons World Tour: France) (17/6/09)

Posted in News

Bon chance, mes amis. J’espere que vous ce trouvez c’est merveilleux!

So allegedly it’s out. And allegedly I learned some french once, too. Fortunately the book was translated by a nice woman called Flo rather than me.

Also a new review. The usual split of opinions, only this time packed into a single review. “I swear that to read this book, is probably the closest you will ever get to being inside say, the Borgia’s inner circle.” and “…the plot in this book is utterly fascinating…” but “I am, essentially a character-driven reader who missed someone to connect with and to truly root for (or even against).”

I’ve added some commentary over there.

The Unbearable Slowness of Stuff (9/6/09)

Posted in News

I am not, by birth, German. However, important parts of me may well be. My wife is German, for example, and that’s about as important a part as it gets. I can’t narrow down my German-ness to anything else specific (my left knee, right elbow and pancreas, for example, might or might not be German). But I can give you some generalities. You can tell what traits a country is particularly good at by looking at what words we nick off them[1]. Angst, for example. Schadenfreude. Schlepping[2]. What I have is Ordnung.

Ordnung. We haven’t really nicked Ordnung, but we should. I used to think this was a place where someone called Alice lived, but now I know better. It means having everything in its proper place. it means being rather a bit anal and having a touch of  OCD about you, which, I’m afraid, is me. I am going to introduce everyone to Ordnung. Why? So I can batter the publishing industry around the head with it. Why? Because there’s one thing no one warns you about in this authoring malarkey, and that’s just how slowly some things happen. Now traditionally, the image here is of authors swanning around, missing deadlines left right and centre while gaunt twitching editors with an increasing array of nervous ticks run around trying to persuade them to, you know, write words. Yeah, bash some authors with some Ordnung, that should improve matters, shouldn’t it? George RR, he could do with some Ordnung, right? Well no, I’m not going to advocate that, because creative genius has to trump Ordnung and I’m on the author side of the fence and if it takes a lifetime to write a masterpiece than it takes a lifetime, right? (Although the Ordnung gremlins can’t help but mutter amongst themselves that the occasional status report at least wouldn’t go amiss).

So here I was, fresh-faced author, newly minted, freshly ordained, keen and eager and desperate to impress (yes, this was a long time ago – I’m starting on the path to bitter and twisted now), determined not to fall into this trap. Write hard, I thought to myself. Write long and hard and your Ordnung shall save you… What no one bothers to mention, until you find it out for yourself, is that it-takes-as-long-as-it-takes cuts both ways.

So in the spirit of keeping a diary of how this whole process works, let me be the first to say that sometimes it does. Now deals can be done very quickly and frequently are. But man, sometimes it seems to take forever to ratify things. Months and months and months. And then just when you’ve given up, BOOM! A cheque arrives for no apparent reason[3].

This is no real complaint – I’m not successful enough to actually need the money yet – but while I have a shrewd idea what to expect, I really still don’t have a clue when to expect it. Maybe I’m just dim, but if you’re financially dependent on advance cheques and royalties, I imagine it’s a total nightmare

Ordnung. Wir muessen mehr Ordnung haben, bitte.

[1] Yes, yes, the French probably did have a weekend of their own. They probably even went out for picnics too.

[2] Believe it or not, the Germans schlepp very well.

[3] Talk to your agent. Your agent knows everything. Your agent will, for example, know that this cheque is in fact for the polish audio rights that you sold back in the seventies for something you forgot you even wrote. Or something like that.

Little Things (2/6/09)

Posted in News

I signed a book for an engineer at work yesterday. Sometimes little things like that mean as much as big reviews.

King of the Crags still hasn’t come back from my editor (Oi! Simon! This means you!). I Can’t decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Or maybe it’s a don’t-submit-so-bloody-early thing. Anyway, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is half written now so I’ll probably finish that first anyway. And then I’ll submit that AND Order of the Scales AND The Warlock’ Shadow AND The King’s Assassin. All at once. And some other stuff too! Ha HAAA!

<sigh> Yes, it seems that dieting CAN trigger delusions.