Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
Wild's End by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, additional material by me, and Fiefdom are available. Out of Tune Vol 2 is out in May

Monday, 31 December 2012

Out with the Old and In with the New!


So this is it! It’s time to say goodbye to 2012!

This is often the saddest day of the year for me, especially when it comes at the end of a particularly good or rewarding year, but 2012 has been... well... shall we say... mixed?

In fact, I can’t remember another year like it.

2012 saw me earn a place as runner-up in the Mslexia novel writing competition for ‘Naming Names’, as well as representation with my wonderful agent, which were great highs. However, I also suffered my worst bi-polar episode in a decade, which was a low that I really wasn’t expecting and could happily have managed without.

I wrote two novels in 2012, and I’m hugely proud of them both, so work has gone very well and been particularly rewarding this year. On the other hand, my nest is suddenly empty, and while it’s wonderful to have children out in the World, making lives for themselves, I also miss them every day that they are not at home.

Then there’s the husband. 

It’s hard to imagine that after knowing someone for thirty years, anything much can change in a relationship, but things do change; things change, people change, circumstances change. Our lives have changed a very great deal since the husband’s epilepsy diagnosis, three years ago; our lives have changed, our needs have changed, and our relationship has changed. We have had an extraordinary year together with the most amazing highs we’ve ever shared, and when we haven’t been sharing some of the best times of our lives, we’ve been taking a look at what didn’t work in the past and what we want for the future. 

There’s been a lot to talk about; some of the talking hasn’t been easy, and some of it’s led to real sadness.

That was 2012, and it will live large in my memory for a very long time.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Tonight, I shall say goodbye to the old year with very mixed feelings, and I shall see in the New Year with equal measures of relief and hope, but with the certain knowledge that I shall not live through another year like 2012, because 2013 will be filled with its own trials and triumphs, and its own wonders and woes.

You know what... Life is like that... It always has been, and it always will be, and that’s what makes it so bloody amazing!



Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Birthday!


No, really... I mean it!

Of course, I’m wishing myself a happy birthday, but I figure that’s OK, too.

My whole life, I’ve been told that having a birthday on Christmas Eve is special, and, do you know what? It is... It really is!

Of course, when I was a kid it wasn’t special; it wasn’t special at all! When I was a kid, it was the hardest thing in the World to wait all year for a celebration and then have two in two days. Everyone else had two special occasions a year; everyone else had a birthday at a remove from Christmas, and didn’t have to wait a whole year for presents. I had to be patient, and that’s not easy for a kid. It wasn’t easy having everyone else excited about Christmas when it was my birthday, either.

Of course, I got older, and as I got older, I got wiser. In my teens and early twenties, I’d go out on my birthday with only my taxi fare home in my pocket, and every time anyone said, ‘Merry Christmas’, I’d say, ‘Now say, “Happy Birthday”.’ Of course, I’d be showered with birthday wishes and birthday drinks, and I’d party for free.

These days, the husband always, always spoils me on my birthday. Christmas is put in a box on the 23rd and it’s all birthday, all day on Christmas Eve. I am treated and gifted, and I’m given my special day, and, what’s more, I am invariably surrounded by my very favourite people, who, after all, are generally home for Christmas. It’s not as if it’s just any other Monday, now is it?

Christmas comes around with what feels like almost alarming regularity. I can’t believe it’s a year since the last one. I never seem to have to wait for those occasion days anymore. A year passes in the blink of an eye. Having my birthday today only adds to the build-up to the big day, tomorrow, and our holiday is a day longer than everyone else’s.

No one is going to do any last minute, pressure-fueled shopping today. No one is going to spend half of this evening wrapping gifts or preparing tomorrow’s lunch, because all the hard work has already been done, and we plan to enjoy ourselves all day today, and then again all day tomorrow.

It is Christmas Eve, it is my birthday, and I feel blessed... More blessed than you could possibly imagine.

So... Happy Birthday to Me!

And to the rest of you... I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

So... About Christmas...


Time to pop my head up over the parapet, I think.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I’m not about to complain. I do, after all, have the life of Riley, but it hasn’t been the best three weeks, and now, here we are, a couple of days from Christmas, and I’m still only managing a couple of active hours a day.

Thank heavens, then, for other people.

The husband has been a little wonder, doing all those organising thingies that need doing, and sorting out all those little domestic chores. So, the wood store is full, all the Christmas groceries were delivered yesterday, and everyone has been shopped for (I know because I have managed to wrap presents, sitting in bed, and yes the husband did also remember to buy all the wrapping essentials). 

Lily dancing with decorations
Today, apparently, he’s doing the hoovering and cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms.

The kids are also home, which has cheered me up immeasurably, and I have been escorted shopping in very short bursts by various members of my family to do the bits of shopping that I need to do personally; the dort’s boyfriend has been delegated today, but she’s had her turn too, and so has the brother and his girlfriend, and, of course, the husband. Every body has been wonderful in my hour (or should I say three weeks) of need, and I consider myself properly blessed!

In many ways it hasn’t felt a lot like Christmas, because I haven’t done it myself this year, but if ever the Christmas spirit was extended in my direction, if ever the message of good will to all men applied it was here and now, and I’m very glad that it did, because without it there would be no Christmas in this house this year.

So thank you, all, for rallying round and doing all that needed to be done, while I sat on my arse being pathetic. I promise that it won’t happen next year!

Oh, and special thanks to Thomas for getting the tree into its pot, and to Lily for dressing it. It took a while, what with all the dancing about, but it was well worth the wait!


Lily's finished Christmas tree!


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Stockings


We thought we had Christmas sorted, the husband, and I, and then the rules changed... and then they changed again.

We weren’t going to do anything for each other this year. We don’t want for much, and the kids are grown up, and Christmas comes around with increasing regularity, so we were just going to do stockings for the kids, and a little something for the parents, and that was going to be the start and finish of it.

Then the dort got involved.

The dort went off to college in September, but she’s home for Christmas, and I get the impression she’s looking forward to it. She’s certainly looking forward to it enough to be horrified that the husband and I weren’t going to have stockings this year. It didn’t take her long to guilt us into agreeing to do something about that.

The husband went off on his Christmas shopping day yesterday, and that’s when the rules changed again. He had a good day. I get the impression, despite his being very tight-lipped about this sort of thing, that he had a very good day, and a very jolly time, and that my Christmas stocking might be full to the brim, and might be full of more than what might normally qualify as stocking fillers.

My question is this, ‘What do you buy the man, who, while he might not quite have everything, seems to want nothing very much at all?’ No, I mean it... I’m actually asking!

If you were the husband what would be on your Christmas list? If you know the husband, what might he like for Christmas? And, if you were me, what would you buy the husband for Christmas?

I have never considered the husband difficult to buy for, and, in the past, I’ve always had a good idea what he’d like from the things he’s oohed and ahed over in shops in the run-up to Christmas, but he’s changed, of late. 

The husband has always been a man of great appetites, it’s always been one of the things I’ve loved about him, but there has been a quantum shift in him, I believe, since the onset of his epilepsy. He is not an acquisitive person. He is not materialistic. He used to be an inveterate collector, to the point of being a bit of a hoarder, but, now, most of his pursuits are much more intellectual, much more esoteric. As he gets older, he’d much rather spend his time with people, sitting and chewing the fat for hours on end, sharing ideas, laughing and playing, and enjoying good company. 

He looks for the best of everything now, so that his tolerance for cultural experiences is lower; he demands more from films and tv, from books and music than ever before, so is more easily disappointed, and when he finds the one example, the best of its kind, he’s set for life. He’ll never need another holdall or pen or chair for his desk, because he’s found the perfect examples of those things and will never, now, replace them.

The husband is a wonderful man, so wonderful that I could put a quarter of humbugs, a box of hankies, a bag of walnuts, a pair of socks and a couple of oranges in his stocking, and he’d be a very happy man. On the other hand, if any of you happen to have any great ideas for gifts for him, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dance for Christmas Joy!


So this is the last full week before Christmas, and, back in the day, there was lots to do about this time of the year.

One of my favourite things was the school concert, and, some years, we actually got to go to two, because the girls were at different schools, and because the husband was Chair of Governors for a local school.

I bloody love a good Carol concert.

That is not to say that all Carol concerts were created equal, but lets not pretend that some of the worst Carol concerts, some of the least well rehearsed junior choirs didn’t produce some of the most charming results if they were enthusiastic enough.

The husband resigned his Chair when he succumbed to epilepsy three years ago, and we didn’t have a child in school last year, so we’ve rather missed out, of late. This year, our younger dort is in dance college, and so, of course, there was a Christmas dance recital to go to. What more could we possibly want?

The dort has been working very hard. She has been battered and bruised. She has been dropped and she has even broken a bone, albeit, thankfully, it’s just a toe. She is exhausted, but her body is rock hard and good to go. It is impossible to imagine being quite as fit as she has become over the past three months.

Thirty kids danced for two hours last Saturday afternoon in a theatre in Leicester, after running a technical rehearsal for two hours in the morning, and then they ran the show again an hour later for a second evening performance... And that takes some doing.

Honestly, when the dort’s on the stage, it’s hard to watch anyone else. Her timing is extraordinary, her lines are beautiful, she has amazing core strength, and, on top of all that, she can sell a dance like no one else can; the girl can really perform!

It’s always a thrill to witness creativity in its purest forms. It’s always a privilege to watch the right person in the right job, doing it well, making it look natural, effortless and stunning. She could have done anything; she said herself that she was ‘supposed to go to university’, but I’m very glad that she’s doing this, and I can’t help thinking that she’s going to make a huge success of it.

I might not have been to a Carol concert this year, but the Addict Dance Academy Christmas Recital was a huge treat and quite the highlight of this festive season so far. If that’s the sort of show they can put on after one term, heaven only knows what they’ll be capable of by they time they’ve completed their training.

Bravo and well done to all of them!

Students of Addict Dance Academy

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Christmas Spirit


Only ten days remain until Christmas.

I’ve had a story in an advent calendar for the Black Library. There has been snow. I’ve done some shopping for stockings. I’ve booked a delivery for all the Christmas day lunch essentials; there is a goose on the way, and everything... And yet I can’t seem to muster the Christmas spirit.

Yes, I’m still working to deadlines, and there’s a lot to do in the office before I can take my Christmas break, but it’s like that most years, and, yes, I’ve been struggling with a horrible cold for almost a fortnight, so my spirits, generally, haven’t been as high as they might have been, but I don’t think that’s it either.

Perhaps it’s my age. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have kids in the house anymore. Perhaps it’s because there are no constant reminders that Christmas is coming, no daily countdown, no gift suggestions piling up, no begging for decorations to go up early, no stream of kiddy cards entering and leaving the house.

Ah... Christmas cards! I miss Christmas cards. I have been gradually missing them for years. This year, I finally gave up and deleted them from my festivities, in favour of something charitable, and, already, I regret it. It makes sense, though, as, year-on-year, fewer and fewer Christmas cards have plopped through our letter-box as more and more people send e-cards or FaceBook greetings or other alternatives. The couple of hundred cards I usually send with the cost of the cards and postage at 60p each, and the colossal carbon footprint does seem like an extravagance. Then there’s the couple of days it generally takes to write all the cards and address all the envelopes. I don’t know, though, I suspect I might return to the ritual next year.

No other day of the year feels quite like Christmas day, and I’m sure I’ll get that feeling again this Christmas... I certainly hope so.

In the meantime, I’ve got a book to finish, and the daughter’s due home from college, and it’s my father’s birthday, and mine too, and I still haven’t wrapped any gifts or trimmed a tree, so, with any luck, by the time all of that’s done, the Christmas spirit might just have visited. Of course, if it hasn’t, I’m sure my regular Whisky-Mac on my Chrismtas Eve birthday will help it along nicely.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Blog for Blog’s Sake!


I don’t mind admitting that I have become rather attached to this blog, and to writing it, and to monitoring who’s reading it, and how many of you are visiting, and which blogs you are choosing to read.

I didn’t know that this would happen.

I began the blog as a sort of publicity exercise. Lots of people seemed to be writing pretty successful blogs, and lots of them seemed to be getting pretty decent attention for the stuff they were talking about in their blogs.

I didn’t start writing a blog until I felt as if I had something to write about, and that happened when I found out that I’d been shortlisted for the inaugural Mslexia novel writing prize back in February of this year. At that point, starting the blog finally seemed like a worthwhile exercise. I decided that, at least while I got the thing underway, I would write a short blog every day, about my experiences with the competition and the novel I had written for it. I thought there’d be enough material to keep me going for a little while, and, indeed there was.

Of course, I had no way to know where the thing would take me, and almost three hundred blogs later, I had no idea how much I’d enjoy writing the blogs or how diverse or, in some cases, how personal they would become.

There will be another blog about “Naming Names” before very long, possibly to mark a year since this blogging journey began, but, as I approach the end of my first year as a blogger it feels more like the start of something than the culmination.

There are more interesting and better bloggers on the internet. There are bloggers who write more eloquently, more personally, more professionally and more consistently than I will ever manage to do. Catch me on a good day and you might get a coherent argument or a complete thought about life or writing; catch me on a less good day and you might only get a thorough-going snark about something entirely trivial. I’m not going to begin to suggest which of those two blogs you might prefer to read, and I would never suggest that my wonderful little band of loyal readers might, for a moment, be fickle.

I will just say that all the time the stats keep ticking over and people keep coming to read my thoughts, I will keep posting them, and I shall probably keep posting them even after the last of you has stopped visiting, because sitting down to record a thought is terribly therapeutic, and now that I’ve begun, it’s quickly become a habit, a little ritual that I perform at the beginning of almost every day.

So, pretty much come what may, I’ll be back, probably tomorrow, and I hope that you’ll come back from time to time, too.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Publication Day


I’m rather delighted to announce that my short story, “The Third Wise Man”, is being published today as part of the Black Library’s Advent Calendar. It’s awfully nice to be at the mid-point of the event. The husband had the first story on the first of the month, and it would have been lovely to have had my story published on my birthday, on Christmas Eve, but obviously they’re saving that slot for one of the big guns, maybe the wonderful Graham McNeil?

The story is short... It’s very short... It’s flash fiction, after all, so I’m not going to give anything away, but I hope that some of you will pop over here and take a look at the blurb, and maybe even download it and read it. You never know, you might enjoy it. What I will say is that I’m hoping to do quite a lot of writing for the Black Library in the near future.

Most of the collaborations that I’ve worked on with the husband for the Black Library, including “Gilead’s Curse”, which is available in the spring, have been set on the Warhammer World, but I also wrote a short story called “Cell” for the Sabbat Worlds Anthology in 2011, so I have dipped a toe into the Warhammer 40K universe, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve decided it’s time to write more in the 41st millennium.

The husband has invited me into the Daniverse, which is what the guys at Black Library Towers call his little corner of the 40K universe, and he and I are already working on plots for two possible books. 

We’ll be revisiting popular characters, we’ll be butting up against current campaigns, and we’ll be plotting an awful lot of shooty-death-kill-in-space, which, of course, is the technical term for what we do.

It’s always fun to work with the husband. It’s always fun to work for the Black Library. It’s an extraordinary privilege to have an eager audience for work that I love to do, and it’s a whole lot of fun to play in one of the most extraordinary toyboxes in tie-in fiction.

It’s going to be a busy year, but, rest assured, once those plots are approved, I’ll be right back here to let you all know what comes next.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Blogplug


When I decided that I was going to write a blog, I also decided that it would be quite nice if it had some sort of readership. I didn’t expect vast numbers of people to read it, but I thought it would be nice if more people read it than wrote it, and that more time was spent reading it than writing it. So, that was my first goal, and I had some strategies for making that happen.

One of those strategies was plugging.

Some of you will know that the husband and I share a Twitter account. This is because he has a much bigger public presence than I have, and I have much more time to tweet than he does. I see no value in pretending to be him, and he has less time than I have to tweet, so we share an account and I tweet more than he does. I do have an account of my own, too, but I’d be daft not to plug my blog on our joint Twitter feed. Some lovely fellow out there also runs a fanclub @danabnettclub, which is mighty dandy, but which neither of us tweets on.

I also like to be up front about things. I dislike being suckered into hitting links that take me to places that I have no interest in going to, so I always declare at the outset when a link I tweet goes off to my blog. I call these blogplugs. They go something like this, “Lunchtime blogplug, “Blogplug”: http://transition-agrialim.org/2012/12/blogplug.html.

Of course, being a woman of words, being a writer of sorts, and being conscious that people read stuff and respond to it, I chose that word, ‘blogplug’ very carefully. I chose it because it does precisely what it says it does, but there is also humour attached. How many people read that word as ‘buttplug’? Well... Pretty much every filthy minded adult I know, or rather every filthy minded adult that follows the husband on Twitter reads ‘blogplug’ as ‘buttplug’ and I knew that they would; that’s why I chose to use the word blogplug in the first place. I wanted people to look twice, to think twice, and then to smile.

People don’t, as a rule, like having things thrust under their noses, they don’t like being advertised at and sold to, and that’s what plugging is, so if you can make them smile while you’re selling your wares, that’s got to be a good thing, surely?

I might be a little daft... In fact, I’d probably be a little surprised, upset even, if you didn’t think I was a little daft, but I’m not stupid, and I do know what I’m doing... At least, I do some of the time.

So for all you lovely, filthy minded adults, for all the husband’s lovely followers, fellow writers and contemporaries, and for all of you who do not know me or what I do or why, you might have guessed something about who I might be knowing a little about who the husband is. 

Perhaps it’s true, perhaps, in the end, it does take one to know one.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Note on Punctuation


I had a fascinating conversation with the husband yesterday.

As is our usual routine, he finished a story, and I edited it for him before he sent it off to his publisher. It’s how we rock. Nothing leaves his office until it has passed over my desk. It was ever thus.

The husband writes pretty cleanly, but everyone needs an editor, and, as writers, we all have foibles and bad habits that need ironing out. I track changes for the husband, and he makes the final choices.

Yesterday’s story, which I thought particularly good, threw up some interesting questions, though, and a long, involved conversation ensued.

I’m a stickler for grammar. I spit in the face of style. Style is crap if it means that grammar is incorrect. I say that if, as a writer, you make better grammar choices, the thing can be stylish and grammatically correct. Right? Right!

What transpired, though, was that the husband and I, both very visually stimulated people, also both like the page to look right, and to that end we both make grammar choices according to the way punctuation marks affect the appearance of the page.

Here’s one simple example.

I do not use the en-rule. I dislike it, because it puts too much space around a clause. Think about it. If you put two spaces and the widest piece of punctuation known to man on either side of a clause you will draw a huge amount of attention to it, and, if you do that, it’d better be damned important. Most clauses simply aren’t going to carry sufficient weight to be worth that kind of visual isolation on the page, so don’t give it to them. That’s my argument, and, in most instances, commas will do very nicely. Of course, parentheses might also be appropriate. You might be thinking that parentheses are pretty big bits of punctuation, too, and I wouldn’t disagree with that for a moment, but at least they fit snuggly up against the letters next to them, at least there isn’t all that white space on the page to contend with.

For what it's worth, the husband likes the way the en-rule looks on the page, mostly because he associates it fondly with writers like Samuel Richardson.

There are fourteen punctuation marks on the average keyboard, but I know that most of us don’t know how to correctly use more than a few of them. Can I suggest that we stick to those few and leave the rest to the experts, and, if in doubt, a sentence generally requires a subject and a verb to qualify as... you know... an actual, bona fide sentence.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

In Sickness and in Health


We don’t really get sick. Considering the husband only took six days off for the pursuit of fun last year, it would be really daft to take more days off poorly than we take off in the pursuit of happiness, so we just don’t really do it.

When the husband started having seizures a little over three years ago, I stopped everything so that he could discharge himself from hospital and have 24/7 care at home, because he couldn’t stand the idea of stopping work, and he couldn’t work in the hospital. He did have to slow down; he had to slow down quite a lot, because it took him about double the time he was used to taking, simply to get anything done, what with the seizures and sorting out the meds, and what with trips to hospitals, and public transport and whatnot, but he didn’t really take time off sick.

That’s why bugs and colds, and all those little niggles are such a colossal pain in the backside. We simply refuse to be laid low by them. We moan and groan about them, we take paracetamol and liver salts, and, when it’s me, I tend to take duvet days, and work in bed, but the husband simply sits at his desk, as usual, and keeps going; he more-or-less refuses to be ill.

The one exception to this, for me, at least, used to be the migraine. I laugh about other people and their migraines. I laugh when I read a FaceBook status or a tweet declaring that the person posting the status or the tweet has got a migraine, because, frankly, if I have a migraine, I cannot look at a computer screen, let alone read one, and I certainly can’t type... I can’t see my fingers for heaven’s sake. A headache is a headache, take something and get on with it; a migraine really isn’t.

Keeping my fingers, metaphorically, crossed while I type this, my migraines appear to be on the wane. Huzzah.

On the other hand, the World seems to be a less healthy place than ever, and we are both voiceless, aching and pathetic with disturbingly heavy head colds. We are sucking lozenges, disposing of our hankies in the most hygienic manner possible and scarfing down a good deal of tomato and, separately of course, good old fashioned chicken soup.

If you treat a cold it’ll last a week and if you don’t it’ll be gone in seven days. In the meantime I’m just off to cough up half a lung, if you’ll excuse  me, and then it’s back to work on the last bit of this book, while the husband begins work on his next.

It never stops, does it?

Friday, 7 December 2012

The End


Reaching the end of any piece of work is satisfying, of course it is, but getting there might happen only a matter of minutes or hours after beginning. 

Reaching the end of a novel is a very particular feeling.

Some time in the next day or two, and I’m hoping it will be today, but I have a very technical scene to write, so I expect it will actually be tomorrow, and, yes, I know that tomorrow is Saturday, and, strictly speaking, the weekend, but I don’t keep regular hours, as well you know... Some time in the next day or two I will type the final sentence of the novel I’m currently working on, and that will be that.

There will be plenty more to do. I will read the thing through and make small adjustments before sending it to my agent, and I might have one or more of my beta-readers do the same. Then, I’m sure my lovely agent will want some changes before she takes it out to into the World to try to sell it. Of course, if and when she does sell it, there will be the edits that the publisher wants. So, my putting the last sentence down some time in the next day or two really marks the beginning of something rather than the end.

This novel, like those that have gone before it, has been my constant companion and my total workload for a big chunk of time. I have thought of nothing else. It has occupied my desk and my desk-top, wholesale, for the duration, and, when it is done, I know that I will miss it. I will miss ironing out the wrinkles in the plot. I will miss finding locations and researching details. I will miss the characters and hearing their voices in my head, and I will miss watching them play together.

Of course, there is pleasure to be had in a job finished... in a job well done, even. Of course, there is elation. Of course, there is relief when the impossible is accomplished, because, heaven knows, I never truly believe that I can finish a novel when I begin one, however good the idea is, or however well-prepared I am.

There is something else, though, too. There is anti-climax. There is loss. There is that empty feeling. There is the certain knowledge that, once more, it is over, that, once more, there is nothing for it, but to begin again.  

I’ve enjoyed writing this novel, and, while it is complete, while it constitutes a single story, and while it concludes, satisfactorily. I have left a tiny thread, a strand that I can tease out. This time there is room for more, because I simply cannot stand it any longer. I cannot stand to pack another box of toys away and hand them over to the charity shop for someone else to take so that I never get to see them or play with them again. This box of toys is going safely up in my attic, so that, if I get the chance, I can take them out, unwrap them and play with them again, some time in the future, in a new story.

I do hope I get the chance.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

At last... Something we can all agree on!


It is snowing.

It is December 5th, which happens to be a good and worthy anniversary for me, although I don’t plan to discuss it here; simply congratulate me and move on. Thanks.

It is December 5th and it is snowing in the UK. This is not normal. It doesn’t snow all that regularly in Britain, and when it does, it’s generally in the first couple of months of the year, and almost never in the last couple of months. I remember it snowing on my sister’s birthday in May, once; I believe it was 1979.

One thing’s for sure, though, I’ve never seen so many people all talking about the same thing. I bet, if I put snow into ‘trending topics’ on Twitter, the system would fall apart. When I checked FaceBook this morning, no one was talking about anything else. The Duchess of Cambridge is newly with child, at Christmas, no less, and all anyone wants to talk about is the white stuff falling all around us.

What is it about the British and weather?

Pick up any novel by a British writer, go on, I dare you, and it doesn’t matter who it’s by, whether they’re young or old, man or woman, or what genre they write in, and I’ll put even money on weather being mentioned somewhere in the first chapter. I’ll give you decent odds on the first chapter opening with the weather!

I don’t know whether it’s because we’re an island nation with continental Europe on one side of us and the Atlantic on the other, making for interesting, but mostly predictable weather, or whether it’s because we’re a longstanding maritime nation with adventurous tendencies, and so the weather is critical to the pursuit of our naval ambitions. I don’t know whether it’s because we inhabit a garden nation packed full of people where we’ve mostly, traditionally grown our own. 

I have no idea what makes the national psyche so weather-obsessed. I don’t know why that seems to go hand-in-hand with being utterly useless when it comes to coping with an inch of snow, either. Perhaps it’s because snow has no effect at sea, and that’s where we’re most at home.

Either way, it looks as if, for today, at least, we’re stuck with it. The snow, as pretty as it is, is falling, thick and fast, and it is laying.

So, I guess we’ll be doing what sailors have done for... well, a very long time; I guess we’ll be battening down the hatches.

I am among the lucky ones. I don’t have any need to be anywhere but here, so I shall light the fire in my drawing room and settle down to finish writing this novel, and I shall live off whatever food is in the house.

I wish you luck if you do have to be somewhere, and you do have to brave the snow. I do hope it doesn’t treat you too horribly badly.

Now, can we please talk about something... anything else?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Advent


It’s not quite the season to be jolly, but it is advent, and, as part of this annual time of daily chocolate eating and counting off December days until Christmas, I was invited to contribute a short story to an advent calendar.

The Black Library invited its writers to contribute stories for each of the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas day, and I was one of those invited, along with the husband, of course, and such luminaries as Graham McNeil, James Swallow and Aaron Dembski-Bowden, fine writers all. It’s always nice to be asked, and, remembering the first time I was asked, it’s also very nice to see new writers coming onboard and getting their first opportunities to see their stories published.

Anyway... the point was to write a thousand word story, a piece of flash fiction, obviously based on one of the things that Dan and I collaborate on, and, on this occasion, we decided that I should write something based in 40K. I had an idea and I set to work... And, yes, of course I’ll let you know when the story is due to appear.

The point is this... Advent has begun, and this project gives me the opportunity to talk about flash fiction.

The term flash fiction is pretty new, but very short short stories have been around for a very long time. We sometimes used to call this sort of thing prose poetry. I particularly like this format, and I regularly write very short fiction for fun and to practise my skills. I like that it requires some thought to take an idea that suits a very short form and craft it using a set and small number of words. It matters to me to get it right. I like that not everyone can do this successfully.

It is a tall order to ask writers to work in a variety of forms. Most novelists are not also short story writers. Most writers of short stories do not write flash fiction. The Black Library often asks its writers to work across a wide variety of forms from blogs and flash fiction through short fiction to long short stories, novellas up to novels and novel series. They are demanding, and I think this gives the writers an opportunity to test their mettle and hone their skills in ways that they might not otherwise have the chance to do. It is, on the whole, a good thing, giving writers the chance to learn where their strengths are and to work on ironing out their weaknesses.

I hope that many of the advent stories will be wonderful. I hope that they will be complete, self-contained, beautiful little tales that require nothing of the reader except a few minutes attention. I hope that we get polished, satisfying plots, and tight, elegant prose where no word is wasted. 

I hope that we really do get some of the best flash fiction that the Black Library writers have to offer.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Nom de Plume


I was reading Sarah Cawkwell’s blog yesterday and she raised the very interesting question of pseudonyms and women in genre  and tie-in fiction... Should women hide their sex behind gender neutral names, as I did? Let’s explore the guilt thing... Did I let down other women writers by using Nik Vincent? 

First of all, I used Nik, because that’s what the husband calls me, and the first things I wrote were in collaboration with him. We had been Dan and Nik for a long time, and there was something romantic about seeing our names side-by-side on a book jacket in that format. It didn’t cross my mind at the time that Nik was gender neutral, because I considered the spelling to be feminine. Had I been a male, I would have spelled it, Nick, surely? Of course, other people didn’t see it that way, and plenty of people were confused when they met me at signings and events. Fortunately for all of us, I was sitting next to the husband whenever I met readers so I was almost always shielded from consumer consternation.

I’m a feminist, and I would never deliberately let the side down. I do wonder, though, how many women in tie-in and genre fiction choose, quite deliberately, to use gender neutral versions of their own names, or to use their initials or pseudonyms in order to make buying their books easier for a suspicious or sexist public. I see it again and again, and it continues to happen even among new and young women writers. It’s a terrible prejudice to reinforce, but if it meant I sold more books, would I do it?

J.K. Rowling, when she wrote the Harry Potter books, about a young wizard, so a fantasy novel with a male character at its centre, chose not to call herself Joanne. I wonder if her publisher thought that more boys would want the book, and more mothers might think it suitable for their sons if it was written by a man, or if they at least assumed it was? My next question is: Why would they assume that it was?

It’s a moot point for me, as far as my career in tie-in fiction is concerned, because, when it comes to collaborating with the husband, I already have a name, and it would be pointless and foolish to change it now. Besides, the very association with the husband means that I already have a man’s name on my books, and a prestigious one at that. It might be pointless and foolish not to keep my name if I began to write solo, too, given the association back to my husband, whom the readers tend to trust. So, honestly, I don’t know. I suspect the publisher’s choice would be to leave well alone.

Perhaps I did fudge the issue; on the other hand, I could’ve used Abnett and I didn’t. Even when I collaborate with the husband, I don’t use his very illustrious (in this arena, anyway) name. Could I sell more books if I used his name? Almost certainly, and I use it in my private life, so why did I choose to go with my maiden name for my career? I don’t know; I suppose it was something to do with professional pride. Would I use Abnett in the future? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question either. I’m told, however, that there is an advantage to having a name that begins higher in the alphabet, because of the likelihood of being shelved at eye-level to the customer: go figure.

Of course, I’m now attempting to dip my toe in the waters of a solo career, independent of tie-in and genre fiction, and I’ll need a name for that, too. I doubt I’ll take my old name with me, because I’ll need something more serious, but do I take the husband’s name, considering that it’s both unusual and well known in another arena?

It’s all terribly complicated, and confusing, and I don’t have any answers... not yet at least.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

So that's what a writer does with her weekend off


Every once in a while, it is my very great pleasure to go away for the weekend with a good girlfriend. I do it for a break, and to have fun, and to spend time with the women I love that I don’t live close enough to to see regularly. I also do it to get the husband away from his desk. I go away for Friday and Saturday nights with the girls, and then the husband joins me for Sunday night and drives me home, giving him a break he wouldn’t otherwise get. 

I also go away to recharge my batteries, to stimulate my mind and for the purposes of research, which is why I always try to choose interesting cities, and/or interesting buildings to stay in.

The Rows in Chester, above street level
This weekend, I came away to Chester with Sarah. I don’t remember every being in Chester before, although I knew it was an old and beautiful city, and that it has been continuously inhabited for more than two thousand years, so I was expecting great things. I wasn’t however, expecting The Rows.

Sometimes it’s a wonder to happen upon something out of the blue. Of course, if I’d known about The Rows, I might have sought them out long ago; no matter, I have found them now, and I marvel at them. 

Chester, for those of you who haven’t visited, is built on two street levels, one above the other, in a cross formation. Some of the buildings date back to the thirteenth century, whole rows are medieval, but the more modern additions follow the same format of shopfronts and walkways, above and below, joined by short flights of steps at intervals.

The Rows, detail
Apparently nothing like The Rows exists anywhere else in the World, and I can well believe that. The whole forms a warren of shops, including lots of good jewelers, cafes and even offices, often with small footprints, and of covered walkways and stairways leading back and forth and up and down. It is, for all sensible purposes, the first shopping complex. 

It is also the stuff of fantasy novels. It is not difficult to imagine a sword fight or a brawl raging up and down the staircases and walkways; or a fire raging through the buildings; or bawdy women tossing the contents of chamber pots, or hanging a dodgy customer by his ankles over the balustrades over the street below. It is not hard to imagine all manner of mythic creatures skirmishing the length of the walkways, or hanging off the facades of the timber buildings. It is not hard to imagine the labyrinth of connections between rooms and shops, between corridors and walkways, between stairways and bridges, or the chase sequence that might happen between some poor urchin and his ruthless pursuers.

For me, every place, every person, every event throws up possibilities, throws up ideas, is fodder for some story or other. There is no rest for the wicked, and if the wicked also happens to be a writer...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A Star in the Making!


I believe it was Neil Gaiman who suggested that writers really ought to manage to be two of three things at all times, the three things being: talented, charming and punctual, and I’m with him on that one.

Since none of us can rely on our talents every day, my suggestion is that we all work longer and harder at being charming and punctual, and I try, and, on most days, fail, to do just that.

The husband is a consummate professional, and, barring little things like seizures, he manages to be pretty well on time, I’ve never seen him be anything but charming, at least in public, and I’m pretty sure his talent hasn’t ever deserted him, at least not in the past fifteen years. What a lucky man he is. He is also, perhaps, the most hardworking person I know.

But I digress: My point was going to be something else. Neil Gaiman was talking about the talent; he was talking about writers, and, I presume, pretty well all creatives; he was talking about freelancers.

Today, my message is for publishers, and, for that matter, curators, gallerists, impresarios; in short, I’m talking about the people who look after and exploit, or, put another way, employ the talent.

Art in all its forms is a commodity. Like everything else, it needs to sell. Publishing is a business, as is dance, music, art... If you want to make a living out of a talent then some sort of business model is bound to be involved. 

Business people are about making money, though, and that’s where cracks can begin to appear in any system.

Talent must be nurtured. It is fragile. It can be worn out, driven out, stamped out, crushed. It can stagnate. It can simply fail to develop. 

The lucky ones, the young writers, artists, musicians, dancers find great representation and good people to work with; they aren’t driven into the ground by a business model that uses them up, spits them out, and then looks for new blood. They become the bestsellers of the future, the leading men, the headliners, but for every one of them, dozens of poor kids are poured into a brutal machine; they get one shot, if they’re lucky. They are worked too hard, stretched too far, too soon, they aren’t nurtured, their talents aren’t allowed to grow and they’re never given that opportunity truly to shine.

There’s an old saying that unless you have a very strong stomach you never want to see how laws and sausages are made... You might want to add stars to that list.