Writing

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I wrote this mini-essay ages ago – it was intended for publication elsewhere, but that never happened. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it but then the trailer for the re-make of The Magnificent Seven came out and … well, why it reminded me of this will be obvious once you read on!

It’s timely for another reason, mind you. It’s mostly about The Free, my most recently published novel, and some of the specific influences on that book. As I might have mentioned here, The Free is getting some companion e-novellas now. The first, Corsair, is out now everywhere e-books are sold, ready for your downloading and reading pleasure. So seems like a sensible time to revisit this discussion about what was going on in my head when I wrote The Free in the first place …

I’ve always got little movies playing in my head when I’m writing, especially action scenes. Not the details, but things like movement, its pattern and rhythm, and – bizarrely – lighting. So basically, my little mental movies are kind of blurry but full of movement and very well-lit.

When it came to writing The Free, though, things got a whole lot more specific. Once I had the basic story in my head I realised it had a lot on common with particular movies that I really like, and I decided to dig around in those commonalities and see what popped up. It was a first for me; usually (I think) my influences are a bit more subterranean and a good deal less conscious. This time, for better or worse, I was paying close attention.

The movies in question are Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and to an extent 13 Assassins. Not enough people have seen the last of those: it’s kind of a modern, streamlined version of Seven Samurai, turned up to a violent eleven. It’s beautiful, brutal and clever stuff.

So, I thought, what do I like about these movies, and what would a novel that tried to achieve a similar effect look like? Not all of the answers I came up with actually made it into The Free, but some did. It wound up being a book that’s deliberately reminiscent of those movies, but not a slavish retread – it has its own story to tell. Some of the similarities are pretty obvious (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean), others maybe not so much, and it’s a couple of the latter I wanted to discuss here.

Exhibit One: Endings. All four of the films I’ve name-dropped are to a greater or lesser extent about endings in particular ways and combinations that I reckon are interesting. They share an elegiac tone, and underneath their narrative skin are positively thick with the notion of ending, or passing. The end of the age of gunslingers or samurai, the age of the individual man of violence (women of violence too, in The Free). The ending of specific lives; lives of which we see only the final few days, but they’re days that seem to sum up the years that have preceded them. I like that model. Beginning a story right near its end appeals to me.

The other thing about these movies and endings is that in all of them, from early on, the plot’s end-point is made very, very clear. In three of the four movies, you even know where the climax is going to take place, who the antagonists will be, what the specific numerical odds against the protagonists will be, within the first … I don’t know, twenty minutes maybe?

On some level, all of this is back to front. You might even call it spoilerific. I don’t go quite that far in The Free, because I couldn’t resist putting in one or two twists, but the sustained action of the last 80+ pages of the book is in a sense the obviously intended destination, and I assume – want, even – the reader to recognise that from pretty early on.

The thing about having what you might call a ‘flagged climax’ like this is that it pulls the plot and narrative towards it. It exerts a sort of gravitational tug that by its nature puts a bit of momentum and energy and tension into the tale. The fact that you know the shape, if not the detail, of Seven Samurai’s ending from very near the start imbues the whole movie with a rich cocktail of meaning and foreboding and questioning.

Exhibit Two: Otherness and violence. Much of the distinctive magic and tone of all these movies resides in the otherness of their central characters. They exist in tightly defined ‘bands of brothers’ socially and psychologically isolated from everyone else – but I reckon their otherness is also fundamentally about their relationship to violence. How they in particular use violence, how they view its purpose, and how its application has shaped, bonded and isolated them.

The thing that struck me, though, was that in the case of the movies with seven in the title, many different views (and consequences) of violence are represented both within and without the central band of brothers. Violence is what defines many of these characters, but it does it in radically different ways. I don’t make a big thing of it in The Free – it’s supposed to be entertainment, not meditation – but nevertheless it’s there; everyone in the book, consciously or unconsciously, has their own particular reason for enacting violence, and feels its effects and consequences in different ways. The central characters are mercenaries, but simple greed is not one of the reasons. Because that would be kind of dull, right?

And the other thing about violence, of course, is that it’s exciting. The movies I’m talking about are all, in their different ways, steeped in the horrible beauty of violence on the screen. They’re not celebrating it exactly, but they undeniably embrace its visceral, choreographed appeal when presented as spectacle. It’s an abiding puzzle to me why something that most of us, if confronted with it in real life, would find horrible and traumatizing is so exciting and engaging to watch in a cinema.

To make violence both cruel and exciting, horrible and fascinating, folly and triumph, that’s clever. Embodying mutual contradictions without breaking the narrative vessel they’re contained within can be a challenge, but I think it’s worth trying, particularly in the case of violence. And in that I’ve always thought Seven Samurai is the champion. Its final battle scenes, amidst mud and teeming rain, are so loaded with contradictory beauty and horror, tragedy and triumph, it’s a wonder the thing doesn’t fall apart. But it doesn’t, because it’s a masterpiece.

The Free gave me an excuse to think about it and those other films – not masterpieces perhaps, the other three, but well worth a wee think – and that if nothing else made the writing process fun.

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Just for a bit of fun, thought I might resurrect one or two old posts. It’s simultaneously pleasing and a bit depressing to realize how long this website’s been ticking over, and there’s a ton of stuff hidden away in the archives I’d forgotten about until I was looking in there for something the other day. So let’s drag some of it back into the light. Starting with this, which I posted way back in 2008:

Took a break earlier, away from the computer, with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits (fig rolls – some of the world’s finest biscuits, if you ask me). The mind tends to wander at such times. The results of that wandering, on this occasion: bad jokes. So. Bad jokes:

Q. How many fantasy authors does it take to change a light bulb?

A1. Only one. But it’ll take a long time. They have to prepare an obsessively and redundantly detailed map of the whole room first.

A2. Fantasy authors can’t change light bulbs. Only orphaned farmboys, destined from birth to change the light bulb in accordance with ancient prophecy can do it.

A3. Dozens. JRR Tolkien has to go first, to show everyone how to do it right, and then all the rest take turns removing and replacing the light bulb, in very slightly different and generally inferior ways.

A4. One, but they need an agent to hold the ladder. And then the agent is entitled to 15% of the resultant light.

Needless to say, I don’t necessarily subscribe to any of the pejudicial preconceptions implied herein. Except for A4. That’s not a preconception, that’s a truth.

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I’m over on Reddit today, inviting people to Ask Me Anything. So if you’re a Reddit user, please swing by and drop off a question for me to answer later on. You can even watch me answering stuff live there from about 6pm CST.

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So there’s a just a possibility a few folks in the US will have other things on their mind tomorrow, but nevertheless I’m doing an Ask Me Anything over on Reddit on 4th November.

I confess I don’t know it well, but there’s a thriving community of fantasy fans on Reddit and they have their very own home at the Reddit fantasy board. Starting from around midday US (central) time, so early evening UK time, there’ll be a post up there inviting anyone who’s around to fire me some questions – literally about anything, though I guess the assumption is they’ll mostly be writing-related. I’ll swing by that evening (again, US central time) and start answering any and all questions that have been submitted.

I’ll probably put another post here tomorrow linking to the specific question thread, but consider this an initial heads-up: Please do drop by reddit.com/r/fantasy – any time tomorrow – to ask me anything, and if you’re around there in the evening, you’ll even get to see me answering them live … which could get messy, since it’ll be the middle of the night my time.

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As some folks may have heard, I wrote another book. And the good folk at Orbit are going to publish it this year!

That pile of paper there is the proofs for The Free – a stand-alone fantasy novel coming out in a bookshop or digital venue near you this October. The proofs are the last stage before the whole thing is kind of locked down, so I spent a fair few hours not long ago reading every single word of the thing all over again. Line by line, sentence by sentence, hunting for mistakes, typos, embarrassments, all that sort of thing.

It’s a strange experience for me, this bit of the writing/publishing process. Once a book (or story, or comic) of mine is published, I’m profoundly disinclined to ever read it, not even a little bit of it, again. It’s finished and I can’t change it and all I’m likely to see if I read it again is stuff I wish I could change. Reading and correcting proofs is kind of half-way into that territory – it’s too late to make big changes – but still embedded in the revising process to some extent, because little tweaks are possible. So I’m at ease with it, in a way I’m not at ease with re-reading the finished, published novel. Kind of like it, in fact, because once you get to this point you know you’re pretty much done. This thing’s happening. This book’s going to be for real soon.

In fact, The Free is going to be for real on or about October 14th. Not all that soon, I know, but it’s avilable for pre-order on all the usual online sites. If you’re at all inclined to do such a thing, pre-ordering is helpful and encouraging so you get my (impersonal, anonymous) gratitude if you take the plunge. I don’t think you’ll regret it – I’ve read The Free quite recently, after all, and I didn’t think it was bad. All nearly 450 pages of it.

The book’s right there waiting for your anticipatory support on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, Barnes & Noble etc. (But sadly not yet my personal preference these days – now that Amazon has bought up virtually every other independent online vendor – Wordery, which is a newish UK-based site that does free worldwide shipping. So you can’t pre-order The Free there yet, as far as I can see, but why not bookmark or sign up with Wordery.com and try it out sometime? Competition is a good thing, and boy does Amazon need some competition).

More to come about The Free in coming weeks and months, of course. For now, though, here’s the start of the contents because … well, why not?

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A good while back, I did a post here pontificating about how the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ was not a particularly good query to fire at a writer.

This is the sequel to that post, in which I answer the question in question. Just thought it’d be fun. Might also help to illustrate my case that ideas are the easy bit, coming as they do from everywhere, all the time, unpredictably.

So, here’s where the idea for every piece of fiction I’ve sold came from, in chronological order of publication.

Farm Animal, my first published story, appeared in the UK’s venerable sf magazine Interzone a long, long time ago. It has a unique, and unusually simple, origin in the context of my fiction output: it’s loosely based on a dream I had. It was a kind of creepy, not very nice, dream so we won’t go into any more details except to say it involved a human-pig hybrid. The hard bit, as ever, was turning that seed into a narrative of some sort, and in the process the story became about the transformation of a human into a pig. (Sidenote: I remember being quite pleased with myself, at that presumptuous age, for coming up with a title that reverses Animal Farm, in which pigs transform into humans, just as my story reverses that transformation. Doesn’t seem quite so clever now.)

Gibbons, my second published story, appeared in another UK magazine: The Third Alternative – still going, under the new title Black Static. Its origin is also unique in this list, in that it comes from my own direct, personal experience. In my early twenties I spent three months in Borneo, finding, following and sound-recording gibbons in a remote part of the rainforest. In hindsight, as you might expect, it was a powerful, rather formative experience in various ways (including career-wise, since it would later result in me getting a job that sent me to many other unusual, out of the way bits of the world), though at the time – as with many such experiences – I didn’t fully appreciate its significance. What did imprint itself on my mind even then, though, was the potent atmosphere and character of the place. It took years for the story that gave voice to my impressions of the Bornean rainforest to take shape, but Gibbons was the eventual result.

Winterbirth, and the Godless World trilogy of which it is the first part, has a messy kind of idea-origin. I knew I wanted to try writing novels, and I was instinctively interested in the possibility of a fantasy trilogy. I needed an imaginative nudge of some sort to get the process of world, character and story development going, and it came from the TV, in a way. This was way back when the Balkans, and the former Yugoslavia in particular, were in post-Communist meltdown and filling our TV screens and newspapers with stories and images of horrendous and cruel violence. Because I was even then a history nerd, I knew a lot of what was happening was the indirect fruit of bitter rivalries, enmities and events that went back many, many hundreds of years, and I was struck by the thought that it might be interesting to write about a fantasy world similarly torn apart by long-suppressed, half-hidden enmities that were somehow allowed to re-emerge.

Now, that initial idea got considerably complicated and diluted by the aforementioned process of world, character and story development. It provided the impetus for the process, but was itself changed and elaborated by it. Such things happen, once you get into the flow of turning a small spark into a fully fledged fire. But that’s what ideas are for really: they start the process, but unlike a chemical catalyst, they don’t have to survive that process unchanged.

Beyond the Reach of His Gods is a short story that appeared in the anthology Rage of the Behemoth, from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Much to my delight, it’s since been reprinted in the excellent online magazine Lightspeed, so you can read the whole thing for free over there if you like. This was the first time I’d been invited/commissioned to write a story for an anthology, and the brief was highly specific: heroic fantasy involving a giant monster set in one of several specific environments. I had no pre-existing ideas that fitted the bill (hardly surprising!), so the idea for this story had to be kind of ‘forced’. Except it came to me very easily, very quickly and very completely. I’ve no idea how that happens, but now and again it does: I just looked at the brief, thought about it for a bit, and the setting, characters, monster and the basic skeleton of the plot just turned up in my head. Very nice, and forunate really, since I would probably have turned down the invitation had things not bubbled up so easily, and had the story they suggested not struck me as being fun to write.

Flint was another short story for an anthology – Speculative Horizons, from Subterranean Press, edited by Patrick St-Denis. Again, I was asked if I would contribute, but this time there were no prescriptions regarding subject matter or even specific genre. So I pulled out a partially developed idea I’d been keeping on a mental shelf for ages, and used this as the opportunity to turn it into an actual story. That idea had its roots in my non-fiction reading: books like The Golden Bough, After The Ice and Shamanism. In learning and thinking about early magical beliefs, hunter-gatherer societies and the deep, deep past of human society and imagination, it struck me that a Stone-Age shaman would make an interesting central character for some kind of story. I knew very early on that his name would be Flint, but much of the detail of his adventures only got filled in when Patrick asked me if I fancied writing a story for his anthology …

The Edinburgh Dead has a very clear and fairly simple idea-origin. Having grown up in Edinburgh, and living there again now after a good few years away, I know a lot about its history and geography. Mind you, even people who’ve never been here have heard of Burke & Hare, the infamous baddies who murdered a lot of people so that they could sell their corpses to lecturers for dissection in anatomy classes in the early 19th century. For whatever reason, one day while musing on Edinburgh’s rich and complicated history, I just asked myself: ‘What if there were other people around back then, who wanted corpses for a different kind of experiment?’. From that question, after a good deal of research and the addition of a good many other influences, the whole novel emerged. And, inevitably, Burke and Hare stayed in the mix as characters in the story.

Rogue Trooper, the comic I’m writing for IDW (first issue in comic shops and on Comixology on Feb 26th!), is a different kettle of fish, idea-wise. This is a pre-existing character and milieu that I was asked to re-imagine. So the ideas required are of a different kind: what games can I play, what details can I add or subtract, what themes can I develop, with this already-established character? Those kind of ideas just come from looking at what’s there already, thinking back or re-visiting all the previous Rogue Trooper stories I read as a youth, applying my personal instincts as a writer to the property. To be honest, lots and lots of possibilities presented themselves to me as soon as I became aware of the opportunity, so it wasn’t too difficult. When someone else has done the hard work of creating a strong character, setting and framework, riffing on it is pretty straightforward (at least in terms of ideas, if not execution; believe me, I can now say from personal experience that writing comics is not straightforward or effortless!).

The Free will be published this October by Orbit, and it’s kind of fitting that it comes last on this list because in one sense it’s an extreme example on the original idea front. This book, alone of all the fictions on this list, has shed its originating idea like a snake shedding a skin. Literally no trace of the idea to which it can trace its roots remains in the novel that will be published. Weird, huh? Anyway, one day – or night, I think perhaps I was trying to go to sleep – a scene just popped into my head. In an underground cavern, someone discovers a prisoner, trapped in a huge cage. That was it. This was way back when I was still writing the Godless World trilogy. I had half a notion I might try writing another trilogy after I was finished with that one (a notion I soon thought better of!), and that single, unformed scene became the seed from which I gradually grew the outline of a whole plot, world, magic system, characters – I didn’t have a full trilogy worked out in detail, but I had a lot of stuff churning around in my head.

Except, I wrote The Edinburgh Dead instead. But the story-stuff that had sprung from that single imagined scene kept stewing in my thinking parts, and kept changing. In the plot I’d loosely imagined, there were a set of secondary characters – mercenaries – who struck me as interesting. To cut a long story short, I ended up pitching an idea focused upon them to the publisher as a stand-alone novel. The Free. The world in which they operate is not the one I dreamed up for that trilogy; the magic system is utterly different; there’s not a single character who has survived from my earlier musings into the text of the The Free; at no point does anyone even go underground, let alone discover a subterranean chamber with a caged prisoner in it. (But who’s to say what might happen, should I ever write any more stories about The Free?)

So there you are. I get my ideas from dreams, from personal experiences, from current affairs, from history, from commissions, from non-fiction books, from other people’s creations, from random scenes popping into my head. And I could add, in respect of fictions I’ve thought about or am currently pondering, which may or may not ever see the light of day: I also get them from idle reflections on the under-use of particular mythical creatures in fiction, consciously setting myself the challenge of coming up with an idea for a TV/radio series, writing tasks based on a single word set by tutors on a short course I did many years ago, looking at maps, etc. etc.

All seems clear enough. Question answered.

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This news is out there on the interwebs today, so I guess I can go public with it.

‘Tis true: I’m diversifying a bit, and writing a Rogue Trooper comic for the excellent folks over at IDW.

As visitors here may have noticed, I’m a fairly major comics fan. Unsurprisingly, I’m therefore pretty excited to be dipping my toes in those creative waters, especially since it’s on a character I knew well in my youth. As a British kid who liked comics and SF, it goes without saying that 2000 AD was a biiiig deal to me way back then, and Rogue Trooper was one of my favourite strips. It’s remained one of those I remember with the most affection, along with stuff like Dredd, Slaine and Nemesis. So all in all, fair to say I’m a happy chap with this turn of events.

Lovely cover art for #1, don’t you think?, by Glenn Fabry and Ryan Brown:

I’m lucky enough to be serving the interior art of Alberto Ponticelli with my scripts, so I think the whole package is going to look kind of nice, to put it mildly. More info to follow soon, of course. I believe the first issue will be in a comic shop near you in February 2014 or thereabouts.

And in case anyone’s wondering, none of this affects The Free. The hard work on that is largely done I think, the lovely powers-that-be at Orbit are making positive noises and as far as I know it remains on its intended publication course. So with any luck I’ll have both a novel and comics on shelves in 2014. Should be a fun year.

For those who wonder how these things come about … well, I expect the story’ll get told at some point (it’s not wildly exciting or surprising, before you get your expectations up too high), but for now let’s just say it convinced me even more that what I said in this post about luck was on the money. You can’t control exactly when or how you get lucky, but you can at the very least give it the chance to show up in your life. I did, and it did. Sweet.

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I was given a tea towel today.  It’s adorned with 13 bits of ‘honest advice’ for the aspiring author.  It was given as a joke, rather than a serious gift – I don’t think I’m believed to be in urgent need of the advice in question – but as well as being quite smile-inducing, it does contain several nuggets of basic wisdom that really would be quite handy for aspiring writers to embrace, if they haven’t already done so.  Such as:

  • You may break any rules but you will only break them beautifully if you understand them fully.
  • Write the first draft with your heart and the second draft with your head.
  • Rubbish is published because it sells.  Stop moaning; focus on your writing.  Publishing is a business, so deal with it.
  • You only need two out of talent, luck and determination.  Some manage only with luck.  Real writers aim for the other two.
  • Of course your mother loves your book: she’s your mother.

All true, more or less*.

The tea towel, and the advice thereupon, is the creation of Nicola Morgan.

*I confess, I don’t think my mother loves any of my books.  Not really her kind of thing.  But that’s fine; she loves me, after all. And my father does quite like at least some of them, I think, so there you are.

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If The Godin says it, it must be true, right? Well, could be. His is one of three posts linked to from this round-up, all of which are worth a read and all of which, I think, are fundamentally saying not so much that books are dying, as that the infrastructure and systems in place to publish, distribute and sell them as physical objects are dying, or at the very least heading towards a radically different and very probably much diminished future.  Which seems kind of plausible, if nothing else.  Difficult to be confident that the ink-and-paper book business faces anything other than ‘interesting times’.

Despite that, I’m evidently still writing books.  I know this because look: someone’s somehow got their hands on a book cover.  And discovered an Amazon UK link.  Cool.

Hold your horses, though.  I can certainly vouch for the fact that my novel The Free should indeed be published next year, because I’m in the late stages of battering it into publication-ready form at this very moment  (I was until I broke off to write this post, anyway).  That cover, though?  If you’d read the book, you’d know that the ‘Cover Not Final’ tag appearing on the artwork is … well, highly likely to be accurate.  That rather fine image of knightly chaps looking mean and moody is kind of cool, but it’s not what you’d call a ruthlessly accurate representation of the text.

Mean and moody’s fair enough, mind you, so who knows what’ll be adorning the book when it does eventually hit the shelves next year?  Anyway, I’m aware I’ve not said much about my writing endeavours here of late, but with The Free nearing something that approximates to a presentable state, that’ll be changing a bit.  I’ve got some stuff to say about the perils and pleasures of rewriting and revising, I think, which’ll be along in due course …

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I’ll try to wrap up a couple more thoughts on this topic a bit more concisely than I managed in the first post.

Yes, I have yet more reasons why Winterbirth had a somewhat bleak tone to it.  The first of which is …

It wasn’t just a reaction to history, but to the contemporary world.  As I mentioned in Part 1, part of the reason the book/trilogy has the feel it does was my enthusiasm for narrative historical non-fiction, and the notion of borrowing some of its texture to create the illusion of reading about real people in a real world.  It wasn’t just the past of the real world that fed into it, though.  It was also the present when I was coming up with the story.  At the time – at any time, let’s be honest – it wasn’t hard to find dramatic and disturbing things being reported in the news, and the stuff that was at the back of my mind when I was pondering ideas for Winterbirth was the post-Yugoslavia convulsions affecting the Balkans.

Thousands of people were killed there as long-suppressed national, religious and cultural divisions resurfaced.  You could trace back some aspects (not all, by any means, but some) of what was going on many, many centuries.  I was struck by the notion that the present remained a prisoner of the past.  That the capacity for extraordinary and horrible violence remained latent in even apparently ordered societies.  The last bit of the 20th century saw us move away from the long era of vast empires confronting one another on vast battlefields, to one which was more chaotic.  More gruesome in some ways.  Everything looked greyer than it had once done.  Good and evil were more subjective, locally defined, transient qualities.  A lot of evil was going unpunished, in those days.  It always has done, of course; but a pervasive media has made it steadily more obvious.

Obviously you don’t have to write what you see around you, when you’re writing speculative fiction.  But it’s hardly surprising that sometimes people do.

Authorial inexperience.  I mentioned in Part 1 that sometimes an author, especially a novice author, might be making fewer conscious choices, and doing more going with the flow, than readers assume.  Separate but related point: perhaps an inexperienced author isn’t always as fully aware of the tonal effect his or her writing is generating as he/she might be.

I mention this only because I wonder – and I specifically don’t know, can’t remember quite clearly enough – whether I fully understood the cumulative effect of the style in which I was writing the Godless World trilogy.  Some of the small choices I was making.  I’ve got a feeling, and it’s no more than that, that were I writing the trilogy now, I’d probably lighten the tone a little bit.  Reading fantasy of this sort should, after all, be entertaining if nothing else.  It should provide enjoyment, excitement, alongside whatever other responses it’s generating in the reader.

Setting a bleak overlay to the whole thing doesn’t preclude entertainment and enjoyment by any means, but perhaps it does mean that entertainment and enjoyment have to work a bit harder to express themselves.  It’s possible I overdid the bleakness a bit, because my inexperience made it that bit trickier to step back from the day to day business of writing sentences, paragraphs and see the big picture; project myself into the reader’s shoes and visualise the cumulative effect of those sentences and paragraphs.

The thing about violence is …  I’m on thinner ice with this point than with most of the other stuff I’ve mentioned.  I’m not totally sure what I feel about it.  It’s complicated.  But there’s no denying I’ve thought about it, and that I had it in mind while writing the trilogy.

I’m a great big softie.  Never been in a fight in my life, so far as I remember.  Not a big fan of violence in general.  Except in entertainment, obviously.  It makes for exciting books, films, whatever, I do not deny.  But when I really think about it, I can’t get away from the notion that actually, really killing someone with a sword, or an axe, or a spear, is – it must be – by our modern standards an absolutely, horrifically dreadful business.  Cutting, hacking, stabbing a living human being at close range is not romantic or clean or easy.  Any world in which it was any of those things, not just for certain individuals (there will always be some, sadly), but on a widespread cultural level, would be a world I emphatically did not want to live in.

What’s odd, and makes this a bit complicated, is that I’m perfectly happy to watch, or read, and enjoy fictions that to a very great extent sanitize such violence, or revel in it, or completely ignore its inherent brutality. For some reason, when I’m the one doing the writing, things become more problematic.

There is a part of me, I think, that just instinctively rebels at the idea of painting a world in which people habitually kill each other, face to face, with blades as anything other than in some way cruel, bleak and traumatising.  I am, rather obviously, more than happy to write violent scenes.  In fact, I confess I actively enjoy it.  But it’s possible that I’m just on some level not happy, or perhaps not able, to write violent scenes that do not have unpleasant consequences, that do not reflect my personal repulsion at the very idea of killing someone with a sword.  That do not acknowledge that to my way of thinking, any imaginary world in which such violence is necessary on a large scale, or is celebrated, or is treated as normal, is to at least some extent inherently and inescapably grim.  Dark.  Grimdark, if you like.

And that’s a wrap.  Let there be no more talk of bleakness.  It’s the Vernal Equinox, after all.  The first day of Spring!  Sunshine and flowers will be with us any day now.  (But yes, it is true that it is currently snowing outside my window …. ho hum).

And P.S. here’s a random and trivial teaser: the word ‘vernal’ appears a lot in my next book, The Free.

 

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