Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I Am Not Hard to Please

Waking up to find an inch or two of unforecasted snow blanketing the world, and still falling ... colour me happy.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Edinburgh Meanderings

I did virtually no specific research for The Godless World, but things are a bit different now. The Edinburgh Dead requires me to drag myself away from the computer now and again, and do some proper work. There is, incredible as it might seem, some stuff that - as far as I can tell, anyway - the internet does not yet know, which suits me just fine because I seriously like a bit of research: digging around in old books (courtesy of the excellent National Library of Scotland) or, as I was doing yesterday morning, descending into the bowels of Edinburgh City Chambers in search of the City Archives. And once I got there I spent a very happy couple of hours perusing an unpublished phD thesis from 1996 on the subject of the 19th century beginnings of Edinburgh's police force. Now and again this writing lark is very cool. (this depends, obviously on your definition of cool: and yes, mine does include discovering and reading vaguely obscure documents in slightly strange places. I'm funny like that.)

It's a strange feeling, making fiction - and fantastical, dark fiction at that - out of bits of real history. It's trespassing in the lives of real people, and putting words into their mouths and deeds - sometimes downright villainous ones - into their hands. It feels like taking a liberty with their memory, even the ones who were downright disreputable and murderous in reality. The city itself, though, is a much easier subject to work with. Edinburgh's soaked to its rocky bones in history, much of it darker and stranger than anything a mere writer could come up with, and using it as the stage for a drama feels entirely natural and appropriate.

I've got the perfect excuse, now, to wander around Edinburgh's Old Town, tracking down ancient alleyways that have been the scenes of murder, debauchery and mystery for hundreds of years. Even now, in the midst of the Festival(s), when the main streets are so full of tourists you can hardly move, the canyon-like closes are still and quiet and full of atmosphere. They feel old, and patient. Perfect venues for fictions.

And while I'm wandering around with my head in the 19th century, searching out the bits of the past that have survived, pondering the dastardly deeds - real and invented - that I'll populate these byways with, everyone else is milling about in a crazy, Festival-fuelled present in which mermaids pose beside statues of great philosophers (David Hume, famous son of Edinburgh, in this case)

Funny old world.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Posting While the Rain Falls

To be honest, there are already enough short fiction podcasts to make it tough to keep up with them, but the latest addition is far too cool to ignore: TTA Press, the publishers of the UK's major sf/fantasy and horror fiction magazines, as well as a rather good (if excessively infrequent) crime one, have launched Transmissions from Beyond, podcasting selected stories from their huge, multi-genre back catalogue. I'll be listening.

Another new podcast: Reality Break is putting out interviews with authors, most of them originally done for radio in the 1990s. Some notably big guns have already been deployed: Will Eisner, Cory Doctorow and the late Robert Jordan.

Free Fantasy Reading: you can download a free pdf of Black Gate magazine no. 12. Got to admit I haven't actually read it, but the magazine's got a pretty good reputation, and there's certainly a lot of content: 224 pages of it.

Since Watchmen featured in the last post here, thought I'd mention an interesting transcript of a 1988 round table discussion about the series. But first: BEWARE! This is as SPOILERIFIC a discussion as could possibly be contrived by the wit of Man. If you have not yet read Watchmen, or if you want to see the upcoming movie without actually knowing every last detail of the plot in advance (and, believe me, you really do), FLEE! The imminent link will utterly and completely ruin the whole thing, including all of the many surprises the story has up its sleeves. Seriously. For those who have already read Watchmen, it's a fascinating discussion, because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are involved, and it unpicks in great detail a lot of the story's many layers, influences and concerns. It can be found here.

An interesting historical side note: The Picts appear to have had a whole lot more going on in their part of the world (Scotland) than was previously thought.

Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed asking about a release date for Fall of Thanes. It's nice that people care enough to be interested! I wish I had a more definitive answer to offer, but at the moment I don't. It's taken longer than I hoped and intended to finish the thing off, for a mixture of writing and non-writing related reasons, but it is almost done. Should be going to the publisher for consideration in the next few weeks. In the past, it's taken about a year to get from that point to publication. Sorry I can't be any more specific than that yet. More news as and when it's available.

It has been raining all day. Raining hard, for a lot of it. Frankly, it's all a bit disappointing, as the weather has been for weeks and weeks. So I thought I'd post a photo, grabbed in one of the few sunny interludes I remember from the last couple of months. It commemorates the chance discovery of a wonderful country lane, thick with wildflowers, bees and butterflies. As I sit here listening to the rain gurgling along the gutters and down the drainpipes, perhaps it will provide a little remembered warmth, and remind me that we do still notionally have things called summers, even if these last couple of years the only possible description of that season has been 'damp squib'.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Return to The Isle of May

A ritual of sorts has been enacted: the all but annual trip to the Isle of May (2007 version was recorded here). Good news for me, since it's one of my favourite places. Less predictable in its consequences for readers of this blog, as it leads inexorably and inevitably to ... my photos! Hooray.

That's the Isle in question, and very pretty it is too, but here's the real reason I actually take the hour long boat trip required to reach it:

The birds, obviously. But there's no denying the place itself is so extremely pleasant it might be worth even if there was nothing with wings within ten miles of it:

The last of the bird pictures, by the way, is an Arctic tern. These are heroes of the bird world, going from the Antarctic to the Arctic and back again every year (and no, Scotland is not quite in the Arctic - for all that it feels like it occasionally. I guess our Arctic terns are ever so slightly less motivated than most of their brethren). Watching them, if you take a moment to reflect that not so very long ago these very birds were surfing the breezes of the Antarctic Ocean, perhaps even dodging Antipodean icebergs, it blows your mind just a little. I think they're fantastic.

That sentiment is not, it has to be said, mutual. This year, the tern colony has taken a collective decision to locate itself right next to the landing stage. To reach the boat, therefore, you have to run the gauntlet of righteously agitated and protective parents. I am thus able to leave you with this world exclusive video. A brief (and I do mean brief, like 2 seconds brief, so pay attention) clip revealing, for the first time anywhere, the sound a fantasy author makes when the immensely well-travelled beak of an Arctic tern connects with his skull at high velocity:

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Bloodheir Bits and Pieces

My trusty test reader enjoys a quiet moment with the finished Bloodheir. He's smiling, so presumably happy, even though the only reference to bears occurs on page 161 and involves poking a sleeping one with a stick. Not much to engage the ursine reader, you'd think. Still, it's probably an improvement on Winterbirth, in which the main bear involvement was getting wheeled around in a cage and shot full of crossbow bolts. Contrary to appearances, I have nothing against bears.

Big box of hardbacks and the UK trade paperback turned up on my doorstep last week. One of those moments that I suspect never quite loses its appeal, no matter how well-established and megastarish an author becomes. Orbit have done a lovely job with the book, methinks. It's a very fine package. Seeing the cover art up close and in situ it's striking what a fine piece of work it is. Given that my artistic skills are on the wrong side of non-existent, this kind of thing leaves me not a little impressed. And jealous. The illustration is by Gene Mollica, much more of whose diverse work can be admired here.

There's a Bloodheir review up at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. It contains the succint and pretty accurate line: 'Aeglyss is a complete basket case.' Yep. Can't really disagree with that. The guy's got issues, you know.

And I'll just insert the customary reminder here that anyone who wants to buy a signed copy of Bloodheir can do so via Transreal Fiction. It'll cost you the cover price plus post and packing. Dedications, inscriptions and so on can also be included, but not, sadly, any cute little drawings, as my artistic skills ... well, see above.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Another Country Ticked Off

A first, very brief, visit to Ireland for me over the weekend. Gorgeous place. Was in the Burren, on the west coast, which is a place so fantastically landscaped it looks like it belongs in fiction.

Huge expanses of exposed limestone, all corrugated and cracked. Basically looks like a moonscape, only with less dust and a bit more grass (though in some places not much more - the photo above is really a positive oasis of grassiness compared to the really cool bits, but of course I didn't get a photo of them). And for extra cool points, the whole place is dotted with relics of Stone Age humanity. Like this tomb, which looked precariously balanced to me, but presumably will last a bit longer since it's made it through from BC times this far:

Away from the limestone, it's all rolling countryside, verdant fields and wide open shores.

Very nice. Well done, Ireland. Good effort.

Despite the fact I wasn't paying attention, the world saw fit to continue to happen over the weekend, and indeed happen in ways that manage to be very modern but would also be entirely familiar to our ancestors from a few hundred years ago: the hyper-modern (and rather fine looking) sailing ship Ponant got seized by pirates and last I heard is holed up in a Somali port hiding from the French navy who are in pursuit ... Terrible business, I'm sure, but since nobody seems to have got hurt so far, I feel able to admit that my first reaction was something along the lines of: 'Ha. Cool. Them's some pirates with taste.'

And in other, marginally less noteworthy news, the US mass market paperback of Winterbirth turned up in the post. It's published next month, and is a lovely little thing that I am entirely charmed by. Small, but perfectly formed.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Possibly the Coolest Bridge in the World ...

... is just outside Edinburgh: the Forth Rail Bridge. It was looking particularly fine a couple of days ago, i.e. any excuse to inflict another of my photos on the internet:
And it has an important connection to the sf/f world too, being the direct inspiration for The Bridge by Iain Banks, as can be seen from the cover of this edition. That was one of his earliest non-M books, and very good it is too: it was marketed as more or less mainstream fiction, but it's got more than a hint of industrial magic realism about it. A precursor of the New Weird, before anyone had even thought of the term.
As anyone paying attention will know, Mr. Banks, in his M incarnation, is big news at the moment, with the imminent release of the first Culture novel in years. Sometimes the hype for a new release runs way ahead of what's reasonable, but this is one of those occasions when the author's earned every single iota of the anticipation and more.
The Forth Rail Bridge also, coincidentally, lives up to the all the hype when you see it in the steel and brick flesh. Awesome.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

A pre-Christmas Miscellany

Chances are, things will be quiet around here for the next week or more (not that they're exactly a hive of frenzied activity the rest of the time), while I concentrate on eating, drinking, caressing the many books I'll no doubt be given on the 25th (people know how to please me), wishing it would snow, and - because you can't let a little thing like a festive season get in the way - writing.

In the meantime, a little selection of treats and trifles:

For Movie Fans, the newly-arrived Hellboy II trailer:

I was a big fan of the first movie - plain old fun almost from beginning to end, I thought, and that's something not many movies can claim - and this one looks like it might be a worthy successor.

For Zombie Comic Fans (that's fans of zombie comics, rather than comic fans who are zombies), a tip: I'm way behind on this, since it's been going for ages, but this year I discovered The Walking Dead. I've only read the first collected volume so far, but it was up there amongst my favourite reading experiences of 2007.

It's the homely tale of a small group of ordinary people trying to survive in a world over-run by flesh-eating zombies. Good writing, good characters and the occasional gory zombie attack: what more could you ask? Recommended for those with post-Christmas book tokens to spend and an affection for quality comics. Or for zombies.

For Aspiring Writers, this is pretty old stuff, but it's well worth a read if you haven't seen it before: from the Australian fantasy author Ian Irvine, who's sold enough books to know what he's talking about, Writing Tips, Guide to Success, and easily the best of the lot, The Truth About Publishing. Not everything in there accords perfectly with my own experience, but that's no surprise as (a) Ian's writing from an Australian perspective, and (b) these things are bound to vary on a case-by-case basis. The important thing is that in broad terms there's a huge amount of good advice, truth and common sense in there.

For Anyone who ever wondered what a nuclear detonation at sunset looks like (likely a small subset of the global population, I realise):

Okay, so it's actually just the Sun going down behind a power station just outside Edinburgh, but it looked a bit like the Apocalypse to me.

For Those Who Care About Such Things, the latest version of the Bloodheir cover. It makes me feel cold just looking at it, which in this case is a good thing.

Last I heard, UK, US and Australian publication remains on schedule for June 2008, by the way.

And since it's the season for Giving Gifts, go test your vocabulary - and marvel at the plethora of obscurities lurking like unexploded bombs in the dark recesses of the English language - while simultaneously donating (at no cost to you!) rice to those who need it: FreeRice, which I found via Patrick Rothfuss' blog.

Finally, For Music Fans, especially those who like a bit of acoustic guitar action, what I think is one of the nicest sounds to be found on YouTube:

There're plenty of other clips of him on YouTube, all equally pleasing, and his website's here: Andy McKee. Sadly, no signs of any plans to play in Scotland as far as I can see, otherwise I'd probably be busy buying tickets instead of writing this post ...

And that's it. Whatever festivities you're engaged in over the next week or two, I hope you have an outrageously happy time of it.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Now That's What I Call a Castle ...

Everybody likes a good castle, right? Sure they do. Not very long ago, a Winterbirth reader mentioned in an e-mail that Bamburgh Castle was worth a visit should I ever be in the relevant part of the world (that being Northumberland). Sure enough, a week or so ago I was in the vicinity, and dutifully paid a visit. Glad I did, because it turns out Bamburgh is pretty much as amazingly castley as a castle can get:

A seriously spectacular place, so thanks for the tip, Graham. And the castleish pleasures of Northumberland don't end there. Oh no. The place is stuffed with them; almost over-flowing. A couple of others encountered while wandering around were Warkworth ...

... and Lindisfarne:

All inspirational fodder for your average fantasy author. Especially Lindisfarne: I was really taken with this tiny little castle (it's more of a psuedo-fortified house really, but never mind) sitting on a steep mound overlooking vast open stretches of mudflats and sea. A little bit of imagination - mentally airbrushing out the milling tourists, mostly - and it's easy to envisage howling raiders spilling out from their beached ships, surging up the track that spirals up the mound, beating at the gates and walls. Not sure I can fit the scene into the Godless World trilogy - I've pretty much used up my castle quota - but one day, in some other text, maybe ...

Given how well this one worked out, future tips from readers about inspirational places to visit will be carefully noted and filed away for future reference.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Five Things

I'm still getting an occasional query about signatures, so just to clarify: last I heard, somewhere in the Orbit UK offices there's a pile of bookplates that I signed a while ago. If you'd like one to stick into your copy of Winterbirth, drop them a line and they might be able to help you. The only other option if you want a signed copy is to buy one, I'm afraid: if you order Winterbirth from Transreal Fiction - they can still get hold of the UK hardback as far as I know - I can sign (and optionally dedicate, date, whatever) it before it's shipped out to you.

I am, on a more or less experimental basis, on Facebook. To be honest, I really don't get this whole social networking lark. I have a niggling, grumpy old man suspicion that it's all a bit Emperor's New Clothes, but let's ignore my no doubt ill-informed misgivings for now. If you're in there too and want to do the friend thing, feel free, but please bear the following in mind:

(a) if I've never heard of you, any friend request is likely to fall on deaf ears unless you include a message that you're a Winterbirth reader, or some similarly plausible excuse for getting in touch;

(b) I'm not actually likely to do much in the way of social networking in the foreseeable future (I know, why be on Facebook, then?). For the time being at least my visits to Facebookland are infrequent and brief, and

(c) don't be surprised - or offended - if one day I have up and disappeared completely. It might just happen, if one too many people try to turn me into a pirate ninja zombie vampire or whatever.

I spent two very pleasant hours listening to the Starship Sofa guys talking about Interzone magazine. It's the usual rambling, diversionary discussion, taking in everything from Goth bands of the 1980s through the merits of various Star Trek: TNG characters to Michael Moorcock's cat and its contact lenses. There's a good interview with one of the Interzone editors in the second hour, too. You can get the mp3 (episode 60) here.

Next week there's a Blog Action Day when bloggers are invited to post about environmental issues. I'm not really into this kind of stuff - arbitrarily selected collective action days of dubious efficacy, that is, rather than environmental stuff, which on the whole I am into - but I might participate. Haven't decided yet. In the meantime, here's an arbitrarily selected (and gently photoshopped) picture of some wildlife, to see if I can get myself in the mood: an eider duck I snapped on the Isle of May way back in the Spring. Probably the coolest duck in the world. In so far as any duck could be said to be cool.

I inadvertently watched some of a CSI Miami episode last night. Coincidentally, it's just been identified as the most-watched TV show in the entire world. Now CSI Miami was OK when it started, but some time ago it not so much jumped the shark as harpooned it, hauled it up onto the beach, slapped some lipstick and a dress on it and took it out on a date with a view to producing lots of little human-shark hybrids. It's entered such extreme realms of ludicrous improbability and self-caricature that it's almost reached the level of surreal, comedic art. I mean, seriously: the biggest TV show in the world?!? You people are nuts. All of you.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Creature Feature 2

The end of August, and there was Shelobesque violence in the undergrowth at Aberlady Bay, just outside Edinburgh.

This spider took all of about 30 seconds to encase the violently struggling moth in silk, and then wandered casually off, no doubt to later return and suck its hapless victim dry. Very cool (but not for the moth, which I imagine found the whole experience thoroughly disheartening).

Just to prove Nature's not all red in tooth and claw, a little way down the path from the spider vs. moth show:

The white flowers are called Grass of Parnassus, which I think is a classy name for a classy flower, that in close up looks like a piece of organic alien technology.
I don't know if they actually grow on Mount Parnassus in Greece, but apparently in ancient mythology that mountain was the home of the Muses who inspired poets, artists, musicians and writers. Perhaps they danced upon carpets of such flowers. I tried not to tread on any as I trudged towards the beach ...


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Creature Feature

On Arthur's Seat, much the biggest of the several hills that dominate Edinburgh, early on a still June evening, something that seems to have nothing to do with us and our cities:

Seeing stuff like this make me happy, in a small and quiet kind of way. I'm a wildlife nerd.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Mull and Iona

One more installment - probably the last for a little while, you might be relieved to hear - in my intermittent campaign to convince everybody that Scotland is (a) gorgeous and (b) always blessed with nice weather. Hey! Who's that laughing at (b)? Stop that immediately. (Although, to be honest, if the weather gods are listening, feel free to get summer underway any time you like now. Really. Is a day or two of proper sunshine in June too much to ask for?)
Anyway, a visit to Mull and Iona, where the sky changes costume every hour or so.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Isle of May

A visit to one of Scotland's lesser-known gems: The Isle of May. Sea air. Ruins. Lighthouses. Puffins. Thousands and thousands of puffins. More puffins than you could eat in a whole lifetime, even if you really liked the taste of puffin.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Good for the Soul: Aberlady Bay

A visit to one of my favourite near-Edinburgh spots: Aberlady Bay. A place of sand dunes, bird song, big skies and bracing air.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

The Last Post Before Christmas

1. I have been answering questions over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist.

2. Winterbirth has made it to the far side of the world (i.e. Australia) and judging by this and by this, it might get a slightly warmer reception than the England cricket team, if nothing else. (EDIT: the first of those links no longer connects with the relevant review. But it was a rave. Really. It said everyone should immediately go and buy Winterbirth. At least, that's how I choose to remember the sense of it...)

3. This last week, for the first time in what feels like ages, it has been neither wet nor windy nor cloudy hereabouts, which meant it was actually possible to enjoy a stroll in the great outdoors. England has evidently been submerged beneath an ocean of inconvenient fog, but here:

Nice. Have a good Christmas, everybody.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Winterbirth Goes on Holiday

Even a book needs a break now and again. Tom sent this photo of Winterbirth relaxing on a beach in Mallorca, in the company of a cool sand sculpture. Like it. The book was released into the wild in a hotel lobby, so somewhere in Mallorca there's a lonely copy of Winterbirth mooching about the bars looking for friends, probably fluttering its pages seductively, asking people if they like its cover and trying to shake the sand out of its crevices.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Fabulous Fungus

I freely admit to having no excuse for this post other than that I like the photos - but I'm allowed a random, dumb post every now and again, right? Right? Anyway, at the risk (probably a 100% guaranteed kind of risk) of sounding odd, I like fungi.

Maybe it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I struggle to see how anyone could not find this stuff - found covering the stump of a felled tree - at least mildly appealing. I mean - check out the colours, the texture, the curves. Nature really deserves to win the Turner Prize one year. I'd rather look at this stuff than pretty much every arty video installation I've ever seen. Which isn't a huge number, admittedly.


Saturday, September 23, 2006


It's kind of traditional for writers to talk about their influences. Well, here's one of mine. The natural world is an abiding interest, and constantly finds its way into my writing. The landscapes and environment of Winterbirth draw very heavily on the wilder bits of Britain. So, because of that, and to experiment with posting photos up here, some visuals. In this case, scenes from a short visit to the Lake District.

The author's thought process: 'I know I should be writing, but look: a hill. I bet you get a good view from up there ...'

Stray off the path in a dark forest and look what you find - toadstools looking just like toadstools ought to!

Light + hills + trees = mood.

Even though Britain's a little, densely populated island it still has a natural drama and mystery, and sometimes looks like a ready-made backdrop for a story. This kind of stuff sits in the back of my brain waiting to sneak into a story, so it's probably only a matter of time before toadstools, stone walls and bracken turn up on the page.

P.S. The mushrooms, by the way, are fly agaric - a species that not only looks fantastic, being the model for virtually all appearances of toadstools in popular culture, but is absolutely loaded with folklore and religious and shamanic significance.