I feel it worth saying that this article is aimed towards one-to-one and small group beta/critique partners. I can’t comment on larger, less personal environments like online critiquing communities simply because I’ve never been a long-term member of one.
Sarah Callender wrote an excellent blog on Writer Unboxed today. She wrote about the relationship she has with her long-standing beta reader, and the beta process. Like any good social media presence, WU packaged both the article and Tweet promoting it with a call to action: “What positive experiences have you had with a beta reader… and why was it so positive? Or, why did a beta reader… relationship not work out so well?”
What started as a blog reply ended up making me think. Obviously, this meant I needed a lie down. Unfamiliar activity does tire one out. While there is a lot of emotional responsibility on the part of the writer not to be unreasonable or explosive, a lot of beta issues I’ve had come from a couple of specific places. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to write about my experience of receiving excellent critiques/beta feedback, and what I’ve learned in two years of giving people feedback as a part of my day job. Continue reading
TRIGGER WARNING: drink, drugs, psych medication, depression.
The first thing I’d like to say is this: I’m not a psychiatric professional of any type. I’m not a licensed counsellor, I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not a psychiatrist. I also don’t claim to offer a definitive view of depression.
However, I am a 40-year-old writer who has suffered depression since childhood. I’m not by any means the first person in my family to have it: my father battled severe depression. My grandmother was an unbelievably intelligent, otherwise indomitable woman. Continue reading
Yes, it may also be Erishkigal, but sod it.
So, Hertfordshire University’s Open Graves, Open Minds unit have been running a ‘demon of the day’ campaign on Twitter this week. I’ll confess, as someone who started their interest with the Classical world and Ancient Near East, I’m rather partial to a good demon (I will, one day soon, write the article about Lilith I’ve been threatening.)
I had a rather good conversation with the OGOM project’s Twitter, and the excellent Dr Sam George on the nature of the Solomonic demon Astaroth.
I’m not too proud to admit that one of the reasons I know about Astaroth (and Baal, and Asmodeus) is because I was hoping to lay down the intellectual smack on something that irritates me: the belief that the demons of Christianity were the Gods of previous civilisations.
Which isn’t always true.
Of course… in the case of Astaroth… it sort-of… is.
Which is really fascinating, since becoming a demon isn’t the most interesting thing that happened to him.
His original name was Ashtoreth, and he used to be a goddess. Continue reading
I’ve just finished Aliette de Bodard’s Tea Master and the Detective, a science fiction novella set in a spacefaring civilisation with technology bordering on the magical (if there was such a thing, I’d call it ‘High Sci Fi’). The novella was, as de Bodard herself freely admits, a meditation on the qualities of great fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes (with deliberate and direct allegories to Holmes and Watson in the persons of the protagonists Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child).
I very much enjoyed Tea Master, but it made me think of something that has made me put more than one book down – antisocial, atypical prodigies, and the hinterland between what makes them a draw, rather than an irritation.
So, I thought it might be interesting, and hopefully useful to someone somewhere, if I put a few thoughts down on the phenomenon of writing the sociopathic genius. Continue reading
I’m always uncomfortable writing about writing: when it comes to history I can say, “This is material that I researched, you could possibly have researched it too, but you didn’t, so here it is…”
When I’m writing about writing, I’m acutely aware of the fact that while I’ve got books out I’m not that much of a big deal. I’ve got a lot more coming out later this year, and I think I’ve got “game”, as we middle aged historians call it, but I’m not a hugely successful writer.
Still, there’s one thing I have that other people can be objectively proved not to have: output.
It may be shite, but at least I wrote it. In 2017, despite one of the worst depressive slumps of my life, I managed an output of ~220k words. I once wrote a 100,000 word novel in a week. There are people who have produced more, but I’m also aware that there are a number of people who produced less, and have expressed interest in knowing how I did it.
I’ll also be entirely honest that I’m a bit harsh in places here, but excuses are something that annoys me, particularly since I was once quite good at making them myself.
So, here it is… Continue reading
Everything is for a Reason (Like Dialogue Tags and Sentence Construction)
You might think this part will be a watery parable about how all my failures and triumphs made me a better person. They might or might not have, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t usually like to write about craft: there are enough craft articles out there, and I have no desire to contribute to the heap.
However, craft was a part of what brought Dark Neon from being a thing that sat on my hard disk to being a novel that people could buy.
I wrote Dark Neon in a blur of desperation. Afterewards, I had it stuck in my head that the manuscript was worthy for the simple reason of just being a certain length: it was book-length, therefore it was a publishable book.
In the event that I did learn a new writing rule, I would go through the manuscript with a scythe, mercilessly and masochistically applying it without fear of favour. If I was going to ruin my work with all these artificial rules, I was going to ruin it totally!
Let’s Enter a Dialogue
However, all writing rules are for a reason. A sad number of drafts of my novel were full of adverb-riddled dialogue scenes. People didn’t say or ask, they explained, elucidated, threatened, growled, groaned, laughed, shouted, and whispered. Continue reading