inspired me to write

May 30, 2019

When the American fantasy writer Tad Williams first met Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, Martin growled at him: “Get the hell out of here.”

This was not yet another egoistic literary beef; Martin merely wanted his fellow author to get home and finish the next instalment of his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, which Martin had been patiently waiting to read. Perhaps this was a bit hypocritical coming from the famously slow-writing author of the series A Song of Ice and Fire, who is loved and moaned at by fans furiously awaiting his next book. But while Williams, who turns 60 in March, might not be quite the household name Martin is, he deserves wider cultural recognition: without Tad Williams, there would be no Game of Thrones.

“The Dragonbone Chair and the rest of his famous ‘four-book trilogy [were some] of the things that inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy,” said Martin in 2011. “Fantasy got a bad rep for being formulaic and ritual. And I read The Dragonbone Chair and said, ‘My God, they can do something with this form, and it’s Tad doing it.’ It’s one of my favourite fantasy series.”

David Barnett
Tropes, trolls and Trump: the fantasy writer who inspired George RR Martin
The Guardian 17th January 2017

One of the most interesting of the sixteen novels which Daphne du Maurier wrote is The Parasites. Published in 1949, when she was forty-two, it is not often mentioned amongst her oeuvre. It was, she said, the only book of hers she ever reread, and even twenty years afterwards it still made her laugh. Dedicated to ‘For whom the Caps Fit’ (not, significantly, ‘For whom the Cap Fits’), it tells the story of three siblings who, one wet Sunday afternoon, discuss their relationship with one another and with their parents. Apart from its qualities as a novel, it is fascinating for the light it throws on Daphne herself, and on the many facets of her very complex personality. In later years she said how much of herself she had put into the portraits of the siblings, and there are striking parallels between episodes in this book and passages both in her biography of her father (Gerald, 1934) and in the account of her early life which she wrote over forty years later (Growing Pains, 1977). The most revealing passage of all comes with the admission of the oldest of the three, an actress, that she is always ‘being someone else’. ‘I’m still acting’, she thinks. ‘I’m looking at myself, I’m seeing a person called Maria lying on a sofa … but me, the real me, is making faces in the corner.’[1] This was true of Daphne herself: the face she presented to the world was courteous and unruffled (she never lost her temper, and whenever possible avoided confrontation), but behind this calm exterior was a dark, often perturbed mind. She lived on two levels: on the one level was the seemingly serene person who married, bore three children, walked her beloved West Highland terriers, and kept a close eye on the household finances, which she ran firmly and sensibly, at the same time showing great generosity towards her family and friends. On the other level was the woman who wrote nearly thirty highly successful books, and who existed in and through the characters she created. And it was the latter who were much the more real to her. ‘Daphne could walk into a bloody lamp post’, her husband used to say, ‘and not notice because she was so wrapped up in her writing’.

Sheila Hodges
Editing Daphne du Maurier

…it’s harder to make a real living as a writer, though to tell the truth, a lot of people making a living as a writer didn’t really start until the 1980s. I think we’re having to some extent a self–correction. It was never meant to have this vast readership for all authors, and the money that was there in the eighties, and somewhat in the 90s, just isn’t there anymore, at least not for as many authors as it once was. I think I’ve survived because I always wrote and loved to write a variety of types of fiction, non–fiction, screenplays, short stories, essays, comics, etc. When one thing faltered, I had another place to go to, and it was always a place I wanted to go. I also edited anthologies from time to time, and taught at the University here, but believe me, that was more for the joy of it than the money.  I’ve always written for me and then hoped someone would love it. Somehow, the money has always shown up and I’m still writing and feel I’m better now than ever. But, I got my foot in the door in the seventies, so maybe it was easier, but I remember people saying, well, it’s too hard now, back in the old days they had all those pulp magazines, and then in the fifties and sixties it was easier because of all those digest magazines and all the book publishers. All true, but it always changes, and there are more markets than people think. What amazes me is how poorly people who claim they want to write often investigate the markets. They have the internet, which actually makes it easier to find markets than in the old days. I wrote for very cheap markets when I started, even some for copies. And that’s another thing, no one wants to start at the bottom anymore. They don’t have the patience to deal with editors, chasing agents, so they just self–publish. I think that’s valid, but it seems to be what so many writers think of as the quickie way out. It’s better to be vetted by the market if that’s possible. You have a book you love, can’t get it published,  sure go the self–publish route,  but there’s a good chance that will only be marginally better than the “traditional” route. You still have to sell the books. Ebooks, it’s the same. I think they have opened up a whole new world for writers, but they are not a magic answer. Nothing is other than hard work.

Joe R Lansdale
Interview with Maggie Slater
Apex magazine 7th May 2013

I’m probably going to die
at midnight.

Don’t worry—
I’ll set the timer on the coffee pot
before I go.

The crows will be up with me
and the witches.
I’ll watch them through the window
and they’ll watch me back.

I’ll crack the window
so I can smell
stew simmering in cauldrons.
I’ll give some thought
to how it might taste—
boiled lizard eyes
& toad brains
& fingernails of newt.

You’ll be asleep
but that’s okay.
The crows will bob their heads
in time to your snoring.

This morning, a witch came to our door.
She didn’t seem gloating or gleeful
or even wicked.
Not much.

She had a card with my name on it.
She gave it to me.
She tipped her black hat
and went back down the drive.

We thought you might want to know,
the card said.
Don’t worry too much.
It happens to everyone.

Maybe the witch had cast
a calming spell on the card
because I’m not concerned
about dying.

I’m ready to settle in with the crows
and smell the boiling hummingbird’s feet.
I’m ready to leave you with a clean oven
and coffee ready in the pot.

I’ll miss you
but I suspect the crows
will keep us up to date.
They talk to the dead, I think.
They must be watching something
with those keen, staring eyes.

Rachel Swirsky

fairies

May 28, 2019

This beautifully titled novel is, I suppose, a fairy tale, since there are fairies in it, or, anyhow, beings called fairies. They aren’t visible to everyone, yet can affect the lives of people who don’t see, or don’t believe in them. In that, they play in modern industrial England something like their role in the folklore of the past. They don’t, however, fit conventional notions of what a fairy looks like: they aren’t the tall, fair ones who carry you off under the hill, nor yet the tiny Peaseblossoms and sprites the Victorians loved, and they are most definitely not Tinker Bell. Walton’s descriptions suggest that the great illustrator Arthur Rackham was one of the people who could see them: “In the same way that oak trees have acorns and hand-shaped leaves, and hazels have hazelnuts and little curved leaves, most fairies are gnarly and grey or green or brown, and there’s generally something hairy about them somewhere. This one was grey, very gnarly indeed, and well over towards the hideous part of the spectrum.”

Mori, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, has always seen and known the fairies. Though she’d like them to be Tolkien’s Elves,  they aren’t gracious and powerful,  but frustrated, marginal, somehow diminished. Some of them are probably ghosts. They are untamed, uncivilised, and unpredictable. They speak Welsh, mostly. They don’t answer to any name, but if asked properly they can grant wishes. They are like fragments of the wild, surviving only where a trace of woodland survives, haunting whatever remains of the unhuman: old parks, pre-industrial, untilled places, forgotten roads out past the edges of towns and farms.

Ursula K Le Guin
Review of Jo Walton’s Among Others
The Guardian 30th March 2013

Broken people

May 28, 2019

Broken people don’t hide from their monsters. Broken people let themselves be eaten.

Francesca Zappia
Eliza and Her Monsters

the same hard quality

May 28, 2019

The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me the shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.

Daphne Du Maurier
The House on the Strand

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem — I will go on record and state that this book can be a slog. At times plodding and self-indulgent, Lem has no qualms about giving us descriptive scenes that read like old IBM mainframe manuals written in the 80s. But on my second read of this fifty-year-old novel, it occurred to me that perhaps the style of the narrative serves as a plot function for the novel. That, at its kernel, humanity is a boring species, so the sometimes-boring prose reflects such an assertion  (and I’m further convinced of this as there are times Lem puts together jaw-dropping scenes and situations). We are wired to see ourselves in everything. Additionally, as a human, we are quite content with the status quo. Let’s not excite our lives with the addition of alien life, alien thoughts.

But the primary point of argument present in Solaris is that of identity (what makes a person… a person… a common thread in science fiction). If Kelvin sees the alien as his wife, then by all intent and purposes, isn’t she that person (especially if the construct has her memories)?

Jason Sizemore
Five Genre Books that Raise Mind-numbing Philosophical Questions

Someone clever once said, apropos of the Justice League, that the only thing sillier than an adult dressing up in colourful tights to fight crime, was a whole roomful of such folk. That’s a good analogy for films, TV shows and books that posit elaborate secret societies of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures that operate just below the radar of human awareness. One vampire or werewolf is powerful as both a character and a symbol; a roomful of them is just goofy.

Alex Bledsoe
No Mortals Allowed

It’s Monday

May 27, 2019