Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fae: Out Now

It’s finally here: Fae, World Weaver Press’ fairy-centric anthology, is out now.

I have written about my involvement with Fae here and here, but wanted to mark its release date by posting a little extract from my story, Antlers. I’m reluctant to give away too much about the tale, nor the specific fae-creature it concerns, so below are just the opening lines of Antlers, to give a taster of what's to come in the book:

The garden is a crypt. Vines grasp at the walls, pulling themselves upwards, right towards the throats of the tallest trees, which bow forward to meet one another, branches clasping branches. 
Inside, there is no breeze, and the air is thick with the musk of pollen and damp, dark earth. The birds that remain stand still in the shrubs, their songs low and mournful.  
At the centre, lies the Lady. Under the netting of shadows, her skin seems to shine and shift, like moonlight upon water. The only colour is at her breast, opening up like a red flower thrust forward through time, blossoming around the arrow that has pierced her heart. 

Fae, expertly edited by Rhonda Parrish, is available now in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other online retailers. You can also find Fae on Goodreads.

Finally, here is some lovely advance praise for Fae:

A delightfully refreshing collection that offers a totally different take on your usual fairy stories! I found it difficult to stop reading as one story ended and another began – all fantastic work by gifted writers. Not for the faint of heart, by any means.
          — Marge Simon, multiple Bram Stoker® Winner
Anyone with an abiding love of Faerie and the Folk who dwell there will find stories to enjoy in FAE.
          — Tangent (C.D. Lewis)
The Cartography of Shattered Trees' by Beth Cato and 'And Only The Eyes of Children' by Laura VanArendonk Baugh are shining examples of what could be done with the subject of faeries that surpass tricks on the reader, that build worlds and characters worth knowing and exploring, that have something important to say about the real world.
          — Tangent (John Sulk)
Nibble on this deliciously wondrous collection of stories of fae one at a time or binge on its delights on one night, you'll love the faerie feast this collection provides. I devoured it.
          — Kate Wolford, editor of Enchanted Conversation: A Fairytale Magazine

Update (05/08/14): You can read my (highly biased) review of Fae at Goodreads here. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seven Weeks of Freelancing, Seven Things I've Learned

The other day, I realised that I'm nearing the end of my second month as a freelance ghostwriter. This has come as something of a surprise, not least because in my mind I'm still on my travels, frolicking across white-sand beaches in the sunshine, and sloshing around cocktails while I laugh about all the books I've had time to read... But no, I do appear to be back in Edinburgh now, where there are very few sunny days and quite expensive cocktails, and I actually seem to be working. 

In fairness, the job itself is not all that different from what I was doing in Geneva, it's the experience of ghostwriting from home that I'm having to get used to. And already, I've learned that there are several things I need to keep in mind, in order to have a productive working day - or rather, any kind of working day at all.

1) Morning tea is essential to morning work: My partner has a Proper Office Job and therefore leaves the house at some unholy hour each day. I have managed to 'persuade' him (read: 'subject him to a merciless campaign of moaning, pleading, sulking and bribery') to make me a cup of tea before he goes. The positive effects of this pre-breakfast beverage on someone like me, who struggles to think before noon, cannot be overstated. In fact, one day, when the kettle broke... No, I can't talk about it.

2) Get dressed: This is pretty good advice for life, actually. But in a freelance context, what I say to myself is this: no matter how good you feel in your adorable New Girl-style pyjamas, for goodness' sake put on some proper clothes. Because pyjamas make it easier to go back to bed, and if you go back to bed... Well, there's no one around to make you tea anymore.

3) Flat-hunting is not conducive to writing: Sadly self explanatory.

4) The internet is your friend: Research! Advice! News! Opportunities! Instant communication! Supportive writerly people!

5) The internet is your enemy: The following are some genuine questions my friends and I have asked one another on Facebook etc. during work time over the past seven weeks, each prompting thought-provoking and time-consuming discussion:

  • What shall we call our pub quiz team?
  • How did they trick Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford into appearing in the next Star Wars film?
  • How shall we celebrate World Gin Day?
  • If we camp in the Trossachs, what is the likelihood of being entirely devoured by midges?
  • Who, according to Buzzfeed, would play your dad in a film?
  • When/where/how shall we watch the Game of Thrones finale?
  • Will there be ice cream?*

(*This one provoked the most chat, I'm not even kidding.)

6) Just keep swimming: Dory is obviously the wisest character in Finding Nemo, if not in all of Pixar, because we know she wasn't just talking about swimming. Me, I am just talking about swimming: it is the only kind of sport for which I have any enthusiasm or talent, so I find a good break from the computer screen is to go and thrash around in the local pool for a while, and become weirdly territorial if anyone else comes into the 'serious swimmer' lane.

7) It's, erm, kind of great: There are obviously downsides to working from home; the lack of real company is a big one, and the amount of discipline I have to muster just to start typing in the morning is pretty momentous. But when I reach my daily word count, and I'm happy with what I've written - that's a good feeling. As is, seven weeks in, realising I'm already more efficient, I'm finishing the ghostwriting earlier each day, and I finally have some time - precious, much-anticipated time - to start concentrating on my own writing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

New Zealand: Literary Landscapes

Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom
Back in February, between leaving Geneva and starting freelance work in Edinburgh, I set off on a three-month trip around Australasia and Southeast Asia. My first stop was the mighty New Zealand, a country of which I had a very favourable impression, despite the fact I had never been there and actually knew very little about it. Well, I knew the obvious, clichéd stuff: New Zealand was the home of the haka, the bungee jump, and far more sheep than people; it had landscapes many claim are ‘like Scotland, but better!’ (seriously, a lot of people say this); and, thanks to Peter Jackson, it was a place inextricably linked in my mind with The Lord of the Rings.

Like so many, I grew up with Tolkien’s world: as a child, I was read The Hobbit at bedtime; as a young teenager, I tackled The Lord of the Rings books on my own; as a sixth former, my friends and I obsessed over the films. Although there are aspects of the saga on which I’m not so keen (the endless songs, the [lack of] female characters, The Hobbit films…), I have always found Tolkien’s world irresistible, its originality and scale marking it out from the rest.

To return to 2001, when we were devouring advanced publicity for The Fellowship of the Ring in the sixth form common room, I remember all the media focus was concerned with the same thing: New Zealand. I didn’t get it at the time - as far as I was concerned, Middle Earth was a fantasy version of olde worlde Britain - but then I watched the film and, of course, I understood. And now I've been there, I understand even more: New Zealand is a magical place.

Hobbiton: view from the party field up to Bag End

The most genuinely 'Middle Earth' experience I had on my trip was undoubtedly my visit to Hobbiton, also known as Alexander Farm on the North Island. Used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and recently rebuilt for The Hobbit films, the site has since been preserved as a tourist attraction. There, you can wander past the iconic round doors of the hobbit houses, all the way up to Bag End at the top of the hill, before finishing up in the Green Dragon pub for a drink and perhaps some second breakfast.

What particularly struck me about Hobbiton was that it didn’t feel like a film set. There are no lighting rigs or tyre tracks or wires spoiling the view. Almost everything is authentic, from the vegetables in the gardens, oversized in comparison to the little trowels and rakes, to the shirts and trousers hanging over the gates, which look as though they've been shrunk in the wash. Walking around that place was not just like walking into a story, it was like walking into that story - the one bound up with my childhood - and so was somehow completely joyful and hauntingly nostalgic at the same time.

Anyone for second breakfast?

But to talk about New Zealand only in terms of The Lord of the Rings would do the country, and my time there, a great injustice. For starters, it has a rich literary history of its own, from the folktales of its indigenous people to its current contributions to the bestseller charts. While in the country, I was fortunate to connect with stories from both ends of this scale. In Rotorua, I visited the Tamaki Maori Village where, aside from watching the famous – and frankly terrifying – haka, I was enthralled by our hosts' storytelling, their tales having been passed down in the oral tradition over countless generations. Then conversely, during much of February, I was absorbed in The Luminaries, a historical novel set in New Zealand that, among its other accolades, won last year’s Man Booker Prize (its Kiwi author, Eleanor Catton, is the youngest writer ever to win the award). Speaking, once more, of walking into stories, it was great fun to spend long bus journeys lost in Catton’s fictional chronicle of New Zealand’s gold rush era, only to look up and find we were driving through the very places mentioned in the book.

Rainforest near Franz Josef glacier
Incidentally, the bus I’m referring to here is the big green Kiwi Experience bus, a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ mode of travel that allows tourists to cover a surprising amount of land. And what land it is. New Zealand’s topography is unbelievably diverse; on the Kiwi Bus we would set off from a surfers’ paradise in the morning and end up in a rainforest next to a glacier just a few hours later. The country has it all: picturesque, snow-topped mountains; lakes so flat they perfectly mirror the scenery around them; tangled, fairy tale forests; gorges that disappear into menacing mist; craggy coastlines packed with chubby seals… and so much more. While the Scottish half of me is reluctant to confirm that it is truly ‘like Scotland, but better!’* there must be few places in the world where you can find such a variety of scenery without crossing a border.

I’ve written before how, as an outdoorsy sort of person, I find the natural world very inspiring, so strangely enough one of the aspects of the trip that I enjoyed the most was the long journeys. During my time on the Kiwi Bus (and when I wasn’t tackling The Luminaries) I would gaze out of the window at whatever spectacular scenery we were driving through that day and allow my mind to wander off where it liked. I reflected on what I had written, I thought about stories I wanted to tell, and I even began to sort out the plot of my novel-to-be. Because of this, New Zealand was probably the most creatively productive time of the whole trip.

As I said at the start, I had had high expectations for my Kiwi experience, all of which were totally surpassed by the country itself and the wonderful people I met there. But what I hadn’t anticipated were the moments that didn’t feature on any bucket lists, or that I couldn’t capture on camera: the feeling of stepping into Hobbiton, for example, or a eureka moment while mulling over something make-believe on a bus. In this way, New Zealand gave me even more than the adventures I had sought out there, and in terms of stories it was - like that of Bilbo Baggins – an unexpected journey.

Mirror Lake reflecting Mount Cook

*The English half of me has no such qualms