Not blogged for a very long time, I apologise for that. The upside is that I actually have something to talk about, and seeing as this is a place to talk about meeee, indulge me for a few moments.
Yes that’s me with the medal and the sweaty fencing hair and the stupid grin. In fact two, yes, two bronze medals are now mine and shiny and on a shelf keeping each other company. I won these at SWASH earlier in March.
‘What is SWASH?’ I hear you say. Its an annual event held at the breathtaking Royal Armouries in Leeds each year by the British Federation for Historical Swordplay (BFHS). It’s a two day event with classes, tournaments, talks and many opportunities to get up-close and personal with many beautiful weapons and historical treatises, most thrilling of all being the MS i33 – the oldest martial treatise known. The building itself is impressive – a huge glass tower filled with weapons that ought to have the sign ‘Break glass in case of zompocalypse’.
What did I win them for? One was third place in the inaugural women’s longsword tournament. It was a lot of fun and Tracey Walker made a great mini documentary of the competition here. I enjoyed all my fights, particularly the punch landed on (another) Fran after she swiftly disarmed me in a grapple.
Incidentally, it was fantastic to finally meet up with fellow fencer and Fox Spirit author, Jo Thomas. A lovely person, and I hope to see her again soon with either sword or pen.
The second bronze medal was in the rapier tournament. You may notice Pim in the top photo with me, also with a silly grin. He won gold, natch, but I had to face him in the semi-final. It’s an interesting way to work through marital tension, battling in public, but we did okay. So very pleased with myself over that, and it’s given me much more confidence in my fencing. It’s also made me want to try even harder next time I compete. There are so many fencing events this year it’s difficult to choose between them.
Another facet of Historical European Martial Arts has drawn my attention, fast-forwarding three hundred years from the Elizabethan era to the Edwardians. I’ve joined a study group focusing on Bartitsu. This is a fascinating martial art, made famous in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle.
The ‘original MMA’, it combines pugilism, fencing, jujitsu and savate to create a formidable defence against assorted ruffians that prowl the streets in the dead of night – at least that’s what Bartitsu was developed for. They were dangerous times, and gangs of thieves preyed on lone pedestrians.
It is also a ton of fun, and very varied: you might be punching someone in the face, jabbing them in the throat with a stick, or choking them on their coat. In a few weeks time I will be leading a class on parasol (it being the most fencing-like of the techniques). Don’t be fooled, the humble brolly is a devastating weapon.
Also taken up running. I’m trying to get my fitness up to help with the fencing, and just so I can be a bit more healthy. On the days I’m not fighting in some form or other (it’s been five days a week in some cases) I try and get a twenty minute run in. So far my enthusiasm for this has not waned, and listening to music helps a lot.
I’ve got one child in school and the other in nursery every morning now so it’s opened up a bit of free time. Oh yes, writing time, of course. Ideally that would be the case, and a lot of the time it is, but no, time to get a job. When I left work five years ago I was working in an office, and whilst I had lovely colleagues, I can’t say I’ve missed being there at all in the time since.
Perceptions altered, priorities shifted, I am now a gardener, and really enjoying the fresh air, the smiley passers-by, China Mieville on my iPod and dirt under my fingernails. I’m no Rachel de Thame, but I can dig and I can pull up weeds and I can cut grass. Life is good.
I had a brilliant time with several buddies from fencing school at the Scifi Weekender in Wales. We packed swords and managed to get in a bit of practice each day, as well as enjoying all the cosplay, panels, signings, swag and merriment. Just as I was packing to head out, however, I got a tweet from Paul Cornell asking if I would mind being timer/scorer for the Just A Minute game that he was hosting. It has become a tradition at these events, last year’s panel included Joe Abercrombie, Sarah Pinborough and China Miéville. My mind squirmed, it backed away in terror. ‘you can’t do this!’ it screamed, ‘it’s too scary!’.
So I said yes.
I thought ‘to hell with it’ and agreed. I was a bag of nerves leading up to the show, especially seeing the vast room that held the audience, the stage etc. But I just told myself it would only be keeping score, I probably wouldn’t even be visible.
Then I was led out, alone, into the glare, centre stage, to faces. You know, people.
It was terrifying.
Emma Newman, Paul Cornell, Gareth Powell, Stacia Kane and Chris Brookmyre who were the actual authors that everyone had come to see, had every right to be nervous, but they were funny and brilliant and before long I was just enjoying the spectacle along with the crowd. At the very end Paul was kind enough to ask me if I had any work out at the moment, and I proudly flew the Fox Spirit flag for a couple of seconds.
After that I relaxed, met up with loads of tweeps, drank, ate too many sweets and boogied with giant robots, zombies and superheroes. Definitely going again next year.
Hang on Fran, isn’t this meant to be a blog about, you know, writing?
*Sips wine, looks around*
Hmm? Oh, yes, that. Well I haven’t slacked on that account – two stories with the fabulous Fox Spirit books are coming out very, very soon:
Tales of Eve – An anthology edited by the wonderful Anne-Mhairi Simpson, who is also a damn fine author. The brief is a reverse-Pygmalion, where women create their ideal man. My short story is about the power of wishes.
And the Magnificent Octopus? David and I are still chiseling, buffing, rearranging and sanding its edges. Things take time, but we’re getting there and I’m enjoying the process.
Talk to me, what’s new in your life? I want to know.
Well I’ve reached a milestone, a pretty big one if I’m honest. Still waiting for the truth to hit me but perhaps this will come in time, perhaps at Fantasy Con when I meet up with all my fellow contributors and the editing team.
After Alt.Fiction I was asked to write for an anthology by Adele Wearing, who recently set up a new imprint – Fox Spirit. She liked what I wrote enough to deem it publishable, stick her neck out as an editor and say ‘this is worth reading’. I find that mind-blowing really. Given what a solitary exercise writing is, it’s easy to forget that the aim of the game is to share it with as many people as possible. Even more amazing, people are going to be paying money to read what I have written. Granted there is a heap of talented folk in there – both well established veterans and emerging authors – but still, my name will be alongside theirs, with a little (c) beside it.
So . . . can I call myself a writer now? Will I keep moving the goalposts? I don’t know, but I’m just so gosh-darned pleased that I got to this stage.
Can’t thank everyone involved enough. So instead I will talk a bit more about the book instead of rambling at my own astonishment.
It’s an anthology of tales, all featuring Nuns and Dragons. Many genres, many outlooks, all different. Mine is a fable about getting things done – guess that’s something many writerly types can relate to – The Tale of Sister Amagda and the Thrice Bound Wyrm. The Ebook is available now through Amazon or Wizards Tower Press, print version to follow in the near future. Reviews have been very favourable, and a great amount of interest has been generated. I’ve bought my copy, and I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s tales!
I know some people say the muse is a load of nonsense and what you really need to do is get your backside in the chair and just write, get someone to hold a gun against your head if that helps. But I am starting to believe in the muse. To me she or he is not some sylph-like grecian beauty dancing around in diaphanous gowns, whispering plotlines to me in my sleep, it’s a cat*.
(please forgive the following extended, gratuitous metaphor)
When you want it is never there, it’s off with someone else giving them all the attention that you crave, growing fat on someone else’s better quality cat food. Or it’s sleeping in the back of the greenhouse for 15 hours at a stretch. You stand in the garden screaming for it, banging tins with spoons, rattling boxes of biscuits and still it ignores you. So you put the food out, go to bed and give up.
Next day the stuff is still in the dish, untouched. The cat might yawn and stretch, come in and nibble at it, but it will largely ignore you. Then when you have given up, gone to watch the telly, or do the washing up, go on the computer, go to bed . . . it’s there. In your face, pawing at you with insistent claws, in the bathroom staring at you while you shower and there is nothing you can do about it.
You’ll have spent an entire day cleaning, because you have visitors on the way then the muse-cat comes in and pukes up on the carpet. But in that puke is the stuff you have been longing for. The story, right when you least expect it, when you least WANT it. So you get down on your knees, give thanks for this irritating beast that brightens your life in the strangest ways and you try to catch its brief moments of attention.
* We no longer have one as the kids are allergic, but I have much experience of these awkward creatures.
Paul Cornell mentions me and some fellow AltFiction peeps here.
And my cakes are even more esteemed by SFX here.
It’s been a very productive weekend: got a short story up to speed, did some proper brainstorming with David and am very excited to write these new scenes for the novel. I didn’t get to do any swordfighting unfortunately so I guess I’ll just have to work extra hard tomorrow. There’s a big event to train for at The Martial Arts Show which Mr T and I are very excited about.
It’s all go at the moment!
Oh, and I have a hopeless Drawsomething addiction. I blame @swordpanda
Hot on the heels of last weekend’s Eastercon I woke at dawn with my tin of cakes and made my way to Leicester. Gorgeous place, beautiful buildings, I wish I’d had more time to take it all in. This was my first Altfiction and it’s significantly more about the craft and business of writing compared to Eastercon, which focused more on fandom. Nevertheless there were plenty of reviewers and readers, as well as writers, who were all enjoying themselves thoroughly as far as I could tell. There was cake, and there was possibly the best fudge I have ever tasted. Everyone was very friendly, warm and welcoming. Even better still, the bar was very reasonably priced.
I began at Mark Chadbourn’s (non) workshop in which he spoke about the business of writing. This was fascinating, positive and really encouraging. It focused on writing as a profession rather than an art, and went into detail about the various ways one can make a proper living from their skills.
Next I went to the New Writers’ panel, chaired by Jon Weir of Gollancz. The authors were Emma Newman, Vincent Holland-Keen, Tom Pollock and Lou Morgan. It seems that most people start their writing career in very similar ways – the imaginative, geeky kid at school that likes to entertain their classmates with stories, for example. But the path to publication varies wildly. Some go the traditional submit/agent/publisher route but there are many serendipitous events and uncanny ways in which things come together. That’s not to deny that there are many years of hard work involved in getting to that stage, but it’s always inspiring and fascinating to hear these stories.
Sunday was more leisurely. There was a fascinating discussion between Kate Laity and Graham Joyce about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk, and their cultural history. I could have listened to it all day.
Straight after was a panel on diversity chaired by Mark Charan Newton with Anne Lyle, Sarah Cawkwell and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Gender parity is a hot topic in SFF at the moment, and it came up again at Eastercon, albeit in a more positive light. I was quite relieved to find that this discussion focused on representation of LGBT and ethnic minorities (or majorities as the case may be). It did touch on the subject of gender, and the dreaded words “As a woman . . .” came out. Puh-lease can we focus on people as writers and not genders?
I thought the panel handled the issues well. I think it is true that fictional worlds in fantasy, secondary worlds especially, must obey their own logic. If we seek to mirror or show an alternate world to ours we often replicate a vast majority of what is or was real, and if we are going to be truthful we need to acknowledge that we live in a world and society filled with many different types of people, who all deserve representation.
The social time was wonderful, the venue is perfect for such an event. I met some fantastic people who I’d only ever tweeted or read about before. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. People often describe the SFF community as being like a ‘family’, and I definitely felt that this weekend.
Thanks to: @RenWarom @Erik_Lundqvist @KTScribbles @FionaSutton3 @ctjhill @hagelrat @mygoditsraining @PabloCheesecake Adrian Tchiakovsky @MadNad @patkelleher @ClarkeAward @Paul_Cornell @AnneLyle @LouMorgan @tompollock @kaitharshayr @AMhairiSimpson @MarkChadbourn @mariaAsmith and plenty more for a sublime two days.
My third con ever, and my first Eastercon it was by all accounts its most successful year. No doubt the main reason for that being the main GoH George RR Martin, who featured prevalently in proceedings. This is the first year they have actually sold out of tickets. I felt privileged to be at the 63rd British National Science Fiction Convention. It was held at Heathrow Radisson Hotel, a building someone described as built by an architect unfamiliar with euclidean geometry, and composed entirely of gleaming marble, glass and wood panelling. Confusing as it was, it was pretty luxurious, with a price tag to match (£9.45 for a gin and tonic), and some very strange artwork in the atrium bar.
Unfortunately I was only able to make Sunday but it felt good to arrive when the party was already in full swing, so to speak. The first panel I attended was ‘Promoting Yourself Online’. It was chaired by Danie Ware of Forbidden Planet (as well as author of debut novel Ecko Rising, a hotly anticipated genre mash-up coming out later this year), and the panellists were Elspeth Cooper (Author of the Wild Hunt Series), Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter (of the Clarke awards) and Simon Spanton of Gollancz.
Danie began by commenting on the early days of Twitter, when just a few souls used it and thought themselves very clever, before it exploded in size on an unimaginable scale. Since that growth the importance of Twitter (and to be honest, it was Twitter that the talk focused on) has increased to the extent that, as Danie pointed out, a top-selling author who isn’t on twitter will attract fewer customers to a signing than a newer kid on the block who is actively tweeting.
The panel reflected on what Twitter should and should not be about. There was overwhelming agreement that it should not be the place to push your books, chat about mundane, irrelevant things, nor overshare personal information. They agreed that to promote yourself you do so by helping other people, and by being yourself. Simon Spanton commented on the way that it enables the writer and reader to really get to know one another, and how this can only be a good thing.
Next on my schedule (all worked out by a cunning app available on the Olympus website called Guidebook) was the GRRM interview. This was a fascinating talk, and in the hour and a half that I sat there (it really didn’t seem that long) George described his path to success, the pitfalls of writing and television work, some humorous anecdotes about filming the pilot of the hugely successful television series A Game of Thrones and some genuine nuggets of wisdom for all the aspiring writers in the audience. What resonated with me was his comment on Tolkien (he has been dubbed the American Tolkien, which I don’t think is entirely fair to either man). He said that we are all (fantasy writers) in the man’s shadow, and that it is a common error of the newbie author to spend vast amounts of time worldbuilding, when they should be concentrating on the story and the characters. Tolkien was not primarily a writer, he was a linguist and an Oxford Don. He was drawn to creating languages and cultures at a level far deeper than most people go. George talked of the iceberg of worldbuilding beneath the Lord of the Rings books, the portion that we see above the surface. Our stories, he said, should be akin to ice rafts, it’s not worth fleshing out and wasting time on stuff that nobody is going to read. A language student wrote to him and asked about the Valyrian tongue, to which he replied ‘I’ve written seven words in Valyrian, when I need an eighth I’ll make one up’.
It was a surreal feeling seeing George among the attendees, milling happily without any pretension. I did get a bit of a silly fangirl moment when I asked him for his autograph and could think of nothing to say other than ‘I enjoyed the talk’. I don’t know if it was his beard and bearing but I suddenly felt like a kid brought into Santa’s grotto and overcome by awe.
The dealer room was very large and constantly busy. At the Angry Robot table I was disappointed (and yet pleased) to see that Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls had completely sold out. I got a copy of Adam Christopher’s Empire State which he kindly signed for me after his gripping first chapter reading of Seven Wonders. I will definitely be buying that book.
Something that pleased me about being at Eastercon was the broad spectrum of attendees, and according to the reports, the near equal gender parity among them. I also noticed this on the panels and it was refreshing to see a lot of women leading the discussions (this in wake of the seemingly unequal gender balance at the recent SFX Weekender). I was disappointed to miss the panel on minority representation in fandom, but I hope in the future we will see an even greater diversity in the SFF crowd at cons.
There was only one low point which I will briefly touch on, the thirty eight minute preamble to the BSFA awards. I was brought to mind of the panel on Promoting Yourself Online when smartphones all around me glowed beneath the faces of the audience, a furious storm of reaction unfolding on my twitter feed. Despite the irrelevant, confusing and at one point offensive nature of this skit, I was completely baffled by the amount of time spent on it compared to the actual prize giving itself, which was over in something like ten minutes. One of the winners was Christopher Priest, who ironically lambasted the Clarke Awards recently for its shortlist (of which he was not a member). His one liner about the quality of the award itself was far funnier than anything in the previous ‘entertainment’.
As well as the panels, readings, stalls and goodybags, what cons are really about are the people. It was such a pleasure to meet people in the flesh who I have read about and tweeted to over the last few months. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and I would liken to experience to a reunion of the best kind. There were no boundaries or barriers: between ability, race, generation, gender, writer or reader.
Next week: Alt.Fiction!
New year’s eve is a time for reflection, so here’s my little run down of what has happened this year:
Completed a first draft of a novel
Something my cowriter and I are very proud of, and still amazed by. The last few months have been a keen learning experience and we continue to hammer the material into shape.
Completed a short story draft
Something I did in a hurry that I found immensely pleasurable. This too is currently subject to editing and rewriting.
Received my first rejections
This might not strike as an achievement, but for me it shows that at least I got as far as submission. Again it was a learning point and I never regard a single word as wasted, it all leads to something.
Entered a rapier tournament
When the opportunity arose and I was asked I faced my doubt and threw myself into it. I thank my instructors for giving me a new way of considering just about any challenging situation – to just face the moment and disregard what has happened and what is to come.
Attended two literary conventions
I decided it was time to serious-up about writing and the social network that surrounds it. Fantasycon and Bristolcon were both fun and educational – far more than I expected them to be.
Attended two HEMA conventions
As I progress in this martial art I find new ways to grow and develop, and have realised what a huge world of learning and experience there is to be had out there. Fightcamp and Rapier were highlights of 2011.
Completed my practical (five fights) and written (a translation) elements for my Laureando (swordfighting) assessment
I was honoured to be considered ready to take this, and have yet to hear my results, so fingers crossed I have ‘levelled up’ as a fighter.
Bought two swords and a dagger
Okay, this is a bit more than just retail therapy, but I can think of few things more pleasurable than buying weapons. For me it is a physical affirmation of how seriously I wish to take my studies.
Helped to edit two translations
I would expand on this but . . . we don’t talk about fightclub.
Entered twitter, WordPress and the world of social networking
I have two very close friends in my writers group, as well as my coauthor, but twitter has brought me into a world of people with similar interests, where I have made some good friends. So much so that a few of us are planning our own little ‘con’ in Spring.
Complete editing on the novel and submit to agents
I am confident that we can achieve this. The progress is going well, we are both very happy with what we have achieved so far, and we have a plan 🙂
Submit and become published in an anthology
I was kindly asked if I would like to submit to an upcoming anthology. This was the short story mentioned above. I just hope that it meets requirements. And even if it doesn’t, I had good fun working on it.
Enter Rapier 2012, Swordfish and Fightcamp tournaments
Taking part in Rapier 2011 did great work for my confidence, and as one of only two women taking part I’m fairly sure it gave confidence to my fellow swordswomen to take part in next year’s competitions. Swordfighting is largely a boy’s club, but I have faith that good technique, if I can learn and apply it, will serve me well even against the most strong and brutal opponent.
Achieve Laureando status
I should find out how I fared in the next couple of weeks. If I didn’t pass then I’ll make sure I do next time.
Like most people over the winter season the food has not been kind to my waistline. With more opportunities to spar I hope to improve my overall fitness and achieve better movement.
Write every single day
Until the first draft was completed this went without saying. Since then my focus has been on editing, and over Xmas I have found myself less and less available to commit time to it. I know I can do it, so there’s no excuse really.
Read more books, especially non-fiction
Joining Goodreads has helped, and it’s shown me my reading pattern: I tend to have an audiobook, at least one paper book and an ebook on the go at any one time. There are so many great fantasy novels out there that I want to read – classics as well as debut authors’ work that came out in the last year, but I keep meaning to read beyond my genre, get into scifi, for example. Also there are plenty of non-fiction books full of inspiration for a fantasy author, history ones in particular.
Help other people to achieve their goals, whether it’s writing, swordfighting or anything else that I can assist with.
One of the great things about twitter is that you can learn from other people’s knowledge and experience. On more than one occasion I have been able to offer mine. I’ve critiqued, offered advice about lessons, given feedback, searched for information on a topic. I am deeply grateful to those who have taught me about blogging, writing and publishing as well.
Put our regular content
I don’t want this to be a blog full of random waffle to keep myself at the top of searches, I want it to be engaging and useful. I owe it to those of you who read it.
I wish you all a successful and happy 2012. What are your plans for the year to come?
Today I want to talk about how my fencing has affected my writing.
My sword school have been planning a tournament for months, their first in something like ten years. I’ve been thinking all along that I would be happy to just hang around, help out, be a runner. I’m not ready for tournament, that’s for people who are ‘really good’.
But the pool of rapierists in Europe is not that deep. And as a result you get widely varying levels of skill. As the weekend draws nearer and nearer we’ve been preparing and training harder and harder – well, at least, everyone else has been preparing. I’ve just been training as normal. A couple of the guys asked if I was going to compete. I just shrugged and said ‘No I’m not ready for it.’. When they tried to encourage me I said that I didn’t think it was fair on me or anyone else competing to go in half-hearted, you need to really, really want to do something like that. Have a strategy, play to win etc. Ambivalence is not the best frame of mind for success.
Then last week it was announced that there was a space free, the guy who was supposed to fill it found that he wasn’t able to attend. And so . . . I volunteered, telling myself I was helping by making up the numbers. I was amazed to find that I was not all that nervous. I worried initially that I wasn’t prepared enough, but our tutor gave us a drill where we only had to focus on the next hit – as long as we made contact and they didn’t then we had succeeded. You live, your attacker dies, end of. That is basically the premise of fencing, to defend oneself. That one nugget of information was a revelation to me. To focus only on right now, and make right now the best I can do.
What’s this got to do with writing? Well the idea of being ‘good enough’ and being prepared.
Swordfighting is the only sport I’ve ever liked. At school I was the kid who always had a note to get out of games. I hated it – the physical exertion was like a punishment, the competitive element seemed divisive. But it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve discovered Historical European Martial Arts – and it has changed my life. I go twice a week and have to say it is an addiction.
My involvement in the practice coincided with my rejuvenated urge to write, and a lot of the lessons can be applied to writing. Here’s what I’ve learned:
All that matters is your next hit.
The sword – Don’t worry about if you are 2-0 down or 0-2 up. Just make sure you strike without being struck.
The pen – So what if your last piece got ripped to shreds in crit group? You got a rejection slip? Don’t dwell on it and move on. Write the best piece you can, right now.
Fight your fight.
The sword – Don’t be in obedience. If your opponent comes at you, throw something back, rather than performing according to their motions.
The pen – Don’t worry about what’s popular, what sells. Write your story, one that speaks to you. If it pleases you, chances are it will please someone else.
The sword – You can stand your ground and fight them off, but this presents them with an easy target. Keep moving, give them something to work against. It’s actually less straining.
The pen – If your writing freezes up, comes to a part where you’re not sure what happens next . . . keep going. Better to write stuff that can be edited down again into something better than nothing at all.
The sword – Don’t focus on winning, focus on making the cleanest hits you can, demonstrate that you are a good swordsman, regardless of the score.
The pen – Write because you love writing. Publication is the end goal, but remember to enjoy the ride. If you enjoy writing something and you are relaxed, the likelihood is that feeling will transfer to your reader.
This last bit of advice came from Doug Hulick, and I think has to be the most pertinent of all. “Have fun. It’s the fun fights you remember the longest.”
So when I enter the tournament this weekend, I will try my best not to worry that I’m not ‘good enough’. Everybody has to have a first tournament at some time. If I don’t get beyond the first round, then at least I can say I’ve done it, and next time I enter a tournament it will be with experience.
And when we come to submit this book of ours, I will do my best to maintain the same state of mind. That if it gets rejected all I know is that we will have to try harder (hopefully with some advice) to make it the best book we can.
How about you? What have you learnt in life that has also found ways of applying to your writing?