Kim Lakin-Smith

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

Category: Writing (page 2 of 2)

I AM AUTHOR. HEAR ME ROAR

A short while ago, the lovely Sharon Ring of Dark Fiction Review contacted me and asked me to take part in a series of author posts she was collating on the subject of negative reviews. She asked all authors the same series of questions and left it up to the reader to compare and contrast.

Here are my answers:

How do you feel about negative reviews of your work?

Wow, it certainly is painful to read a negative review! Its also humbling, which I think is essential to developing as a writer. I have a number of self-support mechanisms I levy at myself. One: That the reviewer was not my target audience and therefore I should be pleased they hated my story. Two: They’re right – this bit was rubbish and deep down inside I knew it and hoped no one would notice! And three: negative reviews push me to fight harder and produce better work. So I guess after an initial ten minute rant, I mellow, sit back down at my computer and get back to writing my next story.

Are you ever tempted to defend yourself against a particularly negative review?

Not to date. I often write stylistically, say in a 1930s/50s vein, and this is something readers either love or hate. If someone doesn’t like characters talking in slang or has no interest in cool cars, dangerous guys or wild women, they probably won’t ever like my stories, no matter how hard I fight to convince them. Different strokes for different folks I reckon.


Would you ever consider using a negative review as part of the publicity for your next novel or short story, or even consider publishing it on your website alongside more positive reviews?

Are we talking a major slating here? Gosh, that would take some self-belief, wouldn’t it? ‘Here, this person says I’m crap but you might like me’. I love to think that I would have the guts to do that. I would definitely link to a review that was mixed though – we all need a good dressing down now and then!

First published 19th May 2010 –

Lakin’s Lycanthrope

The full lunar cycle in June was dedicated to werewolves over at the Dark Fiction Review. I chose to review Angela Carter’s short story ‘Peter and the Wolf’.

“As a child, I was petrified of two pieces of classical music. The first was Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King, its creepy accelerando diluted somewhat thanks to recent Alton Towers ads. The second was Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf…” read more…

Tourniquet

Renegade City. Futurist Gothika. Mecca of the damned. Where uber rock-band, Origin, is deified and the world’s dark sub-cultures coexist under the umbrella faith of ‘Belief’.

But Roses, the great, Gothic messiah is dead, the tribes are in turmoil, and Renegade’s own home-bred rebels, the Drifters, are quickly becoming a law unto themselves.

The last thing that Druid, Origin’s drummer and reclusive high lord of the Drathcor, wants to do is hunt his brother’s killer, especially since he’s not so sure of foul play, or even the purity of his motives. Against all of his expectations, however, he is soon embroiled with the underbelly of dissension, dirty politics, and a non-believer as jaded with Renegade’s great and secret show as he is – a black-eyed girl called Jezebel.

Druid is tasked with saving the whole city. Street punk, Jezebel will settle for saving her brother. Ever since Harish got in touch with his inner-animal and left her with the scars to prove it, she has made it her quest to return him to the fold. One bleak winter’s night, she succeeds in tracking him to the festering Gothic ruin of the south watchtower, home to the very same ghosts that Druid is chasing, and Harish’s new family, a biker’s chapter of Skinwalkers.

The Thaw

“How do you feel?” my husband asked me last night when I told him I had finished writing my novel, Autodrome. “Not sure,” I answered truthfully, fully aware the answer should’ve been excited, euphoric, nervous, or enthusiastic. In fact, my strongest emotion was relief. Relief that I had somehow wound up at the end of that complex ball of word strings. Relief that the seemingly insurmountable list of ‘notes’ had somehow condensed itself into a few simple sentence insertions. Relief that, if nothing else, I had a start, middle and an end.

About time too. I am a slow writer. There is no getting away from it. I am obsessed with the minutia. Yes, I have a thing for the bubblegum feel of action adventure and stylistics, but my greatest dread is someone catching me out on mechanical details or historical accuracy. Perhaps this is why the writing of Autodrome has really hurt my head!

I remember a period of feeling utterly lost. The last quarter of the novel refused to be written and despite my having plotted the story in detail. I realised it was all in danger of ‘going on a bit.’ Rather than plough on until the bugger gave in, I found myself at a stalemate, unable to convince myself to write words for the sake of it. Writer’s block? I don’t think so. I don’t really believe in the thing. More a case of needing time to sift ideas and resift and resift.

In the meantime, I took solace in that great social tradition, the writers’ convention – or, as it turned out, three of them. Last September, Fantasycon gave Del and I our yearly excuse to return to our spiritual home of Nottingham and sink a beer or several with friends, old and new. November brought a Saturday night at Novacon, featuring an angry robot, free Champagne, and Ian Watson birthing a banana through his jumper. And in-between came Ian Con as it was affectionately named – the birthday extravaganza of writer, publisher and editor, Ian Whates.

Not that writing slunk away on its belly entirely. Instead, I started work on a new novella, a sister piece to Black Sunday, written in May 2009. While Black Sunday is set in the 1930s dustbowl, the new novella emerged as a New Weird-tinged story taking place on a desiccated planet. And it was all going swimmingly well…until the ideas for the last quarter of Autodrome started to fall into some sort of meaningful tea-leaf pattern.

Placing the new novella into the cryogenic sleep pod otherwise known as ‘on the back burner’, I took another shot at Autodrome. And this time, it gave me a way in. Seeing those startling, wondrous words ‘THE END’ after my final round of edits, I couldn’t help but feel relieved. And the thing is I’m pleased with the ending. It came out right in the end…And what does make me feel excited, euphoric, nervous, and enthusiastic is the thought of others reading it now. For me, that’s what this whole writing game is about, hoping others enjoy the world you’ve shaped and want you to shape some more.

Talking of which, its time to defrost the new novella.

The Great Idea

Maybe twice a week I get it. The Great Idea. In my case, I’m usually thinking in terms of a short story. I have very little in the way of plot, just a genesis of a setting, a character, or a title. It niggles at me, this Great Idea, like a distantly glimpsed nirvana. A golden land set on top of a mountain. A really big mountain. With a ladder at the summit that leads into cloud, and beyond that, some of those extra wide pyramidal steps you get on Gladiators. Part of me thinks ‘This could be the best story I’ve ever written.’ Part of me thinks ‘I must get around to writing it sometime.’

Without fail, I shelve all of my story ideas for a period. But I must admit to failing in one of the most cherished of writer traditions, namely, the Sacred Notebook of Scribbles. While I’m in awe of writers who detail dreams, thoughts, conversations, all the odds and ends of everyday life, I have a quite frankly peculiar view on the writing down of such. Call it a defence mechanism if you like, but for me, if the idea does not survive a few weeks being tossed to and fro in the slurry of my mind, it was never mine to write in the first place.

Occasionally though, I do engage a Great Idea in mortal combat – and, yes, I do see it as a battle because the writing process is brutal and bloody. Not because I’m some sort of emotional goddess, imparting hard won wisdoms on the lowly reader. Nothing as jaw-achingly pretentious, I hope. No, what I’m talking about is refusing to give in when the story decides it’s in it for the kill. Sometimes a story can stay closed to me for years, but if I make the decision that that particular plot really suits a solicited market, I load up the big guns. For me, this is one of the examples of how a writer really has to bloody love what they do in order to survive it. And every time I do survive it, I still have this sense I just got a lucky punch in.

I was at a party recently when one reveller uttered those oft repeated lines. ‘Wow, you write? That’s my perfect job. I’d love to sit at home and write for a living.’ Times like that, I remember the Great Idea and I get a cold sweat on. Yet at the same time, despite all those times I’ve stared at a screen and willed a story to play dead, I also know that I am at heart a bloodthirsty word warrior.

So, just as soon as I’ve finished writing the finale of my new book, I’m taking on one or two of the Great Ideas that’ve survived the quagmire. And this time I’m taking no prisoners.

Feed Your Head – Research and Realism in Genre Fiction

Writers are eternal students. Our minds play host to a rich variety of subjects, albeit for the time period necessary to complete any given project Continue reading

how this writer learnt to steam things up

So, how does a woman who doesn’t drive, who was strongly advised not to take Physics GCSE, and who knows too much pop trivia for her own good end up writing steampunk? Shouldn’t I at least have a rudimentary background in engineering and mechanics? I’m as puzzled as anyone else, but regardless of mine and steampunk’s seeming incompatibility on paper, I am passionate about the genre and find that it tends to infuse much of my work as a writer. To me, there are few things as fascinating, awe-inspiring and ever so slightly terrifying as the steam engine in action. In addition, while I am hugely inspired by the aesthetic qualities of steampunk…thick bottle glass, brass fittings, nuts, bolts, valves, gauges, dials, leather, stained glass, etc…it is their combination with the grime of steam power which sells the genre to me most. And this is where I find the greatest paradox between my persona as an individual and my persona as a writer. I am not the most practical soul around, but give me a story to write and I want to sink my hands deep down into the oil-slicked guts of the thing. I want to tunnel underground, explore the filth-encrusted backstreets, visit opium dens and drag races and fifties diners and carnivals and lawless pioneering towns…

I used to worry that I lacked the necessary qualifications to write about the mechanisms behind steampunk. But increasingly I’m understanding that so long as a writer is willing to do considerable research, it is sometimes an advantage not to understand a subject too well. Because that is where reality breaks down and imagination takes flight. I am also reassured that the adage, ‘write what you know’ can be a red herring. How’s about if instead of it being a literal case of write what you know – example, a fisherman writes about fishing and, well, fish – it should be a case of write what you find flows easiest and is received the best by readers. In the past I got hung up on subject matter, restricting myself to suitably ‘feminine’ story lines, fairy tales and pretty fantasy. These are genre traditions I still love and will definitely write about again. But what I’ve discovered recently is that my writing style lends itself to action, mechanicals, fight scenes and their ilk. It turns out that what I know is a certain writing style, and most tellingly, the reason I know its working is because I turn off my inner critic when I write it. I trust myself in the steam/gaspunk environment in a way that is liberating.

Another consolation in all this is that there are examples of incredibly sheltered, naive women who have written some of the most stunning works in history. Emily Bronte for one. Author of the vicious, bleak, fiercely sexual Wuthering Heights. Daughter of a curate, habitant of isolated moorland, who died age thirty and single, and published this solitary seminal work. In our contemporary climate, we have songwriter, Diane Warren, a spinster who has been known to work on Christmas Day and who is responsible for writing some of the most beautiful, commercially successful love songs of our time, Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Alice Cooper’s Bed Of Nails (co-wrote), The Sugar Babes’ Too Lost In You, Toni Braxton’s Un-break My Heart, and many more.

My point is not to compare myself in anyway to these women, both of whom might be classed as geniuses in their fields, but to illustrate that what we know may be something that only emerges through practice, tenacity, even accident.

I have faced criticism at times for not being SF enough. I hold up my hands entirely and admit that my stories will probably never slot comfortably into traditionally defined SF or dark fantasy. I’d say that’s probably true for a lot of genre writers. But what I am is pedantic about realism and the detail, and this is why I think I have found such a kinship with steampunk. I guess, despite appearances, I’m a soot and oil stained grease monkey at heart. Just so long as I don’t have to relinquish the pop trivia.

Workshops, wilds and a whole lotta writing.

So, just as most folk’s social calendars are filling up in anticipation of the month of December, and specifically Christmas, mine is nearly all emptied out. Which means I’m booked in to do some serious writing over the next couple of months? And I’m happy to report that all is going well on the writing front. The new novel, Autodrome, is proving to be a joy ride of motor sports, kick arse ladies and cool-cat gents, and a bit of death thrown in for good measure. I’ve just finished chapter twelve and am one scene away from launching into the Ramrod Rally on which the novel hinges…exciting stuff!

October 11th and 12th was Newcon 4, and what proved to be my favourite convention to date. The venue was the Fishmarket in Northampton, a glorious greenhouse of a building filled with a crystalline chill and sunlight. On Friday evening we enjoyed a Chinese banquet at quite possibly the largest table of guests I have ever sat at. Ever sociable, we scooted off for an hour or two to the local rock pub before settling in at our hotel for the remainder of the evening for some mildly intoxicated conversation.

First thing on Saturday, I ran a flash fiction workshop and was delighted to meet some really friendly writers and to get some great entries for the Newcon 4 flash fiction competition. Later in the day, I moderated a panel featuring some of the very talented Write Fantastic (Chaz Brenchley, Deborah J. Miller and Juliet E. McKenna) and event organiser extraordinaire Alex Davies. With the panel title, ‘The Write Fantastic: The Way Forward or A Waste of Time’ (hear the audio recording here), I felt obliged to grill these lovely people ever so slightly. But all responded with eloquence and grace, and have since assured me I’m still counted as a friend!

Saturday evening was a blur of sloppy Indian, folk music, birthday cake and celebration, leaving me ever so slightly jaded for Sunday. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my reading with Mark Robson and Chaz Brenchley, and before I knew it, it was the end of the con and I’d barely made it to any panels. Sunday evening, Del and I got to relax with guest of honour, Iain M. Banks, the gentlemanly Ken Macleod, the rebel yell that is literary agent, Simon Kavanagh, and some very good friends. Needless to say, the evening soon degenerated into a ménage of heated debate, loud Germans and rather good Star Wars impressions.

Roll on Newcon 5.

On our arrival back home, Halloween weekend promptly took precedence. My father, the eternal party animal demanded a fiesta of the gaudiest degree and bought out every tacky outlet offering ghoul masks, blood splattered tablecloths, plastic wall hangings and shrieking witches. Scarlet enjoyed a party with her school friends in the afternoon, which I survived and even enjoyed. Then the adults descended for the main event in the evening. Thanks to the now-legendary ‘Lakin’ quiz, our living room was soon swarming with charadeers re-enacting Silence of the Lambs (yes, your imagination is smutty!)…come midnight I was more than ready to turn back into a pumpkin!

Sunday November 8th was my workshop and Q and A session at the Alt Fiction Writers’ Retreat in Derbyshire. Having spent most of my life exploring the beautiful peaks and valleys of Derbyshire, it was wonderful to find myself back amidst its atmospheric splendour – especially given the roiling black sky, lashing rain and isolated setting. Once inside however I was greeted by a roaring wood burner and a bunch of incredibly friendly, enthusiastic fellow writers. It was a brilliant afternoon and I was delighted to hear feedback from so many of the weekend’s participants afterwards. Just sorry I couldn’t rescue you all from the Green Sweets of Doom, but maybe the Zombie fraternity who moved in the following weekend were partial. The weekend was particularly fun because our dear friend Sam Moffat came to stay while her other half, Paul Skevington was busy at the retreat. Always fun. Always over too soon.

So now it’s back to my life as a writer…which is really all about the hard slog. In between I hope to enjoy a glass of mulled wine or several over the coming festive period and prepare myself for the wilds of winter come the New Year.

But before all that, I am to London for a riotous weekend with the charming Tom Hunter and his crew, then a smack down in Nottingham’s Rock City the following weekend in the company of my lovely sister. Better dust off the old New Rocks!

xxx

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