I was recently contacted by science fiction author, editor, web publisher, anthologist, and all round good guy Keith Brooke, who asked me to take part in a blog round robin on the subject of ‘Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I do).’ Keith also tagged the most excellent Stephen Palmer and Mike Revell, so I am very honoured to be asked to take part. Here are my answers:
Three things I Don’t Write:
Feel Good Stories
As a hippy type in real life, I am always surprised by how dark things get in my fiction. It’s something that has been remarked on by readers too. I guess this propensity for exploring the outside edge of life and the characters that inhabit it comes from a love for the gothic macabre and boundary pushing. The best fairy tales are rooted in idiosyncratic characters and barbarity; they are also didactic, and I couldn’t begin to feel good about my own stories unless they pushed readers beyond entertainment. I enjoy a good paranormal bonk fest or pastoral whodunnit as much as the next person. But as a writer, I prefer to move past the niceties to the rich, dark meat at life’s underside.
I love a good one-dimensional, bubble-gum character. There can be something wonderfully comforting about cheering on a suave double agent or booing a cat-stroking, moustache-twirling nemesis. I have a soft spot for the concept of ‘cool’ too – fast cars, chicks with guns and grit, handsome bruiser boys, and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. But I like to put the sleaze into a character – show off their oddities, their weird desires, and their lack of control. For me, the super side of humanity lies in poking at our soft spots and seeing how long we can endure it. Flawless heroes are great for summer blockbusters. In fictional terms though, characters need dressing down and dirtying up, no matter if they’re bioengineered, supernatural, alien or enchanted.
What I want to
When I am writing, I often feel like I have a devil and an angel on opposing shoulders – except, that’s not quite the right description. For me, the devil is more like the Voice of Truth, always whispering in my ear “Go on! Be brave.” The angel, meanwhile, is my inner scaredy-cat. A story idea will come to me and I really don’t want to write it. This is particularly true of my current WIP with its focus on fascism and genocide. It is a constant battle to force myself to research pogroms, death camps, mass exterminations and, most challenging of all, the inside ‘logic’ behind these horrific acts. If you open yourself up to the underbelly of human existence, you have to accept that some research will linger in the mind and leave its stain behind. And yet, as a writer, I find it important – essential even – to push myself to make a story as realistic as possible and that means grounding it in fact, no matter how fantastical the plot or grotesque the subject matter.
Three Things I Do Write:
This may seem like a ridiculous thing to say given that I am often placed in the SF writer bracket. What I mean is the fact that I am classed so is still a marvel to me – and one of my real joys as a writer. Growing up, I was always in love with the stars, spaceships, and the alienesque marvels of our very own Earth. But science? That was the realm of white-coated white men or spinsters in sensible shoes, wasn’t it? Actually, no. Somewhere along the line I missed out on the universal truth that science was inspirational, aspirational and far from exclusive. Rocket science was, in effect, ‘hardly rocket science.’ The fairylands of my childhood could be explored in the real world, where Nature was awe-inspiring and science made all things a tangible or theoretical possibility. I am delighted to say that the Science Fiction label set me free as a writer and I am very proud of the moniker.
Tales of the Underdog
By which I don’t mean the plucky guttersnipe or the bookish beauty. I mean those culled from normal aka ‘acceptable’ society. While I open myself up to accusations of political worthiness, I do feel it is important to populate my worlds with minorities. I make a conscious effort to reflect what I believe is the truth of society – which is a mix of backgrounds, religions, skin colour, disabilities, sexuality, gender and beliefs. If in doing so, I alienate certain factions of the consumer market or publishing community, then so be it. We all have our personal politics and mine are seeded throughout my stories.
In my experience of the professional writing circuit and commercial arm of the publishing industry, ‘art’ is very much a dirty word. The incongruity between creative endeavours and decent pay drives people to decry the notion that they are creating art. Plus, no one wants to be the pretentious asshole who wrinkles their nose in disdain if a heathen dares claim, “I don’t get it.” Art has always been about nourishing the soul – in itself, a tangential concept. Little wonder art is side-lined for labouring hard at the coalface of words to earn a living. But what about the longevity of stories – those tomes which took a struggling writer ten years to write but which ultimately became part of our literary heritage? What about the once-banned books which spoke out against oppression or challenged the norm, even at the expense of the writer’s personal liberty? What about the books which were never a commercial success in the writer’s lifetime but went on to become game changers? And what about writing for the love of the act and getting naked and rolling about deliriously in the great sticky mess of art for art’s sake? I hope I never lose sight of why I wanted to tell stories in the first place – namely, to know what it was like to not just step inside a book but create it from scratch and have it mean something. That’s why I write and why I personally endeavour to create art every time I tell a story.
Thanks again to Keith for the invite to take part. I am delighted to introduce three very talented writers for the next round of blog posts on the Do Not and Do theme – Donna Scott, Joanne Hall and Jen Williams.