Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016, a year in editing and reading

This year has been odd, in that the ratio of books I've edited are 1:3 for the books I've read for review purposes. This is excluding the fact that I've been binging on fanfiction for pleasure.

But I thought I'd give a bit of love to my clients and fellow co-op members, whose books have released during this year.

So, in alphabetical order, here we go...

It's always refreshing to see male authors head into writing strong female protagonists in fantasy, and this year I've had the experience of working with T.S. Adrian, who has just released Beneath the Silver Rose (Shadyia Ascendant #1). We meet a plucky courtesan, Shadyia, who becomes embroiled in world-shattering events that involve magicians and evil entities. Kudos to my husband creature who designed the cover.

Here it is, finally, the book I've been begging Sorcha to release for ages now. Actually, it's two books, but Valentine is pure awesome. Those who know me well will understand that I'm no fan of superhero narratives, but Sorcha is the exception. Valentine and Jory are polar opposites, and their hot/cold, push/pull relationship as they discover the limits of their D/s relationship is... Well, I needed a fan and a moist cloth for my forehead. This is all about a fall from innocence and redemption in a twisted, most certainly dark erotic fantasy read, with a strong narrative.

I have a soft spot for vampires. I admit it. Featured in this paranormal romance is none other than Magnus or M as he is better known from the Crooked Fang stories I've edited. In Hex Appeal Breck and Sands take turns to pair up their witch and vampire respectively, resulting in... Well. I won't lie. A lot of supernatural schmexxors. If you're looking for fangs meet magic, with a lot of ripped panties, then this one will most likely hit the spot. Extra Nerine points because they take us to Egypt in this one.

My year is incomplete unless I've edited an Amy Lee Burgess title. Sea Cursed is a dystopian fantasy with a strong romantic element that is set in a shared world – a great concept, BTW, and I think a different approach from the usual boxed sets coalitions of authors bring out. Here we meet witches Demetria and Logan, who have been sea cursed. This means that they need to get together and perform a great magical rite to protect their island from the rather "Creature from the Black Lagoon" type ravagers. Not only that, but the witches are up against a despotic esteemed leader who's hiding something that will have a huge impact on the lives of witches on the island of Galvateen. As always, Amy balances her romance with an engaging story, making this a worthy read within the fantasy romance genre.

DJ and I have known each other for years, and it is always a pleasure to work with him. Caresaway is a disquieting medical thriller set in an alternate future where a drug for depression creates a generation of psychopathic CEOs who don't care that they're sending the planet down the tubes. This novella is a quick read, and is partially set in South Africa, which is always enjoyable for me when I edit.

Initially Masha started out as a client, but when I set up the SFF writers' co-op Skolion this year, she became one of our founding members. Her writing is incredibly textured and magical, and though I've worked on some of her earlier titles, this year's release that blew me out of the water was The Babylon Eye. Set in the not-so-distant future, where cybernetic enhancements are a norm in a world where history has taken an unexpected course, the novel tells of Elke, a prisoner and erstwhile militant environmental activist, who is given a chance to gain back her freedom. At a price, of course. She's set on a course to track down and retrieve a cybernetically enhanced dog that's become lost on a station between worlds. What I particularly love about Masha's writing is the understanding she has of people and animals, and their relationship to their environment, no matter how strange it becomes.

I'm looking forward to when she releases book two, The Real, early next year. One of the benefits of being her editor is that I've already had my first taste of the next instalment of Elke's adventures.

In a similar vein to the writings of Cari Silverwood, Bought by Nicolette Hugo is most certainly classifiable as dark erotica. Set in Australia, this book dips into a m/m/f with an edge of danger that will certainly get the blood flowing to those hard-to-reach places.

I admit I did a bit of a double-take when Dionne queried me regarding a gap in my schedule for Tempering The Rose (which is book 1 of her The Rose of Nerine series – yes I'm well aware what my name is, LOL!). But there you have it. I don't claim exclusive rights to my name (though I'm more accustomed to seeing it discussed in context with a lily that grows in the bush here in South Africa). Tempering the Rose is the story of a young woman who's endured serious abuse, who discovered that she's The Chosen One to save a distant country. Only her vengeance may stand in the way of her fulfilling her role. Addy is not an easy character to like, but I get *why* she feels the way she does, and it's quite a ride following her adventures.

I'm no stranger to editing MG and YA fiction, and this year saw me working with South African author Christine Porter, who released book two of her Histories of Laenutia, Night of the Cologoro. Plucky Jeremiah – or Jerm as he becomes known – travels back in time to help his adoptive father, Morgan, vanquish the dread Cologoro. This is a charming, magical tale that is suitable for youngsters from ages 10 and up.

Cari Silverwood keeps me busy. No lies there. We've known each other for years and I totally blame her for corrupting me. She's also the reason why the #atleastimnotcari hashtag exists. But seriously, folks, if you want to see dark erotica done *well*, look no further. This genre-bending author often dips her toes in fantasy and SF too, so be sure to read the blurb before you buy to at least get an idea of what you're getting into. This year we're celebrating a number of titles for her: Needle Rain (fantasy), Wicked Ways (dark erotic thriller/SF); Wolfe (dark erotic thriller/SF).

When Cari writes the following as a disclaimer, do yourself a favour by taking note: WARNING: This is a dark romance and written to be disturbing.

You’ll find some graphic scenes of violence and sex within these pages, plus a smidgen of horror. Though the ending may be sweet, this is a very kinky, twisted, and dark story.

As a note: my husband creature did the cover design for Wolfe, so if you're ever in need of book cover design, feel free to drop me an email here. (I promise our rates are highly competitive.)

At present, I've got quite a bit on my plate, but if you are in need of manuscript assessment, developmental editing, a gremlin hunt or merely proofreading for your novel or novella, feel free to email me at I keep my rates affordable, as my preferred clients are self-published authors and small presses.

While I generally don't offer editing for standalone short stories, I do occasionally make exceptions. My preferred genres include SFF/horror, historical, romance/erotica, LGBTI. I do not take on religious fiction nor works that glorify gratuitous violence or abuse. Life is too short. No, I will not edit poetry.

A response to Laurie Gough on self-pub vs. traditional

Let's unpack some faulty logic and bad journalism, shall we? And it's that tired old debate of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, according to people who have absolutely no idea about what's actually happening in the industry.

Referring to this article over at Huffington Post by Laurie Gough, who clearly cannot tell op ed apart from authentic journalism. (But then again, since HP doesn't pay their writers, this level of subpar work is hardly a surprise, is it?)

I'd rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.

Wow, lady, you really have no idea what self-publishing entails if this hyperbole is all you can resort to.

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it—you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

Yes, and have you walked into a bookshop lately and seen the unrelenting piles of steaming shit that traditional publishers also bring out because Author! Big name!!! As a book reviewer I have seen some truly cringe-worthy gobshite that's barely been edited. Brought out by supposed gatekeepers that must've been high on crack at the time they okayed those contracts.

Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours. Your favourite authors might have spent years writing works that were rejected. But if a writer is serious about her craft, she’ll keep working at it, year after year. At the end of her self-imposed apprenticeship, she’ll be relieved that her first works were rejected because only now can she see how bad they were.

I don't deny that becoming a good writer takes years of work but have you considered how many fucking amazing authors have successful careers now that they have gone hybrid? To wait for validation if you already have an objectively good idea of what makes good fiction will be the death knell to your writing.

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

Have you *read* any self-published books? I will concede by saying that you may have to wade through a bit more dreck - but of late, some of the self-published works I've enjoyed have been as good (if not better) than some of their traditionally published brethren (where all the publisher appeared to care about was Big! Name author!! that would sell copies).

By the way, your ham-fisted examples were not even the slightest bit ridiculous or apt. Terry Pratchett has more humour in his little finger than you, darling. Compare apples to apples if you wish to be relevant. Oh wait, you were intending to fall back on humour to hide the fact that your piece was not even substantiated with more than a few vox pop opinions from people I've never heard of.

I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

Darling, I have edited some traditionally published authors and let me tell you, I have seen their prose in only its knickers, and if you think that being traditionally published automatically means that an author has ascended to lofty heights, you are quite delusional. And yet I've encountered self-published authors whose self-editing skills leave many in the dust. Your simplistic generalisations suggest that you have absolutely no idea about what you're attempting to write about.

Writing is hard work, but the act of writing can also be thrilling, enriching your life beyond reason when you know you’re finally nailing a certain feeling with the perfect verb. It might take a long time to find that perfect verb. But that’s how art works. Writing is an art deserving our esteem. It shouldn’t be something that you can take up as a hobby one afternoon and a month later, key in your credit card number to CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing before sitting back waiting for a stack of books to arrive at your door.

Lastly, has it even occurred to you that people write for different reasons, and all are equally valid. Sometimes an elderly lady wants to merely write her memoirs. Sometimes that young man wants to write a novella where he explores his existential angst. Maybe that middle-aged woman wants to explore her fantasies in a time-travelling bodice ripper. Disdain all you want but no one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to read anything. We should be grateful we live in an era where any and all who are so inclined are able to express themselves.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fool's Quest (The Fitz and the Fool #2) by Robin Hobb


Also, if you haven't read the preceding books in the trilogies, none of this might make much sense to you.

I really didn't want to reach the point where I hit the end of what's currently available with Robin Hobb's Fitz and the Fool trilogy, but here we have it, book two. Fool's Quest breaks from all the preceding books in that Hobb gives us a new viewpoint character: that of Bee, Fitz's second (and last) daughter with Molly.

So, if you're resistant to the idea of the novel swapping between the two, be prepared for the shifts in voice. While Fitz is reflective, older and may have lost some of his edge (he is an older man in his fifties, though his body is still under the thrall of that misfiring healing spell), we discover the world anew through Bee, who doesn't have all the threads of the past history at her disposal.

In a way, this is a way for Hobb to inject new life, new uncertainty into the setting. There is only so much we can show from Fitz's point of view and the story needs the freshness of a young, inquiring mind.

Bee is also not an ordinary child, as we discover, and her heritage is firmly intertwined with the Fitz/Fool/Nighteyes triad, though I shall refrain from elaborating too much. Suffice to say that Fitz and the Fool share a relationship that transcends the physical. A carving that Bee examines illustrates this relationship beautifully, and Nighteyes remains present, though not in a tangible form (but also in a way that brought a hard lump to my throat).

Fitz as always exists outside of time. The world outside Withywoods, his estate, has moved on. Power has shifted. Kettricken is no longer the primary power; her sons are coming into their own. Nettle has taken on a prominent role at court and my heart bleeds for the often prickly, awkward relationship she has with her father. Fitz, as always, makes poor decisions, for which he and others later pay the price. He is faced with great sadness, with loss, with change that he himself doesn't quite feel and in that he is quite a tragic character.

There is that Other Thing that is foreshadowed quite heavily in book 1 of this trilogy that plays out to its conclusion (inevitable for those of us who're accustomed to Hobb's clue-laying) that ripped my heart out. Yet in a way this was necessary, as this novel is very much a coming of age story, not only for Bee but also for our Fitz, who with the reappearance of the Fool, is once again cast in his role as Catalyst.

Hobb is not in a hurry with her storytelling. As noted by Mark Lawrence, in his review, "There are very few authors who can get me to tolerate considerable detail spent on clothing, gifts, feasting and just plain organizing stuff. George RR Martin somehow manages it, and so does Robin Hobb. I guess that if you write well enough then anything goes."

To that I can't add anything, except to say that to immerse myself in Hobb's writing is to have a fully tactile experience in another world, down to every last detail, and there are times in my life when this sort of measured, highly textured writing that slowly unfurls is *exactly* what I need to make me feel better about having to face my own grind. And hells, book three can't come fast enough. The waiting is pure torture.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mad Max #review

In a self-destructing world, a vengeful Australian policeman sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang.

I was most certainly a wee sprite when Mad Max came out (1979) but it was one of those movies that I've watched more than once over the years. It had a bit of a reputation – as in I heard a lot about it while growing up – before I first got to see it when I was in my early teens.

I also admit my feelings about the film have changed over the years. When I was younger, I got a big kick out of what I now term loosely as "revenge porn". And then of course there's the rather baby-faced Mel Gibson before he became a complete jerk (and a household name).

If you're looking for a template for late 1970s styling, you can't go wrong with this film. It's dated horribly. It's clear George Miller was already aiming at a post-apocalyptic vibe, but there's enough of a touchstone of the (then) contemporary to ground this film firmly in reality. This is a future that's just around the corner; it's recognisable.

The plot is a coat hanger. We're not going to delve deeply into what motivates characters (beyond the rather obvious need for revenge.) We're not even going to talk about whether Mad Max passes the Bechdel test nor whether women characters have agency (hint, Mad Max is very much a product of its time). This film is all about the chase and the stunts. If you go into watching Mad Max for anything other than the absolutely insane car chases, you're going to come away disappointed.

The film is very much the origin story that sets up for the films that follow, and out of all the four films currently in existence, it's most certainly not my favourite. Is this a great film? No, not really. Is it entertaining? I'd say so – if you're looking for the "oh my god how did they manage that?" kind of reaction when trying to figure out how they did the stunts.

Will I watch this film again? Probably. It's one of those that kinda stuck with me when I was growing up, even if it's not particularly great. I'll write it off as mood, setting and nostalgia, and leave it at that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Wrong Sort of Whatever by Schattenriss #fanfiction #review

Okay, I'm going to wax lyrical here about Kai Trevelyan – at time of writing my favourite male Inquisitor. Schattenriss has created a wonderful OC for his post-Dragon Age: Inquisition fic, The Wrong Sort of Whatever. What made this for me (apart from reliving the events of the Trespasser DLC through Kai's eyes) was most certainly the interchanges between Kai and my favourite Vint Dorian Pavus.

I've read piles of fics but in my opinion, Schattenriss *nails* the characterisation and dialogue to a tee. Not only that, but he depicts the beautiful complexities of Dorian and Kai's relationship and devotion towards each other in all its nuances.

Those who've played the DLC will know The Terrible Thing that happens to our Quizzy by the end, and even though I'm an unrepentant Solasmancer permanently stuck in Solavellan hell, Schattenriss made *me* want to punch Solas by the end. Not only that, but he brings across the trauma of the conclusion of the story arc in all its exquisite detail and with great authenticity. Kai suffers *trauma*, both physical and emotional – and not just the sort anyone bounces back from either. (The game, IMO, makes it seem so simple that the Quizzy will just stomp right back into the Exalted Council and bang that damned big book down on the ground with so much force as if everything he's endured up until that point has just been a lark.)

There's not much to fault with this story – it's very much canonical so if you're looking for AU then this is not going to be much more than a retelling of the DLC through the eyes of the Trevelyan mage with the Dorian romance option. But. BUT. Oh, the dry wit. Kai has a kind of self-deprecating humour that shines, especially when he's under stress. The entire story is structured as if he's writing his memoirs, so it's highly personal, and his opinions about the other characters and the events that conclude are what makes The Wrong Sort of Whatever have something fresh about it.

I'm going straight onto the next instalment – Traitor – from here.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Q&A with Storm Constantine - on the release of Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose

Regulars to my blog will know that Storm Constantine's name crops up regularly. I am a huge fan of her Wraeththu Mythos – a world to which I've had the privilege of contributing stories. This past week she's seen the release of her next offering in the setting: Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose.

Nerine Dorman (ND): One thing that can be said about your Wraeththu mythos is its longevity – the first book came out in 1987 and it’s now on the cusp of 30 years later. What makes the Mythos so vital, in your mind?

Storm Constantine (SC): Plenty of authors invent thorough histories and geographies for their imagined worlds, and populate them with detailed flora and fauna, and established sentient races. They might write several novels set in these worlds, but there has to be something different about a mythos for it to endure – to captivate. This includes when readers are so into a fictional world, they’ll be inspired to write within it themselves, producing what’s known as fan fiction. As to what exactly makes a mythos endure (and expand) this way I’m not sure. I think part of it has to be down to the authors’ ability to create characters that readers love and who feel real. If an author creates a fabulous new world, rich in detail and imagery, but can’t give it a beating heart through the people and creatures who live in it, it won’t capture the interest and loyalty of readers in the same way that a vivid, living mythos will. When I’m writing my characters they do feel real to me, as if I know them in reality. I know the facets of their personalities, their weaknesses, their strengths. Some of them I’m a little in love with! I’m sure these feelings permeate the work and rub off on certain readers – like a kind of psychic communication through the written word. So I suppose, in a nutshell, what makes a mythos endure is integrity and love. The Wraeththu mythos isn’t anywhere near as big as those of Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR and so on, but is part of the same phenomenon.

ND: From what I can see, part of why the Mythos has endured so long is because it has a core small but incredibly loyal following of fans. I often find myself foisting the first of the books on unsuspecting individuals, and because this interview itself will no doubt be reaching many such potential readers, how would you (briefly) explain to a new reader what your milieu is all about?

SC: Wraeththu are simply how the human race would be if I could design it myself: androgynous, beautiful (mostly), magical and housed in a more efficient vehicle of flesh and blood. Yet Wraeththu hara are not stainless; they are flawed. What makes them different from humanity – apart from their androgyny and improved physical/psychic being – is that they have a clean slate to start anew. Longevity helps them; humans, being frail creatures, become infirm and die just as they reach the threshold to real wisdom. Hara might have risen from a brutal start, but have a greater capacity to rise above it, to reach their potential. A world without villains and conflict, from a fictional point of view, would be pretty dull, so the mythos has to include those aspects. Wraeththu aren’t perfect, but to me they are better than what came before.

ND: This month you’re celebrating the release of Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose: An Alchymical Triptych – which you describe as a trio of interconnected novellas. Now I’ve yet to plunge into this one, can you share how (and if) this one ties in with the previous tales? From what I can gather of what you’ve mentioned online, the creation of this work took a few unexpected turns.

SC: I have around a dozen Wraeththu stories that I began writing but never finished. These are mostly short pieces. Recently, I decided I should complete them all and release them as a collection, and began work on that early in 2016. I didn’t get further than one story – ‘Song of the Cannibals’. After I’d finished writing it, I wanted to carry on with its characters, because there was so much more to say, not just about what happened afterwards, but what happened before. So one story became three. The novellas are layered tales, folding upon one another. They are told by three narrators, who bring their own viewpoint and biases to their stories. The novellas aren’t the same tale told three times over – they expand upon the first story both forward and backward in time – but they do overlap. A couple of scenes are described more than once, simply to show how a witness influences what is ‘truth’.

There are certain aspects of the Wraeththu mythos, or historic episodes within it, that I’m drawn back to, like probing a sore tooth with your tongue! One of these is the Varr tribe, their archon Ponclast and the fortress city of Fulminir. This dark citadel hid many secrets, most of which haven’t yet been revealed. The Varrs were created by fear and ignorance – hara who didn’t like, or couldn’t accept, what it meant to be Wraeththu. They – or rather the leaders of this tribe – wanted to remain human and to impose this condition on others. They feared the change, refused to adapt to it, and became vicious in protecting their beliefs. These novellas take the reader right into Fulminir, and from a Varr’s point of view. Previously, only more ‘virtuous’ narrators have described what they found in this place. They never had to live there. Going back to Fulminir has allowed me to explore through fiction flaws within our own world; bigotry, intolerance, terror, oppression. And it’s been interesting to examine how when a faction is opposed to such brutality, and wishes to install what they perceive as a more ‘correct’ way to live and think, they in some ways become what they resist. The imposition of their world views can be almost as oppressive as the tyrannical regime they seek to overthrow.

ND: I do want to touch on The Moonshawl which to my utter shame is still on my virtual bedside TBR pile – it’s a standalone novel set within your Mythos, and also one that at a glance appears to be a combination of coming-of-age and the laying to rest of a great evil. What were some of the story seeds that came to fruit with this story?

SC: I wanted to write a ghost story, because I love them – those old-fashioned ghost stories set in crumbling mansions, where more is implied than shown. In a film, sound and light and shadow do much to conjure the atmosphere. I wanted to do this in a book, in the same vein as some classic novels I love, such as The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and the equally captivating, yet far lesser known, The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle, which happily has just been re-released after many years of being out of print. Both of these novels became wonderfully atmospheric films. (By The Uninvited I don’t mean the couple of more recent movies. The original was black and white and – I believe – made in the 50s.) I also wanted to finish the sequence of Wraeththu novels I set in Alba Sulh (once the British Isles), in particular Wales, which I find to be a wonderfully mystical landscape. The Moonshawl is a stand-alone novel, even though its protagonist, Ysobi, features in the previous two books set in that country. Ysobi is estranged from his tribe because of past misdemeanours, and takes work in an isolated spot to – I suppose – ‘find himself’. He finds rather more than himself. The book did grow from its original simple premise, and I ended up showing more than I originally intended, but that was just the way the novel developed. It needed a few frights, not just implications or mild inexplicable events.

ND: Unlike some authors who hold tightly onto their ideas and worlds, you’ve done the opposite, which has been to open the Mythos to other writers to not only contribute shorter-form fiction to anthologies but novels as well. Certainly there must be some sort of biofeedback or alchemy that takes place. Can you offer a little more on this?

SC: Around twenty years ago, it was brought to my attention that a small community had arisen devoted to writing Wraeththu fanfic. The main reason these writers had turned to my Mythos was because they’d been hounded out of another one by a famous writer who strongly objected to their activities, and in short, regarded the tales as criminal infringement of their intellectual property. A fanfic writer mailed me about this and asked for my opinion, and what I felt about fan fiction set in a world I’d invented and about which I still continued to write. I thought about it for some time, and realised that I didn’t feel offended at all. Should I be? As far as I could see, it was similar to a time in my childhood when I’d also invented make-believe worlds – avidly – and the more friends I could get to share in that make-believe and play in my world, the better. This to me was the same. People were coming to play in my garden with me. Why should that be offensive? Could I ever stop people imagining these stories? No. Hadn’t I myself begun my writing life as a fanfic author – albeit writing ‘sequels’ to Greek and Roman myths as a child rather than an established author’s work? I understood the impulse to add to an invented world, to want to play in it when the author had closed the gates for the night.

I could only suppose the offended author was concerned more about copyright and threats to their work and their income. If I recall correctly the trouble started when a fanfic writer claimed that a story this writer published was actually based on one of their fanfics and complained about it. I can imagine how that could be provocative to say the least. So I did have some sympathy with that writer. But as long as fanfic writers play by the rules and accept the intellectual property of the Wraeththu mythos is mine, and I own everything within it, that’s fine. Once I learned about the fanfic, I read some of it and realised several stories – and authors – were good enough to be published professionally. Once I set up Immanion Press in 2003, I had the means to publish these authors. So the Mythos opened up officially for people to come and play, and also end up with a published book in their hands. There are some among my readers who’d like more fiction from me than I have the time to write, so the mythos writers help me in that respect!

Wendy Darling and I have compiled four anthologies of Wraeththu mythos stories, including pieces from ourselves and other writers. The new one, for which I’ll be announcing a call for submissions soon harks back to my love of ghosts. Stories must have a ghostly theme, and the working title for the anthology is Para Spectral. Potential contributors can contact me at Details of all other anthologies and mythos novels are at the end of this interview.

ND: Magic is the breath of life that runs through your Mythos, but I feel I also need to mention that you’ve compiled the (now two) Grimoire Dehara – systems of magic that are companions to your Mythos. Can you share a little of your process for those who are drawn towards contemporary magical systems?

SC: The Deharan system is Pop Culture magic. This ‘genre’ of magic grew from what originally was termed Chaos Magic, in that practitioners turned to icons and imagery within modern society, literature, film, TV and so on, to use in a magical context. The idea behind it was that just because a system is new doesn’t mean it’s less effective than one that’s existed for centuries. I believe the most popular Pagan belief system, Wicca, grew from a similar idea. It was based on ancient practices but was in fact a reinterpretation. The ‘stage props’ of a belief system – its gods, goddesses and rituals – are simply a means for people to access spirituality. The props might change but the core remains; if not the same, then similar.

People often asked me to expand upon the magical system in the Wraeththu books, as in the first trilogy I didn’t give too much detail of its practices. Eventually I decided to go the whole way and write the manual! The third book in the series, Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri will be started in the new year. As with the second book Grimoire Dehara: Ulani, I’ll be writing it with my Immanion Press colleague, Taylor Ellwood. We hope to release it late next year.

ND: I’ve read some of your blog posts where you’ve been quite reflective about your career and what it means to be a creative, about being true to the kinds of stories you need to tell. Looking back now, what is there that you’d tell those who’re only at the start of their journey? A turn of phrase that often catches me up short, and which has become a bit of a mantra for me is Neil Gaiman’s 2012 keynote speech where he uses the phrase “Make good art” to highlight the kind of care and devotion to integrity that sustains. Do you have any thoughts along this line?

SC: To me, the most important thing is to write with love. I often tell people, who want to be authors, and who ask the best way to begin, that their first novel should be the book they’ve always wanted to read but have never found. They should love their work, because if they do, readers are more likely to love it too. There are many people who are able to write prolifically, simply for money, and who do it very well, but when you read their novels you can feel they’re distanced from their work, no matter how accomplished it is. I’m not one of those people. It sounds pretentious to say ‘my work is art’, so I’d prefer to say ‘my work is my heart.’


Storm's Facebook page
Wraeththu mythos page
Immanion Press Facebook page

Storm's blog
Wendy Darling’s Wraeththu fanfic blog
Another of Wendy’s sites she set up for fans

Guest post: Storm on Para Kindred


The Wraeththu Chronicles
The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit
The Bewitchments of Love and Hate
The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire
The Wraeththu Chronicles (omnibus of trilogy)

The Wraeththu Histories
The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure
The Shades of Time and Memory
The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence

The Alba Sulh Sequence (Wraeththu Mythos)
The Hienama
Student of Kyme
The Moonshawl

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose

Wraeththu Mythos Collections
(co-edited with Wendy Darling, including stories by the editors and other writers)
Para Imminence
Para Kindred
Para Animalia

Mythos Novels by Other Writers
Breeding Discontent by Wendy Darling & Bridgette Parker
Terzah’s Sons by Victoria Copus
Song of the Sulh by Maria Leel
Whispers of the World That Was by E. S. Wynn

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Reading from my novel, Inkarna.

I've taken my first, tottering steps into making videos. This is an excerpt from my novel Inkarna, which is still available in print, in limited quantities, but is soon to be rebooted in anticipation of the release of book two, Thanatos.


Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool #1) by Robin Hobb #review

Title: Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool #1) 
Author: Robin Hobb

Generally when authors return to their settings after many years' absence (either in writing or in years for the characters themselves) it doesn't often bode well for the quality of the story. I'm happy to say this is not the case with this third trilogy in the saga of FitzChivalry Farseer – The Fitz and the Fool. A big problem authors face is that of what new and (often) shocking revelations to offer, and we end up with a huge, whooping mess of "Too Much Awesome" [yes, I'm looking at you, Anne Rice, and your vampires]

That being said, I would most emphatically *not* recommend Fool's Assassin to those who've not read the preceding two trilogies. You'll be in the dark as to so much of the nuance and the backstories. So, if you've not read these other books, you probably shouldn't read the rest of the review. If you love nuanced, textured fantasy, just go read those books then say thank you. You won't get those hours of your life back but you'll be ever the richer for the experience.


Seriously, don't read any further if you don't want spoilers.

[Deep breath]

My feelings about the later Fitz books are complex. There's a part of me that understands that I'll never be able to recapture that same sense of wonder that I had exploring the world through a younger Fitz's eyes as in the first three books. Nor his more measured, somewhat disillusioned self in the catastrophic occurrences that transpire during the second trilogy. And oh, the heartbreak. The feels are...intense.

Nope, the Fitz we encounter in The Fitz and the Fool is an older man who's now coming to grips with the complex role of being a father figure to his extended family. An existence that should be idyllic is tempered with a growing series of annoyances (this is Hobb at her finest, foreshadowing disasters yet to come which Fitz, true to his style, chooses to ignore to his detriment) that eventually all tie up.

Okay. Most of this book is exposition. I'm not afraid to say it. In a sense, this is Hobb taking a huge breath and reframing her world, and two other central themes are change and loss. He has always hoped (at least in the preceding books) to one day have this life, but sadly for him his past has an uncanny way to grasp hold of his present.

Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that outwardly he has not aged, while Molly, the love of his life, is growing older. (This is due to a healing spell that exceeded far beyond expectations in an earlier instalment). Fitz is a man who exists outside of time. He has lost so much – Nighteyes (though our favourite wolf is very much present in spirit) and, of course, The Fool, who in my eyes is Fitz's other great love). Fitz grapples daily with the fact that his world has changed while he himself has grown more insular perhaps, set in his ways. And he excels at self-isolation, as we have already discovered.

This novel doesn't have a huge, earth-shaking plot, but it is certainly gripping in the sense that it sets up events that are important in the future even if the pace crawls along (and I certainly say that you read this novel to have a slice of Fitz's life and to understand what motivates him in what follows). And there is The Thing that happens. It is an awesome Thing. Canny readers will facepalm that Fitz is so blitheringly unaware of The Thing as it comes to fruition, but there's that little bit of wonder that you will feel when you see it unfold, and oh, Molly, she is a joy. Just to have one book devoted to the love between Fitz and Molly is a reward in itself. Fitz might not set out to save the world (just yet) but this bittersweet novel will introduce you to the players who'll be important in what's to come. I missed The Fool's presence terribly with this book #1 but a little anticipation never did anyone any harm.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rift by SteveGarbage #fanfiction #review

Rift by SteveGarbage over on is one of the Dragon Age fics that has grabbed me of late, primarily because the story is just so bloody subversive. While storylines that follow the main plot of Inquisition are a dime a dozen, what sets this one apart is that it's told pretty much from the point of view of the two OCs, Vell, an apostate mage and Taesas, a loyalist who supports Vivienne. Central to the plot is the conflict between the rebels and the loyalists within the mage circles, masterminded by Grand Enchanter Fiona and of course the marvellous Viv many love to hate.

OCs are not easy to pull off in fics, mainly because, well, readers tend to stick with the familiar (or at least that is the case in my experience), and the canon characters very much play second fiddle to Vell and Tae, which gives me wriggles of excitement because it's *awesome* to see the events playing out in Inquisition reframed from the perspective of what can be considered secondary characters. They are not essential to the main storyline and yet their actions *do* impact on the greater scheme of things.

Vell and Tae are both elves, but there their similarities end. Both are independent, free thinkers, though the former frames herself as a rebel while the latter is all about control and playing the Grand Game, and SteveGarbage cleverly subverts their goals and motivations within the expected try/fail cycles. While Vell initially appears to be the stronger of the two, her arrogance gets the better of her eventually, as we see. Tae's own arrogance in his superior discipline eventually shows its cracks too, and at the time of writing this review, he has become quite brittle and somewhat damaged.

What makes this story stand out for me is the skilful way that the author illustrates how well characters play the Grand Game. The intrigue is delicious, to put it mildly. Power play is a central theme, and while there are some sexual encounters that may upset sensitive readers, these were entirely plausible within the context.

SteveGarbage is a rare find for me in the fic circles, and it's clear he knows his stuff in the setting. His writing is crisp, precise and detailed, and for lovers of lore, his stories are a treat. And I'm dying to see how Rift will end.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Women in Fantasy

While I will always owe a great debt to JRR Tolkien for Middle-earth, I am also indebted to the women in SFF who captured my imagination and whose works convinced me that it was a good idea to write stories of my own. I'm not one of the people who'll yell PATRIARCHY! at the top of my lungs and become woebegone at the idea that there is some sort of global conspiracy to sideline women SFF authors, but I will quietly add that these are some of the classic fantasy authors who were a great influence on me when I was younger and while I was cutting my sharpening my first quills. You may not find all of them on the shelves at your local store, which is why I am writing about them here. This list is by no means exhaustive, and to my eternal regret, there are still many more women authors I wish to read, but these are the ones (in alphabetical order) who inspired me and are the ones who continue to encourage me.

"The Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse
Beth Bernobich 
A friend of mine, with impeccable reading tastes encouraged me to read Beth's writing, and I've not regretted one instant. I started with her novel, Passion Play, which is the first of her River of Souls trilogy. The reason why I love her writing so much is because her world building is so thoughtful, her characters resonant and reflective. She makes her detailed world appear effortless, borrowing from that which is familiar (in word-usage, naming) only to recast it in what I consider refreshingly non-Eurocentric fantasy. I've gotten to know Beth via social media, and she's also offered me valuable critique and encouragement for my writing when we've had occasion to trade chapters.

Trudi Canavan 
I admit I've not read all Trudi's most recent books, but I really, really enjoyed her Black Magician trilogy, which started out as a coming-of-age story for a young female magician against all odds (and terrible bullying) and quickly grows into an epic. Trudi's writing is easy on the eye, and she sinks you into the story quickly and I'll revisit her writing for certain. I wasn't that enthused by her Age of Five trilogy, purely because I didn't quite buy the world-building, but once again, the writing carries you along even if I kinda figured out what was going on quite soon.

Jacqueline Carey 
Kushiel's Dart was one of those books that struck me hard; now here is an author who is a master of her craft. Jacqueline's magical, alternative history is richly detailed, sensuous without being overly sentimental, and is filled with the kinds of characters you'll want to weep over. Intrigue, betrayal, magic – it's all there. Start with Phèdre's Trilogy. This is a slow-build, gradually unfolding saga that touches on our own histories but spins them out with a magical twist, and I'm long overdue another visit. Her The Sundering duology takes a stab at Tolkien, telling a tale from the perspective of those one would consider the traditional enemies. It's sitting on my Kindle app, glaring at me to be read.

CJ Cherryh 
CJ Cherryh has a formidable oeuvre that spans everything from hard SF through to fantasy. Perhaps the work that has remained the longest with me (and which I'm now overjoyed to own in its entirety) is The Complete Morgaine – a worlds-spanning, gate-jumping SF epic that reads more like straight-up sword-and-sorcery fantasy. I cannot underscore enough what an important contribution this author has made to SFF in general; she is indeed a cornerstone. Her keen perceptions of flawed characters, as well as her solid world building, make reading her tales an unforgettable experience. She is one of the authors I wanted to be like when I was still in high school, dreaming of one day penning my own novels.

Storm Constantine 
Storm Constantine very much forms part of what I consider to be the triumvirate of authors who're akin to my literary demigods, sharing the limelight with Tolkien and Neil Gaiman. If anyone had told me way back in 2007 when I first started on this dark, twisted journey of Becoming an Author, that I'd one day be able to say that Storm Constantine is one of my editors, I'd have scoffed. But, here I am, a decade later, having had three stories edited and published by her, with (at time of writing) a novel-length project in the works. Storm is most beloved for her Wraeththu Mythos, a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which magical hermaphrodite beings inherit the earth after humanity has messed up for the last time. I still get chills knowing that I've been privileged enough to write for this intellectual property. Beyond being an utterly bewitching author whose understanding of the esoteric shines, Storm is the editor who knows *exactly* what to do and say to coax a better story out of me, and I have learnt much from her – and still hope to learn much more.

Kate Elliott 
I came to Kate's writing via her Crown of Stars series, which enraptured me for the diversity of the characters and the terrible, awful things they endure. I'm desperate to return and reread these books, not only for the incredible depth and breadth of the writing (I mean, you *need* to see her references texts to understand why I adore this woman) but also because she so effortlessly takes readers into absolute strangeness, and her understanding of what motivates her characters gives them such a ring of authenticity it's staggering. The sheer volume of her work also slays me. I'm so far behind on my reading with her.

Mary Gentle 
An author I often mention in the same breath as CJ Cherryh, Mary Gentle is one whose works don't often easily fall into either SF or fantasy. I first encountered her Ash: A Secret History, but have since dipped into her other works that have dug deeply into my heart with rusty blades and then twisted. She understands misdirection, reversals, betrayals. Her worlds are tactile, complex. Orthe, which tells the tale of an ambassador visiting an alien world, hurt me. I've read the book twice and each time left me breathless with the devious nature of the narrative. There are also so many of Mary's books that I've still not read. Much to my horror.

Cat Hellisen 
If there's one author who's possibly been instrumental in making a better writer, it's Cat, and I'm proud to name her my friend. She's held the mirror up to me often, and while at first it's not been easy looking into the cracked depths, it's been necessary. But holy fuckmonkeys, her writing is phenomenal. Liquid poetry. Even her early versions leave me breathless with the word paintings. If you have to start with her fiction, pick up either When the Sea is Rising Red or her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beastkeeper. She has this uncanny ability of taking the familiar and spinning it out into weird and unexpected ways that leave you breathless. She inspires me to constantly reach deeper within for things of beauty.

Robin Hobb 
Robin's Farseer Trilogy is my go-to for anyone who says that they want to read fantasy but they're not quite sure where to start. Her epic saga (now headed to book nine in the third trilogy) telling of the doings of Fitz the royal bastard and the mysterious Fool, are among my favourite books which I've had the opportunity to revisit. Some fantasy doesn't live up to the re-reading. Not so with Robin's writing. Her world is completely immersive, and every tiny detail has some sort of meaning later on in the story. How she manages to weave this incredibly detailed tapestry while keeping all the facts straight is beyond me. She's also one of the few authors who's made me cry ugly tears. And don't come tell me you've yet to read Assassin's Apprentice. I won't hear of it. Go read this book already. You'll most likely devour the rest too.

Katharine Kerr 
Katharine's Deverry Cycle is a classic, and also highly underrated these days. I've had the occasion to revisit the first four books recently and they were as good to me as they were when I first read them as a teen. What struck me especially was the way Katharine conceptualised her magic system, which knowing what I do now of Western traditions, has a ring of authenticity. I love her envisioning of elves as wandering nomads, ousted by humanity's spread across the land. And I also owe her a huge debt, because her threaded lives of reincarnated characters working out their wyrd most certainly influenced some of the concepts I play with in my own writing. There is a feyness to Katharine's writing and an underlying deeper understanding of history, and how it oft repeats itself.

Ursula K Le Guin 
I must've been about 13 or 14 when I first was able to finish reading A Wizard of Earthsea, the first of the much-vaunted Earthsea Cycle. There's a lot more to Le Guin's stories than meet the eye, and I'm beyond keen to dip into her writing again now that I'm older, to understand what I missed the first time round. She goes deep with her writing and creates a quiet pool for reflection, spanning that chasm that is so often perceived to exist between genre and literary fiction. Le Guin truly stands as a singular beacon in her own right, and deserves far more acclaim than she receives at present. While I don't always mention her as often as I should, I feel compelled to mention her importance here. Her writing matters.

Tanith Lee 
To say that Tanith was a prolific author is an understatement, and I'm sorrowful to say that I haven't read nearly as many of her stories as I feel I should. If you're looking for fast-moving tales, you're going to go away from hers with a great feeling of dissatisfaction, and perhaps earlier I was uncharitable about her writing until I finally twigged that it was the atmosphere and mood, and the shifting shadows and the distinct sense of unease that I had to tap into. If you're used to contemporary fantasy, I suspect you'll struggle to get into her writing, but I promise it's worth it, even in small doses. Also, she was a huge influence on Storm Constantine, which is why I'll persist in delving into her worlds.

Fiona McIntosh 
Fiona was another author whose kinds words and encouragement got me started way back when, when I first started seriously considering writing fiction. I had reviewed a bunch of her fantasy novels, which were highly accessible, and we chatted a few times via email, and I became excited about fantasy as a genre again (and saw my own potential). At times the endings of Fiona's novels feel a bit rushed, but oh, the characters and the worlds – stunning. She's incredibly gifted in the way she creates a sense of fascination with her people and places, and she's also an author I fully intend to read again one day.

Anne McCaffrey 
I first read The White Dragon when I was in Grade 8, and it was one of the novels that changed everything for me. I'd already set a course with JRR Tolkien but Anne pretty much nailed it – this is what I wanted. I've read all her Dragonriders of Pern books at least three times, and I still love them dearly, even if they'll most likely pale in comparison to some of the heavier fare that features regularly in my reading pile. Anne's writing is incredibly accessible and I'm sorry, what's not to love about telepathic, telekinetic dragons who single out their one-and-only riders? Pern will always have a place in my heart. When I first cut my teeth I wrote two and a bit fics set on Pern that, to my continuing horror, have had tens of thousands of hits a decade later and still garner me queries from hopeful readers wanting more who claim I write *just* like Anne. C'mon, what's not to love about praise like that, hey?

JK Rowling 
I know I don't often mention Rowling when I talk about the women fantasy authors who have inspired me and whom I think are absolutely amazing and deserving of honour, but she makes my list. While the concepts she plays with are certainly not new to the fantasy genre (the underdog is the Chosen One who has to battle the odds through a magical academy of some sort), it's the way that Rowling pulls it all together, with equal amounts of whimsy and grit. Her characterisation is what makes her Potterverse for me. Each person who reads the Harry Potter books will find that one character they resonate with, and it's how she allows her imagination free rein, to borrow and subvert, and put out a tale that is both familiar and at once wholly new. She speaks to us about the matters that are important without making us feel as if we're being beaten about the head with ideology.

I'd love to know who your favourite women in SFF are, and if you are a woman who yearns to write the stories that are important to you, realise that it's never too late for you to take up the pen yourself. This is your call to action as much as it is mine, to be reminded that the stories we choose to tell about ourselves have the power to shape our future.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb #review

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb
(Fool's Errand, The Golden Fool, Fool's Fate)

Where do I even begin? This year I credit my survival as being partially due to good friends and Robin Hobb's books, and The Tawny Man trilogy was key to my emotional and psychological well-being.

FitzChivalry Farseer is by far one of my favourite characters. Life has handed him a raw deal. Every time you think he's at the top of his game, or that things are finally going right for him, the metaphorical rug gets pulled out from beneath his feet.

We learn in this series more about his special relationship with the Fool, and how the two of them are responsible for setting the world to rights. You'd think that Fitz and Nighteyes would slip quietly into history after their high adventure and derring-do to wake dragons and save the Six Duchies from the Red Ship Raiders and a mad king. But no.

This is not the case.

Though Fitz considers himself old, and Nighteyes is even more so a venerable wolf who has long outlived his natural years, the two are dragged into fresh misadventure when they are sent to discover the fate of Queen Kettricken's son. As much as Fitz loathes politics and intrigue, he truly comes alive when he is thrust into the midst of it.

We learn much of how the Wit magic works, as not only do we discover a conspiracy of the Witted to seize power, but there is fresh concern over the fact that the missing Prince Dutiful is betrothed to an Outislander princess.

And there is what I call That Thing That Happens that astute readers would have understood implicitly is coming, is unavoidable, but Hobb sneaks it up on readers with such flair, with such awful dignity and precision that I had to put the book down and have a good, ugly cry for a quarter of an hour. Then I reread that scene again and had to go wash my face. The only other authors who've succeed in reducing me to a blubbering wreck are JRR Tolkien (I cry every time the elves return to the West) and of course Richard Adams's Watership Down.

Fitz and the Fool go on to have hectic adventures, travelling far afield on the trail of, yes... Dragons. While I do feel the pace does flag at times, and Hobb certainly (and rightfully so) is in no hurry to tell the tale, those hankering after fast-paced action may whinge a bit. (And yes, how I loathe those types of readers). This is a story where you let go and immerse for individual scenes, for the descriptions for the incredibly detailed cultural heritage she has constructed. Hobb's rich world-building, her well-realised, three-dimensional characters make this an unforgettable experience. And, of course, every exquisite detail. Pay attention when you read, because often it's the smallest, seemingly inconsequential details that later have earth-shattering ramifications.

This is a story about love, and what people are willing to do for the ones who are dear to them. It's about the secrets that turn around and bite them later; the sacrifices people make. Central to this is the triad of Fitz/The Fool/Nighteyes, and how the three are but parts of one complex character, or rather expressions of the same – a composite that has grown together. And yes, there are times when Hobb rips out your heart, just as she does with Fitz, but then she puts it back together again in the most unexpected ways to make you gasp and place a hand on your chest.

If ever there is an author who inspires me to do better as an author, it's Hobb. Sometimes authors don't stand the test of time; sometimes you return to their writing years later only to be disappointed horribly, (um hello, David Eddings). Not so with Hobb.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Legend (1985) #movie

A young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.

Every once in a while I have that one film or book or something or other that I've been meaning to read or watch for simply ages that I've just never gotten round to. Legend, the 1985 film directed by Ridley Scott, was one of them.

I've watched pretty much all the important 1980s fantasy films – Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, Willow, Highlander, Ladyhawke... Just not Legend. And always, my husband said to me, "No, really, it's crap. Don't."

I never listen to him.

I eventually got my way to see the film on Netflix. I regret that I will not be able to get the 125 minutes of my life back. As much as I do attempt to give films the benefit of the doubt, I couldn't help but wonder, the entire time that I was watching, whether Scott and his crew had been taking some really mean hallucinogenics while in production.

Yes, this is a quest – young dude Jack (Tom Cruise in a really, really risqué golden tunic that leaves very little to the imagination) goes to rescue the princess Lily. There are unicorns. Tim Curry, of course, steals the show as what appears to be Hellboy's grandpappy. There are dwarves too. And Tinkerbell. Oh, did I mention unicorns?

In fact, everything hinges on the unicorns that will act as a sacrifice to ring in Eternal Darkness. Muhahahahahahaha.

Nothing makes sense while our intrepid, nattily garbed young hero prances about in his gilded togs waving a sword he clearly has no idea how to use. There was one, weird scene where a dark Lily dances with the Evil Overlord, which I thought was quite pretty and surreal, but as for the rest – I suspect it will make more sense to three-year-olds who've grown up on a fare of The Magic Roundabout and Teletubbies.

And seriously? What the ever-living fuck was with all the glitter? Glitter EVERYWHERE? The cast and production crew must've found glitter in their pubes for weeks after. Glitter is insidious that way. I suspect this film must've resulted global '85-'86 Glitter Shortage.

The blurb sums up this hot mess of a fantasy cinema entirely. I'd rather watch YouTube clips spliced together from the Tim Curry scenes again than ever endure this disjointed, cobbled-together "let's attempt epic fantasy though we don't have the first clue how the hell to make it work".

I guess if you're tripping off your tits, this film will be amazeballs, but alas I'll not be tripping off my tits again anytime soon and life's too short to endure something that left me feeling a whole lot of what the fuck.

Last Wish & The Gulf by Poppy Z Brite

Title: Last Wish & The Gulf
Author: Poppy Z Brite

There are very few authors in the world who'll immediately make me drop everything I'm doing to go and purchase and read their work immediately, and Poppy Z Brite is one of them. Brite's writing was HUGELY influential on me when I was younger. He's not so much heavy on plot but more on atmosphere and description, with settings that are so tangible, you can smell the miasma of the river water and feel the stickiness of the grains of sand while you walk along the banks.

These two sort stories represent and ending and a beginning (I hope) as Brite hasn't released new fiction for a decade. "The Gulf" was the last piece he worked on before he went on a hiatus, and examines the sense of place that creeps into a person. Mired in nostalgia, it evokes environment and personal nostalgia in the aftermath of Katrina.

"Last Wish" is a deceptively simple flash piece with a wicked little hook at the end that made me gasp in delighted horror. It's short, it's nasty and it's *tight* and I truly hope that this marks the author's return to writing because this piece is *good*. The writing is tighter, has more punch than older works but features all the characteristic mood.

Brite remains my go-to for descriptive writing that paints a vivid, visceral environment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In Conversation with Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso

An anthology that's worth looking out for when it comes for available, Lights Out: Resurrection features a crop of African authors of horror and dark speculative fiction, edited by Wole Tabali. Today I welcome Ezeiyoke Chukwunoso for a little Q&A.

I realise we know very little about each other. Tell me more about you and what you love writing.

I am Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso, a charter member of African Speculative Society. My collection of short stories, Haunted Grave and Other Stories was published by Parallel Universe Publications during August this year. Prior to that, I have published stories in anthologies such as Emanation: 2+2=5, Emanation: Foray into Forever, Future Lovecraft, Lost Tales from the Mountain: Halloween Anthology Vol. II., African Roar and in so many other places. I was shortlisted in IdeasTap Inspires: Writers' Centre Norwich Writing competition, Ghana Poetry Prize, and Quickfox Poetry Competition. 

I love to write horror, fantasy and science fiction stories although not hard sci-fi. I write literary fiction too but tend to love genre fiction more.

Apart from fiction writing, I am a literary critic and I investigate literature with the lens of a philosopher. I developed a penchant for this during my BA where I majored in philosophy. I discovered that most of contemporary African Literature is useful, functionalist. It is an art that has a socio-political or anthropological relevance. If it did not tend to fight colonialism, it was post-colonialism or it was written with a moral education in view. Practically, art for art's sake, aestheticism was an endangered species. Critics like Achebe, Senghor, Ngugi wa Thiong’o favoured this. Achebe said ‘I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them. Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure. But who cares?’ And I discovered that that sort of metaphysical assumption made literature predictable and more so hindered aestheticism and the development of genre fiction in Africa for a long time. My writing and research were to propose a better metaphysical assumption that will foster the growth of literature in which art for art sake is prior to functionalism. I have published essays about this in Episteme Journal, and Savvy Journal of Contemporary African Arts.

How does living in Africa inform your writing? Tell me more about your environment, and a day in your life. 

Most of my stories are based in Enugu State in Nigeria where I grew up. In as much as fiction relies on the imagination, I often like to write about setting I am familiar with, a place I can manipulate. I like to have a strong sense of a place in my writing. Apart from the setting, my writing is often influenced by the oral and mythical thoughts of the Igbo people in Nigeria, mainly with regard to religion. I have been fascinated with religion since I was a child, once I was in the seminary hoping to become a Catholic priest. *Laughing* Religion in Nigeria and its superstition still hooks me more than ever although now intellectually. And it is this superstition and the fear inherent in it that I explore often in my horror or fantasy writing.

I currently live in Manchester. My house is near a park. I love the park. I often sit there watching people playing with their dogs. I am still wondering why I haven’t owned a dog yet.
What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading Making Wolf by Tade Thompson. I recently reviewed his Rosewater and I fall in love with his writing especially the pacing, quick page turning. Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood is what I am currently reading whenever I am commuting on the bus. I like reading on the bus, makes the journey quicker. I will be reviewing it soon. I just finished reading Dark Lullaby by Jessica Palmer, I am writing the review currently. Horrorology edited by Stephen Jones is on my bedside. I read bits of it to sleep.

Tell us more about your story as it appears in Lights Out: Resurrection.

"Eaters of Flesh" was inspired by a real event. A relative was undergoing a depression that came with some mental issue. There was this allusion among her family members that what was wrong with her was a demonic attack. Seeking for a scientific medical aid was taken out of the option. Anyway, she later met a psychologist, had a professional help and recovered. The incident, however, stayed with me and formed the basis for the story, "Eaters of Flesh".  The story appeared first in my short story collection, Haunted Grave and Other Stories

What are you writing at the moment?

I am working on my debut novel. The first chapter of the novel actually is the story that appeared in the Lights Out: Resurrection. In between the novel, I research on my philosophical essays on literature. I am writing a couple of short stories too. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Conversation with Raymond Elenwoke

I've recently had the pleasure of being included in a horror anthology of fabulous African authors, Lights Out: Resurrection that was edited by Wole Talabi, so I thought I'd take a little time to get to know my fellow authors. Today it's Raymond Elenwoke who's over for a little Q&A...

I realise we know very little about each other. Tell me more about you and what you love writing.

My name is Raymond Elenwoke, and I am a Nigerian writer. I am also an auditor and financial consultant, currently residing in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. I love writing stories that explore a variety of genres, mainly horror, thriller, speculative fiction and sci-fi.

How does living in Africa inform your writing? Tell me more about your environment, and a day in your life.

For me, the phrase “living in Africa” feels very vague, because Africa is too big and diverse to be classified as a single place. I live in Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Nigeria, and even then, living there is very different from living in, say, Elele, in the same Rivers State, because these towns/cities have very distinct personalities.

Having said that, living in Port Harcourt is an exercise in patience, both with yourself and your environment. This has affected my writing in more ways than one. In the sense that I am (still) learning to infuse the identity of the town I set my stories into the story, no matter the genre. My environment helps inform my thinking, both in terms of character development and in terms of setting. Being someone who learned his trade from consuming books and writing advice from foreign (Western) authors/movies, living in Port Harcourt helps me realise that the police procedures in Phoenix, Arizona or Luton, United Kingdom are very different from the police procedures in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. This helps me also realise that my characters will have certain challenges unique to not just the environment in which I set them, but also unique to the culture of the place AND time the story is set in.

My environment is quite dynamic. I may start the day at my desk and end it in a client’s office halfway across town, or in class, studying for my professional exams. My day usually starts at about 4.30 am, and after my morning devotion, I have to study for a bit before training/exercising for a few minutes, and then leaving the house for work. If I get to work early enough, I can write a bit, if not I have to wait until the close of work to be able to let my imagination run wild. In between this, when I am on break I could read a story or two, or watch a show to relax.

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment, I am studying for the final round of my professional exams, so this has limited my literature reading time. However, one I am reading now is Breakers by Edward W Robertson, which is a surprisingly good book about the end of the world. Before this I read the amazing Doctor Sleep by the effervescent Stephen King, and I also reviewed the excellent Rosewater by Tade Thompson, published by Apex Publications, the smartest story about an alien invasion I have ever come across. Pre-order it as it comes out in November 15, 2016. You can read my review of it here.

So is it courage or strength, And is that what I’m waiting for… I once said Rosewater would make me wax lyrica...

In addition to my professional reading, I am reading, you guessed it, Lights Out: Resurrection. Amazing collection. Seriously.

Tell us more about your story as it appears in Lights Out: Resurrection.

My story is titled "Koi-Koi". The title is derived from the sound any person who attended Boarding School in Nigeria will most likely recognise. The story revolves around Lady Koi Koi, the Secondary School Legend.

When I was approached to write a story for the collection, I had no idea what I was going to write, to be honest. I saw the email on Monday morning at the office, and realised that I had until Friday to write and submit a story. Even though I had nothing, I joyfully accepted the story, because I had been waiting for the literary event. I had a story that had been swimming beneath the surface,so I started writing. 80% into the story and about two to the deadline, I realised this was not the story for the collection, so I left it unfinished, and spent most of the day letting the story tell itself to me. When it was ready, I set about discovering it.

Koi-Koi is an imagining of origin of the Lady Koi Koi mythos, because why not? When I first heard the tale, all I could picture were legs in a pair of black heels. No body. Just from the knees down. There were more ghostly/supernatural tales from my time to choose from, but this one…this one had a silent menace about it. You always seemed to hear it, only in the dark, only at night, but you never saw it. Those who did…well, I would imagine they were either dead or too far gone t really tell us about their experience….

*sinister laugh*

What are you writing at the moment?

At the moment, I am working on a number of projects.

First off I am working on a serial story I started writing when I was studying in London a few years back. It is time for the story to come home.

I am also working jointly on a project with another amazing writer friend of mine, Seun Odukoya. The project involves Sango and Amadioha, the Yoruba and Igbo gods of thunder.

I am also finishing my novel, Rising Night, a story that has detectives, angels, demons and yes, ninjas.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Rise of African Speculative Fiction – in conversation with Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson

A while back I let on that I'm one of the South African spokespeeps for the newly unveiled African Speculative Fiction Society. I'm going to kick off here and say that it's about high time that we got the ball rolling here in Africa. We have a vast oral tradition, not to mention a melting pot of cultures that are all uniquely African, and for too long we've been languishing under the misconception that African SFF fiction is somehow subpar. Point is it's not. When I edited Short Story Day Africa's Terra Incognita anthology, I was blown away by the beautiful wordsmiths and their stories I encountered.

Those of you who've been following my doings over the past few years will see how I've been fighting for the recognition of African SFF fiction here in my corner for what feels like forever. And let me tell you it's absolutely awesome to have others with whom I can now connect.

So, when Geoff Ryman roped me into the ASFS to help with the establishment of Africa's own speculative fiction awards, the Nommos, I jumped at the opportunity. Here's something I'm really passionate about, and I'm really happy to have my fellow ASFS folks over today (Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson) to chat about this endeavour.

Nerine Dorman: I was a bit taken aback to be asked to get involved with the ASFS, mainly because I feel I've been fighting in the trenches here in my particular corner of Africa to try promote speculative fiction. What was the final tipping point for you to decide to get involved to help set up the Nommos?

Geoff Ryman: You know, I have no memory what kicked it off. I was was reading stuff on the African Fantasy Reading Group and just thought 'sod it, we need an award and it will have to be entirely in Africa. Just keep everybody else out, me included. I had just come back from Nairobi and had loved the writers there, their mood of owing so little to everybody else, just growing their own wild sort of beatnik scene. And I was very impressed talking to Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor Oduku, how they had got Jalada together by talking through all the issues first. So I just starting chatting online with the group, and all those good people who formed the Awards Discussion Group came on board. At first its was difficult. We all came with assumptions about how it would work and insecurities. Sometimes it seemed like we had all agreed only to have that agreement unravel. We took the discussion out of the open reading group and made it a private message group but it never got too heated... the odd hot moment. But we came up with some lovely stuff. The definitions of different kinds of Africans. The realisation we didn't want a panel of experts choosing for us, nor did we want a fan voting award like the Hugos, which had been in trouble. 

I really really wanted it to be in the gift of the African Fantasy Reading Group – but I had to admit that even in my view the Nebula Awards which allow the writers to nominate and then to vote the winners seems a really good model. At that point we all got excited about the possibilities of a pro and semi-pro African SF body in terms of other things that are needed. Like. A really good critical review of Arican SFF. Like, an outreach to French, Portuguese, Arabic SFF and most especially to local language SFF. The conversations were thrilling because you could really feel the whole thing come together. Yes! This is going to WORK! The other thing was sending out the invitations to get a solid core of invited members to make sure that there really WAS an society... though it was the needs of the URL that finally settled the name. The other great moment was when we saw Stephen Embleton's designs for the leaflet and website and thought YEAH. And the the thrill when Ivor Hartmann told us Tom Ilube had promised four years of prize money. So many exciting, fun, moments. I'm an old guy and I'm really lucky to be part of something this enrolling at this stage of my life.

Tade Thompson: I just took a look at the original Nommo Awards discussion and there are over 3500 messages. A lot of people contributed including Wole Talabi, Masimba Musodza, Shadrek Chikoti, Ayodele Arigbabu, Mame Diene and more. Sometimes individuals had to take a time out from the discussions (I know I did), and others did not return. It's not an easy thing to come to a compromise. I don't see the heated nature of the discussions as a negative thing. To me it meant everybody was thinking and voices were not being silenced. One of my concerns was for the prize to avoid funding from the West, for example. Piper, tune, you know what I mean. The definition of what was an African we found particularly problematic. Hopefully, we've come up with a working definition.

ND: What makes African speculative fiction unique, in your opinion? I've found through my editing that Africa's rich oral tradition of telling folk stories has a habit of creeping in and flavouring rather beautifully. This was particularly apparent when I was working on SSDA's Terra Incognita anthology.

GR: God, so many things make it unique... its relationship to the West, its relationship to the traditional cultures, the fantastic cultural diversity. The power that comes from being where the action is... that's where the novel goes always, and Africa is where the action is right now. In the West people explore tensions between conflicting ways of being like religion VERSUS science. In Africa monotheism, trad beliefs, science all share the same space like butterflies on a bougainvillea. It's about overlap and co-existence, not stress. Also Africans in our out of diaspora just do not do genre. 

They write crime and fantasy, paint, make films, graphic design, are in a band and they do it all well.

The great untapped source of voice, difference, interest is language. Africans have just his second stopped looking to the West for validation, writing in a style that the West can understand. Stay tuned for flavourful prose more related to Sheng, Pidgin, Kiswahili or translations into English form material imagined in the language of the people who live it. So, language, which in the end equals diversity. 

TT: From my perspective, developing African SFF needs at least three elements: Respectable awards, a tradition of magazines to serve as venues for emerging talent, and a healthy publishing industry. Omenana (to me) opens the magazine tradition up. The Nommos should help give people something to aspire to. 

The ASFS helps to unite people like you, Nerine, and Chinelo for example, who have been fighting individually to raise the SFF profile on the continent. I think together we can get more done.

To me there should not be "African" sci-fi/fantasy any more than there should be an "African" writer. None of those qualifications should be necessary. We are just writers of SFF who have a relationship with the continent. Individually, we often have relationships with other places as well (for example, I have equal roots in South London). There is also a conflation of African SFF with Afrofuturism that I see sometimes in articles, blog posts etc.   They are not the same thing, although there are areas of intersection. 

ND: What are some of the long-term goals you foresee for the ASFS and speculative fiction on the continent in general?

GR: An anthology of nominated works. A programme with the French, Arabic, Portuguese and local language worlds. Publications in Luo on one page facing the page of English translation so that local languages can be sold bound in with the English. An expanding awards programme to recognise the outstanding auteur cinema springing up outside and maybe inside Nollywood. A searchable database of published novels, stories, graphic novels. A programme of Wikipedia maintenance to keep everybody's bios and bibliographies available and accurate. Programmes to encourage developing writer. BUT ABOVE ALL ELSE. Developing the audience in terms of both numbers and its expectations. Giving African writers Africans to write for, in genres that are controlled by African readers. So I hope the pros don't leave behind the 1000+ African Readers on Facebook. I hope both groups grow together, readers and writers. They are on the same side. 

TT: African speculative fiction or African Sci-Fi/Fantasy isn't unique. It is writers exploring the imagination and writing fantastical fiction either emanating from science or the mystical (or both), taking their environment and cultural reality into consideration. This is exactly what SFF writers do everywhere. In this regard, there is no difference between Nnedi Okorafor, Aliette de Bodard and Cordwainer Smith. That the cultures from which the writers emerge have differences does not matter.  Storytelling differences can reflect cultures, but that's to be expected. When I started reading Haruki Murakami my mind all but exploded. I never thought, though, that I'm reading "A Japanese Writer". To me part of the job of the ASFS is to demonstrate that we're here and we're like SFF writers everywhere, to bring fucking quality to the party, and mindpain to the haters!


GEOFF RYMAN is senior lecturer in School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester. He is the author of several works of science fiction and literary fiction as well as short stories author and an interactive web novel. His work has won numerous awards including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award (twice), the James W. Tiptree Memorial Award, the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award (twice) and the Canadian Sunburst Award (twice). In 2012 he won a Nebula Award for his Nigeria-set novelette 'What We Found'.  His novel AIR was listed in THE GUARDIAN's 1000 Novels You Must Read. 253 is listed by Carmen Maria Machado on the GRANTA website as the best book of 1998.

He has a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship to research the rise of science fiction and fantasy in Africa.  He also organises two reading groups of mainstream African Fiction, both called ARG!  One meets in London the first Sunday of every month 4.30 pm at BOOK AND KITCHEN bookshop. The Manchester Group meets the third Tuesday 6.30 pm at HABESHA restaurant.

TADE THOMPSON lives and works in the south of England. His background is in medicine, psychiatry and anthropology. His first novel MAKING WOLF won the Golden Tentacle Award at The Kitshies. His most recent works are the short story THE APOLOGISTS in Interzone #266, DECOMMISSIONED in the NewCon Press anthology 'Crises and Conflicts', and the novel ROSEWATER from Apex Books.