Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Angels On My Keypad

Hi Guys,

Original photo is 9 of 365 Frustration taken by Tanya Little.

Have just completed the second line edit of The Nephilim and thought I'd take a little time out to talk a little about the book. Or not so much the book, as a couple of aspects about it. Specifically angels and how I've represented them in this work.

Now those of you who've read some of my other works touching on angels, will know that I've used a couple of different conceptions of the Choir.

In Thief my angel Sherial was a creature completely in keeping with the modern interpretation of angels - basically a creature of love. This is of course in line with modern Christian doctrine (well some of it) and essentially New Testament. And in writing Sherial's character I was trying to answer some of the obvious questions that arise from having angels like this. Things like if angels are purely creatures of love how do they battle darkness in whatever form it might exist? Are they accessible to people in the way that people are to one another? Or are they completely beyond human understanding?

When it came to Guinea Pig I decided on using a more human variation of angels. Essentially angels being a lot like us with the ability to choose good and evil. This is in keeping to an extent with the Old Testament, given that in it angels did fall, suggesting that they had some form of free will, and it had the advantage of making them far more accessible to people.

Now in The Nephilim I have taken the conception of angels even further into the territory of the Old Testament. I've taken away the modern concept of creatures of love and replaced it with one of obedience. Note that I'm not saying that they don't have these sorts of emotions, just that their overriding character is that of obedience to God. Now for those of you familiar with your Bible you'll know that angels knocked down the walls of Jericho, locked Adam and Eve out of the Garden and carried the plagues of Egypt. In short they did what they were told regardless of whether it was carrying the word of God or destroying civilisations.

This of course gave me a whole new world of angels for my characters to interact with, which was sort of the point. It is this tension between the characters who have human needs and wants and the Choir who have only rigid obedience to the rules given to them that drives much of the emotion and plot of the story. It's what creates the frustration of my characters in dealing with the Choir. (I think anyone who's ever had to work his or her way painfully through complex tax returns will understand a little of what it's like to deal with rules that seem both somewhat arbitrary and at the same time unduly harsh.)

As for my characters, I chose the nephilim because they have always struck me as being in a strange no mans land between humans and angels. Given some of the power of angels - in the Old Testament they were described as giants and mighty warriors - while at the same time having the free will of humans. In the best of all possible worlds (for them) they would have become kings. But of course I chose the other option - the worst of all possible worlds where their powers are limited and they may have free will but aren't allowed to use it. In this world of course instead of being able to make themselves kings they instead have a basic struggle to survive, worrying always about being discovered by the humans or breaking a divine rule and being punished for it.

I think in the end that's one of the things I love about writing angels. They can come in such diverse forms that it's often hard for them to be pigeon holed. Whereas when I write about elves in my high fantasy works, I often find my creations tied far more to the established tropes. It's easier to be creative with the Choir.

Cheers, Greg.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Best Book You Will Ever Read To Make You A Better Writer

Hi Guys,

I'm deep in the cycle of editing at the moment - and grateful that my hair is so short - it makes it harder to pull out! The Nephilim is going through its first edit at present, and will hopefully be published by the end of the month.

The cover image was taken from a photo in the wiki commons under a creative commons attribution share alike licence. The original photo is titled 9 of 365 - Frustration, by Tanya Little. It's been modified somewhat to reduce the biographic accuracy and concentrate on the angst and moodiness of the image.

Anyway while going through the editing process (a lot of which consists of sitting around waiting for copy to come back and fielding abusive phone calls from my editor) I spent some time going through my various writing fora and came across the above question. What is the best book you will ever read to improve your writing?

Now this is not a new question. Anyone who's been interested in writing will have seen it fielded in probably a hundred different guises by now. Everything from "I've just read book x,y,z by author a,b,c and it was great - what do you think?" to "Where can I find a good writing guide?" And usually I ignore these threads and move on. However this time for reasons probably most closely related to synchronicity - I read on. And as I read I knew the answer.

It's not any book on writing at all. There are a great many good books out there which all promise to give guidance on the topic, and only some of which I've read. But without exception I can say that none of them are the best. Many will talk about rules and guidelines. Many will point out common mistakes authors make when starting out. But in the end there is always one book that will help you as an author far more than any other. The book you're writing.

This may sound trite and flippant. It's probably both. But unfortunately it's also completely true. And it's important that writers understand this. The best way, probably the only true way, to become a better writer is to write. But I'll go further than that. To write and get feedback. (Now you see where the synchronicity comes in!)

There is no one great secret to writing. There is only hard work, a bit of talent, a lot of passion and criticism. And the process is simple - often simply painful, but still simple. It's this.

Write. Read what you write, rewrite it and keep going and going and going until you're finally satisfied that you can't go any further on your own. Then hit the critic groups and beta readers. Put out sample chapters etc and get feedback. As much as you can get. It may hurt and there is a reason that authors do need thick skins, but nothing else will help you as much in becoming a better writer. Then go back to the writing board, decide which of the criticism you think is valid, and rewrite. After that more critics of what you've rewritten, and more rewriting.

Then the truly painful stage, editing as someone good tears your work to pieces. It has to be done. So get it edited, then go through the process of rewriting it again, remembering always that some of what even the most capable editor will tell you will not fit with your voice or your vision. So edit and re-edit until finally you've reached the final stage. Publishing. Here's where the pain goes ballistic.

Publish - if you need help to put your book out as good copy with a good cover and blurb, get it. And then wait for reviews. Now you'd think that having gone through critics, beta readers and editing, your book would be beyond reproach. It isn't. You will get negative feedback. It's simply a fact of life. Your task as an author is to read it all and then ask yourself - is this right? Does it fit with my vision? Have I got something wrong? Remember readers can be just as wrong as you! But they can also be right.

And then write your next book, knowing that it too will be the best book you'll ever read that will make you a better writer.

Cheers, Greg.