Favourite Authors: NICHOLAS FISK

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I actually started writing this blog post quite a while ago, but it never got finished because I didn’t find myself as eloquent as I would have liked to be. I’m resurrecting it now because I learned just a few days ago that Nicholas Fisk has died. The news made me sad for a couple of reasons (and no disrespect intended to his family, who have many more–and far more important–reasons to grieve).

The first of those reasons is purely selfish: a reader’s reaction. That hollow, sad feeling that there will be no more books. I’m very well aware that there are, and will be, many more books; but they won’t be books like that. The Nicholas Fisk books are now a finite, fixed number. And that’s a real shame, because there are very few people who can write with the kind of clarity, simplicity, and at the same time incredible depth that Nicholas Fisk managed.

My second reason is even more regretful: it’s a writer’s reaction. There are only about ten authors who have really influenced me in terms of style, content, or characterisation; and Nicholas Fisk is one of those. Quite a few of those influencers have also died in the last few years, without me ever having the chance to meet them, shake them by the hand, and tell them how much I learnt from their writing, and how much I enjoyed their art. I didn’t even get the chance to write to them and tell them that. My fault, of course, but you don’t expect your heroes to die. I regret that I never took the opportunity to write and tell them each how much they’ve meant to me.

Nicholas Fisk’s books are, ostensibly, children’s books. Sci-fi, too, which I very rarely read unless I’m immediately caught by the idea or the characters. The main characters are children, and although the subjects can range from simple to quite complex, the writing is never such as to either condescend or confuse. The adult characters are drawn with the kind of nuance that you don’t notice as a child but very much appreciate as an adult. One and all, the characters are complete, real people. The bad guys are complex, detailed, and sometimes not so much bad as on the other side. The protagonists see them as bad because they’re on the opposite side of the fence. Sometimes that realisation is made by the characters, other times, not.

I can’t now remember which Nicholas Fisk book I first read: it was either A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR; BACKLASH; or MINDBENDERS. Each of them was a revelation for me, and I hold special memories from each. A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR appalled and horrified me, and at the same time fascinated me. I was thinking about it for months after I first read it, and I knew it was a book that I would love forever. I don’t want to say too much more, because Spoilers, Sweetie. BACKLASH was amazing in a totally different way: the character I remember most was a mechanical princess who had no idea of pain, or growing up, or humanity. She wanted a little mechanical baby, and I remember one of the characters worrying about that at the end, because the princess was beginning to learn, and he wondered how it would affect her when she realised her ‘baby’ would never grow, or learn, or develop. MINDBENDERS was just weird, and cool, and fascinating. Because, you know, when you’re ten, ants could take over the world.

Like Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk is one of those people who shaped my writing and my reading at a very important time in my life. He’s one of the reasons I’m an author today: his imagination made mine want to grow wings and fly.

Creating Worlds: Making up Montalier

Okay, so technically, Montalier is not a world.

1It’s a country within a world. But creating worlds sounds so much better than making up countries, so I’m running with it. I created Montalier for my novella TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY, the first in my SHARDS OF A BROKEN SWORD trilogy. Besides being the home of one of my favourite characters, Montalier is one of my favourite settings. I don’t think it’s because Montalier is any more developed than my other worlds: rather, I think it’s because TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY was a first on so many levels for me.

  1. The first novella I ever wrote
  2. The first longer form fiction I wrote from a male POV (previously, I’ve only written short stories from male POV)
  3. The beginning of my first complete trilogy (as of now, when THE FIRST CHILL OF AUTUMN is due to be published May 31st)
  4. The first book for which I made up pie proverbs

When you build a world you have to think about so many things.

Is this the coolest map you've ever seen, or what?

Is this the coolest map you’ve ever seen, or what? (And in case you’re wondering, Wyndsor is north-east of Montalier, out of sight along the coast. Avernse also doesn’t appear on this map, but that’s because it was a VERY TINY piece of paper)

Political system. Monetary system. History. Religious system (if any). Etymology of names. Proverbs and historical references. Is it a country or an actual world? A monarchy or a democracy–or perhaps both? What sort of military does your country have? How does it interact with the militia of the surrounding countries? Is this a coastal country, or landlocked? Do you have dragons? (Always have dragons). If you’re travelling from country to country, where exactly are your countries in relation to each other? Do you have a map? (Always have a map. With compass. Trust me, you’ll need it.)

There are many other things to ask and formulate, but one of the things I most enjoy making up is pop culture. Well, not exactly pop culture, but you know what I mean. The catch-phrases people use. The in-jokes. The references to ancient (and not-so-ancient) history. The things you forget you say until someone from another country hears you and wonders what you mean.

With Montalier, it was pies.

Tiny pies. Huge Pies. Pies in between. Pie proverbs. Pie references. Pies everywhere! I love pie, so it was a hugely enjoyable (albeit hunger-inducing) part of my world-building. In fact, when I revisited Montalier for THE FIRST CHILL OF AUTUMN, at least one beta reader asked if there would be more pie proverbs. (Spoilers: no. Sadly, there were no words to spare, as TFCOA already weighs in at a smidge over 50k, which is slightly long for a novella).

As a reader, I have three worlds that I’ve found to be extraordinarily well-written.

The first of those is the world Steven Brust has created for Vlad Taltos, his assassin-on-the-run who manages to escape death and disaster by the skin of his teeth nearly every book, while his side-kick Loiosh is making sarcastic comments in his ear. The world-building there is something really special. It grows over the course of many, many books, but each book is so well-contained and explained that I have very happily read them ALL out of order without feeling more than pleased each time I find something cool that slots into my knowledge base for the next book.

Second: Kate Stradling’s Kingdom of Lenore in KINGDOM OF RUSES  and TOURNAMENT OF RUSES. And guys, I know I’ve raved about this book and this author before, but the world-building here is just so deftly done: there is not a single unnecessary word, and the world is richly imagined and filled out.

My third favourite is the world Patricia Wrede created for THE RAVEN RING. It is rich in sayings, understandings, customs, and magic; and it’s done in an understated and completely immersive way. THE RAVEN RING is another book I’ve already raved about, so just go and read it already. (Incidentally, Patricia Wrede’s blog is probably one of the best blogs a writer can read for world-building–and lots of other–advice, too.)

Writers, what is your favourite part of creating a world? Readers, what is the best world you’ve ever read? Let me know in the comments! Or, yanno, just tell me a really great pie proverb?

Scribbling with Scrivener

I have a new toy! It’s Scrivener, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Mostly I’m poking about with it and seeing what it can do (and what it can’t do). Actually, it’s good timing: I’ve just finished and have been prepping PLAYING HEARTS for publication, so I’m free to experiment now that I have some unobstructed time. And by unobstructed I mean free from grueling line and content edits, and trying to decide on which interior graphic works best for the scene breaks.

Now I have a shiny new word count bar that grows with each day I write! I’m actually more excited about that than about the rest of it. It makes it easy to get back to work on the next SHARDS OF A BROKEN SWORD novella, which should be ready for publication by late April! And in the most stylish way imaginable, thanks to Scrivener.

The experiment begins…

What about you guys? Have you used Scrivener? What do you think? What’s your favourite feature?

Holidays, reading, and other cool stuff

You may have noticed that my blog schedule has been a bit…off…lately. I say may have because at this point I’m assuming that your entire world doesn’t actually revolve around me (yet. Just wait until I’m rich and famous!) This is because I finally finished PLAYING HEARTS and forced myself to have a week off before doing the Last Edit bits and pieces. Now that I have it back from my fantastic beta reader I have a few more things I need to tweak and a few more spelling errors and continuity snafus to eradicate.

PLAYING HEARTS BOOK COVER-picmonkeyAt first it was kinda hard not to write: I’d wake up and immediately think of how many words I’d have to get done today, only to realise that I wasn’t in fact allowed to write at all. It was really off-putting and not entirely enjoyable, but since I cemented that resolve by also resolving to spend the time I would have been writing, in reading, it wasn’t long before I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

However, it’s back in the saddle again on Monday: I have a ton of work to do before PLAYING HEARTS goes live on the ‘Zon. The final file is due by February 29th, which gives me just enough time to fiddle with it one last time!

So I’ll be back with my (somewhat) regularly scheduled blog posts on Monday and Thursday, and in the mean time don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to get free books and first looks at all my latest scribblings!

Stuff And Things…

So I’ve been tossing up ideas about what I’d like to do for MASQUE’s 1st birthday, and I’ve found a few things that I want to do.

Firstly and most importantly, I’m setting up a giveaway (1x signed pb of MASQUE, 1x rose gold plated masque earrings, 1x Tea-Time necklace by Purple Bird Creations, & 1x I am ALWAYS up to something MASQUE t-shirt).

The giveaway doesn’t start just yet (so don’t go clicking on the collage above–it won’t take you anywhere helpful) but it won’t be long. It will run from January 1st, so keep watching this spot!

Also, bloggers, if you are interested in hosting my giveaway for one day in January, please let me know! I already have a few lovely bloggers who are willing to help out–thanks guys!

Secondly, MASQUE is on a 99c special for the entire month of January, right up until Feb 2nd.

Thirdly, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to release MASQUE in audio as a series of podcasts. I say it occurred (in the past tense) because that was before I knew how much hard work it would be. I spent about half an hour in my car this afternoon (somewhere enclosed,

masque rec 2

My recording equipment…for now

insulated, and with a buffer of soft, sound-swallowing things that won’t echo) and besides heat stroke, I now have a very good idea of what I’ve let myself in for. It is exhausting. Also, my voice sounds horribly Australian. Yeah, yeah, I know: I am Australian. I just didn’t expect to sound quite so okker. My voice is naturally pitched low, which doesn’t really work, either. Listening to the whole thing has given me a pretty good idea of what I need to work on, though, so it’s not all bad. So far in my list of things to remember is:

  1. Pitch voice higher.
  2. SLOW DOWN.
  3. Leave a buffer between paragraphs and–most importantly–between dialogue and prose.
  4. Drink lots of water.
  5. Don’t shuffle around. Like at all.
  6. Do it at night when the neighbours won’t look at me oddly. This will hopefully also help with the heatstroke issue.
  7. It’s gonna take at least 25 minutes for each chapter. Get really comfortable.

I’m sure there will be more, but those are the big ones. My iPad Mini and a set of bluetooth headphones w/mic have proven to give reasonably good results so far, but I’m leaving my options open.

If you want to hear the okker, rasping, uncertain sounds of me attempting my first reading, go ahead. Check it out, you masochist, you. Be warned, however: I’m not just saying this–it’s awful. I can only promise that I’ll try to do better in the real thing!

Also give me a yell out if you’ve done anything similar and have any advice to offer. Your expertise will be appreciated. As will any snide/sarcastic/witty/and/or/clever remarks upon my first foray into recording.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and wish you a similarly wonderful new year!

Your Assistance Is Requested…

Quite a few of you out there on the internets, from the US to Sri Lanka and beyond, were lovely enough to preorder TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY.

Thank you!

Some of you even bought it after it was released.

You have my undying gratitude!1

Now I’m asking even more of you (yeah, I’m greedy like that). In the lead up to Christmas–in fact, in just over a week–I will be running a promotion on TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY concurrently with a preorder promotion on the 2nd novella in the series, FIRE IN THE BLOOD.

I’d love to have at least a couple reviews for TDOF on the Amazons (.au, .com, and/or .uk) by the time that happens.

2nd Shards_FireInTheBloodYou don’t have to have loved it (though of course I’ll love you better if you did 😀 ) and you don’t have to write The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. A short, meaningful review is just as valid as the longest, most praise-laden one out there. I’ll appreciate every one of those words.

And as always, there is always a free copy of either novella for those book bloggers who are looking for the next blog post and want to read and review. Just contact me via the comments or my contact form.

Thanks, guys! And to all my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving!!

I’m Obsessed. But It’s A Good Thing…Really…

I’m a little bit obsessed at the moment. I’ve been having so much fun writing TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY and it’s so very nearly finished! As a result, I’ve been taking the ‘big computer’ to work every day and sitting down at lunch to ignore everyone with my ipod plugged into my brain, then coming home with said big computer just to sit down and ignore everyone here, too. My reward for this is a very nearly finished novella and a slightly messed-up brain, plus the joyous satisfaction of having written 1000 words per day on my off days, and 3000+ on my on days–an unheard of burst of productivity that I’ve never before managed.

Thusly, and in celebration, I’m gonna post another excerpt of TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY here for you guys (cos I just know you were slavering at the bit for this). Enjoy, and tell me what you think!

(Oh, and keep an eye out on Monday next for the Cover Reveal! I’m so excited!)

Excerpt from Day Eight

                “Unseelie again,” said Markon, peering into the soft darkness of the Door. “I’m beginning to sense a pattern.”

“There’s not too much difference between Seelie and Unseelie when it comes to humans,” Althea said. “To them we’re more like talking dogs than anything. The Seelie are just as happy to murder us as the Unseelie: the only difference is that they’ll do it with a smile instead of a wink.”

“Ah,” said Markon, grateful for the twin iron bands around his wrists. “Speaking of murder, which particular bit of magic do we have to thank for bringing us to this piece of Faery?”

“Sal was showing me some of the sights yesterday afternoon,” said Althea. “I found a few remnants of magic where Parrin’s first sweetheart and one of the ladies who tried to break the curse were last seen. It’s– well, it seems familiar, but I can’t place it.”

“Does the room look familiar?”

“I couldn’t even tell it was a room,” said Althea, reaching for Markon’s hand. “Familiar or otherwise. Are you ready?”

Markon wrapped his fingers tightly around Althea hand, said: “Oh, about as much as usual,” and stepped through the Door with her.

At first there was only confusion and soft darkness, while they stood together hand in hand to get their bearings.

Then a male voice said: “What a delicious surprise!” from somewhere in the velvet darkness. It was soft, smooth, and entirely seductive.

Althea said: “Bother!”

“Sweetness, that’s not very kind of you,” said the voice reproachfully.

Markon, his teeth set on edge, flexed the fingers of his free hand in an instinctive desire to wrap them around the throat of the speaker. He couldn’t make out anything in the darkness, but as he frowned into the shadows a flare of silvery light burst into being and swiftly formed a swirling ball that gave light to the entire room. In its light, a rather annoyed Althea could be seen, her gaze directed toward the rumpled bed where a half-naked male fae was lounging. He yawned and stretched sinuously for Althea’s benefit, then rolled lightly across the wine-coloured bedspread and to his feet.

“I thought I recognised the magic,” said Althea. “I should have picked another sample.”

“You cut me to the quick,” mourned the fae. His eyes flicked over her in a way that immediately doubled Markon’s desire strangle him, but it wasn’t until the fae strolled over and curled one arm around Althea’s waist that he said curtly: “I take it you know each other?”

“Oh yes,” said the fae, lowering his head in what Markon had no doubt was an attempt to kiss her.

Althea, putting one hand on his bare chest to push him away firmly, said: “Not particularly. Carmine, if you try to kiss me again, I’ll–”

Through his teeth, Markon said: “Again?”

“Sweetness, the company you keep is slipping decidedly,” said Carmine. He released Althea but still stood by far too close.

“This isn’t a social call!” said Althea. She sounded harried. “Markon, this is Carmine. He tried to buy me some years ago. Carmine, this is Markon. He’s my human, and if you even think about–”

“I’m not your human,” said Markon grimly.

Carmine said: “I wanted to marry you, sweetness. There’s a difference.”

***

[Insert Blog Post Here]

I should be here writing a blog post. In fact, you probably think I am. And maybe I am, just a little bit. But the fact of the matter is that I’m sick, I don’t feel like writing a blog post, and I’m more than a little caught up in the novella I’m finishing off this week (hopefully), not to mention the novella I’m plotting.

Happily, I have the good fortune of blogging to an audience of both readers and writers, who have great imaginations. So please, imagine a fantastic, thought-provoking blog post here. Shade it with all the colours of the imagination, and admire the careful strokes of its immense profundity.

Thank you.

Now I can get back to Markon and Althea, and that dashing and perennially shirtless fae, Carmine. You’ll thank me later.

P.S. If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you really should. I’m doing a cover reveal for TWELVE DAYS OF FAERY in the latest edition, and you’ll otherwise have to wait another week or two -gasp!- to see it in all its beauteousity.