- Email me
- Nail Your Novel: books
- FAQ: I’m a new writer: which book should I read first?
- My writing process: the picture tour
- Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
- Reviews of Nail Your Novel
- Who’s tweeting about Nail Your Novel …
- Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
- Who am I?
Posts Tagged fantasy
There’s a shelf chez Morris that holds a set of books with such exquisite titles as Midwinterblood, White Crow, Floodland and, of course, the one quoted in the catchline of this post. So shall I cut to the chase and state that I’m honoured that he’s my guest this week? His novels blend folktales, myth and sometimes futuristic speculation, and music is a significant companion in the writing – from the mournful and joyous gypsy and folk ballads of Eastern European to the romantic compositions of Gustav Mahler. For his latest novel, The Ghosts of Heaven, no music would fit – so he composed his own. Do join me on the Red Blog for the Undercover Soundtrack of multi-award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick.
Arvon, authors, award-winning, Bath Spa University, Blue Peter Book Award, Booktrust Teenage Prize, Carnegie Medal, Costa Book Awards, Desert Island Discs, drama, Eastern Europe, Eastern European folk music, Edgar Allan Poe Award, entertainment, fantasy, Floodland, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Gustav Mahler, Julian Sedgwick, Klezmer, literary novels, male writers, Marcus Sedgwick, Midwinterblood, music, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, My Sword Hand Is Singing, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Printz Award, Revolver, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, spirals, The Ghosts of Heaven, The Undercover Soundtrack, Thomas Taylor, undercover soundtrack, White Crow, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music, YA, young adult, young adult novels, young adult thriller
I’m thinking about this because of a review I saw this week of a novel billed in The Times as science fiction, which sounded rather disappointing – and it’s put me on a bit of a mission.
I haven’t read the book so it would be wrong of me to name it, but it concerned a new planet populated by humanlike aliens. The main threads are the bringing of God to the indigenous people, and the exploitation of its resources by mining companies.
It seemed this story could have been set anywhere. The human challenges were no different from those in a historical novel. The other-world setting didn’t add anything fresh, except maybe to save the writer some research. (I see a lot of science fiction – and fantasy – novels that are written for this reason. If you invent the world, you can’t be accused of getting it wrong.)
But shouldn’t we be doing something better with science fiction (and fantasy)?
Bob Shaw says, in How To Write Science Fiction, that science fiction’s defining quality is that it deals with ‘otherness’. Whether it’s in the future, the present or the past, it’s about realities we don’t have at the moment.
He also says that the central idea in a science-fiction story is so important it should have the status of a major character. It needs to be developed and explored. It changes what people can do, creates new situations that illuminate the human condition. It adds a new quality of strangeness. And Shaw also says if that concept is taken away, the story should fall apart.
One of Shaw’s own short stories illustrates this. Light of Other Days sprang from an idea about an invention called ‘slow glass’, which allows you to see an event or a setting that happened years earlier. And so a man whose wife and child died in an accident can still see them, every day, in the windows of his house.
Take, by contrast, Andy Weir’s The Martian. An astronaut is trapped on Mars and has to make enough air, food and water to survive. It’s genuinely an addictive read and I loved it, but it could just as easily be happening in Antarctica or on a deserted island. The science provides the particular challenges and the possibilities, but it does not change the human essence of the story.
We’re used to thinking that any story outside the Earth’s atmosphere is science fiction, but they’re not. They’re survival stories. But take the slow glass out of Light of Other Days and you’d have no story at all. That’s science fiction.
The Martian is a great read. The other novel may be too. But it’s a pity if the critical press and the literary community are presenting them as examples of good science fiction.
Science fiction should be a literature of the imagination. I think it’s a shame if we forget this. The same goes for fantasy – Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is a deeply invented world, and very different from The Jungle Book, which inspired it.
We only have to look at our own, real past to see how science fiction and fantasy should grapple with the idea of transformation. Every invention in the history of humanity shows us this. Think of electric light – we can change society and the very fabric of life with an idea like that. With phones – and particularly mobiles – we are reinventing the way society works, saving lives and creating new types of crime. With scientific narrative non-fiction like Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks we also have a model for writing great science fiction. We can examine the impact of a scientific discovery and the quantum changes it brought, in individual lives and for global corporations.
Science fiction works on this same continuum, the scale of human change. A great science fiction idea should allow us to send humanity to startling new places with new advantages, cruelties and injustices. And those are places in our souls, not just other planets.
So – rant over. I’m hoping this isn’t too abstruse or marginalising for some of the regulars here, but you do know how I love the strange … Do you write science fiction or fantasy? What are the ideas you’re grappling with? How do you refine them or test if they will be bold enough? Would they pass the Bob Shaw test?
POSTSCRIPT How could I have forgotten one of my favourite things about science fiction? It took Dan Holloway to remind me of it in a comment – the reason these ideas prove so beguiling is that they are metaphorically resonant. They enable us to see aspects of humanity that aren’t yet visible. Do read Dan’s full comment below.
Andy Weir, authors, Bob Shaw, deepen your story, drama, entertainment, fantasy, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, how to write science fiction, Hugo Award, ideas, inspiration, Lifeform Three, Light of Other Days, literary fiction, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, narrative non-fiction, Neil Gaiman, novels, outer space, publishing, Rebecca Skloot, Robinson Crusoe, Roz Morris, sci-fi, science fiction, survival stories, The Graveyard Book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Martian, The Times, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
My guest this week represents something of a milestone. When I was new to Twitter I remember stumbling across his tweets and his blog, where he was taking his first steps in building a presence as a science fiction writer. Meanwhile, he was working on his debut novel, and over the months and years I would catch tweets and Facebook updates about rewrites, and his search for an agent and a publisher. That persistence paid off; he found representation and then a deal with Three Hares Press. Hosting him here feels like the satisfying end of a long journey. He is Nick Cook, the novel is the first in the Cloud Riders series, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, Awolnation, Cloud Riders, debut novel, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, facebook, fantasy, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nick Cook, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, science fiction, science fiction writer, The Undercover Soundtrack, Three Hares Press, Three Hares Publishing, twitter, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
I find it so interesting how one novel’s soundtrack can absorb so many styles. My guest this week has written a supernatural mystery wrapped up in a 1920s comedy of manners and her soundtrack is a glorious tour of classical, folk and madcap jazz. Even more interesting, she uses Thomas Tallis – as my guest did last week – but with such a different outcome. We all operate in our own key of creativity, which is one of the wonders of this series for me. Anyway, this week you can enter the classical, folky and knock-bones skelly-shaking jazzy world of Alice Degan – with her Undercover Soundtrack on the Red Blog.
1920s, Adele, Alice Degan, authors, classical, comedy, comedy of manners, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, False Doctrine, fantasy, folk, invocation, jazz, jazz music, Loreena McKennitt, Maddy Prior, medieval literature, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, romance, Roz Morris, Sarah Slean, soundtrack, Squirrel Nut Zippers, supernatural, supernatural romance, The Undercover Soundtrack, Thomas Tallis, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
My guest this week writes reimaginings of the Robin Hood legends. He uses music to conjure the atmosphere but says he has to avoid anything that’s too tuneful or he’ll pick up his guitar instead. He admits his choice of Scandinavian black metal is a challenging listen – but finds the fast drumming, screaming vocals and glowering noise is exactly right to shift him away from the 21st century and into a time of outlaws, campfires and battles. He is Steven A McKay and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
14th century, acoustic guitars, authors, Behemoth, Black metal, death, deepen your story, Def Leppard, Desert Island Discs, drama, Enslaved, entertainment, Fairport Convention, fantasy, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guitar, heavy metal, heavy metal band, heavy metal guitar, Jethro Tull, male writers, merry men, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Robin Hood, Roz Morris, Scandinavian black metal, Sheriff of Nottingham, Steven A McKay, the Robin Hood legends, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Wolf and the Raven, undercover soundtrack, Wolf's Head, writers, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
‘The moment of making the first sound or writing the first word is special’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Pete Lockett
My guest this week is a percussionist who has worked with an astonishing list of world-class musicians, a list to make any music fan giddy – Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong – and more. Trust me, at some point you’ve had him in your headphones. He found that his music fuelled a desire to write a novel, and after a good gig he would rush back to his hotel room, eager to pour out the next chapter. He says he wanted to take a simple starting point and construct an epic journey that ventured outside the normal – bringing together birth, death, the afterlife, reincarnation and immortality into new coherence, and echoing the journey he takes when working with musicians. The result is A Survivor’s Guide to Eternity; he is Pete Lockett and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack. Pinch me, someone.
A R Rahman, A Survivor's Guide to Eternity, Amy Winehouse, authors, Bill Bruford, Bjork, Craig Armstrong, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Desert Island Discs, Dido, drama, entertainment, Errol Brown, fantasy, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, Hari Haran, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, Iron Maiden, Jarvis Cocker, Jeff Beck, Kodo, Lee Scratch Perry, male writers, Mel C, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nelly Furtado, Nicko McBrain, outside of this community, percussionist, Pet Shop Boys, Pete Lockett, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Primal Scream, reincarnation, Robert Plant, Ronan Keating, Rory Gallagher, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Survivor, Texas, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Verve, Thomas Lang, Trans-Global Underground, U Shrinivas, undercover soundtrack, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Vanessa-Mae, world-class musicians, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
You could divide my Undercover Soundtrack guests into those who aren’t put off by lyrics and those who are. My guest this week is one of the latter. He says that music with lyrics is too domineering when he’s trying to write – but that orchestral or ambient electronic music sets his imagination free to roam. His novel is a quirky noir of dirigibles, automata, back alleys and a hardboiled hack (the bipedal journalistic sort, not an equine), and his central character was honed by long hours simmering with Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for The Dark Knight. He is Aaron Sikes and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Aaron Sikes, Adrian Legg, ambient electronic music, authors, Chicago, Daft Punk, deepen your story, Desert Island Discs, DJ Fact.50, drama, entertainment, fantasy, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, Gods of Chicago, Hans Zimmer, having ideas, how to write a novel, Humphrey Bogart, Inception, instrumental, Joe Satriani, lyrics, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, noir, playlist for writers, publishing, Rewriting, Roz Morris, serialised fiction, serialised novels, serialising fiction, soundtrack, The Big Sleep, The Dark Knight, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tron Legacy, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
My guest this week says that when he writes he chooses his aural environment carefully. There’s a cafe in his native Montreal that plays just the right music: not too loud, not too unfamiliar; exactly right for random creative loosening. He attributes one of his major characters to a chance playing of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade on Winter while he was driving on a midsummer day – the sudden meteorological transformation was exactly what he needed to start creating this pivotal player. He is YA writer JB Dutton, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Arcade Fire, authors, Blondie, Cirque du Soleil, Dalek-Beatles mixtape, Desert Island Discs, Doctor Who, Doctor Who 50th anniversary, entertainment, Ernest Hemingway, fantasy, JB Dutton, John Dutton, major character, male writers, Meat Loaf, Montreal, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Rd 2 Nowhere, Roz Morris, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, serialised novels, serialising fiction, Silent Symmetry, Simon and Garfunkel, Talking Heads, the Beatles, The Beatles Creating, The Beatles LOVE, The New Sense, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, William S Boroughs, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music, young adult novels
I was so delighted when I found out my guest this week writes to music. She’s the winner of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) with a story of genetically enabled time travel, death threats and romance. She says music is her writing cave and time machine, shutting out the modern chaos of family life, rewinding her to times in her own past and conjuring up periods like the 1893 Columbian Exposition. She is Rysa Walker and she’s on the Red Blog with the Undercover Soundtrack to Timebound.
1893 Columbian Exposition, A Fine Frenzy, ABNA, ABNA winner, Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, authors, background music, Chicago World Fair, Chronos Files, death threats, Desert Island Discs, fantasy, fantasy series, Ferris wheel, friends, John Philip Sousa, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, Rysa Walker, science fiction, Scott Joplin, series, Star Trek, teen characters, teenagers, The Fratellis, The Jody Grind, The Section Quartet, The Shins, The Undercover Soundtrack, The voice, time travel, time travel romance, Timebound, Twisted, undercover soundtrack, Vampire Weekend, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per day… and other stuffMy Tweets
- ‘My word-hand is singing’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Marcus Sedgwick October 22, 2014
- Science fiction – have we forgotten what it should be? October 19, 2014
- ‘Is there life after death?’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Christina Banach October 15, 2014
- Novels aren’t movies – how to write great description in prose October 12, 2014
- ‘A hushed, whispered jingle mimicking a drizzle of rain’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Anjali Mitter Duval October 8, 2014
- Voices and accents for your audiobook – how to choose the right narrator October 6, 2014
- ‘Skinny-dipping in greenish-hued waters’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Consuelo Roland October 1, 2014
Sign up for my newsletter
See what I did there…