Friday, 28 October 2016

What's Level One?

You don't see much of level one heroes.  In role-playing games they're the characters no one would be foolish enough to try and play; in video games, that's the stage of fighting rats with a wooden sword in papier mâché armour for about five minutes before you move onto bigger and better things.  In general, we tend to see heroes who are already past the most embarrassing stages of their learning curve, or at least ones who pick up the basics at a fair lick.

But the truth is, in the real world we spend an awful lot of our lives at level one.  Most of us spend more time learning than we do mastering, more time being mediocre and okay and just about capable than we do being slick and smart and skillful.  Greatness doesn't just arrive from nowhere, it's something that has to be learned, slowly and painfully and with many a setback along the way.  And that's even more true when you're a teenager, when so much of what life has to offer seems insurmountable, unfeasible or out of reach.

All of this is what The Black River Chronicles: Level One is about.  The Black River Academy for Swordcraft and Spellcraft is the place where young people learn the relevant skills to be functional members of their respective classes: rogues who don't immediately get caught, rangers who know how to shoot a bow, wizards who don't inadvertently lightning bolt their own feet off and fighters who don't get pasted by the first troll they run into.  And becoming really efficient in any of those fields is no easy feat.  As with any prospective career, there's a huge amount to be learned and endless skills to be mastered.  An education at Black River is guaranteed to be long, arduous and life-threatening - but not necessarily successful.  In case it's not obvious by now, just getting past that lowly level one is a feat in and of itself.

Which is precisely what Durren Flintrand is discovering as the book opens.  For his first few months at the academy, and for reasons of his own, he's been getting by with the least amount of effort he can manage, determined not to draw attention by doing anything too impressive or exceptional.  But the news that henceforward he'll be one member of a party, and that the only hope of success for any of them is to succeed together, throws all of Durren's plans into disarray.  No longer can be get away with being just good enough, and suddenly the risks are a lot greater too: hostile rat-folk, a murderous unicorn, magically inclined priests guarding a dark and deadly secret.

Level One isn't precisely Durren's story, though; I wouldn't even go so far as to say that Durren is the hero.  One of my main goals was that each of the core characters would have their own arc, their own history, their motivations and failures and triumphs.  Just like Durren, the other three have histories that are holding them back to greater or lesser degrees; just like him, they need to work through those if they stand any chance of succeeding.  Aside from being burdened with an absurdly long name, Areinelimus Ironheart Thundertree is the only dwarf wizard currently in existence, and she's terrified by the danger and responsibility of the magic she has access to.  Fighter Hule comes from a culture where punching is considered more useful than talking, while rogue Tia has some major trust issues, ones that aren't helped by being the only member of the party who's at all competent.  Oh, and Pootle is a flying eyeball called Pootle.  Which, all told, is probably not an easy thing to be.

To all of that I'd add that Level One is one other thing as well: it's incredibly cheap until the end of the month, which adds up to three days and a bit at a time of posting.  So if you want to grab a copy for a measly $0.99 or £0.99 then now's your chance.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 16

I would be lying if I said that I wasn't writing these posts, and by extension watching these swathes of nineties anime, for fun.  But there have been a few points when that fun came awfully close to drying up.  However big a film fan you are, it's hard to feel entirely joyful about watching things that are flat-out terrible.  So it's with some relief that I say that the baseline really does seem to be rising.  More and more it feels like I'm hunting down lost - well, classics is a strong word, so let's go instead with treasures.  Rather tatty and tarnished treasures, oftentimes, but that's fine by me.

And that's exactly what I have this time around.  In today's job lot of animated nineties weirdness: Pet Shop of Horrors, AD Police, Demon City Shinjuku and Riding Bean...

Pet Shop of Horrors, 1999, Toshio Hirata

In the Chinatown of an American city that looks not much like any American city on Earth there's a pet shop, run by the mysterious Count D, that caters to a most specialist clientele: the bereft, the mad and the desperate.  Meanwhile, a cop named Leon has grown suspicious of the shop and its proprietor, having decided that it's a front for just about every criminal endeavour you care to name.  He's at least half right; D is indeed linked to a great deal of unpleasantness, but only because he keeps selling his customers unusual animals that he somehow convinces them are people or mythical creatures, while insisting they agree to contract terms that, if you've ever seen a horror movie ever and in particular if you've ever seen Gremlins, you know damn well are going to get broken in no time at all.

Gremlins ... there's a point of reference that's certainly tough to forget.  But the show, an OVA of four twenty-five minute episodes, feels just as close in tone to the horror anthology movies of yesteryear.  Each part has the air of a twisted morality tale, in which D's latest luckless buyers wind up getting precisely what they deserve or truly desire, though never quite both.  What makes these more interesting than they might be is their utter weirdness, and the same is true for all of Pet Shop of Horrors, really.  As one example, the scenes between D and Leon go absolutely nowhere, being part of a longer plot from the Manga, and basic storytelling common sense would dictate that they'd have been better off discarded.  However, they generally end up being the highlight of each episode, as Leon tries to strong-arm D and D responds by being deliriously camp and insisting they have tea and cake together.  Also, he seems to have a flying type Pokemon, which Leon never finds strange enough to comment on.  It's all rather goofy, but goofy in a likable fashion which softens four stories that, in theory, are pretty horrid.

I don't know whether I'm making this sound good or bad, and probably that's because I'm not altogether sure myself.  I only watched Pet Shop of Horrors last night and already it's like trying to remember a strange dream.  One thing I can say with certainty is that I wouldn't have had such doubts if only the animation had been less iffy: for 1999 it looks, frankly, a bit rubbish.  It's not so much the production values, which are just about okay, as the direction.  For example, there's a shot that Hirata absolutely adores, where movement is simulated by sliding one inanimate cell over another.  It looks as crappy as it sounds, and once you notice it you can't stop.  Nor does it help that the scenes within the pet shop are so dark that it's barely possible to tell what's happening, which was surely intended to be creepy but only serves to give you eyestrain.

In the end, Pet Shop of Horrors is probably the sort of thing that you'll know by now if you'll enjoy or not.  If you appreciate old-school anthology horror that's creepy and campy and weird, though not especially scary, and you're not put off by the odd bit of crummy animation, then it's certainly worth shelling out on.

AD Police, 1990, dir's: Takamasa Ikegami, Hidehito Ueda, Akira Nishimori

I didn't have particularly high hopes for AD Police, a three part OVA spin-off of the long-running series Bubblegum Crash designed to explore the darker, grittier corners of that universe - which, lets face it, in the world of nineties anime translates directly to "more blood and bare breasts."

AD Police has a lot of blood and a lot of bare breasts.  I would, in fact, struggle to list half a dozen characters from the entire three episodes combined that weren't either cops or prostitutes.  (There's a sexy lady scientist, but for the purposes of the plot, she might as well be a prostitute.)  In this sense, the show is a grab bag of the period's worst excesses dialed up to eleven, and was thus exactly what I was expecting when I decided I probably wouldn't get much from it.  And the three stories, all of which deal with the ongoing conflict between the titular AD Police and advanced androids known as voomers, are familiar territory as well, at least on the surface: you can hardly throw a stone at nineties anime without hitting something that wants very badly to be Blade Runner.

And yet, those stories aren't bad.  I'd go even further and say that AD Police toys with some intriguing, borderline original ideas.  What it most definitely does is approach two age-old cliches from a fresh enough angle to make them interesting again.  On the one hand, there's the notion, heavily explored in the first episode, that humanoid robots are bound to pick up human failings, to the detriment of both them and us.  On the other, there's the theme of human cyborgisation steadily erasing humanity, which is the focus of episode three.  Those two ideas are beyond ancient, but the way that AD Police sets them up as mirrors of each other is actually rather compelling.  And it's no coincidence that the best episode is the middle one, which combines the two to good effect.

It's not great sci-fi, but it is good sci-fi, and it sticks in the mind.  So too does the rather baffling soundtrack from Filipino pop rock singer Lou Bonnevie, which on the surface is wildly out of keeping with the material, but somehow ends up feeling indispensable to its sleazy, despairing universe.  And the animation is solid, if inconsistent; there are sequences of real beauty and imagination alongside some utter hackwork, with most of the show existing somewhere between those extremes.  All told, though, I liked AD Police quite a lot, and the fact that it manages to separate itself from the mire of similar titles is an achievement in itself.  If you've exhausted the genuine classics, there are certainly worse places to go next.

Demon City Shinjuku, 1988, dir: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Yoshiaki Kawajiri movies are definitely becoming something of a guilty pleasure.

This is the third I've reviewed, after Ninja Scroll and Wicked City, and if it's not objectively the best of the three, it's certainly the one most attuned to my tastes.  For a start, in a move that feels distinctively progressive for Kawajiri's style, there isn't a single rape scene, and the attitude towards the female characters is ... what? ... not awful, I guess.  But not awful is a big jump from either Ninja Scroll or Wicked City, two movies I felt distinctively uncomfortable liking.  Demon City Shinjuku has a wholly useless female lead and a demon snake woman, but that's merely enough to put us in the usual wheelhouse of late eighties to early nineties anime sexism.

At any rate, I confess that there were lengthy periods when I was watching Demon City Shinjuku and too rapt to worry about such things.  Is it kind of plotless?  Sure it is, unless you consider "young hero must defeat evil demon baddie" as plot.  Is it a rip-off of Escape From New York, with all of the aimlessness that involves?  Strangely, it is, though I honestly don't feel like I can take away points for imitating an above par John Carpenter movie.  Is it as imaginative and thoroughly weird as Kawajiri's other works?  Maybe not altogether, but that still places it well ahead of the curve on both fronts, and its monsters and mise en scène remain a pleasure to behold.  But the most important question, the one that makes all the others a little irrelevant: is it gorgeous?  And yes, in many places it's quite shockingly gorgeous, so for that reason I just can't bring myself to begrudge its failings.  I watched Demon City Shinjuku in an imported Korean DVD edition that appears to have taken its print from the Manga edition, and there were points where I'd have sworn I was watching a blu-ray.  It's one of the most singularly lovely anime films I've seen, and I was staggered to discover it was originally an OVA; I'd have sworn we were looking at cinema level animation here.

I honestly wish I could skip the negatives and just flat out recommend this one.  I mean, come on, the director of Ninja Scroll, remaking Escape From New York but set in Shinjuku and with demons?  That's just not a film I can find it in myself to be savage about.  But the plot certainly is rubbish, and the characters are quite rubbish too, and I honestly can't decide if the dub - which definitely came from Manga - was decent or awful, but it's undoubtedly distinctive.  And if you've read more than a couple of these posts then you won't need me to tell you that that means plenty of crowbarred in swearing, not to mention some wacky regional accents this time through.

But ... it's so damn pretty!  It struck me when I picked this one up that Kawajiri is very much a pulpier Clive Barker, and coupled with his eye for deranged beauty, that really does make his work rather special at times.  It's a damn shame there's no sub available, really, I think I'd go all out and recommend Demon City Shinjuku if there was.  Still, wacky accents and all, I would rate it among the top tier of anime horror from the period, and if you're another of those weirdos who watches animation for the actual animation then you should certainly feast your eyes on this.

Riding Bean, 1989, dir: Yasuo Hasegawa

If there's one thing I always seem to criticize these shorter OVAs for, it's that you can't tell a satisfying, feature length story in the space of an hour or less.  So let's begin by taking our hats off to Riding Bean for the fact that, in forty minutes plus credits, it conveys a big, satisfying, somewhat original tale with proper character development, multiple action scenes, a clear three act structure and a thoroughly satisfying denouement.  That's not an easy thing to do, but Riding Bean makes it look so, and it's no small achievement.

Riding Bean is the series that Kenichi Sonoda created before he made Gunsmith Cats, the OVA of which I raved about not so long ago, and from which Gunsmith Cats was a spin-off.  That show's lead, Rally Vincent, plays a significant role here as the partner of our protagonist, roguish, apparently indestructible, bizarrely named professional driver Bean Bandit.  The setup sees Bean, and by extension Rally, being made the fall guys by a gang of crooks led by - and there's no way to sugarcoat this, so let's just be out with it - an evil lesbian pedophile named Semmerling.

Now, you would think that showing an abusive relationship between an older woman and an underage girl, one who's established early on as basing a large part of her self worth on her ability to be sexually pleasing to others, would be problematic as all hell, and - well, it isn't not.   Certainly the scene in which we gain this information is hugely uncomfortable, and at odds with the show's generally frivolous and even cartoonish mode.  But it's handled, if not precisely what you could call tastefully, then at least honestly, and it's certainly not there as window dressing.  On balance, I think that the creators make some difficult material work without descending to either exploitation or homophobia; others surely won't agree, which is why I'm mentioning this front and centre.

That room-sized elephant aside, however, I really have no reservations.  Riding Bean is a hell of a lot of fun.  Heck, I even - do I dare say it? - really liked the dub; in particular, J. Patrick Lawlor really does own the part of Bean with his lazy, southern-tinged, always just slightly threatening line readings.  The animation is as good as it needs to be, which given the amount of car chases and stunts on offer, actually amounts to pretty damn good.  And this being Sonoda, the sleazy seventies American crime movie vibe is nailed down perfectly, which if you're like me and consider the sleazy seventies American crime movie one of the highlights of world cinema is no small thing.  As always with these shorter OVAs, it's hard to make a blanket recommendation, and that's all the more true for Riding Bean because there's no doubt but that its content is going to put some people off.  But this one's pretty special, and if you can pick up a copy cheap then it's definitely worth a look.

-oOo-

This probably wasn't the best entry yet, but I suspect it was among the most consistent: nothing genuinely bad, and nothing even really average, in retrospect; even Pet Shop of Horrors skirted being rather good.  And the other three are solid recommendations that deserve to be better known than they are.  In particular, I'm glad that Yoshiaki Kawajiri's back catalogue is being reissued, the man was consistently knocking out some pretty extraordinary work.

Which makes it all the more exciting that I still have A Wind Named Amnesia, which he wrote, and Cyber City Oedo 808, which he directed, to be watched.  And many other goodies besides!  All told, these are exciting times to be drowning in nineties anime...





[Other posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14, Part 15, Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24]

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Black River Chronicles: Level One

Almost exactly a year ago, Michael Wills, owner and head editor of Digital Fiction Publishing, asked me if I'd be interested in writing a book with him, to be published by DFP and based on an idea he'd been cherishing for a long while but hadn't yet figured out how to make real.

I'd love to say that I snapped his hand off with eagerness, because that, surely, would have been the sensible reaction.  But I had my own projects on the go, and plenty of my own ideas I wanted to pursue, and I wasn't sure that developing someone else's was a thing I was ready to devote months of my life to.

Only. then I heard what the idea was, and rapidly all my doubts went away.  The question Michael posed to me was, how do the traditional characters of fantasy, the warriors and wizards and rogues, get their start in the heroing trade?  Clearly picking up a sword or a spell book and expecting to learn on the job would be a recipe for both disaster and a short life.  So what, then, if there was a school somewhere?  An academy of sorts that prepared young would-be-adventurers for the rigors and dangers ahead?  How exactly would that work?

Within a day, I had a head full of ideas, and - something that had never happened before - a concrete idea of characters I wanted to use, cut practically from whole cloth.  I'd realised by then that, far from being at odds with the kind of things I write, Michael's concept was right within my wheelhouse, and in fact combined two of my favourite things as a writer: coming at well-established ideas from an unusual enough angle that they end up feeling fresh to me, and picking apart tropes to figure out how they might actually work with real people in real circumstances.

So Michael and I began to hammer out a plot together, and tried to figure out just how we would make that concept play; I think we both realised that done wrong it could be terribly hokey, derivative, ironical or all three.  For me, the goal was always to hit a balance between treating the idea seriously enough that it didn't feel like a gimmick and telling a fun, exciting story with the characters we'd cooked up, who I fell in love with so quickly that they were constantly threatening to run away with the plot.

And I think that's what we ended up with.  The book now known, a year later, as The Black River Chronicles: Level One, is a little bit postmodern, I guess, in the way it plays with some age-old fantasy notions and tries to get them to make more sense than maybe they were ever meant to; but mainly it's a fast, fun adventure built around, I think, the best characters I've yet written.  And hopefully it's funny too; perhaps really funny in places, if you're old enough to get some of the more obscure D&D gags.  Level One is nominally a young adult novel, in that all of the protagonists are young adults and it's all pretty much PG13, but I basically wrote it for me and Michael, and if you combined our ages you'd get quite a few teenagers out of the change - so I'm confident in saying adult readers are going to get plenty from it too.

Anyway, I realise I haven't said much about what actually happens in Level One, but I'll come back to that soon; I'll be discussing this book plenty over the coming months, if only because I'm eager to talk about it after keeping quiet for so long.  Mainly at this point I wanted to say that it exists, and in fact that it's out now: more to the point, as a sort of early adopter offer, if you grab the e-book before the end of the month it'll cost you a barely noticeable $0.99 here on Amazon US, or £0.99 on Amazon UK.  So why not give it a go?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Welcome Your Twenty-First Century Gods

I've been talking about C21st Gods for so damn long that it feels a little crazy to say that it's finally real and finally nearly out - at least the first issue - and that in just a few weeks I'll be holding an actual copy in my hands.  But there it is: thanks to Bill Campbell at Rosarium, thanks to some extraordinary work from artist Anthony SummeyGods is already casting its shadow upon the Earth.

Here's how the blurb talks about that first issue, and indeed the book as a whole:

In a noirish modern re-imagining of H P Lovecraft's classic The Call of Cthulhu, one determined police detective investigates a series of horrific cult murders, only to discover that - in an age when technological marvels outstrip the wildest nightmares of the past - there may be worse to fear than even the return of a godlike horror from Earth's prehistory.

And that's all true, undoubtedly, but maybe it's not entirely what C21st Gods is about.  For me, it's also about horror the genre, and about the idea that sometimes horror isn't all that great a mirror to the things that actually, on a day to day basis, scare the hell out of us.  In particular, it came out of a realisation that The Call of Cthulhu just wouldn't work so well now, because as a species we've been busily cooking up atrocities that would make a semiaquatic, city block-high deity seem like small fry.  And how well would Lovecraftian cults fare in the age of global surveillance?  For that matter, how could one man caught in the midst be expected to make sense of any of it?  Just what is the correct response to threats so vast that you can't make sense of them, that perhaps don't make sense at all?

It never occurred to me until I wrote that last paragraph, but I can see now that that's where C21st Gods fits into the line-up at Rosarium.  Hell, I don't want to pretend that the book is astute social criticism or anything like that, but it's not quite the pulpy little bloodbath that this first issue suggests either.  (Though it definitely is that too - and on a side note, I've learned the hard way that if you've got a weak stomach, don't write horrible things in scripts that someone might then go on to draw, because you'll just end up freaking out over your own comic.)  I guess what I'm saying is, Gods is about pulp horror and also some big ideas about what's really scary in the twenty-first century, and if Anthony and I have done our jobs right then hopefully the result is a story that works on both of those levels.

Though, there's really no question that Anthony has nailed his part.  Just look at that cover!  And its heartening to see that the early reviews have been praising Anthony's work just as much as I've been, his contribution here alone is ample reason to pick up the book.  Which, oh right, was half the point of this post in the first place: C21st Gods is now available for review, here on Netgalley.  So if you're a reviewer then go grab a freebie copy.  And if you're not then please consider picking it up when issue one becomes available to buy on the ninth of November, which - and I've no idea if Bill realises this or not - happens to be my birthday.  What better present could you possibly give me than to buy the first issue of my new horror comic miniseries?

Yeah, that was a trick question.  The correct answer was a herd of capybaras and a garden big enough to keep them in.  But buying my comic book would be pretty cool too. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

First Steps As a Writer, Panel Notes

Obviously I meant to post this last week and forgot!  Ah well, better late than never.  

So, my Fantasycon 2016 panel was All About You, First Steps as a Writer - How Do You Go About Launching Your Career?, and it seemed to go pretty well all told.  At any rate, it was fun to be part of a bunch of bitter, hard-living, battle-scarred professional writers for an hour!  It's always impossible to judge how the audience are receiving things, but I hope that we managed to generate some good advice amid the horror stories and the baring of old wounds.


Anyway, Iain Grant was so thoroughly on the ball that he got three of us discussing the panel topic before it had even happened, with a few pertinent questions that get straight to the heart of this whole professional writer lark.  Here, then, for your potential delectation, are mine, Iain and moderator Sue Moorcroft's answers:

Do you have a writing career?

David:  I write for a living, but I know plenty of writers more successful than me who don't, so it's hard to say precisely what constitutes a career.  I'd say that if a meaningful portion of your income is consistently coming from writing then you're probably safe in thinking that you have a career.

Iain: I’m not sure I have a career as a writer. I make money as a writer and if I quit the day job I would still be earning more than what the government terms a ‘living wage’. But a career is different to a job, isn’t it? A career, for me, implies a path, a vocation, a calling. And, in that sense, I definitely currently consider myself to have a writing career because I can actually see where my writing’s taking me. It wasn’t always like that; I’m not sure when I moved from being a dabbler to a ‘career’ writer.

Sue: I suppose the meaning of the term ‘writing career’ varies according to its context. When I first began getting published in weekly magazines I felt I had a career but I had three part-time jobs, too. I may now be more what people mean when they speak of ‘a career writer’ because I work 50 or 60 hours a week and get all my income is writing related.

Do you write for money or for the love of writing?

David: I write because I'm passionate about it, but it also needs to pay the bills, since otherwise the bills don't get paid.  For me, being a writer who can make a living from writing has always been the end goal, with the proviso that I'd like to do so by producing work that I feel genuinely enthused about.  If that went away then I'd like to hope I'd stop; after all, there are plenty of easier ways to make money.

Sue: I’m compelled to write. I was writing for a long time before I began to make money at it and it was even longer before I made enough to live on (it’s just over 20 years since I sold my first short story). I consider myself lucky to be able to do the job I love but the harder I work, the luckier I get. Until the last couple of years I took writing-related work that wasn’t exactly what I wanted but the earnings from it meant I didn’t have to go out and get a ‘proper job’. I wrote courses, judged writing competitions, wrote writing ‘how to’, appraised manuscripts and spent too much of my week with my writing tutor’s hat on rather than my writer’s hat. Then I narrowed my focus to what I really want to do - write novels - got a fab agent and moved to a big publisher and feel more fulfilled and less stressed.

Iain: I think the vast majority of writers do so because they have an unholy fixation on writing. I can’t remember who originally said it but I write because it’s the only way to get these damned ideas out of my head. However, in the past year or so, I’ve realised that money is now a consideration in what I write. Not a huge one, but it’s there. For example, if I came to the sudden epiphany that I didn’t want to write another comic fantasy book and instead wanted to write a children’s book about mischievous kittens, part of my brain would now definitely wave a little flag and point out that the mischievous kitten story will sell fewer copies than the next book in the series I’m currently working on. Writing remains a joy in and of itself but it serves a more mercenary purpose as well.

What mistakes have you made in your career?

Sue: Although I’ve only learned this retrospectively, I was ignoring opportunities! I assumed that ‘You should meet …’ conversations were friendly but not meant to be taken literally. Turns out that some were actually opportunities! But mostly I have been more guilty of seeing opportunities where there were none than missing them. Nowadays, I’m better at dodging the snakes and getting up the ladders. 

David: I suspect that one's unanswerable!  Things I considered mistakes at the time have paid off in the long run and things that seemed just great have turned round and bitten me in the ass.  I regret letting some work out in the early days that might have been better buried, and the time spent in editing those stories to a point where I could sell them for a few dollars could probably have been better used elsewhere.  I certainly should have started attending conferences and developing contacts sooner than I did.

Iain: I wasted too much time in my twenties trying to get a literary agent and a traditional publishing deal. Literary agents are great things to have and a trad publishing contract has obvious perks. However, the publishing industry isn’t just changing – it has changed and is continuing to change. If I had mentally adapted to new markets, particularly electronic markets, even twelve months earlier than I did, I think my total readership would be much greater than it currently is. I now listen to the mad little voice that suggests a new format or new publishing opportunity (she’s called Heide, by the way).

Given your experience, are there any tips you can offer?

Sue: My top tip is to educate yourself - and that means about publishing and the market as well as writing. Probably the best piece of advice ever given to me was ‘Don’t make enemies’. Though I don’t pretend to have been able to observe it as immaculately as I would have liked, it has stood me in good stead and I try to be professional. Even when others act unprofessionally towards me, I manage to keep my thoughts to myself.

Iain: Two distinct and separate things that I’ve always believed in and haven’t had to learn the hard way. First up, writers write. They don’t just talk about writing or think about writing. Writers write all the time. Secondly, be nice. Be nice. That’s it. It pays back in spades.

David: My golden rule changes daily, but for the moment let's say: write regularly, accept that it might take you years to be as good as you want to be, but always aim for that goal of being the best writer you can be.

Which is better, traditional publishing, self-publishing or being an in-house writer?

David: I've leaned towards traditional publishing, but I wouldn't rule anything out.  Different problems require different solutions, and what works for one book isn't necessarily right for another.  Increasingly I think that most successful writers are making all three approaches work for them, and other avenues as well.

Sue: I like to be published traditionally but some of my out of print stuff is self-published, which makes me a ‘hybrid writer’. Being with HarperCollins, a publishing giant, is suiting me very well so far. I love their support and professionalism. I’ve never been an in-house salaried writer - I tend to think that applies to writers of non-fiction rather than fiction - but I’m conscious that copyright belongs to the employer rather than the employee in that situation. I almost never sell my copyright.

Iain: I am self-published and currently very happy with that. In terms of personal control and percentage royalties, it appears to trump all other models. Having said that, if the right trad deal comes along, I would be very tempted. Not having to employ my own artists, designers, editors, proofers, printers, not having to seek my own marketing opportunities or distribution deals… There are some limitations to being self-published. One day, it might be nice to spend all my writing time actually writing.

What other professionals do you work with in your career?

Sue: I love working with publishing professionals. Currently, I work most with Helen, my editor (Avon Books UK, the imprint of HarperCollins publishing my next two books), and my agent (Juliet Pickering, Blake Friedmann), and with their teams: copyeditors, digital marketing manager, rights manager and various others. Then there’s the PR company Avon employs, which is working on a national PR campaign around the publication of The Christmas Promise and do their job admirably. Although I support my publisher and the PR company in all their endeavours to sell my book and get it noticed, I recognise that they’re the ones with the talent, knowledge, experience and contacts and rely on them to do their job. If I were self-publishing I would employ a professional editor and cover designer, without question.

Iain: As a self-published author, the initial temptation is to assume you can do everything yourself. In my experience (and it had to be learned), this assumption is deeply wrong. We work with two great editors – Keith Lindsay has decades of experience as a script writer and writes more of our jokes for us than I’d care to admit; Mike Chinn has done excellent work on editing both novels and short story collections for us. We’ve used multiple artists/designers but work most closely with Mike Watts (www.bigbeano.co.uk) who has done nearly every one of our covers over the last four years. We’ve worked with three or four proofers over the years and they are, of course, invaluable – you can’t proof your own work. And, over the past year, it’s been a pleasure to work with Cal at Wonderland Management who has been busy striking deals for us in Hollywood.

David: If you find a good copy editor, treasure them.  Since I work partly in comics, I try and cultivate good artists, especially ones who can be relied on to meet a deadline.  There are no aspects of the writing process that I don't involve myself with, and I'd feel a little negligent if I did.  On the publishing side, I tend to get involved as much as a particular publisher wants me to be; at the least, I try and make sure to understand what's going on.

What are your current goals as a writer?

David: My next goal at any given point tends to be to sell the next book.  On a wider front, I'd like to think that I'm always getting a little better at what I do, and seeking out fresh challenges.  I like to try out subgenres I haven't dabbled in before, and there are a couple I want to try out for size next year.

Sue: My current goal is to make the biggest success I can of the two novels in my contract, The Christmas Promise and Just for the Holidays (the latter’s title subject to change), to be central to Avon’s list and expand my sales in other territories.

Iain: I’m currently working on writing more books in the two series we have going. We’re also working on two more original titles. But what’s the next step in the career plan? I think a screen adaptation of one of our books would be the next thing to tick off the list. I don’t think that would change the fact that I’m happiest when writing novels. I just want to keep doing that as long as possible.


The contributors

Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.
Sue’s latest book: The Christmas Promise (Avon) 

Iain Grant is a self-published writer of fantasy and horror novels. With Heide Goody, he is the author of the 'Clovenhoof' comedy fantasy series (in which Satan loses his job and has to move to suburban Birmingham). Iain and Heide's most recent book is Oddjobs, a comedy about the end of the world and the paperwork it creates.

David Tallerman is the author of the comic fantasy novel series The Tales of Easie Damasco, which began with Giant Thief and ended with Prince Thief, graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science, the Tor.com novella Patchwerk and the recently released The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, a collection of pulp-styled horror and dark fantasy fiction.

David's short fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime stories have appeared or are due in around eighty markets, including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He can be found online at davidtallerman.co.uk, and blogs regularly, though far too often about nineties anime movies rather than anything writing-related.