Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Interview: Sci-fi Author, Doug Strider.

I featured Doug on written-with-a-sword a few weeks back, and he was kind enough to allow me to not only review his ebook 'Space Danger!' for your enjoyment, but also submit a guest post about himself. Now, to top it all off I thought I'd invite Doug back for a short interview. I also have the pleasure of meeting Doug in person at an author event in London, and I must say he's a top bloke! Let's find out a little more about the enigmatic and intrepid galactic explorer turned comedian!

1.      For the benefit of those who might not know you prior to this interview, please introduce and tell us a little about yourself.
My pen name, for reasons that are as mundane as an afternoon searching through Google for something relatively unique, is Doug Strider.
I have been, and still seem to be, involved in podcasts such as The BoxRoom Podcast, DWO-Whocast, Lost Bearings, Soldiers of Tangent and The Bearcast. The last two are still stuck with me inside them like a comedy parasite putting posters up in their intestines and ordering pizzas with someone else’s credit card.
I’ve been a writer for over 20 years. This is a bit of a fib. I wrote some things 20 years ago and then had a 20 year break because of reasons but now I’m back, cursing Word and developing a superlative beer tummy (although I’m also fighting it, no idea which side is going to win).
2.      What is the name of your most recent book and if you had to sum it up in 20 or less words, what would you say?
Space Danger! Which is a sci-fi, space-pulp-opera type affair. To sum it up I’d say: The second-best crew in the fleet are given the task of saving the galaxy. Probably.

3.      What inspired you to write this book? And how are your story ideas born?
Always loved sci-fi. It’s one thing my dad and I had in common. My earliest memories are of me playing as a space hero so I thought that getting back into my first genre love would be a fantastic re-starting point.
It was originally going to be an audio comedy/drama adventure in collaboration with Danny Davies (who I do The Bearcast and Soldiers of Tangent with) but I asked if he wouldn’t mind me doing a novel of it instead and he was happy for me to go ahead.
Story ideas are usually born of idle speculation about stuff when I’m standing outside having a cigarette and staring vacantly into the heavens. I’ve lost so many ideas though so I’ve managed to start writing the damn things down. Generally they come from what-ifs.
4.      What was the hardest part of writing your book? And if you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
The hardest part is finding the time! It’s mostly written in the pub on the way home of an evening, hence the battle of the tummy barrel, so I have to figure out something else really. This method of writing a few hundred, or less, words at a time eventually works though, it soon builds up, but it can feel a little disjointed writing in small bursts. Remarkably it seems to flow rather well when I read it all back. Then I edit the shit out of it to make sure it flows.
I don’t think I’d change anything in the book so far. Will see how I feel further down the line. Maybe when I’m in a bit of a mood so I can call myself an idiot and have a fight with myself (then buy myself a bottle of red wine to make amends. Any excuse really!).
5.      Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
If you frequent a pub long enough they give you a free drink at Christmas.
That and I’m rubbish at planning. Background characters pushed their way to the front and made me make them main characters, the cheeky buggers. Also, the destination I want them to go is ignored because of the “What’s that over there?” factor and they go trundling off over there and I’m left looking like a fool as I write down what I didn’t expect them to be doing.
6.      Do you have a favourite line or scene from your latest release?
I have a particular fondness for two scenes in particular. The first where Midshipman Harris is suffering the temporal bends and for no reason known to himself, or science, mimes paying for an orange. The second is the escape pod scene further in with the third rule of survival (I’ll not spoil that one!).
7.      Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not as such. Not really. This isn’t about the best ship in the fleet, or the worst. It’s about the second-best. At a push I’d say it’s more about living with that realisation, or grumbling about it incessantly, and remaining British in the face of everything.
8.      Can you tell us anything about your next book?
I’m releasing Space Danger! in four parts and am still working on Part 3 at the moment. But I do have plans for my next project. Ideas are forming, characters are peering out of the smog and dropping me notes to say whether they’re available or not, the spirit of London is peering closely at my thoughts and disapproving mildly, and there are small, strange things skittering around my feet that I’ve only caught glimpse of out the corner of my eye.
9.      Do you normally read other books in the same genre of your own?
Yup. Mostly! Sci-fi and fantasy are my genres of choice so I flit between them like a dog with two owners calling my name. I’m trying to avoid reading too much sci-fi while I’m writing in that genre though. Likewise my next project is more fantasy based so will avoid that type of stuff when I’m working on it. I hate to read things back and go, “Hang on a second, that idea is from so-and-so. Bugger. Delete.”
10.   Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I can’t really say I have one definitive favourite. I’m a keen observer of the worlds of Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter, David Gemmell. Those off the top of my head.  I tend to steer towards the more absurd than anything. Otherwise it’s atmosphere and stopping every now and then to stare dumbly at the universe while I have a really good think about things.
11.   What books have made it onto your wishlist recently? And why?
I really should get a wishlist. How much do they cost?
I’m a uselessly random book buyer. I get recommendations from my partner Jen, Twitter acquaintances and I wake up sometimes with a new book on my Kindle that was completely down to a drunken whim.
I’ve recently read the PC Grant books by Ben Aaronovitch and am this close to pre-ordering his new one Broken Homes which is out in July.  So that probably counts. I really got drawn into his London, the police procedure and the “weird shit” that is forcibly suppressed by those in charge which is getting rather more tricky the more Grant fucks things up. Great stuff!
12.   Any advice for other writers/indie authors out there? And what’s the best advice that you have been given when it comes to writing?
If you think you can’t write then you’re probably wrong. Try it. You might like it. If you’re right then have a biscuit, a cup of tea and then try again.
If you want to write then write. See where it takes you. Take a notepad, jot down ideas as they occur. Work on one project at a time!
It is also considered good luck to buy me a beer. I don’t know why. I don’t make the rules.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Review: The Grim Company

The Grim Company
The Grim Company by Luke Scull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Good: A promising debut set in a truly epic world, with gritty, relatable characters, and a page burner of a plot (yes, that's right, a page burner).

The Bad: In my opinion I don’t think there is a lot that is BAD about ‘The Grim Company’ – I’ve seen the pointed finger on a lot of reviews, but I’ll try and clarify my thoughts on the ‘grimdark’ and ‘Abercrombie mk2’ here.

The Ugly Truth: The Grim Company is a hugely impressive debut. Yes, it’s Grimdark. Yes, it’s comparable to Joe Abercrombie. But if you’re going to write a grimdark novel OF COURSE you’re going to be compared to JA. It’s like writing a novel about elves and dwarves but hoping not to be compared to Tolkien. What the Grim Company does do, and does very well, is entertain. It’s unashamed of its roots, which to me is all that counts. Don’t shout and scream that it’s ‘just a copy’ – it’s not. It’s a tilt of the hat, a nod in the direction of, but in my opinion it’s a very strong contender in today’s fantasy market able to stand on its own two legs (unless you’re an unfortunate mage like Eremul, of course!).

For Those That Like: David Gemmell, Brian McLellan, magic based stories, grimdark, gritty characters, tyrant-overthrowing-plots, and oh alright then I’ll say it, JOE ABERCROMBIE.

The gods are dead.

Magic is dying.

Freedom isn’t far off being terminal, either.

Dorminia is a city under siege from within. The Tyrant of Dorminia rules with the approach of: hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil. ‘Evil’ being anyone with motive to oppose him. His mindhawks can hear the thoughts of the people, the city watch see everything, and if anyone steps out of place then Salazar’s magically powered Augmentors sort it out. Swiftly.

But ‘evil’ is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Salazar himself is a hero for overthrowing the gods hundreds of years ago, but what about the men who seek to overthrow Salazar?

Two ageing barbarians, one with bad knees and the other with a bad temper, aren’t your typical everyday heroic pair. Nor is a cocky hot-headed youth who claims to be a hero at every opportunity. And a ‘half mage’ with no legs barely scratches at being 'half man', and there’s no such thing as a ‘half hero’. But together with a band of rebels, they seek to bring down Salazar and liberate Dorminia.

Luke Scull’s ‘The Grim Company’ is his debut novel, and the opening to a brand new epic fantasy series. ‘The Grim Company’ is a story of the unlikeliest companions thrown together to bring down an enemy that even the gods couldn’t defeat. The odds of their success are grim (see what I did there? Ok, I’ll stop!).

You need a fitting start to a tale in which the gods are dead. It needs to be a cataclysmic intro, something world-shattering to live up to the epic setting. What to choose, what to choose…oh, I know! A tidal wave. Eureka. Wait…

…A TIDAL WAVE?!? In the first five pages?

Certainly sets the tone, doesn’t it?

‘The Grim Company’ comes out swinging, and throughout it doesn’t pull its punches. Look, I’m not going to go into the similarities that other reviewers have pointed out just yet, because I think that ‘The Grim Company’ can stand on its own two feet and fend for itself in terms of originality. Sure it’s grimdark fantasy, which is all the trend at the minute, but it has its own unique spice. I won’t bore you to death with examples but here’s a tidbit for you. Without spoiling anything, Scull introduces the concept of deep-sea mining at one point in the story. DEEP SEA MINING IN A FANTASY?!? Stick that in your originality pipe and smoke it. Then you have the concept of the Augmentors, warriors with a specific talent or trait magically magnified. Yes, this concept (or at least the base idea of it) has been used numerous times in fantasy, but it’s execution in the story is fantastic and makes for some fantastic character development and twists.

Scull shamelessly man’s his ‘Grim Company’ with the unlikeliest of heroes, even though each stereotype is likely to appear in every other grimdark fantasy novel out there. BUT, and I must emphasise this point, BUT Scull does it SHAMELESSLY. Ageing barbarian with aches and pains, getting too old for the life of a warrior; a crippled and bitter intellect, seated at the heart of a conspiracy yet he can’t sit down or stand up without risking sh**ting himself; and a hopeful young hero, talented, brave, destined for greatness, that is if he can stop his ego from running away from him. They’re all familiar to a fantasy fan, but don’t be put off by thinking this is a copy-paste cast. It’s a testament to Scull’s writing that he can take such familiar characters and breathe new life into them. I myself fell in love with the characters. Yes I can see the similarities. Do I care? No. They’re individual to me.

The plot and the setting are fantastic. Who doesn’t like an epic backdrop to a fantasy? And it doesn’t get much better than dead gods who corpses leak magic. Seriously, top this, go on, I dare ya.

Scull’s style is refreshing. I mean when you weigh it all up he has PACKED ‘The Grim Company’ with ideas and characters. When you try and list them all down, it seems like it won’t work on paper. There's just so much going on. But it does. It really, really does. The pacing is fantastic, never relenting. It’s not so much a page turner as a page burner.

But the heart of the matter, I guess, the thing that everyone wants to know:

…is ‘The Grim Company’ just another grimdark, or is it (as a minority of reviews/readers suggest) a blatant copy of other things out there (He-who-shall-not-be-named!).

In my opinion?


‘The Grim Company’ is its own story. I used this word earlier, SHAMELESS. It is shameless in its use of characters, tone, and even word choice. But what does it have to be ashamed of? Nothing if you ask me. It’s a damn good read from a damned good author. I’m not going to point out the similarities for you, because in my opinion that’s not me doing justice to Luke Scull or ‘The Grim Company’.

If every reader in the known world wants to know the TRUTH about this similarity binge, I’ll give you a truth. You might not be able to handle it, but here it is.

Is ‘The Grim Company’ a mirror of Joe Abercrombie’s ‘First Law’ series?


As a debut novel, ‘The Grim Company’ is better.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Guest Post: Lee Anna Estein on Editing!

Today I've invited an old writer friend of mine, Lee Anna Estein to talk about the 'joys' of editing!

I have been asked to write a blog post by Mr. Emrys to cover when to finish editing your first book because we writers are a neurotic bunch who want it to be absolutely perfect. Some writers spend 20 years trying to make the first one just right.

You see, it's a topic I find rarely covered, and so I'm going to struggle through this. What makes me qualified to write this post? Well, I'm a writer working on editing my first book. Yes. I have finished writing it, and I'm now "polishing shit."

So, what will I talk about in a topic so broad? I have to start at the beginning. I'll cover something that a lot of new writers are using these days, online writing communities. They're popular because you can just throw your vomit up on the interwebs, and you don't have to pay for people's opinions. Not everyone on there hopes to become rich and famous, but a large percentage want to get published. A lot of these people with gleaming eyes hope to get the feedback they need to prepare their book for agent hunting, or that an agent will pick it up right off the internet, no work required.

Here is the problem. How many people use the internet? How many people will find your book and give you helpful feedback? Yeah, that's what I thought. Not many, so you end up floundering in the dark with your arms flailing because you don't know where to start or what needs fixing.

First, brush up on your grammar. You'll need it. Get a dictionary and thesaurus. Learn how to use them.

Second, I will point you in the direction of Chuck Wendig's wonderful post on editing so you get it done. (Warning, does contain profanity, but he is genius.) Seriously, read it. It's great advice. And here's his neat info-graphic he says anyone can share:

Okay, now that I've given you someone else's advice, onto mine.

So someone gives you feed back on your book. You don't know this person. They aren't your mom, your second cousin, or your neighbor who runs around outside in his underwear after he's had too much tequila. Their name might be their real one, or it might be their pseudonym, or it could be a screen name like OtakuYaoiShipper20. Either way, they took the time to read your book and your looking for something juicy that can help you fix your work.

Warning! The words critique, criticism, and critic are not negative! Do not have a panic attack upon seeing them in use. It's part of the business.

Here is a list of the kind of people and responses you might get:

The Ego-stroker: This is the most common response you will get. They read your stuff and like it. They'll tell you everything they loved about it. They'll shout it to the heavens and want to have it's babies. Here is the problem, they can't help you with the technical issues or the plot issues or the fact that your hunky hero is unintentionally a giant douche because they're too wrapped up in their own fantasies. They pat you on the head and tell you you've been a good doggie. These people are the reason why a lot of bad fiction gets published. Don't listen to them. Their words are like eating nothing but junk food. It blows you up but doesn't actually do anything for you.

The Troll: They hate everyone. They hate that you breathe. Don't take what they say personally. They will rip on everything without saying anything constructive. They're the opposite of the Ego-stroker. They just want to hurt you.

The Helpful: They come in many different shapes and sizes. How can you tell they aren't the two listed above, they try to point out your mistakes with concrete examples and try to give you suggestions or resources you can use to try and fix them. On the flip-side, they also tell you what you're doing right and why. Or they at least try too. Good criticism is hard to come by. It can be polarizing or keep repeating the same thing. They can sound like an Ego-stroker, or a complete Troll. It is so extremely varied that you will bang your head against the wall trying to figure out who is right. Here is the kicker, it's just their opinion. That's right. Opinion. They might be completely wrong. No one knows your work better than you.

Now that you have your criticism, it's up to you. You have to open to whatever has been said, but you have to take it all with a grain of salt too. If you think your shit don't stink, than you won't be able to absorb any helpful advice. (And you probably wouldn't be reading this.) If you're too open, your brain might fall out and you could end up fixing things that don't need fixed. As a writer, you have to find what will work for your story. Here is some of the things I keep in mind:

How often have certain aspects/parts of your story been referred too? How often have critics told you that your protagonist was too whiney and childish? How many have said they want more background to your world? How many have told you about the Texas sized plot hole in the middle of your story? Keep track. One isn't usually enough, but sometimes it is. If you agree that your dialogue could use a little work, don't be afraid to change it and then run it by more people.

How reputable is the critic? I'm not saying that they need a degree or to work as a writer. (Although, that would awesome). Look at the other critiques they have written and any responses to topics on discussion forums. You can usually tell if someone knows what they're speaking about, or if they have some idea. If they have some of their own stories up, check those out too. See how they respond to criticism of their work.

Be polite. This should go without saying. DO NOT disrespect someone who has taken the time to read your work. It is time consuming. They had other things to do, but they took time out of their day to try and help you. Calling them names, ranting, and raving are not good behavior. It is not professional. Don't like what they say, suck it up and thank them. If you wish clarity on what they said, then ask for it nicely. If you disagree, but they have said something you still want help with, let them know as nice as you can. Arguing doesn't have to be all shouting and screaming. I've seen intelligent debates go down between people with radically different viewpoints that make the rest of the internet look shameful. DO NOT reduce yourself to a YouTube comment.

So where do these helpful people exist. Personally, I'm a big fan of Book Country. The site is filled with intelligent and nice people who just want to help. There is the occasional best seller floating around, and 3 people have been picked up by publishers and agents that I know of. Even though their star ranking system is under scrutiny by their users, they really want to make it useful. Many a member has tried branching out to other writing sites, only to run back. It's one of the few places not ruled by Ego-strokers and Trolls. (We do have the occasional old curmudgeon, but he's harmless and can be quite helpful.)

So, what does this have to do when figuring out when your book is ready to be whored around to agents and publishers like a starving starlet? Here's the problem. You really don't. You can only fix most of the problems before it's clean enough to show off. The best thing I've ever heard was that we never finish art, we only abandon it. There may come a time when all the advice in the world and all your hard work are no longer needed. Sure, there will always be things you have to fix, but you need to limit yourself. You can overwork your writing. Set yourself limits and hope it's enough.

Sorry if the ending was a bit anti-climatic. That's the truth of it. It may take a couple rejection letters to tell you what you need to do. Just don't be lazy. The more you work on it now, the faster it will go. Editing is writing. Not everyone realizes that, but there's the truth for you. Dive into it like you did the words-to-paper part, and it won't take 20 years.

I'm working on a major edit right now that I'm workshopping in a couple of places. I hope after one more run through, it'll be close enough to show off to professionals. Now all I have to do is get my butt in gear and get over the intimidation of pages that look like this:

I never said it was going to be easy.