Steampunk and Alan Shaw…

Steampunk is a broad, and occasionally elusive, church. You can, in point of fact, stick a top hat on a story, liberally sprinkle around a few cog-wheels, the odd bit of clockwork, a corset or two and voila, you have steampunk… At least that’s a common misconception. In point of fact, you don’t really need any of those things.  Not that a liberal use of corset’s and clockwork never goes amiss. What you need most of all is a sense of wonder, a sense of the absurd, the uncanny, a naivety and a feel for a period of time that almost but never quite existed, and the forefathers of science fiction, Wells, Verne, Ellis, Stevenson and Twain…  But that’s just my opinion, and as I say its a broad church, so whom am I to define what is steampunk and what is not…

Which brings me to the reason for this particular post, which is about a novel which is everything I love about Steampunk, and ticks every one of those boxes I listed. Not you may be glad to hear one of mine. But ‘The Adventures Of Alan Shaw’ by Craig Hallam.

The novel, set out in many ways as a set of shorter tales with common threads, follows the adventures of the title character. From his lowly beginnings as a gutter rat orphan on the streets of old mother London, through a series of increasing odd adventures, throughout which the hero grows in reputation and bravado until it climax’s far form foggy old London in the depths of Imperial India where all the bravado and reputation in the world cannot save Shaw from his own conscience.

What makes this such a fun ride, however, is not so much the journey of Shaw from childhood to man, but the people and places he crosses along his journey. That and the nieve, old-fashioned, pulpy nature of the tales. Indeed that is what I enjoyed the most about this journey. The stories have much of old ‘The Strand Magazine’ pulp about them. The kind of tales that resided alongside the Sherlock Holmes stories of Doyle, the tales Wells published there, Kipling, Christie and so many others. The story is king here, not the whys and hows of the technology. I don’t care how the Automatons work, or the squid tentacled submarine, or the air-ship with its feisty French girl mechanic, or the brass monkeys, the strangely faceless acrobats, or anything else. It’s enough that they work within the world they inhabit. A magician should never reveal the whole trick after all.

There is a lot that is pulp here, but I say that without intending to be dismissive, quite the reverse, this is clever, well constructed, thoughtfully put together pulp. It’s fast and furious and throws you enough blind alleys that you’re never entirely sure where it is going and what is going to crop up. Especially what is going to crop up. There was more than one time along the way I thought I spotted a story thread that never happened. Perhaps because I expect a certain degree of melodrama in a novel. Instead of melodrama Hallam opted for drama, and never let things become mellow. Its fast paced and swings about wildly, yet he has kept a real sense of place and time. This really is fiction that could have been written for The Strand Magazine as speculative fiction, or indeed the likes of weird tales and others.

Yet, despite this old feel to it, Hallam manages at the same time to retain a modern sensibility and strength to the novel. It’s delightfully strange at times, yet wonderfully readable.  Which is a really neat trick, take it from me…

Or don’t, instead just have a read of the free sample on Amazon, then I defy you not to buy it…

I’ve read a lot of old pulp, and regular reads of these witterings could no doubt attest. I like old pulp, even when I am trawling through another Lovecraft story or delving into a bit of middling Poe. There is a feel to it that some modern novelists never attain, a sense of anything being possible that just takes you down the road with it…

 

Clearly, when I am doing my best to encourage you, dear reader, to read some steampunk by the delightful Mr Hallam esq, it would be obtuse of me, and indeed a little uncouth to make mention of another author recently released steampunk novelette…

But I am from Yorkshire, and Hannibal almost certainly would…..

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The page count problem…

Wheather you self-publish or go the traditional route page count is a problem for a writer. The reasons page count matters are different, but the result is the same. But for a writer, unless you’re one of those rare ones that ‘just does it for the money’ rather than someone deeply passionate about your work, the page count isn’t really a consideration. You’re telling a story, the story is as long, or short, as the story needs to be. No writer wants to cut something short to fit in with a length prescribed by the industry, and no writer is going to pad for the sake of padding to achieve the same result.

Sometimes, when you self-publish, you have to wear a different hat for a while. the writer has to go have a coffee and a breath of fresh air while the publisher takes charge. then the publisher has to take the writer to one side and ‘explain’ to them why they need to put a little thought into their page count. At least with traditional publishers, you’re not arguing with yourself at this point…

Let me try to explain why this matters. Normally, as a writer, I talk in word counts, not page counts, but a publisher needs to think in page counts. A traditional publisher wants a novel between 250 and 400 pages long. Unless the writer is well established when the rules are different. The reason is simple economics, the more pages in a book, the more it costs to print, and the more it costs to print the smaller the profit to be made. Sure you can charge more for a longer book, but if you’re trying to sell a writer that’s not an established name you want to keep the price’s reasonable and minimise your risk…

A self-publisher has exactly the same concerns but from a different angle. Print on Demand costs more or less scale directly with page count. For example, ‘Passing Place‘ is more expensive than ‘Cider Lane,’ not because one is a newer novel, or that I believe one is worth more than the other, but because the base cost on POD for ‘Passing Place‘ is almost twice that of ‘Cider Lane‘, and that is purely down to page count. Print cost leads to minimum list pricing, ergo Passing Place is expensive in print.

And yes, of course, Passing Place is worth the cost, and I would not have cut out huge swathes of the novel to make it cheaper to print, it is the length that it is, but all the same page count matters…

Because of this with, my next novel ‘A Spider in the Eye’ I have increasingly found myself worrying about the page count as it keeps growing with the final (ish) edit I’m working on. While I don’t wish to trim for the sake of trimming, I find myself doing so anyway. Trying to work out if I can cut whole sections just to meet a page count… While not wanting to cut anything for any reason other than literary ones.

‘If its good for the story to lose something fine, but for page count, sod that… ‘

So It was time to put my publisher’s hat on and have a really good think before talking to the writer, explaining the options and some of the home truths about publishing…

‘A Spider in the Eye’ is too long, and while that doesn’t matter if it was only published as an Ebook it does matter if it is published in print, and I always want my books to be available in print. Sorry but I am a bibliophile, I want to hold the damn thing in my hand, they are not real to me until I do… If, however, it keeps growing through the edit as I suspect it will it will end up a good hundred pages longer than ‘Passing Place‘ Or twice the length of ‘Cider Lane‘. The POD cost would be too much and print copies would have to be priced too high, and the only person to ever hold one in their hand would probably be me.

There is, however, one solution to all this. ‘Spider in the Eye‘ has always been planned as the first book in a series. There is a natural point, just over halfway through the current edit, where I could split it into two novels…  Which given I will probably add a good 10000 words more before I get to that point in this edit would make it about the same length as ‘Cider Lane‘.. the second book would probably run to a similar length.

So there you go, thanks to my publisher self, repeatably shouting at my writer self I am not now close to publishing my next novel… Instead, I am close to publishing my next two. Which only leave me with the issue of thinking up another title…

(yer, of course, I have already thought up the title for the second book, I am just keeping it to myself for a bit…)

 

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Writers on reading…

The old sage and great whit Stephen King says in ‘On Writing‘ “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Occasionally I forget the former when I am too busy with the latter, Or forget the latter when I am too busy with the former. But then we all get lost in a good book once in a while, getting lost in a world of the imagination is more or less the point quite often. To be human, I sometimes think, is to tell stories, and listen to them…

Here then, because I have not done one of these for a while, are some quotes from the great, the good, and the occasional persistent scribbler, on reading…

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”  ~ Philip Pullman

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ~ Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler)

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

ernest_hemingway_quote_there_is_no_friend_as_loyal_as_a_book_149

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” ~ Anne Lamott

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

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“My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” ~ Malcolm X

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” ~ Confucius

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” ~ Neil Gaiman

Good-friends-good-books-and-a-sleepy-conscience-this-is-the-ideal-life.

And finally, because on occasion one likes to pretend one truly understands the bleak nihilism of a certain cheerful German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and managed to read ‘The Trial’ without it seeming to be such a trial to do so… And because quoting a certain cheerful German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and Dr. Seuss in the same post amuses me way too much not to do it…

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” ~ Franz Kafka

Ever a ray of sunshine there Franz…

edit: In case your wondering I actually love the bleak nihilism of Kafka, I just don’t understand it, except when I am drunk, feeling philosophical and claim to do so.

 

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A Scar of Avarice: Available now on Kindle and in paperback

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The waiting room of the psyche…

I am a little bi-polar, though that is not unusual, almost everyone is to a degree. We all have highs and lows, and our moods swing between them. the truly bipolar are just those for whom the swing between extremes is more pronounced and the extremes all the greater. I, while not at the extreme end of the spectrum, am a little more bi-polar than your average man in the street, whomever that is, and whichever street he happens to stand in.

Outside influences beyond my control affect me more than they should, while things under my control are no less triggers. I am however very self-aware. I know when I am getting down, and I generally can spot when I am being a tad on the manic side. I can take steps to level myself out in most cases. I am undoubtedly lucky in this regard…

I have however been down for the last week or so, noticeably so not only to myself, and while I know the cause, it’s a bit of a strange one. Indeed the cause is closely associated to my own preferred method of self-medication. Which if you are a regular ready you might be aware is writing, as I explained in this post a couple of months or so ago. I am not going to go over all that again here. Suffice to say for me writing is more than a mere hobby, it is part of my life in an intrinsic way.

The problem, or what has lead to an extended period of the ‘downs’ for want of a better word, is that when you write there comes a point when a thing is written… And as you might also be aware I released a small novelette about ten days ago. The process of turning what you have written into a book and everything else involved with getting it out there, where ever there happens to be, is almost by necessity a manic period. I get hyped up, I am rushing about mentally, doing all the little jobs here and there I need to sort out, blurbs , covers, typesetting, last-minute edits, angst, worry, sending the final copy off, fixing the final copy when it comes back with a couple of errors, sending it off again. then telling people it is out there in the first place. Manic Manic Manic…

Then suddenly, a day or two after its finally published the backwash hits you. All that energy is expended, and you’re suddenly drained, spent… And that’s when I swing to the other end of my spectrum… That’s when I slip into the ‘downs’ and they always end up being the deep downs… It’s also when you start waiting… Because readers will read in their own time. Readers are the thing that you have no control over and bare in mind up to this point you had absolute control of everything to do with your book. Be it a short novella like ‘A Scar of Avarice’ or a full-blown novel like Passing Place. Once you put it out there all you can do is wait.

Wait and hope, that somewhere someone is reading the damn thing and sort of, kind of, maybe, likes it.

Wait and hope that maybe someone will even take a moment to tell you they liked it.

Wait, and hope, and try not to feel like you need external justification to reassure you bruised psyche that you’ll be fine. That it doesn’t matter if anyone likes it or not, that you have no reason to worry, because the only person who needs to like it at the end of the day is yourself, and you write first and foremost for yourself. While knowing at your core that it does matter, if only to you. While trying to climb back to that happy middle ground between mania and depression…

So, here I am, in the deep downs, several days after publication, waiting…

Except I’m not, not now, I’ve got past that down and moved on to sod it. Which I why I am actually writing this short post at lunchtime. To remind myself that it is the writing that matters, the sun is shining, and life is remarkably good. Time to stop the waiting in the deep downs and get on with the next thing. Let the waiting take care of itself…

 

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An Authors Avarice…

I may have mentioned this… But forgive me for being overly excited about a new release…

flier

Normal service, whatever waffling meanderings on writing, Lovecraft, politics, the world, and general geekery can be described as normal will resume shortly. But in the meantime, you’ll just have to bear with me…

Or of course, you could buy a copy in paperback, or on Kindle, or read it on Kindle unlimited, or all three… Indeed buy a second copy of the paperback and hide it under that loose floorboard in the corner of your bedroom,  in case you’re raided by The Ministry and the Sleepmen take one away…

Now an apology…

scar of averice

And yes I will stop going on about this soon, but in the meantime, if you’re so inclined please like and share this post, so others may hear of this little novella of which I am unreasonably proud… And it may even aid my author’s avarice … That strange driven desire to have as many people as possible read my work…

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Posted in fiction, goodreads, Hannibal Smyth, indie, indie novels, kindlesale, nanowrimo, novels, Passing Place, pointless things of wonderfulness, publication, reads, retro book reviews, sci-fi, steampunk, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New release…

Well, it’s finally out there.

 

Though… For reasons I am not entirely sure of the kindle version (edit kindle version now live too)  is taking some time to go live, however, available in paperback NOW for the tiny price of 4 squids…
And on kindle very very soon for a single squid…
My little novelette A Scar of Avarice…

Note, squids is not a typo, but for those that don’t buy things in cephalopods, pounds will do 🙂

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1717378250/ref=sr_1_12…

Alternatively, if you live outside the former heart of the British Empire, in the land which replaced it for $5.49

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1717378250/ref=sr_1_5…

(disclaimer: cephalopods are not a negotiable currency, neither are crustations.)

I suspect I will mention it again in the next couple of posts but just thought I would do a quick one first …

Kindle links are finally active as well 🙂

US…

 

 

UK

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Piano Player or Pianist…

Sam, he who was famously, but never actually, asked to ‘Play it again,‘ was the piano player in Rick’s bar in Casablanca. To my mind, that is whom he is, ‘The Piano Player’, he has never been ‘The Pianist’.

That may seem like an odd distinction to make because frankly, it is an odd distinction to make. It’s also one I have never thought much about before. But if you were to ask me ‘Who was Sam in Casablanca?‘ I would, I have no doubt, say ‘He was the piano player.‘  Because bars have piano players, they don’t have pianists.  Its why the sign in the bus station window in ‘Passing Place‘ reads :

Coming ever closer ........

Because advertising for a pianist to play at Esqwiths Bar and Grill, just seems utterly absurd… Okay, I know, a Piano Player at a bar and grill equally seems a little absurd, but it feels right to me or did when I wrote it, and it was being Sam from Casablanca that more or less was the job that was being advertised… Sort of, though the bar is not a bar, and it’s location,,, well that’s all relative…

Why am I tell you all this, eclectic readers? Well because I got back the proof-read copy of ‘Scar of Avarice’ this morning and while I have been working through it and seeing what my proofreader has changed one of the things he changed was Richards ( the main character in ‘Passing Place’, who is also featured in ‘Scar of Avarice’ ) job  Piano Player to Pianist, and as I worked through the manuscript for an hour or so  that kept happening. Most of the little changes here and there that my proof-reader has made add to the overall novella. He has done a fine job. But I found myself stuck on this one change. (there were others of course, but this is the one that stood out.)

I found myself questioning if it should be Piano Player or as my proof-reader insisted (though only in the proof, not actually in person or anything.) Pianist.

Pianist is the right word for a person who makes there living tickling the ivories. I know that, I have always known that. But after letting it bug me for a couple of hours I realised something very important. Something every writer realises on occasion. The right word is not always the right word. Sometimes you have to go with the word that actually feels right…

So, with nothing but love and respect for my proof-reader, who has done a fantastic job for me, Richard will remain, The Piano Player…

In other news:  Scar of Avarice, or A Scar of Avaris (damned if I can decide which is right, with the ‘A’ or without it… going to end up going with my gut on that one, once my gut decide’s ) is that much closer to being published … yay …

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