The Dyslexic Writing Process

Over the years I have written a lot about writing, and different bits of the process. I’ve also written once or twice on the subject of dyslexia. This is not really a post about the latter and a lot about the former, but my process, and every writer develops their own, is to an extent informed by how my mind works. So it’s difficult to talk honestly about my process, or explain why it is my process, without mentioning that I am dyslexic.

So lets get the D word out of the way. Dyslexic’s think differently, their brains process things in a different way, the result of which is they tend to approach things in different ways, and its most common symptom, which is to say how it is perceived, is word blindness, making both reading and writing a more complex skill for a dyslexic to master.

Think of reading and writing like rock climbing, most people have four limbs, but some people might have been born with only three. Both four limbed people and three limbed people can learn to climb, but the three limbed have a more complex time learning to do so. It doesn’t mean they cannot scale Everest, they may a sherpa to help them (but so did Hillary, even though he was the ‘first’ to climb the worlds highest mountain).

To the Top of the World and Back | Sierra Club

Okay that’s not a perfect analogy, and my Sherpa Tenzing is a combination of time, patience, a good editor and MS word. I am also also not deep in the dyslexic spectrum, which helps. But the point is that a lot of my writing process is informed to an extent by how my mind works, so my dyslexia is part of it.

Also though, just before I move on to the ‘meat’ of this post and talk about process. My synopsis that my dyslexic brain causes me to think differently to the way the majority of peoples think, is both entirely correct and utter hogwash. Which is to say, it is most likely true, but we have absolutely no way of knowing. No one knows how anyone else ‘thinks’ or ‘how there mind works’ it is literally imposable to do so. Because you can only ‘think’ the way your own mind works, and so you can only experience the universe and everything within it through the filter of how your own mind works.

We also assume the brain is where the mind resides. But the mind is much like the soul, no one can point to your soul, no one can actually point to your mind. All we ‘know’ for sure is the brain interprets nerve impulses and sends out nerve impulses through electrochemical reactions. Your mind does so much more. Otherwise a portion of your mind would be spending all its time reminding your heart to beat and telling your kidneys to stop complaining about last nights quart of scotch. Someone who suffers a terrible brain injury, or with dementia, or whatever affliction of the organ we call the brain, may merely have lost aspects of the connection to their mind, which exists in a cloud like bubble on a fourteen dimension of reality and sort of floats about three feet to the left of your central cortex.

Maybe when you ‘real connect’ with someone and you’re ‘really in sync’ it is actually your floating cloud like minds are intermingling on a high plain of reality, while you share a caramel latte in a coffee in Bracknell.

The point being, we just don’t know how each others minds work, or even what each others minds really are. So for all we know no one’s mind works the same way anyone else’s does. Or all minds work exactly the same way and we are kidding ourselves that we are actually in anyway individuals. Claiming therefore that I am dyslexic and therefore my mind works differently is clearly facile on my part… Fuelled no doubt by the endless desire of my fourteenth dimensional floaty cloud mind to find something, anything, that sets me apart and makes me ‘special’.

Except its does, all dyslexic’s think a little differently from non-dyslexic’s and interpret written information in a different way to the ‘norm’ whatever the ‘norm’ is. But then who wants to be the ‘norm’, I would sooner think a little differently…

This also explains why I started writing this long post about my writing process, got distracted and wrote about something else entirely.

Which, oddly enough, more often than not is my writing process.

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Dandelions on Mars

I had a moment of genuine glee while reading last night as a spaceship from the planet mars crashed into Surrey’s Horsell common in 1857… The astute and well read among you may be able to guess why, but to be clear, it is all to do with the date, 1857…

This event, I should add, has both very little, and everything, to do with the novel I was reading. The ‘landing’ of this spaceship is the prelude to an invasion, conquest and colonisation of one world by the inhabitants of another which lays the fertile ground for the actual novel. But again its that date that is important, as that date is 40 years before another famous literary landing on Horsell common. The first landing site of the Martian invasion fictionalised in HG Wells War of the Worlds.

Hence my glee, its the small details that make me smile.

The landing 40 years before Wells, is in a ship piloted by two earthmen who had been kidnapped for study by Martians as part of their preparations to ultimately invade the Earth. Their escape from the red planet, with irrefutable proof of life on Mars and the Martians intent, sets about a leap in technology in Victorian England and among other 19th century colonial powers, who do what the colonial powers did best and pre-empt the threat of mars by invading the red planet themselves, quite wisely if Wells is anything to go by. Leaving us with a late Victorian Human society on Mars, and a blend of Martian and human technology. A revolution by colonists to throw off the colonial powers for self rule later, we have the mars we find ourselves embroiled within in Mat McCall’s ‘The Dandelion Farmer’.

This is the kind of Mars envisioned by Burroughs, and other pulp era writers. A mars of strange creatures and strange Martian societies. It’s also draws from Bradbury, Wells, a smidgeon of Lovecraft and many other sources. There are lots of gleeful little references in here, such as the president of Tharis (one of the independent human states) is called Bradbury. There are so many in fact I suspect I missed as many as I stumbled over and that’s a tribute to the gentle way these little asides are slipped into the narrative.

That narrative, a complex epic narrative at that, is told entirely through the device of journals, letters and other more oblique sources that give you the over all story from the various perspectives of the principal characters. While not a unique way of putting forth a narrative I have seldom come across a whole novel done this way. There should be an inherent weakness in telling a story this way. With the various extracts over lapping events and retelling the narrative from a second perspective. Particularly later in the novel when most of the principal characters are all present for the same events. Yet it is a tribute to the craft employed by McCall’s writing that each voice is sufficiently different, each view point distinct and focused on different aspects of events, that at no point does it feel a weakness. If anything in fact what should be an inherent weakness of the narrative becomes one of its greatest strengths.

The story is compelling in of itself. It starts with all the aspects of a traditional western plot. A vile industrialist, Du Maurier, is trying to oust the dandelion farmer of the title, Edwin Ransom, from his land. When buying Edwin out fails he falls back to violence and intimidation, that escalates quickly. But while this is going on our hero finds a mysterious man, with a metal arm, named Adam Franklin, who has lost his memory, to the point he does not even realise he is on mars, squatting out on his land. Adam is very much Shane at this point, the man with a complex relationship with violence and a difficult history, who helps the oppressed Edwin fight back against his oppressor. While this, set against a backdrop of mars, would be compelling in of itself, Edwin’s troubles with Du Maurier are just one thread of a much more complex narrative, that slowly layer upon layer builds throughout the novel.

Du Maurier’s real reasons for wanting Edwins land are embroiled within this. As is Edwins farther-in-law’s suspicions about the native Martians that vanished 25 Martian years before (1 Martian year is approximately just under 2 earth years) and his planed expedition to discover where they went and reinitiate contact with them.

There is a lot to unpack here and a raft of interesting characters with their own complex viewpoints. Aside Edwin, his wife, and father-in-law, there is a female go-getter reporter straight out of 1920’s pulp fictions, a brave rocketeer/hunter/adventurer of mildly dubious breeding, an aging archaeologist specialising in Martian archaeology and his feisty daughter, the old solider, sent to keep an eye on things, a spiritualist aunt with a herd of small dogs, a scoundrel or two, automatons with almost human personalities and a multitude of supporting’s cast.

But the most interesting characters are Adam Franklin, and Aelita.

Adam is far from what he first appears, and far from what he knows himself to be at the start of the novel. His journey back to himself, and realising not just who but what he is, would make a fascinating novel all on its own. He struggles with the realisation that the truth behind his existence brings only more mysteries and when that same realisation comes to his friend towards the end of the novel another layer of complication is layer out for the sequel which I very much look forward to reading.

And then there is Aelita, the most complex of all the characters as she is not human, but a orphaned Martian raise among humans. A devout catholic by education, closeted away form the world by an over baring husband, she knows next to nothing of her own heritage. Something which starts to change when she joins Professors Frammarion (edwin’s father-in-law) expedition against her husbands wishes. Events take place that lead her to start to rediscover her alien heritage, history, and something more.

By the end of the novel it is these two characters more than anything that drive the mystery, though that is to sell short all the other intricate complexities to the plot, with so many characters and all of them engaging and intriguing in their own ways.

In short, this novel is a tour-de-force, fascinating and very different, told in a way that could have easily become unhinged and distracted if a less artful scribe had penned it. I couldn’t have written this (and I so wish I had), I doubt most of the writers I know could have written this. I say that as one privileged to know many very talented writers. This however is unique, a narrative told in a way I and I doubt few others would even attempt, yet alone done so with such mastery. Which is what makes it such a wonderful read.

That, the depth, and pure invention within these pages.

If you read one book this year on my recommendation, (which surprisingly people do on occasion) read this one.

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Harvey Duckman Presents: Volume 8

Ben Sawyer

Looking to escape to another world with a super fast read? Looking for urban fantasy that is a bit different? Or weird stories to make you think? Wanting to discover speculative fiction from writers that could become your new favourite authors?

Harvey Duckman presents the eighth in a series of short story anthologies featuring some of the most exciting voices in science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunk today.

Volume 8 includes stories by: Christine King, Mark Hayes, Alex Minns, Muriel R. Blythman, Adrian Bagley, Crysta K. Coburn, Peter James Martin, Joseph Carrabis, Jack Pentire, R. Bruce Connelly, Melissa Wuidart Phillips, Davia Sacks, Liz Tuckwell, Kate Baucherel and Alexandrina Brant.

Edited by C.G. Hatton.

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It’s just not Cricket… and other matters of research

Research is an important aspect of the fiction writers tool box.

That may seem counterintuitive, after all its fiction, we just make it up don’t we?

But actually when ‘just making things up’ research can become more important than you might imagine. If you want the reader to invest in the world of your characters you need it to be convincing. Write something based in the mid Victorian period, for example, even a fantasy where the ‘rules’ of the universe are different, you still need to make sure all the little details are right. However you also need to accept something else, the unfortunate truth that some of your readers will have very odd idea’s about how people lived, spoke and how society worked in the past. In short you need to do your research, while accepting it will be entirely lost on some readers. (I might expand on that in a later post, if I do it will be a bit of a rant, just so your prewarned…)

The reason I bring up research, aside it being a subject that i think people might be interested in, is because of a little bit of kismet. The England vs India test match at Headingly is entering its third day, with England in a commanding lead after James Andertons devastating spell on the first morning ripped the India batting line up apart, while Joe Root notched up a century at the crease, and the new Harvey Duckman Anthology is out tomorrow.

Clearly these two events are entirely linked…

Okay that’s a little tenuous, I will grant you. But not as much as you might assume. This is because my own contribution to this Harvey volume, a short story entitled Mandrake, the titles namesake is a Victorian gentleman magician, by royal appointment to the court of St, James. A man with many secrets, and as it happens rather firm opinions on the subject of cricket… The latter being important to the story because a fair portion of it takes place in the lords pavilion, and I also used it as a backdrop to explore certain aspects of the quasi-Victorian society inhabited by Lucifer Mandrake and his compatriot Sir William Forshaw (who unlike Mandrake is a bit of a cricketing enthusiast).

Mandrake and Forshaw are, to an extent, analogous to a Homes and Watson. Though I say this only because its the most obvious comparison to how there relationship works. That relationship, one characters being exceptional and unusual in some way, the other acts as the conduit of the more mundane everyman, is one that existed in fiction long before Arthur Conan Doyle first put pen to paper. I also say it because readers will make that comparative link, which I will admit is partly my intention, though not for the reasons the reader might first assume.

However, the point of this post was to talk about research, and while reading Sax Rohmar novels etc might count as research, it isn’t quite what I was getting to.

Cricket, that most gentle of sports, where the players break for tea is often considered a sport of the middle classes. A sport played by sports men of a certain calibre, particularly if we are talking about the Victorian and Edwardian era…. At least that is the image that most likely comes to mind when you think of a Cricket match at Lords in mid Victorian England. Lucifer Mandrake however expresses a different opinion…

Cricket is, as any right-thinking Englishman knows, the pursuit of louts, drunkards, ruffians and gamblers.

Yet, despite all this, somehow the sport of cricket itself remains terminally dull. 

On the face of it that might seem a bit strange, but actually its not. In the mid 1800’s that really was a common view of the sport and its spectators. It suffered from much of the same issues English football suffered from in the 70’s and 80’s. Drunken fights, and abusive fans were common place. Corruption was rife with betting syndicates bribing teams to throw matches. Questions were asked in the house of commons. There were moves to ban spectators or the sport entirely, for fear of the corrupting influence of the game causing the working class to skip days at work.

Why is this important? Interesting research though it may be. Well mostly it grounds a story in aspects of reality. Oddly enough however cricket only came into the story at all because I needed somewhere for several events to take place. Someone, it seems, is reanimating the corpses of dead members of the house of lords in order to influence a vote, and Mandrake takes it upon himself to investigate. He discovers this is taking place because quite by chance his friend Forshaw mentions in passing that he bumped into a former Lord both believed was dead. The man in question had been heading to Lords. The cricket ground, not the chambers in the houses of parliament. which Leads Mandrake to observe…

…if there was one place you are likely to find festering reanimated corpses engaged in a cruel mockery of life, other than the House of Lords itself, then it’s probably a safe bet to look to the members pavilion at Marylebone Cricket Club.

My course of action was therefore clear, I would have to face the tedium…

Mandrake as you may gather has a somewhat sardonic wit and little love for cricket. He also is more than he appears to be but who isn’t.

Cricket is not the only thing that required some research for this story, in fact several important aspects of the wider plot in which this story sits came about after research into the Sax Coburg dynasty from which Queen Victoria sprang, how she ascended to the throne and certain political issues involving the Sax Coburg family, the duke of Cumberland, and Hanover. The Hanoverian question was a major part of political life in early Victorian Britain, and indeed had things been handled differently, if for example a coven of magicians had tried to intercede in politics for their own reasons, then history could tell a very different story. Research is a treasure trove every author should plunder…

I predominantly write fantasy with a lent towards steampunk, or to put it another way, I make things up. But just because I makes things up doesn’t detract from the need for solid research and grounding fantasy and science fiction in reality before you twist it to see what snaps under the strain. research is, ultimately, everything.

Mandrake, is a product of research, so much research in fact that the short story I planned to write may well lead to a novel or two because the character, as so often is the case, took on a life of his own, and the research gave me a rich vain of narrative in which to plunder. But it may be a long while before any novels see the light of day, I have a rather a long list of works in progress, so we will have to see.

However, the short story named for the character does appear in Harvey Duckman Volume 8 , which comes out tomorrow and I am looking forward to finding out what the world thinks of the magician by royal appointment to Victoria Sax Coburg.

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From small acorns…

The English language in its never ending colonial expansionism co-opted many years ago. A word that was originally Turkish, though it had deeper roots in Persian and Arabic. Like so many words of other languages who’s vowels my mother tongue acquired in a back alley with a pen tied to a stout billy club before dragging the constants off to the Victoria and Albert Museums reading rooms, it is seldom used entirely in reference to its original mean.

This word is kismet. Which in the original Arabic was the word used to describe something as being divinely ordained, the will of Allah. In English this is watered down to mean something that is fated, a matter of destiny. Or in it’s most common usage, something that was was just meant to be, no matter how unlikely that may of seemed when it was first suggested.

I’ve always been rather fond of Kismet as a word. It rolls around the tongue and has a street Yiddish quality to it despite not being Yiddish at all. But the most interesting thing about kismet is you never really know if the word applies to anything until long after the event. You can say that the meeting of two people who later marry was kismet, but its best if you don’t day that until the wedding feast…

This, as you may have gathered, is something of a digression from the original intent of this post. But hey, I’m a writer, I like words, and as for digressions they just tend to happen once I start writing. But anyway, not to digress further, in two days time something of a landmark moment will occur. This landmark is the reason I titled this posts ‘From small acorns’ when it perhaps should have been called kismet…

The small acorn in question, was a few writers meeting up in the pub a few years back because one of them had young children who were going to Brownies and an hour to spare before she had to pick them up again. Hence, ‘lets have a little writers get together’ on a chilly Thursday night. The writer in question was C G Hatton, who aside her own novels is also the publish and main editor of best little an independent publish house in the north east of England, possibly the world, depending on your point of view ( mine being that it is ). That little writers get together over a pint included in its number yours truly, which was clearly a mistake, but such things happen. Everybody enjoyed the get together, and I managed to hide my habitual insecurity and shyness with my usual carefully constructed disguise as a loud mouthed opinionated intellectual yob. That first night turned into another and then another, and friendships were forged, opinions shared and cannibalism mentioned more times than was strictly necessary…

Then in a moment that might have been kismet, or just blind chance, someone made the suggestion that as we all wrote differing forms of genre fiction, perhaps we could throw a few short stories together and produce an anthology. (I genuinely aren’t sure who had the original idea, there was drinking involved.)

If only we knew a publisher and editor who could take the project on…

Stories were written and sent to Gillie to collate, collect and, well, forgotten about for a while. Because these things take a while and it was still just an idea, spoken about over a pint… But then about six months later, Gillie excited tells us all the anthology is done… Thanks in the main to Gillie, her husband Andy and publishing partner Graham, because all the other thirteen writers in that first volume ever did was string a few words together in pretty patterns, the first Harvey Duckman Presents anthology was born.

Now, a little lesson honesty here. I was astounded by the quality of the writing in that first anthology. I was astounded it all came together. But more importantly I was astounded that I was actually in it. Because while I on occasion have been known to present myself to the world as loud mouthed opinionated intellectual yob, I am actually an insecure, shy, introvert who never actually believes anything he writes is worth a crap ( ie. like every other writer I’ve ever met). I had three novels and a novella to my name at the time, but this was the first time someone else had published my work. And while my novels were all well received there is undeniably something special about being publish alongside those who you aspire to have as peers. In short, I was over the moon to be included and proud to be a part of that very first Harvey.

What i didn’t suspect was much to come of it. Anthologies have never been a large market, and they seldom run to more than a couple of volumes, Indeed volume one is often volume only. But small acorns and kismet… And that landmark I mentioned…

This coming weekend see the publication of Harvey Duckman volume 8. Which it is worth mentioning is actually the tenth Harvey Duckman anthology, when you include (as we surely do) the Pirates and Christmas specials. Ten books, which I am both delighted and still not a little astounded, to not only be associated with but to have a story in each one of them.

Among these pages there are stories of Hannibal Smyth’s misadventures with cheesecake, of a space pirate with a radioactive thingy, a fishy Lovecraft inspired tale, Sigmund Fraud on a rowing boat, Love in the Passing Place, a tower that doesn’t like being watched, a murderous rampage with a little plastic Santa, of narrative particles and big publishing goons, ands more besides. And those are just my stories…

I remain delighted and not a little astounded to find myself in the company of so may gift, new, fascinating writers (65 in the series now) . I have discovered so many of my favourite new writers between the pages of Harvey’s and gone on to read there novels and novella’s. It is and remains a joy to be part of this series of books, and I will ever be thankful to the wonderful C G Hatton (no mean writer herself) for her continued faith in my misbegotten tales.

In the latest Harvey I have a tale with a new character that may just have their own series of novels in the future. But even if Lucifer Mandrake never steps out beyond Harvey Duckman Volume 7 they have a home and have seen the light of day, thanks to a little kismet, and that which comes from small acorns… And I can not wait to find out what people think of them.

Harvey 7, which does indeed contain no actual dragons, but 15 stories I can’t wait to read from fourteen gifted writers (and me) is out this weekend. I’m sure a link or three will appear before long to lead you to our worlds. But in the mean time, if you have never picked up a copy now is a good time to start and that first small acorn Harvey Volume One is now free in eBook on all platforms. So what’s stopping you…

And if your a writer yourself, or would like to be one (which is much the same thing) you could do worse than consider submitting to Harvey yourself… And if your a reader, you could do worse than check out the Harvey website. HERE

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It’s been a while…

Hi, its been a while…

Of cause, you may not of noticed, but the Passing Place has been on something of a hiatus. Real life has been throwing curve balls and writing blog posts has been thrown somewhere down the bottom of ‘the list of important things I need to get done’.

But occasionally its nice just to check in and say hi, so this is me checking in and saying hi.

Harvey and the duckmen…

I’ve been involved with 6E’s Harvey Duckman anthologies since day 1, back then they planned a one off anthology of scifi, fantasy, horror, steampunk and general weirdness, written by fifteen different writers and asked me to submit a story. Which I did.

That original idea has grown and grown, into what is currently seven volumes of the main series and two specials (Christmas and Pirates).

Volume one is now even available in hardback…

Image

But they are not stopping there, volume eight is due out in the next few days, and i’ll post the cover of that little delight when I finally get to see it. As with all the others, because they keep asking me back, there is a story in volume eight written by yours truly, and I am really looking forward to hearing what people think of a my character, Lucifer Mandrake court magician to Victoria Sax-Coberg, of whom there will be more to come…

Hannibal Smyth

Speaking of that first volume of Harvey Duckman, it was almost the literary debut of old Hannibal himself. My story in volume one The Cheesecake Dichotomy was written while I was still working on the first Hannibal novel A Spider in the Eye and when I submitted the story early in the summer of 2018, had the first Harvey been published shortly after then it would have been. But that first volume of the anthology took a while to put together and in the mean time Hannibal debuted in my novella ‘A Scar of Avarice,’ and ‘A Spider in the Eye was finally published a couple of months before the first Harvey made it to the printers. Chronologically however ‘Cheesecake’ remains the first complete Hannibal story and one that’s more important to series than many might assume.

But back to Hannibal, I said way back in May that the third novel was written and I was on with the second draft. This remains the case, my over optimistic estimate of having it done and dusted by now has been derailed by life. But it’s progressing and I’ll hopefully be through with the all important second draft by the end of next month. The Squid may not entirely be on the shoulder, but its crawling its way up there.

This third volume nicely rounds off the first trilogy, and the Hannibal that goes on from there will be a little different after all he has been through. Coincidently, as I was talking about HD1, ‘A squid on the shoulder’ is heavily influence by that first Hannibal story from way back in the first Harvey Duckman, with the unexpected but I hope much anticipated return to the series of Henrietta ‘spanners’ Clarkhurst, as Hannibal finds himself on the island of Doctor Musk. Not that you need to have read ‘The Cheesecake Dichotomy’ to enjoy ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’ but the fall out from ‘the cheesecake incident’ as its still called in the members bar of ‘The In’s and Outs’ looms mightily over this third novel and the previous novels in the series.

Hettie ‘Spanners’ Clarkhurst

The Maybe’s

Back at the start of the year I was talking about getting three books out this year. This looks a forlorn hope now as life has got in the way in ways I always hoped it never would, but I am not going to rush to finish a book that’s not as good as I can make it and life ain’t going any easier on me right now so the best I can do is give you an update.

The second novel in the Maybe series is still in its first draft and has been slow going, but its not been forgotten and hopefully Gothe will make an appearance early next year.

The Lexicomicon is still in the works and the working drafts are with my editors, so hopefully more news on that soon

And finally, the Elf Kings Thingy is not forgotten either, but bringing out an episode every week has been , I will get back to that tale before too long.

Or were, but hopefully some of them will

Anyway that’s all for now, I hope this finds you and your life in good shape. Much love to all

Mark

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Naming the Novel

An interesting read on a subject I always find fascinating. Book titles are always a challenge

Ben Sawyer

“It’s as good a name as any. And I’m not likely to forget it. That happens sometimes.”

When I first put this site together, I wrote a sentence that has more or less been there ever since – “Waking the Witch is the first novel in a series of urban fantasy stories, and is currently slouching its way toward publication.”

The novel became Waking the Witch in my head while I was writing the earliest chapters and quickly became lodged. There was just one problem – nobody has ever really liked the title that much.

For me, the phrase resonated with all the characters, both literally with Holly rising from eternal slumber and more metaphorically with both Mira and their antagonist, who embodied a potential to be fulfilled and a malevolence bubbling up from within respectively. All of them were waking their witches in their own unique way.

(It’s…

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Chapter titles

I have a thing about chapter titles. I’m always a little disappointed when an author doesn’t use them, though just numbering chapters is very much the norm these days. The naming of chapters harks back to the days when many novels were first published in periodical magazines. Way back in fact, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As for that matter do chapters as a concept themselves.

A mild digression: One of the most ludicrous criticisms ever levelled at a writer was when one ‘critic’ accused Terry Pratchett of ‘not being a proper writer, or of any literary worth, because he doesn’t writer in chapters.’ This critic was of course an idiot and Sir Terry could and did write his splendid stories any damn way he chose. And if a critic did not find ‘literary merit’ in them, because they were not subdivided into chapters then frankly I question there merit as a critic as they have just proven their opinions to be without worth… But I digress.

Chapters were used to spilt up a novel into monthly/weekly sized chunks to be published in periodicals, and chapter titles were used to add a little hype. ‘coming next month, Horacio Khalid part two’ not having the same punch as ‘ Horacio Khalid continued next month in ‘The torn dress and the dagger’ or ‘The burning of Kroschev’ or ‘The dying of hope’ etc… These days when novels are published in books, chapters don’t serve their original purpose. But it doesn’t mean chapters or chapter titles have no worth. Chapters add structure to a novel. Sometimes they signify a switch in point of view, or a digression on a single subject that while part of the novel as a whole is still separate.

When they have names you also get to play the chapter title game of trying to figure out what a novel is all about form the chapter list. This may be just me but I always find it a fun game…

Chapter titles, which I have always used, do something else. They add a certain tone to the novel as a whole. In my first and most atypical novel Cider Lane for example, each chapters title is a single word, I didn’t plan it that way, but they work for the one of the novel, a contemporary thriller, romance come tragedy which is hard to categorised, even for me. One word chapter titles like ‘Withdrawal’,’Trepidation’, ‘Stars’, and ,’Abigail’ fit the tone of the novel which has a certain bleakness to it. (its a odd novel in many regards, odder still because its one of mine, I worry about it, which oddly also makes it the one that I ask readers opinions of most).

Then there are the chapter titles in Passing Place, which are perfect reflections of the novel itself, which is strange, odd (in a different way to Cider Lane), thoughtful and on occasion weird, titles like ‘The Existential Meanderings of Gaia’,’The Forrest in the Cellar’,’Power according to LaGuin’, and ‘Causality Sandwich’ not only do they fit each chapter, they give an essence of the odd and unworldly nature of Eqwiths Passing Place.

Maybes chapter titles are somewhat deliberate in hearkening back to Victoria periodicals, and obey some careful rule of my own about what they are, as they need to fit the tone of that book and series too. Which while steampunk, and obstructively set in the same universe as the Hannibal Smyth series, though a hundred and fifty years before Hannibal’s own time, the are not told by Hannibal himself. there tone is slightly primmer, a little more serious, yet with a touch of light sensationalism about them. ‘A Soul in a Bottle’,’The Battle of Sheers Wharf’,’An Inking in the Night’. and ‘Whitehall Revelations’ fit that difference in tone from those stories told by Hannibal.

As for Hannibal himself, well the Hannibal novels are told in Hannibal’s own and somewhat idiosyncratic voice. They tend to be a little obtuse and reflective of a more modern sentiment than the ones in the Maybe series, as Hannibal is in a time period somewhat closer to our own despite technology not having advanced in the same way (which is somewhat at the core of both series, Maybe set as it is at the dawn of Hannibal age, when History turned left rather than right). So while they maintain the Victorian periodical theme, they have a twist to them, contain a smattering of pop culture references, and the occasional vulgarity, its Hannibal after all, ‘Avoiding any Imperial Involvement…’ ‘Bullet train to Hiroshima’,’ The Hand of America Lays Upon My Interests’, and a personal favourite of mine ‘The Washbowl Interrogation’.

These titles are all very much in Hannibal’s own voice. They fit the Hannibal novels in tone and substance. Which brings me to why I was thinking about chapter titles in the first place. I’ve just finished the first ( though in some cases forth) draft of the third Hannibal novel ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’ and part of finishing it involved going through the chapters and deciding if the working title for the chapter was going to stay or if it needed a new one. This is because chapters change in the writing and what you think there going to be about isn’t always what ends up on the page. So often working titles are place holders. But now I have the complete list, subject to change in future drafts, but the titles are likely to remain. They are, as ever, very Hannibal…

So as I have them, I thought I would share them. Feel free to play the chapter title game and see what you make of them.

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The price of Defying Winter

LC grew up in a war zone. A dirty little war, on a dirty little planet in the between. He was a refugee street kid, or would have been if there was anywhere to flee to. In stead he was just a street kid, stuck between the occupying forces and the gorilla insurgents, being played off by both sides against the other while every day was just a struggle to survive, and to keep his ‘family’ of the lost and forgotten victims of the squabbles of two diametrically opposed super powers together and safe.

His future, when he had the luxury to think about it at all, was set in stone. At some point doing little earns for the resistance to earn a few rations here, while tapping the occupiers for anything he could get would lead to either his early demise or been forced, by circumstance and at the point of a rifle, to join the resistance, because starvation or execution where the only other choices and they were no choice at all.

If you have not read CG Hatton’s Kheris Burning, the first Thieves Guild origins novel, you should. Its a book that has echos and parallels with the lives of street children in places like Syria, Sierra Leone, El Salvador. Its also a wonderful science fiction novel, not least because of those perfectly written windows on to the real world, by a wonderful author.

At the end of that first book (and this is not really a spoiler as the LC is a main character from the main Thieves Guild series of novels) LC is plucked off Kheris by an organisation called The Thieves Guild, because they see something in him. LC has potential, though he doesn’t know it at the time, and they have been keeping tabs on him a long time. His talents make him a valuable asset. But his guilt is all about the ‘family’ he has left behind, and just because you’re a ‘asset’ doesn’t mean you aren’t disposable if it comes to it. The Thieves Guild is a whole new kind of family, a family that looks after its own, a family with a mantra…

‘ No one messes with The Thieves Guild’

This is patiently not true…

Actually rather a lot of people mess with The Thieves Guild, but usually they don’t know they are doing so. Because that’s the rule, the one hard and fast rule, the one you can never break. No one messes with the Thieves Guild because no one knows they are messing with them. the price of membership is never admitting that membership to anyone outside the guild. You live a lie, multiple lies, when you in deep cover.

In Defying Winter, LC learns the real cost of the price. He also faces an enemy he all his experience in the war zone of Kheris, all his guild training, all his talents and skills, have left him woefully unprepared for. The rich….

Embedded in a boarding school for the galaxy’s richest scions, one that breaches the two super powers of the galaxy , the old earth empire and the corporate super block of Winter. Street kid LC finds something unexpected, beyond his inability to know which fork to use for the fish coarse, he finds something he did not know he was looking for, and in finding it comes up against the price of being a member of The Thieves Guild. To lie and live a lie, as convincingly as he can, because everything depends upon those lies, while caught in that oh so familiar web the young have always blundered into full of innocence and utterly unprepared.

In the end, perhaps predictably but not in a way that detracts for the story, just because some thing are inevitable, events lead to LC having to face up to the price of being Thieves Guild and the price of forgetting that price.

The price of defying winter.

As with the previous two books in this series, and the main thieves guild series, this is fast paced scifi at its best. Written with passion and flair, its a book that hard top put down once you start reading because every chapter hangs you over a cliff, every paragraph, every sentence, every word come to that. Its hard not to read it in one sitting, unless you start it late at night and don’t intend to see it through to the dawn.

I’ve been telling people to read C G Hatton’s novels for a long time now, so my question at this point is , why haven’t you? You don’t know what you’re missing

and the first two books in this series…

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Talking about: writing short stories

How do you go about writing short stories?

This was the other question the Harvey Duckman writers set out to answer at Scarborough scifi online 2021.

Of course, this is a complex subject and every writer has their own views but between us we shared a few secrets and made a few suggestions. So is you want to try your hand at short story writing, or novel writing or just writing in general, this panel may be for you.

I can promise only two things, firstly, its all good advice, or at least advice that is well intended, and secondly there is no mention of cannibalism in this broadcast…

Also, I’m wearing my other hat…

You can find out more about the writers and the Harvey Duckman series at the Harvey Duckman website

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