SPFBO3: Blog Harder (With a Vengeance)


SPFBO BannerMark Lawrence has done it again. And by ‘it’, I mean kicked off another bollock-chillingly thrilling round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, aka. SPFBO3 (Check out my updated SPFBO page for more details and a brief run-down of what the contest is all about, as well as links to other related articles.)spfbo-lauramhughes-small

In the meantime, here’s some banners I cobbled together. Feel free to share, download, use, mock, lick, shit on, etc., however you see fit. And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to check out the #SPFBO hashtag!

(Click on each image for an enlarged version.)

NaNovember!


October has been ever so slightly crazy. I spent countless hours working on a short story in order to meet a submission deadline (which I did manage in the end – barely!). My ‘currently reading’ list is longer than ever before. NaNo is upon us. And the SPFBO has reached stage two!

SPFBO – Final 10!

We have our finalist!!!
Fantasy-Faction's SPFBO2 Finalist: Dyrk Ashton, Paternus

That’s right: earlier last month G.R. Matthews, A.F.E. Smith and myself announced Dyrk Ashton as our pick for Fantasy-Faction’s SPFBO finalist. Dyrk’s novel, Paternus, is a well-written and exciting tale of myths and monsters in modern-day society. We gave it a collective score of 9/10, and are proud to say that it 100% deserves its place amongst the final ten.

Speaking of which… here they are!

SPFBO 2016: the Final Ten!

Gorgeous-looking bunch, aren’t they? I’ve already begun reading Larcout, and I’m also particularly excited about Path of Flames, Assassin’s ChargeFionn and of course The Grey Bastards.

Not that I don’t have enough to read and review already… like:

Nothing is Ever Simple (Corin Hayes #2) by G.R. Matthews

Corin Hayes #1 and #2 by G.R. Matthews

A couple of days ago, my fellow indie writer (and Fantasy-Factioner!) G.R. Matthews released the long-awaited second book in his underwater SF series Corin Hayes. Here’s what I said about book one, Silent City:

Reader beware: if you suffer from thalassophobia (= fear of the sea), prepare to be chilled to the bone. . . because the world of Corin Hayes is entirely underwater.
[…] Short, entertaining and exciting: Silent City is the start of a series I’ll certainly be following with interest.

Read the full review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

A bloody, uncomfortable, fascinating read. The first in Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series, Beyond Redemption pulls us into a world where anything is possible . . . so long as you’re insane. Dark, brutal and highly recommended.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. FletcherYou can read my review on Fantasy-Faction. The sequel, The Mirror’s Truth, is due out in December.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Back in my late teens I read, re-read and re-re-read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) more times than I could count. The recent release of Goldenhand unleashed a flood of nostalgia, so much so that I couldn’t resist revisiting the series.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after a decade away from the series I’m thoroughly enjoying dipping in and out of this one. Sabriel sparked fond memories of late-night reading right from page 1, and I’m looking forward to reaching book two, Lirael, which was always my favourite of the three.

On Writing by Stephen King

This is another book I’ve been dipping in and out of. As such, progress is slow, but I’m picking up snippets of wisdom every time I sit down to read a few pages.

On Writing by Stephen King

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of metaphors (or, as some would say, ‘overthinking’). In one chapter, King compares writing to archaeology: the story is always there, like a fossil beneath the ground, and writers should use whatever tools necessary to bring it to light. He goes on to say that you wouldn’t start digging with a toothpick; you’d begin with a pickaxe or even a jackhammer, only bringing out the delicate tools when you’re ready to reveal the details.

For someone like me (whose writing process generally involves obsessive plotting, second-guessing and re-writing) this is very relevant . . . as is the part where King opines that plot is “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

Ouch. Point taken. Time to just get on with telling the story. Sound advice (and just in time for NaNoWriMo!)

ARC Happy Fun Times

Because I’m clearly a masochist, I’ve also taken on ARCs from a small selection of awesome authors.

The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher (FB header)

Michael R. Fletcher’s The Mirror’s Truth and John Gwynne’s Wrath are both currently adorning my Kindle, and I’m also lucky enough to have been offered an early copy of Red Sister from one of my favourite modern fantasy authors, Mark Lawrence. Positive reviews for this one have already begun trickling in, and I’m really, really excited to delve in to Mark’s new series, The Book of the Ancestor.

Malazan Art of the Fallen

You may have noticed my re-post of the Malazan article I had published on Tor.com in September. The re-post includes even more stunning art from the talented Chisomo Phiri (Shadaan on DeviantArt) and once again I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to go and check out his work.

'Silanah vs Raest': artwork by Shadaan

‘Silanah vs Raest’: artwork by Shadaan

On Righting

In October I ran two free promotions, most recently over Halloween. Danse Macabre now has another NINE (!) 4*/5* ratings and SIX (!) more reviews – as well as a place on its first ever LIST! (Angela Burkhead’s top Halloween reads for 2016).

Danse Macabre Free Promotion Graphic

Danse Macabre‘s success over the last few months has been a real confidence boost. Reading what folks are saying about it (including a recent review by Eric Fomley at Grimdark Alliance) inspires me to write more, which I think is part of the reason I worked so keenly on my short story submission last month. As such, I’ve made the (absolutely mad) decision to sign up for NaNoWriMo once again.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant Banner

In January this year I spoke about my ongoing struggles with depression; about why I closed down my original blog, and why I vowed not to bother with NaNo ever again.

After last year’s absolute failure (and its consequences) I’ll admit that the prospect of trying again terrifies me. But truth be told, I need a kick up the arse. This time, NaNo is going to be a tool with which I can hold myself accountable – not a means of quantifying failure.

So this year, I’m going to beat NaNo. Because I’ve made a promise to myself that this year I’m going to do it right. (Also that if I make it past 50k words by November 30th, I’m allowed to reward myself by finally starting a(nother) new game of Dragon Age: Inquisition.)

If anyone else is participating and wants to add me, you can find me here. Good luck to all, and see you on the other side!

Salut, September!


September makes me happy for two reasons. Not only is it the month in which summer finally fucks off, but it’s also the month of my birthday! And its arrival calls for a quick recap of what I’ve been up to in August.


G.R. Matthews, Forbidden List (trilogy)

The wonderful G.R. Matthews (author of Silent City and The Forbidden List  trilogy) kicked things off with an interview at the start of the month. Matthews runs a ’10 Quick Questions’ series each week, featuring a range of awesome indie authors, and invited me to join him for rambles and randomness. You can read it here.

CEVAK

As promised in last month’s roundup I’ve finally made time to beta read my good friend and writing buddy Kareem Mahfouz‘s work-in-progress (and future bestseller). The big finale is shaping up to be Awesome (yes, capital ‘A’) – so Awesome, in fact, that I cobbled together another dodgy-looking graphic for one of my favourite characters.

In other news, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) is well underway, and I’m having a whale of a time discovering new indie voices along with my fellow judges: A.F.E. Smith, author of Darkhaven and Goldenfire (Harper Voyager); and the above-mentioned G.R. Matthews.

I recently wrote my first ‘elimination article‘ for Fantasy-Faction explaining why certain entries just didn’t make the cut, and also contributed to the subsequent post that announced our final seven. Even more recently we eliminated Terminus by Ryan Howse, shortly followed by Ruth Nestvold’s Yseult; and the final seven became a final five. We have until next month to pick our *drumroll* FINALIST, after which we’ll then read and rate the other nine that made it through. Exciting!

SPFBO - Fantasy-Faction's Final Five

In addition, I finished reading The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham. Abraham is becoming a ‘go-to’ author for me: his work is consistently fun to read, with reliably solid characters and easy prose. I reviewed The Spider’s War on Fantasy-Faction, along with the rest of the Dagger and Coin quintet (which I highly recommend!).

Thiefbreaker-seven-lines-facebook

Once again my own writing progress has taken a hit. But on the plus side I’ve resolved to cut down on the amount of planning I do, and to not worry about writing things chronologically. (I like to call this the ‘patchwork quilt’ method.) I’m also giving myself the freedom to work on other things alongside my main WIP, which is a lot of fun. There are two other projects I’m currently messing with: a third-person, multiple PoV novella; and an experimental first-person piece which I may write as a serial. Both are set in secondary worlds; but while the novella will focus on the rising tension among a group of thieves who are being hunted, the serial is a humorous dialogue-driven travelogue/detective story.

And speaking of writing . . . At the beginning of August, a lovely lady named Bridget McGovern dropped me an email out of the blue. Much to my surprise and delight, she invited me to contribute an article to Tor.com – which should be appearing on the site sometime this month!

Just one more exciting thing before I go. One of my favourite modern fantasy authors, Marc Turner, sent me an advance review copy of his upcoming novel, Red Tide. Published on September 20th 2016, Red Tide is the third instalment of Turner’s epic fantasy series The Chronicles of the Exile. Not only will I be reading and reviewing this in time for its release date – I’ll also be interviewing Marc himself! Questions will cover a range of topics – from reading and writing to other (less relevant) things – and both the interview and the review of Red Tide should be up on Fantasy-Faction within the next few weeks.

So, September: d’you think you’ll live up to August’s levels of awesomeness? *rubs hands together*

Tweet - Red Tide ARC

Procrastination Pitfalls & Beating the Block


A few months ago, self-published author and amigo of mine J.P. Ashman wrote an article about how to deal with writer’s block. Well, I say *he* wrote it; in truth he put together a bunch of responses from some fantastic authors (including Mark Lawrence, Lucy Hounsom, Conn Iggulden and Ben Galley) that gave a lot of insight into the VERY different things that inspire them to write.
Illustration from Black Martlet by J.P. Ashman

 
Awesomely, Ashman – author of Black Cross, which is a dark but highly entertaining yarn – sought my input on the subject too. Here’s my response, for what it’s worth:

(from jpashman.com)

“I can be easily distracted. Hell, it took me eight attempts just to finish writing this. There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff in our everyday lives that has been designed to distract us. But I don’t just mean video games, or TV, or social media, or household pets, or shiny things, or passing butterflies, or—where was I?

“Not sure. Anyway, I’m easily distracted, and this is a serious obstacle to someone who’s trying to write a novel, i.e. wrangle hordes of protagonists and slot events correctly into overlapping timelines (which sometimes feels as though I’m playing ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’). Any time I reach a bit of a creative bump, I find myself heading down to the taskbar and bringing up Facebook. Or Twitter. Or email. Since this totally kills my productivity I have to set myself a realistic limit. Say . . . I’m allowed to check Facebook three more times this evening. Knowing I’ve limited myself makes me think twice about reflexively logging in when the going gets tough, and is really helping me kick the habit of floating around in a pointless cycle of procrastination.

“And speaking of the ‘P’ word . . . I frequently waste hours of my life inventing convoluted family histories for obscure characters who I’ll then eliminate from the story altogether the following day. I linger over phrasing (“MUST think of the perfect adjective before I can move on with this sentence!”) and I dither over pithy details like the spelling of characters’ names (“Cailoh? Kailo? Cylo?”). Over time I’ve become much more aware of this, and am gradually forcing myself to change my habits. Can’t think of a word? That’s okay, I’ll just write ‘Something’ and continue with the sentence. Not sure what my character is actually called? Just put [???] instead of their name and come back to it later.

“It hardly needs to be said that different things will work for different people. Many writers claim that going for a walk, or a run, or a workout, really helps to get their creative juices flowing. Not for me. Physical exercise just annoys me and throws me completely out of sync, as do noise and other people. On the other hand, a weekend indoors with the curtains closed and a blanket round me is a sure-fire way of helping me to focus; it was a while before I realised that coming home from work in the late afternoon and sitting straight down to type was well-intentioned, but just not working for me. More recently I’ve been setting my wake-up alarm for 5.30am (two hours early) and bashing some words out before work each day: once I’ve showered and breakfasted it’s amazing how switched on my brain is in these early hours! But as I said, the thing that helps me most is when I’m able to dedicate an entire day to just sitting down with my work in progress and taking my own sweet time with it. No deadline, no pressure: just me and my story and all the time in the world. Last weekend I wrote nearly 8,000 words . . . not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

“Basically I’m saying that by treating writing as a fun, non-compulsory hobby – an activity that’s impulsive, not scheduled – I enjoy it more, and as a result I’m much more productive. All the advice you see on writing blogs says you have to “treat it like a job”, and that’s fine if you have your own publisher and actual deadlines to meet. But I tried that on more than one occasion (NaNo is a prime example), and you know what? I began to resent writing. Because it had become a chore. Something I had to do. And that, for me, is the key to overcoming writer’s block. Mind gone blank? Motivation fled? That’s fine. I’ll sit back. Close the laptop; make a nice cup of tea, maybe. Put on a fun video game, if I feel like it. And remind myself: I don’t have to write this book. I can just abandon it now, and there’ll be no repercussions whatsoever. No pressure, yeah? Yeah.

“And every single time I’ll find myself back at the keyboard within the hour, because I’ve remembered that I really, really want to write it. Yes, it’s essentially using reverse psychology on my own brain. But it works.”


The other authors each had something different to say, and I’d highly recommend checking out the original article over on Ashman’s site. And his books, of course!

Black Cross (First Tale of the Black Powder Wars) by J.P. Ashman

Fast, Hard and Satisfying: 3 Reasons Every Writer Needs a Fling With Flash Fiction


Back in March, Agnes ‘the Mighty’ Meszaros organised a flash fiction writing contest over on That Thorn Guy. The rules were simple: to enter, you just needed to compose a 300-word piece that contained the words ‘life’ and ‘death’. The overall winner would receive a signed ARC of ‘The Wheel of Osheim’ by Mark Lawrence, and all shortlisted contestants would be provided with feedback from the judges.

Wheel of OsheimSeeing as I’m ridiculously excited about the upcoming WoO, and seeing as the judges were all frickin’ AWESOME (Mark Lawrence, Sarah Chorn, John Gwynne, Peter Newman, T.O. Munro, David Jackson) my heart was suddenly all a-flutter with the need to create something awesome enough to impress them.

So that’s what I did. My humble story (which I’ll post further down) actually managed to make the shortlist. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, look at the comments it received:

Feedback

I won’t lie: I clapped my hands together like a little girl (well, alright, more like a performing sealion) when I read this feedback. How. Freaking. Amazing. Right?

Right! And not only did I write a Good Thing™, but I also discovered three New Things™ in the process:

1) 300 words is not a lot. Yeah, it sounds obvious. But seriously, I never even considered how easy it is to hit 300 words, and I’d gone way over before I even realised. Since I don’t write professionally, the last time I ever had to worry about word count limits was at university five years ago. Back then it was a chore. Now it’s a challenge, and a fun one at that. Even better, it challenged me to *show* something using as few words as possible, and forced me to rethink (and re-rethink, and re-re-rethink) every. Single. Word.

2) 300 words is more than enough. As far as I can tell, flash fiction isn’t meant to tell a story from beginning to end. It’s not a novel, or a novella, or even a short story. A good flash fic is (to me) a snapshot into a bigger world; a moment in time, something that is self-contained yet also part of a whole. It’s a camera flash in a dark room that leaves us blinking, illuminating certain details while leaving others in shadow and showing the reader just enough to let them fill in the gaps.

3) 300 words is *unbelievably* refreshing. Knowing this had to be such a short piece was strangely freeing. Despite the length restriction – or perhaps because of it – I felt confident enough to experiment with a less familiar style (first person narrative), setting (contemporary) and tone (humorous) because I knew that this wasn’t some long, involved project I’d have to commit myself to. I knew I had nothing to lose by trying; and I even found that writing something short and different left me full of renewed enthusiasm for my main WIP. Result!

I can say for sure that I’ll be turning to flash fic in the future: to remind myself of the importance of each and every word I write; to explore some of the existing characters and settings from my WIP; or simply as a palate cleansing exercise whenever that bastard writer’s block comes knocking.


Finally, I’ll leave you with my WoO contest entry:

‘Life’s shit, and then you die.’

‘LIFE’S SHIT, AND THEN YOU DIE’. That’s what’s carved on granny’s gravestone. Dear, sweet old granny. I miss her.

She’s not actually dead yet, just . . . organised; but she will be soon. Dead, I mean.

Properly dead.

Not like me.

I stare morosely at the headstone: ‘Life’s shit, and then you die’. Not entirely true, in my experience. My life rocked: my girlfriend was hot, my school grades weren’t too dreadful, and my weekend job was . . . eh. On second thoughts, the less said about that the better.

Whatever. Life was good. Life was fun. Life was MINE.

Death, on the other hand, is a fucking drag.

I kick the loose dirt beside the grave, feeling myself scowling.

(Then again, I’m always scowling these days. That’s DIY embalming for you.)

So I scowl, and I kick, and I grumble. Or at least I would grumble if I still possessed a functioning set of vocal chords. As it is, a pathetically hoarse sort of moan is the best I can manage. It harmonises nicely with the cold wind that shivers the crispy orange leaves like a sigh.

(I’m assuming the wind is cold. I can’t actually feel it, you understand.)

Above me one, then two, then thousands of tiny, irritating birds strike up a chorus. My shoulders slump. Bedtime. I moan one last time before sitting down and rolling sullenly into the empty grave.

Don’t worry, granny. I’ll keep it warm for you.

I lie on the familiar bed of damp earth, absently reaching up to brush a rogue maggot away from the twin holes that puncture my crusty jugular. Then, hands tucked behind my head, I stare at the lightening sky far, far above.

Life’s great. Death’s shit.

And undeath’s even shitter.


(I’d love to go back and change that last line to ‘And undeath’s shittest of all’…)

Here are the comments made by Mark Lawrence and T.O. Munro:

FeedbackWhat d’you mean, I already posted them above? What’s your point? Well, there’s no need to be like *that*. This is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me, so quit naysaying and let me have my moment, damn you.

Laura Hughes: Writer?


Shhh! I’ve snatched a moment at the keyboard while the cats aren’t looking. I’ll tell you a thing or three about myself as quickly as I can, before the mogs realise I’m attempting to do something productive and converge on me . . .

I’m a (former) book-blogger

I joined the online fantasy community in 2013 when I ventured into the world of book reviewing. My blog, The Half-Strung Harp, helped me meet some awesome new people – authors, agents, fellow bloggers, and just generally cool folks – through social media, as did participating in weekly features such as Tough Travels.

HSH Screenshot

Writing regular and detailed book reviews also honed my writing skills and developed my ideas about what makes a good book, since it encouraged me to look deeper into why I did or didn’t enjoy certain books.

(If you were wondering where the blog’s title came from, it’s lifted from a satiric poem by George Gordon Byron called ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ (1809). Byron uses the phrase ‘half-strung harps’ to refer to writers who publish sub-par novels and poems that are nonetheless praised by critics (whom he referred to as tasteless ‘tyrants’). I had no clue what I was doing when I first started blogging, and wanted the name of the blog to reflect that. To be fair, it’s still an appropriate image for what I’m doing, except that now I’m blundering through the process of writing fiction rather than reviews!)

Danse Macabre FINALI’m a (wannabe) writer

Technically I was nine when I wrote my first book. It was hand-written and illustrated, and featured a protagonist called Mitch who discovered a spectacular gem in an underwater cave (and who also happened to be an otter). Unfortunately this priceless work of fiction has been lost in the mists of time (or possibly the attic . . . OR my little sister ate it. She destroyed a lot of my books before she was old enough to actually read them).

Slightly more recently I’ve written and self-published a novelette, a horror-fantasy hybrid called ‘Danse Macabre’. In addition to my main work-in-progress (a fantasy trilogy that may or may not ever get finished) I’m currently playing about with various short stories, as well as a poem or two.

I write what I know and love, and so every word I type falls firmly within the fantasy genre. My main influences are Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett: I really admire the way all three authors suffuse their writing with humour without sacrificing the integrity of their plots or characters. I have this insane dream of one day having my own books blurbed by Erikson . . . if only I can finish writing them.

That dream is also dependent on my ability to avoid being killed and eaten by the mogs . . .

I’m a (crazy) cat lady

A shamelessly crazy cat lady. Luckily I’m married to a crazy cat man, and we share a very small terraced house with four quirky felines. They’re called—wait, where are you going? Come back! STAND STILL WHILE I SHOW YOU PICTURES OF MY FURRY CHILDREN, GOD DAMN YOU.

4 cats

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

(Fun fact: I just found out from the doctor that I’ve developed an allergic reaction to cats. This explains the constant cold-like symptoms and wheeziness I’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks . . . but does not explain why the universe is so cruel.)

So there you have it. Me in a nutshell. Let’s just hope I’m not also allergic to nuts . . .