Monthly Archives: November 2012

‘Dead Man Riding East’

At last, after a lot of faffing about, editing, re-editing, and then having a genuine professional editor look at it (which means I had to then go through it and deal with the issues he’d raised) ‘Dead Man Riding East’ is out. Available as an ebook, from Amazon and available in a score of other formats as well.

Well I think it’s a good story, it follows Benor on the next of his travels, in which he has to cope with everything from demons to a wife.

And a quote

“Tillinhorne said, “Well if you’re looking for somewhere to stay tonight, try the house of Illantwich. He is throwing it open for a preview of the new season fashions. If you arrive late enough he’ll probably put you up.”
Alissa looked thoughtful, “Illantwich? How old is he?”
Tillinhorne shrugged, “He’d doubtless claim thirty, I’d guess forty. His mother, who swears she isn’t a day over thirty five, is a loyal customer of mine and I would not doubt her word under any circumstances.”
Benor looked at Alissa, “You know him?”
“I might do, fifteen years ago there was an Illantwich of about the right age.”
Iola leaned out through opening. “His house specialises in jackets and similar. Apparently he’s renowned for his choice of fabrics and his eye for colour.” She sniffed, “Personally I think he is known for being grossly self-opinionated”
Alissa nodded, “That could describe the Illantwich I knew, but being self opinionated is hardly a distinguishing mark in this town.”
Tillinhorne nodded sagely. “I would suggest that having a high opinion of oneself is the mark of a good citizen of Watersmeet. I am a fine fellow who sells the finest provender on either bank of the Lamaguire. My cousin may disagree with part of this, but then she prides herself in being the person in Watersmeet who is most difficult to impress. I have no doubt that a Watersmeet night soil collector will boast that he is the one with the dirtiest cart or the most disagreeable personal chife. We are citizens of a town distinguished by the distinguished nature of the people who deign to inhabit it.”
Benor sighed. “I am truly humbled by this opportunity to mix with such distinguished people.”
Tillinhorne tapped the front pony, which had stopped to browse. “Indeed humility is an area in which one might find the folk of Watersmeet lacking. It is good to meet such a distinguished practitioner.”

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Respectable? Probably not

Someone once asked me how I managed to imagine the different cultures and different societies that make up a fantasy world. I suppose the easy answer is that I’ve lived in them.
Now this isn’t entirely true. (In that it’s like most fantasy novels so we’re off to a good start.) But when I look back at the world I was born into, it is a very different one to the one I see around me now. For a start the vast majority of working class men I knew had had military training and had been in the war. But looking back to an even stranger world, I grew up with my father’s stories of life as a farm worker between the wars. Where a lad might earn thirteen pounds a half year, and at night you could hear the rats chewing your corduroy britches because of the milk spilled on them when hand milking. Oh and there were no underclothes because you couldn’t afford them.
As a boy in short trousers (because yes, I’m old enough to remember when you were a teenager before you went into long trousers) I sat and listened to two old men talk about their experiences in Flanders in 1916 and I heard my Grandmother talk about the problems of running a household consisting of her husband, daughters, hired men and a couple of girls taken on to help out.
All this is before we add in the stories of friends of mine who were born in the Philippines, or Nigeria, or India, never mind those who spent their formative years behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ or China.
Then of course there is the past. I’ve just finished reading ‘Marathon, Freedom or Death’ by Christian Cameron. I enjoyed the book; set in the Greece of the Persian Wars it paints a vivid picture of the period. Not only does the author take you into the society, but what I think is really clever is he gives the impression of society changing as he writes about it.
When you keep your ears open you soon realise that reality can be stranger than fiction. Indeed there is so much good stuff out there; it almost seems a waste to go to the length of making things up.
But yes, I make it up as well. If I didn’t I’d be a historian and respectable.

Just getting by

Have you noticed how, when people portray poverty in fantasy, they dwell on the squalor, and somehow even the squalor is more squalid in fantasy worlds. The cess pits are deeper, the chife is more intense and the degradation more complete.
Yet a few days ago I was taking apart a building. I have to get this job done because only the woodworm are holding it together and they appear to be losing interest. Anyway at one point I was looking down on the roof trusses from above. Now the piece of timber that stretches across the building, the bottom of the truss, is sometimes called ‘the cord’. They form a handy storage area, long pieces of timber can be stuck up there out of the way, and then you can stick all sorts of rubbish on top of them.
So now I was looking down at all the stuff that had been stuck there, and what riches did I find?
Well there were some plastic bags, bundled together, ‘because they always come in’. Those I put there. But there was a cart shaft. Back in 1958 or thereabouts my Grandfather had obviously decided that the tractor was here to stay. Now cart shafts bolt into the side of the cart, and what they’d done was just unbolted the shafts and H Armer and Son, our local agricultural engineer, had made a steel drawbar which bolted back onto the same place. I even remember the cart the shafts came from. I rode on it many times as a kid.
But with the new drawbar in place, my Dad and my Grandfather had put the shafts up carefully out of the way, ‘in case they come in.’
Next to them was a battered model shippon. Not sure if anyone can remember back into the late 1950s but timber wasn’t good to come by. It might not have been formally on ration, but I can remember my father squirreling away anything that looked at all decent. Anyway at some point around then he’d made me a model farm and I was looking down at the last surviving bits.
Can you remember the old tea chests? Well he’d obviously got a couple of the old tea chests and he’d taken them apart and cut them up somehow and used them to make the farm buildings. When I saw the buildings I also remembered the cows. He’d cut out the silhouette of a cow in wood, quite a lot of them if memory serves, and my mother had taken them to the school where she taught and painted them. Other kids might have had more three-dimensional cows, but mine were most definitely the right colour and markings.
Looking back at the world I knew then, actually fantasy writers have got it wrong. Well most of them have, there is one honourable exception and that is Terry Pratchett. I’m going from memory here, I think it is in ‘Guards Guards’, but certainly it is an observation Captain Vimes makes to himself. The smell of poverty is the smell of soap. You didn’t have money so you tried harder. What you’d got might not be special but it was clean and it was looked after.
We’re not talking the poverty of the maxed out credit card or of debt. We’re talking of the poverty of people who were far too wise, and probably far too proud, to borrow in the first place. But most importantly, these people didn’t even think of themselves as poor. They knew what poor meant, they put money in the collection plate for people abroad they knew were poor. If you asked they were getting by. Not comfortable, but getting by.

That’s nice dear.

I wondered how people managed to do all this blog writing and still have a life and get any professional writing done.
Anyway I’ve just discovered the secret. You find some other poor self regarding sap and get them to write a piece for your blog.
Anyway that was what Adam Sifre did with me, the result is posted on his blog at http://ivebeendeader.blogspot.co.uk/

You might say that it is just the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, Jim writing to tell the world just how wonderful he actually is, but fortunately Adam manages to weave his comments round the pompous bits and that makes it worth reading.

“Ars gratia artis”?

When she saw I was doing a blog, a lady of my acquaintance made the comment “if I buy a book I want the author’s very soul. Hahaha!.”
Of course, as convention dictates, I made a flippant reply, saying “If you were told to expect much from an author’s soul, you were probably cheated. They’re sad poor things, wan and shrivelled, a result of too much soul searching, over exposed during the long hours slaving by the harsh light of a computer screen, and probably still with glue marks left by the pawn tickets.”
But it gave me pause. I remember reading the comments of one French general who said ‘my memoirs are not my confessions.’ Obviously he said it in French being somewhat more cosmopolitan than me. (When I were a lad, cosmopolitan was what you aspired to be. Now it’s just summat you read.) So how much of my soul is out there, available for the scrutiny of anyone who wants to spend £4.91 on a fantasy novel.

But it begs a question, why do people want to see the soul of a writer? Is it any more interesting than the soul of a farm boy, or the soul of a father of three daughters? When I started writing did I trade the other souls in? I suppose the question that I’m asking amounts to this.
Is the writer’s soul the special sparkly bit which coruscates and twinkles, leaving the other bits to just get on with coping with reality? Or actually, are the other bits the healthy bits and the writing bit the thin pathetic shrivelled fragment that frantically tries to puff itself up to the same size as rest by creating a reality in which it becomes important?
Now I confess at this point that for me writing is a craft, a trade. I have never claimed to be an artist, and no one has ever said of me “Your head’s addled with novels and poems, you come home every evening reeling of Chateau La Tour. ” For me a metaphor is not vouchsafed to me by some munificent muse but something hammered into shape, the bits the reader gets to see polished, and the whole thing then wedged into place within a text so the joints don’t spring loose.

Well at least that way you’re not sitting about waiting for the glue to set, and folk get so uppity when they spot the nails.

In the beginning

Everyone says that I should really ‘do’ a blog. They’re talking to someone who has never managed to keep a diary after January 12th. So I asked them. “Why.”
There was some muttering and then someone says, “Well it’ll help sell your book.”
Along the lines of ‘buy the book or the blog gets it’ perhaps?
Anyroad, I’m just obeying orders, (Like every good husband I default to the Nuremburg defence) and am writing this.
Which then begs a question; just exactly what am I to write about? I suppose I can tell you that the book is great and there’s another one coming out soon. Well I can do that in less than a dozen words. Admittedly I’m going to get pretty bored of it after the first couple of times, and I suspect it’s going to pall with you as well.
Someone said that this blog thing is to show people how brilliant I am. Thinking about it, that’s easier. Every week I just type in ‘still brilliant’. This might be the way forward, even I could probably automate this, and you wouldn’t even need to read it as you know what it says. All you have to do is mutter knowingly to a friend, ‘I hear Jim is still brilliant’ and you’ve played your part to the full. (I’d suggest you restrict this to once per friend per week. Otherwise people might have their doubts about you.)
Or I could actually write about something interesting. I know at this point some kind soul is going to say something along the lines of “Why break the habits of a life time.” What is it the man said, all the worlds a stage, but the only queue is for the critic’s seat.
So it looks like a plan. But not just now; there is an elderly three legged Border Collie bitch who has just pointed out to me that she would appreciate a walk. Given that it isn’t actually raining, a quiet stroll down to the beach seems to be the next item on the agenda. Earlier this morning when feeding calves I noticed there is snow on the fells, so the view should be worth the effort.