Hi there,

January is finally over so it’s a good time to take a look at how the year has started. I don’t do New Years Resolutions, I do habits and, looking back on the month, I’ve done pretty well. I’m still practicing my Welsh and flossing daily, averaging 6,500 steps a day (1,500 more than January 2022), writing at least 5 days a week, and doing physio for my dicky back. My habits feel firmly set, so I’m hoping for a productive year!

Read this: Why writing deadlines are good for writers

Over on Shore Scripts, Olivia Brennan extolls the virtue of deadlines. ‘Deadline’ is a bit of a dirty word for a lot of people, bringing up memories of school or university projects done hurriedly at the last minute. But deadlines, even self-imposed ones, are helpful and something to be embraced. They make you pace your work, keep you focused, and help you prioritise. If you’re not already using deadlines, take a look at Brennan’s article which is full of good tips.

You might at this point be wondering if I hit my own deadline for finishing the edit on Tag, my urban fantasy script, and I have to admit that no, I did not. But having that deadline at the end of January forced me to really knuckle down and sort out the plot and issues with my MacGuffin, which was what had been holding me up. All I need to do now is get on with it, although it’s clear that there’s a lot more it to be getting on with than I had previously thought. That’s fine. I’m in the groove, I’ll get it done.

Read this, too: Top 10 tips from Neil Gaiman on being a writer

Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers and, indeed, one of my favourite people. He is a prolific writer across multiple formats and genres with far too many comics, books, films and TV shows to list (and anyway, Wikipedia has done a pretty comprehensive job of that).

Bang2Write has compiled ten of Neil’s tips for writers and, as you might imagine, every one of them is a gem.

I particularly like No. 3: ‘Emotional truth is everything’, though for reasons additional to those that Bang2Write gives. Emotions drive stories. Characters make decisions and take actions based on the emotions they are feeling. But if your characters’ emotions aren’t true, then the whole edifice falls over.

Thread of the week: Quenby Olson on self-promotion

Quenby Olson, author of the fabulously titled Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (which I must now read!) wrote a short-ish thread on the fact that in publishing, the cream does not rise to the top without promotion.

One of the greatest lies in publishing is that if your work is good enough, people will discover it on their own. It makes self-published/lower trad-pubbed authors look bad when they have to promote their work, and implies that if readers don’t find you, you suck.

We all know that we have to become comfortable with self-promotion if we want people to find our work, but Olson points out the snobbery around self-promotion is predicated on the lie that people will naturally find good work. They won’t. So don’t judge yourself or others on the fact that you have to self-promote.

New project: Why Aren’t I Writing?

OK, OK, I know I probably shouldn’t be starting a new project right now because I have more than enough going on, but after spending some time chatting with a friend on Friday about Substack, I’ve decided to start one as an experiment.

Why Aren’t I Writing? will explore the different types of things that get in the way of our writing and what we can do to either remove or climb over these blocks. I’m hoping to post every couple of weeks, so head over there now to make sure you don’t miss out!

As a result, this newsletter might have to get a bit shorter or move to a fortnightly schedule, just so that I have time to fit everything in. But I’m excited to see whether Substack is as good as they say it is.

Obligatory cat picture

Back in 2009, when we first adopted Grabbity, our plan was to just have one kitten. She came from a litter of eight, but all the others were spoken for and we weren’t sure we could fit two cats in our flat.

A week after we picked her up, my friend called to say that they had a kitten going spare because he had a heart murmur and the adopters had said they didn’t want ‘a cat that wasn’t perfect’. I took 30 seconds to think about it and said yes. We went to pick Sir Izacat Mewton up the next weekend.

Cats do not have familial memory. Once separated, they don’t have the ability to recognise a littermate as related. So Grabbity, having had two weeks on her own, viewed Mewton with extreme suspicion. Mewton, having come straight from a home where he was still surrounded by siblings, did not care one jot what Grabbity thought.

The Introduction

Grabbity and Mewton cuddling on the sofaAfter a slightly rocky reintroduction, we shut them in the lounge together overnight and hoped for the best.

I was somewhat nervous, come the morning, to see how they had acclimatised, but I was greeted by this slightly fuzzy heap. That’s Mewton on the left and Grabbity on the right. We knew then that they were going to be fine!

All the best,

Suw

PS Please don’t forget that if you want to find new newsletters to subscribe to, The Sample is for you. Every day, you’ll get a new sample newsletter delivered to your inbox and if you like it,  you can subscribe. And if you join using this link, then they’ll forward my newsletter on to more people. It’s a win-win!

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Hi there,

It was -7C when I woke up this morning and still hasn’t got up as far as 0 yet, so this week’s newsletter come to you from underneath a large pile of blankets, one of them electric.

Suw’s news: Ethics applications and editing

There can’t be many fiction projects that start off with an ethics proposal, but Fieldwork is being written under the auspices of the University of York and is funded by a National Environmental Research Council grant, so we have to get ethics clearance before we can start doing the background research. That means that last week I had to do some informed consent training, and I now have a little certificate to prove that I know what informed consent is! The ethics proposal is well underway, but I can’t start talking to ecologists until it’s approved, so finishing that up is this week’s task.

I’m also spending as much time as I can find editing Tag and filling plot holes so large you could drive a fleet of tanks through them. Episodes 1 and 2 are done, and I’m knee deep in 3. Unfortunately, 3, 4 and 5 are the most threadbare episodes and it’s taking me longer than anticipated, so I might not finish them up by the end of January as I’d hoped to. But I am making progress every day.

Blog post: Why ‘Just write!’ is terrible advice

I’ve been wanting for a long time to blog about why I think ‘Just write!’ is an awful thing to say to someone who wants to become a writer. It was once said it to me when I was deep in a painful lull in my writing, and it bit deep. I couldn’t ‘just write’ – if I could have, I would have been. So I’ve taken a look at this pernicious bit of advice and come up with a few more compassionate and constructive alternatives.

Stop, look, listen: The Dark Is Rising on BBC Sounds

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is one of my favourites. I was introduced to it when I was 19 and I reread it regularly. So I was very excited to hear that the BBC has adapted it into a 12 part audio series, and even more excited by the fact that they got some great names in the cast, including Toby Jones and Samuel West.

Perhaps because I know The Dark Is Rising – which is actually both the name of the series and the title of second book – so well, I came to it with expectations. But ultimately, I was disappointed. The adaptation felt a bit overwrought at times and the soundscape overwhelming.

Yet there’s still something to learn from listening to it, especially if you already know the books.

The problem with this adaptation is that, in order to stop it being dominated by narration, they had to have Will Stanton, the protagonist, describe some of the scenes and action. The result is lots of slightly odd interjections and a halting nature to some of Stanton’s dialogue. When you compare this functional dialogue, if you will, to the speech Susan Cooper actually wrote, it stands out a mile. So if you want a good study in natural vs artificial dialogue, you could do worse than listen to this closely and see if you can spot the new additions.

Read this: Eli’s coming

American Scriptwriter Ben Blacker predicts a difficult year for writers trying to break in to the TV and film industries in the US, but suggests that 2023 will be a good year to knuckle down and get as much writing done as possible.

If you start now, you can have a polished portfolio of sample scripts by December. If you’re looking to work in TV, I’d recommend having 3 original pilots, a spec of an existing show, and maybe one feature script too (as the lines are blurrier between media than they once were). If you want to write movies, write four feature scripts. That’s one per quarter! You can do that!

Frankly, it’s never a good time to try breaking in as a new writer, whether you’re trying to get into film or TV, or trying to find an agent and get your book sold. I think Ben’s goals are a little bit optimistic for early career writers who are still learning not just how writing works, but how they work too. So perhaps just pick a goal that is ambitious but doable (and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit it).

My goals for this year are: one short film script, a completed* TV series plus treatment and novelisation, plus an outline of a YA novel. That’s quite a lot, given how little time I get to devote to writing. And if I achieve it all, I shall be very proud of myself regardless of whether I get an agent or not.

* They say you shouldn’t write the whole of a TV series, just a pilot and a treatment, but at this stage in my development as a writer, I need to know that the whole story is robust and complete, and that means I have to write it all. And, despite all advice to the contrary, I want to convert it into a novel when I’m done, because I feel like I stand a higher chance of getting an agent and selling a novel than I do getting a TV production company to take a risk on a high-budget series from an unknown writer. So yeah. I’m writing it all. Bite me.

Copurrnicus sits on his cat tree with his chest up against the lip and his front legs dangling over the edge.Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus loves his cat tree and particularly loves to sit like this. How on earth can that be comfortable? How does he not end up cutting off the circulation to his little paws?

Cats. They’re beyond me.

 

That’s it for this week!

 

All the best,

Suw

 

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Why ‘Just write!’ is terrible advice

by Suw on January 20, 2023

‘Just write!’ is an incredibly popular piece of advice given frequently and in many different guises to people who want to write but, for whatever reason, are not.

It’s a terrible thing to say and not just because if it was that simple, we’d all be extremely productive and procrastination wouldn’t exist. Instead, the world is littered with people who desperately want to write, who have maybe written in the past and stopped, or who’ve tried and haven’t got anywhere, or who have yet to put pen to paper, who are being told that the failing is their lack of willpower. In my experience, that’s rarely the case.

I have a lot of experience of failing to write. I’ve had periods where I’ve just had no ideas, or I’ve had ideas but been unable to work on them, or have started a project but then it’s fallen by the wayside… plus any other permutation of not writing you can think of. I’ve had writers block. I’ve got so deep in the research weeds I couldn’t start writing. I have had periods of clinical depression where I couldn’t even think, let alone write. I’ve been too stressed, too tired, too busy, too poor and too scared to write.

Where others are experts in writing, I am an expert in not writing. And it was never once down to a lack of willpower.

Fundamental to ‘Just write!’ is the idea that there are no barriers between an author and the words they need to put down on to the paper (or screen) except their own willingness to sit their bum on a chair and get on with it. Any failure to write is a failure of character. You just must not want it enough. You’re not dedicated enough. You’re not persistent enough. You’re not committed enough. You’re not willing enough to make the sacrifices.

That is, however, bullshit. Every time I have had a problem writing, it’s been because there were other things going on in my life that got in the way. I didn’t have the tools – or sometimes the self-awareness – to fully understand what was going on and how to fix it. I’m better at it now, primarily because I hit 50 nearly two years ago and, not to put too fine a point on it, that milestone scared the living shit out of me as I realised that the idea that I had time to spare was demonstrably, cruelly wrong. I am closer to my death than my birth and I have no time to waste. I knew I had to find the tools, and fast. And I have.

But the impact of ‘Just write!’ on the nascent author’s confidence can be devastating. There’s nothing worse than feeling that you ought to be doing something, something that you want to do, and then someone tells you that your failure is all your fault and only your fault. It’s a double helping of shame and humiliation – emotions that you probably already feel in spades without additional help.

So, instead of suggesting that people ‘Just write!’ – whether that’s said outright or disguised as ‘Well, you just need to find the time’ or ‘You just need to sit in front of the computer’ – I suggest that it’s healthier to be encouraging and to point people to resources that might help them get over or past whatever is blocking them. Don’t assume that you know what’s in their way.  They may not even know themselves what’s wrong, so your chances of diagnosing it are slim.

Instead, here are some useful, universal, words of advice to offer up instead:

  • Suggest that they read whatever your favourite writing advice book is. For complete beginners, I would suggest Gareth L Powell’s About Writing, which is a lovely introduction to becoming an author that’s pitched specifically at people who’ve never or rarely put pen to paper. For someone who has written before but is struggling with understanding the mechanics of stories, I’d recommend The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr.
  • Tell them that writing is as much about creating a habit as creativity, and James Clear’s Atomic Habits will help them understand how to do that effectively.
  • For some people, treating writing as a project can help them make progress, and Charlie Gilkey’s Start Finishing is great for understanding how to structure and successfully complete a project.
  • For others, life just gets in the damn way. For these people, let them know that it’s OK to spend some time not writing. Getting through life is always good prep for a novel and at some point they might look back and see it as a useful experience. Maybe suggest they buy themselves a nice notebook and jot down their experiences as and when they can, so that they’ll having something to draw from in future.

But whenever someone talks about wanting to be a writer, even if you fear that they aren’t being earnest, there’s always a way to be encouraging and supportive that doesn’t involve telling them to ‘Just write!’. If they don’t take your advice and end their days having never fulfilled their dreams, that’s not on you. But at least you didn’t pile on the guilt. You did no harm. And by being compassionate, sympathetic and supportive, you might do some good.

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Hello there,

Last week I mentioned Discoveries 2023, the Women’s Prize Trust/Curtis Brown Creative/Audible literary competition for women. Despite having absolutely no faith at all that they’ll be interested in a pandemic novel, I have submitted anyway. It’s my first submission of 2023, but it definitely won’t be my last as I aim for 100 rejections in the next twelve months. (See below for more on that!)

Suw’s News: Introducing Fieldwork

Back in October, I mentioned a new short film project that was on the verge of being greenlit, and I’m excited to report that we’ve now confirmed the budget for the first phase of work, which starts this week.

Fieldwork, which I’ll be working on with Prof Thorunn Helgason and Dr Pen Holland, will explore the real life experiences of ecologists in the field. It has grown out of an existing scientific project, the International Collaboration on Mycorrhizal Ecological Traits, which I’ve been working on with Thorunn, Pen and Prof Bala Chaudhary since 2019. Our international group has already produced a paper on mycorrhizal trait classification and supported women and minorities in science via the Finding Ada mentoring program. 

Based on interviews with field scientists, Fieldwork will put ecology in front of a general audience to raise awareness of the subject and, hopefully, encourage young people to study and pursue an ecological career. It will also provide a unique opportunity for scientists to become a part of a very different kind of public engagement activity. 

Our aim is to create a conversation about people’s experiences in the field, normalising the presence and experiences of underrepresented people – to each other and to the wider community – and breaking down stereotypes.

It is really exciting for these two sides of my life, the creative writing and the scientific, to come together in one project. That hasn’t happened since the report on the media response to the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull that I wrote for Chatham House. I really can’t wait to get my teeth into it, though we do need to complete the ethics approval process first!

Review: About Writing by Gareth L Powell

Cover of Gareth Powell's About WritingThere are two reasons why I love Gareth L Powell‘s new book, About Writing. The first is that he is very clear about who the book is for – people who know little to nothing of the writing process or the publishing industry – and he says so up front. Lots of the books about writing that I’ve read assume some level of existing knowledge or experience upon which the author wishes to build. They also quite often focus on what the author knows, rather than what the reader needs to know.

Powell doesn’t make that mistake. Instead, he’s thought about what questions aspiring authors might have and sets out to answer them. He assumes nothing, and approaches the subject of how to become a writer with the gentle compassion that anyone who follows him on Twitter will immediately recognise.

The second reason I love this book is how personal it is. Powell frequently shares his own experiences, which makes writing feel possible (even if making a living from it is hard). There’s a reason that the book’s subtitle describes it as a “field guide”, because it really does feel like you’re being taken on a journey, a pleasant and companionable walk through the landscape of authorhood.

Although I’m not in About Writing’s target audience, I really enjoyed reading it. It just felt like I was sitting in a nice country pub having a lovely chat about the realities of life as a writer.

If you are yourself an aspiring author, if you’re at the very beginning of your authorial journey and especially if you’ve not really read any books about writing before, I would highly recommend About Writing as your first step. All the story theory stuff can come later, once you’ve got your feet firmly on your own writing path.

Read this: Aiming for 100 rejections

This week, I read a great piece from 2016 about how you should aim for 100 rejections a year.

I like the logic of it: Collecting rejections is a way not just of measuring the work you’ve put in to getting your work in front of agents, editors and others, it’s also a nice way to reframe rejection as something positive.

Getting rejected sucks. No matter how often you tell yourself that it’s just part of the creative life, and how you shouldn’t take it seriously, it can still hurt, if you put too much stock in it. I noticed a significant difference between how I felt about my novel rejections last year compared to my script rejections, and that was entirely down to how I felt about the submissions. The novel, being about a global pandemic, has an air of impossibility about it, rejection feels inevitable. So when the rejections came, they bounced right off. My script, on the other hand, felt much more saleable and I thought it was good work, so the rejections stung.

This year, though, I’m going to treat each rejection as a trophy. I cannot control the outcomes of my submissions, but I can control how many I make and how I respond to them. And seeing a rejection as a triumph – I did, after all, have the courage to put my work in front of people to be judged, and that’s a triumph – helps make submitting easier.

Stop, look, listen: Lingthusiasm, ep 75, and Scriptnotes, ep 576

An emotion wheelAn emotion wheelIn episode 75 of Lingthusiasm, Love and fury at the linguistics of emotions, Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne look at how we categorise and name emotions, and how that changes from language to language. They also talk about emotion wheels, which group emotions into major categories and are, essentially, a visual thesaurus for emotions names.

I know that everyone bangs on about “show, don’t tell”, and that instead of saying “Ms Primrose felt angry” you should say something more along the lines of “Ms Primrose’s chest tightened and she clenched her fists as the truth of Mr Asparagus’s duplicity finally hit her”, sometimes, you really do just want to say “Ms Primrose felt angry, so angry that she picked up the length of lead pipe and beat Mr Asparagus to death right there and then, in the middle of the school library”.

It’s all stylistic choice.

What I like about this idea of emotional wheels is that it lets you more easily ask, “What kind of angry was Ms Primrose?”. According to this particular wheel, which I randomly selected from Google search, Ms Primrose is probably feeling let down and, more specifically, betrayed. Though she might also have ben feeling mad (poor choice of words there, AllTheFeelz), which would lead her to feeling furious and/or jealous.

So do we want to plough through all the physical sensations Ms Primrose is feeling, or do we want to take a shortcut and say that “Ms Primrose felt betrayed, her temper flashed to furious and she picked up the length of lead pipe…”? You get the drift.

After listening to this episode of Lingthusiasm, I listened to Scriptnotes, episode 576, What you’re looking at, which made exactly the same point. At 19:50, John August and Craig Mazin begin  talking about how word choice affects what we see in our mind’s eye, inspired by a thread by writer David Wappel and taking in examples from Jane Austen and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Wappel’s example compares “Sally reaches in to her back pocket” with “Her hand slips into her back pocket” – functionally, these are the same, but in the first you picture Sally and then think about her hand, and in the second you’re picturing a hand slipping into a pocket. In screenwriting, this specificity changes the shot type from wide angle to a close up. In novel writing, the first is neutral, but the second suggests some sort of emotional component, some furtiveness.

August and Mazin also talk about the problem with very general words, like ’smile’, which is vague to the point of meaninglessness. There are a gazillion types of smile, so which kind of smile are you really talking about? At this point, you need specificity, so how best do you achieve that?

Grabbity sitting in a boxIt’s always a matter of thinking about word choice. It feels nigh on impossible to think that deeply about every word in your screenplay or novel, so the trick really is getting your subconscious to think about it for you. And that comes only with practice.

Obligatory cat picture

There’s no such thing as an empty box.

That’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there {$name},

Happy New Year!

I hope that you had a lovely festive season and are feeling refreshed and renewed, and ready to tackle 2023 head on*!

I have three goals for this year:

  1. Secure a stable income, which means finalising the writing commission that’s in the works and, hopefully, finding a way to save Ada Lovelace Day.
  2. Continue my speculative writing, both TV scripts and novels, and keep submitting to agents and competitions.
  3. Read all the writing advice books that are on my shelf! Some I have read more than once, some I’ve had for years and never opened. It’s going to be a fun journey, and one I’ll keep you up-to-date with via regular reviews.

The first if obviously a biggie, so please keep your fingers crossed for me!

* Or at least feeling not too knackered.

Suw’s News: Huge progress on Tag

I’m delighted to say that I’vA blank grid drawn on a whiteboarde made a lot of progress on Tag, my six part urban fantasy TV series. Ancient artefacts play an important part in the story, but when I was writing the first draft, I glossed over exactly how they looked. And it turns out that when you say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll fix that later”, ‘later’ does in fact one day arrive.

Between Christmas and New Year, I did some reading around Celtic and Hindu symbology and came up with my artefact designs. That then helped clarify a plot point and gave me a couple of extra scenes to add in. And it really got me excited about this story again.

Then I spent quite a lot of time with a large chart stuck to the wall, with a row for every main character and a column for each episode. Using three colours for the A, B and C stories, I wrote out the plot as it currently stands. It was mostly A story – one of the most important things I learnt from the script editing for TV course that I did last year was how to think about the structure of a series and the importance of having distinct storylines. So I’ve been applying that to Tag.

At the end of the week, I started my rewrite. I had been worrying that the Jan 31 deadline I had set myself to get this rewrite done was unattainable, but if I’m disciplined about writing every evening, then I absolutely can finish in time!

Deadlines: Discoveries 2023 and The Pat Llewellyn Bursary

The deadline for the Women’s Prize Trust Discoveries writing development program is coming up on 15 January. The scheme, which is run in partnership with Audible, Curtis Brown literary agency and Curtis Brown Creative, is searching for “the most talented and original new female writing voices in the UK and Ireland”. All you need to do is submit the first 10,000 words of your novel, which doesn’t even need to be finished, and a synopsis.

The deadline for the The Pat Llewellyn Bursary is coming up on 16 January. This Women in Film & TV (UK) program is searching for the next compelling “talent led documentary” maker along the lines of Stacey Dooley, Yinka Bokinni or Louis Theroux. The winning 250 word pitch will get £10,000 and a mentor to help you make your idea happen.

Read this: Name hidden in medieval manuscript read for first time

Eadburg's name highlighted in the top left corner of a medieval manuscript page1,200 years ago, a woman named Eadburg marked her name in a Latin version of the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles in such a way that it couldn’t be seen by the casual observer. Eadburg used a technique called drypoint, which is rather like engraving, to inscribe her name several times in the pages of her manuscript.

The discovery was made by Jessica Hodgkinson, a PhD student at the University of Leicester, working with John Barratt at the Bodleian Library and using new imaging technology to make the marks visible.

Eadburg would have been a very educated and high-status woman to own a religious text, let alone score her name in it several times.

Netflix cutting its own nose off, again

Netflix has been axing shows after just one season again and lots of people are cross about it. Twitter user Casey Explosion points out that it’s really damaging Netflix’s brand, and a lot of people in the replies say that they don’t bother watching new Netflix shows now because they don’t want to invest emotionally if it’s going to get cut off with an unresolved end-of-season cliffhanger.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Netflix have done irreparable damage to their brand by constantly cancelling things, they have effectively trained their own audience never to get invested in any of their shows. It’s short term cost-cutting, long-term harm.

As to why Netflix does this, Peter Clines theorises that it’s a way for them to reduce the cost of ‘residuals’, which are payments made to cast and crew from the airing of the shows they worked on. Those payments don’t kick in immediately, instead, there’s a period where the streamer gets to show a series for free.

The window? Twenty-four days for new shows, seventeen for established shows.

Networks can stream a brand new show for three and a half weeks and pocket every single cent of revenue they earn from it.

Does this timeframe sound a bit familiar?

This is why it makes cost-cutting sense for Netflix to cull shows – the smaller their back catalogue, the lower their residuals bill. But it’s also why they will release entire seasons at once and then put it about that you have to binge-watch to prove that there’s enough love for the show for it to get renewed. Read his whole thread.

One has to wonder if this is a good long term strategy.

A couple of things I read over the holidays

Andy Miller, author, book editor and podcaster, wrote in 2019 about how keeping track of his reading stats in public made people angry. I honestly can’t fathom why people would become cross about someone else reading lots, and it says a lot more about them than him.

The Japanese call the owning of more books than you can read ‘tsundoku’, and it might be good for you. Its certainly good for your children. Do we need any more of an excuse than that to buy more books?

Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus standing proudly next to a mouse that he caught.Having been predominantly an indoors cat, Copurrnicus hasn’t had much mousing experience. Back in Shaker Heights, the summer before we moved was a bumper year for mice. The whole neighbourhood had them in their basements, so Grabbity and Copurrnicus spent a lot of time keeping watch near the mice’s favourite nooks and crannies.

We ended up seeing four mice – two brought to us dead and two more released alive in front of us.

Cats do that with their kittens as part of teaching them to hunt: They first bring dead prey, then prey that’s been incapacitated, and then fit healthy prey. Cats do this to humans too, because they assume that we also need to hunt for our dinner.

It was fairly clear in Shaker Heights that Grabbity was the one doing all the hunting, as Copurrnicus didn’t seem to know what he was doing when she released a mouse in front of him.

That all changed last week, when Copurrnicus, who’s allowed in the garden on his own now, brought back a mouse. He was very proud of himself for a nanosecond, then lost interest.

We put the mouse on top of our garage roof, in case one of the local red kites fancied a snack. Turned out, they did, and it wasn’t up there long! Red kites are a protected species, so Copurrnicus has done his bit to help ensure their survival!

Right, that’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

Welcome to the final Word Count of the year!

When I started this newsletter in May, I didn’t think I’d manage to keep a weekly rhythm going, but I’ve found writing this newsletter a real joy. I hope you’ve found it a joy to read as well!

I’m taking a two week break over Christmas, so the next newsletter will land in your inbox on 10 January. I intend to spend the second half of that fortnight working on Tag, the six part urban fantasy TV series that I promised you I’d finish by the end of, oh, yes, er, January. I haven’t done a thing in the three weeks since I made that promise, so I think there’s going to have to be an intense flurry of work after Christmas to make any kind of progress at all. But it’ll be good to get back into it!

Don’t forget The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat ebook cover – an open temple door leading out to a view of London in the distance.If you missed last week’s newsletter, you’ll be delighted to know that you can now download your free copy of my urban fantasy novella, The Gates of Balawat (for those not subscribed to my email, just sign up now and you’ll get a download link as soon as you’ve confirmed your subscription).

Ella stumbles on a strange mystery in her favourite museum. To resolve it, she must make a life-changing decision.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion in to a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in the capital’s biggest museum, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same career challenges and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong? 

Those of you who did read last week’s newsletter might be thinking, “Wait a minute! That’s a different cover!” and yes, yes it is. I’m not the world’s best graphic designer, and it’s amazing what you can do with Canva, but the first cover just didn’t bring me joy. I’d gone to the British Museum to get a photo of the replica of the Balawat Gates, but I’m also not the world’s best photographer and all the photos looked rather lacklustre.

Enter Dall?E 2, an AI that produces images based on a text prompt. After half an hour of refining prompts, I managed to get a reasonable image that I think conveys the heart of the story quite well. It’s perhaps a bit wobbly in places, if you look too closely, but it’s a step up from the photo.

So do pop along and grab your copy of The Gates of Balawat to read over the holidays. And if you know someone who might also enjoy it, please encourage them to sign up for my newsletter so that they too can get the free download link!

Tiny books!

A tiny copy of Alice in Wonderland

I love tiny books. In fact, I used to make my own tiny book pendants to wear. But these tiny books are exquisite.

This Alice in Wonderland is just 38 x 53 mm, has 512 pages, and comes with its own perfectly formed slipcase. And at just €24.80, or about £21.60, these are a bargain. The company that makes them is German, but they do have a selection of English language titles as well as three Shakespeares. They even have a ‘micro minituren’ category, which are even smaller at just 18 x 26 mm.

Possibly too late for Christmas, but definitely something to put on your birthday list!

Sample The Sample

If you loved that bit about tiny books, I found it in the Say, Oh Say! newsletter, which I in turn discovered via The Sample, a newsletter of, well, newsletter samples. Every day, The Sample sends you a new issue of a random newsletter and if you like it you can subscribe there and then.

Lots of people are starting newsletters now. Social media is disintegrating around our ears, and those platforms that aren’t actively falling apart are stopping people from reaching the very audiences who have chosen to hear from them. You can follow a person or a page on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that Facebook’s algorithm is ever going to show you their posts. Newsletters allow us to give you what you’ve asked for – our news!

But finding great new newsletters is easier said than done. That’s why I’ve signed up for The Sample, both as a recipient and as a newsletter. And if you subscribe via my link, my newsletter will get sent to an extra The Sample subscriber!

Why not give it a go?

Obligatory cat picture

It was Christmas 2009. Grabbity and her brother, Sir Izacat Mewton, were not yet a year old. We took them with us down to visit my parents in Dorset and left them there for a few days over the New Year as we took a holiday in Lanzarote.

Here, Grabbity sits demurely under the Christmas tree, having not yet realised how much she loves to eat tinsel. She discovered that joy a year later, when she ate a length of tinsel and yacked it up into both my walking boots at once. We now have to be careful to keep tinsel and foil ceiling decorations away from her, or risk lashings of sparkly vomit.

That’s it for this year! I hope you have a delightful holiday season, however you celebrate.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Suw

A young tabby and white cat sitting under a Christmas tree surrounded by tinsel.

 

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Hi there,

I’m very excited to finally be able to share The Gates of Balawat with you! It feels like an important milestone and one that I shall celebrate with delight.

Suw’s News: Download The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat ebook cover – an open temple door leading out to a view of London in the distance. 
Yes, it’s the newsletter you’ve been waiting for, the one with the download link for my novelette, The Gates of Balawat! (Though because you’re reading this on my website, your link is to sign up to my newsletter.)

I discovered a print-out of The Gates of Balawat earlier this  year, when I was clearing out my notebooks and files before moving back to the UK.

I’d written it in 2015, sent it out to a few of my old newsletter subscribers and then promptly forgot about it. When I rediscovered it, I read it over and was quietly surprised that I still liked it. So I tidied it up, made a cover, and here it is for your enjoyment over the holidays.

Ella stumbles on a strange mystery in her favourite museum. To resolve it, she must make a life-changing decision.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion in to a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in the capital’s biggest museum, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same career challenges and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong?

If you like it, please tell your friends that they, too, can read it if they sign up to my newsletter via my website. As soon as they confirm their subscription, they’ll get an email with the download link.

Stop, look and listen: The Creative Penn, The Anatomy Of Genres With John Truby

Author and self-publishing expert Joanna Penn talks to John Truby about his new book, The Anatomy of Genres. As the title suggests, Truby’s book takes a deep dive into genre fiction and sounds like a must-read for all genre writers. It’s certainly on my Christmas list!

In this episode, Truby talks about how he defines genre, the importance of transcending genre and how to write cross-genre. The latter point was, I thought, rather illuminating. We often hear that cross-genre books are a hard sell, because agents, publishers and booksellers don’t know how to categories them. Truby’s advice is to understand the characteristics of the genres you’re mashing up, then pick one main genre to which you add aspects of another genre. It’s like having an A Genre, which largely defines the way that the book will be shelved, with touches of your B and C Genres, which give it colour and originality.

Stop, look and listen again: Write-Off with Francesca Steele, S3E1 – Bonnie Garmus

This episode of Write-Off with Francesca Steele in conversation with Bonnie Garmus was just a delight. Garmus’s recent debut, Lessons in Chemistry, rocketed her to the top of the besteller lists at the tender age of 64 and is currently being made into a TV series. She talks about her writing journey, rejection and how to get moving again when you get stuck in a story.

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I love stories of people who found their success later in life. Like me, Garmus had wanted to be a writer all her life, although I have yet to rack up 98 rejections for a single book, as she has! So if you’re heading into (or through) middle age and wondering if you’ve left it too late to kick off your writing career, this conversation will warm the cockles of your heart.

Stop, look and listen to this as well: Scriptnotes, Ep 576 – What You’re Looking At

Honestly, podcast episode recommendations are like buses – none for weeks and then three turn up at once!

It has been a while since I recommended a Scriptnotes episode, but this one is really good, regardless of what you’re writing. John August and Craig Mazin talk about the craft of “how sentence structure and word choice translate to camera direction, allowing writers to direct the reader’s eye”. If you’re writing novels, then this is about how you’re directing your reader’s mind’s eye, which is just as important.

Most commentary on word choice tends to the trite. All those Pinterest posts about “alternative words for ‘said’” really do steer writers the wrong way. But as you’d expect, August and Mazin go beyond the thesaurus to look at what words are implying and how word choice can focus the reader’s attention, shape what they ‘see’, and even imply motivations and intention.

Read this (or not): Horribly depressing news about UK writers’ earnings

This might be the season to be merry, but the latest survey of writers’ earnings, commissioned by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) makes for some fairly miserable reading. The median income of a professional author, ie someone who devotes at least 50 percent of their time to writing, is now £7,000 per year. The survey includes authors, journalists and screenwriters.

The top 1 percent of authors earn 24 percent of the income, with the next 10 percent earning the next 24 percent. That leaves just 53 percent of income to be shared amongst the next 90 percent of authors. As with other parts of the economy, it’s clear that wealth is being transferred to a small minority of very successful people and away from the ‘long-tail’ of the rest of us. And, worse, publishing companies are posting record profits.

As author Stephen Cox points out, writers write because we enjoy it and it gives us purpose, but where an actor can expect their earnings to increase as their career progresses, authors do not necessarily see the same dynamics at play. You can have decent success with one book only to see your next tank and your career disintegrate.

It’s no wonder that so many authors, yours truly included, are looking for ways to develop stable income from sources that aren’t publishers, whether that’s by using Patreon or Ko-Fi, developing paid newsletters, or doing other work on the side. Because now only the most privileged writers can spend all their time just writing.

Copurrnicus lying on his back on my lap with all four paws in the air. Obligatory cat picture

After that, we all need a cute pick-me-up, so here’s Copurrnicus as a kitten, when he was small enough to sleep on my lap for hours as I worked.

That’s it for this week! Don’t forget to download your copy of The Gates of Balawat and, if you like it, please do encourage your friends and family to subscribe!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

It’s a bit parky round these parts right now. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, in fact. The urge to work from actually-in-bed is strong, though I fear that my back wouldn’t like it very much, and it would be a bit tricky to do conference calls. 

Suw’s News: Another rejection

I got my rejection email from the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2023 competition on Sunday evening.

I remember when I first started getting interested in screenwriting, just after the turn of the millennium. I had joined the Zoetrope screenwriting community and there I met some really good writers, all of whom were struggling to get a foot in the door. Most failed, despite their talent and perseverance. I won a Zoetrope competition for a feature film script, but seeing what my friends were going through, I decided that the whole endeavour was a hiding to nothing and gave up. 

I’m beginning to feel the same way again. Surely there’s a better way to discover and bring on talent than forcing people to enter an endless stream of oversubscribed competitions from which you, as the entrant, learn absolutely nothing? I find writing screenplays far easier and more enjoyable than writing novels, but at least with a novel you can self-publish if you can’t find an agent. 

WTF is ChatGPT?

There has been a huge amount of talk this week about ChatGPT,   which is a… well, I’ll let ChatGPT tell you itself.

Prompt: What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3 natural language processing engine. It can be used to generate natural language conversations and responses to questions.

Most people have been taken aback by ChatGPT’s fluency, because it really can produce content that sounds like it was written by a human being. For example, I asked it to write a novel synopsis for me and it produced something that would be quite plausible for a children’s book: 

Prompt: Write a novel synopsis about a magical cat who has to save her family from a group of evil ferrets.

In the small town of Maple Grove, a magical cat named Sprinkles is living an ordinary life with her family. But when a group of evil ferrets arrive in town, Sprinkles must use her special powers to save her family from their sinister plot.

The ferrets have come in search of a powerful magical artefact, an ancient stone that is rumoured to be hidden somewhere in Maple Grove. They will stop at nothing to find it and use its power to take over the town.

Sprinkles and her family must race against time to find the stone before the ferrets do. Along the way, Sprinkles discovers her own special powers and meets other magical animals who help her on her quest.

As the ferrets close in, Sprinkles must use all of her courage, strength, and magic to protect her family and save Maple Grove.

Not only has it taken the concepts I gave it in the prompt, it’s added names, places, a MacGuffin and sketched out a basic plot. Whilst its ideas might be a wee bit trite and formulaic, they are functional. You could actually write this book. In fact, with enough patience and the right prompts, ChatGPT could probably write this book for you. 

I think it’s immediately apparent why some people are concerned. One person in a Facebook group for screenwriters that I’m in suggested that it’s only a matter of time before screenwriters are replaced entirely, because scripts are more structural than, say, novels and thus lend themselves to being written by AI. 

Tech luminary Simon Willison had a poke at ChatGPT’s limitations. It can write poetry, jokes and code, and can even explain concepts, but it won’t suggest crimes for you to do. Unless you trick it, which turns out to be quite easy. 

Gary Marcus points out that it’s basically a giant pastiche engine which mashes together things that humans have said and then relies on synonyms for colour, rather than constructing answers from first principles. As plausible as it is, it can’t tell the difference between information and junk. And, like a lot of AI, sexism and racism is baked in, likely along with a lot of other prejudices that are common in human discourse.

Other people, such as Andrew Mayne, novelist and sci comms guy for OpenAI who made ChatGPT, are more excited by the opportunities for it to help with brainstorming and planning. I started playing with it for exactly that purpose last night, and it was interesting, to say the least. But I wouldn’t take its word for anything. Perhaps we need an AI that can factcheck output from AIs, as Charles Arthur tweeted.  

ChatGPT is impressive, and whilst it does have some fairly significant flaws, it’s only going to improve. So what will it mean to be an author in an era, coming soon to an Earth near you, where computers can write as well as humans?

Read these: Why was Top Gun Maverick such a surprise hit?

The internet threw a couple of links in my lap this week about Top Gun: Maverick and why it’s been such a huge hit, particularly given that the 1986 original was a fairly simple, one-note affair. 

The BBC’s Nicholas Barber points to a heady combination of nostalgia and excellent structure, pacing, dialogue and action. But also important is the fact that there has been no sequel, prequel or reboot: 

None of this emotional heft would have been there if other Top Gun sequels and reboots had been made already. The 36-year gap ensured that Top Gun: Maverick was about more than just a nifty fighter pilot with a killer smile. It was about ageing and mortality, memories and regrets, holding on and letting go. It was about time passing – not just for Pete, or for us, but for cinema.

Collider ran a piece by Joshua Bateman earlier in the year listing 6 Things Top Gun: Maverick Does Better Than the Original, which explores the way that Maverick leans on nostalgia, echoing key scenes from the original and using the same music. Hell, even Goose’s son’s callsign of Rooster rhymes (ish) with his dead father’s. 

But the main thing Maverick gets right, which the original failed on, is emotional depth. It’s not just that the characters are more well-rounded, but also that their relationships are deeper and their motivations more fully explored. It’s because of this that the nostalgia works – the relationships evolved over both films, so memory of the original primes us for resolution in the sequel. 

There is, I think, a lot to learn from Top Gun: Maverick. So, out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT what it thought were the film’s most important lessons: 

Prompt: What can screenwriters learn from the film Top Gun: Maverick?

1. Know your audience: Top Gun: Maverick was made with the same core audience in mind as the original Top Gun, but it also took into account the modern audience and their interests. Screenwriters should always be aware of their target audience when writing, and strive to make sure their stories resonate with them. 

2. Show, don’t tell: Top Gun: Maverick was great at showing the audience the characters and their relationships, rather than just telling them. For screenwriters, this is an important lesson: try to show the audience what is happening, rather than just describing it. 

3. Balance nostalgia and innovation: Top Gun: Maverick was successful in bringing back the nostalgia of the original Top Gun while also introducing new and fresh elements. Screenwriters should strive to strike a balance between the familiar and the new, as it can be a great way to keep their audience engaged. 

4. Use visuals to tell stories: Top Gun: Maverick was full of stunning visuals that told stories and moved the plot along. Screenwriters should take note of this and use visuals as much as possible to help tell their stories.

Spooky.

Or, possibly, generic advice you could give about any sequel. 

Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The cover of Naomi Novik's The Last Graduates, which is deep green and features an illustration of a lock and keyI powered through The Last Graduate, the second book in Novik’s Scholomance series, in just four days, though in part that was because I had a fair amount of train time to kill, which helped. But mostly it’s because this is just as much of a page-turner as A Deadly Education (review here). 

El Higgins has survived through to her senior year in the Scholomance and is finally shucking off her reputation as a scary loner and building up not just alliances but a circle of actual friends. As the senior students work towards their final graduation ceremony – which essentially involves running a gauntlet of monsters and trying not to get eaten – she begins to realise that the tradition competitive approach might not be the best way to survive. 

I love this series so much. It’s honestly one of the best I’ve read in ages and I can’t wait to read the finale! 

Meantime, I asked ChatGPT to whip up a review for me. Well, perhaps our jobs aren’t at risk just yet. (Give it time, though.)

Prompt: A review of Naomi Novik’s novel, The Last Graduate.

Naomi Novik’s The Last Graduate is a captivating tale of adventure and fantasy, set in a university on the brink of chaos. The main character, Celeste, is a brilliant young woman who is determined to get her degree and live a life of accomplishment. Along the way, she discovers secrets and mysteries that threaten the very existence of the university and its inhabitants.

Novik’s use of vivid imagery and descriptions of the university and its students brings the world of The Last Graduate to life. The characters are well-developed and the plot is fast-paced and engaging. Celeste’s journey is filled with danger and excitement, as she struggles to uncover the truth and protect her beloved school.

The Last Graduate is a thrilling and engaging read that will leave readers wanting more. Novik’s writing is crisp and engaging, and her characters are three-dimensional and believable. The novel is a great choice for readers of all ages who enjoy fantasy and adventure stories. Novik has created a world that is both thrilling and thought-provoking, and readers will be left wanting more.

Obligatory cat picture

I’m down in Dorset again, so this week’s photo is of Cassie. And I shall give ChatGPT the final word: 

Prompt: A calico cat is curled up on a sofa, tail over her nose. What is she thinking?

She is contentedly dreaming of chasing mice and birds and playing in the grass. She is content in her cozy spot, happy in her own little world.

And in all honesty, she probably is. 

All the best, 

Suw 

Cassie, a calico cat, curled up with her tail over her nose

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Hi there,

This week, I made a commitment to some friends to finish rewriting my six-part TV series script, Tag, by 31 January 2023, and now I’m making the same promise to you. The 31st happens to be a Tuesday, so if I don’t announce in that morning’s newsletter that I’ve finished, you should feel free to harangue me by email or on any social media platform that’s not in flames by then.

Of course, my brain wants nothing to do with the whole endeavour, not least because I came up with a really good idea for a YA novel which feels to me like it has real commercial potential. All my brain wants to do is play with that idea instead. Bad brain.

But there’s no point starting if you don’t finish, so I’m going back to my “do at least five minutes a day” Atomic Habits promise, and will damn well get the thing done.

Win a copy of The Year in Space!

Cover of The Year in Space, featuring a spectacular image of a spiral arm galaxyWould you like to win a copy of The Year In Space, written by Dr Becky Smethurst, Izzie Clarke, Richard Hollingham and Dr Robert Massey, the team behind the Royal Astronomical Society‘s Supermassive Podcast, the No 1 space podcast in the UK?

All you have to do is retweet this tweet from Ada Lovelace Day before 13:00 GMT on Monday 5 December, after which we will draw names from a hat.

The Year in Space highlights the most exciting space news from the past twelve months and looks forward to the year ahead. Packed with features, interviews, in-depth explainers and stunning photography, it covers everything from the deployment of the James Webb telescope to the search for extraterrestrial life and the effort to get astronauts back to the Moon. You’ll also find practical tips on how to get the best results when stargazing and what to look out for in the night sky in 2023.

Event: See Neil Gaiman in conversation, 5 Dec 22

Headshot of Neil Gaiman, wearing his customary black and set against a lurid orange backgroundIf you’re a Neil Gaiman fan, as I am, then you need to hotfoot it over to Eventbrite to pick up a ticket for next Monday’s Guardian Live Book Club event, when Gaiman will talk to Guardian books reporter Alison Flood about The Sandman.

The Sandman comic series launched in 1989 and follows Dream who, after being held captive for 70 years, has to rebuild his now-decayed kingdom. In 2020, it was adapted into an audio drama with parts two and three coming out in 2021 and 2022. And it became a Netflix series this year with a second series now confirmed.

I discovered The Sandman when the graphic novel versions came out, mostly because I was always crap at remembering to buy individual issues of the comics I loved. It was also a time when I was a bit poor, so I ended up only owning issues 1-6 (plus an extra copy of book 6 for some reason), because I didn’t have the money to keep on collecting. Then that specific cover design was retired and I couldn’t bring myself to buy non-matching books. I guess I should just trawl through eBay for second-hand copies until I’ve completed the set.

This is an online event, with tickets starting at £7.92, so you can join from anywhere if you have the internet and are awake.

Tip-top tip: Let Bert’s Books help you find your comps

One of the worst bits, for me, of submitting a book to agents is working out what your ‘comps’, or comparable titles, are. Comps help agents work out where in the shop your book would be shelved and how they can sell it to readers. Whenever you see “If you’re a fan of X,  you’re going to love Y”, that’s a comp.

I find deciding on comps really difficult, because when I’m writing something I avoid reading anything that might be even slightly similar. My comps for Disease X (for which I really need a better title) are:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel which I disliked so much I didn’t even finish it. I was delighted to get rid of it when we moved back to the UK.
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton which I read as a teen and still think is frankly a bit shit.
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. The only brilliant book of the bunch, this one’s non-fiction so not a natural shelf-mate for my novel. It is a damn good read though, I highly recommend it.

But now help is at hand! Artist and writer Richard Hall tweeted that Bert’s Books in Swindon will come up with a selection of comps for you.

Querying writers, are you struggling for comps? Contact @bertsbooks  send them your synopsis, then buy a mystery selection of how many you want. The booksperts in store will curate comps for you and ship to the UK or internationally

#WritingCommunity #amquerying #writersoftwitter

I shall be doing this in January, because I clearly need it!

Review: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

The cover of The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, featuring a stylised fig tree in amber and blue with purple figsThe Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

Defne, a Turkish Cypriot Muslim, and Kostas, a Greek Cypriot Christian, fall in love. They keep their forbidden relationship a secret throughout the worsening political turbulence with the help of the owners of a tavern in which a fig tree grows. But when violence erupts, Kostas is sent away to the UK, leaving Defne bereft. Many years later, their daughter has to come to terms with her mother’s death and heal the growing distance between her and her father, whilst she tries to understand her dual heritage.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of the fig tree, which observes not just the blossoming love between Defne and Kostas, but the entire history of the island. From the fig tree, as well as Defne and Kostas, we learn about the 1974 conflict between the Turks, Greeks and British (who still had a presence on the island after it gained independence from the UK in 1960).

Shafak treats her multiple storylines and the tragedy of the conflict with thoughtfulness and compassion and the result is a novel shot through with tenderness and poignancy. It’s a love story, but also a political story, a tragedy but also story of hope and reconciliation.

I didn’t know much about the history of Cyprus before I started reading, but Shafak provides enough background to create understanding, though never so much that it turns into a history book. Instead, the detail turns the island and its people into another core character, adding depth and richness to the narrative.

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

The cover of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, a dark blue background with an illustration of a magical device.The first book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, A Deadly Education introduces us to the kind of heroine I can get right behind. El Higgins is a ridiculously powerful magician, but if she uses her gift to its full extent she could kill everyone trapped in school with her. But if she doesn’t use it at all, then she and a lot of other people will die at the tentacles/claws/maws of ‘mals’ – magical predators that lurk around every corner and under every desk.

El Higgins is a defensive, emotionally bruised loner who doesn’t know how to make friends because she’s never had one. Despite everyone judging her by her cover, it turns out that El’s biggest secret power is not magical, it’s seeing people for who they are and treating them as individuals.

It’s always a joy to read two great books in a row, and I devoured A Deadly Education as fast as maw-mouth can eat a classroom full of tasty teens. It’s a huge amount of fun, a great page-turner, and has some smart stuff to say about how we treat other people and how easy it is to be blind to one’s own privilege because it’s always just been there.

Obligatory cat picture

A friend of mine sent over two cat caves, as his cats had spurned them. Our two were straight in. Copurrnicus seems to have decided that he owns both of them, mind you, but I am sure we will straighten that misunderstanding out in due course!

All the best,

Suw

 

Grabbity's tail extending out of the entrance to her grey felt cat cave.

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Hi there,

As the weather turns cold and wet here in the UK, we are stocking up on hot water bottles and getting all our blankets out of storage. This house would be really cosy if we could afford to have the heating on all the time, but just like everyone else, we’re rationing it as much as we can. I’m generally happy that we moved back to the UK, but this winter would be warmer and cheaper if we were still living in Cleveland. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.

Tip-top tip: Jill Tew on inconvenience

Jill Tew, adult and YA author and Afronauts podcast host, has a great thread on Twitter about how to add richness to your writing.

I’ve been reading a lot this month, and it occurred to me that there’s one simple thing the best writers do that makes their stories feel real and three-dimensional:

Their characters inconvenience each other.

As has been said before, people are more interested in how your characters’ relationships develop than how they change as people, and having one character chuck a spanner in another’s plans, and then seeing how they react, is a great way to develop the depth and richness your readers want.

Read the rest of the thread on Twitter.

Locus Magazine needs support

Locus Magazine, which covers science fiction, fantasy and horror, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help secure their future. Like many publications, they’ve been hit by the advertising downturn and rising costs. They’re looking to raise $75,000 (£63,000) so that they can pay their staff and contributors, continue to publish a print magazine, and cover their core costs. Rewards start at £4, with just over three weeks left to go on the fundraiser.

Read this: How to handle rejection letters

Journalist Alex Johnson, author of The Book Lover’s Joke Book amongst others, talks about dealing with rejection, something every writer needs to do at some point or another.

My personal favourite, one of the few I’ve kept, was the chap who scribbled on the top of the returned manuscript “This is not a book.” He kindly added a coffee ring on the front page, maybe to drive the point home. Nice.

Opportunity: Tor open to article pitches

Contemporary speculative fiction publisher Tor is looking for new book critics and essayists for next year, and is particularly interested in hearing from marginalised voices. Take a look at their submissions guidelines.

Review: She-Hulk finale doesn’t stick the landing [spoilers!]

If you haven’t already seen the finale of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law and you care about spoilers, then you should probably skip ahead because this section is going to be spoiltertastic.

At the end of Episode 8, we saw She-Hulk at a gala dinner, receiving the Female Lawyer of the Year award (along with, seemingly, every other woman in the room – a nice bit of cultural critique about how unwilling society is to reward women’s brilliance without finding a way to undermine them at the same time). But after anti-She-Hulk hate group Intelligencia hack the backdrop screen to show footage of her having sex, she loses control, smashes up the venue, scares the crap out of the crowd and is arrested.

Now, you’d think that this was all to set up some sort of finale where Jennifer Walters tracks down Intelligencia, brings them to justice, redeems herself and proves her worth (as opposed to the worth of She-Hulk). After all, Walters’s fight for recognition as a woman and a lawyer is what the whole series has been about. She is a woman who has to literally change into someone more masculine – bigger, stronger, musclier, more… green – in order to be taken seriously. Walters herself is not viewed as intelligent, capable or attractive and has to subordinate herself to She-Hulk in order to win any success.

Instead, that is all glossed over in favour of a rather meta exploration of Marvel’s historic storytelling weaknesses via the medium of a shattered fourth wall and some annoyingly self-referential in-jokes. The episode ended up bemusing, rather than amusing. In all honesty, it felt like this was a finale written by the writing room for the writing room, with little thought given to how it would actually land with the viewers. I wish that at some point, someone in the room had asked, “Who, exactly, are we writing this for?”

She-Hulk has been a deftly crafted look at sexism in the workplace and the challenges women still face when they want to be taken seriously in male-dominated industries. It is funny, never feels preachy, and presents Walters as a character many women (and probably some men) can relate to. But just as it is about to tackle the impact of toxic masculinity and incel culture via the Intelligencia attack, it shies away, cracking weak jokes to cover the hole where bravery should have been.

Krutika Mallikarjuna has a great analysis of the flaws with She-Hulk’s finale over on BuzzFeed which is worth your time.

Now, I could go on, but here’s the thing: Endings are the most important part of writing. If your ending sucks, you might as well not bother with the beginning and the middle, because the ending is what people will most clearly remember. If there’s a lesson for writers here, it’s that you need to clearly understand the promise that the first third of your work has made to your audience – not the promise you think it’s made, but the promise your audience actually hears – and then come through on that promise in the final third.

Joining Hive Social

Last week I mentioned that I’m experimenting with Mastodon, so this week it seems only fair to say that I’m also experimenting with Hive Social. It’s a very new social network with apps available for iPhone and Android, but no desktop version (bah!).

If you join Hive, I’m @suwca, so please do follow me. Apparently there’s a burgeoning book community there, so we’ll see if it grows into something worth sticking around for.

Christmas is a-coming

If you’re of a mind to buy books for Christmas this year – whether for other people or, you know, sneakily buying a few for yourself – take a look at my bookshop on Bookshop.org! Every time you buy a book from my bookshop, I’ll get a little commission and you’ll be able to sleep peacefully knowing that you’ve avoided the evil behemoth that is Amazon. It’s a win all round, if you ask me!

Obligatory cat picture

It’s always awful when a pet falls ill. I have a sneaking suspicion that Copurrnicus ate a slug or something else that he really shouldn’t have, because last Wednesday he started throwing up and his stomach liquified.

We kept an eye on him throughout Thursday, but Friday it was clear he needed to see the vee-eee-tee. He had a thorough examination and thankfully there was no blockage, which is the important thing as an obstruction in the gut can rapidly become fatal, and he wasn’t dehydrated. He had an antiemetic injection, which perked him up for a bit, but he was still feeling very sorry for himself on Saturday.

We picked up some probiotic kaolin paste to help settle things down, but that stuff smells so grim that he gagged just sniffing it. It was a bit of a fight to get it down him, but with two of us – me holding him down, Kevin squirting the paste into his mouth, or approximately in the mouth area – we managed. He hated it, but it helped.

Sunday he perked up a bit, but was still wanting a lot more snuggles than usual. This morning he’s pretty much back to normal. Phew!

That’s it for this week!

All the best

Suw

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