Seaflower Institute

A ridiculously talented friend of mine, Ele Marr, has started her own blog on WordPress – the Seaflower Institute.

Unlike my haphazard, what-the-hell style of blogging, Ele’s actually themed her blog and it looks amazing, you guys. Seaflower Institute is an organisation dedicated to hunting monsters and researching the Occult.  Set in a spooky universe full of mandrakes, Creeping Dreads and soul thieves, the blog keeps accounts of all the spooky animals, plants and artifacts the Seaflower Institute encounters.

This adorable critter is called a Lingering Horror.  The account sounds terrifying but I still want one.  Or ten.  D’awww.

Every account is written in character, by a cast that grows with each entry.  The blog’s still in early days right now, so there’s plenty of time to catch up and get to grips with the universe and characters before it’s chock full of entries.

After four years together at uni, Ele’s used to me gushing over her every creation, but she needs more people to gush over her, too.  If you like weird, half-horror, half-humour like Welcome to Night Vale, SCP Foundation and X Files, definitely check this out.

How to Motivate Yourself (with Bribery)

My steampunk novel is currently in the hands of Serious Professionals (GULP!), which means I can either twiddle my thumbs to stubs waiting anxiously, or distract myself by writing something else.  I choose distraction.

It’s been a while since I worked on a first draft of a book, and while it’s super good fun when everything flows beautifully, it’s awful when nothing flows, and I feel like I’m hacking at my characters with an icepick, screaming ‘PLEASE DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!’ like an exasperated mother.  I try to write every day, but this weekend felt like pulling teeth.

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Today, however, I did over 2,000 words.  Not a world record by any stretch, but far more than I’ve managed for the last three days.

How did I manage it?

Bribery.

In important interviews, I like to say that I’m very self-motivated.  This is, technically, true.  However, what it ultimately translates to is ‘I’m very good at bribing myself to do things I don’t really want to.’

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At school, I used to turn on my Gamecube and fire up Twilight Princess, and then do my coursework to the background noise of the pause menu.  If I finished a page, I could play for ten minutes.  All my coursework got done on time, and Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game I ever completed.  At uni, I binged through Community by allowing myself  one episode for every twenty minutes of essay writing I completed.

And now?  Now I use friendship bracelets.

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It’s got to be a cool hobby if Mr. Obama does it.

Those little plaited threads are weirdly addictive.  I feel like everyone else learned to do them in the playground at school – or at summer camp, if you’re American – but I only picked up the hobby this year, and I can’t seem to stop.  I have a friendship bracelet for every outfit, in every colour.

This just goes to show, you can motivate yourself to do anything – even write 2,000 words when it feels like banging your head against a wall – if you have something to bribe yourself with.

Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel

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A copy of this turned up in our new books delivery at the library, and I turned into one of those seagulls from Finding Nemo in about two seconds flat.

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I’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale since its early days.  For the uninitiated, Night Vale first appeared as an online podcast, each episode following Cecil Palmer, local radio host, and his descriptions of the events in the spooky desert town of Night Vale – where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and every night strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.

After following five years’ worth of episodes about Night Vale, when the creators announced a book, I was actually pretty sceptical.  Welcome to Night Vale has a very specific tone, its language carefully crafted to give just enough detail to keep you intrigued, and yet remain vague enough to be deeply unsettling.  A lot of this is carried across by Cecil Palmer’s low, melodious voice – zipping quickly from a dread-inspiring near-monotone for the spooky moments to upbeat chipperness for Night Vale’s weird sense of humour.  (Kudos to the actor, Cecil Baldwin, for that.  Yes, they are both called Cecil.  That’s only the start of the oddness of Night Vale.)

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(Artwork by Vasheren on DeviantArt.)

No way, I thought, can they pull that off in a book.

Man, I was wrong.  The Welcome to Night Vale book pulls off the exact tone of the Night Vale podcasts, expanding massively on the world of Night Vale and giving us a chance to see from the perspective of people that, until now, really only existed as secondary characters in Cecil’s stories (and man, Cecil can be a really unreliable narrator).  Plenty of favourites show up in the series, from Old Woman Josie to The Man In the Tan Jacket to Carlos the Scientist, without feeling like they’re awkwardly crammed in place for fanservice.

I was stunned at how fast the plot seemed to go in Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel, ripping me through one chapter after another and keeping me questioning the whole time.  This is especially impressive since the plot of Welcome to Night Vale: the Podcast is often … well, glacial.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating, but in comparison the novel felt like a mile-a-minute thriller.

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If I could find one flaw in the Welcome to Night Vale novel, it’s this: it’s not meant for new fans.  It’s packaged and advertised and presented as a way to get into the series for the first time, but I really, strongly recommend you don’t start with this book.

When Carlos appeared, a massive grin hit my face.  But to someone unfamiliar with the series, Carlos is a nonentity.  There are references to the forbidden dog park; the old woman who secretly lives in your home; the vast dark planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans – which seem utterly random and pointless without the context of the podcast.

My advice?  Listen to the podcast first.  It can take a few episodes to get the hang of its bizarre tone and content, but it’s worth it.  The whole series is on Youtube for free, so you don’t need to spend a penny giving it a try, and it’s great background noise for doing the washing up / ironing / cleaning out the hamsters.  When you’re caught up – or at least coming to the end of the 2015 season, which is when the book was released – then read the book.  You’ll get so much more out of it.

But if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale and you haven’t touched this book yet … for the love of the Glow Cloud, get yourself a copy.  You won’t regret it.

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Handwriting vs Typing

I came across this video this other day, of author Jon Skovron explaining how he hand writes his entire epic fantasy novels.

This made me so weirdly nostalgic, because I used to write exactly like that!  Here are some of the notebooks I filled cover-to-cover writing just one book:

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That Snow White notebook is way too adorable for the gory scenes I wrote in it.

And here is some idea of how ridiculously thick the book is altogether (excluding the notebooks I didn’t fill all the way/couldn’t find for the photograph):

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I don’t hand write nearly as much anymore, because when I was about seventeen someone told me real authors just type their novels straight up.  Typing is faster and cleaner, and MS Word keeps a word count for you instead of you having to count it out yourself and scribble numbers in the margins.  And with netbooks and iPads becoming popular, typing got more portable too, so when I started my next book I got out my laptop and typed it up from draft one.

This makes me kind of sad now.  People still buy me tonnes of notebooks for my birthday, and instead of filling them on a bi-monthly basis, I hoard them at the bottom of my bookshelf.  They all look so forlorn sitting there, waiting for their turn to be loved.  Soon, my pretties, soon.

Maybe someday, I’ll go back to handwriting all my novels.  For now, though, my notebooks will continue to work as quick places for me to scribble ideas/doodles/short scenes I don’t want to forget rather than full-length manuscripts.

Do you hand write your novels/articles/shopping lists before typing them up, or go straight to typing?  Which do you prefer?  Comment and let me know, because I am lonely and need people to talk to. :p

Blood of the Delphi Book Launch!

I went to the Blood of the Delphi book launch at Waterstones in Winchester yesterday!

I’ve been to book launches before when I worked for P&G Wells bookshop, and they’re always super fun and exciting, but this one was extra special.  Why?  Because the author, M.E. Vaughan (Madeleine) is a great friend of mine – and because I actually edited both of her books.

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Apologies for my potato-quality phone camera, but these are the brand-new paperback editions of both Harmatia Cycle books: Sons of Thestian (the first book, which has been re-published and looks so pretty) and Blood of the Delphi, the sequel.  Blood of the Delphi isn’t officially on sale for another couple of days, so it was super cool to get our copies early at the launch!

After enjoying drinks and nibbles, we sat down to an exclusive reading from Blood of the Delphi by Madeleine herself.  It was a heck of a dramatic scene, and I saw some anxious faces in the crowd.  (Of course I was perfectly sympathetic, and didn’t cackle because I’ve read the book and know what happens.  Noooo.)

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Following the reading was an author Q&A, where Madeleine talked about everything from the self-publishing process to crying over killing her characters (I know the feeling, sob).  Madeleine’s humour was brilliant and infectious, and the whole crowd laughed as she described the time she was acting out a fight scene she wanted to write, and caught sight of herself in the mirror – arms stretched goofily over her head to mimic a dragon – and thought how grateful she was no one could see her.  Of course, her dad walked in two seconds later.

The chairs were cleared away quickly after the Q&A, to make space for everyone to grab their own copies of the books for Madeleine to sign.  I already have the first edition of Sons of Thestian from years back, but of course I had to get the new version.  I edited it, after all!

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Again, apologies for my terrible camera – I’ve played with the contrast to make it clearer, but clearly my phone doesn’t like electric lighting!

The book launch was over an hour long, but it went by in a blink.  Spending time with other writerly people is the best feeling, and getting to see Madeleine’s hard work in print was so rewarding.  I left the launch with two beautiful books – both signed of course!

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Unfortunately, I can only show you Madeleine’s signature in The Sons of Thestian, since she wrote spoilers for my own steampunk novel in Blood of the Delphi (she told me off for killing characters she liked … woops!)  Never mind, Madeleine.  I’m sure you have plans to get your own back in Harmatia Cycle book three.

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Aww.  See this?  This is me dashing away a happy tear.  You’re welcome, Madeleine.  I can’t wait to see the final installment.

Focus and Forest Spirits

I just read an article that says if you want to run a successful blog you need to stay focused. As in, all your posts should be about travelling or geeky stuff or (in my case) writing, since then your posts pop up quicker on a search engine.

A shame, really, that I have the attention span of a golden retriever in a room full of squeaky toys. I just want to play with everything.

So here’s a picture I took last summer and never got around to sharing.

It’s a forest spirit from Princess Mononoke! Geeky graffiti is the best kind of graffiti.

I haven’t been up that hill since the summer, so I don’t know if he’s still there. I like to think he is, watching all the dog walkers with a confused, slightly shocked expression.