Thursday, 16 January 2014

On hold

Dear all,

This blog is clearly not going to update itself/anytime soon so let's put it on indeterminate hiatus and come back to it sometime/never in the future.  You've all been swell.  God bless ye.

'Neil'

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On Long Time No See

Dear all,

So it turns out I'm pretty useless at keeping an up-to-date blog about writing.  Trying to suggest how writing should be done when I can't even maintain my own writing seems more than a little hypocritical.

I don't have excuses, not even any reasons, really.  I've just allowed a chunk of my life to overrun everything else, forgetting that it isn't everything - it's just one part.  If it helps any, I don't particularly think I've been off socialising instead of writing here.

I may have forgotten to place writing and creative thought in my pyramid of priorities.  As a skill, as a hobby, as something I enjoy, as something that takes work to come good.

Perhaps I'll be back soon but I won't promise anything.  Apologies to anyone's that been keeping me in their peripheral vision, hoping I'll update.  Hopefully, I'll be back soon.

Neil

Thursday, 8 November 2012

On Apologies and the Fantastic Mr Lynch

Hi All,

So I must apologise most profusely to all four of you that have read this blog and noticed my recent silence of the last 3 months or so.  I am sorry. Life got on top of me, moping around in a sort of depressed laziness, and hopelessness (amongst other things) got in the way.  Additionally, more recently, I got a job.
(Or my real-person alter-ego did at least.)  This means that while some good things, such as a sort of substantial financial income, are being offset with bad things, like working exhausting hours and having little social life.  Things have begun to stabilise a bit here and there so I'm going to try and write this post before the idea escapes me completely.  (Also: yes, Internet, you're right; Tom Hid is amazing. Well done for noticing.)

Anyway, moving on slightly, I also haven't been writing much on this blog for a slightly bigger reason - that being that I haven't really been writing outside of it, or practicing, or anything for the past few months either.  And so, if anything, the only subject matter I should be able to present you with today is the quandary "Argh, I have a real-life job/live in the real world, how am I supposed to find time to write?!"  To which I have no good answer.  All I can say is what I keep trying to say to myself (if fruitlessly) - Don't waste the free time you have; and if you can use it to write, get on with it! 

So, not feeling much the pretentious Fount of All KnowledgeTM that I usually seem to when I write these posts, here's something completely different.
A REVIEW!!  Or an attempt at one at any rate.  So let's get on with it, shall we?

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Gollancz
Length: 530 pp.
Price: Worth it!
The few other short reviews I've read of The Lies of Locke Lamora seemed all intent on describing as being similar to a certain run of films starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, et. al.  (You know the one I mean)  Well I don't really think that's fair as The Lies... goes some way to simply being a class of its own.  The titular character is thrust upon us from the opening pages.  Locke is an orphan-thief who is a bit of a handful (to say the least)  and his current master wants to pass the buck on before he does any more damage.  So on Locke goes to the Eyeless Priest of Perelandro who takes him in and gives him a good and thorough education, leading him on to become the best thief around, with the best gang around: 'The Gentleman Bastards.'  

The action takes place in Camorr, a city not unlike Renaissance-era Venice, to my reckoning.  Though where my understanding of real-life Italian provinces some 600ish years ago is laughable, Scott Lynch's is hugely praiseworthy.  There is detail and texture to every literary flourish he weaves into the narrative and you come away feeling like you've witnessed an Olympic-level Fencing duel.  Precision, motion, retreat, a parry of expectations, a thrust of unexpectation, a couple of stabs at the heart and, finally, a flurry of blows to knock you down and left staring at the victor.  It's not just good prose, it's damn good prose.  

The narrative shifts expertly (if sometimes frustratingly because you're desperate for more 'today') between different time-lines of the characters' lives; and while sometimes this seems a sudden juxtaposition, it's usually followed up with a thoroughly appropriate or pleasurably relevant note.  Lynch doesn't spoon-feed you his story but instead gives you a treasure map indicating where the nibbles are and where you need to go before you can go to the next main course.  Critical metaphors aside, Lynch has made every sentence worth the reading and, especially if you trust in the author to take you where you need to go, you often find yourself understanding a little more of the characters or how things work in Lynch's world of Camorr and it's all worthwhile.  The instance that comes to mind is perhaps a little spoilerish but in one instance a grievous wrong has been done to the Gentlemen Bastards but then the narrative is then interrupted and we are immediately given a look at Camorr's people's favourite sport - handball.  The sudden shift at first warrants a double take but then you look twice and discover that it isn't just an interlude about handball, it's a revelation of just what happens when you wrong a Camorri.

The gang itself works perfectly too.  The young newcomer, Bug, stands well next to the more experienced Sanza twins who provide good comic relief; plus the clever muscle - Jean - is complemented by the unfortunately-built but infinitely-crafty Locke.  And Lynch does exceedingly well with his characters who are all just what they need to be - the Thiefmaker 'saves' orphans from cruelty and turns them out into the streets under his care; Father Chains is firm, enriching, disciplined and experienced; the grand Capa Barsavi watches and reigns over the city in a way the legitimate ruler, the Duke, cannot; the Grey King is a mysterious and shadowy figure to be feared.  All in all, while it never feels like too many people, Lynch has drafted together a great dramatis personae to play out the many schemes of Camorr.  And I use this theatrical terminology for good reason because Locke, well, Locke is the best actor going.  He slips into a character at the drop of a hat and, though fairly sleight himself, carries a commanding presence about him.  When Locke is low on resources and hunted by every other gang in the city, he immediately goes back out to craftily win himself some new clothes and some more money, getting what he went for.

The Lies... is astonishingly good and for a crime novel gets it dead on.  "What sort of setting's a good one for a semi-political crime thriller with scheming, potential scandal and a scattering of sex?" you might well ask.  Lynch is ready with the answer - mid-Renaissance not-Venice.  A city delicately balanced with some people ready to push it over the edge and watch it burn.  As for a fantasy genre-piece, the set-up is finely done.  Lynch has designed a world with history and legend with a good twist of magic.  The city of Camorr is built around the remnants of 'Elderglass' structures left behind by the mysterious race known as the Eldren, lending the whole place a borrowed, or stolen feel.  The Duke and the Capa can claim Camorr as their own but the foundations of the city were laid long, long ago by someone else entirely.  It's great and Lynch has expertly wrought it all together.  
Lastly, it was just really fun to read and I spent far too long not sleeping just so I could read this book.  Before I started it I had just finished another that I had sort of enjoyed but it had been lacking and I was beginning to wonder about writers who I had begun to esteem based on a limited reading of their work but this book, this writing by Scott Lynch, was great.  I enjoyed it immensely and it was worth every penny to buy it, every unslept hour to read it and every word Lynch used.  I won't score it out of five or anything but I will say that, so long as you're ok with swearing, a bit of violence and you love a really good fantasy/crime novel, then I heartily recommend it.  

That's it for now.  I'm told Tuesdays and Thursdays are good days to be online so I may change updates to those days but, well, I can't say for certain how good I'm going to be about posts.  Fingers are being crossed; we'll see.

Bye for now,
Neil

Friday, 22 June 2012

On Influences on Writing

Hello again, dear readers!
What's that? It's a little late for a Friday update? Well I suppose you're right but I'm the writer and you're the anonymous audience that doesn't get to have an opinion so there!

Today I wanted to look at influences.  One of the key things I've repeatedly heard during my life is that you've got to read before you can write - that reading is crucial to understanding literature (no matter how unconsciously) to the end of writing it.  This being the case, it follows then that what we read will influence what we write (probably because it's a favourite genre/style/etc.) Now, of course, one of the first things that comes off of this idea is the thought that you might just end up rewriting what you've read; or even just go along the lines of 'there are no new stories being told, just reinvented ones - (which a part of me is still rebelling hugely against.)  The thing of it is - yes, of course you could just end up becoming a regurgitator for stories but the fact is that imitation is a) a form of flattery - it emphasises how we appreciate the original; b) a practice of our own skills, no matter if the main ideas are just copied; and c) a potential gateway to creating your own works - through that work over someone else's.  I'd need to verify this and give you a quote to back this up but I remember hearing that the way Raymond Chandler got into writing crime fiction was by reading earlier crime fiction and then rewriting them as he would have done it.  It was mere imitation but it was good enough that he could go on to become one of the greats of crime fiction today (and a personal favourite for that matter.)

The important thing though is still that there is a progression past that first point of imitation.  Not to knock the entire 'genre' of fan-fiction but it is a prime example of how we take what we love and add our own spin on it.  However, fan-fiction, by definition, can only go so far; and writers have to go further to realise the potential they have.  You have to (to put it a particular way) deconstruct what it is you really love or love about the original, then, once you've realised that, go on to play around and off that idea to create something born from real, true passion/love.  If you love science fiction - why?  Do you love astronomy in general, technological progress, robots, speculative history, or do you just plain like spaceships?  Say you like technological progression, spaceships and robots, (which, yeah, I guess could all be put under the same term but shush) then there you could have freedom to play around with a universe that has spaceships with robots constantly running up and down it all the time.  Perhaps onboard is a science lab working on prosthetics, maybe that work hits a breakthrough and so it's first used on humans, maybe that first use goes horribly wrong and the ship and the crew are all threatened by the malfunctioning prosthetics - etc. etc.  Because of what you love you can create something you will also love.  It's a little like people; (in the old model) because you liked the person you were with you had a child with them because there was more to love; a child that is the product of yourself and the person you loved, that has been genetically crafted by the you and your partner, will be shaped by you, but is still essentially a separate creation altogether.

It may well be worth your while then, is all I'm saying, to look at what you read, what you really love to read, and to examine it a bit in order to create something you truly enjoy.  Of course we are all more than the sum of our parts but that is where we begin.  Human beings aren't just cells but we begin as cells that go to make up bones and muscle and flesh.  Science-fiction isn't merely spaceships and robots, but it can begin with technology that becomes robots and spaceships and artificial intelligence and the concept of humanity and the idea of a soul.  And so on and so forth.  Passion, love, enthusiasm, leads us to eagerly create more of what we love.  Consciously looking at what we really have a passion for is just good sense, then; and, in my opinion, being aware is a good thing.

Until the next time I rush something out to damage your eyeballs with,
I've been Neil.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, 15 June 2012

On Books

Dear readers, I must apologise for my shocking absence of late.  As usual I have no great excuse but that I have been inattentive and just generally useless.  I am especially sorry to have missed updating this blog last week as I very much wished to take a moment in commemoration.  But some failures are given second chances so let's try again with today, shall we?

I would like to say hail and farewell to one of mankind's great writers; not just of Science Fiction but of literature at large - the most estimable Ray Bradbury.  Whenever I thought of the great SF/Fan writers of the 20th Century - Mr. Bradbury was a dead cert. for the list.  Whenever I was afraid of the way of the world and of us falling into a dystopian future, his name came up.  Whenever I thought about books, the importance of reading, of learning, of putting hard work into writing - his was one of the names personified, standing over my shoulder as I wrote my essays.  Ray Bradbury was awesome and an inspiration.  Mr. Bradbury, may you rest in peace.

In light of my finding this out last week, I embarked upon making up for lost ground in reading Ray Bradbury's work that I had missed in the past, (not through wilful ignorance but through missed opportunities).  Ironically enough, when you think about how Ray B. spent most of his time, I couldn't find his books in the library at first but the clerk was obliging enough to make sure I left with a couple of his books.  And so began the immersion into the wonderful imagination of the Illinois-born wonder.  Needless to say it wasn't long before I realised how wronged I had been by no one forcing me to read his work when I was younger.  Even at school, after coming away having read To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought I'd had a good if modest start to a literary education - if only I had known what I'd missed.  But anyway, enough sycophancy and regret, on with it.

"...Do you know why books like this are so important?  Because they have quality... texture... pores... The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are... The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a hand over her..." (Fahrenheit 451)
 My point today? One that I've already spoken on to be honest with you - that good literature is full of life.  Essentially: you have to live life to write well, I guess.  Through experience we can be inspired.  Which, in an odd way, just makes sense, really - the Romantics (I think my personal favourite 'group' of poets) all wrote poetry based on the what they felt, what they say - what they experienced. 'Upon Westminster Bridge' only exists for goodness' sake because Wordsworth was sat in a carriage in London, in the morning, seeing the city in that particular way; he experienced London. And not in a touristy kind of way.  Experience gives us something to work with: emotions to reflect on, actions to describe, places to go back to and moments to relive.  To me, that was the crux of what Ray Bradbury was saying there.  Maybe in ten or twenty years I'll look back on this and go 'Oh no, I had it so wrong' but I guess that will be the point - I had to live those ten/twenty years to come to that realisation/revelation.


Live life because, apparently, sometimes it's simply the best thing we can do.


See you later, 
Neil

Friday, 11 May 2012

On Using Quotes to Hide a Lack of Material

Hiya folks, 

So we're back round to Friday again and I'm playing the same track again and again here with another quote for your consideration and gibberish for you to ponder on.
This one comes from the legendary Kurt Vonnegut - someone I have to admit I've not read half as much of as I would like, unfortunately.
"The arts are not a way to make a living.  They are a very human way of making life more bearable.  Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake.  Sing in the shower.  Dance to the radio.  Tell stories.  Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.  Do it as well as you possibly can.  You will get an enormous reward.  You will have created something."
 Now, if I may, I want to pull out a few points from this - the first being that this is a sound piece of encouragement - practice and trying things out is a great, and sometimes even better than a didactic one, approach to learning how things work and how we can play about with forms and genres.  Whilst I still hold out some hope I can one day make my living off of books and stories, Mr. V is right here - the arts are not about business and industry - they are, and should always be, about expression.  Expression of emotion, experience, ideas and dreams.  This is why, though I won't go on blog-record naming names, I hate with a passion all the regurgitated crap that is pumped into our libraries and, eventually, our cinemas and TV screens that sells because it panders to a skewed and apparently majority market-group through a particular kind of aesthetics and stylings.  
Now, I can see where the argument falls down, and, believe me, I want to stay away from the Daily Mail-reader stereotype that is borderline fascism and elitism, but where the arts are concerned, where our 'human' expression is concerned, we have to preserve our attitudes a little.  Everyone deserves the right to express themselves uniquely, I think this is something fundamental to what the majority of the world holds as human rights.  That uniqueness, though, in my opinion comes out best through a self-expressive kind of experimentation.  Through just playing around with words on a screen, or colours on a canvas, or crayons on a wall.  They're not going to always be the best they could be, or be transferrable so that others will appreciate them as well but that's the key - they don't have to be.  If something was true for you then it has, in itself, something of its own universal truth.


Now, maybe I get too carried away with the sound of my own pretentious typing here, I want to present you with a quick idea where some of this comes from.  I now give you a choice: you can be patient, read over the ideas to come, and weigh and test whether you agree with them or not and, if not, then we call it ok and we just move on with our lives.  Or you can skip this next paragraph and cut to the outro and I'll see you next week.  You have the right and power of choice in this, exercise it.
Still reading? Then I'll get on with it.  I wanted to show you an idea that is not, unfortunately, original; many have had it before me and given it in much better ways but here is me going on record with it too.  There's, in some cultures, in some faiths, in some minds, a belief in a Creator.  A Creator who kick-started things into motion and has their signature on the fabric of the universe, (don't worry physicists - you'll see it, you just need a reeeeeally good microscope to see it...)  I, and quite a few others believe that the Creator's skill and art was also imparted into nature and human beings - people - us.  The thinking goes on that, as we also create, we are imitating, and fulfilling something of our own design that the original Creator made us with.  I personally believe it's so ingrained in us that, even for people who aren't/don't think of themselves as particularly creative or expressive, it can manifest itself unconsciously and instinctively.  I believe it's for all men and women everywhere, that there aren't necessarily age restrictions beyond normal limitations (i.e. a baby can't hold a pen and write with it) and there should be the least-possible restrictions or guidelines placed around it.  Yes, I believe something like this could offend people but I also believe that it's their right to be offended, and to hold an opposing opinion.  It's also in my thinking that Mr. V was edging up to this kind of expression - a natural, inborn, instinctive kind of experimentation that reflected our fundamental natures.  It's already in us to be expressive, to try things out to do things others don't; or do but not as we do.  As, then, with Mr. Vonnegut, I encourage you, dear readers, to try things out that maybe aren't perfect but are fulfilling and enriching.
I'd like to state that the thoughts and opinions of Neil Faarid are not necessarily those of Elsewhen Press or any other publication group I have or will become associated with.  This is my personal blog, what I write here should not affect or reflect them in any way.

Ok, folks, it's safe to come back again.  I'm winding up here.
These were my thoughts today and you can agree, disagree or not care at all.
Until next time, folks.  Be well, most excellent to each other, and try things out.

All the best, 
Neil 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

On Coming Up with Something in a Rush

Hey folks, 
So I'm on a bit of a rush to just about get something before 12 (ack, didn't quite make it!) so I can just get in with a Friday update.  I don't really have that much to talk about so I may come back to this post and edit it a bit later on.  Watch this space. (Ugh that sounds so cheesy!)

So I've been enjoying reading and stuff lately you might be interested in but I don't really have that much by way of writing to talk about this week.  I've recently fallen for Garrison Keillor's amazing storytelling capabilities, maybe more specifically his radio monologues and scripts but I'm also reading Wobegon Boy.  

Also, I've just finished a book by Chris Wooding which I absolutely loved! The book is Retribution Falls which had great characterisation and a wonderful twisty plot.  One moment you're happy with them, then you're wondering what they're playing at; hating that one then seeing things totally from their point of view.  It's fits nicely into the other-world steampunk fantasy which is heavily stylised towards the ariship/pirates more than inventors, etc.  Anyway it's great and you should go check it out!

Right that's me for now, enjoy life, folks! 

Neil