Why The Word Count’s Low

This is a long, long story. There’s no point skipping to the end, because the length of the story is part of the journey.

About a year ago, about the time when I was finishing the final chapters of SHADOWBOX and preparing for Crimefest, I took a good hard look at how I spent my time.

Now where did I put my wossname? Painting by Adolf von Menzel, although this is not its title.

Most of my time wasn’t spent writing.

This was not what I wanted.

So I decided to reduce the amount of time I spend pottering in the garden and hire someone in to pave over the grassy half. There were a couple of other requirements in the work, but nothing I thought was too onerous. I started early, asking for quotes in June.

“That’s more than enough time to have the work done before winter,” I thought.

Wrong.

The festive period came and went, with no firm decision on the scope of the work and no progress. Winter came, gently and without snow, but still no work took place.

Spring began, very slowly. Green stuff began to sprout in places where I’d expected to see paving by that point in the year.

Still no final agreement.

This project block was worse than writer’s block. I asked around and others told me I’d regret hiring someone who wasn’t interested in sticking to the schedule, or the requirements, or the scope. Like I’ve done with writing projects in the past, I decided to call a halt to the proceedings – and just do the work myself.

Since the start of the recent good weather I’ve been shifting earth and digging up small rocks and disturbing ants and discovering more muscles than my deskbound self thought existed. It will take me months to finish at this pace, in the time I have to spare.

I wanted this work done before winter.

I want more time to spend writing, adding to my body of work, learning how to tell more entertaining stories. Creating new characters, spending time with old ones, going to this year’s Crimefest to meet up with other writers.

But in an odd way, spending time outside doing manual work has freed up the creative side of my brain, and I’ve been writing more than I did when I was waiting for the work to start.

Isn’t there some sort of lesson in there?

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Spring!

Something’s definitely in the air…

Over on Terri Windling’s blog, she has a wonderful post absolutely jam-packed with wild daffodils. Here’s a poem about Spring, written by me almost hmnhmnhmn-ahem! years ago.

Spring! (c) Lee McAulay 2015


(The artwork is Fruhling by Franz Stuck – click on the image to see a larger version)

The model also reminds me of Patti Smith, as photographed by her friend Robert Mapplethorpe for her album covers.

Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The Road To The Herzwesten Brewery

Come back through time with me, to Vienna in 1529.

We’ll take a table at the Zimmerman Inn and wait for Brian Duffy to turn up, sword in hand, looking for a wizard with a burning snake in his mouth and the promise of the best beer in the Western world.

But first, we’ll stop off just a few years back.

My partner loaned me his copy of The Drawing Of The Dark by Tim Powers. I’d finished The Anubis Gates and we were waiting for The Stress Of Her Regard to come out in paperback in the UK, but I had to have more.

The Drawing of The Dark, by Tim Powers (Grafton Edition, 1987)Enter Brian Duffy, the lead character of the novel, being mugged in a side street somewhere in Venice.

Middle-aged, bruised, already on the wrong end of the story, he takes a job protecting the Herzwesten beer until the time comes to tap the barrel.

Lovely touches amongst the story add to the warmth I always feel when I pick up the book. It’s one of my favourite Tim Powers novels, and I re-read it every couple of years.

It starts in Venice.

“All night the hot wind had swept up the Adriatic, and from the crowded docks down by the arsenale to the… western mouth of the Grand Canal, the old city creaked on its pilings like a vast, weary ship” – Chapter One, The Drawing Of The Dark by Tim Powers

Only a few years before I read the book I’d visited Venice with my fellow archaeologists on our day off from a dig in the foothills of the Alps. We stuck to the back streets and watched tourists jostle along the crowded bridges one street over, following the route on the map from the tourist office at the railway station, cheap souvenirs poking out of their backpacks.

When Brian Duffy wobbles along the darkened alleys, I can picture the houses above him, mellow plaster in sandy tones and green water lapping at the walls. Since there’s little vehicular traffic amongst the canals, you can hear voices from high windows, arguments in staccato or snatches of song, people bustling on foot amongst the cloisters and over the little bridges.

Then comes the brewery.

The head brewer, Gambrinus, shares his name with one of the most popular beers in the Czech Republic. (It would be another few years before I’d get round to visiting Prague, but the pilsner travels well.)

The story quickly blossoms into a ripping yarn peopled with Vikings and swordplay, strange beasts in the Alpine sunlight, magic, wizards, imposters and lost loves, thundering along with nary a halt for a refreshing snifter.

And what a snifter that might be.

The Beaker People brewed it.

A Bronze Age culture of Western Europe, which I’d studied at the same university that took me to Venice:

“they spread the art of brewing with a missionary zeal – you can find their decorated beakers in graves from Sicily to the northern tip of Scotland” (Tim Powers, ibid.)

We have their pots and their grain and once on a summer’s day by the shores of a Swiss lake I tasted a modern replication of the beer they might have brewed, yeasty and spicy and just what you need as you rest your tired limbs by the waterside.

Pots survive because they’re durable. Very few wooden items survive, even beer vats, unless they’re waterlogged (or kept in continuous use).

In the cellar of the Zimmerman Inn is a vat half as high again as Brian Duffy, green with moss, with three spigots. The source of the Herzwesten Dark. Bronze Age beer, and then some.

And recently I came across another story which suggested the Zimmerman Inn wasn’t the only old brewery around in 1529 (and I don’t mean the Weihenstephan).

In the Spring 2015 issue of BEER, the quarterly magazine of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), is an article on Britain’s oldest (official) brewery:

Shepherd Neame, based in Kent.

The traditional starting age of Shep’s is celebrated as 1698. Almost two centuries after the fictional brew is supped by Brian Duffy in Vienna.

But the article in BEER (by Mark Dredge of pencilandspoon) goes on to explore the brewery’s early history, investigated by its very own historian, which reveals a brewer on the site in Faversham back in 1596.

We’re now only a few decades after the siege of Vienna which forms the backdrop to the story of The Drawing of The Dark.

Further back in time, then, the story goes.

Shepherd Neame’s historian can prove there was a brewery on the site in 1573. There’s a link to the abbey of Faversham, the abbot’s brother importing beer in 1525 and his son running the abbey brewhouse by 1550.

Beer and monasteries.

Just like the Zimmerman Inn, previously known as the St Joseph Monastery before Aurelianus took over and hired Brian Duffy to guard it.

So with a small huge stretch of the imagination you can see how the road to the Herzwesten Brewery leads not to Vienna, after all, but to the garden of England. And, not surprisingly, Shepherd Neame brew a dark beer.

The Drawing of The Dark isn’t a complicated story. It’s a good old-fashioned romp of an adventure with some typical Tim Powers touches – the effortless references to real places and events, the evocative depth in his descriptions of the weather and the surroundings, and his lively characters.

And it’s flawed.

I particularly like the story because it’s flawed – there’s a point where I always expect the plot to sway on a particular hinge (a missing spell book) and… it veers off on an entirely different direction, breathtaking in its simplicity.

Once you’ve read a number of Tim Powers novels you can see how this links into the others with the underlying Arthurian theme, especially Last Call, and the system of magic/iron/blood he explores in greater detail in The Stress Of Her Regard.

But sometimes all I want to read is a ripping yarn. Especially one so steeped in beer.

Pilsen Cellars

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on The Road To The Herzwesten Brewery  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nope

Nope, still under the weather.

Fitzgerald's Very Thin Mints, an essential plot device in the Petticoat Katie novel Monkey Business. (C) Ms Vita Tugwell. Thank You.

Really. I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but really. Move along please, nothing more to see here.

Honest (although for some reason my hands wanted to type that as “Hornets”. Go hands. Yay.)

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Nope  

Ill, send onions

Right now I am under the weather with a vicious lurgy which has reduced my ability to think in a straight line. I’m writing this under the influence of the latest Lemsip, which tastes so vile I have resorted to eating a pickled onion after every dose, just to get rid of the taste.

Burton Anubis p1113-2, (c) Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

This is how to rock a sore throat.

Not the same pickled onion.

Obviously.

However I have been doing some reading which will surface in next week’s post, and hopefully be more fascinating for you than this whingefest against the common cold.

See you then.

Published in: on March 25, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Flight of the Sibyl

RIP Sir Terry Pratchettterry-pratchett_c_heathcliff_o_malley


I met him twice, in the early Nineties, around the time that Equal Rites (his third Discworld novel) came out in paperback in the UK.

He’d come to talk to a couple of SF societies I was on the fringes of, in Birmingham, when I was at university, the first of those where I met people who were to become my greatest friends.

In hindsight those early books are stories told while building up the Discworld universe. The witches, wizards, trolls and dwarves; the Unseen University, the Broken Mended Drum, the Counterweight Continent; geography and history and the rules of magic…

Later books played in that world, adding new technologies like a fast-forward version of British history since the Reformation. The witches became less prominent, making way for Lord Vetinari, the City of Ankh-Morpork Watch and Commander Sam Vimes.

And, of course, Lady Sibyl Ramkin, after whom I named the little airship in my Petticoat Katie stories.

But one thing I remember from the talks I heard Sir Terry give: his dedication to Story.

In his own words, from the opening of Witches Abroad:

“Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling … stories, twisting and blowing, through the darkness.

“And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story the groove rubs deeper.

“… a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.

“So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.

“It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

“Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats.”

And, of course, that the story never ends

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

A nice little bookshelf

Last month I realised I didn’t have a full set of all my novels in print, and none with the new covers, so I bought one of each off CreateSpace*.

Here’s my tiny bookshelf:

6 books by Lee McAulay and Vita Tugwell

I’m pleased with the covers but some of the interior files can be smartened up. I uploaded The Bead Merchant in 2012, for goodness’ sake, and not only have ebooks moved on since then, my interior layout skills have improved too.

For the sake of the postage I decided not to buy paperback copies of the Petticoat Katie short stories I put in print, although that would be instructive as – again – I uploaded some of those in 2012, before I began writing Maiden Flight.

But half a dozen novels isn’t enough.

It’s barely the foundation of a body of work.

Half a dozen novels, not even under the same name, not in the same series or universe. A bare scratch in the surface of literature, of whatever definition.

A handful of blocks to build a cathedral, one word at a time.

Back to the writing desk.


*You can do the same here.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Halfway home for a change

Halfway through the latest Petticoat Katie novel now! Seems like cheating as I’m aiming for this one to be shorter than the first three.

Dean Wesley Smith posted recently in his new Killing The Sacred Cows… series, about how novels must be a certain length. His argument outlines how the length of a novel has changed over the years, especially through the pulp fiction years when shorter works were popular, right up to stonking great doorsteps like The Shadow Of The Wind or the impenetrable 2666.

I’ve just finished re-reading H. Rider Haggard’s Nada The Lily from 1892, and always thought of Haggard as a writer of fairly short punchy adventure novels. Turns out I was wrong – Nada comes in just over 120 thousand words.

front cover image of Belmarch, by Christopher Davis

Belmarch, by Christopher Davis. My (very old) copy – the price is in shillings and pence!

But other books on my shelves are much shorter (Belmarch, for example).

Up until about twenty years ago, I seem to recall that a paperback took no more than an afternoon to flip through, and were mostly thoroughly enjoyable into the bargain.

Now, it’s a marvel if I finish a book in a month.

Most of my novels come in around 80,000 words. Some are more, but very few have a lower word count. Eighty thousand just seems like a nice fitting number to tell the story, whether that’s the Gothic mystery of SHADOWBOX and THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN or the silly steampunk of the Petticoat Katie stories.

So, back to the novel I’m currently writing. I’m aiming for sixty thousand words on this one. Trying to cut out the banter, the fluff, the silly noodlings and still come up with a viable story that trundles towards its inevitable showdown while allowing my outrageous characters to interact with the usual mayhem and peppermints.

Still seems like cheating, though.

A few wild snippets…

Just a few wild snippets for you as I continue to add wordcount to my next Petticoat Katie novel.

1. Artist as Brand. “Are you making a living from your art?” While I can’t see myself taking a trip to the USA any time soon to undertake one of the seminars, I wonder whether the workbook might be useful. I’d welcome comments from anyone who’s bought the workbook.

2. Self Publishing As A UK Author.  Thriller novelist A D Starrling muses on the writing life and lists a huge number of helpful things you should think about if you’re in the UK and (about to) self publish. Includes a long, wonderful list of other sites and resources, some of which are new to me.

3. Creating A Book Series “Bible”. Karen Myers goes all tech-y on how to use Scrivener and a couple of other pieces of software to basically build yourself a wiki for your series of books. (My Petticoat Katie stories so need this.)

And, of course, this:

4. Old Masters at the top of their game, on the New York Times.

“You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” – T H White, quoted in the magazine article.

Still

N.B. I’ll return to T H White at some point in the future. Stay tuned.

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on A few wild snippets…  
Tags: , , , , ,

Winter overlaps Spring

Go read the post “Little Deaths” by Terri Windling. It’s a voyage through the end of winter, drawn from two separate climates, dry desert and damp Devon.

Her themes include the death of the Sacred King, Le Roi Sacré, at the end of Winter – a theme strongly linked to the underlying mythos of my novels THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN and SHADOWBOX.

Skull small

Another snippet, this time a quote from Ellen Kushner referenced in the post:

“Does fantasy demand that you stay in your adolescence forever?”

Again, in The Last Rhinemaiden, the character of Louis Beauregard is at the end of his life, an elderly man, not frail but aware that his time must come. About as far from adolescence as any man can get.

His aim in the novel is to end in sacrifice, as he knows he must. But he’ll fight it all the way.

“I don’t want to die. But I have to be killed.”

There are young characters in each novel, but Louis is the one who fascinates me. I’m intrigued by his position, by what it would do to someone’s behaviour, his outlook, his friendships. There’s a space of almost sixty years between the novels and perhaps I’ve taken the wrong route between them both, writing the old man before I asked what would make him so.

Writing the end before the beginning; winter overlaps spring.

I found writing the character more fascinating as an old man than the young rascal he is in Shadowbox. (When I’ve finished writing the current series of Petticoat Katie novels, I can see me taking you on a mid-life crisis with no-longer-young Mr Beauregard, one step ahead of his fencing-master and his old Russian nemesis.)

And then who knows?

Another link, this last week, was Dean Wesley Smith on “My Best Work“:

“What happens if your most acclaimed book, the one history will remember you for, is going to be your sixty-third book written? And you only manage to write ten? Or thirty?”

So, to the work then, and let posterity be the judge. None of us will ever know – unlike Louis Beauregard – whether we’ll endure. We must simply travel through time, ever forward, through each little death of the seasons, towards the future.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Winter overlaps Spring  
Tags: , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers