Happy New Year!

So this is my first post in a while, but it’s great to be back!

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” on and off the last few weeks. It is a fantastic book but it can be quite heavy so I’ve been reading little bits at a time to avoid getting tired of it. It’s made me think a lot about the process of writing, about how this is a thing that unites so many people, and yet how differently we all see it.

I’ve also been diving through plenty of comics since Christmas, I got a huge pile and so I have been enjoying myself immensely. One of the best things about reading comics is that it helps you to see where you can tighten up your writing, especially dialogue. The comic with too much text is a rare beast and so you can start to pick up that sparely written style. That’s definitely something that I can learn from, I need to get a bit more comfortable writing what happens with less about what might have happened if the character had done things differently.

Personal projects have hit a bit of a bump lately, the January blues no doubt! But with the University schedule starting up again it’ll be fun to start carving out time for that work and defending it. Of course, I can’t promise that I will always be as productive as I would like, but having a plan, or at least a to-do list of bullet points, seems to settle my mind somewhat.

Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone, I hope you all have a wonderful year and that you get from it everything that you want and need!

History and Wisdom

Hi everyone,

I had a really great chat with Kirsty Gunn last week, we went over my plans for the end of module portfolio and she really got me thinking about my writing. One of the things she pointed out, that I really needed to hear, was that my chosen genre of fantasy is definitely one written at a marathon pace rather than a sprint. Hopefully, that will be enough to stop that little voice in my head shouting, “you should have gotten nine million words done by now, write, write, write!” And she also gave me a great idea for some technically-not-procrastinating work, which admittedly I very rarely need help to find, the idea is to write a faux history book for my fantasy setting. Write from the point of view of a historian many years later and really explore what parts of it all would be remembered and what would be lost. I really love that, and it would be especially helpful as I am writing numerous epigraphs for chapter starts and scene changes. Plus it would probably be a good way to finally settle on what I want to happen. I have tried to outline it before, I swear, it’s just everytime I do I come up with something new to add in.

I’m getting my way through Helen Scales’ “Spirals in Time” at the moment. It’s a really interesting and well-written look at shellfish and their evolution. And yes, I realise that this does not seem like something interesting, but I’m enjoying it and learning a lot. I also have  to admit something rather bad – I totally picked the book up because of its beautiful cover. Which is of course the exact opposite of what we are told to do, but it seems to have worked out this time. Sometimes good books have good covers too!

Anyway I think that will be all this week, my wisdom teeth have made an unwelcome resurgance and I would really love to know why we have them at all. Is it too much to ask that they could just spontaneously disappear?

See you next time,

Kirsty

The World Seems To Be Recommending Dystopian Reading

Hello all,

This week the news would inspire anyone into writing a dystopian novel and I’m afraid what I’ve been reading isn’t doing much to counter it.

An article that recently caught my attention was on a paper about ants that have created a colony in a disused nuclear weapons bunker in Poland. It turns out that they fall down a ventilation pipe from a more standard colony on the surface and once down there they cannot escape. They then make do the best they can in an entirely dark environment with minimal food and a temperature that doesn’t make it very far up the thermometer. The description is fantastic in both the article and the paper itself, it talks about the inches thick ant cemetery that borders the colony and the mystery of what exactly they manage to survive on. I’m sure this could be used as a metaphor in any number of novels and stories, in fact even the article acknowledges that the paper “reads like a dystopian novel from the 1970s”. You can read the article and get links to the paper itself at  http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/bizarre-ant-colony-discovered-in-an-abandoned-polish-nuclear-weapons-bunker/

 

One of the reasons it seemed to grab me was because I recently started reading “Constellation” by Adrien Bosc, winner of The Académie Française Prize. It is a biography of the forty eight people who died in a plane crash in 1949. So the idea of falling from one existence to another has been on my mind a bit this week. But then it’s a story seed that I imagine has grown into many trees over the years and I can’t imagine that it comes from a source that will have a famine any time soon.

 

I’ve also decided to have a bit of a reread of some Shakespeare plays, starting this week with “The Tempest”. Not the whole thing unfortunately, not yet anyway, but enough to remember how much I wanted to set Ariel free on my first reading of it. Next up should be a certain Scottish Play, but I’m tempted to save that for Halloween and instead skip to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. At the moment the idea of mischievous faeries causing trouble seems a lot better than the idea that everything that’s happening right now is a purely human happenstance.

 

I told everyone last week about how I do a little “Dungeons and Dragons” and that seems to have caught people’s attention! Well believe me I am very happy to talk about it. D&D has pulled me in at the moment as it gives me the chance to build a world, populate it with characters and then dump my friends and family in it. It’s very performative, not only do I have to show my friends what’s been occupying my time, but I also have to describe the characters and settings, speak for the characters and sometimes use silly voices for those characters. You lose any preciousness fast, it’s very easy to see a beautifully planned piece of work go completely off the rails because someone decides to ignore the cross roads entirely and go hiking instead. Also, as I don’t want to kill off my characters too quickly I have to keep the foes to within allowed parameters. Much less hand waving of the Deus Ex Machina style is allowed when there are other people who can see the rules. I’m still learning to navigate those rules, but I think I’m getting better. Obviously I would recommend D&D to anyone that has the time and the chance to play it, but another narrative rich game I would point out to any readers looking for something to play is “Fallen London” which you can play online for free. The writing is great and the setting is wonderfully deep and rich.

 

I’m afraid I must leave you now, so good bye and I’ll see you next week,

Kirsty Mackay

A week late, but better late than never?

Hello everyone! My name is Kirsty Mackay and I am a writer, or at least I’m trying to be and I’m hoping this course will kick me into being one. I was supposed to post this last week, however there was unfortunately a bit of a technological snafu so you are getting this a wee bit late.

I write almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction, plus elements of game writing which frequently blend both into a strange and terrifying muddle. Almost all of my characters are women or non-binary, I love writing characters that would be, in more traditional media, ignored, villainised or “fridged”.* I think I write so many characters that usually fall between the cracks of modern media as a way of fighting back. Plus it’s much harder to fall into old clichés when you are actively writing against those clichés. Though sometimes I like to pick up clichés, steal them and give them a makeover. You know, give the bossy mother a war axe and send her after the ravening horde that’s ruining her vegetable patch, or make the nervous schoolgirl secretly a witch with terrifying powers or make the cheerful and pink best friend of the goth girl a vampire who doesn’t take kindly to people being mean to her BFF. Turning people’s expectations around on them is fun, though my friends have started to pick up on my evil smirk being a bit of a hint, so I might have to dial it back a wee bit!

I think that love of twisting people’s expectations partly comes from my love of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. I adore those books, luckily there are over forty of them so I don’t have to worry about running out any time soon and I’m holding the last few in reserve for days in the future when I really need a good book with plenty of fantastic characters, humour and wonderful world building.

I’ve also been writing for games a lot recently, Dungeons & Dragons especially, as I’ve bullied a few of my friends into playing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, it has all the best bits of fantasy writing, gambling and dramatic improv. Though I might be a bit biased as I spent four hours last week leading some adventurers through a cave system, a very dangerous cave system it turns out as it was filled with Helmed Horrors and fungus that was both violet and violent. I’m hoping to post a better and more neatly written version of the adventure on the Dungeons Master’s Guild website. Once up there other people can download and play it themselves.

Anyway, I’m sure that’s all you need to know about me for now. Once I get a few more things up on the web I might come back and update this page with links to where you can find them, but I need to actually get things written for that to happen! Well fingers crossed and may your pens never run out and your brains never get the dreaded writer’s block,

Kirsty Mackay.

 

 

* “Fridged” refers to the cliché of killing off a usually female love interest to create DRAMA and ANGST in the usually male main characters. It comes from a Green Lantern comic where a female character was killed off screen and left for the main character to find in his fridge.

An Introduction to Poppy: ‘…my literary heart lies with women.’

Hello everyone, I’m Poppy. I’m the one in class with the long blonde hair who is always clutching my purple diary to keep up with my schedule. I never wanted to become predictable with my reading but looking back at the books I am most interested in, there is a strong running theme. Women. I’m a complete sucker for a novel with a strong female lead or a mousy lady who is downtrodden by a patriarchal society who rises above it to empowerment or even a woman going about her daily business. This is not to say that I do not also enjoy reading about men, some of my favourite work is by men, with male leads. It’s just that my literary heart lies with women.

I’m currently doing something I hate which is reading books simultaneously. I’m reading last year’s Man Booker International Prize winner, The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang. This is the hilarious story of a man from South Korea whose usually boring wife decides to become a vegetarian (She’s actually vegan but I won’t be pedantic). I’m also reading Kate Tempest’s debut novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses, though I’m reading it painfully slowly, trying to adapt to the slower pace in contrast to her poetry. Alongside these novels, I have just started Angela Readman’s book of short stories, Don’t Try This at Home. Published by & Other Stories, the lovely mustard, jackalope* printed cover is what drew me in and the first line of the blurb was irresistible: ‘A girl repeatedly chops her boyfriend in half but, while her ‘other half’ multiplies, she is still not satisfied.’

My literary influences, to those who know me, may be slightly boring as I rarely shut up about them. Firstly we have the fraud** that is James Frey, I don’t care if his work is fictional or not, his writing style is right up my alley. Secondly we have Steig Larsson, a true feminist ally. I can’t have anything but admiration for a man who wrote a trilogy (intending to write ten whole novels), exposing disgusting misogynists, portraying off-kilter sexual and romantic relationships completely without judgment and celebrating the weird and wondrous creation which is Lisbeth Salander. Next there is Miranda July whose short stories and novel left me feeling completely inadequate as a writer; if I could create a character with half of the intrigue of one of July’s, I would be a happy little writer. Marilyn French is the next on my list, The Women’s Room cemented my views and made me eternally grateful for the women who have fought, even if quietly, for women to be where we are today, even if we have further to go. Finally there is Sylvia Plath because, of course.

I’m running closer to the word count so I’ll leave this here. I hope you’ll get to know me over the year as more than the blonde haired lass with the purple diary who keeps banging on about women.

*I later read that these are a creation by one of the characters where he puts antlers onto stuffed rabbits.

** Frey claimed that A Million Little Pieces was autobiographical but it was found that a lot, if not all of it was fiction. (Click here for more info)

Guess who’s back…back again…

Conner’s back!… tell a friend.

Conner McAleese

Hello!

I’m Conner, a recent graduate and returning Post Grad student at the University of Dundee. Although my Undergrad degree is in History, it’s in writing stories that my destiny lies. And yes, I am exceedingly thankful I completed a degree with such easily transferable skills and hadn’t spent four years doing Mathematics or Sport Exercise. Praise the Fates for they are generous.

I grew up reading whatever my mum read as we couldn’t really afford to splurge out. This meant that, as an eight-year-old, I would read books like Along Came a Spider and other James Patterson classics. It was brutal. But it was exciting. It was also liberating. I wasn’t scared of big books. In fact, I loved them. I remember selecting the first book in the Wind Singer trilogy by William Nicholson purely to show off to the librarian. I subsequently learned one of the most important lessons of my life in the trilogies’ second novel, Slaves of the Mastery, but that’s a story for another blog.

Currently, my favourite author is Marian Keyes. If you haven’t read one of her novels then I insist (see, INSIST) that you open Amazon.com in a new tab and purchase Rachel’s Holiday this very moment.

On you go, I’ll wait.

Her innate sense of funny, which she combines with harrowing, severe subjects (in this case, drug addiction) is one of the single greatest pleasures I take from her work. It’s also something I hope to emulate as, in my own novels, I try and combine fantastic adventures with real problems. I write primarily for Young Adults and see no reason why depression, alcohol addiction, unwanted pregnancy, suicide, rape, abuse, self-harm and even murder should be withheld from anyone until they reach a certain age, especially as several of these issues affect teenagers much more than they do adults. It is to Marian Keyes I look towards when I want to remind my readers that life may suck now, but there’s still a whole new world out there – if only you’d step out of your bubble and see it.

(Joss Whedon encapsulates this perfectly when he says, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke”.)

At this moment in time, I have written two novels (none, as of yet, published). Conniption and The Court of Wolves and Rabbits, with a third novel five thousand words away from completion. A handful of other manuscripts, all twenty thousand words plus (which is the graduation stage, in my head, from ‘idea’ to ‘work in progress’) litter my hard drive and I hope, one day, they will be plucked from a bookshelf somewhere on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I’m Conner and I write stories.

That’s all you really need to know.

Everything else is buried there, somewhere, in my stories.