Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Name of the Author: Patrick Rothfuss

There are times when signings are just not what you expect.

When fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss posted on his blog that he was coming to the UK, both FP and I were inundated with requests – even before I’d picked up the phone to talk about an event.

Enter a writer whose effect on his fanbase was among the most powerful I’ve ever seen.

Upon first look, you half-expect Mister Rothfuss to be a real ale drinker, socks under his sandals and a chunky knit sweater; Gods know, he may even be filking before the evening is out. When he gets behind the signing counter, however, he proves that he has comedy, presence, vivacity and a kind of hearty sincerity that only an American can get away with.

He refuses to write random quotes in people’s books – here’s a man with a 250,000 word novel, written across 15 years, saying he can’t be brilliant ‘on the spur’. He cuddles random bloggers, pulls faces as his picture’s taken; he has an evil laugh and a wicked sense of humour – he’ll write relationship advice, he says, and if it’s anything like his writing advice, then I feel the owner of the book would be well-advised to follow it.

The air is warm, the queue is bubbling with enthusiasm, kept laughing by Pat’s quips. His readers are overwhelmed by him, gentle as he is – one couple love the book so much they ask him to dedicate it to ‘Anara’, their unborn child. And he returns their affection – this picture by Lucy Artiss captures one of the novel’s characters so vividly, you realise the remarkable relationship this writer has with his readers goes both ways.

We adjourn to the Phoenix for a Q&A – where he proves he’s not only writer, charismatic leader and agony uncle, he’s also stand-up comic. He starts on the masturbation of poetry (or was that the poetry of masturbation?) and the finer details of monkey-love… I’m sure Kvothe never told Chronicler anything like that.

Monkeys aside, he talks about the craft of writing – some wondrous insights, too many to list here. The difference between writing and editing and the poignant change in attitude that comes with publication – both from others, and from yourself. Suddenly, as we all discover at some point, it isn’t fun any more.

But you do it anyway – because you have to.

The thing that touches me is a simple one – one of the earliest ‘101’ pieces of advice any writer is given. No, not ‘face the cold page’ (though that was there too) but ‘write what you know’. Sod that, says Patrick Rothfuss, ‘write what you don’t’. What you know has become tarnished; you’ve seen it first thing in the morning, you’ve seen it dirty and broken down. What you don’t know is like the high-school crush you never got to snog – it’ll always be beautiful. Take that passion – that belief in its beauty – and write.

I had to ‘fess up that I hadn’t actually read ‘Name of the Wind’ – it’s been many years since I could read classic high fantasy without an autodump from my cynicism gland – but this is a writer who may yet make me change my mind.

His secret? ‘Don’t video me’, he says, ‘this is my front room, and you are all my friends’.

To coin a phrase – his name is Patrick Rothfuss. You may have heard of him.

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Friday, 22 May 2009

Ethics Girl - New Blog Launches!

What’s this? SF/F has ethics? Aside from wondering where they came from – and how they snuck in without anyone seeing – one looks around suspiciously to point an accusing finger.

In fact, SFFEthics is a new blog on the launch-pad, piloted (perhaps ironically) by an author infamous for his hardcore sex and violence. Proving you should never judge a man by his prose, Andy Remic has gathered together a gaggle of authors who want to celebrate the best about the genre. Why we love it, why we’re compelled to read and write it, why we want to celebrate everything that’s good about sf, fantasy and horror.

I’m faintly alarmed to find Andy enthusing, “If we can get all the associated writers together at a convention and suitably drunk on a cocktail of cheap Scandinavian meths, Stella and absinthe, we can also expect a movie! Watch this space!”

I don’t know which worries me more, the fact that such a thing could quite possibly happen at a Convention near you… or the fact that (yes, you guessed it) my name is a part of that above-mentioned gaggle.

(What was the collective noun for authors, again?)

Seriously, though, I’m flattered to be asked; to be a part of something with a mission statement that’s hand-in-gauntlet with everything I keep ranting about – that change is good, that forward is the way to go and that some parts of this industry need to seriously shake the dust!

Check out SFFEthics for the full mission statement and the list of the authors involved.

I guess this means I’m an Ethics Girl?

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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Twitterstream of Consciousness

The first rule of Twitter – and I mean real Twitter not celebrity Twitter or marketing opportunist Twitter – is ‘be yourself’.

While I may front Forbidden Planet, it’s never occurred to me to be anything else – it’s a Twitterstream of Consciousness; I don’t (probably rather obviously!) think before I tweet.

This week has seen my partner’s carpentry driving me round the twist and a certain TechDigest article listing the UK’s most prolific tweeters… in the light of both, I find myself suddenly – horrors! – self-conscious. Maybe even twelf-conscious.

Twitter has another rule, more ambiguous and subtle – it’s probably listed on a dozen Newbie Twitter Guides under ‘positive mental attitude’. I’m calling it ‘don’t be unhappy’. Be yourself, but by All The Gods Of New Media, don’t ever be miserable!

Well, fuck that; we all get stressed. To me, Twitter requires honesty – and forgiving that honesty in others. I’m not a Social Media Maven or a motivational speaker (for which you can be thankful). I’m Danie, and I defend my right to have crap days. And not to feel self-conscious about sending a tweet that isn’t sparkling with happiness.

As for TechDigest?

It’s odd seeing yourself under a microscope. The article made me laugh (I’m immoral? My mother reads the Daily Mail! I have a boring job? I’m not dignifying that with an answer!) Yes, I’m chatty, but that’s how the bonds of the community are built; that’s how connections are made, discoveries are shared – it's how the world is made smaller and how wonderful and unlikely friendships spring from 140 characters.

Having my Twitter presence – and those of my UK friends and neighbours – summarised in five lines is disturbing… is that one sample tweet really all my life has distilled down to?

I know it’s not – seeing myself scrutinised, bizarre though it is, isn’t going to change who I am.

In fact, it reminds me of a wonderful Twitter irony - and something that TechDigest has missed completely: -

Why is Twitter so full of chatter? Because when people are really busy, they don’t tend to tweet.

Funny, that.

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Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Clarke's Awards and Other Stories

When it comes to pushing boundaries, it wasn’t really all that radical.

For the sake of a podcast, kindly done for Forbidden Planet and hosted on the site… for the sake of copies of ‘The City & The City’ a couple of weeks before pub date… for the sake of China MiĆ©ville being kind enough to do a short reading and a Q&A…
…our quintessential ‘author with Sharpie’ signing became something – omygod! – new.

Last week saw The Royal Observatory’s Marek Kukula give his keynote at the Clarke’s Awards, talking about how he owed his wonder at the expanding boundaries of science fact to his love of science fiction. His sincerity was very touching – as was witnessing the overwhelmed expression of Ian MacLeod, Clarke’s winner. It was an enjoyable – and very warm – evening and a wonderful opportunity to be at the centre of a huge, human Venn diagram. Events like these provide inspiration; they’re a great platform from which to springboard new ideas. I hope that Mister Clarke would be proud of his legacy.

Also last week, we had the opportunity to welcome both Charlie Stross and Tony Ballantyne into the London store. Charlie had us all in constant laughter with the zombification of E. E. Doc Smith and an unrepeatable joke about wetsuits; Tony’s event was quieter – but I can’t recommend Twisted Metal enough, the book is astonishing and (insert squeeee here) he’s almost finished the sequel.

As work weeks go, it was something out of the ordinary. Three authors, each of them ground-breaking in his own way, each of them bringing his own insight and humour to the industry… and not just by the text between the covers of his books. Equally revolutionary – and providing illustrations – was Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons, signing at Titan Towers on Friday afternoon. Having already been teased for my Twitter-presence by China, Dave rubbed my nose in it by affectionately cussing the site… even as I was tweeting the link to the signed books…

One day, the industry will get it.

In the meantime, though, things do catch on. When something as easy as a podcast generates so much interest and energy around an event, it’s a lesson so obvious we’re kicking ourselves. It’s high time we did more of this, had more fun, thought outside the till and more about the people. This is ‘new PR creativity’ – and it really isn’t rocket science. When Marek Kukula can talk about the correlation of science fact with science fiction… can we not, in our own arena, employ a little of the same concept?


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