Author's Blog

Fantastic dithering & Twittering

I recently took the plunge and joined Twitter. So what, you might say. Or possibly, what took you so long? And anyway, what’s so special – isn’t everyone on Twitter these days? Well… it’s true an astonishing number of people are indeed tweeting, as apparently one must say. But the thing is, it all seems so public and when you’re a fairly private person that first step takes a lot of taking, if you see what I mean. I think what I need is an online forum called Dither.

However for a long time I’ve been on the receiving end of advice from well-wishers of The North Beyond who insist that this is the way forward if I want more people to read the book. And I do, because that’s the only way to get what I want more than anything: which is, as I’ve said many times, for people to get the same pleasure from reading the book as I got from writing it. So a couple of weeks ago I said goodbye to Dither and hello to Twitter.

After grappling with user name and profile name and following and followers and favourites and retweets and mentions and all the rest of it, I’m beginning to feel, as everyone assured me I would, that there was no need for all the dithering (though I still think writing a 500,000 word book was less daunting!). However there are a couple of problems.

One, obviously I want to spread the news that The North Beyond is out there, waiting to be read and enjoyed. The last thing I want to do, though, is to use up tweet after tweet shoving the thing down other tweeters’ throats, so excessive plugging of it has to be guarded against. Two, how in any case is it possible to say what’s required in only 140 characters? Practice may eventually make perfect but in the meantime there’s a way round this.

It’s been far too long since I wrote a new entry for the author’s blog on the website so here, where there’s more space available, is some of what I’d really like to say on Twitter – to which this will be linked when finished. So here goes.

Attention all fans of fantasy, mythopoeia, epic sagas etc. If you find yourselves…
 

  • * Bored by big-bigger-biggest battles and Blokes with Big Swords 
  • * Clutching your head at cardboard characters and clunky dialogue
  • * Done with dragons, demons, dark lords-in-general and dystopia
  • * Groaning at gratuitous gore, goblins and gruesomeness
  • * Miffed by mock-medieval mummery
  • * Plagued by preposterous plots and plagiarism (see below)
  • * Riled by Rowling rip-offs and tormented by Tolkien take-offs
  • * Sick of sorcery, swords (and sandals), sex (as in bad sex) and spells
  • * Vexed by vampires and violence
  • * Weary of wizards, werewolves and witches


…and at screaming-point if ONE MORE ZOMBIE makes an appearance…

There could be an answer! And you know what it’s going to be.

The North Beyond certainly is fantasy, in the sense that its entire setting is imaginary and there are things that happen during the story which would be inexplicable in life as we know it today. However all its characters (bar one) are human beings like us, going about their daily business with varying degrees of success and with intentions good and bad. They find themselves plunged into danger, and a crisis largely of their own making, because they have allowed the mistakes of the past to be forgotten and are therefore at risk of repeating them. As in real life, it’s often the blameless who pay the price. This is fantasy that includes archaeological discovery, language, legend, the effects of climate change, farming, food, friendship and the dangers of not standing up for what we know to be right. Perhaps more typically, it also features hints of a parallel universe and a certain ambiguity about time, a mystery and a quest.

How have readers reacted so far? In most cases, I honestly couldn’t have asked for a more positive response. There have of course been the inevitable nay-sayers! What could I tell the extremely pleasant lady I met at a fantasy convention last year and who yearned for dragons? I had to acknowledge that The North Beyond has no dragon. But, I added brightly, it does have a… well… a monster of sorts – just one, but it’s a very good one… No good. She moaned with longing, patting a little plastic dragon attached to her shoulder, and disappeared into the crowd. Then there was the person who never failed, during the four years of its writing, to enquire after the book’s progress and show every sign of interest in it, but who then told me, when it was eventually published in 2013, that it wasn’t for her and that she’d always known she wouldn’t like it! (This was actually a member of my family, so draw what conclusion you will from that.)

Difficult to say whether enthusiasm from fantasy fans, or fantasy refuseniks, is the more pleasing. Selecting at random, from the pro-camp came:

  • * I was absolutely captivated by The North Beyond. Can't recommend it enough.
  • * A fantasy without wizards! This is a wonderful story.


The antis contributed:

  • * It is a remarkable achievement, where a world unfolds and reveals itself to you.
  • * Worthwhile, wonderful writing.


And there was the person who, although supportive, told me very seriously that he would never read The North Beyond but would like a copy (eBay, possibly?). Temporarily grounded for medical reasons, he was driven to open it… and apparently barely put it down until he’d finished.

In some ways best of all have been those readers who have attempted to read Part 4 very slowly in order to delay reaching the end of the book. Not one, so far, has managed to do this! NB in bold capitals to anyone reading here about The North Beyond for the first time: the book is not a tetralogy and is only published in four separate volumes because of its length.

So there it is, fellow Twitter users. All the things I’d like you to know about The North Beyond that won’t fit into 140 characters.


No Fantasy About These Survival Techniques

A question that frequently seems to occur to readers is whether any research, and if so how much and of what kind, went into the writing of The North Beyond.  This was addressed briefly in the FAQ section of the website and as noted there, I can say that very little, if any, actual research was necessary (I’m a great believer in the power of applied imagination) although certain aspects of the story were underpinned by personal knowledge backed up by reference to a few very useful books whose titles are listed.

A Bird’s Eye View

It’s that time of year again. Or rather, it was, as of the weekend just past. The time for the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/. I do it every year and the same thing happens every time. First, the weather is invariably terrible. It can be sunny, calm, mild right up until the day – then what happens? The rain comes, the wind increases, the cold intensifies. The windows stream with water on the outside and steam up on the inside.

Is The North Beyond like The Lord of the Rings?

As promised in the FAQ section of the website, we’ll now have a look at the notorious $100 question! The moment that the word ‘fantasy’ is mentioned in connection with The North Beyond, it’s almost inevitable that someone will immediately ask: ‘Is it like The Lord of the Rings?’

The short answer is no, it isn’t – but we’ll come back to this later. First let’s consider the question.

What Lies Behind It All?

Some of the queries that have come up in the FAQ section deserve rather longer answers than they’ve received there. One of the most-often asked is: what was the inspiration behind The North Beyond; and since this is a fairly fundamental question, it seemed appropriate to make it one of the first topics in the author’s blog.

What's It About?

It must be the most inevitable question in the world, if you’re an author. As soon as you’ve either written or published a book, as sure as night follows day someone will ask: ‘What’s it about?’

If what you’ve written is, for example, a love story or a crime thriller, a war yarn or a historical novel, a children’s book or something in the science fiction line, the answer must be comparatively easy. But what on earth are you supposed to say if you’ve written The North Beyond? How can you summarise 1400 pages in one snappy sentence?