Wednesday, 2 February 2011

I blame Tolkien!

So, yesterday I found myself in a big chain bookshop. I don't normally frequent such places, but – well – it was raining, and seemed more interesting than the greeting card shop next door. Naturally I went to the 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' section (because of course, these genres are the same) to see what was on offer.

Doorstops. Nothing but doorstops. The science-fiction wasn't as bad here, and at least there were a few books that I wouldn't need a back-brace to pick up, but I don't think I saw a fantasy novel weighing in at least than seven hundred pages...and most of them were part of trilogies or longer series! When I look at the old Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber paperbacks on my shelves at home, I am led to wonder how we got to a situation where apparently a fantasy novel must resemble a brick!

The rot started with the 'Lord of the Rings', I think. As with any successful work – and no-one can argue that Tolkien represents a critical aspect of the fantasy genre, though I must admit I personally think that he is a tad over-venerated, there were bound to be imitators. Now this is bad enough when it is taken in terms of style and setting – how many pseudo-Tolkien sagas set in fantasied European settings are there out there – but that was not the only 'lesson' that was taken. Big is Good! The more pages the better! And the result – huge, heavy books that tell no more story than a writer like Clark Ashton Smith (who could do in a short story what took Tolkien a trilogy), but using about a hundred times as many words.

OK, I admit it, I'm biased here. I'm a freakisly fast reader, but darn it all, I don't like large paperbacks! The spines crack in the middle, they are cumbersome to read, and never mind the fact that such rambling plots never seem to go anywhere! Give me one of the old Sphere Conan paperbacks any day of the week.

So that's what I intend to do. No hundred-thousand-word epics for me!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Retreat...

I've decided to bite the bullet and set myself up in a situation when I can get 'The Wizard Slayer' out of my system quickly. Being able to write for me requires total concentration for an extended period, I dare say that is true of almost anybody who writes, so I'm taking myself off on a 'writing retreat' for a week at the end of the month.

I have booked myself into a lovely B&B I know in the Peak District, with a ruined castle on the opposite hill and a series of spectacular caves to wander round, with the goal of writing 8,000 words a day for six days...completing the novel in one quick burst. (Well, at least the first draft, in any case!)

This means a slight change to some of my earlier plans. What is of paramount importance between now and then is that I plan out the book in pretty extensive detail, producing not only a decent outline of the plot and characters, but also a detailed outline of the shape the novel will take. If I have it all planned out before I go, and then follow that plan while I write, everything will go a lot easier that if I try and do it free-form...this could well be the difference between finishing and not.

So this week, my posts will focus on crafting the structure of the book.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Frozen North

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a ‘fantasy Arctic’ setting for a very long time now, and I’m finally beginning the process of turning into reality with both my new campaign, and my novel, now both intended to be based in this setting. The key vision is of course a Viking longboat sailing through icebergs, but there should be a good deal more to it than just that! I really want to do a ‘Robert E. Howard’ or ‘Clark Ashton Smith’ with this setting, evoking that same sense of grandeur, mixed with horror, adventure, and action. Along with the ‘Eldritch Horror’ that tends to go hand in hand with such a style, and which I want to feature in the setting.

So I need dark, twisted cities well into the ‘decadent’ phase of civilisation, strange cults worshipping dark and sinister gods, and strange sorcery that boils down to ‘that which man is not meant to know; I plan to make magic the equivalent of studying the Necronomicon, with potentially the same consequences. Lots of focus on summoning strange creatures and the like!

As for creating the world itself, I’ve decided to basically do it as I go. For the campaign – now just a week away – I need the Fortress-Town of Imrae, the dungeon underneath it, and perhaps a small map of the local area. Though given that it is essentially barren wasteland, I’m not sure a map of it is necessary! The book will rove over a slightly wider area, and any subsequent books will flesh out the world further. I have a vague idea of what lies in four directions, and in my head the landmass is analogous to Greenland – and yes, this means that the other Arctic lands are in play. (And yes, I know that Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea was essentially set in a Greenland analogy. Some of his most brilliant work – I only hope that I can write half as well as he. A quarter.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Bring on the ‘Zines!

With Unknown Sagas, there are now at least six ‘zines in the OSR (Fight On!, Knockspell, NOD, Oubliette, Encounter being the others I am aware of – if I’m wrong, let me know!) Is this a bad thing, fragmenting the industry too much? Not in the slightest. If anything, there are probably too few ‘zines out there at the moment, not too many! The fanzine / semiprozine is a wonderful part of the hobby that I think the internet did quite a bit of damage to over the last couple of decades, not only for the reader, but also for the participant. The plethora of fanzines in the early years of the hobby were a wonderful resources of ideas and inspirations, as well as providing a training ground for many of the best authors in the industry in their formative years.

If anything, the Internet should have made fanzines available to a wider audience than ever before, but somehow, it didn’t seem to happen. Though I am quite sure that there are still a selection of fanzines out there, they rarely seem to attract a widespread amount of attention. If you are running one, publicise it! Put up a PDF, and shove it on the internet, let people see it!

There is room out there for as many fanzines as there are people who are willing to put them together. On the one hand, you have some zines where every article is written by a different contributor, magazines such as Fight On!; on the other extreme, you have some such as NOD that are the work of a single person. And both of them are equally as good in their own special way. A ‘zine can quite easily be done as the work of an individual group of friends, or even an individual, and I believe still remains an excellent way of spreading ideas and inspiration, even in a world of blogs, websites and wikis. Self-publishing tools have made it easier than ever before to launch such publications.

So let’s make 2011 the year of the Fanzine!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Terrific Response...

Whenever you announce a project like this, there is always at the back of your mind the fear that no-one but you will have any interest, and that you are just firing a shot off into the darkness. I must admit, I had this fear again with Unknown Sagas.

And it has already turned out to be totally unjustified. The submissions are already coming in thick and fast, both in terms of articles and artwork. Forty-eight hours and I already have a backlog to work through! This is absolutely brilliant. But please keep it up! More submissions, please!

Everything seems to be going pretty well right now. I have a 'gamer retreat' scheduled for late April that promises to be lots of fun, and progress on the novel is going on right now – I can't wait to actually start typing next week! (New title – The Wizard Slayer.)

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Big Announcement!

OK, I've been promising the 'big announcement' for a couple of days now, so here it is...

I am launching a new fanzine, to be called 'Unknown Sagas', that will cover Swords & Wizardry: White Box. I aim to publish this fanzine quarterly, at least for the moment, and it will be produced in the digest-sized format, to match the newest release of the White Box rules, which are impending. This magazine will be distributed for free in PDF format, and a hardcopy version will be available through Lulu at cost – this will be a free fanzine, just as in the earliest days of OD&DITIES.

Now, naturally, such a fanzine is nothing without submissions, so I'm calling for writers and artists! No submission restrictions on content, this fanzine is to be by the fans and for the fans; that's the whole idea of a fanzine. I'll take spells, monsters, adventures, house rules, classes, rants, poems, campaign write-ups, short stories, anything in fact that the readers wish to send in! The rules system used in any article should be 'White Box', naturally, and submissions, ideas, questions and comments should be in Word, Open Office or rtf format, to

'm still working on the novel at the same time, of course; having three new projects in the fire will make life interesting. The first book, 'The Forgotten Tomb', will be out in April-May, more details to follow in the coming months on this. All I will say right now is that it is intended as very much in the spirit of the OSR – my intent from moment one was to write a series of 'OSR' books, in this case especially inspired by White Box.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Another great day – and a nice surprise!

Well, I thought the session on Saturday was good. And so was the session on Sunday! I blew up the Enterprise, killed off Picard, and that was just in the first half hour! That's one Star Trek universe that will never be the same again. Star Trek: TNG desperately needs a reimagining, and if you get into its guts and reach in for the good stuff, there are some excellent possibilities for interesting storytelling and dramatic potential. Rather a pity that in the actual series they killed most of the drama with the three evil words, “No Character Conflict.” I mean, seriously. Imagine someone pitching a show today saying that this was the 'core concept'. They'd be laughed out of the Writer's Guild.

Seriously, though, a fantastic session. Looks like we're definitely going ahead with the 'gamer retreat' we have planned for April, soon as we get the actual days nailed down, so definitely something to look forward to there. And in even better news, that 'IRC' Swords & Wizardry game I was planning to run has materialised into a face-to-face game! I spoke to the two players in the weekend group who were interested, said something like, “Of course, it would be great if we could do this face-to-face”, and the response boiled down to, “Why not?” So a Thursday night campaign is born, and already three people are signed up to it! Fantastic.

Big post tomorrow. Really big. Watch this space.