Dramatis Personae

Many novels, particularly the lengthier multi-volumes in the fantasy field, are packed with characters, some major, some minor, others appearing so intermittently that they can be easily forgotten. Many readers will remember a full cast list with no problem; or they simply go with the flow and, especially with a well-written story that has an engaging narrative, hardly ever need to check the list of characters, or dramatis personae . Nevertheless, having something that can be referred to when you’re unsure just who is who can be invaluable. Think Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and you can see what I mean. Or you may be reading mainstream or crime or any other genre: the arguments for the dramatis personae may still apply.

You can read the full essay over on the Penkhull Press website. Don’t forget when you do: these are guidelines, not rules.



On maps

I recently posted a blog on the new Penkhull Press website about maps and their value when writing your novels.

I have read many stories in which the protagonist moves across vast landscapes, through difficult terrains, in unrealistic times, with the minimum of effort. Is it really possible for someone, for example, to track dozens of miles through unfamiliar, dense jungle, lumbered with a backpack, in a few short hours, even at night (unless s/he is a superman/woman, of course)? This contraction of activity/time is a common fault in some fantasy and SF adventures I’ve read.

The essay is meant as general guidelines (rather than rules or a code). You can read the whole piece here.


Honey, I lost the car

A few hours chin-wagging over beer and food in a Birmingham city centre pub, with a couple of good friends, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon? I gave James Brogden a copy of his soon-to-be published collection Evocations (coming from The Alchemy Press) and he was very pleased with the book. We talked about a possible new anthology for 2016 (more details later). Otherwise the topics of conversation were, mostly, inconsequential. But that’s fine – one can’t save the world every time one meets.

I drove into Birmingham from the south, along the A38, aiming to park somewhere in the Brindley Place area. Now, I lived in Birmingham for 20-odd years. I thought I knew the area well enough. Turns out, I didn’t and I was confused further by the new build in the that area — and all those bloody road closures due to them tearing up the city centre. How much more of Brum can they dig up?

Continue reading

International Women’s Day

Whilst taking a leisurely time over dinner the other day, Jan and discussed (surprise, surprise) horror and fantasy fiction, among many other things. And since International Women’s Day was fast approaching (it’s arrive – it’s today!) we started listing the (horror and fantasy) women writers we’d read over our long years. The list grew quickly and so, to celebrate IWD, here’s our compilation of these fine women writers, in alphabetical order:

Joan Aitken, Sarah Ash, Debbie Bennett, Anne Billson, Leigh Brackett, Octavia E Butler, Poppy Z Brite, Pat Cadigan, C J Cherryh, Nancy Collins, Storm Constantine, Louise Cooper, Raven Dane, Aliette de Bodard, Jan Edwards, Phyllis Eisenstein, Cate Gardner, Barbara Hambley, Elizabeth Hand, Joanne Harris, Diana Wynne Jones, Chico Kidd, Nancy Kilpatrick, Katherine Kurtz, Ellen Kushner, Samantha Lee, Tanith Lee, Ursula Le Guinn, Kelley Link, Alison Littlewood, Anne McCaffrey, Juliet McKenna, Patricia McKillip, C L Moore, Lou Morgan, Anne Nicholls (Anne Gay), Thana Niveau, Lisanne Norman, Andre Norton, Sarah Pinborough, Anne Rice, Justina Robson, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Mary Shelley, Kim Lakin Smith, Mary Stewart, Sam Stone, Melanie Tem, Lisa Tuttle, Freda Warrington, Barbie Wilde, Liz Williams, Connie Willis, Terri Windling, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Jane Yolen…

Not a bad list written from memory and on the back of a scrap of paper. There will be many more we’ve missed. I thought about Googling them today but that would be cheating; but I did look anyway: here is Wiki’s suggestions. If you wish, please add further names in the comments section.

On the road again…

Over the last couple of days Jan and I have travelled many miles along motorways and trunk roads. The thing that most stood out for me were the road works. They were everywhere, narrowing the carriageway, blocking off motorway lanes and, on one occasion, closing a major road entirely (the A50) necessitating a detour (a brief one, thankfully).  Inevitably, all of our journeys took longer; fortunately they didn’t cause us to be late to any of our appointments (I always insist in leaving in “good” time).

All these road works were surrounded by temporary barriers and especially, in their thousands, traffic cones.  I did wonder what would happen if there ever is a shortage of cones, if there’s insufficient to “protect” the workforce. Maybe the number of roads being dug up would be reduced, meaning fewer delays. Just a thought…


The new VAT regulations

Earlier this month I emailed Vince Cable, expressing concerns on how the new VAT regulations will affect small concerns such as The Alchemy Press, my imprint. Yesterday I received a reply. In the interest of open government, here it is:

Thank you for your email of 6th January 2015 to Vince Cable.  Your letter has been passed to HMRC as this Department is responsible for the administration of VAT and I have been asked to reply.

You are concerned about the changes to the VAT place of supply rules that came into force on 1 Jan 2015.

It may be helpful if I provide some background. Previously, intra-EU supplies of digital services (broadcasting, telecoms and electronic services) to non-business customers across the EU were subject to VAT in the Member State where the supplier belongs. As announced at the 2013 Budget, from 1 January 2015 these services are taxed in the Member State in which the consumer is located. This change is important to the UK. It removes a distortion of competition which unfairly favours businesses that locate to a Member State with a lower rate of VAT than the UK. It therefore creates a level playing field for all UK businesses and helps protect UK revenue. UK consumers of these services will pay UK VAT no matter where in the EU the supplier belongs. This change also affects UK businesses which supply non-business customers in other Member States, as local VAT is due on those sales from 1 January 2015.

Continue reading

The Book Thief

I watched The Book Thief last night, a movie directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse as the girl Liesel. The film is set in a small German town during WW2.

In 1938 Liesel is taken from her communist parents and given to a “proper” German family (but it turns out that they are not quite as proper as the Nazi’s would wish). It takes some time but eventually Liesel is able to call Hans and Rosa (Rush and Watson) her Mama and Papa. The story continues throughout the war years, during which Liesel befriends Rudy, discovers books (and steals them – borrows them, actually – from the Bürgermeister’s house), and meets Max, a Jew on the run from the Nazis. And learns to fear the latter.

Continue reading