Con Report: Steampunk Asylum X

Hi everyone,

The very giant Steampunk Asylum event was held last weekend in Lincoln’s historic quarter. It’s the biggest blow-out Steampunk extravaganza you could ever hope for. This year, with the event being a whole decade old, was even better.

I spent most of my time in the Assembly Rooms, a lovely Victorian building standing on the cobbles of Lincoln’s Historic Quarter where I had my stall alongside all the other authors and artists. It was a great atmosphere with the whole team getting along and pulling together to make it work (As I mentioned in last week’s post about reputation, these people really have got it right). That is mostly because the organisers of our little corner of the event were incredible, as always.

Tom and Nimue Brown are names that you’ll have heard me mention before. They are the artist and writer of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novels, a Gothic fantasy that is darker and prettier than anything you’ve ever seen (clicky clicky). They are also extremely organised, flexible and good-natured people.

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I did a couple of talks of my own, which went very well with some readers reporting they skipped the proper talks [my emphasis] going on at the university and came to mine instead. How lovely is that? Anyway, after those, I had the esteemed pleasure of introducing the Hopeless, Maine Live section of the day where a team of writers of all kinds got together to perform work that has been inspired by the collective creative setting that Hopeless has become. It was utterly nerve-wracking. As I tweeted yesterday, there is nothing like being in love with someone’s work and then they ask you to introduce it. I really wanted to do them justice, and I think it went quite well. You can read my intro on the Hopeless, Maine website HERE and take a look at the wealth of cool stuff at the same time.

I was kept sane by my creatives:

  • Jade Sarson – Artist of the Cafe Suada webcomic, which is a great read, and host of Bitten By A Radioactive Podcast. You can find her on Twitter, too.
  • Chris Mole – Comic book writer of the Professor Elemental comics, he’s also currently running an already fully-funded Kickstarter for his comic, Brigantia. Which I had the pleasure of reading at Asylum. It’s absolutely beautiful and brilliantly written. You need it in your life. You can find him on Twitter, obviously.
  • Francesca Dare – A lovely person and excruciatingly talented artist, Fran is the brain and hand behind the Penny Blackfeather comic book. She’s a joy to follow on Twitter as she updates with new artwork pretty much every day. She’s also an avid D&D fan with a particular love of Drow.
  • Nils Visser – A fellow author of many books, my favourites are those that give a Steampunk twist to Poe or Shakespeare, although his novel, Amsterdammed, I have on good authority is very good as well. Twitterise him!

The whole weekend was a success, books-wise with lots of them flying off the stall, especially Alan Shaw, which I ran out of. That’s becoming a regular thing which is amazing. Readers came back to give some lovely feedback on The Adventures of Alan Shaw vol. 1 and Old Haunts (Alan Shaw vol. 2). Most people were coming back to see if book 3 was out yet but, alas, I haven’t even finished the first draft, yet. Old Haunts did only come out in April, so I think I’m doing ok 🙂

That’s all I can tell you, really. While the rest of the event sounded great, I was working pretty non-stop and driving home each day so I didn’t get to see much of it. The convention hangover was very real on Tuesday morning, but I had editing work to do so I couldn’t really rest up. A busy week from there on has led to me only writing this blog post an hour before it goes live, sat in my pyjamas which is very uncharacteristic of me (I’m an “if I’m up, I’m dressed” kind of person). Still, I’m sure I can forgive myself this one morning.

I hope, if you came to Asylum, that you enjoyed it as much as everyone else did. Thank you, from the dying embers of my cold little heart, to everyone who came for a chat, bought a book, or gave feedback. You are all very much appreciated and I’m constantly thankful for you all for allowing my dream to stay alive.

 

Thanks for reading!

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I’m Not Here (Reputation)

Hi everyone,

As you read this, I’m not really here (spoooookyyyyyyy).

I’m in Lincoln, probably talking crap to a fellow author or artisty type in the Assembly Rooms as we wait for the hordes of people who will definitely buy our books and artwork…

…sure, sure they will 😀

Anyway, there isn’t much to tell you this week except where I’ll be and what I’ll be getting up to, just in case you feel like popping along to say hi and enjoy the event. At the end is a tip that has come to me out of this week. But first:

Steampunk Asylum is in it’s tenth year, this year. A full decade of taking over Lincoln’s historical quarter with Victorian Science Fiction splendour. I’ll be in the Assembly Rooms (timetable of events here)  with all the other authors and artists, trying to pretend I’m as smart as them (and failing :D).

And now the tip! It’s dead simple, but fundamentally important.

Be Nice

To every author who gripes, complains, or gets involved in things they shouldn’t, this does nothing for your professional reputation. I’m not perfect by a long shot, but I try to always be nice to the organisers of events, I’m flexible as to where they put me and infinitely grateful when they offer a free table or opportunity to do a reading or a talk (even though I still get nervous as hell, years into the job). I also don’t get involved in competitiveness and politics that can sometimes surround our work. There will always be a teeny group in your medium/fandom trying to be the Grand Overlord. No matter what your geeky sub-culture, there will be an elitist caste. These are not people to associate with. Be civil, and move away. It’s easy and good for you to just say, “I’d rather not get involved, thank you”. I’m here to enjoy my writing and have a chat with like-minded geeks and enthusiasts who come to say hello. That’s where the joy comes, and where my attention stays.

Your professional reputation is your entire existence. Be true to your principles, your ideals, but be the most civil and open-minded version that you can possibly be. People appreciate that. And, after you’ve been you for a while, the word spreads. I have had zero editing work from random people on the internet. I have had a lot from people I’ve met at conventions, had friendly chats with on Twitter, or from friends of those people. My requests tend to start with “Such-and-such who you met at time-and-place said you help people with their writing”. Word gets around, you see. And those little editing jobs are how I pay for travel costs, food, table fees and accommodation (I tend to sofa-surf where possible, mind you). Without the editing work, I wouldn’t be able to get to events. Without being friendly, non-competitive and avoiding the BS, I wouldn’t be able to follow my dream.

So, being nice is not only a way to live, but a huge boon to you being able to follow your dream, and possibly make a career out of it.

 

Thanks for reading!

Steampunk Asylum X

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to drop a quick blog post to you all about a pretty exciting event coming up. Next weekend, on the 27th and 28th of August, the tenth annual Steampunk Asylum event will take over the historic quarter of the fair city of Lincoln.

For those of you who have never been, it’s an amazing event jam-packed with spectacular sights and experiences. And I do not evoke the name of the mighty preserve lightly!

As part of the whole event which will see thousands of people descend into Lincoln for Retro-futuristic adventures, the Assembly Rooms (a great building nestled between the Cathedral and Castle) will be host to one of the greatest concentrations of insanely creative people that has ever occurred. And then I’ll also be there, like the mascot monkey that people pity and tolerate 😀

Anyways, check out this amazing list of creatives and what they’ll have on offer right here:

https://www.asylumsteampunk.co.uk/event/authors-and-artists-assemble-3/

I’ll personally guarantee that you’ll find something you love.

 

Thanks for reading!

The (extended) Adventures of Alan Shaw

Hi everyone!

This post is mostly for those who have read The Adventures of Alan Shaw and the sequel, Old Haunts, and who are eagerly awaiting the third and final instalment.

Yes, they exist! The voices in my head told me so! Sheesh.

 

Anyway, I have news.

I’ve been asked many times “what happens between the adventures? Sometimes Alan references things that have happened, but we haven’t read about them.”

It’s almost like he’s a real person whose life doesn’t end when you turn the page! And that was the way I always intended it. Alan continues to have adventures outside of the books, between the other stories. What you read in the Adventures trilogy are just his most stand-out, life-altering excursions.

“But, that means that there are potentially hundreds of adventures that we’ll never read.”

That’s very true, reader. And there are even stories from the other characters between Alan’s own. The whole world continues to turn whether you’re reading about it or not.

I think this comes from my love of being a D&D Dungeon master. Whatever the players choose to do, whatever adventure they go on, the rest of the world continues to change. It means that there are real consequences to the decisions that our fictional friends make. And that’s insanely fun to write.

With that said, I’ve recently been given an amazing opportunity. I’ve been contacted by the lovely C.G. Hatton, a sci-fi author worthy of your attention, who is putting together an anthology of stories with fellow indie authors. As we were chatting about it, we decided that I should write a new Alan Shaw adventure. And so, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

For existing readers, the story will fit into Alan’s life between the first and second stories of Old Haunts which means that all you fans of his straight-talking ace-pilot partner, Merry. You’ll also get more Alan, of course, at his most sardonic and there will even discover more about Harrison Stanhope, the Privateer from Alan Shaw and The Lovelace Code.

So there you have it. I’ll obviously keep you all posted on the anthology’s title and release date as they become available. But that’s been your heads-up, so to speak. I’m pretty excited to delve back into Alan’s past as I’m writing the final book of the trilogy. I hope you’ll enjoy reading both when they hit shelves.

 

Thanks for reading!

The Tao of the Author: Success!

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to The Tao of the Author, a new thread of blog posts that will address the psychological and philosophical aspects of being an author in an effort to help people like me with the mental health issues they might come across during the course of their career. Click the category over on the right side of the page to read the previous posts.

This week, I’d like to talk about success. That one, shining word that covers whatever it is you want to get out of being an author. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to remember what our idea of success is when the world/internet is telling you what it should be.

Let’s delve.

When you start on your path to becoming an author, or any kind of creative for that matter, you have two things in your head. The first thing is the idea; that little nugget of inspiration that you absolutely have to get out of your head and into whatever medium you want to work in. The second is the goal; where you want to be, what you want to get out of doing what you do. Some people write only or themselves. The love of it is what drives them. Some people want to share with others what they’ve done. They want to find a publisher, maybe even move on to getting a movie deal, or becoming a New York Times bestseller. That’s their ultimate goal, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is when people equate gaining their ultimate goal with gaining success. These are two very different things.

For the sake of your mental health, I implore you to learn the difference.

The internet/media deals in “success stories” when it comes to these things. We hear about “overnight success” an awful lot. What they try to tell us is that success is the end, the finish line. J.K. Rowling is considered a success because millions of people have read her books. Same goes for E.L. James (the less said the better about that one). They’re a success because they’ve taken their stories as far as they can go, into other languages, travelling across mediums, making millions.

But there are a lot of writers out there, and although most of them would love to walk the path of J.K. Rowling, statistically almost none of them will manage it. That’s a harsh truth but a truth none-the-less, a truth that shouldn’t stop you trying, anyway. But, if you only consider yourself to be successful when you reach the ultimate goal, whether it’s the one you set yourself or the one set for you by others, then you’re setting yourself up for what I can only describe as misery.

In an effort to explain, I’ll use myself as an example (eek!).

Am I successful? Let’s see.

I’ve been writing seriously for about nine years. When I started out, I wanted to get an agent, get a book deal, have readers and write awesome stories that people enjoy. Maybe I even dreamed of having a movie made out of one of my books. I certainly thought about writing a comic book at some point. I think I wanted to be Terry Pratchett more than anyone else. Maybe the ultimate dream was to be able to pay my bills with my writing. Now, almost a decade on, how much of that have I accomplished?

  • Agent? Nope. Skipped it.
  • Published? Yep! That’s a tick.
  • Readers? Not many, but the few I have are lovely, enthusiastic and supportive. I couldn’t ask for nicer people.
  • Movies and paying my bills by writing? Not even on the radar. The radar hasn’t even been invented in terms of this analogy.
  • Written a comic? That goes in the yes column, although it hasn’t been drawn, yet. Still, the work has been done and I had fun doing it.
  • Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t spontaneously become Terry Pratchett.

Now, do I consider myself to be successful?

This is a tough thing for me because, as you may know, I struggle with self esteem and depression. I want to say “no” very badly. But, I’m going to talk to myself like I’d talk to any of you: positively. For the last nine years I may not have reached my ultimate goal of world domination and financial freedom from my writing but, dang it, I’ve worked hard. There are ticks on that list. And, on the whole, I’ve loved the journey.

Am I successful by the media/world definition of success? Definitely not.

Am I successful by my own standards? Definitely yes!

Whether you’ve just put pen to paper, or you’ve finished your first novel. Even if you never get a publisher or an agent, if three people read your work and they’re your family, it doesn’t matter. A feat of creativity is a success by its very nature. I don’t care if it would win awards, and neither should you. You have done something that no one else has done or can do; you’ve told your story the best that you can.

You see, it isn’t about one huge, final success. You’re not completing a computer game. You’re not working up to the final scene in a movie. This is life. Every time you do something worthwhile, it’s a little success. Your life, and your writing career, is a series of those little successes. Extending that logic, you’re already a success. You can only get more successful because no one can take from you the hard work that you’ve one.

 

The Philosophy

Here we come to the real philosophy section of the post, where we try to find the things that have been said by much smarter people than I, that you might bear in mind when thinking about your own success:

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Teddy Roosevelt.

That’s a good point. Why compare your own success to that of another? Get distracted by their success and it’s easy to miss your own.

“Success has always been a great liar.” – Friedrich Nietzsch

In case you hadn’t noticed, I think Nietzsche and the Stoics are pretty useful for authors:

“A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” — Seneca

And finally, this is another nice one, although slightly off-topic:

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” – Henry David Thoreau

There was another quote that I had in mind for this post, but be damned if I can find it, now 😀

 

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Con Report: Whitby Steampunk 2018

Hi everyone,

On a lovely weekend in July, I had the esteemed pleasure of attending the Whitby Steampunk event. While I’d heard excellent things about his event, I’d never managed to make it until this year. Boy, am I glad that I did!

Set in Whitby Pavilion, which overlooks the very waves on which the Demeter brought Count Dracula to England (spooky spooky) the event is the perfect in a lot of little ways.

Ran by an excellent team who were as pleasant and helpful as they were frazzled, the event was off to an excellent start before I even arrived. It’s always nice to know what’s going on before you arrive at an event and the Whitby Steampunk team made sure that you knew.

The pamphlet for the weekend was stacked with exciting and informative content including talks by the authors in attendance (Leesa DeVantier, Gareth Clegg and myself), Bartitsu demonstrations, and practical workshops by McSkelly Leathers on how to make your own steampunk gadgets and attire. As usual at these events, there was a host of market stalls for people to fill their eye holes with the awesome aesthetic that is Steampunk, and there were plenty of the uninitiated who came to see what it was all about (and left as converts, of course).

The main thing for me, as always, was the atmosphere. Every single stallholder, organiser and attendee was in great spirits, helpful, pleasant and an absolute pleasure to be around. My whole weekend was made by standing stall-by-stall with the excellent Lurcher Gallery ran by Allison and Marcus who had my jaw aching and mind exploding from the riotous fun we had. They also make excellent Victorian clothing.

On a selfish note, I did very well, selling over 50 books over two days. I’m incredibly grateful to the people of Whitby and all of the Steampunks who either bought their first of my books or who came back for another.

Fun stories:

  • Starting an argument between two avid readers who both wanted to read The Adventures of Alan Shaw first which had to be settled by Grandma (hilarious).
  • My usual nerves at doing talks was met with relief when, on the first day, no one came (secretly pleased that I got out of it, I know that makes me a terrible person). The second day I had a small audience of four people that I already knew. I did a little reading and we had a nice chat about writing and steampunk in general which was lovely.
  • Scaring the bejeezus out of two Whitby tourists. How? I’ll tell you. The scene is shortly after midnight. I’ve had a few beers and I’m heading up the famous 199 stairs to the hostel next to Whitby Abbey. To get there, I had to pass through the graveyard that Dracula made his home on his arrival to England, and where thousands of Goth photos have been taken ever since. I, as usual, was dressed in monochrome Victorian attire, and a little giddy. So, when I hear voices from between the gravestones, I realise that there are tourists in the graveyard, making spooky sounds to each other and giggling at the scariness of it all. I slow my pace, remaining hidden for as long as possible, before stepping out from behind a gravestone at the pace of a lost soul. I’m a bit pale at the best of times, and the moonlight must have almost gleamed from my skin. Walking past the couple, I turned my head, slowly, and gave them an emotionless nod of greeting as I drifted on by, straight toward the abbey. Suffice to say, they weren’t giggling when I left. Mwahahahahaha. I felt utterly evil and it was very, very funny. Those poor people.

Shenanigans aside, the whole event was very enjoyable and I’m already looking forward to attending again next year. Maybe I’ll get to scare some more folks in the graveyard (hehehe).

 

Thanks for reading!

Tao of the Author: The Recurring Question

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to The Tao of the Author, a new thread of blog posts that will address the psychological and philosophical aspects of being an author. The first post The Magic Bean talked about how it’s important to remember that there’s no quick track into authorship, and no magic ticket. This week, I’d like to talk about a question that I get asked a lot:

“How do I get published?”

My reply to this is another question which, in the moment and out of context, might sound harsh but I promise that I deliver it kindly.

“Have you finished our book, yet?”

The amount of people who reply “no” is overwhelming. To those people, and to anyone who is reading this who has the same question, I would like to suggest that you do so. Think about first things first. Maintain the dream of becoming published, but don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of it. You aren’t ready if your book isn’t ready. Your author self and your book come as a package, you see?

To the rest of you who do have a book/comic/poetry collection/whatever completed, I would say this: Do your research. Because every track into the creative world is different depending on your product. But, from a philosophical standpoint, I think the mindset behind the question is an interesting thing to discuss. You see, people are focused on doing things “the right way” when there is only “your way”.

We are creative. Our minds are attuned to the world in a way that some people can never experience. Everything we see, hear and feel, while ignored by most, is assimilated by us. We see through the cracks, around the corners. We ask questions of society and normality and, when we realise there is no satisfactory answer, we create one of our own. Whether you write “Chick Lit” (a genre name that I don’t believe reflects how good it really is), Horror, Sci-fi or Fantasy, you are taking the real world, holding up a mirror, and either dissecting or representing it in a way that touches others, that brings people together who otherwise feel as if they exist alone. The nature of humanity is that we can never see what another is thinking, feeling or planning; we see only into our own minds. That can be lonely. Creatives bridge that gap, showing how we all share experiences in a way that everyone can understand. Art, in all it’s forms, is the closest we humans get to telepathy.

And yet, your standard creative will still fall into the trap of asking for a solid answer to shoehorn into our ephemeral world.

We are creatives. From the first time that we see a landscape, or the play of emotion on a stranger’s face and think “I must represent this with art”, we’re walking an uncertain path. But we don’t deal in certainty. Our currency is ideas. Everything we do is outside of comfort zones and social norms. It has to be, or we can never craft anything entirely new.

Our journey into creativity is not an earthly thing. It’s born of a dream, and made of human connection beyond mere words on a page. That kind of connection doesn’t come from a 9-5 bubble. It doesn’t come from the classroom or from grades. It doesn’t come from manuscripts printed in 12pt, times new roman, double-lined spaced with generous margins. It comes in spite of those things.

What am I getting at? There is no certain path. My experience is not your experience. My path is not your path. And no one can tell you how to get published. I got published after years of hard work and then, when I was about to give up, I sent out a tweet. And got a publisher. Is that the “usual” way? No. But it was my path. And I can tell you stories of people who have gotten an agent before getting a publisher, some have self published and Amazon have bought their book that went straight on to a movie deal, other people self publish and sell copies out of the boot of their car on Sundays, more still have diversified themselves to the point that they can write simply anything and make a good wage from that flexibility.

There is no one path. Find yours. You do so by first preparing your equipment. Make sure your book is the best you can make it with the resources available to you. Then head into the woods. Veer off the track. Stumble through the undergrowth. Grow thirsty and hot and lost, and I swear to you, if there is a way for you, you will find it. But no one ever got anywhere by sitting down when the track turned uphill. And sometimes the old man who you meet, whose directions seem so useful, so easy to hold onto as a sign of some certainty in the vastness of the forest, are half remembered lies from when the forest was but a copse of firs.

How do you get published?

By keeping your boots strapped tight, and throwing away the map. You do it your way.

The Philosophy

And here we come to the real philosophy section of the post, where we try to find the things that have been said by much smarter people than I, that you might bear in mind when thinking about your creative path:

“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

And what about if we go even further back in time? Confucius suggested:

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

And, equally important:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

 

Thanks for reading!