Guest Post: Alexandrina Brant

Hello everyone!

I have another treat for you today, a guest post from the excellent Alexandrina Brant, a writer with bundles of literary pots on the stove of life.

Alexandrina Brant grew up in Oxford and is still fascinated by those intimate spires. After her BA in Psychology and Philosophy at Reading and MA Linguistic at UCL, she’s now a part of the NHS while she works on editing her Steampunk novel and planning a multi-POV woman’s fiction novel (which involves a baby-stealing scene!) for NaNoWriMo this year. She currently lives just outside York with her husband and their fur-daughter, Salieri, who is so full of sass that she might as well be a tiny tiger.

Alex’s post is talking about a subject close to my heart, the balance of life, mental health, and literary aspirations. I hope you enjoy it!

Writing, Depression, and the Wandering Mind with Alexandrina Brant

I was eager to write a guest post for Craig, but when it came to a topic to write on alex(given that Craig is letting me write whatever I like, hehe), I have been stumped. I used to write a lot; however, I have been struggling more with my depression for the last couple of years, coupled with finishing my Masters (in Linguistics from University College, London) and applying for jobs as one does when one is thrown into adulthood, and it’s come to be that I’ve struggled to find the joy and motivation I had in writing and editing in the past.

As adults, we’re scrounging for whatever time we have to do those things that don’t involve the day-to-day slog of the office and the many tasks of the household, too. And I happen to need downtime after work and with dinner the tv is on thanks to my husband and we get lost in easy fiction and relaxation. Not to mention that I’m an early bird and better work in daylight – when it’s dark outside and electric lights go on, my energy is sapped along with any creativity and inspiration. Which bodes well for the upcoming winter months if I plan to attempt NaNoWriMo in November (not).

The problem is—currently I’m a writer with no focus. I think that’s why blog posts have been coming to my fingers and the screen more than editing and new writing has. They’re short, succinct, they have a point. Writing fiction for me has always been…open-ended, even when I’ve known the direction in which a novel should travel. Which means my mind is constantly rambling along, not quite fitting pieces of the puzzle together.

I suppose I should be thankful. At the moment, I don’t have enough oomph to get going on a new project, which means I should be easily working on something older. But…it doesn’t happen. Instead, my mind dreams about other stories I could be writing; to me, stories have always come the wrong way: hook and cover pitch first, often jointly or closely followed by the title, then some of the simple plot and 2-d characters.

And it’s frustrating, as you can imagine.

Not just the trying to write through the veil of depression but that’s a big part of it. What is the veil, you say (perhaps)? Well…I’ve always empathised with Ralph towards the end of William Golding’s iconic – and much oh-kill-me-it’s-the-class-set-text-said – novel Lord of the Flies where he tries to make leadership decisions and think clearly but narrates that a ‘veil’ has come down over his thoughts. I can relate to that. I know the veil, where ideas should be easy to come because I’ve put myself in the same situations where I used to write so freely, but nowadays they’re absent.

What is to be done? What can we do to move forward through these blacker episodes?

Part of it is to take a step back from the production of work, of the self-imposed pressure of goals. I know that I sometimes go into writing – anything, even emails or letters at work – with the awareness that I have to produce a quality product once I’m done. With fiction writing, this must be restricting. I think sometimes writers have to take a step back and away from all this pressure that comes from the desire to be published…

So, how? Sometimes it’s handy to write a scene that you as writer know will never end up in the novel. Why? Because it can build up the characters, their motivations, and how they interact with each other. Sometimes it’s good just to write. Be it to create something new or to edit or reread a paragraph of something you once wrote. Write a rambling poem of half-rhymes to store in the back of your computer or an emotional letter full of half-truths just because it feels good to put something on paper for once instead of keeping it cramped in the attic of the mind.

My writing style definitely came with a different feel for years before I started editing with an aim to query agents and publishers, quite likely influenced by all the Latin poetry and run-on prose, a la Ovid and Cicero, I was reading at the time for my academic studies. When I started researching and reading and writing in a more accessible style so that my fiction could appeal to a wider audience, I halted a bit of the writing process that is the throwing up of words onto paper with reckless abandon, which a readership might think of as Latinate run on sentences. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I specifically lost a bit of myself, and it was certainly preferable to those moments such as when a critic asked me if English was my second language! (One set of grandparents may be Polish but my mother was born in England and speaks perfect English, so I’m not even bilingual, sadly.) But I did change the way I went about writing.

But then Latin has a particular preposition –que that likes to stick itself on the ends of words and do more for two clauses than ‘and’ can in English.

However, as a linguist, that’s an argument for another day.

About a month back now, I attended numerous talks at the Steampunk Asylum and it got me thinking about the approach I used for my blog at the time when I was applying for my psychology and philosophy undergraduate degrees – it was with a view to delving more into the inspiration and philosophy behind my magnum opus, my first novel baby now only known as WTCB, but I found that this did not appeal to a wider audience as much as my travel stories and real life tales. Yet, there are so many topics and themes about which the writer can espouse. I know there’s potential for more in my novels. I want to explore the imagery and metaphors as battles between the characters rather than just writing a plot with characters in a blog of text that’s straightforward. I like twists and turns that are fictionally ironic and when a reader looks back to each chapter, they see how the threads will have come together. That’s the kind of fiction I want to read and write and that’s what keeps me going by creating scenes that could add to the mystery and background lore. The only problem is that we’re then surrounded by facts that we have the urge to share with our readers! Hence, WTCB will always have the moniker of my magnum opus, as it’s the world I’m most involved with out of all my fiction. Temporal physics, Victoriana classes, genetics and family histories…

To conclude, I think that’s why writing around the piece of fiction works for me. If character Joe Bloggs wants to show Miss Sally the spyglass and ponder about how the sun rises at different times across the city instead of debating whether they should go on the risky hunt for his missing comrade, and that scene kickstarts my knowledge of his motivations to be a coward who observes the world instead of wanting to change it, then I fully support the creation of extra-novel fiction.

I could go into a whole talk about my works and the levels of metaphor and images that I endeavour or perhaps have endeavoured in the past to put into my fiction, but alas the depression has struck me dumb, in a way that inspiration is fragmented across my mind. “Catching butterflies” to use Craig’s own words.

Still, I get along. In what spare time I have away from working on patient record data in the NHS, I am currently editing the second full Steampunk novel I have written – this one set between alternate-history New York and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, featuring ghost-like spirits, automata, and an illegal skyship crew. I’m still looking for a way to write whilst during office jobs, without the stacks of paper printouts that I used to cover with red-pen and then leave for months on end. It’s a case of time again. And coordination.

As a final aside, my latest piece of fiction is being published in the anthology DARK AND LIGHT by the UCL Publishing team, coming shortly. Check out the Twitter and website for details. I’m particularly pleased with my piece, as it is a study of psychology and mental illness in the form of my protagonist, the unnamed woman, as she heads towards fulfilling her plans of murdering her ex.

In conclusion, thanks, Craig, for having me. Maybe next time I’ll have a more coherent topic to discuss.

Thanks for that, Alex! If you want to take a look at what mischief Alex is getting up to, check out her social medias here:

Twitter: @caelestia_flora
Instagram: lingua_fabularum
Website: http://www.alexandrinabrant.wordpress.com
UCL Publishers Prize website: https://www.uclpublishersprize.com

 

Thanks for reading!

To the future!

Hi everyone!

It’s been a little quiet for a few weeks hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’m afraid the constant juggle between life and work has had me clinging to the underbelly of a runaway ostrich and blogging has been left behind in the dust cloud.

I have a few updates, however. I’ll be updating the Tour Dates page shortly with events that I’m booking for next year as they’re coming in thick and fast. The likes of Scarborough Sci-Fi Con and Worldcon in Dublin are a dead-cert with UK Indie Lit Fest and Steampunk Asylum in the works, too.

I can now confirm that Oshibana Complex, my non-gender specific cyberpunk novella, will be worked on by Inspired Quill around November next year. That means we’ll all have to wait a while for another book from me, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

In other news, I’m thinking about starting a Patreon. My main objective will be to help pay for table, travel and accommodation costs for future book signings as this year has been a tough one and I’ve had to say no more times than yes to event invites. That’s obviously not good for an author trying to get more readers and spread their work around. In terms of rewards, I’m thinking of offering monthly author tips, poetry and chapters of novellas that no one has ever seen, maybe even mixing in new Alan Shaw adventures that never made the books. What do you guys think? Do you have any other suggestions of things you’d like to see there? What would entice you? I’d appreciate any feedback and ideas that you all have to offer.

What else?

Ah, for those of you who are followers of Alan Shaw’s adventures, there is some good news. Firstly, the third and final book of the trilogy is going well. I’ve not had a lot of time lately but I keep picking at it and hopefully it’ll be ready for you sometime soon.

Secondly, a new Alan Shaw short story is being published in a sci-fi anthology (name to be confirmed) that will fill the gap between Alan Shaw and the Lovelace Code and Alan Shaw and the Wretched Revenge from Old Haunts (Alan Shaw book 2). For those of you who have been asking about how Alan got to Chicago in Wretched Revenge, this story will answer your questions.

I’ve been asked many times about what happens between the stories in the Alan Shaw books. Some people see the little leaps in time as tantalising questions to be answered. As I always tell people, there aren’t any gaps, only other adventures that didn’t make it into the books. Lots of them. In the coming months/years, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to share more of Alan’s stories with you.

Anyway, with that revelation hanging in the aether, I bid you all farewell. Until next time, my friends.

Embrace the Weird!

 

Thanks for reading.

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!

Guest Post: Emily Scialom

Hi everyone!

We’re back with a brief guest post from Emily Scialom, who has one book out already and another on the way from Austin Macauley very soon! Check it out:

emily_scialom_ps‘The Religion of Self-Enlightenment’ was begun in the summer of 2008. It was just before I went to America and travelled the States during the Obama election campaign; the air was sticky with hope for a better world. It was published by Olympia publishers, who are based in London, in the summer of 2016.

Immediately, things got weird. I was out walking with my sister in a nature reserve named Paradise when a figure of light appeared beside me in a photograph of the spot where I previously had Bible study class with my very Christian friend, Christine. I posted it online and a musician who I was friends with on Facebook from a famous band named the Brian Jonestown Massacre wrote a song about me called ‘Ghost Ghost’. The lyrics? “She’s a ghost/And she holds me so close/She is Jesus Christ/And all the Holy Hosts.”

People always told me never to write about religion. When I first started out I knew there was a problem with organised belief, even though everyone told me I was wrong; by the time the book was published I had been well and truly vindicated.

So I began writing about other topics which interest me: sex and hating the Tories. ‘The Rivers’ emerged over the course of about four years while working for the music app Spotify. This novel will be published soon by Austin Macauley. I very much look forward to sharing it with everyone.

jesus and me

‘The Rivers’ centres around a married couple who are hopelessly in love, named John and Elizabeth. Throughout the development of their story, however, there are a plethora of situations where true love cannot be easily found. Amidst the heartache there are discussions on serious global and cultural issues, as well as the nature of love and God.

roseAs for ‘The ROSE‘ (a beautiful acronym, I’m sure you will agree?), it’s been declared a “cult classic” by television and “a classic of near-death experience literature” in reviews. It’s now selling out on-loop in Cambridge book shops and has only five star reviews on Amazon. I am hoping it will be a tremendous success amidst all the craziness.

The story tells of a man named Carrick Ares, who has a near-death experience and writes a new religion in its aftermath, which is basically a philosophic work centred on the idea of oneness. If you have ever wondered for far too long about who you are and why you are here you will empathise with Carrick’s struggles, and he is very much an everyman who has captured the attentions of many readers thus far.

To purchase a copy for only 6.99 please go to Amazon, Waterstones or Olympia publishers.

There you have it, readers. Another book to watch out for in the near future!

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!

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,

[EDIT – The Tao of the Author series has moved! Due to the necessity for funding, the column is being continued over at my Patreon page as part of the lowest tier reward newsletter.]

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 your 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!