SciFiLondon

April 23, 2010

I’ll be appearing at SciFiLondon on Saturday, April 30th.  Follow the link to my website if you want to know more

http://www.tonyballantyne.com/?page_id=50


Three German Words

April 22, 2010

Did you know that the German for Daffodil is Osterglocke, which means Easter Bell?

Or that Pansy is Stiefmütterchen, which means Little Mother-in-Law?

Or that Daisy is Gänseblume, which means Goose Flower?

A German teacher told me this on Monday, and I thought I might share it.

I realise that the above has nothing to do with the two themes of this blog, but there is more to life than robots and accordions.


The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie by Keith Brooke

April 14, 2010

I’ve written elsewhere in this blog on the Small Presses being one of the most significant developments in the field of SF/Fantasy over the past twenty years.  Here’s a book that illustrates my point.

Frankie Finnegan is an unhappy dreamer: he’s bullied at school and his home life is falling apart.  To compensate, he escapes into the imaginary world of Faraway.  But what happens when Faraway becomes real and Frankie finds he has the power to shape his own world?

How many people haven’t thought of something like that as a plot for a story?  It’s like the portable hole, an idea that sounds like a good one until you try and write it.  Keith Brooke, however, has the skill and imagination to make the story work, and then some.

Frankie Finnegan is a believable hero.  Irritating, sympathetic and pathetic in equal measures, he stands up to his bullies by feigning obsequiousness, thus winding them up further.   In his struggle to assert himself, he always ends up sowing the seeds of his own further destruction.  When he succeeds in creating the mock Victorian Freakshow world of Faraway, that same character trait is ever present asserting itself, and Frankie gradually comes to understand that it’s not his world that needs to change, but Frankie himself.

This is an elegant little gem of a book:  unsettling, funny and exciting in equal measure.  Keith Brooke has enjoyed some success as a children’s author writing under the name Nick Gifford, and this book would perhaps fit in well with that work.  It is a children’s book, but a book that can be read and understood by adults too- conjuring up memories of childhood and wistful sense of understanding.

The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie (Newcon Press, 2010) by the seriously underrated Keith Brooke.  Recommended.


What do Writers Actually Do?

April 9, 2010

My agent keeps telling me to write about writing on this blog:  many people are interested in the process of writing, he says, and I’m sure he’s right.

What sometimes bothers me, though,  is how much writers themselves know about the process of writing.  There was a prime example of this in the weekend papers.  Without going into too many details, a novelist who had recently left her husband had written an article describing her experiences now she had rejoined the dating scene.  The key point that struck me was her surprise at how insincere many of the men she dated were.

Now, this blog is not about getting down with the Sisters by echoing the message that all men are bastards (this blog, as regular followers will know,  is about robots and accordions).  For a start, I don’t believe that all men are bastards.  I don’t know why all the men she was dating were insincere. Perhaps she just had bad luck – but that’s not what I’m discussing.

What astonished me was her surprise that she couldn’t detect these men in advance.  The reason for her surprise?  She was a writer, and therefore she understood character.

I wonder where she got this idea from.  I’ve met many writers; they come from all walks of life and they display every personality type from the obnoxiously extrovert to the painfully introvert.  Some of them have travelled the world with two dollars to their name, some of them shouldn’t be let out on their own.  I’ve met rude writers and polite writers, writers that bored the socks off me and writers who are great fun to be with.  Some of them were aware of their shortcomings, some of them weren’t.  The idea that somehow because they were writers they suddenly became hyper aware of their fellow humans’ motives is laughable.

Writers are usually great observers of people.  They watch how they interact, they secretly write down their conversations for later on (I learned shorthand so that I could do this without people knowing).  Writers know how to represent character on the page, they know how to make their characters become living, breathing people to their readers (though they don’t always succeed) , but at the end of the day it’s all fiction.

They people writers describe are the people they imagine in their minds, they are not the real people themselves. Writers (and readers) would do well to remember that.