I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just had an article published in this new collection of essays about Tolkien. My essay is on Smaug and the literary history of dragons, from the Bible up to the current day! Want a copy? Right here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fellowship-Dragons-Welcome-Francesca-Barbini/dp/1913387984/ref=sr_1_1?crid=O850ZALFISR1&keywords=dragons+welcome+barbini&qid=1657708194&s=books&sprefix=dragons+welcome+barbini%2Cstripbooks%2C64&sr=1-1.
So, I’ve written a chapter in the newly published collection from Luna Press: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s a cool piece about the ‘bromance’, Kirk and Spock, Frodo and Sam, Han Solo and Luke, etc. Check it out maybe!
Great piece from my mate Grim Garry:
Luna Press Publishing are soon to be publishing A Shadow Within: Evil in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ve got an essay in the collection entitled ‘Embodiments of evil and reflections of social change in second-world fantasy’. You can read about it here: https://www.lunapresspublishing.com/single-post/2019/04/14/C4P-A-J-Dalton—Embodiments-of-evil-and-reflections-of-social-change-in-second-world-fantasy
New figures show that fewer UK writers earn enough to live on, as ACE blames falling sales of literary fiction on the recession and the rise of smartphones.
The image of the impoverished writer scratching out their masterwork in a freezing garret remains as true today as it was a century ago, according to a new report commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE), which revealed that collapsing sales, book prices and advances mean few can support themselves through writing alone.
The report found that print sales of literary fiction are significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties and that the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years.
The growth in ebook sales in genres such as crime and romance has not made up for the shortfall in literary fiction, prompting ACE to outline ways it intends to support affected authors.
“It would have been obviously unnecessary in the early 90s for the Arts Council to consider making an intervention in the literary sector, but a lot has changed since then – the internet, Amazon, the demise of the net book agreement – ongoing changes which have had a massive effect,” said ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
Carried out by digital publisher Canelo, the report analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m. Paperback fiction had a more extreme dip, seeing declines almost every year after 2008. In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.
My latest publication is an academic one – an essay in the collection above, init. Not too bad.
The short answer is ‘sort of’. Because SFF is genre fiction, it inherits and works through tropes and motifs from past works and sub-genres (many of which were implicitly partriarchal, heteronormative and based on the values of ‘white’ societies). In order to represent alternative viewpoints, therefore, modern SFF has to work very hard to subvert those past norms. Sometimes the subversion is successful but, often, the subversion goes unnoticed by the reader and the reader considers the book poorly written or unintentionally cliched. Tricky. Want to read about the subject in more depth? Then have a look at the new Luna Press collection of essays on the topic. I’ve got an essay in there (based on my PhD), and so have the likes of Juliet McKenna, Kim Laikin-Smith, and many more: https://www.lunapresspublishing.com/single-post/2017/04/01/Ten-Strong-Voices-Join-The-Luna-Family
- The return of epic fantasy?
I’ve received a couple of fan emails asking why there isn’t more ‘epic fantasy’ around at the mo. Added to that, several conventions this year have had panel discussions on the epic fantasy sub-genre. What’s going on? The ‘epic’ sub-genre of fantasy literature was the dominant sub-genre in the 80s and 90s. It was overtaken by the urban, dark and grimdark sub-genres a good while ago. Are people yearning again, then, for that time when kings and queens were noble, when a hard-working apprentice could save the world, and when evil could be defeated by good old fashioned morality? Are people ‘sick’ of the depressing, brutal and fatalistic fantasy literature created by current social and historical forces (Brexit, Trump, political scandals, etc)? You bet they are. And who can blame them?
- The lost age of heroes?
Curiously, although dystopian YA movies did well at the cinema for a number of years (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc), the trend seems to be returning to high/superhero (‘Chosen One’) fantasy. Marvel hero stories are swamping both tv and film. At the cinema, we’ve got Avengers, Thor (third film in production), Antman, Dead Pool, Guardians of the Galaxy (second film here soon), Doctor Strange, etc. On tv we’ve got Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, etc. And let’s not forget the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise – classic high fantasy. What’s happening here? Why are stories from the 70s gaining such traction? Are people really harking back to a nobler time, when humans were ‘better’, when they may have walked with gods? You bet they are. This yearning isn’t new either. It’s a key theme of the Iliad as well. We see how far we have fallen since the ‘golden age’, and we feel grimy and ashamed. We try to envision how things once were, so that we can mimic and recreate that better past.
- Changing fashions and new generations?
Every 7-10 years of so, we have a new erotic series shocking popular culture. We had Emanuel in the 70s, Jilly Cooper in the 80s, Jackie Collins in the 90s, E L James (Fifty Shades) in the 2000s, etc. After each iteration, people get bored with the media saturation and there’s a ‘lull’ in the market. There is a welcome reprieve. Then the younger generation grows up and it all starts again. The same happens with vampire fiction – you don’t need me to list the examples. And the same has happened with zombies. Are we telling the same stories over and over again? To an extent (there is certainly a lot of tired repetition), but there is also updating and some originality going on. What we can say, then, is that there seem to be a limited number of basic stories, but they are always relevant. We are going to see the same old stories repackaged over and over forever more, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
- Takeaway message?
The takeaway message is that audiences still crave hope. They eventually return to enduring stories of hope and triumph. Yes, it’s fresh and interesting to have moments and sub-genres where the dark side wins, or where everything is morally ambiguous, but in the longer term, our positive spirit is shown to win out. Amen.
‘I was bitten by a radioactive printing press.’
‘I’d murder my own grandmother to write a Doctor Who novel.’
Here is a summary of the open and inspiring conversation that took place between Marcus Gipps (editor at Gollancz) and guest-of-honour Scott Lynch on 24 Sept 2016. The summary was put together by A J Dalton (Gollancz author), audience member.
Marcus Gipps [MG]: So, Scott, when did you start writing? And why fantasy?
Scott Lynch [SL]: It was basically laziness. I wasn’t much of a fantasy reader early on in my life – I was reading scifi instead. From the local library I was borrowing True Story Adventure Books (the US version of Fighting Fantasy style choice-stories), John Christopher’s Tripods sequence, and The Prince in Waiting, and Doctor Who novels. I was reading Doctor Who from like 8 or 9 years old, and hadn’t even seen the TV show. My idea of Doctor Who from the books bore very little relation to the TV show, actually! I read ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and they had huge influences on me. I read Frank Herbert’s Dune like ten times. I was disappointed to learn Herbert died when I was just 8.
Then this guy in a corridor at school comes up to me, puts a copy of Raymond E Feist’s The Magician in my hand, says ‘Dude, read this!’ and walks away. I was in the book shop buying the whole sequence just four days later! That’s how and when I started reading fantasy.
I wanted to be a musician, and was only held back by the issue of not having any musical talent whatsoever. Then I wanted to be a comicbook artist, and had some ability, but realised I was just dicking around while others were really dedicated and hard working. So, because of that laziness I mentioned before, writing somehow ended up being the easiest path for me. By my late teens, I was realising that writing was it.
In my twenties, I was living a ramshackle life. To get money, I started self-publishing D&D materials, because Wizards of the Coast were kind of open source with it. I learnt a lot of craft there, concerning magical systems and organising a world. Once I started writing books though, I realised that was my preference and where my energy should be – gaming can be frustrating when the other players just don’t do what you want them to do!
MG: How did you get published?
SL: I was bitten by a radioactive printing press. No, I was lucky enough to be a member of an online forum that had real writers on it (like Neal Asher and R Scott Bakker, etc). Us aspiring writers all liked to moan and say exactly how things should be in fantasy writing. One of the writers then challenged us to write something or just shut up. I was kind of forced to write a prologue and a scene from The Lies of Locke Lamora. I put up a blog called ‘Newbie writes a book’, which was all of four posts. The writer who’d challenged me said, ‘Good work. Write the rest.’ And one person on the forum was an acquisitions editor, which never happens of course. It was Simon Spanton of Gollancz. He emailed me! He asked for more. I said, ‘Give me 48hrs!’ I wrote the whole first chapter of Lies and sent it to him. He said, ‘It’s brill. Where’s the rest?’ I didn’t have the rest, of course. Eventually, Gollancz said, ‘We have faith. We’re buying it.’ By late 2005, Lies was done and I haven’t had to do respectable work since then.
MG: The well documented break between books two and three, a period you’ve been very open about, seemed to help with the success of Lies?
SL: Yeah. The break allowed word-of-mouth to spread. It’s the long-tail and networking effect. It’s nothing I consciously did. It was huge luck and the human decency of people who bought the books.
MG: And you were being very open about your clinical depression.
SL: It was kind of forced on me. A guy interviewing me said, ‘We’ve not heard from you for two or three years. Where have you been?’ It struck me nakedly – I thought, ‘Either I’m open or I dodge this question for the next three years.’ Being open was an act of self-defence. It was useful. It was therapeutic. I was going through a divorce. It takes anyone months to realise they’re not a failure. Clinical depression is often driven by a cultural requirement for self-sufficiency. The attitude is unhealthy. My grandma lived six decades in a marriage like that. She even reached the point where she slipped and broke her arm but didn’t want to ‘bother’ the doctor. It sounds ridiculous, but that is what happens and where it can get you.
Once you open up, you realise it’s not just you. The failure is not just you. Depression, when you are isolated, is a self-feeding and self-defending illness. When you share about it, you find similar symptoms in other people and it ends the silence and self-feeding isolation.
MG: Queen of the Iron Sands? What is it? Why?
SL: It’s an online serial novel I started in 2009. Back then, it was a different digital landscape. There was no crowd-funding, just the ‘donation model’. I would put up a piece in the series and ask for donations in order for me to complete the next piece. The model doesn’t really work – you get one-off big donations, a few small ones, and then a lot of no-donations. We had fun with the series though. I wanted to write a Flash Gordon serial where Ming was not useless and incompetent. It was also self-therapy – but the seven episodes show how successful it wasn’t in the longer-term. It’ll be finished before 2087, I hope. Brandon Sanderson will probably have to finish it.
MG: And the future? You have The Thorn of Emberlain coming. Was it always a seven-book series?
SL: I might make it 49 books, Marcus. That okay? No, I’m a believer in sticking to what you say in terms of the number of books. I hit on seven as a number between three and infinity. I don’t want a series splitting and becoming unmanageable. I’m big on structure. I’m a structuralist. The number of books is significant.
With The Republic of Thieves, I gave Simon Spanton at Gollancz half the book and said, ‘Let’s end on a cliff-hanger. I’ll do part two another time.’ Simon, to his infinite credit said, ‘Let’s park that and wait till you get better. And I now see he was right.’ The Wheel of Time was meant to be a trilogy! I don’t want to do ‘Hitchhiker’s book five in the trilogy’. I want to land the thing properly in seven books.
Question from A J Dalton in the audience: Who was your favourite Doctor Who? And would you ever write a Doctor Who novel?
SL: Oh, whatever answer I give is going to be like blasphemy to some. My favourite Doctor was… Sylvester (and my second was Tom Baker). Look, I was a lonely kid. I saw the novel ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ on another kid’s desk and the cover and style of it was fascinating, like an artefact from an alien world. It opened other worlds to me. It was a Sylvester book.
I wrote Doctor Who fanfic as both a kid and an adult. I would murder my own grandmother to write a Doctor Who novel. But I should finish my own book first, should I, Marcus?
MG: I’ll do you a deal. Hand in your own book first and I’ll introduce you to the head of BBC Books.