Friday, 9 September 2016
Things of the Week: 9th September 2016
Stuff is bubbling under. The Proofs of Devil's Highway have arrived from Snowbooks. I've finished the opening chapters of Wolf's Hill. And some good news from my agent. Unfortunately I can't say anything about it yet (contracts have to be signed, etc, which is some way off.) Sorry about that. Nobody loves a vaguebooker. Or vagueblogger, as the case may be.
Anyway, do you fine folks know Mr Tony Schumacher? No? Then you should acquaint yourselves with both the man and his work. If you get a chance to attend one of his readings, you definitely should - he's an extremely nice bloke and a very funny guy.
Oh, and he's also a bloody good writer.
The Darkest Hour, his first novel, is set in 1946, in an alternate-history Nazi-occupied Britain. I admit it - I didn't get round to reading this for some time, as my first reaction was that this had been done before, a lot.
But The Darkest Hour is a different kettle of fish for two reasons. First of all, you can forget the cliches of evil Germans and square-chinned Resistance fighters - the cast of this novel are human beings, flawed and complex. As in other occupied countries, the resistance movements are made up either of Soviet-aligned Communists or right-wing nationalists, half of them as anti-Semitic as the Nazis themselves.
John Rossett, its protagonist, is a war hero, honoured as 'the British Lion' by the German victors he fought at Dunkirk, and now put to work as a police officer loyal to the new regime. Wracked with guilt and self-disgust, he is - like most of Tony's characters - one of the little people, on the sidelines of history, just trying to keep his head down and survive.
The turning point comes when Rossett has to aid in the deportation of Jews from London's East End - only to find the fate of one of them, a small boy, in his hands. It would be the easiest thing in the world just to hand him over to the SS - but he doesn't. Rossett sets out on a path to redemption, but the costs and consequences will be high...
Imaginative, pacey, well-written and with sharp, fresh characterisation that makes this a very different kind of 'what-if?' book, The Darkest Hour is highly recommended. A sequel, The British Lion, is also out, and Rossett's saga will continue in a third novel.
I actually read the book last year, and meant to say something, but forgot. Tony recently did a book video, and gave a couple of novels he'd enjoyed a mention - one of them being Hell's Ditch, which ended up jogging my memory. You can see it here:
I met Cassandra Khaw at Fantasycon last year; she's an emerging writer of whom good things are already being said (and I hope to host a Lowdown with her soon.) She also wrote this piece on grief and the writing process, which I found thoughful and moving and well worth sharing.
When I was a child, he told me that room service was provided by dinosaurs; they delivered waiters through the windows. He said there were unicorns living in the jungles, magical creatures that could be lured into the open with a single Mars bars. He told me about camping stories, about getting lost in the undergrowth. He told me about fights in school, about racing dolphins in the ocean, about being adrift in sea.
He made my universe larger.
He was my universe.
I’ve had people ask me why I write, what motivates my desire to craft fiction, what makes me want to tell stories. I never really knew. The answers changed with every conversation, every interview. But I think I know now.
Because my father was a storyteller and because every time I wrap my audience in a thread of fresh-spun myth, I remember what it is like being a little girl again, curled against his heart, listening as he rumbled through a fresh tale. Because he taught me how to tell stories and because every time I tell a story, I feel his ghost under my words, feel the magic of that moment when the galaxy pivoted on the breath of a syllable.
Because when the words come together, he’s alive again.
(See also this post by Cate along related themes.)
Elsewhere, I encountered On Being A Late Bloomer by Kelly Robson in Clarkesworld, which struck a profound chord. Time and age have been on my mind a lot lately - this year, it'll be twenty years since I graduated from University, nineteen since I started writing seriously. Twelve years since my first book was published. Seven since my first novel. And the realisation dawns: I'm forty-two. I'm not young any more. I'm not a promising new writer or an up-and-comer. I have been in this game for nearly two decades, doing a succession of fairly crappy, low-paid jobs because the task of both climbing a corporate ladder and trying to build a writing career is just something I can't pull off. I am middle-aged, over the hump, looking at the down slope, and there are younger, newer writers coming up behind me who already seem to be making bigger names for themselves and achieving more than I have yet.
It scares me.
There's a scene in From Dusk Til Dawn where Harvey Keitel says:
Every person who... chooses the service of God as his life's work has something in common. I don't care if you're a preacher, a priest, a nun, a rabbi or a Buddhist monk. Many, many times during your life you will look at your reflection in a mirror and ask yourself: am I a fool?
It's just as true if you're a writer, or any kind of artist. That fear that you'll get to the end, be looking at a miserable and impoverished old age, and for what? No-one will know who you are, and you'll look at the stuff you've done and think "Is that it? This is crap. Mediocre. I gave so much up for this?"
But then I remind myself I'm not in competition with those other writers. There's enough room for us
all, and what counts is the work and the hope that it'll outlast you. If you can use it to pay the bills and avoid having a real job while you're at it, so much the better.
I remind myself - for instance - that Mary Wesley published her first adult novel, The Camomile Lawn, when she was 71. She went onto write ten best-sellers, selling three million copies in the last twenty years of her life. She didn't do too badly, in the end.
And I remind myself, and others, to read Kelly's column.
So don’t give up. Don’t quit. It’s never too late—not at any age. Find your own path, wherever it may lead. Being a late bloomer can be an incredible gift. It can lead to successes you never dreamed of.
And I remind myself, most of all, that none of us are done yet, however late or early in the day it might be.
Have a good weekend.