Monday, October 26, 2009

On writing yourself into a really stupid corner

You both may have noticed that I've been rewriting my Interminable Work (aka the Snowdrop Poem) over the past few weeks. This is one of my madder projects that's been going on (and off) for more years than I care to remember: a long poem about a girl called Snowdrop who stumbles into a magical world - much against her will - one Crimbo Eve and has many adventures with fairies, sprites and various lost souls, some of whom would quite like to see her sacrificed to continue the magic of the place and, incidently, bring about the birth of a new sun to replace the one that in the midst of its winter solstice death.

Anyways, one of the strange beasties that plays a role in the story is a huge tiger. Which is my first mistake because while the rest of the poem makes great use of English folklore, there's sod all folklore in England relating to tigers. Cats, yes; tigers, no.

What happened is this. Five years ago the folks over at PFFA held a reality-style contest to find the World's Next Great Superpoet. Thankfully I resisted the urge to enter the contest, but I did play along by trying out some of the weekly challenges - one of which was to write some long nonsense verse. Being a Lear-fanatic, I had no choice except to write some verse about a tiger:

Great Tiger she sits on her rocky throne
and thinks of her world in a rumbling drone:
"What wonders I see, when the moonlight shakes
and trees make a dance with the homesick drakes -
such artfulsome drakes to unblock the clouds,
such spindle-full trees to unwrap the shrouds
for Great Mallocka Tiger.

"My stripes are a kilter of tans and blacks,
my claws are a slaughter of iron in stacks
to cleave the sweet meat. I'm a belching maw!
I snarl at the bushes and sniff the spoor,
I startle the rats and the ruddy fox
and even mankind is afraid to box
the Great Mallocka Tiger."

Great Tiger, she says: "I can see a child.
He strides through the woods with a gait so wild,
with jaggering arms and a clenching face -
what troubles him so to invade my place?
I'll stalk him through bushes and pounce him down.
I'll paddle his body and crack his crown -
I'm Great Mallocka Tiger!"
... etc, etc, etc.

Not the greatest verse in the world, I'll admit, but I liked the result. So for reasons I can't quite remember I added the poem to the Interminable Work, getting another character (the Smuggler) to perform the song as part of the Queen's Fair on the hill overlooking the Romney Marshes.

Then somewhere along the road I decided to conflate the boy in the song with one of my key characters - the Tallyman. My second mistake was to mention in several different places that this Badass fella sat on a tiger's skin. I thought I could get away with this because the Tallyman is not of English stock - proved by the fact that he talks in ghazal couplets (lord help my bad decision-making skills - have either of you ever tried writing sodding ghazals?!?).

Except that whenever I look at the Mallocka song, five years later, I can see it for the crap that it is. It has to go.

Now my mistakes so far hadn't been fatal; it would've been reasonably simple to get the Smuggler to perform a different song, and rework those sections which mention that the Tallyman sits on a tiger skin so that he sits on something a little more, well, folkloreish - say the hide of a Welsh dragon, or a Dun Cow, or whatever. That way I wouldn't have to work out a way to embroider the alien tiger into the homely folklore of the poem. But before I got the chance to do this, I made my third mistake: I wrote a new section (a couple of years back, I think, in NaPoWriMo desparation) bringing the tiger back to life, and this time the lines made for some Good Verse ...

She walks the sods and the soils of the marsh,
each saucer paw padding the dirt
into oval dents. When ditches block
her path she leaps them, pitching her limbs
in a stretch across the stagnant waters -
an arch of blacks and oranges burst
through the robes of mist, disrupting geese
from sleep in the reeds. She sniffs at the earth,
whiskers herding the hardened stalks
of winter wheat in whorls and swirls,
touching, tasting the tangs of this world.

When she spots the dam, she stops mid-pace -
a frozen bronze: the sheep looks up,
cud on the tongue, twitch-ears sculling
for a hint of sound beside the expected
creaks and cracks of her cold-hugged home.

Slow, she shifts a splinter of an inch:
let slide the muscles, let slip the claws
through the clay clods and crouch, and settle
the tail, and wait. Watch for the duck
of a head, the scrape of hoof on ice ...

... and dash! A flash of fur striping
the field; a snarl, a flick of the paw
and they tumble down, a tussle of wool
and scat - the herd stampedes, their bleats
a billow of alarms alerting neighbours:

danger! Danger! Dogs on the loose!
Teeth on the throat! Tearing and ripping -
run to the gate; gather and huddle!

But she is no hound. She hauls the meat
back to the ditch, dips through the reeds
and into the water, etching a curl
of ripples from bank to bank as she paddles
her course to the sewer, and the sea beyond.
... not perfect, of course, it can do with a bit of buffing and stuff, but there's no way I'm going to ditch this section!

Which means that, like it or not, the tiger has to stay in the story.

Which means that somehow I've got to figure out a way to make the tiger's inclusion in the cast of characters ... work.

Which is why I'm standing in the corner of my metaphorical room, paintbrush in hand, wondering how the heck I'm going to get myself out of this mess. Because the next section up for revision is the Mallocka song.

Maybe some googling can help me out ...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 3.1 - Voices in the Dark

Voices in the Dark

"As God is my witness, you'll not disagree,
my words took her down like an axe to a tree!
And yet I said nothing to cause such a crime -
perhaps she has come here before her due time?"

"Now hush, old man, and bring her here.
Let's take a look-see at her state:
there's no harm done, just scrapes and cuts
and mud to hide her pretty face
and dressed in cloth as thin as smoke -
She'll catch her death without a shawl!"

"You know we're beyond the soft clutch of the tomb,
stuck here on this hill where no chill can presume
to stop a heart beating or steal the last scrape
of air to the lungs - there's no death to escape."

"You speak the truth, my smuggling friend,
though still the frozen earth can burn
and torture flesh left free of wool
or fur or cotton - why should I
not worry? Look at her: All bones
and skin - no fat to keep her warm."

"You worry too much, Mistress May, I declare!
She's here for a purpose; this much I would swear.
I look as you tell me, and what I can see
is someone who's been here before, you'd agree?"

"She seems familiar, this is true
- the curve of cheek, the golden hair -
as if that woman sent to bleed
upon his knife not long ago
returns restored from sacrifice;
a sign of change to come, perhaps?"

"It's said that the women of Dymchurch can peer
through hearthstones and whetstones and know what the year
will bring to their doorsteps and tables: what fate
awaits this poor child - is it fearsome, or great?"

"Such nonsense ill becomes you, man!
Now hush, she's rousing. Go and find
some food for her, a bowl of broth
and bread, and water too. Be quick!
You're due to entertain the fair
with shanty tales: that much I know!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.5 - Time Everlastin'

Time Everlastin'

Silence in the glade: a slant of breeze
lifts through the twigs of the leafless trees.

"It's Time Everlastin' - you know of this place?
It settles across old Lympne Hill in its grace
when Christmastide falls on the fulsome oak moon
and dancing becomes our delight and our doom."

He slumps in his cups, a crack of a smile
loose on the leather of his lemon face.

"Come sit beside me and I'll weave you a tale
of night never-over, of endless wassail;
of journeys unfinished, of glamours and glooms -
of folks left abandoned by God to these fumes."

She cannot move. A mock of a scream
falters in her throat, throttling her breath.

"I know of a song that can set out the truth
of why we've been caught in the nets of the youth
who came from the east with a curse on his hands
to build a new kingdom in our blessed lands."

Her knees unhinge and hit the earth:
a stump of flint furrows her cheek.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rikweb website statistics

So last December, as I was sorting things out with my webhost, I got them to add Matrixstats to my service so I could keep track of comings and goings at the Rikweb website. They were offering it for free, and I'm not a person to turn down free stuff - especially shiny free stuff like Matrixstats.

And then, after I got it all set up and running, I promptly forgot about it. Until today, when I stumbled upon the wonderful shininess of website statistics once again. Completely by accident, of course, but then that's often the best way to do these things.

Now webstats, in my view, are pretty meaningless in their raw state. The total number of hits is not a measure of web-worthiness. Especially if a lot of those hits are coming from spiders and other creepy crawlies clambering all round the site to feed snippets back to the Google mothernest. But some of the stats are interesting.

For instance, over the past 10 months over 23,000 sessions requested more than one page on the website, which probably translates into over 20 thousand people (ie humans with pulses and suchlike) visiting the site. Thats 2,000 people knocking on the door each month.

Yes, I know, that's peanuts for a website. But then is not trying to sell anything to anyone, nor am I paying for adverts to get people to visit the RikVerse or the Kalieda Encyclopaedia, nor do I spam my links (much).

More exciting to me, 6,000 sessions (people) have spent more than 15 minutes browsing through the website during their visit - which translates to 600 people a month, or 20 people a day. This is ten times more people than I ever hoped for: I'd be happy if just 2 people a day popped by for a browse!

And then I found the statistics for downloads (in other words how many times my poetry chapbook files have been downloaded) ... and I was blown away.

Over the past 10 months:
So even if only 10% of those downloads were by people who wanted to download my poems, that's still a lot of people who cared enough about my poems to download them. If you were one of those people, can I just say: thank you! I hope you enjoyed reading my poems.

... and no, you can't have a refund.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.4 - A Girl in Strange Company, Afraid

A Girl in Strange Company, Afraid

"Too much; too much! This fever strikes too hard
to be a dream: a nightmare rather, come
to test my head; who are you people strung
about this hill? A cult of madness scarred
by life and hope that leads you here to meet
in secret? Like a club of losers left
to dress in costumes, bows and knives, bereft
of families and friends and incomplete -

"and yet she shines like summer caught in hail,
and white, so white her skin and gold her hair
and black her eyes and thin, so thin her face;
she looks at me and I feel - vile, a snail
beneath a glamour model's heel - how dare
I stare at her unbowed? What is this place?"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.3 - The Queen Greets her Wild Hunt

The Queen Greets her Wild Hunt

"Come, my ferals! Bring me your gifts and set them
here for all to see: a resplendant bounty -
starlings, squirrels, venison too; enough for
all our compulsions!

"Wily hunters, Woden's own warband, welcome!
Rest among us now, for your work is finished:
cleanse your faces; feast and carouse; indulge in
all your compulsions!

"Loose the dogs to play in our moonstruck meadow.
Hard they've worked this night and deserve their freedom:
howl and snarl and harry the souls who worship
all their compulsions!

"Horsa, Lord, for you I have many pleasures -
fetch him mead and meat and the ease of music!
Come, my lover, sit by my side; discover
all my compulsions!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

On reporting the book submission process

I've just come across a blog post by the Doyenne of Blogging Agents Janet Reid, explaining why it is not a good idea for budding authors to publicise their rejections on their blogs. The post was made just as I jetted off on my holidays, hence my lack of speed on noticing it.

Ms Reid makes some excellent points; this is advice that really should be followed by anyone seriously interested in being published.

And yet ... and yet ...

Yes, I am very seriously interested in having my book published. I think The Gods in the Jungle had good commercial potential and could (with a touch of luck and a twitch of inspired viral marketing) make some money for all who choose to hitch their wagons to it.

But I'm not going to stop reporting on my submission process on this here blog. First, because it is An Adventure, and thus blog-worthy news. Second, because I'm exploring what sort of service an unpublished author can expect to receive from the various slushpiles our work gets submitted to. And third, because a little feedback and a link to the agent's web presence never harms no-one - especially when the agencies concerned take that feedback for what it is: one person's opinion.

If this upsets some agents, then I have to wonder whether they care more for their business, or whether it really is all about their public persona's ego.

As to doubting whether an agent can trust a writer who seemingly blogs about things that they ought to stay quiet about, you'll both notice that I've made no further reference to the Jobhunting post I published here a month back. Why not? Because when I sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, I stick to it. Rigidly. Even if I didn't land the job. Similarly, there have been many, many times when I've read the news and felt the urge to post anecdotes concerning various policies (and politicians) from my days of working in the Civil Service. But I've resisted the temptation, because I believe such anecdotes belong in a personal diary, not a blog.

It's called "being professional when it comes to work".

Normal services shall resume shortly ....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.2 - The Fruit of the Wood

The Fruit of the Wood

They watch the moils of the midnight fair
as they weave their song, reciting the words
of the land and the sea. Linked by fingers,
the brother and sister sing from a boulder
that acts as their stage - a stirrup of granite
embedded in chalk. The boy is the sea,
his hair the weed that winnows the brine;
the girl is the land, the green of her skin
the grassy pastures that patchwork the Downs.

"... we'll save our child and heal her sores -
we'll love again, my sea, my sea."
A flurry of clapping confirms the conclusion
of their turn on the rock. They take a moment
to salute their patrons, their smiles professional
- as if seasoned beyond their seeming years.
He kisses her cheek; she kicks his shin
and together they leap from the ledge of the set.
The fair engulfs them: a glamour of shadows
indulging in dance, in drama, in gossip
caught on the meadow clung to the hill.

Hearing the horns of the hunters' return,
the jaden siblings jostle their way
through legs and hips, a hustle, a push;
in spurts they clamber, splicing the crowds
in a roil of rebukes to reach the knoll
where the queen of the feast fashions her court.
They see her face the feral men,
witness the piling of plunder before her -
lifeless prizes plucked from the woods.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Gods in Jungle submissions update #8

And one more rejection in the post this morning. This one comes from the Mic Cheetham Agency who, in their professional and businesslike form rejection letter (ie they sign and date it), tell me that they're a relatively small agency and taking on very few new fiction projects at the moment; they suggest I try Curtis Brown or PFD instead, which I think is a very nice touch in an otherwise simple form rejection. Time from submission sent to rejection received: 43 days.

As someone who dabbles in web design, I do wonder how much these folks spent on their website. Possibly too slick and minimalistic for their needs? I wasn't planning to send a submission to them based on their online presence, but was pursuaded otherwise by their entry in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

Gods in Jungle submissions update #7

Two rejections from agents while I was away sunning myself in Crete - I'll count their response time at 40 days as neither rejection was dated (or even signed).

MBA Literary Agents were one of my biggest hopes - they represent some very interesting fantasy authors in addition to Anne McCaffrey, a long-time favourite writer of mine (represented by Diana Tyler). So, yes, this is a dissappointing rejection. MBA's form rejection is in fact a postcard: yellow with four short paragraphs, no date or signature.

Which is more than I can say for Pollinger Limited. I accept that they were a long-shot (they don't explicitly exclude SFF) so I didn't expect much from them. What I got back from them in the mail was my cover letter with a small, circled capital R - in pencil - added to the top. Is this the way they normally choose to conduct their business? Is that a professional and courteous response? Whatever. I get the hint; I'll not be darkening their doors again.