A free short story!

Ahead of the publication of The End of Magic (and while I wait for the dreaded edit notes to come back) I’ve been writing a short story set in the same world.

How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers introduces the novel’s main villain Haldor Frang, and it’s told from the point of view of the hapless Drust Krax. A defeated warlord, awaiting certain death, who really, really needs to use the privvy…

I’m offering it first and exclusively to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter! To download a copy for your Kindle or any other eReader device, just sign-up here.

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Big thanks to Jack Logan and Julian Barr for reading my early drafts the story, taking them down a dark alley and giving them a good kicking. Thanks also to Kit Cox for the map image used on the cover art.

I really enjoyed writing it and can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

In other news, I spoke to the wonderful Gareth L Powell on the podcast this week. We discussed the slow death of Facebook and how to sing a space opera. Listen here.

There’s also a fab Deep Dive on adaptation this week with Julian Barr (second mention in the blog today). One of us has a PhD. It won’t take you long to figure out which one of us doesn’t… You can listen to a teaser here.

And I’m on BBC Radio Kent tonight (or in the past, depending on when you read this). I’ll be talking to Dominic King on his new arts show about the podcast, Robot Overlords, The End of Magic and more. Listen or catch-up here.

Dominic King

In Defence Of Plot Holes

There’s been a lot of chatter online regarding a certain new space opera movie. I forget what it’s called. Flash Starkiller and The Laser Sword of Doom or something. In amongst all the manbaby cries of “You ruined my childhood by making it for girls!” there is a common criticism that actually carries some heft. Here’s when one reply I got when I blogged about how much I liked the film…

It can’t be denied that the film has plot holes. One occured to me only this morning: if Luke flew his X-Wing to Ach-To, how did he do it without Artoo? I didn’t think you could fly an X-Wing without an astromech… okay, maybe you can, or because The Force, or whatever?

That’s just one of many little niggles in the story, but here’s the thing, and you might want to be sitting down for this one… Ready? You sure…?

ALL OF THOSE SPACE LASER SWORD MOVIES ARE FULL OF PLOT HOLES!

All of ’em. Here’s a few that come to mind…

  • Just how long was Luke traning on Dagobah? The weeks/months/years it takes to become a Jedi, or the few hours it took the Falcon to fly to Bespin?
  • Why would Obi Wan take a baby Skywalker to the planet where his dad was born and not bother to change the kid’s name?
  • Why did the Death Star come out of hyperspace so far away from Yavin and give the Rebels so much time to prepare?
  • Who did Leia’s hair and makeup in the Ewok village?

And that beloved saga isn’t the only one suffering from holy story syndrome:

  • How did Andy’s poster get back on the wall in his cell in The Shawshank Redemption?
  • Who heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”?
  • What was Bruce Willis doing in his downtime when he wasn’t hanging out with the kid on the Sixth Sense?
  • Almost all of the finale of Ocean’s 11
  • Every Bond film ever made
  • Just how did Tom Hagen cut that horse’s head off in the Godfather without waking anyone? And I’ll buy lunch for anyone who can explain the plot of The Godfather II to me without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Most, if not all, stories have plot holes in them. I would go so far as to say that life itself is full of plot holes, but this isn’t a post-Brexit therapy group so let’s move on.

We’re willing to gloss over plot holes because WE RESPOND TO STORIES ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. And boy do we get emotional when we talk about beloved series and characters. And because they’re so beloved they’re put under far more scrutiny than those lesser movies we might watch once and then forget.

As a writer, this doesn’t mean you now have licence to fill your script with gaping plot holes. We all vary in our tolerance of plot holes, and you need to work hard to ensure that your story makes sense. When you spot a hole you need to fix it, and don’t just paper over the cracks hoping we won’t notice.

Always work under the supposition that your audience is smarter than you are.However, it’s inevitable that one or two might slip through, no matter how rigorous you are, especially if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy where you’re working with magic and hyperspace and other wonders that don’t exist.

But ask yourself what’s more important: a watertight logic puzzle, or a fairytale that punches you in the gut? I know it’s not an either/or situation, but I know which end of the spectrum I veer towards.

May The Force Be With You and Toto’s still going to be put down by Mrs. Gulch when Dorothy wakes…

Until next time, happy writing!

Mark

PS. Don’t get me started on people who think they’re clever pointing out petty continuity errors in movies.

PPS. That novel I wrote with Mark Desvaux doesn’t have a single plot hole in it. Not one. I dare you to find one. Grab your copy here and prove me wrong.

PPPS. Oh, and if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this train rolling.

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Why so many writers want to be in a band

Stephen King had the Rock Bottom Remainders with its roster of bestselling authors, Ken Follett still plays in Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, and whenever I’ve had a Skype conversation with another writer there’s always a damn guitar in the background.

Writers wanna be rock stars*.

I had a great seat for a Squeeze** gig at the Royal Albert Hall the other night (courtesy of publicist and gentleman Mark McGinlay). I was so close to the stage I was able to offer some constructive criticism as they played…


I love watching bands play. Not necessarily the lead singer, but the rest of the group as they interact, keep the beat and, most crucially, stay in the moment.

You might think that writers want to be in a band for that sense of camaraderie, and, yes, there may be some truth in that. But they don’t want to join a band to meet people! Especially people they might be forced to share a tour bus with. Yikes. No. If they want to meet people they can invent their own and keep them on the page where they can torture them like the control freaks they truly are. Writers wants to be in a band for very a different reason.

Writers secretly envy musicians.

Musicians dare not do the thing that most writers do as habit: every thirty-seven seconds a writer will look up from their keyboard and stare out of the window while wondering if it’s time for another cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob.

Squeeze played for two hours straight, and the musicians closest to me — the drummer, percussionist and bassist — never missed a beat. They were relaxed, smiling at one another, having a great time, but they never once forgot that they were playing before over four thousand paying punters at the Albert Hall and any mistake would be laid bare to eight thousand eyes staring at them.

If only we writers could sustain our concentration for that long.

So, today, when you’re writing, make your hero Yolanda Charles, bass player. She was the musician playing closest to me and she never lost concentration once. She was always in the moment. She never even contemplated leaving the moment. She kept the moment in its place. And she knew that the moment was a living, breathing thing that had to be constantly fed or it would leap up and push her off the stage.

Happy writing – now get back to work… and concentrate!

Oh, and if you love rock and roll (with a light touch of time travel) I just wrote a novel that you might like.

And if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this crazy train rolling.

*Sportsmen want to be in bands too, but that’s because they’ve spent so much of their lives getting up at the crack of dawn to run/swim/drive in circles that they’re boring and don’t have any real friends and are looking for a sense of belonging… but that’s a rant for a future newsletter. 

**And if you don’t know who Squeeze are, you’re in for a treat: catchy songs with the most sublime lyrics that are able to summon up characters, places and tell stories in a way that many novelists struggle to evoke in ninety-thousand words. Listen and learn. The use of tenses in Up The Junction is a masterclass in how to break the rules and make it work…

 

 

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I haven’t written for three days!

If you follow the Bestseller Experiment podcast you might have noticed that we recently finished our first draft. This is always a cause for celebration, even if the draft is a big old mess (which it is) and will need a ton of work (which it will). Simply finishing something is an achievement.

I celebrated by getting a summer cold, and diving straight into rewrites of a TV pilot script. This was huge fun, as this was the script that had been give such a kicking a while ago, but I had spent the time since working on solutions that I couldn’t wait to try out.

The other reason for the hurry is that I’m moving house. The Stay family is leaving the suburbs and heading to the country… Well, maybe not the country, but it’s next to a farm, and for a boy born in the city that counts as the countryside. All this means lots of packing (so many books!), and a break in my usual routine, which means I haven’t written anything other than emails to utility companies in three days.

I’m a ‘write every day’ guy. If I don’t write anything during the working day, I get twitchy. So much so, that I just snuck out of bed in the middle of the night to sit among the boxes and compose this blog…

… and that feels good, even though it’s not the full dose of happiness that I get from a bit of creative writing. But I am reassured by the response we got from Sarah Pinborough on the podcast when we asked her if she wrote every day. ‘No,’ she said. ‘That’s bollocks.’ She went on to clarify that even though she might not actually be writing her latest work in progress, she’s always thinking about it. Well, I’ve been doing lots of thinking, and I’m allowing myself to call that work, even if it’s just for a few days.
The other thought that keeps me going is that when we move I will finally have a writing room. I hate to use the phrase ‘man-cave’, due to all the icky connotations, but it will almost certainly be the very definition of male writer mid-life crisis decor: film posters, books, Lego, and I might even succumb to the lure of vinyl LPs again… Lordy, what have I become…?

In the meantime, keep writing, my friends. I love hearing about your work and news (my friend Graeme Williams just had some amazing news!) and it’ll keep me going till I see you on the other side once I’ve unpacked…

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Ever felt worthless as a writer? You’re not alone.

Up till Tuesday night this week, I was invincible.

I had spent the weekend polishing a TV spec script that was going to be my calling card. It was, without a doubt, the best thing I had ever written. I had spent maybe a year and bit slowly bringing it to life, researching the historical background, building the characters and the world, and it had already been through two beta-readers, who had given me excellent notes and were very positive, and it was ready to go out.

But I wanted one more opinion before I did that, just to be sure, and so I sent it to another writer friend for his opinion.

His notes were like a punch to the gut.

He found problems with the protagonist, the tone, the antagonists, and the ending.

And the worst thing is, he was right.

This is where my old friend self-doubt made an appearance. How could I have been so blind to the script’s flaws? Worse still, how could I have been so supremely confident that it was ready, when it clearly wasn’t even close? I’ve been doing this for long enough that I should know this, surely? I really did not know if I had the judgement to continue with writing. If I couldn’t see my own flaws, then how could I even possibly think about a career as a writer? I was useless. Hopeless. Worthless.

The notes arrived via email late at night, and I barely slept after that, constantly turning dead-end rewrite ideas over in my head.

By the morning, however, almost all of that doubt had gone. I had formulated some ideas for a rewrite and this time it was going to be awesome.

I’m hoping that this sequence of events is familiar to other writers.

I’ve gone through various incarnations of it ever since I started writing at school. I spoke about this on the podcast recently, noting that coping with tough feedback can be a bit like going through the stages of grief. Not to denigrate the overwhelming intensity of losing a loved one, but we writers can be melodramatic, and it cannot be denied that the similarities are pretty remarkable:

First comes denial: They’re wrong! How dare they misinterpret my genius!

Then anger: Fuck ’em!  Look at these shitty notes: he contradicts himself three times, so why should I listen to him?

Bargaining: Maybe I should email them, pointing out the stuff they missed, which will help them see just how brilliant the story really is?

Depression: I’m utterly worthless, a total fraud and I should never put pen to paper ever again.

Acceptance: Ah, y’know what? Maybe they had a point? Let’s get to work.

Earlier that evening I had been messaging a writer friend who was going through the same thing, and I think that’s possibly what exacerbated things this time for me. I was telling my friend to keep his chin-up, you’ll get through this, you’ve been published, people love your books, you’re awesome… And all the while I was thinking how lucky I was to have put those days behind me.

What a doofus I was.

It never goes away.

I think good writers are able to hold conflicting thoughts in their heads. It’s the only way you can have characters with opposing views convincingly have at each other on the page. The trouble with this skill is you can be all too empathetic when people criticise your work. My inclination is to immediately agree with them; yeah, you’re right, it’s crap isn’t it?

I looked back at the notes that my friend had sent me. There was so much positive stuff in there. He loved the pace, the characters (mostly), the period, the maguffin, he said it was huge fun, unusual and really visual. Why was I only seeing this now? My eyes had somehow glazed over this and chose to focus on the shit.

I’m not posting this for ‘Aw, hun’ hugs, I just want other writers to know that if you’re going through this rollercoaster, you’re not alone.

And once you start to recognise the stages, it becomes easier to manage them, move through them more rapidly, find yourself working on solutions, and thanking your lucky stars that someone cared enough to help you make your work better.

So here I go with another rewrite. And this time, it really will be the dog’s bollocks.

 

 

Hope this wasn’t too depressing. Normal service will resume shortly. But if you think you know a writer/creative who might benefit from this post, then please do share… or give them a hug… or tea and biscuits usually does the job!

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Robot Artwork by Paul Catling. Photo of Mark Stay by http://www.mpsv.co.uk Both used with kind permission. All rights reserved.