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  1. I read a really interesting thread on realism in fantasy writing. I have thoughts on this and decided I would share them. As ever with stuff like this, we are all different and one person's truth is another person's abject nonsense so take whatever you think might be useful from this and ignore anything else.


    In a lot of ways, realism is the enemy of fiction. Writing, is not about realism. When it comes down to it a novel is often a string of unlikely co-incidences put together to make a series of events that remain interesting so the reader doesn't wander off and pick up another book. Even formats you expect to be realistic, like historical fiction, cherry pick what they want to use and play fast and loose with actuality[1].


    But RJ, you say, I demand realistic armour and weapons on my men and women riding dragons and throwing fireballs at each other.


    Well, why wouldn't you? And in many ways you are right to.


    I think a move toward realism has been a good thing because it's a reaction against the chainmail bikini nonsense[2] of a some older fantasy. But what you are after is the smoke and mirrors of fiction: it's not about realism, it's about the illusion of realism and that is what makes writing fiction wonderful. If you are a writer it is good to be aware that most of your audience will neither know nor care if you have the correct type of riveting in your dragon rider's armour. So don't stop writing to research it and don't stop your AWESOME dragon fight to explain the smelting process of said rivets.


    If you put a thing in your book and it's not totally egregiously out there you probably don't need to explain it. Most readers will just take it as red that it's how your world works. Some people, at some point, might complain but that is going to happen anyway so don't sweat it. You don't have to become an expert on weaponry to write cool fight scenes[3].


    Point the second: Sometimes a thing is not a thing. Ninja were not the black clad sneaky fellows we think of now. They often dressed as peasants and used the fact no one looked at peasants to sneak in and kill people, they were all about not being noticed. BUT, if you see a peasant with a load of other peasants how are you meant to know that particular peasant is actually a super cool ninja about to flip out and kill people? You don't. That's why the image of the black clad ninja survives despite historical inaccuracy, you see it, you know what it means and what that person is about. Shortcuts like that are hugely useful in any form of art. So sometimes a sword is not a sword, sometimes armour is not armour; it's a metaphor for character. Who is the bad guy in this scene? Oh, it's probably the guy using a human skull as a helmet. No, it's not practical headgear and won't pass a health and safety check. BUT it has saved me from writing five hundred words of boring exposition.


    If research and stuff is your thing and you enjoy it, knock yourself out but here are my three quick tips for any writer starting out and wondering about how real they should keep it:

    We don't need to know everything.

    Don't let what is 'real' get in the way of what is entertaining.

    Ninja are cool.



    TL/DR if you can make it feel real, a reader will accept it.








    1. Vikings is a good example of this. The gear is mostly spot on, the history is less so (I am paraphrasing a Viking historian friend here so don't @ me).

    2. If you want realism in your fantasy and you are angry about the lack of chainmail bikini wearing busty female warriors you may want to have a think about what you actually want.

    3. As quite a few bestselling books will attest to.

  2. Well, I've written myself into a corner I can't get out of.


    I hear that a lot, I even, maybe, think it a lot myself and – oh wait DISCLAIMER what is true for me may not be true everyone – and I'm not sure it's a real thing. I know! Contentious, right? But hear me out, I promise it may possibly-maybe-but-maybe-not, be worth your while.


    For me, 'written myself into a corner,' and 'writer's block' often boil down to being about the same thing. 'I don't want to do this.' I just did a thing where I had basically 'written myself into a corner.' Of course, I hadn't, what I had done was written a thing which needed put right and to do that I had to go back and rewrite a load of other stuffs and then take out some other stuffs, NONE of which I wanted to do because I am an incredibly lazy human being.


    So just a thing to ask yourself, before you think you're stuck. Do you really just need to make a change and you're trying to, not so much write your way out of something as think of a way to avoid doing the work? Because, the sad and annoying thing about being a writer is it's not really the writing that makes you good in the end, it's the ability to recognising the need to do the work and then doing it.


    So, with that I will stop doing this and go do what I should be doing and hope I cna make it good.


    I might complain about it on Twitter though, that's totally 100% on brand writer stuff.


    RJ. June 2018

  3. Awards are funny things.

     Well, writing is a funny thing, awards are just another funny part of it. I used to see people come up for awards and be amazed but how confident and professional they must be now they had got to that point. I would imagine they had craft. You know, I had this image of them sitting down and having a clear idea of their theme and what it was they wanted to achieve and who their writing would speak to and how they would do that.

    I kind of longed for that, I couldn't imagine the sort of peace that it must bring when your mind is always turning over, 'what if', 'is this good enough,' 'am I writing rubbish?'

    I mean, you kind of imagine that you get the answer to 'am I good enough' when you sell your book to someone like Orbit - but you really don't, because signing to a publisher isn't entirely about the art of writing, it's also about the commercial business of writing. And a look at what sells will tell you good writing and being commercial are really not inclusive of each other. So you are still, always asking that question, is it good?

    And let's not forget, even when your book is out and you're getting good reviews (as I've been lucky enough, mostly, to get so far) you're not writing that book any more. That book is finished. You are doing something new by the time that books comes out and if you're pushing yourself (which you probably are because, 'is it good enough?'). Then what the reviewers like may well not be what you are doing now[1].

    But anyway, awards and nominations. I am now a twice award shortlisted author (for the Kitschie Golden Tentacle and the Gemmell Morningstar.) You'd think it would bring you some sort of surety, some sort of 'yes, I am doing this right.' That was exactly what I thought all the authors on these shortlists must be thinking. Yes, here is MY VALIDATION. I AM VALIDATED.

    Sadly, not true.

    Cos what you don't see is that I am still doing exactly the same thing every day that I did before I had signed with Orbit or got an agent. I get up, take the boy to school, come home. Find a reason not to write for the first couple of hours of the day[2] drink coffee, eat crisps. Then stare at what I am meant to be doing and become filled with doubt about it. And I am lucky, because my doubt isn't about sales or things like that because I never really think of that. I'm not commercially minded and  I have an agreement with my agent that he can deal with all that and just tell me what I really need to know. But the actual material of my life has not changed. Publishing deal, reviews, award nominations these do not change the substance of my life or the way I approach what I do.

    Write, doubt, keep writing.

    I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this. Just maybe what I am saying  -in a very long way round - is for me, and maybe for most authors, no matter how well it may look like someone is doing we're still just swans; appearing to glide serenely along the top of the water while paddling furiously below in an effort not to sink.

    I'm not complaining though. Because it's still amazing, shocking and wonderful to think the things I write sat on my couch here in Leeds are being read all round the world. And I think, probably, the doubt is a better thing to have than complacency.



    Leeds. April 2018.



    1. In my case, so many people commented on how likeable Girton was in Age of Assassins just at the point I was consciously moving him away from that while writing Blood of Assassins. As an aside, this is one of the places where your editor is invaluable. When you are going, 'oh I have done that wrong'. They can be a calm voice going, 'no, go with it, It's right. (Thanks, Jenni. )

    2. Like, I dunno, writing blogposts or something?

  4. Awards.

    I thought I’d write a quick thing about awards. I’m quite reward-ambivalent*, if I’m honest. I do not write for awards and I’ve got a publishing deal with Orbit so in my mind I’ve already won. I’m also, quite embarrassed about the idea of saying ‘hey, vote for me!’ Or possibly it’s more that I think if I have to remind people to vote it’s meaningless, because people should vote for a thing they remember, not a thing you have to remind them about.

  5. The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed the looming trees have gone to be replaced by a picture.  It’s a detail from a piece called ‘Approaching Maniyadoc’ by the incredibly talented Tom Parker and I think a print of it (not sure what size) will be given away with the hardback special editions of Age of Assassins coming through Anderida books ( So if fantasy art and high quality signed special editions are your thing then get clicking that link.