When I published Firebird, in May 2011, I wasn’t sure what would happen. At the time I was simply bored of playing the traditional submissions-lottery with a book that was never intended to conform.
You see, there are no youthful wizards in Firebird. Nor any tribal wars fought by teenagers. There are no vampires, zombies or tortured Scandinavian policemen. I deliberately set out to avoid convention and can imagine the reaction of the publishing houses when Firebird hit their desks: “Nope,” they would have been muttering, grimly shaking their heads, “this book’s not the same enough for us…”
Three amazing years later, I’m pleased I took the plunge. I’m pleased that I released this tale of one extraordinary creature, and a handful of very ordinary humans, from its years of enforced incarceration on my hard disk drive. Why? Because there are clearly a great many readers who, like me, are on the lookout for something different. Who enjoy change. Who don’t mind if the next page is not as entirely predictable as the last.
So here I am: three years on, with two novels in circulation, both of which continue to be picked up by adventurous bookworms. I always have and shall remain eternally grateful to everyone who dips into my writing.
Would Firebird look different if I wrote it again today? The answer to that question is a resounding, yes. There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t discover a new nuance of language, a new word, or a new technique I might be able to apply. Would Firebird be any better if I rewrote it? I doubt it. There comes a time when too much tinkering destroys raw accessibility. As far as I’m concerned, Firebird’s a done deal now.
Besides: I’ve got too many new stories to tell and, who knows, with the amount of spare time I have for writing, I might even finish one of them by the time Firebird is six…
I suppose all writers must, from time to time, find themselves in the same place as I am at the moment. Writing, after all, is not dissimilar to any other professional or artistic endeavour. Practice, exercise, and experience all lend new insights and provide the opportunity to improve and become better.
Writing a second novel has certainly helped me to gain a new perspective on what I’ve written in the past. Well, I say that, but I’ve also recently had some very useful input and pointers from a fellow author, blogger, and distant friend: J.E.Lowder. (Thanks, Jay!)
Over the last week or so, whilst I wait for my Alpha Readers to work their way through Thunder, I’ve been revisiting Firebird. Not just because of the ‘British Typography’ issues which needed to be corrected, but also because the current edition of Firebird now falls short of my own, personal, expectations. Here are a couple of recent discoveries – maybe you already know about them, maybe not – I thought they were interesting enough to share on here:
1. Purist that I am, somewhen during Firebird’s many edits, I got bound up in my punctuation. I laid out Firebird using a formal, almost classical, style which employs very few commas. Technically, this isn’t wrong. But it doesn’t really suit a ‘casual’ storyline.
Most modern fiction is set out using – perhaps overusing – commas to provide staging points for the eye. For instance it it not mandatory, as some would believe, for either of the two connecting words ‘and’ or ‘but’ to be prefaced by a comma. To some extent, these commas are frowned upon – for exactly the same reasons as it is ‘not preferred’ to begin sentences with either word – but the result can often be long, unbroken, sentences which provide no easy reference point for back-tracking and re-reading. As an aside, the one before an ‘and’ is called a Serial or Oxford Comma.
2. In an attempt to avoid word repetition – which is a pet hate of mine – I did two things:
– I occasionally used overly complex alternative words which, when combined with the formal punctuation, run the risk of coming across as ‘trying to be too clever’…
– Worse, I used first and second names to refer to the characters throughout. This, interestingly, seems to have several unexpected side-effects: it forces readers to focus harder than necessary on getting to know the characters when the book is mainly plot-driven; it makes the book harder to read – see above comment re: casual storyline; and finally, the use of first names – outside of dialogue – seems to impose a deeper level of implied intimacy, between reader and character, than a reader might want.
Anyway, re-editing the manuscript has been an interesting exercise. I’m almost finished and will republish it soon. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about the several thousand copies that are already floating around in the electronic-ether, except to apologise for making the book a little harder to read than it perhaps needed to be, and to say thank-you again to everyone who has read it so far.
Hopefully future readers will find they have an easier time…
The written word has always held tremendous power. From the fear and awe created in the middle ages, through various misguided mantras penned by dictators and tyrants in the intervening centuries, right up to the modern penchant for spin and hype – words have an amazing capacity for good and much potential for destruction too.
All authors need to remain mindful of the impact their words might have.
Here’s a short, hopefully positive, story…
Picture the scene: there’s a young boy, over there. Can you see him? He’s probably only about eleven years old and is being led by his mum, on a typically grey Midland morning, along the street to where the local library bus is waiting for them. He’s holding tightly to her hand and having to scamper to keep pace with her longer strides but, if you look closely, you’ll note that he’s made sure he’s on the road-side of her, because that’s what ‘gentlemen’ are supposed to do.
The boy loves this big, bright yellow, Winnebago which is packed full of books. He looks forward to its visits although, for him, they really don’t come around often enough. Let’s face it: if you can only borrow two books at a time on your library card, and you’re eleven, and you read voraciously, then fourteen days is a very long time to have to wait between recharges…
They arrive at the bus and he scrambles up the steps, disappearing into the shady interior like Aladdin into the Genii’s cave. Once inside he goes straight to the sci-fi section because a couple of nutters called Clarke and Asimov have started to bend his mind and the US Saturn V lunar programme has captured his imagination and he searches high and low for aliens and spaceships… but unfortunately there are no new space creatures or time machines lurking on the shelves this week. His head drops in disappointment. What’s he going to read?
Eventually, on one of the shelves, he finds a book which has a nice picture on the front but he’s not too sure about the blurb. It’s something about dragons, which might not really be his thing. It’s also probably a bit too grown-up for him – the words look quite complex and, from the look of it, it might even have stuff like kissing inside. Blushing slightly, he decides that he’d better keep the details hidden from his mum, just in case…
The book is called Dragonflight. Originally published in 1968, it was a recipient of a Hugo Award (not that an eleven year old knows what that means) and it was, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable books that this particular little boy ever read.
It was, in fact, so memorable that I can still remember taking it down off the shelf, in the library bus. I can still remember holding it and wondering whether I should smuggle it home. I can still remember devouring it and then the next dozen or so books in the series (I can’t remember if there was any kissing, but there were a lot of girls in leading roles…).
Right now, more than thirty years later, I still have five of the series, complete with their yellowing paper, in pride of place on my bookshelf. I don’t, of course, have Dragonflight; it had to be returned a fortnight later.
The author was a lady called Anne McCaffrey who has sadly, at the age of eighty-five, just been called to take her gifts elsewhere. Apparently she was still writing, still delighting young minds and still corresponding with her many fans right up to her final moments and I’m certain her talents will be being put to great use wherever she finds herself now.
I’d just like to record my thanks. Thank-you Anne. Thank-you so much… Your positive and uplifting stories made a little boy very happy and laid an inspirational foundation stone upon which I continue to build my life and, hopefully, my writing.
Anne Inez McCaffrey, science-fiction and fantasy writer.
Born 1 April 1926; died 21 November 2011
After my last very serious post I thought I needed to write something a little less emotional this week…
Then there was the accident in Bournemouth…
Anyone who has ever seen the Red Arrows display team will know how wonderful this pinacle of British airmanship is to behold. Will have been enthralled and entranced by them. Will be sharing our national shock and sadness at the accident on Saturday… Being a fan of the Red Arrows since my childhood, I couldn’t not mention it here… My sincere condolences to the friends and loved ones of Flt Lt Jon Egging. Your man has lived every little boy’s dream.
Sudden and unexpected death has (for me at least) one very positive side-effect. It reminds me to make the very best of life…
Yesterday I visited the Cotswolds with my daughters. Bourton-on-the-Water to be precise (not far away from the air base where I, as a naive and therefore fearless teenager, had my first flying experiences in air force gliders). A beautiful village, bathing under lovely blue skies, with its river ambling gently amongst laughing children and sleepy picnickers… The perfect British summer’s day in our “green and pleasant land”. I’m experimenting to see if I can add some pics to this blog so hopefully you can see what I mean to the left of this paragraph…!
Anyway, whilst wandering amongst the shops the strange creature to the right caught my eye. I liked the beastie’s attitude (and price!) and decided to treat myself. Why not, eh? There’s a nice little corner of my garden that he’s going to populate (and from which he will probably scare my resident gang of sparrows) and every time I look at him he’s going to remind me of the 100th copy of Firebird being sold.
Naturally, I’d really hoped the book would prove interesting to people but never dared to hope to sell 100 copies. In truth, it’s a handful of copies away from this milestone but I’m going to be away for a few weeks (writing and relaxing) so I don’t feel it’s too OTT to do something I usually never do… celebrate a little bit.
Thanks so much to all of you. I really mean it. I really appreciate you giving it a go and then afterwards helping me to spread the word. In the end, your recommendations make a huge difference in helping other people to find and share the story.
Therefore – and to come back finally to the title of this post – you guys are… whoever you are… my Top 100: the first 100 people on the planet to have read this particular novel… and I am so very grateful to you all.