I should have done this ages ago but it's all been a little grim here over the last year. Those of you who follow my personal blog - Zone Doubt - will know that our son was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia last September, a week before he was due to start his M. Eng. degree in Computer Studies at Bristol University. Since then he's been reliant weekly blood and platelet infusions to keep him alive: the first course of ATG chemotherapy last October didn't work, and the transplant team at the Bristol Oncology and Haematology Centre were unable to find a bone marrow donor for him.

So we've undergone a fairly new procedure - haploid-identical stem cell transplant, using stem cells from me. We were given a 65% chance of success. He had the transplant on the 1st of September, and to our astonishment, relief and utter joy it worked. He's now on Day +50 post transplant, his cell counts are almost back to normal, and so far he's shown no trace of GvHD (though as you'll see if you read the wiki article, that could change). But we are all hopeful. So far everything has gone well.

AA is never cured, just goes into remission. The university have deferred Kai's place until October 2015, and we have hopes that he'll be able to go then. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to give him the best chance possible of fighting the disease.

Progress will be posted on Zone Doubt. I'll return to this blog when I have the time, energy and inspiration to continue.


on fanfiction

... fanfiction...

I wonder when the phenomenon first started? Did the surviving young of the earliest human packs (or tribes or clans), listening to the tales their elders told around the communal campfire, then go off and create their own stories around the characters, putting themselves into the picture as the hero, or one of the others in the story? Or did it come later, with Hellenistic children self-inserting into the Iliad or the Odyssey? Or was it later still, as books became readily available and 'the novel' was established as a literary form in its own right?

Humans like to tell stories, maybe originally to explain a world they did not have the science to understand, or for entertainment. That tales grow with the telling goes without saying given the curious human need to embellish. Humans also, generally, like escapism (as shown by the plethora of entertainment of all kinds so easily available). Is this because we find real life so grim we need a way to escape it, even if just for a while? Or do we like the idea of ourselves in dramatic roles? Probably both, along with a host of other reasons. Some people will simply spin the fantasies in their heads, while others will write them down so they can be relived over and over again. As long as it doesn't get out of control it's harmless - often actually good, as a way of cheering ourselves up or relieving the stresses of living - and in the main very enjoyable.

But why do so many of us focus specifically on fanfiction? Because we aren't satisfied with how the original creators told the tales? Because we want to explore a favourite character or two in greater detail, devise a back story and further adventures for them? Because we want MORE? All of the above? (In my case, yes.) So we write fanfic.

Of course, the problem with that is it's now far too easy to expose your fiction to anyone who has a 'net connection - hence there are... things... out there that should have been drowned before birth and never allowed into the sweet light of day. To some writers spelling, punctuation and grammar are completely alien (so why should I read their work if they can't be bothered to learn the basics?). Some have absolutely no idea as to plot, or make the characters so appallingly out of character they're unrecognisable. No problem if the stories are just for your own consumption, or if you're part of a private writing group aimed at improving the writing of its members with constructive criticism, but to unleash them on the public? Embarrassing at best. Cruel at worst.

Let's consider one of my pet hates and one of the very basic mistakes writers (not just fanfic writers) make - the Mary Sue. Just about anyone who writes fanfic (and a lot who don't) will know about the Mary Sue (or the male counterpart, the Marty (or Gary) Stu). Originally written as a Star Trek parody, the character Mary Sue was the youngest person ever to graduate from Starfleet academy (at fifteen and a half). She was, essentially, perfect:

characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.
[quote from Menagerie magazine via wikipedia, because I'm taking the lazy option today. See more here.]

These days the term has come to mean an author's self-insert or proxy, a fanfictional form of wish-fulfilment, a poorly-developed character too idealised to be at all realistic. Though it should be noted such characters are not just in fanfic. A strong argument can be made that James Bond and Alex Rider are archetypal Marty Stus, and as for the best (or worst) Mary Sue I've ever found - well...

[Pages scanned from the Kathleen Sky novel Death's Angel, first published 1981 and into two reprints since. Makes you wonder about the Star Trek fandom...]

From outdrinking a member of one of the toughest alien species in the galaxy to taking on the smell and telepathic 'feel' of Spock's mother so she can comfort him, this woman can do anything. Shudderworthy. Don't you just want to slap her?

Yet at its best, fanfiction provides the fledgling (and experienced) author a way to hone their writing skills in a fictional 'safe environment' without having to be too original. It's a great way to learn how to delineate characters, how to structure dialogue, how to plot. And there are some truly excellent fanfic writers online who should be writing professionally: they are considerably better than some of the popular published authors around today (which may be why some authors refuse permission to have their works made the subject of fanfic, going so far as to take legal action if they find any. Jealousy - such an unflattering emotion...)

And writing fanfic is fun!

There are two main online sites I'm aware of, FanFicNet (a.k.a. the Pit of Voles: anyone can post here, and finding the good stuff amongst the dross can be time consuming) and AO3 (anyone can read here, but you cannot post unless you are a member, which requires an invite. In general the fiction here is of higher quality). Well worth a look.

[Obligatory self-laudment: my own current fanfiction project is The Poppy Tales. This is for general reading. There's a lot more fanfic, but it's all x-rated and behind a password at the main WaveWrights site.]



The twelfth of the twelfth of the twelfth. What better time to start a new blog!

One concern (amongst the general worry that with the global recession it's getting harder and harder to earn a living with our writing) that was raised at our agent's authors dinner in London on the 10th was the dichotomy between traditional publishing and the recent ability to self-publish.

Most of us at the dinner rely on the first, and it's true that to a large extent it's the easier option. The publisher provides the finance, the editing, the promotion and the publicity: all the writer has to do is write. Admittedly, they may not be writing quite what they want to write: we rely very much on publishers commissioning specific works written to attract a specific demographic, and if we want to pay the bills we have to abide by the brief (the challenge then is to write what's required while still injecting our own personality and ideas!) But we don't have to promote the books ourselves, at least, not to the same extent.

Well, that's how it used to work: these days publishers have started demanding their authors get involved in the publicity machine and provide their own self-promotion through interviews, workshops and the like. We've seen it recently, with both Dawn French and Roger Moore appearing on TV in The One Show to promote their recent books. (I'll save my opinion on the cult of personality for another post!) While this is fine if you are an extrovert writing on a subject that lends itself to such things, it's not so good if you are shy, introverted or a private person. And let's face it, most serious writers are. We live to write. It's what we do. The thought of going out and bragging about it is horrifying.

Yet that is an intrinsic element of self-publishing. No-one is going to do the promotion for you - you have to do it yourself.

A major problem with self-publishing - with any publishing, really - is that it's too easy to get lost in the noise. There are a huge number of books available now, some of them so godawful you can barely get beyond the first chapter. Some of them are traditionally published (most of us can think of a certain series of badly written books by someone who claimed to know nothing about the subject) but most of them are, unfortunately, self-published. I once had to review a first novel by a young... I hesitate to call him/her a 'writer' as I believe he/she would have had difficulty writing a coherent shopping list... that I ended up throwing in the recycling as I didn't want anyone else to have to suffer it. (In my defence I did try to read it, got as far as page 35 before I gave up in disgust. The thing hadn't even been spell-checked, for Cthulhu's sake!)

And that brings up another problem with self-publishing - with no kind of quality control, it's already developed a Really Bad Reputation...

So - what do we do? Clinging to our traditional ideals and hoping things will get back to how they once were is no good - it's not going to happen. We need a rethink of our talents and skills and a new idea of how to make them work for us. No, I have no idea how that's going to work, but I shall make a start right now.

And report back when I have anything to report.