The Geomancer


What am I doing? - by MD Lachlan.

What am I doing?

This is a question I often ask myself in all sorts of situations, often without hope of much of an answer.

However, when it comes to writing then, as a writer, I suppose I should have some reply.

Well, the honest answer is ‘I don’t know’. Writing is a mysterious process to me – not particularly related to intellect or intention. When it’s going well I can really understand why the old poets used to talk about having a ‘muse’ – a goddess who sparks your creativity. It feels like it’s not me doing the writing, like I’m just waggling my fingers and something from somewhere else is coming through.

However, I do feel embarrassed sometimes in interviews when asked to talk about what I’m trying to do in my writing.

There’s a temptation for writers – and artists of all sorts – to begin sentences with words such as:

‘What I’m interested in in my work is….’ and then to launch into a two hour spiel about how hegemonic cultural forms intersect with….yada yada yada. The fact is that, if their work really addressed what they think it does, they’d have no reason to spend days explaining it. As Harold Pinter used to say to his actors when they asked him what he meant by a particular line in one of his plays: ‘Ask the author’. That is, look at the text. If he could have said it any better then he wouldn’t have bothered writing the play.

However, it’s seductive to try to act as your own interpreter. I’ve had some reviews of Wolfsangel that have dug things out that were never in my mind when I was writing it. These things may well be there – what the critics said seems to make sense. Having read the reviews, and felt awfully clever, there’s a big temptation to point to the criticism and say ‘that, the bit about Heideggerian moods, that’s what I was trying to do.’ I’m trying to resist it.

On the other hand, there’s a tendency for some genre writers to say that all they’re concerned with is a good story. Of the two views I lean heavily towards the second.

If writing isn’t entertaining, it’s nothing. That is, very few people will wade through 300 pages of lifeless prose with no plot, no surprises and no emotional engagement with the characters. I’m leaving you out of this, English Literature students, you’re forced to read that stuff.

It’s enough to be just entertaining. You don’t need any more. But the writers I really admire do tend to add a bit extra. They fall into two camps. First is the ‘fantasy of ideas’ brigade. In this I’d put China MiĆ©ville, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K Le Guin and a fair few others.

These writers engage with cultural issues outside of fantasy – religion, politics, gender identity. Crucially, these concerns don’t overwhelm their work. It’s possible to read any of their books just as an entertaining tale without picking up on any of that stuff.

All this is engaging and interesting but the fantasy writing I really love does something more still. This brings us to the other camp – the stuff that has an effect you can’t really explain. It talks to something deep inside us, feelings we all have but can’t name. Really, what I want from fantasy is the chill and wonder that people sitting around a fire might have felt in the dark ages listening to Beowulf, the feeling you get hearing Macbeth on the battlements as MacDuff’s army comes marching towards him.

(Fantasy writers should reclaim Shakespeare, by the way – next time a literary snob looks down his nose at you and asks what of worth fantasy has ever produced say ‘Macbeth, The Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream. A little bit more than middle class people having affairs in Brooklyn brownstones, I think you’ll find.’)

The writing I love conjures up feelings so distinctively that it’s very difficult to describe them. I can’t sum up in a couple of paragraphs the strange sense you get reading Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, the disquiet you feel as Le Guin’s* abused Tenar leaves men to starve in the darkness of the Tombs of Atuan, the sense of nations moving to uncertain and terrible destinies you get in George RR Martin, the urggghh and ahh of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood. I told you I couldn’t put it into words.

These writers express things that you can’t say in any other way than how they said it. Sure, their work can be analysed but it can’t be reduced to an analysis. There is a level at which its effect is inexplicable. If you want someone to share it you have to lend them the book.

Obviously if I set the bar that high in my own writing I’d be too terrified to ever write a word. In my experience, striving for something in your writing is a guarantee of failure. So I just sit waggling my fingers until the story appears.

But if I could aim for anything it would to capture a feeling I had as a kid on vacation in North Wales - one that I won’t be able to explain properly even if I try.

Shivering inside our rain sodden family tent, looking out at the slate grey clouds dropping onto the Black Mountains** I had a sense that there was something in that landscape that had been there for years before I lived and that would be there for years after I die, something that wasn’t particularly well disposed to me or to humanity as a whole. It’s the closest I’ve had to a spiritual feeling and it’s impossible to put into a concise phrase. Impossible for me, anyway, I think some poets give that sort of thing a go. I might, though, be able to summon it up in a novel.

If I could get near to inducing that feeling in my readers then I’d be a happy man. So, to answer my original question: ‘What am I doing?’ I still don’t know. But I know what I’d like to do and I suppose that’s a start.

* One of my favourite writers, someone with a foot in both camps.

** Holidays like this pretty much account for the British national character.


Pyr's 2010 Publications: For Your Consideration

In these last hours of  Hugo Awards nominations, we thought we'd repost this handy-dandy list of all the books Pyr released in 2010. Many of these books and stories are deserving of consideration, as are the wonderful artists who did our covers.

Pyr's 2010 Publications:

Gardens of the SunKay Kenyon's Prince of Storms (in hc and paperback). Cover art by Stephan Mariniere.
Kay Kenyon's City Without End (reprint). Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.
Paul McAuley's Gardens of the Sun. Cover art by Sparth.
David Louis Edelman's Geosynchron. Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.
Joel Shepherd's Petrodor. Cover art by David Palumbo.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dragonfly Falling. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Blood of the Mantis. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
Ghosts of ManhattanGeorge Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan. Cover art by Benjamin Carre.
Ian McDonald's Ares Express (reprint). Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.
Mark Chadbourn's The Devil in Green. Cover art by John Picacio.
Mark Chadbourn's The Queen of Sinister. Cover art by John Picacio.
Mark Chadbourn's The Hounds of Avalon. Cover art by John Picacio.
Matthew Sturges' The Office of Shadow. Cover art by Chris McGrath.
Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son. Cover art by Michael Komarck.
Ian McDonald's The Dervish House. Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.
Tom Lloyd's The Ragged Man. Cover art by Todd Lockwood.
Jasper Kent's Twelve. Cover art by Paul Young.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne in)Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates. Cover art by Paul Young.
Mark Hodders' The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Salute the Dark. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
Joel Shepherd's Tracato. Cover art by David Palumbo.
Pierre Pevel's The Cardinal's Blades. Cover art by Jon Sullivan.
The Wolf AgeJames Enge's The Wolf Age. Cover art by Dominic Harman.
Clay and Susan Griffith's The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire Book 1). Cover art by Chris McGrath.
James Barclay's Elfsorrow. Cover art by Raymond Swanland.
James Barclay's Shadowheart. Cover art by Raymond Swanland.
James Barclay's Demonstorm. Cover art by Raymond Swanland.
Tim Akers' The Horns of Ruin. Cover art by Benjamin Carre.
Mike Resnick's The Buntline Special. Cover art by J. Seamus Gallagher.

The Dervish House30 novels in 31 bindings. Quite a year. Pyr itself turned 5 in March, and we hit our 100th title in October.

Pyr also released one novelette in 2010, James Enge's "Travellers' Rest," which was made available as a free ebook in both ePub and Kindle formats. Cover art by Chuck Lukacs. 8,471 words.

And that's it for 2010. We do sincerely hope you will check out all the many deserving writers and artists in the list above.

The Dervish House Tops SF Site's Readers' Choice: Best Read of the Year: 2010

The Dervish HouseSF Site has posted their Readers' Choice: Best Read of the Year: 2010 and Ian McDonald's The Dervish House tops the list at # 1! They say:
"This is a novel of near-future Istanbul. It begins with a suicide bomber on a crowded tram, and follows the lives of 6 very different people whose lives are all affected by this incident, and whose paths intersect. One witness to the bombing thereafter begins to see djinni and saints; a young invalid witnesses the event through the eyes of a BitBot monkey, and witnesses someone else also spying remotely; this boy shares his concerns with a disgruntled professor who has been forced into retirement; another woman is delayed by the blast in her effort to get to a job interview and consequently takes a job that involves her in a nanoware company; an antique dealer is set on a quest to find a man mummified in honey -- something that may exist or may be mere legend -- while her boyfriend is planning a stock-market scheme of unprecedented proportions. The tightly plotted story takes place over a brief period of time in a confined setting, the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul. But it is McDonald's writing and his handling of character that led SF Site readers to choose The Dervish House as the best book of 2010."
Meanwhile, time to update this page again.


Two Pyr Books Place in Fantasy Book Critics' Best of 2010

The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1)Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic has posted his Top Ten list. Mark Chadbourn's The Silver Skull makes #7 in his list of Top Ten Novels 2010. Mihir says:
The Silver Skull was Mark Chadbourn’s opening Salvo in the Will Swyfte Alternate Hist-Fantasy series. It was a much darker re-imagining of Victorian England and its battle with the Fey court who are as devious as legends foretell and deadlier than the human imagination. Bringing together a cast of characters and a quick paced plot MC fascinatingly showcases bits and pieces of history mingled with a fast paced storyline to give jaded readers a new series to follow and cheer for.

Shadow's SonMeanwhile Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son placed # 2 in his Top 10 Debut Novels list. He writes:
This book was another winner from Pyr who are fast becoming a stable for new fascinating authors. Jon Sprunk debuted with his tale of an assassin with a semblance of a conscience and a unique-ish partner. This tale was very fast paced and in spite of utilizing tropes it managed to give the readers a fresh feel. This book was my nomination for The David Gemmell Legend Award as I feel it best encapsulates DG’s book themes