It’s fair to say that ‘Album of the Month’ hasn’t actually been monthly for a long time now, but I haven’t lost my desire to occasionally blog about my favourite bands and albums. Today’s post: ‘Shelter’, the new album by French metal/shoegaze band Alcest.
Alcest have a bit of a strange reputation in metal circles. Ever since their first release, it seems, so-called ‘fans’ have been lambasting them for not being ‘metal enough’, particularly as each new album seems to take another step away from the genre. ‘Shelter’ is no exception, and really has shed every last black metal influence the band ever had, to produce a melodic, dreamy shoegaze sort of sound that’s both different and still unmistakeably Alcest.
And it’s fair to say that ‘Shelter’ really couldn’t have come from any other band, regardless of the change in direction. The vocals remain in singer Neige’s soft, muted style, almost buried beneath the rest of the music – which becomes even more apparent when contrasted with the different sound provided on track ‘Away’, featuring the guest vocals of Slowdive’s Neil Halstead. The general feel of the guitars, drums and melodies is also similar to that found on Alcest’s other albums; despite the lack of metal elements, I could easily imagine several of the songs on ‘Shelter’ sitting alongside their more melodic tracks on earlier albums.
Having said that, it’s fair to say that Alcest are likely to find a bigger audience with ‘Shelter’ than they have previously. Although the band have always had something of a warm sound, ‘Shelter’ is altogether softer than their earlier work, with no harsher metal interludes to intrude on the dreamy soundscape. That could be seen as a negative – as I said before, ‘Shelter’ won’t appeal to a lot of Alcest’s previous fans, and it also risks being too bland without the metal elements – but the band do thoughtful, delicate songs very well, meaning this is an album with a lot to offer, particularly on repeat listens.
It’s been a while since I last mentioned my writing endeavours over at Chronicles of Tyria, but I thought it might be time for an update. Amber’s journey has taken her all across the lands of Tyria, most recently to the wilds of Ascalon, and continues to throw up surprises – and more complications than you can shake a stick at! She’s had run-ins with Inquest, grawl and golems, not to mention travelling companions with shady agendas. But, of course, where would be the fun in a simple life?!
Chronicles of Tyria as a whole continues to grow in leaps and bounds, too. We’ve got a great selection of authors regularly contributing, with their stories really taking in everything the fabulous world of Guild Wars 2 has to offer. And, to top it all off, we now have a web comic! You can see the first installment here.
If you’re at all interested in fan-fic or Guild Wars, I hope to see you there.
…just very quiet.
I thought it was about time I checked in here, as I’m aware it’s been nearly a full month since I last posted. I’m honestly not sure where most of that time has gone. Work on our massive home renovation project has really taken off recently (there’s a lot more still to do, but the end finally feels to be in sight!), and I’m still editing a YA fantasy novel for self-publication. I will, in fact, post the cover art for that soon, as my wonderful artist has finished it far more quickly than I’ve edited!
In short though: not dead, just very busy, and wishing spring would arrive. If this horrible winter goes on much longer, I may just be tempted to hibernate…
In my last post, I talked about the projects I’m working on at the moment and what I plan to do with some of them once they’re finished (i.e. self-publish them, in some cases). What I didn’t really go into was how many of those projects are brand new and how many are old ones, started months or even years ago but never finished.
In the past, I’ve always been reluctant to go back to half-finished stories. Generally, the reason I abandon things is because I decide they’re simply not good enough, or because I have the urge to work on something ‘better’. Either way, there’s frequently little reason for me to go back again, to finish what I abandoned; as a result, I have folder upon folder of half-written stories on my computer, and endless notebooks of plot ideas that never made it past a single image.
Recently, though, I’ve had a change of heart. I realised that several of my newer abandoned projects have been left in the dust not just because I had something else to work on – instead, I’d found that my writing skills weren’t up to the challenge I set myself. However, I’ve been writing steadily and consistently since then, striving to improve my craft, and that’s not been in vain. (The completion of Root, my longest and most complex novel to date, was a big stepping stone, and reassured me I haven’t been resting on my laurels all these years.) As a result, those overly-challenging projects now look appealing again, something to sink my teeth into with renewed enthusiasm.
I haven’t been choosing stories without a degree of discrimination, though. I’ve started plenty of pieces that simply aren’t worth finishing. It’s only those that have some kind of spark that have piqued my interest again: worlds I can’t forget, character voices that still speak to me, plots that surprise me when I re-read them. Re-reading half-finished work is fascinating, in more ways than one. I can see both ideas that still intrigue me and scenes I’d write differently now, with a few more years of practice under my belt.
So where has all my digging left me? I’m currently revising and expanding a novella I wrote over a year ago; after that, I want to revise a YA novel I wrote even longer ago – both have self-publishing potential, I hope. I’m even looking at novels I abandoned halfway through. (The novel I started with no less than 6 POV characters is, I now realise, more complicated than it needs to be, but I can see so much potential in the world I created that I’m not ready to let it go just yet.)
Looking back at old work can be embarrassing, or depressing (the amount of time I’ve spent on abandoned stories certainly is), but sometimes you stumble across hidden gems. It’s incredibly heartening to discover a story written years before, that still stands up to scrutiny – but that could be even better with the aid of your new-found skills. And realising that you really have improved, even though your writing sometimes feels like an endless slog? That’s even better.
In my last couple of posts, I looked back at the (limited) progress of my writing in 2013, and at the best books I read last year. Now, not surprisingly, I want to talk about my plans for the year ahead. I’m always wary of setting concrete goals and the dreaded ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ are right out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some idea of what I want to accomplish this year.
2013 turned into a pretty dreadful year, as far as writing was concerned. My life was extraordinarily full and busy, which meant that writing got rather pushed aside. It might come as no surprise, then, that I’m determined for the same not to happen this year. I have so many finished stories, and an apparently endless list of projects still to start, that I don’t think I’ll maintain my sanity if I don’t find a reasonable amount of writing time in 2014.
So, what’s the plan? Firstly, 2014 is the year I want to delve into self-publishing. I have both a planned series of fantasy novellas (the first being nearly complete) and a completed YA novel which I’m just not sure are saleable in the traditional publishing world; the novellas are too long for any but the most forgiving of short fiction markets, whilst I went to great lengths to extend the word count of the novel – only to realise I’d actually written a YA, and just made it at least 20k words too long. Self-publishing, therefore, seems like my only option, and it’s one I’m looking forward to. I have no real expectations when it comes to sales numbers – this is simply going to be an experiment, which will either be successful, or not.
When it comes to other writing projects, there’s a stupidly long list. I’m torn between working on a YA urban fantasy or a choice of two adult epic fantasies (one begun a couple of years ago, which has promise but is in need of a drastic overhaul; the other completely new, and ideally the first of a duology). Then there’s no less than three romances (one SF, one fantasy, one contemporary) which I’d planned to send to e-publishers, and which need, variously, editing, finishing and starting. And if I work on any of the above, that means ignoring the contemporary fantasy/magical realism novel that’s been haunting me for a good year, and the Da Vinci Code-style archaeological thriller I’ve been planning, and the…
Okay, you get the idea. I have more ideas and more half-finished novels than you can shake a stick at, and I genuinely don’t know which I want to work on next. Should either my last finished novel sell, or my self-published efforts take off, the decision may be made for me in a completely different direction – but as either remains only a slim hope, I have to keep my options open. (And what options! There is so much in that list that I desperately want to write.)
Overall then, I have every confidence that my writing year ahead is going to be a full one. I hope yours is the same!
As I frequently do at this time of year, I’ve been looking back at the books I’ve read over the past 12 months, considering which ones I liked – and which I definitely didn’t. I’ve realised that, due to my sporadic blogging this year, I haven’t written a single post about books I’ve enjoyed, although it’s fair to say that most of the best have been in the last few months. Over the summer, it often took me a whole month to finish a single book, but thankfully I’ve had a bit more reading time since then! And now, on to my favourites:
The Wild Places – Robert McFarlane We start the list with a piece of non-fiction – nature writing, to be precise. McFarlane has a wonderful way with words, and describes in great detail the sort of beautiful wild places in the UK that I would love to visit, if I only had the stamina. I actually read this quite early in the year, when in the middle of deciding whether to move out of Nottingham or not. Whilst it didn’t exactly sway me either way, The Wild Places was an important reminder of how deeply I missed the countryside (perhaps why it found its way into my reading list in the first place).
Embassytown – China Mieville I’ve had a bit of a mixed experience with Mieville’s work. It’s so widely touted in SFF circles that I can’t help but be drawn in, but after reading four of his novels, I’ve not found any I’ve genuinely loved. Embassytown has come closest, though I have to admit that the vast majority of the world-building and science/linguistics went completely over my head. Still, it’s impossible not to admire Mieville’s work: he combines both fascinatingly original ideas with very real characters and emotions, and the world of Embassytown in particular is like nothing else I’ve read.
The Emperor’s Knife – Mazarkis Williams There are a very small number of current fantasy authors whose work I religiously follow. Although all are unique in their own ways, they all share in common interesting world-building, strong female characters, characters who have real problems (as in relationships and families, not just how to save the world), and sublime, often subtle writing. Having read The Emperor’s Knife, I already suspect Williams may fall into this category from now on. (As an aside, all those other writers are female, and Williams’ name is ambiguous enough that I would have said they are too, except I’ve seen suggestion online that they’re actually a well-known male author writing under another name, which discounts my theory!)
Falling Kingdoms – Morgan Rhodes These last two are late entries, actually books I read over Christmas. Falling Kingdoms is YA fantasy, and whilst the cover comparison to George RR Martin is a bit silly, I can at least see where they’re coming from. Rhodes’ work is refreshingly unsentimental for YA, and at least in the first book there’s a lot of blood, a lot of death and nothing like a happy ending. The sort of book I enjoy immensely, in other words!
Among Others – Jo Walton Finally, something different again. Among Others is written in diary-form, and set around the Welsh/English border in 1979/80. It’s described as being semi-autobiographical but I don’t know enough about Walton to know how much is true (and suspect that’s partly the point). Still, it’s a classic coming-of-age-with-magic story, with a strong and distinctive voice, and an ending that was everything I hoped for. (Although I have to disagree with Walton on the subject of cows. All cows are stupid and bovine, no matter their colour, but that doesn’t mean they’re not all lovely.)
So, there’s my 2013 book list, with nothing like real reviews and more asides than you can shake a stick at. What have you enjoyed reading recently?
Around this time of year, it tends to be obligatory for most bloggers to produce a ‘year in review’ post. I usually do a couple – one about my writing year, and one summing up all the best books I read. This, then, is the former.
Bearing in mind there’s still a week or so left of 2013, what has my grand total of fiction words produced been? Drum roll, please! The answer is: 67,809. This is the point where, in an old cartoon, the trumpets would all go floppy with a very sad sound.
Yes, dear reader, that really is my sum total for 2013, and it’s rubbish. This year has been a bit of a write-off when it comes to writing, particularly considering I’ve topped 150k words every year since I started keeping track in 2010, and zoomed past 230k in 2012.
So, what have I accomplished in those meagre 60k? Well, in all honesty, it’s not as bad as it looks. I spent most of the first six months of the year comprehensively editing the novel I wrote last year, which meant a huge amount of time, effort and dedication, but very few new words to add to my spreadsheet. (Yes, I do have a spreadsheet – maybe I’ll show you it some time. Or not.)
Apart from that, my writing really has been all over the place. Knowing that I wanted to query Root (that edited novel) before I started anything new, I instead poked at a few short stories, a potential fantasy-romance novella and an equally sketchy YA fantasy, intentionally without making much progress on any of them. (I say ‘intentionally’ because I have a bad habit of abandoning finished novels and moving onto something new and shiny, without ever trying to sell the last one. I didn’t want that to happen again.) All this time, of course, I was still working on my serial fan-fic for Chronicles of Tyria, which was really the only thing keeping me writing at all, some months.
Now, though, we come to the other reason my yearly word count is so low: the rest of my life. 2013 saw some massive changes for me. At the start of the year, I was still settling into a new job, but by late spring I was already making plans to leave. When I quit my job in the summer, it was to move 100+ miles to a Victorian farmhouse that ‘needed a bit of work’, and I’ve spent the last few months deep in home renovations on a pretty impressive scale.
Next year, I hope, things will settle down. It’s been impossible to keep a writing schedule for the last few months, but with the house finished and our B&B opened next spring/summer, we should be able to return to some semblance of normalcy. (There is, of course, every chance that our new business will completely consume our lives. I can’t exactly hope that doesn’t happen, because it’ll mean we’re being successful.)
I have big plans for my writing in 2014, which I’ll talk about in a later post. For now though, I hope all my readers have a lovely Christmas – and that your writing year was less of a write-off than mine!