Every society and culture that has ever made something delicious to eat has had to grasp the idea that all good things come to an end. Predictions of apocalypse are made regularly – here‘s a handy list.
The Vikings, those bearded funsters, were possibly the most impressive of the lot when it came time to predict the end of the world. They called it ‘Ragnarok’, which was pretty cool to start with. They were well aware that the Norse Mythology had far too many characters, so they prophesized that vaguely ‘some time in the future’ bad things would happen and everyone would die, spectacularly, when more or less all hell broke loose.
According to various reputable sources I found on the Internet and must therefore be true, the precise date is 22.02.2014. Further supporting this, Viking myths claimed it should be after a ‘Fimbulwinter’, which is like 3 winters rolled into one. This fits neatly into the 3 winters’ worth of rainfall we’ve had this year.
So we’ve pretty much established that the world is about to end today.
However, some of you may have made plans. You might be about to bake a cake. Maybe some football takes your fancy. There might – nay, should – be a good book or two waiting for you somewhere. So with that in mind, here’s Snorri’s Handy 3-point Plan for Surviving The Apocalypse.
1) Stay away from massive, fire-breathing wolves. Fenrir will be released, and he will eat Odin. Unless you want to be a human-sized doggy snack, look out for paws the size of a house – although to be fair, that’s probably not going to take too much effort.
2) You might want to give the seaside a miss. The serpent of Midgard will toss and turn, causing huge waves and general flooding. People currently able to grow rice in Devon and Cornwall will not need to change their daily routine.
3) My personal favourite – watch out for marauding hordes of giants, particularly Hrym who will be sailing on his ship ‘Naglfari’. It is made from the finger- and toenails of the dead. Goes well with the general life rule of avoiding giants who craft ships out of body parts.
If you make sure you remember at least two out of these three you should be fine.
…when you think you’re standing on solid ground, then the rug gets pulled out from beneath you and all of a sudden you find out that you were in fact standing in mid-air over a gaping abyss that you’re now staring into, and then the badgers start shooting at you with their laser guns?
But something funny happened to me on Wednesday that wasn’t entirely dissimilar.
I’d been pushing and pushing to get my cast of 17 maniacs aged 11-18 to some kind of presentable level to do this year’s high school play. As always in theatre, there were Grand Plans to get the costumes done by some theoretical point, source all props by another point and whatnot; as always, everything was fabulously last minute but still somehow got done. The kids came through with flying colours, did an open dress on Tuesday which went all right-ish, a matinee for the staff on Wednesday and then a show for the parents on Wednesday evening. All good, applause, bows, bright lights and whatnot; a very tired director heading home on Wednesday night after a good 13-or-so hour shift*.
I flumphed down on my train, exhausted – but still… sometimes when I have theoretical writing time but am feeling melodramatic, I mutter ‘Make it count’ to myself**. This happened; I pulled up my trusty old battered warhorse of a laptop, thought to myself that it would have been more cool to pull up an actual war horse, turned it on and had – nothing.
My second novel was still in copy-edits.
I couldn’t get a handle on the third until I’d gotten my grubby fingers into the second for some key changes.
I’d shipped new and improved versions of all three of my screenplays and I had promised myself I would not start a new one for a little while - and I had nothing to write.
I’ll tell you how that felt: Uncomfortable. It felt really, really uncomfortable.
I ended up hunting through folders with names like old/old computer/docs/old/ideas, and found a couple of things I could be getting on with – but that feeling, though. I don’t particularly want that feeling ever again.
I reckon I may be stuck with this ‘writing’ lark.
* And yes, I am aware that some people regularly work 13 hour shifts. If one of them is you, dear Reader, you are a Badass. Feel free to sneer contemptuously.
** If I’m feeling silly, I add a comma.
As has been extensively covered on this website, I am finding my way on full flail through the whole ‘writer’ thing. I’ve managed to write one book which has been published; I’ve written another which is in edits. Between finishing the second and starting the third I have briefly switched disciplines and pushed out a couple of screenplays*, which has been fun. However, now it is undeniably time to get started on the third book. I’ve written an intro which I was quite happy with, 1.500 words on a first chapter and an outline which had some stuff in it. However it didn’t feel right. And by that I probably mean ‘sound, look or indeed feel like the works I’ve read obsessively in the last sort of 10-15 years, or different enough to be appreciated on its own merits’.
Then, yesterday, I sat down with enough headspace to do some work on the outline, and think I’ve got it right (for a given value of ‘it’, anyway). Today I’ve clobbered together 820 words of something else, and I feel like the start of the story is right - in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
It’s funny how** tricky it is sometimes to step back, intellectualize the problems and move forward cleverly. The Pit of Mild Despair is deep and full of writers.
But the good bit is that I am actually cooking with gas. On a very low heat at the moment, but gas is being cooked with.
* Don’t worry about the nonchalance. I am aware of how twerpy I sound and am actively punching myself in the face while writing this.
** for me, your mileage may vary, yes it’s painfully obvious, [insert disclaimer here]
When I wrote up 2012 I was mildly puzzled at the luck which one man could have. It was the year of the Book Deal, the year of the Film Rights To That Other Thing and also the Year of Being Engaged. I vaguely remember summing up, to myself, what was going to happen in 2013… and then just shaking my head, going ‘la la la la la’ and getting on with it. So – roughly – here’s what happened.
Teaching, writing, writing some more, teaching. I ran a weekly JFB titles giveaway on this here site, advertised on reddit/r/fantasy and generally waved at the world. The month was dominated by my directorial debut as man in charge of the High School play – in the summer of 2012 I modernized Midsummer Night’s Dream and threw it at some very talented children, who performed in January to much acclaim and general joy. I was and am frequently reminded of the actor’s wise words: Film will make you rich and TV will make you famous, but theatre will save your soul. At or around this time I may also have had the inkling of an idea that was to be executed in August.
Summoned to Pinewood Studios for a meeting with the lovely Film People. As work was continuing apace on Film Project #1, I got to have that most wonderful of meetings – the ‘what else you got’ one. Turned out I had a couple of things, one of which caught their fancy. I signed another development contract and set to writing the script. I also somewhat cheekily did an unannounced and unrequested AMA* on Reddit, which was great fun. The Wife-to-Be applied to a very prestigious MA in Children’s Book Illustration early in February; all manner of bits were crossed. Late in February she went for an interview, after which all bits were swiftly un-crossed as it didn’t go so well.
And then there was March. A year and 3 months of intense planning and preparation, of which I did a majestic total of 2.8%, and the date was finally upon us – The Wedding.
You know when Alanis Morissette sang about rain on your wedding day? We had grey skies and snow – and it was awesome. Our wedding day was pretty much perfect from start to finish; incredible people, excellent location, gifts, food, dancing and the most beautiful, awesome, talented and kind Lady-Wife one scruffy beardface could ask for. It was utterly, thoroughly and awesomely awesome.
Some other things may have happened before the wedding, but they were significantly less important. Except for the Monday before our wedding day, where the Lady found out that she was cordially invited to attend the MA in Children’s Book Illustration. How her head did not explode several times over I still do not quite comprehend.
After the wedding? Honeymoon!
We’d thought long and hard about this – and decided that if we were to spend money on a honeymoon, we’d darn well be going somewhere nice to eat. So we built our honeymoon around this place, and hoo-ee. We were not disappointed. I could probably write a good 3-4.000 words just about the honeymoon, but I’m not gonna. We went to Italy; we ate all their food.
Back to life, back to reality. And when your reality involves Agent Extraordinaire informing you that there has just been an offer on the book from Poland, reality is pretty darn good. However, in light of recent events there was a new logistic spike on the horizon – moving. And out of London, no less. As the MA that the Wife was to attend was in Cambridge, our London number was up. Scouting for houses in Royston, Stevenage and Letchworth Garden City commenced, but eventually a front runner appeared – Hitchin. Operation Move was on.
It burns us! The sun appeared and proceeded to overcompensate like a party guest that is three summers late and knows it. Temperatures went from warm to hot to ridiculous to come on - and somewhere in the middle of that I pushed through on Film Project 1, and sent through the first 30 pages of Film Project 2. The Film People were (as usual) nice, supportive and happy, so I ploughed on. I got sent a cover for Book 2, which was the level of awesome I have come to expect.
End of School Year in sight, and with it my status as Newly Qualified Teacher. I found out that my school had decided in its infinite wisdom that I was actually to be employed full time, which was all kinds of awesome. I handed in the 4th draft of FP1, got it back with reams of notes and asked for a face-to-face with the attached director.
June also saw the first review for my debut novel, Swords of Good Men. What followed was, I am not proud to admit, nigh-on obsessive self-googling for a long, long time. I am led to believe that this is mostly par for the course. This also brought home the realization that I would actually be a real published writer with my book in a book store and everything. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I needed a bit of a sit-down when the fact hit me.
I also got to face my fear of critics, which was fun. In another life, when I did stand-up comedy, I got very badly done over by a couple of reviewers and I hadn’t quite realized that I’d brought that with me into the writing. When it was time to have Swords reviewed, I was petrified.
Turns out – I didn’t need to be. The book was mostly very well received, the people who griped about it were either legitimate or easily dismissed (my favourite was, paraphrased, “In this book Snorri has made some mistakes”, which is enough for another post entirely).
I started getting to know people in publishing. I got support and a thumbs-up from Mark Lawrence (and seriously – if you like your books dark and with some badass in them, read Prince of Thorns).
Summer holidays stumbled along, and with them the promise of More Awesome – but mostly packing.
Children released back into the wild to roam, 2013-style, with faces glued to iPhones. Ahead: More Awesome, but first – packing.
We needed to spend most of the early bits of July packing. Why?
When we sat down in … uhm… The Past to plan a wedding, The Wife and I were confronted with a minor problem – the North Atlantic. It’s big, it’s cold and it doesn’t seem to be moving any time soon, and a lot of my friends and family are stuck on an island right up at the top bit of it. We had to choose, and we chose to have the ceremony in London. However, we could see no reason why we shouldn’t be allowed to put on the wedding outfits once more, so we decided to have a party in Iceland for the Viking set as well. When we aired this to our Brit friends and suggested they could come as well, a good 15-20 of them** decided to go for it. What followed was a spectacular holiday with a lot of my nearest and dearest mingled in with my farest and dearest, topped with a fantastic party, an improvised ceilidh and a trip to the Blue Lagoon.
However, me and the Wife had left ourselves something like 3 days between arriving from Iceland and leaving London. What followed was a pretty epic packing of house, cleaning of house and…
…moving (with the help of Nick, Ethan, Gordon and Helen, Sarah and Dave + the inimitable Mark Westwood (with Helena sorely missed)). Moving Day was a ninja operation; neat, contained and completely disaster-free, more or less. Hitchin was explored and found exceptionally satisfying – small town, close to train, close to centre, close to fields and fields and fields. I rediscovered how much I’d missed things like ‘air’ and ‘horizon’.
Oh, and then? The book launch.
I went to 9 Worlds con, which was all kinds of excellent. After last years Fantasycon I felt more at home with the whole idea of a convention, waddling around and seeing people, making new friends and just generally geeking out. I had agreed with Jo that I would share a publishing date with gentleman scholar Tom Pollock and jokingly said that in our quest for world domination we would drink mead out of the skulls of our enemies. Logically, Jo then produced skull goblets for me and Tom along with 10 bottles of mead.
Historians would later agree that the occasion had been merry.
I proceeded to catch the very last train home to Hitchin (from Heathrow – I could have flown to St. Petersburg in the time it took) and find out that in my newly adopted town they turn off the streetlights after midnight. You reeeeally don’t appreciate streetlights until they’re, y’know. Not there.
More 9 Worlds merriment included me reading from my book to a room full of people, which went down well. After that I got to briefly sniff the idea of a ‘holiday’***. I took 3 days to write – at great speed – a relatively silly play called ‘The Trials’, which is a Kafka-meets-fable version of the Trials of Hercules and was to be Southbank’s school play for 2013-2014.
I also signed on for Film Project #3, which was slightly different from the other two – Film Person had an idea which they wanted turned into script form. This got taken on and promptly put into the back of my mind, as term loomed on the horizon.
You know the difference between a commute that involves 20 minutes of walking vs. a commute that involves 90 minutes of walking? A lot. I was scrape-off-the-floorable for the first 2 weeks of September, but the spice must flow so on I went. After a bit of a wobble I was into the flow of it, striding along manfully down Euston Road every day. After a little despairing as to where I’d gain my writing time I found out that I could show up at the train station 10 minutes earlier and get on the slow train, where I could get a seat and tap away. New routines, new patterns – all good.
Finally got a meeting with the director on FP#1 – the trouble with working with awesome people is that they tend to be a little on the busy side – with an excellent and productive time had. I turned around and started pushing FP1 through to 5th draft (on the train in the mornings). The same day I continued on from Pinewood to Bristol to attend Bristolcon and see our lovely friends there. Bristolcon was a blast, and I’m going again next year. I met Mark Lawrence and hung out with all manner of excellent people.
School year continued apace; Book 2 got handed in. It is called Blood Will Follow.
Oh, and there was one minor thing as well. Just a minor thing.
I went to Brighton at the end of October and attended Worldcon 2013. Mary Robinette Kowal introduced me to Patrick Rothfuss. Jo Fletcher introduced me to Scott Lynch. I talked to Joe Abercrombie and got progressively less weird about it. I stood within a metre of Neil Gaiman and didn’t lick his face (mostly because he looked fairly tired, bless him). I had an incredibly fantastically awesome time, submerged in the genre, listening to smart people say clever things and whatnot. I vLogged about it.
I struggled with a project I’d rather unwisely taken on on top of everything else (why? Because I’m a moron), but mostly things continued apace. Finished draft 5 of FP#1 and started wrangling about contract renewal. Started FP#3. Cooked an outline for Book 3 in my head.
Finish line, finish line. Two weeks in, children released. A week to write – wrapped up draft 1 of FP#3 and sent off. This was received with thumbs up, and I am getting reason to believe that after a year of learning on the job, as it were, I’m getting better at this whole screenwriting malarkey. Notes, redraft, sent off 2 days ago.
Christmas was an Edinburgh affair, with loads of lovely people. I got to touch a beaming pregnant lady’s bump, which was all kinds of turmoil-making. I got to see the connected-folk very briefly, but mostly I just got to hang out in peace and quiet with the Wife, which might be just about the only thing this year that there hasn’t been quite enough of.
The day after tomorrow we go off to Stevenage to celebrate a Hogmanay with close, wonderful and very silly friends, and then it’s 2014. This is also the year I turn 40, and that’s weird. No word of a lie. However it does look like I’ve managed to place myself in a situation where I’ll be busy enough to not worry about it too much. In just about a week Swords of Good Men gets released in the US, Blood Will Follow comes out on the 5th of June and I will hopefully be able to pursue my highly optimistic master plan of pushing out the three film projects (2 down, 1 to go) and reclaim space in my head to work on Book 3, on which I’ve started but not made massive headway.
I don’t know what the future holds – but the present is fun.
Enjoy your Christmases, hug your loved ones, tickle your friends and go boldly into the new year!
* The AMA (or ‘Ask Me Anything’) is a thing on a website called Reddit. You sit down and answer any and all questions about anything The Internet wants to ask you.
** There may be an exact number, but I was either happy, drunk (on joy, obviously), overwhelmed or fishing at the time.
*** Not needing to be anywhere and having lots of time to write.
Because ‘talking furry potato man’ wasn’t as good a title.
Here’s my last in the trilogy of Vlogs on WFC ’13. ’twas a jolly good show, I can’t quite believe it all actually happened and I’d like to go again please. But for now – work. A lot of work.
That’s right – it’s more of this new-fangled blinky-lights stuff.
World Fantasy Con – Day 2.
An email dropped in through the cracks in my Neanderthal man cave five days ago. It was from one Amalia Dillin, who had had my name flagged by her editor as someone who occasionally dabbled in Norse-related things. She was interested to know my opinions on Thor, the God of Thunder, and after protracted negotiations (“You want me to do what?”.. “Thor, you say?”… “Cool!”) invited me to join a blog-hop to celebrate large men with hammers and the release of her newest novel, Fate Forgotten. (Hooray!)
I thought about this for a while, and have to confess that I discovered I had some opinions. I read Amalia’s excellent list of Thors and found that I am woefully under-read on recent incarnations. In my book* Thor is someone who has always been around, is large and beardy and scary, and has red hair. I am Icelandic, and thus the Norse gods are part of my cultural heritage. I’m not about to say ‘none of that Marvel nonsense’ because I, for one, welcome our new Disney overlords, but – y’know. To me, Chris Hemsworth is about as much Thor as a potato is a duck.
So who is Thor to me, then?
He is big, strong and – how to put this politely - not likely to take an intellectual line. His is the direct path; his is the challenge met face on. You’d want him on your side – but possibly up at the front where the action was, rather than beside or behind you.
In Norse mythology Thor can be the butt of cruel jokes as evidenced in the story of Utgard-Loki, where Thor travels with Loki and Þjálfi, ending up in the hall of a mysterious jotun. This jotun proceeds to set Thor challenges – quaffing ale from a horn, lifting a cat and wrestling an old woman. Sounds simple enough? Well… The horn is somehow magically connected to the sea, the cat is actually Jormungandr in his less known cat form and the woman is Elli, the goddess of age.
And still Thor nearly manages, failing heroically at all the tasks but winning the respect of Utgard-Loki in the process. This infuriates him so much that he wants to smash things with his hammer**, but then the hall of Utgard-Loki vanishes, confusing the hell out of the real estate market.
What I suppose I like about my version of Thor is the marriage of relentless energy and absolute lack of common sense – when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.
* Literally and figuratively.
** To be fair, most things do.
I am at World Fantasy Con in Brighton.
It is awesome.
I am taking notes, and fully intend to turn them into posts later.