petermorwood: (Default)
I've finally been able to confirm that the UK rights for the Horse Lord / Book of Years series have completely reverted to me (though not yet the US ones – or the Philippines; why there, I wonder, and not, say, Puerto Rico?) and I'm prepping them for release as e-books, as Diane has been doing with her Young Wizards. It's given me a chance – as the dead-tree versions never did – to do some re-working, because I doubt there's a writer on the planet who hasn't looked at their early work and thought "migod you didn't ort to write a sentence like that molesworth!"

Or several sentences. Or a paragraph. Or a continuity blunder.

I've always been good at spotting those, though it's a talent that's most useful before something appears in print; afterwards can be annoying, especially when (in a recent example) the writer's finished work has been through a series of test-readers, an editor, a copy-editor and a final check of the galleys.

So it's a bit embarrassing to find one that's been in every single edition of The Horse Lord, especially when it doesn't even have the excuse of a chapter or so of action between setup and dénouement. On p.90 (UK trade) p.91 (US mass)
Aldric nodded, but slung Widowmaker round his shoulder nonetheless.
Unfortunately on p.92 of both editions
The girl's sharp eyes had noticed a fine taiken racked on the bedroom wall…
And yes, the taiken longsword is Widowmaker. In two places at once. Oops. That's going to get fixed…

There won't be massive changes; this book's been popular for 28 years, and I had evidence of that popularity a couple of days back (for which many thanks, [livejournal.com profile] la_marquise_de_ - gosh, I'm mentioned in some impressive company!) so if ever there was a case of Si Non Confectvs Non Reficiat, this is it. But after those 28 years I can construct a better sentence than some of those from 1982, I can certainly write better dialogue, I know not to call mail "chainmail" any more – and I can remove my own guilty example of a pet peeve from fantasy that's started creeping into supposedly historical work as well.

It's the business of a sword slung over the owner's back and drawn from that position. The question kept coming up on Swordforum and NetSword, and nobody was able to offer any historical evidence, never mind pictorial proof, that carrying a sword that way ever happened in Europe. Seeing it done in Braveheart and King Arthur is neither evidence nor historical. But in 1982, what do we find Peter writing?
Aldric unhooked the longsword's scabbard from his weaponbelt and pulled its shoulder strap across so that the sheath rose slantwise to his back, well clear of his legs...then he gripped the long hilt rearing like an adder by his head, twisted it to loose the locking-collar and drew.
Once again, oops. That too is going to get fixed, because after experimenting with some of my own replicas (gosh, isn't Polyfilla spackle useful stuff?) it's clear that neither Aldric nor anyone else could perform this trick without arms like an orangutan or gibbon. What I did in later books was to have the across-the-back carry as a commonly-accepted "peace position", thus producing a useful bit of dramatic "business" where releasing the cross-strap so that it slides down to "ready position" for a fast draw is a direct threat, and possibly an insult as well.

Fast draw, with a sword? Yes indeed, like Japanese-style iaijutsu, because the first incarnation of Alban swords, culture and customs was very samurai-influenced. In the late '70s-early 80s it was unusual, and a change from the more usual Celtic/Viking/Medieval settings, which is why I did it, and there weren't many others. Without checking the bookshelves, I can think of Richard Lupoff's Sword of the Demon and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen, C.J. Cherryh's superb Morgaine Cycle (especially Gate of Ivrel), a surprisingly small number of short stories, and of course me.

The fun part is to see how my fictional society evolved into something different; honourable suicide seems like a great device for dramatic tension. When you discover that it means your protagonist (all right, hero and favourite character) won't reach the end of the chapter, never mind the end of the book, it's not such a good idea, and you start looking for ways to keep him alive. When that attitude starts to influence the entire culture, soon you're dealing with people who've laid a thin veneer of lip-service honour over a bedrock of ruthless, scary pragmatism.

And that's much more interesting than ersatz samurai... :-)
petermorwood: (Default)
In 1979 I wrote what later (much, much later) became The Horse Lord.

Since I was at university, reading English Lit., I asked a couple of my tutors to have a look at it. Apart from the usual vague encouragements nothing much happened: it was a bit too far removed from Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Then in 1981 I got a letter from Alastair Minnis, who'd moved to Bristol Uni (he's now a full Professor at Yale.) I'd been mentioned, Lord knows why, to his colleague's wife Mrs Burrow, who was a Real Writer, and she'd expressed interest in reading the stuff. So I sent it to Alastair, he passed it on, and a few weeks later I got a letter back.

That was the first time I realised that Mrs Burrow was also Diana Wynne Jones, and I'd already been reading her books; I remember Cart and Cwidder and Power of Three in particular.

She was witty, perceptive, insightful, helpful... If it's possible to hold someone's hand across the wet bit between Belfast and Bristol, then Diana held mine. "One gets so little chance," she wrote, "to talk to anyone about writing, at least of the making-things-up kind."

There were other letters, with advice, with gossip, with encouragement - I still have them all in my scrapbook - and then the phonecall that wasn't a long-range hand-hold but a long-range pat on the back when Horse Lord finally sold.

My favourite among all her books is The Tough Guide to Fantasyland - my copy is ragged, dog-eared and usually bristles with bookmarks - because it's so full of the funny, accurate comments I first saw in those letters. And there are a few that are more pointed than others; "Apostrophes" for instance, or "Names" (SWORDS...seem very proud of being known to be really Excalibur or Widowmaker.) Not an uncommon sword-name, in fantasy or folklore, but I always get the feeling of being twinkled at over the rim of a pair of specs...

And then today's news.

Not the jolting shock of something totally unexpected, but the sadness that it didn't happen later, whenever that might be. Yet today is later, if you look at it from yesterday, and much, much later than last year.

I'm glad Diana had some later.

I wish she could have had some more.
petermorwood: (Default)
Diane and I were at the Surrey International Writer's Conference outside Vancouver last weekend. Out on Thursday, back on Tuesday, routed via Amsterdam so 9 time zones, no waiting. We're seriously tired, but oddly enough not blasted by jet-lag – I think the out-and-back was too quick for 'lag to hit properly.

It was great fun, as hard actual work as any SF/F con I've ever been to except for the '95 Worldcon in Glasgow (first and so far only time when a tux-fitting has been part of the programme!) - and as educational for me as a presenter as I hope it was for the attendees. Most if not all of my presentations and Blue Pencil Interviews, dealing with various aspects of the nuts-and-bolts of writing, required me to explain (coherently, at that) the details of why I do such-and-such, rather than just how I do it. Sort of, "why that nut/bolt, when a nail would be much quicker?" and so on. There was plenty of room to explain the use of nails, glue, staples and other quick fixes as well.

I was amazed by how much I had to actually think of what goes into constructing a story, after all this time. It was like explaining, after years of driving a manual-gear car, exactly how I developed the instinctive hand-foot-ear coordination of shifting smoothly up or down at just the right instant, to someone who's only ever driven automatic. (But I don't mention double-declutching. Along with Leg-Before-Wicket and the offside rule, that way lies madness...)

My birthday fell on the Saturday of the conference, and though we didn't get out anywhere for it, the Banquet that evening presented me with a birthday cake and 800+ people singing "Happy Birthday"... So I responded by singing a little silliness that I'd been preparing as a Closing Ceremony thank-you: it happened a bit early, but since there wasn't a closing ceremony of the SF/F con style I'm more familiar with, it was just as well. Equally just as well that I had my notebook in my pocket, and that my writing was neater than usual so as to be read through surprise and very slight stage-fright. What I'd written was the Canadian National Anthem. With, er, revised lyrics. The ones that go...

O Canada, I'm just here for the beer.
O Canada, The beer is clear near here!
There is yeast in it, but no geese in in,
And the foam is on the top.
Its taste is good, and it goes with food,
So we tourists se-e-eldom stop.
O Canada, O Canada,
O Canada, I raise this beer to thee!
O Canada, why wasn't this one free?
Eh?

It worked, too. No tar, no feathers, no ridden out of town on a rail; just roars of laughter at the right time and a big round of applause. And there was lashings of ginger local microbrew beer in the hospitality suite, too.

Thanks, SiWC. That was quite a conference - and quite a birthday evening!

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