Saturday, 27 March 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy Survey

This book contains two surveys of fantasy and science fiction authors, one carried out by Mexicon in 1989, the other by the British Science Fiction Association in 2009. Each author was asked the same questions under strict interrogation conditions (i.e. bright spotlights in a bar in 1989, email in 2009) and their answers analysed to produce a snapshot of the Muse’s favourite genre. The surveys are particularly interesting to Katherine, since 1989 was the year she began to write short stories for the genre magazines. They didn’t ask me – they must have thought unicorns would be a little bit biased? – but I gave my author a prod with my horn, so she’s quoted a couple of times in the book along with 127 other fantasy/sf authors you might recognise.

Here are a few authors in the book Katherine has met:
Sarah Ash – met at Fantasycon and wrote one of her favourite books “Moths to a Flame”.
Frances Hardinge – fellow Branford Boase Award winner.
Mary Hoffman – a friend and secret admirer of the Great Horse.
Diana Wynne Jones – did a joint event with Katherine at Cheltenham Festival.
Katherine Langrish – a friend also published by HarperCollins.
Tim Lebbon – wrote a collaborative novella with Katherine called “Children of the New Disorder” (warning: definitely NOT a children’s book!).
Juliet E McKenna – shared her first agent Maggie Noach.

Katherine obviously thinks of herself as a fantasy writer - why else would she have a unicorn as a muse? - but some authors don’t like labels, even though the Muse thinks they actually write fantasy. Other authors are notably missing from the surveys. For example, I don’t see JK Rowling or Philip Pullman in there… WHY NOT? (The Muse is disappointed in you two and will be coming to visit with my horn, so make sure you’ve both got a good excuse!)

You can buy a copy of this book from the BSFA

Now, for my own little survey. What the Muse would like to know is:

1) Do you count yourself as a fan of fantasy/science fiction?
2) Do you enjoy reading adult fantasy/sf as well as books published on the teenage shelves?
3) Would you be interested in a teenage fantasy/sf community covering books, games and films?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

March reading

Just had my monthly snoop at the books on Katherine’s bedside table. An interesting mix, in the Muse’s opinion…

The Ivy Chronicles – Karen Quinn
When Ivy Ames loses her job, her husband and her apartment in a single afternoon, she reinvents herself as a private school admissions advisor. The only trouble is her own daughters no longer go to a private school because she can no longer afford the fees… This is an adult read, but very lively and funny, even though it's a bit hard to feel sorry for the rich and spoilt Ivy who thinks the worst thing that can happen to her is moving into a lower class neighbourhood and sending her children to a normal school. The Muse can hardly believe the lengths some people will go to get their children into the top schools, but it is obviously a big problem for you humans. Unicorn foals, fortunately, don’t go to school – at least not that sort of school.

City of Flowers – Mary Hoffman
This is the third book in the fabulous Stravaganza series set in the fantasy world of Talia, which is almost but not quite like Italy. Sky is a teenager with a rock star father who discovers he is a stravagante (The Muse apologises in advance for any Talian spelling errors – unicorns don’t go to school, remember?). This means Sky can use a talisman to teleport to Talia, where he becomes caught up in a long-running feud between the powerful di Chimici and Nucci families. Quite a few of the teenagers who go to his school are also stravaganti, and they have a hard time hiding their nightly journeys from their parents, especially when one of them is wounded in a duel and returns to the modern world with ancient stitches in his arm.
It’s probably best to read these books in order - starting with City of Masks - to get a better idea of all the characters and Talian history, but my author always does everything backwards and says it’s fine to start in the middle, too. She likes Sky because he’s a mixed race character who doesn’t keep going on about it. My favourite character is Merla, the beautiful black flying horse!

Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer
Artemis is 13 years old and the most notorious criminal mind in Ireland. One of his past achievements was swindling the fairies out of their fabled gold, which means Captain Holly Short of the LEPrechaun police is after him. This book is fun with wise-cracking humour and a fast pace. It’s a bit like James Bond only with leprechauns so will probably appeal most to boys who love gadgets. The Muse is horrified to learn unicorns are extinct in these books, but there’s a pretty cool centaur called Foaly, the fairy techno-wizard, so I’ll forgive Eoin. THIS time.

Oh, and it’s still there at the bottom of the pile… her old favourite, the Tibetan Art of Serenity (TAOS from now on)… is Katherine not serene enough already?

Read any of these books? Tell the Muse what you’ve been reading this month!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Gold Cup Day

Katherine is taking the afternoon off to watch the racing on TV, so I thought I’d trot over here to write this. She used to work with racehorses, and it’s Cheltenham Gold Cup day (the most important jump race of the season) so I’ll forgive her for abandoning me – though I can’t help thinking it would be more exciting if unicorns were allowed to race! I’d soon see off that favourite Kauto Star with my golden hooves.

Anyway, I'll tell you a secret. My author used to look after a horse called Third in Line who won at Cheltenham. She’s got a photo on her bookshelf showing her leading him into the winner’s enclosure. He wouldn’t have been good enough to win the Gold Cup, but the trainer she used to work for – Venetia Williams – has got a runner in the race today called Mon Mome, who won last year’s Grand National. He’s 100-1 in the betting, which the Muse thinks is brilliantly good odds since it is now raining and the ground is getting heavy. So don't tell anyone, but I'm just off to put my author's mortgage on him...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Tales from the Border

Trotting back from Hadrian’s Wall, my horn sparkled with ideas. Mostly these are still shadows of ghosts in the torchlight, so it may be a while before I help my author put them into books. But many other muses have been inspired by borders because that's where some of the most interesting stories happen, being a place where two cultures clash - often violently. My author used to live on the Welsh border, and even today if you drive across it you will see road signs in two languages and find yourself in a different world where the towns have unpronounceable names and it rains a lot.

Here are a few of Katherine's favourite border books:

The Sterkarm Handshake – Susan Price
The Sterkarms live in the Scottish borders and are forever fighting rival clans. Their handshake is deadly, since they are left handed and can sink a blade between the ribs of their enemy while shaking hands with their right. This brilliant book travels in time between the violent age of the Sterkarms and our future, well worth checking out!

Sabriel – Garth Nix
Here the border is a patrolled wall across a fantasy land, separating the civilised Ancelstierre where Sabriel goes to school from the Old Kingdom where dark creatures roam. It's one of the most convincing fantasy worlds my author has read.

Stardust – Neil Gaiman
See my post on the film. The Wall here separates Victorian England from a magical land where fallen stars become young women.

The Divide – Elizabeth Kay
This is a line in Costa Rica where the waters that feed into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans separate. Fainting on it, like the hero Felix does, takes you into a different world. Dare you to go there and try...

And here's one of mine:

Spellfall – one of Katherine’s books.
The Boundary separating the land of Earthaven from our world opens once a year at Halloween, and UNICORNS LIVE THERE. You can win a signed copy of Spellfall by entering the competition on Katherine's website.

Let us know your favourite border stories.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Raising ghosts at Hadrian's Wall

I’m hoping to see the ghost of Emperor Hadrian tonight. He’s been dead for nearly two thousand years, but in the enchanted mists anything is possible. That’s part of the fun of being a Muse – I can travel through time and space, while my author stays at home waiting for me to report back and tell her what I saw.

So where am I going? If you live anywhere near Northumberland I expect you’ve already guessed, because the great wall Hadrian built across Britain to mark the northern boundary of the Roman Empire is going to be illuminated by fire tonight for the first time since Roman soldiers trod its stones. There’s going to be a torchlit procession in Carlisle and another event at Segundum Fort. Although the wall is mostly in ruins now, you can still see the foundations of the watchtowers and fortresses the Romans built to keep out the wild northern tribes… if you go, be sure to keep an eye out for unicorns, too, because I plan to stable myself in one of the towers to spy on things.

My author is especially interested in my report since the book she’s writing at the moment includes a magical battle against the forces of darkness at the Wall… but before you get too excited, it’s book 2 of her new series about King Arthur's daughter Rhianna Pendragon, so I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit patient as this series is still looking for a publisher – mostly because my author is too busy working on the books to send out any more proposals at the moment! (She'll hate me for this, but any editors out there who might be interested, email Katherine and let her know you'd like to see it. If it's left up to her, she might never get around to sending it to you.)

Right, I’m off. If the wild Scottish tribes don't get me, I'll be back soon.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Nasty unicorn!

There are some unicorns you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night. Here’s one of them… avenging plastic unicorn.
It comes with little dolls you can impale on its horn. One of them is meant to be your boss, or maybe a teacher if you haven’t got a boss yet. One looks like a clown. The other one is a new age lady who looks a bit like Katherine! Well, if that nasty plastic unicorn comes anywhere NEAR my author, it’ll discover my horn is more powerful than its horn… doesn’t it realize blood destroys the very enchantments that make us strong?

The First Law of the Enchanted Mists says that if a muse uses their power to harm or destroy, they will only end up harming themselves. I have to keep reminding my author of this whenever she asks me to write something that has no spirit or might do harm to her readers. Yes, I have a sharp horn with magical powers. But I use it only in self-defence to make sure nobody messes with me while I get on with my muse-work. It’s sad but the world outside the enchanted mists can be a dangerous place. When I have to travel through it, I’m glad of my horn.

If you had a powerful magical weapon attached to your forehead, what would you use it for?
a) Self defence only.
b) Dominating others (like the Great Horse did).
c) Impaling someone… who exactly?

Monday, 8 March 2010


My horn glitters today! I saw myself on TV last night – in “Stardust”, a refreshingly thoughtful fantasy film based on one of Neil Gaiman’s books.

The plot follows Tristan, who lives in a village called Wall next to a long stone wall that separates England from a fantasy kingdom where magic works. Tristan is descended from the royal family of the fantasy kingdom, though he doesn’t know it until he crosses the wall in search of a fallen star to bring back for the girl he loves.

This might sound familiar to fantasy lovers, except the fallen star turns out to be a beautiful young woman whose heart bestows the gift of eternal youth. Various witches and princes are after her for their own ends (youth and power), though Tristan finds her first and becomes hunted, too. As they flee across the fantasy land towards England, a tender love affair blossoms between the star and our hero, which nearly ends in tragedy when he realizes she will turn to dust if she crosses the wall. Fortunately, he recognizes in time that the girl who sent him on his quest was only trying to get him out of the way so she could marry someone else, and all turns out happily in the end.

My favourite bit:
Do you really have to ask? I have a small part rescuing the fallen star from the forest where Tristan has left her tethered to a tree by a magic chain (no trouble to a unicorn!)
My author’s favourite bit:
The ghosts of the seven princes, who keep murdering each other hoping to inherit the kingdom, until finally none is left. The ghosts hang around rolling their eyes at their remaining brothers' efforts.
And, of course, we both liked the kiss that makes the star shine at the end…

Neil Gaiman is an author who really knows how to write fantasy - I wonder if he has a unicorn for a muse? Anyone else see this film? Or maybe you’ve read the book?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Ten Tips for New Authors

All the bloggers are doing their “ten rules for writers” at the moment. It’s the Guardian’s fault for publishing their tips from famous authors last week. They didn’t ask my author, but if they did she would have given them Philip Pullman’s first rule -“say no to things like this that stop me doing my real work" - and passed them on to me.

So I bring you the Muse’s ten tips the Guardian missed:

1. Find your muse (he/she doesn’t have to be a unicorn, of course, but it helps).
2. Feed your muse with plenty of books by lots of different authors. We need a balanced diet to stay healthy, just like you do. Some books are like ice cream – good fun but can make you sick if that’s all you read. Others are like spinach – good for you but taste disgusting. Life’s too short to read the spinach (unless you happen to be Popeye), but there’s plenty of other stuff inbetween.
3. Learn how to spell... and I mean text, not TXT!
4. Write about what really interests you, not what someone else tells you to write.
5. Get a room of your own and shut the door until your story is finished.
6. Don’t do it for the money.
7. Don’t do it for nothing, either.
8. Try not to take too much notice of what everybody else is doing.
9. Get a good agent who believes in you and your work.
10. Be willing to give up everything else to care for your muse.

Got your own tip? Let the Muse know!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Author Hotline

Today the UK celebrates World Book Day, so many authors are out and about visiting schools or doing other bookish events. This means of course that they are not at their computers creating new stories, so you’ll be pleased to hear that Katherine is doing her proper author-work and working quietly on her new series. I had to put my horn at her throat to keep her in her chair, but she saw my point. (Horn… point… get it? Sorry!) Anyway, the point of this post is that some authors are like unicorns and can be difficult to lure out of the enchanted mists. But there is now a place on the internet where you can find out a bit more about these authors, link to their websites, and get in touch to ask where their next book is.

It’s called THE AUTHOR HOTLINE and it’s launching TODAY.

To celebrate the launch, there’s an exciting “opening lines” competition to win a set of signed books for your school, and the six children’s laureates have provided some fabulous laureate-level story openings to give you some inspiration (also check out the Muse’s post on story beginnings). So get across to the Author Hotline and tell all your friends! You can even find my author over there (she sneaked out last week to put up her profile while I was drinking at my favourite enchanted pool). But the Muse absolutely forbids you to distract her, or she’ll never finish her new series…


Related Posts with Thumbnails