Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Day I was Interviewed by Maddy

You know, there's probably something that's more enjoyable than being interviewed for an audio CD by your nine year old daughter, on her first time ever in a recording studio and behind a microphone, but if there is I don't know what it is.

Maddy went from "I'm scared, what if I mess this up?" to "this is really fun" in about sixty seconds, was an absolute professional, and came away from the experience telling me that she'd learned all sorts of things about writing (and about me) that she didn't know. We actually did the whole interview twice, so there's about half an hour of us talking altogether, of which only about seven minutes can go on the CD. I'll see if we can get a longer cut of the interview up on the website. ( is the junior (I got Maddy a Blondie CD as a thank-you for all her help on this; her life changed forever when she saw Debbie Harry on the Muppet Show DVD, last month.)

Lots and lots of cool and unusual things arrived in the mail today. I was amused by Joan Revill's The Sun Sign Reader "the ultimate astrological birthday book of fictional characters and events", a gift from someone who thought I'd like having a book in which I was the entry for my birthday, for my files, turned out to be a wonderfully odd potpourri of fictional characters, strange events, high culture, low culture, spiced by the birthday of an occasional author. The kind of book that I wish had an index rather than sun-sign tables in the back.

One of the birthdays listed was Sherlock Holmes's, at least his birthday according to William Baring-Gould (it's given as Jan 6th 1854) because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle neglected to mention it in his books. Baring-Gould famously annotated the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, in 1967. One of the other cool things that arrived today was proof copies of the new two volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes, coming out from WW Norton later this year. It's a completely new annotation, done by Les Klinger, and it's absolutely essential reading. Les has been annotating the books for Sherlockians (or Holmesians if you're English) for some years. Now he annotates for the general public: almost two thousand pages of Holmes stories, with illustrations, and the sort of notes that illuminate rather than irritate. We've come a long way from Victorian England, and it's very useful both to have Les telling you what a Tantalus is, or a gasogene, and also to have him illuminate many of the wonderful textural anomalies that can keep Holmesians (or Sherlockians, if you're American) happy for weeks. Was Watson's first name really James? Who really wrote "The Lion's Mane"? Does a Goose have a crop, and would it have held a blue carbuncle if it does? The book's coming out in November 2004, in a slipcase, and will make the perfect present for anyone who has been, or needs to be, infected by the Holmes virus.

Hey, Neil! I was looking around, and I discovered that there is now an official MirrorMask "teaser" site at I was wondering if you'll be able to put up pictures (possibly larger versions of those which accompany the official synopsis)? I'm terribly excited about MirrorMask and the Death film. I hope you write 1609 or The Seven Sisters someday, and until then, good luck on Anansi Boys.


Well, I don't do the site, but I've suggested to Hensons that they ought to get more up there, and I'm sure they will. I'll post here as soon as I hear anything.

Hey, Neil,
Are you still going to open for the Magnetic Fields in Minneapolis?

Probably not -- they have an opening act on this tour. Claudia asked if I wanted to do a reading as well, but I said I was quite happy to see the one they've got, and not to be something that stopped the band from coming onstage. I'll be at the gig though. Maybe they'll let me be the person who tells you not to take flash photographs while the band's on or something.

Hi Neil,
I'm sure I've seen a link to it before, and filed it away in that shadowy, cobwebbed part of my brain where I put things I should remember, but is there a list of all of the awards you've won somewhere?

Greg Carere

I don't know. Hang on, I'll search the site. Yes, there is -- at It's not quite up-to-date, I'm afraid.

Hey Neil,

I started writing my first book. You are the author I look up to the most. A master wordsmith. The way you use words to exact the maximum meaning with such simplicity leaves me awestruck. No other author has ever given me so much to think about.

I love writing my book, but I have really been struggling with point of view. I was disappointed to see you recently answered a question similar mine, but not exactly the same. I figure I'll ask anyway, in case you have anything to add to your previous answer.

Every writing guide (book or internet) says its bad to flip around with POV. It looks sloppy, and reduces the intimacy that you achieve with a single 3rd person limited (ug - it's taken me 3 weeks to get the handle on all the terms they use). I have two main characters who are making a journey together. They will be put in situations which require fundamental changes if they are to survive. They are equally important, but their personal journeys are very different. I feel I can attain the greatest intimacy with them and a fuller understanding of what happens to them if I can delve into both of their thoughts at will.

But all the advice I've found says to stick to one point of view, anything else annoys editors. If you're a first time author, do publishers just reject books like this?

Cheers, Elese

Er, that advice is bollocks. If you've got a story that needs to be told through more than one point of view, tell it through more than one point of view.

Editors like good books. If a good book comes in told by a Centauran Hive-Mind, the editor will like it. They don't reject stories because they have more than one point of view in.

What's sloppy, and what many starting writers do is start a sentence from one characters's point of view and end it from another's. I'll try not to change point of view in the middle of a scene, unless I need to and it works. But there's nothing at all wrong with having lots of points of view in a book. The advice I gave the last person to ask a similar question was to look at several of his favourite books and see how the author handled it.

(To be honest, I'm sort of puzzled that anyone could take this kind of advice seriously, at least after a moment's reflection, because there are so many good, successful books out there that have a multiplicity of points of view in them. Take a look on your shelves.)

There's an awful lot of bad advice out there. Take a look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden's comments on Todd James Pierce from the Creative Writing Department of Florida State University, who tells would-be writers how to write cover letters to publishers. The only trouble is, all his advice is useless and worse than useless. (His Tip Four: Lie.)

The problem with the good advice is it's mostly much too simple. Joe Straczinski told me about the time that he, when young, got hold of Harlan Ellison's phone number and phoned him up. He explained that he was a young writer and nobody would publish him. According to Joe, Harlan said "They won't publish you because you're writing crap. Stop writing crap and they'll publish you." Which was very good advice, and Joe took it. But it's sort of simple.

If you want to know what an editor is looking for, this entry on Teresa's blog explains, very straightforwardly, the 14 things that an editor is looking for. It's in section three, the Context of Rejection.

Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


And, as a final note, BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting a dramatisation of Terry Pratchett's MORT...