Being a Writer, Reconsidered

So, a long time ago now, when I was new-born to the heady idea of becoming an author, I wrote a guest blog on a now-defunct self-publishing website. I had enthusiastically gathered advice from near and far, and figured I had enough wisdom to share it back. Among other things, it contained this:

Act like a pro even if you aren’t one.

For me, this means making sure you give the process the time it deserves, as if it were a second job (which, effectively, it is). This means things like setting writing targets by the day or week, and sticking to them. It means working on your blog, twitter, website, etc so that you seem like a real writer rather than an ‘aspiring’ one. Watch how the pros do it, read the advice, and try to live the writing life, because if you want to be a writer, that’s what it takes. Most writers don’t get to do it full time (at least, not on their own books), so don’t wait for your ‘big break’ to give you the free time to write–do it now. Unless you are incredible lucky, you aren’t going to strike gold with your first submission of your first book, or sell a million copies of your self-pub masterpiece overnight with no promotion. (Unless, of course, you story is the autobiography of the secret love-child of David Beckham and Lady Di).

In the past year, I’ve come to realise that was perhaps not the best approach. While I did get a lot of writing done (two and a bit entirely new books, and several editing passes), I hadn’t achieved my goal of becoming a published author (either self or trad, I couldn’t pick). Most of the reasons for that fall on my own insecure shoulders, though I did eventually begin to query one of the books I’d “finished”. However, I’d also reached a point of complete burnout.

Now, that burnout and subsequent depression may have had more than a little to the dumpster-fire raging around us in the wider world, but my plan of “living the writing life” before I was actually seeing any return from it did not help. I’m not sure why I thought I could go on burning the candle at both ends, neglecting almost all other aspects of life – work, family, health – in the meantime. I fought for every hour I could (just like they tell you to) and raged or pouted when I couldn’t get it (not gonna lie), but then found myself staring at the screen without the energy to produce. Or staring at the ceiling, numb.

Would this have been different if I’d self-published, and had a few sales? I don’t know. If I’d queried more persistently and hooked an agent? Maybe. I’m not confident either was ever particularly likely. That’s not (just) self-deprecation, that’s simply knowing the odds. Chasing the almost-impossible dream too hard can crush your soul pretty quickly – though that’s not to say you should give up.

Not writing was even worse than writing, and for a while the only thing that helped was the immersive distraction of a video game or two. Replacing one addiction with another isn’t really self-care, though, and it doesn’t help repair the damage done to the rest of your life. I tried to take a social media break as well, but I wasn’t very good at it, and I’m not sure I needed a break so much as a re-configuring.

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Staring into the abyss, or, you can’t stay in Skyrim forever.

So, what did help?

  • Reading, even though it was hard for a while, difficult to stop reading as a writer and remember how to simply enjoy good books.
  • Remembering that social media should be about friendships, not about performance. I have met a lot of great people on-line, and I found I just had to interact with them in the right ways. This can be tricky when a lot of them are writers and talking about writing all the time, but the great thing about social media is you can curate your feeds. This is absolutely necessary for mental health, so don’t feel bad about cutting out the posts and posters that are making you feel inadequate. Find your happy place (or, at least, a happier one) if you can.
  • Recovering some of the things that you did before you devoted all your time to the word-mines. Even housework made me feel better, knowing that things weren’t being neglected any longer. Listen to music – actively listen, not just for background noise. Spend time with family and friends. Go out for the day, guilt-free. Do fuck-all for an afternoon and don’t feel you’ve wasted the time. Let go of the guilt.
  • Rediscover, if possible, why you wanted to write in the first place. It probably wasn’t because you wanted to publish a book as soon as possible. For me, I had some stories to tell, and I think the more I tried to think about making them publishable, the farther they strayed from that. Instead of the stories I wanted to tell, they became the stories I thought people would want to read, and I fell out of love with them – and with writing.

I’m sure there were other things in here – a key ingredient being time – but eventually I had the urge to write again. I also went to a convention and met some of those great friends I’d made, and some authors that I admired, and remembered that they were just all normal* people, too, with real lives and partners and families and jobs. They loved writing, and books, but also other things, and for a lot of that weekend we didn’t talk about writing or even books at all.

And that was great.

So, while writing (and reading, which I can’t really separate from it) remains the all-consuming passion of my life right now (there have been others), it’s not my whole life. I am still working on my stories, still planning to write new things, but I’m not pushing it, not pursuing it to the exclusion of all else.

It turns out it’s okay to write when the inspiration takes you after all.

Until you actually get those deadlines, of course.

 

* OK, maybe not RJ.

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The Sound of Silence

So, it’s been extremely quiet on here for a while, and that could mean any number of things:

  • I’ve got fed up with blogging that nobody reads
  • I’ve found better outputs for my writing energy (like, you know, an actual book)
  • I’ve found worse outputs for my writing energy (like, you know, Reddit)
  • I’ve been too busy reading and working to post
  • I’ve hardly been reading or working, so there’s nothing to post about
  • I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and have only just returned
  • I’ve found it hard to blog about fantasy books when the world is falling to pieces
  • I’ve considered giving up completely but didn’t want to announce it officially
  • I’ve had to get “real life” in some sort of order, rather than “wasting time” on here
  • I’ve run out of interesting things to say or Hidden Gems to review

Many of these things are at least partially true. At least one is definitely false.

Taming the TBR

So, things have been a little quiet lately. I don’t want to get into why, but I thought it worth talking about one of the things that I’ve come to realise lately: the massive TBR is both a blessing and a curse, and I needed to get it under control.

For those that don’t know, TBR is shorthand for “To Be Read [Pile]”, and can either be a real stack or virtual list – or, probably, both – of books waiting for you to read them. For myself and other readers whose intentions outpace their actual reading, these TBRs can stretch to hundreds of books, and usually grow over time as books are added at a faster rate than they are read (easily done, for most of us).

Social media certainly doesn’t help, with suggestions around every virtual corner, or announcements by authors you have read or keep meaning to read of their shiny new books, all of which sound so good. Then there’s Goodreads, which makes it so easy just to add books to an infinite “To Read” list with just one click. Compounding this is the ebook; with it’s one-click ordering and frequent 99p sales, the number of books you own can skyrocket, let alone all those you want to read but haven’t bought yet.

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But, you say, how could this be a bad thing? Books are great! The more the merrier!

When you love books this much, it can be comforting to have a huge TBR pile. You are stockpiling books for a rainy day, each full of potential enjoyment and escape, or challenging ideas and mind-expanding information. I certainly know people who are jealous of my reading list, since they read so fast (and rather narrowly, to boot) that they regularly run out of books (the horror!).

But for me, reading books became an obsession in reducing the pile, and finishing books – instead of being a pleasure at both concluding one great story and getting to start another – meant confronting that massive TBR pile (real, electronic, virtual). It all turned into another source of stress and anxiety, not escape and enjoyment.

So, I was probably doing it wrong, and needed a change. But how did we get to here?

Several things contributed to my growing TBR, the first of which I’ve already mentioned: social media. Not only had I immersed myself in (fantasy) bookish Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Reddit (not Instagram, sorry), but it was as more than just a fan, as well. I started down the social media rabbit hole more as a prospective author, which led me into contact of hundreds of other authors (both published and aspiring). This means that quite apart from getting recommendations of great books, I was getting asked to read books for friends and contacts as favours, sometimes even generously given free copies. Knowing how important exposure, buzz, and reviews are to any author, I felt guilty when I simply couldn’t keep up.

The other side of trying to be a writer, was that I felt the need to read certain books out of more than pure enjoyment. I wanted to stretch myself, learn different styles of storytelling, experience different perspectives – none of which are bad reasons to read, but when you start to treat your leisure activity more like work, it inevitably becomes a chore rather than a joy (I’ve always been bad at assigned reading). That’s not to say I haven’t really enjoyed a lot of the books I “assigned myself”. I have some new favourite authors, in fact. But as the TBR grew ever higher, I started to resent this self-imposed “work”.

So, step one has obviously been to scale back a bit, reset, and try to rediscover my love of reading with the books I’ve been looking forward to the most. I’ve also had a small clear-out of the TBR, getting rid of a number of books I would only probably have read if I won the lottery and moved to a desert island. Parting with books is never easy, and I probably should have cleared twice as many (or more!), but it’s a start.

The second step has been to choose the books I really, really want to read most, just for pure enjoyment, and put those to the top of the list. Even if, in this case, it was two books I didn’t even own yet, and they would be leap-frogging hundreds of others waiting patiently for years, in some cases. Oh well, books keep!

I’m still not out of the woods, however, because I’ve found it’s not that easy to read for enjoyment anymore, even when I want to. When you spend years learning about the writing craft, analysing what you value most in stories, reading endless advice of what to do and what not to do, it’s hard to read a book and not notice a hundred little things here and there.

Of course, if the book is really good, it will be easier, but even in really good books, you can find flaws if you want to. And some part of my brain clearly wants to, a green-eyed little critic that says, “How come he gets away with this ridiculous error and still gets published?” or “How come nobody sees through how derivative this character or that plotline are?” But you realise that you’ve been in too deep, you know too much, that 99% of readers aren’t going to even notice, let alone care. You start to worry that you’ve ruined books for yourself forever, but of course, these things just take time – and a few good books!

Who knows, I may one day even be able to write again?

For what it’s worth: on controversy and harassment

So, we’re here again, still fighting a phony war between people who live in the real world, respect each other, have hope for the future, consider the impact of their words and actions, and generally want to make a positive contribution; and…some dickheads.

It’s a particularly pernicious war, in that every battle seems inconclusive, every engagement results in stalemate and entrenchment, and any breakthrough seems to be met with an even bigger backlash. It’s hard to see if anyone is winning, only the casualties, and therefore it can be hard to see the point. But it’s not about winning, it’s about progress. It’s not about defeating the “enemy”, it’s about securing the future we want to see (and as much of the present as we can get, as well).

This is not a war being fought just in genre circles, by any means, but it’s no surprise that it has a particularly strong resonance within a community concerned with literature that is, and has always been, about the human condition, whether in an imagined past, present, or future. These are not just “stories” – no stories are – and anyone who claims such a nonsense is being willfully ignorant.

Willful ignorance is indeed a large part of the problem. Lessons are out there to be learned, but people are refusing to listen. Or, they are choosing to listen to dickheads who are enabling their ignorance – and, in the worst cases, weaponising it.

It’s bad enough to see this in the wider world, but all the more astounding that it can happen within the community that, apparently, grew up reading the same “stories” about heroes and villains, about good and evil, about dystopias and utopias, about potential and pitfalls…and somehow miss the messages that are there, for me, in black and white.

So, why not just feel pity and move on?

Well, we all know why, unfortunately. These are not mere academic debates or teacup storms in online fora. The issues at play here have real-world consequences for people, not just in the mental fatigue of waking up in the trenches every day, but in the ability to have a viable career in a genre they love and contribute wonderfully to, or simply to live their life as they deserve to, free of fear and harassment.

Some of us wake up with only the barest knowledge the war is going on. Sure, you might hear the echo of artillery from over the horizon, or have to duck into a bomb shelter now and then, but life goes on much as normal (though, admittedly, normal is never normal these days). We can check the dispatches if we want, but nobody is lobbing grenades our way. It’s a nice position to be in, and certainly nobody should feel obligated to enlist if they haven’t the spoons for the fight, but neither can we leave the fighting to those who have no choice but to be on the front lines.

I wish I could abandon the war metaphor. I wish I could see this another way. Neither do I want this to become a real war. I don’t wish for the destruction of my enemy, I just wish he’d go away, contemplate his actions, perhaps look around him at the ground he’s fighting for, and realise that it’s not the idyllic fatherland that he thinks it is.

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Look, I’ve tried not to go into specifics, but here are a few points:

  • Diversity is not a zero-sum game, nor an assault on white men.
  • Racism and sexism are about power, and therefore there is no “reverse”.
  • Nobody* is trying to ban your problematic faves; there are no sacred cows.
  • “No platforming” is not censorship.
  • Women, POC, LBGTQ+ authors exist in SFF, and write awesome books. (Fans, too.)
  • “Political correctness” is not the quashing of debate, it means the debate is over; people don’t have to listen to your shitty opinions because they have thoroughly examined and rejected them already; it’s now on you to do the same.
  • Privilege is a thing, and if you can’t grasp that, it’s probably because you’re up to your neck in it. It’s also not your “fault”, unless you refuse to acknowledge it.
  • The world should be a safe space, and creating pockets of safety is no bad thing.
  • Harassment, of any kind, is never acceptable. This includes “trolling”.

Apparently there are people out there who do not understand these things, but the good news is that it’s never been easier to educate oneself. I’ve tried to help in the education offensive – if not for the people in the debate, then for those around it – but it amounts to repeating the same self-evident truths over and over again, and at the end of the day, it’s not my responsibility (nor anyone else’s) to show anyone the error of their ways.

Seems clear to me that, while the war is worth fighting, the individual battles may not be. If people want to remain willfully ignorant, they can do so outside the community, until they learn. I know a lot of people have got here faster than me, but there we are.

(Maybe SFF has some answers. When trenches cease to work, you can always build a huge fucking wall. Or, if you want to be sure, there’s always the Ripley option…)

Right, this has gone on too long already.

 

* OK, some people are trying to ban things, but a lot fewer people than generally get accused of it. Don’t believe anything you read in the Daily Mail.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

So, it’s nearing the end of 2017 – thank the gods! While I can’t really complain on a personal level, and we’ll leave the rest out of this blog, I don’t feel like I’ve made much tangible progress. Nothing has really changed from the start of 2017 until the end, and though that makes me more fortunate than many, a whole year gone by tends to feel like a missed opportunity. However, it might not be a bleak as all that.

What I did accomplish this year:

As you may know, I have had three books in progress for some while (Works-In-Progress 1, 2, and 3). This turned out to be the year I finally made some decisions on them all, and that’s something. For WIP1, it means admitting that, as much as I love it, it may not ever be a book that appeals to the masses as much as it does to me. It’s the first serious book I wrote, it’s the book I always wanted to read, and it’s taught me a lot about writing and editing – but it’s not perhaps the platform on which to launch a career.

The flipside is that WIP2 or 3 might be. Both were written more quickly, more smoothly, and both ended up just about on the mark I intended to hit. That’s not to say I didn’t revise them a good bit (this year, in fact), but they both seemed to work and didn’t appear to require any major changes. So, reader, I submitted them. (I know, you’re not supposed to submit two things at once, but I had reasons and opportunity.)

Considering where I was a few months back, that’s huge progress. We’ll see in the new year (see below) if that bears any fruit. I know better than to hold out more than a minuscule amount of hope, but at least I’ve started a process that could get me where I’ve dreamed of.

Other than that, I’ve read forty or so books, which is a good dent in the TBR mountain (though it’s probably grown almost as fast as I’ve reduced it). Most of those books have been really really good (check this blog, or Goodreads), and many of them I’ve been waiting to read for a while. Having such a big TBR means you start to get choosy, and now that I know my taste (plus the fact that I’m not reading 100s of books like some others I know), I rarely read a book I don’t really enjoy.

Of course, I’ve also been reading for the #SPFBO, so I  have read parts of a bunch of books that I didn’t really enjoy that much. But, I also found some books that I thoroughly enjoyed and would otherwise probably never have read. I whole-heartedly recommend you check them out. This competition has also lead to my first writing in a while published elsewhere than my blog, and though a couple reviews on Fantasy Faction isn’t much, it’s something.

Oh, that reminds me, I also did my first bit of flash fiction and entered it in the Battle of the Bards contest. Didn’t do too badly, either – I almost came third! Even though I can’t say I spent a lot of time on it – how much time can you take on flash fiction? – and a lot of it was down to having the right idea at the right time (and a ready character from WIP3), it did give me a little boost. I did submit another short piece somewhere once (maybe this year?) but that got the standard rejection. As it’s a bridge all writers have to cross, I count that as progress, too.

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Which brings us too next year:

Obviously, the first thing to mention is the possibility (however slim) of good news in the relatively near future. If so, that changes everything, but if not (more likely), then I’ll continue to submit the WIPs I reckon are finished. Unless there is specific feedback, I won’t look to do much more work on them, because I do reckon that leads to diminishing returns. There’s only so much you can do to a story if it’s not what people want.

Which means I should probably write something new. I really should have done this sooner, but I’ve been revising for years. WIP3 was drafted in 2015 and stuck in a drawer until late this year. WIP2 was written early the year before, marked up later that year, then stuck in a drawer without further revision until this year as well. The reason for this, real-life excuses besides, is that WIP1 was still taking up a lot of my writing time (or tinkering time, as it was). So, you can see that putting that away for a while is actually pretty significant, and having the other two done and out the door means I finally have a clear desk.

So, what to write?

Well, I have two ideas, both of which I had sketched some ideas for in the midst of all those revisions, but neither of which I set aside enough headspace and time to actually write more than a few taster paragraphs (I don’t really outline, if you hadn’t noticed – whether I should or not is another question). One is in the same world as WIPs 1, 2, and 3, and is the first that’s actually more-or-less a sequel. It has a different type of protagonist, a different type of plot, but generally continues the aesthetic and themes of the “series” (non-linear as it is) so far.

The other story idea features a new world and a new style, and is more “high concept” than the others. I’m sorta hoping that means it will be more commercial (in a good way, and not that I know yet whether my others have failed). It seems to make more sense to write this one first, because even though the other could well stand on its own, it’s probably better to diversify rather than keep piling irons into the one sputtering fire. (Is that a mixed metaphor? Oh well, you get it.) The only problem is, I don’t know if I can write it – but there’s only one way to find out!

Other than the attempt to write one if not two books, I’ll keep reading as much as I can. It’s been really refreshing to make a point of reading, rather than excuses why I can’t. I have the final round of SPFBO to look forward to (that could be ten books right there, depending how we split it up), and in addition to my towering TBR, there are a few excellent books coming out next year that I’ll have to catch up with.

And, of course, a few more blog posts now and then.

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year!

Hidden Gems: Two Too Soon?

So, the tricky thing with Hidden Gems is deciding if a book is sufficiently hidden. The gem part isn’t without controversy, either, because some people will probably argue that there are good reasons certain books are hidden. However, since this is my blog, I’m going to steamroller over those hypothetical objections. Subjective judgments of quality I’m more than comfortable with.

However, these two books may not have had sufficient time to be properly buried. Perhaps they are just bubbling under, still waiting to explode. Or they could actually be pretty popular and I just haven’t heard the buzz. It’s not like neither come up at all in discussions and blog posts, like some of my previous picks. And the few times they have come up, there have been a mix of positive and negative views, so there’s a chance I’m wrong (yeah, right).

But anyway, I’m talking about Adrian Selby’s brilliant 2016 debut, Snakewood, and Jeff Salyard’s radar-underflying Scourge of the Betrayer. They have a few things in common, a lot more not in common, and are both amazing.

If you haven’t already left to go pick them up, I guess I’ll say more below about why you should.

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First, that cover had me intrigued from the first moment I saw it. Covers do that to me. In fact, I probably knew I’d have to read it right then. Of course, the blurb about a legendary mercenary troop being hunted down did not make me regret my susceptibility to a pretty face.

And then it came out, and seemed to vanish. I saw it around, but heard very little. I’m never very good at getting things right away, and hearing nothing didn’t help keep it in mind. But eventually I did order a copy – might have seen a sale, that usually does it, but I think I was also curious as to why I hadn’t heard anything – and dived right in.

It was everything it promised, and more. Told in epistolary style, from a bunch of different points of view, it tells the quite grim and unforgiving story of Kailen’s Twenty, a mercenary company of drugged-up superheroes (well, not heroes). The drugs are in place of magic in this world, making for a very complex vocabulary of different plant derivatives that have various advantageous or deleterious effects. I’m not a big one for magic systems, but I quite enjoyed the pseudo-scientific aspect of the drugs and the careful way they were deployed.

The epistolary style was a brave decision as well, and made for a complex chronology where things were revealed or hidden depending on how the supposed collator of the different fragments had arranged them. Sometimes you seemed to be going down a side-road, and sometimes the odd detail would slip by, but overall I loved how the different voices came through, and how your perspective – and sympathies – shifted depending on who’s perspective you were reading.

So, it’s not an easy book to read in terms of complexity, and it’s definitely grimdark as well, but I got wrapped up and pulled along by the characters and their plight, all the way to the inevitable conclusion. I think I saw through a few of the twists, but that didn’t bother me, because it’s not about tricks (it’s about mystery).

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This one had been on my radar for a while, but it’s hard to find a copy in the UK (if you rely as much on serendipity as I do, at least). I’m so glad I finally got around to it, as I had a feeling it would be my kind of thing, but I didn’t know quite how much it would be.

Like Snakewood it’s a story about mercenaries related in first person, though there things start to diverge. The single narrator in this case is a rather naive young scribe, whose perspective on the exploits of the mysterious captain and his rough-and-ready crew helps introduce things in a slightly gentler way then Snakewood’s take-no-prisoners approach. The story is told more gradually, but you get a similar sense of unfolding mystery as Arki understands more and more about what he’s gotten himself into.

Attention to detail is the great strength of this book, for me. Whether that’s details of the grit and glory of a powerfully evoked medieval world, or the fully fleshed out characters that we get to know as the narrator does (spoiler alert, some die).  There’s humour and action and pathos and a somewhat convoluted plot, and the fact you are living and breathing almost every moment of it really works.

And it’s still a relatively short book because the action, though detailed, takes place over a relatively short space of time. This is not Epic Fantasy, this is almost Claustrophobic Fantasy, narrowly focused on a few key events and a few key people (well, one, really). The full scope of the stakes in play are only really hinted at, and I’d imagine further books expand on it a bit. You definitely get a sense that the job the mercenaries are doing in book is part of a much bigger wheel, but also that the captain has a personal agenda that may end up overshadowing it all.

Can’t wait to find out.

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While we’re here, I have to mention PriestI made a rule that Hidden Gems wouldn’t be about self-published books (which are hidden by their very nature, and I’ve done other posts about), but if you liked these two books, you might like that one. Much more overtly fantastical than either, but it shares their almost noirish pragmatism and character focus, and also has a great mystery at its heart. All three books show that you can do unusual and amazing things with fantasy, and I really hope you check them out.

Why I read: it’s a Mystery!

So, I came to a realisation when reading the book I just finished (Jen Williams’ excellent Ninth Rain, if you must know) that the one thing that keeps me going above all else these days, is mystery. I’m not necessarily talking a whodunit, just some sort of riddle that you know won’t be revealed until the last page, yet will have clues along the way that give you a chance to figure it out yourself.

29758013Ninth Rain had this in spades – and, to my delight, I was right about a lot of my deductions. Even better, enough remained to provide a satisfying ending with a few stunning twists, one that introduced new mysteries to fuel the second (and third) book. Just perfect. Another great mystery read recently was Priest, which is a whodunit, but with subsidiary mysteries galore. The brilliant Snakewood was another.

Sometimes, a book can be too enigmatic, like the intriguing-yet-frustrating Jaeth’s Eye. In that one, you are given few clues, too little context, and for most of the story the major mystery is unknown to the main characters, or at least solving it is not their goal. The mystery that kept me going was more “what the hell’s going on?” than “I wonder what this nefarious plot is all about”. To be fair to the author, this was mostly by design, and the ending just about pulled it all together – but that relies on readers getting that far!

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Other times, you can have way too little mystery, like in another indie book I picked up recently which gave away the central twist almost immediately (or seemed to, anyway – I didn’t hang around to see if there was more too it!). Often this can be a case of seeing tropes or plots I’ve encountered many times before, and not feeling like the book has much left to reveal. If a book doesn’t sell me on the mystery soon enough, any interesting stuff that may be there may come too late to snag a wary reader like me.

I suppose one use for the much-maligned prologue is to establish a bigger mystery that can then be drip-fed into a story that seems to be about something else at first. A lot of epic fantasy takes this format, showing you the shadowy antagonists that our heroes will eventually have to confront, before re-setting to their humble and unwitting origins. Even then, I still prefer the mystery front and centre, and a bit more complex than “how will the prophecy about this farmboy play out?”.

 

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I’m not saying I need originality in all things, but there needs to be something worth finding out. I’m a sucker for the slow reveal, and I don’t mind having questions go unanswered, or having to put things together myself. You might loose me if it stretches out for Malazan lengths of time, but I can probably hang with ambiguity longer than the average reader (at least judging by posts on fora).

That’s not to say I need mystery in all books, because I’ve certainly enjoyed some books where the mystery element was pretty low (some no more than “how are these heroes going to get themselves out of this situation and/or save the world?”). But books that I devour, books that stew in my head in-between reading sessions and long after, well, I think I’ve figured out what sets those apart.

So, why don’t I just read detective fiction? (Because I don’t, very much – though I do watch mystery shows.) I suppose it’s because that’s not the mystery I’m really after – as I said, it doesn’t have to be a whodunit. What fantasy gives you the scope for is a puzzle with truly novel answers, ones that would not be possible in any other book set in any other world (let alone our world).

At the end of the day, unravelling those enigmas is why I take such comfort in my floor-to-ceiling pile of unread fantasy books – each one a new mystery.