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Locum Who?

8 Feb

Peter Capaldi is going and it’s time to find a locum to fill the famous Doctor’s shoes…

Along with a black James Bond, a female Doctor Who with a male companion is the most common ‘politically-correct’ change to an established character that crops up. I’ve advocated a black Doctor in the past – not for any reason other than because there have been some excellent black actors who would be perfect for the role. But, a female Doctor wouldn’t sit right with me.

Let’s tackle the male companion first. There’s no reason a male Doctor cannot have a male companion. In the first half of the original series, there usually was a mixture of male and female companions, and often of age. By the end of the original series, there was usually only one companion, who was female and this has been common since the revival. While it originally arose from the idea that a ‘bit of totty’ would attract the dads, I think the reason it was retained was because, especially with the example of the final original-series companion, Ace, a strong female companion made a good counterpoint to the male Doctor. But, there’s no reason why the companion must always be female, young, or in the singular. The companions offer plenty of opportunity to mix things up.

But, the Doctor is a constant.

Of course, we’ve had a female incarnation of the Master (‘Missy’), but that twist worked because the Master has a history of running out of regenerations, stealing bodies and meddling with his biodata. That he would transform into a woman is almost a logical outcome of his adventures in identity. Yes, the Doctor has run through his regenerations quickly and seems to have messed with his biodata, but not to the same extent – and making gender a choice raises all sorts of questions of why he always chose to be male before, but has changed his mind now.

But, more than my feeling that it doesn’t really fit in with the established continuity of the series, is my view that the demand for a female Doctor is horribly sexist. There’s no need for the Doctor as a female role model – if people wanted a female Timelord, why not produce a series featuring Romana? – while the Doctor represents a male character who doesn’t pander to typical male stereotypes. He’s rarely violent, he’s intelligent, academic and quirky, he’s tolerant and kind. In a world where too many male role models are the opposite, he’s a welcome alternative.

Introduce a Romana series, by all means (after all, The Sarah Jane Adventures were excellent), but don’t deprive boys of the wonderful role model who is the Doctor.

Where To Start?

7 Nov

“Where do I start my story?” must be the question writers most frequently ask, whether of others or themselves, yet it is impossible to answer, except with the vague suggestion to start with action. Not, of course, that you cannot start with a description or witty observation, but they will need to be very arresting to seize the readers’ attention.

Action, though, is a little misleading. People tend to assume action must be spectacular, a murder or an explosion, but even in a thriller, that isn’t necessarily so. Action can be low-key, too. Even in the case of an explosion, it isn’t necessary to start with the bang – you could begin with the bomb being planted or even a couple arguing only to be interrupted by this sudden blast: All that matters is that the reader is hooked. You could even cheat a little – rather than the main murder, you could begin with the killer offing an accomplice whose death will remain unknown to the investigators for some or all of the story.

Short stories and, especially flash fiction, are easier than novels as they usually consist of a single scene or a few closely-linked scenes: Begin at the beginning and continue till the end. In a novel, not only do you have multiple scenes to choose from, with the complication of flashbacks, flashforwards and subplots, but you need to maintain and build tension over a much longer span. A really powerful piece of action might make a great opening, but could leave the reader underwhelmed by what follows if you’re not careful.

Let’s imagine a murder mystery: Two friends have an argument, which leads to one being murdered; after the funeral, at the reading of the will, a discovery is made that reveals they were murdered and prompts an investigation. Now, ignoring other tricks, like starting with the ending or the murder of an accomplice, where do we begin?

We could ‘begin at the beginning’ – but, where does the story begin? The start of the investigation, or perhaps more effectively, the revelation at the will-reading, would work. Or, how about at the funeral, as a lead-in to the discovery, perhaps with some foreshadowing of the revelation? Or, we could start with some real action: the murder itself. Or, we could begin with the argument that sets events in motion.

But, those aren’t the only options. The story could begin with the aftermath of the murder or some way into the investigation. Equally, the story could begin between the argument and the murder. Or, we could start well before the argument by inventing some other event, probably a piece of fairly low-key action, for the opening paragraph, and then developing the characters and the reasons why they argue. That’s nine alternatives before we even consider anything sneakier.

But, which one do you pick? That’s up to you – you decide which one appeals the most.

HP Lovecraft made a point of creating timelines of events in his stories so that, no matter where he began the narrative and regardless of the order in which events unfolded on the page, he knew the actual order they occurred in, who was where, etc. Even if you’re not much of a planner, a loose outline of the early parts of your story can be a good way of identifying potential starting points.

Indeed, you could take this a step further and write your story in chronological order from the earliest relevant event, before going back and deciding where to begin the finished story. This might involve cutting some text, perhaps recycling some as backstory, or it could be relocated to serve as flashbacks; or you could move something back to serve as a flashforward. You will probably need to do some rewriting to cover excised details that are important to the plot and to make the new opening work properly as an introduction (you may, for example, find the descriptions of key characters are in earlier, deleted sections), but this is likely to be far easier than staring at a blank page, trying to envisage how to start.

Remember, once you reach the end, you can always rewrite your beginning. So, don’t worry too much. Get started, get writing and you’ll get there eventually.

Try something different…

3 Oct

Looking for something different to read? Well, October is Black Speculative Fiction month. You could even win a prize! Lots of events going on in America, but even if you’re on this side of the Pond, you can still follow the links to some fascinating sites or get the special horror-themed issue of Black Girl Magic (out on the 15th).

black-spec-fic-month

Of Interest…

12 May

You may be interested in the following couple of blog posts…

Monster Librarian has a review of Dark Tales from Elder Regions: New York, an anthology to which I contributed, here.

Dominica Malcolm discusses the anthology Marked By Scorn (yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve contributed to this one, as well) here.

In addition, you can find the Tigershark Publishing website here with details of the ten (to date) issues of the ezine and calls for submissions to future issues. You can request copies of the issues (for free) by emailing tigersharkpublishing@hotmail.co.uk

Black Girls Are Magic!

18 Jan

We often hear complaints that non-white anBGM_20Issue_201v2.pngd non-male characters and writers don’t appear often enough in the halls of genre fiction, so it is great to be able to report that a new ezine is promoting genre fiction with black female characters, and also encouraging writers from outside the mainstream to contribute.

Yes, the first issue of Black Girls Magic Lit Mag is now available for $3.99.

If you’d like to read an excerpt from the magazine, short story “Nautical Dawn” by Miri Castor is on the site.

 

 

Christmas Future

24 Dec

Set aside Christmas present for a moment and turn your mind towards next year. As you doubtless are aware, Christmas comes once a year, which means now is the perfect time to be drawing inspiration for stories, poems and articles to submit to festive magazines and anthologies in 2016.

Remember, most magazines and many anthologies set their festive deadlines in the early or middle part of the year, so it’s worth writing your submissions now in order to meet those deadlines. If nothing else, remember that Atlantean Publishing will be looking for submissions for Xmas Bards, Christmas Chillers and festive-themed issues of Bard and Garbaj (details will be on the wiki in the New Year).

Merry Christmas to you all and all the best for 2016 – may it be an inspiring year!

Poetry Review – Survivors

30 Mar

Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust

edited by Thomas Orszag-Land

£8.95, ISBN 978-0-9927409-2-4, 2014, Smokestack Books

Survivors“There are, in fact, very few good Holocaust poems accessible to English readers,” explains Thomas Orszag-Land in his introduction to this collection. As can be imagined, the nature of this subject is one that saw many of the poets involved killed and their contemporary work destroyed, whilst those who did survive to write about the Holocaust did so mostly in other languages, the translation of their work left mainly in the hands of academics rather than poets, whilst later generations have largely been silent on the topic, and the governments of eastern Europe have done their best to ignore or even suppress their work in order to avoid the uncomfortable questions of complicity that go with them. Where poets, such as Faludy, were too popular to totally ignore, their Holocaust poems were redefined as anti-war pieces with nothing specific to say about events in their homelands.

The introduction alone is a powerful and fascinating piece of writing that perfectly sets the scene for the importance of the poems that follow. Regular readers of The Supplement will have seen some of these poems in print – Orszag-Land’s Ghetto Games (issue 66), The Wound of Manhattan (issue 71) and The Germans’ Mercenaries (issue 73) – but there are many more excellent poems in this collection.

As a substantial collection of non-English poetry, Survivors would be well worth reading, but as a reminder of the dark events of seven decades ago, it is even more important a collection. Highly recommended.

(An expanded version of this review appears in issue 73 of The Supplement, from Atlantean Publishing).