Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday Feature: Toby Stone and Aimee and the Bear

Today we'll be going into the mind of an author as Toby Stone shares with us how he creates a writeable concept for a full length novel. He'll share with us how he develops an idea (and how to beat that big nasty, writers block) as well as read for us an excerpt from his debut novel, dark fantasy Aimee and the Bear.

Aimee and the Bear is the story of little girl Amy, who, when her mother's cruelty gets too much travels with her teddy bear to the Other Place - a world where teddies become real bears, children attend the Night School to escape whatever it is they face at home, Amy becomes Aimee, and there’s magic in the air. But the Other Place is in danger - the Witch has awoken, and Amy must find the courage to save her baby brother before it’s too late.

Don't take it from me though, hear it from Toby himself as he reads an excerpt especially for Enchanted Blogging:

And now Toby on coming up with workable ideas, writers block and upset spiders:

"For me, ideas for novels never come in ones. If an idea has enough about it to reach a format of 300 plus pages, it normally needs to merge with several other ideas, which forms a kind of molecule of attached concepts (they're the atoms, in this weak analogy). The best way to give an image of this is with one of my novels - the novel I hope to be my next full length publication. About seven years ago I thought that if anything is likely to be psychic it is probably a spider. There is something both misanthropic and powerful about them and psychic-arachnids chimed with me. This then festered in my brain until the thought that spiders are the victims of domestic violence joined with it, and I reckoned that a psychic spider might try to stop these abuses. Finally, the extra idea - that the best way for a psychic spider to stop domestic violence would be to take over a television station and broadcast to humans - came to my mind.

Once there are enough elements to the macro-idea, it gains a momentum that will carry it through 70 odd thousand words (in this case, very odd indeed).

I tend to take settings and occurrences I know / have experienced / other people's experiences and jumble them into an unrecognisable(ish) morass for the minutiae and detail of the novel. This informs the bricks and mortar (and roads, and parks, etc...) environment as well as little things that happen in the book (television extracts, music interludes, snippets of conversations, bus rides, and so on). The characters tend to write themselves in. They are normally relatively blurry and then, through the writing of the book, take a clearer form.

I see the plotting of the novel as a map with vast areas of unexplored territory, and ponds / glades of vivid detail. So, I see scenes that I am heading toward and (often) the end itself in colour, but have to fumble through the dark until I reach them. I'll take hot baths, long walks, and lots of alcohol / caffeine (and a fair amount of music on Spotify, at high volumes) in order to cough up scenes and keep the momentum (across the map) going.

Once I've finished, I will edit for years. The form of the book in my mind will then change, morphing from a map to something like a tower block where I can see all the storeys of my novel quite clearly in my mind (because it is already written) and, say during a long walk, I will 'travel' up and down the length of the book searching desperately for flaws, sentences that don't work, etc. For some reason, I can sort of 'feel' sections which are weak(er than the rest). Weirdly, I love editing, and find it hard to let go.

I don't really get writer's block (jinx!). I normally have several books on the go (each somewhere in the above process) and will simply churn from one to another if I reach what feels like saturation with one. Saying all of this (and my apologies, it is a lot) the most important part of the writing process, for me, is the writing. If any of the above ways of going about this isn't working, I'll stab it to death and hide it under the patio. Getting to the end of the book is the most important thing.

Why did I choose a female character? After all, I am (the last time my wife checked) male. Mmmm... I'm not sure I did. Scanning back up what I said above, it is worth adding that when the ideas / concepts clump together, they sort of come with a hazy character attached. In the writing of Aimee and the Bear one of the original atoms of the idea was of a child cuddling a teddy bear that granted her the ability to travel to a fantasy world. At its conception this came with the internal Polaroid of a young, brunette girl cuddling a brown, bead-eyed bear. It is blurry, shifting, vague but, like DNA, it is a marker that seems to determine everything that follows. And what followed was, in the main, smooth, although (given the content of the book) really quite emotional. I love writing, and I loved writing this novel, despite its darker surfaces (and I'll not even mention the depths). I'll be lucky, I think, if every one of my novels makes me feel the same way.

And as Toby mentioned in his video reading, here are some scans of his notes so that you can really get inside the inception of his ideas (click each image for a larger view):

I think we can all agree Toby has been an epic host for today so please send him lots of love via twitter @tobystone1 and find out how you can buy Aimee and the Bear here.


If you are a writer / musician / artist and would like to be featured on Enchanted Blogging please leave me a comment!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why you want to read tomorrow's guest post by Toby Stone

Reviews of Toby's debut dark fantasy novel Aimee and the Bear.


"Absolutely brilliant! I'm not usually a fan of 'magic realism', but this really works. I think that's because the realism is very real (this is not a book for kids, despite the cuddly toy element) and the magic is serious, funny and dark. Stone is a superb writer - intelligent, stylish and quirky - who creates very rounded characters. As an evocation of the childhood mind, it's the most convincing thing I've read since Alice in Wonderland."

" This is a brilliant debut novel from Toby Stone. The combination of modern contemporary fiction and fantasy is finely balanced. You are never quite sure if she is imagining the events or they are actually happening, so there is great psychology that keeps you guessing all the way. She is Amy when she is the world inhabited by her cruel mother, and Aimee when she goes to the other place. The ending is fantastic. I would recommend this book even if this is not the genre you normally read. There are some very clever crafted parts to this book that will make you nod your head in appreciation."

"This book, be warned, is in no way a pleasant read. But then again, I don't suppose it was ever intended to be one. It is, nevertheless, gripping, and once you start reading, you will hardly be able to put it down...Absolutely recommended."


"In some ways, this is as realistic as fiction can get in its portrayal of a young girl who escapes into her own mind because she can't deal with the horrible reality of her day to day life. It's also a classic 'hero's journey' story (or in this case, heroine's journey) as Amy/Aimee struggles to save her little brother from the life they have been unfortunate enough to be born into. With elements of horror and dark fairytale, Stone's novel takes us with Amy/Aimee and her bear as she struggles to defeat the evil in her 'real' and 'imaginary' lives...Dark, strange, confronting and thoughtful, this is a book that deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended."

"This is a very unusual book, a contemporary modern day novel with a twist...It is enchanting and pulls you along. This is Toby Stone's first book according to the blurb, and for a debut novel it is stunning, he has massive potential. I would recommend this book."

Angels in the Underworld

"What a fascinating read!! This is, hands down, one of the better books I’ve found in years. Like I said, Wow. No matter what I render as a review, there is nothing left more important than WOW."

Monday, 24 June 2013

Impossible Spaces Update II

Hi guys! The Impossible Spaces launch party will be held on the 19th of July (which is also when the book launches) in Manchester! It's free to attend. There will be readings (including one by me and one by Ramsey Campbell), competitions and free booze. Here is a form to register you interest in attending:

And even more exciting (maybe) is that you can now read an excerpt from my story I'd Lock it with a Zipper on my website!

“What is this place?” I asked.

“Clockwork,” she said, tugging me to my feet. “Come on—we have to go.”

“Where are all the people?”

“Gone. The robots took them.”

I stopped. “The robots? Like you?”

“No, like Brother but not like Brother.”

I held my position. “I don’t understand.”

She froze and looked beyond me...
There will also be a blog tour. I will be hosting a post by an Impossible Spaces writer and if you would also be willing to host a post that would be more than wonderful! You can find out how to take part here:

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Folkestone Knit Bomb - "Women hold up half the sky"

Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far so I paused my writing and took myself off to my favourite place in the world: Folkestone and the Leas. It's not a glamorous place. Some would call it faded and many parts are down right neglected but it still holds much beauty and magic for me. It also has a growing art community and I was very excited to see some knit bombing / yarn bombing (I've never seen it in real life). I saw some in the town centre covering some bollards and then as I walked down the art quarter I saw this:

Okay, the originator of the quotation (Chairman Mao) had a very questionable human rights record but the effort and good intentions that went into this knit bomb really cemented why I love Folkestone so much and why I hope to move to the Leas one day.

Here are some more pictures of art in Folkestone:

P.S. A lot of you guys liked my fox tails so when I get some time I'll do a series of posts on how to make them as well as how to make a faux fur scarf and possibly even a fur muff :-) Keep an eye out! 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

What's in your handbag?

Lovely Blythe from Blue Roses invited me to enter Money Supermarket's competition to show the contents of my handbag satchel for the chance to win lots of nice prizes (including a real handbag).

I tag Miss Jojangles, Jessthetics, Yummy Like Cake and you guys - anyone can enter as long as they have a blog! Let me know if you do - I bet you have some cool stuff! The deadline is the 1st of July 2013.

And now...what's in my handbag (or maybe...what isn't in my handbag?)

My beloved H! by Henry Holland satchel (£35)

 1) fox tails (handmade), 2) Buddhist happiness charm (¥1000 / £6.63), 3) steampunk goggles (£18) and 4) reusable shopping bag (£4.50)
 1) iPod touch, headphones and USB wire (around £200), 2) purple leather fingerless gloves (£18), 3) anti-viral tissues (£1.99), 4) an emergency Snickers bar (45p), 5) Radley purse (£42), 6) charm (¥600 / £3.98) 7) sugar-free rhubarb and custard drops (79p) and hipster-ish lemon mints (£2.49), 8) spork (free), 9) Japanese hotel combs (free), 10) funny looking bits of nature (free), 11) Oyster card (£20 per top up) and useless Network Rail card (£28 I'll never get back), 12) body spray (£1), 13) pen (stolen from mum), 14) cherry chapstick (£1.05) and my favourite lipstick (£1.99), 15) 'that time of the month' stuff (£7.50), 16) business cards (£9.00), 17) keys (heaven knows), 18) 'excellent' Shinto shrine fortune (¥100 / 66p) and piece of lucky Buddhist fir tree (priceless), 19) coupons (free), 20) serviettes (free) 
Are you surprised not to see my phone? That always stays in my pocket unless I'm wearing a dress.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Minx Reviews: The Plain Janes and Janes in Love

So I was going to review a different Minx title this week but I was so distracted drawing my own graphic story (which I'll share with you at a later date) that I forgot to re-read it! D'oh! So to make up for it I'll review two other Minx graphic novels in one go: The Plain Janes and Janes in Love written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg.

The Plain Janes is all about...uh...Jane, a popular girl who is caught in a terrorist explosion. Jane survives but afraid that next time she might not be so lucky her parents relocate from the city to the safe suburbs of Kent Waters. The explosion really gets Jane thinking and she realises she wants more in life than being popular. She redesigns herself and instead of sitting at the cool girl table on her first day of school she sits with the 'rejects', a group of girls (and one guy) who all happen to be called variations on the name Jane. Jane wants to channel her feelings from her bad experience into making the world a more beautiful place and together with the other Janes create art installations in the dead of night (think Banksy or Knit Bombing) however not everyone can see the art in P.L.A.I.N's (People Loving Art in Neighbourhoods) art and will do anything to stop them from defacing Kent Waters any further.

Janes in Love continues the activities of P.L.A.I.N with Jane realising the only way she can continue to make Kent Waters more beautiful is to make her art legal however whilst she's applying for an arts grant the other Janes are flaking out on her as the Leap Year Dance (their school's Valentine's Day ball) is coming!
The Janes books are some of the more positive books in the Minx series. You know that whatever the plot suggests things are going to turn out okay for Jane and her crew. This is great if you need a lift on a miserable day but not so good if you want some gritty realism. A more subtler positivity that the books contain is the concept of turning something ugly into something beautiful. Jane believes deeply in her cause - a project that will not only help her work through her trauma of the bombing but also change for the better the lives of everyone around her - and works at it doggedly no matter what fate throws at her. When you think of the more popular Young Adult heroines such as Bella Swan and Clary Fray such selflessness and dedication puts Jane head and shoulders above them as a positive young adult role model.
The other Janes are more stereotypical which is fine in the first book but a little lazy in the second. Each Jane is known as their thing eg Theatre Jane and Sporty Jane and that's pretty much as deep as they get. There is the odd twist to their stereotyping eg Sporty Jane though very unladylike is the first to bag herself a boy in Janes in Love but it's rare. Clever Jane's quirk is that her parents are two gay men which though unusual and refreshing isn't really about her, is it? Then there is James, the only gay in the mean Buzz Aldrin High (best name for a school ever). We know he's gay because his face is drawn differently from all the other male characters and he only ever hangs out with girls. He is most definitely stereotyped by his sexuality which is sad as I know that wasn't the intention. I really wanted him to find some straight / gay male friends so that he could explore aspects of himself that he couldn't with a bunch of straight girls.
The most developed of the other Janes is Theatre Jane which is ironic as her speech patterns are the most unbelievable (she talks like a male Shakespearean actor). This development happens in Janes in Love where she goes to meet her crush (theatre actor Rhys) on the same day Jane goes to her arts grant pitch. Theatre Jane goes from being a stubborn drama queen to showing a gentler, more nervous and fragile side as well as displaying very endearing resilience.
Janes in Love definitely has the stronger narrative (The Plain Janes' overarching story is very basic - succeed at spreading art - leaving lots of space to explore Jane making friends, spreading art, understanding her feelings, getting an art crush on a guy in a coma and winning bad boy Grant) but the 'girls falling in love' part of it is much less original. Maybe it's because every slice of life Young Adult book aimed at female readers involves at least one obligatory romance or maybe it's because the other Janes don't really expand beyond their characters established in the first book that it feels unimaginative. I mean if you're going to do teen romance you really need to put a new spin on it. Theatre Jane's visit to Rhys does have that spin and there is a suggestion of a lesbian encounter but apart from that it's all pretty much paint by numbers stuff. Luckily art is not completely forgotten in the second book and Jane's attempt to continue P.L.A.I.N is enough to carry the book through (though you are never in any doubt about how the art grant will go). 
Apart from James not looking like anyone else in either of the books (this is particularly apparent in Janes in Love where his eyes are just dots) the art, as usual, is first class. Jim manages to combine bold lines with wispy shading. The characters (apart from James) have large eyes that really do act like the doors to their souls. I could honestly stare at main Jane's eyes all day. The characters and backgrounds, though not always 100% realistic have so much beauty an emotion to them. They feel like art which I suppose makes them perfect for books about the beauty of art.

You'll like The Plain Janes / Janes in Love if you like:
Rookie, Art School Confidential (and the art class scenes in the Ghost World movie), The Gilmore Girls, It's Kind of a Funny Story, The Perks of Being s Wallflower and knit bombing

Also by Jim Rugg:
Street Angel, Afrodisiac, One Model Nation, and The Guild.

Novels by Cecil Castellucci:
Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool, Beige, Rose Sees Red, Grandma's Gloves, First Day on Earth, The Year of Beasts and Odd Duck.

Cecil is also an indie rock musician releasing music as Nerdy Girl and Cecil Seaskull. Maybe I should do Friday Feature on her music. What do you think?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Minx Reviews: kimmie66

This week's Minx review is the graphic novel kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich.

kimmie66 is a sci-fi noir about gothic teen Telly's search to find out not only why her best friend killed herself but also who she actually was. In Telly's world people spend all their free time (and the majority of their work / school time) online in virtual reality habitats called 'lairs'. The real world just isn't cool enough anymore. Once you pick a 'lair' you have to stick to it for the rest of your virtual life (let's hope you still like now what you liked when you were seven) and hopping lairs is a serious offense. In your lair you can be whoever you want to be (as long as it matches the theme of your lair) however Telly's avatar is pretty much her, which is great for us to latch onto her as a character but not so good for her when Kimmie kills herself. Telly has never met her best friend in real life and realises that everything she knows about Kimmie is whatever Kimmie wanted her to know, aka nothing real.
kimmie66 was the final Minx title I read (I think I finished it two months ago) and I sought it out more to complete my collection than because I wanted to read it. In retrospect that was a very dumb attitude but quite a few things put my younger self off buying it when I had the chance:
  1. I judged the book by its cover. I couldn't deny the bottom half of the cover looked cool but the upside down line art of Telly looked a bit rubbish (the shaded version inside the book looks so much better).
  2. At the back of each Minx book are samples of other titles. The sample for kimmie66 was not elegantly chosen. It featured some incredibly unattractive man and generally looked like the art didn't fit the pages properly (I'll talk more on that later).
  3. I was still new to American and indie comics (I only read manga at the time) and was very close-minded about art styles.
The biggest positives about kimmie66 are the characters. Telly's humbleness is very endearing and combined with her uncertainty she becomes a unique 'detective' in what is basically a noir comic. The other characters also fulfil both the roles of stock noir characters and internet user tropes. Her helper is Nekokat (the queen of drama llamas), her brother is the guy who thinks with his fists (and the kind of idiot who trolls any Batman video on youtube that isn't set in the Nolanverse), super smooth hacker Coil is completely untrustworthy but completely essential, Kimmie's mother (a silver surfer) is the boffin with bad intentions, and not forgetting Kimmie who is the mysterious femme fatale.

The sci-fi setting is very imaginative - the most creative of the Minx titles - but it's detective plot is standard...there is only so much you can do in a single volume story. One of the biggest qualms people have is the 'confusing' ending. I wouldn't say it's confusing, I'd call it 'rushed'. Aaron devotes a lot of pages to establishing Telly's world and situation (which is very necessary) but means the final third of the detective story, though still packed with unique ideas, does not have enough space to use the same level of detail. Cramming so much in will always confuse people. Telly's personal ending is much easier to understand and better paced. It is very thoughtful and relevant and as someone who spent too much time making and breaking online friendships as a teenager I very much appreciate it.

The art is love or hate. I'd say the more inclined you are to indie comics the more open you will be to Aaron's style. If you've only ever read manga or mainstream American comics you'll probably hate it. The characters are very stylised (Aaron had previously worked on the designs for Invader Zim), the most stylised out of all the Minx comics. The characters are stubby and the backgrounds are usually quite bare. Aaron uses thick lines and extreme facial expressions to portray emotions. Looking at the images without the words they can tend towards the ugly but once you add the dialogue they become perfect.

A lot of the pages either have black backgrounds or are white with extremely thick black borders - these look fine - but about 10% of the pages are white without thick borders, it are these that look like they have not been sized to fit the page. It is very off-putting as it makes the book look amateurish which, considering Minx was an imprint of DC just wasn't the case. Whoever picked them as the sample pages for kimmie66 in the rest of the Minx titles doesn't deserve to work in a visual industry as there were much more attractive and representative pages on offer.

Five years on from when I first picked up a copy of kimmie66 I've read a hell of a lot more graphic novels. The biggest thing to change is I'm much more likely to buy a mainstream graphic novel by an indie artist now than one with a more stereotypical style. Of course story is paramount but those artists with unique styles seem to understand and express emotion and mise en scene so much more easily than those worried about accurately depicting muscle tone and hair strands. I think it's natural when you first get into graphic novels to judge a story by the quality of its art (perfect art = perfect story, right?) but as you read more you begin to understand that it is the synergy between the art and the story which makes a graphic novel work, not the art alone. Flipping through kimmie66 you may find the art too blocky and the expressions too over the top but once you start reading you'll understand how perfectly matched to the characters it is and how enjoyable those characters are.

You'll like kimmie66 if you like:
Serial Experiments Lain, Paprika, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, dystopian sci-fi novels such as Brave New World and those graphic novel artists from the 1990s who were mainstream whilst retaining very unique styles such as Sam Kieth, Bruce Timm, Tim Sale and Mark Badger.

Also by Aaron Alexovich:
Eldritch!, Serenity Rose and Confessions of a Blabbermouth (art only).

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bat Freak: The Riddler Post Part II

This Friday Edward Nygma has taken over the Friday Feature / Minx Review spot!

First things first (to set the scene) a playlist:
Enigma from rachel.yelding on 8tracks Radio.
  1. The Riddler - Frank Gorshin
  2. Bad Days - The Flaming Lips
  3. The Riddle - Nik Kershaw
  4. This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race - Fall Out Boy
  5. Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
  6. You Sexy Thing - Stereophonics
  7. Mannequin's Theme - The Curse OST
  8. That Don't Impress Me Much - Shania Twain
  9. Need You Tonight - Inxs
  10. Badman - Cory Branan
  11. Li'l Red Riding Hood - Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
  12. Big Bad Wolf - The Sham-Ettes
  13. That's the Trouble with Love - Frank Gorshin
  14. Loverboy - You Me At Six
  15. Just Be Good To Green - Professor Green featuring Lily Allen
  16. VCR - The XX
  17. Perfect Day - Lou Reed
Secondly my full scale sized replica Riddler Trophy arrived yesterday! Here is what it should have looked like (click the photos for hi-res versions - blogger is being bratty about resizing photos):

And here are copious amounts of fanatical photos of what it did look like:



You can plug it into the mains but you can also plug it into your computer're a geek...and if it doesn't come with a USB connection you're not interested ;-)

Also the big question at the moment is will Riddler be in Arkham Origins? Well according to May's cover of Game Informer magazine yes he will...(good luck spotting the clue though).

And now Enchanted Blogging will be returned to its usual service.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Impossible Spaces Update

Hi guys!

As you may or may not know, my short story 'I'd Lock it with a Zipper' will be appearing in Hic Dragones' anthology Impossible Spaces. I'm pleased to share with you some exciting updates!

Firstly here is the cover:

Secondly it will be available to buy in hard copy and digital from Friday 19th July (put it in your diary!) It should be easily available to get online from places like Amazon but also feel free to ask your local book shops if they would be interested in / able to stock it.

More to follow!
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