Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Night Spotlight - Speculative Horizons

Whether it's an enhanced photo, or a clever remark, James Long of Speculative Horizons always has me laughing. James has agreed to be interviewed and, look at what we got here, it's Sunday Night.

PW: What was the major catalyst for Speculative Horizons?

James: My love for the fantasy genre and my enthusiasm for talking about it. I’ve been a fan of fantasy ever since I was young, and as I got older I enjoyed talking about my favourite books online in various forums. When the genre blogosphere really started to take off, I greatly enjoyed following the various blogs and joining in the discussion they often provoked. I saw how much the individual bloggers seemed to be enjoying themselves, and as time went by I started to realise that running a fantasy book blog was something that really appealed to me – I saw it as a chance to really indulge in my love of discussing the genre, and to hopefully point some people in the direction of the books that I had enjoyed.

Speculative Horizons was subsequently born on 5 January 2008.

PW: What is the funniest story you have to tell regarding Speculative Horizons?

James: Way back in the early days of the blog, I wrote an article about a series of children’s reading books called Tim and the Hidden People. I regard these books, with their imaginative stories and wonderful, atmospheric illustrations, as being my first taste of fantasy. The article garnered little attention at first, but as the months passed, more and more people commented on the piece, or emailed me, sharing their fond memories of the series.

One guy took it a little further. He sent me a bizarre email in which he explained how much he loved
Tim and the Hidden People, before explaining how he was in constant competition with his brother to see who could build up their collections of vintage books/films/etc the fastest. He went on to say that he was really pleased to have obtained the entire Moomins series on DVD before his brother, although he regretted that his brother got the Bagpuss one first. He then asked whether I’d make a copy of my Tim and the Hidden People CD for him, in return for a copy of a Sinbad the Sailor DVD – “I know you would enjoy this,” he said, “you’ll definitely appreciate the vibe we got from this when we were younger.”

Needless to say I didn’t take him up on his strange offer, and can safely say I haven’t received an email as crazy as this since…

PW: Will you describe your best day ever at Speculative Horizons?

James: Whenever a reader contacts me to say that they have really enjoyed a book or author that I recommended. Seriously, that’s what it’s all about – it makes me feel good to know I’ve helped someone discover an author that they might never have checked out otherwise. It’s why I do this blog in the first place. In fact, only today I got a very pleasant email from a reader in New Zealand, commenting on how much he was enjoying the blog. To think I’m helping people on the other side of the world discover new books is just fantastic.

That said, some individual days do stick in the memory. If we’re talking hard facts, it would be the day back in June when the blog – for the first and only time so far – received over 1000 hits in a single day, courtesy of the Guardian book blog article that linked to one of my ‘crap fantasy cover’ posts.

There have been other highlights – being the first blogger to review Mark Charan
Newton’s Nights of Villjamur, one of the hottest novels of 2009. Pissing off some of George R. R. Martin’s detractors with my pro-GRRM rant. Causing a bit of a stir with my rant about genre authors that don’t seem to read or even like the genre they write in. The BBC quoting a section of my review of their ‘Worlds of Fantasy’ programme on their BBC3 website. All of these gave me considerable pleasure – as did receiving an email from a US soldier in Iraq, who told me that my blog was a daily read for him.

Being invited by Jon from Gollancz to join him and Joe Abercrombie for a few drinks after Joe’s book signing in Manchester was a real highlight – not only was it a really fun evening, but it also proved that I was being taken seriously as a blogger, and that was extremely gratifying.

PW: Will you describe your worst day ever at Speculative Horizons?

James: I’ve not had one since I started, honest truth. I’m not saying it’s been 20 months of sheer delight, but I’ve not really had a ‘bad’ day. There was a day, very early on, when I got a grand total of 2 hits in the entire day – one of which was my brother. But it didn’t bother me at all since I knew it would take time to build a readership. Almost 85,000 hits later, with a daily average pushing 350, that day is a distant memory.

PW: Were you ever tempted to just walk away? What’s been your most frustrating moment?

James: I’ve had my moments when real life has intruded and the blogging felt like a bit of a burden. In fact, only a week or so ago I felt really burnt out on the genre and I couldn’t bear thinking about fantasy or reading it. I took a break, read a history book on Classical Greece, and just waited for my enthusiasm for fantasy to come back – which I knew it would. I think this is something most bloggers – and fans – feel at some point: I recall Aidan at A Dribble of Ink suffering from something similar. But I’ve never been tempted to walk away, as I’ve had no reason to! I love running Speculative Horizons, as it’s enriched my life in ways I didn’t expect.

As for most frustrating moment, any time I’m trying to write a post involving a lot of images. Trying to organize it all on an Apple MacBook is an almost impossible task at times; there’s just some sort of technical deficiency in the software that makes the experience similar to banging your head against a wall.

PW: What’s the main reason that keeps you coming back to Speculative Horizons?

James: The simple enjoyment of it. I love blogging about the genre, writing book reviews, conducting interviews and – from time to time – having a healthy rant about certain aspects of the genre that I find annoying. As I said previously, running Speculative Horizons has enriched my life in ways I didn’t expect, most obviously in the new friends I’ve made – you can’t put a price on that. And, to put it bluntly, why the hell would I want to stop receiving free books? ;-)

PW: What is the type of story that you are burning to read, or even write yourself?

James: Anything with sophisticated prose that tries to do something a bit different. Fantasy is such a broad canvas – there is so much potential, and yet we see the same old tripe re-hashed time and time again. If you wonder why fantasy is looked down upon by the literati and the mainstream, you don’t have to look much further than books like Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy. This sort of cushy, unimaginative and uninspiring crap is a blight on the genre – and yet it sells like hotcakes, which is why publishers promote it so much. If the genre is to truly thrive in a creative sense, we need more authors like China Mieville, Hal Duncan, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Mark Charan Newton – authors who actually acknowledge the endless possibilities that the genre offers, and attempt to push the boundaries…

This desire to innovate and write in a more stylish, sophisticated style is something I’m trying to inbue in my own writing. I’ve been working on various novels on and off for a decade now, and getting one published is the ultimate dream. I’ve had some hugely encouraging feedback from some authors in the genre that I respect very much, so fingers crossed I’ll see my own book in print one day – and then it’ll be someone else’s turn to tear it apart!

PW: What blog would you point me towards, as a compelling arena of sf&f, for the Sunday Night Spotlight?

James: The genre blogosphere was already pretty big when I entered the fray, and it’s only got even bigger since. There’s dozens of blogs out there, some good and others not so good. But the wealth of choices is fantastic – some people complain that there’s too many genre blogs, but I disagree. At the end of the day, readers will decide which blogs to follow and which ones to ignore. I’m no different – I have my favourites, but there’s also plenty that I don’t pay much attention to.

As to which one I’d point you towards…well, Pat has already mentioned The Wertzone, which is a great blog and one of my personal favorites. Instead, I’ll point you in the direction of A Dribble of Ink which is probably about the closest to a blueprint you could find for Speculative Horizons. I’ve always been an admirer of Aidan’s thoughtful, well-written reviews, interviews and general blend of assorted genre goodness. Definitely check it out. Plus Aidan’s an aspiring writer like myself, and a nice guy too. Although I still have an image of his naked arse seared across my mind – a dubious gift courtesy of facebook. Ah, the wonders of the interwebs…

PW: What is your boldest prediction for sf&f in 2010?

James: I’m with Pat on this one – George R. R. Martin to come out and blow everyone away with A Dance with Dragons, which will definitely be published next year. Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves will also finally make a belated appearance, though I suspect we’ll have to wait until 2011 for Joe Abercrombie’s next offering. I think we’ll see Mark Charan Newton’s star continue to rise, as he’ll have three books released at roughly the same time: the UK paperback and the US hardback of Nights of Villjamur, and also the hardback of his next book in the Legends of the Red Sun series (of which the first few chapters are very good indeed…).

All in all, I think it’ll be an excellent year for fantasy – more books to be excited about, more books to ridicule, more Terry Goodkind piss-takes and the whole usual load of passionate debate throughout the blogosphere.

PW: Which team is favored at Speculative Horizons, Manchester United or Manchester City?

James: Neither, I hate ‘em both! Although Manchester is my adopted home city, I originally hail from the South-East of England and have subsequently been a Chelsea fan for going on 15 years now. After a couple of seasons that have been rather light on the old silverware, I think we’ll seriously challenge for all the major honours this season. I could go on by debating the strengths and weaknesses of the diamond formation and the appointment of Ancelotti as manager, but it’s late and I expect many of the folk reading this won’t have the slightest clue what I’m waffling about!


Many thanks to James for dropping by. I do have some more people to interview. Throughout the autumn, there should be plenty of interviews in this spot. I am slowly reading through James Barclay's Nightchild and will, eventually, pull my efforts together to get it finished and reviewed.


Aidan Moher said...

Great interview, guys! And not just because I was mentioned a couple of times. Very interesting all around.

Adam Whitehead said...

Great interview, guys! But only because I was mentioned once :-D

PeterWilliam said...

Aidan negotiated far more shrewdly in his contract. He demanded the "multiplicity of recognition" clause and stated it would be a deal breaker. I only have to bring him up another 125 times this year, and 250 next.

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