William Blake


“… The Eternal Man is seal’d, never to be deliver’d.
I roll my floods over his body, my billows & waves pass over him,
The sea encompasses him & monsters of the deep are his companions.
Dreamer of furious oceans, cold sleeper of weeds & shells,
Thy Eternal form shall never renew, my uncertain prevails against thee.”

William Blake, Vala, or the Four Zoas, 4.132-136

Picture: “Elohim Creating Adam” by william blake, 1795


My postgraduate research study and resulting thesis was titled: “The Terrible Ones: Blake’s Monsters and the Imagery of Objective Form”. I spent several years immersed in mystic artist and poet William Blake’s thought and imagery — my sympathy for his ideas both led me to study his work in the first place and in turn was fostered by the research.

When I came to write Fragments of a Broken Land, much that is Blakean entered into my imagining of the fantasy world I created. Blake’s beliefs in the essentially subjective nature of the world — indeed his belief that the objective world arose from a spiritual fall into a material illusion — gave a dynamic to my creative approach to fantasy. It’s not the whole of it, but it is a part. Many of my stories explore the spiritual nexus between the objective and the subjective worlds, and this theme plays a significant part in Fragments, too. The levels of reality depicted, the nature of magic, the way in which emotional and moral states become metaphysical realities are elements of an ongoing [unending?] exploration into the nature of perception — and a blurring of the dichotomy between Object and Subject.

More directly, the metaphysical background I created for Fragments reflects Blake’s mythological system itself. In his massive prophecies (and over the course of his life), he created a pantheon of characters, both gods and monsters, which represent aspects of human experience. His imagery is potent and complex, but in essence it is this: Man is fallen from unity into division, his spiritual ‘aspects’ warring with each other and in the process determining the nature of the material world. The Eternal Man, Albion, falls because he comes to believe that he must build an objective world around himself in order to be safe. His gigantic body lies beneath the world as we know it, forming its template, but will one day arise, rejoined with his various alienated aspects into a dynamic unity. This will happen (and in a way continually happens) whenever human perception widens and recognises that the true nature of reality is subjective and that the objective, or Death, world can hold no power over us.

That was the background to many aspects of Fragments. Pretentious, I know. But what the hell!

Picture: “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun” by william blake, 1805-1810

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Fragments Wins Best Novel Award

Continuum X — the National SF Convention for 2014 — was a special one for FRAGMENTS OF A BROKEN LAND: VALARL UNDEAD. At that convention it won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel.

Ditmar1This is wonderful in itself, but the icing on the cake, as it were, was the context in which the Award was announced. My partner Cat Sparks had already won the Best Collected Work and Best Short Story Awards — for her superlative collection The Bride Price (Ticonderoga Press) and a story from it, “Scarp”. That was exciting enough. As it happened, however, Cat had been asked to present the Best Novel Award. So, without having any prescient knowledge of the winner, she made the announcement and presented me with the Award. I will always remember her excitement on opening the envelope — and that of Jack Dann, who was sitting next to me and has been phenomenally supportive of the book for a long time. There was much shouting and hugging, then and later.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any pictorial evidence of me in my new suit (which I had brought not because I thought the book might win, but because I had been asked to present an award myself, earlier in the evening — and was required to dress in my “Oscars finery”).

Here is the full list of shortlisted works for the Best Novel category:

  • Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside)
  • Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft)
  • The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
  • Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)
  • The Only Game in the Galaxy: The Maximus Black Files 3, Paul Collins (Ford Street)

I was honoured enough to be among such worthy nominees.

The full list of Ditmar Award nominees and winners can be found on Locus Online.

Writers know we have to be content with the value of the work itself, to believe in it, and not to place too great a reliance on positive reviews or to take negative reviews to heart. True worth lies in the words, in the endeavour. But often, deep down, we struggle with insecurity and … well,  it’s hard to function in a vacuum, to get minimal response or sometimes never get even a glimmer of audience reaction to our work. Is anyone reading it? Does anyone care? Negative reviews are bad enough, though at least you may be able to learn from them. Being ignored can be the worst. When the work concerned is one that was deeply felt and the making of it had drawn blood, sweat and tears from the writer for (potentially) many years, such silence can be debilitating. So despite the problematic nature of awards in general (and arguments about them tend to proliferate throughout the writing community), the recognition offered by awards such as this one, both for winner and nominee, goes a long way toward ameliorating the pain of silence.

Fortunately Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead has been blessed with some wonderful and insightful reviews, even if the major magazines and review sites have been less than generous with their attention. But the dark gloom falls at times. Now this Ditmar Award for Best Novel comes like a burst of light in the darkness, a sonic boom in the silence. My thanks to everyone who voted for it — and were so generous with their congratulations and best wishes afterwards.

Addendum: Cover of The Bride Price, Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publishing). Trust me… you want to read this book.

bride price

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