I’m delighted to hand over today to the award-winning Gareth L Powell, whose new space opera Embers of War is out this week. Gareth’s alternate history thriller Ack-Ack Macaque won the 2013 BSFA Award for Best Novel (tying with Ancillary Justice, no less), and was a Seiun Award finalist. I will be reviewing Embers of War this weekend (spoiler: IT’S REALLY GOOD).
Choosing your Twitter heroes
As writers, we learn a lot from our heroes. I’ve certainly learned a lot about space opera through reading books by people such as Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers, and James SA Corey. These are some of the people currently shaping the genre, and (as my new space opera novel, Embers of War hits the shelves on 20th February, courtesy of Titan Books) I feel it’s important for me to stay up to date with their work—not only what they’ve already published, but also what they’re currently working on, and thinking about. But what’s the best way to go about doing this?
There’s a famous Monty Python sketch in which Michael Palin pays John Cleese for an argument. Some days, logging on to Twitter can have a similarly masochistic feel. If we’re not careful, or we’re following the wrong people, our Twitter feeds resemble an angry free for all in which everybody’s shouting and nobody’s really listening. Social media may have given everyone a voice, but it’s also made it easier to get into arguments with people.
Despite this, I am a great Twitter enthusiast. Anybody who follows me on Twitter will be able to attest to the fact I spend a lot of time on the social media platform. I suppose that as I work from home, Twitter’s kind of like my water cooler. It’s the place I go to chat with friends and colleagues. It’s also the place where I engage with readers and promote my books. I’ve made great friends and contacts on the site, and find it an excellent way to stay abreast of the UK science fiction publishing scene.
But recently I’ve come to see Twitter as far more than that. I’ve come to regard it as a great resource for writers, and a place where I can learn.
None of us should ever stop learning, and never stop striving to make our work better. To this end, I’ve started actively seeking out my own group of teachers and gurus.
If you’re on Twitter, you probably know about lists. Lists are a way to cut down on the noise and focus on the tweets of a particular group of people. I use them all the time. Using them, you can cut through the maelstrom and focus on the people you really want to follow.
As an author, I have a variety of lists (some public, some private) that I use on a daily basis. These include selections dedicated to book news, publishers, other authors, and so on. I even have one called Local Emergency, which draws together all the police, fire and local news feeds in case I need a quick update on an unfolding situation. But the one I want to talk about now is the one I’ve made called HEROES.
This list isn’t huge. There are around twenty people on there. But those twenty people are some of the most successful and talented authors on the planet. I call the list HEROES, because that’s what it is. It’s writers such as William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, and others—authors who inspire me, and from whom I wish to learn. I want to see what they’re talking about and what they’re re-tweeting, so I can find out what’s important to them.
Even though they don’t know it, these people are now my mentors. Scrolling through their collected tweets is like sitting in a hotel bar, listening to them all talking around a table. It’s like the world’s best ever convention, or a university seminar where I’ve selected the guest speakers.
In his book, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon writes:
“You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online – the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work.”
This HEROES list is my way of doing just that. Because if I’m going to learn, I might as well learn from the best, right?
Who would you put on your list? Who are the people you want to learn from, or aspire to emulate? Why not take ten minutes and choose your own list of Twitter teachers? And if you want to, share it with the rest of us – in the comments or better yet, on Twitter.
EMBERS OF WAR by Gareth L. Powell is out now, published by Titan Books. It will be reviewed here at There’s Only Room For One More this weekend. You can find Gareth on Twitter as @garethlpowell.
Check out the rest of the EMBERS OF WAR blog tour: