How to Write Science Fiction

Transcription of a panel from ConFuse 96

This is a transcription of a panel held at ConFuse 96. The transcription was done by Hans Persson. The text has been edited by Hans Persson and Tommy Persson to make it more readable. The panel members were Peter F. Hamilton, Jane Routley, Stina Edelfeldt, Calle Dybedahl and Ahrvid Engholm (moderator).


My name is Ahrvid Engholm, long-time science fiction fan. I've been working as an editor for Nova Science Fiction. I was fiction editor of a popular science magazine called Teknikmagasinet and I've had a couple of short stories published and I'm presently working on a book on how to write science fiction.

Stina Edelfeldt: I'm Stina Edelfeldt and I haven't actually published anything yet. You could count our little club fanzine Månblad Alfa, but everything gets published there, so I don't really think you could count it. I've been writing as a hobby and I think it's fun and I don't think I could quit if I wanted to.

Calle Dybedahl: My name is Calle. I've also written a couple of short stories for our club fanzine Månblad Alfa which was apparently a sufficient excuse for them to ask me to sit on this panel.

Peter F. Hamilton: My name is Peter Hamilton and I nowadays call myself a professional writer. I've done that for about three years and I just had my fourth book published. I don't know if any of you've seen it in the book room yet, it's horrendously expensive over here and it's also horrendously thick which I should think I'll be getting a few questions about.

Publik Anders Holmström: It's not horrendously expensive.

Peter F. Hamilton: Of course it isn't. No, sorry. The book shop owner.

Jane Routley: You get value for money.

Jane Routley: I'm Jane Routley. My first book, Mage Heart, is coming out in America in July and I suppose that's why I'm here. I'm actually a fantasy writer more than a science fiction writer. I write Gothic fantasy, fairytales, and that sort of thing.


When you want to write a story, how do you start?

Peter F. Hamilton: Start? Sorry, I'll just diverge a minute. Before we sat down to do this, we did have a quick word about these questions and I begged him ''please, do not ask me the question 'where do you get your ideas from?'''. I start with an original idea. Where the original idea comes from, I don't know. It's part of the imagination process. The reason I'm sitting up here, hopefully explaining to you, is that I have this imagination that will come up with an original idea. The original idea I came up with for the new book -- I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to read it -- is basically a threat to people. From there, I have to work out how to apply that threat, I want to give people the chance to survive it, to fight it so I have to pick a level of society that is going to have a tough time fighting it, but at least would have a chance of winning through. That sort of picks the level of technology, intelligence, education, all of which are elements of how to put the science fiction society together. After that, it becomes almost like mechanics, you extrapolate from what is technology today. In the space craft in a lot of science fiction novels you just have to press a button and they go which is the Star Wars effect if you like. I tend to think that they are going to be a little more difficult to work. Take aircraft for example, I was an hour late getting here yesterday. We've had aircraft for seventy years now and they still can't run them on time and they still need a lot of maintenance. They still need a hundred people on the ground to maintain them. Star ships are orders of magnitude more complicated than aircraft. They're not going to be systems where you just press a button and go. So all this comes down from the one basic idea: you have to build the society and you have to build in the background details like the star ships, what effect will they have on the economy and all this? It's a very long complicated process. I think I wrote something like two hundred pages of notes before I even started writing the book to make sure I got the background right and to keep the background consistent which, I think, certainly in science fiction, is incredibly important. You have to have that consistency.


Jane, how do you get started?

Jane Routley: I'm not really sure. I have an idea and some of it sits in my head for a long time. The idea I had for Mage Heart I had when I was eighteen, which is sixteen years ago now, when I was working in a printing factory and it just sat there and fermented for a long time. Then I put them on paper, usually, and they sit there and ferment some more and then I write them again and then eventually a story comes out but this is a very long process of getting ideas and making them into stories. The other thing with Mage Heart was that I started with the person I wanted to write about and then I thought about good things for that person to do that would be enjoyable and exiting, exiting for them to do and exiting for people to read about. I started with a mage who didn't know her own power, which isn't unusual, and I also wanted to write about the courtiers because they never get to do anything exciting in fantasy novels except hang around, hang onto the hero's ankles. I wanted to have a novel where the courtiers are one of the major characters. So that's basically the idea I started with.

Stina Edelfeldt: I start by thinking ''that was a very nice idea'' and I write it down so I won't forget it. Then I usually wait for about three or four years and then I begin to write.

I write about three, four pages and then I drop the whole thing for about another two years and then, if I really like the idea, I finally finish it. That means I have plenty of ideas written down, I have a little book where I have fifty-sixty different ideas for short stories and novels.

Calle Dybedahl: Ideas, they just crop up, all the time and most of them I use when game-mastering role playing games, but occasionally there comes an idea which just isn't possible to use that way and that refuses to go away. Those I write down. A couple of times they were persistent enough to actually become finished stories which those of you who read LSFF's Månblad Alfa may have read.

: I would like to ask a bit about the background of a story, how you work on the background, the persons in the story, and how you do the research.

Jane Routley: I don't do any research, actually. For fantasy everything you read is research, anything you read can be taken up. I don't think that is true for science fiction. Anything can become the germ for a book. Because I was living in Germany at the time I had no access to English-language libraries so I had to make it up.

: But you still have to work out a background.

Jane Routley: Yes. I suppose the background comes from studying history, because the background for fantasy novels is history, kings and queens, that sort of thing. There are fairly standard patterns in history. Having studied at the university I used much of what I had learned about renaissance Italy in my novel. That's what a lot of the background comes from. Then I extrapolated from that and made things up on my own. I always made sure they were consistent, because that's very important in any thing you're writing. You always must be consistent, otherwise the reader becomes annoyed.

Peter F. Hamilton: The reader writes in as well.

Jane Routley: Oh, does he? That's an interesting thing to look forward to.

Peter F. Hamilton: As I said previously, once I've established where I'm going to set these stories, the backgrounds do tend to flow fairly consistently from that. People tend to have the impression that science fiction is just straight physics, which always infuriates me. The number of people I've spoken to: ''Oh no, I don't read it, I don't like physics.'' There is very little physics in science fiction. For my first three books, which were set after the global warming, I went down to the library and I looked up what was supposed to happen and found out that basically nobody knows. If the Antarctic melts, they don't know how high the water is going to rise and they don't know how much ice is there, which gives you a degree of freedom in these things, you could name your own level how high the water is going to go. I looked up trees to find out what is going to live and what is going to die if it suddenly got hotter. The pine trees will keep on living but there won't be any new ones because they need the cold for the pollens to germinate. Little things like that you can put in, all of which is research. You read for an hour and get one line out of it. This is essential, but it's not that important. As long as you are not stupid about what you write, making obvious claims that can't be true, I think you can get away with it in this field.

Stina Edelfeldt: I usually don't do any research, I just take it out of my head. I usually write fantasy and with fantasy you can be a bit more free. If you want something to work, you just say ''it works''.

: Yes, but you still have to work out background. You have to have a setting that is consistent.

Jane Routley: I did do a kind of research when I realized that I wanted to use magic. I read a lot of different authors that use different magic systems and then I decided what I wanted to use for magic and I think that's more what constitutes research for fantasy.

: You have to maybe sit down and draw a map.

Jane Routley: I did draw a map, yes.

Calle Dybedahl: I think most of us have read lots of things and studied things and just generally lived through a lot of years and you can't but help to learn a lot of things. When you write, you filter your story through everything you know and you try to make it consistent with your view of the world. Somehow, a background more or less flows from that. You don't have to do any active research, you just base it on all your experience, everything you know.

Peter F. Hamilton: Are your stories science fiction or fantasy?

Calle Dybedahl: I've written both but the science fiction story that I'm most pleased with is very much not physics-based. It is social science fiction.

: It's an old theory that authors never write about anybody else but themselves. This can be argued, of course.

Calle Dybedahl: Well, you have those authors who do write physics-based and with meticulously worked-out backgrounds and such, like Robert Forward. His Time Master is extremely hard science fiction and it is almost impossible to read because it is so dry and the personalities and backgrounds are so thin that you can't believe them. The whole thing is just based on these really cool effects based on general relativity and strange matter. But it's not a good book.

: I would like to know a little bit about how you plan your plots? Do you do detail planning in advance or do you make up the plot as you go along or do you make it somewhere in between?

Peter F. Hamilton: My first three books were all detective-based work which means you have to work out the plot in advance because you have to know whodunnit at the end. So once I got that central theme, I then tended to divide it up into chapters so that I knew where the characters start each chapter and where they finish. In between that I'm free to write in my own way how they get there. I had this original burst of idea of the original plot and to keep the freshness and the enthusiasm there I've got a fairly loose outline so if anything new comes along while I'm writing I can more or less try to incorporate it. It helps to keep me fresh which helps to keep you interested. If you are not interested the reader is not going to be interested. You got to have enthusiasm for what you do.

Jane Routley: I have a beginning, I have some characters, and I have an end. The part in the middle is just a wonderful voyage of discovery which I think basically helps me to stay enthusiastic about it. Surprising things do happen. The end I planned was a little different from the end I wound up with because the characters wouldn't go to that end. That's the other thing with characters, once they got a firm basis in your mind they have minds of their own and there are some things they just won't do. I must admit it did help me when I was working through it to make chapter plans. I didn't stick to them, but it helped me to discover what was going on in the middle and think about things I might prepare to happen.

Peter F. Hamilton: Having made this great statement of how I stick to chapter plans, I must say that in the book I'm writing at the moment I got halfway through and I'd invented so much fresh and new stuff that I then had to scrap the entire second half of chapter outlines and write new ones from there.

Jane Routley: I've had that happen to me too.

Stina Edelfeldt: The stories where I have an end from the beginning are usually the ones I have finished.

Calle Dybedahl: When you write short stories, you don't have that much room for complicated plots so you don't have to plan it out as meticulously in advance.

: You think so?

Calle Dybedahl: Absolutely.

: When you start writing, should you write novels or short stories? Which is easier, short stories or novels?

Jane Routley: I think it's a myth that short stories are easier to write because I don't write them very well, to be honest. At least I haven't been very successful with them. They're really very hard, you have to be very disciplined and tight, you have to have a small enough idea. I know a lot of people who write short stories as amateurs and get to nine thousands words and realize that they haven't got a short story anymore. It really depends on which form you feel more comfortable with. Novels are long to write but on the other hand if you are more comfortable with that form, if you want to have characters who develop over a long period of time it's better for you to write novels. It's always better to write what you're comfortable with because you will do it better.

Peter F. Hamilton: I started off writing short stories. I consider them basically an apprenticeship. I'm not demeaning them in any way but considering the amount of time and effort you put into a novel, for a novel to fail is absolutely heartbreaking. For a short story, you've lost a week. I don't write them now, very much, purely because I use up ideas at a horrifying rate and my writing has tended to become almost sprawly and I do have these giant worlds I'm working on. Purely for learning your craft, I think they're absolutely essential. I think you're quite right to start with short stories. I don't know anybody who has gone from absolutely nothing to writing a novel that is of publishable quality. Just purely getting your prose into shape, if nothing else, you need the practice. I picked up a typewriter in 1987 and I wrote short stories until 1990 and then I wrote a novel. There is no way I could have gone from scratch to writing Mindstar Rising which was my first novel.

: Were the first short stories published?

Peter F. Hamilton: I think I sold after about a year later to a very small-press magazine which promptly folded. In fact, most of my first stories sold to magazines that then promptly folded for some reason. The other thing of course, science fiction is unique in this, or almost unique, is that you can send unsolicited manuscripts to these magazines and the editor will take the time to go through them and point out what is right and what is wrong. It's all very well handing it to mom or handing it to your friend, ''oh yes, it's wonderful''. No, it isn't. The first stories you write are not wonderful. They are full of flaws. They need someone to sit you down and say, look, this is what you are doing wrong and these editors do this for no money, just purely for the love of the genre and they should be respected for that. They make this genre what it is today.


How do you get editors interested in your stories?

Peter F. Hamilton: When I started, I had a list of magazines. Starting with the ones I'd really love to sell to like Analog, which I never did sell to, and going down from there. A story comes back from one editor, it goes back into an envelope to the next. There was about eight of them out at one time purely to get your name known, you just grind these people down.

Jane Routley: They're going to remember you, the next story they might publish.

: Any special tips? Sort of perfume on the envelope or anything? Anything to catch their eye?

Peter F. Hamilton: A banknote slipped into the manuscript. No, I'm afraid it is ultimately judged on the quality of the writing. You can get to know them and they will look at it closely if you like. They will be kinder but ultimately it is the quality of the writing that counts.

: I should ask either Stina or Calle here, have you tried to get stories published and what have the results been -- except for Månblad Alfa which will publish anything.

Stina Edelfeldt: No.

Calle Dybedahl: No. The Swedish market is pretty much non-existent and I have not finished anything in English but I when I do, I plan to submit it to some magazine.

Peter F. Hamilton: Do you write in English or in Swedish?

Calle Dybedahl: The ones I have finished are all in Swedish, but I'm working on a couple of English ones.

: You can send stories to Sam Lundwall and Jules Verne-Magasinet and we used to have Aniara and it is also possible to send short stories to ordinary literary magazines.

Sometimes papers will have short-story competitions or publishers will have short-story competitions. If you look around, there are a lot of places you can send your stories if you really want to.

Calle Dybedahl: Yes, but it's also much that every time that I finish something, Tommy who edits the Månblad comes running ''Let my publish, let me publish!'' and then I give it to him.

Peter F. Hamilton: Can I have his address, please?

: The drawback is they don't pay.

Calle Dybedahl: Then it's published and then I don't think I can send it to a real magazine.

Stina Edelfeldt: I haven't dared trying to get published. Maybe I don't think I write good enough. I think I should have a little more practice. Månblad Alfa is a good start. Then at least I can get some people to give some opinions about my writing.

Jane Routley: It's very very hard, actually. I used to send out my stories and they got sent back, sometimes with comments and I got really depressed and ate a lot of chocolate for three days and then I picked myself up and put that story in an envelope again and sent it off, knowing that it would probably come back and that I would feel awful again. If you don't keep trying, you don't get published.

: Do you get lots of comments from your readers and are these comments important?

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, I've had a few letters back. They're very pleasing, no matter what they say. To have written something that will get people interested to the extent that they will sit down and write and send it to the publisher which will send it to me is actually very flattering. I find it's a great boost to the ego, so yes I do enjoy the comments.

: And of course you will meet your readers on conventions.

Peter F. Hamilton: Oh yes.

: I guess for science fiction writers, we have this unique opportunity to actually meet our readers in person.

Publik Anders Holmström: Have you been to a lot of conventions?

Peter F. Hamilton: About seven or eight. Not as a guest of honor, but about seven or eight.


Do you think you should have a message in your story? Political, ethical or any sort of message, or should stories be written just for the fun of it?

Jane Routley: I think if you set out to put a message in a story it's going to be a very bad thing, because you're trying to make the story fit the message. Actually, I was talking to Roger earlier about this. We were talking about the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy and the final book, Tehanu, and how I felt the book was a compromise. I felt Ursula Le Guin was making her feminist statement and to me it really showed and it really compromised the story, it really took away from the story, whereas with The Wizard of Earthsea itself, she has messages but they were not the prime point for her to write the story. She was writing a story to tell a story and the messages are there. Whatever you write will have messages, it will reflect your ideology and I think it's best to leave it at that. But so saying, I actually write feminist stories, but I think of them more as attitude stories. Such as writing fantasy stories where girls get to do things and that's about the level I keep it at. I don't want to do anything more sophisticated than that.

Peter F. Hamilton: I agree with most of what you say there, to write a message book is an absolute disaster.

Jane Routley: Someone said to me you should just send an e-mail if you've got a message.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. Having said that, my first books are all set in the UK and I like to think that I sort of mirrored the politics that were going on at the time. It's not so much a message, it's more getting the odd little dig at people. I wouldn't set out to deliberately offend anybody, but I still have little things I can peck at. Stupidity of ideology and people polluting the place and that kind of thing. But I try to make it as entertaining as possible. Funny enough, I wrote the my first book and it was just pure entertainment. With the new series I did sit down and have a think about what I wanted to say. It has not so much a message as a theme. It's going to be about faith, not necessarily religious faith but the faith people have in themselves. It's not preaching, it's just in there as well. Hopefully, people have a lot of fun on the way.

: I don't think there has to be some sort of contradiction between messages and entertainment. Why can't you write an entertaining story which has something to say also. It's just twice as good.

Peter F. Hamilton: It's a question of writing. You do switch people off if they think they are being preached to. The very best writers probably do it. I don't think I'm quite that good yet. But as I say, Ursula Le Guin is a very good case in point.

Jane Routley: She's one of the best writers I've ever read.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, but she does come over very heavy-handed at times.

Jane Routley: She couldn't do it in Tehanu which I think shows you how dangerous it is.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I agree. When you get the two combined properly, it makes for a much better story.

Jane Routley: It's a matter of putting the story first more than anything else.

: Do you have messages in your stories, something you want to say?

Stina Edelfeldt: Yes, it comes naturally. I don't really think about having a message or wanting to say anything, it just gets into a story as I write it. When I write, I write fantasy and I write about things and ideas I have and usually there is a hidden message in that.

: You mean unconsciously put there by you?

Stina Edelfeldt: I don't consciously put a message in my stories. Of course, there are a few exceptions. In a few very short stories I really wanted to say something and I just write it down from that message but I really don't think they're very good.

Calle Dybedahl: I don't have messages that I know of, but I study literature at the university and one of the things you are taught very early is that the author of a story can't say anything about it that is valid.

: Please elaborate a bit on that.

Calle Dybedahl: The author is wrong. Always. So, as the writer of a story, you can't really say what it's about. That is for the critics to read it and say. Because when a writer speaks about his or her own work, they don't always have the written text in mind. They have all the images, all the experience of writing it and all the thoughts behind it in their mind so they're not really talking only about the work, the text itself, but about everything else they know about it also. Their opinion will not properly reflect the text as the reader sees it. I think that's the argument. There are books written about this.

Publik Audience: I think science fiction is a very powerful instrument for bringing over a message to people. They see the message differently in a science fiction book than in a book set today in Sweden or America where they automatically discard messages because they react to them in political or ideological ways. They don't do that if they read it in a sci-fi book, because they have a distance to what they read and it's set in another environment. Is that true or is it just an impression I have?

Stina Edelfeldt: It might be difficult for an author who really wants a message. The message might not be seen because we are so used to it in this environment. If instead the author expresses his message in a science fiction environment, in the future, in a different world, whatever, and expresses it in a different way, readers might see it better. Then, because the science fiction world is similar to our world, the thing in our world that the author would criticize is translated into our world and the reader sees the problem in his own world as well.

Peter F. Hamilton: Probably the best case of that is Orwell's Animal Farm. Put at the front, this is a fairy story, rather than science fiction, set on a farm. It's probably one of the biggest political commentaries ever written.

Publik Audience: Yes, but people who read that, they see that it's a political message and they know almost immediately what it's about. But in a sci-fi story, you can get past some of the preconceptions that people have about what they are reading.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I think you are dealing very much with preconceptions. If a book is set in the future on another planet people have a tremendous prejudice against it. As I said, ''I don't read it it's set on another world'' or something like that. You have to overcome that prejudice first, you really are struggling uphill enormously there.

: I'm a bit curious about the practicalities of writing. What does your work room look like? Do you go there nine o'clock in the morning, start typing and work five days a week? Could you please tell me a bit?

Jane Routley: Well, I have a study which I share with my husband, but when we get more space I don't think we will do that because we talk to each other. We get up at six o'clock and I sit down to work. I used to do that without dressing or anything after breakfast, because for me it was so difficult to sit down for that first hour. I would think ''this is rubbish, this is rubbish, I'm an idiot for doing this'', now I've got a book published and I don't think that anymore so I can afford getting dressed before I sit down at the big desk. I work for two or three hour blocks and I don't work any longer than that in one sitting because I find at the end of three hours I'm writing rubbish. I generally have a two-hour break or something and go have a walk, go shopping or something and then come back to it, but I only work half a day at the moment.

: Is inspiration important? Do you have some days when you just can't write, some days when you feel wonderful, when you can't wait to get in front of the keyboard?

Jane Routley: Most days I feel wonderful, I could do five hours in a sitting. But I always sit down at the desk because I don't think you can wait for the inspiration to strike you. Sometimes you start off and you have a lot of trouble warming up and you hate what you write and you hate yourself, but after you have warmed up for about an hour it's all right and you write really good things. You can't consider yourself to be a professional writer unless you try and do it every day. I do cheat occasionally when I'm having a really bad day. I stop after an hour and go and do something else but I try and work every day, especially every weekday.

Peter F. Hamilton: I'm just reminded of the dedication on the front on one of Mike Moorcock's books, he said ''I dedicate this to my creditors who are a constant source of inspiration.'' How do I work? Not in the morning. Oh dear, no. If I work in the mornings I tend to do letters or I spellcheck what I did before or just something to get me to after lunchtime when I start where I was when I left off yesterday. Then, it is late afternoon until I stop. Midnight, one o'clock, half past one, something like that. There's no set time or set amount of work I have to do. I know people who will write 3000 words and stop. I can't do that. While it's going well, I write. If it's not going particularly well, through the wonders of word processing, you just access something you wrote before and revise it. At the moment, I work seven days a week.

I'm under contract. This is the first time I've ever had a deadline because it's the first time I've ever been contracted to write a book.

Jane Routley: Do you find it's helping or harming?

Peter F. Hamilton: I shouldn't even be here this weekend, I should be writing. It's incredibly harmful from that respect, you've got to learn discipline, you just have to accept it.

Jane Routley: That's why I have to sit down for two hours every day, because otherwise I wouldn't have finished anything. I was under no contract, I was writing a book that I figured would be rejected dozens of times before it saw publishing, so this was how I made myself go on.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I'm not trying to sound smug or anything, but I was discussing this with another writer the other day. There's three factors you need to be a professional writer. One is obviously the prose. Two is the original idea, and three is this discipline to sit down. Now, there's no end of people who have got two of these in any combination, but to earn a living at this, you have got to have all three. The most difficult one is forcing yourself to sit down. It's a lovely day outside, I've got to go to a convention. You got to say no to it, You've got to sit down and write.

: How about you, is inspiration important and where do you get it from?

Calle Dybedahl: I try to write as much as possible. You can't let inspiration get into it, because, as the professionals here say, you have to try to write every day and one notices after a while that the hard part is getting started and after you have written just a couple of lines, the inspiration comes.

Peter F. Hamilton: The most difficult part is actually at the start of a writing career, when you've got to hold down a job or be a student and you've got to write as well. That is absolutely horrendous. I'm full of respect for you for doing the two. I know people that have tried to do this and they wind up splitting up from their partners and all sorts of things.

Publik Audience: I have a question for Jane. You said that you sometimes realize that you've been writing rubbish. Do you just throw it away or do you go back and rewrite it into something descent, or into something good?

Jane Routley: Yes. It's not a dead loss.

Publik Jessica Elgenstierna: I have a question to everyone. How does it feel -- you spend months, years to write a novel, or even a week to write a short story and then you have readers who reads it in twenty-four hours. How does that feel?

Peter F. Hamilton: Heartbreaking.

Britt-Louise Viklund: You can't read The Reality Dysfunction in twenty-four hours.

Peter F. Hamilton: Somebody did it in three days. I don't know, it is a bit strange that something you have spent this incredible amount of time on and bang, you know, where's the next one, please? Yes, it's a very strange feeling. Have you had yours published yet?

Jane Routley: No, it hasn't come out yet.

Peter F. Hamilton: This thing that you and I have spent hacking out in the back room, purely on chance, this thing that dropped through your letterbox, this perfect product with the glossy cover and everything, you'll enjoy that.

Jane Routley: That's marvelous, it really is marvelous, yes. I think it makes up for it being read in twenty-four hours. It's your baby and it's there, it's so beautiful.

<change of tape>

Peter F. Hamilton: I spent a lot time doing short stories, which does tend to boost your confidence a bit. You know that the first one is rubbish, but then the second one and third one, the fourth one, people start writing in to the magazines, saying you know, ''get more of him''. You build up to that level. I remember when I got into the publishing side of it, it was a very lucky break, in that an editor at McMillan who are my publishers read a short story in a magazine and at the bottom of the short story there was a little biography, five lines, that was all, and I'd put on that ''And I am writing a novel.'' And he read the story and wrote to me saying ''Can we see it please?'' Which is not what normally happens, let me tell you. I told this happy story to other authors and wondered why I was shunned for five years. I printed it out and posted it and I thought ''Oh god, what have I done?'' But they liked it and they bought it. If you've never sent out anything it's a hurdle you've got to get over. You've got to put it in the box and send it.

Jane Routley: It takes tremendous courage because people say mean things, they are very cruel.

Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, and when it's published, then you got the critics to look forward to.

Stina Edelfeldt: Yes, that's what I'm thinking about.

Peter F. Hamilton: They know nothing. Critics are all failed writers. They are bitter and twisted and horrible.

: True, that's true.

Jane Routley: But if it gives you pleasure to write, that's the main thing. You have those days when you really feel that you're cooking and they make up for all those horrible mornings when you think it's all rubbish. Those days when you think this is fabulous piece of work, that you're saying exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it, that makes up for it, and the more you write, the more you get that feeling.

Calle Dybedahl: The reason I write is mostly that I can't not write, it's kind of an obsession. I'd like to know if it's the same for you?

Peter F. Hamilton: It is. I was doing a panel a couple of years ago, it was ''fresh blood'', I was on this and somebody actually stood up and he said ''Do you know something now that you didn't when you started writing?'' and I said ''yes, I wish I'd started earlier.'' I couldn't go back to a nine to five job now. I have to write. When I finish this book which is contracted for I'm going to start a new one the next week. On Monday morning, there I will be. It's very sad, but it's just something you got to do if you're a writer.

Publik Audience: There are magazines available on Internet, Quanta and Intertext and so forth. Have you tried to get one of your shorter stories published on one of those, just to get published?

Peter F. Hamilton: No.

Jane Routley: No. I don't have shorter stories.

Calle Dybedahl: I've got my stories on my web pages if you want to read them.

Publik Audience: Do you ever have the problem that the idea seems perfect and when it's on paper it's not what you originally had in mind? Some very vital parts that made it good, that made it alive in your head are missing although they should be there?

Peter F. Hamilton: I don't think it's quite like that. As I was saying, I drew up the outlines where people start and where they finish on a chapter and sometimes I have a great deal of trouble in trying to make them do what I want them to, but overall, I think it always comes out. The plot is there, how it is told isn't quite how you expected it to be, but overall I've not had that problem.

Jane Routley: I have only had that problem with stories I got from dreams. I have woken from a dream and thought ''That's going to make a terrific story'' and it doesn't. I don't know quite why that is. I think it is because dreams are illogical and if you try to put them in story form they have to be reasonably logical to be believable.

That does happen to me occasionally and I don't quite know how to get around it. I've stopped writing down dreams now.

: To finish this, I would just like each of you to give your best advice to a young person who wants to start to write now.

Stina Edelfeldt: I don't know. I really didn't need any advice, I just had to write and if you don't have to write I don't know if you can do anything. You can't give advice to people who don't really want to write because if you don't want to you don't want to. It's hard to express.

Calle Dybedahl: Try to get someone you don't know to read your work and comment.

Peter F. Hamilton: I'm almost going to repeat what you said, that is writers write. It is very clichéd, but don't ever stop. If you think you know you can write, then keep writing. The other one is, going back to what I said before, you have got to overcome this barrier of putting the envelope in the box. Don't worry about it so much.

Jane Routley: My advice is much the same as Peter's, actually. Put your stories in the envelopes and send them away and just have a lot of chocolate candy. They may come back, and be brave, because a lot of writers have got five or six or seven or ten novels in their bottom drawer. They keep doing it. Stephen Donaldson's first book was rejected by every publisher in the United States and then he went around again, so if they can do it, you can.

: I think it's time to finish and I would like to thank the panelists.

LSFF:s hemsida