Friday, 31 December 2010

The Chicken Machine

Here's a wee short story to see out 2010. Thank you for reading and putting up with my endless blathering, and I wish you all a froody and fabulous New Year!

The Chicken Machine
By Jennifer Williams

The winter that the Chicken Machine told me what was what, we were visiting my cousin Michael. He was sick again.

They lived in a tiny seaside town and we normally went to visit them in the summer when the place was thrumming with holiday makers carting windbreaks down on to the sand, eating ice-creams and rattling buckets and spades. It was one of my favourite places, or at least the fun fair was. I spent most of those summer holidays hiding out in the amusements, or the slots as we called them, where I changed up all my pocket money into bags of smelly two and ten pence pieces. There were tuppeny pushdowns, with jerky outcrops of shiny plastic relentlessly pushing coins towards a gap they never quite reached; fruit machines lit up like Christmas trees; a teddy machine with a big silver claw that didn’t quite have the grip it promised; even the first video games like Space Invaders, Out Run and Wonderboy. And there was the Chicken Machine.

But December was very much out of season, and the fun fair and the slots were cold and dead when we arrived. I descended into a three day sulk in protest.

My cousin and I were both eight that year, but he looked half my age as he lay sunken into his bedclothes. His face was like a washcloth, crumpled and pale on his pillow. The room smelt of stale sweat and vomit, but my aunt chattered away like all was well. She was filled up with it; his symptoms, which doctor said what, the specialist they would see, the state of his bowels. There was a brittle cheerfulness to her that found no response in my mother, whose face was dark and full of worry when she looked at her tiny nephew.

“Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea,” my Aunt continued brightly. My uncle stood in the corner without speaking, like a piece of furniture. He didn’t look at any of us. Michael coughed weakly and my Aunt picked up a bowl of potpourri from the window sill. My Aunt was very keen on potpourri and made her own, so that the entire house was dotted with different sized bowls and small fabric pouches full of dried flowers. The scent of lavender and musk was everywhere in that place, but it did a poor job of covering up the smell of sick that clawed at the back of my throat.

“Think I’d better go freshen this up,” said my Aunt, smiling.

It was considered unhealthy for me to hang around the house so I was turned out to wander the sea front. It seems strange to say that now, but even in those days, which were not so long ago, we found it much easier to take our eyes off our children.

I walked down to the fun fair. The wind coming in off the winter sea was a terrible fierce thing, slicing right through my hat and anorak, but the sky had been polished clean. It was a silver day, a gun metal grey afternoon. The slots had their shutters down and the neon sign had been turned off, but someone had left the Chicken Machine outside. That was strange.

The Chicken Machine was one of my favourite things about the amusements. It consisted of a tall glass box with a wooden frame, an idyllic countryside scene of rolling hills and farmhouses painted on the glass. Behind it sat the chicken on a mountain of plastic eggs. The chicken itself was a moth eaten, mildly alarming looking puppet thing with orange and yellow feathers and big cartoony glass eyes. When you put twenty pence into the slot it would turn around slowly whilst a jaunty tune played. The chicken would cluck a few times and then one of the two-tone plastic eggs would drop down into the hole by the slot. Simply by giving your cash, you had won a prize!

The contents of the eggs didn’t vary all that much. Usually it would be a garish plastic ring that I could pretend had magical powers for the morning, or a toy soldier. Once it had contained a tiny rubber crocodile, the greatest of all prizes and the one I still hoped might turn up again one day. Even I had to admit it was mostly rubbish though, and it drove my Dad crazy that I continued to waste my money on it, but really it was the anticipation of what the prize might be that kept me coming back for more. After all, you always need more rubber crocodiles in your life.

As I approached the Chicken Machine, I noticed that had also been left on, glowing softly like a lamp against the blue shutters. I turned and looked around. The promenade was almost deserted. A man was walking his dog down on the beach and some older kids were passing a can back and forth further up the road, but there was no one around me, and no one in the fair ground to explain why the machine hadn’t been taken inside for the winter, along with the Postman Pat ride I was too big for now.

Seizing the opportunity I shoved my hands deep into my pockets and came up with three twenty pence pieces. Normally I would ration these out for the other games in the arcade, but now the Chicken Machine was my only entertainment there was no need to do that. I savoured the brief thrill of a reckless attitude towards money and pushed the first coin in. Immediately the chicken lurched into life. Without the background cacophony of the other slot machines the music was shockingly loud, and I could hear the low screech of the chicken turning on its rusty spike. I took a couple of steps backwards, suddenly unaccountably guilty, and certain someone would now be approaching to tell me off. You don’t get to play with Chicken Machines in the winter, everyone knows that.

But no one came. The kids on the corner had disappeared, and the man with the dog didn’t even look over. The music stopped at the same moment I let out a sigh of relief, and an egg rattled into the hole, followed swiftly by two more. The sudden influx of eggs overloaded the hatch and they scattered onto the floor by my feet.

The bloody thing must be broken, I thought, that’s why they left it out, but inside I was jubilant. Three prizes for twenty pee? Even my dad couldn’t complain about that.

I scooped the eggs up off the ground and when I was back on my feet I noticed that the Chicken Machine had turned itself off again, and now stood as cold and dark as the rest of the arcade.

“Totally broken,” I muttered, and sat on the concrete path looking out to sea, ready to open my bounty. The first egg was constructed of two rounded pieces of plastic, one pale green and the other pale yellow. I turned it over in my fingers, enjoying the moment of not knowing for a little longer. It didn’t rattle like they normally did. Eventually I took it between my thumb and forefinger and pinched hard, causing the two pieces to pop apart. A gritty white powder burst forth, covering my hands and gathering in the crotch of my jeans. It was so unexpected that I think I cried out a little.

I looked at my hands, and then inside the remains of the egg. The white substance, which felt a little like sand, was gathered up into little mounds inside. There was so much of it.

In an act of breathless eight year old stupidity, I touched the end of my tongue to the rough grains and grimaced.
The machine really was broken then. In my confused mind, I imagined all the toys and trinkets inside the eggs growing so old they turned to dust and salt. It seemed to me with my child’s perception of time that it was quite possible for such a thing to happen, during the endless weeks between summer and winter.

I put the egg pieces on the ground and brushed the salt off my trousers. The second egg was pale pink on one end, and pale blue on the other, and this time it did rattle in a dry, bristly sort of way. My mind was briefly filled with images of dried spiders and earwigs but I popped it open anyway.

A handful of small dried brown things fell out, accompanied by a powerful waft of flowery scent that flew right up my nose and tickled it. Peering at the pieces a little closer I saw that they were made up of leaves and petals, even a tiny slice of hard orange, and a small pine cone. Potpourri, exactly like my Aunt made. It made me feel uneasy for some reason so I threw it down onto the ground and slapped my hands together, trying to get the whispery dead feel of it off my fingers.

I paused before opening the third egg. It felt heavier than the others, more solid even. One side of the plastic casing was white and the other was orange. The man on the beach was nearly out of sight by now, the tiny bounding shape of his dog close to the surf, and above the December sea there were darker clouds coming in. A winter storm, maybe. I should get back indoors soon.

Without another thought I snapped open the last egg, and immediately shot up in disgust, scraping my jacket against the wall behind me. My hands were wet with crimson fluid, shockingly bright in the middle of that grey day. I rubbed them fiercely against the bricks making a low, sick sound in the back of my throat. The blood was warm.

The empty shells by my feet were slick and red.

When I’d got my head together a bit I ran across the road and down to the sea, and washed my hands in the salty water. Waves came in and soaked my trainers and the bottoms of my jeans but I didn’t stop until my hands were clean and numb.

Back in the house I couldn’t stop thinking about the Chicken Machine. The salt, the leaves, the blood. They sat in my mind like flares, or flags, bright and impossible to ignore. Like a warning.

In the evening my mother and I went up to Michael’s room to sit with him while he had his dinner. My Aunt had made casserole for us, but my cousin had a special restricted diet. With a calm expression she spooned thin milky gruel into his slack mouth, while Michael made the occasional weak protest. We sat in uncomfortable wooden chairs next to his bed and my mother spoke to Michael in a low voice, talking of small things; what was on the telly, his favourite football team, the weather. And as I watched his lips turn down with each spoonful of food, I saw the eggs again. The salt, the blood and the lavender. And suddenly I knew.

Without announcing my intentions, I stood up and took the bowl from my Aunt, too quickly for her to stop me. I tipped it up to my lips and took a big gulp, ignoring the fact that it was a little too hot, and immediately spat it back out again.
“Salt,” I said.
“Ben, what on earth...?” My mother was on her feet, her face tight with embarrassment.
“Taste it, Mum.”
I passed her the bowl, and finally my Aunt reacted by taking a swipe at it but my Mother already had it in her hands. She must have seen something in my face because instead of telling me off, my Mother bent her head to the bowl and took a sip. Her face screwed up in distaste and confusion.

“Martha?” she said to my Aunt, who was now standing very still, the spoon still clutched in one fist. “There’s so much salt in this Martha, so much...”
“There’s more,” I said, and with the knowledge dropped chilly and intact straight into my brain, I knelt down on the floor and reached under the bed. The washing bowl was exactly where I had known it would be. Inside it was a number of syringes, mostly clean but a few still sticky in places. There were bloody tissues in there too.

My Mother pressed her fingers to her lips, her eyes as wide and white as eggs.
“Martha, what have you been doing?”

We never went back to Michael’s house, not on holiday anyway. There were questions and hospitals and police involved, and my Aunt didn’t see Michael for a very long time. His body, they said, had been badly damaged on the inside thanks to months of salt poisoning and he might not ever be completely better. My uncle took on care of him, once it was proven he’d had nothing to do with the salt, and moved far away from the seaside down with its slots and funfair.

I went back there to look for the Chicken Machine but it was gone, a small square of cleaner pavement where it had once stood. And perhaps that was for the best. I’d lost my fascination with rubber crocodiles anyway.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Year that was Writing Dangerously

So it’s that time of the year where we blog about the last twelve months, summing up the triumphs and the achievements and so on. Well, to be honest I’ve always been incredibly bad at remembering what happened in what year (I know, useless isn’t it? I have a great memory for pointless facts and a terrible one for the actual timeline of my life) so this blog post will be the vaguest sort of summary of 2010, including some of the things that I’m reasonably certain happened this year.

I started and finished The Steel Walk, a sword and sorcery novel about an ex-prostitute turned swordswoman forced into protecting the unwanted child of an evil family, whilst fighting off the evil machinations of the Green Council and their dreaded “dead walkers”. It was a book that didn’t go exactly according to plan, but it taught me lots of lessons that I’ll take on with me to the next book. And I did finish it, always the hardest bit.

Short story wise I’ve had a reasonably successful year, achieving way more than I ever thought I would. I’ve had a tiny wee piece of flash fiction published in Black Static as part of the Campaign for Real Fear- picking up a copy in Alt:Fiction and seeing my name in print was particularly exciting! I’ve been published twice in Hub Magazine and received some fabulous feedback on the stories. I’ve found homes for other stories in the From the Dark Side and Farrago anthologies, had a spot on the Un:Bound blog for Barleycorn (one of my favourites) and recently became involved in Dark Fiction Magazine where I had a lot of fun reading out Sarah Pinborough’s Do You See? I even had two of my own stories included, the second of which was a Christmas ghost story read out by Kim Lakin-Smith (who did a beyond fabulous job!). It’s been a good year for me and short fiction, and I owe a huge thanks to everyone who took a punt on an unknown writer. I hope I can keep it up in 2011!

Speaking of Alt:Fiction, I am pleased that I got my arse out of the house for once and attended a proper convention, meeting many lovely people and hearing so much writerly wisdom that I was filled with huge optimism and enthusiasm as well as dread and terror at the size of the task in front of me. Mostly, I just loved geeking out about books for an entire day with a bunch of like minded people.

I started writing Dead Zoo Shuffle in November with Nanowrimo. DZS was a big challenge for me; it was science-fiction/crime, and written in the first person, neither of which I had tried with a full length novel before. I got through 50,000 words in a month, and of course I’m still writing the bugger. Mainly I’m pleased with how much this book is making me think- trying to figure out the plot of a crime novel at 9.30am in Starbucks really sets you up for the day.

So at the beginning of 2010 I christened it “The Year of Writing Dangerously”, and in many ways it was. I formed a routine and forced myself to stick to it, and wrote more words in one year than I ever have before (the quality of those words is quite another thing, of course). I wouldn’t have had such a fun and groovy year without the help of a number of people, so since I’m here I’d like to say a quick thank you! Firstly, to my partner Marty Perrett (@Boxroom on twitter and go here for his website- ) who has provided endless support and chocolate in the face of my erratic enthusiasm and changeable moods, whilst also putting together some amazing creative projects of his own. Thanks as well to Adam Christopher (@ghostfinder on twitter and go here for his blog- ) a friend and writing buddy who has beta read for me all year, always giving useful advice and a kick up the arse when needed. I also owe Adam specifically for his ability to remind me of the right writing competition at the right moment, and for singing my praises to others. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a whole gang of marvellous people on twitter too, including Sharon Ring (@DFReview) and Del Lakin-Smith (@dellakin_smith) in charge of Dark Fiction Magazine, and Neil C Ford (@nubenu) who was kind enough to lend a struggling writer a netbook, enabling me to construct my coffee shop related writing routine. Thanks also to the lovely Adele (@Hagelrat) at the Un:Bound blog, and the charming Alasdair Stuart at Hub magazine who were kind enough to give my stories a home. And a general hug and slurred drunken “love ya!” to all the fabulous twitter peeps who have kept me sane and entertained this year- you know who you are!

So if this was The Year of Writing Dangerously, what is 2011? The Year of Getting My Arse in Gear and Finally Editing Something?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Twelve Days Anthology from Dark Fiction Magazine

So it's here, on the darkest and spookiest day of the year- twelve stories to captivate, amuse, and give you the shivers. My story "Milk" is the first one on there, narrated by the lovely Kim Lakin-Smith (go find out more about that talented lady here: ) and I am tremendously proud of it. I've been full of the flu for the last two weeks so I wasn't able to read the story out myself (I sound rather like a bucket full of poorly frogs) but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Kim's voice suits the story so well I actually fidgitedy about with glee while listening to it. I'm also proud of "Milk" simply because I rather like it myself for once, and I don't often have a lot of affection for my own work.

Go here to listen to some excellent short fiction:

I'm working my way through them all now, and it is a marvellous little treat of wintery goodness.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Brave Bit

And lo, we enter the armpit of my writing year, the blind boil on the bottom of my writing schedule; here we come my friends to December, the worst of all writing months.

It’s easy for me to appear to be a fantastic, productive writer in November. Nanowrimo surges me through the month on a tidal wave of word counts, calendars, countdowns, word sprints and all nighters, presenting me gleaming and victorious on the other side with 50,000 words and a certificate of win clutched in one triumphant fist. I write my socks off that month and kick writerly ass in all directions; I even wrote a short story this time, as if I didn’t have enough to do, and managed it all with, if not grace, then at least relentless cheeriness.

So it is always painful to come immediately to the bumhole that is December, when you have so recently bathed in glory and achievement. In December I am exhausted, for a start, burnt out from all the late nights and early mornings of the previous month, and there’s the sudden looming horror of Christmas, which I am inevitably underprepared for because I’ve been throwing my heart and soul into Nanowrimo. I suddenly need to figure out what I’m getting people and how, and when, and with which magical beans, and there are social gatherings happening that might require my attendance and for me to wear something other than an old chocolate encrusted jumper.

And the real bitch of it is, thanks to Nanowrimo I’m also at the hardest point in the book, that stinking gulf of words between 50,000 and 70,000 words where anything and everything can go wrong, and usually does. Every time it is the same for me- this is the point where I desperately want to give up and start something new, where I’m convinced I’m a terrible writer and the story I’m telling is boring, pointless and barely makes any sense. Every word is an agony and all attempts to make something new and shiny shrivel and die on the page.

Oh December, what fresh hell is this?

So this is the Brave Bit. Nanowrimo makes you look exciting and bold and impossibly glamorous, with your thousands of words under your belt, but if you’re like me and the book needs another 50,000 words to finish, then December is where you show your true bravery; where you screw your courage to the sticking place and bear down for the sheer excruciating agony of writing. You’re in for the hardest part of the journey now and there’s no comforting community to keep you going, no sense of a joyful challenge or even the false assurances that you’re not that bad a writer- there’s only all those blank pages to fill, a worryingly tight shopping schedule and a parade of increasingly threatening Santas.

So, I’ll come back to it all in January, yeah?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Dark Fiction Magazine's Twelve Days Anthology

So Nanowrimo is over, Dead Zoo Shuffle is half way through, and hopefully I'll be back to blogging again regularly. Phew!

Just a quick note today to do a brief snoopy dance of Christmas joy- not because I've actually done all my Christmas shopping (pressies bought = 2) or because I remembered to buy an advent calendar, but because my short story "Milk" has been chosen as the "maids a milking" section of Dark Fiction Magazine's Twelve Days Anthology.

All the details are here:

I've also been lucky enough to have another one of my stories included in Dark Fiction Magazine in Episode 2: Dystopian Desires. If you haven't heard it yet, On the Last Wave is here:

Obviously, I'm dead excited about this because it means my name is appearing next to some authors who I really admire- a truly fab christmas present. ;)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Dead Zoo Shufflings

At risk of jinxing myself, since I haven’t actually crossed the finish line yet (800 words to go!) I thought I’d do a quick post about this year’s nanowrimo experience, and the first 50,000 words of Dead Zoo Shuffle.

It started off rather peacefully, with a week in less than sunny Cornwall to bash out as many words as possible. Despite being largely sozzled much of the time I did manage to get a reasonable amount done on the incredibly long train journey, and in small country pubs with roaring fires. Really, I wish the entire Nano experience could be as picturesque and relaxing.

The following three weeks however, with work and my occasional attempts at a social life, have flown by at an alarming rate. So quickly in fact that I think I’ve barely been on the Nano forums this year, and have had none of the usual encouraging nanomail chats and banter. I’m a bit disappointed about that, as I always enjoy the sense of writerly community November brings, but it seems this year I had no time to do anything but get my head down and write.

Dead Zoo Shuffle itself is proving to be an interesting book to put together. I knew it would be a challenge, because it was both crime and science-fiction, both genres I don’t normally have much to do with aside from reading them, and I wanted it to be in the First Person. Since the only other book I’ve attempted to write from that viewpoint was a massive failure I half expected to give in during week 2 and make the whole thing third person after all.

But I haven’t. It’s hard, and I struggle with some of the twists and turns, but so far Dead Zoo Shuffle has managed to do something quite rare- it’s kept my interest at all times. Not to say that I’ve been bored shitless by my previous books, but there’s almost always a moment where I think “Ye gods, if I have to write about one more night by the campfire I am going to kill someone” or “How can I make their journey over to this place remotely interesting?”. DZS, with its teeming city planet of dodgy bars and even dodgier mercenaries, with its aliens and spaceships and artificial moons, has been strangely refreshing. Dead Zoo Shuffle has so much to keep me occupied I can barely keep up with it.

So hurrah for Nano for providing me with another interesting November. And here’s to the next 50,000 words!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Exciting news from Un:Bound

Remember the rather groovy blog that published my short story Barleycorn? Well, more exciting things are going down at Un:Bound- here be the press release:

Un:Bound Video Editions

For Immediate Release

They told me I was crazy and i'd need a team as crazy as me to pull it off. Fortunately I knew exactly where to get them. Admittedly my crack team of presenter Kat Heubeck, director and video editor Vincent Holland-Keen, news anchor Alasdair Stuart and grizzled editor Lee Harris are not the team I would put together for a lucrative casino hit. Pulling together a show like Un:Bound VE though? I couldn't ask for a better squad of genre fiction grifters.

Don't believe me? I talked to Catherine Rogers of Writing East Midlands about the heist, I mean the show, and here's what she said:

“This, it seems to me, is a natural move for George, sorry Adele as he, sorry, she has been taking over the genre world with her extraordinary team.

Sorry Adele as what , George Clooney, Oceans whatever c'mon? Un:Bound being compared to Oceans numbers - no way. I'm thinking more along the lines of Neo, red pills, Morpheus etc.

So red pills aside / taken etc ... Writing East Midlands' mission statement says something about nurturing new writers in the region ... yes so that includes new writing talent and this by all accounts is just that .... on vidcast. Yay! Check it out.

That was 'red' right?”

Yes, Catherine, yes. No chunky knit wear or unnecessary dance routines here, just a cool, suave look at the latest in genre fiction. And Cthulhu. He was very insistent I mention him.

Fellow Evil Genius ™ Alex Davis had a slightly different take on things, which also makes a worrying amount of sense:

'It sounds more like the A-Team to me than Ocean's Eleven... This truly is the crack commando unit of the genre - in fact the recording equipment was constructed from four elastic bands, three toilet roll tubes and a broken down ZX Spectrum. So if you have a problem, and you need help, and you can find them, maybe you can hire... the Unbound Video Editions team.'

Danny Ocean's team of elegant con men and the world's least violent lethal commando unit. That's heady company to be keeping. So when does the con begin? I mean the show air? And where? Simple it's going to go live on 6th December 2011 at 8:00pm (GMT) at the site . Except, much like that bit with Brad Pitt walking through the casino talking on the phone? We're not quite done. The following weeks will see additional footage of the interviews go live as we continue to plunder the vaults of genre fiction for all things bright, shiny and awesome.

So why not join us? Just remember, don't take the blue pill, don't take your eyes off the vault door and always, always, bet on Unbound.

UBVE will be running a giveaway as part of the launch week so please look out for further details and prizes.

If you want to go and check out the current cool stuff available, get yourself over here

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Nanowrimo & the Small Plastic Dragon

So we are ten days into Nanowrimo. I’m glad to report that it has been proceeding reasonably well, and Dead Zoo Shuffle is 15,000 words in at Chapter 5- amazingly enough, exactly where I am supposed to be. The first five days were relatively easy, given that I was on holiday and had the rather lovely landscape of Cornwall to look at (which is always fabulous, even in November- possibly especially in November, with all the mists and autumn trees and fierce waves. If anything I was vaguely disappointed I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy of the sort that starts out in grassy hills and ends in perilous mountains…). I did my writing on the train, at the dinner table and in small country pubs, and had no trouble reaching the daily word count.

Writing while also having to go to work is a little bit trickier, but luckily I have formulated a routine over the last few months where I sneak into libraries and coffee shops and get it all done before I even have to think about the day job. This has set me in good stead for Nanowrimo, although that’s not to say it isn’t a struggle; the pace and the pressure are somewhat more extreme, after all, and I can’t give myself the night off just because I’m feeling sleepy.

The book itself is both hugely fun to write and incredibly challenging. I’ve written in the First Person before for short stories but keeping it going for an entire novel throws up all sorts of difficulties, not to mention the complications of writing about a human character on an alien world- and at its heart this is more a crime novel than a science-fiction story. But I’m loving Dirk Marshall and Zootsi, even Fredo and his dubious personal hygiene, and the dialogue in this story feels more natural than I’ve managed before.

So in celebration of my wobbly progress, I offer up some things I have learnt over the last few years of Nanowrimo that seem to have helped me:

Tell everyone you know that you’re doing it. I found this awkward and embarrassing the first year, as trying to explain why you’re writing an entire book in a month isn’t easy (“Yes, 50,000 words… Yes, I have to write them all myself… No, you don’t get a prize or any money at the end of it… well, it’s more about having, you know, written an entire book…”) but if everyone is expecting you to be flourishing 50,000 words worth of manuscript at the end of the month you’re less like to give up when you’re feeling a bit tired.

Rewards! Yes, the book at the end is the true reward, ahem, but that’s not to say that you can’t treat yourself with cool stuff as well. Don’t save it all for reaching the end either; 20,000 words is especially sweet when you can finally eat that special bar of chocolate or buy that CD. This year I have a Duncan the Grey Warden action figure on order for my future glory (What? Toys are rewards. Toys are allowed).

Speaking of toys, see if you can find a writing space! They probably aren’t essential, and to be honest I have used mine exactly 3 times so far this month, but having a little nook that is dedicated to writing and your book can help you feel like you’re taking it seriously. My desk is surrounded by pictures of things that interest me, and covered in toys, or, uh, writing mascots. This year I am assisted by Charlie the My Little Pony (a Nano veteran), Tyrion the Small Plastic Dragon and a couple of gaming dice for the cat to push onto the floor to wake me up (hopefully, they will soon be joined by Fully Articulated Duncan).

And there you go, those are my three main tips for Nanowrimo success, or at least, Nanowrimo fun. And if you are doing it this year, tell me what you’re writing about- my favourite form of procrastination is reading other people’s synopsises…
Good luck!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

So much news my head may fall off!

I have so much exciting news this week I hardly know where to begin… So let’s start with this!

Dark Fiction Magazine ( is pleased to announce the launch of a new service for fans of genre fiction. Beginning Oct 31st (Halloween), Dark Fiction Magazine will be launching a monthly magazine of audio short stories. This is a free service designed to promote genre short fiction to an audience of podcast and radio listeners. A cross between an audio book, an anthology and a podcast, Dark Fiction Magazine is designed to take the enjoyment of short genre fiction in a new and exciting direction.

Dark Fiction Magazine publishes at least four short stories a month: a mix of award-winning shorts and brand new stories from both established genre authors and emerging writers. Each episode will have a monthly theme and feature complementary tales from the three main genres – science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Co-founder Del Lakin-Smith said: "I love reading short stories, and with the increased uptake of mobile and portable devices this really is a growth area. But like many I find I don't have as much time as I would like to read, so I tend to listen to many podcasts on the go. The idea of replacing my podcasts with high quality, well performed audio short stories is something I find highly appealing, so Sharon and I set about making that a reality."

Sharon Ring, co-founder of Dark Fiction Magazine, said: “From technophobe to technophile in less than two years; I spend a great deal of time working online. To while away those hours, I like to listen to podcasts and drink copious amounts of strong coffee. Now, while I don’t recommend you drink as much coffee as I, I do recommend you check out what Del and I have created. We love podcasts; we love genre fiction; we built a site to bring the two together.”

The theme of Dark Fiction Magazine’s first episode is The Darkness Descends and will feature four fantastical stories:
‘Maybe Then I’ll Fade Away’ by Joseph D’Lacey (exclusive to Dark Fiction Magazine)
‘Pumpkin Night’ by Gary McMahon
‘Do You See?’ by Sarah Pinborough (awarded the 2009 British Fantasy Society Short Story Award)
‘Perhaps The Last’ by Conrad Williams
Lined up for future episodes are Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Ramsey Campbell, Rob Shearman, Kim Lakin-Smith, Ian Whates, Lauren Beukes, Mark Morris, Adam Nevill, Gareth L Powell, Jeremy C Shipp, Adam Christopher, and Jennifer Williams, among others.

With a team of dedicated and passionate narrators, a central recording facility and a love of genre, Dark Fiction Magazine delivers a truly outstanding aural experience.

Dark Fiction Magazine will also be producing special editions with seasonal stories and topical issues, competitions, flash fiction episodes and novel excerpts. Each episode aims to shock and delight, to horrify and confound as Dark Fiction Magazine takes its listeners on an aural tour through the world of genre fiction.

Dark Fiction Magazine is a collaborative project, created and developed by Del Lakin-Smith and Sharon Ring. For further information, contact Del or Sharon at

You might have noticed my name on the end of a pretty impressive list there, so unsurprisingly I am quite chuffed. But not only have I got a story coming up in later episodes, I am also doing some “reading out loud” duties- Nerve-wracking indeed, but I can tell you now that the story I got to do my Jackanory voice on was aces. As soon as it actually launches I will be straight on here to do a little snoopy dance for you all.

In other news, the lovely people over at the Un:Bound blog have let me taint their marvelous pages with a new short story at part of their Writer Wednesdays. This odd little thing has long remained one of my favourites, even though I sense it may be an acquired taste- I’d love to know what you think!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Possibly Pointless Mini-Sulk

We watched Fanboys at the weekend; an enjoyable little film about a group of friends who set off on a road trip to steal a rough cut of the Phantom Menace some six months before it is due to come out (not knowing, of course, exactly how crap it is going to be). Hit and miss in places maybe, but there were enough geeky references to keep me happy and the beardy Hutch was entertaining enough on his own, as a sort of poor man’s Jack Black. I laughed a lot and even felt a little sad at the poignant ending.

There was one bit that did annoy me however, and it’s taken a couple of days to figure out why.

At one point their female geek friend has to rescue them from their own stupidity, and she comes into conflict with Windows, the bespectacled object of her affections. When she starts doing stuff he doesn’t understand, i.e. behaving like an emotional human being, he essentially tells her, “Look, you can’t pull this girl stuff and still want to be one of the boys”.

At first I thought I was annoyed at the character, and then I realised that was sort of the point. He was being a berk. And then I thought I was annoyed at the film, in a knee jerk reaction sort of way- “how dare you say I can’t be a girl and be friends with boys!”

But I think it was actually more complicated than that. What aggravated me, I believe, was the inference that by being a geek, she was attempting to be one of the boys.

Which is all wrong.

The majority of my friends are male, and all of them are geeks. I didn’t start reading 2000AD when I was kid so that one day, just maybe, I could hang out with blokes and know what they’re talking about. I don’t spend way too much time being Commander Shepard on the Xbox so that men will be impressed by my fairly amazing biotic slam, and I don’t know all the words to Ghostbusters because boys dig chicks that do (and I don’t think they do). I am a geek because that is what I enjoy, and I am friends with people who enjoy the same things- as it happens, most of them are male, but I’m sure this is just because I don’t know very many ladygeeks. And I know you’re out there, ladies!

Being a geek isn’t a “boy thing”. It’s a “people with intelligence and taste” thing. ;)

Sunday, 10 October 2010


By Jennifer Williams

The first thing it changes is your sense of scale. Not that I think we’ve ever considered ourselves the biggest animals on the planet by any means; I’ve been to the Natural History Museum and stood under the Blue Whale like everyone else, after all.
And of course those old movies don’t seem so funny any more. I don’t know when we last had contact with the Japanese, but I bet they aren’t laughing.

I stood by the entrance to the hangar, just daring to poke my head out, watching the creature as it moved over the distant remains of the city. It was night time, and cold, and I could see my breath in the air.
It roared, and I winced, moving back again so I was slightly hidden by the hangar doors. You’d think I would be used to it by now, but the edges never get any blunter. They brought a terrible instinct with them, these things, one that I suspect Man hasn’t felt for hundreds, maybe thousands of years; we know ourselves to be prey, so we cower.
“It’s time.”
Halloran laid a hand on my shoulder and tipped his head back towards the shadowy recesses of the hanger.
“You sound apprehensive, Bill. This thing is your baby, aren’t you ready to see it do its job?”
I shrugged, and looked back at the dark shape moving on the horizon, impossibly big. The moon was bright and full, and the light picked out its huge fleshy flanks and dorsal spikes. If there’s one thing you can say for them, they definitely hold your attention.
“I just… There’s an awful lot riding on this, you know? And it’s not my baby, Hal, we’ve all had a hand in this.”
I was a little angry with his inference that this was all down to me. Perhaps I was annoyed on behalf of my team, who had labored nearly non-stop for the last few months, or perhaps I just didn’t want the responsibility if it went wrong.
“I know, Bill,” he said. “Come on, you want to be there when she wakes up.”
Tearing my eyes from the immense creature roaring in the distance, I walked back into the hangar towards the thick plastic sheet that took up half the floor. Something twitched sleepily beneath the folds.

In the confused months after the first wave of behemoths appeared we launched ourselves into research of all kinds, despite the restricted circumstances. We moved what we could underground and hurriedly threw everything we had at the problem; conventional weapons did nothing, nuclear warheads only made them bigger and more powerful, extremes of heat and cold had no effect.
As an expert in the field of entomology I believe I was brought in as a last resort. We went through all the rare toxins we could think of, one after the other, all the time aware of how difficult it was to get hold of the blood samples we were using, and how many men and women had died to bring them to us. When the breakthrough came it was so unlikely that I refused to believe it for some days, and had the team run the tests over and over.

On the surface of it, the moth isn’t an obvious choice. They are a nuisance, certainly, and people have been known to have severe allergic reactions to the bristly hairs of some caterpillars, but toxic?
To the behemoths, they certainly were.
But it wasn’t enough. Getting close to the creatures to deliver a dosage of the toxin proved near disastrous, with whole military units wiped out in gouts of radioactive fire, or crushed under the enormous claws. And when we finally succeeded, the toxin failed; for whatever reason, the refined material had no effect on the monsters.
So we were given access to the project that started this whole mess.

Outside under the starlight, she twitches faintly as we move down her thick body with the adrenalin shots. We are all working as fast as we can, all too aware of the dangers of being above ground and exposed. Halloran stands by her huge, swollen head, making sure the tech department’s equipment is properly attached. He stands away and gives me the thumbs up. When the last injection is completed, I motion at them all to stand away, and our creation flickers into life, crouched on her coarsely furred legs.
She is beautiful.
Her huge dusty wings, each a hundred feet long, blur into sudden flight, knocking us all back on her feet. She lets out a high pitched squeal and as one we cover our ears, and then she is off, up into the night air like a dream, a soft cloud of silky dust drifting down after her. Not toxic to us, luckily.
“Look at her go!” calls Halloran.
I nod, and risk a smile. The banks of computers whirr into sudden life and the tech team busy themselves at the controls. Far above, our moth spins and twirls as the lights on her helmet blink on, blue and green.
“It’s all good,” says a man by the controls, Jim, I think his name is. He tweaks a dial and the squeal comes back into range for us all. It is steady, attentive, everything it is supposed to be. “She should be moving into range now.”
We watch, barely daring to breath. Above us the giant moth flutters and jumps and twirls through the air. And by the crushed buildings, eyes that are a baleful green turn in our direction.
“It’s coming our way,” said Halloran. He doesn’t sound panicked, not yet.
“Give her a moment,” I say. “The impulses will need a few seconds to kick in.”
There are two sounds then, equally dreadful. The thunder of the approaching behemoth, and a screaming over the speakers.
“What’s that? What’s happening?”
Our moth, our last chance, spins away from the roaring lizard and up and up and up… Up towards the moon. She travels so far that even at her great size she begins to look tiny, and then she hovers there, back and forth, in front of that great white light, dipping and swerving crazily. She shows no interest in us, or the monster. Only the moon.
“Oh, shit,” says Halloran.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Stealth post!

Hello! Yes, here I am! I've cocked up the last couple of weeks, bloggingly speaking, so here is a random update.

I've been away mostly because a) I finished The Steel Walk finally (thank christ) and b) threw myself immediately into planning the Nanowrimo book, which has a working title of "Dead Zoo Shuffle".

The Steel Walk was a rough journey at times, and it very nearly went all tits up at the 60,000 word mark (I seemed to be cursed at that stage of the book) but I dragged myself through and although I believe it is somewhat flawed, I'm glad I got to see what happened to Eri, Joseth and Saul. In that weird slightly lost state you have after finishing such a big project, I started to think about what exactly I've learnt over the course of the last four books, and what I'll take with me into Dead Zoo Shuffle. I actually wrote some of it down, due to my memory being like one of those things with wotsits in.*

1) You need a subplot to balance the main narrative.

2) I like writing about cities. Lots of trees- not so much.

3) You've got to have some idea where you're going. Let's not do another "A Boy of Blood and Clay".

4) Stories are secretly all about people and how they deal with each other.

5) Know your characters.

6) Don't worry so much. You're trying to find your own voice.

7) Chapters are useful. Try and keep track of them, yeah?


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Pop Quiz, Hotshot!

I don’t have a huge amount to say at the moment as my brain is well and truly frazzled trying to finish The Steel Walk (whilst also trying to fend off the part of my brain that really wants to be writing the next book now)…

On a subject vaguely related to the as yet untitled November project, I have a question for you: what is your favourite example of the First Person narrative in a book?*

*I would probably nominate everything Michael Marshall Smith has ever done, but no surprise there...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Friday Fiction!

By Jennifer Williams

“And how much of the planet does your company own, Ms Myatt? Real estate here must be very expensive.”

Ms Myatt smiled at the question, and tapping her heels to her horse’s flank led them to the edge of the path. There was an especially spectacular view from that position. Expensive maybe, but worth every penny.

“Call me Lavinia, please. The Ranch owns this entire valley, right up to the hills you can see there.” She pointed with her free hand. The sky was a deep blue at the moment, but the sunset later would be violet and pink, which always struck Lavinia as particularly apt. Escapar really was the perfect planet. “There are ten separate complexes in this valley, all entirely self contained and remote enough that we can keep the illusion going as long as you need, Kia.”

The woman on the horse next to her stiffened slightly, obviously put out by the use of her first name, but Lavinia just smiled some more. Nobody kept to formalities very long when they planned to stay at the Ranch.

“Shall we go down and take a tour?” she continued. “It’s a beautiful day for it.”

Kia nodded, and the two of them took their horses down the final part of the path and into the soft grasses of the valley itself. In the near distance was the first complex, a simple fenced paddock and a robust but quaint looking little house. It had been designed very carefully to be as quaint as possible. The scent of the grasses greeted them like a friend from a dream, bringing half forgotten memories… Lavinia almost laughed at herself. This place even got to her, sometimes.

“And the men? They are all in on it, are they?”

“Of course.” Lavinia bit down her impatience. Kia was not like most of the other clients they had. It wasn’t unusual for them to want to have a look at the place before they signed over their credits, but they didn’t normally have so many questions. After all, most of the information was there on the adverts, and besides, most of the clients didn’t want to know too much about it. That would spoil the fun. “They all have a degree of acting training and are fully committed to the experience. Oh, here we are, look, Troy is a great example of what we offer.”

A tall, bronzed man had stepped out of the wooden house, a coil of rope slung over his naked shoulders. He had glossy black hair, a hint of stubble, and was ridiculously handsome. Lavinia waved at him, and he waved cheerfully back, flashing a perfect white grin.

“Troy used to be the villain in a long running TV show, The Chambers of Our Love Collide. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? He did that for a few years and then the character got killed off, so he works for us now.”

Troy walked to the paddock, where a chestnut mare waited to be brushed down. Lavinia was particularly proud of the horses, all of which were shipped in from Earth or bred from original Earth stock. They were beautiful animals, and a large part of the attraction of the Ranch. All ridiculously expensive, of course.

“And how does it all work, exactly?”

“We have a number of different scenarios.” They rode past Troy’s paddock and passed a wide strip of grassy land. Ahead there was an almost identical complex. The wooden house was a little larger and perhaps more recently painted, but there were horses in the paddock and Lavinia could already see a tall figure toiling outside, oiled muscles glistening in the sunlight. “Our clients often go with the more traditional storylines. A single woman, lost in inhospitable country. Perhaps her travelling party suffered a hit by raiders, or there was a terrible storm. She comes across a little ranch in the middle of nowhere, and asks a man there for help.” Lavinia grinned, warming to her subject. “Of course at first he will be a terrible brute, full of stormy rages, and a dark past is absolutely a given, but eventually through persistence and a good heart she will win him over. As well as his love for her, he will reveal himself to be a deeply kind man whose passions are as big as his rages. He probably looks after stray animals too.”

Lavinia caught the look on Kia’s face, and shrugged. “What can I say? Those are the classics. Sometimes our clients want to reverse the situation and our men are the ones who turn up on their doorsteps, but it all amounts to the same thing.”

They had drawn level with the house, and again Lavinia waved to the impossibly perfect man tending the horses. He had tousled blond hair and a tiny scar on his cheekbone. The women went crazy for that scar.

“Ray there is one of our most popular models.”

“And the men…” Kia shifted uncomfortably in her saddle. She was looking at Ray with keen interest. “They sleep with the women?”

Lavinia laughed.

“I’m not altogether sure exactly how much actual sleeping gets done, but believe me, all the women are very satisfied by the end of the week. And it’s never longer than a week. We don’t want anyone getting too attached.”

“And what about the men?” Kia had still not smiled, not once. “How do they feel about all this?”

Lavinia shrugged.

“They get all their food and bills paid for, generous holiday entitlement, full medical insurance. Free accommodation, obviously. And an unending parade of women to adore them. Everyone is checked out before they come, by the way. No one’s health is ever at risk.”

“But they are just puppets,” said Kia. “Objects for these women to lust over, to control.”

The horses had taken them past Ray’s paddock and on to the next. A man younger and slimmer than the previous two stood at his front gate. His soft brown hair was artfully combed to fall over his big blue eyes, and he had cheekbones to die for.

“These men find it empowering,” said Lavinia. She was beginning to tire of the questions. “None of them has ever complained about their treatment.”

“It’s prostitution!” said Kia hotly. “Slavery!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

The slim young man at the gate watched them approach with interest. Kia called out to him as they got closer.

“You, what’s your name?”

He looked briefly to Lavinia before answering.

“Carlos, ma’am,”

“Are you happy here, Carlos? Do you like being a pet?”

Carlos blushed slightly, and looked up at them through long eyelashes.

“In truth… it is a little degrading.”

“Oh, come on now.” Lavinia held up both hands. “We treat you well Carlos, and I don’t remember anyone giving you permission to talk.”

“I’ve had enough of this.” Kia tugged at the reins, turning the horse so that she faced Lavinia, and took a petite handgun from within the folds of her loose blouse. “I’m giving this boy his freedom. He’s coming with me!”

Without hesitation she shot Lavinia square in the chest, sending the older woman flying off the back of her horse and into the dirt. A dark red stain spread across her shirt and she did not move again. Giving Carlos her hand, Kia helped him up onto the horse to sit behind her.

Lavinia waited for the hoof beats to retreat a fair way before sitting up. The safety mat had broken her fall well enough but the thump from the blood squib would probably leave a bruise. She patted gingerly at her damp chest and clambered to her feet. Kia and Carlos were a dot in the distance, riding off together into their own story. An unusual request perhaps, but Kia was an unusually rich client. A bruise and a ruined shirt wouldn’t matter much one way or another.

The sunset, thought Lavinia as she clambered back onto her horse. A few hours later and the sunset would have been a treat.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Space Bitch

Forgot to update yesterday- my blog sense appears to be slipping a bit. I’ll blame it on The Steel Walk nearing the end, and the Bird and Tower podcast project, both of which are nibbling away at my every spare thought.

I’m also trying to up my short story output, but this is a goal that continues to be frustrated. While ideas for novels tend to stew away for years and finally become ready gradually, short story ideas seem to pop up from nowhere when you least expect them; perhaps they brew in a deeper, darker part of the mind. And of course when you really could do with one popping up, all goes silent.

I’ve written two or three short stories that genuinely came to me fully formed and out of the blue, and they were scrawled into notebooks in a feverish state. A recent (and very short) short was partly given to me in a dream, which sounds like complete arse, I know, but it’s true. So the rest of the time I am left staring sulkily at half formed titles and snippets in notebooks, willing them to suddenly become gorgeous little storylets, and… absolutely...nothing…happens.

So that’s my writing update! In other news I’m contemplating playing Mass Effect all the way through from the start, on Hardcore level, and as Space Bitch: The Shepard Who Taketh No Shit, Especially Not from Annoying Reporters. I just have to work up the patience to go through all the Mako levels again.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Post-its and Planning

So I completely forgot to update last week. I can’t even remember why now, but let’s just pretend it was due to a flurry of productivity on my part, and not just huge laziness, which is more likely but less heroic.

The Steel Walk is edging towards 100,000 words now and alarmingly enough, shows no particular signs of being near the end. At least I am well into the third act and having fun with the story; Eri is angrily traipsing through the swamps of the Green Jenny Council while evil things are afoot in all corners of Ferrum, and Saul has some difficult choices to make. I may even have some clue as to how the whole thing ends.

Writing The Steel Walk has been an education in the process of how to put a book together, although I’m not sure I’m any closer to figuring out the best way of doing it. So far each book has been approached differently, and I have learnt different lessons.

Bad Apple Bone- Started writing it before I even knew it was a book, and consequently I only had a vague idea of the plot by around the 30,000 words mark. An exciting if agonising way to put a novel together, it did however all fall together with surprising neatness. I’m sure this was a fluke, and unlikely to ever be repeated.

Bird and Tower- When I started this one for NaNoWriMo, I was very clear on the beginning and the end, and had a vague structure for the middle (“Quint searches for other siblings, hijinks ensue”) but what with the fabulous by-the-seat-of-your-leg-hats* approach of NaNo, if I did any more planning than that I don’t remember it. A joy to write, quite honestly, even if I kept forgetting one of the characters existed.

A Boy of Blood and Clay- A lesson in how it is wise to have, you know, even the slightest clue of how the plot will develop and who your characters are. Not sure what I was thinking with this one (I still believe that when it’s finished, it might be the best thing I’ve written)

Ink for Thieves- This book was a return to a vague plot outline and detailed character notes, and thanks again to the backside-wallop of NaNo, largely quite fun to write. It had it’s moments of “I have shamed myself and my ancestors with this book” but the characters came to life for me and behaved in naughty ways, the plot headache of the Embers resolved itself and I got to the end of it. After A Boy of Blood and Clay, that was a big relief.

So, what have I learnt? Mostly, that no planning is bad, except when it works, and over planning is good, except where it doesn’t. Does that make sense? I had detailed character notes for Eri and Saul before I started The Steel Walk, but they still went merrily ahead and behaved in all sorts of unexpected ways anyway, and Alice, a character who barely existed at the planning stage, has come to impact on the plot in all sorts of drastic ways.

The next, as yet unnamed project, is a sort-of-science-fiction first person narrative with strong crime elements (and a girl called Zootsi) so I think I have no choice; planning will be done, notes will be made, and post-its will be wasted, until I can go into NaNoWriMo this year knowing that I just have to fill in the fun bits. I may restrain myself from drawing a map though.

*for an explanation of leg-hats, please go and listen to The Soldiers of Tangent, the fab new comedy podcast from those behemoths of audio genius, Danny “The Accent” Davies and Marty “Churlish” Perrett.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Of Swords and Deviltry

I’m reading The First Book of Lankhmar at the moment, and I have to say it’s bloody good fun.

Fritz Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, barbarian warrior and thief/dark magician, are vibrant, adventurous and ever so slightly rude, taking you off to distant exotic lands full of evil dukes and treacherous beauties, shoving you right into the middle of fist fights and duels, while at the same time tipping a sly wink to the pettiness of human nature; even in the wild worlds of Nehwon, people are ultimately badly behaved and out for what they can get.

I stumbled across this (huge) collection of stories thanks to a number of articles I read concerning “sword and sorcery”. I had come to the conclusion, to my own vague surprise, that The Steel Walk falls firmly within this genre, when I had never really thought about what “sword and sorcery” actually entails. And you will find that any blog on the subject will mention Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and with good reason; there are swords aplenty, and dark magic, betrayal and lust and greed, and all the really good stuff that epic fantasy sometimes forgets about when its off on quests to defeat The Big Bad Thing in the East/West/Alternate Dimension.

Working my way through it whilst trying to ignore the cover (jeez, the cover is ugly. I have no shame at all about being a fantasy reader, and will gladly wave about on the bus a book with any number of dragons or scantily clad ladies on the front, but this is almost too embarrassing even for me. The huge tattooed man in the foreground looks more like he belongs in Eastenders, whereas the tiny bloke in the background looks a wee bit like Richard O’Brien about to whip his harmonica out. Neither remotely resembles the two main characters, so it is all a bit mystifying. Why, Fantasy Masterworks, why?)- I found myself vaguely reminded of Terry Pratchett. It’s the barbarian heroes, of course, and the Thieves Guild, and the dangerous magic. What it is, of course, is the source. Pratchett without the satire (but certainly not without any humour; Fafhrd’s dealings with young ladies had me chuckling out loud more than once), and it’s a joy to realise that the Discworld had a bigger, juicier older brother… Silly me.

These are the pitfalls and joys of accidentally working your way backwards through a genre, I suppose; I can only say that I wish I’d met up with our young warrior and thief much, much sooner…

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Worrying Rise in Omnivore Related Violence

Now, how to dress this blog post up as more than a simple plug for my story in the new issue of Hub? Hmm.

What’s that over there? Is that a badger with a gun? Goodness me, the moral decay of our natural wildlife continues apace.

And now, look at this:

Ahem. I’ve had some lovely feedback for this story, which is always a huge encouragement and an even bigger surprise. Big ol’ sweaty thanks to everyone who has read it so far and been kind enough to say lovely things at me.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Game is On!

I love the new Sherlock Holmes! Yes I do!

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories; or that is to say, I have always appreciated them from a distance. It’s a good thing, I like it, but I have never sought it out. So I was rather lukewarm to the idea of a modern remake, and only really sat down to watch it because Stephen Moffat was involved (or SteMo, as we now call him post-Bearcast), along with Mark Gatiss- both quite nifty gents when it comes to these telly box programmes.

I was prepared to like it or hate it, perfectly poised to swing either way (I was slightly wrongfooted by the trailer, which I saw only once and half way through- “Who is this stroppy bastard?” I proclaimed, “He’s strutting about like he’s Sherlock Holmes or... Oh.”). As it turned out, I loved it.

London looks as gorgeous as ever, Martin Freeman is restrained and showing his acting chops for once, rather than Timming it about all over the place, and the stories (only 3, alas) have been tightly written, tense, and with a sprinkling of humour. The real revelation has been Benedict Cumberbatch, the moody, cold, frighteningly clever and strangely feline Holmes, continually bristling with grace, whether he’s sweeping from the crime scene in that fabulous black coat, sticking a row of nicotine patches up his arm, or deducting at the speed of light.

There are other things to say about this modern retelling- the supporting cast are all top notch, particularly Mrs Hudson, the affectionate nods to the source material, Mark Gatiss pulling off being both sinister and endearing at the same time... But at the heart of it is the instantly appealing partnership of Holmes and Watson. Watson is amazed by Sherlock’s abilities, but he’s by no means a dullard himself, and although Sherlock finds it nigh on impossible to relate to anyone not super intelligent, it’s already clear that his relationship with John is keeping him from collapsing in on himself.

In short, it was great, and I sincerely hope we get some more episodes as soon as possible, because well-written, stylish drama is a rare joy. And I need to know what happens next.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Not much to say blog-wise today as I am suffering from the Tuesday-Blankoids. The writing is going steadily enough, although as @mygoditsraining described it on Twitter, at the moment it feels rather like a self imposed bi-polar disorder. I’m good/I’m shit/I’m good/I’m shit/I’m good/I’m shit, all the live long day. This is all part of the charming struggle that is writing a book, no doubt, and it’s important to remind myself at times like this that in the end, I’m telling the story because I want to know what happens. It pleases me to piece the story together to see where it goes- the rest of it I can worry about later.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


A sort of updatey blog post today.

Progress on The Steel Walk continues in patchy fashion. I have to admit, writing for an hour in the morning before work does appear to work, and I’m certainly getting more words done on a regular basis than I have ever done before. I’m up to around 63,000 words at the moment, which is traditionally where the story grinds to a halt and I wrestle with the idea of just jacking the whole thing in (A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded at this point). Fingers crossed, that hasn’t happened yet, but I do know from the previous two books that the last 40-50,000 is always a bitch, and it certainly isn’t going to get any easier.

In happy news, I’ve had another short story accepted by The Hub, which should be in the next issue. Hurrah! I’ve been reading George R.R Martin’s short story collection Dream Songs, which is equal parts inspiring and daunting. I think what impresses me the most about his short work is that with many of them I could see an entire book written about the characters featured, or just set in the worlds he has created. I’d love to get this sense of scope in my own work, but I think that’s a way off yet.

I have also been thinking about blank-spacing. You know how you often find that ideas occur to you when you’re doing some sort of monotonous physical task and you’re not thinking about anything in particular? It’s day dreaming I suppose, and it’s an important part of a writer’s life. I notice that a lot of writers talk on their blogs about going for walks (especially when stuck for ideas) and this often helps them on their way. Justin Cronin, author of The Passage (soon to be gracing tube carriages everywhere, no doubt) came up with most of that book while out running. I have found that I often come up with short story ideas while I’m in the shower or washing up (this rather suggests that I need wet hands to think of anything good…)

Anyway, it appears that simply sitting and staring into space is not enough; we need to be physically occupied, as if once our bodies are distracted our brains can start thinking again. I have decided to call this Blank-Spacing- mainly because it sounds all business wordy and more official than Day Dreaming, and it sort of describes how you need to empty your head about before excellent ideas fill it up. When I was little, I used to ride my bike around the close on an endless circuit with one of my soft toys stuck in the basket, and I used to tell him or her stories as they occurred to me (usually it was Louie, Donald Duck’s green baseball cap wearing nephew, or Mousie. I think you can guess what sort of toy Mousie was).

Ideally I’d like to go for a few walks, or perhaps take up skipping. Or knitting. Or kung-fu. Or break dancing. This blank-spacing/day dreaming period is quite vital I think, but what with life and writing already taking up all my time, it is very difficult to allocate a decent amount of time to it.

I’d love to know how other writer’s handle day dream time. Is it vital to you? Does it happen when you’re supposed to be doing other things? Do you consciously pursue it? Tell me!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Voices in Your Head

Some writers hear their characters in their heads. Have running conversations, arguments, even have to put up with particularly pushy characters complaining about what’s happening in their story. I know this because I read about it all the time on other writerly blogs. It’s fondly regarded, I believe, as a sort of eccentricity that comes along with being a writer- if you write stories, you’re probably not alone in your head.

This makes me worry that I’m doing it wrong. My characters don’t talk to me. They’re not my friends and they don’t keep me company on the bus home by complaining about the state of my shoes or harassing me to get on to the exciting scene. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about them, because I do, very much, but always in the context of the story. When I am following the story in my head, day dreaming where it will go next, I am observing the characters closely, and feeling what they’re feeling, but they don’t talk to me.

The reason, I think, (and this sounds weird) is that it wouldn’t be canon. My characters don’t know who I am because I don’t exist in their world, and my world wouldn’t make sense to them, so they don’t chat casually with me either. Eri Fellsmith lives in a world of swords and the walking dead- I’m not sure what she’d make of a receptionist from South East London, other than my clothes are really strange and I can’t hold a sword to save my life. It just wouldn’t be authentic, to me, which is why my mind seems unable to make that leap to conversations in my head.

Does any of this make sense? Does anyone else out there not hear the voices, and wonder if this will make them a less competent writer? Any writers who believe that it is essential to the writing process?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Book Meme!

Here we go! This one is doing the rounds at the moment, and it gives me the opportunity to waffle on about books for ages. Excellent stuff on this meme over at Unbound: and at Adam Christopher's Blog:

One Book That Changed Your Life

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams- I read this when I had just started senior school I think. I’d had one life changing book previous to that; The Lord of the Rings had blown my tiny little mind the summer before, and caused me to dump the chronicles of Narnia faster than a very hot thing. LOTR opened my mind to the idea of epic adventure, of truly risking your life for a noble quest, of heroics and true love and all that good stuff. Hitch Hiker’s Guide had a more subtle, but altogether deeper impact, because it gave me an adult sense of humour. I don’t mean I developed a love of knob jokes, but rather that my idea of funny was utterly changed. Over the course of that book I think I grew up a bit, and it introduced me to science-fiction too.

It’s also the sort of book you can read over and over again at different times in your life and get something new from it every time. Douglas Adams gave us a gem with that book, and he remains my hero because of it.

One Book You Have To Read More Than Once

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett- I’ve read HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy around about 30 times now. Consequently, I don’t think I can read it again for a very long time without going slightly loopy, so for this one I’ve elected Good Omens. I have two copies of this book- the pristine one signed by Mr Pratchett and the copy that has since fallen to bits due to endless readings. It’s enormously funny, full of absolutely memorable characters and even has some nifty things to say about nature, nurture, and humanity. Odd phrases from this book continually float around in my mind, so that I will often think “Buggre ye alle this” when I’m stuck doing something boring, or think of Crowley when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

How could I not adore a book that combines two of my favourite authors?

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island

The Stand by Stephen King- Now, if I was really stuck on an island I’d want quantity as well as quality, and The Stand certainly has that. I love that King appears to have avoided all editing on this book (well, mostly. I’d make sure I’d have the uncut edition) and gives us the juicy details on all the characters and shows us the world falling apart in widescreen. This is King at his absolute best, introducing us to characters we know and love within a couple of pages, then taking us with them on a truly harrowing journey beyond the end of the world. I remember them all, and what they went through, as well as if a good friend sat me down and told me the story.

If nothing else, at least I could reflect that I’m only stuck on a desert island, which isn’t nearly as bad as dying of Captain Trips.

Two Books That Made You Laugh

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson- I don’t read much non-fiction. In fact, thinking about it Bryson is about the only non-fiction I do read, and that’s because he is both laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny, and incredibly knowledgeable. Small Island is my favourite because he’s writing about England, and even though I haven’t actually been to all of the places he talks about, the familiarity of the peculiar English character had me giggling like a loon. Gods, we are a strange bunch. An American with a deliciously dry sense of humour, he understands us better than we do, and managed the near impossible task of making me feel patriotic. Even if it’s only for our near obsessive love for stodgy puddings.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe- These little books have me in fits all the way through. Written for a bet to impress a girl (supposedly) they contain more thrilling pirate action, monkeys, and prize winning hams than you can throw your wooden leg at.

One Book That Made You Cry

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin- Alright, I’ve cheated slightly with this one, but I think it’s worth noting that as a whole, this series has caused more actual blubbings than anything else I’ve read- even a few in public! I read them only recently, finally giving in to the general hubbub of praise surrounding the books, and my goodness… they were an absolute joy. Apart from when I was crying, obviously.

The thing is, Martin is excellent at creating characters you really love (Tyrion might be one of my favourite characters in a fantasy book ever) and then really putting them through absolute hell. I had the misfortune to read about the Red Wedding while on the way to work- I had to catch my breath and stare furiously out of the window so that no one else on the bus would see me struggling not to cry. Strong stuff. Excellent stories.

It’s also worth noting that A Song of Ice and Fire has also given me the biggest number of “OH MY GOD WHAT THE CRAP- ??!” moments. Seriously good books.

One Book You’d Wish You’d Written

American Gods by Neil Gaiman- One of my favourite books of all time, so yes, it would be lovely if I’d written it. It contains all the stuff I’m crazy about; mythology, gods, horror, mystery and weirdness. It’s the sort of book that pleases me deeply as a reader because it gives you credit- there’s stuff running all the way through that’s right there for you to figure out, if you can see it. Each time I read it, I see a little more. I would love to write something that has so many layers to it, and uses the wealth of folklore and mythology so well.

Just before A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded in on itself, I realized it was my own sort of American Gods- a London Gods, perhaps. I hope I can finish it one day.

One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written

Dark Tower 7 by Stephen King- I don’t want to speak ill of books really, especially not when two of the books in this series are some of my absolute favourites. But let’s be honest- this is an easy choice for me. The last book in a series of 7 written over, I dunno, a very long time indeed, this was the biggest disappointment I’ve ever read. I can’t really go into why without major spoilers and getting all narked about it again, but suffice to say that I’d rather have had no ending than the one we got. This is a book where Stephen King himself interrupts before the final chapter to tell you that you probably won’t like the ending, so maybe you’d be better off not reading the rest… The only book I’ve ever thrown across the room at the finish. And it’s a really big book.

Two Books You Are Currently Reading

Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Dream Songs Part 2 by George R.R Martin- I’m also reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, but I’ve finished the first part so I’m taking a little break (apparently “fantasy literature” means completely bananas, but I am enjoying it). The first Harry Dresden book is great fun so far, and G.R.R.M is a master of short stories.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I’ve wanted to read this since I read Stephen King’s comments on it in Danse Macabre, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to it. One of the panellists at Alt.Fiction mentioned it in the Genre Books You Must Read panel, so I really need to get my arse in gear.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

From the Dark Side Anthology

Hello all! I was very naughty and missed my blog window last week. I know, I shall send myself off to bed without any tea tonight. But to make up for it slightly, today I have a super exciting blog with links and a video and very exciting news! See? I'm not all that bad.

The From the Dark Side Anthology is very close to being released. Soon you will be able to get your mitts on some excellent short horror fiction and poetry from some up and coming authors of towering talent and amazingness. And I have a story in there too. If you would like to see some excerpts to get you in the mood, do go along to where our illustrious leader Jennifer Hudock has been putting up some groovy little teasers of the fiction on offer.

It's not just about getting some chilling stories for a weeny amount of cash though- the From the Dark Side Anthology has been put together to benefit the Office of Letters and Light, . Now anyone who's been reading this blog for a while will know that I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo, that crazy event in November where thousands of writers get together to encourage, cajole, bully and often bribe each other towards writing 50,000 words in a single month. Without the Office of Letters and Light we wouldn't have NaNo or any of the other lovely events they organise- events that encourage everyone to follow their creative dreams and get that secret novel out into the open where it can breath. These are important things, if you ask me. Their Young Writers Programme in particular opens up the world of writing to kids- I wish when I was little there had been such a fabulous group of people around to say "You go ahead and write that Unicorns in Space Saga- no one else will be able to tell that story quite the way you will!"

So watch the trailer, read the excerpts (mine is here ) and then treat yourself to a copy on Friday 9th. Because we all deserve a bit of dark lovin'.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Most Important Question in Geekdom :o

Today I must ask you the most important question in geekdom. Are you ready? Okay. Brace yourself.

Place the following science-fiction franchises in order of greatness:

Star Trek

Star Wars

Doctor Who

You might be able to guess my own preferences by the order in which I have already placed them, but here are some points to consider.

All three have been hugely influential to the field. All three have die-hard fans who are able to quote reams of dialogue, episode names, and inside leg measurements of lead actors. All three are pretty bloody brilliant, in my opinion.

All three have also had their dodgy moments. I grew up with the TNG crew and learnt to love the Original series of Star Trek, but gawd help me I am still to this day violently bored within minutes of most DS9 episodes, and I never felt like Enterprise was really Star Trek (Voyager is a sort of guilty pleasure; yes there was a lot of dreck but when it’s on I find myself strangely drawn to it…).

Star Wars- well, do I need to tell you where the crap set in? Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians and jedi moppets. The original trilogy gave us three of the best films ever made, and had an immeasurable impact on cinema and science-fiction in general. The prequels gave us boredom, disappointment and enough cringing to cause cramp.

As someone quite wise and possibly drunk pointed out to me a while ago, at its worst Doctor Who is a “bit silly”. At its best, it is some of the most thought provoking science-fiction we have on our telly. I don’t have the connection to Who that most fans will have, since I only saw two episodes of the McCoy Doctor growing up, and they scared the wotsits out of me, but I am a fan of the newer incarnations, which have done a fantastic job of creating future geeks in the children brave enough to watch it. Who has been going for so long that of course it has it’s weak moments, that for my mind largely involve female companions in questionable clothes running along bumpy quarries, and having witnessed the episode that is Delta and the Bannermen, I’m amazed anyone ever watched it again.

But yes. Three of the greats- I ask you, which is the greatest?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Alt Fiction 2010

So this weekend gone was Alt Fiction weekend, and a marvellous time was had by all.

I won’t say too much about it, because I suspect it has already been blogged to infinity and back by better bloggers than I, but I will just run down a few personal highlights.

This was the first “big” convention I’d been to, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better one to start with- it was well organised, with no huge geek pile-ups, and plenty of room for people to sit comfortably in all the talks, and there was a general relaxed atmosphere that added to the friendliness of the event. There was a cafe/bar on the ground floor that served as a great “Let’s have a bit of a rest here and oh, go and talk to so and so…” area, and we ended up spending a remarkably long day having quite a jolly old time.

Things I particularly enjoyed:

Pete Crowther (publisher and writer and apparently very lovely chap) introduced the con, and then appeared on many panels, and was immediately tremendously friendly and enthusiastic. I think I could have happily followed him from panel to panel all day and had a most informative and enjoyable time.

The Hack and Slash vs Sparkly Vampires panel, where Kari Spelling (fantasy author and fan of duels) described the Angry Boner Man character apparently very popular in Paranormal Romance. I had no idea about Angry Boner Man, but described in that way I suddenly am able to spot Angry Boner Man cropping up everywhere. So to speak.

The How to Get Published Panel, which featured lots of great advice from John Jarrold and Stephen Jones and others. It was both inspiring and vaguely terrifying, realising not just how much work was involved, but also how much luck is needed to get anywhere. I’m not sure if I was exhilarated or depressed coming out of that discussion, but I did feel like I had more of an idea of how the whole thing works. (Jon Weir was on the panel too, that nice young man from Gollancz, and I had that creeping feeling of “Oh no, I’m fairly sure I spoke to you before when I was quite drunk….”)

And then there was the general chatting and meeting of people that forms so much of these things, all of which was a delight. I was tremendously impressed by the lovely hair of Mark Charon Newton (the charming author of Nights of Villjamur) , and amazed that Simon Guerrier (writes lots of things, but most excitingly for me, Being Human books) remembered talking to me at a previous thingy (again, I was quite drunk). I met the lovely Alasdair Stuart (The Hub and Angry Robot Books) while I was rather over excitedly buying a copy of Black Static and had a groovy chat about short story writing. And I am pleased to tell you that Paul Cornell (Doctor Who, comics, Pulse… many many things) likes the name of this blog. So there you go.

A great weekend, and in truth, there were too many lovely moments to list them all here. But a big thank you to everyone who took the time to have a chat with me, and I hope to not be quite so painfully shy at the next one.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

7am is early for me, okay?

Some things I am excited about this week:

At this very moment, the next issue of Black Static is winging its merry way towards me, bringing with it all the Campaign for Real Fear stories- including mine. I am very much looking forward to seeing it in print, of course, but I’m also excited to read the other stories and see what statistics were thrown up by the entries. You can find out about the Campaign here, if you’re not familiar with it:

I’ve started a new writing schedule, which involves me getting up brain meltingly early (well, 7am) and carting myself and my notebook off to a local Library, where I take up part of their Quiet Study area working on The Steel Walk (I’d feel slightly bad about this if it weren’t for the fact that everyone else appears to be there to read the newspapers). I’m hoping to do this as often as possible, because against all reasonable sense, I seem to produce some vaguely decent writing at that time of the day. Perhaps it’s the lack of distractions, or perhaps I’m in so much shock at being up early I forget to be tired; either way, The Steel Walk is chuntering on again, thankfully.

And on Saturday I’m going to Alt Fiction! Where I will get to mingle about with other writerly types, and many, many twitter peeps, and hopefully hear lots of interesting talks about genre writing. I will learn things! I will meet people! I will (quite possibly) get drunk! I haven’t been to many conventions, and this one looks like it will be both hectic and brilliant fun. Now, if I can only decide which of the talks to go to…

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fevre Dreams

I recently finished reading Fevre Dream by George R.R Martin, and I thought I’d spend a little time on here recommending it as highly as possible to all of you. Yes indeed.

I don’t often do book reviews on my blog, partly because as an amateur writer myself I find it a bit rude to criticise the work of other writers (I know that might be a little silly) and partly because I tend to be reading back and forth through backlists- does anyone care, at this point, what I thought of The Stars My Destination? It came out quite a while ago, after all.

(This is especially daft because I love reading book blogs, no matter if they’re reviewing new or old stuff. Perhaps truthfully it is because I don’t think I’m very good at it)

And besides, I can’t say all that much about Fevre Dream without giving away all the juicy bits to people who have yet to read it. I think I’m safe in saying that it is about vampires, and it is set in the latter half of the nineteenth century, along the Mississippi river. If that feels a bit Interview with the Vampire-ish, then I suppose it is a little, but that’s really where the similarities end.

I wanted to say a couple of things about this book. Mainly, that I love the main character, Abner Marsh. A larger than life steamboat captain with a bristling black beard, warts, and a tendency to shout at people and poke them with his hickory stick, Abner is the sort of character that you might expect in a supporting role. When he turned up in the first chapter, I admit I thought, “Well okay, I suppose the dashingly handsome hero will turn up in the next scene”, but Abner is about as heroic a character as you can get, warts and all.

He reminds me of Martin’s other great hero-in-disguise, Tyrion Lannister from the Song of Ice and Fire books. Technically Tyrion is a dastardly Lannister, and you spend much of A Game of Thrones thinking you really ought to hate him along with Cersei and Jamie… but if you’re me, by the end of book two, he was fighting out the top spot for favourite character along with Jon Snow and Arya Stark.

Martin excels at the flawed, human characters, the ones who make mistakes and do bad things but then make it up in brave, human ways. They are the ones you root for in the end, and the ones that stay with you once you’ve finished the book, as Abner and his hickory stick will.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Joy of Books

It would be a bit of an understatement to say there has been a lot of talk about ebooks lately. Just yesterday I read a very interesting blog post about over at Angry Robot Books, by my good friend Adam Christopher:

I think they’re a neat idea. Certainly as someone who has more books than actual physical space in my flat, I can definitely understand the uses of being able to have many many books on one small device. They also look very cool and swish, and it appeals to my love for all of this fabulous new technology we have- I may not use half of it, but it pleases me that it exists.

So why then do I read these articles and nod happily and still know that I have absolutely no intention of getting an ebook reader? If anyone needs one, it’s me- my appetite for books is clearly obsessive, and the regular argument with my Mum about where I can possibly keep them all gets more heated every week (not that I live with her- I think it just annoys Mum that I sort of filled up her house with books and then left, and now I’m doing the same with my own place…).

But in truth, they leave me cold. And it comes from a real, genuine (possibly obsessive) love for the physicality of books. We all talk about the pleasure of browsing shelves and the smell of second hand book shops, but for me it’s more than that even. I like the shape of them, the weight, the smell. I like that I can shove them in my handbag (sometimes two or three if I dump the nonessential items, like keys and wallets) or read them in the bath. I like the fine cracked lines you get on the spine as you read them- and it is the lowly paperback I love most of all, believe it or not. I like that feeling you get when you emerge from the bookshop with a bag heavy with new reads, each one a little world of new stuff.

When I am feeling sad- and this is possibly the most embarrassing evidence of my unholy book-love- I like to sit by my bookshelves and look at them all. Reading the spines, pulling out the occasional title that I haven’t seen for a while, smelling them… This has actually been known to make me feel better. It calms my soul and reminds me that books make everything right with the world.

Perhaps this book-love has been expanded by a number of sources. I studied book arts at college, learning about the beauty of a well put together book, as well as how to make them myself. I have a degree in illustration, and I’ve never met an illustrator who didn’t have an expansive collection. And I work for a company that are utterly committed to producing gorgeous, hard back slip cased books the old fashioned way. When I was very small I once accidently tore the page of my library book and I was inconsolable (I know, weird kid).

It’s not just about the story for me. Books are pages and spines and pictures and inky print. Books are sacred objects. Books are art. I love my battered old paperback copy of Perdido Street Station just as much as my signed, slip cased first edition of The Graveyard book- they are equally romantic and beautiful for me.
I am not an ebook basher. I think it’s a neat idea, I really do. But I cannot love them like I love the printed page.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Short Story News!

Where did Tuesday come from? My grasp of time is a little slippery at the moment; as most of you will probably already know, I’ve had a sort of lingering cold type thing for a couple of weeks, and I appear to be conducting an experiment in to how many nights you can go without sleep before you go totally around the bend.

Apparently, thanks to a long parade of colds beginning with last year’s Week of Potential Swine Flu, I have managed to leave my lungs in a slightly less than operational state and now I’m huffing and coughing about all over the shop.

Despite the lurgy I do in fact have good news, news that I was too poorly to blog about yesterday. One of my short stories, The Sea, The Sea, The Sea has been published in the online magazine, The Hub-

It’s pretty short and there are lots of other interesting things in the magazine, so you could go and read it now. Yep. I’ll even let you off this end bit here if you’d rather go and read the story. Because this bit isn’t all that interesting. I might add amusing tags at the end but that’s about it.

But you can still come back here and tell me if you liked it. That would be lovely.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

By the pricking of my thumbs

I realised an odd thing today. I identify with the witch.

Or at least, I am drawn to witches more often than almost anything else (aside from possibly, uh, child sacrifice). I was reading a short story by George R.R Martin called In the Lost Lands, a lovely thing concerning werewolves and a woman who, although she is never named as such, is almost certainly a witch of a sort. It occurred to me that I liked it especially because Grey Alys was written with sympathy, and not entirely as a dirty ol’ monster.

When I think about it, I come back to witches again and again in all of my work. Bad Apple Bone is the most obvious example, as it concerns a great many witches, some of whom are bad, some of whom are good, and some, in the case of Noon, who are just tremendously lazy. Even if I don’t have a witch by name in my story, I will undoubtedly have a crazy old woman who is more than she appears to be, such as Moony Sue in A Boy of Blood and Clay, a woman who is possibly an elderly wise woman and just as possibly the River Thames. Bird and Tower, and Ink for Thieves both have examples, and in The Steel Walk I have returned to big ol’ groups of proper witches, with the Green Jenny Council- and there’s not a single good apple amongst that lot.

None of this was deliberate, so where has it come from? When I was a kid I was a big fan of the more gruesome fairytales, and most of those involved witches (Hansel and Gretel- when you really think about it, how deeply fucked up is that story? Love it). When it came to Disney films, I was always vaguely on the witchy side, and who can blame me? We had Marvellous Madam Mim, Ursula, Maleficent and the scary old bag from Snow White, all of whom were more interesting than the supposed heroes and heroines of the movies. And the Wicked Witch of the West had flying monkeys at her disposal! That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

And when I went to college I spent a lot of time reading about folklore and fairy tales, even writing essays on it- I might have many issues with my time at art college, but I can’t complain about the freedom of the course; you could write about anything you wanted to, as long as you did it reasonably well. My dissertation was even about witches, in a way; I wrote about the evil mother figure that features as the enemy in so many stories, such as Coraline’s Other Mother, or Yubaba from Spirited away. That research was enormous fun.

But the biggest influence has to be, without a shadow of a doubt, the marvelous witches of the Discworld. I loved the witches novels the best I think, because it was always Pratchett writing at his best; about the conventions of folklore, and the strange and unfathomable ways of people. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg were instantly deeply familiar to me, through my own Nan, through my aunts, various school teachers and even the dinner lady everyone was scared of- I knew these ladies, and they both scared me and made me laugh. They may seem like odd examples, given the dark nature of many of my own witches (Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg might have been fearsome, but they usually had your best interests at heart) but I believe that Pratchett’s witches showed me that witches were also people; capable of being good and bad, and therefore more realistic. And through that they became the characters I would be most excited to write about.

Go on, tell me. Which is your favourite witch?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Fickle Story Pickle

I was one of the winners of The Campaign for Real Fear, as you are probably aware by now- mainly because I’ve been harking on about it on twitter, and because the blog entry right next to this one is also talking about it...

Needless to say, I’m still over the moon. Not just because it means publication in a well respected and exciting magazine, and hearing my words spoken in a podcast version of the collection (which might freak me out a little bit, I think) but also because it will make me write more short stories. I have a slightly fractious, frustrating relationship with short fiction. Some days I will be in the mood to write one, and my brain will go utterly blank. I’ll sit and stare at my notebook and try to remember what I dreamt about the night before or trawl through some random childhood memories (childhood being what I like to write about the most) and nothing will come to me. Sometimes I’ll even get down (one of three) editions of Brewer’s we have in the house and choose entries from this at random, because this worked once before and produced possibly the best thing I’ve written (The story was called London Stone and you can still read it- there’s a link for issue 9 of Pantechnicon on the left-hand side). But invariably, that doesn’t work either.

So I’ll have a month or so of no short stories at all, but that’s okay because I’m normally entangled in a long term project anyway. Then out of the blue a story will come, when I’m not expecting it, and I will have no idea where it has come from. I have to get the entire thing out in one afternoon or I’ll lose it, but it’s there. I see writers on twitter and other interweb places and they are capable of pulling stories out of thin air and doing it over and over again- I am so jealous! The reason that The Campaign for Real Fear gives me hope is that, for once, the story came when I called it. And apparently, it was even worth reading!

Big thanks again to my proof readers, who spot all the stuff I never would, and I look forward to reading the other winners.

ps) I changed the photo from the one where I'm looking with distrust at a chintzy bed spread- I think this one is more engimatic. Best you don't know it was taken down the pub. I've also updated the links so they actually go somewhere now. Hurrah!