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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 12: “I present to you”

The aim of this blog when I started was to follow my progress in putting together a collection of my short stories with the plan to self-publish.

The writing of these stories has been under way for a while now and all seven are at various stages as I do everything to avoid the dreaded five (see my earlier blog post about what used to stop me writing).

This week I thought I would go into more detail about the project itself and talk a little about each of the stories that will be included.

So, without further ado . . .




UNCANNY TALES: volume 1
“The Past Is But Prologue”



IMPRISONED

Peter Grainger has spent the last few years being moved from prison to prison. He knows he will never be set free and his reputation makes him feared by those on both side of the bars. He thinks he has seen all that evil has to offer. Today he will realise he hasn’t.

IMPRISONED was written as a 2000 word story for an SFX Magazine competition back in 2006 (I think). It was originally called The Decider and it made it into the final fifty despite having minimum editing. I wonder how it would have done had it been writing by present day me instead with a group of readers to help me shape it.

Last year I rewrote the story, breaking it free of its word constraint and allowing Peter Grainger to be a character with feelings and history. It’s had several drafts and is the closest to completion.



JINGLE HELL

A freak snow storm forces a small group of people to spend the night trapped in their office building. It doesn’t take long before tension grows among some of the staff. But there are worse things to worry about then people’s bad habits and half empty vending machines. Something else has come with the snow. Something undead. Something hungry.

I came up with the idea for this about eight years ago when heavy snow did leave several work colleagues unable to get home one night. Nothing horrific happened to them.

This is still in early stages but will end up being close to novella length.



THE OFFER

Colin has skills but he doesn’t have much confidence. He’s also never been asked to attend an interview that he never applied for so today he’s a little dubious. Will Colin get the job? Does he want the job? What exactly is the job?

This is one of those stories that came from such a small idea. How long would you stick at an interview that got weirder and weirder at each stage?



LOVE BITE

Alex loves his wife Lorna. Despite some tough times he couldn’t imagine life without her. But some things just don’t get covered in your vows. Like what to do when the woman you love becomes a Vampire. Can this marriage survive such a dramatic lifestyle change?

This one was written for an online writing group just before I got married. It had to be a 1000 word horror / fantasy / sci-fi story using the theme of love. When I was looking at my stories to include in this collection I originally dismissed LOVE BITE but then I decided to set myself the challenge of fixing it.



THE CHALLENGE

On tonight’s episode of ‘The Challenge’ we’ll find out if one of our new contestants has what it takes to kill the indestructible Sean Newman.

After a morbid discussion with colleagues about the fear of surviving a suicide attempt with a disability I wondered what would happen to a man that wanted to die but could not be killed. I didn’t know what to do with it until a few months later I caught the last hour of the Running Man on late night TV. It’s kind of an extreme Britain’s Got Talent.



FIGURE OF EIGHT

Ben and Tim are dealing with their parent’s divorce and have moved to a new house with their mum. One day they spot their neighbour behaving strangely in his back garden. Tim just thinks their neighbour is crazy but his older brother is sure there’s more to it than that.

This is one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written and came about last summer while I was walking my son around our back garden in a figure of eight to help him nap. I had my movie soundtracks playing on my i-pod and my brain wandered as it usually does. Half an hour later and I had an idea for a story that put a supernatural slant on what I was doing, simple as that. As my son slept I continued to form the story and spent the next week of lunch breaks writing it up.



STAR

In the blackness of space, on the edge of our galaxy, a being appears and begins its journey towards our planet with a single, important purpose.

This piece is short and sweet; a nice way to round out the collection. It was written as part of the same writing group challenged that LOVE BITE came from. This theme was transport. I went as far from obvious as I could.




So that’s the seven I’m currently working on at the moment. I’m hoping I can have this available to purchase by the end of the year at the latest; earlier would be fine but I don’t want to rush it. It does seem like a relaxed goal but there’s a lot to do after the writing that is new to me like cover design and e-publishing.

If things work out well then I have plans to keep the momentum going into year two. I have more short stories that I’d like to put out as UNCANNY TALES: volume 2 as well as releasing the first NaNoWriMo novel I finished. And to top it off I’m hoping to start a project I’ve been planning since last year by releasing a ten part story as monthly novellas.

I really hope this is the small start to a big future but for now let’s just see how I do with UNCANNY TALES: volume 1.


See you in seven.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 11: “Gone but not forgotten”

The white arrow, forever pointing north-west, glides slowly down until it reaches its destination. Beneath it is a glowing ‘SEND’ button. The arrow trembles a little; left to right, right to left.

Nervous.

A breath is drawn. A mental checklist is completed. The arrow freezes.

CLICK.

With that it cannot be undone. It has gone now, travelling a million miles an hour to a place of judgement. Now all that is left to do is wait.



In other words, I’ve sent off my 1500 word story CONDOLENCE to the SFX magazine competition. Soon it will be read along with other short zombie fiction, perhaps being deemed worthy of making the final few that get passed to author Darren Shan.

I’ve sent other stories in for competitions before this one but, for some reason, this is the first time that I’ve had butterflies during the process.

Before you jump to conclusions regarding said butterflies I would like to clarify that they were not due to being star struck at the thought of a celebrity in the field of writing possibly reading my work. I’m not denying that I would be ecstatic if that happened because it would be amazing. However, it’s not the reason I was tense clicking on the ‘Send’ button.

You see, as with many wannabe writers, I’m not the world’s most confident person. One of the things holding me back in the past was the fear of showing people my work.

I’ve never thought my stuff was crap. If that had been the case I would have stopped years ago. But I don’t think it’s the greatest ever and that it will go on to sell millions and millions followed by worldwide translations and multiple movie deals being made. Perhaps it can be considered a weakness in this business but I prefer to think of myself as a realist. I know my limits and I’m taking this journey one step at a time.

I’ve accepted that I’m not the world’s greatest undiscovered writer. Anything I’ve sent off before has not been weighed down with any expectation. If I had won anything (which I haven’t) then it would have been fantastic and perhaps fuelled a fire beneath me that I so very much needed back then. But, to date, I’ve never been disappointed. I send something off and get on with something else.

So why the butterflies this time?

Because there’s something different about this one. I’ve liked everything I’ve ever written, good or bad. But I love CONDOLENCE. It’s the little zombie story that could. I’m proud of it not because of what it represents personally as with some of my other stories like IMPRISONED or STAR. I’m proud of the actual writing and the characters and the story. It all works. It might be the best thing I’ve written so far.

And I want to win.

I’ve avoided looking at the story since the night I clicked ‘Send’. I’m scared to find an error that I can no longer fix. The draft wasn’t rushed by any means. I had six beta readers go over it more than once. I’m a little anxious because each of them found different mistakes and their findings didn’t overlap. In fact on the night I sent it in, the wife and I did a final pass each and found three more spelling errors and a line that I wasn’t happy with.

I guess its things like this that have put me off editing one of my NaNoWriMo novels. If this is the stress and worry over a 1500 word short then multiply that up to match something that’s 50,000 plus (I think my beta readers have all just applied for secret relocation).

I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. And I will get to it.

So, come June when issue #250 of SFX magazine hits the shelves I might find disappointment with something I’ve written for the first time. This is what pride in your works feels like.

Butterflies.

I guess its fingers crossed and all that jazz.

Only time will tell. In the mean time I’ve got some short stories to finish and take pride in.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 10: “5 Ways to be a writer”

Before I really begin lets get one thing straight; I’m not a published writer. What unfolds below isn’t the advice from someone with any experience of becoming a writer. Not yet.

Instead this post is more of a “this is the path I’ve taken; perhaps if you’re lost you might like to follow along with me for a while.” Maybe you’ll take heed of the five tips below for a short while until you cross paths with advice and methods that better suit you. Or you could match me and we both end up getting published and doing a joint book signing at the London Waterstones within the next couple of years.

So over the last year or so these are things that I’ve discovered and am now utilising to the fullest potential

* * * * *

1) LISTEN TO THOSE THAT HAVE MADE IT

These people have sold books. That means there’s a good chance they might know what they are talking about. As with all advice you can’t take everything as gospel but, worst case scenario, 10% of what they talk about might be useful. Find that 10% and make it work for you.

The best way to do this is not just pick the most successful authors out there. Whilst I have read the Harry Potter books and admire JK Rowling’s success, she isn’t an author who I follow. Same goes for James Patterson. That man has a book on my supermarket book shelf every week and my wife loves them but it’s not a genre that interests me or an output I could ever match.

So instead I follow authors who I read because I like what they write and never miss a book; Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Adam Christopher. I follow their blogs and I read interviews with them, find out how they got to where they are now and what methods they used.

I also follow a couple of podcasts. I like podcasts because you can get other things done while listening to them. At the weekend, if the weather is nice, I take my son out in his push chair and listen to episodes of ‘I Should Be Writing’ (Mur Lafferty) and Writing Excuses (Brandon Sanderson and his merry gang). These go into nice detail about many different aspects of writing and getting published and answer a lot of questions about the craft.
  

  
2) SPACE

Not the great cosmos out there. No, this is a more important space. A writer’s space.

It doesn’t have to be that antique writing desk you always dreamed about owning in the study of your sixteen bedroom mansion, the one that is surrounded by all those classic books you’ll never read.

It just has to be somewhere that you feel comfortable, somewhere that feels right. The dining room table once the family are in bed? Sure. The shed at the bottom of the garden with just enough room for you and the cheap desk you picked up for a fiver at the car boot sale? Why the hell not. It doesn’t even have to be quite. JK Rowling wrote a lot of the first Harry Potter book in a cafĂ©.

I currently get the majority of my writing done in the work canteen. I grab a free table, stick my earphones in, pick a movie soundtrack (more on that in a future post) and write in a notebook for sixty minutes.

Whatever works for you. Just make it yours.



3) READ

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”Stephen King

For me, I believe the reading came first. My imagination was fuelled by those early stories I read growing up and my brain became so full it began spitting stories back out. My stories.

While I can’t prove it, I can’t imagine that there is a writer out there who doesn’t enjoy reading. Perhaps they don’t always find the time to sit down with a good book once they are successful but I bet they still wish they could.

When reading your favourite books think about what it is you like about them that makes you come back for more. Pay attention to technique and style. See what works and what doesn’t.

In the early days of writing go ahead and copy the style of your favourite author. Take existing characters you already know and love and write fan fiction. Comic book artists do this. Think of it as training. Slowly you will drop the things that don’t work for you and begin to get bored of the constraints of other peoples characters.

But whatever you do, don’t stop reading.



4) SET YOURSELF TARGETS

Give yourself a daily or weekly word count and find little snippets of free time around all the other stuff going on in your life.

NaNoWriMo is great for this. The daily 1667 word target is what keeps me going. I have my spreadsheet that shows how far ahead or behind I am at the end of each day. Without those bite size targets to aim for and stay ahead of, the 50,000 total target would terrify me.

So if you have a busy week and you can’t see where you’ll fit in a three hour mammoth writing session then just aim at 500 words a day. At the end of the week that’s 3500.

A little at a time is better than nothing at all.



5) WRITING

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

There will always be a reason not to write. Feeding the baby. Putting the washing out. Watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones. You will never be able to ignore these parts of your life (even the great television).

Instead, make writing an equal. Get in from work, do the chores, have your dinner and then block in one hour to write. And then watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones as a reward (go on, you deserve it).

Gone on line to see what’s going on in your writers groups? Great. And while you’ve got the laptop on, write some more of that novel you’re working on.

The wife’s gone out to a Zumba class for the evening? Sit down on the sofa and work on the second draft of that short story you wrote at lunch time.

At the end of the day if you want to write, and I mean really, really want to write then you won’t need to find the time. It will find you.

Just be ready for it.

* * * * *

And there it is. These are the five pillars I’ve been using to bolster my writing. Hopefully they help.

I’m off now. Got dinner to cook and some TV to watch.

What? I’m allowed. I’ve already been writing tonight. I’ve been writing this post. That counts, right?


See you in seven.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Interlude 002

EX-PURGATORY – Peter Clines

Published 2014

4 stars
George Bailey is an ordinary guy, working the nine to five as a handyman and trying to make the best of the little he's got. But when he sleeps, he dreams of fire and flying, of zombies and superheroes.
When the two realities start to merge, George begins to question if he's gone mad. That, or something 
has gone terribly wrong.



Sometimes you can take two things you like, put them together and make something even better.

French fries & milkshake.
Joss Whedon & Marvel.
Cornershop & Fatboy Slim.

Last year I discovered an author who managed to pull this off with his Ex series of books; superheroes and zombies.

The first three books (Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication) were all out when I stumbled across the series and I ploughed through them in a couple of weeks. The stories revolve around a group of Los Angeles based superheroes who, while unable to prevent the zombie apocalypse, have since helped to protect some of the world’s survivors. Their new home is the converted Paramount movie studios which have been walled off from the rest of LA. Although we jump into other characters from time to time the main character is George Bailey AKA St George, The Might Dragon. He’s your typical Superman type; super strong, invulnerable and able fly but with the added ability of breathing fire.

What Peter Clines has done well in this series is link a lot of things together, much like the Marvel films are doing right now. Little bits here and there might seem like they mean nothing as you read them but they grow into something important two books later. The planning throughout the series so far has been perfect.

This book, Ex-Purgatory, keeps up the good work. George Bailey is a normal guy living a normal life. He is a maintenance man at a collage but something is seems off about the world around him and his dreams are getting strange. If you know you geek troupes then you should work out what’s going on before the second twist but it’s still a good journey non-the-less. The story even name drops the Star Trek episode it rifts from to make sure you get it. It certainly isn’t afraid to wear its geek heart on its sleeve. Most of this comes down to Barry Burke, AKA Zzzap   

There’s not a bum character in the whole series and its great seeing them grow as a family. I’d mark this entry as the weakest but only because it has the least amount of superpowers on show and I love superpowers being used. Perhaps that’s why I prefer 90’s era X-Men comics.

My only real complaint in this series to date is that the zombie fighting descriptions are begining to blur. Of course how many times can you write about a man with superstrength knocking the head off a zombie and kicking then fifty meters into a building down the street? It’s a credit to Peter Clines that he has developed plots so different that the books themselves don’t feel repetitive even with the limited variations on zombie extinction.

I hope Peter Clines keeps up this amazing run as I’m now looking forward to the next one now.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 09: “One small blog for mankind”

I’ve been blogging for 10 weeks now and I love it.

If I’m completely honest I was quite nervous when I set things up and published the first post. It wasn’t a fear of no body reading it. Instead the fear came from how honest I found myself being and the fact that I was putting that honesty out there into the world.

For the first few weeks it was only family, work colleagues and Facebook friends who followed my progress. For that I am grateful. I don’t doubt that I would have given up if it hadn’t been for people asking when the next post was going up or if they could read my stories when they were typed up. Hell, my mother even shed tears of pride after reading the first post (although this is mostly because her son had finally cut down on those pesky video games).

But now my readership has expanded. It’s awesome.

The first part to this came from looking at the stats page on my Blogger dashboard. It records where all the traffic is coming from, how many views I’ve had and, my favourite part, it shows you what country readers are from.

Most of my readers appear to live in the UK and the US but every now and then I get a single view from another country. It’s become one of the little highlights of blogging. I love checking the stats and seeing if a new country has popped up on the list. It blows my mind a little to think that thousands of miles away in a part of the world I may never visit, someone is sitting at home on their computer or browsing on their mobile phone while commuting to work and they are reading my words. I recently gained South Africa and Poland to my collection. Thank you to those two, whoever you are.

While that’s been fun the more important improvement to my blog has been fellow writers giving their spare time and reading about my journey.

Several weeks ago I realised that I needed to get out there and meet people like me. I wasn’t sure how to go about this. I’ve always found it difficult to promote myself but I knew that if I didn’t speak up and tell people what I was doing then no one would know I was here.

After a couple of false starts I finally got help from a reader on Goodreads. She pointed me in the direction of Fringe Fiction, a group composed of indie writers and the readers that support them. On the forums I found a helpful thread where people lay down their blog link for other people to take a peek at. While most of these blogs were for reviewing books, I did come across a couple of writers just like me.

I felt lifted by this. People recording their own progress, sharing their own success and advise. It was like throwing back the curtains and being enveloped in sunshine for the first time in years. I was more than just happy.

As I started to sign up to a couple that peaked my interest I started to get friends requests on Goodreads and follows were adding themselves to my blog. I guess I felt accepted. That’s a nice feeling.

So while writing my stories (which are coming along nicely) and writing this blog I’ve also been following fellow bloggers. It’s added to this experience. These strangers offer little weekly TV shows with each new post like a new episode. Some are established writers dishing out advice and sharing their experiences (both good and bad). Others are like me and just starting out with big dreams of seeing their books on shelves. Some are between the two and are just starting out.

In such a short space of time I’ve gone from being in my own little world to joining a small community of like-minded people all heading towards the same goal. To support these writers I’ll be adding a new feature to the blog where I will post a link to one of the blogs each fortnight. The hope is that some of my readers will discover new authors and books they otherwise might not have come across. I urge you to just take five minutes of your day and check them out. You might discover something you like.

I’m glad that I decided to start this project and I hope it keeps getting better and better.

I’ve been blogging for 10 weeks now and I love it. But it’s only the beginning.

See you in seven.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Interlude 001

BUBBLE – Anders De Le Motte

Published 2013

2 stars

Game Over: Will the conspiracy collapse or conclude with a deadly end-game in the concluding part of the Game Trilogy.

Until now the truth behind The Game has been carefully hidden in a bubble of disinformation and distraction. But all bubbles burst eventually, and as HP and Rebecca battle to uncover the connection between The Game and their father’s shocking past, it looks like it’ll soon be Game Over in the conclusion to the Scandinavian series taking the world by storm.





Ever since supermarkets started selling cheap books my reading habits have changed a little. Sometimes this is for the better and I find some real gems that I wouldn’t normal purchase like The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn (made into the Bradley Cooper movie Limitless). I loved this book but I know I wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t in a 2 for £7 deal.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out.

Just before Christmas I was on my way home from work and I popped into my local TESCO. In the book aisle I found a trilogy of books with bright coloured covers and an intriguing plot. The deal was better because the first book, GAME, was only £2. I picked this up, started it that night and liked it so much I bought book two (BUZZ) and book three (BUBBLE) the next day.

It didn’t take me that long to finish GAME. I really liked the story and, despite the main character being a bit of a prick, it was a good idea pretty well executed.

Having finally finished the trilogy now I look back and realise that, like the Matrix trilogy, I should have just stuck with the first one.

Part of the struggle I had with BUBBLE was that my time was limited and I was putting writing first. But if a book is good enough then a reader will find time. I didn’t find the time for BUBBLE because it was painful to read. I carried it around like a ball and chain. I carried on though because it’s very rare for me to not finish a book I’ve started (Catcher In The Rye, I’m looking at you). It got worse and worse and I really considered just stopping and reading something else that wasn’t such a waste of time.

However, despite one of the main characters relying heavily on Wikipedia to the point of me wondering if the book was sponsored by the website, it did improve at the end (by that I mean that the last two chapters gave it an extra star and bumped it from a 1 star rating).

I still wonder how much damage was done by the translation (this is originally a Swedish novel) but as I don’t have the time to learn another language I guess I’ll never know.

BUBBLE has been a challenge but I made it through to the other side. I’m going to be more careful next time I browse the supermarkets for a cheap read.  

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 08: “The storm before the calm”

I told myself no excuses when it came to writing but sometimes it cannot be helped so I’m going to use one now. It will be the only time and it won’t happen again.

Promise.

You see, no matter how much I want to sit and write it can be difficult. My lunch breaks have been my only chance really since I started this venture and it doesn’t allow me to get as much done as I’d like. But still I write because one hundred words are still better than zero.

However, since my last post I moved house (there’s that excuse I mentioned) and I can tell you right now that will destroy your writing time. So, there hasn’t been much of what I would call ‘progress’. But the good news is, from here on out I can now knuckle down and get myself really focused. Sure there are still loads of things to do at the house and my dream of that peaceful room with a writing desk is a little way off but right now I can manage to get stuff done in the evenings as well as my lunch. Double trouble.

So where am I at? Well, I managed to finish that new draft of CONDOLENCE. I really like it and I think it works better than the mess I had before. It’s trimmed down and fits nicer into the 1500 word limit. Back out to the beta readers later this week and then I guess, barring any issues, I can send it into the SFX competition.

I’ve also just got to finish typing up LOVE BITE and pass that out as well as a rewrite of another story for the compilation; STAR. This is the shortest entry of the collection and was written almost ten years ago but it’s one of my short stories that I’m most proud of.

Something else I’m getting back into is reading. I’ve struggled recently with finishing a novel called Bubble, the third part of the Game trilogy by Anders De La Motte. Its equal part disappointing story (more on that when I post the review) as well as making the choice to use my limited free time for writing instead of reading.

So that’s the update for this week. Short and sweet.

Next week I’ll be talking about how the blogging is going and highlighting some fellow writers out in the world that are on a similar journey to myself.

See you in seven (when normal service will resume).