Wednesday, 25 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 07: “To catch a breath”

2015 WORD COUNT = 9403 words

Its two months into 2015 and things are going well. This time last year I was just getting my head around blogging and trying to work out how I was going to make my mark on the world. It was a topsy-turvy year with a lot of stopping, starting, stopping and backtracking.

I’m feeling better about everything this year. My confidence is growing, my writing is improving (I’ve been told) and I’m more focused and determined with what I want to accomplish before Dec 31st.


I’m only two episodes into FRACTURED DAWN but I’m feeling really good about it as a project. I think it’s going to help me side step that fear I have of tackling something bigger. With the episodic, 1500 word a fortnight structure, it gives me a little space between episodes to think about where I want my draft to go next. Whether it’s expanding a scene past its bare bone version, changing out characters that seem excess or just creating an extra scene to fill in gaps, I can take it slow and build the story deeper as I go.

I’ve got a wider story planned and I’d love to keep going with it for a long time; like an ongoing soap in short story form. Who knows what will happen down the line? As long as you people keep reading it I’ll keep writing it. And, hopefully I can get enough momentum on the project to perhaps bring the fortnight releases down to weekly.


It’s been another good weekend of Flash Fiction results. Scratch that; it’s been awesome.

After some kind words by judge Deborah Foy for CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE LESSER-SPOTTED DRAGON it was over to Flash! Friday where I picked up First Runner-Up for OXYGEN, the tale of an astronaut who accepts his depleting air supply means he’ll never leave the moon alive. I’m extremely grateful for some very, very nice comments by my fellow participants.

As if that wasn’t enough, my entry for Angry Hourglass titled CLOSING TIME picked up First place. That’s my third win of the year and I’m more than over the moon with joy.

You can read all three of my entries here.


And finally there was a fantastic coming together with some fellow FlashDogs on Sunday.

I’ve struggled recently to find time on the weekends to get stuck into the various contests and read/comment on other author’s stories. I can’t tell you how bad I’ve felt seeing people leave kind words for my own writings and not giving anything back.

That changed when I started to see rumblings on Saturday that the posting quota for last Fridays contest had broken 900. This got people excited and so I joked, saying that I hadn’t left any comments yet and that we should aim for 1000.

I awoke on Sunday determined to give back to the Flash community and read others work. When I opened the site my competitive streak perked up upon seeing the comment count was at 969. That meant I only needed to leave a minimum 31 comments. That wouldn’t be a problem, would it? My fantastic wife and my extremely well behaved son gave my some space Sunday afternoon and I set to work.

I tweeted a few updates every now and then and other FlashDogs responded. I began to feel cheered on, lapping up the great comradery, as we as a group closed in. Others were commenting too and, together, we raced towards that 1000 finish line.

When Rebekah posted that we’d succeeded it felt like an earth shattering, Guinness Record kind of moment. I wanted to reach through cyber space and High-Five all the others.

And that’s it; a great week for my writing. Normal service will resume next week as a whole slew of blog post ideas came to me on my journey home from work.

If you haven’t had a chance to start reading FRACTURED DAWN then what are you waiting for; head here now. It’s awesome (I know, I’m biased).

And don’t forget, if you fancy exercising that wonderful writing muscle of yours then why not head over to the various Flash Fiction contest on offer, see what spills from your mind onto the page. Who knows, you might even make some friends too.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 06: “What is FRACTURED DAWN?”

2015 WORD COUNT = 7106 words

I’ve been talking about my big project, my episodic fantasy series, for a little while now. Each fortnight I’ll be sticking a new episode up on the blog and hopefully people will enjoy, return, and get involved via comments so that the story grows and grows.

The first episode is already up (here) with episode two making its appearance this Friday. The posts viewing figures seem okay and show that some people have dipped into the world I’m creating. I’ve also had some positive comments from friends and family.

It’s very early days but so far I’m happy. 


However, there has been one tiny little hiccup.

For some reason I neglected to do something that I have done with almost all my big writing projects; Googled the title. I guess I’ve gotten into the habit with short stories and flash fiction where it’s not so much of a problem. But for novels, trilogies and series it’s a good idea to see if that title you’ve grown to love from your projects birth to completion has already been taken.

So, three days after I posted the first episode, I suddenly remembered to check. 

It took a little while to get my breath back and accept the disappointment. FALLEN SWORDS not only already existed as something that dominated its Google search but it was also extremely close to what my project was.

FALLEN SWORDS is an online fantasy RPG. If it had been something science fiction or historical then I might have pushed on and kept the title. But a fantasy story with the same name as a fantasy video game would probably just make people think I was writing fan-fiction.

Add to this the fact that, if you searched for my stories, all you would get was pages of links to the game and my project would be buried.

So, it was time for a rebrand.


I knew I wanted two words and that they needed the ring of epic fantasy. With the help of a work colleague I composed a list using words like ‘Fabled’, ‘Fire’, ‘Blades’, ‘Shadows’ and even ‘Scion’. I paired words up, mixed them around, and slowly started to trim away those that didn’t give me a feeling for what I was writing.

After that I used the tried and tested solution for list selection; I put it to a vote.

Big thanks to those people who took an interest and helped with this. It was pretty unanimous and the result is (spoiler) at the top of this post.

Special mentions to a couple of titles that got close; FABLED SWORDS and FRACTURED RISING.

But the one that stood out most was . . . FRACTURED DAWN.

Of course, that evening I had to go through all digital matter and rename a few save files, update some spreadsheets and rebrand the blog. But I think it’s all worth it (and the OCD side of me wouldn’t let it go).


So, episode 1 is out there now and it feels kinda great. Up until now I’ve only really posted flash fiction on this blog so it was nice to put something out there that’s bigger, a little more in depth. I think I just needed to force myself to release something of mine into the wild, to get it out in front of eyes. Now I can be more relaxed and just update the story each fortnight.

I have that first draft I wrote back in November and that’s what I’m currently working from. It’s a very skeletal story in that form but it’s allowing me to expand on the story, characters and world as I continue to think about it on a daily basis (it’s probably what’s on my mind when I have a spaced out look upon my face).

On rereading the draft and preparing the next episode I was having trouble with some villainous motivation and the way in which the main character gets from A to B. Instead of bending the draft or padding out his journey, I’ve created a whole new scene that helps in three separate ways.

First it ends on another cliff-hanger which I think each of these episodes will need going forward. It’s nothing epic, just a moment that makes the reader wish that had the next episode to hand.

Secondly, the new scene gets the main character from A to B without just walking it. The original version was a couple of paragraphs of just walking and thinking. I couldn’t stretch this to a chapter but I didn’t want him reaching his first destination as early as episode 2. Now I’ve managed to move him without moving him (all will become clear).

And finally, and this will make more sense in a couple of episodes time, it introduces a motive for something that happens further down the line, motive that wasn’t there before. One of the things I’m dealing with from the original draft is foreshadowing, which I’ll talk about more in a future post. What it boils down to is that, while writing that first draft back during NaNoWriMo 2014, there was no time to go back. So when an idea popped into my head, when something was suddenly introduced, there is that mental marker of “I’ll have to set that up earlier”.

Of course I had no solid plan and assumed (correctly) that, when the time came, something would present itself and tell me why I randomly created new characters on the spot and what they are doing in the story.

I’m still busy working on episode 2 at the moment (I’m still taking it one episode at a time until I find my feet) but it will be ready for Friday. I hope you’re looking forward to reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it. Please, please feel free to comment on the story so far, start discussions amongst yourselves (is it wrong to assume that there are enough people reading it to warrant a discussion?) and spread the word.


Before I go just a quick round up of my other writing news.

I’m loving Micro Bookends at the moment. If you’ve been following my weekly entries then you’ll know I’m currently trapped writing the adventures of Chris & Mike. While it started as a one off joke I’m really enjoying the extra challenge it gives me. I already have a word limit as well as first and last words to deal with so why not add the extra dimension of keeping the same characters going no matter what the prompts.

On a side note, I’m hearing whispers of ‘Chris and Mike vs’ fans beginning to make themselves known. Watch out world; Chris and Mike may be the next big thing.

Meanwhile, over at Flash! Friday I managed to add another accolade to my cabinet. While I didn’t win, I did manage to get one Honourable mention as well as First Runner-up. It’s my first time getting both my entries in the top flight and I’m extremely proud of both pieces.

And with that it’s back to the grindstone. As always, thank you all for following my process.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 05: “Judgement Day”

2015 WORD COUNT = 6583 words

I’ve been taking part in Flash Fiction contests for a little over seven months now and I can tell you that the hardest part isn’t the story. It’s challenging, sure but it’s what you want to do, it’s why you’re doing it.

No, the hardest part is at the other end of the process. The hardest part is dealing with failure.

In its current state, Flash! Friday (the one I started with) can produce almost a hundred stories a week. The chances of making the cut and receiving a mention, a podium, or even the coveted win are slim. It’s a tough few minutes when the link pops up on your twitter feed, leading you to the results page, only to scan down and find you name is absent. A range of emotions hit you then as you wonder what went wrong and why your masterpiece wasn’t given the recognition it deserved. Do the judges hate you? How were everyone else’s stories better?

It’s not wrong to feel this way. It’s a natural reaction. But what’s important is what you do next.

DON’T rant to the world about injustice.

DO congratulate the winners / judges on a job well done.

DON’T give up writing because of one bad week

DO turn that frustration into determination and get ready to try harder the next week.

Because, at the end of the day, the more contests you enter the more chances you’ll have. It’s all about the 'Rule of Alignment'. Let me explain.

There was a time when, even though I’d received several mentions and a couple of second places, I honestly thought I would never be good enough to get that win I wanted so desperately. It didn’t matter how many nice comments my stories received week after week. It didn’t matter that each second place was beaten by, in my opinion, a much more deserved winner. I just wanted that win, as if that title meant that I would finally be considered a good writer.

I never gave up though. Week in and week out I plugged away. One story on a Friday became two, became another contest and became another. And then, on a Monday night, not long after New Year, while I was sat with my wife watching TV, I got the prize I’d been chasing since June 2014.

All I wanted to do was track down the judge for that week’s contest (you are in my will, Amy Woods) and give her a big, big hug. I was only a week into 2015 and her decision to pick my story, ROLL BACK, as the winner had made my year.

Despite hitting that top step I looked back at the story I’d written and asked myself one question; why this one. I'd had gut feelings about previous entries that I truly thought would be ‘the one’ but a story about lost love and time travelling roller-skates was a little bit absurd. When I posted it, I honestly didn’t think it had a chance. And that’s when I discovered the 'Rule of Alignment'.

A judge is still a human being. Sometimes it’s easy to look up at them and bow beneath their wisdom as they hand out awards like bread to the starving. But they are just like you and me. No, scratch that; the ARE you and me. All judges have lived lives filled with books and music and films that they both love and hate. All it takes is something in your story that speaks to a judge on another level, sparks a memory, stands out to them. And you can’t write that on purpose unless you know a judge as well as you know yourself.

You see it’s not personal. It’s all about timing. You write a certain story based on a specific prompt for a single judge week in and week out. There are probably only a handful of judges who would have even considered my story that first week in January, let alone pick it as their winner. A week earlier or a week later and there would have been a different picture that took me down a different route, one that produced a different story that didn’t speak to Amy.

So it’s all about alignment. All three things coming together at the right time is what helped a little time travelling, roller-skating love story come out on top.

Which brings me to the weekend just past. That win led to a request from Rebecca, the host of Angry Hourglass, to ask me if I’d consider judging. I’ll be honest and say that my first thought was arrrgggghhhhh! I have the upmost respect for the judges in all writing contests but I do not envy them one bit. These guys give up a fair bit of time to read a whole lot of quality stories and then have to make decisions that upset about 90% of the entrants because not everyone can be a winner. I hate it when the results page of any contest I’ve entered seems to be missing my name without explanation so why would I want to be on the reverse of that?

But then I thought better of it. Part of this came from curiosity to see exactly what it was like on the other side of the curtain. Most of it, however, came from the feeling that I owed it to the community and, in particular, to every judge who had taken their precious time to read one of my stories, whether it won or lost.

So, on Monday night I sat down at my dining room table, pencil in one hand and highlighter in the other, and proceeded to read the eleven entries for that week’s Angry Hourglass contest.

I’d worried briefly about an absurd situation where none of the eleven stories spoke to me at all and wondered how I could pick a winner from a bunch of tales that just didn’t appeal to me. Or, worse still, what if all eleven stories were amazing. After all, I’d written side by side with these authors for months and regularly found myself in awe of their output.

But I couldn’t worry about that. I couldn’t cross the bridge until I got to it and so I couldn’t worry about the outcome until I read them all.

And so I read.

On the floor to my left several piles appeared. Stories were read one at a time and then the order was rearranged. One story would make me reconsider a previous one. Did I like it as much? Was it better or worse than one I’d already had pegged for the podium.

Eleven stories read (some re-read) and after much thought, I found that I had my three. And without realising it, they were already in podium order.

It took a little while longer to construct the article that would go up on the website as I’ve always struggled with articulating why I like stuff. Usually it’s a gut feeling but I couldn’t write out my favourites and follow them up with “I really liked it” three times. However, I surprised myself when, by telling my wife what it was I liked about them, I suddenly had the words I needed.

Still, while I was happy to come out the other side of the process without a loss of sanity, I do feel a twinge of regret that eight people would see the results page over the following twenty four hours and probably curse my name. To those fellow writers I offer my deepest apologies. To work hard on a story and not even be mentioned is a feeling I know well. But like I’ve already said; it’s all about ‘Alignment’. Some people may look at my final three and think ‘what was he thinking’. But each of those three hit something in me that lays just beneath the surface and comes from 35 years of my own individuality.

What I’m saying is, it’s not personal and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. It means one day you’ll write a story for the perfect judge and they’ll love it. So put you losing story to one side and move onto the next. Because that next one you write might just be your winner.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

(vol 2) CHAPTER 04: “Projects Unleashed”

2015 WORD COUNT = 4882 words

Well that’s January out of the way.


Many years ago SFX magazine ran an annual short story writing competition called Pulp Idol. 1500 words for a sci-fi, fantasy or horror story. I entered three times, twice being mentioned in the back matter as making the final fifty.

And then it stopped and that made me sad.

Last year, the magazine laid out a similar contest but this time themed solely around zombies. It was tough going as I struggled to get a 2500 word version down below the contest limit of 1500. It was a throwaway comment from a work colleague that saved it (see here) and I ended up with a nice little story called CONDOLENCE (available to read here).

I didn’t get the result I hoped for (winning, obviously) so it’s cool that I get to have another go this year. The limit remains 1500 words but they’ve added the extra requirements of including a zombie dressed like Santa as well as using Christmas lights as a prop. Once again the final five entries will be judged by author Darren Shan with the winning story being published in the magazine.

I created a core concept almost straight away but have had trouble over the last couple of months fitting it into a working story. I’ll have to wait until #260 of the magazine hits newsstands on April 1st to find out how I’ve done but, once the results are out there, I’ll take a post to discuss how I got to the final version.


As I post this I’m still busy editing the first entry to the FALLEN SWORDS saga, an episodic fantasy that I started writing back in November last year. The plan is to release an episode every fortnight here on the blog starting this Friday.

But what’s it about, I hear you ask. Well, let me explain.

A man wakes on a beach to discover two things; he is without memory and he has a piece of purple stone embedded in his chest.
He soon finds himself dragged from one conflict to the next as he becomes embroiled in the politics of the land. But it doesn’t take long for him to realise that some people are more interested in the stone and its powers than helping him find out who he is and where he’s from.

The idea started off last year as its own thing. I’ve used events from the last three years of my job to lay out a rough timeline of events as I’ve met new people, learnt new things and moved from office to office. It all sounds boring to anyone who doesn’t know what it is I’m referring to but it’s helped me plan an epic, multi character plot, something I’ve always struggled with.

I’ve always wanted to write an epic fantasy story but I find it hard to create plots that twist and turn and cover a large cast.  I’ve tried it before but given up after drowning in the world building.

This method, however, has helped. It’s a little like when special effects artists put a suit on an actor, one that has the little yellow balls stuck to it. They use the balls to mark certain points of the actor’s body so that they can track his or her motion and match it to a CG character. Here I’m taking a real event; converting it to a fantasy staple (assassination, war, fleeing a country) and slotting it back into place.

After finishing the first part in draft last year I decided to mix things up a little and merge the project with my previous failed attempt.

That version came about after I read the intro in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. In it he describes wanting to write a novel that “contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop”. In other words, with the Dark Tower, he wanted to mix ‘Lord of The Rings’ with ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’.

I too wanted the quest and magic of Tolkien but I wanted to add it to something else, something I had more of an interest at the time than the writing itself; superhero comics.

And that’s what I tried writing almost ten years ago; a series of fantasy novels set in a fantasy realm during the time of the first superheroes. There would be castles, forests and mountains but it would be the backdrop to super teams, super villains and super powers.

Of course with everything I start, it never got finished.

While working on FALLEN SWORDS over Christmas I thought it would be silly to create one fantasy world and then go back to the older one and try and write different stories. Wouldn’t it make more sense to combine the two? It would mean that one wasn’t a complete waste and it would steer it away from the whole based-on-work thing enough to keep it interesting for everyone. Like when a TV series based on a graphic novel occasionally steps away from the source material.

So that’s what I’m doing. The plan is to release an episode every fortnight (Friday). Each episode will probably be around 2000 words (that is loose) so that it’s not over to quick but it also won’t take up too much of your time.

Check back here on Friday evening and (hopefully) the first episode will be up.


A quick round up of last week’s Flash Friday contests.

This was a struggle until I realised that the story I had in front of me was just screaming to be the follow up to last week’s CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD. Perhaps tomorrow will produce the final part of the trilogy.

I’ve talked before that sometimes I’m not happy with all my pieces but it’s rare for me to love a story. I’m a perfectionist who can’t stop tweaking my stories and struggle to see them as complete even when they’re posted. But this piece, a story of revenge between two brothers set against a stark, desert landscape, is probably my favourite piece of flash fiction that I’ve written to date. I’m not saying it is amazing; only that it’s amazing to me.

Due to a busy weekend working on HUMBUG and a photo prompt that failed to spark anything, I didn’t write anything for Angry Hourglass. I also won’t be writing a piece this weekend but that’s because I’ve been asked to judge the contest. It’s a scary prospect as I don’t think I’m always good at describing the gut feeling I get when reading other peoples work. Sometimes I just know if I like something or not. But it’s a side of the process I’ve not done yet so I’m looking forward to giving it a go but trying not to think of all the people I’ll make miserable by not picking them as the winner.


And that’s the lot. Fingers crossed FALLEN SWORDS goes up on time, fingers crossed it doesn’t suck and fingers crossed people like it and spread the word.

From this week I’m changing the format of the blog a little. The format going forward now will be Blog post on Wednesdays, FALLEN SWORDS on Fridays and my various Flash Fiction entries now collected together on a Sunday.

See you in seven.

(Fallen Swords in two!)