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.



THE EPISODIC FANTASY THING


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.



FLASH! A-AH


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.



FOUR DIGITS FOR THE WIN


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.



Friday, 20 February 2015

FRACTURED DAWN - Episode 2


With the hope that the woman with the red hair might reappear he stayed up later than he’d wanted to. Eventually he realized that wasn’t going to happen. He curled up next to the dying fire only to find what sleep he did stumble into was filled once again with images from another lifetime.
With morning came determination. He wanted to find someone, anyone, who could at least fill him in on his present location. He couldn’t find where he was from until he knew where he was.
With only his hastily formed hunting spear as protection he decided to slip back into his tatty armour. He was aware that it might advertise an allegiance he wasn’t yet aware of but the risk of being vulnerable in just his trousers and torn shirt was too great to ignore.
He took one final look at the beach and absorbed the memory of the view. For now it was the only good memory he had.
It didn’t take much wandering among the trees before he came across a path, or more accurately, a track. He stood there for a while looking both ways wondering which direction he should take. A little fear crept in and stole the simplicity of the decision; the wrong way could lead him further from people and answers. While he had accepted the fact last night that his search could take days, weeks or even years, he would still do all he could to speed up the quest and regain his past self.
Yet there was nothing, no one thing that could guide him one way or the other. Like the rest of the world, this small, dirt track meant nothing to him and neither did whatever lay at each end. It would be luck of the draw.
He hoped he wouldn’t have to spend too long in fate’s company. He wanted so badly to have knowledge to aid his decisions.
He glanced up at the sun and decided then that he would follow the journey of the world’s light. West it was.
He made it two steps before something caught his eye. Coming from the direction in which he had decided upon he saw someone running towards him. As the person closed in he saw it was a woman and that she looked more than a little distraught, though it became relief once she caught sight of him.
“Oh, thank Salus,” she said as she slowed in front of him. “Please, sir, you have to help me.”
“Help you with what?”
She didn’t say anything, only turned and pointed back the way she’d come from. Following in her wake were three men on horseback. The woman stepped behind the man from the beach as if he were a shield. The men on horses slowed down and finally stopped just a few feet away. They dismounted.
“There you are, precious,” said the first man as he approached. His face was dirty and he wore a patch over his left eye. Though his weapons weren’t drawn, each hand rested on the daggers nested in his belt. “We’ve been looking all over for you.” He looked now at the man from the beach. “Thank you stranger, we’re much obliged.”
The man from the beach said nothing. He felt the woman’s hands grip his arms. She was shivering.
Eye-patch went to step around but the man from the beach blocked him. This made Eye-patch sigh. “Look, stranger. This doesn’t concern you. And, even if it did . . .” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. His two friends stepped closer and they had their daggers drawn. Eye-patch moved closer so that the man from the beach could smell his breath. “So just step outta the way and get to see another day.”
The man from the beach had no idea of the events that had shaped him before he woke, reborn, just a day earlier. But something from that hidden past was trying to make itself felt now. His senses began to sharpen and his body tensed, ready to pounce. He sized up his opponents and a confidence swelled inside him. He felt like he could take these three men with one arm tied behind his back.
He smiled, dropped his pathetic spear and head-butted Eye-patch in the face. Eye-patch grabbed his now bloody face and cried out but his only reply was a swift kick to the ribs and then he was pushed over.
The man from the beach stepped past him and readied for the next two. The one on the left, whose mouth had seen better days, lunged with one dagger as the bearded man on the right swung his axe. The man on the beach blocked one, ducked the other. He released his grip on Toothless and punched him in the throat. Beardy came at him again but overshoot and received an elbow to the jaw as compensation.
The man from the beach felt a red mist start to bathe his mind and found he was ready for the next level; to end these men instead of just incapacitating them. At that moment he felt someone watching. He turned and saw the woman with the red hair standing among the trees. She still had the look of sadness on her face that she’d served to him last night.
She was shaking her head like a mother disappointed.
His fists unclenched and his muscles relaxed. Slowly the red mist drifted away and he felt the sounds of the surroundings come back. And then he took a punch to the back of the head. His fall just missed a tree and he hit the ground hard. He barely got his breath back when feet started striking him. He tried to call out but dirt, twigs and leaves choked him.
“Grab him,” said Eye-patch.
The kicking stopped and the man from the beach was dragged to his feet and pinned against a tree. He opened his eyes and saw Eye-patch stood in front of him, blood surrounding his mouth like crimson curtains. He held the woman by the wrist and seemed to need no effort to keep his grip despite the way she was thrashing around.
“Who the Dark do you think you are?” said Eye-patch.
Despite the pain and despite the predicament, the man from the beach couldn’t help but laugh at that question. He couldn’t answer that, even if he’d wanted to.
“You got something loose in that battered head of yours?” said Toothless.
“He’s already been too much hassle,” said Eye-patch. “As have you.” He turned to the woman who was still struggling and slapped her across the face. She froze and through her dishevelled hair she glared at him. He didn’t care. “Kill him,” said Eye-patch, “and let’s get back to camp.”
The man from the beach struggled to free himself as another dagger was aimed straight at his head. Yet the strike never came. Instead, his captives were all staring at his chest. He looked down to see a strange purple light glowing softly from beneath his chest armour. Before he could wonder what was happening he realised that he was no longer being held against the tree. Eye-patch noticed too.
“What are you waiting for? Kill him!”
The man from the beach dodged Toothless’ dagger but, before he could react, found himself doubling over in pain. From head to toe it felt like everything was suddenly being crushed. He looked down at his hands and saw the skin darken and crack. On the edge of his senses he thought he felt the dagger slash him but is was nothing more than a bug sting. His body started to change, his skin becoming like rock. He could make out the panic from those around him; confused and scared. His armour split front and back and felt to the ground.
And then there was no more pain. He stood up, a little taller than before, a little heavier too. Looking around he had four sets of wide eyes focused solely on him.
Toothless thought he’d have a go and charged forward. He met with a mighty stone fist and flew off between the trees, landing several feet away.
Eye-patch and Beardy knew a losing situation when they saw one and thought better of it. They hurried to their horses, leaving their comrade behind and rode off down the track, back the way they had come.
For a while the man on the beach felt strong enough to take on the world. He clenched his fists and felt the weight of his arms. He turned to find the woman frozen by fear of whatever it was he’d become.
His breathing slowed and he began to feel drained. Slowly, and less painfully, his skin began to soften. His shirt was torn and hung loosely across him. His lungs felt chilled as if he’d just run flat out in winter. He’s legs gave and he fell to his knees as the change washed away. The sounds of his surroundings returned once more; the leaves in the breeze, the birds in the trees.
He looked around but there was no sign of the woman with the red hair. There was only him and the woman who had been chased by the thugs.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the woman. “I . . . I don’t know what that was.” When she didn’t say anything he turned to check on her. She stood over him, a large branch gripped in both hands, held over her shoulder. “What are you doing?” he said.
She swung the branch and caught him across the side of his head.
His world went black.



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. 



WHAT’S IN A NAME?

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.



LOOKING FOR A REPLACEMENT


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).



COMING SOON


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.



ELSEWHERE


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.



Friday, 6 February 2015

FRACTURED DAWN - Episode 1


All he could see was purple.

Images soaked in the colour floated across his mind; a great flying ship scooping him up, a man made of metal running towards him, the whole world exploding. Then it was all gone and the purple became a deep red as the sunlight tried its damnedest to pry his eyelids open.

His whole body tensed as cold water enveloped him. His balls shrivelled, his throat tightened and his ears found the world to suddenly be a muffled place. He dug his fingers deep into the warm sand as tension revealed pain across his body. Conceding the need to see his surroundings he tried to open his eyes but the rush of bright light was too much. He rolled over and tried again but the ground beneath him seemed just as bright.

Eyes still shut, he tried to recall the images that had stirred him. He tried to place them, tried to give them context, but he couldn’t. Instead he discovered a different problem. He found he was grasping at pieces of a puzzle from a picture he had never seen. How did he end up here? Where was here? Who was he?

What . . . was . . . his . . . name?

That last one made him catch his breath as he began to realise the severity of his situation.

Still laying down in the sand with the waves occasionally washing over him, he found his eyes beginning to cope better with the daylight. Squinting, his hand shading as best it could, he looked around to get his bearings. He was on a beach which, in better circumstances, would be considered close to paradise. Golden sands stretched away to either side and behind him was beautiful blue water. The beach was a bay, the land rising away to the left and right like huge arms trying to hold the water in. Across the beach, up ahead of where he lay, the sand became dirt, became grass, became a tree line. He couldn’t sense the presence of anyone around but he thought it would be safer if he was a little out of sight. The tree line seemed like a good bet until he could remember why he was here and work out how far he’d have to go to find someone who knew him better than he knew himself.

He sunk his hands into the sand and went to push himself to his feet when a sharp pain exploded in his chest. He fell face first back into the sand and cried out loud, the pain so bad that he was no longer concerned with who might hear him. He rolled onto his back as the pain subsided. He sat up slowly, pulled the light chest armour up over his head and lifted his tatty shirt to find something he did not expect.

Embedded in his chest, a little to the left where his heart was, he saw a purple stone the size of his fist. At first he thought it was stuck to him and that the pain was just its movement tearing his skin. But he knew that was not true. This stone wasn’t stuck on him but rather it was stuck in him. Little movements told him that it went in far enough that he should not be alive. Around the edge, his skin was covered in a light purple rash as if the stone was infecting him, as if it was leaking. Tentatively he raised his hand and touched it lightly with a finger. The pain didn’t return as he’d expected, in fact it was almost gone now, but he noticed how cold the stone was.

Now he had more questions and he figured that this stone might just be at the centre of most of the answers.

*

From the treeline where he’d set up camp the view had changed to a different kind of beauty. The sun had said its farewell while he’d taken a makeshift spear on a hunting trip. Now, as he sat beside his small campfire eating crab, he watched the moon take the stage in front of the diamond covered canvas of the night sky.

His instinct told him not to wander too far for now. The darkness held too many dangers while beyond the cliffs and the trees were mysteries greater than the beach on which he’d woken.

With nothing else to occupy himself with except the last of the crab meat and the view he felt his mind wander again to the stone embedded in his chest. The pain he’d felt earlier was staying away but he remained cautious and only touched it lightly. While it was clear the stone was forced into him, he couldn’t begin to imagine how he was still breathing.

He knew he could ponder this question and a hundred others until the sun rose up and began another day but it was useless. Come morning he would have little choice but to explore further than the beach and hope he was lucky enough to have answers unfurl before him as his world grew larger.

He threw the remains of the crab shells to his left and found they landed at a strangers feet. Instinct sprang him to his feet, his fists clenched ready.

“Who are you?”

Across the fire stood a woman dressed in light armour and wearing a solemn look upon her face.

He glanced at his own roughed up armour that was now piled against a nearby tree. It looked very similar to that worn by the woman. He quickly returned his attention to her knowing that matching dress sense did not mean friendship.

The woman stood still, watching him with sad eyes. Her long red hair hung either side of her pale face while her arms hung that much lower. Like his armour, hers had seen better days. The flames of the campfire danced in those sad eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked again.

Instead of replying the woman sat down. This made him nervous and he looked around then, expecting others to emerge from the shadows among the trees, for the woman to be the bait of a trap. But no one else came. It was only the woman and himself. He was content for the situation to remain calm and see where it went. What else was he going to do other than go to sleep, something made harder by the appearance of the woman.

He pointed at his pile of armour. “We have the same armour,” he said. It was half a statement and half a question. His frustration brewed as it seemed she was refusing to communicate with him. He was about to repeat himself, to make sure it was clearly a question, when she looked up at him and nodded.

Progress.

He relaxed a little and sat down beside the fire, across from her. “Do you know who I am?” She nodded again. He felt his worries float away then as the burden of not knowing his own identity disappeared. This woman knew him and could fill in the blanks. Earlier that day he’d accepted the tough facts that, if his memory continued to fail him, if he was far from people who knew him, then it could be some time before he felt whole again. But luck favoured him, it seemed, and his situation was far from dire.

He let out a big sigh and smiled at the woman. “You have no idea how happy you’ve made me,” he said. “You see, I’m having a little problem with my memory. I know it sounds crazy but I honestly don’t know who I am or what I’m doing here.” He thought she might open up a little and laugh along with him at the absurdity of his situation but no smile adorned her face. Perhaps she just didn’t have a sense of humour. No matter. “If it’s not too much trouble I’d appreciate it if you’d fill in the blanks.”

Again he was met with silence and a less than thoughtful stare. Although he didn’t know his relationship towards this woman he was beginning to get a good picture of it.

“Please?” he said.

She shook her head, her red hair dancing, and then she disappeared.




Wednesday, 4 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 04: “Projects Unleashed”




2015 WORD COUNT = 4882 words


Well that’s January out of the way.


FIRST THERE WAS THE ZOMBIE TALE



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.



THEN CAME THE FANTASY TALE



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.




AND FINALLY THERE WAS THE FLASH TALES

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



Micro BookendsCHRIS AND MIKE vs THE FOREST OF DEATH
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.


Flash! Friday THUNDER AND LEAD
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.



ROUND UP

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!)