Sunday, 29 November 2009

Start, end, and middle

I have started not one, but two novels, with the beginnings of a third probably on their way. This doesn't strike me as a terribly good idea, since it almost certainly deflects effort away from them, but I'm doing it anyway. I find that I get quite heavily involved in the tone of what I'm writing, and maybe writing things with contrasting feels will keep me a bit more balanced.

I'm reading through the submitted version of the PhD before the viva (ten days and counting), and am slightly annoyed to find that small mistakes still made it through my rounds of proofreading. I suspect that there comes a point when you've simply read things too many times to see what's there. I'm sure they'll be mentioned.

My local fencing club's foil tournament is stretching to two weeks. I might scrape third place, if I'm lucky. Bring on the sabre, that's what I say.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I've had another short story acceptance, again with a bit of a wait, since it's for Mirror Dance's spring issue. It's for my piece 'Your Evil Horde Needs You'. I'll undoubtedly mention it again nearer the time.

An idea for what is potentially quite a funny novel has come to me, and I'll probably see what I can do with it, even though I've got one series up and running with DDP and the start of what could be another out to a couple of other publishers. I'm planning this as more of a one off anyway, though there's part of me that automatically starts thinking of all the other stories I could set in the same sort of world.

Continued joblessness has me contemplating trying my hand at freelancing. It's undoubtedly the worst possible time to start doing so, but it's one thing I hopefully have the skills to do, and might help me pay off a few of the more urgent debts. I briefly looked into it a couple of years ago, before wandering off to write silly novels.

Universities seem to be experiencing a trend towards modern and early modern history. I'm not entirely sure why. The Middle Ages are far more fun. Though it does run into the minor problem that they aren't really taught in schools that much. My own GCSE and A level experiences encompassed: A history of medicine, some eighteenth and nineteenth century US history, a project on the architectural development of a local church (sixteenth century, so still not medieval), World War Two/the Weimar Republic/Nazi Germany, Eighteenth/Nineteenth century Europe. There seems to be an underlying assumption that anything further back can't be particularly relevant. Which is not only nonsense, but ignores the whole narrativist strand of historical theory completely.

Friday, 20 November 2009


I read an interview with Neil Gaiman a while ago that was helpfully included in the copy of Neverwhere I've got lying around. In it, he suggested that probably the most fun part of the whole process was putting together the stalls at the floating market; coming up with random things that might be sold without it having any particular impact on the plot. More recently, I got to play much the same game, coming up with some random bits of backstory for one character, then coming up with some interesting shops of my own for a very short part of one of the novels. I came to one simple conclusion:

Making Lists is Fun.

Um... before anyone accuses me of being some sort of train spotter, I should probably point out that I mean that it's quite fun to do those parts of writing that involve making up groups of things without them particularly impacting upon the story, rather than that I derive any particular pleasure from compiling my shopping lists. Accordingly, and because I thought I'd like to spread the fun a little, I thought I'd make a list of lists the writers among you might like to try for yourselves. Or not, or a list of your own devising. In fact, that can be point one, can't it...

  1. A list of odd lists someone might make. Either as a starting point for then writing those lists, or simply because some odd character might have a thing for writing lists. Though what sort of person might want to do that?
  2. A series of shops, market stalls, or other places for acquiring things. Well, it is where this whole rambling thought started, after all.
  3. A list of inherently unlikely jobs, along with some suitably unlikely candidates for them.
  4. A list of the contents of someone's pockets. (The particular someone I had in mind for this habitually wears one of those coats that has more pockets than material. Rather like one of my coats, come to think of it)
  5. A list of all the people that a double glazing (or encyclopedia, or unicycle) salesperson has attempted to sell things to so far today.
  6. A list of things that the official "greatest thief in the universe ever" has stolen. Fire and the crown jewels have been done, but don't let that stop you.
  7. A list of places that a pair of rather elderly friends have travelled, having decided that they want some excitement, along with things they might have done there.
  8. A list of places someone might look for someone else, whether lost, avoiding them, or simply not met yet.
  9. A list of slightly odd things the fortune teller might really have seen in the cards/crystal ball/tea leaves.
  10. A list of stories that a particular character might tell, which has the amusing twist of forcing you to try and boil a story down to just a few words.

Long Term Thinking

One of my short pieces has just been accepted for publication in July of next year. That's quite a lead time, so I'll have to make sure I put a sufficiently obvious note on the computer file in question, just so I don't forget that it's already taken.

Today is the last day that it's possible to pre-order semaphore's anthology with no P&P, if anyone should wish to do so. I just thought I'd mention it, and attempt to apply my mental powers to any passing brains.

I'm toying with re-writing at least one piece in script form, which just goes to show what a damp sponge my brain can be at times. One little book by a well known script writer, and suddenly I have the urge to play around with that format. It's as bad as the "all sonnets, all the time" phase Shakespeare sent me through. I must get more of a grip, or at least a good book on the technicalities of scriptwriting.

You know what I've read today? Nothing. That's right. Nothing. It's the first time in I don't know how long, and I suspect it isn't going to last much longer. More Hamlet, I think.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

More edits

Another burst of editing on the comic fantasy novel. It's funny how, no matter how much you do, there's always something that can be tightened up or improved. It's a bit like DIY in that respect. I've also finished my short story about antiques, and am currently resisting the urge towards a bad pun as title. (It has turning-people-into-frogs and antiques in it. If British TV watchers don't get the pun in question, I'll be very surprised).

I might be fencing the british student sabre again after all. Someone from the fencing club asked, and Hull's Athletic Union agreed that I am indeed still enough of a student to do so. Now I only have to work out if it's a good idea. And if I want an early start to get to a fencing tournament.

I'm reading Hamlet at the moment. Wyrd Sisters makes so much more sense now. Oh, if this seems quite short, I'm typing this with one hand. Another bout of two hand tapping.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Characters that Aren't

Following on from my earlier thought on the sudden injection of Catherine Tate into Dr Who for a full series, I've been thinking about the character who sort of disappeared to make way for her. It must be odd, that; creating a character, getting to know it, maybe imagining all the adventures it might have, and then, just like that, it's gone. (Is it just me or did I fit about a year's worth of commas in that sentence?)

It got me thinking about those characters of mine who end up disappearing from the final drafts of things, or who change so much they're unrecognisable. Between the two versions of the novel I finished the first couple of drafts on recently, I changed perhaps three major characters so much that they might as well not exist. One of them, a sort of worldly wize monster hunting chap, disappeared completely. Another went from being the central character to a supporting role. A third remained similar only in the broadest description, and now I'm wondering if I can use the original character somewhere else in the future.

I tend not to do it so much with short stories, perhaps because there's less of a temptation to put in extra characters just to see what will happen, or to run a sub-plot. There's rarely time for sub-plot. Even so, in one story recently I took out the father of a couple of the characters, or at least made it clear he was dead, since the memory of him was probably more effective. In another, I reduced a potential cast of about five to just three, simply to tighten things up as much as possible.

There's invariably a temptation to see if it's possible to write something specifically for them, but usually that doesn't work. They're mostly minor characters, and they can't sustain a story on their own. Even so, I find myself keeping an eye out for moments that might possibly need these cast off characters, and I think on the whole they're happier for it.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Notebooks are Killing the Epic

I've been writing poetry in the last few days, getting it down in one of those tatty notebooks that are the inevitable home of all poetry while it's being written. Though it does raise one obvious point. The great greek and roman writers were notorious for epic poetry, right? But they didn't have tatty notebooks, only stone, clay tablets, and papyrus. Even for the likes of Milton, Byron, etc. paper and writing materials would have been quite expensive, and again- epic poetry. So, has the cheap A5 notebook killed off epic poetry?

I've also started a short story about antiques. Well, sort of antiques. Well, more the sort of magic thingamies that adventures seem to pick up, really. But also antiques. Mostly because a friend mentioned that he was writing a story about antiques, and I wanted to see how different the two would end up from that one shared point. Possibly I should look around for some of those zines that use themes for short stories, and see what I can do with those.

I currently have more pieces of work submitted than at any other time ever. Now, if only that came to double figures.

At some point in the next few days I must remember to print out a spare copy of my PhD, so that I've got something to refer to in the viva. Presumably, that's going to mean all the fun with my various printers that I had the first time around. (They seem to have something against medieval history).

Friday, 13 November 2009


Well yes, it usually is, isn't it? But this is actually a reference to the fact that I wrote a monologue this afternoon, after starting it some time last night in a notebook. It's odd how little I write into notebooks these days, though perhaps that's because I actually prefer the computer. Maybe it has something to do with typing rather faster than I can write, and with achieving legible results afterwards.

Before that, I dropped a form round to volunteer at my local community museum. It seems slightly odd that you have to do so much to be allowed to volunteer, including filling in a section about hobbies and interests. Surely, so long as I don't list mine as axe-murder and the destruction of historic buildings, it shouldn't matter that much.

While in town, I ended up in the library, reading through a book about Russell T Davies' (Dr Who writer) creative process, constructed from e-mails sent about his thoughts as he was working on the last series. Very few writers ever seem to go that deeply into their process, so it was quite enlightening. Also rather funny at the point where he had to scrap the idea for the new Doctor's Assistant he'd been working tirelessly on after Catherine Tate agreed to do the series, if only for the speed with which he got enthusiastic about completely scrapping a character.

My article is away to the journal I'm hoping will accept it, though it does rather rely on nice people in Limerick A: having heard of obscure parts of Nottinghamshire, and B: caring.

England have just hit 202 in 20 overs against South Africa. If I were Ireland, I'd be asking for Eoin Morgan back.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Semaphore anthology 2009

Semaphore Magazine's second anthology has just started taking pre-orders. It contains, among other slightly more sensible things, a couple of my short stories in the form of "A Madder Scientist" and "The Apocalypse Factor". You can find more details of what's inside here

Apparently there are also three copies of the first anthology still unsold. Get them while they're, um... still rectangular things with pretty covers.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


I popped in to the university fencing club last night, on the basis that I am technically still a student. Far too energetic. They're doing warm ups and things now, whereas my idea of warming up is usually to grab a weak foilist and fence them at half speed. On the other hand I did get to fence the university's new sabre expert, a nice young man from Japan named Kaito Azuma, over in Hull as an international student. Apparently he's already won the Coventry open, and I can see why. Talking of technically being a student, I now have a date for my viva. I'm not as nervous about it as I thought I'd be, but maybe that's because it's still a month off.

On the writing front, I'm still looking for homes for a few of my pieces, perhaps because there aren't that many places that look for the sillier sort of fantasy. Still, I have a list, and I shall work through it dilligently (with occasional blackmail where necessary).

I've also nearly finished a short historical article, which I'm hoping to submit to a journal that happened to send me (and, admittedly everyone else in my university. And probably several other universities. But they don't count) an e-mail asking for articles. The trick is finding a way to make something quite local seem like it might be of national importance. Or at least of importance outside a small corner of Nottinghamshire.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Research and Planning

Just a short thought on research, and how much people do for various pieces of writing, because my friend Adam Wilson has been revealing over the last couple of days just how much planning goes into his short story writing process. For one piece, "Eight plus Eight" (largely about communicating without a shared language, through the underlying concepts of numbers) he spent an afternoon sitting a mile from his girlfriend, attempting to teach her the language used in the story over an internet link, through a programme he put together in QBASIC, without using a word of English at any point. Even for his normal stories, Adam ends up with bizarre mind maps that I can only make any sense of if I happen to have the story in question to hand.

Contrast this with my own approach, which hardly ever involves any specific research at all. Though admittedly, that's because I'll look into these things for fun, without the need for the prompting of a story. In that sense, I guess you could say that the research is pretty constant, and that the difference isn't quite as pronounced as you might first think. I've even been known to write page after page of notes on occasion. The only difference being that I then generally forget where I left the things and have to write from memory.

Even so, I think that the two approaches result in quite different types of story. Adam's short (ish, one of the things this seems to do is push up the length considerably) pieces are generally meticulously detailed, elegantly plotted, and quite deceptive up to the end. (Also rather good. Read them if you get the chance). They're like some delicately fitted together watch, where all the pieces fit perfectly so that nothing goes "spoooiiing" at an unfortunate moment. Mine are generally a bit more vague, they certainly won't count as hard sci-fi any time soon, and frankly I quite enjoy it when bits go "spoooiiing" in a suitably amusing way somewhere in the middle.

And the best bit, the absolute best bit, is that both approaches work. Which is just as well really, since I haven't got a clue when it comes to QBASIC.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


I was revising some short stories the other day, and I couldn't help but notice something. There were four of them: one about where evil fantasy villains come from (and no, it doesn't go "One day, when a mummy villain and a daddy villain love one another very much..."), one about where supervillains get their plans, one about what it's like guarding your basic stronghold of evil, and one about zombie furniture.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm sensing a bit of a pattern here. Which is slightly interesting, because I've never really been able to understand how those themed collections that authors and poets produce occasionally come into being. I guess I thought that they sat down and said "right, I'm jolly well going to write a collection, and it's going to be about..." (because of course all authors speak like rejects from Wodehouse).

What yesterday seems to suggest, instead, is that they have a look through their work one day and think "Gosh, these short stories all seem a bit similar. I wonder what I should do with them" at which point they obviously call over their butler/manservant, who suggests the cunning plan of calling them a collection and pretending that they meant it all along. (Look, I'm sorry, I'll stop now.) That certainly seems to have been the case with Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, where the joining idea of all the stories being individual moving tattoos, while very clever, clearly came as an afterthought.

Of course, it might not be like that at all. It might be that people genuinely do sit down with a theme, a blank series of computer files, and the will to turn that theme into an amazing series of stories/poems. It's possibly slightly more likely that they think "that's a great theme", power through the first few from sheer inspiration, and then somehow scrape the rest together. I don't know. Maybe you do. Have you ever sat down and tried to write to a theme? Or have you found your work following the same theme without noticing you were doing it? Have you ever heard authors talking like something from the nineteen twenties? I'd like to know.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, remember...

It's Guy Fawkes Night over in the UK tonight, nicely timed for the rain, I think. Though I'm planning on fencing this evening rather than standing watching small figures in the distance blow things into brightly coloured smithereens. (I love the word smithereen, don't you? It sounds like it ought to be an alien from Dr Who really. A tiny one.) If I wanted to do that, I'd go to watch the efforts of a few of my more chemistry inclined friends as they worked. That's one slight downside to history, I suppose. You hardly ever end up blowing up your workspace by accident. Though it occurs to me that, since they can cover just about anything that has ever been done in the past, up to and including slightly pyrotechnic experiments, the words "experimental archaeology" might be my friends here.

On a completely different note, I've managed to find this old review of semaphore magazine's first anthology, and I rather liked it. In fact it's made my day.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Hang on, I like Hull?

I came to a rather bizarre conclusion yesterday, which is that I actually quite like Hull. Now, any of the inhabitants would understand the sheer oddness of this instantly, but for everyone else, I should probably explain. There is something of an fashion in Hull for regarding it as the worst city in the UK. Which is probably why it came top of the list in the book "100 c**p towns". Yes, that's right, people in Hull actually voted for their hometown as the worst in Britain. Even the name is generally depressing. I was on a train yesterday coming into the place and the driver was reading out the coming stops. "Selby" she said brightly. "Brough" was in a tone of voice that at least seemed reasonably happy. But when it came to "and Hull", things frankly went downhill a bit. She sounded almost apologetic about the fact that she had to take some of us there.

But the thing is, I was on a train, having just been to Horsforth by way of Leeds(a note to any southerners out there. Northern place names ending in forth are not pronounced as though they come after Horsthird. Instead, it's Horsfuth. This has been an announcement by the Yorkshire Received Pronounciation Initiative) . Now, I accept that nowhere looks particularly nice from around its train station, but Leeds in particular seemed to lack any character. It was just an endless parade of identical concrete and glass boxes, crammed to the brim.

It was at about that point I realised that Hull actually makes a real effort when it comes to preserving the character of the place. Or at least, so few people want to live and do business there that there isn't the same pressure to rebuild with a lack of style. (You see, we can't help ourselves.) Maybe it's also that Hull's smaller size appeals to those of us who don't really get on with inner city living. I've lived in suburbs, villages, small farms and one one occasion on an island, none of which really gel with sudden insertion into one of the busier cities. Personally, I'd like to think that it's because East Yorkshire is generally a nice place to live, once you get over the weather.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Stepping Down

Right, first thing's first. I've stepped down as fiction editor of Gloom Cupboard. I've been responsible for perhaps half a dozen prose issues (the last of which has just gone up, so pop across and look) and a nice interview with Gary Murning. I'd like to wish the best of luck to the magazine's remaining editors.

Also importantly, I've found the e-mail I was looking for, telling me where I submitted the short story. I'm glad I found it before I did something silly, like sending it somewhere else. (Or worse yet, submitting it to the same people. That would probably reach whole new heights of embarrassing). Just as a random question, do you ever set out to write pieces for particular markets? I don't, as a rule, but I've heard that some people do, and I find myself interested in how people manage to kick their assorted bits of inspiration into approximately the right shape.

I've started reading Toby Frost's God Emperor of Didcot. I just spent five minutes trying to locate my friend James' interview with him, but I can't, so you're going to have to do without the link. Read the book instead.

I have finished (that's right, finished! Hang on, why am I getting excited about 3000 words of short story?) my short story featuring the zombie sofa. Honestly, at least one of the novels was easier than this.