Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Resolutions Reviewed

At the start of the year, I made the following resolutions:

  1. To fence at least one competition worth ranking points this year.
  2. To write something everyday on whatever my main project is
  3. To seek academic publication, an academic position, and world domination. Not necessarily in that order.
  4. My writing still needs more penguins.
  5. To improve my cardio-vascular fitness to the point where I don't feel like I'm going to die after the first round of fencing's direct eliminations.
  6. To sell at least one novel this year.
So, how did I do? Well:

  1. I fenced the Sheffield Open, The Leeds Open, and the National Championships. All competitions with the potential for ranking points. I actually got ranking points out of precisely one of them.
  2. I'm ghost writing constantly, but that means that I often didn't put as much into my own work as I should have. Even so, I finished at least one novel.
  3. I briefly attempted this, and continue to, off and on, though it is less of an immediate priority.
  4. Several crept into the ghost writing. A success, I think.
  5. I got through the first round at leeds without breaking a sweat. Then again, I did earn a bye for that one.
  6. Are there things I wrote this year available from Amazon? Why yes, there are. Do they have my name on? No. For things that do, but which I sold last year, look slightly to your right.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Mayday Review

I finished Mayday, by Adam Wilson, earlier today, and all I can say is that if you didn't get enough things to read for Christmas, this is a great way to treat yourself.

The blurb:

Meet the Global International Liberation Army, Britain's least dangerous terrorist threat. They talk tough, but behind their codenames and passwords its operatives are bored salesmen and hairdressers seeking escape from their everyday lives. Every week at their secret hideout they plot to overthrow the government… just as soon as they've finished their cups of tea and written a few poems about how rebellious they're being. Inept shelf-stacker Simon Corinth, their newest recruit, fits in perfectly, and agrees to travel with them to London for a May Day protest march. But he soon discovers that GILA has a dark secret, and suddenly finds himself running for his life, ruthlessly hunted by a murderous conspiracy. Who wants them dead, and why? With danger closing in on all sides, Simon knows he'll need more than slogans and sandwiches if he wants to survive the terrifying and bloody plans his unseen enemy has for May Day.

Let's start with a couple of slight downers to get them out of the way. Adam wrote this several years ago, and has published it himself. In places, both of those things show through. Not only could the manuscript probably have done with someone else proofreading it, but there are also a few traits that tend to get phased out as writers do more (a lot of suddenlys, a small obsession with the colon, and a few other bits and pieces). Add to that a couple of moments where things didn't quite work (the villain feels a little two dimensional, for example, and the end risks spiralling off into ordinary thriller territory for a few pages before Adam pulls it back into something with more depth) and you might be forgiven for thinking that I didn't enjoy this.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I found myself engrossed by this story of ordinary, slightly sad people sneaking around knowing that they aren't quite the revolutionaries they hoped to be and then getting caught up in things far more dangerous than they ever could have dreamed of. I loved the depth to most of them (even the aforementioned villain only comes across as 2D by comparision) and the beautiful eye for detail that lets Adam pick apart the absurdity of their lives even while placing them in mortal danger.

Yes, I said absurdity. That's not something I would normally expect from Adam, but this manages to mix in a streak of understated humour that lends just the perfect edge to everything else. Then there's the plot. Normally, people who go for a lot of twists and turns have trouble controlling things, but Adam's skill here is in throwing things together and still making it all seem coherent as he builds in layers of meaning. Yes, he pulls one or two slightly hackneyed devices, but even those are given the sort of secondary levels that let them work brilliantly.

It's that sense of a lot of different layers that makes this such a great read. Yes, you could read it as a fairly normal sort of thriller, but it also manages to make fun of a few thriller type cliches, has the time for some serious commentary on our responses to terror, plays with a fun selection of fairly deluded anarchists, weaves in a not-quite-love story, and still has time for a rather touching tale of someone forced to face up to realities he wouldn't have gone near had he not followed the wrong girl into a bookshop.

I think the best thing I can say about Mayday is this: after a while, I forgot who had written it and just started loving it. I'll certainly be reading it again.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Ever After

I just thought I'd point out that the 'happily ever after' anthology over at Pink Narcissus Press is still open to submissions until 31st December. It's for stories that are all about what happens after the happily ever after, whether it's Sleeping Beauty's divorce, or the return of an evil witch, or simply about what happens when I consider the phrase "you have to kiss a lot of frogs" with too much time on my hands (which is my way of saying that my story based on the Frog Prince is in there, and it would be nice to have some company).

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Interview With Adam Wilson




As promised, an interview with Adam Wilson, author of Mayday and occasional producer of some of the most brilliant short stories I have read. As background, I first met Adam several years ago when he was part of Hull University's fencing club, where a mutual friend of ours happened to mention that the tall bloke with the weird inside-out lunge wrote short stories and occasionally got feedback from friends. I pestered him into being a critique partner, and I have rarely been so happy to read the stuff that has been put in front of me. Anyway, here he is. For the most realistic effect, try arranging your seating position so that you are looking at the screen almost vertically.



First, tell people some stuff about yourself.

Well, I’ve been on this earth for 25 years and I’ve been writing in some form for most of those. Typically I write science fiction or thrillers. I grew up in rural Wales. At age eighteen I started work on Mayday, a thriller novel that I continued to write through my undergrad, working in whatever half-hour scraps of time I could find. No wonder that it took almost two years to write the first draft! (Actually, the final quarter of the book was written in those six ‘missing’ weeks in the summer of 2006, in which I lived like a hermit, speaking with no one and surviving only through endless consumption of tinned soup and the complete series of M*A*S*H.) After that I started writing short fiction. I’m interested in mathematics, language, politics… Right now I live in Edinburgh, where I’m doing a PhD in supramolecular chemistry.

Mayday is one of your earlier pieces, isn’t it? What’s it like going back to that earlier writing self? Is he someone that you would desperately love to give some tips to?

Oddly enough I feel almost no sense of continuity with the person who wrote this book. Rereading it is an odd experience. It’s definitely a product of who I was then: eighteen years old, a country boy fascinated by cities, increasingly horrified by the government’s exploitation of the threat of terrorism but struggling to express it. Writing Mayday was a way of putting my thoughts in order. I think if I could go back and talk to my younger self I’d have a lot to tell him about politics. To make his teeth sharper.

What made you decide to publish it yourself? Given the amount of other stuff you’ve put out without recourse to publishers, is this some sort of deliberate ploy, or is it just an attempt to annoy those of us who have lots of stuff floating around, but know you’re a better writer?


Actually it happened by accident. I was content to leave Mayday as something of a museum piece, but a couple of months ago a friend of mine who’d read it asked for a copy. I’m afraid I didn’t really take her seriously – I thought she was just being polite. But she persisted, and eventually I thought, why not? And it turned out to be cheaper to use a print-on-demand service than to do it myself.
I did try sending Mayday off to publishers, but only half-heartedly. I’m a perfectionist with my writing, and in the time it took to edit and get the book ready, I was already moving on in the direction of short stories. Although I’d love to write another novel, a science fiction piece maybe, I feel I learn more with short stories, can deliver ideas better.

Who are GILA, why should we care about them, and have you just ripped off the People’s Front of Judea?

The Global International Liberation Army is the manifestation of all that frustrates me about anarchist or counter-culture groups. Our hero meets them expecting to find hardcore revolutionaries; instead he finds an odd assortment of bored hairdressers and businessmen who fill their empty lives with the thrill of pretending to be revolutionaries. They use codenames and passwords and the fantasy of being dangerous as a kind of therapy. And this is all fine and lovely, until half of them are killed by a bomb they didn’t know they were carrying. The survivors scatter into the night, with no idea who lived and who died, trying to piece together what went wrong.
In its early stages, Mayday was going to be a much darker book, very serious, about anarchism. The more I read about modern anarchists, however, the more they got on my nerves. I realised that Mayday could never be a serious book: I had to make fun of these people, or at least comment on their foibles. That’s why the scenes with GILA and its members are often comical, even absurd, in the middle of a life-or-death action thriller.

Now that there is a real GILA logo on a scrap of concrete somewhere, is there a faint possibility that a (suitably incompetent) group will form around it by accident? If so, is there anything you would particularly like it to do?

I got my Dad to spraypaint the GILA logo on a paving slab in our garden. I think it’s unlikely to inspire any revolutions from there. If a real GILA did arise, I think my emotions would carve out a trajectory starting with abject horror, passing through mild amusement, then back to the horror.

Given that I first came across your writing as a critique partner of sorts, how important do you think that kind of feedback is? How do your stories change and evolve over time? (I’m thinking particularly of ‘signal flare’, which if I remember rightly went through a few incarnations before you got something you were happy with)

It’s very important to know what other people think of your work. You’re flying blind otherwise, and ultimately it’s them you’re writing for anyway. It’s all a question of knowing who you’re trying to please. You can’t please everyone. I have a small set of six or seven people whose opinions I trust (they don’t know who they are, and I like to keep it that way for reasons of objectivity!). I don’t consider myself any judge of what’s good and what’s not, so if a story of mine doesn’t get these people’s approval, I’ve been known to scrap it altogether.
The changes over time you mention are usually at the start. It’s the hardest part to write for me: I usually go through several versions before I find something I like. If the start is good, the story writes itself.

We’re almost opposites in terms of speed and length as writers. You are also almost an advert for avoiding that flash fiction ‘get it down right now in no words’ approach. What does your tendency to write fewer, longer pieces do to the work?


My philosophy is never to write something until I’m sure I have something worth saying. A finished story, for me, is a statement on my position on a topic, as carefully thought through as possible. That’s why I often go for long spells in which I write nothing at all: I’m still looking for something worth saying, or working out how I feel about an issue. It’s also why I tend not to go in for very short things. I need to tell a whole story. Flash fiction is very clever and I admire people who can condense their ideas so well. I just can’t.

You’re also quite big on research. In fact, you seem to be incredibly interested in almost everything. Is that a fair comment? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for research?

I think it’s less important to do research for stories than it is to be researching constantly, on all topics, and letting stories be the by-product of your reading. I never know what might be useful to know for a given story, so my policy is to try to know everything, or at least everything that interests me. A favourite story of mine is called Eight Plus Eight, which turns on the idea of trying to establish a shared language without being able to see the person you’re talking to, and what you can and cannot say in that language. It was inspired by a passage in Frankenstein (where the monster learns French by observing a family at mealtimes), but if I hadn’t already been reading about Wittgenstein and the history of mathematics, that germ of an idea wouldn’t have had anything to grow on.
Eight Plus Eight was also the weirdest thing I’ve done for the planning phase of a story. You’ve actually mentioned it in your blog a while ago: I held a ‘conversation’, if you can call it that, in the artificial language developed for the story, with my girlfriend, over MSN messenger. She didn’t understand the language at the start, and as per the requirements of the fictional situation, the only way I could explain the language was in that language itself. There were a couple of concessions made, since we only had an evening, but we managed to make a communications breakthrough.
(An idea for my next story may actually top that level of weirdness. Without giving too much away, it’ll involve buying a second-hand typewriter and writing some parts of it blindfolded… but let’s see how that unfolds.)

Given some of your short stories, I must ask- is the future really as bleak as all that? Honestly?

You base your futures on the world of today, and on what history tells you. As it arises, new technology will always end up first in the hands of the powerful, who will use it to increase their power. Science and progress will afford us increasingly effective ways of expediting our bigotry and aggression. And that’s just the baseline optimism I feel even before I try to Make A Point.


The inevitable writer questions, put in to be annoying. (Feel free to make fun of them. I’ve always been amused by the fact that only Neil Gaiman is ever honest enough to just reply ‘I make things up and write them down’ to the last one) When did you start? Did you always want to be a writer? Who’s your favourite character? Where do you get your ideas from?

I started writing seriously to give me an excuse to use my parents’ computer when we first got one – which gives some idea of how long ago that was! Ever since my innate geekiness has continued to fuel my writing.
My favourite character is a man called Lowe from the story Antique. In a near-future nightmare world of radically increased corporate control, he is an anti-corporate activist who fights for individual freedom – but he is also a psychopathic hardliner, an utterly ruthless absolutist who has no problem killing innocent people if they get in his way. It was a lot of fun getting inside his head. I wanted to address the logical fallacy that I see in a lot of leftie literature: in my mind, whenever there is a battle between Good and Evil, there will always be people on the side of good who are just as evil as the people they’re fighting.
And if I knew where I got my ideas from, I’d have had many more of them.

Where can people get hold of your work? Where can they buy Mayday? Can anyone who doesn’t actually live in Edinburgh get hold of any of your short stories?

You can buy Mayday online at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/mayday/13667928. I’m toying with the idea of putting a short story collection on there too, if people are interested in me doing that. You can also join my page on Facebook, Adam Wilson’s Short Thrillers, for very irregular updates on what I’m writing.

(You can also find his short story 'Like Killing Mice' Here- Stu. Thanks to Adam for answering, and I'll probably review Mayday once I've had a chance to sit down with it properly.)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Stuff

  • Finally, a fiction ghostwriting project that I don't have to keep secret. I'm currently working on a vaguely history based thing (what "really happened" at various famous events) and you'll be glad to know that a couple of blogfests here helped me get the gig, since I used my old bar scene and my sword in the stone thing as samples.
  • My most technologically rewarding moment ever: ordering thumb picks over the internet. I'm all for supporting local music shops, but not when they completely ignore me over plectrum isssues. Now, how do I download them?
  • I've sent my questions to Adam, and look forward to getting some suitably odd responses.
  • Having seen David Suchet on a programme about the Orient Express, I am now reading Murder on the Orient Express.
  • I'm still writing half a dozen things. I haven't deleted them. Yay.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Upcoming Interview

Good news. My friend Adam Wilson, who also happens to be one of my favourite writers, has agreed to do an interview here to promote his novel Mayday. Look for it as soon as I can think of something to ask him that might get an interesting answer (although with Adam, even a simple hello can have that effect, some days).

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Fairy Tale Blogfest

This is for the fairy tale blogfest, and is loosely based on... well, you'll guess.


Debriefing- Deniable Warfare Assault Recon: Fairytale HQ

The commander drew himself up to his full height and glowered down at the members of the elite unit currently standing at ease in front of him. So elite that even he only knew them by their call-signs, and that their slightly pointed red berets were something to be feared across half the magical kingdoms. They were the best of the best. At least, they were supposed to be.

“What do the seven of you think you’re playing at?” the commander bellowed, loud enough that at least one of them stared at his feet in shame. Of course, Bashful didn’t really count. “It was supposed to be a simple close protection operation. The princess was not supposed to end up in a critical condition.”

“With respect, sir,” the team’s medic put in, “we were able to stabilise the princess’s condition quickly and without risk.”

“Only because Charming happened to be nearby, from what I hear. If he hadn’t given her mouth to mouth, we would have looked like idiots.”

Another of the troops raised a hand. “In these uniforms, sir? We already do.”

The commander turned his attention to the newest of the team, promoted to it when Sgt Dopey had wandered into that minefield. As far as the commander was concerned, Pointed Remarks wasn’t settling in well.

“Let's talk about you for a moment. It’s bad enough having Grumpy whine about every mission, but I can live with that. When you can hit a pixie at a thousand yards with the Barret, you’ll earn a bit of leeway too.”

One of the seven grunted a grumpy acknowledgement.

“For now though, you don’t say things like ‘fairest of them all, pull the other one, love’ to the person you’re supposed to be protecting.”

“Sorry, sir.”

The commander sighed. “Honestly lads, did anything go right with this mission?”

“Well I think that everything went just swimmingly, sir, and-”

“Not you, Happy. How did someone even get past your defences?”

“Classic apple seller tactic, sir,” the Doc snapped out, looking faintly embarrassed. “Caught us just at the worst moment. Corporal Sleepy had just finished the night shift, and they were able to incapacitate Sneezy here with a bunch of flowers. You know how his allergies are. As for the other lads, well, someone had to keep up the cover identities in the mine.”

The commander looked down at a report, it was all there in black and white. “What I don’t get is why you didn’t test the apple, Doc. You were still there, weren’t you?”

“Yes, sir, and I did. Full chemical analysis before she took a single bite.”

“So what went wrong?”

“Turns out that the opposition had poisoned the other side of the apple, sir.”

The commander paced for a moment in front of his troops. They were the best of the best. He knew that. Most of them could clear a room with an MP5 in less time than it took to blink. Yet sometimes, he despaired of them.

“Lads, I’ll not lie to you. I’m getting pressure from up top over this. I’ve tried to point out that you dealt with a full team of Royal Rangers on the way to the safe house, but that’s not cutting much ice. The fact is, you made a mess of it, and after the thing in Oslo…”

“We got her out before the incendiary went off.”

“Only because she happened to feel it through a dozen mattresses. Relying on Dopey to check for devices was not a good idea, Doc. And the gig to finance the royal coup and get the kids to safety?”

“My fake ID was compromised, sir.”

“How? Even I don’t know your real name.”

“She just… guessed, sir.”

The commander sighed again. “The thing is, boys, it’s happening too often. The lads from Special Marine Urban Recon: Faerie are saying that they could do a better job.”

“What? They’d really send in the White Berets ahead of us?” Grumpy demanded. “Bunch of-” Happy clamped a hand over his mouth just in time. Doc did the same with Pointed Remarks.

“What I don’t get is why things have been going wrong,” the commander said. “It seems that Evil Queen forces are keeping up with us at every turn. How’s it happening, Doc?”

“Been thinking about that, sir,” the specialist said, “and you won’t like the answer. But me and the lads all think the same. We have… a leak.”

“Who?”

Pointedly, seven pairs of eyes swung to the corner of the room where a floor length mirror stood. A nervous cough came from it. “Who? Me?”

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Stuff

  • I'm currently working hard to get some copywriting out of the way before Christmas, as well as working on another ghostwritten novel. I might also have some comedy history stuff coming up in the new year, so it's busy times all round.
  • Nevertheless, I have still found time to do a little more work on my own stuff. I'm getting to the stage with the things that are out where I should probably hear something about them in due course.
  • I've been going to my local ju-jitsu class the past couple of weeks, and I have noticed two things. First, it is basically a karate class with a few throws, so I probably won't keep going. Second, I'm inclined to try odd moves that I have never been taught. In a bit of groundwork for someone's grading the other week, I pulled off a rubber guard/gogoplata combination that I stole off a computer game. I'm sure this is not how normal people do things.
  • I have also been reminding myself of the full Lee style tai chi form. Normally, I only bother with the short form, but it's nice to go back and work on the whole thing occasionally.
  • I'm currently reading Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte de Arthur, as well as Tom Holt's Expecting Someone Taller. I know which I'll finish first.
  • I'll be joining the fairy tale blogfest on the 18th, with something Snow White based.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Presents for Villains

Even evil overlords like the holidays. Mostly because heroes are too deeply snowed in to try to sneak into the castle. So, ten presents/holiday related things a villain might like:

  1. Paper of infinite wrapping. Set it loose and watch your enemies captured with a neat bow.
  2. Crackers of ultimate destruction. When they go bang, you know about it. See also...
  3. Jokes of Doom. Reduce your enemies to groaning wrecks with these awful cracker jokes (slightly hard to distinguish from the normal ones)
  4. Crystal baubles. Tell the future. Spy on your enemies. Then hang them from the tree so that you don't lose them.
  5. Stockings of stuff. Just your basic box of everything in a handy sock form. Reach in, and you could find anything. Rumours also suggest that there may be a sack of stuff somewhere.
  6. Gloves of penguin hypnotism. Let's face it, penguins have 'Army of Doom' written all over them. These gloves make it a reality.
  7. Reindeer tracking crossbows. Because for some reason, people always seem to want to break into the castle over the festive period using the aerial route.
  8. Miniature manacles. Because the fairies always fly off the tree otherwise.
  9. A cauldron of infinite boiling (note how the word infinite makes anything infinitely more magical). Used across the multiverse. Frequently on sprouts.
  10. Extra minions. Someone has to clean up afterwards. What do you mean 'time off'? Humbug, anyone?

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Answer

Thanks for all the guesses on the keyhole blogfest. I think it is probably time I told you the answer though.

Firstly, this is all from my Brian Northington stuff, the YA novel for which is out to a publisher at the moment, and a couple of the original short stories for which can be found in my writing credits tab. The two character's whose rooms I briefly mention at the start are Spider and Peter Edgeborough.

The main room description is for Philip Edgemonton Straggle, who used to be the resident monster wrangler/adventurous type for P.Edgeborough and co. (supplier of assorted dungeons of doom and other essentials for the truly evil overlord) until he met with what passes for an industrial accident in these circumstances. He had a particular fondness for dragons, and went out with Spider for a while.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Keyhole Blogfest

This is for the keyhole blogfest, where the idea is to post a description of somewhere that a particular character lives, and everyone else gets to guess as to the type of character. This one may seem a little odd at first, and technically I end up describing three rooms (those familiar with this particular batch of stories may be able to guess the names of the first two occupants from the context) but hopefully it will make sense:

Further on still, and frankly pushing the limits of what it should have been able to fit behind a florist’s shop, were what appeared to be living quarters. Opening doors revealed a neat, modern looking room with just enough in the way of ornaments that it would have had a feminine touch but for the samurai sword on the wall, followed by the sort of elaborate, heavy carpeted rooms that could have belonged to a country house. Brian identified the owners of those quickly enough, and tried the next door down.

It was open, and pushing the door ajar revealed a room that spoke of a life that had been… eventful, to say the least. A corkboard had faded maps pinned to it, most of them featuring notes that said things like “Lost city-found” or “Here be dragons? Where? I looked all over” in very familiar handwriting.

The furniture was robust, and obviously hadn’t been used in months if the dust was anything to go by, while most of it was covered in a mixture of old, leather bound books and the sort of ornaments that you only got from a life of fighting assorted monsters. The stinger of a giant scorpion served as a sort of paper spike on a desk, while a bowl of assorted teeth had the words “Do NOT drop” written on in quite large writing. There were watercolours on the walls, featuring griffons and were-beasts, minotaurs and more dragons than even Archibald Mathers could have contemplated.

Brian was just working his way through them, when from nowhere, he started to get the feeling that he had done something very wrong by coming in here. It probably had something to do with the largely untouched state of the room. It felt almost shrine like in the way it had simply been left. It also had a lot to do with the fact that there was a frighteningly accurate portrait of Spider sitting in amongst the other paintings. It seemed to scowl down at Brian, telling him that he had no right to be there, and that there would be trouble later. It was a lot for one painting to achieve, but even so, Brian was almost happy when he heard Violet calling out to him.

Watching the Ashes

There is a strange sort of madness that comes with the Ashes, and it stems mostly from the fact that the two teams playing one another live on opposite sides of the world. I'm talking, of course, about the crazy urge to watch them live on TV rather than waiting for the highlights. The pattern goes something like this:

  • Ask brother if he will be watching them. If he is, I have less of an excuse for doing normal things, like sleeping.
  • Put up with the rubbish TV that you get just before midnight, while brother takes a nap under the heap of blankets he intends to occupy on the sofa.
  • At 11:30, turn on to the commentary prior to the start of play. At 11:32, turn back to whatever I was watching before (an old Victoria Wood Christmas special, as it happens) to wait for midnight.
  • Midnight. They're not on the pitch yet. Why aren't they on the pitch? Oh, here they come.
  • Shortly after midnight. Watch Strauss leave a straight ball from Bollinger. Get frustrated at the time it takes for Trott to get ready at the crease.
  • Watch meandering run getting.
  • About half an hour later, realise that I'm a wimp, give up, and get some sleep.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Talli Roland: The Hating Game

A plug for someone else, for once. All right, so I'm not exactly a chicklit fan (aside from one rather odd phase a couple of years ago) but I am a fan of people trying to promote their novels, so I'd like to direct your attention to Talli Roland's site, where she's promoting her novel The Hating Game. If you do like chick lit, or you simply like the idea of helping someone hit the Amazon Kindle bestseller list, head over there.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Things I'm Writing

I occasionally mention that I'm trying to write lots of things at once (usually shortly before I mention that I have deleted lots of things at once) and I'm doing it again. It's just that this time, I'm determined to keep the files for these projects around so that even if they don't get finished immediately, I can keep coming back to them. I'm currently working on:

  1. The Glass. A man so sadly pathetic that he can only end up as the assistant to a fake psychic gets catapulted into a battle between abandoned angels and the things that live just the other side of the mirror. I'm aiming for funny and creepy in equal parts.
  2. Dave Maccleston: Lord of Darkness. An ordinary bloke ends up taking over a small kingdom of evil when the former overlord dies in a tragic 'messing with the fabric of reality' accident.
  3. Corners. Started life as something about the rather strange city I mentioned in other things, and is due to end up as a merry wandering around all sorts of places.
  4. Grey Knight. A brief meander into the realm of urban faerie stuff that I tried to write once before. William Grey was taken by one of the courts of the fey a couple of centuries back, as one of those people they keep alive while it amuses them. Now, he has to work for their interests in the modern world, while trying to claim back some semblance of humanity and identity. Probably fewer jokes.
  5. A vague idea about dungeon design as a money laundering scheme for the gnomish mafia. Another one I've tried to write before.
As you can see, the ideas get less defined as I go along, but that's mostly just about the attention I'm currently giving each one (and that, of course has to fit around the writing I'm being paid for).

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Stuff

  • The Ashes starts tonight, and I imagine I will do what I always do when they are in Australia, which is to stay awake just long enough to watch the first few overs. Here's hoping that they get off to a slightly better start than last time around.
  • A quick trip to one of the local jujitsu clubs has left me rather bruised, partly because I'm fairly prone to small injuries at the best of times, but mostly because I kept losing track of where the floor was when I was supposed to be breaking my fall. I think I also made the mistake of trying to be as hard in style as everyone else there. My few moments of success came when I drifted into something that was more Tai Chi than anything.
  • On the other hand, it has given me an excuse not to fence my club's men's foil competition on Thursday, so I shall be presiding for it instead. It makes more sense anyway, given that I'm supposedly the new club captain.
  • Various books I have ghostwritten are all coming out at once. Obviously, I can't say what they are, but it's nice to see them. One, however, keeps drifting back and back. It's the one where I let the most of my comedy style into the writing, so perhaps that has worried someone.
  • I persist in trying to write lots of things at once, and in working on novel length stuff. Possibly, until I've managed to do something with the three that are already written but unpublished, it might make more sense to work on shorter stuff, but I tend to get carried away.
  • Are there any blogfests around? I seem to have lost touch.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ashes Build Up

So, England have won their last warm up match before the Ashes begins, and with a slightly weakened side too (the four main bowlers having gone on ahead to Brisbane so as not to be lulled by the different conditions at Hobart). Some things worth paying attention to, therefore:

  • All the pitches for the warm up games have offered movement after a damp start to the Australian summer. Wet weather is set to continue, and the Aussies have to fancy the strength of their own pace attack, so possibly this trend will continue.
  • It does, however, mean that England are likely to continue with their policy of four front line bowlers. Paul Collingwood's medium pace dribblies in the last match also point to that, since they suggest that they will be used to fill in a few overs here and there. Good, until we hit a flat pitch. Then Australia have greater strength in depth, since Michael Clarke, Marcus North and Shane Watson are all effective part timers.
  • Most of England's back up bowling looked good, without being quite good enough to force a way into the main side. Tremlett, Bresnan and Shazad all bowled well, with movement in the mid 80s, but none of them threatened the 90mph mark the way Broad and occasionally Anderson can.
  • Panesar looks to have rediscovered his control, though the price for that seems to have been a slight loss of spin. As usual, the commentators started to suggest that he should bowl slower. Personally, I would much prefer him to rediscover the quicker ball he briefly experimented with, since it tends to be the more dangerous accompaniment to that style of spin.
  • On the batting front, most people have done well in at least one of the warm up games, with Bell and Collingwood getting good runs this time out. Pietersen's woes with left arm spin continue, and seem odd. The ball that got him from O'Keefe pitched on middle and off, straightening just enough to hit off. Had the leg spinner Smith bowled Pietersen surely wouldn't have had a problem with it. Hopefully, it won't prove a difficulty against new left armer Xavier Doherty.
  • Talking of whom, that seems like quite a surprising selection. I'm not offie Nathan Hauritz's biggest fan, but dropping him for the Ashes seems a little harsh, particularly when Doherty and Steve Smith both average around 48 with the ball. If they've brought him in specifically to trouble KP, then doesn't that leave the question of what will happen when he bowls at all the people who don't have a blindspot for slow left armers? Couldn't Michael Clarke do that job?

All in all, it's looking like a closer contest down under than we've had for a few years.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Magical Items the Other Way

Has it really been more than a week since I last posted? Still, as a way back into things, ten magical items that assorted heroes might find at some point. You might recognise a few as favourites of mine:

  1. A sword of general light entertainment. Like role playing's traditional dancing sword, but with a wider skill set.
  2. Gaffer tape of healing. Because Gaffer tape can fix anything.
  3. A drunken sat nav. Because you've got to find that lost city somehow.
  4. A sword of extreme bluntness. What happens to the average vorpal sword after the health and safety people have been in.
  5. A box of random reorganisation. These actually exist. Usually as filing cabinets.
  6. Infinite String. Because some string wants to be longer than the official 31.5cm answer to a pointless question.
  7. A shield of shielding. All right, technically just a shield...
  8. Spectacles of continuous accountancy. This may count as a cursed item, or might just be the only way the average barbarian thief is going to keep track of his or her finances.
  9. The badge of minion making. Before it's attached, they're happy, normal people. Afterwards, they're grumpy, slack jawed and inclined to obey orders with stupid literal mindedness. May be used in our world by certain coffee chains.
  10. A ten foot pole of... well, you tell me what all those ten foot poles are for. There must be some point to them.
Any ideas for other ones? Any that you would particularly like to see included in a story at some point? Any traditional fantasy magical items that have always struck you as annoying and/or silly?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tenth

I came tenth at the Leeds Open, which was only a couple of places off where I suspected I might end up when I saw the direct elimination sheets. I'm slightly annoyed to have lost my first DE match by getting carried away, but since winning it would have run me straight into Mike Berry (who beat the guy who beat me 15-1), it's not like it makes too much difference. I may even have acquired a ranking point or two as a result of the day (but no more than that. I think there were perhaps three people from the top hundred there).

I haven't written much on any personal projects in the last few days, though I'm trying to put together some samples of script writing and biography as an obvious way of expanding my current work. Both seem to be potentially useful areas for ghostwriting, but as always in this game, you need to have already done things before people will let you do things. I suspect it's the same with almost everything.

Friday, 5 November 2010

An acceptance

I've just had a short story accepted for the 'Daughters of Rapunzel' anthology from Pink Narcissus Press, all about what happens after the happily ever after in traditional fairy tales. The anthology is still open to submissions, so head over there to get details.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Stuff

One of the slightly awkward bits when writing comic fantasy is describing your main characters when we first meet them. All the normal difficulties of description (not wanting a huge break for a section marked 'this is a description', not producing something bland and repetitive) apply, but at the same time, it has to be made funny. It can be quite tricky to find the perfect similies without making them seem too odd.

One possibility does occur, which is a variation on the old mirror trick. That's the one where the MC happens to check their appearance on the way to something, giving us a chance to see them. To make it funnier, why not go with a magic mirror inclined to give fashion advice?

I've sent a fairy tale inspired piece off to an anthology, all about what happens after the happily ever after, so we'll see what happens with that. It's slightly obsessed with ponds.

On the fencing front, this weekend is the Leeds open. Assuming that I manage to park at some point on the day (Leeds not being terribly helpful in that respect) it should be a fun competition. I did, however, make the classic mistake of checking the entry list against the British rankings, to see where I should be aiming to come. It's an obvious way of taking the whole thing far too seriously.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Edgy?

I've found myself juggling three or four short stories in the last couple of days. Mostly, that's because I have decided to have a crack at a few anthologies, and inevitably, they all seem to have the same deadlines. The result is flitting back and forth, which isn't terribly efficient, but does actually get more done in the end, since normally, I would just give up and switch off the computer at that point.

Is it just me, or is there almost nowhere that caters to light/comic/humourous fantasy at the moment? Yes, there are antipodean publications ASIM and Semaphore, but almost all magazines seem to have got it into their heads that people only read 'edgy' stuff. The same goes for a lot of publishers (I'm having to try to remember to rein in the humour with some of the ghostwriting, in particular). This is awkward, because normally, any edge in my writing comes down to the spiky bits on the armour, coupled with the odd pointed gag.

I'd like to think that there's a place for that sort of thing, but increasingly, I'm led to doubt it. I think it says just about everything that the novels of mine that are published are the ones without jokes, but with plenty of grumpiness and violence. It probably says something very sad about the world in general, or at least tattoos it on its own forehead in an effort to show how tough it is.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Accidental World Building

I woke up the other day and realised something: I have created a world. Which sounds, when I put it like that, as though I have been very busy with a welding torch and some gaffer tape, and now keep a small planet on top of my wardrobe. What I should actually say, I suppose, is that I have ended up, quite by accident, creating a story universe for things to happen in that exists in my head beyond the scope of just the stories set there.

It's not a big place yet, and not that detailed, but certain key places keep cropping up in my writing. For example:

Nether Wrexford. The place that started all this nonsense, really, and which I wouldn't have made up if I hadn't needed somewhere to replace the word 'Hull' in one of my novels. A quintessentially English small university town, it is briefly described in one spot as having 'all the charm of a multi-storey car park'. Also seems to have weird stuff happen there. A lot.

The Plains of Infinite Desolation. Made up for a joke about EU employment law. Now my default setting for evil castles/overlords.

Hive. Apparently a city full of giant ants. Vaguely inspired by one of Bill Bailey's comedy songs.

Corner. One of those inevitable cities where dozens of other dimensions impinge. As they do in so many fantasy settings, though no one ever seems to consider the consequences of this sort of thing, like the difficulty of popping down the shops for a pint of milk when you might end up somewhere else entirely. Or the need for a Guild of Extreme Cartographers, inventors of the art of origami mapmaking.

Varansburg. A small town pretending to be a city. Home to the most dangerous dungeon P.Edgeborough and co. have ever designed, full of spiked pits, scything blades, and groups of skeletal worriers. And yes, I spelled that correctly.


Ok, so it isn't much of a universe yet, and it also runs into the rather large problem that I have used Nether Wrexford as focal points in two rather different series, but what surprises me is that I have done this at all, given that my default setting is 'create the right environment for the story'. So what about you? Have you ever created a world more or less by accident?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Monster Mash Blogfest

This is for Roh Morgan's Monster Mash blogfest:


Hryng the Mighty loosened his sword in his sheath, making his way through the twisting caverns by the light of that strangely fluorescent moss that always grows in them just in case you have forgotten to put new batteries in your torches. Soon he would face his greatest test. Soon, he would fight the beast.

The tunnel he was in opened out into a wider space and Hryng saw it, outlined by the lights of a dozen flickering lamps. Huge, it was, and only vaguely humanoid, with matted fur and scythe like claws that could cut through armour as easily as the lid of a TV dinner. It was just as well, really, that Hryng had long ago sworn solemn oaths to wear no more than furry underwear, large boots, and a lot of leather straps while questing. Hryng took a step towards the beast.

“Excuse me.” A blonde-haired young woman stepped out of the shadows to block Hryng’s way. Unlike most of the young women Hryng met in the course of his work, she was wearing a rather expensive looking suit. She was also holding a clipboard. “Do you have an appointment?”

“An appointment? Who are you, wench?”

“I’m Lucy. I’m the Great Beast’s PA. And I’ll thank you not to call me that sort of thing.”

“You’re a what?”

The young woman sighed. “A PA. A personal assistant. What, did you think that hero slaying, countryside ravaging and weekends hungering bleakly in the dark organized themselves?”

“Um…” It wasn’t a syllable Hryng the Mighty had uttered before. Uncertainty was for people who didn’t have four foot swords.

“Look,” Lucy said. “Did you have an appointment or not?”

Hring the Mighty looked down at his feet. “Got a sword.”

“That will be a no, then?” The woman consulted her clipboard. “Honestly, it’s always the same with you heroes, isn’t it?”

A rumbling towards the back of the cave resolved itself into a deep, growling voice. “Lucy, is that a hero there? I didn’t think I was due to fight any heroes.”

“No. He just wandered in, as usual. Don’t you worry yourself about it. I’ll tell him to go.”

The beast actually looked slightly disappointed by that prospect. “I’m sure I could spare him five minutes. It’s been ages since I had a proper battle with a hero.”

The PA shook her head. “You’ve got your hair appointment in half an hour, remember? How are you supposed to stay properly matted if you miss that?”

Hryng raised his hand, slightly tremulously. “I’m sure we could fit it in. It really wouldn’t take a minute.”

The young woman snorted. “Right. Like I haven’t heard that before. You lot always say that it will just be a couple of swipes and a decapitation, but I haven’t met one of you yet who can’t turn a simple meet and slay into a five hour epic struggle. One bloke took all day. All day. What was he doing? Waiting until the beast starved? It had to be the day his mother was coming to visit too, didn't it?”

Hryng steeled himself to argue. “But-”

“No buts.” Lucy the PA made a note on her clipboard. “If you want a fight, you can make an appointment like everyone else.”



And that, brave souls, is the tale of how Hryng the Mighty fled before the Great Beast of the Caves. Though he did nip back on Tuesday, about ten-ish, sandwiched between the creature’s shiatsu session and a meeting with its publicist.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A Memo

Memo from the desk of P.Edgeborough (This has always confused me. Why is my furniture supposed to be sending you things? A blotter of constant communication, yes, but not a desk.)

to B. Northington.

Hello, young Brian. Just a quick to-do list while Spider and I are away at the annual Dungeon Excavation And Design of the Last Year conference. I understand that Spider has left you a rather longer not-to-do-under-any-circumstances list. Please follow every point except the last. I feel that "don't move. Don't even breathe" is perhaps a little harsh.

Now:

  1. Remember to spread out fresh newspapers every morning for the Sphinx we currently have in. It gets through the crosswords rather quickly.
  2. We seem to be running short on tea. Ordinarily, I would ask you to pop over to the tea fields of Oolong-Grey for some more, but Spider has suggested that a trip to the shops will do just as well. There is money in the nearly bottomless purse (assuming the bottom hasn't fallen out again).
  3. If you could possibly give those twenty crates of spinning blade traps a quick polish, that would be wonderful. I imagine if you put a chamois in one spot and just set them going, they should be done in double quick time.
  4. I had a note from one of our customers complaining that a couple of the rings of power have developed a slight fault. Could you please try them and see if any give you the urge to go on about your birthday. For any that do, there is a small portable volcano in the back room.

Thankyou. Peter. (P.S. in the event of an emergency, both Spider and myself should be easy to contact at the conference. I will be hosting the seminar on "Dungeon Design: Pointy Spike and Non-Pointy Spike Paradigms". Spider has indicated that she will be in the bar.)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Stuff

By way of an explanation of why I haven't posted since Monday, some things that have been happening this week:

  • An interview for a job as a copywriter, featuring the usual writing test. I like these, as it's so much more straightforward than trying to come up with answers to questions about yourself. With any luck, then, there's a chance of what the Douglas Adams character Dirk Gently once referred to as 'monotony of pay'.
  • I have been busy, too, with the rewrites for my Brian Northington novel, which is coming together nicely. That's one thing about writing comedy. It might seem fluffy and light weight, but it needs to be honed just as much as serious prose. The wrong word can kill a joke.
  • And with finishing off the latest ghostwriting project. Just a few chapters to go.
  • And with reading American Gods. Again.
  • Oh, and with trying to find competitions to fence in. Apparently, it's the Leeds Open at the start of next month, while the York open doesn't include sabre, for some reason best known to York University's sabre teams.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hook, Line and Sinker Blogfest

This is for the hook line and sinker blogfest, and is something I wrote as a starting point whilst working on my Brian Northington novel. This is all I have, along with the working title Kenneth Maccleston: Lord of Darkness.

All stories have to begin somewhere, and it seems right that ours should begin in that most traditional of ways- with a note on sheds. Almost everywhere in the multiverse, from the fabled ant metropolis of Hive to cities so lost that adventurers pour a quart of gin into their Sat Nav before setting off, certain examples of the male of the species have long felt the need to wander off into small, wooden huts to undertake activities best known to themselves.

The precise nature of these activities is hard to speculate upon, except to say that, if the evidence is to be believed, they seem to involve a tangled length of hosepipe, a couple of rusted bicycles, and some spare parts for a car that the shed’s possessor has never owned. Some commentators have suggested explanations for this phenomenon ranging from strange rites to attempts to produce perpetual motion machines that actually work. Other commentators, generally slightly less drunk, have suggested that the sheds are probably just a convenient space for some time away from the family and a quiet smoke, and that the stuff in them is just… well, stuff.

Lord Vladimir the Perpetually Bad Tempered was currently putting his shed to a slightly different sort of use. But then, it was a slightly different sort of shed. Having heard about the phenomenon, Lord Vladimir realised the impracticalities of it for an evil overlord of all he surveyed even as he decided that he really wanted one. As such, his “shed” was actually a wooden-finished tower of his dark redoubt, proofed against demonic intrusion and that horrible greenish moss you get on old sheds by strange and terrible magics. Wyverns nested under it where hedgehogs normally might have, and rather than old car parts, it was filled with artefacts of power and cursed tomes. Admittedly, in deference to the universal laws, very few of them had worked in years. A single length of jet-black hosepipe lay tangled somewhere towards the back.

Currently, Lord Vladimir was toying with powers from Beyond. Not beyond anything in particular (except possibly the normal rules of capitalisation). Just generally Beyond. This might seem like unusual behaviour for a man in a shed, but as has been noted, the overlord’s shed was far from standard. In any case, as the absolute ruler of a moderately large kingdom of evil, he could smoke where he liked, so he had to find something to do there.

As such, Lord Vladimir sat at a workbench in his wooden tower, his spiked black armour neatly hung on a frame behind him, making mystical passes over a crystal ball whilst his trusted hench-goblin, minion, and general valet Tilesbury looked on with increasing concern.

The concern was because his lordship was drunk.

There are a number of things that it is generally inadvisable to attempt whilst drunk. Driving, for example. A tax return. Juggling chainsaws. Compared to messing with things Beyond, however, all these activities count as so sensible that even the health and safety executive might only shut them down temporarily.

Tilesbury the goblin cleared his throat.

“My lord,” he said in the cut glass accent that had seen him thrown out of minion school twice for insufficient snivelling, “is it entirely wise to be attempting this? After all, you are a rich man. I’m sure you could simply buy access to the ‘barbarian babes in chain mail’ channel if you wished.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Lord Vladimir demanded, sending a flash of magic into the crystal ball. He wagged a rather unsteady finger at the goblin. “Interrupt me again, and I will have you thrown to the Thing.”

“Very good sir,” Tilesbury sighed. “Though if you could give me a little advance notice there? It might take some time to rouse it.”

“Oh, has it been feeling unwell?”

“Exactly, sir. I tried explaining to your guard captain that if he must throw heroes to it, it is generally better to take the armour off first, but he didn’t really listen.”

“Poor Fluffy,” Lord Vladimir said, returning his efforts to the crystal ball. For a moment a picture came into focus. “I think I’m getting it.”

Since this is supposed to be a family friendly affair, this seems like a good moment to discuss that other vital topic- goblins. No, you can’t stay watching over his lordship’s shoulder. Honestly.

Now, to goblins. Since time immemorial, villains of all stripes have felt the need for minions to do the dirty jobs. Like trying to find seven dozen virgins on the night of the full moon when that faint feeling that they’ve forgotten something resolves itself. Or having someone to shout at when they can’t.

They have very often found an answer to their minioning needs in the form of short, green, capering creatures with names like Snot and Grak. As such, a number of traits have become quite deeply ingrained in the goblin make up, from a knack for getting hideous torture devices really clean, to a skull that can survive having things thrown at it every time their employers are annoyed. Which is, almost by definition, constantly. Most relevant here is the deep seated knowledge that, whenever the boss says things like “I think I’m getting it”, it’s probably time to duck.

Despite hardly living up to goblin standards in most other respects, Tilesbury eased himself behind a conveniently large box of battery-less rings of power.

“My Lord, I really feel that I should point out that you did have quite a lot to drink with the ambassador from the snake people.”

“Hardly a drop!”

Tilesbury sighed once more. “Seven pints, sir. Plus that bottle of wine from the elven kingdoms, four glasses of brandy, and what turned out on further inspection to be a measure of Ikthian Klaah poison, deadly in all but the smallest doses.”

“Like I said, hardly anything,” Lord Vladmir insisted. “Now stop distracting me before-”

The explosion wasn’t quite the biggest Tilesbury had seen.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Finished

49,347. That's how many words my first draft has ended up with now that I've finished.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Stuff

  • My YA Brian Northington story is up to about 45000 words at the moment. I suspect that the full thing will be a little over 50000, which is obviously quite short, but I have some specific people in mind for it who seem to like that length.
  • It's curious how much characters have to change and shift between short stories and longer work. Brian has to be a bit more sensible just to function over a longer story, despite being younger. Spider has to have some good reasons to stay that grumpy. And as for Trouble the not-quite-chameleon, he has changed into something very different indeed.
  • I've been rooting around in old boxes to find things to re-read, though I'm having trouble settling on anything. A very brief traditional fantasy kick seems to be coming on as a result, which will no doubt be followed by parody.
  • I have been applying for real jobs again, the ghostwriting not really having enough progression in it to sustain itself long term. On the other hand, it does mean that I get to apply just for the things I really want, rather than being in that awful situation of applying for everything in the hopes that something comes up.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Things I've Learned From Ghostwriting

I think I have done this before, but I remain convinced that ghostwriting has taught me some important lessons about my own writing, so here are a few of the more important ones:

  1. Everyone has a big idea, even if it is the same as quite a few other people's. The question is more what you're inclined to do with it. (I know I keep saying this. It's still true. At some point, I'm going to get around to running a very specific blogfest to prove it, with the same story written a dozen different ways).
  2. You can write more than you think. You really can. A thousand words a day? Ha! I once produced a YA novel in just under two weeks. And no, it wasn't rubbish. In fact, because it happened to be the piece that caught my imagination, it is probably one of my better ghostwriting efforts. This isn't about boasting, because there's certainly nothing special about me. My point is that you probably could too.
  3. The marketing side of things matters. How many copies would these things sell with my name on? Probably not nearly so many as with a better known author's name on, who promotes the books extremely well.
  4. Your voice just happens. I am, I suspect, identifiably me in all my own writing. The thing is, notes of the same voice come through even when I'm ghostwriting. And the same is true of almost every other writer. It's why all these sporting biographies read so similarly. The point is that, well, you know all that time you spend trying to develop your voice, to force it into the right shape? It will happen anyway.
  5. There are always boring bits. I've had people say that this must be a great, exciting job. Invariably, it coincides with the moment when I'm struggling to put together the most awkward bit. The bit that bores me just to think about, but which is still absolutely essential. Everything has boring bits. Even writing.
  6. Structure is important. The ghostwriting jobs that go wrong are the ones where the client sticks down a structure and you get on with the work without at least checking it, let alone arguing about it. Yet get the structure wrong, or the characters, and things can fall apart even if you're writing well.
  7. Get the work done. There is nothing like having to finish something to get paid to put writer's block in its place.
  8. Craft and inspiration. I am not inspired for every word I ghostwrite. I doubt anyone is. I doubt, moreover, that anyone is inspired for every word of their own work. The trick is to put together enough craft to be able to put together good work until inspiration decides to show up again.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Undead and Upholstered

And a quick plug for those who want the funny stuff. My short story undead and upholstered is in the October issue of eFiction. Online now.

Bad News Blogfest

This is for the Bad News Blogfest, and I thought, just for once, that I might try something that isn't designed as out and out comedy. Mostly because my YA Brian Northington novel (31 000 words and counting) is swallowing all the good jokes. Still:

Zack shuffled along, the worn leather of shoes taken from the dead hardly more than paper now against the road. Still at least they went with the suit, though not with the spill of blond hair down past his shoulders. The weight of the sandwich board at his neck was a constant, a certainty in a world that had lost them in one simple, single moment.

He stood outside a small cafĂ©, the sort of place that had people eating outside in defiance of all expectations of the British weather. Currently, the only two doing so were a delicate looking young woman and her boyfriend, a muscular young man who was looking at Zack with increasing anger. Zack wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like he had said anything. He never said anything at times like this.

The chalked message on the board was clear enough.

The young man rose from his seat, jabbing a finger towards Zack in a way that made it clear that he wasn’t at all happy.

‘God, I hate idiots like you. “The end is nigh”. You religious types, banging on about the end of the world. It’s getting so you can’t go out without someone telling you to repent. Some of us don’t have anything to repent for, mate.’

Zack gave a solemn smile. ‘I am happy for you.’

If anything, that seemed to make him angrier. ‘All right. You think the end of the world is coming. When? Tell me that, so I can have a good laugh when we’re still here.’

‘It is uncertain,’ Zack hedged.

That got a short laugh. ‘Oh, I thought it might be. It always is.’

‘It could be Tuesday evening. It could be Wednesday morning. It is hard to be more precise than-’

The punch wasn’t really that hard, but it did succeed in knocking Zack over. It is hard enough to keep upright wearing a sandwich board even when someone isn’t hitting you in the face, after all. While Zack lay on his back like an overturned turtle, his attacker stalked off, shouting something to his girlfriend about finding somewhere better to eat.

She didn’t follow immediately. Instead, she knelt by Zack, helping him to struggle out from the contraption around his neck and back to his feet.

‘Thank you,’ Zack said.

‘Yeah… um… I’m sorry about Edward.’

‘So am I.’

‘Um…’ the silence had an awkward quality Zack had heard more than a few times before, ‘really Tuesday night?’

Zack sighed. He closed his eyes briefly, calling. Light spun around him, weaving into two wings at his back, an aurora around his features. When he opened his eyes again, he saw with the ache of the years after the second Fall. He saw every sin, every hope. He knew that, as the young woman looked into the infinity behind those eyes, she saw too.

‘Yes,’ Zackiel said, as gently as he could, ‘really.’

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

England's Camping Trip

The England cricket team is back from its bonding session overseas, which seems to have involved the usual combination of adventure sports, camping, and spending the better part of a week in each others' company with no distractions. News of this has prompted me to ask some important questions:

  1. Do these blokes not see enough of each other anyway? With the crowded international calendar, 'Team England' spends most of its time on the road anyway. Kevin Peterson probably spends more time with Paul Collingwood than with his family. He certainly spends more time with him than with his county colleagues.
  2. Have none of them watched any horror movies? Does the England management not know that it is exactly this sort of expedition that vastly increases your risk of zombie attack?
  3. Monty Panesar. Doing adventure sports. Does this strike anyone else as a bad combination?
  4. Isn't it generally true that every sports team contains at least one person you don't like as much as the others? (often, for some inexplicable reason, me). Is sharing a tent with them a better recipe for A: harmony, or B: murder?
  5. Does the act of putting up tents increase cricketing performance? If so, should I be off down my local camping store now, in the off season, to beat the rush?
  6. In fact, wouldn't it be truest to say that the most team building element of the whole trip did not involve camping, or physical fitness, or worthy trips to put cricket into perspective, but was in fact that moment (probably on about day two) when they all snuck out together in search of a drink, a roof that wasn't canvas, and a phone with which to call home?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Bad News Blogfest

I've just decided to have a go at the bad news blogfest, which is on 2nd October.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Monsters

For the most part, monsters aren't that funny. After all, they eat your heroes, or scare them, or turn out to be irritatingly good looking and then go on to have a dysfunctional relationship with them (I'm talking to the Urban Fantasy and Teen Vampire Romance people there. You know who you are).

But they can be, and since I'm making it my personal mission (it sounds so much better when it's a personal mission, and not just something I feel like doing) to make things as silly as possible, here are some tips for getting a laugh out of assorted manticores, ogres, hydra and undead creatures.

  1. Exagerate. A giant snake doesn't sound that funny. An Acme Bigger-Than-The-Giant- Snake Snake has potential. Never be afraid of random capitalisation (i.e. Things)
  2. Don't let them behave monstrously, except by accident or during temper tantrums. A werewolf eating someone isn't funny. A werewolf trying to make pasta while furry and dangerous might be. A giant lizard that stomps all over a major city looking for its baby is sort of tragic. A giant lizard that does so because it forgot to put its contact lenses in and so didn't really notice all those skyscrapers, on the other hand...
  3. Give them concerns that are utterly mundane. It's sort of an extension of the above, but we expect monsters to be fantastical, so having them worry about their tax return/model railway/irritating children is nicely incongruous. Remember, monsters are people too. Or have at least eaten some.
  4. Think about consequences. Turning into a wolf every full moon is one thing, but the funny bits come when you start to think about the minor details. Like finding clothes, or working doornobs, or the doggy urge to chase cars and cats.
  5. Ask how things are supposed to work. When the answer is 'oh, by magic of course', you probably have an opportunity to do something funny. Why don't bits fall off animated skeletons? Magic? Or lots of wire and gaffa tape?
  6. Make the monstrous cuddly, and the cuddly monstrous. Take the most overblown, tentacled, spike-mawed Thing you can think of. Now imagine that its name is Fluffy. Or that a ten-year-old girl takes it for walks and scratches what is probably its tummy. Alternatively, imagine a fifty-foot hamster (no ferris wheel would ever be safe).
  7. Never, ever let someone have a straightforward fight with them. Monstrous monsters have fights to the death with passing heroes. Funny monsters have fights to the death by appointment only, or insist on protective equiment, or get taken out by a falling piano, or turn out to have a phobia of humans and run off, or really just need you to sign a form saying that you fought with them and got torn to pieces, or have a huge argument among themselves, letting the hero slip past, or are beaten by a rather childish cheap shot.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Stuff

  • Various of my friends will be starting back at university about now, so good luck to all of them, and let's hope things don't get to the stage of the student who is suing Queen's University over his grade.
  • Almost time for the commonwealth games, so good luck to my friend Chris too. Not that we'll be able to watch him compete, since the BBC doesn't really do fencing.
  • I have managed to get one of my characters into a rather large and dangerous dungeon complex. Now all I have to do is figure out a way through it that is suitably funny.
  • I'm persisting with the freelance writing, though I'm also increasing my attempts to find work elsewhere. Writing the odd novel for a living is fun, if not as hugely paid as I might hope, but the stuff you have to do around it is rather less interesting.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

My occassional martial arts journeys.

This week featured something that I occasionally do when I get sufficiently bored, in the form of a quick wander over to one of the many, many martial arts classes that infest East Yorkshire. It may be that one or more of you is considering taking up some form of martial art (well, you might), and so my thoughts here might be of some use. In any case, I'm inclined to get some of this off my chest before I really lose my temper. So, some things that wind me up when I go to a martial arts class:

  1. The place claims links to a dozen systems, yet actually teaches one fairly traditional martial art with maybe two moves changed. I have been in what turned out to be karate classes with five minutes of bad weapons work at the end before, and which have therefore claimed to be multi style. This week's attempt featured something that was supposedly influenced by both a traditional kung fu style and JKD. I went because I had practised the traditional style and hoped that the influence of the philosophies of the second art might break down a few of the bigger problems with it. Let's be clear: this was just a Feng Shou class in every detail.
  2. The class is concerned primarily with historical or cultural re-creation, but does not say so. It is entirely legitimate to practise a dead art in exactly the way it would have been done years ago, provided that you are clear about what you are doing. You are doing essentially the same thing that people who dress up as vikings and belt each other with swords are doing. The difference is that they don't claim to be teaching something to keep their students safe in a real fight. Claiming to be teaching effective self defence while doing no more than sticking to the traditional syllabus is dangerous and self-deluding.
  3. Connected to this is the issue of dressing up. I can see the usefulness in some situations of the Japanese style gi, mostly after having destroyed quite a few t-shirts whilst grappling. However, there seems to be little reason to wear the 'traditional dress' of a country while training. For the most part, these traditional costumes turn out to be just what people of a particular time and place would happen to have worn for exercise or outdoor work. They are, in short, the equivalent of sweatpants.
  4. Forms. Endless, endless forms. To use them for fighting, you then have to learn the applications of the movements. So couldn't they just teach you the application of the movement in the first place? I'm probably a bit bitter about this one at the moment, since Feng Shou features an unusually large number of the things. Forms for strikes, forms for kicks, forms for evasions of all things. Contrast that to my stint in aikido (which is a bit fiddly and formal, but at least seems to be trying) where evasion practise consisted of actually moving out of the way of things.
  5. There really should be some meaningful interactive practices. I'm not necessarily asking for full on, heavy contact sparring at all times, because I know not everyone would want to be on the receiving end of it, but can we at least try for something that teaches us about paying attention to the other person, about distance and timing and so forth? And no, something where the merest flick of the fingers counts as a hit doesn't count.
  6. People do not attack the way you have taught them to. It should be obvious that, as useful as Feng Shou's lunging palm strike to the jaw can be no one else attacks like that. Training to defend against it teaches you to stop an attack no one uses. You would be amazed at how many supposed experts on fighting don't know that the most common attack in the UK (and these things do vary by place) consists of a grab with one hand and then repeated hooking punches with the dominant hand. It also happens to be a common approach for amateur knife users. So shouldn't you be training to stop it?
  7. Talking of which, I get really angry with the way some people approach weapons work. Get this wrong, and you don't just get your students bruised. Yet we still see stilted and unrealistic attacks, fiddly defences, and an approach that will get people hurt. I have had to take blades off people (thankfully idiots who didn't know what they were doing) twice, so I take this stuff seriously. I'd just like others to, occasionally. The HEMAS (that's historical european martial arts societies) lads locally don't claim to be teaching super efficient modern techniques, so it's depressing that they still teach more effective stuff than a lot of the people who do.
Right, I think I've vented now. Sorry about that. Let's just say I won't be going back next week.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

School Daze Blogfest

This is for the back to school daze blogfest, and takes the form of one of those letters schools invariably send out at the start of term.


The Head
St Mungo’s School For Aspiring Evildoers
The Old Dungeon Complex
The Plain of Infinite Desolation
AAR GH1

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Things,

The start of the school year is upon us once again, and I would like to welcome our newest intake of young overlords and witch-queens in training to our school. Please watch out for the pit traps by the entrance. The new year invariably brings challenges (the food in the canteen springs to mind), and to make your spawn’s stay here as pleasantly unpleasant as possible, I would like to draw all parents’ attention to the following:

1. School fees must be paid promptly by the start of term. Cheques, bankers’ draughts and large chests full of gold are all acceptable. Treasure maps with Xs on are not. Those children requiring financial assistance from the school will be provided with directions to suitable targets to rob and extort.
2. Children should have the correct uniform, consisting of shirt, trousers, school tie, and spiked black armour. Those with extra appendages should see the school tailor on arrival. Sun dresses, pastel colours and anything pink will be confiscated.
3. As much as we appreciate enthusiasm, please do not allow your child to bring weapons, minions, or artefacts of power with them. Where the lessons require pointy objects and minions to swing them at, they will be provided.
4. Those parents wishing their children to bring along dragons or other creatures should be aware of the stabling and tack fees (see overleaf). The school takes no responsibility for attacks by knights, hobbit incursions, or the banishment of Things from this plane. Or for anything else, come to that.
5. By sending your child to the school, you are agreeing that they will abide by our code of dishonour, as well as the school’s disciplinary policy. No kindness, sharing, or general cuddliness will be tolerated on school property. Those found guilty of offences against this code may find themselves expelled (from this reality, into the Pit of Truly Awful Things)
6. Finally, the school would like to say hello to some new teachers, so a big welcome to our new extraplanar language tutor Miss Xrzlthal (whose name we hope to be able to pronounce by the end of term) and to Prof. Midnight, on loan from the Supervillain Institute. Congratulations go to Madam Vile on her retirement, and commiserations to Mr Snarg, who has been slain by heroes over the summer. Still, we look forward to having him back as a substitute, just as soon as the necromancy tutors get round to it.

All in all, I wish everyone a productively evil year.

Yours,

The Head

P.S. If no one hands in my body this term, I will be very upset.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Monsters with bite.

Vampires and werewolves, werewolves and vampires. Endlessly. To celebrate the zombie sofa, and because I half hope that someone will be sufficiently silly to take one of these ideas and run with it, some slightly less common monsters:

  1. The Were-Accountant. Perfectly happy twenty odd days of the month, but spends the four around the full moon advising on offshore tax options. (I use this one in a couple of things.)
  2. Things. My favourite. The capital letter is important.
  3. The Mer-Fish. Half fish. Half... um fish.
  4. Vampire penguins. After all, they do look like they're wearing evening dress at all hours.
  5. Those gremlins that quite clearly sit on traffic lights waiting for me to arrive, before changing them to red.
  6. The actor's ghost. As per normal ghosts, but only allowed to show up at feasts, accusations of murder and drinking contests. May inspire pointless soliloquies.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Shambling Hordes

I've just had one of my zombie sofa stories accepted for someone's october (halloween) issue, so be prepared for tales of undead furniture in just a few short weeks. I would write more, but I have a teen vampire romance thing to finish.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The New Fencing Season

My fencing club started for the year last week after taking August off. Some thoughts for the coming season, then.

  1. A sensible sort of goal for the season seems to be the acquisition of some ranking points, so watch out for curses of disappointment should Sheffield go the same way this year as last, when I came out a good ten places lower than two chaps I can beat for fun.
  2. Assuming a similar standard and turnout, I would also quite like to go that extra step in the Yorkshires this year and take a podium place. Of course, this very much depends on which people turn up.
  3. Which brings me to a couple of things I need to change this year. One is on the mental side of things, where my old mental blocks regarding 'serious' fencing seem to be back. This has gotten so bad that it even crops up fencing my friends. At the moment, it seems like the moment I'm in a scored bout, I'm in trouble.
  4. Part of this may be that I am making the mistake of trying to fence properly. In a straight sabre bout of attacks with plenty of feints, defence through distance, and presidents who aren't very precise, I will come off second best. I do a small number of quite odd things (like countertime, where you spend your time drawing out the riposte where you want it so that you can parry and riposte in turn) rather well, and though they aren't really the most efficient sabre game plan, it may be that they offer me better odds than trying to beat people at their own game.
  5. One slight difficulty this year may be the lack of high quality training partners. My usual opponent of choice has gone and got a life, or at least a job elsewhere. Now, while our club can boast one guy who is going to the commonwealth championships, it isn't in the right weapon, the really good guy who has just moved back to the area is only here until he finishes some research, and may be wandering over to Sheffield anyway, and most of our older sabreurs still fleche. The upshot may be that I have to spend some time in The Club I Don't Get On With, probably biting back the urge to hit people harder than I should.
I've just remembered why I don't write much about the fencing these days. I tend to whinge.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Second!

I took second place in the fairy tale blogfest, so a big thank you to everyone who voted for me, and congratulations to Aspiring_X, who wrote a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic pinnochio for first place.

Special thanks must go to Emily for running such an enjoyable blogfest.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Last Chance

To anyone who has yet to read the short and wonderful fairy tales in stepping into fantasy's contest, what are you waiting for? Today is the last day to vote, and with three people currently tied for second place, they all need your votes.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Other Stuff I Do

For anyone with an interest in medieval history, Beverley, Ripon, Southwell, York, or simply minster churches, it seems that the University of Hull has chosen to make my completed thesis freely available online over here.

Of course, this now means that any rework has to be rather more substantive than previously, to avoid simple repetition of something already available.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

You've turned him into what?

Further to my comments on frogs, below, a list of alternative things to turn that pesky handsome prince into:

  1. An expert on frogs.
  2. A small potted plant.
  3. A piece of office equipment (cf Tom Holt's photocopier and long stapler in the Portable Door series)
  4. An accountant.
  5. A bird (Actually almost as traditional as the frogs)
  6. A Princess
  7. A handmirror (allowing all sorts of magic mirror moments)
  8. A commoner
  9. A packet of organic biscuits with a note about achitecture attached (this joke may only work for UK readers)
  10. Whichever fairytale animal happens to parody the story- pigs, wolves, and occasional swans are all fairly common.
  11. A hard-boiled detective in a trench coat (or other wildly inappropriate cross-genre character. Probably only temporary)
  12. A wicked witch. Who can then turn the original into a handsome prince.
  13. A cruet set
  14. A fluffy kitten (particularly appropriate for manly/dumb jock type princes)
  15. A handsome prince who happens to look almost identical (no, this is not a failure. This is just the triumph of technical ability over common sense)
  16. A hatstand
  17. Seven smaller princes who must be collected up to restore them.
  18. An extra shadow.
  19. A character in a largely unperformed play
  20. Or, if you really want to, a frog.

Urban Fantasy? What Urban Fantasy?

Well, that settles it. My royalties on the two novels came in today, and it seems that the readers agree with me that I am a comic fantasy writer rather than an urban fantasy one. It's unfortunate, but something to learn from. As such, the third installment in the series, which I not only considered, but actually began (faeries, Tina's memory, and extended trips to Cornwall), will now not be happening. I think we'd all rather I put the effort into things that might get a laugh.

Or into other things entirely. For some reason, I'm still hesitating about reworking my PhD, perhaps because I suspect it will take a total rewrite to get it publishable. Or maybe because I suspect that particular brand of convoluted academia-ese is hard to read. Surely, the idea of serious history that is also readable isn't too much to cope with?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I'm a Finalist

Emily over at stepping into fantasy has chosen me as one of the five finalists in her fairy tale blogfest/contest. I urge you to head over there, read all five (very different but all very good) offerings, and then vote for whichever turns out to be your favourite.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Fairy Tale Blogfest

This is for the Fairy Tale Blogfest, and represents my attempt to approach Rapunzel (with occasional bits of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme sneaking in for no good reason) from the point of view of hard-boiled detective fiction. Come to think of it, the hard boiled part may be where the stuff with the egg came from. Also the falling off things angle, obviously. But mostly the egg.


I drew my greatcoat tighter and looked at the shape huddled in the paramedics’ blanket, the patches over his eyes clear signs of what had happened. I winced. Even as a hardened PI, there are still things that get to you. Sergeant Yates strode across, looking through that battered notebook of his like it held some great secret. Though with his handwriting, you never knew.

‘Another one,’ I said.

Yates shrugged. ‘We don’t know that for certain, Frankie. I mean… Charming over there is still breathing, right?’

‘Only because those thorn bushes at the base of the tower block broke his fall. This is the same as Dumpty, and you know it.’

The problem with coppers is that they never seem to know the same things I do. ‘If you say so. As a civilian, you get the luxury of being completely obsessed. Me, I’m supposed to keep an open mind.’

I guess that’s just what I should have been doing. At least if I wanted to keep this regular gig with the police. It was hard though, when I’d found a regular informant pushed off a wall, and nobody seemed to want to pick up the pieces. When it came to people taking dives off buildings for no reason, I guess I wanted to see connections.

Still, in this city, you’ve got to do things right occasionally, if only for the novelty value. ‘I’ll bite. How do you see things?’

Sergeant Yates shook his head. ‘Not how this works, Frank. You tell me stuff.’

That was indeed the deal, since I was supposed to be the one with the powers of deduction, so I took another look at the tower block, then at the bushes below. They grew tight to the base. Too tight for Charming to have done anything other than splat. ‘He was climbing. If he’d jumped or been thrown, he would have landed further out.’

‘A failed break in?’

I shook my head. ‘No. Unless our boy is a human spider, he didn’t climb that wall without a rope and maybe a grapnel, so he shouldn’t have fallen.’ That got a smirk from the sergeant. ‘But then, you knew that. You found the rope?’

‘Come and look.’ He led me over to a long coil that was curiously yellowish. It took me a moment to understand.

‘Hair?’

‘In one.’ He nodded to where two junior officers were taking statements from a pair of women. One was older, wore almost total black and had iron-grey hair. The other was younger, and a looker with it. She was still in her dressing-gown, with short-ish hair of a very familiar shade.

‘Ms. Green, and her grandmother. They live on the fifth floor.’

I couldn’t help noticing that both women kept glancing over to the man in the ambulance. And their expressions as they did it. ‘What are they saying?’

‘Not much. The old woman is giving us the break-in line. Says the perp was climbing up her grand-daughter’s hair as she hung it out to dry. She’s claiming self defence.’

‘The grand-daughter?’

‘Seems more scared than anything.’

That made me smile grimly. ‘I bet she does.’

‘You got something, Frankie?’

‘Let’s talk to them.’ I hurried forward before he could intervene. Yates would give me some leeway. Unlike most King’s Men, he actually cared about getting things right, rather than just wrapping up and going off to play with the horses. ‘Hello ma’am, miss.’ I really ought to get a hat at some point, if only for something to tip. ‘I was hoping you could answer some questions for me.’

That made the grandmother look nervous. Of course it did.

‘What sort of questions?’ the younger woman asked. ‘My grandmother is very frail, you know.’

‘Is she?’ I said. ‘And what about this lady?’

Blondie was on her feet in a flash, but I’d taken the precaution of stepping on the hem of her dressing gown, so she only got a step or two before tripping. You learn these things, wearing a floor length greatcoat. Yates helped her up in a way that made it clear he wouldn’t be letting go of her arm, and the broad glared at me.

‘How did you know?’

‘Your hair,’ I said. ‘You claim it’s just been cut? By a stylist, maybe. Not by a grandmother in a hurry. That hair rope was never attached to you. You got a real name?’

She shrugged. ‘Call me Rapunzel. Everyone else does.’

‘What’s going on?’ Yates demanded.

I smiled again. ‘One great thing about being “completely obsessed” Yates. You do your research. After Humpty bought it, I looked into every wall fall, jumper, and supposed climbing accident there was. One set that stuck in the memory was a collection of “accidents” involving hair. Some idiot would try and climb where he wasn’t wanted, and a grandmother would be around to cut it just in time.’ I snorted. ‘Rapunzel here has been pulling hits for the Fairy Godfather, Yates. At least half a dozen.’ I turned back to the broad in question. ‘How does it work? You take the real grand-daughter to make the old dears cooperate?’

‘Something like that.’ There wasn’t a hint of pity.

‘And the mark? How do you get him climbing?’

‘How do you think?’ Rapunzel rearranged her clothing just so. ‘A few hints that my wicked grandmother is holding me hostage and they’re all too eager. Men.’

There was just one thing I wanted to know. ‘What about Humpty? You do him?’

She smirked, and had the sense to go with one of the uniforms before I could do anything. The worst part was that she would probably get a deal. There was the location of the granddaughter at stake, and besides, she could roll over on a lot of bigger fish. I dug out the quarter-bottle of whiskey I kept in my pockets for times like these, and found that it was empty.

I hate this city sometimes.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

I've changed my template.

Because I felt like it. So if things don't look very familiar, don't worry.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Danger, What Danger?

I've started re-working the Brian Northington stuff as YA, but one slight thought has occurred to me. Almost all of this sort of fantasy YA involves young people wandering off, taking tremendous risks for no better reason than that somebody the other side of a keyboard demands it. Is this a responsible way to treat our young characters? Should I perhaps be writing him nice and safe at home? Well no, obviously not. That wouldn't be funny.

Still, it seems faintly amusing that, in a world where so many parents won't let their kids play outside or walk to school alone for fear of the things that might happen to them, we still find it perfectly consistent that our YA characters should do such stupidly dangerous stuff.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Rainy Day Blogfest

This is for the rainy day blogfest. It says something fairly sad that the thing I most associate with rain is cricket. Well, that and imaginary rain creatures. I hope you enjoy it.


Per sat in the cricket ground’s stand and listened to the raindrops as they fell around her. Big ones, little ones, awkward ones that slithered inside the collar of her raincoat. The ground staff dragged the covers out onto the pitch for the fifth time today.

‘Excuse me, miss?’ Per hadn’t heard the man approach. Or his two heavily built colleagues, either. She should really have spotted him, given the brightness of his red and yellow blazer. ‘Would you come with us for a minute?’

‘But they might be back on soon.’

Per swore as the two larger men took hold of her arms and lifted her between them. ‘You can’t do this. I’m-’

‘We know what you are,’ the first man said. ‘Please don’t be difficult.’

They dragged her to a room at the top of the pavilion, where an older man sat at one side of a desk, reading a file. They deposited Per in a chair.

‘What’s going on?’ Per demanded. ‘Who are you? You have no right-’

‘Actually, we do.’ The man opposite her put down the file. Per saw that it had “Persistent Light Drizzle” at the top. How had they got her full name? ‘As for who I am, you can call me the major. Have you heard of the MCC’s paranormal division?’

Per shuddered. She’d heard rumours about the men in red and yellow.

‘Cricket is a delicate game,’ the major said. ‘So vulnerable to the weather. Especially in a world with sun birds and storm gods, rain dancers and cloud dragons. And rain nymphs, of course.’

‘You know what I am?’ Per was impressed, despite her fear.

‘Of course.’ The major steepled his fingers. ‘What we don’t know, oddly, is why you’re here. We’ve run checks, obviously, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of bookies paying you for the draw. Or the opposition team, either, and you’d think they’d welcome it, the way their middle order has been going. Of course, if you had been doing that, you would have been in quite a bit of trouble.’

Per could imagine. Or at least, she could imagine enough not to want to imagine.

‘My own guess,’ the major said, ‘is that you actually like the game.’

Per nodded. ‘I do like it. Running about. People hitting sixes. They look so happy. Well… until the rain arrives. I’m sorry. I really can’t help it.’

‘I know, which is why I’ve bought you this.’ He handed Per a square of cardboard.

‘A ticket to Australia?’ Per glanced around nervously. ‘I’m being deported?’

‘Nothing like that. We’d just like you to help your country. It’s an Ashes year, after all, and… well, I’m afraid that without a little help from the weather, our boys could be in some trouble. Will you help?’

Per nodded so fast that the water in her raincoat splashed around her ears.

‘That’s settled then,’ the major said. ‘Cucumber sandwiches all round to celebrate, I think.’

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

On Frogs

A quick note about those real heroes of the fairy tale and light fantasy genres. That's right, I'm talking about frogs. And also toads, of course, but since QI informs me that there are no definitive differences between the two, I'll stick with frogs for the moment. Some thoughts, then:

  1. It's amazing how many people get turned into frogs in these things. Princes, princesses, passing traffic police (see Tom Holt's Grailblazers for that one). You'd think that there wouldn't be room for them all. I've done it too, in a couple of short stories (one of which laboured briefly under the title of Antiques Toad Show) and in a novel that shall not be named (because it's not my name on the front).
  2. More than that, what's with all the plagues of frogs? Again, Holt does it (in Djinn Rummy, where it turns out that their tendency to sit around doing nothing isn't helpful), while Pratchett goes for a plague of frog in Pyramids (I believe the relevent line goes "but it was quite a big one, and it got into the air conditioning vents and kept everyone awake for weeks"). Frogs are not a plague. Frogs are cute.
  3. Ribbet, Rivet, Ribbit or Croak? I happen to know (QI again) that the way we think frogs sound is down to the frogs around Hollywood sounding that way. Even so, I can labour for anything up to minutes over the thought of how I should have my frogs say things. As someone whose cat briefly went through a phase of bringing in live frogs, I can tell you that a frightened frog actually sounds more like someone chainsawing a pig in half.
  4. Where exactly are you supposed to get hold of a princess? Even in a constitutional monarchy like the UK, people react quite badly if you start grabbing passing royals and thrusting amphibians at them. In a republic, presumably things are that much more difficult.
  5. Why do people get turned into frogs? Why not fiddler crabs? Why not lemmings? Why not insurance salesmen (surely a worse fate by far, and you're rather less likely to get kissed)
  6. Finally, anyone wanting more on frogs should consider becoming a frogologist. What's a frogologist? I suggest you look up the Brian Patton poem of the same name.