Thursday, 29 July 2010


No. Not that kind of flash. Honestly, have you all got dirty minds?

One month after publication, my two copies of Flash!, a book of speculative flash fiction containing my short story, Even Zombies Have to Shop, have finally arrived. Due to the original publisher Lame Goat Press going AWOL, it feels like I've been waiting months. Thankfully the original editor, Chris Bartholomew, took over publication of the book via Static Movement. She's done a great job. Flash! is available from Amazon and Waterstones.

My OH and I did the ceremonal placing of my anthology on the bookshelf - there are four now, and another six to come - and he drank a glass of wine. I have a yeast intolerance, so drank shloer instead. Oh, the high life of an author!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Six Sentences, Creepy Things, and Viewpoint

So far, this is turning out to be a great week for my writing.

On Monday, Admiration was posted on the Six Sentences website. Admiration was inspired by my recent trip to meet William Shatner. I say 'meet' loosely, as in truth it was more a hello, signature, and goodbye. Whilst I was queuing up to meet one of the earliest crushes I remember having (aged ten, I believe), I got to thinking about the other people in the queue. Why where they here? What were their motives? Was it like me, to meet an actor that, through his great roles, had brought a lot of enjoyment into my life? Or, what if they'd never got over their childhood crush? What if they believed they had some kind of a relationship with this actor, but one that existed only in their mind? Admiration is my take on this latter, more sinister, fan.

Also on Monday, I received an email from the editor of Creepy Things confirming my short story, Feeding Walter, had been accepted for the anthology. I was particularly pleased about this acceptance, because I struggled with viewpoint whilst writing it. I had the basic plot in my head - without giving too much away, the story involves a married couple and the husband's pet Tarantula, and there are three separate scenes - but I knew that for it to work, I'd have to write the story in third person viewpoint. The problem is that I prefer to write in first person.

I'm much better at writing in first person. Looking back over my acceptances to date, the majority of them are written this way. I think the reason for this is that one of my weaknesses as a writer is description. By writing in first person I can describe everything in detail, as if I were looking through the characters eyes. For some reason, I find this much easier to do than if the narrator is outside of the characters.

The first scene was not a problem, as it involved the husband and wife, and I was able to use dialogue to carry the story forward. However, the next two scenes featured only one of the characters in each scene. When I read through my first draft, it was full of "he did this" and "she did that" type sentences. Boring. Lazy writing. My solution was to put the story aside for a week and return to it with a fresh pair of eyes. I rewrote the story, and redrafted as many of the offending sentences as possible. I couldn't remove them all, but I felt happy enough to submit it. Thankfully, the editor liked it.

I’m interested to know if other writers struggle with these viewpoint dilemmas. Which viewpoints to you prefer to write in or are you happy to write in any viewpoint? Have you had more success with a particular viewpoint? If so, why do you think that is the case?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Books, Baths, and Bizarro Fiction!

I'm always looking for fiction that is a little different, something that makes me think, why didn't I think of that? Or, wow, what a great idea!

Whilst scouring a charity shop for such gems last week, I came across a splashproof book by Kathy Lette. All Steamed Up was a limited edition book given away free by Radox in 2009, and is full of Lette's usual hilarious humour. At 38 pages, it's not a long book, and I was able to read it whilst taking my bath last night. What a pleasure it was, being able to take a nice long soak in the bath tub and read, without the worry of ruining what I was reading. There are no free copies left now, but I'm sure someone wil be selling one on eBay or Amazon.

I can't remember where I read about Woman's World by Graham Rawle, but it has been on my Amazon wish list for a few months now. Having just received a £50 cheque for a photograph and beauty-tip for Take a Break (if you've never tried earning money through writing reader letters and submitting tips, try it; it's the easiest money you'll ever make), I decided to treat myself to few books off my wish list.

Woman's World is a graphic novel, with a twist. The author wrote a rough draft of his book in the usual way, but then collected all the individual fragments of text that he needed from early 1960's women's magazines. He then spent another two years cutting and gluing the text together to form every page of his book. In all, it took him five years to complete the process. Now, that is dedication.

Another of the books I decided to treat myself to is Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk. I came across this book a couple of days ago, after reading an article about Bizarro fiction. I must admit I'd never heard of the Bizarro fiction genre - where the author writes something that is just weird. Although the Amazon reviews for Shatnerquake are not too encouraging, a novel featuring William Shatner and all the characters he has ever played seemed like too much fun to pass up. I'll give you an honest opinion when I've finished reading it.

That's it for my books with a difference for today. Do you have any recommendations? I would love to hear about any books that are original, inventive, or just plain wacky.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Word of the week

Knickers, Bloomers, and Pantaloons.

The last two weeks have been pants, literally. I needed some new knickers, so a couple of weeks ago I bought some from where I work. Every time I wore them they kept riding up, so that they became a thong. I seemed to spend most of the day re-arranging my backside. Not comfortable, or funny.

I decided to buy some more, this time from a major high street clothing chain. I'd bought from them before, so what could go wrong? Exactly the same problem as with the supermarket knickers, they became thong-like. How difficult (and expensive) is it to buy some decent knickers? Have they changed the fabric they use? Are they stretchier? Or, has my backside mysteriously changed shape?

I've decided to place an ad, to see what help I can get:

Aspiring write seeks comfortable well-fitting knickers. Spends a lot of time sitting, and walking whilst at work. Brand new, please. No exchanges.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bah Humbug

It's only 22 weeks until Christmas. Okay. I can hear you cursing me as you read this. You're shaking your heads and asking, 'Why is she mentioning Christmas in July? Is she mad?' The answer is time.

Last year I expected my writing time during December to be limited, but I never expected it to be non-existent. With all the present buying, wrapping, food shopping, parties, dinners, New Year celebrations, the 31 days of December, and early January, became a black hole of non-writing. In the face of such overwhelming opposition, my writing just didn't have a chance.

I’ve made the decision to not let this December meet the same fate, and have drawn up a plan of action:

  • Write a Christmas present list six months in advance.

  • Buy several presents each month from July through November.

  • All presents to be wrapped by 1st December.

  • Buy ready-made, where possible.

  • A ban on buying Christmas magazine specials, thus avoiding comparing myself to their perfect visions of Christmas.

  • Learn to say no to some of the invites - how many £11 set Christmas meals can a person eat in a day, anyway?

  • Agree with myself in advance that the two weeks of Christmas/New Year will be writing free, and that I will not feel guilty about it.

  • If all of above fails to free up December writing time, agree to do NaNoWriMo next year as a form of penance.
I love Christmas, I do. I just don't want the whole of December, and early January, to be taken over by it.
Do you have any tips for fitting writing into the festive season, or do you just know December is a non-writing month?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ensign's Supplemental 2010.198

Mission objective: meet the legendary James Tiberius Kirk, and try not to be seduced or die.

Secondary mission objective: ask William Shatner to say, “Denny. Denny Crane.”

Mission status: boldly ongoing.

It wasn’t a Star Trek convention, and there was no Spock, but the London Film and Comic Convention was the closet I was going to get to either one any time soon. And it offered one huge draw – William Shatner.

The LSO and I threw caution into the air Friday afternoon and bought train tickets . . .correction . . .we beamed into Earls Court at 11am on Saturday 17th, and I set about completing my mission objectives.

As soon as we arrived, I queued to buy a ticket to have a photograph taken with William Shatner, and as these things usually go, the person ahead of me bought the last ticket. I was tempted to use time travel to go back in time a few hours, so as to be first in the queue. But then I thought I’d likely meet the older me in some kind of doppelganger moment later in the day.

Before meeting the legendary William Shatner, we met William B Davis (Smoking Man from the X-Files) and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from the remake of Battlestar Galactica). There were lots of other stars there, but autographs are expensive!

The convention hall (Earls Court) was packed with stalls, look-alikes, and even a few authors. The only author I recognised was Robert Rankin (Retromancer), and I chatted to him about his books and my writing. I told him I’d never read any of his books; he didn’t seem bothered. When he signed a copy of Retromancer, he left a nice comment wishing me luck with my writing. Unfortunately, none of the other authors appealed to me – mostly medieval histories and crime – and I did feel a bit bad bypassing them. But our time was limited, and I still had my two mission objectives to complete.

After an exhausting few hours of queuing, browsing, and hastily drunk cups of coffee, we finally queued up to meet William Shatner. I quickly realised that this was going to be one of those ‘say hello, sign photograph, and move on moments.’ There were hundreds of people waiting to see him. No photographs were allowed, though the LSO did get a few sneaky ones. Sadly, none of me meeting him.

William Shatner (aka James Kirk or Denny Crane - if you haven’t seen Boston Legal, get it. Superb show) seemed nice. He said hello, but that was it. No time for anything more. So, I wasn’t seduced and didn’t die. Main mission objective successfully completed. But I failed on my secondary mission objective - I never got him to say “Denny Crane.”

So, was it worth the obscene amount of money we spent getting there and on autographs? Hell, yes. It might not have been perfect, but we loved every minute of it.

Friday, 16 July 2010

All Systems Go

We're catching the 8am train to London tomorrow, after the LSO and I took the spontaneous decision today to partly fulfil one of the ten wishes I discussed in my post Somewhere Towards The Middle. I can't divulge what it is we are doing, because, frankly, we don't really know either. If I survive the mission, my report will be available on Sunday.

Okay. I'll give you a clue: Khan!!!!!!!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A Writer's Personality

I've always assumed that apart from being happy to spend large amounts of time in your own company, and a certain selfish streak that allows you to do so without feeling too guilty, all writers were like myself - outgoing, talkative, confident, and nosey. How else do you feed an overactive imagination, come up with story plots, and get your work published?

However, I recently met a writer who appeared almost the opposite to what I, wrongly, assumed all writers must be like. This writer seemed painfully shy, uttering only a few words over several hours. She asked no questions, and after the event, one of the organisers thanked me for looking after her. I offered my email address so that we could stay in contact, but this was politely rejected.

I'm ashamed to say I was quite shocked when I did elicit what type of writing she did, to which she replied "horror”. I don't know what I expected her to write, but horror was not what I pictured at all.

I now realise how wrong my assumptions have been, because she has had, like myself, some success in publishing her short stories. She may have appeared shy, but she was confident enough to submit her writing for publication. Perhaps listening is as important as asking, and, in the end, it is what we write that does all the talking.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Creative Writing Books

Last year I attended a local creative writing course, and during the first lesson the tutor advised us not to waste money on creative writing books. I lowered my head and didn’t say anything, because I felt like I had a dirty little secret – I collect them. In fact, you could say I’m a bit obsessive. At the last count, I had 33.

I don’t buy them all brand new. Some are from charity shops; some from eBay. Others have been bought for me or by using gift vouchers. Occasionally, I will buy a new one.

Staring at all 36 books the other day (I’ve bought three since the last count), I realised that I’ll never be able to read them all from cover to cover – there just isn’t enough time. This realisation got me thinking about the desert island scenario. If I could only keep, say, five books, which five would it be?

I thought the process of choosing would be hard, but I soon realised I already had my favourites; the one’s I feel have helped me to progress the most with my writing. I’ve listed them below, with my reasons for selecting them:

Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. This classic inspirational guide to becoming a writer was written in 1934, and whilst some of the information contained within is now out of date – a section on typewriters for example – the book itself is timeless. Brande doesn’t tell you how to write, but how to become a writer. She teaches you how to develop the writing habit.

There are two key things Brande says in her book that resonated with me when I first started writing. Firstly, with reference to her training suggestion of writing every day, "If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late." I was determined to prove her wrong, and I did write every day. Secondly, with regards to a writer’s social life (she calls it recreation) she says, “If you feel, after an evening with the stolid friend, that the world is a dry and dusty place, or if you are exasperated to the point of speechlessness by your brilliant acquaintance, not the warmest emotion for them will justify your seeing them while you are trying to learn to write.” How true, I thought. We all know people that leave us feeling either mentally drained or completely inadequate. And I would go further and say this applies at any time in a writer’s career.

On Writing by Stephen King. Having always been a Stephen King fan, this was always going to be on my list. But it really is a fascinating insight into one of the world’s best loved writers. The book is divided into three sections. In the first Kings tells us about his childhood, growing up, and the processes that led to the publication of his first novel, Carrie. In the second section, he talks about his craft. In the third section he tells us about the 1999 road accident which nearly killed him, and the effects of that accident on his writing. I highly recommend this book, because it is both entertaining and informative.

The Elements of Style by JR Stunk and EB White. Recommended by Stephen King as the book every aspiring writer should read. I don’t need to say much more than that, other than rule 17, found under Principles of Composition – “Omit needless words.”

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. I bought this book when I was 24 and in love with the idea of writing a sci-fi novel. I had written three “brilliant” chapters and needed some advice. So I bought this book, read the first chapter, and realised what I’d written was rubbish. I didn’t write another thing for 13 years. At this point you might be wondering why I’ve chosen this book. The answer is that I kept Scott Card’s book all those years, as a reminder that I had once had the ambition to write, and though it did take me 13 years to start again, I did. And I find his book an invaluable source of help.

A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. I found this book in the Bournemouth branch of Borders, and instantly fell in love with it. The author has divided the book into 365 days of writing advice and writing topics, and I cannot help but want to start writing the moment I pick it up. Countless story lines have been inspired by her daily writing suggestions. As one Amazon reviewer said, “If this book were a fruit it would be a delicious, juicy, ripe mango.”

So, those are my five choices. Do you have any of these books? Do you agree or disagree with my comments? I’d love to know your thoughts, and your own choices.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Towards the End

NB: This post deals with sensitive issues related to death.

I had intended to post about my obsession with collecting writing advice books today, but that will have to wait until Thursday. Something profound happened yesterday. Not to me, but to a relative.

As some of you may remember, I recently talked about my memories of living with my father-in-law, Tom, before he passed away. Sadly, his brother Stan passed away yesterday. His daughter had phoned my sister-in-law and asked her to pass on the news to various family members in our area. But it is what she said about her father's passing that has made us all stop and re-evaluate our beliefs.

Just seconds before he died, he lifted his arm up, pointing at an empty space, and said, "Tommy. There you are."

Was Tom there to collect him or was he hallucinating? I don't know. But even if he was hallucinating, what a comfort to his family, and to all of us, that perhaps at the very moment we leave this life we see someone who meant so much to us in our lifetime.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Migraines, Anthologies, and an Amazon Review

Today is the first day I've dared use my laptop, after a killer migraine Thursday. I only started suffering from migraines in 2008, and with a few lifestyle changes - no caffeine, tinted glasses for work and the computer, eating little and often - I've managed to reduce the number of attacks. I use the word attack, because that is what it feels like.

The migraine I had Thursday, the first one this year, scared me. Late Wednesday night I lost the ability to talk coherently. I remember trying to talk to my OH, but the words kept coming out in a jumble. Eventually, I gave up and went to bed. Unfortunately, I never took my tablets. I went to work Thursday, not feeling well at all, and my colleague’s persuaded me to see a doctor. They didn't say anything at the time, but they told me yesterday I was as white as a sheet and had a glazed look about me.

Thankfully, the doctor told me that talking gibberish can be a sign of an impending migraine, as the blood cells to your brain can become constricted. However, it's not normal to have a symptom, or aura as it's called, you've never had before. Anyone who suffers from migraines will have tells or signs that they are about to get an attack. For me it's the feeling someone has hit me on the left of side of my head, hard, numbness in my left arm, and sometimes everything goes purple. He sent me home, told me to contact a doctor if the symptom returned, and made an appointment for a check-up next Wednesday. Fingers-crossed this was a one-off.

Apart from the migraine, it's been a good week for me. I entered the Bridport Prize for the first time, entering three pieces into the flash fiction category, and submitted a short story for the Strictly Writing Award. Luna Black has been accepted into Pill Hill Press's Fem-Fangs anthology. Here's the cover artwork:
And my entry for the Six Sentences The Mysterious Dr. Ramsey competition made it into the same-titled anthology.

It's already available to purchase here, which leads me onto Amazon. I have the suspicion that a member of the Writers' News Talkback Forum I belong to wrote the review, but I can't begin to tell you the buzz I got from seeing my name in a review. I've been reviewed, on Amazon!