24th January

Award Elligibility Post

Fishing Lake Tanganyika

The Black Birds of White Oaks

Both these stories were published by Mugwump Press in their Afromyth collection.

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10th January

New month, new year.

Did you make resolutions? Have you kept them? Broken them? Pretended to forget about them?

Last year I started with a shiny spreadsheet and plans of what I would aim for. This year was going to be the same. But… Well, I didn’t succeed last year – life got in the way. An unexpected move with little notice and a hit to my health left me struggling.

I didn’t want to leave myself open to the same issues this year. Beyond that, I realised that last year I started a lot of new stuff, some which I finished, some not. I’ve too much stuff that isn’t finished. Above that, I’ve lot’s that is finished, but unsold.

So, what to do?

This year is the year of the rewrite, the completion, the edit, the stocktake.

First off I started with some stocktaking. I’ve pulled a whole load of completed stories into a 2018 folder. These are stories I’ve submitted, but not sold. Time for fresh eyes on them. The first two were an eye-opener. First up I checked a story I describe as ‘Murder She Wrote’ in a wintery Nebraska, with fairies, elves, and vampires. It’s a story set in a world akin to ours but without us boring, standard, humans. As with every time I look at a story, there were some tweaks, but only individual words, or shuffling a sentence around. I really like this story as it is, and want to sell it as is.

Then I opened up my ‘Robinson Crusoe in Space, with dead aliens’ story. This is a story which I threw a lot of time, effort, and ideas at. I thought it worked. After a year or so not looking at it I was awestruck by how poor it is. All those pretty ideas are there, right there, just lying in the dirt ready to be picked up, polished, and put in the right setting. And wow, what a bunch of dirt they are lying in. Poor exposition, tedious first person POV, clunky everything, just everything. I’m looking forward to pulling this story apart and making it the bog-standard SF tale it should be.

Elsewhere in my near future, I have 1 novel; 3 novellas; lots of short stories. One of the novellas needs to be finished, the other has deep structural issues, the third is only just about started. The novel requires lots of work. First, it needs to be completed; secondly, it needs re-writing, with the adjustments I already have in mind; then it needs re-written again, and again, and then sent to an agent. Damn, I hate re-writes. And writing novels is boring because it’s like waiting for the next season of Sherlock, or Firefly.

But all success is boring. Sitting in the saddle and battling up mountains, through rain, and down vale is boring – but it’s how you get to wear the maillot jaune. Spending seven, eight, nine, hours a day potting balls in a dim snooker hall while all your buddies are at the beach, or the football, or a club, is boring – but it’s how you become a snooker world champion. Going to bed at nine pm every day, instead of partying, is boring – but it’s how you become an Olympic ski champion.

So this year I intend to bore myself silly. I will finish the incomplete novellas, novel, and stories. I will re-write stories that require such, I will submit, and submit, and submit.

I will not compare myself to others (that’s clearly a lie). I will not begrudge my buddies their success (also a lie, but I’ll hide it behind effusive congratulations that they really deserve). I will remember that my main job is caring for my chronically ill wife, epileptic son, autistic daughter, and the household in general (yeh, pretty much a lie too – especially as I missed out my ADHD daughter and my ME).

Last year I sold/placed 3 stories (have you read them? Ugh, really? It’s less than 10k words in total. You could, really, you could (#desperate).

In conclusion, expect more maudlin posts, at random intervals.

Happy New Year

14th December

Moving into the dying days of the year. The nights are long and cold, the days short and grey – well, short, we’ve had some glorious sunshine even as parts of the country have suffered through the couple of inches of snow that would have a Canadian pulling out deckchairs and calling for a barbecue.

And it’s been a funny old month storywise for me. After nothing all year I’ve had three stories released in two anthologies in the last week or so.

The first is in The Infernal Clock and is called The Green Man’s Fête. A reporter at a local spring festival isn’t all he appears to be, but then the festival isn’t all it appears to be either. This is available as either a download or hard copy. I’d recommend considering getting the physical book, the cover is absolutely glorious. Apart from my tale there are 15 others to revel in, and a wide variety of writers demonstrating their skills.

Secondly is Afromyth. This is a collection where the focus of the story is on people of African or African descent, and non-caucasian. My first story here is Fishing Lake Tanganyika where a man takes up fishing to feed his family after being made redundant. Will his grand-mothers belief in his abilities be enough to sustain him in trying times? Later on in the anthology I have The Black Birds of White Oaks. Set in a southern US state  some-time after the civil war it tells of a young Boston woman on a trip to collect folk memories from ex-slaves. What she discovers stretches across the atlantic, into the Anti-Atlas mountains, and all the way back to stories of Prometheus, Zeus, and a portion of human existence glimpsed only through the veil of myth. With 10 other stories from a wide variety of writers this powerful collection will set your imagine whirring.

I hope you take time to read not just my stories, but all who have tales in these two exciting anthologies, and more than that, add a review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Of the three stories I am proudes of Fishing Lake Tanganyika. Realistically it could be a story without a fantastical element, and it would still hold together, because it is firstly a story about a person, and personal interactions. Of course, all stories must contain these, but they are rarely the focus of something I write. Asperger’s tends to make that personal level of interaction difficult for me to negotiate on the page but I think that I’m reaching a point where I can do it with more confidence, and for me this story is the current high spot.

So, with three publictions, and a feeling of improvement having been made, why did I recently sign up to be mentored by Gareth Powell?

Because advancement is incremental, because – while I’ve written lots this year – I don’t have an awful lot of finished material, and even less that has been picked at and polished until it is suitable to be submitted anywhere.

We had our first session together a few days ago, and it was most heartening to hear Gareth’s assessment of the writing portion I’d submitted. Now I’m working on internalizing the advise recieved to allow ongoing writing to incorporate it organically.

I’m also perservering in trying to finish draft one of my novel. This is the novel that a month or so ago I declared to be a novella. What changed?

Earlier this month I was at a How To Be Published day run by Writers & Artists (thank you, Juliet Pickering, for the ticket). We had a series of talks, followed by Q&A sessions. The session by Cally Taylor discussed story structure and, as we went through it, I wrote down the sections, then matched them to what is already in my story. It helped clarify that the bones of a proper novel are there. This was heartening because I’d begun to think of the story as an amorphous amss of words lumped together in a hopeful, yet random order (despite me having a pin board with the scenes, sequences, and characters all mapped out).

Seeing the parts of a novel written down, and seeing my extant work marrying up to these parts, has reinvigorated my desire to finally get that first draft complete. It should have been completed by now, but that slipped, and now I’m aiming for the end of the year.

What happened?

My ME, and the house. For a while now my ME has been quite bad. The time I’ve had to write is in the evenings, but by the time I sit an enervating fog has fallen between my ears. Holding a single cogent thought in my head is difficult, manipulating that thought to amend, increase, expand, develop, or otherwise work it has been nigh on impossible. Much easier to sit and scroll through twitter while having a film play in the background. This hasn’t been helped by the chaos of us moving things around in the house so that there is not an area I can lay claim to as my writing spot, no calm, quiet, zone I can retreat to and work in.

Some may look at this and think it is just an excuse. It may be. But it’s a debilitating confluence of explanations for me. One alone I can work with, I have so in the past and will in the future. But together, it is a real writing killer.

Meh.

By next week there should be some order in the house, and then the wife and children go up to Scotland for a couple of weeks. This should allow me the time to clear my head, clear the decks, and get ready to hit 2018. Plans for that to follow when I see how the next week or so goes.

 

 

November 29

Aaaaaaaannnnd I’m back. Today.

I think the blog this year has reflected where I’m at. It’s unfocused, with some recurring themes, but a lack of any purpose or clarity.

I’m happy to put that down to the unexpected move earlier in the year, and that the house we moved into was smaller than our previous one. The one aspect we have in our favor here is a more certain tenancy, but allied to that is the need to do more to make the house our home.

For most people that wouldn’t be a huge issue, but as I’m the family carer (Wife: Ehler’s-Danloss & Fybromylagia; Son: Epilepsy & Aspergers; Daughter: ADHD & Joint Hypermobility; Daughter: Autism) & I was diagnosed last year with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, then it becomes a bit difficult.

When we moved into our last house did extensive work in the living room, and the landing. Each took me a 7-10 days. The bookcases my son and I have made took nearly three months – 90 days – for some bookcases! Now, to be fair, they are handmade from reclaimed timber and designed for the space they are in, still 3 months?

That being said, it’s lovely to have some books out.

I mean, really lovely, to have some books out.

I’ve even been re-reading some I’d nearly forgotten I owned. Oh, I love some of my books. I hope the rest will be in the boxes as yet to be unpacked, as opposed to having been lost in the moves.

 

On twitter there is a ‘Round up of the year’ thing going on. In truth, it hasn’t been a good year for me. Nothing published so far, which I put down to the upheaval of the previous move (550 miles), and the diagnoses of ME. I do have 3 upcoming credits but, until I have publication dates, I’m holding off on further details – though I’ve sent back final edits, and received confirmation on them.

The paucity of return has made me ponder somewhat on my activity. I have finished stories this year, and even submitted them. But not all. Some of them aren’t ready yet – eg, my mid-year novelette set in a near-ish future with genderless pronouns – others are just not good enough.

And ‘not good enough’ appears to be the theme of the year. I’ve had several ‘Close, but no cigar’ rejections this year – or, to put it another way, personal or tier 2 rejections.

Having realised that I tried to figure out what to do. The first thing was to step back from First Reading duties with Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. That was a blow. I’ve really enjoyed this, and Charlie offered good feedback on the stories I was able to submit as a First Reader. Secondly I’ve signed up with Gareth Powell for one of his mentored Patreon positions. I’ve recently had my first lot of (very helpful) feedback, and look forward to discussing it together.

Maybe, if I work hard, and write nicely, then I’ll approach the foothills of the mountains scaled by my virtual buddy, and recent WORLD FANTASY AWARD WINNER, G.V.Anderson. Did you note that she WON the award! How freaking awesome is that? She is da’ bomb. Well done buddy!

So, in short, for the next year, I’m gonna do better. Better.

If you’ve had a bad year, and are freaking out about the next, then aim for ‘better’.

 

October 8

I’ve never kept a diary. It goes back to an episode of Taggart I once saw. Mark McManus, playing the eponymous lead character, tells a teenage boy, whose diarized confession of infidelity have led to murder, “If you don’t want people to know things, don’t write them down.”

And, my chaotic personality tends to shy away from anything as regular, or staid, as penning thoughts or experiences in a diary.

Which is why this blog is the exercise in tardiness it is.

But two months is too long a hiatus.

I shan’t bore my few followers with all things that have happened, because that would be boring, and I have no record of them, because I don’t diarize… Hang on, that’s getting a bit circular.

First off I’d like to start with thanks and apologies. Both to the same person: F E Clark. A talented artist from north-east Scotland I came across the artwork on twitter. I was interested in using one as a book cover. We had a DM conversation on twitter about it, and I was appraised of the reality that my buying a piece of artwork did not afford me the rights to reproduce as I saw fit. I would not own the copyright.

That was great.

A couple of months later, preparing a collection of Sci-Fi stories for self publication, I remembered the art, and the artist, but completely forgot the conversation. I went to etsy, started looking for a piece which intersected subject & price, and purchased one. Happy with my purchase, and excited by the upcoming release, I tweeted about having found artwork for the cover.

Well, the artist saw the tweet. Clocked the purchase, and put two+two together. I received an irate (justly) DM from the artist, and a link discussing the copyright issues. I’ve apologized, and learnt a lesson. This is by way of another apology, and a thank you. Without your awareness, F.E.Clark, I’d be in breach of copyright.

The incident shook me somewhat, and self publishing the collection went on hold.

 

I have been writing. Not much, but enough to keep forward motion. One of these projects is a novel, a space operetta. It’s been underway for several years, though it was on hiatus for quite a while. It’s a strange process because I have file cards of what scenes are to happen, but working through each one is taking several months. I’m hoping to get draft one finished by the end of the year. Really hoping to. Because next year there is a different plan in place.

I have had the idea in place for five years or so. It’s a story set during the cold war, and not speculative in any manner. I’ve sketched out the main sections to be written, and  have been reading core material for the project. Once my book-cases are complete, and I’ve unpacked my extant research books I’ll look for the secondary and tertiary sources needed to provide background and atmosphere information.  I’m not sure I have the chops to produce the book I intend, but I can produce the first draft.

 

And that’s enough about me. Before I go I want to big up G.V.Anderson. A while back I was lucky enough to critique a story for her. I can’t remember any suggestions I made, I’m sure they weren’t significant, but I remember the hell out of the story. I enthused about it to friends, and told them to look out for it at a pro-paying market. The story, Das Steingeschöpf, was published last December in Strange Horizons.

Then, it was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

In a short while this talented writer will be on a plane, don a recently purchased frock, and sit nervously waiting to find out if the story has won the award. If it does, I for one won’t be surprised. Fingers crossed.

And that’s it for now.

5th August

And now it’s August!

I really want to do a nice long post. I want to tell you about my friends wonderful story that’s up for an award, about my novel, my novella, my attempt o be writing , and fear that I can’t, that the words written mean nothing. I want to tell you about my buddy’s wonderful ‘break the twitter’ post that’s flooded my feed with positivity for the last couple of days.

And instead my arms ache, my throat aches, my groin aches. All the physical signs of my ME being bad. And my head is full of cobwebs, fog, marshmallow, cotton wool, and lethargy, and ennui.

So, sorry.

That’s it for now.

July 16

How swiftly do six weeks pass?

They are an exhalation, the space between breaths, the dream forgotten in the moment of wakening. And other such excuses for to having written a post in that time.

Why? Rinse, wash, repeat various reasons from other posts since the start of the blog, and choose your favorites. But I’m here now, dammit!

And with such news and tales and the like as will make your eyes sparkle, your ears tingle, and that funny bit of skin on the inside of your arm itch like you have hives.

First news. SIGNED CONTRACTS!

I submitted three stories to calls by Afrocentric for their forthcoming anthologies. Two have been accepted, two!  Now the anthologies are being collated by Jem McBride, who I don’t personally know, but have been reliantly informed is opinionated and not scared of sharing such. I’m really proud that my writing has stepped are enough out of my limited experience to be considered for inclusion in the anthologies. I really look forward to reading the other works chosen.

Secondly: EDGE-Lit 6

I was at this event yesterday. My first such venture. What an incredible day! First off I got to meet IRL a couple of people I’ve only known visually (Matt Dovey & Dion Winton-Polak). Both were as charming IRL as online – which meant I had to pretend to be the same.

Then I got to meet new people. I was going to create a list, but FB algorithms have decided I don’t need to see the most helpful post from over the weekend (The Friday night meet-up one). So, I’m going for a blanket thank you to the people who made a newbie feel so welcome and included.

One thing that really impressed me was the panels. Not all middle aged white males. Not all run my white guys. Not dominated by men when the discussion was ongoing.

 

I was going to write more. But I’m tired, and trying to find people I met on Twitter and FB.

But no writing tonight. Not even rubbishy first drafts with plot holes the size of spaceships (which I totally can write now – in theory).

June 1

Moving head speed towards halfway through the year.

The weather is wet, but deliciously warm, and I’m enjoying that. I wish the ME wasn’t wiping me out so comprehensively at the moment.

In writing news my novella is no longer the least loved in the group, and I’ve had my best ever finish in Q1 of The Writers of the Future – I got to the finals. Annoyingly, I think I may have a revision of the story that would have taken me all the way. Never mind, heh.

With regard to the novellas, I’ve been reading the other entries. Two of them stand out for me so far. One is just a nicely constructed story, to the extent that I completely ignored how little I enjoy the non-human characters and world element. The other is absolutely exquisite and I’m pretty sure I know who the author is (all stories are subbed and read anonymously). If I’m correct, then this person already has one beautiful story published, and a new one is upcoming in F&SF magazine

We’ll see if I’m correct later in the month.

Right now, apart from reading novella entries, I’m trying to hammer an alt-history steampunk story into shape. It’s set on the world’s first trans-continental railway, the Dakar-Djibouti. The opening of this service is a proud moment for the Ethiopian Empire. Unfortunately, the French ambassador is killed within hours of the journey starting. Will head of security, Yakob Nefolou, be able to solve the case, prevent a war, and keep his job?

Currently, I don’t know. I’m stuck, 😀

 

27th May

Haven’t written anything new since entering the novella comp.  I have tinkered with another couple of stories, one of which is now on hold for potential inclusion in the WotF annual anthology. That’s mighty exciting, Inclusion would grant me flights out to the annual week long writers workshop. Of course, that’s my Q1 entry. Q2 & Q3 are already in, and Q4’s entry is underway. I may yet gain entry as of right. I can hope.

Beyond that, what?

I was reminded recently that this is my hobby, not my career. Sure, I want a The Martian breakout, because of the financial security it would bring. But writing is not the most important thing in my life. Not close. I love it (well, kind of, curse it), but it’s not the most important thing I do, not close.

Which brings me back to turning off social media. No Twitter; No FB. This has been a shock. Realizing how much time I spend on the two, understanding the waste of time they have been for me, has been salutary. How distracting they have been from what is most important to me has been worrying. Some of my friends can use social media as the part time tool it can be. As a ‘hey, did ya’ see I did this?’ announcement system. Not me. So the step back continues. E-mail is now my default access route. Which means I have to be better with the blog.

I’ll see what I can do.

Fundamentally, it’s not important. Unless you make it so.

May 19

Wrote a novella draft.

Longest single story I have ever written.

Man, it’s bad. Soooo many typos. A main character who changes sex, a secondary character who changes sex and name. An ending that is like ex-lovers handing over small boxes of possessions in a pub carpark.

But, over 18k on a completed story.

Never done that.

I really like the story. It has some good lines in it. What I need to do is go back and relook at it with dispassionate eyes, in 3 or 4 months.

 

The other thing that’s happened is a huge step away from social media. More a divorce than stepping away. No FB, no Twitter. Have you seen those posts of lovely locations with a tag line of ‘3 months here with no internet – tag if you like’. Well, I live in the beautiful location. I have work to do in the new house, I have family to care for, things I want to write, and lots I need to revise.

So, no social media.

That’s all for the moment.