Thursday, 5 July 2012

This is the New Plan

Nothing to see here... I just needed to get a larger cover image up somewhere.

This, incidentally, is my new book. ;)

Available on Amazon (UK & US).

Friday, 2 March 2012

Sharks Never Die

You may have just read The Sharks of Old London. (<-- this will be a link to the flash fiction of said name, but it hasn't been posted yet. If there is no link, there will be later, when I remember.)

The Sharks of Old London is a post-apocalypse type tale set in the same universe as Love Like a Shark. Love Like a Shark was the first thing I ever submitted to the #fridayflash collector (over a year ago). The Sharks of Old London is only tangentially connected however, the characters come from the same program, but the two stories focus on different characters in different time periods.

One of the key plot elements is one that has never left me. Sharks never die. How true this is I'm not sure. The theory is that the mechanism in humans which prevents cells from multiplying uncontrollably and thus decreases the chance of cancers while at the same time limiting the regeneration, healing, longevity of our bodies is not there in sharks. They can heal and regenerate cells indefinitely and they are mostly protected from solar radiation (by miles of water) so the chances of cancers are less. (to describe the whole thing in a grossly simplified way)

People (me included) are fascinated with this idea, in the same way that we are fascinated with almost anything that could heal us and make us live forever. And yet the only way this can work is if we somehow suppress the mutating of the cells, ensuring cancer does not become a massive problem.

The metaphor here, of course, is that this story will not die in my head, but it does mutate and break the surface from time to time. For example when the Shark Knight prompt appeared, which is when I wrote The Sharks of Old London.

#fridayflash highlights debut entries. So Love Like a Shark is still one of my most viewed stories. In some ways I think this was not my greatest move, it was relatively experimental, focussing on dialogue so much it was published in script form, completely unlike my usual writing. I wonder if that didn't put a few people off reading more of my work. Oh well.

So the story has re-emerged.

One of the things I'm working on at the moment is expanding some of the flash fictions I posted when I started this blog into short stories for my first anthology (hopefully out this June).

Often with flash fiction, my own and others, people ask for more. This can turn into a serial, a short story, or go nowhere. When I first wrote The Sharks of Old London, the early line about the dangers of London at night mentioned the Ripper, and at the end the Knight mentioned that there were two of his kind left in the world. I changed this for poignancy (hopefully) and brevity. I was cutting the word count close and I didn't feel the mention of the Ripper was necessary to this particular tale.

However, when I come to expand this story for the Small Change anthology (in three years time...) it will have the Ripper reinstated. It will be the story of a London terrorised by a post-apocalyptic Jack the Ripper, born of sharks, and of his brother determined to take him down as the last act of a cursed program to make immortal protectors.

I hope it comes out as awesome as that sounds in my head... ^_~

Friday, 10 February 2012

Spare Parts (serial experiments)

I break my main flash fiction blog up into 'seasons', two a year. Not to suggest an overarching narrative, or connection, just to help me keep a sense of progression, a sense of where I am and where I've been.

The last season, the past six months, have actually had something of a theme... serials.

I wanted to branch out, experiment. It's one of the joys of flash fiction, you get to try out different styles and techniques. You get to play with form and function.

A little note on serials to begin with, as there are different approaches. There is the chopped up novel or short story, there is the ongoing write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants weekly serial and then there is the route I took, which was the short, pre-written serial. The distinction being that while they were written in advance, they weren't simply chopped up, but purposefully written in 'episodes' with cliffhangers and plot hooks, to be published weekly.

So, was the experiment a success?

Well... a moderate one.

Godstorm was my fantasy serial about a young god thrust into the politics of older gods. Kind of. (Part 1 - Clouds Like Murder). It was probably the most popular, but while it had a strong beginning and end it lacked much of a middle. It's something I want to expand when I have the chance.

Fifteen Feathers was a supernatural suspense serial. (Part 1) I think it was probably the most successful in a lot of ways. It was very (and purposefully) suited to the serial form. On the first day (episode) Katya receives five feathers, which inexplicably sends her mind spinning. The next day she receives four. Then three...

The countdown worked really well, built in natural cliffhangers, allowed each episode to be a day and let me reveal a few more details and build the character as I went along. I've had more than one request to release the full text as a straight up short, which will obviously lose some of the cliffhanger tension, but I plan to include it in my first anthology, hopefully (all going to plan) out in June.

Then I through in a couple of little'uns...

Haunted. A standalone. But... then it's not a serial, right? Well, technically not. But... wait! It was an introductory piece for my character in an ongoing wbtsoy-pants serial that I got asked to be a part of by a friend (which completely coincidentally came about as I was experimenting with serials).

That serial is a post-apocalyptic story called Dusk. It will get a full post of its own at some point, but for now, pop on over and give it a go. It's fun and slightly mad.

Black and White. A two part conceptual sci-fi. (part 1) I have mixed feelings about it... I love the first part; the second part is where the conceptual side comes in and it almost feels like a different beast. But I enjoyed writing it.

And then the biggie. As many parts as Godstorm and Fifteen Feathers together... The Dorothy Delusion. A near-future techno-thiller, with hints of Baum's Oz and multiple plot threads. (part 1)

The end reaction? Well, it's literally just finished, so... I can't really say. But for me, again, a mixed success. Definitely some positive comments, people like the characters, the pace, the fight scenes. But then because I was weaving multiple plots and much of it hinged on questioning characters' allegiances and motivations I know I lost a few people at certain points because reading it was dragged out over several months.

One twist was definitely too subtly set up for the serial form. Although it was only a page or two back, the hints appeared weeks before the reveal so it fell a little flat. But then... I learnt from that, and that was the point.

I hope people enjoy the conclusion, and ultimately I've enjoyed writing serials. Dusk continues, but I'm looking forward to going back to writing and publishing individual flashes. Ultimately I have a very short attention span and individual flash fictions suit that very well... ^_^

Friday, 3 February 2012

Shark Knight

The point of this blog was a place to ramble and talk about the fiction, while the fiction lived elsewhere. Well, I'm just going to break all the rules and post some fiction here. I know, crazy, right? o_0

This was hastily written in response to Jack K Holt's discovery of a mislabelled Shark (K)Night 3D DVD, which I immediately saw as a writing prompt.

More Shark Knight:
These islands are built on pirate bones
S.H.A.R.K. Knight

And so... the story...

Shark Knight

Karl lifted his grandson onto his lap. His knee would begin aching shortly, but soon the boy would be too heavy to lift at all and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity. Karl rubbed his white beard, and looked down at young Sam.

“Have I ever told you about the Shark Knight, Sam?”

Sam’s eyes went wide, then narrowed a little. He was reaching the age where his Grandpa’s tall tales were beginning to sound suspect, not that he let that interfere with enjoying them.

“No, Grappa. Tell me about the Shark Knight.”

“He’s a wicked thing, cursed by witches. He was a Grail Knight once, but he went bad.”

Sam bounced and Karl hid his wince as pain shot down his shin.

“Knights are good, knights don’t go bad!”

“Oh, he was a good man to begin with, and virtuous. But he was just a man, and time, frustration and failure went to work on him. He spent years searching for the grail with no luck. Then he demanded the witches let him breathe underwater so he could search the seas. He threatened to feed them to sharks if they didn't.”

“Oh,” Sam breathed, “you mustn’t threaten a witch.”

“Exactly,” Karl ruffled Sam’s hair, “you and I know that. So the witches taught him a lesson, they mixed him all up with the sharks, so he had a shark’s head and skin, but the body of a man, that he might scour the ocean beds.”

“Is he still under the sea? Is he still searching?” Sam knew how stories went.

“He is, but on a full moon he comes out of the sea and searches the land instead. Looking for the witches. And woe betide anyone who crosses his path.”

Sam’s eyes went properly wide now, lost in his imagination.

“But Grappa, it’s a full moon tonight.”

“So it is. Well, just be sure you don’t go wandering in the night. If you do... the first thing you see are his terrible eyes, two slits of red in the night. The first thing you hear is the creak of his rusted armour and the bubbling rattle of air through his tattered gills.”

“But how can he breathe, out of the sea?”

“Oh, not easily, Sam, not easily. It pains the beast greatly to do so. But if you see him, if you hear him, just run. Run home fast.”

Sam nodded vigorously.

“Da doesn’t let me out at night, but I’ll remember, if I ever see him, I’ll run.”

“Run from what?”

Karl turned and smiled at his son, stood in the doorway.

“The Shark Knight, Da.”

“Has Grappa been telling you scary stories just before bed again? C’mon, little Sam.”

“Aw, Da.” But Sam didn’t put up a struggle. “Grappa?”

“Yes, Sam?”

“All the witches are dead. Does he know?”

“He knows, Sam. Night.”

“Night, Grappa, look out for the Shark Knight.”

Karl’s son shook his head, there was a world of stories between the two of them that he had grown out of. Though Karl hoped one day he would rediscover them, maybe with a grandson of his own.

Karl said his goodbyes and walked slowly home. Not that he could walk at any other pace these days. The moon was bright and round, fully visible despite the fog that was beginning to drift in from the sea.

When he was home he climbed down the steps to the larder. He shivered as he worked a large side of salted beef off the shelf. It was colder down there than it was outside. He staggered a little as he carried the beef up the stairs and out the back door to his work table.

The back of his house led straight out onto the cliff and the path that ran down to the cove. He sat down at the table and waited.

A short while later he heard a creaking, grinding sound like a rusted gate, and a rattling, bubbling sound like water coming up through a crack. A large shadow was shuffling its way up the path, with just two glowing red slits at head height.

The Shark Knight manoeuvred himself onto the bench opposite Karl. He surged forward and sank his terrible teeth into the side of beef.

When he had eaten his fill he turned his baleful gaze on Karl.

Karl shook his head, “Sorry, old friend. I know you have learnt your lesson and your sentence is long served, but I cannot find a single witch, old or young, to lift your curse.”

The Shark Knight nodded slowly. His breathing seemed more laboured than usual. With a groan of old metal he reached behind himself. He drew out a plain wooden cup, intricately carved and miraculously undamaged despite the barnacles and sheen of green algae. He placed it in front of Karl and then he shuddered and slumped across the table, the red finally fading from his eyes.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Getting Real... Getting Serious

Real life is the one thing we can never really escape from.

As writers, escapism is our business, you might say. But wherever you go to, whatever world you read yourself into, whatever adventure the movie takes you on, whatever mystery the game embroils you in... the real world is there waiting for you, and living in the real world takes money, and money, usually, takes a job.

For me, that job is bookselling. I'm fortunate enough that the job I do is a job I love, that I get to work with books, and recommend books and talk to people about books*, and get paid for it. It's a product and an industry I'm passionate about.

(*but not read books. If you think working in a bookshop is about reading books all day... think again.)

It's a job that came under threat recently... I won't go into the state of the high street, the tensions the book industry and retail industry are under, you've heard it all before, suffice it to say that there was a very real chance I would have been rudely dumped on the real world's doorstep with the possibility of having to find work that meant nowhere near as much to me as my current work does.

With this shake up and change I made a decision, something I've been thinking about for a while. I took a drop in hours, and thus in pay, and it was entirely my choice. It was my choice to finally take a step in the direction I've been headed for a long time...

I want to write. I do write. But it takes time, and unless you're one of the lucky few it doesn't pay that well.

So this is me taking a step in the write direction... ha ha... (sorry)

This makes it suddenly very serious. This makes it more than something I'm working towards... some day... This means it has begun. It's here, now.

And how will it begin? Well, there is a plan. I will be thirty three this year, an important number for me. The plan is this: on my thirty third birthday I will release my first collection of short fiction.

No more procrastination. This is no small task and I need to get myself in gear, I plan to make more of an effort to blog this year, I plan to continue with the writing I already do, I plan to set things in motion for future projects too. So I've freed myself a little more time, but I need to use it well, I'm going to have a lot on my plate.

This is me grabbing the real world by the horns and attempting to wrestle it into some kind of shape that suits me. But the real world, like all mixed metaphors, is a wily beast, and not one prone to submission. I'm planning to build a real world I don't need to escape from.*

*Which isn't to say I won't want to continue escaping, for pure pleasure. =)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Will update this blog for food...

Well I've been rubbish at maintaining this blog, haven't I?

It's not the only one, either. Well, I intend to do something about that. I intend to make something of my web presence. I will keep writing fiction, and that, I think, will always be my priority, but I'm going to try and keep this thing updated, in the same way I used to keep my old Commentary blog updated: by talking about the flash fiction I posted that week, what inspired me to write it, and what it makes me think about writing. So hopefully I'll go back to talking about process and technique and skills. And experimentation.

I think I shied away from that because I felt kind of like, what do I know, what right do I have to talk about this stuff, an amateur myself? But, you know what, it's as much about talking out loud, making me think about the process, as it is about trying to instruct others. And if it opens discussion then that's a good thing, right? And if it helps improve someone else... that's a great thing. =)

This is kind of a new year's resolution thing, I guess. I don't really do those, but there are lots of things I want to do this year, and I'm pretty determined. I just need to make sure I get myself in gear, stick with it, and try not to get too distracted.

So one of the things I want to start working on again this year is Space-Time Industries. My old science fiction blog. It got an amount of attention that surprised me... not loads, but more than I expected for something so new and unpromoted. Hopefully I can regain that and build from it.

It's kind of a stupid dream but one day I would love to be able to run some kind of Space-Time Industries 'Best of the Year' awards and have people actually look forward to them with anticipation. But hey, I've always been a dreamer... kind of makes me happy to know there's still part of me that aims for the clouds. ;)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Blog Awards

Wow, so while I've been taking a little downtime I've been given a couple of peer-awarded blog awards. They were actually awarded to my flash fiction blogs, Xeroverse: Missing Pieces and Xeroverse: 101, but I'm going to accept them here, because in the convoluted way I've set up my blog presence this is the more appropriate place for rambling discourse... ;)

First up, Steve Green and Stephen Hewitt both awarded me the Versatile Blogger award. For which I apparently have to mention seven random facts about me and announce nominations of my own.

And Rebecca Bohn has awarded me the Liebster Blog award.

So, a big thank you, to all three of you. =)

It's a real honour to be nominated by those three, all of them being writers I admire in their own right, all of whom I would happily nominate in return. As such, I am immensely fortunate to have been given the two awards, as it means I can award Steve and Stephen the Liebster and Rebecca the Versatile Blogger award. So that risks seeming like some kind of hippy love-in, but my mutual respect is genuine and all three deserve it.

Steve Green is an ideas machine. His flash fiction shifts easily among genres and is always a good read, week in, week out. There's often a healthy dose of humour in there too, and what this man doesn't do with zombies isn't worth doing... ;)

Stephen Hewitt takes myth and drapes it attractively over the real world, and then sometimes he takes the real world and drapes it artfully over myth. Always a joy to read, his use of language is sumptuous and masterful.

R.S. Bohn is one of the loveliest people I've 'met' since I've begun to get my toes wet with this flash blogging lark. And she's a very talented writer too. Take the time to read the short fiction she's posted on her blog recently, you won't be disappointed.

To my other nominees I say, "pick and choose". ;)
The following are both among my very favouritest and also extremely versatile bloggers, so they may pick and choose which award they like, or take both. =)

Lily Childs writes exquisite horror fiction. She also hosts and judges the Friday Prediction flash fiction challenge. A gracious host, she invites and brings together a wide spectrum of writers under one roof. Hers is definitely a blog worth following.

Aidan Fritz creates deep and interesting worlds, and somehow manages to evoke that depth without slowing his stories down. Always a great read.

Eastscapes is a blog I've pimped before. A friend and colleague of mine with a great eye for the spaces people leave behind, humanity's afterimages, the photography of the damned...

And now, for those of you still with me, my seven random facts...

1. For a short while I was in business with my parents and managed a lovely little children's bookshop... If I knew then what I know now.

2. I have no TV licence. If you live in the UK you know that means I don't watch any TV. At all.
(OK, so I watch Castle on demand5, but it's Nathan Fillion, dammit.)

3. I'm a big geek, but I'm a massive Batman geek. That established, my favourite character isn't Batman, it's Nightwing. (Not necessarily Dick Grayson as Robin or Batman, but Dick grayson as Nightwing)

4. I have a dragon scarified on my left shoulder.

5. My dream job would be to write computer games (not program, I can't program for toffee, but plot, dialogue etc.). I think, even more so than books, the capacity for (interactive) storytelling and character development is very exciting.

6. The surname 'Xero' comes from my second internet incarnation as Angel Xero. Originally created for a prank, it stuck, and when I wanted something more grounded I swapped out the Angel for my real name.

7. My very first internet venture, back when no one used their real names and I called myself Shadow Weaver, was a site called Dark Minds. It began, 2002-ish, as a collective of friends producing creative snippets; it picked up a few other contributors along the way before fading away. These days it only exists on the Wayback Machine.