Sunday, 30 May 2010

History

I am considering something I never do, which is writing a short piece of historical fiction. Ordinarily, I keep fiction on one side of a clear line, and history on the other. Maybe this is a sign that I'm recovering some interest in history for its own sake, and not just because it's what I have to do.

I'm also working on expanding a piece I wrote for my local museum about Beverley's minster. Apparently, it needs more on the architectural changes. Personally, I've always seen architecture as coming a rather poor second to the people in it.

I also wrote a piece of flash fiction yesterday, which is the first fiction I've written for nearly a week. To spark my brain into action, I had one of those "write down every story idea you can think of" sessions, to see if anything caught my eye.

Tom Holt's Blonde Bombshell remains good. No time travel so far too, which has to be a first for him. Have I mentioned how much I dislike time travel in stories?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

GLA contest

I just though I should mention the Guide to Literary Agents site's contest for fantasy and sci-fi, which asks you to submit the first 150-200 words of your completed, full length work. If that sounds appealing, then you should probably hurry over here, because the contest finishes tomorrow.

Good luck.

Edits

It's curious, isn't it, that no matter how many times you go through a manuscript, there is always something there to alter? Partly, I suspect that it is simply a case of personal change, perhaps of learning something more about the craft of writing too. Possibly, it is also because my original manuscript for CofD contained so many errors that only a million passes will sort it? This pass only started life as an attempt to improve an awful first paragraph, but it seems to have spiralled out of control.

I've been reading the new Tom Holt book, Blonde Bombshell, which seems so far to be drifting more towards the sci-fi end of the scale than the fantasy. It's still funny.

This is written in a brief gap in editing someone else's work. Editing is always a bit of a balancing act, because you have to decide exactly how heavy handed it's right to be. Do too much, and it doesn't read like their work. Do too little, as I briefly did with my first attempt, and it doesn't end up as good as it could be.

The first Test against Bangladesh (for those with a feeling of deja vu, one of our winter series was against them too) starts on Thursday. With the differences between England's T20 and Test teams, I'm having trouble keeping track of who is in favour, who is out, and who is merely resting (or, in Stuart Broad's case, doing some intensive gym work because everyone has decided that he needs to look less like a stick. You'd think he would rather be bowling).

Friday, 21 May 2010

Done

I've more or less finished my latest ghostwriting effort (a bit of editing to go still), and it's amazing how much you can get done when you really make the effort. I think this ended up taking a couple of weeks of actual writing. Of course, it helps that I'm being paid to do it, and I'm not trying to fit it in around real life.

It's also today that I've first seen something I have ghostwritten on the (electronic) shelves. No, I'm not going to tell you what, because I'm not allowed, but it's a wonderful feeling. (And also a rather nicer front cover than the stuff with my name on, as it happens).

Fencing wise, a friend suggested last night that I might like to take part in the nationals, given that they aren't too far away. I might go. After all, if I'm going to get demolished by better fencers, I might as well make it the top lot.

I'm re-reading The Graveyard Book, which is fun, though I do think some of the reviewers got carried away. It is a wonderful, whimsical book, but calling it the best book Neil Gaiman has written is pushing things, at least in my opinion, because his novels for adults do all of that while adding in depth and complexity. I'm also reading Flashman and the Tiger, mostly because I happened to see it in a second hand bookshop.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Let's Talk Blogfest

I wasn't originally intending to join in this Let's Talk Blogfest, so I haven't written anything new for it, I'm afraid. Instead, here's an excerpt from my short story 'A Madder Scientist', the full version of which can be found in the archives of Semaphore Magazine, (issue 5, since you ask, and also the current anthology). It's a bit speech tag heavy at the start, at least partly because I was aiming for a slightly old fashioned, almost Woodehousian feel. Apologies to anyone who has read it before. I'll be more inventive next time.


‘Are you sure this is really necessary, Edwin?’ Cuthbert asked for what had to be the tenth time.

‘Yes, Cuthbert,’ Edwin answered, wearily. A polite cough behind him turned his attention to the man who stood there, looking neat and polished while the two of them laboured to drag The Apparatus up half a dozen flights of stairs.

‘Yes, Mr Mackenzie?’ Edwin demanded. The other man was over six feet, in his fifties, and with a nose that seemed designed for staring down. Nevertheless, Edwin had resolved to maintain his manners.

‘I just thought I should point out,’ Mr Mackenzie pointed out, in a voice that was obviously happy to be doing so, ‘that, strictly speaking, you should be referring to Master Willington-Smithe as “Igor”.’

‘But his name’s Cuthbert, man!’

‘I fully understand that, sir. As I have pointed out before, however, as the executor of your uncle’s estate, it is up to me to ensure that his wishes are followed in the proper spirit.’

Edwin bit back an angry response. After all, it wasn’t the lawyer’s fault. It was his uncle’s.
It had all sounded so simple in the will. Edwin was to inherit his uncle’s estate, on condition that he continued the family business. Edwin had been certain that the stipulations had said ‘scientist’ in describing that business. It was hardly his fault if Mackenzie’s thumb had partially obscured the crucial word.

‘What the world wants with a mad scientist, I’ll never know,’ Edwin muttered, and then swore as he dropped a piece of the Apparatus on his foot.

‘That’s the spirit, sir,’ Mr Mackenzie encouraged, while making no move to help. ‘Although, strictly speaking, you should be cursing those people who held you back with their narrow mindedness.’

‘Can we curse people who held us back with their narrow staircases instead?’ Cuthbert asked, from above.

‘I’m afraid not, sir, and I must insist that you take this matter more seriously. This is, after all, your uncle’s Great Work.’

Edwin snorted.

‘I’m beginning to think,’ he said, ‘that it is more a great deal of work than a Great Work.’

Mr Mackenzie shook his head and made a note in a small, leather bound book. ‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he said, ‘but comments like that really aren’t helpful. How would science advance if we did not push it beyond the artificial bounds of what other men would consider reasonable, Moral and even sane?’

For a moment, Edwin fancied that the lawyer’s visage took on a hungry look, but the moment passed. Besides, Cuthbert chose that moment to drop something up above.

‘Be careful with that Cuth… Igor!’

Monday, 17 May 2010

Sheffield, a short story, and cheese related injuries

So, I came a fairly rubbish 32nd in the Sheffield open, proving just how vital it is in these things to do well in the pool stages. After taking just long enough to wake up to finish last in mine, I won an easy L64 bout (most other people in the competition got byes) and then ran straight into the No.1 seed.

Have just had the galley proofs for my short story 'Guard Duty', due to go up over at Bards and Sages in their July issue. It's all about how those pesky heroes keep getting into all those keeps and things that are meant to be so well defended, as well as being about that moment where you realise that you might not have been told the truth by the people around you.

I continue apace with the ghost-writing, and hope to have finished the current project by the end of this week.

Did you know that it is possible to pick up cheese slicing injuries? It is, because I have. Apparently, Saturday's lack of facility with long blades has carried over into their shorter variety, meaning that my left thumb is now covered by quite a lot of sticking plaster.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Sheffield Tomorrow

I'll probably be putting my own projects on the back burner for the next few days as I work to get one of the pieces of ghostwriting finished. Even so, I'll probably keep having a read through CofD, not least because it is my favourite among those things I've finished.

I'm off to Sheffield tomorrow for the Sheffield Open. A slightly higher standard than the Yorkshire Sabre, but worth actual ranking points and things, so probably worth the effort. I would complain about the difficulty of getting to lots of opens when you live in East Yorkshire, but since one of the people coming to Sheffield has come up from Colchester, I haven't got a leg to stand on. (I say this in the full knowledge that it won't make any sense to anyone outside the UK).

I've been reading Philip Jane's I, Arnold, part 3 of the Galaxy Game series. It's interesting to see someone take the notion of literary deus ex machina to such hilarious extremes.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Internal Conflict Blogfest

For the Internal Conflict Blogfest, and since the sequel is on the way, an excerpt from my UF novel Searching (Published by DDP). Although I have since wandered off into rather sillier things, I hope you enjoy it:

When I got back, I ate in the hotel restaurant. Whatever I had wasn’t memorable enough for me to recall it. I think it might have been at about that point that I realized that this was more serious than just the after-effects of fear and adrenaline.

I stayed at the hotel bar for the space of one drink. Even though it was still no later than ten when I was done, I resolved to try and get some sleep, because Evan would no doubt end up calling me at some impossibly early hour. Vampire business usually equalled vampire hours.

Before I slept, I tried to run through a few exercises from the fighting systems that I practiced, because without constant practise, I risked losing my edge. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself. The truth, I realized half way through wing chun’s double knife form, was that I was trying to make myself feel better.

The moment I recognized that fact, I stopped. I placed the knives I had been using carefully back in their hiding places, because some habits die hard, then stood and walked to the bathroom. I ran the shower cold, cold enough that when I forced my body beneath it, it protested. I stayed there for only a couple of minutes before I got out, but the water felt like an assault. I stepped out of the shower and stared for a long moment at the form reflected in the bathroom mirror. My eyes picked out scars, moving from one to another and carrying glimpses of memory with them.

There was the crescent shaped gash of a silver knife on my side; there the parallel lines of claws that had ripped into my stomach; there the round discs of scar tissue that were all that remained of a particularly nasty vampire bite. There weren’t many scars, and they weren’t too bad because I heal cleanly as well as quickly, but they were there.

It occurred to me that practically every scar there had been earned in jobs that involved little more than finding a target and killing them. Not one of them had involved anything more subtle, and now that something did, I felt weak, helpless.

I laughed bitterly. Violence was what I was. It was stamped on me, as much a part of me as being a shifter. I had never before considered that it might be all I was.

When had I started thinking like this? Instinctively, I knew that it was not something that had been started that night, even though that was when I would have to deal with it. Claire and Suria’s faces drifted into my thoughts. I had been different since taking them in, at least a little. Before them, I had avoided that kind of contact. I had wanted to watch over people but never to have to care for them. I had even avoided friends who were not, like Evan, involved in the violence of my world.

Miranda had been another part of it, daring me to let her see all there was to see of me. I had lied to myself about my reasons for not letting her use her talents. I could pretend all I liked that I wanted to protect my secrets, but I knew the truth. I had been ashamed.

I stood there and stared at myself for a long, long time.

Why was I letting this case get to me? Why was this so different? I didn’t know. Perhaps it was because I suddenly feared that Miranda was right. Maybe I was no different from her sister. Maybe I was worse, because I couldn’t even find a simple missing person. I thought about the things I’d done so far. I’d charged in to kill the shifters who attacked the student, Heather. I’d intimidated Dells. I’d used the same tactics at the vampires’ bar. Was I little more than a thug?

I found myself promising my reflection that I would change. I would become a better person. I would at least change the way that I worked. I needed to become more of a detective, and less of an assassin, and I needed to do it…

After the case.

I laughed bitterly, because for the briefest of seconds, I had forgotten the case. Forgotten all about the reason that I was in York in the first place. I felt some guilt for that, because there were people relying on me. Amy Winter for a start. She was in danger, and I was busy having some sort of breakdown. If I gave in, gave up, put away my knives, and went off to do missionary work somewhere, Amy Winter would die, assuming that she hadn’t already.

It occurred to me, as I stood there letting the water drip from me, that Amy Winter was a big part of the reason that I was thinking the way I was.
A few days ago, when she had been a distant figure who I had known of only by a reputation harsher than my own, it had been easy to reassure myself that I was ok. At least I wasn’t as bad as her, I could tell myself. I had, more than once. I killed, but only when it was absolutely necessary. I wasn’t like her. I was different.

But this case forced me to think of Amy in other ways: as the sister of a woman who insisted that she was a good person; as an ally who Evan turned to ahead of me; and, potentially, as a frightened young woman at the mercy of some unknown group. I hadn’t known her at all.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Some novel thoughts

I've decided to make a few small changes to my comic fantasy novel Court of Dreams before I decide what to do with it next. Particularly, I feel that the starting location has to change. I set it in Hull because of the whole "write what you know" thing, but the end result is that at least one person has commented that they weren't sure if the MC was supposed to be me (he's not. He's clearly not. It's just the location that makes it seem that way. If a character a bit like me sneaks in anywhere, it's in the form of a couple of lines from a particularly geeky friend of the MC's who never intends leaving university.) I think a more general location should solve the issue, particularly since the starting location is mostly a jumping-off point.

On the ghostwriting front, I'm juggling two YA novels at the moment, which seems to be working out fine time wise. Though when the rest of the outlines come in from the client I might not say that quite so quickly. Thankfully, they're quite different, so getting some separation between the two should be doable.

I've recently read both Jim Butcher's Changes and Kim Harrison's Black Witch Sanction. They're probably my favourite urban fantasy authors (no, I'm not my own favourite UF author. That would be sad and egotistical), mostly because of the way they mix action, settings that are a little bit different, and a healthy dose of humour in the right places.

Finally, Witch Hunt, the sequel to my urban fantasy novel Searching, has been copy edited prior to publication. I don't have a release date for it yet, but I'm sure one will be along, so watch this space.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Bad Girl Blogfest

This is for the Bad Girl Blogfest, and is a brief thought on what those evil types are playing at with their dungeons and their Castles of Doom. I was going to go with another extract from one of the novels, but I think this is probably the best chance this one has of seeing the light of day:

From her Throne of Darkness, Livia the Witch Queen stared into her crystal ball. Her lips drew into a thin line at the scene it showed her. Tired, almost collapsing from the effort, a figure peered around the last corner of the labyrinth leading to her Castle of Doom. The toughened leather he wore was already singed from dragon fire, while his helmet was dented and scraped after an encounter with hammer wielding orcs. Still he clutched the box, with its so precious contents.

There wasn’t much time. The hourglass set beside the throne in the bony hands of her enemies showed Livia that soon, so soon, even the waiting figure’s efforts wouldn’t be enough. A few more minutes, and victory would be hers. And with it… she rubbed her hands at the thought, before returning her attention to the crystal ball.

So many had fallen at this final hurdle. The last stretch looked innocuous enough, after the trials of the labyrinth. That had tempted so many to come forward incautiously, only to die as the traps that lined the corridor took their toll. There were whirling blades, and shooting arrows, crushing blocks of stone and cunningly concealed pits.

Somehow, looking at the tiny figure in the maze, Livia knew that he’d guessed they were there. Maybe it was the way he looked like he wanted to run home, and never go out again. Livia hoped he wouldn’t. It would be such a waste. But no, even as she watched, he steeled himself, swapping his look of fear for the sort of expression barbarian heroes would probably have paid good money for.

With that, he was off. He charged at the corridor with almost reckless abandon, ducking and weaving at a full run. Livia watched him roll beneath the blades as they whirled above him, sidestep past arrows, and weave his way through the falling blocks of granite. The pits, she thought, the pits will get him.

Apparently not, because the running figure threw himself forward, over the suddenly gaping expanse where the floor had been. He almost dropped the box he held, but clung on grimly, dragging himself up inch by inch with his spare hand until at last he found level ground.

And that was it. He was through. Livia looked over at the hourglass, but she already knew the outcome. Sand still flowed from past into future, pinch by tiny pinch. For the briefest of moments she considered hiding, even fleeing. But no, she would be strong. She would go and meet him at the entrance, be there when the great oak and iron doors swung back.

They did, and he stepped forward, staggering, but still more than able to press the box into her hands.

‘You did it,’ Livia breathed, despite herself.

‘Yes ma’am. Um…’

Livia knew what the question would be, but she thought the brave soul had earned it.

‘Yes?’

‘I know we say “Your money back if not delivered in an hour” but isn’t this… well, a bit of an
elaborate way of trying to get free pizza?’

‘It suits me. That was ten pounds?’ Livia pressed the money into his hands. The delivery boy thanked her and settled his crash-helmet more firmly on his head.

‘Was there something else?’ Livia asked. The delivery boy looked uncomfortable.

‘I was just wondering if I could use your phone,’ he said. ‘Only, I need to ring the restaurant and get them to pick me up. I think your dragon ate my moped.’

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Two important contests

So, the UK has gone to the polls with the usual issues about representation, fairness, tactical voting and so on. I won't comment too much on this except to say that I find it deeply irritating to live in a "safe" constituency, and find the increasingly presidential tone of british politics even more so, given that it's not how our political system was designed to work. (I say designed, but "fell together over the course of at least the past eight hundred years" might be more accurate.)

So, from the election to a contest I actually have a chance of influencing the result of- the Hull Crusaders Sword Club Sabre Competition. It's tonight. I seem to be the favourite, or I would be if we had odds, and opinion polls, and things. Actually, there's an idea... a swingometer doing the presiding. It might be better at it.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Tests

I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes taking tests, but they show up everywhere, including in stories. Whether it's pulling a sword from a stone, defeating your intended in combat, or working out which door you're allowed to walk through, it seems that heroes need to be tested.

I'm not just thinking about the usual conflicts and problems (bad exes, dragons, hordes of malicious space badgers) but about circumstances that are specifically designed to check the worthiness of a character for something that happens afterwards (a bit like the MOT, but without all that stuff about tread depth and brake functioning).

Mostly, I'm thinking about it because I'm writing a bit where my MC is being tested before he gets to see someone who apparently has some answers. The tricky bit, at the moment, is thinking of some tests that tell us enough about him while still managing to be funny. I've got one obvious take on one of the classics, but isn't it more traditional when these things come in threes?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Last line blogfest

A part of the last line blogfest, which lets you post twenty-five lines or so before the end so that people can make sense of things, these are the last lines of my comic fantasy novel, which is going under the working title Court of Dreams. I hope you enjoy them.


...Not having to listen to people telling you what to do was almost the definition of what he was now, and Grave liked it. Pointedly, he sat down and started to wash himself.

A little way further on, a tiny, furry shape moved into the open, scurrying for freedom. Yes, the cat that had been Grave thought, this was better than hunting people any day.

He heard the sound of footsteps long before he saw Poppy round the corner, working on the hedges with a watering can. One part of him wanted to yell ‘help, get me out of this’, but rather more of him wanted to walk up to her and rub against her legs, so he did. Grave wasn’t particularly surprised when she picked him up and started stroking his chin.

‘And where did you come from?’ She asked. Grave just purred. ‘You’re a loveable old thing, aren’t you?’

A memory surfaced with those words. Hadn’t Freli the witch told him something similar would happen? Damn it! The hag had known! Grave wanted to jump down, to race to the witch’s house and… and… well, part of him wanted to tear her limb from limb, obviously, but something else was telling him that the correct response was to sit outside her window and wail every night.

‘I’ve always wanted a cat.’ Poppy said, interrupting Grave’s feline thoughts of revenge. ‘How would you like it if you lived with me, Mr Cat? I’ll look after you, and stroke you, and you can eat all the mice that try to get at my plants.’

She put Grave down on the ground and picked up her watering can. She took a few steps back through the maze before stopping and looking back at him expectantly.

‘Are you coming, Mr Cat?’

Grave waited a moment. He had his dignity after all. Then, with a meow to tell the little scurrying thing in the hedge that he’d be back, he bounded after the gardener.