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.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Soundtrack to a Cake

I have finished a couple of short stories, though I'm not sure that they have come out as well as they might. It can be a bit like baking a cake sometimes. You put all the ingredients in, but if you don't stir them quite right...

On the other hand, I have high hopes for both my comedy/fantasy/murder mystery story, which plays around with detective story cliches until I get bored, and my story based around the problems of nipping down to the shops when there are portals to other worlds lying around.

On an only vaguely related note, almost everything I have written in the past few days has been done to a soundtrack consisting of:

  1. Country group Lady Antebellum's debut album, having caught the start of BBC Radio 2's country programme on my way to fencing a couple of times.
  2. Ozzy Osbourne's new album Scream. Great stuff, and new guitarist Gus G. certainly doesn't let the newbie status slow him down.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

I'm writing everything

Normally, I like to work on one thing at once. For some reason though, I'm currently writing about half a dozen things at the same time, flitting between them as I go. It's proving to be a useful way around the part where I can't really focus on a single piece at the moment without deciding that it's awful.

I have just (presumably long after everyone else) come across the writing of Mike Carey, and specifically his Felix Castor series of urban fantasy. It's nice to read a novel in the genre where the settings are ones I at least vaguely know about (London), and the great writing is obviously good too.

I have finally stopped merely thinking about sending the novel out to more agents and actually sent it to someone. They may or may not reject it out of hand. I'm hoping for may not.

It's just a couple of weeks until the SFFANZ announces the results of the Sir Julius Vogel awards for New Zeeland based fantasy and sci fi. I'm on the other side of the world, you say? True, but a couple of my short stories are in the last Semaphore anthology, which has a couple of entries there.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

What I'm Writing Now (ish)

I'm currently finding myself fascinated by fairy tales. Maybe it's just that they are inherently larger than life anyway, but they strike me as such a great source of potential funniness. Particularly if you are as determined to be annoyingly literal as I am. Yesterday, for example, I found myself writing a short story that did no more than take the notion of a fairy godmother in a suitably ganster movie sense (and yes, I'm aware that Robert Asprin beat me to it with the interdimensional mob's fairy godfather). From there, it sort of branched out into a very different take on the whole Cinderella thing, which I'm hoping the editor I sent it to will like.

I also find myself veering back towards the short stuff. Flash fiction length, in fact, which is a bit awkward since I now have to look up a bunch of FF markets, given that I don't normally write quite that short. My 'natural' length seems to be a slightly awkward 1500 words. Well, that or a full novel. Does anyone else have a natural writing length?

Current possible directions (if the insides of my brain might worry you, look away now): Another crack at the notion of a zombie sofa. Redoing the stalled Brian Northington stuff as YA with funny bits. Something about finding the right sword in the stone among several hundred (being too tired to pull it out after). Snow White's dwarves as bodyguards (identified, as all crack teams are, only by their callsigns). What the evil scientist/villain does in a normal town, when a good thunderstorm just refuses to show up. Something about hiring film extras to fill out a horde...

You get the idea.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Stuff

  • England start their second Test against Pakistan today (probably about five minutes ago). It seems like a bit of a waste of time to write anything more than that when so much of Pakistan is suffering in the aftermath of flooding. I'm not even going to complain about the latest round of sackings and recalls that go hand in hand with Pakistan's cricket.
  • August is the month without fencing, and I'm bored. Must think of something to do. I've been thinking of drifting back into the weird world of martial arts for a bit, though my last couple of attempts at that were quite brief.
  • I'm currently reading K.E.Mills' Wizard Squared. It's an amusing, interesting book. The only slight downside is that, for the first five chapters at least, the amusing, interesting book in question is the first of the series in which this is the third. I'm not sure about it as an approach to writing parallel universes.
  • May I just say that, as fun as I'm sure YA vampire romance is to read (well, I say sure...) writing it can be slightly awkward, largely because there are quite a lot of obvious UF things (unpleasant violence, sex, death, metaphors for addiction, slightly borderline MCs) that don't really scan. Still, I'm sure I'll get it finished. Probably today.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Writing Without Writing

One curiousity of the last little while is that I haven't done much work on my writing. This seemed odd, because I had definitely been writing, until it occurred to me that what I had mostly been writing was for other people.

I have resolved, as such, to get some of my own writing done, and just as importantly, to get it sent out. I have hardly written any short stories this year, and that seems a shame, even if finding a place for my particular brand of weirdness isn't always straightforward.

I have also resolved to have another go at sending CofD out to agents and things (possibly Things will like it, assuming that they have enough eyeballs to read it. Your basic Thing can be a bit unpredictable in that regard.)

I may even have a go at some more poetry, though possibly not.