Saturday, 12 April 2014

Rat's Tale is live!

So Rat's Tale is now live in ebook format at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. The paperback and other sites should be there in the next few days hopefully.

Lenny’s turned his back on the past. In return for police protection and a lighter sentence, he’s grassed up his old gangland boss and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be free to start a new life with Amanda.

But the past isn’t giving up on him yet. New man on the block Mick Carlotti fancies himself as a crime lord – he doesn’t have the contacts or the business acumen, but he knows a man who does. He also knows exactly how to get Lenny to play ball.

Caught between Carlotti’s rock and the hard place of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, Lenny’s running out of choices. Turning his life around is going to be a lot harder than he thinks.

Set just after events in Calling the Tune, this shorter novel is Lenny's story and contains adult material. 

This one's been fun. Getting inside the head of a bad-boy and working out what makes him tick has been fascinating and not something I've done before. I think it works ...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spring Senses

Use all five senses and write about spring. 10 minutes - go!

It's so close, I could touch it. At least I could if the window opened more than the inch or so required for "ventilation" - although really it's just to drop fag ends outside. But I like to stick my fingers out and touch the rain, or get my nose so close to the gap that I can smell and taste the weather. It's a better smell than body odour and boiled cabbage.

Freedom is something I can see through the glass, but always just out of reach. I can hear traffic sometimes, on a still night when the morons on the wing finally quit carping and curl up in something approaching sleep, tucked up under their dirty grey blankets with their dirty grey dreams. Cars in the distance, people travelling, arriving, living; without freedom, I simply exist.

But spring is somehow different. Always full of hope with the promise of summer just around the corner. I always stick my fingers out of my cell window when it rains in the spring.

So I don't do light and fluffy...

Monday, 31 March 2014

From a dalek to a jedi ....

Where will you see every incarnation of Dr Who occupying the same space-time co-ordinates as a jedi knight, Chewbacca and Mike Myers?

Answer: At this year's Sci-Fi Weekender in North Wales.

I was lucky enough to get invited to this event as a guest author with an access-all-areas "artist" pass and the chance to witter on at great length on stage about genre writing - and my genre writing. You can read more of this side of the event on 6th April in my monthly blog over at AuthorsElectric, but here I thought I'd talk more about cosplay and role-playing in general.

Up until recently, I'd never even heard the term cosplay. While I've been to (and organised) many conventions over the years, they've been more aimed at the literary and art side of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genre - more concerned with discussion, readings and art shows. This is the first event I've attended that celebrates the shows themselves, where 6000+ attendees turn up to meet stars and dress up as their favourite characters. I used to do a lot of live role-play (of the Treasure Trap variety), but other than a brief and uncostumed appearance at a Star Trek convention in the early 1990s, I've never experienced such a large group of people having so much fun with costumes before.


Witness  Peter Capaldi's new incarnation of Dr Who arguing at great length with a dalek over which of them is the bigger star and has the biggest BBC contract; Pennywise the clown wandering through the arena menacingly, with his clutch of balloons; a blue-skinned woman browsing books in the dealer room, Willy Wonka watching a panel or Obi-Wan Kenobi doing battle with Darth Vader by the outdoor bar.

And that's not doing homage to the steampunk crowd in their beautifully-detailed Victorian outfits. Men and women - whole families having a weekend away from television, playstations and the internet, and mixing with like-minded people. I could have stood outside all weekend just watching the interplay, the impromptu re-enactments of scenes from film and television.


In the trading area, I was helping to man the Telos table. The stand across the way had a whole wall of artwork - mostly by the wonderful fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, whose posters papered my walls in my student days (who remembers Athena posters in the early 1980s?). And I had a complete fangirl moment when I realised that the man himself was there, helping to run the stall! So I had a chat with him and bought a signed print. Totally made my weekend!

Would I go again? Definitely. Not sure I'd dress up myself. I did feel sorry for the cosplayers on occasion - everywhere they went, they'd stop to pose and have their photograph taken. But I guess that's what it's about for some of them - the appreciation of the onlookers into the sheer amount of effort it's taken to put some of these outfits together and the character-playing throughout the entire weekend. Hiding behind a persona can be fun in that you can do all sorts of things the real you would never dare to do! Which is kind of what we do when we write isn't it? Put on another identity and experience life as somebody else.

Edited to add this.... 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Cause And Effect

A bit of googling and I find that the classic line to illustrate plot is attributed to EM Forster:

The king died and then the queen died is a narrative.

The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot.

It's about cause and effect. Actions leading to events which lead to further actions - at the end of which the people involved are changed in some way - be it physically or mentally. They fall in love, they solve the mystery, they realise that their values have changed, they reach some kind of understanding or enlightenment. All good stories - genre and literary fiction - follow this path in some way, whether the characters reach a literal or spiritual destiny.

Taking it a stage further - events need to be a direct result of a character's actions. How many times have you read stories where a character sits passively while things happen to him? Not very often, I expect. Character generates plot which in turn changes the character. It's why deus ex machina endings are so frustrating - God in the machine - where in classical literature, the Gods would walk onto the page and determine the ending. In modern fiction it's where the characters wake up and it's all been a dream. Or where the murderer is revealed to be somebody's twin brother that's never been mentioned in the story. As a reader you feel cheated and justifiably so. Events have to be connected - cause and effect.

In a short story, it's the difference - for me, anyway - between a story and a piece of prose. A piece of prose is words on a page or screen, in the right order. It may be beautifully written with wonderful imagery - but if it doesn't end, figuratively speaking, in a different place from where it started, it's not a story. There's no change, no growth, no enlightenment in the character or even reader. That's not to say there is anything wrong with pure prose - I just don't like seeing the two confused.

I find this really hard sometimes. I'll be writing a scene and I'll suddenly realise that everything is happening around my character and he has no direct influence on any of it. With the nature of the stuff that I write, it's quite common, and yet the good guys have to escape/outwit the bad guys by virtue of something they themselves initiate. Otherwise what was the point? Calling in the cavalry is the easy option.

And while I don't always have happy endings, I do try to make them satisfying within the context of the story. But never walking off hand in hand into the sunset!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rat's Tale

Lenny’s turned his back on the past. In return for police protection and a lighter sentence, he’s grassed up his old gangland boss and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be free to start a new life with Amanda.  

But the past isn’t giving up on him yet. New man on the block Mick Carlotti fancies himself as a crime lord – he doesn’t have the contacts or the business knowledge yet, but he knows a man who does. And he also knows exactly how to get Lenny to play his games.   

Caught between Carlotti's rock and the hard place of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit, Lenny’s running out of choices. Turning his life around may be harder than he thinks.  

Set just after events in Calling the Tune, this shorter novella is Lenny's story and contains adult material.  

A novella still in progress. Drop me an email if you want me to let you know when it's available to read.....

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

On Zombies and Electric Fences

My local writing group meets up once a month. At the start, we all do a writing exercise, usually suggested by one of the group members. Yesterday, we were inspired by a selection of small ads from the local papers: write for 10 minutes on one of them. Here's my effort - pretty much unedited, so I've no idea what it actually is...

Electric Fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new green tape, 3 used connectors and 5 unused connectors. £48

Electric fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new.

What does nearly new mean? It's either new or it isn't. For that matter, if it's not new it'd be used wouldn't it? And how do you use a fence? Climb it? Keep something in? Or keep something out?

You can't climb an electric fence anyway. Not one made of green tape. And when I think of an electric fence, I think of a prison - probably one on a post-apocalyptic planet somewhere. It'd be designed to keep the zombies out, wouldn't it? Green tape ain't gonna do that. You can't fry a zombie anyway - they're already dead and they don't care if they lose a toe or finger here or there.

The vamps though - they'd care. Stick a current up their arse and they'd light up like a nuclear reactor. That'd be fun to see on a dark night.

Listen up. This ain't fucking Twilight. You wanna survive here, you got to get to grips with electricity. And you ain't gonna do that buying fencing from the small ads.

Ho hum. I need to get out more, don't I?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Imagination

When my daughter was little, I'd amuse her on car journeys by discussing other drivers. I suspect I was probably giving her a mountain of prejudice to overcome in later life, as I happily stereotyped every car and driver we saw. There goes Humphrey and his wife Fenella in their huge 4x4 towing a horsebox, with little Penelope in the back, on their way to a gymkhana, where Penelope will probably win all the pony club races, and her best friend Araminta will cry and it will be weeks before they make friends again. Can you tell I grew up reading Enid Blyton? Or there'd be uncle Arthur and aunty Elsie driving at 20 miles per hour in their little Ford on their annual Sunday trip to the garden centre to buy some roses for the garden, only aunty Elsie doesn't have her reading glasses and uncle Arthur doesn't know all the different Latin names of the roses ... As she got older, my daughter would be joining in and we'd imagine the extended lives of all these complete strangers.

It clearly had an effect. I recall driving home from the day nursery (a half-hour trip on a good day) when my amazing daughter, aged three, managed to tell me about a dream she'd had - for the entire journey without stopping or repeating herself. I'm not even sure she paused for breath. I was impressed.

But I still do it all the time. I amuse myself in cars, in queues, wherever, by looking at people, eavesdropping on their conversations and creating lives for them. From two carrots, a lemon and a bedsheet, to today in the supermarket where a middle-aged man - probably called Chris or John - dressed in smart jeans and a sensible shirt, is buying mountains of fruit and vegetables. Pears, cherries and raspberries. Gourds - Gourds? What on earth do you do with a gourd? - and carrots and leeks. At first I think he's making a special meal to impress a lady friend. Maybe a second or third date? Then I spot the wedding ring and I'm thinking, no - he's a chef, isn't he? Normal men don't shop like that. And off I go again, stereotyping the poor bloke until I've got him neatly pigeonholed where I want him. And I store it away and maybe he'll emerge some day as a part of a character in a story.

[...Talking of characters, does anybody else think that the BBC's new D'Artagnan is the hottest thing on tv this year? And yes, I'm old enough to be his mother. And no, I don't care....]

But does anybody else imagine other peoples' lives in this way? I have a habit of listening to conversations and find it so hard to resist the temptation to add my own opinion to the mix. Sometimes it gets the better of me - when I see a woman standing in front of a mirror and holding a dress up to herself, sometimes I just have to tell her the colour really suits her. I've not been told to mind my own business yet, but I'm sure it will happen some day. My husband and daughter despair of me when I can't help chatting to the checkout girl or the store assistants. I like to think I'm brightening up their day, but I'm probably not, am I? 

That's where my characters probably come from, I think. People I've met throughout my life, stored in character soup in my subconscious - stirred and blended with other people, real and imaginary - seasoned with a healthy dose of irony, until they emerge near-fully-formed at the other end of the machine.

Or am I just weird?