31 December 2011

Word count will stay my problem up to and including my headstone

I finally pulled my procrastinating thumb out of my arse and did some writing, in that wonderful quiet spot between Christmas and New Year when you can live on leftovers and stay at home while the rest of the world hits the sales. I quite like my tale of satanic paper cats and their reluctant hostess.

Unfortunately, this was supposed to be my entry for an annual writing group competition with a word count of 2,500 to 3,500, and I'm at 4,500 and rising. Oops. It seems the engraved Writer's Block is destined to spend a year on someone else's shelf. It will probably be happier on a shelf that gets dusted more frequently anyway. I wouldn't want to interfere with the dawn of a new dust bunny species which is likely to occur in my house later this year.

21 December 2011

Grinch alert

Okay, I have to hold my hands up to it: I'm a grinch.


Which is not to say I hate Christmas, heck no. I love the way The Boy's excitement increases as the open doors on his advent calendar add up. I love our little family walk with the dogs on Christmas morning, and the big family gathering in the evening. I love decorating the tree and baking mince pies with sweet pastry so thin they crumble in your hands.

Nope, it turns out, what I don't love is involuntary exposure to Christmas music. Christmas songs on the radio and in the shops drive everybody nuts, so I'm just going to add myself to the end of a long, long list there, and declare that the only Christmas song I can tolerate is Fairytale of New York. 'Nuff Said, and thanks, Tesco, for using it in your advertising and potentially spoiling that one for me too. If that makes me a grinch, then we are legion.

I might, however, be in a minority when it comes to choirs singing carols.

Now I quite like choral music. A friend sings in a choir and The Old Git and I go to their twice yearly concert. Good stuff. However, I don't expect it in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

It was the occasion of our Writing Group Christmas dinner (I do enjoy having four or five different Christmas dinners), and when the group on the next table broke into a rendition of Ding Dong Merrily on High, I thought it was spontaneous and wonderful.

Then they did another one.

And another one.

And another one.

And another one.

Then they did the first one again, and I looked over and realised that this was not a spontaneous outbreak of song. They all had songbooks in front of them, and they were set up for a night of wobbling their tonsils in public. And I started a slow, irritable burn.

I'm sorry, Pain the Arse Choral Society, but it's the noise inspector in me. It doesn't matter what you are choosing to sing, or how well you sing it. What bothers me is that you decided a crowded restaurant was the place for your singalong, regardless of whether the people around you wanted to hear it or not. It's the fundamental 'up yours' inherent in that decision. One carol, sung off the cuff would have delighted me. Planning it in advance? That's just rude.

I will retire with grinchly dignity to my kitchen, and start baking mince pies. When people open their mouths to sing in inappropriate places, maybe I can just pop mince pies in. I figure with a little bit of planning, I can be both grumpy and Christmassy.

12 December 2011

It's Panto Night (oh no it's not!)

What do the following have in common?
  • Ripperella, the East End tart whose fairy godfather, Don Corleone, set her up with a man called Jack,
  • Jack the Intellectually Challenged, who went to London to become the Lord Mayor with the help of a pig called Trotter,
  • Maid Marion, who left Robin to marry Aladdin, the man who could find her hood,
  • Silvio, who helped grow the European beanstalk for the Banking Giant by fertilising it with used banknotes.
Answer: They were all characters invented by the deranged imaginations of the Watford Writers and assigned to me to ham-act for Panto Night. So, so much fun.

You guys have strange, warped minds and I love you for it. Poor Chris might not, since you made him be King Kong and ape his way across the 'stage' to have a discussion with Tarzan about loincloths.

The million dollar question now is whether the guy who came for the first time tonight will be back next week or whether he'll run away screaming.

10 December 2011

Divine Hell blog challenge - Heresy

I am dying on my arse with this challenge. Just way too busy at work. It's leaving me with a headful of sludge in the evenings. Nearly a week late and 100 words over. Oops.


“Hello Steven.” There is infinite sorrow on the Bishop’s face as the guards plant me in a chair on the other side of his desk, my hands spread out on the top. “I had hoped we wouldn’t have to talk again.”

So had I. I thought I’d hidden well enough this time to die and wake up with God instead of the Church’s doctors.

He leans forward and puts a hand over mine, stilling the tremors that rack it. “You can’t keep doing this. Please, repent and walk with us in the footsteps of Jesus.” 

I don’t answer him. My throat is locked with remembered pain of the razor that opened it and spilled my life onto the ground.

“Well?”

I want to spit in his face and tell him he’s wrong, that God never meant us to keep re-animating these tired bodies as we suck the world dry. But the resurrection process has left me weak. All I can do is shake my head. Lights flash behind my eyes as nanobots  falter in their painstaking task to reassemble my thoughts from darkness. 

“Oh, Steven. How many times must we go through this?” He looks over at the doctor who stand in the shadows. “Steven rejects the words of the holy prophet Dr Pearson and his gift of resurrection. Execute him tonight.”

My heart soars. They are going to give up and let me go.

But... no. “Steven, we’ll talk again tomorrow. I pray that you will be thinking more clearly.”

06 December 2011

Divine Hell blog challenge - Limbo

Oops. It's past midnight. I wonder if my flash story will turn into a pumpkin? A limbo pumpkin. What would a limbo pumpkin look like? Pale, maybe. Wraithlike. Anyway...

http://ladyantimony.blogspot.com/2011/12/december-blog-challenge.html


The letters on the sheet in front of me swim and ripple into new configurations as I stare at them with stinging eyes. There is nothing here that means anything, nowhere I can insert the crowbar of my mind and twist.

I have not passed. The vehicle of my future will stall here.

But, until I walk out, neither have I failed. I occupy interstitial space, where nothing is decided.

I turn my gaze to the clock and will time to stop, will my mind to have this new power to make up for my failure in mathematics.

Just… stop.

30 November 2011

Tuesday Tales - first judging appointment

Judge's word: Twist


I had my first judging appointment today, for the weekly microfic competition at Tuesday Tales. So impressed with the quality of the entries; they did not make my job easy. My winners are up, together with what appealed about each entry.

Check them out.

It was a great experience. Far, far more fun than my one and only agility judging appointment. That one still gives me a nervous twitch. Note to self: If you are ever stupid enough to find yourself judging an agility competition again, do not set the A frame up next to the window to the cafe, so that every armchair critic can second guess your judgements on the contacts.

21 November 2011

No, not "everyone has klout". Some of us don't want it

I read an interesting post today, on why someone deleted their Klout profile. I've read several posts over the last few weeks where people have been discussing the algorithm that Klout uses to determine how influential you are on social networks, and thought, "I wouldn't sign up for that mess of social-anxiety-in-a-jar if you held a gun to my head." As a shy person who doesn't make friends easily, to me it represents the same kind of soul crushing popularity contest that made me feel like a worthless waste of oxygen in my teens, and like hell am I am going to subscribe to it as an adult too. Having fun with social networks? Who cares, let's talk how important you are.

How lucky I am, then, that I didn't need to sign up. Those lovely, thoughtful people at Klout, who know nothing of my contempt for popularity contests or concern about things being done in my name without my knowledge, just made me a profile anyway. Thanks, guys.

Now you can damn well delete it again. Now.

15 November 2011

Tuesday Tales - because microfic is addictive

I won another round of Tuesday Tales, go me! The fact that I'm posting it now instead of last week has nothing to do with me procrastinating my tail off faced with three books to beta read, my word no. Nothing could be *cough* further from the truth. And I'm not stalling because I can't come up with anything for this week's round either.

No I am not looking shifty. You take that back.

Prompt word: Effervesced



I tip the powder into my water glass with shaking hands. It effervesces with a happy sparkle that promises forgiveness of my sins; a fresh start in one fizzy mouthful.

The wrappers of a dozen chocolate bars surround me, as much a part of the autumn as fallen leaves and fireworks. I bend down to gather them up and hide the evidence of my shame for another year. They disappear in the dustbin, lost among coffee grounds and cardboard. The wrappers are gone but I am left with my belly, as soft and sagging as the rotting pumpkin underneath them.

24 October 2011

Genre hopping - choose your destination wisely

One of the best things about Fantasycon was that I found out about a lot of great authors. Thrilled with my new discoveries, I dived in and am just now emerging from a huge reading bender of British urban fantasy, gritty eyed and with a head full of monsters and mayhem. It was wonderful. These are the books I read and I would recommend any of them:

The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod
The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey (I *really* wish I'd read these in order instead of grabbing five before three and four. It would have been even more awesome)
Into the Nightside by Simon R Green (an omnibus of Something from the Nightside and Agents of Light and Darkness)

However, I have learned the hard way not to stay in one genre too long. The corpse of high fantasy lies broken behind me on this path, burned out and lost to me, maybe forever. Can't let that happen again. Time for a change.

I've been meaning to read some of Georgette Heyer's books for a long time, because I've heard so many good things about them. Sarah Rees Brennan has talked about them in glowing terms, and I like her own books so much that I'll read pretty much anything she recommends.

Unfortunately, regency romances: possibly not a good choice of genre coming straight after an urban fantasy marathon. I like me some romance, I really do, but when you've just read books where vampires and demons are threatening everything the world holds dear, it's really hard to get excited about someone risking their position in the echelons of those born rich and entitled just by marrying someone not quite as rich and entitled as they are. None of them seem to work for a living. It's enough to make me come over all Bastille Day.

I don't plan to quit just yet; I'm only a few pages in. However, I might need to pick a different genre first and work my way down to that gentler level of sex and violence, where a bad marriage or being caught with your voluminous knickers down is possibly the worst thing that can happen to you.

19 October 2011

Microfic win


I love microfic. It's a great way to keep writing when you're contemplating whether to print off your manuscript just so that you can set fire to it. To keep my fingers away from the matches I've been playing the Tuesday Tales at Glitter Word for a while and it's really good fun. Weekly 100 word microfic competition based on a photograph and a prompt word.

And this week, I won! Yay! Thanks to Stevie for a gorgeous pic and to Lady Antimony for accepting the bri judging. Go read the other entries too. Lots of awesomeness there.  I think the pic brought out the poet in everybody this week.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Prompt word: Ensorcell


The girl sits on the opposite bank and watches me through hair that curls like water weed. Her bare skin glistens with the pond water that drips onto the grass.

“Are you a witch?” I ask. “Here to ensorcel me?”

She tilts her head to listen to the sound and smiles at me.

“Will you talk?”

She smiles again, showing needle-sharp teeth made to tear and rend, and slips into the water. I should be running. Instead I lean over to look for her, a pale wraith in the reeds.

Her smile widens as she drags me into her pond.

08 October 2011

On Fantasycon 2011

I was right to look forward to Fantasycon. Well, except in the financial sense, because boy, you don't want to go there if your TBR pile is too big and you don't want to buy another book, ever. Everybody I met, I wanted to go and and buy their books afterwards. I'll never have time to write again.

It's a very strange thing to be in a hotel around people that make you want to squee like a fangirl and realise that they are normal people. Well, on the cool end of normal, actually. SFF writers know how to have a good time.

Brighton was bizarre and wonderful. I can't think of anywhere else you would walk past a group of drunken stormtroopers on the way to the restaurant. Darth Vader was out for the count on the pavement. It is a place where you can expect to see guys heading for clubs wearing pink furry boot covers and stockings. Better than television.

And the best, absolutely the best thing, for me, was that the people I was around were proud to be SFF authors. No genre shame here, no 'I wrote a book, but it's just fantasy, a bit embarrassing really but it pays the bills'. They write amazing, imaginative books with the brakes off. They made me stand a little bit taller just by association. A few days before I was ready to quit, but I came back with renewed motivation to revise my manuscript and start querying. No small part of that was down to Mhairi Simpson, who is one of the nicest people I've met and tolerated my efforts to twist her YA shapeshifter romance into furry erotica (It's all about the CLAWS, baby).

I am so going back next year.

29 September 2011

Conference time

I am writing this blog post in my current very favourite place in the whole world. It's a little laboratory just off the hospitality lounge where conference goers have lunch and what makes it my favourite place in the world, is that I'm at this conference and I have a key. Since the conference is chock full of exciting equations, I will put this in equation form too:

Conference = lots of strangers.
Lots of strangers + lifelong social anxiety = Acute social anxiety.
Acute social anxiety + key to bolt hole = Foregone conclusion = Rosie holes up like a rat with her plate of sandwiches.

There has to be something wrong with hiding away at a conference so that you can post about how much you are looking forward to another conference, but this next one is my first Fantasycon. The only thing I know for sure about it is that this time I won't have a key to a convenient bolthole. Not unless I mug a cleaner, anyway. That seems extreme, so I'm putting my faith in the fact that they have a first timer programme and that a friend is going too. I met her on twitter and she's giving me a lift to the hotel.

So, going through my checklist:

-  Programme of events, check.
-  Too many clothes for one weekend, check.
-  Pretty business cards that make me look more like a romance writer than a fantasy writer, check.
-  Copies of Helliconia Spring and Salvage Rites to sign in case I get a chance to stal... bump into some writing idols, check.

As long as Mhairie doesn't bring an axe, I think I'm good.

24 September 2011

The madness, it is contagious






Seriously? Two more Versatile Blogger nominations? Be kind to Glitterlady and Charitygirl. They appear to be somewhat confused.

Now I have to come up with some more things about myself that won't make people step away slowly. This sounds like a job for *drumroll* ex-EHOgirl.

1.  I once stapled my thumb, all the way in, and had to stay silent because an asshole was ranting at me on the phone about my inspection of his cafe. I would rather staple my thumb again than talk to that man.

2. I haven't eaten a doner kebab since I saw one of them raw when I was doing a restaurant inspection (a different one).

3. I once demonstrated exactly why you have to mark up fully glazed doors with a sight bar, by walking smack into one. At the end of a health and safety inspection.

4. I was once cross examined in court for half a day about a box I ticked on a form as a student. Definition of not fun.

5. I am currently climbing out of a fit of the sads that left this post in draft up to here for a couple of weeks. Excuses: I haz them.

6. I sometimes question how wise it is to seek publication given the damage the journey can do to your day job, your family and your mental health. You are free to read this together with the previous point and draw your own conclusions.

7. I have a very awesome day job, which deserves to have far fewer distractions in the form of pretty, publishing butterflies dancing just out of reach.

And I now aim this shiny blog award at: Dee, who can write a haiku for any occasion. You now get to blog with seven facts about yourself and nominate someone else. I've seen several versions now of how many recipients, so I'm going with up to five.

16 September 2011

Endings

There is a sorrow to throwing away stored baby equipment, one that isn't there if you give it to another new parent. It is an acceptance that the time for babies is over. When you give, it is part of the celebration of new life, a passing of the torch. In the recycling centre it is an ending, the first real step towards your death.

07 September 2011

A matter of priorities

A colossal overcommitment fail is in progress at the moment. I missed my first campaign writing game and my first dice games flash prompt because I had something big on at work that demanded my full attention. I also deflated with a sorry 'pfft' sound when I received the first less than glowing crit of my manuscript last week, and writing dropped below house cleaning on my priority list while I regrouped. That is possibly no bad thing.

Anyway, normal service will be resumed shortly.

28 August 2011

Hurricane time



Waiting to hear from friends who were in the path of Hurricane Irene (they're fine) had me thinking about our one and only English hurricane that I can remember, in 1987. I was all of 18 and in my second month away from home, and because this was 1987, we didn't have televisions in our rooms, or internet or mobile phones to be aware that there might be a hurricane. Or not, depending on who you listened to. It may have been on the radio, but frankly I was busy discovering cheap rotgut alcohol (oh Thunderbird, beloved drink of penniless students and winos), Indian food and Pink Floyd. Oh, and wondering what to do about being a non-smoker when the pot got passed around (they baked me flapjacks! I mean, I'm sure they would have. But they didn't. Because of course I did not try it. Never. Not even in flapjacks. Because that would be bad. Ahem, so, moving on).

Our halls of residence were in the middle of a beautiful wooded park. It did occur to me that evening that the trees were swaying an awful lot in the wind, but I shrugged my shoulders. Windy. Big deal.

Quite a big deal, as it turned out, although I suspect not on Irene's scale. At breakfast, we found out that we had all slept through our first ever hurricane and some of us went out to look.

Our baby trees around the edge of the park were all bent and sad. One had fallen over, and being fine upstanding youths, who never smoked pot or ate interesting flapjacks, we thought, poor Sad Fallen Tree. We will save you, Tree! Together we pushed Sad Fallen Tree up, to stand next to the path once again and have a new chance at life. Proud of our efforts, we moved on in our quest to explore our wind-ravaged land and offer help, or at least be nosy.

Of course, a hundred yards up the road, we realised that Sad Fallen Tree might fall over again, and this time might hit someone on the way down. We raced back down the road and pushed over Sad Fallen Tree again, so that it didn't kill someone in its second tragic demise.

Being a fine upstanding youth is hard sometimes. You might even look like a vandal. Just as long as you don't get caught eating the flapjacks.


24 August 2011

Making some new friends



I just discovered a rather wonderful sounding campaign to build platform and make new writerly blogging buddies. It's run by Rachael Harrie, and it's called the Third Writer's Platform Building Campaign.

Check it out

Sounds like a lot of fun, and a great way to meet other bloggers. Since I have been a lackadaisical blogger in the past, and this must change, I'm in. Hopefully it will deal with my tardy blogging ways. I will report back at intervals.

23 August 2011

Things I learned on my holidays


Image courtesy of http://dir.coolclips.com/

  1. There is no point at which nine year old boys get bored with chicken nuggets.
  2. It's good to keep an eye on the river as you eat the the giant spherical fish cakes in the Ramsholt Arms in Woodbridge, just in case Neptune comes back for his nuts.
  3. Tents function far better in the rain with the roof vent covered up.
  4. It takes a long time to boil a kettle if you don't realise your gas has run out.
  5. Take the map with you into the corn maze.
  6. People who think they can write anywhere should try doing it while sitting on a tree stump in the forest.
  7. It is only when you have to sleep on an airbed for six nights that you realise how much your memory foam mattress topper keeps the rest of the world safe from you.
  8. Being next to a colony of rooks as they all take off from the trees together makes you wonder if you're in a gothic horror story and don't know it yet.
  9. Getting on a bouncy castle aged 42 makes you the coolest parent on the planet in the eyes of your offspring.
  10. Forty year old brains experience bouncing differently to nine year old brains.
  11. It only takes a nest of spiders three hours to create a cobweb scene worthy of a horror film in an unattended tent.
  12. When you are camping in bad weather, angels sing over the door as you walk into a centrally heated pub.
  13. It helps to tie your bikes to the bike carrier on the back of your car as well as to each other.
  14. Hearing drumming practice in the distance in Rendlesham Forest makes you feel like you're on the set of an old Tarzan movie and the natives are about to come after you.
  15. It's always good to discover the flying ants preparing to rise under the tent after you have packed up to go home.
  16. When you see hundreds of birds circling overhead, tell yourself it's the flying ants they want and don't make any sudden moves.

13 August 2011

Seven virtues - humility

Links to all the participants here

And so we come to the end of another Lady Antimony challenge. Thank you so much for all the great stories I have read. It's been fun.

Humility

Sam studies in secret, late at night. During the day he looks out of the window as he listens to the teacher, and he loiters behind the bike sheds with the others.

Nobody is going to accuse him of thinking himself better than the rest of them. He can do without a target painted on his back until he leaves school. He will walk into his exams as an also-ran, destined to lift and carry until his back fails, the same as everybody else.

His savings hide in a drawer, waiting for his exam results to join them and take him somewhere else.

12 August 2011

Seven virtues - kindness

Links to all the participants here

Kindness

It is a burden beyond telling to know that the world is going to end. Lauren weeps for mankind as they ignore the sermons of her leader, his pleas to repent and to give. Every day he preaches in front of the camera, strong and handsome enough to stop her heart, but the credit card pledges are paltry. A few hundred believers will not avert the fires of the apocalypse.

She takes a deep breath and pours the poison into the fresh water pumping station. She cannot prevent the deaths to come, but at least she can make them painless for a few.

11 August 2011

Seven virtues - patience

Links to all the participants here

This is my favourite one of the seven. I would probably have put it first or last if we weren't doing them in a specific order this time.

Patience

William lines the tiles up one by one in a long serpentine of black and white, the spots forming an infinite mathematical equation that describes the universe in a way he doesn't quite understand. When it is finished he will know what no man was meant to and he will control everything. The world will know him as God and he will be merciful as they cower at his feet.

"Time for your medication, Mr Davis."

The opening of the doors sets the dominos to falling in a gentle ripple of numbers.

"Oops, was that me?" the nurse asks.

William sighs and sets the first domino upright again.

10 August 2011

Seven virtues - diligence

Links to all the participants here

Diligence

The man shakes as I straighten his fingers and staunch the bleeding from where his fingernails used to be. "Shh," I murmur. "You must keep still."

Blood weeps from cuts all over his body. If he moves too much I won't be able to save him. I stitch every slice closed so that he can live another day. When I finish my fingers ache, but my lord will be pleased.

Tomorrow we start again, then the next day, and every day after that, until the man has told me everything he knows and we have all his friends too.

09 August 2011

Seven virtues - charity

Links to all the participants here

Charity

The boy is delighted with the skateboard. "It has glow in the dark paint," I tell him. "Pretty cool, right?" Giving it away makes me feel warm inside, like it's the best thing I've done in a long time.

I go to different parts of the playground to give the X-box games away; don't want the same people to get everything. I want to see as many happy, smiling faces as possible. Every time someone thanks me I feel good.

Plus it will make it that much harder for my horrible, Barbie-beheading brother to get all his stuff back.

Bonus.

08 August 2011

Seven virtues - temperance

Linkies to all the participants here

Temperance

Mark grins as he produces a bottle for the party. "I nicked the brandy. Mum will never miss it."

I take an interest in my lemonade as he pours the liquor into the punch bowl. It disappears, swallowed by the orange juice and cherryade.

He offers me a cupful. "You man enough?"

"You know we're not allowed." I'm sticking with lemonade.

"Stay home next time, loser." He drinks the whole cupful and takes more. His friends crowd round him, wanting some too. They don't even taste the pee I put in the brandy this afternoon.

Mark and his idiot friends 0 - loser little brother 1

07 August 2011

Seven virtues - chastity

Linkies to all the participants here

Oh nightmare, for I am Not Ready For Kickoff. I wanted to have all my posts cued up and ready to go, but instead my first one is just going to scrape under the wire. They are all scribbled on paper - a weekend spent sitting on a hillside at Gatcombe Park writing microfic while watching the cross country was blissful - but I just got in and I'm going to be typing feverishly.

I plan to read all of the other stories, but I have just entered into an agreement with someone to beta read each other's manuscripts, so I may save the commenting for a few day's time. I am playing though, honest!

Titles went by the wayside this time - I'm just going to use the virtues as titles and call it done.

And so, off we go with:

Chastity

Dora strokes the cat sitting on her lap as she waits. "Now you have to be good. No getting jealous." He is about to lose his spot in her bed, his for too many years; guilt makes her squeeze him until he mews in protest.

She hesitates at the knock on the door, not wanting to appear flustered when she answers it, but the postman doesn't even look at her as he hands her the box and walks on.

She wonders if she should wait another year before opening it, but twenty years of chastity is too many to bear. Eventually, Mr Battery-powered becomes Mr Right.

05 August 2011

Say what again?


I got a Versatile Blogger Award, courtesy of the sweet but evidently misguided Rebecca Clare Smith. I am somewhat stunned, since at the point I first read the words 'blog' and 'author platform' in the same sentence, I started to feel like I was under one and all the bloggity words evaporated from my brain. I just hoped they found new and loving homes.

Now apparently, as the recipient of this *holy crap I got an* award, I get to nominate more bloggers to receive the goodness, and also have to dish out seven previously untold facts about myself.

So, I point the happy finger of cool green and yellow iconage at.... Lissa for having some great discussion of the issues raised by Disney princesses as well as lots of other interesting posts.

On to seven facts about me. Um, okay, right, so... shut up, I'm trying to think...

1. I think steak and kidney pie tastes like pee. I'm not sure whether it's the power of suggestion or whether I am the only person who is aware of this. Seriously guys, can you not taste the urine? It's kidneys; processing pee is what they do.

2. My science brain and my fiction brain have a no-fly zone in between them. It takes at least half a day for the neurons to apply for the appropriate permissions and switch over. This is why I can only crack out a decent word count on holiday, with good old fashioned pen and paper.

3. I have an approachable face. This is the only reason I can come up with for why every time I go out surveying, somebody ambles over to ask what I am doing. They never ask my colleagues. Never. Actually, maybe I just look suspicious.

4. Boy, this is tough. Time for that good old fallback, environmental health. In my previous career, I discovered that in a microwave, cornflakes begin to smoulder and people begin to phone the fire brigade a long time before the larvae infesting them are more than mildly annoyed. I also learned that you cannot seal infested cereal in a plastic bag. Mealmoths laugh at plastic bags. And then they infest the laboratory and all the other samples.

5. I learned that I cannot kill. Not even to put something out of its misery. This made covering for the pest officers something of an embarassment. Unless you mean The Boy harm, you are safe from me.

6. I learned that nothing disturbs a man more than walking into the pub toilets to find a woman with a white coat and a clipboard. Good times.

7. I am a fair shot with an air rifle. Doesn't that make you happy about fact number 5? We won't mention the fact that when I fired something with some stopping power, I fell over backwards.

22 July 2011

So how do you market kid's books?


A popular blogger and writer of middle grade books, Nathan Bransford, recently received some negative criticism for suggesting that users of the free and hugely helpful publishing information on his blog and forum might consider buying the book (harsh, right? Your site, your rules as far as I am concerned). The post is here.

Now I think it is fairly common knowledge that you're pretty much on your own as a debut author when it comes to book publicity, and you have to do things to try to sell your book yourself. I have to be honest, just the thought of it makes me nauseous. Given that the internet is where a very large number of books are sold, an internet presence is necessary.

So what do you do if you are writing for an age that has limited access to the internet? This was raised in a comment by Maureen Crisp on Roni Loren's blog, and I think she has a huge point.

Children of 9-12 don't have unrestricted access to the internet and they don't exactly read a lot of blogs. They are too young to (officially) use social media, and as a stranger, you shouldn't even be trying to reach them directly. It's clear that you are trying to reach them via their parents and teachers.

Now I think that Nathan did exactly what you need to do to reach readers in a previous post, which was to post his first chapter online. Check it out. In fact, sit down with your offspring and check it out together. I follow his blog because I'm a baby writer, so I saw it, and I sat down with The Boy and we read it together. The Boy loved it, so I ordered the book and he is reading it now. But how many parents use the internet to read with their child?

It strikes me that I can't be the only parent of a child who finds an author he likes and ploughs through the backlist. We have hammered Roald Dahl, Dick King Smith, Francesca Simon and several others. Box sets abound in my house. He reads one, and he wants the rest. Writing tasters are what float my boat too. If I read a short story I love on the internet and the author bio says they have a book out, I go looking for it. Disappointingly, I haven't always been able to find it, which means a lost sale for that author. Note: if your bio mentions a book, make sure we can buy it, please.

So wouldn't it be great if there was a site or a network dedicated to free short stories or first chapters from published authors, where we can introduce our children to their writing in a safe online environment and see if it's a hit? The Boy's school gives them limited internet access to use sites like Cool Math Games. How about Cool Stories too? Maybe with enhanced content like games and puzzles to go with them.

Or is this wishful thinking?

15 July 2011

Fun with the seven sins

Image courtesy of Mark du Toit


Well, the dust is settling from the Seven Sins writing challenge and I'm back up to my elbows in the big scary book project. I really thought it was worth noting, though, just how much fun it was just writing for the hell of it. It reminded me of the days when I had just started writing and I wasn't researching publishers and agents and revising again, and again and again.....

There is something freeing about a group of buddies and a game of being the best storyteller you can under a set of crazy conditions. Maybe you'll have a theme, a word count, a set of words you have to include. Your challenge is to do something with them that nobody else has, to do something interesting and entertaining. No worries about publishability or trends, or what agent might be interested, just how much can you entertain people within the rules of the game.

I truly believe that anybody starting out should aim for a couple of years of challenges and fun and thinking out of the box before they settle down to craft and researching the industry. I think it is when we play that we lay down the foundations of our future skills, in exactly the way that children learn motor skills with the aid of play bricks and cuddly toys.

And with that, thank you to my Seven Sins playmates for making this a whole lot of fun, both to read and to write. I have found some great short story writers who I will be keeping an eye on in the future.

I would like to give a big round of applause to Antimony, our play leader, and all the good folks who played the game.

I had a blast and read some great stories.

Thank you.

13 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge

I thought I'd finish up with something a little more light-hearted after six days of darkness. Thanks to Lady Antimony for coming up with the challenge. It's been a lot of fun. My poor, oft-neglected blog must be wondering what has hit it for the last seven days.




Somebody

The sports car engine croons its song of supressed power and easy money as Gary cruises down the road with the top down. As people turn to look he takes a moment to nod and accept the accolades that come with the car, the assumption that he must be Somebody. 

A blonde girl in a short skirt waves as he passes and he stops, preening, to see if she would like a ride in the car. He is about to ask her name when her accomplice hits him from behind.

The girl blows him a kiss as they drive away in his car.

12 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge

I'm cheating today. This is more of an opener to something I might carry on with one day.

Beauty and the beast

I gulped my coffee and savoured the pain of the burn as Sasha batted her eyelids at the waiter and smiled her oh so perfect smile with her oh so perfect lips.

She turned the smile on me and murmured something inconsequential about the food before laughing the tinkling laugh that got her whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. Flight upgrades, free gifts, my boyfriends, anything.

She always did take her looks for granted, ever since we were friends in primary school. The beauty that shone even brighter because she stood next to the beast. She probably couldn’t even imagine a day where it might all be taken away from her and she’d be ugly like me. 

But that was okay.

I could wait.

11 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge



I really struggled with Sloth. In the end, I looked close to home for inspiration. Not that I want this to happen to the Old Git really. Well, only when he really annoys me.

Soon, I promise

Lilah has that look again, the one with narrowed eyes on me. "There's still water leaking downstairs whenever someone showers, you know."

"I'm going to fix it soon. Just keep the water off the walls until then."

She glares at me as she walks out.

* * *

Lilah puts a towel under the wet patch on the ceiling before she has her shower.

"Soon," I say before she can start on me.

"Yeah, yeah," she says wearily as she goes upstairs.

A creak makes me look up as I stir my tea in the kitchen. As the bath crashes through the rotten ceiling and hits me, the last thing I hear is Lilah's scream.

10 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge


Day 4, and time for someone that doesn't suffer a nasty end. I think I was most pleased with this one of the seven, not least because it actually came in under 100 words.

Monster

Matthew huddles in the darkness of the cupboard as the monster rages outside, shrieking his name as it hunts for him. A bottle breaks as it hits the floor. If Matthew had his way, he would break every bottle in the world before she could get to them. He just has to stay hidden until the drink is all gone and then his mother will cry and kiss him and promise that it will never happen again. The handle of the knife engraves itself into his palm as he prays that he will never have to use it against her.

09 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge


Day 3's microfic. Dear me, I am mean to my poor sinners, aren't I?

Investment Plan

The stacks of money make the rooms smell musty, their coating of dust an attack on the sinuses of the unwary. Samuel revels in the itch and the sneezes as he lives in the tunnels between the piles.

Another year and the case will be closed, and he can start spending. The paper will become property; solid and profitable and his. He will leave this collapsing hovel and buy an apartment by the beach in Spain.

He sweats in the sunshine of his dreams as the lights sputter and short and the stacks begin to burn.

08 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge


Today's seven sins microfic is brought to you by the letter G.


Eatslim3000TM will change your life


"It's a miracle," the salesman says as Susan writes out the cheque. "Truly negative food. The more you eat, the more weight you lose."


She goes home to gorge herself on Eatslim3000TM Pate and Eatslim3000TM Chocolate Cake, ready to look the way she has always wanted.


* * *


Susan looks in the mirror and traces reverent fingers over her protruding collar bones and the knobs of her hips. So close. Just another month.Maybe an upgrade to Eatslim3000TM Foie Gras and Eatslim3000TM Brie.


She totters to the motorised wheelchair she needs to get around now her leg muscles have wasted, and wonders if the salesman will deliver.

07 July 2011

#7sins microfic challenge

The seven sins challenge



I'm participating in Lady Antimony's seven deadly sins microfic challenge this week: seven sins, seven days, seven 100 word stories. Just do me a favour and don't count the words. Especially not for this one.


One Night Stand

I've been here too long already.

"Don't go," Luke says. "Please, you have to stay with me."

"I have to work." I pull my shirt on and stuff my ripped panties into my bag.

"I'll die if you leave me."

"Don't be so melodramatic." I let myself out and wonder how a one night stand turned into three days.

* * *

My skin feels too tight; my body hollow. I need something but I don't know what. I find myself in a bar, flirting with strangers, hungry for contact. I meet Ryan.

We fall into bed and the pain stops.  When he's inside me I feel alive, feel whole.

In the morning I try to stop him leaving. "Please stay. I need you."

Ryan looks at the floor. "Look, I like you, but..."

"I'll die if you leave me." My body is raging, burning me up from the inside out.

"I'm sorry, I have to go." Ryan closes the door behind him.

I call Luke to ask what he has done to me.

His phone is dead.

16 June 2011

Microfic time - lost

I had to do 100 words on the theme of 'Lost' last week. It get's tricky when the word count goes that low. I was amazed how much people could pack into it. I opted for monologue as a strategy.



Under the Bed

Hello!

Look under the bed.

Under. The. Bed.

No, not in your sock drawer. When have I ever been anywhere near your sock drawer? I'm down here, behind the crisp packet.

It's really nasty under here. You know that, right?

Look, this is getting us nowhere. Get your mum to help.

No, I'm not behind the radiator. How would I even fit... oh. So that's where my boots went. Right.

That's it! Just reach a bit further in. Mind the old apple... yeah. That.

Finally! Action Man reporting for duty. Let's get this battle started. But first, find me some bloody clothes.

10 June 2011

Waterstones and dark fantasy

I was browsing the genre shelves of my local Waterstones today to pick up a book for my flight on Monday. While I was there I thought I would do that writerly thing they all tell you to do and check out what's on the shelves in general. You know the sort of thing: what's selling, what's getting promotional coverage, etc etc.

I have tweeted before that Waterstones has a dark fantasy shelf. Yay, said I. Clearly this stuff is selling. Maybe they'd like an English one to go with all the American ones on the shelf. Maybe my book will not be the subject of agentish sniggers and coffee expelled in the direction of monitors.

Got to be honest though, after a closer look today, I have my reservations. They seem to have lumped all the paranormal romance and urban fantasy featuring female MC's onto this dark fantasy shelf. Okay, fine. Except the Jim Butcher books, which are urban fantasy, are across the way in Science Fiction. So is American Gods by Neil Gaiman (bought that one for the plane, can't wait). High fantasy and comic fantasy were also in Science Fiction.

So why is urban fantasy split across the two shelves?

There are two reasons that I can think of, and I don't like one of them very much. Have we got into the situation where the bookshops think we need a separate shelf of urban fantasy for girls? Heaven forbid that they should corrupt the proper books. Better keep them nice and clear in case it's contagious.

The second one is that the whole shelf was paranormal romance, which I was mistaking for urban fantasy. That makes me wonder where the line is. Does an urban fantasy become a paranormal romance as soon as there is a relationship in there somewhere? Would any urban fantasy with romantic elements be viewed as a paranormal romance for the purpose of shelving?

What I really need to do, I suppose, is make a note of all the authors and see where they fall on the spectrum. As for where my book would fall? I haven't a flaming clue any more.

05 June 2011

What did you read in your teens?

This morning I woke up to the big twitter kerfuffle #YAsaves about a Wall Street Journal article. I read a lot of young adult fiction and follow a few YA authors on twitter, so it pretty much jumped out at me.

In the article the author slated modern young adult books as being overwhelmingly dark and violent, and unsuitable for teens. This led to an avalanche of twitter posts and blog posts about how many young people are trapped in dark and violent lives and value something which makes them feel less alone. This came from YA authors who have received letters from teens saying this, and direct posts by teens. Sadly the spammers latched onto a trending topic and drowned the feed in garbage, but a wonderful person preserved some of these tweets on storify so you can see what I mean.

I tried to think about the books I read as a teen to see how this alleged flood of darkness compared with the late 80's (yes, I know I'm old, shut up), and to be honest, I realise that I didn't read young adult. I had a library card and the freedom to read whatever I chose (no censorship in our house. Love you, Mum!) so I ploughed through the children's section and read everything in it, then pretty much without looking up moved onto the next available shelf, which was adult genre fiction. For some unknown reason, they put what young adult books there were on the other side of the library. I didn't even see them until I had exhausted the adult genre fiction and was eyeing the non-fiction shelves.

So, the books I read as a so-called impressionable teen were adult horror (every one I could find), fantasy and thriller, with the occasional old-skool rapetastic romance thrown in, the kind that the Smart Bitches have a field day with occasionally. If this article author thinks YA darkness is bad, she should have seen what I was reading.

Those horror books didn't do anything to change me. What shaped me were my real life experiences, not things I read on a page. I don't propose to censor The Boy's reading, even if I did chicken out of reading the Tales of 1001 Nights to him.

I am really curious about the rest of the world, though. What books did you read as a teen? Do you feel that you were scarred by inappropriate books or saved by loving censorship?

02 June 2011

Careful who's listening

Cartoon courtesy of Mark du Toit

I'm in the opening stages of another book at the moment, and researching my little socks off. This has caused a certain amount of domestic alarm. Beloved mother, you see, was a nurse before she retired, so when she rang her eldest daughter to ask how she was and how The Boy did in his school cross country race, she got a barrage of questions I had been saving up to ask her. They went a bit like this:

  • How often do you turn someone who is completely paralysed to prevent bedsores?
  • Would you feed them through a tube?
  • How soon would muscle wastage set in?
  • What kind of physical therapy would they receive?
  • If someone was just pretending to be paralysed, would the therapist be able to feel it?

We wittered on for about twenty minutes about the care and treatment of paralysis, until suddenly I hear: "No, stop it. Give me the phone back, go away. Everyone's fine. Stop worrying."

Then in a tone of complete exasperation: "She's writing another book."

Turns out that esteemed stepfather was having kittens listening to her end of the conversation, thinking that someone in the family was paralysed and in hospital. I suppose it's slightly better than being caught trying to find out how to be an effective terrorist.

And so my personal contribution to the craft of writing today is: when you do your research, be careful who's listening.

My writing challenge is going to be how to cover do-it-yourself catheter removal when breaking out of hospital. Sexy, huh?

16 May 2011

Microfic competition result

Big cheer up moment for me tonight. I came second in my first writing competition, 250 words on a prompt of 'dirt' for Watford Writers. Amazing what a little bit of positive reinforcement feels like after weeks of revisions.

I've been trying to avoid flash fiction lately and force myself to write longer, because for a while, everything I wrote seemed to come in at 1500 words or less. I think I naturally write short, which causes me no end of pain as I try to expand my MS to something approaching novel length. Microfic is great fun though. It's a challenge to see how much story you can pack into 250 words. This was what I came up with.



A blessing on your fields

I have never seen an uglier thing as I turn the little statue over in my hands, all lumpen breasts and belly and huge buttocks. It doesn’t even have a face.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Laura says. “I saw it in the souk and knew you’d love it.  It’s supposed to bring fertility to your fields.”
“It’s wonderful,” I lie.
When she’s gone I throw my fat, pregnant statue out onto the lawn. Stupid statue and stupid, insensitive Laura who has no idea how her gift makes me feel. The dog retrieves it and takes it to her favourite spot under the honeysuckle.

The postman brings my letter the next day. The dog bites her tongue in her frenzy guarding the house, but the spectre of bad news always finds its way in. Tooth marks and bloody smears on the envelope won’t change anything.
I shut her out in the garden to drip blood and calm down as I open it. I already know what it will say.

In the morning a swathe of wheat has grown out of the dirt under the honeysuckle. The dog looks confused. In the afternoon she comes into season and breaks out of the garden, returning late and smug. There might be puppies.
She’s spayed.
That night as my husband sleeps, I lay under the honeysuckle on a bed of immature wheat. I pull a knife across my palm and let blood drip on to the dirt in front of the statue.
I can’t wait.

09 May 2011

A not very dauntless book reviewer abandons ship

I've decided to abandon ship on book reviews because I suck at them beyond all measure and the last thing I want to do is damn books with faint praise where they deserve more. For example, The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston, which I just reviewed, is beautiful and compelling and I'm not sure I really got that across. Think I'll leave structured reviews to the experts.

What I really want to do, I think, is explore what interests me in the world building of books. For me, The Freak Observer raised all sorts of questions about poverty and universal health care. I love reading YA, but my thoughts often drift to the protagonist's parents.What must it be like to raise a child when you can't afford for them to get sick or injured, when it's that or food and utilities?

In Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Olivia was driven mad by something, which I won't mention because it is a huge spoiler if you haven't read it yet. She still had to hold herself together and get a job. What must that have been like, to have to go to work and be nice to your boss and your colleagues when your world has collapsed and you are living a nightmare which has you screaming inside your head? Olivia deserves a prequel book of her own one day.

A YA book with world building that just blew me away was Divergent by Veronica Roth. In my new approach of not doing a structured review, I will just say that Divergent was amazing; it completely de-railed my day yesterday because I couldn't put it down. She painted a powerful picture with very simple and straightforward prose.

It is when world building is this strong that I get the urge to explore it and think about other POVs than the protagonist's. In this case, what would it be like to be a Dauntless mother? We saw young Dauntless, including very young instructors, and we saw corrupt Dauntless leaders. We encountered one older woman, going by the streak of grey in her hair. Then again, I had some of those by the age of thirty. I don't think we saw any old Dauntless anywhere. It made me wonder, do they fade away, hand over the flag to their children and take no active part in society?

I am no stranger to the quest for adrenaline, but motherhood sucked it right out of me. How would you reconcile the motto of your faction with the bone-deep need to keep your child safe? The internal conflict would be acute. Would you fear for them so much that you would quietly encourage them to choose another faction? Would faction allegiance survive your concern for their life?

The picture painted was one of Dauntless youth, and it was an alluring one, even if few of us would survive it in real life. Given the little nugget in the book that the city gates are locked from the outside, there appears to be the foundation for more books in the Divergent universe. I would love the opportunity to find out more about the world Roth has built, including the eventual future of that youth, when I read them.

20 April 2011

TBR challenge April - The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

Hardcover, Carolrhoda Books, 2010

Disclosure: I didn't buy this book, I won it in the draw for contributors to Maureen Johnson's Next Little Shelterbox campaign on twitter.

High school student Loa suffers a series of losses, one after the other. One of her few friends is killed in a road traffic accident, another leaves the country, her father loses his job, and most profoundly, her disabled sister dies. Caring for Loa's sister is the glue that binds the family together, and when she dies, grief affects them all.

The main thing that stood out for me in this book was Loa's voice. The author has nailed the sense of isolation and suppressed pain that carries Loa through her life not quite caring about anything that happens to her in the face of all the things that already have. Death is the Bony Guy, and he is never far away from her thoughts, which she expresses with a certain wryness. Despite this she never disconnects completely. She works to deal with her losses and keeps going using her own unique outlook on life.

Her family's new poverty makes even the simplest things difficult, and I found the lack of a safety net for the family quite shocking. This makes the book sound depressing, but it wasn't. Things get better for everyone, and I finished the book glad I had read it, even if I did wipe away a few tears in the middle. Loa felt very real.

Not my normal genre by any stretch, but a welcome change, and a book I would recommend for anyone wanting to read something a little different.