Category Archives: Writing Stuff

Snippety Snip!

Ah, the wonders of snipping tools! With them I can bring you this:

Vampire Weekend

 

Yes, my first ever story reading. And here is another one, my first ever Paragraph Planet featurette.

 

paragraph planet

Cool huh? Will be playing around with this stuff more in future.

 

 

 

Downloads for Garcia Marquez

Book Review: Vampsov 1938: A Spectre haunting Europe by Daniel Ribot

Project Nemesis

vampsov Vampsov 1938: A Spectre haunting Europe by Daniel Ribot

“Ludmilla Vatinashkaya already struggles to balance the challenges of marriage and family with her promising career as a captain in Stalin’s army when she is ordered to direct Vampsov, a covert unit created to fight the most implacable enemies of the Soviet Union: vampires. Astonished and initially skeptical, Ludmilla takes her unit on a thrilling and violent trail of destruction as Vampsov hunts down the blood sucking enemies of Socialism. With the help of Vassily, a dark and brooding creature who denies his very nature for his love of the fledgling Soviet state, they confront the most notorious monster of all in his Transylvanian lair.

Vampsov 1938, brings to life in luscious detail the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Daniel Ribot has beautifully navigated this turbulent page of history to create an an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that’s hard to put down and impossible…

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Vampsov the Toddler

vampsov full cover

It has been a about three months since my first published novel, Vampsov 1938, made it out of the pre-publication darkness and into the light (OK, the Amazon warehouse, if you can call that light). This period  has been a rather hectic one for me, seeing as I had been moving around quite a bit and have ended up working in Germany. Germany? I’m sure Ludmilla my main character, would not approve. But hey, different times and places and all that.

 

So I sits here, nursing my Franziskaner Weissbier and twiddling a pretzel between my fingers as Oktoberfest goes on all around me and I reflect on what has been happening to my infant book during its first months out in public. Hasn’t won a  Booker yet or outsold Stephen King even. But hey, early days and all that.

Franziskaner_Hefe-Weissbier_Hell_with_glass[1]

In all seriousness, I have been told that it takes time for the gears to crank up and sales and critical opinion to begin to make their mark. Perhaps I am to blame for this neglect in some way because I feel that Vampsov is a bit of an orphan at the minute. The book was launched far away in the US, I wrote it in the UK, yet am now living in a non-English speaking market so I can’t very well promote the book other than through the web and all. Poor ickle thing must feel abandoned. Keep promising it a big launch party, press releases, bookshop signings, events etc. And I can’t do any of that here. Still, the money for all that has to come from somewhere and how else am I going to earn it?

 

Despite all this disruption I am still very much a happy camper. For a start here is the (perhaps childish) thrill of knowing I’ve done it. I’ve got a book out! Woohooheehaaaa! On a more balanced note, I have had a lot of feedback that has given me reason to smile. A lot of the people who have read my book get it: the drama at the heart of the story, the family struggle mirrored in the political savagery. The dark humour borne of hopelessness. The vampire and the Stalinist toe to toe… a real monster facing an imaginary one. I’ve even given a snazzy interview to the force of nature that is the amazing Johnny Worthen.

 

Vampsov unwrapped!

Vampsov unwrapped!

And even the criticisms so far have been fair, given me pause for thought, pointed towards things I can improve on. Because I want to improve, grow, become better at this fascinating and exasperating craft. Dammit, next time you will find it harder to find fault, any fault!

 

So here is what I’m going to do to help out my little orphan Vampsov. A UK launch event will happen sometime next year, I’m thinking of a launch and birthday party combo with Borscht and balloons. My little orphan will be getting a little brother or sister too. I am writing the sequel to this volume (Vampsov 1940), and I hope to have a polished draft sorted soon.

 

Hooray!

 

Finally, I will try not to think out loud when surrounded by chaps in lederhosen. Some of them are giving me funny looks, I tell you. Nothing to see here guys, just sippin ma beer and twiddlin me pretzel… Blimey, I must be the  only person wearing proper trousers this side of Holland.

 

 

 

The Wait Is Almost Over

It’s been a long time coming, my debut novel. Finished my first draft in late 2009 and believed it was all fine and dandy.  I even had it spellchecked! In my grubby mitts I held a copy of a Vampire novel set in the Soviet Union of the 1930s with Stalin in it and everything. What more could any editor want?  Lots, as it happened. Early the next year I submitted three chapters to an editor at a conference in Loughborough. He panned it. Not the idea, mind, just the execution. Told me to change it around to his specification and come back to him the next year. Head bowed, a tear in my eye, I swallowed my pride and knuckled down.

After a year I asked about submitting, but the agent concerned seemed less than keen. So, back to the drawing board, I began submitting to small presses with my updated version. Again, no luck.

My last batch of rejections included a good one. Kate Jonez the guru of Omnium Gatherum Press in far off Los Angeles, sent me a letter telling me she rejected the manuscript as it stood. She liked the strong female character at the centre of the novel, but the manuscript needed another thorough revision. Again, I went away and did as I was told.  This time (it was getting on for 2011 by now) success. Kate gave me the OK to send the full manuscript and in time, gave me a contract to sign. Success!

Well, sort of. Another rewrite was necessary. Again, I did it. By now 2012 had danced its way across the world until the beast had finally been tamed. Only minor corrections and proofreading remained. The beast of Vampsov had been conquered.

VampsovFrontWS

And so here it is, five years later, a lean, mean 80,000 word book with my name on it. Prould of the little fella, as it happens. Like all five year-olds its bursting with energy, ideas, imagination and thought-provoking questions –but it doesn’t start having tantrums in the supermarket when you don’t buy it sweets. I think you should own one. I’ll sign it for you too, if you like. You can buy them at Amazon or the good folks at Omnium Gatherum. Available to you from June 7th 2013.

Faction Paradox and how It Found Me

Writing is a funny old pastime when you think about it. It is at once the most solitary of pursuits while at the same time it throws people together into weird looking clusters; like those new-fangled breakfast cereals where grains and nuts are glooped together with honey (supposedly honey, corn syrup more like). And so my own story goes. The sticky substance of collaboration stretched sweet tendrils and drew me fast, into a world I had no inkling of before. And there, in the milky morning bowl of writerliness, I found some kindred souls (and overstretched a simile).

Faction Paradox (FP) is a fictional universe (multiverse, is perhaps more accurate) created by Lawrence Miles. It is based on the worlds created in the BBC TV series Dr Who, particularly the struggles and wars fought by Timelords and other dastardly shenanigans throughout history. FP stories are wide-ranging and varied. Time-travel can take you anywhere, after all. There is a defined nucleus to all the stories, the city of London and the mythical 11 Day Empire which is home to the time-travellers. There’s a lot more too it, of course, which you can read about here, if you want.

 Paul McCaffrey pic

And so Jay Eales, Obverse Books’ editor of the story collection Burning With Optimism’s Flames asked me to contribute. Jay and I are both long-term members of The Speculators writers group and had invited me (and fellow ‘Speccie’ Jim Worrad) to contribute stories. For me it was an honour, a chance to collaborate with Jay and contribute to my first ever short story anthology. I’m so glad I did.

JayEalesJigsaw-300x300

Jay Eales, staring out from his Jigsaw-Puzzled World

 

Burning With Optimism’s Flames is an excellent read. All the stories are good, although, of course I have my personal favourites. Stephen Marley’s ‘All the Fun of the Fear’ set in an Ealing comedy version of 1950s London made me chuckle and had a great little plot in there, driving the story. Cate Gardner’s Elizabethan tale of doom and ravens is another highlight. Alan Taylor’s story is also dark and weird and its description of the banalities of office life struck a chord too. Philip Purser Hallard’s story bubbled with ideas esoteric and doctrinal and reminded me of Philip K Dick’s last book, ‘The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Helen Angrove’s epistolary into the travails of an anti-Darwinist explorer. A mention too to Jim Worrad whose dazzling prose made an alien world come alive (It also reveals his background as a classicist, methinks). But as I say, those are the ones that I liked best at the first few readings. I shall, however, keep a lookout for further works by all these authors and am now hooked by the Faction and its devilish paradoxes. Cheers, Jay!

A special mention has to be made of the fantastic cover illustration made by Paul McCaffrey, especially as my wee story ended up being featured in the largest Russian Doll!

 MuerteJigsaw-300x300

The Literature Of Dreams

 

 Part 1 (of 2)

 “Hi, my name’s Gary. Look, I was just an ordinary Joe Schmoe working as a wage-slave, just like you. My wife Mary-Sue and I never went out, I drove a ten year-old shit-mobile and my kids dressed in hand-me-downs. And I worked damned hard, I can tell you, until the day I got fired. Looking back, it was the best thing my boss ever did for me; although at the time I didn’t think so. Because back then I hadn’t even heard of the amazing ACME SYSTEM. Today I’m my own boss, I usually work less than an hour a day, and I make over $100 000 a year. Now, I can tell you’re skeptical, just like I would be in your shoes…”

 

And so it begins. That paragraph, or something like it, is the entry point to an entirely ignored subset of fantasy literature. Unlike the stuff with dwarves and dragons in, dream-lit rakes in the cash. And (the best bit) it’s all done through self-publishing! People at the top of the tree in this particular genre do make a lot of money. And you don’t have to be Shakespeare to do it, either. Like all fantasy subgenres, the Literature of Dreams has a very specific audience. It is by tapping in to what that audience wants and expects that you make your money. A certain type of reader would want to read on, would want to partake in the dream being sold. So, where’s Gary going with this?

 

Edgar Rice Burrows, making money from his writing.

… And before I heard of the ACME SYSTEM I would have been the world’s greatest skeptic, in fact I still am. A man with my kind of wealth gets all kinds of proposals to invest their money by all kinds of folks. Believe me, I can tell a get-rich-quick fraudster, a pyramid selling scam and a Ponzi scheme within seconds. And the ACME SYSTEM would be just the same to me – if it wasn’t for one thing: IT WORKS!!!!”

 

Now, Gary’s audience don’t usually consider themselves fantasy readers. Although, in reality, these are people who have swallowed a whopping one hook, line and sinker. The fantasy they cling onto is that they can find fabulous riches by buying something or doing what they’re told; that there is a system out there for acquiring vast sums of money with little effort (in fact there is, it’s called Free Market Economics and it ensures that the people with vast amounts of unearned/stolen wealth get to keep it). So, after a few paragraphs like the one above, they might be willing to take a punt on the ACME SYSTEM. Look at the paragraph above and you’ll see that it’s doing two things. First, it reassures the reader that the system isn’t a con. Second, it shows the benefits of the system to its user (he is wealthy, people are trying to scam him). Time for a bit of back-story, get some tension into the narrative.

 

I learned the hard way that real wealth don’t come from work and dedication. I used to work in a tool-shop making drill-bits. I did as much overtime as I could get my hands on and I still couldn’t make the bills at the end of the month. One day the boss came over. I had finished for the day and was cleaning up the machine. It wasn’t my job to do it, but I like to keep things clean and orderly to help out the night-shift guys. I guess that’s the kind of guy I am. The boss came up to me and called me into his office.

“How long have you worked for us Gary?”

The question surprised me, “Eleven years,” I said.

The boss sat back and laughed at me, the son of a bitch. “Eleven years working the machines! How can you stand it?”

And I couldn’t. That was the truth of it, Right there and then I quit. As I walked out I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders. But almost immediately, another thought entered my head. What was I going to tell Mary-Sue? And more importantly, how were we going to live without my salary?”

 So that’s Gary goose cooked: poor, jobless, down in the dumps. How does he get out of that? Read on, dear readers, read on, for Gary finds his Aladdin’s lamp in the next post in this exciting series: The Literature of Dreams!

 

It Was Not A Happy Patrol

 Fantastic news from the Floppybootstomp word mine. I have just signed a contract with the American publisher Omnium Gatherum to publish my dark fantasy novel, Vampsov 38.

 

Obviously signing the contract is just the first step in a process that could take many months. Still have to make adjustments to the manuscript before the final draft is approved, then a decision has to be made as to when to publish. All this could take a while. Still, I do hope it will be worth the wait.

 

The principal editor (and boss) of Onmnium Gatherum, Kate Jonez, has already helped me to improve the manuscript through the submission process. One of the issues she highlighted was the use of the passive voice, particularly in the opening sentence of a novel (which is why the title of this post is what it is – and has been expunged from the novel!).

 

Preparing a manuscript – particularly this one – has involved a lot of people who have helped me get it to the stage it is now. To give you some idea, I finished the first draft towards the end of 2009. I submitted it to an agent for comment at the Writing Industries Conference early in 2010 and gave it to my initial set of readers (Keith Morley, Keith Large and Maria Smith) in the same year. Their comments really helped the book come together. Later, I submitted the new version of the manuscript to my fellow writers in The Speculators writers group. Thanks to all of them, particularly Jim Worrad and Damien Walter for their efforts. The old canard of needing a village to raise a child is certainly true of Vampsov. I’m particularly grateful to Writing East Midlands, The Phoenix Writers and The Speculators writers group for their help. Without you guys, I’d never have got this far. I owe you big time.

 

So let me wish all my readers a happy festive season. I hope that one year soon you find a copy of a novel in your Xmas stocking that tells of the adventures of Soviet vampire hunters on the eve of WWII. The two V’s of the one-word title, creepily elongated into fangs… I’ll be working my *&^$ off to make that scenario a possibility rather than just a dream.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

The Tip Jar

 Writing, bloody hell. Wish I could give you more insight than an Alex Ferguson misquote, but I know people who can. So here’s a few tips to pass on to whomsoever is interested. Hence the title of this post: Tip – because I’ll pass on some tips for my 2 ½ readers, Jar – because you can buy me pint if anything that follows is of use.

1) Bead Roberts (former tutor at Leicester Writing School) released this tip into the wild during her visit to the Phoenix writers. To whit: If you are trying to portray loneliness in a character, you can infer it through gaps and spaces in their discourse. Incomplete sentences, ramblings, sudden digressions all these are the characteristics of a mind suffering from lack of human contact. The lonely can be truculent, overeager, too loud, awkward around people (i.e. Edmund Dantes in The Man in the Iron Mask, Ben Gunn in Treasure Island).

2) Kate Jonez, editor in chief of the new Omnium Gatherum publishing house rejected my novel while being kind enough to ask me to resubmit if I did three things to the text: a) Cut right down on the use of the passive voice b) Made sure each scene had one Point Of View or that if more than one, changes in POV were kept to a minimum. c) Balance dialogue and action. Much better to have characters doing something than talking heads. Scenes should involve characters doing stuff, not just talking. Obviously this is said in the context of the slab of writing I submitted and the specific requirements of Omnium Gatherum, but using those three criteria has really helped.

 

3) Bead Roberts again. If you are stuck in a scene, or you want to shake things up, set the place on fire. Then sit back and chuckle as your characters try and put the fire out and/or escape. Ha! Instant jeopardy.

4) Find cupboard, look for skeleton. (BBC’s Get Writing interweb site helped out here) To create a character, imagine you are visiting their house. What is the bathroom like? How many books do they own and what are they about? What’s in the fridge? Leave subtle clues about their lives. Try and write this up as a scene with lots of suspense: the PoV of a burglar breaking in or a detective investigating a crime or a guest that suddenly realizes something is wrong…

  Enough for now, I think.

Tales of the Unadapted

Graham Joyce has given us notice that The Silent Land has been optioned for film. This is exciting news, not only because I love the book, but also because I can now ‘cast’ the film in my head, second guessing the entire film industry.

 The news also got me thinking. What kind of books out there would be good movie material?  Here’s my purely speculative list.

 

1) The Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer

 Everyone resurrects at the same time on an endless river-bank with free food and drink provided. Paradise? Yeah, right. One of the most original series of adventure books ever written, and might make it onto the screens soon (the SyFy channel have commissioned a pilot).

 

2) Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock

 Changed the terms of reference for heroic fantasy. Elric is a weak, sickly anti-hero who destroys his own kingdom in a botched attempt to sort out his love life. Truly awesome demonic fun. Given the successful adaptations of Lord of The Rings by Peter Jackson, the recent Game of Thrones TV series and the Conan film (Schwarzenegger version), it would be really exciting to see Elric and Moonglum done properly. Would suit HBO adaptation.*

 3) The Helliconia trilogy by Brian Aldiss

 The intertwined destinies of twin suns, humans, ancipitals and horse-flies combine in an epic fantasy wrapped into mind-bending Science Fiction.

 4) Live From Golgotha by Gore Vidal

 Time-travelling TV crew go back in time to film the crucifixion with hilarious results. (How’s that for an elevator pitch?)

 5) The Scheme For Full Employment by Magnus Mills

 The Scheme employs everyone who can’t find a job. It’s steady work and keeps people busy for a reasonable wage. But there is trouble brewing among the workers… You’d make a decent Ealing comedy with this one.

 6) Maul by Tricia Sullivan

 Teenage girls bitching about boys as they shoot up a shopping mall with laser cannons. Lovely stuff.

 7) The Manuscript Found In Saragossa by Count Jan Potocki

 Already the subject of a charming Polish film version, this 18th century yarn of endless stories-within-stories is packed with great characters and subplots. Better still, reissue the old classic for a new generation.

 8) The ‘Mars’ trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

 The tale of a planet terraformed in three colour-coded classic Sci-Fi volumes (Red, Green and Blue). Makes me think of Krystof Kieslowski ‘three colours’ series for an obvious and not very helpful reason.

 9) Sambre by Yslaire and Balac

 Best comic book ever, a cracking historical melodrama built around a story of impossible love (see Comic Book Classics 2 on this very site for more).

10) Auto Da Fe by Elias Canetti

 A professor, down on his luck, carries all his books in his head. At night he opens up his skull and empties his cranium of the hundreds of volumes he’s ever read. In the morning he puts them all back in. Most arresting metaphor for intellectual vanity ever concocted.

 

Elias Canetti

11) Land Of The Headless by Adam Roberts

 On a planet where strict adherence to the BibleQu’ran means beheading for any number of crimes, this punishment is no longer a death sentence. Your brain is saved on a chip and implanted, you are given artificial eyes and ears and can live out your life as Headless. Charming little satire.

 12) The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

 Slippery Jim Di Griz is a master thief, super spy and brilliant raconteur. A great comedy character whose ego is bigger than the universe itself. The Flashman of Space Opera.

 Adios Amoebas

 

 

 

*Apologies to the British TV industry, but they can’t do fantasy. All the recent examples where they’ve tried to translate myth or historical period for the small screen have been truly horrid. They all end up as Hollyoaks in a big castle (see The Tudors, Merlin, etc). No, Britain is a busted flush here. Only America can save us now (oh, shit…).

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