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.
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.
A Craic in the fabric of Space-Time gentlemen please.
The wooden sign creaked as the breeze wafted it to and fro. It stood amid a cluster of palm trees by a small farm settlement. It had been there centuries; a tall, burnt out wooden post, almost perpendicular, supported the sign that hung there from a rusted brittle chain.
The paint on the sign had faded beyond recognition under the blistering sub-Saharan sun. When it moved back and forth in the wind, it twinkled as the last traces of golden paint caught the light. The sign had once borne the picture of a harp styled with curlicued Celtic patterns. It had announced the presence of the only Irish pub in this part of Africa. The city around it, Mombasa, had also fallen to rack and ruin. But the fate of the city wasn’t their concern.
Dermott Malley, dark skinned, blue eyed officer of the regiment of the Blarney Stone stepped down from the transport pod. His uniform bore the insignia of a De Valera class starship. He stopped before the sign and admired it for a brief second before barking orders into his intercom. It was the real deal. One of the last remnants of the Atomic Age Irish diaspora.
An excited Lieutenant Malley had found it. A relic of a time before the world wars (IV, V and VI) that had reduced the world to rubble leaving only Ireland to take humanity beyond the confines of a sick blue planet.
“Feck!” he said in reverential tones as he was joined by the Guinness (an old-style priest with black robes and a white head). After his blessing, two slaves – from the ancient caste of English navvies – cut down the sign and carried it back to the pod. Now it would be restored, placed in one of the grand museum collections dedicated to the millennia of Irish culture and history. Perhaps even to the very place where Irishness itself began: to the ancient city of Liverpool.
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.
** A fab LOROS fundraising evening on January 30th! A Spooky Night At The Leicester Guildhall gathered a wealth of local writing talent to entertain the local cognoscenti. Here’s the Roll-call: authors Graham Joyce and Judith Allnatt, actress Genevieve Cleghorn, Scriptwriter Stephen Loveless, Speculators Damien G Walter, JW, Maria Smith and myself, up-and-coming writers Sheila Kondras, Krys Wysocki and (all the way from Shropshire) Nicola Vincent. Promising young talent Brian also shone. Great credit must go to the organizer of the event, Keith Large and LOROS’s Marisa Spitieri (incidentally you can challenge Marisa to do things for charity. If anyone has a tin bath, I’ve got half a packet of custard powder in the cupboard. We could make her sit in a bath of custard beside the Clock Tower).
I read out a short little story of my own called “Life In Film” I also unleashed my werewolf mask on the Leicester public. In an uncanny twist of fortune, I also won the raffle. A big thanks to all my fellow performers, to Keith and Marisa, the really helpful staff at the Guildhall who even cleared up for us after the event and to all of those who attended. You were all outstanding.
** A rumour is going round that Graham Joyce is to come and visit the Speculators. I am a late convert to his writing (I’ve just read the Tooth Fairy –which only came out in 1996 – and I’ll never go near a carp again…), but it is truly top notch stuff.
** My computer died this month. In Nomines Patris Et Filis Et Espiritus Sanctus, Amen. May my hard drive rest in peace.
** I am attending the Writers Industries Conference and an evening with Jane Wenham-Jones in March. Both are great events which allow ample schmoozing time with other writers. I’m down for the lamb and the chocolate cake at the JW-J evening. At last, a decent meal.
** I’m also attending some cool writing courses at the Leicester Writing School. Apart from the Saturday Manuscript Clinics, where I’m polishing my new Vampsov-1938 from a Toyota hatchback into a chrome-finned sexmobile, I am in the last week of Polly Tuckett’s course on writing prose for performance. The course Writing Out Loud is great and full of really awesome writers. Polly runs the Shortfuse evenings at the Y Theatre for prose performance. They are always a good night out.
** Off to the new Phoenix soon. Never been before, but the prospect of seeing “Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter” is about to tempt me from my lair. It’s on on the 19th at 11 pm, if anyone else fancies going.
** They are “restructuring” Leicester’s libraries. What this means is that the Central Library will close. The Records Library will now become the Central Library. Both collections will have to share one building and the music collection will be buried in a library nobody can get to without taking three buses and crossing into a parallel dimension where the City Council gives a shit. The vacated library building will now be used to train job-seekers in finding non-existent work (So at least there will still be plenty of fiction going on there).
** In contrast, Northampton’s main library is celebrating it’s centenary. Last year it was renovated and now looks amazing. Let’s see if Leicester’s changes result in anything half as good.
If comic books have a spiritual home, Belgium is the place. Ok, so press cartoons first appeared in Germany with Max und Moritz and were fitted with speech bubbles by Outcault in New York, but it was in Brussels where Georges Remi (Herge) elevated the newspaper strip to high art. Here began the art form known as Bande Dessinee –or BD– which took the cartoon into the realm of the album: a full-colour, hardbound book of 48 to 64 pages, printed on quality paper. This shift from newsprint to album, (a Belgian invention) allowed the cartoon to emerge as a true narrative art.
Sambre is an exceptional example of the sheer power of BD storytelling. It is not available in English translation and the whole story is as yet unfinished, but it still packs the kind of narrative punch that is hard to find in any other medium. Anyway, to the story. Set in 19th century France, Sambre tells the tale of a wealthy family and their tragic decline. It begins in 1848. Hugo Sambre, patriarch of the family, is dead. Hugo has spent his last years in a state of delirium, writing a book of prophecies entitled “The War Of The Eyes” (La guerre des yeux). In this book he warns that people with red eyes shall cause the downfall of all others with blue, brown or green eyes unless they unite against their common enemy. At his funeral, we meet his children. The idealistic Bernard, in his earl teens, shares the common view that his father was a raving lunatic. His elder sister Sarah, however, thinks of her father as a genius and takes it upon herself to finish her father’s manuscript. At the funeral, the siblings argue and Bernard runs off into the countryside to get away.
A storm erupts. Sheltering under a bridge, close to the Sambre family estate, he meets Julie a girl poacher with crimson eyes. She is achingly beautiful. He falls for her and she for him. Unable to express his feelings, he challenges her over a stolen goose (taken from his estate). Julie removes a ruby hatpin from her hair and stabs the goose through the eye, killing it. As the blood fills the eye socket, she declares that as both she and the bird now have red eyes, the goose belongs to her.
The potency of the imagery used adds a level of richness to the narrative that only comic books can deliver. Red circles (eyes, windows, rising suns and cherries) signify a forbidden love, and are lurking on every page. The goose also has a significance. Back at the Sambre home, they find one of the geese screeching. She is crying out for her partner, taken away by Julie. We learn that geese pair for life and find the absence of their partner unbearable. The geese thus become a cypher for loss and longing. There are many such instances of narrative invention. As a story it brings together a melodramatic tale of doomed love, madness, jealousy and the 1848 Revolution in an intricate narrative which pays homage to the spirits of Zola and Balzac. It is this richness in the storytelling that makes Sambre such a tour de force.
Sadly, the series has suffered a number of problems which detract from the overall genius of the work. Mainly this is down to the main artist and writer, Yslaire (Bernard Hislaire) who seems to have got sidetracked into a number of other projects and never got round to finishing the series (Balac only appears as a co-author in volume one). The first four volumes are exceptional. A fifth volume, which follows Julie some twenty years later, takes the story in another direction. Three volumes of a “Prequel” have also appeared, telling the story of Hugo Sambre and Julie’s mother, Iris. Yslaire has ceased to be involved in “Hugo et Iris”and ghost-writers/artists seem to have been employed to finish off this series. Another irritating feature of the Sambre series is that Yslaire has redrawn or updated the first four volumes on at least two occasions (I suppose as a kind of ‘directors cut’ of the whole series).
Sadly, there is nothing the we the true fans can do about this. We wait patiently for Yslaire to get his mojo back and finish his master work. We can only return to gaze at his earlier genius, falling in love, as Bernard did, with the ravishing Julie and muttering Hugo Sambre’s warning under our breath.
The War of the Eyes is eternal and without mercy.
It was the oddest-looking fountain pen I’d ever seen. Then again, you had to expect a certain quotient of oddness from the sci-techs. Always messing around with stuff: Eternal fidgets. Today it just happened to be a writing implement designed to work inside a black hole, tomorrow it might be some sort of deep-sea diver sling-backs. Perfect for ballroom dancing on the ocean floor. The scientist unveiling this marvel delighted in explaining the scientific laws that had to be broken in order to make it.
I had to ask. “Does it, you know, work at all outside of the influence of a black hole?”
“Ah, well, you see… when a force of over a gazillion Earth gravities is not trying to pull this pen apart, it’s quite hard to draw the ink into the nib.”
“So it’s of no real use, then.”
“I wouldn’t say that. The technologies we had to develop to get this thing built in the first place were absolutely mind-blowing. First we had to build a bigger hadron collider.”
I started to get the feeling that this scientist was totally Southend –by which I mean a long way past Barking. “You… built a new collider? Bigger, like, than the one in Switzerland?”, I inquired.
“Oh, yes. The one at CERN was way too small. OK for a pencil or a felt-tip pen on a dwarf star, but not capable of replicating the stresses that a black hole brings to bear on writing materials. Had to have a new collider. Essential really.”
“So, after trillions of dollars spent on producing this pen, what sort of benefits can we expect from its development?”
“Well the good news is that, even if scientists were, by some freak accident, stuck all the way inside a black hole, they could still sign off their expenses forms. Even there! A most impressive fountain pen.”
“Would you say that this is a great day for science?”
“And mankind, boy! Don’t forget them, now! Truly it is, a great day for us all.”
I was off on my travels again on Thursday. Down the A6 and A508 to Northampton, riding shotgun with fellow writer, Keith Morley. Keith had entered the 2009 H.E. Bates Short Story Prize, which entitled him to an invite to the grand draw, an event to be presided by the novelist Martin Davies.
I was surprised, when we finally got there, at the sheer size of the event. There were probably a hundred people in the place. Over 300 entries were received for the various competitions (Junior, local author and general). Judging was held under the auspices of the Northampton Writers Group and hosted by Northamptonshire Libraries, all combining in an event that brought groups and people together. By a cheeky acquisition of some comfy chairs, I got to sit next to the bubbly mistress of ceremonies, Grace Kempster OBE, head of Northants Libraries. It was she who introduced the guest speaker, Martin Davies, who got the whole show on the road.The best thing about the night was to hear authors reading extracts of their work. The juniors, Matthew Harris and Katie Bunting were a highlight. To see young kids getting into writing (perhaps the drug that will kill them the slowest) is always inspiring. The eventual winner of the Local Author prize, Simon Howes, read part of his story. Denise Reeder, another shortlisted author, also took to the stage to read. It’s always good to hear authors read their work. Particularly nice for them in an audience composed in part by proud family members.
Then, the competition winners were announced, the winning entry read, the glittering prizes awarded. A climax to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I will not leave you in suspense any longer. We did not leave the hall (Northampton’s newly refurbished central library, no less) with a prize. I say this because some people might only think it worthwhile going to such events for the glittering cup, the photo at the award ceremony and the cheque for x amount to stuff into their back pocket. At one time that would have been my view as well. I was naive and wet behind the ears when it came to writing. I thought it was all about the glory, the praise and affirmation of my peers, the money in the bank. I was taking my paper plate to the buffet of life and gorging on the cheetos and wotsits, ignoring the meat and potatoes that provide the real, healthy soulfood needed to sustain yourself and grow.
Something happened, however, that steered me away from the snack-foods. I grew up, that’s what happened. Was I slightly disappointed that Keith didn’t win? Of course, a little, but the trip was not about that. We’re meat-and-potatoes guys, Keith and I. We know what it is that makes writing precious, valuable and important to us: its the people you meet, the friends you make the thrill of seeing yourself –and them– improve and grow. I had thought (before I met any other writers), that writing was all about sitting on your own, typing away on your lonesome as your tea goes from hot to warm to tepid. I didn’t know then that it’s other people’s input that make your writing great. It is these other flesh-and-blood writers, with whom you read, critique and share experiences that make you grow into your craft. In Northampton I watched it happening to other people, most of whom I did not know. Other grown ups (of all ages) who had found out that very same thing that made me spit out my cheetos years ago. It was a quality moment.
1) Juliet West
2) Veronica Bright
3) Sarah Gillan
Under 18s Violet McDonald
(apologies for any spelling errors in names etc. I had no time to check them at the event).
Yep. There’s a lot of exciting things afoot at Floppybootstomp Compress. Some real treats for you all to warm those cockles during the winter months.
# My last post on Carrot Nappers went global (Well, it was picked up by the Literature Network*…). All kinds of writers were kind enough to compliment the report as well as Keith’s excellent play. Simon Whaley now wears a ‘Nappers T-shirt while writing his next blockbuster!
# I am pleased to announce two new series for the blog. These will appear monthly and will, with any luck, become regular features. I am quite excited about them and have begun to plan their development over the next year. 2010 holds some promise, I can tell you!
The first series I am unveiling today, is a monthly guest-spot. We’re kicking off in December with successful and talented author, Judith Allnatt (Northamptonshire Libraries most borrowed author, 2008). The series is planned to run until July. Some guests may be familiar, others surprising. I am sure, however, that they will all be of interest to writers, readers and casual browsers alike.
My next trick is a series on Comic-Book Classics. A long-neglected art-form, I hope to give you some insights into the treasures that they hold. Armed with nothing but my PhD in Mexican press cartoons, I will dispense what little wisdom I’ve gleaned from a lifetime studying these beautiful objects. First in the series (Also in December), is The Tale Of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot.
# The Alt.Fiction 2010 conference website should be up and running soon. On there you can (probably) find Chapter 1 of the novel I’m presently working on, with the snappy title of Vampsov. It’s a simple tale of vampire hunting in the USSR at the beginning of WW II. It’s still a work in progress, but I have a good feeling about it.
# I am performing as a werewolf. On stage, for charity (I wouldn’t do it otherwise). If you want to witness this travesty, it is taking place on Saturday 30th of January 2010, 6.30 pm @ Leicester Guildhall. It’s a Loros fundraiser with lots of fun events planned. Entrance fee is 10 quid.
# Places remain on a number of courses at the Writing School Leicester.* You can book online from their website. More useful and better value than 99% of creative writing MAs.
# The Speculators, Leicester’s coolest SF/Fantasy Writing group, are still meeting regularly on Wednesday nights at the Friends Meeting House, Queen’s Road.* Beer and cheese-boards afterwards. Come and join the fun!
# Check out my interview with prize-winning Evington screenwriter, Mehul Desai. You can find it in Avatar, the E-zine for the Starbase Leicester group.* If you are curious about Starbase, do drop in to one of their events. You won’t find a more friendly (and vocal) group of Sci-Fi enthusiasts anywhere.
* My blogroll (the list of links on the right of your screen) gives you access to all the groups mentioned.
Sunday, November 8th: It was a clash of the leviathans. Chelsea and Manchester United, the only two teams who can now reasonably win the league, met for a kickabout. They are two of the only four teams that ever win anything in the English Premier League. These four have the most money, the best players, the greatest clout with referees. Just occasionally, however, smaller teams are cute and smart enough to beat them. Rarer still are the minnows who grab some silverware from under the noses of the four-team establishment.
As with football, the arts are similarly divided by rank, influence and wealth. On Sunday the 8th, however, Leicestershire outsiders travelled to an away fixture in Cambridge. Keith Large, a Loughborough writer, had won the rare accolade of having his 45 minute play, Carrot Nappers, read by professional actors at the legendary ADC theatre (erstwhile lair of the Cambridge Mafia). Keith took his team –including my good self– down to the performance. He even brought cake for everyone!Carrot Nappers is that rare thing in modern British theatre: a no-holds-barred, unapologetic ‘Carry-On’ style farce. The plot involves the theft of a 17-foot prize-winning carrot from an allotment. Vegilante Vinnie (Gary Mooney), the security guard who failed to protect the lengthy vegetable, plots to get it back. With the help of his third-best girlfriend Lisa (Genevieve Cleghorn) and the allures of the allotment’s “love-shed”, they set a honey-trap for the main suspect; the devious and amorous Onionhead (Steve Kantor). Acted with gusto, the vegetable-themed puns and snappy one-liners just kept on coming. In the end Onionhead lost his trousers and the play’s director (Francesca Brown) made an appearance as the carrot itself, returned to Vinny, Lisa and his pal Albert (Tim Waterfield) –who gets the girl in the end. Fabulous stuff. The readings were organized by the Write On! Cambridge scriptwriting forum. An annual competition selects the best script submissions and performs them in front of an audience. This year, Naked Stage 09 held 14 readings, selected from a huge number of entries. The deal is that two or three play readings (per event) are performed and then the audience is invited to comment and critique. It is an opportunity for the writer to receive feedback and engage with a live audience.
In the case of Carrot Nappers, however, it was the actors who spoke –rather enthused– about the play. They loved it, explaining that it was a rare opportunity for them to play larger-than-life characters and to really have fun. All the actors involved in Naked Stage 09 had wanted to perform this play. Those that did, really did it justice. I was amazed to learn that they had reached their high level of performance after only three rehearsals. The craft and expertise of these actors was humbling to behold.Memories of the day? The sightseeing with fellow Carrot-heads Keith Morley, Maria Smith (great driver and photographer) and the playwright himself, Mr Large. The carrying of the carrot cakes back and forth from car to theatre to storage area and back. Meeting a bunch of talented actors and directors happy to help bring new authors to the stage. Most of all, it was knowing that we can win away from home. Keith Large in Theatre, Mehul Desai in Film and Graham Joyce in novel-writing: all from Leicestershire, all prize winners in 2009, all proving that minnows can have their day. Get in!
“Can I go and stay at Janet’s house tonight, mum?”
“But Janet’s mum said it would be OK and me and Janet have a project to do for biology and…”
“I’ve told you once.”
“Awww! But she’s my bezzie mate!”
“She’s your best friend. ‘Bezzie mate’ is what the educationally subnormal say.”
“But I am educationally subnormal!”
“No you’re not. You have all the genetic enhancements available for superior cognitive development. You are a super-genius. It cost your father and I a pretty penny to get you these advantages, young lady, so stop being so silly.”
“You’re a horrible poo-monster.”
“Now, Anna, I understand that one of the side effects of supra-intelligent children is the amount of extra emotional input they require from their parents. But you are pushing the boundaries of attention-seeking too far, young lady. So don’t swear at me again, OK?”
“You’re horrible, I hate you!”
“It’s not nice to talk like that to your own mother. I do, however, understand. In time you will grow out of these infantile mood-swings and employ a more reasoned method of argumentation. In the meantime, please refrain from throwing a tantrum if at all possible. I’m really busy today and can’t spare the time. Go into the conservatory and listen to your Mozart. You love Mozart, don’t you, Anna?”
“No! I’m going to listen to the GFXH chart! Really, really loud!”
“Don’t you dare listen to those vulgar, socially indeterminate slouchers!”
“No Fair! You don’t know what they’re like!”
“I’m sorry, Anna. I was a little unfair to those nice pop stars wasn’t I? I’m sure a lot of them are from perfectly good homes and just as enhanced as we are. It’s just that they pretend to be so… common. I get your rebellion against authority, I really do. But it’s just a phase that all one-year olds go through. Sorry, Anna, but there will be no pop music in this house.”
“Puh! Going sleepy-byes now.”
“Of course, sweetie. Don’t forget to plug yourself in.”