2018: Looking back, then forward

Wow. Six months. I’ve really not been good and keeping this blog updated. I wanted to at least post once a month this year, to keep things alive and connecting to you all. That didn’t work out did it? I’ve had plenty of ideas for blog posts. I’ve just either lacked the time or motivation to put them down onto the page. So my bad, sorry.

But now it’s Christmas. The tree is up, the cards have been posted, and I off work until the New Year. So at last I can give this blog some love and catch up with you all.

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The bookshelf is feeling the Christmas spirit

2018, and things that have been

2018 has been a mixed bag. Some amazing highs, some deep lows. So overall, not great but not terrible.

Let’s start with a high, our new house. It’s been a year, and we still love living out here (unless we’re traveling back from Central London late at night). Most things are all sorted now. All the important things anyway. There’s lots of little things that still need to be fixed or put in, but they’ll get picked up as and when we save up the cash.

The biggest low was losing one of my good friends to cancer in the summer. I’ve had grandparents pass away, but that’s something you kind of expect. This is the first time a friend, someone my own age, has died. It’s something different entirely, and the thoughts I’ve had about it have been hard to express. The idea that one of those people I just unthinkingly expected would be around for decades to come has gone forever is… I think the best word to describe it is unsettling. I’ve had a post about my feelings on this in my head for months. I’ve just not managed to get it down onto the page yet. Maybe this year.

On to my writing. Despite my stated goals at the start of the year, I haven’t managed to get my latest book finished. In general my creative energy has been really low this past year. I just haven’t been feeling the mojo. Which is why there have been so few posts on here, really. When I’ve had the time and energy I’ve needed to focus it on the book rather than one off ideas.

One thing I did manage was to get to more writing events. These were a mixed bag.

York Festival of Writing: York, of course, excellent as always. I can’t really say much more about this event than I have before. Three days of writing courses followed by socialising (drinking) with agents and other writers. I caught up with old friends, left with some new ones, and had a couple of agents ask to see my manuscript. Hopefully we’ll see something come from this in 2019.

Edge-Lit / Sledge-Lit: These are one day events in Derby, and I had a great time at these. I stayed in Derby overnight both times, but next time I’ll probably just drive up and back on the day as nothing happens in the evenings. I got to catch up with friends and meet new writers, which was awesome. Also, Edge-Lit comes with a goodie back of books!

Winchester Writing Festival: This one was less of a success. I had high hopes for Winchester, as it looked pretty similar to York. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that. While the courses were fine and the Agent one to ones are there, it just lacked the social aspect. People were too spread out, the halls of residence were a ten to fifteen minute uphill walk from the campus, and the bar held a Open-Mic night both nights. While that’s a fine idea, it means you can’t actually talk to anyone. And if I can’t meet and connect with people. what’s the point? I might try it again next year, but I’ll just attend the Saturday and then go home.

 

2019, and things that are to come

My main aim in 2019 is to get What They Really Know 100% complete. It’s been over two years that I’ve been working on this one. It’s been just generally hard to write. The first draft just did not want to come together and while the rewrites were easier I just haven’t felt the creative mojo. I’m still proud of it though. Currently it’s with my Alpha Readers, and as long as none of them come back with any major changes it should be a final round of polishing and copy-edits and then I’ll be ready to send it out. Fingers crossed.

While I’m waiting to hear back I’ve started working on my next project. This one’s working title is A Better Thing We Do. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for years, and it’s the one I’m most excited to work on next. I’ve been pulling together ideas over the last month, and actually in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a burst of creativity and have the first draft of several chapters in place. So, fingers crossed this one will be easier to write.

Finally, I want to keep this blog updated a little better. Even if all I put up are mini-reviews of books I’m reading or films I’ve seen. Hopefully I’ll manage more than that, but we’ll see.

See you all next year.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.

My 2016 Game of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

While SOMA came out in 2015, I played it over the winter and completed it in 2016.

soma

Suffering from brain damage after a car crash, Simon Jarrett agrees to an experiment brain-scan. Blacking out half way through, he wakes to find himself in a seemingly abandoned deep sea research facility in the year 2104. What follows, as Simon tries to work out what has happened, is a terrifying exploration of the nature of the human soul and the sense of self.

This is one of those games you irritatingly can’t say much about in a review for fear of giving too much away. Half the appeal of SOMA is the experience of playing and discovering the story for yourself.

If you’ve played any of the Amnesia series of games, then you’ll have an idea of the gameplay. But SOMA is a massive step up in terms of story and voice acting. This is a story-driven, survival horror game, so you’re not going to be battling monsters. Rather, you’ll be running from them, helpless, as you solve puzzles and try to work out what the hell is going on. But as you creep or spirit through the game world you discover a plot that’s both depressing and fascinating. It will make you really think about who “you” are, and then leave you in a deep, existential mire.

Honestly, when I finished this game I lay awake at night with an honest to god existential crisis. It will make you question your very existence.

soma2

I wouldn’t exactly call this a “fun” game, although I don’t want to give the wrong impression from that statement. What I mean is, this isn’t something you throw on after a stressful day at work when you just want to switch your brain off for some mindless entertainment. You’re going to have to think through this one. Not because it’s especially hard, but because the story is so smart and thought provoking that you will need to pay attention to get all the benefit. But don’t worry, it’s so well written and perfectly balanced that it never feels like a chore to do so.

I would say the better descriptions for this are “rewarding” and “satisfying”, rather than “fun”. But, damn, is it both of those in spades.

 

The Æther Collection Cover Reveal!

We’re almost there!

The story is locked down and I’m now just waiting on my last two copy editors to finish running through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Once that’s done and I’ve gone through it myself one final time, The Æther Collection will finally be ready for publication!

And, in honour of this, I thought it was time to officially reveal the cover art, provided by my wonderful designer (and sometime organ-donor) Emily.

cover 1

Eagle-eyed followers may well have spotted this image before, as it’s been going up on my various forms of social media recently, and has actually been the banner for this website for a couple of weeks. But this is the “official” launch, so take a moment to enjoy it.

Now begins the painstaking task of completing the manuscript and getting it published. This weekend has been spent sending things out to agents, but while I am waiting on responses the process of preparing everything to self-publish will begin. So, barring an agency picking this up and taking the tasks of publication out of my hands, or any unforeseen events that might cause further details, The Æther Collection should be out in August.

So, if anyone out there is interesting in maybe getting their hands on an early review copy, now’s the time to let me know.

 

To sleep, perchance to waste my time…

The whole “sleeping” nonsense is nothing but a pain.

Life is unavoidably divided between the things that we want to do and the things that we need to do. And as much as – if I were granted total freedom of definition – I would count writing as a need, I have to accept that it cannot as yet be categorised with such things as buying and preparing food, ensuring money is earned and bills are paid, keeping my home clean and maintained, attending to my physical and mental wellbeing, etc., etc. Only once these responsibilities are acquitted – or at least once I’ve planned for them to be acquitted at a later date – can I dedicate my time to what I want to do.

But I only have a certain amount of energy per day. I can’t write if I’m exhausted. On a normal day, I get very little time to get writing done. I can basically count on about 45 minutes on a weekday and maybe 30 or so each evening, but that is only as long as the day-job isn’t particularly stressful and I’m left with no spare energy and I don’t have some other tasks that need priority. Weekends can vary, but again they will often be taken up with other tasks that need doing.

So until I reach that point where I earn enough from my writing that it takes over from my day-job and so moves from a want to a need, I have to accept that I exist in a world where I have stuff to get done, and not enough time in the day to do it because I am burdened with the frustrating need to sleep.

But I would have time if I wasn’t burdened with this frustrating need to sleep.

Did you know that no one knows so certain even why we need sleep? There are various theories, but no one can give a definitive answer. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sleep – or at least curling up in bed – can be amazing. But I would like the choice!

Wouldn’t it be great if we had that choice? To simply decide that tonight I won’t sleep, as I have stuff to get done. If sleep was simply a way to pass the time when there was nothing else to get done? To live in a world where the day could be given over to responsibilities, and the night left free for us to get on with enjoying ourselves or working on personal projects?

Can science get on this, please? I’d be really grateful.

 

 

A post on why I’m not posting that often

It’s October. And that, as everyone paying attention to their nearest supermarket’s seasonal items aisle since August knows, means Halloween is nigh. And in order to capitalise on this, I – as a writer of horror stories – should obviously be dedicating time and effort into some sort of month long programme of themed blog posts, book giveaways and a general glut of content across my social media presence.

At least I assume this is the case, based on how everyone else seems to be responding to this time of year. But I’m not, and there’s a reason for it. And it’s also the same reason I don’t post on here as often as I could. Allow me to elaborate.

I would love to post more on here. I really would. I want to spend time threading my way through Twitter holding multiple conversations across the world. I want to curate material on my Facebook Page that both interests, amuses and terrifies. I want to keep a regular schedule of interesting posts here on my blog for you all to read. But I also want to work on my actual writing, and I have almost all of my day taken up with either my day job or “grown up stuff” (meaning feeding myself, paying bills, preventing my house becoming a tip, etc.). There is a finite amount of time in the day and until we get those pills that allow us to go without sleep I simply have to make the most of the time I actually have.

There do appear to be people who manage to post all the time, but if I look closer, what do I see? Well in 95% of cases all I see are hundreds of people all yelling the same thing into the vast echo-chamber that is the internet.

I don’t want to be one of those people.

There are so many folk out there in the world trying to get noticed and establish themselves as the latest independent writing sensation. All of them have read the same tips and advise on how to do this as I have. They’ve been told they need a social media presence, to post regularly to build an audience, to generate hits, to connect with people. But the problem is that the more people that there are doing this the less effective these actions become. It’s overwhelming.

I fully admit that having a regular and/or frequent posting schedule would be a good thing. However, what’s more important is to post things of quality. Over the last couple of years I’ve starting following so many people online only to stop a few days later as they clog up my feed with so many repetitive posts and comments that it’s impossible to find anything interesting, let alone engage with any of it. I’m not trying to sound like snob or imply that I’m better than anyone who manages to post more often than me. I’m just saying that I think less quality is better than more mediocrity.

Essentially, in my eyes at least, posting hundreds of things online for the sake of posting something is about as useful as publishing a single short story on Amazon every couple of days so that you have a large back catalogue. You might create a huge online presence, but none of it is going to be any good for you. If I have nothing interesting to say, why should I say it?

I don’t want to be one more wannabe desperately shouting into the void for a sliver of the world’s attention. I don’t want people Following me just to repost what I’ve reposted from someone else’s repost. I don’t want to participate in Like for Like schemes. I don’t want to throw out hastily written 100 word blog posts every day that say absolutely nothing. I don’t want to comment on another person’s blog in the desperate hope saying “I like this post” will somehow equate to greater book sales.

I want to post when I have an interesting idea I want to develop. I want to post when I have news that I want to share with you all. I want to post when I’ve discovered something I honestly feel needs to be seen by more people. I want to feel that the people who Follow me do so because they share my interests and enjoy my work.

This is why I don’t post as often as I would like. If I didn’t have a day-job I would definitely put more up here because I would have more time to think up ideas and then develop them into something worth reading. As it is, I hope you don’t mind the sporadic schedule I am able to maintain, and that the work I actually post is worth reading.

Obviously this post is obviously inspired by the vast number of book-giveaways and blog posts and half-finished short stories I’m currently seeing strewn across internet forums, but I’m not saying the practice is necessarily bad. Just do it right. Plan ahead and think about what you want to do, and then do it well. It all harks back to that central point of the aspiring writing: it’s got to look professional.

But speaking of people doing the Halloween build up right, my friend Christopher Brosnahan has been undertaking something called #octoberphobia. Throughout October he has been posting short pieces of flash fiction, each themes around a separate phobia. Go ahead and have a read if you’re looking for some effective little horror stories this October. Then if you like them, maybe buy one of his books. They’re really quite good.

Find me on Social Media

Hello all. I just wanted to give you all a quick round up of where you can find me on social media. 

First off is my Facebook Page. You’ll find all my updates posted here, along with links to any other posts or articles I find interesting. I’ll also occasionally recommend films, books or television I discover and feel are worth sharing. 

On Twitter I’m @tomhbrand. My Twitter account has a slightly more varied theme than the rest of my social media presence. While I try to keep most of my social media presence focused on writing and publishing, rather than any old thing that comes into my mind, on Twitter I’ll post things of a more diverse nature. You’ll find post on politics, art, or links to random stuff that I simply found amusing. 

My Tumblr account is thomashbrand. For the more artistic of you, I post horror and reading imagery, as well as links back to this blog. Tumblr tends to be my go to site when I’m just killing time. If I’ve got a few minutes to kill I can just fire up my Kindle and browse Tumblr. I know there are a lot of people sharing deep, meaningful information. I kind of just use it to bum around. 

You can also find me on Goodreads.com. Add me as a friend to keep up with what I’m reading, as well as what I think of it. Add my work, ask me a question, or give me a rating or a review. I’d love to see more opinions from all of you.

I’m also on Instagram, but it’s more of a personal account. Not so much about my work, but just pictures from my life. You’re all more than welcome to pop over and have a look if you’re interested in seeing a little of the everyday. 

So come along and say hi. I’m always up for answering questions or just saying hello. I’m always interested in meeting new people online, either fans of my work or who simply share the same interests as me. I love discovering new things, events, images or writers through my friends.

Come along and say hi.

Getting back to it

One of the most basic tenets of time management in your personal life, which I have heard mentioned in more than one writers “How To” guide, is: “You always have the time. You’re just using it badly.”

The idea is that if you find you don’t have time for something, in this case writing, then you have to look at your life and see what you are doing with that time instead. There are things you have to do; eat, work (if you have a real life job), look after children (if you have any), etc. The rest is free time.* So if you don’t have time to write, what are you doing with your time instead? Are you not getting writing done because you are always playing computer games? Then cut out playing computer games. Are you not getting writing done because you spend all evening with your family? Bite the bullet and put aside half an hour every evening or morning to write, no matter what.

I’m not saying it’s always easy. It all comes down to how much you want to write, and how much you are prepared to give up to do it.

And this is what I’ve had to face for the last few weeks. I have had other temporary commitments. In June, Purple Theatre Company put on their production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, and I was Stage Managing. This meant that for the last few weeks more and more of my time was taken up with planning. I had set to design, and costumes to find, and so many other things to sort and arrange. And time I spent planning on the show, I couldn’t spend writing.

Now this has been causing me some distress. I wanted to write, but had a commitment I had to fill. I wanted to be part of this show. It’s not like anyone forced me to do it. But that meant writing took a back seat and I had very little free time left. What writing I could get in had to be on my main project, finishing The Serpent’s Eye, and so short stories and blog posts took a back seat.

But now I’m free. The show is over. This means that a huge section of my time has been freed up again! Writing is once more my pastime of choice, and I am able to take the time to face what I have in the pipeline.

I have short stories that need finishing. I have one story I was writing for a specific submission deadline, which I ended up missing. But I love the story and feel it will fit in most places. Once I get it polished up I can start to submit it around, and hopefully you’ll all get to read it soon.

I also have two stories for the Æther Collection that need finishing, and a third in my head ready for a first draft. I’ve let the Collection slide as a priority, and I’m angry at myself for that. I meant to have it completed by now, but let it sit on the back burner. I mean to fix this. I now have more time, and my main project, on which most of my time has been spent recently, is now complete and I am free to work on other things.

That’s right, The Serpent’s Eye is finished, finally coming in at 42,590 words. Now I am in the stages of making sure it is all formatted correctly and setting up the methods people will have to buy it.

And let me tell you, formatting this thing was no easy job. Scrivener is an amazing programme and has made the process so much easier, but it’s still something I’ve never had to do before. It’s taken a frustrating amount of trial and error to get it right.

But more on that soon. I am determined to get the ebook on sale before the end of the month, at the latest. Keep your eyes open.

So that’s where I’ve been. I will keep this blog updated more often from now on. I promise.

 
*If you can examine your life and in all honesty say you have no free time, and that everything you do between waking and sleeping is essential, then you have issues that may need addressing. Everyone needs free time.

How to use grammar

And so we come to the third of my posts on the issues I have with writing. The first two were more focused on areas of ability; the problems I have with spelling and proof-reading. This post is slightly different, as it is more to do with my attitude towards the subject. Or, more often, the attitude of others towards the subject.

I want to talk about grammar.

Grammar can be an interesting subject. What is it? It is the framework that governs the structure of a language, and a set of tools that allows us to ensure that what we say or write is interpreted the way we intended. It is the framework of unambiguity.

Now, first off, I want to state that I do agree that grammar is important. Despite what many people who know me might believe, I do endeavour to use correct grammar.* It’s just that I believe that there is something about it that is misunderstood by many people.

The English language is a magnificent mess. A mongrel of a language where words and sentences can be open to a vast array of interpretations. A famous example being the following two sentences:

A woman, without her man, is nothing

and

A woman: without her, man is nothing

Exactly the same words, in exactly the same order. Yet they have totally different meanings. I could go into all the many ways in which grammar can be correctly used, but I don’t want to. Instead, I want to complain about a certain misconception that far too many people hold to.

Yes, grammar is a vitally important part of language, and, by extension, writing. However, it should never be considered definitive.**

Too many people believe grammar has rules. It does not. “Rules” implies that there is a ‘correct’ and an ‘incorrect’ way of using our language, and that people who deviate from these “rules” are wrong. This idea is rubbish. Grammar is not a set of rules, but of guidelines.

Languages change over time. We do not speak the same way people did a century ago. Or a century before that. And so if language changes, then surely grammar must change as well. And what about accents and regional dialects. I might say “I am going to work,” while someone else may say “I’m going down t’mill,”*** but you know exactly what we both mean. Is one correct, and the other not? Vernaculars, dialects, cultures, idioms, all make a mockery of the notion that any one set of grammatical ‘rules’ is definitive.

We have, over time, created certain linguistic conventions to ensure we all know what we mean when we speak or write. These are good things, but they exist to clarify understanding, not to judge those who haven’t memorised them. If somebody uses “who” and “whom” interchangeably, it doesn’t matter. You can debate which one is technically correct, but the fact of the matter is that as long as we know exactly what the speaker means, they both are. If that person was swapping between “who” and “kumquat”, then they would have an issue. That extra ‘m’ adds no ambiguity. ****

But while grammar has no ‘rules’, it does offer us ‘tools’. These tools are called punctuation. As can be seen in the example I gave above, the correct use of punctuation is how we define clarity of meaning. They allow us to indicate the intended meaning in a set of words that might have more than one possible interpretation. And yes, there are rules for the correct use of punctuation. I’ll give you that. But those rules are to be used in the pursuit of clarity, not for their own sake.

For me, the most important thing in constructing a sentence is how it sounds; the flow and rhythm of the words that makes reading pleasurable. I use the tools of grammar to ensure that the reader can understand exactly what I am saying, but I am not going to be shackled in how I choose and arrange my words. To me, grammar simply is part of writing. To others, it is some holy law of language, and breaking it tantamount to sacrilege.

I found a wonderful quote on this subject; “Grammar is often a generic way of referring to any aspect of English that people object to.” These people are known as Grammar Nazis. These people believe there is only one way of doing something, and that is their way. They rule over us all on a magical grammar-cloud, informing us lowly word-peasants when we have spilt an infinitive or mis-conjagated with our errant words. More often than not, they bear the name like a badge of honour.

Tell me, when is the qualifier “Nazi” a good thing?

Yes, people have set down “rules” for grammar, but many of them were redundant to start with. Splitting the infinitive, for example, is a rule carried over from Latin that does not fit with a Germanic language such as English. And yet some people still argue its importance. These people are missing the point of language. *****

I’m going to be honest: my opinion on people’s attitudes to grammar has been coloured by people criticising my own. As I’ve stated before on this blog, from the age of eleven onwards I was never taught the rules of the English language as a separate topic. I learned grammar through literature. I read books, and saw how authors throughout history assembled and used the English Language.

And do you know what? I think that this is the better way to learn. Rather than sitting in a classroom and memorising cold hard rules, I was immersed in great literature. I read how the language worked, rather than being told how it didn’t.

They say the most important thing for any budding writer to do is read as many varied books as possible. This is why. Different authors will have different styles and feels to their work. Also, as I said before, language has changed over the years, and so reading books from different periods shows us how grammar and language are fluid.

I’m not saying that grammar is not important. It is. But it has to be understood that it is a framework, and what that framework is for.

My work is far from perfect. I’m not trying to argue that I am somehow above all the petty concerns of others. If someone reads my work and tells me that a paragraph isn’t as clear as it could be, that there is some ambiguity, that means that the grammar is wrong. This, I will fix. However, if someone tells me that I’ve broken some obscure tenet of the English language, set down by some dusty scholar two hundred years ago, I will ignore them. If I like the way it sounds, and it is clear enough to understand exactly what I mean, then I consider it acceptable.

So, to summarise, I do not consider grammar to be concrete. To put it simply; grammar equals unambiguity. If the reader/listener knows exactly what the writer/speaker means, then the grammar is correct. There are no rules to ensure this happens, but there are tools. Tools we must learn how to use.

*

And so there we are. Three blog posts discussing the three parts of writing that cause me the most issues: My problems with spelling, my issues with proof-reading my own work, and my disagreements about grammar. I hope they give some insight into how I work, or at least offer some excuse for the myriad errors I am sure you all find in my writing.

*

*Several years ago I was given a book entitled My Grammar and I (or should that be ‘Me’?): Old-school ways to sharpen your english. I’m honestly not sure whether it was intended as a joke gift or not, but either way it is invaluable to me. Mostly, to be honest, as a resource for the use of punctuation.

** Do you see what I mean about the inconsistencies of language? Even the guidelines set to guard against change, change over time. Isn’t the English language a wonderful thing?

*** Please don’t leave any comments pointing out that no one has ever actually used this cliched phrase. It’s just an example.

**** Incidentally, if you want to know the “official” way to learn when to use “Who” and “Whom”, The Oatmeal did a great comic on it. But even then he ends with the fact that the only real difference is that “Whom” sounds classier, whether it is correctly used or not.

***** Most of the blame for this attitude can be laid on one Robert Lowth, and his 1762 book; A Short Introduction to English Grammar. Research him if you like. Essentially, he was the first grammar-nazi, centuries before there were actual nazis. That’s quite impressive.

First Post…

So here we are. Brand new blog, starting afresh and trying to understand how this website works. I’m a writer, not a technician, and where I’m sure that thousands of people must look at something like wordpress and see it all lay itself out as easy as walking, I’m more one of those people who knows exactly what I would like it to do, and where I would like all the different things to be located, but actually making those things happen involves me sitting here at my computer, desperately peering at my screen trying to work it all out without accidentally saving over everything, making the page irrevocably bright pink, and somehow sending out offensive emails to all my contacts. Not that I’m that bad, I should be able to figure it all out. I just wish I had the right mind to do it a litter sooner.

I’m setting up this blog to start to publicise my writing, as I set out on what I hope will be my writing career. I’ve always been a keen writer and creator, and am finally reaching the stage where I can try to make that into a career. For the last three years I’ve been developing my first novel, a fantasy adventure entitled The Breaking Land, of which I have almost finished the final draft. Just the final copy edit left to complete and I can begin sending it out to agents and publishers.

I also dabble in poetry, but like most poetry, whether the poets admit it or not, what I write of it is just me having fun. Other than good practice for various aspects of writing, anything I publish on here of it is mostly vanity publishing. I do have fun writing it; sometimes I try for something serious, but what I come up with is most often stream of conscious nonsense. Well, I’ll start getting them put up on here and see what people think.

Also, I’ll be promoting the theatre group I’m involved with, The Purple Theatre Company. Currently their Company Manager, Purple is something I’ve been involved with for almost a decade and am very passionate about, so it gets its place on here as well.