Review: A Blink of the Screen

I can never quite get my head around Terry Pratchett doing short fiction. I don’t know why, but for me he’s a long form writer. That’s not to say anything in this collection is bad, far from it. Possibly its because he books usually have so many layers and meanings and shorter fiction doesn’t really have time for these. Pratchett himself says – in his notes – that he found short fictions hard to to, so maybe he thought the same thing.

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So reading A Blink of the Screen is enjoyable, yet slightly weird. We’re in that strange place where you’re defining each work as inferior to his full novels, but inferior Pratchett is still superior to most writers. I think, if I had to put my finger on it, the issue I have is all of them feel like rough ideas waiting to be developed. As if Pratchett was simply putting down an idea on paper, fleshing it out a little bit with the intention of coming back later. I couldn’t help feeling like there was more there somewhere.

The most obvious example of this being that one of the stories in this collection is almost literally a synopsis of Truckers. Each of the other stories feel like they could be the same.

I did love the longer Discworld story, The Sea and Little Fishes though. That was a wonderful stand alone Granny Weatherwax story that could have been a subplot in a larger book, but actually works well on its own and made me want to pick up one of the older Discworlds that I haven’t read in a while.

I really enjoyed reading this collection, more-so than I did it’s companion collection, A Slip of the Keyboard, which collects his non-fiction works. Pratchett was never an author lacking confidence, style, or ability. But reading through this collection is an interesting way for a fan of his work – which should of course be everyone – so gain a snapshot of how his writing developed.

2016: Looking back, then forward

So, that was 2016. It’s been a bit of a year all told, hasn’t it? Remember that old curse; “May you live in interesting times”? I think a lot of us have gained a new appreciation for that one over the last twelve months.

But anyway, the Christmas trees are up, the cards posted, and the final gifts are being wrapped, so as the year draws to a close let’s have a look back on everything that’s been happening here.

2016, and things that have been

The big news this year has been, of course, the publication of The Æther Collection, a themed collection of horror short stories. (If you’ve not picked up your copy yet, you can do so now in paperback or ebook now).

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My original reason for deciding to do a collection of short stories rather than a single full-length novel was that it would allow me to post them up as and when they were completed. After finishing The Serpent’s Eye I didn’t want to have another two years pass by without having anything new to release, so I thought rather than intersperse a longer project with breaks for short stories I would just do a full collection I could just release as I went.

It was an interesting experiment, but I’m glad I did it. It’s taught me a lot about structure and theme, as well as giving me very useful experience working in a non-linear fashion. I’ve always been someone who revises their book in a linear order and finds it hard to jump about their manuscript while being able to keep the overall picture in my head. Hopefully, I’ll now be a little better at focusing on small sections in isolation, working on the weakest points in a narrative without having to work through parts that don’t need work as urgently.

With this being a short story collection, I honestly wasn’t expecting any attention from agents. I’ve been told directly that authors aren’t picked up based on short stories. So the fact that I had three personal, positive responses has really picked me up. While – as I predicted – none of them wanted to sign me up this time around, each of them said they really liked my writing and asked me to send them a working version of my next full novel as soon as I think it’s ready. So that’s one step closer.

The decision to focus my time on The Æther Collection has meant that I’ve not been able to get much in the way of stand-alone short stories done this year. I have been working on a couple, as and when I could but, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any placed. I do have a couple nearly ready to go out, and a few submissions I’ve not heard back from yet, so fingers crossed for better luck next year.

I have, however, had a couple of articles published on the Huffington Post. The first was a defence of the NHS on the anniversary of my wife’s transplant, and the second was a few thoughts on the state of the UK Labour Party. I enjoy doing these more serious works every so often, but they tend to only get written when Inspiration and Having Time coincide.

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The Festival of Writing in York was again one of the highlights of my year. Getting to visit York is always worth it, and getting to spend the weekend hanging out with other writers is even better. I got to catch up with a couple of friends from 2015 and make a couple of new ones. I’d really love to go to more events like this. There are plenty of conferences and lectures around the country each year. I know it’s partly laziness that keeps me from properly researching, but I know that time and money constraints will always be an issue. Maybe in 2017 I’ll be able to put a little more effort into this side of things and I’ll get to a few more.

And the other new thing I tried this year was my Halloween Countdown. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I think I’d like to make it an annual thing. Next year I hope to try and make it from films released during the previous year, rather than from the last few years. Not only would this mean I was helping share the work of hard working, aspiring filmmakers, it means I have an excuse and reasons to spend my time watching horror shorts online.

So hopefully this October I’ll be able to do a countdown of my favourite shorts released in 2017. Maybe I’ll even get the countdown right this time.

Oh, and thanks to my sister – who is also my designer – I was able to attend the memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t seem much in the grand scheme of things, but being able to attend such a celebration, surrounded by other fans, was a really wonderful experience and helped me say goodbye to the man who really got me into reading, and therefore writing.

 

2017, and things that are to come

So, what do I have coming up next year?

My big project for 2017 is a novel, provisionally titled New Perceptions. (This is a very provisional title, mainly picked so I had something to name the Scrivener file when I started and so almost certain to change.) I’m not going to say much about it, as I don’t even have the first draft completed yet and there are likely to be many changes. Right now, I’m wrestling to get the third act together. I’m currently hoping to have something ready to get out to alpha-readers in the summer. Then, in an ideal world, I’d have something ready for agents by the end of the year, but I know full well it always takes longer than I’m hoping.

However, I can say that it will be a coming-of-age haunted house story and a full-length, single story novel. After a novella and a short story collection, I feel that my new project needed to be a full-length novel, both for creative and commercial reasons. Creative, because it’s the next logical step in my growth as a writer to show I’m able to grow and develop character and plot across 70,000 words. And commercial, as I’ve been told multiple times that agents and publishers will only pick up new authors with a full-length novel to sell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve already had agents ask to see a working draft so I’m telling myself I’m starting this one already a couple of steps ahead. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a couple of side projects – stories or articles, and of course blog posts – in between drafts, but we’ll see. I really want to focus on getting this complete over the next year, so may really need to focus.

So, here’s wishing you a great Christmas and an amazing 2017! Here’s hoping this one’s a little less “interesting”. Or at least only exciting in good ways.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now on Amazon, iBooks and other online stores. 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.

 

 

 

The Charmed Realm of the art of Paul Kidby

I was visiting my family a couple of weeks ago and discovered this in our local bookshop.

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Like a lot of people, I assume, I know Paul Kidby mainly as the cover artist who took over the Terry Pratchett books after the death of Josh Kirby. I’ve loved his work ever since, but in all honesty, I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of it outside of his association with Pratchett. In actual fact, his style has become so entwined with the Discworld books that it took a little while to get used to seeing his art in a world other than that of Pratchett’s work.

But that feel quickly faded. Kidby is such an amazing artist. There is such passion and attention to detail in every one of his creations. He’s the sort of artist that makes you a little sick with the perfection in his work. 

And, annoyingly, he was at an event I went to this weekend. If I’d known I would have brought it along to get it signed.

I really need to start looking out for more of the work. Let me know if you know of any collections or books he has worked on I might not know about.

Not to be content, but to be driven

So I got the chance to attend the Terry Pratchett Memorial event at the Barbican Centre last week. It was an amazing event, as you might expect, getting the chance to be surrounded by his fans and to witness his family and friends all paying tribute and sharing their memories of him. Being there will be a memory I shall cherish all my life.

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They even had goodie-bags

I wrote about my feelings regarding Sir Terry’s death and how it affected me at the time, so I won’t go into them again. You can click here for a link back to the original post.

But being there that night got me thinking about what I’m doing with my life, what I want from it, and what I’m doing to get it. In actual fact there have been several events in the last month which have all gotten me thinking along these lines, but this was the capstone on all of them.

I want to write. I want to be a writer. I want to create stories and characters that take a life of their own and take root in the imagination. I want to see that people enjoy my work. I want to leave the world a fuller place than it was when I entered it. I want to entertain, to thrill, and to disturb. I want to be part of a community of like-minded people.

And I want all of this to be my full time job. While I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t enjoy the levels of fame, recognition and fortunes that Terry Pratchett obtained, I’m not going to fool myself that I could ever achieve those heights. But I’d like to reach the point that I call “The Dream”; earning enough through my writing to life comfortably on that alone.

I want to believe that my life as it is right now is part of a story that is progressing towards these goals, and above all I want the strength to fight the nagging self-doubts – those fears that gnaw on the back of every thought – that I might not be good enough. That I might never find any real ‘success’ or ‘recognition’, with my writing never developing to anything more than a hobby. Or that a lack of progression might someday combine with other pressures to bring me to give up writing completely.

In the introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard, – which he actually read out during the Memorial – Neil Gaiman describes how his friend Terry Pratchett was a very angry man, and how it was that anger than drove him forward. How it focused him and pushed him when he felt he wasn’t doing everything he knew he could be.

I need this anger.

Sometimes I take a step back and take a long look over my life, and ask myself whether I’m doing everything I can do to achieve the things I want in life. Am I working on the right things? Am I doing everything I can to get my name out there? Am I putting all the effort in that I can? And when I do this I can see full well where most of my problems – those that I have, anyway – fall.

I am content.

In the overall balance of life, I am one hell of a lucky guy; I have a beautiful wife, I own my house, my personal health is in good shape, I have good friends, a full time day job that I enjoy, two cats, and a great relationship with both sides of my family. On top of that – making this political for a moment – I was lucky enough to be born a middle-class, white male. I know full well that in comparison to so many people in the world I have nothing to complain about. Please don’t think I’m looking for sympathy, because in the grand scheme of things I know full well I don’t deserve it. But this post is about me, and through the filter of my perspective and my own personal narrative, it’s a problem.

Contentment is the antithesis of drive. If I had no wish to be especially creative, my life would be pretty much perfect. I could work, watch TV, take up a hobby for my free time. That’s not a bad life, but I want something else and need to keep pushing myself to work on it. I have to be honest and admit that far too often I spend my time relaxing and enjoying the things I have rather than setting myself to writing. I need the drive, the anger, to want to fight the status quo. I have to keep pushing myself everyday. To work to keep the creative momentum going. To give myself deadlines. To make the hard choice between resting and working on my dreams.

Basically, I need to be angry that I don’t have what I want. Not an uncontrolled anger at the world for not giving my what I want, but a driven, directed anger that I haven’t got there yet. Anger at myself for not doing everything I can, tempered by the understanding of outside influences that must be addressed at the same time. Not an anger that makes me an unpleasant person to be around, but one allows those around me to recognise my drive and encourage it.

I have to remember how I felt that night as everyone said goodbye to one of the greatest British Authors of all time, and take what he taught me to heart.

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Mind how you go, Sir Terry

2015: Looking back, then forward

Happy New Year, folks. How was your 2015? I think I can safely say that mine was definitely one of the more eventful years in my life.

2015 and things that have been

So, looking back at this year, was there possibly anything that kept me a little too busy to get as much writing done as I would have liked?

Oh yes, my wife going through a kidney transplant. That was it.

It has to be said my family started off 2015 on a bit of a stressful note. On February 9th my wife went through a transplant to receive a kidney from my sister. Understandably, this took all my focus and energy for quite a while. Between the build up, preparations, the stress of the day of the operation itself, visiting them both in hospital and then looking after Frankie during the recovery period, I think I can say the first 3 months of the year were a write off, writing wise.

And then this autumn I’ve had a massive project at the day job that completely absorbed all my mental energy. I’m not complaining as such. I like my day job, and bigger projects means more responsibility means more chance of advancement. But between working through lunch breaks and coming home exhausted I essentially lost another couple of months of writing time.

So I think I can say I lost at least five months of 2015 for writing. That’s not to say I didn’t get anything done in that time. It’s just that I had other things on my mind that had to take precedence.

One thing I did get done was producing the paperback edition of The Serpent’s Eye. Like the e-book, putting this together turned out to be one hell of a learning curve, but I’m happy at how it turned out. Especially as I had very little idea what I was doing. There are a couple of small things I would like to tweak, but they’re tiny in the overall scheme of things. But my designer tells me there are a couple of little things she can see now it’s a physical book she would like to fix, so there may be an updated version sometime in the future if we get around it it. And at the moment that’s a big if, as there are plenty of more important things to get done first.

Short-story wise, it wasn’t a prolific year. The thing with so much else going on simply did not have the time to work on any independent projects. I had to prioritise. Annoyingly, the anthology with which I was involved, with Thomas Hill Publishing, fell through, so that story is now looking for a new home. However I was included in Verto Publishing’s Halloween Celebration. Those of you who caught it were able to read the first story in The Æther Collection, complete with a wonderful illustration from P. Emerson Williams. It’s still up, so head over if you want to check it out.

The rest of the year got taken up by working on The Æther Collection. 

And I feel I do have to mention that this year we lost possibly one of the greatest English writers, and the man who got me into reading; Sir Terry Pratchett. I’ve written about my feelings on his passing here, so I won’t go into them again. But it’s sad that 2016 will be the first year since I was born that there won’t be a new Discworld novel to look forward to.

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I will keep you all updated on my sister’s campaign/project to get a permanent statue of Sir Terry erected in Salisbury. I think we can definitely call it a project now as everyone involved seems onboard. Watch this space for updates.

2016, and things that are to come

So the big project for this year is, of course, completing The Æther Collection. At the start of last year I had hoped to get this done for Christmas, but obviously with everything going on it has been pushed back. I do have the first full draft completed and with my Alpha Readers (you can read more on that here) and should hopefully have notes to begin redrafting by the end of January. I’m not sure how many more drafts it’s going to need, but my gut is telling me a least four more; one from readers notes, another just from myself, a second round of notes, then a final polish and copyedit.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

Of course, now I’ve said this, it will take far longer. At this point I’m hoping for a June release at the latest. I want to have time to get it out to agents and small press publishers, but I will put this out myself if this process takes too long. June would be two years since the original release of The Serpent’s Eye, which would be nice timing. But of course I don’t want to rush anything. Watch this space for more updates.

Outside of this main project I do have other plans. I would like to get a couple more short stories done this year and get them into anthologies. I have one I’m finally getting to finish at the moment, and at least two more in early draft stages, waiting for their turn. Possibly these will be palette cleanser projects between drafts of The Æther Collection. I would really like to get these done early in the year and start submitting them, but we’ll see. The Æther Collection has to take priority.

I’m also beginning to get annoyingly excited about my next big project. It’s a haunted house story, filtered through the views of an adolescent girl trying to fight to discover her place in the world while insisting that she shouldn’t have to fight for it. Over the last couple of months various ideas have begun to slip into my mind, fleshing out the main concept and I’m ready to start writing. This is great, but not quite so much when I need to get the previous project completed before I can get started. But hopefully I’ll have a least a first draft of this done by this time next year.

I’ve had a great little break over Christmas. I’ve kept away from the keyboard almost completely to allow my brain to rest. Now I’m itching to get back to work.

See you all in 2016.

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RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

About 20 years ago my mother took out an audio book from the local library for me. When I was younger I used to find it hard to fall asleep without noise in the background, so I would listen to tapes from the library, most of which were picked out by my mother.

Something about this story engaged me more than most, but much to my chagrin I discovered that ended abruptly and without closure. The main character simply dropped off the edge of the world, no less. When I mentioned how unsatisfying this was, my mother informed me that not only did the story continue in the next book, she actually owned it so I could read it straight away to find out what happened next.

Which I did.

This was my introduction to the Discworld, and the writing of Terry Pratchett. It was also the beginning of my true love of reading. I imagine everyone has that one book or author that got them hooked on the possibilities of the written word, and for me it was this. These were the first books I read – at least that I can recall – that were actual grown up books. They had been bought by my mother for herself, not for me or my sisters.

And so after listening to The Colour of Magic I went straight on to read The Light Fantastic. Then Equal Rights. Then Mort. Then the rest.

The Discworld series was my indoctrination into reading for pleasure; of losing myself in language and story. My mother already owned all the Discworld books which allowed me to read my way through all of them without stopping. By the time I had finished them I was ready to move on to other authors, but throughout my adolescence and adulthood I would always come back. Every six months, a new book. I sought out everything I could. I bought the Clairecraft Discworld models. I found the official side books, such as the maps and the diaries. I played all the point and click adventure games. I took part in the local kids theatre groups production of the theatrical adaptations. I found his non-Discworld stories.

Sir Terry Pratchett was one of the biggest influences in my life. His writing was witty, satirical, smart, biting, and yet somehow wonderfully easy to read. He had a style and ease with words that made his work universal, using the world he created to so wonderfully reflect our own. He could twist real world institutions, traditional fairytales and Shakespeare into something new and unique. He had a viewpoint that cut into what mankind is and what it could be. His novels, almost all of which are set in a fantastical world floating through space on the back of four elephants riding a giant turtle, contain ideas and discussions on morality and humanity that any philosopher could be proud of. He was someone who understood the world and had the talent to show the rest of us in a way that we could understand while at the same time making us laugh from our gut.

I’m not usually one for taking part in the mass mourning that pours out when someone famous dies. I’m cynical, and can never get over the fact that I’m sure 90% of the people who flood social media with tributes have no real emotional connection with the person they are eulogising. But Sir Terry Pratchett’s death truly is something personal to me. I never met him – to my sorrow – but his writing has been with me my entire life – literally, as the first Discworld novel came out the year I was born – and has played a major part in inspiring me to be a writer.

I can’t imagine how many words will be written over the next few days honouring this man. Writers all over the world, everyone who has ever read his words and shared in the worlds he created will feel his loss. I’m sure that people with far more skill than I, people who knew him personally and shared his life, will put what I am feeling into more eloquent words than these. And what better way could there be to honour such a great and influential writer than with words that try to reflect those he gave us.

Goodbye Sir Terry. I hope you knew exactly how much you meant to us all. The world is a slightly darker place, but a better one for having had you in it.

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