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.

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.

 

 

 

Halloween Countdown: 1 Day

Okay, we have a slight discrepancy in the countdown. I’m sure some of you have noticed – though no one mentioned it, so maybe not – that I’ve had my numbers a little off. You may have thought at this point we had 2 whole days left. But we were wrong. We only have today and then the big day is here!

Today I thought we’d look to the future, and the next big holiday season. So with that in mind, I have one more entry from Liam Banks; Season’s Greetings.

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The corruption of childhood ideals and beliefs lends itself strongly to horror. The fairytale fantasy that is Christmas gives such a strong vein for horror to tap into.From a modern, adult sensibility, the idea of a someone keeping a watch on you all year round and then slipping into your bedroom while you sleep is a rather unsettling one. I’m always surprised there isn’t more of it out there.

And don’t forget to download your free copy of The Serpent’s Eye from Amazon while you still can. The offer only lasts until tomorrow night.

Halloween Countdown: 3 Days

It’s 3 days to go in the Halloween Countdown. It’s also a Saturday, so you should really settle in and devote ten minutes of your day to watching the absolutely beautiful Geist from Giant Animation Studios.

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This is the first fully animated short on this list, but just a couple of minutes into it and I knew it had to be included. Aside from the animation being beautiful, the tragic story it tells is just so well sculpted. Washed up on the shore in a storm after barely surviving the wreck of his ship, a fisherman seeks refuge in a nearby house. While at first, it appears to be deserted, quickly he finds that something appears to be there with him.

The thing about this film is its atmosphere. The use of light and sound is pitch perfect, selling the entire thing with almost no dialogue at all. While there are scares, in Geist these are merely part of the entire thing rather than the punchline or only mechanic.

Oh, but don’t expect a happy ending…

And don’t forget, if you’ve not done so already head over to Amazon to download your free ebook of The Serpent’s Eye. This offer’s only open until Halloween, get make sure you get yours soon.

Halloween Countdown: 4 Days

Can there only be 4 days left to go? 4 days until Halloween is upon us once again?

And as we’re so close I think it’s time to move away from jump scares and quick shocks and share with you something a little more… creepy. A tad more Twilight Zone-eque, if you will.

I present to you Closet Space.

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It’s also the final entry on this list from David S. Sandberg. Yes, I know, I’ve talked about how much I love his work already, but I think I haven’t yet mentioned his actress/collaborator/wife Lotta Losten. One thing that researching for this list has shown me is that acting in horror shorts is apparently hard to do convincingly. There are a lot of videos out there where the main actor comes across as not scared or far too scared than the situation warrants. Losten always comes across naturally, in a way you would expect in these situations. And she gets more do in this film, with more agency than just being simply cornered and scared.

 

And don’t forget, from now until Halloween night you can get your hands on a free copy of The Serpent’s Eye  over at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Grab this Halloween Special Offer while you can!

Halloween Countdown: 5 Days

We’re getting close now. Just 5 more days to go.

Or possibly less, if you happen to run into Mr. Creek.

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While there’s nothing particularly ground breaking about this film, it’s a solid example of the fundamentals of a horror short film done exactly right. Every aspect is used perfectly. Music, sound effect, creepy nursery rhyme, acting, briefest glimpses of the monster? Check, check and check.

It kind of feels like this should come in the middle of a longer piece. It has the feel of part of a larger story. Possibly the end of the prologue or the first act. It very much has a Babadook vibe going for it, which is definitely a good thing.

A genuinely creepy video, it’ll make you jump even if you’re expecting it.

 

But that’s not all I have for you today. Oh no. To coincide with the Halloween Countdown 2016, the e-book of The Serpent’s Eye is available free from Amazon from now until midnight on Halloween. If you haven’t got your copy already, head over there now to download a tale of creeping madness and incomprehensible fears.

And of course, if you prefer, the paperback version is available for purchase as well.

All I ask in return is a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I always like to hear what you all think, and it honestly helps me no end.

Novellas: Are they worth it?

Apparently Tor are looking to expand their output of e-book novellas. Having written a novella myself I find this especially interesting, as every agent I’ve spoken to about The Serpent’s Eye has told me no publisher would ever buy anything of novella length from anyone other than a well established author they were already making money from.
 
I personally feel that shorter fiction has a lot going for it. I love epic novels (The Wheel of Time is my favourite series, and that one is definitely not a light read) but sometimes, if you have a good story, you don’t need to pad it out. A novel of 150,000 words is not automatically better than one of 40,000. Other than the fact it will last you longer for the price. 
What do you guys think? Do you prefer books that will give you a longer read for the price you pay, or shorter reads that are easier to get through in the time you have so you don’t have to invest so much of your life to get through it?
 

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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The perfect gift for the horror fan in your life

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the horror fan in your life? Or just looking for something to read over the holiday season?

Well look no further. The Serpent’s Eye by Thomas H. Brand is available now from CreateSpace, Amazon, and iTunes in paperback and e-book editions.

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When George Sandings, a young up-and-coming solicitor, is sent to Buenos Aires to deal with the estate of the late Earl Edgar Leer, the infamous explorer and hedonist, he sees it as an opportunity to prove himself to his employers and advance his career. He has just a month to uncover what he can so that the Leer family might be able to put their disgraced son’s memory behind them.

However, as he delves deeper and deeper into the Earl’s dark and immoral life he discovers that not everything is as natural as it should be. Soon he begins to realise that something from the Earl’s life, some power that should have been lost and forgotten, is haunting him. Something that seems to be entwining itself in George’s mind. 

Is this spectre real? Or is this simply some earthly plot to undermine him? As George tries to make sense of what is happening to him, he must decide whether the only rational answer is the irrational.

Judging a book by its cover

“Never judge a book by its cover”.

What a great philosophy to to live your life by. It’s practically the first lesson in How To Live A Fair and Interesting Life 101. As a metaphor for looking beyond stereotypes and not taking people at face value and taking the time to look deeper it can’t really be faulted.

But what if we’re talking about literally judging an actual book?

Quality of writing is not, unfortunately, the only thing an author has to think about when publishing their work. For all that we want our work to speak for itself people aren’t going to read something if they don’t know it exists, and that’s not going to happen without publicity and marketing.

I will be the first to admit that these areas are not my forte. I have never been a natural promotor of my own work. But, just like anyone looking at self publishing, it’s something I’ve had to teach myself. The most obvious way has been to get involved with all the common methods of promotion, all the websites and online writer groups, to see what everyone else is doing. And one of the main reasons that this is a good way to teach yourself self-promotion is because after a while you really start to see all the things that other people are doing wrong.

I’m far from an expert, when you spend enough time looking into something you start to see the same mistakes over and over again until you recognise them without trying. And if I can notice them – a random guy just looking around the market – I can only imagine how often agents and publishers have to wade through them.

I’ve come to recognise three or four basic mistakes that a lot of authors out there are making over and over again. And possibly the worst of these mistakes – because it is the most obvious and impossible to ignore – is using a terrible cover.

Your book’s cover is the final line that the reader must cross before making the decision whether or not to put in the time/effort/money on your book. They might not care whether it’s the latest Hugo Award winner best seller or an impulse buy from an unknown author, but they need to believe that the author cared enough about it to care what it looked like.

We’ve all heard the old adage “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. It’s the same with book covers. Traditional publishing houses have promotion and marketing teams to do this side of things. If you want to be taken seriously you need to match that quality despite not having the resources.

Not everyone is going to be able to get a professional designer to create a cover, of course, but there are ways around that. What you can’t do is just accept any old thing and slap it on your manuscript. I’ve seen covers that look like they were put together in MS Paint. Covers that look like someone cut images out of a magazine, stuck them onto a piece of A4 and scanned them into a computer. Covers that look like the writer’s parents forced them use something their 12 year old cousin made in art class. Covers that, to sum this up, just plain look bad.

Self publishing is not an easy path to success. We all know this by now. The hard fact is there is still an entrenched prejudice that self-publishing is a path for writers who aren’t good enough to get a traditional contract. It is also a fact that there’s a lot of evidence to back up this attitude. There is so much terrible, terrible work put online by lazy writers who don’t seem to think that eighth, seventh, or sometimes even second drafts are a necessity. If you want to rise up from the dross that is out there, you need to make your book as indistinguishable from a professional publication as possible.

So what are my recommendations?

 

Look at what resources you have (and be honest with them)

Do you know someone who can create a high quality cover for you? Someone who at least has some design experience? It’s quite possible that they might be willing help you, if you ask nicely.

But make sure it’s someone you’re prepared to be honest with. The problem with a favour is you can feel uncomfortable about turning it down. This is your work, and you cannot allow yourself to feel obligated to please someone else with the final product. That’s your name on the cover. If the final product is poor quality it’s your reputation and your interests that are going to suffer.

If you don’t think you could tell someone that you don’t like their work then don’t ask them for help.

Invest in your own work

If you don’t have someone able and willing to help for free, spend some money.

It doesn’t have to be too expensive. There are a lot of aspiring artists and designers looking for the opportunity get their work out there, just like you. Some might even be willing to work for free (although see my previous point about that). There are even people who have seen this niche and sell pre-made covers to those authors who want something quick and easy.

Remember, if you are not prepared to invest a little of your own money in your work, why should a reader or a publisher?

Keep it simple (Not the face)

If in doubt, keep your cover as simple as possible.

Don’t try to depict scenes from the book or intricate landscapes. If you’re on a budget or forced to do things yourself, the simpler you can keep it the better it will be. Text on a plain background, with maybe a clean, simple logo or image. It’s classic, and the easiest cover to pull off. 

And this might be a personal choice, but avoid character portraits like the plague. Especially if you’re not a professional. Stock photos always look fake, and poorly photoshopped figures even more so. And unless you can draw really well, any attempt at a portrait of a human is going to slam your cover straight down into the Uncanny Valley.

 

So what choices did I make? As it turns out I’m lucky enough that I have a sister who is a graphic designer. At the point where I was finishing The Serpent’s Eye and needed a cover, she was actually in the middle of completing her Masters Degree in Graphic Design. This meant I had a family member who (a) had the skill and talent to create a professional quality image, and (b) who I was more than willing to argue with if I didn’t like the result.

If I hadn’t had this option? I would have researched some graphic designers and looked to commission one.

The last thing I would ever have attempted would be to create my own cover.

And so if any of you are looking for a decent cover artist head over to www.emilybranddesigns.com. Her contact details are on the site, and she’ll be more than happy to discuss what you’re looking for. I’m told she has very reasonable prices for non-family. I can vouch that you’ll get quality work.