short story

The Sea Children

New Stories and Sir Peter Ustinov

I’m writing this after a long hiatus of not writing. I feel like I’m always saying I’ve not written anything for a very long time but… and then very little happens. I blame this phenomena on studying and a sudden, inexplicable lack of confidence over the past year and a half.

So.

I’m writing this after a long hiatus, but, there have been movements, and I should celebrate them instead of focusing on the negatives.

Back in February, my short story ‘Automaton’ was accepted for the fourth issue Phantaxis Magazine February 2017of Phantaxis Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine (see a handy illustration nicked from the Phantaxis website to the right). I loved writing this story (lots of virtual window shopping for increasingly ridiculous products) and was inspired by Mac McClelland’s article over at motherjones.com. In the piece, McClelland goes undercover and describes the back-breaking and thankless work for what she calls “Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc”. Wink wink.

Also this month, my contemporary short-story ‘The Sea Children’ found a home at The Saturday Evening Post for their Fiction Friday slot. This started life as a fisherman-themed competition entry for Writing Magazine and gradually evolved into a longer story after positive feedback from Granta and other publications. You can read it online here.

In other news, I finished up my latest uni module with a staggeringly bad exam. My answers were… lacking. Despite this, I’m glad to see the back of forced reading for a while; on my to-read-for-fun list this month is Expanse: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey and Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories. Like most people, I binge-watched The Expanse on Netflix and pinched The Great Beta Reader’s copy (she’s heavily into space operas now, and wants to be a Space Pilot; nothing else will do).

I’ve also set myself a seemingly impossible goal of writing a pilot script for this year’s Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award, starting now with a July 1st deadline *gulp*. I won’t lie, I’ve spent a lot of today staring out of the window, eating a Pot Noodle, inwardly freaking out. I’m telling you lot so I can be held accountable. Happily, there’s the flickering image of a potential opening scene in my mind, so things are in motion…

Onwards and upwards.

 

On Failing (And Rejuvenating) In Ireland

Ireland: Great for views, bad for focus.

Ireland: Great for views, bad for focus.

So I’m halfway through my self imposed writing retreat in Ireland and it’s been both a positive and negative experience. The plan was to come here and finish The Book, also known as the Great Big Albatross Around My Neck. The plan, hastily scribbled in the back of a notebook, was to ‘finish 1st edit of Book’ from April through to May, then work on project B, a zom-com screenplay I’ve had in the works. When that was done, whip up yet another screenplay and settle comfortably back into my fifth module, patting myself on the back for achieving so much by October. Bish bash bosh and the work is done.

Problem was, when I sat down to read the printout version of The Book, it was a lot messier, terrible and what-was-I-thinking? to read than I thought it’d be. I decided to come at it from a different angle. “Let’s make the whole tone a bit more depressing,” I said. “Let’s write it in 1st person because I feel more confident with it and it’ll all go smoothly.”

I wrote a few pages like that, began with a near suicide, tried to make it oh so droll and darkly funny. Gave those pages to my sister (also known as the Great Beta Reader). She killed it. Via Facebook:

“Maybe it’s because it’s unedited but it just wasn’t strong writing. It was a bit cliche. Soz bro, still prefer the original prologue soooo much more.”

So I was stumped. She was right though, I hadn’t even really, if I’m completely honest, enjoyed those pages myself. It had lost the spark and the dry but fun humour I was going for. So I sulked about it for a few days, ate a lot of cake, drank a lot of milk, smoke a lot of cigarettes. Then I realised what to do. I was going to leave it alone. I’d not been able to read the thing before I came because of hundreds of other loose ends that needed to be sorted. And so I had no idea how much work it was going to be. I became disheartened and tried to go off piste without really having the proper materials or experience to back me up and support me. I wasn’t having fun, and that’s a very important part for me.

After taking a step back and telling myself that it was okay to not have a shiny, readable manuscript for people to road test when I got home, I relaxed again. I started working on other stuff on the list, short stories, assignments etc. In between, I hunted down and printed off some worksheets online and went meticulously through The Book’s plot. Now I have a document that can act as a signpost for when I go back home and tackle it. It won’t be perfect, but that’s okay too. It’s all good practise, and I’ve had fun.

On the positive side, Ireland has proved very inspirational and it’s been great just sitting and being. The sun’s even come

Catch my dystopian sci-fi short 'Babymaker' this May!

Catch my dystopian sci-fi short ‘Babymaker’ this May!

out on several occasions, and if you’ve ever visited the Emerald Isle, you’ll know just how rare that is. Good news on the published work side of things: the book GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries (with my short story Babymaker inside) from When The Dead Books is due for release in May and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy and sending the spare out to Nanaimo, Canada, where my lovely ex-pat friend now calls home.

Interestingly, the very first night I arrived I received a rejection from a pretty big British literary magazine telling me they liked and enjoyed my story but it just wasn’t long enough, along with an invitation to expand on the piece and resubmit. The story is set in West Ireland and I’ve since then managed to piece together an extra 800 words of material by just being here, listening, paying attention to things and stories around me. It still needs a little work, but Great Beta Reader said she enjoyed it a lot, and it’s now her second favourite story (the top spot still being filled by The Club, which was bought by Eldritch Press for their Our World of Horror anthology, release date tbc). The sunshine and flora and fauna have also inspired some back-to-nature type poems too, something I never thought I’d be writing in a million years.

So I’m still here, haven’t gone insane, haven’t turned into the female version of Jack Torrence, despite a number of Shining jokes coming my way. I’ve managed to balance work and play, got some great material and am generally having a grand old time. And that’s the Tesco delivery man knocking on my door, God bless you Tesco man, from all us non-driving hungry people in the world. I salute you.

March: A Recap

March is nearly over which is both a blessing and a curse. I wanted to finish edits on a slipstream short story I’m working on called Wife Is Such An Ugly Word today but life got in the way, thanks to one of the cats having an “accident” all over a live 8-plug extension cable. Don’t know how many plastic molecules I inhaled but it wasn’t a great way to start the morning.

My Goodreads Books list (the one that contains everything I’m in as either contributor or author) looks set to expand from three distinct works to about seven, which does nothing really except make me feel good whenever I look at it.

Sent back my final edits for Babymaker, a short sci-fi piece about a woman living in a dystopian society that encourages women to have as many children as possible in order to support the ongoing war with North Korea. It will be appearing in GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries from When The Dead Books. It’s great to read a story you’ve more or less forgotten about and find that, hell yeah, you still love it. The book’s release was delayed, but huh, that only heightens anticipation in my eyes.

Grimdark 3Grimdark Magazine Issue #3 is out after an early release – it’s our biggest yet, with short fiction from the likes of Kelly Sandoval, Siobhan Gallagher, Peter Fugazzato, excerpts from novels by Luke Scull & Mike Brooks and an article on Grimdark in gaming by myself and Jeremy Szal. Plus the second part of R. Scott Bakker’s story The Knife of Many Hands. The fabulous cover (see left) was produced by Aussie artist Austen Mengler, and you can find more of his work here.

We also had another writer’s group last night, with me leading the charge and organising a few activities. I asked everyone to bring their favourite book, one that had a strong voice or style. Over a few glasses of wine, we each read a page out loud and picked a scenario from short scenes I’d clipped from a magazine. We wrote for 10 minutes in the styles of our chosen books, then swapped books and tried to write the same scenario again, but in a different style. It was a fun experiment and it pushed everyone out of their comfort zones.

Sent out six submissions, got one acceptance, so a quiet month in that respect. April’s nearly here, have dusted off the Big Story (can’t bring myself to call it a novel, it’s just too scary) and am planning to have a read through before I go to Ireland. Am terrified. If anyone has any tips for jumping back in to a manuscript after leaving it for a long time, please leave a comment!