I’ve said many times –in many places– that I don’t write because I want to, I write because I have to. It’s a compulsion, which if it’s blocked off, leads to something close to clinical depression (my name is Colin, and I am a creative junkie….)

Ever since I ended a particularly brutal bout of writing a couple of weeks ago, with the synopsis and sample chapter for a new novel, I’ve been concentrating on administration and blogging.

Which is a pain, but keeping adequate financial records is a legal requirement as well as a particularly time-consuming chore; the other time sink has been completing an application form for an MA, which has taken up most of the last two weeks.  and of course, there’s the blogging, which takes more time than you might expect from the haphazard way I seem to throw words onto the page.

In theory then, no time for writing fiction.

Which would seem to contradict my theory that you need to write every day. Except that by blogging I am writing (although it’s not fiction), and I’ve racked up enough experience (I have written over a million published words) not to need to write every day as much as a novice does. But still….

…the urge to write fiction runs deeper than even I realized. I awoke on Saturday morning with the scenes from an unfinished story called Razorbill Island running through my head.

For a variety of reasons I’ve needed for some time to road test the Scrivener package, and this was the perfect opportunity.

I only got a couple of hundred words written, but I’ve worked out what to do with the story now (the problems were as much structural as of writing the words).

Which just goes to show that even when I think I’m okay with my schedule, my subconscious knows better; that like magma beneath the Earth’s crust, the words are always ready to ooze out any time.

• August 8th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

End Games

People are always talking about the openings of stories. It’s an often quoted truism -especially by me!- that the first dozen lines of a story are critical. They are the unsolicited writer’s escape from the slush pile, or the path to a sometimes bewildered rejection. For the story that has been sold, a poor opening is a potential return to be To Be Read pile, from which there may be no return.

Perhaps as a reflection of that, half of the workshops that ran at alt.fiction were about beginnings, openings, settings, and establishing characters. It’s as though if you get the beginning right, the ending will take care of itself.

But if the beginning is important, how much more important is the ending? If the story works, it’s what the reader remembers. Think of Paul Atreides’ mother standing beside Chani and uttering the line, “history will call us wives,” or –no, better you go and read Alfred Bester’s “The Pi Man,” or John Varley’s “Air Raid,”  or Gardner Dozois’ “Morning Child” — because I’d hate to ruin the ending.

Because to get to the ending, you have to go through the story. The ending isn’t something a writer just tags on the end; it flows organically out of the story, and should tie the threads together and leave the reader with a sense of completion. Context is everything, because the ending isn’t just about the ending. Maybe that’s why the topic is often ignored.

How the writer gets there, of course, is a journey that has as many routes as there are writers. That’s for another time.

we’ll talk more about this later.


• August 3rd, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Why Your Brain Is Like A Battery

One of the most commonly asked questions that writers are asked is “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

Cover for Damage Time by Chris Moore

Before I answer that, I’m going to digress:

Ideas are the easy part, a lot of the time.  Writing stories is harder. A story requires a narrative arc -that’s the fancy term for beginning, middle and end- adequate characterization, and a plot (the resolution of the conflict you’ve created in your story), as well as your idea.

That’s why I always tell budding writers they should write a lot, and write every day. You should write a lot, because that’s how one learns any skill. Musicians, sportsmen, writers – anyone who wants to get better at something, needs to practice. You think a concert pianist just plonks themselves down in front of the piano on the big day? Really?

It’s dangerous of course to be too prescriptive, but I really don’t know anyone who -on a long-term basis- works in a different way.

So write 30 minutes every day than to write nothing for six days and splurge out with three or four hours of intensive writing once a week. Imagine that your brain is a car battery (you wondered when that was coming, didn’t you?). If you park your car in the garage every day for weeks on end, it drains it, so that the car  won’t run. Writing for a while is like running the car – it does it good to get out and about.

But like a battery, your brain needs constant recharging as well, in this case through reading other writers -as well as maybe going to the cinema or the theatre, travelling, or just having a change of scene — anything that provides fresh stimuli, but especially other writers. Read beyond your genre wherever possible, because when you absorb other people’s ideas and styles, as inevitably you will, the wider the source you have, the less limited you will appear.


And that, dear reader, in a very roundabout fashion, is where I get my ideas from – from reading a lot of books and internet posts, from walking a lot, and from constant, constant practice.


I’ll be coming back to this at some point in the future.

• July 27th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Crimewave Eleven [Ghosts], Reviewed

A baker’s dozen of atmospheric stories, half from TTA Press regulars including Nina Allan, Christopher Fowler, Cody Goodfellow, British Fantasy Award winner Joel Lane, Alison J. Littlewood and Steve Rasnic Tem, all wrapped in a haunting Ben Baldwin cover.


Dave Hoing is an Interzone regular from TTA’s early involvement with the magazine, but the opening –and closing- story of the anthology, ‘Plainview’ is his first crime story. The opening segment, ‘The Shoe Store’ depicts small–town America 1975; Plainview is archetypically sleepy, so quiet that the sheriff plays finger football with pieces of paper, and the most excitement to be had is that the Farm Expo was coming to the hippodrome in nearby Ridgemont in January. All the latest farm equipment would be on display. When a young girl goes missing, attention focuses on the sleazy owner of the local shoe shop. The second part, ‘The Blood Cools’ which concludes the anthology, is set thirty-four years later and has a very different tone.


Nina Allan’s ‘Wilkolak’ is another of her trademark South East London stories, most recently visited in ‘Silver Wind.’ Kip is an ordinary teenager living in Manor Park who photographs a man he is sure is a paedophile, and becomes increasingly fascinated by the so-called Manor Park Monster; He knew his interest in the monster was growing. He disliked this feeling, distrusted it, but was unable to let it go. He would have liked to have discussed it with Sonia, but was afraid that she might start to think he was weird, one of the lonely serial killer types who bought true crime magazines. Kip has the opportunity to report his discovery, but doesn’t. Utterly compelling.


In ‘The Conspirators,’ by Christopher Fowler, a meeting in one of the new super hotelsof two senior executives and an expensive whore turns deadly serious. Cynical, dryly witty and Highly Recommended.


From a desert to another wasteland for Mikal Trimm’s  ‘Who’s Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone?’ Desmond is a thirty-something jailbird living with his parents in abject poverty, in a metal shack in the Florida panhandle whose floor is rusting beneath the family. There are no great surprises about the revelation of Desmond’s family secrets, but Trimm handles his protagonist’s redemption with great sensitivity, and in the end uses the stereotypes in his story to work something marvellous. Outstanding.


As is Richard Butner’s ‘Holderhaven’ which is packed with red herrings; prestignatory former Black Panther members, the restoration of an old house built at the turn of the last century and the revelation of its secrets in a leisurely stroll through history and house alike.    


‘Eleven Eleven’ by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero offers a child’s eye view of the symbolism of numbers, a murder, amnesia and revelation, all wrapped in the crypto-logic of childhood: No parents were with her that day, so she assumed that she didn’t have any, which ordinary people have, which was more proof that Alsie was un-ordinary.


Ilsa J. Beck’s terrific ‘Where the Bodies Are’ opens in a wintry Michigan cemetery where the local Jewish population are all buried. Miriam watches from her psychiatrist’s office just across the street; Miriam wasn’t particularly morbid –or Jewish for that matter- and she wasn’t one of those sicko graveyard junkies. Just kept an eye on the place. When her old lover is assigned to the case of a young mother brought into hospital bearing signs of recent childbirth, he and Miriam clash, and they take the first steps toward revelation. Outstanding.


Many of the stories in the book deal with child molestation, abduction and murder. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ by Cody Goodfellow is perhaps the only one to look at ways of stopping it. Set in a deceptively quiet suburb, the narrator is a retired security guard who, since his wife died five years before maintains a lonely vigil over his neighbours, and shows to what lengths the truly committed will go to protect the innocent.


O’Neil de Noux’s  ‘K Love’ is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and its lesser known successor Hurricane Rita. Jodie Kintyre of the NOPD finds a ‘jumper’ who has thrown himself off a roof. The suicide note in his pocket tells of a crime he has committed. Despite the snappy dialogue and rich scene setting the story doesn’t really work, reading more as a fragment of a longer piece than a self-contained narrative.


Better is ‘Living Arrangements’ by Steve Rasnic Tem. Now an old man reflecting on his inadequacies as a father, Monte is invited by his daughter Lacey to move in with her family.  Monte quickly recognizes new man Pete; Monte had been a guy like Pete, pretty much. Monte guessed if he was healthier, he’d still be a guy like Pete. Pete is a mean drunk, as he demonstrates on Monte, Lacey and grandson Brian one night, but then Lacey unexpectedly offers Monte a shot at redemption.


Prison stories have a long and honourable tradition dating back to Dumas, although Stephen King is probably the chief reason for their resurgence. The latest addition to the sub-genre comes from Alison J. Littlewood, whose ‘4A.M., When The Walls Are Thinnest’ features men driven to seek escape, both from prison and from reality.


Joel Lane’s ‘The Hostess’ extends the theme of ghosts to the literal in this short but chilling tale of a horrific murder in Birmingham in the early 1980s that ends with a clever twist. Highly Recommended.


Luke Sholer’s ‘We Are two Lions’ an assassin agrees to teach his lover his trade, until the pupil begins to eclipse his master; full of twists and double-crosses, it’s clear why Sholer has been Edgar-nominated. The story is as cold and unforgiving as each man’s heart.


Crimewave has established a reputation for high quality crime fiction, sometimes with a hint of the macabre. The ghosts in volume eleven are sometimes symbolic, sometimes literal, but always present. The stories are atmospheric, the settings memorable and the characterization acute. They help make Crimewave Eleven a five-star experience.


• July 1st, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

All Over The Place

Today is the third Monday of my summer job for this year, and my first week solo: My predecessor -and my trainer for the first two weeks- Heather, has moved on. Suddenly I feel like a tightrope walker who’s had their safety net removed. There are a million and one things to remember, and I’ll be  handling cash, which leaves no margin for error, although there’ll be checks on checks on checks.  

My day the same as in the previous years, and indeed my Mondays over the last university year except that I walk Alice around the park before catching the bus three days a week, and the bus is into Bristol, rather than the bus to Bath. The ride is a lot less interesting or scenic than toward uni, as the traffic crawls along through the crammed streets of Bristol.

Geographically I’m very close to where I worked before; the Abbott’s House is just behind the Eye Hospital, that little building crouching among the surrounding behemoths that loom over it. In many other ways though, it’s a million miles away from previous years.

I’m working in a small office that belongs to Above & Beyond, part of a quasi-autonomous operation that’s staffed by only fifteen people, mostly young, and all enthusiastic, so there’s a definite buzz to the place. They are a charity specifically set up to support the nine (or is it eight? Or ten?) hospitals that make up the United Hospitals of Bristol Trust (or UBHT – the NHS likes its acronyms).

But. This year I’m working 3 full days, from Monday to Wednesday, 9 until 5.30. During that time I’m pretty much offline, so virtually all the jobs that I need to do to keep the business ticking over has to be crammed into four days. And that’s before I start writing.

Three, actually; the last two weekends, we’ve spend part of it away. Last Sunday we went down to the in-laws before hurtling back, while on Saturday, I travelled up to Derby (and back). It’s made it almost impossible to work out a routine, and ironically my one absolutely free day -Thursday- has been spent doing odd little jobs that have become overdue during the intervening three days.

I’m gradually easing toward some sort of routine, but I still feel all over the place, both physically and mentally. Somehow I need to find enough energy in the evenings to sort out some of those niggling, time consuming jobs -like ordering printer catridges or posting parcels- during Monday to Wednesday, either during the evening or in my lunch break.

It’s helped that I’ve managed to sort out some problems with a horror story called ‘Razorbill Island’ that I’ve been bogged down with, and get about two thousand words done over Friday and Saturday, and Alt.Fiction has been put to bed for another week. That went very well from the perspective of entertaining and educating the audience -at least I hope it did!- but book sales were on the floor for everyone, except for those offering one and two pound second-hand books. Dark Spires sold no better than anyone else’s work.

I think it’ll  be some time before I’m completely comfortable with the new routine. Who knows? It may take all of the eleven weeks I’m scheduled to be at Above and Beyond….

• June 27th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Displacement Reviewed at Innsmouth Free Press

In which our author celebrates an excellent review of a book that in internet terms has been out about a million years, and explains why.

About eighteen months ago Swimming Kangaroo Books published my debut collection Displacement. Unfortunately, despite several attempts to reshedule it, it ended up coming out less than two weeks after publication of Winter Song

It’s difficult -verging on impossible- to adequately promote two books simultaneously.  Anything less than a six month gap between them risks leaving one or both inadequately promoted. 

And because one was a break-out novel from a major house, versus a small press collection, unsurprisingly Displacement’s publication was lost in the blizzard of noise about Winter Song, and the subsequent shenanigans about the restructuring of Angry Robot.

By the time I got a chance to focus on Displacement, in the ephemeral nature of modern publishing, it was old news, and reviewers prepared to review small press collections are in any event, limited.

Which is why when it does get a nice review, I want to celebrate it.

Author, editor and critic Paula R Stiles has given Displacement a  thorough, considered, and generally favourable review over at Innsmouth Free Press. Which is not to say that she hasn’t pointed what she felt I could have done better, but when that happens the words of praise feel as if they’ve been rather more earned than a more gushing review.

I’m hoping to make a couple more posts about older books over the next couple of weeks, while continuing to look forward.

• June 8th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

Final Stats on Hours Worked

The final stats for the academic year 2010-11…

Awaaaaay back at the beginning of December, I blogged about keeping a track of how many hours I worked each day and on each subject; the four modules that I was taking , plus general reading, blogging, networking and most importantly, writing. And ‘others,’ which I think is pretty much self-explanatory.

I worked a grand total of sixteen hundred and fifty hours a week; over the thirty weeks of the academic year (inluding holidays) I’ve worked fifty-five hours a week. February was my busiest month, working sixty-one hours a week. But tiredness is as much a cumulative result of working long hours and sleep debt….

In terms of work split, I did about one hundred and sixty hours each on Writers Workshop and Feature Journalism, and about one hundred eighty on Film and Genre. But Genre has yielded three short stories and two novel outlines, so it was worth it.

 I spent just over two hundred hours writing fiction that wasn’t involved with uni, and two hundred and five reading (but not for class). Another one hundred and eighty on networking – going to cons, and on social networks, and about one hundred and ninety hours each on blogging and reviewing, and on Others.

On the positive side, it meant that nothing ended up being neglected. On the downside, I’ve found it hard not to note the time this morning, despite it only ever being an eight-month experiment…

So that was my year (well, eight months of it, anyway) – what did you do in yours?

• June 1st, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0

New Article on Suite101

In which our intrepid blogger reneges on a commitment he made to himself and friends…but he has his reasons…

Some time ago I decided to stop writing for Suite101. I’d become increasingly frustrated with the poor returns, and saw no way -short of working myself into the ground, or hitting the blogging equivalent of the jackpot- that I was ever going to earn more than three or four dollars a month however much work I put in, which was frequently ten hours a month or more.

I didn’t make a general announcement, but did tell some friends, which left me with the chance to keep my options open. But now, as part of my decision to optimize my blogging that I talked about yesterday, I’ve looked again at their demands.

Now Suite have cut their  quota of targets, and since I have a couple of articles left over that probably won’t get past the gatekeepers of most magazines, it seems to be a good time revisit that decision, even if it is for only a few more months. And for the first time, posting one article a month will give me the clarity I’ve been seeking for a long time.

Sometimes in business, one has to look again at previous decisions.

• May 31st, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0


News of new reviews, interviews and A Sekrit Project.

This morning seems a good time to round up some on-going stuff, some of which I’ve mentioned in passing recently.

First up, I’ve guest-blogged over at Alathea Kontis’ Genre Chick Interview, which was fun; there are some clues within as to when the interview took place, for the mildly curious.

Secondly, Ian Whates’ anthology Further Conflicts has received its first review, and Warpcore SF had some kind things to say about ‘Occupation,’ my contribution.

Finally, still on the subject of reviews and interviews, I’ve received my first commission from a ‘general’ (as opposed to genre) magazine to interview a fellow writer. Unfortunately, I can’t yet identify them, partly because I’m not sure of the etiquette of announcing thecommission, but also for fear of jinxing it. Let’s just say that I’m absolutely ecstatic at actually getting my first journalism commission! (I’ll reveal all nearer the time – honest)

Until next time.


• May 26th, 2011 • Posted in News • Comments: 0

2010 Nebula Award Winners

The Science Fiction Writers of America have announced the winners and runners-up for the 2010 Nebula Awards:

Best Novel: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)

Runners Up:
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Echo by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)

Best Novella:

“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window”

by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’10)

Runners Up:
The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean)
“Iron Shoes” by J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s 9/10)
“Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” by Paul Park (F&SF 1-2/10)

Best Novelette:

“That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)

Runners Up:
“Map of Seventeen” by Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)
“The Jaguar House by in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 7/10)
“The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara” by Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of Fantasy 4/10)
“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 12/10)
“Pishaach” by Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)
“Stone Wall Truth” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov’s 2/10)

Best Short Story (tie):

“Ponies” by Kij Johnson ( 1/17/10) &

“How Interesting: A Tiny Man” by Harlan Ellison (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)

Runners up:
“Arvies” by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 8/10)
“I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” by Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed 6/10)
“The Green Book” by Amal El-Mohtar (Apex 11/1/10)
“Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)
“Conditional Love” by Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s 1/10)

Ray Bradbury Award: Inception

Runners Up:
Despicable Me
Doctor Who:
“Vincent and the Doctor”
How to Train Your Dragon
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Toy Story 3

Andre Norton Award: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)

Runners Up:
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
White Cat by Holly Black (McElderry)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (Amulet)
The Boy from Ilysies by Pearl North (Tor Teen)
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

There are first Nebula Awards for Rachel Swirsky and Eric James Stone, while Kij Johnson wins a second consecutive Nebula for Best Short Story.

At the other extreme, the Best Novel Award for Connie Willis marks her seventh Nebula, equalling Ursula K. Le Guin’s total, and is Willis’s first in eighteen years, after a fallow decade in the 2000’s. However, her wait for a new award is dwarfed by Harlan Ellison’s, who wins his fourth Nebula for a single work of fiction (as opposed to a Grand Master for a body of work), and his first in thirty-three years.

And the tie for Best Short Story is the Category’s first, the first in any Category in forty-four years, and only the third in Nebula history – the previous two occurred in the first two years of the award’s existence.

In the forty-six years of the Nebula’s history, there have never been five different authors winning Nebulas for specific pieces of fiction (this excludes Bradbury & Andre Norton Awards).

• May 22nd, 2011 • Posted in Awards • Comments: 0