Alt Fiction 2011

It’s already been mentioned on their site that I’ll be attending Alt Fiction in Derby, but as it’s a 2-day event, I thought I’d better clarify; I’ll be there on Saturday 25th June only, rather than for both days…unless anything changes over the next month.

I’ve had my provisional timetable, which involves me in three panels — although panels isn’t quite the word. I’ll be participating in a podcast at noon; ‘Breaking into Writing is the subject, and I’ll be one of four  writers involved.

From 5 to 6 I’ll be reading in the Participation Space (I have a vague memory that that’s the middle of a big open plan area…).

And earlier, from 3 to 4 I’ll be involved in running a workshop, which is going to be erm, interesting….I’m not sure how exactly this is going to work; there’s no set format, so I may end up with people bringing things they’ve already written. If that’s the case, I’m happy to read previously written pieces. Or I may end up just fielding questions.

So let’s have a straw poll; if you were going to a workshop for one hour, what would you prefer to do?  Talk theory, or workshop written pieces? Is there a 3rd option, I haven’t thought of?

Feel free to feed back ideas to me…

• May 21st, 2011 • Posted in Appearances • Comments: 0

Black Static 22 Reviewed

Black Static for April / May 2011 boasts the usual array of superior fiction, comment, news from Peter Tennant and reviews from Tennant on books, and Tony Lee on horror DVDs and Blu-ray.

Stephen Volk

For whatever reason –and it’s really never explained why- this issue sees the renaming of Volk’s column to ‘Coffinmaker’s Blues.’ Volk talks about humanity’s seemingly innate tendency to create narrative from even neutral symbols, and how the preoccupations of contemporary artists overlap massively with modern horror, and urges the next generation to get into art gallerys more and blog less.

Rarely has the title of Christopher Fowler’s ‘Interference’ column seemed more appropriate than now, as he bemoans the number of gatekeepers in media and the way true creativity has been hijacked by celebrities. There’s more here, if you want to read on..


In the Fiction Section

Alan Wall makes an elegant debut with ‘The Salt of Eliza,’ a novelette that’s only marginally horror, but which is very well written. Journalist Jim is offered an outlandish sum of money by a tycoon to write an article on an elderly hotel owner whom the tycoon believes possesses the secret to –if not immortality, then a very long life.

Credulous. That’s the word that’s been used about me, more than once. Open-minded is the term I prefer. Only credulous people once believed the earth spun round the sun. Only the credulous once thought any human being would ever set foot on the moon….

Wall avoids the obvious narrative route, and rather than throwing in vampires or zombies, the story is less about Peshgau the hotelier than it is about Jim’s reaction to him. Recommended.

Tim Lees

Tim Lees returns after an eighteen month absence with ‘Durgen’s Party,’ which sounds like a Jack Vance pastiche; it’s much darker than that – the party is a sort of seance in which a dead pianist is brought back to ‘life’ to give a recital.

            “I brought her back.”

“They don’t have feelings. They’re like CDs, playing the same old tunes, again and again. Little bundles of mimetic memory…Memory of feelings. Not the real thing. They don’t suffer. Not like us.”

            It’s original, beautifully written, dark without being horrific. Highly Recommended.

 Alison J. Littlewood’s ‘Black Feathers’ uses the mythology of the raven –a bird often associated with bad omens and death- as a symbol to examine the relationship between a  little girl and her brother and their friends.

There was a raven at the edge of the woods. It was huge – even its beak looked as long as Mia’s fingers. She stared at it and Little Davey laughed at her. Mia wrinkled her nose. Little Davey was younger than her by a year, but he wasn’t that little anymore….

Filled with fairy-tale imagery, it’s beautifully written, managing to expertly blend both the fairytale and contemporary aspects. Highly Recommended.

Stephen Pirie

‘This Is Mary’s Moon’ by Stephen Pirie turns out to be the most surprising story of the lot. A low-class prostitute, Mary is pimped by the vile Mrs. Anderson, a madwoman who stabbed Mary’s mother years before, and runs her neighbourhood with cruelty and unrelenting brutality: The last of the neighbours to complain Mrs. Anderson hanged by his bootlaces from the eaves of his shed. Suicide, the Chief Inspector had said, as Mrs. Anderson had led him away to one of her special, younger girls – a first-timer just  to the Chief Inspector’s taste.  But from the grim chrysalis of Pirie’s opening, something quite lovely appears, about which it’s impossible to say any more without spoiling it. So just read it, it’s Outstanding.

Simon Kurt Unsworth rings the changes on the theme of dead children and bereavement with ‘Child,’ a short but poignant conclusion to the fiction section. Like the Littlewood, Unsworth’s narrative trajectory never takes the form I expected, and it’s all the better for it. Outstanding.


Peter Tenant interviews Stephen Pirie and reviews his new novel, Burying Brian, while the other Case Notes feature chapbooks from Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell and Gary McMahon, plus three anthologies; Dark Minds Press offer the eponymous Dark Minds, The End of the Line is published by Solaris, while Tor provide an American perspective in Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow’s Haunted Legends.

Tony Lee reviews DVDs and Blu-Rays, with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, Dario Argento’s Phenomena and the Irish Savage sounding the most promising titles.

Another superior issue of a superior magazine: Black Static continues to surprise, and to delight.

• May 18th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 2

Time Flying

I had so many plans for this morning; read the paper, then blog, before knuckling down to assembling Transtories.

I managed to get the paper read (it’s not as self-indulgent as it sounds; I find newspapers helpful for generating ideas, not for what they write, but how they write it, with less immediacy and more analysis) but then I remembered a couple of jobs that needed to be done. A couple of pitches later, and three and a half hours have gone by.

Partly it’s in the nature of the job – facts need to be checked, sources tracked down, websites lock up and machines crash, but it all adds to the sense of dislocation. I feel as if I’m aboard Poul Anderson’s Leonora Christian – with the elapsed time, in my head it’s barely eight o’clock, but in the universe outside, it’s ten past eleven…

• May 17th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 1

Books, Books, Everywhere…

At the last count, I have eleven of them scattered across my dining room table. Jestse de Vries’ Shine, The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gothic Romanced by Fred Botting, Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder.

They’re all of them staring at me, silently urging me to pick them up. That I can only read one at a time is academic.

It’s Genre Textual Analysis time…so blogs are on hold (this one’s been frantically typed in five minutes prised from Moorcock and Roberts’ cold, still hands.

Back later.

• May 11th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

The Paragraph

By a happy coincidence, since I wrote the basic outline of this a day or two ago, my fellow author Joanne Hall has posted this article on editing over at Writer Revealed.

It seemed particularly timely, since this week –and the last two or three weeks before that- I’ve done a lot of editing for Transtories (yes, the one without a cover, so I’ve used Andy Bigwood’s cover for Dark Spires).

I’ve probably spent about sixteen to twenty hours a week on the process, which might not sound a lot, four hours a day, but because of the concentration that it calls for, it’s probably one of the most tiring activities concerned with writing.

What’s I’ve drawn from this is that many semi-pro writers, those easing toward their first professional sale, are quite capable of writing fine turns of phrase, even individual sentences; where they struggle is to convey information through organization of paragraphs.

There are two theories of organizing paragraphs. The more basic one is that each character’s actions and speech should be separated and given a paragraph to themselves.

Then there is the Chip Delany view, that the paragraph is the unit of emotional currency, and that it’s okay to group related activities together.

When I looked through my various books on writing this morning (Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction;  Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller; Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint; Steve May’s Doing Creative Writing) none of them -that’s none, note- have an entry on paragraphs.

I find that significant. Are budding writers supposed to learn by osmosis? I’m all for learning by example, but it helps to know the theory.

So, with the agreement of one of the contributors to Transtories, I have selected a short story at random and reprinted a paragraph from it, and then edited it. It’s my opinion only, and will probably vary from day to day, but it’s a useful exercise to perform.

This is the first version:

Settling back into the polished leather, she pulled her small, rough purse nearer, giving it a reassuring pat in the process.  A wedding present from her uncle, its texture felt comforting, the familiarity soothing.  The cab smelled damp, its dim illumination cast by two oil lamps making the purse look dowdy and old.   The memory of her uncle brought forth a renewed desire to escape, and with mounting resolution she settled back as the coach moved off.

So here’s the summary of the series of actions.

1) She settles back in the seat.

2) She pats the purse.

3) Background on the purse

4) Description of the cab, smell, illumination etc

5) More on the purse

6) More on her uncle

7) She settles back in her seat (again)

 Notice at least one action recurs – her settling back into the seat. If you have to repeat something -unless you’re doing it purposefully, for emphasis, it’s a sure sign that there’s something wrong with your paragraph structure. Notice how the author (and this is not intended to make them feel bad, I’m just as guilty during first drafts, and sometimes beyond) flits from purse to uncle to cab

And this is the same version after I’d edited it.

She gave her small, rough purse a reassuring pat.  A wedding present from her uncle, its familiarity soothed her, although the lamplight made it look dowdy. Thoughts of her uncle loaned her bravery and she settled back into the polished leather as the coach moved off.

It’s 40% shorter, because all the elements are grouped together and flow logically one into another.

I may post more such entries, where I think that the standard textbooks are neglecting key points, but for the moment it’s a one off entry, but for any of you struggling with your writing, I hope that it helps.

• April 30th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Guest Blog

Award winning author Aliette de Bodard was kind enough to offer me the chance to guest post on her blog. For reasons that I make clear on the blog, I decided to talk about Winter Song, which proved to be an interesting exercise. It’s been so long since I’ve worked on the book that it was like revisiting an old home. The actual blog post is here — do drop by to read it, and while you’re at it, have a poke around the rest of Aliette’s site, which is one of the most fascinating on t’net.

• March 30th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Sunday Afternoon

We got the unexpected bonus of a bit of unforecasted sunshine this afternoon, so after several hours of cutting and pruning, and re-jigging, to take a break from the Hamster-Wheel of Doom that is my Writer’s Workshop assignment, I persuaded Kate to go and visit a garden near Saltford.

Aside from a railway line just over the back fence, and the A4 with its relentless traffic at the front, it’s a pretty nice place. Visualize -if you will- the hawthornes and cherry trees in blossom, the flowers nodding in a gentle breeze. And over the fence, rabbits hopping around in the field. They’re safe enough, especially with the two cows leaning on the fence, running interference for the rabbits in between chewing the foliage on the fence.

Well, it was a nice break, but now it’s time to return to the Hamster-wheel; now I’m hunting quotes from my reading material, in order to convert a narrative to an essay. Or maybe I’ll just leave it as a narrative…

Have a nice Sunday Evening, whatever you’re doing.

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

Looming Deadlines

After a glorious day out in the sunshine, it’s back to the grindstone with a vengeance, although the continuing sunshine helps to soften the grind.

What is less wonderful is that I have eight deadlines due in the next nineteen days; six of them are academic, including three in two days, two of them on the same day.

Of the two to do with writing, one of them is out of my control, so I just have to keep a watching eye on it.

The last one is for Transtories, the anthology I’m editing for Aeon Press (publishers of Albedo One); if you’re looking to sub a story, you have another week to get it into me.

If it all goes quiet around here, you’ll know why — I’m already having to put some new projects on hold until the deadline crunch has passed.

• March 24th, 2011 • Posted in Books, Writing • Comments: 0

The Weekend Finishes, The Week Begins

Well, that was nice; two days of reading (the original Earthsea Trilogy for any of you who are interested, reacquainting myself with Le Guin’s almost pitch-perfect  prose) interspersed with dog walking in the sunshine and dinners out in the evening.

We left Poole at about 7.20 this morning, and when we’d cleared the traffic down in Dorset (not helped by lorry drivers incapable of reading the signs advising them that the road ahead wasn’t wide enough for them) made good time to the campus.

Which was oddly deserted. A fairly large minority of students weren’t in today, presumably because they were working on assignments, but the effect of the first sunshine on a semi-deserted campus and my being back after a ten-day absence was to make the place feel quite unfamiliar.

I’m sure things will settle down again in a day or two, and it’s no bad thing to have a feeling of dislocation for an SF writer.

• March 21st, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Catching Up

The nice thing about conventions is the opportunity to catch up with friends, old and not so old. It was good to see Richard, Chris, Doug, Julius and the others from the Exeter SF Society again, and to meet the newer attendees for the first time. As usual a curry was disposed of on the Friday night, and we spent far too much in the Impy, but hey, taht’s what cons are for…  

What isn’t so good is what a convention does to one’s writing ability.

My last post here was last Wednesday, and what with a bad cold, Reading Week (during which one is supposed to catch with reading — and I did, so I at least managed something!) and Microcon, it’s been a real struggle getting back into writing mode.

This semi-rambling effort marks the first hurdle surmounted. Later this week, I’ll post an interview with Writers of the Future award winning author, Bradley P. Beaulieu, whose first novel The Winds of Khalakovo is published by Night Shade Books in April, and maybe revisit that hoary old topic, self-publishing.

Meanwhile,  I have a film blog to update.

See you later.

• March 8th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Events, Writing • Comments: 0