Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Frustration is one of my biggest weaknesses. I've never been very good at dealing with it, if I'm perfectly honest, and experience hasn't helped me mellow in the slightest when I'm genuinely frustrated. I'm still prone to shouting at something for no apparent reason, other than it's there to take my frustrations out on.

Fortunately, I do have outlets that will help me to channel frustrations. One of these is watching the Town, although this often ends in me being even more frustrated. Another is going out in the garden and booting a football about for 30 minutes. I did this a couple of times this afternoon, and right now I'm feeling pretty good.

Today's frustration came about as a result of a misbehaving story. After having an idea, I couldn't get the opening scene to do what I wanted it to. Cue me trying way too hard, the writing deteriorating and, before too long, a grunt of annoyance aimed at the computer. How hard can it be to get into the head of a mother wanting to protect her kids? It's not tough to write a good opening few lines just go get the story started, so why isn't it going to do what I want it to as it is?

Anyway, I decided to take a break over lunch, listened to a couple of short stories, had a look at what was going on in the news, and then got back to work. The story still didn't want to play ball. It felt awkward and unwieldy, and frustration again reared its head. I wouldn't be so fussed if over the last couple of days I'd been writing fluently and this was the first block I'd had for a while, but that isn't the case. It's been a tough couple of days. Perhaps it's because I've been writing from a woman's point of view. Most women would agree that I really don't know how they think. Anyway, whatever the cause, writing's been difficult this last couple of days, and so I decided to give it up as a bad job for the afternoon and do something else.

Frustration is best worked out physically, I find. There's nothing that gets rid of that anger quite like putting my foot through a football and hearing the satisfying thwack as the ball flies into the nets I still have in the back garden (and which remain there for this very reason). Before too long, the frustration had gone to be replaced with just enjoying having a ball at my feet. I was trying my usual back garden tricks - drag-backs, stepovers, flicks with the outside of my feet, using my knees and shoulders to control the ball - and thoroughly enjoyed it, if I'm honest.

It would also be worth mentioning that I probably needed the exercise. I actually had to loosen my belt for the first time ever yesterday, and I did it again this lunchtime. My target is to be in shape when uni kicks off again at the end of September so I can actually play a few games for the Gooks this season. I was going to say 'make a telling contribution' but that'd be pushing my abilities a bit far. I might play my part, but I'm not going to score and create goals by the hatful.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this evening I'll be back in front of the iMac bashing out some flash fiction. I saw a website that isn't a paying market, but which interested me and I quite fancied seeing if I could get a bit of something on there, before going back to the previous idea I was working on and also starting work on an idea for an anthology I fancy writing for.

In the mean time, tea. I'm starving.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Podcasting and SF's health

It's been a while since I thought particularly hard about science fiction.

Well, that opening line scared off about half of the people likely to have a read of this post. If you're still around, carry on reading, especially if you've not really read SF before. You might read about something you may want to give a try. If you're already an SF fan, you might have heard all this before, if I'm perfectly honest.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend introduced me to Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast. I didn't subscribe straight away, instead waiting a couple of days and then downloading the latest edition. It featured Eugene, by Jacob Sager Weinstein which wasn't the most engaging of stories, if I'm honest. It featured a talking dog - for want of a better phrase, as it was a little more anatomically complex - in the police force. But what got me hooked was the discussion of the piece by the editor, Mur Lafferty.

It struck me then that SF is in good hands these days. It wasn't so long ago that I thought SF was in decline. The writers of the SF Golden Age were passing. Arthur C. Clarke - perhaps the greatest of them all - died in 2008. Philip K. Dick has been dead for more than two decades. Brian W. Aldiss is still alive, but well into his twilight years. Isaac Asimov is no longer with us. There are a handful of good - occasionally nigh-on great - popular SF writers, but compared to what the genre was thirty years ago, it didn't seem to be in the rudest of health. In the US especially writers seemed more interested in writing escapist fantasy rather than intelligent SF.

In my defence, what's on the shelves at Waterstones in Huddersfield isn't necessarily the greatest selection. Intelligent SF readers in the region are at a premium, it would be fair to say, and when I was at college fantasy was all the rage amongst people who I sat around passing time with. And if it wasn't them, it was the literary snobs in English Literature who turned their nose up at anything if it hadn't won a Pulitzer. Hugos? Nebulas? Not for them.

That statement about the English Lit class is a little harsh to most of the class, really, but my point is that nobody read SF. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, etc, were all alien names, when I have the feeling that 30 years ago they were at least known and respected, if not widely read by 'literary' people.

I'm getting off-topic. The point is that I felt SF wasn't where it should be. Magazines had declined following the advent of easily-available internet on top of the decline of intelligent SF on the shelves of bookshops.

But I'm pleased to report that my fears are far from the truth. Yes, the SF magazine has declined over recent years. Until recently I didn't know where to pick up the biggest SF magazine in Britain, and if I wanted to get a copy of Interzone from the shops it would involve a trek to Leeds, a round trip of some 30-odd miles. However, we see short stories available on the internet, often for free. I downloaded a magazine in PDF form - The Literary Hatchet - the other day, and found it to be fairly high-quality. Perhaps the stories weren't to my taste, but there is good short fiction out there to be read.

Going back to Escape Pod, it's been brilliant to subscribe to it and have a new short story arrive in audio form for free once a week. Short fiction has been something I've neglected in the past, so having this available to me to listen to has been a godsend. I've been listening through the back episodes and subscribing to other podcasts as well - Pseudopod and Starship Sofa, the former of which is horror rather than SF - and what has struck me most isn't the high quality. It's been the passion of the people behind it, the labour of love that each and every story is.

I have a feeling that this sort of presentation is the future of SF. The passion of the people behind these podcasts - and the fact that they work in symbiosis with each other, rather than competing per se - leaves SF with a rosy future. Perhaps now we're seeing a lull, because some of these SF writers I've been listening to stories from are exceptionally talented people.

One thing is that the podcasts need donations to survive. As much as we all want to receive everything for free, people providing services do need to survive, and it's only right that writers and other contributors are paid for their work. I may not be able to donate right now (I'm a skint student, for heaven's sake), but once I'm financially stable, I'll probably be donating £5 or £10 a month. If each person who listens to it does something similar, maybe we'll see these podcasts improve and thrive even more than they are now.

So search for Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Starship Sofa and Cast Macabre (amongst others) on the iTunes Music Store, in the podcasts section. Subscribe. And enjoy. And many thanks to Matthew Dent for pointing them out to me in the first place.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Quality control to room 34a

I wrote 4,000 words yesterday. This is quite a large number by my standards, and the shock of writing so much in one day has been so great that today has, in effect, been a day off. 300 words, some editing, plus this blog. Huzzah for consistency!

That quantity has got me thinking. It was all first draft writing, which is when I'm generally pretty careless with what I'm doing, but even so it seems to me that to write so much it has to be of fairly low quality. Not what it's going to be when I go back to that short story in a few weeks and redraft it. While it may only have taken a day to write everything I wanted in first draft form, second draft, when quality control suddenly makes an appearance (though it may not be noticed), will probably take four or five times that.

I find this frustrating, if I'm honest. When writing second drafts, I average 1,000 words a day, if I do 3-4 hours (or what I class as a full writing day). Does that much thought really have to go into it, to slow my writing speed by 750 words an hour? It's pretty common for me to not bother writing a second draft and just leave a first draft to ferment in a drawer in perpetuity, simply because I like to write fast.

People who know me won't be too shocked to find I have no patience when it comes to writing second drafts. But it's something I'm determined to teach myself (until I get bored of it, obviously). It's something I need if I want to make my way as a writer. One published short story doesn't really cut the mustard, and I have some ideas I think are saleable, so patience is a must to get that quality in. Starting tomorrow* I'm going to be working my way through a few first drafts, starting to work on second drafts.

Hopefully, the required quality injection will arrive, and before too long the quality will ally itself with quantity to satisfy my impatience to be cracking on with things.

* - unless Town lose to Charlton, obviously.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Insert Z-Cars theme here

Last football blog for a while, promise.

Town play in the second round of the League Cup tonight. After a 1-0 win at Carlisle a couple of weeks ago, thanks to Jordan Rhodes' 90th minute strike, we drew Premier League side Everton away. Initial feelings of 'great draw, we can win that' have drifted away over the past couple of weeks to being a feeling of 'we're going to get hammered'. Anything other than a 5-0 walloping will be celebrated like we won the World Cup. With Kevin Sharp in the team.

I'm looking forward to the trip over, if I'm honest. Goodison Park is a ground I haven't been to yet, and, by my reckoning, will be the 45th ground I'll have seen a match at. By all accounts, it's a proper old ground, creaking and full of character. It's no Saltergate, seeing as it hosts Premier League football week in week out, but it's probably the only ground around to have a church in one corner.

I like grounds with character, or at least with something different. St James' Park, Newcastle, is a brilliant ground for being something different, modern as it is. The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, is on the opposite end of the scale, being an identikit stadium. You can change the colour of the seats and be in the Walkers, the Keepmoat, the Liberty Stadium, the Cardiff City Stadium... You get the point.

Our own ground, the Galpharm, is nothing like the above, thankfully. It's been imitated, but never bettered. The Galpharm can legitimately lay claim to be one of the most important grounds in football history, as it dragged ground architecture away from the post-Hillsborough depression and into the 21st century. At least, until whoever decided to build the Riverside made it a soulless bowl that everyone would copy. The arches on the roofs of the stands are iconic at the Mac (as I still call it), and the way the stands are shaped like segments of orange makes it instantly recognisable.

Going back a year or two (or 16 and a bit, seeing as that's when the last match was played there), Leeds Road was the first ground I ever took in a match. Town played Plymouth Argyle. We won 1-0, courtesy of a man I would see score a few times more: Andy Booth. The ground itself was, by that point, falling down. It had virtually none of the splendour that had seen it become one of the leading grounds in the country. It was still an awesome arena in its size; apart from a roof over the East Terrace, it was essentially still the same ground that 67,037 had crammed into in the early 30s to watch a Cup match between Town and Arsenal (Town suffered the usual big crowd nerves, and went down 1-0). But only 6,000 were in the ground on this day, making the terraces quiet. If I had one wish, it would be to see Leeds Road at its best, when 40,000 would regularly go through the turnstiles and when the East Terrace was somewhere the noise would be unreal (according to my dad, Simon Inglis, and the Old Grounds website). The first night of the Denis Law lights, v champions Wolves, would be a good one to pick.

Anyhow, moving back on to this evening's match. Everton are a good team. In fact, Everton are a very good team. They're the highest-ranked side in the competition at this point, and Town have our work cut out just to not get hammered. On the other hand, we have a strong spine and have enough in the tank to cause an upset. Gary Naysmith's return from a ban will balance the back four. Roberts will most likely return to the left wing. We can cause an upset if we believe it.

I'm setting off at 4.30 for the 8pm kick-off. With me will be food, an iPod, and Old Man's War. See, I linked it to writing (sort of).

Monday, 23 August 2010

This post is rated 18, probably

So Sky Sports News has disappeared off the telly thanks to Rupert Murdoch being a money-grabbing so-and-so. This has nothing to do with today's blog, other than it annoys me and therefore I have to mention it. I also have to mention that it's probably going to result in an upsurge of writing activity because I'll no longer be distracted by Natalie Sawyer telling me that Samir Nasri is out of Arsenal's clash with Birmingham. Bah!

I'm actually writing about the fact I'm managing to scare myself with my writing at the moment. In the past I was a fairly genteel, non-violent, non-sexy writer. The worst you'd get would be an action scene from a '12' rated film, with relatively little blood and certainly no sex or bad language. In fact, it was all a bit boring.

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea. I won't go into too much detail about the idea as I think that, with a bit of tweaking in the second draft, it's definitely stands a chance of publication. But I was surprised what I was writing. A foul-mouthed Geordie lass was in it, absolutely starkers from the very first word. There was blood. There was even the suggestion of some seriously non-U scenes at the end. In short, it was at the very least a '15'. And I really don't know where all of it came from. It isn't as if I was reading anything too violent or sexy, and yet my subconscious had managed to come up with this idea.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I sat down this afternoon with half-a-dozen stories on the go at once. I pulled my usual trick: I ignored what was in progress and moved on to the latest in a long line of ideas I've had this summer. And it's yet another one with language, sex, violence and other. This time, it's even more disturbing; once again, no details (partly because I don't want to scare people until they read the thing itself), but the themes are something I've rarely come across in real life, so why is my subconscious coming up with these ideas?

In between times, there have been one or two ideas which have been in a similar vein of darkness. My writing's always been pretty bleak (to match my mental outlook, in all honesty), so it's not too much of a surprise to find characters who are outsiders plotting murder and what have you, but at least in the past their motives were for more than just the heck of a particular thing. It's not that I'm worried, but I'd be interested in knowing where this new level of darkness has come from.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Further to yesterday's blog...

We lost. We were 2-0 up, Smithies made a mistake and we ended up losing 4-2.

Oh well.

It does have to be said that Down At The Mac is practically in meltdown about it. Why is it so hard to get perspective into Town fans? Yes, we lost, but we did lose to a good team with three very talented players up front. We won't go up against a more talented front three all season. We still have some very good players even if they had an off-day. We are still only 3 games into the season, with 43 to play.

But no, according to DATM the manager has to go (even though the players were at fault for the goals), we need to be nastier, we have to sacrifice style, we have to bring in a target man, McCombe isn't good enough, we're exposed without Naysmith at left-back, Pilkington only gets in the team because he's a manager's favourite, Theo should have come on...

Watch us win in midweek against Premier League Everton and all the cracks be gone and for us to be marching to the title again.

Congrats to Peterborough, by the way. Sounds like the better team won over the course of 90 minutes.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Oh when the Town...

A couple of years ago I went down the A1 to watch Huddersfield Town take on Peterborough. Town had suffered a shocking start to the season under Stan Ternent. We were battling at the bottom, despite a summer spending spree which had brought in 11 players and seen much of the previous season's deadwood shipped out. Posh, on the other hand, were going well with their talented side, and were on the fringes of the play-offs.

What unfolded that afternoon is something nightmares are made of. In almost 17 years of watching Town, I've yet to see a side with less passion, less fight, less ability. Peterborough were a decent side, granted, but Town were simply awful. Part of this is down to the team selection. We played 4-5-1, with Liam Dickinson as a lone striker, Jim Goodwin at right back, Andy Holdsworth on the right wing and Matt Glennon in goal. We were shapeless and disorganised, and we paid for it. We lost 4-0.

It's hard to think about days like that when you're a football fan. They inspire a dullness in the pit of your stomach. Saying it feels like a death is going too far, but certainly games like that have you on the edge of tears just thinking about the state of the team you love. Looking back, there are very few games where I've felt anything similar. Losing 4-1 at Oldham 6 months previous to the Peterborough game was one of those days. A few days later, manager Andy Ritchie had got the sack. Macclesfield away, another 4-0 gubbing, is another occasion, although Town reacted to this and went on a run of just 4 defeats in 26 matches, eventually winning promotion via the play-offs.

Peterborough away is one of the top 3 for awful afternoons watching Town. Misery was compounded in the dying seconds when Chris Lucketti was sent off for a professional foul, and manager Ternent came out at the end with his now-infamous Christmas dinner statement. A 0-0 draw on the Tuesday to Yeovil and a 3-2 win over basement side Crewe weren't enough to save the Turnip's job, and he goes down in Town folklore as probably the worst manager the club has ever had.

But my point is that since that day Town have progressed beyond recognition. Two weeks after Ternent left, caretaker manager Gerry Murphy guided Town to a magnificent 2-1 victory at local rivals Leeds, a result that set Town on the winning trail. Eventually, Lee Clark was appointed manager, and guided Town to 9th that season.

Several notable incomings and changes were made between Ternent's departure and the end of the campaign. Goalkeeper Matt Glennon was dropped in favour of hot prospect Alex Smithies - who hadn't even been on the bench under Ternent. Holdsworth reverted to right-back, Goodwin to central midfield. Michael Collins returned to the first team and hit 10 goals from midfield. Incoming was wingman Anthony Pilkington for £500,000 from Stockport. In my opinion, this boy is the best player in League One. He's two-footed, powerful, blessed with great vision and technique.

Last season, even more progress was made. Town finished 6th and lost in the play-offs. The squad was so different from the Ternent days that it's hardly believable that under 2 years were between the end of last season and Ternent's departure. Right-back Lee Peltier, central defender and captain Peter Clarke, strikers Jordan Rhodes and Lee Novak are just a handful of examples of where the club has progressed in its playing staff.

Tomorrow, Town go to Peterborough for the first time since that 4-0 thrashing. The side will have only one survivor: winger Gary Roberts. 1-11, Town are stronger, and Peterborough will be a real test for the new team. Luckily, even if we do get thrashed 4-0, we won't have the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach reserved for hopeless situations. We've progressed to the point where we're unrecognisable from the perpetual underachievers of the last decade. This is a team ready to go back to the Championship.

Come on, Town!

Now, back to the writing.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The dream film cast

Everyone has their dream film cast, or at least I'd like to think so. Some people have predictable casts for their dream film. For instance, virtually every 15-year-old boy is prepared to overlook a lack of talent and personality just so he could spend 90 minutes ogling Megan Fox in just her underwear or completely naked, and most people will have Morgan Freeman playing either Nelson Mandela or God.

The first major question in my dream film cast is who plays the renegade veteran starship captain. In the interests of not butchering any more classic Britpop songs, William Shatner is right out. In reality, there's only one man on the shortlist, simply for the authority he brings: Patrick Stewart. That, and the fact I walked past the house he was born every morning for five years on my way to school. He can also play a dual-role as the wise old man giving advice, which means that there's no reason to have a Gandalf in the film.

So who plays the main action lead? I'll tell you who it isn't. It isn't Hayden flipping Christensen on account of the fact he can't act. And it also isn't Jake Gyllanhaal, because despite the fact he's probably a nice bloke, he annoys me and I'm envious of him for getting to hang around Gemma Arterton while filming Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Bruce Willis can't act (ooh, controversial), neither can Arnie, and besides, both of them are too old. Christian Bale is Welsh (not to mention a complete scumbag). All this brings me down to one man. Matt Damon plays the action lead on account of being a good character actor as well as a good action actor. Just watch The Bourne Identity and then The Talented Mr Ripley straight after, and you'll see what I mean. And throw in Saving Private Ryan, just because it's a good film.

Now for the sidekicks. Anthony Daniels as C-3PO is a shoe-in (alongside R2-D2, obviously, although given modern robotics we don't need Kenny Baker in there, which is a shame, but for a better effect it has to be pure robot). As a human sidekick to Damon's action lead, I'm going to plump for Chris Pine, because I found him entertaining as Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek film.

Obviously, the lead action man needs his romantic interest. But whoever plays that has to be more than just a pretty face and full cleavage. And that means whoever plays the romantic interest is not going to be Megan Fox, because, despite the fact she's fairly attractive, she's got all the acting talent of a roof tile (and the personality of the same, while having an ego the size of Jupiter). And unfortunately I can't choose Summer Glau either; attractive as she is, she's not exactly suited to a mainstream role with a relatively normal personality. She's more suited to the insane girl thing (how she was in Firefly and Serenity) or robotic personality (Sarah Connor Chronicles). So the job goes to Natalie Portman, who can act (contrary to what Revenge of the Sith says), has done the action thing in the past and is good with character, especially the tortured soul I need to have somewhere in this film.

What else do I need? For my omnipotent presence, I'm going to have James Earl Jones voicing God. There's something to that voice. It could be so soothing, but all the time you expect to hear artificial breathing as a seven-foot black figure steps out of the shadows and Force chokes you to death. I was going to have him played by Morgan Freeman and voiced by James Earl Jones, but there's no point having everyone's favourite actor ever around with his own reassuring voice when you're just going to dub over that voice. So it's a disembodied voice. Or maybe David Prowse reprising his role as Darth Vader.

So who's the antagonist? Just for the sake of being able to yell 'SCARAMANGA!' at the screen, it has to be Christopher Lee. He may be in his 80s now, but he's still a better actor than 99% of people. Seeing as he isn't an action man and can't take part in any major battles which may or may not occur, he gets his minion (Zachary Quinto) to do all his fighting for him.

Movie to be directed by Christopher Nolan and written by me. Special effects from Industrial Light and Magic, and it most certainly won't be in 3D at selected cinemas. I hate 3D.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Previously on Battlestar Galactica...

It would be fair to say that it's a wee bit warm today. I've just been sat out in the garden reading the opening of The Bourne Identity and I've had to come in to cool down. Fortunately, we have a seat in the shade in the garden as well as a seat in the sun, so I'll be out there after I've finished writing this and done a bit more work on The Ambassador. However, as a Yorkshireman, I was designed to not get on with the sun, and my days would be better spent down a pit where it is at least cool. Ee by gum!

This weekend's been fun. Most notably for Town's miserable 0-0 draw with Tranmere, in which Gary Naysmith was sent off. First booking, on second viewing, is fair enough, but for the second he got the ball clear as day. Unfortunately the ref was of the usual League One standard and decided that, although two-footed lunges aren't worth a talking-to, perfectly timed challenges are bookable offences, so off went Naysmith. The ex-Hearts, Everton and Sheffield United left-back misses next Saturday's match at Peterborough - hopefully Celtic loanee Graham Carey will be able to step up as he deputises, although he has a tough task against George Boyd, who may have stupid hair but is just a bit good.

Yesterday was better. Despite having a knee that Ledley King would be ashamed of, I ended up playing football with Chris and realised that my old football needs replacing. Chris can hit a ball, and when I was in net the ball was moving wickedly thanks to two deep cuts in the plastic covering. More than once it dipped or swerved dramatically at the last minute, leaving me looking a grade A prat. In fairness, I saved a fair few of these (which is more than Scott Carson managed for West Brom at the weekend - Fabio, are you watching?).

I also got a reading list for Law and Literature next year. Anything that tells me to read Ursula Le Guin is always going to go down well, and it has me hoping that for once something literature-related in academia isn't going to be snobbish when it comes to SF. I could go off on one here about how academics seem to think literature can't be SF and SF can't be literature, but it really isn't worth the effort right now. All I will say is that The Road is SF whether they like it or not. It might also be worth pointing out it's actually pretty unoriginal SF into the bargain and not the wondrous thing they proclaim it to be, but that's just me being petty to a point.

Right, back outside it is. It's still sunny, and by fair northern skin might just go a delicate shade of lobster, but it's worth the risk. And then pub quizzage this evening. Huzzah! Wonder what insanely offensive name Chris'll come up with this week...

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Sucker

Apologies for the second post of the day, but I've just finished the second draft of a little bit of flash fiction (a rare piece of flash fiction, if you're me), and I thought I'd share it. Not like it's publishable or anything, as it's just a bit of fun that occurred to me when I was on holiday. Let me know what you think.

The Sucker
Peter Wilson

The Sucker was coming.

He could hear it even though he couldn’t see it, as it sent its strangely high-pitched whine through the air. It sent a chill through his body, knowing that before too long that whine would turn into a roar and that roar would translate into the hideous sucking power of a great mouth that was guaranteed to bring death.

Looking round, he realised that he had been careless in venturing out. The sound of the Sucker meant is was moments away at best, leaving him with no time to make the rush back to cover, back to the darkness of the caves at the foot of the cliff. He was adrift, exposed on the savannah-like flatlands. The Sucker couldn’t fail to notice him – it had never failed to notice any who had been careless enough to be out like this before, and he was no different from them – unless he somehow managed to get back to the caves.

It wasn’t as if there were any obstacles. His path was clear. Nothing could stop him from making the caves except the Sucker itself. He would have to try; if he didn’t, he would just be giving up without a fight. At least if he was caught on his way, he would go to his death with the consolation that he had tried his utmost. He broke into a run, seeing the cave in the cliff as the greatest treasure in the world, should he attain it; it was salvation from his mistake. Slowly, it grew larger, very black against the pale cliffside, and hope grew within him. He could just make it…

A glance over his shoulder, and hope was lost. The Sucker was there, standing as a grey tower for a moment, as though weighing him up. He stopped, knowing running now was futile, knowing he would never make the cave now. His world was the Sucker now, and he wanted to watch it as it advanced on him, the whine intensifying. He trembled momentarily as it leaned back, and a wind of hurricane force pulled at him.

He kept his feet, still staring up. He had never thought he would see the Sucker like this. He had always watched from afar as another made the mistake that sealed their fate, watching as their small forms disappeared into the maw of the Sucker. He had always assumed he was too intelligent for that to happen to him. Numbness took him as the Sucker advanced, the whine intensifying to a white noise.

Amidst the hurricane winds and the screaming din, he curled up and waited to be sucked into the vortex of the Sucker’s mouth.

* * *

Ellie White shuddered as it went up the vacuum. Old as she was, she still hated spiders.

Template Changes

Yesterday I wondered what it was that had got me writing again. Well, not writing, but getting on with my writing to the tune of 3 short story completions in as many days. Today, I believe I have found the catalyst for this sudden successful burst of writing.

It isn't what people might expect. I haven't got a new muse (mmm, Calliope...), as you might expect. I haven't met anyone new (because that will never, ever happen - I'm resigned to becoming something of a hermit). I haven't even undergone a life-changing experience. No, what has helped me to suddenly being able to finish what I'm writing is something far more prosaic than all those things.

I changed the template I use to write into.

That probably sounds ludicrous. How can a template affect how happy I am with my writing? Does the writing look different on a different-sized page, in a different font? Well, actually, it does. They say don't be afraid of the blank page, but that's almost what I have been with A4 Times New Roman 12pt 1.5 spacing with 3cm margins, my old template. With this new template, on a strange-sized paper - not quite so small as A5, yet not the size of A4 - it's suddenly become so much easier to write things down and be happy with it. Perhaps most importantly, it suddenly feels like I'm getting somewhere with my writing, my main problem with writing on A4.

Once I've finished writing, I then copy and paste into an A4 document for ease of presentation, but I'd like to think my problem has been solved. After a long time of not writing much because I was scared of the blank page, I'm back writing reasonable amounts because I've got over that fear.

A word of thanks should go out here to the person who sent me the template in the first place, so thank you Holly Marsh, who sent the template for the anthology I wrote for back in February/March time. I owe you one, and I owe Stacy one as well for creating the template in the first place. Thanks to both of you.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


It'd be fair to say that I've made progress with my writing over the past 2 weeks. After about a year without writing anything of real note, I've suddenly produced 3 short stories in first draft form in 3 days, with another 2 (longer) short stories being planned in my head.

I really don't know where this has come from. For the past 12 months I've struggled with getting beyond the first couple of hundred words, and suddenly I've produced over 4,000 without feeling the need to go back and delete. I'm sure that when the editing process starts, I'll find things that I really don't like in them, and my ideas will have crystallised that bit more so everything's so much more focussed, but I like that I've actually got some of my stories to the stage where they're going in my summer portfolio to mature for a few months before I look at them again.

None of the stories are exactly spectacular, if I'm honest. I have publication in mind for one, once it's been redrafted and edited and polished to the point of being able to eat your dinner off it (not that you'd want to, given the subject material and amount of blood), but the other two will probably just find themselves posted up here. A few people have already heard an earlier incarnation of one, when I read it at an open mike night for the Northumbria WriSoc (hope you're all having a good summer, if you're reading this - see you in September for writing-orientated sexual innuendo sessions that make certain members uncomfortable), and that's been redrafted and given a theme of 'I hate corporations and their 'visions of the future''. And the final one is a piece of flash fiction that's been inspired by my sister's main irrational fear.

Where do I go from here? Well, the plan is to write these two SF short stories. Unlike the other three, both take the setting off Mother Terra, and move to the stars, which will be a new experience. To say I write SF, I've never actually written anything off this planet, although I have had ideas, which up to now have not been acted upon. Both short stories are going to be much longer than what has been written over the past couple of weeks (one perhaps coming in at 6-7,000 words, the other at 8-10,000, rather than the 500-2,000 which has been the order of the summer thus far), and will also take correspondingly longer, so don't expect any of those annoying Facebook posts about how I've finished a story to be posted for a while.

Or maybe it'll just have to be chapters I keep people updated with instead. I haven't written Empire Rising for a while, and it's about time I did. (Chapters tend not to take that long, as generally they clock in at 4-5,000 words).

Apologies for the boring bits of this (like me knowing how many words my chapters have). Hopefully there'll be something more interesting to post in the next few days.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A Storm of Swords

It's come to my attention that it's sunny outside for the first time since about 1997. As such, this is a short posting, so I can head outside with the laptop.

I finished A Storm of Swords last night. I have to say that it's a good book. It has its failings, but those failings are offset by the many strengths of the book. It's actually fairly strongly written, considering that George R.R. Martin's style is pretty clunky at times, and is among the better fantasy books for its standard of writing. It isn't perfect or even amongst the best-written - it has some way to go to top Robin Hobb's elegantly simple style - but it is decently written at least, which means that the story itself takes centre stage.

And what a rip-roaring tale it is. It's intense, it's melodramatic (but that's a good thing), it's character-driven, it's multi-threaded and, most importantly of all, it has a sense of scale. There's about 10 POV characters, and threads very rarely cross (in the sense of characters bumping into each other), which gives the thing the sense of scale mentioned above. Without particularly mentioning the size of his world, Martin makes it big.

In order to sum up the plot I'd have to summarise the previous two books, A Game of Thrones and the satisfyingly alliterative A Clash of Kings, which would involve summing up 1,600 pages in about 2 sentences. In short: people in power are pillocks who prat about for power. In slightly longer: there's a civil war on thanks to the fact everyone wants power and lots of blood is shed and families are torn apart. This is 1,200 pages of the same, with incest, sexual tension, regicide and woolly mammoths thrown in.

My biggest gripe in the end was that it was so long. It's been split into 2 volumes over here, and it's taken me 16 days to read (a period of time unprecedented since I read The Stand in about 3 weeks). Sometimes I got the sense that a scene could be cut out here or there and that would have made it so much quicker to read.

Roll on A Feast For Crows.

And since I started writing, the sun's gone in. Day on the PS3 it is, then...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Summer Reading

According to Blogger, it's been just over a year since I started writing this blog. Since then, I've made a grand total of four entries, which probably sums up my work ethic (or lack thereof). Some would say it's because I have nothing to say, but they probably don't know me very well: I always have something to say on an issue, whether it's proposed changes to the review system in Test cricket, or the latest ridiculous cost-cutting proposal from our 'esteemed' government.

It may surprise some people that I'm not actually going to be talking sport or politics. Well, the sport bit is more surprising than the politics (especially as, at the time of writing, Town are top of the league, still in all the cups and look quite decent - even if we have only played once). Instead, it's a summer reading blog. Huzzah! Isn't that exciting?

Most of the things I've read this year have actually been pretty disappointing. Even the Iain M. Banks stuff I've read hasn't been particularly cracking by his insanely high standards. Against A Dark Background was good, but a little close to Use Of Weapons to set my pulse racing, and The Algebraist was also good, but a little simplistic by Banks' standards, or at least it felt that way. Hopefully, Transition will be as good as Look To Windward.

In fact, the best novel I've read this year was Stephen King's maiden published novel, Carrie. What it had was a sense of excitement. It wasn't perhaps technically the best, and was overblown to the point of melodrama, but it had energy and it managed to get under my skin more in its 200-odd pages than many longer books have all year. The sympathy I felt for Carrie White was also a result of this energy and the connection I got to the book in a short space of time. There were things I didn't like about it, but they didn't stop it being very entertaining.

The most intriguing thing I've read thus far this year has to be Watchmen, possibly the most successful graphic novel of all time. It also happens to be only the second graphic novel I've delved into in my lifetime (the first being The Gunslinger Born), and so at the time of reading it (February) I couldn't have told you what made it intriguing and compelling. After a dozen or so GNs, I understand a little more, but I'm still not certain what made it so. A re-read is in the offing at some point in the very near future, probably once I've finished re-reading The Dark Tower.

Speaking of The Dark Tower, the re-read is currently being held up by my little sister's inability to finish a book of more than 200 pages in under 2 years. Before re-reading Wolves of the Calla, I've told myself I have to read 'Salem's Lot (not to mention that it's part of my reading list as an example of a popular contemporary horror novel), a book that the Midget hasn't finished yet despite the fact she started reading it about 18 months ago. She's about 100 pages from the end, and isn't likely to pick it up again at any point soon (I doubt she'll even bother to take it to uni with her, so that might be my chance to nick in and read it - it'll take me 5 days at most, so she's not exactly going to miss it), which is irritating when I want to get on with Roland's quest for the Tower.

Currently on my bedside cabinet is the second volume of A Storm of Swords, the third (or fourth, if you're counting individual volumes) instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy. It's a refreshing change from Tolkien-derived fantasy. It is largely set in a medieval European setting, and yes, it does have dragons, but it's concerned with politics and plotting and backstabbing and the interesting stuff that actually went on in medieval times, and not with going off on a quest for an all-powerful McGuffin. I've enjoyed the tale thoroughly, but at 1,200 pages this particular instalment is a little on the long side, and I could do with a break from long epics. Still, only 150 pages to go, which should get read today, so then I can crack on with something else. There's a short SF collection I picked up on holiday which looks a likely candidate...