Halloween Short: The Myling

Graveyard

Halloween! Time to do some spooky fiction and whatnot!

So, the new, improved (and surprise) Halloween Shorts push for this year is actually a little delayed – it should happen at some point over the weekend – and so I am left with the task of filling Halloween itself with my own little bit of flash fiction.

This one, I think, needs a little explaining. I was reading up on various monsters and spirits in folklore, and came across the myling – a Scandinavian creautre/spirit that makes a very specific demand of its victim: it wants to be carried. Writing about it, I wanted to explore that idea in a little more depth…and ended up writing something a lot darker than I’d intended.

I don’t normally do trigger warnings, but in this case I am aware that some people might find it upsetting.

TW: grief, death, children.

The Myling

Is that gasoline I smell?

NobodyCares

So, it’s almost November, which means it is *almost* NaNoWriMo time…which also means it’s that time of year where the snarkier side of the internet decides that they HAVE to take a shit on it, if only because they can. Normally this takes the form of established authors saying “well…every month is NaNoWriMo to me!” as though their career sprung fully formed, Venus-like, into the world the minute they sat down and started typing, a never-ending loop of Stephen J. Cannell production outros. I said pretty much the same thing last year and was rewarded within a week by a well-known genre author doing JUST THAT.

This year, New Statesman have upped the ante by publishing an entire article about how sucky and annoying NaNoWriMo is. It’s as hilarious as it is awful, as the author even starts by noting that they have muted and blocked all mention of it on social media. “This has no effect on my life,” is the essential statement. “I never see it or interact with it. I HATE IT.” It’s the internet equivalent of leaning out of your car and yelling “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOUR STUPID LIFE! You’re nothing but street grease, you hear me?! STREET GREASE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!” at pedestrians because you don’t like the idea that they could be having fun or making friends while you are thinking of your next clickbait pitch (or whatever).

My absolute favourite part is where the author imagines the following: “People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER.”

Yes, because no proper writer would ever say anything pretentious. Ever.

I’m not going to type out a big defence of NaNoWriMo, because I don’t really need to. Hell, a sizeable portion of the fun of it is rubbernecking the forums to find quotes and ideas that cause you to bleed spontaneously from your eyeballs.

Instead, I call bullshit on the entire premise. We filter what we see online. We choose what we look at. If people enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anyone (save for the email inboxes of a few unlucky agents and editors come December/January, sorry guys) then what is the point of taking a pop at it? Is anyone informed or educated by this, or is it simply a case of throwing punches at a soft target* in the hope of driving a midweek traffic spike.

And if the latter is the case, which it most likely is, isn’t that whole-year churn of empty, useless, faux-angry words a shitload worse than what comes out of NaNoWriMo?

 

*Considering almost every other media outlet is taking the seething MRA underbelly of the internet on en masse, noising up a diverse group of people for having the temerity to try and be creative is a bit pathetic.

Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t even want it to happen. Just watch what does happen.

Seriously. If you want gifs for writing, "Secret Window" is the business.

 

So, I haven’t blogged much of late. I’ve wanted to: there have been a few rants brewing in my head that I wanted to hammer out, and some of them have even been relatively coherent in the drafts that I have written. And yet I haven’t posted any of them. It feels like they’d be ineffective, that they’d generate no positive forward motion. Anyone in disagreement would sink their heels in, because who am I to say that they maybe, possibly could be wrong on something, and then anyone in agreement would do likewise. And that’s the best case scenario, where the facsimile of a dialogue exists. More likely are the chances of a dogpile (yay for the internet, where pointing out the desperately problematic behaviour of – let’s just spitball ideas here – a popular author will get you buried in abuse!) or, let’s be honest, resounding silence.

Perhaps a faint echo off the back of the giant, empty internet cavern walls? Anyway, I decided to leave it, and considering the sour-faced “why am I not fully recovered yet? FFS” mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks, I haven’t felt like posting anything.

As you can see, I’m super cheerful at the moment. For some reason, I’ve got weird aches in my feet and ankle (although the ankle I’ve gone over on once, so that goes some way to explaining it) and walking around is really uncomfortable. Sitting down less so, but I’m still hyper aware of my feet, and after two weeks I’m starting to think it is never, ever going away.*

In brighter news, Halloween Shorts are coming back! Yes! The short story adventures that a load of Team Mushens piled into last year (with the excuse of it leading up to World Fantasy Con) will be returning at the latter end of October with even more stories and a surprise twist for 2014! I will definitely have a story up here (when I get round to writing it, naturally) and *whispers* one appearing somewhere else, too. We’ve got a good lineup of authors contributing, even in spite of their collectively busy schedules, and it should be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I am working away on projects. I caught up with my agent, which is always good fun, and got some editing notes back, which is…let’s not say “fun”, because smacking my forehead off the desk going “HOW DO I NOVEL?” doesn’t really count as fun, but still definitely good. The new fantasy book is on hold while I get the edit done, but I’ll be finishing it over NaNoWriMo (or getting as close to done as I can manage).

And that’s things pretty much up to date. The more exciting stuff I write, the more desperately boring I become in real life.

Oh! For anyone that plays DOTA 2, here are my thoughts on the new patch (6.82) – Chen’s ultimate with Aghanim’s Scepter is the BEST. Why bother with the standard objectives when you can run around the map with a dragon AND a Triceratops yelling “LOOKIT DINOSAUR” over and over? It really is a game-changer, and by that I mean “a design feature that will probably get me reported by everyone I play with”.

 

*madness, of course it will resolve. That doesn’t stop me from moping, though!

Quit smiling, you’re suppose to be professional.

Writing

So, it has been two weeks since the surgery. The new kidney is working very well, as demonstrated by my blood tests (three a week, my veins are not happy) and – perhaps more importantly – by my general condition. I’m eating better, I feel more awake, and I feel motivated and a lot less depressed. Also, my diet is almost a total reversal of what it was previously so I can eat pretty much whatever I like. Double breakfast? It’s on, my friends. It is so very on.

On the downside, I have this pesky ten inch incision running from almost the base of my ribs right down to my unmentionables. It is held in place by 28 staples, and up until yesterday, four very deep stitches. Apparently for someone of my fairly slim build, this is ridiculous overkill. It certainly feels like it – as the swelling has gone down, both stitches and staples have started pulling on the flesh surrounding them. I get the remaining staples out over the course of this week, and that should make things a lot easier.

OH. YEAH. Apparently there is a stent in my bladder. They waited to tell me about that one. I’ll give you one guess as to how they get THAT out. Every day is a new surprise, you know?

Still, it leaves me with four weeks stuck waiting for things to heal up. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy, and because of the immunosuppression I am not allowed to go hang around too many people. Really, I’m kind of stuck in a chair for the time being.

Since I can’t really do much else, I have started back on my novel. Interestingly, attempting to work on it shows that my concentration isn’t quite back up to full speed yet. It’s coming, but it’s not quite there. I also hit a slight snag in that the outline I had no longer worked with the draft I had written. I had the opening act fairly tightly plotted but after that it was just a series of vague signposts that I imagined I might be able to hit along the way. I’ve been burned by this before (Gunslinger Symphony was missing a transition into the third act for over a year) and so have spent the past two days writing out a detailed synopsis of what actually happens. I bashed most of it out last night as one long, meandering paragraph, and chopped it up into a rough outline today. It works! It actually works and *almost* very nearly comes close to making sense and – unlike all my other synopses – doesn’t read like an omnibus edition of Naruto*. I was quite suprised to discover that a not insignificant portion of my secondary world fantasy novel is, in fact, a courtroom drama. Look! Something that isn’t resolved by punching and or gratuitious swearing or magic! Kind of!

Now all I have to do is finish writing it.

Oh, and go see Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s good fun. Don’t bother staying for the after-credits sequence, though.

 

*Or any other shonen manga, wherein our heroes discover that GUTS and FRIENDSHIP overcome EVIL.

Girl at the End of the World

book-1-1-bk-cover-300x212

With all the excitement of surgery waiting for me, I missed off an update about this anthology. The Girl at the End of the World is the latest anthology (in two parts) from Fox Spirit books. Part one includes a story by me: The Ending Plague.

The remit for submissions was a fairly open theme – the title gives away exactly what that was – and I decided to try my hand at a secondary-world fantasy apocalypse. Hopefully people will enjoy reading my contribution as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s always nice to rub shoulders with people you know online and from conventions, but this one was made a bit more special as it includes a story by James Oswald, who has the same agent as me. Team Mushens Fistbump! There’s a special bond between all of her clients. Sometimes we like to get together and compare bruises she has given us, or swap stories about the number of times she’s chased each of us with a hammer. It’s all true.

Anyway. You can find the ebook of The Girl at the End of the World (Part One) on Amazon UK, Amazon US, or as a paperback (UK, US)

 

You know how I’ve always longed to see the fair city of Padua.

9900798785_1a8276ebe2_z

So, it’s been a busy few weeks. The new novel is coming along (slowly), I finished a handful of short stories (one of which was accepted the same day I sent it off – woo!), and we have had both friends and family staying over to visit. I’ve been working every day I can to save money for the summer (helped by a timely tax rebate) and aside from a few choice cuts from the Steam sale we’ve been pretty good at controlling our money.

Cross fingers, yo.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the stories that I’ve written that haven’t really ended up anywhere. Either they’ve vanished into the ether as single ‘blog posts, or they have just never found the right home to go to. Rather than make a new page here, I decided to set up a Wattpad account and start uploading them there. So far there are only five stories – three Halloween shorts and two previously available only as audio files – but I’ve got a reasonable stack to pile on there eventually.

You can find them all at this link. I did think about trying a bit harder with the covers, but honestly I probably couldn’t do much better without spending a lot of time hunting down fonts.

In other news (talk about burying the lede), I won’t be making it to any events this year, save perhaps for Thought Bubble. The whole kidney failure thing has seriously messed with any hope of attending what looks like one of the most event-packed summers in UK genre memory. That two-week stretch between 9Worlds, Fantasy in the Court, the Gollancz Festival, and Loncon 3 is going to be insane and I’ll be very sad to miss it. I hope you all have a great – and safe – time.

This is my design.

blueprint

So, nobody warned me about Hannibal.

Actually, scratch that. *Everybody* warned me about Hannibal, but I just didn’t listen. Two episodes in and I am already having freaky serial killer dreams. Also, we need to have a serious talk about the costume design. Wait. Everyone has already had this talk. I am, as ever, late to the party.

So I’ve been kick the manuscript for Gunslinger Symphony around a bit. I keep giving it to people to beta, and always with the same vague notice – it’s missing something at the 2/3 to 3/4 mark, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what that is exactly. I re-read it myself at the start of the year: it’s fun, quicker than I expected, and although there are a lot of transitions that need sorting out – it jumps a little too vigorously from point to point, expecting the reader to follow – it’s not too bad. And yet I still hesitate to call it done. It’s missing something – that spark that makes it special and meaningful and – to me – complete.

To be perfectly honest, I still don’t quite know what that is.

But, I’ve never been one to let things like “a complete lack of direction” or “no inkling of a cohesive plan” hold me back. I picked a natural break in the story, added a new chapter (thank you, Scrivener) and started pounding out words. Seven thousand words later, and there might actually be something coming. Not out of the stuff I’ve written – much of it will probably be binned once I edit the book again – but just wandering round inside the character’s heads gave me some insight into what I had been trying to say with the story all along.

One of the first things Juliet asked me when I signed with her was, “what is your book actually about?” She actually had to repeat herself because I spent the next minute making confused faces as I tried to work out exactly what to say. I had just spent six months writing and editing a book and  another six reading beta feedback on it – surely I could tell her what it was about…couldn’t I?

It’s a lot tougher than I expected. In amongst all the monsters and fighting and adventure and (some might say) excessive use of parenthesis, there was a story about the burden of sin.

You would think I’d be faster the next time round, but it’s taken me almost eighteen months (and a draft of a different novel) to figure out what the Hell I’m trying to say with Gunslinger.

Now all I have to do is make sure that it says it.*

 

*and yes, I *am* procrastinating with a ‘blog post.

You’re going to have to talk to people, but that’s okay. Everyone else has to, too.

HIPPO

 

Apologies if this post is a bit UK-centric, but ~95% of my ‘blog traffic is UK-based so I can’t imagine there are going to be a flood of angry comments following this going up.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking. If you’re a writer (or a blogger, or a genre fan in general) then 2014 is a great year for conventions. If you’ve never been to one before, or only a couple and it hasn’t quite stuck, or if you’ve been thinking about it, then this is the year.

Bear with me on this. I know cons aren’t for everyone. They cost money (writing not being a profession that is naturally associated with great wealth), time, and can require some inconvenient travel arrangements. You absolutely do not have to go to cons to be successful, and con attendance is absolutely, positively not a promise of success.

But they are damn good fun.

So why is 2014 so good? Firstly, there are a lot of conventions on, and they are all over the place. If you live in the UK, there’s a good chance that at some point this year one of the larger cons will be within reasonable travelling distance. There’s Eastercon in Glasgow in the middle of April; Fantasycon in York in September; Londoners are spoiled for choice with Worldcon and Nine Worlds blocking out half of August. Throw Bristolcon, Thought Bubble, and Edge Lit into the mix, and that’s a *packed* year. If you write crime? Harrogate is the date for your diary. That’s off the top of my head and I don’t doubt for a second I’ve missed some.

Secondly, 2014 is a good time to go to conventions because there is so much cross-over between the genre community at conventions and online. It’s one massive conversation, constantly ongoing, always developing, and it’s exciting and fun to be a part of it. There’s a whole community out there, right now, and they are (for the most part) a ridiculously friendly and welcoming bunch.

The very first convention I went to, I talked to four people in total. I went for an extended walk and sat by myself at one point because I was convinced that they were talking to me out of pity and that they were just too polite to ditch me. It wasn’t until I went onto Twitter and started looking up people who had also been at the con (*cough* stalker *cough*) that I realised that feeling – that fear – was not unique to me. There were a lot of people just as eager as me, and at the same time just as anxious.

So, when it came to the second convention, I gave myself the order to show up. Say hi, introduce myself, have a conversation. Enjoy spending time with a group of people who not only read the books I do, but read more, know more. It was the best decision.

I don’t know how much value conventions have had for me as a writer. I can’t quantify it as a sum of money or in terms of how I feel they have advanced my (fledgling) career. I deliberately try to avoid thinking of them in those terms because it would feel a little bit mercenary to do so. It’s only happened to me once, but I have had someone cast their gaze around the room the instant they discovered I wasn’t either a publisher or published – it’s not very nice at all.

I will say, though, that without the friends I’ve made, these past five years or so would have been a lot less fun. Were it not for some of them, it’s possible I would have thrown in the towel long before now.

So, what cons are you going to? And which ones have I missed?

Ambience is everything. Or nothing.

BatmanBegins

One time, I wrote an entire novel to the Batman Begins OST played on a loop.

A while back, I rearranged one of the upstairs rooms and set up a writing table. I talk about it here. However, since then it has gone into a slow decline. Firstly, we keep “tidying” the house by moving things into other rooms so that one of them looks presentable by the standards of other human beings. As a result, the clean and fairly minimal (for me) space ended up as two monitors and a keyboard jostling for space among a mountain of books. Secondly, with Aoife now up to the point of crawling, it has made more sense for me to sit downstairs for the majority of the time, working on the laptop, so that I can easily jump up and grab her when she tries to escape the living room/lick the radiator.

It’s not the best for writing, really, or at least it’s taking me a while to get used to it. Part of the problem is the chair – a cheap IKEA dining chair – that is fine for short term use but after a long session at the keys it really does feel like my arse is sliding inexorably forward off of it. The other part of the problem is my tendency to leap onto any other source of stimulus to avoid having to think up the next sentence. It’s the same reason I don’t – can’t – listen to songs with lyrics in while I write: I end up writing the lyrics out. And while my other half does her best not to interrupt me and watches tv with the sound fairly low, she’s still there and I could totally talk to her right now.

Part of me longs for silence and space, that perfect vacuum to sit in while I stare off into the middle distance and think really hard about what that word was I wanted to use. The rest of me knows that situation is now a joke. I’m better off changing my habits than thinking I can only work when the conditions suit me – if I let myself come to that conclusion, then eventually the conditions will never suit.

Also, I should really think about tidying this place up.

Kickboxing. Sport of the future.

SayAnything

I don’t think we reference Say Anything enough. You know, as a species. In general.

Anyway. It’s almost the end of the year, and I’m thinking about the year to come. I was never a big resolutions person, really, as all the resolutions I seemed to hear about involved giving things up, or cutting things down, or some nebulous form of improvement through suppression.

Six years ago, I decided to start spending more  time trying to write things. It was fun, but I still kind of dicked around with it. I finished one novel that was really one third of a novel stretched out over seventy thousand words, a bunch of short stories that were aimless in both form, intent, and delivery, and…that was about it.

Two years ago – or close to it – I wrote myself a letter. It was inspired by Bruce Lee’s letter to himself, but tempered by a British sense of self-confidence and an echoing memory of the SMART acronym. I would write two novels, I told myself. The success of these novels was not discussed. I would write them, and edit them, and put at least one out on sub. Those were my criteria for success. I would write a dozen short stories, and I would write them with the aim of submission somewhere. I did not expect them to find homes, but I expected that writing them might teach me something, even if only about getting things done. I gave myself eighteen months as a deadline, and got to work.

By the time my daughter was born, eighteen months later, I had met my deadline. It was a lot of fun, and I learned tons about how I write and how I manage my time. I got more out of that letter – that decision – than I had out of half a lifetime’s wishful thinking.

So now it’s time for me to sit down and write a new letter. I want to write more (and better, besides), of course, but there are other things to consider, too. I want to bake more, and learn more, and run more, and climb. I want to see my friends more. I want to aim higher than just getting the words out, and see how far that will take me.

Have a great Hogmanay, all. See you in the New Year.