Thursday, October 31, 2019

Move Close To The Fireplace.

Winter is coming, which it is, and isn't any sort of reference to Game of Thrones.

It's getting colder, the days are getting shorter with dark mornings, and the leaves are falling. I've already had a couple of icy mornings where I've had to scrape the windscreen. Firewood has been delivered, which means the Chateau Cameron is cosy in the evenings, and we're eating more soups and stews than in the warmer months.

Christmas, as a festive season, seems more real here.  Growing up in Australia, Christmas always seemed out of place. I remember watching The Proposition, the Nick Cave film, a few years ago. It's a gritty Australian 'western' and is very much a commentary on the hostile landscape and environment in which the colonists and convicts lived. Here's the thing - they simply didn't belong, and I seem to recall dialogue along those lines. One scene that stands out is the family trying to have a traditional English Christmas lunch in 40c heat while being swarmed by flies. It belongs firmly in winter, and is very much a northern hemisphere festival.

Oh, and that in no way, shape or form suggests I never enjoyed Christmas in Australia.

But once again I am reminded of Marigold by Steeleye Span. (From the Sails of Silver album) 

When the marigold no longer blooms 
When summer sun is turned to gloom 
See the forecast winter snow 
See the evergreen that lonely grows 
Move close to the fireplace 
Neglect the garden 
See the ground harden
At a ghostly place
The golden summer sun is silver now 
The fruit has fallen from the bough
The season moves to chestnut time 
Toffee apples, treacle and mulled wine 
Quilts and furs and woolens gay 
You wrap around you 
But the cold confounds you 
On an autumn day 
Stout and strong the walls of home and hearth 
Curtains drawn against the draft 
The rake has reaped, the blade has mown 
Nights draw in to call the harvest home 
The quiet of a heart at rest 
In peace abounded 
By love surrounded
Here the home is blest

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Publishing Again.

Did I mention I have a new story coming out? I'm just not sure when.

I sold it earlier this year, and I think I blogged about it at the time. It's a good fantasy story - which isn't a genre into which I delve all that often. I originally wrote it for a themed anthology - unfortunately, I had missed the words "urban fantasy" in the original guidelines, and there was nothing urban about this fantasy. Once the submission period had closed, I realised my error. I emailed the editor, apologised, and asked for the piece to be withdrawn.

At least I looked like a good guy in front of that editor.

It's had some close calls at some really good markets - received positive personal feedback at a pro-market, but never quite got there. Until this sale.

The editor likes it. He told me so. He also suggested it might end up in either an anthology in October, or a magazine in January. Well, it's almost October, and I haven't heard anything, so I guess we'll see it at the beginning of next year.

Keep your eyes out. I'll let you know when it's out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Yesterday.

As a Beatle freak, I'm sure many expected I would rush to the cinema to see Yesterday, the latest Danny Boyle film. I love a lot of Danny Boyle's work - Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and even caught his stage production of Frankenstein in London.

The cinema is no longer the cheap pastime it once was,  and so I save my trips to the cinema for the spectaculars, those films which need to be seen big. Star Wars movies are a prime example. Unfortunately, everything about Yesterday screamed 'Saturday Afternoon DVD'. I had only seen a couple of reviews, had no spoilers, but the marketing and the one short clip I saw on TV suggested this had little to do with the Beatles.

I waited. And I'm glad I did.

It was pleasant enough, or as Douglas Adams might have said, mostly harmless - a straightforward rom-com with some Beatles music as background. The writer, Richard Curtis, made no attempt to explore the social implications of a world without the Beatles. Even when the main character (and I've forgotten his name) goes to visit John Lennon, they spend seeming hours walking on a beach discussing a quiet life. Not once does he ask if he played music, wrote songs, ever played in a band, knew a guy called Paul. Not once.

Much like the guys in Coldplay, Ed Sheeran seems like a nice guy, but, unfortunately, he can't act. In much the same way Coldplay's music doesn't appeal to me, neither does Sheeran's. His songs are nowhere on the same level as anything by the Fab Four.

I guess my biggest concern was that nothing else in this parallel universe seemed different. While the Beatles didn't create the 60s, they certainly surfed the crest of the wave - appearing as though responsible for much of the change that occurred. But surely there would have been other differences if they never existed.

Would music have developed the same way without their influence?  Remember, at that time bands didn't write their own material, and guitar groups were on their way out.

Another point. Everyone seems to pause when hearing a Beatles song for the first time - overcome by the instant brilliance. Much of the Beatles music is contextual, rooted solidly in the time it was written and recorded. Would those songs still have the same impact if they were new nowadays? And that main guy (still can't remember his name) goes from playing empty pubs to festivals in what seems a few weeks.

Overall, a pleasant little film. Curtis and Boyle could have been more insightful and incisive but chose to play it safe. Not one I'll be adding to my Beatles collection, or ever watching again.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Other Worlds.

I've just arrived home from a wonderful writer's workshop in Nottingham. Organised by Alex Davis, the force behind Edge-Lit in Derby, Other Worlds had four guest presenters, published authors and specialists in their subject. Mark A Latham presented on Planning & Plotting, Andrew Bannister on Politics & Science Fiction, Sophie Draper on Psychological Thrillers and Charlotte Baker on Atomspheric Scenes.  In between and around all this, Alex ran sessions on a range of aspects regarding writing and the publishing industry.

Thank you all.

Even though I have encountered some of this before, I always manage to find new take-aways. And this weekend there were plenty of those from all guests. New ideas, new techniques, things to consider, and pitfalls to avoid.

But it's the participants who can make or break these workshops. We had an excellent crew, with a high level of involvement, no-one dominating the discussions, and a level of mutual respect amongst us all.

A few others had likewise chosen to stay overnight, so I was able to have dinner with Martin, Aly and Alex. It was a fantastic evening of laughs, shared stories and experiences. And like any other group of writers, it soon turns out there are mutual friends.

Thank you for your time, and for inviting me to join you for dinner.

Of course I'm re-inspired - that's what happens on these weekends. Now all I have to do is make the time to start writing again.  Like everything else, it's a matter of priorities and making a choice.  Choosing to write rather than watch TV.

I choose to write. Unfortunately, I have a few very busy weeks coming on. Events and commitments which cannot be shifted.

Let's see how I go.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Choices.

I've always been intrigued by the idea of parallel worlds.

Simply put, one theory suggests that every time a decision is made from a number of different options, the universe splits into another timeline, where both choices are made. Of course this would mean there are an infinite number of universes.

But does this mean there are identical universes, one from where I cough at 10:27:03 am, and one where I cough a second later?  If something so small isn't enough to warrant a split, then how major do the differing events need to be?

I admit it. It's been many many years since I read anything about this, and my understanding is simplistic and probably erroneous, but I do love the thought that somewhere there is another universe where I am a successful author with a string of publications to my name.  Now that's a couple of books I would love to get my hands on. I figure I'd love those stories.

It also means there's a universe where the Beatles didn't split up and there are Beatle songs I've never heard.  Of course there are universes where they never became a band.

I've recently read about Dimension Jumping, or Quantum Jumping. People claim to be able to transfer to another parallel universe, one where they are able to achieve their dreams.  The stories they tell are fascinating, although I'm not really convinced by any of them. They have, however, given me ideas for my writing.

In this world we can simply do our best, taking time to make choices that are for our own good and for the good of those around us. Realising our actions can impact on others, and deciding not to harm them. Thinking before we make major choices that could ripple through time and affect our own future.

Life is a choose your own adventure book. I think I'm currently on page 74.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What Kind of Fan?

No doubt there are degrees of fans.

I consider myself a pretty big Beatles fan. I collect Beatles stuff, and can instantly tell you the difference between different mixes of their music. I know how many takes of I Saw Her Standing There were recorded, which ones were complete and how the released version was constructed.

I also love Essendon, my football club. I watch almost every game live - even if it means getting up at 4.30 am. If they play on a Thursday or Friday evening, that's a touch more difficult as it's usually daytime here in the UK and I'm at work. I don't think my managers would be too please if I had the game running on my PC in the office. Those games, I catch up in the evening. And I'll stick by them through good and bad.

But recently, in several online forums and groups to which I belong, I've seen fans putting down others because they aren't as fanatical. They don't go to as many matches, they don't have as much vinyl, or they don't know the names of every song McCartney ever recorded.

Lincoln City Football Club, my local team, has recently risen from years in a slump. Some fans in one Facebook group seem to yearn for the days when attendance at games was a fraction of what it is now, and rather than celebrate regular victories, sell-out games and more people in town wearing Lincoln shirts, they disparage those who are new supporters as being "Plastic Fans".

And the snobbery.

One Bob Dylan forum to which I belong, recently had a post stating that "When I put a post on here I forget it will probably be read by non-musicians."

What?  You mean your posts are so incredibly meaningful that those who don't play an instrument will never understand them?

I also saw one proclaiming that we all agree Dylan is the greatest musician otherwise you we wouldn't be in this group.  Umm, I belong to several music groups, not just Dylan's.

Another post declared those who don't "get" Dylan are obviously less intelligent than those who do. No, it wasn't meant to be funny, it wasn't a troll. Possibly the funniest part of it was that it was misspelled.

Guess what? We're allowed to like different things to different degrees. We're also not allowed to like other things. And not everything speaks to everyone in the same way. 

I'm proud of my Beatles knowledge, but I'll happily discuss them with people who know far more than I do, and those who just like some of their songs.

And, for the record, not everything they recorded was a masterpiece. You have no idea how little I listen to What's The New Mary Jane?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Excuses, Excuses.

I had all good and honourable intentions of getting some writing over the summer. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, that has yet to occur.

I've been busy. Work and life got in the way. I'm going abroad on holidays soon. I must catch up on Battlestar Galactica (yeah, I'm more than a few years behind). I got distracted by Facebook/Wikipedia/reading articles.

I probably could have made some time if I wanted to.

I sometimes wonder whether I can be bothered writing again. Truth is I enjoy writing and being published but I'm never really sure who is reading my published work.

Someone obviously does. Publishers pay to print my words. I see reviews in Goodreads, Amazon and the occasional blog, but they almost seem removed, remote. There's little sense of immediate feedback.

It all comes down to priorities.

I have ideas still. I write them in my notebooks. And when I have the urge, I'm sure I'll start writing again.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Dreadlines.

Douglas Adams said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." And from all accounts, he would know. Even a quick glance at any of his biographies will reveal exactly how difficult it was for anyone to get written words out of him - never mind on time. From memory, one publisher pretty much resorted to kidnapping and keeping him hostage until he finished his promised work.

I commenced this month with all good intentions of completing two short stories for deadlines this coming weekend. I'm sad to report I won't meet them.

These were open submissions for a couple of projects I would have loved to have been part of. Unfortunately life took a rather busy turn (in a couple of areas) and I simply haven't had the time to get behind the keyboard.

Lost opportunities? Perhaps. But there was no guarantee my stories would have been accepted, and there will be other opportunities.

Of course, yin and yang, swings and roundabouts, doors opening and other motivational chat.  Which is my way of saying that despite my being busy (or partly from it) I've had some great news too, and further opportunities have arisen and been met.

So once again I will share more when I can - although it won't be soon as these will play out in a much longer time frame.

From what I've seen, this weekend is going to be lovely and warm - 30c on Saturday. And that means I might be sitting in the backyard with a nice cold beer as that deadline whooshes past.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Walkabout in Derby.

I love going to conventions. I try to go to at least one a year. Since I moved to the UK, and can't get back for Continuum in Melbourne, I usually manage to get to Edge-Lit up in Derby. Last year I managed to also get to FantasyCon, which was a bonus. It's a bigger con, slightly larger than Continuum with some great writers and presenters attending.

I've booked this year's Edge-Lit, and I'm excited about catching up with some friends. Usually the crowd from Leicester are there, and I honestly enjoy their company - even if they do try to drag me into Walkabout every chance they get. I really don't see why visiting a chain "Australian" bar is either enticing or humourous. Especially when said chain isn't Australian, other than hanging flags out the front and selling Fosters. Sigh. Don't even get me started on the "Blokes"and "Sheilas" toilets.

I usually meet a few new people at these events too, and that's always a bonus. Socialising is a huge part of conventions, and as writing can be such a solitary activity, it's an important part. I've made good friends at cons, people who are important to me, people I regularly contact away from cons, people whose interests overlap my own.

I hope to see you in Derby next month. For those in Australia, I think Continuum is this weekend. If you're going, enjoy!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Twenty-Four Days And Counting.

It's about a month to my birthday.  I've been asked what I want, and I have a couple of ideas. Some Beatles, some Lennon, some Goodies, cake.

Cake is always good.

Going out for dinner is always an option - as is staying home and having something nice brought in. Might even get to spend some time with family.

I usually enjoy birthdays, but for some reason I'm really looking forward to this one. More than usual, anyway. I'm not sure why but I can't wait for it to arrive. I have to work that day, but that's not a big issue. I kind of like people in the office wishing me a happy birthday. And our office usually has cards and so on, and sometimes singing. Yeah, even that is good.

If you really want to send me a present I can make a few suggestions. I'm also open to surprises.

And if an editor wants to buy one of my stories to publish, that would be a great present too.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

More On The Way.

It was fabulous to receive a story acceptance overnight. It was even more fabulous than usual because the editor added, "This was a really good story, btw."

For a number of reasons I haven't written or submitted much for a while, so this was a nice surprise. I sent it out a few months ago, because I wanted to get something out, and this is a good story that deserves a home, and had just been kicked back from a major publisher with some good feedback.

I'll share more when I can. Watch this space.

I recently received other publishing news I don't think I'm allowed to share yet, exciting though it is. And this is good stuff. I'm looking forward to announcing this one.

On top of all this I had some other good news today, which won't mean anything to anyone else but is important to me. And then I bumped into a colleague I used to work with but haven't seen for a long time, and finally received email from a much respected and admired friend and mentor I haven't seen or heard from for even longer.

It's been a good time all round.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Farewell, Millie

In 2006 we went to the animal rescue centre to buy a dog. We came home with much more.

We walked out with a Jack Russell/Fox Terrier cross, who was tiny and nervous, but smart and loyal. She may have been small but she had a huge heart and despite her nerves, was courageous. I saw he go into battle against larger dogs who were threatening her sister, our other gentle dog.

When we moved to the UK, Millie came with us. I've been told that someone even asked my family why we had shipped her, as you can easily buy a new dog in  the UK.  I guess that person never had a dog,

I sometimes hesitate to use the word "owner". Sure, we could probably dig up a receipt, and the government probably has us listed as registered owners, but dogs, good dogs, have a way of getting into your heart and becoming more than a pet.  With her sister, she sat in the back seat as we drove through France, into Scotland, across the UK, and around parts of Australis. She made us laugh, cuddled us both, and made me feel good and wanted when I arrived home after a stressful day.

Millie died a few weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 17. We had to let her go, even though we didn't want to. That was a tough choice, but we did the right thing. Her vet here (as well as the one back in Australia) was fantastic, and we are greatful for the service they provided.

Goodbye Millie. Sleep well.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pet Hates and Other Bugs.

We all have our pet hates, things that bug us for no real reason except they're wrong. As a trained and experienced English teacher, many would expect spelling, punctuation and grammar to be one of mine. I might occasionally shake my head at a job application with spelling errors and misuse of capitals, but for the most part they don't bug me too much. Even when students write entire essays using 'dose' instead of 'does', 'defiantly' instead of 'definitely', or even mispell their own name. Yeah, that happens more than you could imagine.

I notice them in books, typos or sloppy editing, but unless they continually occur, or make me laugh, then I don't even bother mentioning them.

This blog is pretty much my happy place. I try not to write about the things I don't like. I think there's enough negativity and anger on the internet. The last time I did, however, I received a message from a friend that they quite liked the curmudgeonly Steve.

So, in order to please a friend, here's a personal list of things writers do that bug me:

  • Ask me to buy their book on their birthday as a present to them. Seriously. We're not close enough that we usually buy each other presents. And anyway, are you going to buy my stories on my birthday in return?
  • Tell me how awful your writing is, and how bad this WIP is. Why would you keep suggesting publicly your work isn't worth reading? And if it's a false modesty, then I don't enjoy that either.
  • Self publish and then announce it was rejected everywhere.  Yeah, maybe that's a clue it's not worth reading.
  • Pretend that there's something mystical or magical about being a writer, or the source of your inspiration.  It's an idea you get. You put words in the right order. Some people are better at it than many others.
  • Continually moan publically about how little money you earn from writing. As soon as you start selling work seriously, it's a business like any other. You're not a salaried employee. You're selling a product. Some sell lots, most sell little.
  • Continually moan about the "business" side of writing when you're trying to sell stories. Yeah, see above.
  • Acting like you're zany or crazy or out-there when you're just like everyone else. No, please don't tell me how you live in a swamp with pet alligators who have wings - unless you really do. I actually prefer normal, informative bios.
  • Comparing your work to.... No, it's generally not like Philip K Dick, Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Even if it's good.  Let others make the comparisons.
  • Non-stop name dropping of friends who are famous. Interesting when aspiring writers only share pictures of themselves with big names. We see what you're doing.
  • Running workshops and giving writing classes when you've had one or two very minor sales. (or even worse, never published.) Truly, I've seen this. I want to learn from people with track records.
  • Announcing your story is featured in a publication when you mean included. Unless your name is one of two or three on the cover you're not featured.
I think that's enough for now. Yeah, this is a year or more worth of pet peeves, but they're just my opinion. You can do whatever you want.

Bah Humbug!

And as for my one grammar pet hate, please learn the difference between initialisms and acronyms. CD, BBC and CIA are not acronyms. WTF?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Trash and Treasure.

Another disappointment story.

A few months ago I bought a book I had heard great things about. It seemed like the kind of thing I would like, the author seems like a cool person I would love to hang out with and chat, the publisher is a name publisher, and the reviews were glowing. Almost universally so.

I threw it straight to the top of my 'to be read' stack, and dived straight in.

Here, a few months later, I find myself thinking about it again. I'm not sure why but it was on my mind when I woke this morning. But not for any good reasons.

It was dull, slow and plodding. Crises points were manufactured to the point of ridiculous levels, dialogue was clunky and unnatural, and some of the scenes and events were plain hokey and would have seemed out-of-place in a 1930s novel.

I really wanted to love it. I really did. Instead I merely tolerated it.

I haven't checked, but it's probably won some awards and been nominated for 'best of' lists. So what is it I'm missing that apparently others are getting?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know taste comes into things. I know people enjoy different reads. I know we all see different things, but this isn't about taste. It's about quality of writing, being able to create snappy dialogue and events that flow naturally.

Is it simply horses for courses?

On the other hand, I've just picked up another book from another name author and this one ticks all the boxes. I'm 30 pages in and hooked. Yes, I've enjoyed this authors other works, and reading this one I can see the reasons why. And I'm learning things from this work.

Oh well. One person's trash is another person's treasure. It's just a shame the above-mentioned novel wasn't one of my treasures.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Wheels Turn Slowly.

When I first started writing, I attended a workshop where one of the attendees was the editor of a well known and reputable sf magazine. He liked my story, said it was "very very good" and told me to send it to him.

I did. And in my naivety and innocence, was surprised when I didn't hear back in a few days. Or a week. Or even a month. The website suggested querying after three months, which I did, and I never received a response to that email.

I received a response to my submission, though, four months later, and it wasn't good news. Yes, a short story which was going to earn me a grand total of about $50 was rejected after seven months.

While seven months is towards the top end of response times, it's not completely out of the ordinary. Most sit between three and four months. My fastest was two days, my longest is ...  well, technically about 8 years as they never responded at all. Not even after a couple of very polite email enquiries.

And then, of course, it can take up to another year to reach publication. Oh, and bear in mind most publishers ask you not to send the story out to more than one publisher at the time, which means you might only send a story out a couple of times a year if they hang onto it for too long.

And this is only for short stories - novels can take much longer.

I have a story out at the moment with a publisher who usually responds within two months. It's currently been out for 5 months, and although I have sent an enquiry email, I have not heard back at all. This is unusual, but I'm not particularly worried as I understand most  small press publishers have day jobs and other commitments.

But it would be nice to have a response. Especially as I have high hopes for this story. Now that I've written about it, and knowing the world's sense of humour, I'll probably hear back today.

Maybe that's why I wrote this piece - to try and force the world's hand.

Monday, January 21, 2019

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Table Of Contents.

Late last year I read an anthology from a publisher with a solid reputation. I had picked it up some time earlier, partly because of its cover art (which was fabulous) and partly because of its title and theme. When I read the TOC, I was thrilled, as there were quite a few name authors I had never previously read. The bios of the other authors filled me with hope - award winners, university and lecturers in writing and published authors. In fact a diverse range of gender and ethnicity.

It sat in my 'to be read' stack for a few months, then I pushed it to the top.

The first story was 'Meh'. The second also. And then it dropped in quality. Nothing rose above average, and in fact, a couple of the name authors appeared to have 'phoned-in' their contributions. Some were just completely ridiculous.

Disappointed? You bet.

Now I know taste has a great part to play in all of this. There can be a certain amount of subjectivity. (I know someone who told me it's all subjective, but that's not true. A good writer is a good writer, no matter whether it appeals to me or not.) Many of these stories, however, were full of plot holes, idiotic protagonists and convenient plot devices. They weren't as clever as they author thought, and at least two stories I worked out the ending in the first page or so.

There are times Goodreads can't be trusted, as family, friends and the authors themselves overvalue everything. This anthology had a stack of 4 and 5 star reviews. And then, right there in the middle was a one-star review, which pretty much detailed my own observations of the collection. I couldn't have written it better myself.

I've written along similar lines before, an again even further back. It seems I will regularly be disappointed by some offerings.

Sometimes I should judge a book by just its cover, not the TOC. Although, this time. I would have still purchased the book as the cover was fabulous.

Oh well, a quick dose of Jasper Fforde followed, and all was well with the writing world.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Welcome to 2019.

Happy New Year.

I've had a great break - a really relaxing time with family and friends. We didn't travel anywhere really, but managed to catch up with some people. Mostly we relaxed and ate great food. And I didn't over-eat or feel bloated.

The car decided to get a puncture on Christmas Eve, and of course they don't supply spare tyres anymore.  But this was a puncture where the spray can of foam stuff and nursing the car to the garage wasn't going to cut it. It meant, however, we either stayed at home or walked for a few days, which at this time of the year isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New Year's Eve was pretty quiet. We did stay up but went to bed shortly afterwards. I had too much to do on my secret project the next day to be up too late. And yes, I did get lots and lots done.

As I said in a recent post, I don't really do the whole resolution thing. I make my plans as I go, prioritising and re-prioritising as need be. I do have some plans for this year, one of which is to try and keep track of the books I read. I made a list a few years ago, just on a word document for myself, and if I can find it, I might even post it. This year, however, will be the only other time I have kept track of my reading. I've decided to add a page to this website and make the list public. Have look sometime.

I also plan to write more. You might even see some longer fiction emerging. You just never know.

But I have work to do now, and need to be gone from this page. All the best for the coming year.