Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anthology cancelled

I heard late yesterday that From the Asylum has finally and completely closed its doors and will no longer be honouring publication of its last two anthologies, including a science fiction one that my short story Boyfriend From Hell was slated to appear in.

To be honest I'm neither surprised nor disappointed. From the Asylum's print magazine closed several months ago and the web zine followed suit soon after. I never did receive the signed copy of my contract back from them and every enquiry, after almost a year of waiting, led only to vague promises that the anthology 'would be going ahead' together with thanks 'for my patience'. Nobody ever gave me a specific release date, and nobody ever answered my biggest question, which was 'how are you going to sell the books given that you no longer have either a print magazine or a web presence?'

On the whole I'm rather relieved to have my rights back and will be looking around for another market where, hopefully, people will actually be able to get hold of the story to read it!

But for now, Boyfriend From Hell is without a home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

First snow

We had the first snow of the winter yesterday. Not much - only about half an inch - but it was enough to turn everything wedding-cake white, and as it was only snowing for less than half an hour you can tell how thickly it was coming down.

Needless to say it thawed slightly and then froze hard overnight so all the local roads look like they've had a spray-coating of mirrored glass and are treacherous in the extreme. I wanted to go into the city centre for a few last bits of shopping but was beaten back, twice, because I couldn't get across the roads to where the bus stops are.

The house is none too warm either. Not only was it -4c last night, but the wind was at gale force, so it was blowing all that freezing air through every gap in the windows. Brrr. Even with the heating on it never seemed to get warm.

I ought to be working today since I can't get out, but cold and concentration don't seem to go together. At least that's my excuse...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Early Christmas present

I had some wonderful news from Byker Books this morning - they've accepted another story, this time for Radgepacket 4. You may (or may not) remember that I had a humorous story about an ageing rock star in the second Radgepacket volume, and they were such a good bunch to work with that I submitted another story earlier this year. I just missed the deadline for volume 3, but the editor has stayed true to his word and hung onto it for this latest collection.

The story is called Lemon Sour and is a dark, almost vicious little tale of childhood humiliation and revenge, involving a pair of yellow gloves!

The book should be out early-ish in the new year (probably by late February/early March) but I'll keep everyone posted about its progress.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pre-Christmas panic

It's suddenly hit us that Christmas is less than two weeks away, so this weekend we had a bit of a panic trying to do everything at once. Dave's parents came to stay on Friday as part of their 'Santa sleigh-run' taking presents round the family, so Friday morning we cleaned, dusted, and put up the Christmas tree. On Saturday all four of us hit the German Christmas market here in Brum, which this year is bigger than ever, and apparently only 20 stalls short of overtaking the main market in Frankfurt. We bought all sorts of bits and bobs and Dave and his dad had a German sausage each while mother-in-law and I headed for the rather more genteel (and warmer) Edwardian Tea Rooms at the museum for a hot drink. After that we got hopelessly sidetracked looking round the museum at some of the treasures of the industrial age - beautiful Morgan and Ruskin ceramics, Burne Jones stained glass, Royal Worcester porcelain, Black Country crystal and wrought iron work, and of course, lots and lots of silver from all the foundries and electro-plating works in the Jewellery Quarter. The inlaws hadn't seen any of it before and were bowled over. We must take them in again some time and show them the rest of the collections, especially all the Pre-Raphaelite art.

Saturday evening Dave and I crouched over the coffee table scribbling endless messages in endless Christmas cards; then yesterday we dashed up to Ikea to buy a couple of bedside cabinets ready for our friends spending New Year with us. Needless to say, they'd stopped doing the ones I saw in their current catalogue which would have been ideal, but we got something similar which will do almost as well, plus a car load of other rubbish that we didn't realise we needed until we saw it. And after that, we dashed out again to find a new duvet for Dave as he's shivering under a particularly thin one. We couldn't find what we wanted, but came home with four scatter cushions, two rolls of gift wrap, a box of crackers and a thermos flask. Don't ask!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Strange research

I'm amazed sometimes at the weird things I end up researching for the sake of stories. Yesterday and today I've been reading up on angels, and especially fallen angels, for a possible story for QueeredFiction's latest 'angels and demons' call.

I went to a Church of England primary school so I knew about the main archangels - Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. I'd also heard of one or two of the fallen angels including (of course) Lucifer, and Azazeal who featured (fictitiously) in a teen gothic series on telly a couple of years ago. But it seems there are dozens, if not hundreds more - around 200 fallen angels, and positive heavenly hosts of angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim, guardians, powers, spirts and gawd knows what else. Many of the names were invented during the Middle Ages, apparently, when scholars juggled the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to come up with names, or added '-el' (of God) to suitable Hebrew words. The end result is, um, confusing, but I actually rather enjoyed poring over the lists and finding out who was who.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A cracking good read

I finally finished reading 'Queer Dimensions' last night - it's taken me slightly longer because I wanted to savour each story.

My overall impression is that this is a really good, lovingly crafted collection of science-fiction stories with a gay twist. There were one or two stories that I was less keen on, but only from personal preference, not because there was anything wrong with them. My favourites included Jacques L Condor's The Night Hunters (vivid and warm-hearted); Erastes' fun tale Whatever the Risk; Mallory Path's sensuous transgendered story The Prettiest Girl in the Room; and the heart-rending and original The Sister Bush by Joel Best, but I enjoyed pretty much everything else as well.

If you're after smut this probably isn't the anthology for you (there's one story I'd call erotica and another that's heading that way, but that's all). But if you like original, thought-provoking and beautifully written science fiction, and you like gay fiction, then rush off and buy a copy now!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Too fuzzy to write

No, that's my mental state not my physical appearance. Yesterday I dosed up on painkillers and then found they made my brain so fuzzy I couldn't concentrate, and I ended up doing no work at all.

Today I have the wonderful choice of sitting here and throbbing but perhaps writing a bit, or wimping out and reaching for the pills again.

Aargh. Who'd be a writer?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cold - and ouch.

It's suddenly turned wintry here - there's a thick white frost on all the lawns and roofs and according to iGoogle's weather gadget, it's still only -2c at eleven o'clock in the morning. And there may be snow on the way.

Normally I'd go out for a good walk to warm up but earlier this morning I managed to fall down stairs. I landed awkwardly with all my weight on one big toe and it bloomin' hurts! I don't think it's broken but I can't put any weight on it or get any of my shoes on. Currently I'm hobbling around with an extra sock on that foot for a bit of warmth.

Ah well - it gives me the perfect excuse to stay in and write....

Monday, November 30, 2009

First floods, now snow...

There was snow on the fells on Friday night. It's not the first they've had but it may have been the most so far since there was quite a covering - enough to turn them into surprisingly Alpine peaks.

We bowled over to Keswick for the day and had a smashing time. It's pretty much business as usual in spite of the floods, apart from a couple of road bridges which are still closed for safety reasons. We had a lovely walk down by the lake, which has emptied out massively but left a ring of debris at an astonishing height above the usual level - and the Theatre by the Lake smelled strongly of pond water when we popped in there. It's good to see everyone pulling together to clear up and get back to normal and we were glad we'd made the effort to go and spend a bit of money in the town.

We took some photos of the amazing weather. The snow was causing sublimation clouds to form over the fells so it was quite hard to catch more than a glimpse of the 'white stuff', but the overall effect was still very scenic.

Skiddaw looming over the town:


Looking across Derwentwater to Cat Bells and the north-western fells:


And again, with some of the half-flooded piers in the foreground:


A couple of local residents tucking into Saturday lunch:

Friday, November 27, 2009

My memoirs

Anyone who's ever seen the hysterically black comedy film Kind Hearts and Coronets will know all about the significance of 'my memoirs', which must be one of the most delicious twist-in-the-tail endings of all time.

You'll be pleased to know I haven't backed myself into that sort of corner. But I have been trying my hand at something rather unusual for me - a series of brief memoirs for the forthcoming Leaf Books writing contest. It's not something I've ever tried before but it sounded interesting and I'm rarely one to turn down a writing challenge, so I scoured my memory for suitable incidents to write about and set fingers to keyboard.

Oddly enough, all the ideas that occurred to me are from my early childhood. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I do know it's a lot harder than you might think to write them up in a way that's entertaining and doesn't use the word 'me' every other word. One of my writer friends is also having a go and mentioned something about 'so very few words' (the maximum is 1,000 for each memoir). At the moment I'm having more trouble expanding my ideas up to fit anything like the 1,000 words but I'll keep pegging away at it. If I can come up with three workable ideas I'll be able to submit under the 'three for a tenner' offer which should save some dosh.

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Decoding the forecast

You only need to spend a short amount of time in the Lake District to realise that it generates its own weather - which usually has nothing to do with the national, or even regional forecasts.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know the area well, I thought I'd post a quick translation of some of the terms the forecasters use, to give you more idea what the weather is really going to be like.

'Occasional showers' - almost incessant rain
'Frequent showers' - incessant rain with some bits heavier than others
'Light rain or drizzle' - rain that only bounces four inches off the ground
'Rain' - rain that bounces six inches off the ground
'Heavy rain' - be afraid, be very afraid
'Torrential rain' - start building the Ark.
'Sunshine' - sorry, no translation possible.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Photos of the floods

I took a few pictures of the lake overflowing at Bowness-on-Windermere on Saturday. You can see for yourselves just how much water there is everywhere!







Safe!

The minute the roads opened again we dashed up to the Lakes to check the cottage. And the good news is that both we and it are fine. Roads and properties nearby had suffered some problems and the lake at Bowness is feet above its normal level, but we're on higher ground and a slope and the water simply hasn't affected the place at all. We're very, very grateful because lots of people haven't been so lucky.

We drove out yesterday (using only the main roads that were marked as open - we don't want to get stuck and add to everyone's problems)and the rivers are still raging torrents. The River Leven, which drains Windermere itself, was frightening - hurtling along at about five times its normal speed and well over the height of its banks. A couple of the roads and bridges were closed for safety and we really weren't surprised.

Everywhere is still sopping wet and there's more heavy rain forecast for tomorrow but fingers crossed the worst is now over.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eeek, flooding

The good news is that we're fine here in Birmingham.

But it's time to let you into a secret. A couple of months ago we bought ourselves a holiday cottage in the Lake District, and have been dashing up there every spare minute we can, furnishing it and enjoying living in a beautiful corner of the UK. It's partly why I've been rather hit-and-miss about updating this blog lately, because we had a Very Long Wait for broadband and I had no internet connection for several weeks.

We were all set to go up there again today in order to spend Dave's birthday in the area - and, hopefully, get a door fitted on the guest bedroom in time for our friends staying at new year! But we can't go. The area has had absolutely terrible weather for the last couple of days, with as much as twelve inches of rain falling on the central fells in 32 hours (quite possibly a new record for England) and it's caused floods.

Not just a few minor floods - we're talking about pretty much the entire county being under water, and most of the towns and villages being cut off. We checked the local travel news first thing this morning and found that all the roads are closed so we have no way of getting through to the property, and no way of checking if it's still dry. Ordinarily it wouldn't flood because it's on sloping ground, away from rivers and streams, and up the hill from the main lake of Windermere. But these aren't ordinary conditions; storm drains are overflowing and water cascading off any higher ground. The main road just yards from our front door is listed as 'just passable due to flooding', and the school across the road is closed.

We're keeping an eye on the travel news and the minute it improves we'll jump in the car and see what's what. We're going to pack extra supplies, too. If all the roads are closed that means no deliveries for local shops, and our neighbours might be running out of food. And we're dashing out in a minute to buy ourselves some cheap wellies, as I don't fancy wading about in all the muck and water in my good shoes!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Queer Dimensions is here!


My trib copy of the anthology turned up late yesterday and I must say it looks a well produced book. The cover art is subtle and attractive (no man-boobs here), it's bursting with stories, and although I've only had a chance to dip my toe into the contents, so far I'm impressed with the quality of the writing.

The first story, by Jaques L Condor, is set in Alaska and involves two grumpy old men. It's so vivid that I had the feeling I was right there in the cabin, listening to them bicker and watching the snow whirl down outside.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the stories and will report back on which ones I liked best once I've finished.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Invasion of the... ladybirds?

Last night I happened to glance up to the top of the window in my study, and noticed something strange. There was a small heap of ladybirds clustered together in one corner of the window frame, looking as though they were huddling together for warmth. A quick headcount revealed at least a dozen, perhaps more, all apparently asleep. Slightly further along the frame I spotted another bundle, and then a couple more by themselves in another corner.

I called Dave in to look and he said 'oh, how sweet, they're over-wintering. Leave them be.' But I wasn't convinced. It's not quite bodysnatchers, but there's something slightly sinister about insects in those numbers, and besides, I had visions of them waking up in spring, breeding like fury, and us arriving back one day to find millions of the little blighters. I do hate killing things, though, so I prepared to 'leave them be'.

Until a few minutes later when Dave poked his head back round the door and said, "Um, slight problem. They're Harlequins." He'd been on the net and found some information, and apparently Harlequins are the only sort that deliberately move indoors to hibernate over winter. A quick check through a magnifying glass and we were certain - they were definitely Harlequins.

For those of you who don't know (which included me until last year) Harlequin Ladybirds are an invasive species. They're much bigger than any of our native varieties and they're forcing the smaller types out. For some reason they had a bumper year this year and apparently some people have hundreds or even thousands of them clinging in bunches to south-facing internal walls and windows. Ours was only a small-scale plague. Even so, we took a deep breath and got the vacuum cleaner out. I still don't like killing things, but Harlequins are classed as a pest and I was even more concerned about them breeding next spring and filling the whole place. So we're officially Ladybird Murderers, but hopefully it was in a good cause.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Antiques (not necessarily) for everyone

Dave's been working all the hours lately so for once he gave himself the afternoon off and we buzzed over to the National Exhibition Centre since we'd got a free ticket for the regular 'Antiques for Everyone' fair. We've been a couple of times before and always enjoy poking round the stalls, finding things that we remember our parents or grandparents having, and exclaiming at some of the many beautiful objects on display. We've never before been even remotely tempted to buy anything, though, not least because the prices have been shocking. Not so much antiques for everyone, as antiques for anyone who's rich, filthy rich or stinking.

Today, for the first time, we actually *gasp* bought something. And not just one item, but two. First we found an adorable little brooch in the shape of a lizard, that I thought might be perfect for my mother-in-law for Christmas, and then I treated myself to a vintage hat pin. Neither item was expensive to start with, and in both cases the dealers were happy to give us a small discount on the ticket price, so we feel comfortable we haven't been cheated.

Some of the prices were still ridiculous, though. I fell in love with a stunning silver (coloured) Art Nouveau mantel clock... until I read the ticket, and found it was priced at... wait for it... £12,000.

Woah.

Still antiques for the mostly rich and filthy rich, methinks.

But it was fun, and we did get in free...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Those London photos...

I realised I'd completely forgotten to post any pictures from our recent trip to London, so here without further ado are a selection of the best:

One of the art installations on the famous (and usually empty) fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. As part of Anthony Gormley's One and Other project, a different person took to the plinth every hour, 24 hours a day, for several weeks:

A tranquil scene in the pouring rain at the Barbican Centre:

No, it's not the countryside, just a surprisingly pastoral scene in St James's Park early one morning:

Feeding the squirrels in St James's Park; as you can see from the next picture, some of them are VERY tame:

New reviews of 'I Do'

The charity gltb anthology 'I Do' has had a couple of very nice reviews recently. Alternative-Read have posted a good overall review of the whole collection, as well as comments on one or two of the longer stories.

And Dark Diva Reviews has a really detailed review, not just of the overall collection but of each individual story into the bargain. Including, I might add, a very nice comment about my story Salad Days.

Such a realistic portrait of a relationship after the new has worn off, but before the deep seated trust has established itself.

If you like the sound of the anthology and would like to order a copy for yourself or a loved one (Christmas is only just around the corner after all *grin*), then pop along to the dedicated page at my website for more details on how and where to buy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book review: 'Wizard's First Rule' by Terry Goodkind

This is the book (or one of 'em) that the recent tv series 'Legend of the Seeker' was based on. The series was a jolly wheeze and on the strength of enjoying the double helping each week I treated myself to the book a few weeks ago. I finally finished it last night but have very mixed feelings.

The story was great - a real page turner. I liked most of the characters, who were warm and sympthetic and less one-dimensional than many fantasy genre characters. And I really enjoyed some of the mind-stretching philosophy Goodkind wove into the story, where nothing was quite what it seemed and good wasn't always 100% better than evil. It really made you think.

But oh dear! The style! For the most part it's terribly, terribly basic, of the 'she did this, he said that' variety, and so repetitive I found myself skim-reading huge chunks. The hero, Richard, would be holding an internal argument with himself while tracking through a forest, and forty pages on he was still have the same internal argument with himself in the same forest. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

This is an example of what I mean, but it's not the only bit. There's more. Lots, lots more. Three more paragraphs of this argument alone, and another seven hundred pages in the book....

But what was wrong with taking the sword? What could it hurt to have its help? Wouldn't it be foolish to turn down any assistance? Apparently the sword could be put to any use its owner wanted, so why not use it in the way he wanted? He didn't have to become an assassin, or anything else. He could use it to help them, that was all. That was all that was needed, or wanted; no more.

The cynic in me can't help thinking that it's very easy to write a 100,000 word book if you repeat every idea/sentence eight times in slightly varying ways.

Would I read another book in the series? Unless anyone can convince me that Goodkind has changed his style and tidied up his English, probably not. Which is a shame as it's basically a great story...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Adventures in the capital city

We're just back from a few days in London, staying at a hotel near Buckingham Palace courtesty of Dave's 'frequent nights' points scheme. Had to delay our departure by a day thanks to my flu, but we still managed three days and had a great time. Highlights this time include a morning lurking in the National Gallery (filled to bursting with amazing works of art and best of all, it's free), another morning in the Museum of Docklands (absolutely fascinating, could have done with at least a day to see everything) and a guided tour of the Barbican Centre from one of my friends, who has links there. The latter was particularly interesting because you so rarely get to see the private 'face' of public spaces; behind the concert hall/library/gallery complex there are apartments, gardens, lakes, and every facility you could possibly think of. Not to mention a section of the old city walls, plonked in the middle of all that 1960s concrete.

Pictures to follow; as usual I'm having problems coaxing them off my camera - the connector software is up the spout and I'm having to improvise!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Library membership opened up

Great news for readers and booklovers in the UK: membership of public libraries has now been opened up so you can, in the words of this BBC website article, 'Borrow a book wherever you are'.

In the past, you've had to register at each local authority to use the library services within their patch. If you went on holiday to a different area, you couldn't use the lending library to take books out, unless you registered there too. For somewhere you visited often that might just about be worthwhile, but if you were only visiting for a week it hardly seemed worth the effort.

But now, as long as you have a valid library card from any local authority, you can borrow books from any other library in the country. The only (slight) downside is that you have to return the books to the place you borrowed them from. I can see why they've insisted on that (otherwise library staff would spend half their lives chasing books from one end of the country to the other) but it might get a tad expensive in postage if I borrow books on holiday and can't finish reading them by the end of the week....

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ugh - flu

Apologies for the long silence; I've been laid low with a really nasty bout of flu for the last week. Hopefully I'm over the worst now, but the stairs to my study are still something of a challenge so I may not be around quite as much as usual.

And whoever said swine flu was 'relatively mild' wants to think again. It's only mild in relation to bubonic plague. Trust me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New rules for the Lambda Awards

I just came across a worrying post on the EREC blog (http://www.erecsite.com/blog.html - Thursday's entry) regarding new rules introduced by Lambda for their annual writing awards. For anyone who doesn't know, these are probably the biggest, most prestigious awards for writers of glbt fiction; to win is instant kudos and even coming close is pretty special.

In the past, the awards have been open to any author who writes gltb fiction, irrespective of their own identity. Suddenly, this year, they've introduced a new requirement for the works to be judged on, amongst other things, 'the gender orientation/identity of the author'. In other words, all qualifying authors will presumably now need to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered before their work will be considered for a Lambda Award.

Of course, this is their award and they have every right to set their own rules. But for me, it rings several alarm bells.

Firstly, in this day and age of internet handles, pen names and hidden identities, how on earth are the judges going to check the gender and/or sexuality of authors, without being wholly intrusive at best and downright rude at worst? Will authors be expected to sign some sort of affidavit to their sexuality before being considered for an award? Or, as one colleague put it, will writers have to supply a DNA sample to satisfy the judges?

My second concern is that presumably, straight women who write gltb fiction will no longer be considered for the Lambda Awards. If this is the case, then it seems to be saying that only gay authors can write about gay characters. Where does this end? Should black authors only be able to write about black issues? Should women only write about other women, and children about children? Would only convicted thieves and murderers be allowed to write about crime? Or space aliens about outer space? Take this to its furthest limits and it soon gets silly. And who's to say that a straight author can't have insight into gay characters and gay lifestyle? After all, E M Forster managed pretty well with 'Maurice'....

Lastly, I'm concerned on a purely personal basis about shrinking markets. Any glbt anthology editor worth their salt accepts work with one eye on the Lambda Awards; it's only natural to want to be in with a chance of winning something as prestigious as that. But if only gltb authors are eligible, does this mean editors are going to start discouraging, or even banning, straight authors from submitting work to gltb anthologies? I really, really hope not, but it does seem to raise the possibility.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Visitor out now

Ooops, my bad! I misread the details on the QueeredFiction website. The e-book version of 'Queer Dimensions' is out right now - it's only the print version that's coming on 21 September. That'll teach me to read things through properly...!



Anyhow, it means you can all now get your sticky mitts on the book, and read my short story The Visitor. As I've mentioned before, this is a poignant time-travel romance which follows one man's attempts to find the lover he left behind in his distant past - a past where gay relationships weren't allowed.

The anthology contains sixteen other stories, all gay, all sf and all with a 'time' element, by both new and established authors. Check out the QueeredFiction website for more details, and to find out where to buy the book.

And happy time-travelling, and reading.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Release date for 'Queer Dimensions'

Latest news from QueeredFiction is that their time-themed sf anthology 'Queer Dimensions' is due for release on 21 September via a range of stockists.

This book includes my short story The Visitor, a poignant time-travel tale of a man's search for the love he left behind in his distant past, as well as stories from around twenty other authors.

You can find more details at the QueeredFiction website and I'll obviously be posting more here, and on my own website, as soon as the anthology is available.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Story in The New Flesh

The New Flesh (which sounds rather like a porno site but is actually a brand new magazine of short dark fiction) have accepted Clones and are featuring it on their website today.

This story is a very short, very odd little piece about... well, um, I'm not really sure what it's about - that's half the fun. :D Suffice it to say it's science fiction, it involves a mad scientist, and it has a twist in the tail.

You can find the story online at The New Flesh and you'll see when you read it why the picture I've used here is so appropriate.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Writers' desks takes a break

In case anyone was wondering, I haven't forgotten about the writers' desks series. I just decided that the summer holidays was a good time to take a break, partly because the writers themselves are on holiday and partly because so many readers are also away, there might be fewer folk to read the posts. Do keep an eye on the site, though, because I hope to run more writers' desks in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eaten alive

Something carniverous with very sharp teeth has taken up residence in our garden. I'd been pottering about out there over the weekend, doing a bit of general tidying now that the first flush of summer is over. And what do I get for my trouble? Eleven separate insect bites, that's what. I'm one giant itch from head to toe, and I've used so much tea tree gel I should probably buy shares in the company. And still the wretched bites itch. It's not good for work, since I keep having to break off to ('scuse me) ::scratch::.

I have no idea whether our Resident Nasty Insect really is a mosquito or not (although I suspect it might be since one of our neighbours has a pond) but I do wish it would leave me alone (::scratch::) and go and bully something its own size, like a rhinoceros or something.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Busy weekend

Dave got back on Friday evening after a whole fortnight away working in South Wales. He was very tired (12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 2 weeks is enough to make anyone tired) so we decided to hang the chores and have some mindless fun over the weekend.

On Saturday we had a shopping trip into town, and then in the afternoon buzzed over to the nature centre on Pershore Road for a stomp round. I sprained my ankle last week so was hobbling round with the aid of a stick, but it was lovely to see all the animals - meerkats, otters, red pandas, a brand-new lynx enclosure etc etc - and enjoy the warm sunshine. Outside the cafe we bumped into some friends so sat down and had a cuppa (or in Dave's case, a large portion of ice cream) with them and chatted until the place was ready to close. Even on summer weekends it shuts at 4 pm which does seem a tad early; I'd been taken with a small furry toy lemur in the shop on the way in, but couldn't buy one as the shop was closed and we were all herded out to the car park by a different gate. Oh well, their loss.

The roads round Edgbaston were very busy - we hadn't realised that the Twenty20 cricket semi-finals and final were taking place at the Warwickshire ground and half the country seemed to have turned out to watch them! We made it back in one piece, though, and had Mexican for tea slumped in front of a couple of films - Igor (which was adorable) and The Iron Man, a typical Marvel plot but entertaining nonetheless.

Yesterday I got on with some much-needed decorating (finishing off fiddly bits in a couple of different rooms) while Dave put up a new light in the utility room, to replace the naked bulb which everyone and his Mum tended to bang their heads on. The result is much neater and much less dangerous!

Friday, August 14, 2009

False alarm

It must have been a temporary glitch. I've just logged in to my dashboard and there all my followed blogs are again. Phew. At least that saves me an afternoon's work trying to track them all down!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blogger eats things again

I'm most irritated to find on logging on to Blogger tonight that my entire list of blogs I'm following has disappeared. Completely. Vanished without trace. Some of them I have listed elsewhere, and it shouldn't be too difficult to track them down again. Others were more of a one-off thing and I'm not sure I know where to start looking for them.

If you know I used to follow your blog and I suddenly seem to have disappeared, please feel free to contact me and let me know your blog address. It'll be saving me a lot of scraping around in the bowels of Blogger trying to find you all individually again!

And... sorry. But Blogger has a strange appetite at times....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brideshead - and friends - revisited

Yesterday I had a lovely trip out to Solihull to meet writer friend Liz, her daughter Gail and her adorable grandson Jamie.

I'd had a rather rough weekend, with Dave away working and ructions with the next-door neighbour over the boundary fence (he's threatening to assume ownership himself...) so I was a bit frazzled to begin with. The weather didn't play ball either, being dark, damp and drizzly most of the day, so even pretty little Solihull didn't look its best.

We had a really nice time, though, chatting about this and that, catching up on news of mutual friends, and watching Jamie toddle about in the rose garden at Malvern Park. All very relaxing, and exactly what I needed after the hassles of the weekend.

Later on I watched the latest film of Brideshead Revisited on Sky Movies. I've read the book and watched and loved the old 1980s series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, so I was intrigued to see how they'd managed with this adaptation. The answer is, not half bad. It lacked the sheer charm of the series, and because it was so much shorter some of the detail was lost. Matthew Goode as Charles was excellent, but I didn't rate Ben Wishaw quite as highly playing Sebastien. He seemed too much of a sullen teenager and lacked the sheer aching sadness of Andrews' performance. And my biggest criticism was that they swept the gay relationship under the carpet, hinting strongly that it was all on Sebastien's part, and that Charles was in love with Julia from the start. I'm not sure that's in keeping with the book - was it watered down for the American market, like so much these days? However, the film was a lot better than I expected, with some excellent performances from the supporting cast and a great period 'feel'. And I was amused to see that once again, Castle Howard stood in as Brideshead. Presumably the producers felt it was so synonymous with Brideshead in peoples' minds that they didn't dare film it anywhere else!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Famous last lines

The BBC website had an intriguing article yesterday on last lines of novels. First lines can be very well known, but it made the point that far fewer people can quote their favourite last lines. Why is this? Do readers simply not reach the end of a novel often enough to quote the last line? Or is it that the ending is a fuller, more rounded experience that leaves you with an overall impression rather than a single quote?

I don't know, but there were some classic endings listed in the article, including George Orwell's 1984, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

My own favourite is from Daphne du Maurier's novel The House on the Strand:

"The telephone went on ringing, and I crossed the room to answer it, but a silly thing happened as I picked up the receiver. I couldn't hold it properly; my fingers and the palm of my hand went numb, and it slipped out of my grasp and crashed to the floor."

Of course, you have to read the rest of the book to appreciate just how clever, and chilling, an ending that is...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Latest news on Queer Dimensions

Latest news from Queered Fiction is that their latest anthology, 'Queer Dimensions', is likely to hit the shelves in mid-August.

Queer Dimensions is a sf collection of stories themed around time, and contains my short story The Visitor, a poignant time-travel tale about one man's search for the lover he left behind in his distant past.

I'll be posting more details about where and when the anthology is available, so do keep popping back to check.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Progress

I thought it was about time for a quick update on progress on submissions and so on, just to keep you all posted.

I've had some thoughts for a possible new novel cramming up my head for the last week or two, so I haven't been sending off quite as much as usual. This morning, though, I suddenly realised that a few deadlines were fast approaching, so settled down to work through them.

First up was the Hay Short Story Contest, a new competition that's only in its second year, but which is linked to the world-famous Hay on Wye Literary Festival. The theme was 'lost' and I had a story about a man living on the streets which seemed appropriate, so I've just printed that out and will post it at lunchtime.

Next I have a couple of ghost stories waiting to go to the next Words Magazine contest and I'll be getting those ready later today.

Finally, I'm in the middle of edits on The Visitor for QueeredFiction and hope to have an announcement about when that will be available fairly soon.

After that I'll have my head in a notebook, wrestling with the characters for this novel...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Glass-blowing, tigers and a misbehaving car

We've just arrived back from a very nice weekend visiting family on the Isle of Wight. It's a real tourist hotspot (mostly catering for the older generations; even my uncle who retired there refers to it as the 'Costa Geriatrica') so there's always loads to see and do.

Highlights this time included a visit to Sandown Zoo and a trip to the Isle of Wight glass studios. The zoo is a world-renowned one, which specialises in conservation and rescue work, particularly on tigers. They have a few other animals but not many; the bulk of their collection is big stripey cats that they've hand-reared or rescued from circuses and private collectors. It's only a small site but beautifully landscaped in the shade of an old fort with lots of palm trees and other sub-tropical plants thriving in the island's sunny climate.

The glass-blowing was fascinating. I'd never seen it done before and had no idea of the sheer skill and intricacy involved in creating the individual pieces. We watched two artisans making a perfume bottle with a flower stopper and they were back and forth to the furnaces, reheating the glass, shaping it, adding more layers of colour, reheating again, shaping again, for at least fifteen minutes. And that was just one piece! It made the high prices for the finished products much more understandable. And we treated ourselves to a very lovely paperweight.

The car has been misbehaving all weekend, with misfires in the engine and clouds of black smoke puffing out of the exhaust. Part way back last night it started making scraping noises to boot so it's been taken straight to the nearest mechanics this morning who are Looking At It. No doubt said Looking will involve lots of money so we're waiting for their phone call with some trepidation.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writers' desks - Alex Beecroft

Well, technically it's Friday, if only just. ;) I'm posting this a little on the early side (aka the crack of dawn) because we'll be here there and everywhere over the weekend and I'm not sure I'll have internet access. So, without further ado, here's the latest in my series of writers' desks, this week gay historical author Alex Beecroft:

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"I was about to start this entry with a deprecating little mention of the fact that although I like my desk tidy, no other part of my house reflects that. However, I see, now I'm looking at it, that my desk isn't that tidy either.

My desk is in what the estate agents called 'the dining room'. We soon turned the dining room into a sort of study, and it now contains four bookshelves, my desk, and my husband's desk (directly behind me).

When my desk was nothing more than a computer table, it used to fit into the corner and I would sit staring at a blank wall and feeling vaguely claustrophobic with all my reference books around me on the floor. So I asked for the desk for my birthday last year. It's been wonderful! Because it's so big, I'm now able to see out into the conservatory (aka the dining, sewing, exercise and general lumber room) and thence to the garden. I can also put my books into the desk drawers/shelves and have them easily to hand rather than scattered around my feet.

The fan comes in handy, as the conservatory tends to become oven-like during the summer. My in-box is a music stand, which is great because it takes up less room than a traditional lie-down one. I have an 18th Century clay pipe (replica) underneath it, which I find is better to chew on in moments of contemplation than a biro is. And that's my HMS Victory letter opener standing upright in the crease of my diary. Made from the oak and the copper-bottom of HMS Victory. (Another birthday present, but a different birthday.)

Apart from that, there's a drink and plate from my breakfast, sellotape, the beads from a broken necklace waiting in an envelope until I can re-thread them. Tonic (I forget to take it if it isn't staring me in the face.) And a black bag with the chain for my fob-watch in it. The watch itself is being repaired.

When False Colors was published, they sent me a stack of 'cover flats' – which is basically the cover with no book inside it. This was very nice indeed, and I put one of them up as a poster. But the rest are inside the desk waiting for me to think of what to do with them now!

It's a little messy and cheerless, which is exactly what you can say for the rest of the house. But then perhaps that's why I'm in the business of escapism!"

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Alex can fight with spear and battleaxe and has helped to construct a Saxon manor house from the ground up. But she still can't operate a mobile phone.

Her first novel, Captain's Surrender, is an Age of Sail romance set in the 18th Century British Royal Navy. Her second novel, False Colors, of Amazonfail fame, came out in April 2009 from Running Press. Currently working on a contemporary romance, she has plans to turn her hand to rural fantasy and historic murder mystery in the near future.

You can find her at her website.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amusing (mis)spelling

Couldn't help giggling over our local freebie newspaper tonight, which described two highwaymen in Washwood Heath, centuries ago, as having met a grizzly end.

Hmmm. Presumably they were mauled to death by a large bear?

:D

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mobile broadband... mutter mutter

I've been away from my desk for a few days, spending some time in a hotel in Kent with Dave, who had meetings in the area. It made a really nice change; we had a couple of meals out in the evenings, and also managed two different coastal walks. I can't really call them 'seaside' because we were on the Medway estuary which is a little, um, muddy - but it still made a refreshing change from Birmingham which is about as far from the sea as you can get.

We recently acquired a mobile broadband USB stick so I took that and a laptop with me, hoping to use them to stay in touch. It worked just fine at first - connecting to the internet and accessing webmail. But then I tried to update my blog. And found that instead of the usual Blogger navbar, I had a weird pink stripe across the top of the screen. When I investigated further, I found it had slapped an 'adult content ban' on me which wouldn't let me access, or update, any site with supposed adult content. For some unknown reason that included Blogger, every other social networking or blogging site, and a page about a novel that I wanted to research. The restriction was absolute, and the only way to get it lifted was to enter details of my credit card and pay the broadband provider £2. Supposedly they would refund this instantly, but I had visions of the transaction going wrong, the ISP eating my £2, and locking me out of broadband altogether, so I decided not to bother. Which is why it's been such ages since I've updated this.

Sorry! But you can blame the mobile broadband. I am. ;)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writers' desks - Merry

Time for the next in my weekly series of writers' desks, where you can find out if all writers work their fingers to the bone in a half-ruined garrett, or swan about in a summerhouse with Sangria on tap!

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"I share my desk so it's usually in an advanced state of chaos (I admit it - I tidied before taking the photo!)

The desk is in the back parlour next to the doorway into the kitchen. This means that it’s always gloomy, and in winter it’s absolutely freezing with the cold coming in through the single-glazed kitchen window.

I've become quite adept at typing with fingerless gloves on!

I face the wall so there's little to distract me there. I sometimes dream of having an attic office looking out over the fields but I know that – really – that would be the kiss of death as I'd spend far too much time daydreaming at the view. A wall is much better for progress.

I keep a general timetable of when I want things to be completed up on the pinboard, as well as a business plan for the year. The idea for the business plan came from Lynn Viehl and (for me) it works well as a means of setting out my goals and targets for the coming year.

On the floor by the chair are my Collins dictionary and thesaurus - not only handy for looking things up but also for short people to rest their foot on when typing! The chair (that you can't see) is a ratty old office chair, extremely comfy but looking rather threadbare as it's the cat's favourite scratching post.

The picture on the wall is one of my favourites - The Fighting Temeraire by Turner. I love the colours, the way everything is blurred and smudged; when I need a break from the screen I'll often lean back and look at it for a while, just to relax my eyes, before setting to once more."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Merry writes what she reads; combining fantasy, science fiction, romance, and horror in short and long fiction. When not working as an academic librarian—or herding a trio of Border Collies—she can usually be found with her nose buried in a book, or putting pen to paper.

Her blog is at: http://www.bibliothecariusalpha.blogspot.com/ and is cross-posted at Livejournal and Dreamwidth.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Selling what all the world desires

Birmingham City Council are making a big thing of the bicentennial of Matthew Boulton's death in 1809. He was, if not the father of the Industrial Revolution, then at least one of its 'movers and shakers' and was responsible for putting Birmingham on the map as the centre of manufacturing it remains (more or less...) to this day.

One of the main events marking his death is a big exhibition called 'Selling what all the world desires' at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, exploring the man, his business skills, his family life and the exquisite metalwork produced at his factory in Handsworth. Dave and I went to the exhibition last Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it. For starters it was free (always a bonus!) and it was also a good size, taking up three whole galleries in the Museum. (Not like one recent Chinese art exhibition, much hyped around the city, which turned out to be housed in eight glass cases....) We spent a whole hour wandering around, reading old inventories and accounts, looking at scale models of the steam engines he used in his factory, and gazing at the silverware and ormulu vases, candlesticks and clocks he produced. Some of these were a little too ornate (positively frilly) for my taste but you could see how expensive they were. Indeed, one entry in an inventory listed an item as costing a whopping 42 shillings. That probably represented a year's wages for most people!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writers' desks - Charlie Cochrane

It's Friday again (already?) and time for the third in my series of writers' desks. This week it's the turn of historical romance writer Charlie Cochrane.

Don't forget that if you're a writer and would like to take part, you can email me for further details.

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"This computer cart is where I write, answer e-mails, edit and do most of the things associated with my author life. It’s in our study, which is a pleasant little room with a view out onto the garden so I can swivel round in my chair and see winter jasmine, miniature daffodils or rhododendrons in flower, all depending on the time of year.

It’s a place I can shut myself away in and get on with writing – when the muse lets me – and let my bits and pieces spread.

The picture makes it look a bit too tidy – at the moment there are a pile of books under that teddy bear, one to be reviewed and some reference sources for the ‘work in progress’. There’s also CD’s to keep me happy while I’m tied to the keyboard and a picture of my eldest daughter and her prom date to admire. Alongside all the usual paraphernalia of modern life such as spare printer cartridges and cables to link various electronic gismos one to the other.

I find inspiration from the framed poem – one a friend wrote for my twenty fifth wedding anniversary - and the romantically creative juices are at present also being stimulated by pictures of the Garrison Church at Portsmouth and a rather nice Italian chap from the 1880’s, whose photo I found in a shop in Oxford.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that an assorted set of stories such as mine get written at a desk covered in an eclectic mixture of stuff."

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Charlie Cochrane primarily writes historical gay mysteries/romances - her Cambridge Fellows Mysteries Series, set in Edwardian England, is available through Samhain, and she has stories in the anthologies 'I Do' (MLR), 'Queer Wolf' (Queered Fiction) and ‘Speak Its Name’ (Cheyenne Publishing). You can find her online at her Livejournal blog.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Free flash story

Every now and again I enjoy experimenting with different styles and forms of writing. It makes my brain ache, but it's a challenge and I'm always up for a challenge, at least in writing terms.

Here's a flash story based on a (fictional!) episode of 'Antiques Roadshow', which I tried writing backwards. I deliberately numbered the paragraphs to make it easier to follow. See if you can work out what's going on!

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Slip Ware

5. "I'll have you for that, expert or no expert." The man shouts at her, his face a shiny red balloon, one foot pawing the ground like an angry bull.

4. She wakes, groggy, and finds herself starfish-like on her back, gazing up at the exhibition hall roof. Anxious faces peer back, and her hand rests on something sharp.

3. "Watch out, she's going to fall," someone yells. She hears it through the thick grey fog buzzing in her ears, as nausea surges up her throat.

2. The cameras focus on her face, catching her expression as it sags into horror. She watches the vase slide through her fingers and shatter into shards on the polished parquet floor.

1. The antiques expert smiles at her next contestant in delight. "It's a rare and valuable early slip-ware vase, worth about ten thousand pounds."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ice Age 3-D

We went to see this film on Saturday. Believe it or not, it's the first time I've ever seen a film in 3-D, let alone one using the new technology that uses polarisation rather than red and green lenses.

The film was great. Completely silly, of course (I mean, who ever heard of dinosaurs in the ice age? They'd died out millions of years before that!) but still, tremendous fun. And the 3-D effects just blow you away. Characters actually look as though they're in front of the background; the perspective changes with the camera angle; and things hurtle out of the screen right at you. (And the less said about the way that made me jump, the better...) The technical wizardry to achieve all this is amazing. Just how do you render cartoon animation fur in 3-D? Yet someone's done it, and done it brilliantly.

My only gripe is that in this day and age, when we can fly people to the moon for their holidays, they still can't make 3-D glasses (or non-prescription sunglasses, for that matter) that fit people who wear specs. I ended up wearing the 3-D pair over the top of my everyday pair and it was uncomfortable and gave me raging eye-strain. Come on, scientists. Given that around a quarter of the population now wear glasses as standard, can't you come up with something that clips on instead?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Writers' desks - Bill Kirton

Here's the second entertaining entry in my series of writers' desks, this week from crime writer Bill Kirton:

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"I use a double desk arrangement, one for the computer, one for the rest. It means twice the area to put things down with the good intention of tidying them up later. But, like others of a messy persuasion, I really do know where everything is. It’s also very much who I am. I hope I don’t mean a total wreck, but rather it’s the place where there’s just me and my characters and my words. No need to make any of the compromises that are necessary in normal social interactions. I can just sit there as an observer and record the goings-on.

The room’s in the basement of our house and I look out on a lush corner of the garden. Standing among the grasses and shrubs is a carving of an eagle I did at a class I started attending in order to find out what it felt like to carve a figurehead. That was research for my historical novel The Figurehead but I liked it so much that I still make things.

On the desks (and floor) apart from work-related bits and pieces, I have family photos and strange little things I’ve picked up at conferences and the like, such as a wee armchair for my mobile to sit in, or a long spring with a dog’s head at one end and a tail at the other in which I stick letters and things – my in-tray, if you like.

On one wall, there’s a huge poster for the film Germinal – a great book and a reminder of how nasty the gap between the haves and the have-nots is and always was.

In brief, though, and with no pretentiousness intended, the desks are like those magic mirrors and things – places you walk through to enter other worlds."

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Bill was a university lecturer but took early retirement to write full-time. His crime novels have been published in the UK and the USA. He also writes short stories, sketches, songs, and stage and radio plays, but earns his living writing commercial scripts and documents.

His website and blog are at:

www.bill-kirton.co.uk

http://livingwritingandotherstuff.blogspot.com/

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Story in Mslexia

I was all set to blog about something completely different today.

And then the postman called, and a large brown envelope bounced onto the doormat containing my subscription copy of Mslexia, a well respected British literary magazine by and for women. I always enjoy leafing through so I ripped the thing open... and out popped a cheque.

Oh, I thought. Has there been a problem with my subscription? Have I overpaid?

Not so. When I looked at the fiction section I discovered, to my absolute joy and amazement, that they've published a short story of mine. The piece, which is untitled, is a modern parable on the subject of bricks and mortar, told in only 150 words, which was quite a challenge in itself. I've been sending stories to this magazine for years because it's so well respected (and because I like it, dammit), but I never, ever thought my work would find its way onto their pages. As you can imagine, I'm somewhat excited (aka hyperventilating) to be proved wrong.

You can find full details on how and where to buy copies of the magazine (including a list of stockists if you don't want the bother of sending off for one) on their online subscriptions page. The magazine is usually stuffed with interesting, valuable and sensible articles on the subject of womens' writing, as well as a selection of new writing. In this case, it's poetry as they're showcasing the winners of their recent poetry competition, but one flash story appears in every issue regardless.

If you do decide to buy a copy of the magazine, my story is on page 30. And that's Issue 42, by the way. I had to use a picture of the previous edition because they haven't quite finished updating their website yet!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Published today...

The Pygmy Giant, the online magazine which published Fish Out of Water a few weeks ago, has just posted another of my flash stories. This one is called Lovers' Lane and it's a dark, almost vicious tale of the fallout from an affair, set in a town centre car park.

Believe it or not, the story is based on something that happened in my past life. Nope, not the affair, but the description of the car park. You'd be amazed where writers end up sometimes - and where they find inspiration for their work. ;)

Anyway, you can read the story here and I hope you enjoy it, even if it is a little on the dark side.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Feeling hot hot hot

Summer has finally arrived here in Brum. We've actually had (gasp) sunshine, and temperatures over 20c for several days at a stretch! Wonders will never cease... Of course, we're still getting thunderstorms most days as well, but I don't mind that as long as I'm warm. I was speaking to a friend who knows someone in the meteorological business and apparently the period from late May to early July counts as the equivalent (if somewhat less dramatic) of the UK's monsoon season, when we get a fair proportion of our yearly rainfall. Makes a lot of sense, actually.

The good weather's come just in time for the Moseley Festival, a whole week of events, entertainments and general fun in this rather unique little corner of Birmingham. Unlike many places we don't settle for a dodgy float procession, a raffle and a steel band. Oh no. Moseley has to be one step ahead of everyone else, at everything. ;) We get a farmers' market, a craft fair, morris dancers, drummers, a flash mob, open days at local schools, galleries and artists' studios, a guided tour/walk, and an open day at the local park (which is usually kept locked - and only local residents get a key).

On Saturday Dave and I strolled down to the village centre and joined in the fun, and spent far more than we'd ever intended. The farmers' market has won awards (best urban one in the whole country, apparently) and was bulging with all kinds of yummy produce from Parson's Nose cheese to scrumpy to a hog roast. The craft market was also bulging, but with beautiful hand-made crafts, artwork, turned wood, pottery and goodness knows what else. It was quite a challenge to come away without buying anything, and one we didn't meet.

Yesterday there was a bird of prey display in the park and we were hoping to go along and see owls and falcons and things, but Dave's work intervened rather sharply and we never did get there.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writers' desks: Sharon Maria Bidwell

And now for something completely different. ;)

A few weeks back I thought it might be nice to run a little feature on my blog, once a week or thereabouts, showcasing writers' desks. The Guardian runs a similar series, based on Writers' Rooms, which I've always found a fascinating insight into authors and the sort of environment they like to work in. I'm hoping, on a smaller scale, I can do the same.

First up in the new series is British author Sharon Maria Bidwell. If you'd like to take part, please email me for details of what I need.

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"I don’t always write at my desk. I face a wall because I’d spend too much time staring out at the world. I can still turn my head left or right to see through a window.

I fell in love with the glass desk not realising it would be cold to rest on in winter. The hearts are from a shop in Boscastle, Cornwall, just one of many places I love. So is one of the two dragons here. I love dragons and many are dotted about the
house. The piece of pink quartz is supposed to block negative ions or something...I forget exactly. I’m not convinced, but it’s pretty.

Betty Boop and Marvin the Martian are recent additions and appeal to my sense of humour, particularly Marvin with gun raised as if to say “stay away”. Fine, so I need treatment. The most important item on the desk and which you can’t see very well is a tiny photo of my beloved pet, now deceased. There isn’t one of the other half because although we carry photos of each other, they are kept private.

The wrist-rest has been heaven sent. I get RSI in my right wrist. This is a 'neat' moment. The neatness varies but I am much better organised than I used to be, meaning I have trays in which to put things away in order to forget all about them. My filing pile used to be a waste bin so I think a tray is an improvement.

My desk is no longer hidden away in some small room. I missed my husband. LOL. I’ve learned to write despite distractions, although there are times I need peace and quiet. I also like to write on a laptop in the garden."

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Sharon’s writing is diverse, often crossing genres, blending horror, fantasy, action, adventure, fairy tales, gothic, erotica, and romance in any combination. She’s called her website “Aonia” for in Greek myth that is where the muses lived and with numerous publishing credits, the muses have definitely found a home at Aonia.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Concrete Jungle available

I've just heard from the editor at Ink Sweat & Tears, that my flash surrealist piece Concrete Jungle is available to read on the site RIGHT NOW!

I can't really call this a 'story' since it doesn't have a plot. Instead, it's a series of vivid images that conjure up the atmosphere of a moment in time. This was a method used by surrealist writers in the early 20th century, and since the piece was inspired by a surrealist-style garden, I wanted to use an appropriate writing style for it.

The garden, which is constructed mostly of coloured concrete in a jungle setting, is at Las Posas in Mexico. If you're interested in seeing it you can get a glimpse in the new Empire of the Sun video for their single 'We Are The People' on YouTube. The garden appears when the falsetto chorus begins, and you can see just how weirdly beautiful it is.

And if you'd like to read Concrete Jungle, please go to Ink Sweat & Tears now, before it disappears off the bottom of the page!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shopping dilemma

I watched a fascinating programme on tv last night about the hardships facing shops on our high streets. It hit home to me because our local high street has suffered terribly in the 'economic downturn', with big name stores pulling out due to rent increases and independent shops closing by the week. I was staggered to find that we're by no means the worst; in some cases (such as Dunstable in Bedfordshire) the experts think that the closures have now reached critical mass. In other words, there are so few shops left that nobody is visiting the town centre and the remaining shops have no customers, so they too will have to close.

It's all very sad. Those of us who don't drive depend on local shops that are accessible on foot or by public transport and we're seeing our choice cut day by day. In one case last night a town's last remaining baker had just closed its doors. Where are people going to buy bread? And I feel particularly sorry for elderly folk, who may not have the means to travel to out-of-town malls and nearby hypermarkets.

But it did just strike me - who is to blame for all this? Yes, okay, I know about the recession, and the fact that people in general are spending less. But it seems to me that the problem goes deeper than that. One statistic quoted last night, in the case of Tewkesbury, a lovely old town in Gloucestershire, was that only 11% of its inhabitants shopped in the town. Presumably the other 89% go out of town to nearby cities, malls and supermarkets. That doesn't leave much of a customer base to keep the small town centre shops going, does it?

I hear a lot of people grumbling about the lack of shops in their village, on their local high street, even in their city centre. But, um, maybe we should all moan a bit less and use our local facilities more. After all, it's we who have the power to save or condemn our local shops, and even a handful more sales per week could be enough to tide them by...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another acceptance

Rather to my astonishment they're coming thick and fast at the moment. This morning The Pygmy Giant emailed to say they would take Lovers' Lane, a dark little piece about the downside of an affair. The story has an almost sleazy feel to it, and is set in a grotty city centre car park, of all the peculiar places - you'll have to read it to find out why! It should be out on 1st July, but I'll post a reminder once it's available.

Will the good luck last? Almost certainly not. In publishing things seem to go in runs - I find I get three or four acceptances in a matter of weeks, and then everything goes quiet and nobody wants what I write. ;) Over the years I've learned to be grateful for the good times and grit my teeth the rest of the time. I guess it's just the nature of the game.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anyone for tennis?

It's that time of year again: strawberries, rain, athletic young folk leaping about in whites, and the gentle thwack of balls. Tennis balls, that is. Yup, Wimbledon is here again. Two weeks of joy for tennis fans, two weeks of fuming and searching the tv listings for *anything* that isn't tennis for those of a less sporting persuasion. But hey, it is only once a year.

For me, it's two weeks of bliss that bring back happy memories of perching on Mum's knee and watching the likes of Ilie Nastase and a young Jimmy Connors on a grainy black and white tv. These days it's slightly less of an event, simply because thanks to cable television there's more chance to catch up with our tennis heroes and heroines week in, week out. Back then, if you missed the action at Wimbledon, you'd have to wait a whole year before you saw tennis again, with the minor exception of the US Open final. Not the whole tournament, you understand - just the final.

So, for the next two weeks I may not be at my desk much. Instead you can find me camped in the living room with a tray of sandwiches, and perhaps a laptop, hooked up to the telly and imbibing tennis intravenously. As long as it doesn't rain, of course. Because Wimbledon is played on grass, the matches have to be stopped if it rains, in case someone slips over and hurts themselves. This year, the All England Club have gone to vast expense to fit a roof over Centre Court, so that at least one match can continue if the heavens open. Normally the spectators hate rain because it plays havoc with their viewing schedule. This year, according to a BBC website survey, 80% actually want it to rain so they can see the new roof in action.

Including me, I'm ashamed to say.

War of the Worlds

In spite of my blue fingers I thoroughly enjoyed the concert on Friday night. We're very lucky here in Birmingham - we have four theatres, a concert hall, a symphony hall and an arena in the city centre, and another arena a few miles away near the airport, so the list of bands, acts etc that come here is very extensive. So far this year we've already seen Cirque du Soleil, the Austrialian Pink Floyd show, the Blue Man Group, and Jean Michel Jarre.

On Friday it was the turn of the live version of Jeff Wayne's 'War of the Worlds', and it was pretty amazing. Wayne himself conducted the orchestra and rock band that provided the music, while two of the original performers, Justin Hayward and Chris Thompson, reprised their roles. Apart from a few minor glitches the overall standard was extremely high, and it can't be many concerts that have a Martian tripod descending onto the stage and sending heat rays out across the audience! Great fun, and the place was packed to the rafters. So much so it took us half an hour to get out of the car park afterwards...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pen 1, Fiona 0

I had an argument with my fountain pen earlier.

The pen won.

Now I have bright blue fingers and it won't scrub off, and we're going out for the evening.

Sigh. It's the story of my life, really... ;)

Fastest response ever?

Yesterday I discovered the webzine Ink Sweat & Tears, which specialises in crossover poetry and poetic prose. Like many literary magazines, some of the contents are highbrow enough to make your hair hurt but others were clever, fun, and really got me thinking. I had a great time poking about in the archives and eventually decided to try them with a piece of my own.

I submitted it about five o'clock last night. Ten minutes later, I'd had a reply from the editor saying 'fantastic, love it', which as you can imagine left me glowing. I don't think I have ever had such a rapid response as that, especially for an acceptance! (I've had a few rejections that were so fast they made me blink, but that's another story.)

The piece they've taken is very different from most of my work. It's called 'Concrete Jungle' and it's based on surrealist forms of literature, with little or no plot but a welter of incredibly vivid images. It was inspired by the amazing surrealist gardens at Las Posas in Mexico, which I've never been to but saw on a recent tv programme and fell in love with.

Apparently they'll feature the story within the next 3-4 weeks and I'll obviously let everyone know when it's available to read. And in the meantime you might like to pop over and explore the zine anyway because there's a lot of good stuff hidden amongst its virtual pages.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The sound of silence

Hands up everyone who needs total silence to write, or concentrate on work of any kind?

I don't, always. Mostly it depends on my mood, and how well (or otherwise!) the writing is going. If I'm really focussed on a story, really in the groove, then I'm lost in that other world and an entire herd of elephants could blunder through my study and I probably wouldn't notice. If I'm having difficulty concentrating, a mouse tripping over a pebble will interrupt my thought-processes and I'll probably never get them back.

Yesterday, though, I discovered that there is a noise level beyond which I just can't work, and it involves two sets of neighbours having two different lots of work done at once. Workmen on one side were cutting stone. Workmen two doors down on the other side were lopping trees, with two chainsaws and a shredder going full-tilt. The result? Sheer bloody cacophony from 9 am till 5 pm and a Fiona who was tearing out her hair and climbing up the walls.

Needless to say, I did not get much work done...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Smile of the day

Nicked from the excellent (and subversive) xkcd cartoon website:

Back from holiday

We had a wonderful break, cruising round some of the less well-known towns and cities of north-western Europe. Stops included Falmouth (in Cornwall), Dublin, Bilbao, Bordeaux (via a small port on the Garonne estuary), and Brest. All were interesting, but the star of the show was definitely Bilbao, which is a vibrant buzzing city with a staggering mix of old and new. We spent most of the day in the amazing Guggenheim Museum, a work of art in its own right, exploring the weird and wonderful modern art inside. We also spent a morning in the National Gallery of Ireland, an art gallery of a totally different kind but every bit as interesting.

The French cities were the least interesting. Bordeaux is a UNESCO world heritage site and filled to bursting with beautiful 18th century architecture. It's very elegant, but also rather sedate and insular, and if truth be told, ever so slightly dull (although I expect those good people from UNESCO would have a blue fit if they heard me say that). And Brest was a typical sea port - slightly grubby round the edges and still showing the signs of having suffered a pounding during World War II.

The weather was terrific throughout - we set off in hot sunshine and towed it round with us until we got back on board for the final sailaway in Brest, when it started to rain. But goodness, we've gone straight home to winter. It was 30c in Bilbao on Wednesday; four days later in Brum it was only 8c. No wonder we've broken out the winter woollies and stuck the heating back on.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Even better news!

I'm dashing in, in the midst of last-minute packing, to say that QueeredFiction have accepted The Visitor, a gay time travel romance, for their Queer Dimensions anthology. This story had been accepted for two previous anthologies (with other publishers) that were cancelled before they got off the ground, so I'm delighted to have found such a good home for it at last.

The editor doesn't yet have a release date but I promise to let everyone know the minute I find out!

Now, I really am off on holiday...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good news

I'm delighted to say that From The Asylum have now been in touch with me and the editor has confirmed that 'Things Aren't What They Seem' is still going ahead in spite of the closure of their publishing business. I'm very happy about this because it means Boyfriend From Hell still has a home after all. It's nice to know that I won't be having to punt it round the publishers all over again.

And there's a great review of Shifting Perspectives 2 at Bitten by Books, which describes the stories as 'interesting and unique'.

I'm travelling away on holiday tomorrow so won't be around to update this for a few days.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Currently working on...

A gay horror story for the next QueeredFiction anthology, adapted from an earlier unpublished story about a haunted house. So far I've written about 3,500 words, but I'm going nowhere fast. I don't write a lot of horror and I'm struggling to find the right tone. I'd like it to be dark and chilling, but at the moment the characters are hijacking it and keep turning it fluffy. And fluffy horror doesn't really work, or didn't the last time I checked.

I shall persevere, even if it means knocking my own characters over the head with a frying pan to stop them running off with the plot.

And no, I'm not going insane. Why do you ask? :P

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

News on From The Asylum?

Has anyone heard anything further about this online zine/anthology publisher?

Back in February I had a story accepted for their latest anthology, called 'Things Aren't What They Seem'. I sent off my signed contract in the post, plus a load of other bits and pieces (story in a different file format, updated bio etc). Since then I've not heard from them, and not received my counter-signed copy of the contract.

Then I saw from EREC that their publishing arm was closing down. According to their website, last updated in early April, they are honouring the anthologies they had already accepted stories for, including 'Things Aren't What They Seem'. But I'm not sure how they're going to sell the books if they are effectively closed (even their online business is apparently closing in July).

On Friday I wrote to the editor with a few queries including whether they'd received my contract and whether they still wanted my story. So far I've had no response. I really, really hope I'm wrong, but it's beginning to look as though this is a completely dead market. Unless anyone has any different information?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More fishy news...

I wrote yesterday's blog in a hurry because I only found out that my story had been posted at The Pygmy Giant about ten minutes before we were due to go out to the cinema to see the new Star Trek film. So it was a bit light on details, because I only really had time for the basics.

So, here's a tad more information about the story. I wrote it while I was on a writing course a few years back, when the tutor challenged each of us to do a crossover between noir and one other genre. I chose humour, which sounds completely perverse, but oddly it seemed to work very well and I've always been rather fond of the result. So much so, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at one or two other stories in the same style - one of which is Rock and a Hard Place, currently appearing in Radgepacket Volume 2.

You wouldn't think that noir and humour would marry together well at all, but it seems to give rise to an intriguing 'gallows-humour' style of writing which can be quite fun.

And the film? It was terrific. Lots of thrills and spills, great special effects, an exciting plot (as long as you don't think too hard about the time travel causality loops), and excellent acting from the new young cast, in particular Zachary Quinto as a more-Spock-than-Spock younger Spock. A great night out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fish Out of Water

My daft little flash about a blind date is up right now at The Pygmy Giant, where you can read it for free.

Feel free to leave a comment over there if you liked it - or even if you didn't. :)

An architectural carbuncle

I love reading about the origin or early useage of words, and this article in The Times is hugely entertaining. It describes possibly the first use of the word 'carbuncle' to describe an architectural design, in this case for Buckingham Palace, the Queen's official residence in London.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6275896.ece

Prince Charles more recently described a proposed extension to the National Gallery as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend"; it's interesting to see where he might have borrowed the phrase from.

And this bit, about the works on the palace in 1825, made me giggle: "Costs soared. The Times speculated that nearly all of the original grant of £150,000 went on raising a small hill to prevent the hobbledehoy of Pimlico being able to see in through the windows."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Most overused line ever?

This is more from the world of screenwriting than books. But it gets my vote for the most overused line in the world, ever:

"Everything will be all right, darling, I promise you."

Have you noticed it? It's in everything. Films, tv shows, soap operas... you name it, the characters regularly spout this drivel. It's very lazy, and it's also very unbelievable, because you can't possibly promise anyone that you can 'make everything all right' for them for ever more. Just doesn't happen like that in real life, does it?

Do people actually use dialogue like this? Or is it a case of Screenwriter's Formula #103?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weird research

It's amazing the stuff you have to look up for stories sometimes. Last week I was deep in the rather arcane regulations surrounding the use of child car seats in the UK. Yesterday I had to research the lead actor's name in Twilight (Robert Pattinson, in case you didn't know either) and Russell Crowe's age.

None of these was for the major theme of a story, but just those off-the-cuff little remarks that can make all the difference if you get them wrong. I've seen this myself when I've had my reader hat on. Years ago I found a story in which the hero was on a cruise ship which docked overnight in Paris. A Paris that had miraculously translocated itself to the French coast. By the time I'd finished boggling, I'd totally lost track of where I was in the story and had to go back and start it again. I'd hate that to happen to anyone reading my work.

Besides, it's actually a lot of fun. You never know what you're going to have to find out about next.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Firing off submissions

I seem to have had stories flying out of the door at a rate of knots lately. Usually I like to average at least one submission a month, to keep things ticking over and to try to ensure a steady supply of new stories for my readers, but sometimes it actually works out as more than that.

This is one of those times - I've sent three off in the last couple of weeks and have another almost ready to go. So far, I've sent a story about a Christmas holiday gone wrong to a contest at Words Magazine; a time travel romance to QueeredFiction's latest anthology; and an updated version of the three little pigs to Mslexia for their 'bricks and mortar' themed flash. Later in the week I'm hoping to send another one off to Mslexia, this time a longer piece about a poster for their 'idols' call.

Of course, the only trouble with sending lots of stories out is that you tend to get 'em all back again, in a heap, accompanied by rejection slips. But I can always hope.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Smile of the day

Headline seen on BBC text news this morning: 'Stationery company to make cuts'.

Hmm. That would be paper cuts, presumably? ;)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Offputting guidelines

When I first started submitting work to publishers I was naive enough to pretty much send anything to anyone. A few burned fingers later, I'm older and wiser enough to read the guidelines with a magnifying glass, and there are a few 'red flags' that will make me squawk every time. If I see any of them, I'll start having second thoughts. If I see two or more, the publisher goes on the 'no way, Jose' pile and I'll probably never send work to them.

So what are my pet hates when it comes to guidelines and/or a publisher's business practices? Well, here's some of them, in no particular order:

1. Seeing typos or grammatical errors in the guidelines, or elsewhere on the publisher's web page for that matter. These people are going to be editing my manuscript and I'd expect them to be able to copy edit their own site.

2. Any mention of 'no passive writing' in the editing guidelines. As I've mentioned elsewhere, too many editors are mistaking past imperfect ('was doing') for passive and I can't face taking every instance of past imperfect out of every piece of work I submit.

3. A list of editing/formatting dos and don'ts that's longer than the piece of work I'm submitting.

4. Weird formatting requirements that would take me the better part of a week to achieve. I'm always happy to oblige with font, font size, spacing etc, but intricately detailed formatting should really be the publisher's responsibility, not the writer's.

5. Any invitation to send your work to the publisher's in-house editing staff before, during or after submission, especially if there is a fee. This could represent a conflict of interests on the part of the publisher and it's all too easy for them to refuse a writer's story until that writer has paid for their editing services...

6. Lack of information on the eventual product: will it be electronic or print, when is it due out, will it be an anthology or a series of stand-alone books, will it be distributed via book stores and distribution sites or just from the publisher's website? Believe it or not, I've seen calls for submission with none of the above information, which makes it kind of hard to be certain the work will ever appear.

7. Any sign of the publisher 'rallying their troops' in response to reasonable queries about their business practice. This is quite possibly the biggest red flag of all for me; it's desperately unprofessional and leaves such an unpleasant taste in my mouth that I'll usually add a publisher to the 'no' list the minute I see them doing this.

Does anyone else have submission processes that make them see red? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Google opt-out update

Some slightly better news from the Google 'opt-out' mess - we authors now have until September to choose whether to opt into or out of the deal. Which does give everyone a bit more time and breathing space to choose what's best for them. In the meantime, I understand that the deal is being re-examined to see whether it's even legal, and whether it best represents authors' interests. I'll be fascinated to see what the result of that is...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Pygmy Giant accepts story

I heard yesterday that The Pygmy Giant, a British online zine of flash fiction and poetry, have accepted Fish Out of Water. This is a fun little story about a blind date in a posh restaurant which goes horribly wrong.

Bert ran his fingers round the inside of his collar, saw Trudy looking at him, and stopped. He put his elbows on the table, and then he thought perhaps he shouldn't and took them off again. "Are you sure it was fish I ordered?" he muttered. The menu might just as well have been in Greek for all the sense it made to him.

I don't yet know when the story is due to come out, but will let everyone know once it's available to read.