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


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:


"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!"


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?


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!


"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: 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.


"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."


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!


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:


"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."


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:

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.