Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'Come Friendly Bombs'

My flash story 'Come Friendly Bombs', which was recently 'commended' or mentioned in dispatches or whatever in the Once There Was flash fiction contest, has just been posted on their site.

The story, believe it or not, is based on a real-life event, although I admit I took a few liberties with the ending. It's very tiny and decidedly silly but if you'd like to take a look, go to the Once There Was blog.

I had lots of fun writing this one and hope you have as much fun reading it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another charity anthology

While we're on the subject of charity anthologies, the sequel to 'I Do' in support of marriage equality has just hit the shelves as well.

This one is currently available as an e-book (pdf available from MLR Press) but will be coming in print shortly. It contains 22 stories and weighs in at nearly 100,000 words, and every last penny of the profits will be donated to the Lambda Legal Fund. The print version should be available in a couple of weeks or so.

Haiti book update

I promised to let everyone know when I heard anything new about the '100 Stories for Haiti' anthology. The good news is that the book has found a publishing home with Bridge House Publishing and should be available to buy from 4th March 2010. Bridge House will be producing it as a print paperback volume and it'll be available to order from their website, the original 100 Stories for Haiti website, and Amazon, price £11.99 plus postage.

You can pre-order your copy now to make sure you're ahead of the rush on 4th March! Just head over to the 100 Stories for Haiti website and follow the 'buy the book' links to register your interest.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Culture vultures #2

It's amazing what you can find on the doorstep on a dismal, cold, damp February Saturday afternoon when you can't think of a thing to do. A quick search of the local what's on pages revealed a museum we'd read about ages ago and promptly forgotten - the Lapworth Museum of Geology. Like the Barber Institute the other week this turned out to be on the University of Birmingham campus, tucked away in the Grade II* listed 'Earth Sciences' building. Also like the Barber it was more 'educational institution' than genuine museum, but it also turned out to be fascinating.

A room full of glass cases revealed hidden treasures. There was everything from tiny trilobite fossils to whole dinosaur skeletons (okay, small ones, but still...); from fragments of precious metal to vast crystals of galena and quartz. Apparently the museum was started in 1880 by Charles Lapworth (hence the name) with a collection of fossils found mostly in the West Midlands. Since then it's been added to from all over the world and it's now one of the largest specialist geological museums in the country.

My only criticism is that some of the labelling is very old-fashioned and unhelpful: small cardboard labels with vast Latin names and not much actual information. It was still great fun, though, and we would happily go again.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

MyFreeRead to be avoided?

Several of my writer friends have recently received letters from a new company called MyFreeRead, offering to pay them for their e-books and other writing, which is then made available to readers free of charge on their website. The letter began:

"Dear Authors,

We want your e-books -- and we'll pay you for them!!

* e-Books
* Newsletters
* Excerpts from books
* Self-Published Articles

Now, there's a new idea... actually get paid for writing your e-books and articles!"

The payment offered for each e-book 'downloaded' (ie, 'sold') was 20 cents. Quite apart from the extraordinary notion that being paid for ebooks is a new idea, several things about the letter worried my friends - and me.

One, that amount is very low. If an author sells an ebook via one of the reputable publishers they are paid a percentage royalty per book sold. This varies depending on the price and length but most ebooks are in the $5 range and typical industry percentages are around 25%-40% of cover price. Now, I'm not much good at maths but even I can work out that 25% of $5 is a lot more than 20 cents.

On top of that, the only way the owner(s) of MyFreeRead can make any profit from this business model (paying the authors and not charging the readers) is if they benefit from some sort of advertising deal. Sure enough, Writers Beware has done some research and found that MyFreeRead is linked to a provider of online advertising, and that readers will have to complete a survey and view several adverts before they can get at the free ebook they want to download.

I'm not a big fan of online advertising. Much of it is linked to viruses and malware, some of it hijacks your browser, and all of it tends to breed like bunnies in a field. You start off with one browser screen and end up with fifteen pop-ups, seven pop-unders and three extra screens. Every time you close one down it automatically generates six more. I've been known to spend minutes trying to close my browser down. And I'm supposed to subject my readers to that sort of experience just so they can download a free bit of my writing, and I can be paid the measly sum of 20 cents?

If you're even remotely considering getting involved with MyFreeRead, I urge you to visit the Writers Beware article linked above. It makes for interesting reading and will hopefully make you look before you leap... and land in a puddle of something wet.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More three-word-madness

Another story prompted by Three Word Wednesday; this week the words were lucid, righteous and salvage. I'm thinking this might actually make a good beginning for a much longer piece of work...


Salvage Job

Jonathan was never at his most lucid at 6 am. It wasn’t even properly light; a pale halo surrounded the window but shadows still clung possessively to the corners of the room. He lay with his eyes closed, drifting and listening to the varied morning sounds - sparrows chattering in the bushes outside, the electric buzz of the milk float and the chink of bottles on stone steps, faint clatters from the kitchen where Marilyn was busy with pots and pans. A tantalising whiff of frying bacon tiptoed in through the partly-open door and sleep receded a little more.

He stretched until his toes popped and rolled onto his back, folding the blankets round him to close out any draughts. It might be late March but the mornings were still chilly and Marilyn hadn’t popped back in to switch the electric heater on. Usually he’d be up and about by now, dressed in his collar and tie, clutching a briefcase, ready to peck Marilyn on the cheek and catch the 6.42 bus to town. Sundays were different, though. There’d be chores later - sweeping the drive, washing the car - and a walk in the park after lunch, but for now he could luxuriate in the bliss of a weekend lie-in.

Until a small bundle of pure energy raced through the door and landed, panting, on the bed. It waited, briefly, then prodded his shoulder where he’d let the bedclothes slip. “Daddy? Dad! Come on, I know you’re only pretending to be asleep. I can see your eyes moving.”

Jonathan groaned and opened his eyes, then groaned again. It was light now, sun pouring in through the thin floral curtains, and that orange wallpaper had definitely been a mistake. “Whaddya want?” he mumbled, trying to shift the heavy lump off his chest. “Worse than a cat, you are, Suzanne.”

His daughter prodded him again, in the tummy this time. “So wake up then. Did you get them? I was out round Mandy’s last night, I didn’t get a chance to ask.”

Jonathan’s heart sank. The tickets. Those blasted, wretched, ruddy, bloody tickets to the Righteous Brothers concert that Suzanne had asked for as a special treat. He wasn’t keen on her going to pop concerts as a rule; she was only fifteen and you heard bad things about what went on. But this was her birthday and she’d made puppy eyes at him and he’d found himself saying yes.

He barely knew who the Righteous Brothers were; only that they weren’t brothers and they weren’t particularly righteous as far as he could see. He preferred a nice bit of Bach himself, but Suzanne had played him one of their songs on her new transistor radio and he supposed the chap had a nice enough voice. And as the kid herself had said, “They’re coming all the way from America and they’re only doing one tour....”

“Uh.” He pushed the blankets aside and sat up, shivering with the sudden chill. A chill of premonition, perhaps, or of guilt. “Look, love, I’m sorry....”

She didn’t let him finish. “Oh, daddy. You forgot, didn’t you? I knew you’d forget! That was supposed to be my birthday present! And now I’ll never get another chance to see them!” The lump moved abruptly off the bed, there was a rush of air and the door slammed on what sounded like a sob.

“Suzanne! Come back here and let me explain.” But a second slam followed as she took refuge in her room. He lay back again, fuming at the injustice of it all. He hadn’t forgotten the tickets - he’d given up his half-day off to go into town and queue for two hours in the pouring rain, only to find they’d sold the last ones to a chap about six feet ahead of him. He’d gone to a pub to dry out and console himself and then he’d missed the last bus home. Marilyn hadn’t been impressed, but she’d calmed down when he told her the worst.

“Never mind, dear, you tried your best. We’ll get her a rabbit instead.”

Jonathan didn’t think rabbits were much consolation for a missed opportunity for a teenage girl, but he’d agreed, and agreed to built a hutch. Which reminded him - he’d have to forgo the walk in the park this afternoon and head for the shed to knock up some bits of wood. He sighed, his euphoria vanished with the early morning sun. Suzanne would no doubt sulk in her room all day and might not forgive him for weeks, and on top of that he’d have to give up next Saturday afternoon to look up plans for hutches at the library. And on top of that, he was sure yesterday’s soaking had given him a cold. He swung his legs out of bed and reached for trousers and a comfortable old shirt. The bacon should be done by now. He’d go downstairs and salvage what was left of his day off.

(c) 2010 Fiona Glass

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Suspicious, me?

I came across this story on the BBC website this morning, about a woman's skeleton being found wrapped in a carpet on a construction site in Manchester.

Straight away something struck me as odd. It wasn't that the skeleton had been found, or even that it had been put there in the first place. What really made me blink was that initially the police treated the discovery as 'non suspicious'. It wasn't until they got the results of the post mortem that they decided to treat it as anything other than a natural death.

Now I don't know about you, but in the world I live in nothing about the above scenario is even remotely natural. Why? Because those bones were found wrapped in a carpet. I can't think of a single reason why someone would be buried in an unconsecrated site (ie, not a churchyard or cemetery), wrapped in an old piece of carpet, that doesn't involve some sort of criminal activity. At the very least it suggests someone concealed the death, because you could hardly wrap your own bones up once you were dead. At worst, it's murder.

I don't know. Is this just me? Have I been reading too many detective novels, or do I just have a very suspicious mind?

The case looks rather fascinating, in a tragic and macabre way. The clothes that were found with the body have a design that looks Victorian, yet the presence of a bra suggests something post-1920s at the earliest. I'll be watching for more details with interest - and a good deal of suspicion about that carpet...

Monday, February 08, 2010

More snow (sigh)

This endless cold weather is really getting me down. It's been almost two months since we had decent, normal temperatures - and by 'normal', I mean 'normal for the time of year'. There was one brief exception, on Friday. The sky turned blue with fluffy white clouds floating about, the sun came out, the temperature crept up... and up... to 9c, and all the birds started to sing for the first time this year. Dave and I strolled round to the High Street at lunchtime and it was just lovely being out of doors without feeling every last calorie of energy was being sucked straight out of you by the cold. Spring might only have been a week or two away.

Sadly, the return to normal parameters didn't last. It's been getting steadiy colder over the weekend and today we're back to what passes for normal this year - 2c. And it's just started to snow.

Last winter was on the cold side but before that we'd had a run of milder winters, and nature made hay while the sun shone. Birds started not just singing, but breeding and raising their young. We had daffodils at Christmas - not here in Brum, but at least in London and along the south coast. Trees and shrubs were showing a haze of green by the middle of March. To hear the experts, you'd think it was the end of the world. Mother Nature was apparently so confused she was never going to recover, and we'd be stuck with the consequences till our dying days.

Well, Mother Nature isn't confused. This year the birds are huddling in corners, fluffing up their feathers and too busy conserving energy to do frivolous things like finding a mate. And there isn't so much as a petal out yet. Not only are the daffodils not in flower, their levels haven't poked through the semi-frozen ground. All of which gives me lots of confidence in nature's recuperative powers... but it does make spring seem like an awfully long way away.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Flash story commended... the Once There Was flash fiction contest.

My (very silly) little story 'Come Friendly Bombs' didn't win first prize, but was shortlisted/commended and will be published on the Once There Was blog in the next few days.

I'm pretty sure this is the best result I've ever had in a writing competition, so naturally I'm delighted!

In other news, author Rick Reed is running a spotlight on 'Queer Dimensions' today, including a synopsis and a new excerpt that you might not have read before. Want to see it? Pop along to his blog to read more.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Three words make a story

At least that's the idea behind Three Word Wednesday, a blog I discovered the other day, which gives writers three words to play with once a week. This week, the words were frantic, lurch and odour. I used two and the third is implicit in the story. :)

This is based on something that happened to a colleague of mine, by the way. Hope you enjoy.


Running Late

I’m late, I’m late, I’m bloody late for work.

Everything’s gone wrong. First I burned the toast and had to do eggs instead. Then Martin lost the car keys and I helped him hunt for them. Of course he’d left them in his coat pocket all along but we must have turned the house upside down. Then the cat was sick, and Martin saw his chance and slipped away, saying brightly ‘Have a good day’ and aiming a kiss into thin air.

Millie needed changing, not once but twice. I forgot to empty the washing machine last night and my favourite blouse has creased. I’m dabbing it with water and trying to stretch it flat, but the end result is piebald and the creases won’t go away. The heel’s broken off my best shoes and the pair I drag out from under the bed are covered in fuzz. I waste another precious minute dusting them.

The clock ticks threateningly and the minute hand lurches ever closer to the eight. I’m late, I’m so bloody late, and it’s the third time this month. Last week my boss looked at her watch and frowned. Yesterday she raised her eyebrows and scowled. Today she’ll probably fire my arse - and we need the money to pay the mortgage off.

At last the kids are off to school with gym kit, packed lunch, books and shoes. Finally, I think. If I run now I might just make the early bus. There’s time to grab my coat and bag, hoist Millie into my arms and dash for the child-minders down the road.

Too late. The unavoidable odour of wet nappy assails my nose.

I can’t take her out like that - she’ll catch her death of cold. “Oh, Millie,” I wail and run for the bathroom at the top of the stairs.

Tell me my baby hasn’t just cost me my job.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Free flash

As I'd expected, 100 Stories for Haiti rejected my flash. Because of the very short timescale I had to send the best I had available, and obviously the tone wasn't quite right. I wish them all good luck with the project and hope it raises lots of £££ for the Red Cross; I'll be keeping an eye on progress and will report back once the book is available.

In the meantime, as promised, here is the story I submitted. It's very short and very silly, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. However, as everyone knows, there's no such thing as a free lunch! So if you do stop by and read the story, please consider making a donation of your own to a Haiti Appeal charity. For ease I've included various links below the story but feel free to choose one of your own if you'd rather.

Thank you.


Is it a Bird?

Henry had always wanted to fly.

Knotting the last string to the chair's arm he felt the whole contraption lift clear of the ground. It was working! The power of hundreds of balloons could life the weight of a man! None of his colleagues at the College had believed him, but now he'd show them he was right.

His hair ruffled in the breeze. He tried to straighten it but the chair lurched and he clutched again at the arms. He was glad he'd tied himself on as well as the balloons. They gave more lift than even he'd expected: soon he would be above the trees, then up amongst the clouds. When he'd had enough, he would shoot the balloons one by one and return, the opposite of Icarus, in steady descent to earth.

His hand twitched towards the gun tucked beside one leg... and felt only empty space. Had he left it, propped against the chair, to fall when he took off? He remembered a clatter, which he'd ignored in the elation of flight.


"Control, this is Flight 475 out of London Heathrow. We have an unidentified flying object at ten thousand feet. Please advise."


And here's where you can make that donation. The links will take you straight to the relevant donations pages:

British Red Cross
International Rescue Fund
Disasters Emergency Committee

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Put off modern classics

I was sad to read the other day that J D Salinger had died. I don't often comment when well-known writers die because too often, to my shame, I haven't read any of their works. But I did read 'Catcher in the Rye', years ago, and I know it's a modern classic.

Whether I enjoyed it or not is another matter. When I was in my teens my Mum went through a phase of borrowing modern classics from the library for me to read. She thought I didn't read enough good literature (which was true) and that I needed some encouragement to get me away from my comfort zone of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer (also no doubt true). Trouble is, I was an incredibly sensitive teenager, I tended to get totally lost in books, and I chose those nice comfortable books for a reason - they didn't make me sob or feel ill.

Unlike the books Mum chose. I can't remember all of them now but I know the list included 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' (I cried); 'Catcher in the Rye' (I cried); Brave New World (I devoured it in two sittings and cried for hours). '1984' I couldn't even finish and as for 'Lord of the Flies', it made me physically ill. After that, mercifully, Mum stopped trying to push literature down my throat and left me to develop my own tastes at my own pace.

Over the years my taste has changed and literate, character-driven novels are my first choice. These days I'd probably enjoy at least some of the classics on the list, especially 'Catcher in the Rye'. Sadly, my experience aged sixteen has put me off all those authors for life, and I'm not sure I could even get past the first page.

I know of friends who were put off particular books (or even the whole concept of reading) at school. I'd be fascinated to hear if anyone else suffered in the same way. Have you managed to overcome it? Or has the experience stayed with you for life?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Culture vultures

Yesterday it was really cold again here in Birmingham so we were hunting around for something to do that would get us out of the house, but still be indoors. A few weeks ago someone recommended the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University to us as being 1. open, 2. free and 3. pretty good. We'd heard of it before but always assumed it was only open to students, university staff and the like, not the general public, but a quick search on the net soon showed it's open to anyone, almost every day of the year.

And very impressive it was too. It's housed in a award-winning Art Deco building and the inside is slightly odd - less art gallery and more institution - but it was blessedly warm and filled with staggering works of art. The collection is only small (around 150 paintings plus sculpture and other artefacts, collected by Lady Barber as an aid to education) but represents some of the finest artists in history. Big names include Van Dyck, Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir... this list goes on. Unlike most galleries they might only have one or two works by each artist, but you can guarantee that said work(s) will be among the best or most interesting examples.

We spent well over an hour browsing the galleries and were pleased to see a steady stream of people coming through the doors. It was never busy enough to be uncomfortable but clearly it's one of Birmingham's better-known secrets. And a very pleasant way to spend a miserably cold afternoon.