Friday, December 30, 2011

Not so much white as wet

There's been no snow over Christmas this year. Our neighbours' children were most upset, but all the adults have been quietly saying 'thank heavens for that' and enjoying being able to get about without the aid of spiked boots, 4-wheel-drive and sledges.

Even so, the weather has been atrocious, with almost non-stop rain that's been either diagonal or horizontal depending on whether the wind was gale force or severe gale force.

We'd hoped to get out for some nice walks over the holiday period, at least at lower levels below the snow line. Sadly, the awful weather has mostly put paid to that. We can cope with rain OR wind, but put both together and umbrellas become impediments last seen flying in the general direction of Yorkshire, and not even our expensive waterproofs can keep us dry.

We did manage one walk on Christmas afternoon, as penance for the turkey. It was only short, to one of the small range of fells at the back of the town, and it was more than enough for us. The rain bounced, the wind howled, the path was indescribably muddy in spite of being on a slope, and when we crawled, slithered and sludged our way to the top it was so blotted out that we couldn't see a thing. Not even the lake, which is a pretty big target to hide so successfully. We stood there for a minute or two staring at the fog, blew rain drops off the ends of our noses, and slithered back home. Not one of our more successful outings, and since then we've stuck to the pavements. Figuratively if not quite literally. Roll on spring!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Hope it's a good one for everyone with plenty of relaxing and all your favourite things, be they food, drink, dreadful old films on telly, or good books!

I'm off to partake of all of the above but should be back in a couple of days' time, rested, fed, watered and entertained.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Daily Flash available at Amazon UK

The title says it all, really - Daily Flash 2012, complete with four of my short stories, is now available to buy at Amazon UK. This is good news for British readers as it means you can order the book without paying shipping all the way from America.

Try this link if you'd like to buy the book.

And even more good news - the book should shortly be available in e-book format for both Nook and Kindle. I don't yet know how much it will cost, or have any links, but I will post an update as soon as I have more details.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Currently reading

A couple of charity shop finds. And they could hardly be more different if they tried.

The first is a 'two books in one volume' by David Hewson, who specialises in thrillers set in modern-day Italy but often with historical overtones. Or perhaps I should say hysterical, since the one I've tackled, 'The Garden of Evil', reads like Dan Brown on a slightly better day. The style is reasonable but the plot is a wild and indigestible concoction of murder, religious cults and medieval art and the characters are so wooden you could chop them into planks and make wardrobes out of them. Indeed, the only character who came to life in any way died at the end of the first chapter and after that I rapidly lost interest, not helped by illogical and irrational dialogue that sounds as though a mad editor has simply hacked out every tenth line, so none of the conversations quite make sense.

I've given up, at least for now, and moved on to the other book - 'The Brutal Art' by Jesse Kellerman. So far I've only read a handful of chapters but it's brilliant. Oddly, this also involves art and murder but both elements are far more original and far more gripping and the style is a wonderful mix of vivid description and self-deprecating, wry humour. I can't wait to read the rest.

Both books only cost me 75p each, which makes the latter an unbelievable bargain and the former less of an annoyance than if I'd paid full price for it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

You know it's cold when...

...even the pigeons hunker down, fluff themselves up and huddle together for warmth. We walked down to the lake yesterday in a brief gap between showers of horizontal sleet and I managed to grab some more nice pictures, both of the snowy fells in the distance and also of one or two fun little things closer to home.

Here are the huddled pigeons, and some tourists have tremendous fun feeding the birds, as well as a shot of the fells looking dramatic again:





Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Early snow

We've had the first snowfall of the winter here - lots of sleet showers over the weekend and then yesterday morning we woke to find everything white.

On Sunday after the heaviest of the showers we took the car, carefully, to the top of Kirkstone Pass where we could get great views without having to venture too far from home. It was snowing the whole time we were up there and there was snow on the verges but the road itself was fine, thank goodness, as it's 1500 feet above sea-level and can get pretty hairy up there.

The car park was quite literally flowing (there's been a lot of rain recently, even before the snow) but I managed to wade about and get some half decent photos of the fells looking their dramatic best. Here are a few to show you what I mean:

A distant shot of the fells taken from further down the road to the pass.

The top of the pass with Red Screes in the background.

Not so much Red Screes as white...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Daily Flash 2012

Once again the editors at Pill Hill Press have bust a gut (hopefully not literally... eww) in order to ensure Daily Flash 2012 is ready before Christmas. They've done it, and the book is available right now from Pill Hill themselves and also from Amazon US.

Don't forget that the anthology contains not one but four short stories by yours truly, ranging in subject matter from depressed vampires to enigmatic dogs, scarecrows to a monster in a maze.

More ordering options will be added to the list shortly, including Amazon UK for any British readers not wanting to pay shipping all the way from America!

In the meantime if anyone you know loves reading, then a collection of 366 stories, one for every day of the year, might make the perfect Christmas present.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Shark tales?

Well, not quite, but I have a snappy little story up at The Pygmy Giant today. It's called Make It Snappy and it's set in one of these fish foot spas that are suddenly springing up on every high street, all over the country. We had two open in our small village in the Lake District over the summer; sadly not even the tourist trade could keep both going and one closed a few weeks ago. The other still seems to be packed!

Sticking my feet in a tank full of fish that may or may not have been cleaned since the last pair of feet were flapping about in there is not my idea of heaven so I've never actually tried the experience for myself. I'm told the fish tickle... and that it's an effective way of dealing with all sorts of skin conditions and diseases. But... but... oh, I don't know... FEET. Ugh.

Still, I hope everyone can get over their various feety dislikes and enjoy the story. It's dark, it's slightly evil, but I'm hoping it's fun.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Heave away, haul away

We seem to be booked into a sudden flurry of concerts and events lately. Last night it was the turn of Fishermen's Friends at Birmingham Town Hall. They're a group of Cornish fishermen and artisans who have become famous for singing sea shanties and other old folk songs, often in the open air in their home village of Port Isaac.

The sea shanties were particularly appropriate last night as we could have done with a boat to row ourselves into the city centre and back - it was absolutely sloshing down!

I'm not sure shanties are my favourite type of music - they all sound the same after a while - but the evening was great fun. The men do wonderful harmonies and because there are ten of them they can give it some 'oomph', and they sang a good selection of songs including a methodist hymn, a calypso number and what sounded like a negro spiritual, which helped keep the sound more varied. And in between the numbers, the group's blogger/raconteur did a great line in 'patter' with jokes and snippets of information about Cornish history and the background to the songs. He turned the evening from a recital to an event, and was a lot funnier than two of the comedians we saw the other night.

The support band Flats & Sharps were a revelation, too. When they came on stage they looked incredibly young and we thought 'oh, no, yet another group of festival-band-wannabes'. Then we saw their instruments - double bass, banjo, mandolin... and thought 'no'. Turns out they're a teenage bluegrass band from Cornwall (now there's a combination) and they were incredibly good. I think I preferred them to the main act, actually...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just for laughs

On Saturday evening we went out with some friends of ours to a Barnstormers comedy night at Solihull Arts Complex. Our friends had been to one recently where the famous comedian Jasper Carrott turned up unannounced; word had obviously got round because the room, although small, was packed.

No sign of Our Jasper on Saturday, sadly (he always has me helpless; at one of his concerts I quite literally stopped breathing, I was laughing so much). Instead we had a series of three comedians, interspersed with a genial compere. All three were good in different ways, but two appealed less - not just to me, but to Dave and our friends as well. They followed the route of standard stand-up: a 'chat' to the audience about events in their own lives, probably made-up and always tending towards bodily functions. One joke about poo can be funny but after a while it wears off and in the case of the first bloke on stage, I really didn't need to know that his Dad had phoned to tell him his mother had just shit herself. And the punchline? The mother grabbed the phone to say 'it was only a little bit'. Hmm. All very well but the only trouble is, it's not funny.

In between the two more ordinary acts, though, was one that stood out a mile. His name is Anthony J Brown and he's described as 'a dapper and dandy funeral director, ...with humour blacker than a raven that has slammed its claw in a coffin lid'. His jokes were different. His whole demeanour was different, since he sidled up to the microphone and began to fondle it in a distinctly erotic manner. He delivered his one-liners deadpan, in a voice that wasn't much above a whisper, so you found you were hanging on every word. And boy, was it worth it, because the punchline was always unexpected, often macabre, and very, very funny. He had the entire audience in stitches. I can't give away too much of his material, obviously (he'd probably chop me into little pieces and feed me to his pet microphone) but here's a tiny taster:

"I came into some money the other day."

[long pause]

"I'd run out of tissues."

[even longer pause]

"It halved the queue at the cashpoint."

At which point I stopped breathing again. I wouldn't mind if I never saw the other two comedians again, but I'll be looking out for Anthony J Brown on the local comedy circuits and I hope he makes a bigger name for himself than he already has. He deserves it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When is art not art?

Possibly when it's a poem.

On Saturday we visited Abbott Hall art gallery in Kendal for the first time. We'd heard it was rather good and sure enough, although the collection on display is quite small, it's full of big names. These include George Romney, who studied art in the town before moving to London; Constable; Turner; and a collection of watercolours of local scenes showing the development of the 'picturesque' movement in the Lake District - paintings that are over dramatised to the point of wild innacuracy, but always romantic.

Upstairs the display changes to more modern art, currently including an exhibition by world-renowned artist Richard Long, who specialises in works that involve landscape. I tend to be rather undecided about Modern Art at the best of times; some of this was, to my mind, brilliant (especially his stunning landscape photography), but some left me cold. In particular, there were a series of artworks where words had been printed onto a sheet of paper and then framed and hung. One of these had me scratching my head, because it was a long list of sounds he'd heard while on a long walk. I assume you were meant to read the list, sound by sound, and hear each one in your own mind to re-create the artist's walk yourself.

The language Long used was very evocative and quickly brought the various noises to mind. It's an intriguing idea, but is it really art? To my mind, written words on a page with their own style and internal rhythm, which evoke a particular image (or in this case, sound) are poetry, not art. If so, then Long is as good a poet as he is an artist.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A story a day

A story a day may not keep the doctor away but it still sounds like good entertainment, which is the aim of the 'Daily Flashes of Fiction 2012' anthology from Pill Hill Press.

The anthology will include four of my darkest, twistedest short stories (Is 'twistedest' a word? Oh well, it is now!) and is divided into 366 days of the year (2012 is Leap Year), each day having its very own story. The editor has just confirmed which day will be represented by each of my stories; the dates are as follows:

27th February - This Life Sucks
13th April - Load of Bull
15th June - Footprints
7th August - Peeping Tom

As far as I know Pill Hill are still on track to release this in December this year, ready for readers to start devouring their daily story from January 1st, so do keep an eye open for further details on when it will be available.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Currently reading

I've just this minute finished reading 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' by Susanna Clarke. It's a massive book - the sort you could use to fell a burglar at twenty yards - and it's taken some getting through. Not because it's no good, but because these days I only really read in bed at night and by then my eyes are too tired to read more than a few pages at a time.

It was worth the lengthy reading time, though, because the book is simply amazing. Original, quirky, full of sly humour but also excitement and even the odd note of poignancy. Basically it tells the tale of two magicians in late Georgian England, but a Georgian England that's very different from the one we learn about in history lessons. This England has been shaped by magic, and by the reign of a magician king who held sway over a vast swathe of northern England in medieval times but has since disappeared. The two magicians of the title, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell, bicker and fight over the return of magic to England, with sometimes amusing, sometimes disastrous results.

The book is very, very long. Well over a thousand pages, and written in an old fashioned, Victorian-novel style that I thought was rather dry - for the first few pages, until I spotted the glorious, half-hidden humour underlying almost every sentence. In the end I think it probably is too long, and there were a few chapters after half-way but before the race to the end which dragged and which could easily have been shortened or even removed without affecting the story.

Overall, though, the sheer scale of the world Ms Clarke has created, the attention to detail, the frequent footnotes explaining this or that spell or historical event, make it less of a book and more of a fantasy tour-de-force. I loved it!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Breathless #2

No more sprints to the station with missing phones, thank goodness, but Dave's been suffering with a rotten cold and cough the last couple of weeks and has just, very generously, passed it on to me.

I won't go into details about all the spluttering but hopefully I'll be back on my feet and posting on here again soon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jack in the Box

This is the title of the latest story to be accepted by Byker Books for the latest volume in their ongoing Radgepacket series, which will be number six.

I had the acceptance late last night and was particularly happy as I sent the story in simply months before the deadline and was never quite sure the editor had received it. The good news was that not only had he received it, but read it and enjoyed it enough to stuff it in Radgepacket 6, where it'll snuggle up to stories by some great noir authors like Ian Ayris, Paul Brazill and Col Bury.

Actually, 'snuggle' probably isn't the right word since Radgepacket stories tend to be so edgy you could cut diamond with them, but you know what I mean.

And what's Jack in the Box about? Well, it's a painfully dark tale about a young man cosying up to the local crime boss to get what he wants. And it starts with said young man jumping naked out of the cake at the crime boss's fiftieth birthday party. You can't make much more of an entrance than that!

The book should be available to buy, or at least pre-order, in spring 2012 but I'll post regular updates, and perhaps an excerpt or two, nearer to the time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breathless

On Sunday Dave set off for a marathon five hour train journey to Kent, where he'd be staying for three days. Five minutes after I'd bundled him into a taxi, I spotted a small dark ominous shape on the hall shelf... his mobile phone.

Knowing he'd be lost without it (it's got all his work contacts, as well as email handling and everything else), I had no option but to make a dash for the station, to try to catch him. I slammed the windows shut, grabbed a jacket and set off, without even the time to change into decent walking shoes.

The train was due to leave in twenty minutes, and it's a three quarter mile trek to the station. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem, but it's relentlessly uphill the entire way, the last part a one-in-five gradient, and there are roads to cross and the village centre crowds to negotiate. I half-ran, half-walked, gasping for air on the steepest bits, and rather to my disbelief got to the station entrance just as the train was pulling in.

Of course, by the time I'd reached the platform Dave had already boarded the train but I went and bobbed up and down outside all the windows and luckily he saw me, came to the door and retrieved his phone. One minute later the doors shut and the train pulled away... and I retreated to a nearby cafe for a cuppa while my breath trickled back!

I'm quite proud of myself, though. One happy husband reunited with his phone, and I must not be quite as unfit as I thought I was!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aspen Mountain update

As of Tuesday this week, the Aspen Mountain Press website has been down, with only the following brief statement to replace the usual content:

"The Aspen Mountain Press web site is temporarily suspending operations.

Over the past five years we've demanded high standards in all areas of the company from authors to editors to administrators. Due to the current health of the owner these standards have not been met.

We'd like to thank you for your support and patronage over this past half decade and apologize for any inconveniences this decision causes."

On the one hand this is terrific news - someone at the press has finally seen sense and suspended operations while they sort out both themselves and the whole horrible muddle. Books are no longer being sold illegally, outside of contract and/or copyright, and although royalties are still not forthcoming many authors (including me) would be willing to forego their payments just to get their rights back.

On the other hand, there's still that pesky 'temporarily' in the message. This has happened before; the website is starting to resemble a game of hokey-cokey having been up and down about three times in the last couple of weeks. Each time it went down the authors breathed a sigh of relief, only for it to pop back up again a day or so later. This time, it's been down for three days straight, and I'm really starting to hope that it has either gone off air for a major re-think, or closed its doors for good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wine, women and song

We had a fantastic night with our friends last week when we went to see American folk rock band The Pierces at Birmingham's Glee Club.

The Pierces are two singing sisters from the other Birmingham in Alabama, who have been performing together since early childhood and specialise in the sort of harmonies I remember from sixties groups like The Mamas and The Papas. We first came across them at an accoustic studio performance during the Glastonbury coverage on BBC and were, quite honestly, blown away. Two women, one bloke with an accoustic guitar, and sheer perfection.

On the strength of that, and a few searches on YouTube, we bought their latest album and when we saw they were performing live in Brum, we grabbed some tickets (not before time as the concert was a sell-out) and mugged our friends into going along. All four of us were blown away all over again. The songs were note-perfect, and at one point the sisters sang acapella, with no accompaniment whatsoever, and were still note-perfect. They really are a sensation, and not nearly well known enough.

The only slight downside was that the event was standing only. From the moment we joined the queue outside the doors to the moment we finally hauled ourselves back to the car was a little over three hours. I'd worn flat boots but even so my feet were close to committing murder and our friends ached from head to foot. Still, it was a small price to pay for a great musical evening.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Google email problems

It looks as though Google mail is having serious problems this morning. I logged on to my usual email account in Windows Live, to find over a thousand messages waiting for me, most of them junk.

I went through and deleted the lot... and then found that something had apparently spoofed my email address and was happily sending more spam out *from* my account. ::headdesk:: According to Dave, there are new kinds of spam that activate when you delete the original message, whether or not you open it. That's so crafty it's untrue, and seems to have happened to me.

I've logged out of my email account and closed the program, which will hopefully limit the damage until Google sort themselves out. In the meantime I can't, of course, receive or respond to any email - and can only apologise if any of my readers, friends, relations and contacts have been showered with spam from my account. I'm hoping it's only a temporary glitch...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unfinished novels

I had to smile at this little snippet in the latest issue of Mslexia:

"At myunfinishednovels.com 'six-time failed novelist' Steve Wilson calls for fellow failed novelists to show their faces. "It's time for us to face our shame and share our failures, bathe in our lack of dedication, explore our artistic nebbishness." Each unpublished novel is accompanied by a 'reason abandoned'."

I quite like the sound of this. I could fill a double-decker bus with the files containing all my unfinished novels, some of which date back to my earliest days as a new writer, nearly (gulp) twenty years ago. Since then my style has changed and so have my interests; a vast sci-fi tome, for instance, is unlikely to ever see the light of day because apart from a very occasional flash story I no longer dabble in that genre.

Others may still get tugged off the shelf and fiddled with from time to time, and there's at least two that I still have high hopes of finishing, One Of These Days. In the end, though, I think my biggest downfall is concentration. It's so hard to focus on just one mammoth project long enough to get it written, edited, polished, re-written and submitted somewhere. Some writers can do all that in a matter of months or even weeks, but it takes me years.

The one thing that puts me off joining Steve Wilson at unfinishednovels is the implication that you have to share the entire work with the group. That could give rise to copyright or 'previous publication' issues if hell ever freezes over and I do finish one of my babies. Otherwise, I'd be in there like a shot. If nothing else, it sounds like the perfect place to waste more time that I should really be spending... um... finishing a novel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New! Spark to a Flame

Remember me saying, a few days back, that I'd had a story accepted by Litro? Well, they've published it today and you can read it, absolutely free, on their Ones to Watch section.

The story, about an arson attack on a school, was inspired by various news reports and events here in the UK, and has a twist that I hope makes it very topical. I hope you all enjoy it, and don't get any ideas involving matches. ;)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Please don't buy my book

You might think this is a really strange thing for any writer to say. After all, we write books and stories to entertain people, and hopefully to make a little money in the process, so asking readers not to buy our work is a little like an athlete stapling their feet to the track. They're not going to get very far.

However, sometimes circumstances are so difficult that desperate measures are called for, and that's what has happened here. My second pigeon shapeshifting tale, Steal the Sky, was published by Aspen Mountain Press in the anthology 'Shifting Perspectives 2' three years ago, under the terms of a three-year contract. As of the 1st of October this year, that contract expired, and one of the other authors in the same anthology had already let the company's owner know that we didn't want to renew. Under the terms of the contract, as of 1st October all rights should have reverted to the authors (including me) and the publisher should have automatically removed the book from their own catalogue, and notified any third-party distributors such as Fictionwise, Barnes and Noble, Amazon etc.

Sadly, this hasn't happened. Not just for my story in that anthology, but for many books by many different authors all contracted to Aspen Mountain Press. The company's owner has gone AWOL, is refusing to answer emails, telephone calls or letters, is returning certified mail unopened, and hasn't paid any authors royalties for some considerable time.

The last time I was paid royalties on Steal the Sky was in July, and those were already two months in arrears, which means the last actual payment I received was for May. That's six months ago. Six months of the book continuing to be sold by Aspen Mountain Press and other distributors, while I receive not a single penny. Now the book is out of contract, and it's *still* being sold. Illegally, I might add, and the payments are still not being made.

I'm not alone. There are authors out there who are owed hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties. But I'll let them tell their own stories; all I can do is point to my own experience. I emailed Aspen Mountain Press on Monday to remind them Steal the Sky was now out of contract. I've received no response and the book is still on their catalogue.

I will of course be contacting as many distributors as I can track down to explain the facts to them and beg them to remove the book from their catalogues. But in the meantime I can only issue a heartfelt plea - if anyone comes across this book being sold anywhere, please please please don't be tempted to buy it. You won't be doing me any favours if you do because I won't receive a penny from the sales; the only person who will benefit is the owner of Aspen Mountain Press.

It's an unpleasant situation, and sad too, because until quite recently Aspen Mountain were a decent company to work for. That's no longer the case, and I can only sit and watch the carnage as the company circles the drain. Oh, and if anyone out there is considering submitting work to them, don't. Seriously. It really isn't worth the bother.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Litro accept a story

Yesterday I got back from a few days away to the great news that Litro Magazine, a well-regarded British literary magazine distributed free to libraries and the like, have accepted a story of mine for their (relatively new) online 'Ones to Watch' section.

The story, called Spark to a Flame, is a topical little piece about an arson attack on a school. I originally wrote it for the revenge anthology since the twist in the tail contains definite overtones of vengeance. But I can easily replace it with something else and I'm delighted to be part of Litro's new venture. Look out for more news of when the story is likely to appear in the next few days.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scribbling again

Little by little, now that the intense hard work of preparing the house for sale is over, I'm starting to write again.

I can never concentrate when there's too much going on. I need to be able to hear my characters' voices in my head, and if I can't hear myself think then I certainly can't hear them think.

But although there's still work to be done it's more of a 'holding action' now, of keeping everything clean and tidy while the agent brings potential buyers round. I can actually stop to draw breath again, and there's even time to sit and just think. All of which means progress on the story front. I've finished one more very short one for the revenge anthology (remember that from earlier in the year?) and am rattling through a second as I type.

It's a huge relief not to have all those words bottled up inside me with no way of getting them out.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Psst! Wanna buy a house?

The hard work is finally over and we signed contracts with an estate agent on Monday to put our Birmingham house on the market. He braved a howling gale (ex Hurricane Katia...) to take photos of the place, but in spite of that has managed some stunning shots which we're delighted with. I never realised how tidy everything looked!

We had a couple of viewings yesterday; no offers yet but it's still very early days - it hasn't even been advertised in the local papers yet. We're expecting a quietish weekend, and then for all hell to break loose later on next week.

If anyone is interested, either in buying a 5-bed Victorian house in Birmingham or just in being nosy (grin), then you can find all the details here. And anyone who's seen references to our 'pointy' house in my biography can perhaps see what I meant...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No more hurricanes, thanks

America is being a tad too generous with its ex-hurricanes at the moment. So far we've had the tail-end of Irene (gales, rain); Katia is expected on Sunday night (more gales); and Lee is hovering in the wings and looking far too likely to cruise across the Atlantic in the other storms' wake.

This is Not Good if you're about to put your house up for sale. We're eyeing the nearby trees nervously and wondering if they're going to chuck nasty big branches all over the garden, or even worse, topple over on the roof. It's a nerve-wracking time.

The rain, on the other hand, is welcome. We heard on the local news last week that this summer has been the driest in the West Midlands since the long hot summer of 1976. Pretty much everywhere else has had a damp and depressing summer but every time it rained somewhere else, Birmingham missed it. The end result is a garden that looks as thought someone poisoned it, since so many plants are either losing their leaves to conserve moisture, or dying. We've been watering but there's only so much you can do with a hosepipe; what we really need is several days of good, heavy, non-stop rain.

Perhaps we need those hurricanes after all...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A bit of Shakespearean fun

Oxford Dictionaries online are running a fun little app that you can use to find out how 'Shakespearean' your writing is.

Simply copy a paragraph of your writing, paste it into the box and hit the button at the bottom. It calculates how much like the Bard you are by comparing the number of words you use that he also used. I got 85%, which is pretty good going in a small paragraph about a swimming lesson!

Mind you, the calculation was so incredibly fast (really, almost instantaneous) that the cynical part of me wonders if it just plucks a number out of the air at random.

It's still a bit of fun, though.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Quiet but crazy

Things have been a little quiet on the writing front the last few weeks. Partly, I think, this is due to so many people being away on holiday. Partly it's my own fault, because in the strange world of Real Life (TM) things have been anything but quiet as we prepare to put our Birmingham house on the market.

This entails a huge amount of work. Finishing off all those irritating little jobs that we started and never 'got around to'. Redecorating to tone down any colours that aren't neutral enough. Decluttering. Cleaning on top of and behind all those large pieces of furniture that you can't normally be bothered to move. Taking bag after bag of excess clutter to charity shops or (if beyond repair) to the tip. And endless tidying, snipping and sweeping up in the garden.

We've been at it, on and off, since April, but the last two to three weeks have just been non-stop. I ache in places I didn't know I had, I seem to be permanently sneezing, and as for work, I've hardly even looked at it let alone written anything new.

Never mind, we're down to the last few tasks now and hoping the house will be on the market sometime next week. After that we settle down to wait for viewings, buyers and the like, and to catch our breath. And after that, I'm hoping to get scribbling again. It's been too long without and I'm starting to get irritable. Never a good sign.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Missed it?

If you missed reading my latest 75-word story Early to Bed, don't worry. There's another chance to catch it at the Paragraph Planet archives, which have just been updated for August. Simply follow this link and select 21st August from the drop-down box. Hope you like it!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Don't forget!

Today, for one day only, you can read Early to Bed at Paragraph Planet.

The story will only be available for the day (at least until the archives are updated) so don't miss your chance. It may only be 75 words long but hopefully it's a bit of fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Silly sign

This sign, seen outside a dentist in Solihull, made us smile.

"OrthodonticsForYou"

We wondered who else you'd be getting orthodontics for. Mother-in-law's Christmas present, perhaps? Sensitive teenage son, because his teeth stick out?

You'd probably need orthodontics yourself after they'd finished knocking your teeth down your throat...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Attack of the killer shrubs

Our garden in Brum has got very overgrown. Partly this is because we've been away so much, partly it's sheer laziness, and partly it's the dry weather. It's hard to weed or mow the lawn when the ground is as hard as sheet steel and the vegetation has turned to toast. But if we're going to put the house on the market in a few weeks' time we need the garden to look as good as possible so today I armed myself with gauntlets and a pair of shears and set to work.

I say 'armed' with good reason, because most of what needed cutting back involved inch-long thorns. The roses had thorns, the pyracanthus had thorns, the berberis had thorns; even the wretched ivy seemed to have grown thorns judging by the way it was attacking me. And I'm convinced the plants were working together; one wrapped tendrils round my ankle while another sank its teeth into my elbow. It's a wonder I didn't end up in the compost sack instead of the plants.

I prevailed, though, and filled three whole compost sacks with bits of vegetation, chopped up very small to stop it clambering back out and murdering me.

And the garden? It doesn't actually look much different, but I suppose every little helps.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Early to Bed

Nope, not me personally! This is the title of my latest 75-word offering at Paragraph Planet, which should be up and available to read this Sunday, 21st August.

Like several of my other Planet flashes, this is heavily based on my childhood and yes, my parents really were that strict. You'll have to read the story to find out what it's all about, though. ;)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Riots in Birmingham

The news is full of unpleasant images of last night's rioting in Birmingham city centre, and one or two suburbs, last night. Mercifully this was nothing like as bad as the violence in London over the last few days and the good news is that we're fine.

It is worrying though. The last time I saw rioting on anything like this scale was back in 1981 (Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth) but I was over 15 miles from the nearest centre of unrest and it all felt very distant and unreal. This time it's a lot closer to home and I've already decided not to go shopping alone in the city centre until things have calmed down. Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Psst! Wanna be in a movie?

Are you a goth, punk or heavy rocker? Do you want to be an extra in a new sci-fi movie, based on the US series Firefly, which is due to be filmed in Cumbria? Then pop along to this article in the Westmorland Gazette to find out more!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Exciting!

Building work has finally started on our house in Windermere, two days after we signed the contract with our builder. He turned up at 8.00 am one morning last week, helped Dave move out the really heavy stuff (cooker, fridge, washing machine etc) and then set about the units with a lump hammer. By 9.30 am we no longer had a kitchen. At all. In any shape or form. Even the sink had been dismantled and trundled out into the back yard!

It's all very exciting and we're looking forward immensely to the time, about 8-9 weeks away (assuming all goes to plan) when we can have our new and much larger kitchen fitted. We've gone for the bespoke one in the end, which we felt represented the best value for money. Whenever I've seen custom-made kitchens in magazines they've started at the most ridiculous prices - one in particular cost a bare minimum of £60,000 no matter how few units you bought. Gulp. You'll be pleased to know ours has cost nothing like that much, and we're delighted with the level of service we're getting.

Delighted, but also confused. We've been told we can have the units painted in any colour we like from the Farrow & Ball colour chart, and if that's not good enough we can select something from the Dulux collection instead. I'm sitting here looking at about 953 paint samples and thinking, 'Oh God', because they all look so nice and how on earth do I choose between them? Still, if that's the only problem we have with the project I'll be a very happy bunny.

Still on the subject of excitement, who says nothing exciting happens in small towns? This little episode must have raised an eyebrow or two amongst the locals...

Monday, August 01, 2011

The great cross-country kitchen hunt

We're in the process of choosing kitchen units for our new extension, which is due to begin building work shortly. Easy, you might think. Swan along to your local kitchen showroom or DIY store, pick a kitchen you like, get a plan and quote, put in an order and wander off again. If only.

So far we've had five different quotes from five different providers; some high-street, some local; some large, some small; some ready-made, some bespoke. And the results surprised us mightily. Contrary to popular belief the DIY stores were *not* the cheapest, in spite of economies of scale. In fact Wickes proved to be the most expensive quote we had from anywhere, for any type of kitchen.

In the end we'd whittled it down to two - one for ready-made units which was slightly cheaper, and one for a bespoke kitchen which was more expensive - but still well within our budget. We ummed and ahhed, and ummed a bit more, and simply could not decide which represented the best value for money. Part of the problem was that we hadn't seen the exact ready-made kitchen we wanted; our supplier had a similar one in his showroom but not that design, so all we'd actually seen was one cupboard door and a pretty picture in a brochure. Not the best thing to base a purchase of that magnitude on, so on Saturday we headed off across Cumbria to a different showroom which had our kitchen on display.

It's at this point that you start to realise just how big Cumbria is. It took us an hour, driving north via Keswick and Bassenthwaite Lake, to get to the right area. And it took another twenty minutes to track down the showroom, in spite of using sat-nav, and phoning the place twice for increasingly desperate directions. Turned out we'd driven past it four times but it's hardly surprising we kept missing it since it was tucked away on a tiny business park (of just two units) behind a row of houses in a one-horse village in the middle of Absolutely Sodding Nowhere, mid-way between Carlisle and Cockermouth. There was nothing there - a few quarrymens' cottages, a farm or two, a tiny church... there were no signs for the showroom and none of the streets had names. Cue much driving round in ever more bad tempered circles.

However, find it we did, and they had the right kitchen on display so we could clamber all over it to our hearts' content. Actually, it only took about five minutes, because it wasn't what we were expecting at all. Far from being the stunning, lovingly-built kitchen we'd been led to believe, it was actually cheap, relatively poorly constructed and very, very modern. The doors didn't fit very well, the surface finish was decidedly rough-and-ready and the interior fittings were standard high-street crap. It was disappointing after a 50-mile drive, but it's saved us paying out all that money and being devastated by the result.

On the way back we called in at Bassenthwaite village (tiny, remote and wonderfully higgledy-piggledy) and then for a coffee at the Old Sawmill tearooms, part of the Mirehouse estate. The latter had some great-looking walks and forest trails leading off from the doorstep so we've bookmarked those for another time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I've been interviewed

Well, sort of. Scottish author Bill Kirton devised a seriously wacky questionnaire over at his blog and together with a few other writers I sent him my replies. He's posted the results today and if you potter along you can find out all sorts of unexpected things about me, including why I would paint Mel Gibson blue and whether I'd like to be immortal or not!

See my answers here. Hopefully they'll make you giggle as much as I was while I was writing them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Air Show

The Windermere Air Festival, to be precise. It'ss been going for a few years now and seems to be getting steadily bigger and better, with two days of air displays over the lake, fun fair, stalls and various other events. Last year the Saturday was rained off (you simply can't fly aircraft down steep valleys in rain, mist and cloud - it's too dangerous) and we were distracted by our neighbour's burst boiler. This year there were no last-minute disasters and the sun shone pretty much all afternoon, meaning every plane that was scheduled turned up and performed.

And it was amazing watching them. We had a series of grandstand viewpoints - first sat right on the lake shore at Bowness (getting mugged by the swans), then on the pier with a cup of tea, and lastly by the railings at the boat yard. All three places had a clear view of the skies and we watched as aerobatics teams, jets and the Battle of Britain memorial flight (Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane) climbed, looped and zoomed right above our heads.

After three hours we'd seen most of what we wanted so headed for home and put our feet up. Half an hour later there was a tremendous roar and we dashed to the windows to find that the Vulcan bomber had turned up. I say 'the' rather than 'a' because out of all the ones built in the 1950s, only one remains in an airworthy condition. It's based in Leicestershire and had flown across country to Cumbria to give us all a stunning display as it soared and swooped right over the lake. We've seen it at ground level before but never in the air and you really get no idea of their scale until you see one filling the sky. They are, quite simply, huge, and very, very loud. People were lining the streets, heads craning heavenwards, to see what was going on. And I managed to get a photo of it out of our bedroom window.

There's another day of displays today including the Red Arrows so I'll probably be waxing lyrical about those tomorrow. In the meantime, here are a couple of pics. I didn't have full zoom on so the planes look rather small, but it gives a good indication of scale.

They have specially trained swans in Bowness. One distracts you and another steals your sandwiches while you're not looking. I'm serious.

There were more boats out on the lake than usual. This is a nice shot of the fells through some of the masts.

The RV8tors display team in action over Bowness Bay.

The Vulcan bomber. Very difficult to photograph since it was travelling very fast, but I did my best.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday

The other day Tom Pluck, a new moderator at the Flash Fiction Friday site, wrote to invite me to take part. I'd been vaguely aware of the site before, and of various writers having blog posts titled 'flash fiction Friday' on the relevant day, but I'd never really taken the time to explore. This time I did, and found that it's a resource site providing inspiration for writers, with some fascinating prompts. Some sites give you a title to work to, or a set number of words to include, or a first or last line. Flash Fiction Friday does all that and more, with a range of prompts that change every week.

I was flattered to be invited but not entirely sure I'd have time to write anything. Then I saw this week's prompt - a wonderful photograph of an old man on a subway train. He had such an air of 'otherness', of apartness from the normal, conventional run of the human rat race, that it set my brain whirring. I'd intended to write one story, but in the end 'Samuel' took over and rail-roaded the whole thing in a completely different direction, and A Walk in the Park was born. I'm still rather proud of the result (even though he should take the credit, not me), and you can read the whole story on my website.

I hope you enjoy it, and so does 'Samuel'. ;) And if you'd like to see the photo that inspired me, here it is:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talking of cats...

...my uncle has entered one of his brood into a contest run by Purina, the cat food people. I thought the prize might be free cat food for life but apparently it's rather more amazing than that - my uncle thinks it might be a diamond necklace. Whether that's for him or the cat is anyone's guess.

Anyway, if you'd like to see a picture of Ptolemy (Tolly for short), read his biography, and vote for him, please go here.

Please note, if you click the vote button nothing much seems to happen but the vote has actually registered.

On behalf of my uncle (and Tolly) - thank you for voting!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer bestseller (or not)

I've been popping in and out of the BestWestern blog like a tiddlywink the last couple of weeks, trying to find out if I'd won their recent Summer Bestseller contest. (You remember the story about the cat...)

Finally yesterday I spotted that they'd announced the winning story... in the comments section of the post containing the winning story. It hardly counts as the most high visibility announcement ever; in fact if they'd buried it any deeper it would have been in danger of meeting the earth's core. But still, announce they did - and mackerel or no mackerel, my pussy-cat didn't make the grade.

Ah well, BestWestern seem to run writing contests on a regular basis so there's always hope for next time. In the meantime, you can read the winning story here. The twist is rather good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weekend break

We've just got back from a weekend away, staying with my uncle on the Isle of Wight. We'd been supposed to go last year but had to put it off twice, once because we discovered the flood in our Windermere house and once because Dave had to work. It was lovely to finally get the chance to see everyone again (my uncle, his wife-who-shall-not-be-called-auntie, my cousin and her long-term partner, and five cats).

We caught up on all the news, got treated to several very nice meals out, and mostly took refuge in the house since the weather was shocking. On the Saturday we walked down to the sea front at Ventnor, where the waves were crashing against the sea wall. Whilst we stood there the sun came out and bathed everything in a wonderful stormy aquamarine light and I reached for my camera... only to realise I'd left it in our bedroom...

Sunday was drier but only in relative terms so we pottered round an antiques fair in a local village hall and (of course) just had to buy a pretty silver filigree bracelet and a pair of miniature Staffordshire dogs. I'd like to collect the latter but Dave thinks they're sinister and wouldn't let me fill the house with them. Shame as I think they're cute!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The dreaded apostrophe...

...is wreaking havoc again. This morning I found the following on the BBC website, of all places, in an article about a dual-gender butterfly (yes, really).

"[The butterfly] is already middle-aged at three and a half week's old."

If even the BBC can't grasp the basic use of apostrophes, then the rest of us have absolutely no hope! And no wonder I saw this sign on a chalk-board outside a local restaurant a few weeks back:

"Special offer

Wednesday's

Pizza's £3.50

Pasta's £3.50"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday stroll

We're in the Lake District for a few days and yesterday looked like being a stunner. Not wanting to waste it indoors we set off early for Coniston, hoping to beat the crowds and walk. Normally we'd head off into the fells - Coppermines Valley, Levers Water, Walna Scar - but I'm on some temporary medication which is sapping my energy so for once we kept to the lower ground, and chose a walk to the lake shore.

This was much more interesting than you might think; not only was the scenery beautiful but it took us right past the front door of Coniston Hall, a fifteenth century manor house right on the lake shore that's owned by the National Trust. Apparently they refurbished the place a few years back and it's now the booking office and shop for the neighbouring camp site, but it still looks dark, gloomy and atmospheric.

Once through the camp site (less scenic...) we could get right down to the water's edge, skim stones and paddle our aching feet.

It might not have been quite as energetic as our usual walks but it was still a lovely change from the urban environment we see too much of. Here are a few pics to show you what I mean.

The village contouring the lower slopes of Coniston Old Man (the fell in the background, not some dodgy local character!)

A slightly spooky shot of Coniston Hall. The round chimneys are a local giveaway of the age of the building.

The farm next door, complete with goats, chickens... and a peacock.

A view back through the trees to the craggy Yewdale Fells.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cat-astrophe

Best Western Hotels are currently running a summer bestseller competition for short stories with (unsurprisingly) a 'summer holiday at a hotel' theme. The winner gets a free weekend in a hotel for two, so I decided to send them a tiny story called Cat-astrophe. It's set in a harbourside hotel and involves a woman on holiday, a mackerel salad and... a cat. I'm sure you can guess the rest.

The good news is it's got through the first round and has appeared on the Best Western blog. If it gets voted as the most popular story, I win that weekend away. Fingers crossed, and in the meantime you can read the story here.

There's even a nice picture of a cat!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New release

Pill Hill Press have surpassed themselves. 'There Was a Crooked House', the anthology containing my story The Other Side of Silence, was due out some time in July, but they've bust a gut (metaphorically speaking) and released it in both print and electronic formats already.

They usually specialise in spec fic with a leaning towards horror, but this anthology is more in the paranormal/creepy range, with stories inspired by the title and the rather nice cover artwork. And it's absolutely stuffed with stories - twenty-seven by my reckoning, although you might want to verify that since adding up has never been my strongest point.

In keeping with the general tone, The Other Side of Silence is a darkish, creepy little tale about a woman's brush with the paranormal as a child. When Nicole is left White House in her Aunt Esther's will she has mixed feelings, thanks to an unfortunate childhood experience. Will time heal her wounds when she finally goes back? The story was originally inspired by a painting I saw in an antique shop window - a Victorian oil painting of a white house in the snow, with its door open and a woman standing on the doorstep. It was beautiful yet somehow unnerving and otherworldly, and the image has stayed with me for years.

'There Was a Crooked House' is available via Pill Hill's online store and will be coming to Amazon and other distributors shortly.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Heatwave

So summer is suddenly bursting out all over and it's bloomin' hot. Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far (28c here in Birmingham) and today isn't far behind.

So, am I draped elegantly in a deck chair with a tall glass of something cold and a good book? Am I heck. I've had my head in a paint pot most of the day, decorating the bathroom. We made a special trip out to buy the paint yesterday so I thought I'd better show willing and actually use the stuff. And the bathroom desperately needs some 'tlc'; thanks to several previous aborted attempts at redecoration it currently has about nine different colours on the walls. Not bad for a room that's only about six foot square!

I got the first coat on the bottom half of a couple of the walls but now it's threatening to thunder and I may have to shut the window... which means no ventilation. Hmm. Paint fumes and a heatwave. What a combination.

And just in case anyone is wondering, no I'm not painting the walls bright purple. I'm using a nice tasteful, neutral (and utterly boring) beige.

Friday, June 24, 2011

'Crooked House' update

Still on the subject of Pill Hill Press, their anthology 'There Was a Crooked House' is on schedule for release in July. This book includes my short story The Other Side of Silence, a poignant but creepy tale about an unsettling childhood experience which has always been one of my own favourite stories. I'll post details of a specific date a little nearer to the time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Four for the 'price' of one

I had some great news the other day as Pill Hill Press, who are already in the process of publishing my ghost story The Other Side of Silence, have just accepted four flash stories for their latest flash anthology.

The idea of Daily Flashes of Fiction is to have 365 (or six) ultra-short stories, one for every day of the year. All are on the speculative fiction side (sci-fi, fantasy, mild horror etc) and none are over 500 words long - perfect for a daily 'bite' over a cup of coffee.

The stories they've taken include a reprint of This Life Sucks, a poignant vampire story which first appeared in Flash Me Magazine, plus stories about a 'peeping tom' farmer, a monster in a country house maze, and an enigmatic dog.

As far as I know the anthology will be published towards the back end of the year, ready for 2012, but I'll obviously keep everyone posted when I have more specific details.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Afternoon by the lake

Last week I promised to bring you some photos of our sunny afternoon walk by the lake shore, and here, finally, are a couple to give you some idea of the lovely conditions and scenery.

Looking across Windermere to the Langdale Pikes.

Boat moored off Miller Ground with Fairfield looming in the background.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

5x5 Fiction - new issue

Issue 2 of 5x5 Fiction has just been uploaded and you can find a link to it here. (It loads into a Google reader page which I've never seen before; I learn something new, technologically speaking, every day!).

All the stories in this magazine are exactly 25 words long, with exactly five sentences of exactly five words each. And my story, Wrong Number, is up there with the rest of them. Do take a moment to cast your eye over it, and the other fantastic little gems in the collection.

I'm still wrestling with writing other stories in this format and hope to submit some of them to future issues. It's a real challenge and Angel Zapata, who edits 5x5Fiction, has come up with a really original concept.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Afternoon sun

After a damp and chilly week, late yesterday afternoon the sun came out and suddenly everything was transformed. Dave and I had been working hard all day but we took one look out of the window at the sparkling sunshine and puffy white clouds and said, more or less in chorus, 'Forget work, let's go for a walk!'

We donned boots and jackets and set off on one of the many walks from our doorstep, following our local stream past a waterfall, then over the fields to the lake, along the lake shore to the local landing stages, and back up to the village past another impressive waterfall that we'd never seen before.

It was magical. The breeze ruffled the lake into choppy waves, the sun glinted off the water, there were ducklings (or possibly grebe chicks, they were just too far from shore to be certain) bobbing about, and for once I'd even remembered my camera. Pictures, I hope, to follow.

On the way back we realised we were starving so we called in at our favourite pub for a slap-up pub-grub meal, then staggered back home full but happy.

Today it's been back to the cold and the storms so we're really glad we grabbed the opportunity.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Only 25 words...

...but it still tells a story. You might remember a few weeks back I was battling with ideas for a new flash fiction magazine, 5x5 Fiction, which wanted stories that were exactly 25 words, in five sentences of five words each. It was bloomin' hard work, but after several hours of tussling I came up with two stories I was reasonably happy with, and sent them off.

And the great news is, 5x5 Fiction has accepted one of them for its upcoming Issue 2. Wrong Number is a dark piece about a telephone call with a hidden meaning, and the wonders or otherwise of modern technology. And all in only 25 words!

The editor of 5x5 Fiction is still reading entries for Issue 2 but as soon as I know when the story will be available I'll pop an update on here. Possibly in 25 words. ;)

Friday, June 03, 2011

Last chance to see...

If you haven't already been to Dark Valentine to read Can't Buy Love then do it now before it's too late! I've just discovered that the magazine is closing its doors imminently and all the stories and artwork currently featured on the site will no longer be available.

I shall really miss this magazine. I'd only fairly recently discovered it, liked its style and 'look', and enjoyed many of the featured stories. I seem to be the kiss of death for so many magazines and publishers - accept a story from me and they curl up in a corner and die within weeks. Ack. I suppose the only thing I can be 'proud' of is that mine was one of the last stories they accepted.

You can find Can't Buy Love here, for now, but please be quick as I can't promise how much longer the story (or the magazine) will be there.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

No comment... sigh

Just a quickie to apologise to all the people whose blogs I watch, and often comment on. Unfortunately since Blogger bit the dust back in mid-May, I've been having ongoing issues. These include not being able to stay 'signed in' to my own account, and not being able to comment on any other Blogger blog. I can still post to my own blog here (be thankful for small mercies) but that's about it. For everything else, the system no longer seems to recognise me.

It's irritating because there have been some great posts and I'm itching to respond to them, but I can't. And I can't log on to the Blogger help forums to report the problem, either. The only good thing is that lots of other people seem to be having similar problems. TPTB at Blogger keep telling everyone the problems are fixed. Well, guys, I have news for you: they're not!

Hopefully they'll actually notice that things are not back to one happy vista of normality... eventually, but until then I'll just grit my teeth, soldier on, and say 'Sorry!' to all my Blogger pals. I'll comment again, just as soon as I bloody well can!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Can't Buy Love

This is the title of my latest story, a twisted take on love in the 21st century, which has just been published by Dark Valentine magazine.

The story was inspired by a strange and somewhat surreal news article a few months back, but I'm not going to say what the article was about just yet because it will spoil the surprise!

Edited to add: Sadly the magazine ceased publication shortly after my story appeared, so it's currently no longer available.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pirates!

It's been absolutely ages since we last went to the cinema but there's a clutch of good films all coming out at the same time (like buses... typical) so last night we headed off to Solihull for a meal out and a movie.

The meal was at a newish restaurant called Giraffe, part of a chain that (like so many others) seems to be threatening world domination and springing up in towns and cities across the land. Luckily, it's very nice. We ate in one in London a few years back and were impressed, and were still impressed last night. They specialise in 'world cuisine', which basically means a little of everything, but with the emphasis on Tex-Mex.

The film was Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides. We love the first two films in the series, disliked the third, but had heard good things about this one. And it was a blast. Not perhaps quite as good as the first one - too few main characters and a very slow start made it a little too dependent on Johnny Depp, and as good as he is, it's a tall order for one actor to 'carry' an entire film. But the special effects were great and once all the various parties were back at sea, chasing the elusive Fountain of Youth, the action took off and it was all great fun. And watch out for some amusing cameo roles - Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow's dad, and Dame Judy Dench in a carriage.

As usual if you sit through the telephone-directory length credits you get a hidden extra and in this case it seemed to hint that more 'episodes' could be on the way. If they're as entertaining as this I hope so... but perhaps they could come up with a couple more characters to replace Elizabeth, Will, Norrington, Davy Jones, Bootstrap Bill, the Governor, and the two idiotic pirates in the meantime?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shotgun Honey moves

Blogger got its knickers in a right old twist yesterday, logging members out of their own accounts at every opportunity and refusing to allow comments. One result is that Shotgun Honey, the nearly-new zine of crime and noir flash fiction, got fed up and moved. I'm busy updating the links to my story Gran Torino but the great news is that it's still fully available to read at its new home.

And Blogger? Well, it still seems to be buggering about but less so than it was. I live in hope...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Motherhood?

Not having children myself, the 'agony and ecstasy of being a mother' isn't a subject I know a vast amount about. So when I saw that the theme for a forthcoming issue of Mslexia was 'motherhood', my heart sank. That's another issue I won't be able to write for, I thought. But then I surprised myself. This afternoon I sat down and wrote an emotional little piece about two neighbours' very different experiences of being a mother to a 20-something son. I'm still wondering where on earth the ideas for that came from...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ever decreasing circles

We finally got the go-ahead for both planning permission and building regulations for our extension, which will give us a second (if very tiny) bathroom and a bigger kitchen. On Friday our architect came over and we sat down round the dining table with a cuppa each to go through the full 'scope of work', ready to send tenders out to local builders.

My goodness, I had no idea it involved so much detail! We'd already planned our kitchen units, flooring, sink and taps but there's so much more. Wall tiles. Lighting. Light switches and sockets. A shower curtain or screen. The particular brand and pattern of obscured glass for the bathroom window. Even the paint colour has to be specified!

It's all very exciting, but it's also a huge amount of work. We spent the whole weekend dashing from one DIY store or supplier to another, deciding what we liked and what we could actually afford. (The two, sadly, seldom seem to meet.) And finally we have a list of just about everything, which I'm hoping to email to the architect later today. After that things should die down again for a while and I should be back to my usual schedule. I've done no work at all since Thursday. Bad Fiona.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gran Torino

I'm delighted to say Shotgun Honey have been true to their word and posted my short story Gran Torino today.

Pop along to this new zine of crime and noir flash to see how one old lady turns the tables on the thug who almost runs her over... You may never look at mobility scooters in quite the same way again!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Typing... re-typing

I always knew that touch-typing course I did at college would come in useful one day.

I wanted to nominate a story for the Watery Grave Invitational crime writing contest, to try to get myself on their list of invitees. When I came to look at my list of published stories only one met the bill, Lemon Sour which was published in Radgepacket 4. And I realised that I didn't have a copy on my laptop, or on the flash drive that I dash around the country with and never leave home without. In fact, the only copy I had was in a volume of the book that I'd brought with me to read months ago and popped back on a shelf.

So, I rolled up my sleeves and set to work... to re-type the whole blinking story. Luckily it's only around 1800 words long so it could have been worse, but it still took me a couple of hours. Not least because I had to keep picking up the book, reading the next sentence, memorising it, putting the book down again to free my hands up to type, typing, then picking the book up again.... A long and frustrating process, but the submission went off to Watery Grave at lunchtime, well in time for the May 15th deadline. Now I just watch and wait. And thank the Lord that I learned to type at speed with all ten fingers and thumbs. If I'd still been using the old prod-and-poke method and two fingers, I'd have been at it all day!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Ultimate I.D. available

As promised the new issue of Pulp Metal Magazine came out over the weekend complete with articles, reviews, and lots of new 'odd' fiction including my story The Ultimate I.D.

Since this is an evil piece featuring a pair of missing curtains, the Post Office and a nagging wife, it certainly lives up to the 'odd' label. It's also very tongue-in-cheek, though, so I hope everyone enjoys it.

You can find the story here, but don't forget to check out the other stories and content while you're on the Pulp Metal site.

And happy, if slightly hair-raising, reading. :)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Curtains...?

Pulp Metal Magazine, a well respected publication in the world of noir and general darkness, has accepted The Ultimate I.D., an evil little tale about one man's answer to a missing pair of curtains and a nagging wife.

The story should be appearing over the weekend, but I'll pop a note on here as soon as I know for sure that it's available to read.

This is the third 'refugee' from the revenge anthology I've had accepted, which makes me a particularly happy bunny.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hack splutter cough

This morning Dave gloss-painted the bathroom. It's going to look stunning when it's done but gloss paint takes ages to dry... and I'm allergic to the fumes. To get me out of the house and stop me wheezing we decided to head for the city centre and go for a walk.

The roads were busy (second sunny Bank Holiday Sunday in a row, plus a Birmingam City home match that had just finished) but we gritted our teeth and fought our way through - and even found a parking space. After a brief refuelling stop at the Museum & Art Gallery's so-called 'Edwardian tea rooms', we set off for the Jewellery Quarter on foot.

There weren't many shops open but it's always a fascinating area to explore with dozens of interesting old buildings, a heritage trail and a maze of half-hidden canals. The only trouble was, thanks to the dry sunny weather of the last few weeks there was masses of dust, and a strong-to-gale-force wind blew it into our faces no matter which way we turned. I'm allergic to dust too, and ended up coughing and spluttering just as much as if I'd stayed at home... but I did get a good walk (and a slice of cheesecake at the Museum) as a reward.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

'Feel every word' (ouch)

Yesterday Dave treated himself to a new book from Waterstones, and when we got the bag home I couldn't help noticing their new tagline, 'Feel Every Word'. Maybe I've got a nasty mind, or maybe it's the wordsmith in me, but I'm afraid my first reaction was 'ouch', swiftly followed by 'ew'.

Just imagine if that word was 'sludge', for instance, or 'slimy' or 'disgusting puddle of ooze'. Or even worse, 'agony' or 'snapping bone', 'toothache' or 'decapitate'. Would I (or anyone else for that matter) really want to feel those sensations?

I know what Waterstones are trying to do and up to a point I applaud their attempt to involve people in the sheer richness of language and reading. I can't help wondering, though, whether this particular campaign has backfired. And I bet they paid some consultant squillions to come up with it, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cracked

So there I was keeping a beady eye on The Pygmy Giant after they accepted my latest offering, Cracked. Then I got hopelessly busy, forgot to check for one day, and lo and behold the story snuck onto the site behind my back. Isn't it typical? Hence I'm a little late with this announcement, for which I can only apologise.

The good news is, Cracked is now available to read completely free at The Pygmy Giant. It tells the story of Geoffrey, a maths teacher at a modern-day school who has a spectacular fall from grace after losing patience with an out-of-control pupil. The story is one of a very, very few which presented itself fully formed in my head and I've always been rather fond of it for that reason; and I'm absolutely delighted and overcome at the positive response from the readers. Comments so far include 'wonderful writing', 'the right side of sad', and 'this story gives me pause'. I'm glowing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great day out

Last week Dave and I took some time off work to tackle a lot of jobs around the house that had got left unfinished for far too long. We've been drilling, sanding down, planing, boxing in pipes, filling, decorating, and deep-level cleaning, and we've achieved loads. By yesterday it had got to the stage where if either of us so much as saw a paintbrush or a screw driver we'd have killed something, so we treated ourselves to a day out to a somewhat unexpected destination - Clay Mills Victorian Pumping Station near Burton-on-Trent.

One of Dave's former colleagues helps out there on a regular basis and offered to give us a 'personal' guided tour. The pumping station is one of the biggest and most complete to survive from the Victorian era, with lots of different steam engines - which Dave and I are both suckers for. We arrived about 10.30 am and spent the best part of four happy hours clambering around, under and over engines, boilers and more engines while Dave's colleague explained how they worked and what the pumping station was for. (In the latter case, actually for pumping sewage, particularly effluent from all the breweries, away from Burton so it could be treated elsewhere.)

The sun shone, the volunteers were dressed up in Victorian workmens' clothes, small traction engines chugged about giving visitors rides, and all in all it was a fascinating and really fun day out.

Many thanks, Chris, the tour was much appreciated. :)

Friday, April 22, 2011

And another...

Good Friday lived up to its name today as I received my second acceptance in two days. This time it's the turn of The Pygmy Giant, an online British magazine of gritty and/or humorous flash fiction, to take a story. Cracked is a poignant tale of a school teacher's fall from grace after he loses patience and clips an out-of-control pupil round the ear. The story is described as 'lovely and sad' by the magazine's editor, and should be published on the site soon.

I'll post details here as soon as I know when it's likely to appear.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Another acceptance

Good news on the story front. New-zine-on-the-block Shotgun Honey, who specialise in crime and noir flash fiction, have accepted Gran Torino, a darkly comic short story about an old lady who takes matters into her own hands after a thug almost knocks her down.

This is one of the stories I'd earmarked for the revenge anthology so I'm particularly pleased to find a home for it. It should be appearing at the zine on 11th May but I'll post a reminder nearer the time to save you all having to remember.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Too much sitting

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this rather alarming article about health the other day. I already knew that inactivity was bad for your health, but this goes further in sugggesting that it doens't matter how healthy the rest of your lifestyle is (diet, exercise etc) - if you spend the majority of each day sitting down, you're over 50% more likely to die of a heart attack.

The researchers themselves don't seem to fully understand why this is, or whether it applies to just the act of sitting or to general inactivity, but I was shocked enough to want to do something about it.

The trouble is, as a writer it's hard to NOT sit down all day. The romance writer Nora Roberts has been quoted (on iGoogle's writing quotes gadget) as saying 'ass in chair' and it's well known as a sedentary job. I can't type standing up, and the only work surface that would be high enough to give me the support I need would be the ironing board, and I can hardly work all day on that. But I worked out that there are aspects of the job I don't need to sit down for. Making and taking phone calls. Reading through print copies of stories. Editing print copies of stories. Even thinking can be done standing up.

It's a start, and better still, it burns an extra 60 calories an hour which ought to benefit my waistline as well as my heart!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

RIP Velvet Mafia

The online gritty gay male magazine Velvet Mafia (home of 'dangerous fiction') has closed its doors. A friend passed on the following message from managing editor Sean Meriwether, posted on the magazine's Facebook page:

"Velvet Mafia was launched in the fall of 2001 to publish gay and queer fiction and poetry that refused to be assimilated. We mashed up a lot of diverse elements into a heady literary brew that broke new ground and offered a platform for work that was not being published anywhere, online or in print. The stories that ran with us were regularly picked up by print anthologies and a hunting ground for readers who wanted a little something extra. Above all, VelvetMafia.com was formed as a community and the site has introduced many of us to one another, first digitally, then in person. I have gained a number of friends and acquaintances through the site, to which I will always be eternally grateful.

After a decade online it is time to put down the reigns and focus on new projects. Although the site is coming down, we wish to extend our thanks to the writers who volunteered their work to our forum, to the readers who made it all worth the effort. A special thanks goes out to those who helped keep the ball rolling: Greg Wharton, Jameson Currier, Philip Clark, Michael Graves and also to Jack Slomovits for his photography which defined the style of the magazine.

The site will stay up for until the end of May, 2011, and then will step off the stage, having accomplished its mission."

It's always sad to see a market close and this one in particular since it was one of the few gay male magazines where contributions from women writers were accepted with every bit as much enthusiasm and charm as those from gay men. And Sean was a sweetie to work with. It's not entirely surprising, though, since everything has its day and the magazine's website hadn't been updated since last summer. I shall miss it, as a reader and a contributor.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New look

I'm experimenting with a new, darker look for my blog and website. This is because my writing is heading in a new direction too. It's been a long time since I last wrote any romance, erotic or otherwise, and most of the stories in that genre are coming up on the end of their contract (or in some cases, have already dropped off the edge!) And most of my new fiction is gritty urban contemporary, or noir, or dark paranormal, or a sort of gallows humour. My most recent acceptance, The Other Side of Silence, is in the dark paranormal category and I'm hoping to have others to add to that in the coming weeks and months.

This is an exciting start to what I hope will be a new journey for me, and I hope you enjoy the ride too!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Quiet...

I've been a little quiet the last few days, because I was unfortunate enough to witness someone being cruel to an animal. The poor creature died, which upset me rather, and I've been finding it hard to concentrate on work. There are some sad people in the world, aren't there? I don't want to say too much for fear of it getting back to me, but I reported what I could and will have to hope it helps stop the same thing happening again.

On a brighter note, I've now found places to submit almost half the stories from my anthology and am chewing holes in my desk waiting for their replies.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Back safely

I forgot to mention yesterday that Dave got back from Qatar late Thursday evening. He was a little worn around the edges after travelling for fourteen hours straight, but otherwise fine and had enjoyed the trip more than he expected. Admittedly he spent most of his time at work and couldn't get out much to see the sights, but a colleague's parents took him to the soukh and a restaurant one evening and he got a flavour of the country from the hour's drive between the hotel and the site.

He said it was a real eye-opener. Too often on UK television they still portray Arab countries as either backward or corrupt, but he said Qatar was clean, prosperous and forward-thinking and the people amongst the friendliest he's ever met. His hotel was amazing (he had a suite overlooking the private beach, which helped) and the shops were full of attractive goodies at surprisingly affordable prices. And petrol was, um, 6p a litre.

He arrived back clutching gifts including a pretty pashmina and a small metal camel trinket - the latter in spite of my strict instructions not to bring any camels home!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Alibi's crime writing contest - second thoughts

A few weeks ago I posted details of this contest, run by Alibi TV in association with HarperCollins to find the 'crime writers of the future'. It's completely free to enter, the prizes are seriously good, and there's always the chance that you might leapfrog the slush pile at HarperCollins if you make the shortlist of eight.

I was all set to write something myself and had even come up with a title and a basic plot. Then I decided to check the guidelines for formatting hints, and found the following statement buried deep within the small print of the terms and conditions of entry:

"Where you submit your entry to this site (including without limitation any text, graphics, photos, video or audio) by such submission you grant UKTV and Harper Collins Publishers Limited each a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce and publish, distribute and make available to the public your entry in any media, now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content.

If you do not wish to grant such rights to UKTV and HarperCollins, you should not submit your content to the site."

In other words, it's yet another contest where simply by submitting your story, you give away all rights, forever, without any form of payment. Those lucky eight will get prizes and recognition, but hundreds of others will send work in, not be shortlisted, and effectively hand over their story for free.

Why do some contest organisers do this? And why do they hide that fact in reams of small print that many people won't have the patience to wade through? I don't know, but suddenly I've gone off the idea of entering this contest.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Lord giveth...

...and the Lord taketh away. Which is a flowery way of saying that I've had good news and bad news on the writing front in the last few days.

The good news is that Pill Hill Press, a publisher of dark and speculative fiction based in Nebraska, have accepted The Other Side of Silence for a forthcoming anthology. This is an atmospheric ghost story set in a big old house where the heroine had an unpleasant experience as a child, and it fitted very nicely with the anthology's theme of 'There Was a Crooked House'. Stories are being accepted on a first come first served basis so I don't yet know when the book will be available to buy, but I'll post details here when I find out.

Now the bad news. The publisher I queried my revenge anthology with has declined, because they don't publish collections of short stories. It's fair enough but obviously I'm disappointed, not least because I wrote many of the stories with that publisher in mind. That always makes it a little harder to find new homes for them, but I haven't given up. This afternoon I got my 'markets' folder out, shook off the cobwebs and started trawling through, and I've already found places to send around six of the sixteen stories. Whether they'll actually get anywhere is another matter, but I'll give it a damn good go. I have a feeling the rest of the week will be taken up with rewrites, re-edits, re-formattings, and re-submissions. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Nervous...

Dave is flying out to Qatar later today to spend the next few days working on a giant gas plant. The Middle East isn't one of the most stable areas of the globe at present and although Qatar hasn't seen the same trouble that hit Egypt, Tunisia, Libya etc, it is still fairly close to other flash points such as Bahrain. Indeed, British Airways have already buggered about with his flight times because they're no longer calling in at Bahrain en route (and didn't bother to notify him of the new flight times... typical).

I'm sure everything will be fine really, but I'll still be glad when he's back.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good deal at Smiths

I need more books to read like I need the proverbial hole in the head, but yesterday I found a deal that was hard to resist. WHSmith were offering the latest novel by Carlos Ruis Zafon (of 'Shadow of the Wind' fame) for only £2.99 if you bought a copy of The Times.

I've read a couple of books by Zafon ('Shadow' and its follow-on) and enjoyed them, and although I don't usually read The Times (I'm a Guardian girl at heart) it seemed too good an offer to miss. Newspaper and book were soon in a bag, swinging along at my side ready to be devoured at home.

As far as I know the offer's still on, and I think other books may also have been included. So if you want a cheap paperback, hurry along to your nearest branch of Smiths!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Now here's a challenge

Yesterday I had a migraine and couldn't concentrate on any of my longer stories. A few days ago I came across a new challenge, courtesty of 5x5 Fiction, which involves writing a story in only 25 words, using five sentences of exactly five words each. Even your bio has to be exactly five words long! I settled down to have a play with words.

My goodness. I thought writing a 75 word story for Paragraph Planet was hard enough but this proved a real tussle. I found I could cope with the structure reasonably well (the five sentences) but what I struggled with was fitting a proper story into that structure, rather than just a series of sentences. My first few efforts were terribly lame and there were a lot of screwed up pieces of paper in the waste paper basket. Eventually, though, I managed to cudgel my brain into producing two different 25 word stories that weren't, at first glance, too bad. I'll give them another polish in a day or two and then hope to submit them to 5x5 for their next anthology.

I'm not sure the exercise helped my migraine much, but it was surprisingly good fun!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Photo opportunity

Just a quick reminder that my new little ficlet, Photo Opportunity, is available right now at Paragraph Planet.

Miss it today and you'll have to wait till the end of the month to find it again in the archives!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New paragraph

Paragraph Planet have just accepted another of my 75 word ficlets, this one called Photo Opportunity. It's based on a real life event and I still have the photo to prove it!

Check out the site tomorrow (Wednesday 23rd March) to see the paragraph for yourselves.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Authors for Japan

If like me you've been scouring the internet looking desperately for ways to help the people of Japan after last week's earthquake, then this might be just what you need.

The Authors for Japan group have got together to organise an online auction of 'writerly things' with all proceeds going to the Japanese Red Cross. Lots you can bid for include donated books, mentorships, editing sessions, and even your name as a character in a forthcoming Doctor Who novel!!

To take part follow the 'index' link at top right of the main page. This will take you to a full list of all the goodies on offer; to bid you leave a comment on the relevant post about the item you're interested in.

Happy bidding!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Radgepacket 5 launch party

Good news for fans of industrial strength fiction - the next volume in the Radgepacket series is due imminently from Byker Books. Radgepacket 5 is the same mix of the dark, the weird and the shocking from writers billed as 'unsigned and unhinged', plus a novella from published author Danny King. And still all for only £5.99, which works out at about 30p per story!

To celebrate the launch, Byker's editor is organising a launch party on Saturday 19th March, from 3.00-5.00 pm, at The Back Page sports book shop in Newcastle upon Tyne. There'll be wine, there'll be nibbles, there'll be a guest speaker, there'll be the chance to mingle with the authors and get a copy of the book signed. There'll also be the chance to browse the shelves of The Back Page, which is rather like a sports enthusiasts' version of Aladdin's Cave. (I know, I was there last year.)

If it's anything like the Radgepacket 4 launch party then it'll be a fun, friendly, relaxed event and well worth an afternoon in Newcastle - and a Brown Ale or two.