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.