An author of Speculative Fiction, speculates about fiction.

short fiction

At the movies

Hi readers!

Again, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. The Down Days blog has been eating up most of my time and I’ve found it such a refreshing writing experience that I just can’t help myself. Still, I’ve been up to some other things, too…

After taking a little break from the signings/events circuit last year to get Alan Shaw 2 finished and off to Inspired Quill, I’ve done a few more events. Some lovely Steampunk events, and planning for more in the future. That’s gotten me bitten by the bug again, as it always does. So many lovely people are asking for the Alan Shaw sequel now, that it’s quite a boost for my confidence which was waning, to be honest.

I’ve started work on a new novel, as well as the obvious sequel work and finishing off Emi (which is pretty much the bane of my life. I just can’t seem to get in a flow with the damn thing). The new book is in the cyberpunk genre, all synthetic humans and media overcrowding. It’s lovely and shiny and new in my head and that’s always an amazing feeling for an author. I’m hoping you’ll be reading it as soon as I can get my finger out and finish it.

What else?

Oh yeah, I’ve finished my first script! I’ve been asked by a small production company to send my ideas for them doing short films based on the Not Before Bed short stories. Of course, I started with the titular story. It’s a total of three pages long (inadequacy issues, eh?) but it was really fun to do. Let’s hope that they can do something with it. I’d love to see some of my short stories on a screen at some point. How cool would that be?

That’s all from me right now. I hope you’re all doing well and that your own projects are steaming along. Oh, and since I’m rubbish and haven’t done this yet… Happy New Year!

(Hey, it’s still January, so it totally counts)

 

Thanks for reading.


A shift in perspective

Hi everyone,

So, I think I’ve had a bit of a realisation moment regards the novel I’m working on. I wouldn’t call it an epiphany, as such, but it’s certainly kicked me in the backside.

Basically, I realised that I was writing my Cyberpunk novel from the wrong perspective. I think that 3rd person is the crutch I always lean on. At least, it’s the reflex direction that I tend to take. But, as I was reading through the last part of my current WIP, (the cyberpunk novel, that is, not one of the other thousand books I need to get finished) I realised that the perspective should be first person. What better way to describe life in Shika-One City than fro behind the eyes of my protagonist? Especially since I’m trying to get across a very particular speech pattern, colloquialisms and, as I’ve mentioned before, a completely gender-neutral society. Do it through Xev’s eyes! (Xev’s name will probably change, but it was what popped into my head from the first, so I’ll deal with it for now.)

The bad thing, of course, is that I now have to rewrite the first 25k of the book that I’ve already written. The great thing is that I haven’t written anything in 1st person in ages and it’ll be fun to do so. I have to admit that I love a challenge and this is a perfect one.

My other fore-brain project, Emi, is also going pretty well. I’ve just re-read the whole thing from the beginning and I think that it reads alright. It’s another of those challenging things to write so I guess the real proof will only come out when someone reads it. I don’t think that IQ will publish a novella, so I’ll have to publish it myself. But that’s ok. It’ll be a nice little thing to add to my signing table.

And Down Days continues to do very well. We’ve had over 2000 hits over there, from all over the world. Every post has some kind of interaction or comments and the followers are mounting swifter than I could have ever imagined. The posts are proving nice and easy to come up with, too. That’s probably because my depression rears its head in some way almost every day, but I’m trying to see silver linings. With plenty of experiences to share, there’s plenty to write about.

I hope all of your writing projects are coming to fruition, too.

Thanks for reading.


Research is your friend

It strikes me that I don’t talk about my writing process very much and, contrary to popular belief, I do have one. While I do most of my plotting in my head, only setting it down in notes when it’s exceptionally vivid to me, the rest of the idea-to-page process is pretty normal. One of the things I think are incredibly important, possibly beyond all others and especially for writers of Speculative Fiction in all its glorious forms, is research.

If you’re going to make your story/novel/flash fiction/novella as realistic as it can be (and by realistic, I mean believable despite the wierdness) then research is where it’s at. As an example let’s use my current WIP, The Adventures of Alan Shaw. This is a very different beast to Greaveburn. Alan Shaw is an Alternate History/Steampunk novel based in the very real Victorian era of England, albeit with some technological flights of fancy. But in order to make my Neo-Victorian elements work, I had to understand what the victorian era was really like. If I had a motto, it’d be:

Learn the rules before you break them.

And so I do research. A lot. Of course, the internet is your friend. There are sites or wikis on every subject known to humankind somewhere in the unending virtual vaults. But call me old fashioned, I still like my books now and again.

Here's what I used for Alan Shaw so far.

As you can see, there’s quite a mix in there. Let’s break down what I think is important about researchas the groundwork for your writing:

1. Know your genre

When writing Greavburn, I had no idea that I was actually working on a Steampunk novel. I was aware of the Gothic literature sub-genre and loved its aesthetic. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is one of my favourite books, and that was the kind of grand darkness I wanted to instill in Greaveburn. But Steampunk wasn’t even on my radar. And so, when I discovered that it existed, and that Greaveburn fit the bill, I panicked. What if someone had already done what I had? How restrictive to Greaveburn’s reception would that be?

I learnt my lesson for working on Alan Shaw. I’ve read James Blaylock’s Homunculus, J.W. Jeter’s Infenal Devices and pretty much memorised The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and co. And now I can confidently say that I know what to do and what not to do, what’s old hat and what’s relatively new (hey, that rhymes. I should write that down). Knowing your genre makes sure that you hit your demographic while avoiding any “it’s all been done” style comments.

2. Go simple

Finding reference books that are quick to read, while still being representative of the subject you’re researching, can be a real struggle. People love to bash on about their expert subject to the point of mind-numbing boredom. But you dont need a huge tome, reaching 3000 pages across four volumes about Victorian London by Lord Cyril Fanthorpe the 3rd esp. to know your stuff. In order to make your story realistic, all you need are the little touches. Those little details make the difference between just some woman in a dress and a young governess wearing a crinoline pinofore. You never have to mention it again, but that’s the kind of period detail that shows you’ve put the effort in.

But as I was saying, there’s an easy way to find those things out. Go for children’s books. They’re brilliant! They have pictures to help get the right feel in your prose, they hit only the important topics and give you great overview of any subject. The Eyewitness series is brilliant for historical stuff, if you’re interested in that stuff.

3. Get your facts right

If you’re writing about a certain place, be it a city or town or foreign country, get your facts right. Never forget that your readers know their stuff. Don’t think you can flim-flam them with sweeping references to places. With Alan Shaw, I have to evoke an image of Victorian London that rings true to someone who’s never been to London and someone who walks its streets every day. Google Maps can take you anywhere you need to go, and even tell you the quickest way for your character to walk/drive around their environment. You dont have to give an itemised list of corners turned between your Detective’s home and the mortuary, but it helps if you know how long it would take and what’s in between so you can describe it if need be.

While Google Maps is great for the present day, historical settings pose a little more of a problem. And so I got myself some maps:

Victorian London, imprisoned in plastic.

They came in four pieces, originally, but with a little industrious folding and one of those frameless plastic frames (contradictory, I know) I now have an easily accessible map of Victorian London. What’s better than that, with the plastic covering, if you get some dry-wipe markers, you can plot routes, circle areas or points of interest to your heart’s content without ruining the source material for later use! (This is an Art Attack!)

My doodles marking Covent Garden Market, and routes for Alan to take around London.

 4. The Counter-argument

 

Just remember: There’s another side to research. Don’t get too bogged down with it. Learn what you need and move on. It’s a tool to help you write, it’s not words on the page.

Well, folks, that’s it for now. I hope this post has been as useful to you as my researching endeavours have been to me. If you have any researching tips of your own, then feel free to share. I’m always looking for new ways to do what we do.

 

Thanks for reading!


Not Before Bed update!

Thanks to the very kind H. Conrad Miller, Not Before Bed has had another great review! Take a look:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great collection of horror short stories ranging from Lovecraftian to werewolves to that thing that goes bump under your bed. Each story is finely crafted by Craig Hallam in an enjoyable and easy to read way while still having each story have it’s own voice and feel. I think that is one of the most remarkable things about this collection. While it is easy to see how all of the stories came from one author, each story was told with a voice all it’s own that was perfect for that specific sub-genre of horror.

Craig out did himself with his variety of stories. The dark sci-fi in Mandy in the Jar-O have an alien abductee’s horrific realization that her wildest dreams of being wanted are not so wonderful. The Lovercraftian tale of Albert that has little dialogue but such gripping description that every pool of water larger than the size of a drop suspect from harboring tentacled elder gods. These stories have the ability to catch and hold a reader’s attention. After every story I was left asking “When can I read a full story about this?”

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves horror. But I especially recommend it to anyone who wants to look into horror for the first time. It will give you a great primer for the genre and help you find a niche inside of it you will like.

 

Good job Craig
Cheers!

Well, I could hardly have asked for a better review than that! Let’s hope that it hitting Goodreads and the web in general gives Not Before Bed another little jolt of downloads. I think this is probably the appropriate time for me to give you some updates on the collection itself, too.

Since moving the collection from Smashwords to Kindle Direct Publishing, I’ve forced myself to NOT constantly check how many downloads I’ve been getting every month. And, because of that, I actually forgot to check altogether. Until today. And so, I can now inform you all that in the last year Not Before Bed, Amazon and Smashwords combined, has had a staggering…

13,426 downloads!

I have no idea how this happened, but July last year showed a massive surge which then frittered out to just a few a month. And since I’ve only been looking at the last few months, I almost missed the huge 12,000ish downloads from middle of last year.

While it may be like this...

 

...it feels more like this.

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think this causes for a huge thank you to everyone, whether they’re reading this or not, who has taken the time to download Not Before Bed. I never thought my shoddy little short story collection would be such a (relative) hit. I have no idea WHY this happened, but I’m not going to argue. If I can get but a portion of those downloads for Greaveburn, I’ll be a very happy camper. Special thanks, of course, go to those who went the extra mile to review it, too; you’ve all been extremely supportive and helpful in your feedback.

And with that, I think it’s time to put Not Before Bed to….well, to bed. It’ll still be out there to download for all those people who still manage to stumble onto it. But for me, it’s been a great experience that’s over now. I’m going home to concentrate on the next project. From here on in, it’s all about Greaveburn’s release later this year. And so, I’d like to bid a final thank you to everyone who made Not Before Bed a huge personal success. Stick around, there’s more writing to come!

Thanks for reading.


A funny old week…

Oh yes, dear friends, it’s been a funny old week…fortnight…month…you get the idea. The Open University courses are keeping me tied up indefinitely. The day job has me rushed off my feet. And promoting Not Before Bed is taking up the rest of my time. Suffice to say I feel hog-tied and gagged at the minute. No wonder the blog has suffered and the WIP is screaming for attention.

The reactions to Not Before Bed have been fantastic (bar one review which had me hitting the bottle and weeping into my string vest) and to those who’ve taken the time to comment I owe a debt. They’ve been so good, in fact, that I’ve toyed with the idea of ordering 100 copies and selling signed editions (probably £5 each, I think). But therein lies a risk! Of course the money for the copies and delivery will be coming out of my own ragged pocket. The question I need to ask is humbling: Am I good enough that people will be interested in buying it?

And that leads me to a philosophical frame of mind. Can we, as writers in a digital age, really translate our online ‘successes’ (meagre ones in my case) to the physical realm? For all those wonderful people, from all over the globe, will my self-published book sell?

Don’t worry, this post is rhetorical, I’m not expecting hard answers. But it makes ya think, right?

And so, with that, my focus on traditional publishing has been reaffirmed (Although, I never truly wavered). Greaveburn needs a home, a publisher, a team behind it and a space on a shelf. Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s the reality and the necessity.
And so it has heen distributed again. This time to independent publishers, minus the agents’ intervention. I’m willing to skip the safety of representation and go for broke. Let’s hope the good stuff is to come. Let’s hope that if it does, I don’t get ripped off. Let’s hope you don’t cringe at the final cliche…

He who dares, wins!

Thanks for reading


100th post!

It seems that the planets are aligning, the Ley Lines are pulsing with mystic energy and Druids all over the Britain are capering around naked to the sound of a flute.

Yes, it’s my 100th post. And, as if by divine intervention, I have good news.

A submission to Misanthrope Press’ Werewolf anthology Children of the Moon has been accepted! Hunting Grounds is a werewolf tale with a difference. Stephen is a werewolf who works in a coffee shop, because the smell of roasting beans drowns out the stench of humans that usually assaults his senses. We find him on a regular day at work, tryign to keep his wolfishness under control while wooing a regular customer. And all seems to be going well, unti after the coffee house is closed and the smell is gone. That’s when Stephen comes across a powerful scent lingering around one of the tables; a scent that sets his inner wolf growling.

And this gives me an excuse to post one of my favourite screen Werewolves...George from Being Human

Based in my home town of Doncaster, people from around here should recognise the landmarks and routes taken throughout the story (I hope). This story was used for my final assignment on the OU’s Advanced Creative Writing course and I’m really glad it got to see new life in an anthology.

The deets? All I know thus far is that Children of the Moon is due for release in September this year. Although it’s published in America ( My first overseas publication), you’ll be able to order print copies for delivery (as I’ll be doing). As I hear more, and see covers etc. I’ll keep you updated.

 

Thanks for reading!


>Short Story

>I’ve had this sitting around for almost a year now, and I can’t get anyone to accept it for publication. Maybe it’s too depressing. Anyway, I thought I’d share it with the blog.

Memories in sepia

I didn’t even hear them coming. My basket, snatched right out of my fingers, was the first thing I knew of it. The sickening smash as their bumper tossed it into the air, tiny white wheels still spinning, made me shriek. I covered my ears, I don’t know why. A blast of whump whump whump filtered through my gloves as their music died away; my ears throbbed as if trying to copy the sound.
    I stood in the road, breathing in the thick scent of hot oil and rubber, left alone with the agony in my wrist. I didn’t know what happened to me, just a blur of motion, colour and noise. It took a long while, I think, before I realised how close I’d come to being killed like a rabbit or a bird, the ones you see at the roadside, all fur or feather and nothing else.
    Do you know what that’s like?
    It’s easy to say I’m past my sell-by date. Tell me I’ve had a good innings; tell me I must know my time’s short. I know. I think about it regular. But when faced with your own mortality, realising how easily you’re snuffed out….I’m not ready. I thought I was. I’m not.
    I stood in the middle of the crossing, white lines leading away in either direction. My basket’s tartan sides were torn open like….like I could have been. Shopping sprawled across the road. Fresh fruit mashed into the tarmac. A tin had rolled into the furthest gutter, beans I think, not that it matters.
    I stared down at the white lines, completely blank in my head. It’s funny how the brain works, when it works at all, but all I could think was:
    “There’s black lines between the white ones. Every white line has a black one on either side.”
    It’s silly, but that’s what I was thinking. Strange how you never notice something like that.
    Another car stopped, a young woman I think, and she tried to help me out of the road. I know I struggled and fought her at first. She tried to take me across the road and I wouldn’t go. There was something…something about the beacons. The way they flashed so regularly on their stripy poles, like laughter in lights. I knew stepping between them would be the end of me, I just knew it. I think I told her that as we turned back. I think I did but hope I didn’t.
    She left me at the kerb, huddled in my skirts like a crippled pigeon, to clear the road. My body felt like it wanted rid of something and it was trying to shake it out of me in a fever. I couldn’t tell you when the shaking had started but it wouldn’t stop. I know when the weeping started though, right there and then. I cried and cried like I did as a girl when I skinned a knee, grabbing at my wrist to stop the ache. I think I rocked.
    The oak trees at the roadside whispered to me, tried to hush my tears.
    I refused every offer of help given. My pride was knocked enough. Although, as I walked the extra half an hour’s route to the subway, my arm wrapped in a sleeve like the walking wounded, I cursed my own stubbornness. Every inch of my body ached, even more than usual. The shaking had stopped but threatened to come back whenever I thought too much. I rested a lot as I walked. I probably flinched as cars sped by, but don’t tell anyone.
    I finally found myself on a familiar stretch of pavement; a returning trench soldier limping home, determined to reach loved ones after an age at war. Only I had no one to return to. No one would sit me down, press a hot cup of tea into my good hand and slap my back with hearty congratulations for my bravery. I’d have to do it myself. I wished again that I’d taken the young woman’s offer of help. If I’d asked her, she could have brought me home, helped me over the formidable step, sat me down on the sagging, lumpy settee. Instead, I stood at the end of my shabby garden path alone.
    I’ve lived in this place for most of my life and no longer know any of the faces that blink at me day to day as if amazed that I’m still breathing. I knew them all once, but things change, as they say, and now the street that was once mine is nothing but a row of twitching curtains.
    Every time I reach that spot I feel with undeniable certainty that I won’t make it the last few feet to my door. That time was no different. My body had had enough. My legs were too tired to carry my weary little frame this time. This time I’d stand stock still until my rusty bones refused to move. Then, under the weight of my years, I’d crumple to the ground.
    But I made it to the door, as I always did, fumbled for the key with my free hand and shouldered open the door to my solitary confinement.
    It struck me then, the smell of my home. Like old newspaper. I could almost smell the ink. When had it begun to smell like that? When had I let it?
    Finally sat on my settee, what remained of my shopping still lay where it’d landed just inside the door. The bruising in my wrist was starting to show, spreading under my skin like the shadows of fish under water. A constant throb came and went like a siren. I eyed the District Nurses’ box, the one with the bandages and dressings they’d use when they came. That wouldn’t be for another week, they’d only visited this morning, and it was never for long. I’d have to wrap the wrist myself.
    I cried. Again and again I cried. Not for the pain, not for the things I’d lost, not for the embarrassment or the dignity that had been stripped from me, but for the loneliness. You don’t realise how truly alone you are until you need someone who isn’t there; until you speak out loud and your own voice is unfamiliar.
    I’ve wandered through the last few years of my life seeing other human beings as nothing but speeding shapes that jostled or tutted at my slowness. The nearest thing to conversation I have is the monotone boredom of the checkout girl, and I like it that way. Getting too attached leads to sorrow. I’ve lost the only person I’ll ever need, or so I thought, and no one else can compare. But on that day, the sound of my sobs echoing back to me in my sparse living room, I would’ve given what remained of my soul for another person to be sat on my settee. The only people I have now are etched in sepia, staring out at me from dusty gilded windows.
    At first, all I could think of was the drone of fading horns as the car passed close enough to ruffle my clothing but, slow as the rising of bread I came to myself. I remembered other things. The blurred colours started to clear, like a watercolour left in the rain, but in reverse.
    That didn’t make sense at all, forgive me.
    What I mean is that as the shock wore off I remembered details that I didn’t know I knew. The car’s colour, how the fallen leaves scuttled like mice, and something I wish I could now forget. Four pale faces with dark eyes, twisted by speed, staring at me from beyond glass like explorers in a submarine. Their laughter standing out even above the music. One voice rising above the others, shouting something I couldn’t make out. That I’m thankful for.
    It comes back to me in dreams, made fuzzy by sleep. The faces change. Sometimes they’re people I knew; sometimes they’re my husband, cold as he was when I saw him last; sometimes they’re me; mostly they’re the same old whooping ghosts.
    I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up. That happens more often of late, these dozing periods. I wonder if it’s my body practicing for the longest sleep I’ll take.
    I’d slumped down on the settee, my head drooped back, but I still cradled my arm like a baby. Right down to my fingers was a horrid purple, the skin stretched too tight by the swelling. The light had gone out of the day, leaving only an amber streetlight to see by. I didn’t close my curtains, check the door, or move my shopping from the doorway; the only perishable I cared about putting away was myself. The stairs are always an effort of tugging; an impossible feat of strength; a chore of Hercules. I remember that story from when I was a school girl. It’s taken me seventy years to understand how he must’ve felt. He toiled alone, every day, silently pressing on with whatever task was given to him. The difference between me and him? He went down in history, I’ve been forgotten.
    Perched in my night gown at the edge of this old bed, pain rattled my bones. All I’d wanted to do was get home, just get home, and I’ve no idea why. Nothing’s made better by being here anymore. What I once loved, what I needed from this place has gone.
    I’ll carry on, because I’m afraid of what happens when I don’t.

Thanks for reading.