An author of Speculative Fiction, speculates about fiction.

short story

Listen to “Lovecraft”

Hi everyone. This is a first for me, the blog and the world at large. This is my attempt to go all multimedia on you and so I hope it works. As some of you may know if you saw the Midweek Announcement post earlier this week, I have had the very unexpected honour of having one of my short stories from Not Before Bed read out on my local Doncaster radio station Sine FM. The Book It show have been good to me of late. Not only will they be airing an interview with myself about the release of Greaveburn on their next show, but they jumped in early to ask me if I minded them reading one of my short stories out on air. Of course, I snatched their proverbial hand off. Of course I didn’t mind! Now, I think you should hit the earlier link to listen to the whole show. Sheila North, who does most of it, has a lovely American accent with a very calming influence. But, for the sake of the blog I’ve cut to the juicy bit and just edited the story for the file below. Have a listen if you have a few minutes to kill.

(EDIT: The link has now been fixed!)

Click the pic to listen in!


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!


New Project Alert!

I mentioned this a while ago, but it was a whiiiiiile ago and so I’ll recap. While doing my Creative Writing courses with the Open University, I met some great people with a real passion for writing which rivalled my own. Since then we’ve met up every month or so to chat, share ideas and encouragement, and drink too much coffee. In the course of these meetings we decided that we should form a writing group and get an ebook compiled with our short stories in. Hence was born…

Does that look cool, or what?

Of course, I’d already released Not Before Bed, then re-released it and hit every hurdle it’s possible to hit along the way. So it seemed like a good idea to use that experience for the good of mankind (see the gravitas I’m trying to instill in this project?), and it would be much easier than doing it all myself this time. Apart from that, it was an opportunity to sandwich my own work between some great pieces of fiction by other people. And so, the project began.

The Brief: Two short stories and a poem from each member of the group.

And so, without any more of a preamble, I would like to declare that our short story collection is now available absolutely FREE from Smashwords…

Simple, effective. Just like me 🙂

 

That’s right, kids! The first collaborative work from the Steel City Writers is finally here!

Now it’s a very different beast to what you’re used to from me. There are some twists, some thrillers, some humour, and…some poems. I’ve even avoided going too dark with my own entries (yeah, I can do that if I want to. I just never want to :D). But it really is worth a read. We’ve even started a blog so you can find out more about each of us and drop us some feedback if that floats your boat. It’s HERE. And don’t forget that Goodreads is great place to share your reviews!

 

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!


A good week!

Well, it started off with the suspension dropping off my car, tearing a brake hose when all I wanted was an MOT. That cost £300 of my New York fund (have to stop typing so the tears won’t short my keyboard…)

*sniff* That’s better.

But, this week has also been kind. Thanks to a rather enthusiastic reader of Not Before Bed, I have a new review on Smashwords and Goodreads. Here it is:

“I absolutely love this book. Craig has a unique way of telling stories that leaves the reader hooked from the beginning. I haven’t read that much of spec fiction, but enjoyed immensely every tale that was included in this collection.

Some of the stories don’t have dialogue, but in all honesty, they don’t really need it. He’s able to weave a tale in such a way that you find yourself so immersed, so focused that you lose track of what you’re doing. At least, I did. I found myself imagining every scene of each story as I read it and in some cases, wanted to read more of these short stories.

This book is a definite must-read. Truly recommend it.”

by Lisette Manning

Bloody hell! What a great review! And the 5 stars she awarded is making  my average look fantastic. Also, I’ve also been inititated into Goodreads’ Best Indie Books/Authors list. Ok, I’m placing 105th, but it’s a great start!

And now, off to work on Emi.

 

Thanks for reading.