How was it for you?

2016, if you go by the news and social media, has been pretty horrible. Sometimes though you’ve got to look at your own smaller world, and judge a year more personally.

For me, writing wise, it has been very quiet. I think I’ve managed less than 10,000 words for the whole year. I’ve beaten myself up about it a few times, and seriously thought of just giving up. However, the truth is I have edited – a lot. The book I wrote has been edited again and again. Each time trying to get it in better shape. So, being a little kinder to myself, I’ve edited massively, and what I have written has been either published, or at least appreciated.

January of 2016 saw the release of Jurassic Attack. A series of dinosaur tales based on a set of collectable cards. My story was ‘Phased’. This is an odd one for me because I was genuinely not impressed with my own story in this, however others really like it, and have even gone so far as to say they could see a jump in the quality of my writing – so what do I know.

Jurassic Attack Cover

March saw me send off my book ‘Blood Key’ to the publishers Kristell Ink, who had an open submissions period. The response I had was unlike any I have had so far in my writing. I’ve been extremely lucky with numerous acceptances, and even the declines have been both helpful and polite. Kristell Ink e-mailed me with four words – “It’s not for us”. Those four words hit me hard, and if I am honest it probably is the main reason why I’ve been so unproductive for 2016. This is not their fault, it is mine. I’ve gotten used to being told ‘yes’ and even when I am told ‘no’, it has always been with an explanation that was both encouraging and helpful. I didn’t think my confidence was that fragile. Looking back now, I take it for what it is – a reminder that you need a thick skin, that you need to believe in yourself, and even if someone doesn’t like your stuff, there may well be plenty out there that will.

I’d also sent the book to ‘Black Rose Writing’. They also declined but simply said they loved the original idea but suggested a professional edit. This perked me up a little. I happened to pick up a writing magazine and in the back were details of a publisher called ‘Pioneer Teens’. They said they wanted new writers, authors still trying to perfect their craft – still rough around the edges but willing to work with an editor to get better. I sent them the first three chapters and eventually they asked for the whole manuscript. Obviously they did not take the book – or else I’d have fireworks exploding from my blog! – but I got very close. They liked it a lot. They were seriously considering it. They are a small press, and in the end they had a limited budget and were only going to print two books that year. I didn’t make it but I know I was very close.

You’d think confidence renewed I’d have been typing away everyday – pushing on to bigger and better things. Sadly real life took over. Work this year has been great. I’ve worked more hours, spent a lot of time learning new skills, and…  been very tired as a result.

March also saw the release of another story I’d written in 2015. ‘Wax and Wane: A Gathering of Witch Tales’ came out. I love the cover to this book. I think this is possibly the best looking book I’ve been in. My story, ‘That Familiar Feeling’ was fun to write, and I enjoyed putting a positive outlook on a young witch.

wax-cover

April saw me really try and get back into the writing habit. On the final day of the deadline I wrote ‘Purchase and Possess’, which was accepted for ‘Ghosts, Gears & Grimoires’, an anthology of steampunk and horror. I enjoyed writing this, and have always felt that the Victorians obsession with holding seances are ripe for any story setting.

My local writing group, ‘The Writer’s Cafe’ held a competition in May, in partnership with the National Trust. It was a flash fiction competition with the theme of ‘Underground’. All stories had to be no more than 300 words. I was thrilled when my tale, ‘Crumbs of Hope’ won. The prize? The story was  put on display at Levant Mine, at the top of a working steam engine no less, for all to see.

Here is a picture of the story, along with its German translation, as provided by the lovely Renate Augstein.

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And here is Levant Mine…

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June saw the release of ‘We’ve All Been There: Tales of Tenacity’. This was an anthology of true stories of people dealing with various problems and the proceeds of the book went to charity. The idea was that the authors wrote about personal issues. I have a strange feeling towards this book. On one hand I’m very proud to be part of it (my story is called ‘What About ME?’), on the other I regret writing the story, since I was very honest. I feel like I put a little bit of myself out there and I wish I’d not been so open. Still, it is done, and quite probably it was therapeutic to write it. My own issues should not detract from the other authors who also shared their experiences, all in the name of letting people know they are not alone, and hopefully raising some money for a worthwhile cause.

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And that was it for my writing all summer long. I worked and worked. I didn’t go to my local writing group, I didn’t go to the ‘Speakeasy’ group – I felt no inspiration for the themes they set, and I felt no desire to get involved.

Pretty much I continued to feel sorry for myself, still talked about giving up the writing lark, and generally passed on advice to others about keeping going, when I should have been listening to it myself.

July saw me take part in an event in my home town. There was the ‘Penzance Literary Festival’ and some local writers not involved set up there own ‘fringe’ event. I got involved and read some unpublished short stories that seemed to go down well. To be a part of it was very nice and being described as ‘experienced’ at public reading was surprising but reassuring.

redwing-reading

October/November saw work come to an end for the year, and so I had to shake myself down and go back to basics. First things first, I started going back to my T’ai Chi lessons. I got some energy back, and decided to look again at ‘Blood Key’. I can’t afford a professional edit but I can at the very least keep trying to make it better.

I decided to do something small, and ended up sending a ‘drabble’ off to a publisher in Chile. Lo and behold it was accepted. ‘Shadow’ appears in the e-book ‘Spooky Halloween Drabbles 2016’. A drabble is a story in 100 words. It is not that easy to do well and I was really pleased with what I managed to convey in very few words. A beginning, middle, and end, with atmosphere. Something that small made me feel much better about myself.

drabbles

On my birthday, ‘Ghosts, Gears & Grimoires’ was published by Mocha Memoirs Press. I think I return to steampunk as a sort of safety blanket.

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October was also when I got hold of a copy of ‘Forever Hungry’. My story ‘Family Ties’ made it in there, and I really like that tale. I felt I managed a nice level of humour and gore. I’m pretty sure it came out before October but that was when I managed to get a copy.

Forever Hungry cover

The annual ‘Writer’s Cafe Christmas Flash Fiction Competition’ came around again. I decided to try and write something different for this. I always approach the competition, not with the intent to win (which is nice mind) but to try and do something different in tone. I think after a number of years my style of writing is obvious to many members so I try and almost disguise myself by mixing up the tone or feel. I don’t know how successful I am with that but it feels like a good exercise. This year my tale, ‘Never Too Late’ did not place in the top three. The winners stories were much better and fully deserved their reward.

Finally, having dusted myself down, and given myself a little bit of a talking to, I’ve spent much of December editing again. I’ve entered ‘Blood Key’ into the Chicken House/Times competition for children’s and young adults novels. I won’t know the result of that until Easter 2017, at least.

Of 2016 I can say I’ve reminded myself that no one deserves a nice, friendly, detailed rejection – so suck it up and get on with it. I need to be realistic about where a story fits too. What I think is Young Adult, might truly be Teen or Older Children. Maybe I see Science Fiction where another sees Horror. Knowing where a story fits is important, and can determine whether or not the right people are reading it.

Despite hardly writing, I’ve had 6 stories published (I’d thought it was 3 before typing out this blog!). I won a flash fiction competition, and the display of my work at Levant and then later in my home town, is something to be very proud of.

Of my work already written but unpublished, I still hold out hope that ‘The Adventures of Dayton Barnes’ will see the light of day eventually, and the story that I wrote for the people rescuing dogs and cats may get out there, if they can get a few more tales together.

I’ve not written yet in 2017, and yet I have – for here is a blog entry for the first time since April 2016. It’s a start.

When I first said I’d blog, I said I would log the ups and downs. I’ve not stayed true to that. I’ve not kept up to date with what is happening. The point of me telling you about how I reacted to the various occurrences is not to seek sympathy or to look for a pat on the back. I don’t need either. The point is to share, to tell someone else who might be doing something similar, or just about to try, that these things happen. Famous authors get 70 plus rejections, but they are famous because they kept going, and didn’t let it discourage them. Just writing this blog reminds me that I’ve had more success in the last 3 years than I could have ever dreamed of.

So, 2016 seemed depressing at the time, but for me personally, looking at it like this – it was actually pretty good!

I hope yours was good too, and I hope we can all have a great 2017. The wider world looks scary but hopefully within our own individual worlds we can each have some happiness and share that along.

Thanks for reading and being with me,

Stephen.

 

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Final Countdown

Nope, this is not a post about 80’s rock band ‘Europe’. You can stop humming the tune now. Really, stop it now.

This is the last warning, the last opportunity, for you to support Far Horizons Press with their efforts to publish three anthologies.

I have to own up to being part of one of them, ‘Forever Hungry’. If they make enough money I’m told I might get a copy of the book or even get paid for my story. Which would be very nice.

Moreover, all and any support that they get helps get the books out into the world, along with a bit of marketing. This is not an easy thing and if you like these kind of books and want to see more, then please consider supporting them however you can.

So don’t be slow, don’t be a yo-yo. Head on over to Indiegogo!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/far-horizons-press-three-anthologies#/

Forever Hungry cover

Thanks.

More news on a different kind of anthology that I’m in soon and details of more steampunky goodness.

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Far Horizons Press – Support Their Funding Campaign via IndieGoGo

Joanne Hall has done the job for me of writing a blog about fundraising for these three anthologies. As I have a story in the ‘Forever Hungry’ one it would be remiss of me not to give it a plug. So shuffle alone and take a nibble…

Joanne Hall

Those splendid people at Far Horizons Press have just launched an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign in order to finance THREE SFF anthologies they have in the works.

FORMER HEROES : Have you ever wondered what happens to heroes once they stop being heroes? Then you need to read this book to see how real life heroes, heroic buildings, starfarers and super heroes cope with no longer being heroes. Includes stories by David Gullen, Gaie Sebold, Andrew Goodman, Peter Sutton and Sara Jayne Townsend.

FOREVER HUNGRY : Do like brains? Do you like munching into their gooey goodness, do you salivate at the thought of getting your hands deep inside the cranium and stuffing that grey matter into your ever-chomping jaw? Do you, in fact, like Braaaains!? If so then this book is for you. Over 20 stories of the shambling undead for your pleasure.

FANTASTICALLY HORNY : Do you want your…

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How to Write a Cover or Query Letter

A little wisdom from the esteemed Joanne Hall, that should be of use to any aspiring authors out there…

Joanne Hall

Hello!

I asked around on Twitter to see if anyone had an interest in reading an article on how to construct a query letter when pitching a manuscript, and a good few people said that they would. So here you are – as always with writing advice, YMMV, but this is what works for me.

First of all, I should say that there’s a difference between the standard “cover letter” (Uk format), and the US-standard “query letter” (examples and advice behind the link). The US letter usually asks for more information.

As with everything – look to see if there are any guidelines on the publisher’s website before you start. Some publishers want 3-4 paragraphs about the book, some don’t. Usually if you’re including a synopsis with your query, you won’t need to include as much information. I find the American-style query letter works best if all you’re…

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Walking the Dinosaur

Late January (the 22nd for the eBook and the 23rd for the paperback) the anthology ‘Jurassic Attack’ was published by J Ellington Ashton Press. I am lucky enough to have the story, ‘Phased’ within its pages.

I thought I’d tell you about this collection as the submission was different to anything else I’ve tried before. Normally you see a call for submissions and there is a theme which you try and stick to. For ‘Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion’ the theme was steampunk and the need to link the story to the city of Bristol. ‘Avast, Ye Airships!’ – well that was make it steampunk with a sprinkling of pirates. You get the idea.

‘Jurassic Attack’ is based on a collection of cards from America. As a kid I was familiar with ‘The Garbage Pail Kids’ but other than collecting football (soccer) stickers I didn’t know they did these card collections. Furthermore, I did not realise that on the back of each picture card there was a small tale, and that each one made up a larger overall story.

So, when the opportunity to submit came up you had to choose a card. This is another of the odd things. Normally you would submit, wait for the deadline and hope your story might be good enough to be accepted. With this there was no guarantee of acceptance (the stories still had to be good enough) but once you had put your name to a card, it was yours to write the inspired story and no one else could do it.

The card I chose was this one…

Entombed Card

I wasn’t allowed to copy the brief story on the back of the card but simply be inspired by the picture.

It was an interesting way of working. There was a point when I thought I didn’t want to write the story but since I’d laid claim to this card I felt obliged to keep going and get it written. I think that was a good thing because it forced me to write when I didn’t really feel like it. I believe that if you want to be successful with your writing you’ve got to write no matter what – even when you really don’t feel like it. As the author and editor extraordinaire Joanne Hall once said to me, ‘Writing is like going to the gym. You’ve got to do it regularly to feel any kind of benefit and to have any hope of getting any better at it.’

Anyhow, I thought I’d share how this one came about. I’m glad I did it and think it would make a really good writing exercise to hand out picture cards and write the tale that comes from it.

Luckily, despite my reticence, my story was accepted and very pleased I am about it too.

Jurassic Attack Cover

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2015 – The Year that Was

2014 had been an incredible year for me. I started writing and had immediate success with the publication of ‘Airshipshape & Bristol Fashion’. 666 copies sold so far!

My intention after that was to satisfy myself that it was more than luck that that happened. Could I do it again?

In 2015 I was published in ‘Avast, Ye Airships!’ with a story called ‘Beneath the Brass’.

AvastYeAirships

I enjoyed working on this book and learnt a lot about hard editing decisions. I had to discard a portion of my story and although I didn’t really want to, I learnt a lesson about tightness of plot and about the need for the editor to keep her vision for the whole book – not just my own story.

I had four stories appear in the Far Horizons e-magazine. I’m very grateful to all those involved in that excellent magazine for giving me the chance to get my work out and also to learn from working with very good editors.

I was over the moon to appear in ‘Toys in the Attic: A Collection of Evil Playthings’. My story about a toy typewriter was called ‘Against Type’.

Toys in the Attic Cover

Next I was lucky enough to be published in ‘Sins of the Future’ with a story called ‘Highly Strung’. I was particularly pleased with this story. Inez and Victoria, the people who usually read my work before I send it off, were so positive about this story. It really gave me a lot of confidence that I might be improving.

SinsoftheFutureCover

After that I was thrilled to have a story called ‘Distant Drums’ published in ‘Kaiju: Lords of the Earth’. I was pleased on two counts with this one. One, it’s giant monsters and I love the genre. Two, my wife told me it was good!

Kaiju Cover

So, those were the published books but still to come is Jurassic Attack, The Adventures of Dayton Barnes (I should have four stories in this one), Forever Hungry and Wax & Wane: A Gathering of Witch Tales. So if nothing else happens 2016 will at least match 2015.

I had a piece of flash fiction published online with Silverbirch Press called ‘Learning To Fly’. I was really pleased to have this accepted, given it was outside my normal kind of writing. This was about a song and how it can provoke a memory.

The annual flash fiction competition that my local writer’s group runs each year ended with me coming third. I was over the moon, since I found the theme inspired little in me this year and the final tale I wrote was done with real graft, as opposed to my usual flow.

Outside of my actual writing I also used 2015 to work on my nerves whilst doing public readings. I attended my local ‘Speakeasy’ group. I’m very grateful for their kind and welcoming membership. You never feel intimidated (well hardly ever) and it is great practice.

I even attended a steampunk day at Truro Library. There I was the resident author and spoke to various children about writing and steampunk. I learnt a lot that day – mostly about being prepared. My stories were not child friendly but I got there in the end.

Just last month I appeared on a local radio station, Penwith Radio. I read my flash fiction competition entry ‘In the Line of Fire’. I actually found this easier than speaking to a few people in a room. More training, more preparation. Baby steps!

I had four rejections in 2015, although three were for the same story. Every rejection was friendly and positive, so I take heart from them.

I attended the Penzance LitFest and BristolCon. It is attending these events, my local writing group, and the people I now know on Facebook, that reminds me the biggest benefit that has come from my writing is meeting such very, very nice people. Varied, interesting people that I might never have gotten to speak to otherwise.

If you’ve been with me on the journey so far – Thank You! If you are just joining – Welcome!

Here’s to 2016. I hope it will be a great year for you. For me, I’d just like to get a little better at this writing malarkey and then see what happens.

 

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Kaiju Koming Out

To celebrate the release of the anthology ‘Kaiju: Lords of the Earth’ I thought I might open up about my love of the genre.

It might sound odd in the current era of the geek but there was a time it was a bit embarrassing to admit you loved Japanese monster movies. It started with my Aunt winning some money. That allowed her to buy a video recorder and the latest television. No one else in the family had one. When my Mum was working I would quite often stay with my Auntie Jean and Uncle Ian. He would go to the pub and she would take me to the local video rental shop.

I only ever asked to rent two films – the same two films each and every time. One was ‘Flash Gordon’ and the other was ‘Destroy All Monsters’.

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This film blew my young mind. So many monsters, alien invaders – it had it all.

As a child I really thought this film and a few other Godzilla films I managed to see on television were serious action films. My older self discovered the original Godzilla 1954 film and understood the important and serious subtext.

When I went back to ‘Destroy All Monsters’ and the numerous others I saw the humour (both intended and unintended) but I loved them just as much. I now own every Godzilla film ever made, plus a few other Toho Studios pictures (my favourite being ‘Matango – Attack of the Mushroom People’) and Gamera (he’s a flying turtle!).

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Yep, all that is mine! The only DVD’s out on display.

Oh and I’ve got some other bits. Here are a few examples…

 

There are others, like the little monsters my friend Greg brought me back from Japan. But I think I’ve shown enough of my love for all things Kaiju.

You would think then that writing a short story for ‘Kaiju: Lords of the Earth’ would be easy. Far from it – I found the short story ‘Distant Drums’ really difficult to write and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I love about the majority of these films is the brain removal fun of them. When you come to write a story, you need to engage the brain and for a while I was simply not enjoying it.

My story clicked into place though and I found the enjoyment in it. I hope that if you get to read my story in this book, you might get a sense of how much I love these city crushing monsters.

Kaiju Cover

For my part I’d like to thank ‘Gojira’ and pals for opening a door to Ray Harryhausen, to films and culture beyond British and American and for stretching my childhood imagination.

All together, lets roar like Godzilla… Skreeeonk!

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