Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 20 May 2016

Things of the Last Two Weeks (Part Two)

www.alexcf.com
The last few days have seen me trying to get back into the groove of writing. It's been a bit weird, not least since the laptop I've had for the better part of ten years - my trusty E-System, a Christmas present from my parents in 2007! - finally appears to be dying. As laptops go, it's had a pretty good run, so I can't complain, but I'm trying to work on the purple Acer laptop I bought last year.

See, the E-System's one flaw - or its biggest advantage, from my point of view - is that it's rubbish at connecting to the internet, meaning that I can work on it pretty easily without being distracted by Facebook. The Acer is great at connecting to the internet. That wasn't so bad in Barmouth, where there was no wifi in our flat, but now we're home again.

And yes, I've installed Freedom. Thing is that, unlike the version I've used in the past where you just downloaded a programme onto the machine, Freedom is now some weird cloud-based thing. And even when I've switched it on, the damn thing still connects to the internet. So once again, the wacky world of IT has delivered an updated, upgraded, 'improved' version of something that's about as useful as a pork pie at a bar mitzvah.

Even so, my short story mojo continues unabated. I wrote another story the day after my wedding, and two more on the honeymoon with another underway. That's a total of eight short stories so far this year, most of them in the past month.

That said, I need to get back on the Devil's Highway; there's still a lot of work to do before the deadline at the end of June. It's been nice, though, to work on some again.

Writers can be divided up any number of ways - and probably shouldn't be divided up at all, but that's another story - but one of the most interesting is the old question of whether you're a Planner or a Pantser. That is, do you plan out what you write before getting started, or wing it and make it up as you go? It's more of a spectrum than an either/or thing - much like sexual orientation, which gives me something of a segue to this blog post by Janine Ashbless, also known as Keris McDonald. One of the UK's foremost erotica writers, Janine is a confirmed Pantser. (And when she gets the time, she writes some superb ghost/horror fiction under her Keris McDonald byline - highly recommended if you can track some down! You can find out more in her Lowdown.)

Until recently, I'd have described myself as a dyed-in-the-wool Planner. That's certainly how my novels have been written - with more and more detailed planning, in fact, before I set pen to paper. A few years ago, I extended the practice to short stories, as I was finding hardly any time to do them. For the past couple of years, in fact, I've hardly written any stories that weren't to commission.

And I was feeling dissatisfied.

The short fiction I did write was feeling stale, repetitive, done before. There was a time when what I'd written had come both easily and from somewhere deep in me. I believed in it and felt proud of it, and many people had liked it a lot. All without planning. I wanted to get back there.

The last few short stories have all had that quality, or some of it. I think I'm some way to go before I'm getting the same thrill from what I do as before, but I'm on the way. It'll have to be fitted in around the novels, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - and among many other things, short stories can be great playgrounds and testbeds for ideas and settings and characters you may want to do more with.

So all of that's been nice.

www.alexcf.com
Less happy was yesterday's news that the YA science fiction author Nicholas Fisk had passed away, albeit at the good age of 92. I grew up reading his science fiction - along with Dr Who novelisations, books like Time Trap, Antigrav, Space Hostages, Trillions and the classic Grinny (an odd sort of alien invasion novel that's also damned creepy) were some of the first SF I read as a boy. His story collection Sweets From A Stranger was superb too. He wrote intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining stories and novels for young readers that still hold up today (and are worth a read by adults too.)

In other news, Laura Mauro, a very fine writer, wrote this excellent piece on magical thinking and OCD. I suspect a lot of writers have MH issues of one kind or another, if only in the form of depression caused by banging one's head repeatedly against the brick wall known as reality.

There was also this fascinating article on bodies of strange creatures allegedly found in a London basement. In fact, they're the work of writer, illustrator and sculptor Alex CF, which is going to be of great appeal to anyone who enjoys the outre, the macabre or the just plain weird. I've included two images from his collection here; go to Alex's website and see the rest.



Two final items. First, my old friend Rob Kemp, who readers of the 1990s small press may remember as r.j. krijnen-kemp, author of a small but perfectly-formed body of weird stories, wrote this article on a bit of Shropshire folklore. Which reminded me of something else.

The late Joel Lane's first novel, From Blue To Black, told the story of a fictional '90s rock band; the book included the titles and even some lyrics of the band's songs. I got very into folk music in the late 2000s, and one of the titles, 'Still And Moving Water', caught my imagination, as did a line from the fictive song. I asked Joel if I could turn it into a song of my own; he agreed, as long as he got a co-credit, and my friend Iain Mackness recorded a very rough demo of it. Working on the recent tribute anthology to Joel ended up inspiring me to make a YouTube video for the song, and I was reminded of it again by Rachel Verkade's touching and perceptive review of Joel's posthumous story collection, Scar City, over at The Future Fire. So here it is.



Have a good weekend, everybody!

Graham Masterton Interview (Part Two) Now Live At This Is Horror!

The second half of my interview with the legendary Graham Masterton is now live at This Is Horror, and can be read here. In the second part of the interview, Graham talks about the depiction of violence, about the Katie Maguire series of crime novels and about his superb novel Trauma (seriously, one of the best things he's written.)

For anyone who missed the first half of the interview, it's available here. Or, indeed, here.

The Lowdown with... Juliet E. McKenna

Juliet E. McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issuing her backlist as well as bringing out original fiction. She also writes diverse shorter fiction, reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions, teaching creative writing and commenting on book trade issues online. Most recently she’s been campaigning for the reform of EU taxation on digital sales causing serious problems for small press and independent publishing. Learn more about all of this at her website.





1. Tell us three things about yourself.

My hobbies, besides reading, are knitting, embroidery and the martial art, aikido.

I’m the family DM when we play Dungeons and Dragons with our sons. Yes, we bred our own next-generation gamers.
My track record with killing house plants is roughly on a par with a ghost in the TV series ‘Supernatural’. I do okay with gardens though. 

2. What was the first thing you had published?


If that means ‘in print, for other people to read’, a poem in my secondary school’s magazine in (I think) 1977. It was called ‘Looking at a Painting’, and contrasted a grandmother imagining all sorts of stories based on what she is seeing, with a teenager thinking being an adult requires a very different response. I wonder if I still have a copy of it anywhere...


If that means ‘in print and paid for’ that would be my first novel, The Thief’s Gamble. Long form is my natural writing length so I didn’t take the short-story route to a writing career. 



3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?


Oh come on, that’s like asking me which is my favourite son! I’m proud about different things which I’ve achieved in different pieces of writing but to ask me to rate them in any kind of order? Not a chance.


Something I’ve done which I’m proud of which I’d like more people to be aware of? The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy. 


I aimed to really and thoroughly overturn preconceptions about epic fantasy being consolatory and conservative, advocating ‘the return of the king’ and all that. This is the story of what happens when the ordinary people have had enough of being run over roughshod by the ambitions of princes and wizards...

4. …and which makes you cringe?
 

That, alas, is easy. In my first book someone sees people climbing cliffs and confidently states they’re gathering seabirds’ eggs to eat. Er, sorry, no, not at that (clearly stated in the text) time of year, they’re not. So my excuse, after the fact, is the speaker is a city girl and knows next to nothing about ornithology!

5. What’s a normal writing day like?


Get up around 7 am, have breakfast, sort whatever domestic administrivia can’t be avoided. Once or twice a week, head out for a session at the gym.

 

Once I’m at my desk, I fire up the computer, check social media stuff, check email, deal with whatever might arise from those – as quickly and efficiently as possible.
 

Open up the Work in Progress and review what I wrote last time. Tweak and tidy up as I go, doing bits of line editing, that kind of thing. Not starting any substantive rewrite unless I’ve had some nightmare realisation about a major problem while I was in the shower.
 

Check my notes about what I’m writing. I’m very much a planner and outliner, so there’ll be a notebook beside my keyboard with the overall idea set out plus additional pencil scribbles, arrows, stars, bits circled, as my thoughts develop or change as the actual writing unfolds.
 

Crack on with the wordsmithing until midday/one o’clockish when I break for lunch –usually watching some bit of telly. That can be anything from a SF/fantasy serial to a historical documentary to a US drama like The Good Wife or Nashville.
 

Back to work, picking up where I left off – and I will be all the more productive for having taken a break. Write until I reach a natural break point some time after 5pm, or until the Husband gets home from work.
 

Cook the family dinner, catch up with the Husband’s day, then we’ll relax together with some telly or a good book, the usual sort of thing. Unless it’s an aikido night in which case we’re off to throw people around a padded mat for a couple of hours.
 

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s a routine I’m very much striving to get back to, after spending so much of last year being a political lobbyist on international digital VAT.

 

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?


I’d say the first thing they should do is head for my website where there are some free stories as well as sample chapters from my novels. That way they can get an idea of my style and decide if it appeals. If it does, well, The Thief’s Gamble is the first novel so that seems like a good place to start.


7. What are you working on now?

 

I have just returned rewrites on a short story for an ‘Alien Artefacts’ anthology. 

I’m currently working on an Aldabreshin Compass related short story. I’ve decided to write a few of those, to accompany the ebook publication of that series. The first one’s free for reading via the Free Stories page on my website. 

I’m also planning the rewriting needed for the opening of an unpublished novel which I want to get out on submission to literary agents as soon as possible.

I’m also noting down thoughts for a possible Patreon project.
 
 That’s enough to be going on with, I think.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Things of the Last Two Weeks (Part One): 19th May 2016

Well, I'm back. Sorry the blog's been a tad quiet, and for the absence of The Lowdown. It returns tomorrow, all being well.

Still, there's a pretty good excuse for the long hush: Cate and I finally got married on Saturday 7th May this year. The following Monday we were off on our honeymoon to Barmouth, which we got back from a couple of days ago.

Cate mentioned a friend of hers saying 'I needed a holiday to get over the holiday!' and in the best possible way, I think I know what they meant. Returning to normality is a slow process after a week or so like that.

We were told to enjoy every moment of our wedding day, as it all went by so fast. And it did. And at the same time, it seemed to last forever - again, in the nicest possible way. My face hurt from all the smiling. Family and friends were there, and a lot of writers. God knows how many horror stories we've inspired. One day I'll have to write about it myself - make sure it's all immortalised in prose.

We took a moment, too, to remember Cate's Mum Pauline, and Joel Lane, who would have been our
best man: special thanks to Bernard, who did that job on the day, and to the one and only John Llewellyn Probert for reading a short extract from one of Joel's works. I could go on and on about all the different people who made the day so special, like our bridesmaids Amy and Becky, or... but I'm going to stop there now, because I'll end up leaving someone off! But thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who came. It was a special day.

The honeymoon was lovely too - on past trips to Barmouth we've been cursed with some grotty weather, but that week was glorious. I'm tanned several shades darker than I was before - or at least my face and forearms are! So we walked along the beach, spent a lot of times in the beautiful cafes on the Quay, like Davy Jones' Locker and The Anchor, spent even more time in various gift shops (Cate) and second hand bookshops (both of us), and spent most evenings in the restaurants - The Captain's Table and (again) The Anchor being two particular standouts. If you're ever in Barmouth, those are both great places to eat.

They're even naming drinks after my stuff now....
We made a couple of day trips, to Porthmadog and Bala, and on the second actually found a bottle of liqueur called Black Mountain, aka Mynydd Du!

The day before we left, we went to St Mary's Church at Llanaber, where my gran is buried, to pay our respects and put some flowers on the grave. Daft, I know, but I find myself talking to her, even though she isn't there. She worried, I think, in her last years, that I was never going to get married or settle down with anyone. I wish she and Cate could have met - they'd have loved one another to bits.

We walked back from Llanaber, over the railway tracks and down the full length of the prom, which, be assured, is a bloody long way, especially in hot weather. Luckily, the Quay also boasts an ice-cream parlour called Knickerbocker's, which was a pretty good motivator. On the way there, we actually bumped into the registrar who'd married us, who was spending the weekend on the coast...!

So, a lovely day and a lovely honeymoon. And I'm a very happy man. Hopefully Cate's an equally happy lady. I love her very much and hope for many happy, healthy and prosperous years with her.

Here's some music, because for some bizarre reason this seems to be the song that sums up the whole thing for me. (Cate will probably think otherwise, but even the happiest marriage has the odd disagreement.) ;)

 Peace and love to all,

Simon x




Thursday, 5 May 2016

Paul Pinn: A Tribute

As promised, I've written a longer piece in memory to the late Paul Pinn, who passed away this year from cancer. You can read it over at This Is Horror.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Graham Masterton Interview (Part One) Now Live At This Is Horror!

One of the most popular - no, hands down THE most popular - Lowdown I've done to date was with Graham Masterton. It was a very interesting one, too, and I'd been thinking for a while that a longer interview would be worth doing. So I asked Graham if he'd be interested and he said yes!

The interview, for This Is Horror, touches on subjects such as research and the writing process, as well as Graham's Katie Maguire crime novels and his excellent novel Trauma (aka Bonnie Winter.) It's a pretty substantial length, so it's being published in two parts. The first is up at This Is Horror now.

Things Of The Week: 3rd May 2016

Paul Pinn
Well, only another four days until I'm a married man. People keep asking me if I'm excited, but I'm not, particularly. Not yet. Things like this tend not to really start kicking in for me until the day itself. At which point I will become a gibbering wreck.

The project I mentioned went off to a writer friend who'd done a lot more work in that vein... and came back with multiple footnotes and, basically, instructions to fix the hell out of this. Which is fine, and as it should be. Obviously (like most writers) I would have preferred something along the lines of 'OMG YOU ARE A GENIUS AND I AM NOT WORTHY'... but you have to earn such things. Maybe I will, or (more likely) a 'yep, this is okay.'

Writing is a constant learning curve, and different forms of it - plays, screenplays, poems, novels - all have different rules and disciplines. It took a lot of hard work and failed attempts to make the jump from writing short fiction to writing novels that didn't gargle donkey balls. Likewise this. There will be failures, problems to fix, lessons to learn...

And that will be good. You have to get outside the comfort zone to do anything worth while.

On a related note, I've been recovering my short story mojo over the last few days. Partly that's to do with the short story 'And Ashes In Her Hair' written for a project in memory of Joel Lane; it may also be to do with a recent interview I did with Graham Masterton (the first part of which will be online later today) on, among other things, the writing process. Anyway, I was approaching the deadline for a story I'd been asked for, so I buckled down and wrote it. I've been heavily focused on planning out my work before writing it over the last year or so - it's been a very useful discipline with regard to novel-writing - but I think it's actually become counter-productive with short stories (although it has helped in the past.) So I dived in. And wrote an 8,000 word story over Friday and Saturday. Then a 3,000 word story on Sunday.  And, this morning, a 2,700 word story.

There was sadder news this week though; I learned yesterday that the author Paul Pinn, who
produced some of the best horror fiction of the 1990s, usually in the small press of that period, passed away earlier this year from cancer. Paul was an incredibly nice guy and a hugely talented writer; I'll be producing a fuller tribute to him soon. In the meantime, let me commend his first story collection, Scattered Remains, to your attention.