Last Christmas

Good news everyone!

My story “Last Christmas,” won the Christmas short story competition in Writing Magazine. You can read it online here. Or, you can save it for Christmas.

This is a lovely and unexpected bit of success. I wasn’t at all sure the story achieved what I’d set out to do, but it has been well received with some wonderful comments from the judges. It’s the kind of feedback where I have to stop and think, “Are they actually talking about my work?”

When not working, writing, or doing the very many other things that make up my life, I’ve been enjoying reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’m still stunned that no one recommended her work to me for so long. After that, I have some more Earthsea books to read, some more Witcher books, and a bunch of RPGs.

Lots to do…

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Looking Ahead

Working in education makes this week a return to work. It has also meant a long summer of relaxing, reflecting on writing, life, and what to aim for.

Had a lot of responses from the novel I was pitching along the lines of “good, but not right for us,” or “there’s a lot to like here, but we can’t take this on.” So, I’m starting to look into publishing it myself. I like the novel, a lot, and I don’t have to worry if it sells ten copies or a hundred.

I developed an odd perception of self-publishing as something not to do – traditional agent/publishing houses were the way to go. I find it doubly odd as some of my favourite musicians (Ginger Wildheart, Amanda Palmer, among others) are very independent. I’m absolutely down with the idea of musicians publishing their own music – we did it with our folk band Hornswaggle. But, with writing, it felt different.

Well, no more! Most of my own short stories have been published in small, independent presses. So, yeah… I’ll do it myself. Got a lot to learn about this side of things, but that’s true of anything when you’re starting something new. One step at a time.

It’s the start of a long journey, but they all start somewhere.

In the meantime, I’ve got my eye on different submission calls, and am just busy working away.

Away from the writing desk, I thought Prey was amazing. I both want to see more and want them to leave it alone. No sequels, let it be its own thing. The Sandman adaptation has won me over. It didn’t need adapting, but it’s really well done, and sounds like it’s brought a lot of new readers to the comics. It’s made me mourn the Lucifer adaptation all over again. I loved Mike Carey’s series, and the show that appeared from that was… well… not for me.

Looking forward to some RPG one-shots we have organised, and hoping to try out Blades in the Dark soon – the most excitement RPG I’ve read in a long time. It packs so many great ideas in there, and gives the players so much narrative influence. It’s going to be fun to try it out.

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Success and Failure

Taking a moment to celebrate this achievement in Writing Magazine. I won the epistolary competition with my story Hiraeth. I love that word. There’s a similar word in Portuguese: saudade. I was chuffed to win this one, as I always find epistolary stories a little tricky, and my brain can’t seem to get past Dracula.

There’s also a whole new issue of the magazine out since I won that competition, so I’m a little slow in celebrating it. Since then there have been some more rejections and another success I’ll hopefully share soon (waiting for everything to be finalised).

Been feeling the frustrations of life recently. I have a lot of ideas I want to write, and sometimes inconvenient things like going to work to pay the mortgage and eat can seem really bothersome. There’s a talent to picking and choosing what to write, and examining which idea really gets you fired up.

Also; Moon Knight was awesome, and looking forward to seeing Doctor Strange 2 and Ms Marvel. Hoping to catch The Batman when it gets a DVD release. Recently I’ve dived back into reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, specifically the Tiffany Aching books I hadn’t read before. Reminded all over again how wonderful his writing is and the impact it’s had on my own creative musings. We miss you, Sir Terry.

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Nothing to Report

No, nothing to report really. The start of the year has been a tough one. It’s usually a tight budget as we recover from Christmas, but I also had the joy of being put on emergency tax with the new job. Yay! Just feel like I’m starting to recover from that now.

So, some financial pressure and new-job pressure, meant I floundered a little with writing as the year started. But I’m a big believer in turning up and doing the work, so little by little I’ve worked away at and submitted a handful of short stories. Now I’m feeling more balanced and I’m starting to submit the longer works to agents again.

Note to self: get over the mental block where submitting doesn’t feel like I’m doing real work. It’s bloody hard work, even if it’s not about actively putting new words on a page.

I’ve been reading The Witcher novels, and I’m still not sure how I feel about them. I’ve finished the short stories and I’m about to start on the series. I’m currently reading The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell, which is a summary of what we’d need to know to rebuild our society after an apocalypse. Between that and the current news, a creeping feeling of dread has become the background noise to my existence.

Anyway, happily back into a groove of writing and submitting work, and in the happy(ish) place of having more ideas than time to pursue them.

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Falling Into The New Year

It’s a big start to the New Year. I’m starting a new job, and it’s a strange time to start a new job in teaching. You’re coming in part way through the academic year and there are lots of things in motion that you need to get up to speed with quickly. I feel a bit out of my depth here, so it’s going to be a bumpy few weeks.

I had an idea over Christmas to rewrite a piece of work I’m already submitting. I thought it would occupy the first chunk of this year, but when it came time to start writing it just didn’t work. I love the piece that I’ve written. It’s finished. If it never sells, then so be it. Time to write one of the other many ideas lingering in my brain.

Managed to catch up on a few things over Christmas. Loved the Hawkeye series; enjoying the second season of The Witcher, and enjoying the books too. Started reading And Away by Bob Mortimer, and that’s fantastic. I’m struck by how fantastically normal his life was. He still sounds like a thoroughly grounded bloke and it’s lovely.

A Man Who Does His Own Dentistry

Mostly I’m being kind to myself, giving myself time and space to get settled in a new job, recovering from a cold (new job, new germs), and tinkering away with some rhymes for children’s books. With a little work I shall have half-a-dozen ideas in a state where I would be happy to send them out into the world. That will be the next batch of submission, then.

Hope your New Year has started out just fine and dandy.

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Fine and Dandy

Been watching a lot of Bluey with the kids. I think Bandit Heeler might be my spirit animal.

Bandit, Bingo and Bluey.

It’s been quite the time recently. Applying for and getting a new job; a death in the family; one of the kids falling down the stairs; holidays; keeping a house going; keeping writing; keeping on keeping on.

“Events occur,” would make a good synopsis for the last couple of months.

And still submitting work and writing new work. Always wanting the time to do more. But, in those quiet moments, taking a breath and realising that I’m fine and dandy.

After nearly four decades of existence, I’ve read my first Ursula K Le Guin and feel foolish for not having done it sooner. I love reading, as do a lot of my friends, and no one recommended her. I felt much the same when I first read Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson: how did no one get these books to me sooner? Why did no one tell me about them?

In the midst of being rather tired and overwhelmed, I also massively enjoyed Jungle Cruise. That film was everything that I wanted it to be. Looking forward to the Hawkeye series; struggling to enjoy The Watch adaptation, and suspecting Sir Terry’s books may not be suitable for adaptation at all; and just discovering the prog joys of Porcupine Tree.

All in all, just fine and dandy. Hope you are too.

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That’s mostly what I’ve been doing: submitting work. It’s cut into the amount of time I can spend writing, which is frustrating. It’s also just tough. Researching agents and publishers, finding those who accept SF/fantasy, realising they’re not accepting submissions at the moment, then starting over with another agent.

Through sheer exhaustion I submitted to The Good Literary Agency without realising I wasn’t eligible to be represented by them. Turns out they were quite lovely about it and even took the time say nice things about what I’d submitted. I’m both sorry I wasted their time and that I can’t be represented by them. Still, I’ll get my head down and into another round of submissions.

I’ve still found time to enjoy a few things. Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth and the Loki series were both great, even if their endings did leave me wanting something more. I’ve been looking through Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and prepping the next arc of our DnD game. Oh, and I discovered Rich Ragany and the Digressions (beautiful rock/pop with dark undercurrents); and Critical Role’s Exandria Unlimited is wonderful.

Okay. Time to… submit.

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The Great Work

The past couple of months have been another case of blog or write? As always, I’ve been choosing to write. Writing at just over 1600 words a day, I have a finished first draft standing at 83,973 words. When working on short stories I do about 500 words a day, getting my writing done in the evening, so this has been a dramatic change. It’s been hard work but fun. The story was bubbling away in my head and it’s good to see it down on the page. Time to let that sit and then I’ll check the notes I made along the way, reread and redraft it.

In the meantime, the things I was working on before need to be revisited, whipped into shape, synopses polished, covering letters edited, and then pitched out.

Also in the past few months I’ve managed to read and watch a few things. I’ve been enjoying Black Magick by Greg Rucka, Absalom by Gordon Rennie, WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Palm Springs, and The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell – both seen here in my “to read” collection.

Currently enjoying The Hollow Places by T Kingfisher (it’s wonderfully creepy…)

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The Long February

This month I’ve been working on children’s fiction; developing ideas for chapter books and early readers. I have a first draft of something I like, and also know how it would develop as an ongoing series. It was tough but fun. Every word has to count, the story has to move along at a quick pace, and you have to put everything out there. Best gags, best moments, best ideas. Throw it down on the page and trust that more will follow.

Now I’ll give myself whiplash by changing pace and working on an adult story, a piece of crime fiction with an occult inspired killer. I think. It’s still being sketched out at the moment and is liable to change on the journey from brain to page.

When not writing, decorating the house, trying to keep children healthy and entertained, or trying to keep myself healthy, I’ve also been enjoying re-reading Monstress. It’s a wonderful fantasy comic by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. It’s in equal parts magical and brutal.

Also, Jon Boden’s new album Last Mile Home, arrived in the post a week before its official release date! This is the third of Jon’s “post-climate change” albums, creating folk songs from a future world where society has crumbled and our resources are running out. I’ve loved the other two and look forward to revisiting the world he’s created on this album.

And if you have a BBC Sounds account, I recommend The Battersea Poltergeist, which splits itself between an historical drama of the 1950 events, and a modern day re-investigation.

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The Eternal January

Between work and various world events (you’re aware of them, right?) January has felt long. Like drowning in an eternal sea of wintery night; which I’m not entirely against, but after a while you fancy something different.

The month has also gone into putting together a longer form piece of work. Without the constant writing, finishing, submitting, feedback loop of writing shorter fiction, it’s made the month feel oddly unproductive. It wasn’t: the word count and the edited pages are there as evidence. But the short story cycle is addictive. It’s fast, so all of the highs and lows come fast too.

The latest draft of this new work approaches the end. It’ll sit for a short while (perhaps as one or two short stories are produced) and then be re-read with fresh eyes. Hopefully it gets to show itself to the wider world one day.

There are two books I read this month that I’ve loved: Who Am I, Again? by Lenny Henry, and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Both wonderful. Lenny Henry’s life and growth as a performer is fascinating and he writes in an open and honest way that’s very engaging. And Piranesi is a beautiful work of fantasy.

If you’ve not seen it yet, and you constantly find yourself getting stuck on the first chapter of a book, check out Voyage YA’s competition for the first chapter of a YA book.

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