Monday, 21 July 2014

Wherefore art thou, style?

For some time I have wanted a style guide that matches my own preferences. A single book to rule them all, and to replace my own rapidly-growing style document. Every time I pick a style guide up and flick through it I'll find an entry recommending something that looks inelegant or counter-intuitive or inconsistent. The point of a style guide is to standardise things; by standardizing a style, you promote a standard for language.

After flicking through Guardian Style I thought my search was over. At first glance it seemed sensible and comprehensive. And it is the guide for a Manchester newspaper, which earns bonus marks. So I bought it. Today I finished reading it from cover to cover, as is my wont. Sadly, although often interesting, it turns out that my search must continue for a style guide that I can accept.

What made me unhappy with Guardian Style?

Firstly it was the lack of internal consistency, meaning that they end up needing 50 entries when a single rule applied throughout would have been much more … stylish. And required only one entry, saving a lot of time. Here are some examples of this inconsistency:

Friday, 18 July 2014


Never underestimate how happy it makes a writer when we receive positive comments.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Focus on your writing

I'm currently reading Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto In The Age Of Distraction by Leo Babuta. There are lots of tips for cutting distractions from your life: later I will be tidying the window ledge next to my PC so that it is not full of pots, paperclips, pads and pens.

One of the sections that interested me was about plain text, full-screen word processors. They strip things back to basics to give you a blank screen to focus on, without buttons, popups or a visible Windows taskbar; even formatting options such as italics and bold are gone. Just bang out the words. Removing bloat can increase the power. For a writer these tools make a viable alternative to using Microsoft Word, especially when you are starting from fresh on a new project. Below I have included screenshots and links to the three I plan to spend more time with.

All are free; none need installing, and they seem to be portable via a USB memory stick.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Screams in the post

I recommend the excellent horror magazine Scream.
This is my copy, fresh in the post ...
if the word "fresh" can be applied to zombies.

Mmm, the latest issue has an advert for
an interesting-sounding horror novel. :-)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Trial new cover

As an experiment I have uploaded a new cover for Cold Fusion 2000. It's only for the e-book versions, and will probably just be for a limited time. You can get a look at it by clicking the image above. There's a few elements I like, in terms of it fitting the story:

  • Manchester city streets;
  • The hand-drawn font implies something childish (Alex!);
  • The sun could be rising or setting: either way it is a liminal time, a story set somewhere between other things; it maybe resembles a halo of light (which makes sense if you have read the novel);
  • There's something lonely about those streets;
  • There are shadows at the edges, things may not be perfect;
  • The subtitle gives a bit more of an idea about what the novel might contain.
Better or worse than the previous cover?

Base image by Danka & Peter, downloaded from unsplash.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Some short stories I like

This list isn't comprehensive, just some stories that stuck in my mind because of the plot, setting, twist, characters, or even just the writing. What are your favourite short stories?
  • Lot (Ward Moore, 1953). End-of-the-world panic. It's as unsettling as you'd expect.
  • The Last Rung On The Ladder, and Children Of The Corn (Stephen King, 1978, in Night Shift). One serious, non-horror King story that punches you in the stomach; and one gripping horror that captures a sense of place brilliantly (and happens to be one of the many inspirations for Turner).
  • To Build A Fire (Jack London, 1908). I read it as a child and decided I would rather freeze to death than burn. It captured my imagination.
  • Weekend (Fay Weldon, 1978). On re-reading it, I realise it must have been in my subconscious when I wrote my short story It Will Be Quick.
  • Let Me Count The Times (Martin Amis, 1981). Once I realised where the story was going it brought a smile to my face.
  • More Tomorrow (Michael Marshall Smith, 1995). You put this one down with a mix of relief and horror.
  • Splatter Of Black (Charles A. Gramlich, 1995). A great example of how to write an action-packed tale.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

11 questions

My friend and fellow writer Shaun Horton has answered 11 questions  on his blog; he has now told me to answer 11 questions of his choosing too. Writers like passing words back and forth. In the past I've interviewed him and he's interviewed me. Okay, off the cuff, let's go.

1. If you could travel anywhere at all, where would you go for a vacation and why?
If I could get there without burning fossil fuels (rockets are so blimmin' wasteful) - say via teleportation, or flying there like Superman - then maybe the moon. For the solitude. The views. The chance to contemplate our insignificance. And to claim it as my own, a free state built on ethics.

2. Giant monsters or viral outbreaks? 
Viral outbreaks. I loves me some zombies. I find it easier to believe that outbreaks of that kind would occur than giant monsters. Nasty military germ warfare viruses always escape into the wild. Something that's too small to see is too small to fight.

3. Your neighbor is being unruly. What kind of fence do you build?
Some kind of living hedge. Tall, good for wildlife, but with prickly bits to stop the neighbour sticking their head through and ruining my peace.

4. What book or movie is your "guilty pleasure" that people wouldn't believe you like?
People who know me wouldn't be surprised by anything. But let's go with An Officer And A Gentleman.

5. Do a google search for Ink Blots, post the 3rd picture in the second row and describe what you see.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Lots of visits!

While I wasn't looking the blog shot past 50,000 views (currently 50,141). Many thanks to all my loyal readers! My most recent giveaways ended today, which had attracted hundreds of entries, so I'll count that as my way of saying thank you more formally. I now have a pile of books to lovingly package and post. Well done to all the winners!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Short story magazines

Do you have any short stories you would like to submit to a magazine, but don't know which magazines to try? Have a look at this excellent list on ShortStops, Tania Hershman's really helpful website.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Numbers ticking over

Almost 50,000 page views! What should I do when I reach that goal? Suggestions on a postcard (or in the comments below).