Saturday, 13 September 2014

FTL (Faster Than Light)

Things are not going well for this ship

I love stories in all their formats, not just books. Give me a good film and I'll be lost for two hours. Give me a good computer game and I can be lost for far longer. For that reason I sometimes avoid games that I know I'll love, particularly perma-death roguelikes. I recently gave in and tried FTL (Faster Than Light). It is a big mistake for productivity! It is one of those "Just one more game!" specials, because when you die you always feel you can do better, that it won't take long to play one more game, and suddenly you are lost again, being the captain of a small space ship on a tense race against time.

The game captures the atmosphere of a cross between a cut-down Star Trek and Firefly. Be a goodie. Be a baddie. No game takes too long to play, each one tells its own story. You can rename your ship and crew to make things more personal (use the names from your favourite sci-fi show or film, or those of your friends, neighbours and loved ones; it's a lovely personal touch which makes each crew member more memorable). Forget the USS Enterprise - my most successful mission so far was in the supership known around the universe as The Kitchen Sink. (I was low on inspiration that day).

Monday, 8 September 2014

Something is wrong

Something is wrong in this place.

Stares can be cruel, yes, I see that. Scar tissue does not bleed, it is a sign that things are planned, not random, yes, stories and people, the world's architect, self-evident. I see and know. I am not hurt any more. Look all you like. And I will look back at you. And we will see who is the strongest. I am bigger. Mind, body, scar tissue. Yes. I do not like "vibrations". The term is imprecise. No. It is mood I feel. Mood comes from choices. Mood comes from entities, from people and things which pass through or rest in a place. Rest, yes. All choices.

Dark panelling. A choice. Lighting that makes one area - that one by the bar - bright, that is choice, that makes shadow elsewhere, yes. The mood. It is wrong. I see. I will unravel. I see architect's plans, yes, I see.

Sunday, 17 August 2014


You can sign up for my infrequent newsletters here. For those who wonder what kind of nonsense they contain, I've temporarily uploaded and shared the first two issues. Normally you have to be a subscriber to see them.

Tales From The Lighthouse #1
Tales From The Lighthouse #2

Friday, 15 August 2014

It was done

It was done. You grip as hard as you can, and sometimes you still fall. The straps were tight, the white knuckles that were stronger than her own, and the chair shuddered forth onto the track, whip-cracking her neck. Then it began to rumble backwards. She watched the hospital ward recede. Just as the surface had receded. The light was yellow, flickering and artificial. This place had never seen daylight.

There was a shriek from behind her, the direction she was moving, every jerk of the chair punctuated by mechanical clanks. It was a cry of fear, not pain. That would come.

Everything was buried down here. The graveyard of the dirty secrets, and the inconvenients, and the thinkers. Strapped-down freedom, buried hope. She would be in good company, and she wouldn't cry. She was past that. Walk through fire once more. Raw, without painkillers, she'd burn, whatever they did, she'd burn. Friction caused a reaction, always. She was the blister. They were going to cut her out.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Kurt Vonnegut tips

Last week I was at an inspirational Ty Newydd writing course in north Wales, led by Mavis Cheek and Francesca Rhydderch. One of the many, many things we learnt in passing was Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules of writing. I recommend reading them if you do any creative writing. They're in his usual dry and irreverent style. If you enjoy them then his talk about story structures is well worth watching too (I have seen it many times!)

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

One of my stories was shortlisted in the Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award

I just got back from a writing trip to find this email waiting for me:

Congratulations! Your story has been short listed in the Writers' Village summer contest 2014. This is a magnificent achievement, given that your story competed against many hundreds of contestants and the number and standard of entries in this round was even greater than before.

Meanwhile, here is some brief feedback on your story, Sweet Nothing.

Overall power to engage the reader incl. conflict (points out of 10): 9
Originality of story concept (points out of 10): 9
Appeal of first paragraph(s) (points out of 8): 7
Unity of story structure incl. closure (points out of 8): 8
Aptness of language to story-line (points out of 6): 6
Professionalism of presentation (points out of 3): 3
Total marks out of 45: 42

Remarks: This poignant story of a flinty mother with a well hidden heart of gold certainly moves the reader!
For a full explanation of how these judging criteria were applied, please see this page.

What a lovely surprise! It came with a cash prize too.

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. :-)