Sunday 23 February 2014

Psst....over here....

As of Thursday, this blog has a new home! Powered by Wordpress, the Cabinet of Curiosities can now be found at The full new theme, inspired by Victorian freak shows and dark carnivals, will be coming soon.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Liebster Award

I was granted the Liebster Award by bloggers and fellow writers Katherine Hajer and David Shrock. The basic principle is that you receive the award, answer the questions posed by whoever nominated you, then nominate your own chaps and ask questions of your own. I usually forget to actually write these posts after I get awards but I realise I haven't blogged in a while and figured it was as good an excuse as any. Plus I've got two sets of questions to answer, so here goes.

Questions from Katherine Hajer

Do you have one place you write in, several regular places, or are you a "writing nomad" (write where you can)?
I just write wherever; using Evernote on my phone on the train to work, at my desk on my lunchbreak, in the living room at home...pretty much anywhere. I don't have a fixed time that I write either - just whenever I can. I'm not really all that big on creative routines - I prefer to write when I want to so it doesn't become a chore, so that means I can't be too fussy about where I write.

What are your favourite writing tools (either physical or software)?
I do love the old notebook and pen, you can't really beat those (unless your pen runs out and the notebook gets wet) but other than those I tend to write in Word. I know, shocker, right? Though I do have to keep the Evernote love going - it's so useful for saving snippets of ideas, and bits of stories that I want to put into the main work when I get to an actual computer.

What is your biggest writing "win" from the last twelve months?
Placing The Necromancer's Apprentice with Dark Continents Publishing.

Author and genre comparisons can be tricky, but what are some signs that a reader will like your books (ie: if they liked X book or like work by Y author, they should check out your books)?
Oh I have no idea. I guess if you liked something like Flashman & The Redskins then hopefully you'll enjoy The Guns of Retribution. My editor Nerine Dorman even compared The Necromancer's Apprentice to Harry Potter so I'm not about to argue with her on that one.

The universe grants you power over all of writer-dom for one day. What's the one thing you make all writers stop (or start) doing?
Stop sending automated direct messages on Twitter. If I want to find you on Facebook, and 'like' your page, then I will. Don't command that I do so the second I follow you on Twitter - and don't thank me for following you, because you were the one who added me in the first place.

Recognising that everyone on my nomination list writes in the science fiction/fantasy/horror end of the spectrum — how much time to you spend on planning and envisioning your setting relative to character development?
You can't have one without the other. Everyone is affected by their environment, so to have a character that is wholly divorced from their setting seems implausible, and obviously you make the choices you do in the context you're in. I think I prefer world building, and that's probably more what I bear in mind, but I spend the same time on both of them.

Does your setting come first, your characters, or a combination of both?
Depends on the story. Sometimes the plot comes first and then I have to work out where and when it is, and who the main players are.

How much research do you do when working on a story?
Again, it depends on the story. The Guns of Retribution took a lot of research because even though it's considered 'pulp', I wanted it to be as historically accurate as I could make it, while The Necromancer's Apprentice was less rigid in that regard. I've got a Victorian murder novel in planning that's going to take a lot of research because I want to sit it within both historical fiction and horror. I guess I like getting the details right so that even if someone detests the story, they can't say I didn't check my facts.

What are your favourite sources for setting inspiration?
Cinema and non-fiction are great as secondary sources, particularly films made in a certain era if you want to set your story there. I wouldn't write 1940s Los Angeles without watching noir. But if you can, actually visiting places is fantastic. A lot of my stories seem to end up in London because I lived there, and it's the kind of place that gives you ideas just by walking around it. London is a very generous muse.

If you could spend time in one of your settings, which one would you pick and how long would you stay there?
I'd like to visit the Underground City from The Necromancer's Apprentice but I wouldn't want to stay long - it's not a very nice place. I'd prefer to visit the City Above because I don't feel I know it very well and I'd like to explore it. It seems like the light, airy and gleaming twin to the squalor of the Underground City but I'm betting it has a darker side too.

Questions from David Shrock

1. Who’s your hero?
I'm not entirely sure I have one. I have people whose work I enjoy, and who I like, but I wouldn't necessarily call them a 'hero'.

2. What gave the beginning of your writing experience?
I've been writing since I was at primary school so I can't remember the first things I wrote. I do remember writing a fake news report about the flood that washed away the original bridge in Newcastle in 1771, so I guess I've always had an inclination towards historical fiction.

3. How do you engage on a story? Do you outline or are you more of a discovery writer?
I tend to write really bare outlines just so I know the main 'cornerstones' of the plot, and then the rest of it I make up. It's like joining the dots, I suppose. I've tried sitting just making the whole thing up as I go along but I don't like not knowing where I'm heading, and likewise I don't like having too strict an outline or I tend to lose interest entirely. I need a mix of the two.

4. In what genre/s do you write and why?
I write in a few but primarily Gothic horror, Western, dark fantasy and historical. I suppose they're what I read and what I'm interested in. I don't read sci fi so I have little interest in writing it.

5. What’s the one line you’re really proud of?
I'm not really sure. I don't really keep track of things once I've written them.

6. You get to bring to life one character for 24 hours. Which one is that and why?
Hm. Probably Eufame Delsenza, the Necromancer General from The Necromancer's Apprentice, so Nerine can hang out with her.

7. Do you regret reading a book?
Sometimes, particularly if I've invested a lot of time in reading it and it's turned out to be crap. If I've spent weeks reading a book and the ending is flat, or whatever, then I sort of feel cheated, even if I enjoyed it up until that point, because I could have spent that time reading something else.

8. Pick a childhood favourite book.
I always liked Enid Blyton's Adventure series, particularly The Castle of Adventure.

9. How many books do you plan to read in 2014?
If I set myself a target I'll just fall short anyway, so I want to read as many as I have time to read.

10. You have been given a one-way rocket offering to any fictional destination. Which one would you choose?
Diagon Alley!

I can't think of any questions, so I will pose either David's set, or Katherine's. I nominate John Wiswell, who writes pithy and witty Friday flashes that I thoroughly enjoy, and Adam Byatt, my favourite Australian English teacher who plays the drums and writes Post-It poetry.

Friday 14 February 2014

#FridayFlash - Payment Taken

I don't normally do multiple part stories, but this week's flash follows on from last week's story, The Shadow Cabinet. I'm not sure if everyone gets the reference, but in the UK, the party (or coalition) in power present a cabinet of ministers with different jobs who are theoretically responsible for those areas. The party in opposition presents a cabinet of ministers with those same job titles, but in a 'shadow' capacity as they aren't in power, hence 'Shadow Cabinet'. I just prefer my own Shadow Cabinet ;-)

* * *

Prime Minister Etherington sat at his desk, staring at the single sheet of paper in front of him. It was pale cream, edged in a sooty residue that now spotted the ink-stained blotter beneath it. A line of type sat in the centre of the page.

Problem solved. Payment taken.

He didn't need the page to tell him this. He'd been listening to the reports for the last five days. The mysterious plague that began affecting the citizens who'd long graced their Suspicion Lists, the same plague that wiped out the entire Ministry of Secrecy in neighbouring Retirany. The supposedly natural disasters that destroyed whole sections of Retirany's major cities, throwing the entire populace first into uproar, and then disarray. He didn't need to be told why it was happening.

Etherington knew that could be explained by the first half of the message. He slumped forward, his fingers curling into his hair as he cradled his head in his hand. The first half was bad enough, but nothing connected those events to his meeting with the Shadow Cabinet. Indeed, Parliament congratulated him on his decisive action, and the destruction of the threat to the nation. They'd figured out the connection between the two, and didn't seem to question the ethics of destroying the lives of innocent citizens to wipe out an invasion plot. During those first five days, he didn't even question it himself. However, what he did mind, what really bothered him, was the second half of the message.

For every Retiran citizen who perished, they lost one of their own population. Not through natural disasters, or mysterious plagues that could be noticed by one side or the other - they simply ceased to be, winked out of existence without warning or fanfare. Etherington didn't need to know why. He'd asked the Shadow Cabinet for help, and now he needed to reconcile himself to what they'd done. They'd tipped the scales first one way, and then the other. His only advantage was that no one else knew; the moment one of their own population disappeared, they took the memories of their existence with them. No one remembered or mourned them. The nation simply seemed quieter, and less crowded than usual.

Only Etherington knew they had once existed, and now because of him, they didn't. That was the price he'd had to pay.

Monday 10 February 2014

Cover reveal!

I've been buzzing about my forthcoming novella, The Necromancer's Apprentice, for a while, and now I can finally reveal the cover! Only it's not here - it's over on Dark Continents Publishing's blog, along with my post in which I discuss my influences and the world building of the story. If you want to see the cover, and read my post, then click here. The cover is beautiful, and I'm so grateful to Daniƫl Hugo and Carmen Begley for their fantastic work on it.

If that's whetted your appetite, you can check out my visual influences on my Pinterest board, and read some of my Friday flashes set in the same universe.


Though Jyximus Faire lives in a crumbling tenement in the Underground City, he escapes the squalor daily to attend lessons in magic and sorcery at the prestigious Academy in the City Above.

But the pace isn’t fast enough for Jyx. He wants to learn everything—and he wants to learn it now. Then the dread necromancer general Eufame Delsenza sets her sights on Jyx; she needs a new apprentice, and Jyx fits the bill. When she tasks him with helping to prepare royal mummies for an all-important procession, he realises this might be a chance of a lifetime.

Will Jyx’s impatience lead to him taking his education into his own inexperienced hands, and can a necromancer’s apprentice really learn to raise the dead—and control them?

Friday 7 February 2014

#FridayFlash - The Shadow Cabinet

Image by Krappweis. Edits by me.
Prime Minister Etherington sat at his desk, staring at the reports laid out before him. The words swam before his eyes, with particular phrases leering at him. “Possible conspiracy”…. “grave threat to the nation”…. “utmost importance”…. “imminent danger”… “I have no idea what to make of all of this. Can any of it be substantiated?” he asked.

“Of course, sir. We’ve triple checked all of it before we even brought it to you. Loughborough thought it was just rumour but sadly not,” replied the short man standing near the door. He held a bowler hat in one hand, and a battered briefcase in the other.

“So what do we do?” asked the Prime Minister.

“That was rather what we were hoping you might be able to answer, sir,” replied the short man.

“It’s been so long since we had to deal with conspiracies and whatnot. My great-uncle would have known what to do,” said the Prime Minister. He looked up at the portrait of Finnigan Etherington above the fireplace.

“I do not wish to sound trite but unfortunately he is no longer here. We need to know what to do about all of this. I’ve asked Dundridge to come up here to advise.”

“Dundridge? I don’t recognise the name.”

“He’s the Head of the Secret Service, sir. He keeps himself possibly too secret, but if it’s anyone’s job to sort this out, it’s his.” The short man deposited his briefcase on the floor.

A triple knock sounded at the door.

“Come in,” called the Prime Minister.

The door opened, and a tall, thin man entered. He wore a long black trenchcoat and a black fedora.

“Ah, Dundridge! I’ve been explaining the situation to the Prime Minister,” said the short man.

“Damned shame, sir, damned shame. I’ve had men on this for some time now and all they can give me is bad news,” said Dundridge. His voice barely rose above a whisper, and the Prime Minister could see why he’d work so well in the Secret Service.

“So what do I do? Mackleworth here tells me that you’re the man to give advice on this,” said the Prime Minister.

“I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere, sir, and this thing is bigger than we can perhaps realise. I think there’s only one thing you can do.”

“Which is?”

“Consult the Shadow Cabinet.”

The Prime Minister gulped at the mention of the name. As far as anyone knew, the Shadow Cabinet had existed long before Parliament – possibly long before the nation itself. No one would dare doubt their loyalty, but they might question their methods.

“I really don’t want to bother them, Dundridge.”

“You might have to, sir.”

“There are reasons we don’t involve the Shadow Cabinet in decisions. Their assistance always comes with a price. Remember what happened to Heartstone?"

The short man shuddered.

“But still, sir, this is bigger than any of us. None of us are equipped to put down a conspiracy of this size. The Shadow Cabinet are, sir,” said Dundridge.

The Prime Minister looked at the reports on his desk and nodded. He didn’t want to admit it, but Dundridge was right. Perhaps their price would be reasonable this time given the severity of the threat.

He left Dundridge and the short man in his office, and made his way through the House of Parliament to an old door at the far end of the building. This part of the House was at least two centuries older than his own wing, and it existed in a twilight of shadow and silence.

The Prime Minister knocked on the door. A few moments passed, and it swung inwards without a creak. He straightened his tie and entered.

He found himself in a large wood-panelled chamber, with ancient tapestries covering the walls, and straw strewn across the stone floor. Fires blazed in iron wall braziers, casting flickering shadows around the room.

“Prime Minister Etherington. I do not think we have seen you for at least a year.” A deep voice sounded from the far end of the room.

The Prime Minister inched into the chamber, until a long table became visible in the low light. Five shadowy figures sat at the table, and the Prime Minister gulped. The Shadow Cabinet was comprised of seven – where were the other two?

“I apologise for my absence, things have been rather hectic.”

“Indeed, and with the current state of affairs I imagine they will only get more hectic.”

“Well that is why I’m here.” The Prime Minister explained everything that he’d been told that morning, though he got the feeling he was telling the Shadow Cabinet things that they already knew.

“This is indeed a difficult situation, Prime Minister, but it is not without resolution in the favour of our great nation,” said the shadow with the deep voice.

“It’s not?”

“We can solve this problem with little trouble to ourselves.”

“And…er…your price?”

“We will name our price when we have solved the problem.”

The Prime Minister frowned. What a risk to take! Would the price be too high? He thought again of the reports on his desk and sighed. He couldn’t solve this himself – there was simply no other way.

“Very well.” He heard himself saying the words before he’d even realised he agreed to their terms.

“Excellent. Expect a resolution within 48 hours.”

The shadow held out its hand, a dark stain against the air around it. The Prime Minister held out his own, and the shake sealed the deal. He withdrew his hand as quickly as he could, eager to get some warmth back into his skin, and he hurried out of the stone room.

As he headed back to his office, he glanced down at his palm. Either some residue had been left by the Chairman of the Shadow Cabinet….or he had blood on his hands.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

NaNoReMo 2014

NaNoReMo is almost upon us again, with the aim being that throughout the month of February, you read a classic novel. Your definition of 'classic' may differ from mine, and people are choosing all sorts for their monthly read, but I think the spirit of the venture is such that as long as you're reading something, then that's the main point to be taken from it all.

Last year, I chose Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, which I largely hated for one reason or another, and while the temptation to read another Gothic classic was indeed a strong one (indeed I have yet to start Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho), this year I shall be reading Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. My only real familiarity with the novel is through its 2002 movie adaptation, starring Jim Cavieziel and Guy Pearce, and Stephen Fry's version, The Stars' Tennis Balls. My other half and I had been discussing it just after Christmas, and after discovering it free through Project Gutenberg, I decided it was high time I actually read the novel.

I'm aware that it's not the shortest book in Christendom, and that February has only 28 days, but I shall endeavour to read as much of it as I can. Wish me luck!

Friday 24 January 2014

#FridayFlash - The Visitor

Soft white flakes float from the clear sky. They settle across cracked roofs, in blocked gutters, and between the cobblestones in the narrow lane. The door to the parish church stands ajar, and carols drift out into the cold night air. Only devoted worshippers venture abroad as most souls seek the refuge of the family hearth.

A solitary figure trudges down the lane, pulling the cloak of close-woven sadness tighter around her neck. Her feet drag along the slick cobbles. The gaslights flicker as she passes, and even the shadows weep, feeling a sudden wave of despair. She peers left and right at the lop-sided buildings that line the forgotten street. Frost glitters on naked beams and icicles hang from rotten eaves.

The figure stops at a cramped dwelling opposite the remains of a milliner’s shop. Light spills out of the window, painting the snow with a golden glow. The figure wipes the bottom pane of glass with her sleeve and peers inside. A family gather around a roaring fire, basking in the warmth of the crackling flames. The father sits in a rocking chair, a toddler on his knee. He leads the family in a raucous song that ends with the clinking of glasses and the exchange of well wishes. The figure sidles along the front of the house to the door, but the handle does not budge. She swears at the lock.

The figure turns away from the happy household. She flicks her cloak, sending ripples of melancholy down the lane. A scavenging alley cat howls in the shadows. The figure stops at the next house. As before, she wipes a sooty layer of frost from the window and peers inside. No fire blazes in the grate of this house. No carols are sung, and no bonhomie warms her face through the glass.

Instead, she spies a lonely figure, hunched over a writing desk. A single candle burns, casting flickering shadows across the cramped writing. The nib of the pen scratches across the paper. The writer looks up, gazing at the wall between herself and the happy family. Envy and misery chase each other across her pale face. The cloaked figure clasps her hands together, as something blossoms in the cavern where her heart should be. She feels a surge of kinship towards this writer.

The figure reaches for the handle, and finds the door unlocked. It opens easily at her touch. She casts off her cloak of sorrow and steps inside. The writer looks up, and smiles. She will welcome anyone on this lonely Christmas Day, even Melancholy herself.

* * *
I'm not well so this is a repost!