Friday 31 December 2010

Friday Flash - New Year's Dance

A full moon hung low in a clear night sky. The Dead Calm drifted through calm waters, the sea lapping at the hull of the ship. The crew gathered on the deck, their raucous songs of celebration filling the air. Captain Scarlight tottered between them, refilling their mugs with rum.

"Happy New Year, lads! Let's toast our health, and hope next year is a good 'un!" he cried.

The crew cheered, raising their mugs to the skies. Dark droplets of rum spattered the deck. Methuselah fluttered across the ship to perch on the wheel. The telepathic parrot nodded his agreement with the Captain's sentiment.

"Gaaarrrr, ye shouldn't toast on New Year! Not during a full moon," said Flintlock Francis. The grizzled bosun lounged on the rigging, a mug of rum in his hand.

"Why not?" asked Captain Scarlight.

"Gaarrr, yer but a young pup, ye won't know....The Legend," said Flintlock Francis.

"What legend?" asked the Captain.

"THE legend," replied Flintlock Francis.

I do believe he is employing stalling tactics to increase the tension associated with what is no doubt a popular slice of local folklore. In the name of peace, I believe it would be best to allow him to tell the tale.

Captain Scarlight looked at Methuselah and nodded in agreement. Flintlock Francis flicked his bloodshot eyes between the Captain and the parrot.

"Do ye want to hear the legend or not?"

"Aye, we do, we do!" cried the crew.

"It's a legend few know, but ye should! It's said that if ye toast to health under a full moon on the eve of New Year, then ye can expect a visit from the Reaper 'imself," said Flintlock Francis. He looked at each of the crew in turn, fixing them with an ominous look.

"Is that it?" asked the Captain.

Flintlock Francis nodded, taking a swig of rum.

"That's rubbish! I never had ye pegged as being the sort to believe in fairytales!" cried the Captain.

He spun round to face the crew. His boot slid across the spilt rum, depositing the Captain on his back. His head connected with the deck with a dull thud.

* * *

Pain throbbed in the back of the Captain's skull. He opened his eyes, and stars exploded across his vision. He expected to see the crew huddled around him, but he gazed up at the sky. Silence drifted across the deck.

"Bloody hell, what happened?" he moaned.

"I believe that would be called 'taking a fall'. You slipped on a patch of rum."

Captain Scarlight wriggled up onto his elbows. He expected to see Methuselah perched somewhere, the familiar disapproving look on his avian face. Instead, he saw a young woman standing near the ship's wheel. Raven hair tumbled around her shoulders, and her eyes formed dark pools in the stark white of her face. She smiled, her purple lips parting to reveal black gums and grey teeth.

"Who are you?" exclaimed the Captain.

"I am someone who has not had a dance these forty years together. Would you do me the honours?" asked the woman. Her cold voice rasped with decay.

"I don't think I'm up to dancing," replied the Captain.

"Of course you are. You need only try," said the woman.

Captain Scarlight rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself onto his knees. His jaw dropped open at the sudden lack of pain in his head. Somewhere in front of him, fabric caught on wood and ripped. He looked up to find the woman standing over him. A slender white arm snaked out of her midnight cloak. The woman held out her hand. The Captain shuddered at her icy touch.

"Music, Maestro!" cried the woman.

A violin creaked into life, singing its eerie melody to the full moon. The woman pulled the Captain to his feet and they set off around the deck. Captain Scarlight knew he didn't know how to dance, yet his feet possessed a mind of their own as he led the woman in the dance.

They spun around the deck, carried along on the haunting violin music. Captain Scarlight tried to avoid eye contact with the woman. Confusion and fear competed for his attention.

"Why do you fear my gaze, mortal captain?" asked the woman. The laughter of flies buzzed at the edges of her voice.

"I'm a bit bewildered, if I'm honest," said the Captain.

Before he could stop himself, the Captain looked the woman square in the face. Vertigo seized him as he gazed into the velvet depths of her black eyes. Stars glittered beyond his gaze, clouding his vision. The music grew faint as the world closed in around him.

* * *

"Cap'n? Cap'n, are yer awake?"

Captain Scarlight opened his eyes. A spike of pain drove itself into the back of his skull. He groaned, suppressing a wave of nausea.

That was quite a fall you took, Captain. Are you alright?

Methuselah sat on the Captain's chest, peering into his face.

“I’ve got the headache from hell,” replied the Captain.

You were humming.

“I was?”

Yes. A doleful yet infectious melody.

“I could have sworn I was dancing,” said the Captain. He sat up, raising tentative fingers to his head. He winced when he found a bump.

Dancing? With a woman?

“Well it wasn’t with you, Thusie,” replied the Captain.

Captain Scarlight struggled to sit up. Methuselah fluttered across the deck. He watched the Captain stumble away to his cabin.

“The Cap’n was dancin’, alright,” said Flintlock Francis.

He leaned in close to Methuselah. He gestured to the deck with his mug, slopping rum across the wood. Methuselah followed Flintlock’s gaze.

A patch of midnight glistened below the ship’s wheel.

* * *

If you enjoyed this tale, you can find more of Captain Scarlight and Methuselah's adventures on the Parrots & Piracy section of my website. The Macabre Mademoiselle first made her debut in my Christmas story for Jodi Cleghorn's Deck the Halls project, Fast Away The Old Year Passes.

Monday 27 December 2010

Photo Prompt 13

Thirteenth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The thirteenth prompt is Overgrown.

Belsay Castle 4

If you want more prompts, check out Walt White, Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 24 December 2010

Friday Flash - Winter's Bride

This story has been taken down as it is now out for submission!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Work appearing in a Christmas ebook

Christmas is a time for giving, so go and donate some of your funds to Metazen, and grab yourself a copy of their Christmas e-book.

The lovely Annie Evett and fabulous Dan Powell have work in there, alongside my good self - so if you haven't read my most recent Friday flash, The Music Man, by now, then you'll just have to go get the e-book...come on, it's for charity!

Pseudonyms - Using Pen Names

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this post on about using a pseudonym. Since then, I've read similar posts on other blogs about the pros and cons of pen names, and seeing as how I use one, I figured I should probably offer my two penn'orth on the subject.

Now, I'll be honest - mine isn't much of a pseudonym as Sedgwick is actually my surname. I probably should have adopted something easier to spell but I'm proud of my roots (according to, the surname is believed to come from old Norse, and the geologist Adam Sedgwick asserted that 'seggeswick' meant 'village of victory'). It also amuses me that James Coburn's character in The Great Escape is called Sedgwick, and he's one of the few characters to actually escape.

However, you probably won't be too surprised to learn Icy isn't my real name. It's actually a nickname that stemmed from an Internet handle I started using in around 2002 that just stuck. When I submitted my first story to a magazine in late 2004, it didn't occur to me NOT to use the pen name 'Icy Sedgwick'. The story wasn't accepted, but when my first story was published online in 2008 (Bending Spoons published The Midas Box in July of that year - it's now available in my free short story collection, Checkmate & Other Stories) it seemed like a good idea to keep using the same name.

You might find that there is already an author with your name. Maybe the domain name you want is unavailable. Perhaps you just fancy a change. But what are the pros and cons to using a pen name?

Keep your writing and your work life separate
If you're not lucky enough to be a fulltime writer, then there's a good chance you'll want to keep your writing and your job separate. I use my social networking spaces for my writing life, and I certainly don't want my blog to be the first thing that pops up if a potential employer decides to Google me (instead, they get my LinkedIn, which is for my professional life).

It's easier to keep your private life private if you're not using your real name. Obviously there's still something to be said for keeping certain things offline. Don't want strangers seeing photos of your kids? Don't post them in public. People sometimes forget that the Internet is public (unless you know how to work those privacy settings) and once you've posted something, it's very difficult to remove it without many people you don't know already having seen it.

Creating a pseudonym or pen name allows you a certain amount of self re-invention. If you were bullied mercilessly at school but have emerged as a strong and independent person, adopting a pseudonym allows you to distance yourself from the person you were then, under that name, and sell yourself as the person you are now, under your new name. Plus, you can even go so far as to create an entire persona to go with the pseudonym, turning your pen name into a character in its own right. Look at Stephen King - he even collaborated with himself when he did the Stephen King/Richard Bachman books.

Different genre, different name
Anne Rice writes under three different names, depending on the genre. You might decide to do the same - after all, if you write both hardcore science fiction and chick lit, you might want to differentiate between the two so as not to confuse readers, unless you think the readers of the fluffy Bridget Jones-esque books with the pastel covers will love your stories of quantum mechanics gone wrong. In addition, you may not want to embarrass/horrify your family if you write in certain genres, and adopting a pen name for those works allows you to put a certain amount of distance between you and your writing.

It's harder to prove a case of plagiarism if you're not using your real name. Indeed, if your real name is Jane Smith but you write as Madagascar Fairbanks, then how can you prove what's stolen is actually yours, and that you're really Madagascar? Now, I'm at least using my surname and there are photos of me on my blog so proving my identity, and thus my authorship of my work, is easier than if I were to adopt a pseudonym.

Publishing contracts require you to sign under your real name anyway so you might decide that it's just easier to use your real name instead of signing under one name and promoting under another. I've heard stories of authors being horrified to see a magazine print one of their stories under their real name, despite them stressing the pen name should be used.

No stone unturned...
The Internet is a big place and maintaining anonymity can be difficult. So if you're choosing a pen name to remain anonymous, you might find it harder than you thought. It's not impossible, especially if you pay for webspace and ensure you enable the privacy settings, but people will always track down information if they're dedicated enough. A fledgling writer won't have this problem, but it's something to think about if your career takes off.

It's up to you if the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa, but whatever you do, have fun with it! Writing should be enjoyable. Now excuse me, I'm off to invent another me...

Monday 20 December 2010

Photo Prompt 12

Twelfth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The twelfth prompt is Tomb.

Circle of Lebanon

If you want more prompts, check out Walt White, Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 17 December 2010

Friday Flash - The Music Man

The chill of an autumn morning holds the city in its thrall. Dead leaves drift from the sleeping trees to carpet the pavements in crisp fragments of bronze and gold. The sun burns cold in a piercing blue sky. Offices and shops bulge with scarf-clad workers, warming their shivering hands on steaming mugs of tea. They fight for space around small stoves and fireplaces.

Hope Lane curves through the overcrowded alleys near the workhouse. Footsteps ring out on the cobbles as a stream of notes curls down the narrow street. The blacksmith's apprentice presses his face against a grimy window. He forgets the dull ache in his arm, and runs outside. The old and infirm shuffle to the doorsteps of their tiny homes. Gaunt women carry skinny babies. The accordion's picture of the impending season muffles their sadness.

The old man limps down the street, swathed in a cheerful red coat and hat. His deft fingers manipulate the keys, oblivious to the frosty air. The scent of cinnamon and roast chestnuts wafts in his wake; the apprentice dreams of candy canes and sugar plums. He pauses outside the forge. The new song begins and he plays with gusto, conjuring the spirit of King Wenceslas. The babies gurgle and the apprentice sways to the music. Fingers fumble in moth-eaten pockets for their last few coins. They flash in the air, and a black monkey in a scarlet waistcoat collects them with nimble paws.

Money buys happiness when the music man comes by.

* * *

The image for this piece is Ludwig Knaus' painting, The Hurdy Gurdy Man (1869). You can buy a print here.

I submitted the original version of this story to the 50 Stories for Pakistan project, but it wasn't selected. Carrie Clevenger acted as a valued beta reader as I knocked the story into the shape you see now.

Monday 13 December 2010

Photo Prompt 11

Eleventh prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The eleventh prompt is Abandoned.


If you want more prompts, check out Walt White, Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 10 December 2010

Friday Flash - 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.

* * *

Monday 6 December 2010

Photo Prompt 10

Tenth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The tenth prompt is Burnt Newspaper.

If you want more prompts, check out Walt White, Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 3 December 2010

Friday Flash - Man Flu

Franklin rolled over and groaned for the third time. He buried his face under his arm to blot out the light. He thought he'd read somewhere that photosensitivity was a sign of something incurable. Was that true, or did he just overhear it on the bus? It didn't matter. He was sure he was dying. Franklin risked a look at Eleanor but she kept her back to him, ignoring his plight. She always did this. She never believed he was ill. Franklin tried another groan.

"Oh would you pipe down over there? All this moaning and groaning - it's enough to drive me mad," snapped Eleanor.

Her hands worked across the wall, smoothing the thick paste in place. Franklin forgot he was sick for an instant while he admired her decorating skills. A tickle in his throat forced him to cough and he remembered his illness.

"Don't you care I'm dying?" asked Franklin.

"I don't care what you do, as long as you're quiet about it. Can't you see I'm busy?" Eleanor turned around.

"What's so important that you can't tend to your sick husband?" asked Franklin. He coughed again to emphasise his point.

"You're not sick, you're just too lazy to help with the housework. This mucus doesn't rearrange itself, you know!" replied Eleanor. "Anyway, what's wrong with you?"

"I think I've caught a human. A nasty one," said Franklin.

"Oh not again! You always-" began Eleanor.

"I tell you, there's far too many of them at this time of year! Cousin Pneumonia caught one last week when she was minding her own business on the bus and Measles down the road got four on the trot," said Franklin.

Eleanor rolled her eyes at him.

"Franklin James Influenza, you never cease to amaze me. You should learn to pull yourself together - you've only got man flu!"

* * *
This flash was inspired by a random Twitter conversation with Monica Marier, in which I asked what I should write about, and she suggested the cold and flu season - with a twist!

Wednesday 1 December 2010


I came across this post by Matthew Delman over on his steampunk blog, and having dipped a toe into the waters of the genre myself, I felt I should perhaps clarify my own position on the subject. After all, a writer should preferably know what it is that they're writing, yes?

Steampunk is one of those strange genres where people often know the name, but aren't entirely sure what it entails. In its simplest form, steampunk is usually set in Victorian London, but as it's a form of alternate history, the protagonists have access to all kinds of technology not seen in the history books - the only proviso being that is powered by steam.

According to Matthew's blog, "Steampunk, in its most simple definition, is a type of fiction that places contemporary technology in the Victorian Era with Coal (and thus Steam) as the primary power source instead of Gas or Electricity." If you check that goldmine of information (sic), Wikipedia, they define steampunk as "works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era Britain — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy."

I agree with Matthew that historical accuracy isn't a major aspect of steampunk due to its inherent nature in the same way that much science fiction isn't strictly scientific in nature. Even the setting of steampunk can be fluid - it doesn't have to be London, although the period is pretty firm. Personally, I'd be fascinated to read steampunk set in 19th century Paris or Moscow. I believe the single 'fixed' point of steampunk is that it IS set in the past, and that the only technology available should be that which could conceivably be driven by steam. So you couldn't have electronics as it would be pretty difficult to power them with steam, but cars, airships, and other forms of machinery are all possible. The first internal combustion engine was designed in 1807 and Karl Benz began selling vehicles in 1888 so automobiles aren't entirely out of place.

However, I would argue that a book or film can have steampunk sensibilities, without necessarily being hardcore steampunk - China Mieville's Bas-Lag trilogy would be a good example. This is how I explain my own work, The First Tale. I chose a rough steampunk setting for my Tales from Vertigo City project, and Vertigo City is based on Victorian London, down to its brick-lined sewers and bizarre emporia. Transport comes via omnibuses and trams, although cars make a rare appearance. The clockwork automatons and antiquated weaponry are a nod to steampunk, while protagonist Philip Wiseman favours the frock coat fashions of a 'dandy'. It only really deviates from true steampunk in that a) it is not set in London, b) the fashions are not strict Victoriana, c) I got zombies and even steampunk mecha in there and d) Liss has the ability to throw energy bolts at people.

To me, the most important element of steampunk, besides the technological constraints and time period, is that is is fun. Alternate history has the potential to be fascinating and thought-provoking, but the nature of steampunk lends itself well to adventure stories, and personally, I think there just isn't enough adventure in mainstream fiction these days.

I'd be fascinated to hear what people think of steampunk!

* * *

The image for this post is by the stupidly talented Tom Brown, the artist behind steampunk web serial comic 'Hopeless, Maine'. More of his art can be found here, while Personal Demons, the current book in the serial, is here.

Don't forget, The First Tale is still only 99c on Smashwords. At the time of writing, that's just 63p!

Tuesday 30 November 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

It's November 30th, the last day of NaNoWriMo, and I'm pleased to say that I broke the 50,000 word mark on Sunday evening. Boy, am I glad! After being really excited by my story back in those halcyon days at the start of the month, I rapidly grew bored with it. Doing my daily words became a chore, and I was finding that I was writing as much as I could, not to meet the target or because I couldn't stop myself, but because I wanted it over and done with.

We Should Be Heroes is set in Vertigo City, my fictional metropolis that has already spawned a steampunk serial, The First Tale, and a mini-serial, Quantum Steam Theory. I decided to move 130 years into "the future", putting Vertigo into a twilight world akin to 1940s noir. Superheroes stalked the streets of the city. Sadly they didn't do much with their powers and it turned into a detective story.

Now, I'm proud of myself for having written another novel, and in the process I've found out a lot more about my characters. Two of them are actually from the steampunk era (there is a reason why they're still around over a century later) and they've given me a lot more back story through We Should Be Heroes. The problem is, I don't really want to use the novel as part of the Vertigo City universe.

There are three major problems with it. I could probably fix them, if I wanted to, but right now I don't. I want to focus on other things (an announcement about one of them is coming soon). The first problem was that I'd written myself into a hole by choosing to write it in first person present tense, which was annoying as secondary characters had far more interesting things to say. The second problem is linked with this, in that I couldn't maintain the "voice" of my main character beyond the opening scenes.

The third problem is perhaps the biggest, since no amount of rewrites would solve it. Basically...I don't like writing noir. There. I said it. The steampunk tales are like adventures stories, and they've a lot more fun to write. Liss gets to shoot things (or beat people up) and the automatons get more to do. Vertigo City is a more interesting place to write when it's a spiritual descendant of Victorian London, as opposed to 1940s New York.

So while I'm proud of myself for having written it, I'm not going to use it. I'll be keeping Vertigo City for my steampunk work, so there will be more adventures from Liss and the gang over the coming months. Just not any superheroes.

Monday 29 November 2010

Photo Prompt 09

Ninth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The ninth prompt is Rings.

If you want more prompts, check out Walt White, Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 26 November 2010

Friday Flash - Deathmatch

The crowd gathered in the arena. Excited chattering and trash talk between opposing fans filled the air. A tall old man clad in white leaned on a gnarled staff in the middle of the ring. A blonde fairy flitted across the arena to sit on his shoulder. She cupped her hands beside his ear.

“They’re ready, Gandalf,” she whispered.

“Thank you, Tinkerbell,” he murmured.

Gandalf struck the staff against the ring. The reverberation silenced the assembled crowd.

“Ladies, gentlemen and talking animals of literature! Welcome to the inaugural Literary Deathmatch!” boomed the wizard. The crowd gave a united cheer. Gandalf waved his hand and the jubilation died away. The air buzzed with anticipation.

“I promise you we have some delights in store tonight, none more so than the very first bout, which will decide exactly who is the best vampire in fiction!”

The crowd erupted again. Banners fluttered in the breeze and someone blew a horn.

“Ah, what are ye fightin' for? We all know that’s me!” shouted a bawdy Irishman in the front row. He glared at the crowd from behind his sunglasses.

“Cassidy, you know you don’t qualify. You were in a graphic novel - we’re talking about real literature here,” said Gandalf. A handful of superheroes and a hulking red man with a giant right hand booed. Nearby, a tall man in a leather jacket swished his long black hair over his shoulder. He glared at the wizard. Gandalf wagged a finger at him.

"Xan, don't even start. When your writer releases your book, then you can compete - but not before. Anyway! As I was saying! Would the first contender make his way to the ring please?” boomed Gandalf.

The spotlight raced across the arena to the eastern entrance. A tall figure stood silhouetted against the bright light. Flames roared into life behind him, and he stalked to the ring. Dry ice pumped into the arena at ground level, and his black cape swirled through the mist. A chorus of howling wolves accompanied his approach. The thin figure climbed through the ropes into the ring.

“Now welcome our second contender!” roared Gandalf.

Various encouraging slogans burst into life on the electronic screen above the western entrance. A young man walked out into the arena, a sullen slouch slumping his shoulders. Fireworks exploded above the assembled crowd and hundreds of the female characters took it in turns to swoon or scream. Hermione Grainger and Desdemona shoved each other as they fought to catch his attention. The young man ignored everyone as he climbed up into the ring.

“Assembled characters of fiction, I give you...Count Dracula versus Edward Cullen!”

Gandalf climbed out of the ring. Dracula dipped in a deep bow to the crowd. Edward struck a poster boy pose, thumbs hooked into his belt loops. Dracula straightened, and took several steps towards Edward. Dracula drew back his lips to reveal his fangs; Edward settled for a moody pout.

“Listen! Listen to the children of the night!” cried Dracula. He flung his arm wide, gesturing to the howling wolves at the back of the crowd.

“Yeah, so what? Listen to my children of the night!” shouted Edward. A gaggle of girls screamed in response to the wolves. Hermione jumped up and down waving an ‘Edward Rules’ placard.

“Oh, so not cool,” whispered Tyler Durden. He leaned across to Holden Caulfield and they both shook their heads.

Dracula unhooked his cape and handed it over the ropes to Dorian Gray. He put up his fists in a boxing pose, even dancing from one foot to the other. Edward fumbled with the buttons of his shirt.

“What is your intention? Do you wish to sparkle me to death?” snarled Dracula. “Fight me!”

“Don’t listen to him, Edward!” screamed Bella. She hauled on the ring ropes to emphasise her point.

“You don’t want to antagonise me, I might...hurt you,” said Edward. He ran a hand through his quiff.

“That is the point! This is a death match!” screamed Dracula.

A flurry of movement distracted the prowling vampires. Light bounced off steel and something heavy bounced onto the floor. Another thud followed a wet slap. The crowd screamed as a pale man in a blue frockcoat came to a halt between a headless young man and a rapidly disintegrating corpse. He wiped the blood from the blade of his sword, and threw the bloodied stake into the crowd.

“That was no death match, that was boring,” announced the newcomer.

Gandalf climbed back into the ring. He glared at the blond man and held up his hands for quiet. A hush fell across the crowd, except for Bella, sobbing in the arms of Romeo Montagu.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen! It seems we have a wildcard entry in this category!" cried Gandalf. "I'm afraid I have no option but to crown Lestat the Best Vampire in Fiction!”

* * *

Just me being silly. But if you're wondering who the mysterious Xan is, wonder no more! Toddle over to Crooked Fang and find out for yourself!

Monday 22 November 2010

Photo Prompt 08

Eighth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The eighth prompt is Lights on the Lake.

If you want more prompts, check out Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Friday 19 November 2010

Friday Flash - Hollow

“Marlena? Marlena, are you awake?”

Trudie stuck her head around the bedroom door. The great Marlena Blake lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Trudie groaned; Marlena held an empty whiskey bottle to her chest. She cradled it as you might cradle an infant.

“Ssssssh! ‘M thinkin'.”

“What are you thinking about, Marlena?”

“Argh! Never call me Marlena! ‘Snot my name.”

“Alright then...what are you thinking about, Jane?”

“Am not Jane! Not been Jane fer years...” Marlena trailed off, entranced by the play of afternoon light through the chandelier.

“Um...whoever you need to start getting ready, you’ve got a TV appearance this evening,” said Trudie.


“You have to be at the studio by 6 at the latest.”

“Bah, ‘sonly 4pm, loadsa time.”

“You only just got up.”

Marlena snorted. She tossed the bottle across the floor and rolled over onto her stomach. Trudie’s maternal streak screamed as she watched Marlena pull herself onto the bed. The actress gazed across the room, last night’s makeup still plastered to her face. The smouldering screen siren looked more like a burnt-out wreck.

“Ya know what my favouritest thing is in th' whole world?” asked Marlena.

“No, what?”


Marlena leaned across to her nightstand. Her hand fumbled about, grasping for a 6” tall  figurine. Trudie crossed the room to sit beside Marlena. The actress turned the figurine over in her fingers. The slender shepherdess beamed a winsome smile, one hand wrapped around her crook. Porcelain sheep gathered behind her flowing skirts. Yellow hair fanned out beneath her cornflower blue headscarf.

“I used to be blonde,” said Marlena. She twirled a lock of black hair around her finger.

“Really? I can’t picture you blonde,” said Trudie.

“Yeah...had hair this colour,” said Marlena. She pointed at the figurine’s hair, and remembered when she tossed back her blonde hair in the midwestern sunshine.

“What made you dye it? Just fancied a change?”

“No...the networks said I was too all-American. Wouldn’t even let me audition. Only ever did one role. Got to be a cheerleader in a stupid comedy. Dyed my hair black and started wearing green lenses and started getting jobs. ‘Swhen I changed my name.”

Tears welled in Marlena’s reddened eyes. Trudie patted her arm, unsure what to say. Marlena stared at the figurine.

“It’s lovely,” said Trudie.

“My first boyfriend got it for me. So I wouldn’t forget the farm. “

“What farm?”

“The farm we were gonna have. He wanted a farm but I wanted to act, so here I am.”

Marlena fumbled to push the figurine back onto the nightstand. The shepherdess slipped from her grasp, and hit Marlena’s empty glass on the floor. She yelped when the figurine shattered.

Marlena pulled herself upright and picked up the porcelain shards. The pieces wouldn’t fit together. Her fingers trembled as she traced the unadorned inner surface of the figurine. Boring and plain - so different from the outside. Marlena never realised the figurine was hollow, that nothing but air filled her favourite ornament.

“Oh no! Marlena, give it to me, maybe I can fix it...” said Trudie.

“Naw...’sbroken,” replied Marlena. A single tear rolled down her cheek.

Marlena stumbled across the room to the waste paper basket. Trash flowed out onto the floor. She tried to make a mental note to fire someone. The voice of Jack Daniels cooed in her ear, and she forgot the cleaner.

Marlena dropped the remains of the figurine into the basket, a shard of yellow hair sliding beneath old cigarette butts and whiskey bottles.

Monday 15 November 2010

Photo Prompt 07

Seventh prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The seventh prompt is Bottle.

If you want more prompts, check out Eric J Krause and Jen Brubacher!

Saturday 13 November 2010

Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition

By now, everyone knows the story of the Titanic. It has been the subject of countless novels, films, documentaries and books, and has captured the public imagination ever since it sank on April 15, 1912, claiming more than 1,500 lives.

It's no surprise that a new exhibition would be staged at The O2 in London, but Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition, is a little different. Running from November 5 2010 until May 1 2011, it features over 300 items from the ship on display, including china dinner services, the ship's wheel, porthole frames, and objects belonging to the passengers themselves. The exhibition also features recreations of parts of the ship, including first class cabins, the boiler room and the hold. I went along on Friday 12 November 2010 to try to better understand one of the most famous maritime disasters.

Upon entry, you're handed a boarding pass giving details of a passenger, including their age, the reason for their trip, and which class they were in. At the end of the exhibition, a "memorial wall" allows you to discover if 'your' passenger survived, or was lost. Naturally the survivors' list is somewhat shorter, and the plethora of names of lost souls hammers home the scale of the tragedy.

My own passenger, Annie Clemmer Funk, was a 38-year-old from Bally, Pennsylvania. She was travelling in second class to be at the bedside of her sick mother, after working in India as a missionary. Sadly, Annie didn't survive. She gave up her seat in the lifeboat to a mother whose children had already been seated. When faced with such tales of selflessness, you do wonder how you would behave in the same situation. Could you give up your seat to allow a mother to stay with her children, knowing that doing so would seal your fate?

The exhibition is staged chronologically, and begins with the initial design of Titanic in 1907. Visitors move through the exhibition to see recreations of the ship's interior, and display cases of artefacts retrieved from the ocean floor. It's rather poignant, as well as a little eerie, to look at these handkerchiefs, stockings and notebooks, knowing their owners are never going to use them again. One passenger was a perfumier  and some of his perfume samples survived - you can even smell the potent aromas. The galleries grow colder and darker until you reach the iceberg wall, which gives you some idea of how cold the sea was on the night of the disaster. Most casualties died of hypothermia, as opposed to drowning.

Naturally, the exhibition tells the story of the people on board as well as the facts regarding its doomed voyage. You hear about pursers who hurriedly tried to save the contents of the ship's safety deposit boxes, with the intention of returning the valuables to their owners. There are the five mail clerks who desperately tried to save the hundreds of bags of mail on board. It's genuinely humbling to hear about the lengths these people went to, continuing to do their jobs in the middle of a disaster. I doubt workers today would display such dogged devotion, though all stories pale into insignificance alongside the band who continued to play as the ship went down.

The exhibition also tells the stories of those passengers who weren't even supposed to be on board. Some passengers booked tickets at the last moment when their plans changed, while others were transferred to the Titanic when the coal strike of 1912 prevented the departure of their own steamers. Few of these survived. Is this just simply bad luck, or does it raise more metaphysical considerations of fate?

Essentially the exhibition is a story of a great tragedy caused by human folly, but one coloured with great courage and sacrifice. As tragedies such as this, or the Great War, disappear into the mists of time it is easy to forget the people who suffered, or were lost. However I think it is important for us to remember, both to keep us in touch with humanity and those who have gone before us, but also so that we do not make the same mistakes again. Sadly history has shown that mankind and his warfare are not to be easily parted, but in the case of the Titanic, at least important lessons were learned. For that, at least, we can be grateful.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Friday Flash - Lest We Forget

This piece has been taken down as it is out for submission!

Monday 8 November 2010

Photo Prompt 06

Wow, we're up to the sixth photo prompt already!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The sixth prompt is Tapestry.

Have fun!

Friday 5 November 2010

Friday Flash - The Promise

This story has been taken down as it is now out for submission!

Monday 1 November 2010

Photo Prompt 05

Just in case you're not doing NaNoWriMo this year, here's my fifth prompt to hopefully get you started on a Friday Flash!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The fifth prompt is Statue.

Have fun!

Sunday 31 October 2010

My Halloween Gift To You

It's Halloween, so it seemed as good a time as any to release my second e-book. Checkmate & Other Stories collects together the fifteen stories I had published online between July 2008 and June 2010. They cover a range of styles and genres, from fantasy to horror, but mostly sit in the speculative fiction camp.

Some of them are no longer available online as the sites that published them have either been taken down, or the site archives don't stretch far back enough, but I thought I'd collect them together to save people trawling through my publishing credits to read my published work.

The front cover is my own photographic work, although the short story inside, The Mirror Phase, features an illustration by the very talented Jimmy Misanthrope.

Checkmate & Other Stories is available for FREE from Smashwords, in all the various different formats that you'd expect. Don't forget that The First Tale is also still available, for the princely sum of 99c. Of course, if you really enjoy either work and want to donate something to show your appreciation, you can do so by clicking the button in the sidebar! All proceeds go towards funding my PhD.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful Halloween!

Friday 29 October 2010

The Great Chocolate Conspiracy part 9

Welcome to The Great Chocolate Conspiracy!

Chocolate Digestive biscuits have disappeared from the shelves right across the eastern seaboard of the USA, and now the shortage has spread to London. Detective Chief Inspector Sam Adamson and his international team of investigators from the Metropolitan Police's Confectionery Crimes Unit (CCU) have been tasked to solve the mystery.

This is the ninth installment of a multi-part flash fiction story that originated during a chat between the authors on Twitter. You can read how it all began here. (Links to all the installments will be added to the author list as they are posted)

The next installment will appear on Friday, November 5th at Cecilia Dominic's Random Oenophile, and you can keep up on developments in the meantime by following the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter.

* * *

Adamson leaned back in his chair. It tilted with his movement, and he grinned. He bounced back and forward, reaching under the chair to yank on the levers. The chair slid down with a hiss. Juniper rolled her eyes; no inspector would be that impressed by ergonomic furniture in Italy.

"Having fun there?" asked Agent Bronyaur. Aside from the dark circles under his eyes and the slightly vacant expression, he seemed none the worse for wear after his 'episode' at the crime scene.

"By Christ I am," replied the DCI. "My chair back home's held together by sticky tape and good luck. If I leaned back on that, I'd make a right arse of myself."

Bronyaur and Juniper exchanged a smirk. Adamson had relaxed the moment he dunked his first chocolate digestive in his coffee. La Paglia made an obscure Jekyll and Hyde reference.

"You seem unusually buoyant," she remarked.

"I think we've made some progress. Might get this wrapped up sooner than we thought," replied Adamson.

"So we'll have chocolate again?" asked Bronyaur. Adamson couldn't tell if his eyes glazed over at the thought of a decent Mars bar, or if he still suffered the effects of the tranquilliser.

"That we will. And coffee." Adamson took a swig of his cappuccino. He didn't normally like "that fancy stuff" but La Paglia persuaded him to try it. Juniper giggled at the DCI's new foam moustache.

"Can we get started soon?" asked La Paglia. She drummed well-manicured nails on the table.

"Not without Motley and Marier," replied Adamson.

"Motley and Marier...they sound like they should fight crime," said Bronyaur.

"Oh give over, you pillock. They already do!" said Adamson.

Agent Bronyaur hid his blush behind another chocolate digestive.

"Where are they?" asked Juniper.

"Motley said something about needing to make a personal call while they were in the briefing. Marier's gone to get her," said La Paglia.

The door opened. Motley walked in first, followed by Marier. She cast glances at Motley all the way to her seat beside Adamson.

"You alright there, Prof?" asked Adamson.

"Yes, fine. Everything's fine." Motley looked at the replenished platters of biscuits and chocolate.

"Help yourself, Prof," said Adamson.

"Maybe later."

"So what did the Sheriff want?" asked La Paglia.

"Just a run down on what's been going on. Who it could be, why, and whatnot," replied Adamson.

* * *

Somewhere in the depths of Middle America, a man shouted "Eureka".

* * *

Motley's phone buzzed. Everyone turned to look at her. She pulled the phone from her pocket, and glanced at the screen. A smirk hovered around the corners of her mouth.

"Something you want to share with the group, Prof?" asked Adamson.

"Just good news, that's all," replied Motley.

"About matter?" said Marier.

"That's right."

"As you were saying?" asked La Paglia. She glared at Motley before turning back to Adamson.

"You and Bronyaur are going back to DC. I need you to investigate the Biological Weapons division of the Counter Terrorism and Terrorism Departments. Bronyaur will fill you in on the details on the way," said Adamson. "Marier and Juniper, you're going to Sacramento to check out the Intelligence Communication Department."

"What about me?" asked Motley.

"You're coming with me," replied Adamson.

Bronyaur and La Paglia left the room. Marier and Juniper headed to the door. Juniper cast a longing gaze over her shoulder at the platter of biscuits. Marier cocked her head, looking at Motley. The professor returned her scrutiny with cool detachment.

"Go on then, clear off. Yes, Juniper, you can take some biccies with you," said Adamson.

Juniper squealed with delight, filling her pockets with biscuits. Marier relented and grabbed a chocolate bar. They closed the door behind them.

"So, DCI. What's the plan?" asked Motley.

"Well first of all, you're going to tell me why the hell you never said you were allergic to chocolate."

Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Inevitable NaNoWriMo Post

Monday 1st November is almost upon us, which in the writing world, means just one thing. No, we writer folk don't celebrate All Saint's Day (well, some of us might). No, I mean it's almost NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. The name is something of a misnomer since the concept has since gone international since its American inception in 1999, but if you know a writer, you'll no doubt hear plenty of "NaNo" talk over the coming weeks. Hell, if you use Twitter, you'll no doubt consider un-following anyone who mentions it for the 8394th time.

The Internet is already crammed with posts about why people are doing NaNo, why they aren't doing NaNo, why you should do NaNo, etc. etc., and as much as I could sit here and blather on about the same, I figured I'd just give you a couple of my strategies for getting through it. If you don't have any intention of doing NaNo, then look away now...

It's not Zombigeddon
I'll let you in on a secret. NaNoWriMo is not an experience that you must "survive". This is not a zombie apocalypse or the Poseidon Adventure. You will not find yourself going on the run with Snake Plissken. It is a hard slog but it is one that should be enjoyed as opposed to endured. If you think it's going to be too hard and that you might want go "Bruce Banner" ten days in, then maybe consider not doing it. Furthermore, if writing that many words at all, let alone in one month, fills you with fear, then might I suggest crochet or origami as a hobby as opposed to writing?

Before you do anything else, you're going to need to decide on your project. Why stop at a novel? By name, it might be National Novel Writing Month but you could easily use the time to write a bunch of short stories, or even a web serial which you can then divide up and start posting in December. There is no NaNo police who will hunt you down if you choose not to write a novel. (I hope - don't quote me on that) The whole point of the exercise is purely to write, and to get yourself into the habit of writing daily.

If you do choose a novel, make sure the plot is strong enough to sustain one. What might seem like a neat idea to start with might turn out to be less of a concept and more of a notion, better suited to a flash fiction or at its longest, a short story. Remember that while books can often be boiled down to a single sentence (Hobbits take Ring to Mordor, boy wizard battles evil wizard, vampire emigrates to the UK and causes hassle for the locals) there's a lot more going on in them. Have you got sub-plots?

So you've got your idea, and you think it'll be enough to support the weight of a novel. Excellent! Well done. Now you have to break it down into chunks. Why? Well I'm not saying you need to have a wall covered in Post-It notes, or an entire floor of your home dedicated to a plot map, but it might be a good idea to know roughly where the story is going to go before you start. If you don't, then your characters might run away with you, leading you down blind alleys and causing you to waste precious words on diverting but ultimately pointless excursions. Try and work out major plot landmarks ahead of time - then you can feel free to make stuff up as you go along to get the novel from point to point.

50,000 words certainly sounds like a lot, and it works out as a minimum of 1,667 words per day. Writing that much used to be enough to write a complete book, but many novels nowadays are 75,000 words or more. Still, you can't expect writing novices to sit down and crank out 2,500 words a day (unless they want to) and 50,000 words seems far more attainable. Besides, you don't have to limit yourself to 50,000 words by 30 November. The whole point of NaNo is to get you writing - if you want to keep going and not finish your book until January when it will weigh in at a mighty 140,000 words, there's nothing stopping you.

I would argue that your most important strategy is to make sure you write something every day to keep the momentum going. If you only write 500 words one day, that's fine, but remember you'll need to write 2834 words the following day to stay on track. My suggestion is to aim to write more than 1667 words per day, so if you fall short of that target, you should still make your minimum word count.

Yeah yeah yeah, Icy, but I've got other stuff to be getting on with, I hear you say. Well, not to be facetious, but so did I when I wrote my first novel in 2008. I had to find time where I could. Nowhere does it say you have to write all 1667 words in one sitting. If you wrote 580 words in three bouts, you'd have written 1680 words in one day. Doesn't seem so much when you break it down, does it? If you do 500 words before breakfast, another 500 words at lunch, 500 words before dinner and 500 words before you go to bed, you've done 2000 words. As the meerkat would say, "Simples."

All you need is love
You will need a whole heap of love to get the job done. Love for your plot and your characters, in particular. If you don't love writing them, even the villains (or should I say, especially the villains), and you don't love your story, then it will feel like a chore. If that happens, don't get too despondent - maybe your story and your characters are better suited to a short story, or a novella.

Allow yourself to suckLast but not least, remember that you will not get a finished book out of NaNoWriMo. If you make it to the finish line, or go beyond the 50,000 mark and complete the novel, all you will have is a first draft. It will need a lot of polishing to get it to an acceptable state for an agent. Therefore, you may allow your writing to be utterly awful. No one need ever see this but you. So just get your head down, get writing, and have fun.

Monday 25 October 2010

Photo Prompt 04

Wow, we're up to the fourth photo prompt already!

Photo Prompt 02, Money Pool, inspired 'When You Wish' by Emma Kerry, while Photo Prompt 03, Angel, inspired Jim Bronyaur's 'Raven Angel'.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The fourth prompt is Shop Window.

Have fun!

Friday 22 October 2010

Friday Flash - The Priest Hole

Pete threw down the EMF meter in disgust. The needle lay at the neutral end of the scale. Six hours of staring at it, and the damn thing refused to move. He hoped he could find the receipt when he got home.

Pete made another circuit of the room. His objects remained where he’d planted them. No footprints disturbed the flour sprinkled across the floorboards. The thermometer wouldn’t budge below a consistent 22°C.

He yanked open the door and stomped into the corridor. A trail of flour followed him down the hall.

“Hello? Who’s there? Is that a spirit?”

A voice called from the library. Melanie. The supposed psychic who called him in on the job to accompany her. Oh Bettley Hall is definitely haunted, she’d said. I felt a real presence when I went to see Lady Maude, she’d said. I’m sure we’ll have success this time, she’d said.

“No, Mel, it’s just me,” he replied.


Pete pushed open the door to the library. Melanie sat cross-legged on the floor, a ouija board laid out in front of her. She sat at the northern point of a square formed along with her three assistants. The teenagers kept their black hair long and straight, and wore identical black outfits. They turned their sullen gazes towards him.

“Any luck?” he asked.

“Not as yet, although I’m still hopeful,” replied Melanie.

“I thought you said you’d felt a presence,” said Pete.

“I did. I can’t understand it, I thought we would have made contact by now. But there’s still time,” said Melanie.

“Still time,” echoed her assistants.

“It’s nearly dawn. We’ve been here for hours. Surely, if something was going to happen, it would have happened by now?”

“It’s your negative energy, that’s the problem. You’ve chased it away.”

“Oh really? Maybe I should go into exorcisms then.”

Melanie pouted. She leaned in toward the ouija board. Her assistants did the same, and they all laid their fingers on the glass.

“Would you mind leaving the room? I don’t want your negative energy blocking the spirit,” said Melanie.

Pete rolled his eyes and left the library. He walked back down the corridor to the morning room. Lady Maude claimed most incidents happened there. Disembodied voices, orbs, cold spots, floating body parts - Pete couldn’t think of a typical symptom of a haunting she hadn’t listed.

He retrieved the EMF meter from the floor under the table. He switched on his digital camera and waved the meter over it. The needle flickered, and dropped back to zero when he turned the camera off.

“So at least you’re working,” he murmured.

Pete checked his watch. Only an hour until dawn.

“Seriously, is there anybody there?” he called.

Nothing. The EMF meter remained quiet. Pete walked around the room, feeling for cold spots. He switched the camera back on and took a few aimless shots. He couldn’t see anything on the viewer but maybe something would show up on his PC.

Who am I kidding? There’s nothing here, he thought. I’m just a ghost hunter who can’t find any bloody ghosts.

The anticipation of the vigil had turned to boredom some time earlier, and Pete left the morning room again. Instead of turning left to the library, he turned right. The corridor crooked around a corner. Pete ducked under a cracked oak lintel into a narrow passage. Threadbare tapestries covered the panelled walls, and the pitted floorboards creaked beneath his boots.

Pete shivered. He guessed the passage led to the west wing, the original block of the house. Lady Maude told him the first Bettley Hall dated back to the Tudors, and the family harboured priests during Elizabeth I’s campaign to uncover Catholics.

Pete shoved his hands into his pockets. Puffs of his breath hung in the cold air. Pete wondered why Lady Maude never installed heating in this part of the castle. She could make a fortune renting it out as holiday accommodation.

The EMF meter crackled into life in his pocket. Pete pulled it out, feeling the cold nip at his fingers. The needle shot up the scale, buzzing around the upper level. Pete’s jaw dropped open.

A sharp knock made him jump. It came from the wall to his right. Pete swept the meter along the wall. The meter squealed when it reached a moth-eaten tapestry depicting a pregnant woman kneeling at an altar.

“Is there anybody there?”

“Succurro mihi.” 

The disembodied voice came from behind the tapestry. Pete held out a trembling hand. He fumbled with the edge of the fabric. Plain wood panelling lay behind the wall hanging.

“Wh-wh-where are you?” called Pete.

“Hic, hac.”

An opaque figure passed through the wall into the corridor. It wore the robes of a priest. A large crucifix hung around its neck. It turned its bald head to face Pete. He looked into empty, staring eyes of the apparition, and fainted.

* * *

Fowlis Westerby pulled off his ridiculous Tudor priest disguise. He straightened his hat and moustache. The Cavalier looked down at the pitiable ghost hunter at his feet.

“I do apologise, old boy. You’re just so much easier to scare when you’re not expecting to see anything.”

The ghost strolled down the corridor towards the library. The séance would surely net him scores of Scare Points.

* * *

The theme for this week’s flash came from the Write Anything Fiction Friday prompt, “Include this theme in your story… After a long night, a hunter sees something he/she cannot believe.” It also marks the second appearance of Fowlis Westerby on my blog – you can read his first appearance here. My beloved spectral Cavalier ghost stars in my very first novel, currently in the redrafting process.

Click here for more information on priest holes!

Wednesday 20 October 2010


After some subtle persuasion from Paul Anderson and Carrie Clevenger, I set myself up with an author profile on Goodreads. It seems odd to say that, to call myself an 'author'. I'm not sure why - I have had short fiction published sporadically online since July 2008, I have actually sold copies of my first e-book, The First Tale, and I now have a short story included in a bona fide anthology - the Chinese Whisperings Yin Book. If the definition of 'professional' is doing something and getting paid for it, then I must be a professional writer (even if it isn't my main source of income).

The very supportive Benjamin Solah was good enough to put The First Tale on Goodreads, and it's very cool to see that people are reading it. I genuinely blush when people send me tweets saying they enjoyed The First Tale - and it takes A LOT to make me blush. Yet it's so nice to know that people actually read what you do - and enjoy it. In a lot of ways, it makes the whole thing worth doing. I can't think of anything more sad than being a writer and never letting anyone read your work. I suppose I can understand the reasoning behind it - after all, if no one ever reads it then no one can ever tell you that you're no good. Besides, if you're writing for your own enjoyment and you're keeping yourself happy then it doesn't mean that you need to show it to anyone else.

Then again, writers tell stories. It's what we do. Whether we're novelists, journalists, copywriters or chroniclers, we're all telling stories. Is a story still a story if it isn't read? It's that age old philosophical question - if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? I mean, I tell these stories for two reasons. 1) I write them because I have to (I'd go crazy from the voices in my head if I didn't write down what they said). 2) I write them because I want people to read these stories - I want to entertain people! If someone reads something I've written and can escape from the mundane drudgery of their existence for those few minutes it takes to read a flash, then I consider the whole endeavour worthwhile. If the readers learns something too, then brilliant.

The most momentous stage in setting up my profile was selecting what genres cover my style. 'Short fiction' was an obvious, if generic, term, and I felt compelled to put down 'science fiction & fantasy' as opposed to 'horror' because I feel a lot of my stuff comes under the 'speculative fiction' or 'urban fantasy' bracket, as opposed to 'horror'. I always wanted to be a horror writer, but I realised fairly early on that I was no Clive Barker or Stephen King. Indeed, an email I once received about my short piece Left convinced me of that - the author of said email told me my style reminded him of Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury. When I'd recovered my jaw from the floor, I realised that horror clearly wasn't my 'bag' unless it was based on reality. But more importantly, I finally nailed my colours to the mast and put down "historical fiction" as one of my genres. I really enjoy writing things that require research, so you can expect a few more historical pieces over coming weeks.

Of course, one of the many advantages of historical fiction is it covers such a wide range of topics. I can continue to write my tales about bodysnatchers, mental asylums or vengeful knights, but still continue to write steampunk (a genre characterised by its adherence to an historical 'aesthetic') and stories about pirates...

Monday 18 October 2010

Photo Prompt 03

I've decided to start running my own photo prompts on a Monday in case anyone needs inspiration for their Friday Flash!

All I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The third prompt is Angel.

Have fun!

Friday 15 October 2010

Friday Flash - Flintlock Roulette

“Garrrh, poker’s for wenches!” said Captain Scarlight.

He knocked back the last dregs of his grog, slamming the tankard on the table.

“You do keep winnin’, Cap’n,” replied First Mate Swein.

“That I do.”

“I heard talk of a game of roulette in these parts,” said Swein.

“Roulette is for wenches, too!”

“It makes a change from poker.”

“True. Garrh, alright then, where’s this roulette game?” asked the Captain.

“A bar near here. The Rotten Pegleg,” replied Swein.

“Then we go to the Rotten Pegleg!”

* * *

The Rotten Pegleg stood at the end of the quay. Candlelight fought its way through the grime caked on the windows, throwing misshapen shadows across the wharf. A peg leg infested with woodworm hung from a pole outside.

A toothless hag sat at the piano just inside the door. Her gnarled fingers laboured through a mournful dirge in the quiet bar. Four men loitered near a round table in the middle of the room. A fat man with a mop of hair the colour of dishwater stood behind the bar.

“Barkeep! I heard there was a game of roulette going on,” said Captain Scarlight.

“That there is. Yer in luck, me friend. We needed another player ‘fore we could get going,” said one of the men. He grinned, displaying a mouth of black teeth.

“Have ye ever played flintlock roulette?” asked another man. Twisted scars snaked up his face and under his bandanna, encrusted with sweat and filth.

“Can’t say I have, I’m a poker man, myself,” replied the Captain.

“I don’t like the sound of flintlock roulette,” said Swein.

“Ah, ye brought a wench with ye!” roared the black-toothed man. Swein blushed.

“This is my first mate,” said the Captain. “But I must have a drink before we play.”

The Captain walked over to the group. His gaze fell on a rusty cage in the shadows at the end of the bar. A beautiful blue parrot sat hunched on a perch, too large for the size of the cage. It looked at him with doleful eyes.

“What a beautiful bird!” said the Captain.

“He’s supposed to be my main attraction. I got ‘im from a passing gypsy. Little liar told me ‘e was telepathic, but I ain’t ‘eard anythin’ to prove it,” said the barkeeper.

“All the same, he’s gorgeous. What’s his name?” asked the Captain.

He stuck his finger through the bars and stroked the bird’s head. The parrot leaned nearer, enjoying the attention.

“Dunno, never bothered to give ‘im one. ‘E might end up in me dinner if ‘e doesn’t do something useful soon,” said the barkeeper. He handed Captain Scarlight a drink.

“I’ll take him,” said the Captain.

“Ah ‘e ain’t for sale,” said the barkeeper. “But if ye win yer game, I’ll reconsider.”

“Are ye ready, strange cap’n?” asked the pirate in the bandanna.

“That I am! So how do we play this?” asked the Captain.

“We put the deeds to our ships in the middle of the table. We get blindfolded, and walk around the table. The hag tells us when to stop. Ye sit down, pick up the flintlock in front of ye, and fire,” said the pirate.

“Only one of ‘em has shot in it. If ye get the shot, ye keep the ship of the man ye shot,” said the black-toothed pirate.

“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” said Captain Scarlight.

“Are ye yeller?” asked a third pirate.

“No, I just like my head where it is, thank you,” said the Captain.

The pirate in the bandanna pulled out a pistol. He aimed it at the Captain’s chest.

“Ye join in, or I shoot yer now.”

“I guess I’ll just have to play then, won’t I?” said the Captain. He turned to the barkeeper. “But I get the bird if I win.”

The barkeeper nodded. Swein moved to the door.

The pirates put on their blindfolds. They walked around the table, arms outstretched. The hag shouted, “Sit!” The pirates reached for the nearest seat. Captain Scarlight fell into a chair by the bar.

The pirates fumbled around the table. Their hands found the flintlocks, and five hands picked up five guns. Five thumbs cocked five hammers.

I would suggest you duck.

Captain Scarlight started at the voice in his head. He looked around, before remembering the blindfold.

My name is Methuselah, and I am the bird on the bar. Please trust me.

The voice made the Captain’s ears itch. He shook his head.

“!” said the hag.


Captain Scarlight ducked. The deafening crack of a flintlock filled the room, followed by the thump of a lead shot into wood. The Captain tore off his blindfold to see a smoking gun pointed straight at him.

Scarlight scrambled out of his seat. The pirate holding the smoking gun pulled off his blindfold. His expression morphed from triumph into anger when he saw the hole in the wall.

“Cheat!” he screamed.

“Captain!” cried Swein.

Captain Scarlight grabbed the bird cage and ran across the room. The pirate tracked the captain across the bar, pulling the trigger until he remembered flintlocks held a single shot. The other pirates pulled off their blindfolds to see the commotion.

Swein yanked open the door and the Captain darted into the cold night air. Swein ran after him as the four pirates fell out of their seats in the hurry to pursue Scarlight and the stolen bird.

The Dead Calm lay further up the quay. Scarlight and Swein sprinted up the gangplank. The crew hauled the board onto the deck. The pursuing pirates missed their footing and plunged into the sea. Scarlight’s crew jeered at them as they cursed the Captain from the dark water.

“What’s this then, Cap’n?” asked Billy the Bosun.

Scarlight stood up and opened the cage. The parrot hopped onto his forearm.

“This is the newest member of our crew, er...”

Methuselah. My name is Methuselah.

* * *

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