Friday 3 September 2010

Friday Flash - Not For Sale

Yes, Captain Scarlight and Methuselah have decided to take over my blog again. This particular flash was inspired by this week's writing prompt by Eric J. Krause - "A strange website promises something (good fortune? Unending power? Never-ending riches?)". No, the Captain doesn't have Internet access, but it was still an inspirational prompt...

* * *

"Have you seen this, Thusie?" Captain Scarlight leaned back in his chair, holding open the newspaper. His telepathic parrot sat on his shoulder, reading the advertisement.

Voodoo? You are not being serious, Captain?

Methuselah's words echoed around the Captain's mind. He shook his head; a conversation with the parrot left him feeling like his ears were full of water after a swim.

"Why not? She's offering to pay well, all she wants is supplies," said the Captain.

Methuselah leaned in to read the advert again.


400 pieces of eight is a lot of money, that is true. However, there must be some catch.

"Oh catch schmatch," replied the Captain.

Why is a voodoo woman working with the Governor?

"Who knows? Who cares? Money is money, and things have been tight lately," said Captain Scarlight.

Very well, Captain. As always, you know best.

"Damn right I do. Now, to the Governor!"

* * *

Governor Trebus lived in a small shack a mile inland from Port Thorne. Dirty straw covered the roof, and old newspapers blocked holes in the thin walls. A scrawny dog guarded the front door.

I have a bad feeling about this, Captain.

"Oh shush, Thusie. It'll be fine."

Captain Scarlight stepped over the dog. It whined in protest. Methuselah gazed down at the furry bag of bones. A pang of pity plucked his heart strings.

The captain knocked on the door. It rattled in its frame, one hinge threatening to come away altogether.

Are you sure this is the right place?

"Oh do stop questioning me, Thusie. This is the Governor's mansion, alright. I have an indefatigable sense of direction." He wagged a finger at the bird.

The door creaked open. A woman with black dreadlocks peered out. Mould encrusted the eye patch over her left eye. Her right eye burned gold in a face the colour of burnt coffee. Rings hung from the bony fingers wrapped around the edge of the door.


"Good morning, Madam. I am Captain Scarlight, and this is my parrot, Methuselah. I am looking for either Governor Trebus or Madame La Strange," said the Captain.

"You 'ave found dem both," replied the woman.

"Excuse me?"

"I am Madame La Strange, and I am Governor Trebus," said the woman.

I told you this was a bad idea.

"I 'eard dat!" said the Governor. She glared at Methuselah.

"Forgive my bird. He is telepathic," said the Captain.

I think she has potentially worked that out for herself.

"Yes, I 'ave. Dey are very rare, Captain. 'E could be very valuable," said the Governor. She eyed Methuselah with interest. The parrot sidled along the Captain's shoulder. He tried to burrow into the Captain's mass of tangled red hair.

"To me, he is priceless," replied the Captain. He pulled himself up to his full six feet and three inches. "Now, we have come here about the advert you placed in the newspaper."

"Ah yes. I need supplies but I cannot leave de island," said the Governor.

"Because you are governor as well as Voodoo Woman?" asked the Captain.

"No. House arrest."

"I see. Well what supplies would you need, in exchange for the 400 pieces o' eight?"

"Forget de supplies. I will buy de bird for 800."

"He's not for sale."


"He's not for sale."


You offer 2000 pieces o' eight for me, yet you cannot fix up your abode?

"6000 pieces o' eight. Dat is my final offer."

"No deal. Methuselah is not for sale, and I don't believe we can do business for your supplies. Forgive us for wasting your time," said the Captain.

He turned to leave. The Governor lunged for Methuselah. Her fingertips brushed his tail feathers before the Captain darted out of her reach. She tripped and fell at his feet, scrabbling at his boots.

The Captain bent down and grabbed a handful of dreadlocks. He lifted her up by the hair. She screamed, clawing at his hand. She struggled to get her feet back on the ground. The dog looked up, but ignored her plight.

"I have already told you, Methuselah is not for sale. If you ever lay one finger on him again, then Governor or not, I will have your guts as strings for my piano," said the Captain. He glared at the Governor. Hatred and fear mixed in her golden eye.

The Captain noticed a tree to his right. Methuselah sat on the lowest branch to bring it within reach. The Captain tied the Governor's dreadlocks around the gnarled wood. Methuselah flew back to the Captain's shoulder, leaving the Governor dangling by her hair.

"Good day to you, Governor," said the Captain.

The pair walked back toward Port Thorne. Captain Scarlight rubbed Methuselah's head.

"Don't worry, lad. I'd never sell you," he said.

Neither of them noticed the white fingerprints on Methuselah's tail.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

The Impending End of The First Tale part 1

Commander Liss Hunt, Vertigo
City Resistance

On Saturday 20th February, 2010, I posted the first instalment of my very first web serial, The First Tale. I had no idea where it was going to go, or that a name I chose entirely off the top of my head was going to give birth to a concept of nine independent serials, linked only by their setting. My fictional Vertigo City will appear in a different incarnation in each tale, with the first version being a strange steampunk mix of Victorian London and a slightly 'fantasy' sprawling mass.

The serial will end on Tuesday, with the publication of the thirtieth instalment, and while I'm quite sad about it, I'm also excited about the prospect of starting The Second Tale, which is more of a noirish, 40s sort of affair about a jaded superhero. Anyway, about twenty instalments into The First Tale, I decided I wanted to collect the instalments together, give them a polish, and release them as an e-book - I wrote a post about it back in July. The original plan was to release a text-only version via Smashwords, and a fancy version including graphic elements via Scribd. This plan has now changed.

You see, Jamie Debree posted a link on Twitter to Lynn Viehl's Paperback Writer blog, and the content of Lynn's post got me thinking. Having read about their shoddy interpretation of their own guidelines, I don't really want to use Scribd now, and many other sites become incredibly confusing if you want to sell a PDF e-book that ISN'T for the Kindle. I was also worried that having two different versions of the same e-book for sale with different retailers might get confusing. So, I have come up with a solution.

Instead of having the choice between a regular e-book and a PDF with graphic bits, I'm now just going to have the one Smashwords version. However, there will be a link within the book to a page on my website, and from there you will be able to download a free PDF of the graphic sections that would have originally been included in the version intended for Scribd! (With me so far?) This includes a newspaper article on the Meat Beast, a society magazine piece on the Living Dead of Vertigo City, a Weimar profile on Liss, a hand-drawn map of the city, and a few other bits and pieces, all packaged up as Caleb's scrapbook. You don't need to see this stuff, but I'm hoping it'll give a greater insight into backstory for The First Tale, and hopefully it'll add a little to your enjoyment of the serial.

Are you all excited yet?!

Sunday 29 August 2010

Icy's Guide to writing Historical Fiction

Having read the excellent guest post by the equally excellent Carrie Clevenger over at Write Anything about writing historical fiction, I thought I might take the time to sit down, and have a bit of a chat about my own process. Lately I've been basing some flashes on local legends or historical anecdotes, and I've discovered I really enjoy doing so.

Fowlis Westerby
I first began flirting with history when I wrote my first novel, Fowlis Westerby. Fowlis himself is a ghost and therefore free from the restraints of time, but as he is originally a Cavalier, I needed to have some awareness of the English Civil War. Hazy memories of studying the Stuarts at school was clearly not enough, and I've been spending some time researching the period. Madame Blavatsky also makes an appearance, so again I delved into the history books to find out more about this fascinating figure.

Local legends and anecdotes
I've already written a post about the origins of the tale that inspired my flash about the Black Knight, but my most recent flash, The Resurrection Men, and an exclusive flash which will only appear in my forthcoming e-book, a tale named The Charterhouse Bullies, were both inspired by historical events. History can sometimes seem so dry and far removed from us. How can we connect with people and places that are long gone? Personally, I love reading historical non-fiction. Only this week, I've bought a book on Victorian social history, and another on medieval England (research for the third tale from Vertigo City). One of my passions is London history - I might be a Geordie but London is my current home, and I like to know where I'm living. Besides, London has a rich and eccentric history, and it provides ripe fodder for fictional prompts.

It starts
So how do I go about writing it? Well it usually starts with a book. I might be a film student but I do love reading. So there I am, reading about whatever has taken my fancy on that particular day, and something leaps out at me. One of two things now happens. Sometimes a story pops into my head, fully formed, that is designed solely to add a human face to an anecdote or legend. The rest of the time, the seed of an idea drops into the top soil of my mind, and I have to do a little gardening to get it to grow. By gardening, I obviously mean research, but you knew that, didn't you? Of course you did.

When I say research, what is the first thing that pops into your head? If you thought, "Wikipedia", then get out of my classroom now, and don't come back until you've written "Encyclopaedia Britannica" 800 times. Wikipedia CAN be a useful source of information, but, like most things on the Internet, it is written and edited by ANYONE. Take what you find on it with a hearty dose of salt - much of it is written by experts for other experts but that won't stop some bored jackass changing the details.

Instead, go to a library. Bloggers might be predicting the death of publishing but real books still exist, and they still contain an absolute wealth of knowledge. Read all you can about your chosen topic - accept what feels right, discard what doesn't. Remember that these will be mostly secondary sources and their primary sources might not be the most reliable. Even if you find primary sources, consider their original purpose and remember that they might be biased, and if they're memoirs, remember that people won't always tell you the whole story, and even if they do, the human memory is not infallible.

If your historical period is after the mid-1800s, seek out photographs. Yes, some early photographs were faked, or fake merely in the sense that they are highly posed, but they'll still give you a greater clue to details, ambience and basic setting than any amount of description in a book. Photographs act as wonderful prompts anyway, but old photographs do so in a completely different way. Why not use old family photographs to write the invented histories of your ancestors? Experience media from the period in whatever way you can - Carrie also recommends listening to music from the period, but movies are also a good example. Yes, they may be sanitised, romanticised, or simply from one point of view, but what they DON'T contain often tells you more than what they DO. You can also check out paintings, engravings, or even tapestries. If you've got a local fashion or textiles museum, pay a visit - costume can tell you a lot about social convention or mobility.

If it's possible, visit locations. I write a lot in London so obviously I can pop out and see the places. Many of them no longer exist, but while the street or building itself has long since gone, there will no doubt be somewhere similar nearby. There is enough of London's strange atmosphere to soak up that I can get by on what I absorb simply walking around.

If your piece occurs within living memory, then talk to people who were there. Again, be wary of rose-tinted spectacles or skewed memories, but you can still get plenty of details from a conversation with someone who experienced a period firsthand that you'd never get from a book. If it doesn't occur within living memory, then try and track down oral histories. There are several that deal with the Victorian period due to the sudden interest taken in the lower orders. The documentation is mind-boggling.

Immerse yourself and put it all together
Hopefully, if you immerse yourself in a period for long enough, you'll feel that little 'click' when it all comes together. Your idea will be rooted in a sense of 'reality' and your research will help bring a past time to life. This reality will breathe life into characters and places that are long gone - and hopefully you'll have a better sense of where you come from, and what has gone before. Go forth on your historical quest - and good luck.