Saturday, 21 May 2011

New story published!

Today might apparently mark the beginning of the end of the world, but I'm very pleased to announce that one of my short stories, The Porcelain Woman, was published yesterday over on the Freezine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They're publishing some great stories, for free, and they match each story to new artwork. Well worth a look!

If, in the meantime, you have stories that you're considering submitting, how about checking out my post on Seven Tips for Submission Success

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday Flash - The Story of Aston

He couldn’t move, but he could still think. He thought a lot when he wasn’t being thrown around in the toy shop. The stuffed dog wanted to be carefully played with, and he wanted to be loved. Most of all, he wanted to be real, but even stuffed dogs possess a little common sense, and he knew he was only a toy. He once had the good fortune to be deposited in the video section by a small child, and he watched a movie that was being screened. In it, a marionette was turned into a real boy after riding in the stomach of a whale. Ever since then, the stuffed dog kept watch for the Blue Fairy, sure that she could help him.

He told some of the other toys, but they all laughed at him. He insisted the Blue Fairy was real, but they just called him names. He stopped talking after his tears matted the nylon fur around his plastic eyes. The stuffed dog kept his vigil alone, and tried to ignore their taunts. He especially wished the Blue Fairy would come at night. He almost missed the clamour and bustle of the shop when the customers were gone, and long shadows pawed the toys on their shelves. He sat in the dark, hoping with all of his little heart to see the tell-tale glow of the Fairy’s approach.

The stuffed dog sat in a wide box among the white rabbits. They were new to the store, and pleasant enough. He hadn’t mentioned the Blue Fairy to them.

“How cute!”

The stuffed dog looked up to see a young woman walking over to his box. A necklace around her throat spelled out the word ‘Icy’. Best of all, she wore a blue T-shirt and ripped blue jeans – even the paint on her eyelids was blue. The stuffed dog wanted to jump up and wag his tail, anything to get her attention. This must be the Blue Fairy!

She looked down, seeing the stuffed white rabbits. He willed her to look at him, the solitary brown dog in the box. The stuffed dog was the only one left in the whole shop – his brothers and sisters were bought weeks ago.

The stuffed dog’s heart jumped for joy when her hand closed around his soft tummy. She lifted him out of the box and played with his floppy ears. She spun around, waving him in the face of a young man with long hair.

“Isn’t he adorable?” she asked.

“You’ve got loads of toys, why do you want another one?” asked the boy.

“Aw, but he’s the only one left!”


“Yes, he. He looks like a he. Aw, I can’t leave him on his own,” said the girl.

“It’s only a toy, put it back.”

“No, I can’t put him back. I’ll have raised his hopes by picking him up. If I put him back, I’ll upset him. I can’t do that.”

The boy rolled his eyes but ruffled the fake fur on the dog’s head.

“I suppose he is quite cute. What are you going to call him?”

The young woman looked around for inspiration. Her gaze spilled out of the open door just as a sleek silver car rolled past. Her face broke open in a wide smile as she looked down at the dog.


The boy laughed, and they walked towards the bank of tills along one wall. Aston lay flopped over the crook of the young woman’s arm. She hadn’t pulled his ears or dangled him by his tail like the children did. She’d cuddled him.

The girl behind the till took the young woman’s money and shoved Aston head first into a plastic bag. The young woman glared at the girl, and pulled Aston out, putting him back in the bag the right way up. The boy fought a smile. Aston thought his heart might burst from happiness. This Blue Fairy couldn’t make him into a real dog, but he was real in her head, and that’s all that mattered.

* * *

I posted a photo of my writing space in the Friday Flash group on Facebook, and several people commented on "my editor", the stuffed dog sat on my desk. I've had Aston for a while now (longer than four years but less than six) and I thought I'd give him his own Friday Flash. This is essentially a fictional retelling of how I came across him, sat on his own in a big red box in Hamley's. I was with my flatmate at the time, and while I don't remember what we said word for word, the dialogue sums up the gist of it. And yes, I do put toys the right way up when sales assistant put them face first into plastic bags.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

It's the End of the World (as we know it)

The Internet is abuzz with "Is the world going to end on Saturday?" I, for one, hope very much that it doesn't. Firstly, because I don't like it when crackpot predictions turn out to be right (though I suspect their period of gloating would be short-lived) and secondly, I think it would be a bit of a shame. I mean, the big predictions made by scientists say that the world will indeed end at some point, although that "point" is generally hundreds, if not thousands, of years away. I don't know about you, but I can live with that.

Thankfully, we've had more of these "predictions" than you can shake a stick at, and as I'm still here to belittle them, it's quite clear that they were all complete tosh. Even Nostradamus got it wrong most of the time, and the times when he was "right", it was only realised that he'd been right after the fact. I can't help thinking that a prediction that is only useful after the event has passed is like a broken pencil. Pointless.

Anyway, if by some mad quirk the world does end within the next few days, here are seven things that I will regret not having done.

1) I never found, used, and thus became obsessed by, the One Ring.
2) I didn't learn to master the use of the Force.
3) I never discovered the secret of alchemy.
4) I didn't manage to start my PhD, let alone finish it.
5) I never got to wreak revenge on Hollywood for the absolute betrayal that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
6) I didn't get to the age of 34, thus beating Jesus.
7) I never stuck a "press" card in the band of my trilby and tried to sneak backstage at an important event.

What about you? What do you wish you had done?

Tiny plug for my book - if you're interested in my vision of the Apocalypse, then please see the story Checkmate in my short story collection, Checkmate & Other Stories, available from Smashwords and Amazon for just 99c.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Nothing But Flowers Paperback Release

Nothing But Flowers is an anthology of twenty-five short stories centred around the premise of love in a post-apocalyptic world, and inspired by the Talking Heads song of the same name. I've read all of the other stories and they're simply fantastic. My own story, This Was Paradise, is included, which is a fictional retelling of a love affair in Plague-stricked Eyam in 1665. The paperback was released yesterday, hitting the #1 spot in three different categories on Amazon - today it's #3 in Sci-Fi Anthologies, Fantasy Anthologies and Fantasy Short Stories.

Here's the blurb...

In a devastated world, a voice calls out through the darkness of space, a young woman embraces Darwin, a man lays flowers in a shattered doorway, a two-dimensional wedding feast awaits guests, a Dodge Challenger roars down the deserted highway …and that’s just the beginning.

Inspired by the Talking Heads’ song of the same name, Nothing but Flowers explores the complexities and challenges of love in a post-apocalyptic landscape; from a take-away coffee mug to a gun to the head, a fortune cookie to a guitar, the open road and beyond.

Poignant, funny, horrifying and sensual, this collection of short fiction leaves an indelible mark on ideas of what it means to love and be loved.

All profits from the sale of this anthology go to The Grantham Flood Support Fund. Grantham is a town in Queensland that was devastated by flooding in January 2011.

Nothing But Flowers is available in ebook format here, and on and, and should be available to order from your favourite local bookshop in about a week or so.

The ebook retails for A$4.99, and the paperback for £5.99


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Self Publishing Is Nothing New

No matter what blog you read, or tweet stream you follow, the Internet appears to be buzzing with various proclamations about the state of publishing, ranging from the so-called death of print (which, technically, Dr Egon Spengler predicted in Ghostbusters, way back in 1984) to the so-called 'revolution' of self-publishing. I'm not quite sure how to break it to you, but self-publishing is NOT a new invention. Not only have people been doing it for years via so-called "vanity presses", but authors as diverse as Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and Leo Tolstoy have all dipped their toe in the murky waters of self-publishing. The only thing different between then and now is the format - and I'm pretty sure that if Smashwords was around in 1901, then Beatrix Potter would have had The Tale of Peter Rabbit out in various electronic formats, instead of the 250 limited editions with which she had to make do. In many cases, these "big names" chose to initially self publish because they couldn't find a publisher who would take their work on. By contrast, many writers nowadays choose to self publish without even trying the traditional route first, swayed by the lure of the profit margin.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 1896
© The British Library Board
Other blogs are afire with talk of independent publishing presses, or authors setting up their own companies through which to publish their work. Again, this is nothing new. William Morris, a key player in the Arts and Crafts movement in Victorian England, established the Kelmscott Press in 1891 – over the following five years, it would produce 18,000 copies spread across 53 titles. He modelled the books on fifteenth century texts, with attention lavished on the relationship between type and illustration. Each element of production – the paper, the type, the letter spacing etc – was just as important as the next, and the books proved to inspire better production standards among the generally poor commercial presses. Some of the Kelmscott books were by the likes of Coleridge or Keats, making Morris an independent publisher, although some of the books were his own, making him a self publisher. Either way, the Press highlights the emphasis on artistry and aesthetics rather than the mass-produced or commercial product.

On Saturday, I went to visit his Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent - now cared for by the National Trust. He and his wife Jane lived there between 1860 and 1865, and the house provided a communal atmosphere for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This was an entire art movement originally founded in order to operate against the mainstream grain, to pursue its own ideals in the face of accepted opinion, and to place a belief in art above that of commerce. True, many of the artists went on to become rich or famous after the work of the Brotherhood became popular, but they never lost sight of their purpose – to create art that didn't necessarily conform to what the Royal Academy said could be art. Indeed, isn't that what independent publishers should be trying to do? Shouldn't they be trying to step outside the boundaries delineated by the established authorities, and using this reclaimed space to promote art?

I'm not for a second suggesting that all independent or self published titles need to be high literature, but art can and does mean many different things. Indeed, a pride in aesthetics, and care taken in quality control, would go a long way towards ridding the Internet of poorly formatted and poorly written self-published books which do nothing to persuade people that a self-published work is as worthy as one put out by a traditional company.

Fate, holding the Wheel of Fortune
Edward Burne-Jones
Indeed, if we're going to speak of William Morris, then we can't avoid the Arts and Crafts Movement, which is usually accepted to have lasted between 1860 and 1910. The Red House, designed by Morris and architect Philip Webb, is believed to be the first Arts and Crafts house. The movement was principally concerned with a fascination for days gone by, for times when skilled craftsmen would make buildings or furnishings. Of course, this was partly as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which divorced people from the idea of a "master craftsmen" since the new technological processes made people simply "cogs" in the machine. The Industrial Revolution made mass-production possible, but that just made the new products too uniform. The "human touch" was missing. The movement sought to restore this touch, and so get back to a more honest form of design that celebrated the skill of the maker.

Of course, many of today's self or independently published writers clearly desire commercial success and rightly so, yet the Arts and Crafts ethic can still be applied to contemporary endeavours. Write a book that is so fresh and so original that it towers above the “book-by-numbers” often churned out by the big names. Go for the handmade aesthetic but do it for the sake of the art, not because you’re trying to save money. Love what you’re doing and take care to do it well – don’t just slap something together because the Internet says you can become a millionaire with 99c e-books. With its “one click to put online”, e-books are almost mass-produced in themselves, so make sure yours is a well-made, well-presented and most importantly well-written BOOK rather than a poor quality commercial PRODUCT.

There's no reason why something commercial can't be art as well.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Photo Prompt 33

Latest 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 thirty-third prompt is Neptune.


All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!