Friday 16 September 2011

Friday Flash - Spell Check

Hetty Rae stacked the black leather bound volumes in the centre of the chalk-drawn circle. The candlelight glinted on their gold leaf titles. Advanced Spellcasting for Witchlings. Earth, Wind & Fire - A Musical Guide to Magic. 101 Essential Money $pells. Hex Appeal - A Guide to Love & Curses. They were just the volumes she could see. She pushed her hands through her tangled mass of curls and sighed. The black cat on the dresser tutted.

"It's no good, Ripley. There's no way I can learn all of this by tomorrow," said Hetty. She gestured to the small mountain of books.

The cat twitched its tail and wrinkled its nose.

"Don't look at me like that! I did try, but I just had too many distractions. Do you know how many Spellville game requests I get every day?"

Ripley jumped off the dresser and stalked out of the room. Hetty scowled at the retreating cat and returned her attention to the print out in her hand. The circle now drawn, she just needed to light the quarter candles.

“Iridio!” She flicked her wand at the Earth candle at the north point of the circle. Sparks sputtered and fizzed from the tip of the wand, spraying the floor with a shower of iridescent specks.


Hetty threw her wand onto her bed and dropped to her hands and knees. She crawled around the circle, lighting each candle with a match. She glared at the wand, cursing the sticky tape holding both ends together.

“Good job I don’t need that useless thing for this spell,” she muttered.

The candles lit, Hetty snapped off the overhead light and stepped into the circle. She consulted the print-out once more and drew a symbol in the air above the books, careful to follow the design on the paper. Hetty cleared her throat and read the words.

“Avicus, avirum, libri gruder,
Toeticus, toetivum, libri ruber!”

The candles flared red, and went out. Hetty felt her way across the room, her foot connecting with both the pile of books and a candle. She fumbled on the wall for the switch. Light flooded the room.

Hetty gasped. One candle was on its side in a pool of rapidly hardening wax. The books lay in a tumble in the circle, their leather bound covers now scarlet. Hetty snatched up the top volume to find all of the pages were now crimson, their barely discernible text now maroon.

The door opened and Hetty’s roommate walked in. Sassy Fae cradled Ripley in her arms. Hetty pulled a face at the cat’s smug expression.

“Harriet! You’re supposed to be revising! What on earth happened?” asked Sassy. She surveyed the toppled pile of bright red books.

“I did a went a bit wrong.”

“Show me?”

Hetty handed over the print out. Sassy raised an eyebrow.

"Where did you get this spell?" she asked.

"Witchipedia." Hetty dropped her gaze to the floor.

"Oh you little idiot - I'm guessing you didn't run it through the spell checker?"


“Ruder means red as in colour, not read as in ‘read the book and learned every word because she didn’t revise’!”

Hetty sighed and sat on the floor at the foot of her bed. She hauled the nearest book into her lap and flipped it open. She squinted to read the dark red text against the bright red page.

“What are you doing?” asked Sassy.

“I’ve got an exam tomorrow, don’t I? Seems these books aren’t going to be read by themselves.”

Thursday 15 September 2011

The Guns of Retribution as historical fiction

I hate the concept of self-promotion about as much as I dislike the idea of using sulphuric acid instead of sun cream. It just doesn't sit well with the English sensibility unless you're an attention-seeking contestant on Big Brother. However, as Blackadder would say, needs must when the Devil vomits into your kettle, and here I am, trying to think of ways to promote my new book without jumping out at you, waving a placard in your face.

The hard sell is that The Guns of Retribution is now available for the Kindle through the very excellent Pulp Press (here for the UK, and here for the US). I know a lot of people look down on so-called pulp fiction but it offers a damn good read, as I think I mentioned when I reviewed Danny Hogan's Pulp Press novella Jailbait Justice earlier in the year. I've been trying to think of things to say about pulp fiction to hopefully pique people's interest in it (go on, check out PP's other books, you know you want to), as well as my own book. Besides, publishing blogs are always telling us that no one is buying Westerns, so aside from citing the success of HBO's Deadwood series, or highlighting the change in Hollywood mindset that led to Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens, how do I change your mind?

I did what any self-respecting journalist would do and asked on Twitter if anyone had anything specific they wanted to know about it. After reading the questions, I'm going to run a short series of posts in an attempt to answer them. Hopefully you'll find the processes I describe useful if you're a writer yourself, and if you're not, then hopefully all the talk of gun fights and femmes fatale might make you want to buy the book! Yes, there are guns. There are gallows. There's a bad guy you'll want to punch in the face. What's not to like?

One question I received is one that did play on my mind when I first made the decision to write a Western. Now, my reasons for choosing the genre were quite straightforward. I was offered a range of genres in which to write and the Western was the one that grabbed my attention. I'd already written adventure fiction in the form of my steampunk serial, The First Tale, and the larger-than-life characters of the Old West aren't a million miles away from the pirates of the Caribbean, as exemplified in my Parrots and Piracy stories. The iconography and history are different but the basic idea is the same.

But it wasn't just that. I know what you're thinking, how can a female writer from the cold North East of England possibly write a Western about a male bounty hunter in Arizona? Easy. Research.

Anyone who's been reading my flash fiction for a while will know I have a bit of a thing about writing historical fiction. Grave robbers, the inmates of Bedlam, ships lost at sea, bullies at the Charterhouse School - I just love setting stories in the past. I've had a deep passion for history since I was little and I enjoy the research just as much as I enjoy the actual writing part. I did study the history of the American West at school as part of the GCSE syllabus, and I found it absolutely fascinating - and here was my chance to use it as a backdrop to a story.

I'll be honest, I never much cared for Westerns as films, with the notable exception of Back to the Future III (though I do admit the entire film is stolen by Thomas F. Wilson as Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen). A very good friend of mine recommended Tombstone, and my entire opinion changed. It's an awful film in terms of acting and structure, but it's just so damned enjoyable. While many of the early Westerns are far from historically accurate, choosing to paint a mythologised picture of the Old West, they're a good way to get a feel for a period. Naturally, later Westerns (such as the 3:10 to Yuma remake in which Russell Crowe acts Christian Bale off the screen) are much more adept at historical accuracy.

Clearly, when dealing with a period so far outside one's own lifetime, one of the best research tools is still a library. I read extensively before starting my novella, including general histories of the Old West, histories more specific to Arizona and the Apaches, and other Western novels. I can't stress enough how important it is to read, both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources for the Old West are a little limited in the UK, since we don't have the same level of access to contemporary newspapers, diaries or letters etc., but many of these are reproduced in secondary sources such as history books and biographies. Indeed, the Old West has an added advantage of having been a popular choice for TV documentaries, allowing the information to be presented in a visual way. Yes, there is always the possibility for the bias of the researchers to colour the information, but helps contextualise the period.

All that remains of Aztec, AZ
My final mode of research would have been to visit places in Arizona but seeing as how my budget didn't stretch far enough, I had to rely on Google Maps. Obviously the locations I discovered are contemporary, although many of the ghost towns can still be found using the aerial mode, but Google Maps is good for getting a feel for the landscape. It would be no good me setting a novel in Arizona and then describing lush green fields or subtropical paradises, only to find scrubland and canyons when double-checking the facts. Retribution and Sandwater, the two towns featured in The Guns of Retribution, are entirely made up, but they're loosely based on actual towns. It might be a pulp novella but I didn't want people to read it and say it was factually inaccurate!

I really enjoyed writing the book and I hope people enjoy reading it. The Guns of Retribution is currently 99p/99c, but the price will be going up next week! For those who prefer hard copies, it comes out in paperback on September 24, and you can pre-order it here.

Monday 12 September 2011

Photo Prompt 50

Can you believe I've done fifty prompts already? Click here if you want to see previous ones. However, the latest prompt is ready and waiting! It's vaguely inspired by the Old West in honour of my book, The Guns of Retribution, which came out for the Kindle on Saturday (see here for details)

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 50th prompt is Train.

Train Chain

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!