Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: The Year That Was

Normally the end of the year would see an inevitable review of the preceding twelve months, full of lists and photos eagerly depicted fun or beautiful moments. 2013 has been a funny year for me, full of ups and downs, although understandably I don't exactly want to detail the downs here. Don't worry, it's nothing major, more just...total annoyances.

Academically, I completed the second chapter of my PhD and presented my first conference paper. The former was both a labour of love and a millstone around my neck, while the latter was equal parts of exciting and terrifying. Luckily my teaching experience made it easy to stand up in front of fellow academics to discuss The Frighteners and The Tattooist.

In terms of writing, The Guns of Retribution was re-published by Beat to a Pulp in May, while my short story, Protection, was published in Bloody Parchment's The Root Cellar and Other Stories. I finished writing The Necromancer's Apprentice, with help from my beta readers Tony Noland and Rob Diaz, while the ever-awesome Nerine Dorman edited it.

As well as knitting up a storm and learning to crochet, which was both harder and easier than I thought it might be, I took up jewellery making, and even opened my own shop on etsy. IcyHandmade has even had a few sales! I've been focussing on jewellery that is affordable but quirky, and I've tried a variety of techniques so far. I really need to start treating it like a proper business but at the moment I've just been collecting materials and charms to make items like this leaf and watchface charm bracelet. On top of that, I got involved with the #craftblogclub Twitter chat, run by Emma Berry. I've met some lovely crafters and bloggers through it, and it's been a real inspiration for doing and learning more crafts.

I visited Germany on holiday, visiting Cologne and Bonn among other places, and I took up archery and target shooting - I passed a beginner's course in archery, meaning I'm now a member of my local club, and I'm not exactly Oliver Queen yet but I'm working on that. I also worked on my photography skills through my Image A Day experiment on Instagram (see the results on Pinterest or Flickr) and I learned how to develop film myself at a pinhole camera workshop (which ended up being more about 35mm photography). The latter part has been a particular eye opener, and it's reignited my love for black and white photography.

But now we're on the cusp of 2014 and I feel it's best to look forwards, not back. So what do I plan for the coming year?

I'll be continuing to work on my PhD, with a minimum of one chapter and my introduction planned, and I'll be presenting another paper at a conference in June. I've also got other bits and pieces to work on, but I've thankfully been able to recover my focus for my thesis, so I've got my academic mojo back. With any luck, 2014 will see a definite boost to my word count.

The Necromancer's Apprentice will be coming out in 2014 through Dark Continents Publishing's Tales of Darkness and Dismay line, but I've got the sequel to The Guns of Retribution to finish, as well as edits to complete on my long awaited Fowlis Westerby novel before I decide what to do with it. Expect more short stories and more flash fiction.

I'll be working on more jewellery creations for my etsy shop but I also want to focus on creating handmade knits to sell in my shop. I'm not taking commissions just yet but if you're desperate for something, drop me an email at icy (at) icysedgwick (dot) com and we can discuss it! However, I have also vowed not to buy any more yarn to knit things for myself until I've finished all my outstanding projects so I'll have to keep buying for projects for sale!

How about you? What plans have you got for 2014?

Friday, 27 December 2013

#FridayFlash - Stage Fright

A hand shoves the small of my back and I stumble forwards. The boards feel rough beneath my bare feet. I look down at the stage lights. Flames once blazed in those fittings; now it's just energy-efficient bulbs. A single spotlight snaps on, drowning out their weak glow. I shield my eyes against the glare, unable to forget what waits in the darkness beyond the stage.

I stand in the spotlight, legs shaking with fear. I know what they want, I know what they came for, and yet I am paralysed.

A low groan erupts from the audience. It starts a ripple of moaning that rolls around the darkened auditorium. Beneath the moans I hear snarls, and between them both I sense the hunger. The anticipation. Someone hisses something at me from stage left; I cannot make out the words but I get the gist. I am to dance.

Creaky calliope music blares into life from the shadows at stage left. The undulating melody sounds eerie as it echoes around the cavernous theatre, and it takes me a moment to find the rhythm. I start slowly, aware that my movements are jerky and awkward. I never used to be. The snarls die down, overtaken by groans. They like what they see. A fleeting spark of satisfaction flicks through my mind, until I realise that it is ultimately for nothing.

I speed up in time with the music. The knot of fear curled in my stomach relaxes with the certain knowledge that this will all soon be over. I close my eyes as I fall to the floor with the end of the song. I hear scrabbling from the stalls, rotting nails clawing at the wood as they clamber onto the stage. The groans become snarls, and I imagine I hear applause as they fall upon me.

This story was published by Twisted Dreams magazine back in June 2011! Image by Weatherbox, edits by me.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

#Craftblogclub Secret Santa

Earlier this year, I took part in two challenges as part of the #craftblogclub community on Twitter. In September I knitted a notebook cover, and in October I made a Halloween lantern. For Christmas we had a Secret Santa challenge, and we were tasked to craft something for a named recipient!

I chose to hand knit a cowl, or scarflette depending on your chosen terminology. Using two strands of DK yarn (King Cole Merino Blend DK and Sirdar Softspun DK) and 6mm needles, I created this little wonder using rice stitch.

The pattern itself is pretty easy. Holding the two strands, simply cast on 53 stitches.

On row 1, P1, *K1 tbl, p1; rep from * to end .

On row 2, knit all stitches, and repeat these two rows until the work is long enough to wrap around your neck!

Near the end, I created buttonholes by casting off two stitches in three evenly-spaced places on a right side row, and then casting on two stitches in the corresponding places on the wrong side.

Knit six more rows of rice stitch and bind off. Choose three buttons to fit the holes and sew into place!

I really enjoyed making it and I know from Twitter that Denise received it safe and sound, so I wish her all the best with her cosy new cowl! Scarflettes like these are really cool because they don't get in the way like full-length scarves can, and they keep your neck nice and warm. They're also a quick knit!

We were also supposed to post pictures of what we'd received, and this is what I got on Monday! It's a truly beautiful gift and is now happily hanging on my tree with my metallic stars and Venetian masks. The colour scheme matches my usual palette perfectly, and I love the fact that it is personalised! My secret Santa has been very secret indeed so if you made this beautiful item, let me know so I can thank you properly!

Friday, 20 December 2013

#FridayFlash - Meeting Oneself

Imgae by Alex Kalina
 It happened on a bitter morning, beset by the sort of cold that you only feel in the dark days before Christmas. I had business in town, and rose early so as to conclude my transactions by a reasonable hour. The house was mostly in darkness, with a single maid trudging between the rooms to light fires in the grates. When I bade her good morning, she looked at me as though she had seen a ghost, and dropped her kindling on the parlour floor.

"Good God, girl, whatever is the matter?" I asked. I was especially surprised as I had not known Elsie to be a fanciful or superstitious creature in the eight months she had worked for me.

"Begging yer pardon, sir, I thought you was someone else." She bent to gather her parcel of wood and paper.


Elsie looked up at me, a somewhat thoughtful expression on her face.

"I din't listen at first, sir, though all the girls was talking about it. But I seen it for myself now."

"What? What did you see?"

"Yer ghost, sir." Elsie replied with no trace of amusement. The girl was deadly serious.

"My ghost?"

"That's right, sir. The other girls thought it was you at first, but then Sally saw it in the kitchen when we knew you was in the dining room with Mr Hardcastle."

I remembered the incident - Hardcastle and I were enjoying dinner when a scream interrupted our hearty conversation. I hurried to discover the source of the cry, but found the kitchen empty. I presumed it to have not been a scream, but rather the cry of some wild animal outside, and dinner continued once more. I had thought of it no more until Elsie raised the subject.

"But I live, Elsie, as you can see for yourself. I would need to be dead to have a ghost."

"Begging yer pardon, sir, but my mother says the living have ghosts too. They pass on messages then they leave."

I shuddered, considering the possibility of a version of myself that was dead somehow invading my home. I caught the earnest expression on Elsie's face and shook the mood from myself.

"Don't be absurd, Elsie. I have no ghost - there are no spirits in this house. Now run along and finish your jobs before Mrs Peterson awakes."

Elsie bobbed in an awkward curtsey and scurried away. The thought of my abrupt housekeeper no doubt scared her more than some silly ghost story.

I left the parlour, intending to visit my library before I left for town. I stood at the head of the long, narrow corridor that led to the back of the house. Little light pervaded its pre-dawn gloom, and I shivered. I debated with myself for several moments about the importance of the papers for my business in town, before mentally shaking myself. I had allowed myself to become unnerved by an idle report, given by a maid, no less. No, it would not do. I plunged into the darkness in the direction of my library.

I opened the door and the sight almost stopped my heart.

The double of myself stood in the centre of the library, the weak dawn rays falling through the figure onto the carpet. I looked closer and saw that it was not quite the double of myself – the right side of its face was horribly burned, contorted into an expression of the purest pain. My hand flew to my own face, my fingers exploring the skin, yet finding it marred by nothing but stubble.

The figure reached out a hand and opened its mouth, its lips forming silent words. I could not make them out, but felt perhaps they were a warning of some kind. The double took two steps toward me, and vanished into the cold morning air. Before I could consider what the apparition might signify, I fell into a faint, and dropped to the floor.

I awoke some six hours later, with my brother in my room and the doctor scratching his illegible symbols into his notebook.

“Edgar! You return to us!” My brother strode to my bedside and peered into my face.

“Indeed I do. What time is it?” The memory of my intended meeting in town returned to me before that of the figure in the library.

“It is eleven in the morning.”

“I was supposed to meet with Fitzherbert three hours ago!”

“Well you shan’t be meeting with him at all now.” My brother crossed himself, and briefly bowed his head. The doctor, despite his scientific allegiances, did likewise.

“What has happened?”

“A fire claimed Fitzherbert’s house in town this morning. His business associates were able to escape but Fitzherbert did not have their good fortune. God rest his soul.”

I thought of the many other instances when I had avoided some misfortune or other by being somewhere other than where I was supposed to be at that moment, and I fell into a faint for the second time that day.

Friday, 13 December 2013

#FridayFlash - Re-possessed

Photo originally by ColinBroug.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Friday, 6 December 2013

#FridayFlash - Buying Time

Image by iotdfi.
Walther stood outside the door of Madame Toubert's Emporium, a pawn shop in the depths of the Underground City. From the street, the shop looked like any other; three golden balls hung above the door, and both treasures and trash filled the windows. He shivered and pushed open the door.

A bell jangled, disturbing the funereal atmosphere of the shop. An antique calendar hanging opposite the door proclaimed it to be Monday 19th, though it neglected to mention the month. An old woman dozed behind the counter, and a fat ginger cat beside the till threw him a dirty look. He ignored them both and made his way towards the black door in the far wall. The paint peeled from the wood in elegant curls, and he sought a clear patch of door. He knocked, two quick, sharp knocks followed by two raps. The door swung inward, and a young woman peered out of the shadows within, her yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.


"I'm here to see, ahem, Count Clock." Walther lowered his voice at the mention of the name, darting glances over his shoulder. The young woman rolled her eyes and gestured for him to step forward.

The door closed behind him, and a cold hand found his in the darkness. Walther guessed it was the young woman, and she led him along a corridor. He bumped into another door at the other end, and she shoved him through the next doorway into a dimly lit room.

Tall candelabras were spaced around the room, their candles burning blue. A silver carriage clock sat on a small mahogany table at the far end of the room. Two men in black frock coats stood either side, hands clasped before them, heads bowed as if in prayer. Reverance hung heavy in the air, and a bead of sweat burst forth at Walther's temple. Perhaps his request wouldn't be granted - or worse, they would ask too much in return.

Another young woman, similar to the first but with electric blue eyes instead of yellow, appeared at his elbow.

"You are here to see Count Clock." She didn't ask, merely stated it.

"That's right."

"It is almost the hour. Be patient, and he will appear."

Walther realised the two men had broken their stances and now stared at him. He knew the Tempus brothers by their reputation alone, and he knew they came armed with knives and truncheons. Still, it wasn't the brothers that he feared. The two young women were clearly Fey, and if they wished it, he wouldn't leave this room alive. Worse still was the Count himself.

The clock chimed the hour, and two small doors at the top of the clock opened. Two silver figures slid out onto a platform, performing an elaborate dance of stilted clockwork moves. Another bead of sweat broke out, this time at the back of Walther's neck. It slipped down beneath his collar, tracing an icy path down his back.

"It would appear we have a petitioner!" A tiny voice rang out in the room, and Walther realised the taller of the two figures on the clock was now pointing at him. He made a small bow in reply.

"And what can we do for you?" The figure beckoned him closer. Walther hesitated, until the woman with electric blue eyes shoved him forwards. He stumbled towards the clock, and lowered himself onto one knee to put himself at eye level with the Count.

"I need more time."

"Don't we all?"

"Sssh, dear. What do you need more time for?" The shorter figure, a woman in an elaborate ballgown, spoke this time.

"My daughter is to be married, and I want to give her a good dowry, but I'm a little short. I only need another couple of weeks to give me time to earn the money to give her."

"How sweet!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Why did you not earn this money sooner?" asked the Count, ignoring his wife.

"I did, sir, but my son fell ill, and I had to pay for medicine. I do not earn enough to make any real savings, sir." Walther bit his lip to stifle a sob.

"What do you do, dear?" asked the Countess.

"I'm a shoemaker, ma'am."

"A noble trade indeed!" said the Countess, clasping her hands together. At her side, the Count rolled his tiny silver eyes.

"I am not sure..." said the Count. Walther's stomach lurched.

"A word, dear?" The Countess pulled the Count to one side. Walther could not hear their low voices, but he marvelled at the craftsmanship of the silver figures as they gesticulated wildly. A few moments passed, and the Count returned to the front of the platform.

"It would appear, Mr Peckwith, that my wife has taken a shine to you and your petition. I will grant you the two weeks that you request as extra time. In return, I would like you to make a pair of shoes fit for a Countess."

Walther froze. He hadn't expected the Count to agree - but he hadn't given much of a thought to what he might be asked to supply.

"For your wife?"

"Yes. When your two weeks are over, one of my associates will bring her to you for measurements."

The clock chimed and the two figures withdrew inside their respective doors. The Tempus brothers snorted, and Walther realised they'd been holding their breath. The blue-eyed Fey slipped a token into his hand, and pulled him towards the door. The yellow-eyed woman waited in the corridor, and led him back towards the pawn shop.

"You get what you wanted?" she asked as she opened the door into the shop.

Walther nodded.

"Make the most of it - and whatever they asked for, get it right."

The door closed behind him, and he struggled to adjust to the lights of the shop. He glanced at the calendar on his way out.

It now read Monday 5th.

This is another story set in my Underground City. If you'd like to read more stories in this setting, you can find them here.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

#BookReview - The Diviners

The Diviners was one of those books I stumbled across by accident, recommended in a blog post I don't fully remember. I downloaded a sample to my Kindle, flew through the first couple of chapters, and couldn't stop myself from buying the full book. It was a snip at £2.99!

The Diviners is set in the roaring Twenties, and principally features aspiring flapper Evie O'Neill, sent to stay with her Uncle Will in New York after an 'incident' in her Ohio hometown. The incident involves her clairvoyant abilities to read the secrets of others in items they own. She's not alone - while in New York, she encounters others with secret powers, including a boy who can will invisibility, a healer who has lost his faith, a boy with ESP, and a girl very much connected with fire.

New York is just as exciting as Evie hopes it will be - if not too exciting. She arrives just as a serial killer is beginning a spree that will wend its way around town, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Involved in the case through her uncle's consulting duties with the police, Evie begins to believe that her gift could be the key that unlocks the killer's identity - although this particular killer is not exactly one to whom bars and concrete will form much of a prison.

I don't normally like books that head hop but in the case of The Diviners, it's pretty essential to delivering the plot. The interwoven strands, following each of our Diviners as they struggle to either hide or reconnect with their power, work together so well that the book becomes difficult to put down. I often found myself cross that I'd have to stop reading, or miss my Metro stop on the way to work. I'd never really read anything set in the 1920s before but I found the writing authentic, and the characters intensely likeable. I don't normally like the loud, brash girl who is desperate to be centre of attention, but Evie managed to charm me all the same - she does things for herself, not to suit someone else.

The Diviners is also an example of a paranormal romance which is heavy on paranormal and light on romance - for those of us who just want to read about ghosts and supernatural powers, this is an ideal read. Sure, there's romance, but it doesn't dominate the plot to the exclusion of all else. I have to admit, as much as Sam and Jericho are proposed as potential romantic leads, I actually found Memphis the most attractive male of all, particularly through his devotion to his little brother.

While the ending wraps up incredibly neatly, there's also the suggestion that there is more to come, that the events of this book will be small potatoes compared with what will come later. I understand this is the first of a series, though, and I for one cannot wait for the next installment. Beautifully written, gripping, and full of suspense, The Diviners comes highly recommended by me.

Five blunt pencils!

Friday, 29 November 2013

#FridayFlash - Psychic

Image by fliku
People always think it must be so great to be psychic - oh, imagine the things you could know, the ways to make money that you could find. You'd be a god, surely?

How I wish I could agree with them. Imagine looking into the eyes of your beloved and knowing the love affair was entirely one-sided, that you'd be discarded the moment their true love came along. Picture yourself working your fingers to the bone while knowing your boss thought no more of you than he did of the dying plant on his desk. See yourself in shop after shop, being pleasant and polite to those who serve you, all while knowing your shoes or hairstyle would become fodder for gossip the moment you'd left. How about your friends? Do you really think they care for you?

Now let things take a darker turn. Imagine hearing the murderous thoughts of the man behind you in the street. You head into an all night off licence you would not normally frequent and hear his frustration as he continues his path outside to seek other prey. You should feel gratitude for your gift, knowing that were it not for your abilities, you'd probably be lying in an alley, your life ebbing out into the gutter, but your thoughts stray back to your lover. The lover who harbours no emotion for you, despite his protestations.

You would pay almost any price for ignorance. Even your life.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ghost Signs

I've long been fascinated by the so-called "ghost sign", those advertisements making pronouncements for products or places long since lost to the vagaries of time and fashion. The services they advertise no longer exist but through a bizarre quirk of preservation, the signs remain. There are an abundance of them in London, often high up on gable ends, out of the way but not out of mind, while they can be found across America, France, and even further afield.

Paul McIlroy, via Wikimedia Commons
This particular sign from Dunfermline, Scotland, advertises Angus Campbell Ltd, 'for all motor cycles, scooters & three wheelers', on the side of a building now occupied by a secondhand store of some description. The shop frontage has clearly changed with the times, with new signs being added when the business changed hands, but the original proprietor remains present, seemingly haunting the property through the perpetuation of his name, painted on the gable end. The lettering recalls the typographic choices of the 1930s, and while the scooter and the three wheeler are vehicular choices of the 1950s and 1970s, it's difficult to really 'date' the sign properly. What strikes me is that the name has not been painted over, or covered with something else.

I found this one in Newcastle, inside the Baltic 39 studios on High Bridge. A quick search on Google reveals that T. A. Hall & Sons Ltd used to occupy the Grade II listed building at 31-39 High Bridge, until the former printing warehouse was converted into a public gallery and studio space, operated by the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The interior of the building might be swathed in Baltic's black and concrete staircases, but the walls remain the white tiles of the warehouse, with this sign the final testament to the building's former use. Strictly speaking, the term 'ghost sign' refers to adverts that had been painted directly onto the brickwork of a building, but I think this sign should be included in such a category, being as it is painted directly onto the tiles, and advertising the presence of a company who is no longer there.

I think my real fascination with ghost signs lies in their tangibility, their recording of something that no longer exists. Just as photographs or movies can capture the likenesses of people, preserving them for posterity, so the ghost sign reminds of us products or stores that more than likely existed before the days of Google and Yell.com, when a visible advert in a prominent place, such as the front or side of a building, was the best way to alert passersby to your presence, or products. The introduction of the billboard in the 1950s rendered such signs obsolete, yet they still exist - the switch from brick to glass or concrete as construction material of choice surely added to their demise, too.

Considering the ease with which a digital footprint can be erased, or at least misdirected, the continuing presence of these ghost signs is both comforting, and disquieting. They bring ghosts among us, a quiet testament to days gone by, reminding us perhaps of simpler times, while intruding upon a visual culture that has no place for hand-painted adverts on brick. They're particularly poignant in the paradox of their existence - the point of an advert is to tell us about something, but when that 'something' no longer exists, what use do we have of the advert? In addition, some of the signs now appear divorced from their context, as the world changes around them. Without their purpose, is their meaning now obscured, or do they retain a purpose, albeit a new one?

Often advertising mundane products, or homegrown businesses, the ghost sign is a monument to those who have gone before, and a fascinating glimpse into a world that all the websites in existence can never truly recreate.

Friday, 22 November 2013

#FridayFlash - The Numbers

Elijah sat on the platform at Ealing Common, cheap ballpoint in one hand, small wirebound notebook in the other. Every day, he'd turn to a fresh page in time to see new equations appear, and he'd steal fragments of time throughout the day until the equations were solved. Though he'd never tell anyone, the numbers spoke to him. They told him stories. The completed equations even sang him lullabies when his brain felt too full and sleep eluded him. He kept the notebook with him at all times, solving equations in snatched moments between tasks. The compulsion to solve the equations neutralised any curiosity he might have felt about what the equations were for, where they came from, or what might happen if he didn't solve them.

At the same time across the Atlantic, Benny huddled behind a dumpster in Hell's Kitchen, solving a sudoku from a discarded copy of The Post. He'd wrapped himself in newspapers every night for as long as he could remember, but he only noticed the number puzzles a month before. The first time he did the puzzle, a man gave him a dollar for finishing it, and every day, as soon as he finished his puzzle, he found a coin in the street, or a kind passerby gave him some food. He didn't think the puzzles and his new luck were connected but he wasn't going to risk losing it, not now. He scrawled his final digit into the box, a misshapen number 9, and waited for dinner.

In the early Italian sunshine, Marco sat at a table in a Venetian piazza, scrawling equations on a napkin. Sometimes the numbers twisted and turned, leading him on a merry dance through a whole pile of napkins and onto the tablecloth, but today they were behaving themselves, and were slotting into place all over the thin paper. Or were they? Thunder rumbled around the sky as he stared at his equation. He knew it was wrong, but how? Another rumble erupted into a sky rapidly sliding from blue to slate grey. Marco stared at the numbers and swore loudly; he'd written a 3 where there should have been a 4. He corrected the mistake as the waitress brought his brunch. He continued to work on the numbers as the sky lightened.

Seconds ticked, digits flashed on trading floors, hearts beat at around 70 beats per minute, and the numbers continued to spin the universe in the right direction.

Friday, 15 November 2013

#FridayFlash - Ships in the Night

Image by the_franz
The invisible man slipped onto buses and rode around the city without ever paying a fare. He sneaked into hotels and slept in empty rooms, and dined on leftovers in expensive restaurants. He saw films for free, and used book stores as private libraries. Alarm systems ignored him as he made no movements to detect. Yet despite his life of liberty, he was lonely. No one saw him, no one talked to him, and because no one knew if he was there or not, no one missed him.

The invisible girl slept in an abandoned house near the glassworks, and ate scraps foraged from bins around the city. She walked everywhere just to be among people, always mindful that to them, she was not there. She sometimes spent time in the hospital, reading to the blind, comforted that her words helped them through the day. She never took anything without being sure that she could repay her debt to the world in some way.

They spent their lives pursuing opposing pastimes, one in luxury and the other in squalor, yet each always dreamed they would one day find another of their kind. One wintry Thursday afternoon, they passed each other in the street. The invisible man left his hotel bound for another, and the invisible girl hurried to her next reading. They passed within a gnat's whisker of each other, unable to see what was not there.

Friday, 8 November 2013

#FridayFlash - Remembering

Faraday James sat in the chair by the window, staring out at the street. How quiet it seemed, how empty. Men were missing and families mourned, keeping all but the lonely indoors. He could see the appeal in it - inside, in the comfort of one's own living room, the rest of the world was forgotten, along with its death on an industrial scale.

By midnight, Faraday knew that no comfort would be derived from pretending his England was not fractured. He moved from the chair to the sofa, and lay down. As he did each night, he counted his limbs, before counting himself lucky. Many of the men he photographed came home having left parts of themselves in the killing fields of France and Belgium, if they came home at all. What was a little shell shock in comparison? He mentally slapped himself, commanding his silent tears to stop. Men didn't cry.

A framed photograph of men in a trench hung beside the door. Taken in December 1914, the photo showed Germans and Englishmen standing side by side, festive smiles on their faces as they beamed with the confidence of men who thought the war couldn't continue. He'd won awards for his images, but their medals were sent to bereaved families. Would it all be remembered, in a century's time? Would another conflict, perhaps even bigger, overshadow their losses? Would names like Ypres and the Somme be remembered, or would they fade into history, taking their ghosts with them?

Faraday knew that some ghosts shouldn't be forgotten, capable as they were of returning, bringing a fresh hell with them. He knew sleep would continue to elude him, so he got up, saluting the soldiers as he passed. He went to the bureau to sort through his photographs, the ones not yet published. Faraday would do everything he could to keep these ghosts alive, to ensure they were remembered, if only to stop another, even greater, war from swallowing up the world.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

It's now November 2nd, and all over the world, those taking part will hopefully have written 3,334 of their newest novels for NaNoWriMo. I first attempted NaNo in 2007, but I didn't 'win' until 2008, when I wrote the first draft of my Fowlis Westerby novel. 2009 was a bust, but I did finish a Vertigo City novel in 2010. I didn't complete in 2011, or 2012 since I was trying to balance a PhD and a teaching qualification, both of which left me very little time (or, indeed, headspace for writing). I finished my teaching qualification in May, and I was really tempted to try NaNo again this year. I've got plenty of potential novels to write.

And yet. I love the idea of NaNo but in all honesty, I don't want to rush myself. I had a really productive plotting session with my beloved Nerine Dorman, about my next venture, and she helped me realised just how much research I need to do. Sure, I could write first and correct later, but that just seems a waste of time, especially if factually inaccurate material needed to be scrapped entirely. I went through my other potential novels but they're either too short (the third Grey O'Donnell book will be aimed at 30k, the same as The Guns of Retribution, as will the sequel to my forthcoming Necromancer's Apprentice) or again, they require too much research.

So I'm treating November as Consolidation Month. I'll be working on edits on my Fowlis Westerby novel, which I think is almost done, and I'll be writing the last 2k words or so on the sequel to The Guns of Retribution, a horror Western named To Kill A Dead Man. I also have plotting and research to finish for the novels I want to write, not to mention short stories I'd like to write set in the same world as The Necromancer's Apprentice. I'll never finish it all in one month but I think it's better that I spend the time working on finishing projects, or setting up new ones, instead of writing to splash out 50k words on an idea that isn't ready.

However, I will be cheering on anyone who is tackling NaNo, so leave me a comment, tell me what you're working on, and keep me updated throughout the month!

Friday, 1 November 2013

#FridayFlash - Halloween

"Mom, why don't we have a pumpkin?"

Michael looked out the window at the houses across the street. Each one boasted a lit jack o'lantern by the front door, the flickering candlelight throwing jagged faces across their front lawns.

"I don't want any of the dead finding their way back here," said Nancy.

"What about Dad?" asked Michael.

"Especially your dad." Nancy muttered as she turned back to the kitchen counter where dinner lay in various parts across an array of plates.

Michael and his brother Jason clambered onto the sofa, Michael dressed as Woody the Cowboy and Jason as Buzz Lightyear. Their cousin Freddie would be over soon to take them trick or treating. She didn't agree with the commercialism that had crept into the holiday, as the tradition of the poor offering to say prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes from richer households was perverted into children begging for candy. Still, the boys being out of the house would give Nancy time to make her preparations.

The doorbell rang. Jason leapt off the sofa and ran across the room. He yanked on the handle and pulled the front door open.

"Honey, I'm hoooooome."

Jason squealed and Nancy whirled around to see Patrick framed in the doorway. Dirt clung to the tattered remains of his burial suit, and grass stuck to the patches of skin worn away through the rotting process. A gnarled hand reached out for Jason, but the boy ducked out of his grasp and threw himself across the room to join his elder brother.

"You didn't leave a light out, honey." Air rasped across decayed vocal chords in a ghastly imitation of speech.

"Boys, go fetch your buckets from the laundry room." Nancy backed slowly across the kitchen.

"Aw, don't you wanna see your dad?" Patrick turned his dead gaze to Michael and Jason, but they dashed towards the laundry room before he could lurch two steps across the carpet. They passed Nancy and dived into the small laundry room next to the kitchen. Nancy had stashed their candy collection buckets in there anyway, so the ruse wasn't a complete lie. She just didn't want them to see what she was about to do next.

"You can't keep your kids from their dad, Nance. It isn't healthy." Patrick continued to rasp as he forced his feet forward two more steps.

Nancy darted forward and snatched up the shotgun from its resting place against the door jamb, kicking closed the door to the laundry room as she did so. Patrick's dead eyes lit up with a terrible understanding as she raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.

The boys cried out in the laundry room, but they left the door closed. The blast sent shards of bone and tattered scraps of cloth and flesh out of the open front door and across the front path. Nancy glared at the corpse as it swayed, before landing with a wet thump on the carpet. Patrick had never been a tidy husband, but now he'd left a dirty great stain on her living room floor.

She heard voices at the back door, and realised Freddie had arrived. His back yard backed onto hers, and he preferred to cut across the lawn instead of going the long way around. She opened the back window and called out to her nephew.

"Could you take the boys out now? Just cut around the side of the house." Nancy gave him her biggest smile. The teenager, dressed as Wyatt Earp, gave his lop-sided grin, and led the boys across the garden.

Nancy ducked back inside and pulled what was left of Patrick into the house, closing the front door so the boys wouldn't see. Their father would be gone by the time they got back - and this time, he'd be gone for good.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Halloween

Made using a tutorial found here.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Craftblogclub October Challenge Reveal

As we rapidly rush towards the end of October, it's now time to finally show off my product for October's #craftblogclub challenge. The challenge, discussed here on Emma Berry's blog, was to create a Halloween decoration using a craft we'd never tried before. Naturally, for me, that ruled out digital artwork, knitting, crochet, and jewellery. Plus, I also wasn't sure entirely what could be classified as a decoration. Should I make bunting? Confetti? Weird decorations for a seasonal take on a Christmas tree, this time decked out with spiders and bats?

I considered making felt decorations, as my sewing is a craft I need to improve and could therefore be considered a new craft, and also a papercraft response, but as the days began to run out, I decided to have a go at making something out of a glass jar to save time. My mum's marmalade comes in gorgeous straight-sided hexagonal jars, and I thought I'd use one for something. I did want to make a little witch and a cat out of polymer clay to do an updated version of a witch bottle, but I didn't have time, so instead I decided to do a twist on the traditional Halloween pumpkin.

I've always wanted to carve a pumpkin, but as I don't actually like the vegetable itself, it seems like it would be a waste to buy one and throw away the parts I didn't use. So I decided to paint onto a jar, turning the transparent glass orange, except for the clear 'cut out' face. That way, I can burn a tea light inside and get the feel of a pumpkin without having to cut one up. I can also put it on the windowsill, something I wouldn't be able to do with a pumpkin.

Sure, the paintwork looks a bit shoddy, and I need to drill some more holes in the lid to make sure enough oxygen can get inside to keep the flame burning, but I think it's not entirely terrible for a first attempt!

What do you think?

Friday, 25 October 2013

#FridayFlash - Thoughts of a Nightmare

Image by Hugoslv
It's 9pm on Saturday night...all over the country, people are out in public, spending time with their friends, and their loved ones, propping up bars or crowding into restaurants, spilling out of cinemas and flocking along rain-slicked streets lit by sputtering neon. Couples stagger along streets, clutching at each other in their mirth as their laughter peppers the November air. Groups of friends swarm from bar to club. Not I. No, the bonhomie and warmth of human companionship is not for one such as I. I lurk in shadows, watching and listening, but mostly I withdraw to the dark, damp places where no one else might go.

Yet this night is different. I smell it on the air, buried among the scents of sweating bodies and cheap fast food. There is a human, yet she is not the same as the others. She stands alone, bemused by those around her, and unable to behave in a similar fashion. She realises she is not alone, not truly, and she comes searching for me. I lead her on a merry dance, for it is not right that one of the light should come to explore the dark. We are both alone, but we are not the same.

She is persistent, and soon my curiosity outweighs my desire to protect this unusual human from the horrors in the shadows. I stand in the open, for the first time in a century, and lean against a bus shelter. I do not stand under the fluorescent street light - no, that is too much of an exposure. I choose a spot in the shadows. She sees my long limbs, and charcoal skin. The darkness hides my face but she holds my yellow gaze all the same. The scent on the air becomes one of fear, and she realises that she has chased a nightmare.

This human, the closest to my kind that I have yet encountered, stands rooted to the spot, and I realise it is time to release her from my thrall. I open a slot between space and time and slip away into a world that she should not see. Not while she is awake, at any rate. Yet even as I take myself deeper, away from the throbbing life of this Saturday night, I know I will see her again. Now that she has seen the dark, she will no longer be satisfied by the light.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

#BookReview - Cobweb Bride

I first came across Vera Nazarian's Cobweb Bride through a recommendation by Nerine Dorman, and I'm very glad I decided to follow this recommendation up. Book one in a trilogy, Cobweb Bride tells the story of an imaginary kingdom called Lethe, located somewhere in an alternate Renaissance Europe. Death appears, proclaiming he will take no more lives until his Cobweb Bride is found, and all marriageable women are sent to search for his Keep in the forests of the North.

One of these women is Percy (short for Persephone), a largely unremarkable and overlooked middle daughter, who is notable for her ability to see shadows of death. Percy starts the book as a lumpen, plodding sort of girl but really grows in confidence and wit as the book progresses. I found I really liked Percy by the end of it, and I love the fact that she's so easy to relate to - she's no Bella-esque Mary Sue character.

The book follows other characters, such as the Infanta, a sixteen year old frail princess from the imperial court, a trio of aristocratic fops (who, in my head, talk like the actors on Made in Chelsea), and a knight whose father won't die after a bloody massacre goes wrong in Death's absence from duty. It's all highly inventive, including the fact that the populace risk starving to death since anything killed or harvested after Death goes on strike returns to a state of life, making it inedible. My only criticism regarding the characters are their names - some characters are introduced, and only used once, making it difficult to keep track of a cast with long names, some of whom aren't even essential to the plot.

Other reviews have noted that it takes far too long for the action to begin, and I'd be inclined to agree. Much of the first third or so of the book could be revealed through dialogue later in the story, or cut altogether, and I really didn't need a lengthy description of the life and love of Persephone's grandmother before anything even happens. It feels in places as though Nazarian is feeling her way into the story, and with hindsight this could be condensed. However, once the action gets started, it's very difficult to put the book down, and I found myself flying through it, eager to know what happened next. Luckily there's enough potential in the first third to have kept me reading because I thoroughly enjoyed the remaining two thirds!

I'll definitely be buying book two in the trilogy...

Four blunt pencils!

You can get Cobweb Bride for Kindle from Amazon US, or Amazon UK, as well as on Smashwords. Paperbacks are also available.

Friday, 18 October 2013

#FridayFlash - It Wakes

Image by Danskii
Quite a lot of people were asking "What happens next?" so this story is a follow up to my flash last week, After It All.

Far below a vast yet empty metropolis, beneath the rotting transport network, and the ruins of bygone eras, something moved in the dark. It growled, testing itself before it woke fully. The being was confused, having slept for centuries.

With no humans left it had no thoughts to guide its form, so it settled on an amorphous mass, malleable and soft. It prodded at the world beyond itself, wondering why it had awoken.

The being, a deity older than creation itself, noticed the silence first. Before it slept, it had lain in the depths, listening to the endless chatter from the world above. The being had withdrawn when it became convinced that man no longer cared for the state of his soul, and so it slumbered in the dark. Meanwhile, in the world above, humans turned their gaze from the cosmos to the incorporeal, their worship centered around glowing boxes they kept in their homes, or carried in their pockets. Their incessant talk and the buzz of information in the ether haunted the dreams of the sleeping being.

It left the dark, and returned to the light. It expanded its mind, in all places at all times, and explored the world. Not a trace of life remained beyond that of the plants. Botanical life flourished where animal life had failed. The being quivered with a ghost of a smile.

It wandered around the metropolis, where creeping vines and growing trees swallowed up the crumbling buildings. None of the trees were right, so the being explored further, and settled in a field far beyond the metropolis. It chose an ancient oak that stood apart from the rest of the forest, and imbued it with its first sentient thought.

For the first time in four hundred years, the oak realised it missed humans.

Friday, 11 October 2013

#FridayFlash - After It All

Image by adpsimpson, edits by me
Grey clouds scudded across a flat, empty sky. Far below, the countryside stretched between deserted cities. Every day brought a further encroachment of wilderness into the urban wasteland. Grass grew tall in the narrow lanes between the abandoned blocks of flats, and weeds pushed up through cracked concrete. Rusting cars stood in the street, smashed into one another where occupants had collisions in their hurry to leave. Moss coated discarded possessions in overgrown gardens, and tree roots erupted through tarmac as the forest retook the roads. No animals moved in, as there were no animals to move, just as there were no longer any people.

Crates of goods that would never be bought or sold sat on rotting pallets in forgotten warehouses. Dust lay thick on nylon carpets in vacant flats, and TV screens reflected empty rooms. Belongings with no owners became mere objects, unused and unloved. Houses were no longer homes, instead simply tombs to bygone consumerism. Days passed, seasons turned, and the peace continued.

Yet somewhere in the depths of the silence, between the emptiness and the darkness, something moved.

Something growled.

Friday, 4 October 2013

#FridayFlash - Keeping Watch

The knot of tourists huddled on the pavement, the late November rains lashing their battered umbrellas as they clustered alongside the wall. An overgrown tangle of bushes and grass lay on the other side of the wall, and a house stood beyond the wilderness. The tourists stared at the large bay window on the upper floor, a window that gazed out at the seafront promenade.

"Just another couple of minutes, then it'll be 3pm. She'll appear like she always does. Like clockwork, she is." The gruff old man in the threadbare flat cap jabbed his cane at the window.

“I’ve seen her afore. Tall, she is, in a black dress, buttoned right up to ‘ere,” said a man near the back of the group. He motioned to the top of his neck with his hand. “Black bonnet, too.”

The tourists stared at the man, fitting the description into their mental image. They all knew the story of the Woman in the Window. Legend had it that the house belonged to a couple named Ledersmark, and when the husband was at sea, the wife would wait for an hour at the window every day for sight of his vessel. On 15th November 1893, she arrived at the window at her customary hour and watched the returning vessel break up on the rocks in the bay. She died of a broken heart the same day. Every year, on the anniversary of Mrs Ledersmark’s death, she appeared at the window, as if still awaiting the return of her husband.

Somewhere in the town, a church bell chimed 3pm. The tourists huddled closer, staring at the window, waiting for Mrs Ledersmark to appear. By custom, she should fade into view, as though someone were retuning the picture on an old television set.

The window remained empty. The tourists stood for ten minutes, craning their necks, and clutching their sodden guidebooks to their chests as they fought for a glimpse of the Woman in the Window. Emily stood at the back of the group, her patience running out as the seconds ticked by.

“What are you waiting for?” A soft voice sounded behind her.

Emily turned around. A tall woman in a black bonnet stood behind her. Her great dark eyes reflected all of the sadness of the world back to Emily.


The rest of the group turned to see who was speaking, annoyance etched on several faces that someone might be talking during such an important event. Jaws dropped to see the identity of the speaker.

“We were waitin’ for ye, lass,” said the man in the flat cap.

“But as you see, I myself shall wait no more.”

The group watched as Mrs Ledersmark walked away from the group. She drifted along the broad promenade toward the harbour, oblivious to the rain soaking into the pavement.

Emily wasn’t sure, but she thought saw a male figure waiting in the drizzle.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

[Film Review] Insidious Chapter 2

I'll be upfront with you, I genuinely had no idea how James Wan intended to continue his 2011 film, Insidious. With the seeming possession of the main protagonist, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), the death of the psychic hired to help his son, and the house in confusion following an astral travelling jaunt into the Further (a spiritual realm, akin to Limbo, that exists alongside our physical reality), I really didn't see how he could make a sequel. Reviews have certainly been mixed and the reception mostly lukewarm, but for my own part, I rather enjoyed it.

In the first film, Josh's son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) went astral travelling (apparently such a talent runs in families) but strayed too far from his body. Imprisoned by a demon that looked more like Darth Maul, Dalton couldn't get back in order to wake up, and he spent most of the film in a medically inexplicable coma. Hence the decision by Josh and wife Renai (Rose Byrne) to turn to Elise (Lin Shaye), a psychic who thought she could help by sending Josh (also capable of astral travel) into the Further after Dalton. Trouble is, Josh was haunted by a mysterious old woman, intent on possessing Josh's body, and it isn't Josh that comes back.

Fast forward to Chapter 2 and the Lamberts are now staying with Josh's mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Strange happenings are still going on, like the piano playing by itself in an empty room, or baby Kali's babywalker switching itself on. Lorraine begins to see a mysterious woman in white wandering through the house, a woman who physically attacks Renai when she's home alone. Indeed, these scenes of ghostliness are some of the best in the film, using taut suspense to unsettle the home. All is not at all well.

Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), the amusing ghost hunting nerds from the first film, are devastated at Elise's death, but accidentally discover footage shot in 1986 of Elise's first meeting with a teenaged Josh, during which he was made to forget his astral travel abilities to keep the old woman at bay. Along with Carl (Steve Coulter), a psychic present at the 1986 meeting, Specs, Tucker and Lorraine begin contacting Elise, and investigating exactly who this shadowy figure is.

The film is not without its flaws. There is a lot of explaining - no character can do or say anything without feeling the need to expound at length about the why and the what of almost everything. Wan, believe me, the audience gets it. The motivation of the old woman is to regain childhood...so why target Josh when he's an adult? Josh's gift is originally described as unique but given Dalton's ability, that's clearly not the case. Surely it stands to reason that others can do the same thing, and the old woman would be better off looking for someone else to persecute. There's also a time travel paradox, since apparently time does not function in the Further, meaning the present day Josh, trapped in the Further, can now influence the hauntings from the first film, and also the seance in 1986. Of course, time travel paradoxes only exist if you accept the premise that time is linear, and given the spectral construction of the Further it's entirely possible that time would not behave in a linear fashion, but I don't want to get into existential discussions here. The motivation of the woman in white is also unsatisfactory, and I felt the final denouement was just too 'neat', as if Wan realised he needed to keep running time down and simply tacked on an ending.

That said, there's much to admire. The set design of the Lambert house is far creepier than either of the houses in the first film, being more of a Victorian homage to claustrophobia. The character of Dalton is a revelation, given far more to do than in the first film, and he proves to be a resourceful, brave and intelligent character. Renai even surprises with sudden bursts of courage, despite her propensity to run around screaming, and Specs and Tucker balance the suspense with their 'bromance' bickering. Patrick Wilson is truly astonishing in his dual role as Possessed Josh and Trapped in the Further Josh. Possessed Josh is creepy and genuinely unsettling, and I hadn't thought Wilson capable of such dexterity. While I'd like to sit James Wan down and have a solid discussion about use of narrative in a Gothic horror film, I do think there is a lot to admire in his direction, and Insidious 2 veers closer to his recent success, The Conjuring, than the original film.

I wouldn't recommend Insidious 2 for anyone who hasn't seen the original film, but those who enjoyed the first film, and the eerie world it created, then I'd highly recommend Chapter 2.

Four blunt pencils!

Monday, 30 September 2013

#BookReview - Traitors

I can't believe it's a year since I wrote a review of Carrie Clevenger's Crooked Fang, but here I am again with my review of the novella-length follow-up, Traitors.

Again narrated by sexy vampire bassist Xan Marcelles, Traitors picks up shortly after Crooked Fang. Xan is without a band, and bored in Pinecliffe, Colorado. The presence of Nin, a different breed of vampire, seems to give him something to muse about, but she's not especially trustworthy.

A late night phone call from his shadowy kinsman, M, brings Xan's past right into his present, and he's forced to pick up the threads of his previous work as a hitman of sorts, cleaning up the messes left by others. In essence, he's pretty much The Wolf from Pulp Fiction, just more prone to violence and happy to shoot on sight. Nin invites herself along, and the pair head off to Traitors, by turns both bar and vampire nest in Texas.

The thing I've always liked about Xan is, surprisingly, his humanity. He makes mistakes, and admits to them, and his fondness for humans makes him a likeable protagonist. He does stupid things, but when it comes down to it, he gets the job done, each time hoping that this time, he'll get left alone. Normally I don't like vampires due to their attitude problem but Xan's desire for peace and quiet makes him a lovable rogue. In Traitors, his time among humans has blunted his edge when required to fight, which makes Nin a useful addition to his life, and stops Xan from being one of those dull 'perfect' invincible heroes (*cough* Superman *cough*). He actually gets hurt, but he just keeps on swinging.

This being Xan, his soft spot for the ladies means there's obvious chemistry between Xan and Nin, and while I have to admit I found it really difficult to warm to Nin, she's not one of those princess type characters who needs to be rescued by the big strong men. Nin's more than capable of kicking butt on her own terms, and for that alone I suppose I have to salute her.

Traitors might only be a short work, but it's packed with action, and sets us up nicely for whatever the next instalment might be. Highly recommended, with five blunt pencils!

You can buy Traitors for your Kindle here or from Smashwords, here.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Handknitted Notebook Cover

I've talked a bit about the new Twitter community I've found, #craftblogclub, which meets on Tuesday evening between 7 and 8pm UK time. Our fabulous founder, Emma Berry, set us all a creative challenge for September - I finished this last week but it's taken me until now to post! Our challenge was to create a notebook cover using whichever craft we liked. As much as a sewn cover might have been quicker, sewing has never been (and I suspect will never be) my forte, so I decided to knit one. I even went so far as to concoct a pattern myself.

This is the first time I've written a pattern, so I hope it makes sense. If you want to adapt it, bear in mind the central chevron pattern is worked in blocks of twelve stitches and sixteen rows, but you can always add more stocking stitch rows for the flaps, or more for the spine, if your notebook is bigger than mine. You'll also need to take yarn into account - I've used 100% acrylic DK as I had some lying around - I didn't have enough so part of the back flap is knitted in a different colour, but a 100g will easily be enough. My notebook measures 21cm by 16cm and is 1cm thick.

Using 4mm needles, cast on 48 stitches using your preferred method.
Row 1 - Knit.
Row 2 - Purl.
Repeat these rows another eighteen times so you have 20 rows of stocking stitch.

Now begin the pattern for the front cover. There is a moss stitch edging so on each right side row, add (k1, p1, k1, p1, k1) to either end of the chevron pattern. On each wrong side row, add (p1, k1, p1, k1, p1).
Row 21 - Moss stitch band, (yfwd, skpo, k10)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 22 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 23 - Moss stitch band, (K1, yfwd, skpo, k7, k2tog, yfwd)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 24 - Row 22 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 25 - Moss stitch band, (K2, yfwd, skpo, k5, k2tog, yfwd, k1)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 26 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 27 - Moss stitch band, (K3, yfwd, skpo, k3, k2tog, yfwd, k2)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 28 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 29 - Moss stitch band, (K6, yfwd, skpo, k4)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 30 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 31 - Moss stitch band, (K3, k2tog, yfwd, k3, yfwd, skpo, k2)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 32 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 33 - Moss stitch band, (K4, k2tog, yfwd, k1, yfwd, skpo, k3)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 34 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 35 - Moss stitch band, (K2, k2tog, yfwd, k5, yfwd, skpo, k1)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 36 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.

Repeat this block three times - the pattern block should be 48 rows. That finishes the pattern for the main cover. Knit ten rows of stocking stitch, continuing the moss stitch pattern at either edge.

Repeat the above pattern block of 48 rows, continuing the moss stitch edge, for the back cover. Knit twenty more rows of stocking stitch for the inside back flap, and cast off. With right sides facing, sew the edge of the flap to the cover at either side for the back, and repeat for the front. Turn the right side out and slip onto your notebook!

Friday, 27 September 2013

#FridayFlash - Alone No More

Image by Foobean01, edits by me
Lily arrived by accident one day, a dark haired doll among a box of blonde angels, and Mrs McGarry had never quite known what to do with her. For a time, Lily had shared a shelf with them, and late at night after the shop was closed, she'd tried talking to the other dolls. They never replied, just staring straight ahead with their glassy stares.

During the day, they all sat on their shelf opposite the door. Lily watched each day as another little girl came empty-handed to the toy shop, and left clutching her brand new doll. Occasionally one of the girls would pick Lily up, and she would smile her best smile, wondering what sort of owner this little girl would be, and then she would be put back on the shelf having simply been moved to make way for the blonde dolls behind her.

Mrs McGarry sold the last of the blonde dolls one rainy Thursday afternoon. Lily watched the doll disappear out of the door in the carrier bag of a father eager to please his daughter on her birthday. With the shelf to herself, Lily felt sure she'd be chosen now. She'd be a good doll, happy to play dress up and accompany her owner where she went.

A large cardboard box arrived on Friday morning, and Mrs McGarry unpacked a new shipment of dolls. Lily's heart sank at the sight of so many new blonde rivals. The dolls were arranged on the shelf, and Mrs McGarry lifted Lily higher, to the top shelf. Her new companions were unfashionable tin soldiers, a scruffy teddy bear and enough dust to stuff a pillow.

"The same thing happened to us, you know," said the bears, a brown gentleman with gingham patches on his paws.

"Don't worry, ma'am, we all take care of each other up here," said one of the soldiers.

"Why didn't any of the little girls choose me?" asked Lily.

"You can never tell what children are looking for. Mostly they just want the same as everyone else," replied the brown bear.

Days passed and Lily continued to watch the new arrivals leave the shop with their new owners. Once or twice, little girls looked up and saw her, perched on the edge of the shelf looking down, but none of them returned her smile. The days turned into weeks, and soon Mrs McGarry was decorating the shop for Christmas. An elderly woman spotted the brown bear and bought him for her friend who had apparently never had a teddy of her own. Even the tin soldiers were taken down from the shelf, bought by an antiques dealer for his Victoriana-obsessed son.

Two days before Christmas, Mrs McGarry arrived at the shop early. She saw the shelf opposite the door and screamed. Every single one of the blonde dolls, arranged so beautifully for her seasonal display, had been maimed. Tufts of hair lay all over the floor, and deep cuts mutilated the vacant expressions of the dolls. The ornate scissors that she usually kept behind the till for cutting wrapping paper lay on the floor.

An hour later, her daughter arrived. Glenda was not the hysterical type, and she packed away the butchered dolls while Mrs McGarry created a new display with toys filched from other parts of the shop. At the centre of it sat Lily, fetched from the top shelf and dusted down. Glenda straightened the doll's dark curls and wiped a smudge of dirt from her nose. She couldn't remember Lily's smile being so hopeful before.

Monday, 23 September 2013

How to use Google +

Many of us have spent time focussing on blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a means of connecting with others and promoting our work, although recent years have seen an explosion in social media possibilities. We can now promote work through Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, and countless others besides. Despite its initial popularity, I think Google+ hasn't caught on quite the way it should have done because people aren't entirely sure how to use it. This post is intended as a quick introduction to its main features, and how you can use them to promote your work, and connect with others.

Circles are a brilliant addition to social media, allowing you to filter your news feed according to specific groups of friends, and you can post to certain circles to make sure that you have a modicum of control over who sees what. For example, you might have circles for fellow crafters/writers, colleagues, family and other friends. Your colleagues might not be interested in whatever you've been making or writing lately, in the same way your family might not be interested in work-related posts. When adding friends, simply add them to the right circle (people can be in more than one circle) and choose that circle when posting. If you're not bothered who sees what, you can just select 'Public' or 'Your Circles' - the former makes the content public, the latter means only those people you've added to any circles can see it.

Imagine a version of Skype that actually works, and lets you connect via video chat to several people at once, and that's what the hangouts function is all about. Hangouts aren't 'closed' so anyone involved can invite someone else, so you can end up chatting to people you didn't know beforehand.

When you create a post, you get the opportunity to add a lovely focal image at the top of the post, which is a wonderful way to showcase photos of your work, or photos related to the content of your post. It's much more visual than Facebook, with its piddly thumbnails. I post photos of the things I've made into a specific album, and look how big and lovely the images are when they show up in my newsfeed. As for photos, if you've got an Android phone, you can opt to have photos instantly upload to Google +, and it's then up to you to choose which to actually post publicly. It's a nice feature if you're worried you might lose your phone - and therefore your photos.  If you host your blog on Blogger, you can also integrate your account with Google + for cross-posting.

There is also an option to email the members of your circle to let them know you've posted something on Google +. Personally, I find this massively intrusive - I'll check Google + when it suits me, in the same way I keep track of blogs in Feedly so I don't need an email to tell me when a new post has gone up. Use this feature with caution because you don't want to be accused of spam, particularly if the post you're emailing about is a sales pitch.

There's a social media rule of 80/20 - 80% of posts should be about things besides yourself, and 20% are you and your product. Give people a reason to engage with you. I post a lot of links to web posts I find interesting, with a personal recommendation as to why I find them interesting. I only post links to my own writing once a week for my free flash stories on my blog, and even then, I'm not selling.

The profiles on Google + are rather extensive - I've taken advantage of the 'skills' feature in the 'Work' box to add all the things I do in my spare time as I see them as skills, not just hobbies. I could fill in the employment box but I can't see the point at the moment as I'm using Google + for my writing and handmade crafts work, not my actual day job, but if I wanted to connect with my colleagues, then it would be easy enough to add my current and former jobs.

Make sure you upload a good profile photo as this will appear in Google search results if people search for things you've posted about. The benefit? People are more likely to click on a link if it looks like a real person wrote the post.

You also get the option to put a cover image on your profile, and it's a lot bigger than the one Facebook lets you have. Your maximum size is 2120 x 1192 pixels so you've got plenty of pixels to make your image look clear as a bell. Make sure your image scales properly, and bear in mind where your profile photo will appear so you don't cover up a vital part of your cover image. As well as a profile, you can also set up a page as well, particularly if you have a blog you want to promote.

You can also add links to your presence elsewhere, such as Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram etc., making it easier for your new Google + contacts to find you elsewhere too.

Communities are a lot like Facebook groups or Twitter #hashtag communities, but again, posts have images attached, so it looks a bit nicer than the page full of text that can comprise a Facebook group page. You can find other people with your interests and interact with them. I'm only a member of six communities currently, and I don't interact nearly as much as I should, but it's a good set up and a good idea so I'm going to focus on engaging with other people as much as I can.

Add a +1 button to your posts so people can show they approve - it's a little like the 'like' button on Facebook. If you have a powerful presence with a lot of people that you engage with, it'll boost your search rankings on Google. Also, if you link your website to your Google+ profile, your photo will appear whenever people search for topics you've discussed on your blog.

It does sound like a lot of work, and building a profile and a friend base can seem like a lot of hard work, but regular engagement on Google + will help your Google ranking for websites and pages. You can categorize your friends, and you won't have to pay to promote your posts. Google + has more of a visual bias than Facebook, meaning all of your lovely images of your crafty work won't go unnoticed!

Come and find me on Google + here, or on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter!

Friday, 20 September 2013

#FridayFlash - Caged

Image by johnnyberg. Edits by me.
Roll up, roll up, we got the best o' the worst in 'ere! Roll up!

Yes, you sir, and you madam, come this way 'n see the weirdest 'n wonderfullest o' God's creations. We got the Bearded Lady, the most beautiful woman in Christendom, with a beard fit for the Lord 'imself! Step right up, see 'er for yourself. Step closer, she don't bite. That's right, a little bit closer, ain't she beautiful?

Now, you madam, how's about you come this way? We got the Dog-Faced Boy down 'ere. Ain't he cute? Don't pet 'im or he will bite! Don't see if he don't! We found 'im in darkest Peru, and gave 'im an 'ome. I'm all heart, really, though I don't like to brag. Why don't you stop and give 'im a treat?

Ah, the esteemed gentleman in the top 'at. You want to see the Siamese Sisters, don't you? Joined at the 'ip, they are. Right pair of troublemakers. But aren't they sweet? That's Cecila and Emmeline, left to right. Aw, I knew you'd like 'em. That's right, go ahead, go on in. They'll give you a right royal welcome, oh yes they will.

And you, my dear. Bet you're wonderin' what we got down 'ere at the end, ain't yer? We got somethin' very special indeed lined up for you. Go on, 'ead on down there, I'm right behind yer. Does that birthmark o' yours hurt at all? I ain't seen one like that in years. Covers 'alf yer face, it does. Pity, you're such a pretty young thing. Oh, yer used to people starin'? Well that's 'andy to know. Yeah, this 'ere is our last cage. Yeah, it's empty.

It's for you.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

#GuestPost - Grammar for Superheroes

Superheroes are big business at the moment, though they've never quite made the leap from comics to novels. Hopefully Tony Noland's new offering, Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel, will make all the difference. I was lucky enough to beta read it for Tony and I can honestly say it's an awesome read. So it's my pleasure today to let Tony have a chat about the book!

Q. Welcome, Tony! Introduce your book for everyone.

The book is "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel". It's about the Grammarian, a superhero who uses grammar- and punctuation based powers. For example, he can catch a thrown hand grenade by projecting a full stop, slice through steel bars with a cutting remark, or contain an explosion with nested parentheses. He's smart, fast and strong, but his pursuit of the nefarious Professor Verbosity is running into trouble. Verbosity is up to something big, and the Grammarian is going to thwart him... assuming he can hire a decent sidekick. He not only has to deal with interference from the Avant Guardian, a second-rate hero who wants to be taken seriously, he also has to deal with his own attraction to a beautiful college professor with a thing for superhero technology.

Q. Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?

There's an intersection of people who like superheroes with people who like clever wordplay and word nerd humor. This book is squarely targeted at them. If they like their superheroes to be realistic, with real world concerns about friends, jobs, and romance, so much the better. It's a fast-paced adventure story that puts a lot of human in the superhuman.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

I worked with Sabrina Zbasnik for this cover. There were several concepts that we reviewed before settling on this one. I knew from the first that the cover had to tell the reader two things: 1) superhero, 2) grammar. I love this artwork. The chest reveal is wonderfully iconic, so much so that the big G becomes a wink and a nod to the entire superhero genre. The overlay of the hero above the city skyline packs a lot of visual information, especially as the cityscape is covered in words. The alliterative title is another nod to the adventure genre, being clear as to what kind of book this is, even as it fleshes out the image, introducing both the villain (Professor Verbosity) and the hero (the Grammarian).

Q. Who is your favourite character? Why?

My favorite character is Alex Graham, the man behind the Grammarian. He's found his niche among all the heroes of Lexicon City and has the respect of his colleagues and the city's criminal element. Even as he's overworked by Professor Verbosity's latest plot, he still wants to leave room in his life for romance. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but some of my favorite scenes to write were the interactions between Alex and Kate Hunter, the object of his affections. They both have secrets, so the process of building up mutual trust is delicate. I think I liked writing those parts of the book even more than the explosive fight scenes between the Grammarian and his enemies.

Q. Give us an interesting fun fact about Verbosity's Vengeance.

It was based on a #FridayFlash story of 1000 words, which I used as the seed idea for a 52,000 word NaNoWriMo novel. This final book is 107,000 words, about average for science fiction. I'd hold this book up as an example to anyone with any lingering doubts about NaNoWriMo as a valid writing process.

Q. How about the writer behind the book? Tell us something about yourself.

I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. I'm middle-aged, married with four kids and a dog. No superpowers, unfortunately, unless you count double-jointed thumbs and the ability to wiggle my ears independently of each other. I like blue cheese, anchovy pizza, and hoppy beers.

Q. What can we expect from you in the future?

I'm working on a new novel, but I'd prefer not to say what it's about. It's also science fiction.

Q. And now, before you go, how about a snippet from your book?

A gruesome sentence flew toward the Grammarian, blasted from the barrel of Professor Verbosity’s latest weapon, the Concept Cannon. Festooned with a dozen hook-like prepositional phrases, the complex construct spun widely to ensnare the superhero. Anticipating the attack, twin thunderclaps exploded from the Grammarian’s gauntlets as he fired a powerful pulse of parentheses from one hand and a simultaneous shower of semicolons from the other.

The punctuations found their marks, creating nodal points that shattered the sentence into a cloud of fragments. With an electric shriek of memetic energy, the construct collapsed like an accordion. Discrete, unconnected phrases bent and flexed harmlessly around the Grammarian.

“Give up, Professor Verbosity,” he said. “You should know by now that sheer weight of words is no match for the power of punctuation!”

He shifted into a fighting stance and faced his opponent, who had backed to the far side of the room. Professor Verbosity lifted the Concept Cannon and pulled a lever. The barrel swiveled into an angular projection. Blue sparks shone along the length of the weapon as electronic circuits reconfigured themselves.

“Is that so, hero? Let’s see how well you can withstand my Redundancy Ray!”

“You need a new bag of tricks, Verbosity. I’ve already seen that a dozen times. Now, give up!”

The supervillain smiled in response.

“You always try to bluff your way out of difficulty, don’t you, Grammarian? I can’t say I don’t admire the attempt to win with words instead of brute force, but in this case, I’ll use both.” The weapon in his hand was now shaking with barely contained power, long plasma streamers flowing from end to end. “True, my Redundancy Ray is an old favorite, but I haven’t shown it to you since I added the Rephraser Refractor!”

Blue lightning exploded from the weapon. In less than a second, a million microfilaments of memetic concept energy wrapped themselves around the Grammarian. Knocked to the ground by the force of the impact, he had no chance to react before the energy coalesced into a single, coherent sentence. Within the densely convoluted word-construct, the Grammarian was immobilized.

It’s about time he pulled out a real weapon, the hero thought. If I’d had to duck and dodge much longer, he surely would have begun to realize that I was holding back.

Professor Verbosity laughed in triumph, delighted to see his foe struggling in the grip of the memetic energy his weapon was projecting. The Grammarian struggled even more vigorously and threw in a growl of frustration to enhance the effect. For a moment, he thought he might have overplayed the acting, but the hero could see that Verbosity was convinced of his triumph.

Supervillains are suckers for cliché, the Grammarian thought, every one of them.

“You’ll never win, Professor Verbosity!” He spit his archenemy’s name with obvious contempt. Pinned to the floor under the weight and complexity of shimmering word-memes, he fought for breath as his bonds grew ever tighter. Now, his gasping was only partly exaggerated for effect. Although allowing himself to be captured was part of the Grammarian’s plan to trick Verbosity into revealing his latest plot, Lexicon City’s smartest hero feared that that he’d underestimated his foe.

Professor Verbosity laughed. “Ah, my dear Grammarian,” he replied, “I have already won, insofar as the first and most crucial step in winning is to render you utterly and completely helpless. These sentences are not only long and complex enough to entangle you completely while you try to parse out subject and object amid the subtending and supporting prepositional and participial phrases, they are also perfectly correct grammatically, which renders you powerless to break free!”

Under the triumphant gaze of his nemesis, the Grammarian was indeed struggling, completely snared in the thick ropes of words. He tried to find some flaw, some grammatical mistake that he could exploit. With all his super-powered lexicographical might, he scanned and rescanned the sentence, though it was blindingly painful to do so. Being captured was part of the plan; being rendered unconscious was not. He wanted some avenue of recourse if he needed to go to one of his backup plans.

Unfortunately, Verbosity had gone to great lengths this time, figuratively and verbally. If only there were an inconsistent verb tense, a dangling or misplaced modifier, even an intransitive verb used transitively, but there were no grammatical mistakes to latch onto. The Grammarian needed to get to the bottom of his foe’s plot and time was running out more quickly than anticipated.



"Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel" is on sale at Amazon for $2.99.

Tony Noland is a writer and editor in the suburbs of Philadelphia. His blog is at http://www.tonynoland.com, and you can find him on Twitter as @TonyNoland, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TonyNolandAuthorPage.