Dark Fiction Magazine: 2012 and Beyond


After a wee winter holiday, Dark Fiction Magazine is back with us, bristling with awesome science-fiction stories. Launch your ears into the future and go have a listen (for free) here.


The reason that I’m posting about it on my blog (other than the fact it’s just great, obviously) is that this is the first episode where my partner Marty and I have steering the Ominous Ghost Ship that is Dark Fiction Magazine.


We’ve been involved in the past, with both writing and narration, so when Sharon Ring and Del Lakin-Smith, the awesome chaps that founded the place, decided to take more of a backseat in order to pursue their own projects, Marty and I sort of shuffled forward to take the helm. Marty likes twiddling about with audio stuff (I’m fairly sure that’s the correct technical term) and I like reading through lots and lots and lots of stories (no, honestly, I do) so it seemed like the perfect fit.


Getting our first episode out has been an interesting process, and a huge learning experience. There were times, when self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline whistled merrily past my ears, that I wondered, “What on earth are we doing? Do I not have enough stories to wrangle as it is? I think my head might fall off.” But in the end, seeing the episode go live and knowing those four science-fiction stories will be amusing/alarming/entertaining earholes all over the interwebs was a lovely feeling, and I look forward to doing it again soon. So big thanks to: Marty, who not only handled the audio side of things but also did all manner of technical web stuff I didn’t understand, to our fabulous narrators and subs reading teams, who did an ace job as ever, and to Del and Sharon for letting us play with their toys.


Speed vs. Quality, Or Writing Around Your Inner Editor

I’m thinking a lot about quality versus speed currently, especially as November lurks around the corner, ready to clobber us with cheap Halloween candy and miserable weather. November means NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure you know, and one of the chief lessons it has taught me over the years is to get the first draft out as quickly as possible and worry about making it pretty later. I’ve done Nano five times now, and succeeded each time (twice this year already, weirdly) so you’d think I’d have this lesson burnt into my brain tissue by now.


However, I’m working my way through the Copper Promise* at the moment, trundling along, reasonably happy, and suddenly my inner editor has started to get lairy. You want to go back, it insists, go back to the chapter before last and just fix that one bit where you forgot someone’s name. And go back to the part before that where one of the guards was a bit dopey and make him curious instead. Actually, sod it, go right back to the beginning and make it all fabulous and pretty and word-sexy, and then you can carry on to the final five chapters with peace in your heart and a smug look on your face.


I’m trying not to listen. But the Copper Promise is a novelette, about two thirds complete at this point, and it’s horribly tempting. What stops me is the certain knowledge that if I take my eyes off the ending I will lose it forever, and be lost in the world of word-sexy. I will be strong. I will finish. After all, this is only part 1 in a series…


* which may well now be The Sea-Glass Promise, or the Crosshaven Chronicles, or Tales from the Sea-Glass Road – I’m fluctuating at the moment. If you have a preference, do let me know!

In Praise of Moomins


Moomins are great, aren’t they?

I’m tired today. A number of late nights, several glasses too many of certain delicious substances and pages and pages of editing have left me rather blank and worse for wear. So with today’s post I will mainly be talking briefly about Moomins, followed by a period of sitting very quietly and trying not to fall asleep.

My first exposure to Moomins was via the really quite weird puppet/felt cut out children’s TV show in the mid-80s. I imagine I would have been around 4 or 5 years old at the time, but I was immediately attracted to the weirdness of it and the pleasing appearance of the Moomins themselves. Some years after that was the Japanese cartoon, which popped up around about the same time I was furiously borrowing anime videos off a friend at school. It was bouncy, colourful, mad, and had the sort of sugary theme tune that could make parents wince from three rooms away, so obviously I loved it. The oddness of anime was a suitable partner for the strangeness of Moomintroll I think, and I could well imagine a Moomin film produced by Miyazaki now, with Snufkin muttering philosophical musings and the Groke being mournful.

Skip a few years on, and I found a second hand copy of Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson (in the same place I found my original copy of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, funnily enough). Moomin Valley was a eerie, beautiful place where hattifatteners lurked and characters came and went with the seasons. I was very taken with the illustrations, which were unsettling and atmospheric and I spent a lot of time trying to re-create that feeling in my own illustrations.

Tripping even further on, and Moomins are still with me in one form or another. Marty bought me the collected comic strips and I was introduced to even more cheerful weirdness- I highly recommend seeking them out; the artwork is beautiful and many of the stories darker than you might expect. I have moomin badges on my jacket, a Snorkmaiden mouse mat, a lunch box with Snufkin on the front… In the end I think an appreciation for Moomins, with their pleasing shapes, amusing hats and admirably tolerant attitudes, is something that stays with you for life.

“I like stars more than anything else.I watch them as I fall asleep and wonder who lives on them and how to get there. The night sky looks so friendly with all those little twinkling eyes.”  – Snufkin

The Tasty Joy of Finishing the First Draft

So, I finished the first draft of Dead Zoo Shuffle a couple of days ago. The last few chapters took a little longer than I anticipated, although so far every single book has been the same; you think you’ve got the ending all figured out, and then it throws up a few little surprises just when you’re convinced you’re on the home stretch.

This book has been an interesting journey. It was my first attempt at crime (er, as a genre, I didn’t do any actual bank robbing) and  my first attempt at novel length first-person narrative. It was the first book I planned chapter by chapter and my first real experiment with the trappings of science-fiction. And I think the risks paid off, at least in terms of how much I enjoyed the writing. In many ways I feel like I found my voice with this story, or the beginnings of it.

There’s an awful lot of work still to be done, of course, with the editing and redrafting already looking to be a big job, and there’s plenty of stuff I know needs to be tightened, or added, or cut entirely. Unusually though I’m looking forward to it (remind me of this when I actually come to edit the thing, I’m sure I’ll be less enthusiastic then).

So now I’m putting Dead Zoo Shuffle aside for a short time while I finish polishing Ink for Thieves. I’m also starting to put together notes on a potential fantasy/steampunk novel called The Iron-Haunted Heart, a project that’s been bouncing down my mental rapids for a while now (no, I don’t know either) and fiddling about with a couple of short stories. I said in January that this would be the year for editing and submitting, didn’t I?  So as much as I might like writing books and then putting them in a drawer to forget about, I do believe it is time to embrace the red pen…

The End Is In Sight- A Small Writing Update

I’ve not done a writing update for a little while, so here’s a wee quickie.


Dead Zoo Shuffle currently stands at 98,000 words, and is reasonably close to being completed- I would say between another 5,000-10,000 words and I’ll be able to write THE END in a giant font and dance around the room. I already know that DZS will need a heavy beating with the editing stick, not to mention the addition of an entire subplot that needs to go in there somewhere, so the work is far from over. Still, I’ll be glad to have the first draft under my belt at least.


This is a strange stage. Now that I’m so close, finishing the book seems, for the first time, inevitable. At no other point in the first draft do I feel like I’m definitely going to get to the end. I spend most of the draft convinced that I will lose all energy and enthusiasm and splutter out at around the 65,000 word mark (I usually get this feeling most intensely at the 60,000 word mark, funnily enough). So this is a nice place to be. Another week, two weeks, and I’ll get there if I keep plodding on. Although, Marshall and Zootsi have been so much fun to write that I’m glad there’s going to be at least two more books in the DZS series – I couldn’t bear to part with them at the moment!


So I’m thinking I need to develop some sort of writer’s ritual for finishing the book. You know, type THE END, sit back, light a cigar. Or have a glass of wine. Or break open that special box of chocolates. Or sprint round the block banging a saucepan with a dessert spoon whilst singing Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance.


Any suggestions? And if you’re a writer, do you have a ritual?


Just a brief update to say that so far this year, I am more or less behaving myself.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but the two words I do have in mind at the moment are EDIT and SUBMIT. Every six to twelve months-ish Marty and I will have what we call a “planning session” down the pub, where we get bits of paper and make lists of what we want to have done by when, and what we need to do to get it done. It’s possibly the most informal planning session ever, with plenty of drink, doodling and amusing names for our plans, but I find it very pleasing and we stick our bits of paper up on the box room wall for all to see (us and the cat). Thanks to my aversion to a) editing and b) showing anyone my work, edit and submit were featured very highly on my list this year.

My current schedule is writing in the morning, editing in the evening. As simple as that, but, amazingly, I seem to be making some progress. Stuff that needs tidying up is getting tidier, and the Steampunk story is chuntering along slowly (Dead Zoo Shuffle is briefly on hold while I sort this thing out).

So let’s hope I can keep up my slow and steady progress, and 2011 might be the year I let another human soul read one of my books for the first time. Possibly.