Sunday, January 06, 2008

Will Smith and the Problem of Evil

Lord, a new year and what happened to the old one? One resolution for this year, however, is to keep up to date with this blog more often - well, it's not going to be difficult considering my last entry was in August, is it? Oh, and to get something in print. At last. Somehow.

Anyway, the real reason for this entry was a somewhat depressing news article that I spied online last week and I thought I'd share with you. Not depressing for the content, more for the context. Well, see what you think.

It was an online news site. Can't remember which to be honest but it was a reputable one. The headline was 'Will Smith says Hitler was good'.

Now, as attention-grabbing headlines go, it worked and I dutifully clicked on the page. The article was less sensational. In a nutshell, Will Smith apparently said that he didn't believe that people were deliberately evil. He said that he didn't believe that even Hitler woke up in the morning and considered how evil he could be that day - he was doing good for his country as he saw it, no matter how twisted that was or how many suffered. In his own mind, according to Smith, he was not being evil.

Now I have a certain sympathy for this point of view. The best villains don't realise that that is what they are. Their motivations are not 'kill, maim, conquer' but 'extend, extol, improve'. A villain who you can sympathise with, who you can - at least in some off-kilter parallel world - understand the actions of, can be the scariest thing there is, because in him is a bit of you and that is downright terrifying.

But that is not the reason for this post. No, put aside philosophical ruminations and consider this instead: the article depressed me because, after giving us Will Smith's justifications, it then went on to explain who Hitler was.

Because there are people out there who don't know. And that is scary and depressing and actually very sad.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Love Story

Well, I blather on about writing (occasionally - it's amazing how infrequently I update this blog), so here's a sample of what I'm doing. It's a short story, very different from my usual stuff and probably un-sellable (I can't think of a market for it), but I am quite proud of bits of it. If anyone is out there, let me know what you think - Brickbats accepted alongside bouquets!

(Sorry about the formatting - haven't figured out how to get it right yet...)

Love Story

The two boys stood in the doorway.
“So?” the tallest one asked.
The other one pulled his coat around himself and scowled. “I’m thinking, alright?”
“Easy enough question, I would have thought. You’re just stalling.”
The boy still didn’t answer. For a moment they stood there, breath visible in the early evening air.
The taller boy sighed in an exaggerated way, but it didn’t prompt a reply. He knew that Pete was cold, but there was nothing he could do about that. It could end up being a long boring night – in some ways, he wished it would be – and talking was the best way to pass it.
“C’mon,” he prompted.
“It’s not that easy,” Pete snapped. “You’ve got all the other stuff to think about. Like one of them has a whole army backing him up, but the other is, like, super.”
“So who’d win in a fight, then,” Kev repeated. “Darth Vader or Superman?”
Pete wasn’t that much smaller than his interrogator, but he had the makings of being a short and stocky adult whereas Kev was always going to be tall and gangly. And even though Kev was two years older than him – well, one year seven months, as Pete often pointed out if the other boy tried to show off because of his age – even then Pete thought that he was the smarter one of the two. He might only be eleven but he thought things through, tried to way up all the odds, hence his not wanting to be rushed on this important question.
“I think it’d be Darth Vader,” Pete finally said. “’Cos he’s got like warships and them stalky things from Return Of The Jedi.”
“ATAT Walkers?”
“Yeah, them, and they could stomp Superman into the ground.”
Kev shook his head. “Don’t be bloody stupid,” he said. “Superman could lift one of those like it was a puppy. Darth Vader’d be dead in a minute.”
“Nah,” Pete countered, “Vader’s clever - he’d use kryptonite on him. I bet he’d have one of those things just made out of kryptonite, just to stomp Superman.”
Kev thought for a moment. “Does Darth Vader even know kryptonite exists?” he asked, but before Pete could answer, a shadow fell across the two of them.
“Excuse me, lads,” said a deep voice.
The boys looked up at the man who wanted to come past them. As they parted, one to either side of the doorway, Pete caught his eye.
“Business?” he said.
The man paused for a moment and looked at them. His face was unreadable and both boys were ready to run if necessary.
But not this time.
Without saying another word, the man put one hand on Kev’s shoulder and the two of them went into the toilets together.

“Slow night,” said Pete, and Kev nodded.
They were back in their squat, having finally decided that there were no more punters out that night.
“’S the weather,” the older boy agreed. “It’s hardly warm enough in the cottage, let alone out. Who wants a cold hand grabbing your cock, anyway?”
“That last guy wanted me to run my hands under the hot taps before I pulled him off,” said Pete. “Not that there was much hot water in ‘em. Only just warmed me up as it was.”
The two of them were silent for a moment.
The squat that the two boys had found was in an old council house scheduled for demolition. The doors were blocked with sheets of wood and the windows were covered over too, but someone as small as Pete could find his way inside and open up for his friend. They had been there for two weeks, which was a long time. Every night they returned to it expecting someone else to be there, to have to leave and find another squat. There would be no arguing, no claims to prior ownership – both the boys had received harsh treatment from other homeless before.
For the moment, the boys were holed up in the dining room of the house. It was empty of all furniture, but – being in the middle of the house – it allowed them an escape route through either the front or the back should there be trouble. Plus it was probably the best insulated room, if they closed all the doors leading to it.
“I could just go a burger right now,” Pete said.
Kev looked up. “Well, we’ve got some money now. Should’ve said before we got home.”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t wanna go out again either. Just saying.”
Kev nodded and they were quiet again.
“You called it Home,” Pete said after a few minutes.
The other boy thought for a moment. “Yeah, suppose I did. So?”
“Just don’t remember you calling anywhere else that before. ‘S funny.”
“You think it is Home?” Kev said, knowing that his friend was lost in thought about the subject.
“Nah,” Pete said. “Home is somewhere after all this. Somewhere with a wife and kids.”
“Remember Frank?” Kev asked. Pete nodded – Frank had been the wino that Kev had been sharing a squat with when the two boys had met. He’d been good as a room mate as long as he was drunk; sober he was a mean bastard who wasn’t beyond beating the shit out of Kev. Together, the two boys had kept him supplied with drink until they had realised that they could probably get on better on their own.
“Frank used to say that Home was licking his wife’s cunt.”
Pete looked at his friend for a minute, not sure what to say. In the end, he managed, “I didn’t know he was married.”
“Yeah, before us. Before the drink. Long time ago.”
“Sort of know what he means, though,” Pete said.
There was more silence between the boys. Outside, the wind howled around the house.
“This Home,” Kev said, “the one after all this, am I there?”
“Sort of,” Pete replied. “You’re not there there, ‘cos that’s just me and the wife and the kids. But you’re probably living next door.”
“With my own wife?”
Pete nodded. “Of course.”
Kev lay back on the dusty floor and stared at the cracked ceiling. “That’d be good,” he said.
“Time to get some sleep, I think” said Pete. He got up and walked across the room to where an old blanket had been thrown. He lifted it and shook it, dust and the smell of mildew rising from the material. “It’ll do another night, I think.”
There was no reply from Kev so he took it his decision was right.
Pete walked back over to his friend and threw the blanket over him. Then he lay down next to him on the floor and pulled the blanket over both of them. The two boys spooned together naturally for warmth.
Kev felt his friend hold onto him and listened to the wind outside. Just as he was falling asleep though, Pete said his name. Just a whisper in his ear, but the older boy replied.
“Kev,” Pete said. “Do you think that when we get older, when we’re married and all that…”
“D’you think we’ll be punters too?”
Kev thought about it for a moment and then replied to his friend.
“Probably,” he said. “Probably.”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


An interesting item popped up on the UK Sf Book News site the other day. Amongst the announcement that John Jarrold has signed Mark Morris to his roster of authors was the statement: "particularly since there is now a renaissance in the supernatural genre, as was confirmed to me this week by publishers from various countries at the London Book Fair."

Now that is good to know! Especially as, around 18 months ago now, I submitted the first three chapters of a work to Mr Jarrold as part of his Scriptural Analysis scheme (it was a bit expensive but worth it), and he cautioned me on how difficult it was to place horror in the current market (alongside the need for an editor or agent sympathetic to the genre) - but it seems that may be changing now.

If we are in for a renaissance of horror, I will be doubly happy - hopefully finding a market for some work and enjoying some new reading. Fingers crossed. But I can't help thinking as well that, if Publishers have decided upon this now, how long will it take them to change their minds back again?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Well, I'm probably the latest person in the world to post for this event - by the looks of things, most people were posting whenever they got a spare moment in the bar - but hey, so what?

Easter - traditionally a time of chocolate eggs, fluffy bunnies and (at least in our household) Science Fiction Conventions. This year's Con - Contemplation- was in the gorgeous town of Chester (a late arrival in the Con stakes after the original venue in Liverpool fell through). I have been to Chester before - as a Northerner, it was one of those places that I occasionally got taken on holiday to, moving out into town from a wet campsite somewhere - but I didn't honestly remember a lot about it. Vague memories of black-and-white bulidings, two storeys of shopping, a theatre called the Gateway.

All of which were there - with the exception of the Gateway which has (very sadly) been closed down with only the shell remaining, to be bulldozed in the near future. My other half is very into Cons, but I just like to go along and drop in to the odd thing whilst spending most of my time exploring whatever town we happen to be in (hence my dislike for Hinckley as a venue - there is nowhere to explore). Anyway, Chester turned out to be the most marvellous place to wander round - history at every turn, a virtually complete City Wall to wander round, a canal and a river, and good good shops. And the weather was fantastic.

Add in the fact that, in a packed hotel, I was the only person there who even remotely wanted to use the gym or the pool and you had a darn good time indeed (Sci Fi fans, and I know they won't mind this observation, tend to be on the large side. One acquaintance even saw me coming out of the gym and looked at me as if I was a traitor to the cause).

So what did I do at the Con? Well, a fair amount of writing for a start (yippee!), but also a fair amount of book buying. I used the Con Dealers' Room as a source of hard-to-get small press books and to this end spent some time chatting to the guy from Elastic Press (and buying, of course), and picking up various PS novellas, small press magazines like Far Thing, and the odd American import. Not only interesting reading, but hopefully potential markets to boot.

There was a panel discussion on writing too, which I naturally went along to. Two surprising things here: 1) there were a lot fewer people at the talk than is usual for such a topic, and 2) it wasn't just the usual 'make sure you follow the submission ms guidelines carefully' talk that you normally get. With representatives of Scheherezade, Interzone, Solaris books and Gollancz on the panel, it was a lively and interesting chat about the state of the industry at the moment. Even fellow con-goer and pro-writer Paul Cornell piped up with a question and seemed to find new things in it.

But, like all good things, the Con came to an end and we left our lovely hotel to return home. I have to say, I'd go back to Chester again, very happily. Until then, I have next year's Easter Con to look forward to: Orbital, in London, and featuring the blessed Neil Gaiman as Guest Of Honour...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How Did This Happen?

Two months.

Two months since I last posted!

When I set this blog up, I thought I'd be one of those guys who posts stuff every other day. Every week, at least. I've got lots of things to say, I reasoned - get them out on virtual paper and let the world ignore them if it wants.

And then along came real life.

Work, relationships, illness - all that stuff. And two months later, no posts.

Not much writing done either. One short story (6000 words) that took about 4 weeks to finish. Another sent off to Apex Digest of Science Fiction and Horror. Really, it's not good enough.

And in that time, I've missed out on complaining about some new rail announcements ('Hustle alarms' anyone?), on letting the world know what my most hated advert is (I'll give you a clue - it involves Pentapeptides), and on complaining about the creation of non-words in cinema advertising (United 93 - an absolutely excellent movie - is said to contain 'scenes of terrorisation').

See what you missed??

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Writer As Travel Guide

Like most people who write, I live in two places.

That is, I live here, in the real world, and there, in my imaginary world. I know - sounds pretentious - but there is a truth in it. Within my imaginary world, there are towns and cities and rooms and alleys and everything that you get in the real world. And there are also places that you couldn't find in the real world.

Darker places, usually; at least for me. A club where an angel presides over the most debauched acts. A farm whose livestock is far from usual and far more dangerous. A hotel room with an unseen guest who has a taste for innocence.

Part of this world even has a name. I find that I am writing a series of Tales about a town called Belmouth (friends have spotted the aural connection to Hellmouth, but it never occurred to me when I named the place and, despite what happens there, they're wrong). Belmouth is just an ordinary run-down seaside town in England, not dissimilar to Weymouth on the Dorset coast, a place I know and love. Except that Weymouth never (to my knowledge) hosted a Storytelling Festival where the stories came true. Nor has it played host to a theatre company who could be the prototypes, the origin, of vampire stories. And I doubt if Weymouth ever attracted the attention of creatures older than history.

I don't know why I like Belmouth so much, but I'm slowly building up a whole mythology based around it - through novellas, short stories and at least one novel. I can visit other places from time to time, but I'm often drawn back there. Recently, I was trying to make a story idea work and it just wouldn't form, wouldn't play ball, until I realised that it took place in Belmouth. Suddenly, everything fell into place.

Not that anyone other than friends have seen Belmouth yet. It's one of those hidden gems of the English countryside that (I'm hoping) will one day win favour with visitors. But in the meantime, I'll keep going back and discovering new corners to explore.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Old Year's Resolutions

One of the avowed purposes of this blog was to keep a record of how things were going with the writing lark, and it occurs to me that I have been rather lax in following this up. So...

(Cautionary note: The day job has gone ballistic at the moment - the season of advent madness being one of our busiest times - so I'm writing this in a state of almost-complete knackeredness. One personality quirk that I have discovered over the years is that exhaustion breeds verbosity in me, or at least pomposity and the ability to sound as if I have swallowed a thesaurus. So apologies for the somewhat tortured style that probably follows).

At the moment, I have only got one short story 'out there' - sitting, I hope happily, with Greyfriars Press after their call for stories for a film-themed anthology. I quite like the piece and, if Greyfriars don't want it, I think I'll try to do something else with it. Otherwise, I have been going back through various older stories with a newly critical eye, sorting out those that I want to try sending out in the New Year and deciding which ones could do with that extra polish (or, in one case, a complete re-write).

I've also been re-working little bits of a short novel (73,000 words) called Otherkin with an eye to sending this out to a few areas in the New Year. This modern-suburban-werewolf-murder-mystery, as I like to think of it, has been fiddled with and polished for so long now I'm starting to lose track of it. The latest ammendments are as a result of sending it out to John Jarrold's scriptural editing service a few months back - the feedback was extremely useful and I have spent quite a bit of time and effort working on the book. But to be honest, I have to leave it alone now. I'm itching to start the sequel to it - Alpha, a modern-urban-werewolf-western (sorta) - and I think that is where I need to concentrate my energies now.

Other than that, I have submitted the opening few chapters of Once: A Belmouth Tale (the famed boomerang book mentioned in the first posting) to Snowbooks and we'll see if anything comes of that.

I'm painfully aware that I need to get more done, but I also recognise that there are only 24 hours in the day and yesterday, for example, I was working for 16 of them. Hey ho. There's always next year...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I'm Never Going To Belgium

I watched a film last night. You know when you have one of those days when you're walking home and you pass Blockbusters and you think, 'Oh, sod it, there's nothing on the telly', so you go in and take pot luck? Well, that was me last night - and the film I chose: The Ordeal.

I hadn't really heard much about the film, but I have a fondness for left-of- centre and/or foreign cinema and this seemed to be both. And it was. In spades.

If you haven't seen it and you want a totally weird night in, try it. The plot is basically a Backwoods horror story a la 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre', but with a few twists and set in Belgium. For instance, the heroine in peril is not a woman (but still conforms to the heroine stereotype - you'll have to see it), and the lead character is totally unsympathetic whereas the 'monster' of the piece looks like your favourite uncle and is motivated by such intense loneliness it has driven him mad. In fact, when he is removed from the plot near the film's end, his successor - and arguably a more monstrous man - looks like Santa Claus. Add in a deliciously surreal touch (look out for the woodland children and the pig-used-as-hunting-dog) and you have a totally original film.

And I haven't even mentioned the religious subtext.

I haven't enjoyed being so upset by a film since I saw Irreversible, but this manages it. It is a horror film, but you actually forget that for long periods, and when the horror does come it's from a total different area than you were expecting. It is cinema that provokes a reaction, and as such is worth watching anyway. But it's also fun in a somewhat twisted way.

And watch out for the 'dance' sequence in the bar which somehow manages to be very funny and genuinely disturbing at the same time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

And So To London...

... For the BFS Open Night at Ye Olde Cock in Fleet Street.

I'm not a member of the British Fantasy Society, but I am an avid scourer of their website and membership has been crossing my mind recently. The Open Nights seemed to be an easy way of testing the waters - and besides, Chris Teague of Pendragon was to be launching his new anthology, Choices, there. If nothing else, I could meet the man who finally said yes to my writing!

Ye Olde Cock turned out to be easy to find and very crowded. The BFS meeting was upstairs, but downstairs was packed with men in expensive suits smoking and drinking (well, it was opposite the Law Courts). The smoking side didn't go down too well with me, but hey, come April, that won't be a problem anymore. Once the BFS crowd had been given entry, everyone colonised some tables and the wait for the bar to open began.

A couple of observations. Firstly, I had expected to see a few faces there that I knew. I've been to quite a few SF conventions - EasterCons, WorldCons, even the odd UniCon - and, although I'm not particularly known there, I know faces. The surprising thing here is that there were none of the ones I knew at the BFS. I had expected some cross-over, but no - Sf and F, ne'er the twain shall meet. (There was one face there that I recognised, Stephen Jones, Editor, author, and God Of Horror Fiction in the UK - but with no track record as yet, I had no reason to introduce myself to him).

Another thing was that I had expected something a little more, well, structured. As it was, one guy stood up after a few minutes, announced that Chris Teague was there to launch his book, that there was another book on the Hellraiser films also being launched, and that there was no raffle, and then he sat down again. That was it. At the SF equivalent to this, at The Tun public house, there is a speaker and an order of events. Here, laissez faire.

It soon became clear as well that the Christmas Open Night was probably not the best to have started with. There were a lot of people there - but they all knew each other and were greeting one another as long lost friends. It was not the atmosphere to just push into. A husband and wife sat at my table, for instance, but it took ten minutes of being studiously ignored before I felt that I could start up a conversation. Once it did get going, the couple were very nice - but it was evidently politeness rather than interest that motivated the chat.

Not that it was all like that. I did meet Chris Teague - a very nice guy who sold me a copy of Choices (not a difficult sale!), signed it and was very complimentary to me. He even introduced me to someone from Elastic Press. The other thing of interest was that, unlike SF meetings, this one was less fannish and more professional - by which I mean that there seemed to be more networking with potential writers and publishers than general discussion. And it was also much more biased towards Horror than I had expected. I had somehow thought that the British Fantasy Society might have more than a passing interest in elves, mages and quests - but here the main buzz that I got was for dark fantasy, horror and slipstream works.

Which is both interesting and heartening.

I think I shall return to the BFS Open Night in the future - but probably a little later in the year when the pack has thinned out and I might have something to talk about. All in all, an interesting night.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

First rant

The sub-heading of this blog promises the odd misanthropic rant, so for veracity's sake, here goes...

I travel a lot by train and of late Station Announcements have really started to get on my wick. The first problem is that they are nearly all electronic these days. Now, yes, voice software has improved a lot, but it's still very obviously a standard message that goes out with the odd word dropped in to make it specific to your problem. The slight shifts in tone or drops in volume over certain words (places, times) shows you this.

All of which is fine. Except... well, you know that it's a fake voice, you know that it's a recording, so why, when an apology is called for does it say "I"? There is patently no "I" to refer to (unless B R Station Announcement technology has become self-aware). What's wrong with "We", thereby making it a corporate apology? To be honest, whenever I hear one of those messages apologising for a late running train, I feel as if British Rail (or whoever) is laughing at us. It's such an insincere message.

Not that it stops there. Occasionally, you do get a real person speaking, most frequently these days with a new announcement that declares 'Please would passengers use the full length of the platform when boarding and alighting'. Now this is obviously a new scripted announcement - every staion in this area uses it - but nobody has stopped to think that it makes no sense at all!

The first half is okay - despite the fact that it does make you sound like Mr Fantastic, it is possible to use the full length of the platform when boarding a train (or at least, for passengers to spread themselves out a bit rather than all clump up at the bottom of the platform steps, which is I think what they mean), but once you are on the train, you are effectively stuck in one place. To use the full length of the platform to alight from the train would require dashing from carriage to carriage just before you got off. So why keep it in the announcement? Do they really want us all to run up and down the train merrily - or does B R just have a lousy script writer?

End of first rant (prepare to get used to them!) ;-)

On my way

Well, today I discovered what will become a major component of my writing life - a decent Coffee Shop!

I'm not a great coffee drinker but I have to say there is something really nice about sitting in a coffee shop, cup by my side, laptop open, writing away. I think it's because there are no real distractions - ok, I've got my mobile but no one ever rings me, and the coffee shops I use are not wi-fi, so I don't have the fascination of t'internet. It's just me and the (electronic) blank piece of paper.

Until about a year ago, we had the best Coffee shop in the world in town (Well, there might be another contender for that title in Edinburgh, but it's a close run thing). There were comfy settees, friendly staff, good food and plentiful drinks. And it was an independent too, which was an added bonus. But they shut down, unfortunately (taking a large chunk of my social life with it!) and until now there hasn't been a decent replacement.

The new shop is only a Costa, but it's got a nice feel to it, the chairs are comfortable and laptop friendly, and the coffee's not bad. So now my days off will be spent tapping away on a keyboard in town, as I did today. And that can't be bad!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well, I'm here...

It's a bit of a conundrum, figuring out what to put in your first post...

The reason for doing this: I have wanted to be a professional writer for ages, for probably as long as I can remember. At school, Creative Writing (as it was known in those far-away times) was always my favourite subject, and the one I got the best marks in. Since I left school, I've continued writing - sporadically, admittedly - and have built up a back catalogue of short stories, novellas and even a full-blown novel, all of which I have done nothing with.

Ok, I tell a lie. All of which no one else has wanted to do anything with.

I've sent off short stories to all the usual suspects (I tend to write Dark Fantasy / horror, so there aren't too many outlets anyway) and each has come back with a standard rejection. Undaunted, I have continued to write and to try to find outlets for it. I came very close once when a well-known small press kept one of my novellas for a whole year while they ummed and ahhed over whether to publish it. In the end, however, it was decided that the theme 'wasn't quite for us' and back it came (The same piece was praised by a Literary Agent but also dropped because of the 'non-existent market' for novellas - it's becoming my boomerang book).

All that changed, though, on 13th October this year when a novellette of mine - The Red House - was actually accepted, by Pendragon Press for one of their future Triquorum anthologies (I'll add links in to their various pages as soon as I figure out how). So it's happened: I will see print. And now I want more.

So, this blog is here to do two things - to chronicle my attempts to get published further (and to follow the Pendragon trail) and to push me into actually doing something when the twin distractions of work and home life conspire to stop me. I've no doubt that it will metamorphose into something totally different as time goes by but in the meantime I start with high hopes and good intentions.

Come follow me, dear reader, if you dare...