Monthly Archives: June 2017

Collecting Stories

TeyaI’ve been working on my Ever Present Novel on and off for over a decade now – hence the name. It’s on hold, I suppose, until I’m confident that I’m good enough to write it.

Part of what makes it so tricky is that the fantasy world where it’s set is just so big, so expansive, that it’s difficult to get in all the necessary information, to convey exactly where it is my characters live, how it fits into the wider multiverse, and what it all means.

It’s a pretty mammoth project, as I’m sure you can imagine – and so, naturally, it’s produced a lot of side stories over the years. I started writing short stories set in the same world around about 2006, and a couple of years ago I decided I might as well try and put together a formal collection.

The collection’s been slow going, seeing as it tends to take a backseat to whatever my main project is, but I have an idea in my head of its general shape. I realised pretty early on that a short story collection is just a more effective way of showing off the breadth of this world I’ve created.

Stories so far include:

  • A story about a teenage runaway who can talk to plants who moves in with a pyrokinetic street performer and experiments with magical ‘drugs’.
  • A story about a group of young aliens living in another dimension coming of age and grappling with the consequences of their world being settled by humans.
  • A story about a teenage genius whose planet is destroyed in an interdimensional war.
  • A story about a young woman from our world (or oneSnake thing very like it) who abandons her life to live in another universe, and gets her fortune told.
  • A story about a young and very talented Wizard deciding whether or not to stay part of his conservative and isolated community.

Those are the ones I’ve written or am currently writing – I have another whole folder full of old stories that need a substantial re-working.

I don’t know if it’ll ever go anywhere, but it’s an enjoyable enough project to be getting on with while I figure out where I’m going next with novel-writing.

In the mean time, here’s one of the better, um, artistic works associated with the collection!

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My Week In Writing (25/06/17)

20170614_192709Well, the big news for this week: I finished Settlement 359! Final count: 153,000 words, ish. I may or may not write a sequel – for now, it’s a happy ending.

So, what next? For now, I’m planning to do a little work on a short story collection I’ve been picking at for a while, featuring characters etc from my everpresent novel (the one I haven’t figured out how to write yet).

I planned to work a lot more on Summer this week, but life got in the way. I’m still not over my lingering cold, and I’ve had a total of three job interviews, with a fourth one coming up on Tuesday. I’m at 2/3 on rejections, so far.

I also had a Doctor Who short story rejected by the charity anthology I sent it to, which means I can now post it only whenever I want, without having to hack it to bits to fit a wordcount. Silver linings.

Still working on my entry for Big Finish’s short story contest. I’ve written the section I wanted to use for a sample, but it’s over twice as long as the word limit.

I started reading After Me Comes The Flood by Sarah Perry, which I found really gripping for the first couple of chapters, but now it sort of feels like everything’s been resolved and it’s still going… I assume it’ll pick up again, if I keep at it.

This week’s Doctor Who was… well, I have complicated feelings. Loved the plot, loved the classic Who references and the final twist, in deep denial about the ending. I’ve no doubt they’ll reverse it next week but frankly it was unnecessarily dark.

Next week: figure out what I’m doing with my life, now I’m unemployed.


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Shoreline of Infinity 8

Shoreline-Issue-8-Cover-2500hFunny how quickly a quarter comes around! This new edition of Shoreline of Infinity doesn’t have any of my fiction in it so, tragically, it isn’t as good as issue seven.

The highlights, for me, were The Pink Life(La Vie En Rose) by Nathan Susnik, a vision of a future where the privileged live subsumed in apps and social media. That’s a premise that would usually make me balk, but it’s handled beautifully, the focus kept on the detachment from human suffering rather than on the technology itself.

The Black Tide by Laura Duerr is, I’d say, more of a fantasy story than a sci-fi, but I’m not complaining. It’s a chillingly simple premise: the titular black tide grants immortality, or instant death, and a group of college students grapple with the hypnotic choice. A really tense and unnerving read.

Arthur Kovic’s Days of Change by Michael Teasdale is a surreal and unclassifiable piece that’s next to impossible to summarise without spoiling the final twist… so I won’t. Needless to say, it had me hooked from start to finish.

I also really enjoyed Ruth EJ Booth’s Noise and Sparks column this week, in which she talks about feeling like she couldn’t be a writer till she was an old lady. It’s not a sensation I’ve technically experienced, but still, somehow, very relatable.

Plus there’s the usual selection of poetry and reviews, including my review of The List by Patricia Forde. You can buy it in ebook or print format at the above link. Happy reading!

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My Week In Writing (19/06/17)

20170617_132652It’s been a strange one. My last day at my job was Wednesday – the last couple of weeks of my notice period just flew by.

I don’t have another job yet, but I’m signed up to do some digital marketing volunteering with a local charity and I have four job interviews in the next couple of weeks – two of them with the same company, weirdly enough.

Settlement 359 hit 150k this week which is very exciting. Haven’t made as much progress as I’d have hoped but I think I’m over the tricky part of the climax so it should be done reasonably soon. Then, I don’t know what I’ll do. Start another novel, maybe!

Speaking of, I finished going over Summer and now I’m going to have to do some tough editing. Boo.

I went to Event Horizon’s fantasy special at Banshee Labyrinth, where there was some really great live music and some interesting writing. I got a copy of Shoreline of Infinity 8, which I’m reading at the moment.

I also went to Edinburgh Pride which is always a bit mixed – it’s a fun event and it’s important to me to go, but there’s usually too many corps and this year, bizarrely, there was a Royal Navy recruitment stand. (I could have forgiven this if they were playing In The Navy which would have been very funny, but alas they were not.)

However, I got rainbow cake, donated some money to some worthy causes in exchange for some very nice badges, and I now own a pride flag, so mostly a win.

I read Bed by David Whitehouse, a charity shop impulse purchase. It’s a good book, but unsettling in a way that wasn’t really for me – frankly a good portion of it just made me kind of nauseous.

I watched two episodes of Doctor Who this week (I missed last Saturday’s). Empress of Mars was some quality Ice Warrior content, but I have to say I’m a little sad that they featured an explicitly female Ice Warrior – up until now you could assume that Ice Warriors aren’t sexually dimorphic so any of them could be female, but alas, now they’re all boys, apparently. (I’m going to assume that Ice Lords are sexually dimorphic but Ice Warriors are not.)

I was really looking forward to Eaters of Light – it’s by Rona Munro, the first Classic Who writer to work on the new series and author of Survival, the final Classic Who serial. I’m very slightly disappointed – I really enjoyed the characters and the themes but I didn’t find the sci-fi especially interesting. Which is better than the alternative, I suppose.

I listened to two Big Finish stories, Criss-Cross and The Two Masters. Criss-Cross is a Colin Baker historical story set in Bletchley Park and featuring new companion Leading WREN Constance Clarke. It’s solid stuff, and I’m looking forward to listening to more Constance stories.

The Two Masters is exactly what it says on the tin, a multi-Master story featuring Geoffrey Beevers and Alex MacQueen as Big Finish’s two incarnations of the Master. It’s a proper epic with some genuinely unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Unfortunately, I also came down with a filthy cold this week – I haven’t had more than two hours continuous sleep since Friday night. Hopefully I’ll be recovered before my interview tomorrow. We’ll see…

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Doctor Who: 12 Stories for 12 Doctors (part 3)

rose-touches-dalek-doctor-who-20059. Dalek (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)

I’m part of the New Who generation. This was my introduction to the daleks – I was aware of them, naturally, but I’d never seen more than brief clips (actually, until the title card came up, I thought they were the darlecks). And I was hooked. Dalek both confirmed my belief that the titular cyborgs are fearsome monsters… and challenged all my expectations.

I didn’t listen to Jubilee, the Colin Baker audio play that Dalek was adapted from for another decade, and I’m glad I experienced them this way around. Dalek is Jubilee boiled down to a skeleton, forty-five minutes of more or less condensed action, and if I was familiar with the source material I’d probably have hated it. As it was, I was thrilled and moved and loved every minute of it.

Looking back, there’s some shaky awkwardness characteristic of season one, but also some touches I missed first time around – the 70s cyberman in the case! The lines taken straight from Jubilee! – and I still love it. One of my most re-watched episodes.

Runners up: The End of the World, Boom Town

a276dfe19bb9b3cdfb76d1a6eb8582ae10. Human Nature/Family of Blood (David Tennant, 2007)

Some Doctor Who stories are just instant classics, and Human Nature is one. I remember one reviewer at the time going so far as to call it the first true classic of the new series. From start to finish, it’s a compelling and beautifully constructed two-parter. The in media res opening was an unusual decision for Russell T Davies Who, and a really welcome one, allowing the episode to skip over the set-up and exposition and dive straight in.

David Tennant is brilliant as Mr John Smith, treading the fine line between ‘entirely new person’ and ‘the Doctor, but a human’, and Freema Agyeman does a wonderful job of carrying the story in the Doctor’s absence.

For me, the highlight is this sequence in which the Family of Blood and their scarecrow minions mount an attack on the school. Harry Lloyd’s chilling performance as Baines, the conversation about WWI, Sister-of-Mine’s laughter, the hymn that plays as the boys start firing – this really is RTD Who at its best.

The aesthetic is gorgeous and the doomed love story is sincerely touching. As I said: an instant classic.

Runners up: Midnight, The Waters of Mars

Pandorica-Opens-411. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (Matt Smith, 2010)

The Pandorica Opens is my favourite New Who episode, and a good contender for my all-time favourite Doctor Who story. If Human Nature is RTD Who at its best, this is Moffat Who at its strangest, funniest and weirdest.

There’s just so much packed in here, and yet somehow it all works and all comes together for a ride that’s pure fun while also being touching and genuinely epic.

The best thing about Moffat Who, in my opinion, is its unpredictability. When Rory was killed and erased from time part way through the season, most viewers probably expected him to come back – but for him to suddenly show up, in an apparent period piece, as a Roman centurion? What. The Romans are actually Autons? What. The episode ends with Amy dead, the Doctor imprisoned, and the universe ending… and the next episode picks up with the opening scene of The Eleventh Hour, but without the Doctor? What?

It really is a delightful two-parter. My only issue with it is that the following seasons totally failed to satisfactorily resolve the loose threads – but that doesn’t hurt my enjoyment on re-watches.

Runners up: Cold War, Vincent and the Doctor

doctor-who-pearl00112. Season Ten (Peter Capaldi, 2017)

I thought long and hard about which Peter Capaldi episode to put here. The trouble is, I really didn’t enjoy his first two seasons – my favourite episodes, Flatline and Time Heist were, if I’m going to be honest, the ones I disliked least. The best episode, in my opinion, was Heaven Sent which unfortunately I found disturbing in an unpleasant way.

But so far season ten has been absolutely stellar! Trouble is, the episodes are all so new that I haven’t had time to properly digest them. So, I’m going to cheat, and talk about the whole season.

The highlights: Smile was firstly aesthically absolutely beautiful, and secondly one of the scariest episodes of Who I’ve seen in a long time. It had that constant feeling of danger that I haven’t experienced since the last time they did a Weeping Angels story.

Thin Ice, while average in times of sci-fi, did a great job of recreating a historical period that’s quite rare in Doctor Who, and of properly tackling period-appropriate racism (I could watch the punch all day) while also talking about some political and ethical issues which are, sadly, eternally relevant.

Extremis was one of those episodes I’d put with Heaven Sent and Midnight – super weird and profoundly unsettling, and in their own way instant classics. I won’t talk in detail because, frankly, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it is terrifying and it will punch you in the gut.

For the first time in a couple of years, I’m really excited to see where this season is going. It’s a pity Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat are leaving so soon, because I’d love to see more of this.

And that’s my list! It can change from week to week, but most of my number one picks are set in stone at present. I love all of these stories and if you’re a Who fan, I’d recommend you check each of them out, if you haven’t already.


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My Week In Writing (11/06/17)


Look what came in the post!

Just a short update this week – I continue to be trapped in job search hell. One of the application forms I filled out today felt eerily familiar – so much so that I had to go through my files, just to make sure I hadn’t applied already.

As it turns out, I had – way back in September. I’ve applied for all the jobs in Edinburgh, and now I’m going around a second time…

Settlement 359 is, sadly, stalling right before the climax. I know where I need to get but I haven’t quite figured out how to get there. I just don’t have the mental energy for it at present.

Good news, though – Wednesday is my last day at my job, so pretty soon I’m going to have all the time in the world. I’m taking a week out, then doing doing some social media volunteering.

I read Sirens by Simon Messingham, one of the books I’m reviewing for Shoreline of Infinity. It certainly wasn’t boring – I blazed through it – but I have some, hm, complicated feelings about it and I admit I’m a touch disappointed. I’ve read one of his Doctor Who novels (The Indestructible Man) and thought it was pretty good so I was expecting more interesting things.

I listened to Big Finish’s Fifth Doctor Boxset, which features two stories, Pyschodrome and Iterations of I.

Both stories feature Matthew Waterhouse reprising the part of Adric for the first time since the 1980s. I’ve heard him reprise the role before, for A Full Life, but this was the first time I’d heard him in a full-cast play, and it really was a joy.

Adric is (unpopular opinion) one of my favourite companions and a big part of the reason why I got into Classic Who. The two stories provide a lovely set of bookends for season nineteen, Pyschodrome adding some much-needed character bonding and development, while Iterations of I provides some more conventional Doctor Who action. If you’re into the Peter Davison era, I thoroughly recommend it.

I also listened to the first two installments in last year’s Master trilogy, And You Will Obey Me and Vampire of the Mind. I enjoyed them, but I’m reserving full judgement till I listen to the conclusion, The Two Masters.

And – as you can see! – I got The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Tale, a bumper collection of behind the scenes interviews. I made a start on it today, and I’m having a great time.

Next week, I’m going to leave my job. It hasn’t sunk in yet and probably won’t until it’s really over. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.


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Doctor Who: 12 Stories for 12 Doctors (part 2)

index5. Earthshock (Peter Davison, 1982)

This wasn’t an easy pick – Peter Davison is my second favourite Doctor, after the great Troughton, and I love… well, most of his serials, in all their gritty 80s glory. But while there are many that are better made and more interesting, Earthshock is the one that I always come back to.

The return of the cybermen following a seven year absence, Earthshock is basically Tomb of the Cybermen meets Alien. Which is to say, it’s more or less wall to wall action, with some great character moments, some bizarre directorial decisions, and some truly shocking violence (if you don’t mind spoilers, look up the ending on Youtube and count how many times the cyberleader gets shot. Just count ’em).

The TARDIS got really busy in season 19, with three companions vying for the audience’s attention, so a decision was made to make one story focusing on each companion. Nyssa gets to meet her double and go to a fancy dress party, Tegan gets possessed by a demon, and Adric gets to… save the world, at great cost. I won’t spoil it, but Earthshock gets darker than you’d expect real quick. Thoroughly recommended.

(Runners up: Enlightenment, Kinda)

512J6DAQAKL._SY300_6. The Two Doctors (Colin Baker, Patrick Troughton, 1985)

This… was an easy pick, actually! Much as I love Colin Baker’s Doctor, his two-year run was, shall we say, not the best Doctor Who has ever been. But it did produce this madcap gem. Patrick Troughton had such fun filming the twentieth anniversary special that he asked if he could come back once more – and this time he brought Frazer Hines!

In The Two Doctors, the Sixth Doctor crosses his own timeline to rescue his younger self, and becomes embroiled in an adventure involving Sontarans, cannibal aliens, and a butterfly hunter. The action takes place in and around Seville (New Orleans was planned, but proved too expensive).

The Second Doctor and Jamie part of the plot is so confusing that it’s sparked an elaborate fan theory that’s led to the writing of multiple expanded universe stories. The ethics are so weird that one reviewer proposed that author Robert Holmes is straight-up playing mindgames with the viewer – side with the villain and you’re agreeing with a eugenicist. Side with the Doctor and you’re siding with a bigot.

In short, it’s a bit of a mess. But it has Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in one last outing together, a messy Robert Holmes script is still a Robert Holmes, and I just find it all-round endearing.

(Runners up: Revelation of the Daleks, Terror of the Vervoids)

515KXGV2R7L7. The Curse of Fenric (Sylvester McCoy, 1989)

Another difficult choice – pretty much every story to come out of seasons 25 and 26 is pure gold. But at the moment, my favourite has to be Curse of Fenric.

Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, originally introduced as more of a clownish figure, was increasingly played as a chessmaster, and Curse of Fenric is the result. Years – perhaps centuries – before, the Doctor bested the Elder God Fenric in a game of chess and imprisoned him in a bottle. But Fenric’s influence never died and now he’s breaking free, in the middle of a WWII power struggle between Britain and Russia for the ultimate code-breaking machine… also, there’s vampires.

The Curse of Fenric is a startlingly grown-up story, with a simmering undercurrent of sexuality and some major emotional punches in the gut. It’s also really complicated, like a lot of Seventh Doctor stories – I’d recommend watching the director’s cut, which smooths out some of the more confusing plot points.

Above all else, it’s a story about Ace, the Doctor’s companion, overcoming her fears, maturing, coming to terms with her trouble childhood. Ace has perhaps the most emotionally complex arc of any Classic Who companion, and it’s a real shame that it was cut short.

(Runners up: Ghost Light, Remembrance of the Daleks).

The_Chimes_of_Midnight_cover8. The Chimes of Midnight (Paul McGann, 2002)

Here’s a really tricky one. To date, Paul McGann has only appeared in two televised Doctor Who stories – Doctor Who aka The Enemy Within aka The TV Movie, aka the 1996 special that introduced him, and Night of the Doctor, a short prologue to the fiftieth anniversary special. Of those, Night of the Doctor is quite definitely my fav.

But in this instance, it really wouldn’t feel right not to look at the expanded universe, because that’s where Paul McGann’s Doctor really lives, with something like sixteen seasons of audio adventures under his belt. And of those, I have to go right back to the beginning, to The Chimes of Midnight, recently voted Big Finish’s best ever Doctor Who adventure.

The Doctor and his companion, Charley Pollard, land in a deserted Edwardian townhouse that seems to be frozen in time. Meanwhile, in an indentical house, a group of servants are preparing Christmas dinner. When the clock strikes ten, the two merge – and the Doctor and Charley promptly find the body of the scullery maid, Edith Thompson.

Fortunately, the rest of the staff are absolutely certainly that the Doctor is a detective from Scotland Yard. No-one can agree on the date. Charley starts seeing Edith Thompson’s ghost, who tells her that Edward Grove is alive. Every time the clock strikes the hour, someone dies.

And then things get weird.

The Chimes of Midnight is one hell of a ride, blending surreal horror with farce, managing to be in equal measures uproariously funny and deeply disturbing. I really can’t recommend it enough – you can download the mp3 from Big Finish for £2.99. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

(Runners up: Immortal Beloved, Solitaire)

Next week: the New Series Doctors!

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My Week In Writing (04/06/17)


Inspirational posters

Unemployment still looming. I’m trying to stay focused on the positive aspects, i.e. starting a week on Thursday, I don’t have to go to work any more.

My company’s already hired my replacement, which feels a little weird. It also means that he gets my desk, so I’ve been sitting at my line manager’s desk while he plays an elaborate game of musical chairs with himself. It’s a much nicer desk. The days have been going very fast – I don’t know if it’s being in better surroundings, the knowledge that it’ll be over soon, the fear that it’ll be over soon, or just that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts!

Earlier this week, my new deskmate said to me, more or less out of the blue, “something something-seller?”
“I’m sorry?”
“I said, once you’re unemployed, maybe you’ll write a bestseller!”

To my knowledge I’ve never talked to her about my writing before, so I was a mite puzzled, but I told her I’m writing a book so… yeah, it’s a possibility. I’m closer to writing a bestseller than a person who has not written a book at all!

I’ve been taking a semi-break from writing this week – I can feel myself starting to burn out and unfortunately it’s the less essential stuff that has to go first. I did start a new story, inspired by listening to The Adventure Zone.

I got a thousand words in before it occurred to me that the premise could have some weird racial overtones if not handled very carefully, so it’s on hold already, which is probably for the best.

This week I listened to Tomb Ship and Masquerade, the latter two volumes in a trilogy featuring the Fifth Doctor, old companion Nyssa, and new companion Hannah Bartholemew. I’m a touch underwhelmed – they’re both decent stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed Masquerade, but I’d expected a trilogy introducing a new companion to… promimently feature said new companion?

Hannah doesn’t figure that heavily in her introductory story, doesn’t show up until episode four of Tomb Ship, and largely takes a backseat in Masquerade before suffering a very unpleasant fate. I’m disappointed but I knew it was coming, so I’m not that disappointed.

I also listened to Jago in Love and Beautiful Things, the first two installments in the fourth season of Jago and Litefoot. I still have some, hm, complicated feelings about the series as a whole, but this season is shaping up to be very enjoyable.

I’ve been listening to the new season of Alice Isn’t Dead, which continues to be super creepy and hauntingly beautiful, and working my way through The Adventure Zone. Catching up on the latter is a strange experience at the moment – the current arc has provoked some discussion, so it’s been difficult to avoid spoilers and every time I see people talking about it it’s like getting a glimpse of some dark and terrible future…

I finished reading The Bear and the Nightgale, which took me a while – I just found it hard to follow. I want to review all the books I read this year, but I’m drawing a blank on this one cause I just plain didn’t get it!

The last couple of episodes of Doctor Who have been a bit mixed – The Pyramid at the End of the World was, while not as good, an entirely worthy follow-up to Extremis but then The Lie of the Land, despite a really exciting trailer, was surprisingly bland. The ending was super disappointing. Ah, well. Next week’s episode looks like fun!

And I made maple syrup flapjacks, which came out pretty delicious!

Next week is gonna be my last full week at work, which feels really strange. I don’t think I’ll fully get my head around what I’ve done till I’ve finally left for good!

I’m going to be spending it working my way through the Doctor Who audios I’ve bought and not listened to and trying to get through as much of The Adventure Zone as I can before I leave my job – can’t concentrate on audio stuff unless I have something mindless to do with my hands!

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