Monthly Archives: February 2018

μtxt 3

micro3_coverμtxt 3 (Microtext 3) is a new anthology from Medusa’s Laugh Press, and it’s very exciting because I’m in it! (You can find my story, The Pit on page 47.) It’s the third in a series of miniature anthologies of flash fiction and poetry. The upper word limit was 750 word; some pieces are as short as a few lines. Mine managed, predictably, to be one of the longest.

I am absolutely enchanted by this book, and not just because I’m in it. I love Miniature Books and μtxt 3 is an especially tiny one, with a beautiful finding to boot. I sat down to read it and finished it almost in one sitting, and I have to say I’m delighted to be in such good company.

This is a fascinating (and beautifully bound) collection, with pieces ranging from the tiny found poems to miniature epics. There’s an enormous variety of style and genre, and with the pieces being so short you can’t possibly get bored.

My only real complaint is that it’s a bit fiddly to read – the pages are inclined to stick together – and being as tiny as it is, it’s very easy to lose. I put it down and lost track of it half a dozen times over the afternoon I spent reading it!

There’s far too many pieces in this book to review all of them, but I’d like to share a couple of quick highlights:

Father Daley’s Dilemmas by Lee Reilly: one of the longer pieces in the collection, a story about a 1930s priest taking confession. It packs an enormous amount of story into a tiny space, which in my opinion is exactly what flash fiction is all about.

Little Torvald by Jennifer Giacalone: another of the slightly longer pieces, a short and sweet story about a man and a penguin. A delightful and surreal little read (especially if you like penguins).

Everybody Poops Katherine Montalto: my curiosity was piqued as soon as I saw this one on the contents page. I was not disappointed. It’s a million times stranger than I expected – and it certainly made me think. I won’t spoil it!

Inside of Myself by Hillary Colton: without a doubt the most gripping piece of flash fiction I’ve read it. This is a story that will have you on the edge of your seat in under a thousand words. I think it’ll stay with me for a while.

That’s only a tiny sampling – there’s a lot of gems in μtxt 3. You can get it from the Medusa’s Laugh Press website, as part of a limited run of 200. If you enjoy flash fiction, I really can’t recommend it enough. It’s a beautiful and fascinating book, and I’m proud to be a part of it.


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My Week In Writing (26/02/18)

I’ve had an extremely stressful and difficult week, which I don’t feel up to blogging about (or not just yet).  So a quick update this week and hopefully back to regularly scheduled blogging as soon as possible.

This week I finished reading Alias Grace and reviewed it on Goodreads. I’ve started reading Scourge by Gail Z Martin, which I’ll be reviewing for Shoreline of Infinity.

I went to see The Shape of the Water, which I enjoyed very much. A strange and beautiful film – thoroughly recommended.

And I finished my literary agent longlist, which is currently 36 agents strong – I’m going to have to make a start on cutting it down to 10 or so.

Next week, I’m hoping to go and see Black Panter (since I missed out this week) and I’ll be going to the Edinburgh Literary Salon. I’m also really hoping for some good news, so please cross your fingers for me.

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Books To Read: February 2018

Seems it’s been almost a year since I posted an update on my to read shelf! So: here’s the unread books I have right now.

Actually a fairly modest selection, for the time of year – I didn’t get that many books for Christmas, though I did buy five more afterwards with my Christmas book token. So, here’s what I’ve got sitting around unread right now:

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson: I’ve read the Odyssey before (several times) but when I heard about this new translation I had to have it asap! I was also very surprised and a little upset to learn that this is officially the first published translation of the Odyssey by a woman. Should be a good read, anyway.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle: this one’s been on my to-read list since I was in school, when a friend recommended it to me in very warm terms. I’ve since heard glowing things about the animated film… but never did get to watching it. It’s better to read the book first, anyway!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: another one recommended warmly by a friend. I was originally down to review it for Shoreline of Infinity but unfortuantely they couldn’t get a review copy in time. Very much looking forward to this one.

Cadavre Exquis from Medusa’s Laugh Press: an anthology of fiction and poetry that well… well to be honest it looks like a fairly normal anthology it’s just that it consists of loose leafs ‘bound’ with a ‘burial shroud’. Quite hard to take apart and put back together again. Hopefully will be interesting.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: another one that’s been on my list for a very long time. (Let’s make 2018 the year of cleaning out the to-read list!)

We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson: I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about this one going in but picked it up on impulse in Waterstones. I’ve been curious about Shirley Jackson since reading some analysis of The Haunting of Hill House but ultimately too much of a scaredy cat to read it so I figured I’d go for something else!

A Story Waiting to Pierce You by Peter Kingsley: a (slightly late) Christmas gift. I’ve heard some odd things about it, reading reviews, but am keeping an open mind for now.

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden: I’ve had this one on the stack for a while – because I’ve already read it, and love it very much. I picked up this new, very fancy edition last year and haven’t got around to re-reading it yet.

I’m reading Alias Grace at present, and after that I’ll be reading Scourge by Gail Z Martin for Shoreline of Infinity… so it may be a while before I get to the above books. But I’ll get around to them.

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My Week in Writing (18/02/18)

houseI’ve had a pretty busy week! I finished my edit on The Summer Masque and outside of a readthrough of the opening chapters to put a sample together, I have declared it ‘adequate’ and begun writing a query letter. In theory it should not be hard, having written an novel, to write a letter about said novel. In practice… oh dear.

I received (belatedly) my contributor copies of Microtext 3, a very nice (and very tiny) anthology from Medusa’s Laugh Press. I read it more or less in one sitting yesterday and thoroughly recommend it – not just because my writing’s in it! It’s a bit fiddly to read but there’s some really good stuff in there.

I also got, as an apology for the late dispatch of my copies of Microtext, a free book called Cadavre Exquis, which is certainly the most unique book I’ve owned to date. I haven’t read it yet but it came wrapped in a ‘burial shroud’. Very puzzling to receive with no explanation.

I went to see the Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library: slam poets presenting excerpts from Wikipedia articles in the style of their poetry. Very strange, somewhat educational, won by someone who read the article on the subject of rooms.

Today I made peanut butter cookies and went out for lunch at the National Gallery, which is always a good time.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is now over 200k and still climbing. I’m coming up on a good bit so looking forward to working on that later today!

And I submitted a story (at the last minute) to Pulp Literature’s Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest. Last year I made the shortlist – we’ll see how it goes this time around…

Next week, I’m off to see The Shape of the Water and hopefully also Black Panther so quite excited for that. I’m also getting two fillings which is less exciting. Ah well.

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Review: The Good Place

311711-1I took philosophy for a year at university.

I’d really enjoyed studying it in school – so much so that my original plan was to do a joint honours in classics and philosophy. But sadly the University of Edinburgh doesn’t offer that particular combo.

Anyhow, second semester I had to buy a big, big textbook of articles about moral philosophy. I came to hate it with a passion. In retrospect? I think the turning point may have been the lecture spent discussing the trolley problem.

So there’s a runaway trolley – a trolley is like a tram but no-one really calls them trolleys anymore which makes the whole thing surreal and confusing – there’s a runaway trolley and there’s five people tied to the line, but if you pull a lever you can shift the trolley onto a different track, which only has one person on it. Do you pull the lever?

What if you’re the driver and not a bystander? How about if the five people are on the line as a result of their own incompetence but the one person was an innocent victim? What if instead you’re on a bridge and there’s a really fat guy on the bridge with you and you can stop the trolley by pushing him off? But what if the big fat guy was the real villain all along?

I came to hate studying moral philosophy – and I love The Good Place.

Eleanor Shellstrop has just died in a freak accident (involving shopping trolleys, ironically). She wakes up in the Good Place, the afterlife for good and virtuous people. But there’s been a mistake. Eleanor Shellstrop, full-time misanthrope and fake medicine saleswoman, has been mixed up with Eleanor Shellstrop, human rights lawyer and and lifelong humanitarian.

If anyone finds out Eleanor is not Eleanor, she’ll be sent straight to the Bad Place. So she turns to Chidi Anagonye, a deceased moral philosophy professor, and presents him with a desperate (and ethically fascinating) challenge: teach her how to be a good person.

The Good Place is funny, charming, clever, and deeply philosophical even as it mocks every classical philosopher to hell and back (ha). Chidi’s lessons cover the trolley problem in season 2 and let me tell you, as a former philosophy student, it was cathartic viewing to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, though. As much as The Good Place pokes fun at moral philosophers (everyone hates moral philosophers, after all), it does so with understanding and respect. Studying from books doesn’t make Eleanor a better person, but it certainly helps.

The grab bag of ethical ideas she arrives at over the course of the show will be familiar to anyone who’s studied moral philosophy. The fact is, there isn’t and won’t ever be a single, all-encompassing theory of ethics. But thinking through theoretical debates will deepen your understanding of yourself and the space you occupy in the world.

Much as I might hate to admit it, I learned from studying the trolley problem. And I learned from watchin NBC’s The Good Place.

If you’re interested in moral philosophy, give The Good Place a watch. If you’re not interested in moral philosophy, watch it anyway. It’s very funny and it has some killer plot twists.

I leave you with this article from Slate which says what I’ve been trying to say in this post but more intelligently, and my all-time favourite ethical thought experiment: Hitler’s Waller.





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My Week In Writing (11/02/18)

bridgeA short update this week as it’s very late in the evening  – but I have big news!

My short story 3.8 Missions is going to be featured in Best of British Science Fiction 2017, an anthology from NewCon Press. The anthology will launch over Easter weekend. I’m very excited, to say the least!

Spurred on by my success, I’ve submitted some more short stories, including an entry for the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. Watch that space, just… not very closely.

In other news, The Green and the Gathering Tide has crept up to a tidy 197k so I anticipate hitting 200k (whoops!) next week. And I have finished The Lightning Pit, which was one of those short stories that more or less wrote itself. Looking forward to getting some feedback on it.

And I went to Inky Fingers at Lighthouse Books, which was a delight as always.

Next week, I’m hoping to finish my edit on The Summer Masque and finally make a start on a query letter (gulp). I’m also hoping to make it to The Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library. But mainly I plan to keep plugging away at my various novels.


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Adventures in Novelling: Worldbuilding

5310797124_810e65c51e_oI am not a patient person.

I give up on most computer games I try to play as soon as I get hard. I regularly re-read books and notice lines I missed entirely first time around because I was skim-reading. Editing is hard to me because it takes so much effort to focus on my own words, when I know what I meant to say.

A lot of writers of fantasy and science fiction talk about the prep work they do, they time spent researching and making notes and drawing maps and coming up with lore. I… don’t really do that. I don’t have the patience. I dive straight in and make things up as I go along.

Sometimes this results in magic. Sometimes it results in continuity errors. Sometimes it results in… well, one of my novels has three separate alternate worlds referred to as ‘the witching hour’, ‘the other world’ and ‘the land of fairy’ and I’m still not 100% on what the difference is. But I can use them each in a sentence, which for a first draft is the important thing.

The upside of this is, I’m very good at writing first drafts. I also know writers who spent so much time on research and map-making that they never seem to get to actually putting pen to paper.

I used to have that problem – a lot of my writing projects as a child were in actuality world building projects, with everything from drawing characters and animals to endless mapmaking to occasionally branching into lovingly constructed cardboard sculptures.

So, let’s talk about my current novel. While I’ve been working on the world of The Green and the Gathering Tide for a long time (a very long time) there’s a lot of parts of it I’m still unclear on because for most of that time, I didn’t think about them because they were boring to me.

When I finally did begin to put down an actual alternate history I ran into problems right away and ultimately had to throw most of my work out. The problem was sheer laziness. I’m not a patient person. I just slapped an extra island onto the British Isles. It doesn’t work like that!

The magic system and the fantasy material more widely I have fleshed out fully but I’m still a little hazy on how it meshes with real history – because I do want it to mesh with real history.

I just recently watched Lindsay Ellis’s video essay Bright: The Apotheosis of Lazy Worldbuilding, about the Netflix original movie Bright. Bright is set in a high fantasy world based on twenty-first century LA. The worldbuilding is, according to Ellie, not good.

Ellis describes Bright’s worldbuilding as ‘refrigerator magnet worldbuilding’: the world of Bright isn’t a fleshed out fantasy world at all. It’s just the real world, with fantasy elements stuck on top like fridge magnets.

It’s a form of bad worldbuilding I’m aware of but haven’t seen described so bluntly before. It’s something I worry about a lot in my own writing, because while I do want to write fantasy, I do also want to write about world. I’m not trying, in this novel, to create a fully immersive alternate world (not yet, anyhow).

But ‘unless otherwise stated, everything is the same’ will only go so far. At some point I’m going to have to think very seriously about the impact naturally occurring portals to other universes would have on world history. I’m going to have to think about where Wizards fit into the history of the Christian church(es). I’m going to have to think properly about non-human people and how that works.

For now I’m content having fun, laying down the bones of my plot, and exploring my characters. But a first draft can only take me so far. When it comes to my second draft – if it comes to a second draft – I’m going to have to be very patient.

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