Category Archives: writing

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 (11/06/17)

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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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My Week In Writing (04/06/17)

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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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My Week In Writing (28/05/17)

20170527_203809I didn’t find a new job this week – not that I really expected to, but it would have been nice. I’ve applied for 15, though, and had an interview, so… hopeful?

I’m still struggling to process the fact that I’m leaving my job. It’s especially weird because my work is so repetitive and so thankless that it messes with my sense of time – intellectually I know I’ve been doing it for 2+ years, but it’s been the same working day over and over so it still blows my mind a bit that it’s been more than a couple of months.

So, I’m sort of simultaneously terrified at the prospect of the whole structure of my life changing – entirely of my own choosing – and feeling a bit like ‘phew, everything’s finally going back to normal’. This was always meant to be temporary, y’know?

On a lighter note, I’m just below the halfway point on reading through Summer and enjoying my new draft very much. Fingers crossed it’ll be smooth sailing from now on – so long as I don’t encounter any tricky problems while reading the second half (I found one fairly significant continuity error in the first half) I’m all but finished.

Settlement 359 is at 145k and climbing. And – brace yourselves – I actually started writing the climax. The actual, proper, climax. It’s now in progress. It’s all very exciting. I might even finish this thing before the end of June.

This week I’ve been reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which I’m enjoying, but it’s been slow going – largely, I think, because the Russian names are confusing me so I keep losing track of which character is which!

I listened to two Doctor Who audios, The Burning Prince and Moonflesh, both Peter Davison stories.

The Burning Prince is the first volume in a multi-Doctor trilogy (I didn’t get the second two volumes – they weren’t on sale). It’s a rare solo Fifth Doctor story – he doesn’t travel alone on screen, ever, so expanded universe writers have to be creative if they want to get him by himself! It’s unpredictable and action-packed, all around a bit of a rollercoaster ride. It’s also one of those Davison stories that’s a full-on bloodpath. Brutal stuff. Not a classic of the range by any means, but solid.

Moonflesh is the first volume in a trilogy of stories featuring the Fifth Doctor, TV companion Nyssa, and new companion Hannah Bartholemew (I bought all three – they were all on sale). An enjoyable enough story, but I’m feeling a slight sense of trepidation, going into the rest of the trilogy – Hannah’s heavily implied to be a lesbian (and a butch lesbian – a first for Doctor Who, as far as I know) but best as I can tell her sexuality is never confirmed, and I accidentally spoiled myself for the ending of her last story, which is, erm, tragic. Hopefully it’ll all be handled well.

I finished the third season of Jago and Litefoot. My favourite season, so far, though that’s in large part because it’s the most Doctor Who-y, due to the addition of Tom Baker companion Leela to the main cast. A really strong run of stories, anyway, blending an ongoing story arc about rifts in time with some very strange, very sad human dramas.

I’ve also been listening to The Second Imaginary Symphony, a mini series from podcast The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air. It’s whimsical, melancholy show that blends storytelling with an ongoing plot about a lonely janitor who works in the Eiffel Tower. The Secondary Imaginary Symphony is a standalone story from the same world, with the same lovely, relaxed tone. I’d recommend checking it out.

And I just started watching Anne with an E, which so far is a beautifully done adaptation. Much heavier viewing than you might expect – there’s some scenes I think I could have done without, but it is what it is.

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Happy Blogiversary

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a celebratory cupcake

Thanks to my Facebook memories, earlier today I learned that I created this blog on May 24th 2012, making somesuchlike five years old today. Congratulations, blog!

Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy with job hunting this week so write a proper update. So instead, I’m going to be ironic and deeply lazy.  The below is a list of essays I would love to write for this blog… if I was smarter… and had more time… and more energy.

  1. The Ever Present novel – what’s that all about? The one discussed on my current writing projects page. How did I come to write it? How did it go from its original concept, through many drafts, to what it is today? Why did I fill it with references to previous drafts that no-one but me will find funny? All this and more in a personal reflection on my childhood that I tried to write but gave up on when I realised even I couldn’t sort this tangle out.
  2. Why write fantasy? I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m ‘wasting’ my writing talents. I disagree (naturally) and feel what I’m doing is important. Why? A bunch of reasons, I guess, but primarily because it’s fun.
  3. Why write YA? Similar to the above, although in this case I’ve yet to figure it out myself.
  4. What’s ‘boy’ sci-fi? During my MSc, I had conversation with a tutor. When I said I write fantasy, he mentioned there was a student on the course who wrote sci-fi. When I said I also write sci-fi, he said, ‘oh, but he writes boy sci-fi’. Never forgotten that conversation, still not over it!
  5. Am I Scottish? Born in England, to Scottish parents, I have a lot of feelings in this area. I wrote a poem once. It wasn’t very good, so I won’t share it.
  6. Why’d you study classics? Another one that more than one person has questioned. Another one where the answer boils down to, essentially, because I love it, but there’d be an interesting discussion along the way.
  7. Why all my characters are lesbians now. I made a decision a while ago that from now on, by default, all my protagonists would be lesbians. (Note: this does not apply retroactively, for the most part.) It’s both very simple and very complicated, I suppose. I went on a journey to get to this point.
  8. Why I love Doctor Who. Self-explanatory.
  9. Why I love: Submachine, Welcome to Nightvale, Steven Universe, *insert a bunch of other things I love here*. I have a lot of feelings about the media I love.

So, that’s my list – today, anyway. Coming next week, something Doctor Who related, most likely.

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My Week In Writing (21/05/17)

20170521_175211Well, first of all the big news: I resigned from my job this week. I’m still hoping to find an entry level position in publishing, but I can’t stomach staying in my current job any longer. Four more weeks and I’m out. Hopefully moving to some kind of temp job. I’m trying not to think about it too much, when I’m not actively job hunting – this level of uncertainty is a terrible thing!

That out of the way: I started reading Summer and marking it up for a final round of edits. So far I’ve found two glaring flaws I’d previously missed, one of which I’m pretty sure has been there since draft one. I have no idea how I missed it for so long! I’m on chapter three, and stalling to do some minor re-structuring.

Settlement 359 has passed 140k and despite my best efforts, I’ve started a part eight, titled Freefall. Things kept getting worse and worse for my protagonist, so I rolled with it and now she’s struggling to recover from mental time travel-enduced amnesia. However, I’m pretty sure part eight will be the last one… I’ve been saying this for a while.

I’ve started work on an entry for Big Finish’s annual short story contest. Torn between two ideas, not sure which is best, and as I don’t have to have a completed story to enter and I can submit more than one, I might as well try and do both.

Speaking of Big Finish, this week I listened to a William Hartnell era Lost Story called The Dark Planet, which was both a fairly typical sixties Doctor Who story, exceptionally dark, more or less impossible to do on film now let along fifty years ago. I’m not surprised it didn’t get made. It’s fascinating listening, though.

This week’s Doctor Who, Extremis, was absolutely phenomenal. Beautifully executed mindscrew and absolutely terrifying – my only concern is how they’re going to top it with the (by the looks of it, more conventional) follow up!

I started reading Darling by Jackie Kay, which is slow going because you can’t just rush through a poetry collection, you have to pause and contemplate, y’know?

Next week, I’m planning to listen to some monthly range Big Finish stories with the Fifth Doctor (my fav!) and start reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the last of my birthday books. Otherwise, I’m job hunting relentlessly.

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How I wrote a novel on purpose: Ash

“The wind’s blowing from the north.”

I don’t say anything. Above us, the sky is solid black, and the wind tastes like smoke.

“That’s a good sign, ye ken. Your mother’s a north witch.”

“I suppose.” I look at my trainers. The toes are scuffed to hell and back. They’re starting to pinch. We were supposed to be going shoe shopping next weekend.

“You’ll be a north, one day.”

I look up at Heather. She’s smiling down at me nicely, her bobble hat pulled low on her head. That soft, sympathetic smile I’m going to be seeing a lot of shortly, and I’m already sick of it. “I guess.”

Up until last November, I’d never done National Novel Writing Month properly. Although it’s not enforced, technically the rules request that you start a completely new project rather than continuing something you’ve already started. Almost all my NaNoWriMos have been continuations of existing projects.

(And before anyone asks: no, of course I didn’t count what I’d already written towards my NaNoWriMo total. I started a new document each time and ‘married’ the sections together later. I don’t know why some people find this difficult to understand!)

Come late October 2016, I had two projects I wanted to work on: my 2015 NaNoWriMo, which was a fairly successful attempt at my ‘big’ novel, and Settlement 359. Both were, at the time, stalling. Neither thrilled me. As late as the first regional meeting, I still hadn’t made my mind up.

Then, on the night of October 30th, I had a dream. My dream went something like this: I was a teenage girl in some kind of magical world. I was sent to live in a big house with several other girls (one was a young Natalie Portman). The house had magical paintings on the walls that were part of a protection spell.

After a spell in the house (ha) I was menaced in the garden by a demon that took the form of a hooded figure. It moved very slowly towards me and it was important that I walk rather than running away, if I wanted to escape alive. After that I was taken out of the house and to somewhere safer.

I woke up, and thought there’s a YA fantasy novel in that dream. Then I thought, this is fate.

So, come November 1st, I started an entirely new novel, with an entirely new fantasy world. I went in with a solid idea of how magic would work in this world and the ‘demon in the garden scene’ as my goal to work towards (I figured it for an act one climax, of sorts).

Otherwise, I was winging it. I threw in new characters whenever I got bored. It’s in a first person voice, which is a first for me in long-form fiction. The central plot twist came to me in the bathroom at work. It was all very exciting.

I wrote about 70k during the month of November and this past January I finished it off, bringing it up to 83k, which isn’t too bad for a rough first draft.

What’s it about? This is the ‘official’ blurb at present:

Ash’s mother is a witch. Ash’s mother has disappeared. Locked in a safehouse for young witches, Ash tries to make sense of what has happened and of her destiny, but the force that took her mother is closing in, and a snap decision to protect a human girl threatens to break everything apart.

It’s structured, I hope, a bit like an unfurling flower. It opens in a world very like ours, but with the occasional witch. Each bit of new information given about witches, their origins, and their powers, renders the world they live in stranger and more alien. About halfway throught, the main character and her friends journey into the Land of Fairy and it just gets weirder from there.

Ash is on hold at present, until after I finish editing my other novel… and writing my other other novel… you get the picture. But it was a lot of fun to write and I’m very pleased with the result – looking forward to writing that second draft, just as soon as I have the time.

“This is Fairy, Ash. Anything is possible.”

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