Pretty Little Vampires and Ludwig find homes

I’m delighted to report the sale of my dark modern fantasy Pretty Little Vampires to Rooster Republic Press for their Not All Monsters anthology:

There are monsters in every woman’s life. And while maybe not ALL monsters are so bad, I want you to tell me about the dark and twisted ones.

PLV is a twisted but fun little tale of what happens when a woman, tired of her mundane office existence, gets rather more than she bargains for after believing something she reads on the internet. I’m really happy it has found a home with RRP. Expect this one out sometime in 2020.

I’m equally delighted to tell you that another story of mine, Ludwig, has sold to Mad Scientist Journal for their anthology I Didn’t Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances. This story is close to my heart: I was super excited by the open submissions call, and thrilled to bits to have made the cut. I’m sure Ludwig and Hedron would find lots to talk about, if they ever met.

Maybe one day they will.

This one is somewhat bittersweet, as MSJ has announced they are closing the journal. Especially with Jason Sizemore announcing that Apex Magazine is going on hiatus, it’s sad to be losing another source of stories to feed my incessant appetite. That said, with Jason focusing his prodigious editorial talents on books, and the DefCon One editorial team doing likewise, I’m sure I won’t run out of great things to read.

Seasonal synaesthesia

fly agaric in woods
A perfect fly agaric

We’re full into autumn now. The geese started flying in a few weeks ago, and Storm Callum took most of the leaves off our rowan trees. The berries have remained untouched by the starlings, who normally devour them before I can gather enough to make jelly. They may have suffered from this year’s prolonged drought. The dog is spending more time outdoors than in, which is our cue that winter is on its way. We have had days of phenomenal sunsets and dawns, which covered social media (if you happen to follow photography sites) with pictures of lenticular and mammatus clouds, as well as the more generally expected cirrus and cirrocumulus looking like lava. These apocalyptic skies are a result of Rayleigh Scattering in the high atmosphere, where dust is kept aloft by high pressure — hence the old saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.”

The skies have coincided with the warm days and cold nights that result from high pressure in the tail end of the year. Some of the weather models predict a cold snap from this weekend, with possible snow in the mountains.

Being neuro-atypical, I think a lot about perception, and how the entire world outside the confines of my individual awareness is bat country. (I’m sure the general population would think the same about me, but they don’t have to try to translate for it.) I can chalk up some experiences to synaesthesia playing silly buggers with my perception; one of those is this strong feeling that it’s going to be a hard winter this year. I feel like I can smell snow on the way, and I have done for several weeks. There’s no rational explanation for this sensation. It’s not specifically a smell, because my synaesthesia doesn’t work like that, but a shape in the air when I breathe. Like most things to do with my oddly-wired brain, I make a note, keep it mostly to myself, and am amused when I start to read other people opining that winter will be a harsh one. The trees have produced lots of fruit, says one, to fatten up the birds so they will survive. While I know of no reason to think that trees set fruit according to the future needs of birds, I love the idea that the flora and fauna are so closely interconnected, and wonder if trees hold committee meetings at which they discuss fruit futures.

I have yet to determine a reliable way of differentiating between synaesthetic silly buggers triggering some sort of topological pareidolia, and real information. But next time someone tells you they can smell snow even though the temperature is in the mid teens, and people are wandering around in shorts and t-shirts, spare a thought for those whose interactions with physical reality don’t sit comfortably near the middle of the bell curve.

Book review: Mythos

Over Christmas I read, and very much enjoyed, Mythos — national treasure Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths. I love books about myths, and am lucky enough to have an extensive collection of myth and folklore gracing my shelves. My own introduction to the Greek myths was in the form of the classic Robert Graves, when I was young (so not that particular edition). I was fascinated by these all-too-human deities, who used their great power in the pursuit of goals and desires that seemed rather petty and trivial in the grand scheme of things; entirely self-serving and capricious. This depiction of deity as being similar to humans, but on a much larger scale with everything they did and felt; the idea of deity personifying aspects of human experience, was one I found fascinating, and still do. (Not that I would have been able to put that into words when I read them for the first time.)
Mythos, by Stephen Fry, cover image depicting Pandora opening her box

Fry concentrates his tellings around that concept. His gods are not Laurence Olivier swanning around in a toga with sparkly FX. He talks of gods as unpredictable, yet all-too-knowable. They are jealous, envious, bear grudges far beyond the scope of any inter-generational feud. They will bend the heavens for their favourites, and cheat, lie, steal and exert brute force to get what they want. Fry draws parallels with powerful politicians of today, and brings a dry wit and humour, as well as his obvious love of words, without going so far as to analyse the stories. He is, as he says in the foreword, interested in the telling of the tales, not pulling them apart to see how they tick.

Mythos doesn’t go as far as the Age of Heroes, but there’s plenty of material to cover before then. Despite previous reading on the subject, I learned some things. That’s always immensely satisfying — it’s why we read such books, after all.

The one downside is that some of the editing errors are blatant, mostly footnotes comprising — verbatim — part of the sentence referencing them. It appeared someone decided certain parts of the text should be in footnotes rather than as asides within the main body, and vice versa, and then went through and copy-pasted but forgot to delete the original. The occasional typo I can forgive, we’re only human, but this happened often enough that I started to wonder if this edition was a draft that had accidentally made it to press.

Editorial gaffes aside, if you want a modern version of the Greek myths interpreted for a modern audience, in a voice so clearly Fry’s one can practically hear him reading them aloud (if someone else ever does the Audible narration, it will just sound wrong), then Mythos is worth adding to your library. If you prefer a drier, more classical take, then you will have to look elsewhere, such as Bulfinch, or brave the eccentricity of Graves.

Anchor away

Two months ago, we adopted a five-and-a-half year-old Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute cross. We’d been looking for a dog for almost two years at that point, and had been unsuccessful in persuading the Rescue Centres that the dogs we liked were suitable for us, and us for them.

But that was fine. We weren’t interested in any particular dog, we were interested in the right dog. We were about to register interest in yet another collie, only to be pipped at the last minute. I found out when I opened the website to show a work colleague who had also recently embarked on the dog ownership adventure.

Although disappointed that our pick had gone, I spotted a dog that hadn’t been there even that morning. After a quick check with Frood, I filled out the form, and after that it all happened very quickly.

Squinting

Floof at the Beach

They asked us if we were prepared for the settling in period. She may go off her food, or have digestive upsets. She might chew. The very nice woman who did the home check told us her most recent adoption ate her husband’s wallet and mobile phone, as if this were the naughtiest thing imaginable.

Our sofa was inexpensive. Wallets and phones are replaceable.

As it turned out, she had none of those problems. A little unsettled the first weekend, but she made herself right at home, aided no doubt by suddenly going from half an hour of walking a day to between one and three, with trips to the beach and expeditions into the forest.

She has been a sweet, friendly, happy and yet still independent addition to our small family, and I love her to bits.

This morning we had our first dog-related breakage.

A broken mug.

Yes, it’s a mug. It’s a 1991 Nexus Design Celtic Knotwork bone china mug, and you can find one on Ebay for less than a tenner (not counting the nearly 25 quid postage from the States, which renders it unjustifiable).

It’s not Ming. It’s not even Royal Doulton.

It’s only a mug.

But I bought that mug from a shop in Tobermory in 1992, still dressed in a wetsuit from diving the Hispania that morning. I’d sat in a bathtub at a depth of 30m while my Dad watched and my Uncle Bill operated our RIB up top. That evening, we went to get air from the self-operated machines at Loch Aline, humping the tanks up the hill on foot. Afterwards, we went to the pub, and Uncle Bill bought me pints of 80 Shilling until I was drunk, and Dad gave me a fistful of coins so I could call Frood on the pub phone and play “No, YOU hang up!”

It was the only time I’d been on a trip with my Dad and Uncle Bill and not had the rest of the family along. It was special, and the memory is precious, because I didn’t get to spend enough time with my Dad. I was sent to school in England at the age of 15 and didn’t come back to stay a significant amount of time for another 20 years. On the rare occasion I was back home, Mum and Dad were usually busy, and the motor racing and the business and the foreign trips took up so much time I hardly got to speak to either of them, never mind hang out the way I did with Dad that long weekend.

It wasn’t Ming, it wasn’t even Royal Doulton.

But it was far more than a mug.

It was my fault; I should have been more careful. I should not have started playing with the dog before making sure this memory anchor was safely out of reach.

If it were easy to get, I’d buy another in a heartbeat. Not the same mug, no, not the one I handed over cash for while dripping on the floor of the gift shop and explaining that a cold wetsuit is a horrible thing and we were diving again that afternoon (we did, and I had a close encounter with a friendly seal who nibbled my fin).

But near enough to cradle and remember a time when Dad and I were close.

On an absence of time

It’s hard to believe it’s November already. I don’t know where time has gone.

I realise I haven’t updated this blog since May — it has been even longer since I did anything with my other one — and, for once, I’m not going to hold myself to task over it.

A friend and I were having a glum discussion about boilers the other day, and the terrifying prospect of having to replace one. To give this some context, when Frood and I bought our house in early 2015, we knew it was going to be a bit of a project. We hadn’t realised how much of a project it would turn out to be. As my friend said, being an adult pretty much turns out to be a game of resource management. This house has taken up a lot of resource, in terms of time, energy and money, and between that and the day job there hasn’t been much left. What little I’ve had I’ve put into writing, although the one thing writing needs and I lack is mental energy. It’s hard to write when you can do barely more of an evening then eat and fall asleep on the sofa, and when it takes most of the weekend for your brain to decompress from the previous week.

In our previous house, I used to get up and write before work. Since this house is too far from work to cycle, we were both spending too much time sitting in front of a computer, and not getting enough exercise. My health had begun to suffer, and I know where that leads. Been there, done that, don’t intend to do it again. So while we’re now both getting up super early before work, that time is for trying to undo the effects of spending the rest of the day relatively inactive.

So there we are. Being an adult is a matter of resource management, and I have had barely the resource to write, never mind post to the blog.

And, you know, that’s okay. Having a social media presence is important, sure, but it’s not the critical part of being a writer. What is obligatory is writing (and reading). That’s it. To be a writer, you have to write, and you have to read, and you make time in whatever way you can. I can’t manage Stephen King’s recommended 2000 words a day most of the time, so I do what I can, which is why I’ve managed to complete six pieces this year, including a couple that are bordering on novella length.

In a way, I think that lack of resource has been useful. It’s easier to produce when you have all the time in the world, but it’s also easier to click trance away on some spurious line of research or be distracted by the wonders of the internet. When you are limited for time, and know it, you knuckle down and do the work. Bum on seat, words on page. It’s a bit like a Masterchef challenge in which the contestants have to produce a three course meal in 20 minutes or something else ridiculous. You can’t just work hard, you have to work smart.

One day, I hope that I will have more time to write, but I also hope I can hold onto that lesson of working smart, not just hard, and focusing on what matters.

Conference call

Spotty raptors: not a moment’s peace

It’s fledgling time for the spotty raptors.

Siblings

“Oh hey wow. One of four, eh? Must be tough.”

“Dude, you have no idea. It’s impossible to get any peace. It’s all ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. I can’t even have a bath without one of the others wanting to get in too. Just five minutes, you know? That’s all. That’s all I want. Just five minutes. Or two. I’d settle for two. Or even one. Hell. Yeah. Let’s say one. One damn minute of peace. To chill, have a drink. Get some water up under the feathers. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to eat in peace, I’m not going to torture myself imagining being able. To eat. By myself. Without one of THEM trying to get in on the act. But a bath? You’d think I could manage one godsdamned freaking minute by myself to get the dust out. Just one. One. That’s all. Not twenty, not ten. Just one.”

“Harsh, man. Really harsh.”

Communal bathing

*sigh*

Brief link round-up

Clockwork Phoenix 5 Best of Apex Magazine Volume 1

Now both have launched, reviews of both Best of Apex Magazine Volume 1 and Clockwork Phoenix 5 are available. Here are a few links for the interested:

  • 365shortstories has posted reviews for all of the CP5 stories. Mike Allen has rounded them up over at Mythic Delirium. You’ll find the review of The Prime Importance of a Happy Number here.
  • Also at Mythic Delirium, Mike has posted links to a review from Andrea Johnson and to a livestream of the busy launch party.
  • There are a number of reviews of Best of Apex Volume 1 up at Goodreads, including a 4/5 star review for She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow from one reviewer (thanks, Althea Ann!).

CP5 could use some reviews up at Amazon, so if you’ve read it please consider posting a review. Every one helps!

Spring cleaning

Spring means the return of communal bathing season. The birds didn’t do much bathing over winter, unsurprisingly. Now the sun forays forth occasionally and Floralia is upon us, they are back at it. It’s also baby-making time, so our garden is a flurry of frantic feathered fauna doing their best to put ALL THE FOOD into their beaky faces to take back to the nest.

BRO, STOP, UR DOIN ME AN AGGRO

While chatting with a colleague at work over a break, looking out the window at some seagulls, I voiced aloud my imaginings of what the birds might be thinking. She expressed surprise that anyone would do this — I have no idea whether this habit results from a childhood of indoctrination by Johnny Morris, or simply my constantly hyper-active imagination. I can only assume there’s something instinctive about it, though; since being exposed to the concept, my colleague tells me the habit has caught on.

At the meeting of Lemon Tree Writers a fortnight ago, we received an interesting workshop from the writer Sophie Cooke. A workshop presenter rarely covers short fiction, long fiction and poetry all in the space of one workshop, and this one was very well received by our eclectic mix of Scottish writers. While largely pitched for novice writers, I enjoy any prompt to produce some potentially useful word chunks, and found this no exception. Despite poetry requiring much more effort from me than prose, I managed to throw something together that didn’t sound terrible when I read it out, reminding me again of that well-known quote from cyclist Greg Lemond:

An image of a lone cyclist alongside a Greg LeMonde quote: it never gets easier, you just go faster

If it had been suggested to me even five years ago I could produce an eighteen line poem in the space of ten minutes, which — critically — I would not be too embarrassed to read out to a dozen people I barely knew, I would have found it hard to believe. Exercises like this are good reminders of why all the writing and reading is important. Even writing one has no intention of ever seeing the light of day presents an opportunity to embed a reluctance for copulas, a mental red flag for flabby words such as “that” and “very”, and the habit of specificity.

I think, these days, even my imaginary conversations between starlings need less copy-editing than they used to.

Semi-obligatory 2016 awards post

I’ve noticed that it’s the time of year for award eligibility, so here is what I’ve got in the running for 2016 awards.

Zangao
This isn’t Skook, but it looks like him.

I had a slow year on the writing front, but She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow is eligible in the short story category and available to read for free (or you can listen to the podcast). Should you wish to cast some love in the direction of Hedron, Chancery and Skook, I could bathe in the warm fuzzies like a happy baby sea flap flap.

It also turns out this marks my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. My thanks to the moderators, especially David Walton, for helping me confirm that and getting my name up on the list.

Just being on there feels like an achievement!

The Clockwork Phoenix has landed

Clockwork Phoenix 4 front cover
In the flesh

I was delighted to receive my contributor copy of Clockwork Phoenix 5 a couple of days ago. It is a stunning book, and I’m not just saying that because I’m (more than slightly) biased. It arrived at work, and a couple of my colleagues were driven to remark on how nice it felt — the print quality is excellent. Although I’ve had an electronic copy for a while, I’ve been saving the other stories for when the physical copy turned up, and so far Jason Kimble‘s The Wind At His Back indicates a fantastic collection.

Clockwork Phoenix 5 back cover

This book will be released on the 5th April, and can be pre-ordered direct here (same as first link above), or from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and a few other places. If you follow the first link in this post, you’ll find all the pre-order links.

A Clockwork Phoenix 5 launch reading will take place on April 5th at 19:30 in The Brooklyn Commons Cafe at 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction/Hour of the Wolf Reading series. Mike Allen be there, and so will seven of the book’s 21 contributors: Rob Cameron, C. S. E. Cooney, Barbara Krasnoff, Carlos Hernandez, Sonya Taaffe, Shveta Thakrar, and A. C. Wise. All will read excerpts from their Clockwork Phoenix 5 stories. I can’t make it, owing to the presence of a large, wet, wobbly thing in which one finds fishes and whales and crabs and octopuses.

And, if you’re in book buying mood, Best of Apex Volume 1 is now in stock at Amazon UK, and presumably elsewhere. This book reprints my story from the December issue, She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow.