Abominations Magazine #1 Published

The debut issue of Abomination Magazine

My writing doesn’t seem to be going all that badly of late, which besides being nice for me makes a nice break from politics-themed blogs.

Anyway, I announced last month that Abomination Magazine had accepted one of my stories for their debut issue, and today I can tell you that said issue has been published. It is currently available for Kindle at the frankly bargain price of £1.30. And for that you get a selection of other delectable stories.

My own offering is entitled “Whispers in the Skin Gardens“, and without giving too much away it’s a dark SF story, about biotech gone slightly mad.

If you buy and read it (which, of course, you should) I would love it if you’d let me know what you think. And if you want to put a review on Amazon, that’d be great too.

But above all, please enjoy. And don’t have nightmares.

I Need a Reading Lamp

A reading lamp may be the solution I need for my reading vexations.

I’ve decided that I don’t read enough. This, as you might imagine, is a problem for a writer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing any more (I do), or that I can’t afford books (I can- and anyway I get a healthy quantity of my reading material from my local library). It’s because I don’t seem to have the time any more- or rather I don’t make the time.

So much of my day seems to be taken up with politics, work, a thousand and one trivial tasks, or the act of writing itself. Which is great- I love being so active, and I love that I still find plenty of time to write. But as a great man* once said:

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Which means I have a problem, even if I’m not feeling the effects just yet. So I’ve decided to “schedule” some reading time. Which sounds grander than it actually is. Basically, instead of falling asleep watching a film or TV show, I’ll fall asleep with a book (or my Kindle).

There’s something nice about this. I think it goes back to when I was very young, and my parents used to read to me at bedtime. More times than not, I would fall asleep before they finished, and lose myself in whatever fantastical worlds I was frequenting. Even today it’s a warm and safe feeling. Although a little annoying when I reach the point of reading the same sentence over and over before I realise it’s time to call it a night.

The only problem with this plan is to do with lighting. My lightswitch is next to the door- across the other side of my room. So when I’m tired, ready for sleep, I have to put down my book (or Kindle), get out of bed, cross the room and turn it off. Not exactly the most relaxing end to an evening. Conclusion: I need a reading lamp.

*Mr Stephen King

Night Terrors II Available on Kindle

Night Terrors II edited by Theresa Dillo and Marc Ciccarone, and featuring my short story "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep"

The last couple of weeks have been rather politics-heavy on my blog, and with the May elections edging ever closer, that’s only going to get worse, honestly. So it’s nice, occasionally, to be able to break from the theme tune every once in a while with something a little different.

I’ve already announced Blood Bound Books’ Night Terrors II anthology being released, but now it is finally available on Amazon (sort of…) and on Kindle. Which is awesome, because there are some brilliant authors in this collection- and no, I’m not refering to myself. Though my short story “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” does feature amongst the offerings.

At £4.57 for the digital format, I reckon it’s a bargain (well I would, wouldn’t I?). So since it’s Sunday, why not treat yourself, and settle down in a comfortable spot with some good old-fashioned horror stories?

And if you do, please let me know what you think. I’m always happy to hear feedback.

“The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel” by Jennifer Williams – A Review

"The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel" by Jennifer Williams

(Amazon Kindle, £2.21)

It was in a conversation with Jennifer Williams herself where I discussed the nature of reviewing; that reviews of books that most people give are by nature likely to be positive, as if a book is bad most people would put it down and not finish it. So in the first sentence, I’ve already made two things clear: that I know the author, and that I liked this book.

Quest fantasy and I haven’t historically had the best relationship. For a long while I regarded it as stagnant, boring and unoriginal. I think it might have been the elves. It probably didn’t have too good an opinion of me either, but since I’m a badass I never really cared. Two things have conspired to change that opinion: HBO’s TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, and Bethesda’s life-consuming open-world fantasy game Skyrim.

But to the book. The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citidel, follows a motley crew of adventurers entering the titular citadel for various reasons of their own. The crippled Lord Frith is searching for the key to regaining his castle, whilst mercenaries Sebastian (the Ynnsmouth Knight) and Wydrin (the Copper Cat) hunt for gold and riches. The synopsis seems pretty standard for quest fantasy, but the hero (if there is one in particular) isn’t a farm boy, and there doesn’t seem to be an evil emperor in sight.

Where it comes of its own is quite obvious and simple; it’s rather brilliantly written. The characters in particular shine, and all of them feel like real people. I think Wydrin is my favourite; rather than being a wilting princess or Amazonian wall of muscle, she’s an actual person. This is what fantasy so often misses out on, and characters become subservient to the plot. Rather, the plot should be driven onwards by the characters, by their personality and motivations. Williams clearly gets this.

Another endearing factor is that it’s a novella. So it’s short. In a genre world that seems dominated by sprawling epic tomes, a little brevity is like a cool breeze on a summer’s day. There are fewer words devoted to info-dumping, and more to in-story exposition. I finished this book in about a day, primarily because I couldn’t put it down. It was engaging, exciting, and left me looking very much forward to the next installment.

If you got a Kindle for Christmas (you lucky thing!) then I would heartily recommend you give The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel a read.

Mightier than the Sword

Despite the inefficiencies of it, there is something inherently beautiful about drawing the nib of a fountain pen across a piece of paper, to tell a story.

Those who are vaguely familiar with who I am will know that I am a writer. Those a little more familiar with me, may know that I have an intense fondness for fountain pens. It started in Year 7 when I first used one, and never really went away. Day to day I use a black and silver Waterman Hemisphere pen, with black ink. The crowning glory of my pens is a brushed steel and gold Autograph pen, which I keep filled with red ink from a  bottle on my desk. The lid is adorned with the words “LOVE ASHLEIGH X”.

So naturally, this article in the Guardian on writing longhand vs word processing grabbed my interest the other day without much trying. In it, Lee Rourke says:

In longhand, the hand moves freely across the page in a way no amount of computer jiggery-pokery can muster. I think the economy of writing longhand is to do with its pace.

I think I agree with this, somewhat. When I was sixteen, I wrote an entire novel (about vampires in the Spanish Civil War) in three blue notebooks, when ostensibly I probably should have been paying attention to the history lessons that I was sat in at the time. There was something simple and beautiful about being able to open the notebook, put the nib to the page, and weave a story across it.

I don’t handwrite all, or even most, of my writings. The vast majority start out as a blank word document, onto which I vomit ideas which I reformulate as I go. But I still keep a notebook, which I love to use for first drafts of stories which have been niggling at my imagination for a while, and about which I’m still not quite sure- something which Jennifer Williams and I seem to have in common.

I posted a link to the article on Facebook, and triggered an interesting discussion. Sci-fi writer Gareth L. Powell expressed how he always writes on a computer, explaining:

I can’t write fast enough with a pen. I type at the same speed I think, therefore typing suits me.

I think he has a good point. What is leisurely and calm when working through something uncertain can be downright frustrating when the idea of what you are trying to write is clear in your mind, and ready to flow out of your fingers. My (unbelievably talented) Ashleigh also types everything, and the speed at which she can knock out high quality first-drafts is frankly astounding.

Another interesting element of the writing process is editing. For myself, I cannot edit on a screen. I don’t know why, but I can’t spot the errors, the typos, the sentences which just don’t work. When I print the draft out, those same problems jump out and slap me, and I can go through a piece with my red pen, stripping out unneeded sentences and rewriting poorly-phrased ones.

Gareth, on the other hand, does his editing on a screen as well. Maybe I just need to play with my screen settings, but I just can’t do it. I’ll give myself a migraine trying. I much prefer the organic process of me, a draft and a red pen (I’m presuming that the red ink is a leftover fixation from school).

One thing that I’ve taken up lately is using my Kindle to edit. The screen has the same effect on me as paper, and the text-to-speech function is brilliant for finding the bits which don’t sound quite right- since I don’t trust myself to read it aloud and read what’s actually there, rather than what should be there.

Every writer has their own way, and technology is an integral part of my own. It doesn’t dominate absolutely, but I can see if I ever break through and become very serious in my writing (an appalling phrase, but to my shame I can’t think of a better one) that it may become even more important. But for just now, I won’t be laying down my fountain pen(s).

Idiots on the Internet

I think I must be getting old...

I don’t usually do this. In fact, I usually shy away from exactly this. But yes, I’m actually going to do a blog post about someone being stupid on the internet. Actually, several people. Specifically, in the customer reviews section of the new keyboard-less Kindle on the Amazon UK website.

The newest addition to the Kindle family has caught my interest because it’s a cheaper, stripped down version of the e-reader I have been in love with since last Christmas, when I got mine (a keyboard-ed 3G version, currently retailing at £149). My thinking is that the £89 version, lacking the keyboard, would be perfect for a number of loved ones come the festive period.

So, naturally, I’ve been doing research. I started out with the reviews posted on the Amazon site itself, though I’d point out that they alone would by no means sway my opinion. I went for the 1-star reviews first, thinking I’d see what the drawbacks were. Except, all I learnt from reading them was that there are an awful lot of particularly stupid people with internet connections and too much free time on their hands.

The majority of the complaints were all along the same lines; it’s too expensive. Now, since I strongly suspect few, if any, of them had actually bought (and thus used) the damn thing, they seemed to largely be basing their shrill, harpy-like objections on one thing: the price on the US site.

See, in the US (as the denizens of the 1-star reviews section will gladly tell you), customers can buy the basic level Kindle for $79. At current exchange rates, this would be £50. Which, as the reviewers correctly point out, is less than £89.

However, what they appear to have missed is that the $79 version on the US site has an extra feature: adverts. Yes, when you turn the $79 Kindle off, instead of the pictures of assorted authors which you see on any other Kindle, you see paid-for advertisements. From what I can see, the UK £89 version doesn’t have this feature, so it would be more comparable to the $109 advert-free version.

Now, converted directly this would be equivalent to £69, which is still about £20 in difference, but seems fairly acceptable given that a) Amazon needs to make a profit, and b) prices are never directly equivalent on anything. Ever.

But the review that takes the biscuit comes from a certain D. Bentley. Mr Bentley manages to construct a more detailed argument than the wallet-clutching “too expensive” brigade, and trip himself up on said detail. His first complaint is the lack of a physical manual. For an e-reader. I’m not precisely sure what he bought the Kindle for, but I guess we can assume it wasn’t reading. My own, more expensive Kindle, didn’t come with a paper manual either, and you didn’t see me climbing the walls. Why? Because the manual is preloaded onto the bloody thing!

His second complaint is that he couldn’t get it to connect to his wireless router. He says:

…when I tried to connect it to my router – nothing! A vicious circle of connect – try again – connection failed. Finally, I don’t know how, another screen came up telling me to enter my password for the router. What password!! I don’t have one and never had that I remember.

Can you see what the problem here was? His wireless network was quite obviously secured with a password, which his computer had saved to more conveniently connect him to the internet. Hence he had forgotten the password, which rather than being his fault for not writing it down somewhere, was Amazon’s fault. Of course.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but I’m genuinely astounded at just how incapable some people are. Quite how he expected that his Kindle would come out of the box ready connected to his wireless network is mystifying.

The result of all of this is that I’ve learnt pretty much nothing about the new Kindle, other than the fact that it will confound anyone without the slightest idea of how technology works. I’ve also learnt that a healthy section of the people who post reviews on Amazon are idiots, and should not be listened to at all. Which is a worthwhile, if stroke-inducing, lesson I suppose.

Rekindling My Kindle Customer Services rose admirably to the challenge of a small, barely perceptible crack in my Kindle.

I got my Kindle for Christmas last year, and was almost instantly transformed from a sceptic into a devotee. It will, my girlfriend and my family will testify, goes with me everywhere, and I’ve spent countless journeys reading novels, novellas, magazines, newspapers on it. And, of course, keeping plugged into the internet through it’s unlimited free 3G access.

So, imagine my distress when I discovered recently a crack in the plastic casing, approximately 1.5cm in length, running diagonally downwards from the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. And it’s not, before you say it, down to mistreatment. It lives in it’s protective case, either in my hand, on my desk, or in a bag.

At this stage, it’s purely a cosmetic fault, but it’s still worrying. It could develop further, and lead to a problem which actually prevents me from using the Kindle. Which would leave me somewhat marooned.

But have no fear, readers! Yesterday morning, I called Amazon customer services, expecting a fight. Each Kindle comes with a year warranty, but I was expecting to hear a thousand reasons why it wasn’t covered, why I’d have to pay if I wanted it fixed.

Not so. I was on the phone for roughly three minutes, and didn’t even have to make the call (I put my number into the website, and they called me). At the end of the call, Amazon had dispatched a replacement to me, and sent me an email about how to return the broken one. The replacement arrived this morning, in the post. So I have a new Kindle, less than 24 hours after calling customer services.

That is fantastic customer service, in my book. Too often I use this blog to criticise and complain, but here I take my hat off to Amazon. I’m sure other people have plenty of bugbears and horror stories about Amazon, but I’ve had a great experience of them.

And now, my Kindle has been rekindled!

Brave New Worlds…

Rather a sleek bit of kit, if I do say so myself.

Some of you may remember, earlier this year, I posted a blog entry decrying the rise of the e-format of fiction. Well, brace yourself for a hypocritical U-turn worthy of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition…

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Before you start breaking out the effigies, let me explain. My principle reason for this was academic. As a law student, I have to read a frankly stupid number of academic articles per week, and since reading from a computer screen gives me a headache I end up printing them out. Which costs a fair bit. Thankfully, I can instead download them for free and read them on my shiny new Kindle, without headaches. Primarily because it isn’t shiny.

But I’d been lying if I tried to claim that as the only reason I wanted one. After all, it’s not “Treason in the Age of Terrorism” I’ve been reading for the last few days, but Gary McMahon’s “Rough Cut”. Which I highly recommend, by the way.

No, I’m also very much interested in the fiction on offer. To be completely honest, I’m a little disappointed with the price of some e-books. Unless you’re after fairly underground stuff, or standard e-reader fodder by Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson, then you’re unlikely to pay any less than you would for the print version. Which seems a little odd. I mean, less needs to be spent on the physical production. So does more money go to the author? Doubtful, although if it does I withdraw all criticism.

But anyway, the actual Kindle itself is a pleasure to read. Light enough to hold for long periods of time without tiring, a screen clear enough to read in sunshine, and a tantalising selection of books at my fingertips. Not to mention that, as the more expensive 3G version, it also serves as mobile internet access. And all without the Apple-ness of an iPad.

So yes, I’m converted. I’m not swearing off paper books, and for my favourites I still want physical copies. Digital will always lack the enticing smell, feel and general experience of reading a paper- or hard-back book, but if digital is the future, then there are much worse places it could be headed than the Kindle.

Plus, I can get the Guardian on it!

The Joys of Paper

I sent off a submission today. It was somewhat unusual, in that I had to print out the manuscript, and the cover letter, in physical paper form. And as I stood in the ridiculously long line at the post office, it occurred to me that even though it’s a rarity that I submit in this fashion (the only markets I submit to by post any more, are the stalwarts of British genre fiction Interzone and Black Static), I do quite like it.

There’s something exciting about having the manuscript physically in your hands, and putting it into the post box. A sense of finality in the act of submitting a story, which simply pressing the “Send” button on an email doesn’t provide.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand entirely why the submissions process has moved, en masse, to a virtual mechanism. It’s cheaper, quicker, and generally easier. The writer doesn’t have to pay to print out and then send their story to the editor. The editor doesn’t have to wade through endless wads of paper, and does not have to wait for the daily post each day to get the lay of the land, with new submissions. And whilst I don’t disagree with it, and am not against it, the shift to virtual sometimes deprives me of the satisfaction in seeing a finish product consigned to the higher powers for judgement.

Maybe I’m just being neurotic here, but it doesn’t seem to be limited to submissions. The same issue is relevant (to me, and I suspect, to others) when it comes to e-books. I’m not a fan, but equally not a foe to the concept, but I am undecided. Reading large amounts of text on a computer screen gives me a headache, which is part of the reason that I try to keep my blogs to around 500 or 600 words. Now, I’ve heard the arguments that e-readers don’t do that, because the screen isn’t backlit, and maybe that’s true. My main problem with the digitisation of literature is not that, nor is it the expense (I don’t care how much cheaper e-books are, I don’t have the money for a Kindle, and I certainly don’t have the money or the time for that no-longer-pocketsized iPod touch that Apple have been flogging).

My issue is the lack of something to hold onto. The lack of pages to turn. The lack of ink to come off on your fingers. The sterility of it. And I think that’s the sticking point for a lot of people. I remember a moment in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Rupert Giles denounces digital information, on the basis that the obtaining of knowledge should be smelly. And he has a point. Laugh as much as you like, but I know that any of you recreational readers out there have revelled in that particular smell of a new book, or the musty aroma of an older book.

And I’m thinking, maybe this nostalgic yearning for literature in a physical form isn’t exclusive to strange individuals such as myself. Just look at vanity publishing. For all the arguments that will no doubt be thrown at me in favour of it, it is more difficult to make a success of than traditional publishing. But it can be a shortcut, for writers who long just to see their work in printed form. And if they just want to see their work in the world, why would people choose to pay for their novel to be printed by a vanity publisher, when they could post it online, on blogs like this one, for free? Perhaps it’s because of the innate satisfaction of holding a finished product in your hands. Physical. Tangible. Real.

However much of an advance, and however much more convenient, virtual alternatives might be, there will always be a particular joy that writers and readers find in ink and paper.