Sunday, 18 December 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all

I hope that visitors to this blog enjoyed reading Little RED Riding I explained in the book Beyond Twilight, 'Red' was written a couple of years ago for a competition to update a fairy tale in a modern, contemporary or futuristic setting.

This will be my last blog entry for 2011, so may I wish you all a merry christmas and happy new year. After the holiday period, I will serialise two more stories on this blog, and I've chosen two from my book The Splendour of Shadows: 'The Silent Path' and 'Bloodlines'.

If you wish to do so, you can buy bound hard copies of my books here:

or buy them from Amazon for the Kindle here:

for the USA:

Monday, 21 November 2011

November Update

It's been a while since I posted an update about my writing. I finished my last short story collection Splendour of Shadows a few months ago and self published it on Lulu and Amazon Kindle. Since then I've been working on new material. I've finished the first draft of a new novel, Staccato House, which I have been working on for some time. The first part of this novel was shortlisted in the novella writing competition held by Contact Publishing earlier this year (see previous posts). Now the entire novel has reached some kind of completion, but it needs a bit more work, editing and polish.

I'm also working on a science fiction novel that was originally conceived some time ago, but was put on hold while I completed other work. I have a number of novels that have been started, and are in varying stages of completion, and I plan to spend the next few months working on them as well. I was also planning a collection of plays, but I have since decided against that idea, and instead the plots I was crafting for those plays will become short stories instead, as they fit that format better. So while I'm working on the novels I'll probably complete another collection of short stories. I still haven't decided what I will do with that work, but hopefully some of it will be good enough to publish somewhere, before I rush to self-publish it. I'm also hopeful that I can get an agent or publisher interested in at least one of the novels I'm writing.

I want to do something different with this blog- I have put free examples of my writing on here before, most notably 'The Baron's Cheesecake' which you'll find posted a while before. However, I'm not happy with just displaying that as it was written a long time ago- 2001- it was written for children, and it's not really representative of what I do. My novel The Pirate Princess is also available to read for free on the web at the Authonomy website, but that also is a story for young adults. Instead, I've decided to serialise three of my stories from my self-published books: 'Red' from Beyond Twilight and two stories from the new book Splendour of Shadows 'The Silent Path' and 'Bloodlines'. You'll be able to read them over the coming months. If you're discovering this blog for the first time or you haven't bought any of my books, reading them might help you decide if you like my writing and if those books are worth buying. 'Red' will be the first story to appear and I will post them in installments.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Thomas Pynchon: Entropy and Zeitgeist

I remember first attempting to read Pynchon as an English Lit undergraduate. The book that I chose, ominously, was his postmodern masterpiece 'Gravity's Rainbow'. At that time, I suppose the most literary novel that I had ever read was 'The End of the Affair' by Graham Greene or maybe something by JG Ballard ...I attempted the first one hundred and fifty pages or so of 'Gravity's Rainbow' and gave up. It was completely unlike anything I had ever read before, and I swiftly realised that I had no grasp on the material I was reading and no idea what was going on. Pynchon would remain untouched and unread by myself for at least another decade. The only two scenes that left an impression on me (and rather a rotten, disturbing one at that) were the notorious scenes with Katje/Ernest Pudding and Slothrop diving into the toilet to reach for a lost harmonica (which Irvine Welsh also pays homage to in 'Trainspotting')

I revisited Pynchon much later. The first novel that I completed reading was 'V'. Here again, was a novel which defied labels of genre or plot description, and yet possessed a story that was haunting and fascinating in the telling. Essentially, it's a collection of short stories bound by an overarching narrative which reaches a conclusion as two separate strands coalesce at the conclusion (forming a V-shape design, as the title of the novel) Elements of 'V' are 1950s social commentary and satire, part of it is a surreal detective story, the rest of it might be considered fantasy, science fiction or a precursor of steampunk fiction.

'The Crying of Lot 49' is equally cryptic, a slim volume whose mysteries belie its brevity. I don't believe that its Pynchon's finest work but its a bitesize introduction to his style and thematic techniques. It could be said that this shorter work is the first part of a Californian trilogy, followed by 'Vineland' and 'Inherent Vice'. Several characters re-occur, as the stories take place between the 1960s and 1990.

And back to 'Gravity's Rainbow' of course. Even after completing the novel and re-reading it, it is still a novel that defies description. In some ways it is like an adult comicbook story, with a second world war spy plot merged between slapstick scenes, fantasia and dark satire. The title, 'Gravity's Rainbow' refers to the central premise and focus of the novel: the creation and launch of a V-rocket and its arc across the sky until it descends and hits its intended target. The novel explores the psychology of war and draws parallels between violent conflict and human sexuality/identity. Pynchon's humour and sense of the absurd should never be underestimated either.

In some ways, of all Pynchon's novels, I enjoyed 'Mason & Dixon' and 'Against the Day' the most. 'Mason & Dixon' contains the usual Pynchonian themes and flights of fancy, but there was a warm beating sentimental heart to the story, which might not be said for his earlier work. I also enjoyed Pynchon's archaic style of writing to suit the eighteenth century period that this novel is set in. Meanwhile, 'Against the Day' is a remarkably fecund, epic and original novel. Thematically, I sense that Pynchon began seven or eight different stories or novels, and then realising that they were related by time period and theme, interwove them and bound them together. However, the novel is not a conventional narrative and can be extremely challenging to read. In my opinion though, 'Against the Day' does not suffer for this, and the book ambitiously captures the zeitgeist of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century period, where scientific and mathematical advancement moves the world into a new era, a different kind of evolution and entropy. The central theme that binds each character and their story is 'light', and its relation to the material world and the cosmos, and how its energy is harnessed by humanity on the cusp of technological and rational exploration.

Pynchon's novels are too complex to summarise and analyse properly in a brief blog post- reams of PhD dissection and analysis have been devoted to this author. I really do recommend that you read them. They are not easily accessible to the casual reader. I suggest 'V' or the 'Crying of Lot 49' as an initial introduction, then 'Vineland' which is essentially an American political satire. If you find Pynchon readable, then tackle one of the three epics- 'Gravity's Rainbow', 'Mason & Dixon' or 'Against the Day'.

Pynchon's style is unique and challenging. If authors of fiction hold up a mirror to the world in order to reflect reality and observe fine detail; Pynchon's mirror is warped and distorted, and we may observe monsters lurking there which disturb and haunt us. Pynchon's depiction is that of a kind of hyper-reality: a world of paranoid conspiracy, shadowy agencies, metaphysical gambits and cartoonish, farcical escapades.

'Mason & Dixon' is my personal favourite, and I also enjoyed 'Against the Day', which shares similar themes to 'Gravity's Rainbow'. An interesting contrast between those two later novels and 'GR' is the fact that I did not want to put them down, I was enjoying so much Pynchon's prose, which is endlessly fertile. Whereas in 'GR' the relentless invention and labyrinthine plotting became as sickly as candy floss, or a carousel ride where your head is spinning so badly that you want to get off.

As an extra note of interest, you can find Zak Smith's illustrations for each page of 'Gravity's Rainbow' here at these links, and I've included Smith's illustration for p.36 of 'Gravity's Rainbow' below ("...You've raped me. And I'm the Red Bitch of the High Seas...") and for p.59 ("...a black alley kitten with white little feet...") :

...You’ve raped me. And I’m the ReYou'd Bitch o

he High Seas...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Steven Mace collection (Quartet of books)

Check out this picture of my four published books! I'm very proud of the latest one- 'The Splendour of Shadows', which is my second collection of short stories (fifteen of them, and 477 pages in all!)

The others include my previous collection of short stories, 'Beyond Twilight' (fourteen of those), and my fantasy adventure novella 'The Pirate Princess'. Making up the quartet is my first novel, the fantasy-SF novel 'Copper Moon Rising'.

You can buy my books here:

Or download them at Kindle: and

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

My new collection of short stories- The Splendour of Shadows

I've recently completed and published a new book. It is a collection of short stories entitled 'The Splendour of Shadows'.
Unlike my previous collection of short stories, 'Beyond Twilight', all of the stories in this new collection were written in a shorter period of time before publication- between October 2010 and July 2011.
Early versions of the stories 'The Visitor' and 'Bloodlines' were originally conceived way back around 2001/2002 but they have been largely rewritten and reworked by me in the past year while I was creating and compiling this collection.
I'd like to especially thank Janne Olkkonen, who gave me permission to use the artwork 'Fear No More...' as the cover illustration for this book.
A few words about the stories:

Vortex (Genre: SF/Fantasy/Horror)
This is the first of what I would call the 'Arcadian Tales' in this collection, which are linked to a universe where an organisation known as the Arcadian Vortex exist, controlled by a triad known as 'The Matriarchy'. In this story you will be introduced to Peregrine and Victor, two extraordinary and talented men; and Charlie, a very brave little boy.
Planet of the Dead (Genre: SF/Horror)
The story is set in the same fictional universe as the story 'Red' from Beyond Twilight. You will recognise the character Mortius Vendaker from that previous story. This story concerns a space salvager named Johnny Volta, a mysterious and precious artefact and...a planet full of flesh-eating zombies. I mean, what more could you want? It's all good fun in an exciting SF adventure tale with nasty surprises.
The Promenade (Genre: Contemporary Drama)
A change in tone with this story, this is a short piece of fiction written in a contemporary setting. Originally I had conceived it as a play, as I'm working on a collection of plays at the moment too, but I finally decided to develop it in the short story form. It's about a homeless girl and is a tale of unrequited love and tragedy.
Dignity (Genre: Contemporary Drama)
The central character in this story is an elderly man named Walter. His busy daughter can no longer cope with looking after him, so he has to move into a nursing home. There he succumbs to his demons of loneliness, paranoia and sadness while being treated dismissively by the staff. I wanted to write a story about how poorly our Western society sometimes treats elderly people, and this was my attempt at a sympathetic treatment.
Retribution, Repentance (Genre: Contemporary Thriller)
This is a gritty, reflective tale about a hitman who is assigned to one last job before his retirement. He thinks back on his life and the series of events that have led him to that parrticular moment. Essentially, I suppose it's the study of a sociopath on the verge of a breakdown with a macabre twist.
Shadow Play (Genre: Horror)
I've often gone to nightclubs and seen a social phenomenon: girls on the dance floor with their friends, dancing round their handbags and men standing around, sometimes in the shadows, pint in hand, watching them...just watching. They remind me of vampires. Maybe that was the inspiration for this tale set on a Greek island. It's like a cross between an account of an 18-30 holiday and 'The Lost Boys'- a gruesome vampire tale.
The Goddess Tree (Genre: Fantasy)
This is a fantasy tale with a setting that I suppose is recognisably medieval, and also gives a generous nod to classical mythology...a monk must go on a search, both physical and metaphysical, to retrieve the elixir that will cure the terminal illness of his superior.
A Special Boy (Genre: Horror)
A macabre, sinister little tale. Jason does not like his freakishly abnormal little brother...and little Baxter does not like him!
The Silent Path (Genre: SF/Fantasy)
This story is the second of the Arcadian Tales in the collection and connects to the first, Vortex. It introduces the character Anthony Nexus, a dimensional agent turned rogue...and he is walking a lonely and dangerous path, with powerful enemies in pursuit.
The Splendour of Shadows (Genre: Horror)
I wanted to write a horror story in a late nineteenth century/early twentieth colonial imperialist setting, something with the flavour of H.Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. This story was the culmination of that ambition. It's the tale of Robert Clifton, an English explorer, who leads an expedition into the African jungles and finds something strange and evil lurking there...
The Bell Tower (Genre: Fantasy)
An exotic fantasy tale of magic and myth. Two young men from a nomadic tribe travel across the plains of their homeland to reach the mysterious bell tower and unlock its mysteries...
Bloodlines (Genre: SF)
The third of the Arcadian Tales in this collection, although that is not made clear until the end with a tenuous link to the previous two. An early version of this idea was planned around the idea of genetic engineering and technological 'enhancement', but then I had an idea about introducing quasi-religious themes. Essentially, scientists in the future discover Jesus Christ's 'genetic code'.
The Visitor (Genre: Horror)
This paranoid horror story is centered around a creepy mental patient who speaks of being watched by mysterious beings who have compelled him to commit crimes. Although his claims are bizarre and he is considered insane, eventually his psychiatrist uncovers the truth...
The Fugue (Genre: SF/Thriller)
An SF story involving time travel, time paradoxes and amnesia. Taylor Vector is a sexy heroine and the story takes some twists and turns before a macabre ending...
The Secret Summoner (Genre: Horror)
Of all the short stories that I've written, for some reason this is the one that unsettles me the most. I'm not sure why, but I think it's largely because of what is left unsaid in the narrative, rather than what is said explicitly. Also, it's mainly because even I'm still not sure who, or what, Daniel is. I don't know whether he was evil, or whether he was being used by something alien and terrible, or whether he attracted something that was dark, strange and powerful to him because of his abnormal supernatural gifts. Although, as you will see, meeting Daniel has dark unpleasant consequences for those involved.
There's a a very familiar setting for the story, a university campus, and so at first the tone is very similar to a previous story of mine, 'The Book of Witchcraft'.
A common basic theme which binds the stories together and makes their inclusion appropriate for the collection is the concept of shadow, creeping into each narrative. The presence of shadow, the sinister threat of shadow, the lingering traces of shadow where anything can hide. Shadow as physical darkness, shadow in the form of a presence, shadow manifested as some dark and malevolent double. Hence, the splendour of shadows, a vast collection of them, lurking in the dark corners of our imagination.

                                          Fear No More, by Janne Olkkonen (the cover of The Splendour of Shadows)

Blog 'Grotesquerie'

I found this interesting blog while I was browsing t'internet recently. This American guy is also an aspiring writer, and obviously influenced by H.P Lovecraft, and he also posts interesting articles on SF/Fantasy/Horror and on comics as well. Worth a look and also worth a browse through his articles if you are interested in horror fiction and fan criticism.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Pirates and other marine life

One of the problems I had with my novel 'The Pirate Princess' was writing it for a particular audience as children have a particularly affinity with pirate tales, but I wanted to introduce more fantasy elements and darker themes within the story too. In the end, I suppose my completed novel(la) was one that could be aimed at 'young adults' which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but I still have a sense of dissatisfaction with the finished book. I have thought since I completed it that I could have done a bit more with it. That's why I'm planning to write a sequel, which will be a much more complex book. However, I didn't realise that Tim Powers had got there first with the kind of idea that has been playing on my mind for a while.

I think I am still going to write the book eventually though but I'm glad that I didn't read 'On Stranger Tides' by Tim Powers before I wrote 'The Pirate Princess', as I wouldn't have wanted to be too heavily influenced by his ideas in this novel. I haven't read this book yet and as I have my plans to write a sequel I probably shouldn't, but you will recognise the title as the sub-title for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film. Hollywood took an option on his story and fitted it into Jack Sparrow's film canon (Powers' hero is called Jack Shandy).


More about the novel here

Coincidentally, bearing in mind my blog post of a few weeks ago, Tim Powers was also a so-called protege of Philip K.Dick.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fright Night remake

I was fascinated to see that the classic 1980s horror-comedy 'Fright Night' has been remade, as the original is one of my favourite films. The remake stars Colin Farrell as the vampire Jerry Dandridge and David Tennant as the reluctant vampire-hunter Peter Vincent, while Anton Yelchin is the unwitting teenager Charley Brewster who discovers his next door neighbour Dandridge is a vampire. Those roles were originally played by Chris Sarandon (Dandridge), Roddy McDowall (Peter Vincent) and William Ragsdale (Charley).

The original was definitely more of a horror-genre film than comedy from what I can remember (perhaps in the same manner as An American Werewolf in London), and was a very frightening film in certain scenes:

Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge in the original film

The original Fright Night poster

There was also a 1980s sequel, Fright Night Part 2, with Julie Carmen as Jerry Dandridge's sister seeking vengeance for what happened to her brother in the first film (hopefully not giving the game away too much there!). Most of the cast of the original film reprised their roles. I enjoyed the sequel too, I thought it was almost as good as the original film. Perhaps of this remake of the original film is successful, they will remake the sequel too...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Facebook Page

I just thought I'd remind people about my Facebook page, where I also post news and other little tidbits:

Please feel free to visit or even 'like' the page, as I'm usually quite active there. I've already finished my new book (a collection of original short stories) so in the next couple of months there will be plenty of news heading your way about my latest writings. I will be keeping you posted!

The latest book will contain most of the short stories that I've been working on in the past year. Whereas the previous collection 'Beyond Twilight' contained stories that were written over a much longer period, from 1997-2010, this new book will contain material that I have written in the past twelve months. I think that the new stories are a discernable step up in quality, although they explore similar themes to the 'Beyond Twilight' collection and are mostly written in horror, thriller, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Although having said that, I've also written two stories 'The Promenade' and 'Dignity', which are more examples of contemporary dramatic fiction. More information coming soon...

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Historian/Vampire fiction

I finally got around to reading 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova this past week. I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be.

It obviously carried a debt of inspiration to Bram Stoker, and was written in epistolary form as an appropriate tribute. However, I don't think the structure of the narrative with the changes in chronology helped the story. It was also difficult to distinguish a distinct change in narrative tone between the three separate characters of Bartolomeo Rossi, Paul and his daughter, and I found myself flicking back to double check where I was exactly in the story and who was writing this particular missive.

Another problem was the fact that the story wasn't really that frightening. 'The Historian' is a book with wonderful prose, and Kostova describes the scenic travelogue sections of the novel with marvellous skill, and some sections of it are very atmospheric. Yet maybe the traditional vampire depiction does not carry that notion of fear that it once did. After all, in Stoker's Victorian England the vampire was something alien and provocative within a repressive society: it represented the orient, sexual abandon, primal desires and post-Darwinian evolutionary degeneration. In the modern era, the vampire represents something different- he's almost a romantic, idealised figure, the brooding social outcast. He's the tall, dark and handsome hot guy at your high school (see Buffy, the Twilight stories, Robert Pattinson etc)

Apparently this book has been compared to Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code'. Apart from the superficial similarities of the merger of history/myth, a quest for the truth plot and a male/female character bumbling around dusty old chapels and monasteries, the books are quite different. Kostova is a much better writer.

For a modern re-interpretation of the vampire myth specifically in relation to Dracula, instead of Kostova's book I would recommend Peter Tremayne's 'Dracula Lives!' trilogy.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Baron's Cheesecake (or; a Quest with a Difference)

AUTHORS NOTE: (I was going through some old papers and notes recently, and I discovered this old story amongst my materials. It's a short piece of fiction for children, entitled 'The Baron's Cheesecake'. It's a short story written in a comic fairy tale style. I think I wrote it in 2001 or 2002. Having re-discovered it, I've decided to publish it online and make it available for people to read - SM)

The Baron’s Cheesecake (or, a quest with a difference)

“Delicious! Truly delicious!” said the Baron, as he devoured the very last morsel of steaming partridge pie. “May I compliment you on such excellent food and a splendid dish!”

The cook, who was a nervous, quivering, and obsequious man when in the Baron’s presence, let out a gasp of relief. He had been watching apprehensively from the opposite end of the dining table, wringing his hands with trepidation like an old woman. They were in the Great Hall of the castle, underneath the oak rafters of the wooden ceiling and surrounded by the pennant and trophy adorned stone walls of the hall. The cook was as much a thin, narrow-faced man as the Baron was rather fat. “Th-thank you, Baron”, he stuttered.

The Baron pushed the dirty plate and its very sparse remaining dregs of food away from him, and let out a resounding belch. He was a grossly overweight and bloated man with a round puffy face which glowed red during all seasons of the year. He had taken to wearing always black and over-eating ever since his wife, the late lamented Baroness, had died.

“I- I’m glad you enjoyed it, Baron”, the cook said with a somewhat relieved voice. He let out a nervous titter.

“Indeed I did, cook. Now…” the Baron said, wiping his thick-lipped, fleshy and loose mouth with his napkin. “What about the cheesecake?”

The cook’s anxious and humourless laugh caught in his throat. He spluttered and coughed. “Baron…” he said, once he had managed to attain some control over himself. “What cheesecake?”

The Baron gave him a long, penetrating stare. His eyebrows knitted together like heavy dark thunderclouds rushing across the sky when a storm is coming. “The cheesecake”, he said slowly, with his deep voice. “The cheesecake I specifically asked for.”

The cook gulped and started to wring his hands together once more. He wished that the stone slabs of the hall floor would swallow him up. The Baron watched him, and his expression began to darken with each passing moment when the cook did not speak.

“Cook, am I to assume by your silence that you have failed to cook me my favourite dessert? Are you seriously telling me that there is no Silver Pear cheesecake?” The Baron’s voice began to rise in modulation. “Is that what you’re telling me, cook?” he shrieked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”

“B-but B-B-Baron, I-I a-a-assure you, I-I was n-not informed!” the cook began to splutter and stutter.

I’ll give you not informed!” the Baron cried, and he leapt out of his chair with an explosion of curses, crumbs, and napkins. In fact, he moved surprisingly quickly for such a plump, rotund, fellow. This fortunately broke the cook’s paralysis. He let out a high-pitched cry of terror, and turned to race out of the hall, his knobbly knees pumping frantically. The Baron waddled after him, shaking his fist and hurling abuse. The cook was genuinely frightened, for he knew that if the Baron did succeed in catching up with him there would be some serious bone-breaking to be done. The cook flung himself through the hall entrance, along a dimly-lit corridor and down several flights of stone stairways. Luckily for him, the Baron gave up the chase on the second flight of stairs. Puffing and panting, the Baron sat down on one of the steps. As he did so, he noticed something white lying on the floor at the bottom. He could see it vaguely in the flickering torchlight. Curious, he got to his feet with a low groan (he was a very fat man unfortunately, and it cost him considerable effort), waddled down and picked it up. As he bent over to pick up the mysterious object a few buttons popped in his expensive silk black shirt and bounced off the stone steps. He could now see by the light of the torch that what he was holding was the cook’s chef hat. Furiously, he tossed it back down on the ground. It had reminded him that there was a gaping hole in his stomach which needed to be filled by his favourite dessert. He let out an immense roar which seemed to issue from deep within his flabby body.

I want my cheesecake!”

The sound of the Baron’s voice echoed up and down the stairwell. In dark crevices of the castle turrets, spider webs trembled. The cry travelled through all corners of the castle, where nearly every occupant heard at least some faint reverberation of their master’s cry. Handmaidens gliding through corridors paused to listen with a frown, and page boys in their plush quarters looked around and shuddered. Footmen paused in their errands and cursed the cook for under-feeding the Baron. Guards on the battlements and manning the entrance gates gave each other knowing smirks. Scullery boys and girls in the kitchens paused and there was a silent moment when time seemed like it was frozen, much like cheesecake before it thaws. All the usual hustle and bustle, the shouts and frenzied activity and organised chaos of the kitchens was briefly halted. Then, almost as abruptly, they were back to work again, sensing the cook’s imminent arrival. Tradesmen and merchants selling their wares outside the castle perhaps heard the faintest sound. Then they went to their houses, and tents, and cottages, and boats, and their huts and told their wives, family and friends what they had heard, so that the message began to spread through the Barony, like ripples from a stone thrown into a pool…

The Baron wants his cheesecake, the Baron wants his cheesecake…”


When the cook returned to the kitchen he found himself at the centre of a noisy, smoke-filled chaotic din. As soon as all his apprentices, workers, scullery boys and scullery maids became aware of his presence the commotion began to subside somewhat. The cook began to rush around the worktops looking around frenetically for someone in particular. Abruptly, he grasped one of his youthful scullions by the collar and shouted: “Where is he?”

“Who? What?” the poor scullion gibbered.

“You know who! That useless fool of a boy Will Aubergine! I want to speak to him!”

The scullion looked into the cook’s frantic, bloodshot eyes, and decided that in this desperate situation it was best to take the prudent course. He pointed toward one of the worktops, which was currently surrounded by busy workers. “He’s under there.”

The cook let go of the scullion’s collar and marched purposefully toward the worktable. The scullery boys and girls who were standing there watched him nervously as he approached, exchanged glances, and quickly dispersed. Two skinny legs clad in purple velvet pantaloons and orange slippers were now clearly visible poking out from underneath the cloth at one end of the table. The cook took hold of these curious legs by the ankles and tugged on them. A thin, spotty teenage boy with a mop of ginger hair was suddenly made visible to all as the cook dragged him out from underneath the worktable.

“Will……!”the cook growled.

“Ah, Cook”, Will Aubergine said while lying on his back on the floor, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be doing. “I was just inspecting the under-section of that table for…unaccountable stains and…wood louse. Yes, possibly wood louse. And also termites. No, not termites as it would be…”

“Shut your trap you ridiculous boy and get to your feet”, the cook snapped at him. “It was plainly obvious to all exactly what you were doing, and that was hiding from me! Got a guilty conscience have we…? Why would that be? Maybe, for example, forgetting to tell me that the Baron asked for cheesecake as his dessert! Silver pear cheesecake, no less!”

Will clambered to his feet and dusted off his purple pantaloons. “Cook, I can explain all that. As you know the Baron has unaccountably long whiskers, quite extraordinarily long in fact, the longest you could possibly see in all the Barony and possibly even the Kingdom, and he also has a tendency to mumble- such a terrible impediment, and when our master mumbles like that through his hairiest follicles, it tends to muffle his words and make it so easy to miss a small detail, like a cheesecake…”

“I don’t wish to hear your contrived excuses and bumbling explanations, Will” the cook said to him. Everyone in the kitchen was now watching their confrontation silently. “The Baron wants his cheesecake. And he will get his cheesecake. He will eat his cheesecake whenever it has been prepared and it is ready, whether it is in the middle of the night, at the dawn of a new day, at breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper. He will eat cheesecake. And no mere strawberry cheesecake, Will. Oh no. Silver pear cheesecake. Do you understand me?”

The boy cleared his throat and frowned. “Well, that’s an interesting point of view. It raises even more interesting questions. Will we, for example, wake the Baron up so he can eat his cheesecake?”

Will!” The cook yelled at him. “What it means is that we need silver pears! We have none! I’m sending you out to obtain them. When you return, we shall make the cheesecake that the Baron craves, and as many silver pear cheesecakes as he wants from that moment onward, until the Baron has tired of that type of cheesecake and no longer requires it. Do you understand me?”

Will Aubergine scratched his pointy chin and sighed. “Cook, do you know how hard it is to find a silver pear? I will probably have to fight a dragon for it or win the heart of a fair maiden. I’m sixteen and I’m ginger. I’m not ready for such responsibility. Send Albanus to find you silver pears.” Will pointed to a chubby lad about his own age, currently standing nearby and listening to their conversation. Albanus’ eyes widened. His mouth dropped open and he began to violently shake his head.

“Will, I’m not sending Albanus – I’m sending you. It’s your problem and it’s your responsibility”, the cook told him firmly. “If you had told me that the Baron wanted cheesecake on the menu I could have told one of the knights to find me silver pears. As you caused this shame I have to bear upon my shoulders, I am sending you. Off you go, lad. Time is of the essence. Remember, we need silver pears- there can be no substitute.”

“I should get a pay rise for this”, Will grumbled to himself, as he shuffled toward the kitchen doorway.

What was that?”



So he had been ordered to find silver pears, Will Aubergine thought. But the problem was that he had no idea how to find silver pears. Usually he heard of brave knights obtaining them after slaying dragons, outwitting sorcerers or doing favours for beautiful fair maidens who would then reward them with the rare silver pear fruit. Only, he wasn’t a knight. He was a mere scullery boy. But he would probably have to do something similar to get silver pairs. He just didn’t know what exactly.

He left the Baron’s castle and wandered aimlessly down the King’s Highway. He wondered how far he would have to travel before he found a place where he might find silver pears. He had stolen some oranges from the kitchen which filled the pockets of his purple pantaloons, so at least he had something to eat while he roamed the Baron’s lands.

He did not meet any travellers while he wandered down the highway until he saw an old woman coming toward him from the opposite direction. She wore a ragged, dirty grey robe and was hunched over as if her spine was twisted by the strain of many years. She hobbled along very slowly, and only had wisps of grey hair growing from the mottled flesh atop her skull. Her skin was like wrinkled dry parchment covered with hairy warts, and her hollow cheeks were sunken. One of her eyes was filmed over with a milky cataract, and the other remaining eye peered curiously at Will Aubergine as she approached. Suddenly, she tried to smile at him and he saw only one or two remaining yellow teeth protruding like tombstones from wet, inflamed gums. He tried his best not to shudder at the sight.

She had seen that Will was peeling an orange with his small knife, and she spoke to him in a rasping, croaking voice that possessed all the decay and painful desperation of old age, and a slight lisp from her toothless mouth. “Young sir”, she said. “You look like a good boy. Could you spare a poor lonely old lady an orange? It’d be a great kindness.”

Will’s first instinct was to stride on more quickly and ignore the ugly old woman. But then the Good Samaritan in him took over (as it did on mercifully rare occasions), and he felt a pang of conscience. Feeling pity for her, he offered her the peeled orange. The old woman’s one remaining eye lit up, and she eagerly took the orange from him. She bit into it with gum and remaining teeth, and juice trickled from the corners of her mouth. Will wrinkled his nose in distaste, and tried not to look.

“Well, I’d better be off”, he said, but the old woman spoke to him again.

“Young sir…I thank you for your generosity”, she said. “But I ask one more boon. Would you humour an ancient old lady and…give me a kiss? Not on the cheek, but on the lips? Please, young man?”

Will Aubergine looked at the old woman in astonishment. She was the most hideous creature she had ever seen. As he looked at her loose, mushy lips getting ready to pucker up to kiss him and contemplated her warty, wrinkled skin, he was fighting the urge not to be sick.

“Um…I…probably not”, he gasped. “Sorry but have places to go, people to see, things to…”

“Young man”, she croaked. “It’d be a kindness for an old lady. A bit of harmless sweet affection…for a woman who doesn’t get much of that, these days. Pretty please?” She closed her eyes and puckered up her lips even more.

Before he knew what he was doing, Will Aubergine was leaning forward with his own lips at the ready. Might as well get it over and done with and get away from the silly old bat, he thought to himself. How bad could it be? It was just like kissing an auntie or a granny, okay so it was on the lips but…just a little peck and it’d be over. As he leaned down and in for the reluctant kiss, he could smell the scent of oranges on the old lady’s lips which almost masked her revolting halitosis (but not quite), and he detected the cold sores at the corners of her wrinkled, pursed mouth. He closed his eyes. Just for a brief second, he thought. Just a brief second and it’ll all be over-

Yet as his lips made contact with the sloppy lips of the old woman, they immediately locked on his, holding him fast. He could not pull away. Startled, he opened his eyes wide and murmured something intelligible. Then something very strange happened. He felt a strange tingling in his lips which then travelled into his jawbone and up and into his cheeks. Almost at the same time, the old woman he was reluctantly kissing began to transform.

The years fell away from her. Her back straightened and she began to rise up so that she was as tall as he was. The strands of grey hair regained their texture and more hair sprouted, only this hair was golden. It streamed down the nape of her neck and to her shoulders. The warts and wrinkles on her face rapidly disappeared until her complexion was now flawless. The milky cataract in one of her eyes disintegrated and now both eyes were looking into his, and were a perfect clear blue in colour. They now shone with a sparkling delight, and as the woman stepped back from him, she smiled with luscious pink lips- showing him a full set of pearl-white teeth in healthy gums. The hollow sunken cheeks had now formed themselves into sharp high cheekbones.

The woman who stood before Will still wore the dirty grey ragged robe that the old crone before her had, but she was now a beautiful young maiden of twenty with golden hair and blue eyes. Will staggered back from the shock of what had happened, unable to understand exactly what had occurred. Wow, what a kiss. That must have been the greatest kiss of all time, he thought. It had made this woman decades younger.

“What sorcery is this…?” he gasped.

“Young squire”, the blonde woman said, smiling sweetly.  Her breath no longer smelled foul, but bore the scent of cinnamon. Tears of joy trickled down her cheeks. “You have saved me with your generosity. Some months ago an evil witch placed a curse on me, turning me into an ugly, repulsive old woman. The curse could only be broken if I was kissed on the lips by an innocent callow youth. At last, the evil spell has been broken. I thank you for the great service you have done me, you kind boy.”

“Er…whatever…yes….that…is truly remarkable.” Will Aubergine glanced down the Highway to see if there were any witnesses to confirm what had happened, and that he was not going quite mad, but he and the woman were alone together on the road. He had to trust the evidence of his own eyes. “Who are you?”

“I am the Princess Arianna”, she told him. “Who do I have the pleasure of meeting upon this lonely road…?”

“William Aubergine”, he told her, with as much pride as he could muster. “I’m a scullery boy in the Baron’s kitchens.”

“I owe you a boon in return for the one you gave me, young Will”, she said. “What would you ask of me?”

“Your hand in marriage”, Will Aubergine said with the highest degree of certainty and mischievous ambition, and he seized the beautiful princess by the waist. He was consumed by the sudden desire to kiss her again, particularly as she was so much more alluring now than she had been when she was an ugly old crone. But the startled princess instead cried out in alarm, and took a step back, gently removing his hands from her narrow waist.

“Master Aubergine”, she said breathlessly. “I do not doubt the sincerity of your advances. However…I am rather out of your league. Before we even consider the fact that I am of royal lineage and you are a mere…scullery boy, I am also a few years older than you. You are also ginger and spotty. This must be taken into consideration. No, my hand in marriage is not something I can offer you, Master Aubergine. I ask you to reconsider and suggest another boon I may supply you with. Think fast, young sir! I am weary, and the Baron’s castle lies ahead. I will seek respite from my travels, and the opportunity to change into something more…appropriate (Will saw that she looked down at her ragged robe with an expression of distaste at something so terribly vulgar), before I return to my kingdom in my true form to reconcile with my beloved father and my dear brothers.”

She was rather haughtier now she was a hottie once again, Will Aubergine thought sourly to himself, and he suddenly thought he knew exactly why some evil witch would have decided to be so spiteful and make her old and ugly with dark sorcery. In his experience, beautiful young princesses usually tended to not be fair delightful maidens but instead were more frequently conceited, vain and sometimes melodramatic women prone to flights of fancy and impulsive spite toward would-be suitors. However, he managed to cast his disappointed thoughts and emotions out of his mind. The answer to her generous offer had been obvious, and he smiled as the request came to his lips.


The following evening, the Baron sat before his dessert at one end of the dining table in the Great Hall. He raised his fork and cut into the cheesecake on the plate before him. Opposite him, the cook wrung his hands with anxiety, hoping that the Baron would be pleased with his recipe. The Baron’s guest-of-honour, the restored Princess Arianna, sat to the Baron’s left and watched her host with a smile playing upon her delicate pretty lips.

The Baron placed the slice of silver pear cheesecake, which was neatly skewered on his fork, upon his tongue. He closed his mouth and chewed slowly, silently.

Beads of sweat dripped down the cook’s forehead.

The Baron swallowed, and then stared silently at the cook for a second that seemed to last like a whole minute, or even an hour. Then the Baron smiled. Slowly, the cook began to relax as the tension eased from his body. The Baron took another bite of cheesecake, and this time chewed it with relish.

The cook grinned and gave a sigh of relief.

“Wonderful cheesecake, cook”, the Baron announced. “Absolutely delicious, the finest dessert I have ever had, truthfully. Cook, you have outdone yourself. I hold you in my highest esteem!”

“Thank you, Baron”, the cook said happily. He respectfully bowed at the waist toward his master.

As Princess Arianna laughed and clapped her hands, the Baron spoke to her. “Your highness, I gather that you were the one who obtained the silver pears that the cook used in his recipe. They are…a unique and delicious fruit, and most rare.”

“Indeed they are, Baron”, Princess Arianna replied. “Upon my eighteenth birthday my father gave me a present of silver pear seeds. They are a magical fruit, with a delicious flavour. Upon planting a seed, the silver pear tree will sprout in a matter of hours, and pears will bloom in abundance. We planted a tree in one of your courtyards- me, the cook, and young Master Aubergine. Baron, you’ll never want for silver pears or silver pear cheesecake again- and truly this magic fruit is the most delicious in the entire world.”

The Baron nodded, closed his eyes and smiled with satisfaction. His appetite had been sated.

Friday, 24 June 2011

My books are now available for the Kindle

My books 'The Pirate Princess' and my collection of short stories, 'Beyond Twilight' is now available on Amazon for the Kindle: (Copper Moon Rising- thanks to Peter Krause for the fresh artwork)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Science fiction is speculative fiction

I don’t like the term ‘science fiction’. Why? Well, I claim to be a science fiction writer but I would say while I know a little bit about fiction, I don’t know very much about science. Not off the top of my head, anyway. I could probably just about manage to turn on a Bunsen burner. I got a double B for Science in my GCSEs, but that was the last time I studied Physics, Chemistry or Biology to any great depth. If I write fiction where I need to know scientific principles or where science is applied or subverted in some way, then I need to do my research (luckily I am a trained researcher and that’s my job title). I’m not a qualified aeronautical engineer like Robert Heinlein, or a professor of biochemistry like Isaac Asimov.

Most importantly, how do we define ‘science fiction’? If you ask most people this question, they will most probably picture a story that is set in space and/or some future time. There are numerous repetitive motifs in science fiction (much like dwarves, elves, and magicians in fantasy fiction) such as space craft, space colonies and colonisation, robots and androids, alien planets and cultures, aliens, alien invasion, time travel, inter-galactic wars, etc. Think of the numerous films, television shows, books and video games which can be neatly packaged in this niche genre. Most importantly, it reaches the stage where it can be marked ‘For Geeks Only’ (“It’s nothing to do with the real world. Strange, sad socially inept people and overgrown schoolboys like it”- this is the opinion of a lot of women, by the way) and the type of entertainment that people like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost like. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but when it reaches the level of SF Conventions and obsessive weirdoes with questionable personal hygiene, dressing up in ridiculous outfits complete with fake pointy ears and learning redundant fictional languages like Klingon, I do begin to suspect that it probably is.

I had a discussion with my boss about the writer J.G Ballard. I insisted that Ballard was a science fiction writer. My boss hates the standard SF motifs, despises Star Trek, Star Wars and any space/future time-located story but he does like Ballard (he also likes Iain Banks, but not Iain M.Banks). He maintained that Ballard did not write science fiction because his stories are set in an everyday recognisable world rather than dealing with spaceships and little green men, or star captains in skin-tight jumpsuits piloting vast space craft, or time machines spinning inexorably through space. The more recognisable everyday setting is a hallmark of writers of ‘New Wave’ science fiction which became popular from the 1960s onward but I’ll come to that in a moment.

A brief resume of Ballard’s fiction is appropriate here. It’s true that he wrote non-SF material such as ‘Empire of the Sun’ and ‘The Kindness of Women’ about his formative childhood experiences in Japanese-occupied China during the Second World War. Yet the work he is most noted for has science fiction elements. ‘The Drowned World’ is about ecological disaster, when Earth’s polar ice caps melt and most of civilisation is submerged, leading to a regression in the previously civilised attitudes of the protagonists of the story. ‘The Crystal World’ is about the discovery of a crystalline organism within the African jungle which is slowly expanding and turned everything to crystal; a rather attractive form of apocalyptic destruction that might eventually transform the world into a giant crystal rock, glimmering within space. ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ is an experimental novel, heavily influenced by William S.Burroughs, exploring the inner workings of the mind of a psychotic character, with a splintered, fractured narrative. Ballard’s most notorious novel, ‘Crash’ is about car-crash sexual fetishism (symphorophilia). One publisher’s reader returned the manuscript remarking that: “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish!” ‘High Rise’ and ‘Concrete Island’ have similar themes- speculation on how modern life and technology warp and subvert the human psyche. Other Ballard novels such as ‘Cocaine Nights’ and ‘Super-Cannes’ are set in a recognisable near-future, in dystopian social environments- yet although they do not focus on advanced technology or encounters with alien races, their themes and ideas are certainly compatible with the science fiction genre, except the term ‘science’ is not quite so relevant any more.

This is where I would apply the definition of ‘science fiction’ more loosely, and instead apply the term ‘speculative’ fiction. The concept of speculation may encompass a broader range of work in regard to speculative concepts of future time, alternative histories and alternate realities, in worlds that may even closely resemble our own.

In my opinion Ballard is writing in the same genre as Philip K.Dick, Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss or even Michael Crichton- although his style may be more literary than others, let’s say. Speculative fiction can be further subdivided into science fiction, which then can be subdivided into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science fiction, if you’re inclined to do so and you enjoy categorising fiction. Yet I prefer the broader definition of SF, where it’s possible to appreciate each individual writer’s unique vision.

The writing of Philip K Dick

Philip K.Dick is perhaps the wildest, most erratic and yet most original Speculative/Science Fiction writer of them all. For those of you who are more inclined to follow film/cinema than books, you might be interested to know that films such as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Total Recall’, ‘Minority Report’, ‘Paycheck’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ amongst others are based upon his writings, and more of Philip K Dick’s fiction is likely to be adapted to film in the future. Some more loosely than others, of course. There are always difficulties in adapting written fiction for the screen, no less illustrated when considering the clunky nature of some of Dick’s titles: “Blade Runner” is based on the novel titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” while the original title of the short story that ‘Total Recall’ is based on was “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’. The movie title comes from the name of the company ‘Recall’ in the original story, which uses technology to implant false memories in people’s minds.

There are few Speculative Fiction writers that have the ability to be as humorous, thought-provoking and unsettling across the breadth of their work as Philip Kindred Dick. Many of his original ideas and concepts have been hugely influential both in SF fiction and the mainstream. It can be argued that recent films as diverse as ‘Twelve Monkeys’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘The Truman Show’, ‘Memento’, ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Inception’ owe a lot to his ideas.

When I wrote two of my first science fiction short stories, ‘Epiphany’ and ‘Garden of Illusion’ (one of which is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have developed psychic abilities through science or evolved psi powers; the other which is about a traumatised woman who is in virtual reality therapy) I hadn’t read much Philip K. Dick. After I had read half a dozen of his novels and many of his short stories, I realised that I owed a huge debt to his influence, which had pervaded into the creative consciousness and themes of other writers of fantasy and SF that I had read, and who had then influenced and inspired me.

I’ve not read all of his works but my personal favourites of what I have read are ‘Martian Time-Slip’, ‘Now Wait for Last Year’, ‘Our Friends from Frolix 8’ and most of all, ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’.

These books are quite difficult to describe and a plot summary only hints at their imaginative power. Briefly-

‘Martian Time-Slip’ is set on a Mars colony in the distant future. The three central characters are Jack Bohlen, a schizophrenic repairman; Arnie Kott, the governor who controls the planet’s limited water supply and Manfred Steiner: an autistic boy whose condition is a result of the fact his mind and consciousness can exist in a different phase of time to the present. He can see into the past and future, and possesses supernatural powers that disturb the consciousness and reality of those around him, particularly the unstable Jack Bohlen. The conflict occurs when Jack Bohlen’s father wishes to buy land on Mars that will be turned into condominiums by the UN and will sell at a high price; Kott also has an eye on the land and wishes to travel back in time to buy the land before Jack Bohlen’s father can. I won’t reveal any more, only to say that there are some very creepy passages in this book, particularly when Kott starts to see the past through Manfred’s eyes and the ending when an aged Manfred travels back in time physically to revisit his mother in the past.

‘Our Friends From Frolix 8’ is set on an Earth of the future, where humankind is divided into three groups: New Men, Old Men and Unusuals. Old Men are normal, average everyday humans. New Men are super-intelligent highly evolved humans with enhanced craniums, and they are the new rulers of mankind. Unusuals are humans with psychic abilities such as telepathy or telekinesis. Earth is ruled by Willis Gram, an Unusual who maintains the hegemony between the power of the New Men and the masses of Old Men. However, there is a revolution brewing led by the ideas of Eric Cordon and the figurehead of Thors Provoni, who has travelled out into deep space to look for help to save Old Mankind. Eventually he returns, with a dangerous and powerful alien lifeform for company…

‘Now Wait for Last Year’ is set during a war in a galactic future between the Starmen (inhabitants of a planet called Lilistar) and the Reegs. The central character is a man from Earth called Eric Sweetscent. He works for a man named Virgil Ackerman who introduces him to Gino Molinari, the elected leader of Earth who can apparently return from the dead. Meanwhile the Starmen locate Eric’s wife Kathy and addict her to JJ-180, a hallucinogenic drug which is both toxic and highly addictive. The Starmen know Eric is working for Molinari and believe Molinari has defected to the side of the Reegs. They want Kathy to spy on her husband, in return for providing her with more of the addictive drug.

‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ reads like an insane rollercoaster ride. It’s set in a future where the entire Solar System has been explored and colonised by humans. For their own entertainment people take drugs to enter shared dream worlds created by the PP Layouts Company (if you thought some of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ ideas were original, or that there was frankly anything original about that film at all, it’s worth noting that Dick wrote this novel in 1965). Palmer Eldritch, returning from a journey into deep space, is rumoured to have discovered an alien hallucinogenic drug which he plans to market as ‘Chew-Z’ and which will put the PP Layouts out of business. Leo Bulero, head of PP Layouts, attempts to contact Eldritch but he is kidnapped and forced to take Chew-Z. He enters real or unreal realities which are seemingly controlled by himself and Eldritch. The three stigmata, by the way, are: artificial eyes, an artificial metal right hand and metal teeth.

‘Three Stigmata…’ is perhaps most representative of the key themes in Philip K.Dick’s work: mental disturbance and states of paranoia; altered consciousness and altered perceptions of reality (via the supernatural, advanced technology or by drugs); human nature and human desires; political control and leadership of society and particularly in his later work, religion and theology.

As for Philip K.Dick himself, he worked as a repairman and salesman in the 1950s before he became a professional writer. He suffered from anxiety and obsessive character traits throughout his life. In the 1960s when he produced his best, most structured and inventive work (in my opinion) he used amphetamines in order to be more prolific and productive. He claimed that when he was on speed, he could produce ’68 pages of copy a day’. I can manage between 20-25 pages on a good day (about 12,000 words) with the aid of coffee and Red Bull!

In 1970 he divorced his wife and became an addict. He opened his house up to hippies and street-people. In 1974 he had some kind of breakdown which influenced his later, more inaccessible and esoteric writing (it’s possible that he suffered amphetamine psychosis) Overall, his output was much reduced from his 1960s work. The novel ‘A Scanner Darkly’ was written in this later period, and he admitted that the novel (which describes an undercover police officer who infiltrates a drugs den to catch dealers but then himself becomes an addict to a highly dangerous fictional drug called Substance-D) was semi-autobiographical and that the characters were based on many of the people that he had come into contact with in the early 1970s.

The noted, great SF and Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock has criticised Philip K Dick for his ‘cardboard cut-out characters’ and ‘hack writing’

Moorcock has a good point (particularly about Dick’s later work following his breakdown) but there are many intriguing and original ideas in Dick’s work despite his erratic style. (I was thinking about subtitling this section ‘Moorcock on Dick’ but then I noticed an alarming double entendre) I think Philip K Dick has great value as an imaginative writer and the fact that so many of his works have been adapted to film shows his enduring appeal and the fascination of his ideas in our modern age. I found that his stories get under your skin and leave you with a sense of unease, but his work can also be witty and amusing too. If you want to know more about Philip K Dick and his writing, there are some useful links here (including the Michael Moorcock review):

Shortlisted in Contact Publishing's Page Turner Prize competition

My novella 'Staccato House' was shortlisted for Contact Publishing's Page Turner Prize competition. I came 7th overall and won a book as a my prize.

I'm planning to rewrite and extend my novella entry 'Staccato House' into a novel.

The unknown artist

Unfortunately I do not know who the artist was who created the covers for my 'Copper Moon Rising' and 'Beyond Twilight' books.

I found these images online in 2006/2007, saved them and made a note of the artist's web page URL and contact details as I thought they were perfect as covers for my self-published books. Unfortunately, I lost the URL of the artist's website. When it was time to self-publish in 2010, I spent hours searching on Google images with the original JPEG titles, but I could not find the images or the artist. I had set my heart on using the images and so I did, but if you are that artist, or you know who the artist who made those two book covers is, then please contact me! I would have asked your permission had I been able to find out who you were. Apologies.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Q & A

Some time ago I posted that I was going to do a Q & A to respond to fan questions. Thank you to all the people who asked me questions about my writing. I received several by e-mail, on facebook and verbally. Here are my responses, I've endeavoured to answer them to the best of my ability.

Do you really think you could become a famous and successful writer?
It's incredibly difficult but we can all dream! You need about 5 % inspiration, 45 % hard work and 50% of a thick skin that can accept rejection and properly assess your own work in order to improve it. It's really important not to give up. A short story or a novel might receive 100 rejections and the 101st could be successful...a lot of people would give up before the 50th rejection. J.K Rowling was rejected several times by publishers before her manuscript for the first Harry Potter novel was finally accepted. The importance of networking and knowing the right people and right avenues to go down and who to approach is also important in any industry too.

Writing fiction is a hugely competitive field, and the publishing industry is saturated. You only need look on the self-publishing websites like Lulu, XLibris, Authonomy and Authorhouse to see the vast amount of self-published work out there that has been completed and whose authors are trying to get noticed.

I've only just started and I am still learning. Experimenting and practicing writing is all part of the process. I think it's very important to complete stories and novels and then be self-critical. Unless you're fortunate enough to be a literary genius, or work relentlessly at a first novel you believe in for ten or fifteen years or however long it takes to get it up to scratch, your first book will not be a masterpiece and it will be very difficult for it to be published.

In terms of choosing to do this, I think there are easier ways to become famous and make money. If that's the sole intention for someone trying to write a book, I'd advise that you do something else. It's a very lonely hobby/profession and it is extremely hard work, harder than you might initially think. However, I do it because I enjoy writing and constructing fiction, I enjoy telling stories. And I'll plod on with it, for better or worse.

Is Self-Publishing worthwhile? Is it really the way forward? After all- anyone can do it. It doesn't have the stamp of quality that published, properly marketed, packaged and edited work does. Self-published writers are considered 'hobbyists', rather than serious professional writers and self-published books are therefore erratic in terms of quality.
The principle benefit of self-publishing is that I can have complete control of the material I write and of the editing process. I can even switch genres if I desire to. I don't have to keep to a formulaic approach. Secondly, once I have finished work I can make it available to people and share what I have done. Feedback is always welcome. Being able to make my completed books available in this self-published format also keeps me encouraged. I know that there can be an end product when I finish something after investing a lot of time and energy in it, even if it would be rejected by traditional publishers. Seeing a printed book with my name on the spine at the end is a powerful incentive and a reward for time invested.

The publishing business is changing with advancing technology anyway, and the traditional model is not sustainable.

Do you write poetry?
No, I prefer writing prose. I'm more into storytelling and creating characters and conflicts that need to be resolved rather than experimenting with language in that medium.

Have you published any short stories in magazines yet?
Not yet, but I'm working on it! Submission requirements are quite stringent. Many magazines don't accept work that is over a certain word limit, or has been already published or self-published in some form, or made available online. I'm currently working on more stories. My story 'Staccato House' was shortlisted for the Page Turner Prize Novella competition and I won a prize for that. I've also received interesting feedback from publishers and magazine editors.

I really liked the Pirate Princess but the story seemed to end a bit abruptly. I was hoping that Ayesha would find her parents and who was the mysterious magician at the end? Will there be a sequel?
Time permitting, yes there will be. I will write a sequel eventually. I think it would be a much longer, epic novel and you will find out a lot more about Ayesha and her world. Initially I wasn't planning to write a sequel to that novel but I have a few interesting ideas for Captain Nightshade's next adventures that I plan to work on sometime in the distant future.

Why do you mainly write 'weird' stuff (horror, fantasy and science fiction)? Will you attempt to write stories in other genres?
I don't write with a specific potential audience in mind. I just write fiction to please myself in the first instance, in the genres I like and would read myself. I am writing a romantic historical novel at the moment though, which might surprise a few people. It's set in the period of the 1940s up to the late 1970s. I've had to do a lot of research to make it as authentic as possible.

You said you were going to write a vampire novel on your blog last year. What has happened with that?
I'm planning a trilogy of books about vampires, and I have the structure and plots for them. I'm planning to try and do something original with the vampire myth. I just need to find the time!

What are you working on at the moment?
I'm writing another collection of short stories. It may be some time before they become available though because once I'm happy with them these will be sent to magazines or entered in competitions. After the outcomes with those, I will self-publish them in a book and make them available online if they weren't published in a magazine. I made the mistake of doing it the other way round before but that was because I was eager to show what I had been working on for some time.

I'm also working on four novels, which are all at varying stages of completion. 'Staccato House' is a dark crime thriller set in the present day, and the first third of what will become that novel was the novella shortlisted for the Page Turner Prize. I'm also working on another crime/detective novel (also set in the present), a science fiction novel that I've been attempting to finish for years but is all mapped out, and I've also begun this romantic historical novel set from the 1940s-70s, which is a bit of a departure for me! Really though, it's more a dramatic character study than a romance as such, although a romantic relationship is at the heart of the story.

I'm hoping to complete these five projects (including the short stories) over the course of 2011/2012. Once they're complete, I'll try to get them published and do something with them to make them available: whether they're self-published or free to read online. I've also thought about making 'Staccato House' available in a serialised format here on my blog. I would post a chapter each week, or each month depending on the final length.

Those were all the questions I received this time, but I welcome all comments, replies, feedback, suggestions and criticism!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Film noir, Marlowe and Chandler

I like detective fiction and I like reading Raymond Chandler. It's easy to admire his cynical hard-bitten private detective, Philip Marlowe. Sometimes I think Marlowe, the protagonist of Chandler's novels, speaks with Chandler's authentic voice and is a fictionalized version of Chandler's real-life personality too. The majority of detectives in modern fiction: in film, television and books, are influenced by the figures of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade in American 20th century fiction (along with Agatha Christie's 'Poirot' and Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' of course) Chandler partly invented the noir/film noir genre and this cool, hard-nosed, cynical but somehow heroic private detective who is a staple of such fiction. He has also spawned a legion of imitators, not to mention parodies and caricatures of the genre. Chandler himself was heavily influenced by the work of Dashiel Hammett and Hammett's own detective creation, Sam Spade. Chandler however writes genuinely literary prose, and is a master of his craft.

 I also think Chandler creates femme fatales in noir fiction like no other writer. This is one of my favourite passages (it amuses me and I think it is brilliant writing) from Chandler's The Long Goodbye: it is where Philip Marlowe sees Eileen Wade for the first time in a bar and begins to reflect on the nature of blonde women and their various 'types', as he sees it:

I stared. She caught me staring. She lifted her glance half an inch and I wasn’t there any more. But wherever I was I was holding my breath.

There are blondes and there are blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blonde as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the Editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anaemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindeminth she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d’Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

The dream across the way was none of these, not even of that kind of world. She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its colour.

Raymond Chandler  (from The Long Goodbye)