Friday, 4 December 2015

#whimword - Relative

It is a well documented fact that time slows down as you approach the speed of light. It was one of the things complicating off-world travel. The other, of course, being that you can't go faster than the speed of light, at least not without breaking physics in some new and exciting way.

Fortunately, at the speeds humanity was currently capable of, travel within the solar system wasn't too much of a problem. The most anyone had ever lost due to time dilation was a few days.

But for travel outside the solar system there was the potential to lose years. Which was why Cassie had said goodbye to her family and friends before she embarked on this mission.

It was high risk, what she was planning to do. And even if it worked she might never see her loved ones ever again. But for the chance to be the first human to travel outside the solar system. It was worth it.

Cassie's nerves increased as the countdown began. She was strapped into a ship that was little more than the most powerful engine humanity could make and a navigation array.

She felt the orbital launcher's docking clamps release as the countdown hit 5...





The engines fired up and Cassie was pinned to her seat by incredible amounts of G-force. Accelerating from stationary to almost the speed of light sure took it out of a person. But Cassie had trained for this and she managed not to pass out.

The tiny craft roared towards it's initial destination; the Sun. The plan was to slingshot around the largest body in the solar system, skirting as close to the Sun's surface as the ship's hull plating could handle. With a bit of luck the extra velocity generated during this manoeuvre would push the craft even closer to the speed of light and throw Cassie out of the solar system on a trajectory to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Assuming Cassie wasn't turned into a red paste at some point during this manoeuvre, she'd signal home and they'd work out how the hell to get her back. Even if everything went to plan and she made it back to Earth, everyone there would have aged sixty years while she stayed the same.

That was the best case scenario. Cassie wasn't entirely convinced their little trip around the sun wouldn't send her back in time searching for whales.

It was crunch time.

Cassie steered the craft into the pre-agreed trajectory, hoping against hope she wouldn't burn up.

The hull plating held. She didn't crash into the sun.

The next thing Cassie knew she was in an unfamiliar system, orbiting an unfamiliar star.

It had worked!

Cassie's heart thundered in her chest as she did the post-flight checks. There was a little singing on the outer hull but no major damage. Everything had gone according to plan.

Now to radio home, find out if anyone was listening.

"Hello, is anyone there?"

Monday, 30 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 30

Here we are at the end of National Novel Writing Month. For those brave and foolish adventurers like myself, it has been a month filled with words and story. Some of us have made it to the finish line, some of us haven't. And that's okay. Anyone who has more words now at the end of November than they did at the start is a winner in my my book. Those of us who hit 50,000 words are just overachievers.

And yes, I am indeed in that category.

I hit my target of 50k words in one month. And on my first NaNoWriMo as well.

So how's it been for me?

Pretty good overall. It's been fun. Stressful, but then that's my own fault for deciding to attempt NaNo whilst in the final stages of my PhD. It probably wasn't the best plan I've ever had but I did pass my viva and succeed at NaNo. So everything turned out fine in the end.

It wasn't all smooth sailing though. I fell off the blogging wagon just over half way though. This was partly because it was getting a little tedious blogging about writing a novel I don't want to share details of yet. Mostly it was because I flagged a little and it was a case of either blogging or working on NaNo. I chose NaNo.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. In fact I have a few other writing challenges lined up for next year in what has been dubbed as OPERATION WORDS OR GLORY by my friend Susan. And the plan does include doing NaNo again next year. If I haven't burnt out completely by then, which is a possibility.

Here's the graph of how I did over the course of the month because I like graphs. I particularly like this on because it's pretty obvious where in the month my viva fell. My daily word counts are below as well, mostly for my own future reference.

So that's the end of NaNoWriMo. I did it.

My plan for the rest of the year is to finish off my current works in progress, which includes my novel. 50k words wasn't quite enough to wrap things up and I'm looking forward to seeing the end of the story. I also have a couple of things I put on hold for NaNo that I need to get back to.

Then in the new year (how the hell is it nearly 2016 anyway) I can start on something fresh.

Gotta keep writing.

 November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0     : Total 19571
Day 12 0     : Total 19571
Day 13 309  : Total 19880
Day 14 3170 : Total 23050
Day 15 2001 : Total 25061
Day 16 1663 : Total 26724
Day 17 1718 : Total 28442
Day 18 2188 : Total 30630
Day 19 1791 : Total 32421
Day 20 951   : Total 33372
Day 21 3676 : Total 37048
Day 22 2022 : Total 39070
Day 23 1125 : Total 40195
Day 24 264   : Total 40459
Day 25 2008 : Total 42476
Day 26 1739 : Total 44206
Day 27 856   : Total 45062
Day 28 1114 : Total 46176
Day 29 86     : Total 46262
Day 30 3816 : Total 50078

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 17

Today was probably my worst day for procrastinating on NaNo so far. Not because I wasn't writing, quite the opposite.

In fact I ended up writing something else instead of working on my novel.

I've read a lot of writing advice on not starting anything new while you're working on a story and it's good advice. I'm just terrible at following it. I'm always working with more than one story at a time and I've actually got three or four works in progress that I put on hold for NaNo. I figure every writer is different and that's just how I work. Ideas just come to me too quickly to ever have just one story on the go.

Today I wound up with a first line and a concept in my head and I knew I wouldn't be able to knuckle down on my novel until I'd gotten them out. SO I ended up writing a completely unrelated 1000 word flash fiction which introduced a superhero and her sidekick who I'm totally going to end up telling more stories about. So, oops.

But I did sit down and work on the novel and I'm still on track to finish on time which is good. I'm still hoping I'll get one or two really good days in so I can get ahead but we'll see what happens. I'm still on track and that means I'm winning.

 November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0 : Total 19571
Day 12 0 : Total 19571
Day 13 309 : Total 19880
Day 14 3170: Total 23050
Day 15 2001 : Total 25061
Day 16 1663 : Total 26724
Day 17 1718 : Total 28442

Monday, 16 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 16

Not really all that much to say today.

I made word count and  I'm on track to finish on the thirtieth. I'd quite like to get a few thousand words into a buffer but at the moment I'm pretty pleased with myself.

Also I've now hit 30000 words for the month (including this blog) meaning this month is already my most productive month this year!

Gone back and started a new chapter I realised I needed but I'm moving the story forward at the same time so I don't get too bogged down cycling back to fix things. Got some pretty epic shit to throw at my protagonist in the next few chapters. I'm looking forward to it.

Still enjoying writing this novel, I think I'm just feeling the after effects of the whole PhD thing. IT's taken a few turns where I didn't expect which is keeping things interesting. And I've just about sorted the plot for the sequel, which is pretty exciting.

Need to finish this one first though. Then on to the next.

 November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0 : Total 19571
Day 12 0 : Total 19571
Day 13 309 : Total 19880
Day 14 3170: Total 23050
Day 15 2001 : Total 25061
Day 16 1663 : Total 26724

Sunday, 15 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 15

Not much to say today.

Spent most of the day helping a friend turn a few barrels of apples into juice for later cider making. I was surprised by jut how much hard work it was. I was pretty exhausted when I got home from that and didn't really feel like writing. Made myself sit and do some anyway.

The plan was to write 3k words today, which didn't happen. I did manage 2k, which got me to 25000 words (half way!) and back on track. If I can manage 2000 words a day from here on out (which I was doing in the first week) then I should hit the target by the end of the month.

Managed to get past the scene that was giving me trouble and now we're about to hit a bunch of action. With a bit of luck that means the words will be coming thick and fast for a while.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.

 November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0 : Total 19571
Day 12 0 : Total 19571
Day 13 309 : Total 19880
Day 14 3170: Total 23050
Day 15 2001 : Total 25061

Saturday, 14 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 14

Today was the first real day of playing catch up. Done pretty well to be honest, despite a really slow start. I'm well and truly into the post-viva funk and have no motivation to do anything whatsoever. But this novel won't write itself so I need to crack on.

The progress graph I'm keeping looks really silly now I've started to gain on the word count again.  I've added it here just because it amused me. Also because graphs = science.

Graphs mean science. It's true. I have a PhD, I know these things.

Managed the 3k I wanted write today just just about put me back on track. Gonna go for another 3k tomorrow to get my buffer back. We'll see what happens after that.

Story wise I've hit a bit of a block. There's a few scenes here and there that I realised were needed so I've gone back and put them in, but it does mean I've not really been moving the forward all that much. I think part of my reticence is because I've reached a major argument between my protagonist and her best friend (a character I really like) and the inevitable result is the friend's departure from the story. Which I'm not really looking froward to.

I just have to tell myself that with the best friend (and my protagonist's voice of reason) out of the way I'm free to throw a whole bunch more trouble at my character to see what happens. Just gotta get through this scene first.

And keep on writing.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0 : Total 19571
Day 12 0 : Total 19571
Day 13 309 : Total 19880
Day 14 3170: Total 23050

Friday, 13 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 13

All has been quiet on the NaNoWriMo front for a few days owing the fact that yesterday was one of the most stressful days of my academic career. Yesterday afternoon I had to sit in a room for two and half hours and convince two people with PhDs that I deserved to get one too. And I did it! I'm a few bits of writing away from achieving the highest academic qualification you can study for.

I can do that. Writing things is no problem.

Which is why NaNo has taken a back seat this week. I managed 545 words on Tuesday and nothing Wednesday or Thursday. Got back to writing today but I'm planning to give myself a few days to come down from the post-viva high before I knuckle back down with the novel. And then job hunting and thesis corrections I guess.

Managed about 300 words today. Not great, but it's a start. And it's better than nothing. I just did a hell of a thing that I'm immensely proud of myself for so I'm going to cut myself a bit of slack on the writing front.

Sometimes life gets in the way of writing, and that's ok. The trick is to pick yourself up and get writing again afterwards. That's my goal for tomorrow.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026
Day 10 545 : Total 19571
Day 11 0 : Total 19571
Day 12 0 : Total 19571
Day 13 309 : 19880

Monday, 9 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 9

Today was hard.

Anxiety about the viva is ramping up and I had the flat to clean in preparation for my mum coming to visit tomorrow. I didn't have a lot of time to write and by the time I sat down to do some it was quite late.

Managed 1200 words but it was like pulling teeth the whole time and not just because it was a difficult scene. Still, I managed to break 19000 words tonight, putting me approximately 4000 words ahead of the target.

There will be better days. I knew this week would be hard and it would affect my word count. Getting any words down is a win and I'll happily take that.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747
Day 9 1279 : Total 19026

Sunday, 8 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 8

Day 8 of NaNoWriMo and the first day of week two. A chance to start afresh if the first seven days didn't go quite according to plan.

My first week exceeded my expectations. I had an intricate plan all set up using Pacemaker that was designed to give me an easier word count target in the run up to my viva and increase the difficulty afterwards. Yeah, that went out the window. Instead I've been aiming for 2000 words every day, and if I've not felt up to that the at least I've made the minimum of 1667. Except for yesterday when I shot for a double up target of 4k and only just missed.

The plan for today was to do another double up in an attempt to hit the 20k mark. Then I'd be able to shoot for 1000 words a day most of this next week in the knowledge that I'm fairly comfortably ahead. Alas, things don't always go according to plan.

I only hit 1000 words today in the end.  I started late and found it difficult to make myself sit down and write. Days like this are part of the reason I like to front load challenges like this; it's much less overwhelming for me if I know I can have a bad day or even skip a day because I'm ahead.

Even so, today wasn't a total bust. I'm 1000 words further ahead than I was yesterday and  I realised I needed to go back and add another chapter in earlier on. Previously I had a big time skip between one event and what happened next but I realised I needed to deal with the immediate aftermath of the inciting incident better. Plus it means I get to hang out with one of my favourite characters some more.

Still having fun, still enjoying the story. Hopefully that means that other people will too. When I'm done.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682
Day 8 1065 : Total 17747

#whimword - Kindness

It was kindness that did for him in the end.

Pity or derision he could have coped with, but it had been so long since he'd experienced genuine kindness he didn't known how to deal with it. A simple gesture was all it took to undo him completely.

In Metropolis no one pays any attention to the homeless. There are so many in the streets that you can't possibly help them all, so you learn not to see them. You find your gaze sliding past doorways full of huddled bodies because even if you acknowledge their existence there's nothing you can do. Everyone in this godforsaken city is a just a bad day away from joining them.

No one wants to help. No one can help and those that are supposed to turn a blind eye. That's just the way of things here.

He'd long since given up on the kindness of strangers but still he put his bowl out every day. Not so much because he hoped someone would take pity as much as he didn't know what else to do. Beggars begged, even if there was little or no chance it would come to anything.

The day was grey and wet; bad weather for begging even in a city where people have a heart. He sat huddled in his cardboard shelter, trying to conserve heat as best he could. His belly ached with hunger; it had been three days since his last meal.

Out of the gloom stepped a little girl, no more than six years old. By the way she was dressed she was the daughter of someone wealthy and important; he did his best to ignore her.

She moved towards him, slowly, deliberately, her head tilted to one side in curiosity. "Excuse me sir," she said, ever so politely. "Why are you sat out here in the rain?"

He laughed, hacking up several days' worth of mucus in the process. "I have nowhere else to go, little girl. No one wants me"

"Why not? Did you do something bad?"

"No, nothing like that. I'm old and too much effort to look after. Not worth keeping any more."

"I'm sure someone thinks you're worth something," she said with a naive certainty that warmed the old man's jaded heart.

"Maybe," he conceded, smiling, "but if they do they're far away from here."

"*I* think you're worth something. Here, I came out to spend my pocket money but I think you need this more than me."

She held out a fistful of cash. He took it uncertainly, sure there was a catch somewhere. She was called away by her nanny after that, leaving him with her fairly substantial allowance. He thanked his lucky stars.

That night he ate like a king and rented a comfortable bed in the finest inn he could find. It had been years since he'd known such luxury, his body didn't know how to cope.

He died in his sleep that night, happy and content.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 7

First Saturday of NaNo. Double up day. Since my daily goal is to hit 2000 words my aim for today was to write 4k. And I almost did.

Currently on 3.6k for the day but with spending and  evening round a friend's house I'm not sure I'll manage to get the other 400 I need. I'll try to get them down when I get back but no promises. If I do, I'll update the total below. If I don't, 3600 words is a pretty good showing.

No matter what happens I've already exceeded last month's word count in a week. Pleased with my self and I'm dead chuffed with today.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050
Day 7 3632 : Total 16682

Friday, 6 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 6

Another good day today. I swear at some point my daily word count will drop off but for now I'm enjoying writing this story and my viva isn't so close I feel I have to give up writing altogether.

Had a 600 word 25 minute session around lunchtime again as a reward for being productive then this evening I did a virtual write in with a bunch of other people in my area. It was interesting but I was more productive when I stepped away from the chat. Writing's a lonely activity at heart, but its' nice to have people to talk to when you take a quick break.

Managed to hit 2k today for the first time since the 2nd. The story's barrelling along nicely in a section I didn't quite anticipate having but fixes some of the contrivance issues I was worried about. Plus  I had a character walk unexpectedly into my story tonight and I'm quite fond of them already. It's nice when things like that happen.

Double down day tomorrow. Will see how close to 4k I can get before a fall over. I'll give it a go but I'm out tomorrow evening so I might not hit that target. And I might not get a chance to blog. We'll see.

All I can do is take each day as it comes and keep on writing.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016
Day 6 2034 : Total 13050

Thursday, 5 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 5

Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

Happy flashbang explodey things day to anyone in the UK. Happy Thursday to anyone else.

Pretty good day again today. Had a 600 word session around lunchtime as a reward for getting other stuff done and then a longer session after 10 pm. The story itself feels like it's storming a long and I'm still really enjoying writing it. Can't wait for it to be done so other people can read it.

I was pestering my brother last night about something related to the story because it lies within his field of expertise and I couldn't remember something I wanted. Ended up having a chat with him about the story and he seemed supportive and pretty excited about it, which was nice. He also had lots of ideas about the plot of the story itself. Which... I kind of get the urge to have input into someone else's story but I don't plan on taking any of the suggestions he made on board. At least not for this story.

It might seem a little rude but I really hate the idea of writing by committee. Which is partly the reason I've never done a workshop. If you revise your story and plot to try to please everyone you'll end up pleasing no one and you'll strip your voice out of the story to boot. So much writing advice talks about the importance of finding your voice and letting it shine through in the story, so why would I take it to a committee and let them polish my voice out?

I think the main reason I feel this way is because Dean Wesley Smith hates traditional workshops for stories and writing by committee. A lot of the advice I've really taken on board has come from Dean and it's my long term goal to end up with a career a bit like his. So that might be why I feel so strongly about this.

At the end of the day, it's your story. You write it the way you want to and worry about everything else later. Unless I ever purposely sit down to co-author something with someone I won't let any one else's ideas interfere with character or plot. Other people can help me clean up other things (spelling, typos, tense issues) after I'm done writing. They don't get a say in the story. Especially if they're not a writer themselves.

My story, my rules. I aim to have fun while writing and trying to please anyone but me during the writing process is a sure fire way to spoil my fun. So not gonna happen. But if talking to someone else about a story fires up some ideas for new stories then that's great. Because when I'm done with this one I plan to start straight on with the next story.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129
Day 5 1887 : Total 11016

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 4

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?

That was me today. Got up slightly later than yesterday because it was the spouse's day off and I didn't want to disturb him. Had a bit of a dud day after that due to a nasty headache that derailed all my plans until about four o'clock. Got some viva prep done and settled in to write just before 9 pm.

Pleased with today's progress despite the fact this is my lowest word count yet. I'm still ahead, I've still got my buffer so I'm happy. My plan has gone right out the window for the moment because I'm writing more than I thought I'd be able to. I'll have to keep an eye out for burnout but so far I'm really enjoying my NaNo experience.

Story wise I'm just starting to get the interesting bits. And my main character is just about to go off in a direction I didn't quite expect her to go in which is nice. Might give me a few problems when it comes to introducing a secondary character later but I'll worry about that when I get to it. If I keep writing they might just stroll up and introduce themselves when the time is right.

Viva is a week tomorrow so I anticipate some word count drop off in the run up to that. It all depends on how well I do with my prep. I'll try again tomorrow to use writing as a reward for prep. Hopefully I'll have better luck than today.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439
Day 4 1690 : Total 9129

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 3

Got a pretty good start today. I was up earlier than I am usually because I had a meeting today, so I got 600 words done before 9 am. Long break from writing after that because I was running around doing stuff and then I had a glorious nap in the afternoon.

Sat down to do some writing after 10 pm then got distracted by a new racing game I downloaded. Managed to get myself back on track and do some writing.

Onto chapter three now, and my protagonist is taking the deep breath before she plunges into the main plot of the novel. Still having great fun writing this. I keep making myself feel emotions and during one particular scene I made myself feel a bit nauseous. Which is all good really.

Hit 1701 words for the day and stopped there because I am a huge Star Trek nerd. Also because I'd hit a paragraph break.

Plan for tomorrow is to reward myself with half an hour of writing for every 45 minutes of viva prep I do. I'm making flashcards! We'll see how that goes.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738
Day 3 1701 : Total 7439

Monday, 2 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 2

Got off to a pretty bad start today. Accidentally fell back asleep this morning and lost a few hours, missing an appointment I had in the process. Not the best start to a week or NaNo, but things like this are the reason I like to get as much done early on as possible; having a bit of a buffer to account for life getting in the way makes me feel a whole lot better.

I know I'm going to have some bad days this month, and a few days where I expect to write 0 words on account of the viva, so getting a lot done when I'm able to makes sense.

Despite the bad start I managed to get some writing time in while heading out for my rescheduled appointment. I had maybe an hour on public transport and in waiting rooms so I tapped away on my Kindle. Found myself thinking about a scene much further along in the novel so I wrote it down and got it out of my head. If I hadn't done that I think I'd have struggled to hit my target of 2k words today. And now I have somewhere in the region of 600 words to throw in a future chapter when the time comes.

Had a decent session this even and hit my target though I ran out of energy so couldn't push too hard. That's fine. I'm ahead at the moment. Still having fun writing , though I've just hit the first really difficult scene to get down. Stopping it halfway through tonight which will hopefully get me moving quicker tomorrow.

Onwards and upwards.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734
Day 2 2044 : Total 5738

Sunday, 1 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 - Day 1

Nice start to the challenge today. It's a Sunday, I've had nothing particularity pressing to do and I spent most of the day at the in-laws. Nothing to do really except write, which is what I've spent the day doing. It's been a lot of fun actually, and so far pretty easy.

I don't know how much it's going to help that I've written this novel before. My novel this month is a complete rewrite of a story I initially wrote between July and December 2007. While I will always be extremely proud of the fact I finished a novel (something, I am told, a lot of budding writers never actually manage) I've never been all that pleased with the result.

And given how much my writing has improved in the last eight years I suspected it would be very obvious which bits I wrote eight years ago and which bits were done now. Add to that the fact both the story and characters have spent the last eight years inside my head, evolving and growing, I decided to completely scrap the previous version and start fresh.

So far it's going great, at least from my perspective. Better than I planned in fact, at least word count wise. I've introduced my main character and a few people close to her and I've started throwing crap at her to deal with already. I'm having an absolute blast and for me that is one of the most important things. That and writing consistently every day.

We'll see how the rest of the month shapes up but right now I'm feeling optimistic.

November Word Count

Day 1 3734 : Total 3734

Friday, 30 October 2015

State of the Tonks Address

I was musing earlier about how much I'd written this month. I had a vague inkling that it was one of my more prolific months writing wise (now that the dreaded thesis is out of the way—hurrah! Just the dreaded viva left) but I didn't really understand how prolific until I looked at the numbers.

With a day and a bit left to go I'm on track to have written 15,000 words during October, making it a pretty good month overall. Not my best this year, but pretty good.

Except, for possibly the first time in my life, the vast majority of those words have been for original fiction, quite a lot of which has been inflicted on an unsuspecting public. I'm quite proud of my output for this month wanted to take a moment to brag a little and point you in the direction of any stories that might have slipped under your radar.

October started off slow on the writing front. Mostly due to the fact I was on a cruise for the first nine days of it, but also partly because I was basking in the glory of having (finally!) submitted my thesis. When you've been working on a document for over a year it feels good when it's finally done. A little weird, but good. Nevertheless I managed to write a few words while ostensibly on holiday, but the real work started when I got back.

Since October 10th I have written three stories for the weekly whimword flash fiction competition. The prompts were Glow, Featureless and Hallow. I'm proud of all three pieces, but especially Glow, which was declared the winner that week!

In addition to this I cooked up 750 words of horror for a competition; results still pending on that one. When the results are announced I'll decide what I'm going to do with both the pieces I entered (one was written months ago) that is assuming I don't win, in which case they’ll be published elsewhere. Exciting.

Over on twitter the inestimable @FrogCroakley set up a SF story swap which has had a great response. Somewhere in the region of 60 of us threw prompts into the pot and the majority of us completed the task, resulting in something of a headache for Mr Frog. My piece is a slightly whimsical ode to some of my favourite childhood films and can be found over here.

I also sent in a bizarre spoken word piece (yes, spoken word; I know, with this voice) to the inaugural Lies Dreaming podcast. It's an eldritch tale involving Tim Henman and I'll no doubt post here when it's release to the world. Assuming they don't decide either the content or my voice are unsuitable for the general public.

I also wrote a triptych of flash pieces that I’m quite proud of, though I've yet to work out quite what I'm doing with them. They're a little to close to real life to be sci fi I'm not sure what else to call it. My big achievement though was the 4k words I wrote on a story I started way back in June or something like that, finally getting that done. That too was supposed to be a flash piece and is now sat at 6.5k words. Oh well, never mind; sometimes things get away from you. I'll be looking for a home for that in the near future too.

I went into this month wanting to be relatively prolific as a bit of a warm up for next month in which I will be attempting NaNoWriMo. This will be my first year but after two successful Camp NaNos under my belt I decided it was time. Next month I will be attempting a complete redraft of a novel I first wrote about 8 years ago. The original was a hell of an achievement at the time but I've improved a lot in the intervening years and it isn't really salvageable in its current state. So I will be starting again from scratch and looking to hit 50,000 words by the end of November.

With a bit of luck (and a lot of discipline) I'll be blogging here every day, recording my experience of NaNoWriMo. Possibly so that when I'm considering doing it again next year I have evidence of it being a terrible idea. Almost everything else is being put on hold for NaNo. I might do a whimword or two, but there are no guarantees.

And I still have a viva to sit next month too.

I keep pointing out that I'm not a sensible person.

After November? Well I'm crossing my fingers that my viva goes well and I'll be doing thesis corrections to submit before Christmas. Then it'll be time to look for a proper grown up job.

Writing wise my post November plans are to start sending stories out for publication, and finish my current works in progress. I have some exciting (and no doubt foolish) plans for next year and I want to draw a line under this year's efforts.

Keep your eyes peeled for more from me. My PhD is almost over but my writing career is just beginning. Just wait and see.

#whimword - Hallow

The night air is chill and smells of grave earth. It is autumn and the trees are all but bare. Even though I'm not affected by the cold I instinctively pull my cloak closer about me; long memory forces me into habits I no longer need. The moon rises too slowly for my tastes and I must wait, though I am increasingly impatient as the time drawers nearer.

Soon we will be together again my love.

Every moment we are apart tears at me like a knife, but there is nothing I can do but wait. I should not love you, lord knows I don't deserve to, but so help me I do.

I cannot enter the cemetery; hallowed ground is forbidden to the undead such as myself. All I can do is loiter by the entrance and hope that the magic holds for one more year; that come midnight on All Hallow's Eve the spell will be complete and we will have a few brief hours of bliss.

My stomach growls and I do my best to ignore its pangs. I haven't fed for days. Long experience has taught me that my nerves cannot handle a full stomach come Halloween and that there is nothing romantic about regurgitating blood. I ignore the scent of nearby mortals and the way my hunting instinct kicks in. Tonight I have more pressing business to attend to.

The clock of the nearby church chimes twelve and I hold my breath in excitement, though technically I do not need to breathe at all. As the last ring of the bell fades away I notice that the air feels different; she is coming.

From my vantage point I have a clear view as the spectre of my beloved rises from her grave. If my heart still beat it would have stopped at the sight of her. I wish I could be beside her as she rises but alas, she must come to me.

"Greetings, Sebastian. You're looking well," she says with a smile.

I take her ghostly hand and press it's to my cold, blue lips. "And you, my beloved Felicity are a sight for sore eyes. You're as beautiful as the day I met you."

I mean it too. Her hair was greyer and her skin more wrinkled the day she died than when we met, but that is the price that must be paid when the undead falls in love with a mortal. Circumventing death was trickier but I managed to negotiate a compromise.

We only have a few hours until dawn so we make the most of them. One night a year when the veil between worlds is thinnest is far from ideal, but we've managed for over a century.

When I think of the alternative, never seeing her again, I shudder. Our brief time together isn't much, but it's enough. This was the only way we could be together forever, so we endure.

Our love for each other keeps us going.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

#whimword - Featureless

The view from the bunker is the same as it has been for the past ninety six days; endless plains of grey dust indistinguishable from one another. Some days the monotony of the featureless landscape is broken up by a good dust storm, but all that really accomplishes is smudging the grey up into the darkness of the atmosphere.

There's nothing on this moon, just this horrible gritty dust that gets everywhere, no matter how many showers you take. Corporal Eva Rawson doesn't know why the brass even bothered putting an outpost on this deity-forsaken rock.

What she does know is that they're almost a week overdue in relieving her.

Alone in a remote outpost with no one to talk to and nothing to do but monitor machines that are largely self-sufficient, it's easy to come up with reasons that no one has come for her. It doesn't take her long to envision a scenario in which the entire Sol Republic has fallen and she's the only one left. Her imaginings leave her jittery and anxious and Eva has to have a lie down to calm herself. She doesn't know anything. Not for sure.

There's a reason ninety days is supposed to be the maximum for a tour of duty like this. "Stir crazy" isn't the official diagnosis, but it's what the grunts call it and it can be deadly.

Eva Rawson is definitely stir crazy by this point. She knows the hallucinations aren't far off if someone doesn't come pick her up soon but there's not a lot she can do. Communication with this base is only possible within this planetary system and she's right on the edge of hostile territory; no one's coming this way unless they know she's here.

She's on her own.

The bunker has enough supplies to keep her alive for a year, more if she goes into stasis. That's meant to be a last resort, for emergencies only. The Corps being late in rotating her out isn't technically an emergency so she holds off for now.

By day 108 it's clear that no one's coming. She doesn't know what’s happened to the Corps or the Republic but she assumes it isn't good. By this point the creeping paranoia has started; she's talking to herself and jumping at every little creak she hears. Her own shadow is a threat as far as her brain is concerned.

She holds off on going into stasis, for now, hoping against hope that someone is coming.

By day 120 the line between fantasy and reality is well and truly blurred. Eva is still eating ration bars and drinking her own recycled piss but all hope has gone. Her service pistol is starting to look like a more enticing option than this. She knows its time. Eva puts everything into standby and sets up the pod.

As the coolant seeps into her bloodstream she hopes that she'll get to wake up and find out what happened. There's no guarantee though.


#whimword is an informal flashfic competition run by @whimword on twitter.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The CaptainRaz Patented Guide to Writing More with Less Stress

A friend of mine was having a tough time with his writing and I offered to send him some advice, which he accepted. I've posted what I sent him here because it might be useful for others as well. And if nothing else it'll serve as a reminder to practice what I preach.

General advice: read Dean Wesley Smith's blog. Dude talks a lot of sense about how to write prolifically and how to have a sustainable career in writing. He may not have won a whole bunch of awards for his work, but he has been making a living from his writing for 40 years, both traditionally published and indie published. A lot of what I've been working on myself has come from his advice.

1) Carve out time to write.

How you do this is up to you and what works best for you. Do you work best with a set daily word count to aim for or will it be better to set aside an hour a day as writing time? Whichever works best for you, you need to get your butt in the writing chair on the regular. Preferably every day. Treat this time as sacred. Writing time is important time. Bite the heels of anyone who tries to disturb you during this time.

2) Don’t worry about creating capital a Art in your writing time.

The time you carve out for writing is important; what you write in your allotted time is not. Sometimes the pressure of creating something perfect is what makes us not create at all. Blank pages are terrifying when you sit down to create art. Work on changing your mindset; try to tell yourself you're not here to create an award winning piece of writing, you're here to have fun. Write what YOU want in your writing time. Don’t worry about awards or sales or edits or any of that. Just focus on having fun when you write. If it's not fun to sit down and write, why are you doing it?

3) Minimise distractions.

Distractions are the enemy, you must kill them with fire. Life throws a million and one things at us that we need to worry about: mortgages, the pile of dishes in the sink, sorting out doctor's appointments, feeding the cat and keeping track of who's winning whichever reality TV show is on at the moment. Worry about this outside your writing time. Writing time is for writing. I find it easier to concentrate on writing as my sole task if I stick some headphones and listen to music. There's a few things I listen to while writing but it is usually either really familiar so I don't have to concentrate on it or instrumental. Sometimes both. Isolating yourself with non-distracting music can really help and I do recommend headphones rather than speakers. In addition, I tend to write in minimalistic writing programs that lack all the whistles and bells of Word or its alternatives. My current favourite is FocusWriter (which is free) and allows near complete customisation. I tend to set it with a black background and green writing (like an old command line computer) and hide any spelling mistakes I make. Turn off the internet and hit full screen and write.

4) Writing sprints are your friend.

I have come to absolutely adore writing sprints. If I'm struggling to make myself sit down and write, a quick words sprint usually gets me going. The basic principle is this: set yourself a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes and write as much as you can in that time. Do not stop. Do not pass go. Do not go back to edit or spell check or any of that nonsense. Just keep putting one word after the other until the timer goes. THEN you can correct your horrible typos (which is sometimes hilarious) and inability to spell "field" despite having learned it age 6. You can go back and put in all the words you forgot existed (I did a sprint yesterday where I forgot the word "interim" so I typed in "interthingy", kept going and check afterwards). Momentum is they key with this. I didn't know until I tried sprinting that I can get down 1500-2000 words an hour when I get going. I try to stick to the lower end of that range for quality's sake, but 1500 words an hour is not to be sniffed at. That's how you start a career. Currently I like to use WriteOrDie for sprinting (which shouts at you if your keyboard is idle too long) but a kitchen timer and your writing program of choice work just as well. Word sprints are literally the only kind of sprinting I'm good at.

5) Track what you write.

I used to hate tracking how much I'd written on a particular day, but now I swear by it. Somewhere along the way I became the kind of person who loves spreadsheets for everything and everything, but especially for writing. Setting yourself a goal of 500 words a day? Then you need to know how often you're hitting that, how many days a week you’re missing, when you're exceeding that and what day's you work best on. Plus I find it really useful to try to keep streaks going. Earlier this week I managed five days in a row writing before missing a day due to illness. Still mad at myself for breaking the streak. A little bit of competition with yourself can be good, but don't beat yourself up too much if you miss a target. Pick yourself up and keep going. And track monthly totals. Hitting 15000 words in a month feels pretty good if you've been struggling.

6) Stop over editing.

I wanted to call this step "stop fucking around with your stories" but I felt that swearing in a header might be bad. I try to follow Heinlein's rule on this one that says "only rewrite to editorial order". I have a few people whose opinions I trust and I will make edits according to what they say but otherwise I try to leave my writing alone. It's easy to fall into the trap of editing something to death and never sending it out into the big wide world. It’s safer. Less chance of rejection. But at some point (especially if you ever want to make money from writing) you've got to trust that you know how to tell good story; you've got to let a piece stand on its own two feet and let go. It's hard at first, but you've got stop sabotaging yourself in the edit. Minimise editing and rewriting (especially for shorter pieces) and get them out there. Write better for the next one. Stop fucking around with it and get it out there.

7) Never stop learning.

If you think you know everything there is to know about writing then you're done. It’s over. Even your very favourite authors don't know everything there is to know about writing. Always try to be learning. Whether that's getting better with grammar and punctuation (how the fuck do semi-colons work anyway) or learning about the business side of things or working on better, more rounded characters, always strive for the next level. Try new things. Learn how stories work in different genre to your usual. Always be learning something.

8) Finish. Your. Shit.

OK, so I changed my mind about swearing in headings. This one is important though. Having a hundred half finished drafts is no fucking good to anyone, least of all you. This is the step I'm really working on myself, so I know how hard it can be sometimes. Soggy middles are soggy. new ideas are so shiny sometimes. I find I work best with a couple of things on the go at once, but once I have more than four works-in-progress I know I have to sit down and finish shit up. A crappy but finished story is better than something half done with sparkling prose. FINISH. YOUR. STORIES.

9) Deadlines are not your enemy.

This one helps with number 8. Bogged down with a particular story? Set yourself a deadline to finish it by. Maybe you'll be a few days late, but that doesn’t really matter. You sat your ass down and got shit done, and I'm willing to bet you finished it quicker than if you'd left the due date as something nebulous far in the future. I currently have self-imposed deadlines to try finish my WIPs before I attempt NaNoWriMo. Because the last thing I need when trying to write a novel in a month is other stories hanging over my head. Try it. Set yourself deadlines; try to stick to them.

10) Self care is important.

Be gentle and don’t push yourself too much. Take care of mental and physical health. IF you can't make yourself write today that's okay. If you can get something out when you're not at your best: GREAT! If you can't: don't worry, try again tomorrow. And don't expect too much when you're getting back on the writing wagon after a while off. It's not realistic to go from writing 0 words a day to 3000 words a day with no warm up. That’s a recipe for burnout. Always look after yourself first and the writing second.

Ten steps to try to make writing easier and more productive. Working on all of them at once might be daunting, so maybe pick one at a time. And if you want to boil it down to fewer rules? Try this:

Write everyday. Finish your shit. Trust in your ability to tell a good story.

And if you need more? I am a big fan of Heinlein's Rules, I'm going to put them here. Some of them are covered in steps 1-10 but they are worth repeating. These are the key to maintaining a writing career, but are eminently useful for increasing general writing productivity.

Heinlein's Rules

1) You must write(Preferably every day.)
2) Finish what you start.
3) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4) You must put your story on the market. (Entering into competitions or posting to your blog count here. Get it out into the world.)
5) You must keep it on the market until it has sold. (Keep it out there. Doesn't win the competition? Post it to your blog or self publish it. Get people reading your stuff)

Robert J. Sawyer's Bonus Rule

6) Start working on something else.
(One story is never enough. Finish one piece and immediately start on the next. Always be writing.)

For more stuff on Heinlein's rules see Robert J. Sawyer's website. Also worth googling is Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula. It's specifically geared towards pulp fiction, but is a good template for enjoyable stories of other types as well.

Is there more writing advice out there in the world? Absolutely. In my quest to become a better writer (and eventually get paid to do it) I've come across no shortage of writing advice. This is just the stuff I've been working on personally. I just hope it'll be useful for others as well.

Happy Writing!

Friday, 16 October 2015

A Little Bit of Housekeeping

Judging by the stats for this blog I've either found a whole bunch of new readers or have suddenly become a lot more attractive to bots. I'm going to assume that you’re all actual people (or sentient robots, that's okay too) and act accordingly.

Hello! Welcome to my humble little blog.

Honestly this thing is a bit of a mess, since it collates every post from every blog I've ever owned right back to my teenage LiveJournal days. I like having it all in one place though so it stays up. I hope you enjoy reading about what an excruciatingly embarrassing knob eighteen year old me was.

(That said I have just hidden a bunch of posts that aggregated my tweets from 2009. No one wants to see that. And if for some reason you do, it's all there on Twitter anyway.)

The current focus of the blog is writing. Mostly me posting little bits of flash fic I've written, but occasionally I will write some advice that absolutely no one asked for. Sometimes I might do a bit of an update on how my life is going, but that's a lot less interesting than making shit up about fictional people.

So, welcome. Please do make yourselves at home; grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and I hope you enjoy the verbiage I string together.

#whimword - Glow

The screen crackled with static before fading to bright white light. Fifteen people held their breath expectantly. As the intensity of the glow diminished it became clear we were looking at the slow ballooning of a mushroom cloud.

The detonation had been successful.

Only then, when the screen confirmed our victory did I contemplate the enormity of what had just happened. This detonation was more than just the mushroom cloud and the bright flash of energy, it was also the deaths of a hundred thousand people and the poisoning of the land. Some would die quickly, the fortunate ones at least. Most would take months or even years. In decades, children who haven't even been born yet will feel the effects of our actions here today.

I sat down abruptly, overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. What had we done? Surely nothing these people have done to us could possibly warrant this.

A week later they brought in a small group of survivors to monitor the progress of their radiation sickness. My superiors told me to investigate ways of speeding up the process. I refused. Our "subjects" were walking corpses and I had had a hand in that. I couldn't bring myself to look at them.

I quit the next day.

I should have left long before then, when I first realised what we were doing was wrong.

At first I wasn't sure what to do. I'd spent my whole life training with the academy of science, learning to turn scientific discovery into military superiority. I didn't know anything else.

Then I realised; I had a passable knowledge of anatomy and was a leading expert in radiation damage. Perhaps I could use this to undo some of what my research had done.

I found the nearest medical centre and they immediately accepted my offer of help. They were understaffed with too many critical patients and far too few resources; they were more than happy to accept an extra pair of willing hands.

At first I got given menial jobs only; cleaning up waste, carting patients around and folding laundry. I did what they asked but that kind of work always left me with too much time to think. And I chafed; I felt I could be more use elsewhere.

When a patient started crashing while I was transporting them I didn't hesitate, I went straight into medical mode. I  remember barking out orders to those around me and they were  followed. The patient didn't make it, but I'd done everything I could and shown how I could really help.


I'm still here, at the hospital. It's been years now, but the sick keep coming in. Because of me and what I've done. I've considered going back home, but the nightmares still haven't stopped. The guilt is still haunts me. I don't think it'll ever go away.

Anyway, I'm showing signs of radiation sickness myself; I'll probably be dead soon anyway. Feels to me like karma; I deserve nothing less.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

#whimword - Locket

He said the locket would protect her. He never said from what.

She'd found it at a flea market in the bustling city of who-the-fuck-knows, in the middle of Fucking Nowhere. She wasn't sure what she had actually been looking for---herself or her true love or some bullshit---but it certainly hadn't been a battered old locket that didn't open.

Nevertheless, that was what she found. As soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.
The man at the stall seemed eager to get rid of it and sold it to her for peanuts. She put it around her neck and went on her way, barely giving the locket a second thought. The quest to find inner peace or some such nonsense was more important to her.

She didn't really notice the man brush past her in the crowd, gentle grazing her arm with a knife. When she read the newspapers later she realised she'd seen the man who'd killed five people in that market. She was lucky; she was spared. It rattled her.

Two days later, on a bus journey from who-the-fuck-knows to where-the-hell-is-this, she had another close call. They were attacked by a motorcycle gang on the road. Most of the passengers were killed; she survived by hiding under a seat. Later, when they were gone, she started walking towards the nearest town. She should have died from thirst or sunstroke, but somehow she made it.

The strange incidents kept piling up. She survived a car accident here, an armed robbery there. At first she put it down to unnatural good luck, but then she remembered the locket.

Every incident she'd survived she'd been wearing the locket. Maybe it really was some kind of protective talisman.
She decided to test it.

Skydiving, mountain climbing, shark diving. Every form of danger she put herself in she came out of unscathed. Emboldened, she even started sabotaging herself, cutting parachute chords and pissing off people who were better left alone.

She survived it all.

At some point she realised that while ever she was wearing that locket she literally couldn't die.
House fires, diving accidents, gunshot wounds. Over the years she survived them all. She daren't take the locket off. Without it she'd have died a hundred times over.

She wondered how far she could push it.

At a hundred and twenty five years old, after countless miraculous escapes and hundreds of ordinarily life threatening injuries, she finally tired. Everyone she knew and loved was dead. She'd had her time, escaped Death long enough. She wanted to choose her end, and greet Death like a friend.

She stood at the edge of the cliff, the wind blowing in her hair. She'd made up her mind. The locket came off for the first time in nearly a century. Without it she felt naked. She let it fall from her hand, no longer wanted or needed.

She stepped off the edge of the cliff.

This time, there was no miracle.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

#whimword - Gate

She could have sworn the gate hadn't been there before. Lucy had been walking home this way for years and couldn't remember seeing it previously. Surely she would have noticed it if it had always been there?

A more important question was: where did it lead? Lucy imagined the gate was a portal to another realm, one filled with adventure and magical creatures, where good would always triumph over evil. She fantasized about leaving her well worn path between home and work and finding out where the gate led.

Maybe she'd find herself a hero of some sort. She could rescue a princess from a dragon, fall in love and marry her. Or maybe she'd slay a giant, find some long lost treasure. The possibilities seemed endless. All she had to do was step off the path, follow her heart and go through the gate to find out where it went.

She could shrug off her boring everyday life with the nine-to-five job and the pile of dirty dishes waiting for her at home. All she had to do was change her course, just a little.

Lucy sighed, shoved her hands in her pockets and continued the walk home. Maybe tomorrow.


#whimword is an informal flashfic competition run by @whimword on twitter.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Write Wordmonkey, Write!

Time marches ever on and as the due date for my thesis submission (not-so-affectionately known as T-day) approaches, my mind is starting to turn to what might come after. And as usual get closer and closer to not being a student any more, I've realised that I don't really want a proper grown up job; increasingly I want to make a living from my writing somehow and as a result I've been reading lots of advice about writing. Particularly advice about having a successful fiction writing career.

I'm quite fond of reading Chuck Wendig's writing advice, mostly due to his irreverent and (often sweary) style, but I've also been devouring books by Rachel Aaron, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as well as listening to podcasts like Writing Excuses and I Should Be Writing. There's a hell of a lot of advice out there for a budding fiction writer, almost too much I've come to realise. It makes sense to a degree, the fiction publishing business is in flux and there are a lot of new things to learn about having a successful career in a world with lots of options for traditional, small press and self publishing.

But as far as advice on the actual writing part is concerned I sometimes feel that there's a lot of over-thinking going on. I mean yeah, who am i to be judging these professional writers on the advice they're giving? Surely they know what they're talking about more than I do? Well I might not be making any money from my writing and the only place I've been published is on my blog, but I like to think I know a thing or two about writing despite a pretty busy life. I mean, I've somehow managed to rack up a word count in the region of 60,000 words so far this year while I've been writing up my thesis. And those are just the words I've been keeping track of. And I've managed to do that by following three simple steps:

1) Make yourself sit down and write (preferably every day) with a few distractions as possible.
2) Keep track of how much you're writing and when.
3) When you finish one piece move on the next as quickly as possible. Always be writing.

Seems simple doesn't it? And it is really, but it is also incredibly difficult. Number one in particular is a real belly ache at times when there's work and cleaning and food to cook and videogames to play and a billion other things demanding your attention.

And then there's the beast called writer's block to consider. The best way I've found to beat writer's block is to just sit down and make yourself write something, anything. Whether that's a stream of consciousness whinge about the fact you can't think of anything to write, just make yourself sit there and tap out some words. More often than not it'll get the ball rolling.

I'm also a big fan of word sprints as a method of getting stuff onto the page. 15 minute chunks seem to work best for me, and I can get 500-600 words written in that time, which I don't is too shabby.

Point number two has helped me more than I thought it would. At the moment I'm tracking word count and the date, along with a monthly total and a daily average. You could even track where and what time of day you're writing, or divided it up into genre or fiction and non fiction. Whatever is most useful for you. The point is if you known the number of words you've committed to paper (or screen) you have something definitive, something tangible. And watching that number go up is incredibly satisfying. Had a relatively unproductive week or month? Push yourself to get a higher number next time. A little bit of competition with yourself never hurt, just remember to be kind to yourself if your number goes down one week. Life is allowed to get in the way sometimes, the trick is to pick yourself back up again and try again.

Which leads quite nicely to number three; start a new piece as soon as you can after finishing your current piece. It can be tempting to sit back and revel in the victory of having finished a story or poem or article, whether it's a 100 word drabble or an epic novel. Very tempting, but you have to get back on the house and keep going. Writers write. Yes there's editing and proofreading and a million other things to do, especially if you're submitting something for publication, but that shouldn't get in the way of writing something new.

Just finished writing a 40,000 word novella and suffering a little from writing fatigue? Write something short and sweet to change it up. Found something in your craft that needs work? Write a coupled of short pieces focussing on that aspect to practice. But you need to move on and start writing again, even before you edit something you just finished. Always. Be. Writing.

Three simple rules. Not that hard on the face of it, but they definitely require a little self discipline. That's up to you. Follow these steps and you should seen your productivity increase. Once you're writing on a regular basis you can worry about other stuff. But whatever happens keep writing. And if you need a few more rules I've found Heinlein's rules to be useful too. But keep it simple. Maybe set yourself a word count. 500 words a day is eminently doable, and kept up over the course of a year adds up to enough words for two novels. Wouldn't that be cool? That's what I'm aiming for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have writing--I mean thesis to do.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Top 10 SF Stories by Women

Over on the old Twitters, @BellJarred for recommendation for short stories by women. As I've spent this year trying to read more scifi/fantasy (or speculative fiction if you're feeling all fancy) by women AND trying to read more short stories in general this lay within my general realm of expertise. I might have gotten a little bit excited and accidentally compiled a list of my current top ten short stories by women.  And because I have a blog doohicky and also to keep them all in one place, I'm posting the list here. Story time!

CaptainRaz's Current Top Ten SF Stories by Women (in no particular order)

Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster

This Nebula Award winning novelette by the sadly late Eugie Foster is difficult to describe.  It's about a future in which the masks we wear every day are literal and they change a person's lives and identity. No one is allowed to know who is really underneath the mask, though of course there are those who want to. This story is breathtaking and it's hard to put into words why I love it so much. It's the only story on my list I couldn't find on the web for free. It's only 99p though and well worth it. Just put it in your face holes.

Selkie Stories Are For Losers by Sofia Samatar

I listened to the audio version of this over on Escape Pod and loved it. It's a beautiful story that weaves folk tales with the modern day, and it kept me guessing right until the end. One of those where the SF elements are downplayed, but no less powerful for it. So far it's the only story I've read by Sofia Samatar, but I intend to change that.

Boojum by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

I read this in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women (a number of the stories on this list are also in that) and it was one of my favourites in the anthology. A story about a living ship and her crew—which I always love—with a surprisingly Lovecraftian ending. I remember basically forcing my spousal unit to read this because I loved it so much.

Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a writer about who I've heard good things about but not read very much. This story though. This story. Zombies and robots and a woman trying to escape an abusive household. This story packs such a punch and somehow left me grinning despite the subject matter.

The Narcomancer by N.K. Jemisin

Oh man how much do I love N.K. Jemisin. Well, I devoured her Inheritance Trilogy (which weighs in at approximately 1500 pages) in about three days, utterly wrecking my sleep cycle resulting in me emotionally tweeting Susan at 3am. That's how much I love N.K. Jemisin. The Narcomancer is actually the first thing I read by her, and is a lead in to her Dreamblood duology, which I desperately want to read. Set in Gujaareh, where peace is the only law, we follow a priest tasked with bringing down the Narcomancer of the title (sleep wizard–I could use one of those) in order to save a village. Only there are complications (aren't there always). Read. It. And also the Inheritance trilogy as well.

Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee

(See edit)

Yoon Ha Lee is another writer I've been flailing about a lot this year. I bought her his anthology, Conservation of Shadows, on the back of another short story (Combustion Hour) and this ended up being my favourite. Lee's strength is in the interplay of her his words; I just love the way she he puts them together. I can flail for hours over the second line in this story. The second line! The story is about books, and is haunting and moving. I don't want to say any more. Read this story, then Combustion Hour, then buy her his anthology. You won't regret it.

Astrophilia by Carrie Vaughn

Another entry from the Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women from the author of some of my favourite werewolf stories. No werewolves in this one though. Set after some cataclysm in which the human race has lost almost everything, this story is about one woman's search for knowledge and her struggle to fit in, with a little bit of romance as well.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu

This is one of those stories I wish I'd written. It is so, so good. Look at that title. Just look at it. Map-making wasps, bees rising up to overthrow their oppressors. Go. Read.

Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet

This is an interesting one, having been caught up in the Hugos shenanigans this year (which I stayed the fuck away from thankfully), but I didn't hold that against it. From the middle book in John Joseph Adams' Apocalypse Triptych, this story is set smack bang in the middle of the end of the world. It's small scale, focussing in on a few people amid all the tragedy. It's a great story and made me want to get all three books in the triptych.

The God of Au by Ann Leckie

I am a massive fan of Leckie's Imperial Radch Trilogy, the first of which, Ancillary Justice, won literally all the awards. The second, Ancillary Sword, is even better and I am looking forward to the third even though it comes out about three days after my thesis is due in. 'The God of Au' is very different from the space opera setting of the Imperial Radch. Set mostly on the island of Au, this is a story about gods and promises and patience. It's the story that made me want to read Leckie's novels in the first place. I promise you this isn't the last on the list because it's less good than the others. It really isn't.

So there we go. Ten(ish) story recs, most of them free, and a few bonus novels to boot. Go, get thee to a book store (and also the internet, which I guess you're already on if–never mind.)

Have stories. Go read.

Edit: Since I wrote this post I found out that Yoon Ha Lee is in fact a trans man and not a woman. I'm electing to keep the entry up there because a) his stories are bloody amazing and I love them and b) there are also not enough SFF stories by trans folk that get showcased.

But so I am fulfilling my promise of having 10 SF stories by women here is one further recommendation:

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This story won the Hugo for Best Novelette in 2014 and can see why. It's good. Very good. The story centres around an ageing astronaut longing for one last adventure. It's poignant and bitter sweet and made me cry my eyes out. You will not regret reading this, I promise.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

National Flash Fiction Day

Late last night I learned that National Flash Fiction day was a thing, and that it was to happen on June 27th this year. I checked my calendar and realised that was today. I'm a pretty big fan of flash fiction so I wanted to do something for it. So I spoke to my friend Jay for a word count and a prompt and they delivered. I had 500 words to write about an "opportunity I decided to miss".

Challenge Accepted!

The resulting piece actually fills out some back story for a character in a film I helped make called Codex Noctumbra. You probably don't have to watch the film for it to make sense, but it would certainly be nice if you did. It definitely leaves things open for the story to continue, so watch this space.

Codex Redux

Susan flopped down on the bed beside me, a mischievous grin on her face.
My reaction was immediate and instinctive “No.”
She pouted. “But Trish,” she said stretching the vowel out into a whine. “You don’t even know what I was going to ask.”
“Your ideas always end up with me getting in trouble. The answer is no.”
She lay on the bed in silence for a few minutes, no doubt planning her next attack run on my sensibilities. I battened down the hatches and raised my shields.
“You’re my favourite twin…”
“I’m your only twin. That’s how it generally works.”
The pout deepened. “Fine. Don’t come with me. But I’m gonna have a great time without you. This guy Adam is showing us all sorts of wicked occult stuff…”
“Come on Susie, you know I’m not into that stuff. Besides, isn’t it kinda dangerous?”
“Not when you know what you’re doing.” Haughtiness and condescension dripped from her voice. I’d fucked up, and now she was pissed. “And Adam knows what he’s doing. He’s done this stuff before.”
I sighed. She’d made up her mind, there would be no stopping her now. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. Do you want to come with me? It would be good to have someone there that I know. Please?”
She looked so earnest, completely abandoning the serious goth she tried to be most of the time. I was tempted.
“I’m fine, thank you. You be careful though.”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, nothing will go wrong.”


Everything had gone wrong. When the police started talking about chunks I had to leave the room to throw up and I couldn’t make myself go back in, not even to support mum. I sat in the hallway shaking and sobbing, calling out for my baby sister.
I later learned that she was one of the lucky (ha!) ones. She hadn’t been reduced to her constituent parts like some of the others. Susan died almost instantly after some sort of barb pierced her brain. There shouldn’t have been much pain. Somehow that wasn’t much comfort.
The police had no idea what had happened. The best theory they could come up with was a mysterious axe murderer but there was little to no evidence of that. Whoever—or whatever—had killed my sister and her friends had left almost to trace behind. I thought the police were wrong.
I struggled with the guilt for a long time. I should have gone with her, but then I’d probably be dead too, and mum would be all alone. Just another mysterious death in an unsolved case. As much as it hurts to live on without the other half of me, I’m glad I stayed home.
I never believed in the occult nonsense Susan was into. Not until she died. I think they summoned something that night, something that was stronger than they were and it tore them apart for their arrogance.

One day, I’m going to find whatever did this, and kill it.