Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Snow Ho Ho Horror

Airport this week. They also have snowploughs, they assure us. (Photo:

Passengers camped out on the floor, sometimes for 4 days or more. These people look remarkably chipper. (Photo: BBC News)

Because of scenes like this, I am still very much in the USA, where it is cold but sunny. The country has that well-practiced look of hunkering down for weeks of sub-zero temperatures and blizzards. We have all drained our outside pipes and have the snow shovels ready. Many people own their own snow blowers and plough attachments for their all-terrain vehicles. No waiting for the council to come around here.

I may not be at London Heathrow Airport, but at least I am not at London Heathrow Airport, if you see what I mean. It could be worse. We have delayed our trip home to the UK, our first in 18 months, by a week to let the snow chaos die down. There were several frustrating days of sitting on hold to airline companies when flight after flight was cancelled. We are now due back on Christmas Day and I am very much hoping Father Christmas will be coming round the plane with treats for all the good boys and girls.

Good luck with all your travel plans, wherever you may be.

So I am catching up on my duties as Assistant Editor at MicroHorror, reading through submissions. I have been on board for a couple of weeks now and it is very interesting being on the other end of the submissions process. This sort of Horror is preferable to sitting in snow drifts on the M6 motorway for 12 hours.

I get excited about the ones with strong openings, imaginative language or plot devices and good characterisation. I really want them to live up to their promise and end satisfyingly. (We don't get a lot of happy endings in Horror, but I do love a satisfying ending).

Generally I try to write something positive about the ones I send rejections for. Often stories are well written but are let down by their ending. I see a lot of cliched endings. Many have good language but are descriptions rather than stories, or the beginning of a story.

Anyway, I am learning a lot about what makes a good piece of flash fiction.

So Happy Christmas! I'll see you all in the New Year, when I hope to be well fed on mince pies, Yorkshire puddings, Cadburys chocolate, Christmas pudding and all the other seasonal goodies we miss. Not to mention the Doctor Who Christmas Special. I am very excited.

Even the Doctor has problems in the snow.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Story Comments

There is a blog called Story Comments that delivers intriguing little eggcups of quotes and observations from books, films and other media.

Their post, Other Story Commentators, on 11th December was taken from me talking about flash fiction, here on Writer In The Wilderness.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Universities and education

I really, really wanted to write a post about the government's decision to slash the teaching and research grants to universities and shift the cost onto students. I have been too unspeakably angry so far to write anything coherent. I understand that saving money at the moment is essential, given the country's finances, though I fail to see how allowing the super rich to get out of paying taxes is justifiable, given the current climate. There seems to still be money sloshing around in the upper echelons.

Personally, I believe that people should be encouraged to reach their full potential irrespective of financial circumstances. I believe that the country as a whole benefits from providing well-funded education that is accessible to all. I also believe that the value of education extends far beyond an individual's earning power and that the value of a university education is greater than the degree obtained at the end of the course.

Here is a wonderfully comprehensive breakdown of the current situation, written by an American who is studying for his post-doc at the London School of Economics. It is a far more thorough analysis of the situation than anything I could have written.

The blogger commented under his first post on the subject, As one of the Lords said last night, the government’s plan appears to take all the worst parts of the American system without adding any of the things that mitigate those deficiencies.

The picture above is of me at my graduation ceremony in 2006, when I received my Masters in medieval and early modern history. I fear we medievalists are a dying breed.

Monday, 13 December 2010

First Draft Completed

Just finished the first draft of my dystopian novel set in an alternative present where government has been privatised and society run as a business.
A troublesome underclass is making themselves felt.

111,000 words. Editing begins...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

'Shitty First Drafts'

That road ahead can seem to go on forever. This one actually does, as it was taken in North Dakota (check out the squashed bug on the windscreen) and no-one has ever driven all the way across North Dakota.*

So it is with writing a novel, and this is where we come to the idea of 'Shitty First drafts'. The term is in inverted commas because a) my mum reads this and I used a Bad Word, and b) because it is a much-cited quotation taken from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

It is a hugely helpful concept. Basically, all those elegant, eloquent, finely-plotted, wonderfully characterised novels you read start out as shitty first drafts, much as cakes start out as a pile of ingredients and mixing bowls on the sideboard you haven't washed down yet and still has a half-chewed cat toy on it.

In this day and age we have such things as computers and, unlike JRR Tolkien, who couldn't afford a typist and could only re-type the completed draft with no mistakes once to send to his publisher (I think I am remembering that correctly, please feel free to tell me off if it isn't true), we can edit to our hearts' content.

Whatever we write can be taken out, re-written, expanded, contracted and deleted from history. Essentially, it doesn't matter that your first draft is awful, vomit-inducing nonsense, somewhere in there are the rough diamonds that can be polished once the extraneous dirt and bobbly bits have been cleaned off. And it isn't just us, everyone writes shitty first drafts. (Almost everyone, but we're not interested in those people today as perfection is unspeakably dull).

My experimentation with NaNoWriMo enforced this Just Write! idea. I found myself able to write over difficult hurdles that I might previously have stumbled on because there, as a prop under my typing hands, was the idea that I can always change it if it doesn't work. No-one will know, it's ok. (Don't worry about future PhD students who might be doing their thesis on you after you've won the Nobel Prize for Literature. For one, all your notes will be on the computer, which you'll have upgraded several times by then, and for another, no-one will be able to afford to do arts and humanities subjects in the future and PhDs in English will be obsolete.)

How did NaNo go? I wrote 30,000 words in November, well below the winning magic number of 50,000. But I don't feel like a loser. Currently the novel stands at 110,000 words. I am finishing off the final chapters and am planning to write THE END by Friday next week, which is when I am going home to Blighty for Christmas. Then the Slightly Better But Still Shoddy Second Draft begins.

*They have.

Friday, 3 December 2010


I am delighted to announce that I am the new Assistant Editor at MicroHorror!

I am coming aboard Nathan Rosen's terrifying little ship to give him a hand working through submissions, helping to get your tales up, swabbing the virtual decks and other dastardly duties.

So send in your stories and scare us!

Click here to see my photo of my new boss, taken at the Piratz Tavern a few weeks ago.

Three-lobed Burning Eye Annual - vol. V

It's here! Light the fire, close the curtains, pour a glass of mulled wine and settle down with some speculative weirdness from the Three-Lobed Burning Eye Annual volume five.
It contains thirty stories of horror, suspense, dark fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism.
Perfect for those dark winter evenings.
Look out for my story, The Birdstories of Jaywalker.