Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Cheer

Is it really twelve days since I last posted here? Christmas time is a bit of a blur, no?

Anyway, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. And, if you don't celebrate Christmas, then I wish you a Merry Non-Christmas instead.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Relatively Relative

I discovered a distant, elderly relative in the Ukraine. At least I think I have, if she's still alive.

It felt odd writing a letter to her. I was told the Poles/Ukrainians like 'care' in a letter, as if I should write it asking how's the cat?—or how's the woman next door's burst boil? But how do you create a 'cosy' letter to what is effectively a total stranger, and across cultures at that?

And it felt odd writing to a woman who might have passed away.

Of course, if that's the case, I'm hoping she's left family behind, and they might get in touch and help with my search for the Michalczyk family tree. Or maybe they'll think who's this barn-pot Englishman with his daft obsession with the past, and barely glance up from their Wodka?

I have to say I'm very impressed with Google's translator. I joined a Polish online forum a while back, and one of the regulars on that forum kindly translated a draft of my letter for me. I ran it through Google to see how the translation back into English held up, and it was near perfect. It gave me confidence to add to my original letter using Google's Polish.

Now I wait to see if there's any reply. I included an email address—I wonder if there's Internet in rural Ukraine? Not that I'd expect my octogenarian relative to be using it (although, having said that, my dad is 85 and he's just had broadband installed—he's the oldest net-head in town :-).

Friday, 11 December 2009

This Weekend...

This weekend, I shall write something.

Since finishing Burying Brian, I've been sitting smug-faced with feet up and enjoying, so I tell myself, a well earned rest. But it's time to write something again—a short story, perhaps; I have one or two anthologies in mind that I think I'd like to try for.

This weekend, we'll put up the Christmas tree and adorn the house with lights. I love it when we're lit up. It feels like the magic of Christmas is not so far away then.

I'm on twenty-four-hour call for the day job this week, too. I hate call with a passion; it rarely feels like I'm not working, even if there are no calls.

But, such is life. I'm off now to write…

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Fine Art of Tribal Warfare


We're off to the football match, James and me. It's Everton versus Tottenham Hotspur—they're fourth in the league, we're sixteenth, and we're not in the best of form right now, so in theory we should lose.

But, it's a funny game, so who knows what might happen?

When you think about it, it's an odd thing following sport. I mean, we do get rather fanatical about it, but really it's celebrating someone else's achievement—the eleven often petulant millionaires kicking the ball about on the pitch. But there is some strange emotional attachment that's really hard to put into words. If you're not 'into' sports, and so you've never felt it, I don't think I could ever really explain it to you. But it's real and almost palpable.

For ninety minutes, we kick every ball with those highly-coiffeured an pampered individuals; we feel every ounce of pain; we offer threats and the loan of spectacles to the referee. Maybe it's a tribal thing, a throwback to a more primitive age. But, if so, why do I feel it?—I have no other Neanderthal tendencies—I hardly ever drag the wife around by the hair and hunt bison wearing nought but a loincloth. Perhaps it's more of a 'club' mentality. Maybe we all just need to belong.

And I saw that emotional thing dawn in James. The first half-dozen games I took him to he spent more time engrossed by the antics of the crowd rather than the game. But at one match I saw an abrupt change in him. He suddenly took a greater interest in the game itself. He felt it in himself—even at that tender age—because he actually turned to me and said: 'Daddy, I can see what you see in this.'

And we smiled and shared a nodding, father-and-son moment.

Now, he's a walking encyclopaedia of all things Everton. In fact, not just of Everton but of all things Football. He puts me to shame with his knowledge.


We're at the match. Oh, I'm relating this later, of course, as not even I am daft enough to sit in a football ground tapping away on a laptop. I'd probably be labelled a dangerous intellectual, if I did, and be made to stand at the back. It's cold, and wet, and I'm wondering what we're doing here, particularly as the game is being shown live on television. But that's what sports fans do, brave the elements.

James has a hotdog, and I've got a pie of dubious content. The theme tune blares—Z cars—and crowd roars and the teams enter the pitch. This is why we come, as we stand proud on the eve of battle, our hotdogs and dubious pies raised aloft in salutation. 'No prisoners!' is the cry, or something like that, and we take our seats and await the contest unfold. More warfare should be conducted sitting down. It's hard to invade Poland on a seat. Spurs kick off. Everton can't get the ball back. Some things never change.


We've been to the match. It finished 2 – 2. It was all very exciting, with the Everton goalkeeper making a last minute penalty save, and Everton coming back from being 2 – 0 down. It was a bad tempered affair, which of course makes it all the better. But no one got hurt (apart from one player who was taken off on a stretcher), and with a tied game the spoils were shared, which is more than can be said for most tribal warfare. And we'll do it all again in a couple of weeks time.

Come on you Blues!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Polish Polish Everywhere

Well, my learning of Polish is coming along nicely. I'm about six weeks into my audio course, and I'm pleased with the way things are going. I had a week off with 'flu last week, mainly because I could barely speak English never mind Polish.

It's certainly a tough language to learn. There are plenty of sounds pretty much alien to English, and while it's not too bad with practice and repetition to make these sounds in individual words, I find the hardest part is rolling words into one another in the same sentence. That rather adds another dimension to the alien feeling and certainly ties the tongue in knots. But it's all good fun.

The grammar is tough, too, given that different words are used for the same meaning but in different situations (for example, 'something to eat', and, 'something to drink' each use a different word for 'something'). So, I have to learn multiple words and learn where specifically they're used.

But it feels like a challenge, and I think should I reach any conversational level in Polish it will be an achievement.

I need to get a text book, now, too. While I love the audio book, it's teaching me to speak Polish but not read it, and reading it is going to be essential to building my vocabulary beyond that of the audio course.

Do widzenia

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Donald the e-book

Well, it looks hopeful that my new novel, Burying Brian, will see publication by Immanion Press. Indeed, that likelihood has offered a stay of execution for my first novel, Digging up Donald.

Donald was due to be taken 'out of print', but with Brian's emergence it's been decided that Donald will remain available as a print edition for the time being. The thinking is that should a reader of Brian enjoy that book, he or she might think to pick up a copy of Donald too. I'm happy old Donald is hanging in there; I've a soft spot for the lad.

Talking of Digging up Donald—the book has now been made available as an e-book, and can be downloaded in a variety of formats sure to be compatible with any e-book reader. The price to download is a meagre five US dollars, and it may be bought at

And to celebrate, Donald now has its own Blog.

Donald's Blog

Why not pop over and say hello, make a comment, ask a question, or even hurl abuse?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Necrotic Tissue Issue 8

I finished reading Necrotic Tissue issue 8, and what a treat it was. They're doing good things over there at NT HQ—nice to see a publication strengthening its position while in the current economic climate many others are consolidating their efforts.

It's a digest sized publication, 112 pages, perfect bound with a glossy, colour cover and black and white interior. Cover price for a single issue is $5.95, while a four issue subscription will cost $20. Obviously, postage costs depend upon your place on the planet.

The stories are of a high quality—though, of course, I'm far too modest to suggest my own story is included in that comment—a mixture of short story and micro fiction. Obviously, all the tales are dark in tone, though some employ humorous undertones just to let the reader know not to take them too seriously.

I particularly enjoyed 'Send in the Clowns', by Bruce Cooper, an 'End-Times' tale with its little gems of imagery like: '…as the clowns came up the hill, a pyramid of them aboard a tiny car like a Shriner would drive in a parade…' and '…beaten to death with an oversized bowling pin. The clown kept hitting him over and over again, stopping only to honk the horn on his hip between blows'. There's an abundance of such fine writing throughout.

The issue's opening tale, 'Ellie Elemental', by David Dunwoody, while written in a totally different style to 'Send in the Clowns', is also a fine read. In the 'Strange Death of Henry Wattle', Jim Kelly takes an outrageous premise and somehow makes a respectable, dare I say it, believable tale. I've never seen the devil summoned in such an anatomical manner!

I like the little interspersions of micro fiction amongst the meatier stories. It means there's always time to get something from Necrotic Tissue, be it a stolen moment or a more relaxed reading session. Natalie L.Sin's 'The Hoarder', for example, is short in length but has so much understated story behind it that it lingers in the mind longer than such a flash tale should.

All the stories in this issue have merit. There are too many for me to comment on all of them, but I hope my picking out some favourites has whetted your appetite enough for you to want to explore the rest.

The Necrotic Tissue website is here

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Those Murky Depths

I'm happy to report Murky Depths magazine has accepted for publication my short story 'The Goodship Hyperdrive'. I'm rather fond of this story. It's a gentle comedy; a tale of sexual tensions set against emerging interstellar transportation gone wrong.

This will be my second appearance in Murky Depths. My first story, 'The Loveship Guide to Seduction in Zero Gravity', was well received by reviewers, and went on to be reprinted in 'Galaxies' magazine, a much respected French publication.

Murky Depths is well worth your attention. Its proprietor, Terry Martin, works tirelessly in its production. Why not support the small press and follow the link to pick up an issue, or, better still, a subscription?

Murky Depths

Friday, 20 November 2009

Struck down again

It's only weeks since I had the most God-awful cold, an lo I have another one. How many bloody cold viruses circulate at any one time?

I sound like Barry White. I want to go to bed. Except, when I do I can't sleep what with all the coughing and hacking and general unpleasantness. The waste basket is overflowing with soggy tissues. Steve is not a well bunny.

Still, could be worse, eh?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Heads Between Legs

Your own legs, please.

It's back and ready to go, and once more the universe is in grave peril of imploding up its own black hole.

I'm talking, of course, of the newly repaired Large Hadron Collider, or LHC as it's affectionately known, that most humungous of doomsday machines built deep underground at CERN in Switzerland.

I wonder if the media hype surrounding the switch on will be as intense this time around. Last time, the media interest was almost insatiable, as we watched the CERN scientists don their eye goggles and lead underwear, as they shoved a thumb against the big green 'on' button (it has to be green, surely?) and we all sat back wondering if the world would still be here come lunch time.

And there was a whir, and possibly a whine, and someone tossed in a Hadron and someone else lit some blue touch paper. And then there was a fizz, and a damp plop, and yet someone else made a leap for the big red 'off' button.

A CERN scientist searching
for the big green 'on'
button, yesterday.

It's all in search of the Higgs boson, don't you know. As bosons go, it's the kiddie. It's even been christened the God Particle. So, there's no megalomania there, then.

"Yes, yes, Steve…" I hear you mutter, "We're not all as stunningly clever as you, so just what is a boson, anyway?".

"Oh, stop," I say, all bashful and so such…

Bosons are 'force mediators'. When two particles interact, they do so by passing a boson to each other. Two Neutrons feel the love for each other in the 'Strong Nuclear Force' by exchanging a Gluon. Electromagnetism is mediated by photons. And Higgs… well, that's predicted by Physics' love with symmetry, and if/when found will be shown to mediate matter's fixation with 'mass'. And where would we be without mass?

The problem with particle physics is that each layer of symmetry requires more massive particles, and more massive particles require ever higher energies to detect. The accelerators have to be bigger and better each time to probe ever deeper. And now, given that the LHC is one mean machine, there is a theoretical possibility that the LHC might have enough oomph to create a black hole. And a black hole on the tabletop could do one of two things: it could fizzle out, or it could consume the solar system. Hence the call of the Doom-mongers.

Of course, said Doom-mongers don't mention that incoming cosmic rays collide daily with particles in the upper atmosphere at far higher energies than can be coaxed from the LHC, and so far the solar system has remained conspicuously absent of black holes.

It has made for some interesting conspiracy theories, though. Several scientists have suggested the breakdown of the LHC was not accidental, and rather it was engineered by a future bent of self-preservation. The future, it seems, can not, and will not, allow the machine to work. It's a pity the future didn't intervene sooner, before we'd spent billions on the thing. Typical, eh?

The latest glitch was apparently caused by a 'bird from the future' dropping a bit of baguette into a surface substation and causing a power outage (I kid you not).

A bird from
the future, yesterday.

Add to all that accusations that at least one CERN employee had links to terrorist cells, and surely this soap opera really is stranger than fiction. I shall be watching events with interest, with head between the knees, of course.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Brian is Buried at Last

Well, it's taken me five years to write, but my second novel, Burying Brian, is now done. It's thoroughly edited, with just a few minor retouches still required before it's ready to go. It weighs in finally at a little under 90, 000 words.

I've spoken to Storm Constantine, and she tells me Immanion Press are still keen to look at it. So, I'll send it on to them probably Sunday, and then it's fingers crossed while I wait.

I'm thinking I might do something 'grittier' for a next project. Humour is so hard to write properly, and I reckon I can produce a gritty story in a fraction of the time it's taken me with Brian (and with Digging up Donald before it). I've had more success in placing such stories in big markets recently, so perhaps the same will be true for such a novel length project. We'll see.

Before then I want to craft some more short stories. I love writing shorts; I find doing so very satisfying.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


I feel the world all a clatter to madly tapping keyboards. It's NaNoWriMo, and for those of you for whom that means nothing, November is now traditionally National Novel Writing Month—Na-no-wri-mo.

All around the globe, writers and would-be writers are foregoing all other bodily functions and doing nothing but tapping out their novels on their keyboards. Children are going unfed, laundry unwashed, husbands and wives neglected, and all in the name of literary outpouring. It's 50,000 words by month's end, or abject failure and having to stand at the back when the NaNoWriMo certificates are given out. Size matters—there are no hurrahs for 25,000 word dinky ones. Well, no official ones anyway.

While I have respect for the commitment of those taking part, it all feels rather manufactured to me. It feels like such regimented scheduling could easily descend to drudgery where surely any form of creativity should be fun and, dare I say it, spontaneous. It seems the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality. 'Get it written and fix it later' seems to be the mantra.

That's why it's not for me. Don't get me wrong, anything that encourages a writer to actually write (because believe me there are times when doing anything is better than writing) should be applauded. But I wonder whether the right way is to promote a better overall writing habit than to all line up on November the first and leg it as one into the distance. Could it be that some people are actually put off writing because they try this blunt approach and fall along the way?

I suppose there'll be lots of blog entries proclaiming word counts. "I'm at 10k, and I only started three minutes ago." :-) I wonder how many Bloggers will go further and let us know what their state of mind is during this marathon (and will they even have time to do so)? I'd be interested to know whether they can bring themselves to write even a shopping list come December first.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

What's in a name?

Why is it that women's hair salons lend themselves so easily to clever, play-on-word names? Is it a kind of statement of artistry, that if we can think of a spiffing name like this we can do wonders with your fringe? Is it a strictly British thing, or is this true the world over?

I mean, butcher's shops are so often called...

...not Mincing Malcom's, or Who's For The Chop?, or From Hare to Eternity.

You know what you're getting in Allan's butcher shop--good honest pork, nothing more, nothing less. The pedant in me loves it that the placing of the apostrophe is bang-on. It makes me want to applaud Allan's sausages. I want to laud Allan's liver. Am I alone in flinching whenever I see the 'Grocer's apostrophe'? Do you blanch at such punctuation abuse? Anyway, that's probably for another post.

Fish shops are called "Bob's Fishmonger" or something, not Your Plaice or Mine?, or In Cod We Trust.

But women's hair salons strive for names like...

I Googled, and found loads of wonderfully named salons locally.

I like Hair Razors in Newton-le-willows, and the delicious Hair World. There's Q'Dos in Toxteth, cudos on that name, and Cut and Dried, and Hair 2 Dye 4, which I guess appeals to the Twitter, texting generation. There's Mane Attraction, and A Cut Above, and Million Hairs... the list just goes on and on.

I'm intrigued by Woman More Than Nails Ltd in Bebbington. What can that mean? Is it a play on some quote I'm not aware of? It seems a strange combination of words to be not deliberate. It's an existential statement--we are women, and we are more than nails. They'll be after the vote next.

And what about Envy Hair and Beauty, in Birkenhead? Do the women all hiss at each other as they go in? Cardinal sin and curlers all under the one roof? A potent mix, I should think. But not to worry, women, because after such sinful encounters, Hair Angels can be your salvation.

And speaking of good names...

The concept of Beds and Beauty is surely a male creation. Never mind all that romancing rot, this shop is every man's one-stop route to procreation--beauty to bed with ne're a hint of roses in between :-)

Thinking about this afterwards, I guess 'Beds' is the Sun-bed-set parlance for 'Sun Beds'. Or, given there's not much room on the sign to get 'Sun Beds' in, it's simply truncated. All of which is much more mundane than what goes on in my furtive mind behind those closed shutters.

Of course, 'Hair 2000' next door is probably not the best of names. What woman wants a 2000 do? Surely she'll want the 2009 version? Or, if she's the sharp-suited go-getter, she may even want the 2010 style now. A lot's happened since the year 2000--the towers have fallen, the markets have collapsed, a black president in the White House--so that has to be reflected in hair styles, right?

Ugly Ben's? Did someone name this shop without Ben knowing? Did he commission his sign writers and leave them to it? Maybe it was originally simply "Ben's...", but Ben didn't pay his sign writer, and said sign writer popped back in the night with his ladders and paint pots and the smirk of revenge on his lips.

This picture was taken on a Sunday. Clearly Ben doesn't open Sundays. Possibly he's busy beautifying himself for the week ahead. Perhaps he's out hunting down his sign writer, with a number three mallet and a re-cycled Queen Anne chair leg held aloft. Or maybe he's busy over at Beds and Beauty.

Of course, Ben has it sorted. The naming of his shop is an instant hook. People passing by on buses won't fail to do a double take at the name. As a writer, it's probably this 'notice' aspect that interests me in shop fronts. A writer, after all, is in the same 'hook' business.

I should change my name to Ugly Steve.

What do you mean you totally agree?

Friday, 30 October 2009

87K and Counting

Burying Brian now tops 87,000 words, and the finishing line is so close I can almost smell the cigars and brandy. The ending is planned and all but written, and I've one scene to write that I skipped over for various reasons.

I do think I'll need to edit the last 10k or so more than usual. This 10k has been produced very rapidly compared to my usual snail's pace. I was typing so fast at times I all but tangled up the old fingers.

Then, I'm hoping Immanion Press will still be interested in it. Storm Constantine did say she would look at it, but that was now some time ago. I've been remiss in not pushing myself as hard as I should have in creating Donald 2. I hope it doesn't cost me dearly.

In my defence, I still maintain humour is the hardest subgenre to write in. And there's a certain 'gentle tone' to Digging up Donald that I was desperate to reproduce in Burying Brian. Whether I've succeeded will no doubt be judged by others.

Assuming they get the chance to read it, of course.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


Well, I'm back on Polish! My research now tells me my father-in-law was born in the town of Tarnow in South East Poland. So that's where we're back heading.

I'm sad in some ways, because while Russian looks that much more daunting at the start, with the Cyrillic alphabet and all, I've thoroughly enjoyed battling with it. So much so, I toyed with the idea of learning both languages at once.

Everyone I spoke to advised me against doing that. You'll end up speaking some odd hybrid of the two, they told me. And that makes perfect sense.

But I think I'd like to return to Russian later. Maybe after my trip, or when I feel good enough about the Polish side that I think I can safely compartmentalise both in my brain.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Of Camp Statues

This has to be the most camp statue I've ever seen. Approaching it from its right, it looks all rather heroic and steeped with derring-do. But when one gets round the front, one realises it's really just some bloke and his sword loitering about waiting for a boyfriend with a beard fetish and a love of metallic tights to show up.

In truth, I rather like the idea of gay warriors. Warfare would be less brutal, I should think, were it a requirement that all the participants be gay. There'd be a bit more hair pulled out, I suppose, and some hurtful fashion comments tossed in, but not so many soldiers coming home in boxes. I think I should write a story about a gay army. I wonder if I can make it humorous without resorting to worn stereotypes and tired homophobic stuff.

The statue stands outside the rejuvenated Palm House in Sefton Park, one of Liverpool's oldest and grandest public parks. I'm not entirely sure whose statue it is. The name is written on the plinth that forms part of the statue proper, but I can't make it out in the photo, and rather foolishly didn't take notes. If I pop back there at some point I'll edit in the identity.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Digging up the Past

So, I've begun researching the family tree. I signed up with an ancestry site, which doesn't quite let me view birth, death and marriage certificates, but rather tells me what reference number they are and thus allows me to order them from the Government Records Office.

I ordered a birth certificate, which duly came, but which was also followed by a second one for someone totally unrelated to us down in Dorset. Maybe it was buy-one-get-one-free. Maybe it was just typical governmental bureaucracy and wastage. I'd send it on, but it was addressed to me as if I'd actually ordered it. Unless, of course, the government knows of some hitherto hidden cousin of mine from Dorset, and is doing me a favour by pre-empting my next search. (Taps nose...) Governments know that sort of thing, you know.

The ancestor site also lets me search various censuses. I'm amused that one of the columns households were required to fill in is 'Lunatic?' I've yet to find anyone who has actually put 'yes' in there. Are lunatics generally aware of their lunacy? Maybe some lunatics wear their affliction with pride: "Yes, Lunatic, that's me; fifty years, man and boy".

Searching these things is not as straightforward as I imagined it to be. It's amazing how many people with like names lived close by to each other, so it takes a level of concentration to try and hit one's target. That, and there's the rather restrictive 'hundred years' rule, whereby any census cannot be made public until one hundred years have passed. Presumably, it's to allow lunatic old Aunt Doris to peg it before the world at large learns how she talks to her teapots.

And I haven't even started yet on the Polish/Ukrainian side, so help me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Autumnal Colours

Autumnal Colours
Sefton Park, Liverpool

I love this time of year.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Very silly, indeed...

It gets worse. My research suggests my trip will more likely be to the Ukraine, and from what I can gather I should instead be learning Russian.

So, now I must forget my two-dozen words of Polish I've so far mastered, and go for Russian instead. And these Russians don't even have an alphabet I recognise!

Oh, foolish me.

Still, I like a challenge.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

I'm a very silly boy...

I'm a very silly boy, because I've decided I want to learn Polish.

It's not a whim, as such, because a whim like this would surely go beyond mere silliness and would be bordering on insanity. The men in white coats hover beyond my windows as I type.

It's a strange tongue. It's not content with twenty-six letters for an alphabet, for a start. There are all these other combination letters with their own sounds, and letters with squares above them, or tails below, and letters seemingly there only to trick a poor sap like me in that they look like 'W' but are spoken like 'V'. Twice I've almost bitten my own gums twisting my lips to get these odd pronunciations. Dislocated jaw?—hah! I tweak the nose of Dislocated Jaw.

Why am I doing this? Well, I want to go to Poland next year, and I have this odd, unwritten, personal rule that in order to visit somewhere I have to know the basics of the language. I'm not planning on being able to discuss the Reunification of Europe with the natives, but I simply love the thought of asking for this and that, ordering beer and being able to find my way about; mundane stuff like that. Part of it is a kind of respect thing.

But hey, the visit Poland idea is secret, so you've not read that, right?

My wife's father is (was) Polish, and his roots are shrouded in mystery. What little I do know seems somewhat tragic—deaths in child birth, deaths in fire, and persecution and exile by the Nazis. My secret is I want to find these roots as a birthday present to my wife. My trip is to be a surprise trip. So no telling, okay? My wife is a technophobe, so I've more chance of actually learning Polish than she has of landing on this Blog.

I have a year to do this… reckon I'll succeed?

We'll see, and in the meantime…

Do widzenia…

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

82K and Counting

Burying Brian is fast approaching the finish line. It's now at 82,000 words and counting.

Over the last few years I've written mostly 'gritty' stuff. But until embracing Brian once more, I don't think I'd realised how much I've missed writing humour. It's a challenge, after all, because I'd argue fiercely it's the hardest branch of writing to 'get right'. And it's certainly the kind of writing that entertains me the most in its creation.

Whilst chasing an agent, after the completion of Digging up Donald, it was frustrating to be told time and time again that humour 'doesn't sell', this despite the bookstores being full with Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams, etc. I know they are the big boys, but surely they're also selling the humour subgenre as well as their names.

I once was up for winning a major competition, only to be told (and I paraphrase) that: 'A well-crafted literary tale will always win out over a well-crafted humour piece, particularly if the humour is also a genre work.'

They went on to say: 'But don't give up. The world needs more humour writers.'

Cue the sound of Steve's head banging on wall.

Still, I persevere, and what will be will be.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

78K and Counting

Well, I'm now at just over 78,000 words with the second novel Burying Brian. I reckon the story has about another 5,000 to 10,000 words to see it completed.

It will be shorter than the first novel, Digging up Donald, which weighed in at 100,000 words or thereabouts. Not that it's a problem; a story should be as long as it needs to be in the telling.

So, I've put 8,000 words into it in three days, which has to be something of a record for me. And the nice thing is they feel like good words.

Writers reading this blog will know what I mean by that—there're words: writing sessions that feel forced, when the writer knows what's there will need throwing, or at least major revision, and there are sessions that feel more or less right from the outset.

I've three more days leave from work, and I plan to keep pushing on with the story. Hopefully, soon, I'll be able to announce completion. And that kind of announcement always feels like an achievement in itself.

This afternoon I'm off to the football. I think I've earned it.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A Brief History of Here 4

There's a gem of a cemetery, one I'd no idea previously existed, to the rear of the Anglican cathedral. Named St James' Gardens, it's a former quarry site which became Liverpool's main cemetery in 1825 and is now listed as a public park. Of course, these days there are bigger, more modern sprawls to home the dead. But this cemetery has real character.

It's below ground level, for a start, hidden away almost and which possibly explains why I'd not discovered it before, accessed at one end by a tunnel and ramp.

I love the thought of a tunnel leading to a graveyard. It adds a sense of journey, of mystery. And that the ramp is itself lined with graves gives the odd experience of having to walk over buried bones just to get into the place.

There's food in that for a horror writer surely.

Beyond the tunnel, there's the Dead's Council. It's a curious circle of graves that in my mind becomes a meeting place.

Here, the dead might decide if they'll permit me further into their domain, or whether they'll rise up shrieking and send me running homeward.

Maybe on occasion they decide to keep the living who stray here. Perhaps the dead howl as the tunnel slams shut. Perhaps that's when they feed.

I really should Photoshop this picture. The green grass and daylight doesn't do it justice. It should be dark and misty, streaked with ghosts, and monks lurking, stooped against a squall of rain.

Some of the tombs appear older than 1825. And in truth that only adds to the charm of the place. These two flank the Oratory, formerly a mortuary chapel for the cemetery. The inscriptions are so worn and chipped I've no idea whose bones are laid here.

There are some notable graves, though; William Huskisson (1770-1830), for example, Member of Parliament for Liverpool in 1823. He has the rather dubious honour of being the first man ever killed by a steam locomotive.

I suppose it takes someone as self-absorbed as a politician to fail to notice a 100 tonne lump of metal rumbling, hissing and steaming towards him. Still, I'm sure it was an unusual demise, particularly in those times.

Even in daylight, there are places here permanently dark and shadowy.

I imagine the dead would walk here all day long, never mind waiting for the decency of witching hour. There are ghosts; look closely through the gloom under the branches.

And what had these people done in life to be denied the sun even to warm their headstones in death?

This surely is a sinners' patch; of murderers, and cut-throats, and black-cloaked vagabonds.

And these old trees growing outward horizontally from the bank, again lined with graves, must make an eerie sight on wintry nights. They could hang careless interlopers like me from those limbs.

It's an atmospheric stroll indeed. But a word of warning should you visit Liverpool and look for St James' Gardens—there are some dodgy characters down here, living I mean, not dead. The Red Light District is close by, and my reverie was disturbed by a woman clearly of disputable honour leading some fresh-faced boy to the slaughter. I was also approached for a cigarette by some character whose pupils couldn't safely dilate further.

Maybe the dead don't mind this—I suppose you get your entertainment where you can when dead—but it is something to be wary of. And it's a shame, because otherwise the place is secluded and peaceful.

Apart from the wail of ghosts, of course.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Twitter Update

I think my Twitter follower got bored and went home. Does it look desperate to run after one's stalker and ask why they've stopped? :-)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Steve and the World, Sitting in a Tree...

I joined Twitter. I’m the newest bird tweeting away in the Twitter tree.

I didn’t really want to join. I was Googling the web looking for someone I’d lost touch with several years ago, and lo I found a person who seemed to be her twittering away. And it was her, and considering she lives in Florida, it just shows how parochial the world is these days.

But what a strange thing this Twitter is. I’d not joined more than two minutes and already I had a ‘follower’. It made me feel like Jesus. :-) It also felt uncomfortably like someone was stalking me. Who was this complete stranger poised who-knows-where on the edge of their seat all excited and waiting for me to ‘tweet’ something? I was all flustered, as if I should say something memorable. “Take me to your leader”, or something.

And the lexicon? It’s texting gone mad. It’s all c u l8r, and r u ok, as folk desperately try to condense messages into the 149 or whatever characters allowed. As a word purist, it breaks my heart to see the English language bastardised like this. But given its popularity with the young—I was watching a young girl text at the football match the other day, well you do when you support Everton, and her fingers were an absolute blur on the phone’s keypad—maybe we’ll evolve into a race who actually communicate like this in the real world. If so, I think I’ll give up and go back simian.

So, I don’t know if I’ll use Twitter much—it’s already served the purpose I had for it—but if you want to tweet at me, my user name is escapee3. Who knows, maybe you’ll convert me?

Bird bath, anyone?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Necrotic Tissue

My story "Ruth's Dying Breath in the Night" is now published by Necrotic Tissue. My contributor copy arived today and it looks good. I'll post more about this issue when I've had time to read it all.

In the meantime, if you wish to pick up a copy you should go: here

Cern Zoo Nemonymous Nine

He has a somewhat unusual modus operandi, Des Lewis—accomplished writer in his own right and founder of the Nemonymous series of anthologies. In the nine volumes of the Nemonymous family so far (we'll talk about number six shortly), Des has operated with writers at various degrees of anonymity.

Early on, just the stories were presented, and nowhere would you find the barest reference as to who had created them—at least, not until the next Nemonymous, when all would then be revealed. Lately, Des has lessened that stance, and both story titles and author names are included, although not linked together, so we are still left wondering who wrote what.

From the writer's perspective, it makes for an interesting submission process. For the reader, it's an experience to read fiction without any prior expectations that may come with a 'named' writer, or conversely any prejudices that may precede an 'unknown' talent. A level playing field all round, where stories stand or fall purely on their own merit.

The latest edition to the Nemonymous family is Cern Zoo, Nemonymous Nine. It's a trade paperback, and provides excellent value for money at 265 pages with 24 short stories. For this anthology, writers were asked to submit stories written around the theme "Cern Zoo". What this means to each writer was left to their own interpretation. The result is a somewhat mixed bag of stories revolving around Cern and its physics, of stories set in a variety of zoos, and of stories nothing like either. Of course, it's too much to comment on all the stories here, so instead I'll pick out a few and leave the rest for you to judge should you buy the book (you will buy it, won't you?).

There's a good deal more shorter fiction in Cern Zoo than I remember ever featuring in any of its older siblings. In this respect, the issue reads differently from anything Nemonymous that's gone before.

The anthology opens with one such shorter piece: "Dead Speak". It's a tale of Cern and one woman discovering that Cern's physics will indeed destroy the planet if allowed to continue. It's a good opening, albeit with a jarring change of setting mid flow that in truth isn't adequately explained. Another shorter work, "Pebbles", is skillfully written with a wonderfully poignant undertone, but again because of its length feels incomplete. I suppose it's a general malaise of ultra short fiction that not everything is often explored fully.

With this in mind, I think it's safe to say I preferred the lengthier works in Cern Zoo. More substantial, they feel more akin to what I've come to expect a Nemonymous tale to be.

The first of these more substantial offerings is "Artis Eterne". While we may live complex, divergent lives, it's the constants that ultimately we return to, and in Artis Eterne the first person narrator returns to the town of his youth to discover the secret of mad Arthur, a pub regular whose odd behaviour had been a constant source of intrigue. I like the fact that the speculative nature of this story is somewhat understated, a trait I've admired in many Nemonymous stories before.

Another is "The Lion's Den", which starts fairly slowly, but gathers pace to become compelling reading. Down at the zoo, there are strange goings on in the lion enclosure. There's a building intensity in this tale as we see the keepers' control of the animals slowly dwindling away, until we're left wondering who's caged whom. There's also a certain irony involved here that the very keepers who quite clearly care deeply for their animals look set, at least in the short term, to lose most. A nicely composed tale indeed.

A third story I particularly enjoyed is "Mellie's Zoo". It's an empowerment story; an extended metaphor for Mellie finding inner strength to deal with her parents' failing relationship. Set against the backdrop of an abandoned zoo (perfect for an abandoned girl), the tale moves along nicely.

There's also the rather strange "Another Day Down on the Farm", whose play-on-words ending relating to Cern made flinch somewhat, yet still left me wondering 'why would someone do that?' long after I'd read it. A further story, "Sloth & Forgiveness", is of a similar vein. Though "Sloth…" is more whimsical where "Another Day…" is decidedly darker, both are short but entertaining reads.

All the stories are entertaining in their own way. Of the shorter offerings, "Dear Doctor" is a fun read, for example, but again, having read all previous Nemonymi, its rather pun-ish raison d'etre marks it as a somewhat atypical Nemonymous story.

And it's interesting from a writing point of view looking at how each featured author interprets the "Cern Zoo" theme. On the face of it, it's a fairly ambiguous concept, after all; what is a Cern Zoo when it's about? The end product is a loosely based entirety, if that's the right way of expressing it, that still manages to work very well.

It's not the first time Des has coaxed this kind of cohesion in Nemonymous. I hope he continues to do so for many years to come. I suppose that depends on enough people digging deep and supporting the projects.

Cern Zoo Page

Cern Zoo may be bought here

While you're there, take a look at the previous Nemonymous editions, too. Knowing Des, if you buy back issues as well as Cern Zoo I'm sure he'll 'do you a deal'. Issue Six is a classic—it has no cover, no pages, no stories—at least none that you don't have to dream up yourself—and is available at the special price of $0.00.

Only with the anonymity of Nemonymous can a 'missed' edition take on such physicality. Issue Six most definitely exists, and given it can contain nothing but my own stories if I want it to, it's a must for any non-bookshelf.

Zencore, Nemonymous Seven, includes my story "Mary's Gift, the Stars, and Frank's Pisser". But don't let that put you off. This story, along with several others in Zencore, won an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow's "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" anthology. If I remember correctly, I think one story did indeed make it into the Year's Best.

Win Immortality

Des has a now seemingly annual competition: guess which author wrote which story. He or she who guesses the most correctly wins a unique prize. The submission guidelines for Nemonymous Ten will require each entry to include the winner's name as a character in the story. An entire anthology of 'you'! There's no purchase necessary, so use the list below and send an entry in. It'll take two minutes and you've nothing to lose.

Enter here

The competition closes 31st October, 2009.

Of course, you could buy Cern Zoo, narrow things down by listing each story into obvious US or UK writers, scour the Internet comparing word use and writing style, bribe Des, and who knows you might tip the balance. But, if you do this, I think you should probably get out more. Or get laid. Or both.

Cern Zoo Stories:

Dead Speak
Artis Eterne
The Last Mermaid
The Lion’s Den
Virtual Violence
The Rude Man’s Menagerie
Window To The Soul
Salmon Widow
The Shadow’s Departure
Being Of Sound Mind
Dear Doctor
Mellie’s Zoo
Turn The Crank
The Devourer of Dreams
Just Another Day Down On The Farm
Strange Scenes From An Unfinished Film
Lion Friend
The Ozymandias Site
Cerne’s Zoo
Sloth & Forgiveness
City of Fashion
Fragment Of Life

Cern Zoo authors:

Rosalind Barden
Gary McMahon
Amy Kinmond
Tim Nickles
Bob Lock
Lelsley Corina
Jacqueline Seewald
Dominy Clements
Brendan Connell
Daniel Ausema
Gary Fry
Mick Finlay
Robert Neilson
Steve Duffy
Geoff Lowe
Stephen Bacon
Rod Hamon
Lee Hughes
Lyn Michaud
Tony Lovell
Roy Gray
Travis K. Weltman

Go on, go nuts; mix and match and send them in.

Friday, 25 September 2009

A Brief History of Here 3

"If you want a cathedral, we've got one to spare…"

So says the line from the folk song, "In My Liverpool Home". And it's true, when it comes to impressing God with big, airy buildings, Liverpool is way ahead of the competition—there is indeed not one cathedral, but two of the buggers.

They sit merely a half-mile apart, each filling the skyline in their own way, two great behemoths to organised religion staring down at each other, big enough to dominate the mere mortals scurrying about below. Which is what it's all about, really.

Both are relatively new buildings. The Anglican cathedral is the more conventional in form. It's a Gothic styled creation, built with four annexes about a central tower, itself a crucifix of brick and mortar. Its design was by Giles Gilbert Scott, a controversial choice when it was revealed that Scott was himself a Roman Catholic. The foundation stone was laid by King Edward VII in 1904, but warfare and escalating costs meant it would be seventy-four years later before the cathedral was declared finished in 1978.

Believer or not, it's hard not to be awed by the sense of space inside. Unlike the Roman Catholic cathedral described below, the lighting, while provided naturally in part by large stained-glass windows, is much more muted; much more in keeping with what you'd expect in a church. There are nooks and shadows, here, places where saints might lurk or demons hide.

The Roman Catholic version is more adventurous in style. "Paddy's Wigwam", is its rather derogatory nickname, based around the large Catholic Irish population of the city, and, of course, the general shape of the building.

It was designed by Frederick Gibberd, and building began in 1962. It took less than five years to build, opening in May 1967. While it's not nearly as 'roomy' as its Anglican rival, you have to love the 'feel' of the place. The lighting inside is both subtle and stunning.

I was raised Church of England, but were I now a religious man I think I'd prefer to worship at the Catholic cathedral, simply because it has a more intimate feel to it.

I've never felt there to be a difficult rivalry between faiths in Liverpool, certainly not between Christian denominations. It's not like in Ireland, or perhaps Glasgow, a city itself much compared to Liverpool through the years. Others have suggested problems have been rife, but it's not something I've found personally.

This is a statue, or a pair of statues perhaps, of David Sheppard and Derek Worlock, who were the Bishop and Archbishop respectively of Liverpool in the 1990's. The statue was commissioned in 2005 to celebrate the work both did in unifying the church in Liverpool. It stands midway between the two cathedrals, and takes the form of a door that opens to reveal both in each direction.

This is the view looking toward the Anglican cathedral, whose tower can just be seen behind the buildings to the right.

When a writer writes writerly thoughts...

I’ve not written a great deal during the last six months or so. I’ve not felt in the writing mood, for some reason. And I’m comfortable with taking a break. I’m not one of those writers who worry about things like Writer’s Block, or who’re so obsessive they have to write daily or they feel guilty. For me it’s a fun thing, and I hope it always remains so.

But, I wrote six thousands words over the last two days, starting and finishing a short story I had in mind to submit to an anthology opening in January.

A complete story in two days is pretty good going for me. I’m the kind of writer who edits continually as I write, and so while what comes out at the end is usually reasonably polished, it does mean the process of writing can be somewhat slow.

It’s good to be back writing, too, if I’m honest. There’s a nice feeling when a project comes together, a real sense of creativity that’s more that the act of writing alone. We can all write, after all, but I don’t think we can all create. It’s why when told we’ve all a novel in us, most of ‘us’ fail completely to squeeze it out.

I’m about ten thousand or so words away from finishing my second novel, Burying Brian. It’s stalled, because it’s dark humour and in truth incredibly difficult to get right. You can’t rush humour in writing, not without it often seeming forced. Also, endings are critical in that there has to be a denouement and there hasn’t to be any loose ends, so the scope for humour becomes muted as the need to focus and maintain pace increases.

But, with my newly returned short story prowess, I’m determined to push on and get it done. If nothing else, I want to write something gritty for a next novel length project, and I can’t even contemplate that without having Brian done and dusted. I won’t let myself start something else while that’s not complete.

Watch this space.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Fantasy Con and Mr Abershaw's Happening Day

If you're off to the British Fantasy Society's FantasyCon in September, you might want to look in on the Short Film Showcase.

If you do, you will no doubt see Mr Abershaw's Happening Day, which is a brief film by Gabriel Strange of my short story 'Digging up Donald'; the very same story that eventually grew into my novel, erm, Digging up Donald.

If you do see it, I'd love to hear your opinions. And if you don't see it, make some opinions up, if you want. :-)

Fantasy Con is at the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham, September 18th through 20th.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

More Spain

of Montserrat and Religious Epiphanies

The monastery set high upon the mountains at Montserrat is a spectacular place. At a height of over four thousand feet the views are panoramic.

The monastery is reached by electric train, not a funicular as such, which is surprising given the gradient.

There's also a cable car, but not to be ridden by the faint of heart, we were told.

We took the train. :-)

The rock formations are truly stunning. The rocks are sedimentary, which itself is pretty amazing given they're now at such a height. The awesome power of Plate Tectonics is not to be underestimated.

But there were others there in search of greater powers.

We queued for an hour to see the 'Black Madonna'. It's a wooden statue, probably of the Egyptian Goddess Isis and child, adopted by Christianity as one of its own. Second hand Icons aren't above us, apparently.

Touching the Madonna's finger is said to bestow health and happiness and who-knows-what.

How this is achieved by merely touching a statue isn't quite explained in the guide book. But there was no shortage of folk willing to give it a go. Even the finger's paint is worn away. Surely no self-respecting miraculous visitation would allow its paint to peel? It does make me wonder how it repairs broken hearts and souls when it can't wave a paint brush about. Perhaps on a cosmic scale paint doesn't matter.

The legend is that the monks found the Madonna already on the mountainside. But when they tried to remove it to put it in their monastery it wouldn't budge. So, they had to build a new monastery around it. Which I guess makes as much sense as your average religion requires.

I took no photographs of the Madonna - the monks respectfully ask that no pictures are taken within the Basillica. Lots of people did snap away. Perhaps it takes an atheist to really respect a religion. Perhaps religion is wasted on the faithful.

In my mind, if there is power in such places as this it doesn't lie in the furniture.

Behind the Madonna is a small chapel. Very few miracle seekers either noticed it or were interested in it. But to me it was a gem, a small oasis of peace amongst the bustling line to the front. Here was a place to truly ponder higher powers, while staring up at the back of the Madonna's head, in a stillness that so often may only be found in church pews.

I had an aunt who died of cancer. She was deeply spiritual, and she died with great dignity. If there is anything to be said for organised religion surely it's in the little personal battles, the little personal spaces in tucked-away chapels, not in the crowds shuffling to see a largely uninspiring clump of wood.

We sat through the public service. Usually the choir, the Escolania, sings prayers, but the boys were away on holidays. So much for religious temperance. Instead, guest choirs and preachers are brought in to do the honours.

A single priest sang hymns and prayers, repeating each in several different languages.

I'd have preferred just the one delivery in Latin. It's not that it makes much sense to me anyway. But it was an experience, one that should you find yourself in northern Spain, you should take for yourself.


Steve Does Spain

I went to Spain.

We've never done the package holiday thing. When we've been away in the past it's always been an independent affair. We've tended to book our own flights and accomodation, and travelled to places with lots to see and do. So, in truth, the thought of being almost locked to an hotel and sitting around a swimming pool all day scared me a little.

But I have to say how easy it was to fall into the ultra relaxed mode that makes such an idea as sitting about all day seem wonderful.

Having said that, the centre of Salou was only ten minutes' walk away, and we took excursions to Barcelona and Montserrat. So there was some variety in the week. Barcelona is a beautiful city; the only shame was that we had so little time to see it. Maybe next time.

Anyway, the batteries are recharged, and here we go...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Haunted Legend

Ellen Datlow has released the table of contents for the upcoming Haunted Legends anthology to be published by Tor. It seems I've joined a rather tasty list of authors involved in the project.

My story, The Spring Heel, is based (surprisingly :-) on the Spring Heeled Jack legend - the long-legged, rather spindley character who was reportedly seen regularly on dark nights leaping about the streets of Liverpool (amongst other places).

Table of Contents:

Knickerbocker Holiday Richard Bowes

That Girl Kaaron Warren

Akbar Kit Reed

The Spring Heel Steven Pirie

As Red as Red CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan

Tin Cans Ekaterina Sedia

Shoebox Train Wreck John Mantooth

15 Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku & the Jotai Catherynne M. Valente

La Llorona Carolyn Turgeon

Face Like a Monkey Carrie Laben

Down Atsion Road Jeffrey Ford

Return to Mariabronn Gary A. Braunbeck

Following Double-Face Woman Erzebet YellowBoy

Oaks Park M.K. Hobson

For Those in Peril on the Sea Stephen Dedman

The Foxes Lily Hoang

The Redfield Girls Laird Barron

Between Heaven and Hull Pat Cadigan

Chucky Comes to Liverpool Ramsey Campbell

The Folding Man Joe R. Lansdale

Thursday, 7 May 2009

No More Whispers

Alas, Whispers of Wickedness is no more.

For those who've no idea what I'm talking about, Whispers of Wickedness was a print magazine, a fiction writers' website, and a discussion forum conceived by the enigmatic, and somewhat philanthropic, "D".

It attracted its share of superb writers--Peter Tennant, Rhys Hughes, Steve Redwood, and many more too numerous to mention.

The forum was the friendliest place I've ever encountered on the Web. I can say with all honesty I've never seen even the hint of a flame war in its hallowed halls.

I slush read for Whispers for a while, and that, along with the company I kept, taught me a great deal about my own writing.

So, thank you D, and Pete, and all who made Whispers the pleasure it surely was.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Maudlin, mawkish, moody

Interesting times.

I think we have to admit that’s certainly the case right now.

I don’t know if society has changed, or perhaps it’s a consequence of 24-hour global news coverage, but everything seems to be deemed a crisis these days.

And in truth I feel it more myself. Since becoming a parent (albeit some time ago now) I’ve noticed I’m more of a worrier. Before, where I’d laugh at scaremongers and their agendas, I find myself worrying what, in the absence of extended families, would happen to my son should swine ‘flu, or bird ‘flu, or meteorites, or global warming, or middle eastern nuclear powers, or collapsing civilisation through dying economies really come to pass. Maybe that’s just what all parents do—worry so their children don’t have to.

I’ve always told myself: “Don’t concern yourself about things over which you have no control”, and it’s worked well in the past. But these days it seems hard to live by that rule. These days the ante seems raised.

Sorry for the tone of this post, but I think I’ve been in an odd mood for some weeks now. I need to do more writing. In writing I can explore and ratify such feelings, and the effect is so often cathartic.

Saturday, 28 February 2009


Well, I picked up some reviews for recently published fiction.

Of my story "The Book of Ruth" published in Black Static 8:

"The Book of Ruth" by Steven Pirie is another quintessentially British dark fantasy, sexual abuse in the window of a charity shop, but not only is the story short, but Pirie may surprise many readers with where he takes it -- the ending is unexpected and delightfully satisfying.

In Steven Pirie's 'The Book of Ruth' a seemingly schizophrenic charity shop worker starts hearing voices from a mysterious second hand book. Her descent into madness is effectively handled, but I found the character of her quietly abusive boss even more compelling, with his secret lust for the heroine leading to a memorable moment of horror. Just don't look in the fridge.

'The Book of Ruth' by Steven Pirie is a dark tale of desperate, quiet, frustration and horrific sexual abuse set in that most inoffensive of suburban places, the local charity shop. Very British in tone and language it ends with the most unexpected of turns.

Of my story "Leonard Rom" published in Premonitions:

Steven Pirie’s contribution is called “Leonard Rom,” named for an AI looking after a generation starship. There’s a problem with Leonard’s ROM, and the ship’s other AIs are concerned; but Leonard won’t listen, which leads to a macabre and effective twist. The greater part of the story’s force is invested in that twist, which can be a risky approach, but it’s fine here, because the payoff works so well.

Leonard Rom, by Steven Pirie, is more substantial, the story of a colony ship's computer that has reinterpreted its mission to place one human on each discovered planet. This neat idea, with its echoes of O'Bannon and Carpenter's Dark Star and HAL from 2001, is further enlivened by some witty dialogue and a couple of laugh out loud jokes.

Peter Tennant, Case Notes, Black Static 9.

My thanks to all reviewers. I'm thrilled that all are positive...