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.