Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

Well, have a splendid New Year, everyone.

May all your wishes come true!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I wish you all a merry Christmas and that all you hope for in the New Year is yours.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Share a shopper's misery

I love giving gifts. But I hate Christmas shopping. I mean hate with a vengeance.

In truth, I suppose I dislike shopping in general. Whenever I'm in town for a shop, it's very much a military operation:

11:02 Arrive Marks and Spencer's
11:03 Commence Operation Shopping List One
11:07 Shove Past Old Lady to Check Out

Yet Ann, my other half, loves shopping. She, along with her sister, can plan entire days wandering here and there looking at stuff they spent entire days just the weekend before wandering here and there looking at in the same shops.

And she takes on this sinister personality when shopping. Ordinarily, Ann's this mild-mannered, courteous person who wouldn't say boo to a goose, as the saying goes. But when in the shopping theatre, she'll mud-wrestle her own grandma to get to that elusive bit of stuff that wasn't there when wandering last weekend.

But worst, of course, are those marital, "let's go shopping together days; we can have lunch.". Is there any worse torture for husband-kind? Because we can't say "No thanks," as there lies madness, and we really don't want to be dragged around looking at stuff on hangers in shops that smell like an explosion in a perfume factory.

The shops are full of us victims. We nod almost imperceptibly, and share a moment's masculine misery. I think there should be little man-crèches in shops where we can all gather while the women ponder of size 12 or 14 and does their bum look big today.

But I have a plan. Last time, there was this three-year-old, and he was playing up, and his mother said: "If you don't behave, I'm not bringing you again." It was one of those Eureka moments.

If you're in town today, and you see a grown man misbehaving, do come and say hello, now, won't you?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Burying Brian is here!

My new novel, Burying Brian, is now published by Immanion Press. And I'm happy as, well, happy can be!

It's been a long time coming—the first novel, Digging up Donald, was published way back in2004, and the gap is a reflection of how much more difficult it felt to produce the 'right' follow up to Donald.

Donald received some wonderful criticism. There were many glowing reviews, and in all the time the book 'drew interest' I saw only one negative-ish report bemoaning it wasn't that particular reader's cup of tea (and even that review held more good comments than bad!).

Because of Donald's reception, I've felt more pressure to 'produce' with Burying Brian. Of course, whether I've done so successfully is now at the whim of the reading public. And I'll maintain to my dying day that humour is by far the most difficult sub genre in which to write.

Brian has taken six years to write. Oh, I took lots of breaks in that time—more than I should have, probably—so it's not six 'solid' years in the making. In my excuse I'll say that if I wasn't writing I was certainly thinking about the project (if, like with Donald before it, I claimed thought time as well as physical writing time then I doubt I'd ever be able to suggest how many hours the project has taken).

But I'm happy with it. I like to think there's enough clever humour in there compared to Donald, and the style of writing is very concurrent. Like Donald, Brian is a gentle comedy, written almost as if in simpler times. But hopefully it still has enough edge to be relevant today.

I need to thank Storm Constantine and all at Immanion Press for being patient with me. I hope for their sakes if not my own that the novel is a success.

More information, including a preview of the opening thirty pages or so, may be found on my website

Brian also has his own Blog here: Burying Brian

There you may ask him questions, poke him cruelly in the ribs, or stroke his ego until his spine goes soggy.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Advent Calendar

Peter Tennant and all the nice elves over at TTA Press are running the now annual Advent Calendar, in which during December a story a day is recommended for viewing (and encouraged for discussion in the TTA Forum).

I'm happy to say my story "Sixty Seconds of Christmas in a Victorian London Alleyway" has been selected for 'day 13'.

The Advent Calendar may be found here:

Advent Calendar

Friday, 3 December 2010

Side Show 2

I received my author copies of "Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre", published by Sam's Dot. It contains my story: "To Pull a Child From a Woman", which I think is one of the best stories I've ever written.

The tale is of the lowly Hobo and his fear of the Clown Master, Whiteface. But it's also about love, and loss, and longing, and how ultimately simple Hobo yearns for nothing more than the basic thing in life most of us take for granted—a mother's love.

Sam's Dot Publishing

Side Show 2

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Don't you just hate the 'flu?

I've been invaded by one of these beasties below. I suspect this is actual size, but I'm no molecular biologist.

It's all very suspicious, but I was reading Cate Gardner's anthology Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits at the time, and mere seconds later Cate reports on Facebook she's feeling poorly herself. Very dodgy. I shall need to mention this in my forthcoming review of said anthology for the Future Fire. "The stories are great, but they will make you ill."

Of course, I've dealt with all this like a man. Which means my wife comes up twice an hour to lift my arm so I might mop my fevered brow. Still, I was excused Hoovering fatigues, so it's not all bad. But why isn't Night Nurse drowsy any more? The drowsy was the best bit.

I think I'm 'on the mend'. But I'm weak as a kitten, bless me. And there's no truth in the rumour that this is mere 'man-flu'. Anyone who says so is in danger of a foppish pelting with a damp handkerchief.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Burying Brian is (almost) here

This is the cover for my new novel, Burying Brian, which will be available from some time in December. The artwork is by Lucas Swann.

Click on the picture for a bigger image...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Bull Spec Issue 3

I should like to thank Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, Editor and Publisher of Bull Spec magazine. Why? Well, he sent me a free Bull Spec issue #3. I like people who send me free stuff :-)

I haven't read it all yet, though I picked it up just to 'glance' through the stories and ended up reading most of the fiction section. Such is Bull Spec's eye for a good story it makes the magazine something of a page-turner.

Bull Spec

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Well, we went to Poland. And, perhaps more surprisingly, we managed to get back home again. And I spoke Polish—actual Polish—and people understood me; I was even complimented on my Polish—what a thrill that was (I'm a man of simple pleasures).

We flew into Krakow. It's a city in flux somewhat. On one hand, it's a beautiful city blessed with many churches and buildings of fine architecture. But on the other it's also reinventing itself as a vibrant city, of nightclubs and bars and restaurants, and in some ways there's a battle going on between this old and new façade. It made for an eclectic bunch of visitors—young groups on stag and hen weekends alongside mature tourists all cameras and city guides.

It was cold—minus one degree in the evenings, but still hardy souls were to be seen sitting drinking chilled beer under parasols at the pavement cafes along the Rynek or Main Square. Ann and me, well, we're made of lesser stuff, so we drank our beer inside in the warmth.

I'd certainly recommend visiting Krakow. The food was cheap, the beer was cheap, and the majority of people friendly to a fault. Most spoke some English, and even those that didn't still managed to maintain a dignified patience during the ensuing pointing and arm-waving.

There were pockets of poor customer service we were generally warned about before we left. These were remnants of the communist age—the railway station was a somewhat daunting, unfriendly place, with little information and few official people around to ask for help—where wages were poor and paid no matter the attitude of the employee to the task in hand. We also had problems buying paper tissues in a chemist shop, but I suppose even pharmacy workers can have a bad day.

But overall, if you've any thoughts of going somewhere different, you should consider Krakow.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Haunted Legends is published

I received my author copies of Haunted Legends anthology including my story "The Spring Heel". The guidelines requested tales with a new spin on well known local legends. You might guess my story is loosely based on the Spring Heel Jack legend; a fleeting Victorian character who, with his long, spindly legs, was said to be able to leap buildings.

Haunted Legends

I've not had time to read the stories yet, but it does look a rather special anthology.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Burying Brian update

I had hoped that the new novel, Burying Brian, would be out by now. The original plan was for a launch at Fantasycon in September. But, a delay in the production of the cover artwork has done for that notion, and it would seem I'll need to be patient for a little while longer. Everything else is in place and ready to go, so hopefully the delay won't be too long.

Lucas Swann is providing the cover this time. Musician and artist, I've not met Lucas, but it would seem he is an energetic, extroverted character, and I'm intrigued to see what he will come up with. If you compare his picture at the link below with mine, it's clear we're likely a world away from each other personality wise. But that's part of the fun of this publishing lark in that I get to glimpse into the worlds of people far more vibrant and alive than I'll ever be!

Lucas Swann

Uninvited Music

It should be an interesting ride.

Having said that, I met Anne Sudworth not so long ago, and despite a similarly (dare I say) daunting exterior she turned out to be the nicest, most down-to-earth person you'd care to meet.

Anne Sudworth

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bull Spec Review

I reviewed a nice publication called Bull Spec over at Future Fire.

The review is here if you'd care to take a look.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Missing... but still in action.

It's been a very busy month or two. Any free time I've found has been spent writing and editing the 'wife's birthday project' which has blossomed into a 140 page book documenting her family history. It's done and dusted and now with the printer.

A year ago I was a novice genealogist. Now I feel like a seasoned professional. I poked in nooks and fiddled about in crannies, and it has amazed me how much there is to find out there, how much of a footprint we leave behind.

Now it's done I shall move back to fiction writing, probably refreshed by the non-fiction break.

Anyways, I just thought I'd say…

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A jolt of reality

Part of my day job these days sees me in contact with the University of Liverpool.

This last week has been "Clearing", arguably the busiest administrative week of the university year, in which students who having discovered they haven't quite got the A-Level grades they'd anticipated scramble for ever fewer numbers of places on alternative courses.

This year, and last to a slightly lesser extent, the media hype around government cutbacks resulting in even fewer courses on offer seemed to make applicants even more frantic and frenzied. Within moments of telephone lines opening there was a surge of callers like I'd never seen before, and those elevated levels lasted throughout much of Clearing itself.

So, what's my point? Well, it saddens me that so many young people are turned away from the system. Yes, there is the argument that these students have performed poorly against their A-Level expectations, but then we all know exams can sometimes be tricky beasts, and performance on the day is not always directly related to work put in during the academic year or indeed an absolute indicator of student ability.

And in many ways these people are political pawns. Labour, a mere two years ago set out a vision of 50% of young people given access to Higher Education (which I guess would mean a university place for everyone who wanted one given Higher Education is never going to be the right option for all). Last year Labour reneged on that and cuts began. This year, the new Tory/Liberal mismatch government will go even further.

The children of all the Tory MPs will get in, as will those of all their rich friends. And in the meantime I had to listen to the deflated sighs last week as many young people were told they had no place. Welcome to the real world; check all compassion at the door.

(I should point out I don't work directly for the University of Liverpool, and so any moans and gripes above are purely mine alone).

Sunday, 22 August 2010

High Class Romany

Another cruise liner berthed in Liverpool this week (outside Cate's office window – did I mention Cate is a magnet to the rich and famous?).

This one is "The World", and it's curious as it's actually a floating residential block. It houses 165 residential 'units': 106 Apartments, 19 Studio Apartments, and 40 Studios, all owned by the ship's residents, some of whom live permanently on board and spend their lives sailing the globe, and others who join the ship as per a holiday home.

What an unusual life that must be—truly they are citizens of the world, though it wouldn't do to sleep walk.

Of course, one has to be stinking rich to join the community (residents must be worth at least two million pounds) and the apartments themselves cost multi million pounds to buy. And I don't suppose they have gardens (unless there're little private coral reefs under the hull), though that boat (picture below) hooked to the side is surely the equivalent of a car in the garage.

Is it just me, or are people going to bang their heads on that suspended life boat/car boat? Seems a bit much to ask the rich and famous to duck their heads when walking the deck; or is it the rich and famous can afford people to do their ducking for them?

And these guys would probably welcome sea level rises by global warming, because then they can sail into even more worldly nooks and crannies, maybe even straight onto our land-lubber high streets to buy their Gucci swimming costumes (professional shoppers: please feel free to tell me Gucci don't do swimming costumes).

An odd lifestyle, but an intersting one I'd suspect.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Fall by Robert Duperre

The Fall by Robert Duperre
Illustrated by Jesse David Young
Trade Paperback, 337 pages
$2.99 Kindle

A debut novel by Robert J. Duperre, The Fall is the first book of a projected four part series called The Rift.

During the exploration of a hidden Mayan cave, an ancient curse is released. It takes the form of a virus—diagnosed as ‘rodent ‘flu’, but its effect on those infected is more devastating than anything seen before. Insanity, cannibalism, death; all are symptomatic of this ‘flu. There’s panic, and anarchy, and civilisation is on the brink of collapse.

It’s set against this backdrop that Duperre tells the story of Josh and Kyra, who, together with a raft of lesser characters, are forced to fight for their survival, against their own personal demons as well as those quite literally set against them by the rodent ‘flu.

There’s powerful writing here. Duperre doesn’t shun away from the hack-and-slash when it’s needed, but The Fall is much more than a horror flick. His characters are torn inside as well, and such internal angst adds depth and realism where some horror novels seem to rely upon shock alone. Josh must kill his beloved sister, for example, when she is struck down with the virus, and Duperre has him do so with restraint and poise and humanity, despite the fact that Josh has witnessed the horrors this same sister in her insanity has levied upon their parents. There are internalised debates, too—how much would you save others in such a situation as this, and how much do you save yourself?

Add to this that there’s a surreal thread building; that there’s a gathering force of evil; that the dead will walk; that Josh is visited by a vague-talking, ethereal woman who we can perhaps guess is some balancing force of good; that between them we have hints that Josh is more than he perceives himself to be, and it’s clear the Fall has a nice balance of intrigue to keep things moving along into subsequent volumes.

In this opening to the series, the seriousness of the situation is gradually expressed and increased. The book ends with the decision to leave, and we are left waiting for the next instalment to see what and to where this journey will lead.

With the added bonus of some excellent illustration, this is a strong opening to the series indeed.

Visit The Rift Online here

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

We watched the film "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" last night. Made in 2006, it tells the wartime story of a friendship between a German boy, the son of an extermination camp Commandant, and a Jewish boy who is a captive of that camp.

Of course, like all good films, there's so much more than that going on, and the film explores the conflicts of such a time in a refreshingly non-preachy way. The Germans are not all monsters. The mechanics of what went on is not presented judgementally and in gory detail. In fact, for swathes of the film the camp is something of a minor character; a nagging "extra" lurking at the peripheral.

Without wishing to spoil things for those who've not seen it, it's one of the few films I think I've seen with a less than happy ending. With that in mind, the ending shocked me a little. Yet, thinking about it later, it's the perfect ending—the only ending that could be sensible.

If you've not seen the film you should dig it out—even if you find the subject matter a little un-nerving (or especially so, perhaps). As an exercise in story telling it's worth the entrance fee alone.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

All excited...

I booked my flights to Poland. I booked my hotel in Poland. And now I feel all excited, because it's not just an idea any more, it's real.

I won't say when I'm going, because if I do there might be a small crowd of house burglars helping me into my airport taxi.

I've tried Polish food and it's awful, so unless I end up living in McDonald's I might even come back a few pounds lighter!

Friday, 30 July 2010

A Storm in a Port

As boats go, it's pretty impressive.

The days of the big liners in the Mersey are gone, now. Ship building is a pale shadow of what it was, and containerships have concentrated activity to the humungous container ports, that of nearby Seaforth, but to the detriment of the docks as a whole. When I was young the docks thrived with activity.

So, when the cruise liners do pay a visit, it's a bit special these days.

This is the Queen Victoria. She's in Liverpool to commemorate 170 years of Cunard operating services from the Mersey. Their first ship, RMS Britannia, set sail for America on July 4th, 1840. For its day, I suspect it was every bit as grand as this vessel.

Stormy skies, and the Liverpool skyline, make a fitting backdrop.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Murky Depths Issue 13

I've received my contributor copies of Murky Depths Issue 13, and whilst I've not had time to read it yet it looks to be another superb offering from Terry Martin and his team.

Amongst the table of contents, apart from my offering, "The Goodship Hyperdrive", a humorous tale of love and lust and deeply esoteric physics, is an exclusive comic from the master of mirth himself Robert Rankin.

Murky Depths may be purchased: Here

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Milo and other humans

There's an amazing demonstration of computer/human interaction on the BBC website today. It deals with Milo, a computer generated human, and how lifelike interacting with him can be. Take a look; it's well worth the visit to play the video:


To be honest, it seems both awesome and at the same time a little unsettling. I mean, do I want to interact on that level with my computer? If I empathise so much with this boy how will I feel about switching him off? Will it be like pulling the plug on a loved one, and not a vegetative, comatose loved one at that?

And given that the woman in the demonstration clearly reacts to Milo's mood, how can I be sure my Milo won't start playing guilt trips on me and manipulating me? I could become a slave to my computer generated human. And then I'd have to question which one of us is the artificial intelligence.

How long before Milo can switch himself on? I could come home from work to find Milo tapping his fingers impatiently.

It's a bit scary where it might end, no?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Throwing carpet slippers at ravens

I'm excited in that in the next few months I've three publications that will be loosed upon the unwary world.

There's the Haunted Legends I mention below in September, and before then I've a story due in Issue 13 of Murky Depths. Then, again in September, Burying Brian, my second novel will surface. After a fairly sparse patch of new publications it's nice to see things happening again.

I need to get submitting again, too, and writing some new stuff. Hopefully seeing Brian in particular will spur me on to a period of renewed productivity.

I've gone with a very short (half a page) prologue with Brian. It's odd, because in general I'm not that fond of prologues. But I wanted to introduce a portent early on in the form of a visiting raven.

Of course, in keeping with the tone of the novel I thought it best my protagonist should throw a carpet slipper at it.

And finishing Brian made me realise once more how in love I am with writing humour.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Barry J House

I'm sad to hear an e-friend of mine and fellow writer Barry J House has passed away.

Barry J House

Although we'd lost touch to some extent lately, I talked to Barry a good deal during the Whispers of Wickedness days, and he came over as a thoroughly nice bloke.

My thoughts are with his wife and two sons.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

What a load of rubbish...

They went out like lions, but mewed like kittens. I'm speaking, of course, about the awful displays of the England World Cup football team.

Where was the passion? Where was the skill? Where was the English stiff upper lip in the face of adversity? And I went all jingoistic, waving my flag and everything. Now my flag is limp, and I'm all jingo-ed out.

For shame.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Haunted Legends

I've just received the cover image for the Haunted Legends anthology, in which I have a story called The Spring Heel, to be published by Tor in the first week of September.

It looks rather nice, does it not?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Rightful Hair

Well, I wanted to give Mercedes' words star billing, so I've avoided posting any other blog entries since. But, like all good things, there comes a time to move on. I wish Mercedes well—she's a really nice person, and she deserves all the success she can achieve.

I've been working on the 'Wife's family tree' project this week. I took a week-long subscription to an online archive of nineteenth century newspapers, and I've been having a ball reading what some of the barn-pots and simpletons of old got up to.

Not that the wife's ancestors are barn-pots and simpletons, of course; rogues, perhaps, but by and large loveable ones.

Here's one I particularly loved:


NOT THE RIGHTFUL HAIR--Mary Judge, a fish-hawker, was charged on remand with seriously assaulting Alexander May and Mary Cheers. On the night of the 20th instant, the prisoner was selling fish in Kitchen Street, and, in consequence of a remark by Mrs Cheers, picked up a brick and struck her on the head. May went to call a police-officer, and the prisoner followed him and struck him on the head with another brick, inflicting serious injuries. In defence, the prisoner said the prosecutor assaulted her; and she produced a bundle of hair as having been pulled from her head by him. The hair was, however, not of the same colour as that on her head. She was committed to hard labour for two months.

Liverpool Mercury, 30th May, 1871

I love daft people like this.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

An Audience with Mercedes M. Yardley

I braved Stilettos to interview writer and all round good egg Mercedes M. Yardley.

This is what the deadly wordswoman had to say:

Steven Pirie: Tell us who Mercedes M Yardley is.

Mercedes M. Yardley: I'm the girl next door in heels and red lipstick. I wear poisonous flowers in my hair, bake muffins, and write about dead girls.

SP: Of course, that answer could be viewed as somewhat flippant, or it might point to some deep internal struggles—a power struggle between the orthodox, sweet, girl-next-door Mercedes, and the Mercedes desperate to explore life's dark side. Humour, after all, is one way of vindicating ourselves.

Is there anything in that? Do you feel as a young mother there's any kind of internal conflict in you writing dark fiction? Do you think as a woman it's harder to be generally accepted (in your social circles and in your writing circles) as a writer of 'dead girls', more so than were you a man?

MMY: Mmm, you caught me. Most people go through their lives not knowing exactly who they are so it’s a difficult question to answer. Who is Mercedes M. Yardley? Does it really all boil down to “she’s a girl”? No, of course it doesn’t. People are fathomless. But that’s the surface of it: she’s a girl.

There’s definitely a disconnect between my different circles. I think of it as Real Life and Writing Life. I’m the same in both worlds; I don’t have a persona. The Mercedes who goes grocery shopping with a toddler is the same Mercedes who writes about murder. But the people in my life tend to divide themselves into one camp or the other. Somebody from Real Life approached me the other day and asked how I can write the things I do. I think it disturbed him that I’m a woman writing dark fiction. He couldn’t picture it because I’m an optimistic person. At the same time, I’m very much aware of the darkness, and it’s very much aware of me.

SP: When did you begin writing? Have you always written dark stuff? Do you see any changes in your style or content as your writing talent matures?

MMY: I was always wild about books. When I misbehaved, my parents would punish me by taking my books away. Apparently I misbehaved enough that I was forced to write my own stories. I’ve been writing to entertain myself for a while, but I just started submitting for publication in the last three years.

There was always a little bit of darkness in my work. I think it’s because I was so sensitive. I constantly brought home stray animals. My parents had to turn off the news because I’d cry whenever I saw people suffering on TV. When you’re that gentle, the world is filled with horror. You always see delicate things being broken.

My outlook has changed now that I’m older. Yes, there’s still tragedy and horror, but now I see the strength of humankind. There’s much more beauty and hope to my work. I’ve lost the bleakness, and I’m happy about that.

SP: You have a gift of understating your horror. For example, in your story "Evanescent"


we have essentially a love story but for three words, and those three words turn the tone of the story completely around. Is that something you set out to achieve at the outset or is that something that naturally evolves into your writing?

That it seems effortless is testament to your skill, but like a duck, I'm guessing all the work is done below the waterline—tell us how you work—are you a planner or a free-writer? Are you a compulsive editor? Do you know before you start where these little subtleties will appear?

MMY: Oh, I’m definitely not a planner. I tried outlining once and it was a disaster. I’m also extremely pressed for time, so I’m only able to work in fits and starts. I’ll sit at the computer and think, “All right, I have ten minutes to write. Let’s go!” I’ll type as fast as I can for my ten minutes and then I have to be done. Maybe I’ll have 20 minutes the next time, so I’ll read a paragraph or two to catch myself up, and I start again. I actually do very little editing. I think the insane typing within a tight time frame helps me to be more honest. I don’t have time to hesitate and search for just the right word. I’m forced to bleed everything onto the page in seconds. I’ve heard that writers write to find what their current obsessions are. Sometimes I’m surprised at what I see on the page. Sometimes I’m pleased. Other times...not so much.

SP: Ten minutes here and there? I'm surprised your stories are not terribly disjointed!

You've been open and vocal elsewhere about your young son's Williams Syndrome, and I know you're currently writing a non-fiction book about that condition. How difficult is that to do given you've likely a lot of emotion invested in that? How does it compare to your writing of fiction—do you feel more of a responsibility to get that project "just so"?

MMY: You hit the nail right on the head, Sev. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure. We’ve had some gruelling experiences with Niko. Emergency room visits. Kidney failure. A bizarre genetic syndrome that nobody had ever heard of. It’s immensely painful to open up that baggage and come face to face with it, especially since my family worked so hard to put the negative emotion behind us.

But at the same time, it’s a book that I feel needs to be written. When Niko was diagnosed, I couldn’t find a single book written by a Williams Syndrome parent. I searched the Internet and all I could find was technical jargon written by doctors and scientists. I was flooded with complex information that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I wanted a book that said, “Hey, my kid doesn’t sit still. He doesn’t sleep. This is how we coped, and this is what we should have looked out for.” To my knowledge, that book still doesn’t exist. I’m writing the book that I wish somebody had handed to me.

SP: Tell us about your experiences slush reading for Shock Totem. Has working from the other side of the "writing fence" taught you anything (apart from all slush readers eventually sit in the corner and twitch a lot)?

MMY: Oh, the twitching! I wear sunglasses to hide the constant spasms of my right eye.

Just kidding. Kinda.

Shock Totem is an amazing experience for me. I met the guys when I sold them a short story and then started hanging around the forum. Later on they asked me to join the magazine, and it has been very, very cool. Yes, it’s different being on the other side of the fence. It feels like an accelerated learning curve. I had no idea how much work really goes into a magazine. I thought you sent in a story, the editor waved a magic wand and WHAM! Literary Magazine! I definitely have more respect for the time and effort that goes into creating something like this.

I learned not to take rejection personally. You hear “It’s a matter of taste” so much that the words lose their potency, but it’s really true. Say you send in a story I’m wild over. I want to marry it and have its little story babies, but Nick hates it because there aren’t enough exploding heads or whatever. Does that mean it’s a bad story? Not at all; it’s simply that matter of taste. That’s helped me when it comes to my own rejected work. It’s easier to move on.

But maybe one of the most important things is that I feel part of a writing community. The Shock Totem forum is absolutely phenomenal. Like I said, I joined the forum long before I was ever on staff. It’s a friendly place with people that I have really grown to love. There are some sharks out in the writing waters, and it’s fantastic to have people who will haul you back into the boat if you need it.

Mmm, sharks.

SP: Sharks are just tiddlers with attitude. :-)

We know about the Williams Syndrome book, but what else (if anything) are you working on at the moment? Where do you see your writing career going in the short term and the long term? I believe you're courting agents—any news on that?

MMY: My main focus is finishing the Williams project, but every now and then I take a break and work on my demon novel. This novel has been a bit of a dalliance for me; I work on it when I really “should” be working on something else. I’m also working on a short story collection.

I’m taking my writing career one step at a time. Right now my short term goals are to 1) raise my rank in the SFWA from Associate to Active and 2) Find the right agent. The agent search goes slowly but I’m getting some wonderful advice and experience. Long term, I’d like to see myself stretch and grow. I want to continue to write pieces that I’m proud of, but perhaps tackle some of the ideas that seem a bit ambitious right now. I’ll always be writing, though. You can be certain of that.

SP: Thank you, Mercedes, for talking to me. Now, a final word of wisdom?

MMY: Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But be gracious when you prove them wrong. I find that cookies tend to soften the blow. ;)

Thanks, my friend. It was a pleasure.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

There's no rational murder.

It's hard to reconcile how Derrick Bird—a nice, quiet, pleasant man according to all who seemingly knew him—could take a hunting rifle and kill twelve people in Cumbria, over a period of several hours in which surely thoughts of sanity must have returned. I mean, if the red mist had descended, there surely must have been a point in that time during which he thought: "What am I doing?"

His early victims were targeted, the subjects of arguments and squabbles, people known to bird—his twin brother and the family solicitor, a fellow taxi driver. But then he went off shooting folk apparently at random.

Why on earth would anyone do that? I mean, okay I can understand someone 'losing it' perhaps and attacking those he feels he has a grievance against, but why then go after innocent people?

Some of the witness stories are quite harrowing. The fifteen-year-old girl who 'ducked' at the right moment and was then pursued by the killer but managed to escape. She felt the bullet pass her ponytail. There was the young family who had the gun pointed at them but whose terror somehow sent Bird on his way.

Now that's real horror.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Not tonight; I have a headache...

My prostitute story came back rejected startlingly fast. I thought it might be a little too "raw" for the particular market, and I was right.

So, anybody want to buy a prostitute story? One careful owner... :-)

The fastest rejection I ever received was from the now defunct (I think) NFG magazine. Email submission to email rejection took all of seven minutes. The best rejection was addressed to me but clearly described someone else's story. I didn't have the heart to write back and say so. I did often wonder, though, if someone else received an acceptance for my story.

I once pulled a story when a market that had seemed dead to my update queries suddenly came back with an acceptance. Assuming no answer meant no sale, I'd subbed the story out elsewhere, and when I pulled it from this 'current' market I was told it was (pinches fingers) this close to a sale. The 'current' market was a pro-zine. The market I pulled it for was way below. How daft am I, eh? The pro market could have said: "No, leave it with us, we might buy." But they didn't. Maybe they thought I needed a lesson, not that I'd done anything wrong.

Still, I console myself with the thought "a sale's a sale".

Monday, 31 May 2010

The N+7 Machine

I love the "N+7" machine. Several blog posts below, I posted a rather tame poem about iron men, and I thought it would be fun to squirt said poem through the "N+7" machine.

Here is the original:

Of what do Iron Men think,
when staring silently out to sea?
As the tide turns, and the waters rise,
and the mud grips ever tighter to their feet.
Do they sail to Another Place,
where iron lungs don't leak and burn?

And here is the result (it's odd, but in all the text I've shoved through so far I always seem to prefer the N+5 output, and this is what's shown below):

Of what do Irrelevancy Mandarins think,
when staring silently out to seagull?
As the tiff turns, and the watermarks rissole,
and the muffin groans ever tighter to their foothills.
Do they salaam to Another Plagiarist,
where irrelevancy lushes doodle't leap and burrow?

The "N+7" machine can be found here:

N+7 Machine

Why not put some of your own text in and see what comes out?

I learned of the N+7 machine whilst reading Rhys Hughes' blog,

The Spoons That Are My Ears

It seems right and proper to say so.

A fine day out...

We braved the weather and were rewarded with 'not a bad day for it', and took a drive into South Yorkshire. Our destination was Holmfirth, a small town set deep in the countryside and home to the long-running (actually, longest running) television sit-com "The Last of the Summer Wine".

I'm a big fan of the television show—it's the kind of gentle comedy I like to explore in my own writing. It's sad that many of the characters who made the show what it is have died off in real life. The show goes on with new characters, and it remains in my opinion still pretty good, but the old ones are tough acts to follow.

We took coffee in Sid and Ivy's café. It's more or less as it appears in the show, although unlike in the show it was packed with tourists. I felt foolish in selecting a sticky bun only to be told it was for display only. Well, it looked real enough, and it was probably in keeping with the show.

The town itself is rather small. We walked around it, twice, and barely broke sweat, but of course its quaint charm is that it's not the city.

We went up on to the "moors" for lunch, and found a Coach House serving overpriced food that was tasty yet overall disappointing. Still, it's a gamble when one doesn't know the area, I suppose.

This was Saddleworth Moor, backdrop to the infamous Moors Murders of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Such a bleak place, it's easy to see how bones can lie here undiscovered and brooding. I want to come back here at night, to experience this place in darkness. I imagine it's an eerie place to be in the dark.

So, there's no great message in this post. It's just a day out. And why not, eh? Sometimes, simple days out are what the soul needs.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Rain, rain, go away...

It's a bank holiday weekend in England. It was sunny and warm last week, but now it's rainy and cold. Oh, how the Gods of Weather do mock us Englishmen (and women). Oh, how they wave their danglies derisively in our very faces.

A God about to lift his skirt and
wave his danglies, yesterday.

But do we complain? Do our stiff upper lips waver one instant? Of course; but the Gods don't listen.


Still, never mind, there's always the summer.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Snail Mail Rules

I sent off a short story submission today. Nothing unusual in that, Stevie boy, I hear you say. But this was a real, paper submission, in an envelope and with stamps on and everything.

I can't remember the last time I did that. Everything's electronic these days—push-of-a-button-easy—or so I thought.

But, I liked it. It felt like a real submission; like the old days of International Reply Coupons and Air-mail stickers. Mind you, the post office had closed down, and the other post office has double yellow lines and a permanently grumpy Traffic Warden who patrols troll-like up and down outside. And there was a large queue of old ladies out for a bit of a chat and a stamp or two, so that rather slowed things down.

Still, it's oddly satisfying to hand over a real letter, particularly if it's headed to some foreign land. It feels more of a journey, more of an adventure.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Bizarro ate my Hovercraft

I wrote some Bizarro fiction. Basically, it would seem to be fiction in which the rules of coherence are pretty much relaxed. Things can happen seemingly for the sake of things happening. Amazing events can be, because there's no great pressure to explain them within the story.

I think this lack of regimentation is probably why I've never attempted Bizarro before—although it has been suggested to me that all speculative fiction is to a degree Bizarro by its fantastical nature. I can relate to that, to some extent, but I think it's a sin to think speculative fiction should be exempt from many of the rules of writing that make fiction at the very least readable. I like writing with rules in mind; it keeps me from slipping away too far into the bizarre—a charge I'd levy at much of the Bizarro fiction I've read.

But, that said, I enjoyed the freedom in writing this piece. I'm going to send it to Pedestal Magazine's Bizarro Fiction Edition and see what happens. It might not be Bizarro enough, or it might stand out because all the other submissions are Bizarro extremis.

We shall see.

Friday, 21 May 2010

I am Masked

Over at Mercedes' blog, I'm a "Mysterious Writer in a Mask".

Actually, I'm more of an idiot in a post box, but there you go.

A Broken Laptop

Thanks to Mercedes for having me over...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Steve the Pole

I finished lesson thirty of my thirty lesson Polish language audio course. I averaged a lesson a week, I think.

Does this mean you're supercharged with Slovak enunciations? I hear you ask.

Well, I can certainly speak more Polish now than when I started. But what a fiendishly difficult language Polish is to learn. I can ask for things like where the bathroom is, and order drinkies like a native; I can book a hotel room and find my way around the railway station. But it strikes me to be anywhere near conversational in such a language would need total immersion probably forever. It's a language dreamed up by someone during one of life's more fluid lunchtimes.

I should have known that when the guide said of grammar: Don't worry if you have to stick to the nominative case—the Poles will understand you and make exceptions for you as a foreigner— because it's not like the Poles themselves speak all the various cases correctly anyway.

I should have said: hang on, if they don't, then what chance have I?

I'm not a natural when it comes to learning languages, which is odd really as I do consider myself to have a love of words and how they're strung together (isn't that a definition of writer, after all?). But one thing this exercise has done is to have given me a renewed respect for my mother tongue.

Having seen first hand what the Poles may do, I'll never abuse English again.

Well, hardly.

Friday, 14 May 2010

A Very Odd Brain

I received a Facebook comment today that I have a 'very odd brain'. And I love it. It was from Wendy Darling who was commenting on how much she'd enjoyed reading my novel Digging up Donald. I think writers of comic works probably do need an odd brain.

I loved also that Wendy spoke of Storm Constantine's words when pressing the book on Wendy—'(She) kept saying: "You have to read it, I can't describe!"'. It's really gratifying that someone with Storm's track record in publishing would think like that of my work.

I dip back into reading Donald myself from time to time, which is odd as I rarely re-read anything else I've written. Maybe it's that I have a great fondness for the lad. Or maybe it's I'm a closet narcissist. And I always get a thrill when someone passes comment on it—good or bad. So thank you, Wendy, for brightening my day.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Of What Do Iron Men Think?

Of what do Iron Men think,
when staring silently out to sea?

This is a most unusual work of art. He is made from cast iron, and is one of an installation of one hundred such iron men fixed five hundred metres apart into the sands of Crosby beach, about ten miles to the north of Liverpool. When the tide is low, they stand like sentinels against the receding sea. Twice daily, when the tide rises, they drown without fuss or cry.

Of what do Iron Men think,
when staring silently out to sea?
As the tide turns, and the waters rise,
and the mud grips ever tighter to their feet.

The installation, the work of Antony Gormley, is called "Another Place". The men are made from casts of Gormley's own body. They stare towards America. Previously, they'd been exhibited in Germany, Norway, and Belgium, and were due to be relocated to New York. That will not now happen, and the work will remain permanently in Crosby.

Of what do Iron Men think,
when staring silently out to sea?
As the tide turns, and the waters rise,
and the mud grips ever tighter to their feet.
Do they sail to Another Place,
where iron lungs don't leak and burn?

There were "someone's trapped and drowning" calls when they first went in. And shipping needed buoys to warn of them just submerged. Three were moved as they upset birds breeding nearby. And the curious thing is they look different at different times, as if storms and calm seas affect them in unseen ways.

Of what do Iron Men think?

There's a story for me in there somewhere.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Tale of Two... erm, A Prostitute

I wrote a story about a prostitute specifically with submitting to a forthcoming anthology in mind. It's done and dusted and duly polished, but I have a dilemma. The guidelines say (paraphrased) "…despite the prostitution theme, I'm not looking for pornography or erotica".

I'd argue that whilst I've pulled no punches with this story it's neither of those (unless it's a particularly weird form of erotica :-)

I'm toying with the idea of saying this in the cover letter. And my dilemma is I've never felt the need to justify the content of a story before, nor actually suggest in a cover letter that the story might be rejected as possibly too brutal, too risqué.

I'll probably just send it as normal and allow it to stand or fall at the Editor's whim. But it's been an interesting thought as to how I, as a writer, relate to the content of my own stories.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A well hung parliament

What a strange week in politics.

No one I voted for "got in"—either in the national or local elections. Maybe I'm a jinx. Maybe I'm bribe material—how much for me to vote for your opponent—guaranteed non-election for him or her, squire?

Or maybe as politically savvy I'm something of a nonce.

It feels deeply dissatisfying, a hung parliament. Hung parliaments always produce toothless governments. And there's something disquieting about the sudden accord each of the major parties have for the ever-third-choice Liberal Democrats. It's all rather smarmy, this toadying, even by politicians' standards.

And then a part of me wonders if this was not meant to be. I was, and remain, deeply suspicious of the Conservatives, particular in the speed and depth of cuts they'd likely impart upon us as they try and restore some semblance of normality to the country's coffers. It worried me that the first three years or so of a majority Conservative government would see cutbacks on a scale ruthless and unprecedented.

But now, if they secure a working, minority government, I see another election surely within a year. And in that year the Conservatives would have undertaken some particularly unpopular policy making. But now, given they will need to keep the electorate as sweet as they can for this early re-election, perhaps it will rein them in a little. Or maybe it won't.

And what an opportunity this is for the Liberal Democrats to force home their ever popular chestnut of Proportional Representation. Ironically, given the Liberal Democrat's overall poor performance this time out, they might snatch the greatest victory they thought they'd never see, that of voting reform.

And in the meantime the financial markets wobble and dance.

A strange week in politics indeed.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Size Matters

Well, actually quantity matters. According to last week's New Scientist, it's not quality of content that makes for a successful Blog but quantity.

People, it seems, will visit a prolific blogger more regularly over a, shall we say, more selective blogger even if they feel that the prolific blogger is talking tosh.

I wonder what this means for Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Promiscuous Women can cause Earthquakes

I read this on the BBC news website, so it has to be true, doesn't it?

It seems an Iranian cleric has suggested promiscuity amongst women is to blame for earthquakes. He said:

"Many women who do not dress modestly
lead young men astray and spread adultery
in society which increases earthquakes."

And I thought it was tectonic plate nonsense.

I wonder what causes a tornado.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Brian is Go

The good news is Burying Brian has been edited, the cover artist commissioned, and we're full steam ahead for a sooner rather than later release date.

It's taken me a long time to produce this second novel—longer than the first one, old Donald, first published in 2004. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Having Donald so well received—the critics were indeed kind to me—if anything added pressure to make Brian just as good.

I think because short stories tend to be singular, self-standing entities, there's much more freedom to swap styles and even genres between one story and another. But because Brian continues in the same 'universe' as Donald, I felt keen to maintain 'tone', and 'style', and 'voice'. It meant such care took time.

Also, I'd argue with anyone that humour is by far the most difficult sub genre in which to write. It's so easy to force humour, and when so forced its 'forcedness' waves and shouts from the page.

Many comedians will talk about timing. It's not just about what's said, but how it's delivered. And this is true for comedic writing too. I'll spend far more time over sentence structure when writing humour than when writing 'serious' stuff. The rhythm of a sentence is very much akin to timing. The punch line must come at the right moment, and must indeed have punch (as there're fewer visuals and mannerisms the joke can fall back upon).

Having reread Brian as part of the final editing process (Immanion Press are good enough to involve the author at the last before the book is committed) I can say I'm very happy with the result. I think Brian is stronger than Donald, possibly because I've learned as a writer in that time.

I'm not one to blow my own trumpet (though I'm sure as a writer I should do so), but I feel good in myself that I've done well with this novel.

So, we go again. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Mr Abershaw's Happening Day

I notice Gabriel Strange has posted the short film Mr Abershaw's Happening Day to You Tube.

So, what's all that about? I hear you ask.

Well, the script for the film is my short story "Digging Up Donald", the same short story that subsequently grew into the novel "Digging Up Donald".

I think the film captures the tone of the work very well. And what a thrill to see one's words cross media, as it were. The film lasts about fifteen minutes, and is posted in two parts.

Part One

Part Two

It would be wonderful if you took a look, and even more so if you posted your thoughts.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A New Year

So, is everyone back and raring to go at the new decade?

No, me neither :-) I always find this time of year a bit depressing.

There's chaos in Liverpool right now. We've had about six inches of snow, and when that happens the world ends. The Town Council scratch their collective heads and wonder just where they put the grit lorries. Oh, and did anybody actually order in some grit?

It took me two and a half hours to do what usually is a twenty minute drive yesterday. I couldn't get the car up a hill, and had to go back down and try my luck on a different hill, and these hills are main trunk routes out of town. It's disconcerting going sideways up a hill.

The bus company bailed out. It got to three p.m. and they didn't like the roads one bit, so they did the decent, honourable, heroic thing and went home. Of course, they were lucky, because at least they had buses to go home in; not like the thousands of people they left behind at their work. The schools have closed. It's a good job we don't live in Canada or our children would go uneducated.

Still, there you go, Happy New Year and whatnot...

Now, where's my shovel...?