Housekeeping

End of the year hard drive clean-up and I found this, written idly whilst doing Not Very Much At All. Now I want to carry on writing it.

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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

I’ve always liked autumn. It makes me think of my mother.

My mother used to create oil paintings. Almost invariably, they were scenes of mountains, rivers and trees. Mum liked these things and she enjoyed putting them onto canvas. It was always a scene of a river leading off into a lake with a mountain in the background. Sometimes when I see one of her paintings, I like to think that’s where she is now and that one day, I’ll be walking along the banks of the river, next to the trees and she’ll be there, just beyond the picture’s reach.

She liked autumn colours most of all.

Not long before she died, she promised me a set of four paintings; the same scene in all four seasons. She only ever did the first one. She picked autumn.

See? Just around the bend in the river, behind the trees.

I keep meaning to sort out a frame for this painting, because the one she put on it got broken in one of the many house moves I’ve had since she gave it to me. But whenever I look at it, I remember her and it’s a nice feeling. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her, or miss her or wish I could have ‘one more conversation’ with her. She always knew the right thing to say or the right little gesture to make everything right. That’s a mum’s job, I think. I like to think Not So Small Son thinks that way about me. I’d ask him, but he’s currently engrossed in a game of Team Fortress 2 with headphones over his ears, happily oblivious to his mum pouring her heart out on a blog post.

Bless.

So anyway, yes. I like autumn. There’s this heady ripeness about it as a season. If spring is the playful childishness of a year whilst summer is its exuberant youth, autumn is the mature part of the year. The year in its prime; with the capability of slipping back into a summer day without warning or freezing you into two duvets. Autumn is a season that’s all about the senses. The colours in the trees, the smell of frost in the air and bonfires; the smell of the leafmould in the woods. The sound of dead leaves crackling underfoot and the sounds of fireworks (which seem to pretty much herald the arrival of autumn now!). It’s a bountiful time and I’m grateful for all that I have. Every so often, I stop to remind myself just how incredibly lucky I am to have a roof over my head; a husband and son who I love more than anything and outstanding friends.

In other news, Tales of the Nun & Dragon is now on release; early feedback has been very positive, including on my own contribution, the rather tongue-in-cheek Ballad of Gilrain, a story featuring a less-than-competent hero and his long-suffering servant who set out on a quest to slay a dragon.

Edits on Project: Loophole are going pretty well – for those of you who haven’t seen me mention this on Twitter, this is a Silver Skulls novel. My revised manuscript is due in at the end of September and I’m happy to say that after a few… less than productive weeks, I’m back on form and words are flying freely once again. Things are good on that front. I’m not going to Games Day this year which is a shame as I loved it last year, but the Black Library Weekender in November is coming up and I’m looking forward to it enormously.

Project: Backburner is sitting demanding some love once I’ve done with that, too. Project: Backburner is an urban fantasy story set locally (for me) in Durham and again, is not Entirely Serious.

Have an extract. Enjoy autumn.

EDWARD LEWIS FLANAGAN III had been born into the world some thirty six years previously, in a small town outside of Dublin. The youngest of six, he was also the only boy – and the horrors he experienced growing up at the hands of all that oestrogen had stood him in excellent stead for the path his life would take.

His childhood was supremely normal, apart from the expected mocking he received from the other children due to his apparently comical initials. ‘Little Elf’ was the nickname he received on his first day at school and it lasted barely more than a week before the five year old Ed – known even then by his family as ‘Just Ed’ – was in trouble for fighting.

Apart from this demonstration of ferocity, he was a remarkably placid boy who was well liked by his elders and peers alike. He was polite, well-mannered and intelligent. It was this intelligence that led him to Durham University to study Ancient History.

He had long yearned to get out of Ireland and studying offered him a route that came with the additional benefit of indulging his favourite thing. Ancient History fascinated Ed. He had keen hopes of either becoming a museum curator, a lecturer or, at a push, Indiana Jones. His brief sojurn into archaeology ended when out of boundless enthusiasm (and in an attempt to get laid) he had accompanied a girlfriend on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. Sitting for endless hours in an ancient midden, discovering what coprolite was had started out quietly entertaining.

Then, as time wore on, with the rain hammering down on him and with the real archaelogists sneeringly laughing at what they called ‘the wrong kind of trowel’ any of Ed’s Jones-like tendencies had been severely dampened.

It also put a permanent dampener on the relationship.

He came back from the field trip to the loving embrace of academia and was glad for it. They hadn’t even managed to sleep together, either.

Durham had captivated him from the moment he had stepped off the train. The cathedral, standing its silent vigil above the Wear peninsula on which it stood drew the eye wherever you were in the city. The uneven, steep city centre with its plethora of mysterious little passageways that went the heavens only knew where… there was everything in Durham for a young man with a curious mind and a great imagination.

New Beginnings

It’s comin’ on the end of August
Another summer’s promise almost gone

And though I heard some wise man say
That every dog will have his day
He never mentioned that these dog days get so long…

(The song, by the way, is ‘Waiting in the Weeds’ from the ‘Long Road Out of Eden’ album. It’s a lovely song, go listen to it).

Upcoming honest-from-the-heart blog stuff. Feel free not to look.

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Things Have Been Better…

…and things will be better again.

I’ve had a tough few weeks for one reason or another, all of which are entirely too dull to go into in the Blog-o-sphere. So a quick summation of what’s been happening, methinks!

Watched the Olympics – the opening ceremony was deliciously mad and the music selection just brilliant. Danny Boyle did a first-class job of presenting something uniquely… British. Quirky, eccentric and just a little bit *off*. Visually, it was fab; the forging of the Olympic rings, the whole business with uprooting the tree and industry taking over… I did hear tell that some people in a large country over the other side of the Atlantic Ocean thought that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a Dickens character, which tickled me a little.

The closing ceremony was less of a spectacle, but no less brilliant music-wise. Although… if The Who were there anyway, why on earth did the Kaiser Chiefs sing ‘Pinball Wizard’? Does not compute. Also, I discovered today I wasn’t the only person willing the Spice Girls to fall off the top of their taxi cabs.

The Games themselves seemed to be a lot of fun; it’s amazing how you suddenly find yourself watching things you’d never previously imagined you’d find fascinating. Archery is understandable. But Dressage is just… mad. Horse Skipping. It’s incredible to watch how well-controlled those animals are and there’s a lovely synergy between horse and rider. The commentators need a darned good slap though. They were quite literally commenting on just about anything.

‘Oh, a slight breeze lifting Cottontail’s mane there…’

‘The right hoof clipped the muzzopinkpink fence whilst performing the chipshopstandon manoeuvre…’

It was lovely to see how the country’s morale lifted during the course of the Games. It was a further interesting exercise to note how the Twitter feeds during the opening and closing ceremonies differed. With the opening, it was all stuff to the effect of ‘ZOMGOOSE SO PROUD TO BE BRITISH LOL XX’ With the closing ceremony, it was all stuff like ‘DO THE WHAM RAP, GEORGE!’ Twitter proved itself to be mostly entertaining throughout, but without question, the best thing in the wake of the Games is Mo Farah Running Away From Things. More added daily. Now that’s British.

Had two weeks off work during which time we popped down to the south coast to collect the Son from my dad’s place. Crowbarred in a trip to Brighton as the Chimp had never been. Had a job interview on the middle Friday. Interviewer said he’d let me know one way or the other by Tuesday the following week. He checked my mobile number as he knew I wasn’t at work (it’s a job with the same NHS trust).

Still waiting to hear.

Now, I presume I haven’t got the job and that’s fine. I get that this happens. But to not even let me know?

Meh.

Haven’t done a great deal of writing (see paragraph one), but the break hasn’t been all bad. I sort of worked myself into the ground over the last two years. Working full time, being a full time mum AND writing two novels and quite a lot of short stories has been quite the toll. When I look at it now, objectively, I am genuinely surprised I’m not simply curled up somewhere whimpering pathetically. Taking a bit of a break has been a sensible thing to do and now that I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight once again, the pace will pick up once more.

Going away this coming weekend WITHOUT the Chimp; just me and a dear friend having a much needed weekend of each other’s company. Laughter will happen. This is always good.

Talking of laughter, I finally watched Keeping Mum. If you haven’t seen this delightfully British film… do it. Maggie Smith is just a legend.

And that’s my life at the moment. Looking forward to the Black Library Weekender in November, though!

 

The Lazarus Effect

So I’ve not blogged much for a while. Actually, I’ve not done a lot of anything for a while. This is down to a number of reasons, entirely too plentiful and yet outstandingly dull to go into detail about here.

So instead, the weather. Seeing as that and 50 Shades of Grey are the only things people seem capable of discussing, why not join in? What about that rain? Seriously. It started raining sometime in May and has been pretty determined to make life miserable ever since. Ironically, my mood has possibly not been helped much by the persistent precipitation. Perhaps with the sudden emergence of sunshine from behind the dull, sodden clouds, my mood is about to take a swing in the right direction?

I digress. Some writing stuff first.

I’ve been working on edits for Project: Loophole for a few days now. This is the first of my projects to date that has fairly major changes to be made and it’s a very steep learning curve. It’s one thing to make a few tweaks to a story here and there; to insert a few extra scenes featuring a particular character (a’la Jeremiah in TGR), or to slightly change the thrust of a chapter. It’s something entirely different to do what is, in essence, a rewrite. I’m learning as I go and it’s a relief that quite a lot of stuff can be salvaged whole, or only slightly re-written to make it fit that little bit better.

Also, to end speculation on the matter and to directly reply to those of you who’ve demanded the truth from me… Project: Loophole is novel-sized. It features Silver Skulls. A lot of Silver Skulls. It now also features an extra contingent of Bad Guys who weren’t in the original completed manuscript. I am very enthusiastic about them and after a few conversations back and forth with my editor, very excited to get them written in. I’m about to start doing that bit and that’s definite woken up my writing mojo. Due to the aforementioned apathy and its associated reasons, my enthusiasm for… well, anything really… has been severely impaired for a few weeks.

Feedback on Valkia the Bloody continues to be pretty positive, which is a boost to the ol’ flagging spirits when you’re a bit low.

The Lazarus Effect is thus so far applying to me personally and to Project: Loophole.

I’ve done some Other Writing too; I’ve written a light-hearted fantasy story for an upcoming anthology called ‘Tales from the Nun and Dragon’ from Fox Spirit which is due out in August – see here – and I’m busily writing another submission for Something Else.

Next up, some work stuff. This will be brief.

Work has been terrible. I have been very determinedly job hunting and may have an interview next Friday. I’ve been sent for shortlisting which is a good sign, but I’m still waiting for the final yay/nay on whether I actually have an interview at all. The fact I’ve been shortlisted is frankly brilliant, because the role calls for a certain number of qualifications that I don’t have – but I have equivalent work experience. It’s heartening that this has obviously been taken into account. Of course, it also increases the possibility of losing out to someone who has the qualifications. But who doesn’t necessarily have the work experience to back it up.

Difficult one that.

In the meantime, I’m planning to hold out here for another couple of months at most and then fall back on temp work if I can’t find something permanent. The aforementioned aforementioned apathy is largely in part down to work-related stress and to be honest? It might be a case that it pays the bills, but it’s not worth getting unwell over.

So Project: Find Another Job is well established.

Been watching ‘The Hollow Crown’, the BBC adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV pt 1 & 2 and to come, Henry V. And they have been utterly, utterly wonderful. If you haven’t watched these, do it. They are amongst Shakespeare’s greatest plays (for me, at least) and I can’t wait to watch Tom Hiddleston as he flounces about Agincourt this Saturday…

All in all, life ticks over without much difference (but with increased stress). Some wonderful things have happened and some less than wonderful things have emerged to take their place. Equilibrium is not quite yet restored, but it’s definitely getting there.

To paraphrase ADB’s Night Lords… so how are you, then?

 

Living With Serial Killers

I live with two serial killers.

It’s true and more people in society do the same. Perhaps some of them don’t realise it, or perhaps some don’t really mind, but the fact of the matter is, there are two mass-murderers living under my roof. One is a black cat called Yuna and the other is her sister, the tabby cat called Rikku. Sweet cats, most of the time. Wouldn’t hesitate to take full advantage of an empty lap if presented with it. Both of them are good-natured, friendly and cuddlesome.

Both of them are creatures from Hell.

This is a frequent scene in our house.

This is a re-enactment. All perpetrators and victims are played by actors. But damn me, it’s near enough.

It brokers the question: why do people bother owning cats when they really are such complete little shits?

Is it for the companionship? No. Cats are staggeringly independent. And don’t let them fool you into thinking otherwise. It’s actually the main reason I keep cats; with fresh water and extra food, you can have a day or two away and not worry about them. Ours split their time between in and outdoors (hence the plethora of avian annihilation that occurs on the premises).

Is it for the need to love and care for a smaller creature? Hell, no. I have my son to fill that role in my life; although he’s now almost taller than I am, so soon, he will be taking care of me. It’s true; I had the paperwork drawn up the day he was born. Plus, when he was three, he said when I’m bigger than you, mammy, I’ll take care of you.

He calls me ‘mammy’. It’s a quirk of the North East and not in any way a suggestion that I’m like, Al Jolson or whatever.

Why then, I wondered this morning as I gently rescued a live bird from the jaws of the Killer Cat, do I bother letting them stay around? I’ll tell you why. It’s this.

Look at how BIG MY EYES ARE!

It’s not the fact that we’ve had them since kittens – and kittens are, without question, amongst the cutest of creatures living upon this Earth. It’s not how cute their whiskers are when they point forward, or how Yuna reaches up to ‘hand-grab’ you when she wants to be stroked whilst sitting on your lap. It’s not the way that Yuna has a specific spot on her back that makes her flump to one side if you scratch it and it’s not even how Rikku used to chase your feet under the bed clothes when she was little. No. It’s because they are manipulative little bastards.

After Rikku brought me my starling prize – still alive and now back outside where it belongs – I was cross with her. She went upstairs and wasn’t seen again for a couple of hours. Not as good as Yuna, who in moments of shame has been known to go into the kitchen, open the cupboard under the sink and sit inside… but still it was obvious that she knew she had done wrong. When our paths finally crossed later in the day, when I was taking a pile of ironing upstairs, she gave me the Eyes.

The Eyes, man.

How can I resist?

So yes. I share my home with two serial killers. No amount of rehabilitation is ever likely to cure them and no amount of telling off will ever stop them doing it. It’s in their nature. I know it’s in their nature. I’m just grateful that, as per the TV advert, they don’t have opposable thumbs.

Pitching In

A beautiful sunny Sunday in the north east, which means that I’m all full of hay fever and headache from said hay fever. Don’t get me wrong; I love the warm weather. I don’t enjoy the fact that if I forget to take a 24 hour antihistamine BEFORE I go to bed, I wake up feeling like someone has repeatedly pounded me across the face with a mallet.

This is what hayfever does to my head.

Guess what I didn’t do last night?

We did have our annual Eurovision party last night. The ‘event’ itself is getting increasingly more professional, which is somehow disappointing. Gone are the multiple acts like this year’s Russian grandmothers, or the Skyrim blacksmith from Moldova and instead there are X-Factor-style vocalists warbling their way through stodgy ballads. Greece and Romania are the only countries who repeatedly produce Eurovision songs that actually have an ethnic feel to them; the Greek song sounded Greek, the Romanian song sounded Romanian. Not entirely sure what the dreadlock/sea serpent headed Albanian woman was squawking about, but she had the kind of high-pitched shriek (in tune, to be fair!) that probably sent dogs across the Eurozone running. Wish more countries would get behind that. I note that our entry, the esteemed Englebert Humperdinck came second to last. Awesome. Fun fact of the evening was that with the plethora of Eastern European countries now dominating the contest, the Hump is actually older than some of the competing nations. And as for the voting. Frankly, that’s just turning into a joke now. We ditched the voting halfway through when it became obvious Sweden were going to win and watched Tucker and Dale vs Evil instead.

The last couple of weeks have been taken up with writing pitches. A lot of pitches. This is a necessary part of the writing process that I know a lot of people don’t enjoy. I do enjoy it. I like the brainstorming element of putting a couple of ideas down on paper and then using my imagination to draw a line between them. Sometimes the line goes off on a bit of a tangent and takes me to a story that I’d not even considered. Sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes it’s a breeze – but it’s bloody useful regardless. Having a pitch proves that you have a plan – and when you’re writing, even deviating slightly from the original idea can take you so far off course that if you didn’t have ‘Plan A’, you’d never get back. If my pitches were graphic representations of my mind, they’d be frightening things. Like those drawn by my hero.

Yes. He’s my hero. The poor, stupid bastard. Always being beaten down, but always bouncing back and never giving up.

One good thing to do, certainly with short story pitches, is limit your summary to 500 words. If you can’t tell the story succinctly in 500 words, you can’t tell it. That was the advice my editor gave me when I first started writing for him.

Also in this past week, I’ve been putting the finishing touches to Project: IT’S ALIVE, something about which I hope to expand on more in the not-too-distant future and have also revisited – albeit briefly – the bare bones of a steampunk story I started writing after attending a workshop with the wonderful Kim Lakin-Smith at alt.fiction. Oh, and working. I’ve been doing that, too, but least said, soonest mended and all that. Suffice it to say, the job hunt continues.

The winner of my Valkia contest received his prize and read the book from start to finish on the day he got it. He had nice things to say about it, which was brilliantly pleasing. The first Actual Review of it has appeared online as well, here.

So all is well. Ticking over and stuff. Whoop!