Friday 13 December 2013


I have exerted myself beyond agony, pushed myself past exhaustion. I can flee no further, only hide and pray my footprints don't betray me. Sweat trickles down my back like spiders' whispers; I wince at each hot drip, convinced it will hiss as it hits snow, revealing me.

I hold myself still, sure the creature will feel the tremors shuddering through me with every suppressed breath, with the spasmodic rise and fall of my chest. Fear huffs from me in tiny clouds.

I know the monster. Knew her. Loved her, held her in my arms, wept for her. Buried her.

One of my rejected drabbles for the latest issue of 101 Fiction. Since I am giving in to the conceit of publishing one of my own stories I feel I certainly shouldn't be happy to just write one and say, "Yep, that's the best I'm going to do."

I really liked this one, I just felt Mercy had a fantastical edge that took it to a higher level. Both, interestingly, first person.

I've got a few more 'off-cuts' I might shine up and post here. In the mean time, please do click on over to 101 Fiction and read the December issue. Fifteen teeny tiny drabbles inspired by the themes of winter and undead. There's some real talent and real quality in those fifteen hundred words. =)

Wednesday 9 October 2013


The crows speak prophecy and their words turn to blood. The leaves below them are rust-stained and heavy with lexical gore, they fall, flood the forest floor a sea of red-brown.

Ragged humans pick through the bones of civilisation, a manifestation of rot, consuming their host. Consuming themselves.

The crows were harbingers, heralds, now wardens of the end.

The dying sun throbs large in the sky, bulbous and hot – a one-eyed demon intent on a corpse world.

Flames catch, the whole Earth burns once more and for the final time. Raucous crows rise on wings of flame, a clamorous pyre.

The last of my drabbles that didn't make the September issue of 101 Fiction. And this was my second favourite, the closest to beating Seasons into the issue. I love some of the imagery in this. Particularly the penultimate paragraph, and the lexical gore...

And so October comes and we approach submissions for the December issue (October 15th to November 15th).

The themes will be 'winter' and/or 'undead'. The first four issues will be themed by season and then some sort of mythical element. We had phoenix for the rebirth, and I think winter is the perfect season for the undead. Cold, unforgiving, and preferably outside, while you are inside bathing in the warmth of wood fires and human kindness...

Of course, humans can be cold, and spirits may be warmer in their remembrance of a life lost, and love left behind. I hope I'll get a few classics - zombies, hauntings, corpses risen from the grave - but in the spirit of the best of 101 Fiction, I hope we'll get something unusual too, some unfamiliar twist or unusual application of necromantic powers.

Stories could also be themed on winter alone, but like I say, the two themes are not entirely dissimilar, and I think they will sit well together, if not entirely comfortably... after all, the undead are restless bedfellows...

Friday 4 October 2013


This is the final war of man. There are more warriors than can be counted, more wounds than can ever be healed, more corpses than can ever be buried.

The world is wreathed in discord. Rage, anger, pain, strain, desperation and despair.

At the centre of it all, two kings clash, wielding mighty swords stolen from an abandoned heaven. Steel rings on steel. Sparks fly. With each blow a shockwave of fire roars outwards, incinerating ally and enemy alike.

The kings fight on, enthralled, as their armies burn.

The winter of man approaches. From the ashes, forgotten gods will rise.

Another 100 words, loosely inspired by the themes 'phoenix' and 'Autumn', which I was trying to explore in a less than straight forward manner. (I know, right... me, less than straight forward? Shocking.)

For more drabbles on those themes - check out the September issue of 101 Fiction.

Themes for the December issue will be announced next week with submissions opening on 15th October.

Wednesday 2 October 2013


Here's another drabble I penned for 101 Fiction's first issue. Titled Rebirth, I think I decided it was too vague, too... intangible, even for me. Don't get me wrong, I really like it in some ways, it just didn't make the grade when put up against Seasons.

But, if I may bend your ear for a moment first... Speaking of rebirths, I'm going to say this out loud, in the hope that it will prove a catalyst to galvanise me (and other such abused scientific terms) and my fingers into tappity tapping away. Specifically, I need to get back to my short serials, Rise and Alpha, both of which have stalled somewhat.

Less specifically, I just need to get writing again. I'm in the middle of a short story that is experiencing issues, but I can see its potential and it's for a really good cause, so I really want to get it written, and written well.

I should learn my lesson and just write my own things. When I feel beholden (curiously, I was in the same position this time last year), then I don't feel I can put it down and go write something I'm more enthusiastic about, which basically means nothing much gets written at all. Bad all round.

But I promised a story, so a story you shall have. The observant amongst you will see that it shares a similar line with one of the last drabbles I posted, but it's a good line, and it fits. ;)



Everything burns.

That wondrous hungry crackle roar. That glorious dance.

I have died a hundred times. Little deaths, of heart and mind. And through fire I am born again, in beautiful purging absolution.

In time, the quiet inner flame flickers afresh. And I find someone new to nurture it, to tenderly tend to it, to share its warmth. Until they depend on it, drain it, and I feel it falter, fail, and die.

Well, then it will be time to set the world ablaze, to set footsteps in ash.

Everything burns. And each time, a little less of me returns.

And check out 101 Fiction for more tiny, tiny tales. Themes for the December issue will be announced soon!

Thursday 12 September 2013

Rise and Fall: Two Drabbles

Wow, so it's really been two months since I posted here. I often find I go in productivity cycles. Sometimes I'll turn out story after story, and other times things internal and external slow the process down. I'm in a bit of a down cycle right now. Which isn't to say I haven't been writing. I'm not really any good at not writing, kind of can't help myself...

So one of the things that did happen was the format change and relaunch of 101 Fiction. The first issue came out on September first and was, I think, a quiet success. People enjoyed what they read, and that, surely, has to be the point.

I didn't get as many submissions as I'd hoped, but I did get some really fantastic writing, some real gems. Which meant the issue was smaller than I had been thinking, because I wasn't prepared to accept anything that didn't work for me. Everything in there does something for me. I'd like to think there is something to be had from reading it as a whole, as well as just the individual pieces. There is a wonderful breadth of thought, variety and creativity in those stories.

It's entirely possible I went a little overboard myself. I say I have been in a down cycle, but I wrote six drabbles on the issue's themes (Autumn and/ or phoenix). Six! Partly because I know how difficult being objective can be when it comes to your own work and I didn't want to write one piece and decide it was good enough. So I wrote lots and hoped that the one I thought best was up to quality.

In the end it was Seasons that made the cut. I felt it had the most going for it, and was the most successful on multiple levels. But I liked all of them, and it wasn't an easy decision at all. So here are two more. Enjoy.


Keila searched Tor's face, her heart faltering at the distance in his eyes, "What is it? What is wrong?"

Had he come back to her in body, only to be broken of mind?

She reached for him, "Tor?"

"Each time, the fire claims a little more."

Keila took his face in her hands, "It is too much to ask."

He looked down, focussing on her. She felt his skin cracking beneath her palms as he smiled, heat seeping out. She saw the spark in his eyes reignite.

"No, Keila. There is no cost too great to keep me from you."


She pulled her windswept hair back from her face, laughing. "I love this time of year."

I didn't know what to say. I was overdressed, the last of summer's heat still cradling us despite the shorter days. I was all too aware of my temperature rising.

She looked up at the sparse clouds sliding overhead. "Autumn feels undervalued, you know. I mean, sure, everybody loves the leaves, but it's not the height of summer, or the dead of winter, or spring's rebirth. It's overlooked. Well, not by me. I love it."

The wind stole my breath. She was my Autumn.

And if you haven't been over to 101 Fiction for issue 1 yet, then do pop over. There's even a downloadable pdf of the issue if you want to save it for later. =)

Sunday 7 July 2013

Xeroversary 3: the Afterparty

I hope you've enjoyed the party, even if I did hog the stage. ;)

For everyone that's left positive comments on my flash fiction in the past, hopefully the glimpses of longer things didn't disappoint. And with any luck you're maybe excited by a couple of the things you've seen.

I think I lost my way a little bit over the year, got a little bit obsessed with trying to write a novel and forgot to just enjoy the writing itself. I'll write a novel one day, but for the next year, all going to plan, you'll see some shorter work appear.

I've got a backlog of short stories, half-written, or all-written and languishing in redraft hell, or waiting patiently in some notepad in a pile of notepads (if you ever see Electric Summer, then I dug it out of that pile, it's in there somewhere...).

Oh yeah, this happened last winter too, which was pretty cool.

101 Fiction ran for a year with guest submissions, which went really well. That's changing too, hop on over there for details, but it's another way to give me more time to write, or more specifically to write and work on other things, but also an opportunity to stretch my editor's wings, since I'll be putting it together in more of a magazine format and things like order and flow will come into effect. (Editors do have wings, right?)

My anthology (details on the ebooks page), was a year old last week. It didn't do as well as I'd hoped it might, but in part it was an experiment. I'm not great at the whole self-promotion malarkey, and another part of its purpose was to begin a back list; after all, if I never put anything out there, there will never be a back list. A few people picked up copies in the free promos I ran for my birthday and its birthday, so I hope they enjoy it, and maybe one day come back for more. =)

Finally, let's not forget about Rise and Alpha. Both started earlier this year, itty bitty serials (although Rise is up to 2,000 words now). Rise is moving a bit faster, I'm finding it a bit easier to write. Alpha is going to need a little more work, I like the world I'm building, and I've got some ideas for an intricate, appropriately superhero plot, inspired by some of the plotlines I've loved the most in the (many, many) comics I've read.

Thanks for reading. Today and always.

John Xero. =)

Saturday 6 July 2013

Beast in the Blood

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Beast in the Blood is a short I wrote a while ago, which I really enjoyed writing but realised once I reached the end how depressing that ending was. I'm not sure yet whether to leave it like that, or keep on writing and swing the whole thing round a little. (Not that everything has to be sunshine and rainbows, of course.)

As I was scanning through to pull a little extract for the Xeroversary, I realised that with a few tweaks it would actually slip nicely (if tangentially) into the Matt Cooper universe from the Haunting of Hanford. Agents from Department Thirty Three pop up in Haunting, and Joe Bright, the werewolf protagonist of Beast in the Blood, works for a government agency... now rewritten to be the very same Department Thirty Three.

Could they one day work together...? Who knows, I'm getting way ahead of myself. ;)


Back to business, and the police station. The government department I work for has enough pull to get me places, but not without wariness and suspicion. We're official, but unheard of, and that's how we like it, even if it does make life difficult sometimes.
Department Thirty Three investigates the weird stuff. Oh, I know, you've heard it all before, it makes for good TV, but, honestly, most of the time it really is weather balloons, psychotic doctors, escaped zoo animals or some other mundane thing.
I had reason to think this one might be real though, and we were having a hard time suppressing the local newspapers. Not that it made a difference, town like Shoulton word spread like wildfire anyway. The beast was back. Something had killed a few pets, torn up some livestock, and now put a young boy in intensive care. The town was locked up tight. Last night I'd arrived after dark and the streets were empty. The old lady at the B&B had made me pass my ID through the letter slot before she opened the door.
The Inspector on the case couldn't have been more than a decade older than me but already had a hairline receding out of sight. His downturned mouth seemed to pull the rest of his face with it, leaving him looking worn and sour. He smelt of stale cigarette smoke and strong mints.
We were in a small interview room with a pile of ubiquitous, beige police files between us. I was sat on the suspect's side but I didn't let that make me feel nervous. I knew that trick, local enforcement didn't like interference so they made us feel unwelcome, while extending every professional courtesy of course.
"That's all the files, including any missing pets from around a month ago when it looks like this thing began."
"Thank you, Inspector. I'll come find you if I have any questions."
I knew he wouldn't like being dismissed, but he wouldn't want to waste time with me either. He lingered a moment. I paused with my hand on the first file and looked up into his narrowed eyes.
"Joe Bright. That's your brother Ben Bright up at Hendy House, isn't it?"
Hendy House, for the mentally unstable and often violent. I scowled.
"It is." I bit back my comment about his formidable detective skills.
"Funny how all this starts up again and you reappear."
"Hilarious. It's my job, Inspector."
"You'll find your brother's file at the bottom of the pile."
"He's still in Hendy, I assume, so why dig out his file?"
"He's still there. Doesn't mean he doesn't know anything about it."
"Have you been to see him, Inspector?"
"No reason to, yet. Maybe I should dig your file out, now you're back in town. I always thought it was funny how the attacks just stopped last time, right when you left and your brother got locked up. Plenty of people thought that was strange. But I was just a constable back then, couldn't do anything about it."
And the department had made them drop it. They recruited me and locked Ben up. The inspector might get a surprise if he tried to look out my file, though. It wouldn't be there. Department privileges.

Friday 5 July 2013

Snow Griffin

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Snow Griffin takes place in the world of the White.

Bar your doors against the winter, little ones, stock your larder and your wood pile, for with the worst winter winds come the White, and the White will whisper your death till your heart and soul believe it, till dead you truly are.

This is a fantasy world, with gods and magic, but one in which certain scholars are beginning to try and explain away natural phenomena with logic, and science. Their conclusion that the White are just a folk tale, a metaphor for snow and a caution against venturing out in the dead of winter, happens to coincide with something darker riling up the all-too-real White.

But that's just background. Magic is definitely real, and most folk are happy to remain superstitious, warm and alive. Heat keeps the White at bay, so the tales say. We join our party of hunters and fire mages as they take a break from tracking a mythical snow griffin, as they discuss what they believe...


"I will believe in snow griffins when I see one," Freya said, "just as I believe in the White because I have seen them."
Borin scoffed, "You are barely old enough to take your own wages, when did you ever see the White?"
She hesitated, watching the tongue of magic flame lick around her fingers for a moment before she replied.
"When I was eight we lived at the foot of the Horned Mountains. The winter was particularly long that year and as the cold dragged on and the stocks ran out, my father decided we would journey south, where the snow might have receded and we might find shelter and food. My mother begged him to change his mind, that the spring may come any day. But that very night there was another snowfall.
"Father took it as a sign the winter was far from ready to release its dogged grip. He insisted we wrap ourselves in furs and leave at the first sign of sun."
"Why not go by himself," Borin interrupted, "why risk you all?"
"He was not sure he would survive a single trip, let alone two. Before we left he pried loose a floorboard and revealed a secret bottle of Avain Brandy even my mother had not known about. It warmed us and cheered us a little as we stepped out into the dead, white world."
Parnell nodded, "I have heard of people drinking spirits to fend off the White. It muddles a man's reasoning, brings fierier, animal thoughts to the fore."
"I don't know if that was my father's thinking, or just something to buoy up our spirits. I imagine you might have to drink a great deal to have no reasoning thoughts to tempt the White, enough that you are as likely to get lost in the snow and die regardless. Anyway, we headed south; father, mother, me and my older sister.
"Half a day through the snow and we still saw no sign of spring. The going was hard and father had to carry me, tired as I was. My sister and mother were tired too, but with my short legs I found the snow harder going. Then the whispers started, like the wind through trees or blowing about the fur of your hood, but shaping words. Barely heard, but there all the same, and strangely calming even though we all knew the stories.
"I think we were afraid, but so tired at the same time. My sister stumbled and fell. And my father turned so that I saw my mother help her up. Then mother stopped and sagged into the snow herself. She looked at us with such helpless eyes, and I felt my father sinking to the ground too, with me still in his arms."
Freya paused. The fire in her palm sizzled once, as if a drop of water had fallen into it, but when she looked up again her eyes were dry.
"My mother started singing, as she did when we went to sleep. An old song I no longer know the words to, old words that I never knew the meaning of. I felt the cold soaking in, like water into a sponge, as if it belonged there. But something didn't agree, something in my core pushed back. My mother's song rang and echoed through my mind and as I slipped into the cold I felt something take flight in my chest. Something as painful as a burning ember.
"I saw them then, the White. Wisps of air, flurries of snow in the shape of lithe little people, dancing around us, leaning in to caress us and whisper in our ears. The one before my face fluttered backwards as I croaked out my pain. Pain which welled in my chest, bursting out as my mother's song continued to swell in my mind even though I could see her lips were blue and unmoving.
"I don't remember what happened next very well, I stumbled in pain and fear and grief, and the snow melted wherever I stepped. Eventually I came to a village and they took me in, cared for me and healed me. There was a shaman among them who recognised the magic in me for what it was.
"When the snows finally receded far enough, the villagers went looking for my family and found nought but husks."
The party was silent.
Borin coughed, "Yes, well."
"I would dearly like to know the song your mother sang," Parnell said.
"I do not remember it. I think I dream of it, sometimes, and wake shivering."

Thursday 4 July 2013

Red Shift

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

I cannot settle on a title for this, but Red Shift is my current favourite. It's set in the same world as yesterday's extract, and if that seems unlikely... you'll just have to take my word for it... ;)

And as the protagonist, Jaeger, regains consciousness after his ship has crashed, it occurs to me that this is the third extract this week in which the lead character has been knocked out in some fashion. Maybe I should start giving them protective headgear. Grimm is his ship's AI.


The roaring, screaming noise of tortured metal was all around him and never ending; it swallowed him whole. A portion of the hull was torn away and he was dazzled by bright, intrusive sunlight. Frothing impact foam expanded around him. Jaeger thought he saw pine green, and tree trunks and then everything was white.
Then everything was black.
When he came to his head was buzzing. He opened his eyes onto darkness. Swallowing was strange. Everything hurt. His mouth tasted of chemicals and he could feel the foam residue dripping from him. His arms hung loosely past his head.
He was upside down, suspended by the chair's strapping.
"Captain." The voice sounded distant, strange. "You're alive then."
"Possibly. I'm upside down. And I might be blind."
"It's night."
"Or that. How long was I out?"
"Well, it's night."
"And you're as cantankerous as ever. Any chance of some light?"
"Ah. The ship has no power."
His eyes began to adjust. Not to great improvement, but he could make out lighter areas and darker blocks. Over the other aches that gripped him he was becoming increasingly aware of the straps cutting into his shoulders. He supported himself by curling his legs over the bottom of the seat as he awkwardly fumbled with the release catch. His hands trembled and his fingers tingled with hypersensitivity.
The catch snapped open and suddenly all his weight was on his calves in a way it wasn't meant to be. He stayed suspended for a moment, and then gravity triumphed. He grabbed for the chair as he fell and snagged it with one hand, not managing to hold on but flipping himself so that his shins instead of his head slammed into the metal floor.
At the flaring pain of the impact he grunted and curled into himself.
"Captain? Did you break yourself again?"
"If there's no power, why can I still hear your voice?"
He tried to remember if he had ever heard Grimm hesitate before.
"I am no longer a part of the ship."
He thought about that for a moment.
"OK. If you're no longer part of the ship, why can I still hear your voice?"
"I relocated. Now, imagine the cabin layout, but flip it."
"You're on the ceiling."
"I know that."
"So flip the layout. Now make your way towards the weapons locker."
"Do I need a gun?"
"Probably, but not immediately."
He stood up carefully and startled as his head unexpectedly encountered the pilot's chair. He stepped to one side, then held his hands out in front of him, raising one slightly higher to account for any floor fixtures that were now a part of the ceiling, and headed towards the weapons locker.
"Not that direction."
"Did I mention I can't see anything?"
"Just follow my voice."
He turned ninety degrees to his right and headed towards the source of Grimm's voice, cautiously sliding each foot forward so that he didn't trip over anything. It was a strange sensation, the metal beneath his feet curved upwards as he got closer to the edge of the cabin. Floors were supposed to be flat.
"It's hard to follow your voice when you're not speaking."
"I thought you preferred it when I was quiet."
"I usually do."
His hand came up against the crosshatched metal of the locker and he felt around for the keypad. It was a stretch, almost out of reach, and he tapped in the numbers by rote. An abrasive low tone indicated a failed code. He immediately realised why.
"You forgot it was upside down, didn't you?"
"Why is your voice coming from inside the locker?"
"Just get it open."
Jaeger felt for the top and bottom of the keypad and tapped the keys in the opposite positions. A happy chime indicated a more positive result and he slid the cover open. The locker had racking for a smart assault rifle, two pistols and a half dozen grenades. He liked to carry flash bangs and smokers, but he hadn't been able to afford to replace the grenades since he last used them, and the pistols lived in the holsters at his side, so the only thing in the locker was the smart rifle.
There was a soft glow from the blue strip on the side of the rifle, indicating its active status.
"Why are you in my rifle?"
"Because it was the only thing on this ship capable of supporting me, and my primary system was compromised."
"You may recall the ship exploding and rolling down a mountain."

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Thorn Witch

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Thorn Witch takes place in a fantasy world, with science fiction elements. There are a couple of stories set in the world so far, and tomorrow you'll see part of another one. I've not entirely decided on a name for the setting yet. Possibly 'Kingdoms' or 'Seven Kingdoms' although both of those are a little generic.

I find it interesting that I came up with this world, I know authors have had similar settings in the past, but I've generally not got on with them... Ho hum, so goes a writer's fickle imagination.

Thorn Witch barely scratches the science fiction side. In fact, you could place it entirely within fantasy if you chose. It was difficult to pick an extract without giving more away than I want to just yet, so here's a snippet from the beginning. Prince Robert has sneaked out of the castle for a morning ride without his personal guard and is just approaching the city gates...


Robert cursed under his breath as a squat figure, broad with muscle, strolled out from the gatehouse into his path.
"A fine morning, my lord."
"Indeed it is, Captain."
Duncan, Captain of the Guard. His stocky build, ruddy skin and short, thick beard led to rumours of dwarf blood. His brutal reputation, emphasised by the vertical puckered scar emerging from either side of his eye patch, kept anyone from asking. He had no obligation to take a shift on the gate, but he was never one to lead from the back, and his men respected him for it.
The captain made a small show of looking back up the empty street, "And how are Cameron and Lachlan?"
Robert's personal guard.
"It seems Lachlan's birthday had them deep in their cups last night and they have been slow to rise this morning."
"I should lend you a couple of men."
"I have Dream," He patted his steed. "I have Nightmare," He rested a hand on the pommel of his sword, "they have seen me through war."
"And in war you had a company of knights too."
"Come, Duncan, we both know there is nothing within a morning's ride that I cannot handle."
"Nothing expected, certainly."
"You sound like my mother."
Duncan growled, "And I will have to answer to her."
"No, I will. Cameron and Lachlan will. You are the fearsome Trollblight, King's Axe, not even my mother would dare reproach you."
Duncan shook his head, "You have the arm of a warrior and the mouth of a diplomat. Your father would be proud. The queen, however, has never shied from speaking her mind, and I have been the target of her reprimands more than once."
"But not for many a year. And, remind me, was that not because you would encourage father to sneak out and hunt trolls with you?"
"It may have been."
"And I am merely going for a morning ride, it carries not one tenth the risk."
The captain glowered at Robert with his good eye, and then he smiled wryly. "Ha! It seems I have been bested. Very well, my lord, ride on." He stepped aside and bowed.
Robert returned the bow as he rode past, "My thanks, good captain."

Tuesday 2 July 2013

The Haunting of Hanford

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Matt Cooper is a freelance writer who often works for Deep Skies, "the magazine for all your up-to-date extraterrestrial news and conspiracies..." He has the potential to be a recurring character, so this is subtitled 'a Matt Cooper Mystery'. The Haunting of Hanford is a ten thousand word short story that went out to beta readers last week! =)

Local legend says the church at Hanford is haunted, but there might just be a bit more to it than that... While investigating, Matt stumbles on a group of robed figures holding a ritual, but they spot him and beat him up. He wakes up the next morning...


Matt knew he was alive and in one piece because everything hurt, from his toes to his scalp, and that meant it was all there. He opened his eyes and groaned at the daylight. The daylight hurt.
He was in some kind of medical room, with a wheeled curtain in one corner, a table with a box of tissues and a box of latex gloves, and a night stand with a glass of water on it. The walls were plain white, covered only by informative, laminated posters about vitamins and telltale symptoms and not using mobile phones. He didn't think the last was really necessary; it hardly seemed worth having a mobile in Hanford.
A cheery, round, middle-aged woman stuck her head through the open door.
"Mr. Cooper. You're awake."
"Yuh." He coughed, winced at the pain, then swallowed hard and tried again. "You're the doctor?"
"No, I'm the nurse."
"Where am I?"
"Hanford village hospital. You were brought in last night, how do you feel?"
"Like I got beaten up by a bunch of crazy people in a graveyard."
She smiled. "Funny, that's how you look, too."
"Who brought me in?"
"The night nurse said it was a couple, I think, in suits."
"More secret agent than smart banker?"
"I didn't see them, they didn't leave any contact details I'm afraid."
Matt grimaced as he sat up and more aches presented themselves for his delight. He was very conscious of the fact that someone seemed to have undressed him and re-clothed him in a hospital gown.
"Can I leave?"
The nurse regarded him critically. "We should have the doctor check you over first."
"I feel fine," he said, hopping to his feet, sending spasms from his calf muscles though his thighs to explode in his lower back.
"See," he said in a pained voice. "Fine."
She made a sceptical noise and gave him a look to match.
"I shall get Doctor Harway. You will wait for him. When he is done, your clothes are in the wardrobe."
She indicated a closed door in the corner of the room, partially hidden behind the wheeled curtain and waited for him to sit himself back down before she left to find the doctor. He briefly entertained the notion of simply leaving, but decided to stay. The nurse would probably come after him, and she looked the type to hurt him more, for his own sake, and do it with a kindly smile on her face.
Then he felt guilty for being mean and began prodding himself while he waited for the doctor, wondering if there was any part of him that didn't hurt.

The doctor gave him the OK and Matt gingerly changed back into his own clothes. He checked his phone and saw the signal flicker up to one bar for the briefest tease of a moment before dropping to nothing again. He could probably just about make it back to the Swan in time for breakfast; that and a shower and he might feel halfway human again.
He heard a shout from the next room.
"Set me free!"
He dropped his phone into his pocket and rushed into the corridor. The next door along was open and the nurse and doctor were paying too much attention to their patient to send him away.
"So long. So far!"
The vicar was lying on the bed, twitching, hyperventilating, eyes wide but unseeing as the doctor tried to calm him down. It was as if he was experiencing some vivid nightmare he couldn't wake up from. Just like Ben Morris.
Matt realised there was someone at the window, someone else watching. He turned his head sharply and saw a pale face looking in. But the movement must have alerted the other man because his wide, dark eyes flicked briefly to Matt before he ducked out of sight. It was only a fleeting glimpse, but there was no mistaking the unnaturally pallid skin, unusual features and bald head of the man who had been at the bar the night Matt had arrived.
The man the suits had been questioning the barman about.
"Release me!"
Matt dashed down the corridor to where he could see a waiting room that, presumably, led to an exit. It did, and, ignoring his complaining muscles, he ran around the side of the hospital. But the man was gone.
It really was a village hospital, smaller than most doctors' surgeries Matt knew in London, and it didn't take him long to walk a circuit of the building. There was no sign of the man though, and whether he had run into the woodland at the back or into the town centre it was impossible to tell.

Monday 1 July 2013

Redlined: the Machinery of Mars

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Redlined is a working title, for a novel originally titled the Machinery of Mars. I'm still not sure which title I prefer. The story takes place on Mars, during an era of dissent and dissatisfaction. It's currently stalled at 30,000 words and already needs some significant reworking in places.

One of the main characters, Amelia, is the daughter of the head of Mars' biggest weapons manufacturer, Brigh Munitions. Early in the story she survives an assassination attempt. The next day, she is kidnapped and wakes up the following morning in an unfamiliar room...


Amelia heard the quiet bleeping of the keypad and turned as the door slid open. A man stepped in, his face illuminated by the weak light of the rising sun.
She blinked, but there was no mistaking him. His proud nose and intense eyes, the deep cleft of his chin. The hint of dark stubble at the edges of his bald pate where the last vestiges of hair held out. He looked at her from across the room, studying her.
"Father!" Something kept her from going to him. "What's going on?"
"You look so much like your mother, you know."
She didn't know. She didn't remember her mother, had been too young when she died, had only seen pictures.
Something was wrong, and more than just the bare bones of the situation. Then it clicked. He was too short, only average height. She should have noticed it straight away, but the surprise of seeing his face had thrown her.
"You're not my father."
A cruel half-smile played across his lips, very unlike her father.
"Very quick, Amelia. I'm impressed."
"Who are you?"
"That is a very good question, my dear. One I have often asked myself."
His accent was a close approximation, but he lacked the decisiveness and strength that was in every syllable her father spoke. Her father's words were every bit as powerful as the weapons his factories churned out. This imposter's voice was more languorous, and Amelia had the distinct impression he was toying with her.
"Michael Brigh took what was mine from me. He forced me to reinvent myself, over and over again. He destroyed me, and now I shall return the favour."
"You won't get anywhere near my father."
He grinned, then a ripple washed through the skin of his face, smoothing his features, wiping her father's image clean. It was as if a flesh coloured sheet had been draped over his face, pulled back from the barest hint of a nose, wrinkle and personality free, with the weakest contours of cheek bones and chin. Beady eyes glinted from shallow pits.
Her stomach clenched with nausea.
Dark hair sprouted from the top of his head and new features shifted into place on his face. She recognised him now as one of the Tarling guards from their apartment security.
"I can get anywhere I want, my dear. But I'd be more worried for your own skin if I were you."
"If you were going to kill me I would already be dead."
He laughed. "You really are so clever, and yet ridiculously naive. I failed to have you killed once before, don't think I won't go through with it next time, if it happens to suit my plans."
Amelia paled at the memory of the bullets punching into the cracking, shattering glass.
He went on. "You were lucky last time. Your burglar boy saved you, and spoilt my plans. So," He clapped his hands together, "I need new plans. I might trade you. Or I might kill you. I haven't decided yet."
"Why tell me this?"
"Sentimentality, I suppose. Not something I usually subject myself to."
His face shifted again, the flesh tightening and lifting into finer features. The dark hair receded back like water down a plughole and blonde hair swelled in its place, curling down past his face and spilling across his shoulders.
For a moment Amelia thought his face was becoming hers, but it was subtly different, older, more poised. It was the face she saw beside her father's in the wall frames. Something inside her sank and stole her breath, held her heart.
It was her mother.
No. It wasn't. Anger rose.
"What are you?"
"I am what your father made me."

Thursday 20 June 2013

The Write Way...

OK, so the title's been used before, but I like a bad pun, and it's appropriate.

I've started two novels in earnest in the last year, and neither is going particularly anywhere. The most recent one I know I'm just around the corner from it taking off, but I'm not sure where it's ultimately going and while I love the core idea I'm feeling less enthusiastic about the rest of it - the bits that make it more than just an idea. (Unenthusiastic is maybe not entirely the right feeling here, it's just not quite 'clicking' for me.)

I'm not looking for advice, there's plenty of that around and I firmly believe that what works for one person doesn't work for everyone. But also that there will be a right way if you look for it and you persevere.

Here's the thing. My writing is naturally getting longer. I wrote a couple of six/ seven thousand word short stories without particularly struggling, and a ten thousand word one shortly before that. When a story clicks and I just write without a word count in mind that seems to be getting naturally longer, I seem to be writing more.

Maybe I just need to write a few short stories and let my form naturally lengthen, instead of trying to jump straight to novel. I think I stalled a little too long at the flash fiction stage (and I'll be the first to admit that's because I really love flash fiction and if I could make a living just writing five of those (or more) a week I totally would).

You'll see the short stories at some point, assuming when I re-look at them and edit them I think they're actually any good. Two of them are set in the same world, although not, yet, connected.

I'm not entirely decided on a publication route (or, attempted publication). There are a few outlets for shorts, which would get my name out there if accepted, but then that's a one-off appearance in all likelihood, and then it disappears. Then there's the Kindle Singles route; they fall in the bottom end of the word count and they would always be there for people to discover, but obviously they wouldn't have the existing readership of a magazine or website.

One of the driving forces behind my writing is wanting to be read. I have stories to tell, stories in my head that I think are exciting, and I want to share them. Just as I did with my flash, for a while, and with my 101s.

Recently, for my birthday, I made my flash collection, This is the New Plan, free for the day. Between US, UK and (oddly) Germany, people picked up 69 copies. It was enough to push me to number 11 in the US free sci fi anthology chart (and maybe higher, as a few more copies ticked over after I went to bed). I find it quite a fascinating thing, the numbers.

That's more than I've sold in the almost a year it's been published. If you fancy picking it up for free, I'll be doing it again when the book is one year old, in about a week's time. I don't imagine as many will go, but it will be interesting to see.

I'm also going to do something a little different for the Xeroversary this year. The last two years I've had guest flash fiction, and while I was a more active member of the #fridayflash group that felt appropriate. This year, I'll post a few days of short samples from the stuff I'm working on. The novels, the short stories, and I'll hope people like what they see. =)

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Your 101 Fiction is Evolving...

A hundred words a week. That's not so hard, right? Only, imagine you have to do it every week, and it has to be good, at least as good as the individual pieces that other people send you, but preferably better, because hey, you're professing to know what you're doing.

Now that's not me claiming my stories are better, that's a whole bag of worms I'm going nowhere near. I really like some of my stories, but I'm hardly objective. There are submitted stories on 101 Fiction that blow me away, stories I wish I'd written, stories I enjoyed reading the first time I saw them, and enjoyed even more when they finally went live on the site.

The point is I have to strive to be that good. (And avoid switching person in the middle of a piece, and avoid long run-on multi-comma sentences and mixed metaphors, all of which have already occurred in the last two paragraphs.)

With the way the site currently works, I have to do it every week. I'm sure I could switch things up and drop the frequency of my posts, publish two submitted stories a week, and people would still be happy with that. I mean, how vain am I to post my own stories all the time when I'm trying to make it into something that is more than just a personal blog? But then there's the other thing.

Checking for submissions regularly, regardless of what is happening in my life, can be draining. Reading and replying, suggesting edits where necessary, rejecting (which is not an easy thing). And worrying that there won't be enough stories submitted and that a week will go by without having a story to fill the gap (although, thankfully, I was always a couple of months ahead in my schedule).

I know... whine, whine, whine... It's only a handful of one hundred word stories a week. But I'm trying to do my own writing, and that could be going better. So, as I have to do on occasion because my mind has a habit of having all these ideas that branch and grow and get out of hand, I have to streamline things.

And the thing is, I really like the whole process of reviewing submissions. I like communicating with other authors and seeing how other people use those scant one hundred words. It's just the continuous, ongoing nature that drags it down. And I love the stories, I love the site. So there needs to be a solution, an evolution of 101 Fiction.

And there is one. I'm sure it will come with its own concentrated moments of stress and worry, its own problems, but it will also come with its own freshness, its own renewed excitement.

So there will be a pause. But it's just a drawing of breath, and then we move on. The details will go up on 101 Fiction tomorrow. I hope it appeals, I hope it works. I hope it doesn't kill the whole thing. It will alter what it means for me as editor, since it will be a slightly different beast, and I'm looking forward to that.

I want 101 Fiction to continue, I want it to grow and succeed.


Monday 8 April 2013

King of the World

William was King of the World.
Undisputed, unrefuted,
upon his throne he curled.

A brave new world, free of strife;
undisturbed, no discord heard,
a kingdom free of life.

William's crown was made of bone,
scrimshawed. Grim lord,
sat on a skeletal throne.

He never knew his parents were to blame.
A generation, venerated
by the world they set to flame.

They engineered a disease:
scarily viral, a downward spiral.
The world doomed by a sneeze.

Death to anyone mature.
Before puberty, mere sterility,
and, of course, no cure.

A world of orphans, grown
tired, expired,
'til William remained, alone.

A little bad, post apocalyptic poetry. Sorry, it won't happen again. Probably. ;)

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Notes in the Margins

The astute amongst you may have noticed that the side bar menu has expanded...

This is kind of an experiment. And, because I apparently don't like to make life easy, it's two experiments at the same time. Alpha and Rise.

They are serials of a kind, growing, ongoing, at approximately one part a week. Each part is about one hundred words, and written using the weekly words from the Prediction. Just to take the challenge up that extra notch... ;)

I'm going to digress for a moment to talk about the Prediction...

There is an ancient tome, once in the possession of horror writer Lily Childs, if any could be said to truly possess it. Where she came upon it she will not talk of. In time she freed herself from its grasp in the only way it will allow, by finding a willing victim. So it found a new host in a young man named Phil Ambler, and though he had the tome for but a short while he was forever changed by it. In turn, he passed it on to an American, Colleen Foley, perhaps hoping the wide expanse of the Atlantic would wash some of its horror from his hands...

Each week the tome coughs up three words, and those that accept its challenge must create a story in a hundred words or less, using the three words. Something of the tome's nature creates a definite leaning towards horror, but other genres are acceptable. And in this way we satiate the tome, and keep its darkness from consuming the world.

Something like that, anyway. Seriously though, it's fun. My fellow cultists writers are a friendly bunch and all are welcome to join. Colleen picks a winner and runners up each week, but the best thing about it is the wide range of stories that come out of the same three words.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, Alpha and Rise. Fuelled by the Prediction's three words, which makes it harder than usual, because instead of finding a story to fit the three words, I have to fit the three words into an ongoing story. Sometimes this works more successfully, more smoothly, than others, but the prediction is good for keeping the momentum going. As a weekly challenge it makes me keep adding to the stories week by week.

So Alpha is a superhero story, and Rise is something like steampunk. They are first drafts, unpolished, and mostly unedited. In some ways they are the skeletons of what I hope to flesh out into something more meaty, more substantial. Think of it as watching me plot the stories, a peek at an early part of the process.

So the pacing may waver, it may dwell on a scene for a few parts before moving suddenly elsewhere. All those transitions that can be handled so nicely in a larger piece are not always so easy in hundred word sequential segments.

Plot is a very interesting part to the experiment. When I first conceived of Alpha, I knew straight away a few plot twists down the line, some I think are maybe obvious, some less so. And the problem I'm having is creating some kind of momentum at the beginning, something to carry Alpha towards the future tragedy that Jigsaw has predicted. So while I like a lot of the parts I've written for Alpha, it's not going anywhere in a hurry.

Rise, on the other hand, is off to a much better start. Because the story begins with the character thrown out of her comfort zone into a world she is familiar with only from her window, she is straight into the action. When I conceived of a larger story for Olivia it was more about a personal journey for her, and her discovery of her world.

So, in a way, Alpha is trying to find some way of arriving at my inspiration and ideas for the story, but Rise started out in the heat of the idea. Whether this means that when I approach endings, some time in the future, Alpha will then pick up the pace and Rise will struggle more... I don't know. That's all part of the experiment!

For now, please read what is there and let me know what you think. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy it enough to come back for more. =)


You can also hear me talking a lot of nonsense and a little about writing, as a guest on the latest Bros and Cons podcast. =)
Available on libsyn (which should work in your browser just fine) or iTunes. It's Episode 18.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Once upon a Time, in the Beginning

First lines are tricksy things, and they're tricksy twice over.

First lines set the mood. A good first line starts you on firm footing; a bad first line and you're already shaky, you already have to work to get back on the level.

It occurred to me the other day that first lines occur twice in a piece of writing's life. There's the obvious one: a reader looks at your website, or picks up your book, or turns the magazine's page to your story, and the first words they read are going to shape their initial impression of you, your writing, and your story.

I mean, how much pressure is that!?

If I see a sloppy first line I have to ask myself, if the author or the editor didn't care enough to make sure that first line was the best it could be, what must the rest of the story be like? An average first line is alright, the book could go either way from there, I'll read on. But an amazing first line grabs hold of you and hooks you right there and then.

OK, so sometimes a good first line draws you in and then the next few lines hook you, but you get the idea.

"As always, before the warmind and I shoot each other, I try to make small talk."

That's the first line from Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief. And it's superb. It instantly has me curious, it's unusual and interesting and I want to know more. The Quantum Thief actually has several great first lines - at the beginning of most of its chapters.

"Once there was a city of women."

Mike Carey, Linda Carey and Louise Carey from The City of Silk and Steel. It's succinct and again, interesting, it makes me want to read on. Simplicity can work.

"On playing back the 911 recording, it'd seem that Mrs. Stegman was more concerned that the man outside her apartment door was naked than that he had a big shotgun."

Warren Ellis, Gun Machine. Less elegant perhaps, but it sets the tone, it amuses, it puts me in the mood to read more. And that's the important thing.

First lines are not the be-all and end-all of whether a story is good, of course. I'm sure plenty of bad stories have fantastic first lines, and vice versa. But if the first thing you present is bad, you've already got an uphill struggle to convince the reader that the story is a good one.

But I mentioned two occurrences. And the other is when the writer begins. The first words he puts onto the blank page. We all know how terrifying that expanse of empty white is, like a sheet of ice that needs breaking so that the narrative ship can sail smoothly through, and other such laboured metaphors.

If the first words I put to paper are great, it puts me in a good mood. If they come easily and hit the spot then, as a writer, I am already well-disposed towards the rest of the story. The story already feels good, and if I'm feeling good about it, then the odds are it's going to flow more naturally and read more naturally from then on.

A troublesome start, an idea that doesn't quite fall right, a character who feels clumsy from the outset, will put me in a frustrated mood, tense, and that will come through in the writing. It can be edited of course, and by the end I might have a better feel for the characters and the story and rewriting the opening might be easy, but I have to work harder to get into the story and bring that character to life. And just as when I'm reading a story, if I'm struggling to enjoy something I'm writing, I may not even get to the end.

As a reader, and as a writer, I enjoy a good opening. Both in reading and in writing one. Sometimes they come easily, and sometimes they can be elusive, troublesome bastards. But never, ever underestimate their importance.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Fear

"If you're afraid you don't commit yourself to life completely; fear makes you always, always hold something back."
-Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick

I'm not sure I completely agree with that. (And it's important to point out that this is a character's speech, not necessarily PKD's own opinion). There's nothing wrong with a healthy fear, but you have to know when it's worth paying attention to, when it's irrational and when it might actually be something of an unnecessary roadblock.

For a writer there is always the fear of the blank page. Starting a story is hard. Even when you have an idea of plot and character. Of course, this ties in with the writer's other fear - It's not perfect. Of all the varied, wondrous, practical, bizarre and sometimes contradictory writing advice you will find on the internet, one of the most common pieces is to accept that a first draft is a first draft, to accept that it will most likely be bad, to begin with, and that the important thing is to write on, and finish. But it can be a difficult thing to accept. If you know that paragraph is wrong, it will itch at you.

I want to talk about a different fear though.

I am a reader. I am fairly well-read within 'my' genres, although not as well-read as I would like to be (and I suspect I never will be). I like to review the books I read. A symptom of over a decade as a bookseller, maybe. Something exacerbated by my creative writing degree, no doubt, an environment which encourages examination and deconstruction of texts.

And I have to be honest. If I found something disappointing, I have to say. If I think certain elements didn't work in an otherwise excellent book, I have to say. If I think great characters were squandered on a weak idea, I have to say. You get the idea. I can be picky, because I want a book to carry me away, and little things often bother me.

Now herein lies the fear. One day, I want to be published. I will be published. And there's a part of me that fears I will offend a potential publisher.

Take, for example, my review of Dreams and Shadows, a novel soon to be published by Gollancz. And this is a review which is very positive. I say some people will find the book perfect and I finish:
"Dreams and Shadows will blow you away. Beautiful writing, far-reaching imagination, and tragedy that will haunt you long after you finish the book. Remarkable."
But I also mention minor criticisms. And I worry that someone might take note, might react badly (as people are want to do when criticised).

Now, in an ideal world, Gollancz would be my first choice of publisher. I have immense respect for them. I more often find the books I am anticipating, the ones that excite me, are published by them than anyone else. Of course, in making that statement, I open myself to another fear, if Gollancz don't want me when I finally get around to touting a novel (you know, having actually finished writing one, and editing it), then will I have offended another publisher by publicly stating that Gollancz were my first choice...?

Of course, the odds of someone at Gollancz remembering my name, and a not quite 100% review, are slim. Almost as slim as some other publisher reading this and taking offence. But the fear is there nonetheless.

(And it is the fear that prompts me to add that I'm not saying I don't like any other publishers. There are many other fantastic publishing houses out there (I say in genuine sincerity). I'd name some, but there are many, and I'd be sure to miss someone, and well, the cycle begins anew...)

Here's the thing though. I ummed and ahhed about posting the review, as I have with others before that, but ultimately, I posted it. I can't help it, I like to think about things I've just read, and I like to talk about them. And I have to be honest, I have to be true to myself.

And I have to hope that doesn't scupper me before I've even built my boat.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

It's a bit quiet in here...

A blog! A post! Or... what should I call these things?

Whatever they are, here is one. ;D

And it begins with the mantra of the bad blogger...

I will do this more often,
I will write here regularly,
For sure, this time.

But since it's been a while lets make it a 'state of the union' type affair. Where we at?

So back in November I decided I wasn't going to do nanowrimo. Not because I have anything against it, I really don't, I just don't do well with pressure and deadlines, they make me put things off. I can be terribly contrary.

But I did decide I would try and power on and properly begin work on a novel. After a few false starts and dead ends, I reached 30,000 words by the end of November. And hey, I'm pretty happy with that. 30k a month for three months is more or less a first draft. Except...

Except I haven't written any since. I've written, sure. This and that. Some short stories that may or may not be part of an entirely different book. Some drabbles. And in some ways I don't mind that. What works for me, when I am most productive, is when I feel free to pootle around and write as I please. I was feeling a bit stressed about the book, a bit flat about the idea, but now I feel a little recharged. I'm going to get back to it.

And when I'm not in the mood maybe I'll write a bit more of the other thing. Or start work on one of the other two or three novel ideas I have in my mind right now. (not to mention the forty/ fifty odd ideas I have stashed around the place in folders and notepads...)

So, I'm writing, and one day there will be books. And one day they will be published. =)