Autumn

Another short from the writing classes. This exercise was to simply choose one of the presented prompts and run with it. The prompt I chose was “Autumn.”

 


 

It happened with the turn of the leaves, when things change from green to precious gold. I didn’t know what I was looking for, just that I was looking. I didn’t need anything to search for because I never found it anyway. Just looking was enough. The shiny disk of the metal detector glinted in the sun, offering promises never fulfilled. I didn’t mind. It was a nice excuse to go outside. I always needed one; I could never allow myself to enjoy the world without some tangible reason for it. So I looked for metal.

Then one autumn’s day I actually found some.

The detector startled me as it bleeped wildly – after all, it was a sound I’d only heard once before, when I tested the thing as it came out of the box. I stared at the flat, bare ground before me, confused as to what came next. I’d never anticipated this moment. Eventually I got onto my knees and dug into the soft earth with my hands. It wasn’t particularly cold yet and the soil came away easily. I kept digging and never found anything but I was so curious I couldn’t stop. When I got to about a foot down with still nothing, I tried the metal detector again. It bleeped, so I kept digging.

The sun was setting and I was still digging. I would periodically check to see if the mystery item was still there. It was. I kept going, until I was certain I’d gone down further than the metal detector’s range. My hands bled but by that time I couldn’t feel them anyway. I plunged them down to take another scoop of earth and they smacked into something cold and hard. I dusted the loose soil away frantically, revealing something smooth beneath.

I frowned. The full moon was high in the sky, casting silver light into the hole. It was a face. A metal face with dead, circular eyes and a hollow rectangle for a mouth. Everything smelled like soil and blood.

“HELLO.”

I flinched at the metallic voice. It hadn’t come from the face. It had come from behind me. From the metal detector.

“GREETINGS.”

I looked back to the face. Both eyes were lit with a soft blue light, the left one flickering. My mouth was dry and slowly the feeling was returning to my hands. They burned and shook.

“IS IT TIME?” asked the metal detector. I turned and picked it up, inspecting it. It looked normal, with no spot I could guess at as being speakers.

“Time for what?” I asked it, feeling silly.

“IT IS TIME,” said the face behind me, and something hit me on the back of the head.

I fell face first to the ground and darkness took me, and when I finally woke again Edinburgh was already gone.

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Musings on Pitch Contests

With the completion of Through the Black looming ever closer, I’ve been thinking more and more of how and where I want to get my MS out there. Traditional querying will almost certainly be my number one method, but these days online pitch contests are also a hugely popular way to get your short pitch seen by agents and publishers.

The downsides of these are that you only have a very limited amount of characters to make yourself stand out. The upside is that there’s no quicker way to get huge swathes of publishing professionals all at once.

Of course, you might attract the attention of agent who aren’t the right fit for you or you might not attract any at all. The thing is, if you don’t put yourself out there then you’ll never know. The best that can happen is that you find someone requesting a query. The worst is that you’ll have honed a neat, concise pitch for your work.

I actually tried my hand at one very recently. The creative industries festival XpoNorth held one this month and, as they were accepting pitches for manuscripts that weren’t 100 % complete, I decided to have a go. Unfortunately I didn’t have any success with that but I didn’t have much time to prepare my pitches. What it does mean is that I now have a couple of them that I can work on and polish well for when more roll around, and hopefully be more prepared for. Mostly it was good practice for not obsessively staring at my phone or refreshing my internet browser.

There are a few lined up for after my deadline, so I’m hoping to have some nice polished pitches and a finished manuscript all ready to go by the time they roll around!

 

Paper

Day and Night

Another short from the writing classes. In this exercise, we were tasked with studying sound in two contrasting things.

 


 

When the sun is high, the world is full of the babble of laughter and voices. Cars rumble past in a persistent, growling stream. Little bells jangle as the shop doors on the street open and close, the crinkling of shopping bags constant.

Only twelve hours later and those sounds are gone. The babble is replaced by a cool silence to those who do not wish to hear the night. My steps are gentle footfalls on the concrete. A soft rustle to my right – just a cat inspecting a bin. At this time, my breaths are loud and the soft breeze whispers to me. Just as I feel peace in this serene nightscape, there are footsteps behind me. I turn quickly. But behind there is only empty space and the footsteps remain. When the sun is high, the world is loud and I am safe from the sound. But it isn’t.

It is dark and it is cold and still the footsteps remain.

 

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Aurora Borealis

A few weeks ago I promised that I’d start posting some of the flash fiction from my writing class exercises! So here is the first one. This came from an exercise about describing a setting with the senses, using a place from a childhood memory.

 


 

Icy air gusted softly by as we stood beneath the stars, staring upwards past the looming grey pillars of the hilltop monument and into the crisp night sky. Specks of silver glistened in the void above us, stiff bristles of heather rustling by our feet. A couple of snowflakes twirled on the salty air, the very first of the fall. It wouldn’t be long before the encroaching grey clouds obscured our view and snuffed out our chances.

Dad held his camera aloft, hoping for those eerie green lanterns to splash across the sky. They never did. Never on the nights we tried. But we always went. And tonight, deep between those twinkling dots of light in the sky, something moved. We both tensed, excited, my numb hands clenching tight. This was it, our time. The thing that moved did shimmer with emerald wonder but it did not spill across the night. It moved closer, growing larger. I held my breath, the crunching of my raincoat falling silent as I stood stock still. Drifting up high was a perfect viridian disk.

My mouth fell agape, breath misting on the air. I glanced at my dad, the camera clutched white knuckled in his chill burned fingers. His brow furrowed, disbelieving and almost annoyed by the object above. Whatever it was, it drew nearer, silent as the snowfall. The quiet drew out long enough that the gentle whispers of the wind became unnerving.

The sudden click of the camera startled me and the haunting thing rose so swiftly upwards it was a dot within a second. It became a pinprick among the starts and then it was gone. I stared a long while, just in case it returned, while Dad scowled at the little preview window of his camera. The display showed perfectly the eerie form of the green glowing UFO, proof that the incredible spectacle we’d witnessed was real. He muttered under his breath and shook his head.

“We’re never gonna see those bloody lights.”

Bounty – Writing Excerpt

A short excerpt from The Fishperer.

 


Some of the other bounty hunters liked to mock Xin’she Hydrocall for her ‘advanced age.’ Those bounty hunters had never been chased by her. Or in a fight with her. When Edar’he Eelspeak heard she was coming for him, he’d been apprehensive. Then when he heard a description of her, he’d laughed. Edar wouldn’t run from a fifty-five year old.
He was running now.
He was running harder and faster than he had ever run in his life. Pain tore through his chest with every breath as he dodged and ducked through the jungle, leaping over thick vines and swinging across branches. Every time he glanced back, she was closer. Perhaps just a fraction but she was closer. His face was livid and desperate. She didn’t even look to be sweating. He wasted air swearing and ran on. He didn’t need to get far but he had to get there first.
Xin kept a steady pace behind him. She didn’t want to burn out before the ensuing fight. It wasn’t difficult – Edar was clearly a city kid. His movements through the jungle were clumsy and obvious. He wouldn’t lose her at this rate. It was only a matter of time until he was in reach.
A thick fallen trunk blocked his way and he clambered over it at speed, despite his waning strength and lack of grace. Xin took a short cut, using a nook on the trunk of one tree to launch herself up and grab a high branch, swinging her lithe body with ease over the obstruction and hitting the ground with momentum. Edar was almost close enough to grab.
There was a sudden break in the jungle onto a river and Edar released a giddy laugh as he launched himself at it, disappearing beneath the surface as Xin made it to the edge. Without breaking stride she grabbed a knife from her belt and stretched her hands above her head in a point and leapt in a shallow dive beneath the surface. Her eyes easily saw through the warm, clear water. Edar was frantically mouthing something with the rapid expulsion of air bubbles.
That’s a mistake, sunbeam, she thought, stretching one hand out in front of herself.
Three eels, long and thick, powered up from the depths making a frantic beeline for her. Edar actually took the time to throw her a grin before he began to kick back to the surface. The first of the eels reached her and twisted around her legs. Xin ignored it, sweeping her hand around sharply and snapping it shut. The river stopped flowing downstream. Panic spread across Edar’s face as his rise to the surface stopped abruptly. The current had changed, dragging him downward. Yet more air escaped him as he was pulled toward the riverbed.
The second eel made quick work of snaking its body around Xin’s torso, constricting her chest. She brought the knife down into its back and the thing opened its toothy maw in fury. A puff of red billowed into the water around her and the eel’s grip loosened. The blade had gone right through, nicking Xin’s clothing but nothing more. She pulled the knife free as the third approached, and the wounded creature lamely twitched as it retreated. With one hand she struck at the newcomer with the knife, while with the other she gestured toward the surface.
Like a soap bubble blown between a child’s fingers, a pocket of air pulled down into the water and wobbled into its own entity as the surface tension snapped. The bubble dropped like a rock through the water, settling around Xin’s head. She took a deep breath from the pocket of fresh air.
The third eel sharply changed direction at the last moment and powered away from her. Her eyes flicked down to her calves and the eel holding them together let go and shot off after its friend. They were both clearly far brighter than Edar was. That was the great thing about ‘mancers that most people didn’t seem to understand – yes, they had the ability to talk with their certain animal but that didn’t mean the animal had to listen.
She turned her attention to her bounty, flailing his limbs as he swirled around and around in a little vortex. She waited, wafting her limbs gently to keep her steady in the water, comfortably breathing from her personal air pocket, until Edar went limp.
She flicked her hand and the vortex changed direction, carrying both her and the unconscious Edar back to the surface. With lazy ease she pulled herself onto the riverbank and dragged Edar up with her. He was heavy, especially wet, but not so much so that she struggled. It didn’t take a lot to get him breathing again, and he didn’t cough anything up, so she didn’t much worry about secondary drowning. Either way he’d make it back to the Law Office fine.
“How?” he sputtered as she roughly tied his hands behind his back, one knee burrowed hard into his spine.
She let a grin slip. “Thought the currents were too strong? Kid, you have a lot to learn about hydromancers.” She yanked him to his feet. “You’ll have plenty of time to think about it inside that gibbet.”

NaNo Reflections

winner

Another NaNo down! And I won (just) for my fifth consecutive year. This was the closest I’ve cut it that I recall but I made it in the end. And, as I was doing a rewrite of the very project that got me into writing again after my long, university induced hiatus, there was a lot of cringing along the way. Really.

On the positive side, it let me see that I’ve improved a huge amount at writing over the past five years. I already mentioned just how many words I was cutting in my progress post and that trend continued. At least six full scenes got completely binned, as well as others getting merged and whole paragraphs of absolutely nothing being skipped as well. There was so much superfluous, unnecessary and boring guff in there. There’s also the prose itself which is, in my opinion, miles better than the original even in its NaNo-form. If I ever get to the stage where I can edit this it might even become readable!

Practice really is the key to anything. I’m so much happier with my writing now than I ever have been – and I know there’s still massive space for improvement. I still don’t consider myself “good” (but will I ever?) but I’ve come leaps and bounds. It makes me so glad that I’ve stuck with it, even through the low moments. It’s like with art – I would love to improve at it but I always get disheartened when I try. Things never work out the way I’d like. I stumble and struggle and eventually end up taking long, substantial breaks from it and every time I do I end up back at square one. It needs a lot of time and a lot of practice. Unfortunately time isn’t something I have in abundance.

The only difference with writing is that I’ve stuck with it even through the hard times. From scenes I just couldn’t write, things that sounded awful, bad plots all the way to crushing beta feedback and rejections. Time and practice has brought me to where I am today. And I’m happy with where that is, even though I hope to keep improving as I go. If you love something and want to get good at it, stick with it. No matter the setbacks. Keep at it. Some people say you need to write every day but I don’t think that’s true. Just keep it regular and don’t let your skills slide.

Now if only I had more time for art too!

Programs For Editing Part 3: Paper

It’s time for the third and final part of my editing theme. The last program in my editing essentials isn’t a program at all – it’s the good old pen and paper. Some things really are just irreplaceable. So why, despite all this fancy technology and stuff, do I still rely so heavily on the tools it all started with?

The honest answer to that one is I really don’t know. There are some awesome benefits that I find when I give up on technology and just start writing but I could not tell you empirically why certain things are just easier with a pen and paper. There’s just something about it that gets the brain in gear, at least for me. So, what specifically do I get out of working on a hard copy?

My first comment would be that it’s pretty therapeutic. The feel of the paper under your hand, the glide of the pen, it’s all very soothing. More often than not I find it much easier to focus when I’m working like this rather than on a screen. Plus, I defy you to find a laptop that looks as good as these.

 

Notebooks

Be still my beating bank account.

 

When you’re reading along a sheet of paper, it’s super easy to quickly scrawl in a note or fix a typo and then keep going without losing too much of the flow of things. My poor, slow brain can keep up with scribbling down a note far better than when navigating a computer to fix an error. It keeps me in the moment and that allows me to work faster while still keeping sharp.

 

Commas

I still don’t know.

 

Another benefit I find is that I tend to read it more like an actual story that I’ve picked up off the shelf and that helps my brain pick out bits that aren’t right. Think about reading a novel – typos and errors are often glaring and obvious, and that’s partly due to not having read the piece a hundred times before. You become blind to these things and I have found that a printed out version can help to minimise this effect. As you can see from the below, I’ve a lot of issues – issues that I’ve completely glossed over while looking on a screen. Trust me, this is not the first time I’ve gone over this section. And still all the red.

 

Paper Edits

This isn’t even its final form.

 

So I’ve covered the print outs but often way before I even get to that stage there is already a notebook full of editing plans. Plans are good. Having them all in a handy notebook makes it easy to flick through them while you’re at your computer going through things. And as I mentioned before, there’s just something nice and also inspiring about them. They’re great to take about the place for when you’re thinking about your novel when you’re supposed to be interacting with the real world. Pfft. Reality.

 

Notebook Edits

Fear my amazing Paint skills.

 

So that’s me and my editing tools! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about them and I’d love to hear your methods in the comments below!