Twice The Speed Of Dark

I have an advent treat for you today – an extract from the very wonderful Twice The Speed Of Dark. I met the author, Lulu Allison, when we were both crowdfunding our books through Unbound Publishing and realised we both lived in Brighton. We met for a coffee and she has been a great support ever since. Here we both are, after many months of campaigning, with real books in our hands!  I picked up a copy of Twice The Speed Of Dark at the book launch last week and was instantly hooked. The writing is beautiful, the subject moving and life-affirming. Lulu is currently on a blog tour featuring interviews, reviews and extracts. Buy this book!

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Twice The Speed Of Dark by Lulu Allison

Caitlin, killed by violent boyfriend Ryan, tells her story from the perplexing realms of death. Ten years on, her mother Anna is still burdened by suppressed grief. Dismayed by the indifference in the news to people who die in distant war and terror, Anna writes portraits of the victims, trying to understand the real impact of their deaths. It is only through these acts of love for strangers that she can allow herself an emotional connection to the world. Anna’s uneasy equilibrium is disrupted when Ryan is released from prison. As her anger rises will Anna act on her desire for revenge, or will she find freedom at last from the terrible weight of grief? And will Caitlin reclaim herself from the brutality that killed her?

 

This is an excerpt from chapter four. Caitlin, trying to remember and rebuild her own story is thinking about her mother.

 

Sometimes I have felt Mum’s grief pulling me, pulling me into her. I am on the end of a rope; she is the post to which I am tied. She is so firmly set, so deeply anchored in that place that however far I am, I start to circle, circle, circle, at first with a carelessness that seems to have no direction or destination, but as the circle winds in, as the rope shortens, I speed up, I feel the pull, I feel the reducing arc of my movement. I feel the dizzying rush as I am pulled and pulled until I move so fast and so tightly pulled that even without weight or body I am eviscerated by it. I become lost in a tunnel, a funnel, a wind-sucked shrinking spin that ends suddenly at my mother’s feet. I look up and see that she is as still as rock. Bound tight from head to foot by a million miles of grief.

Mum – I feel it spooling out from her even here – is reshaped by sorrow. When I died it broke her heart. Her heart has stayed broken; that break has handicapped the rest of her. It is terrible to see that pain-filled vastness inside her. She has pulled tight around herself to keep it all hidden, the sorrow that marbles her bones, coats her organs, decides her fate. She is diseased with sorrow. Yet I see her smile, talk, laugh. I have seen her with the usual group of old friends, laughing and having fun. It felt as comforting to me as if I were a child going to sleep in her lap. Those adult faces that accompanied my childhood, contributed guidance and steps and gifts to my growing up. And my darling mum, loved by them and laughing happily in their company. But I could still see her disease. It glittered through her skin like the darkness waiting. Sophie knows her so well; I think she sees it too. She is such a gentle worrier, such a kind and loving friend, she would know what is plain to see. I wish I knew what to do, to pull that blackness out. The blackness is for me. Not for Mum.

There. I catch, suddenly, a thread. A time when I was younger, sullen in that ordinary way of a teenager, but not opposed to walking in the woods with Mum. As we walked through the part of the woods where the bluebells were thickest, Mum suddenly turned off the path and walked into the middle of them.

‘Look, Caitlin!’

‘I can’t see anything.’

‘No, I mean just the colour, look at it! It’s wonderful.’ She stood with her arms vaguely lifted outwards to encompass the yearly manifestation of colour that billowed across the woodland floor, buzzing in an ecstatic hover between purple and blue. Her face held a blissful half-smile of idiot pleasure, and for once I could see what she meant. The colour was wonderful. For the rest of the walk and when we got home, eating our pizzas and cheesecake that Dad went out to buy specially, Mum was in a happy, almost elated mood. It was easy to absorb her joyfulness, and soon Dad and I were as elevated as she. It was a very happy evening. Today’s happy evening was brought to you by the colour purple.

She would do that quite often. She would stop to absorb the sight of something that she suddenly found irresistible. She would always offer up what she was seeing for us to share, but I knew that in those moments she was expressing part of herself that didn’t need company. As an art history lecturer, she spent her life looking at paintings, artworks, filling her eyes with arrangements that had been created, if not inevitably to please the eye, to fill it. To be made sense-full by the cast of a human eye. She was serious about her work, absorbed, critical, excited often, irritated or angry at least as often. But it was only with scenes that happened by accident, or without the human view in mind, that she seemed to have this welling-up of wonder. She rarely articulated any thoughts about what she was looking at, certainly never subjected it to the dismantling analysis that in her work life she applied like a knife to various artworks, both to revere and revile. But she did offer the chance to share in her looking. Look, Caitlin, how beautiful it is! It might be a distant view, the accidental coincidence of building materials in an old part of a town, a decaying leaf. It might be something I couldn’t spot at all.

It tears at me. To see my mum like this, to know how unhappy she still is. As weak as he is, as ineffectual in life as he is, he remade my mum. He tore her inside out and remade her. She is remade by the consequences of his acts. She is battered by my death. My death, my death, my death. Not even my absence, but my death. My death has killed something in her. As death has caused me to cede all of myself to hurtling and rushing, it has caused her to be bound in rigid stillness, held immobile under weighted coils of grief.

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Tears In Rain – The First Time I Saw Blade Runner

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Blade Runner 2049 is almost upon us and I can barely conceal my excitement. Blade Runner is one of my favourite films. They better not fuck it up; but going by the trailers and previews it looks like they’ve managed to get it right. We’ll know for sure on Friday. When I’m not working on my novel, or marketing my collection, I’ve got a sideline in movie memoir. I’m collecting together pieces about films I’ve seen with family. Here’s a shortened version of the one about Blade Runner.

Tears In Rain – The First Time I Saw Blade Runner

We made and odd couple, my Dad and I, walking into the dilapidated late night cinema. I was fifteen and he was in his mid-fifties. I had Sun-in hair and too much black eye-liner, waif-like in the way that only teenagers can be, while he was tall and solid, his bulk made bigger by his sheepskin coat.  It was winter 1982 and we’d gone to a midnight screening, both of us wanting to see different films on the double bill. In 1980s northern England there no instant movie streaming like there is now; if you wanted to see an obscure American movie you had a window of about a fortnight and even then only at selected cinemas. If you missed this opportunity you sometimes had the chance to mop it up at a repertory screening. And so it was that Dad and I braved the Yorkshire winter to go and see a double feature of Blade Runner and Firefox. You’ve probably only heard of one of those films, and with good reason, but in December 1982 I first had to sit through Clint Eastwood’s mediocre cold war offering in order to experience one of the greatest films ever made.

I was a film mad teenager. I consumed movies the way other people ate food – they were necessary for my survival. Severe hip-dysplasia had meant a childhood of surgeries and immobility. I spent a lot of time watching television, lying in bed or, when I was feeling up to it, on the sofa in the lounge, from which I’d watch mid-morning reruns of classic Hollywood movies. I was born late to my parents, my mum was 46 and my Dad 40, we were not just one but two generations apart. A love of cinema helped Dad and I bond. He introduced me to all the greats, John Ford westerns, Busby Berkley musicals, screwball comedies. He liked both Marylin Monroe and Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum. His all-time favourite was Humphrey Bogart. I suspect that as a young man he’d been told he looked like the morose movie star because he often emulated his idol; in any given film Dad knew many of Bogart’s lines by heart and often wore a Philip Marlow mackintosh and chewed a match. There was indeed a striking resemblance. Dad had the same pleading eyes and thin upper lip, a square jaw and a slightly dissatisfied expression. We’d watch the movies together over and over; Key Largo, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Caine Mutiny and, of course, Casablanca.

Most of the films we watched were on TV, trips to the cinema were rare, especially as I moved towards adulthood and away from a love of Disney. I began to go with friends to see modern horror movies and comedies. I’d read about Blade Runner in my beloved film magazines and was intrigued – a sci-fi movie in film noir style!  I watched for the listings at my local cinema but it never appeared. I’d just about given up hope of seeing it when I saw the ad for the double bill in Leeds. I showed it to Dad knowing he liked Clint Eastwood and to my surprise he said we could go.

‘It was strange thing to do,’ said my sister, home from college a week later, when I told her about it. It had been an experience. As you can imagine, those attending a Saturday midnight screening were not the usual cinema audience. It had been freezing outside, a few scant snowflakes making an appearance as we walked up the stone steps to the old-fashioned picture palace, slightly out of town. The doors were art deco, their brass handles worn from the many hands that had held them open. Inside we were hit with a blast of acrid heat and the odour of stale popcorn mixed with cigarette smoke hung in the foyer. The bored looking woman at the box office eyed us suspiciously as she sold us our tickets. We opted for the balcony because they were the best seats in the house. There were a few single men dotted around the aisles, some obvious junkies in from the cold and a row of drunk students at the back. Firefox was on first. It had a ridiculous cold war plot about Clint Eastwood stealing a spy plane from a Russian airbase. My Dad loved it, I watched his face more than the film, saw the delight on it, the joy when the hero saved the day.

‘That was fantastic!’ He declared and nipped out for a cigar in the interval, leaving me to sip my cola and stare at the patched velvet curtain closed in front of the screen, even at that age aware that it would not be a good idea to catch anyone’s eye. He arrived back in his seat just as the camera panned across Los Angeles 2019, accompanied by the first notes of the Vangelis score, and I decided that I was going to be a film director.  I sat open-mouthed throughout. Here was a movie that had managed to incorporate all my beloved classic films into something shiny and new. It felt like it had been created specifically for me. I must be the only person who likes the original voice over version the best because it’s the most like those old Bogart movies my Dad loved so much. Dad wasn’t so keen. He snored softly at one point. Afterwards as I enthused he said it thought it was ‘a bit boring and so damn dark you couldn’t see anything’. Within a week I’d dyed my hair auburn, started smoking and wearing vintage clothes and put the poster on my wall. I still have an antique VHS version of the film somewhere, though nothing to play it on.

I never became a film director. But I did study film at University and managed to get a research job at The British Film Institute in London where I stayed for fifteen years. During that time I went to West End premieres, special preview screenings and Q&As with famous directors but still nothing beats that screening of Blade Runner in terms of raw cinematic experience.

Now I’m a writer I use cinema a lot in my work. I often write about people going to the cinema, using the way they respond to certain films as a way of developing character. In my current collection (15 Minutes) I have two stories in which films feature heavily. The first is Lost In Translation which sparks an unhealthy Scarlett Johansson obsession in my protagonist and the second features a teenage boy obsessed with Blade Runner. He listens to the soundtrack, talks like Deckard’s voice over and smokes unfashionable Marlboros.

As we walked from the cinema in the pre-dawn, the snow had turned to rain. It pattered on the car windows on the silent drive home, windscreen wipers creaking.  Dad concentrated wearily on the road ahead while I watched the city lights flick past and imagined that I was riding into the unknown with Deckard, searching for immortality. My Dad is no longer with us. I often think of the night we went to that midnight screening. I sometimes imagine the times he went to the cinema as a young man, on dates, to shelter from the rain or just because he wanted to catch the latest Bogart before anyone else. Only he knew about those times and now they are gone – moments lost in time, like tears in rain.

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Brighton Launch Set!

15 Minutes will be launched in Brighton on October 7th. If anyone would like to come along please let me know, it is a free event and open to all. I will be reading from the book and there with be much fame related fun.

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A little bit about 15 Minutes:

Fifteen Minutes (Unbound Publishing)

“Sharp observations on modern obsessions. Gripping, witty and perceptive.” – Laura Wilkinson, author of Skin Deep

In a world obsessed with celebrity culture do the best stories belong to ordinary people?

A tramp wanders through New York on the day John Lennon is shot; a doctor remembers a Muhammad Ali fight from his childhood; a mother’s Harry Potter obsession follows the death of her child.

Intentionally or not, celebrities past, present and future assert their influence over the lives of us all. Addressing this very modern phenomenon, these stories offer an unflinchingly honest and thought-provoking picture of the world in which we live.

Fifteen Minutes is a short story collection about fame, presented through the extraordinary eyes of unabashedly ordinary characters.

‘Rapier sharp observations on modern obsessions. Gripping, witty and perceptive. These are stories to savour.’
Laura Wilkinson (author of Skin Deep, Redemption Song, The Family Line)

‘Like those great storytellers Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout, Erinna Mettler treads a fine line – empathising with her characters and revealing their flaws without ever succumbing to sentiment – and delivers a richly rewarding read.’
Sarah Rayner (author of One Moment, One Morning)

‘Mettler’s stories are delightful journeys, the kind where you don’t arrive at the place you imagined, but always somewhere stranger and more magical.’
William Shaw ( author The Birdwatcher and the Breen & Tozer Trilogy)

OUT NOW in paperback and e-book.

Further information press@unbound.co.uk 0207 017 2377

Or erinnamettler@gmail.com

Calling Ghost Hunters!

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As the weather gets more autumnal and the wind scratches at the windows my thoughts are turning to Halloween. Halloween is my absolute favourite festival, so much better than Christmas with its 6 month build up, Halloween is just fun from start to finish. As a special ghoulish treat this week I have a guest blog from writer Paul Holbrook. His novel Domini Mortum is extremely close to being fully funded by crowdfunding publisher Unbound. I know how this works because my own book 15 Minutes has just been released by them. Paul is offering some great pledges in his crowdfunding campaign, not least one which should appeal to even the most fearless ghost hunters.

Hello Paul tell us about your book?

Domini Mortum is a novel set in late Victorian England, and set in London, York, and the village of Pluckley in Kent.   21032874_10214086403215790_5586207500886656430_n

It tells the story of a journalist called Samuel Weaver, who has travelled down to London from his native York to work as an artist and reporter for The Illustrated Police News (the preeminent tabloid of the day).  Weaver is obsessed with a series of murders which occurred six years earlier in London and the man accused of the crimes, who died before he could be brought to justice.

Weaver travels around London, and to Kent, to meet people who knew the accused, in the hope of writing a book about him.  However, the more he finds out about the murders, the more he becomes embroiled himself with the people and organisations who have the most to lose by being exposed in the press.  Meanwhile another set of murders has begun in London which hold a much darker and foreboding purpose.

Domini Mortum is a tale of how single-minded obsession can lead to a person’s downfall, and how it is impossible to escape from the sins of your past.  Once a heart is blackened by deeds, it can never recover.

The book is currently the centre of a crowdfunding campaign by the publisher Unbound.  The way it works is straight forward; each book has a cost in order to get it published.  Lovely generous members of the public give their support to the book by pledging to buy it.  Once enough people have pledged and the target amount is reached, the book is published and everyone who supported it gets a copy with their name inside on a list of people that made it happen.  It’s a quite brilliant idea, to get books published that people actually are interested in and want to read, rather than books that a publisher thinks the public wants.

How can people pledge?

Pledging is easy, all you have to do is visit www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum have a read of the synopsis, the excerpt, and then decide what pledge level you want to support the book at.

Once you’ve decided, it’s just a case of clicking that button and entering order details.  If you’ve pre-ordered a book from Unbound before, then you will have an account already.  I’m so glad that I am publishing my book through Unbound, the quality of the authors on show on their website is extraordinary, and I find myself wanting to support quite a lot of books there.

One of the pledges catches my eye in particular, the ghost walk. Can you tell us a bit about this pledge and what it entails?

Ah, the ghost walk, yes.

“We do not have time to enter the ‘Screaming Woods’ this evening, my friend, which is a terrible shame as it is an experience to be savoured,” he said holding his arm across my chest.  “The eldritch howls of the long and recent dead can be heard throughout the night, and it is a brave man who dares enter.  Few have tried and they left in such terrible states that they ended their days unable to speak of what they saw, most were placed in asylums, gibbering wrecks of men, hollow of mind and bereft of soul.” 

“What did they see in there?”  I asked awaiting a terrible tale of murder, suffering and the afterlife. 

“See?  See?  I don’t know, Samuel.  Did you not you hear me say that they never spoke of it?”  He lowered his arm and paced away muttering under his breath.

The ghost walk pledge came about because of a section in the book which is based in Pluckley in Kent, supposedly the most haunted village in Britain.  In the book Samuel Weaver visits the village as part of his investigations, and ends up taking part in a drunken ghost walk with a local called Edward Higgins.

The character of Edward Higgins, is named after a friend of mine, who I definitely had in mind while writing the story.  Samuel and Higgins experience the full horror of the ghosts of Pluckley during their tour, which is both humorous and frightening.

In writing the book I did an awful lot of research into Pluckley, watched countlesYouTube videos of ghost hunters visiting the various haunting sites, and read just about every word ever written about the village.  For those lucky people that pledge for the ghost walk, they will get a copy of the book, with their name inside, as well as making their way to Pluckley where I will meet them, have dinner and a drink or two in the Black Horse (the pub which Samuel Weaver stays in) before heading out into the dreadful night air to experience such sights as The Devil’s Bush, The Screaming Woods, and St Nicholas church where the famous ‘Red Lady’ has been sighted, as well as many other spooky stops along the way.  I will of course be inviting my friend Edward Higgins along, to make it all a bit more authentic to the book.

It’s a very adventurous pledge, but one which I am really looking forward to fulfilling, it will certainly be a night to remember for those who take up the challenge.

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Fifteen Minutes Out Now!

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It’s official! Fifteen Minutes is out now, after months of crowdfunding and readying for publication the book is available to order from bookshops and on kindle and for other e-readers directly from Unbound Publishing.  I can’t thank my pledgers enough because without them this book would never have happened. Please consider it for a summer read and let me know what you think. If you’ve got a book group make it your next read – I might even come along and talk about it. There will be a launch party in Brighton in October, I’ll keep you posted!

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15 Minutes – A Cover Story

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Last year I was signed by British crowd-funding publisher Unbound and now my short story collection about fame, 15 Minutes, is almost ready for release. Yesterday I was sent the final cover proof and I’m sure you will agree that it is an arresting image!

Writers don’t usually get any input in their cover designs. With my first book, Starlings, I was just sent the finished cover with a note saying ‘here’s your cover – hope you like it.’ Bizarrely that cover looked like the front of my house at the time. In the first few months of editing Unbound Digital send their authors a questionnaire to fill out for their cover designer Mark Ecob to work from.

It’s quite a long document and it really makes you think about the book you have written. The questions vary from the practical; title, buy-line, genre, to, ‘Describe the tone and mood you want to come across on your cover,’ and, ‘who do you think your readers are?’  These questions really make you think about your reader. Who is going to buy your book? What are their age, gender, interests? They even ask how they will buy it and where from. As a writer I have to admit I don’t actually think that much about my reader, certainly not when I’m writing, but in order to sell you have to know who you are appealing to. The first reader I listed was ‘short story enthusiast’. Then came the question about genre and the book is obviously made up of short stories but  I realised there and then that each story is its own beast, there’s literary fiction and sci-fi and experimental fiction and memoir and  it became very hard to pin down.

I was asked for a synopsis, again something the writers of short story collections will know is an almost impossible task, I provided key words and a list of the celebrities in the stories. I tried to get across the idea that fame is not necessarily a good thing. At one point I suggested that if there was a face on the cover it should be hidden in some way, blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs perhaps or masked.

Finally, they ask you what sort of cover you have in mind. This was a curve ball – I didn’t have anything in mind. I made a few suggestions. The Warhol connection was the obvious route, pop-art, bright colours, paparazzi photos. I also had to send an extract and I picked one from a story about a man obsessed with Scarlett Johansson.

Mark phoned a few days later. Surprisingly he didn’t seem that keen on a Warholesque cover but had picked up on the idea of fame as artifice. We talked about masks and dropped cameras. Then I mentioned that the last story was a flash fiction about a talking ape and Mark asked me to send it to him.  A few days later he sent over a series of ideas but the one that was the basis for the final cover was the standout. Not Warhol, not pop-art but the suggestion that fame is nothing more than a performing monkey seemed to sum up what I was trying to say.

The proposed cover designs then went to Unbound and I had a long wait before finally getting to see the finished cover complete with cover quote and blurb.  Seeing the finished image brings home the fact that this book is really happening and I am absolutely thrilled that soon you’ll be able to read my take on the masks and artifice of fame.

 

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Listen To Your Editor

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I am currently co-editing an anthology of short fiction. I also supplement my paltry writers’ income with freelance editing projects. I’m not a proof reader; the edits I offer are structural, though I will pick up on any punctuation that has gone awry.  Editing is something I enjoy. The idea of helping a writer to perfect their work makes me happy but I also find that editing other people’s work makes me a better writer. Editing not only raises my awareness of common writing pitfalls, it also reminds me to put away the resistance to criticism that all writers experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of dedicated and improving edits for both my books. Uppermost in my mind is my collection of short stories, Fifteen Minutes, which has recently undergone several in-depth edits with Unbound Publishing. This was an amazing learning curve and the book is vastly improved as a result. When the first edit arrived I opened a manuscript which was literally covered in red marks and comments. My editor had forewarned me that this was normal in her email but even so it was quite a shock. I have had short stories edited professionally before, for publication in journals like Rip Tide and The Manchester Review. The editors of those journals did brilliant job and, yes, each manuscript was covered in crossings out, with sentences shifted and lengthy comments inserted. Again, I was a bit shocked by the extent of the mark-ups.  For a moment I wondered if the writing was any good after all.

This seems to be a common experience for most writers. When faced with a manuscript covered in mark-ups and comments we tend to take it personally. The self-doubt nags, we mutter things under our breath like, ‘obviously they haven’t read it properly,’ and, ‘they wouldn’t know a joke if it got up and bit them.’ What we forget is that as writers we can become too immersed in a piece to see the flaws and the gaps. The writing is obviously great or it wouldn’t have been selected for publication. However, the editor has read it more closely than anyone else ever will. Their mark-ups don’t mean that the writing isn’t good, just that as the writer we have become too used to what we have written. We think that because we can picture it in our head our readers will be able to too. This is not always the case. If an editor points something out as not being clear, and you have to use a paragraph to explain to them why it is clear, the editor is right and you are not.

Obviously editors are not infallible. This is why they often work in pairs. The first edit of Fifteen Minutes suggested alterations that the second editor then suggested should be changed back. At this point it was up to me to decide which worked best. Often it was the original – but not always – sometimes it was something completely different. You can always negotiate. If you truly believe that your piece is better without the changes, that the reader you have in mind will know exactly what you mean, then go ahead, argue your case. What is interesting is that as you progress in your career you will get comments such as ‘still not clear’ from a professional editor a third or fourth time no matter how much you plead. If this happens you have no choice but to adhere to their suggestion. If you are arguing about the placement of commas and the cutting of single words you are being too precious. Go with what the editor suggests; it’s what they do for a living. They know what they are talking about. The real shock will come when you get your proofs back and realize you know nothing about punctuation!

For further information on my freelance editing services please email erinnamettler@gmail.com I specialize in shaping up short stories for publication or competition but I have edited full-length manuscripts from children’s books to spy thrillers.

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Shona Kinsella Talks World Building

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One of the great things about crowd-funding through Unbound Publishing is that there is a real sense of community amongst the authors. We all keep in touch via a private Face Book group, swap news of achievements and frustrations and give each other tips on all aspects on writing and publishing. Sometimes we even meet up, as a few of us did at Unbound’s fifth birthday party in November. They’re a great bunch and today one of them is the first guest contributor to this blog. Shona Kinsella, who has just released her brilliant fantasy novel Ashael Rising, gives some tips on world-building that are very useful for writers of any kinds. Personally, I’m a pantser that stops halfway through for a bit of obsessive map drawing!

Approaching World-Building by Shona Kinsella

One of the most enjoyable and challenging parts of writing fantasy is the world-building. There are fantasy writers who spend years creating a world before they feel ready to write a story set there. They have maps, detailed histories, notes of the flora and fauna and knowledge of political factions in every country – but they don’t have a book.

I’m very different from this. I’m what is sometimes known as a pantser (as in flying by the seat of the pants) although the term I prefer is discovery writer. What this means is that I discover the story, and the world, as I write.

When I sat down to write Ashael Rising, I knew very little about KalaDene. In fact, it didn’t even have a name until the third draft or so. My world-building was all done as I went along. I once heard an excellent description of the process; it explains just what it feels like to me so I’m going to share it here. World-building is like walking through a tunnel (the world) with a torch (the story) so I can see as much of the world as the story shines a light on and a little bit around the edges but everything else is just fuzzy shapes in the darkness, with maybe a puff of cool air indicating that there might be a door to somewhere else off to the left.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. For example, sometimes I could spend most of a day’s writing time trying to figure out how the limits to the magic system worked or whether the climate I’ve described would support the plants that I have my characters eating. That’s not a particularly efficient use of my time and would not have come up had I built my world in advance. On the other hand, people who have created an entire world before writing a book will often find that they have wasted time in building details that they do not need for the book – time that could have been spent writing.

It also means that I made substantial changes between my first and second drafts, tightening up world-building details, as well as improving the plot, and fitting in things that I changed or introduced over the course of writing the first draft. My understanding is that this is common for discovery writers while people who have plotted and world-built in advance will often have something close to the finished work at the end of their first draft. This probably balances out though – they spend the time up front, before they start writing, and I spend it at the other end.

One of the things that I like about my approach is the massive amount of flexibility it gives me. If I find myself inspired by something I see on a nature documentary (something that happens more often than you might think) I generally have space to work it into my world somewhere. I already have a few notes to myself about elements I’d like to fit into book two.

The only major drawback that I’ve experienced is that, since I make things up as I go along, I have no idea what will end up being important and I must try and keep the elements of an entire world straight in my head – something the planners don’t have to do. I have taken to keeping a world-building file open while I write, somewhere to make notes of characters that I’ve introduced, plants that I’ve made up along with their uses, distances between places and so on. The thing is, I’m pretty bad at actually updating the file. While I’m writing, I’m too involved in the story to keep stopping and starting and switching files. More than once I’ve found myself having to search back through the text to check how I spelled something a few chapters ago or whether or not I said a particular plant was poisonous or what someone’s name is. Again, not the most efficient use of my time. Still, efficient or not, it is the way that works for me and it’s the way I’ll continue to work for the time being.

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T2 – not so much lager, lager shouting as a gin and slimline.

We went to the pub first, a proper grown up pub after dark. It wasn’t so much lager, lager shouting as a gin and slimline with demob happy parents crowded around a table chatting. ‘What are you two talking about?’ my husband asked me and my friend. ‘Shopping!’ we replied in unison. We were out to see T2 on the first night, a little apprehensive that it would be shite but unable to keep away.  Memories of the good times filled our heads, all the years spent clubbing, partying and pointlessly putting the world to rights in late night conversations.  It can’t be twenty years can it? It is and we’ve all gotten older. This is what T2 is primarily about. It brims with dewy-eyed nostalgia.

I really enjoyed it. I realise it’s got quite a niche audience, it probably won’t play well to people who weren’t there for the first one, but luckily for me I am a part of that niche. It’s funny and stylish and it does take you back. T2 is a very good movie but it isn’t as great a movie as Trainspotting. It doesn’t sum up a generation, unless that generation is the one pushing fifty and they all feel like there is nothing to look forward to. I’m not the sort of person who thinks everything was better in the past. At one point in the film Veronika, the middle-aged man’s fantasy tart with a heart, says to Mark and Simon (as they are known as grown-ups) ‘You live too much in the past.’  She’s so right, it is too much, the flashbacks, the music, Jonny Lee Miller’s hair, the choose life monologue redux. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling but somehow it lacks in the punch that made the original so brilliant. There’s a scene where Mark, Simon and Daniel return to the spot in the countryside their now dead friend Tommy took them for a walk twenty years ago. It’s supposed to be a heart wrenching moment but as Simon eloquently puts it, ‘I’m not feeling it.’ There is nothing in this film to match the horror of the scene where Renton cooks up after the baby is found dead in her cot. Walking up a hill in memory of a character that died twenty years ago felt a bit distant.

At the end of the original you really felt for them, the desperation and fear that led to the act of betrayal and the ones that were left behind. I didn’t really care what happened to any of them in this one, not even Veronika and I know I was supposed to. T2 is more like an old fashioned caper movie than a film with anything real to say, like The Italian Job but with swearing and heroin. It’s a laugh though, just don’t expect too much.

I am a writer struggling to find an agent and one thing that really annoyed me about the film was the silly addition of Spud writing the original book as a memoir in his forties. Good luck with that pal, a memoir?! Who’s going to publish that? The original book was described as a nonlinear collection of short stories in Edinburgh dialect with multiple points of view, despite this when it came out in 1993 everyone on the tube was reading it, the grey skulls cover was all you could see, and the same again when the film was released 3 years later. Imagine a major publisher taking on such a thing today? There are no gone girls or dead men in sight, it wouldn’t get past the slush pile, as both Welsh and Danny Boyle have acknowledged in recent interviews. That would have been a great shame; an era-defining film would never have existed. It does make you wonder what we have been missing out on in these times of risk averse publishing?

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I will be chairing a panel about the lack of risk taking in traditional publishing and the alternative routes available at the Write by the Beach Conference in Brighton on April 1st.

Short Stories and World Peace

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2016 sucked didn’t it? The EU vote, Jo Cox,Trump, Syria, celebrity deaths, the whole world took a beating. The future, as they say, is uncertain. As we approach the end of the year I’m feeling reflective. At the beginning of 2016, I had completed a collection of short stories about fame (Fifteen Minutes) but had no agent or publisher in sight. I half-heartedly tried a couple of small presses and agents and barely got a reply. Short stories don’t sell, they’re just not popular, blah blah blah. This year’s Man Booker Prize had a book of short stories on it, All That Man Is by David Szalay. It’s a great collection. They pretended it was a novel but it wasn’t, it was even less of a novel than the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, having only the merest connection in the first and last stories and nowhere else. The stories are about men at various stages of life but that’s a pretty broad theme in my view. In addition to the obvious collection of short stories, six of the thirteen short-listed authors had previously published short story collections. I’m telling you this because in 2016 I was continually frustrated by the lack of credit given to short fiction writers and their books. I’ve ranted about this before so I won’t again, but personally it felt like I was having to jump through a lot more hoops to get an agent to look at my work than most other writers do, simply because of the form I am compelled to work in.

February offered a solution, a friend told me about the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. I submitted my collection and by March it had been selected for publication. You can find out about my crowd-funding journey in previous blog posts, suffice to say it was hard work but it wasn’t as hard as getting an agent to read my manuscript. By the end of June I was fully funded, some of the people pledging support were complete strangers, so short stories can’t that unpopular after all.

I find myself thinking about other achievements. This year I co-directed a writers’ conference with The Beach Hut Writing Academy called Write By The Beach and it was so successful we’re doing it again next year. In fact you can buy early bird tickets now. I’m going to be hosting a panel discussion about alternative publishing methods with Sarah Rayner Unbound, Bookoutre and Urbane Publishing.

The Brighton Prize, of which I am a co-director, doubled its number of entries and opened to flash fiction and international writers.

I vastly cut down on the number of submissions I made, selecting only a handful of writing competitions and was shortlisted in three out of four, achieving my long-held ambition of being included on The Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist.

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I had articles published on writing method and crowd-funding tips and even found a home for my story Sourdough which, after being short-listed for The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award, failed to get a publisher for nearly five years.

I applied for two jobs, was interviewed for both, and failed to get the posts. It was very, very close they said. I’m still mentoring writers though, through Creative Future and privately, and this is very, very rewarding.

Fifteen Minutes has been through a professional editing process with Unbound and has now been submitted for a copy edit. Soon I’ll have a cover and then it will be published. I never dreamed I’d be able to say that at the beginning of the year.

I went to America on a family road trip, pre-election, when we thought there might still be a chance that Trump would fail, and managed to visit the places I had planned to put in my next collection (I’m calling it a novel by the way so let’s see what happens).

I’ve done so much personally and yet I feel a bit flat, a bit disappointed. I wonder if it’s because there’s very little financial reward for what I’m doing, and if this makes me feel like it isn’t important? I wonder if it’s because the contempt with which short fiction writers are regarded by the UK publishing industry is getting me down? Or if it’s a more general disconnect from a world that can vote for Brexit and Trump? It feels like I’m tantalisingly close to something that then moves away again. I’ll snap out of it.

My wish for next year is that the form I have chosen to work in gets the credit it deserves and that publishers stop repeating the mantra that short story collections don’t sell and try selling them instead. That and world peace, trains that run on time, an end to this selfish right wing nonsense that seems to have engulfed the world, some gin and a box of chocolates – it’s not much to ask, is it? Happy Christmas everyone!