Structures and Developments

Earlier this week I sent the manuscript of Seven Deadly Swords to my editor at Grimbold. This is after a fairly hefty restructure and rewrite after the structural/developmental edit.

It’s been to beta readers and they all had good comments but it seems like after extensive electronic scissors and pots of glue, moving chapters around, completely rewriting one character and snipping 20,000 words (and writing a new 10,000) I managed to not introduce any plot holes. Which is a major relief!

Seven Deadly Swords was mostly written in 2013/14 when I was just learning the craft. It showed. It had a hefty rewrite after an editorial going over by the fabulous Joanne Hall (Hi Jo!). Then went into submissions. I got a few interested bites from agents, including one request for a rewrite/resubmission and it was rewritten again.

Then Grimbold agreed to take it, on the proviso that I change the tense. That was a faff, but not a strong rewrite.

Now it’s had another rewrite – and the line edits are to come, so further changes afoot.

I strongly suspect that some of this process of rewriting would have been avoided if I’d planned the book better. I’m an exploration writer (or pantser if you like that term) but plan as I go along. That’s also how I wrote Sick City Syndrome.

I’m going to plan the next piece of writing with much care, and see if that makes a difference…

Still it’s nice to see Seven Deadly Swords inching closer to publication…

Some reviews

Thirty Years Of Rain by Neil Williamson

Thirty Years of Rain – Edited by Elaine Gallagher, Cameron Johnston & Neil Williamson

Published by Taverna Press (20 Sept. 2016)

This is a collection of stories and poetry from members of the Glasgow science fiction writers group. When the North Bristol writers group created its first anthology North by Southwest one criticism, that we attempted to turn into a strength, was that the book was incredibly eclectic (we had a very loose theme of ‘North’). Although Thirty Years of Rain has a similar issue, with only ‘science fiction’ to bind them, it does make eclectism work.

There are some familiar names in here, and some I’m less familiar with but the level of quality in the stories was consistently high. There’s around 30 stories in the book across the range of SF so there is something in here for every type of SF fan I think.

Standouts for me were: TJ Berg’s tale of grief The Freedom of Above, which was a very human story but still managed to have a big SF idea at its heart; Headkiller by Michael Cobley which was a PKD style story of future assassins; The Marquis of Alcatraz by Richard Mosses which revolved around an unknown Dumas novel; The Lodger by Brian M Milton an epistolic tale about alien refugees  and in contrast to that one Neil Williamson’s affecting tale of refugees from a broken Earth – Foreign Bodies. There were very few stories that didn’t hit the spot, and no duds at all. – that is unusual in a collection. Recommended.


Entropic Angel: And Other Stories by Gareth…

Entropic Angel by Gareth L Powell

NewCon Press (24 April 2017)

I’ve been lucky enough to hear Powell read some of these stories at various events but it’s nice to sit down and read them through. It’s also nice to get a bit of explanation at the end of the stories as the author relates what inspired the story.

Powell won the BSFA for his his novel Ack-Ack Macaque in 2013 and at least one of the stories in this collection was also nominated for the award.  So you know you are getting some good writing.

Standouts were The Last Reef, a tale of AI evolution, Gonzo Laptop a story written in response to Hunter S Thompson’s death, Hot Rats a flash fiction about travelling in time and Memory Dust which had more than a hint of Lovecraft to it. But I enjoyed the whole collection, these are just the ones that I enjoyed especially. The majority of these stories have made the grade and been published in magazines. This is a nice collection and it’s interesting to see Powell’s inspirations and influences – Gonzo, the beats, some Banks perhaps.

Overall – a very enjoyable collection. Recommended.

The Enclave (NewCon Press Novellas Set 1) by…

The Enclave by Anne Charnock

Newcon Press (10 Feb. 2017)

Other reviewers like this book because it allows them to live a little longer in the world of her novel A Calculated Life. However I’ve not read the novel, but after reading this novella I would like to. It seems like a well-drawn world and Charnock writes with both grace and heart. This novella is the story of a young climate change refugee, Caleb, who has been sold into indentured servitude to Ma Lexie in The Enclave of the title. Ma Lexie’s crew recycles trash into sellable goods. Caleb demonstrates aptitude and skill in sewing clothes and allowing Ma Lexie to make money in the market. He also has a remote friendship with another such as himself in a neighbouring Enclave who he communicates with by putting messages in a bottle which he tosses over the gap between buildings.

This is an interesting, character driven, social and political science fiction. I will be checking out A Calculated Life based on my enjoyment of this novella.

This is one of four novellas from Newcon Press that are collected in a beautiful box set.


Chalk: A Novel by Paul Cornell

Chalk by Paul Cornell

St. Martins Press-3PL (21 Mar. 2017)

After a gentle introduction to the mystical English setting of Wiltshire with its chalk hill figures Cornell then hits you with an astonishing incident of bullying that is breathtakingly brutal. I admit that I didn’t think the novel could sustain itself after the opening; I didn’t see how the stakes would be increased. However any scepticism was soon dispelled as the supernatural element of the plot kicked in.

You get some typical Cornellisms – the TV program Doctor Who plays a part, there is a psychogeographical  overlay of mystical history over the landscape and there are characters that, like us at first, don’t understand the supernatural forces that buffet them.

There are some excellent ideas in here, like scrying using number one singles and the overall concept of the story (which I won’t give away) and there was an extra frission for myself as it’s set in the early 80’s with a protagonist roughly the age I was at the time. But this is no nostalgia trip. If anything it is anti-nostalgic, a reminder of the darker parts of growing up, the lack of control you have, the intense peer pressures, status battles. This is the best of Cornell’s work I’ve read so far.



Guest post by Titus Chalk – A lesson from Bristol

Today’s guest post comes from Titus Chalk who has written a history of Magic: The Gathering called Generation Decks

I’ve spent plenty of time playing this game but, unlike many of my friends, never got caught up in the collecting aspect of it. I saw some people spend thousands of pounds on collecting cards and in our little circle of gamers we called it Crack: The Gathering. Because some people seemed to become addicted…


Titus Chalk is a freelance writer currently based in Berlin. His itinerant life has led him from the UK to New Zealand and France and now, to the German capital. Having learned to play Magic: The Gathering in early-nineties New Zealand, he has been lugging a cupboard full of cards with him ever since, with many of the rarest in his collection worth more than their weight in gold. He loves Magic, has made friends for life playing it, but remains a critical and curious guide to the enthralling game.


Titus lived in Bristol and his post is entitled – A Lesson from Bristol

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On the subject of silence

It’s been almost a month since the last blog post – so what’s been happening?

I’ve finished the major rewrite on Seven Deadly Swords and it’s with a few trusted beta readers before sending back to the editor at Grimbold. Which is quite exciting – more details on when the book will be released will come later in the year.

I attended EasterCon which was very enjoyable & got to catch up with plenty of friends on the Con scene. Great to see Dave Hutchinson win best novel at the BSFA awards for Europe in Winter.

This weekend I’ll probably be at Hawksbury Upton Lit Fest but I have a non-fiction deadline so depends how that goes.

I also have a short story deadline for end of the month but after that I’ll be revisiting the novel ideas I have to flesh out one or two synopses and starting novel number 3 which is provisionally called – “The Certainty of Dust”

On copyright and getting it in writing

Seeing an American author of my acquaintance announcing that someone has taken his work and adapted it without his permission has inspired me to write down my experience of exactly that.

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I used to write for an RPG. This was a sole trader business when I started writing for it. After many years the sole trader started a sister company then created “proper” businesses, registered at companies house with “directors.” I became “Creative director” of one of those businesses (the original) – it was less successful (commercially) than the 2nd business which was recycling all the material of the first. (This second business was aimed at a more casual gamer and was a simplified and much cut down version of the original – but it proved more popular and financially lucrative) This led to the hostile takeover and the newly combined RPG company and I parted company.

As the original sole trader was run more like a club than a business then nothing was ever officialised, no contracts were signed and people wrote for it in a spirit of mutual benefit. It was, frankly, an amateur arrangement. No problem with that at the time, the problem only came when the situation changed.

When the two businesses were set up this amateur situation continued. For many years, even before becoming the official “creative director” I was collating the background from scenarios and creating most of the background documents. As well as creating a lot of original documents I also edited all the documents that were written by everyone else.

Before the hostile takeover it was suggested that a set of books be produced  – a GM’s guide, Players handbook, a scenario, and if successful a series of scenarios – to sell to the general public. Kickstarter was suggested as a vehicle to raise the capital to do so. At the time I insisted that the IPR was sorted out before that happened.

When the hostile takeover happened it turned out that there was no position for me in the management so I decided to leave. It was an amicable departure (or at least I thought it was).

A few months later the instigator of the hostile takeover announced that there would be a Kickstarter to raise funds to produce the books that had been suggested. No work had been done to sort out the IPR.

I asked that they didn’t use anything that was solely created by me and that I was consulted on mutual ideas since I’d had such a hand in collating/editing. My concern (and I already had a few published short stories at this stage) was that they didn’t use any document that I’d written – because I may wish to adapt for any future story/book.

They refused.

Three months of ever increasingly acrimonious argument about who owned the copyright ensued before the team (but not the Kickstarter creator) complied with what I’d first asked for. Friendships were lost and no one covered themselves in glory (including me)  – it was a bitter time and my mental health suffered. I became quite paranoid and distrustful for a period after that.

At the time of my writing those documents for the RPG I had no thought of copyright. (Not until the company started to become more professional – and then I was a lone voice when it came to IPR). No contracts, or even gentlemen’s agreements, were signed/made. As far as I was concerned, since there was also no money changing hands, the writing was mine.

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The company thought they owned everything and could do what they liked with it. Whilst I was comfortable for them to continue to use the work in-house it was another matter to adapt the work to create books to make money off my writing without my permission, attribution or providing any remuneration. Passing off someone else’s work as your own is wrong – that’s not a difficult concept, it’s something everyone learns in school. Yet they told me that I should be flattered they wanted to use my work. Throughout the argument over IPR the team demonstrated no understanding (and no interest in understanding) how copyright works.

The Kickstarter was very successful, netting the team almost £16,000 to create 4 books, the GM’s Guide, a Player’s Handbook and 2 Scenarios (there were some stretch goals achieved). I awaited a draft as they’d agreed that I could have a veto on what was included if it was my work.

A year after their Kickstarter was funded they sent me one partially finished book (the GM’s guide). They were already 6 months late delivering the books that people had pledged money for at that stage.

Some chapters were pretty much cut&paste from documents I’d written. I asked them to rewrite the contentious chapters.

What was really annoying was that I was put in the position of “proving” that I’d written what I claimed I had written. I was treated as a liar several times before I did actually prove things via digging out original documents created in the early 2000’s. In some cases I had to provide screenshots of text comparison showing that chapters in the one book they sent me for comment were 80% my words (and the 20% difference being the names that they’d changed).

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It was horrible.

The fact that this saga is not over yet is also horrible. Mostly for the people who have pledged money for the books, and so far have nothing to show for their money. But also for me – as it is possible that the books (if they ever appear) may still have my writing in them. The problem you see is that the original team have broken up and it is now only the creator of the Kickstarter working on it. The one that didn’t want to comply with my wishes in the first place.

Last year I had a conversation with a member of the team and found out that everyone bar the creator had walked. The books still hadn’t appeared. I queried the ‘creator’ and things became acrimonious fast and he cut off all communication.

As it stands today I only have the occasional updates on the Kickstarter (as a few people haven’t given up asking for their books) to see what’s going on. And by talking to people I know who had backed it. IF the books ever appear (I don’t know how likely that is) I won’t see a copy  (except perhaps if a backer shows me a copy) and it may have my writing in. The plan was to sell them to people outside the backers. If that happens it’s entirely possible that my writing will be sold to people against my wishes, without attributing me and for me to get none of the money.

However the fact that the books were funded 3 years ago and have still not been produced makes me think that the Kickstarter creator has no intention (or no competence), at this stage, in producing them.

A quick review of where the money has gone (according to a backer who has seen the accounts on a backer’s only update) shows that the Kickstarter creator has spent too much on add-ons (things like lead miniatures) and art and now does not have enough money to refund people.


If things had worked out differently, if they’d offered me a role in the new company for example, or worked with me on the books – instead of against me – then perhaps people would have their books. Maybe the problems they are having in producing the books are not self-inflicted (although it certainly seems that way from the outside) and I would also have failed the backers? (the fact I’ve published 2 books under my own name and project managed 5 anthologies, editing 4 of them, to publication in the same period makes me think not though).

But if I had worked on these roleplaying books, then perhaps I would never have had that kick up the arse that started me down the path to being a published author…

So what have I learned?

I learned a lot about copyright law – having had to polish the arguments!

I learned that some “friends” are willing to screw you over when it comes to business

And the most important lesson I learned is that you should always, no matter how amateur the project seems at the time, have an agreement over your writing. Get it in writing – in a proper contract if at all possible.

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Catacombs of Terror Review

Catacombs of Terror

By Stanley Donwood

Scratter & Pomace

Valpolicella is a PI in Bath and he is told that he’s going to be arrested for murder in a few days and the only way to circumvent this looming fate is to investigate the company that runs the CCTV, who are also doing an archaeological dig just outside of town.

As the tagline reads – “Guns! Drugs!! Pigs!!!” you’ll be glad to know you get all of those things in spades.

There’s an amusing “How this book got published” story at the beginning  – created for the fundraiser that funded the book – about writing the book for a cider-fuelled bet with a publisher, the rise of Amazon, rare book dealers and other insalubrious dealings…

The book itself romps along running on whiskey, cigarettes and lines of coke with an amiable narrator and enough of a plot to leave you guessing. There’s a rather abrupt end but on the whole it’s a very enjoyable read.

It’s worth mentioning that the cover is fantastic, the paper edges are red and overall it’s a very handsome book to have on your shelf.



My name is Mary Sutherland

My Name is Mary Sutherland by Kate Farrell

My Name is Mary Sutherland

Kate Farrell

PS Publishing

The narrator of this tale is a young girl, the eponymous Mary Sutherland, who lived in Aigburth and who had family in Birkenhead. I grew up in Birkenhead so her voice was immediately recognisable.

The book starts with a TV crew coming to interview Mary who is in an institution. Mary then tells the story in her own words of how she ended up in the institution, and why she seems to be obsessed with rats. The trouble started when her mother got sick.

Farrell is great at creating suspense and you know that it doesn’t end well, but you don’t know exactly why until right the last moment. It was an effective little plot tightly told in 170 odd pages.

I didn’t think the framing device (of the TV interview) was needed personally and there was an occasional lapse in voice but overall this is a well-written book.