Back Ups

I know, it’s been a while again. I’ve been busy, sort of. I’ve done a load of world building, then done it all again after my USB stick decided to fall off the perch. Yes, yes, I know, I know. A programmer should know better and this one is now practicing grandfathering his backups. I my defence the USB stick did fail and absolutely corrupt all my work just when I was backing it up. So I ended up with a really nice back up of all the corruption. Unfortunately I hadn’t been keeping progressive backups so I had nothing to fall back on.

Now I have backups everywhere!

David Farland (Dave Wolverton)

David Farland (Dave Wolverton), the coordinating judge for Writer’s of the Future, and award winning author and all round good guy, has passed away.

I took the WotF online workshop last year and Dave was an instrumental part in it. He seems to have gone out of his way to help upcoming authors and has paid it forward to the extreme. I didn’t know him but he has awarded me many Honourable Mentions over the past few years and just a quarter ago my first Silver.

If you haven’t read any of his work, then go find some, you’ll learn a lot.

Writers of the Future Results, Ear Infections, Covid Jabs and Xmas

I’m still here and still kicking. My head is fine, well in the mental sense anyway. Physically it is bunged up still, but getting better.

Why is it bunged up? Well, mostly due to an ear infection which has left me sleepless and in pain for a week and a half. It’s all but cleared up now, with the help of some antibiotic spray. The spray has vinegar in it as an antiseptic, so I’ve been a bit stinky for a while too. I’ve never had an ear infection before, not that I can remember anyway. My daughter used to get them all the time as a child. Now I know how much they hurt.

The infection was barely clearing up when I gat a text from my doctor to go have my Covid booster. My son was invited to make an appointment a few weeks ago but the nearest place he could go was miles away. That all changed as soon as the Prime Minister declared that they were going to get us all jabbed before January.

I must say, our NHS has done a great job in rolling out these vaccines. Within a few days vaccination centres were popping up all over. We both got them done at our GP’s clinics.

Now I’me full of cold, probably from the booster jab, along with a sore arm, but don’t let that put you off getting one. I’d rather have a cold than end up in hospital.

Anyway, the sore ear, the sore arm and the bunged up head and snotty nose have stopped me writing for a few days. I’m also back working from home so there’s all that confusion in my head about whether I’m at work or not when I sit down at the computer.

Well, my last official day working was yesterday (and I got a Xmas bonus too), so now I can sit down and crack on.

Just a quick reminder of where I’m at. Since my last post I’ve finished a short sci-fi story, submitted a couple of stories and started world building a fantasy story. I’ve had the results from Quarters 3 and 4 of The Writers of the Future competition, a straight rejection (sort of expected) and a Honourable Mention, respectively.

I’ve submitted to this year’s Quarter 1 already and the fantasy I’m world building, or perhaps the sci-fi that I’ve already done a first draft for, will be my Quarter 2. I am leaning more to the unwritten fantasy though, it feels good in my head and I’ve got plenty of time until the end of March. The world building is about a third of the way through and I’ll get a bit more done tonight. I have Xmas Eve to myself. My daughter and her fiance are taking my son out to the movies, so I’m at home alone for the best part of the evening.

I should get plenty of writing done, but I’ve been left with an awful lot of food, chocolate and alcohol.

Merry Xmas, or whatever flavour your season is (I’m an atheist, I’m just here for the twinkly lights and the booze).

Oh, and the chickens are still laying, though they do look a little oven-ready (it’s moulting time).

Writing Progress and Why It Sometimes Stops

Currently I have eight stories out on submission, two at Writers of the Future, the rest at various magazines. I have a short story waiting for me to edit it, another in the process of being edited, another in the pipeline and a novel that has waited for over a year for me to get back to it. It’s a first draft and needs editing too. There are also a couple of other older shorts I want to take another look at. It seems I have a lot of editing to do.

I’m finally, after a few weeks of inactivity, getting back into the swing of things and starting to write new things too, at last.

There is a long list of things that stop me from writing. Most of it boils down to depression and anxiety, and that boils down to PTSD.

There’s been a lot in the media lately about mental health, in particular being able to talk about it. Now, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject if asked specifically, but I don’t generally just go throw it out there. It can and does make people uncomfortable, it’s upsetting and, to be blunt, those who need to know already do.

Still, I post seldom, and I think I should say why. You never know, it might just help someone else. So, first a little personal history.

I have PTSD. It started, though I didn’t know it back then, in 2012, when my youngest daughter took her own life at the age of fourteen. It was August Bank Holiday weekend. She’d just come back from a fortnight long Army Cadet annual camp. I’m not going to go into the details, but on the Saturday morning she hugged me, told me she loved me and went off to do her paper round. I never saw her alive again.

We spent the weekend searching for her, me, my elder daughter, my brother-in-law, all our friends, most of Humberside Police, Air Sea Rescue and a good chunk of the population of Beverley. At one point there were four helicopters up looking for her, on one of the wettest August Bank Holiday weekends on record. The rain was torrential and lasted all Saturday and into Sunday.

Sunday evening, around eight I think, someone found her. She’d hanged herself in a tree that I had walked past several times and not seen her. Part of me thinks that was a blessing.

I went down to where they’d found her, one of her friend’s parents called me to let me know, and the police gently bundled me into the back of a huge black car, a Range Rover I think. A police officer, some kind of inspector, a big bloke, got in the back with me and gave me the news and then held me like a baby while I screamed a sound that I can still hear now.

Later on that day they took me to identify her. I collapsed on the floor and it took me ages to say the words they needed to hear. It just didn’t look like her. She was the wrong colour and her face didn’t look right at all. Just like that sound, that image has never gone away.

Sometime after that came her funeral and a little later, in the December, an inquest was held, but those, while still imprinted in my memory, were just a blur with little bullet points that still jump out now and then.

There was an awful lot more and a lot more awful that weekend, but that should be enough to give you the gist of it. Enough to make sense of the rest of what I have to say.

Fast forward a year, actually not quite a year, to the beginning of the following August. My wife of seventeen years, her mother and the mother of my other children, the nicest woman I have ever known, collapsed on the stairs and died in my arms.

We have a saying in our house now. Life has a habit of happening.

One of the old boys at the allotments, when my daughter died, said something along the lines of “When life knocks you down you have two choices. You can stay down or you can get back up again.” Gods, but how many times can you do that? Well it turns out you can do it as many times as you need to.

I still had two very good reasons, a son and a daughter, to get back up. They needed me now more than ever, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

I’ve developed a few sayings since, such as “Never say it can’t get worse, because it damn well can,” and the good old “I’ve had worse days,” because, yeah, I really have.

Anyway, back to the PTSD. I got diagnosed with that eventually. Not long after my wife died the sleepless nights and horrible flashbacks became more and more frequent.

I ended up, after a few failed rounds of talking therapy, being given something called EMDR treatment. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming and sounds like something used in a North Korean correctional facility. What it actually does is sort out your memories. It was explained to me in terms of the brain being like a computer. Every day it backs up the day’s experiences, image by image, and stores it all as memories. Unfortunately, when it comes to something traumatic, the brain baulks and the image isn’t stored right and ends up popping up, as in a flashback, when you least expect it.

This storing of memories is normally done when you are asleep, in that REM stage, and the EMDR treatment tries to emulate that by either making you watch a moving finger, lights or whatever or, in my case, with a pair of hand held buzzers, to simulate that rapid eye movement. You then talk through the trauma, which is exhausting, hard work and extremely upsetting.

EMDR works. Or it did from me. I went from being unable to sleep, having persistent flashbacks and being not far from the point of having a fatal incident with the wheels of a bus, to nowhere near normal but at least sleeping better and no longer suicidal after a few sessions.

Fast forward again, to now. My last EMDR session was getting on for five years ago now. One of my children has left home and is getting married next year, the other one is six inches taller than me and better at both maths and physics.

So, back to the writing. Just what, if the EMDR worked, stops me from writing? Well, it’s simply a case of, it just never stops. The PTSD, even though I no longer want to throw myself under a bus, is always there, or maybe it’s just the grief, but something is still there. I don’t have flashbacks anymore, well not often and rarely the kind that completely stop me in my tracks. Those ones that play out like a movie in your vision hardly ever happen anymore.

It’s little things like heavy rain. That takes me back to that weekend. That image of her laid out for me to identify is always there, as is that horrible scream. I can see that image and hear that scream all the time, even now. It’s been nine years now and I can still hear that scream.

Most of the time I’m alright. I keep that image and that scream locked up in a box inside my head. Yet sometimes, every now and then, heavy rain, or her birthday, or any other milestone, Christmas, Easter and many other days on the calendar of life give my head a shake and that box pops open. Helicopters, police officers, the sound of a certain news reporters voice, a thousand little things that I don’t even recognise until they hit me.

These are the things that stop me writing. It stops me because, when these things hit you, it’s exhausting. It drains all your energy away and you just kind of slump inside yourself. You know you need to snap out of it and do something, anything, go for a walk, write a few words, anything at all, but it takes a while sometimes. Sometimes I just munch on a bar of chocolate (one therapist told me, never punish yourself, if a bar of chocolate makes you feel better, eat one, forget the diet), even though I need to loose weight. I still function. I don’t start sharpening the knives or picking out a nice bit of rope or anything like that. I still clean the bathroom and do all of life’s other chores, but my heart’s not in it. I really can’t be bothered and I feel like I’m just stumbling along, dog tired and trying not to cry about it.

In those times I want to curl up in a ball and let that scream out, but I don’t, and this is the bit that might help someone. I don’t, because all the people who need to know all this about me do, and they are there for me. My kids, my family, the few friends I keep close and, most of all, my work colleagues who see more of me than anyone for the most part, who have seen me melt down and helped pick me back up on countless occassions.

These little moments, as I call them (“give me a minute, I’m having a moment” is often heard in the office), can last a few minutes if I see them coming (you learn to do it, really), or can go on for days, leaving me feeling like I’m in a fog, functioning still, but on auto-pilot, so to speak. Occasionally you don’t know it’s happening until someone asks if you’re alright and you realise you’re not.

Exercise is good too, keeping busy. Not worrying about it is better. When you get like me and your head explodes and that scream builds up, worrying about it and stressing about what other people make of it all will not make it stop. Trying to pick out the thing that triggered this particular moment off is good, so you can spot it coming next time. If you need to cry about it, have a damn good cry. If you need chocolate, have some. The people who matter don’t mind and those who mind just don’t matter. Just remember, the ones who matter need to know about it.

Anyway, not sure if that helped me, but I hope it helped someone else. I am now going to get on with that editing and if it’s a while before I post again, I’ll either be still editing or in the corner, rocking.

(The ability to laugh at yourself is also very helpful!)

Writing and Golden Sunshine

Ok, so it’s been a while, again. I keep saying I’m going to post more often and end up vanishing for weeks on end. Anyway, I’m back at work now, well for the most part and am quite busy all of a sudden.

I’ve been writing, though it’s been a bit sporadic. I am part way through a story which had been on the back burner for a few weeks.

To be honest this whole pandemic thing, what with lock downs and working from home, then back to work and yet still working from home, has kind of thrown my routine all over the place.

Still I’m on holiday next week and will finish that story off, and post something more substantial with any luck.

In the meanwhile, have a look at this, golden sunlight lighting up the garden this morning.

Update, rude magazines and annoying banks.

I know, it’s been a while again, but it’s summer. The plot is in full growth, the sun is high, and very hot most of the time and it’s all very busy.

I have onions, potatoes and courgettes coming out of my ears. I have been almost living on salad and raspberries they have done so well. The polytunnel is full of lettuce and this year, for a change, the aubergines actually have flowers on them. With all the eggs the chooks are laying, rhubarb and custard is high on the menu along with poached eggs, one of my favourites.

I should be skinny by now, but I’m not.

I’ve also been writing and editing a lot. I have a story in the first edit phase, a couple waiting to be polished and the outlines of a couple more. I just need this relentless heat to give up so I can sit and write without dripping all over the keyboard.

Anyway, onto the traditional moaning, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without a good moan.

First moan, magazines who don’t communicate. I submitted a story to a certain magazine, which will remain nameless, back in May. Their Grinder page didn’t raise any flags for me, save for a 4% withdrawal rate, but I started to get a niggling feeling when they didn’t even confirm receipt. Still, it’s a pretty short story that has already been out a few times, so I left it a while. Their guidelines said to query after six weeks, I left it eight. I got an auto response telling me to wait at least six weeks. I tried again a few weeks later only to get the same response. I messaged them via their website, just in case their auto responder was messed up and got no reply at all. So I withdrew my submission, on the assumption that there was no one there to read it anyway, and got the original auto response.

That story is now waiting in someone else’s slush pile, and they did confirm receipt. The first magazine has been put on my ignore list and noted as unprofessional and unresponsive. I followed their guidelines, they should do the same.

Second moan, banks. Or my bank to be precise and this time I will name them, Virgin Money. They used to be Yorkshire Bank (I think they still are underneath, but outwardly they are Virgin). This is all about their paperless policy, or saving trees as many companies put it. I set mine to off, on both my accounts, as I want paper statements (go through a messy divorce and you’ll be paranoid about having all your accounts in line too). I set both accounts back to paper on their website (they defaulted it to paperless for me), but both kept resetting themselves. I contacted them via their online chat and was told that both were set to paper no matter what I was seeing on the webpage (a glitch I was told). Anyway, today I got an email telling me my paperless statement was ready. So I called them, to be told that one account was set to paper and one paperless. I asked them to switch both to paper and was told I had to go online and do it myself. I had already explained that it didn’t work, and proceeded to explain again. I asked to speak to a manager, anyone, who could help me or at least take a complaint on board (their tech team is not front facing apparently, which I think means I can’t talk to them, but the customer service people can put a request through which, if I log on regularly enough to do it myself, will be declined – how bloody helpful.)

While I was on hold waiting for a manager to speak to me I went online and checked the settings myself. They were both paperless and I changed them to paper. This time it worked. They’d fixed it, but clearly hadn’t set mine right, and didn’t bother to tell me.  The guy on the phone confirmed both were now set to paper.

I’ve been with Yorkshire Bank for around thirty five years and can’t remember when I last had to call them with a problem. Since they changed to Virgin Money I’ve called them several times. Things do get sorted out, but they’re things that shouldn’t have needed sorting out in the first place. This should all have been done the first time I complained that it wasn’t working.

As for saving trees, that’s rubbish. It’s saving the bank money by pushing their printing costs onto me. They know damn well as soon as most people download a statement they’ll print it out. It’s not saving any trees. If they really wanted to go environmentally friendly they’d use 100% recycled paper and environmentally friendly inks for everything and all cycle to work, and stop all investment into fossil fuels. Only that wouldn’t save them any money.

As for the online statement, I went to have a look and guess what, their secure message service, where they hold them, was down. “Oh yes,” I was told while still on the phone with them, “there’s a problem with that.” It’s clearly not the only one.

New Stories, new games and more books.

Ok, it’s been a while again I know, but I’ve been busy writing, honest. I’ve been working on my quarter 4 entry for Writers of the Future and I think I’ve got a good one. Then I had a flash of inspiration and wrote my first foray into sci-fi and entered that instead. It only took two days to write and just felt, well right. So now I have a spare fantasy story to send out. In fact I now have seven or eight pieces doing the rounds.

My Q2 entry for WotF got a Silver Honourable Mention, so it got the Ken Rand 10% treatment and sent straight back out again.

Anyway, now I find myself in need of an idea for the next story. So, while my brain chews up and grinds bits of grist, I’ve been playing some new games. Well, new to me at least.

Enderal: Forgotten Stories is a fan made overhaul for Skyrim, with a completely new storyline that has nothing to do with Elder Scrolls. It looks amazing and seems, to me at least, a cross between Skyrim and Elder Scrolls Online. It has a few odd quirks to the gameplay and there are quite a few cutscenes, but it’s also free (but you do need Skyrim), so give it a go.

The second is The Outer Worlds, and what gave me the inspiration for the above sci-fi short. It’s a space faring, open ended world, just the kind of thing I go for. The storyline is pretty good and some of the companions dialogue is hilarious. I got it on Steam half price.

On the gardening front, I’ve been picking lots of salad and eating most of it. The chooks are in full lay and the courgettes have started to appear en masse. It’s been warm and wet lately so the weeding is non-stop. It’s hard work. The grass doesn’t seem to ever stop growing either. Still, it keeps me fit.

I’ve also been buying books again, this time a big box of sci-fi and fantasy from Ebay.

It was father’s day the other week too so, just to add more to the to-be-read pile, the kids both got me books. I think I have about a hundred or so to read now.

One of the father’s day presents was David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. It’s part autobiography, part environmental warning. It makes for interesting, fascinating and ultimately disturbing reading. I recommend everyone buy a copy and use it to beat some sense into the nearest politician.

Today is my birthday and guess what, I got some more books along with a personal rejection from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Self Editing

Editing a story, or even worse, completely rewriting one, is something a lot of writers are scared of. There really is no need to be though. We all need to edit. No first draft is ever perfect, or even readable. They tend to ramble, get too wordy, lose their way in a tangle of sub plots and generally get messy. At the very least they need a good run through the spelling and grammar checker.

This is because, when we’re tapping out that first draft, we are being creative, letting the words flow out and the story tell itself. It feels great, especially when you hit that last word and sit back, blow out a satisfied breath and think “Woah, did I really just write all that?”

Well, yes you did, but now it’s time for your creative side to move over and make room for the inner editor, the part of you who spots the typos, the loose threads and the characters who just stand there looking pretty. He (or she) will find all those bits that don’t make sense and all the other things that will get your story thrown into the reject pile.

Sometimes though, it’s hard to see where you went wrong until it’s pointed out to you. This is one of the benefits of having other people to bounce your work off and one of the disadvantages of having PTSD. I find it difficult to commit to regular rounds of critiquing with other people like I used to years ago (back in the days when I frequented Forward Motion and Hatrack, both unfortunately gone), but back then my head wasn’t such a mess . Some days my head is just off on its own and nothing gets done. I easily slip into “can’t be bothered, eat junk instead” mode. Thankfully, sometimes, advice just comes along.

Back in October 2020 I submitted a story to Writers of the Future. I can’t remember which volume or quarter it was but it did get an Honourable Mention which, at the end of the day, is a rejection with glitter on. Anyway I submitted it to a couple of other places and had it bounced back. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, it had got an HM from WotF after all. Eventually I got some feedback from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores (I know, I’ve mentioned them before, but these people are great) and reread it, again, then dumped it on the back burner while I got on with other things.

I took it off the back burner the other day and read it again. Immediately, the feedback having finally filtered through my brain, I saw the problems. It was too wordy. The plot, while good, didn’t really develop the main character and there were parts that weren’t totally clear to the reader. It did have good points, the setting was great, the overall story idea was sound, with caveats. All these things had been pointed out by CRaES, but I just couldn’t see them at first. I also decided I had a couple of superfluous characters in there as well and the main characters needed a different kind of relationship.

I’m not adverse to revising, in fact I’ve actually started enjoying editing after reading Ken Rand’s 10% Solution. I like the way I can trim my stories and reshape them to make them flow better and lose some wordage, thus giving them a wider audience to submit to. It’s much like going out into the garden for the afternoon and pruning fruit bushes. It can be a chore, but somedays the sun is out and it’s a pleasure to be snipping away and, when the job is done, I know I’ll have healthier plants and more fruit come autumn (or summer depending on what I’ve been snipping).

With all this in mind and the problems highlighted (literally, in pink and blue), I set to. The story, which will remain unnamed as some places like to read blind and I intend to send it back out again, weighed in at 12,800 words and I really wanted to get it under 8k. Drastic I know, but 8k would give me more places to submit to.

I’ll go through the process, partly to help anyone else wanting to do the same and also to act as a reminder for me. I’ll also note how long it took.

It needed several passes so firstly I searched for all the places those two characters were mentioned. This enabled me to change scenes to not involve them or actually put their actions and dialogue onto a different character. In most cases I just cut them out altogether. This initial pruning cut 1500 words, though the editor side of my brain had to plug its ears and ignore the writer half screaming. This took an afternoon.

The plot changes were a much more involved task. Firstly I took a printed copy and went through it with a couple of highlighters, found all the places the plot changes needed to be made, where mention was made of things that would no longer exist or be relevant. I marked where loose ends were flapping about and things weren’t quite clear or didn’t match with the new vision I had in my head. Then I went through it all again and made notes on what each required change involved. This process took a day, perhaps a little more, but was done in dribs and drabs between other things (yeah I have a life too).

Next came the actual revision, which took in the region of just over four hours, spread over the week. I chopped out scenes, cut a lot of superfluous bits and trimmed it back to just over 7800 words by the time I’d finished.

It was still looking a bit stale though to be honest. I needed to go back through and chop out any wordiness, repetition, check to make sure it still all made sense and to add a bit more suspense. This took another couple of hours. By this point the word count had been cut to a tad over 7300 words, or by nearly 43%. I must admit I didn’t think I would be able to trim that much off without losing the essence of the idea behind the story, but it really was that wordy.

At this point it was more like a rough draft again so I read it all through to make sure it all still made sense and check I hadn’t made any stupid mistakes. Then I double checked the spelling and grammar and prepared to lunge on into Ken Rand’s 10% Solution. That lasted almost five hours, spread over a couple of days. I can’t recommend this book enough, go get a copy, it’s the best writing book you’ll ever buy.

I then read it out loud to myself (actually part of the 10% solution). It sounds odd, but you really do find a lot of problems that way. What the eye misses the tongue trips over. Another quick edit to smooth out the tongue twisters and the story finally came out at 6900 words.

It’s still the same basic story, just shorter and, I hope, better. Now I’ll let it sit for a few days before reading it through again. Then it can go back out into the big mean world of submissions.

In the meanwhile, I have a story to plot.

New Tumble Dryer, Stories Submitted and Veggies Growing

Yes, yes, I’m still alive. I’m still on furlough and still writing away. I’ve been busy wrapping up a few manuscripts and doing the odd bit for the day job. I’ve had just enough to do to keep me away from blogging for a bit. Anyway, I’ve found a few minutes now.

My last post was about buying a new washing machine so it makes sense to start this post with a whinge about having to fork out on a new tumble dryer. The old one not only wore it’s belt out but also the thermostat, so things were coming out roasting hot. I couldn’t change the belt as the machine was one of those designed to keep out all but madmen with chainsaws and explosives. So I bought a new one.

On those manuscripts, I’ve got four stories out for submission at the moment, with a few on hold awaiting a good editing. Since I read Ken Rand’s 10% solution I’ve been finding more and more wrong with some of my older work, so it’s being put back through the mill, so to speak.

In the garden, the chickens are laying well, so well I’m sick of eating eggs. The brassicas are ready to go out on to the plot and the tomatoes are just waiting for the weather to warm up before being stuck in the polytunnel.

The spuds have all come up, and then been nipped by late frosts, but they’ll recover. On the positive side, I’m already eating home grown lettuce.

Books, books, books.

I am a writer, not full time and as yet unpublished, but I do a lot of it. Being a writer also means being a reader. When most people run out of shelf space for books they have a tidy out, fill a few charity bags with the books they’ve read.

Not me. I go out and buy more bookcases. Then I go on Ebay and buy more books to fill up all the space I suddenly have.

I got two bookcases (from ManoMano, delivered next day too) and, almost as soon as I had them assembled, I was on Ebay. I did manage to shuffle all the existing books around first and was quite surprised at just how many history books I have, oh and genealogy books, parish records and other sundry stuff. The majority is fantasy and science fiction though, but I can’t resist a good research book.

Anyway I managed to bid on a box of fantasy books. There was something in there by Diane Wynne Jones and a couple of other titles that caught my attention. There was a dozen in all. I also ordered a few books on Victorian London and society in general for research and a couple of other bits and pieces, as you do. Oh, and then I spotted a job lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. In fact, having looked at my Ebay history, I have bought just over 40, yes forty, books since Christmas.

I even got a freebie. On the walk to the allotments I pass a house which, just recently, has had a big box of books at the end of the path with a sign, “Please take one”. So I did.

These will all get read, I must point out, just as long as I don’t die of old age first.

The box of books arrived yesterday. The rest will be dripping in over the next week or so. Anyway, when I opened the box there was a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in there too, which my son immediately stole (because I’ve already got that one twice over anyway), saying “Oh, I’m having that one.”

I am a writer and a reader and I admit, I may have a problem, and it may just be hereditary.