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.

The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand

I was looking on the Writers of the Future forum and found mention of a book called The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand. I know it sounds like a religious thing or some self help manual, but it’s not. It’s a guide to trimming the excess fat from writing and making it clearer and more accurate, faster paced and all the stuff you really need to put a bit of polish on it.

Anyway I hunted around and finally found a copy on Ebay. It arrived, all the way from America, last week and I decided to put it, together with what I picked up on the WotF workshop, to the test on an old bit of writing I had sent to the void that is known as the trunk.

This piece was something written as a response to a writing challenge on the Hatrack River forums, which have closed down since, and was just sat there. It was about 3,000 words long and had no try/fail cycles at all, in fact it was flat and with no real story in it, but the idea was there. So I sat down and re-plotted it, edited it, put in the try/fail cycles, reinvented the main character and brought it up to a smidgeon over 7,000 words. Now it had a story, read pretty well and seemed to be pretty fast paced.

Then I got out The 10% Solution. Rand’s book is not very long, not even a hundred pages, but is packed with a lot of useful stuff and his entire editing process to cut out all the rubbish you didn’t realise you’d written. It’s done by searching for syllables, such as ‘ly’ and ‘ing’, finding words that are just too long, cutting out passive voice and correcting formatting. There’s more to it than that, but if you want the full idea it’s on Ebay and Amazon.

After I’d finished I was amazed at how much I’d chopped out from the story. It wasn’t ten percent, more like seven by my calculations, but the story is much better, the pacing sleeker and easy to read. It has also been sent out for submission.

I’d recommend it, and I don’t do much recommending. I will definitely do this process with anything I write in the future. I have a novel that could do with at least ten percent knocking off it.

Rejections, Eggs and Bloody Rain

A few weeks ago I got a rejection from a magazine called Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. They are though, a magazine who will give feedback on submissions if asked, and I did.

It is nice to know why you got rejected. So many publications these days fall back on either form rejections that encourage you to try again with something else, or just don’t reply at all. I have had many like that, though I’ve also had a few personal ones.

Well, the feedback from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores went beyond that. I went through the usual reaction to such critiques (horror, disbelief, fury) then, after filing the story under “edit this” for a few weeks I looked at it again and found that the readers’ notes I was supplied with (pretty much a full crit from one), were right, or mostly and now the story is in much better shape and has been submitted elsewhere. So thanks to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores for providing such a brilliant service to those of us yet to make it past those first readers.

On another writing note I have entered something in quarter 2 of this year’s Writers of the Future competition. I’ll let you know how it does, as well as the quarter 1 entry which hasn’t been judged as yet.

In other news, the chickens, after a long hiatus due to bad weather, dark nights and being cooped up eternally by order of the man from DEFRA (bird flu apparently, even chooks are in lockdown in the UK), are finally in lay. They started, just as Mr Sod’s famous law predicted they would, right after I bought a box of eggs from the supermarket. They are now firing on all cylinders and producing three a day for two of us to eat. It looks like there’ll be plenty of omellettes in the meal plan.

All I need now is for it to stop raining so I can get the winter digging finished and I can get ready for spring planting. I shouldn’t complain too much though, some people are up to their armpits in water in their own living rooms. I’m still getting mooli, kale, beetroot and leeks off the plot and have spuds, squashes, apples and onions in store.

And almost finally, I lost half a stone doing dry January. Now I’m going to have to have a drunk February until I find it all again.

And finally…

KODAK Digital Still Camera

A picture of a collared dove sat in my cherry tree. There is a pair of them who come down into the garden whenever they see me feed the chickens because they know I also put out birdseed at the same time.

Here we go again.

Well, here we go again. Back to work (after a fashion) and back in lock down. At least, I suppose, we are all used to it now and know how to get on with things. We should, for instance, know not to bulk buy toilet roll, though I notice that Tesco, my local one at least, are only letting people buy one pack at a time.

We can only go out for exercise once a day again, so instead of a walk in the morning and another in the afternoon, I’m taking a bit of a longer stroll in the morning.

Work is a bit slow at the moment so I’m keeping my self busy reading, both my own manuscript (which is not as bad as I thought it might be) and the few dozen books on my ‘to be read’ shelf. It’s helping me keep my mind off the fact that I’m trying to stick to a calorie count (I’ve lost 5lbs since New Year’s day), and helping to preserve my sanity (though many would say that is a lost cause).

It would be better if I could get on with the plot, the winter digging is only half way done, but last week it was sopping wet and this week it’s frozen solid. Still, I’m still getting leeks, kale, mooli and beetroot off it.

On the writing front I’m almost done with a first pass through of a novel, it needs a good edit and a drastic trimming, it’s way too long. But I think it deserves to be sent around a few places. I’ve long since given up on ever getting published, but I’ve never given up trying (contradictary, I know). I’ve also got the beginnings, a few scrappy thoughts, of a short story stirring around in my head. I just need to grab hold of them all and pin them down in the right order.

Anyway, happy lock down three, (or is it four?) and a merry New Year.

I’m Still Alive

Well, It’s been a while again. I am still alive and kicking, but I’ve been busy lately.

For a start I’ve been decorating again. My daughter has left home and so my son has had a bedroom upgrade and his old room has become an office for me. I’m still working from home and have been quite busy with that too. It seems some of our clients deal with the EU on a regular basis and their software needed changing to meet whatever the new rules will end up being.

We have a new member of the household too, a rather agile and quite speedy bearded dragon called Viserion (yeah I know, but my son named him). He’s also rather prickly, in physique, not temper. I had to spend a little while repairing and upgrading a large and worn out vivarium for him, all the while keeping his impending arrival a secret. He was an early Christmas present for my son from his sister. I know the thing about not getting pets for Christmas, but we’ve had one before (in fact she left home with my daughter) and we’re not the kind of family to go abandoning him.

The new office, along with a new desk and filing cabinet, made from a double wardrobe that was no longer needed, is a wonderful thing of magnolia. It is now home to my laptop and wireless printer (which is connected to my brand new full fibre internet connection).

I do seem to spend an awful lot of time in there though and I’ve had to stop using my laptop for writing as my brain associates the office with, well the office. I now do my writing on my PC downstairs and take a break whenever my son needs to use it for school work. I may switch back to the laptop over the Christmas holidays when it may feel less like being in a workplace.

At the moment I’m editing more than writing anyway. I’m going through a novel that I finished the first draft of at the beginning of lockdown. It’s not bad, in fact I think it deserves to be published once it’s trimmed back a bit and cleaned up. So I’ll be submitting it as soon as I’m able, though it’s a pretty hefty size and will need an awful lot of cutting back first. I’ll probably do it in fits and starts, hopefully with a few short stories and a plot for another novel in between.

On the gardening front, I’m still eating lots of fresh veg, even at this time of year and with all this horrible weather, though I have been forced to buy eggs just lately. The chooks are just not pulling their weight at this time of year.

Charlie the Carrion Crow

Ok, picture the scene, I’m just getting out of the bath (alright, you don’t need to picture that bit if you’re particularly squeamish). The bath was hot, too hot, and I’m in more of a lather getting out that I was when I was in there.

I head to the window in search of a bit of autumnal cool air to revive myself, and what do I see in the garden? A cat. Oh yes, my garden gets visited by lots of cats, but this one is hunched down in the grass waiting to pounce on a big black bird that shows absolutely no alarm whatsoever, and no inclination to fly away.

It’s a carrion crow, some vague memory tells me. Now carrion crows are pretty big, with a wicked looking beak, but not big and tough enough to take that cat on. I swear it was licking it’s lips and imagining a crow supper.

Just lately there has been a spate of foul murders (horrible pun intended) in my garden and, still glowering out the window, I think I’ve found the culprit. This huge, tortoiseshell moggie has the blood of a half a dozen pigeons, at least one blackbird and a pair of collared doves on its claws.

Well, it wasn’t going to add a carrion crow to its meal list, not while I was watching. I legged it down the stairs (ohh, deliberate change in tense), yanked open the back door and the cat vanished like a streak of tangerine and smoke, across the lawn and through the back hedge. The crow should have flown off too, but it didn’t.

Instead it took a few hops away from me as I crossed the lawn toward it, intent on chasing it off before it became cat food the moment my back was turned, then it hopped back again and just stood there staring at me. Then it came even closer, until it was just down at my feet looking up at me.

My daughter came out, wondering what Dad was doing in just his dressing gown, squatting down on the lawn, bare feet turning blue on the cold wet grass. She trained in animal care at college for a few years and has a caring nature towards animals. I was brought up by my grandfather, a game keeper. We could both see that something was wrong with the poor bird, but were confused as to why it wasn’t trying to escape. It didn’t look injured, but experience with the chickens has taught me that means nothing.

In the end I put a tub of birdseed in front of it and, while it was busy eating, my daughter took hold of it. It turned out it had deformed feet. They were twisted upside down so that the talons were pointing upwards.

Anyway, we put it in a cardboard box and called the R.S.P.C.A. It took me three attempts to navigate their phone system. It reminded me of a particularly bad customer service department, fully set up to make you give up and go away. When I did get through to someone I was told to take it to a vet.

Luckily our local vet stays open pretty late and so I rang them. It was about 7pm by then and they couldn’t see it until morning, so I put food and water in the box and then fretted about the poor thing all night. My daughter kept getting up during the night to check on it.

Ordinarily I would have let nature take it’s course, but there was something about this bird. It actually came to me when I first went outside to it, like it wanted to be helped. It was also very beautiful up close, almost shining.

So, this morning, I took it to the vets and waited outside in the covid queue (that’s covid, not corvid, they don’t have a special queue just for crows), masked up and half asleep. They took all my details and I left the bird with them. On the walk there it had become a bit agitated but all I did was talk to it and it calmed down immediately, wich was odd.

It got odder when I got home. My daughter had fired up FaceBook and was surprised to find on her timeline a picture of a carrion crow and a message about a missing pet.

It turned out that this carrion crow is called Charlie and she (I have no idea how you tell) was found three and half years ago after having fallen out of its nest and being used as a football by a bunch of kids (for kids read evil little shits). Anyway, it was rescued by a man who lives just down the road from me, hand reared and kept as a pet. All of which explains why it seemed to take to me and wasn’t at all phased by the cat.

Pet and kind hearted rescuer have been reunited.

Now for a cute photo of a carrion crow in a vinegar box.

So much for karma. Not long after getting home from the vets I was informed that I wont be going back to work properly now for at least three months (new rules about furlough), my dental appointment had been postponed for six weeks (I sneezed a filling out, you couldn’t make it up), and I got a story rejection from Clarkesworld. All within half an hour.

I have however still got my hopes pinned on the Wednesday night Lotto.

Short stories and big pumpkins

I’ve been on holiday this week. Not that I’ve been anywhere, just not doing any work, or any day job work anyway.

I have been up at the plot. Firstly to dig up the main crop potatoes, which turned out to be rubbish. Last year I had six full sacks of spuds, this year a single sack full. I’ll be having to buy spuds for Xmas dinner this year.

Thankfully the brassicas, especially the cabbage and kale, have done really well, as have the winter squash and pumpkins. The leeks are a little rusty, but growing well all the same and the beetroot, carrots and mooli just keep coming.

In the polytunnel the carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and salad crops are going crazy too. Unfortunately, with the change in the weather, suddenly cold and wet again, the chooks aren’t firing on all cylinders.

Anyway, back to the winter squash and pumpkins. This is what was harvested today. Ben (my son) and I hauled this lot back in a garden trolly, 1.7km according to Google Maps.

That big one weighs in at 41.6lbs and the little acorn squashes (Thelma Sander’s Sweet Potato Squash) average around 3lb each. The marrows, small ones I know, are about 8lbs each. Around 120lbs in all.

No wonder I needed a soak in the bath tonight.

In other news, I finished off a short story. It needs a good editing, but it’s almost there. I just need to grab an idea for the next one. There’s a few scraps of stuff floating around in my head, but nothing solid enough to put into words yet.

A word of warning. A company called Webnovel contacted me regarding a novel I have self published on Smashwords, trying to get me to sign some kind of contract with them. Anyway, if they contact you, check out Writers Beware. They seem legitimate enough and their website looks pretty impressive, but their contracts are far from standard, or even fair. To be honest, the broken English in the email rang alarm bells from the start.

That’s all. Stay safe.

ps: did I mention I hate this new WordPress block editor thingy?