Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I've moved

Following a few issues with the blogger app eating my posts I've decided to jump ship to Word Press.

You can now find me here


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How to design an ebook cover - the evolution of Multicide

I don't claim to be an expert on this by any means but having recently designed a cover for my latest story that I'm very happy with I thought others might find my experiences useful.
The final cover owes a lot to a number of people but most of all probably Felix Scholz who provided the original image and Anne Billson who provided a number of useful suggestions.
Incidentally, and to show you what a complete amateur I am, the only software I use is good old PowerPoint.

The starting point for the cover was a photo Felix took of pasata spilled on a wall. As soon as I saw it I knew it would end up on a book cover at some point.

The first step was to crop it to book cover dimensions and add the title and my name. This was my first attempt at turning it into an actual cover.

That just looked far too "ebooky" so I tried playing around with the colours and design to make it stand out a bit more.

That was punchier but just too damn dreary so I played some more and ended up with these variations on the first two covers. These also added the definition of multicide to sell the book a little better.

Those two are both kind of okay. They look like the cover of a self-published ebook designed by someone with no real artistic talent. Early on in my career I would have been happy with them, What I've realised recently though is just how important book covers are. So I went back to the drawing board and started again.
First up was this effort.

Definitely more distinctive and professional feeling but it got away from the feel I was trying to get for the story. Multicide is a full on, slightly silly, very gory pulp horror story. So I decided I needed to add Felix's photo back in. What I discovered them (amateur alarm going off again) is that there are photo filters on PowerPoint...

I shared the cover with a few people and the feeling was that it was good but not perfect. I had my basic concept and design though,, what I needed to do next was refine it. What followed was a series of slight tweaks to layout and font style and size. I added shadows to some of the words to make them stand out more and played around with the colours. Basically I just kept fiddling with each part until the whole worked. Here is the evolution.

I was happy with it now....almost. There was still something missing, something that marked it out as an ebook and lacked the fun vibe that the vintage paperback covers I love have. I did a bit of Googling and looked at book jackets I liked and thought about things. 
Then on my ride home from work I realised what was missing. The thing that "real" books had that mine didn't. A publisher's logo. 
So I created one. The name for the brand came quickly, Bastian Books (my son's name is Sebastian), the idea for the logo followed quickly on. 2 Bs back to back shaped to look like a skull, fitting for the kind of nasty horror and crime I churn out. I set to work (again in PowerPoint) and after a bit of a trawl through the different fonts available came up with this.

The final step was to add it the cover. This required a slight layout change and gave me the chance to add in a nicely pulpy strapline at the top. Job done!

The Next Big Thing - MULITICIDE

Anne Billson tagged me in the 'Next Big Thing' blog chain game (is it a game? I suppose so, but one with a fun purpose).

"The scheme is simple. You write a blog post answering the below questions, at the end you then tag another five people who will do the same".

So here goes (the book I'm talking about by the way is a short story rather than a novel):

1) What is the working title of your next book?

'Multicide'. It's a title I think will stick. It has a certain pulpy ring to it and fits the story well.
As I frequently do I've ended up designing the cover before finishing the story. Appropriately enough with a few tips from Anne Billson (among others) along the way.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've wanted to do this style of story for some time. It's in the "a group of strangers find themselves somewhere weird and scary" sub-genre. I can't remember exactly what triggered the thought process (which is worrying as it was within the last month) but I had the idea that it might be interesting to write such a story where all the characters were ones from other stories of mine. It was that thought that kicked the book from one I'd like to write at some point to one I was actually writing.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
Very firmly horror. Most of my books have elements of the genre in them but only one ('Dear Suzanna') is what I'd call pure horror. That's strange because horror is probably my favourite genre as a reader.  I suspect 'Multicide' is the horror story I've been building up to for a while. Pure, scary, gory, body count as high as I can make it stuff.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
George Clooney or Michael Moriarty as Curtis Merryweather (depending on the budget I guess, although I think I'd prefer Moriarty)
Famke Janssen or Alex Kingston as Jill Teague
Steve Buscemi as Marty
Matt Smith as Alexi
Emma Stone as Jackson
Clint Eastwood as Sam
Tobin Bell as the monster
Plus me in a cameo at the end :-)

Oh, and directed by Dario Argento please. 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A group of strangers wake up in an abandoned hospital; then the killings start. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published, although it will be the final story in my long planned short story collection which I may try to find a publisher for at some point.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It's not finished yet but I'd estimate the first draft will take about 3 weeks,

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
'The Langoliers' by Stephen King springs to mind. I'm pretty sure Dean Koontz has done something in this sub-genre as well but I can't remember which one it was. And of course the Twilight Zone episode 'Five Characters in Search of an Exit'.
I suppose in some respects there are also similarities to the body count genre that's typified in Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None'.
The other thing that did occur to me when I first started planning the story was those great tease covers they used to (maybe still do) put on comic books saying things like "AT LEAST ONE X-MAN (insert your superhero team of choice) WILL DIE THIS ISSUE!!"

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think at its heart the story is about my experiences and frustrations as a writer. Without wanting to give too much of a spoiler a lot of people will die in this book and they're all people I've written about and grown fond of in the past. The stories of mine that I think work best are the ones where I really felt a connection with the central character. Putting that connection aside when you move onto the next book can be a little hard at times. (I'm concious that I sound like I'm talking about real people here and it's true that when a book I'm writing has me firmly in its grip the characters do feel very real). I suppose in a way 'Multicide' is my attempt to literally (pun intended) get rid of all my old characters and move on. It's certainly true that the central characters of 'Multicide' are all ones that I've tried and failed to write more stories about. Maybe this is my attempt to finally put aside those unfinished manuscripts and move on to something new.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Seriously, everybody loves the cat and he's in it.
Aside from that I think it'll be a fun read for anyone who has read my other stories and knows the characters and a good lead in to my work for anyone new. Plus lots of people will die horribly in it which is always fun, right?

I'll pass the baton on to Sam RollingsHeather SmithReina SaltDionne Lister and  Jenn Waterman who are welcome to have a go or leave it as they see fit.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Covers 2

The more I do this the more I find that I enjoy creating the covers for my stories. The most recent, for the unfinished story Multicide, might be the best one I've done yet, due in no small part to some great advice from various people. The time I spent tweaking and refining made me think I should revisit some of my old covers. That may well be something that happens in the next week or two. In the meantime here's a montage of all my covers to date.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Cat Called Hope will return...

It's no secret that 'A Cat Called Hope' was written as a joke. An experiment in a different style of writing and an attempt to get away from the "nasty" stories I'd written until that point. On completing it I blogged about my feelings about the story here. That post pretty much sums things up apart from one thing, what happened next.
What happened was lots of people bought the story. Now lots is a relative term, I'm not talking E.L. James numbers here but since publication the cat story has consistently sold more than all my other stories put together. All 10 of them. I guess there are a lot of cat people out there.
I've been thinking for a while about writing a sequel, partly because of the success of the first story and partly because (as with most of my favourite characters) I'm quite fond of Marx - he's fun to write.
So, A Cat Called Hope will return, pen is being put to paper even now....

Here's the start:

Marx lived with the women and the girl for a while. Long enough for him to get used to it, this new way of being. Their names were stuck in his head and hadn’t changed. The older woman was still Walking because that’s what she did, constantly moving, doing, fussing. When he’d lived with her and Sleeping he’d thought that energy came from her need to care for the other woman. Now that Sleeping was gone the energy was still there and Marx realised it was just who she was.
Little One was as she had been since she’d found him cold and lost. She was kind and excited and sometimes Marx wished she’d leave him alone. Most of the time he didn’t mind though.
Little One’s mother, who Marx called simply The Woman, somehow managed to look after all of them without bustling like Walking did. She was always calm, sometimes a little sad, and made him feel safe.
So he lived with them, the three females, and enjoyed it. Then one day things changed. Marx found himself sitting at the window staring out of it at the grass and the birds. He remembered what that greenness tasted like and what it felt like under his paws and he realised that something out there was calling to him.
That was the start of it.

If you haven't read the first story and want to you can grab a copy here:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The best laid plans...

I love it when this happens.
My most recent story, 'Only One Way Out' was supposed to be a ghost story. I've finished and published now and there's not a ghoul or a spectre in sight. Along the way it changed its mind. Instead it's a story (as many of mine seem to be) of a fairly ordinary man doing his best to get through an extra-ordinary situation.
It might still make it as a spooky tale, I have a continuation of it planned but whether or not that will ever be written is another story.

Anyway, if you would like to read it it's available now from Amazon.
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Only One Way Out

It's been a while since a story has got its hooks into me, got them in deep enough that I know I won't be able to shake it off until its done. This one has though so, in my tradition, I'm very happy to present the opening of my current work in progress, Only One Way Out. It's a ghost story set in an old people's home. With a fair wind it should be out later this month. Let me know what you think.

It started with a fire. Sam  was asleep in bed and he didn’t hear the crackle of the flames or smell the acrid smoke. If it hadn’t been for the nurse yelling at him to wake up he probably would have quite happily slept on until it overcame him and then none of what followed would have happened. Not to him at least.

But the nurse was there and he did wake him, Roberto the fat Italian pulling back his bed covers and urging him to get out of bed and down the stairs. As his eyes opened Sam saw one of the new girls whose name he hadn’t secured in his memory yet pushing poor May past his open bedroom door in a wheelchair. May was slack jawed and vacant looking as always, her frail old body clad in a nightie the pattern on which was a faded as her character.
“There’s a fire, Sam,” Roberto said. “in the kitchen. We need to get you out.”
Sam shook his head to clear it and swung his legs out of bed, he was old, 82 last birthday, but not nearly as incapable as some of them. Roberto held out one of his thick hairy arms and Sam pulled himself to his feet.
“Go,” he said once he was upright and steadied. “I’ll be okay. There are others that’ll have more need of you.”
Roberto hesitated.
“Go you bloody fool, I can get down the stairs, do it every morning.” He knew that there’d only be three of them on the night shift. The building was home to forty odd old buggers like him and probably only half of them could walk. If the fire was anything much worse than burnt toast setting off the smoke detectors they might have trouble.
“Go,” he said again and Roberto moved this time, heading to the door. He turned back when he reached it and looked at Sam. “Be careful,” he said, ”don’t try to be a hero, just get yourself out. The firemen will be here soon.”
Sam let out a short bark of a laugh and waved the other man away. Hero? he thought as Roberto left at last. Fat chance of that. Now that he was standing his bladder felt uncomfortably full and he worried that he might not manage to get to the front door of the building without pissing in his pyjamas. That wasn’t something he did, he might be old but he wasn’t hopeless. Still if he survived tonight he might rethink the time he had his last cup of tea in the evening. He could hear the fire now.The distant crackle of it. It was a long time since he'd heard that sound on anything other than the TV. In his youth he'd been a keen camper and expert maker of bonfires,  he'd loved the primal act of producing flames from nothing. It always felt to him like the simple process gave him a link back to his ancestors through the ages. That was all a long time ago though. Now he was practically an ancestor himself. An almost forgotten relic to be looked upon with polite curiosity by the younger generations.
He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Roberto he could make make it downstairs.  He really did do it every morning,  it was a matter of pride for him that he got himself up and washed and shaved and dressed and down to the breakfast table without any interference. Whether he could do it before the whole building was razed to the ground was another matter entirely. The journey from his bedroom door to dining room took him 3 minutes on a good day.  He timed it,  standing in his doorway until the sweeping second hand of his watch hit 12 before he set off. He didn’t do it when anyone was around, he didn’t want them to think he was losing it, but he did do it, every day, waiting until the landing sounded clear before he set off. When he got to the breakfast table and sat down he’d glance at his watch under the table and make a mental note of the time. He’d carry that number carefully in his head like a precious thing until he was sitting in an armchair with a newspaper later and then he’d write it in the margin while he was trying to do the crossword. The act of remembering the number for that 40 to 50 minute stretch was as important to him as any improvement he might make in the time that slow painful walk down the stairs took. Those two things together were the most important part of his day, they proved to him that he was still trying, still fighting, not giving in like some of the old farts clogging up the place. The day he gave up on that fight was the day they could carry him out of there in a box. When he’d first moved in there four years previously he’d kidded himself that it was just for a month, just some time to get back on his feet after the operation. The month had become two and then four and then six and now he knew he was there til the day he died. That was the only way out.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Story a Week project - Update 5 (final?)

The attentive amongst you will gave noticed that there wasn't a story of the week last week. I have a few things at various stages of development but nothing anywhere near ready for publication.
This project was always going to be a bit of a stretch and I'm pleased to have got as far as I have. The intention, as well as challenging myself, was to get as many stories out there as possible (and in a variety of different styles). I've managed that and my recent giveaway on Amazon (all my books free for a day) was extremely successful both in terms of people picking up freebies (over 1300 downloads) and in driving subsequent sales.
So, I'm not left with the question of whether to try and continue the project or just call it a day. One of the things the giveaway flagged up to me was that novels are much more popular than short stories - about 40% of the downloads that day were for my novel Sunliner.
I certainly have more short stories I want to tell but I've also started working up a Guillotine! novel and my intention now is going to be to try and balance the two. I'd like to get the novel finished this year whilst also getting a few more short stories out.
That said I'm very fickle and may go back to just writing shorts. :-)

Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Story a Week Project - Update 4

I've already posted about the problems I've had this week. It was the first time I didn't have a story in my back pocket ready to go and to make matters worse I've really struggled with the latest one, I Know Where the Bodies Are Buried.
Having nearly finished it last night I ended up going back to the drawing board (writing board?) today and stripping the story right back to its bare bones. It's ended up being about 2/3s the length it was and losing one sub-plot entirely but it's much stronger (I think) as a result.
It'll appear on Amazon sometime in the next few hours and will be free tomorrow (9th August).

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Story a Week project - Update 3

'Guillotine! Detroit Double Cross' was published yesterday. It's the fifth story I've published since starting the Story a Week thing. I actually finished it about two and a half weeks ago but there seemed to be a lot of interest in 'A Cat Called Hope' so that story rather than the second of the Guillotine! tales ended up going out last week.
That interest has carried on. 'A Cat Called Hope' was downloaded far more times than anything else I've done on the day it was free. Since then it has sold steadily and has already sold more copies than any of my other shorts. I guess I have mixed feelings about this. The story was written as an experiment and in reaction to people who wanted me to do something "nice". I'm pleased with the end result but it is very (well, fairly) different from most of my work. Still, the success of it has made
me think about doing a sequel.
This week, for the first time, I'm in the uncomfortable position of not having a story ready for next Wednesday. I have three or four things in various stages of completion but nothing near ready. I also have a stinking cold which is slowing me down. I'm 90% sure that next week's story will be one called 'I know where the bodies are buried', I just need to get the damn thing finished. On which I'll say goodbye and go and get on with it. :)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Thoughts on A Cat Called Hope

A note to readers: This post doesn't contain any massive spoilers but if you haven't yet read A Cat Called Hope and you intend to you might want to do that before continuing.

As noted in the post that contained a preview of it A Cat Called Hope came about in response to a number of people asking me to write a "nice" story. I finished the story yesterday and it's out in the Kindle Store today. Is it "nice"? Not really. Try as I might I just couldn't pull that off. It does however have absolutely no swearing (which should please my mother) and an ending which is hopefully uplifting rather than downbeat like so many of my other short stories.
It was probably the story I've struggled most with in recent months. I was going great guns with it until Marx (the feline protagonist) left the safety of his home but then I quickly got as lost as he did. One version of the story that I played through in my head was just about him trying to get home. That just felt too 'Homeward Bound' to me though and so it went in the bin along with the plot involving a bunch of strays who he teaches to scavenge more effectively.
When I sat down and thought about it I realised that what most interested me about the story was the interplay between Marx and humans. That's where Little One and the woman came in. As soon as I had them set in my head I knew the story would only work if it strayed into the darker side of life. I realised that what I was interested in writing about was Marx's impact on the lives of the humans he met. For that to be powerful those lives had to have something broken about them.

As a writer writing a story from the perspective of a cat was a fun challenge. This is the first story I've written without any dialogue (hence the lack of swearing, if Marx could understand what Loud was saying I think there's be plenty). The other tricky part was building the sense that he has only a vague understanding of what human objects are (televisions, kitchens, etc) without labouring this point to the extent that it became boring and repetitive. I approached in the same way that Hollywood movies tend to treat non-English speaking characters. The first couple of lines of dialogue in their native tongue with subtitles before the seamless shift into English so that the audience doesn't have to work too hard. In my story Marx figures things out in his own terms at first and them simple, human terms slip in - girl, screen and so on. I think it worked. Let me know if you disagree.

As ever, thank you for taking the time to read this post and my stories. I love to hear what people think about them so please do get in touch if you have something to say. You can hit me up on Twitter (@whatmeworry), leave a comment on the blog or (best of all) stick a review on Amazon.

A Cat Called Hope is available now for Kindle.
UK: http://t.co/w59F0B6h
US: http://t.co/7IByEzUz

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Story a Week project - update 2

Things have slowed down on the writing front this week which is a bit of a worry and I'm nowhere near hitting my personal 1000 word a day target. That said I've still got a story waiting to be published and another 3 in various states of completion so I'm confident I'll be okay for the next 2-3 weeks at least.
Today's story went out as planned and is free until 9am ish on 19th July.
It's called 'A Guy Walks Out Of A Bar' and is a straight crime short that I'm really pleased with. Grab it free for your Kindle.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Story a Week project - update 1

I thought it was probably worth doing an update 2 weeks in. For anyone who hasn't seen it here is the original post: The Story a Week project

I published the first story, 'Camera/Phone v2', as planned on 4th July and the second 'Gullotine! Hot Blood, Cold Heart' yesterday. The next 2 stories are pretty much ready to go: 'Guillotine! Detroit Double Cross' is all done, 'I Guy Walks Out of a Bar' is written and just needs proof reading. I also have three other stories in a part written state, 'Camera/Phone v3', another Guillotine! story and an untitled story about a cat (my attempt to write something nice).
So far I'm enjoying it. Hopefully you are too.

Camera/Phone v2 On Amazon UK
Camera/Phone v2 on Amazon US

Guillotine! Hot Blood, Cold Heart on Amazon UK
Guillotine! Hot Blood, Cold-Heart on Amazon US

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Can't you write something nice...maybe with cats...

Is a question I get asked quite a lot. Well maybe not the cats bit, although I have been asked that too. I thought I'd try anyway. It might not be totally 100% nice but I promise it won't be utterly horrible. And its got cats in it. Well one cat anyway, more may join him, we'll just have to see how it goes. Incidentally, if anyone has any pictures of a cat they think looks like Marx I'd be very happy to see them*

*steal them to use on the cover.

Here's the opening:

Marx was his name. Not his real name obviously, just the name the humans used. He lived with two of them. Two female humans who brought him food and stroked him when he let them. They had their own names for each other but he called them the Walking and Sleeping. He called them that quite simply because one of them slept much of the time and the other ran around a lot. He wasn't sure why Sleeping did as much sleeping as she did. If it was because she was ill or if she just appreciated the benefit of sleep. Maybe she was part feline.
Marx had observed with interest the little humans who appeared on the moving picture screen that Walking and Sleeping had. The little ones didn't seem to sleep nearly as much as the one or walk quite as enthusiastically as the other so Marx suspected that the ladies he lived with might represent the extremes of human behavior. It didn't really matter. They just were what they were.
The screen intrigued him, although not as much as it seemed to fascinate them. It was a little like a pool of water that he could see himself in only he saw the little humans instead. Sometimes there were no little humans and the screen was just black. At those times Marx could see himself and in many ways he preferred that.
So the three of them lived together. Sleeping did a lot of sleeping and Walking did a lot of walking and Marx did a bit of both. Walking was the only one who ever went outside. Marx and Sleeping would both sit by the window, sometimes together and sometimes not, and watch the world go by. Neither of them ever ventured out though. Marx would have quite liked to but they kept the doors and windows shut so he couldn't. As for Sleeping, he suspected it just wasn't really her thing.
And then one day it all changed.
Marx smelled it first. He was dozing on the window sill in the front room, watching the birds in the garden through one half opened eye. The scent reached his sensitive nostrils and brought him fully alert. It wasn't a smell he knew, although it was like the smell that Walking sometimes made when she was preparing food. His ears pricked up and he heard a crackling sound. It seemed to be coming from the same direction as the smell.
Marx got up and lazily stretched and decided to investigate. He padded across the room to the hallway and poked his head out into it. It was all coming from the room at the end, the one with the cold floor where he went to eat. As he walked towards it he felt the heat. Not warmth. Heat. He stopped. The smell was stronger now. Overpowering, blotting out everything else. The noise was louder too and increasing in volume by the second. Marx didn't know why but something inside him told him to run. Much of the time he lived happily enough with the humans but every so often something clicked inside him. Something that reminded him that he wasn't supposed to live like this. Sometimes it happened when he was watching the birds in the garden, lazily watching them for want of anything better to do and then suddenly wondering what it would be like to feel their hot blood pumping into his mouth. This was different though, because now he wasn't feeling excited. He was feeling scared.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Preview of Guillotine! Hot Blood, Cold Heart

I posted earlier about my new series of short stories about a character called Guillotine! Here's a preview of the first story to give a flavour. The full story will be published on the 11th July.

Jill Teague was sweating, not from fear but from the oppressive heat in the cabin. There were men outside, at least three by her count, and if they found her they would want her dead. That would have been enough to make most people sweat but Jill wasn't most people. The heat though, that was something else, it penetrated her bones, felt like it was cooking her from the inside like a microwave. Worst of all it sapped her strength and her will. She knew she had to fight to survive, both for herself and the women she was trying to save.
Jill took a sip from the canteen she carried in her pack. The water was hot and tasteless with none of the refreshment she craved but she knew she must keep hydrating herself. She was tempted to splash it over her face in an attempt to cool herself down but she knew she couldn't spare it.
Jill was pushing herself hard to save the lives of a group of women who didn't even know they were in danger yet. In her previous life Jill had been a surgeon. She had saved countless souls, working tirelessly in the operating theatre to repair the damage done by disease and violence and misfortune. She had touched every one of those people, her healing hands mending their broken bodies. The women she was trying to save now she had seen only in photographs. She knew she might never see them, whether she succeeded in her mission or not, but she would work just as determinedly to save them. Her methods would be different though. As a doctor she had saved her patients using the medical arts. Now she used that same knowledge of human anatomy to rescue the innocent by killing their oppressors.
"First do no harm," was the oath she had sworn as a doctor but it hadn't stopped her cutting out and destroying the malignant tumours that threatened her patients. Now she used her finely honed medical skills and surgical steel to cut the cancer from society. The murderers, the rapists, the scum that hurt and terrified her fellow women.

Preview of Camera/Phone v2

As has become a tradition here's a sneak preview of my next story, Camera/Phone v2. This is the second story in my '1 hook/3 outcomes' project (read more about the concept here http://oliverclarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/1-hook3-outcomes-revision-to-my-endings.html?m=1).
The first story, Camera/Phone v1, is available for Kindle, iOS, etc and is free everywhere except Amazon for a limited period.
v2 will also be the first story I publish in my 'Story a week' project (see here http://oliverclarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/story-week-project.html?m=1).
Anyway, without further ado here's the first 25% or so. The full story will be published on Wednesday 4th July and will be free for the first week of publication.

It was when he saw the second album of photos that Alexi realised something was seriously wrong. The ones in the first album were bad of course, really bad, but they were a normal kind of bad. You could believe that the people in them were doing the things they were doing willingly. None of it was stuff he'd want to do but he wasn't naive enough to assume that the range of human experience began and ended with things he liked to do. He'd seen enough nasty shit on the Internet to know that there were a lot of sick people out there.
The second album was worse. The third album though was the one that made him start to doubt his own sanity.
The albums were all on a phone, one that Alexi and his friend and occasional lover Jackson had stolen from its owner that morning. It wasn't the first phone they'd stolen; they'd been doing it on and off for 6 months or so, more on than off recently.
Alexi got a nice allowance from his parents, the same parents who thought he was still attending all his lectures at Uni, but whilst that covered his rent and food it didn't stretch to weed as well. Besides Jackson got nothing from her parents. Nothing whatsoever from the father who'd walked out when she was a toddler and practically nothing from her alcoholic mother expect for a tiny room in her council flat and a lot of shouting. As a result of that Jackson stayed at his place a lot. He didn't mind that one bit. He'd been to her place just the one time and he could understand why she avoided it.
So the phone stealing helped pay for the extras he wanted and it helped him look after Jackson a bit too. They didn't just steal phones: iPods, iPads, bags... Anything they could grab and carry was fair game but phones were the pick of the bunch by far. With the advent of smartphones people carried their lives around in their pockets: bank details, photographs, calendars, emails. It was the email that was the most important part for Alexi. People didn't use it to communicate anymore, they used Facebook and Twitter, email was dead, drowned by spam and then replaced by the social networks. There was one thing they needed people still needed it for though and that was the same thing Alexi used it for on their phones when he stole them. Resetting passwords. Every website out there gave it's users a lifeline when they forgot their passwords. All they had to do was click a link on the logon page and it would send a link to their email address that let them change it. As soon as Alexi had someone's phone he could take over their online life.
That was one of the reasons he stole them. The money was useful, necessary some weeks, but the thrill of invading people's lives, discovering their secrets, was a drug he didn't think he could give up. There was a financial incentive to that side of things too of course, getting access to someone's Amazon account meant he could work his way through his wish list. Buying the odd book didn't compare to the thrill of finding out a really juicy secret about someone though.
Jackson enjoyed it too, loved laughing with him when he found something particularly disgusting, like the very serious looking business woman whose BlackBerry revealed that she liked being shat on. They'd even forwarded on some of those photos to her boss, although for all they knew he was the shitter.
There was another reason too, for both of them, the risk of the actual stealing thrilled them. It was exciting, like a free rollercoaster with a prize at the end of it. They didn't hurt anyone, just took things.
Alexi was sitting in his room, at his desk, laptop on, the stolen phone in his hand. Jackson was sitting on the bed watching Gok Wan. It was 2pm and they'd taken the phone at about 11am. It had been an easy snatch, he'd grabbed it out of the hand of a nervous looking man walking down a quiet street. The guy hadn't given chase. He had just stood their watching with a look on his face that looked smug rather than angry. As if he knew something Alexi and Jackson didn't. Alexis looked at him over his shoulder as the two of them run away laughing, buzzing from the adrenaline rush of the theft. The man watched them running, watched them closely as if trying to remember every detail, and then turned and walked away. Alexi couldn't decide if he was just resigned to the loss of his phone, happy to claim on his insurance and get on with his life, or if there was something else there.
They went straight back to his Alexi's place after stealing the phone so that he could get what he could from the phone quickly in case the owner decided to remotely erase the data. That was a feature most phones had but only a few people actually did it. Most just called their mobile company and got the SIM card cancelled. Still, Alexi didn't like to take any chances. Best to work quickly and then reset the phone himself, ready to sell it on.
While Jackson chilled out on the bed Alexi set to work, accessing a number of sites the owner was signed up to and changing his password for him. That done he changed the email address registered against the sites to anonymous one he owned. The details of all the new passwords he wrote in the little Moleskine notebook that never left his side.
Once he'd finished with the web he started looking at the owners email account. There was just the one on the phone and it was pretty barren, lots of mails advertising special offers but nothing of interest to Alexi. Nothing useful. There weren't any personal mails at all. Not a massive surprise but a little unusual. Most people had at least one with a photo from mum or collection of funny animal pictures. Unsociable guy. He didn't seem to be signed up to any of the social networks either. He had a MySpace account that hadn't been used in three years but that didn't count any more.
Alexi moved on to the photos, although he wasn't expecting to find anything interesting there. The pictures were very neatly arranged into 4 folders. They were named 'Friends', 'Fun', 'Meat', and finally 'Memories'. The phone had sorter the folders alphabetically. Alexi clicked into the first.
At first he thought he was looking at porn, and he guessed in a way he was. The overwhelming colour when he opened the album and saw the thumbnails laid out before him was pink. The pale blandness of caucasian flesh. There were flashes of red in some of the thumbnails too and Alexi avoided clicking on those for now.
The first one he clicked on opened up to reveal a woman, probably in her early twenties so a little older than Alexi. She was naked, standing in front of the camera proudly displaying her nudity. Her hands were on her hips and her head was cocked to one side, exposing a long expanse of pale neck, stretched tendons visible beneath the skin. She had a slight smile on her face and a glint in her eye. Although she was skinnier than he liked, almost anorexic looking, and had tiny breasts, Alexi decided that on balance he probably would have. He glanced guiltily over at Jackson but she was quite happily listening to Gok recommending the items EVERY woman needed in her wardrobe. She had a glazed look in her eyes that he knew meant she was pretty stoned already and he knew she'd sit happily in front of daytime TV for a couple more hours. The photos were interesting, and unexpected given how straight the phone's owner had looked, but Alexi wanted to have a look at a few more before he shared them. He clicked on another of the mostly pink ones at random. Another girl, naked as the first and posed similarly. This one was fatter, plump as a opposed to skinny with jet black hair and the excessive eye make up of a goth. Her chest was freckled and her pubic hair ginger so Alexi knew her hair was dyed, not that it really mattered. She was pretty hot, much more his type than the first girl. She was smiling, she looked happy in an expectant way, like something she'd been looking forward to was about to happen. What was it, he wondered, what was she waiting for, hoping for? He felt his cock harden a bit as he looked at her, she looked like she'd be fun.
He was getting into this now, enjoying what he was finding, it certainly beat the photos of people's dogs and kids he normally found on the phones he took. Over on the bed Jackson's phone rang and he heard her answer it. She spoke for a bit and then all of a sudden she was getting up off the bed. Alexi's thumb flew to the home button on the phone and he pressed it, clearing the photo of the goth girl from the screen and filling it instead with a grid of app icons.
"What's up?" he said.
"It was Jen. Come on, we're going out."
"I'm busy." he gestured at the phone.
"No fucking way, Lex. We're not staying inside all day. It's fucking gorgeous out there. Let's go get some beers and meet her by the river."
He let out a long sigh to let her know how pissed off he was but nodded. "Just let me do one thing." He found the settings app on the phone and switched it into Airplane Mode so the owner couldn't connect to it and remote wipe it. He didn't need the data connection to look at the photos anyway. That done he put the phone in his desk drawer and got up.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

A new character - Guillotine! - Men's Adventure, Modesty Blaise and why I wanted to tackle the genre

As a teenager I read quite a few "Men's Adventure" novels. This was a genre which grew out of Westerns and the pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s. Men's Adventure novels are usually short, written in series following the same character and extremely violent. They feature square jawed heroes righting wrongs in a two fisted manner and are low on literary merit and high on stupid fun. If you were looking for a point of comparison from another field I guess you could say they were similar to the direct to video action B movies that were so popular in the 80s.
The publisher I was most familiar with was "Gold Eagle books" who seem to still be going, although not with the same vigour they were in the 80s and 90s. Gold Eagle are I believe a subsidiary of Harlequin, the romance publisher, and that gives a good feel for what the books are like. They're written to a template and churned out quickly, the difference with Gold Eagle books is that the protagonist spends the novel killing people rather than swooning.

Here's a link to what I think is the official Gold Eagle blog.
Gold Eagle
My current "story a week project" (see the post about it here) fits in quite nicely with this style of writing and, as the books were always a guilty pleasure for me, I thought I'd try my hand at a series of my own. My musings on the subject ended up with the character of Jill Teague, a surgeon whose husband has been killed by criminals and who decides to take the law into her own hands. The Men's Adventure heroes often had cheesy nicknames (The Executioner, The Survivalist, etc) and so I wanted Jill to have one of her own. That came, in fact, before her given name did and is of course Guillotine! (the exclamation mark is obligatory).
I very deliberately decided to have a female protagonist because I wanted to avoid at least some of the macho clich├ęs of the genre. Guillotine! also owes a debt to Peter O'Donnell's "Modesty Blaise" comic strip and novels which were also firm favourites of mine as a teenager. The key difference with Jill Teague is that she isn't in any way supposed to be eye candy or an object of desire for the reader.

Guillotine!'s first story, 'Hot Blood, Cold Heart' is available now from Amazon.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The story a week project

I've published 3 short stories so far this month. It's now the 15th. Now admittedly I started both 'Dear Suzanna' and 'The Doorbell' in April but pretty much all of the later and a fair amount of the former were written in the few days before they were published. The third story, 'Camera/Phone v1', was conceived some time ago but written in the week between the publication of 'The Doorbell' and its own publication date.
The stories are written quickly and intended to be read the same way. They're little slices of pulpy, nasty fun. Stephen King has referred to his own work as "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac" and I'm very much from the same school, although my work is probably a Cheese Burger from the 99p menu.
So, I've been thinking about all of this and the fact that I so enjoy this rapid fire write, publish, write, publish cycle. What I've decided is, that starting in July I'm going to attempt to write and publish one story every week until the end of the year. I can't guarantee I'll hit every week but I'll try my damnedest to.
The plan is that I'll publish every Wednesday and the stories will be available free on Amazon in their debut week. After that they'll go up to 69p/99c or thereabouts. Every 8 stories or so I'll do a collected edition which I'll charge a little more for, probably £1.99/$2.99.
If I don't die or go insane I'll have 25 or so stories done by Christmas.
I will of course post regular progress updates here on the blog. Assuming I have time.
Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

1 hook/3 outcomes - a revision to my "Alternate Endings" project

Having now finished 'Camera/Phone v1' the first of my trilogy of short stories with alternative endings (as outlined in this post http://oliverclarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/alternative-endings-in-fiction.html?m=1), I've realised that the whole concept was maybe a little ill conceived. Bear with me though, I'm not abandoning it, just tweaking the details. My original idea was to write three stories that were essentially the same for the first two thirds but radically different in the final act. The idea being that the differences in the final twist would cast the previous events on a different light. I still think there is potential in this idea, just not for this particular story.
My completion of 'Camera/Phone v1' coincided with me reading a great post detailing Pixar's 22 rules of story-telling. You can read them for yourself here: http://m.io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar, but the one that spoke to me and helped me galvanise my thoughts about the 'Camera/Phone' series was number 4:
"Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___."
What that made me realise was I'd been pitching my twist too late, saving it for the "Until finally" section. I think v1 works as a story but to make v2 and v3 work I need to make the break from v1 much earlier. What I'm now trying to do isn't an alternate ending, it's a single opening and hook with three outcomes. The set up goes like this then:
"Once upon a time there were two young people called Alexi and Jackson who loved each other even though they didn't admit it. They used to take things from other people. One day they took a phone from a man and found that it has pictures of a crime on it."
It's after that my three stories start to deviate.
What I could do is use the same opening for all three stories but I'm going to resist the temptation to do that (and it is tempting, because anyone who has followed my work will know I'm very much of the "churn them out and move on to the next story" school). v2 and v3 will each me written from scratch but the premise and the two main characters (Alexi and Jackson) will be identical.
v2 is already underway following that model and I like what I've don't on it so far. The ending is going to be killer too, naturally. :)

Camera/Phone v1 is available from Smashwords and Amazon.


This afternoon, before I'd actually finished writing the story, I created a cover for my latest slice of nasty 'Camera/Phone v1'.
I'm really pleased with it and it made me reflect on the other covers I've done. I definitely think I'm getting better at it. 'The Doorbell' one isn't great but I really like those for 'Dear Suzanna' and 'Camera/Phone v1'.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is purely and simply to post a little gallery. Hope you enjoy it.

Update 4th July 2012: Added the covers for Camera/Phone v2 and the first two Guillotine! stories

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Zombies are boring - why the walking dead work better in movies thanbooks

Despite the fact that the modern zombie was introduced in 1968 by Romero in Night of the Living Dead it wasn't until 2006 and the publication of World War Z that there was a big, popular zombie novel (and even then I'm not sure it's that popular).
Whilst many of the big names in horror fiction have tried their hands at other "stock" monsters - vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein's monster, etc I'm not sure that any of them have done a zombie story. Whilst there are now lots of zombie novels out there they seem mainly to have been self-published or are at least by writers who've only written zombie fiction. Aside from World War Z the only piece of zombie fiction of real note is The Walking Dead which of course is very visual - I've always considered comic books to be half way between a novel and a movie.
Why is this? Why has mainstream horror fiction not grasped the zombie in the same way that the movie industry has? Does the fact that the big names in horror haven't written zombie stories indicate that they are hard or unsatisfying to write?

I can think of two things about zombies that make them more suited to movies than prose:

1) Gore is hard to write well:
Zombies are all about the gore. In a movie you can show a horrifically decayed zombie and it takes you a second. Similarly the death scenes work in movies because they're very visual. In prose to capture the same amount of gory detail you have to write a lot of words and the reader has to read a lot of words and that can end up feeling (for them) like a bit of a slog. Most importantly the volume of words slows things down. It gets in the way of the story.

2) Zombies are boring:
The very best horror fiction (for me) is about monsters that the reader can in some way sympathise with. It's tragedy. Think The Shining, Frankenstein, etc.
Failing that it's at least about monsters that are complex and interesting. Creatures or people that have some depth to them.
Zombies have none of this. They're entirely one dimensional, a faceless threat that could be replaced with any one of a number of other monsters - giant killer rats, aliens, whatever - anything that hunts in packs will do.
In all of zombie fiction and cinema I can think of only one zombie that had any character at all. The wonderful Bub in Romero's Day of the Dead manages to be sympathetic and actually get the viewer rooting and cheering for him. With that one exception zombies are entirely interchangeable and boring as characters.

I found both of the above to be true when writing my own zombie story Dear Suzanna. I got into writing a long graphic description of the first zombie the protagonist encounters and I enjoyed doing it but it definitely slows things down. So much so that when it came time for the first death I got it over with very quickly. The zombies in that story are all faceless threat with nothing more to them than that. They exist purely to drive the hero on to other actions. In some ways they could easily have been replaced by a flood or a fire or some other natural rather than supernatural threat.

So, zombies are boring. Agree?

'Dear Suzanna' is available for download from Smashwords or Amazon.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Alternative endings in fiction

I started work on a new story, 'Camera/Phone' a few days ago. As seems to be the case with me it started with a single idea for the opening. The concept is simple, two delinquent teenagers steal a mobile phone from a stranger only to discover it has photos of a violent crime on it. As is also generally the case with me I started writing it without any clear idea of where it was going. I've ended up with a beginning that I like and which I hope is quite attention grabbing and with 3 characters who have captured my heart already (this is usually a good sign). You can read a preview of it here: http://oliverclarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/preview-of-cameraphone.html?m=1
What I also now have is 3 possible endings. This part is unusual, I often don't know the ending of a story until I get close to it (this was very much the case with my novel 'Sunliner') but when I decide where a tale is going I tend to stick to that. The idea might develop and evolve but it doesn't radically change. With 'Camera/Phone' I have three endings in my head, all of which I like and all of which work for the story. I just don't know which one to write.
What I've started to think is that maybe I should just write, and publish, three different versions of the story. My question to you as a reader though is would that work for you?
Alternative endings have become fairly commonplace in cinema, with DVD special editions of movies giving people the chance to see different versions of their favourite movies. It is I think fairly rare in written fiction though. I know that a few authors have republished extended versions of their most popular works (Stephen King did it with 'The Stand' and I'm fairly sure Jack Higgins published a longer edition of 'The Eagle has Landed'), but examples of authors writing dramatically different versions of a published story seem to be rare. A Google search for "novels with multiple endings" leads to a very sparsely populated Wikipedia entry. It seems, and I wasn't aware of this, that 'Great Expectations' is often published with two endings.
What a few authors have done is write branching novels where the reader gets to choose the path they take through the story. These are in the style of the 'Fighting Fantasy' or 'Choose your own Adventure' game books that were popular in my childhood. Film critic Kim Newman did this in 'Life's Lottery' and Rudy Kerkhoven & Daniel Pitts have published a couple of ebooks that do the same thing: 'The Adventures of Whatley Tupper' and 'The Redemption of Mr Sturlobok'. The flexibility of the ebook format certainly seems very well suited to this kind of experimental story and it's shame that Newman's book isn't available electronically, especially as it's now out of print.
I haven't read any of the books I mention above but as a writer the challenge of writing a story in this way seems to me to be that you can't allow your readers to make informed choices about where they want the story to go without giving away your ending. I very much enjoy taking readers on a journey that keeps them guessing and to give them control over where the story goes isn't something I'm entirely comfortable with.
For my own purposes, then, I'm going to stick to writing three different stories rather than one branching one. What remanins to be seen which version people prefer.  

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The horror of everyday objects

My recently published story 'The Doorbell' is the tale of an everyday object gone bad. There's a long history of horror stories based around innocuous objects and as a writer and fan of the genre I wanted to try my hand at it. Oneof the most famous examples is 'Christine' by Stephen King and it's perhaps no coincidence that King's story of a classic car possessed by an evil spirit was the first horror novel I read as a 12 year old. Screw RL Stine I got straight into the good stuff.
Listing every example of the benign and inanimate demonised in horror would be a fool's errand but here are a few. Note that the titles are often as imaginative as that of The 'Doorbell', making the story or film very much focused on the object:
Cars - 'The Car', 'Christine'
Trucks - 'Duel'
Ambulances - 'The Ambulance'
Dolls - 'Dolls'
Puppets - The 'Puppetmaster' series 
Ventriloquist's dummies - 'Magic', 'Dead of Night'
Televisions - 'Poltergeist', 'The Ring', 'Demons 2', 'The Video Dead'
Tyres - 'Rubber'
Any household object you can think of - The 'Final Destination' series. 

The horror of these tales often comes from the fact that these are things that we have willingly allowed into our homes and welcomed into our lives. They are objects that we trust and that then betray us. The use of such familiar things as a focal point is effective because it makes it easy for the reader/viewer to make a connection with the story. One of the big themes in horror at the start of the modern period (mid-70s onwards) when King and Spielberg were at the heights of their popularity was ordinariness. Following the focus on period horror movies in the 60s (Hammer, Roger Corman's Poe adaptations) and the hysterical, exotic or apocalyptic in the 70s (The Exorcist, The Omen, Dawn of the Dead), 80s horror was often about sinister but localised things happening to normal seeming folk. The families in Poltergeist or King's books are believable and easy to identify with, leading familiar lives until the horrific overwhelms them. This sense of familiarity is often enhanced by references to objects that are known to the audience. King certainly loves to pack his books with brand names and cultural references. I tried to do something similar in The Doorbell. The characters are boringly normal: they bicker, they drink a bit too much, they Sky+ things and eat take always. 
So ordinariness draws the reader in and engages them. The other thing that the demonisation of everyday objects brings though is the opposite. It makes it easy for the reader or viewer to put the horror behind them when the story is over. The cymbal-clapping wind-up toy in King's short story The Monkey is terrifying when you're reading about it. When you put the book down though it's just a toy. Similarly the horror of a story like Christine is of the roller-coaster variety. It's thrilling while it lasts but unlike something like The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre it doesn't linger. It doesn't get under your skin.
I liked the idea of a doorbell as the focal point for my story because it is, on the surface, such a ridiculous notion. So much so, in fact, that unlike conditions like "fear of men with beards" (Pogomophobia), "fear of long words" (Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia) or "fear of losing an erection" (Medomalacuphobia) there doesn't seem to be a word for it. 
Doorbells, however, can be alarming and annoying when they ring unexpectedly. Just like the shrill ring of the telephone the doorbell can interrupt intimate moments. Unlike the phone though it's very hard to ignore. When someone rings your doorbell there's always a fear that they'll know you're in. More so than ever with the advent of mobiles it is acceptable to ignore the ring of the phone. Mobiles are often set to silent or calls rejected out of hand in the knowledge that the caller can leave a message. A knock on the front door is harder to ignore, even if you know it's someone you don't want to talk to. Opening your front door to someone is a trusting, symbolic gesture, in opening the door you are giving your visitors access to your world. Indeed the motif of monster asking for or trying to enter homes is a common one in scary stories. From the wolf in the Three Little Pigs, through vampires having to be granted admission, to Jack Nicholson in The Shining and the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. The home is very important in horror, representing the normality that the monsters of the story are trying to destroy amd as noted above, the ring of a doorbell intrudes into that space even if no physical invasion takes place.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Preview of Camera/Phone

It's become something of a habit/tradition for me to post a preview of new stories when I get to the point where I feel they're going somewhere.

Here then, for your reading pleasure, is the opening of my latest effort, 'Camera/Phone'. Enjoy.

Jim was a vicious cunt, prided himself on it in fact, but even he was shocked when he saw the pictures from the phone. The kids who had found it had snatched it off some yuppie walking down the street. He'd been happily tapping away on it. Twitter or Facebook or some shit like that, and they'd had it out of his hands and away in the blink of an eye.
Why people felt the need to be in touch with each other every fucking second of the day escaped him. He spent most of his time trying to avoid people, another way for them to get hold of him was the last thing he needed. Christ, he'd chuck his mobile in the bin if it wasn't so important for his business. That was how the kids had found him today. Or at least how he'd come to hear that they were looking for him, he didn't give his number out to every spotty prick roaming the streets nicking and trying to make a name for themselves.
Danny had texted him. Danny was trusted with his number. He was one of the good guys.
The text said some kids had been to see him and they had something Jim might be interested in. A phone. He mentioned their names in the text, Alexi and Jackson, but Jim didn't know them from Adam. He was shit with names though so maybe he did know them.
He called Danny back, his fat fingers made texting a pain and talking was more his style anyway.
"Dan, what the fuck do I want with a phone? I've already got one. If it's worth something just sell it and give me the cash."
"No Jim. It's not the phone, it's what's on the phone. Pictures, mate. The kind of pictures someone would pay a lot of money to hush up. Let me send you a sample."
Jim hung up and waited for a second and then his phone vibrated and beeped to let him know he had a message. He didn't have one of those posh smartphones. Just an old Nokia, but it had a colour screen and showed photos well enough. When he opened the picture he almost wished it didn't. Still, Danny was right, there might be some money to be made from this.

Alexi was bricking it. Jim Watson had a reputation for toughness and he liked to reinforce it every once in a while by having the shit kicked out of some unfortunate pleb who displeased him. Of course Alexi and Jackson hadn't done anything to displease him but from what Alexi had heard that didn't always stop him. Having any sort of dealings with Watson was bad news as far as he was concerned. There might be rewards but the risks involved far outweighed them. If it had been down to Alexi they'd never have approached him, but of course Jackson had other ideas, as she so often did. "This is our chance, brah," she said. "This is just the kind of thing that twisted old fucker likes. That rich cunt we took it off has serious wedge." She pronounced it Sirius like the binary star system know as the the Dog Star. Only she said it like a snake would say it, lengthening the s's into two sibilant hisses. Not for the first time Alexi wondered why he hung around with her. Then he looked at her tits and remembered.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Dear Suzanna is finished

I posted a preview of this story a while ago thinking it would be wrapped up soon after and then hit a brick wall on it. That wall was soundly smashed this weekend and I rattled through the rest of it. The result is something I'm very happy with, a complete departure from Sunliner and something of a tribute to two legends of the horror genre, George A Romero and H.P. Lovecraft.

It's available free on Smashwords with all major formats supported. A Kindle edition should be up on Amazon in the next day or so.

Edit: Kindle edition is now available
Amazon UK
Amazon US

I'm also quite pleased with the cover.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The 87th Precinct Project update 1

The first book is in!
Thanks to a very kind tweep I have, completely free of charge, a paperback copy of one of the last books in the series (and one I don't think I've read), The Big Bad City.

Buy Sunliner for non-Kindle devices (iOS, Kobo, Sony Reader)
Buy Sunliner for Kindle (UK)
Buy Sunliner for Kindle (US)

The 87th Precinct Project - the full list

As described in this post The 87th Precinct Project, I'm trying to collect paperback editions of all of Ed McBain's wonderful 87th Precinct mysteries.

I thought it would be useful to post the full list so I can mark them off as I go. Titles in bold are ones that I have managed to track down.

I'll also re-note here the rules I'm sticking to:
1) Books must be softcover
2) Books must be secondhand
3) I'm not after first editions but the closer I can get to the original publishing date the better
4) My preference will always be to buy from a brick and mortar store. I'm only going to resort to the interwebs when I really start to struggle.

Cop Hater (1956)
The Mugger (1956)
The Pusher (1956)
The Con Man (1957)
Killer's Choice (1957)
Killer's Payoff (1958)
Lady Killer (1958)
Killer's Wedge (1959)
'til Death (1959)
King's Ransom (1959)
Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (1960)
The Heckler (1960)
See Them Die (1960)
Lady, Lady I Did It (1961)
The Empty Hours (1962) - collection of three short novellas
Like Love (1962)
Ten Plus One (1963)
Ax (1964)
He Who Hesitates (1964)
Doll (1965)
80 Million Eyes (1966)
Fuzz (1968)
Shotgun (1969)
Jigsaw (1970)
Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here (1971)
Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man (1972)
Sadie When She Died (1972)
Hail to the Chief (1973)
Bread (1974)
Blood Relatives (1975)
So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976)
Long Time No See (1977)
Calypso (1979)
Ghosts (1980)
Heat (1981)
Ice (1983)
Lightning (1984)
Eight Black Horses (1985)
Poison (1987)
Tricks (1987)
Lullaby (1989)
Vespers (1990)
Widows (1991)
Kiss (1992)
Mischief (1993)
Romance (1995)
Nocturne (1997)
The Big Bad City (1999)
The Last Dance (2000)
Money, Money, Money (2001)
Fat Ollie's Book (2002)
The Frumious Bandersnatch (2003)
Hark! (2004)
Fiddlers (2005)

Buy Sunliner for non-Kindle devices (iOS, Kobo, Sony Reader)
Buy Sunliner for Kindle (UK)
Buy Sunliner for Kindle (US)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Elmore Leonard's 10 rules of writing and how badly I break them

I'm a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, the American crime and western writer, and read with interest his 10 rules of writing when I stumbled across them recently. I break many of them in Sunliner so reviewing them, especially when I admire Leonard's work so much, was something of a sobering experience.

Here they are, with notes to indicate how badly I've strayed from them.

 1. Never open a book with weather.
Phew - this one I didn't do.

 2. Avoid prologues.
Whoops - although in my defence the prologue was on the advice of someone who works in publishing and I think it works.

 3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
This is a great one and something I'll definitely do in future...I really didn't in Sunliner though.

 4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
Another black mark for me and Sunliner...

 5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
That ratio would mean I could have no more than 3 in Sunliner. Pretty sure it's more than that! Way more!!!

 6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
Bollocks, I think I even have a "suddenly all hell broke loose"

 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
I don't think I break this one, unless you count the 50s hardboiled style of speaking that everyone in the book uses as a regional dialect.

 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
I spend a bit of time describing JJ when we first meet him but not, I hope, too much.

 9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Woohoo - I stuck to this one.

 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
I think (and hope) I managed this one. Unless my readers like to skip car chases.

I'm going to give myself 5 out of 10.

Buy Sunliner for non-Kindle devices (iOS, Kobo, Sony Reader)
Buy Sunliner for Kindle (UK)
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Thursday, 31 May 2012

The 87th Precinct Project

Over the years I've read and loved many (probably most) of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels.
For anyone who doesn't know them the books, written over 49 years (from 1956 to 2005) are police procedurals set in a fictional (and never named) city which bears many similarities to New York.
The books are all short (just right for a crime novel in my opinion), snappy and written with humour and a wonderful sense of character. Every one of them starts with the wonderful disclaimer:

The city in these pages is imaginary. The people, the places are all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.

I've just remembered that I used to have that photocopied and up on my bedroom wall. :)

I've owned a good few of them in my time but currently own none, having had a massive book clearout a few years ago. Recently I've had a hankering to read them again and, probably coincidentally, a desire to read physical books again after a couple of years reading ebooks almost exclusively. There's something about the feeling of a paperback in my back pocket that I miss.
These two notions conspired together in my brain and meshed themselves together into the idea that I should try and reacquire all of the books and reread them in order. Given that there are 54 of them (feel free to correct me on that but I think it's correct) and that I refuse to pay full price for any of them there's likely to be a bit of legwork involved in this quest, but no more than McBain's fictional detectives regularly indulged in.

I started this search just over a week ago, visiting every place that sells second-hand books in the town I live in and turning up not one of them.
Earlier this week I walked from work down to the main street and searched over a dozen charity shops with no luck. I did find one hardback copy of 'Mischief' but I'm only interested in paperbacks. I never said this project was logical. I was pretty dejected about the whole thing at that point and then today I got a message from someone with a copy of 'The Big Bad City' that needs a good home. This random act of kindness has got me into the whole idea again...

So that's what I'm doing and I'll post weekly updates for anyone who is interested...

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Preview of my new story - Dear Suzanna

10th April


I don't know what's happening but I'm scared. I'm really honestly fucking terrified like I haven't been since I was a kid.
They're outside. A lot of them. Outside the cottage.
I don't think they know I'm here. Not yet. But there's no way I can get out past them. And even if I was I don't know what I'd be getting out to.
I don't know what to do.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

2nd April

Dear Suzanna,

This isn't a love letter.

You know, I don't remember the last time I actually wrote a letter. Sat down and wrote a proper honest to goodness put it in an envelope missive. I don't remember for sure but I think the last one probably was a love letter. To you.
Writing is a lost art I think. A nice pen on nice paper rather than notes scribbled hastily in biro in a cheap notepad during some pointless meeting or other. I have found it nice to actually take the time to write. Sit in the solitude of this lovely rural setting and actually think about what I want to say to you. Think about it and then take the time to form the letters carefully and properly on the page.

But this isn't a love letter. In fact it might be a suicide note.

After you did what you did I needed to think. Which is why I've come away here. You'll have seen where I am from the address at the top of the page. I picked up the phone to Charles as soon as I found your letter. I told him what you'd done, how it made me feel. We spoke for an hour or more, the longest I've spent talking to him in years I suspect.
At the end of the conversation he offered me this place for as I need it for. To get away from all the distractions of life. To think. To get my head together.
I've done the first two. You remember this place; you couldn't get much more away from "it" if you went to the Highlands. It's so peaceful here and that peace is wonderful. It's lonely too, but I suppose loneliness is something I need to get used to.
I've thought a lot too. Precious little else to do here as you'll remember; although I seem to recall we found plenty of things to do to entertain ourselves on the occasions we stayed here.
I've brought some books with me of course, but mhy mind won't let me settle on them for more than a minute before flitting back to you. Always back to you.
The lack of a TV or radio here always appealed to me before but now I long for their easy distraction.

Why did you do it, Suzanna? I still can't understand. I know you tried to explain in your letter but I'm afraid, my dear, that you failed. Why throw away everything we had? Why hurt me so much that I want to die?
The oven here is electric so that's no good. There are aspirin in the bathroom cupboard but probably not enough. Can you even overdose on aspirin?
I have a razor, but I'd have to tear it to bits to get at the blades and I'm sure they'd be tiny, too tiny to hold probably. That leaves the breadknife, which just seems....messy.
I suppose I should have planned this trip better.

Oh Christ, I still love you so much.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

3rd April

Dear Suzanna,

I wrote you a letter yesterday. A long one. And then burned it last night on the fire.
I'm staying at Charles's cottage. A bit of space and time to think. Yesterday I felt very sad. Today I feel angry. Angry at you, Suzanna, for what you did to me. I suspect that this won't be the last letter I write. That tomorrow I'll do something and I'll write another letter and burn this one just like I did yesterday's. I hope so because right now I really fucking hate you and I don't like feeling like that.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

4th April

Dear Suzanna,

This is letter number three. Or rather my third attempt at writing to you as you won't see the other two.
I'm staying at Charles's cottage in Suffolk. Thinking. About you. About us.
He called me last night on my mobile but I'm afraid I didn't hear it. I'd been drinking. I'll admit that I've been doing rather a lot of that. Drinking and thinking.
I've got a glass in front of me right now in fact. Not the hard stuff. Just a rather nice Rioja I'm having with lunch. I'm well provisioned; plentiful supplies of both food and booze. You'd be proud of me. I shan't have to drive to the village to restock for a few days yet.
That's good because I don't think I could face anybody. Even strangers. I'm sure my pain is tattooed across my face for anyone to see.
Lats night I had been on the hard stuff and I was dozing when Charles rang. I woke up in the early hours, laying on the sofa with a whisky bottle next to me. My neck was fearfully stiff from the awkward position I'd ended up in. You remember what the sofas are like there: too short to really stretch out on. I think the pain may be what woke me up. I could have done with you here, you and your magic hands.
The phone was blining at me, that bright red light it has that annoyed you so much. Charles had left a message. A strange message. He asked me if I new what had happened. And then if I was alright. There was a terrible noise in the background, growing louder as he spoke. A fearful banging like someone kicking a metal door. And then there was silence, ten seconds of it at least. And then he hung up. I'll admit I was a bit concerned about him when I heard it. He's been in a few scrapes in the past as I'm sure you'll remember. I rang him back but he didn't answer. The phone just rang and rang and then went to voicemail. I left him a message, told him I was fine, asked him if he was.
That was last night and he hasn't called back yet, although knowing Charles he's probably sleeping off a hangover. I called Katie as well to see if she knew if he was okay. No answer from her either, but it was after nine so I expect she was at work. I did wonder if she'd seen it was me calling and deliberately ignored it. I haven't spoken to her since I read your letter but Charles will have. I expect the poor girl is very upset by it all. May feel awkward talking to me under the circumstances.

It's a beautiful day here today. Clear and crisp and quiet. I walked in the garden this morning, enjoying the fresh air and the quiet. You know I'm sure when we came here before you could hear a hint of traffic noise in the garden from the B road that runs through the village. Not a hint of it today though. Not so much as a peep. It really is utterly tranquil here. I suppose the wind must just have been blowing in the right direction, carrying the noise away.

I think I feel a bit better now. Not all the way there by a long chalk but better.

I still love you though, which is a bit of a kicker.



5th April

I don't really know why I'm writing these letters as I know you'll never read them. Talking to you this way is helpful somehow though. Maybe if I went to see a counsellor (Charles suggested that you know, some fellow he knows), they'd recommend a similar thing. They call psychiatry the "talking cure" don't they? I think these letters, for me, have become the "writing cure".
Have I got over what you did? Of course not. It's all too fresh still. Too raw. I find myself posing the question many times each day though. Checking my temperature. I picture myself like a short-sighted man putting his hand out of the window to see if it's still raining.
It is. But not so hard.



6th April

Dear Suzanna,

I've decided to go into the village today. Partly because there are a few bits and bobs I need. Mostly because I feel, after these few days of solitude, the need for some human contact again. Just a friendly smile and a how do you do with a shopkeeper. Maybe a chat about the weather and the news with the landlord of the Crown. Not that I have any idea what's been going on in the world since I got here. Probably time to catch up!
Charles never did call me back. If he had I might not need to go out at all. I have tried him again, a couple of time, but no answer.
I wrote yesterday that this felt like therapy. Today I'm worrying that in fact it's the written equivalent of talking to yourself. Human contact is definitely needed.

I will report back. To myself!



6th April - later

Dear Suzanna,

So much for that idea! The village was deserted, or seemed to be at least, like something from the bloody Twilight Zone.
I'll admit I've lost track of the days a bit but my watch is telling me it's the sixth and I'm pretty sure that means it's a Wednesday. I know the village isn't exactly a bustling metropolis but I didn't expect it to be completely dead.
I used the bike in the shed to get there. I've done no exercise since I got here and I thought the ride would do me good. Plus if the couple of pints I was going to have at the Crown turned into more than that I figured I could always leave it locked up somewhere and stagger back to the cottage.
When I got to the pub the door was shut and there was no sign of life. Living in the city you forget that pubs out here aren't open all day. I carried on into the village proper and everything was closed there too. The newsagents, the greengrocers, the village store. All locked up tight with the closed signs pointing outwards. It may have been half-day closing I suppose.
The strangest part was that the whole time I didn't see a single living soul.
Actually that wasn't the strangest part, or not the most distrurbing anyway.
I checked the church too. The main door was also locked up tight so I walked round to see if the side entrance was open. It wasn't of course but when I turned back from it I saw that two of the graves were disturbed. Desecrated I suppose you'd say. Judging by the headstones they had only been recently filled, not like most of the dusty tombs there. The earth was strewn all around them along with the remains of the bouquets and wreaths that had laid upin the graves.
I didn't look any more closely than that, to be honest the whole thing creeped me out a little. I did wonder if perhaps I should report it but the damage didn't look that fresh so I'm sure someone else must have already. Besides, even with my desire for a bit of human contact I have no appetite for talking to the police.
I'm back at the cottage now, without my provisions.
Fortunately, of all of the things I'm running short of whiskey isn't one of them. Consequently I'm now going to get very drunk.


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