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.

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
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
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.