___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

stealing history

Should you be interested, my jiggy mainstreamy short story "Stealing History" is included in the latest issue of Paul Sutherland's excellent Dream Catcher literary arts journal.

Dream Catcher's been hit in recent years by the closure of Borders and by the collapse of the Arts Council budget, but it's made it through the rough period and hopefully will continue to grow stronger under the Stairwell Books imprint. As an outlet for poetry and prose in the UK, it's a real gem. Try a copy if you don't believe me.

My story's in Issue 27. You can get a copy by clicking here.

This is how my tale begins:

 

In the middle of summer, with the temperature in the low thirties C and the sky so bright it seemed to be an extension of the sun's corona, my girlfriend Misheru told me I didn't share enough of my past with her.
‘You know all about me. But whenever I try to learn more about you, you always change the subject.’
‘That can’t be true.’
She eased her head slowly from side to side. ‘I used to think you were a really great listener, that you wanted to know about what it was like growing up in Kobe. I had this stupid idea you enjoyed hearing about what happened to my family during the quake, and what I found when I went back there. But now I just wonder if all the time you've been keeping quiet and nodding through my stories just so you can have an easy life. So that you don’t have to tell me about yourself, rather than caring about anything I have to say.’
‘No, Mish. That’s not how it is. I like learning about you.’
'Then why so evasive when it comes to sharing? We've been together over nine months. How come you don't tell me things?'
I lifted my shoulders in a shrug. ‘What do you want to know?’ 
‘The little things, things you don't share with anyone. Give me some soul archaeology. I already worked out the basics. Your star sign and whose books you like to read, your favourite films. Tell me something you wouldn’t think of mentioning at a job interview.’
She removed her sunglasses and I saw that she was serious. I was surprised.
‘You've really been thinking about this, haven't you?’
‘It's what I want to know.’
'Okay.'



the reviews are in

So here are some things that've been said about a coupla things some of my pieces have been in. In other words, folks, the Reviews are in.

About Midnight Echo 9, edited by Geoff Brown, Horror Addicts said this. Good Reads gathered a few reviews together here. And Frank Errington said this.

About Horror Without Victims, edited by DF Lewis, Matthew Fryer said this. Frank Errington said this. The Kind of Face You Hate created this sort of maybe review. A Mad Man With a Blog said this. And The Future Fire was not impressed and says so, at length, here.

A few new reviews of my novellette/novella/long short story - how-so-ever you want to categorize/categorise it - What I Wouldn't Give, have been posted on amazon here in the UK and here in the USA. (And if anyone can tell me why the price of the eBook keeps fluctuating between a dollar and a dollar-fifteen in the US, I'd be most impressed, because I'm not the one who's changing the price.)

Of course, when it comes to reviews, if you believe the good, then you must believe the bad. And if you believe the bad, then you must believe the good. Why is it, though, that I always find myself agreeing more with the bad reviews of my work than I do the good?

Anyway, it's nice to be read, even if you're not always loved.

calling time on candy

Here's another short story that can be read free of charge, either by going up to the Free Fiction page or by clicking here. This one's published by the lovely people over at PerihelionSF. A really nice site with lots of stories for you to enjoy at your leisure.

Calling Time on Candy's one of those tales where you hope any satire you've dropped in doesn't get in the way of the reader's enjoyment of the piece.

Here are the first lines:

We were calling time on Candy. Things had just got to that point.

It was sad to see. But that’s always been the way when something like this happens. It’s the one thing that doesn’t change, even if everything else does. Sometimes it’s a surprise and sometimes not, but it’s always, always sad to see.

I heard about it over breakfast, from my girlfriend.

“Hey, Clay, you’re never going to guess. We’re calling time on Candy.”

“What, Candy Novak? You’re kidding.” I shook my head and pushed my eyeglasses to the bridge of my nose, blinked hard. “I thought she’d be around forever. Well ... years more at least. Candy. You’re sure?”

“I know. It’s so hard to believe, isn’t it?”

It was in the papers when they loaded that morning. Or rather it wasn’t, because remember—we were calling time on Candy.

I turned the smart-sheets, ignoring dancing emoticons and holo-logos, and tried to find stories about her causing scandal and getting caught. But she was invisible. Not a word, no picture, not a ping. Web trace negative.

She was gone, called time on.

Continue reading.

I hope you like it.

point and stick

I have a new story, "Point and Stick" in DF Lewis's anthology Horror Without Victims. It's a handsome publication, and features stories by, amongst others, Gary McMahon, Mark Valentine, Aliya Whiteley and a story and cover art by Tony Lovell.

Here're the opening lines from my tale:



It was coming up on Christmastime and my old sleeping bag was past threadbare. Nicholas, the guy who owned this place, told me there'd be a mattress included with the room. But a bed-frame, that's something you'll have to sort out for yourself.

        Procuring a bed-frame sounded ambitious to me, so I just nodded and said it sounded like a good deal I'd be happy to accept. I shook his hand, losing my paw in his, and counted out the last of my notes. He didn't give me a receipt. He sank the money in a pocket and poked a finger at me. Remember, you provide the bed-frame. A mattress comes with the room.


If you're in the UK, you can purchase a copy from Amazon here.

If you're in the US, you can buy a copy from Amazon here.

And if you fancy a copy signed by Des himself, jump over to the Horror Without Victims blog, and contact him directly. He'll be happy to scribble his name in the book and mail a copy out to you, for such a nice bloke is he.

waiting for his hair to grow back

And, catching up . . .

I have a short short story called "Waiting For His Hair to Grown Back" in Chester University's literary magazine Flash -- The International Short-Short Story Magazine. It's flash fiction. It's 360 words long. Sometimes it's good to see what you can do when you impose a limit on yourself.

You can get the magazine here, along with submissions details here if you fancy having a go yourself. The magazine is edited by Dr Peter Blair and Dr Ashley Chantler and previous issues of the magazine have a list of impressive contributors, including Margaret Atwood, Beryl Bainbridge, Dan Rhodes, and Ian Rankin. Hopefully I haven't dragged it too far down market . . .

My tale is in Volume 6, Issue One. It's the April of 2013 issue, and so of course I am mentioning it now, in July. Because that's the kind of guy I am and because I only got my complimentary copy last week (which would have been in June, but, you know, picky, picky . . .).

cold


We saw it coming in over the water. Moving slowly. Something that looked old and heavy. A plane, obviously, flying low, lower than you’d usually expect to see something of that size flying.

It scudded above the clipped waves from Dungeness Point towards Folkestone, leaving a fat trail of dark exhaust like a radiation leak. It wasn’t until it drew near that we realised it was a military craft. Too big for a fighter, though it had a bubble cockpit mounted a little way back from its nose, it wasn’t large enough to be a transport or operational support plane. We watched it haul itself across the waves, almost lumbering like a tired old boxer too many years in the ring. It passed by and we watched it with some wariness, but the sound of the sea and fast winds from the West covered any engine noises.

It wasn’t until it tipped on its edge to bank over the port and we saw that thick profile of its swept-back delta-vee wings that we realised what it was, and why we had felt an involuntary shudder at its appearance.

This was a Vulcan Bomber we were watching, a highly symbolic part of the dark seam of preparations for death in the 1980s.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll remember the warnings, the pop culture immediacy of nuclear war, from some of the highest selling records of the decade – “99 Red Ballons”, “Two Tribes”, “I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” – to the big selling popular books of the age – Domain, Warday, Einstein’s Monsters – and to teenagers like us back then, it wasn’t a question of if there was going to be a nuclear war between the East and West, but simply a matter of how soon it would occur. It was the decade of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, and you can bet we were convinced of it and a little bit mad ourselves because of it.

We watched the Vulcan, made to carry nuclear bombs and flatten cities and lift poisonous clouds to cloak the world, disappear from view and realised it wasn’t just the wind that had left us cold.

That night we saw on a regional news programme that the plane we’d seen was the last flying Vulcan in the world. It’s decommissioned, an artefact of the past, kept going by enthusiasts. We could ask, “enthusiasts for what?”, but I think I understand. For all the uncertainties of the certain end we were threatened with in the 1980s, in its own way the Cold War was as clear-cut a confrontation as the one between the Allies and Axis powers of the Second World War. Now we stand in conflict again, perhaps decadently apart from it all, but with foes and supposed friends sometimes all but indistinguishable. This is no Cold War, and it’s too soon to tell what will come from the Arab Spring, but whatever the future is now, it seems to waver and shimmer above desert sands like a mirage. Whether it’s a real oasis or a deception made of seeing what we want to see, we’ll eventually find out.

little boy, little girl, lost in the woods

I have a new short story, "Little Boy, Little Girl, Lost in the Woods", in the latest edition Midnight Echo, published by the Australian Horror Writers Association. The one and only Geoff Brown did the business editing things and generally improving my story, and has worked hard on the layout of the entire issue too.

Here's the first paragraph:

So Helena is dead as well, and
although she is so by her own hand, I
know in any sense that matters that the
act is murder. Put plainly, it is for want
of, and thus because of, them. Oh, I grant
you they may not have tied the noose
and looped the rope over the rafters;
they did not invite my new wife to dance
her last desperate jig alone in our bridal
room. Yet it is true that they did all else
but swing from her legs to hasten her
end.

The journal is available as a print copy here, as well as across e-reader platforms here (actually, if you buy it from the guys themselves, you get epub, mobi, and PDF files all in one transaction).

bending and breaking and bearing up



It’s not dissimilar to when the sun breaks through an overcast. One of those gliding sails of illumination floating your way. At first it’s quite shocking. The brilliance of all that information – the colours and contours of the land in sharper focus – can unbalance you.

That’s how I felt. Something had shifted, the world I was familiar with had altered. And all with a simple diagnosis from a German doctor working in the UK because she prefers the informality of the dress code for consultants. “Ach, we wear the white coats in my country. Here, here I am allowed to dress nicely.” Followed by a smile of deceptive charm and penetrating sharpness after she had examined me. “This is your problem,” she told me gently . . .

. . . and then, somewhat less gently, told me to Google it to find out more.

So. Hyper-mobility syndrome (or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome stage 3, as it’s more commonly known in the USA). It sounds deceptively innocuous. But it’s not. It’s complicated. And it makes life much harder than it needs to be.

At heart, the simple complaints are extreme muscle aches and apparent joint pain coupled with widespread double-jointedness. As a kid, I was able to wrap my ankles around my neck, fold my legs into impossible positions, and twist my arms around backwards. It seemed like fun. I didn’t know it was hurting me, or that the reason I naturally fell to standing in strange positions was due to a lack of proprioception: I was pushing myself into extreme angles and outré stances so that I could sense where I was in relation to myself. An arm here. A leg there. A foot twisted over thus. It was all feedback in a system that was too often numb to feeling, though I wasn’t consciously aware of that, or of what I was doing and why I was doing it. The immune system isn’t good with the complaint, either. I won’t list my childhood illnesses, but it was a rare month that went by without me being bed-bound for at least a day or week with some cold or flu or other.

A boyhood memory, sharp and aching to this day: high summer and I am in my warm bedroom that captures the sun. The window is open, I am in bed, probably reading, and in the distance I hear the sound of children playing during the first break of the school day. Laughter and screams and fun, rising and swelling on the heated breezes, then abating altogether and falling silent as lessons resume. I feel disconnected, at a loss, left out and left behind.

The pattern that marks my school life continues that way. A week off, then exhaust myself trying to catch up on missed work, succumbing to further illnesses and missing more time in school and catching up again.

It couldn’t continue; I couldn’t continue to operate like that; I dropped out of school earlier than I should have done. I wish I’d known what was wrong with me; it might have helped; I might have been able to find a way through my disabilities.

Hyper-mobility syndrome is a genetically inherited condition. My mother probably has it, and probably her mother before her had it too. There’s a problem in producing collagen. It isn’t top quality stuff, and leads to stretchy skin, an impaired immune system, digestive tract issues, lax joints. Generalised anxiety stems from this. Tiredness. The brain has to work so much harder to make the body function correctly, so concentrating is hard, systemic structured learning is difficult. At the end of a tiring session of work or play, I often find it impossible to keep my eyes open. The weight of my eyelids are so overwhelmingly vast that sleep is impossible to resist. But sleep isn’t a curative. You wake as tired as when you went to bed. You’ve just had a bit of a mental break from the pain.

I am diagnosed over thirty-five years since I was hospitalised as a five-year-old with a mysterious hip problem. Coming out of hospital just after Christmas, I had been strapped up in bed and had had to learn to walk again. Part of me feels that I have never quite overcome the fever that I knew from that hip pain. It’s always there, a fire flaring every so often in my blood, sending streamers into my mind.

But now I have a diagnosis, and it explains in a way I’ve never known before, the track of my life. It’s a scary journey ahead, and when I look over my shoulder I see that I’ve been wandering through marshy fields and tangled forests dappled with shafts of light and gathering darkness. It’s been a clumsy progression so far, with many trips and falls, bruises uncounted, and strange diversions along the way.

Yet I’m here. I’ve got this far.

And I have a little knowledge now.

Even if I don’t quite know where I’m going.

what was also said about

And this just caught my eye, another brief but considered review of my In the White of the Snow short story.

It is of course a pleasure to be mentioned alongside the work of Neil Gaiman, however tangentially.

the rats tail

Reputations can be made with a single book. For better or worse, James Herbert’s name will always be linked with his first novel. Originally published in the UK in 1974, The Rats was an instant bestseller. Grim and relentless, with uncluttered prose that only occasionally rose above the workman-like – and subsequently obscured any greater depth the book may have contained in subtext and metaphor to those who weren’t looking for it – it came along and tore apart the gentlemanly conventions that had held sway in horror fiction to this point.

Before James Herbert the bestselling novel of the occult and horror had been the possession of Dennis Wheatley and his characters of dukes and noblemen fighting black magic in courtly dwellings. Herbert was having none of that from the off.

Mostly set in London’s East End, where Herbert grew up in slum housing that had been condemned in the wake of the Second World War, Herbert used recognisably working-class characters that were not the middle-class clichés of middle-class writers trying to “write down”. With a mix of youthful energy, violence, anger (an anger that would later turn, in subsequent books, into its more cerebral cousin outrage), and that urge to break free of convention and “tell it how it was”, it was the right book at the right time -- and as Stephen King later reflected, was an important precursor to the punk movement. Within only a few weeks of publication, it had sold over a hundred thousand copies, and Herbert’s reputation was sealed: he wrote nasties.

It didn’t really matter that in the years following the appearance of The Rats and The Fog (an even more in-your-face violence fest) Herbert wrote a gentle reincarnation fantasy (Fluke), explored Faith (Shrine), touched on fairytales (The Magic Cottage and Once . . .), wrote a careful ghost story in the manner of Shirley Jackson (Haunted), explored environmental concerns with science fiction (Portent), and wrote a sassy state-of-the-horror-novel black comedy (Creed) or that his books had become more character-driven (Others, Nobody True). His reputation was set. He was the guy who wrote horror thrillers, nasties like The Rats, you know, stuff that only appealed to kids. But that’s a lazy tag with which to label him. It doesn’t look at the work that went into the books.

While he might have stumbled occasionally stylistically, and certainly in his later books he had a tendency to overwrite, Herbert was always trying to improve, to write a better book than the one he had produced before. He was honest and hardworking and doing his best. And that showed, and was the reason he was still selling books in huge quantities long after most of his contemporaries and imitators faded from the scene.

He passed away in March of this year, 2013, aged 69, with his much troubled and much delayed final novel, Ash, freshly released in paperback in the UK after many weeks on the hardcover charts, soaring to the top of the bestsellers lists.

But as it is with reputations, it is the rats that tail after him . . .

(Herbert wrote two prose sequels to The Rats – Lair and Domain – and a short graphic novel coda to the trilogy, entitled The City. He wrote another trilogy, this one featuring his ghost hunter protagonist David Ash: Haunted, The Ghosts of Sleath, and Ash. Rumbo, from his gentler book Fluke, made cameo appearances in The Magic Cottage and Once… )

what was said about

A round-up review of some tales appearing in December of 2012 has been uploaded to the internet, and it mentions my short story “­In the White of the Snow”, a tale that appears on the Science Fiction Daily website.

The tale can be read for free here.

And you can read the review here, though you’ll have to scroll down towards the middle to read the stuff about my piece.

Although the first paragraph has nothing to do with my story, it’s an interesting review that raises a couple of fair criticisms, contains a spoiler, and ends with a summation most writers would be pleased with.

experiments in e-books (iii)


Here are some formatting rules and instructions that I worked out (with the able assistance of my girlfriend – she also designed this blog, by the way, so a round of applause there) when I was formatting the long short story, well, novella really, What I Wouldn’t Give.

I’m assuming there that you’ve already spent your days banging your head against the wall trying to make your work as good as it can be by now. If not, you might like to read some of the earlier blog entries titled “experiments in e-books” - part i and part ii.

Okay, then. Let’s do it.

Remove Old Formatting

First step. Copy your document and paste it into Microsoft’s Notepad function, or another plain text editor. This will take out all the formatting of your document. Leaving you with 12-point type, no justification, no centre alignments, etc.

Copy the Notepad document.

Open a new Microsoft Word File.

Disable all Microsoft Word auto-corrects. Spell-check, automatic page breaks, orphan commands, etc.

Fonts, Typeface Sizes, Italics...

Use Times New Roman typeface set at 12-point as a background.

Now. The only typeface sizes you can use in the text of your manuscript are: 10, 12, 14, 20. This is because Kindle readers only work to those four type sizes. By putting in a 13-point letter, you may wind up with either a 12- or 14-point character in your Kindle reader, depending what mood it’s in.

Present the document as you would like to have it read. Italic words you want italicised. Make bold any words you want bold. Underline any words you want underlined, though be aware the convention is that underlined words are generally thought of as hyperlinks from within the text and can cause confusion if applied otherwise.

Justify

To have even margins rather than staggered margins, apply to the overall text of your document the justification options as you would have it look on a finished page. Justified left and right.

Page Breaks

Insert page breaks as you would ordinarily insert page breaks in Word, but not by using typed shortcuts. Remember, you should have all auto functions switched off.

Never use more than 3 paragraph break Returns in the document without including some type or character of some sort. Kindle doesn’t recognise more than three empty line spaces and will go all Hal-like from Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, a very important point:

Paragraphs

Kindle doesn’t recognise Tabs consistently. This is why you do the copy and paste through Notepad, knocking out all formatting. Even so, some formatting regarding tabbed paragraph indents may remain. So, you need to delete all tabs for paragraphs in the document. Time consuming and laborious, but it has to be done, otherwise Hal won’t open the pod-bay doors.

Instead of looking like this:

                                                     *
Dave walked out of the door.
        He carried a plank under his arm.
       It was a long plank, and he was lugging it around with him in memory of the fine comedian Eric Sykes, who had recently died. Dave had seen a film in which Eric had carried such a plank around with him and it had made Dave laugh. It was more fun than being Prime Minister anyway.
                                                     *

It must look like this:

*
Dave walked out of the door.
He carried a plank under his arm.
It was a long plank, and he was lugging it around with him in memory of the fine comedian Eric Sykes, who had recently died. Dave had seen a film in which Eric had carried such a plank around with him and it had made Dave laugh. It was more fun than being Prime Minister anyway.
*

(Note: You must remove any spaces behind the last letter or punctuation of any paragraph. There can’t be a “Dave walked out of the door.(space)” because this can skew the continuity of smooth paragraphs one after the other and may result in an unintended section break.)

So. To correct the tabs function and insert paragraph indents to a document without using tabs…

(I should probably point out here that all this is based on Word 97-2000, so you may have to search through newer versions of Word to find the same performance options. But . . .)

On your menu bar go to Tools >Options >General >Measurement units (this is found towards the bottom of the screen) and change it from Centimetres to Points.

Then, highlighting your manuscript, go to Format >Paragraph >Indents and Spacing. In the Indentation dialogue box go to Special and select ‘First line’. Apply 25 points and your document will look like this:

      *
      Dave walked out of the door.
      He carried a plank under his arm.
      It was a long plank, and he was lugging it around with him in memory of the fine comedian Eric Sykes, who had recently died. Dave had seen a film in which Eric had carried such a plank around with him and it had made Dave laugh. It was more fun than being Prime Minister anyway.
      *

Not ideal, but better than it was. Highlight/select your first section break asterisk and the first paragraph (in this case the first paragraph is one line, but in the case of, say, a three-line first paragraph select the entire first paragraph). Then go through the same procedure of  Format >Paragraph >Indents and Spacing. In the Indentation dialogue box go to Special and select ‘First line’. THIS time, select a points value of 0.1 to give the following result:

*
Dave walked out of the door.
        He carried a plank under his arm.
       It was a long plank, and he was lugging it around with him in memory of the fine comedian Eric Sykes, who had recently died. Dave had seen a film in which Eric had carried such a plank around with him and it had made Dave laugh. It was more fun than being Prime Minister anyway.
        *

Then select the first asterisk and centre justify it using the standard toolbar option.

                                                       *
Dave walked out of the door.
       He carried a plank under his arm.
       It was a long plank, and he was lugging it around with him in memory of the fine comedian Eric Sykes, who had recently died. Dave had seen a film in which Eric had carried such a plank around with him and it had made Dave laugh. It was more fun than being Prime Minister anyway.
       *


Highlight/select the trailing asterisk and repeat the points at 0.1 procedure.

It’s a pain, it’s laborious, but you need to do this through the entire document.

You also need to apply 0.1 points to anything you want to centre justify. This includes titles and chapter headings (but more later in another post on chapters for novels and short story titles for collections; here I’m dealing with a one-off long short story document).

Where to Begin

To add a ' Beginning' to a book : Place the cursor where you want the book to start, click “Insert > Bookmark.” In the "Bookmark name:" field, type “Start” (without the quotes) and click "Add."

This will link from the Home button on the Kindle device itself, along with others that should link to Cover, Contents, End, and so on.

In my novella file, “What I wouldn’t Give,” I’ve put the beginning of the book above the line, in one of the first spaces of the first page of prose. Putting it at the start of the text is the convention, but when I did so I found the neat marker line I’d inserted as a graphic to tart things up a bit had disappeared.

Save As

When you’re happy with how your document is looking, save the file through Word as a “web page, filtered” and that’s the one you upload to Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp.amazon.com).

You can upload as a Doc but we found the chances of it going wrong are greatly increased if you do.

Preview and Preview Again

Note: performing the upload isn’t publishing it but this is your official book file! At this stage it’s advisable to take a preview and put it on something – ideally a Kindle – to check it all through. Kindle Previewer is available as a free download from Amazon and shows the basic form settings for Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Apple Kindle apps, etc….

DRM?

There’s stuff to think about like Digital Rights Management then. In short this is a sort of crappy copyright protection control that’s easily overcome by anyone wanting to pirate the ebook. Nice in principal and you may as well apply it, but it seems from a casual glance that other ebook files such as ePub and PDF are obviously easily copyable.

To Conclude...

And that’s about it for formatting your work. It’s wise, as I say, to go over the document on a Kindle, to read it through. By now you should be sick to death of the book, but it’s still worth checking, because you may find typos or lines you want to edit.

Believe me, there’ll be no special alchemy that transforms a duff line into a grand one when the book is finally available on site for download.

Next time out we’ll talk about covers.

generosity, encouragement, and dreams and those who would have you avoid them

I read something on Twitter the other week that left the proverbial sour taste in my mouth. It wasn’t a tweet from someone I follow. I saw it because it had been retweeted by a writer I’ve normally a lot of time for, presumably because this writer approved of its message. Well, what struck me about this particularly sour missive was that it wasn’t particularly generous, or all that necessary.

(Of course, you could argue that there are very few tweets on Twitter that are necessary, and I couldn’t say you’re wrong.)

This tweet stuck with me because I’d just been reading Shadow Show, a collection of short stories written in honour of and as homage to Ray Bradbury. The collection carries story notes and thoughts about Bradbury by each contributor. What struck me was how generous Bradbury had been to those writers in the collection who had written to him or encountered him at some point in their lives. He was enthusiastic, he encouraged them to follow their dreams and to write, write, write. He warned against the nay-sayers, asking who were they to deny you your dream.

A good number of contributors to that collection say they became writers through Ray Bradbury and his example.

By contrast, the tweet I read was less than encouraging to new writers. I won’t reproduce it here, because I don’t particularly want to bring that tweeter any grief. (And hey, a tweet can be written in a thoughtless moment and regretted later.) But the tweet basically said that people who give their fiction away for free are doing so because it’s not good enough and no one would buy it.

That was the general gist of it.

Doesn’t seem so cruel, put like that, and maybe I was over-reacting when I saw it.

But underlying the tweet was the implication that such people should not be writing in the first place, let alone trying to build a dream from the ground up, in the face of whatever shifting plate tectonics and searing hurricanes make up their world.

There are, alas, plenty of people who believe – or fear – that their success comes at the expense of someone else’s. They’re probably very insecure about their position in one way or another, about their talent and all the rest. They’re quick to pull ladders up behind them, or take an axe to the rungs they’ve just climbed. To discourage others, they’ll come up with things like “They say everyone has a novel in them – and in most cases that’s where it should stay,” and sprout such phrases often and at every opportunity.

By contrast there are people like Ray Bradbury, who says do it, write, give your work to the world. Don’t let others deny you your dream.

I’ve given stories away for the payment of a contributor’s copy of the magazine in which I’ve appeared. Normally such magazines have been small-press publications. It was useful to see my work in print, to examine a tale that has been published and to see what worked and what didn’t. Often, but not always, the stories I gave away received good write-ups and some were cited as notable tales in Year’s Best summaries.

I’ve also been paid for my fiction in the traditional manner, and that certainly feels nicer. But the truth is that often the margin of quality between a piece that’s been bought for a couple hundred dollars and a piece that’s going to result in a contributor copy is negligible, if noticeable at all. Often it’s simply a question of market forces and the commercial viability of the magazine/anthology. If people buy the publication and enough of a market for the kind of fiction it’s publishing exists, then there’ll be money in it.

If not, then you’ll be doing it for the love of it. You could make yourself feel better about that by calling yourself an artist. But I wouldn’t, if I were you. You’ll just sound like an arsehole.

Better to keep writing, keep looking for places that’ll take your work, better to keep dreaming.

And you know, damn it, if when everyone in the world has said no to you about your story or your book, then do as Lee Child suggested in a radio interview with Jon Gaunt some years ago on talkSport radio here in the UK. Print it up yourself, give it away to friends as a Christmas present, put a new shelf up in the living room and fill it with your book, so that everyone who visits can see it. Because it was your dream, and you’ve done the work, and made it real. It’s yours to be proud of.

And all those who said you couldn’t do it, that you shouldn’t be doing it . . . well, you know, fuck em.

Listen to Ray Bradbury instead.

(As an aside, when I made my first sale overseas, I’d wondered how payment would work. This was in the days before the prevalence of PayPal and electronic banking. The answer came by way of a flush of ten dollar bills stuffed in my contributor copies coming through the post. This is, I’ve since learned, not the usual way these things are done, and it hasn’t happened to me since!)

And here’s a little STOP THE PRESSES for you.

The person who retweeted the message that inspired (or negatively inspired) this post is at the moment offering a book for free in a promotional offer.

Funny old world, isn’t it?

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