Thursday 25 October 2012


I'm trying something new, and I need your help. Yes, you - with your iPhone in one hand and iPad in the other. You're just the kind of reader I'm looking for.

I've entered a story in the Ether Books Halloween Contest. It's my first foray into publishing solely for mobile devices, in this case, exclusively for Apple devices (the Android version is coming soon). The rules are simple - whichever story is downloaded the most times before the end of the day on 31st October (next Wednesday, and - spookily - Halloween) wins the prize.

The stories were all released together at lunchtime yesterday, and now the various authors have until Halloween to get the message out there and encourage people to download the free Ether Books app from iTunes, find the "Halloween Contest" in the genres section, and download our respective stories, again for free. The QR code above should take you to the app.

So, if you have an iPad, iPhone, or other Apple device that can download content from iTunes, please get yourself a copy of my story, Hotel Subterraneana. Thank you!

It's been fun thinking up ways to promote this story, which is more in the Twilight Zone mould than about grisly gore or ghostly goings-on. Facebook and Twitter are the most accessible outlets, of course, and this blog, but it's hard to make sure the post gets noticed in the torrent of information that everybody is faced with everytime they log in to a social network these days.

I've designed a simple promo poster, which I'm pleased with:

... and I'm working out some other ideas that may or may not come to anything. It's interesting to play around with this kind of challenge. Find new ways to approach it, different angles to explore.

The drawback is that with this being a competition where marketing skills and pester-power are more likely to result in success than plain old writing ability, it's difficult to know where to draw the line. I don't want to annoy anyone, but to do well in this contest I'll need to persuade lots of people to download my story in a relatively short time. It won't cost them anything, just a few moments of their time, but it's still awkward to have to prompt people to do it soon, not just when they get around to it in a couple of weeks.

I'm lucky that I have people around me who are supportive and willing to help out, and I'm hugely grateful to them, but the likelihood is that I'll have to win over strangers as well, who may have no existing interest in my work and no real incentive to read one of my stories, regardless of whether it's free or not.

So, please accept my apologies if I stray too far into mindless promobot territory, and if you can help by downloading my story, know that you'll have my undying gratitude. And by all means, let me know you've dived in and got yourself a copy - I'd love to hear what people think of it and I'm more than happy to owe a few favours by the end of the contest.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Closing the Chapter One Chapter...

As I mentioned in a recent(ish) blog post, the 2010 Chapter One anthology arrived at the end of August. Here are some thoughts about it:

Okay, first things first. Let's start with the question everybody who's seen this so far has asked me. I have no idea why it's called "The Graft". It's not the title of one of the stories, in fact I'm not convinced the word "graft" appears in the book at all. I don't know why the cover has no mention of Chapter One, short stories, the competition itself, or even 2010. All the other competition anthologies I've seen (Bridport, Bristol, Willesden Herald, etc) have at least a hint of what they are and where they've come from. I kind of like the cover image, in a way - it's simple and striking enough, but again seems to bear no relation to any aspect of the contents. Or, if there is a story about a midnight lumberjack wearing pirate boots and chopping down an apple tree, I must have missed it somehow. Maybe it's a metaphor, for something.

The contents are the important bit, of course. I was a little surprised that there was no foreword or introduction, but that's obviously not essential - again, it's just the kind of thing that you usually get with a competition anthology. The stories themselves are, to resort to an over-used expression, a mixed bunch, although it was interesting that most of them were contemporary (mine is, but I thought there might be a few more historical stories or some science fiction or fantasy), and generally serious. I thought the quality varied considerably - there were some pieces that gave the impression of the writers being very new, with awkward phrasing and a few grammatical stumbles spoiling the flow of the prose. On the whole, though, the writing is pretty good, and although the majority of them are concerned with relationships, the stories show plenty of imagination. Sometimes competition anthologies get a bit samey, with the judge's personal taste stamped a little too firmly on the selection. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

Highlights for me were the story included came second, Dorothy Schwarz's Requiem for Lisa, a poignant tale of a woman obsessed with her voice coach but lacking any real talent for singing, striving desperately to perform one song perfectly so she can win his heart. Last Rites by Benjamin Dipple makes effective use of a dual timeframe, dual location narrative to tell the story of an elderly poet about to receive an award for his latest work, a book of poetry that draws on terrible memories from his past. And Ben and the Bomber by Susi Holliday, set during the Second World War, which includes some fantastic period detail and a heart-rending conclusion.

So the stories themselves are generally strong. It's a shame, then, that they're let down by the presentation. The general quality is fine - it's similar to my anthology, a typical print-on-demand grade of paper and glossy cover, which some people don't like but I think is perfectly acceptable. It doesn't say who was responsible for the editing, but although all the stories use the same font, there are big differences in how they are laid out.  Some of the stories use indenting for paragraph breaks (although they are unusually big indents), while others look more like they're formatted for on-screen reading and one or two have no gaps or indents at all. This is possibly something I only noticed because a rogue line break turned up in my story, giving what should just have been a regular paragraph change unnecessary emphasis. It definitely wasn't like that in the proof version I signed off. In some of the stories there are missing words, typos, or commas in odd places. These are small details, I know, but flaws like that do take the shine off the finished product.

The annoying thing is that with a bit more effort, this kind of slip could have been avoided. The Graft has been two years in the making, after all. The prizewinning stories in the collection represent an outlay of £4000, and by my reckoning that kind of expense justifies a little more polish. And considering the organisation behind this is Chapter One Promotions, there was a distinct lack of any announcement to herald the book's release. No launch party, no mention on Twitter, no Facebook page, nothing. I can't imagine anybody who's not got a story in the book has any idea it's been released. You have to dig around on the Chapter One website to find it, and when you do, it's very expensive - £12, plus £2.50 for UK P&P. There's no other option - you can't buy it from Amazon and there's no ebook version.

Ultimately, the anthology seems like a wasted opportunity. It missed the chance to sell to people to people looking to enter the 2011 competition, and now that it is available it's too expensive and too hard to get hold of, plus it's let down by some sloppy editing. All this means I'm very reluctant to recommend it to people, which is a shame, because there are some good stories in there.

Monday 1 October 2012

A Review and Some Other Stuff

Okay, a very small post from me, mainly to say a huge thanks to Dawn Nelson for giving Somewhere to Start From a fantastic write-up on her blog, dans les points de suture. It's always great when you hear that somebody has bought and enjoyed your work, and about a thousand times better when they feel strongly enough about it enough to tell other people about it. So, please take a look at Dawn's blog and her stories. Flash fiction fans might also like to check out (and join in with) her "Friday Fifties" - fifty word stories inspired by something seen or heard from earlier in the week. Fridays usually work out quite busy for me, but I'm determined to give it a go sooner or later.

Actually, now that I come to think of it, there isn't a lot of "other stuff". I haven't been updating this blog as often as I would like, because I have been focussing on getting a bunch of stories whipped into shape for the end of October, as there are quite a few decent competitions closing then or then-abouts. I have half an eye on the Scott Prize, although I'm not convinced that's entirely realistic. It's a good thing to aim for, at least. I have booked some time off work later in the month to focus on writing, and this feels like an exciting opportunity. I think I'll have to plan my time very carefully and be disciplined about it or it'll fly by and I'll have achieved nothing.

And at some point I'll be posting a review of the Chapter One anthology. Yes, it turned up at the end of August and I've read it and am now processing my thoughts about it. I had hoped to get a response to it up here quite quickly - it would be good to close that particular chapter soon - but after waiting two and a half years to get the book, it's not going to matter if it takes another week or so, is it?

*** Edited to add: If Dawn's review has got you hankering after your very own copy of the anthology, then you might like to check out this offer from Just use the code below and save 20%. Bargain!

You'll need to be quick, though - the offer ends on Friday 5th October. Click HERE to go shopping.