Ta-da! Here it is - my 100th blog post. I must admit, I was quite surprised when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that my blog counter had crept into the high nineties. It's taken about two years to get to this point, as I only post once a week or so. I thought it was worth marking the occasion. And I thought a good way of doing that would be with the time-honoured tradition of a giveaway. Whoo!
It struck me that I've not really described the collection on the blog before, and this seemed like a good opportunity. So, here goes:
What is it?
Somewhere to Start From is a collection of 21 short stories, ranging from stories with a handful of words (I think the shortest is 27 words), up to much more substantial pieces. The collection represents the best of my "early work", in terms of stories that did well in competitions and those that were published in print or online during my first five or six years of writing fiction. There are a couple of unpublished stories in there too, although the majority of them have earned their stripes out in the big wide world.
Is it any good?
Since I put it together, the book's been well-received, attracting some very favourable comments on Amazon and elsewhere. It's a tricky collection to promote in some ways - although it has sold (and is for sale) in bookshops, notably the Press Shop in St Peter Port in Guernsey, and Books & Ink in Banbury, and has sold online too. Being both self-published and an admittedly random collection of short stories, it's hard to get past the assumption that it's yet another badly edited vanity project, and it's almost impossible to answer the dreaded question, "What's it about, then?"
What's it about, then?
One theme that pops up in many of the stories is a character trying to find their place in the world. Sometimes this is because the world they knew has changed beyond recognition; sometimes this is because they've never quite been able to understand the world in the first place. In Changeover Day, the first story in the collection, god prepares to make way for his replacement, and ponders what will become of both himself and his beloved dinosaurs. In Secondplace, a travelling salesman realises the sacrifices he has made for his career have left him stranded in a bleak no man's land. In A Night In with Zil, King Kong and his flatmate Godzilla try to keep a low profile while the outside world won't let them forget their violent pasts.
Elsewhere, there are stories of redemption, revenge, and unrequited love. Relationships fail, new ones are kindled, existing ones shift and change. There are stories about gods, monsters, angels, robots, hellish hotels, body-builders and body-snatchers. There are ordinary people just doing whatever they can to get by. There is a daring heist on a jewellery store masterminded by a talking magpie, a tale of adventure on the not-so high seas, and a restaurant review that's almost - but perhaps not quite - outlandish enough to be real.
Who'd want to read it?
I believe the mix of stories, genres, and styles mean most of the book will appeal to most readers. If you absolutely cannot stand short stories, or you only like bleak, humourless prose about beaten-down characters spiralling their way to an early grave, it might be best to give this a miss. But if you're open-minded, appreciate a skewed take on life, and enjoy not really knowing what's coming next, this could be just what you're looking for.
From a writer's point of view, it offers an insight into the kinds of stories and ideas that catch judges' and editors' eyes, as many of these tales have won prizes or been published in places like Writers' Forum, or The Guardian website. I totted up the prize money and publication fees and the book has a theoretical worth of £396 - which means the cover price represents extremely good value for money. You can see where some of the stories ended up by going to Amazon and having a 'Look Inside!' at the contents page. It's (obviously) not a how-to book, but if you're entering the same kinds of competitions, you might pick up some tips or inspiration. Or you can just sit there and seethe, thinking, The story I submitted was much better than this rubbish. Whatever floats your boat.
So, if you like the sound of the book, or if you already have a copy and would like to win another for a friend or relation (hey, Christmas is just around the corner, after all), just leave a comment here, or on Facebook, and don't forget to check back after 30th November to see if you've been picked.