August: Renew

Susan May Oke:

Love this piece!

Originally posted on arike writes | stories:

In July, August and September I have to write a lot to finish my course. Instead of writing new things for my blog I’m going to tart up some old things. An early version of this story appeared in Words With Jam magazine in 2011. Let me know what you think.

We’re Chained

The ice cubes in Ali’s glass made tiny twitches as the vodka melted them. ‘This means something,’ she said, her voice hoarse.

‘I’m sorry?’ I said. My chest ached with the sadness that bore down on my ribs. I wanted to drink, and talk, and not think about the way each second, or gesture or even thought, was a second, gesture and thought further from where you and I had been.

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Debut novel by Alysha Kaye

1000x1600I recently came across this debut novel by Alysha Kaye that thought I would bring to your attention. The novel, entitled The Waiting Room is a love story with a difference:

“Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.”

This novel has had some excellent reviews on Goodreads and has an engaging trailer. I rather like the concept of book trailers. I read recently in New Scientist that an App is in development that can send smells over the phone network. If they can do that, then what’s next for the humble book trailer? A full sensory experience with sounds, taste and all those lovely sweaty odours? Perhaps… ah, but I digress.

A little background on the author:

author bio photoAlysha Kaye was born in San Marcos, TX, where she also received her BA in Creative Writing from Texas State University. She worked in marketing for a brief and terrible cubicle-soul-sucking time until she was accepted into Teach for America and promptly moved to Oahu. She taught 7th grade English in Aiea for two years and also received her Masters in Education from University of Hawaii. She now teaches in Austin, TX and tries to squeeze in as much writing as possible between lesson planning. She dreamt about The Waiting Room once, and offhandedly wrote her boyfriend a love poem about waiting for him after death. Somehow, that became a novel.

You can find out more about Alysha in a variety of ways:
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlyshaKaye
@alyshakaye7
alyshakaye.wordpress.com
http://alyshakaye.com/
If you would like to avail yourself of a copy of this book you can get hold of it via Amazon:

Kindle version:
http://amzn.to/TupzK9
Print version:
http://amzn.to/1ofMTXn

How long is a novel?

Susan May Oke:

Found this post from Jacey Bedford so helpful!

Originally posted on Jacey Bedford:

As aspiring novellists we always receive conflicting pieces of advice. ‘A book should be as long as it needs to be,’ is always a good one, but it’s also generally sound advice that, ‘first time novellists should aim for a concise book.’

A novel can be 50,000 words or 250,000 words, but 80,000 words is a reasonable length in non-genre publishing. In science fiction and fantasy, however, novels tend to be a little longer because – for starters – there’s all that world-building to cram in. So in SF/F a reasonably short novel might be 100,000 words or even 120,000 words.

So back in the days when I was with my first agent, CW, when an early version of Empire of Dust climbed to 240,000 words I knew it was too long for a first novel. I edited it down to 180,000 words and told CW that it was finished…

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Half A King – Joe Abercrombie

Half-a-King-Quotes-StaggeredJust received my copy of Half A King by Joe Abercrombie. I’ve been waiting for it to arrive for months and now can’t wait to read it. This is Abercrombie’s first foray into the YA market—a market that I feel will devour his work and hound him for more.

At World Fantasy Con in Brighton last year, I listened with rapt attention as Abercrombie read the opening chapter of Half A King. It contained the now familiar—and much loved—accents of tension and gritty violence.

One audience member asked wryly: I thought you said this was YA?

Abercrombie replied with his usual humour: What? I can’t say ‘fuck’?

Humour aside, as Abercrombie explained in a recent (June) interview with Locus magazine, this novel is aimed at the ‘top end’ of the YA market. The book is shorter than his previous offerings, a modest 80k, and my only concern is romping to the end and being left panting for more. The sequel is planned for February 2015, and the final part of the trilogy in the autumn of that same year. Looks like he’s going to be VERY busy!

If you haven’t read any of Abercrombie’s work, there is plenty out there for adults:
The First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself; Before They Are Hanged; Last Argument of Kings).
Plus three stand-alone stories set in the same world (Best Served Cold; Heroes; Red Country)

I started with the stand-alone books, become totally hooked and worked my way back to the First Law Trilogy. ‘Gritty’ is a word that is often used to describe Abercrombie’s work; his writing is also vivid, engaging and intense. Plus, he tells a bloody good story!

News!

I’ve had a flash fiction piece accepted for the A Touch of Saccharine anthology, by Kindofahurricane Press. The piece, ‘Too Sweet’ deals with the unexpected consequences of a fairground worker stealing a kiss from Candy.

I’m also looking forward, a little nervously, to reading one of my short stories, (‘Home Rock’ – featured on this site) at the Story Sessions organised by Arachne Press.

The event is taking place at the Café of Good Hope, London, SE13 6RT on Wednesday 23rd July.

Wish me luck and hope to see you there!

Creativity and Constraints – Part Two

Over the last few months I’ve experimented with a couple of techniques that have resulted in three flash fiction pieces being published in the online magazine ‘Sein und Werden’ (Being and Becoming). Not a title you would associate with science fiction and fantasy writing, but the magazine does accept speculative fiction.

Experiment One – Lipograms (writing without one or more letters of the alphabet)

Try writing a short piece without one of the letters of the alphabet. It’s trickier that you would imagine. If you are feeling particularly adventurous pick a vowel. Don’t do what I did and choose the letter ‘e’ for your first attempt!

‘Writing is always constrained by something. Rather than ignoring, or attempting to free themselves from these constraints, the Oulipians embrace them.’

Check out the ‘Sein und Werden’ website for more on the Oulipians and their approach to writing. The OuLiPo edition is full of great pieces written with a variety of constraints. I have two pieces in the magazine: ‘This Is It’ written under my name, and a joint piece ‘Walk in the Rain’ (part of the London Clockhouse Writers submission).

 

Experiment Two – Writing to a randomly generated title

The title I ended up with was: ‘I was simple in the haze of a smelly thunderbolt, but heaven knows I’m prehistoric now…’,

I had to smile, wondering what on earth I could do with that. Writing under pressure—given ten minutes to produce a rough piece as part of a group writing exercise—I wasn’t expecting to meet the teenage son of Thor in a deserted Tesco car park!

You can read the piece here, in the Surrealism edition of ‘Sein und Werden’.

Remember: Constraints are your friends; they will push you through boundaries and into a world that you never imagined. Go on, try it. It’s great fun, and who knows, you may end up with a piece that’s worth publishing.

Parsec Awards – 2014

The Parsec Awards are accepting nominations for the best speculative fiction podcasts.

I have a few favourites:

Clarkesworld Magazine

Lightspeed Magazine

Cast of Wonders - the best audio magazine aimed at the YA market.

Get your nominations in now at Parsec Awards.

Make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to nominate a short story from your favourite podcast. I admit to a vested interest as I have a short story on the Cast of Wonders podcast entitled ‘Patterns’.

All the stories are great. Have a read/listen and remember to nominate!

 

Creativity and Contraints

Have you ever noticed that the more constraints you face in your writing, the more creative you become? For example, writing a collage piece with a group of writers. This involves the giving and receiving of short phrases from everyone in the group, so that you end up with perhaps six unrelated phrases to work with. If working alone, choose at random words/phrases from the book you are currently reading. The challenge then is to write a piece that incorporates all the phrases within ten minutes. As an additional constraint pick one of the phrases to start and finish the piece with.

The key to this exercise is NOT TO THINK. Put pen to paper and let the words flow. DO NOT STOP WRITING during the ten minutes. Grammar and spelling are not important. You could write a load of nonsense, at this point it really doesn’t  matter. What you are doing is flexing the creative muscle. Have a go at it. You will be surprised at what the pen creates.

Here’s an example (rough and ready as it appeared on the page):

Bring me one child. Not two walking in single file down the long road to nowhere. Not any number divided by itself. Just one. Only one. The one that won the Derby, not the one that got away. Let  him or her be clear skinned and clear eyed. One long gaze at the world, seeing only beauty, not the dross that skirts our lives. Let the child taste of delicious pineapple, the sweetest in Guadalope. Lips licked, eyes hooded, badger-like. Only one will pass these gates, marked by posters decrying war and scratched messages that plead for kindness in the world. One does not gas badgers or foxes or small children.

This place stands as a bastion in their defence. Windows stare blankly, one across and two down, a mismatched face that watches the road. Waiting for the only one that can save us. Fringed hair plastered flat by the rain, walking slow but determined, slight fingers wrapped in yours. Trusting. Such a taste, such a sight, a vision awaited with bated breath. To wait so long, gazing at the world.

Any number of feet tramping the dust, walking single file. But not one of them will do. He or she won the day, chosen by their village, their city, their state to journey here and save both badgers and children. This is not a selfless task, we who wait have promises to keep and promises to claim. So slice the pineapple, lick the juices and tell me that it is not delicious. Eyes that have seen the world can rest here, knowing that this community will not gas the badgers. That makes us feel safe. This is the right place.

Trace a finger along the window pane, moving lines, up and down, tracing patterns, a pineapple matrix. Whisper under your breath, give me a number, any number divided by itself and I will show  you a prime child, just waiting to blossom. Sun and water, light and love–all will blossom here, nurtured within crumbling walls behind dusty windows. So, I ask you one more time. No, I demand it. Bring me one  child.

Phrases that I had to work with:

  • walking in single file
  • any number divided by itself
  • one long gaze at the world
  • bring me one child
  • one won the Derby
  • one tasted such delicious pineapple in Guadalope
  • one across and two down
  • one does not gas badgers

Royal Academy of Art: Australia Exhibition

Image

Exhibition: ‘Edward Burtynsky: Australian Minescapes’ at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney

The following pieces were inspired by several painting in the exhibition. When I looked more closely I realised that they belonged together:

When we got there it wasn’t what either of us expected. Not that we’d talked about it, you understand. We stood, hands resting on the bonnet of the car, the sun a hammer blow barely warded by sun-hats and shades.

‘So,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ she said.

The so-called cottage looked more like a shack, corrugated tin roof sloping to a squint over windows blinded by mud and dust. I turned on one heel, hoping we’d pulled up outside an out-building by mistake: scattered gaunt trees in various russet shades stood watch, a few scratty bushes hunched in untidy gangs, and in the distance I caught the lumpy shimmer of the outcrop that marked the quarry.

Nope, this had to be it.

‘Might as well take a look?’

She shrugged but followed, one hand waving a zigzag defence against the insect whine, her shoulders tight, lips pressed together. I had to shove my weight against the door, but I got us inside. Stepping into shade, an instant of relief before years of accumulated heat snatched our breath, dust-dry air coating throats, making it hard to swallow.

‘Shit,’ said together, in the same I-don’t-believe-it tone.

The edges of the room were crammed with guessed at boxy furniture crouched beneath yellowing sheets, improbable stick-like appendages tenting at odd angles. The dust-smoothed concrete floor held a history of delicate movement. At the centre, warmed by an invading shaft of sunlight, curled the largest snake that I had ever seen. Its flat wedge of a head turned to stare, tongue tasting the air.

The distant sound of hammer striking stone echoes around the quarry walls, repeating until the original sound is lost with its copies. A shout, indignation tapered by distance, is muffled by the scrape of booted feet: my feet, impatient to be away, while hand and eye continue to work, capturing detail, blurring lines. Is that thunder? Rocks tumble and slide, promising death to those who labour beneath the overhang. I snatch a breath, mouth stretched to cry a warning. The screech of a hawk on the hunt fills the air; trimming feathers to an arrowhead it dives.

This is the place to walk: where shadow encompasses the meadow and the only sounds are the buzz of insects and the inconstant digestion of sheep. Walk slowly, experience the brush of wide skirts against brittle stems, the soft scrunch of leaves underfoot. And there, on the edge of hearing, the cry of a hawk. The wildness, the raw edge of it, wakes a longing for vistas beyond the farmstead.

A door slams in the distance, a familiar voice shouts. It’s time for chores and supper, and perhaps, a story under the stars.

Pushing through the meadow and back up into the farmyard, moving from sound to sound, encased in noise. An unexpected silence points out the clamour. Sigh—one less burden to carry. One more step and the cacophony that is life snatches us back.

We shared a glance. It was all we needed. A shaky step back, then another, pursued by a rattled warning. Diamond patterns picked out by fingers of sunlight, flexing, arching, making new patterns in the dust.

No, this is definitely not the place.

Climbing back into the car, arms and legs sticking to sweaty leather, doors and windows sealed against the reality of this place, waiting for the aircon to kick in. Our retreat marked by dust trails of our own. Curling fingers of hot air, spun out by hard acceleration, grab at the bumper.

Writing in the Hayward Gallery

I spent a fun and creative writing afternoon writing in the Hayward Gallery. The writing was guided by exercises provided by Shaun Levin, and inspired by the works of Dayanita Singh and Ana Mendita.

Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer

Danyanita Singh is an artist and book-maker who works with photography. Photography is just a language: in her work images become texts.

Twilight shifts the world through shades of blue; haphazard lego-brick shapes with snaking pipes and orange maws fill the frame. Each light is a focus for conversation, for contact, as fingers and thumbs dance over glowing screens. Faces bend close; eyes narrow and then widen with delight; lips press together before stretching into a smile. Fingers flick, stroke and scroll. A sudden laugh, head thrown back, a momentary disconnect. The world rushes in: rumpled sheets and the smell of sweat and sex, the bite of hard chairs on the backs of legs, the familiar ache in hunched shoulders. And just for an instant, a glimpse of jumbled rooftops through the window, stretching to the shadow of hills and an empty sky.

Ana Mendita: Traces

During her brief career Ana Mendieta generated an inventive visual language. Using her own body, together with materials such as blood, fire, earth and water, she created visceral performances, which she captured on film.

Traitors’ Rock: a place for the clan to gather to witness the cleansing fire. A place for Marti and me to sneak back to at night, or in the drab grey of dawn, to sift through the charred debris, hoping for coins or trinkets that survived the flames. Sometimes we got lucky; mostly all we got were black-streaked knees and dirty fingernails.

That never stopped us; there was something compulsive about the place. It shouted secrets.

Marti cried sometimes, rubbing tears and snot across her face when I dragged her close to the Rock. I would have to shake her, and hiss that if she didn’t shut up the spirits of the stone would snatched her into the dark. And then I’d give her a piece of jerky to chew while she searched the outer rim of the burn. I had to remind her to give thanks when her grubbing fingers turned up a shiny, as she called it. Facing the Rock, we would touch soot-stained fingers to our foreheads and trace the sacred symbol, silently mouthing the words that bound us to this place.

Stillborn, I watch you. Hollowed out; smiling on the outside. Feel my skin. Don’t I feel solid? You smile and turn away, leave me rough and grieving: a scorched outline. Trace me—smooth fingers along rough surfaces, unwelcome bumps and lumps, caught on the cusp of becoming. No, don’t turn away. I exist only in your gaze. I stand in a frozen attitude of attention. Perceive me; consider me. Give me legs to stretch and walk away… from you.

Tree of lifeIf I stand here long enough, maybe you will see me. Or maybe you won’t. I hold my breath, torn between the two possibilities; not knowing, now, which one I want to come true. Don’t be stupid, I tell myself. Isn’t this why you have come? To be seen, noticed. To move in the same space, breathe the same air, taste life in the same way as you.

I hear the steady hum of voices, breaking into a staccato of shouts and laughter as you draw near. I take a breath, ready to step out, to enter your world. But limbs refuse to move, muscles lock in place. I’m a statue, slicked and pasted and moulded into the background. You saunter past. The moment is lost. Again.

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