Thursday, 14 November 2013

Releasing the Terror Organic

Terror Organic, my new short story anthology.

I must admit, I wasn't sure whether to release this collection. It's made up of a selection of stories that have previously been released (Just One Day, The Uncanny Mr. Bones, Words, The House On The Bay, Skin Baby), two previously unreleased short stories (The Grey Man and The Man Of Dreams), and Shred, the first novella in my Cuts Of Flesh series, put in as a taster for parts 2 - 6.
Most of these stories have been free at some point, or were permanently free (Just One Day still is). Can I really justify charging for stories that I've put out for free?
Well, I would hope so. A lot of people have downloaded my freebies since I released The Binary Man back in May 2012 (well over 10,000). Whilst I have no doubt that some were simply downloaded, took up space on a Kindle, then were deleted, some were also read, reviewed, and hopefully enjoyed. It's to the people who have enjoyed by stories for free that I'm trying to appeal with this collection. 
It takes a lot of time and effort for me to write. I do enjoy it, for the most part, but my stories give me an equal amount of despair during their initial drafts, a feeling that sometimes doesn't fully subside once they are "finished". Despite my love of stories, I find writing the "right" story very difficult. There are a lot of hours too, far too many for me to consider thinking about, all slotted around a demanding full (and over) time job, and family. I know that this situation isn't unique to me, but I still hope that if you have enjoyed my stories, maybe one or two, or all that I've released for free, then maybe you would consider buying the collection retrospectively, if you feel you had £2 worth of satisfaction from it.
I know there are people who don't like the genre I write in, or my style, or the plots, and if that's you then don't worry, I wouldn't expect you to pay. Equally there are people who download my books to support me, and I'm eternally grateful, and don't want you to pay either. You do enough. But if you are in that group of freebie downloaders who have enjoyed my story, please consider buying this collection. You will also get two new short stories, so there's a little something extra there too.
Oh, and whichever group you fall into, please review anything you have read of mine, whether you enjoyed it or not. It all helps!
Thank you.
Buy Terror Organic here.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Multi project!

Just one of my projects.

This year has been a strange one so far. Last year I wrote frantically, finally finding the confidence to get ideas that I had been fostering for years written down. I wrote Heal The Sick, Raise The Dead in two months. I wrote Cuts of Flesh in nine months, (six novellas) and three short stories, even cramming in a novel during NaNoWriMo. Since then I have flitted between ideas, crafting covers and trying to fire myself up for something big, something important, something that will get me noticed (if the end product warrants it). "Last year was practice, this is the main event!" is the mantra that I've been trying to push myself forwards with. 

It hasn't worked. 

I've got a list of stories of various lengths that I've started and then left when the fire has faded a few weeks (or even days) later...
The Oddments
The Keep

This isn't actually a new set of circumstances. I used to do this all the time, but the only difference now is that I've finished some of them.

I could even add The Overcloud Codex to the list, as after a satisfying first couple of chapters, my plot began to bore me. I had envisaged a slow set up for maybe a series of books, a story of a world thrown into flux, but after planning a couple of chapters of political webs and conflicting relationships, it just seemed too ponderous, like discussing trade routes in those awful Star Wars prequels. I'm plotting a major rethink, but am putting the story to rest for a few weeks so that I can look at it fresh. 
And now, stepping into the fray, is Shy - a "choose your own adventure" mature horror set in Japan. Think Lovecraft in the east. The uncanny, the unknowable, red herrings, immersive terror... and it's great fun to write! As I've said before, I'm no literary fiction writer. I'm pulpy, shlocky, and at times cheesy. That may change as I practice (as that's all I'm really doing at this point), but for now, I'm going to continue to write what I enjoy, just to keep writing. Plus, I think the choose your own adventure set-up has enough retro charm to actually do quite well, especially with a more mature edge. A lot of people who have normally been lukewarm about reading my books have seemed genuinely excited to give this one a go. It even has scope for a series if it does well...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Skin Baby

Here's a short story I wrote as a way of getting my brain back into a habit of writing. It's based on a rather strange dream my friend and editor Kathryn had. Enjoy!

Skin Baby

"Hoffner," said the suited man. "Is that a type of beer?"
"No," I replied. "No, I don't think so..."
The man wrapped his tongue around his gums, before giving his head a sharp nod.
The solution to his personal conundrum seemed to satisfy the man, bookending the conversation in his mind. His brow glistened with a thin film of sweat. His glasses were thinly rimmed with gold, or gold effect. I looked down at my notes. My words were drunken spiderlegs on the soft blue lined paper.
"What am I looking at here?" he eventually asked. His eyes narrowed against the glare of the halogen strip lights. The glass was clear, but only on our side. The infant could only see his own reflection.
"Samual Leopold Mc-"
"Official designations only, if you please," said the man curtly, flicking his eyes towards me. I paused, momentarily blank. Too much coffee. I'm becoming blinkered again.
"Subject one," I said, having to read it off the page. Of course. How could I have forgotten that?
"He's unique enough to warrant it."
"But surely-"
"We've defined a new category."
"How old is-"
"The boy will be three this month."
"Hoffman," said the suited man, turning towards me fully. His shoulders pressed against the smooth lines of his off-grey suit, "if you interrupt me once more I'll send you back to pharmaceuticals."
I bit my lip reflexively. Don't mention that he got your name wrong...
"Fine..." he continued - to himself more then me - before turning back towards the observation window.
The room beyond was a mess of broken toys and spilled food, bodily fluids and blankets.
"It looks like a nest," said the man. I've already forgotten his name... Mancini? He's Professor Kray's superior, I know that much. "There had better be a good reason why that room hasn't been cleaned to company standards. This is a research facility. We have standards to maintain."
The blankets shifted as a small hand reached out. It slipped through a miasma of rotting fruit before grasping a red and blue plastic hammer and dragging it back into the grimy cotton folds. The suited man's eyes fixed on the movement.
"I was led to believe that agitation caused the effect," he said, leaning forwards until his forehead almost touched the glass. A faint halo of condensation began to form on its surface.
"Yes, but we've both recorded and exhausted the effect. Did you watch the footage?"
"I watch all footage from all departments. It's one thing to see it on screen and another to witness it."
"Well... we have got a test scheduled for this evening."
"Very good. I'm here now."
"I'm here now," said the man, looking back at me. His eyes widened beneath his glasses.
We looked at each other for a few seconds.
"Perhaps we could bring it forwards," I said slowly. Kray will have my head.
"I think that's for the best."
I turned and scurried over to the control panel. My white coat was stifling. My badge beat against my breastbone with each nervous step.
"Begin," said the man, folding his arms across his chest.
My hands flew across the various dials. My fingers twitched with stress. Easy now, not too much...
A high pitched wail sang out. It was loud enough on our side to cause an involuntary wince; I knew that beyond the glass it was almost insufferable.
The mass of blankets unfurled like a dying flower. The boy rolled out, pink and glistening. His skin hung in rolls. His mouth was wide and toothless. We could barely hear his wails over the siren.
"Does it take long, or does... ah..."
The suited man's voice trailed off as the boy flipped onto his front. Bones shifted and slipped. Skin stretched and balloon, flowing as smoothly as water. Flesh tumbled and rolled.
"As you can see, the skeleton slips free almost immediately," I said, managing to keep the nerves out of my words.
The suited man flinched as a sudden shape pressed itself against the stretched skin that had been the boy's back.
"The skull," I said by way of explanation. I was gaining confidence in direct relation to the man's increasing disgust.
Streams of blood drizzled out of eye sockets that flapped free of their usual home. The press of frenzied limbs within the skin dome brought to mind a soft edged anemone.
"Stop this," said the man in hushed tones, as if afraid he could be heard over the cacophony.
Nerves fell back into place. I should have warned him. The recordings do no justice to the living sight. I shut off the wail and watched as the vigorous movement began to slow to an undulation.
“The way it moves...” started the suited man, before slipping a handkerchief free of his breast pocket and holding it to his mouth. He turned away to retch. In the room beyond, the boy's finger bones started to slip back into place within the glove of his own flesh.
“The boy has complete control over his body cells,” I said by way of explanation. The information did nothing to improve the man's mood. He closed his eyes as he pulled himself up straight. I could hear his breathing, sharp and fast.
“It's too much,” he said quietly. His back was both to me and the boy, who had begun to crawl back into his makeshift bed.
“We have even begun testing on smaller, ah... off cuts,” I said. “Professor Kray said we needed more time but the results are already astonishing. It's as if each cell can divine a purpose individually.”
“Divine,” repeated the man. He turned back towards me. His skin had bled of all colour. The sweat was no longer a film but a delta of rivulets.
“They can move. Each cell can move, when provoked.”
“Burn it,” said the man. He pulled his glasses from his eyes roughly and wiped his other hand over his pallid features. Sweat rained onto the ivory tiled floor.
“I don't follow,” I said carefully, hoping I had misheard.
“Burn it. Cleanse the room.”
“With respect, he is not an 'it'. His name is Samuel.”
“Do you think that matters?” asked the man, reaching forward and grabbing my shoulder. He began to knead the bone and skin together. “No one knows he's here. We paid good money to ensure that was the case.”
“But morally speaking-”
Moralilty?” screamed the man incredulously. He swung his arm and gave my cheek a sharp slap. I stumbled sideways into the glass with a dull thud. The sound caused the blankets to stir. “This has nothing to do with morality. That thing is repulsive. It disgusts me.”
The man bore down on me. His hands grabbed my lapels. The crocodile clip that held my badge snapped free and the my plastic enshrined face fluttered to the floor like a sycamore seed.
“We are here to study the next age of evolution, not to cavort with demons. That thing is a unholy. Kill it.”
My mouth moved uselessly. My thoughts froze.
“He's a boy,” I said softly.
Kill it,” repeated the man.
My eyes slipped towards the room. The greatest discovery of this age, lost because of fear...
The man released me, letting me tumble to the floor.
“You have one hour.”

The room was bare. The scent of bleach still stung my nostrils.
“Two years of research...” murmured Kray.
“He looked at me,” I said, staring at the spot that had been Samuel's bed. “He looked right at me. I don't know if he recognised me.”
The flame-thrower had been the only tool guaranteed to rid the room of all bodily cells.
“I don't even recall if I've ever shown him my face before.”
Kray sniffed, three times in short order. “Enough. This has left a bad taste in my mouth.”
The lab hummed with a dull machine heartbeat.
I carefully lined the remaining documents up with the shredder and began feeding them into the machine. The waste paper basket was already brimming with a vermicelli of white entrails.
“The air is too dry in here,” said Kray, sliding an index finger into his collar and jerking it away from his throat. He sniffed, before giving a quick cough, as if trying to dislodge a hair ball. “Do you have much more to do?” he asked irritably.
“There's just the samples,” I replied numbly, turning my back on him as I cast my eyes down upon the Petri dishes that were lined up along the counter.
I blinked. My right eye spasmed a little. I reached up with a knuckle and rubbed.
“Did you already dispose of these?” I asked. If he had, it would have been the first time he'd touched the samples since harvesting. Kray was an infirm man mired in theory, with hands that jerked in time with his pulse, despite his best efforts to control them.
The only answer from Kray was another rasping cough.
The counter itself didn't appear to have been sterilised. I placed my hand upon the surface, and lowered myself into a crouch as I carefully began to trace a barely visible, pink tinged line that zigzagged towards the floor.
“Hoffner,” said Kray, the word whistling in his throat as he gasped.
I shot a glance towards him. His hands were straining reflexively at his face, as he delved his shaking fingers into his own mouth. I pulled myself up quickly, my hands unintentionally sweeping the dishes onto the tiled floor, where they clattered and span.
“Move,” I commanded firmly, pulling his jerking fingers away from his spittle flecked lips, before tilting his head back. My right eye began to water with effort as I scanned his open mouth.
I caught sight of it a moment before it slipped from view, pink and quivering, wriggling downwards along the back of the old man's throat.
I let go of his face in shock, stepping back.
The faded pink/red line was there, snaking it's way up the hang-dog folds of Kray's sagging face, snaking its way into Kray's left nostril. It was indistinct, and far too faint to notice unless it was looked for, but its significance warranted fluorescence.
Kray gasped, a dry, jittering wheeze. His eyes conveyed a thousand questions, but only one emotion – desperation. His airways have closed. His airways have been closed.
My right eye flared with a sudden needle of pain. It was so intense that it dragged my attention from the dying man towards my own physical plight. I staggered over to a mirrored cabinet, scattering a trolley of surgical tools. Steel glittered as it rained upon the tiles.
The surface misted with my breath. I wiped away the condensation in time to see the line of hairs, crawling like caterpillars from my ear and into my eye, following a line...
Blood began to bead at the corner of my eye, seeping from the newly created and deepening wound.
My own words returned to sting my mind. “They can move. Each cell can move, when provoked.”
Perhaps the mind was never in control...
Kray collapsed. His lips were lined with blue. The memory of seeing the square of the child's flesh crawling into his lungs forced itself back into my mind. It was somehow worse than the knowledge that the boy's hairs were digging through my optic nerves, towards my brain...

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The first year review!

My first year of public writing.

(Well, it's been thirteen months... but I was a bit tired).

Well it's certainly been a mixed bag of a year!
It started with the release of The Binary Man (a cyberpunk/semi dystopian adventure) in May of 2012. The book had been languishing on my computer for two years in a seriously un-proofed form, a situation that I have only recently 100% percent rectified (thanks Kathryn!). It did (and continues to do) surprisingly well for a first book.
Bouyed with the small (and friend supported) success of the book I decided to throw myself into writing a second, which turned into Heal The Sick, Raise The Dead. This one was much more bleak in tone, dealing with an unreliable narrator during an undead outbreak. The book has received generally more favourable feedback than the Binary Man but far less sales. I have no idea why this is. It could be the subject matter. Still, I'm happy with how it turned out, though I may amend certain parts in a 'Director's Cut' style at a later date. The highlight of the project was getting a professionally produced cover from Jody Whittle of He's worked with Alan Moore, so I have too... by proxy. I have. All right, I haven't.
Next up was my Cuts of Flesh series, which I wrote as a way to tie a few different stories I've had knocking around together with the same protagonist. I decided to release it as an ongoing series despite the fact that I hadn't thought of an ending, a mistake I will NEVER repeat. I found myself tied to details that I wanted to change simply because I had already published them, and such restrictions slowed my writing to a crawl that lasted for months until an amazing holiday in Japan unclogged my idea bung holes (they exist) and I finished the last three parts at a breakneck pace.
In between I also wrote a few short stories (Just One Day, The Uncanny Mr. Bones and Words) as a way of distracting myself from Cuts of Flesh. Just One Day was the breakout hit, getting a lot of good reviews and also making me a bit of money. I had no idea that anyone would buy a short story of 12,000 words but clearly some people will!
I also decided to join in the NaNoWriMo event in November, scraping another cyberpunk novel The Real Thing from my sleep deprived mind and writing 50,000 words in November. I finally worked up the courage to look back over the draft recently and it was better than I remember so I released it on amazon. I think my exhausted mindset at the time made it seem more shaky than it was. I need to give up coffee but it calls me back every day...
The best part of the year by far has been getting to know some great people, three of which stand out above the others. 
Ethan Spier was the first real contact I made and his help and advice has been invaluable over the past year. He is a talented (and successful!) author whose book Kinesis has been at number 1 in the amazon sci fi adventure chart for an age. Check out his stuff here
Kathryn Perkins is a wonderful person who is single handedly proofing and editing my entire back catalogue as we speak. She is a great source of support and re-affirms my faith in human kindness on a daily basis. She is also a talented artist and sculptor, and her custom guitar pendants can be bought here
Last but in no way least is George Hodan, a photographer with an amazing eye whose pictures I often use for my book covers. He has won several awards on and deserves all of his success and more. Check out his pictures here
There are many others that I've got to know through twitter and facebook, far too many to name, but rest assured I read and appreciate all comments and reviews.
This year has been fraught with self doubt, frustration, joy and a lot of hours of graft. Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and though I have made some mistakes I hope that I will learn from them and craft a smart marketing strategy to go along with my hours and days and weeks spent on writing.
As for the next year, I think will be a tough one, but hopefully rewarding. My goal for now is not to make money (that will be a long way off, if it ever happens) but rather to get better at constructing my stories with the aim to getting something published, indie or otherwise. To do this I need feedback. I value honesty above all else and have no problem with constructive criticism of my writing. My writing is a lifelong passion and a lifelong project. Let's see what part two brings.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Bring the bile!

A friend of mine, who has always been very supportive of my fledgling writing attempts, told me tonight that he hates something I've done. This is not just in passing... he really hates it. He loathes it. He hates every aspect of it.
This is a refreshing thing to hear, as I've found that during the past year (it's pretty much a year to the day since I released The Binary Man and began writing myself into a caffeine haze) I've received occasional lukewarm reception, occasionally good, but rarely any criticism. 
This is actually more depressing than it sounds, for two reasons. 1: I always want more feedback, and 2: there are a lot of things I've done wrong. I know it, whoever reads this occasional blog knows it... most likely anyone who stumbles across my stuff on amazon knows it. My stuff is poorly proofed by myself due to my soft brain. My plots aren't always planned well. My dialogue can be stilted and cliched. My characters can react unrealistically at times.
I'm trying to address all these things and I hope I'm slowly improving. I have met a great person who as I type is probably hard at work editing my back catalogue for the peculiar blind spots I have for my writing. I take great pains to make sure my dialogue sounds realistic without falling into the trap of actually being realistic with all of its false starts and snatched sentences. Planning plots... well, I must admit that apart from a vague outline I nearly always wing it based on how the characters fit within the setting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I could spend a lot more time redoing and refining my stuff but I admit that I am actually enjoying throwing my words out and seeing what sticks.
The point is that from a writing point of view I'm still an infant. I'm one year old. And just like a child, sometimes I need to have the rules explained. I need to know what to avoid, I need to know what bits I'm doing right so that I don't lose focus on them and I need to know when I'm about to drop off into a chasm of crap... well, that last one is a little more figurative but you get the idea.
Please, tell me which bits of my books are crap! I've said it before and I'll say it again, I want to know!
Think of me as a public project. Get involved. I'll always listen.