Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Karl Is Angry: Moon Hit By Scientists


I saw the following link in my Twitter feed yesterday, covered by the BBC:

"Sighting of meteorite's moon hit by Aberystwyth scientists"

Why are Aberystwyth scientists hitting meteorite moons? What did those poor moons ever do to them? And why did the BBC only report that scientists had been seen doing it, rather than going to the police with this information?

This got me proper affronted. I studied astronomy at university. Even won a prize in it for "outstanding achievement". Then these scientists come along and start hitting things. What next? Will they chin a planet? Uppercut a star? Suplex a black hole?

Proof of my astronomical credentials

I complained but got no response from BBC, who obviously have an anti-moon bias.

I will continue to report on cases of science gone mad.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

My Girlfriend's In A Comma, I Know, It's Serious

What punctuation issue do people come to blows over most often? Single versus double quotation marks? How to use an ellipsis? Dashes? Apostrophes?

Nah, it's commas. Specifically, the serial comma. (Some people call it the Oxford comma. I don't particularly like Oxford so will stick to the proper name of a serial comma. Though as a peripatetic writer, I am aware of other punctuation elements tied to real places, such as the River Piddle Slash and the Shitterton Dash.)

A serial comma is where a comma is added before the final conjunction in a list, usually "and".

Example without a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below and Harvest Festival.
Example with a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below, and Harvest Festival.

Generally, individuals either brandish knives and shout "You must always use a serial comma!" or they raise a club and yell "You must never use a serial comma!" Yep, it's all or nothing for most people.

But guys, come on, peace and love! Chill! In most cases the answer is not to be found at one extreme or the other. Those who say it should never be used are being silly. Look at this sentence.

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Teletubbies.

Wow, how many ex-lovers did I have? It becomes a lot clearer (and prevents me being taken to court for slander) if I add a comma:

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Teletubbies.

Phew! They were just inspirations, and separate from my ex-lovers.

My infinitely wise view: if the comma clarifies things (prevents confusion), I definitely add it. If it creates confusion, I definitely leave it out. In all other cases it doesn't matter one way or the other as long as you're consistent. That's how all punctuation should be used - the minimum to achieve clear communication.

And clarity of communication is always the issue. This week a court case hinged on a serial comma. If a certain dairy had used one they would have won the case. As it was, they lost. Hard cheese.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Out Now! Karl Drinkwater’s Horror Collection

Lock the doors. Bar the windows. Sharpen the axes. Boil the kettle. Then stop ... horror time!

All three of my horror/dark thriller books are now available as a single e-book collection (which works out a fair bit cheaper than buying them separately). It should be available at all the major e-book vendors, including Amazon. The three titles included are also available separately, both in print and as e-books. Please spread the word. :-)

The Blurb

Three Horror Books In One Tense Collection.


An isolated Welsh island seemed like the perfect escape for a convict on the run, a jilted woman, and a policeman seeking a quiet life. When the surly locals turn to murderous violence the three visitors are forced to flee together, trying to stay one step ahead of their increasingly insane pursuers.

"TURNER was intense, dramatic, and shocking. Well-done horror is all about setting up an atmosphere of anxiety and hopelessness; Turner smothers the reader in both in the opening chapters. It’s not ‘if’ someone is going to die, it’s ‘if’ someone will survive." -- Lizzy's Dark Fiction

They Move Below

In this collection of fifteen tales Karl Drinkwater sews flesh onto the bones of our worst fears whilst revisiting some of horror's classic settings, such as the teen party, the boat in trouble, the thing in the cellar, the haunted museum, the ghost in the machine, and the urban legends that come true. No-one is safe. Darkness hides things, no matter how much we strain our eyes. And sometimes those things are looking back at us.

"THEY MOVE BELOW is a great collection of dark tales. Nobody is guaranteed to come through a story unscathed, and there was enough variety in the scenarios that I was able to read through more than one story in a single sitting and still think each new tale felt fresh. Mr Drinkwater has a delightfully warped imagination. Now if you will excuse me it is late and I need to go and turn on all the lights..." -- Grab This Book

Harvest Festival

First the birds went quiet. Then the evening sky filled with strange clouds that trapped the heat below. Now Callum wakes, dripping in sweat. Something has come to his isolated Welsh farm. If he's going to keep his family alive during this single night when all hell breaks loose, he'll have to think fast. And when he sees what he's facing, he suspects even that may not be enough.

"HARVEST FESTIVAL - I felt like my heart was in my mouth. I could very much feel the fear that the family were feeling and as a parent my maternal instinct was kicking in and shouting at Callum and Cerys to get their family to safety. This is certainly not a novel you want to read just before going to bed. It literally had me on the edge of my seat. I found it to be a very tense read that scared, yet thrilled me. A great read for any horror lovers." -- ByTheLetterBookReviews

Reviews - A Favour Asked!

The three books that make up the collection each have lots of reviews, as you can see from their individual pages: Turner, They Move Below, Harvest Festival. Unfortunately, the reviews from the separate books don't have any effect on a compilation, meaning the new Horror Collection looks rather lonely and unloved! That will stop a lot of readers from taking a gamble on the book. So the favour is: if you've enjoyed any of the three books in the collection, please could you pop a rating (and/or few words of favourable review) at one or more of these sites? Many, many thanks if you do!


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

End-User License Agreements - EULAs

Sometimes you have to agree to something you can't even see, 
in order to use the software you paid for - this is how EULAs appear in Steam on my PC

What Is An End-User License Agreement / EULA?

End-User License Agreements - EULAs - are those mammoth and impenetrable "Terms & Conditions" (T&C) documents that are cited whenever you install software or sign up for a new service of any kind. Which generally means a few a week. It's common knowledge that people do not read them, and therefore are not actually agreeing to them when they click a button - they are clicking the button just to move on. The words "I agree" bear no relationship to the intention of the person clicking on the button.

The screenshot above is a good example. I sometimes buy computer games on Steam (though I prefer GOG). Then when I go to install the game I bought, Steam pops up a box like that above. To play the game I have to click "I AGREE" - even though I am not shown what I am agreeing to, making it impossible to agree in any meaningful sense of the word. (I reported this craziness to Steam many times, and they either ignored it, or support just went in circles with no resolution).


Are EULAs really too long to read? This is what Wikipedia says:
One common criticism of end-user license agreements is that they are often far too lengthy for users to devote the time to thoroughly read them. In March 2012, the PayPal end-user license agreement was 36,275 words long and in May 2011 the iTunes agreement was 56 pages long. [Source; checked 7th March 2017]
So the Paypal agreement is the length of half a novel of densely-packed legal jargon. And you're meant to read and understand it all before clicking the button. How ridiculous.

As I mentioned here, I once copied and pasted into a Word document a selection of the EULAs that were mashed into my face over a five month period in 2010. It certainly wasn't every relevant agreement/T&C/licence, and nor was it from some specialist sphere like work. This was just from being a normal person using my PC and installing a few games and bits of software. The agreements over that period amounted to 331,993 words, or 592 pages of dense single-spaced legalese. Seems ridiculous doesn't it? No-one can realistically be agreeing to all that; if I'd included licences I had to deal with from my work in libraries it would probably have tripled that figure or more. If you're interested, you can view that document here. In a few cases I couldn't copy and paste from the EULA box because the software/service provider had disabled that option (thanks), so I had to enter random words that came to the same total so my document's final word count was accurate, even if the content wasn't. Bear in mind that was 2010 - we use even more software and services nowadays. It's not unknown to share content via Hootsuite or Buffer to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on, while listening to Spotify and dragging a file from Dropbox to Google Drive so you can use Wordpress to update a blog post and edit the image you downloaded from a stock image site with Photoshop, and you check something on a phone app that came via an app store (both of which had their own "agreements") while you wait etc etc. Also bear in mind that EULAs/T&Cs are not static. I often get emails telling me they've changed. And, yes, I'd probably be expected to read them all over again - the service will assume I do that, and agree with it, all unless they hear otherwise (by ending the service I have already paid for). My head spins.

No wonder I hate this kind of thing. It's one of the reasons I changed the copyright sections of my books to make things more open and easier for people.

Finally, this article captures what would happen if we were really able to read all these EULAs: "I read all the small print on the internet and it made me want to die". And that was only reading a puny 146,000 words of EULAs.

This is one curse of modern life: normal functioning includes agreeing to things you do not, and cannot, agree to.

Update 2017-03-17: Further links

Saturday, 25 February 2017

One Book Interview #2 – Karl Drinkwater

A couple of days ago I was interviewed on Andy Graham's website about books that have had an effect on me. Here's a backup of the post.

For this week’s installment of the One Book Interview series, I’m very happy to have with me a British author who has a book nominated for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards. (I’ve read the book – it’s great.)
May I present Karl Drinkwater.

Name one book:

1 – everyone should read
Watership Down (Richard Adams). Maybe if more people read it we wouldn’t be building roads and houses on all the green spaces. Richard Adams was a thoughtful writer and sounded like a good bloke.

2 – you would take with you if you going to be marooned on Mars
So difficult to choose just one! Unsurprisingly my shortlist is all sci-fi. In the end I think I’d go for Neuromancer (William Gibson). I can’t resist this tale of hackers and revenge; surgically-enhanced assassins who only see the world through filters; personalities smashed then stuck back together by the military; mysterious intelligences directing our actions; and a conspiracy-uncovering finale aboard a space station for the rich. A world that I can fall into, whether the sky is the red of mars, or the colour of a dead TV channel.

3 – you took a chance on and were pleasantly surprised by
Housebroken (The Behrg). I expected a short and nasty tale that would entertain me if I could stomach it: I was surprised by how imaginative it was and how cleverly it was written. Too many authors would restrict a book to a limited number of settings and layers, but The Behrg impressed me by always taking it further, throwing in a twist that pleased and convinced me that I was in safe hands. I then sought him out and interviewed him for my website.

4 – you’ve written that is your favourite
Harvest Festival, because it’s the kind of book I love to read: believable characters, a fast pace, mystery, scary action, and for being deeper than just surface-level events (it’s really about families and love). I also have a soft spot for it because it is in this year’s Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot list, which is the furthest I’ve got in a major writing competition. I have my fingers crossed that it will go on to the final shortlist later in the month, but even if it doesn’t I am still proud of this little gem.

5 – that has influenced you most as a person
Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy (George Selden). First book to make me cry, and a story with a great heart that made me want to protect other beings. Kids’ books are the first we read, and they are hugely important in shaping our tastes and values.

6 – that has influenced you most as a professional
Oh, the edict to choose only one book is too cruel for this question. As a teenager I was obsessed with the books of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. That’s how I spent a lot of my pocket money (if it wasn’t spent on computer games, role playing games, Fighting Fantasy books, and Citadel Miniatures). If I had to pick one book from each: Night Shift (King) and Midnight (Koontz). Night Shift has so much variety to it, and so many brilliant stories, that it is worth dipping into again and again. Midnight is just a great example of pulpy-but-exciting horror that keeps you riveted, and introduces new and exciting scenes at a fast pace. Both of those works inspired elements of my last book.

7 – of yours that prospective readers should start with if they want to get to know your work and where they can get it.
I’ll pick my first novel, Turner. A group of visitors to a remote Welsh island find themselves trapped there by a storm as the locals go on a murderous rampage. They don’t like tourists round them there parts.

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for nearly twenty years, ever since he went there to do a degree: it was easier to stay than to catch a train back. His longest career was in librarianship (twenty-five years); his shortest was industrial welding (one week).
Sometimes he writes about life and love; sometimes death and decay. He usually flips a coin in the morning, or checks the weather, and decides based on that. His aim is to tell a good story, regardless of genre. When he is not writing or editing he loves exercise, guitars, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice and zombies.

You can find Karl at:

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dear New Author (1)

Dear New Author,

I'm writing to you about your first book, Sinking In The Amazon. I may write you further letters. I don't know how well you deal with constructive criticism, but having got this far I assume you're pretty good at it. So don't take any of this the wrong way. I know if I revisit my books I'll find improvements that could be made. It's never-ending because our craft keeps improving. Which is a great thing! I count myself lucky that I've worked with literary editors who are straight to the point and pull no punches. Thanks to that I learned a lot each time. Particularly with my first relationship novel, for which I got whacked with the stick so many times I couldn't walk straight.

"Show don't tell!"
"Let the reader do the work!"
"Be more concise!"
"Is this detail really important?"
"You are repeating yourself!"
"Cut to the bloody chase!"

Yes, my editor wrote all those things and more. But they stuck in my mind. Even if you don't want to revisit your book, the stuff you learn after publication will be worth bearing in mind for your next book. You will write one, won't you? The successful writer is the one that doesn't give up. (And the one that keeps improving.) So I'll give you some of my thoughts, and I hope you'll see them as well-meaning advice, some of which is vital, some which is hogwash, since I'm no more right than the next man/woman/demon. Though I often edit fiction, so that gives me an edge over supernatural entities that don't.

Firstly: don't be overly disheartened by the negative reviews you received. On the other hand, it is worth analysing any information you can get hold of as to why the people didn't like your book. In some cases it just isn't their cup of tea, or isn't their genre of preference: nothing you can do about that (apart from make sure the cover, blurb and categories metadata are correct and clearly indicate what kind of book it is). But if an issue comes up enough then it is worth considering.

Okay, structure: an issue with your book is that too much of it was setup. According to my Kindle I was 40% through the book before anything major happened, tied to the central arc. Up until then we just followed your protagonist Johnny Bigballs on his daily routine. The novel only really picks up after he finds the gun, so shorten the first bit, get rid of some repetition, get to the hotness sooner, let it shine front and foremost. Every scene in a novel needs to do something concrete in terms of revealing things or moving plot along, not just passing time. If it's really important make that clearer. Because it is good once it gets going! That Johnny, what a character, eh? You just need to crank up the engine sooner. Focus on that escalating series of events - each has to have a greater risk for the protagonist than the last. In terms of how quickly we get to the tension I like to think of other books. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is fantastic (despite that author's abuse of apostrophes). Cormac could have begun the book by showing the relationship of the protagonist with his wife, the war starting, how they survived in the house, the wife leaving - but no. He begins at the point of highest drama, tells the story from there, using flashbacks if required, and it keeps the reader tense. We begin at the core of the real story: the boy and his father. By the way, you might think "I can't shorten the setup, there's so much I need to say" but think about short stories - they might be able to get across a lifetime of background in just a page. Obviously we don't have to do that in novels, we have room to breathe, but we all know it can be done.

Another way to crank it up is to use subplots. Novels need conflict, but apart from the central murder (committed by tickling someone to death, which was certainly original), your novel has no other plots running in parallel, nothing to give it depth. Everyone Johnny meets is really nice to him - colleagues, police, family, friends, torturers. So it is harder for the reader to feel engaged. We need conflict between desires and outcomes, between characters - add some extra strands and increase the tension.

I want to mention use of detail. When to include it, when to omit. It felt like I was often told everything Johnny did, every trip to the toilet, even if it didn't reveal anything new or move the plot along; yet other times I wanted to know details and they weren't given. I'll give some examples.
  • A few times he sat down to watch his favourite old films, and cried: but the films were never named, which makes it feel a bit unreal. It helps to create sounds and memories and tell us more about him if we know what he watched. There's a world of difference between him crying while watching It's A Wonderful Life, versus The Exorcist, or Porky's II: The Next Day.
  • Likewise when Johnny spies on martial arts classes, none of the martial arts are named, turning the concrete to vagueness. Martial arts do not all look, sound, feel or smell the same. There’s variety: from the bangs of judo throws, to the kiai shouts and punches of a karate class sparring, to the silence and effortless throws (and lots of rolling on the floor/ukemi) of aikido. If you spend the time talking about something, piquing the reader's interest, then you have to seal the deal.
Okay, let's look at one error, and ideas for fixing it.

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub. That would be me and my daughters on the news."

The full stop leaves the clause unfulfilled.  It needs joining.

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub that would be me and my daughters on the news."

Or you could pause for emphasis:

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub ... that would be me and my daughters on the news."

Or maybe even better:

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub ..."

i.e. leave it hanging and let the reader do the work. There's often a temptation to explain too much. Sometimes we don't need to. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks.

General tips for you.
  • Don't repeat things multiple times, in different ways. She agreed, then she nodded, then the narrator says she was sure it was right ... This happens quite a bit, and many words could be cut which would speed up the novel.
  • Johnny summons a policeman when he suspects danger next door, but never insists the policeman check inside the house, even though Johnny has a spare key. I wanted to yell at him to do this: Johnny was far too passive. Never miss a chance to let a character make a decision, to overcome a challenge! As it is, this scene is not earning its keep the way it could, tying elements of the novel together, and you missed the opportunity to weave in tension.
Okay, that's me done. Don't be put off, but if a few of those things are useful, or lead to a bit of revision, great. They could help fix some of the criticisms in the negative reviews if you're willing to put in more work. And trust me, nothing I've said is as harsh as what my current editor says to me. Once she told me "I skipped this chapter, pretty much. You'd bored me and I couldn't face it."
After that I went back and did some major re-thinking. And it was all the better for it.

Good luck with the book! I want to know what Johnny Bigballs does next!



NB This is not a real letter, but it is a combination of points I made in some past editing commissions, anonymised and merged together. There are further examples in my post 13 Tips for Writers. Oh, the book and the characters I refer to are fictitious too. Though I'd possibly buy it if it was published.


Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: "Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel (A Memoir)"

My review of Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel (A Memoir)

I don't normally read memoirs. They strike fear into my heart as potentially being Trojan horses for egomaniacs. Everyone has a story to tell, why should someone think theirs is of interest to others? Well, the answer is already there - we all have stories to tell. Whether fiction or not, there are patterns in lives, and there are experiences in common, and characters where we can identify feelings and behaviour and say, "Yes, I have felt that too." This is why we read. And that's why it was a pleasure to read this.

Firstly, you can tell you are in safe hands. Jessica knows when we need detail, and when we don't; when the reader can be guided, and when the reader can be trusted; and that restraint was one of the things that first endeared me to the book. Jessica is an experienced author/creator, and this is far from her first work. As such it is well-written and polished. More than that, it is crafted with a fiction-writer's sensibilities. There is foreshadowing. There is repeated imagery. There is structure holding it together. There is an arc. If someone had never written a book before then I would not recommend that they tried a memoir, but in the hands of someone who understands the craft it can be as readable as any work of fiction.

And it was readable. Some books are a chore to return to, but this was a joy, so I read it quickly whilst still savouring the obvious love of language in phrases like "my innocence still finding excuses to outshine my demons" and "I wore psychological earplugs like a nun wore her habit". I'm kicking myself for not marking a few that made me laugh, that were ripe for revisiting and rolling around in my mind. So if you like good writing, there's plenty to feast on here.

The best books are a journey (physical or mental); and there is development, often maturation, for the main character. I was wrong to be suspicious of a memoir, because both of those important elements drive and shape this narrative. I'll admit it. I was won over. I genuinely enjoyed this, and I think you might, too.


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Paper Celebrates An Author

From the Cambrian News, 2nd February 2017, page 8

I know, I know! I already talked about my appearance on the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot list here! But when I popped up in a newspaper as a result I couldn't resist sharing it above. (It was in their online version too).

[Note that I am not actually "shortlisted" - that's an error on the part of the newspaper. If anything, I am on the longlist. The shortlist of nominees is announced on 23rd February.]