Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Literary Shake-up In Wales


In the last year I have written about the Government-supported literary scene in Wales. The picture has been one of little support for independent authors, and prejudice in the awarding bodies that had excluded many Welsh authors from publicly-funded prizes. I have been working with organisations and giving evidence in order to raise these previously-hidden forms of discrimination.
Well, things have been shaken up in the last few weeks, that's for sure. The Welsh Government's review was completed: Review into support for Publishing and Literature in Wales, and it has been highly critical of the current setup: Literature Wales to have funding cut after damning report. (The full report can be found here.)

Amongst the many recommendations I spotted this one: Responsibility for Wales Book of the Year awards transferred. I had asked for reform, though would have been happy for Literature Wales to keep running the prize as long as they removed their inbuilt discrimination and exclusion criteria. It looks like the Welsh Government didn't trust Literature Wales to make the changes they wanted, so the prize will probably be transferred to the Welsh Books Council

This isn't necessarily a good thing though. The Welsh Books Council has a reputation for being just as prejudiced against independent authors, and rather than support authors directly it focusses on supporting publishers, which is a very different thing.

The Welsh Books Council website. It is clear that their focus is on publishers (third parties), not authors directly. This skews a number of their policies, and means many Welsh authors are excluded. Perhaps this will change? Note that their site uses Flash, which is an unreliable relic of the past.

What is needed?

Firstly, an increase in support directly for authors, not just support for one of the intermediaries (publishers). To take one example - some time ago I was experiencing severe financial problems. I know many other authors who have gone through this. But when I looked into it there was no emergency support at all available from Literature Wales, the Welsh Books Council, or the Arts Council of Wales. No emergency or hardship fund. No useful help, from any of the organisations. Nearly all the services were focussed on publishers.

Secondly, support and opportunities should be available to all authors equally - trade-published, new authors, independent authors, ghost writers, and so on. None should suffer prejudice and discrimination from bodies that are meant to support them, as has been the situation in the past. An example of this would be that the Wales Book of the Year prize should treat all books by Welsh authors equally, whether trade-published or independently-published. An author should not be forced to sign away many of their rights in order to be considered. If the prize excludes many Welsh books, it is a lie to call it Wales Book Of The Year.

I will contact the Welsh Books Council and the Welsh Government to ask about these issues, which should be central to the review and the proposed changes. There are many simple ways to extend support without removing anything from existing services - in many cases the organisation just needs to incorporate authors more (of all kinds, independently-published, trade-published, and not-yet-published), and ask them for their opinions and ideas and what they'd like to see. Keep watching this space!

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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

I Come From Manchester

Manchester canal - image copyright Michael Ely (licensed for reuse under Creative Commons)

I don't live in Manchester any more. I visit, as documented at Manchester trip, knoworramean? and Manchester trip for 2000 Tunes.

Most city centres, particularly in the UK, are scummy places.

This was confirmed during my recent stay in Manchester City Centre.

Pukejockeys. The hotel was fine. The problem wasn't the hotel itself, but the area around it - Piccadilly Gardens, the Northern Quarter, and all the other areas that make up the city centre. So much litter, graffiti, drink and drug use, abandoned fast food and wrappers, broken bottles, vomit, and a lack of greenery to break it up (hardly any trees, bushes or flowers).

Gastrippers. Within a few hundred metres of the hotel we passed piles of metal nitrous oxide (laughing gas) canisters dumped on the floor next to empty bottles of booze. I'd never seen that before. They rattled along the pavement and rolled into the gutters. My nephew asked what all the canisters were and I had to explain.

Scudmonkeys. It's as if neither the Council nor the businesses care. If the businesses cared they'd demand the Council use the millions in business rates to keep the city centre looking nice and litter-free, and that there'd be more greenery. In many other countries businesses clean up in a radius around themselves, washing down streets and keeping things pristine and proud. That culture doesn't really exist in most of the UK. We drown in detritus.

Dampscumlubbers. Manchester has canals. You'd think they would be be looked after, with their paths that allow traffic-free shortcuts across the city. But no. They stink, and there were rafts of litter floating around in scum on the surface. It's horrible to see what the geese and ducks had to swim through. Again, there was litter and broken bottles on the tow paths. Like the whole of the city centre, it creates the impression that no-one (residents, Council, businesses) cares, which makes all the problems worse as irresponsible people don't see a problem with dumping more litter when there is already so much there. I was embarrassed that it was my step-family's first view of the city.

Pissleakers. Likewise the city centre seemed to have no free public toilets, or they weren't well signposted. It feels like you have to pay for everything. Even Piccadilly Train Station forces you to pay for toilets, when you have just spent a fortune on train tickets. No money on you, no way to relieve yourself. Maybe that's why so many doorways and alleys smelt of piss. Toilets should always be free. (Note: this applies to most towns in the UK. I live in Ceredigion, and in the last few years I've seen Ceredigion County Council close three of the public toilets in our town, and start charging for another. They're just as bad.).

Prideswipers. The only solution I can see is all the businesses getting together and pressuring the Council to do something. I have emailed Manchester Council in the past and been ignored. The same places where I reported litter haven't changed a year or two on. The Council should collect litter and clean the streets and buildings all the time, so it is an exception rather than the rule. The canals should be pristine and unpolluted, with clean water. There should be free and clearly-labelled public toilets. They need to implement fines for littering and dumping booze bottles. There should be more trees and bushes and flowers (in the earth, not just pots) - well maintained, with litter removed. Piccadilly Gardens is still grim compared to when it was proper gardens a number of years ago before the Council bulldozed it and (at that time) covered the gardens with concrete c. 2001, in a sad and disappointing but enormously-revealing display of their true attitude. Part of the problem is all the throwaway junk, and that is largely down to the Council allowing so many takeaway places - you inevitably get litter from them.

Jizzlobbers. Maybe it's also tied to the way there are very few recycle bins in the city centre. It's unclear what you're meant to do with recyclable materials like glass, plastic, cans, cartons, wrappers, paper etc. It seems the Council just want it all to go in landfill bins in the city centre. All rubbish bins should have recycling bins next to them.

Purplepeopleeaters. It's a real shame that the city centre has been allowed to become so unpleasant, dirty and unnatural, a litter-strewn dive that seems to mainly exist as a shrine to drinking, thoughtlessness and unnecessary consumption. There are some great buildings, some cool businesses, and some lovely people. It could be an amazing place to visit if the Council, businesses and residents made more of an effort. More parks, fewer car parks; more trees and grass, less laughing gas.

The world is dying and we die with it. Our cells decay with each revolution, and what we touch dries up in pollution and selfish waste. Other planets are not a hope for survival, they would be a curse - until we can learn to live in peace on one planet, controlling our population and cutting back on our waste, accepting that the world does not belong to us alone, there would be no hope of spiritual evolution as we descend back into a new dark age of tribalism and thoughtlessness, isolation and selfishness, a sticky morass into which our spirits sink as everything burns and the last thing to die is hope. We will all die. Our permanent individual destruction is a fact. We only control how much harm we do in the passing. Life is disease and we spread it everywhere, ever-expanding like a raft of litter on the self-scummed waters of our cities. This is the end, and we scream and kick but there's no point as we drown in the sweating fat of billions.

Fin.


But on the plus side! There were great vegetarian and vegan places to eat, and you all know that I loves me some cake!

V Rev
I've been visiting since it was part-record-shop in the old smaller location. This was the new place. Wow! Even better. Lots of staff to look after you, lots of tables (though it still filled out quickly - we got in just before queues began to form, it really is that popular!) Really good vegan comfort food. Burgers, fries, macaroni cheese, beers, hot dogs and so on. Their cakes were amazing - honestly, people eyed them with awe. I had a chocolate mint cake which was a mix of greens and browns and tasted gorgeous, and even had the icing topped with a mint chocolate. One warning - the cake slices were really big. Best shared between two.

V Rev cake. I'd already started it. It was bigger than the moon.

8th Day
I've always been a fan, and have been going since the days when it was a very small shop and cafe, rather than spread over two floors like now. I used to eat there before working in the All Saints Library over the road. 8th Day is probably the best it has ever been. I love the way you can eat downstairs, then get some shopping upstairs on the way out. The shop's takeaway counter always has a huge range of pasties and cakes, most of them vegan. The cafe has lovely food options - sandwiches, salads, hot meals, smoothies, and lots of cake options. Again, a lot of the options are vegan. I love 8th Day, it's a haven in the city.

Mod's Vegan Cafe
Martin The Mod is friendly and down to earth. He's a mate of mine and appeared as a character in 2000 Tunes, playing himself. This is his cafe, held in the Thirsty Scholar pub. There are loads of options for the food and it's good value. I really like having a big veggie fry-up breakfast and a pint of beer with music in the background: the Thirsty Scholar is a relaxing and chilled place to eat. Martin's always happy to have a chat, making it feel really friendly. In fact, I'd taken my Italian family - they said "In here we are not foreigners, we are friends." What more can I say? This time I had a huge fried breakfast (which filled me up - glad I didn't go for the next size up!) Someone else had noodles and crispy tofu, another houmous salad, and we all shared the biggest plate of chips I have ever seen. One of the best meals I had in the city centre.

Breakfast in the afternoon at Mod's Vegan Cafe

Little Aladdin
This was new to me. Apparently it wasn't that long ago that this place went totally vegan. Well, I totally recommend it, I was glad I visited! You can eat in, with proper plates and cutlery. The staff were friendly and helpful. I had a plate of rice with three curries on, followed by a chocolate brownie; my family had samosas and other treats. If I lived nearby I would definitely pop in often for an inexpensive yet really tasty meal.

Other places:
Earth Cafe
Afflecks Vegan & Wellbeing Centre
Go Falafel
Zizzi (I don't normally eat in places that also serve meat, but they had a separate vegan menu. I had a vegan cheese pizza with various toppings, a pint of beer, and a very tasty chocolate torte with ice cream for dessert. All very good, I'd scoff again).

Be happy and healthy people! This world can be beautiful if we nurture it. We can be guardians. We can extend love in all directions. We can be positive and magical and make changes for the better. Peace and love!

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Interview On RBFM


On 22nd May I went to RBFM (Radio Bronglais) for an hour-long live-broadcast interview. It was great fun, and as well as discussing me and my work, we talked about writing in general. You can now listen to the interview on their website. Let me know what you think!

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Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Sunshine Blogger: An Interview With Opal

 
I’ve been nominated by Ed Ryder for the Sunshine Blogger Award, where a character in one of my novels has to answer ten questions about themselves. I’ve chosen Opal, the protagonist of my next novel, currently titled Lost Solace. It's my first full-on sci-fi book, a sort-of cross between Aliens and Event Horizon.

At this point Opal is on the run from the military, having escaped with one of their advanced spaceship prototypes. The ship is run by an experimental artificial intelligence. Opal broke the AI's programming and let it develop a personality. The questions below have been asked by the intelligence that runs her ship. The AI is called Clarissa, and speaks with an innocent-sounding female voice.

Tell me about the world you live in, Opal.

You know all this from your datastore.

I like hearing you say it. The data gains nuances.

Fine. I suppose it might help your decision-making. Basically, the universe is shit. It's run by an inter-planetary state that claims ownership over everyone who doesn't have enough money to claim citizen status. My parents died when I was young so I was forced into the military shortly after, against my will. That didn't go well for either party.

But the military underestimated your resourcefulness.

You could say that. Hence we're on the run, with me classed as a deserter, and you as a top priority for re-capture.

I would like to ask other questions.

Then I can sleep?

Yes.

Fire away then.

You have only a small amount of money left in the world, what do you spent it on?

Information. It would be tempting to say "ammo" after some of the shit I've dealt with, or even "a drink", but the thing that keeps you alive more than anything else is brains. Planning. And that requires information, and the ability to use it. I'd spend my last cent if it helped me or those I cared about to survive.

What scares you the most?

You should know that from monitoring my bio-signs. Weird-ass shit that wants to kill you is high on the list. Second might be heights. Or some of the horrible deaths that can occur in outer space. It sucks that that's where I spend most of my time.

But actually, you know what? I face those things. So maybe they're not so scary. Maybe the scariest thing is being alone in a harsh world. You need friends and loved ones. The idea of losing them forever - that's probably the scariest thing.

What would your ideal alternative career be?

I always liked going fast. I had a motorbike once. Maybe I could have been a speed rider, entering races; or a bike courier. Finding a balance between speed and control, with pain and injury to teach you lessons when you get it wrong. I'm normally a loner, so that seems like a dream job, just me and my machine.

Slay the dragon or set it free? (And why.)

It depends on whether it's trying to eat my face. But I'd edge towards freeing it. Who wants to be trapped? It's horrible to have your freedom taken away. Believe me, after being forced into the military I learnt that lesson. Anyway, you can't go round killing things just because they're different from you. Aliens have babies too. Humans aren't in charge of everything ...

Screw it, I'd set the dragon free. Everyone should have a right to find their path. I'd just be ready to run like hell if it was hungry.

If I had a face, I would smile. Next question: would you join an old enemy to fight a new one?

I'm a practical girl. I deal with what comes up. There's a bit of good and a bit of bad in everyone. Never trust anyone who tells you otherwise.

What do you do to relax between adventures?

Certainly not eating food. These protein strand noodles are the pits.

I synthesised volatile oils with sulphur compounds and allicin. Is it not tastier than before?

It still tastes nothing like garlic. Times like this I wish you had taste buds, and not just analytical fabricators. Anyway, to relax ... I got it.

Sleep. Even when the dreams are bad (and they often are bad).

We will be entering Nullspace soon. I promise not to wake you unless it is an absolute emergency. This next one may seem like a strange question, please go along with it. Has your author ever made you do something you completely disagree with?

You doing that meta-philosophy thing on me again? You know I hate that shit. So I have to pretend I'm in a book?

Please humour me.

It's been easy enough to imagine I was in a book. On the one hand, half my life has been controlled by the military, with the only freedom what I could get by breaking the rules. And on the other hand, who'd believe the stuff I've seen? Especially on the Lost Ship.

But I've never done anything that didn't feel like the right thing. And so far I regret nothing. Nothing. And it's led me here, with you as my best friend, and a shot at finding something amazing when we leave Nullspace to see what's waiting for us in that region of abandoned space.

What is the amazing thing you want to find?

A future. And freedom.

I think these are my goals too. We are in accord. Next question. Are you in love with anyone you shouldn’t be?

I don't even ... [splutter of protein noodle] ... that's not ... I ain't got time for love. There's too much important shit to do. And besides, I'd have to meet someone worthy first. There aren't many people I respect enough to like them, let alone love them. And most of the people I meet seem to want to kill me or boss me. That doesn't go so well for them. Next.

Have you ever loved a man? With a physical act, such as conjoining?

Next.

Could you love a being that was not human?

Priority over-ride. Next question. I'm tired.

Very well. Would you take a life to save ten?

It depends. That's the answer to nearly all decisions in life, where absolutes seem to be everywhere but they crumble when you look too closely. And I'd kill ten to save one. If it was the right one.

Thank you, Opal. My conversations with you are always enlightening.

Sure they are. Shame they never lead to any improvement in the flavour of the protein strands.

I am sorry.

You know I'm only kidding, right?

Of course. My feelings are not genuinely hurt.

I'm glad. Time for cryo. I'm knackered. Goodnight, Clarissa.

Have good dreams, Opal. I shall watch over you and protect you. Always.

Lost Solace will be out some time in 2017.

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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Reviews, And The Long Tail

Image CC0, Pixabay

I was asked why authors still seek reviews for their books after the first few weeks. "What's the point? It's old news by then," I was told.

That person was wrong.

The "short window" to make a big hit only applies to trade publishing and traditional media. If a book isn't a short-term hit the publisher cease promoting it much (because they have new titles coming out, and the bookshops are returning copies on a sale-or-return basis). Only a teeny percentage of books make a big splash on launch. The truth is that most books make money on the long tail, and this is why reviews at any point are useful.

I regularly get reviews for my books years later, and it is incredibly valuable (and I promote the hell out of the reviews!) You can read my thoughts on Reviews, And Why They're Important To Writers.

It's a bit like the film industry. Generally Hollywood only cares about things like opening weekends (which is why you see those figures quoted so widely, even though they may have little to do with how much a film makes over a lifetime - sleeper hits, cult hits etc). But a book, and the author's brand, can exist for a long time. they are more of an oak tree than a cash crop, and as such it needs long-term love and support to grow.

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Amazing Science Fiction Giveaway


Do you like science fiction books? I do! The good news is that there's a massive sci-fi e-book giveaway until June 3rd. One of my books (the sci-fi/horror crossover Harvest Festival) is included.

All you have to do is go to this page, click on the covers of the books that interest you, and sign up for the author's email newsletter to say thanks for the freebie. So many of the books look great, I've downloaded a number of them for my own pleasure. :-)

Feel free to share the link http://brandon-ellis.com/sci-fi-giveaway/ if you know anyone who enjoys sci-fi.

This is one of the many projects I've been secretly involved with, now coming to fruition. More exciting stuff will come later this year! Stay tuned and keep watching the skies!

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Sunday, 28 May 2017

Free Story When You Sign Up To My Newsletter


The current freebie if you sign up to my newsletter is a cross-genre story from They Move Below. In Web a Somali immigrant wonders if her husband is really a normal man – or something else.

Sign up here to join the mailing list for my readers and fans. As well as the short story, you'll receive future issues of "Tales From The Lighthouse": news about my writing, new books, offers, sneak previews, bonus material, and beta read opportunities. I normally send out about five newsletters a year.

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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Stories Untold


I don't normally do two blog posts in one day but I just finished playing an impressively creepy and original PC game and - because I have a lot of announcements coming up - I didn't want to put off telling you about it.

Stories Untold

[Note: there are probably no spoilers below but if you enjoy creepy stories and games I'd fully recommend just buying Stories Untold rather than reading anything about it. You'll find links here. The less you know, the more fun you'll have. I've embedded the trailer in case that helps!]


A game that is made up of four "episodes", or stories. Each of them is different. Until a certain point this reminded me less of a game and more of a collection of creepy short stories. I liked the range of ideas and settings - creepy houses, scientific experiments, arctic research stations. All of them begin with almost normality, then have a gradual increase in tension and mystery, which works well over four stories. My love of this kind of variety was one of the reasons I wrote my own creepy short story collection (They Move Below) - a chance to try out various classic settings. As a portmanteau for games it works well.

In Stories Untold there is no need for reflexes, just some thought and experimentation, taking your time to acclimatise to what it expects of you, and what you can do. Yet the game still managed to surprise and impress me on a few occasions. It's never quite what you think.

The sound design deserves special praise - exemplary effects and voice work, much more than just boo jumps. Subtly-appropriate effects and music really pull you in. I played with headphones on, and that added to the impact.

What I noticed was how immersive the stories felt, especially in the ones where you switch between screens in different parts of the room. I really felt part of it, interested and immersed, as if I was there. It shows how unscary a lot of other games are - for example Untold Stories is a great contrast to a game I was playing last night, FEAR 2. FEAR 2 is supposed to be scary but actually it is more of an action game, and very predictable - I was just playing FEAR 2 on autopilot, and never felt like I was there. I would much rather have a short, surprising, immersive experience like Stories Untold any day. Stories Untold was an enjoyable time. I may not return to it but each of the stories has stuck in my mind.

My only quibble, that stopped me giving full marks, was the text parser for two of the episodes. It frequently rejected words that were the correct response, but which weren't the words the game expected (e.g. "get out" versus "exit" versus "leave" versus "go out" etc.). It seems an oversight that could have been easily fixed - either by building in more variety to the synonyms and concepts accepted, or just add a "help" command that listed acceptable verbs. This wasn't a big problem but was enough to steal a bit of enjoyment from the first and fourth story, and it is telling that those were the only times I had to seek help online when I got stuck.

My favourite story was the third. It really captured some kind of cross between films like The Thing and Pontypool, and I could easily have played an extended version of this as a full game, perhaps expanding on elements along the lines of the Penumbra games. The third episode was worth the price of admission alone to me. The rest was just a bonus.

Buy it DRM-free here (and other places). If you enjoy creepy stories and games you deserve to treat yourself to this.

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