Here comes the sun

I once read a list of things you should try and do every year, or at least once in your life. The one that stuck in my mind was "watch the dawn". I realised I'd never done that. I had been awake as the sun rose (usually having been up all night) but I wasn't paying attention to it, it was just something happening in the periphery. I wasn't mindful of it. There's a huge difference between conversations going on around you, and taking part in the conversations.

The idea of watching the dawn excited me, but also created some fear. Let me state this now: I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON. But I do love the outdoors, and natural scenes, and the idea of transitions. I remember the eureka moment as I read Plato's Republic over 20 years ago. It begins with Socrates returning home from a religious festival; it leads on to an all-night discussion about the nature of justice. The debate is finally wrapped up as the new day begins, and people 'see the light' - metaphor and situation overlap, form fits theme, and I was impressed at the way meaning can be layered into a work. With the dawn comes new understanding. That stuck in my mind.

Plus: I'm a bit of a hippy.

So on Saturday 21st December I decided I would see the dawn. I got up before 7am, made a flask of tea and a hot water bottle, wrapped up and walked up to the top of the Cefn Llan cemetery in the dark, sat down on the bench, and spent an hour watching the sky getting lighter, listening to the changing sounds and feeling the optimism of seeing a new thing coming into being, the feeling of being privileged, experiencing changes. A journey without leaving the bench. It was special to me, so I thought I'd share it. Photos are displayed in the order in which they were taken.

Aberystwyth, 7.16am



My books in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre bookshop this week.

That is all. Please carry on.

New cover for Turner

You may have noticed that the cover for Turner has changed. The new cover is this:

It has a number of elements from the novel: the creepy Bwystfil in the red hooded coat, the bike and Dynion toilets from the prologue, The Old Man pub, the stormy weather, the red colours that resemble blood... It does a good job of telling the reader what they're in for, helped by the tag line. It was designed by Create Imaginations. Let's take a look at the other covers Turner has had.


Aber News

I'd forgotten to post about this, but I was mentioned in the Aberystwyth University newsletter back in August, p16.

Book reviews by Shaun

There's an interesting mix of books over on Shaun Horton's blog - books to read and books to avoid. There are a few books there which I'd like to seek out myself for the cold, dark winter months. I'm also sharing it because he's been a long-time supporter of Turner, and in the link above he says:
Turner by Karl Drinkwater. This book currently has 4.16 stars out of 5 on Goodreads with 37 ratings, and it absolutely deserves it. This has a bit of everything, from suspense, to gore, to medical, supernatural, and psychological horrors. Many parts of the book will make you think of such greats as Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and even Poe. It pays homage to the many horror stories which have come before it, while presenting itself as an original work, expertly told. Another book I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in horror. Five stars.
Brill! Thanks, Shaun! You can read an interview I did with Shaun here.

Review: The Descent

The Descent
The Descent by Jeff Long

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this 5 stars not because it was perfect, but because it did what any good book should do - it made me want to keep reading. One night I read it until 3.30am, I just couldn't stop. Other times I would find time to read a chapter rather than do something else. Only a minority of books have this effect on me, so it deserves the highest praise.

The opening chapter is the best one in the book. Mystery, twists, economical writing, and a descent into tension and then really convincing horror. This is a high mark - it obviously can't be this good for the whole book, but the novel goes on to take you in directions you didn't expect, and you still want to read on. If anything, the horror element fades out slightly: the more we learn about the Hadals, the less scary they become, and in comparison the humans seem more and more to be the monsters. It's a nice twist, but switches the novel from horror to thriller. Still compelling, but less likely to give you nightmares.

As other reviewers have noted, the novel is full of themes and subjects, an ambitious amount that few authors would try to incorporate into a single work. And, generally, it works well. It is part of the unexpected nature of the novel, with the twists and abrupt changes almost representing the twisting and broken tunnels beneath the earth.


Special offer on Lulu

I just found out that there's free delivery on any Lulu items (books or calendars) ordered before 4th December, even a single book. Normally their postage can be quite high for low volume orders, so this is a good offer - you just enter the code FREESHIP at checkout.

You can get print copies of my books from Lulu.

Update - if that offer is over, here's another code you can use up until midnight on Thursday, December 5th 2013:
(30% discount, valid on up to 14 books.)

Bring me to life

About a month ago one of my stories was adapted as an online audio version. And I did rejoice and eat cake and dance a merry jig round yonder berry bush.

They say lightning doesn't strike twice. Well, we'll find out about that in my next horror novel, Full Charge. But in the meantime a different group of creepy story fans has got together and made an audio version of another one of my stories! And I did eat cake once more, and dance the jig while making merry, for 'twas brillig. Without any more ado, I hereby promote Midnight Marinara to be a defender of the realm of creepiness. Now turn out the lights and listen to their interpretation of Just Telling Stories! You can listen to it on:


Last bits of DRM ranting for a while

I had a big rant about DRM last time, and an example of an issue it caused. I thought I'd round off with a few other examples of DRM issues I have experienced in the past. Get all the rants out of my system, before I move on to a post about more positive matters - the new cover for Turner!

My last post was about a computer game. Games with online activation are always problematic. See this recent example from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Or their previous coverage of SimCity, or Diablo 3, or Anno 2070. Or the Ubisoft single-player games that stop working when they upgrade servers (which can then break other games). DRM leads to a cruddy, unstable, frustrating experience. Many of the important arguments against online DRM in games can be found here.

Even with physical discs, DRM reared its ugly head. Back in November 2010 I took an afternoon off work to play a newly bought game: Shellshock 2 on DVD. The game used Securom DRM, though I didn't know that at the time, since it wasn't mentioned in the item description when I bought it. The Securom DRM refused to install the game, saying it detected 'Emulation Software'. Yet there was nothing else running on my PC. After a lot of time I decided it must have browsed my hard drive without my permission and refused to let me play the game if I had (fully legal!) software installed that Securom didn't like. So I uninstalled Daemon Tools (used for my music software), but the game still wouldn't install. The Securom website was no help. I tried the Eidos website but that wouldn't even let you email them unless you created an account first. I spent over four hours trying to sort it out (with lots of back and forth emails and phonecalls to Securom). And it still wouldn't run, since the Securom DRM then claimed there was no disc inserted, even though it was. By then I'd had enough. I downloaded a pirated version, scanned it for malware, then installed and started playing that, because the DRM in the version I'd bought made the game unplayable. A month later I had exactly the same issues when I tried to play the game Jericho on DVD. In the end I tracked down a cracked .exe that disabled Securom - I could then play the game I had bought.
Nowadays, if a game has DRM then the amount I’ll pay drops by about 90%, depending on how severe it is.


Why I hate DRM - I want to play Ghostbusters!

This post isn't directly about writing. But it is about a technology used by many industries, and the book industry is one of those that embraces it. The topic is DRM, a technology designed to give the creator the power to prevent you from accessing books, films, games, software or music. The things you buy can disappear when the company folds, or they just stop supporting the item anymore, or the flaws in the DRM break other systems, or because you have used the thing you've paid for too many times, or for many other stupid reasons. As a consumer and producer it is a topic which I think about a lot. I hate the fact that you can buy something and have it taken away from you. Books you've bought disappear from your account; DRM turns purchases into a strange mixture of renting and gambling. And it's no wonder that DRM encourages piracy. Okay, let's get cracking on my most recent experience.

I love playing games. Board games with friends, and computer games on my own. Ever since I got an Atari 2600 as a child I was amazed at how computer games can tell stories in which you play a part through your actions and imagination. I moved on through the years: Atari 600XL, C64, various Amigas, then various PCs, my first being a 486DX. I worked during the summer to buy that PC, so that I could play Doom and UFO Enemy Unknown. I take my games seriously, thinking about the worlds and the characters, what their motivations are, what things are like just outside of the frame of the game, how I would improve things if I was able to modify the game. Basically the same mental processes that take place when I'm reading or writing.

I buy PC games in advance, as I do with books: when I see something that sparks my interest, or when something comes out where I want to support the creator, or if something good comes up in a sale. I own more games than I could play, but I see it as a personal selection which I can pick from as the mood takes me, as with any library. Dark nights, alone in the house? Check what creepy games are in the collection. Feel like stretching my brain? Check what strategy games I own.

But when DRM is involved your options are reduced.


The Lancashire witch-craze of 1612

I don't think I've ever had a guest post before, so please welcome Barry Durham with the inaugural offering. Halloween may have passed but it is still visible over my shoulder, creeping along to retreat into the shadows, so a blog post about witches is entirely appropriate. Take it away Barry!

Witches, victims or pawns? The Lancashire witch-craze of 1612

When the teenage Alizon Device swore at the pedlar John Law for refusing to give her pins on a bright March morning in 1612 she set in motion a chain of events that were to lead to the deaths of 12 people and have far-reaching consequences on both sides of the Atlantic.


Creeping Jesus multimediafied

I recently mentioned some of my stories that were featured on Creepy Pasta. Well, one of them got picked up by YouTube legend CreepsMcPasta, who narrates and dramatises creepy stories at a phenomenally productive rate! You can listen to Creeping Jesus here.

What's more, it has already been viewed over 38,000 times, which is mind-boggling to me. My own videos usually only get about 50 views!

To celebrate I thought I'd illustrate it with some pics of where the story was written and set: Aberystwyth Museum. They'll make more sense if you have read or listened to the story.


My post-apocalyptic survival bag

The apocalypse comes in many forms. Zombies, disease, solar EMP, world financial system collapse, aliens, religious, nuclear, mental fox hunters, and many more. You need to be prepared. You need: a survival bag! Here is a video showing the contents of mine.

Share your survival bag tips in the comments, or with your own video, or contact me with your thoughts. We'll get through this together!

Update: 13th October 2013.
A friend's survival bag video has been added below as a video response companion piece. Feel free to submit your own!


An interview with Shaun Horton

This week I'm interviewing fellow writer Shaun Horton. I was a guest on his blog back in June, and it is time to return the favour. He's an American writer, and his first novel was The Unknown Neighbor, a slow-burn piece with a twist. His new novel is Class 5, a fast-paced alien action story. You can read the first chapter here.

Hi Shaun, welcome to my blog.

Thanks for having me. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here.

Here’s a slice of red velvet cake. Before we get onto all this book talk, what would you like to drink with it? Tea? Fruit tea? Hot chocolate? Beer? Some other beverage?

Lovely, thanks. Iced tea is my regular preference.

And do you partake of cigars, a pipe, or gentleman’s snuff, perhaps?

Thanks, but I'm a non-smoker. You certainly know how to treat your guests though, I must say.


Horror Etc mention Turner

Horror Etc do podcasts on the topic of horror, mostly films, but occasionally they cover books too. It's an excellent series, I highly recommend downloading the mp3s and listening to them when you wash the dishes.

In the latest episode they discuss Turner, which brings a big grin to my face. The section is 2:36 - 5:26. They said of my novel: "It's a short, quick read [...] It gets to the point, it delivers what you're after."

Go and have a listen, then work through the previous episodes, it's top-notch stuff for horror fans.

Double bill double bill

A great new review of Turner from Terror Tree:
"There are sinister goings on a plenty in this first novel by Karl Drinkwater.
The story is set on Stawl Island, a small island just off the Welsh mainland. On the island, as well as a whole host of creepy villagers and Lord John (the lord of Stawl Island) are David, the new police officer, Chris, a criminal on the run, and Megan, on the island for a getaway after leaving her cheating boyfriend. Oh, and let’s not leave out Spotty the black labrador, the police dog.
With the creepy villagers and the twisted Lord it is not long before Chris, David and Megan meet up and try to survive a night from hell – and there’s a storm coming too……..
I would like to say that for a first novel this is good, but really that would be a massive disservice to the author. It is, in my opinion, way beyond good. The author has been likened to Richard Laymon and Dean Koontz by other reviewers and these comparisons are pretty much on the mark. I cut my horror teeth on authors like Koontz and Laymon and would also put him up there with them.
The atmosphere on the island is dark, heavy, foreboding. Right from the first few pages it is foot to the floor stuff with pretty much no let up till you reach the end.
This is proper horror writing, the stuff that makes you wince when you see what’s coming. I predict a bright future for Karl Drinkwater and will be adding him to my list of authors whose books I pick up knowing I am in for a good read.
Highly recommended – 5* (out of 5)"
And a lovely review of Cold Fusion 2000 on Goodreads:
"So enjoyable, so mysterious. What is the reality? Can we ever really know? Is it what we, the readers, want it to be? Is our esteemed author playing with us or with the characters in this ever so interesting and clever book? It also has all sorts of interesting touches and insertions. I didn't read any of the material about it on KD's blog first and I urge other readers to follow my lead and read it with an open, uninformed mind so as to enjoy it's full effect. I guarantee I will be re-reading this, it has that much depth. Thank you, Karl!"

Interview time

I've been interviewed over at Raven Reviews. Do I prefer cats or dogs? Find out there.

Advanced notice - in October I am going to post various horror-related things in the lead up to Halloween. Join me!


Playing my own game of thrones whilst cycling in Wales.
Fact: yes, I am a diddy writer. My bicycle is only twelve inches high.

Hi, sorry I haven't posted much recently. I haven't done much work on my new novel either: it's been a hectic few months. I've been away a lot, including my Manchester research trip, time in Cardiff, cycling 130 miles in Wales, and a recent visit to France. I've also been doing a promotional campaign to get more reviews of my books, as can be seen by my last two blog posts. That took a lot of behind-the-scenes work. I have plans for a number of posts in the lovely month of October though.

What have you all been up to recently?

Backup of the interview from Raven Reviews


Some recent reviews of Turner

Turner has also been receiving lots of attention recently. A lust for horror exists out there, just beyond the darkened woods and shadowed valleys.

Twitter mention. (21st August 2013)

"From the first page, Drinkwater’s debut novel glides the reader in with a creeping sense of dread of village inwardness and suspicion seen in ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘An American Werewolf in London’ and pretty much every Hammer Horror film. [...] The highlight of the novel is the Lord of island, a crazed dictator whose infernal madness is explained in a way that makes everything that has happened entirely possible. If given isolation, time and the means, something the likes of this could happen in reality. Lord John is the Colonel Kurtz in all of this, he’s down the river and in charge of mindless soldiers, using psychological warfare to carve his whims upon the world. The character of Chris is also a joy. Foul mouthed and quick thinking, I had the feeling throughout that this seemed like a jumping off point and that he might easily appear in solving other strange tales as a kind of pirate/gangster Fox Mulder facing off against further weirdness in the world. From the first page this sets off in high gear and doesn’t drop down until the last few pages. [...] If you enjoy a short breakneck read with a flawed hero you be at home on this island bound book, it just isn’t the type of book to take and holiday with you. Is it?" 
Snakebite Horror Reviews. (20th August 2013)


Some recent reviews of CF2K

They're pouring in at the moment! Here are some of my favourites.

"This was a fun read - a romance with a bit of a difference that had some good twists and turns as well as some humour and poignant aspects. Set in Manchester in the year 2000, I loved all of the evocative references to music and fashion; I was at college that year myself so identified with Alex’s younger sister and her own predicament with her exams. There was a lot of attention to detail that made this a really atmospheric read. The characters have a good deal of depth to them too. [...] My favourite character was actually Natalie - a girl who wore her heart on her sleeve. It made me smile to realise that Alex didn’t pick up on just what was under his nose - typical! [...] This was a solid, realistic story about love, loss, and the choices we make. Readers will definitely identify with Alex in some way: his constant soul-searching, procrastination and continual remembrance of his lost love.
Full review. (23rd August 2013)

"I don't wish to spoil this novel for anyone, but I must say, it's a very good read. The two main characters are stunning in their utterly blatant humanity. They are engaging, absorbing, and wonderful. I found myself losing whole chunks of time in this book without realizing it, that's how entertaining it is. The author is able to capture the complexity of thought and emotion that goes into every moment of being an individual and their relationships with those around them, while maintaining a very charming wit. Very well done. I very highly recommend this book." 
Full review. (20th August 2013)


The first video review of my work!

Here's a blogger and book reviewer, Charlotte, talking about some good books she's read recently. Cold Fusion 2000 appears! This made me grin hugely. You can jump straight to that section with this hand-crafted link. Charlotte's full review of CF2K can be found here.


Ratings for my books

I'm away next week, cycling round Wales and developing legs like a rugby player, so I thought I'd do a quick post now to tide my readers over.

Above are screenshots of the Goodreads ratings for my books, taken this morning. Despite the difference in genre it is gratifying that 5 stars is the most common rating (mode average). CF2K's lowest score is a 3, which still means ‘I liked it’. Turner has a couple of twos, both from people who aren't fans of that type of survival horror book (one said "I like my horror to be more supernatural than slasher otherwise this would have had a higher rating" and the other reviewer told me "I wouldn't call this horror; real horror has to be subtly intelligent with fleshed out characters. This is more suspense with a potty mouth and added gore"). Ha ha, that stung a bit when I first read it, especially because the character who swears uses it mainly to overbalance his opponents and 'turn' a situation around, tying it in to the theme and plot. Though I love the potty mouth accusation, I should get that printed on a T-shirt! I'm more interested in the right book for the right reader (Ranganathan, 1931) than selling copies to everyone, so would always try and dissuade these people from buying or reading the book, since it isn’t good for them or for me.

The average scores worked out by Goodreads are 4.24 and 4.21 (out of five) which suggests my writing quality is consistent regardless of what genre I write in.

Anything I've missed?

Share the words


Easy, huh?


Review: Alien

Alien by Alan Dean Foster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've loved the concept of Alien ever since I first watched the film in the early 80s, the jaw of every family member dropping open at the chestburster scene - before we hit rewind to watch it again. I approve of any work that is coherent, where the form fits the theme. And in the original there is that first feeling of awe at something completely alien to us, a feeling lost in the sequels which - even though some are still good films - increasingly see the Alien become a scary but known quantity. It is no longer alien.

Despite having seen the film many times, reading this novelization based on an early script let me experience elements of it as if for the first time, because there are subtle changes from the film I know: extra characterizations, a different pace, altered details. We can never experience anything again for the first time, but this captured a hint of that feeling of discovery.


Manchester trip for 2000 Tunes

Manchester. Tall buildings 'n' stuff.

I've been working on 2000 Tunes, a companion novel to Cold Fusion 2000. Both are set in Manchester in the summer of the year 2000. And, just as I went to Manchester to do research for the first novel, I have done the same thing for 2000 Tunes. Then it's taken me days to type up my notes from my trip to Manchester. But I did it in the end, and here it is! All 4,794 words of it.


Make mine a builder's tea. There's a right good view from up here.


Manchester research trip

By the weekend I'll upload a report on my research trip (I got back last night) and all the lovely people I met.

14 Words That Are Their Own Opposites

Some words are easy. They only have a handful of definitions to pick from. Other words are more difficult, especially those that have contradictory meanings. Yes, some words are their own opposites. Can you think of any? This article describes fourteen of them, go and enrich your word power!

The ratings game

We're all used to rating things. Whether that's out of five, ten, or 100, we do it instinctively in this online world. Rate books; rate films; rate recipes; and even ratings for more unsavoury things from the slimy depths of the Internet.

Generally we assume we know what different scores mean. We may have our own system, or we may check what the site says scores mean. But overall I think we like to assume that equivalent scores mean the same. And if I give a book three stars on one site, I would also give it three stars on another - after all, they mean the same, right?

Unfortunately, they don't.

I was interested in how different book sites that all use a five star system interpret each score. My books are often reviewed and rated on these sites, and some readers are kind enough to put their ratings and reviews on more than one site. I found some interesting things. Come with me as we delve deeper.


Find out my secrets

Actually, there aren't many secrets, but you will find out a bit more about me in this interview on Shaun Horton's blog. See you there!

Backup of the interview from Shaun of the Not-so-Dead


Amazon Kindle issue resolved

Since I've had a few emails about this: the issue with a faulty Amazon Kindle has now been resolved. I have a replacement from Amazon and have updated that blog post appropriately.


I normally post all my reviews to my Facebook writing page, and link to the best from the book's description page on this blog (in the 'Buy My Work' section). However, reviews of my books have appeared on a blog I'd never encountered before, and I think they're so perceptive and intelligent that I wanted to point people to it. The blog is Need To Read, Got To Watch, and you'll find reviews of Turner and Cold Fusion 2000 there.

Review: The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A story of cruelty.

I wanted to read this book because I was curious about whether a writer could take a despicable and evil protagonist and create any sympathy for them. Does this succeed? Only partly. But I didn't actually care about the protagonist, and they weren't the reason I read on. My only sympathy was due to circumstances, and I wouldn't have been bothered in the least by any of the characters in the novel dying. To that extent it can't be a success.

On the plus side the novel is well written, and the first-person perspective does not get boring. I wanted to read on to find out what would happen (even if I was then disappointed).

Amazon support goes in circles

Oh boy. I've been dreading typing this up. Because it takes so much time. And I'll look like a whinger (I am). On the other hand, companies often ignore you until you go public with your problems. The suddenly it all gets fixed. I've found this many times with other websites I write for. I proved it again recently when Lulu ignored a long-term issue: as soon as I did a blog post and pointed them to it someone got on the case, and the issue was fixed. I literally sigh to myself that you have to do it this way. Big companies are always the worst. The answer is to support the small companies, where customer service comes from someone who cares, rather than being a branching script that ends by looping back to the top! Okay, on with the epic saga. I shall call this one "Sigeon Fighting The Great Amazonian Fire-breathing Beast". And so, back in the mists of time...


Disappointed with Lulu

I use Lulu as my printer/distributor for printed books. One of their free services is called Extended Reach (well, they call it extendedREACH, with insane and pointless capitalisation). It adds your book to  bibliographic databases in the US and UK and makes your work available on Amazon. Once enabled, the data should appear in those places after 6-8 weeks.

Both my novels started out with covers designed by me, then eventually got professional covers. I wrote about Turner's cover here, and CF2K's cover here.

The new Turner cover was uploaded to Lulu in October 2012 (c. 26 weeks ago)
The new CF2K cover was uploaded to Lulu in January 2013 (c. 15 weeks ago)

Guess what? Lulu still hasn't sent that data to Amazon, which still displays the old cover. So much for '6-8 weeks' - it is now half a year since Turner got a new cover! - wrong print covers (image taken 2013-05-17)


My writing bookshelf

What's on my 'writing' bookshelf? Now you know. The books on the right are the reference works I use most often, and will always be part of my writing shelf. I like to keep them nearby.

I have other shelves downstairs full of books that are reference works or inspiration for when I work on new stories in the future (including books on astronomy, deep sea fish, death metal in Norway, and the science of flight). After that those books will move on to lives in the hands of others. But my office shelf, above, will outlast them all.

If you're a writer do you have a writing bookshelf? If you're not a writer, do you have a collection of reference books of some kind?

PS I've just remembered: I have a dictionary too, but I keep that by the bed. The OED. I did try reading it from cover to cover, but am only up to letter B. The structure is logical and well thought out but the subject matter is quite random and the character development almost nonexistent, so that project ended up in hiatus.

The day is a Turner (ha ha)

I write because I have to, but communicating with readers is the thing that makes the afterglow enjoyable. I was a bit grumpy this morning, but then got an email from a reader who was reading both my books for a second time. It has to be a good sign. I grinned.

Then I had a wonderfully self-effacing message from someone else saying that they had finished Cold Fusion 2000 and written a review.
"Well, Karl, with the gardening already done at the weekend, with a warm glow from having just watched my lad win his football cup final, what better to do on such a sultry bank holiday afternoon than dust off a lounger, grab a cold one or two, and rattle through Cold Fusion 2000. An amateur reviewer of limited intellect can never really do justice to such a work and the craft involved, and another day would give a different take, but I've had a go and put some considered words on LibraryThing and at Goodreads."
And what a lovely review it is. I really felt that Ian 'got it', and he touches on a few elements which I hadn't mentioned before (since the CF2K FAQ is already a million pages long). It is such a nice thing when you've been able to communicate something that is in between the words, through the lines, and in the shadows of the sentences. It means you've at least partially succeeded, and by the powers of Greyskull that feels mighty. So I grinned some more and suddenly my day was better. Putting a book out there isn't the end; selling a book isn't a one-way process. So thank you to all the people who have read my books and even bigger thanks to everyone who has written reviews and rated them. One day I'll be far better known, maybe even sell some books, and if so it will be thanks to the kindness of people who took the time to read my scribblings and then even more time to think about them and champion them. I know a number of writers and I'm certain they feel the same way.

Get in touch or keep in touch
On my 'Contact' page there are details of how to find me online. It mentions my mailing list - sign up for it if you want to be told when I have a new book out. And if you use Facebook then feel free to 'Like' my page there. It's the place where I normally post reviews and news. I'll probably do some book giveaways (of other people's work!) from time to time as well.

So you'll find me here, there and everywhere, and I hope some of you stay with me on this journey.

The flow of a story

Things have moved on a lot since I last blogged about the structural work I was doing on my novel. I've broken the previous draft into pieces and spent time reassembling them like a jigsaw. The current table is now much more colourful and information packed, with extra columns for the day of the week, rows for transitions between sections, and different colours to show where scenes are set. It's almost at the point when I can assemble all my notes and previous drafts into the order governed by the master plan table and start rewriting. Of course, first I'll strip out all formatting using notepad.exe. Since things have built up over the years from different versions of Word and different style sets the underlying formatting is probably a mess. Best to nuke it. Believe me, it is quicker to go through with a consistent style adding occasional italics back in than it is to try and format an e-book from a Word.doc that is a complete mess of hidden codes. I've been there and it wasn't pretty,

I've always been interested in Kurt Vonnegut's mapping of stories as graphs. There's a lovely graphic explaining it here, or just watch the video below. I'll wait while you do that.


Cold Fusion 2000 nominated

I found out the other day that Cold Fusion 2000 has been nominated for the 2013 Carapace Prize for Best Indie Novel. It was a complete surprise to me, and left me grinning like a Neoclinus blanchardi. At that time I was one of three nominees - now there are four, and the list is sure to grow, but knowing I was one of the earliest to be included makes me glow like a Lobate ctenophore.

PS Don't worry, I am human. Just.

'M is for Monster' - anthology review

M is for MonsterM is for Monster by John Prescott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the concept for this collection – 26 letters of the alphabet, 26 stories, each letter gets its own story and monster. Some were guessable, some were left-field, and with some I still didn’t know the relevance of the letter even after finishing the story! It doesn’t matter though, and doesn’t affect enjoyment of these well-written tales. As usual with this kind of thing I’ll pick out my very favourite stories and explain why I liked them, though I won’t give away the monster if I can help it. So, my favourites were:


My writing week

Every day in Wales is just like this

Writing is so nice. Today I was working on structure for novel 3, since if I get that perfect before I start re-writing it will save loads of time and keep me on track, even though it looks like distraction tactics to an observer.

I'm really pleased with the good reviews of my work recently: and I didn’t even have to sleep with anyone! On second thoughts, just as well, that could lead to bad reviews.

I ran up and down the local cemetery a few times today, possibly a 45% gradient, it is my current favourite ‘quick burst’ exercise as a break from writing. Hard work in the sun, and with the ever-present possibility of a rotten hand grabbing me from underneath the ground. Burpees are a close second. I also want to do one of the zombie fun runs this year, which will give me something to aim for. Either Zombie Run or Zombie Evacuation. Do any of you have any recommendations of good exercises for writers so that we don't become decrepit from days sat on our arses?

Talking of exercise has made me want some more so I'm off to watch the Youtube video again...

Business cards #2

My new cards. Five different front designs. 
The bottom right shows the backs of the cards.

I've nearly run out of the Moo Minicards I ordered back in 2011 so decided to get some more. They have many uses: one of mine is to slip them into my books when sent out for review. I had been thinking of holding out until my third novel is published, but in the end decided not to wait, since I can always get more later! Plus, since I write in two genres, these won't go out of date - any future horror books can have a Turner card/bookmark slipped in, and any future literary ones get a CF2K card. So if people like the book they then know what my previous book of that genre was, and might go and buy a copy.

This time I went for the greenest option, which excludes the minicards (Moo still don't offer a green paper option for them). So regular-sized business cards it was; and to be honest, they are a better form factor for displaying a book cover. They're just not so obviously like a mini bookmark when tucked into one of your books.

If you want to get some Moo cards (or just look at their options) then if you follow this link then you will get 10% off your first order, and I gain some credit! My order also included a card saying that I could pass on the code for people to get 15% off their first pack of 50 business cards (enter code G2MSCG at checkout). I imagine you can only use one code or the other. Remember that the cost of promotional cards are legitimate expenses to include in your self-assessment tax return if you are a writer.


Working on sub plots

Columns for plots and sub plots, rows for scenes and events in the novel,
running in order from top to bottom. Explained in detail below.

You have the idea for your novel, and the central plot. This includes what is at stake for the protagonist(s). Love? A glittering career? Survival? Unravelling a mystery? In itself that may leave a rather straightforward story, so it is useful to weave in sub plots to add depth. The simplest is to throw in a love interest but that is rather predictable (and is the Hollywood sub plot of preference). One of the criticisms of a draft version of one of my earlier works was that it needed more fillings in the sandwich, more sub plots to keep the reader engaged. And that's what I'm working on at the moment.

I've already blogged about the process of listing what I already have from the previous draft. Next I created a table in Word. I headed it with the protagonist's name, then used headings for each sub plot, however minor. So we have a column for each sub plot, split into rows. The top row is the start of the novel, the final row is the end. Now and again I would create a heading by merging cells, representing some important section of the novel, breaking it into more manageable chunks.


US tax numbers and UK writers - EIN, ITIN (k that it is complicated)

Update April 2016: this doesn't apply any more, so don't read beyond this paragraph if you are after current advice! Nowadays you just provide your National Insurance number to prove you are UK, then get access to the tax treaty so pay 0% US witholding tax. For example, Amazon asks you questions to determine this, so it can all be done online with them in about two minutes.


One thing I don't enjoy is dealing with tax people. It's bad enough in the UK (no email, don't answer the phone, don't ring you back, confusing systems). Unfortunately if you publish via US organisations then you have to deal with the US tax department too. It's quite a rigmarole. Basically the US and UK have a tax treaty, whereby you don't have to pay tax on books sold via a US site. However, the US tax system requires you to send letters back and forth to America, waiting for months and hoping they are being processed and haven't gone missing. A process you have to repeat from time to time, using confusing forms and confusing guidance. If you don't then the US Government takes a 30% cut of all profits by default, even though they're not entitled to do so. Oh for a world where you could easily click a box online, or the US bookseller could just tell them you are a verified UK author and therefore don't pay 30% tax.

This applies whether you sell via Smashwords (guidance here) or (guidance here). I have to admit that I've started this process twice already due to things going missing, and still don't have the required forms and numbers. And it isn't clear if you have to do it for each seller, or just once. Also some forms implied that you have to send important documents such as your passport to the US (something I don't want to do, in case it goes missing). I'm a writer, not an accountant!


"What do we do with a drunken re-write, ear-ly in the mornin'?"

What am I doing at the moment? Working on novel number three. To be more specific, I am re-writing novel number three. New structure, new plots, change of order, new scenes, loads of deletions, heavy work on the language. Snipping away Tommy Telling and replacing it with Simone Showing. It's an amazing experience. One minute you are down because you've just read something written a long time ago and realised it is poop; the next you are up because you are full of ideas, and fixing a broken thing can be satisfying. Sort of like recycling.

Since Cold Fusion 2000 was finished I have been doing lots of promotion for that novel, and research for the new one. I can put it off no longer. I now have to start re-writing and editing. And taking thousands of ideas and notes, then deciding which to keep and where to put them.


Ancient Greek drama

I used to study classics (specialising in ancient Greek culture and language) and English literature as an undergraduate. I felt that the two subjects were complementary, especially since Greek drama, philosophy, art, politics, myth and so on have had such enduring effects on our culture. I don’t do so much with my classics knowledge nowadays. It has been some time since I translated a passage of ancient Greek, despite my intentions to do it every day when I left university! However, I’m in the mood for classics today. I thought I would type up some of my memories of Greek drama and mention related topics in passing. The contents of this post aren't comprehensive - if you want to get an overview them check Wikipedia. Still, the notes might be of use to story writers; or people interested in drama, or ancient culture; or maybe even just of interest... because.


Development of the CF2K cover

Normally when I finish a book I come up with a temporary cover myself, then work with Derek Murphy at Creativindie on a more professional design. When I did this with Turner I followed it up with blog posts showing the evolution, from early drafts, to later revisions, to the final version. (For comparison, there is an image of the original cover here). I'm fascinated with how the ideas take form so thought I'd follow the same process for Cold Fusion 2000.

The original cover I made, based on Marek Bernat's image

I liked my own cover because it captured a modern starkness that fits the surreality of Jane's story, yet the face image isn't tied to an individual character and could represent Jane or Natalie. It also ties in to the descriptions of faces and art within the novel (it resembles a line drawing). The washed-out nature could be because of bright sunlight, which fit the plot. The cover was pretty, it generated desire, but was also otherworldly and cold and lonely. I still like it but it lacked warmth.


A list of books... set on islands

There are a few lists of novels set on those most special of isolated places: islands. However, I wanted to task my friends with coming up with a list which meant something to them, as a kind of crowdsourcing game. This would inevitably be something quite eclectic compared to the usual list, and it was really interesting for me to see what people recommend. Like a psychology experiment with no hypothesis.

For this list books only count if most of the novel, or at least the important scenes, are set on an isolated island. As such I won't include things like The Life of Pi (a novel I hated - the only bit I enjoyed was the floating island!) I also did not count islands which are also countries themselves e.g. Cyprus.

When I did my English lit A level in the dim and distant past I chose to do an extended essay on 'island fiction', examining what it told us about human nature. I used Robinson Crusoe, Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Golding's Lord of the Flies. Therefore they all appear in this list, along with my first novel (which wouldn't have worked if it wasn't set on an island).

I've added the list to Goodreads ListopiaShelfari, and Amazon's Listmania. Many thanks to my friends and helpers for contributing: Johanna, Sarah, Bec, Emma, Justin, Sam x2, Regina, Heidi, Helen, Rob, Alyson, Andrew, Neal, Elizabeth, Meg, Michele, Michael, Trish, and Joe. I originally got the idea for this blog post from reading fellow writer Helen J. Beal's blog.

Let the listage commence! Oh, and it is in no particular order.


Cambrian News

Cambrian News, Thursday 28th February 2013

Yep, that's me gesticulating passionately while talking about the creative process and the portrayal of love in fiction.

David Tallerman's writing

I love well-written fiction that gives you something to think about after the words run out. One of my favourite stories from my last post was It’s Easier to Pretend in the Dark by David Tallerman. His site includes links to more recent works and I've just read two of them. Really impressive in their conciseness, not a word wasted; emotional impact slotted between the lines rather than splashed on a wall in melodrama red. Dancing in the Winter Rooms made me think of stories such as The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; isolated societies with rules which cannot be broken, frozen into rigidity. Whereas Jenny's Sick is a different kind of haunting, an undercutting of perfection. The first paragraphs made me think it might be a horrifying gorefest but it is much cleverer than that - no gore, no nasty descriptions, just a clever story that captures the complexity of human relationships. I think David Tallerman is an impressive writer, please consider reading his work.

Review: Escape Velocity: The Anthology

Escape Velocity: The Anthology
Escape Velocity: The Anthology by Geoff Nelder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was certainly a good value collection - more than 45 stories, which lasted a good while. As with any anthology there is a mix of styles, moods (some serious, some humorous), quality, viewpoints, themes and so on. As such it is difficult to summarise the overall collection, and easier to give examples of the stories I enjoyed most (in the order in which they appear), along with a quote that I liked from each story.


Getting feedback on your stories

[Note: Although this blog post is old, all the sites apart from Authonomy are still active, so I have left it up. If you have used any of the sites feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Oh, some people suggested Wattpad or Royal Road Legends and as other sites. Also, you might want to look into some tools for help with editing, or using an editor. Karl/10 Jan 2017]

It's vital to get feedback on your writing unless you are an absolute master of your craft, a black belt in pensmithery. One way is writing groups or courses (as I mentioned here and here). Another is by working with editors or proofreaders, whether you've got a talented friend or are using a paid service - it is really beneficial, and I always learn a lot from working with professionals. Yet another way is to keep entering Writers' Village competitions...

Another option worth looking into is online writing groups. There are all sorts of online critiquing communities that act as a form of peer review. And they are all free. The payment is in terms of reciprocity: you critique other people's work, and they do the same for you. Some of them have measures built in to facilitate this. Although it doesn't cost money, to get the most out of these sites you have to treat them as a community and put time in. That’s fine with me, since whenever I read novels or short stories downloaded from sites like Smashwords I always leave reviews there and on Goodreads, plus I usually send the author an email with my thoughts, comments, and any typos spotted.

What are some of the main sites you could use? Give me your hand, and let's go for a walk down Critique Lane.


Ah, that's more like it! Simple to use, good explanations, and everything within a slick and attractive website. It feels like a social networking community for supportive writers. The system is easy to understand: add a critique of someone’s work, see immediately how many 'karma points' you gain. The ‘karma’ you earn then entitles you to post your own writing for feedback from the community. This site definitely gives you a good first impression, and that remains as you continue to use it.

The karma system ensures that every work you post gets critiques which seem to be thoughtful and useful. The community encourages quality critiquing and gives advice here - it is actually useful for everyone, and applies equally to face to face writing groups.

Of all these sites, this is the one I like the most, and is one of the two that I’ll be experimenting with in the future. Workshops

The site hosts many sub-sites, each covering a different genre - click on the drop-down menu here for a complete list. I joined the Critters Workshop (SF/fantasy/horror).

First impressions were a bit confusing, since there are different logins for different workshops, lots of interlinked information screens, no apparent way of checking what you have registered for or what settings you have chosen, and it is mostly email-based with various rules for sending (specific text to include, formats etc) - I felt like I kept having to refer to the guides, unlike a site like Scribophile which was self-explanatory. I remember wandering round the sites, slightly lost and overwhelmed, which is not the best first impression.

The critiquing works by submitting a short story or chapters of a novel via email. It gets put into a queue of stories and in about a month it gets to the top of the queue, at which point it is emailed along with other works to the workshop members. Critiques are due within a week and apparently most pieces get 15-20 critiques. There is also a special program for getting entire novels and other large works critiqued quickly, and there are some useful articles on topics such as how to critique diplomatically. Critiques are defined as:
“an in-depth description of how the critiquer felt about and reacted to the work, with the intent of helping the author/creator improve it. For fiction, for example, one would likely comment on characterization, plot, setting, logic of the underlying idea, effectiveness of the opening and ending, etc., as well as smaller ‘nits’ like factual inaccuracies, logical mistakes, unclear passages, and perhaps any grammar or spelling errors that escaped proofreading.” 
The site claims to have several thousand members. Members are asked for roughly one critique a week, with slightly complex rules about taking ‘holidays’. It isn't intended to be so 'drop-in' and flexible as Scribophile. To be honest, the complexity put me off getting involved, even though it probably becomes straightforward once you’ve made the initial outlay of time to get familiar with it. And the most important issue is the quality of the critique, which could be fantastic from this site for all I know, but having tottered around the edge of the community for a while I think I’ll put it on a backburner and stick to the sites I preferred above. A good example of confusion is that I spent time just trying to find the login button for the site, with no success, and it took a while to find out how to close the account too!

Critique Circle

Critique Circle covers all genres, and has fine-grained controls to cover who you want to see your work, when it is visible etc. Unlike Authonomy, Critique Circle runs on a credit system where you ‘pay’ three credits to submit a story, and receive credits for writing a critique of someone else's story. The credits you receive range from a half to two credits per critique, depending on the length of your critique and the length of the story.

It looks like you often get multiple critiques of your work (usually between two and ten) which means things won’t be ruined by one person whose tastes are very different to your own. Some people upload individual chapters of their work one after another as a way of getting feedback on a whole novel, though each chapter counts as a separate submission so you need to build up quite a bit of credit for this.

The site also includes discussion fora and writing tools for manuscript progress, submission tracking, character generation and more. For example there is grammar advice here.

Overall this feels like a professional and useful service. I’m building up my credit so haven’t had a chance to get my own works critiqued here yet as a test, but the quality of the critiques I have read seems high. This is one of the sites I’m keen to try out properly, and hope to write a post with my findings at a later date.

Fiction Press

Basically this site hosts files, like a forum, and you can comment on them if you want. The premise is simple enough but navigation is rather confusing and it is not as inviting as a site like Scribophile (below). I hadn’t logged in for some time and when I did so recently there didn’t seem to be a record of the work I uploaded and the comments I gave, which takes away some of my confidence in this site. Note that there is a two day limit for new members before you can upload anything. I decided to close my account with this site, since it feels rather cobbled-together and confusing.

You Write On

I’ve never tried this site but thought I should include it for completeness. It sounds a bit like Authonomy, though the site itself is rather cluttered and jarring (there are about ten different font sizes and styles just on the home page!) Apparently it has been going since 2006. As with Authonomy, members upload opening chapters or short stories. A difference is that the YouWriteOn site randomly assigns these to another member to review. Each time you review other people’s work you are entitled to receive a review of your own. After five reviews the story enters a chart system and the highest rated writers receive free feedback each month from editors at large publishing houses such as Orion and Random House.


Authonomy is the Harper Collins site that was set up to replace the Harper Collins slush pile - instead writers would critique each other and Harper Collins editors would look at the works with the top community ratings each month. You can post partial or completed manuscripts or short story collections (minimum 10,000 words). Authonomy users then rate and comment on your work. The site is easy to navigate through could do with an update e.g. their 'about' page still says “authonomy is a brand new writing community site” - it has actually been running since 2008.

I used to be on Authonomy for many years. On the plus side I got lots of favourable comments on my work which could act as soundbites and promotion e.g. in the widget at the top of my navbar. Unfortunately many people are so focussed on getting readers and ratings for their own work (hoping to then get seen by Harper Collins editors) that they often give a cursory glimpse of as many people's work as possible, leave a quick comment, and hope it generates traffic back to their own. I got tired of personal messages from people near the top of the ratings begging for some more comments so they could get to the top. It started to feel less like a community and more like a race favouring spammers. Another irritation was that the text of people's work isn’t downloadable so you have to read it in your browser. This isn’t ideal for reading multiple novels! I yearned to be able to download the text and read it offline on an e-book reader in the garden.

I left Authonomy a couple of years ago. I never wanted to do the spamming thing, and felt I was giving a lot more to the site than I was getting out of it.

We leave the lane and return to the main road. Some of the houses we passed were inviting, some smart and professional, others ramshackle but friendly. We all like different things. Have you used any of these sites, or others? What did you think? Thanks for reading!

Buy My Books

Amazon Kobo Nook / Barnes & Noble Apple Books

Popular Posts

Blog Archive