One of my stories was shortlisted in the Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award

I just got back from a writing trip to find this email waiting for me:
Congratulations! Your story has been short listed in the Writers' Village summer contest 2014. This is a magnificent achievement, given that your story competed against many hundreds of contestants and the number and standard of entries in this round was even greater than before.

Meanwhile, here is some brief feedback on your story, Sweet Nothing.

Overall power to engage the reader incl. conflict (points out of 10): 9
Originality of story concept (points out of 10): 9
Appeal of first paragraph(s) (points out of 8): 7
Unity of story structure incl. closure (points out of 8): 8
Aptness of language to story-line (points out of 6): 6
Professionalism of presentation (points out of 3): 3
Total marks out of 45: 42

Remarks: This poignant story of a flinty mother with a well hidden heart of gold certainly moves the reader!
For a full explanation of how these judging criteria were applied, please see this page.

What a lovely surprise! It came with a cash prize too.

Wherefore art thou, style?

For some time I have wanted a style guide that matches my own preferences. A single book to rule them all, and to replace my own rapidly-growing style document. Every time I pick a style guide up and flick through it I'll find an entry recommending something that looks inelegant or counter-intuitive or inconsistent. The point of a style guide is to standardise things; by standardizing a style, you promote a standard for language.

After flicking through Guardian Style I thought my search was over. At first glance it seemed sensible and comprehensive. And it is the guide for a Manchester newspaper, which earns bonus marks. So I bought it. Today I finished reading it from cover to cover, as is my wont. Sadly, although often interesting, it turns out that my search must continue for a style guide that I can accept.

What made me unhappy with Guardian Style?

Firstly it was the lack of internal consistency, meaning that they end up needing 50 entries when a single rule applied throughout would have been much more … stylish. And required only one entry, saving a lot of time. Here are some examples of this inconsistency:


Never underestimate how happy it makes a writer when we receive positive comments.

Focus on your writing

I'm currently reading Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto In The Age Of Distraction by Leo Babuta. There are lots of tips for cutting distractions from your life: later I will be tidying the window ledge next to my PC so that it is not full of pots, paperclips, pads and pens.

One of the sections that interested me was about plain text, full-screen word processors. They strip things back to basics to give you a blank screen to focus on, without buttons, popups or a visible Windows taskbar; even formatting options such as italics and bold are gone. Just bang out the words. Removing bloat can increase the power. For a writer these tools make a viable alternative to using Microsoft Word, especially when you are starting from fresh on a new project. Below I have included screenshots and links to the three I plan to spend more time with.

All are free; none need installing, and they seem to be portable via a USB memory stick.


Screams in the post

I recommend the excellent horror magazine Scream.
This is my copy, fresh in the post ...
if the word "fresh" can be applied to zombies.

Mmm, the latest issue has an advert for
an interesting-sounding horror novel. :-)

Trial new cover

As an experiment I have uploaded a new cover for Cold Fusion 2000. It's only for the e-book versions, and will probably just be for a limited time. You can get a look at it by clicking the image above. There's a few elements I like, in terms of it fitting the story:

  • Manchester city streets;
  • The hand-drawn font implies something childish (Alex!);
  • The sun could be rising or setting: either way it is a liminal time, a story set somewhere between other things; it maybe resembles a halo of light (which makes sense if you have read the novel);
  • There's something lonely about those streets;
  • There are shadows at the edges, things may not be perfect;
  • The subtitle gives a bit more of an idea about what the novel might contain.
Better or worse than the previous cover?

Base image by Danka & Peter, downloaded from unsplash.

Some short stories I like

This list isn't comprehensive, just some stories that stuck in my mind because of the plot, setting, twist, characters, or even just the writing. What are your favourite short stories?
  • Lot (Ward Moore, 1953). End-of-the-world panic. It's as unsettling as you'd expect.
  • The Last Rung On The Ladder, and Children Of The Corn (Stephen King, 1978, in Night Shift). One serious, non-horror King story that punches you in the stomach; and one gripping horror that captures a sense of place brilliantly (and happens to be one of the many inspirations for Turner).
  • To Build A Fire (Jack London, 1908). I read it as a child and decided I would rather freeze to death than burn. It captured my imagination.
  • Weekend (Fay Weldon, 1978). On re-reading it, I realise it must have been in my subconscious when I wrote my short story It Will Be Quick.
  • Let Me Count The Times (Martin Amis, 1981). Once I realised where the story was going it brought a smile to my face.
  • More Tomorrow (Michael Marshall Smith, 1995). You put this one down with a mix of relief and horror.
  • Splatter Of Black (Charles A. Gramlich, 1995). A great example of how to write an action-packed tale.

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