Tag Archives: not very awful books

Goonreads Horror Short Story Competition

Well, it’s September. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, as Keats would have it, and season of ‘where the fuck did the rest of the year go?’ to those of us with slightly less charming vocabularies.

The hot hell-breath of NaNoWriMo may already be wafting down the back of your neck, whispering sick, wrong, dirty things – “It’s only fifty thousand words in a month,” or “You only have two kids and a full time job,” or “No, this year I’ll revise that mess. I will.”

And you hmm and haa but deep down you know you want it. You know that come November 1st you’re going to be right where you always are – sugar-high, keyboard bound and up past your bedtime.

But, say you want to ease yourself into it this year? After all, marathon runners don’t go into this thing cold. And lucky old you – Goonreads are having a short story competition that you can enter now simply by registering at the site.

Yes, it’s been a year since the beginning of Goonreads, a much smaller and altogether more…well…goony cousin of Goodreads. Those who are familiar with SomethingAwful will know what I mean by ‘goony’ – gooniness works on a sliding scale, from ‘slightly goony’ all the way up to ‘goony as gently caress’.

Fabulous Prizes!

Yes, there are prizes! The winner will receive a $50 Amazon gift certificate, to be spent on werewolf porn, zombie novels or books whose covers shamelessly abuse the Bleeding Cowboy font and then some; whatever floats your boat, you weirdo.

The Contest

The Prompts.

You have until October 5th to take these prompts and construct your tale of terror.

Register at Goonreads


The Pleasures of Play-Doh

Still thrashing out some last minute edits for Fifty Shades Fatter but with a bit of luck and a following wind the thing should be available in the Kindle store next week. I’m also trying out Rachel Aaron’s method for cranking up the wordcount. I can’t report that it’s been a total success – at least not yet, since I only bought the book yesterday, although I have doubled my wordcount today so far and feel like I still have gas in the tank, so to speak.

Word-counting can sometimes feel counter-productive to me; I’ll hammer out three thousand words in a day and then the next day getting anything on paper will leave my head feeling like an orange that’s already been squeezed to within an inch of its life and then some. The thing I like about this advice that she emphasises notes – notes, notes, notes. Make them. Lots of them. You are not nearly as good at keeping things straight as you think you are.

It makes sense to arm yourself before advancing into forest of an intricately plotted novel. There are things in there that will eat your brain, spit out the pips, burp and laugh mockingly before finishing off the rest of you.

I also like her advice on keeping your characters reasonably squishy. One of the reasons I tend to avoid writing forums is that I just get sick of seeing the same questions asked over and over again, and the same mistakes made too. Someone will wander in and say ‘How do I write fictional characters?’ and then someone will offer the helpful suggestion that they should fill out some kind of D&D sheet, or some elaborate questionnaire determined to discover the character’s favourite colour, their rising astrological sign and their preference for lobster over shrimp. This is why I don’t go to writing forums. I don’t want to be the apparently crazy person capslocking IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER.

But seriously. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. There’s no point setting your characters in stone, because they are not stone. They’re Play-Doh. Specifically, they’re your Play-Doh, and you can make them do or say anything you need them to. Obviously with main characters this comes with a certain level of limitation. You must still strive for consistency. One of the gnarliest problems I had with Paris Green was that when I looked back at the first draft I realised that my heroine was wandering around behaving like a woman who had just undergone a personality transplant. I was so invested in the love story playing out in the background that Caroline suddenly turned into this siren, rather than the anxious, angry and deeply damaged young woman she was in the first half.

But would knowing that her favourite colour was pink rather than blue have changed or helped with this? Of course it wouldn’t. There’s no reason to worry yourself with these superficial details.

The thing about not tying yourself down to specifics is that you have all the fun of inventing new details about the characters as you go along. For instance, I always saw Andrew Blakemoor as having really good cheekbones – nose too long and chin, chin too short, ears too large, but man – he had some good cheekbones. His voice I kind of imagined as a male version of Clarice Starling – very soft, very countryish. I hadn’t committed myself to making him a Southerner, but somewhere along the line I picked up North Carolina and suddenly those great cheekbones made sense; his back-teeth were rotted to hell from all that sweet tea. His passion for sugar was suitably fly-like, considering that he lived most of his life as a sort of psychic parasite.

It was one of those lovely little moments of serendipity that make life much more fun for a writer. It’s even more fun when you’ve got a character like Andrew Blakemoor; someone who lies so often and so well that you can reinvent them every time they turn up.

Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice

Last week a woman named Naveena Shine garnered worldwide interest by attempting to live on nothing but water, sunlight and the occasional cup of tea, a diet better suited to a tomato plant than a human being. At the time of writing Naveena has flunked on her fast because science was allegedly ‘not ready’ for the earthshattering data she was attempting to produce.

Another reason for the end of the experiment was that Naveena’s internet was about to be cut off for non-payment. Apparently her philosophy that money was ‘just another form of energy’ didn’t cut any ice with her internet service provider.

Still, she shed some unwanted weight, gave everyone a good laugh and reminded everyone of that time David Blaine fasted for forty days while dangling in a perspex box next to the Thames. (Shamefully, my favourite part of that stunt was the bona fide evil genius who set up a remote controlled helicopter to fly boxed cheeseburgers right past Blaine’s nose.)

The world of extreme fasting is a weird one – gruesome and as such fascinating. So it was with a certain kind of shuddersome relish that I took up a book recommendation that had sprung from a conversation about Ms. Shine.

starvation heights

Continue reading

Further cat-vacuuming

Still not dead. Which is nice.

I’m trying to wrangle a long follow up on How To See Ghosts, but it’s going to take a bit more research and that’s a bit more than I have any desire to do right now. On top of that – and yes, I know I say this all the time – but Paris Green is an evil, malicious, monstrous bastard hellspawn of a book and I don’t think it will rest until it has consumed my soul, spat out the pips and settled down to pick its teeth with a gore-caked rusty iron stake borrowed from one of the Vlad the Impaler’s wilder fondue parties.

So, yeah. There’s that. Continue reading

Three Stupid Questions Writers Should Stop Asking The Internet


Question One

“So I  have this idea for a book and I’m not sure if it will be good or not –what do you guys think?”

Short answer – I think you should write the book first.

Long answer – This may come as a surprise to some people, but it’s quite difficult to form judgements about things that don’t yet exist. Also, as any writer who has ever written a pitch or synopsis will tell you, ideas in isolation tend to sound astoundingly shit. You may have gutted, reassembled, stitched together, slapped around and polished your book until it is your perfect, golden Frankenstein-baby, but the moment someone asks you to describe it on a single sheet of A4 paper your brain refuses to cooperate. The blank page has never looked blanker. Everything you thought was interesting and fun and perceptive about your book suddenly translates to “This is a pile of boring drivel that has been done a million times before by people who are better than me.”

Still not convinced? Still want to come back here and tell us all about your marvellous, wonderful idea? Well, let me show you something.

Better Books Than Yours – Expressed As Vague Ideas.

  • Two men go for a walk around Dublin.  No, seriously – that’s it. But there’s like symbolism and shit and it’s like the Odyssey but not. It’s like, earthy – there are fart jokes.
  • Um…so there’s this girl and this boy and they grow up and she marries some other guy and he gets really pissed off and bangs his head against trees and acts weird. And then she dies. Oh, and she has a baby, and then the baby grows up and gets married to the weird guy’s son who is sickly. And the weird guy hangs out screaming at windows and stuff, looking for her mother’s ghost. Yeah. Something like that.
  • So there’s this French woman – and she gets married and then reads a bunch of romance novels and kills herself. That’s kind of it, but there’s more to  it than that but yeah – it’s like a commentary on the bourgeoisie or something.
  • Couple of guys go out to the desert with a car full of drugs and they’re looking for the American Dream but there is no American Dream – just a burned out nightclub in North Las Vegas. I guess it’s kind of an allegory. With lizards. And they’re tripping balls the whole time.
  • Middle aged man kidnaps his twelve-year-old stepdaughter with every intention of raping her. And does. Repeatedly.

See what I mean? The first four sound vaguely foolish and the fifth one would make most sensible people cross the street to avoid you.

That’s the magic of ideas. Gene Wilder may have crooned convincingly about it, but in reality Pure Imagination won’t get you very far. You also need words. Now go away and write them and stop wasting everyone’s time.

Question Two

 “What books should I read if I want to be a writer?”

All of them.

I admit, this isn’t humanly possible, but there is no reason not to try. If you don’t recognise at least three of the examples in the last section then you’d better read some more books.

And if you don’t like reading books then why the squealing fuck do you want to write one? This has always bothered me – I honestly don’t understand this. Why the hell would you want to do something – ostensibly for fun – that you’re not that interested in and in some cases actively dislike? It would be like me wanting to learn to fly a plane, even though I get airsick at the slightest turbulence and it makes my ears pop. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Look, you don’t need a degree in English Literature. You just need to be a reader. You need to be well and widely read, emphasis on the second. While there are many useful how-to books out there to help writers avoid the common pitfalls of fiction there is no substitute for watching the masters in action. If you want to know how to create sympathy for an unreliable and unpleasant narrator then Nabokov and Anthony Burgess have books that can help. (Lolita and A Clockwork Orange respectively.) If you want to know how to convey the passage of time effectively then try Evelyn Waugh or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you want to communicate a quiet character’s internal struggles with the requisite subtlety then try Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf or George Eliot. You want to see character voice done well then read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winner The Color Purple.

And don’t say you need to read those books because they’re ‘not your genre’. If you’re a genre writer then all the more reason to broaden your horizons – there are few things worse than writers who never explore anything outside their own narrow, obsessive spheres of interest. Sit around in your own fug for long enough and you’ll start to stink like the mother of all Dutch ovens.

It’s perfectly okay to hate the classics too – just so long as you know why you hate them. I know plenty of people who loathe Wuthering Heights for the very same reasons other people love it – bucketloads of pointless screaming, gratuitous ghosts and terrible people making life awful for one another. Personally I can’t stand Nathaniel Hawthorne – I think he’s a wordy fuck and about as subtle as a shovel to the back of the head. It’s fine – you’re allowed to love, you’re allowed to hate, so long as you read.

Question Three

 “Do you think there’s still a market for vampires/zombies/werewolves/yet another book about swapping bodily fluids with a billionaire?”

Okay – here’s what you do if you want the inside track on publishing. Do you want to know what’s going to be the next big thing? Is it going to be dystopian futures? Is it going to be billionaire vampire menage erotica? Unicorn porn?

Of course you do. So let’s get started.

You will need:

One small goat. (Alive. Preferably free from blemish so as not to offend the Gods.)

Rope. Quite a lot.

Goat tranquilizers? (Check with your veterinarian.)

Possibly some kind of blunt instrument, just to be on the safe side.

No, you know what – fuck it. A gun would be kinder.

A quiet corner of the local abattoir.

Some kind of altar.

Several very large and very sharp knives.

  1. So  first shoot your…oh Jesus, no. Fuck this shit.

Yeah, okay. You probably get the point I’m making, right?

If you prefer the vegetarian option you can employ an equally Roman method of prognostication – simply gazing into a mirror in the hope of eventually seeing the future.* It’s as pointless and ineffective as sacrificing a goat and rummaging through its entrails for answers, but it is a hell of a lot easier to clean up afterwards.

Alternatively, you can take three little words to heart and stop worrying about the next big thing.

Repeat after me.

Nobody. Knows. Anything.


Once more, with feeling.

Nobody knows anything.

I can’t take credit for these wise words. They were the words of William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride. Goldman was talking about the movie business when he said this but he may as well have been talking about publishing, or any other branch of the arts driven by fashion.

Nobody knows a single, solitary goddamn thing.

You see, publishing is largely the business of throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. Occasionally if a really adhesive turd hangs a magical landing everyone goes into a frenzy and makes stickier kinds of shit to throw at that part of the wall. (Wow. I apologise for the incredibly disgusting metaphors in this section.) This is why publishers went crazy for Young Adult novels after the success of Harry Potter, or why every romantic hero these days has billions in the bank and a raft of unconvincing psychological issues that mean he has to have sex at least five times a day.

This is also why everyone is profoundly sick of vampire novels.

Does that mean you shouldn’t write a vampire novel? Well, fuck no. If you have a vampire novel in mind and you think you can make it work, do it. Write it. Trends come and go. Good stories have a habit of sticking around. Now go away and write one.


 * These fortune tellers were known as speculari, from where we get the word ‘speculate’. Most city speculators actually know about as much as their etymological forefathers, which is a nice thing to think about if you feel you don’t have enough grey hairs yet. That and asteroids.

Fifty Shades of Neigh – Part Four

In which Hanna makes a right mess of the D’Urbervilles and somehow manages to secure an actual date with an actual man.

Review: Queen of the Nude, by Peter Galen Massey

I’m a sucker for anything Shakespeare. He’s the reason I’ve spent over a year elbow deep in the gore and guilt of Macbeth, trying to transfer something of its essence to a quiet Sussex village in 1925.

It’s lazy of me, because Shakespeare’s tragedies are easily re-imagined – big themes, resonant emotions, uncomfortable stone-cold truths of human nature. The comedies, on the other hand, are a much more slippery proposition, and none more slippery than Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is a curious little play, a sort of meta entertainment within an entertainment. The last time I think I saw an attempt to update it was when the BBC did it some years ago, with Johnny Vegas as Bottom. There were love-potions and a Centre-Parksy sort of woodland retreat and I don’t remember much else other than it didn’t really come off. Good effort, but…meh. Naturally I was curious to see someone else have a go. Continue reading