Monday, 26 November 2012

American Paddlefish

I remember reading in surrealist Spanish film director Luis Bunuel's autobiography, "My Last Breath", that whenever a film needed something extra Bunuel would chuck in a dream sequence. I follow a similar line with this blog, although when I get stuck I throw in a long-snouted animal. Some of these animals are the stuff of dreams and nightmares in any event.

Today's special is the American Paddlefish. The paddlefish takes its common and scientific names (Polyodon spathula) from its distinctive snout which is greatly elongated and flattened into a paddle shape. It has a pretty cool mouth as well:

Apparently it's in decline but I suggest we start a campaign to ensure it's longevity. I mean, just look at the length of that snout!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Perfection of Symmetry

I've decided to write a blog post each time I have something published in order to say a few words about the genesis of the story. In this instance, the story is "The Perfection of Symmetry", recently published in the charity anthology, Chiral Mad.

I'd seen the guidelines for the anthology online and so in this instance my story was written specifically for the book, with the hope that the editor would find it met their requirements. Sometimes a theme can straightjacket a story, sometimes it makes it fly with inspiration. In this instance, it was actually quite tricky getting my head around the anthology's concept. Each story had to be connected with the subject of chiralty. What is chiralty? Here's wikipedia's take on it:

An object or a system is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superposed onto it. A chiral object and its mirror image are called enantiomorphs (Greek opposite forms) or, when referring to molecules, enantiomers. A non-chiral object is called achiral (sometimes also amphichiral) and can be superposed on its mirror image. The term was first used by Lord Kelvin in an address in 1904. In a lecture given in Johns Hopkins University on "Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light" he stated:
I call any geometrical figure, or group of points, 'chiral', and say that it has chirality if its image in a plane mirror, ideally realized, cannot be brought to coincide with itself
So, that's clear. Right? Well, it took me a while too. Anyway, I decided to think around the concept of symmetry, and coincidentally this story was running at the time.

Florence Colgate apparently has the world's most symmetrical face, but "not only is the 18-year-old's visage perfectly symmetrical, but she has the 'optimum ratio' between her mouth, eyes, chin, and forehead." It crossed my mind that what if someone not only had the most perfectly symmetrical face, but if they also had a perfectly symmetrical body? What if that person became a model? What would happen to that person - because this is a horror anthology, remember - if some aspect of their body then became asymmetrical?

From that moment, the story 'wrote itself'. My character, Vermillion Chandler, is 100% symmetrical and her entire career depends on that remaining so. Naturally, she gets a little paranoid, and eventually - without giving away too many spoilers - she tips over the edge when it appears that perfection has become flawed. As well as a horror story, it also works in some themes about our culture's obsessions with 'perfection', the nature of celebrity, and what it is to be an individual.

Chiral Mad contains some great authors (including Jack Ketchum, Gary A Braunbeck, Gary McMahon, Ian Shoebridge, John Palisano and many others), and all profits from this book go to Downs syndrome charities. I'd suggest buying a copy, now.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was going to make a post about a recent short story I've written, but I've run out of time this week. Here's a ten question filler which is doing the blog rounds at the moment. I was tagged by Gary Fry:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Body and Soul - a novel. Although this is what I'm currently writing. I also have submissions out at the moment for a novella (The Greens), a collection of short stories (The Human Map), and two crime novels (The Immortalists and Church of Wire) Plus I have a joint collection of short stories written with Allen Ashley for publication by Screaming Dreams sometime in 2013 (Slow Motion Wars). So 'next' book could be any one of these.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

There's a central premise in the novel which came to me during my partner's recent pregnancy. I can't say more without it being a spoiler, but that's where the idea came from.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It will be an SF/F kind of book - far future but grounded in a recognisable reality.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
It's not something I've given any thought to. I'm not that far enough into the book for firm characters to have developed.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the far future humanity has evolved in a more humane fashion - but the past is about to catch up with them.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have no idea, as it's not completed yet and I haven't started the process of submitting it.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Currently I've written 16,000 words in three weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Soft science fiction - maybe some Bradbury and Dick in there, but essentially me.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See question 2 above. I had the idea and the idea was the inspiration. Most of my work is in short stories, but I knew this was a novel idea (ha ha) and decided to make time to write it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It's a multi-genre book - some SF, some fantasy, and essentially some horror although not as outre as it might appear on the surface. Hopefully it'll be a quintissentially slipstream mass market novel (if such a thing exists!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Autumnal Happenings

I love this time of the year, when the leaves go all colourful and we get pristine blue skies and cool mornings. Recently we spent a long weekend in the Peak District - one of my favourite places in the UK - and whilst the blue skies stayed away we still had a good time. There's always something new to see there, and this giant 'plughole' in the Lady Bower reservoir took my breath away. I really wanted to descend into its depths!

Images such as this can often provide ideas for stories. I've written a new short this month which was inspired by Las Isla de las Munecas in Mexico. I won't go into the details of either the story or the island (there's plenty of articles on the internet to google if you're interested), but here's one of the more interesting photos which influenced my story:

Speaking of stories, I've recently had a short published in "Chiral Mad", titled "The Perfection of Symmetry". The concept of chiralty is something else you should google, because I would make a hamfisted attempt at getting my head around it (although I might make a more detailed blog post about how my story came about sometime later this week). In any event, the book is a beautiful product, and contains stories by Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Gary McMahon, Ian Shoebridge and many many others. And apart from it being a good looking anthology it also deserves your support because all proceeds go to Downs Syndrome charities. You can buy it here.

Hopefully the book will garner some good reviews. And speaking of reviews, my 2011 short story collection, "Nitrospective", has been recently reviewed over at the Dundee University Review of the Arts. All reviews are subjective, of course, and this one is a bit mixed. However I can't complain at "The slant towards existentialist themes, suggest a more contemporary re-telling of the ideals of Camus or Sartre." Not bad for a genre anthology!

 And finally, I was pleased to be one of the guests at the inaugral Horror In The East event in Lowestoft last Saturday. It was a small, one day convention, and for a while it seemed that the number of guest authors might be greater than the number of attendees; but ultimately it was quality not quantity which prevailed, and those who did attend were the interested book-buying crowd that all authors dream of. It was also the chance to chat to Conrad Williams and Joseph D'Lacey who I haven't seen for a while, as well as the others who I hadn't met before. David Moody proved fascinating about his experiences in self-publishing and publishing, and the panel I sat on titled "What Is Horror?" gave some eclectic answers to that question. The motley crew of attending authors is below (photo courtesy of Adam Millard).