[PUBLISHING] A Fool For You by Less Than Three Press

I know it seems like all I do at the moment is promotion but at least I’m posting at all, right?

And I come bearing more good news in the form of an anthology!

A Fool For You is an LGBTQ romance anthology built around the theme of tricksters and deception (but with guaranteed happy endings), edited by Samantha M. Derr and published by Less Than Three Press. I’m fortunate enough to share space with some fascinating-sounding stories, under my romance-and-erotica pseud Melissa Snowdon (because really, who is going to trust a man to write romance). 
Fool for You by [Derr, Samantha, Kelly, Ava, Maeve, Helena, Idonea, Asta, Hamlin, LJ, Kelly, Laurin, Defore, Daria, Snowdon, Melissa, Majumdar, Kashmira ] 
I’ll let the blurb speak for itself:

Wagered & Won by Helena Maeve—Nearly caught picking pockets at a casino in Silvergarde, Kathra owes her closest getaway yet to the mysterious Cecily, a bewitching gambler with a lethal secret. Over the course of a single night and a high-stakes card game, Kathra is drawn into a web from which she may not wish to escape.

Toils & Tricks by Asta Idonea—Centuries ago, the gods grew tired of being forever on call, and so they hired counterparts to be their representatives. When Sverrir, Loki’s representative, is called on to foil a blackmail scheme, he think it will be a simple task…

Whiskey & Pixie Dust by L.J. Hamlin—Shane loves and hates his best friend, a mischief demon, in equal measure. But when the demon takes it upon himself to play matchmaker, Shane thinks the hate might just win out.

Sussicran: A Love Story by Melissa Snowdon—Eager to escape an otherworldly bet, mirror demon Llednew determines to steal the life of a lonely young man. But executing his brilliant idea proves to be more difficult than anticpated.

A Spell for Luck by Daria Defore—When he’s forced to spend the summer studying magic at his aunt’s house, a bored Tom promptly starts looking for any way to escape. He probably shouldn’t resort to making a deal with an extremely friendly demon, but he’s too curious to say no…

Kneadful Things by Laurin Kelly—When Adam answers an ad for work at a local bakery, he has no idea what he’s in for. Despite the storefront’s dilapidated condition and isolated location, a steady stream of customers come through hoping to find what they’re looking for from Jin, the mysterious owner.

How to Trick a Trickster by Ava Kelly—Eric is a trickster working for the Corps of Undercover Passion Instigators and Distributors. His latest assignment takes him to a bookstore where he has to bring together Ivo Newton and Tom Euler. What he’s not supposed to do is fall in love with both his targets.

The Great Coke Robbery by Kashmira Majumdar—Charlie and Jack used to be the best in the business in the heist business. And then Charlie fell in love and settled down. Ten years later, Jack is debt-ridden and down on his luck, and in walks Charlie, proposing to pull off the most outrageous job of their lives.

As I’m drowning in research reading and outline editing at the moment I haven’t had the chance to read the works of my co-contributors but I’m pretty sure from these blurbs that they’re an absolute treat.

The book’s available on Kindle, and I believe there are plans for it to come out as a paperback as well.


The author has been enjoying the sudden sunshine in London and hopes you have too. 

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[PUBLISHING]

If you enjoyed yesterday’s short story (which is nothing like this one but is also written by me), or have perhaps bought Owl Hollow Press’s Pick Your Poison anthology and enjoyed my contribution to it (also on the theme of oceanic health!), you might be interested to know that you can now buy environmental horror story In The Trenches on Amazon Kindle sites globally.

Deep sea exploration engineer Euan navigates the various tensions aboard a vessel which houses both those interested in the future of the oceans’ wildlife and those only interested in profiting from it, and on dipping below the waves discovers that they’re not the only ones with an interest in the contents of the abyss.

Kindle (UK) | Kindle (US)

EDIT: This story is now also available on Lulu.com, and via iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.


The author has recently been recovering from surgery and has been unable to keep up with his usual level of work, so pity money is very much appreciated:

TIP JAR

[FICTION] The Terrible Forgiveness of Michael Shale

It was a sunny day at the start of April, a month little-appreciated, when Michael Shale set out to have a day of forgiveness.

It had come to him late the night before, as he was taking receipt of a boot to the head from a gentleman who held strong views on Michael’s conduct and antecedents, that the holding of grudges caused a great quantity of strife in his neighbourhood. Big Sal and Galway Jimmy had, for example, vowed to slit each other’s throats over some tit-for-tat dispute all had forgotten the roots of, and while the rumpus promised to be entertaining it would doubtless draw the attentions of the short and easily-distracted arm of the law.

Whom, Michael thought in a flash of spring inspiration as he pressed a two-cent steak to his bruised face, really held the medal as first-place professional grudge-holders.

Michael was forced to postpone his Christian act as the rigours of the previous night, and Reggie Johnson, with whom he had shared many of these rigours and who was indeed best described as rigorous in all things (especially sharing), demanded his full attention.

When at last his duties to Reggie and the demands of the flesh, both pleasant and otherwise, had been discharged, Michael set about his plan to lead by example.

He left his basement room and ascended the steps with his hat almost tipped enough to hide his swollen face, and the moment his shoes touched the sidewalk, why, there was his first opportunity!

For here was Joe Jefferson, who’d stiffed him a dime last week, all haloed in the dusty light of a fine spring morning.

God moves in mysterious ways, thought Michael, much-satisfied, and he doffed his hat to Joe Jefferson and cried, “Joe! You rascal! Last week you stiffed me a dime!”

Now Joe Jefferson startled, for Michael Shale was a fine body of a man and despite his sour luck the night before and his Saturday night rouge habit, he was known to have a right hook that could swiftly introduce a fellow to the floor.

And when Joe Jefferson startled, two gossipy young things who leaned on the stairs leading up to the second floor rooms startled too.

“Yeah I did,” said Joe Jefferson, who was noted as a man whose chief route out of any hole he found himself in was to dig further, “What of it?”

“What of it?” cried Michael, as he began his walk through Harlem, “Why, I forgive you, Joe Jefferson, that’s what of it! And by God when I find the man who put the boot to my face last night, I shall forgive him too.”

Joe Jefferson received this blessing with a scowl and said to the gossipy young things at the stoop, “That kick to the head turned that fairy’s brain all right.”

But Michael Shale went on his way, ready to forgive.

***

At the General Store at the corner, where boys like to hang around and pinch and poke and shove each other (and sometimes Michael), he came across Father Abraham.

Father Abraham had a newspaper under his arm and his usual string bag of canned ham on his arm and a big broad-brimmed hat, and he was engaged in telling young Herbie Mitchell why it was unChristian to kick cats. He was unhampered by the absence of any direct repudiation of such behaviour in the scriptures, for neither he nor his unwilling audience had read them much.

“Shale,” said Father Abraham, who did not like to call a man ‘Mister’ unless he felt the fellow deserved it, “What are you about at this hour? Have you no job to go to?”

“Why Father, my work is in the evenings, over at Forty-Second Street,” said Michael, almost forgetting his original mission, “as so many of your parishioners know, coming to our theater for their Sunday instead of to your Church!”

The boys outside the General Store laughed and snickered, and none laughed harder than Herbie Mitchell, to see Father Abraham – Father Cans-of-Ham, they called him – given lip by a fairy, and a Negro, no less!

Father Abraham himself said a quite ungodly word.

“As to what I’m about,” said Michael, recalling his purpose, “On Tuesday you called me a layabout n*gger.”

“That I did, for that’s what you are,” Father Abraham said, drawing himself up like a man who is ready for a blow to the jaw, and who means to weather it with dignity. “And I see in the shade of your hat that a less kindly man than I gave you a much-deserved thrashing, you, you loitering degenerate!”

The boys outside the General Stores tittered and gasped, for Father Abraham being a man of whiter hue had turned a lobsterish red in his righteousness!

“Indeed I’ve had a rough night,” said Michael, removing his hat in belated greeting, “And indeed I am seeking the perpetrator. But I’m no layabout, Father, and first I must address these ill words you have used upon me.”

“And just what do you propose to do?” Father Abraham asked in a far littler voice than before, for Michael was near a foot taller than he and the word of the Lord has historically failed to prevent many a martyr from meeting his maker at the hands of more muscular men.

“To forgive you, of course,” said Michael, replacing his hat, and his smile was bright in the morning sun. “It is the Christian thing.”

“So it is,” said Father Abraham with not much conviction and watering eyes. “So it is.”

And Michael Shale went on his way, leaving Father Abraham to let out a large breath, and Herbie Mitchell to say, “Some slap that fairy’s had, to make him talk that way!”

***

At the Subway Station, where three Italian fairies called Miss Pell, Miss Give, and Miss Take – or Angelo, Antonio, and Giovanni Cesare Claudio Pietro to their Mammas – liked to meet men who liked to meet fairies, Michael Shale stopped to buy a newspaper.

“Why Michael Shale,” said the newspaper boy, “you got yourself a real shiner right there.”

“Indeed I do,” said Michael, for indeed he did.

“Indeed she do,” sang Miss Pell, who had missed the whole fight that night and disliked it.

“Oh don’t she just,” trilled Miss Give, who’d missed the start, and was confused.

“And what a night,” called Miss Take, who’d seen the whole thing and loved it. “Hey Miss Shale, are you all right?”

“I got my mind made up,” said Michael, who did not like to be called Miss Shale when it was not a Saturday night, “to find the boot that kicked me.”

“Oooh,” said the fairies, and “oh,” said the newspaper boy, and “Get outta the goddamn road ya degenerates!” said the meat wagon man trying to pass them on a busy street.

“What’ll you do?” asked the newspaper boy.

“Yes, what’ll you do?” asked the Misses Pell, Give, and Take.

“Will you move you black behind?” cried the meat wagon man, whose sausages were starting to spoil.

“Forgive him” said Michael, serene as the sunshine, “it’s the Christian thing.”

“I’m Jewish,” said the newspaper boy.

“Even so,” said Michael Shale.

“I heard it was Leggy Tom,” said Miss Pell, who heard a lot of rumours.

“I think it was Fat Bob,” said Miss Give, and pinched her.

“It was Greasy Ray,” screeched Miss Take, making half the street stare, “what are you, goddamn blind, Miss Give? You was there.”

“Much obliged,” said Michael, and he raised his hat. “Take care now, ladies.”

“Now who does she think she’s fooling with all this ‘forgive’,” sighed Miss Pell, but Michael Shale went on his way, and the meat wagon man took his spoiling sausages on his, too.

***

When Michael Shale got to the City College, where all the smart girls walked fast in their calf-length skirts, he saw Maimie Reed, who just last month threatened to write Michael’s Momma back home and tell her what life he was leading.

Maimie Reed tossed her head – her hair was set and carefully kept and her hat by the way almost covered it all – and said, “Hello Michael, I see you took a beating. Did it set you to rights?”

“It’ll take more than a bruise to kick the fairy out of me,” said Michael Shale, and he lifted his hat so that she could see what a fine bruise it was. “Miss Reed, you have been bearing tales.”

Miss Reed hoisted her books, which had long titles in French and in Latin and in Math, which was harder, and she said, “Not yet, but if you don’t mend your ways, Michael Shale, I’ll write to my Auntie and you’ll catch H-E-L-L.”

“Now Maimie, that isn’t nice,” said Michael, and he put on his hat again. “But I forgive you.”

Maimie gave a great snort and she said, “You’ll get worse than a bruise one day soon.”

“Well perhaps,” said Michael, “but at present I’m away to find Greasy Ray and talk to him about this one he’s given to me.”

“Now don’t you go starting fights,” Maimie sighed, for she knew her cousin was a lost cause. “If you get yourself arrested again you’ll break your Momma’s heart.”

“Who said anything about fights?” cried Michael, already on the move, “I only mean to forgive him.”

“And if I believe that, I’ll believe anything,” said Maimie Reed to herself, and she hitched up her books, which were sliding.

But Michael Shale went on his way with a song in his heart and a sunbeam on his hat, ready to forgive.

***

He found Greasy Ray where Greasy Ray was always to be found; hanging around the Childs on Forty-Second Street like a bad stink, his feet on a seat and so much Brillantine in his hair that he looked like a motor oil spill.

Word travels faster than a man on foot, Michael Shale saw, for a waiter he knew in ways of which Father Abraham did not approve raised up his thin eyebrows and said, “I hear you’re in the forgiveness business now, Miss Shale.”

“That I am,” said Michael, for that he was. And he took off his hat. “And I’ve a man in mind.”

“I’ll tell him,” said the waiter, with a smile that meant no good, for he loved a cat-fight as much as his manager hated them, though he was never in them himself. “He’s been waiting on you while I’ve been waiting on him, if you know what I mean.”

Greasy Ray was awash with sweat and his fingers drilled out a syncopation on the table top like the finest beat-man in the Cotton Club, for he’d heard Michael Shale “forgave” Joe Jefferson and he did not believe it; and he’d heard Michael Shale “forgave” Father Abraham, and he did not believe it; and he hadn’t heard that Michael Shale also forgave his cousin Maimie Reed – for she was not the kind of girl who knew the likes of Greasy Ray – but had he heard he’d have hardly believed it either.

It is fair to say that hasty-hoofed heavily-pomaded young man with the harsh opinions on Michael Shale’s conduct was now sorely rattled.

“Shale!” he cried, leaping to his feet as Michael came to his table. “What’s all this – what brings you – that is, I say – what do you want?”

Holding his hat in his hands, Michael said, “Oh, since you ask, Ray, I’d like an apology for some things you said last night.”

All the faces in the Childs on Forty-Second Street this fine spring afternoon were turned on Greasy Ray like a handful of scrubbed spotlights on a Broadway soloist, and Greasy Ray’s courage – never of much size – gave out, and Greasy Ray’s pride – somewhat larger, but manageable – got swallowed under their gaze.

“It’s yours!” cried Ray, too fast, and hot about the cheeks.

“And for messing up my hair,” said Michael, severely.

“Sure! I’m sorry,” said Ray, clearly. He’d lost track of his hands, and so wrapped them around each other like a pastor, to keep them safe from getting lost again.

“And bruising my eye,” said Michael, pointing to it.

“Right! I shouldna!” sang Ray, in a real fever of contrition.

“Very good,” said Michael, content. “Then I forgive you.”

Greasy Ray squinted, which did little to improve him. The waiter with the thin eyebrows squinted, but he didn’t need improving. The horde at Childs on Forty-Second Street squinted, and held their breath, for they were past improvement.

“Eh?” said Ray, ready to flinch. “That’s all?”

“That’s all?” complained the waiter, who’d been hoping for a fight.

“That’s all?” sighed the disappointed customers, who’d heard stories about this Childs. Most of them were true – but they happened at night.

“Sure,” said Michael, with a great big smile. “For now.”

“Listen, pal, if you’re going to slug me one, get it over with, all right,” trembled Ray in testy tremolo, braced for a swing.

Michael leaned close and raised his hand, until he cast a deep shadow over the greasy little white man, and he tapped Greasy Ray tenderly on the cheek with no more than the breath of a feather.

“No,” he said, as sunny as the day, “I shall not.”

And Michael Shale left the Childs on Forty-Second Street well-satisfied, ready to take all the rest of April in his real long stride (as only a fairy can).

THE END


The author has, as may be apparent, been combining period research on 1920s Manhattan (prices, some slang, and locations may be assumed to be therefore at least vaguely accurate) with idly reading  Vile Bodies as part of his recuperation from surgery. 

Tips may be left here if you enjoyed the story.

[Publishing] Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press

Alright yes I promise I shall, at some point, make blog posts when I’m not saying “I wrote something, buy it,” but I’ve been (altogether now) busy. Busy trying to fit work, frantic book research, belly dancing classes (no, really), bodybuilding (again, yes, really), beginners’ Turkish lessons (why), and occasional social life (ukulele singalong down a shaft in Rotherhithe, attempts to gain personal low-earth orbit via a swing at the Tate Modern, etc) around each other.

Fortunately then this particular book was handled by professionals as opposed to solely by me.

Poisons come in all shapes and sizes, often resting in that murky, gray area between too much and too little, between right and wrong. Some poisons help; some poisons hurt. Some do both in the proper doses. But one thing is certain—whether good or evil, figurative or literal, fact or fiction—we can’t escape its potent charm. Throughout this anthology, poison takes many forms, both literal and metaphorical, in a wide variety of genres and styles. And they’re all yours to enjoy. So go ahead. Pick your poison.

Featuring: George BrewingtonJason RubisLawrence SalaniDiane ArrelleKatie ShermanLeigh StathamNichole CelauroMichael Harris CohenDerek Des Anges (Meeeeee), Leslie EntsmingerChristine EskilsonTom HowardCara FoxSharon Frame GayCharlie HughesAaron Max JensenKevin LankesFrank OretoCary G OsborneColleen Quinn, and Angela Raper.

Pick Your Poison is published by Owl Hollow Press and available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook.

Continue reading “[Publishing] Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press”

Heavy

It’s here, it’s here. There’s fewer pigs in it that the cover leads you to believe.

When I was researching and writing The Next Big One the world “helpfully” cooperated by giving me the chance to observe responses to a terrifying epidemic of a deadly virus in real time, as Ebola resurfaced in West Africa and one of my friends went out with Save The Children to test blood samples in the field, work for which she was rightfully awarded a medal. Let us hope then that the events of this book remain firmly fiction, dealing as they do with an alternate past, the long aftermath of partial nuclear destruction, and the opportunism bred by lengthy global conflict; the kind of things that become normal, and the horrors that float to the surface…

What if not only everything you knew about yourself was wrong, but everything everyone else knew about you was wrong too?

Pig is in hell.

He’s been in hell for the twenty years since half a continent was atomised; since his own ignominious and contentious escape from a fate that never came; when a face from his past comes offering alleviation, he inadvertently drags behind him a young revolutionary, an extracted spy, and an admin assistant way out of her depth on an unexplained mission that will take them across the world, and which may well solve nothing at all…

“I’m always pleased to see Derek Des Anges writing, with his acute understanding of the horror we do to each other and the tactics we take to survive it.” – Kieron Gillen (Wicked + Divine, Darth Vader)

Heavy is available in print and as an eBook from Lulu.com, from all international Amazon sites in print and on Kindle (US | UK and other regional Kindle sites too), and will shortly be available in eBook format from iBooks, Nook, and Kobo also.

If you’ve read and enjoyed my (or anyone else’s) work, here’s an article on why it’s important for you to say so in public: beware of monsters: why you should review books you love.

Love the cover? Buy art products with it on here.

Want to see the book physically? No problem:

A companion, not a sequel

I released this a little while ago but what with one thing (repeated terrorism) and another (general election) and another (massive fire in my city), my job-that-pays-the-rent of “reading all the national newspapers” has been rather all-consuming and my time off has been filled with trying to forget all about it, so this post is late.

A while back I published an odd little short story called The Renaka Device, a post-Revolutionary fantasy story about propaganda and truth. I also have novel I’m currently editing which is, in the main, about the mutability of memory, gaslighting, and truth.

Since the latter isn’t ready yet, I ended up writing another short story set in the same post-Revolutionary fantasy land as The Renaka Device, about the different sizes of commitment, the expendability of the individual, and fanaticism, and how the latter can be picked up and used by whoever wants to, not just one position in the political spectrum.


Available on Amazon Kindle UK (and also on most other Amazon regional sites).

Twenty years after the Revolution, the journalist Shukach Istynyya is permitted to speak with the Revolutionary Republic’s number one enemy, in a once-in-a-lifetime interview. “It might be any man within the cell that I am brought to face, but the Party is honest, and the Party is just, and the man in the cell is called Lubach Zahradnik, and he is The Traitor.”

Future announcements regarding more short stories are on their way but have to been reined in for the time being! Thank you for reading.

Circling closer

The time has come for another book to be released into the wild, to flourish where it can, like a weed, and hopefully sow fertile seeds in the imagination. Or at least take up some prime real estate on someone’s bookshelf, which is of course identical to becoming an important part of their inner life.

The year is 1900. An Earl, an 
engineer, a suburban philosopher, 
and an enigma meet at University
and make a pact to learn the art
of conjuring…

Consider yourself warned: the rabbit is out of the hat and the cat is out of the bag.

30 Days Of Original Fiction

I’ll be honest, this year’s NaNoWriMo outline is kicking my ass. I am feeling the deadline somewhat. And in that confession I’m pretty sure I’m scared a few people who are already nervous of the whole concept of NaNo, so I kind of considered maybe letting anyone who doesn’t feel confident enough to do the whole “write An Book in a month” thing or who remains flummoxed by writing original fiction have a go at basically whipping up an outline over the course of that month instead, with this Helpful Selection of 30 exercises (one per day).

Days 1-10 are for exploration. This is when you begin to discover who you’re writing about. It might not stick, but that’s okay. You can always do it again if you need to.

1. Make your protagonist.

Or the person you think is going to be your protagonist. This can always change! Write about three paragraphs giving a vague idea of what they’re like – how they look, sort of, what they want, what they fear, where they’re from, what kind of person they are, really. This can and will be added to later.

2. Make a place.

Chuck down three paragraphs about a location, making it up as you go. Where is it, what kind of function does it have? How does it relate to the world? Is it a room, is it a business, is it a place in the wilderness? How do people get there?

3. Put your protagonist in the place.

Get them to explore. Maybe four paragraphs this time, or as much as you need; what emotions does the place arouse for them – have they been there before? What does it remind them of? What does it smell like? Feel like? Are they comfortable there or ill-at-ease? How do they move around the space?

4. Make a second character.

Same process as 1.

5. Put that character in the space, and have the two characters interact.

Give yourself a side of A4, and write their interaction. Pick whose point of view you want to represent, and try to consider how they’re going to convey the interaction – how do they perceive it in their own head, how much attention do they pay to what they’re doing vs what the other character is doing.

6. Write the same interaction from the perspective of the other character.

What is different? What is the same? How clear is it that their experience of the situation differs? What is suggested about their relationship as people? How does the other character’s narrative voice – their way of conveying themselves and the situation to the reader – differ?

7. Reflection.

Write a few paragraphs outlining the additional things you have learnt about the space, and each of the characters, based on their interactions with each other. Is there some hint of a struggle, quest, or unresolved issue that needs exploring? What is missing? What are they avoiding?

8. Create another location

You will want to write more than the first time you did this. This location is to be explored in the context of how it differs and relates to the first, and to your two characters. You will want to people it, and think about its use and function in a narrative: what kind of things might happen here? How would they effect your nascent characters?

9. One more character.

This character is hiding something from one or both of your characters, and wants something from one or both of them. When you write your description of this character you need to consider all of the previous days of writing: how do they relate to the two locations, and to the two characters, especially? What deeds have they committed in those locations, and how were the other characters – including the people you placed in the second location – involved?

10. Answers.

Today is for answering any questions that you have found arising in the Reflection section or any of the previous days of writing. Can you answer questions about your characters and locations that you couldn’t answer before?

Days 11-20 are for interlocking narrative and planning. Some people find it easier to write if they know where they are going; others find it easier to work out where they are going by writing. The following exercises should give you the opportunity to work out which you are by alternating between both.

Feel free to loop back round and do days 1-10 again if you were unsatisfied with the characters, before moving on. Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually a time limit on any of this.

11. Blind writing.

Take your two locations, your three characters, and all that you have learned about them in the ten days so far. Pick an object at random from the room you are writing in, and write a short scene – no more than 400 words, no less than 200 – with dialogue and descriptions of action/place, in which the item is a source of conflict or tension between the characters. This can be as silly or as trivial or as deep and meaningful as you like; trivial conflict can often be mined for much more profound plot and character development than you first realise.

12. Unpicking.

Today, draw a flow diagram or similar chart – whichever you find works best with your way of thinking – showing how the conflict over the random object evolved from the past interactions of the characters, however minor, and how you think it is likely to affect their future interactions and behaviour.

13. Planning.

Referring to your scene, and to your flow diagram, write three paragraphs about how the conflict might be resolved favourably, unfavourably, and to whom, and how likely you think each outcome is based on what you know of these characters.

14. Pathfinding.

Pick the most likely outcome and write a scene describing how it comes about. If the outcome is complex or takes a while to reach fruition, resist the temptation to try a different outcome or return to the drawing-board. Instead, write a series of one-to-two sentence snapshots of how you think the progression takes place. These will constitute an outline. You do not have to write these sentences in order if you get stuck. If you know where you think the scene is going but not how to get there, start at the end and work backwards.

And congratulations, you’ve made it a fortnight. You’re doing well!

15. Elaboration.

Look at the conflict and potential resolutions you’ve just described, and the one you chose to follow as most likely. What could happen next? Think about the situation as it has come about, and the world you’ve created (it’s often a good idea to do this thinking while you’re engaged in something else, like exercise or chores, sometimes that helps the brain tick over things differently), then write a list of the following circumstances:

A.  Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the protagonist.

B. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the antagonist.

C. Something that could realistically happen which would cause a temporary collaboration between the antagonist and protagonist, or the foundations of a more lasting one.

16. Twists and turns.

Pick one of the circumstances above and, without a set limit on how long the piece should be, write it out as prose narrative. If this becomes unwieldy, or threatens to take up more of the day than you can reasonably afford, remember the outlining technique from Day 14.

17. Return to the start.

By now you have a reasonable understanding of your protagonist and antagonist, and a decent selection of characters who surround their conflict, interact with them. With this in mind, make a list of reasons that their opposition might have begun, and what formed the relationship between the protagonist and one of the other characters. Try to bear in mind that it’s rare in reality for a single, defining event to create a strong opposition without some kind of underlying pressure, be that pressure social (prejudice, disparity), historic (prior interactions, family feud), or psychological (own past, suppressed attraction).

18. Deprive your protagonist

This should reasonably form the beginning of a narrative. Bearing in mind what you know about your protagonist as a person and how they respond, prior to any developments you have explored following on from your introduction of the objective they are in conflict over, write at most one page of an outline, using the short, linked sentences approach, in which the protagonist has something taken away from them (this can be an item, a person, a state of being, social status, certainty…) which leads to their pursuit and conflict as previously described.

19. Map the power balance swings.

Look back over all the narrative and outlines you have of character interactions so far, including those between secondary and side characters. Make a list of all the characters who are present or mentioned in the story and outlines. Next to each character, write down a short summary of all the moments when things appear to be in their favour. You may also wish to write down what action of theirs or inaction of their led to them gaining or losing the upper hand.

This will help you to visualise the shift in power balance throughout the narrative; it is usually good for a story to take the protagonist through losing and gaining the upper hand in a situation, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the reader interested, and traditionally a protagonist (or indeed any character) should cause at least some of these power exchanges through their own actions.

However, like most narrative rules, this can be broken intelligently and to great effect!

20. Winning.

Write a short scene in which the balance of power between the protagonist and an antagonist – it doesn’t have to be the antagonist – starts out in favour of the antagonist and shifts to the protagonist. Read over it: how does the power shift occur? What does the protagonist do to make it happen? Remember that in a good story, the protagonist is active, and causes – if not always directly – the plot to progress through their behaviour and responses. Things can’t just keep happening to them.

Rewrite the scene to show the balance of power shifting through a different action of the protagonist. Can either version of the scene be placed within the narrative you are building?

Congratulations, you’re two-thirds of the way through this list!

Days 21 to 30 – the last stretch of these exercises – will be about refining your ideas and introducing subplots. Always remember, please, it’s okay to change your mind at any point, or decide to pursue a different part of the story. You’re exploring, all the way through this, and no “false start” is a waste of your time – it’s a valuable decision made, because you find out what it is you want to be writing.

At this point it’s worth making an overall note: share your ideas with people. Don’t get locked into the idea of the ivory-tower creator or feel that you must remain aloof until the finished work is available and perfect; that makes the business of writing unnecessarily difficult. Instead, describe your story and lament your blind spots to those willing to listen – even if they have no solution, you may find often that explaining it to other people helps you to straighten things out in your own head. Often, someone will ask a question you haven’t considered, and set the story off on a new course. Talk to people. Remember that writing is a communicative art!

21. Reflection: What unanswered questions and new characters and places have you acquired?

You don’t need to answer them! Just make a note of them when you think you’ve come up with all of them. If the answers and profiles for these new characters come up while you’re making a note of them, though, feel free to note them down. This would be a good time to talk about what you’re doing with someone else, to see if they have any questions you might not have considered before, too.

22. Take a side character for a walk.

Get the protagonist and antagonist to stop hogging the limelight. Take one of the side characters in any given scene you have so far, and write the interaction from their point of view. What are they thinking? How are they responding? How do they see what is going down? Is their interpretation radically different to those of the main actors? How important is it to them? What else is on their mind? Where did they come from? Where are they going?

23. Follow the thread

Review what you’ve written on day 22. Make a list, or mind-map, or whatever other method you like, of how you think this character’s story touches on the main story, and where it diverges. What are they likely to do in the same timespan as the main story which has an effect on the main story? What else are they doing? What questions about their life and their goals do you want to see answered?

24. Take another side character for a walk.

This character should be someone who both appears in a scene you have written previously, with the main characters (the protagonist and antagonist) and also someone who has a connection – personal, or professional, but quite strong – with the character you wrote about on day 22. In addition to sketching out how they see the scene they appear in, write about their prior/future interactions with Character From Day 22. How does this progress/impede either of their agendas?

25. Map your threads

Time to draw or write out how you think the two (or even three) plots you now have relate to each other. Pay special attention to how they drive each other: what would happen if one of the people involved wanted something different, or behaved differently? If it alters the entire way the story is going, do you prefer that direction? Is it still in keeping with what you would expect of that character?

26. Alright in the end.

Taking as long as you want and as many words as it needs, write the climatic scene. This is not the same as the final scene, as many stories close with a coda, or a rebalancing – a tying up of the remaining loose ends, a series of scenes dealing with some of the remaining consequences, or cementing what has already been hinted at. Quite frequently in a story with a romantic subplot, the conclusion of the romance occurs after the conclusion of the main plot. It’s up to you to decide (And re-decide) when the subplot will come to its conclusion, or whether its conclusion is bound up in the main plot’s end.

Today, though, take into account everything you have so far, everything you know about the story so far, and write the flashpoint, the part of the story in which evil is finally defeated/good finally defeated, or the goal achieved/irretrievably lost/judged to be not worth achieving.

27. How did we end up here?

Today, write the two short scenes immediately preceding that ending. It’s possible one may be part of the subplot; it’s also possible they may both be from the main plot, but whatever happens in them should see the characters and the narrative progress from the state they were in, driven by the events and their own actions, to the state in which the story reaches its climax, which you wrote on day 26. Remember that even if they are reacting to external events, the characters have to drive some part of the story themselves. Even people trying to survive an inevitable extinction-event-causing meteor impact still have other obstacles that can be altered or exacerbated aside from the incoming space rock, for example.

28. Reflection.

Take today out to look over all of your work so far. Arrange what you have, narratively, in a chronological order (when you come to write the story it needn’t be presented in that order, but it can help to get a grip on what’s going on). Read through it. Does anything leap out at you as unanswered? Is there a nagging question which has arisen as a result of what you’ve come up with? Are there conflicts which haven’t been resolved? Make notes of them. Don’t attempt to answer or resolve them, just note what they are.

29. Loose Ends #1

You saw this coming: pick one of the loose ends, and write about how it can be resolved. This can be done either exploratively – by jumping into the scene and following it to its conclusion – or descriptively – by sitting down and making notes on what a likely or desirable course of events within the narrative would be to see this thing resolved one way or another.

30. Loose Ends #2

What you wrote yesterday will almost certainly have created a cascade of new possibilities. As we are at the end! THE END! Of our planning, all you need to do now is make a note of these possibilities. Diagram out how you think they’re most likely to connect into what you have already, what you think they’re likely to change, and then put your pen down.

31. Put this in a drawer for six months and think about something else!

None of these techniques will magic a book into being. You still have to write it (yes, I know, how annoying). But hopefully these will provide you with an adequate selection of tools to get to grips with your own imagination and wrestle the narrative to the ground. Even if you’re tremendously experienced, there’s always some new method or problem left to tussle with.


If there’s an overall piece of advice I have, based on the questions I get asked a lot and the tension I see in people, it’s release your fear of fucking up.

You’re going to fuck up. It’s a necessary part of getting it right. You have to write wrongs before you can write right. That’s part of the process, and needs to be embraced that way. Charge in demanding to know which piece you’re going to end up throwing out the window. Produce too much. Fill the garden of words with gibberish and weed it until you’re left with glory.

When I was learning to stilt-walk – there are less weird examples from dancing and so on but it was stilt-walking that I learnt it in so I am giving you the advice from there – the first, first thing we learnt, after “how to put stilts on”, was how to fall. Not how to avoid falling, but how to fall safely. How to land on your padded knees, not your painful and underpadded butt. You had to unlearn putting your hands down to save yourself (this leads to fractured wrists); we practiced falling all day. Fall, fall, and fall again.

Artists fill sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures that aren’t quite right. Musicians play ten thousand scales, bum notes, and god alone knows what else. Imperfections, wrong directions, and a draft where you lob everything out of the window barring the secondary main villain and an interesting question about the role of animal passion in shaping fear or something are part of the process.

Henceforth address it as “whee, fucked that up” not “oh god this is terrible I have ruined this story and now the story can never be told properly”. They’re adaptable fuckers, and every story has a thousand iterations; you just have to find the one that works for you. Knock it back, pick a different cast, and try again.

New short story: The Renaka Device

Exclusively on Amazon Kindle, on every Amazon Kindle site (I will link to UK | US but trust me: every site), a short story rather unlike any of my others in content and in style, The Renaka Device is fairly strongly-influenced by Ray Bradbury, I think.

My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.

I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for you; feel free to pick up your copy (UK | US); Text-to-speech is available on this book for anyone who has difficulty reading from screens or is simply too busy to read but can listen.


Currently I’m plugging away at another sci-fi short story, The Grandmother Virus (which is giving me a headache, I won’t lie); other short fiction of mine you can treat yourself to in the meantime includes: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates (a rollerderby fable), Vessel 151-B (classic sci-fic take on the Pygmalion story), and Saint Grimbald’s Men (bodyhorror bildungsroman. Possibly).

Stay tuned this November for regular updates on how awful it is trying to pull an entire manuscript out of your face in one sitting.