Mad Scientist Journal Spring 2017 out now!

I mentioned that Mad Scientist Journal had accepted A Gift of Life and Death last year. The magazine is out now and available in paperback or Kindle versions on Amazon.

The story is also online – read it. The online version has the most beautiful art, a watercolour heart by Shannon Legler.

If you like my story, or any of the other stories on the site, consider supporting the Mad Scientist Journal Patreon.

A Gift of Life and Death accepted by Mad Scientist Journal

Next year A Gift of Life and Death will appear in Mad Scientist Journal. The main character, Mira, is a character from a longer project I’m working on (the same one that Makiruku appears in). A story with her has sat in my digital drawer for a while. It never really worked until I had the idea, prompted by a call for submissions by Mad Scientist Journal, to re-write it in the first person.

I’m rather pleased to see Mira, a secondary character in the novel, take centre stage to tell us, in her own words, what happened last night and why she’s changing the bedtime ritual she’s followed for years.

This was, incidentally, the fist project that I edited on the bus. So what? It turns out that editing on the bus (at least on First buses) is much more difficult than producing new material. More on that next week.

Finish one, start another

So I finished a novel: it took ages. Mountains rose and were worn down to pebbles.

Before I had finished project 1 properly, I started project 2, the sequel to project 1. That one I planned – unlike the first – so when I came back to it after a hiatus of 12+ months, having diverted myself with the completely unrelated joys of project 3, I had chapter notes and plot progressions that told me where I was going. That’s what we call a good thing: I don’t remember details like plot, characters and the point of it all between novel-writing sessions.

Over the last couple of months, ever since completing project 1, I’ve been working hard on the sequel. Three days ago, I reached a crucial milestone: I completed the toilet-paper draft. In my process, that’s the draft before the first draft: something that shows the bones of the story, and has a whole bunch of colour and cheerful exchanges but usually in the wrong places. The toilet-paper draft is plump with enthusiasm but thin on anything else, including grammar. It’s too rough to share.

Now, it needs to rest.

Sunday’s the deadline

Deadlines are very helpful. They motivate me to get things done. That is, if they’re external. Deadlines I set for myself – ones that I can miss without anyone noticing – I find it difficult to hit. When the only one looking over my shoulder is me, I don’t honour the agreement. This is a problem when you’re trying to finish a novel no one has asked for.

Last year,  I set a September deadline for finishing my current project. I missed it, that’s how well that went. I had very good reasons for missing it, of course: stuff happened, and then there was that thing. But stuff always happens. Every year is a landslide of stuff, this year is no different.

So, I decided to set myself another deadline and stick to it, come hell or high water.

It’s a tight deadline. Challenging. I set it on Monday, and this is what I’ve agreed with myself: By the end of this week, I will have finished the toilet-paper draft of the current project.

It’s not going to be easy, but I’ve got all I need to succeed: a fresh new note book, pens, a list of scenes I’ve forgotten to write, a map of where I’m going. I have time. It’s not that far to go. By Sunday, it’ll be done.

My hand hurts from writing. It’s a nice feeling.

Meet Makiruku the kappa

Kappas are Japanese water demons who sometimes eat people, sometimes help them. Their skulls have an interesting shape: a bowl at the top is full of water that gives them strength. Kappas can be malevolent and spiteful but they are always very polite. And that’s useful: in case the one you meet isn’t a nice helpful kappa, bow deeply. It will bow too and spill the water in its skull bowl, spilling its energy and strength.

This is Makiruku. He turned up in the Bristol channel one day.

Makiruku, the kappa

There’s no deadline so I’ll write what I like

This is sound writing advice: finish.

As an aspiring writer, you hear it a lot. The logic is sound. If you don’t finish a project, you can’t send it anywhere. Taking the logic to its extreme, you should never give up in the middle of something but always soldier on though and make sure you get to the end.

Sod that.

I showed my writer’s group a short story that I’d been working on. I knew it wasn’t entirely coherent and I knew why. It started as a short idea, something that could be covered in 1,500 words, say. But the story grew and veered off in a different, winding direction. I needed advice: should I cut it right back (at the time, it was 7,500 words long) or should I keep going?

Writer’s group said keep going. That was what I wanted to do, so did it was easy advice to follow.

As a result, I’ve left my other projects unfinished. At first, I felt bad about doing that, but then a friend of mine pointed out that no one is waiting for them to be finished. There is no deadline, no agent or publisher anxious to see my work, so I might as well focus on what I am most interested in at the moment. Wise words.

It will be interesting to see if I get sidetracked on to something else before this one’s finished too. I hope not – that would be too much like a pattern and would force me to conclude that I’m rubbish at finishing.

At 19,360 words I’m about 1/3 through the project. I’m still enthusiastic about it and I’m pressing on.