To blog, or not to blog?

Yes, it seems I’m officially out of clever titles. I may have even used this one before, but any excuse to poorly paraphrase Shakespeare is okay in my book! (The academic in me really wanted to put a citation then.)

I’m annoyed with myself because I haven’t posted a blog in a few weeks. I promised myself that I would do a regular blog and try to build up my readership – you guys. But I’ve been busy – sure that’s everyone’s excuse. Trying to keep up with a part-time academic job, and a full-time PhD isn’t easy, but I should be able to find time to write a little blog, right? I’d hope so, and I’m definitely going to try harder, even if it’s just a book of the week post so you can hear what I’m reading at the moment.

The other reason I haven’t blogged is because I haven’t asked my students to in a few weeks. They’ve been too busy with assessments and it wouldn’t have been fair to make them do a blog too. They’re too busy…

I want to ask you a few questions. I will do some proper research on this, but I want a few opinions first to get a rough idea. (Feel free to comment below)

How important is a regular blog post, or is it better to wait for good content/ideas? Is it good to write a regular post so that people know when to expect it?  When should that be?

I’m trying to work out how to manage this blog, and I want to know how people interact with blogs. Such as how long a decent post should be?

I’ve made a short survey that you can fill out to help me with this, if you have time: Blogging Survey


I’m also looking at increasing my freelance workload. (After complaining about being busy? I know…)

So if you’re a student and you want sometime to check through your work for you and check the content (no promises about grading!) or just to edit/proofread, or if you’re an aspiring author and you want some critique on your writing/some help, then please get in touch. We can work out what you need and sort out an appropriate way of payment.

If this sounds like you, then please send me an email and we can sort something out!


Book of the Week

Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky

So, I’ve finally got to last year’s Arthur C. Clarke award winning novel. I was going to wait a bit to read this as I’ve got a few things on my reading list that I really want to read, but then I got a few recommendations for this in a matter of days.

I’m now 150 pages in (which may sound like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of its 600 pages), and I’m really enjoying it. It’s nice to pick up a sci fi book that feels fresh and pulls you along for the ride. Adrian is typically a fantasy writer and this is his first science fiction book. It reads like a fantasy writer writing sci fi, but that’s not a criticism. The world building is so strong and so believable that it can only be written by someone who has written fantasy. A common pitfall, and one that I am guilty of, with sci fi is to assume that you can make everything up. But you must absolutely understand how your world works, in as much detail as possible.

Adrian provides that detail, but unlike a lot of sci fi authors he doesn’t hit you over the head with it with long exposition, but rather intertwines it expertly into the narrative.

The other thing that I really like, and it was so subtle it took me about 80 pages to notice, is that both the civilisations represented in the novel are represented by a different tense. The humans are a typical third person past tense, which feels natural. Then the aliens (no spoilers!) have a third person present tense narrative. A subtle difference when kept to different chapters, but a striking one when you realise what it means.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this technique pans out, and how it helps the story.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and please get in contact/leave a comment below!

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R… r… r… research.

Just a quick one this week, and a new style of topic to keep you updated with.

This trimester I am teaching a module entitled “Research Practice and Society”

Why do we research? For fiction that is quite easy to answer – if I am writing in the real world, even historical fiction I must know how things are, how they work, the realities. Even in Science Fiction I need to know the physical realities so that I don’t break them and bring the reader out of the story – but in other contexts it’s more difficult. I often tell my students that it is the best way to learn something, and I honestly believe it. And, what else is academia for, but to learn?

Anyway, during the course of the module I will be asking my students to write blog posts based on discussions and research they have conducted. When they do that, I plan to do a similar blog post so that we can compare. This week I asked them to plot out a timeline out their module, including deadlines and how they would break down the work. I tried to do something similar, but as I don’t have any real deadlines I failed. Hence this blog post, which is more of an introduction to the concept.

We’ll see how it goes next week.


Book of the Week

I finished the book I was reading last week the day after I published the blog post about it, and I have to be honest, the end didn’t really redeem it.

This week I am reading another Arthur C. Clarke award nominee (I’m actually working through last years nominees and winner), The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.

It’s an interesting concept and quite a short novel, and there are bits that I have enjoyed. However, for the most part the prose doesn’t really interest me, and in some parts I would dare say that it becomes quite annoying. The main character is an accelerated human, who is only a matter of years old, and I suspect that the prose is written to reflect this, but it often comes across as naive and basic. This is especially frustrating when the main character has supposedly read thousands upon thousands of books in her short life, but seems amazed by the smallest detail. She also seems to fixate on food, which isn’t particularly interesting as far as the story goes.

I often find first person writing a struggle to get into. I often feel more distanced from the character, rather than finding myself in this story, and this is one of those examples. I have sixty pages left, and it is enjoyable enough that I will finish it, but I am not wowed by it.

If I were to be pedantic I would describe it as more of a fantasy novel than a science fiction novel, as none of the fantastical things that happen within its pages are explained, nor related to science. (I’m fairly sure the characters even break Newtonian Physics, but we’ll let that slide)

Anyways, I’m sure as in all things other people will enjoy the novel in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

2016 is Dead, long li- Nah, scratch that.

So, I haven’t blogged in quite a while (March last year was the last time – eek!) and a couple of conversations over the past few days have encouraged me to say hello again.

Hello! Thank you for stopping by. I’m hoping to publish a weekly blog on all sort of writing things. This may be a Wednesday, but I’m looking at posting every Monday in future as that works better for me. What day is best for your readers? For now here’s an update of what I’ve been up to.

2016 was an odd year, and a bad year for many reasons (Let’s not talk politics right now!). I spent the second half with the worst sinus infection I have ever had. I haven’t felt that ill since before I was first diagnosed with ME in 1999. From about June I felt constantly exhausted and bunged up. Only now are things starting to clear up and I’m starting to feel like normal. I’m using that as my excuse for not blogging in so long. I wanted to, believe me! During that time I’ve self-referred myself to the local ME therapy clinic, and I’m booked in for some sessions, so I’ll keep you updated on how that goes. (When I was first diagnosed there was nothing like it).

Back in June I also started work on my PhD at Liverpool John Moores University. My thesis is currently “The Affect of the Second World War on Science Fiction”. I aim to keep you updated on it through this blog. At the moment I am plotting the novel and making sure it’s of a PhD standard. I may post some excerpts/updates on research from time to time.

In May, I finished my First World War novel Objection. I’m currently making a spreadsheet of agents that are accepting Historical Fiction submissions. (If you know of anyone, agent or publisher please get in contact!) Then I will begin querying them with the novel. I’ve sent it out to one agent that I know so far, so let’s see how that goes.

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’m currently toying with the idea of putting my MA Writing and Academic Teaching experience to good use and offering an editing/proofreading service to writers and students. I haven’t had a chance to contextualise it yet, but if you are interesting in some help then please feel free to comment below, or get in touch through my contact page and we can discuss it. I will post something more solid on this soon.

The final thing of this blog is for me to ask you, the reader, what kind of content you would like to read. If you have a particular idea you would like to know my thoughts on, or a particular writing issue that you have, then get in contact and I will try to help in a future blog. Even if you just have a question comment below and if it needs a long answer then I will incorporate it into a future blog. Another interesting question for you is, “how long should a blog be?” How far do you read before you get bored? Answers in the comments below!


One feature I would like to add to the blog is something I am currently calling “Book of the Week”.

Last year I tried to summarise all the books I had read that year with a single blog post. The problem was that I couldn’t remember much of the books I had read earlier in the year. So, from now on I will tell you which book I am currently reading and my thoughts on it. As it may take me more than a week to read some books you will see how my opinion changes throughout reading.

I’m currently about 40 pages from finishing Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. This book is published by Solaris who are predominantly a Sci Fi publisher, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award.

Honestly, I can’t see how it made the shortlist. It’s an interesting idea, and a Europe of the future is intriguing. There is some intriguing Le Carréesque espionage plotting, but its main downfall is the vast swathes of info dumping. Info dumping and exposition is a trope of Sci Fi, particularly when a large amount of world-building is involved. However, when you find yourself scan reading, you know something is wrong. As with most novels, I like to persevere till the end (I usually have to know how the story ends, or I get annoyed), but I don’t think I will be recommending this one to anyone. The ending might be enough to save it, but you’ll have to find out next week!


Once again, thanks for reading, and please do comment below.

My Year in Books 2015 (Part 1)

Last year I signed off the year with a list of books that I read in 2014. This year it’s already March and I haven’t got round to doing the same thing yet – okay, nearly the end of March. Well, I’ve been busy since early December putting together the application for my PhD, so as you can imagine I’ve been pretty occupied. All being well, it should now be off to the application panel for approval – fingers crossed.

So, I’ve found a bit of free time to make a post. I’m a bit sad that this is the first one of the year, but I hope to make some more this year. Anything you’d like me to write a post about, tell me in the comments section below. I’m open to suggestions.

I’m still working towards the draft of my World War One novel. It’s so close to being finished now that it’s frustrating, but there were parts of the story that I really wanted to make sure were told, so I had to extend the word count a bit and juggle some things around. It’s going quite well now and I aim to have it finished by the end of the month. (Oh crap, that’s next Thursday!)

On to my 2015 in the form of books then. This time I wanted to add the star rating for each book that I gave it on Goodreads, and perhaps write a little bit about each book. so, bear with me:


Serenity Graphic Novels #1-3 (****)

I started the year with these three graphic novels about everyone’s favourite Whedon show that got cancelled. If, like me, you love the show, then I thoroughly recommend reading them. Joss used them to continue the story in the way he would have like to have done, had they not been cancelled.

Robert Jordan – Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6) (***)

One of the longest series in fantasy seemed to get even longer with this book. I marked improvement on the last book, which was, the only way I can describe it from memory is ‘dull’. But there still seems to be something missing. I’m not normally one to complain about the journey – too many people want to jump to the end as if they don’t enjoy reading (see the Horus Heresy series) – but these books reveal so very little about the characters. Everyone just constantly seems grumpy with everyone else, particularly the women, and we don’t really see much of a character arc. One day I will read the next book and hope it does more for me.

Honour of the Space Marines – Anthology (****)

A nice little collection of Space Marine stories from each chapter.

Andy Weir – The Martian (*****)

I absolutely loved this book! If you haven’t read it yet, then what are you doing? Stop reading this rubbish and get on with it. I thought at first that the epistolary style would be a bit grating for an entire novel, but it really works. Andy Weir’s writing is vey natural, engaging and funny. I’m yet to watch the film, but I hear that’s good too.

Isaac Asimov – The Caves of Steel (****)

What’s there to say about Asimov? I find you either get him or you don’t. I was researching some Sci Fi crime and this fit the bill. An enjoyable read.

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (****)

See above. A little too abstract for my taste, but still a good read.

Steve Parker – Deathwatch (****)

Also for research, but the less said about that the better. It was good to see a full story about the Deathwatch Space Marines. Steve is a solid writer, and I never find anything much if at all to be critical about his work.

Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere (*****)

Yes, I’d never read it before. Oh, Neil… the only word I can truly use to describe your work is ‘fantastic’. Hearing him read at the opening of the Liverpool University lectures added to my love of this man’s work. I cannot recommend it enough, but you knew all about it already didn’t you?

That’ll do for now. This has made me want to go off and read.

I will endeavour to post part 2 tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

 

Oh, The Horror!

So I guess I can finally talk about this now that SFX #250 is out. About two issues ago (it might have been three, I can’t remember!) they advertised a competition to write a flash fiction piece of no more than 1,500 words. It was a competition to win a selection of signed Darren Shan Zom-b books, but they’re not really my thing. It did, however, catch my eye as a good incentive to try writing something different. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever written anything that fit within the horror genre before, especially not about zombies. 

To improve as a writer I’ve really been pushing myself to try writing in different styles and genres, so why not write a zombie story?

Sadly, I didn’t win the competition. I have no idea where I can, but I thought I’d wait until the issue was out until I posted it up for everyone to see. The title is a play on the saying ‘The reality is better than the dream’. I often have zombie related dreams (does anyone else also ‘suffer?’) and that was my direct inspiration for this piece. A nightmare may be bad, but I’m sure the reality would be far, far worse. Any way, here it is for your reading (dis)pleasure…


 

Reality is Worse than the Dream

by Michael J. Hollows

 

The wood cracked and splintered under my feet as I slipped again. The twin ends of the plank crumbled and fell as I chocked back a start of fear. I had thought I was safe up here, away from them, but I had been too confident, too complacent, too slow. Nothing was safe any more, they would always find me, no matter how much I ran.

I pushed myself up from my hands and knees and carefully propelled myself across, as the distant groaning grew louder.

Always the groaning. Why did they do that? They were dead, or undead, at least that’s what we’d been told. So why did they always groan? What kind of long-dead body function created that horrible keening noise that haunted my thoughts. Even when there were none of them around, I could still hear the sound, a phantom image pressing into my skull.

Jessica was calling to me from the window, screaming at me to hurry up. I reached for her hand, but I was too far away. I looked down at the ground and my vision swam, I never did like heights. This was a stupid idea.

‘Run, John. Run you fool!’

She never understood, I was too weak. With a grunt I pushed against the wooden boards and ran further, but I was too slow. With a sickening jolt, the boards cracked again and all resistance disappeared.

Time slowed interminably. I saw it all, even though it happened in an instant.

I was falling.

The wind, slow as it passed me, hummed in my ears and I expected any moment now to fall into the grasping, clawing hands of those groaning beasts. Jessica screamed again.

I tried to right myself, but the distance was too small and I hit the ground with a thump that knocked the wind from my lungs. My back burnt with pain and I felt like blacking out, but I had to get up, to run.

I could feel the broken, bloody finger nails about to claw at my skin and I shuddered, my back eliciting another jolt of pain.

Nothing happened.

Did I dare open my eyes? The moans were too distant, and as I opened my eyes and my vision returned to normal, pushing back the pain, I was alone.

‘Bloody, bastard zombies,’ I raged, daring to shout the words that everyone left unspoken. The movement made my head throb in pain and my vision swam again.  I looked up to the window and Jessica was gone, I hadn’t noticed the cessation of her screaming, my world was a sea of pain and terrible noises, one less didn’t make much difference.

The problem now, is that the shelter would presume me dead, and no one would come looking for me. Why bother? I would have to try and find my own way back.

It was her damned idea to climb over the roofs, even though I warned her. I may not be good with heights, but that wasn’t the point. In this part of town, after all the rain fall, the planks we’d placed were rotting. She was light, she could get across, and I wasn’t. Now I was here, lying on my arse, seconds away from doom.

I pushed myself up from the concrete and looked around for any signs of life, or unlife for that matter. I was in an alleyway between two buildings. Neither had any access, just a wall of impenetrable red-brown brick. To get anywhere I would have to leave the alley and go out into a more open area. The prospect didn’t exactly excite me. For the time being I was safe here, but I couldn’t stay in the alley indefinitely. For a start I would need food soon. That was what had brought us out on this insane foray. A foolish idea, we were pretty set as we were. We just got greedy.

I tested my legs to see how much mobility I had and everything hurt. Pain shot up my spine and down my legs, but I would be dead if I stayed here much longer. I looked around the alley to see if there was anything to use as a weapon, but couldn’t see anything. I searched under some boxes, wet and mulching, and pushed things around until an iron bar rolled free with a clang.

It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t my particular weapon of choice, but it would do in a bind and I was in a bind. I hefted it, testing the weight and took a few practice swings. The trick was to remove the head and I was fairly confident I could put enough force behind it.

I moved towards the end of the alley and it presented me with a view of the town. It had once been fairly prosperous, but now the houses and shops were boarded up, or ransacked. Family cars lay haphazardly, with their windows smashed and bodywork dented.

The undead milled around the ruined landscape, shuffling along with no sense of direction or purpose. They hadn’t noticed me yet, so I edged my way out, around the corner of the end terrace. I took careful footsteps, despite being dead, their hearing was ridiculously sensitive. I swear they could hear you breathing from a few metres away.

I took another step and an unnoticed can skittered away, clanging against an overturned bin.

Damn!

I had been too busy watching the zombies to pay attention to where I put my feet.

The nearest zombie, once a young man, wearing the remains of a black t-shirt and jeans, tilted its head in my direction and snarled as it saw me. I couldn’t think of it as a he anymore, that snarl was something feral, animal, dead.

It started shuffling in my direction, bringing with it that horrible groaning, keening sound, and the stench of putrefying flesh and decay. The smell made me want to gag and I dry-retched as it came closer.

Others spotted me as soon as the first one had and joined the attack.

The way to my right was clear, and I could flee, but I was rooted to the spot, terrified and indecisive. All I could do was bring up the iron bar and wave it threateningly at my attackers. They didn’t notice, and didn’t care, I was just food to them. That insatiable urge to snack on human flesh. What brought that about? And was it just humans?

I swung the iron bar at the first zombie, the one that snarled in me in that unfriendly way, and its head snapped back with a sickening crunch. It didn’t cry out or scream in pain, but kept stumbling on in my direction. I smacked it again, feeling encouraged by the weight of the bar. The blow finally removed its head. I expected blood to spurt from the wound, but it had none left.  The stench of decay grew stronger, and the body tottered where it stood, but the beast finally collapsed to the ground, really dead this time.

I swung and another skull cracked, and another, but still they came. With each attack I grew more tired, and they wouldn’t stop, nothing fazed them. They just had that urge to destroy. I should have run, but now I was pinned. I was trying to move, but they kept catching up with me. I was always too slow.

The wave of zombies lightened slightly as another fell at my feet. The putrid smell of necrotising flesh abated slightly and was replaced by a more familiar perfume. It was a heady scent of rose petals and honey. I had no idea why it reminded me of those things, but it always did.

I swung the iron bar in fury and another zombie collapsed. I turned and tried to run away, but on the backswing the bar got caught on something. I yanked and it stayed firmly stuck. I looked back at it and a pale hand, with signs of dying flesh, gripped it.

It had my weapon!

It was unexpected, but I could easily drop it and continue my escape. Something kept me there. This beast barely made a sound, compared to the others, only a faint mumble. I looked up into its face, a dead face, but one I knew well.

Jessica’s face.

Everything finally added up, with a sense of understanding that sucked the blood from my limbs with a feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach. She had been alone after I fell; had she tried to save me, or had she fled. Either way, she had become one of them. It made me feel sick.

Her grip on the bar was tight, a remainder of her will. She hadn’t yet fully turned.

But I turned and ran, leaving her with the bar, and with them. There was nothing I could do for her now except to run and to remember her.

Always running.

 

 


Well, thanks for reading.

As usual, feel free to comment.

I’ve been busy, write?

Well, look at that, it’s been ages since I made a blog post. I don’t really have any excuses except for that one that everyone always has ‘I’ve been busy’. Well, I have, but I really should have updated this blog more. I guess another reason that I had no updates is because I had no writing exercises to post from my masters course as the first year has now come to an end.

I spent most of May being very busy, coming towards the end of the first year of the course. As part of Liverpool’s ‘Writing on the Wall’ literary festival, they held a ‘Pulp Idol competition’, and I was encouraged to enter by the Master’s course leader. It was a completely nerve-wracking experience. I may stand up in front of a group and talk on a daily basis, but when it comes to reading out my own work it’s completely different. No matter how much I tried to convince myself I would be okay and it wasn’t too different to lecturing, I still got nervous. In the end I think it went quite well, I got up, read well and, I believe, answered the questions from the panel of judges well, but unfortunately I didn’t make it through. In fact, no one that had entered that heat from my class got through, which is disappointing. I did continue to follow the rest of the competition, going to the next heat and final, and I was pleased when my good friend Rob Knipe came runner up in the competition. Look out for his name as he’s now in contact with some agents and with any luck there will be some well written, hilarious sci fi and fantasy books coming to your shelves soon.

The rest of may I spent frantically trying to get ready for the end of the first year of the course. As per usual we had an assignment due. I used mine as an excuse to get the first part of a novel I am writing about the Great War done. It was a great idea at first, a hugely rich period of time and I definitely feel I have a story to tell (more about that in the future. I don’t want to give too much away now do I?), but I was somewhat naive to the sheer amount of research I would need to do. Of course I was aware of the fact of research and I had already been reading about the subject before I had the idea for the novel, but when I wrote something I had to make sure it was correct. The first scene is also set in Liverpool before the war, so I had to make sure that the feel and surroundings were correct. Everything I read unearthed more questions and more lines of research, and as usual with research it grew larger and larger over time. Thankfully I was able to get a edited draft in, and it’s in a state I’m quite happy with. It’s no means perfect, and there will definitely be some factual errors that till need ironing out, but it’s a start and I feel it’s quite compelling. Hopefully it will see the light of day.

So what else have I been doing that has kept me so busy? Well, amongst all that I was learning to drive. I had taken two tests when I was 18, but the examiners in Eastbourne, where I lived at the time, were the most grumpy people I have ever met (which is saying something for Eastbourne) and I failed them both for silly little reasons. So I gave up until now. I had forgotten how much time it took up, not just physically, but also mentally. Anyone that says it’s just two hours a week is underestimating. I may have had one hour lessons the first time, I can’t exactly remember, but two hours are intense. I had to repass the theory test, so that required preparation and the closer I got to the practical test the more nervous I became, and the less I could concentrate on anything else. Thankfully, on the 5th June I passed and I now sit here with a shiny pink driving licence (now to get a car…). But I have to make a note, I couldn’t have done it without the excellent tuition of Autonomy Driving School. If you’re learning near Liverpool then I thoroughly recommend Jan.

After passing, I then spent the entirety of the week, when not at work, recording guitars for the Lazarus Syndrome album. I’m a bit behind on this as everyone else (bar the vocals) has done their part. But, I’ve been busy, right? We all could do with a few more hours in the day. If you want more info on that check us out on Facebook.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope to have more updates for you soon. I’m currently waiting on someone to get in touch with me on a very important project, but I can’t really talk about that yet. I’m off to write…

Thanks for reading.