Story Notes – Life In Sepia

My story, ‘Life In Sepia’, was recently published by Fluky Fiction in their anthology, When Glints Collide. It’s a short piece – a little over 1000 words – but it’s a story I’m rather fond of, so I’d like to share with you all a little of the background to the story and how it evolved.

The initial spark for the idea came from a childhood memory of long, lazy summer days spent weaving in and out of the legs of the grown-ups at the village fair. I grew up in a quintessential English village, a stone’s throw from the green and the local church that was the centrepoint of village life. The summer fair was the highlight of the year, but for a wistful six-year-old with a head full of sunshine, stories and unicorns, and no concept of danger, it was all too easy to become lost amongst the crowds.

No harm came to me, of course – I’m clearly a well-adjusted adult human, whose love for horror and all things weird in no way indicates any pathological tendencies to seek out fear at every turn. Right? That aside, the memory that came back to me of looking up at so many unfamiliar faces closing in on me was the spark of the story that eventually became ‘Life In Sepia’. Lifting that memory away from the 1980s, I shifted the story back 150 years and placed it firmly in the Victorian era, adding a dash of superstition before transferring the viewpoint to the father desperately seeking his wayward child.

And so the story was born. It’s one of the shortest stories I’ve written, but I think that done right, flash fiction can have a powerful impact on the reader. Every word counts to set the scene, illustrate the characters and draw the reader in towards the story winding around them. It has certainly stayed with me since I wrote it, and I was delighted when it found a home with Fluky Fiction in their anthology. It’s amongst great company with the other authors there – if you pick up a copy, please do consider leaving a review on Amazon/Goodreads to let us know what you think!

The stranger smiled. Tall and thin, his limbs were gangly and jerked as if he were nothing more than a puppet under the spell of a child’s hand. His looping, elaborate moustache twitched with excitement as he swept his ebony top hat from his head, and his dark eyes shone with a feverish lustre that made the baker’s blood run cold as the man spoke again.

“Yes, I have seen her. You need not fear for your daughter. I have saved her.”

‘LIFE IN SEPIA’.

When Glints Collide is available to purchase now: Amazon US/UK

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The Cardinal Sins of Submission

As I work my way through the fantastic stories and poems that have been submitted to Gallows Hill Magazine, it seemed a good time to share with you all some of my top tips for making it out of the slush pile. We all know publishing is a competitive business; there are hundreds of stories submitted to each opening, and that’s something to be celebrated. Writing is more accessible than ever, and equally, there are always new venues opening up to showcase the very best of genre fiction. But that means that if you want your story to stand out, you need to do everything you can to present yourself and your story in the best light.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t commit the cardinal sins of short story submissions.

  1. FORMATTING is vital. Seriously. I can’t stress this point enough! When an editor is reading through dozens of submissions each day, ‘quirky’ formatting will do you no favours. Presenting your work in bold font, unusual typefaces or without appropriate paragraphs and punctuation will elicit a pained groan from the weary editor, and giving them a reason to mark your story down from the start is a Bad Plan. Most publications will list the expected formatting for your submission, but when in doubt, always use Shunn standard format for your short stories. Learn it and use it.
  2. GUIDELINES are there for a reason. Don’t subvert them. It doesn’t make you clever or special; you just look like an arsehole. If an editor requests a hard limit of 5k, sending in your 7000 word story is an auto-rejection. If the guidelines request a HEA (happily ever after), then your story that culminates in a beautifully tragic murder of one of the main characters isn’t going to fit, and it’s a waste of your time and theirs to send it in. Read the guidelines, stick to them, and you’re already halfway there.
  3. SUBMITTING CORRECTLY will also stand you in good stead. If the publisher asks for a cover letter, provide one – and think about what you’re writing. They don’t need (or want) to know about the trophy you won when you were 9. But if you’re a member of the HWA or your story was recently nominated for a Stoker, then by all means let them know. Send to the correct email address, or via the submission portal if directed to do so. Don’t find the editor’s personal email to send it to them directly; it only makes you look like someone who isn’t willing to follow the process, and is therefore likely going to be difficult to work with. Address your email formally and politely, and if in doubt, address it as “Dear Editor”, NOT “Dear Sir”!
  4. And DON’T SELF-REJECT. Have confidence in your writing and in yourself. Once your story is the best it can be, get it out there! I know how hard it is for a writer to open up to criticism and send each story out there. Our writing is often intensely personal, and taking a risk on rejection is difficult. But if you’ve read the guidelines, crafted a story that fits and believe in it, then send it off! Take a chance and see what happens.

‘Pick Your Poison’ Cover Reveal And Release Date

I’m so excited to show you all the fantastic cover for the upcoming anthology Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press! My story, ‘Three French Hens’ is featured alongside a standout list of authors, and the anthology will be available to buy from October 17th 2017.

Pick Your Poison has stories from Diane Arrelle, George Brewington, Nichole Celauro, Michael Harris Cohen, Derek Des Anges, Leslie Enstminger, Cara Fox, Sharon Frame Gay, Tom Howard, Charlie Hughes, Aaron Max Jensen, Kevin Lankes, Frank Oreto, Cary G. Osborne, Colleen Quinn, Angela Raper, Jason Rubis, Lawrence Salani, Katie Sherman, Rebecca Snow, Leigh Statham, Benjamin Thomas, Clair Watson and Devon Widmer. Emma and Hannah at Owl Hollow Press have been great to work with, and I can’t wait to see the finished book and share it with you all!