KICKSTARTER – Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Steampunk

The Kickstarter is now available to reserve your copy of the new anthology from Belanger Books, Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Steampunk! Divided into two volumes – Tales of a Retro Future and Mechanical Men & Otherworldly Endeavours – the Kickstarter is open until March 21, 2019, and has already hit its funding target within hours of opening.

My story, ‘The Silver Swan’, will  be opening the first volume.

Tales of a Retro Future – Volume one of the anthology features stories with a focus on steampunk inventions. See airships cloud the skies, robotic swans attack, and apparatuses appear to raise the dead.

Mechanical Men and Otherworldly Endeavours – Volume two of the anthology features stories with a focus on robotic creatures and otherworldly adventures. See Holmes team up with intelligent animals from an alternate Earth, switch bodies with Dr. Watson, and travel to another dimension.

Take a look at the Kickstarter and see some of the great rewards on offer for our backers – and do let me know if you get yourself a copy of this brilliant anthology. I can’t wait to read all the stories myself!

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Upcoming releases

Happy New Year to you all! As we look ahead to 2019, it seems an apt time to fill you all in on my writing plans for the coming months. In terms of new work, my main focus is working on the edits for The Strange Case of Doctor Magorian so that I can begin looking for a home for it in the summer. If anyone knows any publishers looking for steampunk novels with a strong feminist backbone, please give me a nudge!

As for short stories, I have a few ideas I want to get started on, but my degree is eating  into a lot of writing time at the moment. On the plus side, it is producing a lot of creative material that might be worth developing at a later date, and whilst I’m taking a brief hiatus from writing new stories, I can devote what little free time I have to promoting my upcoming releases. I’ve signed all the contracts over the holiday season, so I’m thrilled to share with you all that the following will soon be available:

The Death of Nostalgia will be featured in the February 2019 release from the Society of Misfit Stories. This was a story that took a dark and deeply personal twist when I was writing it, but coming in around 8000 words, I was aware that it was at that particularly awkward, in-between length that makes it a hard sell. Fortunately, it found a great home in next month’s release, and I can’t wait to see how the new format works for this issue.

The Corsair’s Daughter is in Issue 9 of Broadswords and Blasters, to be released in April 2019. Unashamed fangirling will now commence! I love B&B. Cameron and Matt do a fantastic job of compiling fantasy and sci-fi short stories in the old-fashioned pulp fiction style. I’ve been following them since they were new to the market, and every issue has delighted me, introducing me to many great authors and stories. When I conceived the idea for The Corsair’s Daughter, I knew instantly that I wanted to place it with Broadswords and Blasters. To my great delight, they snapped it up within a couple of days of me sending it to them, and come April, you’ll all be able to read my story of pirates, monsters and the greatest treasure of all…

The Silver Swan will be featured in the Sherlock Holmes steampunk anthology from Belanger Books, with a Kickstarter campaign beginning in April 2019 prior to the anthology’s release. Whenever I think detective mysteries, it has to be Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. I started out with Miss Marple, then graduated to Sherlock Holmes as I moved into my teenage years. The universal appeal of Holmes has withstood the test of time, and as much as I like the modern adaptations, it’s the classic stories which truly hold my heart. I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at writing in Doctor Watson’s voice (see earlier blog post) with a steampunk twist, and I’m overjoyed to be a part of this project. More to follow!

Anamnesis will be in Moonlit Dreams, Moonlight Nightmares, to be published by Antimony and Elder Lace Press (date to be confirmed). I don’t want to give too much away about this one, but it was probably the darkest and most intimate story that I wrote last year. It really took on a life of its own, growing from an initial one sentence premise into a quietly tragic, horrific tale that stayed with me long after I wrote it.

Finally, The Eyes Have It is to be part of the anthology Behind Eyes of Glass, from Fantasia Divinity (release date to be confirmed). This was one of those stories that grew from a pun of a title into something far less comical and darker than I expected it to be.

And that’s it for now! I’m thrilled to have these five upcoming releases to start the year with. Fingers crossed 2019 brings at least a few more…

RELEASE – Tabula Rasa

I’m delighted to announce that my little slice of Victorian feminist sci-fi, ‘Tabula Rasa’, found a home with the fine folks at Empyreome and was published this week in their October issue. You can find it free to read online at their website, and I would love to know what you think of it! This is a story that’s particularly close to my heart, and its characters have stayed with me long after I finished writing their tale. Story notes will follow next month, but for now, please do read it and the other stories in this issue. Empyreome have been a pleasure to work with from start to finish, and they definitely deserve your support and time.

In Defense of Fanfiction

My health has taken a downwards turn recently, and now that my university course has resumed with the arrival of autumn, I’ve realised that I need to be more selective with the submission calls I want to write for, only giving my time and energy to those that truly catch my attention and are a pleasure to write. One of those that I’ve been working on this week is this submission call from Belanger Books, exploring the classic Sherlock Holmes characters in the realm of steampunk. As I dived into Arthur Conan Doyle’s world to get in the right mindset for my story, ‘The Silver Swan’, I could not help but remember my first forays into allowing other people to read my writing. Like many others, I suspect, I started out in fanfiction. As an unashamed Potterhead with a vivid and consuming imagination, I could not resist the compulsion to take JK Rowling’s wonderfully deep and detailed world and play around with her characters. The first novel I ever wrote aligned itself with the last three years of the series, clocking in at an immense 110k. That’s 110000 words I wouldn’t have had the confidence or inspiration to write were it not for fanfic.

Fanfic often gets a bad rep, and I think it’s one that’s hugely undeserved. Oh, of course there are a lot of stories out there that could be described as raw and unpolished at best, but they are, nonetheless, the product of someone’s imagination, sparked by their love of the story and world that the original author created. If nothing else, fanfic can be a powerful writing exercise for writers who want to refine their craft. The real beauty of fanfic is that it allows the novice – or even more experienced – writer to take the rich tapestry at their fingertips and use that as a base to weave their own stories into it. As they do so, without even realising, their experiments with plot, dialogue and the individual voices of each character will start to strengthen their own stories in turn. Learning the nuances that authors like Rowling use to distinguish their style and narrative can be a tool to then use when they have the confidence to craft equally rich and detailed worlds of their own.

And so we come back to Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been writing professionally for seven years. I am (mostly!) at ease with worldbuilding and relying upon my own ideas to spark a story with characters that are as real to me as if they are standing at my side, but something about this submission call and immersing myself in 221B Baker Street was impossible to resist. The story is coming along swimmingly, and even if I don’t manage to bring it in under the upper word limit or finish it on time, it has proved to be an enjoyable and much-needed exercise in first person narrative, something I tend to avoid as a rule in my own writing, but writing as Watson, a character I know intimately through Conan Doyle’s work, has liberated me to try my hand and experiment with the style.

Authors must never be content to rest on their laurels. There are always lessons to be learned and ways in which we can refine our craft, and maybe by going back to the basics and using fanfic as a framework, we can do so without the added pressure of starting from scratch with the blank page staring at us balefully and the flashing cursor a potent reminder of a story that has to be pulled, line by unwilling line, from our heads onto the page.

Why You All Need To Take Heed Of Faleena Hopkins and #Cockygate

So, as it often does, a storm has blown up on social media these last few days.  If you’re active in the writing community on Facebook or Twitter, you can’t have failed to hear about Faleena Hopkins and #cockygate – hell, even the Guardian here in the UK has picked up the story today, running a decisively biting assessment of her attempt to prevent other authors using a titular word that she’s laid trademark to (even if they have crushingly failed to spell her name correctly throughout!).

If you have somehow managed to miss the furore, Courtney Milan has written a thread with a succinct summary of precisely how this all went down.

The long and short of it is that an erotica author by the name of Faleena Hopkins managed to file a trademark for the stylised word ‘cocky’ as a series title, and by a succession of strong arm tactics and downright bullying behaviour, has tried to stop other authors using that word in their own titles – even those whose stories were published prior to her series, which incidentally, seems to have been referred to by Hopkins as ‘The Cocker Brothers’ series until she filed for the trademark. Even if the trademark can stand up to the separate legal challenges being prepared by author Kevin Knuepper and the RWA, to attempt to retroactively prevent authors like Jamila Jasper from using the word in their title with threats like the one below are, quite frankly, abhorrent.

And it isn’t only about the titles, even though Hopkins is surely on shaky legal ground with those alone. As of today (8th May), authors are reporting that even the use of ‘cocky’ as a keyword is resulting in their book being removed from sale.

This is people’s livelihoods at risk, and quite rightly, the romance community has rallied around each other to support authors who have been targeted by Hopkins, who, at the time of writing, has refused to apologise or withdraw her threats, claiming instead to be the victim of a sustained bullying campaign. However utterly delicious it is that the community has come together over a controversy by the name of #cockygate, the mere fact that at this moment in time it seems to be possible to trademark a word means that authors and publishers across every genre need to sit up and pay attention.

Imagine how many sci-fi books have ‘stars’ in the title? Fantasy books with ‘tower’, ‘mage’ or ‘witch’? Horror books with ‘dark’ or ‘shadows’? There’s a reason why those titular words are so prevalent, and that’s because they work. They clue the reader in as to the genre of the book, tell them what they can expect and stand up in the search listings as a flag for the story’s content. They work for both the author and the reader, and in my opinion, they can never be allowed to become the sole property of one overreaching, narcissistic author alone.

Right now, this is a one-off that will hopefully see justice done when all the dust settles. What’s most concerning, though, is the thought that right now, hundreds of entrepreneurial chancers are racing off to the USPTO to try to file copyright claims just like Hopkins before them. This sense of self-interest goes against everything I love about the supportive writing community. There’s limitless room for beautiful, well-written literature across all the genres. We need to support each other and build each other up, amplifying everyone’s success to promote the world of publishing as a whole. Divisive tactics like this harm authors, publishers, and the readers who invest their time and money in the stories we write.

I suspect that in a year or so, Hopkins’ name will be no more than a footnote in the annals of publishing history, one of those memes that everyone rolls their eyes at when they look back at the ashes of what was once a successful indie publishing career. We can only hope that she hasn’t unleashed Pandora’s Box on her way down.

RELEASE DAY! Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths

I’m excited to share with you all the news that Left Hand Publishers have released their new anthology, Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths, Volume 1, featuring my story, ‘Family Ties’. The stories were all inspired by the following quote:

Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me, but hate you?
Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie, and I am a painful truth.
~Anonymous

The anthology features a wide range of authors, each with a different and fascinating take on the prompt. As well as myself, Shaun Avery, S.R. Betler, J. Ryan Blesse, Devin Bradley, Terri Bruce, Steve Cameron, Douglas Clark, JCC Downing, Carrie Gessner, T. Gillmore, S.D. Hintz, LJ Hippler, Michael J. Hultquist, Robert James, A.G. Lopes, Paul K. Metheney, Robert Petyo, EB Pollock, Brandon L. Summers, Timothy Vincent and J.M. Williams all share their response to the quote to produce an anthology ranging from the macabre to the quietly thoughtful, beautifully collated by the professional team at Left Hand Publishers.

Reviews are already flooding in, and I’m delighted by how well the anthology has been received, as well as proud to be a part of it.

The quality of the stories read are amazing, with intricate plots in a short story form coming off as so perfect in their construction. The scope of the imagination of the writers just boggles the mind in the executions of stories that make you think. What might be considered ‘good’ isn’t. What is seen as dark and painful is honestly the way it should be. Major kudos to these stories. These stories will challenge everything you thought you knew.

Bruce Blanchard, book reviewer.

If your interest is piqued, head on over to Amazon to pick up a copy for yourself – and don’t forget to let me know what you think!

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

When Glints Collide Pre-Sale!

The Fluky Fiction anthology featuring my story, ‘Life In Sepia’, is just a couple of weeks away from release! Available from October 10th, When Glints Collide is a collection of science fiction, horror and oddities with something for every fan of quirky fiction that sends a shiver chasing down your spine.

There are two special pre-order deals available now. If you order your Kindle version before the release date, you can get it for the special price of only $0.99!

Alternatively, for those who prefer to have a paperback copy in their hands, you can order direct from the Fluky Fiction Etsy store for the special pre-release price of just $10. Readers from the USA can also get free domestic shipping with the special discount code FREESHIPFOX.

An Anatomy Of Fear

For horror authors, the definition of fear and how to invoke it is the most important question to answer. I’ve had the privilege of reading the slush pile for Gallows Hill Magazine, and in the course of doing so I’ve read some truly fantastic and powerful stories that have stayed in my mind long after finishing them. I’ve been reflecting upon what made these particular stories stand out from the rest. There was no particular theme running through them, but the one thing they did have in common was the author’s ability to understand precisely how to play on the reader’s instinctive fears.

In my opinion, the greatest horror is psychological. Gore certainly has its place in the genre, but for me, the most successful horror is that which has the ability to sink its tendrils into the reader’s mind and captivate them entirely. To do that, the author has to comprehend the concept of human fear. We all have phobias, some stranger than others – mine is cotton wool – but tapping into a universal fear across that spectrum is incredibly difficult. You might write a spine tingling piece about spiders, but for someone who isn’t afraid of them in the least, however well your story is crafted, it won’t hit the spot. To hook as many readers as possible, you have to appeal to humanity’s base instincts.

We’re complex individuals, but as a species we have the same instincts for self-preservation. That instinct has developed a variety of hard-coded fears that are hard to shake even when we become rational adults with a harder skin than the child we once were, peering tentatively under the bed for fear of what might lurk there unseen. It’s those seemingly simple fears that can lift a well-written piece of horror into something truly fantastic; the monster in the shadows, the menacing stranger, confined spaces, deprivation of senses, contagion…the list goes on, opening up endless possibilities for the imaginative horror author to weave these fears throughout their stories and speak to the reader’s innermost fears.

Of course, there’s far more that goes into creating the ultimate horror story, and I won’t pretend to be an expert – far from it. But I do have a few more tips to share from an editing perspective, and I’ll be doing so over the coming weeks.