News from the Passing Place…

Morn was tending the bar on a lazy afternoon while the piano player played something which would have been a dirge at another time, but seemed remarkably joyful for some reason. Possibly this was to do with the cat which was dozing on the lid of the piano, its tail hanging limply across the back of the instrument, yet swaying in time to the beat.  There was hardly a customer in the old place, and Morn wondered, not for the first time, if Esqwith herself was also having a lazy day of it, but who could tell what passed through the mind of such an entity. Bored as she was, Morn was considering asking Greyman to watch the bar a while as it was quiet, and heading off to spend some quality time with her tree, when Sonny held the door open and through it stepped the scruff itinerant writer who passed through the bar once in a while. Morn, who found the customer both irritating and fascinating in equal measure, sighed to herself, rooted out a bottle of Jim from under the counter and had poured him a drink before he took his customer place on the corner barstool.

“What news?” she asked him if he was good for little else, he always had some snippets of interest from his world, which was fairly average as worlds go, but had at least not been eaten by an elder god the Thursday before…

Hi there.

Strange things are afoot, I’m busy with a couple of projects and have lots of little snippets of this and that to divulge. Snippets that don’t perhaps warrant a full blog post on there own, or that I have mentioned elsewhere, but news of one sort or another that I want to pass on. Because times they are exciting… Well for me at least.

Hannibal news…

The second Hannibal Smyth Novel, ‘From Russia With Tassels’ which carries on directly from the end of the first book, is finally completed in the first full draft. As ever, because it’s me, the first full draft is probably the 3rd draft for the most part of about two-thirds of the novel. At press, I am 40 odd pages into the technical 2nd draft/ final pre editor draft, which I am working through slowly. But hopefully, I am still somewhere approaching on target to release it in the summer (or early autumn)

Hannibal news 2…

For those wanting a little more Hannibal in the meantime, he features in a short story, set a few years before ‘A Spider In The Eye’ entitled ‘The Cheesecake Dichotomy’ in an anthology that is been released in two weeks time by Sixth Element Publishing, called ‘Harvey Duckman Presents’ which I am delighted to feature in alongside many other great writers, including several I have featured on my blog before.

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Signing news…

I’m actually doing a signing. I will be at SCS Scarbrough, in authors ally ( which is coincidently the bar…) on Saturday the 6th of April between 14:00 and 15:00 though I will be about in that area for most of the day. As well as my own books I’ll also have copies of the 6thE anthology which is being launched that weekend. Indeed many of the other writers from within that tome’s pages will also be there.

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Passing Place news…

I am still, between other projects, working on the sequel to Passing Place ‘Something Red’, it’s taking a long time and has a lot further to go but there are about five chapters or so written, and the bulk of the project ( because a Passing Place novel is always a project) is planned in one form or the other. Hopefully, Morn will tell me a couple of stories if I hang about in Esqwiths for a few hours since I am there… Passing Place also now has a new cover.

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Maybe’s Daughter news…

The other novel I am currently working on is another steampunk novel set in the 1880s, the first of a duo of novels ( which may end up a trilogy, but currently, I only plan two)  It is about half written, and is with a Beta reader. Eventually, it will see the light of day.  It is a little more serious than Hannibal, which is simply because it’s not been narrated by Hannibal… It does feature Constable Perkins though, who is not the brightest value in the steam engine…

Blog news…

I set myself an aim this year to have the blog have more visitors, be more entertaining, and to be more successful than the first two years. Which is not to say the first two years failed to live up to my expectations. I just wanted this year to be more successful than last. So far it has been and has attracted more of you lovely readers each month than the equivalent months in previous years

Blogs roundup…

I follow a fair few other blogs, and seldom remember to mention them, so here’s a brief round-up of ones you should take a moment and look at…

C G Hattan’s blog ( as she has recently updated it) 

Meredith Debonnaire’s read alonga Discworld (sadly now Tantamountless, but hopefully one day it will return

Peter Jame martins Folklore blog, because who doesn’t like folk law

Tales to tide you over, because it throws up interesting stuff all the time

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Imposter Syndrome, SciFi Scarbrough & really wild things…

Confession time. I have never done a book signing.

Oh, I have signed books for people, I am more than happy to, though I am generally slightly bemused anyone wants me to sign a book. But I have never done a book signing. Or indeed any book-related event. I know it is the sort of thing an author should do. I know getting out there and meeting people, talking to them, and hopefully selling a few books is a good thing to be doing. But I never have for a couple of reasons.

The first is all it’s to do with imposter syndrome. You know the sort of thing. That nagging feeling you get that you don’t really belong somewhere. That you’re blagging it at work, or in some social gathering, in the book group you go to, or the semi-regular gathering of writers you attend, all the while hoping no one will spot that you’re just faking it, that you’re not really interesting, or know what your doing, or clever, or fun to be around. That assured knowledge, praying on the back of your mind, that the world will come crashing in around you and people who you hope may not have noticed they don’t like you very much will figure out that you really are a worthless individual, just faking his way through life, and tell you to sod off… And just because they haven’t yet, doesn’t mean they won’t do some time soon.

Almost everyone gets the occasional dose of imposter syndrome. I may even get it no worse than average, though I suspect that’s not the case because I get it rather a lot, about almost everything. I get it around people I have known for years, quite literally in fact. I go to a geeky boardgame convention in February each year and meet up with a bunch of people some of whom are among my best friends in the world. I have been going for something around twenty years, everyone there knows me, knows me better than my family in many cases. Yet I get those same imposter feelings every time, even there. So imagine just how much I have to cope with it in other places…

Over the years I have developed a lot of ways to combat this feeling. Not to mention the mild terror, and occasional shift towards depression that it sends me to. To be clear, imposter syndrome is not really a symptom of my occasional bouts with the old black dog, I get it whether I am suffering from a bout of depression or not. But when I am down in the dark cave imposter syndrome feels worse, pushes me further down and bites at my psyche with gnashing teeth of insecurity. But as I said I have developed my own ways to combat it. When I was younger, the favourite tactic was to be the loudest, brashest, and often just plain meanest person in the room. I was young, I was foolish, and while those two things are not mutually exclusive, age and wisdom have cured me of the worst of these excesses. That and developing a thicker skin, and learning to just let people take me as I am, rather than investing my anxieties and self-doubt into trying to be a person I’m not.

I’m still brash, I’m still a tad loud, and I am, for my sins, occasionally a little meaner than I intend to be.

I do however still suffer from imposter syndrome, and the utter terror of been found out. I can talk about it, just as I can talk about my episodes of depression. But that doesn’t stop either one of them nagging at me from time to time. But hell, I’m a writer, not a comedian, not an actor, not a musician. ( trust me on this, I may own a lot of guitars, but I can’t play any of them worth a damn.) So I spend my time at a keyboard, writing words and sending them out into the world in the vainglorious hope someone may deem fit to read them. I exist therefore in a bubble, where I don’t actually have to go engage with my audience. Which is good, as the thought of sitting behind a table talking to strangers about my books is one that terrifies me.

The other reason I have never done a book signing is more prosaic. No one has ever asked me to. (yes I could have set one or two up, talked to local book shops, investigated some book fairs, all kinds of things, but as long as no one asked me to do one I was safe in my little bubble of insecurity because I wouldn’t do so. Even though it is exactly the kind of thing, I should be doing.) And if no one ever asked me to do one, well then I was perfectly safe in that bubble, not doing them.

So, as I said I have never done a book signing…

So I will be at SFS SciFi Scarbrough on Saturday, April 6th, between 2:00pm and 3:00pm, behind a table in Authors Alley (handily located in the bar) signing copies of ‘A Spider in the Eye,’ ‘A Scar of Avarice’, ‘Passing Place,’ and possibly even the odd copy of ‘Cider Lane’.

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I will be skillfully hiding my imposter syndrome beyond the wit of any prospective reader by wearing a big hat with cogs on it. Trying not to feel like I have no business being there. Luckily no one will be expecting me because I’m not on the posters, but I will be there with Craig Hallam, Graham Rhodes and C G Hatton, who are. So pop along, if you happen to be there, or just in Scarborough. Buy a book or two and chat to some great authors ( and also me, the one in the big hat, possibly wearing goggles, a big coat and trying to hide under a cravat.)

As well as my own novels, I’ll have copies of the Harvey Duckman Anthology (which features a Hannibal story by me as well as stories by CG, Craig and several other writers who will be down there over the weekend) on the table, as the publishers Sixth Element are launching it that weekend. So it’s a one-off opportunity to get a copy of this awesome anthology signed by several of the writers… Which, you never know, may make it quite a collector’s item in years to come when some of the new writers in the anthology become the literary stars, or on the off chance anyone really cares about signed copies of my books. ( well you never know, just because my imposter syndrome tells me that will never happen doesn’t mean won’t )

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Anyway, if you get down to Scarbrough, I will be more than pleased to talk to you, and certainly not hiding in a corner. If not the anthology, is available for pre-order on Kindle, and my books, well you know how to find them (and if you don’t then click the links at the side.)

Adios for now.

Mark

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Research and the novelist

On occasion, prospective writers will ask for advice on how to become a better writer. Join any faceache writers group, and you will see a dozen questions of this type a day. Occasionally those asking such questions will even listen to the answers, though often the advice they receive is contradictory. Often however they will cherry-pick the advice they want, so some of the more valuable advice gets ignored, usually because it sounds a bit too much like hard work. the thing is, however, writing is hard work, and there are some bits of advice that are invaluable, which often prove to be the bits of advice most easily ignored.

For example:

Do your research, research everything in fact…

Which is one of my favourite bits of ignored advice, the most common response to which is:

But I write fiction…

Well, yes, so do I, But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to do research. Currently, I am writing the 2nd draft of the 2nd Hannibal Smyth Novel, which is steampunk set in the 200th year of Queen Seldom ‘bloody’ Amused reign. So a fiction, set in a fictional timeline. Which is to say I make a lot of things up. Yet still, I have to do my research. If for no other reason than because if I am trying to create a fictional world it still needs to be grounded enough in reality that it works within its own internal logic, otherwise no one will feel invested enough to ‘believe’ in that world, and suspend their disbelief while they read the novels.

Luckily I enjoy research, for the sake of research some times, and because it makes me a better writer. For example, this is a bit of a throw-away sojourn I was writing today. In which Hannibal explains why he changed his name from Harry.

No one likes an upstart. No one wants you to carve a better lot for yourself. A man who raised from the rank, why he was an insult to everyone who hadn’t.  Sure most rank and file airmen may hate officers who came from the upper classes, but at least they were born to it. Some toff-nosed twerp of an officer giving you gip, well that was to be expected, and hating them well that’s just what you did, it didn’t mean anything. But here’s the thing, toff-nosed officer types didn’t start out in the gutter with you and climb out of it while you just languished down there among the other turds. Toff-nosed twerps didn’t rub your nose in the fact you’ve never amounted to more than just a lowly airman shovelling coal into a boiler, while they swaggered about thinking they were better than they had a right to be.

Which, in case you have ever wondered, is why I changed my name to Hannibal from plain old Harry. Harry was a boiler stokers name, not a toff’s name, not an officers name. No one would ever call one of the heirs to the throne Harry, would they?

Now you may wonder why this needs any research. Even the last line is little more than a joke about the name of a certain real-world ginger-haired prince of the realm. Harry, you see is not a name which the Victorians would have associated with royalty. But on the other hand, would they have? Is it a joke that works within itself, or merely within my imagination? Does it actually make sense? And isn’t there that bit in Shakespeare about a Harry? Has there actually been a king Harry? Will anyone other than me obsess about one throwaway line amid a little sojourn off the main plot for a couple of paragraphs?

Well, the answer to the last question is in all probability, no, no one will care. But I do. As for a couple of questions before that, well the Shakespeare in question ( and yes I had to look it up to be sure) is from a speech from Henry V, Act III

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So why does Henry the fifth say ‘Harry’ and who is he referring to? Well, the simple answer is he is referring to himself, (again I had to look this up). There never has been a King Harry. However, Harry is often used as a nickname for the various Henry’s. In fact, Harry was not until recently a real name at all, but merely a nickname for people called Henry. Much like until recent times no one was ever actually called Bill, it was merely a shortening of William, (more research). The upper classes in late Victorian times, royalty, in particular, would not name a child with what is a common nickname. Though they may refer to each other within common parlance, Sticky Vic often referred to Prince Albert as her ‘dearest Bertie’ for example. The point being, Harry is not a name the Victorians would associate with princes… So that last line works and makes sense beyond just amusing me. You see research is good…

Oddly enough, (and again thanks to research) our dear recently wed Prince Harry, is also not called Harry… His real name is Henry Charles Albert David Winsor. So in the now unlikely event that both his brother and his brother children did not succeed his father’s mother, and Prince Harry ascended to the throne of dear old England, he would be Henry IX, and England would still not have a Harry for a king…

Harry you see, thanks to research, remains a boiler stokers name…

 

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Harvey Duckman presents…

Harvey Duckman presents is the first in a series of collected works of suspense and mystery in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunkery, called, oddly enough Harvey Duckman Presents…

This anthology features work by exciting new voices in speculative fiction, including both established authors, previously unpublished writers and oddly enough one by me.

A story from Hannibal’s Smyth’s early days when all he had to worry about was people spiking his drinks with LSD and challenging him to duals over piddling matters concerning cheesecake… Oh for the simpler times before Mechanical eye-spiders, Russian Air- Pirates, Bad Pennys, Steam powered camels, Brass Samurai, Mad Scientists, The Ministry and Sleepmen…

I am of course excited to have one of my stories published in an anthology beside a lot of other great writers, but what I am really  looking forward to reading all the other stories myself when I get my copy, which includes tales by several authors I have read and reviewed here before as well as several that are new to me. As I am sure you can guess I love nothing more than discovering new writers. Except perhaps tell people about them when I find them. So here’s a chance to discover some new indie writers yourself, and plunge into whole new worlds…

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Volume 1 includes stories by: Kate Baucherel, D.W. Blair, A.L. Buxton, R. Bruce Connelly, Nate Connor, Marios Eracleous, Paul Goodchild, Craig Hallam, C.G. Hatton, Mark Hayes, Peter James Martin, Reino Tarihmen, J.L. Walton, Graeme Wilkinson and Amy Wilson.

It’s available for Kindle on preorder here or on the picture above…

EDIT:  I just realised I only included the UK link, For those on other shores here is the Amazon.com link 

 

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Stocktaking…

March is here, the daffodils have poked their heads out in my garden, winter is tailing off into spring and the anniversary of the death of Caesar looms soon upon us. It is at this time of year, because some forty-nine years ago as the swinging sixties gave way to the soon to be disgruntled seventies that I was born on the ide’s of March, I find myself taking stock of the last year or so. It’s a good time to do so, not least because I will soon be a year older, and it is a wise thing to take stock at such times.

The last year has been a somewhat hectic affair, at least in regards to my writing. This time last year I was still struggling away with a manuscript that was to become the basis for two novels. My enthusiasm for this blog was taking a bit of a dip, as the day job was in the middle of a rather busy period and I had less time for random witterings. That dip in enthusiasm was reflected in the visitor figures here February and March last year as well, which were down quite a bit on previous years. Added to this my second novel Passing Place had been in print for over eighteen months and while it was held in high regard by those that read it, I would be lying if I was to claim it had been as successful as I had originally hoped.

I was, in all honesty, starting to get a little disheartened with writing, as many writers do from time to time. Things did not pick up until mid-March when I found the spark that had been missing. A spark which came from the first of two big idea’s which took me out of my slump and stupour and got be back behind the keyboard again.

That first spark was the realisation I had a much bigger manuscript on my hands that I had planned with the novel that at the time had the ponderous title ‘The Wells of Time’. I realised I needed to shorten it somewhat and also realised that one second of it while a fun little story in its own right, had no real reason for been there, in that it added nothing much to the greater tale. So I took it out and decided to build a novella around it, by making it a tale told in Esqwiths Passing Place, and writing a couple of short Passing place chapters to go either side of it. As ever, this simple plan grew in the making and became a mini-anthology, with the novella joined by three short stories, and becoming a little novelette, which I published in June last year, ‘A Scar of Avarice‘ which has done quite well all things considered.

The next spark of inspiration was that ‘The Wells of Time’, ponderous pun of a title aside was still too long to be a single novel, As after ‘Scar’ was taken out the manuscript still grew as I wrote what will be the final chapters of what will become in time the second Hannibal Smyth novel. So I decided the best thing to do was to split the novel in two. Which led to ‘A Spider in the Eye‘ been published in January this year as the first of a series of novels featuring my steampunk anti-hero Hannibal Smyth, while I am currently working on the last couple of chapters of the second of these novels which will hopefully be out sometime this summer.

There were other cool things over the last year. For one, I got asked to write an introduction to the collected edition of the Thieves Guild novels by C G Hatton, which I considered to be a bit of a honour all things considered. For another, I have a short story (more Hannibal stuff) being included in an anthology due out next month. This blog, after the slump of the first quarter last year has gone from strength to strength, with more people reading, liking and commenting than ever before. I’ve also had so much more support and positive feedback than I’d had previously. Along with this my twitter following, my Facebook following and just people taking an interest, in general, has improved all around. Other odd stats have started springing up, I got a mail from Amazon yesterday telling me that views of reviews I have written for other people have gone past the 5000 mark. Which is oddly gratifying as I only post Amazon reviews for indie authors whose novels I really enjoy. So it good to know they don’t just become words out there in the void, and that other writers are hopefully seeing the benefit of those reviews…

So, taking stock of the last year, as a writer it has been far more successful than the one before and I am in a far happier place as an author than I found myself in early March 2018. There is a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and many a new reader to find. But as a stocktake goes, this has been a happy one.

It also, hopefully, will serve to give a little inspiration to any fellow writer reading this who is feeling a little down on their writing, a few short months can make a world of difference, so don’t let the odd set back make you throw in the towel.

adios for now

 

Mark

 

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The writer’s ambition: Riftmaker

When writers settles down to write their first novels, and I am as guilty of this as anyone, they occasionally bite off more than they can chew. They envision something broad and sweeping, with multiple characters all interacting through multiple threads of plot. Something epic… and in doing so, they sometimes come unstuck. Having read a lot of first novels by small press and indie writers, in particular, I have come across more than one example of perfectly good writers who reach too far and in trying to write such a broad scope they fall into too many traps along the way.

Indeed a lot of the time what happens when a new writer, full of fresh-faced enthusiasm try’s to write something of epic proportions with a host of characters and sprawling interweaving plot lines is they get themselves tied in knots and their great epic gathers dust in the virtual slush pile that is a writers hard drive, while they move on and start over on something new with a narrower scope that easier to handle. (I have read a few of these as well as once in a while someone asks me to alpha read a partially finished work).

This is what happened with my own attempts at the wild sprawl, and somewhere in the middle of a maze I built around myself I stopped and wrote Cider Lane instead, which is just as complex but only has two main POV characters and tight plot lines. It wasn’t till I had written Cider lane than I went back to the wild sprawl and having learned a lot of lessons about my own limitations as a writer and how to push them, the wild sprawl became Passing Place, which tells the story of one character from that wild sprawl, while he interacts with all the other characters from that original sprawl.

Why am I talking about wild sprawls and the difficulties they present? Well, that’s because on occasion you come across a new writer’s first novel where they have done something utterly unique and inspired, and done so in exactly the kind of wild sprawl that so many other writers fail utterly to pull off.

Pheobe Darqueling, an American writer, living in Germany, or possibly at the centre of the worldwide steampunk web, is the exception that proves the rule. She manages in Riftmaker to pull off that most elusive of things and tames the wild sprawl epic of her imagination.

There are a number of main characters, it would be hard to pick out one and call them ‘the main character’. Each of them are fully realised individuals, they each have their own motivations, desires, personalities, secrets, backstories and moments when you cheer them along, or shake your head at there foolishness, or laugh at the little quirk of theirs which rings true. And importantly they are all different, none of them is a cardboard cut out, they all live and breath on the pages, they are all, to use entirely the wrong word all considered, are very human…

The novel bounces about between all these different characters and their own little plots and sub-plots, their dreams and desires, and their primal urges yet as a reader you never feel lost, the chapters are short, the action keeps moving, and interweaving this character and that character, and overlapping plot lines. Indeed the novel bounces along like an excited puppy at times, which may be something to do with the excited puppy, newly reborn by accidentally walking through a rift between worlds as a human being running around getting confused by the strange world he has found himself in as well as the strange body that is now his.

That’s the most unique idea in this novel, rifts between worlds are a well-established trope, hell the wardrobe to Narnia is just a rift between worlds at the end of the day, but in Buddy’s universe when you cross through a rift you don’t just move to a new world, you change form. Animals become human, and humans become animals. Indeed it works both ways, and it is hinted that at the core of every human is a true animal form, so even as a human, they have aspects of the animal they would become were they to pass through the rift and vice versa. But it is far from the only unique idea within these pages.

Many of the characters are fresh looks at old archetypes but none the worse for that, each character has their own unique personality, their own strengths and weaknesses, there own issues and prejudices. Yet they manage to come alive in your imagination, one of the problems with having so many characters is they can tend to blur together for a reader but Pheobe manages to keep them all separate in your mind, as the story continues to bounces along, and importantly it is splendid fun into the bargain.

My cynical writer’s eye did find the odd little plot hole, but then the more I write myself, the more I find plot holes everywhere in fiction of all forms. I mention this only because what happens with plot holes in some other novels I have read is they break my immersion, but with the best novels, as with Riftmaker, even when you stumble over a plot hole you just find you have ploughed on without really registering the flaw, and that is the mark of something really special.

I could say a lot more, I’m not going to. Instead, I am just going to I’ll just link the preview at the bottom and encourage you to read the free preview yourselves, I don’t generally give out scores for books ( other than Lovecraft). As I don’t review books I would not give five stars to, and this is definitely a five-star novel, so give your imagination a treat and go lose yourself in the world of rifts human animals, animal humans, and cog wheeled glory that is this wide sprawl of wonderfulness…

 

 

enjoy

Mark

 

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I Love books…

I learned to wonder at a tender age, wandering through a wardrobe, to a lamppost in the snow.
I  learned of courage on the walls of the deep while an elf and dwarf bickered in the face of a white wizard’s horde.
I wandered the dark streets a man must walk, with a troll, a werewolf and a lipstick-wearing dwarf, and much did  I laugh there.
I learned good parenting from Atticus, as a Mockingbird was slain and a little about what’s right in the pages of the same.
I crossed great epic landscapes build of words in print, with a slinger of guns and his ka-tet I learned of doings and the done.
I learned of passion and love, from a moor top tale, of a house all alone, in a wuthering gale.
I love books…

I learned to be a good companion from a hobbit or two, a wizard or three,  a brace of dwarfs and a walking tree.
I learned to dream counting of electric sheep, of Fahrenheit that paper burns, and hitchhiking through the stars in search of the question to an answer comprised of four and two.
I felt those shivers in the dark, that tingle down my spine from time spend with Pennywise and others that cause a fearful joyful frown.
I laughed and remember that still brings a smile I always found, when death SPEAKS and the wee free men are charging all around.
I fend my inner cynic of this watching world, when I learned from Winston’s brother as the daily hate is unfurled.
I wondered at Nemo, the captain, not the fish, and all those Never-where and Never-when and Oceans at the end of lanes
I love books…

In truth, however, I never could abide poetry…

 

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