Friday Flash – A Spiral Staircase

A while ago I wrote a series of 100-word stories – exactly 100 words, including the title, with a group of other writers. It was good fun, an interesting discipline, and nothing much came of it.  Later on I reworked some of mine into a very loose structure I called ‘A Spiral Staircase’, and again did nothing with them.  So I decided I’d post them here, one a week.

So, here’s the first one:

Art for Art’s sake

It’s not that Tiffany wanted fame or wealth, or even notoriety.  It was a good feeling when a stranger appreciated what you’d done because they didn’t have to like it.  Too often friends said ‘Oh, yeah, that’s really good’, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  But that wasn’t what she needed to hear: it didn’t help her improve.  She really didn’t mind if nobody even knew that she did it, although it was nice sometimes to connect. 

In the end it all came down to self-expression, she thought, as her mark entered the sights.


2012 in Writing – Getting there

2011 felt like treading water.  In some ways that was OK – I’d just bought a house and there was lots of time to be spent and pleasure to be had there – decorating, settling into the garden, and putting a couple of not so great years behind me.  I was still writing though, short stories, and the start of a new novel, but I was also feeling a lot of the time that I was getting nowhere.  Especially with novel submissions – a seemingly endless series of rejections that really was going nowhere.

So it’s nice now to look back at 2012 and realise that a few of the things going on in 2011 came good.  And the year just past has now set some good things going into the future.  Also, I got lucky.  And I learned a lot.

To start with, the novel submission/rejection flip-flop continued, but spring brought a nice surprise in third place in the 2011 Aeon award run by Albedo One magazine for ‘Where the Sun Shines Brightly’.  I was really pleased that judges including Ian Watson and Mike Resnick liked my story enough to place it.

Out of the blue I had an email from Simon Ings, Editor of New Scientist’s ARC magazine.  He’d read one of my short stories and did I have anything that might work for ARC?  ‘Yes, sure,’ I said, ‘I’ve got loads.’  So I wrote ‘All Your Futures’ and that was in ARC 1.3.  This was just utterly brilliant.

My partner, Gaie Sebold, got an invite to Edge-Lit in Derby, a one-day con run by Alex Davis.  This was great fun, lots of nice people and some good panels and events, and then some good stuff happened in the bar.  I bumped into Terry Grimwood who runs The Exagerated Press, who said that, if I liked, he would like to do a collection of my short stories.  Then Jaine Fenn whizzed past, waved her hands in some sort of magic spell and said ‘Dave, this is Colin, you two should talk.’  Colin runs Clarion Publishing and had just signed Jaine for ‘Downside Girls’ a collection of short stories from the universe of her ‘Hidden Empire’ SF novels.  So Colin and I propped up the bar for an hour or more, the result was I sent him my near future SF novel, (Shopocalypse).  He liked, we signed a contract.

And I went to Milfiord again, on the spur of the moment, snaffling the last place.  This was a lovely week, I met some old aquaintances and several new ones, read some astonishingly good stories, and went for the wettest run of my entire life with Al Robertson & Guy Martland.  As before, I came away from Milford refreshed, energised, and pretty tired.

So, a good year, a splendid year.  II’m dead happy and have good things to look forward to this year as a result.  Things I learned are:

– Hang out at places. Meet people.  I met Jaine at my first Milford a few years back (she really didn’t like my story), Terry used to be in the writing group some years past.  If I hadn’t gone to Edge-Lit there would have been no talk about a collection, and no novel coming out.  (But don’t network, to hell with that, and anyway I can’t do it and hate the idea.  Just meet people and make friends.)

– Don’t give up. Shopocalypse had been rejected 136 times.  Agents, publishers large and small, sometimes it hurt like hell.  I still thought it was pretty fucking good and still kept submitting, even though some days I felt like a kind of masochistic weeble.

– Friends help you.  The truth is, absolutely now way whatseover could I have done it without them.  Thank you.

Dinosaurs in my attic

Dinosaurs are brilliant.  When I was young collecting tea cards was pretty good too.  These were illustrated cards that came in loose tea packets (tea bags weren’t proper, not in my house), for collection in albums.  I had a good few albums, and the best one, the only one I still have, was all about dinosaurs.

Front cover.I loved it then, for the tiny, detailed paintings and drawings.

I still love it now, for the mix of imagination, technical skill, and information, and the sheer effort that has been put into making something as trivial as a tea card album as good as it could possibly be.

The pictures were, and I still think are, wonderfully romantic, so full of colour and detail.  And now I know those ‘palms’ are tree ferns – you can see they are.  And those stubby bottle-brush plants are Equisetacea, plants that grew big as trees and helped form the coal beds.

Protoceratops vs spaceman

Unfortunately a younger me couldn’t resist a little bit of science-fictional vandalism…



Rhamphorhynchus and Pteranodon


I expect a fair amount of this is information is out of date, and the dinosaur colours?  These days we’re starting to get an idea.  When I was young I was just amazed that they somehow knew.




Still, it’s great.  And so are dinosaurs.Dimetrodon





My Writing Group – The T Party

If you’re interested in finding out more about my writing group, you can read about it here in an interview with Rebeccah Giltrow.

Also, there’s oodles of stuff on the group web site itself, natch.



Secret Pleasures

My slippers are muddy.  I’ve just been down to the bottom of the garden, built a bonfire, and watched it burn.  In my slippers.

Nothing’s changed, I used to do the same sort of thing when I was a child.  My mother used to tell me off for it, but it didn’t stop me, I just couldn’t be bothered to put my shoes on.  Actually, one thing has changed – I put the slippers on properly now, so the backs don’t get broken down.

Slippers in the garden is one of my two secret pleasures.  I seriously regard each one as a small but significant benefit of growing up, of being master of your own destiny – or at very least, when you get to wear your slippers.

The other one is leaving the fridge door open.  It used to drive my dad mad. He had his rules: Open the door; take the milk; shut the door; use the milk; open the door; replace the milk; shut the door.  This was the accepted method and everyone in the household followed it.  Except me.  And so I got told off.  Regularly.

These days  the fridge door stays open.  It’s so petty, but even after all these years it still gives me a little tweak of satisfaction to behave that way. My fridge, my fridge door, my rules – or lack of them.  Be my guest, feel free to leave it open, or shut it.  Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law regarding fridge doors.

So why the continuing desire to cock a snook at parents who I loved, both now long departed?  There are no emotional scars, no abiding sense of burning injustice.  They wanted things done one way, I preferred it another.

I’m still too lazy to put my shoes on, I still can’t be bothered to shut the door, but now there’s nobody around to tell me off.

I’ve got away with it.  It makes me smile.

Somewhere deep inside, I’m still that kid.

Aargh – they got me!

The fragrant and talented Gaie Sebold tagged me in The Next Big Thing writers blog hop.  So, here goes:

1. What is the title of your book?

Good question, well put, and one I intend to answer fully in due course.  The working title is The Shopping Trip, but I can tell you now, of all possible titles, that’s not going to be it.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A story challenge from my writing group   (write about two random subjects).  After 15 mins of Beatnik Sex & Shopping I’d defined the two main characters and knew I wanted to tell their story.  It’s changed a bit since then.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

First, it’s one of those David Gullen stories, that’s my main genre.  It’s also near-future apocalyptic SF, a black comedy, apolitical satire.  Of course, it’s also all going to come true.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

What a superbly entertaining time-waster of a question!

<wine and conversation ensue>

Novik, an idealistic drifter – Leonardo DiCaprio.  I loved him in The Departed, and Blood Diamond, he’s my star.

Josie, a realist, Novik’s girlfriend – Connie Nielsen would be my first choice, I think she would be absolutely perfect, but just perhaps these days it would have to be Eva Green, who was brilliant in Kingdom of Heaven.

Mitchel Gould, King of Nu-Orleans – Daniel Craig.  Give the man the chance to be a villain.  I think he’d love it.

Guinevere Snarlow, President of the USA – Sigourney Weaver.  Just the right lady to start a nuclear war.

Jericho Wilson, burned-out ex-cop – John Goodman is the only possible choice.  See him in Red State.

Pallfinger Crane, richest man who has ever lived – Charles Dance.  An actor with huge screen presence we don’t see enough of.

Ellen Crane, fattest person in the world – this was tricky.  Who can bring gravitas and emotional depth to a role in a fat-suite while wearing a powered exo-skeleton?  That would be Ellen Page.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Novik is on the run in a talking car with a trunk full of hot money in a world on the edge of a nuclear war only he can stop.  To do that he has to buy everything, absolutely all of it.  Right now.

OK, three sentences, I refuse to be restrained by mere convention.  If you want to stop me, send ninja girls in cat-suites.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither.  It’s being published by Clarion Publishing.  I don’t have an agent.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About 18 months.

8. What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

The format was inspired by Frank Herbert’ s The Dosadi Experiment, but it’s not like that.  Thematically it’s more like John Brunner’s near future books like Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar, but he didn’t go in for the humour.  Perhaps Charles Stross’s work is the nearest in contemporary writing – or Ken MacLeod.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This started out pretty light-hearted and became more serious when I realised (duh) I could have a lot of fun and also write about a few things I give a damn about too.  Hence the descent, or triumphant ascent, into black comedy and satire.  Oh dear.

Insiprations?  A question – What would happen if you bought everything?  How could that even be possible, and why would you want to.  That, and a song – World Party’s Ship of Fools.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s really good!  It’s bat-shit crazy!  It’s got a talking car!  I blow things up!  People blow each other! Up!

So now I’m supposed to tag 5 more writers.  Tricky, everyone else has grabbed them!  I do some quick calculations and see that only on the fifth iteration 3,750 writers are involved.  Maybe I’m actually in the 14th iteration, when the entire population of the world is required.

Nevertheless, I have lined up:

– Mysterious, enigmatic man of mystery: Jeff Anderson. (So mysterious he hasn’t told me his blog address yet.)

– The beautiful, deadly, and talented Melanie Garrett.

And maybe more to follow!

Review – The Steel Seraglio

Cover of The Steel SeraglioSentenced to death in the desert, the concubines of a fallen sultan instead free themselves and evade the pursuit of the fanatical new ruler of their city, Hakkim Mehdad. Out of nothing, they and their allies – robbers and storytellers, a librarian, a female assassin – found a new city in the desert, the fabled City of Women.

The three Careys – Mike, Linda, and Loiuse, have written a vibrant, colourful, page-turner of an adventure with passion and care. Filled with drama, romance, and humour, it is overlain with a wry, observational wit that can spare a morsel of compassion for the complex and conflicted enemies of freedom and reason that the women and their male allies must overcome.

I found each character memorable, whole, and altogether believable. Mike, Linda, and Louise have created a terrific cast of complex, conflicted heroines and heroes, wicked zealots and self-serving opportunists – and everything in between.

This is a lovely book, magical and earthy, and is beautifully illustrated by Nimit Malavia. The Steel Seraglio is a tale from a once and future Arabia of fountained courtyards, silks, and jewels – and parched lips, burning heat, thieves, honour, and betrayal. A story of love and madness, hate and obsession. At times it feels more as if these stories and people are real rather than invented, and their world a country you could, by taking the right turn at the right place and time, step into.

You might even want to.

Anyone who enjoys well-written fantasy with a human touch will enjoy this delightful book.

It’s great. You really should read it.

The Steel Seraglio
Mike Carey, Linda Carey, & Louise Carey
Chizine Press, 2012

One substantial step

Last week I signed a contract with Colin Tate at Clarion Publishing to publish my near-future SF novel.  After jumping around the room, doing the happy dance, and wagging my finger at the universe in that ‘I told you so’ way, we stayed up too late and drank some champagne.  Happy days!

I realised I’d learned some important lessons.  The excellent and talented Mike Carey* once was guest speaker at our writing group.  Somebody asked him when he realised he’d made it as a writer, and he replied there never was that exact moment, instead, a series of cumulative steps, one after the other.

Writing groups.  Mine is the T Party, now one of the most successful genre writing groups in the UK (always open for members, by the way), with current members and alumni including Gaie Sebold, Tom Pollock, Aliette de Bodard, KD Grace, Francis Knight, and Will Mitchell.  With serious critiques, friendship, and endless mutual support, I don’t think I’d be where I am now without them.  The honest critiques helped, the after-meeting conversations and weekends and weeks away created good times, grand memories, and some fantastic story ideas.   Sometimes I needed to be told to try harder, sometimes I needed that group support, and wise advice.  ‘Correction does much, but encouragement does more.’

And perseverance.  I learned to stick with it, roll with the punches and enjoy the good times.  Hone your craft, work your ideas.  Actually do try harder.  And take delight in your friends successes.  Go to Cons and workshops.  Mingle.   Just be there, and chat, meet people, and ask questions (such as ‘Would you like to come talk to our writing group?’)  You’ll encounter a few who think you’re not worth talking to, that’s fine, move on.  Meet the rest.

You can’t do it on your own, a lot of great chances have come my way via friends who wanted to help out.  Such as Jaine Fenn at EdgeLit, who breezed past and said, ‘Oh, Dave, have you met Colin?’

Of course you have to be ready to make good use of those opportunities.  I did that bit by all by myself, with help and encouragement.   Looking back, I can now see that series of incremental steps taken.   I’m looking forward with wonder and excitement to what comes next.

*Hellblazer, Felix Castor, The Unwritten.  If you’ve not read The Steel Seraglio, written in collaboration with Linda and Loise Carey, then you’re denying yourself one of the most original, poetic and moving of recent fantasy novels.

An old yacht sails again


Many years ago, this yacht lamp used to belong to my grandmother, who told me it was made by a WWII Polish refugee.  It hadn’t worked for a long time, so I decided to see if I could dismantle it for repair.

I found the wiring was a mix of plastic coated and cloth-wrapped cable.  After 65 – 70 years, the cloth insulation had crumbled.

There is some lovely detailing on the hull, much of it handmade.  The port holes are eyelets, the windlasses turn, and the cables run through the hull to the bow anchors.

It’s all looks pretty scruffy here.  The more I fiddled, the more I found how it came apart.  When I discovered the rails and deck fittings attached to the hull with pins, my quick rewiring with a bit of dusting turned into a full-on refurbishment.

On the left: wood and metal all polished, rewired, and reassembled, including the ancient, and still working, bulbs.

And on the right: with mast and sails.  I had to remake the metal hoop holding the top of the sails to the mast, the original was missing.


And here she is, a ship coasting by in the night.  I wonder who the crew is, their cargo and ports of call?

I loved this old lamp of my grandmother’s when I was a child.  It’s great to have her ship-shape again.

Cranachan – food (porridge) of the Gods

I first ate this ambrosial Scottish dessert of raspberries, honey, whisky, cream and oats at Frank’s Cafe, the amazing temporary restaurant and bar on top of Peckham’s multi-storey car park.   Frank’s has one of the best views in London, great food, and a unique setting.

Last year I planted some raspberry canes.  This year, despite the weather, I have a decent crop.   A first attempt at cranachan felt like an excellent way to celebrate the harvest, and I used this recipe from Nigel Slater.

Cranachan - ingredients

And five minutes later, here’s the finished product:

Cranachan - Porridge of the Gods

Brilliant!  Sucha fantastic desert, so easy and quick to make.  To my taste, the recipe could use a few more oats – maybe an extra 100g, but perhaps that is because I used rolled oats.

I also discovered when I went back for seconds, it tastes so much better if you leave it to stand for ten minutes.

The recipe is for four servings, so it’s cranachan again tonight, hurrah!  I’ll find out what it’s like after standing for 24 hours.