Thursday, 16 April 2015

Why an Ouroboros?

It is an ancient symbol, the ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail, as ancient as recorded history, and maybe older. It is a symbol common to many cultures, from the writings of ancient Egypt – where the snake god Mehen coils around the sun God Ra and protects him during his journey through the night - to the Norse legends of the serpent Jörmungandr; a creature so large it encircles the entire Earth, biting its own tail. When it lets go the world will end.

It is a global image, transcending cultures, found not just in Europe and the Middle East, India and China and Japan, but also in the art of Native American Indian tribes, and the Aztecs. The ouroboros truly is a symbol that encircles the world.

But what of its origins? What ancient mysteries does it seek to answer? Did our ancestors stare up at the marvels of the sky and see the Milky Way Spread above them like a serpent across the heavens? Did they wonder at the cyclical nature of the seasons, of day and night, of life itself? Does the ouroboros in some way encompass all these things; life and death, the universe, eternity?

I started keeping this blog shortly before I sold my first short story, to record my journey as a writer and share the things I learned along the way, celebrating each story sale and good review. So, as I bring my short stories together into one volume, it seems fitting that the title of this blog in turn has become the title of my collection – The Scribbling Sea Serpent has come full circle – a bit like the ouroboros!

So it is doubly fitting that this image of the serpent biting its tail, this ouroboros, symbolic on several different levels, should appear, not just on the cover of The Scribbling Sea Serpent, but also as a chapter heading at the start of each new story.

Expect to see the cover on here very soon. I can’t wait to share it with the world.

In the meantime do check out some of the other titles CFZ Publishing has out under its Fortean Fiction imprint.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Tides and Eclipses

Today the UK witnessed a partial eclipse. Where I was it was cloudy, too cloudy to see much, but I stood in the supermarket car park looking up at the sky as the world dimmed around me. It felt like it does on a stormy day as the thunder clouds gather, an odd brooding twilight. It was only as I drove home that the clouds thinned enough for me to glimpse a pale crescent through the haze.

Photo  © Ciara Kelly
The last eclipse, in 1999, down here in the west, was far more dramatic. We gathered round a friend’s house as the light faded and the gulls began to roost and toasted the darkness with champagne. There was the same strange gloomy twilight, but the dimming was much more pronounced since we were not far from totality. The light fell suddenly, as if some celestial being was turning down the dimmer switch. The birds fell silent, and over on Portland we could see the flashes from people’s cameras in the shadow. Then the light returned equally swiftly.

But more dramatic as far as I am concerned – and I am a Marine Scientist after all so perhaps this is not surprising - was the super low spring tide this morning. We walked right out, almost up to the Sea Life tower without getting our feet even slightly wet. I haven’t seen it out quite so far before – and tomorrow’s low tide will be even lower! Of course, there will be a corresponding high high tide in a few hours time, so I might pop down and see how the flood defences are holding up. In the meantime, here a couple of pictures.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Editing Process

Progress is being made with my short story collection, The Scribbling Sea Serpent. The stories were collated and sent to the publisher, and now I am working on the edits.

Editing can broadly be divided into three stages. This applies not just to this collection, but also to longer works. In fact the editing process I went through with Red Rock followed broadly the same pattern.

1. Structural Edits.

This is the stage where major changes will be identified. These may include changes to the plot and the sequence of events. Scenes may be added or removed. A character may need development. Two characters may need to be combined into one.

The degree of structural edits required can vary. It depends on the vision of the publisher, and how much they feel the work needs to be developed.

In this case, with a short story collection, the structural edits consisted mainly of changing the running order, moving some of the more SF stories further back in the collection and bringing some of the more weird fiction or Fortean stories to the fore.

The stories themselves required little in the way of structural edits although I was asked to make some changes to the ending of one of them.

2. Line Edits.

These are the detailed edits, changing the structure of a sentence to make things clearer, deleting repetitions, or making a clarification. Inconsistencies can be ironed out. Does a character’s eye colour change?

Since several of these stories had already been published and therefore edited these were relatively minor, although some inconsistencies did come to light – in particular where I had used American spellings in some cases and British spellings in others.

Factual errors were identified. In one story I had described a font as being porcelain. I’ve no idea why, when I know it’s made of limestone! I also changed the title of another.

3. Copy Edits.

This is the final stage before a book goes off to the printers, and is one where the author makes little input, other than perhaps a final read through, just in case a fresh pair on eyes can pick up on something the copy editor might have missed.

Copy edits are the final check for typos and formatting errors, for example, are straight or curved quotation marks being used consistently throughout? This is the fine tuning stage.

A good editor is the writer’s best friend. However perfect we may think out work is when we send it off to the publisher there’s always something that can be improved, and this is where a good editor is so essential.

But of course, remember that this is a two way process. If your editor suggests something that you really don’t agree with then discuss it with them. Remember, it’s your story at the end of the day. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Short Story Collection

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy pulling a number of my short stories together into a collection. This is something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while, especially since a good number have already been published but have now gone out of print. I originally thought I might self-publish them, but then a friend of mine told me about a publisher he had been doing some work with, CFZ publishing. Like many small publishers they are quite niche, but their niche is one that fits well my style of fiction. So I’m going to give them a try.

But pulling your short stories together into a collection isn’t such an easy task, and here are a couple of things I’ve had to take into account:

Running order: This is a tricky one. The stories need to be sufficiently distinct from the ones they are adjacent to but not so different as to be jarring. I also wanted to mix up the previously published with the new material.

Opening stories: These are the ones that will appear on the kindle ‘look inside’ option and will determine whether the reader clicks the buy button or not. Therefore they need to give a good representation of the anthology and also be some of my better stories.

Final story: The collection needs to finish on a high note so the final story needs to pack a punch. This was quite easy. I have a piece of flash fiction that I feel rounds off the collection quite well.

Character names: I never noticed before that I have a tendency to reuse names. So for example where I had two stories featuring a character called Lucy, one of these needed to be changed, otherwise the reader might think the characters and the two stories are connected.

Editing: Some of my earlier stories, when I re-read them, needed a bit of tidying up since my writing has improved a lot over the years. Even some that have previously been published!

Title: Finally what should I call my collection? I thought about using the title from one of my short stories but none really stood out. Then my friend suggested I use the title from this blog. It is certainly fitting with the style of stories – science fiction and mild horror that could well be described as ‘weird fiction’, as well as echoing the cryptozoological bent of the publisher. So The Scribbling Seaserpent it shall be.

Early days yet – but I’ll keep you up to date with developments.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Dorset’s Digital Stories

On a bright but bitter February morning I was joined in my local village hall by thirteen eager writers. The reason for this? Well, the Dorset Writers’ Network is running a competition for local writers. The aim is to produce an e-book with stories up to 500 words, which reflect the diversity of the county. In order to encourage people to put pen to paper a series of workshops were scheduled at rural locations during January and February, and I was one of the writers involved in running these.
As sunshine streamed in through the windows of the Old School Hall we explored setting and sense of place. We then went on character development and touched on dialogue and self-editing. I could see some really interesting stories starting to develop and I do hope the participants go on to complete these and enter them. Workshop participants can enter their first story for free but even if you didn’t attend a workshop you are still able to enter.

The Dorset Writers’ Network is run by professional writers and arts facilitators and its aim is to promote events, projects and training opportunities for writers in the county. The Dorset’s Digital Stories project is funded by Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts and Dorset Community Foundation and the book is scheduled to be published later this year.

For more details and to check out the competition rules visit the Dorset Writers Network website.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Look Again

Over the next few weeks the Dorset Writers Network will be running a series of short story writing workshops in various rural locations across Dorset. These are leading up to the launch of Dorset Writers Network e-book competition for short stories of 500 words or less set within the county.
One of the main things we will be discussing in these workshops is sense of place. All the stories are to be set in Dorset, and so sense of place will be a major component of any work produced. In fact capturing a good sense of place is essential in any story. The reader needs to feel grounded and be part of that setting. Place can become a character in its own right.
But what of Dorset? What sense of place does the county conjure up for you? Is everything quite what it seems?

Do you imagine a sea front, golden sand and donkey rides, children eating ice cream and splashing in the sea, easy laughter and sunshine?

Look again.

A homeless person shivering under a sleeping bag in a bus shelter. Desperate. Alone.

Perhaps you see a pretty harbour, yachts with jolly flags and trawlers sporting bunches of pink buoys? Sitting eating chips and watching children fishing for crabs?

Look again.

An empty mooring with floral tributes. Memories of fishermen who did not return. The sea is not kind.

Maybe you see pretty cottages by a stream, honeysuckle and thatch, kingfishers darting over the water?

Look again,

Sandbags in front of the doors that were still not enough to hold out the floods. Boarded up windows, garden a tangle of weeds.

Or do you see green fields and grazing cattle, swathes of poppies beneath the summer sun, clouds of butterflies along the footpath?

Look again.

Crops flattened by a storm and rotting in the field. Another farm up for auction.

Look again. What do you see?

For details of Workshops and to see if there is one close to where you live check out the Dorset Writers Network website, and do join us for the launch of the e-book competition at Dorchester library on 24th January.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Magic

Tucked away in the Devon countryside is Killerton House – a gem of the National Trust – and at this time of year it is one of my favourite places to visit.

Every year in December they deck out the house for Christmas, tinsel and Christmas trees, baubles and lights. It’s a chance to be transported back in time to Christmases a hundred years ago, and it’s lovely.

This year the house was decorated to the theme of the Nutcracker, we had the land of sweets and a Russian and a Chinese room to stroll through. In the Russian room the tree was festooned with spoons. In the Chinese Room there was a large red dragon on the ceiling, and when you went upstairs you walked between wintery branches and silver lights. It was like walking into Narnia – and there was even a wardrobe that you could go through to get there.

But by far the best part was the roaring fire that greeted you when you first went into the house, seats set out for the visitors to sit on and soak up the warmth and admire the decorations, and, in the corner, around the piano, was a choir singing Christmas songs. Their voices swelled and filled the room and everyone gathered around the fire to watch and listen.

And even when the music stopped and the other people wandered off to explore the house, we sat on, by the fire, watching the glowing embers and wondering what sort of a Christmas the people who once lived here must have enjoyed.

Outside the rain was lashing and it was windy and bleak, brown fields, grey skies. But here in the warmth was a little piece of Christmas magic.