One Down Many More To Go

Dear Richard,

Thank you for the opportunity to read “A Meeting of Minds.” Unfortunately, it was not selected for inclusion in UFO6.

Sorry about the bad news, and please try us again next year.

Unidentified Funny Objects 6 editorial team

And there you have it folks. It is a proud moment, a rite of passage when the first rejection comes in. Should I frame it, or write a blog about it…….

Actually it was a bit of a cheek on my part. It was a bit of a punt and probably not a well researched one at that. The original lead came here from an organisation called Authors Publish which I had recently been directed to on Facebook. Nothing to loose so I perused this link when it came into my inbox. Contained within was this.

UFO – Unidentified Funny Objects

All types of SF/F stories with a strong humour element, edited by Alex Shvartsman. Past contributors include George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman.
Word limit: 500-5,000
Deadline: 30 April 2017
Pay: $0.10/word

Details here

Hmmm thought I, such illustrious company, and they are offering money. Reading further I thought, why not. I had a germ of an idea to edit down a couple of chapters of the first draft to meet the 5k word count. The two chapters formed a sort of story with a beginning middle and end(ish). It was funny (IMHO) was fiction and definitely about science……ok Victorian science, but hey! what’s not to like? At this point any readers of this are no doubt going Duh! WTF was he thinking? And you would be wholly right about that. It really was a rookie move trying to shoehorn and edit sections of a novel into some sort of faux short story and expect them to like/accept it. Doubly so since it doesn’t read as science fiction because…well it’s not. But if it was good enough for Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin then why not……

Yeah, I know. Dumbass. Lesson learnt. Don’t just send stuff in because it (very) vaguely fits the brief. Do some research and make sure you fit what they want, not hope they like what you decide to send them.

Anyway in other news, the first draft has just nudged 50k and is keeping me awake at night because my sub conscious isn’t happy with the end to the last chapter and won’t let me start the next one till I go back and make it more intelligent and not so reliant on a cheap sleight of hand to get me out of a plot cull de sac. Still at least the id has given me an idea and isn’t just sitting there in the corner of my consciousness smirking and pointing at my foibles.

See you next week.



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Secret Societies And Where To Find Them

When the original idea for the Steam universe first surfaced in a riverside bar in Quillan France, I was determined that whilst essentially a steam punk novel based around a disruptive discovery and its effect on Victorian society, the variations I would introduce into this new universe would be as few and as plausible as possible.

However, whilst reflecting on how this disruption would be implemented I very soon came to the depressing conclusion that I would need the help of a “shadowy secret society” embedded into Victorian life that could pull the strings and make sure that Perrin, my hero, got all the people, money, and facilities he needed. Why was I depressed about this? It’s a standard trope beloved of many genres of fiction and particularly popular in the area I was exploring. And that, in a nutshell, is why it is depressing. It’s too obvious and allows for all sorts on convenient plotting and characterisation. The shadowy cabal, the perfect assassin vs the young initiate at first in awe and later rebelling. Even Bond has one and if that isn’t a reason to be depressed I don’t know what is. Or, even more depressing is the familiar permutations on the Freemasons or the Illuminati idea, which thanks to Dan Brown et al which are now so clichéd and hackneyed and so almost certainly yawn inducing to the reader.

Then when I started looking for a role model in English/Victorian history, things got seriously out of hand. They were either hedonistic groups who were secret, largely because they were blasphemous and/or a cover for sex drugs and rock’n’roll (or whatever passed for that back then) e.g. the explorer Richard Burton’s Cannibal Club. As an article from the Smithsonian Journal explains

[The Cannibal Club’s] central activity was the production and distribution of colonialist pornography for their circle and other elite consumers. However—and this is key for the formation of colonial and imperial ideology—they justified their activities as the pursuit of science and art, where pornography, or their pseudoscientific combination of sexology and anthropology, would help to understand better the specific sexual practices and culture in the far-flung reaches of the Empire.

The other fundamental problem with secret societies is that they are secret and so unable to wield the obvious power to enable them to move quickly and decisively, something that Steam needed to allow the story to progress to a point where the impact of Perrin’s discovery could bcome a central driver for the narrative.

So from this impasse the idea of “The Cadre” emerged; and what is so special and unusual about that I hear you cry, well for a start it is…….not a secret society!

According to Wikipedia a Cadre may refer to:

Whilst researching key characters for the Steam universe a series of facts emerged that with minimal interference from me could have resulted in group of like-minded people with the ability, will and drive to result in the formation of an overt, open society with the goal of doing whatever necessary to exploit the wonders of science, engineering and individuals ideas and discoveries for the benefit of the British Empire. Unfettered by any real rules and constraints (both moral and economic) the Cadre can be seen as an asset, a boon and source of global power by both the government and the army thus giving them economic support and political clout.

The roots of the Cadre in my world can be traced back to the very real “Analytical Society” formed at Cambridge in 1812 by Charles Babbage, John Herschel and George Peacock. The society was founded to promote Leibnizian notation for differentiation in calculus as well as rational thought and the pursuit of the scientific method. This group later evolved into the still present “Cambridge Philosophical Society”.

Charles Babbage is really the lynchpin to the Cadre. Babbage was a celebrated polymath of the time, now seen as the founder of modern computing and rather than copy and paste the whole of his Wikipedia entry I urge you to go and read it now.

Ok done that … what a guy, it’s all there a genius, a natural theologian (which allowed him to extol the virtues of science without riling the church) an early industrialist with ideas Ford would later implement, a public figure, who knew some of the brightest and most influential people of the day (IKB, Ava Lovelace, and Dickens for example) and one with political ambitions, which in his history he never achieved and may have been one of the reasons government funding for his “Difference Engine” was eventually stopped and the “Analytical Engine” never started.

In the Steam universe, the Analytical Engine is built and the value and power that such a group could create is thus recognized and encouraged and so from a discussion group on calculus the Cadre is ultimately born. Comprising the brightest minds of the day, the patronage of wealthy families looking to secure their industrial future as well as government favour. With the armed forces reaping the benefits of their discoveries and protecting and enforcing their exclusive use for the Empire it was only natural that when news of Francis Perrin’s ideas reached then, The Cadre would embrace him as one of their own and look to explore the potential of “Hyperion” and give Britain and the Empire yet another unassailable advantage over the rest of the world.

What is “Hyperion” I hear you cry……well you’ll just have to read the dammed book, assuming that is, I ever find anyone willing to take it and me seriously.

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Every picture tells a story

Welcome back folks. A brief hiatus due to frolicking in the Palermo sun and we are back at work. The first draft is now at 40k and according to my most recent feedback…..

The reader is beginning got see that there is a lot of  subterfuge going on here..lots of masks and duel identities..lot of flogging too. The action seems to mirror the context; full of mystery…smoke and mirrors.It actually feels like the story we are being told right now is not the real story at all.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

In other news the creative writing course has come to an end and today I thought I would share a couple of the exercises from the last few weeks. There is no doubt that the course has given me confidence  to write, as well as an understanding of some of the key issues. The first one I’m going to share was a challenge based on a picture. Interpret it as you see fit. For most of the exercises I have used them as an excuse to work on the novel. But for this one I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and write something in a completely different style. I decided to write something deliberately dark and the picture I had to work from was “Home” by Bo Bartlett. I did not like the picture, so that helped to make the exercise a little darker than normal……



Archer fidgets in his seat, he is sweating, whether from the heat or the memory it is impossible to tell.

“So, the best way I can tell it is like this. It was like a picture I once saw on a girlfriend’s wall, before all this started. It was one of those hokey American realist pictures that mistake technical ability with art. Big mistake IMHO. In the picture, there are these three figures and a deserted house, but the picture is serene, trying to be enigmatic, here it was….well, here, it was the real world. The child had just collapsed on our only blanket. It was bleeding from its mouth, fluid leaking from its eyes which were black from the infection. Gonna have to burn that blanket I thought. So, that already kinda pissed me off. The woman, Gena, just looks pissed at the whole clusterfuck. She knew the situation, knew she was likely next. We had both seen too much, lost so many, one more dead kid was hardly gonna to make us weep anymore. Anyway, it had just tagged along a few days ago. By then we had no food, precious little water and nowhere to sleep. Then “Hey kids” look what we found, a white picket fenced house just waiting to offer us a refuge from the horror of the world. Hah! Just the basis for a new nuclear family. Ma, Pa, two adorable children, the whole shebang.

The other kid, don’t remember his name, was peering around the corner of the house. Looking out for them. He was as dumb as a bag of rocks that kid, always asking questions nobody could answer, never accepting that Gena and I couldn’t give him answers. “But why” he would forever ask. “Dunno, just is” I would reply. He was really starting to bug me, I do remember that.”

Archer stops, he blinks nervously, tilts his head to see me better through the glass. He leans forward, shouts, spittle flying from his mouth.

“There was nothing I could do, nothing I could fucking well do. They were all gonna be dead. I just decided to end it there and then. What else could I do man. I mean, what else was I supposed to do?”

He slumps back, tired, exhausted, wiped with the effort of trying to stay alive.

“How the fuck was I supposed to know you were home.”

The second exercise was a form of oblique strategies whereby you are given a couple of disparate phrases that have nothing in common and work them into a short piece. The two phrases I had to work with were.

“The thing he is doing with that newspaper”


“A man wearing a plate on his head”

For this I set myself the task of incorporating these two ideas into the novel’s narrative. So here is the beginning of Chapter 8.

An Innocent Abroad

“Well isn’t this nice.” Mary Bennet resplendent in an eye-catching yellow dress and clutch bag surveys the slightly garish red and gold flocked interior along with the well-dressed clientele of Verrey’s of Regent Street. The waiters, discreet in their plain evening dress, move as if on castors between the many little square tables. They wield trays and platters high above their heads like gladiators poised to hurl sharpened edges. One glides past Perrin and from his angle it looks as if he is wearing the plate on his head, whether for protection or attack Perrin cannot tell. All the tables are individually lit by red-shaded wax candles. Perrin fidgets, his collar feels tight, his sweat soaked shirt sticks to his back and he is constantly looking around to see who may be watching them. He has brought a newspaper with him from the bawd house, thinking it was part of his attire, appropriate as a gentleman about town. But, here, he now has no use for it and unknowingly, restlessly taps it against his leg.

“Francis, you know the thing you are doing with that newspaper?”

“Oh, errr yes.”

“Stop it. It’s deeply annoying.”

“Yes, absolutely, sorry.” He drops the newspaper to the floor.

“Relax Francis, this is an excellent restaurant. The French may not be to everyone’s taste, but one must admire their ability in the kitchen. Do you not agree?” Mary is making small talk, partly because that is what is required in such a situation but partly, Perrin thinks, to annoy him given the circumstances that have brought them here.

“Whether or not I agree on the culinary abilities of our French cousins is mute. I am, as you are no doubt aware, more concerned about who and when somebody is going to make overtures on my body.”

“Oh, you should have said, I could have gotten one of the girls to make overtures to you before we left.” She smiles sweetly at him. Perrin is having none of it.

“Oh, how very bloody funny this must be for you and Salt. To see me paraded out in public like some prize bull just before the poor animal gets slaughtered.”

The interesting thing about this is that the challenge of these random ideas definitely improved the narrative and allowed me to add to the scene description as well as the characterisation of the mood of the characters. So think outside the box and if you find that difficult then there are ideas and processes out there to get yourself out of a rut or challenge your thinking.

See you next week.


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All the World’s a Page

That rather snappy title has nothing to do with this weeks blog, which is slightly earlier than usual as the management and I are off to Palermo for a week to soak up the culture, the red wine and possibly the opera…..but mostly the red wine.

Firstly progress on the novel. Have spent most of the week rewriting and plotting so the word count has only gone up to 36k. However I am much happier with where it is and how it is going than I was last week. The main issue was the introduction of a new character and the transition between two chapters that originally was just not working.  I suspect this is because of my slightly weird first person narrative style which is forcing me to be quite inventive in having to keep Perrin present in the story, even when It would be arguably better to have an alternative narrative perspective.

The main thing I wanted to share with you was some artwork ideas I have been working on. Although a rank amateur in this area, I have dabbled in the past designing the cover art for my band Strange Boudoir

Originally I had this idea, based on the Thames but with a slightly computer grid feel.


However thanks to the magic that is Google images I found some really cool illustrations of 1830’s computer architecture, one of which I really like and that also alludes to some of the themes and characters in the book, which for the sake of inscrutability I will not divulge here. So here is the current working cover for the book. Enjoy and see you in a week or so.Slide1

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A Time and a Place

It’s the anniversary of when the idea for The Differences first came into being. Whooohooo I hear you cry. Put the bunting out and crack open the bonios.

In fact the idea can be pin pointed to a specific place, scribbled on a paper napkin her at the Café Brasserie Le Palace in Quillan France, a sleepy market town we were passing through on a touring holiday in the Languedoc. Nicky and I were shooting the breeze about doing something different and the subject of writing a novel came up. “Ahh but you need a good idea to base it on.” said one of us. “Hmmm.” said another one of us. Five minutes later the idea of “Steam” was born

Cafe Brassererie Le Palace

Back then it was more of a world building exercise. I had the idea of creating a multi-media universe that operated in multiple formats. Books, short stories, comic, film, TV etc. I would create the key characters, a basic timeline and the rules of the this pocket universe and invite others to contribute whilst I stayed on as a sort of editor in chief and arbiter of what was and was not appropriate and/or consistent with this imaginary world. Over the next few months a wrote a few outlines for how the new world would operate. My original intention for the novel I am currently writing was that it should be a series of linked short stories, a form of prequel showing how this alternate history came into being, the key “differences”. One of the essays to set up and explain this world was about Perrin’s first meeting with Babbage and was intended to set up a later story about an expedition to Africa.

However when I started this standalone piece I soon realised it was much better to start the novel there and explain its particular  reality as I went on. This short piece has now become the novel proper and the idea of going back and writing a series of separate essays to explain it seems unnecessary and potentially rather tedious for the reader. They may appear one day as a sort of background reader, but don’t hold your breath. This original intention behind the stuff I was writing  helps me now understand why  starting the novel was quite difficult. I had not set out to write a novel so what I was writing initially was rather false as I have alluded to previously.

As to current progress. Well last week was quite productive, and the narrative stands at approx. 33k words and I have also finished a key section. In addition I a have now moved on to a bit of backstory narrative for one of the key characters basing it on a real (anonymous) person that can be found here. This has the added advantage of the use of real places adding a veneer of respectability to my hack paraphrasing. Oh and the Lucullus glaze has made an appearance too.

See you next week.

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It’s Getting a Bit crowded in Here

Apologies for the slight delay in this blog, there have been a number of developments in the whole process. Firstly I have finally left gainful employment and now am an official burden on society. This amongst other things means I have had more time to focus on the book with the result that I am now up to 28K words and have achieved a no of key goals.

  1. All the major characters bar one have been introduced.
  2. The first two story arcs have been established
  3. A number of sub-plots that may or may not be important have been initiated.
  4. There are a few unanswered questions and issues in the narrative – this is deliberate.
  5. I have had more feedback.
  6. It’s getting more complicated.

That last one is really the key issue. Previous posts have alluded to a an emergent writing and plot style. This was the naivety of youth. Ahhh, when I look back on those carefree days of a few weeks ago when I only had a few characters and one plot line to establish my view on how I was going to write the rest of the book seems woefully optimistic. Not anymore. I have multiple plots to move. Multiple characters demanding attention and screen time. There is some world building and laying the path for issues that will appear in subsequent parts of the book as well as other books. There is more going back  over previous stuff as new plot elements emerge that require a judicial amount of re-writing to make the ever more numerous ideas work and that the tone and plot are consistent. There is also the constant nagging doubt of can I sustain this present tense style from one characters point of view as other bits of the story ideally do not require his presence.

As a result of all of this I have started to do more planning, put more staging posts in the plot and flesh out the story by writing chapter summaries which have the added benefit of making me review the overall plot arcs and whether or not they make sense or are strong enough. There is also more research on people and places as well as historical events that could be involved. The feedback has also been positive and helped encourage me that I am still on the write track

“Thoroughly enjoying the novel and I admire your hold on the present tense and the manner in which you maintain the personalities or your characters thus far. It is always pleasing for the reader to be lead through the streets of the place in which a narrative is set. So we feel like we are following Perrin and Salt in the latter part of the pages you have given me. Helps us enter into the period too of course. Dialogue feels just right.

It is of course a good thing to follow a sustained period of ‘talk’ with segment of action. You keep it very pacey on the way to the brothel..and are they indeed being followed? The brothel segment is funny.. I do like Madam Creasy…Mercy, she’s an intriguing one for sure…”

“So far you are showing an impressive control of the unfolding of the plot. And the present tense…”

So not sure how the next week or so is going to go. The story is now demanding a better and more thorough approach. Let’s hope I am up to it.


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He’s Not Omniscient, He’s Just A Very Naughty Boy

This week’s creative writing class got into some excellent debate about narration, voice and point of view and I learnt something very interesting about my style of writing. A brief discussion of the main options available to the aspiring author can be found here . I for one am extremely glad I did no research on this before starting as it would have confused the hell out of me and even worse I may have adopted a style that I thought would be appropriate rather than just get on with telling the dammed thing in a way that felt right. However hindsight being a wonderful thing and the fact that I am now approaching 15k words means I feel confident to find out just what I am actually doing.

Apparently I am not using the most popular technique of the third party omniscient narrator but a somewhat weird hybrid of first person free and indirect speech or discourse but in the present rather than the past tense. I know, I have no idea what it means either, but there is a wonderfully up it’s own arse definition  that you can find here. Anybodywhocantranslatethatintoengishpleaseletmeknow.  Better by far is this blog which gives some excellent worked examples and illustrations of various authors styles. However none of them seem to actually match how I am choosing to tell my story, or perhaps I’m just being thick.

From my perspective what I am actually trying to do is tell the story from one characters perspective (his name is Francis Perrin a young Victorian gentleman scientist) with access to his inner voice but describing the events as they happen around him as if he had a go-pro recording the whole thing. The use of the present tense to my way of thinking gives the story more immediacy and presence. The reader is right there with him experiencing what he does at the very same time and like real life the future will only be understood when you get there.

Here is a short example: First in the present tense in italics followed by the same passage rewritten in the more familiar past tense.

Order whatever you want, The Cadre are paying, it’s mostly good, especially the chops.” Babbage is keen to seem helpful and placate their guests. To Perrin the menu is a revelation, brought up to eat whatever was in front of him whether at home or in University rooms the choice is bewildering, roasts, soups stews, pies and more than one type of fish identified by name no less. Free will when it comes to ordering food is an alien concept to Perrin and although suddenly utterly ravenous he struggles to choose.

“Steak” says Salt, “rare.”

“Certainly sir” replies the waiter, “and for the vegetables?”

“Oh, they can order for themselves.” Says Burton with an evil grin.

Perrin, grateful that someone has made a choice dutifully follows suit.

“Order whatever you want, The Cadre are paying, it’s mostly good, especially the chops.” Babbage was keen to seem helpful and placate their guests. To Perrin the menu was a revelation, brought up to eat whatever was in front of him whether at home or in University rooms the choice was bewildering, roasts, soups stews, pies and more than one type of fish identified by name no less. Free will when it came to ordering food was an alien concept to Perrin and although suddenly utterly ravenous he struggled to choose.

“Steak” said Salt, “rare.”

“Certainly sir” replied the waiter, “and for the vegetables?”

“Oh, they can order for themselves.” Said Burton with an evil grin.

Perrin, grateful that someone had made a choice dutifully followed suit.

Dunno about you but to me the first version is more alive and immediate, you are moving through time with Perrin experiencing what he sees and feels as he does whilst the second reads as if you were watching through the window or on a TV screen at characters in someone else’s story. So if someone out there can tell me the official classification for what I am writing and how I would be eternally grateful.

See you next week.

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