Saturday, 18 October 2014

Sex! Death! Squid!

BristolCon happenings!

First, a quick catch-up: The Kraken Rises! Fringe event a few weeks back went well, with readings from Scott Lewis, Piotr Świetlik, Ian Millsted, Rosie Oliver and me. I managed to pull off a monopolylogue of my story, #KrakenEvent. What I had initially thought would be near impossible turned out to be a lot of fun, so I hope to read this story out again at some point in future.

I'm also on the programme for BristolCon (Saturday 25th October). What am I doing? Sex and Death! Sorry, that should be Sex or Death?, a panel that asks (and hopes to answer — or at least have fun trying) the question of which is more fun to write, which is more challenging to write and the way in which they are portrayed. A quick look through my own short stories suggests that, while both are common themes, with a cumulative death toll of over 14 billion people (and one cat) and only a couple of stories that come close to describing sexual acts directly, I suspect the answer isn't going to be a long time coming (sic).

What else am I doing? Flash, a-ah! This time the exclamation mark is deserved and included in the title. I'm running a short session in the evening on — you guessed it — flash fiction:
Flash, a-ah! 
At under a thousand words — sometimes under a hundred — flash fiction is the fiction of brevity, the fiction of immediacy, the fiction everyone can have a go at. Doesn't matter whether you write tweets or epic fantasy doorstops, flash is for everyone of us. Come along, find out, try your hand.
During the rest of the day I plan to catch sessions, talk to people, drink coffee.

On the Friday night before the con there is also a "guerilla readings" edition of BristolCon Fringe. It's worth going to, whether to read or to listen. Its format will be similar to the one in August — namely open mic and with a hard five-minute limit on your reading — so a lot of brevity, a lot of fun and much mirth whenever a story crashes the alarmed time limit. If I were able to go I would probably read "AutoKnowMe", a 200-worder recently published by 365 tomorrows. But I will be in transit on Friday evening so you'll just have to read it yourself and imagine it's live and it's me.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

By the Numbers

Last Saturday afternoon was spent at the Foyles Books Are My Bag event, organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers. The line-up changed a bit from the one originally advertised, but the basic structure of readings was the same, with two rounds of poetry, two rounds of flash, plus a round of longer fiction and also one of non-fiction, with coffee and conversation in between. There were some great readings and it was also great to read — in a bookshop, after all, the walls and furnishings are particularly sympathetic to the written word.

For whatever reason — nothing that I planned and nothing that comes to mind — I ended up choosing stories with intentionally precise word counts:  "In Love and Debt""First Date, Last Date""I Think I Get It""A Higher Calling" and "Authenticity". That's two drabbles (100 words), a dribble and a half (75 words) and two drouble-plus-dribbles (250 words, and yes a 200-worder is a drouble and a 50-worder is a dribble, but apart from the coined compound usage in this blog I'm not aware of a name for a 250-worder). Having introduced the idea of names for certain exact word counts, I ended up giving a disclaimer before my last story reading that not all flash was defined like this!


It was then my turn to sit back and be entertained by some of Bristol and Jamaica's finest over at the Watershed, picking up a bite to eat at Falafel King en route.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What's Going On and What's Gone

Coming up this Saturday is the free Books Are My Bag event at Foyles in Bristol. During the afternoon and early evening there will be readings, talks, workshops and coffee. The event is being organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers and features Ali Bacon, Jean Burnett, Judy Darley, Mike Manson, Nina Milton, Amy Morse, Jo Reed, Shirley Wright, me and others. Given the nature of the space, I guess I'd better choose the flashes I read with a more sensitive eye than usual — sexual themes and strong language may not be appreciated by regular shoppers and their children!

Straight after that I'll be hightailing it over to the Watershed for the Bristol Festival of Literature's Speakeasy event.

But in the midst of all this literary and spoken-word revelry, a farewell: Acoustic Night Bristol at Halo has called it a day. The open mic nights were well run and the sound and lighting were great, and performers were always photographed and offered a recording of their performances. Although I only had the opportunity to read there twice (this year and last), I will miss the possibility that there could have been a next year.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Genre Binge

The last couple of weeks have been somewhat genre immersed, starting with a visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff with the kids and ending with, well, going to the cinema to see Peter Capaldi's first outing as the Doctor with family and friends.


We went to the precursor of the Experience a few years ago. The boys were younger and hadn't watched Doctor Who and there wasn't really much beyond bits of sets and costumes. The Experience, however, lives up to its name, with a lot more space (and time...), memorabilia, scene setting and history, plus a nice interactive start to each visit. Oh, and a shop that's worth raiding before Christmas for the Whovian in your life.

Later that week I took the older son, Stefan (who is, as it happens, also a published SF author), to Loncon, the 2014 Worldcon. The whole event spanned five days and one end of the ExCeL; we went for a long weekend. Inevitably the popular press focused on the most visible aspect of the con — cosplay — because, I guess, it's simplest thing to do — it's obvious, visual and satisfies a stereotype (no matter what else is said). There is, however, a bit more to the landscape of speculative fiction than costuming, but panel sessions on diversity in SF, historical research in fantasy worldbuilding, hard science from contemporary space travel to the environment, the underlying linguistics behind conlangs and literary academic perspectives on genre are somewhat less photogenic than people dressing up. That said, I did get to sit on that throne.


As well as a great art exhibition, with some drop-in life drawing classes close by (we both dropped in), there was an extensive dealer room and fan area. There was also an open mic opportunity, where I read out "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs" in competition with no small amount of background noise.

It's been a while since my previous World Science Fiction convention visits (ahem, quite a while... Conspiracy in Brighton in 1987 and ConFederation in Atlanta in 1986), and I would have liked to have spent more time at Loncon, attended more panel sessions, etc. But that's what the future is for. More importantly, Stefan had a blast (and found comics and gimmickry to spend money on). It was a very social affair, and I bumped into many of the BristolCon crowd as well as people I know through the ACCU.

And speaking of BristolCon, last Monday was the one-year anniversary of the BristolCon Fringe, which was celebrated with an open mic evening rather than scheduled readers. Many of those who read had read in the last year at a Fringe night, but there were plenty of new voices as well. Each reader was given an alarm-enforced five-minute limit, which added a lighter note to some of the darker themes explored. Readings ranged from book or short story extracts to flash fiction and poetry. I read out "To Catch a Falling Leaf" with plenty of time to spare. In the second half, after all those who wanted to read had read, we were given the opportunity to read again, so I read "Fallen Apples" and "Poseidon's Child".

I had been in two minds (or two halves of one...) as to whether or not to go, having spent the weekend at Worldcon, but my frequent travel-induced absence tipped the balance in favour of going. The half of my mind that had wanted to go jeered "I told you so!" at the reluctant, stay-at-home half. The quality and atmosphere were a good reminder why people keep coming every month and why I hope this is the first year of many.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Pizza Delivery

A week and a half ago I had a slot at Science Showoff at the Grain Barge in Bristol. I decided I would read some light lab lit, dusting off "Schrödinger’s Pizza", which I've read at spoken word events only twice before, and even then not for a couple of years.

Turns out that experience — experience of reading at spoken word events — counts for something. The story was helped by having the right audience — science-literate geeks — but I also felt my reading of the story was far better this time round. It was easier to bring out the characters and the moments, so I also enjoyed reading it more than before — the memory of which had, until now, influenced my choice to leave it out of possible candidates for spoken word events.

As all the other presentations that evening were, well, presentations, all the other presenters used PowerPoint slides. I decided to go with the flow and prepare a couple of slides — for backdrop rather than exposition, and timer driven rather than clicked through manually. But it was still fairly minimal: a title slide, two slides showing the principal inspirations for the story and a slide with contact details against a photo of the issue of Litro in which the story first appeared.


One of the original inspirations that prompted me to start writing the story was a joke. I quickly found that mixing the story with the joke gave it too long a setup, and made the joke more central to the story than I wanted. I concluded after a few hundred words that the joke was best appreciated on its own and the story was better off without it, at which point I, well, concluded — I lost momentum and stopped writing. I started again when I was prompted by two things: a deadline (never underestimate the motivational power of a deadline) and a T-shirt, whose image I used on a slide at Science Showoff.

The other prompt and inspiration — and consequently slide image — for the story was the cover of an issue of Animal Man that Ewan Milne told me about and then gave me as a birthday or Christmas present. Don't remember the contents being up to much, but the cover more than made up for that.


It was a great evening, with presentations that were both fascinating and amusing, plus good conversations with the other presenters, organisers and members of the audience. Definitely something I hope to present at again, perhaps more lab lit — such as "Star Signs" — or something appropriately scientific distilled from my technical talks — such as "Cool Code" or illegal primes — or something else that surfaces a geeky interest — such as warp drive, the Soviet lunar programme or myths about science.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Longlists and Short Stories

This blog is now listed on the New Writing South's Good Blog Guide, so I guess I had better blog something!

For the second year in a row I have had the happy necessity of withdrawing one of my stories from the Bristol Short Story Prize. Happy? The Bristol Short Story Prize requires you to withdraw any story that becomes shortlisted in another competition. Last year it was "Ring Pull" in the Limnisa / Bluethumbnail Short Story Competition. This year it is "Three Billion Heartbeats, Give or Take" in the Momaya Press Short Story Competition. Speaking of the Bristol Prize, congratulations to those who appeared on the longlist this year, and good luck for the shortlist for the authors I know who made it this far.

When it comes to reading stories aloud, it's easy to get attached to a few favourite pieces. I'm certainly guilty of this. At the Small Stories event in June I read out  "Ashes to Ashes, Mañana, Mañana". I was sitting with Pete Sutton and Tania Hershman that evening and, although neither of them complained or dozed off, both had heard me read the story before — twice. For Small Stories a couple of weeks ago I read "Two Weeks in Spain", a story I wrote four years ago but have never read out before. It turns out to be very well suited for performance, so I'll definitely be reading it again. Perhaps it will become a favourite?

And wrapping up with a drabble, "First Date, Last Date" was published with FlashFiction Magazine last week.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Squidpunk and Other Tentacles

I'm delighted that my story, #KrakenEvent, has been published with The Fabulist. This story won second place in the Bristol Festival of Literature's writing challenge, The Kraken Rises!, and appeared in the anthology for the event. The story is told in tweets, texts and web pages, which required some careful formatting — careful formatting that sadly did not survive the journey into the ebook. Not only is the formatting now preserved; it has been improved upon by The Fabulist.


In what promises to be a genre-defining squidpunk bonanza, The Kraken Rises! also forms the theme for the BristolCon Fringe's September readings: on Monday 22nd September some of the contributors to the anthology will be reading their stories at The Shakespeare. That gives me nearly three months to figure out how to read aloud a visually structured story told in terms of tweets and texts!

Speaking of spoken word events, I will be doing a couple of readings this month. On Monday 7th July I will be at Small Stories, which will be at Small Bar rather than their usual haunt at The Birdcage. I will be reading "Two Weeks in Spain", which I realised recently has never been read at an event despite being one of my favourites and also a good fit for live performance.

On Thursday 17th July I will be at Science Showoff at the Grain Barge. There will be beer. There will be pizza. There will be romance. There will be humour. And there will be quantum mechanics. I'll be reading "Schrödinger's Pizza", a lab lit tale that bridges postgrad–undergrad relationships, the art–science divide and the questionable entanglement of metaphor and vegetarian food.

That pretty much covers the spoken word events from now until September, but I'll keep you posted if anything changes. In the meantime, there's another story or two in the pipeline awaiting publication.