Friday 20 December 2013

Flash Fiction: S3xD0ll

Trouble. Big trouble. Big luscious lips and deep sensual eyes, staring at me. Big, deep and up-to-my-neck-in-it trouble.

Cath is due back any minute. Enough time to contrive an apology, but not enough to undo this mess.

"Don't spend all morning surfing dodgy sites." She winked as she headed for the door. "You need to buy milk and something for dinner. Speaking of surfing, don't forget to renew the firewall and anti-virus subscription; it expired yesterday. I'll be back at two to print out my portfolio."

I should have got my act together and headed out to the shops immediately, renewing the subscription on my return, rewarding myself with a coffee. The rest of the day would have been mine to squander. Should have... but as the door closed, my subconscious had already prioritised surfing with coffee over shopping and subscription renewal.

OK, I'll admit I may have looked at some sites that had nothing to do with my thesis write-up... including a couple that didn't involve pictures of cats. I was tempted to renew the subscription as further procrastination, but it was midday and the high street would be busy, getting busier.

Well, I've just renewed the sub and scanned and fixed the PC, but that's locking the barn door after the horse has bolted and the printer cartridges have emptied. How was I to know one of those sites had the S3xD0ll virus?

When I got back from the shops I thought Cath had returned early because the printer was chuntering away in the background. Cheap 3D printers have knocked the low end out of the consumer products market, with open-sourced and pirated designs online further squeezing the product designer jobs market. Cath, however, has secured an interview and she was going to print out some of her work to take along. In preparation she'd bought litres of plastic and metal powders... now used up. In their place I have a life-sized animatronic sex doll to explain away. Big luscious lips and deep sensual eyes, staring at me with preprogrammed expectation.

And that's the front door.

"S3xD0ll" was shortlisted in New Scientist's 2012 Flash Fiction competition. More background here.

Monday 16 December 2013

The Unputdownable Kraken

December? November... October! OK, so this is a little — OK, OK, a lot — overdue, but things have been busy.

October saw Untputdownable, the Bristol Festival of Literature, and BristolCon, Bristol's one-day SF and Fantasy convention, overlapping once again. Last year I time-sliced between the con and the last day of the lit fest. It was exhausting. This year I decided to avoid spreading myself too thinly by spending the day and early evening at the con and the evening at the Unputdownable Speakeasy, the lit fest wrap-up.

The con is very writer- and writing-focused and ridiculously good value for money, with some well-run and carefully considered panels, plus a host of other events, readings and casual conversations, all collocated. An intense day.

The lit fest is spread out over two weekends and the week in between across a number of venues around Bristol. Work-related travel meant I had to miss most of the events during the week, but along with my older son, Stefan, I did manage to attend a writing challenge on the first Saturday. The challenge? Write a story involving a Bristol-wide disaster of supernatural proportions themed around the event's title, The Kraken Rises!, and prompts and ideas dotted at three central Bristol locations, with writers on hand for inspiration and discussion.

Stefan noted that everyone seemed to stand around and talk about writing without actually doing any, while he got down and wrote his story, wasting no time taking out the suspension bridge and other landmarks in his opening paragraphs. I decided to experiment with a different approach to storytelling in my tale, "#KrakenEvent", using Twitter, web pages and texts to tell the story. We both got our stories in the next day.

But the story of the stories doesn't end there. During the week I received an email that my story had been shortlisted and was to be included in an ebook anthology. Because there was some crossover between BristolCon and the lit fest, and many of The Kraken Rises! participants are active in the Bristol Fantasy and SF Society, the winners were announced at BristolCon. Scott Lewis won with the storming allohistorical adventure of "Kitty McClure and the Cult of the Kraken". And I came second! And not once but twice in the same evening: the winners were announced again at the Speakeasy, along with the winner of the ebook coverart competition, Tina Altwegg.

We all walked off with bags of bookish goodies and the warm glow of an alcohol-washed evening. The ebook turned up in my inbox the next week... at which point I received the best surprise: Stefan's story had made it into the anthology! He'd been missed out of the original round of emails notifying shortlisted authors, hence the surprise. This made my day and his, and also means the anthology is bookended by Henneys — his is the first story in the book and mine the last. You can buy it for the Kindle, with proceeds going to the lit fest. Not all of the formatting of my story survived the ebook process — the dangers of eschewing the conventions of page and paragraph — so if you're interested in the story as originally formatted, drop me an email. You can read more about The Kraken Rises! in this interview by Joanne Hall with its organiser, Pete Sutton.

Given the number of Bristol Fantasy and SF Society folk who ended up in the ebook, we're planning a special Squidpunk BristolCon Fringe next September with readings from The Kraken Rises!. Squidpunk? A new genre created by Joanne Hall at BristolCon this year.

And speaking of Joanne Hall and BristolCon Fringe, the two of us are reading tonight. Better get my act together...