Category Archives: self-publishing

Resolving to write

Now all the celebrations have died down, one thing that many of us think of when it comes to January are new year’s resolutions. Whether that’s to exercise more, eat more healthily, or finally finish that book we’ve been working on for years. Hey, you may have even decided that it’s time to start that book you’ve been talking about writing for years. Wherever you are on your literary journey, the truth is, the overbearing, inbox-invading new year’s resolution is rarely your friend. But why?

Too much pressure
Well, it puts pressure and expectation on you for on thing. Now, I’m not saying having goals is bad, of course it isn’t, but choosing to start your book because it’s the time of year when you’re expected to make an effort can seem a little forced. You can still make a resolution, but just make it a bit more realistic. Something like ‘I promise to make a start’ or ‘I’m going to spend some time researching ideas.’

Break it down
The key thing is, breaking your book-writing process down into manageable chunks. There’s so much to think about after all. Genre, format, length, target audience, time, cost, artwork, promotion, marketing… the list goes on and it can easily start to look overwhelming. Just approach things one bit at a time. For example, you could say to yourself: ‘January is a quiet month. I’m going to spend a couple of hours each week throwing some ideas around’. Or if you already have an idea, try expanding it into a rough story arc.

Get involved
Even when you’re not writing, you can do a lot of research into the marketing and promotion side of things. Look on Twitter to see how people are promoting themselves, follow other writers, promoters, reviewers and businesses to get a feel for how it works. You’ll feel yourself getting immersed in the ebb and flow of self-publishing, and that can really help when you get going. Why? Because there are thousands of others who are on exactly the same journey as you and hearing about their frustrations and even successes can be helpful and insightful.

Just write something
Like many of you, I have a notepad of ideas and half-formed stories, some if which will never see the light of day. The important thing is though, I wrote them down. One of them I turned into a short story which just came out of one image that sprung into my mind, which I wrote down. Even if you don’t have an idea, just start writing something. Even if it’s a ramble, a blog like this or a journal, you’re getting yourself into the rhythm of writing, and that’s always a good thing!

So whatever your goals, dreams and aspirations for 2023 are, I wish you the best of luck!

Advertisement

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, resolutions, self-publishing, Writing

The Span part 2 (Dungeons and Dragons fiction)

If you’ve stumbled on this post because a conveniently-placed keyword, make sure you read part one first!
To everyone else, let’s see how this pans out…

Just for legal purposes, certain non-player characters and places named in the story are the property of Wizards of the Coast who make Dungeons and Dragons, but the character names are the creations of my players.

5 Hamlin

“But son, that’s not the life for us and you know it isn’t. I know you want to go off and explore like your friends have done, but well, not everyone is born to be an adventurer.” It was strange, considering he couldn’t remember a lot of the other things, that this fateful missive from his father was etched on his memory. The old man thought he was some kind of sage, a wise old scholar who others turned to for advice. In truth, Hamlin now realised with a bitterness that had come with age, that his father was nothing more than a failed wizard. Hamlin could see it all now he’d decided to step away from it and strike out on his own. His father simply couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his son had a passion to do something that he’d never been able to do – live a life through his magic. Oh sure, he’d cultivated a reputation for himself that he’d ‘been around’ and ‘seen things’ but in reality, most of that was vicarious living – transcribing spell scrolls for aged wizards and researching potions for shopkeepers. Hamlin’s mother had been more supportive. At least that’s the impression he’d got. The poor woman wasn’t allowed to have an opinion of her own most of the time.

As a young adult, Hamlin could now look back on those occasions with new eyes, when his mother had attempted to offer her thoughts and observations, only to be overridden by her husband’s assumed sagely knowledge. Poor woman. She was trapped and she knew it. You didn’t walk out on a marriage in the village, it just wasn’t the done thing. Still, its traditionalist structure had one thing going for it. It encouraged young men to go out and explore and find a trade. Unbeknown to his father, Hamlin had been studying magic too. He’d grown up with a house full of books, scrolls and potions and decided quite early on that he wanted to get involved on a practical, rather than scholarly level. Of course, he’d had to display some of his knowledge to his family, to show that he was studious, but as far as he was aware, they expected him to settle into a scholarly life and eventually take his father’s place. He’d turned it over in his mind for weeks, then finally decided that there was never going to be a good time to tell them, so he came out with it. That’s when his father has said what he did. His mother had sat quietly in the background, only once catching his

eye. That glance told him everything: “Go. Because I never will.”

So that’s what he had done, and here he was. Out in the real world. Whatever that meant. So far, it looked pretty much the same. Sure, he’d been paid handsomely by a farmer to frighten away a pack of wolves that were preying on his livestock (there were few substitutes for a good old fire spell) and got the odd conjuring gig at a tavern or two, but surely, there was more out there? He’d heard about Phandalin from a drunken old halfling who had been very appreciative of his performance in a tavern. In truth he hated lowering his skills to such a base level, but it was a necessity. It kept food in his belly and put a roof over his head, and importantly, taverns were a great place to pick up information. Apparently, Phandalin had a couple of good taverns and the rumour was that something “big” had happened nearby. As well as offering Hamlin some more opportunities to earn money, maybe this place could offer a little more? Maybe here would find the adventure he was looking for.

6 Riley

“Sabbatical? But what for? Surely you live a fulfilling enough life here?” Abbot Aluisus was incredulous.

Riley Pyrescream attempted to answer: “It’s not that, it’s just…”

“Your scholarly applications have been invaluable to us…and what’s more, you seem to have a real affinity for the garden and what can be gained from it. We face enough criticism for not getting involved – we always have – and well, since you completed your initial studies, you’ve managed to transform that garden from an old cluster of shrubs and forgotten flower beds to something we can use, and prove our worth.

“yes abbot but…”

“And of course, we’ve come to rely on you to keep us safe. Brother Aldred tells me there’s really nothing else he can teach you when it comes to the unsavoury but necessary art of self defence. And he should know!”

Aldred had been a soldier before he hung up his halbard, battle weary and tired of death. His calling, he’d told Riley once, had simply been a desire to get away from battle and all the talk that comes with it. Retiring wasn’t enough. There was always someone who would call on your experience. Even here, that proved true. Riley imagined though, that seeing off the odd wolf or wandering goblin was a small price to pay for the relative solitude the monastery offered. Then, there was the inevitable request that your knowledge needed to be passed on. As the youngest and most able-bodied brother, Riley had been encouraged to be the recipient of Brother Aldred’s knowledge. This involved some monthly training along with his regular studies, which at first the old soldier seemed reluctant to give, but it soon became clear to Riley that sharing his skills gave him a lot of satisfaction. And, Riley suspected, that wasn’t just because he’d finally found someone to pass the role on to.

Whatever Aldred’s motivations, Riley enjoyed the training and coupled with his limitless thirst for knowledge, it had given him the seed for an idea. The brothers were expected to take a sabbatical much further along on their monastic journey, so it was no surprise that the old Abbot was so taken aback.

Nevertheless, Riley gathered himself: “Abbot. I’ll be much more use to everyone once I’ve given my studies a degree of practical application. And just think of the knowledge I could bring back here? This monastery needs to stick its head out and explore once in a while if it wants to actually understand what’s going on and continue to be of use to people. I’m young enough to be the person to do that, and I’m more than capable of looking after myself.”

Whether it was because he was impressed by the younger man’s speech or had simply grown tired of the argument, Abbot Aluisus had relented, and here Riley was, in Phandalin. He’d overheard a group of travellers at a roadside inn, something to do with ancient magic and a cave, and that Phandalin was the nearest town. This was timely to say the least. He’d been on the road for a month or two already in search of adventure but when it came down to it, he didn’t know where to start. On his travels he’d seen passing parties of adventurers looking much more weathered and experienced than himself and had begun to have doubts. He’d been considering the prospect of returning to the monastery with his tail between his legs when he overheard the conversation. Riley had made his mind up there and then.

7 Kalistie

“Well, you know what? That’s it! I’ve had enough of you both telling me what to do, and enough of this place!”

Kalistie hurriedly gathered up her pack, which had been waiting in a semi-ready state for some months now, waiting for the day that her parents finally gave her enough grief to tip her over the edge.

“Kalistie, please. Just listen.”

Her father fixed her with his most earnest look, delivered from beneath arched brows that

showcased more of the elven side of his heritage than the human one:

“It’s going to take us some time to settle here. The people of Saltmarsh haven’t had many dealings with our kind. We’re not traditional seafarers. But what I have learned is that a lot of trade goes on here. The market’s a lively place, and you really need to start helping out now the business is growing. People pass through quite often and well, you know, adventurers are always in need of weapons. And there’s no finer weapon than…”

Sensing another of her father’s pride-filled monologues about the elegance of Elven longbows, Kalisti made for the door of their small stone dwelling, opening it only to be assailed by the now familiar – and increasingly resented – stench of fish guts, the result of this morning’s catch. Though she’d taken to her heels as soon as she got outside, she could hear her father at the door, shouting after her:

“One day daughter, you’ll realise that life is something you can’t run away from!”

She told herself not to look back. She didn’t want to give him any indication of doubt. She wasn’t becoming a downtrodden footnote to this place’s history, subservient to her father’s dreams, just like her mother had been. There was nothing for her here. A dead-end place where life kept going round in the same circle. To keep herself from going completely mad, she’d escaped into music; shutting herself away in her tiny room, constructing songs of escape and adventure. What she really wanted though, was some real adventures to sing about. Sure, she’d overheard people talking about what had gone one at that decrepit old house just along the coast from the town – something about an old wizard – but that was as exciting as it got around here.

The one positive thing she’d got out of this wretched place was the chance to catch a song or two from some of the travelling bards who occasionally performed in the Snapping Line. It was a lifestyle that intrigued her. Passing from one town or village to the next, earning enough to keep going, picking up tales, gaining experience and…well, seeing the world. That was something she yearned for, but as long as her mother and father had anything to do with it, something she’d never have the opportunity to do. Much as she resented them, she grudgingly admitted that the skills her father had taught her could come in useful, because she surmised, life on the road could be dangerous and it always paid to be able to look after yourself. Even her mothers obsession with boring needlework and crafts might help her clothes stand up to the rigours of the outdoors a little longer. She supposed on some level that she’d miss them, but as for this stinking place? No chance. She was never coming back.

8 The Cave

Most of what Gundren relayed to the adventurers was as he had told it to Kaldir, though the wily thief could spot the emphasis the Rockseeker brother place on his words, and how he deliberately locked eyes on certain members of the party when he mentioned treasure, the magical forge and weapons.

“So what about these wizards you mentioned?” asked the youngest male of the party.

Just as he had asked Kaldir when they first met, he now asked the would-be adventurers:

“Does the name Mormesk mean anything to you?”

Gundren looked around the party expectantly. This time, there was no recognition registering in their faces. The barbarian type seemed especially perplexed, glancing nervously around and appearing more troubled by the walls than by the prospect of encountering any magic. The female however, seemed to show more interest at this point than when the prospect of treasure was first mentioned.

“Well, as you may have already noticed, I’m a dwarf. Myself and my brother Nundo here knows all about what that cave once was. Like I explained just now, wizards used to work there with the dwarfs and Mormesk, well, he was the last wizard stationed there. The forge, the spells, and the weapons, everything was put to good use to try and give the dwarves the edge over the invading orcs but after the invading forces finally broke through, it was lost, along with Mormesk.”

“So if he died, what’s the problem?” asked the woman.

“Dying in battle leaves a soul restless, and when that soul once resided in one of the most powerful mages in the land, not even death can keep it from wandering.”

It was then that Nundo spoke then for the first time.

“It’s my belief that Mormesk’s spirit is the cause of all this. He’s down there in the mine somewhere and you need to find him.”

At this point, the younger Rockseeker brother rummaged in his pack, eventually pulling out a couple of parchments.

“I’ve drawn up a map of how to find Wave Echo, though that part is fairly simple. The other parchment shows a map of what we know about the cave. I’ve been in there myself several times, and because I spoke to The Gauntlet before they departed, I’ve got a good idea of the area they didn’t explore. It’s a pretty safe bet that’s where you’ll find Mormesk.” Nundo placed both rolls down on the heavy oak table that lay between the would-be adventurers and the dwarves, then looked expectantly at each of them in turn. Perhaps surprisingly, it was the barbarian who reached for the maps, glancing at each of his newfound companions as he did:

“I entered this town after crossing these very mountains, not by following the Triboar Trail that the rest of you spoke of. I descended into the foothills not far from the peak that the cave is shown to lie beneath, so I will lead the way.”

Whether it was that none of the party thought it wise to argue with a barbarian, or they were simply glad not to have to make a decision, they consented. Gundren seemed pleased that they had agreed to the adventure, and Kaldir felt relieved that his reputation remained intact. It was always a talking point in the dwarven community when one of their number chose a vocation that didn’t involve digging tunnels, mining for ore or smashing up boulders, especially when that

vocation was one such as his.

“Excellent. Then may I suggest that you spend the rest of the day exploring Phandalin and stocking up on any supplies you need? I’ve made arrangements at the Stonehill Inn, so you can get a good meal and bed down for the night when you’re done.”

The journey to the cave entrance in itself was uneventful, with just the odd travelling tradesman or two casting a cursory glance at the eclectic party of adventurers. Brom cut a solitary figure as he strode ahead in the stoic manner of someone who completely at home in the outdoors. The party travelled in awkward silence for a while until Cronos, not addressing anyone in particular, spoke up, inclining his head towards Brom:

“Strong and silent there won’t want to lead the way once we get into that cave, I grant you. But me? Well, let’s just say I’m used to skulking around in the dark. I’ll be glad of a little cover. We’re

way too exposed around here.”

After they rounded a particularly large rocky outcrop, they could see the barbarian hadstopped in his tracks to point at an opening about 20 feet in front of him:

“It is as the dwarf said. The entrance lies here.”

With that, the barbarian held out the parchments, signalling all at once that his part wasdone, and that he had no desire to navigate his way through the caves. The adventurers looked at each other, before Cronos took them from him, glancing over to where the narrow entrance was:

“Alright then. Let’s go.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, self-publishing, Writing

Want a new perspective? Go to an old place

Thinking that I may as well go old school to try and generate some sales, I recently had some fliers printed up for my book, which I dropped off at my local bookshop and library. As any self-published author will tell you, it’s so hard to get noticed these days and marketing yourself is like a full-time job in itself, so I thought I’d try to cover at least one extra base.

The print shop was about a mile away from my house, so what better idea than to walk over there in the stifling heat of the hottest day on record here in the UK to pick them up? Anyway, shade-hugging as I went, I found myself walking through my old neighbourhood on the way. It’s not somewhere I usually have to pass through, even though I walk into town regularly. The first thing to hit me was the presence of a nice-looking coffee shop that I would’ve been very grateful of back in the day. The second thing I noticed was how different that and other recent builds had made my old street look.

Once these cosmetic changes had settled in though, I was left with a strange feeling, part nostalgic, part melancholic. It was as if for a moment, I was transported back in time, and my mind of that time was inside my head of now (I realise how weird that sounds). It reminded me of all the goals and ambitions I had back then, the things I’d just done and the things I would go on to do. I don’t know why such an inconsequential thing as walking over to a shop to pick something up got my imagination going, but it did.

So if you find yourself in search of ideas, a fresh perspective or just a change of scenery, take a stroll around somewhere familiar from your past. You never know where it might lead.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, Life, Novel, self-publishing, Writing

Counting towards your write-a-day

On the art of writing, literary legend Ray Bradbury is quoted as saying: “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”

This is great advice. But I must admit, I’ve been guilty of not writing a lot this week. Sorry Ray. I have in fact had my editing head on, working on a collection of short stories for a fellow author, my writing head being temporarily placed in its glass specimen jar on my office shelf. Wherever my head is at though, my mind is always wandering. Indeed, with my running head on, I let my mind wander free and it’s often when huffing and puffing through my local park that I come up with some of my best ideas.

By now, I’m starting to look like Cerberus, the ferocious three headed dog from Greek mythology. Or maybe a really lame hydra. I’m going to stick with the head analogy though. Indeed, it’s mythical creatures like this that first fired my imagination as a child. Having the Jason and the Argonauts movie and Tolkien’s The Hobbit evangelised to me by my father were probably a lot to do with a lifelong love of fantasy that hasn’t left me. To take nothing away from the immense skill of CGI artists, it was the second Ray of my blog, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion labours of love, that first drew me in to the fantasy world. I read a Twitter conversation recently featuring people from different generations all offering their thoughts on how much of an impact the iconic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts had on them, their childhoods and their writing.

Role playing games are great too. I’m sometimes a player, using my vivid imagination to paint the scene presented to myself and my fellow adventurers by the Dungeonmaster. Sometimes though, I’m the Dungeonmaster myself, delighting in dreaming up adventures for my players to experience. I’m probably guilty of not spending enough time genning up on the rules and too much working on painting a picture, telling a story and dreaming up dialogue for the characters they’ll meet. But that’s my point, I guess. I’m using the game to nurture my imagination, and I figure my players will forgive a bit of furtive rule book fluttering in favour of a more enjoyable adventure.

What I’m getting at is that, whether you’re not using it all the time to write, your imagination is always there. It’s a well of ideas, some of which will inevitably come to you when you least expect them to. Use your mind creatively in different ways and you’ll be exercising it and keeping it primed and ready to dream up your next creation.

And no, writing a reply to this blog won’t count towards your write-a-day – though it would be really nice if you did all the same! Or, feel free to follow me and say hi on Twitter. I follow back and don’t snore (much).

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, Editing, Fantasy, Movies, self-publishing, Writing

Test the Waters

OK, OK, I’ve made the obvious analogy of the literary ocean and throwing your work in it before, but sometimes it really can feel like that. Writing is hard. Marketing it is harder.

Sure, you can throw your hard-earned at any number of social media-savvy agencies who will promote your book and it may even work, but the hard truth is that with the freedom of self-publishing comes the reality that everybody is doing it. And that’s great. Let’s just make that clear SELF PUBLISHING IS GREAT.

So what does it mean? It means that even with a serious advertising budget, you’ll be up against some serious competition to get noticed. That’s why it’s a good idea to test the waters with your first foray in to self-publishing. OK, so you’ve been slaving away at your 100,000-word fantasy epic for months – years and it’s finally ready. Now, the world will know the true power of destiny and the irrepressible lure of the Tanthis Stone…but wait. Rush headlong into marketing it with no experience and it’ll probably just end up being read by your eccentric Auntie and Jeff your old college friend. And maybe Alison from work.

When I say experience, I don’t mean time served as a social media executive, either. I’m just talking about the experience of self-publishing and marketing and everything that brings. It’s tough, and a relentless grind. Doing it first with a shorter novella, like I did, is a sensible idea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my novella Whisper Wood and worked hard at it, but I’m glad I used it to get some experience. I’m always learning and that’s the best way to look at self-publishing. Don’t expect readers to come to your book, take it to the readers, tell them why they should read it.

Comment on other authors’ stuff and write too. I’m genuinely grateful to fellow bloggers who follow and share my updates on here – each of them on their own creative journey. The same goes for Twitter’s supportive and fun #WritingCommunity. There’s enough space for us all, so let’s get writing!

2 Comments

Filed under Authors, Books, Fantasy, Novel, self-publishing, Writing

Shameless self-promotion

Self-publishing is as much about promotion as it is writing, which is why I’m not ashamed to admit that this blog is a bit of promotion for my new novella. “Wow” you may be thinking, “he got the link in early on just then”. Well, yes, guilty as charged. But why not? Any aspiring writer who has a Twitter account will no doubt be familiar with the #ShamelessPromo hashtag, and everything that comes with it. Making self-promotion shameless is important because, lets face it, who is going to help us if we don’t help each other?

Without the marketing weight of a successful publishing house behind us, we self-published authors need as much help as we can get. Sometimes, that means shamelessly helping ourselves too, which is just what I’m doing here. There are loads of useful resources out there on promoting yourself, so you really don’t need any advice from me, but I’m going to give it to you anyway!

  • Set up a blog
    Yes this is blatantly obvious but it bears repeating. It’s easy these days to set up a basic blog using for example, WordPress to get it looking exactly like you want it. If you enjoy delving in to the graphs and stats of SEO, even better, because there’s plenty of ways to keep track of how your site is performing. Remember, your blog is your personal platform to waffle on about anything you want and yes, promote your stuff.
  • Test the water
    If you’re not ready to take the plunge into the near-bottomless ocean of online publishing, why not self-publish some short stories, or older work that never saw the light of day? You can host it on your own site, or on any site for authors and readers that lets you upload your own stuff. This is a golden opportunity not only to get valuable feedback from people who love to read, but it can give you a little experience in promoting your writing.
  • Network
    Spend any length of time on Twitter, and you’d be forgiven for feeling discouraged by just how many people are doing exactly what you’re doing. It may seem like everyone is a budding author these days, with their own tale to tell and story to sell. Don’t let that put you off. Really, it’s no different than walking into your favourite book store and seeing all the latest releases lined up side-by-side. Some people like one thing, others like something else. It’s the way it goes and helping to promote the work of others, and them returning the favour is all part of networking. The more people you follow, the more you’ll learn.

So, there you go! I’ll end this #ShamlessPromo blog with a shameless call to buy my book!

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, Novel, self-publishing, Writing

The Player

I first saw the player one morning in May. Since everything started to happen back in 2020 – and let’s be honest, it’s still happening – I decided to build a morning walk along the beach into my daily routine. Now I know what you’re thinking – “If I lived that close to the beach, I wouldn’t need a global pandemic to get me out there enjoying it!” Guilty as charged. Sure, I’d taken a stroll or two along the beach in the past – mostly as a way to evangelise my town to any friends and family who came to visit, but I’d never really taken the time to appreciate it for what it was. These days, I do appreciate it, in lots of different ways, and I’m not too proud to admit that I’d been missing out.

Anyway, back to the player. Spring had not so much as sprung, as reluctantly rose from a crouch with aching limbs – but nonetheless, here was some real sun that I could feel on my face. It glistened on the waves as they gently lapped the sand and I was surprised that there was nobody else around. Usually there’s a dog walker or two, and I’d joined them as one of the morning regulars since starting my routine. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent again. I guess I didn’t think I’d have that much to say but then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to anybody.

So, there he was on the beach. At first glance, I couldn’t make him out. it looked like some bizarre piece of ship wreckage sticking out of the sand, but as one of the few very small clouds in the sky passed over the sun, I got a clearer view. He was sat at a grand piano. At least, I think it was a grand. It certainly wasn’t one of those ones your grandmother used to have, or that you see in old Western movies. Unsurprisingly, I was instantly reminded of that film where a woman plays a piano on the beach. At first, I thought this was someone paying homage to that, or parodying it for some student film or sketch maybe? Transfixed, I continued to move closer, until I could make out the player. He had dark hair, and was wearing a suit – somehow this made everything seem even stranger, even though if he was sat there in surf shorts and flip flops, it would still have been strange.

Then there was the music. When I was working, back when everything was normal, I used to love to write while listening to music. I like all sorts of stuff, but instrumental music seemed to work best – soundtracks and classical mostly. So, I had a basic working knowledge of piano concertos, the classic stuff as well as the contemporary. And yes, the soundtrack for that film that this whole scene reminded me of sometimes featured. This was different though. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Sometimes, just for a fleeting moment, it sounded like some of Hayden’s chamber stuff, then I thought I could detect a bit of Rachmaninov, then what could have been one of the player’s own compositions – strangely discordant, with crazy time signatures, then off into some random honky-tonk. It was the weirdest thing, but even stranger was the fluidity with which he moved between every style, making it sound like one crazy continuous piece, that you all at once knew, but didn’t know at all.

That probably doesn’t make any sense to you, but it’s difficult to describe. I don’t really know why, but it started to make a little more sense to me when I got a little closer to the player. His suit wasn’t any kind of dinner suit, business suit or tuxedo that I had seen before. It seemed to shift before my eyes, like I couldn’t quite focus on it. For a couple of seconds, it looked like it was made of some kind of weird fabric that shimmered, reflecting the sun and casting radiant mini-rays all around. Then a moment later, it turned into a sport jacket and slacks, then into something so impenetrably black that I could make no creases or folds out at all.

By now I was about 10 feet away, taking all this in with growing incredulity.

“Hey!” I ventured. “Sounds great! Thanks for brightening up my morning!”

The instant it was out of my mouth, I wished I could have said something more profound than this jaunty herald. I suddenly got the sense that this was a pivotal moment of crucial significance, and what I said would matter.

I needn’t have worried. The player continued to play, oblivious to my presence. I stepped a little closer, and ventured round the piano, getting a frontal view as well as from both sides. The shifting suit continued to shift, and the man’s impassive face just maintained the same expression. When I was stood directly in front of him, he didn’t even register, but just appeared to look right through me. It’s so weird to say this now, but it was like his face was doing the same thing as his suit. One minute he looked like a handsome movie actor in a pivotal cinematic scene, the next he was a gaunt wretch of a thing, with eyes that…I can’t describe it…they just seemed to make him look like someone who’d seen things that nobody else had ever seen. Then at the next glance, he looked like everyone’s favourite jovial party host, rousing the guests with one of his good-natured renditions.

As I was pondering over the whole otherworldliness of the situation, a thought stuck me. What if somebody else comes along? What will they do? What will I do? Where I lived wasn’t a bad place to be, but there were still some deviant kids who liked to cause trouble – probably just out of boredom. What would happen if they showed up? Then, coming the other way, I could see a woman in the distance, striding along as a Golden Retriever bounded on ahead in search of the length of driftwood she’d just thrown in front of her. As she got closer, I recognised her as one of the morning walk regulars and took comfort in the fact that she at least wouldn’t do anything disruptive.

The dog had returned to her side now and as they drew closer, I got ready to make conversation, with an ‘I know, right?’ expression on my face. The fact that the dog didn’t do anything instantly made me curious. It walked right past the player – just for a fleeting moment turning its head quizzically in his direction, then plodded up to me. I absentmindedly scratched behind the dog’s ears as I watched its owner close the distance between us.

“Don’t mind him, he’s just saying hello!”

She did not acknowledge the player at all as she walked straight past him. Before I could stop myself I said:

“Can you not see him? The man at the piano?”

She looked at me quizzically, saying she didn’t know what I meant. I made some hurried correction, saying that I’d seen someone on the promenade playing the piano yesterday and did she see him? That seemed to make more sense to her and of course, she said that she hadn’t. Relieved that I hadn’t created a scene but more confused than ever, I made to look as if I was gazing whimsically out to sea, so she wouldn’t think I was being weird just standing there. She carried walking with her dog behind me and a carried on watching the player. There! A bit of Mozart was it? Then some sort of weird, free-form jazz thing, I don’t know, I can’t really describe what it was.

That was when the idea struck me. We have all this technology at our fingertips and take it for granted to the extent that we forget we even have it. I took my phone out of my pocket and held it up. I wish I hadn’t. When I looked at the player through my camera, it was as if we had both been transported to…I don’t know where, some strange dimension, it was like…well, it sounds like such a  corny thing but it’s the best way I can describe it…It looked like the player was in Hell. I can’t unsee what I saw. He was surrounded by searing flames but the piano was completely untouched and his face remained impassive, at least until the flesh on it bubbled and melted, sliding off his skull before my eyes. Shouting out in horror, I pulled my camera away from my eyes and looked at him again. Everything was just the same as before, with him playing impassively away – with his face still very much intact. Despite what I’d just witnessed,  I couldn’t help myself, and held my phone up once more, ready to drop it from my field of vision if the same thing happened again. This time there was no fire. Now, the player was sat in a stunningly beautiful glade, with shafts of golden sunlight streaming down through the trees and countless flowers blooming all around. Ah, I thought. So this is the Heaven version – of course, how silly of me.

I couldn’t make sense of anything and was a moment away from just turning on my heels and running – just to put some distance between myself and something I couldn’t possibly understand. But there was one more thing to try. I switched my phone camera to video setting and held it up again. This time, the player was sat in a barren dust bowl of a place, the air thick with some sort of strange cloud. It shifted momentarily and I could just make out the skeleton of some enormous building, something that looked ultra-modern, but that had also been in a state of ruin for hundreds of years. Whether this change of scenery was a result of me switching to video, or just a coincidence, I don’t know. What I did know is that I’d had enough. Backing away from the player until he was a good 30 feet away, I turned round and ran all the way home, clutching my phone.

All of a sudden, it felt like I was in possession of the most amazing thing in the world but also the most terrifying thing in the world. I went into my bedroom and gave myself a moment, then looked at my picture gallery. I don’t know if it was disappointment or relief I felt when the last two pictures I’d taken now showed as corrupt files. I almost didn’t bother trying to play the video, but I did.

I know this didn’t happen at the time – I was only filming for a few seconds – but I swear, when I played the video back this time, it was different. The player stopped playing. He looked up directly into the camera. At me. My heart almost leapt out of my chest as he spoke:

“What you do next will decide the future.”

And, for the couple of seconds that it took him to say this, his surroundings were brought into vivid detail. He was sat in some kind of haunting, apocalyptic landscape, the burnt-out remains of skyscrapers behind him, as a number of shambling figures lurched about in the distance. I attempted to play the video again, but just like the photos, it was now showing up as corrupted. I wish I could tell you that the first thing I did was run back out to the beach, but I didn’t. I lay for the rest of the day on top of my bed, in a state of high anxiety and turmoil, until sheer nervous exhaustion lured me into a deeply uneasy sleep, full of dreams, fire and screams. When I awoke, still feeling absolutely exhausted, I hurriedly put on my shoes and headed out to the beach once more. The player was gone.

I don’t know why I’m writing this now, weeks after. Nobody will believe me and I’m the only person who saw it, but I guess I just feel the need to document it all somehow. What did he mean? Who was he? Believe me, I’ve tried to make sense of it, but the whole thing is too much for my mind to comprehend. I must admit, I’d been losing focus in my life before the player arrived. At least now I have something to think about, and something to work for. After all, nobody needs to know where I got the idea from, do they?

3 Comments

Filed under Authors, Books, Fantasy, horror, Life, Science Fiction, self-publishing, Writing

You don’t always have to box off

Believe me, that was a hard heading to write. I’m the kind of person who likes to box things off and get one thing done before starting another. It makes me feel good because I’ve achieved something and not left any loose ends. It doesn’t always work that way with writing though.

Sure, you want to get that novel finished above all else. You want to commit dedicated time to it and not procrastinate. I get it. But I’m guessing that if you like writing, you’re an imaginative person and you’re always getting random ideas. These could be a scenario, a sentence, or even just a bit of dialogue – it doesn’t matter. Write them down. Make sure you keep a notebook for all your random ideas and don’t worry about keeping them spinning away while slaving over your main story.

This is great for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll have a few ideas floating around, which is always rich food for the imagination. Secondly, it’s a brilliant solution if you’ve set aside time to write but you’re hitting a literary brick wall with your main project. That time will never be wasted, because you can pick up on one of your other ideas and see where it goes. You may develop a storyline for a sequel, or a whole new series. You may even dream up something so amazing that it becomes your new main project. Lots of fantastic things have grown from the germ of an idea, and your next idea could be one of them.

So, don’t be afraid to start something new and keep all those plates spinning. Great things could happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, Novel, self-publishing, Writing

Now’s the time to read and write

OK, you may argue that any time is a good time to do one or both of those things, but hey, let me jump on the Corona virus bandwagon for just a short time.

While it’s important to keep track of everything that’s going on and all the latest updates for the sake of our own health, it’s also important not to get bogged down with feelings of foreboding and desperation. Our own mental health is as important as our physical health and if we don’t keep our minds occupied in these times of social distancing and self-isolation, we risk putting ourselves at serious harm.

I realise that’s easier said than done in a lot of cases, but finding the time to read and treating yourself to a little escapism really can help. (Just stay away from any post-apocalyptic epics if you’re feeling particularly susceptible!)

It’s also a great time to start writing that book you’ve always wanted to write; you know, the one you spend so much time procrastinating over. If you’re in a situation where you have a lot of time to yourself – get writing. Now is the time. Not only will it keep your mind exercised and active, but it’ll help your well-being by just having your mind on something else for a while.

Of course, life goes on. Don’t lock yourself away expecting to churn out 100,000 words in a couple of weeks. Plan your day, get a routine. Work in some writing time. This could be the moment you finally get started. Or maybe you’ve already written a book and are putting off the dreaded re-draft. Again get stuck in while you can, and grow your next novel some legs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Editing, fitness, mental health, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

What is a book?

No wait, hear me out. Still there? Good.

If you’re reading this you’re probably looking for a little more than a literal answer, so here goes.

These days, books can take many forms. As well as a good old-fashioned charity shop find or a crisp new release hastily picked up from the airport newsagent before your flight, there is of course everyone’s favourite space-saver, the Kindle. Or indeed, the Kindle app if (like me) you’re slumming it just a little.

Delve into the world of online publication and you’ll have so much choice, you won’t know where to start. I’m guilty of perhaps not reading as much as I’d like to, but having dipped my toe into Amazonian waters, I discovered a few things pretty quickly.

Firstly, self-publishing makes it easier than ever before to get what’s inside your head out there for the public to enjoy. And if they don’t, well that’s their problem. At least you did it. This doesn’t have to be the 10000+ word fantasy epic you’ve been slaving away at for half your life though. These days, books take many forms. Your story may be great but you just find yourself wanting to get it over a little more quickly – that’s fine. In the world of self-publishing nobody looks down their nose at a novella.

It doesn’t even have to have a narrative either. From stream-of-consciousness ramblings and specialist cookbooks, to collected essays and structured how-to guides, pretty much anything can be a book these days.

So, get that idea out of your head and onto your screen and before long, it’ll be on everybody else’s screen as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Books, Communication, Editing, Fantasy, horror, Life, Science Fiction, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writing