Archive for July, 2013

Eric_720It’s good of you to let me have a slot on your blog. You’re sure nobody’s going to read it, aren’t you? Only some of these confessions could be damaging if they got out.

I started trying to write years back. I didn’t have a clue, but always had a deep, profound meaning. People needed to hear my opinion. Yeah right, what a bore.

Out in the real world, I was a suited and booted, serious businessman. Look at the pictures. When that face enters a boardroom, it intimidates. My role is to make projects move in the right direction.

Almost like the tortured super-hero from the comic books, beneath the professional suit, I suffered from … urges. I tried desperately to keep this under wraps. I didn’t want the people who employed me aware I was a latent creative.

In line with my serious persona, I worked on a non-fiction for a few years. When I completed that, I had a huge void to fill and decided to try my hand at fiction again. This time, I realised I didn’t have a clue how to write. I signed up for the Writer’s Bureau creative writing course. I loved the fact it fitted in with my professional work. At times, I’m involved with projects that demand huge amounts of concentration. When this happens, I simply don’t have the mental resources to be able to write creatively.

The first pages of the course scrubbed away a lot of my preconceptions. Nobody wants me to lecture, they want to be entertained. Cut the flowery phrases. Write what people want, not what I think they need.

Even when I started to get places in competitions, I was reluctant to let my business colleagues know. I’d lie about what I did at the weekend, preferring them to think I was having an affair than spending time writing fiction.

Even though it’s reputedly incredibly difficult to get people to read, I tried humour as my first major attempt at fiction. Of course, I fell in love with the main female character, Amara (that’s ok, because she’s based on my beloved wife anyway.)

As a new writer, I had no problem coming up with throw away lines. So, even though she’s a virgin warrior, Amara claimed to have a daughter. When a few readers queried this, I had to come up with a plausible way for this to happen, this gave the back story for my latest book, Amara’s Daughter.

I avoid “deep themes,” in case I’m drawn into pomposity, but there were a couple of ideas running through my head I wanted to work with.

The first came from a forum discussion regarding characters. How many black heroes are there in fantasy? Taking this thought, even the women in most fantasy, high, rather than urban, serve as love interest.

I wanted a black hero, a female black hero, an ugly, marred female black hero!

It disheartened me to see a six year old girl with her hands on her hips roll her eyes and declare men are useless. I don’t actually dispute that many of them are, but I wanted to depict role-models in single and mixed gender relationships, good and bad.

High principles? Not really, love, sex and desire are universal. Soon, I had a whole cast of strong female characters to fall in love with! I’d like to claim that unlike real-life, these women did what they were told, but they were as wilful as any woman can be.

Once I’d had a couple of short stories published and made the decision to self-publish Amara’s Daughter. The time to come out of the closet had arrived. To make it low-key, I booked myself on the business breakfast circuit doing a talk:

I am a Flasher – make people see your point.

In the talk, I compare writing flash fiction with preparing a customer presentation. Explaining how I pare down to the minimum word count to express a “real” story.

They fire the usual questions about where the ideas come from. There’s usually one who wants to tell me they are going to write a book one day. I’ve had amazing feedback, with most of them being interested and supportive.

I’mglad I came out of the closet. In fact it went so well, I can’t wait to see how they’ll react when I turn up next week in my Laura Ashley frock and tell them I want to be called Emily.

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Amaras-Daughter-Cover-MEDIUMAmara’s Daughter – Swords, Sandals and Sex – High fantasy on speed

Carved from ice with blades of fire, the rigidly feminist state of Serenia breeds heroes. Unimaginably perfect, Amara the Magnificent, the legendary Ultimate Warrior is their greatest.

Five years since Amara’s mysterious disappearance, her daughter, Maryan, struggles to escape her mother’s formidable shadow. Shunned by most, her only friends are oddball characters from the edge of society.

The Queen sees Maryan as an asset to the nation, a pawn to play with and a pretty bauble to appease the neighbouring king, but lurking beneath the surface, an ancient terror plots to wipe out Maryan’s bloodline.

Friend, lover, and more, Amara’s Daughter is a turbulent, rite of passage story tracing Maryan’s growth from naive schoolgirl to the woman destiny needs her to be.

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Living in Cheshire with my wife and our two dogs (Milly and Molly,) I’ve run a successful computer consultancy for many years. The business continues to thrive and I feel blessed that people pay me to solve complex problems for them.

One day, we hope to spend a portion of our year on the Greek islands, where I would love to spend most days writing, but for now, I’m content that with three adult children, I’m being presented with grandchildren at a fabulous rate.

I split my writing time between short stories and novels. I love to take the challenge of creating a viable story in a reduced number of words for flash competitions.

At the top of my list of all-time favourites are CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein. Following them are Robert Jordan and Trudi Canavan, with a whole host of modern writers cramming up behind, including Kim Harrison (Hollows series), Margaret Stohl/ kami Garcia (Caster Chronicles) and Ben Aaaronovitch (Rivers of London.)

Links:

Website

Blog

Facebook

Amara’s Daughter

Twitter: @ehhowarduk

Headshot

Why did I sign up with December House? After all, I’ve self-published books before, and enjoyed the freedom and control that offers. But when they expressed an interest in my manuscript I jumped at the chance to work with them.

There were several reasons. One comes down to genre. See, I didn’t really know what type of book Engn is. I just naively sat down and wrote a book I wanted to write, without a thought for category or marketing niche. About half-way through the first draft a fellow-writer asked what sort of book it was. I have to admit the question threw me. You’re supposed to know stuff like that when you’re a writer, right? I probably muttered something about Gormenghast with steam engines and left it at that. But it was a problem. Engn is an alternative-world book, but there’s no magic. It’s perhaps steampunk – or maybe clockpunk – but not really SF because, frankly, some of the technology I use might not actually work. At least not in our universe. It’s an adventure story and the hero, Finn, is a teenager for most of the story. So, yes, YA Fantasy. More or less.

But I knew that difficulty with categorization would be a problem for some publishers. Was Engn just too odd? A few agents and publishers rejected it explaining they couldn’t see how it could be marketed, where it fitted. Fortunately, December House saw it for the book it was.

Logo-smallMarketing is not my strong suit, so that’s another reason I wanted to sign up with a publisher. December House are switched on; they understand the modern publishing industry and how to use the internet. They get how digital publishing works, and I’m not always convinced other publishers do. Twitter, Wattpad, LibraryThing, Goodreads – they’re all over them. I’ve come across some agents who don’t even have a web site. Incredible but true.

Two other parts of the experience have convinced me I made the right choice for this book. The first was the editing process, which was a joy. A lot of work, mind, but very rewarding. Engn emerged from it a much stronger book. The second was the cover. Cover design is such a skill, and how to create a compelling cover for a novel like Engn? Frankly I had no idea. Fortunately December House did. They sent me 6 or 8 mock-ups to choose from. It was one of those moments in life when something leaps out at you and you know it’s right and perfect. So it was with one of those covers. Fortunately it was their favourite too. And so there it is. A cover that thrills me every time I look at it.

Engn is a YA Fantasy novel, published by the UK publisher December House. It’s available in all eBook formats from July 15th.

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Engn Cover 528 x 800

December House says:

A stand-out novel from established writer of sci-fi and fantasy shorts Simon Kewin. In Engn he has created a truly immersive universe, from the idyllic valley where the novel begins to the mythology, mechanisms and vastness of ENGN. As you follow Finn’s dramatic journey of struggle, determination and discovery you can’t fail to imagine you are there with him.

The Blurb:

Finn’s childhood in the valley is idyllic, but across the plains lies a threat. Engn is an ever-growing steam-powered fortress, that needs a never-ending supply of workers. Generation after generation have been taken away, escorted into its depths by the mysterious and terrifying Ironclads, never to return.

The Masters of Engn first take Finn’s sister, then his best friend, Connor. He thinks he, at least, is safe – until the day the ironclads come to haul him away too.

Yet all is not lost, Finn has a plan. In the peace of the valley he and Connor made a pact. A promise to join the mythical Wreckers and end Engn’s tyranny.

But now on his own, lost and thwarted in the vastness of Engn, Finn begins to have doubts. Is Connor really working to destroy Engn?Or has he become part of the machine?

Reviews:

“I was completely enthralled by this book. Simon Kewin’s writing is vivid. The premise of the book reminded me slightly of The Hunger Games…”

“Engn is a mashup between two of the hottest trends in young adult fiction right now: dystopian worlds and steampunk.”

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Blog Tour Dates and Locations:

DateBloggerFeatured on… Post Topic Monday 15th Mary Pax

 Engn as a metaphor – Tuesday 16th Sophia C

 Mash-up nature of Engn – Wednesday 17th Sue Howe (you are here, dear)

Where ideas came from and how they developed – Thursday 18thRhonda Parrish

 Words Friday – 19th Stephanie Loree Niteblade Interview published.

Genre Saturday – 20thDaphne

Engn Universe – How SK conceived Engn fortress – Sunday 21stDaniela Castro

Engn Characters – Monday 22ndJeff Chapman

 Interview Tuesday – 23rdDonna Hosie

 Publishing process  – Wednesday 24th Ellie Garratt

Speculative Fiction Writer’ spot - TBC

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Simon writes fantasy, SF, mainstream and some stories that can’t make their minds up. He lives in England with Alison and their daughters Eleanor and Rose. Find him and links to his books here.

ckerr1smAs I’m here on Susan Howe’s blog today (Hi, Sue!) I thought I’d write about the thing that has bonded us as comrades in flash, the editing of the FlashFlood journal.

For those of you who don’t know, this was an online journal which had its first issue to coincide with the first National Flash-Fiction Day, last year. Since then, we did another issue in October and one in April, and then the most recent issue was for this year’s NFFD a couple of weeks ago.

I had the idea for the journal after taking part in the 24 Hour Project. This was a journal which opened for submissions for only 24 hours, promoted itself through all the social media outlets, and then, as submissions closed, it immediately started to publish through a Tmblr account. It published a piece – story, flash, poem, whatever – every twenty minutes for the next 24 hours, stayed live for another 24 hours, and then disappeared. It was a bold and exciting project and led to my quickest publication ever, with a story that I finished at 11.00pm on the day of submissions, being accepted by 11.30pm then published at about 3am – just four hours from completion to publication!

I thought this would be great idea for NFFD, but with a few changes. And so FlashFlood was born. The idea was to open submissions for a whole week, using seven editors (one a day) and then to publish to a blog as often as the number of acceptances allowed (with a cut off point of 144 pieces = one every 10 minutes over 24 hours). And the stories would also stay up after the initial publication period, rather than being taken down again.

I put a call out for editors and quickly assembled a wonderful team including Susan Howe (of course), Susi Holliday, Nettie Thomson, Shirley Golden, Cassandra Jane Parkin and Caroline Kelly. Oh, and me! And I’m pleased to say that the team has remained the same for all the issues so far.

It is a lot of work, even spread between seven people, as when you open the doors for people to send up to three flash-fictions, but only give them a week, they do so in huge numbers. Just looking over the figures for the most recent issue, we published 140 pieces during this year’s NFFD. However, we received over 600 pieces in those seven days, from which those final ones were selected. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading a hundred flash-fictions in a day, and try to judge their quality and how they will fit with other pieces to try and create a coherent journal, but it’s quite a job!

This is one of the reasons why, whether you are accepted or rejected, you will receive a form-reply. We would love to be able to provide feedback on each piece, but there are just too many and too little time in which to do it. It is one of the drawbacks of the ‘pop-up’ nature of the journal.

However, I think that small problem is more than offset by the wonder that is FlashFlood in full spate. It posts directly to National Flash-Fiction Day’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and if you follow either of those, watching the stories appear one after the other is quite an amazing thing to see. And the diversity and quality is outstanding. Now, you may think that as an editor I have to say that. But I only edit one day, and only get to see one seventh of the stories before they go live. So that makes me just as excited a reader of the journal I edit as anyone else!

lostpropertyfrontsmAnyway, if you haven’t caught up with FlashFlood yet (and why not?) then you can read all the issues of the journal here. It now has nearly 500 flash-fictions on it and is rapidly becoming a wonderful resource as well as an interesting journal/project.

We haven’t yet worked out when the next issue will be. Our attitude to it is very much in the ‘pop-up’ spirit in that it happens when we decide to do it. But I think I am quite safe in saying that there will be another issue, so keep your eyes peeled.

And, just to give you an example, here’s my story for this year’s NFFD issue. It was written especially and features the origin story of a character I have revisited a number of times. Enjoy!

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Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon  or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.