Publication news!

Dinosaurs, Jetpacks, and Rock Stars! (a book I wrote with Kassidy when she was 6) is available to buy today!

I didn’t realise you couldn’t set up a paperback for preorder so I’ve accidentally launched earlier than planned. (Nothing but professionalism here…)

The Kindle version is up for preorder for the actual release date, which is the 27th February (my daughter, and co-author’s, birthday), but the paperback is out there in the wild all by itself now!

Dinosaurs, Jetpacks, and Rock Stars! Is published! Hurrah!!

Using TikTok to Build a Readership. #1

TikTok is a social media app that mostly involves lip syncing teenagers and dance routines. It is not a place for literature… Seems like the perfect place to chisel out a niche.

If you are unfamiliar with the format, here are the basics:

There are three ways to post content; a 15 second video, a 60 second video, or a photo montage.

You can easily add special effects and filters. You are limited to 100 characters in your description, which must include your hashtags.

You film your short video, post it, and with any luck you start to amass likes and followers.

I am new to TikTok but I thought it might be interesting to share any insights and tips that I glean along the way.

Here is the first TikTok I made with my manifesto –

https://m.tiktok.com/v/6781552820412763398.html?u_code=d75g03f9lil9kf&preview_pb=0&language=en&timestamp=1579162652

I’m writing a dark fairy tale horror based on the Brothers Grimm story, Gnome. I will be documenting my progress and process regularly.

I will also be posting writing tips (sometimes serious, and sometimes not so serious, as in the TikTok below).

https://vm.tiktok.com/XwphSb/

It is important as authors that we experiment with different ways of reaching and interacting with readers. This TikTok thing might crash and burn, but it might not. Either way I’ll be doing weekly updates with stats right here on my blog. So please follow me if you are curious about how this goes. Maybe you’ll decide to take to TikTok too, in which case you must let me know; we’ll do a duet.

I’ll get into TikTok duets in another post but, should I gain momentum, a duet is a way of giving new TikTokers an introduction to like minded followers. We’ll grow together.

The link below will take you straight to my TikTok profile. Feel free to cringe at my early attempts at content. Eesh. It’s a learning process, right? And don’t forget to press that follow button!

https://m.tiktok.com/v/6781552820412763398.html?u_code=d75g03f9lil9kf&preview_pb=0&language=en&timestamp=1579162652

So, I’ve been on TikTok for three days so far. At the bottom of each TikTok update on this site I’ll publish my stats so you can see my growth and decide if it would be a worthwhile venture for yourself.

I’ll share my failed posts, my successful ones, everything; the good and the bad. Things are going to get experimental and weird. Until next time.

Andy

2A1J Episode 2 – The Rambling Sickness

In episode two of the 2A1J Podcast Andy and Rachel are very sick. But they persevere against adversity to bring you another brilliant, thrilling, funny, and all-round okay podcast.

We talk about the progress of our novellas, we answer listener questions, talk about moths and Blackadder, and generally make each other laugh.

Madeline Hill (and The Reader) – An Experimental Short Story

 

Madeline Hill

Did I ever tell you about Madeline Hill? She was cursed by adults and enamoured by fire.

She was eight years-old the first time she saw her father clean-shaven. He always had a beard, as long as she could remember. He looked studious with it and when he laughed he lit up a room. She always thought he looked part naked after he shaved it off. Not fully dressed. When he laughed then it looked wrong. His face seemed smaller. His grin was full of gums that bristles once hid. He lost age and wisdom. She started to hate him for no reason at all.

She was pretty, little eight year-old Maddie. She skipped along with her curly hair kept in pigtails. She had a summer dress on. It was blue with yellow flowers. She skipped beside the river at the bottom of the garden. It was a scene as pure and delicate as a painting by Hanslow Hill (the aforementioned bald-faced father. He was an artist you see. A renowned one. He painted portraits that involved afternoon tea and flowing white dresses and bonnets tied up in bows. Those paintings made Madeline’s skin crawl).

Skipping along that river, humming a tune with a made-up melody, why don’t we peek into her basket and see what has made her so happy on this summer morning?

‘Stop skipping, Maddie, we want to see inside.’ Ah, good, she has stopped. Look at those wide blue eyes and that perfect smile. ‘What do you have there?’ Look with me, Reader. What is that? She must have been picking blackberries, I see splashes of something dark and red on the handle. But what’s that inside, something with fur?

Oh, don’t recoil. She wants you to see. ‘What is it Maddie?’

‘It’s the head of my cat. I took it with my daddy’s razor.’

‘That’s a mighty queer thing to do Maddie, why don’t you run along inside and get some rest. I think we need to go and talk to your mother about this.’

Come with me. We’ll follow Maddie back into the house. Oh come on, don’t throw up in the river, the fish will get sick. It’s only a dead cat. You know what kids are like.

Now would you look at that, she’s gotten away from us. It’s a beautiful house isn’t it? Would you call it a manor, or a mansion? I’m not quite sure. Ah, but what’s this? Is that Maddie at the window up there?

‘Maddie, what are you doing?’

I don’t think she can hear me, will you try and get her attention? No, why not? Well don’t just point what good does that do? Fine, I’ll look. Oh dear.

‘Maddie, what is that in your hands?’

‘It’s my mother’s head. I took it off too. It was fun, you should come and try.’

‘I don’t think so, Maddie, you shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing.’

‘I’ll throw it down to you.’

And she does. It hits the ground with a dull thud and rolls forward a few feet. Look at it, staring at you. One eye half closed.

‘Maddie, I really think you should put a halt to all this. Maddie? Oh, where has she gone now?’ We better go inside.’

 

We find her standing beside her father’s bed. A five o’clock shadow on his face.

‘I’m pouring petrol on him, do you mind?’ said sweet Maddie.

‘Actually I do, rather.’

‘Would you light a match?’

‘No I would not!’

‘I’ll do it,’ you say.

I turn to you. ‘Reader, you can’t! You’re just a spectator, what gives you the right?’

But there was no stopping you. You lit a match. Her father went up and Maddie went up too.

Look at her. Clutching her face. Screaming through the flames. The white of her eyes bubbling in the heat. She inhales and fire fills her lungs.

‘Now why would you go and do that, Reader?’

You look at me and shrug. ‘It’s just imaginary, Andy, none of it matters. All of fiction is just a well organised dream. And who wants to hear about your dreams?’

Scratch that Funny Bone

The Accidental Scoundrel is an Audible laughter factory. It is where giggles are made. Put on your headphones, press play, and soon you’ll be howling like a chuckle obsessed laughter junky.

5 star comedy from Audible. Check out the reviews on Amazon –

https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Accidental-Scoundrel-Rochdale-Manor/dp/B07SD24X31/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1559195822&sr=8-3

Audible UK –

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Accidental-Scoundrel-Audiobook/B07SDNB9M8?qid=1559198123&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=MGZP635WQCVGVXQQ3ZH4

Audible US –

https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Accidental-Scoundrel-Audiobook/B07S8QY16X?qid=1559198252&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=e81b7c27-6880-467a-b5a7-13cef5d729fe&pf_rd_r=1RKMX3D47NS9GV1V63V3

Swearing in Literature

swear book

In Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker says that swearing is a sign of a civilized society. You’re not going to be hung for comparing a member of the royal family to the back end of a donkey. We have progressed beyond that. There is no doubt that there is an offensive side to the English language but you are free to use it as you please. The question is; when should it be used, and when should it be avoided?

If you are writing a picture book for three year-olds it’s probably best that the talking squirrel doesn’t have speech bubbles filled with expletives. But that’s obvious to anyone so let’s focus on fiction aimed at adults. The reason this subject is on my mind is that I’m reaching the end of writing a horror/thriller novel and as the first rewrite looms I start to think about these things.

There is swearing in my book. It is occasional and mostly in the dialogue. I only paused for thought when I came to edit the moments where the fourteen year-old children in the book swear. To justify this I’m going to drag out two very important words; realism and context.

Fourteen year-olds swear. You might not hear them doing it, and not all of them do, but most, when amongst their peers, use “bad” language all of the time (in fact I’ve questioned my twelve year-old daughter on this and she has confirmed that many of her friends do indeed have potty mouths. She of course is an angel, or so she tells me). You can avoid it in your writing but sometimes avoiding it takes away from the realism of what you are writing. As I’m currently writing horror I’ll use horror as an example. Let’s say we have a fourteen year-old boy named Billy, and Billy has just witnessed the violent death of a parent. Is he more likely to mutter the word, “Gosh.” under his breath, or something more visceral? The word gosh would immediately destroy the believability of the scene. However, if you are writing a scene where Billy is enjoying a particularly good ice cream it would be unnecessary for him to comment on how f***ing delicious it was.

Here’s my dilemma, and the one that got me onto thinking about this in the first place; when is it okay to swear in prose, outside of dialogue? My thoughts on this are straight forward (but I have gone against my own advice a few times as I’ve looked at each individual case). If you take the swear word out no one is going to notice that it isn’t there, and so all should be eliminated. Whether or not swearing is okay in a civilised society there is no doubt that some people find it abhorrent. So take it out. People will happily read the murder scenes in your book and not flinch but as soon as they come across an F-word in the middle of a descriptive passage a big bell will ring in their head. Even if that ringing stops pretty quickly it is still jarring enough to drag you out of the scene.

So why have I left a few in? Sometimes your descriptive prose will reflect the thoughts of whichever character is in that scene, and that’s okay. It helps to clarify the mood your character is in. So you have a scene that goes – Terry stood on the side of the road looking at his smashed up car. The other driver, some drunk moron, was still sat in his driver’s seat, bleeding from the ears. Terry had two options, call a taxi and make it to the wedding on time, or help this stupid fucking drunk.

Alright, so that’s not a great example, but hopefully it illustrates my point well enough. Sometimes your prose reflects the thoughts, or the mood, of the main character in the scene.

swear keyboard

It’s interesting to me that there are no age guidelines with books, as there are with film and television. It is up to the responsibility of the author. But we’re not talking about sex and violence, we’re talking about language. You might lose some readers because they think your use of language is vulgar, but remember, that just makes you more civilised than them. Don’t swear for the sake of it though, the novelty wears off pretty quickly for the reader. So long as your portrayal of life is true then you won’t need to think too hard about whether or not that particular word is necessary.

Glass Balloons (short story – SF)

‘Bring it in Stephen,’ the foreman shouted.

It was my first day on Dock One as a fully licensed valet. It’s still called the International Space Station but now it spans half the globe. Like a web of tubes. When the sun comes around this side of the Earth it casts a grid of shadows on the world.

I was in my first customer’s car. My dim reflection looked back at me like a ghost in the convex windscreen. It’s been bugging me for a while but I’ve just realised what my uniform reminds me of. I remember watching a film when I was young with a lift guy in it. In the old days they used to have people who worked in elevators that controlled the buttons. That’s what I look like. I wore a dark burgundy blazer type thing, with gold buttons down the front, and a flat cylindrical hat, black trousers with a severe line ironed down the front, and black shiny shoes. I have a slim shaven face, short hair, eyebrows, nose, mouth; all the usual stuff; ears, etc.

I pulled the microphone down from the rim of my hat.

‘I can’t find the gear stick.’

‘For Christ’s sake.’ I could see my foreman in the control tower pick up a pair of binoculars and look down at me. He picked up the microphone.

‘Stephen?’

‘Yes.’

‘Look in front of you. Do you see a steering wheel?’

I rolled my eyes, ‘Yes.’

‘Now, look down and to your left, you see that stick with the ball on the end, it’s called a gear stick, now-’

‘No gearstick,’ I repeated.

The foreman picked his binoculars back up and looked at my vehicle again.

Harrison pulled up from below me in a sporty little number with twin engines that cascaded from the roof and ended in two circular giant fans at the back. He performed a reverse U-turn and hooked up at Dock Two about thirty yards in front of me. He switched off the engine, stood up and bowed at me.

I politely showed him my middle finger.

‘Ok, it’s a Chord Galaxy Automatic. There’s a concealed gearstick used for docking, there should be a button by the hazard light button, do you see it?’

I looked across the dashboard and found it.

‘Got it,’ I said, pressing the button.

A square panel sank back into the dashboard and opened sideways. A small gearstick popped out with a button on top with a picture of a hook on it.

‘Yep, definitely got it,’ I said.

‘Bring it in.’

I pressed the button and listened for the hook to mechanically fold out from the side and click into place. A light on the dashboard flashed on to indicate that it had. I put the gear into park and lifted my foot off the clutch. The vehicle moved sideways and hooked on to the dock.

‘Ta Da!’ I said, with jazz hands.

Harrison clapped sarcastically.

I turned off the engine and got out of the vehicle. I closed the door behind me and the automated parking belt wound down another notch making the vehicle disappear below the space station. The belt stopped winding and another dock was left in its place, in position for the next car-hook.

‘Nice work Stephen,’ said the foreman putting his binoculars down.

‘It’s cold,’ I said.

The foreman, and everyone else, could hear me through the communication unit. It’s activated by pulling the mic down though I can hear the foreman at all times through the ear piece.

‘Not for long, we’ve got sun in twenty minutes. Do you think you can do another one in that time?’

I looked up at the tower and shrugged at him.

‘Can you please answer with your voice, Stephen?’

‘Sure, I don’t mind.’

‘Ok, I’m sending him to your platform, make sure it’s clear.’

I saluted up to him.

‘Words, Stephen.’

‘Yes, sir!’ I shouted into the mic.

I saw him pull his headphones off and curse away from the mic, ‘Why do we hire these idiots?’ he muttered.

I wandered over to the platform and looked at it. I surveyed it proudly. ‘The cleanest platform on this side of the station,’ I said.

‘That’s because it’s only been used once you twat,’ said a voice behind me.

‘Hey, Harrison.’

‘Hey, man, good day?’

‘Yeah, it’s easy.’

About three hundred yards out of the Docking Station the first airlock to the parking area opened and a small craft came in and switched from its vacuum engines to its flight engines. The first door closed and the inner door opened letting the hum of its engines din around the dome. I could see the driver squinting over his steering wheel for the right platform and I waved up at him. He gave me the thumbs up and headed over.

The inner airlock closed. It’s normally silent but this time there was a faint bang shortly after it closed. I looked up at the foreman but he seemed unconcerned. I turned my attentions back to the new vehicle.

The hum of the engine turned into a chattering clatter as the vehicle got closer and manoeuvred itself into position. It stopped about a foot above the platform and the driver opened his window.

‘Do you want me to turn the engine off, or are you taking it straight over?’

‘Leave it running.’

The driver turned in his seat to the back.

‘Alright kids, everyone out.’

The back door opened and three excited kids got out. The driver got out and grabbed a suitcase out of the boot.

‘Ok, all done,’ he said, with the awkward smile that comes with handing your pride and joy to a strange teenager. ‘Don’t scratch her.’

‘Not a mark,’ I said.

‘I think the sun is almost around,’ he said nodding toward the Earth.

I looked. A crescent of sunlight was expanding imperceptibly across the Earth. ‘I know, about fifteen minutes I think.’

The man nodded and smiled and ran off to catch up with his kids.

‘Sure you don’t want me to do this?’ said Harrison.

‘No, I’ve got it.’

‘Ok, catch you in a bit.’

Harrison slapped my shoulder and took off towards the staff entrance.

 

The craft was nothing special. It was a family car that looked like it had been on a lot of holidays. The back seat was littered with empty crisp packets and colouring pencils and puzzle books. An interstellar map was unfolded in the passenger foot-well and a bunch of CDs were strewn, out of boxes, on the passenger seat. Retro. I like it.

I put on the seatbelt and adjusted the rear-view mirror.

‘Ok,’ I said, into the mic.

‘Ok, Dock One is ready, proceed.’

I pulled up and glided forward and positioned myself to the left of the Dock.

‘In position.’

‘Ok, check Dock for obstruction.’

I leaned over to look out of the passenger window. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t tell what. There was no obstruction, but, something. I lowered the car a few feet to get a better look.

‘Is there a problem?’

I twigged what it was.

‘The space bellow is vacant,” I said.

‘That’s impossible.’

‘I’m not lying, it’s vacant.’

‘Move out of the way,’ said the foreman.

The automated belt that housed the dock moved back a space and I shifted the car out of the way. The previous dock came into view. It was empty.

I saw the foreman pull off his headphones again and pick up the mic.

‘Harrison, get out there!’ he shouted, and then he ran out of the room and disappeared from view.

I changed gear and flew the craft away from the station to get a wider view.

‘Oh, fucking hell. Harry, are you there?’

His voice came through on my earpiece. ‘What’s happening?’

I put my hand to my brow and shook my head. ‘I’m going to get fired Harry.’

‘Just tell me what’s happened.’

Several hundred yards below me, the first car I had ever successfully parked, lay in a crumpled smoking heap at the bottom of the dome.

‘I guess the hook gave out or something.’

‘What are you saying? Did it drop?’

‘Yeh.’

‘Cracks?’

‘Not that I can see from here.’

‘Get back up here and get me!’

I flew the car up to Harry’s platform and he opened the passenger door and got in, absently brushing the CDs on to the floor.

The foreman came running out of the staff entrance and got to us just as Harry closed the passenger door.

‘If that car is on the bottom-’

‘We’re sorting it,’ said Harry.

‘Sun is ten minutes away!’ the foreman shouted.

I came off the platform and dived fast toward the bottom.

‘Oh shit,’ said Harrison, taking in the full scene of the accident.

‘Yep, shit indeed. Get out of the way.’

Harry took hold of the wheel and I climbed over me, while I squeezed under him, and we switched seats.

 

We slowed when we were twenty or so yards away. The scene seemed to magnify as we got closer. The glass around the wreck was latticed with fine cracks that spread silently and slowly outwards.

‘This is really fucking bad,’ said Harry, pulling his mic down, ‘Permanently seal the outer entrance. The inner balloon is cracked.’

‘How bad is it?’ said the foreman, with a weird sort of calm in his voice.

‘I think you’ll need to evacuate this section. The inner balloon is splitting.’

‘Are you fucking kidding me Harry?’

‘We’re going to grab the wreck and pull it up. If the inner seal bursts and the car falls through we could break the outer shell. It wouldn’t take much with the sudden vacuum.’

‘Evacuating now. Sun is in seven minutes. You need to move it now.’

Harrison had already dropped the hook.

‘What should I do?’ I said.

‘Just fucking pray.’

Harrison was a master. The way he positioned the car was like being inside a humming bird. He pulled the break when the hook was a few inches from the other vehicles docking hook.

Harry stopped for a moment. He closed his eyes and took a breath inwards. He let it out slowly. The cracks seemed to spread around the wreck at the same pace.

‘Hurry up Harry,’ said the foreman.

Harry opened his eyes and held the controls still. He pushed the stick forwards gently and the hook moved toward the other. They touched.

There was a faint sound, like two china cups touching, and then the entire inner balloon shattered at once. It was like a bubble popping. It happened everywhere. A thousand yards above us and a few metres below us. The whole thing became a net of cracks and then disintegrated. I looked up through the sunroof. It took a lifetime for that shattered glass to fall. I saw it begin to shower the roof of the Docking Station just as the wrecked car hit the outer balloon.

There was an enormous sound like a nuclear bomb exploding and then being immediately muted. The car we were in lurched and then floated. The falling glass stopped and then fled in all directions at a serenely measured speed.

The earpiece in the headset turned to a frantic and deafening static. I pulled it out chucked it into the passenger footwell. Harry did the same. Then he looked at me.

‘Sorry Harry,’ I said.

He frowned. ‘Sorry?’

‘It wasn’t my fault.’

Harrison looked out of the window at the wreckage of the fallen car floating away from us. I looked at it too.

‘I think it might be, mate.’

‘What do we do now?’

The sun began to breach the horizon and the car, floating further away, lit up momentarily and then became a silhouette. Harry reached down and pushed a button with a symbol of a sun printed on with a line through it. Visors covered the windscreen and side windows. Harry reached up and pulled the shutter closed on the sun roof.

‘What do you think we should do Stephen?’

‘I feel like I might lose my job over this.’

Harry looked at me. ‘Yeah, I think you might lose your job over this.’

‘I blame inadequate safety measures.’

‘I blame you, you twat.’

‘Can we reasonably get to the pub on Entrance 9 before anyone catches up to us? I think I’m going to need a drink before facing whatever the fuck we’re about to face.’

Harry shrugged.

‘You alright Harry?’ I said.

He looked at me. ‘I’m fine mate.’ He twitched a bit. ‘Let’s go to Entrance 9.’