Friday, 30 March 2012

Royal Ascot Contest

Oh yes ladies and germs it is that time of year again.  The time I chuck some money at a chapter of Romance Writers of America and Enter a Contest. 

Historically this has gone well and gone badly.   The feedback I have received in the past has told me two things:

1. Taste is veeeeeery subjective.
2. I was sort of on the right track.

A few folks LOVED what I wrote.  One HATED it.  Well, you can't win them all, and I didn't.  In fact, I didn't win any but I was a finalist in the Historical Romance category of The Catherine which is one of the reasons why I LOVE Canadians.  Man, they have taste.

Those contests were primarily for Merely Players, my first completed novel.  Sadly for Merely Players Madame Perfectionism here isn't happy with its current state and had grand plans to rewrite it completely.  Oh yes my rough, ill mannered first baby is getting torn apart and sent to finishing school.

This time it is the turn of Boundless as the Sea, the sequel to Merely Players, a novel which flourished under NaNoWriMo and has been nurtured by WIP500.  It's now one chapter away from completion and damn it, I want feedback.

I think it's quite good.  Sure it has flaws but my writing has improved, I'm more certain of my voice and I like the characters.  These are Good Things.

I've decided that the first two chapters have earned their moment in the sun.  Off to Royal Ascot they go.

The Royal Ascot is a highly competitive annual contest run by the Beau Monde chapter of the RWA, which is focused on people writing about the Regency era.  It'll be tough, but I think it looks like a really good contest.  Let the feedback commence.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Difficult choices... what would you decide?

I'm delighted to have been judged as this week's winner of the #SatSunTails contest by Jeffrey Hollar (@klingorengi).  In 150 words I had to tell a story using two prompts, a phrase: "unassailable guilt" and a picture (see below):

The Choice

It was hard not to stare at such beauty, shimmering and opalescent in the night sky. Eden, soul of the universe. One billion lives living in perfect harmony. His home.

“Make your choice,” the voice whispered in his ear.

The children would be rising now, welcoming the dawn with song. His wife would yawn, stretch, her face soft with slumber.

“Make it!” It was more urgent now, slithering over him like a curse. Lifting his head, he turned his face away from Eden, looked into the shadows.

“You want to understand humanity?”

“I hunger.”

He placed his hand on the child sleeping by his side. “Him, I choose him.”

Soft laughter in the night. The boy stirred, sat up. “Da’ what’s that? Fireworks?”

Flame streaked the sky, the blood of a dying planet. A billion voices snuffed out.

“Can ma see?”

Unassailable guilt twisted. He avoided his son’s wide-eyed stare. “No.”

From the Judge:

"I hesitated to go with a repeat winner but ultimately couldn’t do otherwise. Of all the stories in an excellent pool of contenders, it was the one that I felt paid the best tribute to the photo and phrase prompts. The turmoil in what was, essentially, a no-win situation would have conveyed the sense of guilt to me even if the prompt had not been used."

The story was inspired in two things.  

1. I've been introducing my little girl to the Silver Surfer via Marvel's animated series.  In episode 1 Norrin Radd is faced with a terrible choice: Galactus is about to consume his planet. In order to save his planet he offers himself as Galactus' servant with the task of seeking out new planets for him to consume.  In doing so, he is forced to abandon his true love and barred from ever seeing that world again.

2. I've been working on a direct marketing appeal.  The received wisdom about such appeals is that you have to hook potential donors into a single person.  Send a mailing saying five million people are starving and people feel powerless to help.  Send a mailing saying that their donation can help just one person and the donor is much more likely to respond.


Given the choice, would the loss of one billion lives seem as real as the loss of one?   Would you choose faceless millions to save one dear one?  

I also wanted to contrast the love between two adults with the love of a child.  Would you make the choice to lose a beloved spouse to save your child? 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Birth of a Minotaur

Birth of a Minotaur

Shadows slid along the wall.  Monstrous shapes, caught in the flare of candlelight.  She heard the moaning cries of the women, heads covered, ashes scratched into sun darkened faces. 

Death.   They expected death. 

Ariadne pressed herself into a corner.  Silent, huddled.  If she saw Thanatos coming she would act.  Throw herself in his path, a willing offering to save her mother’s life.   Death would not, could not take her.

The Queen’s engorged belly pulsed, rippled.   A terrible cry tore from her throat, echoed round the room. In the fields by the shore the King’s bull roared in bestial response.  The sound rolled out across the seething ocean like thunder.

The gods were moving.  Ariadne could smell it in the rain thick air, in the gathering of the night.  Strange happenings were afoot.  Death stalked the Queen silently, invisible, his skeletal hand cupping the huge convulsing belly.  

She will not die.  

Another roar and then there was blood, so much blood.  The women screamed, the midwife held the wet, dark-stained body to flickering candle light.  It moved.  

Alive.  But twisted, deformed.  

The Queen stirred weakly on the soaking pallet.  Reached out.  With trembling hands the midwife handed the babe to its mother, all the while staring away, unable to meet the Queen’s eye.

“A boy?”  The Queen whispered. 

The midwife took a step back, her hand moving as if to fend off a dark curse.  “An abomination!” 

And that is when Ariadne saw her brother’s head.  His broad snout.  His dark, blinking eyes.
A bull-child.  


The Minotaur as depicted by Sara Fanelli

Tonight I was reading my daughter stories from her favourite book, Sara Fanelli's Mythological Monsters of Ancient Greece.... cue lots of questions about the Minotaur.  That got me thinking about what it would be like to be part of a family in which such a birth occurred and particularly about the impact on Ariadne - who would go on to ensure his death at the hands of Theseus.   

Sibling rivalry?  Revulsion at the knowledge her mother Pasiphae had slept with a bull?  

This microfiction describes the moment of the Minotaur's birth, witnessed by the young Ariadne who has no concept of the implications of her half-brother's arrival.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

RED: Boundless as the Sea

As a motivator, my critique partner Andrea, suggested that we share a short extract from our work in progress each week.  Although I'm often late, the principle does keep me on track.  We call it the Dashing 100.

Here follows an extract from Chapter Twenty of my work in progress, Boundless as the Sea

The Dashing 100

Red.   It was not a time for timidity.  It was a time for scarlet, for upswept hair that revealed the slenderness of her neck, for rouged lips curved into a bewitching smile.  It was a time for seduction and power play.  A time to win.

She would be Sal Stornaway.  Bold as brass and subtle as a knife.  And by the end of the evening, the Minister of Justice would be eating out of her satin clad palm. 

Four days in the Comte de Valmot’s company had secured Sal an introduction to the Minister.   Four days of fevered kisses pressed against her wrist, of ever bolder touches.   Four days of icy disdain and sudden flirtation.  One step forward, one step back.  The familiar dance, a minuet of desire and seduction.  Within a week he would offer her a carte blanche, an exclusive little apartment and all the pin money a whore could fling around Paris.  All for the privilege of spreading her legs and taking her body.   A small thing when compared to a man’s life and yet she had no stomach for it.  Not anymore. 

Her mirror above her dressing table showed her a creature wrought for pleasure, magnificent in her beauty.  Astonishing how appearances could deceive.

Friday, 16 March 2012

#TuesdayTales: Taciturn

The story below was chosen as the winner of this week's #TuesdayTales - my third win in the contest! Here is what the judge said:

 "The winner is @charitygirlblog! Mal clearly could be seen to have the qualities of taciturnity and I loved the parallel between the Fran’s condition and that of the clinic."

This week's Tuesday Tales contest featured a word prompt, given by judge wolfman @LupusAnthropos:


And a visual prompt (see below).

Word count: 100 words.

The Clinic

White walls. Sterile. Like sitting in an icebox and nearly as cold as that too, with the air con.

Fran shivered, wrapped her arms around her thin body.  There was a picture of flowers on the Clinic wall. Bland. As neutral as a grey cat at dusk. No fat laughing babies here, no curved bellies and smiling faces. Just lilies. That's what the flowers were: lilies. Like a funeral.

Mal hadn't come. Just stared at the TV, flicking past diaper ads, taciturn.  No touching, no talking.

Eggs, it all came down to eggs. And hers, it seemed, were gone.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

#MenageMonday: The Troll

This week's @caramichaels (she of #WIP500 fame) #MenageMonday flash fiction contest.  Three prompts.  
1. A picture of a bridge
2. A phrase: "You're joking."
3. A lucky day

100 - 200 word story.  

Here's mine.

The Troll 

It smelt under the bridge.  Pungent. Unlovely.  Rotting weeds and rusting trolleys.  Dead fish.  Stagnation.
Perfume so sweet that Thorstak almost fainted from it.

It could have been perfect.  Paradise.  The dark swell of the river, the stygian gloom and slick, damp walls.  The stench, the beautiful, filthy stench.   The troll groaned, pressing his thorny bulk against the cool brickwork.   It could have been paradise if it weren’t for the noise.

Rat tat tat.  Click clack click clack.  Bleating. 

“....a troll under the bridge -”

“- a troll?  You’re joking!” The wheezing bleat tortured his sensitised ears.   “After what we did to the last one? Impossible.”

Goats.  He hated goats.  Hated their yellow eyes and wiry confidence.  The way they skipped over the wet stones like humming birds.   Their noise.  Their bleating, click clack noise. 

Goats had killed his father.  These goats. 

Hooves skittered on the bank, coming closer.  Over confident these goats, coming into the darkness.  Three pairs of yellow eyes blinking.

Closer.  Just a little closer.  His breath stuttered.   All winter he had chiselled at the mortar, weakening the bridge. 

A bell clanged.

“Dinner!”  Clattering, their hooves shook the earth.

Lucky bastards, he thought.

The first brick fell. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

#SatSunTails: A secret in your chasm of hope

This week's #SatSunTails flash fiction contest entry - it won an honorable mention, second to @jezri1's chilling micro thriller.  My use of the written prompt is quite loose - I used it to inform the plot instead of within the body of the story.  The visual prompt is more obvious.

“a secret in your chasm of hope”

She stood in the place he used to play. He liked being a tracker, Cody. Hunting Big Foot. She had stolen out at dawn to draw the footprint, just to see his eyes light up.

His eyes had never lit up.

When she went to his room his bed was cold, covers rumpled where his small body had been.


She became the tracker. Missing persons. Newspaper appeals. Find Cody Brown slapped on every lamppost and wall in two counties.

Nothing. “Perhaps Mrs Brown, it’s just time to accept...”

Hands over her ears, face like stone. Obsessed with clues, with signs, with messages. Seeing his face in every passing child. His laugh on the wind.

But standing here brought him close, close enough to see through his eyes. Suddenly she knew. The house that backed on here, a scrap of fabric. No proof. She didn’t need proof. She needed vengeance.

She lit the fire.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dreaming of the future...

A while ago I wrote about having bad dreams.  Dreams I had put my baby on a bus going nowhere. Dreams that I was in trouble, under performing.

Last night I had an AMAZING dream.

I dream that I was put in control of a bus and lo! Though it was hard to manoevere, I could drive it.  I wasn't frightened, or out of control.  There were no less than three brake pedals if I wanted to stop the thing.

I drove it slowly, turned it around.  Brought people along with me.  The road became sandy, turned into a beach so I got out and found all around me the land was burgeoning.  The most succulent fruit I had ever seen hung from thickly leaved trees.  Huge, sweet smelling and delicious.  I realised I felt happy.   I woke up feeling calm.

I'm not a believer in fate or prophecy but I do believe that my subconscious knows more than I do, half the time.  I do believe it tells me if I'm on the right track - or veering off dreadfully.  It gives me hell when that is happening.  It gives me benediction when I'm getting it right.

Last week I made a decision about where I was going with my work.  If you read my post last week, you'll know that's a big deal for me.  A slow, thought out plan that I'd allowed to blossom and explore in exactly the way I do a plot for a novel.  I'm excited about it and my subconscious thinks I'm right.

I feel free.  I feel me. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Merely Players

Merely Players is my first complete novel. It was completed, flawed and mangled and revised a dozen times around August 2011. Then I put it on one side. For months.

In October 2011, I started on its sequel and I did things differently. I drew up a rough outline and got my head down and wrote. I wrote all the way through NaNoWriMo and a chest infection. I wrote all the way through Christmas.

I'm now at 100,000 words and not far off completing that raw first draft. But I need to go back to Merely Players.  


Because it tries too hard. Because I got other people to read it far too early on. Because I didn't trust my instincts.

With the sequel, Boundless as the Sea, I kept the door shut and wrote. When I complete it, I will put it to one side. Then I will re-read it and revise. Then I will give it a trusted first reader. But only then.

 Merely Players deserves a second chance. My writing has improved now, I think. I'm more confident. I want to do that story justice. And so I will. That's my next challenge.

 So what's it all about?

It's about a wild aristocratic playwright in search of a muse to chase away his demons. It's about a stern preacher's daughter tempted by her own talent and taunted by her oppressive upbringing. It's about finding your soul mate where you least expect it.


Ghislain Warwick, London's most notorious playwright has lost his muse. He can't write and writing means the world to him: his sanity, his livelihood, his sense of self. When he finds Rachel Stoneleigh in the salon of his former leading lady, Sal Stornaway, he knows he has found the inspiration he is looking for. Only there is a problem: dissident Rachel campaigns against theatres, she doesn't visit them.

When Rachel Stoneleigh was nine her sister died. Or so she thought. Until one day she discovered that her sister was alive and well and the toast of the London stage. Discovering Sal throws Rachel's world into disarray. Unlike her rebellious sister, Rachel is her fierce father's shadow and support. She is the cornerstone of his ministry. She cannot and will not be tempted down a path of vice.  

Or will she?

Blackmailed into working with Ghis, Rachel discovers a side to herself she had never allowed to blossom. She has passion, talent and wit to match Ghis' own. And now she has found it - and Ghis - can she bear to give it up?

Images from Merely Players: Characters and Settings

Posts about Merely Players

Monday, 5 March 2012

An alien or an ugly duckling?

My story for this week's #SatSunTails contest won an honorary mention (Leo Godin was the winner, with Jeffrey Hollar being my co-honorary mention). 

The prompts were quite tough, but I like tough.  I needed to base my story around the phrase: “burrowing ineptitude” and reference the pretty picture below.  I chose to tell a Sci Fi reimagining of the Ugly Duckling - with a less cheerful ending.  150 words.

What does this look like to you?

Spawn was small.  He was weak.  The Tribe cast him out but he returned, dragging his pale belly along the floor, burrowing his way back into The Nest.   He wasn’t even good at that.  The sentinels heard him from three leagues distant, the scrape of his scales, the wheeze from his undersized gills. 

An insult to the Tribe’s glory.

He knew it too.  Heard their mutters, sensed the antennae twitching away from him. 

The Tribe were beautiful.  Crystalline.  Magnificent.  Warriors with nine pincer-tipped legs. Strong.  Bold. Brave. 

In his misery Spawn hid.  Hiding, he saw the ship land. Saw The Other emerge, putrescent bodies shimmering under the four suns.  And he knew.  There was no time to raise the alarm.  

Antennae raised in a solitary salute he did the only thing he could.  


The Tribe saw the silver tangle splatter against the sky and were warned.  Spawn had never looked so beautiful.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Violence - a recording

I've just discovered soundcloud and on the encourage of spoken word poet and musician Michael Clift, I've uploaded my Divine Hell Collection as a series of audio recordings. Strange to hear my own voice with all it's quirks and flaws.

Northern to the last, Richard Armitage eat your heart out. Here is one of my first recordings....


If you're a user of soundcloud come tap on my shoulder (virtually). I'd love to follow you!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Choose Life

Sometimes in life you come to a crossroads. You have a decision to make. Do I stay or do I go? Do I move? Try something new? Stay, persist, apply, don't apply, step sideways, step up, step down? 

Before I had my daughter four years ago all that was relatively simple.

 Really it boiled down to three main principles:

1. Did I want to do it?

 2. Could I handle it? (and sometimes I did it - whatever it was - even if I couldn't handle it)

 3. Could I afford it? (and sometimes i did it - whatever it was even if I couldn't afford it)

So in fact, one principle. Did I want to do it? You could say that things are the same now. Do I want to do it or not? Only now symbiotically grafted onto my brain I have The Other People. How will IT (the decision) affect my child? My husband? And the question which many women ask some time after having their first child - or fourth - who am I now?

Recently, I had an opportunity in my work place to apply for a more senior role. I'd be managing a team, be one of the decision makers. I'd earn more, quite a lot more. It was tempting - too tempting.

I went for it.

I should have known when I put my application in on the last possible day that I wasn't sure. I should have known when I put off preparing for the interview to the last possible minute that it wasn't right. And certainly I knew when I blathering pointlessly in the interview that it Was Not Meant To Be.

And it wasn't. I didn't get that job.

 And you know what? I felt relieved.

 Because that job would have locked me into a full time position doing something I wasn't sure I wanted to do. I wouldn't have been able to pick my daughter up from school. I wouldn't have had time to write. I would have spent that extra salary on paying for stuff that I didn't have the time to do.

What now? 

Do I jump ship and look for a job elsewhere? Funnily enough, I'm not in a rush, not one bit. I want to take my time and think and explore. The week that I didn't get that job I won two flash fiction contests. A small thing but it made me feel a million dollars. I lost myself in world building. I played unicorns with my daughter. I explored museums. I research. I felt great. And I thought, this is what I want. This is ME.

It comes down to the pernicious word SHOULD. I applied for that job because I felt I should. For a great take on the evils of SHOULD read this life planning blog post by therapist Michelle Woodall.

From the moment I did I had bad dreams. Dreams I'd put my baby on a bus to nowhere. Dreams I was in trouble with the board. Troubled dreams. Something was trying to tell me something. I'm still not sure what. But I'm going to find out, slowly and in my own time. And in the mean time I'll play with my daughter. I'll visit museums. I'll read obscure historical texts about the French Ministry of Justice. I'll write flash fiction and push along with my work in progress.

 I'll be ME.

 Not because I SHOULD but because I want to. Back to first principles, I say.

If you want a bit of inspiration on living the life you want, pop over to Rachel About Town's blog and like the lady advises just START.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Medea becomes a Goddess

I wasn't aware of Pasolini's 1969 film Medea before I stumbled across it on youtube (available subtitled in its entirety). Maria Callas as is perfectly cast as Medea. Perfectly. If I had drawn a picture in my head of Medea she would have Maria Callas' face and charisma.

What I loved about this film is its blend of humanity and mythology. Of all the Greek Tragedies, Euripides' Media is the one that has fascinated me most. Medea is 'the other'. A woman. A foreigner. A witch. She is the grand-daughter of Helios, the sun. And when Jason betrays her she kills not only his new bride, but her own children - his children - so that he is left with nothing.

And do you know what?

She gets away with it.

No grisly death for Medea. No Deus Ex Machina making pronouncements over her dead body. She IS the Deus Ex Machina. It is Medea herself who appears in her grandfather's dragon chariot bearing the bodies of her dead children. It is Medea who makes the pronouncements over Jason.

In my view, that suggests Medea is no longer human. Human rules and morality no longer apply. Her divine seed, inherited from Helios, has taken hold. She has become a goddess and as a goddess she can act with impunity.

Pasolini's film, Medea, captures this moment beautifully. The moment when she moves from being a betrayed wife to being the grand-daughter of the Sun. The beauty of this film is that throughout, the divine and the mortal war within her. Until the last you are uncertain which will take supremacy.

Her moment of transition is about 4 minutes into this clip. Enjoy.