Flash fiction: “Mind Out of Time”

December 4, 2007

/category/short_stories/fiction_moot_tn.jpgI’ve recently become fascinated with the phenomenon of “flash fiction,” that is, fiction that is ultra-short, anything from a single sentence to 1,500 words (although opinion on the upper limit varies). I’m presently enjoying reading an anthology of such stories called FlashSpec. Flash fiction is not to be confused with the notion of syphoning a scene from a longer work. Flash fiction is supposed to have a coherent plot, just like regular fiction. One skill is in deciding what material to show the reader and what to merely infer. Another is in composing vivid descriptions with a brutal economy of words.

An idea for a new short story struck me a few days ago. I started thinking about the complexity of it, and all the scenes I would have to include. And then I asked myself, what really do I want the reader to remember from this? And the answer was, I want you to remember the novelty of the idea and the twist in the tail. So I got on a different track mentally, figured out what I could summarise and infer, as well as what I wanted to show, and I began. I found that I took to the flash style instantly and had a great time writing the story. It’s also a nice feeling when you start something and finish it the very same day.

I showed the story to my friend Earl, who is often kind enough to edit my fiction. I was a little apprehensive about it, because recently he edited the first chapter of a novel I’m toying with, and he brought to light so many flaws that I started feeling deflated about the sheer scope of the task ahead. But it turns out that Earl loved this new story, and the only edits needed were minor ones. I may have found a style that suits me better than long-form prose.

Here’s “Mind Out of Time,” if you’d like to read it. Let me know what you think, positive or negative.

[ Read Story ]

Idea for a time travel short story anthology

June 4, 2007

My idea for a superhero anthology went down like a lead balloon, so now I’m going to throw something else at you: a time travel anthology with a difference (I hope). First, we need to be familiar with a certain piece of science. Here’s an excerpt from an article Space-Time Physics and the Future of Time Travel by Alex MacLellan:

The time dilation factor theory says that the faster you go the slower time gets for you, because of the fact that time is elastic and relative, not constant … The method for stretching and shrinking time is very simple - all you have to do is move very fast … One example of a test took place in 1971 when two physicists, Joe Hafele and Richard Keating, took very accurate atomic clocks and put them in airplanes, which they then flew around the world. They then compared the readings on the clocks in the planes to an identical clock on the ground. The results were unmistakable; the clocks in the planes were 59 nanoseconds slower … Time as most people know it is constant and never changing, but this is very wrong … There are many other affects on time that can allow for time travel, such as gravity. Gravity slows down time. There have been studies where scientists have tested these slowdown factors of time. An example of this is an experiment conducted by Harvard University to see if time acted differently at different heights. They found that at the top of a building time was moving slightly faster than on the ground.

Trust me, you needed to know that. What I’m proposing is not an anthology of time travel stories where you can go back in time and create all sorts of weird and wonderful paradoxes with history. I’m proposing something a little closer to mundane science fiction. What if someone managed to take the time dilation factor theory and bottle it: to create a machine where time inside the device could be stretched or contracted at will, by simply turning a dial? Perhaps one of the first practical uses of such an invention would be an alternative kind of refrigerator: one that doesn’t rely on cold to keep food fresh, but relies on decelerated time within the fridge. Conversely, if your morbid curiosity leads you to wonder what a one hundred year old dead rat looks like, just put a live one in the fridge and turn the dial the opposite way. Stop the device after two minutes, and presto! Instant rat skeleton.

Imagine this device could be as large or small as you wished (within reason). Need an extra hour or two of sleep before you get up for work? Why not simply slow time down in your special bedroom and take it easy. Have you got a half finished novel and your publisher’s deadline is approaching? Well, simply slow time down in your house and get on with the work. Feeling peeved off with 2007? Fast forward to 2008. Better still: you’re in love with a girl, but she’s fifteen years younger than you. Speed time up inside your house; let the world fly by for ten years while you age only a few days.

Imagine the chaos that would ensue if such a device were readily available and cheap to buy and install for any conceivable application. Imagine a world where anyone and everyone is a potential time traveller. But let me remind you: there are no paradoxes here. If you go forward in time, you can’t come back. Time can be contracted and expanded, never reversed.

So, once again, my question to you is, do you think this idea can support a collection of stories?

Idea for a superhero supervillain short story anthology

May 22, 2007

For some time now, I’ve had the desire to edit and publish an anthology of short stories written by others. I don’t want to do a general sci-fi or horror themed collection, though; I want to be much more particular - to create a mythology that has enough scope for a great variation of stories. I think it was Machine of Death that got my mind turning in this direction. I’ve been musing upon several ideas, and I want to share what I think is the strongest one with you.

Imagine an experimental prison facility where the inmates are required to undergo a surgical operation on their brains that accelerates their thought processes to ten times normal speed. However, the convicts feel completely normal inside their own heads, as if they are processing thoughts at normal speed. So, how would they perceive the world around them? In slow motion. Now, what’s the purpose of all this? To reduce the problem of prison overcrowding; to get convicts in and out of prison as quickly as possible and yet still give them appropriate punishment. And so, a ten-year prison sentence can be served in the space of one year; a twenty-year stretch in two. On completion of a sentence, each convict will be given a second operation on his brain, returning his thoughts to normal, before he is released back to society.

Since this is an experimental prison - the first of its kind - there are some unexpected side-effects. The convicts develop the ability to control the speed of their own thoughts; it’s like being able to slow down and speed up time itself by an act of the will. (I’m also toying with giving them the ability to astral project their souls out of their bodies, but the jury’s still out on that one.) The inmates keep this ability hidden from the prison authorities.

Then one day there is a mass prison break, and let’s say one hundred of these men (and women?) are now at large in society. Imagine all those thieves, rapists, murderers walking free, with a massive tactical advantage over anyone who would hunt them down. Imagine getting into a fist-fight and being able to see every blow coming in slow motion. Imagine seeing bullets tearing through the air towards you and being able to dodge (bearing in mind that the human body is still acting in realtime and you won’t be able to move at ten times the normal speed; what you will have, by all appearances, is lightning reflexes, but you certainly won’t be The Flash). Imagine being surrounded by a SWAT team and being able to slow time down a near standstill, allowing you to observe all of your enemies’ positions and plan your escape with careful patience.

Is this mythology strong enough to span fifteen to twenty original stories? Stories about these extraordinary evil men and the ordinary people whose job is to catch them (and any more diverse scenarios that other writers can think of). The idea originated in a piece of X-Files fan fiction that I wrote a decade ago, called Reflex - a story about Mulder and Scully on the trail of a bullet-dodging rapist (published in a small press zine called RQC). The idea was brought to the front of my mind again recently when playing the videogame F.E.A.R., where your character has the ability to slow time down for brief periods while engaging in combat. I’m also fascinated with the notion of bad guys being the only people with “super powers” (of course, there is scope for one of those stories about the innocent man wrongfully incarcerated); the good guys must use cunning and ingenuity, rather than an alternative super-power, to win the day (although I wouldn’t rule out the appearance of actual superheroes, if the story is good enough).

I’m not giving this project a definite green light just yet. This post is me putting the feelers out, to see what others think. Marketing-wise, I reckon the time is right for such an anthology, as superheroes are very much in vogue these days. But is my take on the genre worth pursuing? Comments and suggestions most welcome.

Further adventures in the Chion-verse?

March 8, 2007

Chion has received numerous comments of praise, which you can read for yourself on the Chion page. One negative aspect that a few people have commented on it that it’s too short. The novel is just over 40,000 words long, which translates to 145 book pages. My friend Chris Winter pointed out that this attitude is not necessarily a criticism; it expresses a desire to stay in the world I created; the disappointment is mainly in an enjoyable experience being over too quickly. Conversely, when you’re reading a novel you don’t like, you want to get it over with as fast as you can, don’t you?

As a writer, my policy is always to let a story find its own length. Anything more is padding. I had a discussion about the shortness of the novel with Michael Quayle (who wrote a script for a sequel to Saul’s Pupils). Mike made me realise that, had I been willing to let the story stray away from the perspectives of Jamie and Tara, there was a lot more scope for interesting sub-plots. I still believe I made the right decision, because the novel is much more intimate (and claustrophobic) when the perspective is so restricted, but it’s good to realise that the novel’s premise holds the potential for so much more than I tapped into. Others have expressed how they couldn’t help imagining themselves trapped in their houses by the phenomenon in the book, wondering how they would go about saving themselves.

This request might fall flat on its face, but I would like to put the word out that I am interested in reading “sister stories” to Chion, with a view to publishing them on the site, either in written form or podcast. Can you think of an interesting situation to be in when the calamity struck, or an interesting sub-plot involving an incidental character from Chion? For instance, what happened when the two gunmen held up the supermarket? Did Mr. Darrow try another stunt, or perhaps get a chance to redeem himself? Imagine being a helicopter pilot during the disaster: would you run? Were other parts of the world affected? Here’s my favourite: can you imagine what might have happened at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain to France? I would love it if a few people wanted to take a shot at something like this.

New short story: "Blood Poisoning"

February 14, 2007

Wrote a new short story yesterday. It’s two thousand words long and I did it all in one sitting. Yay! The title is “Blood Poisoning.” Not the most exciting title in the word, but unfortunately there’s nothing else I can call it. That’s because I’ve written it as a submission for an up-and-coming science fiction anthology called Machine of Death. The guidelines of the anthology state that your story must be named after a form of death within your story. This is not just a collection of random tales; the editors have a strict set of guidelines forcing all the stories to exist within the same mythology - an idea that I love. Go check it out. I found it pretty inspiring.

Machine of Death will be published both as a paperback and a podcast. The editors are probably inundated with submissions, but hopefully I can pique their interest with “Blood Poisoning.”

"Captain Curtis, The Untold Story" wins the League of Freemen contest

December 13, 2006

I’m thrilled to report that my story “Captain Curtis, The Untold Story” came first place in the annual competition at The League of Freemen (fan club for the TV series The Tripods). The photo shows one of the items I won. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but these posters are actually super-rare. I’ve searched eBay for Tripods memorabilia many times over the years, and I’ve never seen this up for auction. The reason for its rarity is possibly becuase the only place you could buy one back in the mid-1980s (when the series was televised) was the BBC Shop. But the poster is not of value to me because of its monetary worth. The Tripods ranks among my personal top five sci-fi shows of all time, and that makes this poster special.

It’s actually quite a striking image, right up there with the four book covers I discussed in a previous post about memorable cover designs. Big sinister metal machine stalking across the River Thames, with Parliament and Big Ben in the background. Easily mistaken as an interpretation of The War of the Worlds, but never mind about that. I’ll be getting this framed and hung in the living room.

Fiction podcast: "Captain Curtis, The Untold Story"

November 17, 2006

A couple of people have expressed interest in an audio version of my entry in the fiction competition at The League of Freemen (see previous post for more info). Well, here it is. It’s a hefty download, so if you’re still using dial-up, you might want to grab a lower quality version, which is only 7 Mb.

The music I picked for the scene transitions in the story was composed by Mike Andrews. He’s an excellent musician, as you’ll hear, and I thoroughly recommend visiting his website, where you can download some free tracks.

[ Download Podcast ]

A short story for fans of The Tripods

November 14, 2006

On 11 October, I briefly mentioned that I would be entering a competition at The League of Freemen (the official fan club of the 1980s TV series The Tripods). The task is to write a piece of fan fiction on the subject “Captain Curtis, The Untold Story.” Curtis is a bitter, callous fellow who appears in only two episodes near the beginning of the series and causes quite of bit of bother for our heroes, Will and Henry. I was fascinated by the idea of fleshing out a history for the character, of discovering what could make a man so … soulless.

Here’s what I came up with. Bear in mind, in order to properly understand this story, you will need to have either watched The Tripods season one or read the first book in The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher.

The file is in Rich Text Format (RTF), which can be opened in any word processor. Enjoy.

[ Download File ]

"Is There Anybody Out There?" - smaller dialup version also available

August 19, 2006

Just so nobody’s left out, here’s a 64 Kbps version of the story podcast, more suitable for dialup users. It’s half the filesize of the original (13 Mb).

Special thanks to ZombieMart and Homepage of the Dead for featuring the story on their websites. It’s great to have this publicity. Sadly, the only drawback is that I can’t count the number of downloads I’m receiving. I discovered that The Internet Archive, who host the story, only counts downloads that are clicked directly from the story’s page on their site, omitting downloads that are linked through from elsewhere (which accounts for 99% of them, because of the way I publicised the story). This is a real bummer, because I really wanted this experiment to help me gauge the popularity of the podcast fiction format.

I’ve now got the RSS situation sorted out with the site, so if you’re into that side of things, subscribe to the feed on the right. I’d like to encourage anyone who reads more than a few blogs regularly to consider using the feed. It allows you to consolidate all the blogs you read into one place, so that you don’t have to visit several different sites each day. I use the Bloglines service all for my reading.

Fiction podcast: "Is There Anybody Out There?"

August 12, 2006

I’m pleased to present my first short story podcast, a post-apocalyptic tale which I call “Is There Anybody Out There?” I’m hesitant to say it’s a zombie story (whoops! too late), because that’s going to make some people switch off and others perk their ears up with anticipation (the zombie sub-genre does have its undying fans). What I will say in my defense is that you haven’t seen this plot in any zombie movie (well, to be honest, there are hundreds of them, and I sure haven’t seen them all). This is not another story about barricading yourself in or battling against hordes of flesh-eating corpses; this one’s different.

I want to give a special plug to my friend Mike Andrews, who kindly allowed me to use his music in the podcast. Carefully chosen snippets from Mike’s songs provided atmospheric transitions between scenes. If you’re impressed (and you will be), check out his commercial tracks at the iTunes Music Store.

By the way, that’s me in the photo. Make-up courtesy of Andrew Harrison. This zombie was originally part of a teaser trailer for a film we were hoping to produce called Shadow of the Dead. There’s no official green light, but there’s a good chance it will end up being Midnight Pictures’ next production.

In the meantime, here’s another zombie fix that I hope you’ll enjoy …

[ Download Podcast ]

Short story competition: The James White Award

March 28, 2006

I’ve just come across an excellent short story competition. The prize is a nice trophy and publication in Britian’s leading short story mag, Interzone. But the best thing about the contest is that it’s only open to non-professional writers. Talk about cutting down the competition!

I’ve licked my short story Calling All Time Travellers into shape and submitted it. Unfortunately it was 400 words over the maximum allowed length, so I had to give it bit of a “hair-cut.” It was an interesting experience hunting for bits to snip, not something I’ve deliberately done before, but I have a feeling the story is all the better for it. I’ve also changed the title of the story to Time Travel for Dummies, a deliberate reference to the Dummies book series.

Check out the full competition details below.

Time travellers and zombies

February 4, 2006

I’ve been dabbling in a little short story writing lately. I shook the dust off my last written story, Calling All Time Travellers, and gave it a fine-tune (I can hardly believe it’s been two years since I wrote this one). My friend Earl gave it the red pen treatment, and as a result a lot of necessary amendments have been brought to light, which is great. Earl and I have been learning the finer points of grammar in recent months, which should do our writing skills a world of good (his mum just shakes her head when she’s sitting in on our conversations).

It’s been many years since I submitted stories to magazines. Might have a go with this time travel story. Maybe even approach a big mag, like Interzone. I’ve also written the first 600 words of a new story - one with zombies in it. Should have it finished in a short while. Haven’t thought of a name yet. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the novel.

I’d probably get more writing done if I moved the laptop off the living room floor and onto a table in one of the other rooms. I’ve allowed it to take permanent residence beside by projector, for the purpose of watching downloaded TV programmes. And when I do think about moving it to another room, where I can type in a normal posture, I’ve usually kept the heating off in the rest of the house. You see, I’m hoping to move house later this year, and I’m trying to see this winter through with what little oil I’ve got left in the tank. Why spend a hundred quid on a refill, when I’m probably going to be gone? … Yes, you’re right, I’m mean. But only to myself.

First short story in four years

February 8, 2004

Yesterday I sat down at the computer and started writing my first short story in over four years. Every idea I’ve had since Terror on Tarthlogue Road (Christmas 1999) seems to want to expand itself into a novel, so it was an elating experience to finally put something short together. I used to be a member of a couple of writers organisations, where I’d see all these short story markets and I’d be frustrated that I had nothing to contribute. Finally, that’s changed! Well, nearly. I was all keyed up for finishing the story last night but a friend called round, curse his name (just kidding, Chris).

I think this sudden interest in the short story format has been brought on by a collection I’m reading at the moment: Different Kinds of Darkness by David Langford, full of quirky little sci-fi ideas (expect a review soon).

My story is called Calling All Time Travellers, and I’m hoping it will be the first of many. It’s kills me that I can’t just post it straight onto the site, but I have to do the sensible thing and try to get it published in a magazine. I’ll keep you posted.