Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Diary of a Grinch

Dear readers
I apologise for my recent absence from the blogosphere. What started out as a simple case of the flu turned into something more curious. After a few days of bed rest I started to transform. First my skin turned a bilious green and then tufts of hair sprouted all over my body. Finally an overwhelming need to sing possessed me. However, my songs were not jolly. In fact, they were the opposite. Along with my transformation came a desire to cancel Christmas. I found myself sharpening a stake out of holly, in case any fat men decided to climb down my chimney. Sparkling lights and holiday decorations made me feel ill. The pressure of making presents got too much for me. I realised I had grinchitious. There is no known cure for this condition. It is also highly contagious. I've been in quarantine for the last few days.
There seems to be an epidemic of grinchitious in Dundalk at the moment, which is a good thing. If I have to go into town the traffic and shops are relatively quiet for this time of year, making my life easier. However, the endless Christmas songs in the shops tend to aggravate my condition, so it is six of one and half dozen of the other. If George Michael gives away his heart one more time I will track it down, stomp on it, and then fry it up with some garlic and onions and force him to eat it.
I will try and post a picture of my new appearance soon and I will also start checking out your blogs again and replying to your comments.
Your grinchy friend
Inkpot

Monday, December 22, 2008

Writing Exercise #6

This week I want you to do some research and make up a story checklist.
Pick a short story or novel that you really enjoy. If you can, read through it again. If not, think about the story and what you like about it. Is it the characters? Perhaps the unusual setting or the action driven plot.
Next, I want you to write down the points that make it a good story. How do these points apply to other stories and novels you admire? Pick out the ones that apply in more than one instance.
Now stick your notes on the wall over the desk where you write or into your writing notebook. The next time you start a new story or novel outline, look at these points and try to apply them to your writing to improve your work.
If you want, post your story checklist in the comment section, or share what your favourite story or novel is. Maybe you found this exercise helpful or challenging. Whatever you want to say, I'd like to hear it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Watch this space...

*start transmission:....*

Blog interruption/stop/Blog author malfunction/stop/Resumption of normal function estimate 24 hours approximately and counting/stop/

*end transmission*

Monday, December 15, 2008

Writing Exercise #5

This week I want to introduce you to a writing exercise I recently discovered. It is called F R E E writing. It stands for Fast Raw Exact but Easy writing. I was a bit skeptical when I read about it first, but I gave it a try because anything that can help boost your creativity is a bonus - right? Anyway, I've been doing it for a while now and I've found it very beneficial. I haven't got to the stage yet where my daily F R E E writing leaves me inspired, but it certainly gets rid of all my emotional negativity and busy-ness in my head, leaving me free to write and let the inspiration come.

Therefore I would recommend you head over to Orna Ross' site to learn about F R E E writing and to try out her tutorial. Try it once. You might find it helpful, or you might not, but you have nothing to lose.

Because of the nature of F R E E writing I don't expect you to post your results in the comment section, but I would really like to hear what you think of it if you tried it out.

Good luck and happy writing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday...


Hi folks. Sorry, no Sunday Toon this week. I had the flu and wasn't able to get one done, so I thought I would post these pictures of Docpot's cavalier king charles spaniel Honey modelling her brand new jumper instead. Hope you had a good weekend.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Six Sentences

Check out my story 'Love is Blind' published on Six Sentences today.
Enjoy :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Pen Pricks Micro Fiction

Dear Pen Pricks,


Yours was a short life - both in publication guidelines and publishing history. Your goal was to publish sparkling works of 55 words. For little over a year you succeeded in that goal, but now it seems you have come to an end. I knew you for such a brief time. Your acceptance of my story thrilled me. I waited eagerly to see my words published in October. However, the sickness hit you in September. You fell silent. Now I keep getting error messages when I click on your links. My searches prove fruitless. Even Duotrope has labelled you as 'website was not functioning on our last visit'. I hope I am wrong. I hope you will rise from the ashes, phoenix like, and feature my story prominently. I hope someone can tell me that I have been mistaken and you have simply moved location without telling anyone.


Until then, I mourn your passing.


Rest in Peace.


Inkpot

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Submission Contest

Ok G.C , Ionafey and Mercedes, are you ready?
Here are the rules:-
1. First rule of the submission contest is that you never talk about the submission contest... hang on, I think I'm getting confused (sorry, couldn't resist!).
2. Ok, all submissions must be new works.
3. Submissions can be any length and any subject matter.
4. Submissions are to be sent to markets listed on duotrope or ralan etc.
and the prize
BRAGGING RIGHTS ON YOUR BLOG!!!
You can really rub the losers faces in it. :)
All right, competitors. Are you ready? On your marks.
Ready
Steady
GO
*Bang*

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thanks Laura Jayne!

The excellent blog Pictures Poetry & Prose, helmed by Laura Jayne, has chosen my writing for the 29th November as the piece of exceptional writing for the day. I am so pleased! My blog now wears the award banner with pride (you might have noticed it on the side bar). Check out my entry here, and remember to check out the rest of the blog too. There are plenty of pretty pictures to see, interesting writings to read and a five minute count down to inspire.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Writer Out and About

I'm dosed with the flu this week, so I didn't get very far out and about. However, I grabbed a few minutes while waiting to collect my mother from the church.



I like the freaky photo of the church door! Anyway, my tools this week were:-
1. My car
2. Two ice blocks formerly known as hands
3. Pen & Paper
4. Iphone

Monday, December 08, 2008

Writing Exercise #4

The exercise this week is to do with plot outlines.

Pick one item from each of the following topics and then write a short plot outline for a story incorporating all of the elements: -



1. Genre

Horror, Romance, Western

2. Location

New York City, An Island, An alternate dimension

3. Male Names

Abu, Ben, Chi,

4. Female Names

Daphne, Eithne, Fi

5. Object

Candlestick, Ham Sandwich, Spear

6. Point of Conflict

Betrayal, Competition, imprisonment


I have deliberately limited the choices and tried to make them as diverse as possible so they will spark your imagination. I look forward to reading the story outline you make out of them!






Sunday, December 07, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

And now for a cuteness interlude...

I know this has nothing to do with writing, but my cat Fudge looked so cute that I had to take some photos and post them. I hope they add a bit of sweetness to your day.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Third Times A Charm

I had to post for a third time today because I have MORE good news.
My story 'Clothes Make the Man' was accepted by 52 Stitches!!! Yay! Yes, Mercedes, we're going to be in an anthology together! *giggles and jumps up and down with excitement*.

The Drabbler #12

Good news everyone! The Drabbler #12, featuring my drabble 'She came from Outer Space' is now available for purchase. Pop over to Sam's Dot Publishing and order your copy NOW!

Submission Contest

My submission contest with ionafey is over and I won! It was a close run race with ionafey taking a quick lead. However my tortoise like speed helped me to catch up with her and we ended up in a photo finish, with me winning by a nose. I hereby choose to exercise my bragging rights:
I AM THE WINNER!!!!!
Yay. Go me. :)
I have some more good news. One of my November stories has been accepted by Six Sentences and will be published there on Saturday 13th. I'll put up the link when it is available. In the meantime, you should head over to Six Sentences and have a mooch around. The folks there are nice and the stories are interesting. You might even join in.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I had a dream

That dream was to travel to Vancouver, BC, Canada To work as an actor and writer

To find out who I am, to experience life in another country and to become more independent
Will that dream ever come true???



Wednesday, December 03, 2008

And the winner is...

MERCEDES!!!

Congratulations to Mercedes on winning our submission contest. She also completed NaNoWriMo and got a story sold. Is there no end to this woman's talents!!!

The markets I submitted to were:-

1. The Drabbler

2. The Aeon Award

3. Murky Depths

4. Six Sentences

5. Cool Stuff 4 Writers

6. Flash Fiction Online

7. Alienskin Magazine

8. Dogs Wet & Dry Anthology

9. Flash Me Magazine

10. Assassins Creed

I will let you know how these stories get on, but probably only if they get accepted!

Despite help from Mercedes, I only managed 20 submissions in November. What with two submissions still out there from earlier in the year and one rejection in November, I have 21 submissions out at the moment. My goal for this month is to bring it up to 30.

I've started a new submission contest with ionafey. First to five subs gets bragging rights. The way she is going I think I am going to be eating her dust! I'm a glutton for punishment.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Writer Out and About

This week the sofa refused to yield any latte money, so I was forced to go somewhere a little bit cheaper - hence the library! The building is lovely, but as you can see from the photo below, the writing accommodation was not as nice as last week's location.




Writing equipment for this week:-
Same as last week, except no pennies.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Writing Exercise #3

This week the theme is Character Building.


Here is a sketch of a character: -


Exercise:-


Write three things about this person's character based on the sketch.


1. What they do for a living


2. What they like doing best in the world


3. A nightmare they had as a child


oh, and give them a name as well.


As usual, please post your ideas in the comment section. I would love to see them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Toon

What do centaurs eat anyway? Have a good weekend everyone!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Submission Contest

The lovely Mercedes Yardley, who I blogged about last week, has challenged me to a submission competition. The first to ten submissions will get bragging rights on their blog.

I better get working!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Look what arrived in the post this morning!

My copy of The Drabbler #12 with my story 'She Came from Outer Space' in it!!!!
Isn't it pretty? My copy and my payment for the story. I think I'll frame it. Look - my story got illustrated! I'm so pleased!! Isn't it a lovely picture? I've blurred out the story because you have to head over to Sam's Dot Publishing and buy your own copy to read it. It is VERY reasonably priced and the other stories are really good as well, so go buy loads of copies - they make excellent Christmas presents! (the website doesn't seem to have put up a link for the Drabbler #12 yet, but once it has I'll link to it here)



Thursday, November 27, 2008

2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Amazon are running their breakthrough novel award again next year, with some differences. Most of them sound for the better. Here is what they have to say about the last competition (from their website)
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is an opportunity for emerging fiction writers to join a community of authors on Amazon.com, showcase their work, and compete for a chance to get published.
Sponsored in partnership with
Penguin Group (USA) and CreateSpace, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award launched in October 2007 and received more than 5,000 initial entries. Of those, excerpts from over 800 fiction entries were eligible for Amazon.com customers to read, rate, and review. Editors at Penguin Group (USA) reviewed the Top 100 semifinalists based on early customer reads and full manuscript reviews provided by Publishers' Weekly. In March 2008, the leading Top 10 finalists were selected for the customers' vote. A panel of experts--including bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, editor and publisher Amy Einhorn, literary critic John Freeman, and literary agent Eric Simonoff--also weighed in with their reviews for each of the top 10 novels. The top three finalists--Dwight Okita (The Prospect of My Arrival), Harry Dolan (Bad Things Happen), and Bill Loehfelm (Fresh Kills) traveled to New York City for the first weekend in April, where Bill Loehfelm was revealed as the winner.
The only thing I object to about the 2009 competition is that you have to sign up to Createspace to enter. I think Amazon have been dog in the manger-ish enough about their little self publishing baby (squeezing out other POD's by not selling your book on amazon.com unless you have published through Createspace) but making aspiring writers sign up for it in order to enter the comp is low in my opinion.
I entered the last competition and didn't make it past the first round (much to my surprise, as I thought I had a strong entry). However, I was still rushing to get it together as I was going to the airport to fly to New Zealand for a month, so perhaps it wasn't as tight as I thought it was. I'm considering entering the 2009 competition. Submissions are in February so I have enough time to polish up a submission and make it a real cracker this time.
Any other takers?
p.s Ionafey, if you are reading this, I really like your blog but I don't seem to be able to post a comment on any of your posts. Perhaps this is just my computer. I would really like to post, so please have a look at your settings to make sure the problem isn't at your end.

Terror in Mumbai

Please pray for the people under attack today in Mumbai, those injured and the families of the dead. Please God there will be a speedy resolution to this conflict.

Read about it here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Writers on the Blogosphere

I had a hard day yesterday so, as inspiration didn't come for my post today, I decided to direct you to a few writing blogs that I find inspired and inspiring:-
Some of you probably know this one already. Genius in its simplicity and chock full of fun, the One Minute Writer has a different writing prompt every day and a handy timer with it so you can concentrate on writing and not worry about the time. For those of us who are competitive, Beth also puts up the best reply of the day. Go over there now and get your creative juices flowing.
Orna Ross, writer, agent and blogger is posting about the eight stages of the writing process this week. Pop over to her website and check it out.
How many times a day do I say that? Well, now there is a blog you can visit in your moments of procrastination when you know you should be working on your novel but can't settle to it.
and finally
A retreat for writers on the wonderful Beara Peninsula in Co. Cork, Ireland. I really want to go on a writer's retreat and this place sounds fabulous. I can but dream I suppose.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writer Out and About

I've been spending so much time at home recently I've become a recluse. I'm fed up of staring at the same patch of wall, so I've decided to spend at least one day a week writing out and about.

This week I chose Costa coffee shop in the Marshes Shopping Centre, Dundalk.




The materials I took with me this week were:-
1. Pen and Paper (writing retro style)
2. Iphone (to take photos with)
3. Headphones (to listen to music on my Iphone which helped drone out the noise of the other customers)
4. The coins I found in the sofa so I could buy a latte (might be reduced to tap water next week)
5. A large bag to carry everything in

Monday, November 24, 2008

Writing Exercise #2

OK folks, this week your mission, if you choose to accept it, is observation.
Exercise:-
Look around you today as you are out and about. Pick an interesting or unusual person you see on your travels and write a paragraph describing them.
Be warned, your computer will self destruct after five seconds.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Toon

Thanks to Valpot for the idea for this. Have a good weekend everyone!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Book Thief's Grandfather?

Imagine you are a scholar, an author and a millionaire to boot. You like the finer things in life - a nice home, valuable possessions and old books. One of your favourite past times is visiting the British Library and looking at some of the oldest books in their collection. I'm talking treasures here - books that are hundreds of years old. Books that were written by people who travelled the globe in the 15th and 16th century. You love reading the volumes, time travelling through the words of explorers long gone.


And then you whip out a scalpel and cut out the pages to take them home with you.


No?

That's exactly what this man did, over eight years from 1998 to 2006. He has given no explanation as to why he did it, but hundreds of pages from some of the most valuable books in England (and possibly the world) were found in his own personal library after he removed them from volumes within the British and the Bodlein Libraries. My guess is he planned to take the whole book home with him, a few pages at a time. I think pages in your pocket are probably easier to smuggle out than a whole book under your jumper. Of course, he could have had the same books in his collection that were missing a few pages and wanted to complete them.

Read the story here.

What do you think? Are you scandalised at the thought of cutting out pages from precious books? What would you steal if you were a millionaire?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Multiplication and Submissions

At the start of the year I had a goal to submit one short story a week. While I didn't keep rigidly to this, it worked out OK because some weeks I would submit several stories, which made up for the weeks when I didn't submit any. However, in September and October I hit a wall, my writing suffered and I didn't submit anything at all. While I wasn't sending stories out, I was still receiving Duotrope*'s weekly email. As well as notifying me about upcoming deadlines, recently deceased publications and changes in the market, it also listed the names of the people who had reported acceptances for the week. I always read through the names to see if I recognised any of them. One name kept on popping up week after week. Mercedes Yardley. Who was this woman? Her unusual name made her stand out, as well as the fact that it reminded me of both Mercedes Lackey (well known author) and Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson). Eventually I decided to Google her and found her blog here, on wordpress. Kudos to Ms Yardley for her publications. It seems she has a goal of having 40 submissions out at any one time, and it is certainly paying off for her. This kind of goal was exactly what I needed to boost me back into sending my writing out once again. I think 40 is an unrealistic goal for me at the moment, so I decided on a submission total of 25 pieces for November, three of which have to be to major publications. At the moment I have 11 stories out in total - 8 new ones for this month and 3 pending from earlier in the year. I don't know if I will make my goal of 25 before the end of the month, but I am very pleased with my progress already. I love the Internet for little things like this. I love the inspiration, information and support it provides to the creative community.

*For all you aspiring writers out there, you should check out Duotrope's Digest. It has a huge list of markets for both short stories and novels in all genres and pay scales. It is free to use and if you join up they have a very handy submission tracker which helps you keep on top of all the pieces you have sent out and is invaluable when your laptop crashes and you lose all the submission information on your hard drive!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing a good book

Thanks to Sandie for inspiring this post.
On Tuesday I posted a list of things which will help you get an offer of publication from a publishing house. Some of you might have been surprised that writing a good novel wasn't point number one of my plan. Now, writing a good novel is important but is it the most important thing? Unfortunately not. The more research I do the more I realise that writing a good novel is not enough and, in some cases, not even necessary. If your idea is original enough and you have followed the other steps, than sometimes you don't even have to have a good novel to get published.
I don't know if the days ever existed when an aspiring author could think up a story idea, write the book, submit it and get published but if they did exist they certainly have long gone. Everyone is writing at the moment and publishers are inundated with submissions. At the same time book sales are dipping. So how do you get your book to stand out from the slush pile?
You have your idea but don't write it just yet. I'm not suggesting you manufacture a novel and write what you think publishers want and will sell (although that can work too). What you need to do is research. Doing it before you write the novel will save you a lot of time and major rewriting afterwards. Are there a lot of books already published that have a similar idea to yours? If so, how is yours different? See what themes are popular at the moment. If your idea adds something new to, let's say the paranormal romance genre, then it might do well in today's market. If it's merely a retelling of Twilight, no matter how good it is, it won't get looked at. See which publishers are publishing what. Does your idea fit more into popular trends or does it create a new one? Which publishers prefer playing it safe and which will take a chance on something different? In the genre you are planning to write, what kind of angle does your publisher prefer? Are their books mostly in first person, do they go into the characters emotions or are they mainly surface action?
After doing your initial research it's time to do some work on your novel idea to see how it will fit in with what you have found out. Publishers want books that are easily marketable and authors who know how to promote their work. Write out your novel idea as if it were a sales pitch. What are the unique selling points of your novel that will make a publisher - or a buyer in the bookshop - want to read it? Who is it aimed at? What age group is it intended for? You are going to have to do this work anyway, so you might as well do it before you write your book, it will save time in the end.
Now it is finally time to start writing. You have to be in passionate about your idea if you want other people to read it, but if you also want to make it as a professional writer you need to know how to structure your writing so that it has the best chance of selling rather than just vomiting up your idea in a 150K word mess. You have to think of its final destination and audience at all times. Perhaps you love the idea of exploring your main characters childhood sporting triumphs but unless it drives the story on and is of vital importance, leave it out. Every word has to matter. Good writing is where you slave and sweat over every word but when read it appears effortless and flows.
So you have written your first draft. Now read it, see how the finished project fits into the sales pitch you initially outlined. Are some ideas fuzzy? Has it wandered off the point? Have new ideas cropped up that make it better than the original? Work on it again and write your second draft. And your third. And your fourth, and so on, until you have a book that is as clear as your initial vision and is polished to a diamond sheen. Publishers want to see the finished project, not potential. If your book isn't there when you submit it, they won't want to read it no matter how excellent it is.
After, during or before you write your novel you should also be working on short stories. If possible, write some stories set in your novel world or featuring your characters in a different setting. Once again, think of your audience and the publication you are going to submit to. The more you write the better your writing will become and the discipline of writing a good short story will help with your novel. Having a story published in Asimovs or Jim Baen's Universe is going to look great in your submission package to the publisher. It shows that you are professional and that your writing is good enough for a respected magazine in your genre to take a risk on it. It gives a plus point to both you and your writing. Remember, a publisher wants to invest in you as much as the book you are submitting.
Developing your craft takes time and hard work. You can't expect to become a professional athlete over night, nor can you expect to write the perfect novel or short story first time around. You learn and improve the more you do it. When submitting to magazines, remember the turn around time can be weeks if not months, although most of the major publications will try to get back to you as quickly as possible. If the thought of submitting to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction seems daunting, then try writing stories for smaller publications first. You may not be able to list them on your CV when submitting your novel, but getting accepted still shows that someone liked your work and each acceptance will spur you on.
I hope this has explained why writing a good book isn't the only or most important fact when seeking publication. Yes, you need to have a solid product to sell, but it is merely the tip of the iceberg. All the hard work is the bulk underneath the water.
Of course, there are always exceptions and I know there are as many ways to get published as there are different kinds of cheese.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Medical Miracles

I was impressed when they gave a woman a new face.
I was somewhat creeped out when they gave a man two new hands.
Now I am stunned by this amazing story. They grew this woman a new bronchus to her left lung using her own stem cells. She isn't on any immunosuppressants and so far everything is going well post op.
What next? I love the way science fact is catching up with science fiction.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to get a literary agent in 45 days

There is an Internet initiative called the Boundless Living Challenge. The aim of the challenge is to take 45 days to change an aspect of your life. You blog on the BLC forum and get encouragement and support from the Internet community. Your goal can be as small or as large as you want, and the challenge is to help people make their life better within a support network of friends.
Very few things can be changed in 45 days, especially life long ingrained behaviours, but it is a long enough period of time to take those first steps towards making the difference.
I signed up for the first challenge, full of enthusiasm, but unfortunately when the start date came around I felt too over whelmed to take part. However, I did not forget about the idea and I started planning what I would do for my 45 day challenge. The fact that it would be writing related was foremost in my mind. The light bulb went on over my head without much thought.
'I know,' I said. 'I'll get a literary agent.'
My plan involved writing a new killer book and getting an agent to represent it within the 45 days. How could I manage to achieve this in 45 days when I haven't in the last two years, you may ask? Well, as I said I didn't put much thought into it and I thought if I was going to do the challenge I might as well aim big.
With my initial idea in hand, I went on line to do some research. Exactly HOW plausible was it to get representation in 45 days without a completed manuscript to hand?
'Wait, Inkpot,' I hear you say. 'I can tell you the answer to that already, there is no need to do endless searching.'
As you tried to tell me, the answer was not very likely at all. There was light at the end of my research tunnel, however. I came across this very friendly and informative post on Neil Gaiman's blog (one of my favourite writers). This in turn led me to the SFWA writer's beware blog, another invaluable resource, and from there to numerous other blogs and sites, the subject of which is for another post.
This long preamble leads to these rather brief set of rules (sort of) which I believe will lead me to be successful in my (not quite) 45 day challenge to get a literary agent : -

1. Forget about the agent, you aren’t going to get one without an offer of publication from a publishing house.

2. Before you write, do market research into publishers to find out who is publishing what.

3. Write a book that is GOOD, brings something original and new to the market and hasn’t been seen before (I know, common sense but easier said than done).

4. Get as many short stories published as possible in professional magazines. What do I mean by professional magazines? One that pays at least 5c per word, has a circulation of over 1000 readers and has been published consistently for at least a year. The SFWA gives a list of publications it considers professional on its website, which is great for genre writers.
5. Once you have completed points 1 - 4 it is time to look up the guidelines for publishers on the sfwa website of qualifying houses and submit your killer submission package to compatible publishers.
That is my current game plan. I must do some more research to see exactly how you get the literary agent after receiving an offer of publication, and whether they are really worth it.
What do you think? Have I missed out on any valuable points? Let me know!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Writing Exercise #1

When the DN's used to have regular meetings one of the staples was the writing exercise. We would set the clock to 5, 10 or 15 minutes, pick a word out of the ether (be it object, name or emotion) and construct a story within the time limit. Sometimes we would add more restrictions such as genre and tense. These exercises were to help fire the imagination, loosen up the creative muscles and sharpen the mind. Most of the time the results of the exercise were not worth anything but sometimes they would provide the kernel of a pretty good story.
With this in mind, I thought I would pose a writing exercise for the blog.
The exercise for today is:
Write 100 words (exactly, excluding title) on the theme DRAGON
Good luck, and please feel free to post your stories in the comment section. I would love to read them!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where do you get your ideas from?

Apparently the most popular question authors are asked is 'Where do you get your ideas from?' It is not something I often think about in regards to my own writing, which makes me feel very unprepared for my career as an author. What will I say in an interview? Here are some possible answers:-
'From the rubbish bin of Dean Koontz'.
'I listen in to the conversation of Bluebottles.'
'After eating the brain of a stranger.'
'Lord Kimboat* gives me ideas when he comes to visit.'
OK, my answers need some work. While I think up something witty and literary to say, I want to hear how you would respond. Be ye writer, blogger or doodler, where do you get your ideas from?
* A star goes to anyone who can name the TV programme (and episode name) that this guy comes from.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Christmas is coming

They tell me there are only six weeks left to Christmas. I don’t want to listen to them, I find it hard to believe them but it is on television so it must be true, right? If you are like me and are frightened at the thought of the endless rounds of present shopping, then here are some handy ‘love’ presents you can make – and give – to the people you care about. I know that some of the best presents I have ever received would fall into one or more of the categories on this list. There is something about receiving a gift that has thought put into it that makes it truly special, rather than just some commercial object that you asked for on your list (not to say they don’t make fab presents too).

1. Write a book.
Writing a book for someone you love is a wonderful present. You can make them the protagonist, draw a comic, compile a photo book, make a recipe book, record a story that has been passed down through generations of your family or publish a personalised diary. The best thing is that your book doesn’t have to be long or well written, your loved one with LOVE it anyway because YOU wrote it and you did it for them. If you want to keep the rustic edge, you can print it out and bind it yourself but to be a little bit more professional I would recommend Lulu. It is affordable and you can print up as many, or as few, copies as you like. Set up is very easy as well and they do a wide range of styles including photo books and comics. Of course there are other POD publishers out there, but I would highly recommend Lulu to get the job done.

2. Make a calendar.
Have a handful of baby snaps from the year? Been on holiday with a friend and have the pictures to prove it? Perhaps you have doodles or collages that are fun and funk. Whatever it is, collect 12/13 together and you can make a calendar. Once again you can go to great trouble to make it yourself or put your photos in the hands of a number of Internet companies. I have used both Lulu and Vistaprint for calendars and would recommend them both for ease of use and value for money. Vistaprint often have free deals on their products where you only have to pay for p&p, which is an added bonus.

3. T-shirts.
Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Now you can MAKE the t-shirt! Most PC shops sell transfer sheets that are easily to print your photo or design onto and then iron onto a t-shirt. 100% cotton tees work particularly well, but I have found that the design tends to crack and fade after a couple of washes. You can also get paints and markers for doodling on t-shirts, but it is easy to make a mistake when you are hand drawing the design straight onto the fabric. Most towns have little shops that will print your t-shirt for you at usually affordable prices. There are also plenty of Internet sites that do this too. There is even one which will make your t-shirt with a little bling. For ease of use and quality of product I have found Vistaprint the best. Once again, it is sometimes possible to get your t-shirt for free as long as you pay the p&p.

4. Place mats.
If you are good at drawing or collage, making custom place mats is a nice idea and is something a little less twee than just putting your family photos on them. Once again there are many places that will make your place mats for you, usually associated with photo shops. I haven’t tried any on line places as I get my place mats made locally.

5. Clocks.
Design your own clock face with a photo of your loved one’s favourite TV star, their favourite verse or a picture you have made but don’t what ever you do put a picture of a topless man and a baby on it! Once again I have got my clocks made locally but there are many places you can get them done and it makes a great gift.
6. Customise a wine bottle.
If you can’t afford your own vineyard and you want to give a friend a small gift with a twist, why not customise your own bottle of wine? Make up your label on a computer programme such as PowerPoint or paintshop and print it out onto a large sheet of sticky label paper, easily available from your local PC store. Carefully cut out the label and stick onto the bottle of wine of your choice, covering the existing label. For extra opacity, cover first with a blank label then place your custom label over it. I found a website that did the same thing for considerable cost and with less successful results, so I would recommend doing it yourself.
Other present ideas building on the above suggestions – customise gloves, socks, slippers and caps with t-shirt transfer prints. The transfer doesn’t last that long on items like socks but looks well for long enough to make it worth while. Jigsaw puzzles – turn a simple or complex design into your own jigsaw puzzle. Once again the choices include buying simple to use DIY kits or paying a local company or Internet business a small fee to make it for you. Keyrings – buy printable plastic to make your own funky designs, but be warned, they shrink A LOT in the oven (which you have to do to set the design and harden the plastic). I have also found that the ink bleeds if it gets wet (which is very annoying). Online stores and local shops offer the much more durable but less unusual shaped rectangle keyrings. Pens – customise a pen with a favourite saying or funny title. Pens make cool yet functional gifts but be warned, you usually have to buy them in bulk, which can be expensive. Make your own monopoly, sort of. There are lots of DIY kits out there available to make your own versions of popular board games. A great present for anyone, especially for children. And finally, if you want to kill yourself in time for Christmas, make your own playing cards. All you need is good quality paper, a laminater and too much time on your hands. Make your card template on the computer. I found PowerPoint best for laying out the cards when it came to printing them. Print out your customised individual faces on one sided paper then print out the same pattern 52 times for the back. For best results print these on separate sheets of paper, cut out the designs and glue together before laminating. You can try printing them out on the back and front of the one piece of paper but it is a. VERY time consuming to work out the line ups so they print aligned correctly and b. you often have bleed through. You should get at least 6 card templates per A4 sheet of paper. When your cards are cut out and glued together, lay them out on the lamination sheet and laminate then cut out the cards when the sheets are cooled. It is a fabulous present but HARD WORK.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chapter Ten - Fera's Domain

Another tiny creature darted towards Jed, then a third and fourth from the shadow of the tree root. They ran fast, in short jerky movements, clucking as their eyes danced trails of red light through the air.

Jed groaned and covered his head with his arms. ‘What are they? Get them away from me.’



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‘They’re chickens,’ Ben said.

Pahana squinted. The creatures did look like chickens. They had small round heads on long necks and large oval bodies. Their beaks were curved, but not powerful like an eagle, and they scratched in the dirt around Jed with their clawed feet. However, that was where the similarity ended. Their bodies were naked, completely devoid of feathers, and a deep mat black. Tiny flaps of skin protruded from the base of their necks, which they waved constantly, producing a rustling noise. Their heads zoomed side to side, one moment gazing upwards, the next pecking at the ground. Some of the chickens wore gold chains around their necks and spindly legs. Others were completely naked. All of them clucked and squawked constantly. Pahana realised she could understand their cacophony of conversation.

‘Silly man,’ they said, pecking and scratching at Jed. ‘You shouldn’t have been climbing the trees. Look, you’re all dirty. You’ve ruined your clothes. You’ve injured yourself. Lie there, rest, we’ll look after you. Don’t try to move. Lie there, we’ll keep you from harm.’

Jed flung his arms out. He hit one of the chickens in the head and it somersaulted backwards before plopping onto the dirt looking stunned. More chickens clustered around it.

‘Silly bird, shouldn’t have approached the stranger. We told you not to. Now look where it’s got you,’ the birds chattered.

‘I could do with a little help here,’ Jed said.

Ben stepped forward. The chickens swarmed about his feet, stopping him from getting to Jed.

‘Don’t move, you might fall down. Best to stay where you are, you won’t get injured that way. Sitting down would be better. Yes, you look tired. You should lie down and have a rest.’

‘Am I mistaken or are these creatures actually addressing me?’ Ben said.

Lilo wrapped her arms around her chest and wriggled from one foot to the other. ‘They’re disgusting. Get them away from me.’

‘Ansus, do something,’ Pahana said, touching the tiger’s back.

Ansus roared and scattered the chickens with her front paws.

‘Watch out,’ the chicken’s clucked. They opened to let the tiger through, and then closed the path behind her.

‘What’s this?’ the wave of creatures surged toward Pahana, where she stood pressed against the cavern wall. ‘You shouldn’t stand there dear, the wall is wet. You might catch a cold. You don’t know where that muck has been. Oh, you’ve dirtied your pretty dress.’

They rustled as they drew near, waving their skin flaps in great agitation. Pahana imagined their dry skin scraping against her feet, their scaly legs scratching at her, their red eyes peering into her own as they over powered her and knocked her off her feet. She moved away from them, terrified of their touch.

‘Keep back,’ she said. Fire ants prickled under her skin. She raised her arms defensively. Blue flame engulfed her. She burned brightly. A fireball shot out from her hand and hit the nearest chicken. It evaporated in a puff of soot. The other chickens stopped, bobbing their heads from side to side.

‘Mmm, better get Fera, yes, Fera will want to see this,’ the chickens said, withdrawing from Pahana. ‘Be careful, don’t trip, wouldn’t want to fall over and break a leg or neck on the way back. Or worse, lose your way. No, must be careful.’

Seeing the chickens move away from her, Pahana stepped from the wall and forged into their midst. They scuttled away, chirping and squawking. She waved her hands at them, scattering them, the animals crawling over each other in their haste to get away, but she did not evaporate them. She cleared a path to the others. By the time she reached Ansus and Jed, the chickens had fallen back into the shadows, only the noise of their retreat evidence of their existence.

‘Are you all right?’ Pahana offered her hand to Jed. He looked at the blue flames roaring around it and turned it down, leaning on Ansus to get to his feet.

‘We should leave before they come back,’ Pahana said.

Jed was shivering. He slapped at his torso, his eyes darting around the cavern. ‘What are those things? Where did they come from? What do they want?’

Pahana frowned. ‘It doesn’t matter. They’re gone – for the moment. Let’s take our chance. Climb back up to the ceiling and help us get out of here.’

Jed shook his head. ‘I’m not going back up there. It hurt when I fell. I could really injure myself if I went up there again. Oh no, I’m staying down here where I know where I am.’

Pahana turned to Ben. ‘Will you climb up?’

He stared at Pahana and she was afraid his eyeballs would pop out of his head. ‘I would love to oblige you, but I am older than Jed and therefore less nimble. If I fell I’d be guaranteed to break something. An arm or a leg. My hip perhaps. My back, most definitely.’

Pahana didn’t even ask Lilo. She was sitting on the ground, her arms wrapped around her knees rocking backwards and forwards.

‘Ansus, you’ll help me, won’t you?’ Pahana asked.

A growl rumbled constantly in the tiger’s throat. She walked gingerly towards the tree root. She looked unsure of every step. At the base of the root she turned to Pahana, her brow folded into one black line against her orange fur. ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t do it, it looks dangerous. I can’t put you in a position of harm.’

Pahana sighed. She grabbed the tree root and pulled herself onto its base. The flame from her body transferred onto the wood, running along the length of the root. The wood started to burn. She tried to pull the fire back into her, but she could not stop it. She climbed upwards as fast as she could, but the root was crumbling under her touch. She looked longingly up at the patch of light in the ceiling Jed had cleared. She hoped to see sky, to feel the outside air against her face, but instead she saw a large grey fungus growing in the dark earth of the ceiling.

‘It doesn’t lead out of the maze at all, it’s just a big mushroom,’ Pahana exclaimed.

‘What is?’ Jed looked around.

‘The light around the roots. They aren’t spots of sunlight; it’s coming from fungus growing with the tree. We aren’t going to be able to climb out this way. Sorry,’ Pahana said, quickly sliding down the root before it burned through.

The burning root provided brighter light than the fungus, illuminating a wider portion of the cavern. In its light Pahana could see the chickens in the distance, their red eyes bobbing up and down as they watched her. They grew out of the darkness like a black fungus clustered around the roots.

‘They’re coming back,’ she said.

Lilo screamed. ‘We’re never going to get out.’ She started to cry, her words sobs. ‘We’ll die here and the chickens will peck our meat from our bones.’

‘Don’t say that. They aren’t even very frightening. There has to be another way out of this cavern. I’ll led the way, keeping them back with my fire, and the rest of you’ll stay close to me. They don’t like the flame, so they’ll keep away from us,’ Pahana said.

‘What’s the point, Lilo’s right. We’re never going to get out of here,’ Jed said. He slumped down on the ground beside Lilo.

Pahana turned to Ansus. ‘Help me with this,’ she said.

The tiger yawned. ‘I think we should rest here first,’ she said. ‘We haven’t slept in a while. Do you know how damaging to your health that can be?’ She lay down and started to clean the muck from her face. ‘I must freshen up before I catch a cold.’

‘Ansus.’ Pahana pulled at the tiger in desperation.

‘Perhaps I can help you?’

Pahana smiled. ‘Oh thank you, Ben. At least you aren’t like the others.’

‘Excuse me.’ He carefully moved Pahana to one side and knelt down in front of Ansus. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and started to clean the mud from the tiger’s forehead.

‘Don’t spit on that old man, I don’t want to catch your germs,’ the tiger said.

‘Have no fear, I don’t intend to incur your wrath and end up in your stomach,’ Ben said.

Pahana pulled at her hair. She wanted to scream, but she was afraid that loud noise would bring dirt down from the ceiling and if the ceiling was compromised the wood planks might fall down too and then all the soil held back by them would come crushing down upon her, burying her.

She shook her head. What was she doing? She moved away from the others. It was their fault. They were doing something to her. If she stayed around them much longer she would be like Lilo and Jed, curled up in balls on the ground. If they stayed still long enough spores from the light mushrooms would start to grow on them. She didn’t want to turn into a mushroom.

‘All right, if you won’t come with me I’ll go on my own. I’m not going to stay here, I’m looking for a way out,’ she said as loudly as she dared.

‘Don’t leave, Pahana,’ Lilo stretched out her hand towards Pahana. ‘We’re safe enough here – for the moment. Things could get much worse if we left.’

‘She’s right,’ Jed said. ‘Think of those monsters that took your brain. What if we met one of those again? No, we’re better off staying here.’

The mention of the Mubby brought back memories of the dark dungeon in which it had fed upon Pahana. She whirled around; sure she could feel its cruel claws on her head. She shot out fireballs randomly into the darkness.

‘Hey, be careful. I don’t want to be crisped,’ Jed said.

‘You know, those flames really are quite dangerous. I think for the safety of the group you should refrain from using them,’ Ben said.

Ansus grumbled in agreement.

Pahana did not want to let the flames die out. It was her only protection against the dangers that surrounded her. She clutched the fire to her. Red veins snaked through the sapphire flames.

‘If you don’t want me around I’m going to look for a way out of this place,’ Pahana said, backing away but still looking over her shoulder in case something was sneaking up on her. ‘I’ll come back for you when I find one. Or I might call for you.’

‘Don’t go, you’re not up to going out there on your own,’ Lilo said.

Pahana wondered if she was right. The tree root had stopped burning, a pile of grey ash the only remains of its presence. Without the added light, the cavern did seem very dark. Their voices echoed into the vast distance. She shivered at the thought of exploring on her own.

‘Lilo’s right, you shouldn’t go on your own,’ Jed struggled to his feet. ‘I’ll come with you. We’ll be safer in pairs.’

Pahana nodded. She did feel safer with someone with her. ‘Thank you.’

‘You guys wait here. We’ll be back – if we can. If not…’ Jed shrugged.

‘I thought we could hug the walls looking for tunnels like the one that led us here,’ Pahana said, leading the way. She didn’t want to admit to Jed that she was afraid of striking out into the middle of the cavern where the darkness was thickest and she was sure she could smell a Mubby lurking in the shadows.

Jed shrugged. ‘You never told us about your memory, Pahana.’

She shivered. ‘Now’s not a good time,’ she said. The Mubby was bad enough; she didn’t want to look out for the faceless man and the shadow woman as well.

‘Was it that bad?’

She nodded.

‘I’m sorry. Maybe you’ll remember something nicer.’

‘I hope so,’ Pahana said, but she hoped that she wouldn’t remember anything more. She knew that she wouldn’t have nice memories like the others, that it would be more horror to plague her. It was hard enough dealing with the problems of the present without being haunted by the terrors of the past.

‘I really thought we would be able to dig our way out,’ Jed said, patting a thick tree root as they passed.

‘We’ll get out of here Jed, don’t worry.’

He shrugged. ‘Maybe. Perhaps it isn’t so bad here after all. There’s light, and I like the wood. I could make things out of it, and I’m sure those chickens wouldn’t taste too bad. You could light a fire and we could cook them over it.’

‘I bet they taste slimy.’

Jed laughed. ‘They probably do.’

It was darker near the wall, with less roots breaking through the planks to provide spotlights, but Pahana’s flame was bright enough for them to navigate by. Pahana ran her hand along the planks for a while, until she remembered that things might live behind the planks and burst out to bite her fingers. She stumbled away from the wall, knocking into Jed. He caught her shoulder, steadying her.

‘Hey, your fire doesn’t burn.’

‘Not unless I want it to,’ Pahana said, looking at her hands. ‘Jed?’

‘Yup.’

‘What do you plan to do when you get out of the maze?’

He scratched his head. ‘I guess I haven’t thought about that much. Try and find out who I was before, I suppose, and where I came from. Maybe I have a pretty young wife waiting for me like Ben.’

‘He never said she was young.’

‘Mine is.’

‘What if you don’t manage to find her? What if you can’t go back and you never find out who you were?’

‘Well, in that case I guess I’d find somewhere that wasn’t too objectionable, preferably near a forest, and I’d start making things again.’

Pahana glanced at him. There was a smile on his lips. ‘I thought you’d lost the ideas of what to make.’

‘I’ll get new ones. I don’t mind waiting until they come.’

They walked in silence for a while. She could hear the chickens rustling around them but they didn’t come close enough for her to hit them with a fireball. At least, she hoped the noise and the red lights bobbing around them at a distance belonged to the chickens.

‘What are you going to do when you get out?’ Jed asked.

‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I really want to get out.’ She stopped. The wall stretched ahead, dark soil held back by strip after strip of uninterrupted wood. ‘This is hopeless; there is no exit here. Let’s go back to the others.’

‘Ok.’

They turned around. The chattering of the chickens grew louder. They were becoming bolder again, drawing in towards them. Pahana could see their scaly feet and curled beaks glinting at the edges of the fungus spotlights.

‘They sound excited,’ Jed said.

‘They are. Someone is coming.’

Writing retreats and why zombies can't run

I was recently checking out the links for writers on the Writer's Beware blog and stumbled upon this very informative blog. If you check back through the posts to last week you will find some entries about writing retreats. This put me in mind of the where's and how's of my own writing retreats. I don't know about the formal retreats for writers where you have to fill out long application forms and they hold discussion groups and workshops, but I do know about the kind you organise yourself. All you need for your DIY writing retreat is
1. A guide to self catering accommodation/hotels in your country of choice. In Ireland you can purchase a booklet of Bord Failte approved self catering houses or search the Internet for similar information for free.
2. A list of search requests. These will probably include location - you might want somewhere scenic and remote, like the picture above, to help the creative juices flow or you may find the bustle of a city more conducive to writing. Price, it needs to be affordable. Facilities - unless you really want to immerse yourself in the time period of your historical romance and shun indoor plumbing, you can assume that bathrooms come as standard. However, you might like your house to have an open fire or labour saving devices like dish washers. You also have to consider whether your house is close to beaches or mountain walks, or if it allows dogs if you want to take your pet. I know you are there to write, but taking daily exercise while on your retreat will help prepare you for the work ahead and you can plan your writing while you walk.
3. A long weekend or week free to actually go on your writing retreat.
4. A manuscript or novel idea to work on.
5. Pen and paper or laptop to compose your opus magnus with.
The benefits of a writing retreat are manifold. By getting away from the normal drudge and distractions of everyday life you have more time to devote exclusively to your novel. You won't get a book written in the time you are away, but you will be able to deal with a difficult passage or write a sizable chunk that will keep you inspired when it comes time to return home. Many famous writers went on retreat to write their novels, including Agatha Christie and Ian Flemming.
The problem with writing about writing retreats is that it makes me think it is time I went on another one. I am currently planning out a new novel and a change of scene would really help me start it. I'll just have to dream about it for the moment.




Check out Simon Pegg's in depth review of E-4's zombie tv series 'Dead Set'. There is more to this boy than just a pretty face. He explains exactly why shambling zombies are more 'correct' than this modern craze for the running variety, and verbalises everything I've ever wanted to say on the subject but couldn't. I will remember his argument the next time someone tells me slow zombies 'just aren't scary'.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chapter Nine - Memories

‘Pahana.’

When she opened her eyes she felt the pain. It rushed in upon her, tearing her chest apart. She screamed, ripping at her clothes to expose the wound on her chest. Hands held her, keeping her from hurting herself. She fought against them.

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‘Pahana.’

Heavy paws pinned her shoulders. Musky breath blew in her face.

‘Pahana.’

The pain ebbed out of her. She saw Ansus’ face above her. Her head rested in Lilo’s lap, whose cool hands brushed Pahana’s hair back from her forehead. Jed and Ben knelt on either side, looking worried, holding down Pahana’s ankles and wrists.

‘Are you back with us?’ Ansus asked.

Pahana licked her dry lips. She mentally checked her body. The feel of the hands and paws holding her down grounded her. She still ached inside, but she could control it. She nodded. Ansus slowly removed her paws from Pahana’s shoulders, but continued to stand over her.

‘Where did you go?’

Pahana turned her head. The gritty brick felt good against her cheek. ‘A memory, from before I came here.’

‘Not a happy memory,’ Ansus said.

‘No.’

‘Are you all right? What happened?’ Jed sounded nervous.

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Let her up.’ The tiger nodded to Ben and Jed. ‘She’s not going away again for a while.’

Cautiously the two men released their grip on Pahana. Lilo helped her to sit up and held her against her chest. Pahana started to shiver.

‘You said it wouldn’t hurt,’ Pahana said, looking at Ansus.

The tiger shook her head. ‘The Mubby took from you indiscriminately – the good and the bad. You must take both parts back.’

Jed wiped his hands against the back of his trousers. ‘We were worried about you. One minute you were smiling and the next you were writhing on the ground roaring your head off. If we hadn’t held you down you would’ve hurt yourself.’

‘I know. Thank you.’

‘I remember my wife.’ Ben spoke softly, drawing their attention away from Pahana. His eyes were misty, far away, and a smile brightened his face. ‘I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know where I came from, but I can remember her. It makes my heart glad when I think of her. I see her face, walking hand and hand through the bluebell wood at the back of my house.’ He wiped a tear from his eye. ‘Don’t mind me, I’m just a foolish old man.’

‘I wanted to open a restaurant.’ Lilo laughed. Jed rubbed her shoulder. ‘I can see it when I close my eyes; a renovated warehouse, with exposed brick and glass walls forming compartments inside. I wanted a floating staircase leading to an upper level looking out over the bay with recessed lights to make it atmospheric, you know? The tables would be wood – really good quality solid blocks of teak – the kind of wood that looks so good you want to run your hands over it to feel the grain. The floors would be slate. I’d have banquets around the tables, something soft and tempting that makes you want to sit and talk for hours. There would be a bar downstairs, all glass and hidden lights to shine through the bottles, and an outside balcony over the water for smokers.

I can’t remember my name from before, but I can see my restaurant in every detail. Crazy, huh?’ she looked at Jed. ‘How about you, can you remember anything?’

‘Working with my hands. I think I was an artist of some sort, or a craftsman. I can still feel the tingle in my palms to create something, mould something to the image in my head, even though the pictures aren’t there anymore. Other than that, no.’

Pahana listened, her eyes shut. She could hear the hope in the voices of the others, the joy that filled them when they shared the memories they held onto so tightly. She couldn’t tell them her memory now. She wouldn’t ruin their visions with her nightmare.

‘It’s time to go,’ Ansus said. She raised her head, mouth partly open, sniffing the air. ‘We’ve been here too long.’

Jed and Ben helped Pahana to her feet. She had to lean on them for a few moments as the alcove spun around her. Jed’s arms held her firmly; his calloused hands rough and his arms strong.

‘I can carry you if you need,’ Ansus said.

Pahana shook her head. ‘I can manage.’ She stepped out of the alcove and looked up and down the corridor. The air felt different against her face. She could detect a currant, rather than the stagnant breath that had lain upon her skin before. When she looked in the direction they had come, the air was stale. Looking ahead, she could feel a breeze of fresh air.

‘This way,’ she said.

The others hung back. Pahana turned and beckoned to them.

‘Are you coming?’ she asked.

Jed exchanged glances with Ben and Lilo. ‘Follow that woman,’ he said.

Ansus padded beside her while the others walked a few steps behind. The maze seemed more alive to her than ever before. She could feel it throbbing through the brick of the corridor. She followed the breeze, walking fast to get to the fresh air. She was sure that she would see the exit after each turn in the corridor.

Halfway down a new length of corridor the fresh air vanished. Pahana stopped. Jed bumped into her. She spun around.

‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ Jed said, stepping away from her.

She frowned, shaking her head. ‘No, it’s not that. There’s a doorway here. We have to find it.’ She looked at the brick. The walls were solid; she couldn’t even see a hole in the mortar.

‘There’s nothing here, Pahana,’ Ansus said. ‘There is no new path here, we have to go on.’

Pahana shook her head. She was sure. ‘We need more light, that’s all.’ She raised her hands. The blue flame came easily. She controlled it, keeping it rippling across her hands. The light was strong, much stronger than the lichen on the walls, and it brightened the corridor.

‘Whoa, where did you learn to do that?’ Jed stepped further away from Pahana.

‘It’s like the light in the bottle,’ Ben said. ‘Maybe that was fire that was put back into her head.’

‘I don’t like the sound of fire,’ Jed said. ‘I don’t want to be blasted inadvertently by a fireball.’

Lilo touched his arm. ‘She won’t hurt us, Jed.’

Ansus brushed her head against Pahana. ‘Your powers are returning,’ she said softly.

Pahana glanced at the flames. She had tried so hard to produce it after leaving Angel, and had failed; yet it seemed so natural now. She had wanted more light and –whoosh – she had it. She hadn’t even thought about it, the way she didn’t have to think about breathing or seeing. Ansus calling it a power made her nervous of it. The flames flickered, dimming.

‘She can’t keep it up,’ Lilo said. ‘Is it tiring, Pahana?’

‘Help me find the opening,’ Pahana said, doubt creeping in and causing the light to dip even more. ‘Help me before it goes out.’

‘There is no opening,’ Ansus persisted.

Jed ran sideways along the corridor, slapping the wall in the search for an opening. After a heartbeat, Ben did the same on the opposite side.

‘Nothing,’ Jed called when he reached the next junction.

‘I don’t seem to be turning anything up on this side either,’ Ben echoed.

‘You aren’t looking right.’ Pahana gazed at the walls around her. The breeze had stopped there, not in front of her, not behind. Stale air lay on either side. Around her the atmosphere crackled. She stared at the walls.

‘It’s not here, Pahana. Move on,’ Ansus pushed against her.

She lowered her hands, the flames dying out. Maybe the tiger was right. The corridor seemed very dark after the blue light. Before her eyes readjusted to the glow from the lichen and the tiger, she saw a single brick in front of her throbbing a deep ruby red. It stood out from the other bricks. It looked hot, heated by something on the other side of the wall. Without thinking, she reached out and pressed the brick.

It crumbled under her touch. A large panel in the wall fell away into dust, revealing a dark doorway. The smell of leaf litter and loam wafted out of the entrance.

‘Found it,’ Pahana said.

Ansus stepped into the doorway, sniffing the air and staring into the gloom. ‘I didn’t even sense it,’ she said. ‘You are right, this is the true path.’

‘All right!’ Jed ran back to the group. He clapped Pahana on the shoulder. ‘Way to go. You’ll have us out of here quicker than the little kitty cat.’

Ansus growled. ‘I have already warned you.’

‘Where does it lead to?’ Lilo peered into the doorway.

‘There’s only one way to find out,’ Ben said. He gestured for Pahana to lead the way. ‘After you m’dear.’

Pahana flexed her fingers before stepping through the doorway. A tiny piece of flame licked her nails. The darkness pressed against her, probing her. Feeling confident again, she coaxed the flame brighter and lit up her surroundings. Crumbling walls of earth bordered her on either side, pale white roots sticking out of the rich soil above her head. Across the surface of the walls insects and worms scuttled deeper into the layers, some falling to the ground where they dodged around her feet.

‘Yes, we’re getting near the end of this place,’ Jed said.

‘Why do you say that?’ Lilo asked.

‘Well, earth beats brick, right? I can see tree roots, we must be getting nearer the surface.’

‘That’s if we’re already underground; we could be going deeper,’ Lilo said.

Jed shrugged. ‘You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.’

‘Either way it’s a change of scenery,’ Ben said. ‘I’m with you Pahana.’

‘Let’s go then,’ Pahana said. Holding one arm up as a torch, she walked forward into the earth. It stank, but she felt comforted by the earthy stench.

‘It’s like a grave,’ Lilo said. ‘I don’t like it.’

The path ascended gradually. As they climbed, the walls grew closer together. Soon Pahana’s shoulders brushed against the earth as she walked. Beetles, black as the soil, fell onto her shoulders. The ceiling lowered, brushing against her head and the tree roots tangling in her hair. Before long the path had become a tunnel and she had to crawl on her hands and knees to progress.

‘I really don’t like this,’ Lilo panted. ‘I can’t see where I’m going.’

‘Calm down.’ Jed’s voice was soothing. ‘We’re almost at the end of this. Pahana will guide us out. Relax, you don’t have to worry.’

Pahana could hear Ansus struggling to crawl down the tunnel behind the others, the earth caving in behind her. There was no way back.

‘If you could go a bit fast I would greatly appreciate it.’ Ben’s breath brushed the balls of Pahana’s feet.

She tried to move faster. The base of the tunnel was wet. Her hands sank into the mud. She stopped, but Ben pushed against her. Before she could call out a warning she slipped forward. Her smooth robe provided no traction against the slick surface. The tunnel descended and she fell forward, sliding down it with increasing speed. Behind her she heard first Ben and then Lilo and Jed slip on the mud and rush after her. She dug her fingers into the damp sides of the tunnel in an effect to slow down but only succeed in gouging grooves in the wet soil. Clods of mud slopped onto her face.

The tunnel ended and Pahana fell forward into a hard floor. She quickly rolled to one side to avoid Ben falling on top of her. She looked about. She was in a large cavern. Wooden boards covered the walls, floor and ceiling but gaps in the planks let the dark earth bulge through. Thick twisted tree roots speared through the ceiling, breaking wide gaps in the boards. They hung down in wooden stalactites, an underground forest of trees. Grey light shone down with the tree roots, providing spotlights that lit up portions of the cavern. Pahana could hear scuttling in the dark corners.

Ben fell out of the tunnel, winding himself. Pahana went over to him and helped him up. Lilo and Jed followed, landing in a tangled heap. Jed wrapped his arms around Lilo and rolled her out of the way before Ansus flopped out into the cavern. The tiger looked a mess, her ears flattened down, her fur covered in wet muck from the slippery tunnel.

‘Well done Pahana.’ Jed jumped to his feet. He helped Lilo up, brushing the muck from her clothes. ‘Look, sunlight. We can climb up these tree thingies and break our way out.’

Pahana clung to the wall near the tunnel. The noises were growing louder. She could hear rustling and scratching as something approached from the far side of the cavern. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jed.’

‘Ben, give me a leg up.’ Jed ran towards the nearest tree root. ‘I think I should be able to climb to the top all right. There are plenty of handholds. Once I’m up there I can help the others up after me.’

The two men stood at the bottom of the root, hands on their hips, gazing upwards. Ben laced his fingers together to make a stirrup. Jed put his foot into Ben’s hands and, with a push from the older man he leapt onto the root, clinging to its cracked surface with his hands. Pahana watched from a distance as Jed nimbly climbed to the top of the root. Hanging precariously, he hit at the dirt above his head. It showered down about his head and shoulders, raining on to the wooden planks below with the pitter-patter of showers.

‘Nearly there,’ he called.

Pahana clasped her hands together. She could see shadows skirting the pools of light around the tree roots. The movement drew her attention, but when she tried to focus in on what made it, she saw nothing. The darkness chuckled, mocking her.

‘Ansus, do you hear that?’ Pahana whispered.

Ansus’ ears twitched. She turned away from watching Jed and surveyed the cavern. Her lips drew back in a hiss, showing her long yellow teeth.
‘Get back, we’re not alone, there’s something here,’ Pahana shouted.

Lilo and Ben stood at the base of the tree root looking up at Jed. They turned puzzled faces to Pahana.

‘Almost…there,’ Jed said. His face was black from the falling dirt. More light poured into the cavern from the patch he had cleared around the root. He punched only last time and a large clump of dried mud fell away from the ceiling. It hit against the back of his neck, unbalancing him. He grabbed for the tree root but fell, landing on his back with a groan. Something small darted out of the shadows towards him. In the increased light from above it could be seen clearly. It was small and black, with cruel claws and beak and flashing red eyes. Lilo raised her hands to her face and screamed.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

New Zealand



Almost exactly at this time last year (10am 9th November New Zealand time) Pinky and I landed in Christchurch, our first time on New Zealand soil. We were told it was a balmy 12 degrees, but when we stepped out of the airport we found it to be very hot and sunny.
It doesn't seem like a year ago today, it seems more like a lifetime ago. I am a different person from the one who went to New Zealand. I would like to say a better person, but the opposite is true. The only growing I've done in the year is in girth.



Chapter Eight - Things that were lost

Ansus growled. ‘A tick is too kind a word for him.’
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‘Oh Ansus, don’t be so hard on him. He can’t be that bad,’ Pahana said, rubbing the tiger’s back. ‘Besides, it’s good that his friends were able to join us.’ She waved to Jed. ‘Hurry up, we must move on. We can’t linger here.’

‘You sound as bad as the tiger,’ Jed said. He maintained his pace, perhaps slowed a little, and sauntered up to Pahana and Ansus at the same time as his two companions. ‘Lilo, Ben, this is – what is your name again? Let me see, I think it’s Pahana – as in, ‘We must save Pahana’ and ‘We can’t stop because we have to look for Pahana.’

The man and woman with Jed mumbled greetings. They both looked pale and tired, especially Ben, who appeared to be coming down with an illness.

Inwardly, Pahana grumbled. Perhaps Ansus was right about her assessment of Jed, but it would not help anyone to be rude to the man and even objectionable people deserved her help and respect. ‘Pleased to meet you Ben and Lilo.’

Ben smiled. It was beautiful and lit up his face. ‘It’s great we’re united at last. The good tigress was very worried about you. Now that we’re together, I ask that we rest for a short while to gather our energy and to eat a small repast.’

Pahana regretted having to disappoint him. ‘I’m afraid we have to keep going. The true path that will lead us out of the maze will not remain open for much longer and we will lose precious time if we rest. I know you’re tired and it’s hard going, but perhaps Ansus could carry you on her back for a while to help you recover?’

Ben looked at the tiger’s narrow back. Ansus growled.

‘Come on, there is an alcove up ahead. We can stop in there for five minutes. If this true path is so easy to lose we’ll never make it out of here, so we may as well not kill ourselves trying,’ Jed said. He tapped the casket in Pahana’s arms. ‘That better have food or some sort of goodies in it.’

Pahana pulled away. ‘I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s important.’ She hoped it wasn’t food, thinking of the corrupted feast Lipedo had laid out for her.

Jed shrugged. ‘I think we have some provisions left, but we need to go on a scouting party soon. Food and water is hard to find in this place.’

Ansus thumped her tail against Pahana’s leg. ‘We could do with looking in that box and if Jed is right, an alcove is a better place to open it up than exposed in the corridor. I think we can afford to stop for a little while.’

‘Lead the way, Jed,’ Pahana said.

He saluted her mockingly and then carefully squeezed past Ansus to lead the way down the corridor. ‘It should be along here on the right,’ he said, slapping the brick wall with his hand. ‘I found it on one of my hunts. Ah, yes, here it is.’

He seemed to disappear into the wall of the corridor. Pahana could detect no opening, but then his head appeared grinning out of the brickwork and his arm beckoned them towards him. Up close, Pahana saw that a doorway was concealed in the wall. It was so cleverly hidden that even standing right in front of it she found it hard to see. Stepping into the doorway brought her to a small square chamber that was just large enough for the four people to sit against the walls and for the tiger to stretch out at their feet.

Lilo helped Ben sit down on some rubble. He coughed a little, but shook away Lilo’s concerns. She sat down beside him. Jed took a cloth bag out of his pocket. It contained a spongy brown loaf – whether bread or fungus, Pahana could not tell – which he proceeded to divide into equal shares and distribute. Pahana shook her head when he offered her a portion.

‘Not hungry?’ Jed looked surprised.

Pahana smiled. ‘I don’t need it, thank you.’

He looked at her intently for a moment, then shrugged and broke the piece in two, giving a share each to Ben and Lilo. He took a bottle from his other pocket and repeated the process. Once again Pahana refused her share.

‘I don’t get you and the tiger,’ Jed said. ‘You don’t eat or drink anything, but you aren’t sick and tired like we are – or were you dining in style the same place you got your glad rags?’

‘I’m not hungry, that’s all, and I think you need it more than I do at the moment,’ Pahana said.

‘We don’t need you to make sacrifices for us.’ Jed sounded angry.

Pahana flushed. ‘I’m not. If I need it, I’ll ask you for it.’

‘Please Jed, don’t fight,’ Lilo said softly.

Jed sniffed and sat down to eat his food. He stared at Pahana while he ate.

Ansus, stretched between the people, did not have much room to manoeuvre. She nodded at the casket in Pahana’s arms. ‘Open it.’

Pahana caressed the box lid. ‘Are you sure? Is it safe?’ She was afraid. She didn’t want to find out what it contained. She wasn’t worried that it was something evil, although there was certainly the possibility, but what if it was something good? What if it was a key to escape the maze, or a torch to light their way? Even worse, what if it was empty? As long as she carried it unopened it could contain any or all of these possibilities. She didn’t want to ruin it but finding out what lay inside and sealing its fate.

‘It smells of the other worlds,’ Ansus said, sniffing loudly. ‘You were drawn to it for a reason. The sage would not let you keep it if it was going to harm you.’

‘Where did you get it anyway?’ Jed asked.

‘From the room of the creature that the night train brought me to,’ Pahana replied.

Jed smiled. ‘So you’re a thief. I guess we’ve more in common than I thought.’

Pahana was tempted to reply but thought better of it. She wasn’t going to allow him to draw her. She turned the box around on her knee so that the clasp was facing her. She grasped it, then paused, looking to Ansus once more for assurance.

‘Open it,’ Jed said. ‘We can handle whatever’s inside.’

‘Seize the day,’ Ben said. Lilo murmured her agreement.

Ansus nodded. ‘Open it, Pahana.’

Pahana drew in a deep breath. Holding it, she flicked open the clasp and tilted the lid back. It fell open easily, on well-oiled hinges. A bright blue light spilled out of the box and illuminated the alcove. The box was lined with black velvet. Resting in a depression in the centre was a crystal vial filled with sapphire light. Pahana picked up the vial and held it up. It was cold to the touch.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Lilo said.

‘What is it?’ Jed asked, leaning forward to look closer.

Ansus banged her tail against the wall. ‘It’s yours, Pahana. It’s your missing brain.’

Jed laughed. ‘Her what?’

‘The part the Mubby harvested from her, or parts I should say, as it took a piece from her head night after night and placed it in this bottle for the private collection of a lord for this part of the maze,’ Ansus said.

‘That don’t make a whole lot of sense to me,’ Jed said, scratching his head.

Ansus wrinkled her brow, her stripes coming together to form a long black line. ‘What I don’t understand is why the Mubby was giving it to Lipedo, when you were held prisoner in another lord’s area. They must be working together.’ She scratched behind her ear. ‘That is not good.’

Pahana cradled the vial in her palm. Could the blue light really be part of her? It was so beautiful.

‘What’s a Mubby?’ Ben asked.

‘A creature of the maze,’ Ansus said. ‘One of the many. Some – like the butterballs – work in groups. Mubbys' work alone. They form alliances with the various lords of the maze and usually keep to their area.’

‘I hope we don’t meet one,’ Ben said.

‘We’ve handled worse,’ Jed said.

Ansus sat up. Lilo and Ben drew their legs to their chests to avoid them being crushed by the tiger. ‘We must replace the contents of the vial,’ she said. She sniffed Pahana’s hands. ‘We have to put it back before we continue.’

‘What can we do to help?’ Ben asked.

‘I don’t see how we can get that bottle into her head,’ Jed said.

Pahana touched the top of her head. She could still feel the painful edges of her wound. How had Jed not noticed it? She thought of pouring the contents of the vial into the soft spot within the crater of her skull. She imagined blinding pain, similar to the progress by which the light had been extracted. ‘I’m afraid, Ansus.’

The tiger touched her face to Pahana’s. Her nose was cold against the girl’s skin. ‘Don’t be, it won’t hurt. It belongs to you. Returning that which is yours is never painful, it is the extraction that hurts.’

Pahana buried her fingers in the tiger’s fluffy mane. ‘I trust you.’

Ansus stood up. ‘Kneel down,’ she said. ‘Face the wall.’

Pahana knelt on the dusty brick, her face pressed against the wall and the back of her head facing the tiger. She heard the others stand up. She could feel them watching her.

‘Give me the vial,’ Ansus said.

Pahana raised her hand. The tiger’s jaws closed gently around the bottle and took it out of her grasp. She clutched the wall, her fingers digging into the crumbling mortar between the bricks. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the deed to be done. She heard the thick sound of the stopper being removed from the bottle. Even with her eyes shut she could see the increase of light bouncing off the walls in the alcove. Ansus pressed against her back and she could feel the tiger’s breath on her hair. The light diminished and a cool tingling sensation made Pahana’s head itch. It grew until she could bear it no longer. She wriggled, first her feet and legs and then her body. Her hands flew away from the walls, her fingers tearing into the soft flesh of her scalp.

‘My head. There isn’t a hole there anymore,’ Pahana said. She twisted around and threw her arms around Ansus’ neck. ‘It’s gone.’

‘That was freaky,’ Jed said. ‘The light – I don’t know – it was absorbed into your head. I can’t describe it.’

‘Do you feel any different?’ Lilo asked.

Ben slowly clapped his hands together. ‘That was quite a show.’

Pahana stood up. She did feel different. Lighter, clearer, more complete. She couldn’t stop hugging the tiger and then running her hand through her hair and hugging Ansus again. She smiled and it was like the light beamed out of her face onto the others. Blue flame flickered across her skin.

‘I feel…’

‘Pahana?’

Her elation disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Pain seared through her temples, bringing her to her knees once more. Her fingers dug into Ansus’ shoulder and back. The tiger growled but didn’t remove her support. Pahana buried her face in the tiger’s fur, her teeth gritted against the agony.

She was no longer in the maze. She was somewhere else, some other place that was familiar but she couldn’t name. It was dark – nighttime. She was alone. No, someone was with her. A woman. She stood in shadow against the wall in front of her. She was tall, imposing, with red eyes and long dark hair that curled like a beast upon her shoulders. She was beautiful, powerful, and deadly. Her lips curled in a smile. Pahana knew the meaning of the smile.

‘You belong to me now.’

The door of the room opened. Cold wind blew in. Pahana gripped – what? A chair. Yes, she was sitting in a battered armchair. Her hands ate into the fabric, her body pressed into the back of the chair. A man stood in the doorway. He was very tall and thin, emaciated, dressed in a black suit that clung to his skeletal frame highlighting its awkwardness. In places the suit was worn and scuffed, green with mould. His shirt, once white, was covered in grime. A wilted black rose garnished his buttonhole. Dark hair covered his head and atop his pate rested a tall top hat, similarly decrepit as his suit. His face, however, was the most awful thing about him. It existed, framed by his hair, bound between the hat and the high collar of his shirt, but it was blank. Completely featureless. A smooth void of flesh stood where eyes, nose and mouth should have been. Pahana could not tear her eyes from the expanse of nothingness. In its facelessness she read expressions too horrible to contemplate.

The faceless man strode into the room. Despite having no eyes, he moved with the grace of a man who knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. In one fluid motion he removed a knife from his pocket. The blade was serrated, curled and cruel. He held it close to his body. His hands were long, his fingers bone thin capped with sharp nails. Pahana could not move as he approached her chair. She willed herself invisible, but she knew there was no hiding from this figure. He reached out, pinning Pahana to the chair with his free hand. He was so strong. Pahana felt a bulldozer was holding her to the chair. He brought the knife forward. Pahana wriggled, but she could not escape. The knife flashed, searing through her clothes and flesh, cutting bone. Two cuts, one horizontal across her chest, the other vertical down her torso. A red tee oozed in blood. The knife, its work done, disappeared into the faceless man’s pocket and now his hands came into play. He reached into the wounds he had made, parting the bone and flesh and making the hole larger. Pahana looked down and saw her organs exposed beneath the fat and blood. Her heart, beating, looked slower than it felt. Her intestines coiled puzzle fashion over her abdomen.

There was no expression of glee on his face, but Pahana imagined one as the faceless man reached into her chest cavity and removed her organs, one after the other, stuffing them into his pockets. His hands flew, more efficient than surgical instruments, plucking heart and lungs with the ease of picking apples. Soon there was nothing left but blood and strands of tissue. The long hands grabbed the open ends of the rib cage and pressed them together again, hiding the emptiness inside. His work done, the faceless man stepped back. He stood motionless, ready, his suit stuffed with Pahana’s insides.

Now it was the turn of the shadow woman to step forward. Pahana watched her climb out of the wall, grow into a three dimensional shape. She no longer feared the woman. She was numb, her mind reeling how she was still alive after what had just happened.