2020: A Year in Review…

Objectively, 2020 has been a terrible year. We all know why. Covid-19. I will spare you my extended thoughts on the sociopolitical discourse which followed. However, I will say I oscillate wildly between anger and despair at the actions of a government who are incompetent and cruel.

That said, I wanted to take a look at my creative successes and failures throughout 2020.

In early 2020 I started writing a novella. The story is one I’ve attempted to write several times before and the initial idea is over a decade old. If you were to compare the original idea to the one I set out to write this year, you would find very little in common. It’s been through a number of iterations, and I’ve made a couple of failed attempts previously. However, this year when I sat down to start work on it, I told myself this would be the time I finished it.

After writing a third of it, I stopped. It was too hard. It was a case of self doubt. It was boredom. I have told myself this story so many times it seemed too much effort to actually write. Whatever the reason, I walked away.

April saw the release of Arterial Bloom which features my story Dog (Does Not) Eat Dog. I know – I’m like a broken record. I’m sorry to the friends and family who’ve had to endure my shameless promotion. That said, it remains a story I’m proud of and I’m honoured to be in an anthology with such heavyweights.

I did a short interview with Tabitha Wood as part of her Ginger Snaps series over at Ginger Nuts of Horror. Go check out the archive.

Though I wasn’t writing much, I did write three reviews for Ginger Nuts of Horror. The Shadow Booth Vol. 4 edited by Dan Coxon was the first. The second was Kit Power’s collection, Voices, from Black Shuck Books and the third was for C. S. Alleyne’s debut novel, Belle Vue.

I was also intervied by Janine Pipe over on her blog. Janine is a champion of horror fiction so to be featured on her blog was a fantastic opportunity. Take a look at her site here.

My story The Forest Abyss was published in the August issue of Aurealis. A horror story set in a haunted forest in Poland.

August also saw a good friend and I dust off an old script of ours and, over Zoom calls, polish it up. We were surprised to find that much of it we were still happy with. We also learned how quickly technology moves (we had a scene featuring a CD player in car for example). Now, we have a final draft of the first episode of a comedy-drama that we’re very proud of and we’re steadily working on the rest of it. So, if there are any producers from Netflix or the BBC or Channel 4 reading this, get in touch.

In October, I started writing again (you can read about my approach here) and returned to the novella. I recently finished it and, though it’s a very short novella, it came in at 16,500 words.

I’ve managed to write every day since the 12th of October which, as of today, puts me at 74 days in a row. I’ve finished a short story and I’m currently working on another.

Most recently, my flash piece All We Endure came joint first in the November Flash competition over on the Crystal Lake Publishing Patreon and will be released in a future volume of Shallow Waters – their flash fiction e-book series.

There has been some dissapointment. My submissions have slowed down somewhat and I’ve missed the deadlines for several open calls this year, but writing every day has softened the blow just a little.

At least I’m writing.

Finally, for the two of you who care, my list of stories I loved in 2020 will be up in the new year. If you’re interested, you can take a look at last years recommendations here. If you read just one of them I would consider it a success.

As the year draws to a close we start looking towards the next. I have resolved not to make any resolutions. They’re crippling, at least to me. It’s just a list of stuff I should be doing or should have done. Taunting me…

To end, it seems only fitting to quote pop heavyweights D:Ream,

“Things can only get better…”

Let’s hope so.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

28 Days Later…

First of all I need to make something clear, this post isn’t about the brilliant 2002 film. There are no references to pandemics – we’ve all had quite enough of that. There are no zombies here…

This is actually about creativity and productivity.

Yesterday marked the 28th day on which I’ve written consecutively. Whilst this might not be a big deal to everyone, it is huge for me. I’ve never been able to find the momentum. I’ve tried numerous approaches and none of them seemed to help.

A little over a month ago I stumbled across an article which talked of how you could approach writing a first book in a year. You can read the full thing here, but the basic idea is as follows…

You write every day for 365 days and you aim to write between 1 and 365 words each day. You tick each number off as you do and, if you stick to it, you’ll have 66,795 words by the end of the year.

So, I noted it. Told myself I would start in the new year. However, this was only an excuse. Procrastination to avoid trying. And that is my problem. If I tried then there was a good chance I’d fail.

I wasn’t aiming to write a novel. The goal, if I did try, was to motivate myself to simply write. Make it a habit. Also, I’ve always been a slow writer. It’s why NaNoWriMo, or targets of X no. of words a day have never worked for me. This approach of little and often seemed like it might suit me better.

On the 12th of October – I mustn’t have been feeling quite myself – I sat down and made myself a spreadsheet (more procrastination) and wrote some words. 337 of them in fact. I wrote the next day too. And the next… You get the idea.

That first week I was on holiday, and not having to go to work certainly helped give me an initial push. But, once I returned, I still tried to put down a few words each day.

There were days when I struggled. Days when I didn’t feel particularly creative. Days when I had no inspiration or motivation at all. Days when I thought everything I wrote was complete garbage. But I forced myself to write.

I use notes on my phone and Word online so I can access my stories wherever I am. I wrote on the bus, lounging on the settee. If I found myself lying awake in bed, doomscrolling (who doesn’t?), I would try and write a few words instead.

My lowest word count was 42. My highest has been 460 (I won’t stop at 365 if the words are flowing). I’ve averaged 226 words a day. It might not be a great deal, but the numbers add up…

I’ve written a little over 6,300 words in 28 days.

I don’t know if I will last the full year. I might not make it to Christmas. But in the past month I have accomplished something and I hope that will be enough to keep me motivated.

Enough to keep me writing.

New Story: The Forest Abyss…

My short story, The Forest Abyss, appears in the August issue of Aurealis, Australia’s premiere magazine for speculative fiction. If you’re so inclined, you can buy a copy here.

The quiet isolation of nature is fertile ground for fear to take root and myths to thrive. With The Forest Abyss I wanted to create a dark legend of my own. You won’t find the forest in this story on any map. But somewhere, it grows…

Music to Write To… Part Two

A couple of months back I put together a blog recommending some soundtracks I listen to when writing, and highlighted some some of my favourite tracks from those albums. A self indulgent exercise, I know.

Here are some more suggestions below, and not solely confined to soundtracks this time. I hope you find something you like.

I’ve also added them all to a playlist on Spotify, which you can find here.

Mica Levi – Death

Taken from the Under The Skin soundtrack. It isn’t an easy listen, but the track is perfect for the film. Weird and unsettling.

Akira Yamaoka – Theme of Laura (Reprise)

From Silent Hill 2. I’ve always loved this game and this piece in particular. Sometimes the horror is too much and to attempt escape is pointless.

Elskavon – Small Hands

This artist is a recent discovery. Taken from the album Release.

Seifert & Steinbuechel – Maunsel Sea Forts, England

The first entry on the list which isn’t entirely music, but more of an ambient soundcape. Taken from an album called Abandoned Places – all of which is quietly atmospheric.

Giles Lamb – Dead Island Theme

When I saw the trailer for Dead Island and heard the haunting music it instantly became a favourite. And if you haven’t watched the trailer it is well worth your time as a three minute horror film. Since then his music has become a go-to when I’m writing. Give one of his albums a go.

Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture

Dark ambient music. They have a number of albums to try. This track always conjures images of Silent Hill, perhaps helped by the drone of a distant siren.

Atrium Carceri – A Curved Blade

More dark ambience, this is taken from the album Void. Disconcerting tracks to help bring the dark.

Cities Last Broadcast – The Cancelled Earth

I’ve included the whole album for this one. Apparently created from a decades worth of recordings from urban environments and shaped into a nightmare soundscape.

There are many more I could recommend, but these are the ones I return to in order to help me find my feet. Let me know how you find these pieces and suggest your own.

Music To Write To…

A little over six weeks ago Arterial Bloom was released into the world. Reviews for the book have been kind so far and I am proud of the story I have in the anthology.

However, long before Dog (Does Not) Eat Dog found a home, when the story wasn’t much more than an idea, I opened a note on my phone and started tinkering with the opening line. I was listening to music, to drown out the noise of the office I worked in at the time, and as I wrote one piece stood out.

The piece was Abandon Window by Jon Hopkins. It became something I listened to every time I sat down to work on the story. It was a way in, a way back to the beach. There was something in it that resonated with the story I was trying to write. The music starts as a melancholic piano piece but becomes something more as an ambient soundscape swells beneath the notes. I thought it might be the Everstorm, raging above the ocean. Give it a listen below.

Now whenever I sit down to try and write, I need music. Something to help me lose myself in the world of words. Below I’ve shared some of the go-to pieces from my favourite film and TV scores.

Apokalypse – Dark

Ben Frost composed the Dark score and it is perfect for the bleak, time travel story at the heart of this Netflix series. This is a favourite piece of mine, full of quiet, building menace.

Campfire – Monsters

The Monsters score by Jon Hopkins is quiet, contemplative and full of atmosphere. The film might not be for everyone, but the music is great.

Waves Crashing on Distant Shores of Time – San Junipero

San Junipero is my favourite, and objectively the best, episode of Black Mirror. I love it. The episode has an amazing soundtrack, but it also has a brilliant, dreamlike score from Clint Mansell.

Welcome to Lunar Industries – Moon

Another score by Clint Mansell. Moon is an amazing film which doesn’t seem to get enough love. The building tension in this piece is useful for those moments in your writing when things are heading towards their final, inevitable conclusion.

She Remembers – The Leftovers

I haven’t seen the TV show but I’ve heard good things. I did however stumble upon the score on a Max Richter playlist and found this melancholic gem.

On The Nature Of Daylight – Into The Forest

This has appeared in a few places, but I first heard it in Into The Forest. I loved Max Richter’s soundtrack and I think this piece in particular is beautiful. A bonus – the music video features the brilliant Elizabeth Moss.

Motion Picture Soundtrack – Westworld

The Vitamin String Quartet are responsible for this instrumental version of the Radiohead song and it is a lovely, truly affecting piece.

That’s it.

Let me know what you have on your writing playlist.

And, if you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve found something to add to your own playlist. If not, then I hope you’ve at least enjoyed some of them, and I haven’t left you feeling too down on this dreary, Sunday afternoon.