Two years…

So, it’s come to my attention that it’s coming up to two years since I published A Murder of Crones and there’s still no third book out. That’s pretty bad. I struggle with motivation and procrastination and all sorts of other ‘tions which doesn’t help. Just a quick post to say that it’s not been forgotten. One day, once upon a time I will finished the damned thing.

Now back to work.

I’m not dead. I’m still alive.

not dead

Okay, firstly I apologise for doing the whole George R.R. Martin thing to anyone waiting for more books from me.

I took some time off from work to write The Secret Dead and A Murder of Crones, but now I am back to working full time. I am lucky enough to have an excellent day job (and have had enough awful ones to appreciate it), but it does mean that my available writing time has substantially diminished. I’m also not naturally a fast writer. I pick at it constantly.

Books are also pretty expensive to produce — covers, formatting, editing and so on, and putting out book three will likely cost more than I can afford. I’m going to look at doing a kickstarter or similar to cover the costs (I’ve got some great ideas for rewards), so if you’re interested in being notified when I’ve finally got my ass into gear enough to get it out there, sign up for my newsletter here.

Again, apologies. I’m plodding away at it, I promise.



A Murder of Crones

Hi all,

A quick note to let you know that I am going to be withdrawing A Murder of Crones from sale through platforms other than Amazon. The reason for this is that I want readers to be able to borrow the book through Amazon’s Select programme.

I apologise to any readers wanting to read it in other formats, unfortunately Amazon requires exclusivity under their terms. I don’t like the exclusivity clause; it’s not fair to readers but I only had a handful of sales on platforms other than Amazon in the last year and it doesn’t make sense to keep it out of Select, where even more readers can access it.


On nightmares and writing Floorboards

**Warning: Floorboards doesn’t really have any huge twists but I will talk about what happens in the story below. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read it.**

LGOH cover

Most of my work has an element of horror, but my story for the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror anthology was the first time I attempted to write pure horror, rather than fantasy or scifi with a twist of horror.

I spent a long while trying to decide what I wanted to contribute because I wanted to do horror right. In the end, the question that came to mind was ‘ ‘Well, what scares me?’

I have had nightmares since I was a child. For those lucky enough not to get them, nightmares are lot more than just bad dreams. They are vivid, horrible and as real as if they had actually happened. My body reacts in a very real way, except because it’s a dream I don’t have the luxury of being able to try manage my thoughts and reaction.

Nightmares are a very pure and physical experience. Pure terror. Pure grief. Pure panic.
When I wake up, I tell myself it was just a dream, but it takes some time for my body to get the message. I can still hear the screaming in my ears. My heart is still racing. Adrenaline is still pumping. I have to get out of bed and distract my mind with something else – TV or a book — until my body gets the idea and stops panicking. It usually takes me a good few hours to calm down and go back to sleep.

Most of my nightmares involve the death of a loved one, usually in a gruesome manner. When I was younger, it was my sisters or my parents. Now that I’m parent myself, it’s my son.

So, when I thought about what truly scared me, it was my nightmares that came to mind. I didn’t want to write about people I love dying. I shove those memories away in the back of my head and I never want to revisit them.

Instead, Floorboards is based on one of the few recurring nightmares I have and one of the few that doesn’t involve a loved one.

****Spoilers from here on*****

The nightmare is very simple. There is a corpse buried somewhere in my house or garden. I know that I hid the body, and I know that whatever happened to them is my fault.
The nightmare is a combination of guilt because someone is dead because of me, and terror that I’m going to be found out. I never know who the corpse is or what I did, but I know it is a woman. That’s it.

If I were to try and psychoanalyse myself, I’d guess it’s something about insecurity and ‘being found’ out as a horrible person, or something. Who the hell knows?

The characters in Floorboards aren’t in the least bit real or based on anyone I know. I don’t know a Vicky. I had a happy childhood. I thought if I put some logic and reason to the nightmare and made it someone else’s experience, writing the nightmare might be a cathartic experience and make it a little less scary. It wasn’t. It was just a horrible thing to write and I’m glad it’s done. I’m not going to read it again.

I’m not sure what it is that makes my work take such a dark turn, but after Floorboards I’m going to try to write some happier stuff.

Hive Memory: status update

If anyone’s waiting for Book Three, it’s on its way. Someone reminded me that I promised it would be out Summer 2015, so I really need to update the back matter.

I’ve been distracted this year by other projects and Hive Memory has fallen sadly behind. It didn’t help that I have a real tendency to get too complicated with my plots, and I got a little off track. I’ve now simplified it substantially (split the story into two, so Book Four has a plan). I’m working on it now, but it’s unlikely to be out before the end of the year.

Apologies to anyone waiting.


Why Jonathan Jones is wrong about more than just Terry Pratchett

As I write this, Twitter is getting very excited about a hatchet job Jonathan Jones did on Terry Pratchett over at the Guardian.  The article is so utterly awful that it could almost be a parody of someone with his head up his ass. Unfortunately, it appears to be genuine.

Jones had quite a bit of criticism about Pratchett, despite admitting that he hasn’t read any (although he ‘did flick through a book by him in a shop’). Well, there you go.

I can’t quote the utter head-in-assness of the thing in its entirety, but here are a few choice quotes:

‘Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.’

‘A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom’

By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying ‘mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction’

Not everyone is a fan of Terry Pratchett. Fair enough. There is no such a thing as an author everyone likes. Sir Terry is so popular that genuine literary criticism would have made an interesting read.

Jones’ article wasn’t literary criticism. It wasn’t anything other than pure snobbery and nastiness. He hasn’t read Pratchett and appears to be basing his dislike purely on the fact that Terry Pratchett is popular. The clear connotation is that any book worth reading couldn’t be appreciated by the rabble.

So what, you say. There are idiots in the world, and plenty of them are on the internet. This isn’t news.

Why does it matter? Because Jones was right about one thing:

…all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions.

Great literature has the power to change the world. Stories make us human. Stories are the reason we strive. Stories make us more than animals. Every great advance in human history happened because someone imagined the world could be different.

Popularity has nothing to do with whether something is great literature. Dickens was popular, so was Austen. And er…so is E.L. James.

Harry Potter is popular. Is it literature? I think so. Harry Potter fired millions of imaginations across the world and helped turn an entire generation of children into readers. Those children are now reading other books. Some are writing books. Maybe even books Jonathan Jones would approve of. Every time someone loses themselves in a book, it sparks that creativity and love of stories.

This is why Jonathan Jones is not only wrong, but his attitude is hugely damaging to great literature. All writers start small, even the great ones. Maybe one of those Harry Potter readers was made to feel ashamed of enjoying escapist fiction and that’s one more reader lost, one more writer.

I’m a writer. I run a writing group. I critique manuscripts on an almost daily basis. Good writers are insecure by nature. They question their assumptions, spend hours researching their topics and then pick over every sentence and every word. They’re never happy.

That’s part of the process of growing as a writer. We all have different levels of innate talent, but no one writes great literature in their first draft. The only way to become a great writer is to keep banging your head against that wall, fighting to make it better every step of the way.

I met a writer yesterday who described the necessity of having a ‘bubble of delusion’, which is a term I adore. Soft little writer souls need to believe that with enough work their books can be the wonderful thing they dream it will be. Some will never be great. Others will be. Attitudes like those of Jonathan Jones pop that bubble: that our precious little work in progress may never be good enough. That the writers we love aren’t ‘real’ authors. That even if we write as we dream, someone will come along with a sneer.

I know people will argue that if we truly love writing, we’ll do it no matter what some numpty on the internet says, but I don’t think that’s true. Writing is hard. Writing well is even harder and we need that bubble. It’s all too easy to give up.

If only the confident and the brash write books, the literary landscape would be depressingly dull. My experience is that the more confident the writer, the worse their book is. Neurosis appears to go hand-in-hand with good writing.

Book snobbery is hugely damaging. It puts people off reading. It puts writers off writing. It contributes nothing of value to the world.

And for the record? Terry Pratchett’s books changed my life, my beliefs and my perceptions. Maybe if Jones actually made the effort to read one, he’d realise he was wrong.

The twitterati have their knickers in a knot about this, and the comments over at the Grauniad are going strong. There’s already a petition calling on Jones to apologise. I suspect the Graun will take a different tack. They’ll get him to read a Pratchett book and then write another article. I don’t care if he does. I don’t particularly want him to apologise either. My first thought was that Jones should stick to his guns and never read any Pratchett, but then I felt bad. That’s a terrible punishment for someone who claims to be a lover of great literature. No one deserves that, no matter how snobby they might be.



Author Interview – Harry Manners

One of the unexpectedly wonderful things about getting involved in the indie writing community has been getting to know authors like Harry Manners. Back in the day when traditional publishing was the only real option going, I usually only discovered great authors once they’d been established.  Now, I’m finding them at the start of their careers, and that is tremendously exciting.

I think Harry’s going to be an author we’re going to see a lot more of. His Mars-based story The Happy Place was hauntingly sad (and I’m putting it on your recommended-by-SWF reading list). When I read Ruin, the first in his Ruin Saga, I immediately offered to beta read the next because it is exactly the kind of post-apocalyptic saga that I’m a complete sucker for.

I was introduced to Harry by Lucas Bale (another one to watch), and have chatted with him back and forth about his work for a while, but it’s long overdue that I shared him with all my readers too. Like so many super creative people, he has a lot of exciting projects on the go.

It reminds me of this Ursula LeGuin quote: I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions

I can never get enough of suddenly-alone-in-an-empty-world fiction, and I’m not the only one. It’s a genre with an enormous following. What do you think the attraction is?

It’s a sandbox. Science fiction is all about lifting all the usual rules and idioms and rhythms of ordinary life, and exploring mankind’s limits under unusual circumstances. With this particular subgenre, you get to take that to the extreme, pushing people to the edge of what they’re capable of in a desperate scrabble to make sense of their surroundings, and survive. I think it also has a certain degree of symbolism to it; the picture of one person standing alone in a vast and empty world.

People love that. It reminds them of themselves. I suppose we’re all angsty teens, underneath.

Both Ruin and Brink are very visual stories with some incredible descriptive passages that suck the reader into the reality of the world. I know we discussed the possibility that the series might have graphic novel versions. How’s that going?

This is a big one. The idea has been mulling in my mind for a while, but as soon as you mentioned it (and thank you, by the way), I knew it had some legs. You’re right in saying they’re visual stories, as I’m a visual writer; that’s pretty much the only thread of my writing that hasn’t changed over the years.

I’ve done some storyboarding, and it all came so smoothly, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried to be a filmmaker, instead. It’s a lot of fun! I’ve also scouted around for the right artist, and whittled it down to a short-list—okay, maybe it’s a long-list, but it’s a list that was shorter than the long-long-list.

But I want to do it right. I can picture them in my mind, and I’d never get over it if I didn’t a half-arsed job and they didn’t turn out quite as good as I imagine they could be.

As such, this is sitting very decidedly on the backburner. Not forgotten, but in hibernation. I want to get the whole series written first, and I’ll be graduating from university in two years. Then I’ll have time to really sink my teeth into a project like this.

The Ruin Saga is a big story. It’s multi-character, set over decades and huge in scope. It’s a lot more work than writing a stand-alone novel. How much of the story do you plot in advance?

I’ve been writing in this world for a long time. A lot longer than I’ve been writing the books I’ve sent out into the world. In fact, I first started with a short story I wrote when I was seventeen. Since then, that great empty world has inhabited a special place in my head, growing, and dividing.

I wrote a novel when I was twenty that was over a thousand pages long. I tried to get it published, and got an agent, and was in talks with publishers who liked it. But they wanted it cut down, broken into three books and completely re-written.

I wasn’t going to gut my story just to get it to the shelves—don’t peg me for a whiney author, here; I’m all for heavy editing where it’s due, but the changes they asked for would have turned it into another book entirely.

So I decided to go indie. But, the idea of splitting it into three books stuck with me. And so I threw the whole book away—I have it on hard drive somewhere, still, but there was a ceremonious literal throwing away of the printed manuscript—and I started over.

The first book became Ruin. And now I’m up to book three (actually, a prequel novella, but we’ll say three for simplicity).

So, I know pretty much everything about this world, by now. A thousand things have changed and morphed and vanished and blossomed of their own volition during the second time through, but that’s how it is; I’m certain all the changes are for the better.

That said, I’m a pants writer. I had a destination, like way-points, so I know I can tie off all the mysteries in the series (I’m intent not to ‘LOST’ any readers with leaving hanging questions), but in terms of everyday writing, I’m free to meander.

Long term, the Ruin Saga is part of a much larger narrative called Pendulum that takes place in an extended universe. At least seven books will follow from the culmination of this saga, and many adventures await somewhere in the keyboard.

Oh yes, I plan. I scheme. I steeple my fingers and giggle in the night—all in the service of my readers, of course…

How about a sneak peek for Book Three? What can you tell us about what’s coming up next?

I’m not going to release anything from book three yet, because I’m mean and I’m teasing everyone.

No, not really. I haven’t nearly finished the first draft, yet. If any of my books ever blow people’s socks off, it’s going to be this one, so any sneak peeks are going to be squeaky clean.

But fear not! I have some material, instead, from the prequel novella I’m writing to the saga, due out at the end of August, called Frost. I’ve included the current draft of the second chapter.

Read it here.

Oooh. Tingles.

This book is a lot of fun to write, and I can’t wait to bring it to the shelves next month.

As for book three, you can expect action, and mystery, and heaping piles of weirdery. I’m stepping up the freaky stuff to high gear. People are going to die, questions are going to be answered. War is coming.

Finally, I have to mention The Happy Place because it was my favourite out of all the No Way Home stories. Any plans for more from that particular universe?

Thanks, Sandra. It’s one of the best short stories I’ve written, I think. One of those stories that just felt right. (Yes, I think so too – SWF)

I certainly am writing in that universe again. I’m working on a hard sci-fi novel called First: A Martian Novel, which takes the setup described in The Happy Place and expands the narrative across the scope of decades, chronicling the lives of the first generation of settlers.

I’ll be focusing on the psychological connotations of isolation, and the moral implications of condemning children to a life without hope of returning to earth.

It’ll be a while before it sees daylight—I have so much to write in the meantime, it’s not even funny. But will I return to The Happy Place again? Absolutely.

Thanks for taking the time, Sandra. As always, it was an absolute pleasure. If anybody wants more information, or just wants to chat, they can reach me through Facebook, Twitter, or email. I love hearing from readers and fellow writers, so don’t be afraid to get in touch!

Excerpt from Frost by Harry Manners

Barnes & Noble, 5th Avenue

The science fiction section saw a lot of loiterers, of an afternoon. Stuffed in the back corner, flanked by plate-glass windows overlooking the bustle of Manhattan and the Public Library, it was the perfect place for nerds to bed down and lose themselves in laser guns and little green men.

A few were regulars. None of the bastards ever bought anything.

Jack Shannon criss-crossed the aisles every now and then and cleared out the ones who were getting too comfortable, but for the most part he’d given up. He’d spent his teens haunting shelves of Asimov and Atwood himself.

He’d worked the afternoon-shift Tuesday through Thursday for over a year, now. He worked nights at a dive bar the rest of the week, so he spent most of the time in exhausted misery, but being a bookseller was a good deal.

He loved the smell of books, the tactile feel of them between his fingers–the glue, the binding, the sheer scale of thoughts and tales and characters that populated their shelves. There was no better hangover cure than hunting down some obscure half-remembered title for an old biddy who, ‘was sure it had a green cover, and that the author’s name began with a J… or was it an F?

So he didn’t save any lives, but it gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Manhattan was the perfect place to work in books. There was always something going on.

Jack jerked as a sharp snap rang out beside his ear. He’d been dozing with his elbow on the counter, staring at a young girl crouched in the far corner with her head in a copy of The Wizard of Earthsea. “Huh?”

Mr Schleider took a thick hardback away from his ear and leaned in close. “Get rid of the geeks, we’ve got incoming,” he muttered. He eyed the girl, and his lip curled. “That loser’s been here over two hours. I want her gone.”

Jack straightened, clearing his throat. “I usually give them three before I turn them out. I think she’s going to pick up the trilogy.”

“She’s a browser if I ever saw one.”

“She’ll buy. My nose says so.”

“I don’t care if she’s planning on buying the whole section. While you and your nose have been daydreaming up here, the rest of us have been setting up for the Peter Knight signing. He’ll be here in two hours–there won’t be room to turn your head in here, soon as we put the signs out. Clear out the chaff, and put your best smile on. Grab a coffee, while you’re at it. You look like crap.”

Jack swallowed the urge to defend his fellow nerds’ honour, and set off for the shelves. “Yes, sir.”

He’d been planning to ask Earthsea girl to dinner. He was a sucker for gawky glasses.

Why do we have to dress up every time some best-seller blunders in? I met Knight last fall. He wouldn’t even let me get a picture with him. Asshole.

Sighing, he made for the back of the store. He was so wrapped up in bitter thoughts that at first he didn’t notice that some of the shelves had frozen solid.

Even when he noticed, his legs carried him onward for a few more moments. His eyes registered the icicles spreading, hopping from one spine to another, emitting puffs of diffuse white mist as they went. Spreading out from the paranormal fantasy section–

No shit, a distant part of Jack’s mind jabbed.

–it blossomed into inch-thick sheet ice in a handful of moments. By the time the first of the readers noticed, a low rumbling noise had faded into audibility from the ether, and from somewhere—everywhere—an ethereal blue light was throbbing, periodically emerging from and retreating behind the world of true form.

Jack’s mind simply blanked out, unable to process. He just kept walking. A small part of him even went so far as to continue sulking that he was going without a date tonight.

Then Earthsea girl screamed, scrabbling away from the shelves with a look of blank, unbelieving disgust written onto her face as she scurried into Jack’s heels and wrapped her arms around his legs.

“What the—?” Mr Schneider bawled from afar. He sounded a million miles away.

Jack blinked at the girl at his feet, then looked back to the icy shelves, which now twinkled like Central Park at Christmas, having by now turned a snowy white, even the floor. The mist was billowing up from the many volumes now, pooling against the ceiling and spreading downwards, showering the entire upper floor with stage-show drama.

“Oh,” Jack said finally. That was all he could muster.

It was funny what you learned about yourself in times of crisis. Apparently, Jack was the kind of person who looked at a book-store turning into a slab of ice, pulsing with electric blue light, and said, ‘Oh’.

The rumble was unmistakable now, and the whole upper floor paused, open-mouthed. Dozens of books thumped to the floor, dropped from limp hands. The stunned unified gape lasted for around ten full, long seconds, seconds that could have been hours.

Then Jack felt it snap like twine under tension cut with scissors, and the panic arrived in earnest.

The world seemed to spool up into furious action in the time it took him to reach down and wrench Earthsea girl up by her elbow. Screams rang out from all directions, coupled with the sound of tumbling shelves and the clatter of scrambling limbs. People downstairs joined in moments later as the stairways filled with wailing customers and staff. Somebody screamed ‘bomb!‘, another cried ‘terrorists!’. The fire alarm tripped, but it was barely audible over the shouting. And a moment later, even the alarm was blanketed by the all-consuming rumbling that build from nowhere, and yet from all directions, and the blue throbbing light began pulsing faster before Jack’s eyes, blinding and yet without source.

All the while, the icicles continued to spread.

“Come on, we have to get out of here,” he yelled.

But Earthsea girl didn’t seem to hear him, china white and limp in his grasp, her gaze fixed on blossoming insanity.

His feet seemed intent on running, tensing to turn, but he gripped the girl her anew with a grunt of frustration, and started hauling her back towards the escalators. “If I die because of you, our date is off!”

Half blinded by the blue light pulsing every other moment, he watched Mr Schneider hesitate at the top of the stairs, catch his eye, then shake his head and vanish downstairs with a grunt.


“Ma said I should’a stuck with the therapy,” Earthsea girl said distantly.

“Move your ass!” he bellowed in her ear.

The viciousness of his voice seemed to reach her, and her eyes cleared. She glanced at him and then the spreading ice, now only a few feet away from them, a white carpet flowering with knee-high crystals, crawling towards them like waves climbing a beach.

An unfeminine, guttural moan escaped her and she stiffened in his grasp. “Oh man!”

Before he could react she scrambled from his grasp and ran bawling for the top of the stairs, leaving him momentarily stunned, gripping thin air.

“Oh,” he said, blinking stupidly.

That’s all I got. Funky blue lights and creeping icicles, and all I’ve got in me is, ‘Oh’.

It was hard to see the spreading ice through the mist, now, and it descended down over his shoulders and enveloped him. The store vanished from sight and panic bubbled up in his stomach at the thought of that ice spreading, unseen, towards him. Tumbling onto his hands and knees, he scrambled back towards the escalators, praying the ice didn’t catch him. The rumble in the air was now deafening, a wailing honk that hurt his ears and pressed in on his skin with physical force.

It reached a crescendo, and the blue light throbbed with a final, blinding flash. With a concussive force that seemed to unzip the air, something exploded in the paranormal section.

The mist blew against the walls, the carpet of icicles vaporising in a heaving puff, and Jack was blown clear across the store, tumbling end over end in a rain of paperbacks.

God, it’s a bomb, it’s a bomb, it’s a bomb! he thought, hurtling into the biography shelves, cowering as a shower of books cascaded down onto his head.

He was a mere ten feet from the escalator, and now he could see the last of the people downstairs bursting, screaming, into the streets. Mr Schneider stood at the base of the escalator, his eyes wild and his body frozen in mid-flight.

“Come on, Jack!” he cried. He tensed as though making to scale the steps, then hesitated again, and turned back on his heels.

Double fucker.

Jack was on the verge of getting to his feet when he caught movement in his peripheral vision, over by the paranormal section. Half the shelves were gone, blown to splinters by the force of the explosion. The carpet of ice had thrust up in a halo around the epicentre in a fringe of spiky stalagmites, two-feet-high and throbbing that same ethereal blue.

Striding from the chaos was a bearded man dressed in crimson. Trailing off his shoulders were rivulet of that selfsame mist, shadowing his swaggering advance over the splintered shelves.

Jack gasped as a blast of cold unlike anything he’d ever felt stole into his bones–something no Arctic blizzard could muster.

The cold of somewhere else, muttered a distant part of Jack’s mind.

Where did that come from? He didn’t know, but he did know the inner voice spoke the truth.

Half paralysed and in spasm from shock and pain, he rolled behind the nearest shard of ice. Too late. Before he could come to a stop, the man in crimson was standing over him.

His eyes twinkled a fiery oxblood–actually seemed to undulate with conflagration behind his pupils.

“Ahoy hoy,” he said, a gargling, thick lilt, the accent almost Scottish, yet also distinctly not.

Jack could only blink in reply. “Hi.”

The newcomer tongued the inside of his lip, scanning the room, and drew a deep sigh. “Listen, this is going to get crazy real fast, but I need a hand. You feel like going for a bowl of crazy?”

Jack swallowed. A dull throbbing in his fingers bubbled up as the intense cold ebbed. He had gripped the icicle hard enough to cut into his palms.

The men glanced at the bloodied ice. “Yello!” He clicked his fingers in front of Jack’s eyes. “Stay with me. Have the others been taken yet? Where is Harper? Speak!”

“I–” Jack swallowed.

The man rolled his eyes. “A dribbler. Typical. Never mind, laddie, you can tell me on the way.” Without hesitation he gripped Jack’s collar and tore him up from the ground with inhuman strength, and proceeded to drag him toward the emergency escape. “Honestly, you people are so fragile. One whiff of the real world and you roll over like bloody punch-drunk donkeys.”

Jack could only utter a wordless squawk, his heels dragging over the threshold, leaving the frozen shattered book-store amidst a hail of settling snowflakes and shredded paper.

The entire episode happened in under a minute.

Jack’s mind roiled and his hands bled, but everything around him seemed fuzzy, unreal. It was beyond reckoning, beyond madness.

The back of Jack’s mind spat feebly, I only had an hour left on my shift.

The crimson traveller laughed. “I know, mate, it’s bloody loony. Don’t worry, you get used to it… eventually,” he cried, hurtling along the escape passage.

He read my mind.

Jack bounced along in his wake, bouncing off concrete and scraping his cheek.

This can’t happen. I have plans!… It’s Mexican night, he thought miserably.