Category Archives: Writing

Finding the right editor, and when to run like hell

This post is brought to you by a Twitter thread I came across yesterday about the importance of editors. I recently wrote a post on just such a thing. If you’re disinclined to read that, I’ll break it down quickly: YOU NEED AN EDITOR.

Right then. Within this Twitter thread was information that needs to be addressed, so I’m chucking on my ranty-pants (they’re fabulous, by the way), and I’m going to give you some insights into what to look for in a good editor, and how to help find the right editor for you. Yes, not all editors will be the right fit. (I had a whole thing about editors being like pants, but it just got… weird.)

Aaaanywho, what had me don my ranty-pants was a writer explaining they’d been quoted $10,000 for an edit. I’ll just let that sink in. Ten grand. For an edit. Of one book. Oh, hell no. HELL NO. I don’t know who the so-called “editor” was who thought this was a reasonable quote. If I did, I would call them out on their bullshit. Because bullshit it is. I can’t even fathom an instance where quoting or even charging someone this amount is even within the realm of possibility. That, folks, is a scam. Run far. Run fast.

On the flipside, if you’re quoted say, $200 for a full edit of a novel – run far, run fast. No editor worth their salt would charge this little for a full edit. There’s a lot of skill that goes into editing, and most editors study to gain qualifications, to understand the nuances of English and its building blocks that go into great storytelling. Their qualifications and experience are worth more than two hundred bucks.

imagination

So, let’s break down the two types of editing (I’m not including manuscript assessments as that’s a whole different ball game). Deciding which is best for you depends on where you are with your book.

Developmental (substantive/structural) editing: This is detailed editing for structure, plot and sub-plots, story arc, characterisation, character arcs, and chapter arrangement. It’s your ‘big picture’ side of editing that looks deeply into motivations and conflict, agency and forward movement of both story and character(s). Story elements are broken down to ensure there is cohesion and clarity, as well as looking at pacing, premise, and world-building.

Copy (line) editing: This concentrates on style, tempo, language, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Copy editing goes through line-by-line to ensure syntax is on point, passive vs active voice, run-on sentences, and dangling participles et al. It checks the mechanics of the writing to ensure it’s on point. (Note: copy editing is not proofreading.)

Now, depending upon where you are with your story, it’s a matter of deciding which type of editing is best for you at this stage of your draft. You can ask for a combined structural/copy edit, but be aware that this would cost more as you’re asking for two separate types of editing to be applied – it’s a bigger job, therefore a higher charge.

Once you’ve decided which type of editing you’re after, how do you find an editor? A good editor. Nothing beats word of mouth. Those writers who’ve worked with good editors will happily sing their praises – ask around. However, this doesn’t mean their editor will be the right fit for you. And it is about fit. The author/editor relationship can be magic when you find the right person. It should be. It’s a meeting of minds to work toward a common goal – making your story the best it can be.

Your other option is to put out a call on social media for editors, but understand you’re probably going to be slammed with offers. And not everyone who says they’re an editor should be calling themselves such. I’ve heard horror stories of “editors” putting errors into work. It drives me to become Sweary McSwearface, as it gives those of us who love what we do, a bad name. Fuck those guys.

Here’s a checklist of things to do/ask when you want to engage an editor:

  • Seek out at least five editors to find the right one for you. Can’t find them in that first five? Contact another five then another five until you find the editor you click with. You’ll know. Trust me.
  • Try to find editors experienced in your genre. They’ll have a better feel for not only the market, but for what works (and what doesn’t) in the story you’re telling.
  • Ask for their qualifications, what formal training they’ve had and where they studied. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions; this is your baby they’re working on, and your money you’re parting with. Note: some fantastic editors don’t have formal qualifications, but their industry experience is beyond reproach, so don’t rule out every editor who isn’t formally qualified, just be discerning.
  • Those who edit for a living will have a website. Check the projects they’ve worked on, then mosey on over to Amazon and hit that ‘look inside’ option and see what you think. Do your research. It will pay off.
  • Ask for a sample edit. This allows you to see if the editor knows what they’re doing, if you like the way they edit, and if their editing style would work for you.
  • Cost is the main reason some writers choose not to engage an editor, and I get it, I do. But a lot of editors are quite happy to discuss and work with you on a payment plan. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

The above points are going to help you weed out the charlatans from the true, but trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or seem quite right, then move on. There are plenty of good editors out there, you’ll find them.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, charging ten grand for an edit is egregious. It makes me want to find that person and slap them upside the head… a lot. Charging too little for an edit… well, you get what you pay for.

So what should you expect to pay? Well, it depends on the type of edit you want, the word count (or page count, editors price either way), and the amount of work involved. If we’re basing this on a novel of approximately 100,000 words with no excessive work involved, you should be looking at anywhere in the vicinity of $800-$1500. And even low-balling at $800 is a stretch. That’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s an investment in not only your story, but you as a writer.

Editing should be a teaching experience, and I like to use it as such. If I can explain to you why active voice works better in a high-action and/or high-tension scene, you’ll employ that in your next story. If I explain that shorter sentences convey tension better than longer, drawn out sentences, you’ll take that into your next tale. If I can show that the bloody mist spattering your protag’s face as their enemy chokes on their last, gasping breath craps all over ‘dying in their own blood’, then I’m doing my job right.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and don’t be afraid to walk away, because when you find the right editor, you’ll find the magic.

To market, to market

Following on from my previous post about how you should edit your work (aka you’re an idiot if you don’t), I want to talk about markets and how subbing to particular ones may do more harm than any good you think a publication credit of any kind may be (I’m looking at you ‘for exposure’ and ‘token’, you asshats).

As you may have figured out, I have no love of ‘for exposure/token’ markets – it’s predatory, making money off writers by having them buy the anthology they have a story in, and having family and friends do the same. These markets are effectively making money off you ‒ you don’t see a damn cent… or very few cents. Fuck that noise. PAY THE CREATIVE.

There’s no reasoning or excuse for that bullshit. The ‘oh, but we’re just starting out’ crap doesn’t fly. Those who are serious about the publishing industry will ensure writers are paid for the work they do. Don’t have the money to pay writers? Get out of the business until you do.

And ‘token’ markets? $5 for a 5000-word story? If that’s the value you expect me to place on my story and the work and imagination, the craft, I’ve put into it? You can bite me.

Thing is, there are writers who are desperate for publishing credits, not understanding that it’s not about the amount of publications behind your name, but who those publications are. Those who target ‘for exposure’ markets for publishing credits are doing more harm than good for not only their writing but their reputation. Why? Because the ‘for exposure’ bar is pretty damn low. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works. It creates a cognitive dissonance that your work is great the way it is when that may not be the case at all.

Now if you sub to paying markets (which all writers should), sure there’s a chance of rejection, but that’s part of the gig. It’s always been part of the gig. Trying to avoid that won’t make you a better writer, it will make you a stagnant one.

exposure 1

When I’m slush reading for anthology subs and your cover letter lists a plethora of markets I haven’t heard of, and Google struggles to find said markets, then those publishing credits mean squat – it reeks of desperation. If another author’s cover letter has one publishing credit listed as Clarkesworld, for instance, I will sit up and take notice. Why? Because that shows me the author values their work, it means they’ve laboured over it, and gone through the process of story rejection that is imperative to improving your craft.

Rejections make you look at your story again, see where you can improve and how. And if feedback is provided, then this is a brilliant step in making your story better for the next market to whom you send your baby.

‘For exposure/token’ markets do nothing to improve your writing or your writerly-reputation. Why? Because the bar is pretty damn low, and the reason for this is to make money off you – that’s it. It has nothing to do with putting out quality – the cover art alone should tell you that. Money won’t be spent on a professional editor either. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works.

When it comes to marketing, don’t worry, they’ve got that sorted. It’s you. You and your family and friends. ‘For exposure’ and ‘token’ markets count on you and your circle to make them money. Money you won’t see, and money (if they’re ‘token’) that will far exceed that minimal outlay.

And they’ll do it again and again and again because people who aren’t serious about the craft of writing, about getting better at it, will keep subbing. All they want is credits against their name, not to become better writers.

Look, I can’t make you not sub to these markets, what I’m saying is that you should place value on your writing, value that what you do is worthwhile. If writing is truly what you love, then give it the respect it deserves.

And if rejection scares you, buckle up sunshine and take that plunge, you’ll be a better writer for it.

If not, then… happy swimming at the murky bottom of the pool.

TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT? (A STUPID QUESTION ANSWERED.)

To write is human, to edit is divine. ~ Stephen King.

You need to edit your work. Let me say that again, just in case you missed it the first time:

YOU. NEED. TO. EDIT. YOUR. WORK.

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp – even the above words are simple, but it appears a lot of writers believe this is a stage that can be skipped or is entirely unnecessary (I shit you not). They’re wrong. So very wrong. Like, drowning in oceans of wrongness. I recently saw someone proclaim they didn’t need to edit their story before subbing; they’d written it in one sitting and it was good enough to sub without an edit.

No.

Just no.

And fuck off.

There’s a certain level of arrogance and ignorance tied into believing your work, your stories, don’t need another set of eyes to go over it. Forget the fact that you might have misspellings, verb tense issues, punctuation and dialogue anomalies; that your plot isn’t on point, your character is inconsistent, or, hell, that the story just doesn’t make sense. How do you know the tale you’ve visualised has transferred to the page? Do you just not care? Or, are you so sure of your own “perfection” that no other input is necessary? That’s some high-level cognitive dissonance right there.

There are some stories that do just flow from your fingertips onto the page, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need at least a beta reader, someone to give you feedback, to ask questions of plot or dialogue or story direction. Things that will make your story better. Why would an author not want that? Why would you not want to improve not only your story, but your writing?

I’m a professional editor (yes, got the certificates and the industry experience to prove it), and I’m also a writer. Do I edit my own work? Of course I do. Do I send it to others to beta read? Damn straight. Do I have someone else edit it? Hell yes I do. Why? Because I’m too close to the story to see any issues it may have, because I want to know whether it makes sense, because maybe a question or note will make the story stronger, clearer, more kick-arse. Because I want MY BEST WORK out in the world, not just my: ‘fuck it, this’ll do’ work.

Of late, I’ve seen a surge in this ‘fuck it’ submission process, the belief that you just write and your subs will be accepted. Sure, there are places that will accept that “work”, and if ‘for exposure’ markets or ‘contributor copy only’ markets are your thing then… well, okay. You keep doing you. But why not aim higher? Do better?

It comes down to how you value what you do. How you value your readers. Writing is a craft, it needs to be honed, practised, built upon, and you never stop learning. EVER. If you believe you don’t need to edit, that you don’t need beta readers or those rejections that make you look again at your story and better it, then stagnant you will be, stale your stories will become.

edit all the words

Look, I can’t make you engage beta readers, I can’t make you use an editor or hell, even make you edit your own work, but I can guaran-damn-tee you, you won’t hit any of the success you’re wanting. Having a bibliography of pubbed stories in mags or anthologies no one’s heard of doesn’t up your author profile as much as you’d like to think it does. Give me a story published in Nightmare Magazine, or Grimdark Mag, Apex or Clarkesworld over multiple stories published in markets even Google would have trouble finding.

Writers are readers, we know the markets that accept only the highest possible standards, and those are the markets professional writers want to crack – and by professional, I mean those who take the process of writing and all it entails, seriously. Who know there’s more to writing than just words on a page.

It all really comes down to choice:

Be the writer who wants their work to be the best it can be, who wants constructive criticism for the sake of the story, who wants to be better, do better, and to break into those pro-paying markets who have the high standards for which you strive. To have publishers ask you to sub to them because they’ve seen your work and want it; to have readers search for your work because your tales resonated with them, because they love your storytelling.

Or…

Don’t.

Don’t Be A Cock (*trademark pending*)

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of the furore/shitstorm/WTFedness going on over in Romancelandia regarding a certain author and their trademarking of a particular word to the exclusion of all other authors/titles. If you haven’t, head over to Twitter and the #CockyGate saga. Be careful, it’s a rabbit hole – you’ve been warned.

This isn’t how I intended to spend the start of my Monday morning, but I’m caffeinated and well, it’s Monday. So while I will wade into the sea of shit this author (she’ll get no naming rights here) has created, I’m not going to go into the epically stupid thing she’s attempting nor the blatant hypocrisy she trying to foist into her narrative (it’s outstanding), or the ‘How to Commit Career Suicide’ this so very much looks like. But I will address a few things; while this author plies her trade in the romance genre, this affects every author in every genre and sub-genre.

The first thing to get straight is that it’s a trademark she’s attempting, not copyright – two different things. If you’re going to go head-to-head with her and/or weigh in on this debate, please get that piece of information right. I’m not going to go into the legalities of it here, there are greater (and more willing) minds than mine to do that. But use the right term.

This author is using intimidation tactics to have other indie authors with the word ‘cocky’ in their book titles make changes or she will sue. Yep, you read that right. And one of the things she continually spouts is her “graciousness” to allow them to keep their earnings and reviews, so the changes they “must” make aren’t a big deal and won’t cost the author anything.

Yeah, that’s the bullshit I want to talk about. Indie, or self-published authors don’t have the backing (and funds) of those authors traditionally published. It costs money to edit your book, it costs money for cover art, it costs money for cover design/layout, it costs money to advertise. All of these expenses come out of the often very empty pockets of an indie author. Any changes to books currently uploaded to any and all platforms will require funds to have those changes made. It will cost not only money but time, and time lost often equals money lost, potential readers lost, potential sales lost. To threaten another author into doing so is delusional at best, reprehensible at worst.

All writers, myself included, write because to not do so hurts the soul. To have that passion stomped on, threatened, bullied, isn’t going to win you any favours, it isn’t going to win you readers, and it sure as shit isn’t going to win you market-share (or dominance).

Look, publishing is hard, getting your name out and your books sold in today’s market is hard, but you don’t go about it by stepping on other authors, you don’t go about it by trying to bankrupt other authors out of the market. It’s a big fucking table we’re sharing, and there’s room for everyone. And there are plenty of readers to go around.

Think of it as Ægir’s feast – your ale horns will never be empty, and there’s a regenerating boar outside providing limitless bacon for all.

Don’t try and block seats at the table, lest you want the chair pulled out from beneath you.

Oh, and don’t be a cock… unless you’re this ↓ fabulous!

cock

‘Tis the season to be… award-y

It’s that time of year again. Award season. Or the nominating and voting of such. It’s a time for writers to really pimp their wares for reader-voted honours, or to pray to all the gods (or none) that it will be their name on a nice, shiny trophy.

I have a love/uncomfortable relationship with awards and the award-season. I’ve been lucky enough to win two Australian Shadows Awards (short fiction & graphic novel), and that’s a pretty damn fine high, I gotta say. Yet the whole idea of pimping my work makes me all kinds of uncomfortable. Sure, it’s part of the gig ‒ I get that ‒ and I do pimp my work because I’d be a fool not to. Some authors, though, have a gift for it. Me? I will pimp the shit out of friends’ work I love, but when it comes to my own… <insert squirming here>

uncomfortable

What I do love about the award season is discovering new work and new authors. With so many books on the market, not all of which are good, and some that really have no right to be there (I’m looking at you, unedited books with shite covers), award season hones those great reads down for me. As an editor, my personal reading time is precious, so a poorly edited or plot-hole riddled book will make me stabby.

Speaking of segues, the first lot of awards are in – The Best of Fantasy Stabby Awards, as voted by Reddit. Not only does the ‘Stabby’ have a sword as its trophy (like, what else?), but this year an Aussie nabbed one of those swords for himself. Evil is a Matter of Perspective (Adrian Collins, ed.), put out through Grimdark Magazine.

The preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards has also been announced, with some Aussie and Kiwi writers making their mark this year as well. Big up Alan Baxter for The Book Club;  Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts for Hounds of the Underworld; and Aussie blogger Adrian Bookhead up for superior achievement in blogging for Grim Reader Reviews.

But wait, there’s more! The Aussie awards are open for nominations too: Australian Shadows, Aurealis, and Ditmar. Get eligible works in, folks, if you haven’t already.

Look, there’s probably a tonne more that are open, and the social media dance of books and nominations and votes and publicity and ‘read my book’ is inevitably coming, and it can be exhausting. Thing is, if your name isn’t King, Rowling, or Gaiman (for instance), chances are you work another job (or two) to pay bills and do things like eat. So award season is the opportunity to get your name and your work out there to new readers who just may buy your book. It may put you on the radar for future book deals. It could make a writer’s life a bit easier.

Conversely, awards aren’t the value of your work. I’ll say that again: AWARDS AREN’T THE VALUE OF YOUR WORK! I’ve read brilliant pieces that never won an award or made a shortlist. I’ve written stories I thought were pretty damn good that didn’t get a look in. It can be like a punch to the gut, no doubt, but awards don’t define you as a writer. They help, sure, and those trophies sitting on your desk or shelf are suh-weeeet, but once it’s all said and done, you’re still putting ink to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

What it boils down to is: MAKE GOOD ART. That’s all you can do. And if you’re shortlisted for an award, I tip my hat to you (it’s a fabulous hat). And if not? Keep writing, my friend, it’s the act of creating that draws you back to words, not the awards. Besides, there’s always next year.

 

2017: Heroes and Vikings, and the Shit Year it was

If it were up to me, I’d wrap 2017 in a whole pile of monkey shit and set that bitch afire. Twice. But part of me wants to hold tight to 2017, to never let that first part of it go. There was good in my 2017, but the shit… oh, the shit. When I look back on this year, I can see the wonderful in it: the successes, the people I’ve met, and those I’ve surrounded myself with. Of that, I am thankful, but the last half of this year especially was life-changing in a way you never want it to be. The way no one ever wants it to be.

There are some things you just never get over, and the loss of my mother darkens any good this year threw my way. This is the first time I’ve mentioned her passing publicly, and I’m not going to go into how amazing she was (she’s a hero, my hero), and how hard she fought (like a fucking Viking), or how fucked-up disease is (I never knew how much I could hate a thing), or how much I miss her (there’s an ache inside that will never go away). She deserves so much more than I could ever put into words.

Writing has always been a solace, but I’m only now starting to think of words again. Small and simple though they be, it’s a start. There’s a normalcy to it that my heart sometimes fights ‒ how can I be ‘normal’ again? But I can almost feel that slap upside my head. Like I said, a fucking Viking.

2017 was the year I had my mother. It was the year I did not.

So I wrote a thing, not long before the world ripped away what was light and good. It’s nothing special, but it’s from a life to which I can never return. A life where my mother’s heart beat in fierce defiance.

I wonder at its content; it resonates now in a way it didn’t when I wrote it. And while I want to see the end of this shittiest of shittest years, I also want to hold onto it and never let it go.

HARVEST

“In blood Skarja walks, the souls of all she’s killed the great shadow at her back!” Mira shouted above the storm’s fury as I grabbed my scythe. “My dreams do not lie!”

Too long I’d stayed; lines appearing on my wife’s face where they never would on mine. I’d run, draw Skarja away. Mira would be spared. This time, no children had I sired.

Howling winds rattled the shutters of our hut as Mira dragged me from the door. “She comes! Your name upon her lips!”

Fear for me darkened her eyes. That was why I’d loved again when I’d sworn nevermore. My kiss lingered, savouring lips I hoped would never curse my name.

“Flee,” I begged. “Wipe me from memory.” I charged into the storm. If I could get to the mountains, if—

Skarja loomed from the maelstrom, spitting my name like venom. “Evka.”

A thousand cuts glistened on her ebony skin, like lightning under the moon’s touch. I knew each one. Had delivered them with hate-fuelled rage ­‒ desperate for what she had that I did not. The shadow behind Skarja writhed as she gathered it to her, faces of the damned morphing into great black wings ‒ shredded and shrieking.

“Not Mira.” I discarded my weapon; dropped to my knees. “Please, not my Mira.”

Skarja laughed; drew me close. Wings wrapped tight tore into my flesh. “You cannot kill a god,” she whispered ‒ words we’d traded since the dawn of the world.

I screamed Mira’s name as Skarja ripped out my heart, taking it as her own. Memories shattered as my twin fled into the night with the one heart we eternally shared.

In the doorway of a hut, a woman sobbed as I gathered my scythe. She, the first harvest for my great shadow.

 

malfunction_by_skirill-d9m0frr

Art: Malfunction by Skirrill

 

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING COMING SOON

Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

The stories that keep on giving

Writers will tell you nothing much beats publication – be it a short, novella or novel. Signing that contract, getting paid (yes, you should be paid for your work), and having your story out in the world is like crack.

But what happens to those babies once they’ve flown the nest and found new homes? After a given time, well those babies come back. Most will stay filed away, but never underestimate their chance to fly off again and find new homes, new readers.

Reprint markets. Oh, they are wonderful things. One of my babies has found a new home with Digital Fiction Publishing League. Unlike children (real, human-like ones) there are a few stories of mine that are favourites, and The Whims of my Enemy is one of them. It’s a brutal story, unforgiving to all the characters within, but more so with the main protagonist. Hers is a torturous ride, filled with violence and weighed against the desperate need to survive, and what that survival may cost.

Killing it Softly 2

It seemed a good fit for Killing It Softly 2: a fiction anthology of short stories (the best of women in horror). It’s quite the title, and the editors at DFPL were not only kind enough to accept ‘Whims’ but made it the lead story in the antho, which I was extremely chuffed with. There are some fantastic authors I’m sharing the pages with, and it’s one hell of a tome. Thirty-eight stories that run the gamut of all things horror.

Here’s the blurb:

The first ‘Killing It Softly’ was just the tip of the iceberg…

Beneath the icy depths of this next installment, you’ll be plunged into a world where 38 female horror writers give you a glimpse of their inner-demons, unleashing the hell-fire they suppress in the ‘real’ world. It will disturb you to discover what really lurks inside their minds, because many of these stories delve into pain that can only be experienced by women—leaving you unhinged as you curl up with them during their darkest hour.

Post-partum depression, hording, anorexia, and mental health will be brought to light when viewed through the shadowy perspective of cognitive deception.

Sci-fi, romance, steam-punk, and fantasy intertwine with horror to deliver unsettling, chilling stories; traditional tales of witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires will be told in twisted new ways that will shock, unnerve, and even repulse you…and within these pages, sometimes new monsters will arise from the ashes.

You may even discover that women can not only write good horror…but in some cases, can do it better.
So if you’re of a mind, and looking for some killer short stories to while away the hours, then check out Killing It Softly 2 ­‒ there’s a little horror out there for everyone.

And for you writers out there, remember there is more than one life to the stories you’ve sent out into the world. Let those babies fly again!

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

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Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Whispers in the Void

A couple of months ago, Mark Lawrence launched this year’s Battle of the Bards competition ‒ write a flash fiction piece (300 words or fewer), for a chance to win signed books from some of the giants in the grimdark/fantasy genre.

My friend, Devin Madson, won that comp with her incredible piece ‒ Between Lanterns and Corpses. It’s a brilliant story, and I was so chuffed she’d won. You can read it here, along with the short-listed entries. For those familiar with Devin’s work, this story is set within her Vengeance trilogy universe, and this post explains the origin of the winning flash piece. You should be reading her work, she’s quite the storyteller!

I, too, gave the competition a whirl, but alas, no free books. While a ‘loss’ in the literal form, it was a win in the time-to-write column. Yes, it’s only 300 words (good words, I think), but it was more the act of creativity that soothed my soul ‒ that’s always a win.

The story I wrote has also brought into sharper focus one of the characters of my WiP, so I’ve gained another win (two ticks in the win column ‒ I’m on a roll!). Writing tight forces those essential traits, the… trueness of a character and lets the world see it.

So, if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can read another three hundred words.

Whispers in the Void

Wren knew this wasn’t the last of the dead they would stitch beneath her skin. This night the soothsayer would be forged into the finest jewel, and Wren would carry that hateful woman for all time. Already the sickly-sweet scent of roasting flesh clogged her throat.

Anointed in oils, Wren had been left to commune with the souls she carried, but never had their voices been quiet. Never had they let her be. Silence, how she craved it. Nights undisturbed. Days, her thoughts her own. But the people had cut and carved and delivered their dead ‘til she was a shadow within a shell. Infested. Infected. The slow death of self.

Escape was all she had. And freedom meant retribution. With no Journeywoman to replace Wren, the clan’s spirits would be unprotected. Ripe for the Undergod’s pickings.

Beneath the Spirit House, blisters bloomed on her skin as she dragged herself past the furnace where the soothsayer sizzled and spat. May the Undergod never shit you out. Wren stifled a cry; lances of fire a thousand-fold speared through her, the spirit-gems enraged at being so near their creators. Life-eternal they’d been promised, yet prisoners they’d become in an unwilling crypt.

They blazed their fury, but freedom meant pain. They would soon understand.

At the slag pit’s egress, the light of day stung her weeping blisters, and glinted off the jagged spears of metal below. Thousands of spirits she’d been burdened to carry. She would carry no more.

The drop from her perch was steep, and the dead began to beg. Without her, they were just whispers in the void.

Freedom beckoned. Her life her own, however fleeting.

No longer the caged bird she had always been, Wren smiled as she pushed from the edge, and for a moment, she flew.

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Art by: Dimitarsizce