Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Take A Step Back – Seeing the Wood as well as the Trees By Chris Joynson

As writers we have to wear multiple hats, there’s the one for actual writing, then when that’s done there’s the editor hat before you send off your baby to be scrutinised by the professionals, and finally the salesman as you have to publise your work on social media and go round conventions (which for someone as socially awkward as me is a truly terrifying prospect).

This can be both really hard to do, and also really helpful as well. Yes, your book is your baby and it’s hard to look at it objectively, but sometimes you just need to step back and look at things from another angle. I know that when I write I have a tendency to get lost in the moment a little bit, the chapter I’m working on that point becomes everything, I obsess over what should be happening, how the characters would react to this and rewriting lines several thousand times. But at the same time I need a part of my brain  to try and to fit this into the grander scheme of things. I ask myself how does this work for the arc of the story and the characters? What bits of information I need to drop and how any changes will affect things later on? Sometimes it feels like my head’s going to explode if I don’t stop juggling so much.

There are times when I leave my writing for the day feeling dejected and that I might as well throw it out the window. Then I come back to it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes and it’s not that bad. I recently read through the novel I’m working in its entirety (instead of editing it one chapter at a time as I have been doing), and I honestly came away a lot happier and prouder of the work than when I’d been burying myself in the details.

That’s not to say that details aren’t important, they are and they deserve your time and effort to get right, but sometimes you just need to stop looking at the trees and appreciate the wood a bit, after all it’s the book as a whole that the readers are going to get, not individual chapters.

So if you’re struggling or getting down about your writing then take a step away and come back the next day, it might not be as bad as you think. Also, if you’re having problems, give the story to a friend to read, or do what I did and join a writer’s group to get advice and helpful opinions on what works and what doesn’t in your story.  When you take all that advice and the different perspectives of your book and put them together in a coherent manner, it’s going to get better, because it always can, and when you’re happy with it, then begins the long journey to get it published.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

That’s What He Said – Turns out said isn’t a bad word after all: By Chris Joynson

That’s What He Said – Turns out said isn’t a bad word after all

By Chris Joynson

Turns out ‘said’ isn’t that bad a word to use in your writing. I’m not quite sure where I first heard the advice to never use the s word, though its one I can remember seeing multiple times when I was first putting pen to paper as a writer. I got it into my head that using said was a big No No, and I still don’t like it all that much. Said is a boring word, its like ‘nice’, it floats on the page like a vague blob that’s neither good nor bad. It’s just nice. It’s just said. There’s no expression behind it, which is kind of the point.

See there aren’t really any bad words, ok there are plenty of bad words out there, but when it comes to writing every word has a purpose and can work if you use it right. Yes ‘said’ is an expressionless word, but sometimes you need that. Sometimes you just need to identify a speaker without coming up with some random action to justify naming them. Sometimes it’s the old adage of less is more, and this is where I’m the guilty party.

See, my aversion to using said lead me to go overboard in finding any other word to use in its place. Every character was exclaiming, or enquiring, or roaring, and there are times you can use that, but to do it all the time kind of reaches a point of ridiculous that’s just funny, I have learned this.

It’s all about finding the right balance, there’s no golden rule for when to use what word, because there are millions of factors that will affect what word you should use. What’s the pace of the scene? What is the character saying this like? What is your own voice as a writer like? Every word has a point and a purpose and we all use them differently, how I write something will be different to how you write something. The only way you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your writing is just go for it. Keep writing until you find your voice, read other people’s work to see what you like and read out your own stuff to other people to get their opinion, take all of that and you’ll figure out what works for you.

Writing is a continual learning curve. You’ll never be done finding new tips and tricks to make your work better, because it can always be better, but what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you, so just try it and see. Eventually you’ll find your own way, and now I sound like a bad 80s pop song, so I’m outta here!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Write a Book in A Day Event - Submission Call: Post by Mathew Presley

Sheffield SFF Writers group needs your input!

As part of the Off the Shelf festival, Sheffield SFF Writers group is hosting the ‘Write a Book in a Day’ event. For this event, we’re building a shared world that can be a starting point for six sci-fi/fantasy genres. In each of the genres (split into ages), I’m looking for two different entries to flesh out the world;

STOCK: Details, locations and events that anyone is free to use or alter for their story. I’m not looking for too many of these, as the writers themselves will no doubt have their own stock of characters; however, having a common linking device (such as a prolific family or key battle) in two stories will help this be a shared-world collection of stories, and not just a set of stories that happen to share a world. Entries should be less than 100 words each, and be open enough that multiple people can have a different take on them (A common family name is more useful in a shared world than a single character, and there’s not going to be a fixed map, so keeping locations fluid will let other writers add their own details.).

‘INSPIRATION POINTS’: A more open, interpretive entry, Inspiration Points are little pieces of scenes that someone struggling to start their story can use. Beginnings, in media res paragraphs, or descriptions of a scene are all welcome, the more open the better. For instance, these entries (submitted by myself and Chris Joynson);

1)      “You can tell a lot about your enemy by their arrows.” said Imp, “Copper headed ones, that’s bandits, or Dreamer save you the elves. Iron headed ones, that’s town guards, and they only fire them if they can get them back; they have to pay for ammunition.” He snatched an arrow from the air as we ran, “Steel heads!” he said triumphantly, “with a smith’s mark and everything! Be proud, master; someone rich wants us dead for a change.”

2)      A ship floats dead in space. The crew’s belongings are left lying around, as if they’d stepped out a minute ago, but the food has rotted to dust, the power cells are completely drained, and the ship’s log is decades old. What happened?

Entries should be less than 100 words.

All submissions from the writer’s group are welcome; please submit entries to (Subject: SHARED WORLD SUBS)

GENRES: The six genres the shared world will cover are;

                Age of Dreams (High/Epic Fantasy)

                Age of Towers (Low Fantasy/Swords and Sorcery)

                Age of Hammers (Renaissance/Steam/Dieselpunk)

                Age of Spirits (Urban Fantasy)

                Age of Infinity (Space Opera)

                Drossworlds (Cyberpunk)


DROSSWORLDS (Cyberpunk) In the wake of the ever expanding human frontier are the Drossworlds; planets depleted of any resource that can aid in space travel, and very often in ecological collapse from the associated industries. Drossworlds are hopeless places; whatever resources are left are controlled by corporate governments, and the people who get left behind are undesirables; convicts, radicals, or sometimes the plain old unlucky. Just as the Age of Infinity doesn’t end, neither do the Drossworlds; individually they grow more uninhabitable, and the oldest worlds are now little more than scraped-clean rocks, but as long as humanity expands, it leaves entire planets behind in its wake.

1)      Old Shem: The oldest of the known Drossworlds, Old Shem is more a museum piece than a habitable planet. Historians and archaeologists patrol the streets, piecing together what remains of Old Shem’s significance. Old Shem is thought to be the original homeworld for humanity; it’s certainly old enough, and the architecture that withstands its bleak atmosphere is reminiscent of early Human Colonial era design. The only part of the planet still accessible without a hazmat suit is the moon; once a spaceport, but now renovated into an Archivist outpost, tasked with collating and organising Old Shem’s history.

2)      Centrum: Planetary Head Office of the Gladius Corporation, the galaxy’s best organisers. ‘We organise everything!’ is their slogan, which is equal parts promise and threat. Their planet is divided into subsections; each worker is given a code and sent to a particular city based on genetic factors and pre-approved alphabetised names. In order to attain proper balance and symmetry to their world, Gladius spent trillions on reshaping their world’s continents. Centrum is technically a Drossworld, as the Corporation lacks the permissions to relocate off-world. To its workers and advertising departments, however, Centrum is paradise.

3)      The Blacklist: In a world run by interplanetary corporations, the worst thing to be is in your boss’s bad books. The Blacklist are a sinister group who’ve taken ownership of their social exile, and work to disrupt the world monopoly whenever they can. The disillusioned, anarchic or those with nowhere else to turn, the Blacklist are touted as an organised criminal syndicate by media outlets; while they are involved in illegal activity, the majority are trying to survive against a government that hates and vilifies them.

4)      The investigation so far, had more questions than answers. What was a Void-Skipper ship doing so far into Drossworld territory? How has it traversed five systems, over six-thousand light years of Council space, undetected and unchallenged? If the crew had all abandoned as the retrieved log said, where had they gone? They’d crashed into a Former-M planet, barely missing a hydrochloric sea; nothing could survive on that planet’s surface, yet the satellite station didn’t monitor any unusual take-offs. And, perhaps the biggest question of all; why was a V.S. Ship carrying fifty frozen clones of a prominent Council senator?

Age of Infinity

AGE OF INFINITY (Space Opera) With alien technology (traded for, stolen and commandeered) and ways around the impossibilities of human science, humanity reaches out to distant worlds; as diplomats, pioneers, conquerors and colonists. Any city large enough to fund such a commission is elevated to an off-world site; many become stations, others battleships, while a chosen few become flagships for the new alliance. This Age never officially ends; humanity expands ever outwards, colonising new worlds, making war and peace with ever more exotic and alien societies.

1)      Council of Worlds: The omnipresent, all-encompassing political group that governs space travel and interplanetary relations. While the council is officially made up of representatives across all planets within its territory, humans and Ascendants are far more present than other races due to colonial expansion. Although largely superfluous on a global scale, the Council are the law when it comes to interstellar travel. Access to their technology is only allowed to Council members, and anyone else is obviously a pirate and deserves punishment…

2)      Voidskippers: The loose affiliation of pirates, mercenaries and outlaws the Council are so fearful of. Having no permanent base, Voidskippers have stolen Council technology, and are running a losing battle to retain their independence from Council rule. Often appearing near worlds ‘contacted’ by Council forces, the Voidskippers offer aid to the besieged planet, often granting refuge in payment for resources. Because of the slow-moving nature of the Council, Voidskippers can evacuate entire planets before major forces can be deployed. This isn’t a winning strategy, as V.S. ships malfunction constantly, but it’s the best strategy the Skippers can think of…

3)      Interstellar Travel: A few travel methods are available through Council channels, or on the black market. Alcubierre Engines create a bubble in space-time to travel faster than light; this unfortunately creates a relativistic wave-front that can destroy small planets when the bubble collapses. Alcubierre drives are only fitted to larger ships with responsible crews to limit this danger. Ouselous and C-Drives are safer but rely on rare elements for fuel, so travel smaller distances. Smaller ships, like landing craft or attack ships, travel by anti-gravity generators; these can’t travel faster than light, and so are severely limited.

4)      OCS Shemeld: An Official Council Ship, named after the ancient city that first manufactured it. The Shemeld is a Flagship (5km long, 3 C-Drive Engines, crew of 500) and one of the oldest designations, has been captained by numerous people, fought in several battles and explored vast expanses of untamed space. As a Council ship, its home to every race, though humans make up the largest part of the serving crew; the Shemeld has become a symbol of human endeavour, perseverance and discovery.

5)      VSS Nomad: A Void-Skipper Ship, and their only ship large enough to warrant a unique designation. A commandeered Council Carrier Ship (40-50km long, Alcubierre Drive, crew of 40-50k plus full military contingent), Nomad is a safe refuge for anyone fleeing the Council; though its vast size prevents it from launching an offensive attack (In general, Carrier ships only travel between systems, park up in stellar orbit, then smaller ships do the hard work), in defence it’s nigh-impregnable. How exactly the Voidskippers obtained it is a source of speculation on both sides.

6)      Ascendants: Not so much a species as a state of existence, Ascendants are aliens who’ve grown beyond genetics and evolution. Far from benevolent space-prophets, Ascendants think and act on a galactic scale; just as civilised society is incomprehensible to the common monkey, the will of Ascendants seems madness to lesser beings. Humans began to ascend in the Age of Infinity; whether this is a good thing for either race remains to be seen.

7)      Anhelitus: A gas giant in the Teumassian system, and one of the top 500 beauty spots in the

 universe. Its cities are lightweight plastic structures, held in negative gravity above the planet’s powerful air currents. The planet’s infrastructure was originally a gas-harvesting facility, extracting rare gases needed for the Oeselous Star Drive system. As the gases became depleted, efforts were made to stabilise Anhelitus and it became declared a Natural Preserve by the Council of Worlds. The rich and famous now flock here to witness the twin sunsets; this pilgrimage has increased demand for the Oeselous Star Drive system.

8)      A ship floats dead in space. The crew’s belongings are left lying around, as if they’d stepped out a minute ago, but the food has rotted to dust, the power cells are completely drained, and the ship’s log is decades old. What happened?

Age of Spirits

AGE OF SPIRITS (Alt-world urban fantasy) With the end of imperialism and science becoming increasingly mired in mathematical impossibility, the people of the Union of Nations begin to lose confidence in cold science, instead turning to spiritual pursuits in the quest for self-fulfilment. Old practices see a revival, and some individuals find connections back to the spirits from the Age of Dreams. While some of these connections are probably beneficial, far more aren’t; some old spirits were best forgotten, and others are angry at being ignored for so long. The Age officially ends when alien contact is made; given a new frontier to work towards and a grander scheme, humanity unites in the face of distant planets.

1)      Shemeld City: A post-industrial city, Shemeld City isn’t as important to the world as it once was, but it does boast a unique quality; it’s connection to the spiritual world. As the Age of Spirits began, Shemeld’s history and location was closer to the spirit world than other, more developed cities. Although still financially and geo-politically small, Shemeld greets disparate cultures as equals, and as the Age of Spirits grows from a fringe movement, Shemeld becomes the focal point for new spiritualism.

2)      Old Spirit Movement: The beginning seed of the Age, the Old Spirit Movement were the first collection of misfits, occultists and cryptologists to contact the spirits from a forgotten time. Although the Movement destroyed itself with infighting, each group sees it as their origin myth, even if their particular form of magic came about much later. The original Movement had five members, bought together by a shared disillusion with the world. Details were mythologised, conflated and exaggerated with each retelling, but the members came to symbolise a piece of the movement; The Escapist, Rebel, Hedonist, Scholar, and Attainer.

3)      Enlightened: Originally the Attainers of the Movement, the Enlightened who seek spiritual fulfilment. By far the lightest, nicest, least-likely-to-kill-you branch of the Movement, the Enlightened are equally the most disparate; there’s no one path to Enlightenment, after all, and Enlightened learn as many options as possible. Paths might converge, split, or loop back, but should never lead to a dead end. The magic of the Enlightened comes from those who achieve it; depending on who you ask, these spirits are Angelic, Demonic, beings of pure faith, or mystic charlatans. Enlightened would prefer it if you didn’t use such terms, however.

4)      Vampires: Originally the Hedonists of the Movement, Vampires have given themselves over to obtaining earthly pleasures at any cost, even above life. The spirits involved in becoming a vampire are always dangerous, and respond only to blood. Once invoked and bound to their host’s body, the vampire gains immortality at a heavy price. Sunlight burns, and it must drink blood to retain its youth. Despite the obvious danger involved, vampires work hard to maintain a romantic charm about what they are; if the harsh reality became known, it’d quickly lead to their extermination.

5)      Tyrants: Originally the Rebels of the Movement, Tyrants desire only power; once it had been power to cause change, but the change has happened. Without a common banner, Tyrants selfishly accumulate power in any form; magic, wealth and prestige are all equal. Some joke that Tyrants make up the world governments; in fact, there’s equal numbers of other rulers keeping the Tyrants out. No-one’s clear which spirits the Rebels first invoked; spirits of anger, pride and nobility have all been posited. One thing is clear; each Tyrant now acts independently, because otherwise a new Age of Tyranny would begin.

6)      Wizards: Originally the Scholars of the Movement, wizards pursue knowledge in all its forms; unlike the other Movement members, wizards haven’t allied with any particular group of spirits, instead studying and bartering with spirits as a collective. Although ‘wizard’ suggests some magical talent, many wizards don’t have any power, studying magic for its own sake. Those that do have bartered it from spirits; the bloodlines of humanity have been without magic for a long age, and now none are born with innate power. There are several subsections of wizard; Elementalists, Conjurers, Illusionists, and Necromancers are a few such groups.

7)      Shifters: Originally the Escapists of the Movement, Shifters wanted nothing more than to leave the real world behind. Changing form to an animal was the most popular and easiest method of escapism; to run free with a wolf pack, or soar over the lands as an eagle, was all the Shifters desired. As time went on, Shifters’ magic became entrenched in a single type of spirit; families of werewolves, werebears and werehawks are so closely tied to their totemic animal, they forgot they could take different shapes.

8)      Ten minutes after meeting their leader, I met his pet cat. Within thirty seconds, it was obvious who was the brains in that organisation.

9)      When a young boy first told his mentor ‘I wish to be a wizard’, the mentor gave him a task; translate a leather-bound manuscript, old beyond counting. After thirty days, the boy returned; ‘I haven’t learnt magic!’ he said, ‘The tome told me nothing!’. The mentor smiled, and said ‘I know. Do you mind that you pursued power only to find none at the end?’ ‘Yes!’ said the boy, ‘You deliberately wasted my time!’. The mentor frowned, ‘Then you do not wish to be a wizard.’ said he, ‘Seek out the Tyrants. Their philosophy is closer to yours.’

10)   When a young man told his patron ‘I wish to be a vampire’, he was given a ritual; to dance within a stone circle, adorn his body with symbols of excess, and to anoint himself with saffron oils before a crowd of spectators. After thirty days, the man asked ‘Will you make me a vampire?’ The patron asked ‘Did you enjoy the ritual?’; the man replied ‘Very much so!’. The patron asked ‘Did others wish to join you?’; the man replied ‘Yes; I gathered quite a crowd!’. ‘Then you have the desire and the skill to join us.’

Age of Hammers

AGE OF HAMMERS (Renaissance-Steampunk) The continent is now unified under Imperial rule, and begins an age of discovery and invention. Old magic is replaced by new science, and these innovations lead to ever expanding empires. The Age officially ends when the empires finally descend into open war; with resources like coal and oil rapidly depleting, new methods of science and political movements turn Shemeld into a world closer to modern-day Earth.

1)      Shemeld City: Now part of the Great Empire, Shemeld’s unique position in the continent means it’s an industrial centre, with the boring matters of leadership and governance delegated to the fetid boroughs of Greater Calshan County. When the Dwarven mines were sacked, Shemeld was in the perfect position to overtake their industries; coal and iron ore are continually belched from the mountains, down to the village-sized furnaces and cogworks. Former Elf forests are now part of the Shemeld Civic Arboretum, which aims to be green and lush, but for most of the year is sulphurous.

2)      The Goldharker Family: ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass, and Goldharkers trade both’. This merchant family is so sprawling and omnipresent that any port or border-town without a Goldharker is considered the lesser for it. Many would have you believe the entire family were cut-throats, swindlers, conmen, smugglers and slavers; indeed, the Goldharkers only cultivate this rumour, because only poor people would believe such rubbish. That said, wherever here’s a coin to be made, there’ll be a Goldharker involved somewhere.

3)      The Far South Confederacy: As the invention of airships made traversing the oceans to the south of the Great Empire easier, contact with southern lands quickly turned into warfare between the Empire and Confederacy they found. It’s not clear whose fault it is; the Confederacy were probably uncivilised, while the Empire might’ve been arrogant. What’s important is the Confederacy use unsporting tactics, and it’s the Empire’s air superiority over the south ocean that confounds any attempt upon Imperial soil. Unlike the Empire, the Confederacy isn’t one unified culture; countries such as Samarkhand, Alashorn and Cathar are member states.

4)      IAF Victory: The Imperial Air Fleet’s finest vessel, the Victory was the first airship commissioned as a warship, rather than the explorer and merchant class vessels now used by civilians. Capable of flying majestically over the heads of startled Confederacy forces during a bombing run, or evading their haphazard, disorganised artillery barrages, the Victory is a symbol of Imperial arrogance on both sides of the water. Captained by the equal parts arrogant and overconfident Lord Commissar Perseverance ‘Percy’ Shipwright, the sight of the Victory coming to port can lift the spirits of the dowdiest Imperial.

5)      The Imperial Family: The ruling Calshani family became figureheads at the beginning of the Age, leaving governance to a fledgling parliament. Inside, their wealth was focused on military and colonial expansion. Imperial armies are the best equipped, Imperial ships the fastest and strongest, and Imperial flags are the most readily waved and saluted by cheering Imperial crowds. The Imperial family individually are universally revered, from the ‘Southern Queen’ Titania I, in whose honour the first Oceanic Expeditions were launched, or the ‘Prince of All Vitality’ Gustaf IV, whose medical discoveries eradicated screaming cough and the deadly Alley-Cat Sweats.

6)      He opened up the letter; “we have been discovered; run.”

Age of Towers

AGE OF TOWERS (Low fantasy/Swords and sandals) The world is now dominated by human culture, with Dwarves, Elves and other races fighting a losing battle to retain their own traditions. Magic still exists but is less powerful; wars are now won by armies, not competing wizards. The fortress of Calesh is now part of the largest city in the known world; other cities of the more magical races are wiped off the map, left to become ruins. The Age officially ends when the Dwarven Kingdoms are defeated, wiping out the last of the magical societies. From the defeated Kingdoms, however, the Empire learns the secrets of technology, ushering in a renaissance.

1)      Territory of Shemeld: A sovereign state of the Calshani Empire, Shemeld is still culturally unique, but now under Imperial rule. While some lords stage independent rebellions, without a single banner to unify under, the Empire crushes them easily. From Shemeld the Empire continues its war against ‘superstition and fear’; namely the Dwarven mines, Elfin forests, and the waning Dragon shrines in the mountains. Because of its place in the forefront of war, Shemeld is home to Imperial smithies; swords and armour for the legions are produced, usually to oppress the townsfolk who made them.

2)      The Last of the Dream: To say the alliance of elves, dwarves, goblins and other races is tenuous is a gross understatement. Centuries of grudges and feuding mean no race can adequately oppose the unified forces of the Empire. Charismatic warlords and sorcerers are hailed as ‘the Last Dragonblood’, but are just as quickly usurped or assassinated; sometimes by the Empire, sometimes by other races who’d sooner be leaderless than support an ancient enemy. While some humans still look to the old powers for guidance, more become disillusioned with fading magic, and turn to the ever-growing Empire instead.

3)      The Calshani Empire: Dating back to the Age of Dreams (Which they claim to have ended when they awoke Unelma), the Calshan family are powerful nobles, and every Kingdom in the Age of Towers has some Calshani blood in their leaders. Some are benevolent leaders, far more are tyrants, and family feuds often turn into wars of succession. The dwarves and elves, both enemies against the Calshani Empire, claim that Unelma will return once all the descendants of Calsharon are dead. Of course, dwarves and elves will believe anything if it gets them their Dragon God back.

4)      War of the Bastard: The most brutal war in the Age of Towers. When an exiled king returned to his throne, he did so with an illegitimate son. Jonah the Bastard was given lordship over a remote territory; his father married into nobility. When the king died, Jonah made a claim for the throne, despite being unpopular in his father’s homeland. Nobility backed the young Prince Erolph, and regents ruled till he was of age. While Jonah was unpopular at court, he had several allies elsewhere, and thus began a long, brutal war that saw the Kingdom ultimately dissolved.

5)      A temple sits in the heart of a thick jungle. The locals speak of an ancient terror within. Traps fill the corridors, and within the inner sanctum is a large treasure chest. Surrounding the chest are several skeletons of various races, all with their hands severed at the wrist. On the chest’s lid is written ‘Hands off’.

6)      An elf, a dwarf and a human walk into a bar…

7)      “You can tell a lot about your enemy by their arrows.” said Imp, “Copper headed ones, that’s bandits, or Dreamer save you the elves. Iron headed ones, that’s town guards, and they only fire them if they can get them back; they have to pay for ammunition.” He snatched an arrow from the air as we ran, “Steel heads!” he said triumphantly, “with a smith’s mark and everything! Be proud, master; someone rich wants us dead for a change.”

8)      She got into the bath, wincing at the cold water. How anyone could stay clean this far north was a miracle to her. Still, she couldn’t attend a grand ball covered in the blood of its host.

9)       It’s tradition among the Salthiri clan that lordship is earned, not inherited. Their symbols of office must be pried from the cold, dead hands of their former leader; this makes their crown and sceptre scarred with chisel marks and blade strikes, and no amount of rich cloth and fur can patch the dagger holes in their royal cloak. Salthiri nobles look to raise strong, dauntless children; the kind fearless enough to commit familicide, but strong enough to resist it in turn.

10)   The messenger stammered, knowing who he was addressing. The Kilmourne family had a long history of vengeance, starting with the poor fool who gave them bad news. Lord Tobias was already stroking the handle of his axe.
“Your brother’s forces…” he said, not taking his eyes from the axe, “…met with the Emperor’s. They are now at peace.”
Lord Tobias laughed, forgetting his axe and raising his arms in celebration. The messenger breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully he could buy a fast horse before Tobias worked out the metaphor.

Age of Dreams

AGE OF DREAMS: (High fantasy) The world is inhabited by all manner of fantastic beasts and races, the most prominent of which are Elves, Dwarves and Men. Dragons exist in the remote places, leading barbaric clans and raiding the Heartland villages. There are no grand cities or architecture to start with, only fortified towns, though towards the end of the Age, monuments equivalent to the Seven Wonders are erected, and cities on hills and across rivers. The Age officially ends with the disappearance of the Dragons and the founding of the Calshani Empire.

1)      Shemeld: Bordered by the Dragonspine mountains to the north and west and the Ousedon river to the south, the lands of Shemeld are a loose affiliation of clans rather than a single country. Having no allegiance to the Dragon shrines in the far north or Calshan in the south, Shemeld is instead a mixture of disparate cultures. Dwarves trade in Shemeld towns, and although Elves are hostile to Shemeld trespassers, there are routes through the forest that they grudgingly allow. By the end of the Age of Dreams, Shemeld is a sovereign nation under the rule of the Calshani.

2)      Unelma, the Dreaming One: Highest of the known Dragons, Unelma explored the world, and from his dreams he formed life to dwell there. He dreamt of the mountains, and they became Dwarves. He dreamt of forests, and they became Elves. He had nightmares, and they became monsters. After the monsters came, he stopped his dreams taking shape, yet he still dreamt of many things. He dreamt of nobility, corruption, greed, humility, arrogance, deference, poverty and riches. These dreams begged to be real as the others before them. Unelma finally took all these disparate dreams, and they became Humans.

3)      Calsharon, Queen of Reason: Unelma’s worst enemy, and head of the Cult of Reason. In a world of magic and mystery, Unelma advocates her followers to trust their senses over their imaginations. Slightly hypocritical, in that to battle an immortal dragon, she requires magical immortality herself. Calsharon rejects the notion that dwarves and elves are better than Humans because they have lived for longer; in her retelling of the Unelma myth, both races are part of Unelma’s nightmare, and only Humans were created with purpose.

4)      Nightwyrm Temple: The largest Dragon shrine in the Dragonspine mountains, Nightwyrm Temple is reputedly where Unelma and his strongest brood reside. No-one’s ever seen Unelma there, only his children, and they’re hostile to any who’d invade their caverns looking for him. His followers are occasionally gifted with dragon blood, giving them magical powers and the ability to shape reality through their dreams. The fact several locations nearby are filled with goblins and monsters is probably not coincidental to this.

5)      GOBLINS: Children of Nightmare, goblins are the cave-dwelling, sun-fearing enemies of the Dwarves, who lives as bandits and scavengers in the abandoned places of Shemeld. Goblins hate pretty much everyone, including other goblin families; they curse Unelma for making them this way, they curse Calsharon for leading purges of the southern clans, and they curse each other for not bowing to their family’s obvious superiority. Studies of the goblin language have yet to find a word that can’t be used as a swear.

6)      DWARVES: Children of Stone, Dwarves live either in vast underground halls, or in mining towns on the surface. They’re in a state of constant battle against goblins, dwarves are renowned as armourers and soldiers in addition to miners. They’re somewhat standoffish with humans, only trading with Shemeld clans, and having a distrust for Elves and the southern lands of Calshan. They’re also obsessively secretive about their crafts; since humans stole metal from their fallen soldiers, they’ll never send any weapon out of a stronghold unless they can guarantee it’ll return.

7)      ELVES: Children of Wood, Elves live nomadic lives through the forests, never staying too long in one place, usually because they’re too busy chasing trespassers and cutting them down. Elves claim to be the first of Unelma’s creations, and so are clearly his chosen people; everything that followed, be it Dwarf, Goblin or Human, are the result of the Dreamer’s nightmare. Humans often romanticise and misunderstand Elves; yes, they’re beautiful, attuned to nature and live free. No part of that means they’re in any way nice.

8)      The Shoe Troll: A phenomenon among young trolls, who steal shoes from nearby villages and wearing them as hats. No-one knows why they do this, nor why it’s so prevalent. Scholars have theorised it may be a status symbol; that by stealing from the civilised world, the young troll shows daring. Others claim the creation of armour is a troll’s rite of passage into adulthood, and younger trolls can only mimic their elders. Elves and Dwarves, however, believe the Shoe Troll to be part of Unelma’s dream. Not every dream makes sense, after all.

9)      “Sire, we face an army of zombies with mages who can raise the dead. Is sending the conscripts and levies in first really wise?”

10)   When the epic tale ‘The Great Discovery’, which tracked the journey of Unelma across the face of the known world, was recreated by mapmakers, they found several landmarks around the world weren’t in the same direction Unelma is said to have travelled. The possibility arose; has the world changed since the Great Discovery, and the landmarks altered? Or did Unelma, highest of Dragons and supposed father of all life, have a terrible sense of direction?

Sunday, 5 June 2016

One Million Words Update

Sorry I missed posting this last month, so I will give the last two months figures. In April, the group wrote a total of 75926 words and in May, the group wrote a total of 89694 words.

That gives us a cumulative total of 539168 words.

Yes, we have made it to half a million word target.

So for those keeping count, with five months left to go we have to write 460832 words which works out at 92166.4 words a month.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

New Event -Write A Book in a Day

We are organising a writing event for 22 October.

A series of talks will be given in the morning by published authors and editors on fantasy and science fiction to help fuel people’s imaginations. In the afternoon, workshops will be held by the same authors and editors on writing and editing short stories, building characters, developing plots and creating a world for the short stories to take place. The day will finish with people being presented with a shared world before participants will workshop their own short stories and write their start, middle and end to the piece. Participants will finish stories at home before emailing them back in (before January). All short stories submitted will be included in an anthology, published for Easter 2017

Tickets will cost £5 (pay on the day)

You can book tickets here: Write a Book in a Day

And keep your eyes on the blog for more details.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Crisis and Opportunity by Matthew Presley

My laptop died.

And not just died as in needed repairing. Whatever killed it killed the hard drive beyond affordable repair, so I lost all my files. It’s a write-off. It’s been Path to Exiled, banhammered, twin struck by Frostmourne and the Soul-Edge. By the Snarl. All my photographs, drawings, music, three years’ worth of Minecraft- all gone. My writing was luckily backed up to a pen drive- but the files are outdated for the most part. Not only do I need to get a new laptop; until I’ve assessed exactly how outdated these files are (Through deduction and evidence gathering that should earn me a deerstalker) I can’t throw out any of the paper copy notes. Really, I know I should be more frustrated by this than I am. I’ve lost at least 17,000 words from the last month alone. The neck pain that’ll come from replacing the music isn’t going to be much fun either. I know I should be annoyed, but once the shock wore off I realised;

I’m free.

You I have to start again with a lot of stuff. Luckily not everything (touch wood), but within crisis in opportunity. This is a mix of both; a Crisportunity, if you will. Yes, a lot of things will start again. But sometimes you need an event to kick you out of endless procrastination and distraction. I now have the opportunity to start with a clean slate, rather than eight years of accumulated rubbish to dredge through. My Minecraft world is lot to the time-draining void which ultimately created it. I now have a reason to sell off the card collection I’ve been ignoring for a year and a half. I can get a new, compact laptop that can fit in a backpack, not a temperamental giant with a cracked casing held together with duct tape and which weighed more than a waterlogged tracksuit. I don’t have to worry about hiding the dead albatross every time I’m out of the flat for more than two days because carrying it would be too much hassle.

In conclusion; back up your work, and back it up often. We live in an age of pen drives, external flash-sticks and the strange moon magic called ‘The Cloud’, which my old laptop predated. But remember; if your laptop dies, or if you lose your work and get set back, you can either dust yourself off and start again, or you can start something fresh. Stay positive, and philosophic, and think of it not as a setback, but a Joseph Campbell death-rebirth journey.

Oh yeah, and don’t trust iTunes. I’ve no idea how I’m getting that music back.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Call for submissions

Hic Dragones are calling for Into the Words submission.

They are looking for shorts stories between 3000 - 7000 words that are edgy, dark and weird fiction. Any interpretation of the theme is welcome – and we have no preconceptions about what ‘into the woods’ might mean. Any genre considered: dark fantasy, (sub)urban fantasy, Gothic, horror, sci fi, steampunk, cyberpunk, biopunk, dystopian, slipstream. We’re looking for original and fresh voices that challenge and unsettle.

Submissions due: Monday 13th June 2016

For more details visit their site.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Mini SFSF Social - 26th April 6.30pm - 7.30pm

SFSF Social are teaming up with Waterstones to host one of the launch events for Stephen Aryan's new fantasy novel Blood Mage. Stephen will be reading from the book, the follow-up to last year's Battle Mage (both from Orbit Books) and answering questions, and as ever we have a few freebies to give away.

It's a great opportunity to meet one of the rising stars of modern fantasy fiction, and we can't wait to see you at Waterstones in Orchard Square Sheffield.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

One Million Words Update

This month’s word count is 84246.

That makes a cumulative total of 373548. So there are just the 626452 words to go to reach a million words.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Kristell Ink Publishing Open Door

There are still a few days - well two left for Kristell Ink Publishing Open Door.

They are particularly keen to see:

  • Urban Fantasy – make it original, please. No Dresden Files clones. Strong characters, rich stories, and twists and turns galore!
  • Science Fiction – all forms, but a good space opera makes us feel warm and fuzzy…
  • Epic Fantasy – hero(ine) focused quest novels considered, but don’t be boring and clichéd. Give us something new

Deadline is April and full details can be found here at their site.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Flash Fic Opportunity

A new flash fic opportunity is out with The Wheel of Osheim Writing Contest.

For more details follow the link.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Writers Workshops Events Coming Up

There are a series of writers workshop events coming up in London hosted by the Writers Workshop. These are taster sessions to the larger conference that they hold in York in September every year.

The workshops are as follows:

Friday 29th April: The Transformational Arc - Using one simple writing tool to add meaning and urgency to character, plot and theme. In this talk C.M.Taylor will be using a tested, jargon-free writing process to show you how to identify your theme, then to use that theme to get your plot and your character development working together to give emotionally powerful meaning to your story.

Friday 27th May: Showing and Telling and Storytelling -Show, don’t tell – or so we’re told. But once upon a time we told stories, didn’t we? And in practice, any successful piece of storytelling needs to balance both showing and telling. In this workshop we’ll look at examples of both narrative modes, and find ways to blend them into our own writing.

Friday 24th June: Point-of-view: The Writer’s Invaluable Friend. - Point-of-view may be one of the less frequently discussed elements of the novelist and short story writer's process, but there’s no doubt that it’s also one of the most significant. It might even be the most significant, given that it tends to be the component of the prose that binds all the other elements (e.g. plot, voice, character development) together into a psychologically consistent whole. Relevant to writers in all genres and to beginners and more experienced writers alike, Jeremy Sheldon will spend this session discussing point-of-view in depth and use practical examples to show how control of its many possibilities can lead to more focused, more coherent and more affective narrative voices on the page.

Friday 29th July: Self-Editing Your Novel. - Encapsulating their acclaimed online Self-Edit Your Novel course, Debi Alper and Emma Darwin will discuss how you can make your plot more compelling, your characters more vivid and their voices more engaging, so that every word counts. 

More details and links to book on each course can be found here.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Richard and Judy Competition

Richard and Judy (TV Show Couple) are searching for a best seller and are encouraging people to submit their manuscripts. Full details can be found here but please note that they are not currently looking for science fiction, fantasy, children’s and teenage fiction; and that all submitted works should be 80,000 words or more.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Other World Theatre Looking For New Plays

Otherworld Theatre's 2nd Annual PARAGON: The Largest Science Fiction and Fantasy Play Festival in the World, is back in September. It will feature 40 One-Act, Sci-Fi and Fantasy plays in 48 hours and is taking submissions for these plays.

Original plays need to be between 5 – 60 minutes long and can be comedic or dramatic. Once written they need to be submitted to!paragon/c2280 by 31st May. Playwrights retain full-rights and ownership of any plays they submit.

40 plays will be selected and performed. For more details, head to the website.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Road to Thule and Twisted Power by David R Lee - News

'The Road to Thule' paperback by David R Lee - 'Mad Max Meets The Wicker Man'! - is discounted NOW, for a limited period.

The new prices (which are very close the minimum Amazon allows) are:

$9.95 from,

£7.95 from,

E9.50 from the European Amazon outlets.

The links above are still showing the old price, I imagine the refresh will happen at some stage.

Now - news on 'Twisted Power': The paperback will now be available somewhat earlier, from Monday 4th April, so you can order it and get it around the release date. There will be no pre-ordering. (Amazon cannot guarantee fulfilment of orders with my business arrangements, so I would not want to disappoint people!)

A synopsis for The Road to Thule is as follows:

The Road to Thule: A techno-magical dystopian novel set in a flooded world, with eight songs. 'Souls such as ours bear within them the terrible energies of cosmic fire and ice, the anvils of the giants. We are of the Allfather's brood, and were forged for something greater, something that reality shatters on. You are of that bloodline, Alex, and you will come to know it.? Exiled from his pleasant life in the heathen Kingdom of Wessex, Alex Tyler embarks on a journey through the flooded British Isles? archipelago of tiny nations, to the far North. There, he is swept up into the power of Thule, masters its secret magical technology and becomes the warlord who will save his people. As Wessex and the other nations of the British Isles lurch into outright war with monotheist fanatics the Pure Light, the outcome will depend on two strange technologies. The problem is, one of them is deadly for any but a tiny, genetic elite to use, and the other, only Thule knows about.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

One million word update

The collective total of words this month is 46677. That makes a cumulative total of 289302 since the one million word target started in November. And that makes a further 710698 to reach the goal.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Winchester Writing Festival

Winchester Writing festival is back in June – 17th to 19th, prices varying depending on which package you pick.

I have been to Winchester’s Writing Festival a couple of times, both at the expense of going on a holiday, and I can honestly say that if I had the money I would be going again this year. Yes, the conference is expensive. Although if you break it down into the costs of accommodation, food and your individual workshops it does feel better. I do believe that it is worth the money, for the advice you get especially the workshops and the one to one appointments. And it looks like finally they have added some science fiction and fantasy to their programme.

As well as the festival itself, they offer a series of competitions, which you do not need to attend the festival to attend.

If you want more details follow the link here.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

SFSF5 Featuring David Tallerman and Adele Wearing

So yesterday on another cold, rainy and windy day (well it it’s the British winter), we braved the elements to end to the Eten café in Sheffield for the Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social event five. This time our guess were David Tallerman and Adele Wearing. David is the author of Giant Thief,  and its sequels Crown Thief and Prince Thief.  He has also written Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science, Patchwerk, and The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories. Full details can be found at his website – link here. Adele is ‘aunty fox’ and the founded of Fox Spirit, whose website can be found here.

The event itself was bookended by readings by David Tallerman, his second reading coming from his brand new book of Short Stories – The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, which is currently discounted to£0.99 or $0.99 dollar depending on which side of the Atlantic that you live on. Where as Adele Wearing told us the story of how she set up Fox Spirit and answered other publishing related questions. The end ended with the now legendary raffle and a good chance for writers, readers and publishers to mingle.

The next SFSF will be in the spring and keep your eye out for the SFSF sister events in York, Eastercon in Manchester and Robot: Creative and Comic Arts Convention at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.

Pictures of the SFSF are below.

David Tallerman reading.

Adele Wearing answering questions.

SFSF raffle.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Reminder Post - SFSF5 on Saturday

SFSF Social returns for the first event of the new year on Saturday 20th February, at 4pm, for another afternoon of readings, talks, Q&As, and a couple of freebies. We're at Eten Cafe on York Street in Sheffield City Centre, and this time our guests will be: David Tallerman and Adele Wearing.

More details can be found here.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Submissions Open – Uncanny Magazine

Submissions are open at Uncanny Magazine for short stories. Uncanny is a Science Fiction and Fantasy based magazine and they are currently looking for unpublished speculative fiction stories between 750-6000 words. Payment is $.08 per word.

More details can be found here.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Reading Your Work Out Aloud

When I was out for a walk earlier and listening to the Writing Excuses podcast (a good way of multitasking in by book, devoting some quality time to listening to craft related podcasts and getting in some exercise to get some fresh air and energise my mind a bit), the issue of reading aloud came up and I thought it would be a good topic for the next blog post.

Not many of us are fans of reading our work out and come don’t always seen the point. It’s a written piece of work not a script, it gets read in the head and not spoken aloud, right? Well wrong, there is an increasing number of audiobooks these days and people listening to them when they travel to work, do the housework, shopping, go for a walk etc in a form of multitasking. And even if there is no chance that your book will ever become an audiobook, there is still a point in reading aloud. This is because you get to see the text differently.

When we read, how many of us end up skim reading and missing out the odd words, especially if you know the text so well. I know that I do. And this book that you have spent a year working on, do you really want it to be less than its best because you have skim read it instead of really understanding the words and looking at it from a different angle. Take the three days to read your book aloud, you’ll be amazed at how many changes that you make.

So what does reading aloud actually help with – well this is just my experience from reading my work out at my writers’ group.

  1. It helps you identify long sentences, especially those that don’t have any commas in. If you need a breath, then your reader will.
  2. Speaking of sentence length – it will help you find the places where your reading speeds up and slows down. This will help you tell what the natural pace and flow of the story is. You can only read a quick pace for so long, so it might help you identify areas where you need to slow thing longer sentences or speed things up with those short sharp sentences.
  3. You will find were the writing is clumsy and you end up tripping over your words for one reason or another – maybe because you have a single word that just stands out in a sentence.
  4. Repeated word. Yes, you have only used a word once in a sentence but you have used it three other times in that paragraph. So maybe it’s worth getting that thesaurus out and changing it to something different.
  5. If you can get someone to read it to, you’ll get their feedback too and this is slightly different to giving it them to read, as it stops them skimming it, so they will hear the whole story and not just selective bit especially if they are finding part of the story, dare I say boring and would otherwise skim it.

So those are just a quick five reasons to give it a go, after all, anything that can make your story better is worth a go.