‘Storm Ring’ by Stephen J Carter

Storm Ring Carter
Storm Ring
4-stars

Stephen J Carter’s “Storm Ring” is the 1st volume in the “Zero Point Light” Sci-Fi series. The story opens on the starship Arcturus 4 when the ship’s computer wakes up its human cargo. Rather unhelpfully, the initial scenes reminded me of ‘Alien’, but this feeling quickly passed as the story progressed. The six-strong crew discover their convoy has been destroyed and they are now faced with either going back to their last location, or exploring the unknown, but apparently habitable, planet of Nebura.

Naturally, they head down to the planet and soon learn that warring factions headed by Levrock and his partial-synth mutes are not the only thing they have to worry about: an environmental phenomenon known as the ‘Stilling’ eventually forces the crew and some of their new friends to attempt a sea journey to Polarica, where they anticipate things will be safer. However, they first have to negotiate the mysterious storm ring.

Normally, I’m not a great fan of sci-fi, but Stephen Carter’s writing is clever and wonderfully inventive, the story ripping along at a fair pace that, for the most part, held my attention without too much trouble. His descriptions are at times fascinating and thought-provoking and while his writing is always appealing, at times I found myself somewhat besieged by an overabundance of technical language. In addition, I felt that my interest in the characters began to wane slightly towards the end – though whether this was to do with the direction the plot was moving in, or something else, I really can’t say.

As with all good novels, the ending leaves us with a bit of a cliff-hanger and the promise of plenty more action in the next book of the series. One for the collection.

Night Shift by Stephen King

night-shift-stephen-king
Night Shift
4-stars

Though some of the short stories in Stephen King’s first collection were familiar to me, I’m amazed I haven’t read this book before. Some (like ‘Strawberry Spring’), were first published in the late Sixties, but most appeared between 1971 and 1978. Only four, including ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ and ‘Quitters Inc’ were previously unpublished.

While I’d always say King is a highly talented novelist, his flair for the short story is almost unsurpassed. My favourite is ‘Children of the Corn’, where a bizarre road accident prompts an argumentative couple to seek help. When they begin to explore a strange town, a rather disturbing lack of adults leads them into a sinister ritual. King’s own experience of working in an industrial laundry inspired the ‘The Mangler’, where a laundry press develops a taste for human flesh. ‘The Lawnmower Man’ is a simple story that revolves around an original, if somewhat bloody, slant on grass-cutting techniques. Not all the stories are quite so gory though – in ‘The Man Who Loved Flowers’, a handsome young man grabs the attention of passersby, whereas ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ and ‘One for the Road’, both follow on from King’s 1975 novel ‘Salem’s Lot’.

All the stories are wonderfully creepy, with well-observed characters that shine through with an originality that gives credence to their various fates (though of course, they don’t all die!) While this may not be the best of Stephen King, it clearly shows how, even though barely into his Twenties, he was developing a way of telling stories that most writers can only dream about.

 
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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

PD_James_CologneAsked for her 10 top tips on writing, British crime writer PD James talked about the ‘necessary loneliness’ that many writers endure. But how does that work in practice?

“I’ve never felt lonely as a writer, not really, but I know people do.”

PD James

 

In the Mode
If you’re in it for the long haul, as opposed to just ‘having a little go’ at writing, it’s easier to get into a routine, and this is a useful discipline to learn. Such routines might involve having a specific place to write, being free of interruptions or demands on your time, and knowing you have a certain amount of time to escape into your own world.

All By Myself
Many writers speak about the need to be alone while writing, but most don’t equate this to being lonely. However, one of the things I’ve noticed in my own writing routine, is that spending so much time on my own, it’s easy to block out everything that isn’t vital to the ‘world’ I’m involved in.  Sometimes I’ll decide not to do something (go out, clean the car, spend time with friends) in order to preserve my uninterrupted status and write late into the night. Like anything else in life, variety is the key and ignoring everything that’s going on around us is probably not a great idea. Note to self: get a life.

My Virtual World
One of the things I love about my writing life is making contact with other writers. Since this is generally something that happens in cyber space rather than in the real world, I sometimes wonder if having so many writery friends online is just a way for each of us to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘you’re doing fine’. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s important we don’t isolate ourselves completely, retreating into our make-believe worlds where everything revolves around us and what we do.

Being a writer is great – but it’s important to stay in touch with reality.

Writer’s Groups and Other Worm Bags

Walt_Whitman_by_Mathew_BradyA little while ago, I spouted forth on my experience of writer’s groups. On that occasion I did so from the point of view of being a member of such a group, however, the other bag of worms I mentioned in that post referred to the one held by the person who runs the writing group. So how do things look from that point of view?

Captain, my Captain, thrill me with your acumen…

Apologies for the Walt Whitman/Hannibal Lecter reference (an early poem of mine), but the idea that ‘teacher knows shit’ was a popular opinion during a couple of writing courses I facilitated some years ago. One of the recurring rants consisted of students explaining how their badly-executed piece of prose was simply a reflection on their ‘style’ and should be appreciated as such. There was no reason (they argued) why a writer of their stature should concern themselves with such niceties as spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like.

In these cases, I would point out that good writers tackle such issues as a matter of course, in the same way a plumber ensures a washing machine is properly connected, rather than simply leaving the pipes gushing water all over the floor. This view, naturally, did not always elicit a positive response, and I have found over the years that an awful lot of people who call themselves writers, will continue to trot out the ridiculous ‘it’s the way I write’ mantra as if it will somehow cover up their creative inadequacies.

This horse goes into a bar and the barman says, ‘Why the long face?’

Another theme that regularly prompted histrionics , particularly with flash fiction writing, was how novice writers will often come up with what they consider to be ‘hilarious’ stories. They’d read them out and guffaw like hyenas at their (apparently) side-splitting prose, clearly expecting everyone else in the group (and especially, the tutor) to demonstrate his or her appreciation in the usual way.

It was always hard to know how to react to such examples of unwitty drivel, since humour is a very personal thing, but my fall-back position tended to be to offer gentle encouragement, citing relevant books etc that might help with this type of writing. In other words – avoiding the issue.

Those that can – do, those that can’t…

Since those merry days of leading expectant (and occasionally, very talented) writers towards what I hoped would be a higher standard of literary creations, I rarely give my honest opinion on another writer’s work. While I do write the odd book review (when I generally feel I can say what I like), those times I have given my opinion, it has rarely been warmly received. The last occasion I succumbed to the ‘I’d really like to know what you think’ line, I offered what I thought was honest, though encouraging advice. The writer hasn’t spoken to me since.

So, anyone interested in my opinion on their work, should perhaps first ask themselves if they really want my opinion. And if they do, beware.

Hitting the Blyton Target

Enid Blyton 10000 WordsContinuing my ramblings about deadlines (and strange references to Enid Blyton), I decided to try something new today – setting a daily target. This radical idea was also prompted by a couple of points I saw in a list of writers’ tips on Book Baby’s Blog. Two of them got me thinking:

  1. Don’t edit as you go
  2. Set achievable goals

First of all, setting daily targets is something I generally never do, since I don’t want to give myself any more stuff to worry about apart from actually finishing the damn book, but I thought I’d take a leaf out of Enid’s regime and set a daily target. Just for today. No strings attached. Simply to see it I could do it.

So how many words did I set for this once-in-a-lifetime thing? 2,500? 5,000? 7,000?

Nope, I went for the biggie – the Enid Blyton Eat-Your-Heart-Out target – 10,000 words.

In relation to the Book Baby pointers and setting achievable goals, I did think this was (maybe) achievable. The reason being, I’m quite a fast writer. On the other hand, I tend to stop every two or three sentences and re-write what I’ve just written. Which obviously slows things up a bit.

The challenge, then, was to write in as continuous a way as I could without looking back, making corrections or any other type of editing, and see if I could hit the target before dawn.

On the plus side, I had the whole day to do it. I mean, come on – there’s no way I’d lumber myself with such a ridiculous word-count if I had to do my normal day at work, get home, have dinner, wash-up etc and then start writing at maybe 7.30pm. Not a chance.

Secondly, I’ve been trying for a while to write continuously, ie without stopping every two minutes, because I’m aware that it interrupts my flow, so is somewhat counterproductive.

So how far did I get? More than half way, but considerably short of the Big Ten: 5,186. In other words, quite a bit more than I usually achieve. In fact, on a good day I rarely hit more than 2,500, so I’m fairly happy with my new daily total. And maybe I can do better. Maybe that magic 10,000 isn’t that far away?

Then again, it does mean I have a lot of re-writing to do tomorrow. Hmm.

Deadlines, Schmedlines…

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Douglas Adams

There was a time when I considered deadlines to be a bit of a hindrance. Having to produce a piece of work by a certain time can be a great way of motivating yourself to actually get on with the damn thing, but equally, it can simply add to the pressure, making the task in hand even more daunting.

Some deadlines, admittedly, are necessary: short story completions, job applications, project proposals and the like won’t work without a cut-off date. Somebody, somewhere has to make a decision about these things to keep everyone else on track. Making your own deadlines, however, is another box of frogs altogether.Box of Frogs

I reckoned that if I worked on the novel every night and every weekend in between, I might actually be able to finish it in true 10,000-words-a-day Enid-Blyton style.When I finally settled down to finish the novel I’d started some years previously (The Devil’s Porridge Gang’), I gave myself a bit of a deadline. I say ‘bit’ of a deadline, as it wasn’t really a deadline at all. It consisted of a period of three weeks when one of those proverbial window of opportunity moments came my way – my childcare responsibilities were to be put on hold while my offspring was away in foreign lands with his mother.

Of course, it didn’t work quite like that. I’d already written 15,000 words (over the previous few years) and during those three glorious child-free weeks, I wrote another 30,000. It took me a few additional weeks to finish the thing and yet more weeks to knock it into shape, but that pretend sort of a deadline did the trick.

Since then I’ve avoided deadlines as much as possible, but when I started putting my ebooks on Smashwords etc it seemed to make sense to advertise forthcoming books as well (ie ones that weren’t finished yet) in order to drum up interest. This, in turn, created a need for deadlines. Hmm.

Many years ago, I was a regular theatregoer in Hull (East Yorkshire) where the (then) resident artistic director John Godber premiered all his plays. Godber’s writing schedule demanded that the theatre set a production date for his new play. They would then work out a time-scale for when it would be written – usually a mere three or four weeks before the first night. So I wondered if this sort of thing might work for me, too.

Gunpowder-Plot-conspirators
Anyway, I’m well on the to reaching the desired word count with Mortlake‘, so if the strategy works, maybe I’ll continue to impose time limits on my writing. If it doesn’t…well, Mr Fawkes may have his imitators…My deadline for the current novel is November 5th – a date I hope will not be too literal in its significance, since I have no desire to be burned at the stake for not hitting my target.