Hail and Welcome!

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Welcome lovely reader, to the writing blog of Kate (as Tiro) and Suzanne (under the name Amalasuntha).   You can get in touch with both of us by leaving  a comment, or sending an e-mail to amalasuntha9@gmail.com. You can also follow Suzanne on Twitter @SFM_Writer – she mostly prattles on about writing, daily life and struggles with her #TraitorousBrain.

On occasion – fairly rare occasions, she admits, because she talks about writing far more than she actually does it, and is therefore a fraud and a charlatan – you may also find contributions by Kate.  She’s on Twitter @KaldrKate, and you can find her Google+ profile here.

If you feel you’d like to leave us some feedback:

Any constructive feedback is welcome, it will help us improve, or at least provide either one of us with an opportunity to justify our choices.  Please feel free to read, enjoy and come back for more, the site is updated regularly with new material.

Sunday Storyteller

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It doesn’t seem a week since I spent four days in a field.  It’s taken about that long for the insect bites and sunburn to calm down though…

I performed as the Sunday Storyteller at a festival with over 300 people in attendance.  It’s something I’ve done for a good few years, fours days away gives me the time to write without distraction (no phone signal, no real need for time keeping, no internet) and plenty of people to talk to (and observe) and gather new ideas for character, story and setting.

But Sunday, Sunday is time for me to give back.  When everyone is all festivalled out, and just about ready to head home, I find my audience arriving with fold up chairs, plastic mugs of coffee and some bring a blanket for wrapping up in.  It’s scheduled for two hours of storytelling, so I choose a mixture of short pieces, poems and longer extracts.  By the end of it all my audience have travelled to to a knitting circle with a difference, into space with a very crotchety pilot and two very stoned passengers, followed an Under who wants to be an Over, gone into the deeps with a steampunk kraken rider, through a couple of poems and followed a pirate captain as she found and lost her lady love.  It’s a good two hours, and although my voice is cracking by the end, it’s worth it 🙂

Here’s to doing more performances in the next few months!

Fine Synthetic, Guaranteed

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A warm breeze blew through the makeshift streets, billowing banners and snapping sagging guy lines against tent poles. The day had been hot, but as the sun sank towards the western horizon, and the blue of the sky began to deepen, the winds were beginning to pick up, with a strengthening breeze sweeping along the wide valley floor. Soon, the market traders would be starting to stow their stalls, pack away their goods, and secure the area in preparation for the night’s inevitable storms. Cait tapped her tablet, flicking over to her trade page and scrolling down her list of receipts for the day. It hadn’t been a bad session: most of the technical supplies she’d been looking for she’d found – or if not the items themselves, at least workable substitutes. There were a couple of things still outstanding, but nothing essential.

She was weighing the merits of a continued search for the outstanding goods against those of quitting for the day and picking up a curry on the way back to the ship. The rising wind and the cooling temperature were pressing her towards the latter option, and she began to make her way back up to the plateau that served as a temporary desert spaceport.

“Hey, pilot! Good bargain!”

The voice came from behind her. She turned to the caller: a small man dressed in functional desert gear, his face shaded under a huge, wide-brimmed sunhat strung all around with garish hangings and badges. He was grinning enormously from beneath one of the most enthusiastic moustaches Cait had ever seen; and draped across his shoulders was equally the most enormous squirrel. Probably a metre from nose to tail-tip, its glittering black eyes regarded Cait intently from beside the man’s right ear. The tail curled around and down his left arm.
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Currently Querying

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Yep, it’s official.  Yesterday I girded my loins, rolled up my sleeves and with a little encouragement and persuasion sent my first query out into the world.  Feels good, but also scary and vulnerable.

What if someone answers?  and is it worse if they don’t?  Don’t get me wrong, I know that now is when the waiting begins, and this (to quote the Goon Show) is when the story really starts.  It feels strange and wondrous and new and difficult and challenging and scary all at the same time.   Figure I’m going to get rejection, but it might just be because my stuff is not what they’re looking for at the moment.

I feel as if I’ve gone up a step that was always there waiting for me.  Seeing things from this new place is familiar but different.  Yes, I’m going to make rookie mistakes to start with, but that’s the point: I’m a rookie for now.  Making mistakes is good, it means that I’m actively trying and learning, and pushing myself forward to somewhere outside my usual.   Progress by inches is still progress.

Hey future self when you read back on this and smile because you’re better at it than I am now, just remember it took you a good hour to put together that first query, thinking over every sentence and making sure you’d got the feeling and meanings as good as you could get them.  And that when it came to actually pressing the ‘send’ button, suddenly it was your worst enemy and you delayed by checking over the every last bit of spelling and submission guidelines for one last time before you stared at the button hoping it would press itself.

But now, now I can improve on what I have, I’ve written one query, I can do it again.  Maybe I won’t get picked up for a while, and that’s ok too.

Time to get writing.

The Writing East Midlands Writers Conference 2015

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A short week ago, I was building up to attend my very first Writers Conference.  Not knowing what to expect, I planned for everything.  All right, not strictly everything.  Everything I could think of that might happen: notepad and pen? check.  Spare pens just in case? check.  Business cards – checked, double checked and triple checked for spelling mistakes?  check.  Printed programme scrutinised, annotated and dog-eared already? check.  Enough sleep the night before? almost…  Thankfully I wasn’t the only member of Open Book Writers attending, so we arrived en masse, secure in the knowledge that if nothing else went to plan, at least there would be two other people there that we knew, and we had a secure way to get home again afterwards.

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Ball Pool

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There may, possibly, be the occasional sweary word in this one.  Sorry about that.  Blame the fictitious character: she has a foul mouth sometimes.


“Kinglassie Approach, this is Victor Rubicon Three-One-Four-One-Six, inbound at Delta-Three for docking, with information Hotel.”

“Victor Rubicon One-Six, Kinglassie Approach, squawk five-five-seven-one.”

“Squawk five-five-seven-one, Victor Rubicon One-Six.”

“You want me to set that for you, Cait?” asked Banjax.

“Yes, please, Bee.”

“Setting transponder to five-five-seven-one.”

“Thanks.”

“Victor Rubicon One-Six, lidar contact. Cleared direct to localiser; maintain current speed until established then hold and call for further instructions.”

“Current speed to localiser, then hold and call; Victor Rubicon One-Six.”

Cait watched the station for a few minutes. The tiniest of glittering dots, discernible amongst the background stars only from its minute sideways movement, and the gentle pulse of brightness as the station rotated in the pale sunlight. Beyond, New Buckhaven was little more than a sliver of light; the station was currently orbiting across the planet’s night side, and from here there was little to be seen that revealed the extensive settlement of the little world.

For several minutes, the ship coasted in silence towards the station, which grew steadily larger on the viewscreen. Cait took a moment to appreciate the peace and quiet.

“Duuuuude!”

The voice echoed up the corridor, followed by raucous laughter. Cait rolled her eyes. Her two passengers, Xayden and Aikin. Paying passengers, unfortunately, or she’d have contrived a convincing reason for them to have fallen off the ship on the way here. Even an unconvincing one would have done.

Completely baffling, officer; absolutely no idea how that could possibly have happened. Must’ve left a door open; so sorry.

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UKYA Extravaganza!

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A few days ago on Feb 28th, something new and fabulous happened.  A gathering of writers, bloggers, authors and fans of young adult fiction bombarded Birmingham Waterstones and held the whole of the fourth floor against all invaders.  Actually, we didn’t, but we could have…

I’ve been to writers events before; they generally follow the format of: herded into room, author is introduced, listen reverently to author reading, queue up for book signing, get less than 30 seconds face to face with author, most of which is telling them who you’d like the book dedicating to, and then get punted off to go home.  I’d accepted this as the standard format for years, and have briefly been in proximity to many fab authors that I admire.

Here the format was different, no red ropes, no stern faced bodyguards, no signs saying ‘do not bang on the glass’ just a whole room full of people enthusiastic about books, writing, story telling and the YA community in general.  Every author had a short time to talk – either introduce a new book as a debut author, tell a story about being a  writer, read from one of their books or just introduce themselves.  With a break after every 3 or 4 leaving plenty of time to talk to all the lovely people, buy books, get books signed, ask questions and generally chat to the bloggers, authors and YA fans all mixed in together.

Did I mention that there were buns?

buns

Needless to say I left very happy and with a long long list of YA must read books to hunt down.  DId I mention that there’s another one being planned for October?

Better Results With Mind Over Matter

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I’m a keen player of space sim and tradey-fighty game Elite: Dangerous (although personally I don’t do much fighting in it), and at the moment my writing tends to be set, if not in that universe, then one quite similar to it.  This one’s pretty blatant, and all based on my clumsy failure to pick up a floating cargo canister…


The closure rate’s good.  A nice, steady forty metres per second, with the tumbling canister held rock-steady in the dead centre of the cargo scoop’s holo.  I’ve spent a few minutes carefully matching up Banjax’s velocity so that the ship and the can were motionless in relation to each other, before nudging the vernier thrusters to impart a little, tiny forward motion, and bring the canister slowly towards me.

Go sit in a bar wherever beam miners hang out and sooner or later you’ll hear someone complain that no-one ever got round to inventing the tractor beam.  It’s been a staple of sci-fi for centuries, along with artificial gravity.  It’s the device that lets a ship grab something and pull it in without the pilot having to do any manoeuvring.  But the truth is, unless you’re talking about trapping a ship that’s trying to get away, like in the movies, a tractor beam’s basically just an autopilot: in space there’s no functional difference between pulling the object to the ship and taking the ship to the object.

I don’t have an autopilot because they cost an arm and both legs.  Besides, I like to do things for myself, and I wouldn’t trust Banjax to make too many decisions for me, because she’s intermittently deranged.  So I’m doing my own manoeuvres.  I’m really light on the linear thrusters.  As light as I can be, that is: sometimes the control stick seems a little over-sensitive, and I can find I’m drifting sideways without realising I’ve applied any pressure at all.  The rotational controls suffer the exact opposite problem: it’s incredibly difficult to roll the ship gently, as the stick, well, sticks, until you jerk it aside and set the thrusters firing like mad.  I really should get it looked at; but Banjax is old, and a bug fixed here just makes way for four more elsewhere.

In any case, there’s no drift this time.  Banjax is steady as a rock and smooth as glass as we float towards the can.  Everything’s blue on the holo, showing me that speed and alignment are good.

What should happen is that the can drifts tidily into the scoop’s maw and gets conveyored around and slotted into one of the freight bays.

What actually happens is that the can clangs off the underside of the ship’s nose, and spins off into space.

For frak’s sake.

Why build a precision sensor array and holographic display screen into a ship if all that kit isn’t going to give better results than Mysterious Human Intuition would?

I ping the can.  The speed’s not too bad: we haven’t transferred much kinetic energy to it so it’s not exactly racing off into the distance.  I can pull the nose round a little bit, nudge the linear thrusters to bring the canister to a stop, and then try it again.

I’m tempted to close my eyes as I make the approach this time.  I could write to the manufacturer and tell them: “I can get better results with mind over matter than I can with your sensors.”

And the manufacturer would write back and say, “Haha, yeah.  Seriously, though: you’re flying a twenty-year-old ship: would you like to buy a new one?  We can offer comedy terms for a part-exchange.”

Besides, it works this time: the can disappears under the nose and I hear the rumbling, whirring sound of the processors pulling it into place and the faint thuds as the clamps lock in.

That’s it.  Secure the scoop, point Banjax in the right direction and start spooling up the witch-drive; then it’s a quick jump back and a day’s burn to the station.  And then money.

Did that come over a little mercenary?  Don’t judge me: I have to eat too, you know.  And assuming the hirer makes good, this one canister should feed me and Banjax for a week, with a few credits left over.

Which always makes me a little suspicious.  The contract declares this canister as containing ‘important business documents’.  My sensors do back that up – but I wonder whose they actually are? I think when I arrive I might adopt the discrete approach when it comes to the Customs patrols.

Fictional tasting notes – an exercise in specialisms

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As a writer, I love professions which have their own specialist languages, take wine-tasting for example. For those that don’t drink wine, and perhaps a goodly portion of those that do, the language used is, to use a wine-tasting expression, smoky. As in hard to see through, rather than tasting of smoke. Just to clarify. There’s even studies been done on the language of wine tasting, concluding that complex words and obscure phrases have a positive correlation to the price of the wine.  High price = complex words, low price = simple descriptions.  How fabulous is that for a writer?!
Then I got to wondering, why do we classify wines and beers, but not other drinks? And my brain went off on one. Surely it isn’t fair to discriminate in this day and age? We should have classifications for other drinks too, so that people can make an educated choice in beverage.
So, here are two sets of fictional tasting notes:

This classic is distinctively branded, some aficionados prefer their individual servings from the smaller bottle rather than a can, but for general drinking either is appropriate. If sole consuming, try to stay away from the larger bottles, as they can lose spritz if not consumed quickly once opened. Whichever you choose, look for the distinctive red label and white ribbon. Taste wise, this one has a strong angular body, recognized for its intensity of color and good structure of tannin and acid, it presents nuances of aggressive tar, with a hazy backward short finish. This goes well with barbequed food, the acid can cut through and balance richer foods and complex dishes, but be sure to chill it first and serve over ice. Can also be used in a blend.

This next one is a favourite with the younger market, and is best consumed young. Deep purple-red in color with violet reflections, this is complex, charming and subtle. The aromas of ripe berries, a hint of cherries and subtle herbaceous finish. Clear cassis notes herald the well-rounded cassis dominant flavours, fruity with a good length and structure. This is best served slightly chilled. Good mid-morning or early tea-time accompanied by sweet biscuits or light cheese.

 

And now I go back to writing proper things…

Cubic Moon

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“’He’s the only man who could drop out of a cubic moon, he’s so square.’”

“You made that up.”

“No I didn’t.  I wish I had, honestly; but I didn’t.  Somebody said it once.  I think it was Marcus Aurelius.”

“So what does it mean?”

“I’ve no idea.  But I think you’ll agree it’s relevant to our situation.”

“It…  What?”

“Well, you know.  Isn’t it?

“I don’t know.  How can I possibly know whether it’s relevant if I’ve no idea what it means?”

“Surely it doesn’t matter what it actually means, if we know it involves a cubic moon.  Because, unless I’m very much mistaken, wouldn’t you agree that that’s what we’re looking at?”

“Possibly.  I remain to be entirely convinced.  I mean, clearly someone intended for us to assume it to be a moon.  But it could just as easily be a very large, very pale blue light bulb.”

“Oh, what, and someone put it up there to fool us?  Like the stars are the tiny street-lights of towns on the underneath of the sky?”

“I’m…  going to have to go with ‘what?’ again, there.”

“I’m saying, you think it’s likely that that thing up there, that’s bathing the landscape in this lovely pale light, is an artificial object put there artificially… by artificers… rather than being what it obviously is: a naturally formed natural satellite.  Perfectly natural.”

“And perfectly square.  As you yourself pointed out.  It’s square.  How many times have you ever known that happen?”

“Not all moons are round.  Some are… sort of potato-shaped.  Haven’t you ever been to Mars?”

“Many of them, yes.  But they aren’t…”

“Well then, you should surely understand that moons aren’t always round.  You’re so geocentric sometimes.”

“Yes, but the principle of hydrostatic eq…”

“Oh, I don’t want to hear of your sciency jumble-bumbly.  The point is what did you say?”

“What?  When?  About hydrostati…”

“No, no no no no.  No, not that.  Back then, when I asked if you’d been to Mars, and you said, ‘many of them’.  It sounded for a second as though you said, ‘many of them’.  Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Say, ‘many of them’.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I have.  Happens all the time.  Don’t you get that?  Sometimes it feels like you can’t go to the pub, have a bath, play canasta without some portal opens up, or someone shows up in a Winnebago with a hyperdrive, or you discover the lost tomb of a contingent of crystalline-skulled aliens – again – and before you know it, you’re on bloody Mars.  But it’s always a different one.”

“Why do you play canasta in a bath in the pub?”

“There were commas.”

“Oh.  Anyway, no.  It doesn’t happen to me like that.  And besides, there’s only one Mars: the one with the potato moons.”

“Yeah, and the one with the big face on it; and the one without the big face but with the low-gravity aliens who shoot at each other; and the other one with the big face on it; and the one with all the buried machines to generate a breathable atmosphere; and the one with the other big face on it that haunts astronauts…”

“The one with the theme park…”

“…with the theme park, yes…”

“So are we agreed we’re not on Mars?  The huge cubic moon suggests we’re not.”

“Light bulb.”

“Moon, light bulb, whatever.”

“Besides, it could be a superposition.”

“Begone, demon.”

“No, no!  No, it’s…  It’s science.  Again.  It could be like, you know, light being made of particles and waves, both at once, depending how you look at it.”

“So that’s, like, a moon to me, but a potato to you?”

“Light bulb.”

“A light bulb to me, and a potato to you?

“Begone, demon.”

“Don’t be shirty.  So how do we get out of here?”

“Patience, I guess.  I’m sure there’ll be a Winnebago along in a minute or two.”


A few clunky references in here.  Honestly couldn’t remember whether, in Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, you went to Mars in a Winnebago or a VW Camper.  I know there was one in Spaceballs.  Or whether the VW was in Zak McKracken or Marmalade Atkins.  Could’ve been either.  Any idea why it might matter?

Do They Even Have A Word For ‘Safety’?

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Gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you aboard this Bjornson Langskip 400 watercraft for today’s journey to Monkwearmouth. If I could have your attention for a few moments I’d like to go through some of the safety features of this vessel.

Yes, Ulfar, I know. But I have to do it. It’s the rules. Now can you be quiet, please? Thank you.

Right. First of all can I remind everyone that this is a no-smoking voyage. It’s for your own good, so stop grumbling. I don’t want to see anyone lighting up until we’re properly beached. By the way, have any of you been drinking? Yes, apart from Gilli, obviously. No-one? Really? Well, I hope not, because you all heard Jarl Sigarr, and you must know he’s only got your best interests at heart. A healthy crew is a happy crew, isn’t that right? And a happy crew is a productive and successful crew, and we all want our little enterprise to be a success, now don’t we?

Now, should we need to evacuate the vessel, you’ll find suitable emergency exits to both sides along the length of the craft. You can also jump off the front or the back if you happen to be nearest; but please make sure if you’re sitting next to Od the Tiny that you do take care to pitch him out before making your own egress. Not until then, please, Ulfar! For Aegir’s sake, man; do you have to make this so difficult every time?

Should we experience any unexpected turbulence, we… Oh, for… What’s funny about that, Svein? What, ‘turbulence’? No, it’s… I mean the sea, not us! If it gets choppy! Just shut up. Look, if it gets choppy, well, the simple fact is we’ve got no way of stopping you falling out of the ship, so do make sure you hold onto something if the wind gets up. Svein, be serious! So as I said, make sure you’re holding onto something solid. Ulfar? Yes, very amusing, I’m sure. Now please let go of Od, if you’d be so kind. Thank you very much.

Right, last thing: if any of you want to employ any talismans, amulets or other like instruments could you please make sure you check with me first as they can interfere with the sunstone, and I don’t think any of us want to get lost out there in the fog.

All right, that’s it from me, now if I can… I said if I canthank you… If I can just take this opportunity to thank the leader of our little warband, Mister Thorgrim Sigarrson, for allowing us all to come along and share in this project. Thank you all for choosing to… I say, I… thank y…

Oh, forget it. Bloody heathens.