God’s Eye | Flash Fiction

God's EyeMany people believed that the old gods were real, but dead, and many others believed that it was possible to become a god in one’s own right, neither were entirely correct. Much more likely, and infinitely more terrifying, was the likelihood that one of the old gods would inhabit a body and transform into a new vessel for itself, at the same time utterly obliterating every scrap of individual identity that the host might claim to have maintained throughout the years.

This was not always the case, which only further confused the matter.

Becoming a god – or, at least, being a suitable host for one – was a varying and often painful experience. The first recorded case in the recent history of the multiverse resulted in a man losing an eye and his sanity, and destroying a sizeable chunk of his nations’ capital. It did not bode well for potential future hosts of gods, or for the gods themselves when absolute control wasn’t guaranteed.

In a separate incident, in a separate country in a separate universe, Owen Dunleath also lost his eye. His loss was not essential for impending godhood, and had not been on the agenda when he’d been identified as a possible host for godly essence. It was all a matter of sheer, painful coincidence that he would lose his eye in a stationery accident.

It was a week later that the disembodied essence of Odin – just trying to enjoy a bit of an astral trip around the world without the need to stop everywhere and have to put up with people recognising him – crashed into Owen while he attempted to recover. They did not get along, so Odin knocked him out.

“Well, this isn’t ideal,” he said to himself.

Odin had been used to missing an eye, but Owen was missing the wrong one. He had been distracted by the pain of the host body and collided with him rather roughly, and everything felt slightly too much to one side, as well as being smaller and infinitely clumsier (read as: human) than he was used to.

He excused himself from the hospital where Owen was recovering, glaring into a stern nurse’s eyes with all the weight of godhood until she moved out of his way, and went for a walk. “I need to figure out where I am,” he mumbled as he left the building. “Everything’s a lot bumpier and misplace when I’m not just soaring across it like a majestic and deadly crow.”

He was not sure why he was speaking to himself, or why he chose the words he did, and he imagined it had to do with Owen Dunleath’s disposition. He almost cursed the mortal, but he was still – he realised – trapped inside him.

“Trapped. Yes. That’s a problem.” He marched up a hill – Odin loved a good hill as a vantage point – and looked out over the town in front of him. His one remaining eye had to suffice as a conduit for his godly powers. He stared at the town, looking for all the signs of something gone wrong. God-vision was special the way infrared goggles were special, but with a few more applications. He could see where humans walked. He could read magical signatures. He could find pockets of interdimensional catastrophe. He could see sound, if he so desired, though people were much too loud and annoying these days to bother trying. And, most uselessly, he could peer into other universes.

He had done this once, and witnessed a near apocalypse amongst the Celtic gods when they’d gotten themselves bodies, and all of them trapped in a magical barrier, and decided that his infinite capacity for scorn couldn’t handle looking at another foolish universe for much longer than was absolutely necessary.

Distraction shouldn’t have caused him to fall, he realised. Something was wrong. The issue didn’t arise in another universe, for which he was grateful. Or not. He switched his eye from searching for magic to searching for worship, and found an abundance of it near a stationery store. He probed Dunleath’s memories. It was the very same place where the boy had lost his eye. (Odin wasn’t quite sure that Owen was just a boy, but all men seemed young to the Allfather.)

He hailed a cab – he had seen people do this frequently, using the telescopic ability of his eye – and followed the source of worship to the store. When it came up that Owen’s hospital gown did not contain pockets, Odin stared – godlike – at the driver, until he was ordered out impatiently. Cab drivers, Odin had forgotten, were immune to the effects of a god’s stares.

He ignored the hate pouring from the cab in vicious shades of red as he entered the stationery store. A clerk glowed – literally, to Odin – behind the till.

“It worked!” he cheered. “Didn’t it?”

Odin assumed the guise of Dunleath, feeling smaller and more fragile in an instant. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“The spell! The accident! The week of worship. It worked!” The clerk was every part a fanatic, and Odin was tired of it in seconds. “My Lord Odin, it is a pleasure. You can stop pretending to look like him, now.”

“Pretending,” Odin scowled. “You interrupted my holiday.” The room shook with godly rage. “Do you know how that feels?” Pencils fell to the floor from a nearby shelf, stabbing impossibly into the concrete floor. Odin glared with his one good eye. “I am a God of War, boy. And war demands sacrifice.” He slammed a fist on the trembling clerk’s desk, shattering it utterly.

“I’m sorry?” the clerk whimpered.

“You will be,” Odin snapped, before unleashing his godly wrath.

He departed, later, in an astral storm, causing a literal storm in the process; he still wanted to see Tokyo. Owen was found a day later, with two miscoloured eyes. The clerk, Odin ensured, was not found. Only a god’s eye could find him, if only gods cared.

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The Unworthy Prophet | Flash Fiction

Anyone with an inkling of understanding for how the world works knows that humankind is capable of infinitely more than it demonstrates on a daily basis. Unless one managed to find themselves in possession of The Black Pages – the magical equivalent of The Yellow Pages, albeit working on an international and interdimensional basis – the exact nature of the world would likely be a mystery.

Aaron Basquel was not aware of the existence of The Black Pages, or the magical practices it exposed, when he was visited by an angel. It was, of course, a dream; most people cannot survive the sight of an angel, the arrival of one in their immediate vicinity, or the sound of an angel’s voice. Angels, for their part, are usually not fond of the smell of humans. If they were capable of expressing emotions in the same way humans were, Aaron’s middle-of-the-night odour would have resulted in a three-house radius of destruction from the ensuing smiting.

Dreams were safer, and their memory temporary. Aaron awoke to the sensation of having been vaguely threatened and absolutely charged with responsibility. He did not enjoy it. The fleeting memory of the dream contained an angel with no name, and the word Prophet, repeated and, somehow, in large letters.

He could not argue with the dream, and he had not argued with the angel. Instead, while sitting over a bowl of children’s cereal, he willed the ocean of milk to part. He was the nineteenth Prophet to test their newfound title in this manner since the dawn of the Cereal Age. It was around this time that Aaron came to realise that his power came from Beyond, and not from himself, and that the angels observing his action – as well as being somewhat different to angels as described in the Bible – were not all pleased with his parting of the milk.

All of this knowledge, and more, flooded his brain at once. The dream, like a rubber band stretched to its limit, snapped back into his head. “Damn it,” he said to himself. The milk flowed over the edge of the bowl, drenching the table and littering it with candied wheat.

He was not upset over the cereal. Rather, Aaron had remembered why he had been made to Prophesise: there was an Apocalypse coming, complete with Riders.

***

The nature of the end of the world was not known to Aaron, and it did not matter. Despite his acceptance of the role – he was sure that Dream Aaron had been drunk at the time – he was not going to speak of the End Times.

Instead, he chose to be a Prophet in every other aspect of the role.

Despite failing to complete his undergraduate studies in the Arts, within a week Aaron was considered the foremost expert on sudden and radical health improvements. This was a local phenomenon, of course, as few people in his small town in the Midwest were confident enough to speak openly about the healing of their various cancers, broken bones, or bedroom-related diseases and infections.

It did little to spread the word of the coming Apocalypse, but the angels saw it as – what they had come to understand as the only magic most humans were capable of – a marketing technique.

Aaron’s healing business, while booming, had limited growth potential. He turned to fishing when no one needed healing, catching a single fish worth eating in a single afternoon. He found a buyer, and sold them that same fish a thousand times. The next week, when sales of locally sourced fish prompted both higher orders and an inquiry into the protection of wildlife in the area, Aaron supplied ten thousand fish, and proof that the species was safe.

The angels saw this, expecting word about the coming Apocalypse to follow, and waited.

The Prophet then took to larger, and chancier, goals, implementing that one true power of Prophets that people thought they were renowned for: he looked into the future. Specifically, he looked at the winning lottery numbers for several local, regional and national lotteries, and played the numbers as casually and certainly as he sold a hundred thousand identical fish to a buyer who was only too happy to have his athlete’s foot cured.

The angels watched Aaron collect his winnings, and keep his mouth shut. They had a meeting about it. They followed that up with a mingle, utterly incapable of getting drunk, but giving it their best shot, and then had another meeting. They decided not to smite the entire town. If they had been impossibly drunk, the Midwest would have otherwise gained itself a brand new smoking crater.

Instead, the angels took to reverse engineering Aaron Basquel’s success.

His lottery tickets, they decided, would be fraudulent. The numbers, when inspected at a whim, had been changed after the draw. They still didn’t understand how.

While the various lottery companies came to him for their money back, an outbreak of food poisoning took the nation. One hundred and eleven thousand fish had, it turned out, been toxic. Despite the fact that many people had long-since digested their meal, every single person who had eaten Aaron’s multiplied fish was admitted to hospital with simultaneously activating symptoms.

He was almost chased out of town, and would have been actually been followed as he sped away if the entire town hadn’t become immediately injured or infected in the exact way they had been previously, though the pity of angels had turned terminal cancers into merely bad cancers.

The town lost him, and he lost the town, but the angels had their eyes on him, always.

When it was confirmed that there would be no witnesses, they surrounded him in the dead of night, as he slept in his cat. It was spring, and it was cold, and the sky was dark. There were no stars; the angels forbade it that night.

He did not wake up screaming while the angels smote him. There was no time.

——

This story relates to A Death in the Family, in which a young man takes on a job as Grim Reaper to help pay off his parents’supernatural mortgage.

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The Cyber Coven | Flash Fiction

There are only three things one needs to know about Diana Dyer: in the last ten years of her life, she had become adept at modern technology; she (literally) could barely stand to be around people, and; she was a witch. None of these things sat well with most other witches, of course. Witches were social by nature. They required covens. Covens were where true power lay. Computers, phones, cameras, televisions, these were the creations of men, and magic burned through them faster than fire through straw.

Diana’s inability to be around people had put her in a tough spot. Without other witches, she risked losing the power behind her magic. She could still perform at a level greater than most by herself, but she would be incapable of anything truly magical. And without her magic, Diana would be ordinary. So, she turned to the magic of normal men, and Diana learned how to use the Internet, how to communicate on forums and through social media, how to build a brand and how to be mortal, all in preparation of the day when she would be as useless to the world as a baby.

Then she found others. Her Cyber Coven.

A video conference call rang out in front of her. One by one, her girls answered. They were spread across a small section of the United States, five of them. Cady and Susan were decent witches, but Hyacinth, Beatrice and Annabelle were middling at best. But that wasn’t important. What mattered was that they had managed to work together.

“You remember the first time we joined our power?” Diana asked them.

“I felt strong for the first time,” Hyacinth responded. “And you…”

“You saw something,” Susan added. “Something in the future. I didn’t know witches could do that.”

Diana shook her head. “Not all witches can. I was taught. Trained, I guess. It’s more of a sensitivity to calamity than anything else, but it’s not perfect.” She tapped her knuckles against her desk as Cady came online. “Okay, all of you are in position?”

Cady held up a hand, a habit the girls hadn’t broken out of from their school days. They were all young, innocent, and alone. Magic was their calling and their only way to escape. And Diana hated that they still treated her like a high school teacher. “I’m here… but why are we doing this?”

There was no easy to that. Cady knew about the vision. They all knew. They’d asked her about it a dozen times or more as Diana issues instructions to travel. The thick of winter made it difficult, but they all agreed. They sat in five hotels and rented accommodations, forbidden from revealing to anyone – even each other – where they were. She didn’t want them worrying about what was happening. And she didn’t want her Cyber Coven to attempt to figure out whether their power together extended beyond the computers. Not yet. Not until Diana was ready to join them.

She sighed. “There’s a danger coming this winter, Cady. You’ll feel it when it arrived. Black magic.” She didn’t know exactly what, except that it would arise in the middle of a cemetery. She had felt Death. Not just the experience. Actual Death. A Reaper. That was never good for a vision. “You’ll all be involved in a spell to contain that magic. White magic. Powerful, but imprecise. It needs a wide girth.”

Wide indeed. The girls were nowhere near each other, and never would be. Beatrice still held onto the idea that if she ever met the girls in real life, she’d be kidnapped. Annabelle was too busy trying to maintain the illusion that she was popular back home. Diana knew otherwise, of course, but she couldn’t ruin that on her young charge.

“Hands out, girls,” she instructed. “We have to do this now. Something wicked this way comes.”

It had taken three years, but Diana had figured out how not to blow up her computer while using magic. Once she had become comfortable with the idea of talking to people online, she’d been able to channel magic through the invisible lines that connected them. It was as close to a coven as she could get, and it worked, so long as they all believed in it.

Power immediately poured from her, more than ever before as she focused on the spell. The girls were focal points, carving a pentagram in the world from miles apart, the cemetery at its centre. Covens gave rise to powerful witches, and restored the best to their former glory. But even this was beyond anything Diana had ever done before. The protective spell needed to last a few weeks.

Susan began chanting, her words no longer her own, and Diana muted her microphone with a click of her fingers to stop her distracting the other witches. The coven was straining against the spell. They could feel the power that Diana pushed through them. Annabelle and Hyacinth were sweating. Beatrice had gone pale. Only Cady was managing to maintain her composure.

“Almost,” Diana whispered.

Her computer screen began to flicker. She couldn’t stop, now. The spell was almost done. No words, not for real magic. It was all about intent, and unless her coven knew the meaning of the words, they’d only be distracted by them. Diana had to feel it, instead, and use their own fears about the vision to drive the spell forward.

The moment Diana stopped, Susan and Beatrice passed out. Hyacinth threw up, and Annabelle had a bottle of water to her mouth. Cady went white with exhaustion, but she remained upright. Always the strong one.

“Did it work?” Annabelle asked after a gulp.

Diana closed her eyes, and nodded. “For now. Let’s hope we never need to do that again.”

“Will it last?” Cady whispered.

To that, Diana had no answer. She encouraged the girls to eat, to sleep, and return home, and logged off. Her coven was young, but it was hers.

Diana Dyer was back, and not a moment too soon.

~~~

This story takes place shortly before the events of A Death in the Family and The Local Necromancer. Avid readers of my supernatural books will see Diana again.

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What I Learned About Comics in 2017

A year ago, my experience with comics extended as far as an incredibly basic script based on a poem, for Tomte: The Warrior Elf with Buttonpress Publications. It was fun and exciting to see something I’d written being turned into something, but it wasn’t going to lead anywhere. (I was so naive a year ago.)

Tales You Think You Know, with stories by Tracy Sayers and myself, and art by Venus de Vilo, lettered by yours truly

Roll on January. A good friend of mine, Tracy Sayers, had lost the artist for her comic Freya. So, a bunch of us got together to help Tracy make her debut. Venus de Vilo signed on as an artist for two eight page comics, one written by me, and one written by Tracy. We published these in Tales You Think You Know under the brand of Banter Books. Gareth Luby ended up with just one comic out of the two that were planned for release, because life got in the way something fierce. (If I felt at liberty to discuss Gareth’s personal life here, you might begin to believe that life is stranger than fiction, with everything that happened between February and April.)

From February, I started a six-week course with Declan Shalvey, which helped me finish the work on Tales You Think You Know, and taught me a lot about how to write stories. The briefest advice:

  • Lettering is as important to a comic as the art and the script; it shouldn’t cover the most important parts of the art, and it should be consistent across the page in font size and in the size of tails.
  • When reading a page, a reader should be drawn from the top-left corner to the bottom-right corner. (Unless you’re publishing to an Asian market. Then flip it.) Everything from the artwork to the lettering plays into this to guide a reader’s eye.
  • Every page should have a moment, a key moment that makes the page worth reading (and worth keeping).
  • Every artist will interpret a script differently. Some artists like detailed scripts. Some like minimal scripts. Some like scripts done the “Marvel way”, text about the page, but nothing to say how many panels there are.

April saw the release of my first comic. I’d written The Untold Story of Little Bo Peep. There was just one problem: for me, it didn’t feel like a comic. It was a poem, again. On the back of it, though, Tracy was able to find an artist for Freya. Trisha O’Reilly joined the team at K-Con.

Wren issue 13, written by myself and Jason Browne, art by Jason Browne, lettering by Phil Roe

Jason Browne came to the rescue. His comic, The Wren, was beginning it’s second season with issue 13. He had most of a script, but wanted me to take over from the ending, and to edit it. He was going to devote all of his time to the art on the four comics Buttonpress Publications were producing. Taking over a book like The Wren was a terrifying and exciting prospect. We met up a few times to discuss the future of the series, who was who and who’d fight who, and whether I was allowed to introduce any villains if I happened to have ideas. (And boy do I have ideas.)

The book was due for release in August, but I needed to get my part done earlier for Jason to finish the art, and for Phil Roe to letter the book. It was announced one day while I was at the Geek Mart that I’d be picking up the writing of the book.

By then, Small Press Day began to show its head. This put the Banter Books group under pressure to have something ready. By June, Gareth still didn’t have anything to do with comics at the event, which would take place in July. We spoke about zines, about the indie market, about art books, and settled on two things. One, Gareth would put together an art book of work from the previous year. His selling point, for anyone who asked, was some work he’d done with Marvel on sketch cards.

Gareth was happy to get his first art book

I won’t put any great claim on the amount I helped him, except that I kept up the support for him when he was trying to put the book together, and, with Tracy’s vigilant eye, helped him choose which art to keep and which to remove from his first version of the book. I also kept an eye on his page counts and the production side of things for him, just so he knew he wouldn’t miss the deadline or have the file rejected because of an odd number of pages. Basic stuff, but it can cause a headache if not paid attention to.

He finished the book, and had it just in time for Small Press Day in July.

But that wasn’t all.

On the same day myself and Gareth were talking comics and small press and zines, he pitched an idea to me. Frankie versus Thanos. Great idea, except for the big C word. Copyright. He couldn’t do it. (And even if he wanted to – he had another script from me since January to work on instead if he wanted to get a comic out.)

How to Live With Your Cat, a comic with a ridiculous title, written and lettered by me and drawn by Gareth Luby; apparently it’s an accurate depiction of what it’s like to own a cat.

But I had a script in my bag, one that I’d put together that morning. It was basic, but (I think) funny. How to Live With Your Cat (When Your Cat is an Internationally Renowned Assassin) came out on Small Press Day this year, the first time Frankie went to print, simple enough for Gareth to have done in a couple of days.

And here’s the big thing I learned for artists when it comes to comics: a full-time job makes working on comics difficult. Gareth’s available time amounted to a few hours a week when he was at his busiest in work, which doesn’t give a huge amount of time to get anything done.

While Gareth was working on the Frankie book for Small Press Day, Tracy worked on the first additional stories for Freya, ahead of the comic’s release in August, while I worked with my brother Conor on a comic he’d been wanting to get done for a long time: Chuck.

Chuck issue 1, written and lettered by me, art by Conor Carroll (my body double/that guy I am/my twin)

We published the first short comic of Chuck on Small Press Day under Banter Books. It’s a bit kooky, but it’s the start of a longer journey with the character. Next year will see the second issue, and a zine.

Both of my Small Press Day releases were my first steps into producing comics of my own, lettering the books as professionally as I could. Out of work and strapped for cash, I couldn’t pay someone to do it. Triona Farrell, at least a year before all of this happened, told me that a writer should always know how to letter when producing indie comics. Even if a letterer gets hired for a book, it’s good to know someone can do the necessary job to a basic standard just in case.

When the big day in January rolled around, the Banter Books table had two comics, one zine, one art book, and a lot of stories and prints. And three happy heads.

L-R: Gareth Luby, Paul Carroll (me!) and Tracy Sayers, at Small Press Day 2017

It wasn’t out first event together, but it was the closest the three of us got to working together. We were a branded group, for the first time. Need another comic tip: working with your friends is the best way to get into comics, so long as all the conversations about money happen before anything gets printed. (I’ve heard stories about people who knew people who were friends with my friends…)

The Geek Mart at Filmbase in July 2017; L-R Gareth Luby, Niall Fox, Paul Carroll (me)

A week or two before Small Press Day, the Geek Mart had its first major crisis. We’d separated with one of our organisers, and lost our venue. I didn’t dare let Gareth stress too much about it – only as much as was necessary for us to actually get a venue. A week after Small Press Day, we set up in Filmbase. Another piece of advice for those looking to enter comics: there’s a lot of drama in the community. It’s stressful, painful, and it doesn’t benefit anyone. It can happen because personalities don’t clash, or over money, or over someone doing better than someone else. People can be petty. None of this is directly related to the Geek Mart situation, but we found ourselves facing the problem that we knew existed in the community. Look after yourself, and avoid the drama.

Meouch issue…? The story is called Operation Bad Dog. We can probably call this issue 0. Art by Gareth Luby, written and lettered by Paul Carroll (er, me.)

When that event was out of the way, and the panic subsided, we had to take on another challenge as creators: Dublin Comic Con. Gareth had enough time, just about to finish Meouch: Operation Bad Dog before Dublin Comic Con, meaning the first comic script I’d written – that I felt was actually a comic – was out in the world. Along with The WrenTales You Think You KnowChuck, and How to Live With Your Cat, I had a wide range of comics on my table at Dublin Comic Con. And a lot of other stories and prints. It was exciting and terrifying for a lot of reasons, but having the new comic really helped. We’d spoken about the comic quite a bit, and until July, it didn’t feel like Frankie was really a thing. (Aside from being an actual cat.)

Official Dublin Comic Con photo. Can you see the terror in my eyes?

This was the biggest event I’d been to behind a table. I didn’t sleep properly beforehand. I freaked out quite a bit. I was separate from all my friends. I did my best, which is all I could muster. Will Sliney laughed (in a friendly way) at my nerves – and yes, obvious name drop is obvious. I was fortunate to have had practice pitching my books from the Geek Mart and a number of small conventions and events.

Here’s the briefest bit of advice I can give about events:

  • Know how to talk about your wares.
  • Smile and have conversations with people.
  • Drink plenty of water. And don’t forget to eat.
  • Sit down when you need to, stand when you have to.
  • Try to remember people’s faces, but don’t be afraid to admit that, with the convention and life and all the other thousands of people you see every day, you’ve forgotten someone’s name.
  • Don’t panic. (Unless you can’t help it. Then find someone who understands.)

I could honestly write a thousand words or more about working an event, but this is already getting lengthy. Not to worry, we’re almost there.

So, safe to say that I survived Dublin Comic Con. Leaving a convention, creators are faced with the weird mix of exhaustion and exhilaration and the desire to work on more books. In my case, I wrote a lot of scripts. In Gareth’s case, he took a break from everything. In Tracy’s case, at some point behind the scenes, she began to work more closely with the Celtic Knights books towards a new project.

Banter Books Best Friends, L-R Tracy Sayers, Paul Carroll, Gareth Luby

The Geek Mart faced a few more issues over the next few months, but we eventually had our Christmas market in Wynn’s Hotel. In the meantime, I’d been to Octocon, where I met a few cool creators, and Cosmic Rebels Con, where myself and the Banter Books crew reunited for another weekend. While the event had its problems – every first event does, and I had a candid conversation with Ed Doyle, the organiser, about how he can improve for next year’s event (in April), given the fact that the problems were all easy to fix, once someone’s aware of them.

Having started to work in an office at the end of August, I was faced with the chance of getting to enjoy events for their merits again, rather than feeling financially panicked over whether I did well at them. I got to enjoy Octocon and DECAF and Cosmic Rebels Con.

Frankie’s First Colouring and Activity Book for Grown Up Kids, an A4 monstrosity of cartoon violence and cat puns

The past week or so brought about more changes, of course. Comics are about change. Frankie, with two books already, released an activity book (myself and Gareth did the work for him, obviously) to go with a set of badges that I worked on from art that Gareth had done.

We’re still learning about comics. I read and review them as much as I can, which helps to figure out storytelling techniques. And we’re working on stories of different lengths, with some one-pagers occupying Gareth’s few spare moments until a second set of Marvel cards arrives – following a stressful Inktober and sketchbook release from him in November – and Tracy taking on Celtic Knights’ latest project: Girls Knight Out. I’ve been writing four-page scripts, some for Frankie, some for myself, and I’ve begun the long and difficult task of creating an extended universe for the Meouch comics that goes beyond Frankie on a mission, Frankie at home, and Frankie’s activity book.

A year in comics feels like an awfully long time when it’s recounted bit by bit, skimming over a few details at the same time.

Here I am at Octocon!

The best way to learn about all of this is to work on something. Draw, even if you can’t draw well. Write, even if you don’t have an artist to illustrate for you. Sell at events – help someone you know if you don’t have anything of your own. Read comics. Review them. Take notes. Look at the classics and figure out why they did so well. And be patient. My first year in comics, working entirely on small press work, looks busy, but it comes with some caveats:

  • Writers can, technically speaking, produce a script faster than it takes someone to illustrate it.
  • I worked with four artists on five books.
  • I’d been writing for half my life before I started in comics, so I already understood storytelling.
  • I’m not an expert.
  • In one of the most difficult years of my life, I was incredibly lucky to know the people that I know.

2017 has been a fun year for comics, and for writing generally. Experience and study and practice taught me a lot. Next year, I want to produce better stories. That’s my resolution. (I’m a firm believer in New Year’s Resolutions, sorry.)

2018 is also going to see me running writing workshops with my good friend Kat Dodd. We need to finalise dates with the people we’re working with, and then I can post all the details here (as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.) The workshop is aimed at people who’ve always wanted to write a book, but didn’t. It’ll run throughout the year, with regular meetups for group write-ins, with the aim of producing something by the end of the year. With three stints of NaNoWriMo to get through next year, too, it’s going to be busy.

 

 

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Free Spirit | Flash Fiction

While the Black Pages provided an ample amount of important information for potential customers and clients of the many magical and mystical businesses who advertised their services between its covers, one important detail was left out, on the assumption that it was Common Sense: on Halloween Night, the spirits of the dead are free to roam where they please. Barnabas Bonham, known to his friends as Barney, had not been aware of this when he was alive. It took him eight months to discover this, and only early enough to get slightly further than he’d ever managed to walk before he returned to the scene of his death.

Barney was not a stupid man. He knew a great many things about a great many subjects. The problem was, none of them were common. He had been a relatively powerful wizard in his day, but failed to observe basic facts of his environment, such as how dry the trees around him were, or the brewing storm overhead. He had been so focused on figuring out how to make his old bicycle fly, like he’d seen in E.T., that he didn’t notice the lightning strike that set half the forest on fire.

His bones did not burn. He was, instead, crushed under falling trees, and remarkably spared the sweet relief of passing to the great Beyond.

Barney could not remember what year it had been when he died, except that he’d had two young children and a wife to care for. She had died peacefully between Halloweens, leaving his son and his daughter to fend for themselves.

Kenneth had turned to journalism, writing for a daily newspaper in the non-magical community, completely devoid of any longing to follow in his father’s footsteps. Once a year, Barney was able to observe his son at work, demonstrating a small fraction of his magical potential in the Charm he had developed while interviewing people. Without explanation, Kenneth was able to get people talking about the most personal and intimate details of their lives if he needed them to. He had so far not used it to court himself a wife; Barney wasn’t sure if he was happy that his son was still single, or just proud that he hadn’t abused the power that he had been left.

In all the time that Barney had been dead, he had never heard Kenneth speak about him. He had taken to merely observing his son quietly, for just a few minutes, to see how he was doing.

His daughter, Suzie, on the other hand, had taken up a place in the magical community that was both respected and spat upon in equal measure: she was part of the policing force of Damage Control. Halloween was a dangerous time of the year for her. People in the community often saw it as a free pass for mischief and for letting their guard down; while certain, more responsible members of the community could get away with revealing their true forms, Suzie was on the tail of something much too dangerous to be in its true form: a werewolf.

The beast – Barney wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman – had been killing people all over town for a week, its transformation completely out of the sync with the full moon, its victims suffering dreadfully; some of them died, others were beginning to experience the transformation themselves.

And, while Suzie was searching a dark alley for it behind a bar where most victims had been drinking, the werewolf was watching her. Barney was also watching her, from another part of the alley, and his eyes landed square on the werewolf’s eyes, glinting yellow death in the darkness.

“Suzie dear, you’ve got company,” he told her, the whole effort in vain. He had been trying to communicate with her for more years than he dared admit he’d been dead. The werewolf edged slowly closer. “I mean it. He looks angry.” Barney wasn’t sure when he’d made the decision to put a gender on a beast. It had male anger, he supposed. The sort of outrage only a man could experience when he wasn’t getting his way, because of the decision of a woman.

Damage Control were a fairly well armed bunch, in the grand scheme of things, but Suzie had only a silver knife in her hand to protect her, and that was mostly out of sight. It would do little to kill a werewolf. It would barely slow the beast down, especially not one the size she was following. It must have been a large man, Barney thought. He’d met werewolves before, back in his heyday. Werewolves, like sportsmen, were smaller back then.

The padding of the werewolf’s feet against the concrete path caught Suzie’s attention, but too late. It was already too close for her to react, teeth bared, claws extended.

“No!”

Barney couldn’t help himself, or explain his actions. A flash of light exploded from his hands as he placed himself between his daughter and the fangs of the wolf, throwing the attacker into the air. The whinny of a wounded canine disappeared into the night as the werewolf retreated.

“That showed you,” Barney said proudly.

“Dad?” Suzie whispered. He turned to her, her face stripped of colour. “It’s really you. After all this time. We thought…” She tried to place a hand on his shoulder, to pull him in for a hug, maybe, and her fingers slipped through him. “Oh. You’re really gone, aren’t you?”

“Really,” he agreed. “For the most part. Just got a little bit stuck, I guess.”

A crack of light on the horizon caught their attention. The sun was beginning to rise. Neither Suzie nor Barney had noticed the time. 

“Dad, where are you buried? I can send a Reaper. I can free you.”

The horizon was on fire, and he smiled. “You know, I can’t really remember. I must take note for next year, eh?”

He left her standing there, casting a shadow where he stood. Suzie would be fine, he thought for a moment. He’d see her again, his little girl.

He just had to wait. He just had to remember.

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Fantastic Ideas and Where to Find Them

Every writer who has ever accomplished anything is asked the same question by some fan at some event (or just online, since access is instant these days): Where do your ideas come from? (I have also been asked this, but by my mother who I’m not sure I explain things to properly. And she asked it in a more exasperated “Why are you doing this to me?” sort of way.)

While I’m not a massively successful writer, I do have some advice on coming up with ideas. This is tried and tested to help you find at least one good idea, while simultaneously providing you with more bad ones than you care to think about. It’s not a trick. It’s not going to get you a bestseller. And it won’t make you a better writer.

You need only a piece of paper or a notebook, a pen, and a timer. Give yourself five minutes, and write down ten ideas on a piece of paper. Random words and phrases, whatever pops into your head. And do this every day.

Not every idea is a story. Not every idea is even remotely useful. “A cat staring at people from a driveway” isn’t a particular useful idea. It’s also a little bit less original since Harry Potter. “A boy wizard” isn’t original, even when Rowling wrote a series of books around those three words. “A school for wizards” already existed before Hogwarts. Small, simple words and phrases look like nothing on a page. They’re random. Unconnected. Useless. Until you use them.

I keep a notebook of random ideas. Some of them have become stories. Some of them are merely elements of a tale. Many more are useless, simply part of the habit of writing down whatever comes to mind. (As a planner, not a pantser, this is a good way of getting beyond random spontaneity in the middle of a story that doesn’t contribute in any way. Inspiration still strikes, but it’s usually connected to the book I’m working on!)

How do you tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea? You can’t. They’re all bad until you use them, until a narrative starts to form around them. Ideas themselves are so often considered precious gems to be protected that no one ever talks about what they’re working on. But give a dozen writers one idea to work from, and you’ll get twelve original stories.

I’ve used this idea generation method for a lot of stories over the past couple of years. I picked it up from Tim Ferriss’s podcast, and while I haven’t been consistent with it for two years, I make a habit of taking at least a couple of weeks per year and following through on the daily ritual. It gave me the only novella I published this year, A Death in the Family, and it gave me a ton of short stories (and even a comic script) that, one day, may see the light of day.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it might seem a bit late to start with a fresh idea. My advice, for the late starters: bullet point a dozen chapters of a book, to vaguely plot a start-to-finish, and then fill in the gaps as more detail reveals itself to you. It might amaze you the stories that’ll reveal themselves to you if you just let them.

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Countdown to NaNoWriMo

In 2008, with a week to go before November 1st, I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I was in my final year of secondary school, taking all honours classes, not feeling especially confident about the exams at the end of the school year, and not feeling like I’d do especially well with my writing to that point.

I gave it a shot, keeping a blog about the writing process. The posts exist somewhere on a computer or a memory stick or a harddrive, no longer online – having only existed on Bebo, that ancient relic of the Internet. They chronicled my journey with my protagonist, Sam, and all the ways I tried to keep myself going with the book. (When I went looking for the book’s cover for this post, I found them. They make for a cringe-worthy 3000 words.)

This hurts to look at. I’m sorry.

On November 30th, with only a few days to plan the book before the month began, I verified a word count of 50074 words. I “won” a free print copy of the book, Meet Sam. A friend of mine, a photographer named David Doherty, took some photos for me for the cover. In 2008, he was the only photographer I knew, and I had no design (a) experience or (b) software. I think I used something that came with a camera. I think we’ve both come a long way since then.

I still have a few copies of the book on my shelf. I had teachers and lecturers provide some feedback on it. There’s definitely something to work with, there, though my genre focus would require a bit of a rewrite with some slightly more fantastical elements thrown in (nothing that would drastically change the book, mind, just something to solidify it on the teetering edge of Fantasy, in the way that Kazuo Ishiguro writes Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The few days before NaNoWriMo are the best time to commit to a book. Meet Sam didn’t exist in my head before I decided to do NaNoWriMo.

I wholly believe that it’s not too late to start planning a book, that it’s not too late for someone to give it a shot. I’d only ever written one (bad) book before taking part for the first time, and had two incomplete books floating around up to this point.

Anyone who thinks that, maybe, they want to write a book should give it a shot. And here’s the thing I want to make clear, both now and with my NaNoWriMo novel for this year: failure is okay. Failure happens. We can never prepare for every eventuality. Things come up and derail a perfectly good month of writing, or a job, or a relationship. Something in life happens, and we have to figure out how to move forward from that point on.

But just because failure is a possibility, and just because you haven’t tried something, is no reason not to make an attempt. Life is about experiences.

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