Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z is for Zero

Zero: 0, nought, nothing, zip, zilch, gratis, free - we have lots of words for the grand emptiness of the void.

Did you know that the Romans did not have a mathematical concept of 0, which makes subtracting in roman numerals a pain in the arse! The first concept of 0 as a number is attributed to India in the 9th Century AD.

However, arithmetic aside, humans have had a concept of zero as long as there have been humans, we know the difference between having something and not having it. We also had the idea of 'there's no such thing as a free lunch' as well, an inherent suspicion of getting things for free. And, in a lot of cases we are right. Even when someone is 'giving something away', in all but the most altruistic settings of charity, there is usually motive behind the giving. A BOGOF (buy one get one free) offer is there to get you to buy the item in the first place. A free gift on the front of a magazine is a persuasion to purchase again. Even when we authors put a free story out for our readers, we're looking to encourage you to read our other books, or even leave a review so the word about our books is spread. So, the item that is being given is 'free' in the sense that there is no monetary payment for it, but there's something else being done in return.

Of course, there are those who give their time and money absolutely free, those who run, or give to charities are not expecting anything for their efforts except to help. The tale of the Good Samaritan is so well known, the use of the term is understood in society, that it carries a message of helping your fellow human beings without prejudice, or thought for yourself.

Selflessness is a wonderful quality, something to which a lot of us aspire, but I think very few of us truly achieve it. I've always loved the film, The Nun's Story, which is about Sister Luke, as she goes from being an ordinary girl from Belgium to become a novice and then a nun, and how she struggles with giving herself completely to God, giving herself to a higher purpose. She fails to surrender completely to the will of her Order, due to not being able to maintain the neutrality the church has demanded of her in World War II. However, when she walks out of the convent at the end of the film, into a life of service, I might add, because Sister Luke, Gabrielle van der Mal, was a real person, I don't think she failed in her selflessness, just in the tests that man gave her.

On another note of zero, or rather, Towards Zero, a book by Agatha Christie, that was adapted recently as a Miss Marple mystery (although she doesn't appear in the book), by ITV. The reason I mention it, is that there is a rather good speech in it, delivered by Frederick Treves (played by the wonderfully eccentric Tom Baker), when he points out that a murder in a detective story shouldn't happen first, because it is actually the last thing to happen, that a murder is developed over years, a sequence of events that bring a set of people to a certain place at a certain time, converging on zero. I've always thought that this was a brilliant way of looking at it, especially for a writer, because, when I work out mysteries, not just murder, but also arcs in stories that are slowly revealed, I often start from the end, from the event that will eventually be the culmination of the mystery/arc, because I find it is much easier to work out all the strands stretching into that point when I have that moment, the zero hour, clear in my head.

Writers owe a lot to zero, as well, in it's usefulness in metaphors and allegories. It can be used to express despair, the dark emptiness of the soul, but can also be used as a catchy, and sometimes sarky expression in speech, e.g. 'Well that got us exactly zilch, zip, nadda.' I've always rather liked the German, nichts, it kicks on the tongue and really expresses the essence of nothing.:)

So, zero has many uses in our society: purely mathematical, sums would be a lot harder without it; the freebie, that, most of the time comes with strings; selflessness and charity; the zero hour, the culmination of events; and many, many more. And without the many forms of nothingness, English would be a lesser language.

Do you have a favourite expression, or word for zero?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Y is for Young (at Heart)

They say, 'You are only as young as you feel.'

I happen to agree with them, because I have known people who have thought they were old and needed to 'settle down' at 21, and others who are young-at-heart at 90. Being young is a state of mind.

Okay, so let me differentiate 'being young' in spirit from 'being young' physically. I hit 40 at the close of last year, and I'm not trying to reclaim my youth. I really enjoyed my youth, I had fun at school and at university and I embraced the adventure of making my own way in the world. That is all in the past, I have life experience behind me, adding to the way I think and what I do, but I definitely do not think of myself as 'old'.

I don't think I'd want to go back and grow up again now, I was a child of my time, I went through puberty in the 80's and I graduated into the 90's. It was a fantastic time to be young. I was one of the last students to be able to come out of uni without a debt, because I got a grant and I also got myself sponsored by a big company, so I had a regular job during the holidays. I was also lucky enough to be employed straight out of uni, although moving away from my twin was a wrench I don't ever want to repeat. Still, all of those experiences made me who I am and I am 40 years young.

When I was a kid, I remember jokes about mid-life crises happening at 40. Well, remember that person who I said thought they were old at 21, well, I think he was having his mid-life crisis right them (I will say, though, he got over it)! We humans have placed a lot of significance on numbers: 16, age of consent; 18 age of majority; 21, an excuse for another big party ;); and then every decade thereafter another notch is marked until 100, in the UK, you get a telegram from the Queen. However, how we embrace life when these numbers go by is all down to the individual, remember Number Six when he said, 'I am not a number' ;P.

Society has its rules as well, what is expected of you because of your age, which goes ways beyond being recognised as an adult. The idea that youth culture is off limits to anyone over 25. Well, actually, not totally ;). No, I don't want to walk down the street in a micro-mini and try and learn the latest buzz words, that would be silly, been there, got the photos of the awful fashion statements from the 80's o.O. However, I still listen to (some) pop music, watch sci-fi and fantasy and I enjoy the odd convention, at which some folks, even my parents used to ask, 'when was I going to grow up?'. The answer is - never!

Grey conformity, thou shalt not have me!

Okay, so maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I can be childish when I want to be, it's allowed :P. 

We do adapt as we get older, as life makes us, dare I say it, wiser (or at least wilier). So, no, I'm not still that naive 16 year old in a woman's body, but I do still have some of her zest for life, and her willingness to explore. We don't leave youth completely behind as we mature, we just harness it's qualities in different ways. I laugh, I play, I try new things, maybe not with the recklessness of youth, but certainly with all its passion. :D

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

ANNOUNCEMENT: EBook - The End Of The Journey (The Hidden War #1) - NOW AVAILABLE


Sophie Duncan

Amazon US, UK*

The Hidden War has been raging unseen my normal eyes for generations and Zac Kithrall, demon-seer, and Damon Wulfres, demon-raiser, have grown up on opposite sides of it.

Zac knows these truths, but when he finds himself mostly helpless and under Damon's control, he can't remember why he trusts his enemy, or why they are running from both sides in the war. Weak, and fighting a raging power that is threatening to tear him apart from the inside, Zac is forced to rely on Damon, friend or foe, and, together, they face a race against time to prevent Armageddon.

The End Of The Journey is the first story in The Hidden War Series.

The Hidden War is a YA Contemporary Fantasy containing a male/male romance.

*Also available from all other Amazon locations.

X is for Xenolith

A xenolith is a rock fragment which becomes enveloped in a larger rock during the latter's development (thank you wikipedia). I'm not a geologist, so I'm not going to spend the rest of this post talking about igneous rocks and magma encasement. However, xenolith is a good analogy, I think, for alternative universes, AU's, in fanfic, where the AU is the igneous rock and the original series/book/film is the xenolith. Rather than geological forces, it is a person who embeds something that was never supposed to be there into the middle of a strange location. Like xenocrysts, some can be little gems of delight, and others can just make you wonder what the hell a person was on when they thought dumping x into y would work.

I'm not a big fan of AU's, I have to say, but there have been some that have gone down in fandom history. I refer, of course, to the ATF AU in Magnificent Seven fandom. This is an AU that is built around the members of the Magnificent Seven being ATF agents rather than Wild West Cowboys. It is an AU that caught on in the fandom, lots of people wanted to write ATF AU stories, to the point where some uninitiated readers thought that the ATF AU was the actual world the Magnificent Seven TV show was set in. Not the first time fanfic has overtaken the original show for some fans, but it is certainly unusual for an AU to do that.

There are some AU's where I wonder why someone wanted to create them, these are the ones like putting Harry Potter and all his pals into a universe without magic - hmm, yeah, kinda the raison d'etre for Harry Potter for me is that there's magic and wizards and witches and fantastical creatures - stick him into a normal high school and well, you have Adrian Mole ;).

Still, some people like those kind of stories, so all power to them. HP isn't the only fandom to do High School AU's either, in fact, it is only a matter of time before any fandom will have a High School AU, and I mean ANY, including those already set in High School! It's a standard trope and a favourite of fanfic writers, probably because a lot of them are still in High School.

Excluding those fandoms that are already set in High School, the standard method of creating a High School AU is to transport all the characters from your favourite fandom, both in age and situation, into school (mostly as pupils, but some may become staff). A bit like Disney is doing with Monsters' Univeristy, actually :D. Just like geologists examining their xenoliths to see, a/ how they got there, and b/ what that means to the xenolith, fanfic writers want to examine the effect of teenage hormones and school problems on their favourite characters.

AU's are not limited to fanfic, either: some TV shows have their own AU's. The Mirrorverse in Star Trek began in original Trek and has popped up in different Trek incarnations and is also a popular fanfic universe for writers as well. Kirk/Picard/Kira being bad can be fun to read and write and watch ;P. DS9 had particular fun with the Mirrorverse. And, of course, the latest two Star Trek movies, although a reboot, could be thought of as an AU, since in the original Trek universe, Vulcan remains in one piece.

When I write fanfic, I don't tend to go in for AU's, because, for me, the reason I like writing fanfic is because  I find something inspiring about the universe it's set in, e.g. magic etc with HP. Usually, if I have an AU idea for a fanfic, it will generally morph into original fiction, because I find the characters don't fit. This happened with a YA story from bandom, fanfic about certain rock bands, which was originally based on the premise that one member of a particular band was a werewolf. However, I never got very far with it as a fanfic and it became an original story, Samling-Born, which I developed as part of the Wittegen Press Giveaway Games.

So, all in all, AU's can be fun, lots of folks enjoy changing the colour of their sand pit and trying their favourite characters out in it. However, it's not my favourite type of fanfic. My xenolithic fanfics tend to become absorbed by the original-fiction magma around them until just the magma is left.

What do you think of AU's?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Friday, 26 April 2013

W is for Whimsy

When someone say 'whimsy' to me, I think of old England, lazy afternoons where Pooh Bear and Piglet wander in the Hundred Acre wood and the humour is gently jesting on the misunderstandings of a bear of very little brain. :)

I grew up reading the likes of Winnie The Pooh, but I think Disney had a big effect on me here, because I love the short cartoons they made in the 60's that ran and ran at Christmas time in the 80's on TV when I was a little girl. I can still sing the theme song, 'Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays...', but I digress ;P, and I may have a soft spot for Pooh and his friends, because my father's name is Christopher Robin. I think these kind of memories, the ones that make me smile softly, are what whimsy is all about.

Another beautiful example of whimsy from my childhood is Bagpuss. I've already mentioned him in my post, P is for Purr, but he deserves a bit of a longer mention, because, once again, I have a really soft spot for him. Oliver Postage, who was responsible for Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine, and many more, was local to the area in which I live, around Canterbury, in Kent UK. Bagpuss is olde worlde, harking back to what looks like a 1970's idea of a Victorian/Edwardian era, the time of The Railway Children and Five Children and It. Bagpuss lives in a shop, where Emily, his owner, brings items to be mended that she has found, and thus, he and his friends, the mice, Professor Yaffle, Madeleine and Gabriel (a toad), make up stories around those unusual items in order to work out how to fix them. There are folk songs, simple animations and delighfully eccentric items like one ballet shoe, and a chocolate biscuit mill - wonderful! :)

As I mentioned about Bagpuss, the show harks back to a bygone era, or perhaps one that never really existed. Any era when whimsy is involved is a time of ease and rose tinted spectacles. There is no hardship, no fear, or difficulty, just the occasional fat bear getting stuck in a rabbit's hole, or mice being told off for playing tricks. Whimsy is a place we all like to go from time to time. It makes us smile, not a belly laugh, but maybe a mild chortle or two. It's a rat and a mole messing about on the river. It's even, for those of us who grew up in the 80's, looking back on those quaint old games consoles that played pong. I wouldn't like to spend my entire time being whimsical, because, after a while, it can all feel a bit shallow, but sometimes, a little wander down memory lane can bring a welcome relief to the ups and downs of real life.

The nearest I've come to writing 'whimsy', is in the short stories which form interludes in The Haward Mysteries series, Rite Name and Stockings. One is a collection of two stories set at Christmas, a time when we find it much easier to slip into whimsical recollection than any other, I think. The other is about Theo as a six year old, with Remy in tow, having a small adventure and discovering something about himself. Once again, like Christmas, children make it easier to embrace the whimsical side of the story, especially since the story is written from their point of view. That is something I always loved about Winne The Pooh, the touch of perpetual childhood: owl being spelt W-O-L, and I still call owls wols to this day ;); Pooh's love of hunny;  the sheer delight of a simple game of pooh-sticks.

When I want to feel safe and happy - whimsy is the place I go to.

How about you?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

V is for Vocation

A vocation, often also called 'a calling', is defined as: A person's employment or main occupation, esp. regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.

There are many different types of vocation from those who believe they are called by their god, monks, nuns, clergy, imams, high priest/esses to professions like nursing and teaching, where the best can truly be said to have a calling to their trade.

Writing, too, I believe is a vocation. Okay, so maybe it is not always worthy ;P, but it does require great dedication, and there is something of a calling about it; most writers will tell you it is compulsive, rather than optional. I love writing, it brings me great pleasure to put words onto a page and create a story, even though sometimes that can be a challenge. I wouldn't write if I didn't enjoy it and I have made the first step in making it my chosen career, albeit, in order to earn a crust, only half of the time at the moment.

I also love it when other people like my writing as well (an author who tells you they don't like feedback is probably telling porkies ;P). The sharing of the story is half of the compulsion. I want to entertain people, I want to make them smile, make them cry and make them root for my hero/ine. I would be positively bouncing if someone actually wanted to write fanfic for my stories, because that kind of investment in someone else's created world is substantial. It's not (all) about ego, it's the shared experience, being able to talk about creating that world with other people, finding out what they think (and no, I won't say I love it when someone doesn't like my stories, but as long as they have a good reason, it's up to them).

I think the big difference between my chosen career, writing, and my earn-a-crust job, project management, for me, is that I will spend all the hours I can writing, creating, thinking through new ideas, in fact, I can become overwhelmed with ideas sometimes, but with project management, I enjoy it, I'm good at it, but I like to leave it behind when I go home from work of an evening. I never leave writing behind, wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, be it travelling on the bus to the other job, or standing in front of my computer writing my next masterpiece, I am always a writer, a creator of ideas through words. My imagination is very important to me, and I am always trying to improve my writing techniques to better get my message across to my reader.

Simply put, my vocation, writing is not something I do, it is something I am.

What do you think, is writing a calling?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for Unbelievable

There are lots of things that happen in this world that are unbelievable, sequences of events that no-one would believe unless they had actually happened, like two people with exactly the same name checking into a hotel at the same time and being given the same room. Now, this may sound unlikely, surely the hotel would realise? However, this has happened to my family. We were at a sci-fi convention in London, and my brother-in-law, Robert Drake, booked us all in to our rooms. However, when my sister went up to their room to take her stuff in, she found a half naked man watching TV. Turns out, he was also called Rob Drake and the hotel had given him her room! That would not have been a problem, but the place was full and the hotel were reluctant to admit their mistake. There was much snarling and thumping of tables, but eventually they found a room.

Now, that co-incidence can be put down to Robert being a common first name and Drake is not so rare either. However, there are much stranger co-incidences out there. Just a quick search on Google brought up dozens on the first page, like the falling baby in the 1930's saved by the same man twice, or twins separated at birth who marry the same kind of woman, sometimes with the same name, and get a similar job. In the real world, we accept these coincidences and just look for explanations, like the baby fell from the same balcony where it was placed at the same time every day and that man happened to be walking home at the same time every day, so him being the one to be in the right place at the right time both times is within the realms of possibility. And with twins, there is the whole, nature vs nurture debate.

There are also all sorts of other weird and wonderful things that go on in this world upon which oracles such as Ripley's Believe it Or Not base their whole raison d'etre. And because there is evidence (some of the time), we believe what we're being told.

However, the writer of fiction has none of these luxuries. There will never be proof of what they are telling their reader, since it is, by it's very nature, from the imagination. So, we have to suspend our reader's disbelief and convince them of the reality we are presenting them with. We have to establish a contract with our reader, help them understand the rules of our created world and we have to persuade them that world could exist, even if only on the page.

Contemporary fantasy, like The Lost Boys, does this by developing those rules in front of us through the protagonist. Sam and Michael comes across the vampires of Santa Carla in different ways, Sam by hearsay and Michael much more directly through Starr and becoming a plaything for The Lost Boys themselves. Both disbelieve, as any normal person would, but the evidence becomes irrefutable when Michael floats out of the window and needs Sam's help. The storyteller here has brought us into the story gradually and shaped our view of the rules of vampires step by step, so that by the time we reach the climax of the story, we fully accept that vampires exist, they're ruthless, dangerous and don't like sunlight.

Fantasy has an advantage over other types of fiction, because often there is the supernatural, or sorcery involved, which can be shaped any way the writer likes, because it's magic. However, Science Fiction, and it's cousin, Steam Punk have a much bigger challenge, because everything is much more grounded in the realm of physical, biological and natural laws. If a writer wants to create the fantastical in these arenas, their readers expect much more precision and reference to these laws. Someone can't just fly up into the air because they whisper a few words of magic, there has to be a contraption, be it natural, or mechanical, or technological that allows them to accomplish this flight and that contraption has to be convincing.

OK, so some sci-fi didn't bother with obeying rules, like Space 1999, that seemed content to ignore the effect that no longer being in orbit of the Earth would have on the moon, and indeed, vice versa. And, one of the things that always makes sci-fi fans laugh is the big explosion sound that happens whenever something blows up in space on TV. Neither of these anomalies stop us enjoying the shows this happens in, but it does allow purists to have a good chortle ;P.

However, then there are some things that should never be explained. I love Star Wars IV, V and VI, the original stories, and folks will debate ad infinitum as to whether they are Science Fiction or Fantasy, but, without a doubt, the Force is, in any other words, magic. It is a power of the mind that only some have the ability to access, it is a legend in its own time and I was very happy not to take the explanation any further than mysticism. Then along came Episode I with it's midi-bloody-chlroians and tried to explain how the Force works - perfect example of thanks, but no thanks for me, I didn't need the explanation, I had already suspended my disbelief, I had bought into the Star Wars universe, Force'n'all.

That doesn't mean I, as a writer, feel free to throw anything into my fantasy work. I want my universes to be coherent in themselves, their own internal rules should be consistent and make sense. That's why Tash, my sister and co-writer of The Haward Mysteries, spent a long time working on the rules of magic that exist within that universe before we started writing. And we also collect the rules we generate as we go along in a wiki, so that we can refer back to them.

So, depending on your genre, some ideas may take a lot more researching than others, but the basic tenet is to be consistent. Breaking your own world rules is a no-no (well unless it's a very clever plot device that shatters rules that characters thought were true, but turn out not to be, and that can take a lot of intricate planning and is not the type of thing I'm talking about here). Breaking rules, without realising/remembering, is a sure way to annoy readers/watchers and throw them out of your universe, so a story bible, I find, is essential. It has more than just world rules in it, it can have character details, locations, objects, all sorts of things, but I always have one, either informally in notes in Scrivener, or more formally like the wiki I share with my sister for Haward Mysteries.

If you're a writer, how do you keep your world rules straight?

If you're not, do you find it a annoying when writers, or TV shows forget their own rules?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What kind of Dungeons & Dragons Character Am I?

This is a bit of fun - find out what D&D character you are :D

Turns out I'm a bit of a goody-two-shoes with a touch of magic. ;P

I Am A: Lawful Good Human Wizard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

FB3X Drabble Cascade - Promise (PG, Fantasy)

Fantasy Boys XXX Drabble Cascade

Author's Note
I wasn't sure when I started this drabble if it would be erotica, or not, it turned out not as it developed in my head, but I still wanted to try and capture the sensuality of the situation Fenrick finds himself in.

T is for Two

Personally, I'm rather fond of the number 2. I'm a twin, y'see, so it's a concept close to my heart. Pairs, duos, other halves, this post is about the many and varied combinations of 1 and 1 in our world.

Not unexpectedly, let's start with the twosome closest to my heart, that of twins. They say that twins either attract or repel each other completely. Well, my sister and I are an example of the former, while my mother and her sister were an example of the latter.

Tash and I are identical twins and, although you can take the term identical with a pinch of salt, we do share a lot of similar traits, likes and habits. We're both computer geeks, we both love sci-fi and fantasy, vampires and ghosts. It takes a lot to rile either of us, but heaven forbid you're the person who pushes us over the edge, it isn't pretty! We're both writers and we both have the habit of writing each other's stories - yes, you read that right, we do a twin thing where we'll both come up with the same story outline completely independently - it can be quite annoying! ;P
Weren't we cute?! ;)
Although she can be the most annoying person in my life sometimes, I love Tash, we are connected very deeply and, having tried living at distance from her, I can quite equivocally say, I don't like it. We now live about 100 yards apart on the same street and that's how we like it.

It's not really surprising that two's are important in the human world, after all, we are bilaterally symmetrical as a species - 2 hands, 2 feet, 2 eyes, so it would be pretty daft to sell gloves in threes, or for granny to knit a quintet of socks. Yet, like fraternal twins, not every pair has to be identical. Look at knives and forks, for example, they normally come as a pair to aid us at meal times. Two totally different implements, but one compliments the other. Which leads me into a not-so-subtle segue that, this is not dissimilar to the opposites attract kind of buddy movies/TV shows.

Lewis and Hathaway, both police officers, but one's an intellectual, a failed priest, the other a down to earth Geordie, with a taste for Wagner thanks to Morse's influence. On the face of it, this could have ended up an antagonistic relationship, however, it ended up being one of the most endearing and best written cop pairings on British TV. These two square pegs in the round holes of modern policing complimented each other both as investigators - Hathaway's genius and Lewis' nowse demolished case after case - and as friends - they understood each other. I will miss joining them on cases now the series is over.

Another not so deep, but equally well-written pair of investigators is Rizzoli and Isles. The plots of the show are not complex, but these two characters are entertainingly written and make me smile and giggle and occasionally tear up. I must actually get round to reading the books the show is based on to see if their exchanges are as well done as the scripts. These two are definitely friends first, colleagues later, and Rizzoli's one-liners in the face of Isles' complete incomprehension of social norms are just so much fun. ;)

Cop shows seem to lend themselves to these types of buddy relationships: Hawaii 5-0, Starsky and Hutch, Alien Nation and many, many more. Superheroes less so, because, in a lot of cases, we're dealing with a lone wolf and plucky sidekick, like Batman and Robin, where the dynamics are definitely skewed towards the single hero.

The only time I've see pairs of superheroes lately has been in Marvel Avengers. Some of you may blink at me for that one, but, even though this was an ensemble movie, some pairs most definitely formed, or already existed within the team: Bruce and Tony bonded over science; Natasha and Clint already had history that pulled them together. And of course, there were the relationship pairs. It was a pity we didn't get to see more of Pepper and Tony, but we'll just have to wait for Ironman 3 for that ;). Steve and Bucky should also be the core of Captain America 2 with the classic trope of old friendships clashing with new loyalties.

Then, of course, there are the pairs that are total opposites, good vs bad. Where would we be without Professor X vs Magneto, Holmes vs Moriarty, Harry vs Draco?

Pairs work well in stories, they can drive a plot on with conflict, or allow for discourse and therefore dissemination of plot without the need for swathes of info-dump all while maintaining an intimacy between characters that is difficult to create in larger groupings.

They are also generally fun to read. :)

I'll come full circle now, back to my own attachment to pairs, because, when Tash and I decided to start writing professionally, we wondered what we could bring to stories that would be unique to us. We decided that one thing would be our insider knowledge of being twins. Thus were born the Haward Twins, Remy and Theo, police officers in a magical branch of the British police force investigating murder with a sorcerous twist.

We each write one of the pair: Remy, who is a detective sergeant, a free spirit and packs a wallop in the magic department; Theo, much more staid, a detective inspector and the only person who can keep Remy in line. And each of them has a little bit of us in them, the part that understands being a twin, the closeness, the innate knowledge that someone always has your back and also the horror of that bond ever being broken.

Book 1, Sacrifice of An Angel is already available, and we're in the planning stage of book 2. They take a lot of effort, since writing with a partner has more overheads than writing alone, but I think we're both rather attached to our fictional detective twins :D.

Do you have favourite pairs in your life?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Monday, 22 April 2013

S is for Serialisation

To serialise or not to serialise: there are many considerations when thinking about producing a publication in parts, some artistic, some practical, and I've been musing on these things as of late, because I have begun writing a part work for Fantasy Boys XXX, The Vampire's Concubine and am planning on writing more, since I am finding I am liking the format.

I suppose I ought to define what I mean by a part work before I start talking about my reasons for writing them. First and foremost, it's easy to say what a serialised story is not, it is not a work in progress, at least, not knowing the ending yet, but wanting to publish is not a good reason to produce a part work. Publishing a story that you expect people to pay for that is unfinished in, at the very least, your head, i.e. you do not have a direction for the plot, is a risky venture indeed, since, hands up who has gone back and totally ripped their story apart because in the first draft they've hit upon something later in development that throws the initial plot for a loop? *waggles hand in the air* 

However, I will say that I find beginning to publish before all the parts are fully drafted is okay, as long as I have the overall plot worked out and enough parts to keep the schedule for my part work running. In fact, in this situation, part work can be a good motivator to my writing schedule. I've done this once before with a very long Harry Potter fanfic and it worked rather well (my initial reason for publishing was a practical one, that the fanfic was written between the publishing of HP book 4 and book 5 and book 5 was about to be published, and since I didn't want the new canon to effect the story, I set myself a schedule and started to publish).

The implication of talking about a single plot for a part work is that the actual work is one story, and in the case I mentioned above, each part was a single chapter of the story and it could not stand alone. There are other types of serialisations where the stories are linked by a common arc, but can, in the most part, stand on their own. The Vampire's Concubine is one of these, where each story will add to the arc, so it is advisable to read them in order, but they can also be read as individual short stories with their own beginning, middle and end, much like episodes in a TV series.

This, on the surface, sound easier than the serialised long story, but, actually, I think being able to make each short story self-contained is a much more difficult proposition, it is the tough nut that each author faces when writing linked books in balancing back story and forward marching plot such that the reader does not get bogged down in exposition and explanation, but has enough information to understand what is going on. This becomes more challenging in short stories, I think, because there are fewer words that can be devoted to bringing your reader up to speed.

There's one final part work I want to mention, because I do actually fancy trying to create one and I'm going to call it 'The Soap Opera Format', which is where the story basically never ends, because there is no one story, but each episode is a patchwork of overlapping plot arcs that come and go instead.

I actually admire soap opera writers, because, although I don't watch them in general, when I have sat through an episode, I have found myself being able to pick up the plots that are currently running in the show amazingly quickly - that is a hell of a talent for any writer. I'd want to be very organised when writing something like that, though, since keeping track of multiple sets of characters and plots would need a lot of attention.

So, those are my three types of part work: serial - a single story with dependent chapters; series - a single plot arc with largely independent short story episodes; soap opera - multiple stories/plots linked by characters, locations and arcs with dependent chapters. Each one of them has their own challenges and, as a writer, I have my own reasons for wanting to write each one.

Artistically speaking, why would I want to take a single story and break it into parts when it comes to presenting the work, since part work comes with an extra overhead in preparation time, multiple book covers instead of one etc? Well, for me personally, it is because a part work has a different feel to a single volume work when I'm writing it. A single volume work is one long flow of consciousness for which chapterisation is largely something that happens during later drafts. However, with a part work, I have half an eye on the break down of the work throughout, and that adds a challenge that I enjoy. Each part has to have something, has to deliver interest to my reader, I can't devote an entire chapter to the mating habits of the tangabeast of bargleshark ;P. Alright, so my editors would rip that out anyhow, but I hope you get what I mean, that each part has to be looked at more carefully as an entity in its own right without the surrounding chapters to support it.

Also, as a writer, sometimes it is good to be able to be a bit of a butterfly, flitting from one plot to another. Maybe I've hit a block in one work and need to the leave it to settle in the back of my mind and then it is good to have another story to be able to slip into. Having a part work up my sleeve allows me to do this, since it's like meeting an old friend, I know where I am, I know where I'm going and I can concentrate on that one episode for a few days and get it ready for publication.

Practically speaking, for those of us who are indies and trying to touch base with our readers, build a fanbase and increase our following, I think a part work is a good idea to ensure regular interaction with a reader base. I created a blog for Fantasy Boys XXX, which is a collection of short stories, novellettes and serialised works, to make this interaction easier. However, along with reader interaction comes publishing schedules and not disappointing your readership, which is why the whole, don't just start publishing an unfinished work to make you finish it is a good mantra to live by, because if you disappoint a readership by missing deadlines or just not finishing the damn story, number 1, it looks completely unprofessional, and, number 2, it is bloody hard to get that readership back once trust is gone.

Finally, something I have to consider when writing a part work over a single volume work, since I need to make a living at this writing malarkey,  is royalties. I sell my single volume novels of 60K+ wds at the moment, for $2.99 and short stories for $0.99. On the surface, this looks like short stories make more money, but that is not taking into consideration that the royalty rate from Amazon (which is similar for many ebook retailers) for $2.99 and > is 70%, whereas for anything under $2.99, the royalty rate is 30%. Thus, on a $2.99 book, I make ~$2 profit, but on a $0.99 short story, I make just ~$0.30, quite a drop. Thus, if I am considering making a story a part work rather than a single volume and I want to make the same amount of money from it, I am looking at have to break the story into at least 7 parts.

So, given there is more work and possibly more stress/deadlines in writing a part work, for less royalty, why bother? My answer comes in two parts: from a writer's perspective, because it's fun; from a publisher's perspective, because a new format with higher levels of delivery to the reader can help build readership. I'm certainly enjoying planning and writing The Vampire's Concubine, but I am also aware of the commitment I have now made to my readers. Quoting Voltaire: 'With great power comes great responsibility.' ;)

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

R is also for Recommendation - Pentatonix

I wasn't planning on doing another post today (since I already have R is for Reveal), but this one fits neatly into 'R' anyway, since I'm going out on a limb to rave about a group I just found out about from a rec on Google+.  This was the vid that was shared:

I love close harmony and acapella anyway, and this was a great mashup of music (mainly throughout the 20th Century). It was good enough that I went to check out their youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/PTXofficial?feature=watch.

I listened to their Carol of The Bells (yes I know it's not Christmas, but the sheer depth of this music makes it great to listen to whatever the season)

Then I bought their album from their offical website: http://www.ptx-official.com/store (the postage is a bit steep from the US to UK, but I'm a physical album as well as digital type of gal and you get both). I've listened to the album, PTX Volume 1, and I wasn't disappointed. It is an EP, with six tracks, and my favourite by far is Aha!, which is a quick-paced, close-harmony  piece lighter on the beats than some of the other tracks and its flow dragged me right into the centre of the music. It has the overlapping sounds of Carol of the Bells, but with a very modern pace. I had no idea it had a hallowe'en video until I checked out the vid on youtube ;).

I would love to see this group live, but they're only touring North America at the moment.http://www.ptx-official.com/tour

One more vid - yes, they did their own version of Gangnam Style (of course):

R is For Reveal - The End of The Journey (The Hidden War 1) Cover Reveal

I mentioned earlier in the month that I have been mulling over expanding on a short story/novella universe, The Hidden War, which I created when writing a couple of stories for The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games in July 2012. My first step was to start serialising the third story, A Fork In The Road, on this blog (part one was published under K is for Knowing and part two was published under Q is for Questions).

And while beginning book 3, I also began to prepare for releasing the original two stories, The End Of The Journey and A New Path, as standalone ebooks.  This involves all the usual rigmarole of re-editing (I never ignore a chance to do another pass on work when I'm going for a new edition), formatting and cover design. And, while I'm still slogging away at the editing and formatting, I'm excited today, because I get to reveal the cover of the first Hidden War ebook, The End Of The Journey :D.

So, without further ado - ta da!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Q is for Questions

Today on the A to Z Blogging Challenge, this is the second part of The Hidden War #3, A Fork In The Road. Part one can be found here.

Author's Note

I've been mulling over this Young Adult universe, The Hidden War, since I first adapted a Harry/Draco fanfic story premise for use in The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games. I found myself writing two stories in The Hidden War series when I'd only planned one, and then I found myself writing a drabble, It Takes Two, for FB3X Drabble Cascades as well and I finally decided that this universe is worth expanding into more stories. So, I haveam serialising story #3, A Fork In The Road, here on my blog.

The stories are based in a Great Britain where, unknown to us ordinary folk, there is a war raging, The Hidden War. The stories follow two young men thrust into the war by birth, on opposite sides: Damon Wulfres, son of one of the most powerful and ruthless demon raisers in the land; Zac Kithrall, a demon-seer and would-be slave to any raiser who can take him.

The other stories are called, The End Of The Journey and A New Path, and are available in the Giveaway Games Anthologies. The End Of The Journey is now available as a standalone eBook and A New Pat will be coming soon.

Suitable for a General Audience
A Fork In The Road
(The Hidden War #3 - Part 2)
Sophie Duncan

Thursday, 18 April 2013

P is for Purr

I declare my allegiance, I'm a cat person - no, I don't have whiskers and a tail, but I do have a fondness for the ol' domestic moggie. I freely admit, I am probably owned by my cat, Ythran, rather than the other way around. This is him below, the fluffy white ball with three legs and only 1/3 of a tail (he had a couple of accidents, one with a car, the other unknown). He's 12 now, so, despite losing two lives, he's doing very well and I am firmly of the opinion that the best kind of hot water bottle is the furry, purring kind. :)

Don't get me wrong, I like dogs too, and we have a wonderful German Shepherd at home as well, called Nemo, but Ythran rules the roost ;P. He even controls Nemo, which is really quite funny, since the cat doesn't even touch Nemo's tummy when he runs underneath him! I am also firmly of the opinion that Nemo thinks he is a cat. As a puppy, he was brought up with eight of them, so when we got him, he was well and truly trained by those cats and he adores Ythran too.

There is something majestic and otherworldly about cats. I don't find it surprising that the Egyptians made them one of the guardians of the underworld and afforded them the status of gods, because they really do command their world, whatever size they may be. Even the cat's behaviour of looking away to be friendly oozes aloof charm. Whether sleek and angular, or huge and fluffy, cats are never inelegant (well okay, not deliberately anyway ;P) and that habitual poise adds to the inscrutable persona they have going on. Cats were not only worshipped as gods, they consider themselves divine whatever humans think.

I've known many cats in my life, some love to be picked up and cuddled, others will leap on a lap, but only on their own terms, and others have been content to keep me company by proximity only. I have to say, I like the huggle-monkeys best, but I've loved them all. My sister recently lost her cat, Levi, he died of old age. When he was young, he was very much in the cool cat bracket, he didn't go in much for laps, or hugs, despite always being a very friendly cat. However, as he got older, he became much more of a lap cat and reminded me of Bagpuss a little, since he was a ginger tabby, definitely saggy and old. He also took to making an incredibly loud miaow when he came back into the house through his cat flap, just to say hello ;). I still miss him waltzing in to say hello when I go and visit my sister. :(

My friends all know I'm a cat person as well, so I have cat statuettes, cat books, cat pictures, even a cat purse, all gifts over the years. I also love cats on film and in literature. The Cat Sat On The Mat was one of the first stories I remember reading as a child. I have no idea who it was by and I no longer have the book, sadly, but it revolved around the fact that wishes were granted whenever a cat sat down on his mat in a big old bus that had been turned into a home (if anyone knows it and can tell me who wrote it, I would be eternally grateful).

I already mentioned Bagpuss, one of my favourite children's series, which I now own on DVD and sit every visiting under-five in front of at the first opportunity ;). Then, of course, there is the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, not such a loveable creature, but intriguing instead - I didn't really get him until I was older. Unless he was doing something really evil, I also used to feel sorry for Tom in Tom and Jerry as well. I never sympathised with Sylvester though ;P. My favourite cat out there at the moment has to be Simon's Cat, because he is so like the cat every cat owner has in their memory. I even have a story of my own on the back burner that revolves around cats, plus they will be appearing in the next Haward Mystery.

So, in summary, if you hadn't got it yet, I love cats, big ones, little ones, thin ones, fat ones, cuddly ones and aloof ones. Do you have a favourite cat?

Simon's Cat