Here’s a video by Alex Carter (Lexica Films) explaining a little about the anodised aluminium necklaces I’m offering as a reward for supporters of Ten Little Astronauts, as well as a rare opportunity to see how they’re made! There’s also a little more information going in this Shed post on Unbound’s site too.
If these catch your eye at all (or you’re looking for an extra-special Christmas gift for someone), do consider putting in a pledge for the book. The entire necklace reward level (which also includes signed copies of Ten Little Astronauts and Face of Glass, all the ebooks I’ve ever released, and an audio collection of my most popular fiction) is actually going for less than the usual cost of the necklace alone. That’s £50 worth of book rewards, plus a £90 necklace, for £75.
If that’s not good enough for you, Unbound are also running a promotion at the moment that gives 20% off your first pledge: the code is snowman16, and naturally it’s best used for a big reward like this. There’s little point using it to shave £2 off an ebook when you could be getting £15 off a huge bundle of stuff! To use that offer, just hit the “Pledge £75” option under “Anodised Aluminium Necklace” on the book page and enter the promotional code when prompted.
Flash Fiction Month is proving a challenge this year, largely because I’m also sinking a lot of time into my Creative Writing dissertation. It’s a little strange having to come up with a tiny story every day while also chipping away at an umpteen-thousand word project. Still, it’s manageable, and I feel as though I’ve done some good work on both.
I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that The Fermi Pair o’ Socks had been featured as a Daily Deviation over on deviantART, meaning that it was displayed prominently in a few places around the site: kind of a day in the spotlight. That’s happened with a few of my other stories before, and it’s always good to know they’re reaching new people: especially when they’re stories from Flash Fiction Month that might encourage other writers to get involved with the event. It was also quite a boost to have that story featured in particular, as it was the first time this month that I’d just had to take an idea and run with it, rather than writing a story I’d either had in mind for a while or piecing something together specifically for a challenge.
The way stories come together over the course of these events has always interested me. Each one of my Flash Fiction Month anthologies includes a statistical analysis at the end looking at how various things (though mostly word count) changed over the course of the month. Recently, that got me thinking about different ways to display that sort of information, and that led up to this:
You may have noticed this image in my Flash Fiction Day post last month, where it was included pretty much just to add colour. However, there’s more to it than that. Each band of colour—orange, red, and purple—represents one Flash Fiction Month event: 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. In turn, each of those bands is made up of 31 lines of colour, each one representing a single story. The strength of the line represents the length of that story, with the maximum 1,000 words being a bold coloured line and the minimum 55 words being almost white. You can see at a glance how the stories from 2013 (the red band) were typically longer than the stories from 2012 (the orange band), especially towards the end of the month.
I’ve since started using this as the header for my email newsletter, where, again, it’s nice to be able to throw in some bright colour. However, I also figured I’d take the opportunity to stick it on a mug, just because I can.
It took a little bit of work to stop the bleed area from chopping off the lines at the edges, but actually wasn’t too hard to set up. I kind of wonder what other things I could represent graphically in this way, and how else I might use the images I get out of them. I don’t really draw or paint, so it’s interesting to have a go at doing something visual like this.
Tuesday evening marked two firsts for me: the first book fair I’ve taken my work to, and the first meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society I’ve been able to attend. Both were well worthwhile.
The overall experience setting up and sitting behind the table was uncannily familiar after bringing jewellery to so many craft fairs last year, but at the same time it was amazing to be at an event that was all about books. Though I wasn’t the only author there with an anthology, people seemed very interested in flash fiction and the Flash Fiction Month challenge. I think part of that might be down to the table display: the bold colour scheme for the FFM series really jumps out, while the more muted orange-red for Face of Glass kind of blends in. Given that Face of Glass is a serious prehistoric fantasy novel while my flash fiction collections tend to involve naked breakdancing wizards and foxes on drugs, I figure that’s acceptable, but when you get a chance to meet readers in person it’s the sort of thing you notice.
Thinking about cover design, this seems like a good time to mention that I was quite impressed by the paperbacks on the table next to me. Shadows in Sunshine, the book advertised on the banner in the image above, is Richard V Frankland‘s most recent instalment in the Vaughan Thrillers series. What immediately caught me was how nicely the covers tied all the books together:
Laid out as thumbnails, there’s just enough to connect them: the author’s name, a face-on animal photo, and white/yellow text. What you don’t see here is that each of the paperbacks has the eye of the animal at the top of the spine. It’s the sort of thing I think would look really good on the shelf.
All in all, it was a great evening. The organisers had already been doing a lot to get the books out there in the run-up to it, and I noticed a huge increase in the number of people downloading the free flash fiction anthologies. In that respect, the event was also interesting because the availability of the free downloads (and the ₤1 CD version) didn’t discourage people from buying the paperbacks. That’s something I’ve noticed online—indeed, the recent Immerse or Die review of Bionic Punchline is of the paperback version—but it seems particularly significant when people can pick up a leaflet or pay for a book. Paperbacks are a great format to have available, even if your ebook is free.
Though a clash with my MA course had stopped me turning up to any earlier Hampshire Writers’ meetings, I was surprised to find that I’d already bumped into quite a few people there at various readings and author events at the university. HWS doesn’t meet again until September, unfortunately, but I look forward to being able to get involved more often when things get going again. Also, there’s a good chance I’ll see quite a few members at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, which is coming up in exactly one week. Between that, Flash Fiction Day, and Flash Fiction Month, it looks as though I’m in for a fun several weeks!
With the Hampshire Writers’ Society Gala Evening just a week away, my table space is more or less sorted. I’ve got multiple copies of all my paperbacks, with the Flash Fiction Month anthologies all lined up on one display and all the Face of Glass copies on another. You wouldn’t think that hours of experience selling handmade jewellery or shelving videogames would ever help with preparation for a literary event, but actually putting these displays together felt like a little of both!
In addition to the paperbacks, I’ve also assembled some new discs. The Face of Glass CDs aren’t actually new: I tend to have them on hand at craft events. However, most of the ones here are freshly assembled as my original batch had been whittled down to the last two.
These Face of Glass discs contain both the ebook itself in multiple formats, and audio recordings of The Three Tales from the novel. I’ve now assembled a desktop computer that makes burning the discs considerably simpler, and (though a somewhat smaller investment) I’ve got a set of scalpels and a cutting mat that make for some very neat case inserts.
The process of putting together these ebook CDs is now straightforward enough that I’ve also brought out a very small number of Flash Fiction Month discs. The ebooks are still free to download, but I figure that for anybody who wants a token physical version the disc could be a fun option. The colour scheme of the covers looks pretty good laid out this way, and the clear clamshell cases do a good job of showing it off.
I’ve still got a few more bits and bobs I’d like to sort out, but with the books on hand and the discs put together, I think the display is just about ready to go. I’m even planning to bring along a couple of chunks of raw obsidian to place alongside Face of Glass, since it’s always interesting to be able to connect the imaginary world of a book to something more tangible. I had the larger of the two stones on hand most of the time I was first writing Face of Glass, and though most of the actual research into Stone Age cultures came through books, museums or the internet, having that one bit of black glass to hand was useful too. It’s a fascinating material, both beautiful and practical, and seen in person it’s not hard to imagine why it developed ritual significance.
If you’re interested in turning up, the Gala Evening starts at 6pm on the 9th of June, in the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester. Further information is available on the Hampshire Writers’ Society events page. Their website also lists all the authors who’ll be at the members’ Book Fair alongside me.
To keep up with the ongoing exploits of everybody’s favourite Dungeon Lord, just head over to Beyond the Black Throne where there are giggles, groans and goblins aplenty. I won’t be regularly announcing Black Throne updates on this blog, so if you want to keep up with the story in future then you might want to follow that blog or @BlackThroneNews on Twitter. Alternatively, Beyond the Black Throne will be updated every Thursday, so you could just check back once a week.
It may only be the second part, but I’m already hugely enjoying writing this thing. It’s a form I have virtually no experience writing in, so I wasn’t sure what kind of start it would get off to, but I’m happy to say that all the suggestions receieved were extremely promising, and that on this occasion I’ve made use of every single one of them. That almost certainly won’t happen every week, but I will be making an effort to work in as many as I can. Do get them in quickly, though! If I’m going to keep to my planned schedule, I’ll need to start coming up with new chapters at least a day or two in advance. Anything coming in as late as Tuesday or Wednesday is unlikely to make it in (though there’s always a chance it could be relevant to a future update, so don’t give up hope!). Also, from this point onwards (if I’ve set things up right) you should no longer need to provide an email address in order to leave a suggestion. That might change if I start to get floods of spam, but ideally I’d like to make things as easy as possible for anyone who wants to contribute.
This week also marks the first chapter to include animation, and there is quite a bit of it! While that did significantly increase the amount of time it took to put this chapter together, I feel that the extra character it adds is well worthwhile and I’m likely to get quicker (and better) over time. I’m also still cutting out new puppet parts—even for the Dungeon Lord, who I initially designed to be as versatile as possible—so once I’ve established a cast of characters things will hopefully get easier. At the moment, cutting new shapes accounts for roughly half the time spent creating images and animation.
Already, it’s clear to me that reader input is going to completely change the way I write this. I already knew that I was giving up control of the plot as a whole, but what I hadn’t considered was how much of an influence suggestions would have on the humour within it. That’s going to be interesting to explore in future. However, to do that I’m going to need a steady stream of suggestions, so if you haven’t already, tell your friends! The more people get involved, the funnier this will be.
Well, technically the adventures were mostly had once I actually turned up at another craft event and started talking to people, but I have new photos of shiny things to share so I figure that counts for something. While my last attempt at running a craft stall was at an exhibition organised by an art and craft society I’ve been a member of for a while now, this one was at a local garden centre so I got to meet some new craftspeople as well as just talk to everyone who stopped by my table.
Things were also different for me specifically. While I came to the last one really hoping just to sell and advertise my books, with the jewellery as something of a sideline, this time it was all about the jewellery, and I made much more of an effort with the display.
While the hand above was bought from a craft shop–and I’m pretty sure is intended for just this kind of purpose–I also stumbled across a great way of displaying necklaces and earrings: anything that looks best dangling, rather than draped. The display stand below is actually a circle of black card fixed to a stainless steel chafing dish. The “dish” itself is in this case actually more like a thick wire frame, so it’s possible to either poke earrings through the card or to hang them from pins pushed into it.
Despite being at the kind of big retail venue you’d expect people to visit casually on a weekend–compared to the last sale, which was in a village hall–the craft fair wasn’t enormously busy. I sold enough jewellery to cover the cost of the table, which I figure is an automatic win for me, but didn’t make a whole lot beyond that. Still, the opportunity to talk to the other people running tables there made the day well worthwhile. The woman right next to me was selling small bags of interesting buttons alongside her handmade things, so I picked up a couple of choice wooden ones with the intention of working them into earrings.
Handily, the holes in these buttons were spaced exactly the right distance from the edge to provide a snug fit for the very largest of my bright aluminium rings. Matching the crazy design with an equally crazy weave of chain–Rhinos Snorting Drano–seemed like an obvious move, and it’s one that I think paid off. Apparently the woman selling the buttons thought so too, because she gave me a couple more to work with–of a style that, she explained, wasn’t selling all that well. She said she’d be interested in seeing if I could do anything with them.
I’ll be honest, my first thought was that I probably couldn’t. Not only were the buttons…well, not the sort of thing I’d usually think to bolt into jewellery (and seriously, I’ve considered using cows’ teeth), they weren’t even physically well suited to it. There was absolutely no way I’d be able to just hook a ring into these ones and get it to look right. But I fiddled around a bit, found myself a way of adding a wire loop to the top of each button, and–bizarrely–they also seem to work!
Though–in my opinion–these grumpy cat buttons don’t look like much as buttons, they really come to life when they’re dangling on the end of chain earrings. They’re pretty cute! The fact that “Persian” is both a weave of chain and a breed of cat is also quite amusing to me, though I can’t help but feel that the funniest thing is the amount of work that goes into turning them into earrings in the first place. The length of wire goes through both button holes (kind of like a staple), and the lower end hooks up and over the upper end, which in turn folds up to form the loop above the cat’s head. The result isn’t as neat as anything you’d expect from a purpose-made bead, but overall I think they have a lot of character.
Since these were actually the third pair of button earrings I ended up making that day, the woman at the other stall extremely kindly–and totally out of the blue–gave me a whole bunch more buttons. Including loads and loads of these little cats.
I really wasn’t expecting that. Given that a lot of the other craftspeople seemed to be doing this at least semi-professionally, I would have understood if they were just focused on doing their own thing, but actually everyone was really approachable and had lots of advice and anecdotes to share.
This seems like a good time to mention that this new earring stand allows me to take photos using a tripod, which makes them just so much clearer. Before I’d be happy as long as the chain looked reasonably crisp at a glance. Now you can zoom in to see teeny-tiny details. For example, did you spot that this second pair of cats have pupils while the first pair doesn’t? I’ve literally just noticed that myself. Didn’t even realise it while I was making the things.
Anyway, all in all I feel like this was another good event. It was a fun day, I made a bunch of totally unique earrings, and as an added bonus I heard about a couple more upcoming craft sales, so if all goes well I could be doing this again within the next few days.
In other news, I’m now totally enrolled on my Master’s Creative Writing course, I’ve been to a couple of welcome events–was pleased to find that some of the other students write in very similar genres–and am due to actually get started early next week. Beyond writing a ton of stuff for the course itself, I’m not sure how that’ll affect my creative output, but overall I’m expecting it to make a massive difference. I’m keen to build on what I already know, but at the same time to try some totally new things, so I’ll see how it goes. They gave each of us a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, so in the immediate future I’m hoping that’ll help me find an agent, since that was pretty much the main goal I walked away with at the end of the Winchester Writers’ Festival.
So, lots going on and lots still to come. At this point I’m not certain exactly what I’ll be doing even two weeks from now–it’ll largely depend what the course demands, and what I can manage to work around that–but it’s bound to be good and include lots of writing so that’s alright.
Flash Fiction Month may be over, but I’ve been busy ever since. I’m a member of a local arts and crafts society, and when one of the other members suggested that I sell my books at an upcoming tabletop sale, I thought “Why not?” But then it proved impractical to order in paperbacks, and I’m reluctant to encourage people to pay for my flash fiction collections since the ebooks are free, so it was pretty much just Face of Glass on disc. I actually feel like I’ve put together something really good–you get multiple ebook formats on the same disc as the audio of the three tales–but with a six foot table you really need to be selling more than just one thing.
So I dusted off my tools and put in a couple of orders for some shiny new materials and I spent a week or two weaving bracelets. If I’m honest, it really was more about making the table look good–and not just showing up at a craft sale with a bunch of identical (if carefully produced) CDs like some kind of weirdo–than it was about making something I actually expected to sell. Still, I was pretty happy with the results.
I’ve been focusing on writing for the last couple of years–the last five or so if you count academic work–but before that I actually did quite a bit of jewellery. I had some in a local shop for quite a while, but despite having my work (more or less) available on the high street it didn’t do tremendously well. I sold a handful of things, and it brought in a bit of money, but the jewellery was most useful as an option for unique Christmas and birthday presents. I hate getting people chocolate or anything else you have once and then it’s gone, but it’s a nightmare trying to find something else different year after year.
Long story short, I went in on Saturday morning thinking that if I made my money back on the table, I’d be happy. And I did! Plus a fair bit more. By the end of Saturday, as far as I was concerned, Saturday had been a roaring success. I’d made a little money, I’d got my books in front of a crowd for a whole day, and the jewellery had attracted a lot of attention. I was looking forward to more of the same the next day, but at that point Sunday was a bonus.
Sunday was not a bonus. Sunday was three times as busy. A lot more people stopped by my table and a lot more took an interest in the actual process of making the stuff. There were more kids around on Sunday, which definitely helped–they were really keen to find out more about how everything was put together and how long it took, and once I was talking to them more people came to listen. There was actually a bit of a crowd at one point!
But while the event was already a success just in terms of being a fun weekend with lots of interesting people, it turned out to be a very good move financially as well! It’s definitely not enough money to let me quit my day job, but since I don’t have a day job it’s pretty much the best thing I’ve got going on at the moment. It seems as though there are a lot of craft sales coming up nearby, and if this one is anything to go by then my main problem will be making things faster than people buy them! Admittedly that’s mostly down to the fact that these bracelets each take hours to make, but I feel like this is still a good position to be in. It’s got the added bonus of being something I can do in my own time, so I’ll be able to keep it up (or stop suddenly without seriously annoying an employer) while studying for my MA over the next year.
So it looks like I’ll be doing this again pretty soon, and I may even open up an online shop at some point. In the meantime, if you see anything you like then just let me know!
Well, it’s been a month (almost to the day) since I mentioned that I’d be attending the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. With just under a week left before the event, I’m pleased to say that that month has been spent productively. Behold:
Brand spanking new Flash Fiction Month paperbacks with brand spanking new covers designed by the amazing JD McDonnel. The one on the right is particularly noteworthy because until just now Red Herring didn’t even have a paperback. Even though it’s been out for the best part of a year. Yeeeeeeah. I’ll admit, I kind of dropped the ball on that one. But since the ebook is plastered all over the internet for free, the paperback just wasn’t a priority. That said, if you do fancy getting one, they’re priced extremely low and the wraparound covers will look lovely on your shelf.
You can tell I’m a pretty big Walter Moers fan. You can also tell which book is OCR is Not the Only Font and which is Red Herring since the new cover design offers something other than a blank white spine. I’ve got plans to use the same design for subsequent instalments in the Flash Fiction Month series (not that you have to read them in order), and they’ll eventually form a pretty little reverse rainbow on the shelf. Apologies if you already have a copy of the original OCR, but on the bright side those are no longer being printed and therefore comparatively rare.
The cover image continues over to the back of the books, adding a colourful accent to the blurb. Though you’ll probably notice that I try to make my blurbs colourful even without the image.
But wait, there’s more Writers’ Festival swag to come!
Using my vast knowledge of fiddling with computers for several days until they eventually to do the thing I want them to do, I have produced a CD. This disc features a whole host of goodies! As well as some choice pieces from my steadily growing range of readily available work–that is to say, stuff anyone could get on the internet for free anyway–it includes the complete text of Face of Glass.
As the case insert might suggest, however, it doesn’t end there. The disc will also work as a regular audio CD, playing The Three Tales from Face of Glass. With a 40 minute total runtime, this is perhaps the main feature of the disc. This audio version of the three tales was originally planned as a nod towards the storytelling theme running through the novel, but the actual process of recording them made me realise that they form a substantial work in their own right. Though I will almost certainly make this audio version available online at some point, I think it’s really best listened to away from the computer, somewhere comfy. The CD is handy for this, though obviously sticking the files on an MP3 player would be just as good.
I’ll be handing out a limited number of these discs at the festival, so if you’re reading this and you’ll be there, let me know (in the comments, on Twitter, anywhere really) so I can save one for you. Otherwise, your best chance to grab one is probably at the open mic night on Friday: I’ll definitely be there, and there’s (almost) no chance I’ll have blown through my whole supply by that point.
Well, I’ve had “craftsman” in my Twitter bio for long enough that I should probably post some crafts online. It’s also been a whole year since the screen of my battered old LCD watch started periodically fading to a clean grey slate, so I think this post is overdue in more ways than one. So here it is: my steampunk wristwatch.
While some effort went into picking a watch that would suit my work, it’s worth noting I haven’t modified the watch itself in any way. All I did was pop off the horrible plastic-leather buckle strap and replace it with something of my own making (which is a really neat project if you fancy having a go yourself). Also, while I say “steampunk,” I’m really not too sure how to describe this thing. “Clockpunk” would seem to be more accurate–it is literally clockwork, after all–but that tends to conjure up images of delicate brass cogs whirring away, while this is a fairly hefty lump of metal on a chainmail band. To me, it looks more medieval, and given the age of the technology involved, that’s not too far off the mark.
The watch has a skeleton dial, and there’s an acrylic panel on the back, so you can see all the gubbins ticking over inside. It’s a manual mechanical watch, meaning that there’s no battery: just a spring you wind by hand. It’s also possible to get mechanical watches with an automatic/self-wind movement–featuring a semicircular weight that swings when you move, gradually winding the watch as you wear it–but there’s something nice about knowing that the only energy stored in the watch is what you’ve deliberately fed into it yourself, and the large weight of the winding mechanism would have obscured the gears. Also, the company I ordered this from sent me the wrong one. That was probably the biggest factor, if I’m honest! Since the spring can keep the watch going for almost two days, it’s not too much trouble to wind, and without relying on a mechanism to do it for me, I won’t suddenly find that it’s wound down through lack of motion.
The photos above should also give a pretty good idea of how the strap is put together. You’ll notice that the strip of chain connected to the “bottom” of the watch–the side where the six would be if it didn’t have that stupid “Winner” branding instead–is significantly shorter than the strip connected to the “top” (with the stupid “Winner” logo). That’s so that when I put it on or take it off, with the watch resting on the top of my wrist, the clasp is towards me, where I can easily see and handle it. If both sides of the strap were the same length, the clasp would be right underneath my wrist, making it dig in when I type and generally be really inconvenient (especially to fasten). I’ve made chainmail watch straps before (I actually had one on my last watch for years, since the original snapped) and that’s a problem I ran into right at the beginning. If you haven’t come across these clasps before, it’s essentially two tubes, with one sliding inside the other. It’s definitely not the easiest option, particularly for something that has to be a snug fit around your wrist: I get the impression they’re intended more for bangles or bracelets with beads on stretchy thread. However, since they connect the entire width of one strap to the entire width of the other, and come with four “links” handy to weave the chain into, it’s by far the best option for this kind of project.
Since each individual row of links in the chain is so small, it was possible to tailor it to be just the right size. Obviously it’s not adjustable, but in practice I haven’t found that this is a problem. I never found my last watch getting too tight or too loose, and if I do for some reason suddenly develop He-Man arms, I can always weave in another row of chain. I ordered these links online, but I usually make them myself with a mandrel and a pair of wire cutters: I only outsourced the job this time because online it’s possible to get them saw-cut (so that the cut ends of the links are flat and fit flush together), while my hand-cut links have messy (and surprisingly sharp) edges. Also, I got a batch of 500, and this strap used only 322. Provided I don’t use up the rest in some other project, I should have more than enough lying around to provide the seven or so necessary to loosen up this strap. If you’re interested in trying something like this yourself, the weave is “European 6-in-1,” and the links are stainless steel with a wire diameter of 0.8mm, and an inner diameter (that’s the diameter of the space inside the ring) of 4mm. But if you’ve never woven any chainmail before, I don’t recommend starting with 6-in-1 or stainless steel: the former is pretty confusing, the latter springy and unforgiving.
So there you have it: a steampunk/clockpunk/somethingpunk watch featuring a chainmail strap. Believe it or not, I completed this entire project, start to finish, in a day, and I’m pretty happy with the results. The only thing I’d like to change is the pair of coilled wire components connecting the strap to the watch’s springy pins. They work just fine, but they look a little sloppy. One alternative I’m looking into is to get a couple more tubular clasps and sawing them down so I can slip them over the pins. But even as-is, I feel like this strap makes a vast improvement to the watch as a whole. The one it came with was truly abysmal–a slimy, shiny strip of cheap plastic with pressed-in “stitches” that only drew attention to its flaws–which is a shame given that the watch itself seems amazing for the price (it cost slightly less than the steel for the strap, so in the quite likely event the tiny little mechanism breaks I can always get a replacement). Also, I think there’s something kind of poetic about the combination of watch and chain: a watch like this is just a jumble of brass, steel and synthetic rubies. Individually, none of these parts do anything, but together they form a device that’s been keeping time in much the same form for half a millennium. Similarly, a sheet of chainmail is made up of identical, unremarkable metal rings. One on its own is virtually useless, but hundreds linked together can form a knight’s armour or a butcher’s glove.
And if anybody else is tempted to try something like this, let me know! I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.