Another day in the office.


So today I am on shift and so far I have spent the entire day at home.

I am on call.

In fifteen minutes time my shift will end and I’ll clock off meaning that the past twelve hours have seen me do sod all.

Okay that’s not strictly accurate. I have tackled the immense pile of washing up in the kitchen, rendering it down to nothing but a stubborn stain on a pan. Said pan is now soaking and will be dealt with once I have finished with this post. I have also completed the majority of this month’s Open University assignment, watched three episodes of ‘Luther’ and racked up a few more wins for my team on Fifa 13.

I’ll be on shift again tomorrow, and although that will be a Saturday shift and guaranteed to be, ahem, busier, I’m hoping to be home for at least a few hours. The wife’s planned our annual ‘family scoff’ tomorrow whereby we all gather at my mother-in-laws to ‘scoff’ as much food as possible before playing cards or board games.

It’ll be fun, it always is but I can’t deny that I wouldn’t mind be called out at least once. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get a call, I get paid either way, but if I am called then I can claim for fuel used. My current car can do approx 700 miles to a full tank which costs me about seventy English pounds. Now, I claim about £15 for a 60 mile round trip. I only need five call outs, or 300 miles to make my money back for fuel. Not bad eh?

Yes I know the cars taking a hammering on mileage but when you consider that to most people money spent on fuel is dead money – they’ll never see it again, then it’s not that bad. I put that money that I claim back for mileage into a separate account which I save specifically for car repairs/servicing etc.
I’m lucky. I know that. I’ve fallen on my feet in a job that is for the most part pretty straight forward. It has its moments of course, and a fuck up in this line of work could see me imprisoned but if I keep a clear head and follow the rules then hopefully that will never happen.

Having spent the last few years in a job where I was returning home tired, angry and generally despondent, it was right to jump ship and search for something new. It was entirely possible of course that leaving everything I had come to know and depend upon could of backfired, but like I said, I’ve been lucky.

Even if I hadn’t fallen on my feet, I still think it was the right thing to do in jumping ship. I couldn’t bare the thought of working the same job for another ten years, then looking back and wondering what happened to those years.

I’d advise anyone who is waking up in the morning and thinking about ways to avoid going in for the day to have a long hard think about how they want to spend the next ten years.

I did.

Submit and Forget


Submit and forget. Two words I have come to love this year, although it hasn’t been easy.

Way back in January I had only ever submitted my stories to the Black Library. I think I’ve sent two pieces their way and both simply disappeared. I’ve often wondered if publishers around the world are in on some vast joke whereby they and the people who make email programs have teamed up to make the ‘send’ button cast your work off into some ethereal void, never to be seen again.

Yet, this is one of those hugely important lessons an aspiring writer must learn. Hit send, and move on. Fire and forget. The story will get to its intended destination (unless you got the email address wrong) and so the only way you’re going to hear back is if you’ve been successful or that they liked it enough to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Believe me, even hearing ‘no thanks,’ is a victory in itself.

You can try and contact the editor if you want and I personally would actively encourage this if you have not heard anything after a period of time has elapsed. You’ve slaved over that piece. Do you really want it sitting in a ‘pending’ pile for months on end when you could re-write it and send it to a different market? That said, there are rules to doing this though and they all basically revolve around doffing your cap in a vaguely submissive way and being nice. You have to remember that editors, who want the best stories for their market, are also people. And what do people hate more than anything else? People. Especially that particular breed of people known as arseholes.

The arsehole will contact an editor and demand an update. They will not ask politely, just demand. This is bad form and will likely get your piece not only rejected but quite possibly shredded.

Arseholes also have a tendency to publically insult pieces of work by other authors who are in the employ of the very editor/publishing house they themselves are courting. I know! Common sense does not apply to this particular type of a-hole.

Hmm, then there are stalkers. This is difficult as many editors also have public profiles on Twitter or Facebook on which they must appear friendly and pleased that you’ve taken the time to find them. Do not be under the illusion that because your tweet was replied to that you are now ‘mates’. You sent a tweet, he/she replied. End of. You will not be sharing a pizza and watching the football together come next week and you certainly won’t be seeing your name appear on any publications they may work for. Ever get that feeling that someone is only being nice because they want something? Well, I would imagine that this is how an editor feels most of the day and it must be exhausting.

I’m preaching here. I can feel it in my fingers, hammering my own frustrations into the keyboard and that’s because I have no right to preach. I am guilty of one of the all time great blunders that will haunt me for a long time to come yet. In my defence, I was just starting out, but hindsight likes to remind me what a valuable opportunity I missed and what an utter plank I was. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with an editor and talk about one of my stories. What I should have done was to ensure I knew the house style and intellectual property inside out before I sat down for that meeting. Instead, when asked ‘where in our worlds do you see this story fitting in?’ I panicked and blurted out something cringe worthy like, ‘I’ve written it as blank canvas. All you need to do is tell me which characters you would like and which part of the world they would be in and I’ll do that!’ If I’m honest, I can still see that editor’s shoulders sag. Oh, and it probably didn’t help that I was really quite drunk too. Nerves will do that.

screw up

So, there you have it. Eternal shame and regret balanced against the knowledge that things can only get better if I stick to the rules, doff my cap, and try and help others who may be considering being an arsehole for the day.

I’ve not been idle though. I’ve not drowned my sorrows since that unfortunate moment in time. No, I’ve been busy. I’ve sent off no less than twelve stories this year and have seen three acceptances, two ‘nice but no thanks’ and five rejections, so far. I’ll keep plugging away because at the end of the day that’s all you can do. I’ll always remember that fateful meeting though, not only because of how I played the arsehole for a day, but because I did come away with some very good advice without which I doubt I would have had the success I’ve had this year.

Far Worlds, anthologies and aching fingers.


So, today I completed my first draft for the Boltholes upcoming Far Worlds anthology. Over the past few days I’ve doggedly chipped away at the word count until finally, bish bash bosh, its done.

Well, no, obviously that’s only the first draft and therefore I’m nowhere near finished but, and this is the important bit, the hard part is behind me now.

When you sit down to write a story you’re often filled with great ideas of what you want to write. In reality what you’ve probably got is a head full of great scenes. Well, in that case my friend you don’t actually have a story at all. You need to link those scenes. You need a plot. Hey, there’s that mystery word again, plot. It took me forever to get my head around that bloody word. I kept saying to myself, ‘I have got a plot!’ Person A is doing this when Person B comes along and they have this really cool fight with guns that shoot bullets which are actually not bullets but some kind of light. In the end they kill the bad guy by sending him back in time to face his father (who hates tattoos) with a tattoo on his face. His dad gives him such a beating that his future self feels it and turns away from his life of crime.

Cool eh?

No. That’s just a bunch of scenes in which stuff happens. They’re not linked in any way. There’s no character development, nothing to engage the reader on a human level.

Okay, So what the hell is a plot?

Plot is quite simply: character + conflict.

Basically, take your character, dump him off at A, tell him he needs to get to B but make it hard for him along the way. Make his day a bad one and let him grow into a man by overcoming those problems. Come the end he should have learnt something, acquired a few skills or something… there must be development which is only gained through the experience of surviving conflict. Presto!

Yeah, still sounds simple doesn’t it?

Probably isn’t though? Nope. Writing, at least for the vast majority of us, is hard. You have to slog away at it and question everything single word you put on to the page as though you’re making mistake with every one. You have to, it’s a writers life.

So, I’ve finished the first draft and that will now sit in a drawer for a good week or so (cause that’s how Stephen King does it, okay?) until I’m ready to look at it again. I expect the next time I do I am going to hate it but there is where the fun begins. I’ll start shortening sentences, dissecting paragraphs, wheedle out unwanted words… all that crap, because in the end, it’ll be better.

That said, better to me is not necessarily better for my editor. He might take a look at what I’ve done and say he doesn’t like it and then its back to the drawing board. But, you’ve guessed it, it’s a writers life.

Right, my fingers really are aching now and I simply MUST have a cup of tea.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your own writing.

Mark.

Inspired Geek


Wow, what a great weekend. I’ve just spent Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday in the company of some great friends at one of the best events of the year. Where have I been? I’ve been to the Black Library Weekender which is held annually in Nottingham.

It’s always great to see friends you’ve not seen in a while. I find it especially gratifying as they are the only people I know who I can be properly geeky with. No one in my circle of friends at home would have slightest idea what I was talking about if I said I was really looking forward to seeing what Gotrek and Felix will be up to this year, or that I really like the direction the Horus Heresy is taking right now. I’d be looked upon with disdain, possible mirth and by some, downright disgust.

To those people, I say you will never understand, can never understand. My mind lives the dream of geeks all over the world. I am a space marine. I have walked Mars beside Titans. I do have a pretty good idea of what the Warp is. These things are fun and interesting to me.

So, to me the Black Library weekender is just one long weekend of awesome, shared with good friends.

Particular highlights for me were listening to multitude of questions asked by the audience during seminars (I thought my mind worked in mysterious ways but whoa!), learning about upcoming submission plans and watching people pitch their own ideas during Pitch Factor (think X Factor). Several lucky people were able to impress the judges enough to win the chance of having their story critiqued by an editor. Last year’s winner took part and this year she was published. I confess I had my hand up through most of the contest but so did many others; kudos to those who had the balls to get up and have a go. I’ll have another try next year. Why not? It’s all good fun.

Needless to say I came away from the weekend inspired, if not a lot poorer. But hey, it was a holiday for me, a chance to get out and be a geek which is not something I ever get to do around here. So what now? Well, it’s back to being a closet geek, scribbling away in the dark, living my own private dream.

If you enjoy the Black Library’s books I can thoroughly recommend you get your backside along to the event next year. You’ll make some good friends who are passionate about the rich and diverse universes of Warhammer fantasy and Warhammer 40k, you can chat with the authors and if you’re like me, drink far too much.

Good times,

M.

The Ambo Big Shave 2013


I found this to be very touching and worthy of five minutes of your time. These are some of my work colleagues paying tribute in their own way to two friends.

kevinhope104

So yesterday myself and a load of work colleagues took part in a sponsored Head Shave (legs, back, chest waxes and even eyebrows!! There is still time to donate if you haven;t already –
http://www.justgiving.com/AmboShave to donate online via Emma’s page to Woolverstone Wish Fund to refurbish the outpatient cancer ward at Ipswich hospital.

or via Jo’s page to cancer research
http://www.justgiving.com/TheAmboBigShave

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Thieves, robbers and mechanics.


By God I was in a fluster the other day although to be honest it was my own fault. A victim of my own inability to organise my life. I did what many do, I assume, and put off checking when my actual MOT was due. I must have glanced at last years certificate at some earlier point, probably when I bought the car, and just forgot when it was due. I got the month right, this month, but my guess was out by about two weeks.

The bugger expires in a few days time. It’s not the end of the world though. I have a motorbike I could take but a quick check of the weather reveals its going to be a  dreary, wet and blustery few days over the weekend. I love my bike, but I don’t like being cold and wet.

Anyway, after a frantic fart, a bit of hopping up and down and half hour of apoplectic emptiness I finally got up off my arse and decided to ring around to try to book an MOT. I didn’t have to spend too long on the phone however. Fortunately the first garage had a vacancy for that very afternoon. I thanked them, perhaps prematurely now I come to think of it, hung up and jumped in the car.

The garage is quite literally ten minutes away from my home and so I was pulling up outside their premises before the lady who took my booking had even finished her cup of tea.

The chief spanner appeared from behind the desk as if from nowhere and took my keys.

‘Anything wrong with her that you know of?’ he asked.

I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder, unsure if I had accidentally brought my wife with me.

‘Nothing at all. Should be straight in and out I imagine,’ I said.

He gave an odd smile that was more of a sneer as I remember it and a wink that didn’t include him actually winking, as though he was going to but thought better of it. I suspect he is one of those poor unfortunates whose face contorts to reflect every emotion that passes through the owner, if only for a millisecond at a time. I find individuals such as this disturbing. It’s like they are changing their mind before your very eyes and are too brazen to hide it like normal people.

‘Take a seat over there. I take it your waiting?’

I nodded and waved the book I had brought with me. ‘Brought a book, though I doubt I’ll get much read.’

‘May as well have a coffee too then while you wait.’

I admit, all was going swimmingly well at this point and if it hadn’t been for my earlier near rage induced stroke I might have had a truly uneventful day up until that point. Alas, fate is ever-present and looking back I can see now the almighty boot being cocked back ready for delivering a kick to my anus that would both hurt deep within and spill my wallet’s contents straight into the chief spanner’s coffers.

Alarm bells began to ring, mildly at first, when I had been sitting waiting for nearly forty minutes. I could see no other cars being worked upon and so stood up to take a look through a kind of internal window. Have you ever been to a restaurant wherein you can be seated and see the kitchen staff at work preparing your meal? I can only assume that someone in the automotive industry thinks this is a good idea because this garage had installed a clear partition that allowed those waiting to watch the spanners at work.

I shouldn’t have stood up to watch really. I could have saved my sphincter it’s initial quiver of expectant rogering had I stayed put and read my book.

In the garage MOT bay I could see my car and in front of it was chief spanner pointing at two minion spanners and then back at my car. The two minions were also pointing at the car and occasionally scratching a head or an arse. Then, almost as one, they all turned and looked at me. Chief spanner waved, that odd half wink, laugh sneer expression appearing once more.

I could think of nothing else to do and so in a moment of awkwardness I waved back and then went and sat down again, a bead of sweat squeezing itself out upon my brow.

Chief spanner appeared a short while later. It’s easy for me to say this in retrospect but I swear there was a kind of victory in those cold dead eyes of his.

‘Bad news I’m afraid, Mr. Thompson.’

‘Oh really? You’ve not the right tool to perform your tests?’

He laughed, I laughed, trying not to mutter ‘bastard’ between my clenched teeth.

‘Your near-side headlight washer is kaput for a start and so that’s an automatic failure right there.’

‘You’re kidding!’

‘Fraid not, Sir. Headlight washers came in to the test in April. Lots of people fail on this one so I wouldn’t be too concerned,’ he grinned.

‘Well I am concerned. I need my car for Saturday. Can this washer thing be fixed?’

‘Fixed? No, not fixed. It must be replaced.’

‘Well, can you replace it?’

He sucked in though his teeth with a slow shake of his head. ‘We can yes, trouble is we don’t stock that part. I’ll have to order it in.

I said nothing, just blinked.

‘While we wait for that we can work on the other problem though,’ he added.

More blinking,

‘Your plates are illegal.’

‘My license plates?’

‘Are illegal, yes, fortunately we can make some up here.’

‘Those plates were put on in 2008. They’ve been on for every MOT for the past five years and no one has ever said a word about them. Why now?’

‘Well, my lads are exacting. I demand it of them. They’re completely up to date with VOSA regs. Could be the previous garages you took it too didn’t have our same standards.’

More blinking.

‘How long have you owned the vehicle, Sir?’ he asked.

‘About five months or so,’ I said, resigned to fact that my wallet was about to be raped.

‘Ah, could be then that the previous owner had some other plates that he put on for the MOT. Yours says TT at the end doesn’t it?’

I nodded.

‘Yeah, see that’s not allowed. Bit poncy too. You don’t want that do you? No, let us change it here. It’ll be legal then and look half decent.’

Slow blinking now. Twinges in the corner of my right eye signal the arrival of my rage tick.

‘Can you please fix my car,’ I say simply.

‘Oh sure. Sure we can.’

‘By Saturday?’

That awful sound of air being sucked in between his pursed lips signal to me that he’s really enjoying himself. My violent fist clenches. Seriously, in comparison to my other fist, my right always clenches when I’m angry so I refer to it as the violent one.

‘Could be, could be. Depends if I can get the part in. Then there’s the time it takes to fit too.’ He looked out through the internal window at my car. ‘Takes a while to get at the area too. Taking the bumper of an Audi takes nearly an hour on its own.’

My mind is screaming I think you’re full of shit, but I say nothing, blink and simply nod.

So, I drove home in a bit of a state I have to say, twitching, my violent fist clenching the steering wheel to make that rubbery juddering sound.

I had the car back in early the next day. It turns out they could get the part in, thank God, but it wouldn’t be until late morning and so they provided me with a courtesy car. A bloody knackered Ford KA with about as much presence as a sun-baked turd. I drove it away from the garage convinced I could hear chief spanner sniggering even when I was a mile away.

I didn’t get much change from £200 in the end and was once again nearly rendered apoplectic, if such a condition can still be said to exist in this day and age, when they handed me the bill.

Were it not for my calming mantra, I feel sure an ambulance may have been called.

My mantra, which I run though my mind whenever I am angry goes something like this.

Can you do anything about this situation you have found yourself in? Yes? Then why are you worried?

No? Then why are you worried? If there is nothing that can be done then what is the point of the worry?

I do believe this infallible and excellent logic is attributed to the fourteenth Dalai-Lama, (Tenzin Gyatso?) who must surely be a touched with some degree of inner peace that can only come with knowing something of a grander design. Oh well, that is one for pondering another day.

Until next time,

M 🙂

Here we go…


Well, the time has come. Marching Time to be specific.

Having just agreed and sent back my contract there’s nothing else to do but sit back and wait for the book to hit the market.

I thought waiting to hear back from the editors was stressful, but you know what? It really wasn’t. Not in comparison to a new fear which has risen up unannounced like a silent fart. You see, I’ve never really had a review before. Sure, I’ve had editors give praise (Not all the time. One actually scoffed in my face once. Scoffed!) from time to time but I’ve never had an honest to god review from a member of the anonymous public. It’s really quite frightening. Seriously, my poor bowels are working overtime. I keep blaming the dog but even the wife’s beginning to cast suspicious glances in my direction.

Alas, it’s out of my hands now. All that can be done is to wait and hide any stones.

I wonder if all writer folk have this fear? I mean, I keeping thinking back to the stories I’ve sent in and I know there are scenes I perhaps could have changed, rewritten or even omitted. Yet this is writing. If I change something then I’m actually writing a completely different story. Maybe one day I can do a director’s cut thingy if I’m really unhappy about something. In truth I’m not feeling to bad about what I’ve sent in. I’m never 100% happy anyway and so maybe this is a feeling I’m just going to have to suck up and learn to live with. Poor dog though. Really, he doesn’t deserve to have my wind blamed on him.

Scratch that. The dog has left the building. He’s actually just got up and left. It’s just me and a suspicious wife now.

Woe is me.

M.

All work and no play…


So you’ll recall me saying that today is a work day? I have been on call since 6am this morning and do you know how many calls I received asking for my services?

None.

I have sat on my fat arse counting my teeth with my tongue for most of the day.

Okay no. That’s not strictly true. Today I have:

Done the dishes.

Swept the floors.

Cut the grass.

Watched the Bourne Legacy (Pretty good but preferred the previous three).

Watched two episodes of Game of Thrones season 2.

Made a lasagne. (Not microwaved. I actually made it.)

Ate a lasagne. (Interestingly WordPress spells Lasagne with an ‘a’ on the end instead of an ‘e’.)

Took the cat to the vets.

Bought a motorcycle. (If you’re interested it’s a Triumph Bonneville T100. In black.)

Tinkered with the broken boiler.

Contacted heating engineer to complain about broken boiler.

Went for a 3k run.

Its gone 6pm now so I’m officially off duty. To celebrate I thought I’d try the beverage Port. Never had it before but I’ve heard its awesome.

Right then. I best go and open that bottle and have a lay down. Its been a long hard day after all.

M 🙂

Life on call


I work full time, although if you asked my friends (or even my wife) they would scoff at the mention of the word “work”. Particularly if it’s uttered from my mouth.

I’m a paramedic but I don’t work on an ambulance. I used to though. I did that for ten years until the call for a change grew too strong and I was compelled to answer.

I now work for a private company that offers forensic and medical services to the police. Basically, everyone is entitled to see a medical professional in police custody. That’s where I come in. They call, I answer and I make my way down the custody suite, assess, medicate, refer if need be and then I leave. I work a four-on, four-off pattern with each shift lasting twelve hours and yes nights are included.

The thing that grips most people’s shit about my job is that I respond from home. I live about thirty miles away from the nearest custody. I don’t have to be there at the start of my shift either. I just need to be near a phone and within one hour’s commuting distance. This means that when I finally get called, even if it’s dead on 6am, I will spend the first hour of my shift driving to work. Not bad eh? Only eleven hours to go. It takes me anywhere between half and hour and one hour to assess a single patient so if they only have one for me to see then I might only be in the custody suite for that period of time after which I am free to leave. Where do I go? I can go wherever I want, providing of course that I remain in contact and within one hour’s driving distance.

Yesterday I spent an hour test riding a motorcycle and another three quarters of an hour browsing their clothing lines.

This morning I have been up since six am, have consumed about six mugs of tea, had breakfast and watched the Bourne Legacy. My phone is set to divert so the house phone will ring if I get a call so I’m free to wander around the house without constantly checking my mobile for missed calls or to see if I have signal.

But… it’s not all good.

Mine is a lonely existence. Being the only medic on call at any one time, I don’t see anyone. Sure I see the police, but they live in their world and I am acutely aware of the fact that I am not part of it. I am a resource to be called in, nothing more. I speak with plenty of people on the phone during medical consultations or note sharing with other agencies but I never really see anyone. If I’m home then all is well. I spend my time writing, watching movies or wasting time on the internet. Once I leave the house though it’s a different story. I know I’m driving into a kind of void. A world full of people but absent of human interaction. I’ll stop by my parents house from time to time, even tried my brothers once but they work regular hours so they are rarely in.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’ve just remembered the other perk of this on-call life. Well, my wife sees it as a perk (I don’t).

She: ‘If you’re not called out and you’re at home, why don’t you do the house work?’

Me: ‘Really? I’m at work though. Kind of.’

She: ‘You can still do it! It’ll be like getting paid to clean.’

*sigh*

So, I have a mountain of dishes to climb, a few rooms to sweep or vacuum and anything else my beloved has put on my ‘list of things to get done when I’m skiving’. Nice.

Best I get to it then.

M J

The End of a Hard One


It’s been hard, so bloody hard… and long. But at the end of the long hard week things are steadily getting back into a normal routine. On a lighter note I have a new chair. Would you like to see a picture of my new chair?

Behold! My writing chair. Always wanted one of these. Its a treat for your ass.

Damn odd week this one. On the one hand things have been going swimmingly well with the publication of my first short story (and payment!) and its feedback. Yet, on the other hand I have been astoundingly busy to the point that this is the first chance I’ve had for some ‘me time’. Some people get pissed up, go out and see friends or just chill out when they get the time. I write. I write because I enjoy it immensely and it’s my way of chilling out.

Although busy, this week has been great for ideas. Perhaps having a break is good for the mind? For example, last night I hosted a BBQ for some friends who have been helping out down at the farm. Whilst getting steadily beer’d up the conversation swung widely between topics and herein was a virtual quarry of awesome. I must have looked a little disinterested as I tapped away like a mad man on my phone but no, my mind and ears were both feverishly mining ideas. Honestly, at times I felt as though I’d walked into a plot mine crammed full of brilliant material. Okay admittedly I was as drunk as a skunk by the end of the night but on re-reading some of the ideas I jotted down I can honestly say I’m pleased. I’m literally burning to start planning one of them. No, no sharing just yet I’m afraid.

Project Time appears to be on hold at the moment. Not sure why. I have two stories in with that mob and to be honest I would have thought we’d be close to publication by now. Maybe we are but no one is offering any news yet so I guess I’ll just have to be patient.

In movie news I watched Cloud Atlas this week and loved it. I’m a sucker for atmospheric sound tracks and this film has that in spades. Obviously I downloaded the album shortly afterward and added a few choice songs to my writing playlist. Speaking of which, that playlist now has some thirty songs on it which just repeat in one big loop. You’d think I’d be sick of some of them by now but nope. Every single one still inspires me now. Music, the writers best friend and partner in crime with that other great acquaintance – wine. Wine crime? Can I get a lol? Oh come on. That was pretty good.

Right, I’m off to commit some wine crime right now by finishing a bottle I started last night.

Later.

M J