Monday, 29 June 2015

How and Where I Write

How and where I write

Jane Austen wrote by hand on small sheets of paper hiding them if anyone came into the room. Anthony Trollope paid his manservant to call him at 5.30am so he could get in three hours writing before he left home for his day job. Proust wrote in a cork lined room and J G Ballard in a nondescript suburban house. I have a friend who composes her best work in coffee shops, because she doesn’t like the silence at home.
I am lucky in having a study. I type at an old table with a Formica top. On it sits my principal tool, an iMac with a 27” screen. Why so big? Because I can have three A4 equivalent pages displayed at a time, making moving between documents, or parts of the same document easy. I can have my browser open on one side of the screen and the document I am working on on the other. A simple touch of my mouse enables me to swipe sideways to other open documents – one always is Google Earth.
I use Word. It has had its ups and downs but for most writing is better than anything else. I have tailored the screen and the commands to my own preferences. If I am writing dialogue or a radio script I use Celtx, which lays everything out as performers, directors and producers need to see it. I tried but abandoned Scrivener, sold as a productivity package but worse than useless in my view.
My table also has an assortment of pens and pencils in a plastic desk tidy my daughter gave me when she was six, Post-It notes, a note block, a desk lamp, a bowl full of dongles, wireless mikes and general detritus, and a small brass clock that no longer works and I don’t know what to do with. There is a large magnifying glass and a Swiss army knife. The surface of the table is slightly slippery and my mouse pad is kept in place by a 1lb brass weight given to me by a friend’s widow. There are two remote controls, for amplifier and CD player, a phone and a calculator. My printer sits nearby, a high speed Epson that is good at double sided work.
Next to my table is an old Welsh dresser stuffed with an assortment of books, most not used for immediate writing needs except for a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Part of one shelf houses books with material I have published. Some of the dresser houses research files for various projects, some completed.
On the wall above my computer is a picture of my old college and a pen and ink drawing of a desert landscape with two saguaro cacti. They remind me of the desert Southwest USA, my favourite part of the world.
The window overlooks parked cars with trees and houses in the middle distance. If I am busy I don’t look out. Sometimes I draw the curtains because bright light makes my screen hard to see. On the two foot deep windowsill is a collection of little objects acquired over the years and family photos.
Next to the window is a tall set of shelves housing essential materials (paper, envelopes, ink cartridges and so on), and reference books. The most important are the Shorter Oxford (3rd ed.), the Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford American Dictionary. I also have several dictionaries of slang and the Economist Style Guide, along with Ben Bova’s brilliant book the Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells. A manual of old seafaring terms is there as well, seldom used. There are atlases, and a lot of maps. My favourite of these is an airline pilot’s map of Western Yemen.
Behind where I sit is a wall lined with books, much science fiction, books about WW2, London, H G Wells and California, together with assorted books I cannot even begin to catalogue. I no longer throw books away, because seven years ago my wife and I moved house 5,000 miles, and abandoned over 1,000 books in the process, saying we would not need them again. We were wrong.
Most of the reference books are downstairs in a place that would be a library if it weren’t our living room. They are downstairs so that if I want to look something up it forces me to get up and walk downstairs, taking minimal exercise, but taking it. Here are Butler’s Lives of the Saints (12 volumes), a complete Oxford English Dictionary, numerous dictionaries of other languages, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the 6th ed. Shorter Oxford (the dictionary to which I usually turn if the 3rd ed. upstairs doesn’t serve for any reason), Collins English Dictionary (it sometimes has better word definitions than Oxford), a magisterial encyclopaedia of the grape, the Oxford Companion to English literature and Oxford Book of Quotations. There is also a Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford Companion to Music, Kobbe’s Complete Opera Book, Fowler, Gowers and others.
Why do I need all these books? Surely one can look anything up on the internet? The simple answer is, no you cannot. If you want the correct etymology of a word (the plural of “dwarf” springs to mind) you will try in vain. If you need details of the life of an obscure saint, or an obscure English engineer, you may have difficulty on the Internet. Similarly if you want an authoritative discussion of the origins of “Jack and Jill went up the hill” (I did a few days ago) you need the Opies’ marvellous reference work. There is a second answer: I like reference books.
All of this paraphernalia, together with the Internet (accessed via Safari, Opera, Firefox and Chrome depending on my needs) forms an extended memory. I no longer need to remember details, nor to make many notes. The only difficulty is knowing where I looked something up, in case I need to document it. Scrivener can do this but my way is simpler. When I look things up on the internet I bookmark relevant references until I have finished with whatever I am writing. Easy, fast and reliable.
When I have finished a piece I read it out loud to myself. That often sends me back for a further round of changes.
My writing habits are erratic. I revise in the morning, before breakfast, or in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep. If I have a creative spurt I spend all day at my computer, but sometimes days or weeks pass when I achieve little. Sometimes I listen to music or watch old movies, and but mostly I read. I don’t recommend my compositional methods to anyone, but they seem to be tolerably effective for a person whose prose style in first drafts is as dull as ditchwater (or ditch-water).

Simon Evans

Sunday, 28 June 2015

On memories and doors

Last Friday, I printed my almost finished story and put it on the table for my parents to read. It caused my dad to stay up later than he'd planned to, which I'm taking as a good sign. The next morning at breakfast he told me that the story reminded him of something I used to say as a kid. Whenever I was unsuccessfully trying to remember something, I'd say that it was somewhere behind a little door in my head, but I couldn't find the right door.

Now I'm not going to tell you what exactly the similarity to my story is; for that you'll have to buy the book when it comes out. But it's definitely there, which is funny because I'd forgotten about that particular anecdote. Who knows? Maybe I did unconsciously base the story on that idea.

Memories are strange things. For example: the only thing I remember about the house I lived in for the first two and a half years of my life is one door. I believe it was the door to the kitchen, but I'm not sure. It was green, with a small, frosted glass window with some sort of pattern in it. However, when I think about it, I don't actually remember that door anymore. I remember remembering it, and describing the image to my parents to check if there was indeed a door like that, which seems to have replaced my memory of the actual door itself.

I'm not sure why the first two memory-related anecdotes I thought of are both related to doors. It must mean something.

Anyway, hi! I'm Anna, I've been making up stories all my life, and writing them down ever since I figured out how letters worked. I've always wanted to write a novel, and I'm actually working on the first one that, even after a few chapters, still seems like it's going to be great. It's going to take a while to finish, though, so I decided to get back into short stories and see if I could get one published. And here I am, really excited to be working on this anthology!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

School to desired temperature: Mr Lanaway

Welcome ye to my third and final post about the three teachers who have most influenced/damaged me. I've sort of made it a series of episodic posts so that a) after the first one you know that they're related, and kind of what to expect; and b) after the first one, you can just look at the title and know to avoid the other two without the hassle of clicking through to read the whole thing.
I've just realised that I have, unintentionally, written about these three in ascending order of age. Mr Moody was in his mid to late twenties; Mrs Bradley was in her late thirties; and Mr Lanaway was in his sixties. I know this for certain because he retired months before we were finished with him, and we all missed him dearly.
Dear Mr Lanaway. He wasn't young by anybody's standards, and so to a bunch of teenagers obsessed with sex, drugs and alcohol (or, in my case, manga and Stephen King) he should have seemed positively ancient. He should have; but he never did. I remember Mr Lanaway as having a permanent smile lighting up his face, and I would like to believe that my former classmates remember him in the same way. We were so, so lucky to have him. He was clearly a lovely human being, but he also had a genuine and powerful passion for what he was teaching that we all subconsciously absorbed by osmosis. He was born to teach, and the subject he was born to teach was English.
I'm not sure if this was built into the curriculum or something, but Mr Lanaway – the oldest English teacher – tended to teach the oldest books. This included Chaucer. Have you ever read Chaucer? Or, more accurately for most normal human beings, have you ever tried to read Chaucer? For those unfamiliar with the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, I shall quote from The Wife of Bath's Tale (from The Canterbury Tales):
And happed that, allone as he was born,
He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;

The first two lines I can sort of understand; it just looks like somebody got hit round the head with something heavy immediately before writing them. The following two lines, though, seem to have been transcribed phonetically from somebody in the throes of demonic possession. Mr Lanaway could read Chaucer aloud fluidly, with full understanding of every syllable. I essentially spent these lessons living in mortal fear of being asked to demonstrate that I had some vague sense of what was going on.
Actually, that's just a weak attempt at a cheap laugh that's greatly unfair to Mr Lanaway's teaching. I never did get my head all the way around Chaucer, but Mr Lanaway made every effort possible to gently but firmly guide us around the unfamiliar writing. He asked questions, answered questions, and made slow but clear progress with us through the stories. I suppose it helped that Chaucer was a filthy old man. It's amazing the effort some teenagers will put in if they think there's something vaguely resembling pornography to be had at the end of it.
The smile most certainly characterised Mr Lanaway (and as I said, it was always there, not just while he was watching a class full of kids discover dirty jokes from the 14th century). His occasional stammer came in third. What came in at a close second was the way in which he seemed physically unable to stand still. If he wasn't walking slowly around the class as he was sharing his wealth of knowledge with us, he was doing it standing in several places at once. That is to say, he would gently rock back and forth or side to side in a subtle – but entirely impossible to miss – manner. It gave him the appearance of a hugely intelligent metronome.
Here's my dirty little secret: I've never been a huge fan of Shakespeare. I have a collection of his complete works of course, as this is required by law in the United Kingdom. I find his sonnets to be true works of art, beautiful and valuable pieces of history. His plays, I can take 'em or leave 'em. Okay, so The Tempest and Macbeth are kind of cool, the latter carrying what is easily my favourite Shakespeare quote (“I am in blood steeped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er”). A Midsummer Night's Dream wins points for having a character named Bottom. Richard III gave me some context for the relevant cockney rhyming slang, if nothing else. Even though I didn't really enjoy it, it's actually Hamlet – or more specifically, Mr Lanaway's teaching of it – that provided my most important Shakespearian experience.
Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and I tell you what, it bloody felt like it at the time, too. It has a ghost but, sadly, no proton streams. There are 32,241 words in Hamlet (I Googled it), but it only took six of them to really leave an impression on me. They only left an impression on me because they left an impression on Mr Lanaway; but not in the way I imagine Billy Shakespeare was hoping.
It's one of the most famous quotes to be repeatedly regurgitated from any of the plays. It is spoken by Polonius, an old man flawed in a deeply human way. When giving advice to his son, Polonius at one point says “To thine own self be true”. I remember, vividly, the day we came across this line in class. We regularly played the parts ourselves but on this occasion Mr Lanaway was reading to us, walking or wobbling about the room as he did so. I was sat at my desk, one of the small but solid wooden ones barely four feet square our school still had a handful of that you probably don't get anymore. He was walking past me, to my left, with me on his left hand side, when he reached that line and stopped.
To thine own self be true. 'To thine own self be true'. What a load of rubbish.”
He turned so that he was facing me, but still looking down into the book in his hands as though willing the offending words away. He repeated the line a few more times in disgust, then continued reading and walking.
Mr Lanaway had immeasurable respect for language, and books, and education, and – yes – for Shakespeare. Never before or since that moment had he shown us anything but an interest in and passion for the works of Shakespeare. But that moment is the one I remember above all others. It was a revelation to me. A teacher hinting that a Shakespeare play was less than perfect? Did I dream it? Surely that didn't actually happen? No, it did – because I was in Mr Lanaway's class.
I already had a little seedling of rebellion against authority then but, looking back, I think that simple moment of humanity gave it a healthy dose of gro-fast. I respect Mr Lanaway for many things, but what I can clearly and immediately name as one of those things is the way in which he very consciously let us know his opinion. He didn't make much of a fuss over it – he never mentioned it again, didn't ask us to critique the line or anything – but it wasn't a momentary slip of the Teacher mask, either. It was just Mr Lanaway being Mr Lanaway. Whether he meant to or not, he helped teach me that it's okay to have an unpopular opinion.

I shan't be writing about my school memories anymore (is that a sigh of relief I hear?), and it may seem like I've been writing more about memories around my teachers rather than my memories of them. It is however what they taught me and how they taught it that helped shape what I remember from that time, how, and why. Writing these three posts, I have discovered that these memories were even more significant in shaping me than I first thought. I am loathe to pry still further into their meanings, in fact, lest their influence wanes and a little piece of me slips away.


Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Who and Why

Hi! My name is Michael, nice to meet you. You have found this blog, so you must love stories - I know we’ll get along just fine.

As this is my first post in the blog, I think it makes sense to write about why I’m contributing to this anthology. Writing this post is a bit daunting considering the brilliant ones that have already been posted, but I’ll do my best. Feel free to stop reading it if you get bored. Do something fun instead. I heard that there are lots of interesting things out there on the internet, maybe you could go exploring. Or you could pick up your favourite book and reread (rereread, rerereread, …) it. I promise I don’t mind.

You are still reading? Are you sure? Ok, so here goes nothing.

I found out about the anthology in the May edition of Discworld Monthly, which is a great newsletter about Terry Pratchett and his books. And the moment I read about it, I knew that I had to participate. Not just to see a story of mine in a book, but mainly because it provided me with the opportunity to pay my respects to Terry Pratchett and help (in a small way) to fight Alzheimers. And as I started to write the first draft of my story, I thought a lot about the impact Terry Pratchett and his books had on my life.

In 2011, I had the privilege to attend a lecture by Alberto Manguel. He is a brilliant writer who has written books like 'A History of Reading' and 'The Library at Night'. If you have not yet read them, you absolutely should - they are beautiful love-letters to the written word.
At the lecture, he said (and I am quoting from memory here, so it probably won't be his exact words): 

     "My library is my autobiography."

I love this concept. And it is true: I look at the books in my bookshelf and I see the stages of my life. The places. The people. The good times and the bad. I see how tastes and interests shifted and changed. And I see how important Terry Pratchett's books were to all of this.
They are at the centre of my bookshelves - literally. In the very middle of my bookshelves stands a Rincewind bookend, The Science of Discworld books to the left, the Tiffany Aching books to the right. Above, left, and right are the rest of his books.

The first time I heard of the Discworld was half a lifetime ago when I had just started the 12th grade. It was a great time because I had just met all those people who are still my closest friends today.
We were sitting in the school's cafeteria one day when one of them quoted a scene from a book:

     'Have - have you got an appointment?' he said.
     'I don't know,' said Carrot. 'Have we got an appointment?’
     'I've got an iron ball with spikes on,' Nobby volunteered.
     'That's a morningstar, Nobby.'
     'Is it?'
     'Yes,' said Carrot. 'An appointment is an engagement to see someone, while a morningstar is a large lump of metal used for viciously crushing skulls.’

     Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett

We all laughed a lot. I admit that I hadn’t heard of either Terry Pratchett or that strange place called Discworld before. But I went and bought the book and (of course) absolutely loved it. And that was it. I was hooked.

There are many authors who write funny or exciting or captivating stories, so why was Terry Pratchett something special? What differentiates a brilliant writer from all the other good writers? Well, there are a couple of things, and I expect that everybody will have their own take on this. 

For me, the best authors do two things for you: 

  1. They create a world in your head you can enter and spend time in, and

  2. they then make you wander beyond that world and show you other ideas and viewpoints, introduce you to new people and concepts, and point out possibilities as well as dangers.

Terry Pratchett was a master at both. 

The Discworld is a wonderful place full of imagination, interesting characters, magic, crazy (but surprisingly consistent) logic, and adventure. Whenever I read a Discworld book, I have that distinct feeling of returning home. I’m visiting old friends, and I’m walking through places I have known for many years.
Before I started to read the Discworld books, I hadn’t encountered something like that. Having this world to escape to (although this word always sounds negative - so let’s say ’travel to’ instead) was a new experience for me. The maps and the wonderful art by Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby intensified that feeling of a real world that existed between the covers of those books.

At the same time, there is always ‘more’ to each of the books (it has been said before, but I need to reiterate it). There are so many topics hidden under the layers of the storyline, and they are there for the finding if you dare to look for them. And this quality is what makes them so perfect for reading them again and again in different phases of your life. That, and the fact that they are always funny and witty and entertaining of course.

Over time, I read all the books Terry Pratchett has ever written. At first, I read the books in German (the translations are actually really good), but at some point I switched to the original ones because I could not wait for the books to be translated. So I started to read books in English on a regular basis.
I’m absolutely sure that I would not be able to write stories in English nowadays without that constant input of great writing (and I’m certain I would not know such unusual words as ‘ineffability’).
And ultimately, Terry Pratchett made me want to be able to write. To be able to write stories that transport readers into a different place and that make them turn the pages.

Now, I have only mentioned the Discworld series so far, but the other books Terry Pratchett has written are equally great. 'Nation' for example, which Luke has already mentioned in his post, is an astounding book that surprises and moves you.

I once wrote a letter to Terry, but I never posted it for some reason or other. And I never had the chance to meet him at a signing or at a convention. So I could never thank him for his books. In a way this anthology enables me to do exactly that. It allows me to say ’Thank You’ by doing what he dedicated his life to: Telling a story.


My first post

My name is Charlotte. 
It’s probably too early in my life to ask me who and what I expect to be in 10 years time because I honestly don’t know. But for now I’m going to tell you about what I love. Writing. It’s that simple. I love writing and how it makes me feel like I understand the world a little bit better if I can describe something as simple as a flower. What I also love about writing is that so many people have done it before me. For as long as people have had the words to articulate it we have had stories and I think they show something fundamentally beautiful in the human race. We all want our lives known, our stories told.
Who can talk about storytelling in the modern day without mentioning films? I think they are a fantastic new medium in which we can see a story. But for me the best thing will always be reading because whilst you can see the story in a film, you can feel the story in a book. It is so much more personal and the connections between the characters and the reader last far longer than any film will. That’s also what I love about books. They will last. In 100 years, who is going to say “I really fancy watching Mamma Mia” or Malificent or Harry Potter… ok, I take that back, Harry Potter is great! But seriously, 100 years on we are still reading and loving the Sherlock Holmes books. And, for me, that is true genius - having the power to captivate a generation and then generations after that.
Everyone writing for this anthology is here for three reasons: Sir Terry Pratchett, Alzheimer's and our joint commitment to the written word and I thank you all for proving that there are people like me out there.
So that’s me - a teenager with no real plans. But that’s ok, I think, because how can you have an epic adventure if you know exactly where you’re going?

Friday, 19 June 2015

School to desired temperature: Mrs Bradley

Last time, after the obligatory waffle, I told you about the most significant memories I have of my English teacher Mr Moody. Now, let me do the same for the memories I have of Mrs Bradley. Nothing about buttocks this time, sorry.
Mrs Bradley was what any good teacher – in fact, what any good person – should be; identifiably human. Mr Moody's One Of The Lads approach worked perfectly for him, never to the detriment of his job, and is largely why I shall remember him forever. Mrs Bradley on the other hand struck a miraculously perfect tone between friend and mentor. She must have been more than twice the age of the oldest of us, but could talk and listen like your best friend. Nonetheless, if anybody tried to take advantage of this, it was always immediately clear that she put our education above her desire for us to like her. That was one of the things that made her such a wonderful teacher.
Even though we discovered she could shout very loudly.
People shout. Sometimes in pleasure, sometimes in pain, sometimes because everybody else is doing it and they're a bit thick, but they shout. It's what people do. Teachers don't shout though, they aren't even able to... are they? I don't mean 'raising their voice', which is I presume the first thing teachers learn at university. I mean shout, as in yell, as in roar, as in throw your voice at somebody as hard as you can. That's what Mrs Bradley did.
Not on a regular basis; she wasn't a maniac. But woe betide the boy or girl who had pushed her too far. It didn't happen often, but when it happened it HAPPENED. With Bradders (as some affectionately called her) it wasn't so much a case of the straw that broke the camel's back, as the straw bale used to murder the camel by cracking its head open which then brought the wrath of the camel mafia upon you. Make no mistake; whenever this happened, whoever was on the receiving end fully deserved it. She was a real person, like us. So we listened to her.
It's funny, but my strongest memories of literature we studied at school are of books I didn't like. Some, like Brave New World (Mr Lanaway's class – memories of him in my next post) and Animal Farm (Mr Moody's class), I've read for pleasure at least twice since leaving school. I must make the terrible confession that I've never read Great Expectations all the way through. I just couldn't get on with it. I bodged my way through studying it, somehow, by reading the first third and the final third while skipping the middle entirely. I'm no literature hipster – Dickens is famous for a reason, and I absolutely love David Copperfield – but I always felt confused, and a little guilty, for not enjoying that one.
I think Great Expectations was in Mrs Bradley's class, but I know The Handmaiden's Tale was (hated it, sorry; maybe I'll try reading it again now I'm all grown up) and so was Women In Love by D.H. Lawrence. Crikey, I found that book a chore to go through.
The reason I remember Women In Love – better than any other book I studied – is because not only did I not enjoy reading it, I was forced to regularly write or talk in class about how terribly clever it was. That's one of the fundamental flaws in how literature tends to be taught, in my haughty opinion. The class is not asked if a book is worthy, or important, or intelligent. They are told (sternly) that a book most certainly is worthy and/or important and/or intelligent, and then instructed to explain (in great detail) how and why they agree.
The thing is though, I really liked Mrs Bradley, and greatly admired her. I didn't want to disappoint her by revealing my secret identity as a pleb. So I forced myself to read the whole thing, and spoke in front of the class about how a nutshell was a terribly clever metaphor, and listened to how people calling “Di! Di! Di!” when looking for somebody called Diana in trouble was also terribly clever. I still learned a lot and enjoyed myself. It was Mrs Bradley's class, after all.
What I remember from my time learning under Mrs Bradley, though – what I really, really remember – is A Streetcar Named Desire. The play itself I certainly remember in great detail. What I remember equally well is us acting it out at our desks in class – because I got the main role, of Stanley. I don't remember if it was an uncharacteristic urge to take centre stage, or if Bradders thought it would be a good way to get me to crawl further out of my shell (not a nutshell, I assure you, I haven't the brains). The point is, I didn't just take on the role – I embraced it. I felt comfortable in, and enjoyed immensely, the role of a violent alcoholic womaniser. Take from that what you will.
The day before we started, I decided that I might as well go the whole hog and try an American accent. I did this by sitting at a desk with my friend (I usually only had one at a time) in the common room, pulling a prayer from my Philosophy notes out of my bag, and trying to read it as an American preacher. Much to my amazement it worked, it really worked; a thick Southern drawl that really didn't sound like me at all. Heads quite literally turned in class when I started reading in my new voice for the first time. Of all the people in the classroom though, the only reaction I remember is Mrs Bradley's. She was hugely impressed (everybody was, even the ones who were loathe to admit it) and I suppose that now, over a decade and a half later, I finally realise she was probably the one in the room I wanted to impress most of all.
My favourite line at the time (possibly even now) was, because it gave me a perfectly valid excuse to say a vaguely naughty word out loud in class, “Let go of me, you sons of bitches!”. The day that particular line came up, I expelled the words with such volume, passion and glee that I got some unintended laughs; which increased when Mrs Bradley commented “You were really looking forward to that, weren't you Luke?”. Good old Bradders.
The universal praise for my performance meant that my ego inflated to the point where I was floating home from school every day. It didn't really help when, on the train back from a class trip to watch Streetcar being performed by professionals, one of my classmates turned to me and said “We still prefer your Stanley”. I was egotistical enough to almost immediately ignore any doubts I had about the sincerity of this statement, so I suppose it was inevitable I would grow up to be a writer of one kind or another.
I wasn't in the habit of trying accents or impressions then, but I certainly am now (much to my kids' delight). I seem to spend an awful lot of my time nowadays pretending to be somebody I'm not; but in a good way. To a large extent, I have my teachers to thank for that.
The third and final post where I shall bore you with school memories shall concern Mr Lanaway, and is to include:

  • The nonsense of Polonius!
  • The Teacher Who Never Stood Still!
  • Trying to work out what the hell Chaucer was on about!
  • And more!


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

School to desired temperature: Mr Moody

Generally speaking, it is the memories you don't remember that define you.
I'm not talking about traumatic experiences that are suppressed in the mind and then go on to shunt a personality one of several ways, although that can sometimes happen (and I'm not just saying that because I've been watching a lot of Dexter lately). Besides, you may well ask, is it even a memory if you don't remember it? Well – yes. In a healthy brain, a memory never truly goes away. There are things that you can forget for days, weeks, years, even decades at a time, and then one day – sometimes for no apparent reason – remember quite vividly. It was always there.
Memories are funny things though, aren't they? Little nuggets of your life that have somehow settled into your brain forever over other events of that hour, or day, or week, or month, or year. Sometimes, a memory can be so spectacularly prosaic that you find yourself disappointed in your own brain, which is a terribly confusing situation to be in. Other times, the memory is buoyed up with such joy – or weighed down with such sorrow – that it would be impossible for you not to have made a mental record. My point however (I seem to remember having one) is this: it's the memories that you don't bring up on a regular basis that work hardest to sculpt your personality. The ones that are left to quietly go about their business in the back of your head, undisturbed, gently blowing your reactions and decisions this way and that.
It might be something of a cliché to say that you never forget a good teacher, but it's bloody true. Months will pass where I completely forget they ever existed but, now and again, I will remember three English teachers from my final years of formal education. I was very lucky with my school and (mostly) with my teachers. The three I am thinking of here are Mr Moody, Mrs Bradley, and – I can only hope I spell the name correctly – Mr Lanaway. Today, I shall attack you with talk of Mr Moody.
Mr Moody was the kind of teacher I used to think only existed in sitcoms. Young, talking to the class mostly as 'one of the guys', goatee beard, extremely informal (which is why I remember his name was Steve); he thought he was cool. And he was. He had us all engaged in every single lesson, and knew the secret to good teaching that so many teachers fail to grasp; people will learn so much faster and so much better if you talk with them rather than at them. His lessons left me with two main memories.
A little background before I go into the first; I was a weird kid. When I say 'weird', I don't mean 'pull small birds apart and throw the remains at passing cars' weird. I mean 'very introverted, pushed further away from my peers by the fact that I was always visibly poorer than everybody else in my achingly middle class school' weird. I had a circle of friends that, had it been any smaller, would have imploded. Things started getting a lot better very quickly when I hit the age of 16 and the sixth form. I was never really bullied at any age (apart from the time somebody purposefully hurled a basketball at me from close range, and when I showed him how this had unwelcomely reconstructed one of my fingers he laughed). I've never done drugs or smoked anything at all, and didn't start drinking alcohol until I was nearly old enough to buy my own anyway. I also had a habit of questioning the dogma thrust upon us by the Roman Catholic school; when Mrs Rebbit (the RE teacher who, playground legend had it, believed that God had pushed her child on a swing) asked me in utter exasperation why I attended the school if I didn't believe it all, she didn't seem to be happy with my answer that I came to school to learn things. In fact, I have one memory I attach to Mrs Rebbit; in one lesson, she stopped in the middle of whatever drivel she was spouting to ask if I was draped over my desk face-down, arms spread, in an imitation of the crucifixion (I wasn't, I was just tired).
I was 17, and that was my Philosophy of Religion class. Unbeknownst to me at the time she marked my coursework which counted for 40% of the grade, and I got an E.
Short version: Even when I was cautiously accepted into the teenage fold, I was never One Of Them. We lived in different worlds. I was that kid; the weird one nobody really understood. Anyway, let's get back to it, shall we?
Work Experience. The words still send a shiver down my spine. It was sewn into the school curriculum and, once you'd done your week of pretending to have A Job, you'd write up your week and read it out in front of the class. I shan't go into details in order to protect the innocent, but I did not enjoy my week of work experience. I did not enjoy it so much, my writeup (which I dearly wish I still had to hand) was venomous. Humorous, but so acidic the paper probably burned my hands a little.
The result surprised everyone, including me. I don't remember what I said or how I said it, but I certainly remember getting a lot of laughs. When I was done I had a little round of applause; and Mr Moody, turning to me with a look halfway between admiration and fear, said “Well, if I ever want anything ripped apart, I'll certainly come to you”.
Later that day, one of my classmates even said to me (with genuine shock) “Yeah, you can be pretty funny actually”. I'd been interested in writing long before that point, but I think that was one of the first times in my life where I realised that if you make people laugh, you can fool them into thinking that they like you. That, I think, went a long way to establishing the importance I attach to humour not just in (some of) my writing, but to my life in general.
My second lasting memory of Mr Moody is somewhat less profound, but can not pass without mention. I'm reasonably sure this didn't have anything to do with the lesson at the time. Mr Moody, in front of the entire class with the blackboard behind him, hands in pockets, asked us why it was that one's buttocks automatically clench when one holds one's breath. He was, I assure you, being completely serious. None of us knew what the hell he was talking about and so, when he discovered with genuine surprise that he was the only one suffering this terrible affliction, he changed the subject. Probably to something on the curriculum. I don't remember – that wasn't what made an impression on me that day.
I hope I can encourage you to join me next time for talk of Mrs Bradley, which will include:

  • Disdain for D.H. Lawrence!
  • Me acting in a foreign accent!
  • Shouting!
  • And more!  

Monday, 15 June 2015

Terry Pratchett: Neither gone nor forgotten

Hello. My name's Luke Kemp, or at least that's what my parents tell me. Through what I can only presume is a series of mistakes similar to those leading to Mr Bean vandalising Whistler's Mother, I have been allowed to contribute a story to this upcoming anthology. Remember, 100% of profits go to Alzheimer's Research UK – so if you buy less than three copies, you are a bad person.
I'm extremely fortunate, in that I have thus far not had somebody I love suffer Alzheimer's Disease (at least, not officially diagnosed). Statistically however I almost certainly will in the future. Perhaps that somebody will even be me. It already feels wonderful to know that I will, in however large or small a way, be a part of something that contributes funding towards understanding this condition which steals so much of what makes us visibly human. I immediately confess that I do not know enough about Alzheimer's to talk at length about it without feeling like a fraud. Sir Terry Pratchett and his work, though? Like any fan, I am arrogant enough to have opinions. More accurately, Opinions, with a capital 'pretend I know what I'm talking about'. And here they are.
I remember, a year or two ago, idly looking through a list of Terry Pratchett books and being shocked to discover that I had read virtually all of them. More specifically I was surprised to find that I had read every single Discworld novel released up to that point. I haven't read every single one in sequence (like a great many other people – right?), but I have read them all at least once at some point. Discworld books just sort of drifted into my life; but once they were there, they weren't so much a part of the furniture as the steel beams that stopped the walls from falling down in my imaginary library. Finding a Discworld book I didn't own and not buying it was unthinkable.
It's not fair (or accurate) to reduce Pratchett's work to one series of books, even if they are his best known and most numerous. For example, Good Omens – co-written with Neil Gaiman – is one of the greatest books ever, and everybody should be forced to read it at least once. The Long Earth books, another collaboration (this time with Stephen Baxter), are also absolutely brilliant and very, very different from his most popular solo outings. Sir Terry himself went on record, more than once, as saying that he believed Nation to be the best book he'd ever written or would ever write. It is indeed an amazing book. Nation has imagination tinged with pain; rage flavoured with fear; despair sprinkled with love. On another level it can be considered an atheistic anthem, and – intentionally or otherwise – can be used to put all of his other work into context to some extent. Nonetheless, it is the Discworld which is Pratchett's greatest achievement.
Note that I say it is the Discworld which is his greatest achievement. Not a particular Discworld book, or the Discworld series; the Discworld itself. In every single book, on every single page, it is a real world in a real universe populated by real people. Okay, so sometimes the people are made of stone or turn into animals or are older than the human mind can conceive, but the reader never doubts that they exist. This is because – by every definition but the one they teach in schools – they do exist.
I miss Rincewind. I admire Harry King, but I'd want to stay on the right side of him (not too close, though). I'd love to have a tour of Unseen University, so long as I was never more than three paces away from something sturdy to hide behind. I've walked countless miles along the surface of the Discworld, sitting somewhere comfy for every step. It's a real place that's better than reality; it can give you untold pleasure, but is incapable of giving you pain.
Sir Terry Pratchett the frail human being has passed away. Terry Pratchett the author is immortal. He talks to thousands – perhaps millions – of people every day, in more countries than you or I could name in twenty minutes without an Atlas. He tells people that, hey, it's not so bad. He makes people laugh. He makes people cry. He teaches people things they never knew they wanted to know. He takes people on mesmerising journeys through fantastical lands, lands that he created. He tells people that maybe – just maybe – they, too, can send heartwarming ripples across the world with nothing more than a human mind and a keyboard.

Terry Pratchett isn't dead. He's just reached the point where people have finally stopped asking him to sign things. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Introducing your authors - round A!

The other day Sorin asked me why on earth we have author announcements 'round one' and 'round a'.  I explained it's because both groups are equally awesome!

With no further ado, here are the other authors participating in the 'In Memory' anthology:

  • Anna Mattaar, Netherlands,  Writer for computer games and soon-to-be novelist.
  • Charlotte Slocombe, UK, student and future writing superhero
  • Steven McKinnon, UK, independent author
  • R McK, UK, freelance writer
  • P E, UK, pioneer of the dramatic arts

Plus three more who are remaining a mystery for the time being.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Recipe no. 231

OK, let me bite the bullet here.

What kind of story can you write for an anthology dedicated to the memory of Terry Pratchett? How do you honour a person that meant so much to you, a person that educated you, soothed you, made you laugh out loud and made you hide a little inner smile when there was nothing else to smile about in your life?

Should you write a sad story, given the fact that he’s barely gone for several weeks now? Something about death and mourning, maybe? Should you, instead, given his positive take on life and death and, literally, everything, write some humorous, lighthearted piece?  

I was torn for a bit. Then I thought it doesn’t have to be one or the other – it just has to point to something meaningful in Sir Terry’s life and career. So I thought of his role as an influencer and I decided to go for that. My character – who is in very little ways Terry Pratchett – shares with him the depth of the universe he once created and the impact his books had on the most unexpected people. Then I recalled the moment when I found out about Sir Terry’s death, and I thought something like “Nah, this is just a trick. I bet he simply found a way to escape our reality and now he’s enjoying life in some nice neighbourhood of Ankh-Morpork!”

Without any more spoilers… I put the two together, added a teaspoon of salt and stirred thoroughly, and I came up with “The Prime Factor”. Which, I hope, lives up to its purpose.

This being said, I’m hugely excited to be part of this project of Laura and Sorin, and I know I’m in good company. I wish the best of luck to everyone that’s still working on their stories, and I can’t wait to read every single one of them.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Meet your authors (round one!)

Now that acceptances have been sent out, we're happy to let you know who our authors are.  Round one is below (round 'A' will be following shortly!).  We judged submissions based on their quality, not on whether the writer had been published before.  As such, we have a fantastic mix of published and unpublished authors, who are all coming together for this fantastic cause.

  • Michael Schaefer, Germany (new author)
  • Mike Reeves-McMillan, New Zealand (prolific novelist, website:
  • J E Nice, UK (fantasy and paranormal writer)
  • Caroline Friedel, Germany (scientifically prolific)
  • Chris Drew, UK (new author)
  • Peter Knighton, UK (new author)
  • Jay Vee Choong, Malaysia (published in Esquire Malaysia and KL Noir Yellow)
  • DK Mok, Australia (novels include The Other Tree and Hunt for Valamon, website:
  • Luke Kemp, UK (writer for
  • Faiz Kermani, France (award-winning children's author, website:
  • Cristian Englert, Netherlands (novelist, previously published in Romanian)

Many of our writers will be doing guest blog posts over the upcoming months, so keep an eye out!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

All authors have been notified!

All authors who responded to the call for submissions have now been emailed, and all rejections and acceptances sent out.  In the end we had hundreds of submissions, 43 short-listed authors, and 19 selected.  We saw an amazing variety of texts, from people in all kinds of positions and all over the world.  We had to make some very difficult choices due to the high quality of submissions received, and we look forward to producing a truly excellent anthology.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Submission are closed!

Thanks to everybody who submitted their ideas and writing samples.  Further correspondence will be going out in the next few days, so don't panic if you haven't heard from us yet.

In the interim, this is where our several hundred submissions came from: