My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

The Ten Commandments of Writing #10: Thou Shalt Never, Ever Give Up

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I get quite cross with people who imply that I write ‘for fun’. Or ‘for pleasure’. This generally comes into a conversation where I’m trying to explain why the writing is not my full-time profession. I’m trying to explain that I don’t make enough money from the writing to do it for a living, and so they say, “oh so you do it for fun then.”

There is nothing fun about writing. Yes there are moments of exhilaration, like when the WIP is going well and words are flowing, when you’re in that stage when you can re-read the words you’ve written and think to yourself, “actually this is pretty good. And I created it.” But you know this is going to be followed by a period of crashing self-doubt, when you are absolutely convinced that everything you’ve written is a steaming pile of turds and you should give up deluding yourself that you’re a writer and go and spend your time watching TV instead. This bit of the process is not fun. Neither is the constant lurching from self-confidence to self-loathing that I am convinced absolutely every writer, no matter how successful they are, experiences.

No, we don’t do it for fun. So why do we do it? It’s more a need, an urge. We need to write to keep on living, the same way we need to breathe.

You need to remember this once you have accepted the fact that you are a writer, because the road will not be smooth. There will be rocky patches. There will be times when you want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again. Every time you submit something to an editor, you will spend the next few hours, or days, or weeks, on tenterhooks. You will be checking your email every two minutes to see if you’ve had a response yet. When you discover there isn’t one, you will experience conflicting feelings of disappointment and faint hope, because no response at least means no rejection. Yet.

And then when the email finally comes you’ll be afraid to open it, trying to put off the inevitable rejection and the crashing self-doubt that follows for as long as possible.

But then one day it won’t be a rejection. It will be an acceptance. And it will all be worth it. On the dark days, it can be tempting to just pack it all in. But it’s important to keep on going. When each rejection comes, give yourself a few days to pick yourself and dust yourself off, and then send the story back out into the world again. And carry on working on the next one. Whatever you do, you have to keep at it, because being a writer is in your psyche and no matter how hard it can be sometimes, it will always be who you are.

 

 

 

My Life in Music: 1970

I really don’t remember much about the music of 1970. I was too busy eating, sleeping, pooping, and growing, the way babies tend to.

Baby Sara, 1970

I am not sure how old I am in the accompanying photo. Six months, maybe? So it was probably taken in the spring of 1970. Colour photography had been invented by then. But my grandfather, who took the picture, was a keen amateur photographer and had a black and white camera.

Anyway, back to the song. I’ve gone for a song that was a hit in 1970, and it’s an Elvis song. My mother is a big Elvis fan, and I grew up knowing rather a lot of Elvis songs, because she was always playing them.

I’ve picked this one, because I remember this song on the radio, though I very much doubt I remember it being played the year it was released. It was apparently Elvis’s most successful UK single, staying at #1 in the charts for six weeks in the summer of 1970.

Because this blog is all about the memories associated with music, I should also mention what I think about whenever I hear this song. I think about my mother, and the way she cried when she learned about Elvis’s death. But that was not until 1977. I also remember the flat we used to live in after my parents divorced, but we did not move there until 1976. My memories of the house I was living in in 1970 are rather vague, and aren’t really associated with any particular song, but I will explore this further as we move on in this series.

I always thought of this song as a ‘big song’. The sort of song you want to sing along to, even if you’re not a big fan of Elvis.

The video I’ve chosen for this song is not actually a video – it’s a collection of stills of Elvis. But he’s looking pretty good in most of them, and I think my mother might appreciate it. And the sound quality of this recording is a bit better than the other versions I could find on Youtube.

So may I present the song for 1970: ‘The Wonder of You’ by Elvis Presley.

Monthly Round-Up: June 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Well, summer is here. The UK enjoyed some sweltering hot weather this month, over 30c for several days. This is pretty unusual for us – so much so that we all bake, since very few places have air conditioning. Fortunately for us, our office does. The underground does not, however, and being packed in like sardines on the Central Line in rush hour when it’s so hot is pretty close to being in Hell.

But of course British weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and now we’re back to rain again. I love the long days at this time of year, and there is still plenty of summer left before we’re back to the long nights of winter.

Anyway. On with this month’s news

OUT NOW/COMING SOON

There’s nothing new to announce, and I’ve got no further news on when SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH is coming out. So this month I’m just going to plug my current publications. They are all available on Amazon US and UK, so why not have a browse?

PUBLICITY

On 4 June there was an interview with me on Rochelle Weber’s blog, in which I talk about the Shara Summers series.

There’s another Goodreads giveaway running at present for THE WHISPERING DEATH. It’s only open to UK readers, due to postage costs, but if you fancy a free signed copy of THE WHISPERING DEATH, the contest is open until 15 July.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I was aiming to have the first draft of the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, done by the end of June. Well it’s not quite done yet, but I am nearly there. I have over 60,000 words done and I reckon I’ve only got another 10,000 or so to the end. If all goes well I should get there in July. So, hopefully there’ll be more news on this next month. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it’s sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher’s minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department – and even then you’ll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange – you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there’s no point in setting up social media accounts until they’ve got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you’re published, and at least by the time you’ve got something to sell you’ve built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or WordPress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don’t require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I’m half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don’t live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don’t be that person that only ever Tweets ‘buy my book’ because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I’m on holiday, if I have cause to mention I’m a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, “oh, what do you write?” I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I’d packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that’s where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I’ve never made that mistake since.

Once you’ve got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It’s mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn’t cost anything to do it. Go to conventions – as many as you can afford – to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can – you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.

You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you’re with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop’s buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren’t interested in taking anything they can’t buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that’s generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.

In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven’t sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it’s something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

My Life in Music: 1969

I’m introducing a new feature to the blog, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Music has been important to human culture since the dawn of time. In all the travelling we’ve done across the world, I am always struck by how there is always music. No matter where you are in the world, when a crowd gathers, instruments will be played, there will be singing, and there will be dancing.

In addition to that I think music has a powerful influence on our senses. I can hear a song and be transported back in time to whatever I was doing, and whatever I was feeling, when that song first came into my life. No other medium has that impact.

So with that in mind I am presenting a new feature on this blog – My Life in Music. Each post will feature a year of my life and a song from that year that had a particular impact, and why. At least, that’s the idea. And since there are 47 years to account for (and counting), this one could keep me going for a while.

babysarahospital

Baby Sara heading home from the hospital, in those heady days before health & safety…

Anyway, I thought the best place to start is the beginning. I was born in the North of England in 1969 (in the middle of a thunderstorm, apparently). Of course, this is a bit of a cheat because I don’t remember the music of 1969. For most of it, I was a foetus. The world was a very different place. I am including here the first picture of me that was ever taken. The little bundle in the nurse’s arms is me, being handed to my mother in the car for the journey home. In the front seat. Never mind there was no car seat, seat belts were optional in those days as well. How times have changed.

And embarrassingly, this song was number 1 in the UK pop charts the week I was born. It’s something of a novelty song – performed by a group of fictional teenagers in the cartoon TV series The Archie Show. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and recorded by a group of session musicians. And apparently it became a runaway hit. It was number 1 in the UK for eight weeks, and the most popular song in the world I was born into.

And so here it is. May I present the song for 1969, “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Let’s hope the music gets better from here on in…

High School Reunion

I spent eight years of my life living in Canada. I moved out there with my mother, stepfather and sister in 1980. I was ten years old at the time. I resented having to move countries. I moved back in 1988, at eighteen years old, after finishing high school.

The high school I attended was Grand River Collegiate, in Kitchener, Ontario. I spent five years there because in those days Ontario had a grade 13 – now long gone, I understand. The school opened in 1966. Last year, 2016, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it decided to have a ‘reunion weekend’ to celebrate fifty years of ‘Renegades’.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories of my teenage years. Does anyone ever have a good time during puberty? But in high school, at least, there were some good experiences, and it was a big improvement on junior high. It was in high school I began to have confidence in my writing – that this was, at least, something that I was good at, and I had some very encouraging English teachers. I made some good friends in high school, friends I am still in contact with. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. And I was finally able to drop that most hated of classes, Physical Education. The Canadian education system – at least when I went through it – did not seem to comprehend that some people will never, ever, be any good at sports, no matter how hard you push them. But that is a post for another time.

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Me (L) and my sister, haunting the old school corridors 30 years on

Ultimately the most important lessons you learn are those you discover after school. I was bullied in school. I suppose most people are. Perhaps we had it easier, in the days before social media and the internet when your bullies had to come face to face with you instead of hiding behind Twitter accounts. Bullying is always tough. But you grow up, you learn to love yourself and you learn to put the hurtful things the bullies said behind you.

Anyway, the school opened its doors for an open house weekend as part of its reunion celebrations, and I decided to go. My sister, who still lives in Canada, came along. We were both, briefly, at the same high school. But she was three grades below me and at the time she found me terminally embarrassing, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time.

It was a strange experience, going back into my old high school after nearly thirty years. I think back to those times and sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me – like it all happened to someone else. And the school has changed quite a lot since I attended. There’s a proper drama room with a stage now. We just had a room with a carpet and no desks – we had to sit on the floor. There’s a really high-tech music room, with soundproof practise booths. But as I walked around, every so often a memory would hit me. We went up the stairs to explore the upper floor and I suddenly remembered clattering up and down those stairs every day, between classes. I went into the girls’ toilets and remembered that these were the ones I used every day, at school, because they were conveniently placed between corridors. I’m pretty sure the decor, or the facilities, hadn’t changed in 30 years either.

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Exhibit A: Evidence of Sara’s terrible dress sense during adolescence?

In the corridor that used to be where all the French and business studies (ie: typing) were, ‘decade rooms’ had been set up. So of course I headed straight for the 1980s room. Photographs of the time were hung up every where, and who should I see in that room but my old typing teacher. While I was talking to her telling her how in all honesty her typing class was the single most useful class I ever took in my life, my sister was prowling the room looking at the photographs. I was in quite a lot of them. I threw myself enthusiastically into high school and joined all the clubs. I was trying to get people to notice me. My sister was making a point of trying not to be noticed. She kept bringing me pictures I featured in. Most of them I remembered – I bought all the yearbooks, and most of the pictures were there somewhere. But then she brought me one I hadn’t seen before. “How you can tell that’s me?” I said. “The face is turned away.”

She gave me a look and pointed at the picture. “Look at that outfit! Of course it’s you. And socks with sandals? Who else would wear that?”

Perhaps she had a point. I am attaching the picture as Exhibit A. I am the person with long brown hair in the foreground, lookng away from the camera. You can judge for yourself whether or not my dress sense was as terrible as my sister perceived it to be.

On the whole it was fun, revisiting my high school for a day, and it brought back some good memories that I had forgotten all about. But I think the most important thing about reminiscing on high school days is to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.

Monday’s Friend: Mark Simmons

Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow KGHH author Mark Simmons as my guest on the blog.

SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

MS: I don’t think there was ever a moment where I knew writing was my destiny. But I have been jotting down my thoughts and ideas since I was a boy. There are pages and pages of notes tucked away that every now and then I delve into.

SJT: You say you’ve been a horror fan since an early age. Can you remember the first horror novel you read, and if so what was it, and what was the impact it had on you?

MS: My first dip into the waters of horror was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. The scene when a road accident happens outside the Creed household was an inspiration for me. As the protagonist gets closer to the accident the moment plays out in slow motion, prolonging the horror of the scene.

SJT: Tell us about your latest release.

MS: My latest release Purged In Flame is the second book in a series that follows Whitfield Creed (another Pet Sematary homage) as he tries to come to terms with his Immortality, and the creatures he shares his eternity with.

SJT: Are you a plotter, or a ‘seat of the pants’ sort of writer?

MS: I always try to have a beginning, a middle, and an end in mind when I start a new project. But there is often a certain amount of freewheeling that contributes to the plot.

SJT: Have you every put anyone you know in any of your stories?

MS: I have always added certain traits and mannerisms from people I have known, into my work, but I have never out right created a character from one of those people. Invariably it is a single trait, or a few, that will define someone.

SJT: What, for you, is the appeal of horror?

MS: There are a few aspects of the world of horror that I think are important, and they are what draws me to the genre. Fear of the unknown is such a driving force in the some of the best horror. What you don’t see, or what you are unaware of, will always bring fear to the surface. And also the atrocities that humans are capable of doing to one another. You need only look into the history of our species to find a plethora of stories that are worthy of any horrific tale.

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

MS: A bit of gardening has become a recent distraction. But a favourite past time has been sharing a drink with my significant other, the Doctor.

SJT: Come the Zombie Apocalypse, what’s your weapon of choice?

MS: Gotta go with a sword and some kind of plate armour. Being an inhabitant of the British Isles I’m sure I would be able to get a hold of that kind of hardware.

SJT: What’s next for you, writing-wise?

MS: I am currently working on the third book in the story of Whitfield and his journey through eternal life. The first draft is done and I am in the process of bulking out the plot.

Blurb for PURGED IN FLAME

Whitfield Creed had never been one to believe in such things as luck. Yet when he wakes to find he’s hung from a meat hook, in the back corner of some warehouse, he can’t help but feel his luck may have run out.

A chance meeting with the wrong people immerses Whitfield in an underworld that he had presumed to be no more than folklore. Yet these creatures exist and with eternal life have manipulated mankind from the shadows through the millennia’s.

Trying to come to terms with the way these creatures occupy their eternity Whitfield most live amongst their ranks. With the elders of this ancient society bickering with one another and the constant threat of execution hanging over his head he must try to survive. Whilst also accepting his own immortality.

Buy PURGED IN FLAME now from Amazon (UK or US)

Author Bio

Mark Simmons has been writing horror recreationally since a young age, finding inspiration from a cavernous backroom full of horror at his local video shop. Renting all manner of features well before his age legally allowed him to.

Born and raised on the coastline of Suffolk, England by North Eastern parents. He also found his creativity stimulated by the rolling countryside and coastal emptiness of East Anglia. He currently lives on the River Stour with his Epidemiologist wife, The Doctor.

When Mark is not bringing his monsters and demons to the page in his spare time he has worked for the last ten years in various areas of the Television Broadcasting industry. He has helped to provide the world with the top quality viewing that it deserves.

Mark enjoys watching all manner of Movies but has an affinity to horror flicks. He has a passion for classic and modern literature mainly in the horror and sci-fi fantasy genres. He enjoys gaming of the RPG world immersive vein. And has an acute ear for music, particularly the Metal persuasion. Football plays a small part in his life, playing a bit of 5-A-Side in his spare time and supporting a North Eastern team of the Black and White striped variety.

He has published two novels, Of The Night and Purged In Flame, which are available from Kensington Gore Publishing.

Friday Fears: Two-sentence horror #11

I’ve had a submission for my Friday Fears feature so it’s time for another post!

Today’s featured two-sentence horror story comes from Claire Fitzpatrick.

Anna dug her nails into the soft citrus-scented skin, peeling it back to reveal the spongy pink flesh.

“I told you to wait for me,” Tom said, hastily sawing off his little sister’s remaining arm.

And here’s one from me:

I was so tired of seeing my boss’s face every morning. So I took his head out of the fridge, cooked it, and ate it.

Happy Friday, and don’t have nightmares!

 

 

Monday’s Friend: Pete Sutton

Today I am pleased to welcome fellow KGHH author Pete Sutton to the blog. I’ve known Pete since my live action role playing days, some years ago now, and it’s good to have him here to chat about writing.

SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

PS: Not sure I’ve ever felt ‘destined’ to be a writer to be honest. I had a vague – “I’d like to write one day” feeling although my storytelling urge was being satisfied by writing for a roleplaying game. I volunteered at Bristol Festival of Literature in 2012 and met a whole bunch of writers and sat in on many writing workshops and thought – “I can do that”. I didn’t do anything about it though until the roleplaying company and I parted ways. I went to a book launch of “Writing without a parachute” by Barbara Turner-Vesselago. Chatting to her at the launch I said something along the lines of “I’d like to write someday,” and she asked, “why don’t you then?” I realised that there was no good reason not to. I sold my first story a couple of months later.

SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

PS: Everything I read, every TV program and film I watch influences me in small ways. I’d say that writer-wise my biggest influences are Jeff & Ann VanderMeer. Not on the writing itself, although Jeff’s Wonderbook is a great how to write manual, but more by what writing they have brought to my attention in their amazing anthologies and via Jeff’s blog.

Writing wise I’ve been compared to Gaiman and Carver which is very flattering as well as Chesterton  (who is in turn a big influence on Gaiman). I’d also say that John Fowles has influenced some of my short stories.

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

PS: You don’t need permission to write. Anyone can do it.

SJT: Tell us about your latest release.

PS: The last book I had out was Sick City Syndrome which I call an architectural fantasy. The book opens with Susan, our protagonist, about to talk to her dead fiancé via a medium assigned as a grief counsellor. She discovers that all is not as it seems with his death and resolves to investigate why he died, That’s been available since September last year.

I’ve just handed in the developmental edit on my next novel SEVEN DEADLY SWORDS, which is a historical fantasy. I’ve also got a few short stories coming out – latest is Ash and Darkness in Between the Tracks which is full on horror.

SJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?

PS: I don’t think any character is truly entirely created by imagination only. All characters are amalgams of real people.

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

PS: I read. A lot (80 odd books read so far this year). I’m also kept busy organising Bristol Festival of Literature, Bristol HorrorCon, BristolCon and my writing group.

SJT: What’s next for you, writing-wise?

PS: I’m currently working on another novel for KGHH provisionally titled “The Certainty of Dust” the protagonist of which is a guitarist/singer in a band and again, like in Sick City Syndrome, the world is like ours but different.

AUTHOR BIO:

Pete Sutton is the author of two books: A Tiding of Magpies –  a collection of ‘deliciously dark tales’  – and Sick City Syndrome –  an urban fantasy set in Bristol where he lives.  He is currently working on a second novel, a historical fantasy set during the crusades,  which will be released by Grimbold books.

You can find him all over social media or worrying about events he’s organised at the Bristol Festival of Literature, Bristol HorrorCon and BtristolCon.

On Twitter he’s @suttope and his website is http://petewsutton.com/ .