Stiff published in TTMC.

28 06 2008

Issue One of The Thinking Man’s Crumpet is now available from all good retailers (well, directly from the publisher, anyway), including my heartwarming tale of demonic cults, taxi drivers, and apocalypse.

Visit to bag your own copy. If you’re without MySpace, drop me an email and I’ll pass you the contact details.

Responses so far for Stiff include:

A story which opens with the protagonist being assaulted by an inflatable Shagging Sandie sex doll would leave some writers wondering how to follow that. You needn’t worry when Troo Topham’s on the case, in Stiff.

– Rog Pile.

Trudi Topham – Stiff: A sinister black magic cult bent on destroying the world. Their leader, Lloyd, sics an animated blow up dolly on our narrator, Dave the taxi driver, a crusader against evil who’s had that Madonna in the back of his cab and has saved the earth at least three times. But can he best the sadistic Shagging Sandie doll? Let’s hope not! Something tells me Michel Parry would love this one.

– Dem, Vault of Horror.

So there you have it! Buy it now!


Write a Doctor Who novel in six months.

14 06 2008

The lovely Lance Parkin has a challenge for you. Yes, you. Click here for the full details.

Actually, Lance’s The Eyeless blog is going to be extremely helpful for all you people looking to be writers. How do I know this? Because I do. I know these things.

The challenge is deceptively simple. You want to be a professional writer? Come on, then. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

Will I be following Lance’s challenge? No. Because I don’t have the time to write a 55,000 word Doctor Who novel for fun. But I will be following the blog, because I have a novel underway, and if I can hit the finish line by the deadline (Boxing Day) then I’ll be sorted.

So for me this is more of a “pull up your bootstraps, stop fucking around with computer games, and get back to writing” clarion call. But for you? Make it whatever you want it to be. Write that Doctor Who novel, or maybe just write something of your own.

Go on. Do it.

How to create great characters.

13 06 2008

You should know as much about your characters as they would know about themselves. Oh, sure, you don’t need that level of depth for a short story (although it’d help, if you’re really struggling), but for anything longer than 10,000 words you’d better have a really good idea of who they are, what events shaped them, how their past informs their outlook on life, and why they want whatever it is they’re after.

Two-dimensional characters often come about from an outline such as this:

David was born in 1965. He discovered he was a wizard at the age of 13, and since then has been studying really hard. He is now a really powerful wizard. He lives in San Francisco.

What? Is that it? David’s whole life revolves around him being a wizard? Has he no family, friends, rivals, enemies, pets, favourite foods, lovers, overdue books at the library, or any other influence which could turn him from a dull set of facts into a living, breathing person?

Here’s the thing. You might be writing about a powerful wizard living in San Francisco, but he’s also a human being. Well, he is for the purposes of this example. Here’s a shortish checklist of things a human being generally knows about himself:

Birthdate of himself, his parents, his siblings, long-term partners and friends.

The schools he attended.

What pets he or his friends / family had.

How popular he was at school, and whether or not he’s still in touch with school friends.

His employment history.

When and where he met his best friends and / or lovers.

Their names (usually, although it speaks volumes about a character who can’t list his lovers).

What he likes and dislikes (from food and drink, through to holiday locations, political viewpoints, and “certain kinds of people”).

Date of death of anyone important (a parent, a sibling, a best friend).


And that’s just your basic starting point for a human being. If your character is from another race, he’ll know just as much about himself, just with facts pertinent to his race’s culture – he may not know what “school” is, but his race might follow a rigid path of indentured servitude or military service, about which he’d know just as much as a human does about their school days.

And I’ll step in now, Mr. Clever Clogs: If your character is an amnesiac, you still need to know these things.

Then you layer in what makes your character stand out from the crowd. What makes him the hero, the antagonist, the ally, or the Tin Dog? What makes him get his arse off the sofa / rock / grassy knoll and get involved in a story? All this should come from the world you’ve built to set your story in (you did do that bit, right?): If your world is contemporary London with Vampires, did a Vampire kill his sister? If your world is a distant planet with spleen-sucking aliens, did he witness a spleen being sucked and get so terrified that he’s acting purely in self-defence? Has he been living a dual life, or has this taken over his life? Is he in contact with his world, or has he been removed (or removed himself) from it?

Since stepping off the path of dull, normal life, who has he met? Has anyone taught him what he now knows? Has he teamed up with others who seek the same goals? Is he still with them? If not, why not? Has his new life utterly changed his personality? Was he an easy-going guy before dog-faced beetles chewed his father’s head off? Have new-found powers made him overconfident, or does the new playing field scare him to death?

I mentioned earlier that your characters are after something. This is vital. Without desire, they won’t move forward.

All your characters must want something.

All your characters must need something.

What they want and what they need are two different things.

So let’s look at David the San Francisco wizard. Let’s say we now know what school he attended, what happened to his parents, who mentored him in magic, and all those other great facts. Instead of a couple of lines we now have two or three pages of background (or more – don’t be shy now). With all these facts you’ll have a better idea of the kind of guy he is – trust me, you will. How he’s dealt with enemies in the past will inform how he deals with them in your story. Does he hurl fireballs, or does he retreat to the library and research his foe? Is he too prone to losing his temper, or is he such a perfectionist that enemies run unchecked while his nose is in a book?

What does he want?

Why does he do what he does? Does he want to become all-powerful, or does he want revenge? Does he want to protect those unable to defend themselves, or does he want to rule the world? Does he seek to cure his wife from a Lich’s curse, or does he want to become a Lich himself? If he doesn’t want something, he won’t strive for it, much as if you don’t want money you won’t bother turning up to work every day.

What does he need?

Oh yeah. Now we’re down to the guts of it. What is it that your character needs, that he’s unaware of? What would truly solve his problems? He may want revenge, but maybe what he needs is closure, and revenge won’t give it to him. Maybe he wants to find that cure, but what he needs is to recognise and accept that even his power can’t achieve everything. Perhaps he wants to protect the defenceless, but he needs someone to make him feel protected.

What he wants and what he needs should conflict one-another. And the moment you give him either, the story is over, unless you can replace one want or need with another want or need. Remember that if you want to draw your story out into a series.

Nobody wants to read about a character who’s got nothing to do.

Hub Magazine is site of the week on

5 06 2008, the official website of the SciFi channel, is featuring Hub Magazine as their site of the week.

Well? What’re you waiting for? Get over there!

Shucks. Interviewed again…

4 06 2008

I’ve been interviewed again, this time by British SF author Gareth D. Jones. You can read the interview in his blog, here.

Pantechnicon Seven available now!

4 06 2008

Front cover, Pantechnicon Seven. Click to download the magazine.

Click here to download Pantechnicon Seven as a PDF, or here to visit the website and read all our juicy content online.

This issue contains:

The Web Across The Door

DF Lewis offers a short slice of weird.
DF Lewis

The Trapper
Harsh winter, rotting food, and ghosts take their toll on a trapper and his wife.
Contains scenes of a graphic nature.
Johnny Mains

New job, new boss, same old corporate life. With telepathy, a ghost, and murder.
Brian Wright

Death Knock

A dead journalist seems to be visiting relatives of the recently-bereaved. It falls to the Department for Extra-Usual Affairs to investigate.
David Barnett

The King is Dead
JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley meet a newcomer to the afterlife. Only two of them have his best interests at heart.
Alister Davison

The Dopple Gang part two
Jake has a gun that can delete things. His only question now is who to kill first with it.
Colin Sinclair

Tranquil Sea
An expedition to create a radio telescope using the Moon’s Daedalus Crater suffers Jovian interference.
David Brookes

Seeing the Light
She’s not crazy. And she’s going to show everyone exactly how not crazy she is. Even if it kills them.
Suzanne Jackson

Interview: Barry Wood

Caroline chats to the Canadian author about his work and his future plans.

SF101: Olaf Stapledon
Sean Parker’s series continues with an exploration of Stapledon’s work.

Icon Oddities: The Musical Career of William Shatner.
Jamie Halliday kicks off a new series on the odd careers of genre icons, starting with the Shat himself.

Horror Gems: Sundown
The next in Jamie’s Horror Gems series takes a look at this bargain-bucket treasure, unavailable on DVD.

Weird Tales:
A Time-Travelling interview with DF Lewis.

Des and Caroline talk. And travel through time.

The Fandom Menace

The Age of Innocence:
SF: Is it really for you any more?
Time for some Perspective:
And now, a look at the murky waters of Doctor Who fandom, and the raging battle of New Who vs. Old Who.

Getting published.

7 05 2008

You want to get published. You’ve written something fantastic, but where do you go to get it into the big wide world?

Let’s look at your main potential outlets:

  1. The Internet
  2. Print Magazines
  3. Book publishers

Now let’s look at your potential earnings:

  1. None
  2. Some

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written fiction or non-fiction, long or short. The first thing you absolutely, positively have to do is research. You need to investigate what markets are available for your particular output, and you need to be realistc about whether or not there’s an audience for what you’ve written.

Let’s start with the easy one: The Internet. I say “easy” because technically you could just get yourself a web page, slap your writing on it, and call that “published”. No editors, no agents, and nobody to protect you when the bots come-a-stealin’.

One step up from putting it on the internet yourself is to join one of those sites that builds content by letting you post your stuff on their site. Some have little to no editorial control, while others do their best to ensure all their content meets their guidelines. One such site is Suite 101 which has been going for over ten years, and pulls in 7 million visitors a month. It also pays you based on advertising revenue generated from the articles you write.

For fiction writers there is a bewildering array of opportunities out there, and there’s nothing I can say except that finding the publication for you is going to be a cold, hard slog through search engines and forums. You’ll need to find sites which list potential markets – Ralan is an excellent example – then check the publication out for yourself. Read their guidelines, see if you can find good or bad feedback about them online, ask fellow writers what they’ve heard about it. Some e-publications out there don’t bother editing at all, some have poor process, some have great editors behind them. Only doing your research will guide you in the right direction.

Next up, Print Magazines. The more your piece relates to a specific niche, the more likely you are to find an outlet for it. Just be wary of undertaking an article with too small a target audience, lest you find that no such outlet exists. Don’t just think of the newsstand magazines, either. Until you are established as a Freelance writer, you’re most likely to sell to magazines with lower circulations – hobby club publications, subscriber-only magazines and the like. And if you’re writing for a niche, you’re best off if you yourself are part of it – you wouldn’t want to try to sell to Tractor Fancier Quarterly if you haven’t a clue about Tractors, would you? Would you?

Try your nearest library – they often subscribe to periodicals outside the average. You may stumble across publications you had no idea existed, and now feel a burning urge to write for. Also get whichever annual listings book is suitable to your target country’s market (e.g. Writer’s Markets, Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, etc).

The internet can be your friend here, too. Find out whether your target publication treats its freelancers well or poorly, whether they pay up on time or hang about for months on end.

And, vitally, read whatever magazine it is that you want to submit to. You may find they already did a piece on the Magnum 7140 Tractor two issues ago and are unlikely to welcome another article on it so soon. Or you may find that the horror magazine you were about to send to likes quirky gothic romances and your epic tale of a trophy wife’s descent into schizophrenia leading to her murdering her next door neighbour and making a purse from his arse-cheeks may not be appreciated there.

Finally, Book Publishers. This is assuming you’ve written, well, a book. Again, fiction or non-fiction, you’ll need one of those aforementioned annual market books. They’ll tell you who publishes what, and who accepts unsolicited submissions (if the slush pile is the route you want to take). Some are happy to solicit you after an email or phone call, others will refuse all contact or consider you unsolicited even after you’ve contacted them first.  Every single one has a right way and a wrong way of going about contacting them, and failure to adhere to their guidelines can get you thrown out by your ear.

Realistically, though, what you want if you’ve got a book manuscript in your hands is an agent. Agents can turn you from unsoliced to solicited. It’s often said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Well, agents know all the people that you need to know, and can get your work in front of them.

And you never, NEVER pay an agent up-front for their work. You never pay them afterwards. If an agent asks you for money at any time, they aren’t an agent, they’re a leech. Yes, their money comes from taking a small cut of your earnings. What would you rather have? The contacts and protection of a good agent, or a complete failure at finding yourself a publisher?

Finding an agent means just as much research as finding any other outlet, and deserves a post all to itself. In the meantime, always remember the Preditors & Editors list. It is your friend.

Getting published can be a hard slog, or it could be a complete breeze. But the more effort that you put into making it a breeze, the more rewarding you will find the experience.