If verse comes to worst.

I’m the opposite of a poetry snob. I’m a poetry slob. Like many people, overexposure to gradiose verbiage from TS Eliot and Thomas Hardy during my later school years led me to distrust poetry.

It’s not straightforward, not clear in its intent, and some of it is more than obscure, it’s maliciously unintelligible.

I know a couple of poets, and one (The amazing Mark Niel) is a poet for the people. He often writes “stuff what rhymes”. He writes about events, and if he uses metaphor, you can spot it for what it is and understand WHY he’s used it. His poems make you smile, more often than not, and the conclusion will have you nudging a friend or neighbour as you grin and say “Look at this!”

To me, it comes back to the old argument about art and intent. When ordinary folks look at modern art pieces, they often say ‘What’s it meant to be?” and get told “That’s not the right question! Don’t be silly, it’s not supposed to ‘be’ anything” etc etc. Worst of all, some artists deny ever having any intent beyond “Provoking a reaction” in their audience. To me, this is a failure. Art should always have intent, an aim, a message. Poetry, I think, has a harder job than prose, because you are deliberately choosing to frame that message in a set format, either the rhyme scheme, or the number of syllables per line, or the more complicated rules of the many, many other poetry forms. If you don’t know what I mean, pick up one of Neil Gaiman’s collections of short stories – he always includes some poetry, and usually explains the rules of the form he has chosen.

So while I love prose, and the freedom of banging out a play or short story, using the odd trick or effort to create a better image or atmosphere in what I write, poetry makes you, the writer, work harder for your piece. In the last week I was tagged in the five days of gratitude challenge on Facebook, and for a giggle decided to do the whole five days in rhyme. Even though for most of the challenge I was only using doggerel (rhyming couplets, if you prefer), there was a huge strain in trying to fit the things I wanted to say into the confines of those rhythms and rhymes.

Adrian Plass once gave a talk about poetry that I attended, and he said “Let the content dictate the rhyme”. It’s simple advice, but harder than you think. It often involves throwing away a perfectly decent opening line because it won’t allow the right content for the following line.

I think my message here is not to be afraid of poetry – don’t mistake it for some ethereal creature, tied to Byron and th’moon and the vagaries of the Muse. Poetry can be fun, it can be tough, it can break your heart in four lines, and it’s always a damn good workout for your brain.


Inteview with published author Lucy V Hay

Damian Trasler:

The talented and insanely active Lucy V Hay was kind enough to answer questions on my blog some time ago. Here’s her latest interview with some great links to her current material.

Originally posted on Stevie Turner, Indie Author.:

Lucy Hay's photo

Lucy’s website:  http://www.bang2write.com 

Amazon Author page  http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00EZ45CIC

Blog:  http://thedecisionbookseries.tumblr.com/

Books in the ‘Decision’ series:

Lucy V Hay has packed quite a lot into her young life.  She is a screenwriter, editor and novelist, and is also a trained teacher, a fellow cancer survivor, and one of the organisers of the London Screenwriters’ Festival.  If this isn’t enough she also has three children to look after!  Lucy gives good advice to aspiring screenwriters and novelists on her website http://www.bang2write.com

1. Indie authors are constantly told to ‘increase their author platform’ to get their work noticed. How did you increase your author platform at the start of your writing career?

Blogging! I started years ago, back when AOL had “Hometown” – remember that?? – think it was 2004-5. I wasn’t an author back then, but I was trying to launch my new script reading business and I needed…

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Writing an award-winning blockbuster YA novella that really sells in 30 days!

By Jenifr M’nchylde (author of “I nearly wrote a book once, it was really good but no one was brave enough to publish it”)


My soon to be released epic : Mytosis! First in a series of probably twenty three novels. Depending on whether I get a film deal or not....

My soon to be released epic : Mytosis! First in a series of probably twenty three novels. Depending on whether I get a film deal or not….

We all know that authors are the new pop stars. Every teenager wants to be the next Stephanie Meyer, or whoever it was who wrote “Fifty Shades of Gray”.

But how can YOU get that level of success? And more importantly, how can you do it FAST and without any boring “learning how to do it properly” kind of tedium?

Well, the answer is: You can’t. But let’s pretend you can, and any failure of the scheme is down to someone else being too selfish or shortsighted to recognise your genius!

Have you lowered your IQ and raised your expectations to “Unreasonably High”? Good, then let’s begin.

Step 1: Protagonist.

Yuck! A big word! Ignore it. Try this instead:

Heroine: With the “e” on the end, this means “Girl Hero”, and you’re going to need one! No one buys vapid books like teen girls who have been told it’s the “in” book of the week. Except maybe pseudo-intellectuals when the Booker Shortlist is announced. She needs to be feisty, tough, emotionally raw and red-haired. No, I don’t know what “emotionally raw” means, but cheer up, neither does anyone else. It’s best if she only has one parent. Doesn’t matter which, neither gender stands a chance of understanding her. Why? Because she’s EMOTIONALLY RAW! Pay attention!

Step 2: Plot

This really isn’t very important. I mean, yeah, if you want to write an actual STORY like the Harry Potter series, you might want some kind of actual, you know, character goals, antagonist aims, world building guidelines and conflicting ambitions… But if you’re interested in all that, you’re probably a geeky swot who’s actually going to PRACTISE writing, and develop your craft. So go do that. We’re making money here.

In this case, plot is just “How to get your girl hero to agonise over which boy to choose.” Does she have to fight for the hand of the Rich Boy, even though the Poor Boy Next Door is really hunky? Is she promised in marriage to her proud but shapely cousin, while the evil but seriously pumped stranger crashes into her life when his dirigible collides with her house? Whichever line you go with, the important thing to remember is that there must be two boys, each equally hunky, each with simultaneously no interest in our heroine and madly lusting after her at the same time. It goes without saying that the two boys can’t stand each other. They probably fight at some point. Maybe in the river, their shirts soaked, the wet material clinging to….sorry, where was I?

Step 3: Cover art

This is the most important part of the whole thing. You need the brooding boys on the cover, preferably stripped to the waist. Don’t worry if they never strip to the waist in the story (although, if they don’t, you’re really missing something…) Maybe a moon would be good, especially if you have a supernatural element to the story. Oh, and the title should be in shiny lettering. And just one word. Doesn’t have to be anything to do with the story. One word titles are cool.

Step 4: Selling!

You have a couple of options here. One is “Word of mouth”. Get everyone you know to buy the book and tell their friends it was great. This works really well if one of your friends is Oprah or someone else with their own tv show.

Another option is to buy reviews. There are some unscrupulous folks out there who will return great reviews for cash, but it’s not easy to find them. You may offend a few people on your quest to find ones who’ll take a bribe, but keep looking! This is the hard work part!

Of course, you could submit to a regular publisher and go through their process for new authors, but let’s not kid ourselves : If you were that kind of writer, you wouldn’t have been googling “How to write a YA novel in 30 days” in the first place.

Oh, and I nearly forgot!

Step 2.5: WRITING!

Sorry, yes, keep forgetting this bit. Somewhere along the line you’ll have to actually get some words down on paper about your girl hero, her red hair, the hunky boys and what happens to them. You don’t have to come up with a complete story, just set up some big thing, get the boys into a fight or two, and then leave everything hanging. Do that three or four times and you’ve got yourself a SERIES! You can round it off by having the girl cloned so there’s one for each boy, or if you’re a real downer type, flip a coin and kill off one of the boys.

But the key thing, as all writers know is hooking your reader on the first page. So success could come down to this one question : Are you a good hooker?

Tune in next week for my new blog post on subjects I know F**k all about: Brain Surgery! Make sure the colour of your scrubs goes with your eyes, because it’s all about looking good!



Birthday week sale!

DSCN7810Once again, it’s the week before my birthday, so I’ve reduced all my e-books to $0.99!

You can find them all on my Amazon.com author page , but if you’ve never read this blog before, here’s a run down of each one:

Coffee Time Tales – five stories perfect for your coffee break, from back in the days when I wrote for magazines.

Coffee Time Tales 2 – more of the same.

Sci-Fi Shorts – four short tales of science fiction, including the award-winning “Boglet” and the Golden Age of Sci-Fi style “Twist Stiffly and the Hounds of Zenit Emoga”

Troubled Souls – Three stories from a uniquely male perspective, and the opening chapters of “Eddie and the Kingdom”

Tribute – My YA novella about Lisa, who wants to step out of the shadow of her famous musician father, but runs into his old bandmate and begins to see things a bit differently.

The Great Canadian Adventure – The real-life account of our first year in British Columbia

Eddie and the Kingdom - My novella of the zombie apocalypse. Eddie has carved out a comfortable life in the post apocalyptic world, until Jackie arrive and tells him about the Kingdom that’s about to engulf his home.

The Poems of Edwin Plant – A short collection of odd poems.

If you’ve already bought any of these e-books, then the perfect birthday present would be for you to leave a review on Amazon. Doesn’t matter what you say, honesty is always best, and very much appreciated.

Looking forward to another year!

New York, New York….


You are the lucky winner of our all-expenses paid, two week stay in NEW YORK CITY!

Yes, the city that never sleeps, immortalized in song and on the silver screen, just waiting for you and one other person. We have laid on five star hotel accommodation, and included tickets to a Broadway show, but the rest is up to you! Everything about this glorious city is iconic – the Statue of Liberty! The Empire State Building! Yankee Stadium! Times Square! Central Park!

There’s just so much that we can’t wait to show you – please reply to this email confirming that you’re available for this experience of a lifetime!

Congratulations again!

Charlie Millard

New York Days Ltd


Dear Charlie,


Thanks, but no thanks.




Dear D,

Thanks for your swift response, but I’m not sure I quite understood you. Are you saying you’re not available for the dates of the prize? Is there someone you wish to gift the prize to? Or would you like me to investigate the possibility of moving the dates ? (I can’t make any promises about that, but obviously I’ll do my best! New York!)



Dear Charlie,

Thanks again, this time for your offer to work so hard on my behalf. Let me lay it out for you: I’m not interested in visiting New York. There’s no one I’m likely to pass the prize to. Sounds like you’re pretty keen on the place – why don’t you take the tickets?

Thanks again,



Dear D,

I’m afraid the rules of the competition prevent me from taking part or benefitting from the prize. But are you seriously saying you don’t want to come to NYC? Surely you’ve seen film of the place? It’s in countless movies, and not all of them included alien invasions! Whatever your passion is, we have it here, world class: Art, music, cinema, opera, street theatre, architecture, museums, galleries, cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, discos, sports events, shopping… I could go on for hours. All the world is right here, and we’re giving you two weeks for free! You can’t seriously want to turn it down. Let me know if alternate dates would work for you.



Dear Charlie,

I’m beginning to be a little worried about you.

“All the world is here…” Well, no. I’m sure New York is a fine city, and there’s no denying that you have all the attractions you’ve mentioned. There are some fine museums and the zoo, and certainly there’s architecture and so on, but I’m just not that excited about the idea of going there.

Look, have you heard of Liverpool? That has museums and nightlife. It has restaurants and architecture. It has culture and history. It’s the birthplace of the Beatles! But you know what? I bet you’ve never really wanted to go there. Maybe if someone offered you two week’s free accommodation, you’d consider it, might even think it was a great idea, but it’s not on your bucket list, right? Well, so it is with me and New York. I can’t get really excited about going because none of those great attractions mean that much to me.

Really, they don’t. Sorry. I’ve got a lot of stuff to be getting on with here, and two weeks in the States would mess with my schedule. Give the tickets to your Mum or someone.



Dear D,

I have heard of Liverpool. I even did a bit of research following your last email, and frankly, it’s an awesome place. I would LOVE two weeks there! European Capital of Culture in 2008? Links to the Titanic? Of course, the Beatles! SO MUCH history!

I get that coming out to the US can be a big step, but isn’t New York worth it? What other experience would match it?



Dear Charlie,

Why do I have to match it? If I wanted a New York-style experience, I’d just take your offer and go to New York. But I don’t want to. There’s seriously nothing there that I’m bothered about seeing. The Statue of Liberty? Come on, you guys don’t even mean the words that are written on the base anymore! The Empire State Building? The only reason to go up there is to get a view of New York. Yankee Stadium? I don’t want to watch a sport invented by Americans that’s played only by Americans and the Japanese. You do know your “World Series” doesn’t include the rest of the world, right?

I don’t want to come off all anti-American. There’s plenty of great and beautiful things in your country, and many marvellous people too. You’ve produced great scientists, politicians, philosophers and role models. Seems like even your darkest times bring forth worthy people, like Rosa Parks.

But here’s the thing, Charlie. I live in a little town in Hertfordshire. Have done all my life. And the other day, I went to another little town nearby. I’d been there a few times, but this time I found out something new. Under the main street, only open a couple of times a week, there’s a cave. A cave carved out of the chalk the town is built on. It’s old, but no one knows how old. They think the Templars might have carved it, and there’s all kinds of weird carvings in the wall of the cave. You can read about it here:


Something so strange, so unique, practically on my doorstep, and I’d never heard about it. Tell me again why I should travel halfway around the world to see something half as wonderful, when there are things like this to be discovered, if I only take the time to look?




Dear Charlie,

Hope you don’t mind me dropping you another line – I was enjoying our conversation, and I haven’t heard from you. Is everything ok?



Dear D,

I apologise for the lack of response from our office, but Charlie Millard has left the company and didn’t alert us to your situation. I’m afraid the time for accepting the offer of our fabulous two-week all expenses paid vacation in New York City has lapsed, and you are no longer eligible to take up the offer.

We will be running further competitions in the future, and I look forward to receiving your entries.


 Stephen Altingford

New York Days Ltd


Brian, destroyer of a city…

Yesterday was bad, creatively speaking. I had time, I had projects, I had opportunity, but I produced nothing.

As a response, I sat down this morning, when I had no time, and wrote this piece:

Brian scratched idly at the fading letter D on his keyboard. The paragraph on the screen seemed to pulse gently in time with the flashing cursor, mocking him with its brevity.

Write something.

Write something.

Write anything.

Three times he began a fresh sentence, and three times he deleted the words before they were completed. He sighed again, the millionth since he began that morning’s avoidance of work, and re-read the paragraph.

It didn’t feel like a paragraph, didn’t look like one to him. When he read it, he saw the bustling street, the rain-soaked pavements reflecting the bright lights of the cafes and shops along the road. He could hear the hum of traffic and smell the sour tang of a city alive with the early evening, but the pavements were empty. There was no one there because Brian didn’t have a clue who the story was about. He didn’t know if his protagonist was a man or a woman, didn’t know if they were even in this scene. Perhaps this story, whatever it was, should begin with the antagonist, the villain. Perhaps the villain had chosen the busy street to….to… To what? Plant a bomb? Release a virus? Rob a bank?

With his mind’s eye, Brian scanned the street, seeing a furtive figure dash out from a café, moments before a tsunami of vivid orange fire burst through the windows and bathed the street, consuming cars and peppering the walkways with glass fragments. Car alarms would shriek into the night like startled…pigeons…who…

“Pigeons.” muttered Brian in disgust. “Like pigeons, for god’s sake!”

For a moment, his tired and abused brain showed him a flock of cars, startled by the explosion, taking wing into the night sky, wheeling in perfect formation, their doors flapping anxiously as they struggled to gain height. He seriously considered it. Would it count as magical realism? Was there a metaphor there, in cars flying?

Brian sullenly reminded himself that, when using a metaphor in fiction, it’s usually best to understand what it means yourself, rather than figuring it out after you’ve written it. He returned to his contemplation of the city street, once more quiet and undamaged. Somewhere, behind one of those bright but opaque windows, his protagonist was hiding. Not waiting, hiding.

They knew, the smug, irritating bastard! They knew he needed them to come out, to walk a path for him, to show him the story, and they weren’t going to do it. They were sat, perhaps sipping at a damn latte, scanning idly through the day’s paper, determined to wait him out. They could sense, he was sure, the prickle at the corners of his eyes, the ache in his shoulders and that pain in the sole of his foot that told him he’d been sitting too long. Any minute now he would have to give it up, admit there was no progress to be made and stand up. They’d have won. They’d have escaped. And he would have nothing.

Brian scowled at the screen. His rotated his shoulders, stamped his foot. One last time he stretched out his fingers and began a fresh paragraph.

“The occupants of the city felt it first as a sick, swooping in the pit of the stomach, like when a train pulls away unexpectedly. Those with experience glanced up, catching the eyes of friends and strangers. They framed the words ‘Did you feel that?’, the innate human response to the first rumblings of an earthquake. But the words were snatched away by the second shock, the real shock as the mantle of the planet flexed and rumbled. The people were flung to the ground, and had no time to do more than scream as the building folded around them, on top of them. The earthquake ground on, shifting the piles of rubble, extinguishing a few fires that had leapt up and starting dozens more. Car alarms honked unnoticed amidst the screaming of the concrete and metal, the wails of the dying and the hiss of water and gas.

Though the aftershocks rumbled on for hours, no city remained to bear witness to them.”

Brian closed the quotes and tapped Enter a couple of times. He re-read his vengeance, seeing the destruction anew, killing the hidden characters a second and third time, burying them in the rubble of their hiding places. Then he stood, stretched, and went to put the coffee on.

Getting Unbored

This summer holiday is likely to be the longest ever, since Christie Clark’s son doesn’t attend regular schools and so she doesn’t care how long the teachers stay on strike. That being the case, there’s a lot of time to fill in, so I borrowed the excellent “Unbored” book from my local library.

One of the many, many great suggestions for activities and entertainments was using old vinyl LPs to make bowls. I know many guys my age argue passionately for the quality and brilliance of vinyl, intimating that it was somehow the zenith of sound recording and reproduction. I’m more of the opinion that it was easy to scratch, hard to find the track you wanted, prone to skipping and that the only positive was the size of the sleeve meant you got some pretty decent artwork. And no, I’m not a Pink Floyd fan.

So, to turn those useless old Duran Duran LPs into handy chip bowls (because who doesn’t need more of them?):

Step One:

WP_20140812_011Take your ordinary LP. Wipe it clean. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. While you’re at it, you might want to open the window. A melting record smells a lot like burning plastic.

Step Two:

WP_20140812_012Place the record on a small upturned bowl. Place both record and bowl on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Get a small child to watch through the window as the record slowly droops onto the bowl. Tell them this was what we did before there was TV.

Step Three:

WP_20140812_010Take a second, larger bowl. When the record has drooped sufficiently, hoik the entire collection out of the oven and place the big bowl over the record and small bowl, squashing it into shape. Flip over both bowls and remove the smaller bowl from the middle. Remember, it’ll be hot. Wear oven gloves (should I have mentioned that earlier?) and press the record to the edges of the bowl. Wait a couple of minutes. This would be a good time to tell the small child what records actually used to be used for.

Step Four:

WP_20140812_14_47_52_ProTurn out your new chip bowl. Or, in this case, FOUR new chip bowls. I don’t actually get to eat that many chips. Or listen to records, come to think of it.

I really enjoyed this pointless activity, of turning something I didn’t use into something else I’m not going to use. Lucky for me, I added a couple of things to this week’s shopping list, so tomorrow I shall be helping the kids experiment with Mentos and Diet Coke. What could possibly go wrong?


Have a great summer. (Except you, Christie Clark. I hope yours is rubbish.)