Tag Archives: novel

Round-up: July 2016

I’ve struggled to write anything in the last 12 to 14 months. I came close (again) to giving up, devoting my time to something else, but I always find my way back eventually. You need to take a deep breath sometimes, look at the sun awhile, before you dive back into the pool.

This time, though, was the longest, most challenging period of writer’s block I have ever experienced. I wrote one novelette and some pages of notes for a few other stories, but that’s it. The story is 11,500 words, it’s called Perspective, and it’s due to be published in Black Static magazine in September 2016.

I started writing Perspective in November 2014 and finished it 1 year later. That’s right, it took a year! I’ve said elsewhere that it is the darkest story I’ve ever written, and I don’t type that with any sense of pride; it is a cold fact. As is this: some people will struggle with its darkness and its themes. And I accept that. As long as they can accept that it was not written to offend; it was written with honesty. Readers will walk away with their own opinions on the plot and the overarching themes (it is no coincidence the title is Perspective, folks – hint hint) and that is something I am totally fine with; in fact, I welcome it. It’s why the story was the hardest thing I’ve ever written – having to juggle three different viewpoints with various elements and details made it a nightmare to write. I doubt I’ll ever be convinced I got it exactly the way I wanted it, but it’s done. That said, editor Andy Cox made this comment after reading it: “It’s devastating… Felt like I was shaking when I put the story down. I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time.”

Please consider purchasing a copy of Black Static #54 in September and let me know your thoughts.

On to the next piece of news. I am writing again. Furiously. And the reason for that is simple: I have removed myself from a situation that was soul-destroying and infuriating and wholly unnecessary. I can’t (won’t) go into the details here but I will say that the decision I have made has lifted a colossal weight from my shoulders. So…

I am leaving the UK.

Returning to Malta.

Now, this wasn’t a decision I necessarily wanted to make (not now, anyway) but the situation above became unbearable and so it forced my hand. Something had to give and that something was me. Before my son found himself growing up without a father.

We leave in 6 weeks. Packing has begun, plans underway.

Flights and hotel booked.

A second chance at our new beginning.

Will it work out this time? Who knows. The odds are evens, I say. But the time is right to finish what we started back in 2011 and give it a good enough ‘go’ that even if it doesn’t work out this time either then we can at least walk away and not be forever looking back with regret. That way, my friends, lies madness.

Back to the writing.

So, yes, I’ve been busy. I picked up my tale of the undead that I started way back in February 2015 and went to work on it again. It’s called The Incarnations of Mariela Pena. It’s currently 16.5k words, a novella by the time it’s done, and the best thing I’ve ever written, hands-down.

The structure is a story within a story (mise en abyme). The first is set in north-east Libya and explores the relationship of two NATO soldiers following an outbreak that threatens the whole of Europe and the Middle East, and perhaps even the world. The soldiers have been ordered to protect a stretch of coastline from the undead or infected, who arrive via the currents of the Mediterranean Sea from the islands of Malta and Gozo – the site of a terrorist attack and subsequent chemical weapon response (gone wrong). The second story is set in the past, in Mexico, and explores the relationship between one of the soldiers and a Mexican stripper with a disfigurement, the eponymous Mariela…

Incarnations is about repeating the mistakes of the past, both on a personal and global level, and how our failures are resurrected time and time again… I can’t wait to finish this one and get some feedback from a beta reader or two.

I’ve also been editing my novel. Finished almost 5 years ago, I set it aside and returned to writing short fiction, although with the intention of sending it to agents and/or publishers at some point. Well, that never really happened. So, I’ve dug it out and now I’m 450 manuscript pages into the final round of handwritten edits, hoping to have them finished and transferred to the laptop by the end of August. I’ve always struggled to categorise or pigeonhole this book (it’s a strange one!), however during these latest edits I realised that it is in fact suited to the YA (Young Adult) market. And so, my attempts to publish it in the future should be better focused. The title has also been changed. Halfway Somewhere Else. I like it.

Finally, with the resumption of the above, I have also gone back to work on the selecting and editing process for my  delayed collection, Bring Your Own Light, which is due to be published by TTA Press sometime in the future. I currently have four stories edited, with another seven stories waiting to be reviewed, and the possibility of one or two others, length permitting.

Long story short…it’s great to be finally moving forward again.

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Ella’s story and mine – an update and excerpt

I haven’t spoken much about my novel on here.  It’s been sitting for a couple of years, untouched, while I’ve been writing short fiction.  Recently, somewhere around the start of August I think, I decided to dig it out and take another look.  Before I knew it, I was neck deep in another round of edits (boy, there have been many, oh so many, over the years).  The plan this time is to finally lay this thing to rest, one way or another.  In a little over a month I will be returning to full time work after a three year stint as a stay-at-home parent.  So, it would be great to have it finished by then.  Fingers crossed.  It’s slow going at the moment, with sixty thousand words done and seventy thousand still to go.

The novel is about a twelve-year-old Scottish girl, Ella Bradburn, who loses her mother.  When she turns to her father for consolation and doesn’t find any, she retreats into a world of fantasy.  At first, it feels safe and comforting, but the lines begin to blur and Ella finds it increasingly difficult to tell what is real and what is not.  In fact, she is soon convinced that a mysterious creature she saw on the day of her mother’s death is now hunting her.

The original title was The Other Side but that is going to change by the end of this current round of revisions.

Thematically, I wanted to explore fantasy and escapism, and ask the question, “When does it stop being healthy and become dangerous?”  As writers, we spend a lot of our time locked in our imaginations, and over the years I’ve questioned whether or not this is a healthy obsession or, in fact, quite damaging.  Where is the line?  Is there one?  Ella’s story is in some ways mine, too.

Here is a short excerpt, roughly 700 words.  Cushion is the name of a seagull Ella has started having conversations with.  The scene builds toward the introduction of the soapshark, another creature of Ella’s creation.

Part II, Chapter V
“In the Bath”

There’s mum, Ella thought.  Buried in some indiscriminate hole in the ground filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell and not even a single hobbit in sight.  Then there is me, standing on quicksand and sinking deeper by the day.  She’ll spend her eternity dead and lonely, staring up at some coffin lid.  I’ll spend mine looking out one window or another and wetting myself.  I understand, mum.  I get it now.  There are other ways to die.

And what are you doing about it? a voice asked.  It was Cushion.  You’re dragging dirt down on top of yourself.  Climb out, Ella.  Climb out now, and fly.  Before you can’t.

There was a noise on the other side of the bathroom door.  A solid something hit one of the doorposts in the landing.  Ella heard George swear, and then his footsteps receded into her bedroom.

She eyed the brass sliding lock and was relieved to see it was engaged and that she was protected to some extent inside the bathroom.  He could kick down the door if he wanted, of course, and he seemed just about mad enough to do that, or maybe huff-and-puff on it like the Big Bad Wolf in the story of The Three Little Pigs.  God knows, she wouldn’t last very long in her house of water and bubbles.  But George had wanted her in here in the first place.  Out of the way.  Washing the pee from her legs.

That had been an hour ago.  Breakfast had long since gone cold in the kitchen, the bubble bath mountains had slipped back into the lukewarm water, and the bar of soap she had started out with now lay across her pale, wrinkled fingers, moulded into something that resembled a dead but still mean-looking fish.

As if to check that it was dead, Ella lowered the hand holding the soap slowly into the water and then pulled the hand away.  The fish did not float on its side as dead fish were wont to do, but sank to the bottom of the bathtub instead.  Further confirmation – as though she needed it – that death did not always show itself in the usual ways.

The sound of hammering shattered the stillness.  Ella jerked up straight and sent a wavelet over the edge of the bath onto the tiles.  She wondered what he was doing next door but was a little afraid of finding out.  Maybe he was demolishing her bed, meaning that from tonight she would have to sleep on the hard wooden floor.  Or maybe he was tearing up the floor to look for the snow globe, with the intention of smashing it with a hammer right in front of her as punishment for her behaviour at breakfast.

Please don’t let him find it, she thought, though she knew that if he did happen upon that loose piece of flooring under the bed there was nothing she could do to stop him.

Reaching between her knees, she scooped up the bar of soap and lifted it out of the water.  The short time it had spent immersed had smoothed its edges.  As the pounding continued beyond the bathroom door, Ella went to work on it once again, thinning the body, reshaping the tail, drawing out the snout, and tapering the dorsal fin until it looked less like a common fish and more like a miniature shark.

Oh what a vicious-looking piece of soap you are, she thought.

When she went to lower the soapshark into the water, she suddenly had second thoughts and laid it on the bath corner instead, facing the door.  The noise from her room seemed louder now, angrier.  She glanced at the backs of her fingers and noticed there were soap crescents underneath her nails.  They look like frowns, she thought absently.  Then she flipped both hands over, curled in her fingers, and the frowns became smiles.  Flipped them over again, and the frowns returned.  But it wasn’t a good enough distraction; the hammering kept on, and on.  And so, leaning back, she eased herself below the surface of the water until it encased her entire body and the noises became muffled and faraway, like sounds from a dream… [end of excerpt]

What I’ve Been Up To and Where We Go From Here

Steven J. DinesWhat you’re looking at is my official web site.  From this day forward, you will be able to find all of my writing-related news and updates right here.  I am approaching this as a continuation of – and improvement upon – my blog.  Since my last post (on July 2011) a lot has happened.  I quit my job of nearly 12 years and moved from Aberdeen, Scotland to Sliema in Malta.  After 5 months in Malta, my wife and I decided to abandon our plans to settle there and moved back to the UK (for a number of reasons, but mainly because of concerns relating to our son).  Rather than return to my home city, we chose to settle in Salisbury.  A lovely place.  The motivation behind our original move was change, though perhaps not the huge change a move overseas entails, fun though it definitely was.  Anyway, we’ve been in Salisbury for 2 months now and hope to settle permanently here (or hereabouts).

Since July 2011, I have also finished my first novel, THE OTHER SIDE.  While I’ve been working on other projects I admit I’ve become a little bit lax in my efforts to find an agent and/or publisher.  Six months have passed since it’s completion and I haven’t done nearly enough.  I hope to rectify that in the months ahead.

Also, while in Malta, I returned to writing short fiction after a hiatus of 3-4 years.  I’d been focussing solely on THE OTHER SIDE, which took approx. 5 years to write.  I’ve written 4 short stories since then, THE THINGS THAT GET YOU THROUGH, THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH, THE MACHINEHOUSE WORKER’S SONG, and A TRICK OF THE NIGHT.

THE THINGS THAT GET YOU THROUGH has been accepted for publication by Black Static, possibly the UK’s top horror magazine.

A TRICK OF THE NIGHT has been accepted by Fireside, an ambitious new online mag that has featured some big names so far.

THE MACHINEHOUSE WORKER’S SONG is currently under consideration and I’m hopeful it will find a good home quite soon.

THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH is currently awaiting further revision.

So far, so good.

Now I am back in the UK and getting re-settled, I hope to write a lot more short fiction while I try to secure an agent and publisher for my novel.

This web site’s main focus will be on my writing – updates about my work in progress, publication news, etc. – as well as the occassional book or film review, and perhaps even some free flash & short fiction in the near future.  If any of that is of interest to you, please follow my updates by clicking on the appropriate link at the right hand side of the page.  Also, I’ll be adding to the sub-menus in the coming weeks & months, so keep an eye on those, too.  Finally, thanks for dropping by, and of course do come again.  More updates very soon.