Thursday, August 30, 2012

How writing works

In my short experience of small press in the UK (and I ignorantly expect the big boys to operate in a similar way, although possibly less so now than in the past), how it works is that authors, publishers and allied trades meet in pubs, introduce friends to publishers, swap business cards and drink. This requires three things:
1. A business card - I should really get one of these.
2. The ability to drink. I managed two half pints today (twice what I usually drink in a month). The swapping of beer for stories is no doubt an old ritual but it still holds good today in England. I'll have to nurse mine for much longer.
3. Friends*. I do have friends. I know gamers on four continents but I'm very new to writing. So I have to make friends and that's much harder. At the Pornokitsch event tonight I knew one person. We had a chat, but I couldn't monopolise his time, even if he wasn't running the show. When it comes to the English, foreigners imagine us as the shy, retiring type. I am not one to disabuse them of that notion. In fact, if I'm their only experience of the English, as was the case in France, they were probably quite surprised when they met my outgoing (well, for English anway) compatriots. So I had to talk to people I didn't know. Preferable without sticking to them like a lost child for the evening. I think I did quite well. I talked to at least seven other people in the two hours I was there and even got someone else's business card. Of course, I have to write a lot more, but I've made a little progress on the social side so I'm happy.

The other thing is cliques. I'm aware of cliques within gaming. As a dilettante gaming writer, I'm not important enough that it matters. And anyway, my stuff is good enough that if I could find the time to write more gaming material, I could probably get it published. In the writing world it's different. I don't know who's who or whether the person I'm talking to is a pariah. Become his or her friend and no one will speak to you at parties, or publish your story.

This probably makes it sound an awful place of back-biting and oneuppersonship and it wasn't. I had a very nice time, talked to some lovely people, had a drink, bought a book. It's just interesting to look at all the other things that were going on at the same time.

*Four of my gaming friends were mentioned tonight, and not by me. So the crossover is there.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Here's another old story that was in London Monsters, a zine put out by our creative writing group.

Snail by Steve Dempsey

We hadn't been long in Chalice Road in Putney when our neighbours, the Sandersons, invited us over to 'meet the gang'. No doubt our credentials would be checked. Perhaps a sly, 'Did you read Polly Toynbee yesterday?' or the more direct 'Do you recycle?' headed over armed with a bottle of Fairtrade Chilean Gew├╝rztraminer and a Tupperware box of home-made gluten-free brownies.

'That should cover all the bases,' said Tony.
We were met at the door by a man and a small boy who was naked from the waist down.

'I don't eat cows,' he said, enunciating each word careful, and hid behind his father.

'Hi. I'm Chris and this is Oscar,' said the man, obviously father to Oscar. 'Say hello Oscar.' But Oscar just hid his face and ran back into the house. We introduced ourselves and Chris lead us through into the hall and out towards the kitchen. I was just giving him our gifts when Tony interrupted.

'Good god! What is that, that thing.' He pointed past my ear and out into the garden. I looked up. Beyond the decking, stretching from one side of the lawn to the other, and a clear thirty feet high was an undulating green wall of flesh, dripping with clear ooze and pierced with a loose lipped maw. It reared up over the flower beds, trampoline, outdoor furniture from Ikea and children.

'Oh, don't mind that,' said Chris, 'It's just the snail.'

We took sometime to calm down. We would have left there and then but manners, you know. The snail, Chris referred to it as 'he' although each time he did, Oscar would solemnly correct him, 'they are hermaphrodites, Dad', the snail had just appeared one day leaving a trail of slime twelve feet wide across all the back gardens on this side of the street. Nobody knew where he had come from but he ate all the garden waste and the children just loved climbing all over it. He just got a bit lairy sometimes if they drank beer outside. Otherwise it was no trouble. The council had tried to make a fuss but Chris, a lawyer, pointed out that it was a protected species and so they'd had to leave it alone.

Eventually the conversation turned to other things, work, holidays, the colour of sunsets in Tuscany. Jane cornered me in the kitchen and told me where you could get good help round here, and a tame midwife if we were thinking of starting a family. It started to grow dark, perhaps a little early.

'Looks like rain,' said Jane and called out to Oscar to come in. I looked out, Oscar, Chris and Tony all piled into the kitchen. There seemed to be blue sky everywhere and yet it was still getting darker. In any case, the snail didn't seem to like it and suddenly withdrew into its, his, shell rasping back across the lawn, tearing up great sods of turf, all of it expertly folded back into the elephantine mottled brown and green shell. It really was dark, and quiet too. Even the birds had stopped singing, like during an eclipse. And then two great yellow pincers, like one of those special cranes for unloading container ships, plunged down on either side of the shell and hoisted it up. A shriek filled the air, like a jumbo jet calling to its mate. Furniture and toys shot across the decking and thudded into the window. It wobbled dangerously but held. An eye peered in, filling the entire pane: a great dark spot in the middle of milky yellow sea. It flashed left and right, assessing us for edibility. With another thundering screech it left into the air, throwing slates from the roof and flattening the shed. And calm returned.

'Oh well,' said Chris and sighed. 'Shall we try the Gew├╝rztraminer?' There was a cry from the garden.

'Dad, Dad! Look!' It was Oscar. He was struggling up the steps to the decking. Clutched to his chest, both arms wrapped around it was a large pearlescent ball, like a pale space hopper, inside it a shadow, curling and uncurling.

'Can I keep it, Dad? Can I?' he said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing credits

I've written several published pieces now so I thought I'd make a list. I'm not counting any reports for work (such as the one on the cost to the DWP of the UK changing currency from Sterling to Euro).


101 Lifeforms (a couple of creatures in this BITS publication)
Cugel's Compendium of Indispensable Advantages (A few bits and pieces, Pelgrane Press)
The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game (the map and much background research, Pelgrane Press)
The Excellent Prismatic Spray (Volume 1, Number 4/5) (a scenario part ii, Pelgrane Press)
The Excellent Prismatic Spray (Volume 1, Number 6) (a scenario part iii, Pelgrane Press)
Several short scenarios for Dying Earth published on their website (marked small PDF, Pelgrane Press)
Magnus Liber Rerum (Vol. 1 - 2004) (a scenario Trumpton Riots, The Unspoken Word)
Cold City (a scenario, Contested Ground Studios)
Bookhounds of London (a piece on The Book of the Smoke, Pelgrane Press)
Twisted 50s (a campaign frame for Mortal Coil, my first solo piece, Galileo Games)
Trail of Cthulhu Demo Game (Pelgrane Press)
The Armitage Files (a piece on improvised gaming, Pelgrane Press)
The Book of the Smoke (the prologue, one location and one character, Pelgrane Press)
More Things in Heaven and Earth: A Campaign Frame Compilation (reprint of Twisted 50s, Galileo Games)
I was the editor of Places to Go, People to Be, an Aussie webzine for some years and contributed many pieces.
I've also done some small pieces of translation notably in Critical Miss (Issue 11 - Autumn 2011)


I've had two stories published so far:
Breaking Through in Shotguns v. Cthulhu (Stone Skin Press)
Mother knows best in The Lion and The Aardvark (Stone Skin Press)