Swimming Out To Sea – a performed reading

Lone figure on beach

Welcome back, one and all. I’ve had a fair few people stick up their hands to get a story recorded for this, my monthly foray into audio narration. This half-hour horror comes from the mind of the wonderful Penny Jones. It’s a quietly disturbing tale of disorientation, set at the seaside on a roasting-hot day. Swimming Out To Sea was originally featured in The Black Room Manuscripts vol. 4 from The Sinister Horror Company, but it can also be found in Suffer Little Children, Penny’s micro-collection for Black Shuck Books.

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Breaking through (Cracking Isolation, part 3)

A helping hand

Welcome back all, and thanks for bearing with me. In part 1, I spoke of my childhood experience of loneliness and some of the ways in which I began to break free. Part 2 had me thinking about the different behaviours I’ve seen in other people that revealed their own isolation, either overtly or covertly. As I said at the time, I’m not a qualified expert on the matter, so please keep that caveat in mind as I now consider what we might actually do about it in this, the final part of the series.

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The heart of it all

The editor's desk, organised, with reference materials to hand.

What do people look for in a copy-editor? It seems nuts to say it, but the full importance of this question didn’t really sink in until recently. Not to any kind of depth. The basic needs are obvious: (i.) to catch your mistakes before publication, and (ii.) to help improve your writing. But what makes an editor shine? We’re going to dig into that a bit today.

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Horrified: Universal Monsters – board game review

Horrified Box Art - Universal Monsters

Here’s a good one for folks out there looking for something new and engaging to play. You don’t need to be a board-game geek or master of strategy to have fun with this family game, nor do you need to worry about the fear factor for youngsters. This is what I like to think of as creaky horror: lumbering along, arms outstretched, eyes wide – but very much with a twinkle and a grin. Let’s take a closer look.

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Spotting the signs (Cracking Isolation, part 2)

Statue of a fairy, desperately clutching on to a windblown dandelion, almost carried away by it.

It doesn’t take a pandemic to keep an introvert or an agoraphobe locked away. We like small, controllable environments. Plenty of people have found themselves isolated by virtue of their career, whilst others are minimising human contact out of a sense of social responsibility. Isolation is not always a bad thing. However when isolation is combined with feelings of loneliness and helplessness, it can feel like the cruellest affliction.

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Taking stock

Out in the ocean

The freelance life can feel pretty perilous, bobbing about on the waves of economy. I’ve just about kept my head above water so far, but I recognise the dangers below. It wouldn’t take too much to sink me. Rather than powering on blindly, I thought it wise to take a moment to pause, tread water, and take stock of my situation. See how I’m doing—really. In short, I’ve just given myself a Quarterly Review.

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The Shape Off The Bow – a performed reading

Sailing ship amongst daunting rocks

Well, I enjoyed performing my own story so much, I decided to try another one. Fellow Burdizzo Books author, Lex H. Jones put out a call recently, asking if anyone would be prepared to record a story from his new collection, Whistling Past the Graveyard as a favour. I’ve not read Lex before, but I wanted the opportunity to get some more audio practice in, so I stuck my hand up. The story I present today is The Shape Off The Bow – a half-hour maritime tale of an ill-fated treasure hunt, isolation, madness, and something unnatural floating up there, just off the bow. Turn off the lights, settle back, and let the (sound)waves wash over you…

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The Hartlepool Monkey – comic review

A horrified child, a baying mob.

A Nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbours.”  Dean William Ralph Inge

There are people with certain attitudes, events that unfold around us almost daily, where you almost have to laugh or you’d cry: where tragedy cleaves so close to comedy they become all but indistinguishable.  Wilfrid Lupano and Jérémie Moreau stride that tightrope over despair’s abyss with supreme confidence in their humorous retelling of the legend of The Hartlepool Monkey.  

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Game Talk – interview excerpts

Hi folks, it’s blog time again. This one is a pared-down version of an interview conducted by the author C.C. Adams for his recent blog series, probing the thought processes, values, and strategies of people he feels have ‘got game’ when it comes to the business of writing – or in my case, editing. You’ll find links to the full interview and the rest of his blog series at the end. Cheers.

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The Bewilder-boy (Cracking Isolation, part 1)

In the stocks

In these times of Covid, more and more people are coming forward to report mental health issues. Some people see this as a weakness, a crisis in and of itself, just as pernicious as the pandemic. Others see it as a process of destigmatisation: an open sharing of vulnerability and pain that unites and enables us to heal through support, empathy, and encouragement.

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From Tappet Woods – a performed reading

Cat guarding its precious book

Hello, my lovelies. Feb 20th is my birthday, so I thought I’d give you all a gift: an hour of audio entertainment, written and performed by yours truly. ‘From Tappet Woods’ was my attempt at creating a story in the vein of M.R. James—classical in tone, cosy yet unnerving, ambiguous and hopefully atmospheric. I’ll let …

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Getting serious

Vale of Rheidol Steam Railway

I’ve been running my Fine-toothed Comb through your manuscripts for a few years now, building a client base and a reputation to be proud of. Gotta say, it’s been pretty sweet. And if there were a few stretches without a gig? Well, the day-job covered my bills. I could afford to treat this as pocket money. A paying hobby. A Saturday Job. Fffff. That seems like a world away now.

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Top 10 Digital Board Games

A selection of 'Table game' apps

One of the ways I’ve coped with the terror and tedium of the covid lockdowns is with board games. Not with my family sadly, as neither my wife or daughter are that interested, and not with my gaming group either. (The last thing that we played together was Pandemic Legacy throughout 2019 and no, it’s not our fault. We won.) Instead, I’ve been forced to get my fix on digital platforms. Read on for a whistle-stop tour of my Top 5 quick games and my Top 5 trickier ones.

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Presence of mind

A bench in bright sunshine, next to a forestry track.

…and learning to cope

I saw any number of retrospectives in January, summing up the shared tragedy and meagre glints of joy amid the long months of 2020, yet I have found myself…reluctant to join in. Certainly I’ve been changed by my experiences, deeply, and in ways I’ve yet to fully plumb. I can feel it. Yet I spent so much of that year absent, it might almost have happened to somebody else.

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Flashes of inspiration #13 – Entries

Writing prompt: Businessman seated on a telephone wire. Watched by a crow.

Hey there, here are the entries for the latest Flashes of Inspiration contest. I’ve been joined by the lovely Tabatha Wood, who interviewed me last week. In case you weren’t aware, she has a collection of short horror fiction out, called Dark Winds Over Wellington. You can check it out here. Okay, so the words this week were Seminal, Ferocity, Pyjamas. We had 400 words to play with and we were looking to evoke a bygone age with our writing. Let’s see what we’ve got…

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Flashes of inspiration #13 – Challenge

Writing prompt: Businessman seated on a telephone wire. Watched by a crow.

Hi all, and welcome back to Flashes of Inspiration, my bi-weekly flash fiction contest here at The Fine-toothed Comb. It’s been a busy week for me. Right now I’m ploughing my way through several short stories and a chunky novel, all for structural review. A convention has been announced, which I’ll be taking part in in various different panelly and workshoppy ways like some kind of pro. Oh, and I’m gradually losing the war against yoghurt. (Don’t ask.)

Anyway, enough about me. This is my forum for bringing creative people together in friendly competition. All I’m after is 400 words of imaginative prose or poetry, using the above image for inspiration. Literal interpretations are fine, as are figurative, tonal, and thematic. Whatever floats your dream-boat. I’ve been setting some specific challenges of late to try to push my own writing a bit. This week, let’s try making our narratives sound like they were written in a bygone era.

In addition, I have 3 key words that must be used in your piece in some way, shape, or form. These are:

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Flashes of inspiration #12 – Entry

Writing prompt: Horse & rider racing. Dazzling sunlight. Classical architecture.

‘Dim ond fi,’ as they say in these parts. Only me this time, but I enjoyed the challenge. It feels good to be back in the saddle, so to speak. So what have I got here? A little vignette, flinging us back to past days of glory and tragedy, swords, sandals, and beating hooves. It didn’t quite do all that I’d hoped but I’m content with it.

From next week I’ll be getting some signal-boosting assistance from my good friends at the Ginger Nuts of Horror, so hopefully we’ll start seeing a bit more company and competition around here. I’m happy to keep plugging away for my own satisfaction but the frisson of competition definitely adds something. It drives us to do better each time, and I think it sharpens the mind, makes us more aware of the power and significance of each word, each line.

Anyway, here’s my nugget of creativity for this week…

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Flashes of inspiration #12 – Challenge

Writing prompt: Horse & rider racing. Dazzling sunlight. Classical architecture.

Welcome back to Flashes of Inspiration, your (ahem) bi-weekly flash fiction competition. It’s been a bit of a busy time at The Fine-toothed Comb of late – both professionally and personally – so my apologies for keeping you waiting so long. I’ve crossed countries to see a cousin get married, attended the WorldCon in Dublin, had a teensy bit of a breakdown with regards to the day-job, and recovered myself at a pretty magical music festival. I’m back in the saddle now and raring to go again, hence the ever-so-appropriate image up top to help inspire our next round of creativity.

Forgotten how this works? It’s simple. You have 400 words to play with, an image to give you a sense of meaning, tone, action (or whatever), and 3 key words that you must use in the text somewhere. (Variants of the words are acceptable, so long as the root remains.) Confused? Frazzled? It’s just a bit of fun. Don’t sweat it.

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Flashes of inspiration #11 – Entries

Writing prompt: Young boy floating in a lake which reflects the cosmos.

A quiet one this week, just the two of us. It’s still working though, still getting me writing regularly instead of just thinking about maybe writing something one day. I’ve just had FB memories popping up today reminding me of one of the books I’ve actually nurtured from conception to reality, so that’s a boost for me too. Proves we can actually do something if we set out with determination and follow things through all the way. Anyway, enough bunkum from me. Here are this week’s entries for Flashes of Inspiration.

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