Beckoning The Empty In is live!

I thought this one would never make the digital shelves, but I’m pleased to say my collection of short stories and one novella is now available for purchase as kindle ebook. The paperback will be released the week after next.

I’ve already said a lot about this collection, so I’ll not go over old ground. That said, I’ve got something I’d like to relate about one particular story. It’s the second in the collection entitled ‘These Damn Insects.’ There are many reasons I’m relating the background to this, not least of which is the fact that I found myself caught up in a race against time to complete it. I’d initially planned it to be a piece of flash fiction (less than 1k words), but it soon became apparent it would need to expand to 5k words – a short story. However, as my exploration of the characters and the coming of age theme expanded, I soon crossed the 10k mark (novelette in my book of definitions.) This takes me up to round about early December of last year. I’d got a loose plot, but had quickly abandoned most of it in terms of ‘gardener’ style writing or ‘pantsing’ as some writers call it. Essentially this means going into Stephen King mode and writing without any clear idea of where you’re heading. I stopped for Christmas and resolved to pick up the threads straight afterwards, confident I could edit the other stories in the collection and finish this one before a publication date of 3rd February 2020. I promptly placed the book on Amazon for pre-order (as I usually do) and got ready to dig in.

Then disaster struck. Mum was taken ill – I mean seriously ill. On boxing day she locked up physically (she suffers from severe osteo-arthritis and osteoporosis,) in addition she sank into yet another chest infection and also contracted cellulitis for the first time. On top of all this, a previously hidden skin infection manifested itself. To cut a long story short, she developed pneumonia. The family were all called round as we thought she was at death’s door (she was), and after three hellish nights where we cared for her 24/7, we realised she needed to go into hospital as oral antibiotics and nebuliser just weren’t working. She was in hospital for eleven days during which she made a surprising recovery. I won’t go into the details of her catastrophic discharge from hospital, the formal complaints I’ve had to lodge or the intensive aftercare she’s needed, but essentially it meant I lost the best part of three weeks.

Once I managed to settle back down to focus on ‘These Damn Insects,’ I was faced with a fortnight’s deadline to wrap everything up. Now here’s something you may not know about Amazon. If you put a book up for pre-order, and then withdraw it because it’s not ready, then you lose your pre-order rights for at least six months. I could, of course, have chosen to simply leave this story out and publish the rest but it promised to be a centre-piece, and I felt it would be short-changing readers in terms of what they would receive in the finished collection. No, I had to finish it, edit it and format it in the time left. The clock was ticking.

After some heavy first draft writing sessions, largely conducted in ‘Off the Wall’ coffee shop in my home town, I’d crossed the 20k words threshold (novella according to my list of definitions,) and still it wasn’t finished. These Damn Insects indeed! I had a week to go, and I was struggling with how the story would end. It ran the risk of running away with itself and becoming post-apocalyptic, but I needed the plot to remain small scale. In addition, I wanted the themes of childhood nostalgia, coming of age, alienation and narcissistic personalities to be satisfied, and this had to be wrapped up using a writing style that is a notorious minefield for ballooning out of all proportion.

Nevertheless, I pushed on, determined to finish. I had an epiphany during one of my early hours insomniac episodes which suggested a way of concluding the tale, and I utilised this in a marathon 4k word writing spree that completed the story at twenty six and a half thousand words. Now all I needed to do was edit it and get it formatted in the four days remaining. This goes against my general code as I like to let a story rest for at least a month and approach it with fresh eyes, but it was a case of needs-must.

Then – a further set-back. I suffered one of my periodic bouts of a chronic condition I suffer from which had me laid up in bed for the best part of three days. I did little else except sleep and edit. I’d alternate between grabbing a few hours rest, then put in an exhausting hour at the PC. I seriously felt like holding up the white flag, but I persevered. I chopped and changed things at the sentence and paragraph level; fine-tuned the dialogue; re-thought clunky sentences. Then I ran the whole thing through my Pro-writing aid plug-in which sorts out a host of issues to do with writing style, spelling , punctuation and grammar.

The outcome? I finished the story, added it to the final WORD draft and went through the final stages of updating the kindle version on Amazon.

In terms of this one piece of work I’ve produced what for me is a memorable story which is possibly a little rough around the edges – but hey, Deep Purple recorded their classic album, ‘Machine Head’ under great duress, a short timescale and events that conspired. So, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ll leave you to judge when you read the story.

What else can I tell you about ‘These Damn Insects?’ Well, the story started with the title – it was generated in one of Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges on his blog site, ‘TerribleMinds.’ I used to like the exercises he set that asked his followers to suggest things like first or last lines to stories, or in this case, story titles. I’d contribute my own, of course, but this one was suggested by someone else (I forget who – I just used to write down the ones that grabbed me.) We were then charged with taking our title and building a story around it. I never did this one as it was time limited to one week and I was too busy writing another story at the time. Anyhow, I ruminated on the title over the months and formulated a set of themes I wanted to incorporate.

Ray Bradbury wrote a great book called ‘Zen in the Art of Writing.’ One of the many gems of advice was his exhortation to write about what really affects us and has an impact. I’d previously compiled a long list of memorable life events, encounters and emotions I have felt during my short holiday here on earth, and I drew out three threads: the power of childhood relationships and transitions, the long term effects of alienation and the insidious nature of narcissistic personalities. I also had this desire to set the story in my fictitious town of Valley which featured in the book, Mycophoria (and incidentally also features in the last BTEI story, The Murder.) I have this contrived notion I can create the equivalent of the aforementioned Stephen King’s ‘Castle Rock’ town – a place that focuses a maelstrom of supernatural forces and characters. The fact that these themes are expressed through a horror story line that centres round a kid’s obsession with insects is simply the medium I choose to use.

Overall, this particular story and the circumstances surrounding its birth into the world are indicative of the whole collection. Writing is a hard job, and sometimes the sheer graft and determination to get a book to see the light of day takes it out of you. I don’t write this to make you feel sorry for me or to play on your emotions, I simply want to convey a simple truth which I think all writers recognise – stories reflect who we are, both writer and reader. If you read these stories and find a point of connection then I feel my job has been done. I’ve helped you escape the world for a while, touched a nerve or two, maybe helped you see something in a different way. In someone else’s words: stories are the vessel for navigating our own experience.

Unlike many self-published authors I don’t make a lot of money (I’m not even sure I make any money at all,) but after writing this, my tenth book, I know I’m here for the ride. ‘Fiction is the lie that tells the truth truer,’ Tom Spanbauer said and it is with this spirit I commend this latest offering to you.

If you want to buy ‘Beckoning The Empty In, you can click on this universal link.

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