Karl Drinkwater's Blog

August 17, 2014


You can sign up for my infrequent newsletters here. For those who wonder what kind of nonsense they contain, I've temporarily uploaded and shared the first two issues. Normally you have to be a subscriber to see them.

Tales From The Lighthouse #1
Tales From The Lighthouse #2
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Published on August 17, 2014 06:56

August 15, 2014


It was done. You grip as hard as you can, and sometimes you still fall. The straps were tight, the white knuckles that were stronger than her own, and the chair shuddered forth onto the track, whip-cracking her neck. Then it began to rumble backwards. She watched the hospital ward recede. Just as the surface had receded. The light was yellow, flickering and artificial. This place had never seen daylight.

There was a shriek from behind her, the direction she was moving, every jerk of the chair punctuated by mechanical clanks. It was a cry of fear, not pain. That would come.

Everything was buried down here. The graveyard of the dirty secrets, and the inconvenients, and the thinkers. Strapped-down freedom, buried hope. She would be in good company, and she wouldn't cry. She was past that. Walk through fire once more. Raw, without painkillers, she'd burn, whatever they did, she'd burn. Friction caused a reaction, always. She was the blister. They were going to cut her out.

A full-on scream now, and still she would not crane her head round, look at what was making the buzzing sound, avoid thinking of bees, bone saws, drills; breathe through the mouth not the nose. Don't gag, don't vomit. This place was their gag. And the scream stopped and her chair rattled back and she was next, clattering down the track that had always been there invisible, and she didn't care any more because there was no more hope in this world, it was done, maybe in the next; buzzing in her ears, felt warm air, caustic smells seeped in, please be quick, she bit her tongue and squeezed close her eyes.
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Published on August 15, 2014 05:12

August 11, 2014


Last week I was at an inspirational Ty Newydd writing course in north Wales, led by Mavis Cheek and Francesca Rhydderch. One of the many, many things we learnt in passing was Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules of writing. I recommend reading them if you do any creative writing. They're in his usual dry and irreverent style. If you enjoy them then his talk about story structures is well worth watching too (I have seen it many times!)
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Published on August 11, 2014 07:59 • 1 view

July 29, 2014


I just got back from a writing trip to find this email waiting for me:

Congratulations! Your story has been short listed in the Writers' Village summer contest 2014. This is a magnificent achievement, given that your story competed against many hundreds of contestants and the number and standard of entries in this round was even greater than before.

Meanwhile, here is some brief feedback on your story, Sweet Nothing.

Overall power to engage the reader incl. conflict (points out of 10): 9
Originality of story concept (points out of 10): 9
Appeal of first paragraph(s) (points out of 8): 7
Unity of story structure incl. closure (points out of 8): 8
Aptness of language to story-line (points out of 6): 6
Professionalism of presentation (points out of 3): 3
Total marks out of 45: 42

Remarks: This poignant story of a flinty mother with a well hidden heart of gold certainly moves the reader!
For a full explanation of how these judging criteria were applied, please see this page.

What a lovely surprise! It came with a cash prize too.
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Published on July 29, 2014 10:56 • 2 views

July 21, 2014


For some time I have wanted a style guide that matches my own preferences. A single book to rule them all, and to replace my own rapidly-growing style document. Every time I pick a style guide up and flick through it I'll find an entry recommending something that looks inelegant or counter-intuitive or inconsistent. The point of a style guide is to standardise things; by standardizing a style, you promote a standard for language.

After flicking through Guardian Style I thought my search was over. At first glance it seemed sensible and comprehensive. And it is the guide for a Manchester newspaper, which earns bonus marks. So I bought it. Today I finished reading it from cover to cover, as is my wont. Sadly, although often interesting, it turns out that my search must continue for a style guide that I can accept.

What made me unhappy with Guardian Style?

Firstly it was the lack of internal consistency, meaning that they end up needing 50 entries when a single rule applied throughout would have been much more … stylish. And required only one entry, saving a lot of time. Here are some examples of this inconsistency:

Acronyms and capitalisation. They use lower case for search engine optimisation, but SEO for the acronym. So you would think that a term which is capitalised would also have capitals for the acronym, but that isn't the case: the Guardian uses Soca (not SOCA) as the acronym for the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Some acronyms are not capitalised at all e.g. sim for subscriber identity module. See also their entries for Wap, Unesco, UNCHR. Sometimes capitalised terms get lower case acronyms, and vice versa. There is no rule as to whether acronyms are fully caps, no caps, or initial caps. No consistency in what types of nouns are capitalised. The guide capitalises seas, oceans, universities and museums; but not rivers, currencies, national parks or hotels. Stock Exchange is capitalised if it is in London, but not for those in other cities/countries.Adjectives derived from places: it seems to be random what the style guide recommends. Parma ham, Worcestershire sauce: but scottish terrier, welsh dresser, yorkshire pudding.Accents: résumé but cafe, soiree.Proper nouns sometimes get capitals, sometimes not e.g. world wide web and web 2.0 (should be caps, since the World Wide Web is a proper noun). The trend to have more and more exceptions to basic rules does not simplify things: instead it means that there are more exceptions to learn, and it just gets more complicated. (Which, I suppose, then justifies the need to buy a style guide...)

For me the question WHY? seemed to leap from the page in neon. I wanted more explanation as to why they chose one option over another. There may be a good reason for some of the cases, but the person buying this book is generally not party to it. And therefore the case for the book as something educative is weakened.

There are omissions too. Many common causes of confusion are not addressed at all, such as differences between US and UK English usage. For example, the completely different definitions of a million; also the different meanings attached to "first floor" in each country.

A repeated ruling of the style guide which I found to be irritatingly fussy was to ignore how description works. For example, saying someone is a homosexual (noun) is the same as saying someone is homosexual (adjective). Homosexual is one of many words that can function in both roles. But Guardian Style repeatedly states that they are not the same, and you must never use the first option when talking about people's preferences or abilities, because the Guardian feels it somehow implies a person is ONLY that thing, and therefore demeans them. This is silly. Saying Byron was a poet, or that I am a librarian, or that Simon is a blue-eyed man, is in no way implying that the noun is the only thing they are. It is just one feature or relevance to whatever is being discussed. To claim otherwise seems to be based on a misunderstanding about what it means to state a fact about a thing: it is certainly not a claim that it is the only fact. The guide comes across as prissy and overcomplicated in cases like this.
Lastly, the guide's editors seem to have an aversion to full stops. The last sentence in every entry is missing this important piece of punctuation. This leads to unintended comedy on page 336 when the writer Ariane Sherine is quoted as saying: "I long to live in a world where omitting full stops from the ends of sentences is deemed a social faux pas akin to walking around with your penis hanging out of your trousers." Except, on the page, the final full stop is omitted as per the style of this style guide.
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Published on July 21, 2014 07:51 • 3 views

July 18, 2014

Never underestimate how happy it makes a writer when we receive positive comments.
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Published on July 18, 2014 07:18 • 1 view

July 17, 2014

I'm currently reading Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto In The Age Of Distraction by Leo Babuta. There are lots of tips for cutting distractions from your life: later I will be tidying the window ledge next to my PC so that it is not full of pots, paperclips, pads and pens.

One of the sections that interested me was about plain text, full-screen word processors. They strip things back to basics to give you a blank screen to focus on, without buttons, popups or a visible Windows taskbar; even formatting options such as italics and bold are gone. Just bang out the words. Removing bloat can increase the power. For a writer these tools make a viable alternative to using Microsoft Word, especially when you are starting from fresh on a new project. Below I have included screenshots and links to the three I plan to spend more time with.

Dark Room
Q10
WriteMonkey
All are free; none need installing, and they seem to be portable via a USB memory stick.


If you use Microsoft Word there are ways of approximating the simplicity. For example, you can press the following keys, one after another, in order to get a full-screen view: Alt V U. Press escape when you want to quit full-screen mode. It is not true full screen though, since it leaves the Windows task bar visible. I also recommend going into print layout first if you have a widescreen monitor (so that you don't wear your eyes out scanning all the way across the width of the screen - full screen print layout keeps the text near the centre). If you have a squarer, 4:3 monitor, then web layout might be fine.
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Published on July 17, 2014 12:55 • 1 view

July 14, 2014

I recommend the excellent horror magazine Scream.
This is my copy, fresh in the post ...
if the word "fresh" can be applied to zombies.

Mmm, the latest issue has an advert for
an interesting-sounding horror novel. :-)
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Published on July 14, 2014 06:53 • 2 views

July 12, 2014


As an experiment I have uploaded a new cover for Cold Fusion 2000. It's only for the e-book versions, and will probably just be for a limited time. You can get a look at it by clicking the image above. There's a few elements I like, in terms of it fitting the story:

Manchester city streets;The hand-drawn font implies something childish (Alex!);The sun could be rising or setting: either way it is a liminal time, a story set somewhere between other things; it maybe resembles a halo of light (which makes sense if you have read the novel);There's something lonely about those streets;There are shadows at the edges, things may not be perfect;The subtitle gives a bit more of an idea about what the novel might contain.Better or worse than the previous cover?
Base image by Danka & Peter, downloaded from unsplash.
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Published on July 12, 2014 11:24 • 2 views

July 3, 2014

This list isn't comprehensive, just some stories that stuck in my mind because of the plot, setting, twist, characters, or even just the writing. What are your favourite short stories?
Lot (Ward Moore, 1953). End-of-the-world panic. It's as unsettling as you'd expect.The Last Rung On The Ladder, and Children Of The Corn (Stephen King, 1978, in Night Shift). One serious, non-horror King story that punches you in the stomach; and one gripping horror that captures a sense of place brilliantly (and happens to be one of the many inspirations for Turner).To Build A Fire (Jack London, 1908). I read it as a child and decided I would rather freeze to death than burn. It captured my imagination.Weekend (Fay Weldon, 1978). On re-reading it, I realise it must have been in my subconscious when I wrote my short story It Will Be Quick.Let Me Count The Times (Martin Amis, 1981). Once I realised where the story was going it brought a smile to my face.More Tomorrow (Michael Marshall Smith, 1995). You put this one down with a mix of relief and horror.Splatter Of Black (Charles A. Gramlich, 1995). A great example of how to write an action-packed tale.
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Published on July 03, 2014 11:11 • 2 views