The idea behind 30ShortsIn30Days was to write a new short story every day in April. There weren’t that many rules:
- They couldn’t have been started before the day, although they could be planned to a degree
- They had to be over 200 words
- While they may be able to be linked together, each story had to be able to stand alone.
Initially, this sounds reasonably easy, after all, 200 words isn’t really that much. I’ve done eighty eight up to the end of this sentence. In part two of this review I’ll go over how it wasn’t that easy, but this part will cover the stories I wrote, and my thoughts on them.
I had the idea for this one kicking around in my head when I was writing Endangered Creatures, I was thinking of putting it in as a scene, but it just didn’t sit well anywhere I thought of putting it. So I didn’t bother writing it. I do like the idea of it though, because it annoys me that trading standards or some other industry watch dog steps in to “protect” the customer from perceived idiocy. I remember as a child a brand of crisps going through huge legal battles because they were called “Hedgehog Crisps” and more recently a sausage manufacturer in Wales had problems with their Dragon Sausages, named because the dragon is on the Welsh flag. It galls me that companies like this are prevented from trading like this, yet other companies, usually the very large, rich ones that fund these watchdogs are able to get away with blatant lies, such as producing a “cider” with only 17.5% apple juice content when the tax office in the UK states it must have at least 34%.
It really does seem that if you’re making the rules, you can do what you like. But if you’re not, you’re subject to the most ridiculous restrictions all in the name of protecting the consumer.
I really wanted this story to be a lot longer. I liked the idea of the estate in Endangered Creatures, run by Bob the dragon overseeing everything, and I liked the idea of how a human might, or might not, fit in with all the wonderful creatures there. I had in my mind that the tour would see them being introduced to everyone, and being made to feel very unwelcome. And then, over time, being accepted and made to feel part of the family.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time to write all of that, and while I was writing, this seemed to flow out.
I put a throwaway line into Endangered Creatures about the vet being away treating yetis for colds, and I loved the idea, and I’m also interested in what are now thought of as natural remedies, and not long ago were thought of as quack or pseudo-science. We got along not too badly for thousands of years without the big pharmaceutical companies, so we must have been doing something right. Then all of a sudden we were told that the medicines and treatments we were using were all a load of rubbish, and we should be taking two of these little pills, twice a day, come back in a fortnight if the symptoms still persists. Yet not many years later, the pharmaceutical companies are now telling us that these wonder remedies from plants are the next best thing, that they’ve been researching them and are even patenting treating illnesses using them; I’m not making that up.
So I thought how would you treat the common cold? And was able to expand out the previously barely mentioned character of the Programme’s Vet.
This is another short that stemmed from a throwaway line in Endangered Creatures, and another one that I thought should be longer. I keep seeing the scene play in my head, and it is longer, but when I came to write it down, it wasn’t. I do like it though, I like the idea of what a mixed school, humans and endangered creatures, would actually be like, and what sort of things could go wrong. I may write more around this idea.
In Endangered Creatures I mention a few of the job interviews that the main character Connor has had in the past, and what went wrong with them. Yes, they’re (mostly) based on personal experience. This short starts with a bit of a bugbear of mine, people being employed because they tick the boxes decided upon by human resources, rather than because they can actually do the job properly, and would get on with the rest of the staff. Humans aren’t drones, yet most work places treat them like such. And the current fad in the education systems of teaching students to pass tests, rather than preparing them for a working life, means we’re seeing a workforce that isn’t really capable, and leads to a very high turnover rate. Which probably explains why I get more spam email from recruiters “offering” me jobs than I do from Nigerian princes selling me Viagra.
One of the things I loved about writing Endangered Creatures was “debunking” the Bible miracles. I was brought up in a Catholic household, went to church every Sunday and major saints days, and was taught the Bible and to not question it. Then I lucked out at secondary school (also a Catholic institution) and got a religious education teacher who taught us to question everything rather than take it at face value. His view was that if you questioned something, and then still believed in it, it was a much stronger belief. And if you no longer believed in it, then at least you found out early enough to stop wasting your life.
I’m also a fan of locked room mysteries, Sherlock Holmes and Jonathan Creek style ones, so having my two main bad guys being angels, gave me the opportunity to look into how the miracles could actually have been stage managed. I have a couple of them in Endangered Creatures, and another on this site in the Short Stories section, but the problem is, there aren’t actually that many different miracles. Mostly it’s heal the sick or feed lots of people. This one though, this took a bit of thinking, and a reasonable amount of research too.
Oh, and my mother, who’s still a devote catholic, doesn’t approve of these parts of my writing, but she can at least see the funny side even if she does think I’m likely to go to hell.
The Big Sleep
This didn’t start out like it ended. I was taking a break from NoPandas related stories to write something a bit more serious, but not too much. It was going to be a mayfly narrating, fitting a life into a single day, but as I wrote it it changed, and it got more and more sad. I didn’t want to write something as serious or depressing as this, it’s just the way it came out. However, I do like it.
Joan and the Armourer
This came about from a conversation I was having over on h2g2.com where we were discussing, or rather moaning about, the generic book covers you always seem to get, and how the women on them are always wearing the same inappropriate outfit that almost certainly isn’t even in the story, but is thought to appeal to the teenage boys they’re trying to sell the book to.
It’s a bit of an old joke about how they’re totally impractical, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. And I’m very pleased with it, especially the line “all I’ve got between me and the horse is a cheese grater” which still makes me laugh. This also took a bit of research too, because every single part of a suit of armour has a special name, and having a list of those handy might help when reading this.
I can’t remember how I came up with the idea for this one, except that while writing the sequel to Endangered Creatures (called The Breeding Programme), I realised that while Belia’s in it a bit, Polynius isn’t in it at all. Which is a shame, because I really like those characters. There’s a lot that could be done with them that I just wasn’t doing. So this short somehow came about, and I really like it. It explains more about the angels as creatures, and about Poly and Belia as characters, and when I finished this I realised why I wrote it, because although I’ve already given a draft of The Breeding Programme to my editor (who’s also my wife) there was a gap in it. An angel shaped gap, and a pregnancy shaped gap. When I get the draft back from its initial review and cursory edit, this short is going to be worked into it. I love the idea of a pregnant angel, and how Poly and Belia react as individuals. Plus it also fits in very nicely with the outlines I’ve written for the third book.
This is another one of those that started as a throwaway line in Endangered Creatures, and I wanted to expand it out. It’s also another one of those that seemed better in my head than when I wrote it down. I’d like to revisit this one because I still like the idea, I just don’t particularly like the way I’ve written it.
Sick On Thursday
This one started from a remark on Twitter, the idea about 24 hour bugs, and never getting the hang of Thursdays. It’s a totally made up creature, I think, something I don’t normally do. Normally I take an extinct creature, or an existing myth, and work out how it could actually be real. This time, I just made something up to suit a situation, rather than a situation to fit a creature.
I quite like this idea, and do wonder about thinking up some more creatures to fit situations.
The Killing Game
One of the things I like about writing, is planning how to kill people. Sounds a bit sick doesn’t it? But it’s the thinking I like, the logical puzzles and the planning. Don’t worry, I’m never likely to actually kill anyone, but it is kinda fun figuring out how you could do it.
This actual method of killing I worked out years ago, and strangely enough not long afterwards someone tried it. They didn’t kill, but they made a lot of people very ill. I’ve thought of several other ways of killing, and at times wonder about writing about a serial killer, but at the moment there seems too many other serial killer stories out there. So it’ll sit on the back-burner for now.
Love & Lunacy
One of the things that’s always bugged me about Endangered Creatures, was never being able to properly explain how Bridget got out of the convent. It’s been one of those little niggles that’s kept getting to me. So this was an excuse to try and work it out. It also gave me an opportunity to write a bit more about Edith. Her character so far has been a bit set in the background, but I rather like her. She comes out more in The Breeding Programme, but I wanted to try and work with her a bit more.
One of the short stories I wrote prior to releasing Endangered Creatures had the two dragons, Bob and Fred, watching humans at a jousting tournament, and commenting on them, and I really liked that. I like the idea of watching history from an external viewpoint, and the way that Bob and Fred comment on it in a bemused way. So I thought I’d give it another go, and I quite like the results, so I think I might well write more on these two throughout history.
This is an old joke too, why do people run towards the screams? Surely you’d run away from the screams?
Daniel In The Lion’s Den
Another sort of miracle debunking story, but not really explaining how it could be done. The idea was actually thought up by my wife, but I loved to run with it. Again though it’s one that I wanted to do more with but time got in the way.
I had to be careful writing this one, it was based on a scene I saw in a pub several years ago, that was a little more graphic and explicit in its conversation. I really couldn’t believe what the two blokes were doing, sitting in the pub in the middle of the afternoon being very graphic about this young woman. So you can imagine how hard it was for me to contain my laughter when it turned out to be the sister of one of them.
One of the things that I think give credibility to the premise of Endangered Creatures, is the coelacanth. For years it was thought that they were extinct, and then all of a sudden, there they were alive and well. So if the coelacanth survived, what else did? And I like the idea that it was saved in secret, and reintroduced into the wild.
So this short follows that reintroduction, and the sheer stupidity of people.
Another miracle debunking story tale, this one took a while to work out. Bringing someone back from the dead? Yeah, no problem. But making a paralysed man walk, that took a bit of working out. Thankfully the English language is such a flexible thing. But this is another one where I wanted it to be much larger, but just didn’t have the time to do as much with it as I wanted.
I read recently that some sloths have lichen growing on their backs because they move so slowly, and I thought that’d make a great defence mechanism for a large, slow moving animal. The one that come to mind was the woolly mammoth, obviously.
I didn’t mean for this to be set in the No Pandas world, and in a way it isn’t. It’s not part of the Programme, and it’s not exactly humorous either. However, it does contain a supposedly extinct creature. But it is part of the No Pandas world, along with Endangered Creatures and The Breeding Programme, and writing this gave me the background for the third book in the series. I already had a lot of notes about characters and the things they would do, but didn’t really have a backdrop for it. Until now. So after writing this short story, I went to the pub (no surprise there) and sat and wrote out the full set of chapter plans for the third book. Yes folks, there’ll be more woolly mammoths.
This is yet another one of those that was a lot longer in my mind, but when I came to write it out it ended up a lot shorted. I’m not really happy with this one. There’s so much more I could do with it, expand the characters out, show their lives other than the main thread, in short, make a proper story out of it. And I’d like to come back to it and do that, because I like the idea, but not this short.
Again, this was longer in my mind. Which seems to be a running theme. I was determined with this one though to make it at least a reasonable length, and it is better. But there’s still a lot I didn’t put in because I was short on time.
I liked what I wrote about Edith earlier, and I wanted to write a bit more. So I took another throwaway line from earlier writing and wrote about Gerald and Edit meeting and going on a date. I also wanted to show a bit about Bridget starting to lose it a little. She was quite coherent in the earlier tale, but by Endangered Creatures she’s much older, and quite a bit madder. So this had to show her somewhere in between.
All told though, I like this story and want to come back and write some more on it.
Not From Guildford
“Not from Guildford after all” is a wonderful quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when Arthur finds out that his friend Ford is actually an alien. I loved that idea, and thought about what would happen if you found out that a friend you’d known for a few years turned out to be a visiting alien, what would you actually do?
I’ve always liked science fiction, books, films and television series. The problem is though, they’re usually so unbelievable. Even the ones without aliens. It’s almost as though civilisation has taken a leap from where it currently is, to where the writer wants it to be without any thought of how it could get from here to there. It’s like a lot of the fantasy books, where the story gets written into a corner, so magic is used to get it out. I can understand that a bit in fantasy, it’s fantastical after all. But I’m not keen on it. A good magic system can add so much more to a world, using it as a Deus Ex Machine just seems like a cop out to me, no matter how much it’s needed. And I feel the same with a lot of sci-fi that’s around. There’s no link between what is, and what it has become, and I think that science fiction has lost something there.
So I started writing this idea about the duality ships, I sat down and planned out a ship, how it would be laid out, and how it could work. I also started thinking about the worlds that it would be set in, full of normal people. And then I realised I’d already written about the characters in Not From Guildford, three people just bumming around the universe having a laugh. So I expanded them out and started writing about them stealing a ship. And this has really taken off.
This story was where the from here to there comes in. And without an apocalypse, something else that bugs me. I mean, are humans so bad that we’re doomed to annihilate ourselves? Can’t we perhaps maybe, just maybe, get it right? Or at the very least not totally mess it up.
So I thought about how we’d get there, what would it take? And I came up with a couple of blokes in a pub, who actually put their money where their mouths are, something that rarely happens. This again though is something that I want to be longer, and I’m definitely going to come back to this and expand it out.
Part of working out the worlds to set my sci-fi stories in, was to actually create worlds. I’d been thinking about how colonists used to create countries, moving away from persecution of some kind usually, so brought that into this series. I’d also been thinking about the ship itself. I’d created them to be long-haul craft, but minimum crew and therefore minimum facilities. Which wasn’t really going to work for what I was looking for. So I needed a way to get a mechanic on board and do the ship up, and I came up with New Gaia, a planet on the edges, and Wrench and Socket, a father daughter team from a nomadic tribe that I’ve loosely based on the American Indians.
But again I wanted to make it believable, so in came the pirates and the debris, because it’s not a perfect world, even if it didn’t start from a total mess.
I seemed to have got stuck on my sci-fi bent doing this, but I also wanted to keep it realistic, something I seem to worry about quite a bit. To this end I thought about how Wrench and Socket wouldn’t get on with the crew in close quarters, at least not straight away, it just wouldn’t happen. Also, I wanted to make their ship quicker than the others around. If they were going to be on the run, they needed to be able to run.
So this short allowed me to work on those points and set the worlds up for the rest of the stories I want to write. I’m definitely looking to write more with this crew, I’ve got another couple of crew member ideas, and quite a few planet ideas to put them into.
This should have been a lot longer, but I ran out of time, again. I’ve pretty much worked out how the crew will be able to make money, not just to survive, but to try and buy their freedom, and I started writing about it in this story. I wanted to get away from sci-fi for a bit though, because I was wanting to write too much of it. I could easily have sat down, planned out, and written the book about the MHC-1 and her crew (really must find a better ship name) but needed to restrict myself while doing the shorts.
I wanted to take the crew out to Florian, and to set up the trading, exploring the trade routes more, and the people that work them. But there just wasn’t time, and I needed to rein it in a bit.
My sister-in-law has just had a baby, it’s her third, and she’s a nurse on a children’s ward in her local hospital. So she knows a thing or two about babies, through experience and proper training, which is the right way. It’s always amused me, the idea that you can give a kid an egg, or a rabbit, cat, chick or other small animal and expect it to learn all about parenthood from that one experience. They can’t. What’s the worst that happens? A small animal dies. Yes, that’s quite tragic, but if you’re worried about the small animal, don’t let the kid have it in the first place. And kids aren’t stupid, they know it’s only a game, it’s not like the real thing. The whole idea is ridiculous.
Which is why I thought of Belia and Polynius when I was thinking about it. They try, but they just seem to get things wrong.
I have a cat, or rather I inherited a cat with the wife. It’s definitely her cat. And yes, this was based on him a little, especially in the descriptions of how he looks.
I liked the Kitty story, but wanted to do a bit more with it. I also liked the idea of Bridget, the mad old lady, having a cat. But more in the sort of evil genius cat way. So I started writing this.
Like with Kitty, this could be a bit longer, and a lot better too. That’s one of the difficulties with short stories, you’re pretty much limited to a single thread, and a single set of characters. But also like with Kitty, I’m going to try and work this story into The Breeding Programme, because I really like the idea.