Needed – Beta Readers!

Recently, I’ve been working on a novella titled The Reclaimers. It is a fantasy, sitting at about 26,000 words. I’ve reached the stage where I’d like to recruit a couple of beta readers.

What I’m looking for is a couple of people who’d like to read some or all of the novella, and provide some feedback. It could involve anything from just reading the first couple of chapters and giving me a sense of whether you would read on (and why), through to reading the whole thing and providing some detailed comments.

I’m open to a range of readers. Don’t worry if you’re not a writer and don’t feel like you could provide “expert” advice. While detailed, expert feedback is very valuable, so is getting feedback from a reader who can just say whether something is working for them or not, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why.

A few broad points about the novella to help you decide whether to volunteer:

  • It is a secondary world fantasy – no Earth historical settings!
  • There is a female protagonist and references to her having a same-sex romance in her past. Not being female and not having had a same-sex romance in my past, I would love to get a perspective on the main character and how authentic she feels from someone with more credibility than me.
  • There is violence. And swearing. It’s not quite grimdark (the violence isn’t graphic enough for that), but it certainly leans in that direction. If that’s not your cup of tea, then hold back!

If you’re interested, please email me directly at: mark (at) markwebb (dot) name or leave a comment below.

In which a random sampling of topics is covered

Hi all. Hope this blog post finds you well.

The 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot just completed. Yours truly was interviewed, but don’t let that put you off checking out the whole shebang. The Snapshot is an excellent rounding up of what’s going on in the Australian scene – well worth checking out who’s doing what.

Note: at the time of writing, the 2016 front page linked into above does not have all of the interviews listed. Hopefully it will be up to date by the time you read this.

The Hugo awards were announced this weekend at WorldCon over in Kansas City. In yet another year of controversial nomination and voting practices, I was sad to see so many “no award” wins. I must admit that seeing the Hugos become an idealogical battleground in a away that artificially distorts voting patterns has made me a bit “meh” about them, so I haven’t paid as much attention to the shortlist/final awards as I might have in previous years. In previous years I have bought supporting memberships of the relevant convention so I could vote, but this year I couldn’t really be bothered. And that’s a shame.

It’s been great to see The Writer and the Critic podcast get back into its monthly groove. I’ve just listened to the latest episode, and while neither of the books interested me too much going in, the broader discussion about books that achieve longevity on best seller lists was quite interesting. Hopefully they’ll get back to more speculative fiction content though.

You may have noticed that I’ve started to republish one of my old stories on the website, over 5 parts. No real reason, just felt like it really. Part 1 of “Showdown” can be found here, and I’ll publish the last sections over the next few weeks.

I’ve almost finished the first draft of a novella length work – looking like it is going to come in at about 26k – 27k words. I’ll ship it around to a few venues, but if I don’t get much traction I might serially publish it as well. It’d be nice to get the publication credit somewhere, but I must admit that has been concerning me less lately. In this case, putting the words out there might just be the push I need to build up a bit more momentum. Anyway, still a fair bit of editing to do so I don’t have to make up my mind for a little while.

And finally, if you’re interested in general Australian SF news you should check out Alex Pierce’s column at Alex is much better informed than me – as her latest column demonstrates!

Writing update – April 2016

So, it’s been a little while since I put together a post on my own writing progress. What have I been doing over the last little while? Why no short stories ? Have the critics finally got to me? Has writers block descended with savage fury? Has the urge to write been purged from my soul with almost biblical ferocity?


I have, however, had some trouble maintaining some consistency in my writing. Work has been hectic (and I start a new job tomorrow, which I’m not expecting will be any easier). I’ve been trying to make more time for family. And writing has suffered as a result. However, I have been making a few changes lately that I think will be positive.

First up, I joined a writing group. Not a critiquing group, but a group dedicated to getting some writers together in a room so we can write. And that is exactly what I needed. Sitting around, listening to what other people are working on, talking in the breaks – it all helps recharge my creative batteries. The group itself is excellent, I felt really comfortable very quickly and there are some fantastic authors whose work I admire attached to the group. I’ve only been once, but even that was a big boost for me. Looking forward to future meetings.

Long term readers might recall that I finished the first draft of a novel, Unaligned, a while back. I’ve been having real problems with the editing process. When writing the first draft, I could set myself modest daily targets (most often one handwritten page per day at a minimum) and I made steady, incremental progress. With editing, I couldn’t find the equivalent rhythm and pretty much all last year I struggled to even get started. Over the last month or so, I’ve been trying a few different things and some of them seem to be working. I was trying to do big, structural edits but the size of the task stopped me getting started. So, I’ve decided to do a run through the manuscript just doing line edits and looking for glaring inconsistencies. This is much more manageable, and I’ve been able to make some progress. I’m hoping that this approach will be more sustainable. I’ll keep notes on any major issues I come across that I just can’t fix in the line editing process, and that might form the basis of a structural review down the track.

I’m also thinking about writing some short stories based on secondary characters in the novel. One of the issues I’ve found is that the secondary characters feel a little too one dimensional. I’ve always struggled with creating “dossiers” on my characters, I’m hoping that a more narrative approach will help. These stories won’t be for publication necessarily (unless one turns out really well). Rather, they will be my way of making the characters a bit more fully realised in my own head. I’ll use jumping off points as I do the line edit of the manuscript to set up the side stories.

And finally, I’ve started work on a couple of very short, flash fiction length pieces. When I was publishing a few flash pieces a couple of years back, it gave me a sense of momentum that I seem to have lost since I started to focus on the novel. I’d like to get that momentum back!

So, that’s me. What have you been up to, writers? Who else is trying something new in the pursuit of better craft?

How to Market Your Book Online by Nicola Hardy – a promotion

Now, disclaimers out of the way first up. I’ve known Nicola Hardy (the author of How to Market Your Book Online) for many years, and she is one of my longest standing and closest friends. As such, I’m not going to be able to give an unbiased discussion of her book. Hence the “a promotion” tagline, instead of my normal “a review”.

How to Market Your Book Online is a practical guide to setting up aspects of an author platform online. The book focuses primarily on Facebook and Twitter, but also briefly covers Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and blogging in general.

There is a heavy emphasis on the practical – Nicola draws on her experience helping authors to get into the nitty gritty. There are screen shots, and hints and tips that go beyond the mechanics of the various platforms, to include issues of etiquette and protocol.

There are two editions – a global one, and an Australian/New Zealand version that has some customised content for the local region.

If you’re an experienced author who has been promoting yourself through social media for years, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re just getting started, and considering how to establish your “author platform”, the book is a great way to get going with the basics.


Editors note: apologies to regular readers for missing last week, I’m afraid family time over Easter got in the way. Back to regularly scheduled programming now.

2015 versus 2016

Well, 2015 certainly kicked my writing backside. I started off the year well, but a combination of work and family commitments conspired to drop my writing productivity to almost zero by the time we reached December.

This website was a victim of my malaise – I haven’t written an article for a few months now. It has been a combination of a lack of time and not feeling like I’ve had much to say. A poor excuse, granted.

On the writing front, I only published one short story in 2015, Authentic Empathy which was published in the special 200th edition of AntipodeanSF earlier in the year. It was a great privilege to be selected for the magazine (and if you’re interested in looking at the story, check out my bibliography). The rest of the year I spent skipping between a few longer works, including refining the draft of my urban science fantasy novel (Unaligned), and building out a fantasy long story into a novella length work. Both require a lot more work, but it was good to make some progress.

I also wrote the start of a science fiction novel (about 10,000 words) as well as a couple of chapters of a middle grade novel, as well as the opening scenes for the sequel to Unaligned. From this you can probably tell that I’ve spread myself a bit thin over too many projects, rather than finishing a smaller number. There is probably a lesson in that.

I also accumulated a backlog of reviews I haven’t written, especially for the Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge.  I reviewed 4 books (reviews can be found here) by Australian women authors and read another 3, but didn’t hit my goal of ten in total. This certainly reflected my much reduced reading for the year, but I’m disappointed nonetheless.

On the podcast front, I contributed exactly nothing to the GalacticChat podcast this year. Stupidly, I should have thought about setting up some interviews when I was at GenreCon in Brisbane – fellow podcaster Helen Stubbs and I both attended and there was such a wide variety of authors and other interesting industry types, good interviews couldn’t have helped but follow. Ah well, lesson learnt for next time.

So, what is in store for 2016? GenreCon in November and a few weeks off work over Christmas has renewed my appetite for writing, which has been great. I’ve been transcribing a lot of my longhand writing from the year onto the computer over the last few weeks which has been surprisingly validating (I wrote more words last year than I thought!). I’d like to get the first draft of Unaligned into fighting shape and finish off the fantasy novella. I seem to do better at writing first drafts than the editing process, so I will punctuate the editing with working on a couple of short story ideas (I think having some short stories published does help me keep a sense of momentum).

For this website, I’ve decided to work towards publishing one article each Sunday night, to create some sense of regularity. I will publish any news about publishing of my work separately, so the Sunday night article will be either a review, a general musing or something that has caught my attention. This probably means finding some kind of project to help create content – I’ll add that to my to-do list.

Hopefully this will also mean that my reviewing for the Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge will be a little more prompt!

I’ve been contributing to AntipodeanSF behind the scenes, producing the eBook versions of the magazines each month. I’ll continue doing that, and will look at how I might improve my contributions in the podcasting space, depending on what happens with Galactic Chat.

That should be enough to keep me going.

Given my long absence from this website, I doubt I have any readers left, but if there are any of you out there, what are your 2016 writing resolutions?

Monthly roundup – May 2015

Work’s been busy during the month of May, so not a lot to report back.

I continued my Ditmar Best Novel reading with Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix. Both good reads if you like Australian speculative fiction.

I also continued my Aussie reading with The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke. I’ll be reviewing that one for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge, so no spoilers here.

I’ve started to think about what kind of books to recommend to Ms 7 as her reading improves, so when I saw the first two volumes in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan for $2 at a local library book sale, I decided to dive right in. The books were much as I expected, with a relatively simple plot and themes more relevant to those still at school than a 40-something adult. Still, I found myself turning pages at a rapid rate and I kept reading until I’d finished both books, so they must be doing something right!

I’ve got three books on the go at the moment:

  • Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely from Fablecroft – an anthology of short fiction. I’ve quite enjoyed the stories so far, but I’ll say more in my wrap up (I think I’ll review it for the AWW challenge as well).
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett. I was saddened to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett recently – his Discworld novels were a great source of joy through my adolescent years, and have remained firm favourites ever since. I’ve put off reading Dodger for quite some time – not really sure why. I’m about 25% of the way through now and loving it – but it is love tinged with a slight sense of sorrow that this will be the last piece of “new” Pratchett writing aimed at adults I will probably ever read.
  • Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller. This has been on my bedside table for way too long now, a victim to my preference for eBooks over physical. I have at long last made it past the first chapter – and it is a very interesting read. Not the sort of book where you can skim read anything though, so I’m finding it slow going. The overlay of Aboriginal culture onto a far future landscape is deeply fascinating though – more once I’ve got a bit further.

Finally started on season 5 of Game of Thrones in May, and ripped through the first 5 or 6 episodes. I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but excellent television (as the first four seasons led me to expect!).

A fair bit of SF has started up recently, eating into my productive time. I’ve started:

  • 12 Monkeys – OK first 3 episodes based very loosely around the movie of the same name but haven’t been compelled to keep watching. This one is teetering on the edge of being sacrificed to the gods of Foxtel hard drive free space.
  • Wayward Pines – interesting show – I’m about 4 episodes in and the central mystery is keeping me hooked. Not sure how much beyond any big reveals I’ll last though – still, I’ll keep watching for now.
  • Arrow season 3. It really annoyed my that The Flash and Arrow were played separately from each other. I enjoy both shows, but the crossover episodes from The Flash gave away too many plot points from Arrow. I have heard other commentators complain about the flashback format, slowly revealing what happened to Oliver Queen when he was presumed dead for 5 years, but I really like it.
  • Gotham made a return to our screens and I’ve kept watching. I quite like it – I was even inspired to go back and start watching the Christopher Nolan Batman movies again. Seems to be hitting its stride.

I’m hovering on the brink of succumbing to the lure of Netflix, just so I can watch Daredevil, which I’ve heard good things about.

On the writing front, I went back to an old story I’ve tinkered on here and there for quite a while. At 11,000 words it is an inconvenient length for submission – I really needed to either cut a few thousand words and submit it as a short story or flesh it out to novella length. To be honest the world is starting to grow on me, so I’ve written the first cut of another few thousand words so far, and will probably write quite a bit more before I’m done. None of this is helping get anything published of course, but I find as long as I’m actually writing, the not being published part isn’t quite so hard.

Oh, and of course my piece for Antipodean SF issue 200 was played on the Anti SF radio show, episode Gemma, released on 23 May 2015. It’s surreal to hear my work in audio form, and I’m always grateful to Nuke for providing that extra channel for people to enjoy the fiction.

Monthly roundup – March 2015

Welcome to my round up of March 2015. I’m going to focus on being more consistent with these monthly updates, and include a wider range of culture consumed if I’ve got something to say. I’ll also be including brief updates on my writing.

I finished my run through the Xbox One game Dragonage Inquisition. I don’t play many games these days – too much other stuff going on in life, work and writing. But I thought I’d mention Dragonage particularly. Its strong emphasis on story telling made the experience very enjoyable (and a bit addictive – my wife has been a bit annoyed at the amount of time I’ve spent with the game). There is a wonderful spread of gender, sexual orientation and general diversity in the casts of characters, and a lot of the writing/voice acting is surprisingly well done. Well worth the price of admission if you like your fantasy epic and your games role playing.

My wife and I have been watching, and enjoying, the TV series Grimm. Season 4 started recently on Foxtel, so we’ve been following along over the last couple of months. I really like Grimm – the take on the storybook monsters is interesting and there have been some great storylines over the first three seasons. Season 4 has been good so far, and I’m particularly enjoying the digging into the broader world building. They have introduced/developed some of the female characters over the last season, which has provided some good balance to the earlier series (which was very male-dominated). This season continues the “strong women” theme.

I also dipped into up and coming Australian SF author David McDonald’s work, with his recently released short collection Cold Comfort and Other Tales. You can read the full review here, but spoiler alert – I liked it!

I’ve been a bit disturbed by how few of the Ditmar and Aurealis award nominated novels I’ve actually read. With that in mind, I’ve started by Australian speculative fiction award nominated reading with The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke. A full review will come soon (it will double as my first Australian Women Writer’s 2015 challenge novel as well).

I’ll be moving on to Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan, Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix over the next few weeks. I’ve also nabbed Phantazein by Tehani Wessely. That will get me through the Ditmar shortlist (when you add in The Godless by Ben Peek that I reviewed last year), but there are still a lot of novels on the Aurealis lists that I’ll need to get to.

On the writing side, I’m still struggling to find time to edit my novel length manuscript Unaligned. I’m finding that while I can write first draft materials in fits and starts, I don’t seem to be able to dive into editing without a long stretch of time (at least a couple of hours). A busy job and two small kids don’t provide many opportunity for that kind of time. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit stalled over the last month or so.

To break the impasse, I’ve started writing some more first draft material for other work just to make sure the daily creative juices are flowing. I’ve done a bit of editing on a shorter work and I’m trying to use shorter amounts of time more effectively. We’ll see!

So, what have you been watching/reading/playing/writing/creating lately? Update us all in the comments below.

Monthly Roundup – October 2014

Another month flashes past. October 2014 went by very quickly, people. On the writing front, I’ve been typing up the first 20,000 words of a space opera I started writing longhand earlier in the year. I’ve also been thinking through the editing process for Unaligned, the manuscript I typed “the end” for not that long ago.

I’m struggling with the editing process. Not so much the theory of it. I can think of a lot of things I need to do, and there is a lot of useful advice out there on self editing. The manuscript needs a lot of polishing before I can get other people involved in reading it. I recognise that.

However (and this is a big however), I’m struggling to fit editing into my life. With the first draft writing by hand, I could find 1/2 hour here or there and get a little bit more writing down. My at-least-1-page-per-day system worked well. With a busy job and two young kids, small snippets of time are all that seem possible. But that approach is not working for me when it comes to editing. I find I need more time, the capacity to really submerge myself into the work for an extended period, before I seem to be able to edit properly. Trying to do a little bit each night is not working. In fact, on some occasions it is actually counter-productive.

That’s why I started writing another manuscript (the space opera – working title Untethered). It was easier to fit in.

So, my current strategy is to find a couple of interruption free days to kick start the process. Perhaps once I’ve delved into the manuscript in a focused way, subsequent editing bit by bit will become more feasible. Negotiations have begun with my wife to free up a weekend so I can work sans-kids (of course I’ll need to return that particular favour!). Negotiations have begun with my parents so I can grab their caravan down in Wollongong for the isolation. I’d like to find some time pre-Christmas. Wish me luck.

On the culture consumed side, I read and reviewed The Godless by Ben Peek. Excellent book, but you’ll have to read my review to find out why.

As flagged last month, I started the YA collection Kaleidoscope, but haven’t yet finished. OK so far, like the diversity theme but have my normal struggles engaging with YA work. It’s not them, it’s me.

Read another one of the recently re-released Wild Cards series, Aces Abroad. Love the flash back aspect of reading an 80s/90s series. There is one story set in Australia, and the airlines referenced were Ansett and TAA. Love it! As previously commented, some gender issues that jump out now that I didn’t notice on first reading, but not as bad as it could be. All up, I’m enjoying the re-read.

Also started The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Only a little way in though, more to report next month.

On the TV front, I’m not liking The 100. In fact, I think I’m about to give up. It has been vaguely interesting, but they’ve just introduced a new character on the space station with a new strand of political intrigue and I realised I didn’t really care enough about what happens to the characters. I’ve got too much of a backlog of TV, I think I can afford to give this one away.

Heard an Australian podcast recently talking about the new TV series The Flash (a spin off of Arrow), but I have not been able to find it here in Australia. They must have been obtaining episodes by other means. I saw a “coming soon” ad on Foxtel though, so I would imagine it is not too far away.

The rest of my superhero fix is coming from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and Gotham. AoS has been good, I’m liking the darker, short of resources world of the second season. Arrow remains just a little over the top melodramatic, but I really like the flashback approach to showing backstory. Jury is still out on Gotham, but so far so good.

In terms of TV series finished this month, I watched the last episode of season 4 of Teen Wolf (a much shorter season this time around) and The Strain. Enjoyed both shows, with a slight preference for Teen Wolf.

So, who else is overdosing on superhero TV? Read any good books I should be considering? Any other interesting culture consumed?

Writing update – all in the computer

So, about four months back I posted that I’d finally written the words “THE END” in a notebook, signally the first draft of my novel length work was complete.

Of course, that was longhand writing. I still had about 30,000 words that were sitting in notebooks that needed to be typed up.

About 8 weeks ago I posted that, due to starting writing other things, I hadn’t quite got around to writing up those words. I promised you, dear reader, that I would knuckle down and get this bad boy written up. You have been very patient, and as such I am pleased to finally reward that patience by announcing that, last night, I once again wrote the words “THE END” – this time on the keyboard.

As per my current writing process, I have been taking the chance to tweak things as I type them up, but the work is still very rudimentary. Still, it is now at least a complete electronic entity that has been backed up in a few locations. It’s good to know that a freak laptop explosion that causes my writing desk to catch on fire and incidentally burns all my notebooks is no longer the risk it once was.

I mean the likelihood is the same, but the consequences are way less.   I’m downgrading that sucker from “high” to “medium” risk overall.

One of the advantages of typing everything up is getting more accurate stats about the impact of my new writing approach. The total length of the book as it stands is just over 110,000 words. You might recall that I decided to start writing one page a night as a mandatory minimum, and that one page equals around 100 words in my notebooks. This was to try and get some kind of momentum with my writing.

I had been a bit concerned that this would mean that I only ended up writing the 700 words a week minimum, however during the time that I used this technique, I averaged about 2,800 words a week, demonstrating that the “make yourself do something even if it is tiny” technique really works for me.

So, what now? I’m reading through a book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’m generating a Kindle version of the book so I can read it in a different format and really start to wince at the cliches and gaping continuity errors. And the telling, not showing. Soooo much telling!

(BTW is it a cliche yet for writers who are talking about their first drafts to say there are too many cliches? Ah, what the hell. This is the first draft of this post as well)

From now on I think I will alternate weeks, one week writing new work, one week editing the novel. We’ll see how that goes.

So, that’s the end of my writing update. How is your writing going? If you are not writing or are not a writer at all:

  1. Why not?
  2. Feel free to update us on any other hobbies and pastimes that you happen to indulge in.

Come on. Share with the group.

Writing update

It’s been a couple of months since my last writing update and given that this weekend I decided to make an adjustment to how I’m spending my writing time, so I thought it was about time to check in.

As you’ve seen in previous posts, since the start of the year I’ve adopted a “write at least one long hand page each night” strategy, and it’s served me well. I’ve written north of 30,000 words of fiction, about 20,000 words to finish off the first draft of my first novel, then about 10,000 words on something that started off as a short story but now seems to be incorporating a lot of the space opera elements I’ve been thinking about for a while and is growing out of control. Let’s call it a 10% deposit on my second novel manuscript.

This weekend I decided to switch tactics and look at editing my first manuscript. From now on, I’ve dedicated myself to doing some editing each night. I still have a lot of handwritten pages to type up, so for the time being “editing” is defined as writing up at least two days worth of writing, making line edits as I go. Once that is done, a structural edit will be in order. But that’s for future me – one step at a time.

Wish me luck!