Monday, October 08, 2012

Migrating to Squarespace

​I have been a writer for more than ten years, and have been blogging on livejournal, blogger and facebook for a similar amount of time, although my posting regularity and medium has changed over the years. I was also a daily blogger on the excellent Futurismic for a year, posting about science, technology and geeky stuff. 
​Over the last two years, I have had a lot more fiction publications, and am working on three novels, including one for a confidential project I'm very excited about. As my fiction career begins to get serious, I've realised that I really need an official site to represent it, and so I've migrated these seldom-read blogs across to my new website at​
I'm using Squarespace 6 to design and host my website, and have found the backend incredibly efficient and easy to use, although there are still some features I used to use in Wordpress that I understand are not yet operational (migrating posts, customised layouts, etc). I've dabbled in programming during my masters project (particle physics simulations using C++) and my PhD (atomic structure simulations using CASTEP/Fortran), but I've never been truly fluent at it. Squarespace allows me to make a good website without having to resort to that level of technical input (unless I want to). Here's to the new website!​
Listening to:​ Thievery Corporation - The Richest Man in Babylon
Reading: Junot Diaz - Drown
Watching: Homeland series 2

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Transtories now available as an ebook

Last year I had the pleasure of selling a story to Aeon Press' anthology Transtories, edited by Bristol SF author Colin Harvey. Sadly, Colin passed away before the book could come to press, but I think it's a wonderful collection that pays testament to his skill as an editor.

As well as my story 'Harmonic', it contains excellent stories by Rob Rowntree, Joanne Hall, Aliette de Bodard and Lawrence M. Schoen. The theme of the book was anything to do with words that begin with 'trans' - a syllable that means change, transformation, and other intriguing things.

My story 'Harmonic' tells of Ward, a young psychic boy growing up in a world where alternative realities slide past each other and crash into each other like tectonic plates, merging and mutating the people and places that live beneath them. When a particular violent changestorm threatens to rip him apart, Ward must do everything in his power to protect himself and the girl he loves.

You can buy 'Transtories' as an ebook from the Aeon Press website, or

Listening to: Lia Ices - Grown Unknown
Reading: Gareth Powell - The Recollection
Watching: Game of Thrones Season 2

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What I've been working on

It has been a long time since I updated my writing-focused blog. Since I did, I have sold four short stories to various magazines, achieved two semifinalist and four honourable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest, and obtained a doctorate in semiconductor physics! Perhaps the latter explains my lack of concerted new writing on this blog and elsewhere.

Despite mostly writing a 80,000 word novel-sized thesis last year, I sold stories to Nature Futures, Digital Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show and the anthology Transtories, although I was saddened to hear of editor Colin Harvey's untimely death prior to the release of the anthology, he was a great writer and a really nice guy.

In addition to my other writing work, my main focus for the last few months has been an exciting new project that I can't reveal anything else about! This secret project is a collaboration with a number of very talented people and I'm excited to show the world what we've been working on.

So this is mainly a post to say in true Granny Weatherwax style that I aten't dead yet. Plenty more writing to come from me, both here on the blog and hopefully in fictional form.

Listening to: F**cked Up - David Comes to Life
Reading: DMZ #11: Free States Rising
Watching: Homeland

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The future

(posting here because livejournal's not letting me update miawithoutoil. Hope to have it up there too soon.

July, 2019

Mia wiped her brow in the early summer heat, leaving a streak of brown earth across her face from the land beneath her feet. She dusted off her skirt and put the last of the vegetables into the wicker basket and headed out of the allotments. It was midsummer and many of the little vegetable gardens were alive with produce.

She rushed up to the stop just in time to squeeze onto the tram as it reached the top of Whiteladies Road. As always, the electric trolleybus was full of students, shoppers and those like Mia who had an allotment on the Downs. She flashed her ration card across the conductor's reader and grabbed a handrail as the tram lurched onwards.

The market was busy, as ever, full of ramshackle stalls and semi-permanent shops where the cars once drove. Security walked prominently amongst the crowds of shoppers, subtle but conspicuously watching. Little boys chased in amongst the stalls, enjoying their fun whilst their holidays were on.

Mia lived in Clifton, in a house that had once been one tall Georgian home but after heavy retrofits was now occupied by four couples. she entered the kitchen/living space and put the basket of fruit and veg on the counter. She reminded herself to make sure she had enough electricity rations to use more than two rings on the hob.

She splashed some water onto her face and called into the flat's only other room.

"Alex?" she said. "You done with the computer?"

"Sure," came the reply. "You logging onto work?"

She went into the bedroom and put her arms around her husband's shoulders as he logged off his workstation and got up to let her use the computer. She gave him a long kiss welcome.

"Thanks," she said. "How'd work go?"

"Alright," he said, scratching his neck. "We're getting close to having enough people signed on to make the panels now."

"Excellent," she said, giving him another kiss. "I'll let you know when I'm done."

"That's ok love," he said. "I've got to go check out the shipment of raw materials makes it here safe. I'll see you later."

"'K." She watched him leave, his powerful body distracting her.

Alex had been American most of his life, although he now tried to hide it. His English parents had sent him to university in Bristol with the last of their savings after the third oil crash. After the fourth, they came to the UK to join him permanently.

Mia had met him at university. He studied engineering, she did biochemistry. They were both part of the students wing of the local energy conservation project. They got to talking and then to other things. When he finished university, Alex went to work for Greg's local solar company. After Greg died in the Bird Flu epidemic of 2016, Alex took over the company, trying to encourage local craftsmen to build the panels in small batches, using the bare minimum of imported materials.

She logged on to the power-saving computer - a small lcd screen and a low powered processor to use as little energy as possible. She checked her emails. A few related to her work on the ecosystem of the new Severn barrage - she was trying to cultivate a family of fish that would be farmable and help solve the silting of the reservoir. There was also one from Uncle Andy.

"What trouble are you in now?" she wondered. Andy had gotten more and more into the open source drug scene, an underground movement to reverse engineer medications and release them as creative commons licensed recipes for anyone to use. Needless to say the drug companies heavily clamped down on it, and now Andy was having to dance around their checks, again.

'sorry kiddo,' the letter read 'looks like we're under the cosh here again for a few months - nothing more than potatoes and sheep on the farm, I promise! It means your little delivery isn't going to make it, I'm afraid. Lots of Love, Andy.'

That made her sit up and take notice. Her 'little delivery' was her contraceptive pill - far cheaper by open source than what it costed from the government, even if they did try to push it on everyone to reduce the population targets. The government pill didn't suit her - gave her cramps. This was going to be a pain. She put the thought to one side and read over the days reports from the students working at the reservoir. The barrage was soon to open and they'd been trying out a number of breeds of fish in small enclosures to see which survived the best.

Rapidly absorbed in her work, she was only stirred by the blinking light that told her the power credit for the computer was running out. She saved her work and let the screen power down silently. No point in wasting any more rations - she could do the rest by hand.

Alex returned. She put a finger to her lips and led him out to the window of the living room. He frowned.


"Alex," she said, "what do you feel about a child?"

His look was stunned. She explained the situation with the birth control.

"But you've never wanted to bring a child into the world before," he said. "You've always said this world is too dangerous to bring a new life into."

Mia looked out of the window with Alex's arm around her, thinking about the events since the first oil spike. She thought about the Iran war and the bombing of Jerusalem. About Alex's stories of the corn famine in Alberta, when the biofuel crisis kickstarted the third oil crash and the breakup of the USA. She thought about the clashes between Cascadia and the remaining states, about the billions starving across the world. She thought about her mother and Greg and nursing them during the flu crisis, and their deaths. About the flooding of Bangladesh and the electricity riots of 2013.

Then she looked around at the small but comfortable house and the husband she shared it with. She looked at the streets, empty of traffic, where kids played in the road and every house had something growing. She thought of the barrage and the power it was going to supply, as well as the food from the fish. She thought about Alex's work with fitting locally made solar panels on local roofs, and the vast number of local businesses thriving in their own little ways.

A dark shape appeared in the sky, sending a shadow down onto the streets. They watched as the supply airship drifted languidly into view, fresh from dropping off important components and materials such as those Alex needed. Its vast helium balooon meandered lazily across the sky, heading back to its home port slowly but using very little fuel. The underslung cabin caught the dimming sunlight, glowing deep red as it passed over the city and out towards the Atlantic. Mia turned away from the window.

"You know," she said. "I think we're ready."

"Really?" Alex didn't look convinced.

"Yeah," she said. "We've lived in a world without oil for 12 years, with all this doom and destruction but we've survived. Our life isn't rich compared to what my parents had, or yours. But it's rich enough. This world's not perfect, but it's ours. I think we're ready to bring a new life into it."

"Ok," Alex said. He hugged her and turned towards the kitchen table. "I traded some of our potatoes for some quinoa the airship brought in. You want that tonight?"

"Sure," Mia said, "that sounds good."

She moved away from the window, and the moment was gone.

[author's note: week 32 (or 632, if you like)

I've been planning this for a while - a look into the future without oil (does that count as the letter 'f'?). I want to end it with a cautiously hopeful note. There is a world out there without oil where people can live their lives. It won't be as material rich as ours and it may take a lot of struggle to get there. But ultimately, we will get there, because we must.

I just want to say how much I've enjoyed the experience of wwo and a big round of applause for all the guys running the site and everyone contributing. Together we created a world. That's a hell of an achievement - and I hope that it leaves our real world a little more informed and aware than it was before. I hope so.]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Some publications I'm in

My story 'A Shogun's Welcome' will be published in the print and online magazine Aberrant Dreams ( in 2006!
It's a science fiction short story about a world where guns are made pointless by personal body shields, which pushes the cut-off world into a feudal japan style samurai culture.

My 4 page comic 'Last Line Of Defence' will be published in 'Dead By Dawn #2' in early 2006!

This is a fun one, my first comic to be published, drawn by a very talented local artist. It's a short little horror involving dead soldiers who have been stuck on an island in the pacific since WWII.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

My evolving view of plot

There seems to be a certain serendipity in the way I research writing - all the books, courses and webpages I go to all seem to link to a particular subject at certain times, as if the universe is trying to teach me something in particular each time.

The evolution of my writing started out with correcting my grammar, all those years ago, then moved onto eliminating my excess purple prose, and learning how to actually write words on pages on a regular basis.

More recently, everything that's turned up has related to plot - but over the last few weeks the things I've come into contact have started to give a different angle on that.

My first look at Plot came with the infamous Robert McKee's Story, and Syd Field's Screenplay. Both feature very strong emphasis on three act structure and the two plot points that bookend act two. I felt they had something important here, but it also felt simplistic, formulaic if done wrong. Certainly, the buzz I've heard (admittedly a quiet buzz, from over here in the UK) is that executives are seeing a lot of structurally sound but ultimately dull screenplays.

Yesterday I went on a Masterclass for the local Film Festival with Billy MacKinnion, who wrote, among other things, The Piano, Hideous Kinky and Small Faces.

He was very critical of the Three-act-structure meme sweeping across Hollywood, saying (rightly, i think) that if you go through planning a film and think only of the signposts to mark along the way, without looking at what you're central idea of the film is, you'll get a structured mess.

I also read Christopher Vogler's Writer's Journey, which expands the three-act structure to fill in the gaps, and i think it does it well. But the problem, I think, is that most writers and producers (who put the pressure on the writers) take all this too literally - it's perfectly fine to fiddle aroudn with these concepts, change the order of things or move things so that it fits the theme of the story.

The trouble is, American movies concetrate too much on form, ending up with structurally sound, boring, riskless films. European films are too much mood-pieces, and are often quite slipshod in their story arc, resulting in a powerful but confused feeling.

It's easy, I think to see the middle ground, where you use traditional film structure, but try to be loose and adaptable with it, letting the structure evolve with the films message, instead of constricting it. The structure is there to amplify the message or central idea(s), not to kill them. Too many writers look at it far too mechanically, or too experimentally, eschewing all form to create an incomprehensible film.

I'm gonna take the organic approach. A tree is structured, you can tell it's a tree, but branches from one tree come off at different angles and height to others, leaves are fewer or different colour. The basic 'tree' form is still present, but it adapts and changes to suit the growing conditions. That's how I intend the strucutre of my work to adapt around the story I'm writing. I offer it up to you too.

Friday, November 18, 2005

On writing advice books, and critique groups.

Yesterday, as me and Josh prepare our starting screenplays for a number of short films we plan to film in the next few months, we went to the local library and got out a number of books on screenwriting and directing short films. We also went to the local screenwriter's group, then watched the excellent French remake of 'Fingers', 'The Beat My Heart Skipped' (Although superbly acted and directed, I felt there wasn't enough consistent change in the plot and character arcs to fully justify this as a 'great' movie, but it had a nice, disconnected, 'Taxi Driver' feel to it.)

I know a lot of successful writers both in print and on screen hate the idea of books giving advice on how to write, that it restricts the creative process and turns everything into formula, boring and static. Personally, I think books on writing are as useful to you as writing itself, but with one condition - you have to open the book with an open mind.

There's a similar argument behind critique groups - a lot of people don't like people reading their work and tearing it apart. We're very close to our material - it's like a child to us, completely our own making. So when someone tells us we're doing it wrong, like parents we can often react badly. After all, no one likes being told what to do.

For me, the gain from critique groups and advice books far outweighs the (not inconsiderable) blow to my ego. When I started out writing I devoured everything I could find on writing Science Fiction, looking primarily on the internet because as a sixteen year old fifteen pound textbooks weren't exactly easy to buy. I read a lot of advice, attended two Alpha workshops for Young Writer's Of Speculative Fiction, and then wrote a fairly large amount in reponse to what I'd read.

After a few years of not writing much, I started to get back into reading around the subject - this time mostly screenwriting and story structure. To my surprise, reading these books kick-started my own writing again - not only was I learning, but I was being inspired to write.

It's continued on like that. I'll read a load of advice and be inspired to write. Then after a few months my writing will run out of steam. After a while I'll sit down to read some writing books and suddenly my word coutn will start picking up again.

I think the important thing to remember is that you're never finished learning. I don't intend to ever assume i'm the master. I'll always be open to suggestions of improvements, or how else will I stop becoming stale?

The key to brilliance is a willingness to change.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Novels, and how not to kill them

I started work on my second novel last month. My first novel, a sprawling space opera with a massive galactic war underpinned by a theological theme, reached about 50,000 words over the course of four long years before it shuddered to a halt, running out of steam because I didn't know where to go with it.

Partially the reason it was such slow, painful process is because whilst I was adding to that novel I wrote some thirty odd short stories and novellettes, started reviewing for a website, finished school and started university.

Mainly, it was because I didn't know where I was going. I'm never the fastest writer out of the block wordcount wise so even writing every day I'd not add much. The thing is, because my outlining wasn't very good, i had no idea where to go next so when I got stuck I had no guide to fall back on, so I'd go and write something else and the novel would sit untouched for weeks or months at a time.

In the last two years I've mostly ignored that first novel and concentrating on learning the theory of story and story structure, taking most of my inspiration from screenwriting books.

I spent a lot of time looking at three act structure, plot points and story arcs, and where to place the turning points of your story to fully make the most of classic storytelling form. I'd practice this using short fiction.

The basic caveat of screenwriting 101, as taught by Syd Field, William Goldman or Robert Mckee is three act structure. It involves four or five main major parts.

First, you have the Opening. In a screenplay of 120 pages, this is the first 10 pages. In a 100,000 word novel, you're talking about the first 10,000. This is where the scene is set, the characters introduced and the main story idea starts to take form. It doesn't actually have to reveal much about the main plotline, just intrigue the reader or viewer enough to keep watching or reading.

An example: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The first few thousand words of this book are about Shadow's release from prison and his discovery of his wife's death. While there are segments of wierd god related events to pique the reader's interest, the main focus is on Shadow and letting the reader get to know the main character. Shadow meets Wednesday, the mysterious old god figure, but only as a man. the main parts of the story are introduced but nothing major happens, yet.

The opening starts the First act, which is roughly the first quarter of the book. At the end of the first act, there's the First Act Turning Point. here is where things suddenly take a severe change for the worse, life gets a lot more complicated and the main character(s) are thrown into the main plotline of the film. Essentially this means that the first 25000 words are setup. the world is introduced, the problem is introduced but its not until this point that things really get so desperate that the protaganist has to start ACTING instead of reacting to what's happening.

A good example is Lord Of The Rings, when Frodo reaches Rivendell and decides to take the ring to Mordor himself. Until this point, Frodo is merely doing what Gandalf tells him, and running from the Ringwraiths because they are chasing, rather than because he knows what's going on. When he gets to Rivendell and is told the full meaning of the Ring and how important it is to the world, he makes a conscious decision to ACT and destroy this evil himself. That's when the plot proper (the quest to destroy the ring) begins. Appropriately, it's also where the fellowship is formed.

The first turning point starts the second act. Now the setting, characters and plot have been setup, the second act is the meat of the book or film, where there's lots of action as the protaganist tries to fulfill the goal he has set himself. In the film Cool Runnings this is where the four jamaican bobsleighers have agreed to go to the olympics with John candy (first act) and now arrive and have to train, get their equipment and start preparing for the event.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this is where Harry is entered into the tournament (first act leads up to the drawing out the hat) and he now has to de his utmost to win the tournament and find out why someone cheated to get him entered.

Another major step but not an essential one is the Second Act Midpoint, halfway through the story. Basically, this is a twist that sends the second act off in another direction. it's useful to know if you're getting stuck but you can get by making this one up as you go.

The next, and perhaps the most important part of a good structured story is the Second Act Turning Point, about three quarters of the way into the novel/film. This is the point where the main character finds out a key bit of information or a key event occurs that allows him/her to complete their goal. It ends the second act of the character TRYING to do it and moves into the Third Act where the character COMPLETES the goal, either with success or final failure.

Examples: James Bond finding the location of the enemy's secret base so he can now go and destroy it. Han, Luke and Leia escaping the death star with the secret plans, knowing now how to destroy it. Frodo and Sam being shown the way into Mordor by Gollum. In mystery/detective stories, the detective will find a key piece of evidence that unlocks the crime and reveals the person who did it. In a romance, the main character realises something about the love interest that changes their minds into wanting a relationship.

The last part is simply the end, or Resolution. This i where the loose ends are tied up, the final battle occurs, the crime is solved, the princess saved, Tom Hanks finds Meg Ryan on the top of the Empire State Building, The Death Star and the Ring are destroyed, etc.

It doesn't have to be a victory, but the final third act needs to complete the goal in one way or another, using the key bit of information or event from the second act turning point to do it.

Learning these basic milestones for my stories helped me understand where I was going a lot better. Now I don't start writing until I know what my First Act Turning Point and Second Act Turning Point are, as these are the 'tentpoles' on which the story hangs. If I know the major events to aim for a quarter and three quarters into the story, I have something to aim for and filling in the gaps either side of them becomes much easier.

Once you have this basic skeleton worked out, the novel ahead of you isn't a blank canvas waiting to be filled. it isn't so scary. It's a sketch needing fleshing out.

Outlining isn't everyone's cup of tea, mostly because I think they envisage long days spent researching, or textbook sized character essays and other thigns that don't help move things on. But personally I feel a lot more comfortable once I know these basic points of the story arc.

my new novel has almost half the 50,000 words I wrote in four years in barely six weeks, because I know where I have to go. Hopefully this technique will help you get there too.

Darrkenium and what it means

I have a livejournal. It's where I post personal things and random crap that goes on in life. But whenever I post something about my craft - writing - it seems out of place in the journal about my life.

So - this place. Darrkenium, a suitably irrreverant and ridiculous title, but it's as good as any. Ask me sometime what it means and maybe I'll tell you.

I'm Tomas L. Martin, I write book reviews for and also a lot of fiction of various smells and flavours. Screenplays, novels, short stories, novellettes...

A common theme in my stories is wierdness. Fantasy, horror, science fiction, slipstream. Anything where it isn't quite like real life. You get to look at real world issues but from that slightly diffferent angle.

A lot of what I imagine will end up here is writing talk - and for me that's more plot talk than individual words and styles. I like the ideas of structure forms and outlines, in theory at least. I should think every now and then I'll be motivated to write some big spiel about one side of writing or another. Feel free to comment if you read and/or enjoy it.