On Shadows, AI and inspiration

This weekend, I flopped onto the sofa, waved my hands excitedly at my tipsy housemate, and proceeded to try to explain the Shadow Series in about thirty seconds. I got diverted at least four times by explaining the city, why it needed vigilantes, a sidetrack onto genders, a second sidetrack onto the drug and arms trades…but we sort of got there. Ish. And then I proceeded to work out what I could change.

It was the first time my housemate had really seen me do a flurry of inspiration, and I think he found it alternately amusing, terrifying and inspiring.

My default characters for Shadow tend to be male – mostly because I was a teenager when I wrote it, and inspired by a lot of crime dramas (and THIS is why representation is important, people! It breeds!) What would happen if I genderswapped everyone? Dini could be Harry – oooh, that would lead to an amazingly fun relationship if I left Mike as male, and Harry/James would be SO SWEET. Could everyone else swap? Well, sure, Matt’s pretty much the only person that I’d like to stay the same…

Can I change the politics? I’ve done the default of “gangs mostly bad”. Well, what if they needed the arms trade? What if that was in the right, that they were fighting an oppressor or something? How about the general set-up? Politics and police are the eventual aim, but I need a set-up that shows the reasons why they haven’t got a hold in this part of the city. Can I throw most of the cliché out the window?

How about setting? Again, default was a city kinda like London. How about a dystopia? Or sci-fi? What would I need to keep the ‘feel’, and to avoid the most clichéd elements of those genres? I don’t really want dystopia as the plot of Ghosts is sort of dystopia anyway, but I could do sci-fi…

Housemate: Hey, how about robots? Or AI?

Me: *waving hands excitedly* Oh my that could be AMAZING but would that work and oh wow that would change EVERYTHING-

Housemate: Make sense. For ten seconds. Possibly.

Me: What if Dini was an AI? If you’re an assassin hunting someone, how would you even know they weren’t a human? How would you even kill an AI?

That was the point Jon turned up and, having read Shadows, he got a lot more coherence out of things…although I think we became less coherent, particularly because the conversation went into split-personality AIs and devious assassination possibilities. The housemate certainly went back to his computer in despair at that point.

Anyway, the eventual result of my hand-waving and general squeaking was that I could write pretty much anything. The housemate suggested doing some short stories in the various settings, just to see what I’d enjoy and how it would work. Jon suggested doing the split-personality-AI-hunting-assassin as a short story, which would be pretty cool. I’m debating gender-swapping Dini at least, if only because a gay couple would be adorable and it would lend a really interesting aspect to the story.

I’ve got some plans for it anyway; I want to make Matt the centre, give the city a lot more personality, rewrite various sections. I want to put more danger in and make it grittier (Jon commented that on every revision, it’s got darker anyway). So I’ve got plenty of work to do – but it’s always fun to throw around possibilities, even if I don’t end up using many – or any – of them!

On revisiting an old story: the Shadow series

Dangerous by Sickbynature
Dangerous by Sickbynature

I’ve been debating revisiting the Shadows series for a little while.

There’s two books currently; Shadows in the Light is about an assassin and a vigilante, a city filled with corruption and hope. I wrote it when I was just out of my teens, and it – bitterly, beautifully – reminds me of London every time I dip back into it. Ghosts in the Fog was the second, plotted on a train in China and looking at the assassin’s fight against his past, the new workings of the city, the slow rise through the mire.

And I always knew there was a third book. I’ve got a scribble someplace; “I can’t write this until I’m older.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to write it when I felt barely out of my teens and, bluntly, hadn’t had any experience in losing things to know how dearly a character very close to my heart would fight for the things she really loved.

But I’ve been pondering, for the last few months, about reworking them. I came up with a title for the third book yesterday – Hunter in the Dark – and I know roughly what it would be about. I wanted to properly plot out the first two, and I knew that they needed rewriting; they mix too much of my old and new styles so that I can’t revisit them; I’d have to completely rewrite. Which means, of course, that it would be a big project (and one that’s sitting alongside my GreenSky novels). It would be a different world and a different style of writing. But I loved that world. I invested so much of my heart and soul into the story; picking up the characters again would be like meeting old friends. And I’d be able to make it better. I’d be able to use some of what I’ve learned in the past few years – make my characters bigger, make my plots sturdier, bring my city to life from my memories. It will hurt to rewrite. But for all the love and the joy it would bring…it would be worth the pain.

So that’s an ongoing thought, and that might happen. Watch this space 🙂

Snippet of Shadow: Protection Duty

A snippet of story from between Shadows in the Light and Ghosts in the Fog.

“Messy.” was Police Commander Paul Ridinton’s only comment when Eli had sat down in front of his desk. “Had Rachel debriefed you?”

Eli nodded.

“Got any theories as to motive? You work with the bunch of bastards that constitute the underworld in this city, so you must have some idea.”

“Lots of people hated him.” Eli said flatly. “Just…I didn’t think any of them hated him that much.” Enough to spread body parts of the man called Felix all over a warehouse, and then phone the underworld’s premier information broker to come and find it. She shivered. Whoever had done the killing really hated her, too.

Paul eyed her. “I’m sending you home with some protection overnight, and you’re to come in again tomorrow morning. You are a witness,” he added as she opened her mouth to protest, “and it’s standard practise. The others will all be sent home with someone as well, or sent to hotels. I’m assigning James to you.”

“Why James?”

“He’s no good with a gun.” Paul said dryly, flashing her a smile. “And if I know you, you won’t want someone who insists on getting in the way.”

That made her smile for the first time since she had walked into the warehouse three hours earlier. “All right.”

“Plus,” Paul added, “I trust him with where you live.”

Eli turned, one hand on the door handle. “Thanks, Paul. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

A September update

I figured I’d put a few small updates into one post. I’ve got a few longer posts coming in the next few days about Greensky, but I’ve also got some random updates.

So, I was running a Dresden files game recently for a few friends, and I promised to update how it was. We actually played a different game to the one I’d originally planned, which had less thinking and more killing baddies. Result: it was AWESOME. The boys completely and spectacularly messed up…in the very first fight, our vampire should have died rather dramatically (it took a very kind GM to merely throw him into a wall and knock him out for a few turns), the werewolf’s punch did nothing and he went running down the street, and the wizard messed her spells so badly that she ended up juggling a red-hot chain. They fell down the stairs a few times (and the vampire kept landing on his ass), set fire to almost everything, and then failed to rescue the humans or kill the baddy. There was a lot of entirely silly banter, a few Molotov cocktails, a lot of bad spells from the wizard, some teeth-failure from the werewolf, sex-appeal failure from the vampire (although he did try it on a zombie…) and an overall good time.



Although I was incredibly nervous beforehand, the current GM of our other game (who was the failure-wizard in this one) did a really good job of reassuring me – he mostly pointed out that his nerves go from “oh gods I’m going to mess up” to “oh gods what are my characters going to mess up…” which was pretty much what happens! I think that I did ok: I kept everything as simple and consistent as I could, which seemed to work. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play the other game at some point if the boys want to!

Second, I went to London over the weekend. I used to live there, and for a good few years I missed it with an ache in my chest and a feeling that I could never quite put into words. But now, when I return, I’m feeling more like a visitor. It’s not my city any more; I don’t know the streets, I have to look at the Tube map, I don’t know the shops or the roads. I have memories, not current places. It’s no longer my city and I don’t have that painful ache: I no longer belong to it.

Following on, I was wondering how much that loss will affect Shadows and Ghosts, which were incredibly influenced by London. I think that they have now become self-contained worlds; they are book-cities, inspired by my past memories rather than present, and have become cities in their own right. I’m hoping that I will still be able to write them, and I want to spend another couple of days at Christmas trying to get Shadows finished and working on Ghosts.

NYR: January progress report

01/02/2014 14:42

It’s the 1st February, so time to revisit: how am I doing on my New Year’s Resolutions?


Goal 1: Finish Changing Winds Part 2 and, as a stretch goal, finish Empty Skies.

Finish Changing Winds Part 2: ongoing. I’m on 27,000 words with a complete outline and most chapters written, two sections to expand and one chapter to write, so January progress on this is good.

Finish Empty Skies: also ongoing. It’s 14,000 words and I have done some work on it, so I’m happy.


Goal 2: Finish re-writing Shadows (which is sort of a get-this-done-in-January aim) and re-write Ghosts to fit in with what is now happening in Shadows.

Hah, yeah. No. No work done at all. I can’t get into the right headset for it, so I haven’t pushed myself.


Goal 3: Madcap Library: get some pictures done (ok, maybe that translated as “nag my illustrator”) and self-publish at least the first few.

In progress! Hannah’s currently working on some covers for the first two collections, so this is going well.


Goal 4: Continue on the road to official publication.

I sent some letters to agents at the beginning of January, but nothing else has progressed so far. So, ongoing.


Goal 5. Stretch goals: finish some of my other writing.

Nope. But then I have been working on Greensky, so I’m not too worried.