Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sam Wilson

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The next 35 Genre Stories

Here are the latest 35 genre stories. I made a few corrections for spelling and clarity and (in one case) plot, but I have made sure that none of these corrections make the tweets go over the 140 character limit.

Follow Genre Stories at Twitter/Genrestories

Melodrama: “Forgive me for posing as your long-lost daughter, Brad. I’ll wear this wig no more. Before I die, just once, call me: ‘Father.’”

Metafiction: “Mr President, we’re on the brink of disaster. Our world is built on 140 characters and they’re non-renewable. When they run ou

Cringe: He did a German accent whenever he was nervous. He met his new boss Mister Müller, and panicked. “Top o’ t’ mornin’ to ye!” he said.

Steampunk: “The Analytical Engines must be purged!” said the minister. Too late. The compromising mimeograph was already at clickileaks.

Drama: He was miserable. “Puzzle pieces that were forced together are harder to pull apart,” he said. But she didn’t understand him. Again.

War: “They’re filling their trenches with poets,” said the German general. “We can play that game. Send in the mimes.”

Horror: “Wear this ring,” said the shopkeeper, “and all your dreams will come true.” They did. Even the one with the teeth.

Exposé: It was his first day as a copywriter. “Jesus Saves… With CostCo!” he said. It was his last day as a copywriter.

Comedy: He did the racist bit. The audience gasped. He paused, ready to launch the punchline, when the heart attack hit. He died on stage.

Historical: The man walked into the sultan’s tent, mistaking him for a fortune teller. The sultan screamed out a fortune. It was accurate.

Campus novel: “Strip rubik’s cube?” he suggested. She solved it in 23 seconds. He ran out the dorm in a panic of love.

Tech: The app made ethics easy. Product histories, informed decisions, clear consciences. No one asked why it kept saying “Buy Coke.”

Psi-Fi: Humanity unified telepathically. Finally we were of one mind. A mind filled with sex and arguments and kittens with poor spelling.

Black Comedy: “They’ll remember me now,” he thought, finger on the trigger. “I’ll be the Kurt Cobain of actuaries.” He was wrong.

Objectivist: His industrialist father had told him that the wealthy owed nothing to anybody. So, as his trust-fund grew, Atlas chugged.

War: He wasn’t that bright. He failed his driver’s test twelve times. But driving a tank means never having to check your blind spots.

Unnerving Children’s Haiku: Waldo is easy / But can you spot the ninja? / He Is Behind You.

Arjun Basu: Two men waited on the bench. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we’re waiting for the same girl?” said one. But they were, and it wasn’t.

Allegory: He slept all day. His conversation left people drained. He avoided mirrors; they made him look unremarkable. And garlic was passé.

War: Christmas in the trenches. The two sides played football in no man’s land. Afterwards the English fans got out of hand, as usual.

Horror: Lovecraft stared at the page. During the fever he’d channeled a phantasmagorical tale of sentient beasts, and signed it “B. POTTER.”

Teen Romance: She watched him from across the cafeteria. He was so much taller, more confident, and better described than she was.

Chain Letter: RT This! A Joburg man RTed it and got 876 new followers! A man in Pofadder ignored it, but nothing worse could happen to him.

Self-referential: This tweey has exactly one hundred and thirty nine characters, two commas, one full stop and an obvious spelling mistake.

Historical: While trying to get a loan, Spartacus discovers he’s the victim of quite unbelievable identity theft.

Superhero: “Behold! This suit will let me move through solid walls!” He put it on, fell to the center of the Earth, and burned to a crisp.

Crime: He argued with the mechanic. Drove off without paying. Just as he hit 120, he noticed the tyre bolts on the passenger seat.

Child: Jimmy wanted to see the fire engines but mummy wouldn’t take him. Mohammad won’t come to the mountain, he thought, lighting a match.

TwilightZone: As he read his acceptance speech to the Nobel Academy on his discovery that dying brains hallucinate, a distant beeping ended.

SciFi: He solved the world’s energy crisis by developing cheap fusion. His statue bore his historic words “Fok Eskom. ‘N boer maak ‘n plan.”

Game: In the Sims 4, your character can, through meditation, transcend and become aware of its true nature: A bored person playing Sims 4.

Horror Metafiction: Vampire romances suck the life out of all new young adult novels. They turn every new book into a vampire romance.

Cooking: Unfold bag. Microwave on high for 3 mins. Open away from face or steam will scald eyes, making Transformers II even less enjoyable.

Post-CS Lewis: After years of adventure, he was pulled up out of his underwater kingdom. He coughed water. The bully said “Flush him again!”

Horror Movie Trailer: 140 IS THE NEW 666. This summer, Follow the warnings. Follow your instinct. Just don’t follow… DeathTweet.

Would you like more? The first 100 genre stories can be found here.

Commedia – Book Excerpt

My first novel, Commedia, is set in Roman Britain in the year 410 and follows the adventures of a group of slacker actors on a road-trip around the collapsing country.

Although I’m still in the process of final revisions, I thought I’d post the first chapter to give a taste of what the novel’s like.

LONDINIUM AUGUSTA, 410 AD

It was a burial, and Curio had the giggles. He tried to stop himself laughing by stamping down on the toes of his foot, but it didn’t help. Everything he saw made him feel like he was going to burst. The mud splattered on the nobility’s funeral robes, for instance, or the way they were glaring at the young priest, who couldn’t pronounce the ceremony’s high-Latin words. The way the women’s jewellery was jangling in the wind. But the fact that Musca was dead was enough. The more that Curio told himself how awful it would be to laugh at something so tragic, the worse it got.

They were in a field to the east of the town, on a gentle slope littered with grave markers. This was where the lowest of the low were buried. There were better graveyards to the north of Londinium, filled with cultivated flowerbeds and marble mausoleums. Not here. The graves were shallow, and the gentle rain that had been falling all day had washed away the upper layers of mud, bringing some disturbing things to the surface. A couple of goats stood nearby, watching the proceedings through hourglass pupils. One of them was chewing on something that had recently come up from the ground. Curio decided not to look too closely. Other than the goats and the burial party, the field was empty. No trees, no shrubs, no buildings. No mausoleum for Musca. The nobility were gathered there to make sure that he was buried in disgrace.

Musca’s body was wrapped up in the shroud at the foot of the grave. The sheer size of it was testament to a life lived for pleasure. In forty years of life he had eaten spectacular volumes of pork, lamb, venison, beef, chicken, turkey, quail, and, when the imperial menagerie had closed, giraffe. Musca was an old-school Roman. While the rest of Britain was prostrate before their local emperor, Constantine III, Musca was prostrate on a couch. While the rest of Britain was paying Christianity lip-service, Musca was filling his lips with grapes. In the war between virtue and vice, Musca had been a significant outpost of vice.

Still, he had been rich, which got him a proper Christian burial, including a priest with thinning hair and poor eyesight who was stumbling over the words and sweating at all the attention.

He came to the end of his scroll and looked over at the slave captain, who signalled to his men. The four slaves lifted Musca’s stretcher and carry it over the grave. As they lowered it into the hole the wet ropes slipped in their hands, and two of them lost control.

“Shit!” said the slave captain.

The stretcher flipped, and Musca’s body dropped into the muddy water at the bottom of the grave.

The splash sounded exactly like a privy. The priest flinched and lost control of his scroll. Half of it unrolled down into the hole, coming to a stop next to the body. The priest hurriedly rolled in the scroll, reciting a psalm to cover his mistake. It came back up covered in mud which smeared on the sleeve of the priest’s oversized robe. The nobles shifted from foot to foot. Curio screwed up his eyes and pinched his nose closed and prayed that the people around him thought he was crying. No such luck.

“Pull yourself together, you tit,” said a voice in his ear.

“Can’t!” squeaked Curio.

The man behind him took a swig of wine. He was ragged and crow-like, with greasy hair and a sneer. He was also Curio’s oldest friend, although neither of them were sure why. His name was Pavo.

“Typical Brit. Can’t respect a Roman at his own burial.”

One of the slaves behind them tried to shush them. Pavo ignored him.

“Look at this place,” Pavo said, almost hitting Curio in the face as he waved his arm. “A Roman shouldn’t be buried here.”

“Shouldn’t have conquered it, then,” said Curio.

Several more slaves started shushing.

“No respect,” said Pavo. “No respect.”

- – -

After the ceremony the nobility dispersed, shaking unspeakable things off their boots, and calling for their litter-bearers. Curio and Pavo watched them go.

“It’s over already?” said Pavo accusingly.

Curio wiped his eyes. “What a service,” he said. “Did you hear that prayer? Musca’s going to Heaven, apparently. Unbelievable.”

Pavo held his jug of wine upside down and shook it. He threw it aside.

“Come on,” he said.

“Can we stay for a bit?” said Curio, looking at the grave.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. To get a good look our lives.”

“Why would you want to do that?” said Pavo. “My life, all right, yes, that’s a tale worth telling. But you’re from Isca Dumnoniorum, for God’s sake. Get a grip.”

“What’s wrong with Isca Dumnoniorum?”

“Nothing. It’s a fine place to come from if you fuck your own sister.”

Pavo slouched off towards the gate, leaving Curio watching a swinging greasy ponytail.

Curio looked back at the grave. The man who gave him money and kept him out of prison was dead. Why didn’t the moment feel more significant? Maybe really big disasters were too big to understand. You could just get on with your life and not bother noticing.

“Here lies Curio,” called Pavo. “Not dead, just too lazy to leave the graveyard.”

“Coming, you lanky Roman twat,” muttered Curio.

Book Trailers

I’ve gradually slid into a sideline making book trailers for upcoming novels.

It started with the motion graphics trailer for Lauren Beukes‘s “Zoo City”, and then the creepy mood piece for S.L. Grey‘s “The Mall”. And now I’ve completed a trailer for Mike Nicol‘s latest crime novel “Black Heart”, the final part of his Revenge Trilogy.

Making a book trailer is an interesting proposition. You have to capture the mood of a novel concisely, without using the original text, and because you’re playing in the same visual area as movie trailers then there are a lot of tropes that can be used, but raised expectations too. On a tiny fraction of a movie budget, shots have to be chosen very carefully.

If done well, though, a trailer can introduce readers to a book quickly, deeply and memorably.

Thanks to Sarah Lotz, who co-directed the trailers for “Black Heart” and the “Mall”.

Black Heart:
YouTube Preview Image

The Mall:
YouTube Preview Image

Zoo City:
YouTube Preview Image

UPDATE: As Lauren pointed out, I didn’t put my email address out here where the spambots can see it. If you’d like to get in contact with me, I’m wombatsamwilson on gmail, or wombatsam on Twitter. Thanks!

Draft One

I finished the first draft of my first novel yesterday. I’m filled with a lot of different thoughts that are hard to structure into a single intelligible blog post. The best I can do right now is throw them down as a quick rambling list.

1) Every single person I spoke to about my novel before I started told me that I should hurtle through the first draft and not worry too much about it, and only polish it up when it was done. Now, finally, I understand why. When I was feverishly polishing my first three chapters rather than pushing forward, I knew that I was probably wasting time, and I might have to re-write them again anyway. What I didn’t realise was that, because I edited them so much at the beginning, they would be a lot harder to re-write at the end. They’re currently a densely-packed mesh of discarded plot-points, unnecessary characters and pointless exposition, all tied very neatly to the actual story. So I’ll need to spend the next month untangling them all again.

2) Setting a novel in a historical time period limits the number of metaphors and similes you can use. It wouldn’t seem right to say that someone shot out of the forum “like a rocket” because it’s anachronistic. But what’s the limit here? The Romans didn’t have minutes or seconds. Am I still allowed to say that a character “paused for a second”? The general rule I’ve used is to avoid any modern wording that calls too much attention to itself. For example, the characters speak contemporary English, but I have avoided Americanisms like “Okay” and “Cool”.

3) I wrote the book as a comedy road-novel and a heist, with parallels to contemporary South Africa and meditations on misplaced faith and the nature of comedy and theatre. I’m going to have to either cut some of these threads or reinforce them so they don’t seem so arbitrary. Next time, I’m going to take one idea and stick with it.

4) I’m glad I gave up trying to write with a funny narrative voice. Some things are better deadpan.

5) Writing a novel is a Big Thing. I can’t let myself review another novel for a while: Even if it was awful I’d still shower it with praise for existing at all.

6) I’m very grateful to the people who have bravely agreed to give me feedback. Thanks very much to Mike Nicol, Sarah Lotz and Lauren Beukes.

Commedia Word Cloud

I’ve just seen Mandy Watson’s brilliant project, creating word clouds of classical speculative fiction texts using Wordle. I liked it so much that I thought I’d give it a try on my own book.

I’m writing a novel called Commedia, about a small group of comedy actors in post-colonial Roman Britain. I’m still a few days away from finishing the first draft, but I have enough words to make a decent word cloud.

Click to see the full-sized version

Curio, Pavo, Trio and Alba are the names of the main characters, so no major surprises there. I didn’t expect the word cloud to look like a tree, but I quite like it this way.

Sanlam Prize Winners

On Tuesday, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Adeline Radloff and Alex Smith at the Book Lounge about their Sanlam Prize-Winning young adult novels, Sidekick and Agency Blue. Adeline and Alex were charming and delightful and the books are fantastic – pick them up if you get a chance. There’s a write-up of the evening here.

Fun In Space 2

Do not buy a used starship from this species.

Untrustworthy.

The Nanta are one of the oldest space-faring cultures in the galaxy. They are also one of the least trustworthy species in existence. Their entire hierarchy is based on deception. At least 137 different individuals claim to be the emperor, and a further 28 swear that they’re not the emperor even though lots of other Nanta swear that they are. Almost a quarter of the population claims that there is no emperor anyway, and a few even claim that there’s no such thing as a Nanta.

The Nanta believe that the ability to lie well is the most important skill in the universe. Their religion is based on the idea that by being constantly exposed to lies you can learn to distrust the illusion of reality and thus attain true enlightenment, although this idea itself is almost certainly a lie.

If a Nanta is telling the truth, the most likely explanation is that another Nanta told them a lie which they’re now trying to lie about, thus reversing the original lie.

If a Nanta tells you it’s sunny outside, build an ark.

Illustration by the amazing Stephen Kulp.

Fun In Space

An old friend, Mike Renwick, is developing a space game called Dark Quadrant for the iPhone and iPad, and he asked me to create the different species the player will encounter.

A stylish screenshot from the game

The project so far has been a real pleasure. The graphics are looking fantastic, and inventing the new cultures has been a Douglas Adams-y treat for me. To give you a quick taste, here’s one of the species descriptions:

Humans

Humans are one of the most deadly species in the universe, largely because they barely live there. No other species spends as much time in imaginary worlds of its own creation, and no other species is better at self-delusion.

Quite apart from the many, many hours they spend indulging themselves in the fictitious universes of books, television, movies and games played on hand-held communications devices, humans also generate ongoing fictions about themselves as individuals and as a species.

Their deadliest and most common belief is that they are peaceful and wish to exist in harmony with other species. They believe this so fervently that it always comes as a surprise to them when they discover that they’ve just destroyed another alien culture and strip-mined the core out of its planet.

Humans believe in a remarkable number of other obviously false things, and one of the strangest things about humans is that the more that you tell them they’re wrong, the more stubbornly they stick to their beliefs. They will then create all sorts of other beliefs in order to justify their existing beliefs (for example, that anyone challenging them is insane, stupid, or in extreme cases, part of a galaxy-wide evidence-tampering conspiracy). Unfortunately, the more complicated these beliefs get the more firmly they will be held, as humans believe that something really complex can’t possibly be wrong.

Rather than explaining things to a human it is often quicker and safer to shoot them. If this fails, simply hold back and wait for the human to develop the fantasy that another faction of humans is their eternal enemy, and watch them destroy each other. This never takes as long as you’d think.

Never assume that you are living in the same universe as a human, never tell a human that they are wrong, and never let them close to your planet with a strip-miner.

YOZA LAUNCHED

YozaYOZA is a selection of new, free stories for teens, specially written to be read on your cellphone.

It’s an ever-growing library that’s free and easy to access. Created by Steve Vosloo, fellow of the Shuttleworth Foundation, YOZA’s whole purpose is to hook teens into reading by making a community around free, well-written, ongoing stories. Writers like Fiona Snykers, Charles Human, Edyth Bulbring, Duncan Guy and Lauren Beukes have all contributed in a range of genres.

It’s a massive expansion on the KONTAX project. There’s a “classics” section to make texts like the Shakespeare plays on the school curriculum readily available, and a daily prize for best comment, to get the readers engaged with the stories and allow them to practice their writing skills.

Because it’s free, entertaining, widely available and easily accessible, YOZA is a bright new hope for literacy in South Africa.

YOZA can be accessed on your phone’s web browser by going to www.yoza.mobi, or through MXit, at Tradepost > MXit Cares > mobiBooks. It’s also available on Facebook.

Spread the word!

Kontax in the Daily Maverick

The Daily Maverick posted a good long article about the Mobile for Literacy project, which I wrote the flagship stories for. The article doesn’t mention me, but feel free to read the article and imagine the SAM POWER beneath.

Mobile Books The South African Way