And don’t forget to use the coupon code Balance2020 at checkout. Note the capital B in Balance there, people.
When I started writing, I read a heap of writing advice. I continue to read it, listen to it on podcasts and request it from more experienced folk than myself when I get the chance. At the beginning, I was struck by just how often the number one maxim was: “be resilient, grow a thick skin,” or words to that effect.
Of course, they were right all along.
2019 and 2020 have been the kinds of years that you might have seen in dystopian movies, had movie studios been bold enough – (maybe out of their minds enough?) – to believe the perpetual shit that much of the world has thrown at us all over the past 18 months or so could ever possibly have happened.
Way, way down in that list, in terms of global importance at least, has been the first dip of my writing career.
I made my start as a ‘serious’ writer in late 2016 and started submitting stories in 2017. Partly through luck (isn’t everything?), partly through finding ideas and submission calls aligning and partly through half-decent beginner-level writing, I managed to score some really great sales over that first year and into 2018, including a slot in the Lost Films anthology from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing which was a dream come true, and two stories which featured in Things in the Well’s Below the Stairs: Tales from the Cellar and Beyond the Infinite: Tales From the Outer Reaches that I still love today.
Moving into late 2018 and 2019, I sold my debut novella, The Balance, a novelette that I am still immensely proud of (Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See) and also placed a story in Corpus Press’ beautifully realised In Darkness Delight: Creatures of the Night. I felt energised, and raring to push on.
I started to push the boundaries of my fiction, trying out different modes, character voices, etc, and feedback from beta readers was that this was my best work yet.
I naturally began to sub this work to new markets and stories were added to shortlists, reaching the last round of eliminations for two magazines that I would have sold at least a fair slice of my soul to be a part of and two anthologies that went on to or likely will go on to be named in best ofs and award ballots for the year of their release.
Ultimately, though, my stories fell at the last hurdle.
For all writers, and creatives more generally, I think self-doubt is only ever one knock away from smacking you hard in the face. And I’ve spent long, hard months over the past half a year considering whether maybe I just don’t have the stuff for this field, or whether my stories are not what people want or need right now.
In some ways, I think reaching being shortlisted and ultimately failing anyway makes the punch even fiercer than it might have been, were the response a simple form rejection. I wrote a while back about how failure can be full of insight and lessons and can help us grow, but sometimes it can just knock the stuffing out of you and leave you asking what the point of it all is.
Nearly is nothing, after all.
I have no stories scheduled for release. I’ve sold only two shorts for podcast adaptation in almost twelve months.
So what do I do from here?
I keep on going.
I try to find the right places to submit those stories that were shortlisted and remember that some editors that I respect enormously have said things like:
“… is one of the most viscerally impactful scenes I have read in a long time”
“thank you the opportunity to read such a fantastic story”
My novella, The Balance, has also received some reviews that I couldn’t have dreamed of, from reviewers who absolutely know their stuff, so there is a home out there for my writing. I just have to keep sending it out there until I find it.
And if (when?) it comes back from the next market with a rejection I have to pick myself up, dust myself off and get it ready to go back out.
I guess, in the end, this post is a very long-winded way of saying two things: writing advice 101 really is grow a thick skin, become resilient, accept or even embrace rejection and keep on going anyway. But also, do take on board that positive feedback. Editors I’ve asked about this assure me that people don’t write this stuff just to soften the blow of the rejection. If they tell you it was a great story and they expect it to find a home elsewhere, they probably mean it. If we’re to let imposter sydrome kick our arses from one corner of our homes to the other most of the time, we owe it to ourselves to accept positive feedback and use it as a counterbalance.
Anyway, back to my WIP…
I’m delighted to share my creepy tale, ‘Lost and Found,’ with you, courtesy of the amazing people over at Hawk and Cleaver’s The Other Stories podcast. It’s the fourth entry in their ‘Remote places’ theme, which has featured some fantastic, scary tales. Here’s the log line:
When Sadie goes off hiking in the heart of the wilderness, Gemma seizes the opportunity to unwind with a raft of movies and bubbly. When she doesn’t come back and a storm rolls in though, Gemma begins to fear the worst.
When writing this one, it was all about the atmosphere, trying to capture the isolation of the forest. I hope I got it right.
Leave your opinion in the comments, or tweet me: @lisboetaingles
To listen, click the image above, listen on Spotify, below, or search for The Other Stories in your podcatcher.
So, today’s the day. The Balance is out! Seeing my book out there in the world, two and a half years after I first wrote ‘The end’ is a surreal feeling. But a satisfying one. Early reviews have been really positive and, while no book is ever going to be for everyone, I’m pleased it’s resonated with some of the readers who’ve read it to date.
As is the way with life, nothing is without its little hitches. Amazon delisted the release, two days before launch without any real explanation as to why. So, if you want to get hold of it and can’t wait for Amazon to sort themselves out, you can pick it up direct from the publisher, in eBook format here, audiobook here & paperback (in North America), here. Until May 4th, both eBook and audiobook can be picked up with 50% off, using the promo code StayAtHome .
If you do pick it up and check it out, please do leave an honest review on goodreads and/or amazon. It makes a world of difference. Aside from that, leave me a comment here on the website, or tweet me. I’d love to hear how you get on with it.
Finally, I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone in the horror community who has helped me to promote the release. To Kendall Reviews and the Gingernuts of Horror as well as S.J. Budd and Aphotic Realm, for hosting early reviews. To Sci-fi and Scary and Janine’s Ghost Stories for having me on for some really thoughtful interviews, to the fantastic writer Dave Jeffrey for his dream-come-true blurb of the book, to the Staring into the Abyss podcast team and just to anyone that has retweeted, shared or talked about The Balance to anyone. I try to thank everyone, but if I’ve missed you, THANK YOU so very much.
Now, it’s back to work on the new novel.
It’s both a tremendously exciting and a terrifying time for me, as my debut novella now has a release date. On 28 April, The Balance will be available in all the usual online stockists, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and so forth. The early release eBook and audiobook versions are available now, with versions appearing on Apple books, Audible and so on in the coming days and weeks. US readers can pre-order the paperback here. There are currently some problems with the Amazon listing of the book, so Kindle users will need to buy direct from the publisher at the link above.
Here’s the back cover synopsis for The Balance:
When myth becomes nightmare … The price of blood is always blood.
Natalia’s in trouble. She only looked away for a second, and now her brother’s hurt. Her relationship with her mother is fractured, her brother’s condition is deteriorating, and her only hope lays deep in the unforgiving forest. A secret spoken only in whispers offers a way out. But when help comes in occult forms a sacrifice may be the only way to restore the balance.
Humanity and nature collide in The Balance by Kev Harrison, a modern reimagining of the Slavic folk tale of Baba Yaga, set in Cold War Poland.
Though I’ve now lived and am very much settled in Portugal, I spent three incredible years of my life living and working in Poland. It was a place I knew little or nothing about when I arrived and one that shall now remain close to my heart and forever feel like home.
The person of Baba Yaga is just one of a multitude of characters woven into the fascinating (and often terrifying) folk lore of the Slavic nations. It’s easy to understand how dark folk tales manage to remain so vividly remembered and so present in modern culture when you consider the history of the place.
Few nations have had their borders redrawn as often as Poland and, of course, the scars of both World War II and its status as a Soviet client state throughout the cold war are particularly raw wounds. A friend of mine told me once, as I left the Schindler museum (from where Oscar Schindler saved thousands from execution) in a state of shocked silence, “You learn about history from books. We learn about it from our grandfathers.” Of course, a great many from Great Britain suffered immensely and gave their lives in the second world war, but the stories of Nazi occupation and the quasi-occupied state that followed liberation, with permanent states of rationing, corruption and constant fear for one’s life, explained much about the psyche of the people of the country. They also explained to me the way folk stories, myths and legends have retained their presence in society until today.
I chose this period of the Cold War, in a rural town, in the heart of a harsh Eastern European winter, as the perfect setting for supplies to run short and for desperation to lead people back to the old ways.
I’ll be writing more about The Balance in the coming weeks before the paperback release. In the meantime, here is a preview of the Audiobook, narrated by Desmond Manny: