Author Archives: lukeshelbourn

Wednesday meeting: 8th February

Nine members braved the chilly Manchester weather to attend the group tonight. With only three pieces to critique, we breezed through the submissions. As a quick reminder to all you scribes, we have extended the deadline for the group anthology until the end of May. This anthology is a great opportunity to get a writing credit to your name, and we don’t have too many submissions from group members yet. If you’ve got an idea for a kick ass speculative fiction yarn set in Manchester, get scribbling! You can even submit it to the group first if you’re looking for a bit of encouragement.

Anyhoo. On with the crits!



Mike presented a piece called love and brooding. Lots of positive comments for the uniqueness of this piece. More details listed below:

  • Some comments that the older brother character could have been added sooner. Should we know about him sooner?
  • Lots of genuine interest in the uniqueness of this piece.
  • Is there a conflict between tasting information and father giving information? Are they two separate things or are they the same?
  • Some questions over whether they are fish or not. Are the fingers that are referenced actually fins?
  • Nice comments about the God-like facade of the father.
  • The relationship between Pax and Neera really shines through.
  • Comments on the mixology of emotions and the sense. Happiness with a salty taste… great stuff!
  • Very readable style. A potentially very cloudy piece is made super perspicuous and clear.



James presented a piece call ‘A day at the dog factory’.  Again, there was a warm reception for this bizarro piece. Some of the points raised include:

  • Some comments that this is a return to form.
  • Although it was dark, it was not over the top.
  • Nice comparisons with other supposedly ‘cultural institutions’ or traditions.
  • Praise, too, for the poignant treatment of the immigrants!
  • The dialogue seem natural? Some comments that the ‘speech’ the protag gives seems quite unnatural.
  • Do the protagonist’s motivations seem natural? Does it make sense for the protag to be a long time enthusiast of dog factories and for her to also hate the system? We seem to yo-yo between different views here.



Tom presented another chapter from his novel The Wayward Star. The group are all enjoying this rip-roaring space opera. Some comments on this particular chapter include:

  • Some comments that the refocus on Chen as a character is welcome.
  • Some great descriptions peppered throughout.
  • There is a good sense of imprisonment in this piece.
  • Some comments that the amount detail bogged the chapter down.
  • Is there a bit of repetition? She has so far befriended both of her alien captors?
  • Is the constant lack of effective communication slowing down the story?


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The Last Writing Workshop of 2016

As usual, these notes are being posted dreadfully late. My dog atwriting-by-committeee my homework, ok?

In any case, for those of you that didn’t know the December meeting w
as not your usual MancSpecFic Fayre. Space operas? There was none. Tales of sword
and sorcery? Absolutely not. Good old fashioned chillers? Not a jot. Instead, we sat down with pen in hand to take part in the last MancSpecFic writer’s workshop of the year.

Eight of us tackled an exercise named Writing by Committee. We each started off with a prompt – either a scenario or the opening line to a story – and got scribbling for ten-twenty minutes. When that time period was over we would turf what we had written over to the person on our right, and they would carry on the yarn. By the end of the night, we ended up with eight stories that had been written in some part by each of the eight attendees.

The aim of the exercise was not just to get creative with your own story, but to be consistent with the arc, voice, and characterization of the stories that were passed on to you. Surprisingly, we ended up with eight rather enjoyable, albeit ver
y strange stories. I’ve typed one of them for you below. Hope you enjoy!

Prompt One: A cultist is torn between his/her dark lord and his/her family

The air con stutters and a fly buzzes somewhere in the room. The incremental ticks of the clock suddenly seem important, like they hint at something I can’t quite glean the meaning of. Carrie snores happily beside me, the soft friction of air parting her nasal cavity in stuttered garbles. I check my phone to look at the time and I have to squint. The light feels invasive. The light always feels invasive.

It’s five am, kids will be up soon.

I flip over the pillow and try to sleep again. I find I’m afraid to close m
y eyes out of worry for what I’ll find staring back at me in the dark. I’m gripped by the absurdity of the notion. I’ve come to understand the moist hungering fabric of our universe, stared into yawning gape of an ambivalent cosmos, experienced truths that would break the minds of lesser men… and yet I’m afraid of what I’ll find on the back of my eyelids. I try to force myself to close my eyes. Then I hear the voice, whispered at first, then louder, and then as if it isn’t speaking at all, as if it’s an army of maggots that’s burrowed into my brain, communicating only by pheromones.

“Kill her,” It says. As it always does, just as I know that I must.

I don’t want to kill her, or them, but if I wasn’t meant to why
would he tell me to? Why would he tell me I must? That I will? That I already have? Saying
that it’s not happened yet, saying it’s a choice, it’s all an illusion. He’s shown me so.

“Kill her,” he says. Because he knows I will. Because I must. Because I have, just not yet.

The alarm clock sounds, cutting through my thoughts. She moves, turns, looks up at me with a smile.

“Morning, my love,” she says. She gets up, turns off the alarm and slips into her bathrobe. I watch her walk away into the bathroom. A moment later I hear the shower kick in.

I’ve made it through another night.

So has she.

I want to get up but my legs feel like lead. The voice has gone, but its echo remains. I hear the shower stop. She comes out towelling her hair.

“Do you want coffee?” she says.

“Yes please,” I manage.

“Well, you know where the pot is. Get the kids out of bed while you’re at it.”

I slouch downstairs to the kitchen, place a fresh filter in the coffee machine and fill the kettle from the tap. The water pressure is low from her shower, the drain a rotten mouth.

“Kill her,” it says.

I drop the kettle and leap back from the sink. He’s never
spoken to me in daylight before.

The shower stops upstairs. The kitchen falls silent. Footsteps pad across the ceiling. Small feet thunder down the stairs.

“Kill them all,” an inhuman voice gurgles from the sink. The kitchen door bangs open and my two children run in.

“Daddy!” they call in unison.

I plaster a smile on
my face and hope they don’t see through it. “What do we want for breakfast this morning,” I say.

“Sausages!” Charlie shouts.

“Anythings fine,” Sarah calls over her shoulder. “Dad, have you seen my jumper?”

As much as I love them, and he knows I do, the monotony is as torturous as the whispers. This morning, the conversation, it could have been any morning, it could have been every morning. I set breakfast down in front of them, cereal, not sausages, and look at them. They’re good looking kids, they get that from their mother, but that serious intensity in their eyes, the careful meticulous way they treat the smallest of tasks, they get that from me.

“Do it now!”

The voice is loud and as clear as a church bell. I can’t take much more.

“Now. Do it now. IT HAS TO BE NOW.”

Carrie comes downstairs. Her hair is still wet and she’s still wearing her pink dressing gown.

I know I have to do it now, I have to finish each of them. It’s a kindness really.

Carries looks at me. Cups my head in her hand.

“Don’t worry love,” she says, “It might never happen.”

“It already has,” I answer with sadness. But summoning my strength I get up from the table and walk out the door.

“NO!” he screams at me. My head is filled with a blinding, painful light…

…The air con stutters and a fly buzzes somewhere in the room. The incremental ticks of the clock suddenly seem somehow important, like they hint at something I can’t quite glean the meaning of.

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Wednesday Meeting: 9th November

We had a big turnout this week and only got through four of the five pieces.

Also, consider this your bi-monthly reminder that we are accepting submissions for our next Anthology. We have yet to receive any submissions from group members so get scribbling!


Chris presented a flash piece called luck of the draw.

  • There were lots of positive comments about the strong philosophical edge in the piece.
  • The group seemed to be split on length. Does it need to be longer or does it work as flash?
  • Some confusion over what the setting was. Some members mistakenly believed it was a casino rather than a luck mine.
  • A few questions over the info-dumpy bit at the end.
  • Had all the usual positives of a strong voice, very readable and slick dialogue.



Ezeiyoke presented the start of a piece called ‘Guardian’.

  • Lots of nice comments about the folkloric some comments over the nice imagery.
  • Some confusion over the language. Large sentences and long paragraphs seemed a bit long and clunky for some.
  • Some comments that the king’s sexual arousal scene came out of nowhere. Others found this to be a nice twist.
  • Some comments that there were too many descriptions of the protag looking towards his wife.



Luke presented the first part of a novelette called ‘All The Things That End’.

  • Lots of comments about the prologue with the verdict edging towards it not being necessary. Can we just start in the stable?
  • Lots of positive comments about the world and believable setting.
  • Some questions over the Western elements. Does it sometimes veer towards Cliché? Differing opinions on this.
  • Some nice comments about the quality of the dialogue.



Tom presented another chapter from his novel An End To Forever

  • Lots of praise for the quality of writing in this piece. Some top notch world building as usual.
  • The array of different creatures is great fun.
  • Some questions over the amount of characters and the flitting between different worlds. Some comments that only reading a couple of chapters a month means it is hard to keep track of everything.
  • Some call’s for the buildings and the land to be made more vivid. Some found the large wonderful structures difficult to picture.


We all nipped off to the pub afterwards for a few slugs of grog and a chat. Topics of conversation centred around the election across the pond (you know? The one that wasn’t at all in the news?).

Next meeting is Tuesday the 22nd November. See you there!

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Wednesday Meeting: October 12th

We had a big old turnout this week with four pieces to get through. It was a pleasure to welcome Ezeiyoke and Marc to their first meeting. It’s great to see our little (or now not so little) group continue to grow.

Chris Ovenden:

Chris presented the second part of his novel the knight of never rest:

Like the previous chapter, I think everyone really enjoyed this piece. There were lots of positive comments about the setting, and the dialogue was a real pleasure to read. There was a bit of confusion around whether the protagonist already knew the witch or not. Perhaps the author could make this a bit clearer? As with previous chapters, there were some calls for the language to be more uniform. At times the language feels very old world, where at others it felt quite modern.

Everyone is looking forward to the next chapter!



Hans presented the first part of a novel called Boys.

I think everyone enjoyed the narrative here, and there was praise for the interesting ideas on show. Most group members liked the idea of a government death department (although if it was really a department it was perhaps giving away a little too much). Some found the prose a little too cinematic, especially the chase/chess scene. This kind of approach would be great for a film, but it didn’t quite hit the mark here. There were some calls for more visualisation of the surroundings and calls for more characterization.



Tom presented the second chapter of a piece called The Fabled Winds.

I think everyone enjoyed the descriptions in this piece. The world building came across as fantastical and sophisticated, while the flora and fauna of the planet showed great creativity on the author’s part. There were some questions over how clear the protagonist’s thought processes were when she was in a life or death situation, and some felt that the injury was a little too serious for her to be moving around as freely as she was. A few members wanted to see a more authentic narrative voice, and there were some comments that piece was a little ‘told’ at times.

Everyone is looking forward to seeing what other wonders await in the next chapter.



Bryn presented the second part of a short story called An End To Forever

Lots of positive comments for the quality of the prose in this piece. There were some fantastic turns of phrase that really showcased the author’s talents. Some members felt that the story felt like two ideas crunched together. Does the first half fit with the second half? There were a few comments that the fight scene went on a bit long, and there were a few too many nameless meatshields.


Afterwards, we scooted off to the pub for a spot of libation and a chinwag.

Remember, we are currently accepting submissions for our next anthology REVOLUTIONS 2, so get writing and get submitting people!

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Wednesday Meeting: 14th September

With a healthy turnout of members, we only had time to get through three of the four submitted pieces this week. But hey ho, what we lacked in crit quantity we made up for in crit quality.

We’d also like to offer a hearty welcome to Tom and Bryn who joined us for the first time. We look forward to reading something from you both in the future.



Chris presented the first part of a novel called Knight of Never Rest.

Everyone loved the atmospherics in this piece and felt like the idea of a world with naturalised necromancy was quite unique. There were lots of comparisons to The Witcher and Dark Souls. Some felt there was so much going on that they were left with too many unanswered questions. Could the world building be spread out amongst other chapters? Others disagreed with this and were happy to read on in ignorance until more details get revealed.

Some members felt that there was an incongruence between the post-technological, far future society and the extremely archaic language. Would language devolve this way? Some  notable precedents were mentioned, particularly Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun. Some commented that the protags internal voice was very different from the more archaic dialogue she used. Stylistics aside, I think everyone thought the dialogue seemed natural and engaging.

Everyone is eager to read the second instalment.



Bronwin presented a chapter from her novel Green.

As usual, I think everyone found the imagery very satisfying, especially the first couple of pages.

There are still calls for more clarity, with a few members not really knowing where the story is heading. There were even a few questions raised over the necessity of the chapter.

The multiple Reginas scenario was a real source of confusion for many. Is it important to the story? Calls to have just one Regina. Some felt the father was a bit unbelievable. He is awful to his daughter then seems to change his mind for no reason. There were Some calls for the author to do away with the father’s current approach to his daughter’s mutism. Either that or the father’s treatment of his daughter should lead to a lasting rift in the family.

Some members felt Sally was crowbarred in at the end. Could she be introduced earlier?

Everyone is looking forward to the next Chapter!




Melissa presented a short story called A Short History Of Foole

There were lots of positive comments about the humour in this piece, with particular praise for the surrealness. There was healthy discussion over the meaning of the piece. Some members felt that the piece was a fairy tale missing a moral whereas others had their own idea about what the moral might be.

I think everyone found the piece to be very heavy on the telling, and there were calls for a more shown approach to the overall arc. Some members felt that the piece lacked well fleshed out characters,  and struggled to emotionally resonate with the reader. This was a symptom of the strong omniscient viewpoint. There were a few calls for the story to be retold from a third person omniscient perspective.

Telling aside, I think everyone really enjoyed some of the imagery in the piece, which for the most part hit the nail on the head.

Everyone is hoping to read more from Melissa in the future!



After the meeting, we all headed over to Common to snarf down some pale ale. The main topic of conversation was James’ recent foray into writing copy for the Brexit biscuit (You think I’m kidding?)

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Wednesday Meeting: 10th August

A Bit of a quiet one this Wednesday with only seven people in attendance. What we lacked in quantity we made up for in quality.


Tammy presented a story called Procession.

Lots of nice comments about the dreamlike strangeness in this piece and I think everyone enjoyed the 1st person voice. There were some calls for an ending that is less told and more subtle, perhaps by playing up to the dreamlike strangeness more. Some members wanted to see the plot expanded while some felt that the story could maintain the same length if the author went with a ‘make your own mind up’ ending. As always members found the descriptions fantastic and the prose slick.


Eric presented the 13th chapter from his horror novel ‘Hellbound’.

Lots of positive comments about this chapter. Most enjoyed the metamorphosis scene. Some felt that Kim might come across as a bit of a stereotypical Hollywood starlet, but that this was tempered when her past is revealed. Many felt that contrary to her outward behaviour, there was a lot of depth to Kim as a character. Some members are still finding there to be too many characters in the plot and would like to see a more direct approach to advancing the story. Perhaps a case of kill your darlings?


Chris presented a comedy short story called Call of C’schoolu.

Everyone enjoyed the humour in this piece and there were lots of nice comments about the blending of Lovecraft with high school drama. The voice of the protagonist was a particular highlight for some, although there some comments that it could at times be a little more sophisticated than the tone of the piece or the protagonists age suited. Some of the more Lovecraft literate members pointed out a conflation of certain mythos elements. Lots of praise for the feel-good ending. Who knew Cthulhu could be so paternal?


We nipped across to Common afterwards for a few jars of grog. The main topics of conversation ranged from how violent cartoons used to be and the submissions for our Second Anthology: Revolutions 2.

Next meeting is Tuesday the 23rd of August. See you all there!


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Wednesday Meeting: 13th July

Meeting 13th July 2016

Just three stories for us to get through this week. But we had a fab turnout and some great critiques. Thanks to all those who attended.


Eric presented the second part of a military horror called ‘No Man’s Land’.

Everyone enjoyed this playful horror romp. Quite a few members felt the plot lent itself better to a film rather than a short story given the emphasis on visual descriptions. Some felt the glasshouse recruits were an odd choice given the sensitive nature of the mission. Would it not make sense to have such a sensitive operation staffed by specialist forces rather than unskilled grunts? A couple of the more militarily minded members questioned whether a dog (even one covered in armour) could withstand heavy machine gun fire. There were times that the POV slipped from limited into omniscient and there were calls for a tightening up. Do we need a character cull? Lots of positive comments on the fantastic imagery, and the Romeroesque ending.

Sir Pooch


Tammie presented a short piece entitled ‘Getting it Together’.

I think everyone enjoyed the zaniness of this piece. The idea of a blind date with a Lego person was hugely original and there was consensus across the group that the story hit the right humorous notes. There were big questions for some readers whether the ending works. We go quickly from a very light-hearted piece into something that seems to take a serious literary edge. The two sections either side of the two characters leaving the bar seemed too incongruous for some.

Lego Bar


Angela presented a short piece called ‘New Gladys’.

I think everyone was intrigued by this YA piece. There were some questions over the size of the characters. It seems a bit odd that they are big enough to ride bats and squirrels, yet small enough to ride bumblebees. Given that the protagonist’s primary motivation for achieving her new rank is helping her terminally ill mother, it might make more sense for her to have a bigger role in the story. Some members commented that actually getting to know the mother might give the melancholic ending more oomph.  Is letting an elderly woman with dementia leave the community a good idea? Some comparisons with Avatar and Fern Gully. But lots of nice comments about the quality of the imagery, world building, and readable prose.

A might steed

I know there was no Chewbacca in the story. But a picture of him riding a squirrel was too much to resist!

As usual, we nipped across to common for a few swift ones. A few interesting developments for all you fiction scribblers. Algorithms have been crunched and equations computed, the Computer God has awoken from its power down and hungers for fresh spec fic. Keep an eye on his/her electronic shrine for more news.

See you all next time!

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Wednesday Meeting: 8th June

It was a scorcher this Wednesday and there was plenty of people making the most of it in the NQ. While everyone else was slurping on craft ale and preening their lumberjack beards, we were cooped  up on the second floor of MadLab getting ready to crit. We only managed to get through three of the four pieces in the end (grumble grumble) so Arthur’s piece will be carried over to the next Tuesday session. On with the Crits!



Eric presented a horror piece called ‘No Man’s Land’.

I think everyone was intrigued by the genre mash-up of horror and military fiction in this piece. Lots of comparisons to The Dirty Dozen were made and a few questions raised over the sheer number of characters in the piece. Is the story simply too short to sustain such a busy roster? No one seemed to get on with the Irish regional dialect and the general consensus was that the story would not suffer without it. A few logic questions were raised over the Artillery being used as a distraction when it could be used to kill the werewolves. A few members are hoping for a twist on the werewolf mythos given the lack of interesting directions the genre has gone down lately (bar Stephen Graham Jones’s excellent Mongrels of course). The highlight of the piece for many was the strong sense of place coupled with Denby’s happy-go-lucky characterization.

We all look forward to reading the second part next time.


Bronwin presented a chapter from her novel ‘Air’

I think everyone enjoyed the strange and wonderful world in this piece and there were lots of positive comments about the spiders vs fairies theme. A lot of readers found that the descriptions lacked clarity and called for a more perspicuous prose style, especially given the piece is aimed at a young market. The group was split down the middle as to whether the pictures worked or not, some enjoyed the interactivity while others felt they dragged the reader out of the story. Some questions over speaker dialogue. More speaker tags required for clarity? A couple of members picked up on the large info dumping regarding the historical conflict between fairies and spiders.

Everyone is looking forward to finding out where the story is going.


Emma presented a chapter from her novel ‘Westralia’.

There was lots of praise for the writing in this piece. The protagonist’s parents were a particular highlight for a lot of people. A common critique seemed to centre on the large info dump in the centre of the piece. All the information about Zeke and his father is delivered in what feels like an unnatural way. Calls to break up the POV? Perhaps Zeke gets his own viewpoint? Lots of nice comments about the hybrid plane and the little witticisms peppered throughout. Some questions over how Suzie knows the protag is going to Westralia and some questions over how a school can issue a visa for a foreign country. Some members didn’t see the logic in the father being held captive, and the expectation that the brother taking his place will solve the problem.

In sad news, Emma will be leaving us for a while as she travels back to her native Australia. Fingers crossed she’ll be back soon, we need to read the rest of her novel!

As usual, we jibbed across for a few swift ones over at Common. We’re looking forward to the next meeting already. Get scribbling all!!

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