Did Somebody Say Free Stuff? New Story Available!

Would you trust this guy?

Lurking at the edge of a mundane fleamarket, a merchant of impossibilities stands next to a trunk full of bizarre and otherwordly goods.

Are Jack Hansard’s uncanny wares for real? Is the magic past its sell-by-date? And what exactly do you DO with a deus ex machina, anyhow?

Gosh, there’s been a lot going on lately. If you’re a regular visitor you may notice that I’ve got a shiny new website and I’ve just launched my newsletter. My latest job has been setting up the download for this exclusive Jack Hansard story, which is now available for free to new subscribers!

If you’re not already familiar with The Jack Hansard Series, you can find the free beta episodes here.

Deus Ex Machina is a standalone short story which features our favourite occult merchant, told from the viewpoint of one of his unwitting customers. I wrote the original version of this for a humour competition way back in 2012 (it came second, which was rather nice) and decided to revamp the whole thing into a longer, better story for you guys to enjoy.

Click the button above to go directly to the download page at StoryOrigin, or get it by signing up to my newsletter here. It’s available in ePUB, Mobi, and PDF formats for all your reading devices. Hope it makes you smile!

Once you’re a subscriber you’ll also receive updates from me along with other exclusive sneak-peeks – including another story snippet called Pandora’s Box which features Jack’s least favourite business rival: the treasure-hunting, god-wrestling, myth-defying and all-round flash bastard Edric Mercer. It’ll arrive a day or two after signing up. Keep an eye on your inbox to make sure you don’t miss it! 😉

Urban fantasy with a sense of humour

Thanks to @EJIkinArt for the awesome cover illustration.

Folklore Snippets: Sweet Dreams

dream catcher pixabay.jpg

Episode 2 of the Jack Hansard short story series can be found here. This week, Hansard gets into the dream-making business with a stash of captive dreams he doesn’t quite know how to handle. I’m a big fan of giving abstract concepts physical manifestations. In Episode 1 we saw the result of Hansard’s endeavours selling inspiration as a valuable commodity; now he deals with dreams as real as living creatures and meets a character out of folklore – the Sandman. This Sandman is no mythic entity, however. In Hansard’s reality, ‘Sandman’ is just the title given to a speciality tradesman of dreams.


I wasn’t quite sure what to be writing in this blog. It’s a sideline to the short story gig – comments and musings rather than hard-hitting articles about the state of the world today. I can’t say that sounds overly interesting though, so I’ve decided to try something mildly structured. Hansard’s (mis)adventures commonly encounter things drawn from myth and folklore, so with each episode I’ll pick out a related topic and give you a very brief overview. Ya’know just the interesting bits. So to go with Episode 2, here’s a quick look-see at some of the stories behind the Sandman.

I think the folkloric Sandman is probably the most well-known character (in Europe, at least) associated with dreams. He is said to sprinkle dust or sand into children’s eyes to make them sleep and dream; if you wake with that gritty gunk in your eyes then you know he’s visited. Hans Christian Anderson’s 1841 tale Ole Lukøje paints the Sandman as a benevolent figure whose innocent desire is to tell children stories while they sleep. After sending them to sleep with his sand, he places one of two umbrellas over the child’s head: one with pretty pictures to bring on nice dreams for the good boys and girls; one with no pictures to deny any dreams to the naughty.

Near the end of this tale Ole Lukøje identifies himself as being called the ‘god of dreams’ by the Greeks and Romans. This god of dreams was Morpheus, who appears in Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. Ovid tells us he is the son of Somnus (Hypnos is the Greek equivalent), the god of sleep. From Greek mythology, Hypnos is the brother of Death (‘Thanatos’); in Hans Christian Andersan’s story, Ole Lukøje tells us his brother is Death – perhaps he mixed up the two ancient deities, but the whole thing does suggest that maybe the modern Sandman has his roots in Greco-Roman tradition.

Hans wasn’t the first to write about the Sandman. In 1817 E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote Der Sandmann, a grim short story where the protagonist associates the character of the Sandman with a sinister figure from his childhood. In this story we are given a wholly opposite view of the Sandman and his intentions:

‘He is a wicked man, who comes to children when they won’t go to bed, and throws a handful of sand into their eyes, so that they start out bleeding from their heads. He puts their eyes in a bag and carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children, who sit in the nest up there. They have crooked beaks like owls so that they can pick up the eyes of naughty human children.’ (Translation by John Oxenford.)

Yikes. Gruesome.

The Sandman still pops up in modern culture, and isn’t confined to the realm of children’s stories. The first thing that springs to my mind when I hear the word ‘Sandman’ is the Metallica song, Enter Sandman. In 2012 the animated Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians featured the Sandman as a powerful and benevolent protector of children. Anyone familiar with the work of Neil Gaiman or the world of comic books is likely to have heard of the dark fantasy graphic novel series also named after the character (highly recommended).

I love seeing the different ways bits of old folklore have been re-invented to find new places in our modern world. To see old ideas turned on their head or given a new definition entirely: this is the way we own our past and continue traditions, allowing them to evolve along with our culture.

Hope you enjoyed this little info snippet. Episode 3 will be online on Wednesday 11th February. Thanks for reading!

(Edited 11/02/15 to include ‘Folklore Snippets’ series title.)

We have lift off!

You know, I wasn’t entirely expecting to reach this point. Sure, I’ve been planning An Inspired Mess for months now. I’ve felt the excitement building, the anticipation, the impatience of not being able to do everything immediately. Finally, I’m going to take that big, scary step.

Before we continue, I should first point out that Episode 1 of the Jack Hansard series can be found here. If you are one of the small but wonderful group of people who has been following me through Facebook, I’m sincerely grateful you stuck around to see the launch of the site. I hope it does not disappoint.

If you aren’t in the know, ‘Jack Hansard’ is my short story series about the eponymous Mr Hansard and his strange misadventures navigating the underworld of the occult Black Market. Each episode is just that, an episode out of Hansard’s odd life.

Once a fortnight, on Wednesdays, I will upload a new Hansard episode. At the same time I’ll write a short blog post to accompany it. A blog about what? Nothing in particular, currently. Maybe some interesting snippet of mythology relating to the week’s episode, maybe some writing-related insights. The blog isn’t really the important bit; it’s more of an excuse to have a conversation with you. The important bit is the selection of short stories here and, hopefully, your enjoyment of them.

What actually is An Inspired Mess?

For me: a kick up the arse. For you: a free short story series, delivered fortnightly. And, maybe, some other bits and bobs along the way.

The title of the website is an obvious nod to the first Jack Hansard episode of the same name. But it is also a fairly apt description of myself. I am a mess of half-spun tales, fleeting ideas and almost-thoughts.

I seem to be inspired by everything. I want to write everything. Just as a random spark will ignite a creative fire for a gritty dystopian sci-fi, I simultaneously yearn to write high fantasy. And comic fantasy, and urban fantasy, and space fantasy because how cool is that. I have an urge to write dark, disturbing horror, and light, lifting humour – usually both at once.

Jack Hansard is just one of these passing ideas I’ve managed to pluck out of the mess, disentangle from the noise and create something coherent out of. It’s a bit of an experiment. In reality, what I really wanted to do was make a webcomic. But I don’t have the artsy skill for this; I’m more of a wordy person. It occurred to me that you must be able to create something a little similar to a webcomic, but in text form. Obviously, there are big differences between the two, each with their own set of limitations, but why not have a go at writing a sort of episodic series of short stories?

There is an ulterior motive, of course. There always is; nothing comes for free. And the ulterior motive behind An Inspired Mess is . . . an exercise in overcoming stage fright.

I suffer, as I’m sure many other writers suffer, from that nasty little bug of self-doubt. That venomous voice that viciously likes to whisper: ‘What if, at the end of the day, you’re just shit?’

It’s the voice that prevents us from showing off our work, and benefiting from both the praise and the criticism it engenders. Both are necessary for growth, and I’ve come to feel a deep, pressing urge for growth. Currently, I am so shy about my writing that my behaviour is frankly embarrassing. Recently, a friend saw me hastily jotting down some plot notes while I was staying over. When they asked about it, I cagily mumbled that I was doodling and hid it in my bag. Who gets that embarrassed over writing notes?

I once tried to announce through Facebook that I’d had some success in a writing competition, but I phrased it in such a self-deprecating way (‘I doubt if anyone would be interested…’) that afterwards I felt it sounded like the kind of attention-seeking posts I abhor. I can’t help but dwell on the egotistical nature of talking about something you’ve created – despite my immense excitement for An Inspired Mess, the conceited nature of self-promotion makes me deeply uneasy.

I would be the first to tell you that I’m not a great writer. But sometimes I go a little too far in that direction and forget to acknowledge that I am not a bad writer, either. Having had moderate success in a couple of short story competitions should prove to me, if no-one else, that I’m not bad. And by being not bad I’ve managed to make a few people smile, and hopefully improved someone’s day.

I need to keep reminding myself of this, that the whole purpose of writing is to bring enjoyment to others, and how the hell am I going to achieve that if I don’t actually let anyone read the stuff?

So that’s what this really is.

An endeavour to let go. To release these nuggets of creation into the world, for better or worse, and to learn to embrace the prospect of an audience. An endeavour to improve and grow, to entertain for both the sake of entertaining and to become a better entertainer.

If I can amuse just a few people, raise just a handful of smiles once a fortnight, then this endeavour will have been worthwhile. Even if I don’t – if I end up with just an inbox full of criticism – it will still be worthwhile. My mind will be sharper and my skin thicker for it.

So finally, I would like to invite you to join me as I take this first big step. As we plunge into a world of the bizarre and sometimes downright surreal, I hope, for a few brief moments, I can entertain you.