Thursday, 27 October 2011

I'm Batman

Taking a small rest from the novel at the moment so I thought I'd blog. Usually when I take a break I use it for other things, I work on submitting stories, I write something else for a bit (usually another short story) or generally do something that I feel needs doing to help me in my literary endeavours.

I'm not doing that this time. In fact, I seem to be playing Batman Arkham City. This is mostly because I have no short stories to submit, due to the fact that they're all with people either as submissions, just published or soon-to-be-published and because I don't feel I have the time to write anything new.

I'm now 82% of the way through the whole book. That's 794 pages behind me and a further 166 pages in front. If things go well I could have it all wrapped up by Christmas, start submitting in 2012 and start work on the next book.

But the problem is that I put too much pressure on myself to meet an arbitrary deadline I've given myself and then the writing slows to a trickle. So this time I cam across a small speech that I didn't like. It needed to be rewritten. Damn! I thought to myself, I'm going to have to boot up the laptop, rewrite it, reprint it and do this section again. This will get in the way of me meeting my Xmas deadline! So frustrated I did that thing and the speech came out better. Then, back on track, I noticed I'd used the word 'touch' twice in as many lines and that whole frustrated feeling came back. Where before that little fault would have been fixed in a heartbeat I stewed on it for twenty minutes worrying how I wouldn't meet my deadline and generally getting myself even more wound up.

That's when you have to step away and show the novel that it works for you and not the other way around. A couple of days relaxing and then I'll go back to it and feel better equipped to fix these minor problems. Maybe I won't meet the deadline but I need this time to tell myself 'It's ok'.

So onto books:

The Fort

It's been a long time since I've read a Bernard Cornwall. I first got into the Sharpe books in my teens and when I saw this in the shop I decided to revisit him to see him through the eyes of someone who now writes.

The FortThe Fort was interesting, it's a very strange tale and the fact that it really happened makes it all the stranger. Though I thought it slow to get going it did compel me to keep going. But, bloody hell, I don't think I could ever write one. I could feel the restrictions weighing in at every point. The characters aren't your own, they were real people and said these things and you're forced to constrain your scenes to leap between this factually accurate point to another. The only real freedom he had was the description of the battle scenes, which were well described. Let's face it, historical novels aren't really one of my mainstay passions in lietrature but it's good to visit ever once in a while.

The Fear (The Enemy)The Fear

I've been enjoying this series. Charlie can make some very interesting characters and he's clearly building a complex world of several tribes of kids along with the ever-growing threat of the zombie-adult hoard. I wish they sweared more. I liked the swearing. Kids would swear in that situation. In The Enemy they were swearing all over the place and he was probably told to tone it down (or did himself after a change in conscience). I miss it. But, man, is that guy gross. Some of the scenes are so sick that I'm jealous that I didn't think of them first.

The Black Dahlia - James EllroyThe Black Dahlia

Since playing LA Noire I'm revisiting James Ellroy country. Again I read him as a teen but only got two books into the LA quartet finding them quite (alright, very) bleak. So I read Dahlia again. Yup, still bleak. The dialogue is good, the sense of dialogue is good but in the end there's only so far you can go with a real case that was never truly solved.

The Company Man

Robert Jackson Bennett is becoming a new favourite author. The beginning of this, the setting, the city, the characters gave me the same tingles and when I started Perdido Street Station. The case was thrilling and intriguing and I couldn't put it down. Like his previous book, however, I did find it a little overlong and there was a point that I was dying for answers long before any were given. And I didn't quite get the end. But the journey was worth it just for the thrills.


Another birthday has passed and so another Terry Pratchett book appeared. There is a difference in these later ones, the use of voice activated software has definitely changed his writing style. It's still flawless, he knows just how much description to use and how much dialogue and how to make one do the work of both. He's brilliant. Not sure if I totally enjoyed this one, there seemed to be a lot of nothing going on and in the end there weren't really any villains to latch on to. So, writing great, plot a little thin.


I'm a big fan of the Artemis Fowl books so I was more than pleased to try out his foray into adult crime. It whisked me merrily along and I enjoyed the ride. Is it amazing? Probably not, the characters were fine, the humour was nice but I have to be honest that what's being done here has been done before and it's been done better. But if he's doing more I'll buy them.

The Big Nowhere

Much better than The Black Dahlia, maybe because it doesn't have to be so bogged down with historical fact. The story is complex and you're expected to keep up. This is not always possible as sometimes Ellroy lapses into a stream of conciousness and throws so many names in there that you can't make head nor tail of it. Very dark and worth reading (but maybe not re-reading).

The Hunger Games

Product DetailsThis was moved quickly to the top of the pile after seeing the trailer which put so many nice touches to what is ultimately a very simple story. I enjoyed it immensely in that way of seeing something done well. They story works and the author has put a lot of thought into the characters and does some very neat emotional shorthand which really gets you caring.

A Private Affair

Another book read to expand my horizons. I'd heard Lesley Lokko was a good writer and that her books, though seen as chick lit were a cut above the rest by being quite an intelligent read. The rumours weren't wrong, it wasn't the light-hearted chickfest I'd been fearing, but there was a whole character I felt could be cut out leaving the rest of the book intact (and it was a long book). Part of the hook was there being a rape at the beginning and finding out at the end which of the main characters it was being abused. The result was very disappointing.

Zoo City

This won the Arthur C. I can sort of see why but unfortunately it's for the same reason a lot of books win awards. It's set in a foreign country. I didn't really care about the main character, there was little or no explanation about the world and, well, it just left me a little cold.

Anyway, that's it from me. Until next month.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Old Factory Award: Behind-the-Scenes

The Old Factory Award has been published by the wonderful Abyss and Apex magazine who have described it as 'One of the most unusual pieces we've ever featured.'

Suffice to say that I'm really pleased with it.

So I thought I'd write about how it came about.

Let's start by saying that I'm really glad that Abyss and Apex published it now in October, when the weather turns to cold and rain because it really feels (to me, anyway) like a Winter story. If it had a colour it would be red, like carpets and wine and dying leaves.

The story first came to me a couple of years ago as a feeling. I had a 10 minute walk between the tube and my house then by a not-too-busy road with plenty of trees and a wide-open park.The whole pavement was strewn with leaves and the grass in the park would be silver. I'd walk with my hands in my pockets and my hood up and I'd retreat into a little warm burrow not just in my coat but in my head as well.

There are particular stories we like to read in Winter, there are myths and tales born from gathering close around a campfire to keep warm, ghost stories and fairy tales. They're very close and intimate stories with no huge cast or epic battles, they're stories that happen behind doors, not in front of them and the only sense we have of them is as people passing by and seeing the warmth and light spilling onto the street.

I wanted to write that kind of story, something that had a warmth and a happy feeling, a celebration of something and a feeling of an intimate event behind closed doors that hardly anyone knew of.

A friend, Conrad Mason (The Demon's Watch out in 2012), said it reminded him a little of American Gods and I'd agree with him. There's a vein of Neil Gaiman stories that aim for this same space (October in the Chair leaps to mind).

So as I walked that walk twice a day an idea began to form around that feeling.

There was a song I was listening to at the same time. I was very into Elbow then (I still am) and was listening to The Seldom Seen Kid almost daily. Now there's an entire album that feels like it's also that same rich red (in fact look at the colour of the album cover). And there's a song in there different from all the rest called The Fix which seems to be about a party in which some grand, mysterious master plan has just fallen into place and made everyone very rich. It's brilliant. You can see it in your head; plush cushions, drapes and gauze, low lamps and feather-trimmed masquerade masks.

Here it is.


So of course my story began to swirl around an equally mysterious and lavish party with dancing and laughter and extravagant figures. And so the story took shape and I had to begin writing it because an idea only gets you so far.

Now I should tell you that something else was happening in my life around that time. I'd met a girl.

We'd only been going out a few months but I was increasingly falling in love with her. She'd fallen for me because of my writing a story called Promises (appearing next year in Something Wicked) that I'd sent to her and a number of others for feedback. We'd flirted a while and then, courage bucked up, she asked me out.

I wanted to write something for her, something for a Christmas present. Cats deliver dead birds, some men deliver dead stags or briefcases of money or cars or jewellery. I wrote a story with a bit of that same sentimental heart that Promises had. It was a story I knew she'd like, was cheaper (I'm a writer) than all those other things other men get but ultimately gets me to the same place. (Yes, that place).

Details came to me as I wrote the story, little tricks and turns and characters and after a couple of weeks the story was finished. It didn't come out exactly as I'd imagined. There wasn't as much of the warmth and sentimentality I'd wanted it to. It came out a bit urban and, in a few places, a little bit dark and modern. That's entirely my fault, part of me knows that life doesn't work out how you always want it and reality creeps in wherever it can. A party will always need organising, technology will creep in if you set it in today no matter how much of a fairy take you want to write.

She loved it. And I got there. And I'm still there today.

I think A&A are right in calling it unusual. It's certainly the weirdest story I've written it. In some ways I worried it would never be published because it was too unusual. It's mostly description, hardly any dialogue and there's not a massive amount of drama. From another, bigger author it might have had a better time, I thought. It seems people are more accepting of different if you've already made a name of yourself but from a newbie? Probably not.

But here it is! A&A took it. And published it. And now anyone can read it. I can only hope they enjoy it.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Back down from the High Road

A late post this month as I was away in Scotland taking a well-earned break. Well, a break anyway.

Much fun was had and my girlfriend and I even managed to see the Glasgow / Philadelphia set of Brad Pitt's World War Z film. Unfortunately, it was empty so all I got from it was this stupid expression.

It's amazing how much good a holiday can do, and as my girlfriend managed to convince me that this was a break not just from work but writing as well, it probably counts double. After a couple of days in I realised just how tired I'd been of writing. I was dragging myself from page to page at glacial speed, hyper-critical of every smear of ink I found there. There's no denying that I'm now very ready to send this story out into the world but unfortunately the story itself isn't ready. Hopefully, this break will give me the energy to give the story that last big push it needs out the door. I'm finally closing in on the end of Part Two and if I have anything to do with it, I'll be starting Part Three early October.

In other news, and I'm sure I had mentioned this before but apparently I haven't, Abyss and Apex Magazine are publishing my short story The Old Factory Award, which Editor-in-Chief, Wendy S. Delmater described as 'enchanting'. She made a few changes (mainly turning my English English to American English) that I couldn't even spot (proof of a great editor) and made a suggestion for improvement that I was happy to make (thinking 'Thank God, feedback!). She sent me a contract for me to sign, which I read carefully (I always read them carefully). So that's all very nice. The Old Factory Award should be appearing in their Q4 magazine soon.

Oh, and I made myself a Facebook page.

So books I have read:

A Dance with Dragons

So what can I say about A Dance with Dragons? GRRM's books have always been long ones but they're so well written that they don't feel long. This one was no exception. But it has to be said that until the last couple of hundred pages it didn't feel like much had happened. But I have a theory on that. In many books you might experience the 'sagging middle', a few pages in the middle of a story that can be a little dull. It's the author getting all of his characters where they need to be (both physically and emotionally) so they can start that downhill charge towards the end. Now in a normal book / story of, say, 300 pages that sag might be 10 pages long, short enough that you might not notice it. But GRRMs story is so big it's taking 7 books of roughly 800 pages each to write. So both Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons have both been this sagging middle as the author moves his many, many pieces on the board. Hopefully we're over the hump now and The Winds of Winter will prove to be the start of a blistering descent towards the big finale.

American Dervish

Not normally my cup of tea but I did enjoy this one (barring the first few pages which were a bit wobbly). It talks of being a Muslim in America (very topical) but in the end it's focus is on it's own community rather than its place in the West. Really, this could have been a story about living in any religious community. Some people believe that being part of that community excuses any indiscretions made against people outside of that community and so, so many people think that doctrine and faith are one and the same. A debut novel, I found it pleasing to read and was happily propelled along.

The End of the Wasp Season

I've never read a Denise Mina novel before though I have read her stint writing for the Hellblazer comics which were very good. This book was great, the writing was spot on with some very good descriptions and the story and characters intriguing, I was fully prepared for it all to end badly, with the wrong people put in jail (you know who did it from the beginning) and so the feel of the story kept you guessing right up to the final pages.

The Hunted

I had the privilege of putting together a few videos of Elmore Leonard recently (one can be found here on Amazon) and in one of them he says that when he gets to page 300 of his manuscript he says 'Boy, I should start wrapping this up' and finishes the story in the next 50-100 pages. Ever since I heard him say that, I can see it. The novel drifts along and then something happens and then it's over. There's no real beginning, middle or end, it's more just a series of events. But still, there's a reason he's the master of the genre. The dialogue was top-notch and the characters, good or bad, where very well drawn.

The Impossible Dead

Ian Rankin has been writing a long time and it really shows. Like Terry Pratchett, the man's writing is effortless. He manages to get his story from the page and into your mind without causing any friction between the words and your eyeballs. This is his new Malcolm Fox book and I find myself liking his new character more and more as I get to know him. Though it's never spelled out I fell that Fox was possibly not the nicest of men when he was an alcoholic. He seems like a man who holds tight to a lot of anger and not drinking helps him keep that hold. The story is classic Rankin, looking at Edinburgh as we know it today, a strong theme of yesterday's terrorist being today's politician and some good old murders to help it along. Plus, Fox is in The Complaints (Internal Affairs) and so, to him, even fellow police officers are against him, which is a great angle. A little slow at the beginning but before you know it your at the end and feeling good.

The Iron Jackal
Second only to Mike Carey, Chris Wooding is one of those authors who has me grinning from start to finish. His books are just. So. Fun. There's that initial action scene, then that wonderful 'settling back in with the crew' scene and then more adventure. And more. And more. And more. And more. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and may be writing an article on The Iron Jackal for the Gollancz blog soon. So watch this space.

The Midnight Palace

I enjoyed Shadow of the Wind and so very much enjoyed Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Midnight Palace. Knowing that he wrote this before Shadow added a whole new aspect as you can actually see the seeds of it appearing as the story develops.

The Windup Girl

We have a contender for my Book of the Year. I loved this book from start to finish. The world was vivid, every character was fascinating and he really did have me guessing how it was all going to end. It seems (at least to me) that there's a vogue for non-West set Scifi, you just have to look at this year's Arthur C. Clarke shortlist (which included the excellent Dervish House). This has already won awards and damn if it doesn't deserve them. This is the kind of debut novel I can only aspire to.

And so I guess that's it from me, for now.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Promises finds a home

This month's update has actually some information to update about!

In the middle of last week, Joe Vaz and his magazine Something Wicked accepted my short story Promises for publication. Hurray! Anyone following this blog will know that Promises has been out in the cold for quite some time. In fact it has been rejected 17 times (for various reasons from it being too long to 'not being the right fit for the magazine').

But that doesn't mean it wasn't liked by many of them. Here's what magazines have had to say about it thus far:

"The very strong" - Pseudopod

"Good writing" - The Opinion Guy's Speculative Fiction

"We loved this story. It's melodramatic, romantic, affecting and well-written" - Murky Depths

"An exquisite piece of writing" - Something Wicked

So now it has a home at Something Wicked which has already featured several award-winning authors including Arthur C Clarke Award winner Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Abigail Godsell. Promises should be appearing late this year or early next year. (I will be asking for early next year for reasons I shall go into another time).

As I have probably said before, my short stories serve a purpose. They are great exercises that increase my skills in writing and plotting, they're a great way to experience that feeling of victory which is especially important during the long hard slog of writing my trilogy, they're great fun to do and some of them bring in some pocket money, which is more than welcome. But the most important, I feel, is that they are steps toward my goal of becoming a full-time writer. All of my writing credits will be going on the covering letter for when I finally send off the novels to an agent and should help me stand head and shoulders above all the hundreds of other hopefuls they no doubt receive every month.

As an update here are my writing credits so far:

Contract                                        Twisted Tongue Magazine

No Longer Living                          RevolutionSF
                                                      Reprinted in Tales of the Zombie War

Kids                                              Electric Spec
                                                      To be reprinted in Bete Noire Magazine (Autumn 2011)

The Old Factory Award                Abyss & Apex Magazine (Winter 2011)

Promises                                       Something Wicked (Winter 2011 / Spring 2012)

Should look pretty good on a covering letter, I think. It shows I'm serious about writing, am not without talent and (hopefully) worth investing time and money in!

In other news the novels are progressing well. I cut out an entire 20 pages this week. 20 pages that were born of desperation and word count padding but are now no longer needed; a little stitching and it'll be like they were never there. An author once said if you can takes something out of a story without having to do much of a rewrite then it should never have been there in the first place. This was definitely the case.

Though my count is now inaccurate with things needing to be revisited and entire chunks being lifted out, I am now 49% through my current stage of editing.

Now, on to things I have read. This will be quite a short list for reasons that will soon become apparent.

The Accident - This is without a doubt the best Linwood Barclay I have read. The characters are good, the pacing is great and the way he threads the themes through the story is masterly. Well done to him for this.

A Red Herring Without Mustard - I have talked on Alan Bradley before. The main character Flavia De Luce is a very well realised character who jumps out of the page. The author is a man of mature years and I think it shows in her personality. She is a wish-fulfillment character, intelligent, precocious, curious everything a man would want to see in a granddaughter. He gets all the fun because he only has to see her seldom, the rest of us have to put up with here all day every day and a good slap around the face would do this girl wonders.

Double Indemnity - one of the few instances where the film is better than the book. There was a radio play called Double Jeopardy a few months ago (based on the true story) where Raymond Chandler is contacted by Billy Wilder to help him with the script for the film. At one point they describe James M. Cain's dialogue as terrible. They weren't wrong. Some of the stuff the characters say don't sound like they're coming out of a human mouth.

A Dance With Dragons - the big one. Most of this month has been spent reading this monolith. It's very well written but I won't have a proper opinion on the story until I've finished reading it.

So that's all for now.

As usual, thanks for reading.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Back on Track

I hope I'm not being premature with this but I'm feeling back on track with the novel.

There came a point where I was feeling that all I was doing was hitting my head against a brick wall. Everything I read I thought inferior and needed a rewrite and then those new attempts were equally bad. But I knew deep down that there was nothing wrong with any of it. Sure, there were a couple of sentences here and there that could be taken out, a phrasing a little clumsy but overall the writing did what was needed: It told the story. The problem was originating from my outlook and emotional state and from nothing else.

Admittedly, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to finish these novels. I've been working on them a long time and I'm more than eager to send them out into the world and see what happens. But they're just not ready yet. A few more months and they will be but I'm not about to throw all this hard work away just because I got impatient near the end.

But sometimes I'm trying so hard to write these beautiful sentences that I'm neglecting their main purpose which is to communicate the story from the page right into people's heads with as little effort as possible. Read George Pelecanos or Elmore Leonard. Their writing styles are very stripped down but they always get the point across, making it as simple as possible to form that image in your head that makes a good story enjoyable.

So I managed to uncurl my fingers off the manuscript this month and wrote the first draft of a short story called Tribes which I'll go back to and fix at a later date.

At present, I'm back on the novel and feeling a lot more peaceful about it and as a result those same words I was gritting my teeth over in May are looking mighty fine. I should hopefully have Part One done and dusted by the end of next week. It's just the final scene that needs a tweak. Then I'll correct some more scenes in the first half of Part Two before tackling the second half.

Right. So what have I been reading? I've read a few bad books this month so I'll just do the highlights.

Scrivener's Moon - Philip Reeve's new WOME book. I have to say that this is probably the best of the Fever Crumb books so far. Some great imagery and a great story. I really enjoyed this one.

Stories - a collection of short stories with some top writers. This was my first time reading anything by Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult and Joe R. Lansdale. They were all brilliant and I will definitely read them again. It's satisfying to be entertained by pro writers at the top of their game.

The Hot Kid - currently reading this Elmore Leonard, the first thing of his I've ever read. It is very much like the TV show Justified (or rather the TV show is like this book) and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

I've also heard that there are going to be two great-sounding TV shows in the making that I'll have to add to my list of things to look out for.

Apparently, David S. Goyer is looking to do a show based on 100 Bullets, possibly my favourite comic and Michael Chabon is doing a show for HBO called Hobgoblins, which is a naff title but it has an excellent premise. Check it out.

And that's it from me.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Update with very little 'up'

At least that's what it feels like.

Part Two is proving a tough nut to crack. I'm coming up to the half-way point in the book (and therefore the whole trilogy) and finding a lot of things I'd like to try again.

It's interesting to be working through the novel so quickly as I'm finding lots of different strata in my work. I'm finding sections of work from 3 years ago where everything is quite basic and then I'm finding sections from 2 years ago where everything is a little verbose. It's interesting to see how my writing has developed over the past few years, settling (hopefully) in something that's approaching publishable.

At the moment I'm half-way through the book and therefore half-way through the trilogy. However, as Part Two is proving tough and frustrating, I decided to give it a rest and work on some of the things I left behind. This is going well and means that I don't have to go back and correct them later on. It also means that I can't give a concrete progress report this month.

So on to books!

As I mentioned before, I have read The Wise Man's Fear, which was very entertaining. If you enjoyed Name of the Wind you'll very much enjoy this new installment.

I also finished Chris Wooding's Braided Path trilogy (so that only took me 6 months) which was also good, showing glimmerings of what the man was to become when he started to write the amazing Ketty Jay series.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley's second book in his Flavia de Luce series (after The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie). I enjoyed this one more than the last. Perhaps because I had a better idea of what to expect, perhaps because it was simply better. I shall read the third one in the near future.

The Silent Land - is a strange one. It's one of those stories that I think if I had written it, it wouldn't be published for using quite a well-known plot. I enjoyed it, though, the writing was good and the story didn't out stay it's welcome.

A Monster Calls - this has to be my book of the month. The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is superb. A simple idea, well-told and holds nothing back. For child-trauma with fantasy stories this is right up there with Skellig. Patrick Ness is fast becoming one of my favourites.

Moon Over Soho - the sequel to Rivers of London. Now that the world has been introduced, the author can focus more on the case and I liked that. It was a good story, I learned some interesting facts about London and it was just a plain good read.

The Cut - I've got to love George Pelecanos, his stories are just so different from anything else I read. They're gentle but gritty, very genuine in their voice and even more so in their characters. The criminals aren't monsters and the main protagonists aren't raging drunks or in broken families just like in real life. What I guess I'm trying to say is that there are no extremes in his books, which as authors we feel we have to put into our books to make them exciting. He shows that we don't have to make characters larger than life, so long as they just have a life.

Bloody Winter - The latest in Andrew Pepper's Pyke Mysteries. I always love the settings of his novels and I enjoy the good old dark and dirty plots. He's also not afraid to slap his characters around.

I should also mention that I met Joe Hill the other day. He was a really nice guy, very enthusiastic. We discussed Game of Thrones, his new book (sounds great!), writing and how we managed our reading piles. His 'Shelf of 10' intrigues me; a shelf that once a book has been put upon it he must not read anything else other than the books on that shelf. Very much like my 'Bedside Table of However-many'. He also signed a copy of Horns. Nice.

Well, that's it from me for now.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Is writing a meritocracy?

It's something I've been thinking of a lot recently.

As I continue to plough through my own work, reading and re-reading aloud I realise that, hopefully, by year's end I'll be sending these books out into the world. Though I can't remember a precise date, I think I've been working on these books for the past 5 years (end of 2006), which is a long time I think you'll agree. So it'll be closer to 6 years when I think I'll be finished finished.

But does all this hard work guarantee that I'll be published?

The answer is no, because in the end, writing, like all the arts, isn't a meritocracy. It isn't all the best or hardest working writers at the top and the 'ok' writers in the midlist. It isn't only good writers who get published. There are some writers who are at the top even though their stuff isn't that well written and there are authors out there who are very good but no one reads them.

Now, in no way am I saying that I deserve to be at the top, or even published at all. People seem to have enjoyed the short stories I've managed to get published but there are other stories I've written that aren't published at all and I think they're very good. (But what do I know? Of course I think they're good.) That means my stories have to be taken into account individually and not as part of my work as a whole. Just because some of my shorts are good that doesn't mean these novels are as well. They could be awful. I could have made terrible mistakes that I didn't make in my shorts and never even see them as mistakes!

So what makes the difference in selling / publishing books?

Skill is a factor, of course it is, you can't be published if you're simply terrible. I hope, and I stress the word hope, that I'm a good writer and that that will at least get me as far as turning a few heads. Maybe at least get me an agent even if he/she can't sell my novels to a publisher.

But it's not the only thing. There are few who will say J.K. Rowling is a great writer, or Meyer or Brown. They write entertaining stories, for sure, but are they really that much better then all the others? Probably not.

So what else is there?

Luck, of course, and in some ways this is a very big factor. The right book at the right time, what the audience wants, what the media latches on to, even being read when the agent / publisher is in a good mood. These all make a difference. Don't think luck is a factor in success in the creative arts? Tell The Candyskins. Tell Meyer. Tell Brown. Do you think the authors or the publishers knew what a hit they were getting when the manuscript landed on their desks? Probably not. These books touched something in people, the right thing at the right time.

And then there's the marketing and publicity.

I'm into books, as you might well have noticed. But I know very little about music. I like music, love it even, but I don't know the new bands any more, what's good or what's not. All I know are the ones advertised on TV and played on the radio. I'm not immersed in that world. And there are the few I'm still into from the days when I was really in that world; Interpol are a great band but they're not played on the radio so few hear of them. And I don't feel I have the time to go digging around to discover the new underground, less-well-known talents.

There are people out there who are the same with books. They don't want to spend time browsing, or wasting money trying things. They want to be told 'this is good, read this' which is how the Meyers and Browns of this world are born; a massive surge of word-of-mouth, 'read this because everyone else is reading it so it must be good'.

So that's where marketing and publicity comes in. All those people getting on with their lives not thinking about books are told what's good. They're told it on posters, radio interviews, magazine ads, reviews and in retailer offers and displays. They see the books that have had money spent on them by the publisher to get them pride of place. 'This must be good otherwise why would there be a poster saying so?' Money spent on a book to make it visible over others makes a difference and there are too many books for them all to get money. Some of those that do get money are those that have done well before and the rare few others are those the company truly believes in.

Publicity is a little different, it isn't paid for but effort is still made to make one title stand out over another in order to get a reviewer to pick it up out of the hundreds of titles they must get every week. Sometimes, that's more money spent but it's always a case of time and effort being taken to make the interesting, eye-catching covering letter or press release. And some books have more time spent on them than others. These are likely to be the books that are having money spent on them to ensure return on investment.

A degree of skill from the author is required here. Their books have to be good or topical or well talked up to gain publicity. The author also has to have a willingness to go that extra mile to do interviews, write articles and blogs etc. Again some are better than others. You might be a mediocre writer but good at publicity.

And then of course retailers buy on the strength of previous sales. If an author doesn't sell many of one book then the shops are going to buy less of the next one, or if it does really well, they may buy lots. Sales breed sales. This means more or less shelf space in the shops and determines how visible that author is among all the others, feeding back to that 'most visible' thing I was talking about earlier.

Believe me when I say that there are authors out there who are only as strong as the money spent on them. If the money wasn't spent their sales would disappear.

So, yeah.

In the end, though I have enjoyed writing these novels, there is simply no guarantee they will be published, just as my short stories have seen varying degrees of success. Some have been published but my favourite one has been to 15 magazines and has yet to find a home. There's just no saying for sure.

And at this stage of the game I'd be happy simply to be publish and to earn enough to do it for a living. Because it's what I love.

But anyway, the read-through is progressing. I'm currently 331 of 963 (34%) of the way there. So at the moment I'm sort of on track for this stage to be finished around August / September.

Of course, this page count isn't entirely accurate. I had to skip the end of Part One as it needed a rewrite far greater than my reading aloud process allows for and the same for part of chapter 26 in Part Two. And I have a list of changes I need to make so another sub-stage of editing is developing where I make all these changes. But I'm getting there, slowly but surely, I'm getting there.

And so to books I've read this month.

Monsters of Men was great. What a great trilogy. I've gone and bought his new one A Monster Calls which is a gorgeous looking book (but surprisingly heavy, physically).

The House on the Strand - the first book by Daphne Du Maurier I've ever read. And probably the last. I'm sure she was very good for her day but it was really just a story of a man reading a book about local history. And she labours points. A lot.

A Hero of our Time - This is quite an old Russian novel that I heard about last year on Radio 4. It was quite interesting with a few neat observations on humanity and the male ego. It was also short, which helped.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - apparently the author is huge in other countries but not in the UK. I can kind of see why. The writing is great, the story is fine but perhaps it's the setting that puts the people of the UK off. It's sort of an English non-time, in the same sort of world as A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's England-the-Foreign-Country, an idealised place of hazy summers and postmen on bikes that us natives might find difficult to swallow.

The Templar Salvation - not my usual cup of tea but I enjoyed it for the most part. A balls out action piece. It's nice to sometimes have your balls out.

I'm currently reading The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss but as it's too heavy to carry on the tube in the mornings, I'm also reading The Guardians, which is a story about a haunted house, which I will form an opinion on for next time.

And now it's time for the bank holiday. I hope you all enjoy it.

Message ends.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Talking to myself

Indeed I am. Over and over and over.

As I have said before, I am now on the infamous reading aloud stage and I feel that I have so far been very productive. I am currently on page 151 of 963 (15.7%) and that's taken a little over 3 weeks. It has to be taken into consideration, however, that I've had the past week off and this has boosted productivity, somewhat. It's a long process but the result is worth the effort as what has come out of the other side is a leaner, fitter story, losing some of the unnecessary descriptions that seemed so important when I wrote it.

On another note, Earworm Turns was turned down by Albedo One and has now gone to a blogzine called Un:Bound and Kids has been taken by Bete Noire Magazine for a reprint. Huzzah!

Other than that, little to report.

Books read since we last spoke:

I finished Name of the Wind, which was fun.

Traction City - was very short and only took me a day, written for WBD and therefore slower readers which took some of the fun out of it and all in all was not really what I'd hoped for. I was expecting something a little more Noir. Roll on Scrivener's Moon.

The Ask and The Answer - What can I say other than this was brilliant. Patrick Ness has taken quite a difficult concept (pretty much everyone's psychic) and managed to make a clever story that keeps you guessing. You think the concept would grind everything to a halt since the villains know the protagonist's every plan and secret as soon as he thinks it but no, he keeps the story at a brisk pace, all written in the main character's semi-literate patois. I'll say it again, this is brilliant.
Fevre Dream - a great vampire story by George R.R. Martin. Good characters and brilliant descriptions. Every line he writes speaks of the setting (1850s Louisiana). Not as great as Ice & Fire, but then what is? Getting completely over-excited about the TV series and announcement that A Dance with Dragons will be hitting shelves in July.

Life - Keith Richards' autobiography. I don't normally read biographies but I'd heard so much praise for this one and (admittedly) knew little about Rolling Stones that I thought I'd give it a go. I found the beginning very enjoyable how he and the band got together, his passion for music and learning to play things by ear. You remember that behind all the drugs and the stories here is a very intelligent, articulate man who loves his medium. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The second half isn't so much fun as it becomes more a list of tours undertaken and famous musicians played with.

And I am currently reading Monsters of Men, the third of the trilogy after The Ask and The Answer and Knife of Never Letting Go. About 200 pages in and it shows every sign of being just as good as its predecessors.

I've also read a few comics. Morning Glories has got off to a good start, filling the reader with questions which will hopefully start being answered and not succumb to Lost-syndrome.

Crossed is another creation of Garth Ennis. It's his usual stuff, harrowing and sick, and made me feel unclean reading it. I'm glad its over. Kinda good, though.

And I have bought the third installment of The Unwritten by, my hero, Mike Carey. This is no doubt my favourite comic of the past couple of years. Nuff said.


It's time to get back to talking aloud.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

In Pursuit of Perfection

Yesterday, I finished the plot draft of Part 3. This means that in theory I should be pleased with how the entire story fits together and every character's place in it. And you know what? I think I am. I have my doubts, of course, but writers always have doubts. There are definitely things I want to change but none of them seem major and will simply serve to make the story better in a few subtle ways.

I'm very aware that I could go on changing and editing this story forever, ideas can evolve and change just as I change and evolve. I'm not the same person who started writing this thing all those years ago. But there comes a time where I know I'm going to have to put this one aside and send it out into the world and hope someone likes it.

Anyway, so I'm happy with the story but what troubles me at the moment are the words. This happens with every story I write as I near completion, I begin to loathe the words I've used so that means it's time to start printing it out and reading it aloud. Since the story is 286,000 words long and 963 pages this might mean that it's going to take a while but I'd hope to be done by the end of the year and hopefully have the whole thing finished to my 'satisfaction' maybe this time next year.

Here's hoping.

Since my last blog I have read many books. Last Light and its sequel Afterlight by Alex Scarrow were both enjoyable 'what-if-the-oil-ran-out' post-apocalyptic stories but were also quite scary as the crisis was quite believable. My only conclusion to how to survive such an event is to immediately firebomb the chavs who live across the road the moment I even hear the words 'peak oil' on the news to save us all from grief later on.

There was The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West which had some great lines and observations in it.

And I am currently reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss as it seems to be a book everyone is getting excited about as its sequel The Wise Man's Fear hit the shelves yesterday.

On a final note, I heard a great radio play recently about Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder and their struggle to write Double Indemnity. At one point Raymond (played by Patrick Stewart) said 'Every moment of writing is agony'. Sometimes I think I know what he means but I wouldn't give it up for the world.

Right, back to that pursuit.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The perfect writer's room

It's time for another post.

It's all back to work after a nice relaxing holiday and unsurprisingly writing is still as difficult as ever. I'm still plugging away at Part Three and though I'm about 75% of the way through it's still taking its bloody time. Hopefully I'll be done by end of February.

As I'm sure most people do at the beginning of the year, when you have to start getting up early again , I've been thinking about where I'd rather be. Understand that I do enjoy my day job, hell I love my day job, but still in 5, 10, 15 years time where do I want to be when I'm a massive writer? (Massive sales wise, I plan on keeping in shape)

I don't know when New England became a writer's haven in people's minds (or is that just me?). Maybe it started with Stephen King who writes often about writers and / or Maine. Maybe it was before that. Maybe it's been used so many times that you can't help but picture the ideal that these books, TV shows and games (Alan Wake has a beautiful setting) portray; life imitating art imitating life, perhaps.

Alan Wake Picture

Now understand I've never been to New England but what I picture is probably far from reality. I see a place with mountains and trees. The weather behaves, there's hot weather in summer and suitably cold weather in winter and it Snows On Christmas Day By Law. There's all the amenities you could want while at the same time you can have all the peace and quiet you need to write too. The water is clear, everyone's friendly and your house is nice and big and you have your own writing office.

Ah, the office. A desk of course, with a space for the laptop, a space to scribble on paper and space for a printer for inbetween. There's bookshelves, a sofa, a seat and a window with a view. And maybe even a window seat (I'm all about sitting). And room to pace, of course, I'm a pacer (when I'm not sitting, or keeping in shape). Oh, and a skylight for those rainy days when you need to feel glad that while everyone else is out going to work, you are a writer and you don't have to go out unless you want to. Bliss.

Clive James's writing room for Saturday Review.

In the end, it appears I'm talking about Stephen King's house. If you're reading this, Stephen, give it to me.

Anyway, as part of my new thing, books what I have read.

This month I have read (in no particular order):

Entangled By Cat Clarke - a friend of mine who has written a very entertaining book. I found it enjoyable hampered only by the fact that I'm not and never have been a teenage girl. This meant I can't tell the difference between normal teenage girldom and being a right bitch.
Mr. Shivers - also very enjoyable, some great scenes and a gripping premise but went on just a little too long. That aside, I look forward to reading more of him.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece - a brilliant debut novel. Very moving and has some great descriptions and is all round a great book. The author is 28, damn her!


I'm currently reading Catch-22 which so far is strange and at the moment doesn't really have a story. Hmmmm....

Anyway, that's it from me.

Thanks for reading.