Sound the Retreat!

This weekend I’ll be attending my first writing retreat (but not my last as I’m also booked onto Milford in September.) I’m not entirely sure what to expect but aim to create a revision plan for Certainty and write the first draft of at least 1 story for Museum (and maybe more!) as well as have a lot of conversations with the other attending writers about writing.

I’ve had two short story sales so far this year – which is one more than last year and possibly shows that I’m getting my mojo back – or at the very least writing more. More info on them when it becomes available.

I shall be attending Stokercon in April and have planned to attend FantasyConand BristolCon too.

You can now pre-order Forgotten Sidekicks from Amazon here and it will come out on the 2nd April. I’ve got a proof copy and it looks gorgeous!

You can also pre-order the Alchemy Press book of Horrors 2 which I have a story in which is due to be launched at StokerCon

I guess that’s all the news fit to print for now – I’ll do a blog post about the writing retreat after the weekend.

Everything is banal and jejune (or what I learned about writing by growing a beard)

When my beard was short I got a lot of comments that I looked like this guy


Last year I let my beard grow (mostly – it does get tidied now and then)

And now I think I look like

john fowles

But what lots of other people think I look like

father xmas

I mean, obviously a lot more comments around the festive season but I’ve been getting it throughout the year.

What’s all this got to do with writing?


I think you can teach people writing – the skill of crafting a good sentence (although I have met a couple of people who had a tin ear for prose and also couldn’t be taught) but it’s a lot harder to teach someone to have an imagination. Which ties into the ‘where do you get your ideas from’ question that all writers get asked.

Some people see me and think “Father Christmas” – fair enough, I’m a larger gentleman with Irish genes which means white hair and white beard. I suspect most people keep that observation to themselves and it is only a small subset who have to blurt it out. So why are they drawn to say ‘it’s Father Christmas’ as if it’s a) something that’s hilarious and b) at all original.

It’s the second one that has a bearing on writing. You want to be original (there are of course shades of originality from Avant-Garde to ‘Same-same but different.’) You want a balance, but be like Frost and take the road less traveled:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Because what first occurs to you might seem fresh and original – because it’s only just occurred to you. But if it’s the first idea to come to mind you can bet that it’s the obvious idea. I didn’t think the ‘it’s Father Christmas’ was amusing the first time I heard it so hearing it over and over has become incrementally less amusing… the more an idea is flogged the less interesting it becomes. OK so there’s only supposed to be seven plots but you’ve got to give it a fresh spin or the only people you’ll appeal to are the ones who haven’t heard it before.

Avoid banality and don’t just write the first idea that comes to you.


So long 2019

This year was mainly filled with procrastination (although I am well on the way to having two books to hand in this year & I did edit an anthology but that won’t be out until next year either) so my round up is on my reading:

So my goal was 5 books off the TBR per month – I totally failed to do it monthly, and it turns out failed to read 60 books off the TBF – in fact I only managed 43

So out of the 229 books I’ve tracked this year:

Added to the TBR 73
Read 132 (149 last year) not including the DNF (see below)

I read 10 books I received as presents – and this year I asked people to not give me books (I got 3 for Xmas – but expect will get a few for my birthday beginning of January)

I read 15 ARCs (some review copies, some for events where I was interviewing authors, some for the award I judged)

I have 34 DNF this year. I had 7 last year. So I’ve obviously been a lot less patient this year! 30 of the DNF I bought this year too – but at least they didn’t go onto the TBR I guess…

I had 2 “Brilliant” reads this year (absolute 5 stars) – there were 3 last year. The two are:

Ghosts of my life

ghosts of my life

This is how you lose the time war

this is how you lose

I read books from 19 different countries – but no surprise that UK & USA dominated

20 books bought or read by multiple authors
50 by women
159 by men

So I’m doing atrociously on gender balance

My 2019 report then is “must do better”

Happy New Year and see if I do better in 2020 by following this blog

The dark half

And so Bristol Festival of Literature is mostly over – just 1 event left, a fringe one: Sky Light Rain in which Judy Darley will launch her latest collection and the great and good of Bristol’s Lit Scene will gather and chatter.

BristolCon went past in a happy whirr – as usual I don’t feel that I did enough panels, spoke to enough people or bought enough books. OK well, maybe not that last one <embaressed face> As ever it was a fabulous day and great to see old friends and make some new ones. I Panelled and read and launched (two years in a row I’ve been part of the book launch).

Talking of which Airship Shape 2 is now out and available to buy – go grab a copy, you won’t be disappointed!

In awaiting beta feedback on The Certainty of Dust (which I read from at the Con) I am taking a pause and wondering what to work on next. I have a short story collection to deliver of course, so I should be writing stories for that, but do I now tackle the book I’ve been meaning to write for the last two years? It involves Aphra Behn as narrator and is set in the late 1600’s. I feel ready to tackle the pile of research books and start a new notebook…


The Once and Future Con

Last weekend was the Clydebank FantasyCon (not Glasgow by any stretch) which was fantastic. It took place in a pretty weird hospital hotel – which, just like the Scarborough venue, would work as a horror film/book setting. I did some programming (Special thanks to Kit Power who organised Tales of the Dark which was a brilliant atmospheric set of readings)

I resisted buying too many books, I sold a couple of books, I did a reading that was interrupted sadly, and I was on a panel where Lucy Hounsom stepped up to moderate after the moderator pulled out. And she was awesome.

I didn’t explore the area much, although I did go for a walk in the afternoon sun on the Sunday whilst waiting for the awards to start. Muriel Gray was the stunt MC (filling in for Lee Harris who’d been invited as a GOH to another Con, nice to see him going up in the world) and she was fabulous.

As ever the greatest pleasure in FantasyCon is in catching up with the fantasy tribe. renewing old friendships and making new ones.

I got back home at past midnight on Sunday evening and straight back to the day job the next day. Then Tuesday night out for an event at Redland Library  and last night at Storysmith books and tonight I’ll be reading at this anthology event …

And then tomorrow BristolCon unofficially starts. Officially the programming is on Saturday but there’s always an open mic the night before, and, of course, BarCon!

the lovely programmers have put me down to do a reading at 09:50am and to moderate the first panel of the day:


There’s a long history of rural and folk influence in our genres, but it seems to be an especially prevalent trend at the moment. As more and more of us live in cities and only encounter nature on away days and holidays, is it becoming the great unknown?

Paul Cornell, Peter Morwood, Diane Duane, Juliet McKenna, Pete Sutton (M)

My books will be on sale and there will be a launch of Airship shape part 2 in which I have a story.

Hope to see you there!

100 Days to Write a Novel Day 100

In a real way I’ve failed. I have a half novel, a novella, and not a novel at all.

However, I’ve learned a few things – the most important of which is that I can’t write every day (even if I wanted to) and that some targets are millstones not milestones.

The Certainty of Dust exists in a readable format, just shy of 35,000 words. The draft has gone to 3 beta readers. I could do with 1, possibly 2 more beta readers – if you’d like to do so please drop me a line (I can’t offer anything apart from your name in lights in the book and my eternal gratitude if you were so kind to offer). If I hadn’t done this crazy challenge that wouldn’t have been the case. I’d still be procrastinating.

Once I have beta comments I’ll revise and edit and then send to my publisher who has asked for first refusal (so, no guarantee they’ll take it). If they refuse I’ll start punting it to various other publishers.

I have also learned that my ongoing writing crisis (caused by fear of disappointing expectation) is really a crisis and not just because I was busy. Hence the procrastinating. Despite Emma Newman‘s great advice at Fairford Festival that procrastination is just armour against fear. Fear of finishing, fear of failure, fear of success. You just have to write through it. But am I determined enough? Do I want ‘it’ enough? What is ‘it’ anyway? Publication? Fame, fortune and fast cars? The adulation of the masses and respect of my peers? Why do it? That’s something I need to ponder…

At the same time I’ve enjoyed some success (won a couple of competitions, had a story in the best of horror, shortlisted for the BFA and various people I respect telling me I’m a good writer) my novels have failed to make any splash whatsoever. My aim for Seven Deadly Swords was to get more reviews than for Sick City Syndrome. I not only got less, but some of the ones I did get were removed from Amazon. Sales-wise they’ve been poor. Both much, much poorer than A Tiding of Magpies (which also has more reviews). So each book has done worse than the one before. That sort of puts me off as writing a book is quite a lot of work. So at the same time I feel there is some expectation (based purely on the short stories really) I also feel like the books are failing to find an audience. Although Small Press publishing was always going to mean (unless you have a serious stroke of luck) a limited distribution.

My bio for a long time said I made more money from non-fiction and joked that I should write that exclusively. (It’s a close run thing now as to which has made me more money. Oh and ‘more money’ is very relative – it’s still tiny amounts in the grand scheme). Now I’m wondering if novels are where it’s at for me. Of course the counter is that my first ever novel I tried to write was published (after a *lot* of rewriting) and the second too.  I wrote a few short stories before I sold any.

I’m certainly going to go and work on The Museum of Forgetting (my next short story collection, for which I am writing new stories) while waiting for the beta feedback. Coincidently that also (with 5 stories written: 4 shorts and a novelette) stands at just less than 35,000 words.

I’ve signed up to do two writing retreats next year – and I hope to get my mojo back. I’ve also bought a pile of research books for the next project, another historical fantasy set in the 1600’s. So I guess I’ll carry on with this writing lark, and try to ignore any expectation of publication or ‘success.’ For now, success is finishing books.

If you’d like to hear what the beginning of The Certainty of Dust sounds like I’ll be doing a reading at BristolCon (an expurgated version as it’s only 5 minutes) – I’ll also be at the Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion 2 launch. I’m really happy that Jo & Roz accepted a story from me, despite it being mid-crisis and my first attempt being a bit of a mess (they rightly got me to rewrite and it’s much better now). My story is called The Engine At The Heart Of The City and is set on a flying city.

Anyway. It’s Friday, it’s four o’clock so not quite Crackerjack. But it is time I put this to bed and welcomed the weekend in…

Happy Reading & Happy Writing!