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!




100 Days to Write a Novel Week Thirteen

The penultimate week

The MS stands at a couple of hundred words less than 35k. But the work I’ve been doing on it this week isn’t really reflected in wordcount. I’ve been doing a lot of highlighting (what’s immediate scene, what’s narrative summary is one highlighted file. The different character’s dialogue is another) and marking up for editing. I think as soon as I finished the last chapter my brain has switched to editing mode. There are a couple of dodgy scenes that need to be rewritten and/or pumped up but that’s been shuffled into editing.

Self-editing is a special kind of hell. All rewriting is rewriting and some people are good at getting a splurge of words down and then cutting it into shape. But I’m an underwriter (as if you haven’t noticed) so self-editing for me is generally plumping up the prose – which is always too spare. Part of being spare is stylistic of course so not plumping too much is a thing – but do I trust myself as a reader? (not of my own writing is the answer) so I’m now setting up a bunch of beta readers too.

My main aim from this 100 days was to get a good draft to edit and I may have sneakily started to get it ready to edit before the 100 days are up. Which is another way of saying, to myself, that I’d better finish off those dodgy scenes by the end of next week…

Happy Reading & Happy Writing!

100 Days to Write a Novel Week Twelve

Day 82
18 days left

32477 words which is around 400 words a day (almost) “For more than three years I wrote more than 400 words every day. I mean, every calendar day. If, in those pre-portable days, I couldn’t get to a keyboard, I wrote hard the previous night and caught up the following day, and if it ever seemed that it was easy to do the average I upped the average.” Terry Pratchett

So if it was good enough for Pratchett…

I have though written more words than that. I’ve moved scenes around. I’ve cut scenes and words. It’s hovered around to 30-40k mark for the last two weeks. Even when I’ve cut almost 10,000 words. But I am in a happier place now. I have a few scenes left to write which will bump up the word count over the next two weeks – 18 days until this challenged is over. And I will definitely end up with what I wanted, a ‘good’ draft. Well, a better draft than I had already (some scenes were bullet points, a couple were no more than a sentence) and something that is editable. It might even be good enough to send to a first reader, it’ll be novella length probably but crucially – it’ll be complete.

I have also learned a few things. The first and most important thing is a lesson relearned. (and I covered it on the blog here) The well runs dry, I’m a battery not a dynamo. A daily target is a demotivator for me, was so for the two times I failed NaNoWriMo and yet I went into this knowing that 100 days meant that there needed to be a daily word count.

I also learned that the hybrid plan/pants approach works – but the plan had too little narrative for a 70k book. That’s not necessarily a problem if the publisher will accept a Novella. (If not I’ll see if another publisher would – and start again on the novel I owe the original publisher) Stories find their own length.

Some news – I’ll be doing Milford next year and I’m in discussions to be a speaker at an interesting event in 2020 too (more info as that becomes public). I’ll be at FantasyCon in Glasgow next month as well as Bristol Festival of Literature and BristolCon. I’ve volunteered for the programme at both FantasyCon and BristolCon but have no details what (if anything) I’ll be doing there.

At BFL I’ll be reading at a North Bristol Writers event (get your tickets here) and I’ll be at a few other events – most notably Adaptation at Storysmiths which should be a great event.

Hope to see some of you there!

Happy Reading & Happy writing

100 Days to Write a Novel(la?) week eleven

I did a bad thing. I should be at 55k now, I am a lot less than that and it’s because of the bad thing. As I’d slowed, a lot, which is usual in the middle slog, I went back to the beginning and re-read. And edited. And lost a few thousand words. Oops. OK, I’ve done a whole bunch of posts of “doing it wrong” and not following received wisdom on writing and this is another one.

Received wisdom is ‘just get it down then fix it later’ and you are supposed to press on and not worry about mistakes until you go through second draft. However, the counterpoint I’d put here is that if the reason you are slowing down is that you’ve taken a wrong turn then ignoring that and carrying on is counterproductive. OK, no writing is wasted, as such, it’s all practise but. But… it’s possible it’s wasted effort on this project, right now.

The other thing I did is also possibly a mistake. I did a quick and dirty version of the second half – you know, just press on with it. No fancy writing. And I’m now wondering if, when it tops out, when I fill in the corners, that this novel is actually a novella.

There’s less than a month to go on this challenge and I will end up with an editable draft, because I already have that, but it isn’t going to be 70k words… currently it’s a little less than half that and I think will end up at around the 50k mark – so just novel length (if you believe NanoWriMo) but a very short novel. But then stories find their own lengths. I just wonder if the publisher will still be interested. Of course you’ll find out shortly after I do, because I’ll blog it.

Happy reading & writing – more next week.

100 Days to (Not) Write a Novel

Another week has flown by and another disappointing wordcount. I’m still behind, at less than 40,000 words when I should be on 50,000 at this point. Ah well, blame politics – I’ve not been able to tear myself away from Twitter and news sites for the absolute shambles that’s on display. It’s been simultaneously hilarious and frightening how quickly the Tories have imploded as soon as Parliament is in session. But as tempting for me to continue watching I have a month left to finish this self-imposed challenge so I’d best crack on. 1,000 words a day, seven days a week is what it’ll take. Wish me luck!