Briefly popping in

Just a quick update post. “Doing Things Wrong Part 2” will be coming soon (for a given value of soon) and will be on the subject of writing every day.

I’m working on Infinite Dysmorphia as editor (with Sammy Smith as co-editor) and that’s been keeping me busy. I’m also editing another anthology which is for charity – more details as they become clearer.

The next thing I have out may be an essay in the Body Horror Book as I haven’t written many shorts this year as I’ve been editing Sick City Syndrome. or could be my essay in Know Your Place. I’ve also planned out the Novella (as yet untitled) in the Ferryman universe which series appeared in Far Horizons (Talking of which they are still going, although I have stepped aside as editor, possibly only a hiatus, possibly…) and The Certainty of Dust – the next novel, for which I signed the contract with KGHH today!

I will be at Nine Worlds – I volunteered for the program but haven’t heard anything so am assuming I’m surplus to requirements and will be there as a punter only. I’m also going to WorldCon for which I’m on two panels (as it stands) – this will be my second Con in Finland!

I’ve also accepted a jury position on the BFS awards for the Novella category – more news when possible. This is my first time as a juror and the books on the list are very interesting – so am looking forward to the whole process. And yes it does mean that I’ll be at FantasyCon too.

In addition to the writing I’m helping to organise Bristol HorrorCon for the third time, Bristol Festival of Literature for the fifth time and BristolCon for the first time.

Next year I might just do a “writing year” and take a break from editing and event organising – although I do enjoy it they do take away time from the writing…



Doing it wrong (according to the ‘How to’ books) Part 1 – Keeping a Journal

OK so that’s a long title! As per my blog post “Writing books and the Writer” you’ll have seen that I read a lot of writing books. Of the “How To” variety, as well as ones on language and from writers on writing. I feel moved to write a series of “Doing it Wrong” because I can’t be the only one out there that has some success as a writer (for a given quality of success) that isn’t doing what they recommend.


I remember when I was first starting out and was at a writing workshop at Bristol Festival of Literature the workshop leader told us about under-writing (writing too little and adding detail on a second draft) and I realised that because I had only read “On Writing” by Steven King I had been thinking that I was doing writing wrong all along – because King is an overwriter (writes too much and cuts on a second draft). It wasn’t until someone articulated the underwriting thing that the penny dropped.

I’ve immediately got two “Doing it Wrong” burning topics and will no doubt come up with more. So this is a part one of a possible longer series or it may just possibly a two-parter. And to start off I’ll tackle the advice that most “How to” books start with – Keeping a Journal.

I understand that it can be a good idea for many writers. If you’re the kind of writer whose brain is fizzing with ideas and you can’t keep track of them without writing them down then obviously a journal is a good idea. Journaling could also be a good way to log observations – on people, conversations, journeys etc. However, the idea that you need to carry a journal with you everywhere you go can be counterproductive for some people. It was counterproductive for me.

I’m not a natural diarist, I’ve never kept a diary but I tried the whole keeping a journal thing because it is almost ubiquitous advice on how to be a ‘proper’ writer. I ended up schlepping blank books around for a while. I have a collection of notebooks that I either didn’t fill or filled with cryptic, useless bullet points that made no sense to me later if I even thought to check.

Because I’m not a very organised person I ended up with several different partly filled reporters notepads and if I did jot something down that I later remembered and wanted to use, trying to find it was annoying. I also did that classic thing of starting with best intentions and jotting down lots in the first few days then wrote less and less, and less and less often, as time passed. I ended up feeling guilty that I wasn’t journaling, generating and developing ideas on a daily basis. The empty notebooks became burdens.

So how do I do it instead? I chew over things in my headspace and my ideas need a fair while to ferment before they’re ready to be written down. Writing them down before they’re ready is like taking the top off a bottle of coke, if you don’t use it straight away it goes flat. In the process of writing it down it becomes a little fixed and it escapes the headspace. I stop thinking about it in those idle stare out the window moments. And if I’ve written it down, and not used it, coming across it later when the neural pathways have been re-routed means it no longer fizzes for me.

Maybe it’s simply a justification narrative for laziness but I do think that trying to keep a journal was counterproductive for me. My best stories, or at least what I think of as my best stories, lived inside my head for a long time before I attempted to write them down. That’s not to say that they fall out of my head fully formed (although that has happened) but more that they’re ready to be worked upon if they’ve been given some time to bubble away in the subroutines of my semi-consciousness.

So am I doing it wrong?




Holding pattern

At the moment I’m planning out a novella and a novel whilst waiting for my edit to come back on Seven Deadly Swords. I’ve also got a couple of short story deadlines. But oddly I’ve got that ‘end of term’ feeling and finding it very hard to knuckle down to work.

The North Bristol Writers are doing a “My writing career” workshop in June and it has me re-evaluating why I write, what I want from it, what writing success is etc. So it feels a little fateful today to read Hannah Berry’s post on why Livestock will be her last GN

If you’ve not read Hannah’s work I highly recommend it & I’ve been waiting impatiently for this one for years (but Hannah Berry is not my bitch and I’d never hassle her about taking time to create) But it makes you think. Why do this?

Next year I’ll have been writing stories for 5 years – it’s not long – and I’m lucky enough to have the time to do this whilst also having a full-time job. I went into it with an open mind – let’s see if I can get a story published. I’ve done that, what’s now my metric of success?

I don’t know – I’ll let you know once I’ve figured it out!



Structures and Developments

Earlier this week I sent the manuscript of Seven Deadly Swords to my editor at Grimbold. This is after a fairly hefty restructure and rewrite after the structural/developmental edit.

It’s been to beta readers and they all had good comments but it seems like after extensive electronic scissors and pots of glue, moving chapters around, completely rewriting one character and snipping 20,000 words (and writing a new 10,000) I managed to not introduce any plot holes. Which is a major relief!

Seven Deadly Swords was mostly written in 2013/14 when I was just learning the craft. It showed. It had a hefty rewrite after an editorial going over by the fabulous Joanne Hall (Hi Jo!). Then went into submissions. I got a few interested bites from agents, including one request for a rewrite/resubmission and it was rewritten again.

Then Grimbold agreed to take it, on the proviso that I change the tense. That was a faff, but not a strong rewrite.

Now it’s had another rewrite – and the line edits are to come, so further changes afoot.

I strongly suspect that some of this process of rewriting would have been avoided if I’d planned the book better. I’m an exploration writer (or pantser if you like that term) but plan as I go along. That’s also how I wrote Sick City Syndrome.

I’m going to plan the next piece of writing with much care, and see if that makes a difference…

Still it’s nice to see Seven Deadly Swords inching closer to publication…

Some reviews

Thirty Years Of Rain by Neil Williamson

Thirty Years of Rain – Edited by Elaine Gallagher, Cameron Johnston & Neil Williamson

Published by Taverna Press (20 Sept. 2016)

This is a collection of stories and poetry from members of the Glasgow science fiction writers group. When the North Bristol writers group created its first anthology North by Southwest one criticism, that we attempted to turn into a strength, was that the book was incredibly eclectic (we had a very loose theme of ‘North’). Although Thirty Years of Rain has a similar issue, with only ‘science fiction’ to bind them, it does make eclectism work.

There are some familiar names in here, and some I’m less familiar with but the level of quality in the stories was consistently high. There’s around 30 stories in the book across the range of SF so there is something in here for every type of SF fan I think.

Standouts for me were: TJ Berg’s tale of grief The Freedom of Above, which was a very human story but still managed to have a big SF idea at its heart; Headkiller by Michael Cobley which was a PKD style story of future assassins; The Marquis of Alcatraz by Richard Mosses which revolved around an unknown Dumas novel; The Lodger by Brian M Milton an epistolic tale about alien refugees  and in contrast to that one Neil Williamson’s affecting tale of refugees from a broken Earth – Foreign Bodies. There were very few stories that didn’t hit the spot, and no duds at all. – that is unusual in a collection. Recommended.


Entropic Angel: And Other Stories by Gareth…

Entropic Angel by Gareth L Powell

NewCon Press (24 April 2017)

I’ve been lucky enough to hear Powell read some of these stories at various events but it’s nice to sit down and read them through. It’s also nice to get a bit of explanation at the end of the stories as the author relates what inspired the story.

Powell won the BSFA for his his novel Ack-Ack Macaque in 2013 and at least one of the stories in this collection was also nominated for the award.  So you know you are getting some good writing.

Standouts were The Last Reef, a tale of AI evolution, Gonzo Laptop a story written in response to Hunter S Thompson’s death, Hot Rats a flash fiction about travelling in time and Memory Dust which had more than a hint of Lovecraft to it. But I enjoyed the whole collection, these are just the ones that I enjoyed especially. The majority of these stories have made the grade and been published in magazines. This is a nice collection and it’s interesting to see Powell’s inspirations and influences – Gonzo, the beats, some Banks perhaps.

Overall – a very enjoyable collection. Recommended.

The Enclave (NewCon Press Novellas Set 1) by…

The Enclave by Anne Charnock

Newcon Press (10 Feb. 2017)

Other reviewers like this book because it allows them to live a little longer in the world of her novel A Calculated Life. However I’ve not read the novel, but after reading this novella I would like to. It seems like a well-drawn world and Charnock writes with both grace and heart. This novella is the story of a young climate change refugee, Caleb, who has been sold into indentured servitude to Ma Lexie in The Enclave of the title. Ma Lexie’s crew recycles trash into sellable goods. Caleb demonstrates aptitude and skill in sewing clothes and allowing Ma Lexie to make money in the market. He also has a remote friendship with another such as himself in a neighbouring Enclave who he communicates with by putting messages in a bottle which he tosses over the gap between buildings.

This is an interesting, character driven, social and political science fiction. I will be checking out A Calculated Life based on my enjoyment of this novella.

This is one of four novellas from Newcon Press that are collected in a beautiful box set.


Chalk: A Novel by Paul Cornell

Chalk by Paul Cornell

St. Martins Press-3PL (21 Mar. 2017)

After a gentle introduction to the mystical English setting of Wiltshire with its chalk hill figures Cornell then hits you with an astonishing incident of bullying that is breathtakingly brutal. I admit that I didn’t think the novel could sustain itself after the opening; I didn’t see how the stakes would be increased. However any scepticism was soon dispelled as the supernatural element of the plot kicked in.

You get some typical Cornellisms – the TV program Doctor Who plays a part, there is a psychogeographical  overlay of mystical history over the landscape and there are characters that, like us at first, don’t understand the supernatural forces that buffet them.

There are some excellent ideas in here, like scrying using number one singles and the overall concept of the story (which I won’t give away) and there was an extra frission for myself as it’s set in the early 80’s with a protagonist roughly the age I was at the time. But this is no nostalgia trip. If anything it is anti-nostalgic, a reminder of the darker parts of growing up, the lack of control you have, the intense peer pressures, status battles. This is the best of Cornell’s work I’ve read so far.



Guest post by Titus Chalk – A lesson from Bristol

Today’s guest post comes from Titus Chalk who has written a history of Magic: The Gathering called Generation Decks

I’ve spent plenty of time playing this game but, unlike many of my friends, never got caught up in the collecting aspect of it. I saw some people spend thousands of pounds on collecting cards and in our little circle of gamers we called it Crack: The Gathering. Because some people seemed to become addicted…


Titus Chalk is a freelance writer currently based in Berlin. His itinerant life has led him from the UK to New Zealand and France and now, to the German capital. Having learned to play Magic: The Gathering in early-nineties New Zealand, he has been lugging a cupboard full of cards with him ever since, with many of the rarest in his collection worth more than their weight in gold. He loves Magic, has made friends for life playing it, but remains a critical and curious guide to the enthralling game.


Titus lived in Bristol and his post is entitled – A Lesson from Bristol

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On the subject of silence

It’s been almost a month since the last blog post – so what’s been happening?

I’ve finished the major rewrite on Seven Deadly Swords and it’s with a few trusted beta readers before sending back to the editor at Grimbold. Which is quite exciting – more details on when the book will be released will come later in the year.

I attended EasterCon which was very enjoyable & got to catch up with plenty of friends on the Con scene. Great to see Dave Hutchinson win best novel at the BSFA awards for Europe in Winter.

This weekend I’ll probably be at Hawksbury Upton Lit Fest but I have a non-fiction deadline so depends how that goes.

I also have a short story deadline for end of the month but after that I’ll be revisiting the novel ideas I have to flesh out one or two synopses and starting novel number 3 which is provisionally called – “The Certainty of Dust”