In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Friday, 30 May 2014

Busy Summer

  Hello all, and welcome to my increasingly stressed life. I'm scrambling to finish Troy II as soon as I can, because there's a hectic summer ahead. It's not just the usual things - my nephew's birthday, bike rides in the sunshine, and hikes on Exmoor. (I probably won't be able to do that last, because the nail is about to fall off my bad toe, and hiking on that injury might not be too clever.) There's something else.

  The World Cup.

  Yes, I know, England have no chance. They're not the Three Lions right now, more a sort of three-legged whippet. But this tournament is in Brazil, and my lord, I can't help but be excited. I want to see how Argentina play, and whether Ghana can deliver on their promise. Will Germany bounce back yet again? Will Belgium show why they're dark horses, and will Brazil themselves handle the immense pressure? Brazil are favourites, but if they crack the title is up for grabs, and any of six or eight nations could seize it.

  But in this 25th anniversary year of the Hillsborough disaster, there are real dangers. Brazil was well behind its building schedule and has rushed to finish several stadia, some of which have seen workmen killed in a series of accidents. I wonder how many corners have been cut to get those places finished on time. There are too few hotels, too many appalling roads, and far too much rioting in the streets in protest at the cost of the tournament. It would be a surprise if there wasn't a serious problem at some stage this summer. I only hope it doesn't involve a lot of deaths - but it might.

  That puts the football into perspective. Any sport is just entertainment in the end, no different from watching a film or yes, reading a book. The Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said that football wasn't life and death, but "much, much more important than that." It isn't, as Hillsborough reminded Liverpool in 1989. Football is an escape; again, like a film or a book. It's life to many people, but it's not something we should have to dare death in order to enjoy.

  In a way it ties into the question of how realistic fiction should be, doesn't it? But only to a point. If you're caught in a riot or a stadium collapse in Brazil then you're caught in it, but even the most realistic novel can be put down. The thrills are vicarious. Which is how it should be.

  I'll be watching the England games with a pint in my hand, hooting at every misplaced pass and cheering every goal. I can't help it. And y'know, somewhere in the midst of it all I might, just might, start to hope for the extraordinary. Well, I do write Fantasy, after all. Though I probably won't write much on the days when England play.

  I remember Istanbul 2005, when Liverpool came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan and win the Champions' League. Sometimes fantasies come true. Just now and then.

Monday, 19 May 2014


  I appear to have an infected toe. Sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Bit painful really though, so I'm spending a lot of time either a) sitting in the sunshine in the park, or b) sitting at my PC writing. And playing games, a bit. Not much, honest.

  Life is so hard sometimes.

  Anyway, I've had a crackerjack new idea, which all came from idly reading a history book while something boring was on the TV  (I think it was Avatar - stunning effects, terrible derivative story. It wants to be Dances with Wolves when it grows up). The book mentioned in passing that the star sign Capricorn is the only one remaining of the original Sumerian zodiac, in which it was represented as a "Sea-Goat" - body of a man, tail of a fish and head of a goat. They called it Kaprikornus and thought the Sea-Goats were minor deities. At which the old brain went whiz-bang for a second and there was my idea.

  This reading lark is terrific, isn't it? I don't really know why I had the TV on in the first place, books are way better than the average pap on telly.  Except that I live alone, so sometimes I want to break the quiet with music, or some rubbishy program on the tube. Then as often as not I read a book while something warbles to itself in the background, and quite often I discover something fascinating or read a tremendous new novel, and all's well in the world for a bit.

  (Speaking of which, I recently read Hugh Howey's Wool - an indie book, originally published online and now a big wow in the conventional publishing world. Good novel, too. It shows it can be done, people).

  So I stopped writing Troy II for a couple of days while I jotted down some ideas for Kaprikorn, and now have a finished chapter. I can't do more because I'll come too far out of the Troy story, mentally: I need to stay immersed or I'll get my plot lines terribly tangled. I might post the opening of Kaprikorn on here later, when I get back to it, just to see what you all think. Meanwhile I'm now back in Troy II, where the Greeks are in deep trouble and looking for a hero to pull them out of it. I've got 50,000 words down now, so one more solid push should see me on the home straight.

  I was asked recently if I'd help with another project, something that came from the local Library. There's a decent story in it, but I just have too much in my In-Tray already. My To-Do list includes Kaprikorn, a trilogy called Chained Dragon (one volume complete), a probable duology called The Playground of Fawns (3 chapters finished), and The Spirit Wood, which had half a volume done but which I need to rewrite. In short, if you want to add to my load then call me in about 5 years - by which time I'll have even more piled up, I expect, so if you ask, be prepared for some shouting.

  And yet... someone emailed me recently to say he'd bought Risen King, enjoyed it, and given it to his son to read. The son has now bought both Songs of Sorrow books and is immersed in the first. Just one instance of that every few months is enough to lift my heart a little: I might not be changing the world, but somewhere in that In-Tray is a story that will touch someone, somehow, and that's a pretty encouraging thought.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

A Proper Author

  Yesterday I hosted my first author event - just a small one, a meet-and-greet and book signing at Barnstaple Library. For a couple of days beforehand I went through long periods of calm broken by sudden attacks of gibbering panic, but it turned out OK. Part of the reason why is that a good number of friends turned up to support me, some of them writers and others from my work. I'm really grateful to them, so big thanks for that to Ruth, Colin and Sue, Gill, the other Gill, and everyone else.

  Thanks as well to Elliot Anderton, who's a reporter for the local paper and who took a couple of photos, which will be in the Gazette with a write-up next week (Me! In the paper!). I was invited to do another signing at Bideford Library in the summer as well, and most importantly of all I sold a few books, so today was a good day.

  And you know, it wasn't half so scary as I was thought it might be. Once I was settled I found I could actually talk a bit of sense (don't tell my Mum, she'll never believe it). Writing is one thing, but as I've said before, speaking sensibly about it is quite another. Sitting at my desk I get distracted sometimes, my thoughts wander, or else I write a bit and then delete it, write another bit and scribble half of it out before rewriting, and so and so - none of which really works when you're talking face to face. You'd come across as a stuttering loon. Also I have a tendency when nervous to make silly jokes. I'd be hopeless as a hostage negotiator.

  But people are generally willing to make allowances for nervousness. We're a good-hearted lot, most of us, and sometimes in the midst of worrying about something we lose sight of that. I think I did, in the run-up to this signing. I still half expect a day to come when everyone points at me and laughs, and someone says "You didn't really think we'd let you call yourself a proper author, did you?" Silly of me, that. The books are selling bit by bit and the reviews are all good. What more can I ask?

  Well, yes, apart from sales in the thousands and a film deal...

  It's amazing what this does for the confidence. If you're thinking about doing a first author event, my strong advice is to crack on and do it - at your local Library, at a school, in a nearby second-hand book store; wherever you can arrange it. It's not just for the sales, or the publicity, but for the feeling it gives, like breaking through ice to cool water beneath. Maybe this is just my relief talking, but you know, that itself shows how enjoyable I found this.

  Go on, put yourselves out there. I bet people will be glad to see you.