In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Review of the Year

 2015 is nearly over, and here's what you've all been waiting for. Yes, it's my now traditional review of the year.

 Trouble is, I haven't watched, read or been involved with as much this year. My life's been so full that there hasn't been time. The largest part of that is that I got married, of course, one wonderful day back in August. But I also changed my job twice, ending up as a shop manager in Yeovil, which meant moving house, and all while my wife was pregnant. She still is, by the way; our daughter is due in February. Guess what the headline will be in next year's review?

 But despite all these terrible hardships, I have managed to sneak off now and then for a bit of enjoyment, so here goes. Spoilers may lie ahead, so watch out.

 Best film is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. I said last year that the first Mockingjay film was the best of the series, though taken from the worst book, and the final movie continued that. It's very cleverly done, keeping true to the novel but changing enough to make things interesting. It also makes it clearer that Coin really was a bad woman, ready to start all the old terrors again - meet the new boss, same as the old boss. A movie well worth seeing.

 I liked The Martian too. It's very hard to write a story in which the main character is alone nearly all the time, because dialogue is so important. Without it you have to be clever, and the writers here pull that off. I know, I'm a sucker for good writing. I can't imagine why.

 Speaking of which, the writers of Doctor Who need to either pull their fingers out or quit. Since Capaldi took over all the wit, all the subtlety has gone out of the show. It's set pieces now, dramatic incidents and gribbly monsters, but little of the sense of fun and character it used to have. No wonder viewing figures are falling.

 In books, I read Iain M Banks' The Player of Games. This is, simply, brilliant. It's set in the far-future Culture, where everyone lives comfortable lives - but not in the Empire of Azad, which is brutally ruled by a power elite chosen on the basis of how successful they are in playing the game of Azad, after which the empire is named. The game is said to be so like life that success in one means sure success in the other. The Culture is trying to build diplomatic bridges to the empire, so it recruits a talented game player named Gurgeh and sends him to Azad to play. As the story develops Gurgeh begins to realise there are larger games being played than the one on the boards. His journey through all this is horrifying as much as anything, but the book is seamless, as close to a perfect piece of SF as I can remember reading.

 I tried to read A Song of Ice and Fire again, too. It's my third effort to get into the books that became Game of Thrones and I can't manage it, I just can't. I know the series is more realistic than most Fantasy, I understand that it deals with moral ambiguity and the role of women in society. But it's just so dull. George R R Martin writes as though his hand is moving through treacle. The TV series might be just as good as I'm told it is - I wouldn't know - but it was taken from bad books. And really, one novel since 2005? I don't know what Martin is playing at. A writer's job is to write. One novel in the last ten years is absurd.

 So, there it is. I can almost hear the shrieks of dismay already. Hopefully 2016 will include more high quality like Banks or Mockingjay, and less dreary sludge like Doctor Who or George R R Martin. And hopefully I'll be able to look away from my daughter for long enough to notice.

 Have a great Christmas, everyone, and in the New Year may the Force be ever in your favour. Or something.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Bloody Hard on a Man

 I've now entered The Bonesmile into the open submission portal at Angry Robot. I'm usually pretty critical of my own work, veering between an occasional "This is great!" and the more frequent feeling that "This is a bit rubbish." But Bonesmile, I think, is a good book. It has two strong central characters, very different from each other, and a gaggle of other interesting people and groups too. It also has a good plot, with plenty of twists throughout. In short, a nice little adventure story, rolling along at a cracking pace.

 I'm finding more time to write now. Since Caz moved down to Yeovil with me I've been able to stop driving back to Barnstaple two or three times a week. It's a 90 minute trip and that adds a lot to the day, once there and once back. Of course it's not all easy. Sometimes Caz calls out for me to come feel the baby kick and I always go, I love that.

 She also just rang my mobile phone by sitting on hers. I'm not making this up. It's bloody hard on a man who's trying to work.

 Still... things are easier. Hence more time to write, and I'm burrowing back into the stories again, Angry Robot's open door period is a great boon, something to focus on as I pick up the threads. There's also HarperCollins' open Wednesdays, which works the same way, and which I'll give a try tomorrow. I'm going to submit The Death of Ghosts as well, to one or the other, and probably Blessed Land too. No sense passing up an opportunity.

 All this means I can't publish those books on Amazon or Smashwords, not while they're under consideration elsewhere. So I'm thinking about maybe putting out a short story, something that links to an earlier novel. Possibly to Troy, or to The Risen King; there are plenty of things left to see in the lives of Alar and his little band. But I'm not sure how they'd fit into a short format. A novel, yes, though I think Risen King has such a complete story arc it might be a shame to tinker with it. This needs thought. I'm good at thought.

 But not now. I have a baby's kicks to feel, don'cha know.

Friday, 20 November 2015

One of Those Faces

 Caz is here in Yeovil now. We moved yesterday, which meant hiring a van and driving to Barnstaple, loading it, driving back here and then unloading. And I already have tendonitis in one shoulder. I didn't whimper much (honest).

 Anyway, the good news is that Caz likes the flat. We've made a start on sorting out the boxes, but can't do a whole lot because we're too short on furniture until Sunday, when a whole load is due to be delivered. The next week or so will be busy, even out of work. But at least the endless travelling to Barnstaple and back is over. Caz and I are together at our home, and things will be easier now.

 We're less than three months from the birth of our daughter. Izzy kicks so hard now that we can see it, and she's started to react to certain things. She loves it when her Mummy's in the bath, she loves Billy Joel, and she goes stone bonkers when she hears her Daddy's voice. This sorta distracts me from writing... well, it distracts me from everything, to be honest. Every time she wriggles and kicks in excitement I have to go over and croon to her, I can't help myself. I take ages to write a paragraph, and when I read it back I keep expecting to find that every ninth word is baby.

 Perhaps I should switch to writing soppy romances. Only not really.

 I'm trying to focus through all of this, I really am. But other stuff keeps butting in too. I've found a new pool team to play for here in Yeovil, and have already been asked to be Vice-Captain, which means I help run the team, liaise with the pub and league, and so on. It's not much work, in fairness, but I've only been in this town for 5 minutes, never played a competitive match, and am already helping run a team. I must have one of those faces. They do say, if you want something done, give it to someone who's already busy.

 The pool season starts in February, which also includes the Captain's Cup, which as VC I will be in. And it's when Izzy is due to take her bow. Then I'm going to be busy.

 So I'd best get the submissions to Angry Robot done as soon as possible. Come the end of winter I'm not going to have time for anything. Life takes us to some unexpected places. Me, a father, and a fairly well-liked man too, it seems. Who'd have thought it?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

No Sense At All

 I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, which feels a bit strange. I've only done it for the past two Novembers, but already it's become a habit, and it's weird to see people chatting about it on Fb and in the forums and not be part of that. I'd like to do it again. NaNo instils good writing habits, such as just getting on with the story and not bothering about rewrites or passages which clunk a bit. You can fix those things on the edit. Just make time to write and then do so, cheerfully leaving everything else to one side.

 But I moved house last Thursday and my new flat is a mess. My wife will be joining me here in two weeks so there's a lot to do and not a huge amount of time. So, not doing NaNo. Ho hum.

 Our new home is in Yeovil, where my job is. I've been with Barnardo's for two months now and am still learning new things all the time, tricks and knacks for getting the work done faster or better. In a charity shop you always have to run very fast just to stay still, like Alice in Through the Looking Glass. We don't have volunteers yet either - the shop is still new - so all of that falls on myself and my one staff member, Teresa. It's hard work, and in this new town I hardly know anyone, which puts a dampener on evenings out.

 Tough world...

 So guess what? I stay in and write. And a good thing too, because Angry Robot publishers have an open submissions period in December and January, during which any writer can submit any novel in the genres of "SF, F, and WTF?" as  Angry Robot puts it. I'm planning to put in The Bonesmile, also Black Lord of Eagles, and perhaps The Death of Ghosts as well. The first is ready to go, the second needs work, and the third... I'm not sure. Need to ponder it awhile.

 But not too long, because 2015 has been good to me. I have a wife and a child on the way, two things about which I had lost hope. In fact everything I've done this year seems to have worked. So this old cynic finds himself, rather to his surprise, feeling a tad superstitious. I'd like to get my submissions in during December, while it's still 2015, because next year might not be so kind. Utter tosh of course, complete nonsense with not a shred of reason or sense behind it... but I'm still going to do it that way.

 Suppose I'm a bit of a hypocrite, really.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Front Burner

 Here in Somerset autumn is tightening its grip. Cold mornings, mist over the rivers, and the leaves are turning. If you can't be inspired in this season, maybe you're in the wrong game.

 I've realised that the story of Linth and the Spirit Wood needs more research than I've currently done. A LOT more research, maybe a year's worth, before I can provide the flavour and background the story needs. The trouble is that I had an idea, halfway through volume one, which means the original trilogy/tetralogy will be followed by another series, and probably another after that - all set in the same reality, This means I need a deeper understanding of Norse myth (sigh... there are reasons, trust me) than I have at the moment. I want to pull in elements of Celtic belief as well (which I know) and possibly Finnish too (which I don't). So, as I say, a lot of reading lies ahead.

 I don't really mind. Research is fun, it's like writing Fantasy in itself, because in both things I discover new worlds and beliefs, and new peoples. Besides, I can get on with another unfinished work....

 I've mentioned Bone-Smile before, in these blogs. It's got a cracking central idea, of a hidden group of sorcerers who secretly control the cultures that rise and fall in their part of the world. It was taking shape well, too, before the tale of Troy nagged at my subconscious so badly that I had to quit everything else and just write it out. With that done, and Death of Ghosts now on the back burner, it's time to return to Larissa and Ameh, the Chained Dragon, and the bitter fight against the Conclave Arcana.

 All I have to distract me is my new marriage, the impending birth of my daughter, moving house and doing well in my new job, Easy, eh?

Sunday, 4 October 2015


 On Thursday the 8th October, an anthology of work by North Devon authors will be launched at a public event at Boston Tea Party, in Barnstaple (7pm if you're nearby and fancy a literary kaffeeklatsch). It's called Seaglass, and the cover art is tremendously good, look at this;

 and it's been brought to completion mostly by the efforts of Rebecca Alexander and Ruth Downie, published authors both.

 So first of all, thanks to you both. The anthology is a chance for new writers to make themselves known, have their voices heard perhaps for the first time, which is always significant. New art enriches us all, or so I believe, whether that art be literary or visual or anything else. Reb and Ruth have given their time to others, for which I'm grateful.

 Not least, natch, because my work made it in.

 Which pieces? Don't be so eager. All will be revealed at the launch. I'll be among the doughty types who read from their included pieces, so come along and listen to us as we fight to read through a miasma of nerves. Standing up amidst a great clot of people is not normal for a writer, y'know. It's a bit unnerving. Give us a little room crammed with book shelves and we might not budge for a week. Give us a pedestal and a speech to read, and, well... urgh.

 Learning to handle this sort of thing is, perhaps surprisingly, necessary for an author. A lot of us are proper boogers about doing the publicity but books don't advertise themselves. I've done a couple of author events at libraries and appeared on a radio show, and they're unsettling things. Having even a few dozen people listen to whatever secrets you can speak makes you suddenly afraid that your wisdom is actually foolishness and in a moment everyone will start to laugh.

 But they don't, any more than people laugh when you first publish. People are more understanding, more forgiving maybe, that we tend to think. Especially than authors think, when we're shut in our cubbyholes listening to the echo of our own thoughts.

 So thanks too, in advance, to anyone and everyone who comes out to Boston Tea Party on Thursday next. If you take the time to show an interest, thank you. Without you there would be no horses in this rodeo; in the end, with all art, the people who matter most are the public.

 Bet that makes you feel important, eh?

Saturday, 19 September 2015


 Currently I'm dividing my time between Yeovil, where I work and have digs; and Barnstaple, where I still have my home with Caz. It's an hour and a half between the two places when the weather is good, which of late it hasn't been. So I'll work two days in Yeovil and then drive home through a torrential downpour, spend two nights with my wife and return to Yeovil through fog and more rain. Then I head west again a few days later. This is a bit tiring.

 In addition to that, the Customer Assistant at my new shop quit before he even started, which has left me zero staff. I'm running a new Barnardo's store all on my own, on four days' training, and there's no prospect of help. Another branch has no manager and staff have to keep going there to hold the fort, leaving nobody free, besides while a new shop is due to open in 10 days or so and that's drawn every other pair of hands. And of course Caz and I are expecting our first child, we're almost at 20 weeks now, so we're buying baby things and making plans, and all in all there's hardly time left over to sleep.

 I've written 250 words in the last week, and that isn't like me, not at all.

 Writing has always been my balm. I blogged last summer about my family and upbringing (See So Bends the Tree), which wasn't pleasant, and creating a world of my own is how I dealt with all the problems. Always has been. To not write feels... wrong. It dislocates me, leaves me feeling not quite right, even though I'm happy in my life now, for the first time. Being happy hasn't stopped me writing though. It's being so busy which has done that.

 Once Caz can go on Maternity Leave in November, things will be easier. We'll have one home and will both be in it, cutting out the travelling and the worst of the early mornings (4.40am sometimes. Ought to be illegal). Until then I'll just have to make sure I manage a few words a day, 200 here and just 100 there, enough to keep my head in the story. And who knows, I might find I do 1000 once a week or so by accident.

 I hope so, because the creatures hunting Linth hap Talia are getting close, and I want to find out what happens.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Dancing and Drinking

 Well, a few things have happened recently, such as this,

and as you can imagine, I've not had much time to write.

 The wedding and reception went off perfectly, though. The ceremony was charming, the weather held, and at the reception people danced and drank and had fun. We only had one issue - the DJ cancelled in the morning - but we found a replacement, who turned out to be very good. Best of all, Caz became Mrs Blake.

 My best man said in his speech that until I met Caz, I was focused entirely on my own projects, mostly writing. That's true, but there's more; I was focused on those things because my life held nothing better. Maybe it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: I don't know. Either way it's over now, because I have a wife I love very much and a child on the way too. I'll still write, nothing changes that. I need it for my sanity. It will no longer be the be-all and end-all.

 Still, I appeared on local radio two nights before the wedding, on a book club feature. Just a brief interview, but it gave me a chance to plug my own books (naturally) and also talk about the anthology, which is due to be published on 24th September as things stand. It's a great project, a chance for North Devon writers to achieve something together, and I was happy to give it a nudge as best I could. It's terrifying, mind. The Voice might only have an audience of twenty people and a dog, but it's still intimidating to think of people listening to what you say.

 In addition to all this, I have a new job (again) as manager of a Barnardo's store. It's in Yeovil, which means on Sunday I have to leave my wife and move to a new town. Caz will follow in November, when her own work allows it. So four days after the wedding I have to leave my wife alone, which is vexing, but the offer is too good to miss. And Yeovil is the home of a prestigious writing competition, so it must surely have a thriving community of authors. It could work out very well for my whole family.

 Let's hope so.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Just Scribbling

 Caz and I have moved into the new place now, and everything's going well. We have more room than before, which makes a big difference. I just spent the day assembling a flat-pack chest of drawers from IKEA, and it wasn't too tricky. Not much cursing at all.

 I've been working hard at the new job too. The hardest bit was finding a decent route to drive to and from Minehead. I tried the main road first, the A39, and it turns out to be a mess of hairpin turns, very narrow stretches, and places where water flows across the road. One part also runs along the edge of a cliff and when I went there was thick fog. I avoid that now. But I found a good route, a nice enough drive, so I 'll stick to that.

 Meanwhile I've ordered a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. It was suggested to me by an author called Ruth  Downie, who's very good by the way, well worth a read. It sounds the sort of aide every writer ought at least to look at. The biggest difference between self-publishing and traditional publishers is that in the former there's nobody independent to edit or proof-read your book - and no, friends reading it for you don't count. They can help, we all need beta-readers, but they're not proper editors. So in self-publishing we have to do it ourselves, and it's very hard to be consistent. A book like this could help.

 Everything helps. Writers should always be trying to improve what they do. Ernest Hemingway once said "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master", and it's true. Nobody understands how to write, not entirely. It's large parts instinct, but also large parts practice, and not just scribbling - we have to focus on what we do, try to recognise when a word clunks or a sentence groans under its own weight, and find ways to make it better.

 Hopefully, what I'm writing now will turn out to be the best thing I've done. It's called The Death of Ghosts, and I'm more pleased with it all the time. That bodes well. But we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Donkey Work

 I've finally got the job I've been aiming for. Over the past 3 months I've had paid work and also volunteered for a charity, Cancer Research UK, as I've been doing for more than two years. I've learned enough now that I could manage a shop, which is the eventual goal, but for now I've been offered a job supporting managers at various stores. I'll learn a lot, and soon enough should be in a position to move forward again.

 Just as importantly, it means I don't need any longer to hold 2 jobs - the paid work, at 30 hours a week or so, and the volunteer work 2 days a week as well. Frankly that's bloody exhausting and is best left to mules. And this, of course, means I'll have more time [and energy, sheesh] to write.

 Got to get our priorities right, eh?

 You know, this year a lot has happened. Working 2 jobs, preparing for my wedding next month, getting set to move house... things just keep piling up. There's hardly been time to breathe, let alone sleep. Certainly not much time to write. I've managed, more or less, but my output is way down on where it usually is, and I miss it.

 So... by the time I'm settled in the new job I'll also have moved (1st August) and got married (26th August)). That ought to clear enough time for me to get back to the books properly again. My wife-to-be Caz is excellent at giving me space to write, when a lot of partners would resent the time it takes away. I'll be able to do it, and I can't wait.

 Especially because my current project is going great guns. It's slow, as I said before, but when I do have time to write the words are just falling onto the page. I'll tell you about it another time. It's terribly exciting.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Knock on the Noggin

 At work on Tuesday I hit my head on a shelf, pretty hard. I was stunned but more or less OK, except that over the next 2 hours I started to feel dizzy and began to forget how to pronounce words. I asked a customer if she wanted the "wittery" weight (don't ask), then the "glirry" one, and finally a colleague stepped in and told the woman I meant "glittery". At this point I decided to go home and lie down for a bit.

 Funny thing, the brain. The next day I was still mangling words, or forgetting names I'd used not long before... but lordy, I wrote a lot. I managed more than a chapter, nearly 3000 words. I've reread it today, expecting errors and clunky phrases to be honest, but it's OK. Not bad at all.

 Ergo, I conclude that I write well and fluently after a good knock on the noggin. I do not want anyone to get ideas about that.

But the brain is weird. One mild concussion might do nothing but give you nausea and a dreadful headache . The next might clear away some cobwebs, break down subconscious barriers, and let you think thoughts that have been skulking about for a while but not really made themselves known. Of course it still gives you a blinding headache and all the rest, so it's not worth it (don't try this at home, kids!). I find it interesting though, because for a writer there's a constant churning of story ideas below the conscious level. I can't remember the number of times when I've shot upright in a cinema, or a pub, or watching TV, and said "Eureka!" as the solution to a knotty plot issue has suddenly sprung fully-formed into my mind.

 So I think I freed up some ideas, somehow. I'm no psychologist, and I don't understand the intricacies of the brain... but you know, nobody does. We're forced back to the same shrug of our shoulders; the brain is just weird.

 At least, I'm pretty sure mine is.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Do Not Fold The Corners

 I'm getting ready to move house at the moment. Some of my things have gone to a friend's place to be stored for a few weeks, which presented me with a bit of a dilemma - which books to keep with me?

 I can't keep them all. So that meant hard choices. The reference books have to stay, of course. I can't write without the dictionary and thesaurus, the mythology and history books, and the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. But beyond that anything's up for grabs. Do I keep the Stephen King and store the Guy Gavriel Kay, or the other way around? Store the Sheri S Tepper? Keep the Iain M Banks?

 You learn a lot about your preferences when it comes to the crunch. All the Robert Jordan went into boxes, which is a shame, because I loved Wheel of Time for the first six volumes or so. It went very flat then, tailed away, which was disappointing. But all my Terry Brooks stayed with me, and that's odd because I think Brooks is very derivative, with narrative like treacle. Badly written versions of other people's work, really. Did I keep him because it's just so long since I read it? Or was I by that stage so panicked by losing loved books (for a few weeks, anyway) that I was just throwing them into the Pack/Keep piles at random?

 Rhetorical question, that. I was in a terrible tizzy.

 I don't like being without my books. Any of them, really. I'm the sort of chap (like most writers, I think) who believes there's no such thing as too many books, just not enough shelves. I don't lend out my books except in very exceptional circumstances, and even then instruct the borrower to avoid chocolatey fingerprints and folded page corners, and leave the book out of direct sunlight so the pages don't turn yellow. I am, in short, a bit of a book bore.

 And you know, I'm not going to apologise for that.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A Lot of Oomph

 Well, I made it. Submitted my entry for the Yeovil Prize one day before the deadline, and I'm pretty happy with it.

 Partly that's because I've taken the advice Rebecca Alexander gave me, and the result is a tighter story. Mostly though, it's because I didn't expect to be able to write much for a while, after two years buried in the story of Troy. It's always a delight when a story flows easily, and doubly so when it wasn't expected. In fact things are going so well that I keep revising even as I write. I've dropped one character completely and also renamed the book - it's no longer The Cold Kingdoms but has become The Death of Ghosts, which I think has more oomph. Important thing, oomph. Central to any story don'cha know.

 On another note, I found out this week that a chap I play pool with has been reading my books, without knowing I was the author. He thought it was just a coincidence of names. He also likes the books a lot, and there's no buzz quite like hearing that. Shame he's not a judge at the Yeovil Prize really.

 All this gives me a bit of extra pep when I'm planning submissions to agents and publishers (a little more oomph). A writer's desk is a lonely place when rejection letters keep coming in, so anything that offers some cheer is helpful. I'm hopeful that something will happen soon. Meanwhile, I'm not forgetting the work already published, so I'll just add that three novels - A Brand of Fire, Heirs of Immortality and The Gate of Angels - are all free on Amazon until Wednesday 3rd June. You can find them here

You can also find the third and final volume of Troy, called The Ancient Dead, if you're of a mind. It's only $0.99. Go on. You know you want to.

Friday, 22 May 2015


 Only 9 days left until the deadline for the Yeovil Prize, and my submission isn't ready yet.

 Oh, it's nearly ready... still. Seems to have been almost there for weeks. But I've trimmed and edited enough that the Word Count fell to barely 8k, and since the maximum is 15k that might be a wee bit low. So I'm adding another chapter, which I have to do right now because I'm at work for 6 of the next 7 days... sigh.

 Also I get married in 3 months and 4 days. I swear, it was only a little while ago that Caz and I had most of a year left, and now suddenly it's rushing up on us. And my lady comes first, whatever else is happening; she and our lives together are more important than anything else. Has to be that way, doesn't it? Otherwise we might as well not bother.

 Troy III is done now. Final edit finished, text polished and buffed, and the cover is ready. Here it is;

 I should really thank Mark Watts, the old school friend who designs my covers for me. It's interesting, because I tell him what I want and he then gives me his interpretation of that, which is usually better. We've been friends since we were 14, so he knows me pretty well. Cheers mate, it helps a lot.

 Now, finally, I can write something else. I thought I'd need a break after so long immersed in Troy, but actually I've dived straight into Cold Kingdoms - and this time, thanks largely to Rebecca Alexander's advice, the story seems to be unfolding better. I've tried to adjust a few things and the result is a tighter style, maybe a bit more like my earlier work, such as The Risen King. I don't think my recent stuff is bad, but it could always be better.

 With which I sign off. Summer is here and the sun is shining, so this indoorsy writer is going for a walk. With a hat, of course. I might enjoy the sun but there are limits y'know.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Something Subtle

 It's been a busy few days. I volunteered for two years in a charity shop, Cancer Research UK, and was disappointed to have to stop when I found a paid role at a JD Wetherspoon pub. But the area manager has worked out a way for me to train as a manager one day a week, which means that by the end of the year I'll be able to return to work I really enjoy. Helping people through serious problems is about as good as anything I can think of.

 Wetherspoons did not see it this way, and instead of giving me one day off a week, they fired me. Oh, they said I'd failed an assessment... but I wasn't due one, and they just happened to decide to do it on the day I asked them for the time. Freaky, eh? It doesn't matter - I already have another job - but you could almost feel a bit suspicious.

 I'll be better able to write now, too. One problem with 'Spoons - and boy, there were lots of problems - was the hours. Some evening shifts didn't finish until 4am; morning starts were at 6am. So I always seemed to be either sleeping late or going to bed early, and whatever I did I was always exhausted. I'd open Word and just look at it for a bit before starting to snore. That isn't useful for getting work done.

 By the way, it's only my beautiful fiancee who says I snore. Don't believe it, myself. Gosh no.

 But I have, somehow, managed to do the last redraft of Troy volume 3, and I'm now doing the final edit - just rereading, over and again, in search of any grammar/punctuation errors, or phrases that just clunk. It's amazing how many get through. I know that I could check it a hundred times and still miss a couple of mistakes, which of course I'll spot the moment I look at the published book... something which could make me get used to swearing quite quickly. But it's almost done. Troy, after some two years, is almost finished.

 I've said in previous blogs that I think Troy is the greatest story ever told. It's just fabulous, a sweeping tale that takes in bravery and betrayal, honour and pride, and the fall of nations and whole peoples. But there's something more subtle, too. Amidst this great saga of battle, it's easy to miss the fact that the great warriors - Achilles, Hector, Ajax - all die. The ones who survive are the thinkers, Odysseus most of all. Homer seems to be saying that courage and skill at arms are not enough, and in the end it's the clever ones who come through - who are blessed by the gods, in his terms. It might be, I think, that Homer wrote The Iliad as an anti-war polemic.

 It might not be, too. But I like the idea.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Damn It!

 I was lucky enough recently to have a successful local author review one of my unpublished novels for me. Reb has a good eye, and a good way of making criticisms without seeming negative. But it doesn't make things easy to hear.

 I like to start chapters by setting a scene, then bring in the characters. Wrong, it seems; that can confuse the reader. I thought my way worked to be honest, but there's no point asking for advice if you then ignore it, so out go the "soft" chapter openings.

 That I use too many point-of-view characters, I can't deny. Once Reb pointed it out I started to think of ways and occasions I can write the same scene as before, but from the main character's POV. That will smooth the text, make it easier for the reader and also, rather importantly, for an editor. So I'll go through my "trunk" novels, those not yet published, and rewrite like a crazy man. Seems like a lot of work to end up with the same book, doesn't it? But it won't be the same book, it will be a better one, if I do it right.

 I do need to keep some of those POV characters, though. Not in every book, but this novel, Black Lord of Eagles, tells the tale of what happens to a culture when it's invaded by people it never knew existed. I can't do that from one point of view, or even two. I want to show the central story, but also how it affects the little people, ordinary people caught up in these great events. So I need to follow threads in the country and in the towns, among priests and warriors, some of which never collide - so one POV is not enough. My job, then, is to cut the number of point-of-view characters as much as I can - and I can cut several - but still keep that structure. Tricky, eh?

 Some of these criticisms have been made of me before. I listen, I understand... and then slowly I slip back into my old habits, because in the end as a writer you're sat alone with only your own opinion to judge by. The irony is that to stop this happening I need an editor to constantly nudge me back to the road, but in order to get an editor I need to stay on the road in the first place. In common parlance this is known as "a bit of a bugger." It makes the help of a friend doubly important, so thanks Reb, your time and advice is very much appreciated.

 It might even keep me on the road until the end of the year... except I have a bit of a distraction arriving in August when I get married. Two cheers for distraction!

Monday, 6 April 2015


 I've broken my reading glasses - typically, on a Bank Holiday weekend when I can't get them fixed until Tuesday. I'm wearing my old glasses as I write this, which is OK but a bit annoying. It sums up the last few days.

 You see, my fiancee Caz has been away, visiting friends in Exeter. And I have been lonely.

 I'm a bit of a lone wolf. Always have been, and it's been all right. I haven't been happy, usually - but I haven't been unhappy either, and experience has taught me that I should settle for mild contentment, because trying (or hoping) for more just leads to heartache. Feeling not too bad is, well... not too bad. It gets me through the days.

 Now there's Caz, and I'm happy. Ridiculously happy in fact, delirious half the time, when I'm not stopping in bewilderment to wonder what the rubbery f*** has happened to me. But when she goes away, oh dear me, things are difficult. I can't do the usual 'being alone is not being lonely' thing any more. I miss her voice, her scent, the awareness that she's next to me even when she isn't speaking, or when I swim halfway out of sleep and reach over to make sure she's still there. Finding an absence is horrible. There's a wrenched place inside me that won't be soothed until she's back, and laughs with my arm around her.

 All this is new to me. I managed to reach 46 years old without falling in love, but when I fell I fell hard. Of course it's grist to the mill for a writer, new experiences to use and expand on... but I don't much care. My writing can go hang. I want Caz back before I start weeping in public.

 So there it is. I'm a wet end. A sad truth for a man who's always been so independent, but somehow I can't really feel sorry about it. Funny, that.

Thursday, 19 March 2015


 I've been absent for a bit - this is my first blog for a month. Mostly that's because I have a new job which has me working ridiculous hours, starting at 6am some days, finishing at 4am other days. I'm exhausted pretty much all the time. But I still shouldn't have left it a month, so for those of you who've missed me (thousands of you, I'm sure), I'm sorry.


 It's very upsetting to read a book so good that you know, whatever you do, that you will never write anything to match it. Sadly there are many such novels. Stephen King's IT, Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan, Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs, to name a few. The one on my mind today is Six Moon Dance, by Sheri S. Tepper. I've read it before, but as with the other stand-out tales I'm drawn back from time to time, to immerse myself once more in the world and the characters as the story plays out.

 That, my friends, is the definition of that elusive term 'good book'. It's my definition, anyway - a novel to which you keep returning, to read again and again, and each time find yourself caught up in the passions and fears just as you were before.

 I covered some of this in a post last year, Telling Stories, so I won't bother rehashing every point. But I'd add that literature has an edge over other art in this sense, because if you hang a painting on your wall then sooner or later you stop really seeing it. Same with a sculpture. But writing, and also music, have the capacity to keep drawing us in with the same words and notes, the same segues and glissandos. I'm not sure I know why.

 But isn't it interesting?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Bit Every Day

 Much is changing. I have a new job, for a start - though here in my first week I've got the flu, or possibly Ebola. But never mind that.

 Caz bought her wedding dress today. Which I'm not allowed to see, by the way, and how is that fair? I'm excited too y'know. Anyway, yesterday we booked the venue - the Guildhall in Barnstaple, which is an old-fashioned colonial sort of room, full of pictures of the men who built Barnstaple when it was just a shabby little port on the estuary. Given that at low tide a large rabbit can wade across the river, you'll know that was quite a while ago. It's a nice place though. I'm going to enjoy getting married there.

 So... preparations for the wedding, a new job working in the kitchen of a very busy seafront pub, and not much time to write.

 They say an author should write something every day. Maybe not thousands of words, or even hundreds, but he should open the document on his PC (or whatever) and type in a couple of lines. Or think about the plot and where it's going, though that has to be in his writing chair, at his work desk, because you have to make a place for the Muse to come. So the advice goes. I nearly always do write, but sometimes it's just not possible. When I do a 10 hour day, rushing every moment, it can leave me just too weary to summon the energy. Writing is art, it takes emotional input to do it, and when your battery is flat the spark just won't catch.

 Which is why this is only a brief blog. I'm just too tired and flu-ridden to do much. I think I'll go to bed and sleep for a bit. Night all.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Enough Drama

 I've just finished the rewrite of Troy: The Ancient Dead, the concluding part of the trilogy. Bit of a relief, to be honest. The latter half of the book is full of talk of the end of civilisations - the Hittites have fallen, Troy is ruined, and there's a leftover fragment of the Minoans that gets Odysseus thinking about all this. It's got me thinking too, about all the dangers our own  21st century culture faces.

 Meteor impact, for example. There are claims that a "shotgun" impact destroyed the Indus valley people, when pieces of an asteroid rained down in the Indian Ocean. But in the past civilised areas were too few and small for this to happen often. Today we know the risk better, and the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter on 1994 shows us how bad it could be.

 Or super-volcanoes. Toba in Indonesia was the most recent to erupt, about 75,000 years ago, but the best known is probably Yellowstone, in the USA. It erupts every 600,000 years or so and is due anytime. The results would be catastrophic - vast clouds of ash settling on the ground, more in the air blocking sunlight to create a volcanic winter, sulphur mixing with water to produce sulphuric acid which we'd breathe in, and so on. It would likely affect the whole Northern Hemisphere, and kill billions.

 Or a pandemic. You can take your choice on this one; Ebola, swine flu or bird flu, Marburg, Sabia, Mapucho - or something else we haven't noticed yet, perhaps. Our mobile lifestyles mean that air travel provides thousands of very rapid vectors along which a disease would spread. Back in the 1500s the Spanish brought smallpox to the Americas, and in the ensuing decades up to 80% of the local people, with no immunity to the virus, died from it. Something similar is quite possible today. Any serious virus to which humans have no immunity could do it, and history shows pandemics break out quite often.

 All of these three threats are almost certain to happen, given time. But even so, the greatest threat to human cultures is probably still ourselves. I don't mean nuclear war, or biological weapons run amok. I just mean the seemingly endless, crippling stupidity of people.

 Got an unspoiled wilderness? We'll strip-mine it for coal, or mine tin and leave the tailings to poison the river. We'll use pesticides on our fields which are made using oil, so we leave a petrochemical sheen on rivers. When we need new housing we'll overlook the brownfield sites in cities, and build instead on fields outside. And worst of all we'll breed and breed, without any apparent thought for the consequences.

 In my school days there were 4 billion people on Earth. Today there are more than 7 billion and the number is still growing. All of them need food and water, clothes to wear, a home, the prospect of a job and some kind of decent life. How will we sustain them? How we will cope when the number reaches 8 billion, then 9?

 Civilisation throughout history have fallen because they outgrew their ability to feed themselves. The Mayans of Guatemala, the early Chinese of the Yellow River area, probably even the Achaean Greeks I've just been writing about. We're not immune, just because we have computers and neon lights, and tell each other that "it couldn't happen now". Of course it could. The rules which applied to them still apply to us.

 It's a bit less dramatic than seeing a culture wiped out by invading dragons, or by invaders with wicked spikes on their chariot wheels. But I suspect that living through it would feel quite dramatic enough.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Hard Truth

 Fantasy and Science Fiction on screen is nearly always awful. Yes, I know - big statement to make - but it's true.

The  Lord of the Rings trilogy was OK, but I think it weakened as it went along. Partly that's because the last book has so many threads that it makes it hard to squeeze it all into one film, but the point remains that the first film was good, and the last pretty bad. As for The Hobbit, I'm with the majority who say the films are too flabby, too long-winded and, above all, too long. Such a slim novel doesn't need 3 whole movies.

 Sci-Fi films usually promise a lot and fall short. There are so many like that - I, Robot; Ender's Game, and Mission to Mars are all good examples. Sci-Fi has always been event-driven, rather than built around characters, but there have to be engaging people in the story as well. When a novel is filmed it too often loses whatever empathy the story had in print, and the film makers replace it with extra explosions. So what we get is stock characters rushing from one near-miss to another, and not much else.

 (This means YOU, Desolation of Smaug. Oh yes. Never saw a whole film that was just people running away before.)

 TV is no better. Star Trek is self-obsessed by its own idea of human goodness, and most of its aliens are either humans with facial oddities (Klingons, Vulcans) or not carbon life at all (conscious dust clouds, puddles of tar). That's just lazy. Where are the aliens with their own evolutionary history - aliens who are not just from another world but are alien, like the Piggies in Speaker for the Dead or the Traveller Fithp in Footfall? Babylon 5 was just as bad. And Fantasy? Given that I've never seen Game of Thrones - I don't have cable - I can't name a single Fantasy series I liked.

 The series I do like all seem to be cancelled after one run - like Space: Above and Beyond and Defying Gravity, both of which were excellent. It's no coincidence that both featured aliens who we humans simply did not understand, either in motive or behaviour. The films I like are forgotten - astonishingly, Silent Running isn't even available online, as far as I can find. How can tripe like Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica endure, spawning new series and films as they go, while quality vanishes so fast?

 Simple. Viewers don't like it.

 That's a hard truth, because it means that those of us who want to take a reader or viewer into another world are in a quandary. If the public won't watch thought-provoking F/SF on screen for a few hours, they're not going to devote days to reading that sort of novel. So we can write it, but very few people will read it, which makes the process a bit of a waste of time. I want to make people think, but I can write the most insightful Fantasy novel in history and it won't matter a jot if nobody buys it.

 So we have to balance the two things. Write something new enough to feel fresh, but familiar enough to feel safe. I'm trying to work out a way to do that, in a story which combines old Fantasy memes with things never seen before, but it's pretty tricky.

 Wish me luck.