In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Who'd Have Thunk it?

 Well, it's that time of year when I usually post a review of my year in books and films. Trouble is, I've hardly read or seen any. 2016 has been a bit full of other things.

 Mostly that's involved two house moves, from Barnstaple to Yeovil and then back to Bideford. Also there's the wee matter of the birth of my daughter, and the total upheaval that caused in my life. It's been fantastic, the best time of my life, but it does mean that I haven't been to the cinema even once. The last film I saw at a theatre was The Force Awakens, which surprised me - a Star Wars film which was actually pretty good! Who'd have thunk it, eh?

 I have managed to read one book series which if not new to me, at least hadn't been read for so many decades that I rediscovered it. That was the Narnia books, by C S Lewis. Yes, children's literature, but if Harry Potter, Divergent et al have shown us anything, it's that the genre contains gems. The Narnia series is brilliantly done, from Diggory trying to save his mother to Caspian's rediscovery of Old Narnia, and to Puddleglum and the Silver Chair. It was my gateway into Fantasy. From Narnia I went on to Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and beyond that the whole broad, uneven genre. Most Fantasy is honestly not very good - much of it is bloody rubbish. But as Robert A Heinlein once said, 95% of everything is rubbish. What matters is finding the wheat in the chaff, and Fantasy has always had (just) enough wheat for me.

 So that's my year. Now it's 2017 which concerns me, a year in which I'll become a dad again and also launch Black Lord of Eagles, my new novel, due in April. I've almost completed the edit, I've got a Kickstarter project completed and video filmed, and I'm sorting out where to hold the launch and what advertising I can do. This year was very big for me. Next might be even better.

 Meanwhile I hope you all end 2016 with a wonderful Christmas, and may New Year bring you joy. Take care and be safe.

Monday, 5 December 2016


 OK, so the cover for Black Lord of Eagles is done. It's a wowser too, really good, I like it a lot.

 Not much else is done. I haven't had time. Either I'm in work until 9.30 pm or, on my day off, I have to sort out a dozen things that have been waiting for ages, and I still don't catch up. Only my mornings are free and they're taken up with caring for little Bella. I need a better routine and more time. Right now.

 The good news is, I have an interview for a job in Sidmouth in which I have a very good chance of getting the job. It's for Cancer Research UK, as manager, a job I fulfilled on a relief basis during much of 2015, before I joined Barnardo's. I even went for the Sidmouth job but didn't get it. Instead I ran my Barnardo's store in Yeovil, while Sidmouth went through three different managers in less than two years. They need stability and I can give it to  them.

 What it would give to me is a better routine, more time (natch), a job I enjoy, and a fantastic little seaside town in which to raise my daughter. My wife could quit work or go part time, It would be fantastic, and I so badly want it. Not least, all the above means I would be able to write properly again. Finding the time is so hard now that I can never generate momentum, never delve deep enough into the mood of the story.

 So, changes are afoot. I only hope they come soon.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

God hates a Coward

 OK. Decision made; I will rededicate myself to writing.

 This is hard. Bella is 9 months old and takes a lot of my time. Also an orange-faced buffoon is about to become US President, and a labrador-haired buffoon is UK Foreign Minister. The possibilities for hilarity are huge. Yes, there may be a slight drawback with wars all over the place, but at least it will be entertaining.

 But still, rededication. I've reached agreement with Olli Tooley to publish my next two books through his company, Blue Poppy publishing. Provisional launch date is April 7th 2017, which means I have to finish the edit/rewrite by mid December. One month from now. With nearly 60,000 words still to do.

 Oh dear.

 But God hates a coward, so here we go. Actually I've completed a lot of words already, so I'm on target. But I also need to speak with Mark Watts about redesigning my cover to include the Blue Poppy logo, and a barcode on the back. I have to arrange a launch event, hopefully at Sol Books in Barnstaple, if not then at the library. I need to work out publicity, radio appearances and maybe newspaper articles, flyers, competitions and giveaways, and I've never done some of those things before.

 I'm starting to think I might have been a beardy-faced buffoon about this. Still... God hates a coward, right?

Monday, 31 October 2016

O Jerusalem

 The Chinese have a curse; "May you live in interesting times." They mean that an age of excitement, of drama, might sound romantic and thrilling but is actually too dangerous to be worth it.

 Well, we live in interesting times.

 US power is in decline. It's creating a power vacuum and history tells us that's always a time of danger, as old powers struggle to hold on to dominance and new rivals emerge to challenge them. The rising powers now are China, which everyone knows, and I think Germany - dominant in the EU since reunification, set to become more so now Britain is leaving, and fast building a captive export market in eastern Europe. The EU dances to a German drum now, and already that's caused resentment in places like Greece and Italy. Again, potential for future conflict.

 Bear in mind as well that the US Federal Reserve said recently it expects a recession to hit during 2017. A US economic crisis would quickly spread to the Eurozone, stagnant since the 2008 crash. Even a small blip could easily break the Italian banking system, which is massively indebted and weak. Break that and the single currency collapses.

 These are only examples from a longer list. And yes, there are always such examples; and yes, someone will always be around to cry "Woe to thee, O Jerusalem." But I'm not prone to panic. As a youth in the 80's I didn't worry about nuclear war, because the Cold War enemies knew each other too well, they were known quantities. There was stability, and thus a good degree of safety. Now that stability is gone, and the survivors of the 20th Century's wars (hot and cold alike) are slipping slowly from their pedestals. What follows from that?

 I do not know... but it will be interesting.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Twitchy Fingers

 I hardly ever have time to write these days. It's the first time that's ever happened to me, and it feels weird. I swear my typing fingers twitch in my sleep. Come to that, they twitch when I'm awake, now and then.

 The worst part is that my mind is still involved. I come up with story ideas, ways to rewrite a chapter or novel, intriguing little characters, and all the rest. I still watch a stranger doing this or that and think "Nice, I can use that in the book that's seventh on my To Do list." And then I can't find time to sit and write. I have all these thoughts and can't write them out of me. It's enough to make my head explode.

 Last week I was off work on annual leave. Time to write! All my family promptly went down with flu so hideous we were vomiting, and poor Bella ended up in hospital til midnight, being drip-fed nutrients through a syringe. So, no time to write. At all.

 Bella's fine, by the way. As long as that's true I'll cope with not writing... sorta.

 But I've got to write, at least some of the time. I feel like a fish that isn't allowed to swim; what's the point of being a fish at all, if that's true? Something needs to change. A new job with different hours, maybe, to free up more time. But you know, I'm starting to suspect that when you have an 8-month old daughter, you just don't have time for anything else.

 I am finding this hard,

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Bad Times

 Horrible times at work.

 I expected to lose my job yesterday. A few days ago the manager wrote a 3-month performance review for me that was just so flawed and contradictory that I felt I couldn't accept it, so yesterday I told him I won't sign it. I've also made a formal complaint over his behaviour, which I find boorish at best and verbally abusive at worst.

 This is not how to have fun at your job.

 I'm trying to get out, but at this time of year there aren't many good permanent jobs around, it's all seasonal work. I do have an interview on Tuesday, so hopefully this will change soon... and I really do need it to. Whether it's selling a book or working with gribbly diseases, I've got to get out of that place.

 Meantime, I've had a real cracker of a new story idea, about a disparate bunch of social misfits who are thrown together to bring a cure to an ailing queen. Trouble is, the cure is found in only one place, an abandoned mine now inhabited by something dark and unknown and very, very hungry.

 Shame I have so little time to write these days really.

Monday, 19 September 2016


 My little Isabella has spoken her first words. "Erro!" came first, then "Mama" and "Yeah", and now today "Dada." It's all incredibly thrilling. I expect her to be reading her own bedtime stories by the time she's two, and writing novels before she turns seven. Seems reasonable.

 People keep telling us that Bella is open, warm-hearted and always cheerful. It was her fifth day in nursery before the staff ever saw her cry, and then it was because another baby was upset. My parents often said I was the same as a toddler. I don't remember it. By the time my long-term memory started up much of the joy had been knocked out of me.

 Why do we do this to ourselves? Children need to learn about stranger danger, to be careful crossing the road, and not to touch hot things. They'll become warier, but we do more. Too often we fill our kids with our own hotchpotch of fears and biases, some of them society's, some of them our own. Caz and I are trying not to. If we succeed well enough that Bella grows into a happy, confident young woman, we'll have done all right.

 I say I want her to be the first woman on Mars, but I don't really. I want her to be the best she can be at whatever she chooses to do, while still being happy.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Great Books

 Like Eric Klingenberg, by coincidence, I've just started to re-read the Harry Potter books. I do, every now and then, just as I re-read other favourites, The Awakeners, by Sheri S Tepper; The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, It, by Stephen King; and so on.

 But I don't always do this. There was a time when Guy Kay's Tigana was on the list of constant re-reads, but no more. I tired of it, I suppose. Lord of the Rings fell away a long time ago, after a dozen reads. Some stories stay with me and I'll get the itch to experience them again, while others are lost, or stay for a time and then fade.  All of which brings me to a question I remember from my sadly far-off school days - what makes a great book?

 My answer then, as now, is that a great book is one you revisit time and again. One in which you always seem to find something new, or an event to see in a new light. I know it's an incomplete answer, maybe a poor one, but it's as close as I can get. And it means that for each reader, the list of 'great books' will be different.

 Isn't that refreshing?

Thursday, 18 August 2016


 The internet has changed the world.

 Well, we all know that, eh? I couldn't have written my books without it. I do a lot of research, with up to a dozen windows open on my PC at the same time. For Risen King I needed details on Celtic and Saxon gods, warfare, language and clothing, among other things, for the story to work. The big one is language, because finding an English-Saxon dictionary in the library would be really hard, but I can find one online in moments.

 But the changes can be surprising. For example, between a third and a half of my blog's readership is in Russia, and I don't understand that at all.

 I've never been to Russia. Only sold a couple of books there. And I hardly know a thing about the place, except the one-line caricatures we see on the evening news. Russia is such a vast and diverse country that I think it's probably impossible to ever know the country well unless you're Russian in the first place - and even then, you'd have to work at it. What does a guy from St Petersburg know about fishermen on the Tunguska river?

 Well, maybe a lot in fact, because if Russians read the blog of some British bloke, they might read one another's blogs too. If Tunguska fishermen write blogs.  Might be too busy trying to dodge honking great asteroids.

 But you know, it's important we do read one another's thoughts, because it's the great blessing of the web. Rely on the news and we in the West might think Russians are mostly ex-KGB, and all of them want to conquer Ukraine. But we don't have to rely on the BBC, or CNN. We can just have a chat. I can find out what Tunguska fishermen think about, and learn what the babushka system actually involves. I just bet I'll also find that Russians aren't so different from us.

Saturday, 30 July 2016


 Hi guys.

 Well, Angry Robot turned down Death of Ghosts. They sent me an email explaining that I'd broken a rule by entering more than one novel, and quoted the rule - which was in the FAQs section. I read the rules, and the limit of one submission wasn't mentioned there. So I feel a bit hard done by.

 Still, the novel is obviously good enough. It took the Robots six months to decide against it, and then they only did so on a technicality. So, onwards and upwards. If you can't suffer these blows and rebound then you're never going to make it as a writer anyway.

 I may have indulged in some frustrated cursing, mind.

 At any rate, my next published novel will now be Black Lord of Eagles, due out at the end of this year or early next. It's volume one of a story about a people called the Ashir, who've always believed they're alone in the world, the only civilisation on earth - and then strangers come. The novel is about their struggle to hold onto their land, and also to keep some sense of themselves when all their old certainties are being destroyed.

 One of the stars of the book is the setting. It's an ancient land, covered with ruined temples to gods no one remembers anymore, filled with peoples of different tribes, made of jungles and plateaux and deep valleys. By night pumas cough and by day spider monkeys scream in the trees. It's ruled by a king, but the spiritual power rests with a man called the Servant, who bears a birthmark which names him as the chosen one of the main god. This is one of the central characters, a man called Kai, who usually opens festivals and takes part in ceremonies. Now he finds himself in the middle of a struggle he never dreamed of.

 I'll be talking about Ghosts on The Voice radio on Monday night, in the Book Club slot at 7pm. I'll also speak about Sol Bookshop, at the end of the Strand in Barnstaple on the Square. Sol now runs a stand for local authors, and there are several on the shelves; Jody Medland, Olli Tooley, Michelle Woollacott, and my good self (hehe), plus others. If you fancy a good read by a local writer, pop down, there's something to suit most tastes. And if you're sitting about on Monday with nothing much to do, tune into The Voice. With an hour of mixed music and chat to fill, I might even say something useful now and then.

 Well, you never know.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Big Changes

 People have a habit of panicking. Give them a minor change to their lives and they run about like Chicken Licken, sure the sky is falling in (one of my favourite analogies). I'm thinking here about the UK vote to leave the EU, of course - yes, I promised to get back to the writing this time, I know. Bear with me, OK?

 Leaving the EU is a minor thing. There will be some economic wobbles, some jobs will be lost and others created, policies will change, blah blah. But at the end of it all Britain will still be a hell of a lot richer than most countries in the world. The vote, and impending Brexit, is just a wrinkle.

 Now think about some real sky-falling moments.

 When Europeans brought smallpox to the Americas, it caused carnage. Something close to 50% of the population of the Inca empire died in the first two years. It was similar among the Plains Indians, centuries later. Whole ways of life were changed. Or imagine living on Easter Island near the end, when there was no more wood and no canoes could be built, no fish harvested, and the island collapsed into starvation and war. In maybe two hundred years, the Rapa Nui population of seven thousand fell to barely one hundred.

 Think of the Plague of Justinian, 541-42 AD. It killed 25 million people around the Mediterranean, more than a tenth of the population of the world at the time. Some people say it killed 80% of the people in Byzantium alone. Look at the Three Kingdoms War in 3rd century China, which killed 40 million people - two thirds of the population.

 To those alive at the time, these things must have felt like the end of the world. In fact they were exactly that; the end of the world as it was, and the beginning of a new one. It happens, from time to time. There are those who argue that we're on the edge of one now, here in 2016, as the nations which dominated the last century try to hang onto their power and wealth while others emerge to change the balance. It interests me, because a writer doesn't focus his attention on times when nothing happened. He looks for stories to set against a background of events. It's why Casablanca is still so powerful now. It's a love story, but what drives the grief in it is World War Two, and its power to break people apart. Every time I watch it I want Ilsa to stay.

 (See, I told you I'd get back to the writing)

 I've mentioned smallpox in a forthcoming story, The Blessed Land. I want to cover disease more fully though. One way is through a planned novel called Over the Rainbow Bridge, which is set among Plains Indians ravaged by smallpox. I'm interested in the Rapa Nui story too, Another idea is to deal with the results of a volcanic eruption, big enough to cause floods or famine on the far side of the world. Like Tambora in 1815, an Indonesian volcano which caused two years without summers in Europe.

 It's all a bit grim, isn't it? But I've always been fascinated by how the Inca rebounded from the plague and from military disaster. How they managed it, I don't know, but they did, and nearly regained their country at the Battle of Cuzco. What does it take to do that? To suffer the blows and just shrug them off? I wonder whether another people might do the same in the face of ruin by war, or famine, or the emergence of magic into a world which never knew it... pick your disaster. There's so much possibility there.

 I hope you see, now, why I call Brexit such a piffling little thing. It doesn't really change anything, just like most of history's battles only meant one lord winning and another getting killed. Life for most people stayed just the same. Even so, put people in the midst of a minor incident and they'll throw bricks through windows and make death threats, or so it seems from this week in the UK.

 I prefer my chaos in the pages of a book. Where it belongs.

Friday, 1 July 2016

For Richer, For Poorer

 So, the UK voted to Leave the EU.

 I voted that way too, though with a heavy heart. I like the idea of European integration, even a single nation one day. But it has to be done properly. The EU is such a mess of compromise and corruption, and so incapable of taking care of its own problems, that I felt I had no choice.

 My reasons don't matter to some people. Simply for voting Leave I've been called a racist and an idiot many times. I've been informed that I'm a fool who doesn't understand the damage I've done. I have never encountered such vitriol and bile over a political decision before. It happens across the world, but not in the UK, not in my experience - though there were stories of similar venom after the Scottish Referendum in 2014. They seem likely to be true.

 I even know a man who has said he's "evaluating our friendship", on the basis that he might not be able to be friends with someone who helped steal his children's future.

 Yet while the EU has helped make Britain richer, it has not helped vast numbers of the less well-off. Tell someone on a zero-hours contract that he's benefited from the EU. Tell a person working at minimum wage, or doing two part-time jobs and unsocial hours - at minimum wage. Tell me, come to that, while I work variable shifts at unsocial hours, and guess what? For minimum wage. The gap between the rich and poor in most countries in Europe is wider than for a hundred years. Where is the wealth we're told the EU has created?

 I used to live in an old mining town in South Wales. Pontypridd has collapsed into poverty and a benefits existence since the last mines were shut. My wife once lived in Cornwall, remote and afflicted by patches of equal poverty. Both areas have seen massive injections of EU cash to regenerate them. In both cases the money has gone to out-of-area construction firms, or to build universities that local people can't attend because their school system is shot to hell. And both areas voted by significant majorities to leave the EU, because the union has not been able to do the very thing it exists for in the areas which need it most.

 Meanwhile the EU, under financial pressure, has abandoned Greece to perpetual debt and youth unemployment of 45%. Poverty is so extreme that people scavenge food from bins. Under immigration pressure the EU has allowed member states like Hungary, Austria and Croatia to erect border fences to keep out migrants. Yes, the EU protests, but then does nothing, and the fences remain. And people who defend this monstrosity have the nerve to call ME racist?

 I am, as you can probably tell, angry about this.

 I don't believe a system that enriches a few beyond reason, while offering little or nothing to most people, is worth saving. That isn't limited to the EU. The world is obsessed with Free Trade, but that impoverishes more people than it helps. We should be protecting local industries, paying decent wages - in short, practising the Fair Trade principles which we sometimes try to use when dealing with poorer nations. If it's fair for them then why not for us? The problem isn't lack of wealth; we have plenty. The problem is that most of us don't share in it.

 I find it hard to believe that the Fantasy/Historical worlds I write about have societies less unequal than our own. All our efforts on human rights, civil rights, women's rights, and still we have a wealth gap more suited to feudal England than modern Britain. This isn't envy, I'm not interested in being rich. I simple don't want to be made poorer by the system which claims to be enriching me.

 Rant over. Next time I'll try to get back to talking about writing, which seems to have got lost in the message somewhere. Take care everyone.

Friday, 17 June 2016

A Wee Bit Better

 There's a vote coming up in the UK that some of you might have noticed (a bit). It's a referendum on whether we leave the EU or remain. I'll be voting to leave. The European Union is so corrupt that its own accountancy firm has refused to sign off the annual accounts for close to 20 years now. The officials are also not usually elected, like the Commissioners, so they don't answer to anyone and can't be voted out.

 Worse, the EU has failed completely to tackle the two big issues of today. One is the financial crisis, which has ruined the economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The IMF now refuses to lend any more money because those countries, Greece especially, are so indebted they can never pay it off. They'll be crippled forever, reliant on bailout money from Germany and others. The second issue is immigration, which is already breaking the EU bonds. Some countries want to welcome immigrants, but others refuse them and erect border fences. It's a mess and the EU can't deal with it.

 Since I think the EU is broken and will collapse, or at least fade into irrelevance as states take more and more control back, I think we're better leaving. But critical though this choice is, in the end it matters much less than taking care of my own business.

 My main task in the world isn't to change the course of the UK, or to influence popular movements. It's to look after my family and provide for them. I seem to have spent most of my life knowing what I wanted to be, the man I aspired to become, and failing to get there. Now I have Caz and Izzy, and they're absolutely my last chance to be that man.

 It's an indescribable feeling to come home after a tough day and be welcomed by this;

 Sorta makes the worries go away.

 So I'll vote to leave the EU, but I'll also - and more importantly - work to keep my family as safe and happy as I can. That means keeping up the hours at work, and pushing to get a publishing deal if I can. It means helping around the house and finding time to teach Izzy to read, to walk, and always showing her that she's loved.

 If we can all do a bit of that, then inside or out of the EU aside, we'll leave the world a wee bit better than we found it.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Drunk Spider

 It's nice to enjoy a bit of early summer sunshine, isn't it? We've had some good days recently, and being back in North Devon means we can enjoy it. Izzy has already been to the park, the paddle pool and the beach. We have to keep her in the shade a lot of the time, but it's still fun.

 On the subject of nice things, my friend Michelle Woollacott has just published her debut novel, All That You Want. It's a YA book, and a good one, with sympathetic characters and a twist I didn't see coming. It's well worth a read, and you can find it here

 As for me, I submitted the opening chapters of Isles of Immortality to the Yeovil Prize a week ago, just getting in before the deadline. But for now it's back to Starfire, and the continuing story of Linth as he struggles to understand why he survived the Spirit Wood. That means updating my notes and profiles for the story, which have had extra scribbles added as I wrote volume one and now look as though they were attacked my a drunk spider. There's a whole folder full of notes. It's taken four days already and I'm only halfway.

 Being an author isn't all glamour, y'know.

 All this comes from wanting to achieve consistency. If I say in chapter 3 that Linth's eyes are blue, they can't be green by chapter 6. I might hardly mention his eyes, or a host of other things, because I don't want to bury the reader in detail. But I have to know. I need to be clear on how he looks, how he sounds, what words he chooses and how he swears, how he stands and walks, what memories he treasures, and blah and blah. What's more, I need this for every character, of which there are many major ones in Starfire. There are lots of different cultures too and I need details on all of them, and on the deserts and mountain ranges, even sailing routes across the seas. There's a lot, and it all needs updating. Fun, isn't it?

 On Saturday I'll be attending the Saturday group at Barnstaple library for the first time in almost a year. I missed it while I was away in Yeovil and I'm really glad to be back. Some good writers attend and some good friends too. Here's to a warm and happy summer.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

An Outright Stonker

 Well, the good news is that I've finished the rewrite of The Death of Ghosts. Since I submitted it to Angry Robot that really needed to be done before they got back to me - which they still haven't, by the way. It's three and a half months now since the open submissions period closed. Maybe they like me.

 The bad news is that I've torn something in my bad knee. I've been limping for a week now and it's getting worse rather than better. There's a hard bump on the top edge of the kneecap which is so tender that the moment I touch it I start yodelling. I suspect it's a knot of tendon or something similar. I see the doc on Wednesday so just got to wait until then.

 Death of Ghosts is a great story. To an extent it's an old tale, the one where an ancient evil awakes and the poor people of today have to scrape together enough strength to defeat it, if they can. But I think I have a new spin on it. There isn't just a Big Bad from the past, there's a Big Good too, though of course it's not that clear-cut. At the end of Ghosts no one really knows what's going on, or why strange things keep happening. It's in volume two, for the moment called Mermaid's Purse, that answers begin to come. By the way, Mermaid's Purse is what people used to call skate's eggs, when they washed up on the beach. Google them, they're really weird.

 I'm taking a break before I start that though. The deadline for this year's Yeovil Prize is the end of the month, and I want to submit Isles of Eternity - and that promises to be an outright stonker of a novel. It's packed with stuff, scholars and mad kings, power-hungry priests from the temples of countless gods... and a people called the goat-fish, who live in the marshes and are said, in myth, to know of an island where the waters bring immortality. The story follows Mani, a sort of professor who deals with the goat-fish, and an insane king named Sarru-kin who wants to live forever and comes trampling into Mani's life. So I'll do the opening 15,000 words or so of Eternity, submit it to Yeovil, and then go back to Mermaid's Purse.

 Good thing I only work two days a week at the moment, eh?

 Mind you, being at home isn't exactly restful, with a 3-month-old baby around. Izzy's sweet-natured, quiet and alert - until you put her down, or stop talking to her, or lie her in the cot, and so on. Then she turns into the Queen of Shriek, it's most vexing. Still, she sleeps through most nights now,, so I suppose I shouldn't complain. And I'm not, really. Look how gorgeous she is.

 We're going to get her weighed again on Wednesday, for the first time in a month. My guess is she's close to a stone now. The way she eats, she should be the size of a hippo.

 Love you to bits, pickle.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Glad to be Back

 Hello from North Devon. Yes, the family is back where we started, and glad to be here. To be honest (making friends here) Yeovil is a pretty grotty town. It's really just brick boxes in one suburban avenue after another. Worse, even though it's home to a prestigious writing competition, the Yeovil Prize, there's not even a writers' group at the town's library. I asked and they suggested I talk to staff at Waterstone's.

 Anyway, we're glad to be out. I've found my feet in my new job, which in honesty wasn't hard, since it's almost exactly the same as my old job only without the stress and with only half as much frenetic work. The problem is that though I'm contracted for two days a week, I was told at interview there would be more hours available covering other stores, and that turns out not to be true. The company doesn't want to pay for overtime at all. I could have made three days' pay work, I can't make two days' work. Time to look around.

 Meanwhile, I've still not heard from Angry Robot. It's three months since their open submissions period ended, so by now they must surely have reviewed at least one of the three novels I emailed in. They're planning another open door period in 2017, which means they must have all the submissions from this last period dealt with by then, and the successful ones published. So they can't waste time wiffling about . I must admit I'm becoming hopeful. We'll see.

 I now have to ready an entry for the Yeovil Prize (horrible town though it is). I don't want to use one of the Angry Robot submissions, so I'm thinking I might use The Playground of Fawns. This is a novel set in a culture like ancient China, a place full of magics both real and imagined, and also packed with ambition and treachery. The story follows people caught up in a civil war after the Emperor is assassinated, and has lots of strong characters. Kun is an ex-army man who lucked his way into lands and titles, Lian a woman sold by her parents so they could feed their younger children, and Xiao an expert warrior who can't find commissions because he's an albino. I think there's a thumping good tale in there. I haven't been working on it because I have twelve million other things to write (slight exaggeration), plus enough events in the real world to fill five lifetimes (not an exaggeration at all).

 Some of those events now call me. By which I mean I want to read Zookeeper Zoe to my daughter again. It's the umpty-dozenth time and I would pretend to be weary of it... but I'm not really.

 Bye for now.

Friday, 15 April 2016

A Lost World

 Hi all. First of all, the first two Troy books - A Brand of Fire, and Heirs of Immortality - are free on Amazon right now, and will be for 3 days. Pick one up, read it, and if you enjoy it please leave a review. I could use a few more reviews on my page, they really do help.

 OK. Bit of a change from normal now, because I'm afraid I'm going to go all political. In the USA Mitt Romney recently said that he didn't want it to be said that he'd stayed silent in the face of a demagogue. Neither do I, so I'll do as he did, and talk about Donald Trump.

 The Western world has a lot of strong populist parties at the moment. True Finns, AfD in Germany, the FN in France, and so on. They've grown out of a disillusionment with politics as normal, a sense that our leaders don't listen to us. Trump is riding the same anger. But he hasn't formed a new group, he's hijacked one of the main parties in the US, and he's done so with open racism and bile that even the European extremists like Marine Le Pen avoid.

 The Republican Party has invited this. They've spent years whipping up fear and hate in their supporters, telling them the liberals were coming to take their guns, or deny them their religious freedoms. They've said voter fraud is stealing their democratic rights, and illegal immigration is taking their jobs. Everything that's wrong in America is because of liberals, they say, people who don't believe in the Constitution. Stand up for your rights. Refuse to comply. It's the politics of confrontation. And now they're reaping what they sowed, because here comes Trump, who takes all that bile and hatred and turns it on the very people who created it. The GOP thought they could ride the whirlwind. Now they know better.

 America is not my country. They're entitled to elect whomever they choose. I don't much like Ted Cruz, and don't much trust Hillary, but that's not my business. I'm very much concerned that if elected Trump will be my business, and the world's, because with his ego and boasting and bombast he's liable to cause chaos.

 All of this is by way of saying that I think compromise is better than confrontation. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, as Churchill once said. You don't fix a problem by marginalising your opponents but by working with them. This is a mixed world now, one where most countries - in the West especially - are made up of people of different ethnicities and creeds. Someone like Trump is an anachronism, a dinosaur, yearning for a lost world that maybe never existed anyway. It's horrifying that I could put him in one of my Fantasy worlds, as leader of a brutal medieval regime, and he'd fit perfectly.

 There are some important elections coming up. The US chooses a President in November, and a year from now France picks a new President. The Front National has a real chance to win. At the moment I still have enough faith in voters to believe they will reject both Trump and Le Pen, and choose instead the path of conciliation. I hope I'm not proved wrong.

 If you've forgiven me this rant, and stuck through the blog to the end, then thank you. Things will be back to normal next time. Meanwhile don't forget to grab yourself a free book, curl up with a cup of something hot, and relax for a while. The world's not doomed yet.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Teeny Twinge

 Caz and I have found a flat in Northam, near Bideford. It's modernised but the building is old, with thick walls and a well, of all things, in the garden. Covered, of course, with decking on top too. And a built-in barbecue unit in the garden wall. I'm really hoping for a good summer, spent eating charred chicken and sausages.

 The beach at Westward Ho! is about a mile away. So is the beach at Northam Burrows, and Appledore harbour is close as well. Sometime this summer we'll be sitting in the little waves with Izzy, helping her stand as the water laps round her feet. Isn't that sweet?

 Both Caz and I have what we might charitably call fractured families. The situations are similar but different, and hopelessly complicated besides. They've led us to the same point, a determination that whatever else may happen, our daughter will always know she was loved and that we will fight for her. We'll make mistakes - what parent doesn't? But they will not be the same mistakes that we suffered, which in honesty were whoppers. If our relationship goes wrong we'll work at it, and we'll make sure Izzy is protected from any hurt. That was vital to us in any relationship, even before we met. For Caz and I, getting married was only partly an act of love, it was also an act of trust.

 Heh, I'm a new father, and suddenly I run at the mouth about emotional things. Funny that.

 Perhaps this new emotional openness is why I'm getting jumpy about Angry Robot. The open submission period ended two months ago, and AR has been contacting contributors with rejections ever since. But they haven't contacted me. I submitted three pieces, one of them within days of the window opening, so it should have been reviewed early, in theory. And there's been no word. No rejection email.

 I can't help feeling a teeny twinge of hope about that. I know the lack of contact proves nothing, it gives no guarantees. But still... a teeny twinge. I have been so lucky these past two years that mere high odds seem a piffling thing. Perhaps the run of good fortune will extend to one more lucky break.


Friday, 11 March 2016

All Change

 All change for the Blakes. Again.

 Caz has to return to Barnstaple to work after her Maternity Leave is over. That's not til August, but if we renew our tenancy it must be for 6 months, which takes us to the end of October, so we're not going to. We're leaving in April instead - yes, another house move... sigh. I already have a new job as Assistant Manager in the Sue Ryder shop, for 2 or 3 days a week, which means I can look after Izzy while Caz is at work.

 It also means I handed my notice in to Barnardo's yesterday. It's a shame, because I've made a good job of that shop. I've taken it from scratch, a new outlet, to the point where it ranks 4th or 5th in the South West area, is deluged in donations and is turning over a fair amount of money too. And I did that in 6 months. Other new shops have had to close on some days, or have needed help from elsewhere. Mine hasn't. I'm proud of that.

 In theory this means I'll have more time to write. In practice there's a bloody great flaw with that. The flaw is 54 centimetres long, cries a lot and is called Isabella Lucia, or in the common tongue, 'Grizzabella Grumblebot'. I expect to spend a lot of time cuddling her, soothing her cares, or else taking her out in the stroller. To the beach, or the park, when summer comes. By July she'll be ready for ice cream...

 For no reason at all, here's a photo

 So anyway, writing. One thing I look forward to is resuming my activity with the Barnstaple writers' group on the first Saturday of each month. I enjoy those meetings, there are a lot of good authors and good people there, and it's nice to mix and talk. With any luck I'll be able to join them in May. And who knows, by then I might have some writing to share. It's a case of fifty words here and ninety there at the moment, just crawling along and not much more. I've always been mopre focused than that. But the best man at my wedding spoke of how my priorities had changed since meeting Caz, and since the Grumblebot arrived, well...

 And I'm not complaining at all.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

All Worth It

 Izzy has taken over the world.

 Well, my bit of it, anyway. She screams unless she can sleep next to my wife, in our bed, which means Daddy has to go sleep on the air mattress so he doesn't roll on her by accident. I like the air mattress, but it doesn't mean I sleep uninterrupted, because Caz wakes me when she needs help in the night. Izzy then sleeps all day while I'm at work, the lazy pest, so is rested and ready for another grizzle-fest that evening.

 A man can grow weary of it all, but then Izzy goes and does this

or something like it, and I'm reduced to an adoring wimp again.

 Meanwhile, I returned to my shop after two weeks Paternity Leave to find the rails half empty, not much stock sorted and bags of unsorted donations piled every which way. Some were even in the shop, which means I couldn't open as it's a Health and Safety risk. Today, my third day back, I finally caught up... more or less. I'm worn out and I've hardly started back.

 But look at that photo. All worth it, eh?

Monday, 8 February 2016


Not waiting anymore. Isabella Lucia arrived just before midnight on February 4th, at a touch under 6lb. She's utterly gorgeous. I'm in awe of my wife, who dealt with the birth so well and has managed since on a teacup of sleep a night, because Izzy won't rest unless she's being held by Mummy.

Daddy's a bit tired too, but I feel a tad reticent about saying so. A punch on the nose often offends y'know.

Since the birth, Caz and I have realised a number of things. One is that we should have practised putting the stroller/car seat combo together more often. We've learned that Daddy sleeping on the edge of the bed does not work, because it ends up with Daddy shouting "Yikes!" just before he hits the floor. And we've also learned that a single child can have more wriggly bits than you'd expect to find in a box of worms. Getting a sleep suit on that little Houdini is hard.

But she's healthy, and all her bits are where they should be. She's strong too. A fetch round the nose from an irate Izzy has quite an impact.

Of course, the rest of my life has fallen away a bit. I'm off work for a fortnight, and have written a total of 450 words in four days - and those on the night Caz and Izzy were kept in hospital and I was too wired to sleep. I'm just glad I played the Vice Captain's Cup in the pool league the day before Izzy came. Well, the day she came, in fact - I won the title, and the final ran until 12.30am on the day she was born. Quite a day, eh?

So that's all for this blog. I'd like to think of witty or clever things to say, but I'm too tired, and anyway all the things I feel are trite. Like knowing my daughter is the beautifullest little girl in the world.

Trite. But a bit true.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Little Time

 Still waiting for Izzy.

 Caz had to stay overnight in hospital a week ago, because the pesky child is giving her high blood pressure. When the nurses tried to monitor Izzy's heartbeat she kept wriggling away, so the record had gaps in it. Later they did a scan and she kicked the scanner thingy right off Caz's stomach. That girl does not like to be prodded.

 Methinks an infant who can kick that hard is probably OK.

 I'm still working when I can. I mean, I work at Barnardo's all the time, not just when I feel like it, but I'm writing when I can too. I submitted The Death of Ghosts to Angry Robot a couple of days ago, with quite high hopes to be honest. I've rewritten volume one several times, because it's never seemed to me that it was quite smooth enough as a story... not quite impactful enough... I don't know. It hasn't felt right, that's all. The work has paid off, because now the opening 20 chapters feel very good indeed, among the best stuff I've ever done. There are three very strong characters in there, with clear voices of their own, and the pace is very high. There's a lot to tell in Ghosts, I don't want to spend 50,000 words wiffling about while I set the scene.

 And I have other stories to tell, too. I've mentioned some of them. Chained Dragon, about the struggle against a shadowy band of sorcerers who have wiped out whole cultures before. The Pyramids of Saqoma, which tells of an effort by a river civilisation to find out who founded their land, and built the very first pyramid out in the desert. There's The End of All Roads, set in a trading city out on the steppe where cultures meet; and The Playground of Fawns, which tells of rebellion and hope in a culture ruled by god-Emperors. Just those stories could run to nine volumes, and that's not the whole list. I need more hands to type with and above all I need more time, if I'm to get these tales written down.

 [Please buy my novels, Angry Robot, so I can quit work and write for you instead]

 In a couple of weeks I'll be a daddy and time will be even shorter. I can't wait. I think of how my life has changed since I met Caz, how much better it is, how full of love and laughter like I've never known. It's terrific. All I had to give up was a little time.

 I wouldn't change that.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Waiting for Izzy

 Well, here we go, then. Into the last 4 weeks of my wife's pregnancy, which means that from here, we're on alert.

 Everything else has sort of faded into the background. Whenever my phone rings I snatch at it, in case it's Caz ringing to say her waters have broken. If the baby kicks and she lets out an oof I leap off the sofa (and that baby can kick. I'm starting to think she might be a centaur). In my nervousness I talk to the baby a lot. Also, any mother unwise enough to bring her infant/baby into my shop had better be prepared to spend a long time listening to me blather on about how great my daughter is going to be.

 I doubt they enjoy this.

 But I can't stop doing it. Waiting for Izzy has become my life. People say she'll take over once she's born, and I think, what's different? She's taken over already. The bloody child already owns more clothes than I do. On my day off we found the car seat doesn't fit, so we went and bought another one, which meant ages wiffling about in Mothercare, and then more ages finding a stroller that will fit the new car seat. So much for a relaxing rest day. And the devil of it is.... I want my days off to all be like that. I'm trapped. No prison is as secure as the one you build yourself.

 I've been working extra hours for Barnardo's, because I was on my own over Christmas and New Year and fell behind. Got to do the job well because we need the money for Izzy. I hardly ever go out now because the money needs to be spent on Izzy. We don't have alcohol at home, and soon won't have pop either, because we're making a healthy environment for Izzy. Caz uses steam cleaners and bleach scrubs to make the house safe for Izzy. It's ridiculous, you'd think she was the Queen of Sheba.

 All of this comes as a culture shock. I'm used to living on my own, choosing my own hours, making my own decisions. Now? If I get permission to sleep I'm doing well. And this is just the start, this is nothing, compared to what I know is coming down the road... and can't wait for, so I can take the last scrap of my independence and throw it cheerily away. Told you. A prison I built myself.

 Caz and I went to see The Force Awakens the other day. We're not Star Wars fans, but we thought we'd give it a try, and it's the best movie in the franchise by a distance. I mention it because I don't have a clue when we'll next be able to mosey out for the evening. Maybe in the summer. The summer of 2030, that is.

 Got to go now. Caz has gone awful quiet and I'm worried...