Updated Blog Archive: 2013 to 2019


 

2013

  1. Bated Breath
  2. Seven Short Men and a Waif
  3. Preparing for Milford
  4. Jumping in at the Shallow End
  5. Serendipitous Book Browsing
  6. Four days to go
  7. Three Book Deal
  8. Milford Writers
  9. Publishers Marketplace Announcement
  10. Editor Talk
  11. New Book Log on LJ: Karen Traviss: Star Wars: Clone Wars – No Prisoners:
  12. World Fantasy Con
  13. That Difficult Second Novel
  14. Revision – First Pass
  15. Wordle
  16. Wordcount
  17. Timelines

2014

  1. Book Blog Roundup for 2013
  2. Thinking about Images
  3. Title News
  4. SFWA
  5. Scrivening
  6. Character self-determination
  7. Jacey’s Eastercon Panel Schedule
  8. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
  9. More Book Logging Over on T’Other Blog
  10. Amazin’ Amazon
  11. Empire of Dust
  12. Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes – Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  13. Writers Blog Tour
  14. Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold – How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel
  15. My Loncon Schedule – Provisional
  16. First Draft – Progress Report
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda
  18. How long is a novel?
  19. Editing and Time Travel
  20. My Updated Loncon-3 Schedule
  21. August, Cons, Page Proofs and Milford
  22. Write What You Know
  23. Why I love my cover for Empire of Dust
  24. Submitting what you write
  25. It’s real
  26. My Guest Post on Ruth Booth’s Blog
  27. My Guest Post on the Bristol Books Blog
  28. My Guest Post on Ben Jeapes’ Blog
  29. Milford 2014
  30. Guest Post on Deborah Walker’s Blog
  31. Bristolcon Schedule
  32. Guest Post on Gaie Sebold’s Blog
  33. The Goodreads Odd Choice Awards
  34. Happy Book Day To Me
  35. Guest Post on Anne Lyle’s Blog
  36. Guest Post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog
  37. Guest Post on Book View Cafe
  38. The Three Letter Word
  39. Guest Interview on Diabolical plots
  40. Order Books For the Holidays
  41. Interstellar
  42. Mind melding
  43. Guest Blogs Roundup
  44. Listed
  45. Nuts and Bolts of Writing #1
  46. Interview and book discussion
  47. Katharine Kerr needs our help.

2015

  1. 2014 – Looking Backwards and Forwards – 2015
  2. Short story Sales 2015
  3. Selling Short Stories
  4. Another short story sale
  5. Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself
  6. How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb)
  7. Jacey Bedford Answers Ten Questions
  8. Ten Books I Couldn’t Put Down
  9. Ten Favourite Children’s Books
  10. Lonely Panda Reprinted Again
  11. Published Today: Last Train
  12. Crossways Cover Reveal
  13. Stars in your Reviews – The Goodreads Conundrum
  14. Goodreads Starry Update
  15. Eastercon Schedule 2015
  16. Goodbye Sir Terry
  17. Pelquin’s Comet: What’s It All About?
  18. Lost in Translation
  19. Selling Stories
  20. Attending Eastercon – Dysprosium 2015
  21. Short Story Roundup
  22. Eastercon 2015
  23. On Delivering the Second Book
  24. SFSF Social #3 – 27th June 2015
  25. Crossways – the Process
  26. More Short Stories Available Online
  27. Book Blog and Pinterest
  28. Two Worlds Collide: Guest Bloggage from Terry Jackman
  29. Re-reading my own book: Winterwood.
  30. My First Writing Rewards
  31. View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money  (John Scalzi)
  32. Another Country
  33. Sheffield SF Social
  34. SFSF Social – June Report
  35. Science for Fiction Writers
  36. Book Cover: Crossways
  37. New Two-Book Deal
  38. CROSSWAYS is OUT TODAY!
  39. Winterwood Edits
  40. New Series of Guest Posts
  41. Guest Blog: Ian Creasey answers five questions about his writing
  42. Guest Blog:Tony Ballantyne tells us about his writing.
  43. Another Successful Milford
  44. Publishing progress
  45. Winterwood Page Proofs
  46. Agents and Publishing
  47. Fantasycon 2015
  48. What has NaNoWriMo Ever Done for Us?
  49. Winterwood Cover Revealed at Fantasy Book Cafe
  50. Gail Z Martin – Five Questions – Guest Post
  51. Winterwood Cover Reveal
  52. Christmas is Coming
  53. So Many Books, So Little Time.
  54. You never get Blasé About… a Good Review
  55. What did I say about good reviews?
  56. Guest Blog: Toby Venables Answers Five Questions
  57. My Writing Year – 2015
  58. My Reading Year 2015

2016

  1. Fan mail
  2. Happy Book Day To Me: Winterwood Published Today
  3. Winterwood Interviews and Reviews
  4. More Post-Winterwood News, Interviews and Reviews
  5. Winterwood Cover
  6. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #1
  7. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #2
  8. Looking forward to Eastercon / Mancunicon
  9. Details Details
  10. Science for Fiction Writers 2016
  11. Silverwolf
  12. Humour in Fantasy and SF
  13. Gotten, Tannoy, and Trug
  14. Thoughts on Editing
  15. Silverwolf Cover Reveal
  16. Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier
  17. Milford 2016
  18. Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016
  19. What’s in a name?
  20. Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween
  21. Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget
  22. Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years
  23. The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice
  24. My Reading Year 2016

 

2017

  1. Silverwolf
  2. Ten Quick Tips for Writers
  3. Style Sheets
  4. Agent Update
  5. Bloggage or not…
  6. Stories Far and Near
  7. Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes
  8. Cover Reveal: Nimbus
  9. Committing Trilogy
  10. Worldbuilding for a Series
  11. Due Process
  12. Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits
  13. Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen
  14. Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. History Lends Perspective
  16. Corwen Silverwolf Speaks
  17. Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

 

2018

  1. What’s the Psi-Tech trilogy about?
  2. Discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.
  3. Beginning at the Beginning
  4. How to get a literary agent
  5. Pleasantly Pleasing Progress
  6. My Eastercon Schedule
  7. Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  8. The Gift That Keeps on Giving
  9. Cover Reveal Rowankind
  10. The Reading Conundrum
  11. Rowankind Delivered
  12. What times we’ve lived through
  13. Make me Immortal with a Kiss
  14. Writing New Series Vs. Sequels – A guest blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. Character self-determination
  16. Dropping a Pebble in the Pond
  17. Book Covers
  18. Jaine Fenn Guest Blog
  19. Finish What You Start – Or Don’t
  20. Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier
  21. My Week at Milford
  22. Gentleman Jim Speaks Out
  23. SF Conventions and How to Survive Them
  24. Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here
  25. Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers
  26. Jacey’s Quick Book Links
  27. Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions
  28. Happy Book Day to Me (Rowankind)
  29. Busy November 
  30. My 2018 Reading

2019

  1. Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018 and 2019
  2. Writing Tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words
  3. Writing the First World War
  4. Writing Romance When You’re Not a Romance Writer – a post for Valentines Day
  5. It’s never too late to talk about a book
  6. Updated Blog Archive: 2013 to 2018
  7. Write What You Know – Kind Of…
  8. What I Like to Read, and Why
  9. The Truth in Historical Fantasy
  10. The Long Haul
  11. Milford Writers’ Retreat
  12. Read the first chapter of Silverwolf
  13. NASA’s Free Photo Library
  14. Submission, Rejection, and my Coping Strategies
  15. For the Love of Prequels – A guest post by Gail Z. Martin
  16. Book Browsing
  17. Science for Fiction 2019
  18. A Visit to the British Museum
  19. My Other Journal in a Galaxy Far far Away
  20. Dublin Worldcon 2019
  21. Generating Ideas – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier
  22. Home from Milford – Tired but Happy
  23. Open Submissions for Anthologies – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier
  24. Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from March 2008
  25. Writers Injuring Characters
  26. Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from Autumn 2008
  27. It’s not too late to join up – NaNoWriMo
  28. Process
  29. Creativity and the laugh-track of my life
  30. Christmas-ish Post
Posted in fantasy, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

2019 – Retrospective

2019 has been a pretty good year. I did a few conventions, read a lot of books, finished editing a couple of my own, saw a lot of movies, kept up with the day job, organised (and attended) a couple of Milford weeks, and (as part of Artisan) took to the stage again.

de castellSo, starting with books. There will be a full rundown of books for the year on My other blog at Dreamwidth,  which is where I blog about all the books I read, and all the movies I see. In the meantime the highlights of the year are the four Greatcoats books by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood and Tyrant’s Throne. Well worth reading. I’ve also read his Spellslinger books this year, which are good, but the Greatcoat books remain my favourites.

SwordheartI certainly couldn’t rank the books I’ve read and loved this year in order of preference, but if I was made to try, Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (the pen name of Ursula Vernon) would be very high on my list. It’s marvellous with elements of fantasy and romance. Halla and Sarkis are simply fabulous characters. I couldn’t stop reading. I raced to finish it, and at the same time didn’t want it to end.

Last year I discovered Leigh Bardugo’s books Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. This year I was delighted to read King of Scars, set in the same Grisha universe. Highly recommended, and there’s a sequel due sometime (soon I hope).

There have been a number of Jodi Taylor offerings this year about the historians of St Mary’s who don’t so much time travel as ‘ observe historic events in real time’ without interfering. Yeah, right. The whole lot of them are disaster magnets. This year there was Hope for the Best and the short story When Did You Last See your Father? plus a spinoff book, Doing Time, which features Max and Leon’s son as he joins the Time Police. You can’t go wrong with these books, but I thoroughly recommend starting at the beginning with One Damned Thing After Another.

Calling Major Tom by David Barnett was an unexpected highlight and featured a curmudgeonly astronaut  helping a bunch of kids, and their nan, with a series of long distance phone calls from outer space. Highly recommended. I didn’t intend to read Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze immediately after I downloaded a review copy from Netgalley, but I glanced at the first page and got sucked right in by the main character’s ‘voice’ and the streak of dark humour running through a book that does terrible things to its lead character. The book strap line is: Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is… complicated. That pretty well covers it. I also loved Brightfall, by Jamie Lee Moyer, a Robin Hood book with a difference. Marian is the main viewpoint character. She’s a witch living in the forest with her (and Robin’s) two children, while Robin, distant and embittered, has retreated to Tuck’s monastery. When someone starts killing off Merry Men this turns into a magical medieval murder mystery.

I go to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon with my cinebuddy, Hilary. We try to see every new science fiction or fantasy movie that comes out, with occasional forays into other genres that take our fancy. We saw more movies in the early part of the year than the later, mainly because from August to November there was precious little that took our fancy. As I write I’m looking forwards to the upcoming Star Wars movie, but I might not get to see it until the new year.

How to TrainOne of my absolute favourite movies was How to Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World. Who says animations are for kids? In case you haven’t seen it yet check out Jon Snow meets Toothless the dragon, made by Dreamworks to advertise the movie, but a positive gem in its own right. It’s a Game of Thrones/How to Train Your Dragon mashup featuring Kit Harrington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, and one of the voice actors in The Hidden World) and a ‘big Hollywood star’. At the opposite end of the movie spectrum I really enjoyed All is True, with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench depicting the last days of Shakespeare. Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali is a buddy movie, a road trip movie, and a movie about prejudice and friendship. Thoroughly enjoyable and even uplifting.

Yesterday, the movie featuring songs by the Beatles, was unexpectedly sweet. The new Terminator movie, Dark Fate, was better than I expected largely due to Linda Hamilton playing a badass sixty-some year old, and Arnie’s terminator swan-song.

This year was the year of Avengers Endgame, of course, one of the most anticipated movies of the season. It didn’t disappoint and arguably brought to a close this extended cycle of Marvel movies, though in a way Spiderman – Far From Home was the post script.

So that’s books and movies taken care of.

I had a few trips away this year. There were two Milfords, in May (the retreat week) and September (the regular SF writers’ conference). Both held at Trigonos, the delightful centre in Snowdonia. Great fun and peaceful writing time in May, and some constructive critique (and more good fun) in September. Kettle a bunch of writers together in a place like Trigonos, surrounded by mountains and with its own lake frontage, and you get instant bonding and a lot of laughs.

Retreat 2019 coffetime group

Milford retreat week

I missed Eastercon this year because it was held at Heathrow, not one of my favourite places, but I flew to Dublin in the summer for Worldcon. Worldcon is huge and a large contingent of Ameican fans and professionals turn up, so I got one-on-one meetings with my editor, Sheila Gilbert, and my agent, Donald Maass, and I also went to the Hugo Awards ceremony on the Sunday night. In October I went to Fantasycon, held just outside Glasgow. Maybe it was because it was so far from London, but I didn’t see as many publishing people there as I expected to see. Then the following week I was on a train to the opposite end of the country for Bristolcon, a much smaller event, but very sociable. I also managed to combine it with a short trip to Bath for a bit of historical research.

Artisan at MND concert Oct 2019

In October I dusted off my tonsils and once again took to the stage with Hilary and Brian, as one third of Artisan for a fundraising concert for the South Yorkshire Motor Neurone Disease charity. Artisan was a full-time entity for twenty years, and officially retired from international touring in 2005, though we did reunion tours in 2010 (Canada and the UK) and 2015 (UK only). We had great fun rehearsing with each other again, and the audience reaction was very gratifying. We never say never again. If you want to know what we sound like there are videos here – http://artisan-harmony.com/videos.htm, or you can buy CDs here – http://artisan-harmony.com/albums.htm

Posted in fantasy, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Christmas Truce in 1914.

thomas bennettI have a theory, and it’s only a theory, so accept it or not as you wish. My granddad, Lance Corporal Tommy Bennett of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry took part in the Christmas Truce in 1914. It wasn’t one isolated incident, spontaneous peace and goodwill broke out up and down the lines where English and German troops faced each other across No Man’s Land.

Some years ago I was talking to my German friend, Gunnar Wiegand, about this and he told me that the unofficial truce on Christmas Eve 1914 wasn’t something that was known about in Germany, however there were stories of troops in earlier wars (Napoleonic times) meeting up at Christmas to share festivities. Indeed in the days when wars were fought hand-to-hand the troops would sometimes trade across the lines when battles were not raging – without permission from their officers, of course.

My theory is that the 1914 Christmas truce was not a one-off, but it is very probably notable for being the last Christmas truce between opposing armies. As wars became less personal, and more reliant on artillery and air raids to kill from a distance, common soldiers lost the opportunity and the wish to meet their opposite number in peace.

Grandpa didn’t talk much about his time in the trenches, except in very general terms, but Mum told me the story some years later, after he’d died. I wish I’d been able to question him about it, but I was too late. The story always resonated with me, and some years later, as part of Artisan, I recorded Mike Harding’s song about Christmas Eve 1914. Here it is: http://artisan-harmony.com/Soundfiles%20fullsongs/artisan-christmaseve1914.mp3

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Christmas-ish post

Christmas baublesThough our family has never been religious we take advantage of the season and enjoy our version of Christmas which is all about family, food, presents, games and Dr Who or a new movie on TV.

When Brian and I were first married, we went to my mum and dad’s for Christmas Day, and Brian’s mam and dad’s for Boxing Day (26th December for my leftpondian friends) because 26th was Mam’s birthday and also Brian’s maternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary. (No it’s not a typo. My mum was Mum and Brian’s mam was Mam.)

We had our first child, in late November. She was only six weeks old at Christmas, so we went once more to my parents’ home. The year after that we figured that it would be nice to have our own family Christmas in our own home, so my mum and dad came to us, along with mum’s maiden-aunt-ish cousins, and Brian’s mam and dad. There were always people floating through at Christmas – both family and friends – and I usually ended up doing Christmas dinner for twelve or fourteen people. Always a turkey and a ham joint with all the trimmings – sausages wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, two different kinds of stuffing, brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and honey-glazed carrots. I always did prawn cocktail for strarters (and still do) because I make a cracking cocktail sauce with a secret ingredient that is utterly yummy. (Okay, the secret ingredient is horseradish!) I always have a Christmas pudding on hand, but we’re generally too stuffed to eat it. This year I’ve bought a sticky toffee Christnas pudding from Marks and Spencers, so I hope we don’t end up wasting it.

Thinking of Christmasses past, Brian’s grandma cooked her turkey nose-down in a new bucket bought specially for Christmas. It kept the breast meat very moist. I’ve never tried that, though I did cook my turkey breast-down in the pan one year. Yes, it was moist, but it looked like a road accident. When I was very young we never had a turkey at Christmas (a bit too expensive, I suspect). I remember we had a capon one year, basically a big chicken!. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. Dad was going to night school while working in an office job. When he got his first management job, one of the perks for the senior staff was a Christmas turkey. It was an 18 pounder and we didn’t have a tray big enough to cook it in. We borrowed one from the local butcher, but the turkey was so big it hung over the edge of the tray and wouldn’t fit into the (coal-fireside) oven until we cut a leg off. I must have been about eight, but I can still remember Grandma kneeling in front of the oven trying to shove the turkey into it! What a tarradiddle!

Christmas tree & dogWe’ve always loved Christmas in this house, with an open fire and plenty of room for the biggest Christmas tree we can fit in the car. Our kids are grown and flown now, and it’s lovely when they can come home for Christmas, but we don’t expect it or get upset if it doesn’t happen. Ghillan and her husband, Ian, have two lovely kids, but they live south of London and so a family visit has to allow a day for travelling either side of the visit itself. This year Ian doesn’t have enough time off work for them to drive up here, enjoy a few days of Christmas and then get back again.

Our son and his wife are even further away, in Blacksburg Virginia, where he’s an assistant professor at Virginia Tech State University.  He was in the UK for a conference in November, so came home for a pre-Christmas visit, but it will be next May/June before they both manage another visit.

Family Christmas with the kids and grandkids will be by Skype, this year. We have friends coming for Christmas dinner, and my mum, who is almost 95 and getting a bit frail, will be there.

We went out and bought our Christmas tree a few days ago, but haven’t put it up yet. Brian hauled the decorations out of the loft, so we’re on the verge of being ready.

I spent today making the last batch of apple jelly from our own (small) apple trees. This batch was apple and red wine, but I’ve also made apple jelly with: port wine, white wine, rose, mulled wine, cider, and just for Christmas dinner I’ve made a batch that’s simply mulled apple jelly with loads of mulling spices and extra cinnamon and cloves. That will be lovely with Christmas dinner instead of the usual cranberry jelly, which I’m not so keen on. I made apple sauce, too.

When I checked the cake box I found one of last year’s Christmas cakes, iced and ready. Since I put a lot of brandy in my chrissie cakes, I figure it will still be fine to eat, though we might need a hammer and chisel for the icing. To that end I’m in the process of making a Guinness fruit cake as a back-up. It’s lovely and moist and fruity. It’s one of those where you boil up butter, sugar and fruit in a can of guinness and then leave it overnight for the fruit to soak up the liquid. Then you whack in eggs and flour, give it a good old stir and bake. It’s best if you wrap it in foil and keep it for a couple of weeks before eating.

Presents? Well, we’re trying to go easy this year – at least for the adults – though I am sending a box of stuff down to Ghillan and Ian for the grandkids. I always think Brian is difficult to buy for and he says the same about me.

Will we have a white Christmas? We live nearly a thousand feet up on the edge of the Pennines, so if anyone is going to get snow, it will probably be us, but that’s OK. Our back garden looks magical when it snows, and we don’t have anything to draw us out of the house unless we want a snowball fight.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

So that’s us for Christmas this year. If you want to add a little cheer to my Christmas, you can buy my books, for yourself or for friends. That would be wonderful. Or there’s just about time to order an Artisan CD – either contemporary songs, or Christmas ones.

I’d like to wish you all merry Christmas, happy holidays, or the seasonal salutation of your choice. Be safe, be happy, be kind.

Here’s a recipe for you.

Guinness Fruit Cake

900g (2 lb) mixed dried fruit
225g (8 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) dark brown sugar
1 generous teaspoon ground mixed spice
1 can (440 ml) Guinness
3 large eggs
340 g (12 oz) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons whisky or brandy – optional

  1. Put the fruit, butter, sugar, spice and Guinness into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10–15 minutes. (Smells delicious.)
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (I usually leave it overnight.)
  3. When cool add the eggs, beating well. Fold in the flour. Stir in the optional whisky. (Doesn’t need to be so complicated – just chuck in eggs, flour and whisky and give it a good stir.) It should be dropping consistency (if too thick add liquid of your choice).
  4. The origional recipe says to turn the mixture into a buttered and lined 20-cm (8 inch) diameter round cake tin, but that makes it very deep I find this quantity makes two generous sized cakes, or use a bigger tin – say a 9 inch one. Bake in a preheated oven (160°C/325°F/gas mark 3) for 1 – 1½ hours. (That’s how it was passed on to me, but I find it takes much longer – maybe up to 2½ – 3 hours. Smaller cakes need a shorter cooking time if you divide it into two. I’ve also made great muffins with this mix.)
  5. The cake is cooked when a skewer into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
  6. When cool, wrap in foil and hide at the back of a cupboard for a couple of weeks. It’s a great moist alternative to a traditional Christmas cake. As well as serving as cake, try warming a slice up in the microwave and serving with a dollop of custard, cream or ice cream.
  7. Enjoy.

 

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Creativity and the laugh-track of my life

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) at the beginning of November, a commitment to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s fewer than 2000 words a day, so it should be—if not easy—not all that difficult. I’ve done it before – about four times since my first go at it in 2008. This year I managed about 260 words on the first day and then nothing.

Why couldn’t I sit for a couple of hours each day and simply put words down on the screen? I have an ongoing novel project that’s just crying out for fifty thousand words of first draft. I know how the story starts; I’ve written the first 17,500 words. I know how it ends (though I’m not giving that away here) but I need to work on the middle bit, the development of plot and character. I need to map out a few twists and reversals, and engineer a gradual coming together of story and motivation to bring my characters to a place where the ending can happen naturally, rather than because I (as author) insist that it will. All that is covered in my vague back-of-the-envelope plan by the phrase: Stuff Happens.

So why did all my good intention flush down the pan of life? I think I have the answer.

Creativity is not something you can pull out of a box and shove back in when you’re done with it. It’s something that should be ongoing, a process of you like.

And I have a day job.

There are not many published writers who don’t have a day job of some kind. Sure, a few full time writers are either fantastically successful beyond their wildest dreams, like J. K. Rowling, or their career runs alongside their day job for several books until they’ve built up enough back catalogue to have a steady income from royalties, and possibly a firm book deal from their publisher that gives them a guaranteed income for the next so-many years. Most writers are not that lucky. Getting the average publishing deal is nice, but it doesn’t allow you to immediately chuck in the day job. If you manage your career well, I understand that it takes a back catalogue of around twenty steadily selling novels to maintain a decent income from royalties.

6bookpicI have six novels out there at the moment (so please go and buy one or more of them), so my income from royalties might take me to the supermarket for groceries once or twice a year, and my advances are modest.

So yes, I have a day job.

I’m very lucky because I’m self-employed. I work from home as a music booking agent, and I also process Certificates of Sponsorship – work permit applications for musicians coming to the UK from outside the EU. I have a dedicated (messy) office, and love a job I can do in my pyjamas. I hit the office every morning before I even get into the kitchen to put on the coffee. I don’t have an endless commute, or regular nine-to-five hours.

But…

Jacey office 3 sm

My messy office

The phone can ring at any hour of the night or day. Someone has left it until the last minute and needs eleven Certificates of Sponsorship processing for a band from the USA who are already inbound to the UK on the New York to Heathrow flight, and the British tour manager has only just discovered they didn’t deal with immigration paperwork before they left. Or I get a call on a Sunday evening, at 7.00, from someone who asks if I process CoS for Mexicans. “Yes,” I say. “How long does it take?” he asks. “Well, I ask that you allow four weeks. How soon do you need them?” It turns out that he needs them within an hour because he has four Mexican musicians in a holding room at Heathrow airport because they tried to come into the UK totally unaware that they needed permission to work. If they don’t get their CoS within an hour they’re on the next plane back to Mexico. (Luckily Heathrow gave me a bit more time once they learned the application was in hand.)

So, ‘stuff happens’ is not just the outline of the middle section of my new book, it’s the laugh-track of my life.

Now, I don’t mind dealing with occasional emergencies, even if it means staying up until midnight or beyond, to make sure some poor souls don’t get deported instead of coming in to play a few gigs for their British promoter who has already sunk money into venue hire and promotion, but it does cut into my time.

And that brings me back to creativity.

sleepy 1

Waiting for the muse.

To be creative you don’t only need time to create, you need time to think about creating. Ninety percent of writing creativity happens in your brain, not when your fingers hit the keyboard. You have to make space for thinking, for daydreaming, for lollygagging in a comfy chair with a notebook which you might never open. The ideas are floating out there on the ether, you just need to open up your mind to let them in.

And I didn’t do enough of that before NaNoWriMo, which is why, when it came to the crunch, I wasn’t ready to write 50,000 new words in a month.

I need brain-space. I’ve had some of my best writing ideas while lying in bed trying to get to sleep, which is why I keep a notebook and pen on my bedside table.

Once I’ve opened up my mind to ideas,  the words flow, and when the words start flowing other words rush in to join them and… well… when I’m on a roll I’ve been known to write 10,000 words in a day. No, that kind of word-count doesn’t happen often, and I can’t keep up that pace for more than a day or three, but when it does happen it’s glorious. I generally consider 4,000 to 5,000 words a day excellent going, and that’s much more sustainable.

I’ve been on a couple of Milford writing retreats and I’m going again in June 2020. To be able to spend a full week without day-job interruptions or family obligations, or breaking off from what I’m doing to take my elderly mum to the supermarket, or put a meal on the table, is a wonderful experience. Of course a week isn’t long enough to write a book (though Catie Murphy wrote 33,000 words at the last Milford writing retreat) but it does get you off to a fine start, or a good middle, or a satisfying ending. (Note: there are still spaces on the Milford writing retreat 2020 at the time of writing this blog post.)

In addition I’ve decided to take the whole month of January off from the day job. Yes, there might still be the occasional emergency, the odd bunch of Mexicans stuck at Heathrow, but if I make it clear to my regulars that I’m not available in January, and if I can bear let the phone go to the answering machine, then I stand a good chance of getting some creative time. And I’m never open for day-job work between Christmas and New Year, usually because the house is full of family. This year, for various reasons, our kids can’t be with us at Christmas, so between the mulled wine and mince pies, and the Christmas Day Skype session, I can sit and daydream.

And that’s what I’m going to do.

 

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Process

I’ve been thinking about process over the last few weeks. I’m writing a new, story which I hope will turn into the next novel project. It’s as yet untitled, and if I had to describe it at all it would be to say that it’s a Robin-Hood-meets-aliens story, except that it’s not Robin Hood, they’re not quite aliens, and the ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ character is female. I’ve written the set-up for both my main characters. I’ll probably end up changing names yet but I start off with a wild boy, raised by a hermit in the woods. He’s not a chosen one or anything like that. He chooses his own path, though not always very wisely. My second character is a female cavalry captain who finds herself at loggerheads with the king, so she’s posted to the back end of nowhere to quell local unrest… and it just happens to be close to where there’s a problem with alien incursions. And the stage is set for conflict.

I know (roughly) how the story is going to end, but now I’m looking at the middle bit. My whole plan for this is ‘stuff happens’. I’m beginning to work out exactly what. It has to increase the stakes and increase the tension. This is going to be fun.

I work in Scrivener, which is a wonderful programme for writers. It has three columns on screen. The middle column is a fairly standard word processor. The left hand column is the binder where you can display all your chapters and scenes. (I just use scenes until I’m near the end of the revisions before I divide it up into chapters.) You can move the scenes about by drag-and-drop in the binder. You can also keep research files, even photos in the additional files, and they are all accessible via the binder column, too. So you can access character files, places and place-names, plus any glossary you need, via the binder. The right hand scrivener column has an index card where you can outline the scene you are working one and with one flick of the mouse you can see these on the corkboard view (middle column again). Again this is great for ordering your scenes.

Scriv screencap

So I’m thinking that the next thing to do is to start planning the ‘stuff’ that ‘happens’ in Scrivener and see if it starts to hang together.

Inspiration doesn’t always hit me like a bucket of water. Sometimes it comes in drips, disordered drips, so excuse me while I do a mop-and-bucket act, collect all the drips and then splash them around in some semblance of order.

So what’s your process?

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It’s not too late to join up – NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – National NovelWriting Month-takes place each November. You sign up Her: https://nanowrimo.org and commit to writing 50,000 in November, which means writing just a little under 2,000 words a day. It’s only 3rd November, you still have time to sign up if you want to.

They used to be pretty prescriptive about not starting your project until 1st November (though you could do as much prep as you wanted beforehand) but they’ve eased up on that.

If you have a writing project on the go and you want to pace yourself alongside other writers, it’s not too late to sign up. You’ve only missed (by the time this blog is published) four days.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

My first NaNo was 2008 when I added over 50,000 words of first draft to the novel that would eventually become Winterwood. I’ve used NaNo to pile word count on to projects-in-progress. I’ve added wordcount to Winterwood twice for different sections of the novel, Silverwolf, though not (suprisingly) Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind trilogy. From the Psi-Tech trilogy, I added word count to Nimbus, the final part.

Nimbus front coverI know other published authors who also use NaNo for adding words. My buddy Jaine Fenn is doing it this year, so I said I’d join her. I’m finding it difficult to transition into my writerly headspace, though. October was busy-busy with lots of day job (music industry) work and two consecutive weekend conventions taking me to Glasgow and Bristol. That’s possibly just an excuse because it’s Day 3 of NaNo (as I’m writing this) and so far I’ve written just 287 words on my current project, which already has 17,714 words written – most of the first act, in fact.

If I think of this book as a three act novel I’m probably ready to start the second act. I’ve talked before about the difference between pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, i.e. to find out what happens. Let’s call it discovery writing. Plotters… well it’s just what it says on the tin. They work out what’s going to happen in advance and write out a detailed plot and then (if luck allows) they stick to that outline. Some writers outline chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene.

I usually know where the whole book is heading but my method is to write the opening, jot down what the ending will be, and that great gaping hole in the middle is covered by ‘stuff happens’.

Organised? Me?

So while The Amber Crown is with my agent and editor, I’m working on an untitled fantasy which I’m currently referring to Robin Hood Meet Aliens, though it’s not really Robin Hood, and they’re not really aliens.

So, over the years I’ve completed NaNo four times out of five and I’ve written 294,442 words in total. This year? Well, I’d better get my writing head on and sprint to catch up… after I’ve done those urgent day-job jobs, skyped my son in the USA and dealt with six buckets of apples from the tree in the garden. Procrastinating? Me?.

If you’re doing NaNo this year and you want to add me to your buddy list, I’m ‘artisan’ and my project is listed as Untitled Robin Hood Meets Aliens Novel.

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