NaNoWriMo 2015

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

I have a lot of love for NaNoWriMo. It’s enthusiastic, encouraging, inclusive, and – most wonderfully of all – embraces even a failed attempt as having value. Also, it was how I met up with the York NaNo group, who are genuinely very lovely and were great company while I lived in Yorkshire (and continue to be through the magic of the internet).

So this year I’m going to fail NaNoWriMo.

I’m not even mad about it. Previous winning attempts at 50k have been me buckling down on a WIP and just *getting it done*, because there was nothing between me and the end of the novel other than getting my arse in the chair and just doing it.

This year? I had a title – The Raven and the Red God – and a rough idea of what I wanted to write about, and…that was really about it. I don’t know what it is about my head this time, but I actually needed to start writing before I could decide what I wanted. And what I wrote? Wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was too generically fantasy, too serious in its tone. I liked the beats I was laying down, but everything else failed to fit.

So I stopped writing there, before I went any further. Things had to change.

First, names. The names were just whatever came into my head, a mix of Scots and Scandinavian names. I went hunting for sources and came up with a better list of possibilities. A few careful find and replace commands later (yes, yes, find and replace can be a problem but under 20k? It’s easy to check them all) and I felt much better about how the names matched their characters.

Then, characters. It was a bit thin on the ground with people – essentially turning into a two-hander. I sat and brainstormed some scenes and came up with a new roster of people to add, and how they would be introduced.

Then, the world. I wanted a highland setting, and a little less civilised than most fantasy. I imagined a world a little closer to an ice age, and people who had just started to settle after generations of nomadic movement. I looked at Pictish and Dalriadic settlements, the tribes of Bhutan and Yunnan, their clothes and buildings, their rituals and habits. I started peeling away the standard trappings of a pseudo medieval fantasy world and started down a different path. Some of it will remain – the common language of fantasy writing demands some touchstones, if only so readers can orient themselves – but largely this will be a different world.

Folklore. I’ve always treated magic with a fairly light touch. Here, I decided to take things in the opposite direction, and really go all out with the magic that fills and shapes the world. The characters might not understand how it works, but they know they are living in a universe of strange and often terrible things.

So, with the end of November approaching, I am nowhere near 50,000 words, but I am much happier about what I am writing. Which is more than enough for me to be happy with.


Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby


*blows dust off blog* Hey. Hey there. Long time no see.

So I was going to let the blog just wind down. With the move and the new job and the daughter and everything else, it just felt like a thing that I could drop and not really need to worry about. Then I got an email from the hosting company saying something about their seasonal offers and I wondered – “when exactly does my hosting wind down?”

2017. It runs out in 2017.

So how are things? Let’s keep it simple.

Kidney transplant: ticking along smoothly. Bloods are good. Need to drink a smidge more and work on my stress and sleep levels but really that feels more like a problem everyone has than one unique to my special snowflake self.

Location: Stockholm. We have a flat, both Lisa and I are working, Aoife has a good daycare where she goes outside a lot and runs round the local forest.

Life stuff: I really need to work on my time management. I really need to get to the gym more often. I need to work on my Swedish A LOT. Other than that things are pretty good: getting our weekly cooking situation under control, we’ve cracked out the slow cooker, and my office/workstation is coming along nicely. Bought a new keyboard with mechanical switches so it sounds like I’m at a typewriter when I’m writing.

Writing: took a bit of a hit at the start of the year. Recovery and house/country move? Not that good for getting work done. Still, managed to finish a novel and get that sent off to be torn to bits. I’ve not really written anything small in the gaps and I should really get back on the short fiction train again. I miss writing things that get the job done in such a short time. Kingdom’s Fall did really well on Wattpad – almost 110k reads now! – but I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do from there. Hopefully I can think of something as it would be a shame to just leave it at that. If anyone has any ideas (save for writing a sequel, which will have to wait a bit) then I am all ears.


Now a real killer…would’ve immediately asked about the little red button on the bottom of the gun.

Zorg Oldies-but-goldies

Almost 20 years since The Fifth Element came out? Man. Still a great film, though. Visually speaking it’s as mad as a sack of badgers but somehow that works wonderfully in it’s favour.

I don’t do writing advice. It’s not a thing I feel qualified or comfortable doing, chiefly because as far as my writing goes (and if you’ll excuse the layered puns that add a special level of cringe to the cliche) I’ve been literally making it up as I go. But this week I was asked to advise a student who is doing Creative Writing as a project, and I felt honour-bound to at least try. The gist of it was that he was going to write a novel. Or a novella. He wasn’t sure which it would be, but he was certain he would do it. Although first he had a plan to write. And an outline. And character profiles. And an essay on the themes of the novel. Because how else would he evidence it, if he didn’t have all these things?

I got the feeling there was an expectation of validation attached to the proposal more than anything else, but I tried my best to be honest. Here’s what I said.

– Put your arse in a chair, your fingers on the keys, and write. Keep doing that until you finish the book, because you will learn more about the process of writing a novel-length piece of fiction by finishing one more than anything else. And when the time comes to present your evidence, that stack of words – even if it’s a first draft, even if ninety percent of it is trash that you hate on a second reading – is worth more than essays and profiles of a novel that doesn’t exist.

– Don’t say it’ll either be a novel or a novella. They are different things, and you write them in different ways. A novel is a deep-sea dive. It takes skill and stamina to do it, and you spend a long time on that dive slowly uncovering something that was thought lost and bringing it back, whole, to the surface. Writing a novella – writing all short fiction – is like freediving. You dive down with nothing but the gasp of breath you took when you started. Every sentence simmers taut with the desire to surface, and the need to go deeper.

There was more, but it was on the specifics of his pitch and isn’t really mine to repeat. I thought what I’d said was sensible enough; he looked at me as though I had grown an extra head.

I can’t blame him. At that age, I wouldn’t have listened either.

Here’s your shovel. Start digging.


Sorry for the massive GIF. I just love it.

Have you all signed up for Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Fellowship of Three Things? You should: it is excellent. A very brief weekly email shot of interesting facts or observations from her year-long Fellowship at Harvard. It’s how newsletter content should be – whenever it turns up in my inbox, I am pleased to see it, and genuinely interested in the content.

So this week’s one had an interesting quote contained within it. It’s taken from Ava DuVernay’s Keynote Address at the 2013 Film Independent Forum (you can watch the entire thing here, if you like *cough* Alasdair I know you will *cough*).

All of the time you’re spending trying to get someone to mentor you, trying to have a coffee, all of the things we try to do to move ahead in the industry is time that you’re not spending time working on your screenplay, strengthening your character arcs, setting up a table reading to hear the words, thinking about your rehearsal techniques, thinking about symbolism in your production design, your color pallet.  All the time you’re focusing on trying to grab, you’re being desperate and you’re not doing.  You have to be doing something.  Because all of the so-called action that you’re doing is hinging on someone doing something for you.  

I love this quote. Last year was a tough year for writing (hell, every year is) and not insignificant amount of my time was spent navel-gazing in the most unproductive manner possible. For several reasonably long stretches, I just stopped altogether, because every time I sat down at the keyboard all I could think – all I could hear – was, “not good enough.” More insidious was the follow up thought, “what will people think of me when they discover I’m not good enough?

Weird thing to think, but that’s the human brain and a lifetime of social conditioning for you.

And I was wrong to do that. Yes, I got rejections. Yes, I felt incredibly disappointed. But maybe I could have wasted a little less time staring into the depths of my belly button wishing for validation, and a HELL of a lot less time worrying about what people think of me. I mean, we could even take stock now: my brother gave me a Goddamn kidney. You could not ask for a more direct and concrete proof of your value to another person when they spit out one of their internal organs on your behalf.

I don’t think there’s a resolution to be drawn from this, but I have been thinking more closely on how I react to my failures, my triumphs, and about what I actually want to do.

I want to write amazing things. I want to be better.

So now I’ve got to go and do it.

Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad, and ALL THE FEELS.


Yesterday I put up the prologue to Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad. At approximately 450 words long, I did not expect it to light many fires. In my head, I thought, “I’ll stick this up now, just so it’s there, and when I get to maybe the end of chapter 1 or 2, when there’s a bit more to read, I can start trying to promote it a bit…or something.”

This is not a prevarication. I literally have the most handy-wavy approach to things where I kind of guess what will happen and then just blunder in going “Woo!” (wave both hands in the air when you read the “woo” for greatest effect) I swear I plan my lessons, though. Most of my lessons.*

I did not anticipate the reaction of my friends on Twitter, who picked up the casually-tossed ball of my story and ran with it like they were collectively piling toward the endzone. It was a massively heartwarming experience to see so many people going “look at this thing this guy did!” that I actually felt bad for only having put up the prologue. But not bad enough to put up any more just yet.

Still – 100 reads in the first 24 hours was beyond my expectations. YOU GUYS. Thanks again, all of you. Your support means the world to me. I will bring cake to the next con, I promise.


I was torn over the choice of two or three updates a week. Tuesdays and Fridays seemed like a good starting point in my head: that it would be better to have fewer updates (and have to field the occasional – if any come – request to hurry up) than a relentless storm that people just get sick of hearing about. I might need to tweak it, but we shall see how things go.

Finally: the cover. I made the cover myself using an image from Unsplash – a site that delivers Creative Commons-Zero images. It’s simply pure luck that I found some images on there that suited my needs. I did all the editing online using ipiccy (shout out to Taran Matharu for the tip) and within an hour of starting I had a couple of cover mock ups that I asked my other, better half to choose from. I could have spent some money on it – I even looked at licenses for fonts that would look amazing on a cover, as opposed to the bare bones selection on the web editor – but with two weeks until my next pay comes through…I thought I’d go for the cheap and cheerful option of doing it myself.

Anyway. So that is one of this year’s projects. I hope you enjoy it.


*students of the world – if you turn up to find you’re doing a poster in the lesson? Your teacher probably got mixed up as to what lessons they were doing and has planned yours on the fly.

Wheels within wheels.


I really don’t want to spend a lot of time looking back at 2014. It was a significant year for me and a lot of people close to me, but I can’t say I’ll look back on it fondly. That said, considering the general state of my memory, I doubt I’ll be able to look back on it at all. The years just seem to blur together in my head. I gather that this is not a unique outcome so far as perception of time passing goes.

So, 2015. What’s in store? Well, that remains to be seen. Some big changes, doubtless a vast number of little ones, but as to plans…I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to be flexible. Ugh. Doesn’t the Universe know I love rituals?

As to what I can be certain of, I’ll be starting to get some exercise (aside from the obvious exercise of running after an 18 month old toddler whose favourite hobby is climbing things and then losing her balance). Possibly running, definitely some easy weights and yoga, but nevertheless something. I’m not quite a total potato (yet) but the couch really is starting to resemble a memory foam that is shaped to my body.

I’m still writing, albeit between long periods of chores and work and other stuff that means the work is going at a snail’s pace. I have two projects half done and I intend to finish both of them over the course of 2015.

And I’m definitely doing that Wattpad thing. That’s going to happen. I just need a few bits and bobs and then I can get started.

And that’ll be 2015.

Oh wait. I’ll totally read some books and stuff, too. I don’t know what, yet. A lot of people have been doing the books they’re looking forward to, but I seriously have a huge backlog to get through and if something cool pops up I might read it? I just can’t commit. I had a mad idea for a new project that would require a lot of research reading, but maybe that’s something for 2016 instead…

“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

I took this picture 10 years ago. Ten years, man. Ten years!

It’s been a long, odd year. Good in some ways, less so in others.

Now is about the right time for round-up and best of year posts. By way of a little lip service, I should probably take the time to mention Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. I have ridiculous quantities of love for the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, to the point that I was actually a bit nervous about a new book coming out to extend the series. My agent and good friend Juliet sent me a copy while I was recovering from the transplant operation, and my misgivings vanished from the very start. Fitz is as he ever was, full of rage and guilt, by turns awkward and then full of purpose and then awkward again, pulled by the currents of fate that shift around him. In anyone else’s hands, his skills and his magics would make him far too powerful for the narrative to ever truly sit right in the heart of a reader – but Hobb reflects enough of our fears and our anxiety to make Fitz as real a character as you could imagine.

I still don’t think the title works, though. It feels more like it should be SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER.


My own writing hasn’t done very well this year. I’ve had some successes – including inclusion in a Halloween episode of Pseudopod, which I was extremely proud of – but otherwise things have kind of…missed. I’m not going to sit and list every single thing that has failed to find a home (because I think blog posts are better when they are fairly short), but the general sentiment has been, “this is good, but not for us.”

So…there’s not much to do but to keep writing, and improving, and finding a project that works for both me *and* everyone else. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been massively bummed out about it at times (rather frequently, in fact) but ultimately…that’s the gig. You put stuff out and some (most) of it sinks without a trace. While it’s out, you work on the next thing, and the next, until one of them just up and fucking *flies*.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else to try and help break the cycle.

Starting in the new year, I’ll be releasing a story on Wattpad (and, although it seems to be hanging off the coat-tails a bit, possibly Tablo). It’ll be novel length, so should run through most of the year. I understand that Wattpad has a generally younger reader base, and that successful stories tend to be specifically YA, but it will give me something to do. If anything, I’ll have genuine numbers – real data! – to feel terrible about.

I did consider self-publishing over the serial format, but I would only have considered it if I had several books in hand to do a loss leader/discount strategy. From what I can gather, it feels very much like if you don’t have anything other than the first book in a series, it’s a lot more difficult to attract new readers, and if you’re not attracting new readers then you’re basically not getting read at all. And while I’d love to finish the series off, I would prefer to know that at least *someone* was going to read it.

Blizzard’s Overwatch Announcement


Pretty much everyone and their auntie was aware of this before me, but here goes. Blizzard Entertainment have announced that their next game release will be a First Person Shooter called Overwatch. It is a “team-based” game, which from the looks of things is a euphemistic way of saying “there’s not going to be a single player campaign, or if there is it’s going to be short and really just an adjunct to the multiplayer stuff”. From just the trailers it looks…it looks like Team Fortress 2.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Team Fortress 2 is an awesome game, although it is so ridiculously ill-suited to new players that anyone leaping into it now would have the following reaction: “Ok. I just died four hundred times and still have no idea what is happening.”  Extremely fast gameplay (powerful weapons, low health, and an overall movement speed that is *just* on the sane side of “frenetic”) combined with the fact that there are 9 playable “classes” in the game – it does not invite casual play.

So if Overwatch is more of the same (and with a dozen classes, it looks damn like it) I guess I’m out before it even gets started.

But the fact I’m unlikely to dip my toe into the waters isn’t the only reason to post. I was given this link on Twitter:

Blizzard wants its diverse fans to feel ‘equally represented’ by Overwatch’s heroes

While wanting to create a roster of diverse characters is a laudable goal – everyone wants to feel represented, of course – I had watched both trailers before I read this and having done so, it felt like the article was a bit of a joke. The characters on display in the trailer didn’t feel particularly diverse, and the women got – as ever in these things – a harsh deal when it comes to armour design. Still, I decided to go to the main site and take a look at each character in turn.

Tracer – English (white) woman, age 28. Outfit is pretty good – I’ve seen runners out in more mental leggings. In the trailer she has the most ridiculous English accent and is “quirky”. Manic Pixie Dream Girl Alert Status: Amber.

Zenyatta – A robot, age 20. A Nepalese guru, he’s also a fucking robot because the West apparently doesn’t dehumanise South Asians enough these days. *slow clap, Blizzard* He floats in the air and makes vaguely mystical gestures so I’m genuinely expecting a grab bag of New Age spiritual piggybacking in his voice acting.

Mercy – Swiss (white) woman, age 34. Presumably named after the one word she managed to yell when they crammed her into her costume. Luckily for a 34 year old, she has the physique of a late-teens gymnast, so the ridiculous boob armour fits like a glove. One of her three abilities is “Can Shoot A Gun, But Is Usually Better Off Not Trying”. I’m not fucking kidding.

Hanzo – Japanese (but still white, see description) man, age 38. This character takes the absolute piss. He looks like a Generic Male Character, of the sort you find in every other game ever. Blizzard should call him Adam Fucking Jensen, pay Eidos a cent every time he gets picked and they could add in those embedded shades from Deus Ex to ice the cake.

Bastion – Is a robot. Of all the exciting robot possibilities in the Universe, Blizzard have opted for one with two modes: Shoot Gun (Can Move) and Shoot Bigger Gun (Cannot Move). By giving him no base and no affiliations, Blizzard sidestep all awkward drone comparisons.

Torbjörn – Swedish (white) man, age 57. Basically they wanted a dwarf from the Warcraft Universe. He has the same name as a swivel chair from IKEA. His backstory is the plot of Iron Man.

Symmetra – Indian (POC) woman, aged 28. She’s a POC! Yay! They’ve dressed her as “Sexy Uhuru”! Boo!

Reinhardt – German (race unknown) man, age 61. He wears a giant suit of armour, and no hint of him can be seen. Might as well be a robot.

Pharah – Egyptian (POC) woman, age 32 – this is actually really good, IMO. Her armour actually covers her, she doesn’t have high heels, and she has an Offensive role that is reflected in the badass combination of rocket jump, knockback/shield and armour destruction ability, and a rocket launcher. In her backstory, she follows in her mother’s footsteps to serve in the military. Well done, Blizzard! The first character so far I find genuinely interesting.

Winston – Is a gorilla. Is a fucking gorilla. I can’t even.

 Widowmaker – French (PURPLE) woman, age 33. Has a physique that makes Mercy look like she’s been slacking at the gym. Wears a figure-hugging one-piece that has been slit from collar to navel, because all the very best sniper/assassins know that when you are hunting a mark, inner sideboob is the most important trait of all. Did I mention she’s purple? She’s purple. Blizzard would rather put a purple woman and a gorilla in their game than a black person, their commitment to diversity is so great.

Reaper – Name: Unknown, Age: Unknown, Affiliation: Unknown. Dressed in an outfit reminiscent of Death himself, this is high-order fanservice that makes the design choices that led to Hanzo look reasonable. There is fan fiction being written RIGHT NOW about Reaper, I guarantee it. I can only hope he turns out to be one of the weakest characters in the game because a lot of people will first pick him simply for looking “cool”.

This is all just conjecture, mind. Maybe Blizzard HAVE done a great job of representing everyone, but that effort won’t show until every character they’ve ever planned is out there. Of course, by that time the meta game will have become so complex that trying to get started will feel impenetrable to everyone, regardless of their race, creed, or orientation.

Halloween Shorts: Revelation



The second portion of this year’s Halloween Shorts has gone up! Instead of a straight ‘blog hop, we were very lucky to arrange for a set of flash fiction to be recorded and distributed through Pseudopod, an online podcast dedicated to horror fiction (it has sister sites in Podcastle – fantasy and Escape Pod – Science Fiction). I owe a massive debt to Alasdair Stuart for arranging it and wrangling all the stories into place.

The audio can be found at this link.

Stories featured:

The Day The Words Took Shape by Francesca Haig

Juggernaut Revisited by Lou Morgan

The Anniversary by Den Patrick

Kraken Rising by Andrew Reid

Party at the Witch House by Richard Kellum

The Lake by the mysterious and elusive Severity Chase

The Biggest Candle of Them All by Peter Newman

There is also a story due from the estimable Laura Lam, but it has been delayed due to issues and stuff. It’ll pop up.

But yeah! I’m very pleased that it came together in the end – asking a lot of busy people to produce stories at very short notice and then asking another group of busy people to record and edit and everything else that podcasting requires on even shorter notice. It’s an amazing thing and I’m really glad it came together.



Halloween Short: The Myling


Halloween! Time to do some spooky fiction and whatnot!

So, the new, improved (and surprise) Halloween Shorts push for this year is actually a little delayed – it should happen at some point over the weekend – and so I am left with the task of filling Halloween itself with my own little bit of flash fiction.

This one, I think, needs a little explaining. I was reading up on various monsters and spirits in folklore, and came across the myling – a Scandinavian creautre/spirit that makes a very specific demand of its victim: it wants to be carried. Writing about it, I wanted to explore that idea in a little more depth…and ended up writing something a lot darker than I’d intended.

I don’t normally do trigger warnings, but in this case I am aware that some people might find it upsetting.

TW: grief, death, children.

The Myling