2017, and other strangeness.

It's my desk! MY PEN! It’s been a year, almost? 

It’s been a year. And if you had asked me to guess at what that year would hold, I would have been flat-out wrong.

I tried to write a novel. I also tried to sell a novel, but that’s a different story.* The novel I tried to write was a tight, character-led thriller about a professional bounty hunter finding a dead body instead of the person they were trailing, they are accused of the murder, and the hunt for the real killer begins…

But the further we got into the dumpster fire that was 2016, the less real that story felt. The America I had set it in was changing, and my story was oblivious to it. Untouched by it.

And in the tech world, stories kept cropping up that caught my eye. People queuing at a Maker Faire to have subdermal implants injected into their bodies. How companies use metadata to track you. How apps on your phone listen to you to predict your searches. The stratification of society regressing to the point where companies no longer see people as consumers, but as product.

And so the story changed. It had to. Because I couldn’t sit and think about security and surveillance all day long and not write about it. So a banker became an information broker, a chase where my bounty hunter uses the tricks of the trade to evade capture became a chase where evasion was almost impossible because the methods of tracking are so advanced that even the most dedicated individual will struggle to stay lost in a crowd.

And the world it takes place in – one that is almost identical to our own, perhaps five years down the line – has changed too. What was a parade is now a protest. What was an indifferent public is now an engaged one.

It’s a different, darker America that I am imagining in the new book. What’s changed along with it is that there are plenty of people pushing back against the dark. Those people I didn’t have to imagine.

Not sure where I’m going with this? Fine. I’ll try again.

It’s Person of Interest meets The Winter Soldier

Anyway. Back to it. Stay good.

 

*the moral is, yet again, close but no cigar. So it goes. 

Kingdom’s Fall, and self-promotion.

When you create anything yourself and put it online, you have the option to simply leave it, and see what happens, or you can promote it. And…well…self promotion is something of a challenge to the British. We tend to face it like this:

Bravely ran away, away...

Really, I hate doing it. I’m proud of the things I’ve made, and yet telling people about them goes against every instinct that has been drilled into me about being polite, letting people go first, not making a big fuss: the triumvirate of British thinking. It goes against the grain of my general feeling that social media should be a place to connect and less to advertise.

HZGVDn7So British.

But it’s something I need to get a handle on. I don’t expect Kingdom’s Fall to do immediate, earth-shattering, fantastic business. That’s ridiculous. It has done quite well on Wattpad – far better than I expected – and yet it hasn’t seen the kind of traffic that makes people sit up and notice it. It’s still a good book. I still want to tell the story that I started when I made it, to have that world unfold around the characters as every decision comes back round and shows them how much bigger everything is.

As it stands, it might do okay as a loss leader onto the second and third book. Which…is where we run into a problem. Books two and three aren’t written yet. I was very busy having surgery, and recovering from surgery, and becoming a dad, so all I managed to do was to write two other books.* So I have this small audience, I have this book, and I have to somehow maintain their attention until book 2 is done.

Which I think I have the solution to. A lot of Kingdom’s Fall didn’t make it to the page. A lot of the sequels doesn’t really fit into the shape of the book. There is an excess of stuff. So what I’ve been doing is turning it into a series of short stories, each about 2000 words long, and I’ll be posting them up on Wattpad. Some will feature the main characters; some will feature new characters; and some will just serve to add some more texture to the world. And, by the time I have exhausted them in 2017, I should have a draft of book 2 to work with (at least, that’s the idea).

This is your expression right now:

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And so that’s why you’ll keep seeing the Kingdom’s Fall cover on my feeds, in spite of the fact the novel is done and I am so very, very British. Because I’m trying to keep it alive, and to overcome my own hesitations about it, I’m giving something away with it.

I really hope you enjoy it.

Kingdom’s Fall is now available on Kindle

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01AX849PK

US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AX849PK

All of the Kingdom’s Fall short stories will be appearing on Wattpad through 2016.

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*One of which didn’t sell because Weird Western, it turns out, isn’t a real “debut” genre. But you never know. If there’s someone out there looking for a Weird Western that follows a teenage girl genius, a trans opera singer, and a mercenary gunslinger as they flee East from the girl’s mother and her empire built on mad, radioactive** science then…drop them my name, you hear?

**and genuine. It might not have happened in the order and places that it does in the book, but all the science is stone cold 19th Century REAL.***

***I still want this book to sell. I love it so much.

 

The end of a long year

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So that is almost the end of 2015. To be frank, it’s been an odd and a slightly disappointing year. We like to imagine that this is going to be the year that things happen, that the turning point is just ahead, but sometimes it’s just…a year. I’ve spent a great deal of it in limbo, stuck somewhere between the UK and Sweden, not really sure how things were going to work out. So far, it seems to have worked out okay, as these things do. We’ll just keep on plugging away at it until we sort the formula out.

I’ve had the as-new kidney almost a year and a half now, with no issues. As long as I don’t do anything stupid, it should continue merrily on that course for some time to come.

I’ve been pretty vocal about Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad. Sorry if you got sick of it, but it seemed to do the trick. Almost 115k reads the last time I checked, and it got up to #4? in the overall charts. Considering the venue, I think it did really, really well. I’m not exactly certain what to do with it next. I’ve still got the outlines for the sequels sitting, although considering Wattpad is free I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to 300,000+ words of fiction that would basically be “exposure” and not much else. I’m glad I did it, though. I didn’t have much going on with the traditional publishing aspect of things, and only very late in the year broke the drought that my back and forth life seemed to impose on my writing and actually getting anything out there. The Pseudopod story went splendidly and I’ve got a story in the latest Fox Pockets book, Things in the Dark.

Re: the header image, I got to go and see Star Wars yesterday, which was pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. It was really fun and I am really looking forward to the next few years of movies and adventures in the Star Wars Universe. There’s a moment in Return of the Jedi that is Lucas on his best day: when Luke refuses the Emperor and Palpatine replies, “so be it, Jedi.” It’s a perfectly tuned piece of delivery. A huge amount – the movie, the trilogy – turns on four words because even if the Rebel fleet is destroyed and Vader kills his own son it means nothing because Luke has *won*. In a Universe where to have power is to be constantly nagged by doubt and the fear that it will consume you, he masters himself. The Force Awakens has that same spirit of storytelling behind it, giving talented actors (young and old) big moments to deal with and trusting them to manage it without words, without overselling it. I didn’t cry, but it was a damn close thing. If you’re not sure about it? Let go of your feelings. Go see it.

So I’m looking forward to 2016. I’ve got a book in progress, lots of work to be getting on with, a flat to finish furnishing, and a list of museums and books the length of my arm. It might not be a turning point, but it’s a step on the road.

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

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*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.

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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.

KingdomsFallCoverWithTagline

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.

Feels

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.

“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.

*cough*

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.

Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t even want it to happen. Just watch what does happen.

Seriously. If you want gifs for writing, "Secret Window" is the business.

 

So, I haven’t blogged much of late. I’ve wanted to: there have been a few rants brewing in my head that I wanted to hammer out, and some of them have even been relatively coherent in the drafts that I have written. And yet I haven’t posted any of them. It feels like they’d be ineffective, that they’d generate no positive forward motion. Anyone in disagreement would sink their heels in, because who am I to say that they maybe, possibly could be wrong on something, and then anyone in agreement would do likewise. And that’s the best case scenario, where the facsimile of a dialogue exists. More likely are the chances of a dogpile (yay for the internet, where pointing out the desperately problematic behaviour of – let’s just spitball ideas here – a popular author will get you buried in abuse!) or, let’s be honest, resounding silence.

Perhaps a faint echo off the back of the giant, empty internet cavern walls? Anyway, I decided to leave it, and considering the sour-faced “why am I not fully recovered yet? FFS” mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks, I haven’t felt like posting anything.

As you can see, I’m super cheerful at the moment. For some reason, I’ve got weird aches in my feet and ankle (although the ankle I’ve gone over on once, so that goes some way to explaining it) and walking around is really uncomfortable. Sitting down less so, but I’m still hyper aware of my feet, and after two weeks I’m starting to think it is never, ever going away.*

In brighter news, Halloween Shorts are coming back! Yes! The short story adventures that a load of Team Mushens piled into last year (with the excuse of it leading up to World Fantasy Con) will be returning at the latter end of October with even more stories and a surprise twist for 2014! I will definitely have a story up here (when I get round to writing it, naturally) and *whispers* one appearing somewhere else, too. We’ve got a good lineup of authors contributing, even in spite of their collectively busy schedules, and it should be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I am working away on projects. I caught up with my agent, which is always good fun, and got some editing notes back, which is…let’s not say “fun”, because smacking my forehead off the desk going “HOW DO I NOVEL?” doesn’t really count as fun, but still definitely good. The new fantasy book is on hold while I get the edit done, but I’ll be finishing it over NaNoWriMo (or getting as close to done as I can manage).

And that’s things pretty much up to date. The more exciting stuff I write, the more desperately boring I become in real life.

Oh! For anyone that plays DOTA 2, here are my thoughts on the new patch (6.82) – Chen’s ultimate with Aghanim’s Scepter is the BEST. Why bother with the standard objectives when you can run around the map with a dragon AND a Triceratops yelling “LOOKIT DINOSAUR” over and over? It really is a game-changer, and by that I mean “a design feature that will probably get me reported by everyone I play with”.

 

*madness, of course it will resolve. That doesn’t stop me from moping, though!