The lovely people at the Hair Past A Freckle asked if I could tell them ten things about me as part of the blog tour for The Crow Folk, so here goes…
|To say that things are weird at the moment would be the understatement of the 21st century and I’ve been meaning to update the blog for about two weeks now, but the time never quite felt right. |
I’m sure you’ve all seen social media posts and blogs urging folk to “start writing that novel, there’s never been a better time”, but I’ll be honest with you, I really struggled to concentrate on writing those first few weeks.
Apart from the world going topsy turvy, I had also just finished some intense final draft work on a screenplay, so I was pretty wiped anyway… but I’m back in the groove now, and the thing that’s really helped me is using the BXP2020 challenge method of just 200 words a day. That little and often method really helps build a habit, especially if you’re picking it up again after a bit of time off.
That said, if you’re not in the mindset to work, you should give yourself permission to take a vacation from creativity.These are crazy days and no time to be pressurising yourself.
WATCH, LISTEN & READ
|What I’m watching…|
My daughter Emily and I recently finished a months-long Game of Thrones marathon. My second time, her first. I don’t care what you say, that final season is magnificent and all the more effective when you give it a seven-season run-up.
Picard was an emotional rollercoaster and yes, parts of the ending were silly (I see Trek has fallen into the same “More spaceships! More! More!!!” bear trap that Rise of Skywalker opened), but a simple scene of a final farewell between two old friends was more engaging than any number of starships.
I’m three episodes into The Mandalorian (we only just got Disney+ in the UK) and it’s exactly what I want from my Star Wars — just the right mix of Western steeliness, blaster action, strange creatures, childish cuteness, wry humour and jetpacks. All the jetpacks.
Emily and I are also one episode away from the Locke & Key finale, which reminds me…
What I’m reading…
I recently re-read the Locke & Key comics by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and it’s fascinating to contrast them with the Netflix show, which is appealingly YA in its tone. The comics can be much more nihilistic (particularly with the villains who regularly murder innocents in the comics, but are slightly more sympathetic on TV). I wonder if that indicates a change in Joe and Gabriel’s work since the comics, or simply what it took to unlock it for TV?
I’ve also been researching for various projects. Lots of magic and witchcraft. The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic by Christopher Dell is a wonderful illustrated history, and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate is thorough without taking itself too seriously.
I’ve also been reading Tempest, the final volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Story-wise it’s not as satisfying as the previous adventures, but the concept of adopting different styles of comics through the ages is ingenious.
What I’m listening to…
I’ve really gone back to basics during the lockdown. Lots of Beatles and Floyd — stuff I can sing along with. While writing this I had on Matt Berry’s TV Themes (tons of nostalgia dipped in acid jazz) and Mozart’s Requiem (weirdly soothing).
I’m also listening to… other people! Before the Corona-crisis I would put off phone calls, knowing I would catch up with people sooner or later. Now I’m taking calls all day, often with old friends I haven’t spoken to in yonks. One of the positives in all this madness.
Leaving the plugs till last…
A couple of my books are on offer at the moment…
In the UK, Back to Reality is 99p in the Kindle March sale. Just a few days left!
|Also in the UK, the eBook of Robot Overlords is 99p for the foreseeable future. I asked Gollancz to do this as the opening of the book — where everyone in the world is confined to their homes — seemed somewhat apt. Here’s me reading from it over on my Facebook page. It’s available on Kindle, Apple, Kobo and Google.|
Oh, and here’s an important message from our Robot Overlords.
Finally, if you want your book edited, copy-edited, proofread, or just want a reader’s report, reply to this email and we’ll get the ball rolling. I have all sorts of services for writers and I have plenty of time on my hands (that won’t last, by the way… I’ve recently had some news about some TV, film and book projects that will make me a very busy boy in the second half of this year!).
Hang in there…
This won’t end overnight. We’re in this for the long run. Weeks at least, months most likely. But together we’ll get through this. I usually sign off emails with “All the best” or “Speak soon”, but lately I’ve been using…
Stay safe and healthy,
I set some writing goals at the beginning of the year and jotted them down in my diary on January 1st…
For those of you who can’t read my scribble (ie: everyone), they are…
- Launch The End of Magic and get it to as many readers as possible
- Relaunch and sell 10k copies of Back to Reality by Glastonbury weekend
- Self-Publish one or more of the Woodville books
- Find a publisher for Interstellar Mega Blaster
Have I reached them? Sort of… Well… no…
The End of Magic had a great start and is ticking along very nicely in the UK. A fab launch, great reviews and it topped quite a few Amazon charts. I’ve set myself a target to sell a thousand copies in the USA by the end of the year and it’s been tough so far.
I have finished the first of my Woodville novels (a series about three witches in a Kent village in the Second World War: think Bedknobs and Broomsticks meets Pratchett’s Witches), and I’ve started the second, and I was all set to self-publish, but my wonderful agent read it and it made him cry on the tube (twice… in a good way) and he wants a shot at selling it. He calls it “commercial gold dust”, which is nice.
And Interstellar Mega Blaster is my middle grade science fiction adventure, which has had a few encouraging rejections. All par for the course.
The more astute of you will note that I’ve not achieved any of these goals (so far). Does this mean I’ve failed? Heck, no.
Goals aren’t immovable objects like Stonehenge. You can shift them, squeeze them and even toss them away. And no, that’s not cheating.
Really, it isn’t. Okay, you might reasonably ask, What’s the point in setting goals if you’re just going to keep moving them? Well, if you’re like me, they’re what get you out of bed in the morning to start writing. They’re aspirations, dreams, and even if we fall short we’re still ahead of bugger-all, which is what we started with.
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned on the Bestseller Experiment podcast is that setting a clear goal, a definite deadline, and making a public declaration are the most effective things you can do to boost your writing.
Be ready for real life to give you a swift kick in the nadgers every now and then, and be just as ready to pounce on the new opportunities that come along, too. Set a goal. Today.
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Do you have a writing goal? Tell me about it and maybe I can help you make it happen.
Somehow, in all the hurly-burly of launching The End of Magic, I have yet to mention here on the hallowed pages of the blog that the novel I co-wrote for The Bestseller Experiment podcast is now out in paperback!
Here’s the blurb…
Jo’s world is about to change forever, and it’s about time
Her marriage is on auto-pilot, daughter hates her, job sucks and it’s not even Tuesday.
As Jo’s life implodes, a freak event hurls her back to ‘90s Los Angeles where, in a parallel universe, she’s about to hit the big time as a rock star.
Jo has to choose between her dreams and her family in an adventure that propels her from London to Hollywood then Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival. In her desperate quest, Jo encounters a disgraced guru, a movie star with a fetish for double-decker buses, and the biggest pop star in the world… who just happens to want to kill her.
Back to Reality is a funny, heartwarming story about last chances, perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman and Helen Fielding.
I’m really proud of this book. It’s very different to the usual science fiction/fantasy stuff I write, but it’s funny, fast-paced and has a big heart, so if you’re looking for a little bit of uplit to brighten your day, then grab a copy now!
But don’t just take my word for it…
Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…
For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…
There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.
This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.
Although, for the sake of clarity, here’s where I stand on Donald Trump. The man is a misogynist, homophobic, racist, narcissistic fool and a failed businessman whose time would be better spent indulging in his sexual peccadilloes behind closed doors while the rest of try and save the planet from climate change.
In short, I’m not a fan.
But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.
As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right.
The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?
Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.
Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?
I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.
So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.
In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella…
PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…
It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.
I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…
Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.
I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”
I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?
Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here…
Till next time!
We had the fantastic thriller writer Isabel Ashdownon the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. Isabel is the author of bestselling thrillers Little Sister and Beautiful Liars, and she walked away from a successful career to focus on her writing and it all stepped up a gear when she entered a competition in a newspaper. I was also joined by stand-in co-host Sam Eades who is always good fun and does a mean jigsaw… You can listen to the podcast here.
Like many science fiction and fantasy authors out there, I found myself sighing in despair at this comment from Liz Thomson in the Bookseller. I am beyond proud to have been published by Gollancz, and I realise that this kind snobbery exists, but you expect better from Liz (who’s always been very chatty and friendly whenever I’ve met her) and the Bookseller, a publication that should celebrate all publishing regarding of genre. Sigh…
And a quick update on my fantasy novel The End of Magic– it’s now 80% funded over at Unbound, so it’s not too late to pledge to join the adventure and get your name in the book along with some other cool extras. Click here for more info.
Till next time, happy writing!
I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.
I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.
And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.
Till next time, happy writing!
I loved this Tweet from VE Schwab asking authors if they had received rejections of their work recently…
She was deluged with replies, some from some very big names, and one from me. Only last week, I had a book pitch rejected by a publisher. The response I got was, “We pissed ourselves laughing, we loved it, we just don’t know how to sell it.” And that’s fine. I appreciate the honesty and know that there would be nothing worse than slogging away on a novel for however many months only for the publisher to give a shrug on publication.
I more positive news I was inspired by blog posts from a couple of writers friends. Julian Barr talks about what he strives for here, and Laurence Doherty talks about working up from rejections to the NI New Writers Focus Scheme here.
And the big treat for the week is the Bestseller Experiment live show with Orion editor Emad Akhtar (pictured above). He answered all sorts of listener questions on writing, editing, storytelling and WWE wrestling… Yes really. You can listen here.
Till next time, happy writing!
I really enjoyed speaking to Cavan Scott on this week’s episode of the Bestseller Experiment. He writes on licence – that is, he writes for some of the biggest franchises and series in the world, including Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek. Listening to how he worked his way up from sending pitches to Big Finish Audio to becoming an influential writer of these beloved universes, and now writing his own fiction, was inspirational stuff. And moreso, now I’ve just learned that Cavan is bringing back Jaxxon the Rabbit, a cocky gunslinger who featured in one of the first ever Star Wars spinoff stories in the weekly comic.
It’s a fun episode, and you can listen to it here.
My co-presenter this week was the wonderful Jenn McMenemy, whose own podcast The Ancient History Fangirl, has just launched its second episode and it’s a blast. Check it out here.
In other news, I hit 60% funded on The End of Magic this week! A huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far. As a reward (punishment) here’s me reading from the book with another terrible “comedy” accent…
If you haven’t pledged yet, then please visit here and hit the big blue ‘pledge’ button: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/