Out With the Old, In With the New

So, end of year and all that.

A lot of people on various social media are bemoaning that 2013 was the – and this is a direct quote from several people – ‘the worst year ever’. I can’t personally agree with that statement because although 2013 wasn’t the most amazing year for me, it certainly beat 2012 in places. Like Christmas, for example. Last year, the festive spirit was tainted by the dual effect of Himself breaking his leg at the end of October and me coming down with the ‘flu three days before Christmas. This year, the only thing that would have improved Christmas would have resulted from it being my year for having the Son. It was a nice break though: been off since Christmas Eve and am back at work on Thursday. Feel better for it and even more importantly, have finished the first draft of Project: Carpark. (I think I may forever call it that, despite the title now being announced).

2013 saw a couple of smaller projects see the light of day, including a fantasy novella for Fox Spirit (‘Blood Bound’, with its awesome cover by the delectable Jeff Preston – still on Amazon here). A couple of short stories for Black Library appeared variously in The Best of Hammer & Bolter v2, a 1,000 word flash-fic for the ‘Angels of Death‘ anthology edited by the wonderful Mr. Graeme Lyon and ‘Bitter End’, my Huron Blackheart short story also saw the light of day again in There is Only War. 2014 has more lined up, but the writing’s been less busy this year. Which quite frankly has come as something of a relief. When I look back at it with objective eyes, I wrote three 110,000 word novels pretty much back-to-back throughout 2011 and 2012. Combining that with the full-time job, I was pretty much burned out by the end of last year. This year has been a bit of a recuperation.

What’s coming in 2014? Well, ‘Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising’ for Abaddon Books should surface in June, I believe it is. There is also a Silver Skulls novel planned for Black Library at some point this year – details as and when! Fox Spirit have the second Gilrain story on ice ready to come out with the ‘Mouse and Minotaur’ anthology and Adele has asked me for More Of The Same Please. Oh – there’s also another short story that Fox Spirit have which should probably show up next year sometime. I have a meeting with one of my editors planned for January, to which I’ve been asked to ‘bring ideas’. This may be something he regrets…

On a personal life level, 2013 saw me finally join the gym. I did this in part for myself and my own fitness (which has increased exponentially) but also because the Son quite liked the idea as well. It’s proven to be a lovely bonding thing: he’s a great little go-getter and he encourages me to go even when I really don’t feel like it. I only purchased a three month membership at the time because that was all I felt I could commit to. Now I need to renew it and this is a good sign. Whenever I’ve joined a gym before, I’ve given up after six weeks because of the impersonal nature of it all. The guys at Active Life Coxhoe are friendly, fun and full of energy. It was a real find, that place.

I completed the first year in my new job and a lot of the stress of work has been removed as a result. The new job has a different kind of stress, but it’s nowhere near as soul destroying as my previous role.

The Son has begun his GCSE years and is already achieving planned targets, including in French which was always going to be his least successful subject – he’s ahead with a ‘B’ at his recent assessment instead of the expected ‘C’. Everything else is planned ‘A’ or ‘A*’. To say I’m proud is an understatement. He works hard (although hates revising) and plays hard and remains, at the age of Almost 15, a nice, pleasant young man. He’s going in the right direction and I am happy to share the credit for that with Himself, the Boy’s Dad and the Boy’s Stepmother. We’ve raised a nice human being amongst us. It’s only a little scary to think that in the summer of 2015 he will actually be taking those exams. And even more scary to think that in February of 2016 he will be able to start driving.

Himself has been enjoying his job and has very thoughtfully managed not to break any more limbs this year. There have been a couple of hospital visits connected with ongoing problems, but nothing that couldn’t be managed. 2014 will probably see him go back into hospital for removal of the bionics, but hopefully not at Christmas…

So all in all, 2013 has been a fairly good year. It’s had its moments, including one moment which resulted in a series of epiphanies and a slightly revamped attitude to life. Positive outcome from a negative situation. There have been one or two things that continue to perplex and baffle me and there have definitely been one or two people whose behaviour and actions have led to me feeling crushingly disappointing. But wheat/chaff, be separated. There. All done.

All is well.

To round off 2013, we will be visiting… the supermarket. I know, rock ‘n’ roll, eh?

Have a good one and I hope 2014 brings you all much happiness. Especially you.


If You’re Not Happy, Change Something…

This is one of the best bits of advice I ever got at LRP.

If you’re not happy, change something. If you’re still not happy, stop doing it.

Well, on Thursday, I had one of those ‘down on myself days’, where I kept complaining about myself. I have painfully low levels of self-esteem (no, really?) and sometimes that manifests in the worst way possible. The ‘I need to buy some new clothes but I won’t go into clothes shops for fear they’re staring at me’ way. Long term effects of playground bullying are no fun. Don’t do it, kids. But given my current ‘up’ mood, I turned that negativity into positivity. I picked the Son up after work and about two minutes after he got into the car, turned to him and suggested we drop into a local leisure centre and see what activities we could do together. He was quite keen. That startled me, but also pleased me.

I used to go to this particular leisure centre when he was about six, doing the ‘Body Balance’ classes. I loved Body Balance. To this day I can’t tell you why I stopped going. It was a weird class though, had the most bizarre effect on me. The last bit was always a ‘stress-relieving relaxation’ where the instructor turned the lights in the room out and we closed our eyes and did the whole concentrating on breathing thing. The music she played varied, but there was one bit that just… got me. Every time I heard it whilst being all relaxed and chilling after the session, I would just cry. Buckets. Not even unhappy crying. Just a release of tension, I think. Even now, I can’t hear that particular bit of music without tearing up. Someone on the interwebs took that bit of music and attached it to a bunch of utterly glorious space images. It just moves me.

So anyway, this leisure centre is no longer council run and I have to say… what a good thing. It has a completely different air to it now. Active Life is a community project and I cannot help but admire that. For two years, they’ve been investing every penny of profit back into the place and it shows. The dance studio is utterly glorious and they are buying new equipment to replace the old, inherited from a disinterested council stuff. So I stroll in, indicate the Son and say ‘so… here’s the deal, we both want to get fit. What can we do?’

The lovely lady on the front desk showed us the obligatory forms and paperwork, then took us on a tour round the place, including the X-Bike studio, where they run virtual rides from a projector. Utterly brilliant. ‘There’s several instructor-led classes,’ she said. ‘They’re hard work, but fun.’ The tour was great and I cannot stress enough how excellent the customer service in this establishment is. Bigger places could do with taking a few tips.

So because I am the kind of person who has to strike whilst the iron’s hot, I signed myself and the Son up for an instructor-led X-Bike session this morning. At 9.30am. After checking that the Son actually knew what ‘Saturday morning’ was, of course.

My goodness me, I’m unfit. I didn’t get particularly out of breath – I’m not that bad, but oh god, my legs now feel as though they are made from sponge. I happily admit that I couldn’t keep up with the whole class. It is only thirty minutes, but it’s thirty minutes of solid workout. I feel good and energised (and spongy) and although I couldn’t manage all of it, at least I now have a goal. We’re going back tomorrow for the gym induction and I’m going – by myself, which is the hardest bit – but the staff make me feel so comfortable – to Zumba on Monday.

Best thing of all, of course, is that the Son thoroughly excelled and enjoyed it hugely. Having him to go with means that there’s more of a chance I will go as well. It’s brilliant: something we can do together, motivate one another with and generally bond over. So I’m changing something. I’m swapping the sitting around doing nothing lark for getting into the gym and doing classes and burning off that stress.

Oh – and utilising the Dulux ‘reds’ colour chart?


This is not a natural colour for anybody to be.



Confessions of a Part Time Writer

So, blog reader(s), I am struggling.

There. The wound is laid bare and bleeding for everyone to have a good poke at. The salt’s just over there behind you if you’re fancying a nice bit of Friday sadism. See it? On the shelf there behind the bottle labelled ‘Your Own Medicine’? Tip: don’t swallow any of that. You’ll regret it.

Got it? Right. Rub away.

I am struggling to get my head back into a writing rhythm and it’s making me increasingly angry with myself. I have got approximately 50% through Project: Carpark. I’d have gotten a damn sight further if I hadn’t decided to scrap 75% of what I’d written and start over. But it’s achingly slow. I can’t work out if that’s my own lack of discipline, or if I’m just over-analysing every single word that goes onto the page… or what. In my more optimistic moments, I reassure myself that it’s because I’m putting extra love and care into the process. In my moments of clarity, my inner self simply points and laughs.

You are so totally going to miss your deadline on this.

That’s the phrase that keeps rattling around in the cavernous wasteland of my thoughts. You are going to have to ask for an extension at this rate. Part of me knows that should that happen (and there is still plenty of time, I’m probably panicking over nothing), my editor will likely be OK with it. But I don’t want it to come to that. I am going to have to get knuckling down and increase my output.

I think for me, part of the problem stems from the fact that I am neither a leisure writer nor a full time writer. I have a full time job (because as everyone knows, being an author is NOT going to keep a roof over your head unless you’re established, tap into a social vein or are just pretty financially stable to start with) and that takes up eight hours a day of writing time. On the weeks that I have the Son, I lose another hour driving up to Durham to collect him and bring him home. Then, when I have him in the house, I don’t like to shut myself off and write. I like to spend time chatting and laughing with him. He’s my son. It’s what I’m meant to do.

Next week he’s not with me, so I may be more productive. I think I need to go back to the way I was when I wrote The Gildar Rift. My whiteboard with ‘current word count’ and ‘monthly target’ written on it. That actually had the desired effect of driving me forwards. The simplest methods often work.

A potential boost will hopefully come next week. I have a meeting in Nottingham with one of my OTHER editors (I’m getting myself a collection of them – they’re kind of like Pokemon, only more literate) and I’m hoping to come out of that meeting massively buoyed up and re-enthused in general.

To be fair, I was reading something yesterday that totally fired me up. Unfortunately, by the time I finished reading it, it was bed time, so it took over the writing window! But… it’s OK. It’ll even out. I know it’ll be OK – I constantly second-guess myself. Onwards and upwards.

In other news, I just finished reading ‘Southern Gods’ by John Horner Jacobs. I bought it quite some time ago and got about halfway through. Then something happened and my attention was pulled off it. That was a mistake. I finally read the whole thing and I recommend it heartily. It’s creepy, it’s quite graphic in places and it just has this… slightly grimy and humid feel to it. If you get the chance to read it – do so.

Right, it’s Friday. One more day of work and the weekend is upon us. See? I write a blog post and my enthusiasm for everything, ever is renewed.

Put the salt back on your way out, would you?

And… Action!

I have Space Marines on my mind.

Not literally, because obviously they’d crush my head like an overripe watermelon. They’re pretty big lads, after all. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating them more than I’ve done for a while.

My Silver Skulls got kind of put on the back burner whilst I was writing Valkia the Bloody, so it was a delight to root them out for the short-short story Skin Deep that recently featured as part of the Black Library’s Angels of Death series. This series is a fabulous idea: daily 1,000 word short Space Marine stories, each focusing on a different chapter.

(Note: even as I was in the process of writing this, Fifty Shades of Geek posted up a review of the first handful of stories – including Skin Deep – here! Clearly I’m tapping into the collective consciousness without knowing it. Must stop that. Curse you, precog super powers).

Writing that little story fired up my enthusiasm for writing Space Marine goodness all over again. There’s one or two things waiting ‘in the wings’ as it were and I’m alarmingly hungry to get my mitts on them. This is good. This enthusiasm has been sorely lacking for quite a while and it feels amazing to have that drive injected again.

I’ve been writing steadily on Project: Carpark and I’m reaching a stage now, about halfway into it, where I’m really starting to get a feel for the protagonist. Up until the scene I started this morning, I wasn’t really liking him all that much. Now I’ve found out what it is that makes him tick, I may find it easier to write on. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve just introduced what is likely to be the breeziest, most light-hearted character of the piece, means that I’m quite looking forward to the next ten thousand words or so.

Project: Carpark is different from anything I’ve written before. It’s different because there are no prescribed guidelines like there are to writing in the Warhammer universes. That in itself makes it an astonishingly daunting task. It’s a little like walking a tightrope with the safety net burning beneath you. But, you know. Challenges are cool.

So Space Marines. Big, clunky, oversized monsters of the 41st millennium. I was flipping through the new codex the other evening and getting a delighted tingle every time I saw the Silver Skulls get a mention. They sort of feel like my babies. Obviously, they’re not – they’re anybody’s – but when someone contacts you on Facebook and asks questions about them so they can paint up their army in the most ‘true to the book’ way, it’s incredibly flattering. Also, this guys army looks phenomenal.

The Husband painted my Silver Skulls army for me. My attention span means that I get one arm done and immediately discover a whole list of things to do. Determined to build and paint an army of my own, I picked Necrons. So far, my entire Necron army consists of a single Immortal. I’ve decided that he’s simply ultra-hardcore and will kick any opponent in the nads before running away, giggling.

I was in discussion with someone at work the other day about why Warhammer is such a good hobby. It incorporates so many things: the need to understand a pretty comprehensive rules set, to design your army, to build and paint your army and then to develop game-playing strategies. It’s a sociable hobby – no matter how the media tries to portray it – and I pretty much love the vibe I’ve got from most Hobby Centres I’ve been in. Also, and it has to be said, I’ve generally found that the kids in most GW stores are more pleasant and socially aware by far than those who hang around outside the chip shop terrorising little old ladies.

As well as the game, there’s obviously the Black Library books to go alongside it. The Son has been making his way through the Horus Heresy series (although he broke off to read ‘1984’ on a whim – I wasn’t going to stop that) and seems to be enjoying it. I’ve fallen hugely behind in my BL reading, largely since I started writing it. Not entirely sure why that is. Time, mostly. That’s why a series of 1,000 word shorts has been a joy for me.

But it has made me hungry for some boltgun and chainsword totin’ action…


Six of the Best

Today is my wedding anniversary. My sixth to be precise. I checked online this morning: the sixth wedding anniversary is traditional represented by gifts of sugar. I just ate a Bounty bar, so that angle’s covered. Himself, naturally, is at work today. This is only a tiny bit depressing, but it’s not the end of the world. After all, we just had two weeks off together.

For me, six years is quite a milestone. Himself and I have been together as a couple since late 2002, although our paths crossed, literally, in August 2001 at Renewal. It was my first ever LRP event and I was completely confused and bewildered by the whole thing. One of my more vivid memories is of going from the Lions camp to the Viper camp at about 1.30am in the complete darkness and slamming my leg against the very sharp edge of a firepit that someone had seen fit to abandon right in the middle of a thoroughfare. Spent a productive half hour up with the paramedics discovering the joys of instant ice packs. Man, that hurt.

Latterly turned out that Himself and one of his friends had left it there.

I met him properly at the next event I went to: Crusade, at Bloody Wigan, in May 2002. He helped me to put up my tent when I was flailing around with guyropes. He zipped up the front so it didn’t get soggy when the rain started coming down. He loaned me his coat so I didn’t freeze to death. From friendship came something else. And eleven years later, we’re still hanging about in the same place and he still leaves things there for me to fall over. He has been there since The Son was three years old and the pair of them are as close as close can be. He never had any problem with taking on board a child who was not his and that alone has been reason to love him. The fact that he’s actually pretty awesome in his own way may help, I suppose. But don’t tell him I said so.

I don’t go in for massive public displays of affection. I don’t quite know why this should be. When I meet my friends, I hug them gleefully. It may give the outside world the impression that Himself and I are not very close. The outside world doesn’t have a clue. The outside world hasn’t sat on the sofa on a boring TV night with the sound off and listened to us giving dull TV programmes our own voice-overs. The outside world wasn’t there the other night when Himself found a YouTube video that rendered both of us helpless with giggles for about half an hour. Fuck you, outside world. You don’t have a clue.

We got married six years ago today, on board the HMS Trincomalee. This was my suggestion, because I’m an absolute sucker for beautiful old ships and it turned out to be a remarkable venue. The ceremony itself took place in the Captain’s Cabin, which was diligently set up by two volunteer ladies who work for the Historic Quay. I rang Himself before the wedding and reminded him to pop and buy some ‘thank you’ flowers for them. This led to two things: first it led to Himself rushing into Tesco in all his wedding finery to buy some flowers, prompting a comment from the security guard that ‘he was cutting it a bit fine, wasn’t he’ and secondly, it led to tears from the two lovely ladies who insisted that nobody had ever said thank you before. I find it hard to believe some people. However, Himself and I aren’t those people. Those people suck.

I came into the room to the following song. I don’t think I’ve ever told Himself how close I came to not coming in at all. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of the reasons I chose the song. I chose it for its lyrics, first and foremost. But beyond that, I chose it because my mother loved the song. She loved the song and she loved the film and I loved her. She couldn’t be there, having passed away in 2000, but in playing this song, she was with me the whole time. I almost collapsed in a soggy mess of tears the moment the opening bars played. But I went on and married him anyway. And my mascara didn’t run. Bonus!

The ceremony itself was lovely and it does have to be said that the Trincomalee made for lovely photograph backdrops.


In which I admire the bouquet apparently growing out of Himself’s stomach. He manifests flowers! What’s not to love?

So… to Himself, who I rarely dedicate anything (except, you know, Valkia the Bloody), I dedicate today’s blog post. Love you, you fool.

Right, enough soppiness – here’s a tiny hamster with a tiny weapon. Don’t piss off the rodents.

Poke my belly one more time. I dare you.


Guilty Pleasures

Normality, it appears, has resumed. The two weeks annual leave is all spent and work has spent the past three days whacking me repeatedly around the chops with its cold, cruel ‘you have a mortgage to pay’ reality.

That makes it sound as if I don’t enjoy my job. I do. I completely enjoy what I do for a living. The way the NHS is run occasionally causes mild fits of rage and – on one memorable occasion when an executive director asked me to put my thoughts down in writing – a four-page rant. But I like what I do. I get to spend most of the day nerding in spreadsheets. This makes me happy. Happy-ish, anyway. In an idea world, I’d not have to come to work. This is because I am inherently anti-social. In the office environment, I periodically struggle to join in the conversations about the previous night’s TV viewing (although I can contribute for a while now to Bake-Off Wednesdays and Strictly Mondays – the only two TV shows that I will make every attempt to watch).

The Great British Bake-Off is a bad influence. After this week, I am filled with an overwhelming urge to attempt to bake macaroons. I love baking. I’m rubbish at it, but I love doing it anyway. I think the problem is that I’m impatient. I don’t WANT to wait. I want it to be done NOW. The science of baking is terrifying. A gram over here, a gram under there and you end up with a catastrophic mess in a tin. Bst advice when baking is to follow the recipe. Don’t deviate. If you deviate, baking demons will rise (as long as you added baking powder and bicarb) and mess with your end result. Thus, instead of a perfectly risen sponge cake, you turn out a Frisbee. Instead of your perfectly even-baked muffins, you get one giant one and eleven blobs.

Even Himself has started watching Bake-Off with me. It’s a weekly event, not just a TV programme. It’s comfortable viewing, like a pair of old shoes that you can’t bring yourself to part with. You know that the fashionistas are sneering at you for it, but you just don’t care.

There’s an element of schadenfreude, certainly. When delicate sugar work breaks into a billion pieces. When someone ‘accidentally’ steals someone else’s custard for their trifle. Watching people’s faces as they contort with comedic agony when Paul ‘Silverback’ Hollywood and Mary ‘Jesus, That’s One Scary Lady’ Berry comment on their pie’s soggy bottom (GBBO in-joke), or discuss the ‘even bake’ and ‘crumbly texture’ with the kind of intensity that makes it shamefully obvious that you haven’t got a clue what they’re on about. You feel like an intruder in this dainty environment; an elephant stepping amongst the snowdrops.

Weirdest of all is the fact that you suddenly develop this air of superiority. ‘Well, that’s not a bad genoise sponge,’ you find yourself saying, ‘but I could make it better. And that Sachertorte? Pff. Call that ganache? More like Ganesh.’

And so on.

Strictly Come Dancing starts on Saturday and I can’t wait. This is the only other programme I find myself riveted to year on year. I have absolutely no idea why. But just like GBBO, I suddenly become the world’s expert on ballroom dancing. ‘That,’ I say with unshakable confidence, ‘was a splendid foxtrot.’ Said foxtrot is usually then torn to pieces by the judges, but I stick to my guns. ‘I don’t care,’ I say, snootily. ‘I liked it.’

Those two TV shows really are a guilty pleasure for me. What about you guys? What do you watch without fail that’s just ever-so-slightly twee or a bit naff? (My dad watches ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘Duck Dynasty’, for example. I watched a bit of ‘Duck Dynasty’ whilst I was down there visiting. Holy hell.)

When Inspiration Strikes…

Inspiration is a funny beast, isn’t it? It strikes at the strangest of times and decides to up-sticks and leave you alone at others. For example, I almost invariably get most of my favourite plot ideas whilst driving home from any sort of gathering (be it LRP, or convention or similar). Then, when I get home and try to translate it from the terrifying interiority that exists inside my skull to the screen… nothing. Gibberish. Seriously, the screen may as well read ‘sdkldblkjb lkm lkdsgk lk mlefjlkmcv’ for all the sense it makes.

In my head, I scream silently, this was bloody amazing! 

The first person to invent a device that allows you to plug your brain directly into a USB socket and get those thoughts down before they turn to mush will be a fine individual indeed.

Generally, I do OK getting thoughts and ideas out of my brain and onto the keyboard. I type infuriatingly fast (accordingly to one of my friends) and that helps with the brain to keyboard process wonderfully well. The real problem for me stems from the fact that when I talk, I am always thinking about four or five sentences ahead of myself. Does that make any sense? I have no idea why it is that I do that, but every so often it means that in the middle of a conversation I’ll just stop dead and completely and utterly forget where I was. So even with the infuriating level typing speed, this means that occasionally, when I’m writing down thoughts and ideas, the same thing happens. My way around this has become quite simple. Initial plot ideas now get produced as stream of consciousness. Silly comments and all. Then I go back over them and refine them; take out the silly comments and make them into more acceptable working documents.

For example, when brainstorming with m’colleague John French on our tied-together stories that appear in Architect of Fate, the following was in the original outline that I shared with him before the story was completed. Apparently it made him giggle.

‘Another fight breaks out with I don’t know, a giant hot dog with legs, firing mustard. This is the Warp, man.’

This sentence gave rise to the story’s ‘code name’ of Project: Hotdog. Note: all my stories end up with code names. I’ve never quite been sure why this is, but it’s entertaining and allows me to happily discuss something I’m working on without the worry of openly acknowledging what it is. For example, I recently turned Project: Needles into the editor, am working on edits for Project: Comeuppance and working hard(ish) on Project: Carpark. For reference, The Gildar Rift is the only story that never had a project codename. Going on how excited I was to be writing a novel which was rapidly tempered by the discovery of how hard it actually is to write a novel whilst working full time, it should have been Project: Harsh Reality.

I enjoy stream of consciousness plotting. It allows me to express what I’m feeling without the constraints of the formality a pitch requires. I should really have kept some of the early drafts of the plot development of The Gildar Rift, for example. Had my former hard drive not imploded with the spiteful force of a device hellbent on eating 67k words of a manuscript – which it also accomplished, hooray for the 47k previous emailed-to-self back-up copy – I’d have had that to hand.

Most of my blogs are stream of consciousness style actually. Today, for example. I was contemplating what to write about and asked The Son for his ideas. ‘Inspiration,’ he said, looking up briefly from where he was caught up playing Deus Ex. So today’s blog became about inspiration. It rapidly devolved into an inward-looking self-criticism of my own inability to capture the darned stuff properly. I mean, I’ve got better at it over the last couple of a years. I have a notebook that goes everywhere with me now and I jot down things as they occur to me. Sometimes, however, I’ll turn the page of the notebook, see something written there and wonder ‘uh… OK. What the hell is that about?’ Example: we saw a ‘For Sale’ sign somewhere and the name of the estate agents was ‘Gadsby Orridge’. If that isn’t a name for a noir-esque Private Detective…

(Which automatically reminds me of a back-burner project called ‘Project: Time Freeze’. The previous may give you some idea what it entails…)

So inspiration strikes in the strangest of places. Whilst driving along and catching a glimpse of roadsigns (the A1, for example, features many would-be Hollywood actors. Burton Coggles. Kirk Smeaton to name but two). For Sale signs, or… any number of things. A half-empty field with a single van parked in the almost exact dead centre. Why is that van there? What is it doing? Ever since I was little, I made up stories based on things I saw as we were driving along – a pastime my mum encouraged to stop me being car sick, I suspect.

Now fully open!

Inspiration does not yet come in some kind of handy ‘tap-turning’ form. There’s no magic switch to press that turns humdrum reality off and switches over to the delightful silliness of idea forming. It just happens. I wish it was more controllable though. There’s not much more embarrassing than white-noising out an entire meeting whilst your brain contemplates exactly how it is you’re going to deal with that Silver Skulls Space Marine who is demanding you pick up his story and create Project: Surprise!

Someone get to work on that USB device, please. Chop, chop.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

So Mystery Men was on TV last night. Now, I love that film. I find it amusing and entertaining in equal measure. OK, it’s no Shawshank Redemption or American Beauty, but it’s good old-fashioned entertainment. It makes me laugh, I enjoy watching it (‘I am Pencilhead!’ ‘I am Son of Pencilhead!’) Yet over at the IMDB, it gets an average viewer rating of 5.9/10. Only 5.9. I’d happily rate it an ‘8’ on my personal score, but that’s where the whole thng falls down of course.

Films – like books, foodstuffs or music – are an entirely personal thing. What one person loves and thinks is THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD may not appeal at all to someone else. I seem to find that I frequently fall into the category of ‘person who liked the thing that nobody else seemed to’. Maybe I’m just easily pleased, I don’t know. What I do know is that I have no problem at all with someone else having a differing opinion to me. What I have problems with is people who essentially say ‘you don’t agree with me. I am right, therefore, your opinion counts for absolutely nothing.’

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, absolutely. And those opinions don’t always gel. For example, here are two separate comments from two separate reviews of one of my novels from Amazon:-

It’s wonderfully written, contains cleverly crafted space battles and hand to hand which when all brought together gives the reader a story that they’ll remember for quite some time.”


In some parts it was good, characters gelled the story flowed, then out of the blue it would become stilted and jarring, over-long or poorly placed descriptions, bad dialogue, poor plotting, then it would switch again.”

So immediately you can see that these two people (both of whom spent the time to review my book – for which I am immensely grateful, thank you both if you’re out there and I’m directly quoting you) disagree. If you put them in a room to discuss their differing opinion, I feel sure that the conversation would be mature, sensible and lively. I like to think so, anyway. Whilst no writer enjoys negative feedback on something they’ve written, that was nonetheless politely worded and contained at least a trace of usefulness. Compare that with this ‘opinion’ taken this morning from one of the Warhammer fora regarding another novel, by a different author:-

But [the novel] is….Not good,i’ll leave it at that.”  [sic]

That kind of comment is hardly useful by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve tried, really really hard to avoid reading reviews or getting online opinions of my work. This may seem somehow counter-productive, but when the majority of comments you see tend to be in the format of the forum example given above, you learn very quickly to just not bother. Every so often, I’ll get an email or message from someone who says ‘hey, you might want to read this review’ and I’ll always oblige. But I no longer ‘ego surf’. I believe it was someone awesome like Marilyn Monroe who said (and I parrot-phrase) ‘you only ever remember the bad reviews’. It’s absolutely true. You could have ten people praise your stuff and then see a comment like the one above. And that’s the comment you remember.

People often ask what it’s like to receive negative reviews. Well, if it’s non-constructive and simply dismissive in nature, it’s a little like getting gut-punched. No matter who you are, you’ve poured your heart and soul into the finished product. You’ve had sleepless nights over it. You’ve torn your hair out over it. You’ve made changes given to you by your editor that you later notice someone saying ‘xxx should have happened, not yyy’ and you can’t help shouting at the computer screen saying ‘but xxx DID happen originally’… and so on.

By contrast, constructive criticism is welcome. That way, you can learn from your mistakes and hopefully improve. Snark is not appreciated. If you don’t like something, justify it. ‘Not good, I’ll leave it at that‘ is genuinely silly and attention seeking. It smacks of ‘go on, ask me why I didn’t think it was any good’ and in its brevity, hints that nothing, absolutely nothing you can say will change that person’s mind.

I feel that I’ve been quite lucky and have avoided out and out nastiness, apart from over at a couple of Warhammer fora where they seem to have taken against me. And despite some of the incredibly hurtful – and occasionally personal – comments that are made, I no longer find myself bothered by them. Because at the end of the day, those people don’t know me. I also suspect that they wouldn’t imagine saying those things to my face were I standing right in front of them. Remember… always remember… the Internet Fuckwad Theory.

This is completely and utterly correct.

To the people who have read and reviewed my works, positively or otherwise – thank you for taking the time to do so. I appreciate it.

Right. Time to stop procrastinating and get back to Project: Carpark and the edits on Project: Comeuppance. And to email an editor to clarify something about Project: Needles…


I’ve missed writing the blog. Been down south doing the Family Visits thing and that’s taken all my time. Headed home today and have several days of writing to catch up on.

Was quietly gratifying to receive a couple of messages from people saying they missed the blog.

Normality will be resumed shortly.

Whatever counts as normal in these parts anyway.

Gold Medal Procrastinator

Nah, I’ll write about procrastinating tomorrow.

Joking aside, procrastination is such an art form when you’re trying to write. I am possibly the most easily distracted person in the entire world when I’m trying hard to concentrate. I try – really try – to structure my day. It goes something like this.

4pm – get home from work. Make cup of tea, check emails/Facebook/Twitter/kitten feeds/guild forum/anything else I can think of to drag out time.
4.30pm – 6pm – WRITING TIME! In an hour and a half, I can produce a –lot- of words when the writing flow grabs me. But in that hour and a half, I probably spend about half an hour of it poking around the internet. Ooh, an email. Ooh, a Tweet. I wonder what the kittens are doing?
6.05pm – wonder why I haven’t done as much as I promised myself I would.
6.10pm – make more tea. Tell self off. Focus. Write more in the next 20 minutes than I managed in the previous hour and a half.

Everyone says ‘switching it all off’ and sometimes I do actually manage to do that. But when I close off my social feeds, I feel horrendously lonely. I write best when I’m the only person in the house and don’t have the distraction of being spoken to, but just knowing that my Facebook friends and Tweeties are there is oddly comforting.

Writing is a lonely pastime. Most writers I know would agree with that. It suits me in that regard; much as I get a bit frustrated at being by myself weekend after weekend, I also rather enjoy my own space. But no matter how hard I task myself to an hour and a half stretch (usually with extra half hour-hours thrown in at weekends or when I’m particularly productive), I rarely stick to it.

One of my school reports from years ago included the advice from a teacher to other teachers. ‘Don’t let Sarah sit next to a window’. That’s true enough; whilst things are going on, if I have a window, I’ll frequently gaze outside, letting my soul soar on the wings of a passing bird whilst my physical self goes through the motions of being present and correct. Or incorrect. I’m a daydreamer and always have been. My head is in the clouds most of the time apparently. Wouldn’t that get a bit cold after a while?

Silly saying.

But… actually, that’s a perfect example of what an amazing procrastinator I can be. Even as I typed the phrase ‘head in the clouds’ in this blog, I thought ‘ooh, shall I go Google for pictures? For other suitably corny phrases?’ That’s how my brain works. I can take hours to look up a word in a dictionary or thesaurus. Another word on the page will catch my attention – particularly in the case of a thesaurus – and I’ll book-jump for ages and ages and eventually realise that I’m about a million miles from where I started.

I meander through the internet in much the same way. Someone might link a YouTube video and I’ll end up mooching off down the sidebar until I go from a Comedy Kitten Clip to a sand artist. I love the way things are linked together and enjoy following trails, particularly when they never end.

I don’t mind though. I enjoy having the multi-tasking capability of being able to be out the window fighting dragons whilst being present in the ‘real world’. I like to walk through the corridors of the hospital from meeting to meeting whilst plotting out the next scene of my story in my head. Sometimes I mutter dialogue to myself when I’m driving. I must look slightly insane whilst doing it, but I don’t care.

I’m always thinking. My brain is always creating and sometimes it gets more enthusiastic than it is at the important times. It’s a cruel trick of nature that my most productive time for writing has statistically proven itself to be 2am on a work night.

Curse you, brain.

Curse you.