Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

I’ve always liked autumn. It makes me think of my mother.

My mother used to create oil paintings. Almost invariably, they were scenes of mountains, rivers and trees. Mum liked these things and she enjoyed putting them onto canvas. It was always a scene of a river leading off into a lake with a mountain in the background. Sometimes when I see one of her paintings, I like to think that’s where she is now and that one day, I’ll be walking along the banks of the river, next to the trees and she’ll be there, just beyond the picture’s reach.

She liked autumn colours most of all.

Not long before she died, she promised me a set of four paintings; the same scene in all four seasons. She only ever did the first one. She picked autumn.

See? Just around the bend in the river, behind the trees.

I keep meaning to sort out a frame for this painting, because the one she put on it got broken in one of the many house moves I’ve had since she gave it to me. But whenever I look at it, I remember her and it’s a nice feeling. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her, or miss her or wish I could have ‘one more conversation’ with her. She always knew the right thing to say or the right little gesture to make everything right. That’s a mum’s job, I think. I like to think Not So Small Son thinks that way about me. I’d ask him, but he’s currently engrossed in a game of Team Fortress 2 with headphones over his ears, happily oblivious to his mum pouring her heart out on a blog post.

Bless.

So anyway, yes. I like autumn. There’s this heady ripeness about it as a season. If spring is the playful childishness of a year whilst summer is its exuberant youth, autumn is the mature part of the year. The year in its prime; with the capability of slipping back into a summer day without warning or freezing you into two duvets. Autumn is a season that’s all about the senses. The colours in the trees, the smell of frost in the air and bonfires; the smell of the leafmould in the woods. The sound of dead leaves crackling underfoot and the sounds of fireworks (which seem to pretty much herald the arrival of autumn now!). It’s a bountiful time and I’m grateful for all that I have. Every so often, I stop to remind myself just how incredibly lucky I am to have a roof over my head; a husband and son who I love more than anything and outstanding friends.

In other news, Tales of the Nun & Dragon is now on release; early feedback has been very positive, including on my own contribution, the rather tongue-in-cheek Ballad of Gilrain, a story featuring a less-than-competent hero and his long-suffering servant who set out on a quest to slay a dragon.

Edits on Project: Loophole are going pretty well – for those of you who haven’t seen me mention this on Twitter, this is a Silver Skulls novel. My revised manuscript is due in at the end of September and I’m happy to say that after a few… less than productive weeks, I’m back on form and words are flying freely once again. Things are good on that front. I’m not going to Games Day this year which is a shame as I loved it last year, but the Black Library Weekender in November is coming up and I’m looking forward to it enormously.

Project: Backburner is sitting demanding some love once I’ve done with that, too. Project: Backburner is an urban fantasy story set locally (for me) in Durham and again, is not Entirely Serious.

Have an extract. Enjoy autumn.

EDWARD LEWIS FLANAGAN III had been born into the world some thirty six years previously, in a small town outside of Dublin. The youngest of six, he was also the only boy – and the horrors he experienced growing up at the hands of all that oestrogen had stood him in excellent stead for the path his life would take.

His childhood was supremely normal, apart from the expected mocking he received from the other children due to his apparently comical initials. ‘Little Elf’ was the nickname he received on his first day at school and it lasted barely more than a week before the five year old Ed – known even then by his family as ‘Just Ed’ – was in trouble for fighting.

Apart from this demonstration of ferocity, he was a remarkably placid boy who was well liked by his elders and peers alike. He was polite, well-mannered and intelligent. It was this intelligence that led him to Durham University to study Ancient History.

He had long yearned to get out of Ireland and studying offered him a route that came with the additional benefit of indulging his favourite thing. Ancient History fascinated Ed. He had keen hopes of either becoming a museum curator, a lecturer or, at a push, Indiana Jones. His brief sojurn into archaeology ended when out of boundless enthusiasm (and in an attempt to get laid) he had accompanied a girlfriend on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. Sitting for endless hours in an ancient midden, discovering what coprolite was had started out quietly entertaining.

Then, as time wore on, with the rain hammering down on him and with the real archaelogists sneeringly laughing at what they called ‘the wrong kind of trowel’ any of Ed’s Jones-like tendencies had been severely dampened.

It also put a permanent dampener on the relationship.

He came back from the field trip to the loving embrace of academia and was glad for it. They hadn’t even managed to sleep together, either.

Durham had captivated him from the moment he had stepped off the train. The cathedral, standing its silent vigil above the Wear peninsula on which it stood drew the eye wherever you were in the city. The uneven, steep city centre with its plethora of mysterious little passageways that went the heavens only knew where… there was everything in Durham for a young man with a curious mind and a great imagination.

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The Lazarus Effect

So I’ve not blogged much for a while. Actually, I’ve not done a lot of anything for a while. This is down to a number of reasons, entirely too plentiful and yet outstandingly dull to go into detail about here.

So instead, the weather. Seeing as that and 50 Shades of Grey are the only things people seem capable of discussing, why not join in? What about that rain? Seriously. It started raining sometime in May and has been pretty determined to make life miserable ever since. Ironically, my mood has possibly not been helped much by the persistent precipitation. Perhaps with the sudden emergence of sunshine from behind the dull, sodden clouds, my mood is about to take a swing in the right direction?

I digress. Some writing stuff first.

I’ve been working on edits for Project: Loophole for a few days now. This is the first of my projects to date that has fairly major changes to be made and it’s a very steep learning curve. It’s one thing to make a few tweaks to a story here and there; to insert a few extra scenes featuring a particular character (a’la Jeremiah in TGR), or to slightly change the thrust of a chapter. It’s something entirely different to do what is, in essence, a rewrite. I’m learning as I go and it’s a relief that quite a lot of stuff can be salvaged whole, or only slightly re-written to make it fit that little bit better.

Also, to end speculation on the matter and to directly reply to those of you who’ve demanded the truth from me… Project: Loophole is novel-sized. It features Silver Skulls. A lot of Silver Skulls. It now also features an extra contingent of Bad Guys who weren’t in the original completed manuscript. I am very enthusiastic about them and after a few conversations back and forth with my editor, very excited to get them written in. I’m about to start doing that bit and that’s definite woken up my writing mojo. Due to the aforementioned apathy and its associated reasons, my enthusiasm for… well, anything really… has been severely impaired for a few weeks.

Feedback on Valkia the Bloody continues to be pretty positive, which is a boost to the ol’ flagging spirits when you’re a bit low.

The Lazarus Effect is thus so far applying to me personally and to Project: Loophole.

I’ve done some Other Writing too; I’ve written a light-hearted fantasy story for an upcoming anthology called ‘Tales from the Nun and Dragon’ from Fox Spirit which is due out in August – see here – and I’m busily writing another submission for Something Else.

Next up, some work stuff. This will be brief.

Work has been terrible. I have been very determinedly job hunting and may have an interview next Friday. I’ve been sent for shortlisting which is a good sign, but I’m still waiting for the final yay/nay on whether I actually have an interview at all. The fact I’ve been shortlisted is frankly brilliant, because the role calls for a certain number of qualifications that I don’t have – but I have equivalent work experience. It’s heartening that this has obviously been taken into account. Of course, it also increases the possibility of losing out to someone who has the qualifications. But who doesn’t necessarily have the work experience to back it up.

Difficult one that.

In the meantime, I’m planning to hold out here for another couple of months at most and then fall back on temp work if I can’t find something permanent. The aforementioned aforementioned apathy is largely in part down to work-related stress and to be honest? It might be a case that it pays the bills, but it’s not worth getting unwell over.

So Project: Find Another Job is well established.

Been watching ‘The Hollow Crown’, the BBC adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV pt 1 & 2 and to come, Henry V. And they have been utterly, utterly wonderful. If you haven’t watched these, do it. They are amongst Shakespeare’s greatest plays (for me, at least) and I can’t wait to watch Tom Hiddleston as he flounces about Agincourt this Saturday…

All in all, life ticks over without much difference (but with increased stress). Some wonderful things have happened and some less than wonderful things have emerged to take their place. Equilibrium is not quite yet restored, but it’s definitely getting there.

To paraphrase ADB’s Night Lords… so how are you, then?

 

May? Wait, what?

And then it was May. Beltane. May Day. Whatever floats your boat. You think about May and you think of things like this:

May. It should be like this.

Instead, we’re being treated to a surfeit of this:

Even the ducks have been complaining.

Honestly. The United Kingdom. The only place in the world where we have hosepipe bans and a drought in the ‘rainiest April since records began’. It’s not only been wet, it’s also been very cold. However, I am my father’s daughter and I staunchly refuse to put on the central heating unless I am shivering. More layers, he’d say. Go and put on a jumper. I grew up in a house without central heating (although we had some mad warm air convection heating thing downstairs. It was about as much use as a chocolate fireguard) and so I cope with the cold better than the Boys. I’m actually sitting here with my coat still on (I’ve been in from work for an hour) and even I’m thinking of putting the heating on ‘for a bit’.

My left shoulder-demon is telling me that I should enjoy the luxurious splendour of a centrally heated house. The right shoulder-angel is telling me that I should mind my pennies. Kronk has nothing on me, I swear. These guys bicker all the time.

I'm gonna lead you down the path that rocks...

In other news:

I haven’t seen Avengers Assemble yet. The current plan is to go and see it on Sunday when Dearly Beloved is not at work. The over-zealous enthusiasm for it that’s doing the rounds on the interwebs is kind of putting me off if I’m brutally honest. Sometimes I feel like that about books as well, or books by certain authors when people go ‘OMG IT’S A BOOK BY <INSERT AUTHOR HERE> IT’S BRILLIANT AND THE BEST THING EVER’ and God help anybody who has a differing opinion and dares to express it. Sometimes I find it disheartening that there are so many people out there who seem incapable of recognising that everyone has differing opinions (apart from those who can’t form opinions of their own).

Speaking of disheartening, the day job has become something that I can only just about bear. My workload has increased massively over the past six months or so, which may just be a slight glitch in the flow of patient referrals, but there’s no sign of it easing off. I work very hard at what I do for not very much return. Having one of my major projects ripped apart by a consultant who genuinely didn’t have a clue what he was talking about was galling, but I’m not massively concerned when the hard evidence exists to prove my point. But it just wears you down. I can never wait to be out of there so I can be at home, where I am happy and where I can do the things that matter. Spend time with Dearly Beloved and Smallish. Torment the cats. Write.

On the subject of writing (neat, eh?) I sent off the first drafts of Project: Loophole and Project: ME, ME, ME to the editor-beast over the last couple of weeks. Next to look at are (in no particular order at this point) Project: Hunting Wabbits and Project: Who Shall It Be? On top of that, Valkia the Bloody is due out in the next few weeks, too.

Architect of Fate is on release to the wider public now and a couple of very nice reviews have slipped in, including ones from SF Book Reviews and Starburst Magazine.

Project: Backburner is very low down on the agenda at the moment, but I’m thinking of spending a few hours on it over the next week or two whilst I draw breath and recover from Loophole and ME, ME, ME.

So the writing thing is going brilliantly. I’m job-hunting like it’s going out of fashion… and I’m going to go and put the heating on.

What a rebel.

Out and About

I don’t get out much. So to actually look ahead to Things I Am Doing This Year is quite startling. As an aside, whilst Google-searching for appropriate images to use for ‘Out and About’, I found this one. It worries me enormously.

Bury People First? BEFORE you push them in front of the bus? WHAT? Oh, English language, you are funny.

 

In a week’s time, we’re taking a short trip Down South to see friends. It will be Smallish’s thirteenth birthday whilst we’re away and I have it on good authority that he wouldn’t dare to turn into Kevin the Teenager at midnight in someone else’s house.

Just a little over three weeks to this year’s Black Library Live event! Really looking forward to it. This will be our third year of going and we’ve had a blast both times previously. The difference this year is that I’ll actually be on the ‘other side’, sitting on seminar panels and what have you. I enjoy that kind of thing, I’ve invariably found it a lot of fun. Add to that the fact that I’ll be seeing many awesome people and meeting new ones and all in all, I can’t wait.

I’ve also signed up to this year’s alt.fiction event as well. I definitely enjoyed last year’s and found it to be incredibly interesting and useful. I picked up quite a lot of good hints ‘n’ tips on writing in general and met a bunch of very nice people. Looking forward to that as well.

A week after getting over alt.fiction, I’ll be heading down to London in April for the Salute wargaming event. I’ve never been to this one, but looking at some of the photographs from last year’s event, I’m VERY much looking forward to seeing some of the miniatures there. There’s a whole swathe of insanely talented people out there who can paint the most incredible models and I’m filled up with complete respect for them. My Silver Skulls army is largely being painted by Dearly Beloved, who has the patience and ability that I don’t have. I’ve been doing the ‘necessary evil’ element of basecoating and black washes for the most part, but I’m trying.

Later on in the year, depending on a few factors, we will be taking a trip to the US to see friends in Texas. Now that I’m looking forward to for the fact that it’s seeing friends and involves a trip to a part of the US I’ve never been anywhere near.

All these things make the nasty work element that fills in the time inbetween a little more bearable.

The day job continues without ever improving, but conversely doesn’t really get much worse. Mustn’t grumble and all that.  Project: Loophole is now more than half-done and I’m looking forward to that fun ‘bit just after the middle’ I experienced with both TGR and Valkia when the writing mojo gets a proper lick on. I had a couple of good writing days over the weekend (in terms of actual output volume), but then proceeded to delete a whole bunch of it after shouting a lot at the computer.

Oh well, back to it! Not long until the Out and About starts. Until then, I’m In and Here.

To wrap up, a picture about confidence.

Lines. Dead ones.

In an uncharacteristic move away from form, a writing blog entry. This one’s on every writer’s favourite subject.

You want to write? Well, writing costs. And right here's where you start paying. In cold sweats.

Deadlines. Targets. Reaching the unreachable. That’s what a lot of this writing thing has been about for me. When I started writing, ages ago, I only ever wrote short stories. Due to the fact that when I’m in the Writing Groove and combined with my automaton-like 100+ wpm typing speed, I can turn out 2,000 words in less than hour (when the moons of Saturn are in phase with the cricket population of Western Samoa). But you can’t keep up a pace like that when you’re working on larger projects.

So here’s how I handle targets and deadlines. It’s a bit of a mathematical formula really. And given that maths was my least-favourite subject at school, it’s a wonder that I can work it out.

Target = Time+Daily Word Count.

Simple enough. Let’s say… you have four months to create 100,000 words. You sit down in front of your computer or your typewriter if you’re still so inclined and you ponder the formula.

So the first job is to break your 100,000 words down into big chunks. Over four months, it’s pretty straightforward. 25,000 words per month.

Each month has at least 28 days in it. That’s only 892 words a day. In the months with more than 28 days, anything else you write is a bonus!

See? It’s easy?

No. It isn’t.

Projects rarely start exactly on the first of the month, unless you’re either incredibly lucky or very brave. So you may find that your ‘four months’ is actually ‘three and a bit months.’ (That’s if you’re sensible. If you’re brave, you’ll write January off altogether). What happens if you start your project on January 20th? Already you’ve lost 19 days. That means your target for the first month, according to that formula, would be 2,272 words per day for the rest of month. Which again, is achieveable, but definitely more stressful. Particularly if you work full time.

But you know what? All this is rubbish anyway. Everyone fnds their own way of working. For The Gildar Rift for example, my targets were ambitious wee things. I met them – but there were times it got a bit hairy. I’d never planned my own writing targets in this way before and completely forgot to incorporate small events like ‘Christmas’ and ‘New Year’ and ‘complete bloody apathy’. When I sat down and planned out Valkia the Bloody, I was much calmer about the process. I had been through it before and knew my own limitations much better. Actually, I went a bit too far the other way and went massively over target as I was going along. Which is nice in a way. But it’s all a learning curve.

I strive to meet my deadlines. It’s a combination of several things, including (but not limited to):

  • a sense of personal pride;
  • the promise I made when I signed the commissioning form;
  • a pathological tendency to be on time (or early) for everything in my entire life; and
  • not a lot else.

I think the fact that I have to work to targets and deadlines in the Day Job helps enormously (believe me, my ability to tell you 14, 31 and 62 day dates from any given date is the world’s most boring party trick). I know that if a patient is on day 32 of their pathway, I need to start Prodding Buttock around the hospital to get things moving more swiftly. It’s the same with my writing. If I’m more than 1,000 words below my writing target the week before the end of the month, I unconsciously up my output. The thought of ending the month in some sort of word overdraft fills me with a sense of creeping dread.

I think it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily target. Seriously, I can’t stress that bit of advice enough. Don’t beat yourself up!

Seriously. Don't do this. You'll look like a complete idiot, for a start.

If you struggle to output 500 words on one day, you’ll compensate on another day. It’s no big deal. Every one of those 500 words counts towards that 25,000 monthly target. If you’re doing brilliantly and the words are flowing, just keep going.

Also, monitor that progress in a visual way if that’s what works for you. I’m tragically sad about this. I have… yes. I have a spreadsheet with a line graph that makes me happy when I watch that little line creep up and up to the target line. I also have my whiteboard where I write up the monthly target and the current wordcount. It helps me. It might help you. It might not. Like I say, everyone works out their own way of doing things.

I’m ahead of January’s target, which is why I’ve not sweated this weekend. I’ve not written anything since Friday because I’ve been under the weather. But I also know that there’s still two more days in January for me to inch a couple of thousand words over January’s target and start nibbling into February’s.

It’s all good.

There. Optimism and all that. Let’s finish off with something suitably random, so here’s a hedgehog reading a newspaper. Wearing a strawberry as a hat.

He'd better not be reading the frelling Daily Mail.

Onwards, Upwards, Occasionally Sideways

This has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks. With a member of staff down at work, the day job became almost insane. I don’t begrudge my colleague her time off at all. But it does mean that life gets insanely busy. But you know, them’s the breaks. It does mean that my flexi-time remains at stupidly high levels, thus giving me the chance to take time off outside of my annual leave quota. So I took Friday off. I took Friday off so I could sort out Project: Bedfellows.

I have to say that this has been a complicated project for me; perhaps the first one that I’ve had any sort of ‘issue’ with. In my usual way, I’ve been trying to figure out what the problem has been and I’ve sort of narrowed it down to this fact.

Writing a short story on the back of writing two novels effectively back-to-back (with a break for a 30k novella) is a bit mental. Getting my head out of the ZOMGOOSE! EPIC! scale and back into short story land has been difficult. I keep wanting to tell more story than I need to. It’s damn good though, because it’s forced me to self-discipline the writing beast. I’ve also done the one thing with this story that I know I should never do… edit as I’m going along.

Everyone ultimately finds their own favoured way of working. For me, it’s get the story down and worry about the editing afterwards. This time, I’ve tried my hand at doing it the other way around. I won’t be doing that again. FIVE TIMES I’ve scrapped and re-started this story. I’m pretty pleased with where it is now, but that’s been quite stressful for me. Again, I think it’s because of the novel-writing mindset. I thought that switching from short story to novel would be the tough transition, but for me at least, it turns out it’s the other way around. Anyhoo, Project: Bedfellows should be finished in the next day or two. Then I can start giving thought to Project: Loophole.

So one way or the other, the last couple of weeks have been super-stressful. But I’ve had a really nice weekend which started with that Friday off work. Yesterday, myself, Dearly Beloved and Not So Small Anymore Son were down at Warhammer World. They nabbed a table and indulged in some ork-on-guard-action and I joined m’colleague Gav Thorpe in signing shenanigans. Gav was signing copies of the newest Horus Heresy novel, Deliverance Lost which I’ve been really looking forward to. I got home last night and read it cover to cover in about four hours. It’s not very often that I get a chance to do that with a book, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the guessing, I enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster that Poor Old Corax (and his single tear of emo man pain) goes through.

It also contains the Alpha Legion and well… I just love those sneaky little bastards, so all in all it was always going to be a winner for me. Totally enjoyable.

Check out Corax's emo MySpace shot.

It was a fun signing event. I enjoy these things, because I’m generally pretty affable and think that it’s nice to meet people. It’s all a bit crazy and overwhelming at times; there were at least three separate occasions yesterday when I felt slightly dazed by the whole thing and more than a little humbled by the people who made incredibly encouraging comments. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who asked questions about Valkia the Bloody, too – seems that she’s already got herself a lot of interest. She turns up in a short story in Age of Legend as well… doing what she does best. You know, the killing people for fun and profit thing.

Best of all was the chance to actually have a proper author-y chat with Gav. We’ve only met on a handful of occasions before and never seem to get the chance to just sit and Talk Writing. We did that yesterday and it was all pretty useful stuff. We also discussed the relative evilness of rodents and the fact that all chinchillas look like they are just waiting for the first opportunity to take over the universe.

I am plotting your downfall, pleb.

Woke up early this morning and took advantage of the fact to catch up on last night’s Strictly Come Dancing. OK, I know. But I can’t help it. I just enjoy it. Then I popped to the shop and bought bread, because I needed my toast fix… and now I have blogged and can no longer put off Project: Bedfellows…

There may be a signed-copy-of-The Gildar Rift competition later this week, once I think up something suitably evil.

And I can’t end this without sharing a link to the artwork for James Swallow‘s forthcoming Horus Heresy book, Fear to Tread. Because it features Sanguinius. And a Bloodthirster. Fighting. In the air.

It’s just so cool.

Happiness Is…

…knowing your dad and brother are safely back on terra firma after flying thousands of miles home across the Atlantic Ocean. I worried myself all night long. Fortunately for no reason.

…knowing that you’re picking up Not So Small Anymore Son tomorrow. I can’t tell you how much I miss him when he’s not here.

…almost reaching the end of a week that’s been exceptionally difficult at work for a variety of complicated reasons.

…looking over your shoulder and seeing one of the cats nesting along the top of the computer chair and purring whenever you so much as nudge into her.

…actually spending a bit of time RPing on WoW for what feels like the first time in an absolute age.

…having a conversation with your editor that results in you performing the little-known Chair Dance of Glee.

…all of the above.

It’s been a long, difficult week with some spectacular highlights. I’m looking forward to the weekend enormously: I’ll be signing pre-release copies of The Gildar Rift in Games Workshop, Durham. It’s also the store’s birthday so there are competitions, speed-painting contests, games and – most importantly – cake.

In this instance, the cake is not a lie.

Valkia edits are pretty much done and dusted: just one or two key changes to make and then that cheeky gutter snipe can be laid to rest. Project: Bedfellows has given me more problems than anything else I’ve written so far, but that’s in part due to the fact that I’ve been super-ultra-mega tired after work. I plan to rectify that on Sunday. The story is essentially written; it’s a question of jiggling around with the order of it. It’s fun, though. Lots of Prognosticator action.

Sleepy, now.

Sleep.

Mmm.