Saturday, 23 September 2017

A return to posting

I have been terrible at maintain this blog. For that I can only say sorry to anyone who has enjoyed reading my rambling entries. I am going to try to improve the frequency especially as I have things to promote these days. You see it's only a little over a month until my first novel, the Stairs Lead Down, is published.

Yeah, I really should have got back to posting here sooner. I could have posted the cover months ago but just haven't. To make up for lost time (something I'm positive you can't do) here it is.

It's a young adult supernatural tale set in my hometown, Ashby de la Zouch. Here's the blurb from the publisher's website.

What could be worse than moving from London to the middle of no where, at the age of 13? New school, new place, new people and a ghost in the kitchen!

Lizzie and Noah discover a portal to the ghost realm and take the Stairs Down to end up in an andventure of a lifetime.

Will the help of two mysterious women - Elizabeth and Magda be enough for them to face the Evil which wouldn’t hesitate to kill? What if this Evil wears the face of someone they have trusted their entire lives?

You can find the page for the book here (the Stairs Lead Down).

It's not the only writing news I have. I have an offer of publication for one of my Ben Williamson weird novellas, the Intersection. I don't have any details I can share as yet other than it will be coming out in the first half of next year. I'll post more as soon as I have it.

Regarding other stories, a London based publisher expressed an interest in my ya fantasy novel, the Patternmaker's Daughter. Only they wanted a rewrite to change a few of the elements to make it a little more appealing to young adult readers. Their comments were obvious when I re-read the story and I spent most of the summer trying to make it more suitable for them. I finished it and sent it off last week in August.

Since then I've found writing difficult. In truth I've found writing difficult all year; I just forced myself to do the rewrite. It's the reason why blogging hasn't really happened. I tried once or twice but it just wasn't happening.

The reason for this posting is an interview. with the book coming out in a little over a month. In that interview, conducted via email, I found it easy to type word after word; easier than I had in weeks. So I thought I would give blogging a try. And here we are. It seems to be working.

Away from the revisions I've been doing I have written the first 3 chapters of the sequel to the Stairs Lead Down. The publisher wants to include them with the release of book 1. I just have to get them revised by the end of the month so they can be prepped in time for the Hallowe'en release.

I've submitted some short stories to a couple of markets I'd tried before. They were not accepted. I've made a few more novel submissions but I really need to get one of the unfixed draft ones sorted so I can have another go at finding an agent. Maybe the autumn will see me a little more productive in this way.

Away from writing entirely I've been back in Belgium. Still my favourite country other than Italy. We went back to a lot of the old fave places but did try one or two towns we'd never visited before. We finally got to Leuven this trip and I hope this is not the last time we visit. It's a wonderful city.

I've read a number of great books over the last few months. The Magnus Mills and Zoran Živković books were obvious picks. They are two of my favourite authors as I've mentioned many times before. But the revelation of the summer for me was Emily St. John Mandell. I read Station Eleven and it is wonderful; simply wonderful. It's exactly my kind of story. It doesn't have a traditional plot; set up, rambling middle bit, conclusion. It just tells of the lives of a number of connected people in a future dystopia world laid mostly waste by a plague. I need to read this woman's other 3 books.

I've watched some good TV and virtually no movies. I've not even kept up with the Marvel films; not seen one since X-Men: Apocalypse. Need to fix this obviously as I want to see Doctor Strange and Guardians 2 but I've been put off my normal course by getting Netflix, Amazon Prime and All 4. There are just so many good TV shows there that this is all I've been watching.

I've seen some of the Marvel TV shows like Daredevil, both series, and Jessica Jones but I've also watched a few of the Walter Presents shows on All 4. I love Scandi dramas and there's been plenty to chose from. We've also indulged a little a rewatched the first 9 series of the Big Bang Theory.

Enjoyed a few of the odder shows too - like Lilyhammer, Santa Clarita Diet and Norsemen (a wonderful surreal comedy about Vikings featuring a lot of the people from Lilyhammer and Dag, two other Norwegian shows I loved.

I'm sure it'll settle down soon when we get over the novelty. Anyway - that's about it for now. I'll try to post more often. Let's see how that goes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Mini Rant 1 - Poor Marketing Campaign - Ocado

In the UK we have an online shopping delivery service called Ocado (I'm not sure if this exists elsewhere). Now Ocado do a perfectly fine job. I have no complaints about them whatsoever. But I do have a bit of a gripe when it comes to whoever has done their recent marketing. Here's a picture...

Now, this looks pretty innocuous on first glance but go read the text.... "It's one small click for you. It's one giant leap for your life."

Now we all know what this is paraphrasing. These are almost the words of Neil Armstrong, the first words from the Moon's surface. The original phrase signified the single greatest achievement of the human race (up to that date). It's something we as a species should be incredibly proud of (if you a Moon hoax believer, please leave my blog now and never revisit).

So to see it used to promote a way of doing your shopping without having to go to the effort of actually doing the shopping feels wrong. And it makes me less inclined to use Ocado.

So whoever it was who thought up this campaign, you haven't hit the bullseye from my POV. And whoever approved it at Ocado, do you want to rethink it? Ocado is a fine service (I think I may have mentioned that) and I get it needs advertising but come on - you can do better than this.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Fighting the doldrums



My head's not right. I don't mean in that it's too big for most hats, which it is annoyingly, or that it looks a bit weird, which it probably does. I'm not the best judge. But questions as to its ability to fit well under headgear or whether you might want to spend an hour or two just looking at it aside, my head isn't right. On the inside.

I've managed to do a little writing tonight, adding two scenes to my latest work in progress totalling a little over fifteen hundred words and taking the novel beyond he forty thousand mark, but it's been forced. Last night I didn't even manage that. I stared at the keyboard for a while, write an opening paragraph for a new chapter three times, deleting each one, and then gave up. I found a couple more submission opportunities for my YA supernatural novel "the Stairs Lead Down" and got them fired off. And then I printed off the first draft of my previous novel - "How to Run a Company". Well I needed to do it. I can't revise well from screen.

It'll probably just sit on my bedside bookcase until I've finished the draft of the current weird novel which goes by the title "a Thousand Rick Wakemans Dancing Round My Brain" I don't like to have one on the stocks unfinished when I revise another as I worry it might mean I mix up the storylines or characters. It probably wouldn't happen but you never know. So why take the risk?

I know part of the reason for my funk. The rejections dried up. Now it might seem a strange reason to get in the writing dumps so I should probably explain why. You see I don't enjoy submitting; because of the inevitability of the rejections or the even more annoying hearing nothing. A number of the agents and publishers put in their guidelines that if you haven't heard anything in [insert arbitrary time period here] then assume your submission is not successful.

It's explained as time being limited and they don't have time to give detailed individual feedback on every title and I do understand it. I have some knowledge of literary agents and the kinds of sizes of these organisations. They don't have an overabundance of staff and they do get a lot of submissions but logical reasoning doesn't make it easy to accept that the novel I might have spent long hours, days, weeks and months to get as right as I think I'm able to get it, will just disappear into the void.


All in all the act of researching, preparing and sending submissions is one I dread. I just don't want to do it. EVER. Which of course I know is rather self defeating given I have this ambition of selling a novel. So I steel myself to do it from time to time although I only ever seem to manage a handful before running away.

I could go deeper (and so I will). I self analyse too much. I seem to ruminate on all the little stuff finding all kinds of hidden meanings. So you can imagine what I feel like to have noticed my rejection count is now at 171, across all novels and novellas I've sent in.

That's the kind of number that gets you wondering whether you should just accept you're shit at this and should give up your hopes of ever being published - apart from gong the self-published route which I don't want to. I lack the inclination to try to sell my work so directly.

Now I know that I have heard tales of some novels being rejected more than a hundred times before one acceptance comes along and the book ends up winning all kinds of literary awards, being hailed as the great novel since... Well I can't see any of mine achieving those kinds of insane heights. I'm not that self-deluding about my own talents. My aims are lower. I just want to hold a book with my chosen pen name on the cover, knowing that the only reason this exists is because I made it exist.

Hence spending all this time at the end of long busy workdays tapping a different keyboard and trying to create that novel that someone will say, "Yes. This must be published."

I've been doing this now for two years. I've spent many hours doing it and, I have to admit, I do have some pretty decent results to show for those hours - at least if you go by word count. I have completed six novels and five novellas in that time. The test readers I've passed them to still talk to me so I guess they can't stink totally but they might just be being kind. I drive a van rather than a car (a side effect of being very tall means I don't fit well into most cars) and there is always the chance they might want to call in a favour one day and have me transport something that won't fit into their much smaller vehicles.

Well, there is some good news. (Depending on your point of view.) I am going to keep writing. For one thing my wife has said she wants to know what is going to happen at the end of my current novel and I wouldn't want to disappoint her on the off chance she means it and isn't just trying to keep me going with the writing stuff so she can have the TV to herself and watch those programmes I don't want to - which to be hones tis most of them. (I'm not much of a TV watcher. I prefer listening to music or reading.)

And there is hope. The few non-stock email responses I've received have all mentioned my chosen genres are not ones that are popular at the moment (especially for breaking new authors). Well if that is the case for horror (Mr. Stinky), epic science fiction (Against the Fall of Empire), supernatural (the Stairs Lead Down) and epic fantasy (the Patternmaker's Daughter) then maybe non-genre might cut it.

Or to put it another way I should get around to revising "How to Run a Company" and get it out there. And finish "a Thousand Rick Wakemans Dancing Round My Brain". Neither of those are sffh - well not in any major way.

Then again I could just be deluding myself again and finding hope where there just isn't any. Who knows? But if I don't at least try then I will never find out and I will never have even the faint hope I think I have currently. So I will soldier on. For now anyway.

One last thought. If anyone has made it this far can I please say how sorry I am for having wasted this much of your life on my negativity. I said at the top that this blog post isn't really for reading. It isn't It's just for me to get it out there. And if you ask why I posted it if that was all it was for then I have an answer for you. If I don't post it then it will just stay between my ears and I will have achieved nothing from it.

Now got look at kitten videos. If you've got this far you're going to need them.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Are labels harmful in music and fiction?

It's an odd question and one with the inevitable answer as far as I'm concerned of YES.... and NO.

I found labels immensely useful when I was kid learning about the entertainment I liked. I fluked my first love in both these forms. In music it was a BBC programme showing the Who smashing their instruments. In reading it was seeing a cover I liked on a carousel of books inside a kiosk shop on Great Yarmouth seafront during one of the many times we ducked inside one building or another to escape the rain. I seem to remember that summer holiday being something of a washout.

So there I was in 1977 encountering music and reading for the first time; really encountering it anyway. I'd obviously done both before. I'd heard music on TV shows. I'd read books because school kind of makes you. But with the Who and Asimov I found myself wanting to do both; just for the enjoyment of it. And so to labels.

You see I wanted more. And I wanted more that I would like. You see my nine year old brain knew a little of the value of money (i.e. I didn't have much of it) and so if I was going to spend the little amount of money I had I had to make it count. I suppose one thing that was obvious that I didn't do would have been concentrate on reading books from the library. That way I could have spent what little money I had just on records. Well if I told you I still have the first book I ever bought (Asimov - Through a Glass, Clearly) it might tell you something about me. I like keeping things; things I like anyway. I'm not a mad hoarder who has every newspaper since 1981 or something like that.

So I had to target my acquisitions well and fortunately I found the labels, or genres, that would help me. Asimov books were in science fiction. The Who were in rock music. So there was a reasonable chance I might like other authors and bands I found in those sections. And it worked. I found Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Edmund Cooper, Lester del Rey, Michael Moorcock and all the other writers I liked when I was a kid. And I read them all listening to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Small Faces, Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and all of my other favourite bands.

Okay, that's the argument for yes. but I did mention there being alternate answer to my original question. Well, there is, and it is quite simple. They limit you. I read science fiction. I read horror. I would venture as far as fantasy from time to time but that was it. And I probably missed quite a lot of great fiction doing it. And the same in music. I liked rock music. I liked progressive rock music. Through Zeppelin I even branched out into Folk-Rock and then straight Folk. I bought albums by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span for instance and of course Roy Harper - how could I not.

But I didn't necessarily look all that far outside those limits, even though I knew when I heard music in other areas I liked it. I just didn't let myself buy it. The same for fiction only with the obvious restriction that you cannot just accidentally read a book in the way you can hear music while watching a film or commercial, on the radio or in a store as you shop.

Then I grew older and realised just how problematic these restrictive labels could be. So I escaped them. I found P.G. Wodehouse. I found Alan Bennett. I found Umberto Eco. And in more recent times I found Magnus Mills. I could mention Zoran Živković, possibly my favourite living writer but there is something of a crossover with the genres I like in his writing so I might well have read his novels and stories even if I'd stayed locked in. Same with an Australian author I've become rather partial to - Max Barry.

So they were useful for a while but I had to outgrow them. Flash forward some decades - annoyingly four (golly, I feel old)  - and I don't think things are the same for young people today. Because you see they have this big wild woolly thrill ride of an internet. They can take bigger risks with their entertainment because it is so much cheaper to access it. You can head to streaming sites, YouTube or any other of dozens and hear something and make your own mind up about it without having to worry about whether it's been categorised alongside the other stuff you listen to.

And it's the same with reading; although to a lesser degree. You can read samples online you can read entire short stories or novels in some cases. But you still have to put the time effort in. Reading is still far more intensive a process. But the internet does make it easier than it was.

I think when I started this I thought I might have a point; somewhere my thoughts were headed but I've realised the further I have gotten into this the less important that is. The truth is there are no labels; not that actually matter. Well maybe except one. Things now are either categorised into

 - I like this
 - I don't like this

And from my point of view, just as it should be from yours, that's all that matters. So if you want to listen to One Direction please do. I might not be joining you though. But I will have my guilty little secret pleasures. It might just be time to put on Madonna's True Blue album - look, I just like it, OK?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Desk music

I am a man of habit; in the short term at least. I tend to do and redo things. Some of them last a long time - I'm still a fan of the Who four decades after first listening to their music and of Asimov's fiction the same length of time after first reading one of his short story collections (Through a Glass Clearly). But others are habits that come, stick around for a while and then disappear.

Well the one I am about to blog about is both. I keep a stack of CDs on my desk that are the core of my listening at any one time. They are not the only things I listen to - far from it. I will stand up and walk across to the shelves on the wall to my right and pick CDs off quite often as the mood strikes. But the ones on my desk are the ones that when I play them I don't want to put back - at least not for a while.

Well having just added one to the pile (and taken one off it which I will not name as its removal is my fault not its - I have heard it a few times recently so it can rest and re-acquaint itself with its friends on the shelves) I thought it might be time to talk about the current list.

The newly added CD (the one playing as I type) seemed a good place to start. It's arbitrary beyond that. I'll just list them from the top down. Oh - one rule; no artist can be in the pile twice

CD - 1.
Jethro Tull - Crest of a Knave.
This is probably not the first Jethro Tull album people might think of. It's not from their prime period (the 70s). But I like it. I'd not long discover the band when this came out so its timing for me was perfect. And also it came at the time when, because I was a student, I didn't have the kind of money I have now to buy music and there was no internet to casually listen when you had time. As a result the albums I bought back then had plenty of time to imprint themselves on my psyche. You'll probably notice another CD like this as I move down the pile.

CD - 2
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
I first bought Nick Drake on vinyl back in my school days (LPs which are unfortunately long gone). I like his simple style, at odds in many ways with some of his complex melodies and scanning - listen to Hazey Jane II. (Apologies to anyone who knows the right words for musical stuff. I'm a musical ignoramus so I make do with the words my brain supplies me with).
Nick Drake died too young. He was only 26. He only released three albums. This was the second and it's a beautifully lyrical album.

CD - 3
Lou Reed - New York
This has been on this pile longer than any of the others currently in it. A friend of mine at University (a Swiss guy called Markus) bought this in Leicester on one of the mornings we headed for all the records shops (Leicester had quite a number in those days). We got back, put this album on, listened to it and then I had to go back into Leicester to get my own copy.
This is quite simply one of my favourite albums of all time. I love everything about it.

CD - 4
Rush - Clockwork Angels
Some bands get pretty bad late on in their careers. Rush however are not one of them. This is their final studio album (unless some miracle happens) and it is quite simply brilliant. A band that could go on forever as far as I'm concerned.

CD - 5
Tanita Tikaram - Closer to the People
The CD this replaced was her previous album - Can't Go Back. For quite a while I did regret my rule of only one CD per artist. Then I thought seriously about it. I do only have to go about six feet to go fetch from the shelf to play it. No great hardships.
TT is an artist I have followed since her first records came out back in 1988. I've listened to her as I turned from being a teenager into a grown up into my current middle age. And at every step of the way she has released an album I have loved.
This one is no exception

CD - 6
Ultravox - The Colllection
Normally I don't add compilations to this pile. I like to hear an album as it's supposed to be - the songs together as they were when they were first released and in the order they were original put in.
Compilations, for all that they contain the singles or most popular songs, often seem a mismatch. These Best Ofs usually live their lives in my car when all I want is the hits This one however works wonderfully well as a record. And it has one of my favourite songs on it - Hymn.

CD - 7
Kate Bush - The Sensual World
I like female singer/songwriters (this is not the last that will feature here). And Kate Bush is one of the best of them. This album would probably not be the pick of many KB fans. They'd probably go for one of the earlier ones but this reminds me of the summer when I bought it. I'd finished University and was about to start my teaching career and full of hope for the future. I shared a wonderful summer staying on in the Uni digs with friends I'd made in student days and we spent one last summer ignoring the fact we were all about to go our separate ways.
In the middle of that I bought this. It beings back those memories.

CD - 8
Bruce Springsteen - the Rising
Again possibly not the first choice of other fans and I will agree with to a large degree. My favourite Springsteen album is probably Nebraska and that was on this pile for a long time but I just wanted a change and so it was replaced wit this one. I find the Rising a wonderfully balanced album. There are moments of sorrow and moments of loss and they come together superbly time and time again. It's a great heartfelt album. A true single piece of work - no grouping of unrelated tracks joined only by proximity timewise

CD - 9
Marillion - Season's End
See the previous comment about timing. This came out the same summer as the Kate Bush.
It might be the first after he left the band but in many ways this is a Fish album. The vocalist is different but the style is unmistakably 80s Marillion. and in my opinion up their with Misplaced Childhood.

CD - 10
Roy Harper - Stormcock
I bought this when I was about 12. I can remember every part of doing so. There was a second hand record dealer not too far from my parents house - just a short bus ride away. My mother was going to the same place (for a different shop just down from the record dealer) and I tagged along. I took some of the money I'd been saving up for summer holidays having decided I was going to buy a record and I chose this.
My mother thought I was mad. What 12 year old buys a record where there are just four tracks, each more than ten minutes where the music is little more than one man playing an acoustic guitar and not-quite-singing some pretty harsh lyrics. Well, I did. And in truth she should have known better than to think this a weird pick. by that time I already had King Crimson, Brian Eno and John Lee Hooker in my record collection so this wasn't all that far out there. Oh, and the other recor dI bought that day was Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-da-Vida. Maybe I wasn't a normal 12 year old

CD - 11
Suzanne Vega - First Album
I did say there was another female singer songwriter on my desk pile. SV always features in the pile. I love all of her albums and it's only a question of which one. Well it changed recently back to the first one. You just can't beat songs like Small Blue Thing

Anyway, that's the end of the pile and very near the end of this blog entry. I don't know if it's told you anything about my psyche. Other than what you might already know from reading my blog, my fiction (I do keep my fingers crossed some of you have read some) and my tweets. If I wake up tomorrow to someone banging on the door with restraints and sedatives then I'll know this had some effect.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Blogging Oblivion

I've realised, despite all my good intentions another month has gone by since I last blogged. It is very remiss of me. I'm not sure why but I seem to have just got out of the habit. I will work on it. I'm not going to make it a New Year's Resolution or anything like that. I don't make Resolutions. They are only made to be broken. But I am going to try to change my ways

Okay, so it has been 29 days since I last even logged into this website. An absolute age. But not logging in here and blogging doesn't mean I've been inactive. Since my last blog entry, on the occasion of completing my novel "How to Run a Business", I have written another Ben Williamson novella, clocking in at a fraction under 30K. It's called "Were It Was So" in case you are interested and features a number of devices I remember from the 1970s. It's another weird tale and was very enjoyable to write.

Of course the news on the Ben Williamsons isn't as rosy as I had hoped. I spoke to someone just before Christmas who was thinking of starting up a new weird fiction small press focussing on novellas - mainly eBooks but with POD as an option. Well, he's decided against. I can understand it. He spent the time over Christmas doing some research and realised how much time it would consume to run such an operation. The cost didn't seem a problem; the time did. So it's not going to happen. And as a result I haven't found a new market. Back to the old ones.

In other writing related matters I have revised the YA supernatural novel "The Stairs Lead Down" and started to submit it to UK agencies. It is currently out with 25 agencies. Two more have been sent. One returned as no such email and the agency seems to have ceased trading; another was an instant rejection albeit because the agent is no longer looking for YA or horror/fantasy so he didn't read it. Not a rejection as such but it's not going to turn into a possible deal.

I'm currently trying to work out which of the ideas floating around my brain should become the next novel or novella. I have a few possibles but none has taken over as yet. There are more Ben Williamson ideas. I guess there always will be. I enjoy writing about the guy and tormenting him in any number of weird ways. I'm just glad he's fictional so unlikely to come looking for revenge. And there are a couple of possible novels in my head. I just have to sort out a plot point or two then I'll be good to go.

In the meantime I'm going to look for a few more possible submissions. Wish me luck

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How to Run a Company (Novel Finished)

Well, at least the first draft is done.

In case you have no idea what I'm on about, I have been writing the first draft of my latest novel over the past few weeks and now it is finished. And the novel is called "How to Run a Company" to completely get rid of any lingering confusion. It ended up a few words over 85K, it's original planned length so I manage to stay on course. Of course that may change when I revise it. I could find it needs a whole bunch of changes that could add or subtract huge swathes of text.

The book is a bit of a satire on modern business; albeit I hope in something of a gentle way. I don't want to portray being massively against capitalism or globalisation. My personal view is that these are inevitable but they do need a little policing. Let capitalism run riot with no restrictions and it will destroy itself and take us all with it. But restrict it too much and no progress will ever happen. You want life to improve then it will take capitalism.

For all the perfect world dreams of once you remove greed then people will work for the benefit of others and to improve conditions for our whole species, it would never happen. Change will happen but it will happen because someone will benefit, and not just in the way the advance helps all. Inventors might well exist who can create the next generation of devices that will make your life and mine easier but we will only see those devices if capitalism does its job. If you could manage to get your idea into mass production without it we would think of Antonio Meucci when asked who invented the telephone not Alexander Graham Bell.

Anyway, I digress; back to the point. Whatever your feelings of big business (or even smaller businesses), most people I think would agree there is plenty of room for some ribaldry when it comes to them. Just think of Ricky Gervais' sitcom the Office and you'll see the kind of scope for it. Well, my book is another such mocking of business; albeit of a much, much company that that of the Office.

And as of about twenty minutes ago it is also finished; or draft one is. It needs a fair bit of polishing and that will happen in the future. But right now I'm done with it. That's novel number eight written. So now I need to figure out what the next project will be.