Monday, 24 December 2007

Greetings of the Season... all my readers. Thank you for support. Have a good time. Let's hope everyone but the warmongers and peddlers of hate get what they wish for in 2008.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Another award!

Many thanks to Cathy for nominating me for a Roar Award (see my sidebar). I am really chuffed, especially as I haven't been posting that much and usually only get moved to write something when I can no longer keep the grumpiness in. For more details about the award, visit The Shameless Lions Writing Circle.

In the spirit of keeping the roar rolling, I nominate:

Jude for WikidWords

Both Sides of the Story

Lightly Done

Random Blethers

my sunny place

All deserving (as are so many others) of recognition for great blogs.


After reading the post about branding on Danuta Kean’s ever excellent blog, my knee jerked along the following lines.

When any business executive starts telling me that a certain course of action is desirable, my first reaction is to wonder what is in it for them. No business person is going to promote something unless their business stands to make a profit. Whether any of that profit will eventually trickle down to authors (remember that discredited economic theory?) is highly debatable. Authors are already at the bottom of the food chain in the publishing industry, with the exception of one or two big names. It’s usually tiny bits of detritus that drift this far down.

I then wondered about the effects of yet another layer of flummery. It is hard enough for writers to produce their work: the stuff that publishers print. Books. Stories. Scripts. Articles. Poems. On top of that, authors are expected (where they can) to promote their work. And most are happy to do this. There is precious little opportunity to get out of the house (and the weekly trip to supermarketland doesn’t count) and meet people who enjoy writing (whether as consumers or producers). It’s not all glamour. Long hours travelling to festivals to stay in bleak B&Bs away from the comforts of home; a signing session with just one person (your Mum) wanting a signed copy of the novel that took you three years to write; a launch perfectly timed for the one day none of your friends can get there; these can be frightening and dispiriting events. But most writers accept it is part of the deal and feel lucky if they get the opportunity.

But now, it seems, writers have to become a brand.

So, to prevent my knee doing unwarranted damage (to me or anyone else), I went and did a little research. And came up with a lot of questions for which I have yet to find satisfying answers.

In material terms, something is considered a brand when the name or design of (or a symbol or term associated with) an item distinguishes it from competing products. In less concrete terms it relates to a consumer’s experience of a product. The latter, of course, is much harder to define and control (as it includes factors outwith the influence of the design and construction of the product), yet it can have a greater impact on the success of a brand than those inbuilt features which act to distinguish one item from another.

Creating a brand is not easy. It is not cheap. Even if it can be done for a small amount of money, it takes time to build up a brand identity. A brand is not the logo or the design; it is not the image of the author or the content of their work. These things contribute, but a brand is an impression that certain qualities or characteristics are special or unique to that product. In a sense it is creating a ‘personality’ or an ‘image’ that customers cannot help but associate with a product. As such a brand not only needs creating, but also needs maintaining.

Most products already have some kind of brand identity. In a number of cases this is what is known as attitude branding. A product or service is distinguished not so much by what it is as by an ethos it represents or with which it is associated. Some people buy not because one product is better than another in itself, but because it represents a social attitude or stance. Whatever the origin of the brand, however, it is a device intended to create a monopoly or some of the benefits of a monopoly.

Branding is often used by marketing departments of a single company to launch apparently competing brands. Whilst sales of an individual brand may suffer, having several strong brands may increase a company’s overall share of the market.

Personal branding is a fairly recent idea, dating from the late 1990s. It derives from management techniques that originally concentrated on self-improvement as a means of corporate advancement. The better you were at your job, the argument went, the better your chances of success. The concept of personal branding suggests that success derives from self-packaging rather than competence; image rather than content.

There are two parts to a brand. The first part is the one that can be devised or developed by the author and the publisher. In some degree, the natural style of an author’s work along with their preferred subject matter will be at the base of this. But for all the design and promotion, for all the author’s presence in publicity and online (with websites and blogs) the other part of branding is very much to do with the response of those buying the book. Attempts to manipulate this aspect have had mixed results – mostly inept, toe-curlingly embarrassing, and often counter-productive.

No matter how much effort an author or publisher puts into branding written work, there will be factors over which they have no control. Given the nature of publishing in which you are only as good as your last set of sales figures, it is going to be difficult to maintain a brand if events work against it. In an extreme example, a number of book, film, and television projects foundered in the wake of the destruction the World Trade Centre, whilst there was speculation about a number of others. Their content (stories about terrorism and the superheroic competence of western intelligence agencies) was deemed too sensitive or plain offensive. If those writers had gone further and tied their brand to the symbolism of the towers, they would have been in deep, career threatening trouble.

There is also a question of competition. A brand exists to distinguish an item from competing products. Presumably this means that authors and their work are to be considered as in competition with other authors and their work. Well, to a certain degree this happens. Publishers vie to get their latest bestseller prominent space in shops and spend out large sums of money on marketing in order to maximise sales (and profits). Some go to extraordinary lengths and it is arguable this has created a situation where retailers can now dictate to publishers. It is certainly true that cover designs are being altered to suit retailers. You have to wonder how long before content is… oh, silly me. This has already happened as well.

Although we are straying into a different argument here, it is important to remember that this is one of the factors that affects a brand. If big retailers don’t like it, you either have to change it, or you don’t get on the shelves. The integrity of a brand is, therefore, called into question. Is your brand simply a reflection of you as a writer and the work you produce, or is it carefully manipulated in order to maximise sales – and how does that affect what you write?

Given that branding is about creating a ‘personality’ or ‘image’ for the product, one would have thought that having a product that is so intimately connected with the person who created it, branding an author and their work would be simple. The opposite is true. With a tin of beans or box of soap powder, you start with a blank canvas over which you have absolute control. The same is not true of authors. These are human beings. Some are intrinsically interesting in a celebrity obsessed culture. The good-looking, fashionable, well-connected, or self-destructive types make it easy. But the vast majority of authors, unique as each one is, lead very ordinary lives. After all, most live on earnings that put them below the poverty line; they spend a great deal of their time typing; and most guard their privacy. I am not saying this cannot be branded, but I do wonder if all that time, effort, and money are not misplaced.

Brands also need maintaining. There is an element of addiction here. Once you get on the treadmill, you have to keep the brand in the public consciousness and that involves new ploys to keep it alive and developing whilst reflecting the reality of the books that a given author is producing. Who is going to do this? And what effect is it going to have on a writer’s work?

Who is going to do it? Well, most likely the author will be landed with the bulk of the work. Publishers are not going to spend vast amounts of money to brand all their authors and maintain those brands. In one sense, this is not a bad thing. Authors do not always stick with a publisher. If a publisher invests money in creating a brand, they are going to claim ownership of the brand. If the author goes elsewhere, chances are the brand will not go with them. Branding (think of its original meaning) is about ownership. It is about marking something so that ownership or status can be determined. I am not sure many authors would admit to a status that puts them on a par with cattle – even if they feel that is how they are already treated.

If branding does not travel, there is no point in it for the author. If it does travel, if the author has control, then it is unlikely to be done on a professional basis. Simply protecting brand image is expensive and time consuming. Only the wealthy, best selling authors will be able to afford that, and that will simply work to increase the divide between a small number of successful authors who already get big front-end deals and marketing, and the rest who see their position constantly eroded.

And what effect will this have on a writer’s work? If they control their own brand, not a lot in terms of content. Although if they are engaged in yet another set of activities to promote their work and keep their image alive, they will have less time to produce the basic raw material of their profession. And even in this situation there is always the danger that image will start to drive content, rather than as it should be – content driving image.

This danger is much more likely to occur if the author has been branded by a publisher. The publisher will expect a return on their investment and there will be pressure on the author to conform to the brand. Brands do develop, but that development does not and cannot be allowed to undermine the basic precepts of the brand, otherwise it is counter-productive if not downright destructive. In essence, the image dictates the content.

Such a situation is all well and good if the author doesn’t mind churning out formulaic pap and the buying public doesn’t get sick of reading the same novel over and again (and we know that has always happened). If you are coming to a well-established author who pretty much does this anyway, there are no problems. You are tying the ribbon on the already wrapped package. However, branding a young author in this way is akin to placing them in a mental straight jacket. If someone becomes very successful on the strength of, for example, a series of children’s fantasy novels, the brand that has evolved is a very strong factor in determining what they write and whether it will be accepted by the buying public – who can be notoriously fickle. They may stay faithful to the author, no matter what they write. They may have been faithful to those specific books.

In some cases, branding has a life of its own. It can cast a long and not always welcome shadow over a writer and their work. Deliberately creating a brand can have the same effect, especially if the brand reaches a critical mass. At that point it is entirely possible for the brand to take on a life of its own. The books are no longer centre stage. Sales may increase on the back of the TV series, films, mugs, calendars, mobiles, toys, lunch boxes, and all the rest, but it becomes possible for people to know the brand without ever having read the book. Great for that author’s bank balance. But you have to wonder how much of this actually helps the publishing industry produce better (if not necessarily more) books and sell them to a wider audience.

To a certain extent, books are already branded. They have been marketed by genre for some time now and whilst this may make it easier for large book shops to organise their shelving, it does nothing to foster a more open approach to reading. Some people have always stuck to their favoured genre, even before it became a marketing norm. They grew up favouring one comic over another, one pulp magazine over another, and graduated to similar books. Nothing wrong with that. But branding has already created ghettoes. ‘Literary’ books (regardless of their content) are often disregarded by those who stick a particular genre, despite the fact that many ‘literary’ works use genre conventions and subject matter. Equally, readers of ‘literary’ works rarely sample the delights of genre works, despite the fact that some of the best writers in the English language are genre writers. Whilst a brand can help identify certain qualities, it can also cause too strong an identity between product and consumer.

To extend branding to an author will further create the impression that they are suitable only for consumers who identify with that type of brand. And once a brand is created for a type of book, the room for manoeuvre within that brand for authors to distinguish themselves one from another becomes more and more difficult. The focus is increasingly on the brand rather than on the quality of the writing and implies that publishers and authors do not trust readers to make an informed judgement based on their own tastes by sampling the text.

Branding is also about working toward or creating a monopoly (or at least some of the benefits thereof). But people who buy books don’t stick to a single author. If they like an author, they will seek out others of that ilk. In this, branding may be a bonus, but it doesn’t always follow. It depends on how the branding is done. If it is too narrow you cannot tell whether there are other aspects of an author that might appeal. One of the joys of browsing is sampling and discovering writing you might not otherwise have discovered because the other is already branded by genre. If branding is too broad, the same problem applies.

Books are not tins of beans or boxes of soap powder to be got into the trolley as quickly as possible to avoid the scrum at the checkout. Yet that, increasingly, is how they are being sold. Piled high. Sold cheap. Shift stock. Screw the producer. And if authors are to develop brands, it puts them into direct competition with other authors who write similar work. Yes, there is always an element of keeping an eye on what writers of similar material are up to. But this cannot be allowed to drive what people choose to write otherwise they lose their voice, they write for a market that may not exist by the time they have finished their manuscript. It takes a few hours or days to produce a tin of beans and get it on the shelves and sold. It takes months or even years to write a book and then another year to get it through the editorial and printing process. Unless we are all to become clairvoyants as well, working to a brand identity and second guessing the market two years down the line is simply going to be a waste of time and soul destroying into the bargain.

Add to this the distinct possibility that a publisher is going to put brands under their aegis into direct competition (it is how the marketing of brands works); authors are going to be worse off. Publishers may benefit by increasing their share of the market, but their individual authors are going to see their share cut and find themselves pitted against each other. I cannot see that this will make for good business. Tins of beans cannot object. Authors can, and with extreme eloquence.

This does not mean I am happy with the status quo or believe in a golden age. There is a great deal wrong with the publishing industry and has been for a long time. It needs to sort itself out before it implodes. A lot of very good writers are walking away from or no longer considering the big publishing houses. Bigger advances, ghosted celebrity titles, and branding are not any part of the answer and it is disingenuous for publishers to claim these are the only ways to pull in money to support mid-list authors. Mid-list authors are increasingly aware that their books have to be self supporting; that poor sales mean a contract for a new work is unlikely.

Perhaps it was the era in which I grew up, but I still balk at the idea of style over substance, of image over content. Personal branding is exactly that. You may have excellent content, but it is always going to take a back seat to the way in which it is packaged. I know the world is not as I would like it, but I do not believe that is any reason to roll over and accept things the way they are or act in a way that seems to me to be a step in the wrong direction. Packaging, after all, is seen as one of the problems of an increasingly ecological age. There should be less, not more. The product should speak for itself (and if it cannot, it is probably not very good writing). And the same goes for the type of packaging that is branding. It is wasteful of an author’s and publisher’s resources, degrades the ecology of publishing, and will leave a poisonous legacy for future generations.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Bad blogger!

I believe that a successful blog should be regular and frequent. Sounds too much like an 'All Bran' approach to me, but there you go. Real life has kept me away from posting here, not least putting the final touches to an anthology of writings that I have been editing (and to which I contributed – hey, it’s a perk of the job).

This superb collection of writings [coughs modestly] is called First Class: Early Works of the Nearly Famous – Orchid Station. It gathers together work produced by some of the students who took the Open University’s Creative Writing course in 2006. To those who weren’t included, I can only say it was down to space and not talent. The book is now available on Amazon.

I have also been working on my novel. This is a work in not much progress at the moment, although (fingers crossed, touch wood, etc etc) more time should now be available to sit with Charlie and find out what happened to her after the cold, early months of 1942.

The more observant amongst you may also have noticed that the list of books I have read since starting the blog has disappeared. In fact, it has moved to a blog of its own called grumbooks. Not only was it making the page impossibly long, but I thought it might be illuminating (for me if no one else) to make some notes on each book as I finished it. Not necessarily reviews, but comments, observations, and musings prompted by the comment.

That will leave this blog free for… well… other stuff.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Back in harness

After a break from work on Charlie Cornelius, I am pleased and relieved to announce the completion of chapter 23.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Nothing special

It's just that I noticed my hit counter reached the year of my birth. Which made me feel a touch ancient. Hmm. Can you tell I'm not concentrating on my novel. If I'm not careful the hit squad will be round. Back to work.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Home thoughts from a board

No. It’s not a typo. Board as in the boards you tread.

Anne’s comment on my last post started me thinking (and about time, too). Back in the dim distant country called the early ‘70s, I trained in drama and theatre. I taught drama for a good number of years after that, did a small amount of professional acting, and a good deal more amateur work.

Although I am now a long way from the nearest theatre, I still enjoy reading plays, and I still enjoy reading works of theory. One of those returned to recently was Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. I had not opened this book for many years and was immediately struck by its relevance to what I do now – writing.

It is worth getting hold of a copy, along with other works like this on the theatre. And the reason is simple. Theatres and novels tell stories. Their methods may differ, but not in any substantial way. Reality, experience, understanding, and interpretation are structured to make a presentation of ideas and emotions to an audience.

Whilst the essence may be the same, the difference in method is instructive, and there is a great deal that writers could learn from stepping out onto the boards; even if only through the medium of the written word.

I was particularly struck by this when I thought back to something I posted earlier about having a visual approach to my writing. I play out scenes in my head. Now I think about it, I am doing for writing exactly what I used to do when directing. This carry-over of method results in a number of things that some writers may be missing out on.

How many writers, when planning a scene, do it in four dimensions? How many consider the physical space, the lighting, the environment (and how their characters fit in with and react to that), positioning of characters and their movement, costumes, props, sightlines, and timing. How many consider the scene (as in the physical space in which their characters move) to be as important as their characters? How many use methods of character building and portrayal with which an actor would be familiar?

I suspect many do, even if they do not think of it in those terms. But how many realise there is a huge amount of discussion from the theatre world that would provide a new and rich perspective to the way in which they create their work? Start with the Peter Brook that I mentioned. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does give access to new horizons. Or maybe ask if you can sit in on rehearsals at you local amateur or professional theatre. See how they approach making their story come alive. It might add extra sparkle to your own techniques.

Monday, 22 October 2007


Confidence, or lack thereof, is something that plagues many writers. I took a minor part in an interesting conversation about this recently. This has been edited and posted on bookarazzi. It is well worth a read, as is the rest of the site.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Woman wins some prize or other.

I know that Doris Lessing was herself less than effusive about winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but that is in her nature. It is a well-deserved award for a wonderful and thought-provoking writer.

When I heard the news on the BBC (who gave her about as much time as they accorded the death of John Fowles), I decided to scan the stories on various online news services. All around the world there were stories, some in places where the majority of the population must have been fast asleep. Left wing journals, feminist journals, even right-wing newspapers for men (with a fine, neutral assessment).

All around the world except the country in which she lives: the dear old UK where they really don't give a toss about writing unless it is the ghost written memoirs or badly written novel of some dim-witted celeb who last saw a book when a judge threw it at them for chronic abuse of drugs/domestic servants.

I expect some of the worthier newspapers managed to get some pieces somewhere in print, eventually, but online their appreciation of such an author receiving such an accolade has been pathetic in the extreme.

Friday, 5 October 2007


First of all, thanks to Viki at pernicketyhat for the blog award. It's terrific.

Thanks also to everyone who has sent such wonderful messages of support on my previous post. It has meant a great deal to me.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Slowing down

I have not gone away (so sorry to disappoint). In case you wondered.

This has not been a hectic daily log of my thoughts and prejudices. It may get even slower.

Those of you curious enough to have read my personal details will know that I have ME and FM. For the uninitiated, ME is a highly debilitating condition in which you feel like you have staggered out of bed with the flu (and I mean influenza, not a 48 hour sniffle) and then run a marathon. You feel like that all the time. Those are your good days.

FM (fibromyalgia) is an equally debilitating condition in which the muscles hurt - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In my case, for the last 14 years. There is no let up. Pain killers strong enough to dull the pain also close down your cognitive abilities. And when they are already affected by ME...

I am not posting this for sympathy (oh well, go on, a little hug doesn't hurt - well it does, but it helps); merely to point out that there is a reason for the erratic nature and snail's pace of these ramblings.

There will be more - watch this space (unless you have something interesting to do like watch some paint dry).

Sunday, 16 September 2007


This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t bang on for a bit about back-ups. Anyone who knows me already can skip this bit. You'll have read it before. Ad infinitum.

This a hobby horse of mine for a number of reasons. It began in the early ‘70s when I spent a good deal of one year writing my first novel. It was drafted longhand and went everywhere with me so I could work on it. When it was nearly finished it slipped out of my bag on a train and was never seen again. No loss to the literary world, it was still heartbreaking.

I have since gone through a number of traumatic changes of computer, most notably from an Amstrad PCW using 3 inch diskettes to one fitted with a 3½ inch drive; and from that second PCW (using LocoScript software) to a Windows PC. Each time, I was in the heart stopping situation of having all my work on disks with no guarantee that the conversion to a new format would work.

Whether your writings are personal jottings or course work, whether they are letters to the Council or your latest novel, they represent the result of hours (possibly years) of hard work. It would be a shame (not to mention a matter of enormous heartbreak) if you lose that work because your computer crashes, is infected (ant-virus software is an absolute must), is stolen, or floats away on flood water. By the simple expedient of making back-ups of all your work, you can help avoid the possibility of losing years of research, all those essays, all those lovingly crafted poems, short stories, those tens of thousands of words you had produced toward your novel.

Back-ups come in various forms and are achieved via different routes. I hope this guide will help you sort out the most appropriate. It will help, however, if you treat yourself to a good quality manual for your computer’s operating software as well as the word processing software you use. The ‘Complete Idiot’ and the ‘...for Dummies’ series of books are usually very good, but there are others as well.

There are a number of important basic things to keep in mind. The first is that you have to get into the habit of saving your work on a regular basis. Hit the save button every time you pause for thought or go to make a cup of coffee. Computers have auto-save set-ups (open Word, then Tools menu, Options, Save and select auto-save interval), but these don’t necessarily leave you with the material you thought you had. If you hit the save button, you save what is on screen.

The second important thing is that you get into the habit of making back-ups on a regular basis. I do mine daily as part of the closing down process when I have finished working. You can set your machine to do it for you (see below) or you can do it yourself. Either way, regular and often is the important thing.

The next important thing is that if you go away (even to do the shopping); don’t leave your back-ups on your desk next to your computer. If your machine spontaneously combusts, is dropped into Burglar Bill’s Swag Bag, or is otherwise rendered to a non-working pile of garbage, your back-ups stand a very good chance of going the same way. Put them somewhere safe. If you are paranoid (like me) you will have two sets of back-ups; one to keep with you and one to deposit with a trustworthy friend (after, of course, you have set passwords so they can’t steal your bestselling novel or sure-fire blockbusting screenplay).

Fourthly, don’t save your material in an exotic format. Stick to the major forms. Rich Text Format (RTF) is universal. Word documents are nearly universal and are easily converted. If you use obscure word processing software, remember to check when you save a document that it is RTF.

Types of back-up
Hard copy
This does not refer to gritty thrillers. All it means is that you print up your work and put it in a folder. I’m sure you can spot the flaw in this plan straight away, especially if you are on the twentieth draft of your 120,000 word novel. However, you can always keep a hard copy of the final drafts of your work, neatly bound in spring back folders. This means you can refer to work without having to switch on your computer. It also means you get to see your work in print, albeit A4 and one copy only.

Floppy disk
Floppy disks (or 3½ inch diskettes as they are sometimes known) may seem a bit passé to some these days (some computers no longer have floppy drives), but they are an excellent and easy means of keeping copies of your work, especially if you only have a small amount of work or want to transport a small amount from one location to another. They are also easy to use as you can copy work easily from your computer to the disk, using the Copy To facility of your software. A floppy disk will easily hold the full manuscript of a novel (if only publishers would realize this).

Zip Drives
Sometimes known as super-floppies, Zip disks and their drives are no longer as popular as they once were. This is partly because CD and DVD offer greater capacity and more universal application; but also because of a hardware failure that led to legal action against Iomega, the principle manufacturer of the system. When they work, they work well and can read and write at great speed. When they fail, they do so spectacularly, damaging the disks (which then go on to damage the read/write heads in other drives). They are waning in popularity these days. Unless you have a Zip drive already (in which case you know how to use it), look for something else.

Digital Audio Tape systems are also slowly disappearing as they have been superseded by more convenient and capacious media for data storage. As with Zip, unless you have DAT already look for something else.

USB Stick/Pen/Flash Drive
These nifty little gadgets slot directly into a USB port on your computer (that’s one of those little oblong slots). They are as easy to use as a floppy disk, can hold huge amounts of information (up to 2000 times as much as a floppy) and are easy to carry. Please note, if you use one away from your home computer, don’t forget it! I have a friend who works in a University library and they have literally hundreds of these things in a box in the office that students have left behind.

Memory Card
Your digital camera probably has one of these. They can also store data. Some computers and printers have a card slot built in. If not, you can buy card readers that plug into a USB port. Like pen drives, they are easy to carry; like pen drives they are easy to lose and leave behind.

You can copy your work to CDs and DVDs as well. Best to choose rewriteable ones as these can be... well... rewritten over and over. Using them is a little more complex than a floppy or a Pen Drive, but once you get the hang of things, they can contain vast amounts of information as well as collections of pictures, movie, and music. The software required to burn to these disks will be discussed below.

External drive
An external drive is just that. It is the same as your computer’s hard drive, but in a little box that sits on your desk and sometimes winks at you (at least, mine does, the cheeky thing). It can be plugged into your computer via a USB port and can have the same capacity as your computer’s internal hard drive. This means that you can save everything (even your personalised software settings, your e-mail address book, your templates, and so on), all at the click of a button. They come in different shapes and sizes, some being more portable than others. They are the most expensive option, but if you have a lot of material and use your computer a great deal, they are well worth investing in.

CD/DVD burning software
There are a number of packages on the market. If you bought a computer recently, you probably have a basic package pre-installed. They are usually very simple to use and in between compiling discs of your favourite hits, you can copy data (your files) to them. Play with the software and learn how to use it. Some of this software has a facility known as ‘drag-to-disc’ (or variations thereof) whereby you can copy files to CD or DVD in the same way you do to floppy.

External Drive software
You don’t actually need this as you can do it manually, but if you have large numbers of files, it is much better to set up a synchronization software. If you buy an external drive it will come with software – some easier to use than others. I use Allway Sync which is free for light use (and a modest one off charge for heavy use). Details can be found at:

Online Back-up Services
If you have an ‘always on’ broadband connection, you can use one of a number of services that allow you to keep an updated copy of all your work at a remote back-up site. The advantages are that your work is entirely safe from floods, fires, accident and so on. You can also download your files to any computer at any time. The disadvantage is that there's a monthly charge. It isn’t much, but if you are on a budget, it is worth remembering. A number of the larger Internet Service Providers now offer this service along with protection against viruses, spyware, and so on.

As an afterword, it is worth keeping all your software in one place as well. These days it is usually on CD. Buy a zip up CD case (with enough pockets to store what will be an ever growing collection of disks) and keep everything in there (including a list of serial numbers, contact addresses, and other important information). Should your computer crash, should you need to buy a new one, or should you need to get out of the house quickly, your software and your back-ups can go straight in the bag with other essentials and save you much heartache later on.

If you have downloaded software and have no copy on disk, make sure you back it up. Most software licences allow for a back-up disk to be made, and if you are using an external hard drive, you have plenty of room there to make a copy as well.

As another afterword, you will notice the variant spelling of disc/disk. It really depends on which manual you read and I’ve given up trying to be consistent.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Working methods

I am always interested in how writers go about their work. This is not just the everyday nosiness of wondering what their workspace looks like (although it is partly that), but a curiosity about the mental processes involved, how they organize their material, and whether they have specific quirks.

Take me, for example. I cannot sit with my back to the door. I don’t like to do that in any situation, but when it comes to writing it is a big no-no. The same goes for writing in company. I can happily scribble notes and ideas wherever they occur to me, but when it comes to writing proper, I have to be alone. The thought of sitting at the kitchen table whilst the family conducts its merry business about me as I work is the stuff of nightmares.

This is partly because I like to be organized. I have to have everything to hand. My notes are put into ring binders; my reference books have to be in the right order so I can pick them up with having to look; my coffee mug needs to be where the cat won’t shed hairs into it when she wanders across the desk.

But this is just surface stuff. Down in the recesses of the mind where no one else would be wise to venture, I also have to work in a certain way. I didn’t become conscious of this until recently, when I was researching ‘Charlie Cornelius’, but I am extremely visual. That is, I have to be able to see a scene in my head before I can write it down.

The realisation came because ‘Charlie Cornelius’ is the first book I have written with full and fast access to the Internet. I have been able to track thousands of photographs of the period, some of them very specific. As I was doing this, I found I was putting them into folders in story order. I was creating a storyboard, much as they do in the pre-production stage of film making.

I got quite excited about this (sad, isn’t it) and thought back to all the other fiction I had written over the years. My notes were littered with sketches, photos, and references to places I knew well. I remember visiting the locations in Wealden Hill and its sequel, Hob, taking photographs, pacing out and timing distances, making notes. And with the sections in Wealden Hill that take place in faery, vivid dreams came to my aid.

I would, as I did with my other novels, play each scene in my head until I had the background detail, the character’s movements, their speech, their clothes… rehearsing it over and again until I could write a description of the scene as economically as possible.

In some cases, of course, I had to use my imagination. I have never been inside Thames House or handled the trigger mechanism of a nuclear device, let alone watched a zero point energy powered spacecraft emerge from the waters of Loch Ness, but research can make imagining those things so much easier.

Up to now, however, I have not based my characters on real people. That is, I have not used pictures of actual people to generate descriptions. In this respect, Charlie is new step. All the characters have been of my own making, except for Charlie herself. I know precisely what she looks like as an adult as I saw a face and knew that she was Charlie. From that I have been able to construct in my mind a picture of Charlie as a child and how she looks as she grows up. Whether anyone else will recognise the actress on whom her features are based is another matter, but it has, for me, added another dimension to a character who is very much a living being.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Current project

It is entirely possible that you may have noticed a fluctuation in the word count of my current project.

It went up a bit because I took time out to have a quick read of what I’d produced to date. Correcting typos and rewording a few stand-out awkward or ambiguous phrases added a few hundred words.

It went down (by several thousand) as I took the decision to remove the first chapter and put it aside for use elsewhere. Of which, more later.

As a ‘work in progress’, Charlie Cornelius is extremely flexible. This is because I am still unravelling the story, making sense of the content, and thinking about appropriate ways to present the story. What was originally intended as a single, intense, and very dense novel has now evolved into a quartet of novels.

This is not because I have let the story get away from me or because I have started stuffing it with rambling irrelevancies. Rather, it is because I realized two things. The first is that I was looking at the initial idea from the wrong perspective. The second is that I cannot throw my readers (there’s optimism for you) in at the deep end.

The perspective problem came about because I conceived the novel in a relatively short space of time and I was writing before I had any definite idea of the scope. Rather I knew the scope, I knew the story, I knew the style, but I had not unpacked that and thought about it too deeply before I began writing. I just wanted to get on with it.

It came as a bit of a surprise when the first section which was intended to be no more than 20,000 words hit the 40,000 mark without covering half of what I wanted to be in there. That prompted the need to sit back and unpack my ideas a bit more; think a bit more about the structure.

The original concept, viewed from different perspectives, showed a greater wealth of material than I had thought possible. And whilst it was exciting in one respect to think I had a four novel cycle beginning to flower, it was daunting to think the original 80,000 words would probably only account for the first novel. A little ‘girding of the loins’ became the order of the day.

As I have already mentioned, Charlie 1 will cover the period of the Second World War; Charlie 2 the late ‘50s and early ‘60s; Charlie 3 the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; and Charlie 4 an unspecified period but ranging across the whole of the twentieth century. It is this unpacking that occasioned the rethink of style.

Charlie Cornelius has elements of a picaresque. Whilst Charlie is not a rogue or 'low-life', she is often pushed to break the law in order to survive and later finds herself increasingly in conflict with the status quo. Its episodic nature allows for a more flexible approach to narrative and to the whole process of storytelling. I wanted to do something a little unconventional with the structure, but I also wanted the work to appeal to readers who might not normally pick up a work that is ‘experimental’.

By extending the length of Charlie Cornelius I found I would be able to take my readers on a journey. Starting with fairly conventional narrative techniques, I would have the room to invite readers into more unconventional structures. This is one reason why the original Prelude has now been moved to a more fitting place as a Coda to Charlie 4.

How much of this makes sense without you being able to see the text is debatable. I post the first draft of each chapter on a closed forum where it is read by a number of folk, some of whom are kind enough to give me feedback. That there are more readers now than when I first started posting means one of two things. I am either getting it right and producing something of interest; or people just enjoy a good disaster.

Friday, 24 August 2007

The I’m-a-writer-and-no-one-understands-me blues

I expect three and a half million bloggers have got here before me on this one, but a YouGov poll of 2,461 people in the UK has found that nearly 10% of my fellow Britons aspire to being an author.

There has been a great deal of speculation about this, but I suspect there are a number of factors at play here; not least of which is ignorance. Most people seem to think that (a) writing is easy and (b) that it pays well. Sorry to disabuse you, fellow Britons, but it is neither.

Let us deal with the issue of remuneration first. The figures for author’s earnings in the UK that I have are not as up to date as the YouGov poll, but I suspect things have changed very little in the last few years. A poll of members of the Society of Authors suggests that about 5% of authors earn over £75,000 a year. That was the good news. 75% of authors earn less than £20,000 a year; 60% earn less than £10,000; 46% (nearly half) earn less than £5,000 a year from their writing (and for some that is their only income).

Put another way, three quarters of the authors who took part in the survey earn less than the national average wage; two thirds earn less than half the national average wage; and half earn less than an employee on the national minimum wage. That is how much we value authors in the UK.

Those statistics will hide certain facts. After all, if your only book in print is a small local history, you are not going to expect to make a living from it. But then, nor are you likely to bother joining the Society of Authors. For the most part the figures are an accurate picture of how authors are rewarded for their hard work (and we’ll get to that in a minute). It is no wonder they are to be found slogging up and down the country doing what they can to promote their works and pick up extra cash for giving talks. If you live anywhere near the site of a literary festival, there are times you are tripping over the pesky blighters and wondering why they don’t all go back to their luxury homes in Gloucestershire and pen another best seller. Except, of course, they are just as likely to be living in a council flat behind a steel reinforced door wasting days filling in their tax credit form.

The problem is, the media (I know it’s a generalisation, but you know what I mean) are not interested in the everyday lives of yer average author – coping with the kids in the holidays, getting the dog to the vet, finding money to pay the bills by working unearthly hours in a burger bar (where the pay is way better than their last royalty cheque), worrying about whether the car will pass its MOT. They like the glam, rags-to-riches, self-mythologizing darlings (who are usually the ones to pick up all the extra cash from appearances); the ones who pick up huge advances for poorly written work; the ones who look good on television.

Writing, for the majority, does not pay well. And we are singularly (if somewhat relatively) disadvantaged by living in the UK. Here, writers do a good deal worse on average than their European counterparts, despite writing in a language with a potential audience of something like 2 billion. So, all those people who aspire to be authors in the belief it is a money-spinner, be warned. The chances are against you making your fortune, even if you are a highly accomplished writer.

Which brings us to the other common belief about writing: that it is easy.

We all know of tales of writers who could dash off a book in a few days; some of them are well written as such people have a natural fluency and an energy that is to be envied. But the likes of Edgar Wallace, Georges Simenon, or Mike Moorcock in his early days are a rarity. Nor is their ability some sort of fluke. They went through exacting apprenticeships that honed their skills; and producing works at that speed takes its toll.

Most writers take a little longer to get their work on to paper. A dense literary novel of 90,000 words, even if you are able to work day after day without real life intruding, can take a year or more – especially if it is well written and subjected to a number of drafts and editorial work. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t have off days; who doesn’t sit staring at their computer wondering what the hell they think they are doing; who doesn’t overdose on caffeine; who doesn’t become addicted to any one (or more) of the three billion online games you can play; who doesn’t want to take a can of petrol and a match to all their work and a lump hammer to their computer before going back out into the world and making their way in a simple, safe job that pays on a regular basis.

And that is only part of it. You can spend a year (or more) of your life, sweating blood over your book and alienating your family and friends in the process without the slightest guarantee it will ever get published. Very few writers can scribble an idea on the back of an envelope and expect a big advance. Very few authors are even guaranteed that a publisher will want to look at their latest work. So once you have finished the book, you have to go through the highly stressful process of submission. I won’t even go there today, save to say it is not a genteel world involving civilized people making rational decisions based on literary merit.

Plus you have to cope with non-writers.

I have been incredibly lucky. My mother was very supportive in my early days of writing and it was from her I got my love of books. She was rewarded by seeing me get into print. My wife is equally supportive and I could not get through it without her. The rest of my family have always made encouraging noises and have never once (at least not to my knowledge) shown any sign that they think writing is a daft thing to do. I’m the only one that thinks that. My only regret is that my father never saw any of my work. It would have perplexed him, I suspect (the only book he ever read was an engineering handbook), but he would have been supportive.

Why non-writers think that writing isn't a proper job I will never know. Who on earth do they think wrote all those scripts for every television show and advert they ever watched, every movie they went to, every radio show they listened to, every play they saw, every paper and magazine, every paperback they picked up and filled a couple of hours with, every cereal packet they read?

These were produced by writers struggling to earn a living, using their native language to convey every conceivable emotion and bit of information, to make people laugh and cry, to inform them, puzzle them, and sometimes even to make them think. All those great works of philosophy weren't just written by philosophers, they were written by people who were writers as well. All those schoolbooks – writers. All that popular science, all those cookery books, DIY manuals, gardening books… Writers.

Writing is a proper job and a lot more useful than some that could be mentioned. It is a job often undertaken at the author's risk and involving a great deal of will power, mental and physical stamina, not to mention intelligence. If you have a writer in the family, you should be bloody proud of them for having the wit and the courage to want to do something so useful, knowing that they will probably never receive the rewards they justly deserve.

And if you know of someone who wants to be a writer; support them, but don’t let them go into it without knowing the facts. Perhaps if those people who had been polled were aware of all the facts, there would be considerably less than 10% of the population with writing as their dream job.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Another award

It will all be going to my head, I'll be demanding two biscuits with my tea. I've been given another award by Sue, for which, many thanks. I will now go and have a think about passing it forward.

So, what is good writing?

I suppose I set myself up for this. If you moan about bad writing, you really do have to defend the position, no matter how controversial. It is not that long since I was jumped on and called an arrogant monster for daring to criticise the quality of writing in a popular series of books. But I have never been one to avoid argument if I believe there is a valid point to be made.

Let me start by coming at the subject from a tangent. I finished my last post by asking, “New authors? Who needs ‘em.” In this different context, the answer is, “We all do.” (Especially those who are trying to get into print or establish some sort of name for themselves).

The problem is, getting into print is not easy. Given that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of new books are printed every year, it might seem that getting published was never easier. However, for every book getting into print, thousands are being rejected.

All that rejecting is first done by agents and editors. They are still (and self-publishing will have to be left for another time) the gateway into the land of publishing. They do not choose manuscripts according to some rational pre-set checklist; they do not consider themselves the guardians of ‘literature’; and they are in it for the money (they have to put food on the table like the rest of us).

This means that manuscripts are chosen for reasons in addition to or other than their literary merit. An agent or an editor has to like the manuscript. It has to grip them. If they like it, they will bend over backwards to see it in print. This is as it should be. No author wants to deal with people who have no enthusiasm for their manuscript. Sadly, it does mean that it is impossible to predict what any given agent or editor will find attractive on any given day.

One thing, however, is essential. Good writing.

Content, style, genre, layout, all these things are subjective. But good writing? I would contend that this is not. I do not, for example, read hospital romances. They are not my cup of tea. However, I am sure I could tell the difference between one that is well written and one that is badly written.

We do not expect that such books (or indeed most books) will be considered great literature in two hundred years from now. We do expect that they reach a certain standard of literacy, that they are clear, well constructed, and allow the story being told to take centre stage. So, to ask the question again, what is good writing?

The English language is gloriously flexible and has a stock of words that no writer can exhaust. Even when the basic rules of grammar are ‘broken’ (it is descriptive not prescriptive), it can be done so that it still makes perfect sense. It is a remarkable tool and every writer should glory in and have respect for the resource that is at their fingertips. There are so many who do not.

Clarity is important. This does not mean simple sentences. It means sentences and paragraphs you can get to the end of without needing to go back to the beginning to find out what they are about. It does not mean a simple plot. It does mean being able to follow the complexities without having to make notes or without falling through the holes. It does not mean lack of subtlety. It does mean that complex ideas, characterisation, and plot twists are within reach of the reader.

The other point about clarity is that when you read a book, it is annoying when the language gets in the way of the story; a bit like music on film or TV that drowns out the dialogue or commentary. I enjoy clever use of language, I can even appreciate a well-written phrase or sentence as I read it, but if that is all you are getting, or if that cleverness is always to the forefront, it begins to pall.

Some books can be badly written by being over-written. The author is showing off. Look how good my command of the language is; look how much research I have done; look at my cultural references; look at my stylistic devices. I am not saying a book shouldn’t have these, but I would contend that if they get in the way of telling a story, they are badly used.

Style, plot devices, syntax and all the other tools used to create a piece of written work are just that: tools. If I buy a hand made cabinet, I don’t want to see tool marks, joints, or where a couple of duff bits of plank were nailed on to the back to hold it all together. I don’t expect that from a simple, workaday kitchen unit any more than I would from an armoire with marquetry panels. If I buy a book, I don’t want to see the author at work unless I want to at a time of my choosing.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

On reading

Much of my reading of late, as evinced by the list at the side, is actually re-reading. I hadn’t realized until I made that list and thought back to stuff I had read before those. And then I started thinking about why.

To begin with, it is money, or lack thereof. Not just me (although I think I have always lived well on the ‘wrong’ side of the official poverty line; even when I had ‘proper’ jobs). I always find cash for books. But I do not buy anything until I have read it and know that I want to read it again. I cannot afford the luxury of buying books on the off-chance. That has always meant trips to the library armed with sheaves of request slips; knowing that I was getting a good read and introducing off beat titles that others might chance upon.

This year, however, one of the local authorities whose libraries I use has introduced swingeing cuts to their library budget (30% was the figure I was given). They are planning equally vicious cuts next year. This has resulted in rapidly emptying shelves where old stock is not replaced and a huge reduction in choice. It has also meant that members of the public can no longer request titles not already held in stock.

They are buying new books, but from a recent trawl through their idiotic online catalogue (that is another bone of contention – why do they list books on their catalogue that they do not hold in stock?), these are not books that interest me. I do realize, of course, the library system is not there solely for my benefit, but I can now no longer read new books in the hope of discovering a new author.

And the other local authority (the one in whose boundaries I actually live) is equally unhelpful. The main library is over thirty miles away, but we do have a tiny branch in the village. It is about the size of our living room. The problem is, it is not linked to the main system. I cannot, therefore, browse their online catalogue and order a book. I have to go to my branch, give the details to the librarian who then puts in a request on a slip of paper, and wait. I also have to pay up front. I don’t mind that from a cost point of view, but it is a real hassle if they don’t send the book as you cannot get refunds. You have to order another book. And their stock is not up to much.

Another reason I am re-reading is that after a long period of trying to discover new authors whose work I enjoy, I have given up. Now, I am happy to believe this is just me. I’m getting on a bit; probably fossilising. Nothing is as good as it was in my young day. Oh no. On the other hand, I do sometimes wonder what has happened to writing recently.

I suppose I could have a go at agents and publishers. They, after all, are the portal through which works must pass before making it into print on a commercial scale (that is, scale enough for the writer to earn something more than it costs to keep their printer filled with ink). And I know there are writers out there producing stuff that is far superior to a great deal of the crap that actually gets put on the shelves of book shops.

When I say crap, I am not making a judgement based on subject matter. Tastes are infinitely varied. When I say crap, I mean two things. The first is yet another book without merit or originality that is riding the tail end of a bandwagon from which agents and publishers hope to squeeze a bit more dosh. The second, and much worse type of crap, are all those books that are badly written.

“Is that not just as subjective as taste in content or style?” I hear you ask. To which I would reply with an emphatic and resounding, “NO!”

There are certain types of book and certain styles of writing I do not enjoy. The things I love, I know, are not liked by others. But there is, I would contend, a difference between personal taste and knowing whether or not something is badly written. This is mostly to do with syntax, but it is also about plotting and character development – all those things you will find in creative writing courses and in the countless books produced by editors, agents, and writers on how to write books that will get published. All the rules and pointers that are regularly and depressingly ignored in many of the books that make it into print.

I spent several hours in a bookshop yesterday, taking book after book from the shelves in the ‘New Titles’ section. And book after book went back onto the shelves because I could not find one that did not have some basic, syntactical error; or that did not read like something an earnest fifteen year old had written with a thesaurus to hand and a burning desire to impress.
Perhaps I am too sensitive about these things, but it seems to me that if I am paying out seven or eight quid for a book, I have a right to expect a certain level of basic literacy, something that is reasonably well constructed, with an absence of too many typos.

So I go back to books I know are well written; to authors I know who care about the language and have learned to craft it both appropriately to their story and with respect for a medium that can do so much to please and enlighten others.

I am not sure there is any point to this little grumble other than to explain to myself (and anyone else who cares to listen) why I am re-reading so much old stuff at the moment. Besides, revisiting old friends, sometimes after years of absence is great fun. I have started on a chronological read of Dickens and have promised myself the same with Virginia Woolf. I have been rediscovering the joys of Albert Campion and Sherlock Holmes; exercising my flabby intellect with the work of Langdon Jones and Barrington J Bayley; and experiencing yet again the awe I have always felt with what Samuel Beckett does with language. I have been smiling quietly at the antics of William; rediscovering some of my metaphysical roots in the books of Mike Moorcock; and immersing myself in the tricky mists of Celtic myth.

New authors? Who needs ‘em.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


My thanks to Viki of pernickety hat who has nominated me for a Creative Blogger Award. You can see it over on the left. I am immensely proud of this. It is the first award I have ever won for my writing. And having won it, I am allowed to pass it on to others whose blogs have inspired me.

This will be the hard part as I know more than five people who are deserving. However, for their unfailing ability to make me think, I nominate Lightly Done; Drivin' Me Crazy; Random Blethers; Close to Home; and Time for Tea and Cake.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


This has been on my mind a lot recently. There have been several interesting articles circulating, I have had some interesting conversations, and my current reading has prompted some thought on the subject.

One of the ways in which we deal with the vast amounts of information that pour into our brains on a daily basis (other than my patent method of letting most of it in one ear and straight out the other), is to put things into categories. That way, we can juggle with the categories rather than the individual items. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we remember that categories are a convenience.

For example, it makes life a lot easier for the manager of a bookshop to be able to classify books in certain ways so they can be shelved together in ways that make it easier for customers to find what they want, or at least browse amongst those books they favour. I do the same at home. Reference books on one set of shelves; general non-fiction on another; fiction; children's fiction...

Of course, there are always books that never quite fit. There are several history books in my reference section as I go back to them constantly for my current project. When I have finished, they will be moved.

There is no problem in any of this. The problem (if it can be described as such) is that books, especially works of fiction, are further subdivided into specific genres by publishers. This would be all right if it was, again, a matter of convenience; unfortunately, it no longer is.

When and how genres became 'fixed' is a matter of debate. It did not seem (and I am happy to be corrected on this) too much of a problem in the 19th century or even the early 20th. An author wrote books. If one happened to be about a time machine, it did not exclude them from writing a story of political scandal, any more than their publisher would reject the latter on the grounds they were a science fiction author, or the reading public would ignore the former as it was 'merely' science fiction.

These days, genre has moved way beyond a convenient way of signalling the content and style of a work. It has developed into a series of ghettoes and this, in my opinion, is a bad thing. It means that readers miss out on good books because the author isn't perceived as a writer of a specific genre. It means authors feel constrained to write a particular type of book instead of developing an idea that interests them in a way that best suits the story. There are exceptions, some authors are well known enough to be allowed to work in several genres, and others are happy writing one kind of fiction. But because the barriers have become rigid, we all lose.

I seek out books and authors for their style and the themes they explore. I don't care if the book is science fiction, crime, a thriller, 'literature', a book meant for children, fiction or non-fiction. In fact, I get annoyed with genre, because of the snobbery that is involved; not just from those of the 'literati' who see genre writing as inferior, but those who hole themselves up in the ghettoes and look down on anything outside that ghetto (and usually on a number of sub-genres within their own ghetto as well).

The writing I enjoy most is often described as cross-genre, slipstream, pays no heed to the conventions or exploits then and subverts them. Not all such books are successful. They sacrifice telling a good story on the altar of experimentation, but they do have the virtue of daring to take steps into new territory.

Recent examples of 'mainstream' authors breaking the mould (remember the fuss when Margaret Attwood wrote a bit of science fiction?) are rarely that. Margaret Attwood may be a good and interesting writer, but in common with a lot of mainstream authors dipping toes into fresh seas, if she looked at the beach she would find a number of footprints already there. But because these stories and these experiments were done by science fiction writers or thriller writers, they have slipped under the radar and been ignored. This means we are left to reinvent a wheel that was designed and perfected by previous generations of writers - many who see their work difficult to keep or get back into print.

I admit there is an entirely selfish reason for all this. My fiction writing has rarely been conventional (which is not to claim it is any good). I'm not keen on sticking to a genre, either. It's not done me much good over the years, partly because I never know how to describe things to agents and publishers. My novel Wealden Hill, for example, could be described as a fantasy, but not in the conventional sense. It could also be described as a historical novel, but not in the conventional sense.

Many years ago I tried to sell a science fiction spy thriller about a government agent caught up in what might (or might not) have been a conspiracy by aliens to take over this planet. It was a novel in itself, but sufficiently open to milk a series of stories out of it. I was told, in 1992, when I touted it round, that nobody would buy this sort of thing. Then The X Files hit the little screen. After that I was, apparently, trying to tout a rip-off.

I use this as an example to demonstrate that many of the big successes on television, in the movies, and in books, are not formulaic or genre driven. People are hungry for something a bit different (and not just another variation on chalk and cheese cops or 30-something female search for the meaning of life sagas), something a bit out of the ordinary, something that teases and takes them into new areas. Not everyone wants to read William Burroughs or Thomas Pynchon, but a lot of people are bored silly by clones of the real successes (and some of the real successes are depressingly badly written).

Charlie Cornelius sits in awkward territory. On the surface is the tale of a child who, after surviving alone in London during the Second World War, goes in search of her parents. I can hear that being clicked into a genre already. But Charlie Cornelius has unusual parents, travels in time and alternate universes, lives a great deal inside my head into which she journeys very deeply (poor kid), and acts as a mirror to reflect the horrors faced by children around the world on a daily basis. It has a strong narrative core, but will have an unconventional structure.

If I had started with a genre (even the one called 'mainstream'), I would have given up on it a long time ago. I have a story to tell, I have themes to explore. The style of the book and the way it is written will deliberately reflect that. If it doesn't squeeze into a preconceived and useful pigeon hole for the benefit of agents and publishers... frankly my dears, I don't care.

Sunday, 29 July 2007


Writing is something you do on your own. Even if you are capable of working in crowded, noisy places, it is because you have the capacity to shut that out and move inside your head. It is all too easy to feel isolated and if you do not have contact with other writers (or those sympathetic to what you do), it can be a very large part of your life that you never get to share.

Some people cope with this, and it certainly helps if your endeavours have been validated through publication. Many, however, need contact with other writers. This is not necessarily so they can spend evenings discussing the merits or otherwise of adverbs over a glass or six of wine. It is simply so they can share a bit of time with people they know are going through the same problems as themselves - people who understand what it is like to have a whole chapter in your head that you cannot get written down; who know how it feels to read and re-read a piece of work you know could be improved without being able to see how to do it; who know the agonies of preparing submissions, waiting weeks (and sometimes months) before a response arrives, and getting miserable when it is yet another rejection.

In fact, when I communicate with other writers it is, often as not, a chance to let off steam in all sorts of ways. Moaning about publishers is the least of it (although there is always plenty there to get vexed about). It is usually about families, health, gardens, sheds, the general stupidities of the world, penguins (don't ask - you would be very disappointed if you discovered what present and future scions of the literary world get up to when they can't be arsed to do any writing), chocolate, and ends with people trying to out-pun each other.

I find this incredibly refreshing (I never said I was normal); and I find it extremely supportive. And this is the point of this little ramble. I am blessed with a group of friends (writers and artists) who are by turns boisterous (sometimes even rowdy), sympathetic, supportive, frighteningly intelligent, and always there when you need them.

To you, my friends, I raise a glass. May agents and publishers beat a path to your door.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Not written a thing...

...but i don't care. The weather has been fine (sorry folks, but we have actually been having a bit of a summer up here) and I have been outside destroying a drill and several bits in an attempt to carry out the next phase of constructing our garden shed. What with that and yesterday's visit from friends from Canada, putting words on paper has not happened. Perhaps when the sun has gone down.

When the world has quietened down and I can put my headphones on (a bit of Hawkwind will go down very nicely, I think), I can make a start on chapter 16.

Friday, 27 July 2007


...are important. And the art of producing a title that is accurate and catchy is extremely difficult. There are fashions in these things. But whether you go for a single word or complex phrase, it has to entice the browser to take the book from the shelf and then stick in the mind.

I have been thinking about titles for the Charlie Cornelius books. There is no pressure to come up with anything, and I'm certain something in the text will prompt that perfect phrase. At the moment I use the following working titles on my folders: 1 - The Best Days; 2 - All The Fun; 3 - Years of Grace; 4 - Blue Shift.

These are entirely personal and not very catchy, although I must confess to a liking for 'Blue Shift'. It will be interesting to see how these evolve into the final titles.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


I have just finished chapter fifteen of my work in progress, the as yet untitled adventures of Charlie Cornelius. This work is developing beyond my expectations. I had originally intended a novel of some 80,000 words that covered four phases of Charlie's life. 36,000 words in and I am only half way through the first phase. This is both good and bad. It is good in that it means there will probably be four novels instead of one. It is bad in that it means there will probably be four novels instead of one.

Series of books are notoriously difficult to sell these days, especially for an 'unknown' like me. This means I will have to be cunning and write the first so that it seems complete in itself, but is sufficiently open ended to allow sequels. Seems a shabby way to write, if you ask me; one eye always on how the money 'men' will react.

Of course, that presupposes anyone would be interested in publishing it. I am not overly optimistic.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Thank you for your patience

This blog is now up and running. Well, it will probably hobble.