So How Are Things Going, Hmm?

So, if the last few years has taught me anything it’s that writing is more difficult than…um… solving a 4d Rubik’s cube. Or building a computer processor with a broken soldering iron and a pound of un-spun wool, or circumnavigating the globe in a rubber inner-tube. There are many similes I can use and they will all be inadequate for the job (as you may be able to tell). My current level of progression is testament to all of this. Let me summarise my last four years, since I started this self-learning experiment.

At least a million words have been set to paper (or onto the screen and saved to disk for the most part) and numerous notebooks covered in inarticulate scribbles, inelegantly organised and piled in dusty corners. About fifty apps have been utilised in a vain attempt to be productive and to organise yet further notes, most discarded (see previous post). I have developed a routine for writing that requires a goodly portion of my free time, and I find myself pondering upcoming scenes whilst doing my day job, buying groceries, driving around, making coffee. Everywhere and when, in fact.

It is almost as if writing with the intent of creating a work of fiction has changed the way my brain works. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that four years later I have not produced anything worthy of consideration for potential publication, and only completed two actual projects (both of which are, frankly, naff) has no bearing on the fact that the decision to write is the best thing I ever did. It gave form to what my mind craved.

I have to say, I am in perpetual admiration of proper authors; those people that have the focus, application and intelligence to create book after book, crafted and thoughtful as each one is (in the most part). No, in fact I am jealous of them, an envy that drives me on to write yet more gubbins until ONE DAY I create something of which I am proud as punch to call my own work of genre fiction. It will happen one day, but I tell you this, each and every day is a struggle to better myself and to–one day–join their ranks. I know I can do it. I have to.

Distraction and Apps…Where I went wrong

I love apps. There’s no getting away from it, I love apps. The reason for this is twofold; firstly I am a nerd (or is it geek?) and have totally bought in to all the tech associated with iphones, macs, and so on, so I love this stuff. Secondly, and more important, is that, for the aspiring author, they are a distraction. That is the key.

If I were to list the apps that have crossed my path, sheltered under the umbrella of ‘writing workflow’, it would be embarrassingly large. So here goes…

  • Scrivener
  • Byword
  • Ullyses
  • Storyist
  • Adobe Story
  • Textilus
  • Word
  • Google Docs
  • nValt

So that’s just *some* of the writing apps. Associated with those are the myriad note-taking apps…

  • Simplenote
  • nValt
  • OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Pocket

And in further association, there are the general apps that become wired into all the rest…

  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • iCloud Drive
  • Box
  • Mindnode
  • Aeon Timeline
  • Photoshop CC
  • Illustrator CC
  • Lightoom CC
  • Workflow
  • duet

And these are the ones that I have currently. I have acquired and discarded about the same amount, though I struggle to remember them so I won’t bother listing them here.

So, a lot of distraction going on. You have to realise that most of these apps require some significant investigation to get used to, and I have put in the learning time on nearly all of them, under the misguided assumption that ‘It will help me be more productive’.

Hundreds of YouTube tutorials and a thousand ‘How To…’ websites later I can confirm…they did not. Don’t get me wrong, I still use a lot of these apps (such as Byword and markdown, with which this blog post is written) but–and here is the rub–I don’t really need to.

If I have a message to get across about all this, it is that there is too much emphasis on workflow and organisation. If you want to write, just WRITE and stop thinking you need a bundle of digital assistants to do so. If you feel the urge for an app, read a book.

Wrestling with an idea…

M_Id_389095_Wrestling_in_OlympicsThe gods of ingenuity are capricious bastards, at least with me. They send an idea to me half-formed and leave me to it, letting me go through months of agonising re-writing as I try to find the golden nugget that I am absolutely certain lies within it.

This happened to me a few months ago. I had an idea for a story that came as I was doing some other bits of flash fiction. Excited (as much as I can get) I set upon writing, fleshing out the idea and giving names to people and places, adding oomph to the background, doing some much needed world-building. All was good.

Then I reviewed what I have done and found myself unhappy with the results so I started again, thinking, foolishly, that only a tweak or two is needed. Then I re-read that, and decided it needed re-doing….and the cycle began. Ten thousand words are discarded as another written in its place. And another. For bloody months!

I have found that wrestling with an idea is a process that seems without end. The curse of the writer is that he is never entirely happy with his work, which leads me to the real rule that I need to consider: At some point you just have to stop re-writing and get on and finish something.

The good part is that all the re-writes and wrangling have helped codify your world of imagination, and the practice is a necessary part of it all. Without that practice the idea doesn’t have a chance to form itself into something genuinely interesting and unique. It turns out that the job of a writer is to agonise, which is fine…I can take on such burdens if the result is an idea made real.

You have to nourish that spark, fan the flames, ignite that conflagration, but be aware that it is not a quick process. If you ever claim to have had an idea fully formed, not needing an age of pondering to get right, then I am both annoyed and utterly jealous of you. Thankfully, I think those types are probably unconscious plagiarists!

Until next time, y’all. Be good…

Ian Pamphlett, Death Assessor

Published on my First Chapter blog…

First Chapters

Standing beneath an arch, the keystone directly above his gelled hair, Ian Pamphlett, regarded the Hall of the Dead. It was fair to say it was the biggest room in the known or unknown universes, and that went for all the sub-dimensions too. Nowhere was there such a great square-footage with a roof. For a mile in each compass direction it spread, the vaulted roof and hanging chandeliers – of which there were close to twelve-thousand, constituting nearly a quarter of a million individual candles – faded into the distance like a lesson in perspective in a technical drawing class.

More impressive even than this were the rows of dead. They sat on long benches, rows upon rows of them, waiting patiently to be called. It was not Ian Pamphlett’s task to call them however, that was Helen’s job. Ian’s job was the assessment. Beneath his arm was his clipboard upon…

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Frustration, the blank page and nothing to read…

I have never been one for lacking anything to write, a trait that has kept me occupied and more than entertained on many an occasion. It has always been gratifying to be able to rely on my previously immutable ability to churn out something imaginative without much prevarication. However, I appear to have come up against a blank page. The dreaded writers block. It is alarming!

There is no solution to it other than continuing to write, no matter how bad the results. The fact that what I produce is unconvincing, all my prose riddled with self-doubt, and each premise utterly banal and derivative is of great concern. I await an epiphanic moment with increasing desperation.

It is not lost on me that I have not been reading much lately either. In almost every piece of advice about writing that I have ever come across, the instruction to READ, READ, READ is always in the top five.

So, if I have a strategy for writers block it is this: Read more, write into the wind.

Now, I’m off to find a novel I can get my teeth into, and hopefully the creative juices will flow as a result. Any recommendations gratefully received!


The state of affairs…

Hello, halloo, bonjour, um, bien venue? Regardless of the salutation, I realised that it has been MONTHS since I updated my blog, preferring to spend time doing anything else entirely, out of a misplaced sense of apathy. Or, if not misplaced, certainly un-heeded…

But here I am, loyal readers, with an update on this blog’s tagline: ‘HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS AS I FIND OUT JUST HOW HARD IT IS TO WRITE A BOOK…’

Featured imageI have not stopped writing since I last blogged, and I finished my Foxytale’s first draft. I sent it out to some (initially) willing beta-readers, and the comments back were not either multitudinous nor plenty, but there was feedback enough for me to get settled in for a big re-write, talking into account the comments made.

It’s an odd process to follow, I found, but it has helped iron out flaws I obviously did not notice from beneath my subjective blanket. I’m only 22k words into the re-write, and already there have been some fairly significant scene changes, some plot wrangling, and some harsh deletions.

I continue at a snail’s pace, but as I always said, this was why I started all this in the first place. You don’t get better without painful years of grind. These are those grinding years, unfortunately. I remain, however, un-deterred in my mission.

As for other writings, I have three fantasy ones stuck around the 100k word-count mark. I have not binned them, just taken a break, much as I did between Foxytale re-starts. I find I am better able to be objective given a few months to forget the good lines…

Beyond those, I have any number of one-two-chapter beginnings written, for any number of fantasy/contemporary/Sci-Fic potential books. It’s all about the grind, today!

It would be a lie if I were to concede that I have allowed a few non-writing days to creep in, but I have determined that it would be best if I knuckled down again. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be published… Stranger things have happened, you know…!

PS Check out SCENE!, my creative writing series I did on here, now collated in one place to make some sense...Here. Enjoy!

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

Fantasy reviews


The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand. The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of…

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The drudge bit cometh…

searchI’ve recently found myself increasing annoyed by people starting a sentence with a “So”. It irks the bits of me in which the grammar nazi resides… And like Starling asked Hannibal Lector, “But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself, Doctor Lector?”

The answer in no. That is why I need beta-readers…


I’ve finished a sixty-thousand word first draft of a contemporary little mystery novel, barely more than a novella, and a radical change in genre from what I’ve been toiling with for the last two years. Set in Yorkshire too, I call it…hesitantly…The Foxy tale, and it’s about a treasure hunt.

So (!) I need beta-readers. Hence this whimsical appeal, which is part of a larger campaign to get my progeny critically read.

All I ask is that you are willing to try to read it, voluntarily if possible, and offer any impressions, ideas, suggestions, confusions, incongruities, or just tell me you didn’t (or did) like it. I am trawling for objective analysis by someone with the chutzpa to help a fella out.

PDF, MS Word, Kindle etc, any format you please (thank you Scrivener)

Wow…appealing does NOT come naturally to me…

So as a tempter, here is an excerpt for your consideration. The intro passage, in fact. If you think you could read something like this (but nearly two-hundred pages), then let me know. I’m not precious about it…!

Paul “Foxy” Foxe sees himself as a man for whom being cynical isn’t so much a point of view as a religion. His best defences against the many injustices of life were his stoic indifference, a belief in Karma, and a tendency to bury his head in the sand at the first sign of confrontation. If you want to witness sparkling discourse or the product of a keen literary mind you are best served  going to the library and persuading a librarian to swear at you in Polish, but if you want a quiet life and predictability, Foxy is your man.

In most of life Foxy is average. He is twenty five years old, just short of six foot with a rash of spiky black hair, scarily piercing blue eyes and the sort of beard that looks like he’s forgotten to shave for a week. He has a girlfriend named Nat. At three months the relationship is still new, but there are musings that she wants to move in. This means that she still has this belief that she can “change” him, as her mother and sisters tell her she is honour-bound to try and do. But she is only a month or two away from the crushing realisation that Foxy is a force of nature. There is nothing on this Earth that can change Foxy, at least short of CIA behavioural modification, and there’s little of that in rural Yorkshire.

Nat is bright, breezy, light, loving and bubbly. She likes rubbish pop music, romantic thrillers and TV soaps. She believes in God, which Foxy has wisely said nothing about. She appreciates artwork and real literature – the Jane Eyre kind too, not the Stephen King kind.  That she is going out with Foxy is one in the eye to logic and common sense, and is a keen affirmation of the truism that opposites attract.

Or, rather, that is only one reality. In the other he is going to ruin her innocence and leave her the husky, dried out shell of bitterness and regret that she will inevitably become, no matter how hard he tries to stop himself. Of this he is depressingly certain. It has happened before.

Nat is has been away, visiting her parents in Ireland for a couple of weeks, and is due to return tomorrow. Foxy would have gone too but for a number of puerile, vapid excuses why he had to remain at home and not spend two weeks with a bunch of strangers for whom the fact he was English was seen as a punishable crime. These last weeks of freedom from obligation were bliss –  a state of mind that had left Foxy as belligerent, unapproachable and grumpy as usual. He would hate to admit it, but he is better when Nat is around.

Let the torrents of help-wielding commenters come….

Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Fantasy reviews


The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

The path to the throne is broken – only the broken may walk it.

To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will…

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The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks

From the Alagaunt sister-site, Enjoy!

Fantasy reviews


The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe. But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley. Worse, Gavin no longer has the one thing that defined him — the ability to draft.

Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.

What I liked…

I suppose I had better state that this review is more for the series –Lightbringer – than just The Broken Eye, as I read all three…

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