One-star

1-star

The only sane way to deal with reviews is to ignore them.

Sadly, that’s not always possible. I, for example, was checking mine out in the hopes of being able to boast about my scores to a prospective agent. That’s when I came across my first one-star review.

Hurts? Well, I skimmed it pretty quickly; I don’t see much point in analysing it blow-by-blow. (Except I really want to. I came across this a few weeks ago and I’m not forgotten it and moved on, which must tell you something.) I’m actually more hurt because the reviewer, I realised, is someone I follow on Twitter.

Someone I respect hates my work. This is pretty tough.

But it is absolutely their right. Books are subjective things; some things I love will be detested by others. It’s just the nature of words. They can hate something I’m intensely proud of – and it will hurt, that’s for sure, but what can you do about it?

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It helps that I’m fairly secure about Night Shift. I wrote it long enough ago, and I know I can write better now; I don’t have all my ego in one basket. Praise surprises me a lot more than criticism, and I’m constantly trying to remind myself that there is actually some damn good writing in it. And there is. I believe that.

I’m much more nervous about the response to book two, when it finally comes out. I worked so hard on that and my ego is much more exposed. Hopefully it’ll have had time to crust over before it’s finally released in 2020.

And, if the worst comes to the worst, I must try and remember my own advice.

Never try and argue with the reviewer. It doesn’t end well.

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Little victories

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I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. Trying to build a novel, yes, but… how? It’s been such a long time since I sat at a computer and tried to pour words to a blank screen.

In order to write you have to know what you’re writing about. And, though I have a story and an idea of a plot and I know what key the story will be in and the characters all waiting, I really feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

This is not special. It’s not unusual. This is what makes writing so difficult: the vista of all possible options spread in front of you in the form of that accursed blank page. The impossibility of making choices. The collapsing of waveforms into a single, informed reality.

It doesn’t help to know that nothing is unchangeable: that you will inevitably make missteps and that’s what editing is for. It should help, but it doesn’t. You still have to make those decisions, get the words down on that page.

People who plan out their novels in great detail before setting metaphorical pen to paper probably have the right idea. I’ve never been able to do that, although this current project has involved some fairly heavy-duty forefront thinking.

Even then, when you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve in each scene, it’s never easy. The blank page resists. Writing can be like wading through treacle; the words seem to drag at you, to want to pull you down into inertia, to drown you in liquid amber.

This is why any progress, no matter how small, is a success. 50 words? Good. Even if they only put off a problem, they’re 50 words that didn’t exist yesterday. Decided on the next scene? Even if you change your mind and delete all you’ve done, it’s easier to work from a positive decision than it is to work from uncertainty.

If you’re a writer and if you’ve decided to write you’ll know how tough it can be. The small victories are all we have, sometimes – especially when we’re just starting out and are still fighting through the beaded-curtains of indecision.

So take those little victories and recognise how much of a fighter you are. You’re still scrapping forwards, still fighting the tide that threatens to wash you back into a little ball of unfulfillment.

You’re doing it. You’re moving forwards.

You’re brilliant.

And I don’t know about you but it makes me feel absolutely 0% better.

Smolvics

Something new

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I’m not entirely sure if I’m capable anymore, but I’m giving it a go. I am starting again. I am trying to write a new novel from scratch.

This is really down to necessity. I’ve recently re-edited two older pieces, both of which need going through at least once more, but my gut is telling me it’s too soon to re-read them yet. They need more time to simmer before I return to them, more time for me to forget the contents so I can see them with clearer, more objective eyes.

I can’t bear to be sitting here without some kind of project on the go so I am forced, against my will, to try and scratch out something new.

This might not work. It’s been so long since I tried anything this ambitious – or, frankly, with any ambition at all. So I am on the beginning of a slippery slope of brain-entangling doom. Especially as the story I’ve envisioned is incredibly complicated and convoluted and full of false-flags and betrayals and serial killers and werewolves…

At least I have a certain amount of faith in my ability to set one decent word after another. It may prove to be totally misfounded, but my limited excursions into fictiondom recently have produced wurdz I am not totally objectificational to. This is encouraging.

Now I just need to carry that development – for I’m sure I have got better at the craft of writing over the years – into the realms of characters, plotting and causality. Otherwise I’ll be back on this blog crying in very short order.

New book news

Day Today

The briefest of all possible blog-posts today, in which I settle for giving news:

I have officially signed a contract for the publication of Human Resources in 2020. For those who don’t know, HR is the sequel to Night Shift and will be published by the wonderful Flame Tree Press, who also did book one and I’m hoping to blag into accepting book three in a year or two’s time.

This is obviously wonderful news for me and I’d like to thank anyone who’s bought, reviewed or merely read NS for without you no company would touch me with a barge-pole. It’s been hard work – and there’ll doubtless be more to come – but right now it feels like it’s all been worth it.

Extra special thanks to all my beta-readers, who I forced to read various drafts of substandardness in order to make it to publishable levels.

I’ve no cover to reveal yet; rest assured that I’ll keep you posted with whatever ramblings come out of the book-production process. Right now I’m just happy that I’m not going to be a one-hit(!) wonder.

The relief is palpable.

Deleting characters

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To lose a character should be one of the easiest of editing jobs. Isn’t it just a case of reassigning his actions, redistributing his words and a bit of a spit and a polish to cover all the hack-marks?

Turns out it is, in fact, bloody hard. That’s currently what I’m trying to do; to kill my darling and reassign all his delicious lines to other members of the cast. And I’m still not sure whether I’m making things better or am just cruelly imbalancing scenes by making another character a ‘know-everything’ and, frankly, a bit of an over-voluble, overpowered menace.

Still, it’s what I’m doing, for reasons. And at the moment it feels like I’m editing with a paintbrush. Everything’s confusing and blocky and ill-rendered; it’s blurry and it’s ill-defined. But it’s the stage I have to get through before I can sit calmly back and decide whether the change works at all.

This is step one in my three-pass rule. Get the work done. Get it done badly – or at least roughly – and then take another sweep to work out what needs refining and what just hasn’t worked. To make big structural changes is a pain in the bum; for now we’re concentrating on architecture, not decoration. I am making some changes to speech to make it sit better in other character’s voices but tuning the acoustics is another thing to focus on in another pass.

Or, at least, I’m supposed to be doing this. Actually what I’m doing is, due to an unusual conjunction of circumstances, holidaying in the Dordogne. Hence the slightly truncated post.

trichotfromgarden

The chateau where I may well be found

More moaning next time. Possibly about the heat.

Edge-Lit 2019

Edge-Lit

I survived. I lived to tell the tale with merely a flesh-wound or two; a little beat up around the edges but mostly intact.

Yes, Edge-Lit has happened. And it was great. Huge thanks to the organisers and volunteers who helped make it a magnificent day, and to the writers and attendees who were relentlessly good-natured and happy to talk and share their wisdom.

This was my first ever con as a participant and so my reflections are of a different order to that at Sledge-Lit in the winter: I was actually doing things, pretending to be the expert and in the know when in fact I know extraordinarily little.

My workshop (‘The Art of Description’) went okay; not perfectly as I still fluffed some lines and sometimes struggled to give full explanations for the things I was trying to say. But the group helped by turning it into a discussion and pulled me through. In the end I’d say it was not a triumph but a win. And so a little of the terror slipped away.

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The panel: Anna Stephens, Zen Cho, some idiot, Adrian Tchaikovsky. Photo by David Stokes, used with permission

The panel (‘Beyond the Darkness: Where does fantasy fiction go after Grimdark?’) was where the terror regrouped. There I was, sat between Adrian Tchaikovsky and Zen Cho, with Anna Stephens moderating – there was no Jen Williams as she was ill – trembling in the presence of their huge brains. Oh, and in the presence of an auditorium full of people.

It went… okay? I’d resolved not to say too much, just to contribute on each question and not be too garrulous. And that worked, for the most part. I soon found myself out of my depth, however, when the conversation veered to far from the pre-set questions, and especially on the audience questions that followed. I am now fully aware that my reading is wholly inadequate.

I was much more confident on the discussion of Terry Pratchett that broke out in the middle of the session: unexpected in a discussion on Grimdark, but that just highlights the influence PTerry has had.

EdgeLit panel Angeline

Photo by Angeline Trevena, used with permission

So, I survived with only minor injuries – I confess to being somewhat intimidated by Adrian in particular – and had only my reading to go before I could properly relax, and drink – and eat, because I’d had only snacks all day, my nerves preventing my eating a solid meal.

Except I had not to read, for no-one turned up. This is not a huge surprise: I am not a big name draw, it was the fag-end of the day and the room was rather tucked away out of the main flow. A disappointment? Yes, but also something of a relief: after all the day’s terror, at last I could unwind properly, eat some sweet potato fries, and have a beer.

And thus we enter the most important part of the con: the serious business of talking with other people. Not schmoozing or networking, though elements of both are involved, but just meeting and talking with like-minded people; catching up with old friends and making new.

I had a lovely chat with Anna Stephens and shared words with Aliette de Bodard, to drop a name or two, but most of the time was spent with unfamous people – people like me, in fact, who were striving to be in the big chairs in a year or two’s time. I mean, I say this but I was in at least one big chair at Edge-Lit but I put that down to my publisher’s publicity department rather than my own achievements.

As a friend told me on the day: everyone feels like an imposter. No-one feels like they truly deserve to be in the position they find themselves in. I did okay at Edge-Lit.

So on to drinking and the sad reflection that I had to wimp out early due to being up at 04:00 to get to the damn thing: this caught up with me just after we’d decamped to the pub. Thus I missed a proper catch-up with many of the friends I’d made at Sledge-Lit and the chance to make new.

But that’s okay. Self-care is part of the equation at cons; push yourself too hard and you’ll be no good to anyone, least of all yourself. Trying to do it all is a sure way to achieve nothing. I still had a great time. I worked through my terror. I made a decent enough impression.

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do

The three-pass rule

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I have a rule. No, that’s not true. I have a theory, an idea, and it’s this: after every big change you need to make at least two more passes of your manuscript before you can send it out into the great wide world.

At the moment I’m doing major revisions to my latest work-in-progress. This is a good novel (I think) but one upon which I stuffed a little in the character department. I have a plan to combine two characters into one easy-to-swallow morsel. This obviously involves a lot lot lot of work.

So what I’m going to do is this: I’m going to concentrate on that job. I’m not going to worry so much about the actual words I use. I’m not going to worry too much about little slips or finding the perfect prose. This draft is for big things: for who does what and when and how. Not about perfecting the micro-expressions or the tiny gestures.

And that’s why I’ll need another draft when this is done. I’ll need a troubleshooting pass, a precision-engineering job after the great earthmoving of pass #1 (actually pass #6, but it’s been a while since the last one). I need to make sure the voice is right, the silences are on cue and the smiles are from and to the right people.

So: two passes, one for heavy engineering, one for precision. So why is this a three-pass rule?

Truth is that two might be enough, but I’m not happy – I don’t trust myself enough – that this is enough to catch all the imperfections with this little work.

But before that, it’s time for a break.

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Such intense work is likely to take you extremely close to the material. So close, in fact, that you start to lose objectivity and focus. So it’s my plan that before I go on for a third pass I take a long, hard go at something else before coming back to the work in question. This isn’t my idea, of course; it’s in all books of writing advice and the like. I’m just trying to (finally) put it into practice.

That’s where I am at the moment with New Gods, the last in my Antarctic trilogy. I did a major overhaul then cantered through it to fix obvious errors. Now I’ve set it to one side to let cool and to give myself a little distance before I go through it again.

This would also be the time to get beta-readers involved but I fear I’ve already blown all of mine on earlier drafts.

And, while I wait, I’m on to the next task. For writing is a production line and there should always be something on the conveyor belt.