Breathing fire

I am doing some writing.

I know, I know. I’m every bit as surprised as you are. But it‘s true. I’ve finally got a bit of leeway in my schedule (I think – I’m always terribly worried that I’ve either forgotten something or that the jobs I have on my plate will take longer than anticipated) and I’m using it to create.

Breathing Fire is the third in the modern fantasy series that began with Oneiromancer and continued with Our Kind of Bastard. It’s an absolutely pointless thing to write as I have no home, nor even a hope of a home, for the first two books; I should be doing something unique and entirely standalone rather than revisiting old characters.

Well, tish and pshaw to that. This is the book I want to write. And now I’m a self-publishing veteran (if not an earner) there is always that option.

I don’t want to say too much about the story yet, but it revolves around cursed books, grief, terminal (?) insomnia and evil industrialists-cum-venture-capitalists. It’s set in the environs of Bradford, which is where I grew up. I’m fed up of the London-centricness of British novels, which is rich seeing as Oneiromancer was set there. Still: London, Brittany, Bradford – I’m moving things around, at least.

And that’s really all I’ve got to say for now. I’m first drafting, and doubtless what I’m producing is pretty terrible. A first draft is all about getting the story down on paper; of finding steps and mis-steps and of trying not to get too bogged down in a morass of one’s own making.

But it’s fun, and exciting, and though it’s a slog it’s my slog.

*             *             *

For those what missed it I did an interview with the wonderful Runalong Womble the other week. If you want to read about New Gods, about my influences, the problems of writing sci-fi, and my book recommendation for the world, head along here – and check out all of Womble’s other interviews whilst you’re at it.

Oh, and maybe buy and/or review New Gods? Cheers. You’re the best.

Writing is fun

It’s fun, writing. I mean no, it’s horrible, a unique and vengeful form of torture. It weakens the soul, erodes the buttocks and is no good for diet, digestion or dignity. But apart from that it’s fun.

It’s a massive challenge, writing anything, let alone a novel. It’s worse when you feel like you’re stuck in mud, striving desperately to shift the merest inch. And the road, should such a thing exist, is a switchback, easily lost, and sometimes we must reverse course to make progress.

And even then, when all the kinks are unbound and the thing laid flat upon the paper, it will look nothing like the golden model that originally shone in the mind’s eye. It will have been watered down, irrevocably changed by the needs of ‘logic’, ‘consistency’, and ‘taste’.

And yet I maintain that it is fun. There is not enough fun in this world right now, and so I am resentful about all the things that are getting in my way at the moment. I have proofreading to do, deadlines to meet, edits to edit.

It has been a long time since I could just sit back, untethered by expectation, and create.

I can just about see the pages through the foliage. Recently I have carved out brief moments where I have been able to take my manuscript, the same that I’ve been mucking around with since February-ish, but which got lost in August as Other Things arose to bury it in the morass.

I can see it. I want to get back to it. It’s called Breathing Fire and I’ve written enough of it to worry that it’s not very good, so that’s something. I’ve also written enough of it for it to have a shape already, and there are flashes that I was to nurture and grow and hot-house.

Other things are currently in the way, but with my machete I will hack my way back to the trail and scamper after loose lost pages, scribbling on them as I go, until I find my way to the clearing and the great heart of the story is to be found, a bloated, sweating carcase fanning itself slowly with abandoned plot-lines.

And then I’ll complain about not having enough paid work to do. You watch me.

Sack the juggler

And… breathe.

It’s busy times again and I must work on working on: I must find myself time to write. Recently I’ve been somewhat swamped with the dirt and diesel of modern life. Only now can I take stock and see what I’ve been missing.

I’ve barely presented any new writing at my weekly group meetings because I’ve been so buried in self-publishing, and in proofreading and copyediting that, though I have virgin writing to share, I’ve not had time to actually go over it and do the inevitable rewrites.

I’ve managed to carve little half-hours, here and there, and I’ve been inching on with my very brandish-new project (not the thing I’ve been editing; that’s Our Kind of Bastard. This is the as-yet-untitled sequel to that and Oneiromancer) but that’s slow, painful going, not helped by the piecemeal approach.

I’m juggling these things but sadly not very well. It’s more just waving balls around rather than a jaw-dropping transcendent many-limbed performance.

Sack the juggler.*

I’ve just handed in another editorial assignment and, though I do have another project checked in, things currently look a little calmer out in front of me. The self-publishing is done (bar any possible far-too-late edits, should any typos have crept through, and possible promotion opportunities). So it’s time for me to get back to what I do best I’m here to talk about.

I have to get better at balancing my time. I need to reprioritise and maybe say no to things sometimes. Because I’m not doing the fundamentals right now. For good reasons, maybe, but still, I’m failing.

I’m also eager to get back to it. I miss creating and picking away at a novel; as I said, it’s what I’m here to talk about and for too long I’ve not really been doing it.

So let’s get to it. No time for this! Whose idea was it to write a stupid blog anyway?

*How do you kill a circus? Go for the juggler

Weasels

The problem with being a human being is that you not only have to be strong to organise an event, or review, or interview or whatever, you also have to be strong when the actual time to do it comes round. And then you have to be strong when the results come in, too.

Case in point: in the run-up to the publication of New Gods, I decided I’d darn well gird my metaphoricals and try to arrange for the book to be reviewed. And, in a rare fit of energy, I decided to double-down by offering myself for interview by someone else. To my surprise, both fishing expeditions bore fruit (or possibly fish). Great! Go me!

No good deed goes unpunished. Now I have New Gods reviewed by a highly respected blog/website, and this is absolutely brilliant. The only downside… I’m not feeling strong anymore. I don’t know if I can face actually reading the review, which I kind of have to do in order to retweet and otherwise promote it.*

No matter that the review is probably positive (I was tagged in the promotional tweet, which is always a clue). Not having a strong day today. Can’t even face positive comments. Anxiety is a cruel mistress.

As for the interview, it’s only via email, which makes it a lot easier. I don’t have to make an appointment to speak to someone. But still I have to puff myself – and then the benighted thing will only go and be published and I’ll have to promote that and then I’ll immediately realise what a berk I was…

Writers have to face these things all the time. It’s a profession where rejection is the norm, and that rejection can come at any time. We must be bold to put ourselves out there; we must be keen and eager and, on that good day, we can face that probable-no. But we have no control as to when those rejections come in. Can we be strong every day, eternally powerful and vigilant?

I know I can’t. Somedays the brain-weasels just can’t be faced directly, must be approached sidle-wards, armed with a Long Stick of Poking.

The older I get, the more I realise that this is, in fact, modern life. I envy those who have strong days all the time. And it’s why I try not to get cross with people for taking time with things. I mean, I try not to get cross with people at all, but I’m only a deeply, deeply flawed human.

Now the review has spawned another interview, which is brilliant! I’m something of a publicity whore, which might seem to contradict all of the above.

Except it doesn’t. Because I can make myself get up to perform, no matter how weaselly the brain.

The writing game is not so dissimilar to a performance. Long hours of rehearsal, fearsome critics, great rounds of indifference.

And so I must go and do my little turn on the catwalk once more.

Happy weaselling, folks!

*The more astute amongst you will have noticed that I’ve just linked to said review. Well I have actually skimmed it, now. But it wasn’t easy, and I don’t know if I dare actually read the spaces between the words

Reflections

So New Gods is out and, if you’ve not already picked up a copy, I’d be extraordinarily grateful if you could see your way to buying one. Please. Oh, and if you could leave a review whilst you’re at it? Ta.

So what now? That’s the question I have to ask myself as I enter the hangover-days as the adrenaline and panic slowly ebb away to leave only void in its wake.

Really I should take a break after completing as big of an achievement as putting out a whole book. I should bask for a while, take a little holiday, enjoy watching the sales figures shooting up(!)…

I won’t, of course, but I should.

No, I’m going to be getting straight back to work. For there are always more words to write, more wrongs to right. There will still be one or two more bits relating to New Gods to straighten – don’t know what, just yet, aside from updating this damn blog, a job I’ve had on my to-do list for months and still haven’t gotten round to. But I’m sure there will be something I’ve got wrong on NG, or in its sales-patter, some opportunity that will arise. I’d be naïve to write the whole project off as completed just yet.

And there’s still more stories to tell. I must get back to editing Our Kind of Bastard. I have New Novel to finish – I’m currently about a quarter of the way through, clawing out words as if excavating coal with my fingertips. Time has been hard to find for genuine original creativity. Maybe November will see a little more breathing space.

I am happy with the way New Gods has come out. As it stands, as it looks to me right now, self-publishing has been a success. Of course, many measure success as sales and I have no way to judge that right now (I’m drafting this the day before release, so I don’t even have the first day’s figures to go by). But I’m more concerned with the quality of the product and the stress, or lack thereof, in the project management. I am proud of myself for seeing it through, for making my deadlines, for not getting anything really hugely, obviously wrong.

And now? Well, I have Other People’s Deadlines to meet, and then it’s back to the Editorium with me. New adventures await!

New Gods – out now!

It’s out! Finally, this journey of many years (I forget exactly how many but it’s been through two house moves, a baby who is now at school and two and a half interim novels) is over.

New Gods is here. The culmination of the Anders Nordvelt trilogy is finally available to buy. Please don’t think me too forward if I’m prominent and liberal with the link.

I’m not expecting too much in the way of sales. The lower the expectations the more likely they are to be met, that’s one – possibly flawed – way of looking at it. But I know how much competition there is amongst new releases, how few copies of the previous books (available here, if you haven’t already snapped up yours) have sold. I’m not under any great illusions as to my own sway as an author and as a human. I’m just happy to have my work out there, (very) slowly accruing readers and being part of the canon of literature.

But today is a big day and should be marked. I am releasing a novel and, if I may be forgiven for so saying, a pretty darn good one at that.

I wish I could say that I’ll be celebrating with champagne and whizz-bangs and all sorts of high-jinx. Sadly I’m more likely to be struggling against copyediting deadlines and complaining about my daughter not going to bed on time. Life, as they say, goes on, whether or not we want it to.

But I have a novel out! Today! Get your grubby little mitts on it right now!

The lacuna

Scott Naismith, ‘Lacuna’

After the excitement of the last few weeks – and it has been exciting, in a sort of breathless, all-hands-to-the-pump, never-mind-about-all-the-other-jobs kind of way – I thought it might be nice to sit down and actually write something this week. A brief lacuna, one might say, in the otherwise fraught and fractious times before New Gods is published (Tuesday – mere days now!)  

How has it all been? And has it been worthwhile?  

Well, last-minute problems are inevitable and I had not a few. Getting all my page-breaks sorted caused me some anxiety – they never tell you to use the actual ‘page break’ function on Kindle Direct Publishing, or any other guide I’ve seen; maybe they think it’s so obvious as to be redundant, but I’ve never used it before. Then there was getting the exact right sizing of the cover image – down to millimetres – for which I fortunately had the best cover designer ever on hand to assist with.  

All that, combined with not really leaving myself enough time to get two rounds of proof-copies through, and a little swearing at the KDP platform, made for a stressful month. Though, really, a lot of that stress was down to having concomitant deadlines of the editorial kind and a sick child, so I can’t complain too much. Smooth? Smooth enough. Would I recommend it? Well, I wouldn’t try and fight too hard to prevent others making the same terrible mistake that I’ve made. No regrets.

Not yet, at least. It’s hard to give an honest reflection on the process until after release day. Then we’ll find if I really have cut too many corners and should have hired a typesetter and whatever other experts were available to me.

So this post is a rare one for me; one of contentment, of peace, of readiness. Now I can finally get back to meeting my deadlines and then – whisper it – actually do some new writing.

Marketing? What’s that all about, then?

As I’ve said at length, I don’t intend to do all that much to promote my book. This is mostly through ignorance – lord knows I’m enough of a publicity whore, and lord knows I want New Gods to be read. But I’m not a part of the web of contacts that can turn an unmourned corpse of a novel into this month’s sleeper hit.

Except maybe I am, a little, because I’ve – simply through word of mouth – been put in touch with the name of the odd reviewer, so maybe I’ll get on a well-respected blog. I’ve also got the publisher of the first two books in the series, who are going to do a promotion to coincide with New Gods’ release.

I’ve also got you lot. You, my lovely friends, who can put in a good word for me here or there.

This time I’m relying on word of mouth to boost any sales I might get. And this returns me to one of my great themes in life: the need to be nice. My former publishers wouldn’t be so helpful if I’d burned my bridges with them. My friends wouldn’t be willing to help if I didn’t at least pretend to be nice sometimes.

So, here’s today’s lesson: be kind. It may not make you rich financially, but you’ll be all the wealthier for it.

New Gods – now available to pre-order!

Busy busy busy at the moment – last-minute self-publication fixes and editing deadlines – so please excuse this somewhat hasty post. Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say that New Gods is available to pre-order now!

The Kindle version is, at least. I can’t work out how to set a paperback for pre-order so I’m lagging behind somewhat. That might only magically appear on Publication Day.

Word of warning – I’m still tinkering, so it might drop off availability at odd times, but it is up, and if for any reason it disappears, it should be back again in a day or so. Promise!

I know, I know, I’m not the most competent of vendors. I fully intend to add a page to this blog – indeed, I do intend to re-work the whole thing – with details of all my books, a little info and where you can find them from, but I haven’t quite got round to that yet. Blame the government; they might as well be responsible for this fiasco as well.

In the meantime, please do pre-order New Gods if you can; it makes a big difference to me and my Internet-Retailer-of-Doom algorithm/ranking.

And remember, if you do read and enjoy – or even if you don’t – please do leave a review. It really does help!

Remember also: you’re great and I’m nothing without you.

Cheerio!

The Prologue

Morning all, and how are we doing today?

New Gods is speeding towards publication; Pre-ordering – for the e-book at least – should be available any day now. Expect to hear more about this next week. Everything is ready, apart from the bits that aren’t.

Still on the hard sell, this week’s blog is an extract from the novel: the prologue, to be precise. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and a reminder that I previously posted an extract from a little later in the novel back in September 2020. You can find that here.

…Static… A crackling, whistling roar… Vision slowly filtering – and then suddenly resolved…

          A slum: the camera jerks around, shows you a forest of crude buildings. There is no order. The shacks fall into each other, rubbish litters the dirt streets. But this isn’t a shanty; rather its descendent. It’s a palimpsest, a polyglot of styles, of years, of building, rebuilding; cannibalisation of a thousand different materials and styles. This is rubble and dust…

          A voice, sudden and uncomfortably close, barks in an unfamiliar language. The camera spins and blurs again; down a mud street it finally focuses on a unit of soldiers. A dozen or so men armed with rifles. They’re walking – not marching, this is no parade-ground drill – but neither are they diving for cover. Company logo on their chests, on their guns. Behind them, maybe another thirty yards back, come the bulldozers. They roll inexorably on, smashing walls on their blades, carving a highway of crushed brick and mangled iron and powdered glass.

          The camera pans again and there are more shouts. Now you see a crowd of men – and women, and children – facing the soldiers. They are unarmed, but they are resisting. Indian or Bangladeshi; there are scraps of writing, unfamiliar text; there are more shouts, screams. And yes, there are men with weapons there too: blue-capped soldiers nervously trying to herd the civilians back.

          You watch as a man leaves this group and advances towards the bulldozers. He is waving, shouting towards the Company men. His voice is lost beneath the roar of engines. His words are swallowed by the crash of masonry and he coughs as dust billows around him. He spreads his arms wide: stop. He pauses and sets his gun on the ground before walking forwards still further. His face is pale, his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

          The Company men pause, and, though the camera is unstable and the focus swoops in and out, you can see the tension etched in their faces. Their sergeant advances to meet the leader of the blue-caps. Sergeant waves expansively. Move aside. We are coming through. There is nothing more to say.

          Blue-cap shakes his head. He gestures behind him, to the civilians, then to encompass the slum around them. He is speaking, shouting. He is begging.

          The sergeant does not care. He pushes the man aside and Blue-cap’s colleagues step forwards, then halt as the Company troops bring their weapons to bear. Blue-cap is still begging. And all the while the bulldozers are closing in, behind them a storm of dust like a waterfall. Now you can see that the drivers are all masked. They’re horribly robotic without their eyes.

          Another burst of static, a blurring; more voices from behind the camera. A microsecond of blackness and then an almost vertiginous movement; you are running, camera showing the ground, showing feet – the cameraman is not alone, and this small group is ducking behind walls, scattering, scampering down alleys, through abandoned kitchens, kicking over pots and scrambling through windows. They pause. Words are said. You are afraid. You peer around a corner, zoom out and in and realise you’re looking at the same scene from a different angle. But the dynamic has shifted. Now the blue-caps are backing off, the Company man advancing in a line, weapons held steady before them. The blue-cap leader tries again. He is almost crying – dust or emotion? – as he pleads.

          You are rocked: the camera spins. Focus. In the background a bulldozer has exploded. Gas bottle? IED? Debris rains down. Spin again: the civilians are cheering. Some kneel to pray. A boy scampers forwards and grabs a section of caterpillar track, a souvenir. Some chant, inaudible over the din that surrounds you.

          You turn back to the soldiers. The Company sergeant now has the blue-cap pinned against a wall. Blue-cap is speaking quickly. He gestures to the bulldozers, now drawn up just a few yards behind the confrontation. Again Blue-cap is begging. Stop. Stop, please. Talk to us. He waves to the civilians, tears in his eyes.

          The sergeant’s face is hard. He is in control. He speaks in short bursts. We have our orders. We will not stop. We are coming through. This town is being erased.

          The voices around you are as much part of the background as the terracotta sky.

          Blue-cap’s face changes. Now he looks dazed, unbelieving. His mouth falls open. He shakes his head weakly, swallows. Camera zooms in tight on his eyes (brown), just for a moment, then out again. Company-man turns away from Blue-Cap, releases the pressure on his shoulder. He signals the bulldozers to continue their advance. Blue-cap is stunned. He staggers out of the sergeant’s grasp and into the middle of the road. He faces the bulldozers, head turning this way and that. And then a Company soldier steps smartly forwards, whips the butt of his rifle across Blue-cap’s face. He falls. Blood drips onto the rutted track. The defenders raise their weapons. The Company troops respond in kind. The bulldozers growl.

          You jerk round again, back to the civilians – the ones who are losing their homes and everything they can’t carry. A man is running forwards. He is young. His clothes are rags. He is carrying – my God, he’s carrying a sword. Where the hell did he get that?

          The man’s eyes are too wide, too white. His mouth is distorted in a feral snarl, saliva spinning off his beard. Dust eddies around his bare ankles as he raises the weapon to cleave…

          He is shot before he gets within a dozen paces of the enemy. A red bloom erupts from his shoulder; the sword flies from his hand. He falls backwards, spinning madly in the dirt as if his blood is pushing his body in tight little spirals, legs flexing madly, scrambling in a crimson razor-dance.

          This is the first bullet fired. No-one knows who made the shot.

          The bulldozers are moving again.

          Blue-cap makes on final effort to make peace. He is pushed aside. The Company men have had enough. They advance, ignoring the weapons pointed at their chests. Stones fly, the civilians, the peasants, resisting the only way they can. The missiles rattle off body-armour, off helmets, off the blades of the bulldozers. The camera spins again; there is so much to take in, you can’t see it all.

          So you miss the next shot.

          Blue-cap is dead, a neat little hole in his forehead. His face still bears a look of shock, of disbelief. The Company soldiers walk calmly over his body.

          Then the bulldozers grind him into a bloody smear in the dirt.

          More shooting. More UN soldiers drop. The slum-dwellers are fair game too.

          The cameraman is backing off; dragged away, you think, by his companions. But he keeps the lens pointed –

– static again, the picture breaking up –

          – civilians screaming. Women crying, children wailing, the timeless sounds of panic. There is no mistaking terror.

          And the staccato snap of bullets, cutting through the avalanche of collapsing buildings. Bulldozers dig their blades into flesh and masonry without prejudice.

          The camera spins; you see bare feet. The battle is lost. You are fleeing.

          But there is still time for one last look back. Now you can see only Company soldiers amidst the rubble.

          Company soldiers and the dead and the dying.