The Greatest

muhammad-ali-leonid-afremov

Art by Leonid Afremov

I would have been the world’s greatest at whatever I did. If I were a garbage man, I’d be the world’s greatest garbage man! I’d pick up more garbage and faster than anyone has ever seen. To tell you the truth, I would have been the greatest at whatever I’d done!

I have something in me that demands I be the best at whatever I do. It’s not enough for me to struggle then ultimately fall short. It’s not even enough for me to scrape home. I must be good. I must be the best version of me I possibly can be. I feel Ali’s quote deeply.

I’ve done a lot of low-paid jobs; I’ve worked in warehouses and in the dirt. I’m the ground-floor employee. And in every role I want to be best, even if I know it really doesn’t matter what I do and that my job will be replaced by robots as soon as they can find machines prepared to perform such menial tasks.

This is not a healthy place to be. It’s beyond human to be good at everything – indeed, it’s why I’ve given up on numerous things I enjoy. It’s why I’m not playing chess anymore. It’s not a fear of losing. It’s a fear of not being as good as I think I can be.

I want to be good. I have to drive on the ragged edge because I can’t bear inefficiency: I have to be perfect, the optimum speed, the smoothest gear-change, the swiftest transition. The problem with the ragged edge is that you don’t know you’ve hit it until you’ve crossed to the far side at least once.

It’s why I crashed my car.

It’s why I put my daughter in hospital.

It’s a fine line: the desire to be best is a great motivator. It drives many top athletes. You need targets and drive and dedication; an arrogance that doesn’t allow losing as an option.

But it’s not healthy. It’s certainly not healthy in the arts, where subjectivity is everything. Criticism is hard to bear at the best of times. When you’re dumb and driven, like me, a harsh word is a piledriver.

I don’t think I’m the world’s best writer. I’m always striving to be better, and that desire is a positive thing. I want to make people happy. I want editors, reviewers and readers to enjoy what I do. If they don’t I feel like a failure.

For me it’s always about the destination, not the journey. It shouldn’t be this way.

It’s enough to enjoy what you do. You’re not in competition with anyone else. Life isn’t a zero-sum game.

It is a balancing act. You need that drive to improve; you have to be willing to work, you have to have pride in your achievements. But you have to enjoy that work. You need to be able to step back from it. You need to have some sort of off-switch; sometimes you need to remind yourself that taking the longer path is just as rewarding.

Or maybe I’m just in a funny mood and none of this really matters.

Night Shift

Night-Shift-ISBN-9781787580374.0

Well, here it is: the cover for my novel. It’s due out on November 6th and you can order your copy right now!

Excitement! Excitement and thrills!

Hopefully I’ll be doing some events around the time of the release – I’ll let you know as soon as I can. But in the meantime please just bask in the magnificence of that artwork and allow me to shove more info in your direction:

Night Shift

Antarctica. A mining base at the edge of the world. Anders Nordvelt, last-minute replacement as head of security, has no time to integrate himself into the crew before an act of sabotage threatens the project. Then a body is found in the ice. Now Anders must do more than find a murderer: he must find a way to survive.

Will anyone endure the night shift, or will ice and frozen corpses be all that remains?

It’s being published by Flame Tree Press (who publish many wonderful books by authors other than me) and will initially be launched in the UK and US. Feel free to go harass your local bookshop/library/online supermarket for your copy. Remember – every copy pre-ordered saves one book-sprite from Brit Gringo’s Pixie-Parts Emporium (LLC), so there’s moral reward as well as the opportunity to get your grubby little mitts on a pretty tolerably adequate read.

I’m serious about the library thing. If you’re poor, or if you’ve already pre-ordered and want the joy of seeing other people spending money, most library services have electronic forms for the requesting of stock. It’d help me out and cost you almost nothing.

I’m also really happy to do events, signings or meet with your local book group for a chat. Drop me a line (my details are in that ‘contact’ tab above) and we’ll see what we can do. And yes, I am aware that this paragraph is inherently arrogant and that no-one has heard of me or my work. A boy can dream.

Right, back to the latest round of copy-edits. No rest for the pixie-dissector writer.

Arts & crafts

I’m not a good writer. I am, however, a pretty respectable craftsman. Allow me to explain.

Writing is seen as an art. It is art, they say, that allows one to choose the best word, to create a plot that enraptures and enthrals and to populate it with wonderful characters and to build themes and subtexts and miracles. Like a caricaturist scribbling out mocking little portraits on demand, a writer can spin wonders out of nothing.

I can’t. The more I work on my stories, the deeper I delve into the craft, the more I realise that I’m really nothing special when it comes to word-weaving. Not on the first pass. My errors are legendary, my drafts filled with mis-used words and obvious conceits and paper-thin depictions.

What I can do, however, is to go over this run-through and develop it into something worth reading. I chip away at its rough edges, clean out the flaws and fill the gaps, redecorate and encourage my characters to tell us precisely why they never got on with their fathers. This is why I consider myself as a craftsman rather than an artist.

The difference between a steel rod and a sword is a lot of hammering and a lot of heat. The blacksmith sweats at his anvil just to work the metal into its blank form. This is the first draft, a blunt weapon full of flaws. Sure, it might knock someone out if swung hard enough, but it’s hardly a reliable tool. The metal needs to go back into the furnace and then you beat, beat, beat…

After enough work you have something approximately sword-shaped, but it’s not finished yet. Now you need to test it, to weigh its balance and to make sure there’s no fundamental weakness in the metal. If there is then it’s back into the fire, maybe adding more charcoal to toughen it up or another laminate of steel if you’re pattern-welding. Even if it withstands the proving there’s still endless days of sharpening to follow, honing the blade endlessly until it’s a scalpel-sharp perfectly balanced precision instrument.

Even when the weapon is deadly there’s still room for elaboration: a fine hilt, perhaps, or scabbard. Even, for swords of a particular bent, eldritch runes to be etched into the blade. There’s always something more that can be done.

I am not a naturally talented writer. My sword-blanks are weak and unbalanced and liable to shatter in their first engagement. But what I have is a willingness and a discipline to take my rough back to the forge and beat the shit out of it, over and over and over again, until it is the best I can possible make it.

So don’t call me an artist; that’s too good for me. Maybe one day I’ll learn enough to earn that title, when I can produce an epee, a rapier or a mighty broadsword on spec; for now I’m perfectly happy to be a craftsman.

Now it’s time for me to go back to the forge. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.