In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

An interesting Idea

 Well, the new novel debuts on Saturday at liznojan bookstore in Tiverton, England. Here's the cover,

 As ever, I'm indebted to Mark Watts for the cover art. I think this one's a cracker too. We had a bloody handprint on it too at first, but then it looked too crowded, so we took that out. Good thing, too. This is a nice clean cover, I really like it.

 Covers matter. I know several indie authors who work like Trojans on the novel itself, but don't spend much time on covers or back page blurb. But that's what sells the book. The first thing a browser sees is the cover, and if that catches their eye they'll read the blurb. Still like it? They'll read the opening page or two, and if they're still interested they'll buy. If any of that turns them off, though, they're gone. Spend a bit of time on the details, people. It does help.

 Liznojan is a new indie bookstore, which I'm happy to support by holding my launch there. Indie book shops are important, a bit like libraries, they're a place for people to meet and chat about... everything, really. I like the name, too. 'Liznojan' means to learn while following a track, and isn't that just what reading is? You follow the story arc and who knows, maybe learn something along the way. A phrase that stays with you, an interesting idea, a character who inspires you. Aren't books terrific?

 Mine is maybe not terrific, but I think it's pretty good. It finishes the story of Kai and the Ashir, as they struggle to defeat the invaders and hold onto their culture. There are surprises along the way, and some grief, before we reach the end. It will be available as e-book or print copy on Saturday, the 17th of March, so get a copy and come along on the journey.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

You'd Have to be Hemingway

 Hi all.

 Yesterday I got involved (unwisely) in a Facebook thread about how quickly indie writers produce books. The fastest publish one every five or six weeks, meaning some ten a year. It reminds me a bit of NaNoWriMo, when some people reach the 50,000 words target on the first day. In honesty, I don't think anyone can write that fast and keep the quality. I could do 50,000 words a day, but most of it would be bleh bleh bleh, complete rubbish.

 So what about 20,000 words per day (wpd)? Not really possible either, to my mind. And down we go, until we reach a point where we start to think it can be done. Now, I realise that the world is full of wonders, and everyone writes in their own way, but still... 20,000 wpd? No. No, I don't think so, not with any quality.

 I said this in the FB thread, and promptly got shot to bits by lots of irate authors. Told you I was unwise

 But the thing is, I've never heard of a traditionally published author who writes ten publication-ready novels in a year. Never. OK, publishers don't want more than two a year anyway, and the process takes time as well, but even so it's a hell of a leap from two to ten. Are we really saying that just by being indie, authors can suddenly write five times faster than anyone else, and still keep their quality?

 I don't think we are. I suspect what usually happens is that authors dash off a book as fast as their fingers can go, publish it, then move on. Very little editing or rewrites, not much concern for standards. Just bang the book out and follow it with a few adverts, then start the next novel. So lots of words, but poor quality. I've read some of this stuff. It's not great.

 Of course, the key word is "usually". I'm sure there are one or two authors who can pull this off - ten books a year and still quality. But you'd have to be Hemingway or Stephen King to do it. If these authors can, then kudos to them. For myself, I know I'm no Hemingway, and I'll stick to the old-fashioned way. Write, revise, revise, edit, edit, and then (for the first time) ask myself if the work is finished. Or does it need another edit?

 Boring, eh? Too true. But it needs to be done.

 Pip pip.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Before and After

 Life's a funny old thing, y'know.

 There are people who want to live forever. I don't really understand that. Even in forever there will be something you didn't see, and anyway your regrets will pile up and pile up and maybe in the end choke you. In any case, if the old never die, what jobs will the young people do? How will they get a job at a physics department or shoe shop if the people who have those jobs never retire?

 Immortality means stasis. Nothing changing, nothing new. I think people take risks because they know their time is limited anyway .Even if you die, it's only popping off a bit earlier. But if you have forever in your sights,well now... why take a risk? Why go near a road if you might be run down, or board a plane that might crash? Immortality just means you don't die of natural causes. It doesn't make you immune to bombs or bullets.

 On the other hand (and how many lunatic ideas started with "On the other hand", do you think?) there's so much I want to see. I long to walk on Mars. Did you know the sky there is pink? I want to see my daughters get married and have kids, or become artists or activists or thinkers. Or serve coffee at Starbuck's, if that's what they want to do. I want to see Liverpool win the league title again. So many things, and I won't see them all. (Especially Liverpool... sigh) Life flits by like blown leaves, every leaf a year, and suddenly you're on the edge of fifty and wondering how the bloody hell you got there.

 But it's strange, because I like the different perspectives I've had as I've grown older. I've learned not to be certain of things, because much of what I once thought was obvious and clear turns out to be shades of grey. I've found that experience (and maybe a little wisdom) are better friends than energy and hot blood. I like myself, too. That took some learning, and a lot of forgiving myself for mistakes made and hurts done to others. I think I can face that final curtain, when it comes, with a little bit of a smile.

I'm not afraid to die. What matters is the life lived, not the avoidance of death. I want to teach my daughters what I can, and send them out into the world confident and brave and loved, and ready to sort out their own shit. I want to love my wife, who's broken my life into Before and After like I'm two different men, one emerging from the shell of the other. And after a bit of these things, as much as I can deal with and life allows me, I'll die. That's no cause for sorrow. Not if we can say we lived our lives well.

 Pip pip.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Magic And Derring-Do

 The new novel, How The Stars Shine, seems to have stronger love themes in it than I'd planned, or than I've done before. It's not a romance, by any means. I can't say much without risking spoilers, but I'll note that love takes many forms, and more than one appears in the story.

 It wasn't planned. Stories take their own shape sometimes, just as characters do - or should, if they're any good. I'll reach a certain point and a character will want to do something I hadn't considered before. That's good, it shows the tale has life thrumming through it, and unexpected things may happen. If I don't know for sure what's coming down the line, the reader isn't likely to. But this time, it's got me thinking. Stars is the first from-scratch novel I've begun since I met my wife. Everything else was at least blocked out before then, and largely written. Its broad form was set. Stars was not, and it's changing in my hands.

 Could this be, do you think, because I have love in my own life at last?

 I remember I said to Caz, before we were married, that I wasn't sure I felt love in the way that other people do. There have been signs of it. Me not crying while my whole family wept at the funeral of my grandfather, things like that. I'm known as a distant man, unapproachable as one of my friends called me - and if that's what my friends think, how must I seem to people who have only just met me?

 Caz broke through these walls of mine without trying. I noticed one day that she was already inside my castle, having a good rummage about and putting pictures on my walls. And I didn't mind. Hmm, I thought. Interesting. Again, not love as most people know it, eh? Then came the babies, Bella and Evie. Bells will be two next week. And with them, no doubt at all, I have learned to love the way everyone else does. Overwhelmingly, swept-along-in-a-flood helplessly loving them. I know now that all my doubts about love were rubbish. I can feel it fine. I just hadn't found the right place and time before.

 So love is a part of me now, and I guess it's finding its way into my work. That's OK. I'm not going to end up being Barbara Cartland. My stories will still be Fantasies, there'll be magic and derring-do and hopefully some strange cultures that the reader hasn't seen before. But maybe there will be a softer tone, just now and then, and you know, that's OK too.

Friday, 12 January 2018

How The Stars Shine

 Hi all. Hope the New Year has started with promise for you.

 I'm getting right into the new novel, 22,000 words done now. I've renamed it How The Stars Shine, from a quote by Bertrand Russell about how he yearns to know so many things. Part of the story (before, it was called Eternity) deals with a scholar called Mani, whose job is to talk with the Sea-Goats who live in the lagoon and glean information from them. He's a man of learning in a culture where almost everyone works in farming or the military, who takes one simple step and finds that it throws him into the heart of events sweeping across the cities.

 Trouble is, from there the story has grown into something so ambitious that it scares me. There's a non-human species, the Sea-Goats, who are a bit like mermen but have a distinct culture and keep secrets all the time. There's a mad warlord who wants to live forever, and an almost equally insane High Priestess who thinks she can ride his coat-tails to power. There are betrayals and revelations galore. All this makes the story difficult to write in a structural sense, because there's so much going on and I have to keep it all tight and sleek so it isn't confusing.

 At the heart of it all is the longing for power, and the things people do to achieve it. We're driven by pride and ambition, even if we don't know what we'll actually do with power once we've got it. A bit like Donald Trump, who seemed to want the Presidency so he could boast to foreign leaders about how big his button was (metaphorically, hehe). The warlord in Stars is like that. He wants to live forever not so he can achieve good things for his people, not so he can understand mysteries, but just so he doesn't die. A little man holding great power is dangerous.

 Then there's Mani, who wants to understand all the mysteries, know all the answers to questions he hasn't even thought of yet. That's foolish too, because if we know everything we have nothing left to learn, or achieve. The Arabs have a proverb; "May all your dreams come true but one." Having one thing left to dream of means we remain dreamers, and isn't that good?

 I'm as guilty as anyone, by the way. I'm a bit like Mani, wanting to know all the answers, even though I know it's a fool's longing. But I do know there are limitations on what we can do. I've typed this blog with one hand while cradling a sleepy-struggly baby in the other, and boy, that teaches you the limits of what you can do.

 Is writing How The Stars Shine beyond my limits? Maybe. But if the project doesn't scare you it's not big enough, and as I've said before, God hates a coward. I think I can manage the story. Finding out is deliciously scary.

 Pip pip.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Hope for Better

 So the Christmas dinner is eaten (and very nice it was too). The presents have been opened, though Bella got so excited with some that she still hasn't unwrapped the others. The pop-up play-tent was especially popular. She likes to get inside and then roll it across the floor, so this afternoon has not been very restful.

 Still, happy kids, happy wife, and I even had a beer with lunch. Good day, eh?

 Usually my last blog of the year is a review - the best and worst of 2017, that sort of thing. I can't really do it now because I've done very little this year outside work and family. There are a few things though, and first among them is Blade Runner 2049. You've probably heard that it's too long, but that's not true - it's long because it has important themes to explore, about what makes us human and how we define ourselves. Every minute is worth it though. My three favourite films for years have been Blade Runner, Dances with Wolves and The Godfather; now I have a fourth to add to the list. 2049 is outstanding, a proper tour de force. Go and see it or you'll miss something special.

Otherwise, it's been a year of coming close. Twice I was offered a conditional publishing deal, as regular readers will know, and twice I turned it down. I'm right on the edge of a contract now, but there's nothing to say that my next submissions will be as well received. There are no guarantees until you've signed that paper. So I have to carry on as before, writing and submitting, doing what I can on social media - generally, as Churchill said, just Keep Buggering On. And though the old year has been great, hope for better in the new.

 I hope your 2018 is terrific too. Enjoy the rest of the festive season, and best wishes for the New Year. Pip pip!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Back to the Light

 So, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, eh?

I’ve never liked the festive season. It’s too commercial and too forced. The adverts start much too early, and they’re all pressure sells - “buy this for Dad to make him happy.” Then it’s as though you have to smile, all the time. Not allowed to be down, not allowed to have a blue day. Stores play the same trite songs on a loop and we all have to wear jumpers that show we’re just such fun guys. It rings fake to me.

But now I have kids, things have changed (Like that’s a surprise). Christmas is for children, isn’t it? Bella’s of an age where she still prefers wrapping paper to presents, and plays for hours with the boxes, but still, she likes tearing the wrap off things. And she does like new toys, at least after she’s destroyed the boxes and strewn the house with cardboard. Besides, this will be Evie’s first Christmas. It doesn’t matter if I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon. It stopped being about me when the kids were born.

Christmas grew out of the pagan midwinter festival. I wonder if people then felt the same about that?

In some ways, patently not. The old festival was about emerging from the winter. The shortest day meant the year had turned, and now began to move towards spring and the rebirth of life. It was something to celebrate, but something dark too. The gods of rebirth used to die at midwinter, their blood on the snow, because they had to before being reborn in spring when the shoots start to grow. Darkness and light, a mixed message. Hope and despair.

 But faced with that, people focus on the hope. We always look for the light of a candle in the night. I can imagine those old festivals being full of life and joy, laughing in the face of the dark. What else were they for? We know the darkness is there, but we don't have to dwell on it. Better to raise a glass and smile.

 My wife wants us all to have onesies. I've always refused to wear the dreadful things. No force on Earth will get me into one of those things... except there are the kids. Caz says she can get minions onesies for her and the girls, and a Gru one for me. And take photos.

 The things we do for our kids.