Monday, 10 November 2014

A Day in the Life...

One thing I’ve been keen to do since setting up the blog is to write a series of posts about the writing process generally. This stems from the fact that whenever I tell people I’m a writer, I generally get asked the same questions, so I figured that people must be interested in this stuff, right?

I plan to address a bunch of these questions in future blogs – the tricky ones like ‘Where do you get your ideas?’, the more complex ones like ‘How did you go about getting published?’ and the personal ones like ‘Don’t you get lonely?’ (There’s a whole series of blogs in those questions. Watch this space).

First up, a simple one: ‘What do you do in an average day?’

This is an interesting question, because it’s often laden with meaning. It’s people wondering whether or not writing is a proper job (I often joke that it’s not, but it really is), and how someone can be motivated to stare at a screen for eight hours a day. The answer to the question varies from writer to writer, too.

Bromley House Subscription Library, Nottingham.
A safe haven for a lost Victorian writer.
I try as best as I can to keep to office hours. That’s not always possible in a purely creative process, because really you have to write, research and plan when the mood takes you. Chaining yourself to a desk 9-5 can be counter-productive in that respect. However, I try my best to do this, simply because I’m a married man with a wife who really does have a ‘proper job’, and so it’s only fair that I’m available for family time at the end of a working day. To that end, I’m at my computer at 9:00 a.m. on the dot every day, and down tools some time around 6:00 p.m. the first few hours of every day are almost always spent answering correspondence, doing the social media rounds (which is actually a real thing these days), and getting all planning and paperwork out of the way. The rest of the day is the real job of work, punctuated with frequent coffees. A couple of days a month I work at the library (I pay a subscription to a wonderful olde worlde library for just this purpose), and at least once a week I work at a coffee lounge, just so I can see some real human faces. I have a fully equipped office at home, complete with whiteboard, wall calender and many bookshelves, because only by having everything to hand can I guarantee that I won't wander off and get distracted.

I do two types of writing – there’s the creative fiction (novels, novellas and short stories), and there’s also commission work (copywriting, games design, and, to a lesser degree, editing and proofreading). The former does not respect office hours. The latter absolutely does. When I’m not doing something else with my brain, I’m thinking about books. I have approximately seven series and novel pitches on the go right now, in no concrete state, along with four ‘going concerns’ (projects that are started or almost done, and in the hands of an agent or editor). On top of that there are always side projects – those pesky things that I’ll do one day if I ever have free time. That basically means that my head is always buzzing with something.

That brings me around to the related question of motivation. The creative process is what drives me. Like many writers, I think the start and end of projects are really exciting, while the middle bits – the actual job of work – can become more of a grind. The motivation comes from the almost pathological need to create ‘new stuff’, and the knowledge that I won’t be able to do that until I finish the current project and earn some cash. The crux of it is that writing is a proper job, because it pays the bills. Much as I’d love to sit in my pants all day reading internet clickbait, or playing Skyrim, I’d very quickly discover that the mortgage lenders don’t take kindly to those sort of shenanigans. Yes, it is hard to get motivated when you’re left to your own devices, and I’m really not the most organized and process-driven chap in the world; but I’d ask the question: how does anyone get motivated to work? It helps that I love what I do, of course – that someone is willing to pay me for it never ceases to amaze me.

The old cliché of ‘Do a job you love and never work a day in your life’ is almost true of the writing life. Almost.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Has the Doctor Had His Day?

Doctor Who. A show I’ve loved for a long time. I watched Davison and McCoy on and off when I were a lad, but my interest in the franchise really sky-rocketed with the poorly received Paul McGann movie, which I really enjoyed (despite some oddities). I really liked Eccleston (again, despite the show’s cheap-and-cheerful spin on the continuity and a very annoying early-series Rose). And actually, that’s a theme with my ongoing enjoyment of the Doctor’s adventures – I always seem to find something to love about it in spite of itself. There’s always something rubbish about Doctor Who, and that can vary from the special effects to the writing, but the whole has always been better than the sum of its parts for me.

Until recently, that is.

I think I started to fall out of love with Doctor Who with the whole …of the Doctor trilogy, culminating in the Time of the Doctor. I’m in the camp of fans who didn’t like that story one bit, largely because of the hand-wavy way it got out of the whole regeneration issue. (Firstly, I don’t think, by any stretch, Matt Smith should have been the final regeneration. And even if you accept the awful logic that said he was, then the way in which he got rebooted with 13 new ‘lives’ was something out of a bad fantasy novel. It’s science fiction without the science.)

But the new Doctor (the first of a new cycle of 13, although official marketing says he’s ‘12’, and previous scripts seem uncertain on the matter) filled me with hope. Capaldi looks the part; we know he’s a great actor – shades of William Hartnell and Tom Baker abound – but even from his very first few seconds on screen with Clara it was obvious he was in for a torrid time from the writing team. I’d already lost faith in Steven Moffat’s storytelling ability, but I hoped a new series with a new Who would salvage the series. In a nutshell, it certainly hasn’t yet.

So far, I’m bemused by how dislikeable the new Doctor is. His constant quips about Clara’s appearance took a while to get used to – they were pretty sexist in the first few episodes, and only recently has this been tempered with warmth and fondness. He ‘hates’ soldiers (more about this later), to the point where he acts like a total cock at the very mention of them. He’s always ready to pull the trigger and sacrifice some lives, and he spends more time bickering than actually solving problems.

Enter, stage right, Clara Oswald. She’s now the principle character. She solves the problems; she leads the Doctor by the hand. She joked that she was his ‘carer’, but that’s pretty accurate at the moment, as Capaldi’s doctor seems schizophrenic, old, bitter and forgetful; completely out of touch with his human side. Clara, on the other hand, shows great strength of will, consistency, and gets the best of the screen time. Until, that is, Danny Pink arrived on the scene.

Danny Pink is not a bad character, despite what fandom is saying. What he represents, however, is bad for the show in my opinion. Steven Moffat seems to think that Clara only worked because she was in a strange ‘will they, won’t they?’ relationship with Matt Smith’s Doctor. Now Capaldi has taken over, looking old enough to be Clara’s granddad yet clearly harbouring some quite creepy feelings for Oswald, that dynamic doesn’t work. And so Clara is becoming defined by another man – a strong soldier, who recently swore to protect Clara and ditch her if essentially she didn’t report in to him. As the strongest character on the show so far, does Clara need this?

Who's the main character in this show?
Clue: It's neither of the blokes in the foreground.
Of course, Danny’s other purpose beyond reining in that tearaway girl, is yet to be seen. But it’s Pompeii, I guess). Basically, Steven Moffat’s signature is dropping lots of weird stuff into a series only to explain them in the finale (or shove them aside and shout “Timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly stuff!”). When introducing a new Doctor after arguably the most popular actor ever, however, that’s a bit of a gamble. Given past form, I suspect the finale will be a cop-out, and that Danny will die tragically leaving Clara heartbroken. The point is: it’s not okay to make characters do weird, out-of-character stuff just to get to a payoff. The ends, however clever, don’t justify the means – all it does is break a viewer’s faith in a character’s core values. It’s bad writing. Like having an alien in the Caretaker episode that’s supposedly ‘threatening the world’ but really can’t even destroy a secondary school, because it’s just there as a deus ex machina to bring Clara, Danny and the Doctor into a taut relationship. Like showing us the ‘thing under the sheet’ in Listen and having the Doctor be terrified of it, only to reveal that logically it must have been a very brave or messed-up orphan playing silly beggars (the Doctor, who once dallied with being a god, is scared of a kid under a bedsheet). Like having a spaceship powered by gold only require the addition of a golden arrow (made by those same aliens’ allies) be fired into its hull by Robin Hood to save the day.
almost certainly to be a foil for the new soldier-hating Doctor – forced to travel with a soldier, what will the Doctor do (beyond being unpleasant and insufferable)? There will hopefully be some resolution at the end of this series explaining all this – why the Doctor now hates soldiers so much when he used to be a strong ally of UNIT and the Brigadier, when he encouraged Martha Jones and Ricky/Micky to become soldiers, and when he himself was one for a while – AND what Danny Pink’s main role really is. After all, he’s only a soldier because the Doctor made him want to be one, right? And he must get together with Clara if Awesome Pink is to be explained, right? That ‘God’ woman must have a part to play too… not to mention the Doctor’s ‘familiar face’ (from

In short, I’m rapidly losing faith in Doctor Who. The writing is all over the place, and I fear Capaldi, great as he is, has been ‘sold a pup’. I keep watching because of nostalgia: I want it to be great. For that reason alone, I’m happy to be proved wrong – but that payoff had better be bloody amazing, otherwise I fear the Doctor may have had his day.

Friday, 22 August 2014

This Wargaming Life...

The cover of 'Waterloo', by my old pal Alex Boyd, the talented devil.

A long time ago, I had a hand in designing several historical wargames, which were published by the now-defunct historical gaming arm of Games Workshop. These games still have ongoing communities, and even though official support hasn't been forthcoming for donkeys' years, people still play them, which is a comforting thought for me. It seems almost like a past life, but 'Legends of the Old west' will probably be what a lot of people remember me for (if anything!).

I was going through some old discs recently, having a good old clearout, and I found some of the support files that I produced for those games years ago - the Frequently Asked Questions, Errata, and a few free bits of rules and so on. It occurred to me that some of these files haven't existed on t'internet for a long time indeed, and there may be still folk out there who want 'em. So, without further ado, here's everything I ever did for those old games, post-publication, in one handy place. Enjoy!

Legends of the Old West: the Card Sharp & Hangin' Judge Hired Guns

Waterloo: FAQ and Errata

Waterloo: Russia army list

Trafalgar: FAQ and Errata

Trafalgar: Fleet List for Turkey

Just for good measure, I should point out that these files are in no way affiliated with Games Workshop, can't be considered 'official' (except that it 'was me what wrote em guv'nor'), and no payment was requested or given for the work herein. Bearing all that in mind, enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Hooray and Huzzah!

Yesterday, in a flurry of tweets, the news finally broke that I have secured a three-book deal with Titan Books in the UK, which will include my début novel and two further books in the same series. More details here:

Time to shout it from the rooftops!

This news comes as something of a massive weight off my shoulders. Firstly, it means I can carry on doing this writing game a bit longer. Secondly, it means I don't have to keep this monumental secret any more. Huzzah indeed!

The first book in my series of Victorian science fiction, horror and mystery will be available in the UK, USA and Australia in Autumn next year.

In the meantime, I expect this blog to take a rather more productive turn as the editing and publication process kicks in. I've already started thinking about my path to publication, and how it differed from the various stories and 'advice to writers' articles I found online in the early days. I'm thinking a series of blogs about my experiences in this regard may be of interest to other new writers trying to break into trad publishing.

Thinking cap on  more to follow!