A year has passed since setting down the opening lines of a new work; the windblown seeds of which first drifted into my consciousness more than twenty years ago.

At the time, I’d fasted for four days and nights in a grove of moss-cloaked, lichen-fronded oaks, nestled in the hills overlooking Barmouth, North Wales. The surroundings became a looking glass, a scrying vessel and a wireless connection, through which the voice of the landscape spoke; lyrical, clear and potent.

I left Wales, much healed, and those new seeds came with me. I tried to write the story gestating within in their nucleii but, having only set down poetry before that moment, I lacked the maturity, both psychologically and authorially, to do those mystical kernels justice. That work, much of it hand-written in a spiral-bound notebook, became my first unfinished novel – a failure at the time.

But I had detached myself from among the wallflowers on the side-lines and joined the writers’ ball; committed myself to those reels of joy and disappointment, wherein every dancer turns and stamps alone.

Their germination unsuccessful, the seeds re-entered cryo-sleep for well over two decades.

Until, in 2017, two things happened:

First, on the way to school one morning, I happened to outline the unfinished tale to my daughter, aged nine at the time. She said, “Dada, you should go back to the beginning and write that story all over again.”

And, I thought, yes, I really should…

Second, an inspiring meeting with the gentleman who became my literary agent gave me a reason to begin a new work of Fantasy. The dormant seeds re-awoke and I began to make pages and pages of notes and drawings, determined, this time, to find a way through to the end without getting lost.

Creating a new world over the intervening months has involved all the usual heartaches. This second attempt, however, has resulted in a work commensurate with its mystical genesis among those gnarled, ancient trees. Regardless of whether it makes the hyperspace leap from manuscript to book, it has become a magical artefact; worthy of a reader or two.

For now, as ever, I wait on the opinions of others to find value (of a marketable, monetary nature) in the work that flowed through me between August 2017 and August 2018. Should the gatekeepers find the novel acceptable, I hope you’ll be able to share in the enchantments that came to me in that solitary vigil on a Welsh hillside all those years ago.

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For the record – how the Black Dawn became a series

I need to set this up first, otherwise shooting myself in the foot, which I plan to do in a minute, isn’t going to work.

When a writer needs to explain something about their work, whether before or after publication, it’s as though they’re intimating that the work is incomplete. In groups I’ve run and classes I’ve taught in the past, whenever writers read their material aloud, rather than giving everyone an introduction or preamble, I always encouraged them to dive in and let the writing speak for itself.

That’s the pure way, the artistic way – takes some courage but it was always worth it for the feedback from listeners hearing it ‘cold’ rather than prepped.

Ahem. Now then…

*aims Glock at tarsals*

Seeing as it’s been almost four years since the Black Dawn series was published, there’s something I want to tell you.

*squeezes trigger*

Between them, Black Feathers and The Book of the Crowman have close to a thousand ratings on Goodreads, which is lovely.

Keeping an eye on Goodreads reviews is a great way for authors to gauge how their work is received by a wide selection of booklovers.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Goodreads, I’d never have discovered that hardly any readers understand why these two books became a series.

Here’s the truth: Continue reading

Paper. Hats. Lots of paper and hats.

Since my last post, I have been like a man lost in a room piled high with A4 paper.

It was a large room, more of a gymnasium really, and it was VERY full. To make matters worse, someone wearing a hat that said ‘Writer’ on it had typed an idea all over those sheets of paper – a pretty outlandish idea, if you ask me.

Anyway, someone had to go into that room wearing an editor’s hat (and NBC/HAZMAT suit) and sort the mess out. That someone was me.

But, to be fair to all parties, the person who filled up all the sheets of paper with the outlandish idea in the first place was also me.

It’s a good thing I have so many hats, so that I can do all these jobs. I have a vacuuming hat, a grocery shopping hat, a laundry hat, a school run hat, an ironing hat, a dusting hat, a cleaning the litter tray hat, a cooking hat and a washing up hat, among many others.

Fortunately, the one hat I don’t have to wear at the moment is an agent’s hat. I’m happy about this because I really don’t like the agent’s hat and doing the things that wearing it makes me do. I’ve been lucky enough to find someone who is willing to wear the agent’s hat for me and do all that agent’s hat-wearing stuff – one of those things being reading an early draft and then sending it to people who like to wear commissioning editor’s hats.

Hoorah!

However, wearing the agent’s hat could mean that he doesn’t like all the pieces of paper enough to show them to people in commissioning editor’s hats. This, I feel quite strongly, would be a Bad Thing.

On the other hand, the man in the agent’s hat might throw his hands in the air and yell “Far out, writer’s hat-wearing dude! Awesome bits of paper, and all in the correct order! I’m going to show people in commissioning editor’s hats what you’ve done here.” This, I’m almost certain, would be a Good Thing.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, it’s another little milestone that takes the process from finished first draft to finished first submittable draft.

And, now, I put on the first of my waiting hats – there are many, to be worn at the several waiting stages of the process to come.

*twiddles thumbs*

*Thinks paper and hat thoughts*

The End = The Beginning. (Maybe.) :-)

Some weeks ago, I began a new novel, the details of which I posted here. Then I disappeared. Novelists do that.

This is me reappearing and saying, “Tada!” because the first draft is complete.

Having shown my agent the six-page outline in August, I felt confident to get on with the writing. I went at it daily for about eleven weeks, only missing days when it was unavoidable – perhaps five or six absences across the whole stretch.

The novel had to come in at under 150K so that it won’t be too long to sell (mss above this word count incur a significantly higher printing cost). I squeaked in at 146K, leaving some wiggle room.

There’s a good deal of editing to do before there’s a presentable draft, then it’s time to wait for a verdict from my agent. A thumbs-up means the piggy goes to market next year. A thumbs-down…well, let’s not talk about that.

Anyway, I’m back so, “Hello and hope you’ve been well!”

Rate and review call from authors everywhere!

Read a book recently? Do you, like me, LOVE books and stories?

If so, and you haven’t had the time to do this yet, go and rate the books you’ve enjoyed. It only takes a few seconds to do and, whether you realise it or not, it makes a difference.

These days, consumer-led assessment of quality affects everything – Tripadvisor is a brilliant example of this – and the publishing business is no different. Your rating of a book affects the purchasing choices of the people who come to a product after you. They’re much more likely to risk their hard-earned wages on something that other people have liked and rated before them.

Why is this important? Because it could mean the difference between an author staying an author or going back to her day job. This is as true for me as anyone else.

So, please, if you’ve got a spare moment, leave a rating of your favourite books and keep the people who write them in a job!

And, if you have several spare moments, go a step further and add a review to your rating. It all adds up to something.

Something wonderful.

A thought for #NationalWritingDay

Writers – of fiction, I mean – occupy the territory between magician, court jester and shaman.

They take the things we cannot clearly see about ourselves and make mirrors so that we can look at those things, at least a little more clearly.

It’s paradoxical, isn’t it, that though we, as writers, set out with fabrication as a goal, we can end up revealing something pure and unadulterated? And yet a writer of non-fiction, someone who strives for precision and factual detail actually blurs reality simply by passing it through their own lens.

Great fiction imparts great truths with a subtlety and depth that non-fiction never can.

So, get on with your writing and seek the truth wrapped up in stories…

Love the block, don’t block the love (or What the Farmer told the Mountaineer)

Welcome, all you wonderful people who write fiction. How is your progress up the treacherous crags of Story Fell and Novel Mountain?

Oh. Oh dear! Like that, is it?

Well, bear in mind that even though you write alone, these steep pathways and sheer cliff faces you’ve chosen to climb have been scrambled up – and over – by uncountable others throughout the past and, even now, as you find yourself shivering and solitary on an impossible ridge, others are in similar difficulties all over this vast, forbidding peak.

Therefore, today’s post is a kind of Mountain Rescue service, dropping an extra length of rope, a change of socks and a cup of hot, reviving soup!

I’ve reached an age at which I am tired of struggling, swimming upstream, self-flagellating and generally agonising over my art. I kind of wish I’d come to this realisation years ago but the reality is that, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have the understanding I have now. Remember that old saying? “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want…”

Recently, I’ve been thinking about that hoary old chestnut, writer’s block.

There’s a grand, hilarious fib I tell when strangers/fans/students etc ask me if I ever suffer from said chestnut.

“No.” I say.

(I say it firmly.)

“Writing is my job. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? Or Lawyers? Or warehouse pickers? Course not. They may not want to go to work but they have to, and so do I.”

People believe me too. They might have a moment of “Is this guy messing with me?” but when they see the look in my eye, they realise it’s the truth.

I’m a good liar like that.

To give you an idea of what I really think about writing on a bad day, here’s a line in one of my notebooks from some years ago. It offers a minor clue as to my state of mind when at work on a piece of fiction:

Strategies for coping with writer’s block: Cry, panic, self-mutilation. Helps to be drunk for all of these.

It has become clear over the years – through teaching writing to people of all ages, mentoring other authors and just hanging around with writerly types – that every writer is unique. We each have different desk routines, work ethics, drafting habits and everything else.

Why wouldn’t we, when we come from so many diverse backgrounds, each of us with entirely unrepeatable psychology and genetics driving us? No matter which area of the craft a writer develops a problem with, there isn’t a fix-it that works for everyone. This is also true for writer’s block.

That being the case, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about getting stuck:

It may look broke, it may act broke, but it ain’t broke. And what ain’t broke, as everyone knows, don’t need no fixin’.

“But I’m sitting here clawing my own eyes out because NO WORDS WILL COME,” you say.

I know. I’ve been there so many times.

Sit back. Relax. Don’t panic.

Let’s go for an agricultural metaphor here, seeing as writing is all about inner fecundity and growth and natural magic…

If you were a farmer working a field, you would understand the importance of allowing that field a decent amount of time to lie fallow, so that it has ample opportunity to regenerate and become fertile again after the reaping is done.

Writing isn’t only about getting the words down. Sure, if you don’t do that then there’s no story, but there will be days, weeks – in my case, months and years – when words don’t come. There are many reasons why that can happen; sometimes obvious, other times not. None of that matters.

I’ve come the realisation that we have a choice about how to proceed when the words dry up. We can plunge into the customary negative spiral of auto-annihilation or we can do the right thing: sit back and chill.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Because when it isn’t about hammering away at the keyboard or getting hand cramps from working longhand, writing is about dreaming and wondering and staring out of the window. It’s about taking a stroll, watching a movie or rearranging your vinyl collection. It’s about eating ice cream and doing the ironing (not at the same time).

Just because you’re unable to set down a single word, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It doesn’t mean you’ll never write again. It may only mean that your ‘field’ is depleted and you need to take a break. This is not a disaster. It’s certainly not something that should be allowed to spoil an otherwise perfect day.

Here’s the insight that finally came to me from so many instances, over so many years, of not being able to write one solitary bastard word:

It’s a good thing.

I did absolutely say that.

I say it because writing will never just be about the words you can see on the page. If it was, it would have lost its power over me a long, long time ago. Writing (like scaling a mountain) is a process, incorporating stages and levels and progressions, many of which none of us are either aware of or understand.

We may think we know what we’re doing but we really don’t. That’s the magic in it. That’s why I love it. Because it’s never the same twice and it’s always full of surprises. I don’t know how it works and I don’t want to. I prefer a world with a little wonder still left in it.

What I do know is this:

A writer’s mind is like a wild stretch of land waiting to be explored – or like that farmer’s field. Glancing around on any given day, you’ll see sprouts of story visible, scattered everywhere you look. They seem unrelated to each other but, under the surface of the soil, all those sprouts are connected in your deep consciousness – beginnings, middles, endings, characters, phrases, twists and turns and all the rest of it, as well as cool stuff you don’t even realise you know yet. They’re all there, all joined up perfectly but hidden beneath the earth.

When you can’t write, you don’t need to worry about it. You need only allow the seasons to move across that land so that all the incredible promise it contains has a chance to rise up. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself and you’ll be feeding that inner landscape, fertilising it with trust and love – and, crucially, time.

Some while later, it might only be an hour but, equally, it might be several months or longer, you’ll return to look around that inner stretch of land and notice that some of the sprouts have grown and new ones are appearing.

That’s the time to return to your desk with your own comfortable, familiar methods and routines. Because it’s time to start harvesting again – uncovering those hidden networks, revealing the story that only needed time and light and water and care.

Yes, you could have whipped yourself bloody and forced the words out for all of that time but the pain it would engender is, I’ve come to feel, unnecessary. If you let go of the controls, you’ll find the new material waiting for you without you needing to lift a finger.

So, fiction-farming friends and bon mot mountaineers, no matter how bad things might seem, you really haven’t lost the plot. It will come back to you.

And if, as sometimes happens, you discover you’ve dug up a turd instead of a treasure, be open to the gentle realisation that you can’t be a genius every time. Even writing a dud tale is good experience; it makes better writers of us all. And maybe all that turds needs is more time underground to transform…

So, off you go up that ridge. The sun has come out and the wind has died. The air smells clean and your grip on the rock face is secure. You can see the entire world from here but things are going to look even better when you reach the top.

I’ll see you there up there.

(Although I may be some time…)