Category Archives: writing

My Week in Writing (18/02/18)

houseI’ve had a pretty busy week! I finished my edit on The Summer Masque and outside of a readthrough of the opening chapters to put a sample together, I have declared it ‘adequate’ and begun writing a query letter. In theory it should not be hard, having written an novel, to write a letter about said novel. In practice… oh dear.

I received (belatedly) my contributor copies of Microtext 3, a very nice (and very tiny) anthology from Medusa’s Laugh Press. I read it more or less in one sitting yesterday and thoroughly recommend it – not just because my writing’s in it! It’s a bit fiddly to read but there’s some really good stuff in there.

I also got, as an apology for the late dispatch of my copies of Microtext, a free book called Cadavre Exquis, which is certainly the most unique book I’ve owned to date. I haven’t read it yet but it came wrapped in a ‘burial shroud’. Very puzzling to receive with no explanation.

I went to see the Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library: slam poets presenting excerpts from Wikipedia articles in the style of their poetry. Very strange, somewhat educational, won by someone who read the article on the subject of rooms.

Today I made peanut butter cookies and went out for lunch at the National Gallery, which is always a good time.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is now over 200k and still climbing. I’m coming up on a good bit so looking forward to working on that later today!

And I submitted a story (at the last minute) to Pulp Literature’s Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest. Last year I made the shortlist – we’ll see how it goes this time around…

Next week, I’m off to see The Shape of the Water and hopefully also Black Panther so quite excited for that. I’m also getting two fillings which is less exciting. Ah well.


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My Week In Writing (11/02/18)

bridgeA short update this week as it’s very late in the evening  – but I have big news!

My short story 3.8 Missions is going to be featured in Best of British Science Fiction 2017, an anthology from NewCon Press. The anthology will launch over Easter weekend. I’m very excited, to say the least!

Spurred on by my success, I’ve submitted some more short stories, including an entry for the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. Watch that space, just… not very closely.

In other news, The Green and the Gathering Tide has crept up to a tidy 197k so I anticipate hitting 200k (whoops!) next week. And I have finished The Lightning Pit, which was one of those short stories that more or less wrote itself. Looking forward to getting some feedback on it.

And I went to Inky Fingers at Lighthouse Books, which was a delight as always.

Next week, I’m hoping to finish my edit on The Summer Masque and finally make a start on a query letter (gulp). I’m also hoping to make it to The Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library. But mainly I plan to keep plugging away at my various novels.


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Adventures in Novelling: Worldbuilding

5310797124_810e65c51e_oI am not a patient person.

I give up on most computer games I try to play as soon as I get hard. I regularly re-read books and notice lines I missed entirely first time around because I was skim-reading. Editing is hard to me because it takes so much effort to focus on my own words, when I know what I meant to say.

A lot of writers of fantasy and science fiction talk about the prep work they do, they time spent researching and making notes and drawing maps and coming up with lore. I… don’t really do that. I don’t have the patience. I dive straight in and make things up as I go along.

Sometimes this results in magic. Sometimes it results in continuity errors. Sometimes it results in… well, one of my novels has three separate alternate worlds referred to as ‘the witching hour’, ‘the other world’ and ‘the land of fairy’ and I’m still not 100% on what the difference is. But I can use them each in a sentence, which for a first draft is the important thing.

The upside of this is, I’m very good at writing first drafts. I also know writers who spent so much time on research and map-making that they never seem to get to actually putting pen to paper.

I used to have that problem – a lot of my writing projects as a child were in actuality world building projects, with everything from drawing characters and animals to endless mapmaking to occasionally branching into lovingly constructed cardboard sculptures.

So, let’s talk about my current novel. While I’ve been working on the world of The Green and the Gathering Tide for a long time (a very long time) there’s a lot of parts of it I’m still unclear on because for most of that time, I didn’t think about them because they were boring to me.

When I finally did begin to put down an actual alternate history I ran into problems right away and ultimately had to throw most of my work out. The problem was sheer laziness. I’m not a patient person. I just slapped an extra island onto the British Isles. It doesn’t work like that!

The magic system and the fantasy material more widely I have fleshed out fully but I’m still a little hazy on how it meshes with real history – because I do want it to mesh with real history.

I just recently watched Lindsay Ellis’s video essay Bright: The Apotheosis of Lazy Worldbuilding, about the Netflix original movie Bright. Bright is set in a high fantasy world based on twenty-first century LA. The worldbuilding is, according to Ellie, not good.

Ellis describes Bright’s worldbuilding as ‘refrigerator magnet worldbuilding’: the world of Bright isn’t a fleshed out fantasy world at all. It’s just the real world, with fantasy elements stuck on top like fridge magnets.

It’s a form of bad worldbuilding I’m aware of but haven’t seen described so bluntly before. It’s something I worry about a lot in my own writing, because while I do want to write fantasy, I do also want to write about world. I’m not trying, in this novel, to create a fully immersive alternate world (not yet, anyhow).

But ‘unless otherwise stated, everything is the same’ will only go so far. At some point I’m going to have to think very seriously about the impact naturally occurring portals to other universes would have on world history. I’m going to have to think about where Wizards fit into the history of the Christian church(es). I’m going to have to think properly about non-human people and how that works.

For now I’m content having fun, laying down the bones of my plot, and exploring my characters. But a first draft can only take me so far. When it comes to my second draft – if it comes to a second draft – I’m going to have to be very patient.

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My Week In Writing (04/02/18)

Dscn0652It’s a month into 2018, and what have I accomplished? If I’m going to be brutally honest very little. Oh well.

I did not have the best week at work, for reasons I can’t go into partly because of privacy and all that and partly because all of them are actively distasteful in some way. However, I will say that a thing happened this week that prompted a ten year department veteran to say that they’d never seen anything like it before. So, that was quite something!

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, where as always I met some interesting people and acquired a new Facebook friend. I also registered my interest with Super Power Agency, which seems like a really great project.

In other work-related news, this week I finished my second proofreading course. My final assignment was graded ‘good’ (previously two were merely ‘acceptable’) and I got a certificate.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is unfortunately sitting at only 192.k (a measly advance on last week’s total) as I’ve been busy. However I did start a new arc which I’ve been very excited about. It’s an action heavy arc (previous arc was a slow-paced character piece) so should be a nice change of pace.

I started a new short story, tentatively titled The Lightning Pit, which is for an ongoing collection of tie-in stories for my as-yet untitled trilogy. It’s a bit of a departure from previous stories – the other ones have all directly tied into the plot and characters of the main trilogy, but this one is set in ancient Rome and is an exploration of the world and concepts.

I’m still reading Alias Grace which I’m finding slow going. It did however, in a roundabout way, inspire The Lightning Pit so I’m getting something out of it.

I also finally finished Planet of the Rani which I found ultimately unsatisfying – I was gearing up for a reveal that I thought was a dead cert, but it never came. Genuinely surprised and disappointed to be wrong. Otherwise it was some fairly run of the mill Big Finish. Up next: Shield of the Jotunn.

And I watched the season two finale of The Good Place, which was… not quite what I expected. I all honesty I fully expected it to be the series finale, given the way season two went, but I’m pleasantly surprised that the series is continuing (hopefully). I’m reserving judgement on the new arc they’re setting up for now.

Next week, I’m planning to go to two open mics and hoping to have a better and less weird working week. Fingers crossed.



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My Week In Writing (28/01/18)

I’ve not had the most eventful week! Worked three days, attempted to make arrangements to take time off work to see Hamilton in mid February with limited success. I went to the Edinburgh Creative Salon at Summerhall, which this month was very puppetry-focused so not my thing but interesting.

I finished reading It Devours! which I enjoyed very much and started reading Alias Grace which so far I’m struggling a little to get into but we’ll see how it goes. I also listened to (most of) Planet of the Rani from Big Finish.

I’m coming up on the halfway point of this (hopefully final) edit of The Summer Masque. Only six chapters to go – hopefully smooth sailing from here.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is now just shy of 192k and now over the halfway point. I’m on an arc I’ve been looking forward to for a long time concerning a shapeshifting detective.

I’ve also now officially made contact with my agency to tell them I want to move on. No response as yet, I intend to follow up by phone call asap.

Next week, I’m going to the Literary Salon at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and I plan to approach 200k on this seemingly neverending novel I’m writing.

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Adventures in Novelling: Keeping it Brief

When I was in primary school, I always got the same feedback when I wrote a story: never enough dialogue. My characters didn’t talk to each other. I was in too much of a rush to just go ahead and tell the story.

I think, after a while, I began to overcompensate, because my stories became virtually nothing but dialogue. Often without any dialogue tags or any indication as to who was speaking… I thought it would be obvious. It was not.

I suppose the elegant way to put it would be to say that I was a sparse, minimalist writer when I was a kid. Alternatively I just didn’t know how to write prose.

It wasn’t till I was in my late teens that I figured out how to write long, and then… well, look what happened:


This novel is only halfway down. This novel is going to be way too long. Hopefully it’ll work out for the best, ultimately – The Summer Masque started out at almost 150k. It’s now sitting at a pleasing 122k and by the time I’m finished editing it, I should – hand on heart – be able to confident state there’s nothing in there I don’t need.

That’s the key thing, I think: stories tend to end up too long because sometimes you need to write material that the reader doesn’t need to see. It’s the literary equivalent of the extra lines on a sketch. The finished work only has the strongest, cleanest lines.

Some common offenses I’ve noticed in my own writing:

  • Dialogue tags. Totally necessary for me to keep track, often unnecessary and clunky in the finished draft. The Green and the Gathering Tide in particular is bedecked with them – during NaNoWriMo I tag all my dialogue. Cheap and dirty way to up your wordcount.
  • Saying the same thing twice. Can’t decide on an adjective? Like both turns of phrase? Use them both. Realise later you only need one. Throw out whichever’s weaker.
  • Extraneous scene setting. It’s useful for me, the author, to know exactly when a scene is happening in relation to previous scenes. For the reader? Probably note. In theory, once I’ve got it straight in my head, it should be clear. (That’s the theory.)
  • Slow pacing. Maybe this one is just me but I write scenes to slow the pacing down all the time. I can’t just skip ahead to the good bits – it’s against my whole philosophy of life. But I can and often should.
  • Bumf. Nonsense. Extraneous matter. When I was editing down The Summer Masque I’d say ‘extraneous, extraneous, extraneous’ to myself over and over. I imagine I sounded like an editorial dalek.

At present, though, the main issue is quite simply that I’m enjoying myself too much. I just want to keep on writing these characters, and a lot of the time they virtually write themselves.

Eventually I’ll have to cut this draft down to size, but for now I’m happy to go on playing.

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My Week In Writing (21/01/18)

20180117_221615.jpgI was in London with my family yesterday for the ballet – specifically, Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third Matthew Bourne production I’ve seen (saw The Nutcracker in 2016 and The Red Shoes in 2017) and I think Cinderella was my favourite to date – love the setting and the period, loved the abstract, dreamlike story and choreography.

Next year’s Christmas ballet is a revival of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake so naturally we’re all excited already!

I finished reading Pulp Literature’s Summer 2017 issue, which I mostly enjoyed but given my tendency to read issues out of order, I’m starting to struggle due to the frequency of novel extracts and serials. But I suppose that’s on me for not starting at the beginning!

I started reading It Devours! the second Welcome to Night Vale novel, which so far I’m really enjoying, possibly more so than its precursor.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is now up to 186k and somehow still only halfway done. I have another two arcs before I hit the halfway point!

And I’m working on getting The Summer Masque into a fit shape to start querying agents – I’m reading 20-ish pages a day but it’s slow going because I keep finding stuff I want to cut or move. Editing is a neverending task. I’m going to have to call it quits sooner or later.

I’m at my parents’ house in Northamptonshire now. The snow seems to have followed me from Edinburgh – it was snowing when I woke up and didn’t let up until the afternoon. It’s raining now, so I expect it’ll be gone as quickly as it arrived. I’m off back to the city tomorrow.

Next week, I’m off to the Creative Salon at Summerhall for the first time since last year (ha). Looking forward to catching up with some people and getting to go to a mixer when I haven’t been at work all day, for a change.

I may also be going to contact my agency about switching to a new contract – watch this space, I suppose.

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