Monday, 15 December 2008

Quirky in a quandary

More job losses in publishing, this time at Macmillan, and everywhere you turn writers, agents and publishers are urging/pleading/begging everyone to buy books for Christmas. Lots of books. Shower your loved ones with them. In fact, sod just loved ones, buy books as presents for those that you hate. A work colleague you want to see suffer eternal damnation in the fiery pits of Hell? Forgive and forget, make it up with a nice page-turner to keep them company during the holidays. Throw in a mince pie for good measure.

I’d be happy if every Christmas present I received was a book (assuming I’m getting any, of course) because I don’t buy many these days, my literature investment fund having been diverted to boosting the profits of Huggies and Pampers. I’m kind of hoping my better half has been advising this fact to the usual ‘what does John want for Christmas?’ enquiries. Anyone would think I was difficult to buy for.

For my part, I’ve bought a couple of books as presents. It makes sense, even without the present state of the publishing world. Think about it – as with alcohol and chocolates, which you just know will be used, even if the recipient isn’t overly keen on them, a well thought out book is unlikely to go the way of all those useless ornaments and multi-coloured vomit-inducing socks and ties, not to mention the tin of biscuits that you’re recycling because you couldn’t bring yourself to torture your stomach last Christmas.

All this doom and gloom does make one wonder, why put yourself through the torment that is the long, painful road to publication? It’s already a bloody hard slog, even when the industry is in the groove and publishers are throwing good money after bad. Today, budgets are tight and the outlook bleak.

But still we write. Still we submit in the hope of catching someone’s eye; just a flicker, anything to make an agent do a double-take and realise that the manuscript they’re holding is the one gold nugget in amongst the piles of scrap metal submissions under which they’ve been drowning.

The fact is, a writer doesn’t stop having ideas just because the book industry is suffering. They appear, unheralded, and begin gnawing away at your subconscious. And eventually you do something about it.

With the first draft of The Manx Giant completed, I’ve started work on edits and rewrites. I’m looking at mid-to-end January to have the book polished, by which time I’d hope to have young adult novel Quackenbush at the editing stage.

All this means that I’ll need to make a decision in the coming weeks about which project to commit to next. I’ll wait until the festivities are over, but it’s a dilemma.

It boils down to one of three choices, all novels. The first is a hard-hitting crime/drama – I’ve used plain drama to qualify it, as there are no supra-genius serial killers mincing people up with skewers – and the second is based around a famous real-life 18th century character. Both of these stories are well-formed in my mind, having been on the back-burner for some time.

The third, however, is new to the party. It reared its head a month or so ago and has been festering inside my far too cluttered brain ever since. I suspect it is an itch that must be scratched; the bully that will kick its rivals into submission.

The problem is that it’s a risky idea. The general consensus is that, when starting a novel, you at least need to have a rough idea of where you want the story to go, and to end up. Even the greatest of non-planners, such as the sublime James Lee Burke, at least have an inkling of how things pan out.

Project 3 – working title Mr Stone – would have no such rough outline. It is a concept piece – a character in a particularly difficult situation, who looks for answers. The idea of the book would be for me to write it as I personally followed his search for those answers. It would be, I guess, a fictionalised journal, and one for which I would never be sure of what was going to happen next.

Is such a concept possible to pull off? I don’t know. What I do know is that either of the other two projects is infinitely more straightforward, if there is such a thing when trying to write a book.

Yet that itch is telling me that the question at the core of Mr Stone is something that might just flutter its eyelids at an agent and turn his or her head. It might just be the one. There again, I could be talking utter rubbish.

Decisions, decisions. I think I’ll consult the cats.

Friday, 28 November 2008

A giant deadline, and raising a glass to JA Konrath

So here we are.

Two full days left of November, and the final stretch of the first draft of the Manx Giant to complete if I’m to hit at least one of the two deadlines I set myself back in mid-October.

When you look six weeks or so into the future and set yourself a goal, it feels like forever away. Forty-five days is a long time, but, hell, if it doesn’t go quick. The bottom line is that the first draft will be finished by bedtime on Sunday night.

The final section of the book deals with Caley’s time in America and his fame with Barnum and, as of putting the kettle on five minutes ago, I’m running through his later years, piecing sections together up until his final days in Clyde, New Jersey.

With the first draft out of the way, it will be time for edits and rewrites, plus the chance to do a bit more digging, particularly for nuggets of information from the Baraboo Circus Museum Research Centre in Wisconsin. I’ve a man on the ground in Madison who’s doing the rummaging and I’m hopeful more background on this remarkable giant can be found.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give right now for one of those time machine contraptions.


I’m glad I wasn’t trying to get published before the internet appeared. The amount of advice and information for writers that is hanging out there in the ether is mind-boggling.

Want to know how to write a good query letter? Or how to structure a synopsis to have agents fawning over you? How about the ten gripes most likely to wind up an agent or publisher and so consign your proposal package to the bin? It’s all out there.

As seasoned as I am in digging out this advice and information, I still occasionally stumble across a site that leaves me wishing I’d found it several moons ago.

I’ve visited the site of Chicago author JA Konrath a few times before, mainly for a read of his blog – A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing – as he’s a refreshingly straight-shooting kind of chap with a keen insight into the world of books.

I’ve not got round to reading any of his work yet – he’s the man behind the Lieutenant ‘Jack’ Daniels thriller series – but he’s on my list. I was over there the other day, having a snoop, when I clicked on his ‘for writers’ page and discovered an e-book called The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Book.

In a nutshell, this is all the advice he’s collated, including four years’ worth of blogging, parcelled up into a 250,000-word, 750-page PDF. And, what’s more, it’s free. Gratis. I’ve had a quick look through, read a few sections, and it’s a wonderful resource. I can’t vouch that everything contained within is bang on the money, but heck, it’s worth a look for anyone who is a newbie looking to get a novel published.

Cheers, Jack. I’ve just bumped Whiskey Sour up towards the top of my reading pile.

This week John is breaking open:

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Good writers - damn you all to hell. Particularly that Neil Gaiman bloke.

Something strange happened to me in the bookshop today. It was just shy of twelve hours ago and I’m still trying to figure out what it was all about.

I was out at lunch, looking to buy a breast pump (no, not for me) and I wandered into Waterstones for a good old browse. I do this once a week without fail, more if time permits.

I rarely buy books at the moment, because a) I’m so skint, Third World countries are offering to bail me out; and, b) I’ve entire bookcases of material at home screaming to be read.

I do the whole browsing thing for a particular reason, and it’s not because I want to check out what’s new on the market or seek out dodgy writing to make me feel better about my own efforts. (These are, of course, legitimate reasons for writers to visit book stores...)

The reason I browse is simple – I need to immerse myself in books, be surrounded by them every now and then. It’s a gentle nudge to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing – the long haul, the marathon that is the road to getting fiction published.

So, there I am, checking out the recent crime releases when I develop this strange sensation. As I look around the table, laden with thirty or so titles, the futility of what I’m trying to do hits home. I have several crime projects simmering away, and suddenly they all seem... well, pants.

Hmm. I shuffle away, trying to dismiss the peculiar feeling as some kind of wandering bad juju.

I find myself in front of the teenage shelves, checking out the many a cool title there is, reading blurbs and back covers and thinking, wow, there are some fantastically imaginative writers out there, and wishing these kind of books had been around when I was a kid.

I suddenly feel completely lost. Useless. Almost embarrassed to think I could even attempt to snag an agent or publisher. I begin to compare the plot of the young adult manuscript that I’m tantalisingly close to finishing with those on the shelves before me and it’s terrifying. I can’t believe how mundane my plot sounds, how uninspired my writing is.

Then, I make my biggest mistake. I pick up The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and read the first few pages. I want to carry on reading, but I force myself to return it to the shelf. Then I make a quick break for the exit, trying not to look like a shoplifter.

You see, I had to get out of there. Why? Because Gaiman’s writing was so beautiful that it scared the hell out of me.

I walked back to the office trying to make sense of how I’d felt. The best explanation I’ve come up with is ‘confidence’. I’ve never suffered an over abundance of confidence, but I know that I’m not a complete hack as a writer. There are times when I just know that I will eventually make the breakthrough. And then there are other occasions – and today’s was the worst I can recall – when I doubt absolutely everything.

Confidence is such a bizarre little fellow. No one knows where it appears from, or where it disappears to when it decides to kick you into touch. If only we could bottle it, for it is such a precious commodity.

Now, after writing for a couple of hours this evening and reading back through some recent pages, I feel somewhat calmer. The Graveyard Book must be purchased at some point soon, but not until my young adult effort is finished – it will lessen the damage it can do.

Gaiman, you sod. Next time, put a bloody warning on your books.


It’s been a while since the last update on the BUTA challenge – 45,000 words in 45 days, up till the end of November.

The word count is struggling – with 10 days left, I’m just over 22,000. But, in terms of completing both The Manx Giant and Quackenbush by the end of this month, things are looking better. I’m into the home stretch for the Giant, and the first draft should be done and dusted by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

That would leave four or five days to focus on Quackenbush, for which I have one major section left to complete – probably the best part of 8,000 words. There’s no chance of finishing that by November 30, but if Giant is finished and Quackenbush all but done, it would still mark a productive few weeks’ work.

And, right now, I'll settle for that.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Regrets, I've had a few

It’s a question most often posed in a late night bar with everyone present three sheets to the wind, or, introspectively, when one is depressed as hell:

If you could go back and change something in your life, would you? Or, from a slightly different perspective, if you could go back and do certain things differently, would you...?

I don’t know where the years have gone. I had great plans when I was in my teens and early twenties. Now I’m approaching thirty nine with all the grace of a bulldog chewing a wasp and forty will be on me before I know it.

When I think back over the last fifteen to twenty years, the amount of time I can actually recall as being ‘wasted time’ is frightening. Add in the wasted time that I can’t remember (otherwise known as the times I was wasted...) and the fear factor takes on biblical proportions.

In terms of writing, I’ve always been able to talk one hell of a good book, or rather the writing of a book. I started several projects in my twenties, but couldn’t see anything through, and it’s only in the last five years that I’ve quit talking and got my backside into gear.

And so, from time to time, this question keeps wheedling its way into my brain – would I have done anything different if I’d had the chance? The easy answer is, yes. Hell yes. I’d rather be in my early thirties knowing what I know now than at the wrong end of that decade.

But – I am where I am right now, and you know what? I kind of like where that is. On a personal level, other than having to regularly don a wig and false breasts to avoid the bank manager, things couldn’t be much better. As for writing, for the first time I feel that my fiction is at a point where I stand half a chance in what is a bloody hard industry to make the barest of scratches, never mind a mark.

So, do I have regrets? Lots. Would I go back and do anything about them? No, I don’t think I would. That’s not to say I don’t think about those wasted years from time to time.

But now they make me realise how important it is not to add to them.

This week John is searching for:

The Righteous Man by Sam Bourne (November choice in Litopia book club)

Monday, 27 October 2008

Friendly masochist, GSOH, high pain threshold, searching for a slither of sanity

A quarter of the way through this crazy challenge and I have various branches of the Masochists' Guild lining up at the door asking me to sign on the dotted line.

Day 11 of 45 is consigned to history and, looking purely at word count, I'm just about hanging in there - 10,000 words in 11 days, so a grand down overall. In terms of general progress, The Manx Giant and young adult project Quackenbush are moving along pretty well.

Having had the Quackenbush bug, I've eased my way back into the Giant and the joints of that particular project are starting to creak back into action. He's on the rampage again, albeit in a somewhat stumbling Frankenstein's Monster kind of way.

Right now, I'm confident both manuscripts will be completed by November 30. The coming week will be vital - I'm off-Island on Wednesday and Thursday, for work (that which pays the bills), and it's going to throw a spanner the size of Wales into what has been, so far, pretty smooth running.

Throw in Hop-tu-naa (think Halloween, only cooler) on Friday night, and a good friend's birthday on Saturday, and life is threatening to get in the way of a good time writing.

So I need to try and focus - somehow, I must maintain the 1,000 words a day for the next week, ignoring the fact that there really won't be any spare time. If I can do that, things look like they might quieten down a tad by then, and there shouldn't be too much to try and catch up on.

Famous last words.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The pressure mounts...

Day 7 of 45 in the Buta challenge has scooted past and current progress is something of a mixed bag. I've slipped behind on word count - 6,100-odd words in that week, when the target was 1,000 a day. Not good.

However, there is a flip side. On Monday I was envisaging setting Quackenbush, the young adult book, to one side and revisiting The Manx Giant. But there was a change of plan. As I couldn't stop thinking about Quackenbush, I kept going. I've upped the overall word count to 56,000 words, and the good news is that I'm further on with the plot than I'd thought.

I'm just finishing an important scene, which sparks the action into gear and sends both the good guys and bad guys racing towards the climax, and after this is finished, there are just two more major cliffhangers left to write, with the final three thousand words or so already done and dusted.

So, I'm thinking that maybe another 10-15k will polish it off, which is a bonus considering that I was estimating around 25-30k. That said, I could be wrong. Tangents are forever appearing, and I ain't ruling anything out.

Talking of tangents, I had a real buzz tonight - I've killed off a strong supporting character, when I wasn't expecting too, and another minor supporting character has survived, when I had him lined up for an early bath.

It is fascinating the way both a plot and characters develop with each key pressed - I've had folk (non-writers) say to me: "What do you mean you killed a character that you wanted to survive? How can that happen? Surely you know how characters will react in a particular situation. It doesn't make sense."

Little in writing makes perfect sense, and the beauty of writing is that you never know what your characters are thinking, or what they will do when pushed, until it's out of your head and down on screen/paper - even then you sometimes have to do a double take at what you've created.

Looking ahead, tomorrow will create more problems - we're out for pizza after work with some friends and respective broods, and then visiting family, so it's unlikely I'll find the time to claw back the word count I've lost.

However, the weekend is almost here - all being well, I'll be back on track by the time Monday arrives, which will be important - I have to go away next week for a couple of days, and there will be little or no time for writing.

And I must get back to the Manx Giant. He's getting lonely, and not a little envious of the time I'm spending with Quackenbush. Like your kids, you've got to love your characters evenly. Otherwise they sulk and refuse to come out to play, and then your word count is well and truly stuffed.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Still on target

A quick update, folks. Monday has been and gone, and taken with it day 4 of 45 of the Big Buta challenge.

So far, so good. I've just finished for the night, having knocked out 4,106 words on Quackenbush in the first four days. The plan was to average around 1,000 words a day until the end of November, so I'm keeping pace. For now. I'd hoped to get more done over the weekend, to get ahead of myself, but time didn't permit.

I'm really buzzing at the moment, enjoying being back in the fiction saddle after so much non-fiction. However, for the next couple of days I'm returning to the Manx Giant. Should I manage to get just one manuscript completed by November 30th, it's imperative that it is the Giant.

The hope is that within the next few days I'll be able to firm up exactly how far from the finishing line I am with both projects. Until then, I'll just keeping knocking out a grand a day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Now that wasn't so bad, was it? A bit like your annual appraisal, in fact - never quite as bad as you fear it will be.

I'm up and running, with 1,180 words knocked out on Quackenbush on day one of the big BUTA challenge. It's now one o'clock in the morning and my head is telling me to carry on, but I need to be fresh for tomorrow so it's time to wrap it up.

From a writing perspective, I was expecting to launch straight into Manx Giant, leaving some time aside to read through Quackenbush and get back in the swing of things after so long out of the saddle.

But as it turned out I just picked up where I left off two years ago on Quackenbush and the words, which had to be coaxed out at first, were soon flowing. Putting a project to one side (for any decent period of time, never mind two years...) is an essential part of the writing and editing process. Reading it back, it feels like someone else's book; the characters seem new and fresh and you feel somewhat distanced from the project, which helps you look at it from a different perspective.

One reason why it came so easily to me is that I'd already polished off the ending - the last few thousand words are done and dusted, which helps focus the mind on the way forward.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the start, although I'm barely out of the front door in terms of the whole journey. There will be much tougher days than this ahead, believe me.

With the weekend here, I need to take advantage over the next two days and earn some breathing space (and Brownie points) in case I run into engine trouble during the coming week.

Quirky's morale-ometer - fine and dandy

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Move over Nano. Big Buta is here...

Okay. Here we go. I’ll lay it out for you.

I’ve been feeling pretty lousy recently, in terms of writing. Moping around feeling sorry for myself. Never enough time. Too tired. Too many other commitments. You know, any excuse will do kinda thing.

The reason, as outlined in Monday’s post, was that I missed the deadline for The Manx Giant. It really knocked me sideways, so much so that I’ve barely looked at the manuscript in the past three weeks. On top of that, other ideas for plots have been burrowing into my mind, even though I know only too well that my simple brain can’t take the thought of having any more unfinished projects hanging over me.

And with Nano next month, I kept thinking back to 2006, when I had such a superb time taking part. I really wanted to try it again this year, but knew that to do so would mean starting yet another project, which would be just plain stupid.

I felt stranded, watching the days slip by into weeks and wondering what the hell was going on. My frustration culminated in Monday’s post, which I somehow knew would break the spell and sort me out. By admitting to our faults and facing up to our issues – this is the way we move on with life.

It took three days, but it’s worked. It’s time to cut all the bullshit and get back in the groove.

So, here it is – forget Nano. This is war on procrastination. This is Quirky’s BUTA (boot up the arse) challenge. I’m refreshed and raring to go.

In the 15 days that remain of October, and the 30 Nano-ing days of November, I’m setting myself a challenge so huge you could stick a tail on it and call it a brontosaurus.

By November 30, I will have completed The Manx Giant – and also have finished the first draft of my young adult novel, which has been stuck at the 50,000-word mark since, well, November 30, 2006.

It’s a big ask. I’m estimating that to complete both will take in the region of 45,000 words. That’s 1,000 words a day, which doesn’t seem so bad when to hit the Nano you have to knock out 50,000 in 30 days. However, writing non-fiction is deceiving – when you’re having to read historical research documents, cross checking facts as you go, you can work for five hours and come away with a solid 500 words completed, and feel like you’ve done 5,000.

Getting back into The Manx Giant will be easy – it’s all still fresh in my mind and I know what needs doing. Delving back into the world of the YA project, getting to know Tom, Megan and Quackenbush all over again... that will take longer. First job on that one is to dust off the hard copy and read it again. The juices will flow soon after.

While this won’t be an official Nano, as far as personal challenges go, this is the biggest I’ve ever taken on. It’s going to hurt, if November 2006 is anything to go by. The long hours, the constant clock/calendar watching as the days tick by and you question your sanity. Thankfully, I know a few other writers who are attempting the Nano, so I will be staying close to them, feeding off them as all Nanoists do off each other.

So there you have it. Quirky’s BUTA challenge. Feel free to tag along for the ride – I’ll be blogging regularly during the next 45 days, providing quick updates as to how I’m getting on and maintaining a running total of how many times Emma (and the kids) has threatened to bottle me.

Finishing two books in 45 days? Can it be done? Right now, I haven’t a clue. But it’s going to be fun finding out.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Whooshingly depressive deadlines

On my desk at work is a present I picked up in last year’s secret Santa at the Christmas bash - “30 Hilarious Desktop Signs” and it includes that old chestnut, amended and borrowed from the late Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I especially like the sound they make as they go whooshing by.”

It’s a good one, even though I’m actually quite fond of the little beasts. They focus the mind, stop procrastination in its tracks and offer a sense of achievement, not to mention allowing you to put one project to bed and move on to the next.

So, when the deadline for The Manx Giant went whooshing by recently, it was a real kick in the teeth. I’d been confident that it would be met without too many hitches, but sometimes life isn’t so facilitating. Recently, the months seem to have had fewer days in them, and the days fewer hours. And this erosion of my time isn’t showing any sign of easing up. I’m told babies do that to you.

The upshot is that the book will not be in shops before Christmas, with publication now likely by summer 2009 at the earliest. On the face of it, not a huge blow, just a delay. If only it were that simple. First, I won’t see any financial return from the book in the next twelve months, which isn’t ideal, even if we’re talking peanuts compared with what JK Rowling earns in a minute. (In fact, the anticipated income from the Manx Giant is probably somewhere around the amount JK spends each year on peanuts).

The biggest issue with missing the deadline is the knock-on effect this is having (and will continue to have) on my other projects and, indirectly, my sanity. When I heard the deadline’s whooshing sound, it took the wind right out of my sails and left me becalmed. I couldn’t focus on the Giant, or indeed anything else I tried to dabble with. Complete stand still.

A couple of weeks have passed, and I’m over the initial hit. But the ‘to do’ list continues to grow, and at a faster rate than I’m striking my pencil through items. The young adult novel I’d planned to have completed by the end of November is floating somewhere in the ether, stuck at the 50,000-word mark, as are the ideas for the short stories I was determined to knock out, not to mention a cracking new plot that floated into my subconscious a few weeks back and started the action bells a-ringing. The latter has been dumped unceremoniously on the burner that sits just behind the back burner, as have any plans to do next month’s NaNoWriMo.

It’s at times like these, in terms of writing, that a mild depression sets in. Having missed a deadline, I know I must double all efforts on completing that project. And yet my train of thought is already snaking off in different directions, eager to move on, to explore different plots, to create new characters. It’s bloody difficult to rein it in, and that is where the frustration arises – because I don’t want to rein it in, to have to wait while time ticks by and everything feels like it’s being dragged down into the quagmire.

Ho hum. There’s nowt for it but to get me head down and keep pressing on, in the knowledge that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you don’t know in which particular tunnel you’re wandering.

Accompanying John in the madhouse this week:

The Black Book of Secrets, F.E. Higgins

Monday, 6 October 2008

Writing orgies, sweet apples and sadistic nuns

There are times when you know you shouldn’t do something.

When the only outcome is going to be trouble, such as the time when I climbed the tree in the play area at the back of our convent (I was six) to grab an apple, egged on by a bunch of peers and a girl called Sally, who I had a huge crush on (as did every boy in the class, to be fair).

I’d have done anything for Sally, but I ask you, what kind of sadistic bloody nun puts an apple tree in a kids’ playground and then gives them a slap for trying to nick one?

I’m kind of in a similar dilemma now, although it doesn’t involve Sally or nuns. Or apples, for that matter.

Next month is crazy month, when 100,000 writers, give or take, around the globe will lose all reason and embark on a 30-day orgy of writing.

National Novel Writing Month it’s called, or NaNoWriMo, or just plain Nano to us veterans. I say veteran, but I’ve only attempted it once, two years ago. I’d have had a go last year too, but a wedding and two-week honeymoon meant I’d have received a nun-sized slap around the chops if I’d even considered it.

The target each year is to bang out 50,000 words in those 30 days. To someone who writes full-time, that’s a stretch, but manageable. For a writer who grabs the odd hour here and there before and after everyday work and life get in the way, it’s a hell of a tall order.

I managed it, just, and I was on leave for a week. Fortunately, I regularly write past midnight, into the early hours, so the time was there – I just needed to utilise it, instead of procrastinating (I’m pretty sure procrastination wasn’t in the dictionary until the day I was born).

Not everyone is a fan of Nano – some critics suggest it is all quantity of quality, and they are right, to a degree. Anyone who cannot turn their inner editor off for the month shouldn’t waste their time attempting it. If they do, I’d suggest being locked in a padded cell with just your laptop and no sharp objects.

Because Nano does that to you. It drives you nuts. You know that each paragraph that you conjure will need to be fine-tuned at best, completely rewritten, or binned at worst.
Writing 1,600-odd pages a day, every day, for a week is tough. For two weeks, it’s bloody hard. Multiply that by two, and the dedication and focus you need to show shouldn’t be laughed off lightly.

While 50,000 words won’t give you a full novel (unless you’re writing for kids, perhaps), it does provide you with a) the knowledge that you can cut out all the bullshit and write when you put your mind to it; and b) 50,000 more words that you had a month earlier, which is never a bad thing. Sure, it will need a severe dose of editing and some rewriting, but you will have broken the back of your novel.

The main plus I took away from Nano was the realisation that I didn’t need several clear hours to get some writing done. Previously, if I didn’t have at least an hour I’d just give up. It took me that long to get in the mood, get back in the swing of the piece I was writing. That’s what I thought. Nano cured me of that garbage. Give me five or ten minutes now, and I can do a few words. They all count, the words and the minutes, and they all add up.

So, here I am, two years on from my first Nano and desperate to try it again. I know I shouldn’t bother. I’m juggling several projects that need finishing, including polishing off the first Nano that was unceremoniously dumped to allow me to finish The Manx Connection.

It would be foolish to embark on another project. I’ve told myself to think about 2009 and have another go then. What’s another year, as Johnny Logan once asked. Nowt.

And yet... it’s like an itch I need to scratch. I’m trying not to think about it, and certainly haven’t been over to the Nano site to see how preparations are going.

And yet... the plot for the project I’d like to Nano is fully formed in my head. It’s a young adult adventure/horror – think The Goonies meets Amityville – and it’s scratching away desperate to get out.

I must be strong. I must resist the Nano.

And yet...

Friday, 26 September 2008

My favourite deadly sin

In addition to hanging around Litopia, soaking up the collective wisdom and shooting the breeze with writerly types in the cafes, I also have the rather cool job of being the site’s news officer.

It’s pretty straightforward – when one of the members has some big news, they tell me and I knock together a story for the home page. It might be someone who’s been signed up by an agent or a colonist with a new book about to hit the shelves.

The aim of the stories is twofold. First up, they show new visitors to the site that it is the place to be – a resource for writers where the members are making breakthroughs, and on a reasonably regular basis. Second, the stories act as an inspiration to those colonists who are still working towards a breakthrough.

As the harbinger of such news, I have mixed feelings when drafting these stories – I’m caught between sincere, genuine pleasure for the person involved… and sincere, genuine envy (I know, I’m going to face an eternity of damnation, but it’s all purely professional, of course).

It’s probably not the done thing to admit to envy, but if I didn’t feel at least a smidgen of the sixth deadly sin, I’d think there was something wrong with me. Envy is good – it drives me on, makes me even more determined. Each Litopia news story I write inspires me to do the same. That sound like clich├ęd bullshit? Yes, I guess it does.

But I tell you, there’s nothing quite as motivating (other than my credit card bill landing on the mat) than telling everyone about the success being enjoyed by another writer.
It’s good, it’s healthy. It’s also an opportunity to look at how they have achieved what they have and to draw from their experiences.

So, to all Litopians, both current and future members, keep at it. And to those who make the breakthrough, keep the stories coming. I need to keep my envy levels up.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A short tale of mutant madness

I have a small problem.

To be more precise, I have a short problem.

Thanks to a lovely little virus – entovirus, according to the doc, and no, I shouldn’t have googled it – work on The Manx Giant ground to a halt until a couple of days ago, when I managed to move out of first gear for the first time in more than a week.

If there is one thing that time spent not writing is good for, it’s thinking of ideas for future projects, even when you know you shouldn’t because your current list is so long that you can’t remember them all without a wall chart and a secretary.

So I got to thinking, about short stories in the main, as they are not something I’ve ever really focused on. And I’ve been having weird little fantasies recently, about entering a short story competition and, you know, winning.

Then, as if guided by the hand of the good lady fate, the postman only goes and delivers through my door the October edition of Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, complete with a free supplement – an extensive guide to writing competitions for the coming twelve months. It’s a sign, I’m telling you.

So the ideas monkey goes into overdrive. And this is where my short problem comes in. It is no coincidence that my ideas list is dominated by plans for novels. I could scratch together a couple of short story proposals if I delved deep enough, but it would be a push.

I don’t know if this is a dilemma experienced by other writers. Maybe their ideas arrive pre-packed and perfectly formed, easily separated into files marked ‘novel’ and ‘short story’.

But the staff in my arrivals hall are somewhat confused. An idea for a novel will form, develop and arrive as it should. Yet the moment an idea for a short story rears its head, it’s set upon, dissected, operated on, all manner of weird appendages added to it, until by the time it staggers through the gates and is ready to be filed, it’s no longer a short story idea – it has been mutated beyond recognition and into a synopsis for a full-length novel.

This happens all the time. In one way it’s fantastic – should I ever make a breakthrough in fiction, I doubt I’ll ever run out of novel ideas. But it’s a pain the backside when you’re hoping to conjure up a few gems in a bid to tackle the short story market.

Unearthing the rough idea is no problem. But shaping it into something manageable that can be resolved within a few thousand words, well, it’s a skill I’ve yet to develop. Before I know it, I’m adding characters, developing ‘what if’ scenarios to the plot and then it's a case of abandon hope all ye who enter.

All suggestions for curing this ailment would be most welcome and will, of course, be rewarded with several virtual beers.

For stimulation this week, John is reading:

The Dirty Secrets Club, Meg Gardiner

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

God, the weather and inspirational writers

Remind me never to challenge God to a one-on-one again.

As mentioned in Friday's post, I took the young lad camping on Saturday, up at Sulby Claddaghs in the north of our wild and rugged island. The forecast had said showers from mid-afternoon. Showers. Nothing about raging storms.

We held firm till just before midnight, safe and secure against the driving wind and lashing rain, when a huge gust of wind snapped the two cross poles of our pretty new and snazzy family tent. Not one, both of them. Cue much frantic rescuing of gear and a hasty retreat home in the car, leaving the tent to be salvaged the following day.

Me and my big mouth. I’d wanted the young fella to have some cool memories of his first camp with his old man. Well, he’ll certainly not forget it.

An interesting post today from San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford, asking readers who influenced them most on their path to being writers. This was a commonly asked question while travelling to research The Manx Connection, and it was an easy one to answer.

It comes in two parts. The first books to make me think I want to do this were Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which anyone with the vaguest interest in fantasy will know well. I read them about the age of twelve, and again when I was sixteen and the second time was when it registered – I too wanted to create the magic I felt while reading these epic adventures. As happens, my first effort at a novel also featured a tragically flawed hero, who finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand with a power he has no idea how to use. The plot was completely different, but it took me a while to realise just how influenced I’d been by Donaldson.

That first effort, by the way, stalled at 70,000 words. I reckon that was about the half-way mark, but I’d written myself into more corners than Little Jack Horner. Yet the red folder containing that half a book is never far away from my laptop. You just never know.

The second, and most telling, dose of inspiration came in 2003, when I was lucky enough to interview Irish author John Connolly and the travel writer Pete McCarthy, who is sadly no longer with us. The interviews were just a few weeks apart, and neither of these wonderful interviewees would have had the first inkling of the inspirational wake up call each delivered.

Connolly simply told me to stop talking a good book – that whatever story I had inside me wasn’t going to tap me on the shoulder, insist I sit down with a few beers to watch the footy, and then set about writing itself. He also provided reassurance when he said that every writer, published or unpublished, hits a point – usually somewhere between the 20,000 and 50,000-word mark – when they have a crisis of confidence and believe that their work-in-progress stinks, with most unpublished writers abandoning their work at this time. Write through it, he said. Even if it’s fifty words a day, just keep on going.

McCarthy was in the Isle of Man publicising The Road to McCarthy, his follow-up to McCarthy’s Bar, and it was his pep talk that planted the seed for The Manx Connection, when he told me of his travels around the world in search of the origins of the McCarthy name. Six months later, he was diagnosed with cancer, and nine months after that, around the same time I was embarking on the first leg of travel for The Manx Connection, Pete was dead. He was a funny man, and a fine writer. Life really is too short.

There is another influence on my writing, in terms of a handy dose of inspiration when the muse has lost her voice. It’s called On Writing, by Stephen King, and it has a permanent place on the side of my desk. It’s the most superb book about writing that I’ve ever read. It’s funny, it pulls no punches and it features the most wonderful line – "Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative life," King writes. "The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

I’ll drink to that, Mr King.

Still being read this week, thanks to God and his excitable weather:

The Sweet Forever, George Pelecanos

Friday, 22 August 2008

Pain. Dejection. Misery.

It’s happened again.

Must be the fourth or fifth time in the last ten years, and it doesn’t get any easier to deal with, the kick in your gut any less painful.

I was watching The Number 23, the psychological chiller starring Jim Carrey, when the twist was revealed towards the end – I hadn’t seen it coming – and I experienced that awful sensation when you realise the pivotal deceit is one that you’ve been working on, that same twist upon which one of your works in progress hinges.

It’s a feeling of utter deflation, a sense that no matter how much you know that there are only a certain number of plots (depends on who you listen to), and only so many truly original storylines out there, you thought that, this time, you were on to a winner. Again.

The first time it happened, I was three pages into a film script for a ‘big concept’. I opened my TV Times one night, and there it was, a two-part drama starting on ITV, and it even had the exact same title. The setting and storyline were poles apart, but the core idea and the main character (the actual person...) were exactly the same.

Still, I was a mere whippersnapper back then, and in hindsight I should have realised that particular storyline was whizzing around the minds of numerous writers. No great loss.

I had two similar kicks to the gut within a few weeks of each other a couple of years back. The first was a crime story I’d been playing with, and had knocked off about 10,000 words. On this occasion, it wasn’t the plot – but the main character, or rather the character’s background. I picked a book up in Waterstones, the debut novel of a British author, and read the blurb, felt sick to the stomach and nearly dropped the hardback on my foot. I held on to it, though, and lined up to hand over my cash. A damn fine read it was too.

It hasn’t reduced my idea to a train wreck, as the setting and plots are different enough, but there are several similarities in the main characters and what they set out to do. Again, looking at it with hindsight, the character’s background isn’t as original as I’d first thought – it’s incredible how precious you can be about something that doesn’t warrant it.

The second of these quick fire incidents was a jaw-dropping moment; a really hideous event during which I somehow managed not to make a complete halfwit out of myself.
I had to step in at the last minute to interview an up-and-coming children’s writer, and I had no idea what kind of books she wrote. It’s an awful situation to be in – imagine interviewing a musician and never having heard one of their songs.

It’s always best to be up front about such things, so as soon as we’d shaken hands and were enjoying a brew in Waterstones – one floor up from the previous kick to the gut – I came clean and explained that I’d not read any of her stuff. I had done a bit of swotting on the internet, but obviously not that much. She was fine about it, and we chatted about what got her started in books and she quickly proved to be a fantastic subject, easy to talk to, funny and very self –effacing.

“So,” I said. “Can you tell me about your latest book?” And she did. And I hated her. With an absolute passion.

At that time, I’d been working on a young adult novel for about two months. I was about 15,000 words in, and had the whole thing plotted out. Hell, I even had the outlines for books two and three in a trilogy lined up. The basic premise, I believed, was stunning. I used to smile when I considered how clever it was. I won’t do that again in a hurry.

As she told me about her book, which was to be one of a series of four, I’m not sure what my face looked like. I like to believe that I was professional enough to keep up the pretence and not let my horror (and hatred) show through. I like to think so, but chances are she went back to her friends and family and told them about the strange journo with the manically weird expression who had interviewed her that day. “Nice bloke and all, even bought me a coffee, but man, what a freakishly contorted face he had...” It was another ‘big concept’, and this seemed to be exactly the same as the idea I was working on.

I went home that night, utterly dejected. My better half, as always, soon knocked me into shape. We looked on the internet, read a bit about the book, and she insisted that, while the basic idea may have been similar, the stories and characters, even the target age group, were substantially different to matter not a jot.

The next day, I returned to the store and bought a copy of the book. To this day, I’ve not read it through, but I have skimmed parts to get a general idea. I don’t want to read it, because I know I will return to this project, within the next year or so, and complete it. And I don’t want to compromise my writing by reading her book. I will do so afterwards, to check there are no glaring similarities, but I believe there’s room for both stories.

I’ve not gone into the details of which authors and books have been involved in causing me such grief, pain and misery, as there is nothing to gain by mentioning them. This is more to do with the process of realising that if you think you have THE NEXT GREAT IDEA, think again. Because the chances are, someone out there is busy scribbling away on the same concept.

As for We Walk In Shadows, the project which has been Jim Carrey-fied, I’m not sure what to do. The characters, the setting, the storyline all still work and have nothing in common with The Number 23. It’s just the fundamental twist that the whole thing hinges on, or at least does so in its present format.

There’s no reason why I can’t alter the ending, or not even the ending, just the deceit which affects the reader. For now, though, it’s firmly on hold. There’s the Manx Giant to finish, and camping to be done this bank holiday weekend. It will, of course, rain. This being the Isle of Man, we’ll most likely get a blizzard thrown in for good measure.

But we’ll be barbecuing whatever the weather. Come on, God, do your worst.

Being read by torchlight this week:

The Sweet Forever, George Pelecanos

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Shouting it from the rooftops

Writers, by and large, tend to be fairly reclusive characters, not given to bragging and self-assurance.

For years, if someone discovered I was writing a book and asked me about it, there would follow feet-shuffling to shame Michael Flatley and a series of grunts that only Darwin could have translated.

I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted people to know I was writing – but at the same time I was so embarrassed about it (or rather, petrified that what I was writing was no bloody good) that the thought of actively promoting my work, or, God forbid, letting people read and critique it, was unthinkable.

That attitude changed over the years. With age comes experience, and with experience comes the knowledge that you’re getting better at what you do.

When I set out to write The Manx Connection four years ago, I knew I had to try and build word-of-mouth before the book came out. It was only ever going to be a short print run of a book that was very much in a niche market, so early publicity was a must. I set up a website dedicated to the book, which didn’t betray my reluctance to self-promote too much, as it was about the book more so than about me.

A few months ago, with the Manx Connection in the shops, work underway on book two – The Manx Giant – and the web hosts looking for more cash, I ran an idea past Ady, a writing friend who knows a bit about this here internet malarkey: ‘How about scrapping the Manx Connection site,” I suggested,’ and creating a new one about me, my books and future projects?’ A little internet shop window to help get my name known. After choosing a template, Ady got to work, and a few weeks later the site was launched kicking and screaming onto an oblivious world.

There was much inner conflict as to whether I should have bothered. I doubted that anyone – close friends and family excepted, and they probably just to keep me off their backs – would give a rat’s arse about my low-key publishing credits and aspirations to break through in fiction.
I guess I didn’t want to come across as pretentious. I also didn’t fancy checking the number of visitors to my site and blog and finding tumbleweeds clogging up the system.

But then I had an epiphany. And I thought: ‘Bugger it. Why not.’

I researched other writers’ websites and blogs, both published and unpublished, and I realised that writers without a web presence, particularly those aiming for a breakthrough, are putting themselves at an immediate disadvantage. The internet is so fundamental to writing and publishing that my only regret is not having started the site and blog sooner.

A recent thread on posed the question - authors as bloggers? – and asked how essential is it for writers to blog or have a website, indeed, would the time spent blogging be put to better use on a work-in-progress.

I devour the musings of other writers, published and unpublished, and publishers and agents in equal measure. It’s partly for inspiration (not, I hasten to add, for ideas), but also to continue learning about the industry, about the genres in which I write. A large part of it is to learn how not to do something. Publishers and agents are swamped with submissions, and some of the tales you read leave you wondering whether you, by association as a writer, are also a complete half-wit.

The amount of advice, information and experience to be garnered from such sites is quite staggering, which is why I was a touch bamboozled by one contributor to the thread, who said they don’t read writers’ blogs or look at sites because they have no interest in what a writer has to say about writing, or anything for that matter, nor do they have the time to read them, even if they wanted to. Each to their own, of course, but I can’t help but feel that those with such an outlook are missing out on so much.

Finally, and a little off track, our Bump finally landed on Wednesday afternoon, hence the delay in updating the blog. Little Gypsy-Mae weighed in at 9lbs and 1oz and I’m still at the stage where I can’t stop staring at her, although I’m not sure whether that is out of pride, or bewilderment that I could be responsible, albeit partly, for something so beautiful.

What’s that? A deadline looming in mid-September? That ain’t looking so clever...

Keeping John company during sleepless nights this week:

The Joshua Files: Invisible City, M.G. Harris

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Reject

My earliest memory of rejection – and I mean real, sound-of-your-heart-cracking rejection – came when I was ten. I’d been away on a family holiday in September and I couldn’t wait to get back because the first school footy team of the season was being picked while I was away, with the game a few days after I returned.

We were starting our final year of primary – year six it’s called now – and it was our turn to fill the boots of the boys who’d gone on to secondary school. (There was one lad our age who’d made the team the previous year, although we were pretty sure he bought his way in with a Curly Wurly and a packet of Smiths’ square crisps.)

The first match was to be an eleven-a-side, although for the majority of the season’s games we’d be playing six-a-side, with a first team and second team. The lads in the school pretty much knew who the best eight or nine players were, and I was considered a shoo-in for the first eleven.

When I turned up at school on the first day back from hols, I was told I hadn’t been picked.
I’d not properly discovered girls at this point, and certainly not the weird things they can do to your heart, although I had spent a day or two pining for a young lady whose family had upped sticks a few months earlier and moved back to New Zealand.

So I had little with which to compare the feeling that I felt after being told I wasn’t good enough at football. For a lad who lived for the game – I’d just completed the Panini Euro 1980 sticker book, for Christ’s sake – it was an earth-shattering moment, and one from which I just knew I would never recover.

But recover I did. The eleven-a-side match saw us thrash our rivals 4-1 and by the time the six-a-side teams were picked, I was captain of the second team. The games teacher that year, a Mr Howlett (who claimed to have once trialled with Spurs, but we were never convinced) said he’d been pleased with the way I’d knuckled down in training (and lunchtime kickarounds).

Rejection is an ugly word. Rejection of any kind is a painful experience, but clearly the more personal something is to you, the more it is going to smart like hell.

Other than family and friends, the most personal thing in my life is my writing. Been that way for a long time. But here’s the thing – if someone doesn’t like a non-fiction piece of mine, I couldn’t care less. My time in journalism has taught me that no matter how good an article might be, there’ll always be a few lining up to have a pop at it. Goes with the territory.

But make that fiction.... and that’s a whole different ball game. I submitted some scripts in my late twenties, one TV series and a film treatment. They went off to a few production companies and, despite the odd nibble of interest, ultimately were passed over. The utter dejection I felt on reading the replies, standing in the hallway of the depressing little hole I was renting at that time, felt like every relationship break-up I’d been through rolled into one, with a dash of dropped-from-the-footy-team misery mixed in for good measure.

It was several years before I submitted anything else for consideration, this time the first chapters of a book, and when I did, it was another rejection. Age, thankfully, brings wisdom and understanding, because without it I’d be an emotional cripple. I’ve now more confidence in my work, although only time will tell if that is misplaced confidence. Yet I feel, finally, that I’m ready to take rejection on the chin and just plough through the pain, continuing to polish and submit work until I finally earn a breakthrough, or receive a collaborative letter from every agent and publisher I’ve ever submitted to, pleading with me to just quit, for pity’s sake.

The one thing I’ve not done in all this time is bitch and moan about rejection. Sure, it hurts. But there is little to be gained by putting your work out there and then jumping up and down when someone has the audacity not to swoon over it.
The only thing you can do is take it on the chin and try and improve. It might take a few months to get over it, or, as in my case, a few years. But it does get easier to deal with. Okay, I made that last bit up.

Accompanying John in the bath this week:

Fatherhood: The Truth, Marcus Bermann (absolutely essential reading for all soon-to-be-dads. And funny as hell to boot)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Shadows and dust

On the face of it, a pretty straightforward question:
Why do you want to be published?

It was posed by a member of, a writers’ forum where I spend a bit of time each day picking up incredibly useful advice and information, and definitely not procrastinating.

There are several surface reasons for wanting to have books published (and, to a lesser extent, movie scripts produced). They include, in no particular order, to satisfy one’s ego, fame, money, the desire to entertain people and personal achievement. That’ll do for starters.

A quick glance at each:

Ego – there is nothing quite like the buzz you get when you see something you’ve written in print, and someone telling you they enjoyed it. Sorry, there are two things similar; one is the moment your shot hits the back of the net in footy, the other, well, that way leads to the patter of tiny feet (now just eight days away and counting, assuming Bump’s flight hasn’t been delayed and landing gear is in order).

Fame – linked to ego. I want people to read my books, I want my name to be known. Comes with the territory if you want to be a writer, although there are different levels – compare the metallic-catsuited Katie Price (granted, that’s stretching the description of a writer somewhat) and Thomas Harris, who rarely gives interviews, either in print or on screen.

Money – the idea of being paid for doing something you love? Absolute no brainer, assuming you can earn enough not to have to worry with the day job. And therein lies the problem. As only five per cent or so of authors earn enough money to live on, if money was my driving goal I’d be better off sending my CV to Sir Alex or plying my trade as a male gigolo. Either way, I wouldn’t be worrying the editor of the Sunday Times’ Rich List.

Entertainer – also linked to ego, this is over and above the simple elation of having your ego massaged. This is the knowledge that you’re making people happy, excited, petrified, sad, angry; in other words, keeping them entertained.

Personal achievement – as a writer, I doubt my ability. All the time. I’d started many projects over the years, not just in writing, but never had the wherewithal or the forward planning skills to complete a book. When The Manx Connection was published at the end of last year, the sense of personal achievement, and satisfaction, probably outranked all other emotions. It wouldn’t have mattered if every single reader had emailed me personally to say my writing sucked eggs big time and requested a refund. Ego would have taken a bruising, but I’d have still had the knowledge that I’d completed something that I thought was beyond me.

So, why do I want to be published? Take your pick.

But, as I said, those explanations are merely surface dressing. The real reason I want to be published lies deeper than that, in more ways than one.

I’m petrified of dying. Woody Allen can joke all he likes about not being scared of dying, just not wanting to be around when it happens. I am scared, and sure as hell don’t want to be around when it happens.

More specifically, it’s the idea that I might cash in my chips without leaving my mark on this world. Yes, you can be a nice chap and have great family and friends who remember you fondly when you’re gone. We all want that.

But this runs to the very core of how I view life. As the late great Oliver Reed said in Gladiator, "We mortals are but shadows and dust. Shadows and dust." We can leave children behind to carry on our bloodline, but in fifty years time (assuming I’m still in the game), will those who don’t know me through friends and family be aware of my existence?

If folk can walk into a library or bookstore several decades from now and pick up a copy of one of my books, and hold something which I’ve crafted, I’ll look down on this world (or up, as the case may be) and know that I made my mark, even if it was barely a scratch on the literary world.

Then I'll be able to say, that’ll do, Quirk. That’ll do.

Entertaining John this week will be:
Airman, Eoin Colfer

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Wanderer returns

She’s back.

It’s been a while since she showed her face.

She was certainly around last autumn, helping me defy all odds known to bookmakers to get The Manx Connection to the publishers bang on deadline, deadline being the day before I walked up the aisle. And she’s been back since, fleetingly, teasingly. At least I think it was her; a flash of inspiration here, a spurt of writing there.

Yet this time, when I really need her, she’s answered again. And she’s pulled up a chair and seems happy to hang around. If I could shackle her and inscribe my study door with magic wards, I’d be sorted. But you try putting cuffs on a muse. Damn tricky business.

It’s good to have her back. A relief, in fact. The deadline for The Manx Giant is mid-September and the last few months have been rife with fits and starts, research reading and note-making. As the weeks slipped by, I wondered how the hell I’d managed to complete one book, never mind be about to attempt a second.

And then there she was. Pitched up at the weekend, she did, without so much as an apology for doing a runner before Christmas. Still, I can’t complain. I’ve been trying to work out what makes her tick. What entices her to appear at a particular moment. A writer friend of mine suggested that it was this blog that did it – I put my first post out there on Thursday, and two days later I’m jumping tall buildings in a single bound. He could be right.

But, if I’m honest, while the idea of a muse sitting at my shoulder, silently guiding my fingers over the keyboard, forging a lightning strike connection between mind and ten stumpy digits, is all very quaint and appealing, it’s also utter codswallop.

There is a muse, and her name is deadline. Any journalist will tell you that. Hell, same goes for a 101 other professions. It’s all the inspiration you need when you can feel the flames of a deadline licking at your heels. I’m not sure why a particular time or date kicks in and makes you quit making excuses and get your head down. There seems to be an unspoken cut-off point which I instinctively know that I need to get working by, otherwise it will be too late.

As a journalist, if the news editor gave me two weeks to write an article, she’d get it in two weeks’ time. If she gave me a day, she’d get it within a day. It’s one of the unwritten rules of journalism.

So, with mid-September now exactly two months away, the heat is on. The Manx Giant is taking shape, slowly but surely, and is gathering pace. It will be a relatively short book, as biographies go. Not a huge amount is known about Arthur Caley, and much of what is recorded was hearsay or fabrication.

With muse firmly entrenched in my corner, I’m confident said deadline can be met. The trick, of course, is finding a way to keep her around after the book has gone to the publisher. Because there’s plenty more writing to be done on several projects, but there will be no official deadline to meet.

Self-imposed deadlines, yes. But muses don’t pay attention to them. As if.

On John’s bedside table this week:

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Satanic Writes

Welcome to Midnight. The Witching Hour.

The most magical time of the day.

The moment when my muse is most likely to appear at the study door, whispering those special words that inspire me so: “Get a bloody move on, Quirk. Deadline is looming, and you’ve got mouths to feed…”

Of course, don’t mention this particularly effective muse to my other source of inspiration, the real muse, who is usually fast asleep (and slowly creeping her way, Triffed-like, across to my side of the bed) by the time the clock strikes twelve.

If only we could capture this beautiful moment called Midnight, and play it endlessly on loop. Infinite writing time, no interruptions. No more alarm calls for work. Bliss.

I’ve been in love with Midnight for as long as I can remember. As a young kid, around seven or eight, I would lie on my bed at weekends, watching The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and the rest of the Hammer House of Horror Double Bills into the early hours of the morning.

As I teenager, I found my best studying was done late at night (and, on occasion, all night), and so, as I’ve grown older, it’s been natural that the one time of the day when I feel totally wired, in the groove and capable of just about anything, is Midnight. I’ve tried mornings, but, well, no.

It’s ten before Midnight as I type these words, and the posts that will follow this maiden voyage into bloggerdom will all be penned in the darkness of The Witching Hour.

There’ll be no gimmicks or zany revelations. The journey I’m inviting you on won’t be about a writer’s battle with the impending arrival of tiny feet, sleepless nights and shitty nappies, and everything else that goes with it. My muse may be expecting in three weeks, but I’ll try to avoid the baby talk here (although don’t hold me to it). And it won’t be about religion or politics, because there are plenty of other better-informed folk doing just that.

What The Witching Hour will be about is writing. Pure and simple. Okay, let’s make that writing and reading. Oh, and publishing. Books in general, then. How’s that sound?

I’m in the throes of writing my second non-fiction book, The Manx Giant, the deadline for which is looming. Mid-September, or there’ll be no Weetos on the breakfast table.

If you’ve got a few minutes spare each week, it would be a pleasure to have you along for the ride. Because there is one downside to this Midnight malarkey. It can get damn lonely.

For homework this week, John read:

A Quiet Belief in Angels, by R.J. Ellory (a fine, haunting book)