Prospero is Burning

In America they are burning books…

…to save them.

Prospero’s Books



Phew – barely scraped last weeks word count. I made it to about 1400 words by Wednesday and then hit what has since been described as ‘a crisis of confidence’.

A few things contributed to this. I took a break on Wednesday evening. This was my first mistake. From now on I’ll do something everyday, even if only a re-read. 48 hours is long enough for all the momentum to fall away from an idea, so you need to revisit it

I had a shockingly bad day developing literature on Thursday. Being absolutely furious about that completely disrupted my flow. I know that sounds pretentious, but when the only thing you can think about is beating somebody to death with a lever arch file, that’s what I call disturbing the flow.

The same day I went to Graham Joyce’s masterclass on narrative structure. This was excellent. But…despite Graham’s repeated warnings not to apply the tools of narrative structure until you have completed a first draft, I of course started thinking about them in relation to the chapter and a half of half formed prose I’d written that week. What is the exposition? I wondered. Have I created a complication? What is the point of magic? How am I ever going to reach the resolution? Deciding that my story lacked any narrative structure I hit the said ‘ crisis of confidence’ at which point everything on the page started to look like the mad typing of a million chimpanzees. Eventually I just had to grit my teeth and grind out another 1100 words. Actually doing that reminded me of what I was trying to do with the story. So the moral of this tale is – if in doubt, just keep writing.

Nasty. And Proud Of It.

A reasonably productive day in the wordmines today. I moved forward by about 600 words penned in an hour after work. They aren’t great words – the characters had not shaped up particularly from yesterday but I ploughed forward anyway. I then went back to the start of the scene and started reshaping. Its at that point that one of the characters flickered into reality. I’m shocked to discover that I really quite like the scenes central character, even though he is going to do some horrendous things as the story develops (he is totally the ‘baddie’). This is good though, baddies you like are baddies with depth.


Or…please let me back into the ghetto!

There is a growing idea in the SFF world that the mainstream is the place to be. This excellent article by Robert J Sawyer explains why so I won’t bother repeating. This seems like a good move to me, although I think more ‘fantastic’ work, epic fantasy for instance, will still have a genre cubby hole. But for SF set in the real world the mainstream is calling. (The mainstream is also undergoing radical change, but thats a different post)

Prepare for scream of terror from the SF community. Not everyone adapted for the change and those less likely to survive aren’t going to prized out of their ghetto without a fight.

I’m predicting there will be a full and frank discussion of this at the Asimov’s forum.

Dog With Two Heads

The scene I’m working on just doesn’t want to come to heel. I can’t quite pin down what’s making the characters tick. Sometimes that’s good, it means that the characters have some depth – conflicting  motivations that make them want two things and they can’t have both. But sometimes its bad and means the characters are just operating as dimensionless cyphers for the plot. Not sure which it is tonight. I’ll sleep on it and see if tomorrow brings any answers.

Today’s wordcount: 808

Helos – Week One

Week One comes to a close and I have made my word count – just. Final total is 2512. I’d like to have gotten to 3-4k and I’m pretty sure I could on a good week. A win is a win though and I’m happy to have got a solid chunk of Helos (That’s the book’s working title) written and edited. I’m rewriting and editing as I go along so that word count is finished as far as first draft goes. I’ve tried writing through without editing at all but I find it counter-productive to leave what is basically unfinished story behind so I’m tending to edit last sessions out put at the beginning of each new session and then continue with new material.

I’m using a structure of I’ve dubbed ‘Chaptersodes’ for Helos. Think of something halfway between a traditional chapter (one major event) and an episode of a television drama like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Sopranos. Each Chaptersode has somewhere between 3 – 6 scenes all focused around a key event and switching between the key viewpoint characters. For instance Chaptersode One of Helos has four scenes, one for each of the four viewpoint characters, all focused the opening of the Gateway, the massive portal between worlds that dominates the world of Helos. I’m going to post Chaptersodes as I complete them for crit so keep your eyes peeled! They’ll probably appear every 4 – 6 weeks.

But to celebrate a successful conclusion to Helos Week One I’m going to post a section of this weeks writing. Feel free to give feedback in comments.

*****     *****     ***** 

 Helos – Week One Extract

            On the day of the opening of the gateway, the singer Donovan came early throw the portal in search of a man. Hooded and cloaked to hide among the advance party, it was sometime before he felt safe enough to look up at the new world he had entered.

            The city writhed in expectation of the coming Triumph. Those who might have had business on another morning closed down their shops and settled their accounts and came onto the streets to observe. Mothers hurried along children joyous at escaping their chores. The old men gave up their customary arguments in the temple squares. All thronged towards the gateway to see the Warmaster enter the city. Only Donovan went against the stream, silently cursing the thronging masses as sheep and fools.

            Nothing had changed and everything had changed, the singer saw as he picked his way through the crowds. The faces that flooded past him all seemed familiar, of a type and yet he recognised none of them. The streets wound as they ever had, but walking them in unfamiliar paths he soon found himself lost. The great palaces and temples still marked the horizon as he rembered them, but stayed just out of reach behind the sprawling slums that had been torn down and thrown up again with every new fire or fever.

            Donovan found his man lying in the gutter outside a tawdry drinking den, as much by luck as anything, although suspicion had told him to look where drink might be found.

            Lenon the Orator stared up into a cloudless blue sky, it’s beauty forcing great silent sobs to wet his face with tears

            ‘Are you done?’ He heard a failiar voice ask.

            Lennon sought to explain himself, but only a gargled mess of drunken slurred vowels escaped into the world.

            ‘You don’t say. Now that is fascinating.’ Answered the voice.

            Strong hands gripped Lennon in the pits beneath each arm. The world cartwheeled and flip flopped, spinning as though he were far above the surface, floating in the blue sky.

            ‘No, no, NO! Don’t be sick.’ The voice seemed far away and the warning far too late in reaching him. He felt his innards churn around their load of  bile and booze, the spirit twice as acrid as it climbed the trail back up his throat and out of his mouth.

            ‘Oh…oh…oh. You disgusting old bastard. Oh no…don’t you fucking laugh at me.’

            ‘Heh heh heh.’ Lenons lips peeled back into a grin, exposing decaying yellow teeth. ‘Hello Don.’

‘Hello yourself. Can you stand?’


            ‘Well you are too fucking fat for me to lug around.’

            ‘We’ll just…sit here. Be alright…in a mo.’

            ‘That’ll be some long moment. But alright, I’ll wait with you a bit until I think of something better. Not like I have much choice now do I?’

            Donovan sat himself down on the cobbled street, his nose catching the ripe stink of the gutter. An occaisional drunk staggered along the dim back alley but otherwise they were alone, the people were all busy watching the triumph. As would he, were the great orator not collapsed stinking drunk in the stinking gutter. It did not surprise him that no one had come to the old mans aid. He made for a disgusting sight, his lank grey hair and straggly whiskers matted and twisted with dirt and vomit. Disgusting and weak. And men do not help the weak, Donovan thought. So why do I? He felt anger towards the old man. And towards himself. How did this man ever beat me?

            ‘You come for…a drink…eh Don?’


            ‘Tsk, come now…why else…come to this grand abode.’ The old man made a grandiose wave of the arm at the ramshackle hut behind him.

            ‘Only by following one such as your good self.’

            ‘Well…I’ll just have to have one for you.’

            ‘You’ve had enough.’

            ‘I think you’ll find…I’ve had far too much. There can be no turning back now!’

            ‘You’d best start looking for a way my friend. Sober as a monk or pissed as a priest, you lead us in the triumph in less than an hour if my guess is right.’

            ‘Bah, don’t talk nonsense.’

            Donovan could not tell if the old man was serious. Was he really so stupified that he could have forgotten.

‘Do you even know what day it is? You old fool.’

            ‘I’m sure I do. And if not not then whats that do with anything.’

            ‘I’ll go on ahead, you said. Smooth the ground. Cleanse the way. Mark a path you said. Slink away to drown your self in pity is what you meant. And at the cost of our coin as well I’ll wager.’

            ‘No. I didn’t wager. Well not much. Or at least I didn’t win much. Or anything in fact.’

            ‘Didn’t win anything? You gambled all that money away and didn’t win anything.’ Donovan stared incredulously at the orator, then shook his head realising this took them no closer to the point of their conversation.

Continued in Helos – Chaptersode One. 

My Name Is Damien, I Write Fanfic

I have two events this evening and, much as I’m looking forward to them, I’m also a bit bummed out about them. I’ve been working all day, now I’m going to work all evening. Work seems to be stretching out before like an endless chasm, exacerbated by this weeks debt owed to the bank of sleep.

So I’m taking a breather to talk about fanfic, prompted by Cory Doctorow’s commentary on the subject. Fanfic is Fan Fiction. There are twokinds – those based on literary forbears such as Tolkien. And those boased on Multimedia franchises like StarTrek / StarWars. Read the Wikipedia definition for more details.

Theres a great series of essays by Timothy Leary, pretty much the last things he wrote ibefore he popped off in the 90’s, that are all about the democratization effect of ‘cyberculture’. People, Leary reckoned, were getting bored of consuming culture. The next revolution was going to be one of creativity. In what was then the future and is now the present, more people would make culture than would consume it. Through our screens we would make music, films, games, writing, pictures and share them with other people also making their own culture. Low and behold, Leary was right.

Fanfic is the literary tip of the democritised culture iceberg. Fanfic has a pre technological history, but its huge growth in the past 10 years has really been driven by the lure of sharing the fanfic you write with other people, an audience, even if small in number. generaly when someone reacts very badly to the idea of fanfic, its because it threatens their aspirations to be part of an artistic elite – elites don’t do well with democracy.

And here is that nasty truth no one wants to admit about fanfic. A lot of it (not all, but much) is a great deal better than its source material. Some fanfic is a good as anything you’ve ever read. Theres a good reason for this. Writing fanfic is fun! It can bring out qualities in someones writing that the pressure of original work will totally obscure. And its also a fundamentally generous and positive activity. So much writing is driven by the ambition of the writer, the need for status, cachet, kudos. Fanfic by definition won’t bring you those things, the only reason to write it is because you love the world you are writing in and want to share it with other people.

So, here for the first time in public I present my own fanfic masterpiece, penned around the events and character’s of Games Workshops Warhammer 40,000 universe and called ‘The Emperors Sacrifice’. Its the last piece of fanfic I wrote. I had almost stopped writing altogether after finishing my MA, and getting back to writing something purely fun completely rejuvenated me. If you are ever struggling to find the passion for writing, then pick something you really enjoy (not admire, enjoy) and spend some time messing around in the world of fanfic. I highly recommend it.

The Emperor’s Sacrifice.pdf

First You Jump Off The Cliff…

…then you build your wings.

Which is a quote by Ray Bradbury that I like very much. Today I took my leap from the cliff edge and started work on a new story. Over the weekend I thought over the two ideas I had written as outlines. I was still trying to decide between them when I sat down with a cup of tea at my customary table in the Borders coffee shop. In all honesty I wasn’t feeling very happy with either idea. I was considering ditching both and starting again. There was a dark grey rainstorm outside that mirrored my mood. But this was the deadline. Time to get started. Time to jump off the cliff.

So I did.

It was one of the characters that tipped me over the edge. I realised he had a journey to go on, and I wanted to go on it with him. I’m pretty sure I know where’s going. I have no idea how he gets there.

Better get building those wings.

No Xbox ’till Xmas

I had the second in a series of mentoring meetings in early May, as part of the ongoing mentoring programme organised for me by the wonderful professional development people at NALD.

The mentoring process has been quite influential over my pattern of work over the last few months. The first session highlighted a number of actions I needed to take in both my literature development work and my fiction writing. The mentoring sessions become a focus for completing work and making decisions. Knowing that you are going to be talking through your progress with an outside observer throws a spotlight on your current actions and decisions and makes you look at them critically. It can be easy to develop justifications for things – ‘I can’t do this because…’ or ‘I must do this or this will happen..’ that when looked at from a neutral perspective are untrue. I know I certainly have more than a few of these, but even at this early stage the mentoring process has helped me see a few of them.

On the writing front the latest mentoring session has helped me arrive at a few concrete decisions that I am going to be putting into action. The most important is the decision to complete the first draft of a novel by the end of December this year. To this end I am setting a word count target of 2500 words a week which will bring me to roughly 80,000 words by the end of the year. The major factor that has been holding me back on the novel front has been committing to one project and carrying it through to completion. To address this problem I have spent the last week looking at all of my ideas for books and short stories and identifying the ideas I’m most excited by and that have the most potential to work creatively and commercially as full length novels. Consequentially I am now looking at two, one page synopses for novels. These are about to be sent to M who is going to seek some editorial advice about which one has the best market potential. That advice in mind I am then going to pick one and work on it consistently until it is finished. More on this in many future blog posts.

If not finishing what I have started is one of my major creative problems, then a related issue is the huge range of pointless distractions I manage to prioritize before writing time. I would list them all but it would take pages. Many of them are ‘tech’ related. The week before last I upgraded my laptop. Yes – this was mildly useful but it took about two days of work i.e. 2000 – 3000 words if I had spent the time writing. The latest deadly distraction looming on the horizon is an Xbox 360. Buying a computer game console now would be the equivalent of taking the next 6 months and throwing them in the bin as far as writing goes. So as a kind of Pavlovian reward regime I’ve decided that I can buy an Xbox for Xmas if and only if I complete the entire first draft by December. Please, please please if anybody out there gets wind that I have reneged on this agreement and secretly bought an Xbox then I’m begging you to come round to my house and destroy it. I am deadly serious.

I’m going to document the writing process through the Don’t Look Down blog, so check back for details soon.

UPDATE: its been noted that buying an Xbox at Xmas would just delay the inevitable waste of time. To counter this my update promise is that the Xbox will be donated to a deserving young person / unemployed friend after two weeks.