Writing with ME

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will know that I often get annoyed at myself for not blogging enough. Okay, I’m quite busy, but having a more regular blogging presence and readership is useful to show publishers. I’m fairly sure when that when I query agents they will look for me online, and it doesn’t look great when my last post on here is a couple of months old.

However, I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’, but I suffer from a condition called CFS/ME. (Here’s an interesting link on the symptoms). As Friday was ME/CFS awareness day, I wanted to talk about how it affects my writing and explain why my blog isn’t as active as I would like.

One of the main ways of coping with ME is pacing. It’s something that I’ve done quite naturally since I was diagnosed with ME in 1999. I usually know my limits and when I can do something cognitive, or when I just need to sit and think. Since I referred myself to the local clinic last year after having a relapse, this has become even more important.

I think this is one of the reasons I naturally turned to writing. I’ve always loved stories, and I enjoy telling stories. A writer (I think it was Gav Thorpe) once said to me that a writer is always writing, whether they are putting pen to paper or not.

Even if I’m having a bad day, health wise, I can sit and think about my plot, character or setting. A lot of the planning gets done on these days, and it’s always good to plan out as much of your novel as possible before writing the actual prose. This allows me to feel quite productive, even if the physical novel or short story isn’t actually increasing in word count.

I would love one day to write a book about ME itself, but we’ll see.

Of course having mentioned this, you can perhaps understand why I don’t blog as much as I, or maybe you, would like. If I feel up to putting figurative pen to paper then I would much rather be writing the actual stories themselves.

However, I have a plan. Rather than writing one post on the day that it needs to be posted, I’m going to try and plan ahead and schedule posts. Here’s hoping I can actual fulfil this.

What I’d love to know is what kind of stuff you would like to read?

Feel free to ask me writing questions, and I will answer them as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading.

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Goodbye for Now!

Goodbye for Now has now been out for one week in ebook and audiobook! It still doesn’t quite feel real, but thank you to everyone who has bought it so far, and those who have left reviews.

There have been some great reviews coming in, but it would really mean a lot of me if you could leave a review – they make a huge difference to whether a book sells. There’s also something to do with algorithms, which I don’t quite understand, but I do enough to know that in this situation more is more.

You can pick up your copy here: https://t.co/Sg5mNMH1pW

It has also been on a Blog Tour this week, which you can see here:

GoodbyeForNow_BlogTour

Thanks again!

Goodbye for Now – Available on Netgalley

My debut novel, Goodbye for Now, is available to read on @Netgalley!

That may not mean a lot to some of you, unless you are book reviewers or book bloggers. Netgalley is a great site that allows reviewers and bloggers access to ebook versions of books for free.

All you need to do is to go here, and sign up for a free account. Then find the book you want to review, and you can request to review it. There seems to be no obligation to leave a review, but I could be wrong about that. You can find Goodbye for Now by following this link: netgal.ly/K0NlxE

HQDigital_9780008287962_RequestNetgalley_326

Don’t forget you can always preorder your copy of the book here: amzn.to/2MVFkcX

Or if you prefer:

Waterstones / Foyles / Blackwells / WH Smith

Goodbye for Now Cover Reveal!

I am absolutely delighted to reveal the cover of my forthcoming book Goodbye for NowGoodbye for Now will be released on by HQDigital/HarperCollins on the 12th October 2018.

This is how the publisher announced the reveal:

Two brothers, only one survives.

As Europe is torn apart by war, two brothers fight very different battles, and both could lose everything…

While George has always been the brother to rush towards the action, fast becoming a boy-soldier when war breaks out, Joe thinks differently. Refusing to fight, Joe stays behind as a conscientious objector battling against the propaganda.

On the Western front, George soon discovers that war is not the great adventure he was led to believe. Surrounded by mud, blood and horror his mindset begins to shift as he questions everything he was once sure of.

At home in Liverpool, Joe has his own war to win. Judged and imprisoned for his cowardice, he is determined to stand by his convictions, no matter the cost.

By the end of The Great War only one brother will survive, but which?

This breathtaking novel is perfect for fans of Jenny Ashcroft, Kate Furnival and Louisa Young.

You can preorder your copy here: https://amzn.to/2uUDJct

My New Digital HQ

Well, I’m back! It’s been quite a while since I last posted on this blog. It was July last year when I was trying to get my reviewing going again, to give people something to come by this site to read. If I’m honest, I don’t really enjoy reviewing, so I find it hard to build up any momentum. Also, I would rather be spending that energy working on prose, or my PhD.

The reason for my return is great, no, incredible news: I’ve signed with a publisher!

I’ve been sitting on this for a few months as, but now that the publisher have made it official I can finally share the news here.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 17.02.08

HQ Digital are a digital first imprint of HarperCollins (and if you had asked me when writing the novel who I would want to publish it my first answer would have been HarperCollins), and they have picked up my novel Goodbye For Now, a novel about the First World War.

I don’t want to say to much at the moment (I’m sure HQ will reveal all in good time), but I have already been hard at work with my editor on revisions, and it won’t be long before you can all get your copy to read. I’m so excited and the team at the publishers have been absolutely lovely. I never thought I would be made to feel so welcome.

I’m currently drinking my morning tea from the awesome mug they sent me as a Christmas present (It also came with a luxury hot chocolate, which I’m saving for when I get the next revisions back):

HQ Digital Mug

I’ve never received a Christmas present from an employer or client before, and it’s a nice touch. Just one example of how lovely they’ve been to me, even before signing the contract.

I really can’t wait for you all to read the novel, but there’s still lots of hard work to do. The next thing I hope to share with you is the front cover, but I’ve been told that will be a couple of months yet. I’m hoping that if it sells enough copies then it will come out in paperback. So I’m counting on all of you.

In the meantime I’d better get back to writing the next novel/PhD work, before I receive the next round of revisions.

Soooooooooooon.

Thanks for reading!

You can find HQ Digital here on: Facebook / Twitter: @HQDigitalUK / Website

Review – Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

I am trying to work my way through the Arthur C. Clarke award and Hugo award Shortlists before their award ceremonies at the end of this month and the start of next respectively. It’s quite a task, and I’m already a little bit behind. I will probably never get through them in time, which is a shame as I am entitled to vote for the Hugo, but it is a noble effort.

As I’m trying to do some reviews, both to get my mind in PhD setting, and to provide some content for this website, the best thing to do is review these as I go along.

I’m sure I will return to posting about writing and some writing advice soon.

For this week I thought I would talk about Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, published by Solaris. I’ve seen this posted everywhere on social media, and it has quite a striking cover, so I’ve wanted to read it for a while. It was handy that it happens to be on both the Arthur C. Clarke and Hugo shortlists.

The first thing I noticed is that the opening is quite clumsy and there is a lot of exposition, trying to bring the reader into the world immediately. Exposition is a necessary and often important trope of science fiction, but it has to be done properly. It felt like reading a history text book for this particular world. I almost didn’t continue, it was that hard going. However, I’m someone that has to get to the end of the story whether I want to or not. My friend, and fellow writer, Reece has a 50 page limit where if it doesn’t catch him within the first 50 pages he moves onto another book. I’m 99% sure he would not have read past 50 pages for Ninefox Gambit, but I’m kinda happy I did.

While the description is nice the sense of being in the midst of a battle isn’t there. The character has time to stop and tell us about the different calendars and formations that their people use, but it makes it feel like there is a real disconnect between the action and description. There’s a lot of tell, but not so much show. The only description we get of the enemy that they’re fighting is that they are like the main character’s species, but alien. Not all that helpful, or really mental-image forming. It’s clear it’s a well thought-out world, but the technique isn’t great for getting that across to the reader.

I found the rhythm of the prose a bit jarring as almost every sentence had an interjection. “Nothing he kept in the office would intimidate Kujen, anyway, not the paintings of ninefoxes with their staring tails, not the lack of visible weapons, or the pattern-stones board with its halfway game, or the randomly selected images of still life.” I understand trying to have a narrative voice, but this isn’t one that’s particularly easy to enjoy. However, once the exposition is largely out of the way we start to see more of the character.

It could have started from chapter 3 as this is where the character and setting really start to come out and blossom into something that the reader can engage with. There is still some info-dumping, in an almost autistic way (I’m not sure how the reader is supposed to remember all the different signifiers), but it is much more from the character’s point of view, more natural, and the prose feels tighter for it.

In the middle of chapters there are often letters that the heretics send to one another. This are a nice touch, and it’s a decent framing device. It serves to give a lot more context than to the world that the main character is fighting against, and why they are doing what they’re doing. .

The relationship between Cheris (the main character) and Jadeo is by far the most interesting part of the novel, and really what this novel is about. It’s when the main character starts to really become a character rather than just a blank mathematical all-obeying nothing. While the dialogue can be a bit too much at times – chapters are often dialogue between the two without much else happening – it helps place the two characters, or rather give them character.

The fighting bits once the setting finally gets to the fortress (there’s a long and rather unnecessary setup) are good. They portray the common soldier quite well, and they often have more actual character traits, and are more engaging than the main character herself. These sections are much more compelling, and as a reader I want to follow the soldiers and what happens to them. They give a truer understanding of the world. It made me think of this quote by Orson Scott Card:

“Anyone who knows anything about the military will tell you, the commanders of ships and armies don’t have many interesting adventures. They’re mostly […] sending out the orders to the people who do the physically dangerous work.” (Scott Card, 1990)

While I don’t always agree with this point, I think it’s relevant here.

I like the use of flashbacks towards the end of the novel. Without trying to give too much away there is a clever device to it, and they really start to show you Jadeo’s character. The only downside is that it shows again how blank the main character, Cheris. It’s partly the nature of the fact that she belongs to the Kel clan, which as far as I can tell are brainwashed soldier class. However she does have independent thought, but none of it is compelling enough to really care about her.

Then again, the more you read this novel the more it’s about Jadeo than Cheris.

Overall, the novel is an interesting critique of a fascist regime (or perhaps of the author’s Korean background – I don’t know enough about Korea to say for sure), against democracy, but when the regime is so mind bogglingly complex that you don’t understand it, it’s hard to find empathy. (How on earth can technology be based on a Calendar system?!) I’m fairly mathematical, to the point that I can teach it, but this idea just seems bizarre and frustratingly complex.

You may think that I didn’t like the novel, and sure there is a lot that could be improved. I did spend up to page 300 not wanting to read the sequel, but then I read the ending, and I can’t help but feel that this is a set up for a much more interesting sequel.

Perhaps the author has got over the problems of technique and style in the second book, and the clever world and setting will come to the fore. I will be picking it up at some point.

Thanks for reading.

Bibliography

Lee, Y.H. (2016) Ninefox Gambit. Solaris Books.

Scott Card, O (1990) How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. Writer’s Digest Books.

 

Review – Neuromancer by William Gibson

You may have noticed that I missed a week – ooops! This time it wasn’t because I was at Download. I don’t really have an excuse other than that I was in Weymouth at my parents house and after a ridiculously long, and delayed, journey on Sunday I was pretty tired. So, I forgot!

I’ve been meaning to do a number of reviews for a while, as it’s something that should help me with my PhD and give me some publications to my name. I thought I would start with a small one, as I’d forgotten last week’s post. In future I will try to do these reviews in a more academic style, but it has been a while since I read Neuromancer (I finished it on the 15 May) so I thought it would be best to give you a general overview of the novel, and to get in the habit of doing this.

Some would be surprised that it took me until 2017 to read Neuromancer – my mum actually read it before me, and she doesn’t read sci fi -, as it’s on top of a lot of Science Fiction reader’s recommended list, but as you know I read a lot and I didn’t get round to it until last year’s reissue showed up. I then read it in only 13 days. Although being a short novel, that’s slightly longer than average for me.

It was first published in 1984, and I would imagine that it was a fair bit more interesting then that it is now, some 33 years later. People say that it gave us the terms cyberspace and the matrix (although I suspect these ideas were well known to computer scientists at the time at least), but these terms are much more part of the common lexicon these days. I think this means that it is a lot less dramatic and alien than it might have felt at the time. It also gave us, or pioneered, the genre cyberpunk, and this is where it really comes into its own.

The story is loosely about a hacker, that down on his luck, having lost the ability to hack, is hired by an unknown business enterprise to do some hacking.

That’s probably the simplest and easiest to understand way to describe this novel, because there’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense. Or rather, what I should say is that Gibson knew exactly what he was writing, but there are a lot of terms that are difficult to understand and follow, especially given that this is a science fiction world in the future. (A future Earth, but still different enough to require a learning curve).

There’s a lot of talk about this online, some people saying it’s just difficult to read. I believe as some others do, that this was on purpose. I think Gibson even went as far as to suggest this himself. The main character is taken along for the ride, and as he is constantly in and out of cyberspace he only understand a little of what is going on. Gibson wanted the reader to be confused by this so that they appreciated the danger the character was in.

Regardless of what you think on the issue, the prose is good. There are some really lovely descriptive passages which put you right in this world and make you want to keep reading. Even if some sections are a little confusing – although I must say that I never felt that I needed to go back and reread pages, it was just a world I wasn’t part of – it is still well worth reading if you’re a fan of Science Fiction, and even if you’re not.

 

How to Write When You’re Not Writing

Okay, so today’s post is a day late. No, it’s not because I spent ages trying to think of a pun for the title. As you can see I failed in that anyway. No, it was was to do with the fact that I was away at Download Festival in Donington Park all weekend. I fully intended to write a post when I got home yesterday, but energy and time escaped me. So, you can have it today instead. Aren’t I kind to you?

Today’s blog is in a way about Download Festival. Not directly as such, but more what happens when things like festivals, conventions, and other events get in the way of your writing. If you’re an aspiring writer then you probably will be, and should be, attending all sorts of conventions and events to meet fellow writers, agents, and publishers. Things like writing retreats are great to get away and put pen to paper. But what if the event you’re attending isn’t conducive to writing? What if it’s something like a festival where you are stuck in a field for days, cut off from the internet, and horror of horrors, having fun? *gasp*

Well, I would say that this is where ‘thinking’ comes in. Yes, it sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve talked about before. There is a lot more to writing than just typing words on a page. There’s research, planning, and plotting. All of which I’ve covered in previous blogs.

When I’m not by the computer, and even when I’m not carrying a notepad (this isn’t very often, but sometimes I forget it), I spend a lot of time thinking about my story. This can be absolutely anything to do with your story, but it’s a good idea to sometimes take some distance from the page and to just think about it. As I’ve said before before you start writing you need to know certain things about your story and characters.

A writer is always writing.

Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking about a few plot points of the novel I’m currently working on. Because to be fully immersed in it, to be able to write it well, it can never leave you.

I find it useful at the very least to run through dialogue. This can often be tricky to write, and young/inexperience writers often try and cram too much information into dialogue. It needs to be natural. Just sit somewhere and listen to how people talk. Most of what they’re saying is in what they’re not saying.

So, what I’ll do is run through the dialogue in my head, before I’ve even written it. What would that character say in that situation. No that doesn’t sound right, try again. Yes, that’s what they’re trying to say, but this is what they’re actually saying. By the time it gets to the page it’ll feel more ‘real’. As far as you’re concerned those characters have already had that conversation, you’re not making it up on the spot any more.

Dialogue isn’t the only think that you can think through. This weekend, I spent a bit of time, on the bus between Nottingham and Donington Park, thinking about the hierarchies in my novel. Who represents the main organisation, and what are their job roles? This all works towards having a workable, relatable world, even if it is science fiction. By thinking through this, it also brought up relationships between characters: if that was so and so’s job role, then actually they would treat so and so like this…

In short, there is so much that you can be doing, when you don’t have a chance to actually write prose, that will benefit your story. Try not to beat yourself up about not ‘writing’ and realise that actually what you are doing is ‘writing’, just not the physical side of it. I’m not saying drift off and waste time daydreaming and never get you’re writing down. But if you can’t write, then thinking through dialogue, characters, setting, or scenes can help you when you come back to the computer and that blank page that you left behind.

Thanks for reading, and if you liked what I have to say, or even disagree with it please comment below.