Tag Archives: Writing

What do you write when you can’t think of anything? #Writing

This is a question every aspiring writer asks, and unfortunately there’s no one good answer that suits everyone. There are all sorts of approaches from the staring at a blank sheet of paper to going out for a long walk, building a log cabin (Worked for Theroux) shopping, cooking, driving, running, jumping, swimming, fishing, bungee jumping, play games, arranging socks or some other displacement activity. Getting slobbering shitfaced drunk also seems to be a perennial favourite.

For myself, first move is to ‘head dump’. That is basically emptying out the garbage can of ideas into note form, and seeing if there’s anything that fits in with one of the projects I’m currently fiddling with. Sometime it works, sometimes there’s simply nothing worth recycling. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do some practical task like cooking which makes my hands and forebrain busy while the clever stuff goes on in my subconscious. There are times when simply overthinking a story builds up a massive logjam of worthless ideas choking the river of narrative. That’s when I get ruthless. I re read what I’ve already written, and junk anything that either doesn’t work, or detracts from the story I want to tell. Sometimes I’ll play games like killing off a character, just to see if that frees up a plot line. Anything to stir the sea of words into a storm to see if anything interesting gets washed up onto the beach from the deep subconscious.

Occasionally I’ll end up going off on a tangent, but mostly it seems to work.

Popping the Kobo question

I’ve just submitted a question to the Kobo guys regarding getting existing ePub formatted titles with existing ISBN’s listed on the Kobo marketplace. I’m sure it’s not as complicated as it looks. It’s Friday, and I’m not expecting any kind of reply until at least midweek next week. About the same time the proof paperback of Head of the Beast drops onto my doormat. Should Kobo work out that makes three large market places with product placement.

Note to self: must check out the listings to make sure sufficient excerpts and tasters are available to sufficiently whet reading appetites. As soon as proof is okayed and listed on Amazon, I’ll cut and paste a taster on the Amazon page.

Money is tight right at the moment, and I’ve no spare cash to spend on marketing. So it’s head down and keep on punching keys, preparing product for release into the public domain. Keep the day job and keep throwing things at the wall. Something is bound to stick sooner or later. Although I’d rather it was sooner.

Correct use of the “F-bomb”

I see on a lot of writers and publishers forums discussions of what is euphemistically called the “F-Bomb“. Some seem to feel that using this multi-purpose slang word is ‘bad writing’.

Excessive use is certainly poor practice. Although my feelings on the matter are that ‘bad writing’ is sometimes not using said swear word. If a character is one who swears, then they should swear properly, and not get all dainty mouthed about it. Spending any time in a male dominated environment means one is likely to hear the F – word used as adjective, verb, adverb, noun and in some ‘blue collar’ environments, punctuation and even pauses for breath. A character in any narrative is framed by their speech, and part of a writers job is to paint that picture with veracity. This whole self censorship thing detracts from the honesty of any fictional character and makes them less credible. This attitude comes across, to me at least, as teeth grindingly prissy, censorious and dishonest.

Conversely, it can be argued that ‘bad writing’ is excessive use of the aforementioned swear word, which is also true. My feelings? The trick is to use bad language appropriately.

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Ploughing on with the next volume

I’m pushing on with the next volume of the Cerberus series, specifically the fallout from a gangland killing from my opening of ‘A falling of Angels’. Getting a volume out in the public domain always leaves me with the need to do more. My attitude is, “Okay, that’s done. What’s next?”

As I was driving in to work, I was going through some of the ideas for ‘falling’, and have been taking a stroll down a rather shadowy memory lane. Well, not so much lane as dark alley. Drawing on my own brush with motorcycle gang culture, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Those three or four years were crazy days, and some of the people I rubbed shoulders with back then still provide me with useful material. Not that I’ll ever name names, times, dates and places.

Loyalties, once given, should not be withdrawn without serious provocation or penalty. That was the core of the code I lived by. Betrayal was considered the worst of crimes against your chosen peer group. The rule is that you don’t grass. Ever. What happens doesn’t get discussed outside your group. Exile or death are the penalties. Omerta rules. That was the zeitgeist, and I got to see it up close and personal, enough to understand it well. Observed in the flesh, without any rose tinting of glasses.

At the time I recall reading Hunter S Thompson’s “Hells Angels”, but the reality was never quite as he made it sound. Not that I ever had much first hand contact with real, full patch chapter members, although I had a nodding acquaintance with a couple. Some days were fun. A hell of a lot of fun. The parties were almost legendary. We got stoned, smoked and drank a lot. We built and rebuilt motorcycles. I got the reputation for being ‘mad’, although no-one would ever explain why. I was a positive pussycat compared to most of my contemporaries. Some of whom would beat up on people for a word out of place. Sometimes for no reason at all, just for the hell of it.

In the end I simply walked away from it and kept on walking, but the fascination of ‘the life’ as we referred to it back then, remains with me. The casual, almost blasé attitude to sex, violence and illicit substances, which I never really shared. The heavy metal music which sometimes still touches an amused nerve. The sheer camaraderie and non-judgmental brotherhood of it all. The two minor gang wars witnessed from the sidelines. Eighteen friends and boon companions dead in five short years to drunk driving, accident, one murder, and two suicides. You might say it got a little rough for a while.

A couple of decades ago I toyed with the idea of writing down my experiences, and planned a memoir with the working title “Black leather, red blood”, but in the end decided not to. Time has degraded my memory of the events, and after thirty plus years I don’t trust memory alone except for the broadest of brushstrokes. Most of my notes got burned or lost, and we all have to move on. Perhaps it’s better this way.

That’s about as much as I’m doing with that one…..

Head of the Beast will be available as soon as I’ve got cover art that I’m happy with. The Header issue has proved insurmountable, and may actually interfere with eBook conversion, so I’ve ditched the headers. The page footers and numbering work fine, with none of the unwelcome surprises upon reopening the document after saving or conversion. 188 172 action and horror packed pages laying the groundwork for the next in the series on the most recent reformat.

First Edition Hardback will be ready in a week, and I’m tempted to go for a plain, textured look for the dust cover. Just authors name and title, with a little blurb and text sample on the back. Paperback edition will follow the same route, and I’ll double check the eBook requirements before submitting to iTunes, Barnes and Noble etc.

All this formatting practice is telling me the limitations of OpenOffice and its weak points, so I can concentrate on the story in future, and not waste so much time on what I feel are purely cosmetic issues.

Publishing, formatting and metadata headaches

Head of the Beast, the Manuscript of the first of the Paul Calvin novels, is almost about as ready as I can make it. Nothing from Harper Vector since acknowledgement of receipt 2nd October 2012, so I’m assuming they don’t want to know. Had they been interested I’d have expected them to be in touch long before now. Quite frankly that nails the lid on mainstream publishers as far as I’m concerned. They’re too rude or ignorant to send out a polite or timely emailed notice of (dis)interest, so I’m no longer interested in them. I will submit no more work to mainstream publishers and agents. Three months per submission? I don’t think so. Are they expecting prospective authors to die of old age before they even look at their work? Not playing that game. I’ve played it for too long with very little to show. No more slush pile. No more hanging around, wasting my hope and effort. Back to the self publishing grindstone. At least I only have myself to blame if my business model falls flat or royalties don’t arrive on time.

There are two remaining major manuscript headaches, formatting and metadata. The formatting, because when an error occurs, I can’t strip out all the unwanted codes, which in turn screw up the formatting; I can’t seem to reformat the page to the correct paper size for publishing, and I’ve read the goddamned Openoffice help file and manual back to front, searching for an answer. Chapter headings won’t stay put. OpenOffice 3.3 is just as bad as Microsoft Word in all its appalling iterations. I may have to cut and paste the raw text into a fresh template and go through the tedious business of inserting new headings, italics, paragraph formats. It’s all so Byzantine and unnecessary. A 70,500 word document is a lot of work to reformat. All over one unassailable code error.

I used to be a confirmed WordPerfect fan for one reason; Reveal Codes. That Alt-F3 hotkey was an absolute lifesaver on long, complicated technical documents when one specific piece of code buried in the text was mucking up the format of a manual or report. Especially when other people had been making their own untracked revisions. These untouchable codes can completely screw up your day and important, time sensitive documentation. Specifically when you’re racing deadlines and need stuff ready for meetings. WordPerfect used to make my working life so simple. Search and replace used to be so easy. When formatting is critical, particularly in OpenOffice 3.3 and Microsoft Word (All versions) one hidden code can ruin a weeks work of crucical revisions. As for Macs, I’ve heard the same things about them, too. That and I’m like most relatively unknown writers – broke. So no money for new software. I’d love a copy, but I don’t have the three hundred dollars after my day job pays the bills.

Have finally cracked the metadata issue, so there is going to be a proper eBook release via Barnes and Noble, iTunes etc. with decent heading and document structure to make navigation an absolute snip for the reader. Also I won’t end up tearing my remaining hair out over multiple distribution rejections. So long as I follow the instructions properly. There’s even a handy dandy little video explaining Metadata.

Update: Have had to reformat a whole new document. All twenty five chapter headings are now firmly ensconced in the headers and footers. Just the italicisation to do tomorrow. Late shift on day job tonight, so I’m going to pack in now, grab a snack and see what tomorrow brings.

Home and Curry

Angie is home, now kitted out with a new hip joint and currently up to the gills with painkillers. She’s tucked up nice and cosy in bed. There’s a roaring fire in the stove, and the house feels like a home once more. Overall I’m feeling a whole lot more relaxed.

To celebrate her return I made one of my home made curries with home baked Naan bread. Being a bit lazy with the curry I simply chopped up a pound of cardboard chicken (Skinless, boneless, flavourless – I don’t like it, but Angie does), used up my last jar of Sharwoods and chucked in half a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, which gave it sufficient heat. Basmati rice was also prepared (1 half cup Basmati rice, one and a quarter cups of cold water, bring to boil until almost all water is gone, then take off heat and stick a cloth over the pan for the rest of the water to evaporate). Mango Chutney, check. The Naan bread took a little experimentation, as my oven only goes up to 500 Fahrenheit, and leaving the yoghurt out of the recipe might have been a mistake as the texture was a little stiff. However, we live and learn. It was close enough for government work, as the saying goes. After her bout with vomiting due to a painkiller reaction, the Curry went and stayed down. For this small mercy I am truly grateful.

With regard to opiates, I remember a compound called Prochlorperazine (Proprietary name Stemetil) which is useful when administering opiates as it reduces the nausea. Working on what would nowadays be called an Oncological ward for a few weeks, palliative patients often had a mixed dose of Stemetil with their Diamorphine to cut down the drug dreams and vomiting whilst reducing cancer pain. When Angie was having her first bout of vomiting I asked the nurse if Stemetil was still in use, and was told it was restricted to palliative care. Or as I recall a senior nursing officer say in the 1980’s; “They’re dying anyway, so it really doesn’t matter if they (The patients) become junkies.” Which is a refreshingly pragmatic view of the world.

What with all associated shenanigans, running errands to drug stores, keeping friends and family informed, and general caring for my wife while she is indisposed, all writing on major projects has ground to a halt. Apart from the blog. This is only a temporary state of affairs, and as soon as Angie is well on the mend and fully self care capable, I will be torturing the English language with my facinorous prose. As usual.

A few thoughts on book covers

Recently I’ve been messing around with cover art. Thinking about creating something eyecatching which makes a strong visual statement, but isn’t too ‘busy’.

At the book fair last weekend, I was watching what other people were doing as far as cover design is concerned. I was also covertly observing the reactions of would be readers to the artwork on show. I caught a few vague nods of approval at the ‘Stars’ covers, despite it being an unpopular genre with the majority of browsers, and barely suppressed looks of veiled horror at the more ‘crowded’ cover work. Conclusion; the most popular covers seemed to be the simplest. Either text only, or a single strong and pertinent image that attracted the eye without distracting from the contents.

Still struggling with the murder scene for ‘a falling of angels’, and trying to rationalise some of my notes from 2005 and embed them into the Cerberus story arc.

Keeping chipping away at ‘Darkness’ at about 500 words per day, but the story needs expanding. There’s an element missing. Not sure what it is, but I think a revision of the counter plot needs to be done. I’ve killed off the original bad guys, but all I’ve got in their stead are a lot of faceless bureaucrats who are hard to nail down. Very unsatisfying.


I’ve finally been able to amaze my wife. Angie tends to think I’m an untidy individual who needs ‘training’, so I thought I’d surprise her by showing off my new workspace. Excuse the cardboard at the back, but I intend to replace that tomorrow with a suitably sized piece of something so that I’m not looking at dangling cables every time I look up.

Experimental artwork now has its own page. Two examples of which can be seen on the left hand pinboard. Angie is stunned. Dog can hide under my desk without getting under my feet every time I try to turn around. Mission accomplished.

How long it will stay this tidy is anybody’s guess.

Writing about death

I’m busy inventing a crime scene for ‘A falling of Angels’. The aftermath of a gangland execution style killing seen via a quantum viewpoint, asking questions about what shadows humans leave upon the world when our biochemical processes come to an abrupt halt. Also as a look at the nature of consciousness through the eyes of a Telempathic Detective (Telempath; my own invention. One who can read minds and see emotions). We are all sparks of electricity and dribbles of chemicals, but what about deeper down? Down below where the Quarks come out to play? Is this where the spark of sentience dwells?

These are the questions I’m currently wrestling with, and a recurrent theme all through the Paul Calvin series of stories. Writing this sort of stuff also leaves me feeling a little uneasy because I feel I am staring over the edge into a void. There’s also a sensation of anticipation and bravado, like I’m doing philosophical base jumps and parasailing out into eternity. The feeling is one of suppressed horror, but also of testosterone filled exhilaration.

Always leaves me a bit freaky while I’m working on such a piece.

New desk

I’ve inherited a desk. One of those large multilayered steel, glass and dark wood confections with various shelves, presumably meant to be an office in its own right. It’s a corner lurking beast of a thing with a steel board to magnetically pin notes to. Shelves above and below the main surface, and a couple of parts I can’t use because I have no idea what they are for.

We had to assemble it from component parts which arrived in kit form with no instructions, which caused much scratching of heads during assembly, especially as the whole thing felt a little counter intuitive. As far as populating it is concerned, at present I’m going for the minimalist approach. Cordless handset phone on my right. My own books on one of the upper right hand glass shelves. PC speakers on the top centre with a battered old Lava lamp providing a contemplative focus. Laptop stage centre, lonely tea mug on my left in what seems an acre of space. Wallet on top left hand shelf next to some fly tying contraption with a magnifying glass I picked up from somewhere.

Underneath, dog is snoring at my feet in the capacious void below with the dangling wires and a power bar. Even down there are two shelves. I think one is meant for a small footprint printer, and the other for a desktop base unit. They don’t feel right as footrests.

Today I begin work on the second Cerberus novel with a quantum look at Death via a murder scene. Working title; ‘A falling of Angels’.

Spam, Twitter and spam

This whole social media thing can get a little intrusive as far as the writing process is concerned, and I’m currently tempted to direct all Twitter messages directly into a special mailbox. This is because I’m currently under siege, getting dozens of messages inviting me to join some club for Internet sex dating. Really? Why in the name of Satan’s right nipple would I be interested in that? Maybe if I were still the testosterone driven 23 I once was I might, but now? My interests have always been a little more cerebral, but nowadays I am even more interested in a broader range of experiences than mere sex.

No doubt the transmitted link also leads into a repository for malware, trojans, and all the other little ‘ickys’ that swim around the Internet, looking for PC’s to infest. So the link will go forlornly unclicked, and those who send these kind of messages via Twitter will automatically get ‘unfollowed’.

Story arc thoughts

Have been looking at the ‘Cerberus’ story arc and think I need to add (at least) another couple of volumes in between ‘A falling of Angels’ and ‘Shifting States’.

To enlarge; Cerberus has been a work in progress since 2003 / 4 according to my files and notes. In order to move deeper into the dystopia, I have to use up more of the story elements currently only in note form. Some in vague scribbles in notepads.

I know I said I’d be taking three days out, but this whole writing business has more than a touch of the obsessive compulsive about it. You have to write, because in the end, it’s the writing that matters. Nothing else.

The long wait

Anyone who writes is familiar with ‘the long wait’ of up to three months while publishers shunt your missive into a queue before saying “Not what we’re looking for right now” or “We don’t see a market for this” or even three months of dead silence and no reply at whatsoever. Which is what so often happens.

This long wait can take a terrible toll on young hopefuls, especially when the entry points to the world of grown up publishing are so limited. Most publishers won’t even look at new writers without an agent. Hence my enthusiasm for this Harper Vector opening, because finding an Agent; well, to be honest I’d given up looking some time ago.

What the hell. I have three days off. I need them, because at four this afternoon my get up and go, went. I know not where. I finally hit my own personal wall with a fairly hefty thud. Almost three weeks without a break working from six am to midnight is enough to wear anyone down. On the plus side, I did get to see a lot of nice sunrises. A couple of days out and off are required.

Now I am off to make friends with a bottle of Bushmills. The keyboard can wait.