Tuesday, March 21, 2017


When I say that I don’t plan, that it all happens at the keyboard for me, that is perhaps a little bit Inaccurate. I do have vague plans in my mind that are usually related to images. There’ll be something there for a conclusion to a book somewhere off in the misty future and then plans for the nearer future when I start writing and consider what section to write next. The ‘happens at the keyboard’ bit is what determines how or if I bring them to fruition. Sometimes I do, sometimes I destroy them completely and go in a different direction. Sometimes I find something I’ve completely missed.

Take for example some highly dangerous and irascible assassin drones. These actors were on scene and, while I was concentrating on other matters, I left them twiddling their thumbs … or perhaps other more lethal appendages. You can’t do that. Yeah you can provide some make-work but that’s pretty difficult when the characters concerned are so effective. The thing to do then is throw them into the fray and see what happens.

It’s a bit like strategizing a battle between horse cavalry then having a tank roll onto the scene, then deciding to make some of the horses pacifists and then have all of them sprout wings when you abruptly turn the battlefield on its edge, and then note that the tank has Velcro treads. The word I’m groping for here is protean. I make plans and I plot but the work in progress is often derailed and always falling into a new shape. Corrections and new ideas constantly alter that shape. Sometimes I chew on the edge of my desk in frustration. Sometimes a solution and epiphany appears in just one sentence, like, for example:

She had just rail-gunned the prador fleet, and the other Polity ships opened fire a moment later.    

I wonder what the shape will be after that?

Writing Routine

I've just been writing out some bits and pieces for publicity, specifically 'Top ten things about me I'd like my readers to know' for a website called Female First. Like all this stuff it then went into my 'Articles' file. There's a lot in there so I took a look. I found this one, which appeared somewhere or other. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but not much has changed...

Writing Routine

When I started out I didn’t have any writing routine, I had a job. Writing was a hobby I indulged in over the weekends or in the evening when I wasn’t: too knackered, watching TV, reading a book, or up the pub. I only ever started counting words upon discovering, in John Braine’s Writing a Novel, that this might be a professional approach. This was probably when I was in my early twenties, and then I used the old technique of working out a line average and from that a page average. It wasn’t until I had been writing on and off for maybe ten years that I started to establish any kind of routine, thought I couldn’t put a finger on an exact date, and this routine relates simply to the aphorism ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

When you start word-counting you realise that the pages you have written ain’t adding up to a book (and here I’m talking about the time when the average SF novel was a mere 70,000 words). The prospect can be daunting, and my approach was to ensure that I wrote something every day. That’s all.

The next routine I established was when I went self-employed. Getting tired of working in factories on milling machines and lathes, I looked elsewhere. This was perhaps because of a boredom factor creeping in when I was either on production work (Neal, we want a thousand square aluminium blocks this size with a hole drilled in them) or pressing the start button on some computerized machine. I tried building and then, as a result of some work I did clearing up the mess left by the storm of 1987, ended up doing tree-work, hedging, contract grass cutting and just about anything else I could turn my hand to. The bulk of this work was during the summer, so I had plenty of spare time in the winter. I spent most of my free days during those winters writing, almost as if this was a real job.

I started writing down my daily word-count, then I got the stunning idea that maybe I should set targets for myself. Well, I think it was my idea, though it’s just as likely I picked it up out of some ‘How to’ book. I can’t remember the target I set, but suspect it might have been about 1,000 words. It was during this time I discovered the small presses, had my first short story published in Back Brain Recluse then a series of stories elsewhere, then Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, The Parasite and The Engineer. Then came the big hit when Gridlinked, The Skinner and a third book as yet written were picked up by Macmillan. Sensible word-counts briefly went out the window when Peter Lavery wanted Gridlinked expanded from about 65,000 words, (I took it up to 135,000 in two weeks – and added Mr Crane) and The Skinner expanded from 80,000 words (I was a little bit more leisurely over that as I took it up to 150,000 words).

I gave up the day job a year or so after this – after Gridlinked and The Skinner had been published and while The Line of Polity was growing nicely – and began to establish a proper routine. Here I was at an advantage over many writers in that I’d been self-employed for 15 years, therefore knew what it was to motivate myself. I knew how to get up and get to work without the driving fear of a clocking-in clock, angry foreman or written warnings. The cuts to the pay packet were there, of course, in that the moment I stopped working, even for a cup of coffee, I would cease to earn.

I started the new job by being up at 8.00 and writing until 5.00. I aimed to write 1,000 words a day for five days a week (the words were of course now much easier to count with a word processor program), but after a year found myself way ahead and knew the target was just too easy. I upped this to 2,000 and still found it too easy, but then this was all my words, so next I discounted journal entries, blog posts, and stuff I put on message boards (yes, I even counted the words in them) and reset my target to 2,000 words of fiction. This is what I’ve stuck to ever since. When I get started each day I read through and correct the previous day’s 2,000 words, then start on the next. As I reach that figure I try to simply stop, and not go on until reaching a natural break. If you just stop while you know what you’re going to write next, it’s easier to get going again the next day.

Now, those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will be thinking, where’s the 365,000 word novel every year? Unfortunately, turning professional brings home to you the importance of other aspects of writing that can take up many weeks. And now, I no longer feel guilty when I simply write the word ‘editing’, in my journal, where I usually note down my word-count.

That’s it really: the glamorous life of a writer.

Monday, March 13, 2017

We're Physical

Weird the trials and tribulations my body has been going through lately. I started weight training and gained weight. A lot of it was muscle but there was also a fair quantity of fat. I dieted and fasted losing getting on for 20lb. Also at this time I started walking again so was walking 7 miles every morning and hitting the gym for an hour plus every afternoon. I also increasing repetitions at the gym. Then I had two days of walking and mainly leg exercises at the gym and goodness me the DOMS would not go away, and I felt really tired. I took a couple of days off without much in the way of recovery, went to the gym again. That was okay, but over the next couple of days I was completely pooped. I’d hit the overtraining, under eating (and hydrating) wall. Oops.

In retrospect it was inevitable. I made some calculations. My Base Metabolic Rate is about 1650 calories. Roughly, a 7 mile walk eats up 700 calories while the gym sessions (hour and a quarter minimum) does 500 calories. This is beside what my authorial brain burns while making shit up over a number of hours. Anyway, minimum total of 2850 calories. I was eating a couple of stir fries that added up to about 700 calories. Then there was fruit, veg and peanut butter on Ryvita biscuits. The total there could be high but no matter how I work it, that evening binge eating still left me at a minimum of 1000 calories short every day.

I decided to reintroduce bread, crumpets, malt loaf and butter back into my life. This started to make me feel better but the big step up came when I started drinking pints of cordial. Obviously endless cups of tea weren’t doing the job. Silly sod. Time now to apply my brain to this. I need rest days and I need those carbs. I can’t go through life perpetually knackered else I’ll have no mental energy to spare to write those books!     

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Signing Event

Okay, there you have it. Thursday the 23rd of March between 6.00 and 7.00pm. Be there or be square, or some such. At Forbidden Planet in London.