Hey, it’s been a long time, you know? Let’s shake hands. Better still, let’s have a hug - I’ve missed you.
There, now that we’ve got all that awkwardness out of the way, and because I haven’t been in touch for so long, let me explain. It’s been seven months… well almost eight really, since I was last here. That’s not for the want of trying, mind you, more because you only get so many hours in a day, and mine were squeezed like so much silly putty through the eye of a needle. Last year, for me, was a difficult year.
Actually, I’d go so far as saying it’s been a difficult year for so many people I know, through reasons of health, career or finance. It hasn’t been fun – like being asked to clear up the party all by yourself, not knowing that this was the “end of the good times” party, and someone has to pick up the bill.
In terms of health, this was a difficult one for me. Probably the most difficult I’ve had, and that’s counting the car-crashes (and being struck by lightning) over the years. For the best part of six months last year we thought there might be something quite wrong with me, and in the end it was successfully dealt with by a minor operation – which wasn’t so minor for a relative of ours who died in similar circumstances. Other members of the family have also had their near-misses, and it’s been a traumatic twelve months, and that’s without the stress of Sarah’s pregnancy. It’s been quite the rollercoaster.
On finances, well we’re no different to 90% of the British tax payers in this. Our day jobs are threatened, inflation is up. I buy less books. I’m just lucky in that I have a couple of hundred unread novels in my study, so I could probably do with buying less books anyway. But that’s not so good for the publishing trade, if I’m the standard book buyer. People are buying less everything (except e-books) which has a knock-on effect with my chosen career…
…Which has been, well, not difficult so much, but harder than usual. When I left Pan Macmillan in 2010 I didn’t have a definite plan, and I wasn’t banking on getting a publisher right away. That much hasn’t changed. I have a fantastic literary agent in Dorian Lit Agency who’s pimping my stuff all over the place, but it’s a difficult world out there, one with many other matters compounding decisions that are quite out of my hands, ones that have built up over the last decade or so, which is forcing my peers to bail out of mainstream publishing all together. It’s not unlike the environment of the pulp fiction writer so many years ago during the Great Depression, but one with an added twist: self-e-publishing. (But more of that later).
These issues haven’t stopped me writing, no sir.
In fact it’s the real writing that has caused me to be absent here other than Twitter. (That and the arrival of number two son, a gorgeous three month-old who looks like his mum and has the dazzling smile to match – he’s high maintenance though, as can be number one son at times, so it hasn’t been without its bumps). The writing is as busy as ever, and there is a choice to be had between writing about writing on a blog, or writing books and stories which will eventually enable me to write about writing on a blog, so I’ve chosen the latter path.
While recovering from my operation last year, I wasn’t able to do anything but sit in bed and write on the laptop, which I did do. The result is a short science fiction novel called “Those Grey Test Hits” which I let out of my sight earlier this month for the first time, and reactions have been better than I hoped. It’s the first story I’ve written as a purely science fiction. It’s not a long book at all, about 150 pages, but it’s a story that has summed up my mood for some time, and it has a lot of me in it. I’m quite pleased with it, if I’m honest, and I have high hopes.
My plan for “Those Grey Test Hits” is to get it out there at some point this year, with my agent’s blessing. The market for short novels is not one that is flourishing in mainstream publishing, so it’s quite possible this will go out as a small press publication, or even through e-publishing. It might even go out via a project that I and some other writers are looking at setting up…
(…I’ve mentioned before in passing that some of us have been looking at wrestling publishing matters back under our control. I and two other writers are looking at bashing out ways and means to improve our hands out there. It’s a venture that already has a website, though not for public eyes quite yet, as the three of us have other responsibilities to various publishers and agents, so this venture is going to be slow in coming together. But it’s there, and it’s ready and waiting when we three agree that this is what we want to do. I know that’s all quite secret, but as I’ve said, we have responsibilities to others first, those who have put their faith in us. In publishing you have to keep a little faith even with it being trapped in an ever-increasing shit-storm...)
Other writing matters include The Secret War Book 1, which has turned into a project in itself. With the advent of full rights reversal, I’ve had to return to the original edit to make sure it’s up to date and free of typos. This is the edit that Pan Macmillan published in 2007, and whilst proofing it I admit to being less happy with the finished article than I was five years ago. I’m a better writer, I guess, but those five years have allowed me an objectivity that has been a massive distraction! Instead of just concentrating on the typos, I’ve rewritten paragraphs and dialogue, and I’m spending more than twice as much time as expected, turning it more into an exercise in re-drafting than just proofing.
But you know, what I’ll get at the end of it – and more importantly, what you’ll get at the end – is a better novel. I’m building a better Secret War here, one with the creases ironed out. It has taken time yes, and time I could spend writing other stuff, but now that I’m a third of the way through, I’m not going to stop now.
What it has also done, it to prompt a change of plan regarding the whole series, and one that will still be up in the air until I embark on the next Secret War novel, which will be either The Traitor of Light (next draft) or Blood on the Seine. Traitor of Light takes place during the events of the Hoard of Mhorrer, and chronologically comes after that book. Blood on the Seine, however, is set just weeks after The Secret War. If I embark on the latter story, it will mean shunting the Hoard of Mhorrer somewhat. In fact if I go down this route, The Hoard of Mhorrer will become book 3 or 4, with me having to write another couple of books in the middle. It’s a lot to plan, and a plan that is quite fluid and will change depending on whether The Secret War is published again in the mainstream publishing world, or if it goes out as an e-book through the venture I mentioned earlier.
Obviously, if it’s the latter, I’ll have more creative control and it’s more likely to follow the “Blood on the Seine” route, but don’t discount mainstream publishing too – they might agree that a re-launch with a revised direction is better for all concerned as we steer away from the plans my previous publisher had for the series.
Then, finally, there’s also the current project, a project I started last year but stopped as I hit too many brick-walls. That project is Purgatory, which I’ve decided to return to – my decision, mind you, no angels or demons were involved. It’s going to be completely re-written as there were a fair few problems with the original premise, but with the new direction there’s more scope for fun and games. It does mean having to do a lot of research though, as the main character has been transplanted from 21st century England to the 1890’s and the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper case in London. Some of the original characters will stay the same, but with tweaks, and the ending will also remain unchanged, but it’s the central thread that needs an overhaul, and hopefully will turn out to be a good twist on the Jack the Ripper story, (though to be honest, the main focus of this book will be character and the setting of Purgatory, which is going to be a character in itself.)
Phew. So, there you go. That’s everything, I think. Plenty to do, yes? I feel like we’ve caught up now, or rather you’ve listened to me rant on for twenty minutes.
So (*he says, fiddling with his cuffs and looking all sheepish*), what’s been going on with you? How have you been? Where are you going?
How are things..?