Reasons why I’m not writing

Ok, technically I am writing because I’m writing this blog post but I should be working on my novel and I’m not because…

In this case I have a very specific plot hole that needs filling. It’s not a plot hole in the ‘oh my God my plot doesn’t work’ sense. It’s the plot equivalent of a pothole in a road. It still needs fixing if I want my readers to have a smooth ride but it’s not major building work.

You’d think that would make it easier to fix, wouldn’t you? Just patch over it with the narrative equivalent of bitchumen and go onto the next scene. But the problem with this sort of fix is that it needs to be seamless. I have to slot a little scene-ette into an already existing scene without breaking the scene or losing the mood.

Specifically I need one character to call another character so that they can have the brief conversation that will signal to the audience that they are moving beyond a disagreement. I can’t skip the scene because it needs to be resolved. I can’t cut out the disagreement because other stuff relies on it. And I can’t work out why that one character would pick up the phone rather than fuming silently about it. She tends to be a self sufficient silent fumer. She needs a reason to call.

My mind is a blank. There are literally millions of things that could precipitate that call but instead of coming up with one my brain is doing the brain equivalent of turning circles on the spot while singing snatches of every song I’ve heard in the last month.

ME: Ok so could she have found something in the files?

MY BRAIN: the last, the last, the last…

ME: But seriously there’s bound to be stuff in there that she’d need to talk about

MY BRAIN: How big, how blue, how beautiful…

ME: That way I could set up the later revelations…

MY BRAIN: Somebody once told me…

ME: Oh for fucks sake

So… Chocolate? I’m thinking chocolate. And possibly booze. And maybe a brain transplant.


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Review – Plague


Plague by Lawrence Clayton Miller

Schtop, schtop… this biblically themed international thriller isn’t ready yet. It needs at least one more editor.*

Depending on how quickly you read this book it’s either flawed but interesting or hurl-it-across-the-room every second page frustrating.

Most people don’t read every single word in a sentence, one at a time, in order. We tend to scan the whole line and we skim over many common words like ‘the’ without consciously reading them at all. The faster you read the more of the page you’re reading in one go. Therefore the faster you read the more the layout of what you’re reading matters.

I’m no speed reader but I am pretty fast. My record for a whole novel is about two hours and if I don’t consciously slow myself down then I tend to consume even pretty big books in a single sitting. So when I read a book like this that changes location, focal character and point in time with just a paragraph break I tend to get confused.

I’m sure the author is going for a seamless transition from scene to scene. But if you read quickly it’s more like getting whiplash of the imagination. One minute I’m in Dominica and the next I’m in London. In one sequence we go from a woman contemplating a phone call when she gets to America, to in America making the actual phone call, to the reaction to that phone call from the point of view of the guy she’s phoning. This all happens with less break in the text than there is between the paragraphs of this post.

Perhaps the author intends the narrative to feel like it’s whipping around the world at breakneck speed but it doesn’t compensate for the other problem. The massive front loading of backstory. Maybe I’m over sensitive to this because as an aspiring writer I’ve read a lot of how to manuals that tell me that the opening chapter is no place to explore the tragic past of your central character. You’re supposed to show the reader why a character matters before you try to tell them anything about that character’s backstory.

The third problem is one of research and if you’re American this probably won’t affect you at all so you can stop reading. There is a character in this book who works for the SIS. That’s Britain’s intelligence agency the Secret Intelligence Service. The author gets almost everything wrong about the SIS. Probably because he assumes that the SIS runs like US intelligence agencies.

Just to give you a few examples: The people who work for the SIS are officers not agents. The SIS doesn’t get sent to foreign countries to investigate weird deaths unless there’s some suggestion that it’s linked to a direct threat to Britain or British intelligence interests. That’s true regardless of whether the country in question is part of the Commonwealth or not. SIS officers don’t go flashing their credentials to everyone on the ground. They don’t introduce themselves to all and sundry as SIS officers. Remember that the first S stands for SECRET.

This is not a bad book. But it’s not as good as it could have been were the promising narrative not drowning in poor formatting, premature backstory and flawed research.

*Imagine you read that in a terrible fake Dutch accent.

An Introduction to a Transdimentional Pub

A few days ago I threatened to introduce you to my characters. I said I could nip into the pub for a quiet pint and a chat with them. But If I’m going to do that I should probably introduce you to the pub first.

There’s one in every city if you know where to look. It’s always on a quiet side street. It’s not exactly hiding, it’s very clearly a pub, but the eye has a way of gliding across the sign and the name has a way of slipping your mind but if someone actually suggests meeting there you immediately say “Oh JW’s? Of course I know where that is,” and you do.

From the outside it looks quite small but you can tell that it’s one of those pub that’s been carved out of a series of liminal spaces. It will be a labyrinth of snugs, and lounges, and bars, and corridors. You’ll need a map and a compass to find the Ladies loo and the route back to your seat will look so unfamiliar that you’ll be sure you’ve taken a wrong turning.

It’s right in the sweet spot where you can’t tell if it’s a genuine traditional British Pub or a slightly battered chain pub that’s just pretending to be one. There are two large windows with bullseye glass panes on either side of a doorway that’s slightly too narrow for the double doors it has and slightly too wide for a single. There’s a sign above the door. Black with letters in peeling gold paint that say JW’s Cocktail Bar and underneath it Dimensionally Transcendental food and drink. Established 2323. There’s also a blackboard bolted to the wall next to the door. No mention of specials, or discounts or forthcoming events. It just says Your local bar wherever you are ~ Caterers to the Big Bang.

Inside there is always music. Sometimes it’s karaoke, sometimes it’s a band but mostly it’s a jukebox. Well, you assume it’s a jukebox. People claim to have seen it and even to have selected tunes but you don’t know where it is. It must be huge because it has the the most eclectic selection of music you’ve ever heard. Once you heard a Johnny Cash cover of Ace of Spades that you tried to buy later but that doesn’t seem to exist.

So join me there for a quiet pint and some people watching. I’ll be in the room with the knackered red leather booths. You know, the one with the piano. No not the electric piano, the upright chained to the wall with the warning signs and the fake blood stains. Well I hope they’re fake.

The History of Department Y

This is a tricky post to write because I am terrible at self promotion. However it has occurred to me that I’ve been writing for over a year about the process of finishing my novel and querying it and doubting it and wondering if I’ve been concentrating on the right novel but I haven’t really talked about the novel itself. Any of the novels.

I’ve written several, though only one is ready to send out, and most of them share a setting. I don’t really want to talk a lot about the novels. I don’t want to spoil them. I want them to be published and you to go and buy them. But maybe it’s time to talk about that setting.

The novels and stories that I’ve been working on recently all take place on an alternative Earth where the old Gods are real, magic works and stories have power. But it’s all pretty subtle and most people don’t know. It’s so subtle that the history of that world almost exactly mirrors our own.

Just like in our world Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, surrounded himself with sycophants and plunged the world into war. Just like in our world some of those sycophants were occultists and most of them had as weak a grasp of science as they did of morality. Just like in our world the British intelligence services consulted British occultists to work out how to influence the more superstitious Nazis and predict what they might do.

Just like in our world the Germans were using Enigma machines to code their radio transmissions. They believed the Enigma code was unbreakable. Just like in our world the British codebreakers based at Station X (Bletchley Park) broke the unbreakable code. The intelligence they gained this way was called Ultra and it was the biggest secret of World War II.

In real life history the British government went to enormous lengths to disguise the source of Ultra. In the world of my stories they created a fake intelligence agency called Department Y and stocked it with occultists and witches and psychics and Druids and planned to claim it as the source for Ultra. They didn’t tell the people they’d hired that it was fake. Nobody outside Department Y took it seriously until the magic started working.

No one had ever put that many magical experts together in one place before. The pressure of the war and the atmosphere of camaraderie was as effective on occultists as it was on the mathematicians and cryptologists at Bletchley and the physicists working on the Manhattan Project.

Department Y grew throughout the war years. After the surrender of Germany Department Y operatives were active throughout Europe putting down the dark forces unleashed by an unintentional, continent-wide blood sacrifice. Department Y was never shut down and still operates under rules set in a secret section of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1939. When the police, the armed forces or the intelligence services of the United Kingdom run into something beyond their ken they know where to go for help. It became known simply as “The Department” because if you have to ask which department you’re not cleared for the answer.

In the modern world the Department is still around, still doing the same job, still saving the world or at least making sure that it remains interesting but not lethally so.

In the world of the Department.

Science and magic are one.

All the ancient stories are true, even the ones that are mutually incompatible.

The Gods of every pantheon are real, for a given value of real, and they might answer your prayers but not always how you’d like.

The Fae folk are real and just as dangerous as the legends say.

There are witches and druids and shapechangers and dreamwalkers and proper mad scientists and living constructs and AIs and most of them just want to do a decent days work for a decent wage and then go to the pub on a Friday.

Storybuilder’s Toolbox: Leah Chiasson’s Marked For The Hunt

Welcome to our very first guest post. Let me introduce you to Leah Chiasson.

Leah has been dreaming stories for as long as she can remember. It started with a cute parable written in the back of a school note book and now she’s the author of MARKED FOR THE HUNT, available on as well as a ghostwriter on

More importantly, she is small town born and raised. She grew up on the bank of the St. Lawrence River, the place where you can find castles with tragic love stories and pirate treasure coves. Where else would a fantasy author want to live? Since then, married life has taken her across more than 17 states, but now she’s mostly settled upon the shores of snowy Lake Ontario where she’s sure there are more fantastic stories to be dug up.

Diana Warren left her Clan behind when one of their own betrayed her and killed her father. She vowed to live her life as a Faoladh, a wolf, apart from those who betrayed her, even if it means a dangerous, solitary life. But, there are those who have other ideas about her life.

When her grandfather, the Clan’s most recent Alpha, passes away, Diana reluctantly agrees to pay her respects in person. Upon arriving in her childhood home of Wolf’s Head she finds herself in the middle of a civil war.

On one side is the man who killed her father and on the other side is his son, a man she cannot trust anymore. Counting down the days until she can leave, the body of an old friend spurs not only Diana into action.

Their Goddess has returned and he has chosen to mark Diana with her favor. All Diana has to do is put her faith in a man who broke her heart years ago and try not to die in the process.

CD: I’m interested in how you went about creating the werewolves. There’s so many different werewolves and other shape-changers in fiction and folklore and they all have different rules. How did you choose which features to use in yours? How did you build your werewolves?

LC: In my book, I wanted a magical creature that most certainly wasn’t a vampire. Of course, this led me right to werewolves. Looking back now I realize that I am really attracted to shape shifter stories, especially werewolves. It was no wonder why I went with that route. Knowing that there are a plethora of werewolf books out there, I wanted to make them at least a little different. I didn’t know in the beginning exactly where I would end up going with them, but I’m happy with the result.

Instead of the half man/half wolf trope, I wanted a creature that was more natural and wild. I went with the transformation from human to wolf, doing away with the painful shifting process that many other books have used. Instead, I imagine that nerves would be out of commission during a process in which the body entirely changes. The body would be a mess of the tingling sensation you get when your foot falls asleep with the added feeling of joints popping. Loving magic as much as I do, I figured that the more magic in a shifter’s body, the faster the change could take place.

It wasn’t until much later in the drafting process that I came across the myth of the Faoladh (FOW-LUH, because I understand that’s one weird word). In Irish mythology, a Faoladh was a type of werewolf similar to the berserker of Nordic mythology, except for one key change. The Faoladh was seen as a protector. The Irish werewolf wasn’t a senseless killer or something to be afraid of. It protected children and the weak. I liked that idea for my werewolves, especially while I play with a theme that questions what makes a monster. It helped me steer away from calling their group a Pack. Instead, I use the term Clan to denote a sense of family among the wolves.

CD: Once you found the Faoladh did you stop there and just decide to go with your own interpretation of the myth or did you do more research?

LC: There was little out there to easily find on the Faoladh myth. Instead of devoting too much time to the research, I figured that it’s myth and therefore malleable. I took the premise that I loved and molded it into what I wanted it to be for my story, subsequently adding more features to the myth. There are many things that Diana will come across in the book that I’ve added myself! The idea that there are few female Faoladh is one of them.

And there you have it. Just one way to build a werewolf. I know a couple of other writers with their own take on werewolves. Perhaps I’ll be able to persuade them to tell us how they built them. For the next few posts I expect I shall be back to complaining about stuff but keep an eye out for future opportunities to rummage in the toolbox.

Coming Soon: Storybuilder’s toolbox

I’m trying out a new thing. Guest posts on the subject of building stories and story worlds and the tools needed to do that.

Any story needs a world to happen in and that world has to be built. Even if the world of the story looks just like the real world it still has to be conjured on a page. It has to be mapped out in some way. It has to be edited. When the story world is the past or the future or a place that doesn’t look like the real world there’s a lot more work to be done.

Every story is built on millions of decisions made by storytellers. Most of those decisions are invisible to the people reading or watching or listening to the finished thing. But they don’t just happen. Dracula is a vampire because Bram Stoker decided he should be. Had he been some other kind of monster it would have been a different novel. In a Batman film the director can make the Joker a thief in make-up and a colourful suit, or he can be a permanently disfigured anarchist, or a tattooed psychopath. Those choices result in radically different films.

Anyway. Enough waffling from me. Later this week I’ll post the first Storybuilder’s Toolbox. I’ll be talking to Leah Chiasson about her novel Marked For The Hunt and how she built her werewolves.

Flash Fiction Goodness

I wrote a thing for a flash fiction challenge.  It’s over here.  The challenge is here. If you’d like to make an out-of-character comment about the writing or to ask questions about the background please do it on this blog.  In-character comments and questions are fine on The Department blog.

I’ve had a couple of people asking when I’m doing the next Eating Disorder post.  I’ll try to do one tomorrow but it will probably only be a short one.  I’m still trying to get my head round this whole full-time writer thing.  I suck at routines but I need them just as much as everyone else.  It would probably help if I slept at normal people sleep times.

New story part and boring RL stuff

There’s a new episode up on my in-character fiction blog over.  Code 5 Alert Incoming – Part 4.

Please feel free to tell me how you think the story is going.  It probably works better if you make in-character comments on the story post and make out of character comments here.  Be aware that if you make “This sucks and you should go kill yourself” style comments in either place then I will unleash the full force of the stick of doom upon you.  Not even joking.

I do have a bunch of posts I want to write for this blog but I expect not to be doing much writing for a bit.  I got some mail today which means that for the next 7 days, at least, I shall be in full shit-storm mode.

I don’t want to go into details. Yes I am aware that then entire purpose of a blog is the pathological over-sharing of one’s personal life but I do have my reasons.  What it means for you, gentle reader, is that I’m going to be either busy or too depressed to fucking move for a while.  That means that updates both here and over on The Department are going to be patchy.

I will try to use the horrible insomnia with which I will doubtless be afflicted to finish the current story on The Department.  Or maybe work on my novel-in-progress.  I might even be here ranting but don’t expect it to be coherent.