Sunday Update 10/02

This week has been weirdly disjointed and ill-omened.

In the middle of the week I slashed two of my fingers open with a bread knife. Not deliberately or anything, just the cost of buying unsliced bread when you’re a Spoonie. My hands shake and spasm without warning, sometimes I’m not fully aware of what I’m doing and I’m often horribly distracted. Trying to get stuff done with two fingers strapped up is a reminder of all the ways in which I am dependant on my hands even though they’re not very reliable. It set the tone for the week.

I’ve written a lot but I feel like somehow none of it counts. I’ve signed an actual contract to do actual paid writing but I’m still half expecting that i’ll fuck it up somehow. There’s no reason why I should mess it up. I’ve got months to finish, I’ve already done more than half the research and it’s related to subjects that I’ve previously written about. I should be able to do it in my sleep. It just that I’m used to things never working out the way that they should.

Slashing my fingers meant that I’ve had to change up the ways that I’ve spent my time this week. I couldn’t play computer games and typing was difficult. I ended up spending time looking for new things to watch on Amazon Prime while crocheting very slowly. I discovered a thing that I’ve already blogged about.

I’ve also spent the week wrestling with the realisation that my Executive Dysfunction isn’t as bad as i think it is and that half of the problem is me not acknowledging the things that I do manage to get done even when I’m constantly fighting the desire to just stay in bed for ever. I’ve written a blog about that too and I’ll probably go up next week.

And then there was the Scapegoat blog. It’s been one of those weird things where I wrote something that seemed grimly entertaining to me but clearly seems horribly traumatic to everyone who’s spoken to me about it. I want to say, “Hey lighten up. It wasn’t serious. Nobody died, nobody got injured, it’s not like it was child abuse or anything.” but I’m worried that if I say that out loud someone will tell me that it actually was and that’s going to make talking to my mother really awkward.

If you want to donate so I can buy better plasters, or just pay for the coffee that keeps me awake and watching Boris Karloff, you can do it via my Kofi link.


Five Years Later

This week marked the 5th anniversary of the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett. I still miss him. Which is a weird thing to say about someone that I met exactly once and then only in the context of a book signing. I really mean that I miss his work,I miss his unique viewpoint, I miss his insight.

The week he died I wrote two blog posts about it, one about my feelings and one in tribute to him. Those posts are some of the best writing I’ve done. I went back and reread them this week because two of my Facebook friends re-shared the second one. See the end of this post for links.

Reading what I wrote then makes me pause and look back at my path as a writer. Five years later I am still trying, still writing, still improving and that’s good. But I also haven’t gone anywhere and that’s bad. That hurts.

I want to do for other people at least a little of what Sir Terry Pratchett did for me. I want to create worlds and I want to populate those worlds with characters that aren’t’ characters but people. I want readers to be able to take comfort, or at least welcome distraction, away from my worlds of story.

That still seems a long way off. If anything it seems less possible now than it did then. Then I thought I only needed to finish something. I assumed that I wouldn’t call it finished unless it was good and that as long as it was finished and good someone would want it. I didn’t realise that I’d never be 100% sure it was good. I didn’t realise that something can be good and still be the wrong kind of thing.

Here’s hoping that five years from now I’ll have taken at least one more step down the road.


Links to the original posts: Terry Pratchett is dead  and that is not ok.  A tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett.


Review – Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton

This is the second book in a series. I already reviewed the first one, Hell Holes: What Lurks Below. Like the first book this is a fast, exciting read and if you like books in which our world is not as it seems then you will probably like this.

The writer made the bold choice to use a different character as the first person narrator in this book. I think the choice worked to both extend the cliffhanger at the end of the first book and to give a slightly different perspective on the events of the first book.

I don’t like to hand out virtual cookies to male authors for being able to write convincing women. You’re an author. It’s your job.  However I think Donald Firesmith has done an excellent job of writing from a female point of view which is somewhat harder. This narrator has a different narrative voice than the narrator of the first book but the feel of the world of the story remains consistent which is not necessarily an easy feat to pull off.

My only real criticism is that there’s a lot of exposition. I think it’s a mostly unavoidable side effect of being the second book of a series that has a lot of world building going on. At least this exposition is well written and fits naturally into the dialogue scenes. The reader is learning stuff at the same time as the characters are.

All in all an excellent sequel that sets things up well for the third book.

And look at this. A wild link has appeared.

Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton.

New year, same old me

But improving every day in tiny increments.

I don’t believe in new year resolutions. Picking some arbitrary, external marker as the starting point for a new beginning is just setting yourself up to fail. But it does seem like a good time to take stock of my ongoing attempts to be less crappy and more not crappy.

In April of last year I decided to start blogging 3 times a week and for the most part I’ve succeeded. There seem to be more people reading the blog but I can’t tell if that’s down to the regular posts or to the content of the posts themselves.

Since September I’ve been trying to manage my lipoedema. I’ve been seeking treatment via compression but although I the nurse ordered compression garments they haven’t arrived. When this blog post goes live I shall be on my way to an appointment with the nurse to find out what’s up with that. I’ve been following a diet to reduce the amount of non lipoedema fat. I’ve been trying to exercise because exercise is, on the whole, a good thing. I’ve lost 12.8 kg so far (just over 28 pounds or 2 stone).

I decided to get back into weight training and to that end I’ve been assembling the right equipment. I got a squat rack for Christmas from my mother-in-law and used the money from my father-in-law’s gift to buy a bench, a 5 ft barbell and two dumbells. Putting the squat stand and the bench together took much longer than I had hoped. It was exhausting and that doesn’t bode well for my exercise plans. However it’s all sorted now and I have started training. So far I’m just using the empty bar and working on my form. Squatting with a heavy bar and poor form is a great way to injure yourself.

In early December I decided to try trimming my undercut at home. My other half very quickly decided that using his beard trimmer to do that was unacceptable and bought me a hair clipper for Christmas. That seems to be working. It means that I don’t have to phone the hairdresser unless I want the top trimmed so it’s easier to look neat. In the long run we might even save money.

I read somewhere, I don’t remember where, that some writers swear by a daily practice of handwriting three pages of whatever you feel like first thing in the morning. The morning bit is potentially a problem but I’ve started trying to keep to a better daily schedule. Since I started the daily journaling practice I’ve written 10 out of 11 days. It’s too early to tell if it’s doing any good. So far it has mainly resulted in me begin forced to confront how bad my handwriting and spelling have got over the last few years.

I am continuing to try to get better organised in every respect but it’s so very hard. My ADHD seems to make sticking to a schedule far more difficult than it should be but also really important. It’s very hard to pick a solid marker of success or track improvement. So it’s a constant fight that never brings any reward but the moment you give up everything will probably go to hell.

So that’s where things are at the moment. I’m trying to be better in a lot of ways. Some of them seem to be working. Some of them might work but I don’t know yet. Some of the things that I’m doing are just so that I can feel like I’m doing something. But hey, you’ve got to do something with your time.

The Bloody Scotland Pitch

Yesterday I went to Stirling for the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect competition. I didn’t win or get any interest from any of the publishers or agents. The standard of competition was very high and I’m looking forward to reading the other novels that were pitched. I’m sure most of them are going to be published. I also attended the Graduates event where some of the former pitchers who now have published novels talked about the experience and read from their novels.

It was a useful experience. I got to meet other writers, some published already and some not published yet. It was nice to meet other people who’re going through the same stuff and it was encouraging to meet those who are already in the industry. I also got some useful feedback on how to tweak my query so I’ll have a better chance of landing an agent.

However it was also discouraging. I am really starting to feel like I’ve got no chance of getting a traditional publishing deal. I’m just too weird. My stories are too weird. The panel said my story was “really creative” and said that they’d “never heard anything like that before” but that didn’t seem to be entirely a good thing.

I’m also feeling like a mug for following all the writing advice I’ve seen. Because the most common writing advice is “finish your novel”. I keep hearing that no-one will take you seriously without a finished manuscript but there were 8 people pitching and I seemed to be the only one who was pitching a finished manuscript.

So where do I go from here? I’m not ready to give up on Singularity yet. I’m going to tweak the query letter and keep sending it out. I’ve been challenged by a friend to try my hand at writing more mundane crime fiction on the grounds that once I’ve been published people might be more willing to take a risk on the weirder stuff. I’m thinking about it.

I’m also thinking about self-publishing Singularity but I will regard that as admitting defeat because there’s no way I can do it professionally enough. I lack both the money and the skills. It’s going to feel like I’m failing my novel.

Funny on purpose by accident

There’s a film called Planet Terror (well half a film really because it’s one half of Grindhouse). In it there’s a character called Cherry Darling played by Rose McGowan. She’s a go-go dancer who wants to be a stand up comedian, not because she thinks she’s funny but because guys find her hilarious when she’s being serious.

I’m funny deliberately, or at least I try to be, but sometimes I feel like her (only fat and old and with two crap legs instead of one good one and one machine gun prosthesis).

I try really hard to be funny but I know that there’s a lot of people in the world who are far better at it than I am. Both my younger brothers are funnier than me. I have a few friends whose Facebook posts are properly, laugh until you can’t breathe, funny. I know people who’ve done stand up. But still I try.

I try so hard to be funny because for me humour is a lifeline. A lot of the time I’m laughing to keep from crying. When I write about my life I try to make it funny because otherwise it would be unbearable. If I just whinged about how much my life sucked no-one would read it and writing it down would make me feel worse instead of better.

When I’m writing fiction I try to be funny because the writers whose work I most love – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Warren Ellis – are all funny, though in very different ways. I want to be funny because that’s the writing that gives me the most joy to read.

But the thing about writing humour is that you can’t tell if it’s actually funny till other people read it. You can’t even tell if people can tell it’s meant to be funny till other people read it. Sometimes you can’t even tell then. It’s not telling a joke to an audience that will either laugh or not laugh. You write something and send it off out into the world and even if people like it you can’t tell if they find it funny unless they take the time to tell you and you can’t tell which bits they found funny.

Sometimes I’m writing humourously about stuff that is not funny. In my fiction, because most of what I write is some species of thriller, I find that I’m often writing about the worst day of someone’s life. Terrible things are happening and I’m writing gallows humour because that’s how I deal with terrible things but is it really funny? When I’m blogging about what it’s like to be in pain all the fucking time that is not funny but I’m kind of trying to make it funny so people will keep reading.

I’ve spent so long trying to be funny that sometimes the funny just kind of happens. Sometimes I’m not sure if I meant it or not. Sometimes it’s just how I talk, or how I write, or how I am. So is funny something I do or something I am? Or neither? When people laugh are they laughing at me or with me? Does it matter?

I shall stop now. I’ve tied myself up in enough knots.

Advice to a young writer part 1

This is based on some advice that I came up with to help my daughter. She loves telling stories and writes poems and fan fics but she’s having trouble finishing things. If there’s one thing I’m good it it’s helping people finish things.

Since her problem is with writing that’s what I’m going to focus on but hopefully this will be helpful for other arts.

There will be many more parts. Each one will set some homework.

You are not alone

The very features of the mind that make a person creative also make it harder to stick to just one thing. The very imagination that flits from place to place and links together disparate ideas and images is also as distractible as a puppy in a room full of squirrels.

All artists have trouble finishing things. All artists try to find methods to harness their imagination to the task. Some struggle with it their whole careers, some beat the problem so comprehensively that you would think they had never had to fight it at all.

Vincent Van Gogh was so prolific he could complete several paintings on a good day, but he sold only one in his lifetime and had to be supported by his brother. Leonardo Da Vinci was a chronic procrastinator who completed only 15 works but was supported by a series of wealthy and powerful patrons.

But they were painters. How about writers? The two greatest writers of humorous sci fi/fantasy of my lifetime were Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. At his most prolific Terry was completing two or more novels a year as well as countless short stories and articles. He was so successful he had to change banks because he filled the old one up. Douglas Adams wrote some of the greatest Doctor Who scripts ever, he wrote the groundbreaking radio drama Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he also wrote several novels and a book on natural history. He was such a chronic procrastinator that some of the episodes of the Hitchhiker’s where completed minutes before they had to be recorded. He once said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” One of his novels took three and a half years to write, but most of the actual writing was done in the last two weeks, and most of that was done over a single weekend.

My point is that having trouble finishing your stories does not mean that you are not a writer. It means that you have the same problem that every other writer has. And because it’s a problem that every writer has there are loads of solutions to it. Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing in advance which one will work for you so it’s going to be trial and error.


Your first task is to research some solutions for yourself. Pick a couple of your favourite writers and do some googling. You’re looking for interviews, articles and blog posts that talk about how they work. For example if you google “Derek Landy on writing” you’ll find the writer of the Skulduggery Pleasant books giving his thoughts on writing and answering questions about his method.


The Annual October Panic Begins

In November I write a novel. Well, I write a first draft of a novel. I’ve done it every  November since 2004. It’s all because of NaNoWriMo.

If, for some reason, you don’t want to follow the link I shall explain. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual event where writers get together to write a first draft of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. There are local groups. Meeting other writers is encouraged. It’s how I met a lot of my friends. It’s a lot of fun when it’s not driving us all crazy.

All this means that it is now time for the Annual October Panic. It’s a lot easier to write a novel in a month if you have some kind of plan. So I should be using this month for outlining. But I’m also trying to finish the current draft of a novel (the sexy super-spy one). And I don’t want to get too into the new novel because then I’ll be bored of it by the end of week one. But I do want to have most of the plot sorted before I start. But if I spend too much time on it I wont finish the spy novel.

This is all pretty normal for me in October. What’s new is that this year my NaNo novel will be young adult horror. And I feel completely unprepared. I’m not sure about writing YA. It’s been a while since I was a young adult and I don’t think my experience is going to be useful. I love horror but I haven’t written straight horror before. My plot requires subtle which is not a thing I do well.

So, my loyal readers, here’s where you can help. Do any of you have any tales of real life things that scared the living daylight out of you. They don’t have to be supernatural, just creepy or scary. Do you have any unusual fears that you’re willing to share? Any family superstitions that you’ve never heard of outside your family? Any advice on writing YA? Stick it in the comments, or you could tell me via Facebook or Twitter.

Missing the sweet spot

They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.

Which might explain why I am not a successful artist.  I keep missing that sweet spot.  I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world.  I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.

This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness.  It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me.  Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking.  It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.

When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself.  Is this hard wired?  Is it a feature of my personality?  Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?

I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time.  I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I knew that I was sad far more than I should be.  I hated my body.  I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.

I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed.  I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.

I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing.  I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked.  I realised that I would never be good enough.

I had been dieting.  Well I thought it was a diet at the time.  I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit.  I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes.  I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt.  I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair.  I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.

At the time I thought that it was  sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there.  I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back.  I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.

I thought about it for a long time.  I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being.  They way people treated me made me miserable.  But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects.  I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment.  I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated.  If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.

I tried to lower my expectations.  I don’t recommend it as a tactic.  Life seems to take it as a challenge.  No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.

I tried to believe that the names they called me were true.  I tried not to care when people hit me.  I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter.   I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished.  I tried to keep my head down.  I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me.  I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me.  I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.

It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses.  I think.  But what do I know?  I’m an idiot.  Maybe it did help.  After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated.  Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.

The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything.  From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.

And now I must stop because I am boring myself.  If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross.  I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining.  Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.