Not exactly blocked but…

I didn’t get a blog post out yesterday and I’ve barely done anything to my novel in progress since Thursday. I’m not quite sure what’s wrong.

The lack of blog posts feels like it stems from me no having any ideas for posts. But I do. I think of them all the time it’s just that when I sit down to write they seem wrong. I can’t even quite define why the feel wrong but that’s one of the problems with creative work. You’ve got nothing but your instincts and if you stop trusting those then you’ve got nothing. You might as well be making mud pies with your keyboard because you’ve given up on quality control.

With the novel it’s a plot problem. I’m deep into re-writes and I’m trying to fill a hole so I can’t use any of my usual forward momentum tricks. I can’t skip the scene cause that’s what got me into this mess in the first place. I can’t go and write some other scene because I need to know what’s going on with this scene to continue. I don’t know where the scene should be going and my attempt to wing it went nowhere.

This isn’t writer’s block exactly. It’s more like being lost in the mist. A block prevents movement. The mist renders that movement meaningless and potentially counterproductive. Do I stand still and wait for the mist to clear or do I pick a direction and strike out and hope to eventually reach the edge?


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.


Health update

I have decided that the regular diet updates were as boring as hell. I don’t want to ditch them entirely but I want to change the focus. I think my overall health is more important than my weight. And I’m sick of this blog getting followed by diet and weight-loss blogs.

Some of you will be thinking ‘I bet that means she’s put on weight again’ but no. Actually I’ve lost half a kilo which is just over a pound so my total weight loss is now just over 15kg (33 pounds). I don’t know how. I’ve not been sticking to the strict eating plan and I’ve hardly been wearing my compression tights so I don’t think it’s all fluid. All I can say is that my body continues to be a mystery.

No news on the replacement compression hosiery. I hope they’re going to arrive soon but it’s possible that they’ve been doubly delayed by the weather. Either that or the manufacturer has lost the order again. Not much going on with exercise because of the fibromyalgia flare up that caused the horrible back spasms. My back pain might be easing off but it’s too early to be sure. It could just be lulling me into a false sense of security.

In mental health news I’m doing an excellent job of seeming ok but I’m having serious executive function problems so I know that something is not right. Or maybe it’s just the same thing that’s never been right and I’m just less tolerant of it than usual.

In creative news I’ve got some excellent ideas for the sequels to the completed novel that I was querying and to the novel I’m finishing off. Sequels are great in theory but if I don’t get those novels published then they’re just more wasted effort.

Writing a ‘Strong Male Character’

I recently wrote about my current work in progress and how I’d accidentally made my protagonist into a ‘strong male character’, by which I meant that I’d made him into a gender swap of the ‘strong female character’ .

I started out to write a character who was, in part, a satire on male power fantasy characters but re-created for the female gaze. I grew up loving action movies but over time I realised that a lot of the characters I loved were somewhat problematic. They were violent, manipulative misogynists who perpetuated toxic ideas of masculinity. I set out to write a more rounded, less misogynistic character and to reveal what it costs a person to do all that action hero stuff.

In those action movies the female characters seem to be either damsels in distress or ‘strong female characters’. As a kid I hated the damsels but as an adult I’m coming to dislike the SFCs even more. The SFC is strong but that strength is defined by the male gaze. She can kick ass but she has to look good while doing it. If she wears armour then it’s boob plate and if she doesn’t then she’s showing an unnecessary amount of skin. She wears heels regardless of practicality. She has long hair and she doesn’t tie it up before kicking ass and it never gets in her eyes. She may be a-typically feminine but she still has to be decorative.

The SFC has stereotypically masculine skills which have to be explained in the dialogue because it’s totally unbelievable that a woman could fight, or code, or fix a car just because. She is surrounded by men (because she’s the only female character) and must constantly strive to prove herself to them. She has little to no character arc of her own, will help the hero even if it harms her own goals or beliefs and in the pinch she may still have to be saved by the hero. She helps the hero because she loves him and she loves him even if that makes no Goddamn sense.

The SFC is like a fluid that changes shape to fit the gaps in the plot. She’s not a person she’s a plot device with boobs.

My ‘strong male character’ isn’t that bad. For one thing he’s the protagonist so we see things mostly through eyes and he’s the one driving the plot. He’s a ‘men want to be him, women want to be with him’ type character but with the priorities flipped. Though once you find out how damaged he is you might change your mind about that.

So why am I saying he’s a ‘strong male character’ then? Well he is surrounded by women to whom he must constantly prove himself. He looks really good, even under circumstances when he should look terrible. He spends an inordinate amount of time shirtless (which is the female gaze equivalent of artfully torn clothing) and when he’s not shirtless he’s usually wearing tailored suits. When the female characters discuss him amongst themselves it’s in terms of his attractiveness. They’re not exactly objectifying him but they’re not exactly not objectifying him either.

I’m not sure what to do about this. Should I ramp up the ‘strong male character’ stuff as a subversion of the trope or should I continue my commitment to making him as well rounded as possible?


If you’ve found this interesting then why not check out this link to a comic on what the sexual objectification of the female gaze might do to a superhero.

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Today’s displacement activity is…

Notebooks, and journals, and organisers.

There’s something so hopeful about ordering a new planner or diary. Particularly if it comes with some sort of promise to sort out your life and help you to ‘get things done’. When the thing arrives there’s all that lovely busy work involved in filling in details and making plans and committing to goals. It all feels so very productive.

And none of it fucking works.

At least none of it works reliably for me personally. Your mileage may vary. Possibly you, dear reader, are not disorganised trash like me.

Putting all my appointments in a Google calendar that is synced to my phone calendar mostly works. It’s at least 90% successful as long as I remember to put the thing on the calendar and set an alarm for a couple of days before. But it only works for appointments.

As a person with ADHD, depression and fibromyalgia I need to be organised. I need to plan ahead. As a person with terrible executive function problems I am shitty at planning ahead. It’s not unusual for me to get up at the crack of 2pm and spend half an hour setting goals and making lists of the stuff I need to work on to achieve those goals and then immediately go and do something else instead.

I am so bad at following through that I could make a todo list that includes reading a book that I’m supposed to be reviewing, catching up with the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic and eating some chocolate and it would lead to me scrubbing the kitchen sink.

It’s starting to feel like I only ever achieve things by accident. I’m pretty sure that my 9+ first drafts and my one completed novel only exist because I was supposed to be tidying the house. I’m wrapped in a crochet shawl that only exists because I was supposed to be editing. I’m blogging because I just decided to crochet a hat. Earlier today I cleaned the hob rather than blog.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if I was doing any of these things properly. But i’m not. My books aren’t published, my blog is kind of bland, my kitchen is still a mess and my crochet mainly results in me spending too much money on yarn. But I recently backed a kickstarter for a really nice planner and this one has a SYSTEM. Surely this is the one that will finally work.


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I’m writing the best book ever but it’s trash.

Writing is such a bittersweet experience. I love the novel I’m writing but I’m also sick to the back teeth of it. I adore my characters but I think that most of them are arseholes and I’m killing a lot of them. I think the premise is either brilliant or cringe worthy and sometimes both at once.

My male lead has turned into a ‘strong male character’. That’s like a strong female character only, you know, male. I think that’s a brilliant deconstruction of the genre except when I think it’s lazy and derivative.

I love my opening. Except for when I’m sure that someone else must have done it before and done it better. I love the way my characters are introduced but I’m also sure that it’s taking too long to get to the plot. But I can’t see anything in there that I can cut. But it’s definitely taking too long.

That plot is going to take my characters to some interesting places and I am absolutely sure it sounds properly nuts. No one is going to take me seriously if I send them this but at least it isn’t derivative. Apart from all the bits that are.

Is it too gay? Not gay enough? Is the sex too straight? Should I just cut out all the sex? Should I add more?


Writing. It’s so much fun.


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Review: The Spot on the Wall

The Spot on the Wall by Rob Santana.

If, like me, you spent your teen years reading horror short stories then this book will probably fill you with a warm nostalgia while also chilling your blood. It reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe stories, particularly The Tell-tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. But it has a more grounded and everyday observational feel like a lot of Stephen King’s stories.

It is a horror story and there are some extremely distasteful things said, done and thought in the book. If you have specific triggers that you want to avoid then scroll to the end of the review where I’ve put in some slightly spoilerific warnings.

I do have a few criticisms but these are highly personal and may not affect your enjoyment of the book.

I would have enjoyed this book more if the characters in it weren’t so relentlessly dislikeable. It’s common in short form horror stories that terrible things are done to and by horrible people. In long form horror, when I’m spending a lot more time with the characters, I prefer to feel a little more sympathy with them.

The whole book has a very masculine gaze. Even the one female character who gets a strong point of view is completely immersed in patriarchal structures. She is strong only in the ways that women are allowed to be strong. She manipulates men with her beauty and her wits and uses sex as a weapon. It’s an old trope and the book is aware that she has bought into outdated ideas of a woman’s limits. Of course you could read it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on benevolent sexism rather than just getting out there and doing stuff for yourself.

There is a sequence where we have a story inside a conversation that we’re hearing about second hand inside a flashback. I had to read it back to work out what was going on and maybe there’s a way to format it that would make it easier to tell what’s going on. However I am not suggesting that section should have been cut as it is one of the best bits.

I have a pretty big vocabulary. No, let me be honest with you. I have an embarrassingly huge vocabulary. In the top 0.2% of English speakers. So it’s rare for me to have to look up a word as I did with this book. I’d suggest that someone needs to take away Mr Santana’s thesaurus but I think it’s deliberate. I think he intends some of the language to be obscure partly because some of his characters are multilingual and partly because he wants the reader to be reminded of the stories of Poe or perhaps MR James.

If you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgia with your horror while still reading a story that belongs in the modern day then this could be one for you.



I said the characters were pretty unlikable and part of that is because between them they are homophobic, fatphobic and misogynistic. It’s hard to get away from that because the book spends a lot of time in their heads. There’s sexual harassment and mention of sexual assault. There’s a lot of sex in the book and it’s all really hetero.

The definition of insanity

I keep reading that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Sometimes it’s a quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein.

It’s kind of true. But it’s also kind of bullshit. Doing the same thing over and over is also known as practice and it’s how we get better at stuff. But making the same bad choices over and over and expecting them to somehow eventually work out in the end is a symptom of all kinds of mental illnesses.

So by making a plan to pitch at XPONorth again am I on the path to improvement or insanity?

I’m intending to pitch my novel of sexy super spies and occult shenanigans. I’m pretty sure that it’s not what they want. I seriously doubt that any of the serious Scottish publishers will be interested in a funny, dark, erotic, supernatural thriller. But what else can I do? I’ve got nothing else that’s close enough to finished, I can’t write the kind of novels they actually want and I can’t find any pitching opportunities that would put me in front of the kinds of agents and publishers that actually would be interested.

So I’m preparing to expend a lot of time and effort and money on something with virtually no hope of success because I can’t find any alternatives with a better chance of success. I could just do nothing at all but then I might as well be dead. I need to do something with my time to give me the illusion of meaning.

I know, intellectually, that my existence is ultimately meaningless but I’m not strong enough to face that down and keep going. I have to pretend that what I do matters so that I will keep doing it.

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.

My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.