Messages To The Future

Recently I had a look through my old posts on this blog and came across some surprises.

I’d forgotten about The Thrill of Being Published, and how I got caught up with Diversions.

And how many of the 7 places to find ebooks without selling your soul have endured these last three years?

Three years.

Seems a lot longer. I’m working on a ten-year plan, with a five year plan to add a bit of an impetus in the short term.

My aim, as I’ve said before, is a body of work. And with that in mind, I found some interesting echoes in books I’ve read recently.

After the push to get Shadowbox out, I wanted to kick back and relax. Refill the well. So I picked up a couple of favourite stories for re-reading, authors I admire, who have a body of work with which I’m very familiar.

The first of these was Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley.

He’s known more for Brave New World, but Crome Yellow was his first novel. I was surprised to find, buried in his story of a dinner party in 1921, the seed of his later fame and the major premise of Brave New World: the notion that in future societies, babies would be raised in glass jars. (I was also surprised to find Crome Yellow at Project Gutenberg, but hey, it’s 2014).

The other story was The Stress Of Her Regard by Tim Powers.

A complex novel, two inches thick in mass-market paperback, the book heaves with elements of his later works: the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley, supernatural beings of stone (most prominent in his much later novel Declare), vampires as in Bury Me Among The Graves.Helen Campbell, first wireless operator of National League for Women's Service, USA, May 1917

Finding elements of later stories within early ones is a good sign of a body of work. There’s an essential core of ideas which filter through each writer’s storytelling, as clear as a writer’s voice, as indicative as the “fist” of a telegraph operator tapping Morse code down a signal wire.

Messages to the future.

P.S. Here’s Margaret Atwood’s essay on Aldous Huxley, “Everybody is happy now“, on the Guardian from 2007.

Published in: on August 27, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Favourite Anubis

While I was writing the month-long series of posts about my novel, SHADOWBOX, I came across the marvellous online archive at the Griffith Institute, part of Oxford University.

Significant among the archives is Howard Carter’s complete excavation records for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact…’ – Howard Carter’s telegram to Lord Carnarvon on 5 November 1922

The treasures Carter uncovered during that excavation need no introduction. They’ve toured the world in exhibitions everywhere, including the current Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Countless reproductions and imitations made out of everything from tatty plastic to solid gold are available online and in the street markets of Luxor. The treasures of Tutankhamun inspired whole movements in art and architecture, film and fiction and fashion.

That influence haunts us yet.

Besides the golden sarcophagi and jewelled collars, the life-size statues, the mummified husks of his stillborn children, the ceremonial ostrich-feather fans, the evidence of his early life as Tutankhaten, one item stood out for me as I browsed the online archive of Harry Burton’s photographs:

Niche containing recumbent figure of Anubis; Burton photograph: p0884

Niche containing recumbent figure of Anubis; Burton photograph: p0884; © Copyright Griffith Institute, 2000-2014

More so than the little statues of Nephthys and Selqet and Isis and Neith which stood guarding the corners of the sarcophagus, this little statue of the god Anubis has a charm that reaches out across the centuries.

Wrapped in linen, tucked carefully into a niche in the tomb wall, the statue was placed by a member of Tutankhamen’s funerary gathering in 1323 BCE the way you’d tuck a child’s favourite teddy under his quilt as he fell asleep.

Harry Burton’s photograph shows us that moment frozen in time.


Just as I wrote about the earliest photographs in First Light On Paris, the photograph is an artefact in itself.

Look closer. See the crack?

Curving from top to bottom, just to the right of the statuette’s hind quarters, a black line showing where the original glass negative has been broken. And parallel to this black line, as straight as tram-lines in Cairo, twin edges showing where sticky-tape held the glass together.

Layers of time, overlapping, each of which tells a story of its own.

Don’t you wonder who dropped Harry Burton’s glass negative – and stuck it back together with tape?

And don’t you wonder what the person thought who placed that statuette there, 3337 years ago?

Don’t you wonder who they were, he or she, who wrapped the statue of Anubis so carefully in linen as though it were a charmed memento, to accompany the tragically-young pharaoh into the afterlife?

I certainly do.It’s why many people are drawn to archaeology as a profession – to tell the stories of other people, long ago, from the remnants they leave behind.

But only fiction can give us the answer.

Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Building A Cathedral, One Word At A Time

Far away in a bookA friend of mine, a voracious reader, recently said she will read the same books over and over because she wants to be with those people, to spend her life with them, and not here in the real world with all its harshness and doubt.

As a novelist I’m aiming to write books with that sort of magnetism, that glamour, whenever I sit down to write.

Those secret threads tug at my hands on the keyboard as firmly as the words of others, elusive wisps of other worlds which are harder to paint with text than with pencil or brush.

At times I wish I had more artistic skills. My hands are suited for brutish endeavours – hammering metal, sawing timber, shaping stone. The finesse of the fine artist eludes me.

Perhaps it’s the patience I lack.

Which makes writing novels even more of a mystery. Why spend months working on a story when a poem can move the same emotions in an hour’s preparation?

Perhaps it’s the grandeur I crave.

The satisfaction of a well-crafted poem is akin to a tiny tattoo. Sometimes only you and your beloved know of its existence.

The charm of a short story lies in its structure, in surprise, in a breathless rush like an afternoon’s concert enjoyed before the last train home to family, or to an evening job with no soul.

A novel contains more theatre than a short story, more hand-waving, more depth.

A sweeping panorama unveiled, word by word, from the mind of the writer to the reader beyond.

A snowdrift of ideas. An eiderdown when the world is cold; a welcome, when the world is harsh; a sanctuary to hold you safe until the story’s over.

A novel is a tapestry.

Many threads weave through a novel, layers and colours and textures, each adding their part to a story which can spread across space like a handshake. When one’s complete, the finished piece adds to the body of work in the same way each stonemason’s carvings add to a Gothic cathedral.

That’s the work of years, not hours.

Interior of a Gothic Cathedral, 1612, Paul Vredeman de Vries (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA)

Interior of a Gothic Cathedral, 1612, Paul Vredeman de Vries (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA)

Published in: on August 13, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Been A Busy Bee

Bee on a white oregano flower

I have been a busy little bee since my last post.

Editing continues on the current project. I aim to have this finished by the end of August.

In the meantime, just before the weather broke, I got out early in the morning to pick brambles. Not normally a mornings person, I realised that instead of lying in bed wide awake waiting for the alarm clock, if I got up I could pick a kilo or so before I had to go to the Day Job.

So I did.

And then I did this:

Home made bramble jelly, August 2014

Home made bramble jelly, August 2014

 According to folk legend* you’re supposed to pick blackberries before the end of September, when the Devil spits on them.


But now I am feeling somewhat smug, with two kilos of bramble jelly (seedless jam) in my store cupboard, wobbly and purple and slightly sharp, ready for the onset of winter.

Youse can all spit on the blackberries now, whenever y’like.

And while waking early and then getting up removes the possibility of roaming that lovely half-asleep state where stories seem to spring from the imagination, you can’t spread dreams on buttered toast.

*[mentioned in my jam recipe book and also in Crafts From The Countryside by Patricia de Menezes, which I encountered some months ago in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-On-Wye (although I first read it in Smethwick Library, IIRC)]

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Free Fiction: Reply To All

As is usual (by now) for the last Wednesday of the month, here’s a short piece of flash fiction for free. It will come down at the end of the week, so enjoy it while it lasts.


Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Heatwave Hiatus

Yep, there’s a heatwave in the UK at the moment. I blame that for my lack of progress editing my next novel.Far away in a book

Wait, I hear you say. Haven’t you just finished editing – and publishing – a novel?

Yes, yes. SHADOWBOX and all that. Drove me temporarily 1832-nuts, and it’s still not over as the Goodreads Giveaway ends on 31 July.

However, last year was the year I wrote three novels.

I published one last year (the Vita Tugwell authored Boom Town) and so far this year I’ve edited and published Shadowbox.

That leaves the third one I wrote last year.

Ideally I’d have published it before I even began writing Shadowbox but, d’you know what? I just wanted to get on with the writing.

Now I’ve had a look – a proper, in-depth look – at the remaining work to be done on this third one, I reckon I might just get it finished and published before the Autumnal Equinox.

If I get my skates on.

And like the procrastination that delayed the publication of Shadowbox, I only have myself to blame if it’s late.

Heatwave or not.

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Procrastination II

I don’t know if he has a specific name for the phenomenon, but Jasper fforde at Crimefest 2014 mentioned something about the possibilities of time travel to muck about with the present. I’ll get to details in a minute, but I think he’s onto something.

His premise, if I remember correctly, is that something – anything – you might imagine, will be invented some time in the future, along with the aforementioned time travel.Why must edits be so easy to put off?

And all you have to do is imagine using the thing you’ve imagined, knowing that someone in the future will invent it, and will go back in time to share this invention with history.

It’s a peculiar sort of logic that only works within Mr fforde’s particular Universe.

But I think many of us who write novels have a similar sort of logic going on with a Work In Progress…

We can imagine the finished work, shining/matte cover and gilded spine (or perfectly-formatted ebook). And because we can imagine what the novel will be like, we forget that there’s a lot of work involved before we get to that hold-it-in-your-hand moment.

I am having something of an episode of this phenomenon at the moment…

I blame the macaroons.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  

There was a wee bit of chaos

Ladies & Gentlemen, an allegory from the Day Job…

When I took up my first job in the corporate world, I was involved in a disastrous recruitment campaign that lasted nearly a year. At the end of the process, the whole team agreed on a number of things:

1. The campaign had not gone professionally.Spot the cow! Joseph Ritson (1752–1803), antiquary Engraving by James Sayers, published in 1803 Gallery: National Portrait Gallery, London

2. It happened, but it wasn’t managed.

3. Only through hard work and overtime had we grabbed back the initiative and completed the campaign, loose ends and all.

4. There was a wee bit of chaos.

Not what one expects from a major high-street company with billions of spondulicks on its balance sheet and a household name recognised across the nation.

So my boss and I, we sat down and analysed the whole process:

  • Volume of work.
  • Time to do it.
  • An IT system before Windows.
  • Only me, too, while everyone else was on the road.

We sat down and I typed a completed application form into the non-Windows system, stopwatch ticking. Worked out how many I could do in an hour before I had to take a break. Worked out how many hours I’d need at that pace to enter 2,000 applications.

Even worked out how long it would take me to print off, sign and fold 1,800 rejection letters and stuff them into envelopes. (I wore a groove in my thumbnail folding the flippin’ things.)

We worked out when we needed to start each phase of the process, and how long it would take.

Where we could start early, to free up contingency time for those things most likely to overrun, because they would, and leave room in the timetable for catching up. Space for dealing with circumstances beyond anyone’s control.Letter opener and hand

When we needed to have 2,000 envelopes on order for those rejection letters, and how many we might lose to someone else “borrowing” a few dozen. A couple of boxes of paper, too, with the embossed header and the HR Director’s name and the company logo because these things matter.

And how we would cope if things went horribly wrong, maybe with the pre-Windows IT system or something beyond our control.

Did I mention this campaign’s deadline was 31 December?

That’s right, just when the rest of the world was painting the town red at the office Xmas party, me and my boss were frantically typing application forms into an ancient computer system before the holiday season shut down the building.

But we did it, and had a few days off, and then the application forms were sifted and the rejection letters sent out and the interviews scheduled.An ice-skating scene, as seen in a print titled

In late January.

I ended up fielding phone calls from Senior Managers stranded in snowbound airports, needing a hotel and a cancelled flight and a whole host of rescheduled interviews. Usually at five o’clock, just as I was going home.

Did I panic?


Not me in the snowbound airport, was it? And I had contingencies built into the process from start to end.

(Did I mention we won an award for this?)

Because we’d done the process analysis, and had productivity data from the Campaign Gone Wrong, I could forecast – anticipate – how long I needed to catch up, how many people I needed to help me, and what I could delay doing until I’d dealt with the emergency.

Estimate, with accuracy, the best use of my time and resources.

Do you have to muck up to learn that?

No, you can do it while working successfully.

It’s the best way, BTW. Less panic at snowbound airports.

Fewer sackings, too.

But you have to do the process at least once before you understand – really, deeply understand – everything involved.

A bit like writing a novel.

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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4 Things I Learned Last Month

Phew! I’m glad that’s over. Back in April I made the decision to publish my latest novel, SHADOWBOX, at the end of June.Reading plenty of books

I also declared, quite publicly in the comments over on The Business Rusch: Blogs, Guest Blogs, and Blog Interviews (Discoverability Part 9), that I was going to ‘promote’ the novel by blogging about it for a month, every day.

Once I made those commitments I had to follow through (or risk disappointing myself). The novel was written, the next story was begging to be written, and I wanted to add content to the blog.

Of course, there was the usual flim-flam to go with publishing a book – cover art, interior design, copy edits, formatting, uploading it to the various vendor sites, checking it, doing it again, back and forth. Adherence to a strict-ish schedule helped.

And then I had to write the blimmin’ blog posts, didn’t I?

So, what have I learned by doing the month-long series of blog posts on Shadowbox?

First: consistent, daily, thematic blogging is hard work. I take my hat off to those who manage this on a regular basis, such as Terri Windling over on Myth and Moor with her fantastic Into The Woods series.

Second: I can do it. Of course, I’d rather be writing new fiction, but by doing this (just the once!) I’ve proved to myself that I have the wherewithal to come up with lengthy blog posts on a specific subject, akin to a regular journalism schedule.

My first job interview when I left school was for a trainee reporter job on the local newspaper, and I wasn’t sure back then I’d be able to consistently produce words on deadline. Now, of course, I know I can.

Third: writing thematic posts in a series is actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed looking up the snippets embedded in each post – the images, the quotes, the often-obscure websites I could link to where others take the subject deeper than I wanted to express in my post.

I particularly loved the discovery of the Howard Carter Archive at the Griffith Institute of the University of Oxford, and Shelley at the Bodleian Library.

Fourth: I’d rather be writing novels.

And on that note, I’m off to begin the first draft of a new novel.

Last year I wrote three novels. Can I do it this year? I have a humungous amount of catching-up to do…

P.S. Normal posting schedule – once a week, on a Wednesday – will be resumed until I have another novel to push.

Shadowbox: Launch Party!

Shadowbox, a novel: Every man has an enemy within him...As this series of posts draws to an end, I’m happy to announce that SHADOWBOX is available in ebook and paperback. The Shadowbox page has links to all the major ebook retailers.

SHADOWBOX is now available online as an ebook from Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords.

In due course you’ll be able to find it on Nook, iPhone and other online retailers in countries around the world. SHADOWBOX is also available as a paperback through Amazon and direct from CreateSpace.

To celebrate what is, in effect, a virtual launch, I treated myself to a virtual launch party. As the novel is set in both Paris and London, I thought it only fitting that I celebrate with a tasty bit of both:

Meantime London Porter and French macaroons to celebrate the launch of my latest novel, SHADOWBOX!

Meantime London Porter and French macaroons to celebrate the launch of my latest novel, SHADOWBOX!

Before I go back to my writing den, however, there are a few things I’d like to say.

First off, thank you for coming with me on this journey. It’s been exhilarating. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of 1832 as much as I enjoyed discovering the many fascinating sites I used for source material, links and artwork.

Second, here’s a couple of bonus items for you:

1. Over on Smashwords, there’s a free offer on the ebook of SHADOWBOX for the entire month of July 2014. Use the voucher number: QQ52K when prompted. Reviews would be appreciated, but not expected.

2. I’m running a GoodReads Giveaway of SHADOWBOX in paperback. This giveaway ends on 31 July 2014 with the books sent out ASAP after that date. Again, reviews would be gratefully received if you’re one of the lucky ones. There are five sets to be won.

3. If you’d like a paperback for a 50% discount off the usual price of USD17.99, go to CreateSpace and use the code ZFEHUZVG when prompted. (I don’t know how this will affect the price for those of us outside the USA – sorry!) You may have to set up an account to access this offer. The discount code will expire on 31 July 2014.

Now, I’ll go back to my normal posting schedule of once a week, on a Wednesday, while I concentrate on writing the next novel. This one’s going to be fun.

This is the last post in the SHADOWBOX series. A full index of the posts can be found on the SHADOWBOX page.

Those of you who want to find out at least some of what Louis did next are recommended to pick up ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER and THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. In due course I’ll combine these as an omnibus edition and you’ll be able to read the whole life of Louis Beauregard from start to finish.

P.S. There is no doubt that Louis Beauregard returns to England: he’s there as an old man in 1888, in THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. But the adventures he may have after SHADOWBOX are yet to be told…

Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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