Spanners and screwdrivers at the ready

Work is ongoing a-plenty on the latest novel, codenamed Project PK4. By now I’m starting to see a pattern in how I work, and this is useful in a number of ways.

  • I can stop worrying that I haven’t written any scenes of a particular work-in-progress.
  • I can get going with the specific part of the pattern I’m in, such as gathering information, or working out what has to happen in such-and-such an order.
  • I can play around with tools to help me at that particular stage.

For example, I wrote about the use of kanban for writers a little while ago. Kanban is only one tool in a project manager’s toolkit, and as every story is a project, it makes sense to see what else is in amongst the spanners and screwdrivers.

Things like:

  1. Schedule: both for the time you have available to write, and the internal story what-happens-now.
  2. Work Breakdown Structure: your expected wordcount, and the time you have available for writing all those ittybitty words.
  3. Resources: your time and knowledge; your characters and storyline.

That’s three parts to get started with, each one split in two to cover details internal to the story, and external. OnResearching my latest novel!e thing you generally can’t do as a writer (unless you’re James Patterson) is “outsource” (ack! ack! phtooey!) the work…

Maybe some time in the future I’ll be so organised this will be second nature, but for now it’s comforting to know that no, I haven’t got writer’s block, I just haven’t got the next story in the right shape to get started.

I think there’s a difference.


The road goes ever on and on…

After a few false starts, the next Petticoat Katie novel is underway. Phew!

At the end of December, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a good post about how to tackle the year ahead – getting knocked off a goal – which includes some great advice on how to start writing again when you’ve stopped, for whatever reason.

He details four handy tricks to get back into the groove:

1. Plan what project you’ll work on;

2. Have a backup project;

3. Set a backup “time for writing”;

4. Set up a “buddy” to report into.

The key for me is knowing there are stories I want to get to, further along my project list, which I can’t start until I’ve written the ones before.

After the satisfaction of writing SHADOWBOX, I have a hankering to write another big historical fantasy. I have a couple of Petticoat Katie novels after the one I’ve just started, which still need noodling time. And there are more to come, none of which I’ve discovered yet, waiting for me to learn the lessons I’ll need to make them great.

The voice which drags me back to the writing desk when there’s other fun to be had is a reader who wants me to succeed, one who I’ll never meet, one who wants to travel a wondrous road with me and find herself back at her own front door, guided safe by my words.

First steps.

“Little by little, one travels far” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunset over mountains (c) Lee McAulay

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on The road goes ever on and on…  
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Five more unusual films for Yuletide

Well, the festive season is upon us once more, and again the entertainment schedules seem to be packed full of violence and darkness.

I won’t be watching.

Last year I suggested five unusual films for Christmas, and this year I’m going to suggest another five unusual films for Yuletide. These might not have links to any of the festive events that occupy this time of year, but for me they provide an antidote to the mainstream.

1. The Colour Of Pomegranates*. Less a biography, more a montage of scenes portraying the life of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova, sumptuous and beautiful and glowing with faded Sixties glamour.Woman with chicken, from the film The Colour Of Pomegranates via One of my favourite scenes is the books of the monastery after a rainstorm being laid on the roof to dry out in the sun, their illustrated pages flapping in the breeze like prayer scarves. If you’re looking for a plot, you’ve missed the point.

2. Le Bossu. Nobody does swashbuckling like the French. Le Bossu has all the hallmarks of a Dumas story, yet was written by his contemporary, Paul Féval. The characters burst out of the screen: righteous heroes and tragic villains and evil henchmen, swordfights and acrobats and some of the most gorgeous cinematography you’ll find anywhere.

3. Mr Pye. A made-for-Channel 4 miniseries of Mervyn Peake’s other great work, Mr Pye features Derek Jacobi as a retired city banker on the tiny island of Sark, on a mission to spread good. Of course, nothing quite goes to plan…

4. Romantics Anonymous. Another French film, an exceedingly gentle romantic comedy. The hero owns a struggling chocolate factory. The heroine creates magnificent chocolates. Both are eccentrics with crippling social anxiety – just wait for the surprise ending. If you enjoyed Chocolat, or hated it, you might like this.

5. The Assassination Bureau, Ltd**. One of my all-time favourite films. Oliver Reed as Ivan Dragomiloff, the head of The Assassination Bureau, and Diana Rigg as the lady journalist who hires him to assassinate… himself. A classic late-Sixties Technicolour romp across Europe, stuffed with petticoats and airships and a cast you can play Spot-The-Star with.

The Assassination Bureau, Limited.

The Assassination Bureau, Limited (1968) featuring Diana Rigg & Oliver Reed. Clicking the image leads to the entire film on YouTube.

* Only when I looked up the link did I realise that another of my favourite quiet films, Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors, is also a Parajanov classic. Pseuds Corner here I come.
** I have to confess, this was one of the inspirations for my Petticoat Katie series of novels, but I can’t compete with Jack London and Wolf Mankowitz… yet.

Monkey Business now available

At last, the third novel in the Petticoat Katie series is available!

Monkey Business is now available on Kindle and Kobo – before Yuletide, as promised.

Find the paperback at CreateSpace and Amazon (USA). It takes a little longer for the paperbacks to show up on Amazon(UK), but it’s there now.

The first novel in the series is Maiden Flight, a wild goose chase involving a hundred monkeys and a remarkable little airship.

The second novel in the series is Boom Town, a very silly caper involving folding bicycles, guerrilla gardeners and slightly fewer than a hundred monkeys.

Monkey Business is the third novel in the series, with more than a hundred monkeys and a substantial woman tweaking a cinema pipe-organ into full-blown Sonic Attack.

This completes the trilogy I set out to write a couple of years ago. In the meantime, four other novels have suggested themselves, and my only problem now is working out which one of the four is closest to being ready to storyboard. I’m also pleased because I’ve managed to write and publish one of these a year since 2012, which is a first for me.

But first, the celebration! Hurrah!

Maiden Flight by Vita Tugwell - Cover Boom Town by Vita Tugwell - Cover Image Monkey Business Ebook Cover

Published in: on December 17, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Monkey Business now available  
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Finished! The edits on Monkey Business, the third Petticoat Katie novel, were completed on 30 November.Monkey Business Ebook Cover

I am particularly pleased with this as the novel completes a trilogy, and not only gives me a new novel to publish but also a three-book compendium, to be published before Yuletide. (Yayy).

This is also the first time I’ve written a trilogy. (Double yayy).

A time of minor celebration, and of review, so I can apply the findings to new writing projects.

Just in time, too, as I’m coming down with a cold and going on another work-related training course that I expect will drain my energy levels as much as the one in January. (Un-yayy).

Of course, now I’ve finished this one I can start planning the next. I’ve another four in this series, loosely linked to the trilogy, and they’re going to be fun.

Bring on the goats.

Published in: on December 3, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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On Devilled Kidneys And Marmite

Camille Laguire has a series of posts on her blog about characters at breakfast. Apparently it’s a follow-on from a Guardian piece. Anyhoo, Camille suggests that what a character has for breakfast tells us a lot – especially if that character has to have something different from normal, and their reaction to that.

There’s a whole lot of sense in this. There’s also a lot to play with, as a writer. Here’s my take.

For the household of 36a Centaur Street, breakfast is a peremptory affair. They share lodgings, three of them, with a tiny kitchen off the parlour. The setting is a fictional dieselpunk 1910, so while they have a cellar full of gadgets not one of them is a chest freezer…

Petticoat Katie & Sledgehammer Girl and Darius Fitzgerald, the third member of the household, rely on the kitchen equipment you’d find in a small kitchen of the time: maybe a cold box, where they’ll keep the butter, milk, eggs and cheese, and bacon or sausages, for a day or so. They don’t have space for a pantry.

Cooking equipment isn’t much more advanced – they have a gas ring, maybe two, and a kettle that goes on top, for tea or coffee.

The time period has a lot to answer for. There isn’t much pasta in the standard English kitchen in 1910, although probably more rice than you’d think, with the Empire including India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. One of the housemates has a slightly overseas background too, but that doesn’t extend to breakfast.


There’s a lot of toasted bread products going on. Lack of storage – lack of practice in buying for bulk – means yesterday’s fresh bread is stale and only good for toasting.

Plus, there are toasted teacakes.


Oh, the toasted teacake. Cinnamony like a hot cross bun, bunny like a Sally Lunn, sliced in two and toasted and slathered with butter and jam/honey/marmalade. Known to tempt even us desayuno-skippers.

So my characters eat a lot of toasted teacakes for breakfast.

The alternative is Marmite on toasted bread, which is where a lot of people are divided. Petticoat Katie might survive on peppermint creams all day but not without a good solid breakfast. And in The Nessie Collector, both Petticoat Katie and Sledgehammer Girl encounter Scots porridge on a train, to which they add raspberry jam (sacrilege!).

Mainly, however, I don’t put them into a breakfast situation.

I wonder why? One of my friends gets out of bed naturally at six in the morning because she’s hungry and can’t sleep. I can’t say I’ve ever got out of bed because I was hungry, unless I’d managed a long lie until lunchtime. Maybe I don’t picture my characters at breakfast because it’s not action-y enough. Perhaps I ought to.

In The Last Rhinemaiden there isn’t much time for breakfast either. The junior hero, Alf Winchester, skips breakfast to catch an early train and the two female leads skip breakfast because they’re penniless. The real food only arrives at lunchtime, by which time they are gagging for it. Alf, especially, accustomed to a hearty schoolboy breakfast, and encountering events beyond his normal experience, has had enough of hunger and is so vulnerable to the offer of lunch by the anti-hero (and not enough of you have read the book to make that a spoiler) he can’t wait.

Given that the whole story takes place during a single 24-hour period, there isn’t much time for anything other than a light supper at the Cuckoo Club before the action kicks in.

The only main character who manages breakfast is Louis Beauregard, and we don’t dwell on what he eats, only what he reads in the newspaper. On reflection, I rather suspect Louis would have devilled kidneys for breakfast, and we know it’s served with tea. The kidneys might come with a single egg, scrambled, or mushrooms – but not both – and a slice of fried bread or toast, again. But I never thought to put that much detail in the book. It wasn’t as important as what he reads in the morning news.

Notice the absence of coffee?

And no processed cereals in either of these stories. You need to store those somewhere safe from weevils and mice.

And what of muesli? How many characters have I created that eat muesli for breakfast? None.

So far. Heheheh.

Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off on On Devilled Kidneys And Marmite  
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Currently trying to concentrate on editing my “Jack The Ripper” novel, and finding this difficult, so I’ve written a bundle of short stories instead.

steampunk keyboardProcrastination is a wonderful thing…

The first of these is a steampunk romp (or at least I hope it is) which is running close to 9,000 words, which is a little long for a short story.

It will be up on Amazon some time in the next week, shortly followed by another in the same series.

I’ve got ideas for about fifteen of them, but at the rate I’m writing them, it will take until March before I’m done!

This is a new venture, a set of fun stories that are ridiculous and frivolous and great fun to write. I’m trying to channel Wodehouse and Wells and Conan Doyle into an utterly silly couple of characters. Hope it works!

And when I get bored with this, the novels beckon…

Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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