Project Albatross: Sources And Influences

Reading through Project Albatross, my long-lost post-apocalyptic novel, after a gap of more than twenty-five years, is a little bit of personal time travel.

#amwriting

I remember where I lived when I wrote the story – which city, which house, who I shared with, what my rooms were like, and a fantastic big writing-desk that must have come from a bank.

The music I listened to, which is a major key into certain scenes, is a strong influence.

Likewise the subjects I was studying – which included a scenic diversion from European prehistory into some British archaeology up to the early Mediaeval period. (It’s no surprise that was the year I had no exams, giving me the time and mental space to write a novel.)

The locations I’d lived in and travelled by then also played their part. Poetry, art and arty films.

But it’s the books I’d read, more than anything else, which show up in my memories.

Belmarch, a slim and peculiar novel of the First Crusade by Christopher Davis, an author whose other works I never sought out.

A good handful of Aldous Huxley, from school-years study of Brave New World to his light early comedies such as Crome Yellow, via The Doors of Perception (of course) and The Devils of Loudon*.

Educational gore from Stephen King, and magical horror from Peter Straub’s Shadowland (still one of my favourite dark fantasy stories).

Madness and oddments and weird structural components from The Ring Master by David Gurr.

All of these strands surface more or less in the story, which I’m still typing up and trying to make sense of my later additions (thank you, Scrivener, for making this easy).

Once I’m finished and have the whole story to push around, it might become clear whether I ought to publish.

Or not.

More to follow on this. Not sure when.


*Having searched Goodreads for this one, I find out there is a novel on the same subject by Alexander Dumas which, of course, I must now read. #fangirl

Goodbye To All Those

Since I started this blog, I’ve used the clever little WordPress “follow” feature to receive updates from a variety of other sites.

This was particularly useful when I was an active participant in A Round Of Words In 80 Days, as I followed a number of fellow participants when we all chipped in to report on our writing progress.

But: 100+ other blogs in my reader?

I can’t keep up.

Some of those sites have fallen silent, abandoned back in 2014 or earlier.

Some were only used to report writing progress as part of the RW80 Challenge, and the writer(s) have other sites off WordPress.

And some, I have to admit, were downright mind-boggling when I went through the list at the weekend to do some “weeding”.

As in, what the blazes was I thinking when I linked to this one? Since when was I interested in that subject? Has the writer changed focus so much in the last mmphle years that what was once fascinating is now tedious, or trite, or just off-key?

Quite a lot of those links were archived.

It’s 2017, after all. My recent sabbatical from posting online has taught me that a dormant site last updated in 2012 isn’t going to revive any time soon, no matter how interesting it might have been back then.

When the indie publishing scene kicked off big-time there was a lot of information to be assimilated, new ideas formulated and shared, upheaval and disruption and interesting times.

Not so much now.

Bertha Lum: The Fox Woman

Bertha Lum: The Fox Woman

We should all be open to new influences on our art and our writing: to fill the well, explore new ideas, be guided by different lanterns along an unfamiliar path; and to make space for those, some of the old used-up patches on our cloak have to be teased into rags, tied to a wayside tree and left behind to show our progress.

Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish.


(Art: while researching the copyright to an image I intended to use in the first draft of this post I meandered over wikipedia – as you do – until I found the fabulous Bertha Lum.)

Published in: on March 1, 2017 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Project Albatross: Rediscovery

In the middle of 2016 I rediscovered what I’ll call Project Albatross: my post-apocalyptic novel written in 1990, a wild crazy drama laced with climate change and socio-political upheaval on the far side of Hubbert’s Peak.Judy Collins: wildflowers (1967)

My memory of the story played me somewhat false, however.

The storyline hangs together pretty well.

Some parts are written in present tense, some in the past.

Elements of the prose are lyrical as poetry – and just as obscure.

Other elements are clumsy – stilted dialogue, head-hopping, transitions awkwardly phrased.

My punctuation is wildly creative. From my current perspective, 25 years on, I can only wonder why I chose to use so many commas and semi-colons when the obvious thing to do is shut the flippin’ sentence off with a full stop and start a new one.

Literary paragraphs, running on and on without pause, without dialogue, without line breaks. Even when there’s a change of character speaking. I’ve read novels like that and given up on them halfway through (I’m looking at you, 2666).

Single-sentence chapters.

Typing it out from longhand sheets where very little alterations have been made – and very few crossings-out – it’s like reading a story I once knew by heart. While I’ve forgotten the complexity of the story, and some of the iconography, sometimes a phrase leaps out at me from the page as if fresh in my memory and I know exactly how it ends, like a quotation or a prose poem.

Overall, I’m surprised at the scope of my ambition, even if the 25-years-ago version of me fails to deliver on some of that. Huh: everyone’s young once.

It’s also undeniably different from the novels I’ve written since.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Published in: on February 15, 2017 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Project Albatross: Rediscovery  
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Plumber’s Muse required, must bring own grommets

There’s a meme, a theory, call it what you will, that writer’s block is a poor excuse for laziness.

This is based on the premise that there’s no such thing as – for example – plumber’s block. That is, someone who makes their living as a plumber doesn’t spend days lying on a chaise longue wafting a scarf over their fevered brow while waiting for their Muse to turn up with a sink plunger and a set of tap grommets.Joseph Bazalgette (c) Science Museum London

I agree.

There is no such thing as plumber’s block.

Because, you see, when a plumber has had enough of plumbing, be it for the day, the week or for life, he hangs up his kneepads and overalls and goes out to the pub – or the beach, or nightschool, or whatever takes his fancy.

Without feeling guilty about Not Plumbing.

If he’s been successful, he will likely have a bunch of other plumbers working for him in the pipework technician equivalent of James Patterson blockbusters.

If he hasn’t been successful, one might ask why the blazes he bothered becoming a plumber in the first place if he hated the work so much (the usual answer is either money, or self-determination).

Nobody becomes a plumber in the hope they’ll become the next Joseph Bazalgette.


Plumbers, on the whole, are practical fellows. If plumbing isn’t floating their boat, the resourceful amongst them will look to start another line of work.

Often, the less resourceful are quite happy being told by someone else when to turn up, what to fit and how much they are going to be paid for the work.

Sounds like my day job.

But here’s the difference between plumbing and writing (if you haven’t already thought of at least one).

Writing novels is not my day job. I’d be surprised if it was yours (if it is, can I have the email addresses of your readers?).

Once the first twelve hours of the working day are over (prep and commutes and aftercare included), who has the energy to commit to creative works month after month, without respite?

That way lies burnout.

Those of us with office jobs know only too well how that feels. Even if you haven’t endured your own, you will know someone who has broken, or is currently resisting collapse.

If you work a day job where this is rife, you’ll know how the fracture lines spread from person to person like a flaw in a cut diamond – invisible to the naked eye, until the wrong knock in the wrong place and suddenly the world is just… splinters.

I’m not broken.

I’m not even close. But I’ve seen it too often, been close in the past when tight deadlines and project goals combine with the satisfaction of doing an enjoyable job, and you spend more time than is healthy on completing a task which doesn’t bring you much personal kudos and takes you away from family, friends and fun.

Maybe that’s the problem I’ve had this year, with the fourth Petticoat Katie story in the trilogy. This novel was never meant to be written right now.

Like the novel I killed in 2012, I’ve spent so much time making excuses to myself for not finishing it, I’d have been better off ditching it and splurging on short stories and poems.


Novels are great fun to write.

But they aren’t the only outlet for my creative energies, and while there is no such thing as plumber’s block there is also a contingent activity known as filling the well.

The phrase is attributed to Julia Cameron, she of The Artist’s Way, and she also says this:

During a sustained period of work, artists require special care. We must be vigilant to not abuse our health and well-being. We must actively nurture ourselves.

While it sounds like the plumber’s chaise longue and floaty scarf again, I’m also thinking of Dean Wesley Smith’s insistence that his perfect chair is ergonomically-fitted. Or, to take a different elemental allegory, there’s Terri Windling’s timely reminder that re-kindling the fire within is feasible, even when the spark seems damped.

So where does this take me?

I’m still ahead of the goals I set when I asked where will I be in ten years time? back in early 2012.

And I promised myself a “leisurely pace of production”.  This does not involve NaNoWriMo, nor does it involve thrashing myself into a tizzy because I haven’t spawned a set word count in any particular time frame, nor does it involve me using those creative energies to come up with elaborate reasons why.

I’ve done my words for this year. The current story’s limp, a steaming pile of spaghetti I don’t have energy to pick through, and my chopsticks are broken.

Other worlds are calling me, worlds where my imagination is happily designing people and cities and a very Scottish mythology underlying stories more graphic, more elaborate, more Gothic than anything I’ve ever written.

Would you rather explore them with me, or laze around while I kick holes in the pipework?

Reclining male nude, Bristol Art Gallery

Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Wild crazy drama, anyone?

With the announcement by Pope Francis that climate change is upon us, I wondered whether it might be time to dust off the post-Apocalyptic novel I wrote back in 1990.

Climate change isn’t the point of the novel. It’s an unusual mixture of WW1, religious upheaval and forbidden love.

OR (if you want the Hollywood version – you’ll have to imagine the accent however):

“One woman’s struggle against the forces of a world in crisis.”

It was hand-written, longhand, and I can’t remember if I even typed it up or just filed it away with my (two) previous unusual novels.

It was also the last novel I wrote without a structured plan. Chances are the storyline is all over the place.Judy Collins: wildflowers (1967) That usually means a lot of work – far more than I’m inclined to take on.

My heroine set off through the story with a map which came straight out of “Albatross” by Judy Collins, a haunting song brimming with imagery both rich and powerful.

Somewhere in the middle was a scene of intense barbarism.

Somewhere parallel to my heroine was an anti-hero she was destined to meet.

Somewhere in my world-building, climate change had ruined the global economy and turned Britain into a poisoned, depopulated, pseudo-feudal state.

And the ending, that I spent (IIRC) 60,000 words charging headlong towards across a blasted near-prehistoric landscape, owed more than a little to Leonard Cohen‘s “Joan of Arc”.

Wild crazy drama and big scenes of bloodshed not dissimilar to (what I’ve heard about) Game Of Thrones.

But I’m not sure where I’ve put the flippin’ thing.

Published in: on June 24, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Wild crazy drama, anyone?  
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One Down, Many More To Follow

A couple of months ago I wrote a post justifying why the wordcount’s low on my current work-in-progress.

Basically, my creative time is limited – as is my creative energy. And I’ve been busy paving over my garden so I can free up more of my creative time and energy to write, instead of controlling parts of the garden that aren’t productive.

This work is now over, thankfully.

Summer is heading full-tilt towards us, less than a week before the solstice. The grass has gone, the paving is laid, and the remainder of the work falls under the heading of general pottering about – in other words, no heavy lifting.

Like finishing a novel, it’s been a long task, enjoyable, stretching, with a few false starts and moments of trepidation. Now it’s done, I can sit back and admire it look at all the bits I’d do differently if I had to do it again.

Bee on white oregano flower

My imagination hasn’t been idle, though.

I’ve sketched out a few short stories on rainy days when working outside was impossible, and pondered the work still to be done on the fourth Petticoat Katie novel with a view to finishing it as soon as I can.

More stories await. Characters clamour to say their piece, to have their lives imagined into being, to take me on their travels as if I were their own personal Boswell.

And now, of course, I have a neat and tidy garden space within which to imagine new tales while watching the bees amongst the oregano.

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on One Down, Many More To Follow  
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Flight of the Sibyl

RIP Sir Terry Pratchettterry-pratchett_c_heathcliff_o_malley


I met him twice, in the early Nineties, around the time that Equal Rites (his third Discworld novel) came out in paperback in the UK.

He’d come to talk to a couple of SF societies I was on the fringes of, in Birmingham, when I was at university, the first of those where I met people who were to become my greatest friends.

In hindsight those early books are stories told while building up the Discworld universe. The witches, wizards, trolls and dwarves; the Unseen University, the Broken Mended Drum, the Counterweight Continent; geography and history and the rules of magic…

Later books played in that world, adding new technologies like a fast-forward version of British history since the Reformation. The witches became less prominent, making way for Lord Vetinari, the City of Ankh-Morpork Watch and Commander Sam Vimes.

And, of course, Lady Sibyl Ramkin, after whom I named the little airship in my Petticoat Katie stories.

But one thing I remember from the talks I heard Sir Terry give: his dedication to Story.

In his own words, from the opening of Witches Abroad:

“Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling … stories, twisting and blowing, through the darkness.

“And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story the groove rubs deeper.

“… a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.

“So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.

“It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

“Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats.”

And, of course, that the story never ends

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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A nice little bookshelf

Last month I realised I didn’t have a full set of all my novels in print, and none with the new covers, so I bought one of each off CreateSpace*.

Here’s my tiny bookshelf:

6 books by Lee McAulay and Vita Tugwell

I’m pleased with the covers but some of the interior files can be smartened up. I uploaded The Bead Merchant in 2012, for goodness’ sake, and not only have ebooks moved on since then, my interior layout skills have improved too.

For the sake of the postage I decided not to buy paperback copies of the Petticoat Katie short stories I put in print, although that would be instructive as – again – I uploaded some of those in 2012, before I began writing Maiden Flight.

But half a dozen novels isn’t enough.

It’s barely the foundation of a body of work.

Half a dozen novels, not even under the same name, not in the same series or universe. A bare scratch in the surface of literature, of whatever definition.

A handful of blocks to build a cathedral, one word at a time.

Back to the writing desk.


*You can do the same here.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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A few wild snippets…

Just a few wild snippets for you as I continue to add wordcount to my next Petticoat Katie novel.

1. Artist as Brand. “Are you making a living from your art?” While I can’t see myself taking a trip to the USA any time soon to undertake one of the seminars, I wonder whether the workbook might be useful. I’d welcome comments from anyone who’s bought the workbook.

2. Self Publishing As A UK Author.  Thriller novelist A D Starrling muses on the writing life and lists a huge number of helpful things you should think about if you’re in the UK and (about to) self publish. Includes a long, wonderful list of other sites and resources, some of which are new to me.

3. Creating A Book Series “Bible”. Karen Myers goes all tech-y on how to use Scrivener and a couple of other pieces of software to basically build yourself a wiki for your series of books. (My Petticoat Katie stories so need this.)

And, of course, this:

4. Old Masters at the top of their game, on the New York Times.

“You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” – T H White, quoted in the magazine article.

Still

N.B. I’ll return to T H White at some point in the future. Stay tuned.

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on A few wild snippets…  
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Winter overlaps Spring

Go read the post “Little Deaths” by Terri Windling. It’s a voyage through the end of winter, drawn from two separate climates, dry desert and damp Devon.

Her themes include the death of the Sacred King, Le Roi Sacré, at the end of Winter – a theme strongly linked to the underlying mythos of my novels THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN and SHADOWBOX.

Skull small

Another snippet, this time a quote from Ellen Kushner referenced in the post:

“Does fantasy demand that you stay in your adolescence forever?”

Again, in The Last Rhinemaiden, the character of Louis Beauregard is at the end of his life, an elderly man, not frail but aware that his time must come. About as far from adolescence as any man can get.

His aim in the novel is to end in sacrifice, as he knows he must. But he’ll fight it all the way.

“I don’t want to die. But I have to be killed.”

There are young characters in each novel, but Louis is the one who fascinates me. I’m intrigued by his position, by what it would do to someone’s behaviour, his outlook, his friendships. There’s a space of almost sixty years between the novels and perhaps I’ve taken the wrong route between them both, writing the old man before I asked what would make him so.

Writing the end before the beginning; winter overlaps spring.

I found writing the character more fascinating as an old man than the young rascal he is in Shadowbox. (When I’ve finished writing the current series of Petticoat Katie novels, I can see me taking you on a mid-life crisis with no-longer-young Mr Beauregard, one step ahead of his fencing-master and his old Russian nemesis.)

And then who knows?

Another link, this last week, was Dean Wesley Smith on “My Best Work“:

“What happens if your most acclaimed book, the one history will remember you for, is going to be your sixty-third book written? And you only manage to write ten? Or thirty?”

So, to the work then, and let posterity be the judge. None of us will ever know – unlike Louis Beauregard – whether we’ll endure. We must simply travel through time, ever forward, through each little death of the seasons, towards the future.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Winter overlaps Spring  
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