2016: Sabbatical In Review

Welcome back. It’s been an odd year.

Yes, I have been busy, spending much of the summer whittling spoons in the shed, badly.

No, I haven’t written much, and certainly not anything I thought worth publishing.

Yes, I have read quite a few books.

No, I didn’t read as many as I hoped.

Yes, I found Albatross.

No, I didn’t think it was worth publishing. Not in its current state. As a part of my body of work, it stands alone, although probably less so than I think. (Apparently writers are not great judges of their own work.)

Will I publish it, and the dead novel from 2012, at some point in the future? Maybe.

The fourth Petticoat Katie novel is still waiting for me to iron out the kinks in the storyline and find a decent title that makes it stand out from the other three (Maiden Flight, Boom Town and Monkey Business), while showing that it’s still part of the series.

New stories beckon. Other craft and creative pursuits whisper to me, when my hands are idle. The garden always needs attention, one way or another.

So, in sum: life goes on. Raise a glass of whatever you fancy to the year’s end, and a new beginning. While I can’t promise to post every week, to quote Sam Gamgee:

“Well, I’m back.”


P.S. Another reason for posting again: it keeps the spambots away from the regulars.

Published in: on December 31, 2016 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  
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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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N.B. See Reason No.1

Recently (so I’m told) there’s been a lot of discussion on the web amongst writers about the difficulty of making a living as a writer.

I’ve not been a part of this, for at least two reasons:

1. I think I’d be better off writing (the WIBBOW test); and

2. I’m a long, long way from making a living as a (part-time) writer.

This, currently, does not trouble me.

Bookshelf

I have a day job which provides just enough impetus to force me back to the writing desk when the working day is over (see Reason #1 above).

I have a long-term plan for my writing, which focuses on improving my craft with every novel I write (see Reason #1 above).

And I have a supportive partner who encourages me to focus on the dream of being a novelist, while reminding me how I can work towards achieving that goal (see Reason #1 above).

Maybe I’ll never be hungry enough to write with the prolific speed of the pulp masters.

Maybe I’ll never be good enough to write a masterpiece that endures.

Maybe I’ll never learn how to make characters people like, instead of ones whom readers hate.

Who can tell?

But one thing I do know: having finished SHADOWBOX this summer, I’m one step closer to that body of work.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on N.B. See Reason No.1  
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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  Comments Off on Messages To The Future  
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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  Comments (1)  
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2013: The year of three novels.

2013 was a remarkable year. The year I wrote three novels.

Let me state that again, for my own sake as much as yours.

I. Wrote. Three. Novels.

This is on top of a full-time Day Job and more than a dozen minor life events that took up weeks, weekends, time and emotional space I could have been writing. I should also give thanks to my partner for the times I’ve been lost in a book, either reading or writing or research.

Three novels.

Sure, I have to finish two of them. The plots are in place and I’m at the stage where I sift layers of colour and texture over them like a Buddhist sand painting, pulling scenery out of the darkness. I’ve made a start on one and have until the end of January to finish. Then the next, by the end of Feb. (First readers, you have been warned…)

The other surprise about my Year Of Three Novels is that my ability to write – 212,000 words, not including blog posts or emails or other writing not connected with novels or short stories – was focused by planning ahead. I have a five-year plan which shows me what my next writing projects are, well in advance, so I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas.

My aim for 2014 is to keep up the pace. On my plan 2014 has two novels scheduled to be written.

However, writing three – or two – novels in a year only adds to my Body Of Work on one condition: they must be published.

And that’s the first writing challenge I face in 2014.

Published in: on January 8, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Where will you be in ten years’ time?

This is a copy of a guest post I had published over on Do Authors Dream Of Electric Books? on 31 January 2012. I liked it so much I thought I’d re-post it here. Ta.


I recently fired up an old PC to rescue a novel from a zip disk, and in doing so I discovered a lot of old web links from ten or eleven years ago, saved onto the disk along with my novel. Reading through these has given me a lot to think about.

So many books, so little time

I thought about the ten years since I downloaded those links – life events, changes online and in the real world, successes and failures and other experiences. I looked at my meagre achievements as a writer.

And I began to think ten years ahead.

Last year, I wrote twenty short stories, one novella, one-and-a-half novels. I built a new blog up to fifty pages and had an article and a book review published in a niche magazine.

I work a full-time job. Last year I had an allotment garden and a hobby which took me away from home for a couple of weekends and occupied my spare time in the evenings and weekends for months beforehand.

I didn’t write nearly as much as I hoped. But I planned my writing around work, around the allotment, around the rest of my life including holidays and family visits and friends and exercise and learning new stuff.

And I wrote.

My output last year wasn’t prolific. Far from it.

However, I now have a suite of products up for sale on Amazon and via Smashwords to a number of international markets. I have publication credits in a print magazine. If I produce as much this year, I’ll double the size of my suite. I’ll also have a little planetary system of stories in the same universe. Two universes, in fact.

In ten years time, if I keep up the same leisurely pace of production and nothing else changes, I’ll have:

  • ten novels
  • ten novellas
  • two hundred short stories
  • ten non-fiction booklets
  • an as-yet-unplanned number of variety packs – novels+novellas, novels+shorts, twin novel packs, themed packs, character packs, etc. which add up to at least another hundred products
  • a 500-post blog

If I’d started this ten years ago, at this pace, even with all the life issues that cropped up in those years, how would that body of work make me feel?

Rather chuffed, I can tell you.

Never mind the state of publishing, the crisis of the internet, the downfall of western civilisation. Ignore it, and look at that body of work. I want to be able to look back in ten years and see that with my name against it.

Guardian Pix 2009, Shelves full of books

Image Credit: Guardian/Getty Images

What does your ten-year plan look like?


Published in: on February 28, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  
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What will you leave behind?

As Pam Slim says over on her blog, Escape From Cubicle Nation:

Fame is fleeting.

Consistent impact over the course of your life on a body of work you care about deeply is legacy.

That’s all I need to know. I’m off to do some writing.

Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on What will you leave behind?  
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