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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How The Doors made ten albums with a dead Jim Morrison

When Jim Morrison died in 1971, the Doors were in a period of their career which is commonly referred to as the crisis point.Rolling Stone cover, August 1971 (Jim Morrison)

They had a number of years when they were experimental; played small venues; didn’t have a record contract with a major label. Nobody much outside their circle of friends went to see them.

They also had a number of years when they surfed the wave of festivals, outdoor concerts, TV shows, tours of the USA and Europe and Japan, had chart success across the world and lived the dream.

Then they reached the point where that workload stopped being attractive. They relaxed.

Not a bad thing – they had worked hard to get where they were and were all a little wacked out.

But having that success made it hard for them to get into the studio to record new material.

Jim Morrison was living in Paris, for a start, and was having trouble with his drinking, leading to ill-health.

As for the others, as they readily admit in various biographies, they were soaking up all sorts of recreational drugs, smoking and toking and injecting themselves with unregulated substances, which is not smart in itself.

While their creativity as individuals roamed new territories, the output from the Doors plummeted. How the heck do you produce a new album when you haven’t played together for months? And don’t particularly want to?

Album art for the Doors, Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine

Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine – a masterpiece in two parts (click to visit allmusic to hear samples)

When I first had enough money to buy music, I was limited by the amount of freight I could carry with me. I had no transport and relied on trains and buses to get me to the remote out-of-the-way places where I worked.

Everything I took with me, including my music, had to be portable. (This was before wi-fi and 3G and iPods, remember. Back in the 1980s.)

I discovered the Doors. I loved their music. I bought every cassette I could find that had a Doors album on it. And about seven albums in, I discovered something which stopped me buying any more.

The Doors didn’t record ten or twenty albums before Jim Morrison died.

They recorded six.

But if you look at the lists, you’ll see many more than six albums listed for the Doors. As Wikipedia has it:

The discography of the American rock band The Doors consists of nine studio albums, four live albums, twenty-two compilations, eighteen Bright Midnight Archives and twenty-one singles. The list also includes fourteen video albums, a bibliography, and a filmography.

How come?

Live performances. Concerts. Compilations. Recordings of album tracks made during tv shows

Japanese albums with slightly different running orders or different cover art.

German albums with restricted access because they came out in West Berlin and weren’t available to East Germany (remember the DDR?).

And, of the compilation albums, the outstanding Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine.

I remember being pissed off at that, because the cassettes only had nine tracks on each and it meant I had to carry two cassettes for one album.

Bummer.

The remaining albums were repurposed, reimagined, repackaged compilations of tracks from the previous studio albums.

After Jimbo died, the sales of the Doors albums rose exponentially, as they always do when a star dies.

It happened with John Lennon, it happened with Michael Jackson, it happened with Kurt Cobain. It happened in 2011 with Amy Winehouse.

The record company or the manager of the remaining Doors or the producer – somebody – realised there was a way to cash in on this notoriety, even though there would be no new Doors tracks with Jim Morrison’s voice.

FFS, we even had a Doors tour recently where there was another singer doing the Jimbo bit. Old tracks, favourites, redone.

And now the bit that means a lot to writers.

If you have a set of short stories up for sale, you can combine them into collections. I have ten shorts in the Cuckoo Club Archives, and I have two “Tales from…” volumes.

I tried to design them to look like the proceedings of a learned society, to add to the overall feel of the universe, and I’m trying to work out how to produce a 10-story volume (it might have to be 12 stories, so it’s like an annual report).

But once I have another couple of dozen of those short stories, I can start to go all Doors on them.

Themed collections: rivers, London, specific characters, Russia, Europe, Africa, Asia, 19th century, prehistory…

Five stories in each volume. Ten stories in a larger volume. Twenty, twenty-five, fifty stories in an omnibus.

Novels with short stories that provide background details.

Novellas with short stories that have a similar theme, or a shared character, or location.

Whatever takes my fancy. Not to rip people off, but to spread the works around more readers, so that if you find my work through a short story about Thailand, for example, you can find other stories with that theme or character.

It’s not something that will happen overnight. It’s a big programme, and each story is a project within it, and has correspondences and links I have to identify and match up.

But is it fun?

Oh yes indeedy.

P.S. Come back next year and see how far I’ve got.

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments (3)  
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