2015: The Story Begins

2015: A brand new year to play with.

The year is already seven days old, so it seems remiss to write greetings* when most of us are already back at work.

However, there’s an ideal opportunity to use this first post of 2015 to set out my goals for the year ahead, insofar as writing is concerned.

Day Job Rules state that any goal – any objective – should be SMART:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

(I made my own graphic for this. Click on the image to see it full size in a new tab. There’s a touch of Lovecraft about the definitions… BTW the lovely font on the capitals is SchnorkelCaps by Manfred Klein)

Steampunk SMARTs - the SMART principles for Cthulhu and Project Yog-Sothothery (c) Lee McAulay 2015

And so to:

The Plan for 2015

  1. Write. First project planned is a new Petticoat Katie novel, which I’ll try to take shorter than the last three.
  2. Write some more. Subsequent projects are lined up like dominoes. Each has their own place on the Kanban chart, and on my Five Year Plan.
  3. Specifically, I’m aiming to write at least a thousand words of fiction each day, four days a week on average (hehe, that should give me plenty of time for this and that and gardening and conventions).
  4. Post here every Wednesday. The WordPress schedule facility is excellent for this.
  5. Learn to write better stories. Guidance is available from seasoned professionals.
  6. Post a series of linked posts around THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, like I did for SHADOWBOX in 2014. This has to tie in with the events that took place in the novel around the Spring Equinox, so that’s a nice set of deadlines.
  7. Keep up with social media. I don’t do Facebook and rarely venture onto Twitter (waves) so blogging is my main outlet. I have places I regularly comment (you know who you are :)), but I’d like to increase the variety.
  8. Publish (at least) two novels. I did it last year. I don’t see obstacles right now to doing this in 2015.

I might add a few more as the year goes by, but that’s enough for now.

* I’ve commented (on Myth & Moor: “2015, a whole new year to play with. It will hold its own sorrows, but also provides the opportunity to make fresh delights and new art. Hope yours is fabulous!” – and at The Daring Novelist. Sigh. I need to get out more).

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on 2015: The Story Begins  
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I Can Haz Steamjunk!

Bargain of the 21st Century!

My local charity shop had this on sale for a tenner. Steampunk! Retro! Eee!

TypewriterI learned to type on a machine much, much older than this one. See there, the crest on the right-hand side?

Typewriter Crest

“By Appointment, Typewriter Manufacturers to the late King George.”

(That’s probably George VI of stammering fame, the father of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.)

My first typewriter, by contrast, was an ancient Underwood. More likely produced under Victoria than Elizabeth. One of those magnificent, gnarly machines that weighed a ton and bristled with polished chrome levers.

As a family we somehow managed to pick up a couple more at jumble sales, along with a fearsome Allen scythe I wouldn’t go near. I remember a powder-blue Olivetti compact, and a slim grey machine found in a skip.

Vintage Typewriter with caseRemarkable how the old skills came back, though. Feeding the ribbon correctly through the guides. Setting – and releasing – the tabs.

Only one problem with this little beauty, though.

No bell.

I think I’ll have to get the Imperial screwdriver set out and see if I can’t find the problem. If I don’t, I’ll have to keep typing until

my words

fall off

the end

of the paper…

Published in: on September 3, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on I Can Haz Steamjunk!  
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Tell me what I should read

I’ve asked on GoodReads, so if it’s easier to respond over there please do so. I’m looking for book recommendations.

Specifically, my GoodReads requests states it has to be a Huge Gothic Heart Attack of a novel, and it has to be set in Scotland. Walter Scott is nowhere near, but Robert Louis Stevenson is close. More modern would be good.

All genres welcome. Cogs and tentacles optional.

Steampunk bagpipes, anyone? Please?

Steampunk bagpipes, anyone? Please?

Any suggestions?

Long time waiting (for a bubble to burst)

Ewan Morrison has written a piece for the Grauniad today on the forthcoming demise of epublishing. He says:

“epublishing is another tech bubble, and … it will burst within the next 18 months”

Umm… here’s Michael Allen saying something rather different in 2005. His post is about the Publishers’ Association International Conference of that year.

“Ideas at this conference were being bandied about as if they were new, when actually they’ve been commonplace on the web for somewhere between two and five years. For example, one speaker says, ‘The digital revolution is no longer the future. It’s here now.’
And actually it’s been here quite a while.

‘Online content has gone from being a niche phenomenon to mainstream.’
So you’ve noticed? At last.”

Remember, this is from 2005. Seven years ago. That’s a long time waiting for a bubble to burst. (One thing I like about this blogger is his quiet irony).

I’d be more concerned about the power cuts in India that have stopped the world’s biggest English-speaking market from using their technology for a while, not the surf of epublished crap we are all supposed to fear crashing on our metaphorical shores like debris from a natural disaster.

“An estimated 710 million people live in the affected area, ever more of whom require electricity as they snap up the air-conditioning units, flat-screen TVs and other gadgets that have become status symbols among India’s burgeoning middle classes.”

Over seven hundred million people. That’s a population equivalent to ten – TEN – Britains.

However, I suspect most of them have more on their minds than the survival of ebooks, self-published or otherwise…

(That appetite for technology (and the power to, um, power it) is a global problem. It’s a problem that won’t go away either. But not for today’s discussion here.)

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 11:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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The maps I used in 1888

One of the best parts of writing the sort of historical fiction I write is the research. I love reading about history – I’ve got a degree in ancient history, for goodness’ sake – and I also love the geography of the past.

Anyway, this post is about MAPS.

The internet is a brilliant source of maps. Online, I can find images of maps from ancient times to the most up to date of Google earth.

Writing “The Last Rhinemaiden” sent me researching not only the historical facts around which the story is based, but the details of where events in the story take place. I didn’t write the book with that in mind – too much distraction when pouring words onto the paper to go away and look at a visual resource – but when the act of refining and adding details is required, out come the maps.

For example, at one point I make two of the characters walk from the East End of London to the South Bank of the Thames. I could have just let them take the journey as I’ve described it in that last sentence and many readers would be none-the-wiser. The detail doesn’t add to the suspense of the scene and it isn’t important in the overall outcome. So why did I bother?


My initial draft is like a plain warp-and-weft. It’s a canvas. Does what it says on the tin – covers what needs to be covered, and nothing more. But I like details. You like details. Readers like details. Otherwise, most stories would be nothing more than boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl turns into blob, boy gets blob back again. Or, bloke kicks ass in an empty warehouse and collects a few bruises while the bad guys lose.

The canvas has to be filled in with details. I’m a visual reader, and as such I’m a visual writer too. I see pictures when I read books, and my writing is a description of what’s playing in my head. I need to feel the blood trickling down my character’s ribs, see the sunrise over the river, feel the chill sandstone under my fingers.

So do you, readers.

Maps are part of this. It makes more sense to me that my two characters stop for a smoke in the shadow of a church on East Cheap, proceed to Cannon Street and when they cross London Bridge to the South Bank, they find themselves on Montagu Street, then Bankside. Don’t you think that makes for a more interesting journey?

Historical note: when the original idea for this story came into my head, I was working in Southwark on an HR/IT project with The Workmates From Purgatory (nowhere near as impressive as The Workmates From Hell – they at least sound lively). I had the initial image for a long time – years, in fact, until I wrote out a storyboard and started writing the novel.

I was quite surprised when The Last Rhinemaiden started to take those two characters down to the south side of the river and along to Cannon Street railway bridge. They were following a route I’d once taken, in reverse, to get to an Oddbins off-license in order to buy a bottle of whisky for a birthday present.

It helped, of course, that I could picture exactly the landscape of the street as it was in the mid-1990s. I can picture where they end up by the river, because I stood on that spot not far from the Globe Theatre and watched the sleet of a January lunchtime fall on the mudlarks working the shoreline beneath the embankment. I know instinctively how high the railway bridge is above me, how far and how clearly the dome of St Paul’s CAthedral is visible from the riverbank.

It’s not the same, of course, as it was in 1888. For that, I needed maps.

In the end I used two separate maps. My school geography lessons turned out to be more useful than my archaeology training. The maps I used were the 1848 Crutchley Pocket Map or Plan of London and the 1899 Bacon Pocket Plan or Map of London, and by cross-referencing them I was able to work out approximately what the picture would have looked like in 1888. I also had use of an 1888 Jack The Ripper map which I’d bought in 2001 (at Murder One on the Charing Cross Road, IIRC).

The changes are fascinating. Here’s two shots of the same place on both maps, for comparison. The earlier map is on the left.

See how Rosemary Lane becomes Royal Mint Street, even though the Royal Mint buildings were there in the early map and it’s only later that the name changes? See how the odd rectangle of Goodman’s Fields has been filled in with buildings in 1899?

In the difference between the two maps we see the explosion of industrialisation and its effects on London as a cityscape.

Green spaces are filled with housing.

Tower Bridge appears (although as recent pictures show its construction in 1892, it wasn’t there in 1888).

And the railway termini have brushed out parts of the landscape to become landmarks in their own right, bridging the river like Cannon Street Railway Station. On the early map, before the railways were constructed, there is no station, no bridge, no railway lines snaking out towards Kent. On the later map, there it is: Cannon Street Station, with a frontage on Cannon Street itself.

The railway bridge is now known as Southwark Railway Bridge and amongst the heritage venues under its shade is the Clink Prison, at the site of the old gaol in Clink Street, and the Golden Hinde, forever encased in a little berth of its own. I walked along there every lunchtime to buy sandwiches from the newsagent. I know what it’s like: the colour of the bricks, the ironwork on the bridge piers, the texture of the mud along the shore.

I don’t live in London, but since I started writing The Last Rhinemaiden I’ve come to learn more about the city than I thought I wanted to.

Here’s the modern map of London. And here’s the earliest map of London we have. You can still plot the outlines of the city under the flesh of the modern layout. It’s fascinating how much it has changed.

However, the most fascinating thing is how little has changed. And the most significant part of that is the river.

How I doubled my daily wordcount

There seems to be a lot of blog posts about at the moment about speed of writing. Is it something to do with NaNoRiMo? Or maybe I’m just picking them up because of internal links and then reading a lot of them. Whatever.

They seem to fall into two camps: Speed Of Writing and Speed of Production.

Speed of Writing, as discussed by Dean Wesley Smith, refers to how quickly you can produce finished content – how long it takes to write a novel. If you can produce 1,000 words a day, in 70 days you have a novel. Two-and-a-half months.

Speed of Production is literally writing lots of words. Many, many, many-many-many words per writing day. If you can consistently sit down and produce 10K words per day, that same 70K novel appears in a week.

My own writing seems to fall between the two.

I know for a fact that I can consistently produce more than 1K words a day. I know that I produce approximately 1K words per hour of writing. Finding time to write is easy as I write over my lunch break at work, and sometimes in the evenings at home. But the progress on my production, my Speed of Writing, was not as good as it could be. My Speed of Production was suffering.

In order to address this issue I bought a new tool. It’s enabled me to produce those words in half the time I would have done beforehand: I got myself a netbook.

laptop with steampunk brass fittings

Datamancer’s Steampunk Laptop. Mine is not like this, sadly.

Before, I always wrote out my stories in longhand, on paper, and typed them up afterwards verbatim. Further edits came when I reviewed the work, or printed it out and scribbled on it.

Talk about wasting my own time.

I can write 1K words an hour longhand. Despite being a trained typist (from way back when we had such things, and copy typing work was plentiful) I still can’t copy-type more than 1K words per hour.

Worse still, when I get excited about a plot point or the dialogue really starts to flow, my handwriting goes all stringy = nightmare for typing up later.

Double-worse, when I type it up I start to think about alternative paths for the conversation to take, and further plot points, so I have to break off to write them down or type them into another document.

Now, enter the netbook.

Typing at lunchtime straight into the netbook, just as wildly as I used to write longhand. No stopping for sense, no pauses except for a bite of my sandwich, and no interruptions. I get 1K words done most days (and I can listen to music on the netbook – an added incentive).

In the last three months I’ve written over 40K words on the Petticoat Katie mysteries, all during my lunch break.

When I get home I transfer my words using an SD card, or just hook the netbook up to the web and post them to a private blog. I can rescue them to the main PC at home for editing or transfer them to a live blog post straightaway. No need to decipher my own stringy handwriting. It’s how I wrote this blog post.

It’s even easier when I’m not at work – I can post from my favourite local café straightaway using the free WiFi that’s so widely available these days, and have a cappuccino while I wait.

So what does this mean for my productivity?

It’s gone up. (Well, duh).

More words, on more days. Faster writing.

Speed of Writing + Speed of Production = more stories.

(Now if only ALL those words were fantastic just the way they are – sounds like it’s time for another review of my working practices…)

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Comments (5)  
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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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