About the author

Conrad Williams is the author of the novels Head Injuries, London Revenant, The Unblemished, One, Decay Inevitable and Blonde on a Stick; the novellas Nearly People, Game, The Scalding Rooms and Rain and a collection of short fiction, Use Once then Destroy. He lives in Manchester, UK.

All content on this site is © Conrad Williams.

Monday 1 November 2010

The End

I finished Loss of Separation in room 332 of the Novotel, Liverpool, on the afternoon of Friday, 29th October. Well, I say 'finished', but now the real work begins. There are lots of XXXXXXs and instances of [insert more here], not to mention the sections that I know need to be fixed, the characters who have not enjoyed enough screen time (or had too much), problems with timelines and inconsistencies in the plot. I've come to the conclusion that novel writing is not so much about telling stories as solving problems. 

I wish there was an app for that...

The total word count (pre-edits), for anybody interested in these things, is around 85,000.

Listened to: Rain Tree Crow

Friday 22 October 2010

Final chapter

1512 words

Listened to: The Heroes Symphony, Philip Glass

Sunday 17 October 2010

Nearly there

2176 words

Listened to: Exorcising Ghosts by Japan

Saturday 9 October 2010

Three days

651 words

1325 words

1065 words

That's all for now... move along. More tomorrow.

Listened to: Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile (Right)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Applying the brakes

1026 words

I'm into the last 10-15,000 words of this novel. I can feel the shape of the book; I understand its length now. I reckon I've got another 40-60 pages or so before it's finished. I've hit the climactic final stretch. The third act. The resolution pages. So why is my character taking time out to think about tender moments with his girlfriend? What is he doing? There's a crime or two to be unearthed, a tragedy to be averted (or not), a number of inevitable deaths... so why is he wasting precious time fannying around with memories? More importantly, why am I fannying around?

One of the subjects of the classes I occasionally run is to do with pace. It's important to trim your narrative of any fat that's likely to fur your story's arteries, clog things up, slow it down. We all know that. We all recognise it in the books we've read, the films we've seen; we apply it naturally to the stories we tell at the coffee point at work... But here, because of the nature of the novel, and, more importantly, the nature of the man who is telling the story, I have to allow him time to come to terms with certain events that inspire his behaviour. He's damaged. He's physically wrecked. He's mentally wrecked. He's addicted to analgesics. He can't think straight, never mind walk straight. The narrative is his, so it has to be like him: tortuous, unreliable, unhurried.

It's a risk I'm taking, perhaps, but I have to go with it until I've finished. Then I'll let the novel rest for a week or two and return to it, see if I've made an unholy error of judgment...

Listened to: Ghosts I-IV, by Nine Inch Nails

Monday 4 October 2010


1018 words.

I found a piece of paper recently. It was something my son, Ripley (6) wrote, or is in the process of writing. I don't think it's finished. Or it might be. You can't really tell with kids. Anyway, I won't tell you what was on it because I want to use it in the novel I'm planning for next year.

What I will mention is the spelling. Children are taught to spell using phonics these days, whereas I grew up using the ITA system (another phonetically based system, albeit with additional symbols to represent certain sounds). The modern method helps children to blend sounds without worrying too much about the correct letters. Which means that the spelling is diabolical, but cute at the same time. Ripley, for a while, thought his brother's name was Efun, because that's how it sounded to his ears. And he used to go through a phase of writing and illustrating booklets starring Marvel superheroes, or Indiana Jones, or Star Wars characters, in which the protagonists went around 'fartin bad gaz' (fighting bad guys).

An early idea for the title of next year's novel was Nice House, but I wanted to feed it through Ripley's internal spelling machine first. Which turned it into Nys Hows. I kind of like that, but it isn't immediately obvious what it means. So I'll be using that as a part title instead, if only to placate Rippers, who now expects to see his words somewhere in the finished manuscript...

Listened to: Sex, by The Necks

Friday 1 October 2010

Cold tea

1095 words.

A slow day... but engrossing. I can tell it's going well if I forget about the hot drink I made.

Listened to: Event Horizon OST, by Michael Kamen and Orbital.

Monday 27 September 2010

Photographic interlude

Three studies of misery at the van Gogh museum...

Novel territory

698 words

I hit the 70,000 word mark today. It has tended to be the magic number for me, the word count I aimed for when writing my first novel, ID, at the age of 20 (a novel that will never be released from the darkest pits of my archive folders), and just managed to stagger over before completion. For me, 70K means I've hit novel territory. I made book-length. Which is arrant nonsense, of course*, but psychologically, for me, it ticks every box. Once I hit 70K, I tend to relax a bit, catch my second wind, and ease on through to the finish.

Writer and editor Peter Crowther, in a panel at Fantasycon, recently explained how he carves up these categories. For him, up to 10K is a short story; 10-20K is a long short story, or 'novelette'; 20-40K is a novella; 40-60K is a short novel and 60K+ is a novel. These are good yardsticks to keep in mind, but it's best to play fast and loose with them. A lot of writers, especially novice writers, get hung up on word counts (I still do, as evidenced by this blog post). Seventy thousand words is a psychological – and, let's face it, physical – barrier to work towards. The argument that 'it's as long as it is' doesn't quite cut it when you're trying to write a novel, especially one you want to see hit the shelves. Publishers and readers generally like to see some bang for their buck.

What do you think? Do you have your little word counter clicking along as you type? Do you, like Graham Greene, obsessively count the words by hand? Or do you ignore the numbers and simply work until you feel it's finished? I'd be interested to hear from you.

* Look at the novels of Gwendoline Riley, for example. Her first, brilliant, novel, Cold Water, is 25,000 words long, give or take. A novella, really, if you were being strict. Is it a novel, though, in terms of theme and substance and gravitas? Well, that's a different argument...

Sunday 26 September 2010


523 words.

There's a character in Loss of Separation who wears a mask. He's meant to be threatening. So, what to go with? It took a long time to decide upon the kind of mask because there have been some pretty big shadows cast by mask wearers, particularly in cinema history, although I've read a few novels in which they play quite a part, if only symbolically (I'm thinking, predominantly, of The Dead Zone).

Jason and Michael, of course. And the dead Presidents in Point Break. The opening sequence of From Russia with Love. More recently, the clown masks littered across the first ten minutes of The Dark Knight. All good masks. As are the hyper-real masks that you'll find in many instances of commedia dell'arte. But for my inspiration I turned to the film Eyes Wide Shut. I love the film (I'm a big Kubrick fan) and there's something about its cold, highly-stylised Venetian masks that I thought would work for me.

There's the threat of a mask causing unintended humour, however, so I'm going to test the novel on a select few before I go ahead... especially as I've given mine a strange twist.

Friday 24 September 2010

Books in the post

2129 words.

A little bird tells me I might be getting a Kindle for Christmas, which is great (I'm one of those gadget boys, I'm afraid...). I'll use it quite a lot. Especially while on holiday. Books take up too much packing space, which is at a premium when you consider we've got three rapidly-growing boys to contend with. But I won't allow my head to be turned by technology too much. I love books. I love to have them on my shelves, in my study. I love to browse when I've got an idle moment. I like to pick one out and flick through it to a favoured passage, or chance upon a random insert (a photograph, a train ticket, a note from a friend). I love the covers and the smell. I also love to receive books through the post. Just today, my contributor's copies of The End of the Line arrived. I always get a little spike of excitement opening a parcel like that. Waiting for a download doesn't have anything like the same impact. As long as digital doesn't replace paper and ink, I'll be happy to juggle all media.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Short and sweet

597 words.

Apologies for the brevity of my last few posts. I was tending to think more about what to write in the blog than what should go on the page... but I don't want to completely stop posting while I try to get this book finished. Word counts and the occasional comment will appear. Nobody has to read it (if you do drop by, thank you very much), but it's helpful for me.

So anyway, shed problem sorted. Now on to the next bit.

Listened to: Bach, Goldberg Variations

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Tricky situation

1077 words

Possibly not a good idea finishing today's shift worrying about how best to break into a toolshed...

3.39 to Nottingham

509 words (17.09.10)

Managed to get some writing down in my notebook on the train between Manchester and Nottingham. Other deadlines and commitments have stalled me, but I'm (ahem) back on track...

Sunday 15 August 2010

A New Voice

1616 words.

Paul's been hogging the show since day one. He's in every single scene and every single scene is being written from his point of view. Well, not any more. There's a new character, with a new voice, and she's going to be making the odd appearance throughout the story. There's always a little wobble when such a decision is made. It might disrupt the feel of the novel (Blonde on a Stick was rejected by one major publisher who didn't like the sudden injection of a new voice half way through the novel). But I think such risks can pay off, if you get the voice right, and if the story isn't affected in any deleterious way. And this needs to happen, for plot reasons and pay-off reasons.

I remember the shock I had reading The Insult by the superb novelist Rupert Thomson. The first 250 pages are narrated by Martin Blom, who, after being shot in the head, is told he will be blind for life. It's an amazing narrative, very compelling. Towards the end of part one, his sight returns, but with a twist: he can only see at night. The second part starts with a different narrator. A different story, too, albeit one that overlaps with Martin's... a serious WTF moment. It works, but there's a slight tinge of disappointment that a character you've grown with, whose voice you've trusted and been entertained by, has suddenly departed, never to return.

With Blonde, I knew there was going to be a similar wrench. I warn against such moments when I run writers' classes. You get jolted out of the story, out of that zone; you become aware that you a reading a story constructed by a writer. It can be damaging. There's the danger of losing your audience. But sometimes you have to run with your instincts. There was no way I could write the stories of Joel Sorrell and the Four-Year-Old as parallel narratives: that would have been even more of a distraction because the Four-Year-Old's story is presented as a series of flashbacks and current events. So I had to separate the two halves of Joel's narrative with an interlude devoted entirely to the Four-Year-Old's rise. I liked it. My agent liked it. Maxim Jakubwoski (bless him) at John Blake liked it, but some editors didn't.

You have to write for yourself first, don't you?

Listened to: Symphony no. 3, by Henryk Górecki

Friday 13 August 2010

Friday the 13th

1565 words.

Today I bypassed the 60,000 word mark. Not an unlucky day for me. So far...

I first saw Friday the 13th in a mental institute when I was about 12 years old. I wasn't a patient...

My best friend, Naeem, lived in a house nearby; his father was a doctor who worked at Winwick Hospital, a Victorian mental asylum (the largest in Europe), in the days before Care in the Community. I used to visit him a lot during the summer. We would play cricket on the cricket pitches, or tennis on adjoining courts, or go fishing in one of the gravel pits on the hospital outskirts, or climb through the window of the lodge house to play snooker on a full-size table.

Once a week we would sit in the main hall and watch a film projected on to a white screen. With about fifty heavily-sedated patients. I watched a fair few horror movies and tense thrillers on that screen, and in that company. I remember watching Still of the Night there, and Jaws and Friday the 13th. And then the lights would come up and it would be like being on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Happy times, good memories... believe it or not.

Winwick Hospital Tower was a landmark that I would search for whenever I was coming home. It was a beautiful structure, but it, like the hospital, was doomed once community care was introduced. The entire complex was razed in the late 1990s. Housing replaced it.

My affection for Winwick Hospital meant that I was bound to write about it at some point, and I did, twice, in Decay Inevitable and Blonde on a Stick (its name changed to Slow Heath and Summerhead, respectively).

Listened to: The Ghost & Mrs Muir OST, by Bernard Herrmann... beautiful.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Nitty gritty

1087 words.

Not a dedicated writing day, but I managed to hit 800 words in an hour this morning before taking over munchkin duties. I might have written more, but I was in a gnarly, knotty section that was research heavy. What colour are Qantas cabin crew uniforms at the moment? How much runway does a fully laden 747-400 need in order to take off? And while we're at it, what speed does the beast need to be pumping at in order to leave the ground? How big is the wing? Etc... Stuff that, probably, your average punter couldn't give a flying felch about, but it kind of matters to me.

Is there such a thing as the researchless novel?

Listened to: The Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

Monday 9 August 2010

Controlled Flight into Terrain

1109 words.

It came a little easier today... possibly because I was writing about my fear of flying, or rather, my fear of the pilots losing all control of an aircraft at 36,000 feet and going into an irretrievable spin...

Listening to: Possibly the worst free CD given away by a newspaper in the history of the world. Ever. Free and Single, volume 2, courtesy of The Independent. Starring Mel C, Nick Heyward and tons of other shite.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Third trimester

733 words.

Another slog. Which is odd, because I know where this chapter has to go. Maybe I've got end-of-novel nerves. Everything is set up for the climax, and now it's a matter of getting Paul to where he needs to be. Maybe I'm looking ahead too much and should try to get back to the present. It's difficult, though, when you know you've turned the final bend and it's all about closure from here on in.

This book deals partly with pregnancy, and I've just realised that I've written it (or rather, it will have been written) in three chunks, much like the twelve-week periods that govern the major changes in physiology concerning both mother and baby. I kind of like the poetry of that (although I'd much rather have got the thing done in one big, er, push). My notes tell me that I wrote the first 20,000 words at the beginning of the year before hitting a wall. I managed to get going again in March, eventually, thanks to Graham Joyce's idea of blogging about each day's work. And now my navel has popped and the foetal head is descending into my pelvic cavity, as it were.

At least delivery, although probably just as messy, won't be anywhere near as painful...

Listening to: Eyes Wide Shut OST, (Various artists)

Thursday 5 August 2010

Pulling teeth

1037 words.

See you on 01.08.10… hmmm. I’m only four days late. An overdue short story and arrangements for a book signing got in the way. Honest. But this first chunk of the last third of the novel… it was very hard to get that thousand words written today. I've been easily distracted of late (although still managing to get a chunk of words down here and there) so I needed something to help me focus. I decided to try out a little anxiety-eliminating method called the Pomodoro Technique.

Basically you choose a task you need to get done, like, oh I don't know, WRITING A NOVEL, set a timer for 25 minutes and get on with it. You're rewarded at the end with a five-minute break before the next 'Pomodoro' begins. After four of these 25-minute chunks, you get to enjoy a longer break. And that's it. It's pretty simple (well, I say 'simple' but there's a book and various social networking sites and probably a help group too), and strangely effective. I do intend to jettison my little clicking timer once I'm comfortably back inside Paul Roan's world. I'm ruled too much by the clock as it is.

Listened to: Inception OST, by Hans Zimmer
Reading: Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Home Straight

I’ve decided to devote August to the novel again, in one final push to get it finished. If I manage to write The End on or around the 31 August, that will give me two months in which to get feedback from test readers and work on a second draft and a polish before I have to deliver the book at the end of October.

A couple of things got in the way of writing the novel during June and July. Mainly holidays, short story deadlines, public readings, and fretting over Blonde on a Stick (which is to published imminently). But there was also a problem with notes. Until recently, I’d (rather foolishly) been an advocate of ‘one notebook per project’. But this never worked out, mainly because I’d sometimes have an idea and have to write it down in a different notebook because I couldn’t remember where I’d put the relevant one. Cue madness.

So from now on, it’s one notebook for everything, until it’s filled. As I mentioned elsewhere, I use a hardback Moleskine notebook, the kind that has ruled lines and an elastic closure. I number the pages (which gets me quickly past that tricky ‘how can I bear to deface its pristine loveliness’ stage) and mark on the side the date when I started using it. And now I take it everywhere. All ideas go in there. Also, if I see a picture I like, or an article in a newspaper, I’ll paste it in or store it in the back wallet for processing later. They’re not cheap, but they last me a long time (I write small… two lines of text to one line of rules paper) and I need something that isn’t going to fall apart after six months in my back pocket.

But a lot of information destined for Loss of Separation (should that be Loss of Preparation?) has been gathered from various sources and is now safely collected in a folder. I’ve just been through it, assessing, discarding, and tucking new sections into the novel’s outline onscreen. I’ve got the novel pretty much nailed now, in terms of plotting. Here’s a screen grab of the corkboard in Scrivener, to show you what I’m working from. 

The orange index cards are completed chapters. The purple cards are ‘action required’ notes appertaining to the chapters to their left. Blue squares are chapters waiting to be written. The green card at the end is the ‘key’ that explains the whole book, the thing I need to keep focused on. It might not mean much to you, but sorting out those notes has helped to open up the novel to me in a way that wasn't happening before. Those colours represent a new balance, a more streamlined and ordered story, and an avenue of escape towards closure (well, that's what I'm hoping).

Writing this novel has given me a bit of a wake-up call in terms of planning ahead. I thought (erroneously) that because this story had been on my mind for a decade, it would write itself. Wrong. This has been the most recalcitrant piece of work to be sweated out of me since the day I picked up a pencil and started tracing ‘a’s across one of Miss Foster's handwriting sheets. I love the idea, the characters, the setting… but I’ve hated writing it. It’s been like chewing gravel. Much of that is down to my preparation. The next book is going to be planned so beautifully it could be exhibited in an art gallery…

So if you have a couple of minutes each day, please drop by to keep me company. As before, I’ll be posting word counts, progress reports, tips and tricks… moans… anything that occurs to me about the writing process while I’m trying to put this novel to bed. Feel free to send me comments and questions.

See you on 01.08.10…

Friday 21 May 2010

Day Forty-Four... Chess

641 words.

When I was seven, I taught myself how to play chess. There was something about the board and the pieces... if I'd known the word at that age, I might have described it as fetishistic. I just liked setting everything up and the way that, after just a few familiar opening moves, you could be into a game like none you'd ever played before. I was so desperate for opposition that I taught my dad to play. And then I entered school tournaments and won quite a few of them. But I didn't keep it up. Nobody was into it at sixth form, and by the time I got to Bristol, I had other things on my mind, such as beer, girls and writing.

When I moved to London in 1994 and found work that paid better than anything I'd earned before, my head was turned by the beautiful chess sets being sold at the London Chess Centre on Euston Road (recently relocated to Baker Street after 18 years). I bought a breathtakingly expensive weighted wooden set and I'm using it to teach Ethan, my seven-year-old son, how to play.

However, these days, I play most of my games online. There are a number of places to play free chess with people from all over the world. Red Hot Pawn is my favourite. I keep it running in the background and nip in every now and then if I've hit the wall with whatever I'm writing. I find something that takes a long time to play (while I was writing The Unblemished in France it was this) helps to subtly unlock the congested bit of my brain that needs to be concentrating on who is doing what to whom and why and how best can I describe that using the medium of words...

If you play chess, and you decide to try out RHP, come and find me and challenge me to a game. I'm Salavaria...

Listened to: Aether by The Necks

Day Forty-Three... Back again

349 words

Short story written and delivered, I can return to Loss for a while, before I go on holiday on the 24th. Ideally, I'll get to write each evening after the munchkins have climbed the wooden mountain to Bedfordshire, but there's every chance I'll be asleep by then too. I hope to add to the novel while I'm away.

Listened to: The Tired Sounds of... Stars of the Lid

Friday 14 May 2010

Day Forty-Two... Like trying to mine coal with a jelly pickaxe.

It's not working. I need to nail this Monday deadline. Apologies for those who have been following my posts, but there are too many pies and I don't have enough fingers... I'll try to get back into the groove by mid-June, when I return from holiday. Thanks for your support, and patience...

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Day Forty-One... Pesky Editors

636 words.

So now I find out that the short story I need to write for the end of the month has a new deadline date of May 17th. I'm going to have to write both in tandem. I can't afford to let Blonde slide for another week. Today's output dealt with something which might, or might not, have happened to my narrator. As you might have guessed, he's an unreliable narrator. This creates its own little host of problems, especially in a supernatural novel. How far can you go with the ambiguity? Is it all right to show something happening that might, in the end, never have happened? Is this a skilful manipulation of the audience, or blatant deceit? Again, I think it's a matter of instinct. The danger is that you build an atmosphere on a foundation that doesn't exist. The story might not be progressing because you're caught up in the smoke and mirrors of the genre's special effects. Best to just press on regardless and see what it looks like when you read it back, much later. Well, that's what I do.

Listened to: Low and Hunky Dory by David Bowie

Sunday 9 May 2010

Day Forty... Seems like... is this a toy, probably?

574 words.

Another BTGG day, although, for that 40th day, I was hoping for a bigger return. Alas, it was all I could eke out. I'm worried that I might have to take another time out towards the end of the month, as a short story deadline looms. But hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be able to spin two plates at once.

Listened to: Substrata by Biosphere (listening to this a lot lately... just a wonderful album).

Saturday 8 May 2010

Day Thirty Nine... Hard Return

844 words.

It proved very hard to get back into this novel after a number of weeks away. The edits were completed quite quickly, but then I had to fly to Germany to participate in the Ruhr Lit Cup with the England Writers' Team, a tournament in which, despite playing well, we finished 6th out of eight teams. At one point we were close to securing a semi-final berth, and were only narrowly beaten by Sweden, the holders. In keeping with England's fine penalty shoot-out tradition, we lost against Hungary. Upon returning to the UK, it was straight off to Cropton Forest, in North Yorkshire, to spend five days in a log cabin. The boys enjoyed hunting for bats and building an emergency shelter in the woods. My strained, bruised muscles enjoyed the hot tub... and then it was back to Manchester, and Chapter Eleven.

It wasn't just the effort of returning to writing fiction; rather, it was coming to terms with a story that was completely different in terms of pace, narrative voice, structure and point of view. Blonde on a Stick and Loss of Separation are poles apart, despite both of them being told from the viewpoint of a male in his mid- to late-thirties. I'm hoping to enter the last third of the novel with a good head of steam. It would be nice to finish the book a couple of months in advance so I can let it steep in its own juices for a while, allowing me to give it another pass before delivery in October.

Listened to: The Blackened Air by Nina Nastasia

Monday 19 April 2010

Day Thirty-Eight... On hold

I have edits to take in on Blonde on a Stick, so I won't be working on Loss for the next couple of days. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Day Thirty-Seven... Southwick to Amsterdam

2038 words

No, actually, it was 1038 words. But I also wrote 1000 words of a new short story. The novel also crept over the 50,000 word mark. All in all, a very good day.

One of the problems of writing a first-person narrative is knowing when to leave your character to his or her own devices. For example, the main character in Loss, Paul Roan, is currently travelling by train and ferry to Amsterdam, a logistic nightmare of a trip (have any of you ever tried getting away from the Suffolk coast without the aid of a car?) involving a bus ride, three train changes, an overnight ferry, another train and a tram. It's quite tempting (especially from a word count perspective) to sit next to your hero every step of the way and describe, in excruciating detail, the minute-by-minute travails of such a jaunt. The ticket colours, the quality of the stock they're printed on, the view from the window at any given moment...

You can't do that. Well, you can, but don't expect that sequence of your book not to be skim-read. It's important to truncate in some situations. I've actually written more than I might in this sequence, simply because his epic journey is hampered by his serious injuries; I find it interesting to see how he copes with the strain. Also, a key element of the plot is highlighted by what he witnesses during his trip. So I've managed to get away with a bit more scenery than I would under normal circumstances.

So I missed out on thousands and thousands of extra words because of the necessary lacunae of long-haul travel. The change of scene, however, provides a fresh impetus that's allowed me to open up the throttles a bit. But I can't help but gaze wistfully at my notes. How much more might I have written if Paul was to have travelled to Odessa, as I'd originally intended?

Listened to: The Didsbury avian choir.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Day Thirty-Six... Diary panic

35 words.

I'd just got started when I saw a tweet from Tom Fletcher (the writer, not the McFly guy) about Hulme, Manchester and remembered I had to be in Hulme too, later in the day, to have my photograph taken and to read a bit from my novel at an event organised by the excellent (and excellently named) Ra Page from Comma Press. But first I had to rehearse the extract and have a shave and find something half-decent to wear that didn't look as though it had spent the winter in Creaseville before travelling to Deansgate to get a mock-up of the cover done, which took for ever to sort out.

Hulme. So named because it's surrounded on three sides by water (the rivers Irwell, Medlock and Corn Brook). The Old Norse word for island is hólmi. Morrissey came from Hulme (he produced a VHS/DVD of promotional films called Hulmerist... see what he did there?). He also, apparently (and this is pre-The Smiths), wrote a play called Eating Toast in Hulme. He gave the only copy he owned to Tony Wilson and asked for his opinion. Wilson lost the manuscript and they fell out over it. Didn't Tony Wilson fall out with everyone? I didn't like him because when Bill Shankly resigned as manager of Liverpool Football Club, Granada TV sent a reporter to the city centre to conduct vox pop interviews with some of the fans. The reporter was Tony Wilson, and I remember he gleefully upset a lot of young LFC supporters who weren't aware of the news.

Anyway, I decided to walk from Deansgate to Hulme for this appointment at Kim by the Sea. I'd navigated the traffic island beneath the Mancunian Way and, noticing that I couldn't proceed down Princess Road without descending into the subway (don't like subways), I decided to cut through the housing estate. I emerged opposite a little park just by the eye-catching Hulme Arch Bridge. There were about a dozen guys sitting at the edge of it, shirts off, whip-thin, with the kind of scary-looking dogs that look as though they'd be much happier spending the day rootling around inside your body cavities than chasing balls or sniffing other dogs' backsides. They all, men and beasts, turned to watch me walk by.

Sometimes it means nothing. Sometimes it's just a bunch of guys people-watching while they bitch about work. But sometimes it could be that you made the wrong choice and you've wandered into a place you don't know at a time you shouldn't have. The only thing you can do is make sure the A-Z is rolled up and hidden in your pocket, open your body up and look as though you know where you're going. While getting ready to motor if someone shouts out: 'Hey, you! Knobhead in the creased clothes!'

Note to self: when talking to a printer, don't expect him to understand what a 'B' format paperback looks like.

Listened to: Our Love to Admire, by Interpol

Thursday 15 April 2010

Day Thirty-Five... Continuity Errors

1086 words.

In my first novel, Head Injuries, a character's eyes change colour. People who start a scene drinking from a bottle of cider end it by necking beer from a can. A car taken from an alleyway becomes a different make and model by the time it reaches its destination. It was a supernatural novel, so I can kind of get away with some of that. Eye colour change... woooh, spooky. But I obviously hadn't been paying attention to the details. I was young and excited by the fact I was writing a novel; I was into the story, to the detriment of the little bits of decoration I was hanging from it (but what's my proofreader's excuse?). I'm sure I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, writer to suffer from this sort of... oh no, I did it again!

The main character in Loss of Separation can only wear jogging bottoms because of his injuries... so why has he just turned up wearing a pair of jeans? Oh well, at least these days I'm noticing continuity errors like this.

I'm not sure how many people are out there reading this blog (not many, I reckon), but a couple of writers have been in touch to tell me they're finding it helpful and/or inspiring. Which makes it all worth while. Thank you.

Listened to: Soundtracks

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Day Thirty-Four... Nessun Lavoro

0 words.

Another sleepless Zac day. Another workless Conrad day. Had to deal with unexpected admin. Normal service shall be resumed tomorrow, hopefully.

Listened to: Granules of sand slipping through the hourglass of my life.

Day Thirty-Three... Nessun Dorma

259 words.

Zac has suddenly decided that he no longer requires a two- to three-hour nap. He was asleep for thirty minutes today. I missed the morning slot, and was co-ordinating a Fiction Factory session in the evening, so that half an hour was the sum total of my output.

Listened to: Zac, mostly.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Photographic Interlude

Perigee, Didsbury, January 29th 2010

It was Opposition Friday too... but I couldn't squeeze Mars into the shot. My lens was too long.

Day Thirty-Two... Lovey Day

621 words.

Zac (2) opened the curtains at 6 a.m. and looked at me, crumpled into my bed like something that had fallen from the sky, before declaring, eyes wide, hand outstretched, trying to convince me: 'Lovey day!'

He was right, though. It was, and is, a lovely day. A friend tweeted that he had witnessed two woodpeckers mating in nearby Didsbury Park. So it must be Spring. The first really consistently bright day of the year. And I spent it in my room, writing about a child's skeleton being discovered in a dilapidated hotel room. Cheery. I decided I would work until three on Loss, then spend the final two hours of the afternoon either fleshing out notes for Project X, or getting on with one of the short stories that are sighing in the corner of my Mac, tapping their watch faces.

But there's also been the promise (or threat) of wine on the patio with friends this afternoon. When they arrive, will I remain disciplined or will I cave in and absorb some sunshine and Chardonnay? I don't fancy my chances much...

Listened to: New Maps of Hell (I and II) by Paul Schütze.

Day Thirty-One... Out and About

539 words.

Sometimes I like to get away from the chair and the desk and the screen and go for a wander. I like to find a good place to have coffee and sit and write in my notebook. This is a good place for coffee. This is not. If I have to drink chainstore coffee, I go here.

Today I caught a train into the centre of Manchester and had a mooch around. I looked at insanely expensive things I would like but cannot afford and wouldn't buy even if I could. Fountain pens. Watches. Then I found coffee and wrote words and made some notes on a new project and listened to Spinnerette.

Friday 9 April 2010

Day Thirty... Lacking prolificity

0 words.

Didn't get up till late. Didn't have chance to write in the evening. Woe is me.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Day Twenty-Nine... Prolificity

1072 words.

Some people have described me as prolific. I suppose, compared to Harper Lee or Jeff Torrington or Harold Brodky, I am. But I wish I could write more quickly. I love hearing stories (hopefully not apocryphal) about writers such as Michael Moorcock, who would feed a roll of paper into his typewriter (so that he wouldn't have to tax himself by winding separate sheets into it) and pound out a novel in a weekend.

Georges Simenon is interesting. He would pack a bag, grab his typewriter and head off to some European city or other, check into a hotel and immerse himself so thoroughly in his work that he would have a completed draft of a new novel within twelve days (he could write up to 80 pages per day). He did this regularly throughout his adult life. In all he produced 200 novels (not counting the pulp fiction he wrote under various pseudonyms). There's a fascinating interview with him, available as a downloadable PDF, here.

I managed a novel in four months once. But that novel-in-a-weekend challenge... I'll have a crack at that one day.

Listened to: Bloodsport by Sneaker Pimps.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Photographic Interlude

Southwold, 2000

Day Twenty-Eight... Location, Location, Location

638 words.

I think in the best fiction I've read, a strong sense of place is as important as the story or the characters that populate it. One of the main problems facing a writer at the start of a novel, along with which point of view to take, is whether to locate the story in a real or imagined area. Aside from building a new world in a fantasy, there are, essentially two options. Set your story in a real place or set it in an imagined place. This might be loosely based on a real city (Graham Greene's Nottwich, for example, in A Gun for Sale, which is Nottingham in all but name) or it might be a complete fabrication.

I've realised, half-way through my novel (why can these things never hit me on page 1?), that the real location in my novel is now going to have to be changed. Something happens in the novel that is connected to the Battle of Sole Bay in 1672, but now I realise, crucially, that I need the date to be different. 1672 is not convenient for me. You inconsiderate Dutch warmongers. 1701 would have been ideal. So now it's the Battle of Winter Bay. And it's goodbye Southwold, hello Southwick.

Listened to: 3rd Symphony by Witold Lutoslawski (dig that rhythmic synchronisation), Tin Drum by Japan.

Monday 5 April 2010

Day Twenty-Seven... Reading Matter

766 words.

I have a problem when I'm writing fiction. I find it difficult to read it at the same time. There are a number of reasons for this. A) I don't want what I'm writing to be coloured by the style of the writer I'm reading; B) I don't want to suddenly come up with a new idea for a novel, which happens a lot when I'm reading someone else's fiction; C) I don't want to be distracted from one story (ie. mine), by another.

To combat this, I tend to read stuff that's the diametric opposite of whatever I'm up to. You might suspect this to be Mills & Boon. Or the directions on a seed packet. But realistically, I'll go with non-fiction (I like to read biographies of film stars or directors or writers and I'm also attracted to books about mountains and mountaineering and survival) or maybe short stories. I don't read an awful lot when I'm deep into a first draft. I wish I could, but I can't.

Listened to: There Will be Blood OST by Jonny Greenwood; Vertical Memory by Seed

Sunday 4 April 2010

Day Twenty-Six... Pesky Brains

1407 words.

The danger (or blessing) where a labour of love is concerned, an idea bolted down in my mind for the best part of ten years, is that it's so intractable that it won't tolerate any other ideas that might complement it. Well, standing in the shower yesterday, my brain was obviously in ninja mode, because it slipped me a new one that has completely messed up everything else. What if...? it connived. So now I've got to think about going back (once I've finished... never go back in the middle of something, oh no) and rejigging timelines and events and reactions and interactions and the whole slew, mickle and peck. Curse you, head organ (I love you, you daft hunk of meat)...

Listened to: Milk and Kisses by Cocteau Twins

Saturday 3 April 2010

Photographic interlude

I thought I'd dump the odd picture on here from time to time, just to add to the mood and break up all this text... Hope you like them...

Amsterdam, 20th February 2010

Day Twenty-Five... Percy Filth

501 words.

Percy Filth is a term my mum uses whenever sex raises its head on TV. I can remember, very clearly (or maybe it's a dream... I've not been able to confirm it) being in our living room in Lodge Lane, Warrington, some time in the 1970s. In fact, it would have been in 1976, or a year or two later. So I'd have been around seven years old. There was a play on television, and my mum and dad were watching it. I was watching it too, because Elisabeth Sladen was in it. I didn't have a clue what was going on, but because it was Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor's erstwhile assistant, I'd had my head turned. It was turned again before the end of the play, when her on-screen partner helped her out of her nightdress. Sarah Jane was showing off her 'busters', as we used to refer to them at school. 'Percy Filth,' Mum said. Quite right. Anyway, if there's someone out there who can confirm that I did see this and I'm not going mad, I'd appreciate it.

I've hit a point in the novel – about half-way – where I have to write an explicit sex scene. I've known this for a long time. I meant it to be at the middle of the book, a critical pivot in terms of plot, and decided I was going to devote an entire chapter to it. I'm not squeamish when it comes to writing sex scenes, as anybody who has read my fiction will know; I think that horror fiction works well when the characters are at their most vulnerable, and there aren't many more vulnerable moments than when one is in flagrento. But it's still a challenge. Comedy is never far away from a sex scene, especially one that is intended to be serious, intense, weird and frightening.

A writer friend of mine once gave me a little present, a red, plastic computer key with the word 'PANIC' on it. You were meant to stick it to your computer monitor, or keyboard, and hit it when you wandered into difficult fictional territory. I could do with one now. Wish me luck. Oh, and my friend? He stuck his to the bedpost...

Listening to: Until We Felt Red, by Kaki King (one of the best guitarists I've ever heard)

Friday 2 April 2010

Day Twenty-Four... Me and Michael Corleone

539 words.

I was determined, before starting this novel, that I would clear the decks of all short story commitments. But just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in. There's something very tempting about a short story. You finish it more quickly for a start. There's a feeling of accomplishment that you know won't come with the novel for months and months. I'd written a couple of short stories last year for editors who asked me for them and then there was nothing but reams of blank paper and plenty of time in which to fill them with novelish words. And then A asked if I'd like to contribute to X and B asked if I might have something they could use for Y and C came at me with Z. If you're invited it's difficult to say no. I seldom do. Mainly because I'm energised by the project and maybe get a quick idea that might work well, but there's also fear that if I say no, the invitations will dry up and I'll be back to where I was in 1986, writing on spec material with no idea of where to offer it.

I'd hoped to have six clear months in which to get a first draft of Loss of Separation completed and edited to a presentable state, but now I have five short stories I've agreed to write before the summer. I'm not complaining. I know there are writers out there who would give their eye teeth to be in a position where editors are passing invitations their way to submit to an anthology. I was one of them. I love to be asked. I need to find a way of splitting myself into two so that mini-me can crack on with the short stuff while I wrestle this novel into submission.

Listened to: A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe by John Surman

Wednesday 31 March 2010

Day Twenty-Three... Doc Holiday

500 words.

Weeks and weeks of chest pain and coughing and bronchial oysters go by and I decide it's time to surrender and call the doctor. I don't often visit the GP. I kind of believe in the body as a finely tuned self-healing tool. I was prescribed a course of antibiotics once in my life, and didn't take them because, FFS, it was just a cat scratch. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that. So I call the surgery and ask for an appointment. The earliest they can see me is IN TWO WEEKS. My doctor, apparently, is on holiday. Can I see someone else? (I reckon, because I never darken their door, that when I really do need to see a doctor, they should shove the trainee cadavers who are always wearing a trail into the waiting room carpet down the pecking order) I can, but I have to call again tomorrow morning at 8am. Cue visions of old things with various ailments sitting by the phone, arthritic talons poised above the redial key at 7.59. I'll probably have to stab my phone for hours before I get an appointment at an inconvenient time with a doctor who would much rather be on holiday than listening to the rattle and wheeze of my breathers. And then I'll be put on antibiotics.

Which I won't take.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Day Twenty-Two... Back on Track

542 words.

I'd like to think that these words, my first as a 41-year-old writer, were even more coruscating and insightful than usual.

No? Right, I'll get my coat...

Listened to Navigare, by Simon Scott (thanks, Nick).

Day Twenty-One... Gift-wrapped Wheels Come Off

0 words.

It was my birthday... give me a break. Despite not managing anything over the past two days, I've just noticed I've hit 40,000 words.

Day Twenty... Home

0 words.

The last day of a convention and I don't stick around, not when there's a five-hour journey involved. I was out of Brighton by 9am.

Day Nineteen... Wheels Come Off

54 words.

Woke up late. And felt like something that should not be allowed to exist had laid eggs in my chest that were beginning to hatch. I've had what I suspect is a chest infection for the last few weeks and a long night of alcoholic drinks and cold air had done its best to set my recovery back. I managed to traipse over to the hotel in time for the James Herbert interview at noon.

I'm in two minds about James Herbert. I read him a great deal when I was in my teens and thought his books were terrific – shorter than your average horror novel, they zipped along nicely – but as time went on and my reading broadened, I found his writing style wasn't what I was looking for any more. The last novel of his I read was Haunted, back in the late '80s or early '90s I read it in an evening. He does have that ability to drag you into a story and keep you going. An amazing knack, and one I wish I had a fraction of.

Anyway, the best bit of the interview came when Neil Gaiman, who was asking the questions, referred to the slew of imitators that had crawled out of the woodwork after Herbert's The Rats became an overnight success in 1974. 'Guy N Smith, for example,' said Gaiman (I'm paraphrasing here) 'and all I can do when I pick up a Guy N Smith novel is laugh out loud.'

'I think he's in the audience,' Herbert said. He was. To be fair to Neil Gaiman, after a stunned moment, he rescued the moment brilliantly...

After the interview I met the splendid John Berlyne for coffee and a chat and then attended a panel later in the afternoon in which various writers tried to explain how they positioned themselves in terms of whether they were horror writers, and Simon R Green merely droned on interminably about how great he was. After half an hour of this I was starting to feel pretty grim. I was due to be on a panel in the early evening but I knew I was not going to make it. I made my excuses to the organisers, had a wander around the Lanes for a while, buying little presents for munchkins and Rhonda, and got back to my B&B by 5pm. I tried to do some writing and failed miserably. I was a Brighton crock. I thought a little nap might improve me to the extent that I would be able to attend the Quercus launch at 10pm (keep an eye on Tom Fletcher, a very good, young British writer whose The Leaping is out imminently), but then I woke up at 1am and that was Saturday gone...

Day Eighteen... Busy

511 words.

I wrote those words freezing in the park in Brighton's Regency Square, blasted by the wind coming off the sea. I spent the afternoon at a series of publishing parties, drinking far too much free white wine. By the time the party on the pier kicked off at 9pm, I was 'refreshed' to say the least. A quick scoot on the ghost train and another drink or two inside before I had to rush back to my B&B, pick up my laptop and head straight to the reading café at the Royal Albion. I made it with seconds to spare and was pleasantly surprised to see a decent amount of people waiting to hear me read (these things can go either way... in the past I've read to a room containing six people, two of which were staff and three of which were known to me).

I read the prologue and the first chapter from Loss of Separation and it seemed to go down quite well. In the bar afterwards I enjoyed a good chat with some of the audience, most of it to do with flying and how safe it is when it goes well and how dangerous it is when it goes wrong. I don't want it to stop me from travelling, but I'm relieved when I know I've got a long, long wait before my next flight. I fly to Dortmund at the end of April...

Thursday 25 March 2010

Day Seventeen... Bifurcated

1243 words.

After breakfast (in bed) I found my narrative suddenly split in two. I'd been charging on with one strand of my hero's story only to suddenly realise that there was a bit I needed to tuck in earlier on, so I found myself with two leading edges to deal with. It meant that the word count came a little easier this morning.

Listened to: Biosphere
Currently reading: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster – this rather lovely edition:

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Day Sixteen... Pain Barrier

704 words.

There are a few worse feelings than having to get out of bed before 5am... but not many. Five and a half hours of motorway (is it me, or are there more roadworks now than ever before?) and I reached the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton with 200 copies of London Revenant for the delegates' bags. At least there were some friendly faces to greet me. Old pal Michael Smith, über-editor Stephen Jones and the laid back, affable Amanda Foubister, chairperson of the WHC 2010 committee.

I dumped the books, found my lodgings and went for a walk. I wandered around the Laines for a while, sucking up the ghosts of Pinkie, Dallow, Spicer and Cubitt, and bumped into another old friend, Peter Crowther and his lovely wife Nicky, then had a bite to eat, bought some bribes for the boys back home, then went back to the B&B and fired up the old MacBook.

Writing those 704 words was like hauling my own tripes out with a rusty hook. I intend to sleep well tonight and wake, refreshed tomorrow (they serve breakfast in bed at this place). I must write a Graham Greene-sized amount every day. Even with the inevitable hangovers. I must...

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Day Fifteen... Chapter Fracture

504 words.

It was all going swimmingly, and then I hit a chapter break. New chapter, change of pace, you can see the brick wall coming but there's nothing you can do to stop yourself from slamming into it...

Oh well. Slowly onward. Another BTGG day. Just.

I'm in Brighton for the World Horror Convention from tomorrow. So what better place in which to write at least a GG-sized amount every day.

By the way, following on from yesterday's post, if anybody is seriously interested in Fiction Factory, email me at ficfac [at] googlemail [dot] com

Monday 22 March 2010

Day Fourteen... Exterminate all Adjectival Thought

1007 words

I’m privileged to have attended Arvon’s Lumb Bank writing retreat twice as a teacher over the past few years. Any writer who wants to spend a week in beautiful surroundings with like minds should think about signing up for one of their courses. They’re not cheap, but they will pay you back immeasurably with good memories, encouragement and, hopefully, some good writing tips.

There are some little tricks of the trade that I passed on during my stints at Arvon (and in Fiction Factory, my online writing group... contact me for details!) that I find can perk up your work if you feel it’s not going well, or if it’s reading a bit flat. Simple, effective exercises, such as reading your work out loud to yourself (you'd be amazed at how different the written word comes across), writing three pages using sentences no longer than six words, writing a story without using a single adjective, writing a story (in fact, writing an entire novel) without using adverbs (which are Satan's pointless prose addition of choice). Most of these exercises encourage cutting. Less is more, and all that.

Anyway, I tend to overload on adjectives in my own work and then do a bit of pruning afterwards. Adjectives are buttered toast in the grammatical kitchen. Very nice and lots of fun, but too much can leave things looking a bit tubby...

Listened to: Insomnia by Biosphere and Diamonds Are Forever (Extended OST) by John Barry.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Day Thirteen... Paper Planes

552 words.

Excuses, excuses... I spent the day looking after boys. Fetching, carrying, making paper planes, recharging DS consoles, explaining how it could be that Manchester United were beating Liverpool when I insisted that Manchester United were an inferior side, making lunch, buying the pocorn I'd promised them, sharpening about a trillion blunted and broken colour pencils...

Listened to: The Thing OST, by Ennio Morricone.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Day Twelve... Returning

2028 words.

In 2004 I wrote a short story called The Return which was a sequel to my first novel, Head Injuries. The story was published, for anyone who's interested, in Andy Cox's splendid The Third Alternative (which underwent a title change and is now known as Black Static... subscribe!). The Return concerned the main character from Head Injuries and his return from illness and self-imposed exile. He tips up in Morecambe, his old stamping ground, and tracks down old friend Helen, who is in a persistent vegetative state. All the while, nasty things are going on...

Anyway, that's not really the point of this blog post. There was a character in The Return called Becky Slade. She was a ghoul, a death-chaser, a chronicler of atrocity. I liked her so much that I resurrected her for Loss of Separation (albeit with a name change... she's now called Amy). I quite like the idea of using characters or ideas I've explored in short works more than once, fleshing them out, exploring them some more, pushing them in different directions. A short story called The Pocket, written in 1994, found its way into London Revenant, as did The Umbrella from 1993. The Cello (1995) was integrated into Blonde on a Stick.

I don't see it as recycling the same old material (and I hope my readers don't either). For one thing, the chance that the audience for my novels have also read my short story output are pretty thin. I like to think of some of my short stories as dry runs to see if they would work in something much longer. Mike Harrison, a writer I admire very much – and a great influence on my work – does this kind of thing all the time. Indeed, it's fascinating to see it happen, both in technical terms and also because you're recognising something you read in one context, many years ago, being moulded in a different way. That story is as much a part of you as it is a part of the writer. Which means that your engagement with whatever novel it has now become embedded within is that bit more intimate and intense. At least, that's how I see it...

Listened to: Places, by Brad Mehldau

Friday 19 March 2010

Day Eleven... Pesky cannibals

604 words.

Blunted by a persistent cough. Haircut. School appointment. Various little admin jobs. Excuses, excuses. Still word count BTGG...

Listened to: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Road OST; Robin Guthrie, Imperial and Jonny Greenwood, There Will be Blood OST.

Day Ten... Scrivener

2157 words.

I posted elsewhere that Microsoft Word is gathering dust in my applications folder. I keep it now only as a tool to read incoming documents, although Tofu might yet mean that Word is relegated to the dustbin.

Scrivener is my writing application of choice these days. It is a lovely, lovely thing. I can outline my novel, add bits of research, URLs, pictures, and keep everything organised and tidy and accessible without having lots of windows open while I work on the words. It is software written for the writer in mind. There's a virtual corkboard and virtual index cards (I prefer to use the real thing, but they're there if you need them). There are some nice touches such as a keywords search (useful to see in which chapters a particular character crops up), a snapshot option (so that you can go back to the original if you mess up an editing session) and a customisable full screen so that you can work without desktop distractions (I'm using an old school green on black look... a bit kinder on the eye than black on white).

I've touched on just a fraction of the number of things this application can do for writers. I can't believe I've managed for so long without it. Mac users (no version available for PC types as yet) should check out the website for a free trial. You won't be disappointed. And no... I'm not getting any commission.

Listened to The Dark Knight, by Hanz Zimmer and James Newton Howard.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Day Nine... Sweet Left Foot

592 words.

More excuses. I play football on Wednesday nights. Not making four figures was worth it for the screamer I scored last night. You should have been there...

Listening to: Ghosts I by Nine Inch Nails (thanks, Tessa)

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Day Eight... Hook

1015 words.

There's a formula to writing screenplays. If you follow Syd Field, that is. And I did, when I adapted my own novel, Head Injuries, for Michael Winterbottom at Revolution Films. Mr Field is big on the three-act structure, and within that he refers to changes in the story, or 'hooks', that spin us around in a different direction. The three-act structure exists in novels too. At its simplest, it refers to beginning-middle-end. I'm into a hook now, I believe. I've moved out of the novel's beginning and I'm entering the second act. My character has found his motivation and is trying to defeat the obstacles that are in his way. He's making things happen, despite being a passive kind of guy. Difficult not to be when you've spent the last six months of your life withering in a hospital bed with more bones broken than intact... Anyway, placing this kind of framework on what I've written helps to stave off doubts that it's actually fly-by-seat-of-pants stuff and I don't actually know what I'm doing and never did...

Listening to Brian Eno: Music for Airports and Brian Eno/Harold Budd: The Plateaux of Mirror.

Monday 15 March 2010

Day Seven... Busy evening

511 words.

I run an online writing class on Monday nights. And Liverpool were playing Portsmouth on TV. There you go. Excuses, excuses. But I still had a better than Greene day.

Listened to the Heat soundtrack. Soundtracks have been in the background to a number of novels I've written. For Decay Inevitable it was this. For One it was this or John Powell's three Bourne soundtracks (minus the execrable Moby nonsense). I love soundtracks.

Send me recommendations...

Sunday 14 March 2010

Day Six... Where did that come from?

1132 words.

At 8pm I was thinking, arses... nothing today. I was on munchkin duty this morning so that Mum could potter about spoiling herself. The rest of the day was spent feeding and watering and ferrying munchkins to Hobbycraft to buy air-drying clay.

I fired up the machine this evening, intending to shamefacedly display my zero to the world. But then I thought, hang on, what if... and then... followed by... and in an hour I'd topped a thousand words.

Me: 'Look at what I managed tonight, in just one hour!'
Rhonda: 'Why do you need writing days, then, if you can work like that?'
Me: (panic, retreating fast) 'Oh, but it's very rare, such a thing...'

I ought to list what music I've been listening to, while writing. I get easily distracted by odd noises, so I often have headphones on. No lyrics. Soundtracks and ambient music, in the main...

Today: Biosphere, Shenzhou

What I'm currently reading: The Naked Pilot, by David Beaty.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Day Five... Backing up

1393 words.

While writing my recent novel, One, I suffered, or rather, my laptop suffered, a catastrophic hard drive failure. The machine froze when I opened a website. I wish I could tell you that it had happened while hacking into some top secret files, but I was actually looking at a guitar site that showed me the minor pentatonic scale (don't worry, this isn't the site that killed my novel)... Rebooting didn't work. Blank screens all the way. Calling Mike, old friend and Mac guru, didn't bring me any joy. He suggested trying a few things, but nothing worked and I knew it was getting desperate when he resorted to the old IT standard of 'keep switching it off and on again'. I lost two and a half chapters. About 10,000 words. There are few worse feelings known to man.

I spent a fortune retrieving the data from the corrupt drive, with the attendant misery that comes with depending on a bunch of London-based Boolean chancers who never pick up their phones, only to find, when I eventually got my Mac back, that I was still missing about 8,000 words. I had no choice but to rewrite those chapters. I'd like to think that they turned out okay, but there's a nagging feeling that what went before was much better.

Anyway, now I back up regularly. We're talking every time I stop typing for longer than about a minute. To two external hard drives. And a pen drive. And my MobileMe account. And every so often I'll email what I've done to myself. I urge you to do the same.

The one plus that came out of all that heartache was that the data retrieval company replaced my previously puny hard drive, free of charge, with a 300 GB monster. Hmm... I'd rather have my work back though.

Friday 12 March 2010

Day Four... Notebook nutcase

1160 words.

I love a handsome notebook. Often I go out and forget to take one with me and of course that means I'll be clouted by an idea and have to nip into the newsagent to buy a new one. But it won't be a nice one. It'll be what you'd expect for 99p. So I use it once and it goes in the notebook drawer. With about forty or fifty other notebooks. I have nice notebooks too. Whenever I travel abroad, I have to buy a new notebook from the country I'm visiting. What I'm trying to say is that I have too many notebooks. I have enough blank pages to last me a lifetime of notes. And I fail, spectacularly, to restrict one notebook to one project. So by the time it comes to write up a particular project, I have to spend several decades flipping through pages in various notebooks to find relevant notes. I try to be organised. Really, I do. I have a filing cabinet with printed labels that say 'Stationery' and 'Ideas' and 'Notebooks' on the drawers. The 'Notebooks' drawer is full.

I'm not the only writer who does this, am I?

Day Three... Too much of a good thing

774 words.

So the first two days (writing at full chisel in a couple of hours) I top 1K and today, when I have an entire writing day – 9 to 5 – all to myself, I can barely grind out 800. Typical. You have all these hours stretching out in front of you and you think, portion of micturate, and then you find yourself deciding that now would be a good time to rearrange your study because it's too cluttered in here to write.

Once upon a time, a deadline looming, a week booked off proper work in order to meet it, I came to the conclusion that my oven needed cleaning. With a toothbrush. Maybe I'm just mentally ill...

Days Four and Five are 9 to 5 too. Must... focus...

Oh well, at least I managed 274 words more than Graham Greene.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Day Two... Scars and girls

1135 words. Today I broke the 25,000 word mark.

I can't quite remember if it was on a forum or a letter to a small press publication but some years ago, I was 'accused' (if that's the right word) of being a one-trick pony in that seemingly every story I wrote contained a guy who met a girl, or vice versa. I dare say he was right, because, well, what else is there? Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl fall out of love. Girl kills boy with a javelin of ice through the throat.

I mention this now because I've just been writing about two damaged characters who meet after a cautious 'scorpion dance'. Boy and girl. So shoot me. The other thing about them is that their damage is not limited to psychological problems. It's physical too. These people have been through the mill. Scars blemish their skin like fractures in stone. Something else, apparently, that crops up with tedious regularity in my work. My old boss, actually, pointed that one out to me. 'Why are so many of your characters scarred?' she asked. I don't know. I find scars pretty fascinating. We all have them, don't we? Show me someone who doesn't own at least one scar, a tiny scar, and you'll be showing me a freak. That isn't an invitation, by the way. Keep your clothes on...

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Day One... Up at 6 a.m.

1341 words.

If I'm going to do this every day, I need to be more disciplined. Hard to do when for four days out of seven you're looking after a two-year-old force of nature called Zac. So I'm going to get up (usually around 6am) when he gets up and forego the lie in I usually have until Rhonda takes the boys to school. This morning I wrote a thousand words in two hours before Zac demanded my presence to watch his favourite TV programme, Show Me, Show Me. I got another couple of hundred words done in the John Lewis car park while Zac had his mid-morning nap. For anybody who is into the fetishism of writing, I write longhand in one of these, with one of these. When I'm working directly on to the screen I use this. Word, or Microsoft Fossil as I like to refer to it, is finished in my eyes.

Elsewhere, the estimable fantasy writer Steph Swainston warned me against blogging about word counts. 'That's not writing, that's typing,' she Capoted at me. I appreciate her concern, but counting words is something all writers do. The important thing, I think, is to do it when you've come out of the zone. I don't go the Graham Greene route, for example. Here was a man who hated the physical toil of writing to the extent that his manuscripts are dotted with little numbers where he had totted up his output so that he could put the damned thing aside once he'd reached his daily total of 500 words. Cracking writer, though, that Graham.

As is Graham Joyce, by the way, whose blog was the inspiration for this mad little exercise...

Monday 8 March 2010

Loss of Separation

It's been nearly two years since my last blog post. The reasons for this are manifold. Chief among them are that I always feel that the time I spend on this could be better spent writing (or not writing) the new project. There's also the suspicion that nobody even knows this blog exists and, if they do, that they have about a bzillion other, more important things to do than read it.

A number of writers I know have started blogging about works-in-progress and I think that's a great idea. So I'm going to do it too. It will mean I can put content on this blog, (hopefully regularly), and it might also gee me along to finish a novel that has to be delivered by October 15th. I'm currently 20,000 words into Loss of Separation, and this first blog will give you a little background about the novel to complement the excerpt that is currently available on the News section of my website.

I spent six months in Southwold from the end of September 2000 to March 2001. I had met my wife-to-be, Rhonda, in the April of 2000 and we both gave up our London jobs on the same day with the grand plan of renting somewhere by the sea, living on fish and wine, and writing novels. I wrote a novel called Penetralia (later to become Decay Inevitable) while I was there. And, in between long walks on the wintry seafront and mooching about in junk shops and drinking Adnams bitter, I read a shocking article in The Guardian. I can't tell you what it was about as it would prove a major spoiler for the novel, but I still have that clipping, pasted into a notebook, ten years on. I don't know why Loss of Separation (which was, for a very long time, meant to be called Consummation) has taken a decade to reach a point where I'm ready to write it, but that's writing for you. Other projects pushed to the head of the queue first, with more insistent voices. Maybe I was too young at the time to write confidently about a character who goes through so much. Whatever the reason, it feels right to do it now. The peat has shifted on the moors and the bones of what I'm trying to dig out are visible.

That said, despite its long gestation, the novel is proving to be a recalcitrant sod. I hit 20K and now I'm walking through mud. This blog will hopefully be the kick up the backside that I need.

I'll post a word count for the day (another reason to put my back into it... I don't want to come on here to tell you I've managed a piddling twelve words), along with any interesting titbit about the process of writing (interesting to me, that is; it might be about as interesting as All-Bran to everyone else). Please feel free to post comments or ask questions. Thanks for your time.