Thursday 30 July 2015

Wordy Wednesday, News, Views...

That's weird. I was sure I'd posted about my WordyWednesday interview before. Guess not. I shall post about it now, because it's one of the interviews I most enjoyed doing - some refreshingly original questions posed by the eminently eminent @tattooed_mummyWordy Wednesday with Marion Grace Woolley

I read a recent article saying one in ten writers make a full-time living from it. Considering how many writers there are on social media, I actually thought that was pretty good odds.

Also, just a note that my July newsletter is now available. Talking refugee camps (again), and life after The Children of Lir.

Finally, a little advanced notice: I am scheduled to give a talk at Kendal Library in Cumbria at 3PM on Thursday November 12th 2015. I'll be reading from, and talking about, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

What Pet Should I Get?

There's a brand new Dr. Seuss book out! What Pet Should I Get

Released posthumously, twenty-four years after his death (spooky, he died on the twenty-fourth), the new title was found in a box and pieced together by his wife, Audrey, and former art director, Cathy Goldsmith. More in the article: Dr. Seuss Book: Yes, They Found It in a Box.

Growing up I adored Green Eggs and Ham, Horton the ElephantFox in Socks and his Sleep Book. Looking forward to reading this one.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

The Book of Sand

After mentioning yesterday's Library of Babel discovery on my Facebook page, my friend Karen suggested I read The Book of Sand. Only had time to read the title story, but I am completely in love with Borges.

Surrealist painting, I understand. In literature, I must admit I haven't encountered it so often. 'Magical realism' is a phrase I desperately wish to explore further. What fun! 

The above picture is taken from a work of art created by Isabel Urbina, developed around The Book of Sand. I think it's such a beautiful piece.

It's been a while since I last felt so enthused by a literary concept. Whilst reading about Borges's life on Wiki, I came across this line:

Later in life, Borges regretted some of these early publications, attempting to purchase all known copies to ensure their destruction.

Clear as day the cover of Shadow of the Wind floated before my eyes. 

Well, you have to wonder, don't you?

Anyway, it's nice to have something new to think on, and new influences to absorb. 

Monday 27 July 2015

The Library of Babel

This! This, this, this, and a thousand times this!

How utterly, wonderfully clever.

After mulling over Gilgamesh yesterday, along with the origins of literature, I stumbled upon a tweet by @parisreview.

It led to an article by Jonathan Basile, author and computer programmer, regarding a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called The Library of Babel.

The story describes a universal library containing, in 410-page volumes, every possible permutation of twenty-two letters, spaces, commas, and periods—every book that’s ever been written and every book that ever could be, drowned out by endless pages of gibberish. 

This extraordinary fellow has actually created The Library of Babel online!

Mind officially blown.

If anyone needs me, I'll be in 9x, examining side three, shelf three, book gtrxu.

omqurkerfccbe - love it.

Just for kicks, love appears intact: ableyomlpdyrtdlur.exnstar Page: 20.

And for larks, hover your cursor over the landing page menu titles and watch them whiz through the alphabet.

I'm going in. I may be some time.

Sunday 26 July 2015


Sometimes weird stuff happens when I'm writing or researching. Just strange little occurrences, like snuggling down to read on Christmas Eve to discover the first line is Christmas Eve... 

Been depressingly stuck in a plot loop this week. Can't write until I know how to fix it. Had the flipchart paper out and everything. In desperation, I decided to do a bit of research, see if it threw up anything useful I might be able to use. Two minutes turned into twenty. I read all about the development of writing, paper, literature and the like. Quite fascinating stuff. Led me to Gilgamesh, which I read yesterday morning (free online).

I was researching about it until I became tired and decided to head to bed with the book I'm currently reading.

Power up the Kindle. Page one...

(click to enlarge)
Line 3, Word 10 - Seriously?

Friday 24 July 2015

Blank Canvas

It appears van Gogh had some advice about the blank canvas that perfectly applies to the blank page. Thanks to @BadRedheadMedia for sharing.

Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility. 
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves. 
Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’ 
Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas. 
But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say. 
Let them talk, those cold theologians.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Chalk Horses

Sometimes I can't quite believe how talented my family are. Especially in the realms of music, which totally bypassed me. I've talked before about my cousin Alx of Hanging the Star. I've also mentioned my cousin Billy, who is a ballet dancer with Birmingham Royal. Well, this is his sister, my cousin Sali, and her new band Chalk Horses, which she's started up in Byron Bay with a chap named Fingal Capaldi. You can have a listen on SoundCloud. So proud of this Welsh lassie travelling the globe and being amazing. Dance, music and words we pour into this world.

Wednesday 22 July 2015


What is this place, some sort of library?
The world is a library. This is but one small corner of it.

Bah-hooey. Only managed to shoehorn in 6,000 words this week. So much has been going on. But it's not quantity, it's quality. They have been pretty good words. Most importantly, they haven't been dull, factual words. They haven't been reports or e-mails or form-filling. 

Broke the 15,000 mark. 

Doubt is starting to toy with me. That same question again: how far can I stretch this? I've gone in all guns blazing: a missing girlfriend on an apartment floor that doesn't exist, a failed author running for his life, a writing tutor with a direct line to the Chief of the British Army, a middle-aged woman abducted in a Merc at midnight. It's certainly been fun. But I'm now at the point where I'm bringing in the main characters who will carry all this forth: Aesop, Grimm and Evangeline. 

Everything's been building up to this. I just hope I have enough for them to do. By the time the plot makes sense, will people love them enough to keep following? I hope so. 

Amidst all of this, I've been drowning in Einaudi and rediscovering my love of de la Mare. Hence Evangeline. She was Shelley originally. Then there was a Children of Lir, Night Swans cross-over that tickled me. Only thing, I don't think de la Mare is out of copyright yet, so need to tread softly. I just forgot how utterly, beautifully brilliant he was. A childhood enchantment.

Now, through the dusk 
With muffled bell 

The Dustman comes 

The World to tell, 

Night's elfin lanterns 

Burn and gleam 
in the twilight, wonderful 

Time. It's always about time. There's never enough of it. 

Work starts afresh next week. One last push, a house to rent, and hopefully a plane ticket home. In desperate need of a break, a bath, and time to write. 

"You’ll regret that remark," the boy slurred. "You just see if you don’t! I’ll put you in my next book, not even as a villain, simply an insignificant plot prop. Then you’ll be sorry!"

Saturday 18 July 2015


I'm part of an organisation based in Scotland that's all about documenting standing stones. It's called The Northern Antiquarian  (website/Facebook/Twitter). Whilst updating the Twitter feed over the past few months, it seems every second post on #standingstones also carries the hastag #outlander.

What is this? I asked myself. Why is there a sudden influx of megalithic tourism?

Looked it up. It's a TV series based on a book by Diana Gabaldon.

What is absolutely fascinating is that the entire audiobook is free online!

As with Black Sails, it took me a while to get into it, but I'm happily hooked at the moment. I'm an absolute sucker for celticism, especially since Children of Lir found its footing. I'm rather fond of the music, too. I took bagpipe lessons for a while as a kid, but thankfully for everyone contented myself with the tin whistle after that. 

It seems all my favourite TV series are on hold at the moment: Peaky Blinders, Black Sails, Game of Thrones, Outlander. Running out of things to watch and buy for people. Suggestions always welcome. 

Very much looking forward to getting back to Scotland later this year when I return to the UK for a break. Last time I was there I discovered a playwright in a graveyard at Dundurn. 

Thursday 16 July 2015

Take Wing

Ahead of the Storm by Rob Dreyer

There, on the horizon, I saw a sight that curdled my heart. It was a sight we had seen once before, many years past. The clouds were building quickly into a tower of twisting black tendrils, eclipsing the light of the sun. Waves broiled, smashing themselves upon the rocks and rising higher until they met our feet. 
It scared me to see the terror in my sister’s eyes, she who had protected us and given us strength all those many long nights. I thought on how different our world might have been had we lived our natural lives. I would have become a warrior, riding proud alongside Caílte, able to protect Fionnuala with a sword in one hand and a spear in the other. She would have feared nothing. 
Thinking on that brought me strength. 
As the storm approached, it was I who spread my wings, sheltering my brothers beneath them and Fin at my breast.

It is utterly amazing what a little positive feedback can do.

I will admit to having been in a bit of a flump since finishing my last novel. I wasn't sure quite what I had created. It had been a motif in my mind for many years. Originally, I wrote it as a film script in 2008, but I couldn't get anyone to read it in that format, so last year I turned to fiction.

It was a story I couldn't shake. Like a song that gets stuck in your head, sometimes you have to sing it aloud to loosen its hold. Since putting the story to paper, I've been able to write other things. But I wasn't sure what would become of the manuscript.

It's not without its problems. I set out to write third person singular, and ended up with first person multiple. 'Beautifully written, but...' came the response.

Yes, but. I thought. 

It was hard to put it out there after Rosy Hours, which was such an accomplishment for me. Children of Lir is such a very different sort of story, with very different characters, set in a very different genre - from 1850s Northern Iran to Iron Age Ireland. 

It's still doing the rounds with readers, but the other day I had a lovely e-mail from my friendly editor with some feedback. What she told me of one reader's response was glowing. Yes, not without its issues, as we knew, but also with real promise. Coming from someone who understood the genre, that meant a lot. 

As an author (or is that a sensitive pragmatist?) you come to expect the worst. All the world's a critic, and usually quite a vocal one. I was already considering e-publishing routes and serialised blog posts, then in the space of one e-mail I did a little leap for joy and started thinking on the pleasure of a good cover design. 

I poured a cup of coffee and nestled down to re-read this manuscript I had been avoiding. It was as though I were reading through fresh eyes. Before, I saw faults. Now, I see promise. The characters spoke louder, the descriptive seemed richer, and the plot fell more comfortably into place. I am now convinced that I have actually written something worth reading, saved from becoming my second bottom-drawer folly.

It's a hideous reality that authors are like cyclopes. We can see quite clearly the potential, or problems, of other people's writing, but when it comes to our own, we are blind. Because of this, we rely on the wisdom of others to tell us whether we've got it right or not. 

Thankfully, one good review can disperse the clouds of a dozen uncertainties. 

Habent sua fata libelli.

In the wake of this, my hopes for the book are rejuvenated. I hope to be able to make a happy announcement in September. 

Orina Kafe

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Ghostwoods Interview

The very first long piece I wrote was called The Tale of the Gypsy Cilarie/The Tale of the Gypsy Queen. It was about 57,000 words and started out as a character profile for a MUD (Multi User Dimension) I used to role-play on. I was heavily into text games as a kid and loved online platforms. The MUD was called Realms of Aurealis and my character, Gratia, was a thief.  
The profile I started out writing quickly blossomed into a full-blown fantasy story, telling the tale of how my character ended up in Aurealis and how she met Reverend, her main roleplaying partner. I wrote that between 1997-98, when I was 17. I think I’ve always had a sense of what makes a good story. I was brought up in a book-loving family and always wrote short stories to amuse myself. But I was a late bloomer when it comes to grammar. I didn’t start to understand it well until I was in my early twenties, and I’m still learning.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Turning the Page

10,000 words in five days.

The Secret Order of the Literati is on its way.

Slotting in time between a hectic work schedule, but if I can just do that six more times I'll have the first instalment. I'm absolutely loving it. Two ideas that were previously explored in short stories have come together, breaching completely different genres, melding into one solid lump of inspiration.

It's fast-paced and action packed. I worried for a while about introducing too many characters too quickly, but I'm halfway through reading Cloud Atlas at the moment, and an avid fan of Game of Thrones. Perhaps in this technological age of short attention spans and multitasking, the idea of rapid character introduction isn't as upsetting as once we were taught it was. Perhaps people actively expect it nowadays, and can hop between characters like browsers hop between websites. I don't have a problem with it, so I'm sure there will be readers able to follow.

My gnawing doubt is whether I can keep this up over three books. There's a lot of intrigue and mystery involved at the beginning. I know the theme of the book, but I stop regularly to work out the plot. It's a game of tennis compared to Children of Lir's lawn bowls. Keeps me on my toes. Constantly switching direction and motive. Gone is the fear of having nothing to write.

But once you've done the big reveal, once the reader gets it and knows the deal, will my characters be strong enough to keep them hooked? When you write a long-haul novel, that's not really an issue, unless you're planning a sequel. You don't have to think that far ahead. With a trilogy it's beginning, middle, middle, middle, middle, middle, middle, middle, end. That's a lot of middle.

This is a new experience for me, and the only way to know if it'll work is to keep writing. I'm having ridiculous amounts of fun with it. The characters are more caricatures than anything I've written before. It's refreshing to be writing genre for a change, so far I haven't hit up Wiki once for any research material. When I consider the folders of notes that went into Rosy Hours, Angorichina and CoL, I wonder how I ever finished them. There is far less detail in this one - more dialogue, less descriptive. A small part of me flinches, thinking Is this literature? whilst my heart plays volleyball on the beach, rejoicing. 

I don't know I will ever write anything like Rosy Hours again, but trying to replicate it isn't the way forward. Saying 'I've found my voice' and then speaking only in that voice is going to bore everybody, myself included. So, time to hit the road again and tour possibilities. Variety, life, spice of.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Brain to Text

Now here's a fascinating thought: Mind-Reading Computer Writes Words with Brain Waves.

Imagine a world in which authors can write books in days, not months, using only the power of their minds. This hands-free future could be around the corner: scientists have created software that hooks up to your brainwaves and transcribes whatever you're thinking.

Given Word's speech-to-text software and the amount of errors that makes, I wonder whether we're truly ready to take it a step further. I hope so. Though, if it's true that people think about sex every seven seconds, there may be a surge in erotica submissions.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Secret Order

Off we go again.

To take my mind off the stomach-churning submissions round of novel no.6, I'm throwing myself into my next venture. I probably shouldn't say this out loud, but I feel relief rather than triumph at getting CoL out of the way. It's a story I've wanted to write for so many years that I've almost forgotten why. Now it's done. 120,000 words worth of done. I don't know whether it will find its place in the world, or in the bottom drawer along with Clapping on Planes. My second big miss, perhaps. 

Time will tell.

I haven't lost hope, only objectivity. No writer is capable of judging their own work by the point of submission.

Getting it finished has released me, though. The past 220,000 words I've written have been stories based on other people's stories. Rosy Hours was a Phantom of the Opera-inspired intrigue, whilst The Children of Lir was based on... well, The Children of Lir

For the first time in years I'm starting out with a completely blank page, like my first ever novel, Lucid. It's terrifying and terribly exciting. I've been reluctant to start because I can't get the finer points of the plot worked out - most of the plot, in fact. But yesterday morning I just went for it. Managed to knock out 1,130 before 9AM. And I am not a morning person.

Hoping I can keep up the momentum. 

What's excited me about this is that I'm aiming to write my first ever trilogy. I don't know if I'm a series writer, but based on my general outlook on life (I find routine extremely difficult) I don't think I am. I doubt I could invent one realm in one genre and keep writing about it. But I do think I could write three books. I like the idea of this. I think I'm through with the long-haul novel for a while. The thought of three shorter works is appealing. More words total, but more satisfying in the short term. 

I don't know, we'll see. I'm just enjoying a fresh adventure. Looking forward to meeting the characters and discovering the plot. I've loosely cobbled together two short stories I wrote a long time back, just to get me started. If you have ever read any of those, you might catch ghostly whispers of pages past. 

Without giving too much away, it's a story of how stories shape our decisions in life, often without us knowing, and the Secret Order of the Literati who influence our readings, and therefore our actions.

If you are sitting comfortably, let us begin...

The leading cause of missing girlfriends – their boyfriends
He knew that’s what they were thinking. From the detective’s tacit line of enquiry, to the stony wall of silence that had descended between Craig and his once-welcoming in-laws. Three months now, and they all suspected he’d played a part in Sophie’s disappearance. 
Only Courgette believed him, and she was a cat.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

If you enjoyed Rosy Hours, you really, really must see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Also set in Iran, also dark, but darkly humorous. It is exquisitely shot, from the first scene to the last. Delicious. I don't think I will ever forget Dracula staring at a lamp post. 

Monday 6 July 2015

Shirgah Forest

Oh, look look look look look!

Just found this on Twitter. I wonder if it's the waterfall, on the road to Zirab? It's certainly Shirgah forest!

The heat did not let up as we entered the jungle, though its thick canopy offered some relief. We moved slowly so as not to exhaust the horses, the light through the leaves almost trance-inducing, causing us to fall silent, the thud of our beasts’ hooves against the earth measuring out our own heartbeats. 
“These trees are ancient,” I told my companions. “They once belonged to the Verkâna.” 
“The Kingdom of the Wolves,” Sheyda echoed, smiling as I turned to look at her. “We know of them here,” she continued. “It is a bedtime story our mothers tell us as children, that we must never go walking through the trees at night, otherwise the wolf people will snatch us away.”

I'm just in awe. I've never seen a picture of it before, and I think my description, bar the boulders on the ground, was pretty darn accurate! It's incredible that our minds can do that, connect with places we've never been.

At the bottom of the gulley, we could look up at the trees lining the path we had previously been on. It was as though someone had covered our ears with pillows, the sound of the birds seemed muted from below, the sunlight dimmed. 
“This way,” Eirik called, his horse several lengths ahead. 
As we continued, a low rumbling replaced the silence, becoming a roar as we turned a bend in the road. We found ourselves confronted by a sheer cliff towering before us. It was as though a giant had thrust his trowel into the earth and scooped out a hole, exposing a rocky, semicircular scar to the world. Plummeting down this grey rock was a jet of pure, crystal-transparent water. 
Dismounting, we walked towards it over ground made uneven by head-sized boulders. We had to strain our necks to gaze up, and the further we looked, the greener the walls of the waterfall became, painted with moss and overhanging vines. 
Beneath, where the water had kissed its reflection over generations, it left a dark circle, as though it fell straight to the centre of the earth itself. This must have been what the woman meant by a well beneath the waterfall. I listened carefully, trying to decide whether it sounded as though it were singing or drumming, yet this was like placing your ear next to a miquelet and trying to decipher the words it spoke as you fired. 
“It’s incredible,” I whispered, my voice washed away in the ringing chasm. 
I felt tiny in its presence, as though the sound alone could crush me. A deliciously fresh breeze blew off the surface of the pool. At first it felt like a tonic to the warm weather, but soon my skin grew rough with goose bumps. Still, none of us hurried to leave. 
Sheyda walked all the way up to the pool, her leather sandals slipping across the stones. When she reached it, she drew back her scarf and cupped her hands together. She drank from them before cupping water over her face and head.  
Watching from a distance, it looked like a holy act.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Guest Post: Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of eighteen crime and spy thrillers, a YA ghost novel and Write On! - a writers’ help book. His latest book is Close Quarters, the second in the Watchman series. It came out with Severn House in April 2015 in the UK, and is due for release in the US in August. 

The Locker, published by Midnight Ink, is the first in a new thriller series featuring private security investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik, due for release early 2016. 

A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the Beginners and New Author pages for Writing Magazine.

Find him on his website, blog and Twitter.

MGW: Welcome to my second guest post from a friend and fellow author. I am very happy to introduce crime writer Adrian Magson, a veteran of page-turning mysteries. 

The last time I saw Adrian we were munching Doctor Who cupcakes at our friend Col's leaving party, who quit his job to go teach in the Middle East. This was pre-Rosy Hours and I was considering whether women who write graphic horror get the same response as men who do the same. Whether there is an expectation that male authors can naturally summon the dark side, whereas women are treated with more suspicion by readers. It wasn't a fully-formed theory, and after the publication of Rosy Hours I find my fan-base largely female - though also my anti-fan base who recoiled from the female protagonist's violent nature. 

I'm no wiser on the subject, but I'm very interested in Adrian's topic today, which explores the attraction of writing female lead characters. It's especially relevant after the recent research on female protagonists adversely affecting literary award chances. Gender perspective in storytelling is a fascinating topic.

By the way, you can find Adrian's interview with me in last December's issue of Writing Magazine.

Writing from a Female Perspective
Adrian Magson

I was asked not long ago why so few male authors have women as their main characters.

I can’t speak for other men, but I’ve always had women as either main or strong secondary characters, depending on the storyline and situation.

I should explain that this isn’t me being terribly noble, inclusive or even pro-feminist; it’s because I started out my writing career producing short fiction for women’s magazines here in the UK and overseas. I quickly discovered that while men could be featured, they always had to be secondary. 

There couldn’t be any bad language, no unnecessary violence – and nothing ‘below the chin’ (i.e., sex - although I think that’s changed a lot recently). I stumbled on it more by accident than anything (the magazines as a market, not the sex), as there were very few outlets years ago for short crime or thriller fiction, which was my chosen genre (and certainly no online outlets at the time). 

Women’s mags, however, were open to ideas, even from men, and actually paid for stories, which was an important aspect of me wanting to be a full-time writer. I even wrote for several years under a female pen-name, but that was because a mag asked me to write some 1st-person female viewpoint stories, and having a man’s name at the top was possibly counter-productive. My wife refers to these as my ‘frock’ years, although I never went so far as to dress for the occasion!

However, this experience did influence me, in that it made me write for a market that wasn’t instinctively my first choice, so I had to work at getting it right. It also gave me an insight to the fact that women didn’t have to be the helpless heroines, and in my first published book (No Peace for the Wicked), which became a series, my main character was Riley Gavin, a young woman journalist. 

‘Ah,’ someone asked me once, ‘but she has Frank, a male sidekick. Wasn’t he there just to rescue her in case she got into trouble?’

‘Well, hardly,’ I replied, ‘because she actually rescues him near the end of the book using a Molotov cocktail.’

After five books featuring Riley, I wrote a series of spy thrillers with a male lead, Harry Tate (and a strong female colleague who liked to use a knife to deal with any funny business). This was followed by a French police series set in rural Picardie in the 1960s, the lead again being male, Lucas Rocco. 

I was then asked by my publisher to write an alternative male character – another spy thriller series – featuring Marc Portman (The Watchman and Close Quarters, which is just out), to capitalise on the Harry Tate books. 

Then I had a change of heart and last year began another series with a female lead, Ruth Gonzales, an investigator with a private security company. The stories are terrorist-related, so guns are involved… and it’s pointless and unrealistic having a woman lead who can’t use weapons, so Ruth more than rises to the challenge when the situation demands. The first book, The Locker, comes out next year in the US and I’m currently working on the second.

Do I have to put on a different hat (or frock) when writing about women? Not really. A strong character is a strong character whatever the gender. The humour can be the same, the tension, the determination to succeed… I just make sure my female leads aren’t simply men in women’s clothing. And I enjoy the change of viewpoint. It’s refreshing to switch characters after a while, and I’m currently hopping between Marc Portman and Ruth Gonzales, so I’ve got the best of both worlds.


Adrian Magson's latest novel Close Quarters was released in the UK on 30 April 2015 and is due for release in the US in August. It is part of The Watchman series featuring detective Marc Portman, sent in to rescue a US State Department official from Ukraine on the brink of civil war. If you want to follow Adrian from the beginning, his first novel was No Peace for the Wicked in the Gavin & Palmer series. Find him on his blog, website and Twitter.