What Year Is This? Who’s The President Now?

… all of which is to say: has it really been that long since last I blogged? Crikey (though a part of me is oddly relieved to see that it hasn’t been a whole calendar year, because – let’s face it – it wouldn’t be the first time that long a gap had happened between posts).

So, as is so often the case on this blog, I open with apologies to anyone who’s been visiting on a regular basis in the hope of finding updates – thanks for your patience, and sorry the only things that have greeted you have been silence and cobwebs.

I haven’t been writing on the blog, granted, but (by way of long overdue update) I’m glad to report that I’ve made good and hearty progress in the world of long-form prose; my novel Captives has been through multiple drafts and re-drafts, and my test readers have all made very useful suggestions which led to a few bits of re-re-drafting, and now it’s out for consideration by literary agents.

Trying not to let the momentum dissipate, I’ve started on the next novel featuring the same detective protagonist, which currently has the working title of Refuge. I won’t get into the details of it here, but I like to think that the shape of the books is almost akin to that of the films of Dan Brown’s novels – the first one (The Da Vinci Code) is full of flashbacks, but the second is a ticking-clock race against time (Angels and Demons). So I’m working hard on making sure it has that all-important sense of forward motion, which I’m increasingly finding is a good way to stop me from waxing too lyrical, as if the words don’t serve plot or character, then they’re probably not needed… but I’m sure I’ll talk about that more in future blogs.

As is so often the case in my relationship with blogging, this return is intended to be the clearing of the throat before more sustained communication; in these politically and socially divided times I’ll probably steer clear of too much in the way of politics or similar, but I’ll try to compensate for that by sharing thoughts on writing, the odd review (and not necessarily of new items – one of the wonders of the internet is our easy access to things from the past), links to things which amuse or interest, and the like.

Speaking of things which amuse, I’ve recently discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a TV police comedy which is genuinely as good as its fans make out, and I recommend you have a watch of it, if you’re not already a fan. That show has led me to enjoy the musical stylings of cast member Andy Samberg and his cohorts in the group The Lonely Island, which in turn led me to the following video… hip-hop isn’t really my thing, but ludicrous comedy and utterly committed performances are very much my things, so (in the nicest and most praise-filled way possible)  I urge you to look at these idiots:

The Allure Of The Unexplained

So I’m ferociously late to the party in appreciating this (late in doing everything, one might argue, evinced by the limited posting in recent years), but nonetheless I wanted to share the sketch from Saturday Night Live which – tech permitting – you should find below.

I wish I could explain what I find so oddly compelling about it – it could the performances, the funky dancing, the line ‘Any questions?’, or the reactions from the normal people in the sketch, which escalate in confusion but also make absolute sense. I can only conclude that, sometimes, plain stupidity is enough – and with that failed attempt at explaining myself, and/or the sketch, I shall get out of the way.



…told you it was compelling.

REVIEW: Dawn of Super-Heroes Exhibition at the O2, London

Well, the book is finished and the submission process underway, so I have time to blog – so thought instead of making apologetic noises without posts actual substance, I’d share a pseudo-review (with photos). Is that okay? Yes? I’ll take your silence as the sound of nodding.

As I may have mentioned, I live in London, and I read comics regularly, so I was intrigued when I saw this poster on the tube recently:

A bit of internet searching dug up that it’s an exhibition which has previously been shown in France (where comics are treated like any other medium), and stated that as well as original art pages from lots of comics, they’d be exhibiting costumes from most of the DC Comics-based films and TV shows, so yep, I was into that.

(Sudden realisation: ‘DC Comics’ is one of those redundant phrases like ‘PIN Number’ or ‘TSB Bank’, but I don’t see myself changing the way I say it in any kind of hurry. Anyway…)

So I booked and went along the other day, and (TL;DR summary) I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good array of items from DC’s history on page and screen, and as they don’t mind you taking photos (in fact, staff seemed keen to let me know about it), here are some pictures – not necessarily in order – and my sillysod comments…

Unsurprisingly, it starts with Superman (who’s 80 this year, though with all the reboots and reimagining, he looks pretty good on it, I think we can agree). Quite a few original art pages from Action Comics both old and recent, but then I spotted this:

Yep, that’s Christopher Reeve’s costume from the first Superman film. And yes, it’s tall, but he was tall, and he also gave one of the most enduring performances of the character (I mean, look at the videos of his transformations on this page – that’s acting). Terrific actor, and great to see his costume up close.

Speaking of up close, I certainly leaned in to look at these original art pages from Superman Annual 11:

The art’s by Dave Gibbons, from a script by Alan Moore, and … well, they’re two creators who have had an immense impact on the comics field (and beyond) – probably because they’re both immensely talented.

The middle of the exhibition is about Batman, one of my favourite comic characters, and spans pretty much all the filmed appearances – here’s one of Frank Gorshin’s Riddler outfits from the 1960s Batman TV show:

A selection of costumes from the Keaton/Burton films:

And then from the Kilmer/Clooney/Schumacher films:

And on to the Bale/Nolan films – both costumes…

…and prop vehicles:

There’s more comic art, including painted pages from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s brilliantly brain-bending Arkham Asylum:

And pages from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (a series which certainly helped make the Batman films from the 1980s onwards possible).

There are also props and costumes from a lot of the more recent films – the Snyder-era films, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman.

Have to admit that I haven’t seen the Jenkins/Godot WW film yet, but I hear good things about it, and I’m favourably inclined towards it (just haven’t got round to it yet, it’s as simple as that), and it’s interesting to see the differences between the costume from the fondly-remembered Lynda Carter TV show –

and the more battle-oriented costume as worn by Gal Godot:

Granted, there are differences in the materials etc available, but even back in the 70s they were able to make chain mail and other armour stuff for films, so I tend to imagine it reflected 1970s thinking that the emphasis was on a ‘softer’ ambassador role for Diana, rather than the more warrior-based version I gather we see in the recent film. Both are equally valid readings of aspects of the character, to my mind, and show how (as with any long-running character, really) successive generations take what most resonates to the perceived audience at any given time, and focus on that.

But I digress (as my long-time readers will recognise as a statement of policy more than an occasional observation); there’s a lot of interesting and nostalgia-provoking stuff to be seen at the exhibition, as well as a pretty good gift shop, so if you’re interested in DC superheroes on the page and/or screen, I heartily recommend a visit – this link gives more info. It runs until September, I believe.

If you do go along, why not leave a comment about what you thought of the exhibition (or just remind me of key elements I forgot to mention – I’m sure there are some)? Keen to hear other people’s opinions on it!

Still here.

Honest. Posting is imminent…

All new … almost ready

If you’re reading this,  then that means you’ve found my revamped website. Hello! Are you well?

This blog pulls into one place my very first online musings (dating back years –  cue nostalgia about how the internet all used to be fields) from the old ‘blogger’ platform, and the far more limited number of postings which I made directly onto the old version of this site (for the technically-inclined amongst you, it was an FTP setup, and I found it very hard to post regular blog updates using that approach). So if you want blog posts by me, this is the place.

There are a couple of pages which I just need to put the finishing touches to, but they’re almost there now (I promise), so this site should be all in place very much imminently, and then the blogging shall recommence (I promise). In the meantime, though, please feel free to take a look around, and do let me know what you think of the new place.

(Taps microphone)


Testing, testing…

Is this thing on?

Suddenly, it’s 2017

If all goes to plan, this will be the last blog post in this current website format – should soon be shifting over to a new platform, hosting arrangement, and lots of other techie stuff that’s a bit dull to share. But anyway.

And on the offline writing front, I’ve finished the fourth draft of my novel Captives, and it’s currently out with my test readers… and on the basis of comments already received, I’ll be starting in on the fifth draft any day now.

Once the revisions are done, and I’m sending the book out to agents and so on, I’ll be shutting up about that side of it (like dreams and the difficulties experienced on a journey, other people don’t tend to be quite as interested to hear the details), but as I start on the next book, I intend to blog fairly regularly about that.

My current thinking is that, instead of talking about the (puts back of hand on forehead) soul-searing trauma of the creative process and the ins and outs of the plot and so on, I suspect I’ll talk about the thinking behind the aspects of the story, how it’s structured, etc. Plan on doing this at least once a week, and whilst I don’t expect to be sharing the twists and turns of the story, I thought it might be interesting to talk about the topics which lurk behind the storytelling decisions, etc. That’s the intention, we’ll see how it all works out…

And yes, I should also be sharing other bits of nonsense that stray through my mind (a dodgy neighbourhood, granted)… should, he said, with some awareness of how often he’s made such a vow.

See you soon.


Despite All The Evidence To The Contrary…

… I have not forgotten that I own a blog (and indeed a website). Honest.

In the (many) months since my last blog post, amongst other things I’ve been pointing my attention towards the polish-drafts of the novel (as opposed to the Polish drafts of the novel, which I optimistically hope to hear about in the future when the book sells in multiple translations), and also training for the London Duathlon (more info, including sponsorship details, can be found here).

Not long now, though (he said for the zillionth time), and I’ll see about an overhaul of the site, and a return to proper blogging (as opposed to micro-blogging via Twitter, which I do seem to manage a moderate amount of, but 140 characters always seem more feasible).

But enough of that: how have you been?

To the surprise of those nearby, the blog suddenly coughed and sat up on the slab

So, instead of posting on the blog, I’ve been directing my words onto the page, and cracking on with the book.

I – sorry, what? Oh, that’s sweet of you to ask, it is going pretty well, thanks. I’m on track to finish the first draft by Halloween, which avoids me (for the gazillionth time) claiming I’ll be using National Novel Writing Month as a springboard to finish it off, and then losing focus after a week or so. As I write longhand, my plan is to use November and December to type it up and re-draft, at which point I’ll be passing it to those brave folks who have agreed to read the draft and comment, before slinging it out into the world and seeing how it fares.

Those of you who’ve followed my intermittent blogging over the decades (okay, I exaggerate, but it seems that way sometimes, I know) will be all too aware that this book has taken a frankly ludicrous amount of time to get done – completely at odds with my intentions, and very much a case (as Mr O’Boogie put it) of “what happened while I was making other plans”. Then again, in a way, having carried the story in my head for so long has been useful because it’s allowed me extra time to consider bits of it and look at the angles. Well, that’s my after-the-event justification anyway.

One thing I will share, though, which is probably the key knowledge this experience has given me, and which may be useful to anyone reading this who’s in the middle of thinking about writing a book, in the midst of doing so, or anything like that: books on ‘how to write a novel’ often have lots of pages talking about character traits and story and subplot and dialogue and structure and POV and all that kind of thing, but without a shadow of a doubt the main difficulty I’ve found in getting the thing out of my synapses and onto the page has been the simple one of finding the time.

If you don’t set the time aside regularly and deliberately, then – just like saying you’ll start saving with whatever money’s left at the end of the month – you’ll find that it just doesn’t get done. Like exercise or reading or anything that takes time, writing needs you to allocate time to it, and then to use that time as well as you can. I know this sounds basic – and it is – but I’ve read so many books about writing over the years, and so many of them seem to assume that people are approaching the idea of writing a book with the mindset of ‘something I’d like to do, but I just don’t have any ideas for a story I want to tell or the characters who will move through the story’, when my experience (and that of a lot of people I’ve spoken to) is less a case of not having the basic idea, but struggling to eke out the time to set pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as the case may be).

So that’s probably the key thing I’ve realised from writing this book: make sure you have time to write, and if necessary set that time aside, because chances are there will always be other people or events or mishaps or things which will cheerfully take the time instead, and leave you with the story loitering at the back of your mind, like a nervous actor awaiting their cue; and that’s not what stories are for – they’re meant to be told, to be read (or heard) and shared. And that, I fear, doesn’t happen if it stays in your head.

And on that thought, I’ll get back to it. After all, I’ve got to wrestle with the problem of a homosexual nymphomaniac drug-addict involved in the ritual murder of a well known Scottish footballer, and … no, hang on, that’s not me, is it? It’s this chap:


What I Am Writing (And A Bit Of Why)

So, as promised last time, a bit of an update on what I’m currently writing, as well as some stuff about my main character, and no doubt some stray but related thoughts too.

I am, like a shocking number of people, writing a novel. In fact, if you’re someone who knows me in a non-virtual sense, you’ll be appalled/unsurprised (delete as applicable) to hear it’s the thriller I’ve been working on for … well, let’s admit it’s taken longer than I intended, but lifestuff tends to get between me and the pen (and in all honesty I wouldn’t have it any other way: better busy than bored, I like to think).

The book is, as I say, a thriller – specifically a murder mystery set on a high-security military installation, which is my variation on the classic ‘locked room mystery’ idea; the whole environment is effectively locked, so the number of suspects should be limited… I said ’should be’.

The main character is a female detective, and much of the book is written from her perspective, for a variety of reasons; firstly, I want to create a sense of immediacy to the events, and telling a story in the first person effectively makes the reader inhabit that character’s brainspace and experience the stuff that happens to her with a bit more impact, I always feel.

Secondly, as the story is about her unravelling the circumstances that led to the body being found on the base, writing it in the first person, and limiting the reader’s knowledge of events to those of the character means that they get to play at being detective too, which hopefully makes it a bit more immersive and engaging.

And thirdly and quite importantly, I wanted to write the book from a female perspective because I distinctly recall being told back in my college days that ‘male writers can’t write female characters’, which I thought was a horrible generalisation (and one which I think is equally untrue in reverse, as shown by the book recommendation below) at the time and I still do now, and so I wanted to see how difficult it was.

Obviously, it involves a certain amount of thinking to write from the perspective of a woman, but I’m actually less bothered by the work involved in that than I am by the potential for stereotyping to arise. And by stereotyping, I don’t mean making her need rescuing at the last minute by a male character or something daft like that, but more the danger of going too far the other way; much as I applaud the trend towards strong women characters in fiction in recent years, there’s a bit of a problem in that phrases such as ‘kick-ass’ and ‘uncompromising’ have almost become seen as some kind of shorthand for strong female characters, and I’m keen to avoid falling into this stereotyping trap, though it’s one which I suspect arises from genuinely good intentions.

I don’t want the main character to be demonstrating ‘strength’ by kicking people through walls or having shouting matches with her colleagues, but rather by being a consistent character who knows what she wants to do, and has a pretty good idea of how to do it, in constantly-changing and fairly perilous situations.

Most of the people I’d classify as strong, of whatever gender, are more prone to be like that than ready to kick bottom or to engage in a war of words. I don’t think it’s accurate – or necessarily wise – to define a person’s strength in these ways, and as a male writing a female character, I’m particularly mindful of the need to avoid this kind of stereotyping.

I won’t say too much about the main character at this point, except to say that she’s a fairly normal woman doing a strange job, and doing it well; hopefully relatable, as her narrative carries much of the story.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t given her name here – that’s because the name I’d planned to use also turns out to be the name of someone in the world of sport, and she’s currently on the rise, so if she becomes very well known I may need to use the ‘Replace All’ option to rename my character. Then again, I seem to recall there was a female character in one of Lee Child’s novels called Holly Johnson, and I don’t think anyone confused her with the singer from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, so maybe I’m being overcautious.

As for how far in I am, and how close to finishing, it’s hard to say with any real certainty, as it seems to be turning out longer than I expected as I try to make sure all the plot elements are given equal weight (important to include some red herrings and the like so solving the mystery isn’t too easy), but I like to think I’m past the halfway point now (“after only eighteen years”, heckles a voice at the back of my mind).

I mentioned that most of the book is in the first person – the bits of it that aren’t take the form of occasional flashback chapters (written in conventional third person omniscient narrative voice) which run in parallel to the main story and give details of events prior to the first chapter. I was a bit concerned that the structure might be a bit tricksy and over-complex (my touchstone for comparison was the film Memento, though that’s way more complicated than what I’m aiming for), but then Gillian Flynn had enormous success and acclaim with Gone Girl, and I was reassured.

(Incidentally, if you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, I heartily recommend it – stylishly written, and so well plotted that she doesn’t need to save the game-changing twists until the end, they’re nicely paced throughout the book. The forthcoming film looks interesting, with a good cast and crew, but I’d recommend you read the source material, I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it).

And that’s about it in terms of stuff I can probably share about the book I’m writing; not just because I want to keep the plot cards close to my chest for now, but also because I’m completely braced for considerable rewriting to happen between this, my first draft, and the time when I launch it out onto an unsuspecting world, and so I’d rather not embarrass myself by referring to story elements or other aspects which are ultimately edited out.

Hope this provides some interest, and also that it gives useful background information when it comes to future posts where I talk about progress, what’s occupying my thinking, and the like. If you’ve got any comments about any of the above – and particularly if you’ve got insights to share on the gender issues aspects referred to above – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below.

One thing which I plan to write about in more detail is why I’m writing in the thriller genre (well, ‘crime’ is more specifically the genre, I guess), but that could be a slightly lengthy bit, so I’ll save that for another time (trying to keep you in some kind of suspense once again, it could be argued)…

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