26 November 2016


As Stephen King will tell you, writers rarely ask each other where they get their inspiration from because we don't know. The more we think about it, the weirder it becomes, so we tend to take it for granted that the ideas will flow.
Some of us find inspiration comes more easily than others. There's this horrible thing called writers' block that gets in the way some times.
I'm very fortunate to have worked with the brilliant and insightful Barbara Turner-Vessalago for many years now. She has taught me the process that I use whenever I write. It doesn't matter what I'm writing, this really works for me.
Most of the time, I'm writing a novel. I used to think that a novel was an enormous almost never-ending task. I was often so daunted by the immensity of it I would feel like giving up. Then I learned that any piece of writing has to be written one word at a time. One word isn't so difficult to do. The next one comes even easier than the first and I'm away.
My starting point is almost always a place into which I parachute my characters and allow them to have a good look around. Then I see what happens and write it down.
Barbara's writing process is called Freefall and I heartily recommend it to you. I have found that most books on writing craft only become useful when I've more or less finished what I'm writing and am looking for technical assistance to make it work. Freefall is so wonderful because it gets me going. Starts me off. I lower my self into a time and place, sniff the air, listen to the rustling of the wind in the trees, narrow my eyes against the setting sun and...
I think you've got the picture.
Until recently, the only access to Barbara has been through her workshops in Canada, Australia and two per year in the UK. I'm lucky in that I've managed to attend at least one a year since 2007. Now, she has published two books on Freefall. Get them. You will find them useful and inspiring.



At the moment, I have the fourth Jenny Parker novel away for copy edit. The two Tyrant fantasy novels are sitting in a proverbial drawer maturing and my SF novel, Voyager, has just reached the 30,000 word hump which means it's now got a life of its own and all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down. So I've taken a couple of weeks out to write a radio play. This is really good fun and a complete change to my usual form. As a prelude, I attended an inspirational one-day course presented by a radio producer called Polly Thomas. If I like what I produce, I'm going to actually submit the script to the BBC, who sent me the only rejection letter of my career in 1972.
Wish me luck.

photo credit: SFB579 Namaste Candle-Light via photopin (license)

14 November 2016

How the universe works

Ever wondered what makes everything the way it is? As far as I can make out there's just one fundamental law that governs everything, it's called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states simply that the entropy of any system always increases.

So there you have it. That's all you really need to know to understand how the universe works.

I could stop writing now but I won't. It may be that one or two of you would like an illustration of what the Second Law means.

OK, here goes. If you put a drop of ink in a pool of water, the ink will spread out until the pool is a very light shade of blue. That's the Second Law in action. It may seem innocuous and a bit obvious but it really does have huge significance. Let's take another example. Drop a sugar cube into a cup of hot coffee. The sugar cube disappears because the sugar dissolves. No big deal, you might say. But, consider this. NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU WAIT THE SUGAR CUBE ISN'T COMING BACK.

The diffusion and the dissolving are not reversible. That's entropy for you.

Another word for entropy is chaos. The world we live in moves inevitably from order into chaos. There's nothing we can do about it. The Law is the Law.

It may be that we experience time the way we do because of entropy. Without entropy, time could go either way. It wouldn't matter if it went backwards or forwards. The drop of ink coalescing in the midst of clean water would be just as likely a state as any other. But it's not. The way I see it, the Second Law ensures that time only moves forwards for us, never back. Which is a pity because I've just sent my two main characters in the SF novel I'm writing back to 1977. I'm struggling to come up with an alternative theory that circumvents the Second Law. Any help would be appreciated.

So, if the universe is a cup of coffee and we are grains of sugar, we know what's going to happen to all of us at some time. We'll dissolve away, lose our individuality and become part of the coffee.

The least we can do is to make the universe a tiny bit sweeter.

photo credit: only alice descent via photopin (license)

9 November 2016


It's November and time for the horribly named Nanowrimo which provides encouragement for writers to get down and write like hell for a month. 50,000 words is the target and it takes daily dedication in order to achieve it.
I've often referred to the desirability of a daily writing habit and how writing just a little bit every day can accumulate into a major work like a novel. I write about an hour or so most days, sometimes much more but rarely much less. This gives me an output approaching Nanowrimo proportions most months of the year.
As you can see from the banner, I entered Nanowrimo in 2014. I did this specifically to write the fourth Jenny Parker thriller when I'd already committed myself to a fantasy trilogy and a SF novel. It wasn't going to get done otherwise.
The reason for telling you this is twofold. First, if you need an excuse to write every day, a word count objective can be helpful. Secondly, I want to describe what happened to my script after Nanowrimo.
The first draft of Exit Strategy, as it has become titled, was actually 90,000 words and was written during October, November and December 2014. I then put it in a virtual drawer and carried on with my fantasy novels. In the middle of 2015, I went back to it and tidied it up so that I could send it to my editor. She did her work and issued me with her usual very detailed and perceptive structural edit. This provided the basis of a rewrite, which I completed in May 2016 and called the second draft. This went back to my editor and she provided another detailed report which was used to create a third draft which I sent her in September 2016. This third draft, notably, included a new beginning, a new ending and several injections of pace into the middle. It also changed much of the plot. In other words, draft three was a very different novel to draft one. A much better one in fact.
Draft three was submitted to my editor and she marked up all the areas that needed attention in order to maintain consistency. Draft four was produced a couple of days ago and has now gone back to my editor for a line edit. Up to now, all the editing has concentrated on plot and structure. Now I've established what I'm writing about, we can start working on how it's been written. The line edit will smooth over the words so that my readers can enjoy the story without being constantly dragged out of it by clunky expressions.
I expect the line edit to be done by the end of this year. Then I'll have to go through it and make the changes necessary before the final process, proofreading, is done. Proofreading clears up glitches, typos, formatting inconsistencies and that kind of thing. Once that's done, Exit Strategy can be published.
In summary, I finished 'writing' Exit Strategy at the end of 2014 and expect it to be published in early 2017.
Many people do Nanowrimo and self publish immediately. If I had done that, you'd be getting something quite awful, virtually unreadable and certainly not worth your time.
After two more years of work, Exit Strategy will be the best it can be. And I can be proud of that.