Two months until Small Places is live!

It’s two months to go until Small Places is out on August 3rd! There’s been a lot of progress – the paperback copies are now finished and looking great. Most of the merch has arrived, and I’ve got a range of bookmarks, grimoire-style notebooks, witches hat lapel pins, fantasy notecards … and one steampunk scorpion to give away. Everything looks incredible, and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. You can see some of the content below – please excuse my amateur photography.

The tiny steampunk scorpion is probably my favourite here – it’ll be given away during a certain book tour later in August, so stay tuned for details!

I’m really delighted that review copies are now available, so if you’d like one, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about the book, so please contact me if you have thoughts, or would like to run a Q&A at any stage.

I’ve tried to leave plenty of time before launch – hopefully the fact that we’ve got two months until the official date will mean that there’s time for long postage delays (for some reason, Parasites took about five weeks to get to Canada, and three weeks to India) as well as time for you to get through your lengthy TBRs before August! That said, please don’t pressure yourself to speed-read – it’s more important that you enjoy the book 😊

In other news, I’m continuing to make slow progress with Dusk, although it’s always tough to split your attention between promoting one book and writing another (not to mention ‘actual work’ and life admin!) but we’re getting there. I’m feeling a little happier with how it’s working out, and hopeful that things will accelerate in future. Without giving too much away, our heroes are divided fairly early on in the book, so there are two parallel stories to follow. I’d written (and been dissatisfied with) one stream, and then started to write the other afresh – so once that’s finished, it should be faster to work with the other one and upgrade it, using some of the earlier details. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll keep this site updated with my word count etc.

Small Places is coming!

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that Small Places, my new urban fantasy novel, is available for pre-order, ahead of its launch on Amazon on August 3rd. Small Places joins Jamie, a boy living in a country village, as he runs an errand for a friend of the family to collect medicine from a witch, Melusine, who lives in a hidden forest in the countryside.

Thirteen years later, strange earthquakes and storms are wracking Britain, Jamie’s parents have separated and his mother is suffering from cancer. He returns home to look after her, but receives a mysterious summons from Melusine. Figuring that if she needs him, she may be willing to help his mother, he meets with the witch, learning that the freak weather is being caused by something affecting the earth spirit, Gaia. Mel needs his help to find the source of the problems – and this means travelling to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, hunting down clues, whilst simultaneously putting up with the irritable witch and dealing with his mum’s terminal illness.

It’s been an instructional (read: slightly painful) process, but I’m thrilled that it’s finally here. Looking back at the process, I finished the first draft on New Year’s Eve of 2019, and ran through preliminary edits by March … and then the pandemic happened and things *really* slowed down. Beta readers enjoyed it, but I did a relatively major re-write after my chief editor (and long-suffering partner) suggested a tweak that affected the entire book. Nonetheless, it’s a better book because of it, and thanks to the changes, we (most significantly) get to meet Jamie’s mum, which also affected a hundred and one other things throughout the book – including the ending!

As ever, you can see the content and trigger warnings on my site – please do consult them prior to reading, or get in touch if you have further questions.

If you’d like a review copy, please do get in touch – the kindle versions are ready for pre-order, and the paperbacks will be ready soon; I had a proof through today and they just need a little tweak. There’ll be a blog tour running with Storytellers on Tour from the 1st August, and merch, goodies and other bits and pieces are also in the works – so stay tuned!

February: Lots of good news and bad news, often together

Hi bookfans!

In the interests of complete transparency, there’s going to be nothing about writing in this post for one easy reason – there’s been no writing. You might remember back in October that I mentioned I was struggling with burnout from my (non-writing) job; well, it’s been worse than I’d imagined, and this month I left my job. Obviously, the good news is that I’ve got another one, and hopefully it’ll be less soul-sapping.

The bad news is / was that it’s been stressful. I called a doctor yesterday because for the past fortnight, I’ve been getting chest pains, headaches, and it’s been progressively harder and harder to breathe throughout the working day. Being a long-time asthma sufferer, I’d put this down to the onset of a chest infection, but without the cough. I’d even get the ‘brain fog’ towards the end of the day and be snappy and grumpy (huge apologies to my long-suffering partner).

After a chat on the phone, the doctor eventually concluded that it was stress, at which point I really just felt like bursting into tears – more with relief than anything (chest infections are horrible, and in some way, it was reassuring to have the stress validated).

I have some time off between jobs – again, double-edged sword; I won’t be getting paid, but I’ll have time off to recover and (hopefully) get back into writing a bit more. I’ve been trying to be kind to myself (which I’m not great at) and am mulling the idea of some therapy during my time off – I’ve never tried it before. I also treated myself to some noise-cancelling headphones, which are quite nice for escaping the world from time to time! I’m hoping that at some stage during the time off, I can travel, although the UK is still on full lockdown for some time. We’ll see.

Although I’ve not been writing, I have been reading. Like, a lot. I read through the Stormlight Archive, including Edgedancer, Dawnshard and Rhythm of War (rollercoaster doesn’t quite start to cover it!), the new Becky Chambers (love), Red Rising, Golden Son (also love) and the Path Keeper (by N.J. Simmonds – didn’t get along with it).

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I have a bit of a thing for PC peripherals – I went through a big mechanical keyboard phase, and have just changed my mouse from the Corsair M65 to the Logitech MX Master, which is excellent. I didn’t think I’d ever swap from the Corsair, but the Logitech was a gift, and I’m very much enjoying it. I’m always up for a chat about peripherals and PC building!

That’s quite a long post, and I’m sorry that there’s nothing in the way of writing updates. I’m hoping that recovery will pave the way for a better, healthier me, and better, smarter books. I hope that you’re all ok, and surviving your respective lockdowns alright.

What happened between November and January? Small Places edits, Dusk re-writes

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, and it’s been a relatively productive time. Although Christmas was not what I was expecting, we nonetheless had a cosy, happy time, despite not seeing friends or family. It’s been a shock being back at work during January, but I think that’s true universally!

After a preliminary read of Small Places back in October by my chief beta reader (my wife), I decided to make some fairly sweeping changes to it. That meant a few rounds of edits and re-reads, before passing it back to her and another beta reader. The beta reader suggested a few minor changes, but my wife is still halfway through – although the feedback has been largely positive. I’ve been encouraged by both of them to re-query, so although this means that it’ll be delayed for slightly longer, hopefully what comes to you will be a slicker, better book.

I’ve also started a Dusk re-write. Last year, I’d written around 69k words, but one of the characters felt very flat, and it felt like I’d lost the sense of wonder that I enjoyed conveying so much within Parasites. I’ve restructured and re-built a lot of it, and although a lot of the previous work will stay, there have – again – been some fairly radical changes. I do hope that this means a better reading experience and a more enjoyable book in the long term.

Editing always feels relatively frustrating to me, almost as if I’d got the words wrong in the first place, but I’m gradually learning not to watch the word counts and simply try to enjoy the process, write the best thing I can – rather than simply producing a book, producing something I really like. I’m not sure if that’s clear, but last year I’d certainly fallen into the trap of feeling bad about not writing as many words as I theoretically could. Perhaps it’s different when you’re a more skilled writer, or a writer with a deadline, but I’m sure that for me, it was probably a product of pandemic stress!

What happened in October? Burnout, character development and holidays!

Hi everyone!

I’ve just got back from holiday and can honestly say that I really needed it. I’ve not written a single word this month, and have slowly been coming to the realisation that I’m struggling with a reasonable case of burnout from my (non-writing) work, which has gradually been sapping my creativity and ability to write to my own satisfaction. Needless to say, I’m going to be taking it as easy as possible in the coming weeks and months.

My wife is still reading Small Places, and in conjunction with a creative writing refresher course that I saw on sale on Udemy, I’ve realised that there are a number of elements that need relatively serious revision. Despite having been through three beta readers and a large number of edits, there’s still significant room for improvement, particularly when it comes to character, which isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

After struggling with the protagonist for a few weeks, I had some good inspiration – of all places – halfway down the A1 on our way back from holiday, so I’m hoping that I can make sense of my scribbled notes (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving at the time!) and make it an even better book to read.

I did also make some progress on the setting and characters for The Witch Lord’s Apprentice, although that’s still very much in early planning. I’m annoyed that I can’t share Small Places with you now, or that I haven’t gotten any further with Dusk, but life happens. I hope you’re all managing ok, staying safe – and if you’re interested, there’s a few holiday snaps from Scotland below.

The view from our Airbnb!
Lochside
No-one for miles 🙂

What happened in September? Resting, re-charging and a little Dusk

Hi team! It’s still just about September, but this’ll be a shortish update. I’ve been trying to recharge over the last few weeks after getting knocked sideways by an illness – thankfully not the dreaded ‘C’-word, but still something that saw me sleeping a lot and generally doing anything other than working and writing.

Thankfully, this also seems to have recharged my brain a little – I’m not entirely sure how season five of Prison Break, both seasons of The Order, the first half of Once Upon a Time and quite a few books managed to do it, but I’m slowly starting to get back into Dusk. I’m still only averaging 10k words a month, which is a bit measly, but I’m feeling better about it, and we’re currently sat at around 69k. It’s definitely going to be longer than Parasites – I’m still four or five chapters off finishing one of the major story strands, and only about a quarter through the other – but that’s pre-edits, of course.

Everything else is on hold, but in the meantime, I’ve written a short blurb for Dusk – hopefully this isn’t too much of a tease; we’re probably looking at a release date of mid- next year, but it’ll be sooner if I can, promise!

You can also read this on my Books page, but here it is:

It’s two years since Kael and Alessia returned from their expedition to find a solution to the big crunch, but things haven’t gone according to plan. Despite an unexpected source of help, Lyra’s resources are being used up faster than ever before, and one of the monstrous creatures from Carthusian, the city-ship, seems to have been sighted in Vulpes, Lyra’s farming city.

With new enemies coming from unexpected places, Vega’s mayor Alhambro is determined to find a faster way to navigate the thinnings linking universes, dispatching Basteel and Slyph into the diplomatic and scientific nightmare in Vulpes. At the same time, Kael and Alessia embark on a mission crossing a forbidden asteroid, an abandoned planet previously home to a super-advanced race and into the unknown.

But as a new, hostile species capable of traversing the thinnings emerges, it seems that the sun is setting on Lyra for the very last time.

I’m psyched about it and can’t wait to bring it out to you all. As ever, take care, stay healthy, and be kind.

What happened in August? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates – and BBNYA news

Hi solarpunk fans! I hope that you’re all faring well. I didn’t get around to doing a July update, so here’s August – I’ll be honest with you, 2020 is a tough year and progress has been superslow. But we’re getting there.

So, where are we at right now? Well, Dusk is currently sitting at just over 58k words, but my writing brain does not want to engage over about 27 degrees Celsius. It’s also quite difficult to know exactly what percentage of the book that constitutes – the book flips between two different parties of people, and after struggling to shift my brain every chapter, I’m just writing the entire storyline of one before moving to go back to the other later on.

I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but it seems to sit best with my head, so I’m going with it!

Small Places, my urban fantasy title, is getting close. It’s been read by two beta readers and a sensitivity reader, and generally got positive and constructive feedback. It’s now being read by – gulp – my wife, who has a laser eye for detail. She hasn’t read any of my work before, so this has been a fairly nerve-wracking affair so far. I’m pleased to say that her feedback is all incredibly useful, but that doesn’t make it any easier, psychologically!

She’s also extremely busy with her job at the moment, so that’s slightly slowing things down. The book is dedicated to her though, so I thought it only fair to give her a look at it first. Once she’s done, I’ll give it a final read to make sure everything is consistent and smooth, then it’ll need to be print / kindle formatted … but then we’re good to go! I’m excited to have you all read it at some stage, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it seven times in one year, which is essentially what I’ve done so far. 

I’ve also got to level with you about Wild Court. It’s stalled again. It really needs a huge amount of focus, inspiration and love to get going, so once I’ve finished Dusk, I’m going to see how I’m feeling. If I’m in a good place, I’ll strip it back, re-plan it and absolutely run at it. If not, then I’ll either work on the third book in The Navigator series, or the sequel to Small Places, although the latter is only half planned out at the moment. I guess that makes Navigator 3 more likely…  

In other news, I was absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the BBNYA Awards – Parasites is currently in the Top 30 shortlist, with the Top 10 to be decided by September 30th. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Universal Maxims

(And no, not the teenager’s magazine)

When I was at school, I took a very bizarre set of A-Levels, eventually swapping Maths for Sociology after a few weeks of trying out statistics. The head of our sixth form asked me exactly why I’d do something like that, to which I replied ‘I want to know why people do things’.

Well, Sociology didn’t really help with that, and to be honest, neither did my Psychology degree, but I tried my best – and took a number of Philosophy modules at the same time. After graduation, I thought I’d missed a trick by not studying more Philosophy, so threw myself into more studying – but I found it all quite abstract and theoretical. It took me a long time to realise that what I needed was a much more personal explanation and reasoning – perhaps only for my own actions and thoughts, rather than rules that ‘should’ or ‘could’ apply to others.

However, literature has also provided me with a couple of very simple ideas that I’m quite fond of. The first of these is one that a lot of you will already be familiar with – Journey before Destination, from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. It’s an excellent sentiment, and whilst perhaps not an entirely realistic one (any fans of 24 would certainly disagree in favour of a more Utilitarian argument) I’m a fan. I do believe that pursuing goals can be valuable, but since we spend a lot more time journeying than arriving, a purely goal-oriented view of life can be extremely harmful. After all, life is something of a journey, and how we spend that journey is definitely more valuable than the end destination!

My second favourite is Choose Again, from Dan Simmons’ Endymion duology. We grow up with so many fixed views on what is right and wrong, good and bad, shameful or worthy of respect, that often we forget that these views came from older times, times when we were children, or that they were inherited from people with blinkered views. Choose Again doesn’t necessarily mean choosing something different, but it does mean periodically revisiting the choices that you’ve made, as a (hopefully) increasingly-wiser adult. If you choose the same thing again, then that’s great. If not – then hopefully you’re choosing something better.

I’m not saying that these are the only principles that guide my life, but they’re certainly two that I value. I’d be intrigued to hear yours.

What happened in June? Dusk, Wild Court and Small Places progress, life issues and gorgeous books

June has been a fairly crap month writing-wise, and there’s not a lot to report on the writing front. I’ve written a measly eleven thousand more words on Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, taking it to 37k, and unfortunately progress on Wild Court has stalled again. Thankfully, despite not really being able to travel far, I’ve had a few ideas for the sequel to Small Places, and even tentatively titled it, but my structuring ran out of steam after what is probably the first third of the book!

After a fairly long dry spell, I’ve been writing more again in the last few days, but I think lockdown has definitely taken its toll. I suspect that, like others, needing to feel in control of my own life is something of a pre-requisite for functioning like a proper human being. I’ve really been trying to look after myself – running does actually help me, and I managed to see (socially distanced) friends the other day, which was a lovely slice of normality.

However, there’s still trouble brewing in my ‘real’ job. I’m working fewer hours, which is something of a double-edged sword. I have more time to write, but am slightly dreading my next paycheque! And despite working fewer hours for the last few weeks, I’ve just not been motivated to write.

Still, I’m hopeful. I’ve written more in the past two days than I have in the preceding two weeks, so with any luck it was just a small dry spell. As you might have seen from my Instagram, I’ve also been very lucky to get the Illumicrate version of The Last Wish and the Folio Society version of Howl’s Moving Castle. They’re both absolutely gorgeous and I’m looking forward to diving back into them – although I’ve also been reading the much-lauded Six of Crows and am just reading Crooked Kingdom, alongside Nora McKinney’s A Natural, which has been quite a change of genre for me!

Small Places is still being beta read, although one of my betas seems to have disappeared – so I can’t yet share a release date. I’m so keen for it to be read, but (especially since I’ve started to plan the sequel) I only want it out once it’s ready.

As ever, please take care, look after yourselves and read bloody amazing books.

What happened in May? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates, pandemic problems and amazing books

April and May have been strange and difficult months, so I’ll start with the book stuff to avoid boring anyone with the personal updates if that’s not what you’re here for.

First up, progress on Dusk (Parasites sequel) has been a little slow – I’m on about 26k words, up from 15k this time last month. When I was working on Small Places, I once wrote twelve thousand words in two days over the Christmas break, so I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed at that … but in fairness they were very different times.

That said, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s coming together, although it definitely needs editing; I wrote a Basteel chapter that clocked in at about 4.5k words on its own! There’s a reasonable chunk of the book that takes place on the rest of Lyra, which was something I really wanted to do after finishing Parasites. You only really see Vega in the first book, so I wanted to explore a little more of the rest of the planet. 

We’re also coming close to the three-month deadline that I set for querying Small Places, so I may well be looking for beta readers and other bits and pieces soon, as well as setting a publishing date! With all the stuff that’s been going on, I tend to forget about it, then remember it quite fondly. I’m just not sure whether to do a last (sixth? seventh?) re-read before getting it out to a beta, but time will tell…

Finally, I’ve also started looking at Wild Court again, the low fantasy WIP I parked around the 50k word mark in the middle of last year. It’s now around 26k, although I’m finding that re-writing and re-editing a novel is much harder than writing it from scratch!

Onto the other stuff: I don’t know if any of you are gamers, but I remember when the first Baldur’s Gate game came out and there’s a narrated chapter break where there’s a reference to a journey being ‘an unfamiliar blur to your fractured nerves’, and that’s really how this month has felt. In mid-April, there were some difficult discussions at work where a few of my colleagues and I were faced with the possibility of a 40% pay cut. Thankfully that didn’t come to pass, but our physical office did close, so I had to go into London to pick up a few personal things that I’d left there.  

I was half expecting it to be apocalyptically quiet, but there were people around – lots of construction workers, and a small number of people travelling like me. There were maybe ten people in total on my train, so I was able to socially-distance quite easily.

My wife was furloughed fairly recently, which was initially stressful, but she’s now really enjoying it! We were supposed to be on holiday between two weddings a few weeks ago, and perversely, on the day my friend was supposed to be getting married (now postponed), he got hit by a car. He’s doing ok, thankfully.

I also found out that a guy I knew a while back had died, which was really awful. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, but he was a great guy, impossible to dislike. The silver lining was that I did get to attend the funeral remotely, which was very sad – but I was glad I could.

I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I’ll also add that I’ve been reading a lot more during lockdown; I’ve just finished the slightly disappointing Agency by William Gibson, but did re-read the magnificent The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is just a masterpiece. I’m now reading Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which I’ve enjoyed before – I’ve got a weakness for South African Sci-Fi (Chappie and District 9, anyone?). As you might have gathered, I’m also a bit of a gamer and Terraria has been absorbing a lot of my time recently – the final update launches today, which I’m quite excited about – there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything!

I do hope that you’re all staying safe, well and healthy – take care.