October: Wild Court paused, Dusk in editing

September and October were – strangely – pretty good months for writing. I reached about 90k words, or two-thirds of the way in, to Wild Court and then paused again. I’m not quite sure why this one is being so troublesome, but it’s falling into neat thirds, with a year-long pause between the first and the second, so I really hope this isn’t the case for the second and third! That said, it did allow me to go back to Dusk, the sequel to Parasites, which I started mapping out in early 2020, just as the pandemic started.

I’ve got three different introductions to Dusk, and no clear favourite. Thankfully, the rest of the book is much less troublesome, and after a fair amount of work, it’s now sitting at just north of 105k words (about the same length as Parasites) and I can just about claim that the first draft is finished.

There’s a lot of work to be done; there are at least two parts that just don’t work – one of them is just quite flat, and the other is a plot section that needs relatively major reworking, but I’ve got my eye on them, and they’re first and second on the list of a one-page word document entitled ‘Major Edits’. Admittedly, this document does seem to incorporate minor edits as well, but I suppose I can always retitle the file when I’m done with the major stuff.

All in all, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s come together. Kael and Alessia, along with the other major car crews, embark on an important mission to launch satellites from faraway worlds, gathering intelligence on the structure of the universes, while Basteel and Slyph head across Lyra to Vulpes, Lyra’s farming city, where there may be appearances of a creature worshipped as a deity on the city-ship of Carthusian. Of course, nothing is straightforward on either the rescue mission or the journey across the surface of a damaged asteroid to reach a planet formerly inhabited by a super-evolved species of aliens… 

It’s all compounded by a new threat, a robust and malevolent species seemingly incapable of diplomatic relations, throwing Lyra’s plans into disarray.

I’m not quite sure of when it’ll all come together – I doubt it’ll be this side of New Year, but it’ll certainly be early 2022 at some stage, and I’m also quite excited by the prospect of releasing both hardback and paperback versions, now that KDP allows both, alongside ebooks, of course.

I’ll keep you posted with any details about release as we get closer to the time, but for now, that’s about all. 

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!

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.

First Lines

The first lines of a book are vastly important. Lots of readers are very patient and willing to give books a chance, but when you’re reading something for the first time or from a new author, it can be make or break. And the first lines of certain books become famous in their own rights, like “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s the subject of pub quizzes and trivia games across the world!

I’ve fallen in and out of love with the first few lines from some of my books – and WIPs – but thought that it’d be fun to have a quick look at a few of them. Some of this stuff isn’t ‘in the wild’ yet, so hopefully it’s an interesting teaser rather than being cruel.

It’s a garden world this time.

Genetically engineered plants and trees, huge biodomes sprawling overhead; white metal honeycombs with transparent panels, most now missing or decayed.

This is from Parasites and I’m still pretty pleased with it. I really wanted to convey what Kael and Alessia do in the first line – exploring new worlds – but to also get across the emptiness, the silence and loneliness of the worlds that they explore.

“You know, for someone who hates people, you sure do care a lot about what they think,” the man next to me says slowly. He reeks of stale body odour and urine, overlaid with cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol.

We’re friends.

This is the first line from Wild Court, my paused WIP. It’s a fantastical look at the effect of declining empathy in our society, and opens with a conversation between one of the protagonists and their friend, who is experiencing homelessness. I’m really quite fond of this; the protagonist Ben is a quiet, isolated character with occasional anxiety, and I like the contrasts in this line. I’m keen to get back to the book at some stage, because I’m very fond of Alice, the nerdy archaeologist, and Matt, Ben’s laddish best friend. That said, there’s something that’s just not quite working for me in the book. I paused after about 50k words, which isn’t like me at all.   

As I remember it, and as far as anything really has a beginning or an end, it all began when I was ten. With childlike dreams of grandeur and adventure, my friend Sam and I got lost in the Royal Albert Hall at the prom one summer.

I’m slightly embarrassed about this one. It’s the first line from Aenigma, my first – and unpublished – book that desperately needs a rewrite. I’m assuming it’s how Christopher Paolini feels about Eragon in hindsight; great themes, lovely energy, but certainly not the work of a practiced writer. A lot about this book feels too personal, too emotional, and the pacing is way off at the end – but there’s definitely something there worth rescuing! I’m playing with a few ideas for it in the future; I could definitely see a grimdark interpretation of it working, but I’m not quite sure…

“But where’s the cake?” I blurt, staring through the window bemused and frustrated. “When did this happen? Why is there an antique shop here?”

Finally, this is from Small Places, my current WIP. I’m really undecided about it – the first two chapters are told from the perspective of the protagonist when he’s ten, so everything has to be from a slightly childlike-but-growing-up-fast perspective. I’ve changed it a couple of times, but quite like the indignation.

There we go; I’d be interested to hear of first lines that you love as well – what stands out for you?