One of the things I've been thinking about recently is character and plot. Specifically, in the sense of having a protagonist who does what a protagonist is supposed to do in traditional story construction - a person or persons facing a dilemma they have to overcome by dint of their own efforts.

My first novel, Touched by an Angel, didn't sell. I wrote it in six months in, I think 1997, when I had just finished a college course and was waiting around to see if I could get some kind of a job. The book did get me an agent, though, the same agent who recently secured me my two-book deal. It was good enough in that sense. So why didn't a publisher take it? Primarily because the main character was swept along by events. Things happened to her, rather than because of her. In the best situation, a book ends when the main character brings that ending about through their actions, whether that ending is a good thing for that character or not, is another matter altogether.

On the other hand, look at the first Indiana Jones movie. In that, Indy is trying to get to various artefacts before the Nazis do, and spends much of the story chasing around after the same things, occasionally beating the bad guys. But at the end, on the island where the big ceremony takes place and Indy and his girlfriend have sneaked along on a Nazi sub (if I recall), they are captured and tied up. They keep their eyes shut while the ceremony takes place, and all the Nazis are torn apart by demons emerging from the Ark.

Now, that movie is rightly regarded as a classic. But if you think about the ending for a second, the Nazis aren't defeated because of Indy's actions. They're defeated by something beyond the grave, and Indy is effectively a spectator. This isn't in any way to imply it's an unsatisfactory ending, it isn't. But it's the kind of thing I've been thinking about a lot recently, since I'm at the three-quarters mark with Against Gravity. My protagonist is at a certain point, and rather than being an observer of the ending of the book, I want him to be an active and important participant. Otherwise, why write about him at all? But I've been thinking, he doesn't necessarily have to be responsible for exactly how the ending comes about (thought it might be preferable, in terms of plot satisfaction), as long as he does have some influence over it.

But this is the one thing I've come to realise I find the hardest when I'm writing. Plot, no big problem. Writing the prose, no big deal. But combining the two in such a way that my protagonist(s) have an active part in how the plot actually develops? Now that I find difficult.


Thinking about ... cover designs. They asked me for ideas, and now I'm wracked with indecision and the fear that whatever I suggest could turn out to be the wrong, wrong, wrong thing. I emailed Mike Cobley (who's got the Shadowkings books coming out from Simon and Schuster, used to share a flat with him) and asked him how it worked with him. He said he came up with something 'symbolic' of the events in the book. Hah. Worked for Shadowkings, unlikely to work for Angel Stations.

But they did ask who I fancied for the cover. I put Steve Stone on the top of the list - he does amazing digital artwork, and funnily enough did the cover for Shadowkings. After that, Fred Gambino, who's done a lot of good stuff, particularly the covers for Jack Womack's Ambient novels. And after that, a guy whose name I can't remember, even though I emailed Edinburgh author Charles Stross for his name; he did the cover for the US edition of Stross's new book, Singularity Sky. I liked it. Very pretty. Always had a soft spot for big things emerging from cloud cover.

Basically, I've been spending the past week or two banging my head off a wall coming up with some stuff for my agent - like, an author bio, stuff I've done, and as a result I sit in front of my computer, suddenly lost for words ... The most depressing thing out of a range of questions designed to spur me on was the one which asked, 'most exciting thing I've ever done'. Er ...

Er ...

Nope, still can't think of anything.

Apart from selling my first novel, of course! Now there's an answer.

Expect me to take up mountain climbing or air-sea rescue sometime in the next year. Heh.


At the moment, I"m about eighty thousand words into the first draft of Against Gravity, and mentally kind of putting together a schedule for my work over the next year. Sometime in the next two to three months I'm going to get an editorial letter alongwith requests for various changes small and big to Angel Stations, so obviously it's a good idea to get as much of Against Gravity out of the way before I get to that point. I estimate the AG first draft will be finished in about a month, possibly even less. I'm rather hoping a contract for me to sign will also turn up along with the editorial letter. Another good reason to get AG towards a more-or-less submissable point is, if they don't need any/or not too many changes to it, then I'll get a first payment for that as well before the year is out. I hope.

Other projects beckon. A kind-of collaboration with another writer, Fergus Bannon, which has been on the cards for a while. That book is called Judgment, although I'm not yet sure exactly what my input on that particular project is going to turn out to be. It may be major or minor; primarily, it's Fergus' book, but for complicated - very complicated - reasons, I'm getting involved with the writing, and if it works out we're talking about having it come out as co-authors, money possibly split down the middle.

In the meantime, my payment is in for this year's Eastercon, still getting travel sorted out though. My dad has offered to use his air miles to secure me a flight down to Birmingham from which I can then take a train to Hinckley, although I frankly I hate and detest flying. I know that's illogical, it's not bleeding natural being in a tin box far above the ground with nothing holding me up. Utterly terrifying. Yeah, sod it. I'll just take the train.


I'm still knocked for six. It's the main reason I haven't been blogging. The book deal sort of came down from the heavens and sent my normal behavioural patterns reeling. Apart from that, nothing is different. The book (the second one of the deal, Against Gravity) is up to about seventy thousand words. It's going not bad - I think - but I'm writing the first draft of this one in a much more fast and loose style than before. Primarily because there's no point trying to perfect something you might end up ripping apart later on once you decide something needs to be different in order to support the story you're trying to tell. And to work that out, you need - a lot of the time - to write it first.

I'm working on ideas for a website for myself, as well as trying to get things arranged for going down to the convention. it's a pain, getting all these details worked out. slightly less than a month away now, so best to get it out of the way. not sure, either, if i can even get a room in the hotel itself. still, had a flick through the seacon website and noticed a lot of familiar names, a lot of - ahem - other authors.

God, I love saying stuff like that.


Sunday night and I'm just beginning to come to terms with the book sale earlier this week. I've decided to just stay in Glasgow for the Friday and MJ's birthday, and get a very early train to the Eastercon near Coventry on the Saturday morning. So tomorrow I have to get something sorted out for the hotel and convention. I still have a month's grace, however. Plenty of time to get things sorted out. Against Gravity is up to about 62,000 words at the moment.


Today I had a friend, Travis, a pro photographer, take some pictures of me in his vaguely Hannibal Lecter basement studio to send to my agent to go along with the press stuff that'll be going out with the news of the sale of my two books. I suppose I could have just taken a couple of shots with a borrowed instamatic in the park, but I figured I might as well get someone to do it (for thirty quid) who actually knows what they're doing.

It's a strange process, very unreal. You're asked to move your head here, your eyes there, and the feeling is one of being in a very unnatural pose. Against my expectations, the photographs (Low-resolution previews on a digital camera screen, the expensive type) looked fairly natural, though unsurprisingly, posed. My favourite - though not necessarily the one I'd send to the agent - should have a subtitle along the lines of, 'writer by day, detective by night'. Sort of looking over the back of my shoulder at the camera, with the collar of my jacket up. Very Hollywood.

The other interesting thing about having your pictures taken with all these powerful lights shining in your eyes is that when you see the end result, it's an unavoidable reminder that you're really not young anymore. I'm 38 in a couple of months, and looking at some of those pictures I felt every one of those years. I came away from the shoot with a certain determination to lose weight and get more exercise. At least the good weather is coming in, so I have no excuse not to get out of the house and go cycling at least a couple of times a week.


Suddenly, my life is so busy.

Pan are going to pay for my hotel room for a couple of nights at this year's Eastercon, which means all I have to do is pay for my membership and get myself down there (probably by train on the early Saturday). My editor will be there, as will John Jarrold, who was involved in the decision to buy my books. I also have to write a bio for myself - more extensive than previously requested by my agent, something that can be used in a press release, I suspect - plus they want a photograph. So I'm getting a local photographer, Travis, to do some head and shoulders shots on Saturday afternoon for about thirty quid.

In the meantime, I've also had an invite to the Tor UK official launch which is at the ICI in London Wednesday coming, but it's too soon for a) me to get somebody to cover for me at work and b) for my brain to be able to cope with it yet. But there'll be a second, less official 'mini launch' at Eastercon.

Being wined and dined by a publisher. Yeah ... I like that.

Entries may get more sporadic due to increased workrate. But Against Gravity is at 58,697 words.


Do you know, it actually gets better.

I got another email from my agent when I got home late last night which made my jaw hit the floor. Pan/Tor UK have increased the offer to 10,000 pounds a book. Shall I say that again? Originally it was 8,000 a book, now it's 10,000 a book. Why? Because they want the translation rights as well. As my agent Dorothy says, it sort of implies they'll be giving the books something of a push.

This is, as they say, a generous offer.

At some point I'm going to start working on that official author website. Something good ...

The other fantastic thing about this is that as long as I can keep up the part-time work and maintain most of the savings I have (about one and a half thousand pounds, on which I can draw on) then, depending how long it takes the separate chunks of money to come trickling in, I will have no problem being able to afford a deposit and buy a house. And, if I'm lucky and I find the right property, it might even be a house in the West End of Glasgow, the only part of the city I ever really want to live and work in. The 'right property' being one with enough space to rent a room out to students at the local University.

Amazing. Overnight, my life has changed, completely, literally. However did that happen.
Well, it looks like I'm a real writer after all.

I got an email from my agent this afternoon telling me - I had to read it two or three times before it sunk in what I was reading - that I am being given an immediate offer of seven and a half thousand pounds for Angel Stations, to be published sometime next year (I presume, knowing the slow movements of the publishing industry) by Pan's new book imprint, Tor UK. The book, however, will need revisions, which are of course no problem. Nonetheless, it's a pretty special thing to get a straight-up offer like that, instead of a more typical 'revise it first and then we'll talk money' situation. So I'm very lucky. I'll get half this amount on signing the contract, the other half on (if I recall, not having the print-out to hand) publication. Keep in mind, of course, my agency (the Dorian Literary Agency) will take their percentage cut. And then there's the inevitable taxes, somewhere down the line ...

But it gets better. Since I'm already a fair bit into Against Gravity, I've sold that too. For eight thousand pounds, a quarter up front (I think - darn, where is that bit of paper??).

The funny thing is, it hasn't really sunk in yet. I've been working so hard towards this for so long now, it's ... almost but not quite ... not a surprise.

If I go through to my kitchen, there's a board on the wall with photos and old ticket stubs etc pinned up on it. One of those photos is from ten years ago, when I still had really long hair. There are three people in the picture. On the left is me. On the right is Mike Cobley, my old flatmate who has a fantasy trilogy halfway through from Simon and Schuster's Earthlight imprint. And in between is the guy I interviewed for a small press science fiction magazine, is Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the highly influential Red Mars trilogy. He is a Big Name writer.

At the time the picture was taken, both me and Mike were years from being published novelists. Years and years and years from it. But now, when I look at the picture, what I see is three novelists, and that amazes me. I'm going to scan it in and put a link up sometime when I get the chance.


I've sold Angel Stations.

Actually, no. I've sold both Angel Stations and Against Gravity.

More details later.


Up to 51,705 words now. Jim Campbell is back down from the Highlands and looking after his elderly granny, who may not be long for the world. And I ended up playing with Al's portastudio - I had one at the end of the Eighties, and let me tell you, they've come a long way. The most serious threat to my writing I've yet encountered.


I've been wondering about the idea of maintaining two blogs ... since the blog I keep here feels like two combined into one. On the one hand, there's the personalstuff about my life, the people I hang out with, that kind of thing. On the other, there's the writing. When I look at other writer's blogs, they're very focused on the work - their personal lives don't come into it at all. But I've intermittently kept diaries since I was very young, so writing about the intricacies of my daily life makes sense to me.

What I'll probably do is this. If and when I sell a book, that's when the blogs get split into two. One for work-related writings, the other just for my personal life. That makes sense. After all, when many pro authors write blogs these days, it's towards keeping a high profile, so that people who like their books can read about them and their ideas. I don't need to do that as I don't actually have an audience. Yet. When the time comes, however ...

A touch tired today, having been dragged out by Dave for what was meant to be a quiet drink for the sake of leaving the house, but which rapidly turned into a major expedition to the Garage nightclub. A disconcerting number of people asked if they could try on my hat, which was brought under the highly delusional impression that on my head it would have the same effect as the hat worn by Matthew Broderick in the remake of Godzilla. Pity me, for I am foolish.


Did get out of the house. Got back home after work and dragged both of us down to Waterstone's to shop for a book for my Dad's birtday. I buy everybody books since you can't go wrong with them. I feel obliged to always pick the best, most interesting or unusual but nonetheless genuinely really interesting books. This time it was 'Low Life' by Luc Sante, a history of the gangs of new york (No I haven't seen the movie - yet), but it's the same kind of stuff. Read a little about it - enough to know I'll have to buy a copy of it myself.

We stopped off at a Yates on the way home, had one of those cheap two for one dinner things. Home for tv - Buffy. Yeah, yeah, stop snickering in the back. Picked up a second-hand copy of Ken MacLeod's The Cassini Division in the British Heart Foundation shop for 1.50 - couldn't read his first novel, but that was a couple of years ago, so I'll give him a second try.

Oh yeah - read about a song on a William Gibson blog, so here's one to download illegally and feel tortured for doing it - Hurts, a Nine Inch Nails cover ... by Johnny Cash. Really. And it's very good. All together now; like a burning ring of fire ...

Your blogger would like to advise you that his novel word count is currently at 47,751 words. Thank you.


I feel I'm on a bit of a roll, which is a good thing in some ways, and a bad thing in others. Good because I'm getting lots of writing done. Bad because I spend far too much of my evening sitting by my pc typing away. Dave called earlier in full speeding-rabbit mode asking me to come around and hang out but I turned him down, thinking, I have to get some writing done.

Thing is, I usually finish work about two in the afternoon, and what I should be doing when I get home is working on the book. Instead I fritter my time away until about six or seven, then I start writing, and feel too guilty about nothaving done any writing yet to go out and do anything ... note to self: MJ and I should get out just a little bit more often. With this in mind, I told Dave I'd come see him Friday evening, although I could tell he was bouncing off the walls with nothing to do and Hetta and Andy out working or whatever.

What else? For a while I was thinking the book was going to come in at well over a hundred thousand, but now I'm wondering if it might come in at slightly less - which is a good thing, because books don't have to be fat to be good. Al and I discussed this a while back, tha prior to the invention of the word processor books were normally maybe seventy to eighty thousand words long. Now they're maybe up to twice that.

Word count is currently 46,152.


Watched the last episode of The Book Group on Channel 4 last night and it rocked, much better than the previous episodes of this series. There were times when it was so tooth-grindingly embarrassing in its observations i had to flick over to News 24 for a few moments now and then ... the karaoke sequence in particular, aaargh ... I do wonder if they intend doing a third series, though it's occurred to me at this moment right now that I really, really wouldn't be surprised if the American networks picked it up and remade it for the US market. God knows what they'd do with it, though ...

Word count is 43,796.


Quiet day; MJ is off down south to Liverpool visiting a friend, Donna, not back til tomorrow night. Will admit to being a bit bored with nobody to talk to. Made up for it by writing a shitload. Usual day at work. Spoke briefly to Mike on the phone after a copy of a small-press mag Roadworks came through the post. I remember when stuff like that mattered to me ...

Completed most of the buddhist retreat section of the book - Peter's first visit, at least. Never really timed myself writing, but it's 11:30 now and I'm pretty sure I started writing again (after this afternoon, when I got back from work) about ten?

Anyway, word count is 41,861, so that's over two thousand words tonight. It feels like it's making a difference not revising the text as I write it; it'll be pleasantly unfamiliar to me when I finally get around to revising. Of course, having a detailed plan and sticking to it works wonders.


Weekends go too fast. Seen some nice-sounding design jobs online and in the papers - I've been tempted, but I've got plenty of money in the bank just now and the part-time money is enough to survive on, so I'll just keep blasting ahead with the writing and see where I get.

Up to 39,603 words now.


Crystal power? Not likely. Read this in New Scientist during a brief stopover at Partick Library this afternoon, on the way to pick up some stuff at Safeway for tea.
"CRYSTAL homeopathy combines the principles of homeopathic medicine with the healing power of crystals. That's the claim made in ww.the-crystal-chamber.net, a site offering very special crystals for sale. These crystals, while they were forming in caves over thousands of years, have picked up minute, homeopathic quantities of substances that will benefit you through their influence on your aura.
Does this sound like complete garbage to you? A Feedback reader who we shall call Gareth Thomas thought it did, so he posted a "provocative enquiry" at www.ukpagan.com, a site where believers in all things mystical gather to discuss matters of common interest. Using the pseudonym "disturber", he challenged believers in such therapies to convince him that they had any effect whatsoever other than providing vague emotional satisfaction. He singled out the claims made for crystal homeopathy as being "transparent balderdash".
The response from ukpagan devotees was immediate and irate. Some were so rude the forum's moderators had to remove the posts. All insisted on the validity of their beliefs, some even referring to theoretical physics to support them. None questioned the claims of crystal homeopathy.
Thomas persisted. He copied the full crystal homeopathy text from the Crystal Chamber site into ukpagan and criticised it sentence by sentence, declaring it a cynical, scientifically groundless scam. Still, no one agreed. Yet more people wrote heated posts defending crystal homeopathy and branding Thomas a cynic.
What none of them knew was that Thomas had created the Crystal Chamber site himself and that "crystal homeopathy" was his own invention. Depressed by the abundance of absurd claims for quack alternative therapies, he had set up the site as a credulity experiment.
He continued to have fun with it, posing for a while on ukpagan under a new pseudonym as the Crystal Chamber's proprietor and enlisting enthusiastic support for his site. One "crystal expert" even offered to help him run the business.
But all good things have to end. If you now click on the top left corner of www.the-crystal-chamber.net, you get a statement that begins: "Nothing in this site makes any sense. It was all made up in a few hours to test susceptibility and gullibility." And Thomas has posted a final message on ukpagan explaining that the site and all his previous messages have been hoaxes.
Meanwhile, no wallets have been harmed by his experiment. He has torn up the cheques sent to him by people who wanted to buy his crystals and refunded credit card sales.
His one regret now that it's all over is that he resisted the temptation to claim on his website that his crystals had been "mined by elves".

Laugh? I nearly died.

Had a nice night Friday, by the way. Actually went out. Gasp. Had a drink with Dave, Kerry and her boyfriend Nick in a pub called Waxy O'Connor's in town, which looks a bit like you'd imagine a Hobbit crack den would look. Must remember to catch last episode of Book Group on Tuesday, since I missed it that night.
Unleashing the inner nerd: reading this piece about operating on a Cthulhu soft toy reminded me of something. I have a teddy bear - no manly jokes, please - I got from an ex many years ago. What makes it unusual is that it has three arms (two on one side), two heads, one of which sports an eyepatch. It's based on a character from Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy called Zaphod Beeblebrox whom, you've guessed, had three arms and two heads. The bears were created by a UK Adams fan club called ZZ Plural 9 Alpha or something like that.

I mention the two-headed bear merely because I enjoy the reaction I get to it from people who don't know what it is. Mostly, people pick it up without really seeing the 'extra features'. It's the dawning, bug-eyed horror in their faces that always brings a special moment to me. This is invariably followed by dropping the bear as if it had been soaked in sulphuric acid, and, sometimes, screaming, or some variation on 'this is sick! There are children like that!'.

It's these little moments that make life worth living.

Word count for today is 37,996.