My 2016 TV Show of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

This one gave me a little difficulty. We all know that we’re in a so-called “Golden Age of Television”, and as much as that phrase is tired and overused I can’t deny that with subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime I’ve had copious excellent television to get through. By rather than one of the series that everyone’s already raved about online, I’m going to pick one that we started watching on a whim without knowing anything about it and turned out to the be one of the cleverest TV shows I’ve seen in a long time.

ceg

On the day Rebecca Bunch is finally about to reach her lifelong goal of being made a Partner in a prestigious New York legal firm, she is suddenly struck by just how miserable she truly is. Then, mid-breakdown – she runs into an old boyfriend. Releasing that the time she dated him – for just 3 months one summer over a decade ago – was the last time she was truly happy, Rebecca drops everything and follows him across the country to win him back.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the smartest pieces of television writing I’ve watched in years. While the premise could be one of a thousand bland rom-coms or generic sitcoms, writer and star Rachel Bloom instead created something that’s both a fun musical show and a deep look into the divide between what society has taught us to think we want and what we actually need.

Rebecca drops a high-flying legal career to be with the boy of her dreams. Why wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? They had a Meet-Cute on the day she needed it the most. That’s what television and movies have taught us; that our fairytale will come true if we just believe enough to fight through all obstacles. Why should it matter that she’s stalked him across the country? Or that he’s been with the same girlfriend for fifteen years? Or that her actions throw the lives of so many people into chaos? It’s meant to be!

Ultimately, this show is about the delusions we build for ourselves to hide from the truths we don’t want to face.

While also being a light-hearted musical.

Did I say the writing on this show was really clever?ceg1cast3_0509ra-max-620x600

It’s the layers to the characters and the plots that make this show unmissable. They’ve managed to avoid or subvert every trope in their path, without a single lazy path taken. If two characters have an ‘amusing misunderstanding’, rather than stretching that out for an entire episode they will talk it out and focus instead on the underlying issues. We’re introduced to characters such as “the boss who wants to be everyone’s friend”, or “the controlling bitch girlfriend”, or “the love interest”, but as the series progresses you see how none of them are solely defined by these labels. You also see why they are this way. Why does the boss so desperately want people to like him? Why is the love interest’s girlfriend such a controlling bitch? Why does the love interest stay with his girlfriend even though she’s so unpleasant and demanding? And, most impressively, all of them change and grow in a way that suit the character rather than the longevity of the show. Or getting preachy.

Basically, if you’ve not caught this show I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do. It’s currently half way through its second season, and you won’t find many shows so that subvert television character tropes so well.

 

2016: Looking back, then forward

So, that was 2016. It’s been a bit of a year all told, hasn’t it? Remember that old curse; “May you live in interesting times”? I think a lot of us have gained a new appreciation for that one over the last twelve months.

But anyway, the Christmas trees are up, the cards posted, and the final gifts are being wrapped, so as the year draws to a close let’s have a look back on everything that’s been happening here.

2016, and things that have been

The big news this year has been, of course, the publication of The Æther Collection, a themed collection of horror short stories. (If you’ve not picked up your copy yet, you can do so now in paperback or ebook now).

fb ad-01

My original reason for deciding to do a collection of short stories rather than a single full-length novel was that it would allow me to post them up as and when they were completed. After finishing The Serpent’s Eye I didn’t want to have another two years pass by without having anything new to release, so I thought rather than intersperse a longer project with breaks for short stories I would just do a full collection I could just release as I went.

It was an interesting experiment, but I’m glad I did it. It’s taught me a lot about structure and theme, as well as giving me very useful experience working in a non-linear fashion. I’ve always been someone who revises their book in a linear order and finds it hard to jump about their manuscript while being able to keep the overall picture in my head. Hopefully, I’ll now be a little better at focusing on small sections in isolation, working on the weakest points in a narrative without having to work through parts that don’t need work as urgently.

With this being a short story collection, I honestly wasn’t expecting any attention from agents. I’ve been told directly that authors aren’t picked up based on short stories. So the fact that I had three personal, positive responses has really picked me up. While – as I predicted – none of them wanted to sign me up this time around, each of them said they really liked my writing and asked me to send them a working version of my next full novel as soon as I think it’s ready. So that’s one step closer.

The decision to focus my time on The Æther Collection has meant that I’ve not been able to get much in the way of stand-alone short stories done this year. I have been working on a couple, as and when I could but, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any placed. I do have a couple nearly ready to go out, and a few submissions I’ve not heard back from yet, so fingers crossed for better luck next year.

I have, however, had a couple of articles published on the Huffington Post. The first was a defence of the NHS on the anniversary of my wife’s transplant, and the second was a few thoughts on the state of the UK Labour Party. I enjoy doing these more serious works every so often, but they tend to only get written when Inspiration and Having Time coincide.

fullsizeoutput_31b7

The Festival of Writing in York was again one of the highlights of my year. Getting to visit York is always worth it, and getting to spend the weekend hanging out with other writers is even better. I got to catch up with a couple of friends from 2015 and make a couple of new ones. I’d really love to go to more events like this. There are plenty of conferences and lectures around the country each year. I know it’s partly laziness that keeps me from properly researching, but I know that time and money constraints will always be an issue. Maybe in 2017 I’ll be able to put a little more effort into this side of things and I’ll get to a few more.

And the other new thing I tried this year was my Halloween Countdown. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I think I’d like to make it an annual thing. Next year I hope to try and make it from films released during the previous year, rather than from the last few years. Not only would this mean I was helping share the work of hard working, aspiring filmmakers, it means I have an excuse and reasons to spend my time watching horror shorts online.

So hopefully this October I’ll be able to do a countdown of my favourite shorts released in 2017. Maybe I’ll even get the countdown right this time.

Oh, and thanks to my sister – who is also my designer – I was able to attend the memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t seem much in the grand scheme of things, but being able to attend such a celebration, surrounded by other fans, was a really wonderful experience and helped me say goodbye to the man who really got me into reading, and therefore writing.

 

2017, and things that are to come

So, what do I have coming up next year?

My big project for 2017 is a novel, provisionally titled New Perceptions. (This is a very provisional title, mainly picked so I had something to name the Scrivener file when I started and so almost certain to change.) I’m not going to say much about it, as I don’t even have the first draft completed yet and there are likely to be many changes. Right now, I’m wrestling to get the third act together. I’m currently hoping to have something ready to get out to alpha-readers in the summer. Then, in an ideal world, I’d have something ready for agents by the end of the year, but I know full well it always takes longer than I’m hoping.

However, I can say that it will be a coming-of-age haunted house story and a full-length, single story novel. After a novella and a short story collection, I feel that my new project needed to be a full-length novel, both for creative and commercial reasons. Creative, because it’s the next logical step in my growth as a writer to show I’m able to grow and develop character and plot across 70,000 words. And commercial, as I’ve been told multiple times that agents and publishers will only pick up new authors with a full-length novel to sell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve already had agents ask to see a working draft so I’m telling myself I’m starting this one already a couple of steps ahead. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a couple of side projects – stories or articles, and of course blog posts – in between drafts, but we’ll see. I really want to focus on getting this complete over the next year, so may really need to focus.

So, here’s wishing you a great Christmas and an amazing 2017! Here’s hoping this one’s a little less “interesting”. Or at least only exciting in good ways.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now on Amazon, iBooks and other online stores. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.

 

 

 

Writing is hard work, but I love it

While I was finishing off The Æther Collection sitting deep within stories I’d read and reread so many times they had begun to loose all meaning, trying to polish them into their final shape, I couldn’t wait to wrap everything up so I could get working on something new. 

The idea of working on a fresh, first draft of a new story called to me. To be no longer polishing but just creating, with the excitement of new ideas and possibilities ready to be put onto the page. 

Now, as I struggle to make the third act of my new book work, I remember exactly how hard it is to do a first draft. How sometimes forcing a few interesting idea into a clear narrative can be so frustrating. How wrestling character arcs and plot threads into shape feels like an impossible task. When you just want to get a first draft created to you can have that reassurance that the story works, and you’re not wasting your time of a bad idea that just won’t work. When your word count mocks you, convincing you you’ll never get this thing up to the length of a full novel. 


Now I can’t wait until I’m redrafting again. To have the scaffolding up to work within. 

Sometimes, I have to wonder about how hard it can be to please ourselves. Is it human nature not to be satisfied with the now? Or is it simply that there is so much out there worth doing that even while we’re engaged in one thing we’re thinking about the other things we enjoy but can’t do at the same time? 

But either way, I’m writing. I couldn’t be happier. It’s weird how the things we love are still so fulfilling even when they are hard. 

Change: as good as a rest

Well, Iceland is beautiful.The landscapes you find there just by driving down the main roads is amazing. It’s not even something you have to hunt for off the beaten track. I mean, look at it…

img_0117

We decided that this year we’d do something different for a holiday. Rather than find somewhere hot and read by a pool for a week, we would go for an adventure. Iceland is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit. Partly for the scenery, and largely for the Northern Lights. Seeing the Northern Lights is one of my bucket list items. I can only imagine what it must be like to see them in person, dancing in the sky like ribbons of light. So flights and a hotel were booked, warm clothing was purchased, and off we went!

And did I see the lights?

Of course not.

Every single website and travel magazine on visiting Iceland repeatedly takes pains to point out there is no guarantee of seeing them when you visit. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t lucky this time. The weather wasn’t too bad, we had clear nights, it was just that the Lights didn’t show up for our week there.

Am I bummed? A little. How could I call the trip wasted when it consisted of views like this…img_0028

Or this…img_0070

Or this…img_8122
The entire country, at least the bits we saw, is breathtaking. We at least got snow, which covered the landscape in pure, white brilliance that didn’t melt for the entire week. It froze instead, which make walking an endurance test in most places, but that was a small prize to pay for the crystalline beauty that covered the world.

But my god, the wind! We were getting 46km/h gusts at points. We traveled down to Vik on the south coast on the Thursday and nearly lost one of the car doors to a gust. Literally. It almost came off the hinges and wouldn’t close. We had to call our emergency breakdown service and then drive to a garage whilst holding the door shut so they could fix it.

(Let this be a lesson in getting full insurance when renting a car, as doing so saved us over £1000 in repair fees for that one.)

But one thing this holiday lacked, in comparison to a beach holiday, was  reading/writing time. Normally I take a bag full of books with me, along with the Kindle App loaded onto my iPad. And I also fit in a large chunk of writing as well. This time the only reading I had time for was a little before bed. It felt odd. I don’t think I’ve ever had a holiday where I didn’t spend a large amount of my time reading. At least since I’ve been a teenager. One of the main points of a holiday has always been to relax and read.

The other thing way this differed from a traditional “summer” holiday is that by the end of it I was exhausted. By the time I got home I could literally barely think. I actually got quite worried that this trip wouldn’t have given me the rest I’d been needing, and would go back to the day job even more drained than I had been before, which in turn would lead to no energy for writing in my free time. Before I’d left I’d hit a wall with my new book and simply couldn’t see a way past, and was hoping the holiday would allow me to break through.

But it looks like I worried in vain. Yesterday lunchtime I sat down, and while I didn’t write any new words I was able to open up my notebook and start spilling out plot summaries and ideas, breaking down the first half of my new book in a way which seems to be allowing me to begin seeing past the block and into the second half!

So it looks like a change is as good as a rest. And even if you’re exhausted after your holiday, a week of sunrises like this really will refresh you mind.

img_0075

My notebook is dead. Long live my notebook!

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-13-41-16

My notebook has finally died. The binding has gone, and it is now a mere collection of paper collected together in its former covers.

It’s not been a bad innings for something I’ve been carrying around with me for seven years. And I mean literally seven years. The first entry in the book is a draft of a blog post I wrote about my upcoming wedding dated 15th September 2009.

That’s literally seven years ago to the day! 

How’s that for freaky?

There’s just so much in this little book; Story ideas, book drafts, brainstorming sessions, quick poetry, directorial notes, stage manager plans, to-do lists, job application notes, notes from seminars, room plans, timelines, meeting minutes, family trees. I wrote in a previous post how important a good notebook is to a writer, it feels truer than ever right now. There is a little piece of everything that was part of my life in the last seven years in here.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-13-41-33And today, seven years to the day when I made my first entry, its replacement has arrived.

Look at it. Isn’t this just a thing of beauty. What is it about a Moleskine notebook that’s just so… right. They have something different about them, but I can never put my finger on what.

Well, here’s to another seven years with my little green book.

Writer problems; unexpected inspiration

Last night I had a flash of inspiration, which now has developed into a full concept for a new fantasy/horror novel.

Now I just have to deal with the struggle of fighting down the urge to start developing this new idea further, as I’m already well into my next novel and have at least two more already on the shortlist for the one after this.

So, notes have been made and stored, with each idea written down safely. Now to let it percolate in my subconscious while I get working on the next one in line.

I guess I can’t complain that I have too many ideas for novels. It’s still a pain, though.

These people actually exist

Wow. Just… wow.

You know when you read something and you simply can’t grasp what caused somebody to actually make it public? That it has to be a joke. Or someone trying out old cliched self-help concept of writing an angry letter telling someone how you really feel, but then destroying it rather than sending it.

Well, it seems one guy hit “send” rather than “trash”.

Seriously, if you’re an aspiring writing who – like me – is putting yourself through the sometimes ego crushing process of trying to find an agent, please click the link for an example of exactly who you don’t want to be. (The link goes to a different blog who has screenshotted the original post, as I don’t want to the give the original poster the blog hits.)

I know all of us fear that one day we might have to face the fact that our writing just wasn’t good enough, but don’t take it out on the agent. And don’t – I’m amazed I even have to say this – don’t rant about said agent on the internet.

Seriously, it’s a relatively small industry. This man will never – ever – get an agent after this.

 

The Æther Collection Cover Reveal!

We’re almost there!

The story is locked down and I’m now just waiting on my last two copy editors to finish running through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Once that’s done and I’ve gone through it myself one final time, The Æther Collection will finally be ready for publication!

And, in honour of this, I thought it was time to officially reveal the cover art, provided by my wonderful designer (and sometime organ-donor) Emily.

cover 1

Eagle-eyed followers may well have spotted this image before, as it’s been going up on my various forms of social media recently, and has actually been the banner for this website for a couple of weeks. But this is the “official” launch, so take a moment to enjoy it.

Now begins the painstaking task of completing the manuscript and getting it published. This weekend has been spent sending things out to agents, but while I am waiting on responses the process of preparing everything to self-publish will begin. So, barring an agency picking this up and taking the tasks of publication out of my hands, or any unforeseen events that might cause further details, The Æther Collection should be out in August.

So, if anyone out there is interesting in maybe getting their hands on an early review copy, now’s the time to let me know.

 

To sleep, perchance to waste my time…

The whole “sleeping” nonsense is nothing but a pain.

Life is unavoidably divided between the things that we want to do and the things that we need to do. And as much as – if I were granted total freedom of definition – I would count writing as a need, I have to accept that it cannot as yet be categorised with such things as buying and preparing food, ensuring money is earned and bills are paid, keeping my home clean and maintained, attending to my physical and mental wellbeing, etc., etc. Only once these responsibilities are acquitted – or at least once I’ve planned for them to be acquitted at a later date – can I dedicate my time to what I want to do.

But I only have a certain amount of energy per day. I can’t write if I’m exhausted. On a normal day, I get very little time to get writing done. I can basically count on about 45 minutes on a weekday and maybe 30 or so each evening, but that is only as long as the day-job isn’t particularly stressful and I’m left with no spare energy and I don’t have some other tasks that need priority. Weekends can vary, but again they will often be taken up with other tasks that need doing.

So until I reach that point where I earn enough from my writing that it takes over from my day-job and so moves from a want to a need, I have to accept that I exist in a world where I have stuff to get done, and not enough time in the day to do it because I am burdened with the frustrating need to sleep.

But I would have time if I wasn’t burdened with this frustrating need to sleep.

Did you know that no one knows so certain even why we need sleep? There are various theories, but no one can give a definitive answer. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sleep – or at least curling up in bed – can be amazing. But I would like the choice!

Wouldn’t it be great if we had that choice? To simply decide that tonight I won’t sleep, as I have stuff to get done. If sleep was simply a way to pass the time when there was nothing else to get done? To live in a world where the day could be given over to responsibilities, and the night left free for us to get on with enjoying ourselves or working on personal projects?

Can science get on this, please? I’d be really grateful.