December was something of a blur – the first half of the month I was re-starting my Pilates and Fitstep classes and getting used to being out and about, again. I was also still in close touch with my daughter and her family, as we are part of her support bubble.
As usual, I was slightly behind and disorganised with my Christmas preparations – but that wasn’t a particular problem, I reasoned, as we were going to have a very quiet day with just Himself, me and my sister… Until the new measures that came in a handful of days before Christmas wiped out my daughter and the children’s Christmas plans – they were no longer able to go and stay with their other grandparents for a short mini-break. So I suggested that they come to us for the day. And was then rushing around to ensure we made it as enjoyable a day as possible, given particularly awful year they’ve had, with COVID just making a horrible situation a whole lot worse.
Christmas Day went off well – and then we were lucky enough to have all three children stay over for a couple of nights, which was full-on, given it was the first time two-year-old Eliza had ever stayed with us. But that was a success, with her remaining happy throughout.
Reading I read sixteen books in December, with more wonderful reads qualitywise. My Outstanding Book of the Month was Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey.
My reads during December were: AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear. Review to follow.
Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. Review to follow.
Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom – Outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.
Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. Review to follow.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen Novella by Aliette de Bodard. Review to follow.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey – Outstanding audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of A Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. See my review.
The Woman in Blue – Book 8 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Min-review to follow.
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. See my review.
Guilt at the Garage – Book 20 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK In the Market for Murder – Book 2 of the Lady Hardcastle mysteries by T.E. Kinsey. Mini-review to follow.
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley. Review to follow.
Writing and Editing Given everything else that was going on – you won’t be surprised to learn that my work on Trouble with Dwarves, which is the second book in my Picky Eaters trilogy, featuring grumpy old dragon, Castellan, slowed down somewhat, though I’m happy with what I managed to achieve. I also completed a couple of editing projects for other folks, as well as continuing to work on my father-in-law’s project of writing his memoirs.
Overall, I wrote just under 30,000 words in December, with just under 14,500 on the blog, and just under 13,5,000 on my writing projects. This brings my final yearly wordcount to date to just over 506,000 words. I’m very happy with that – it’s been quite a long time since I was able to break the half-a-million word barrier for the year, and just goes to show how much my teaching duties had impacted my creativity.
Blogging It was a frustrating month. I’d begun to really get back into the swing of my blogging rhythm – and then the last-minute flurry around Christmas, as well as some really miserable family stuff, and I went AWOL again. Apologies for the delay in replying and not visiting as much as I should! With everything going on right now, my blogging is going to be a bit hit and miss for a while. In the meantime, I very much hope you are all able to continue to stay safe, while waiting for your vaccination. Take care.x
November was defined chiefly by the second lockdown in the UK, and although it wasn’t as strict as the first one, it did bring my social life to an abrupt halt again. So other than seeing the grandchildren when necessary (we are part of our daughter’s support cluster as she is a single-parent family) and shopping when Himself wasn’t able to fulfil the brief, I hunkered down at home, busy writing and reading. Other than teaching Tim, which I did resume after a long, serious discussion weighing the pros and cons with his mother…
Reading I read twelve books in November, which isn’t a particularly large number – but that’s okay. More importantly, once again it’s been a great reading month qualitywise – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. Because this was #Sci Fi Month 2020, which was once again organised by Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place and was a huge success.
My Outstanding Book of the Month was Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett.
My reads during November were:
Dead Lies Dreaming – a Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Wintersmith – Book 35 of the Discworld novels & Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Outstanding Audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Architects of Memory – Book 1 of The Memory War series by Karen Osborne. Review to follow.
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas. See my review.
Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre. Review to follow.
Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Lifelode by Jo Walton. Review to follow.
The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. See my review.
Writing and Editing Halfway through the month, I finally completed the manuscript for Picky Eaters 2 – which initially was going to be a novella – only to discover that it was a monster of over 117,000 words! I will be writing about all this in more detail in a separate post later in the month – but basically that was just nonsense. I’m not in the mood right now to read anything of that length – so why would I expect my readers to do so, either? Particularly as the whole point of this series is to provide some escapist fun. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived in. It took nearly a week of hard work and rewriting – but I now have a version of Picky Eaters 2, renamed Flame and Blame, that I’m happy with at just under 73,000 words. The great news is that I also have just under 50,000 words of the next novel in the trilogy, which will be called Trouble With Dwarves.
Overall, I wrote just over 61,300 words in November, with just under 20,000 on the blog, and just under 40,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just under 477,000 words. I’m very happy with that – the increased in the speed of my writing since I returned from Bexhill has been a gamechanger and should mean that next year will be far more productive.
Blogging Blogging revolved around Sci Fi Month, which was a joy. I added far too many books to my towering TBR and was able to swing by and chat to some other blogs I don’t regularly visit. Though as I battled with teasing apart my manuscript during the second half of the month, I’m afraid my visiting once more suffered. Sorry about that! In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to stay safe. Take care.x
Jean Lee is a fellow author I encountered after reading her amazing blog, which talks mostly about family life, writing, music and films. What has kept me coming back is her quirky view on Life and her wonderful way of putting things. So it was a no-brainer that I’d get hold of her first book when it hit the shelves – Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – see my review. And I was thrilled when she offered me an arc of this new release, the second book in the series, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – see my review. I asked her to be a guest on my blog to celebrate the release of this second book, which is a major triumph, after a major setback. I’m delighted that she agreed and I am able to share with you a slice of her writing and an insight into her writing process. Enjoy…
1. You are crazily busy – three young children, including twins; a job and running a family – when do you make time for your writing? Are there any activities you use to help you maximise your time – playing music or lighting scented candles, for instance? Oh, I’m not going to lie—it can be Hades some days in finding the balance between family, work, and writing, and that was before life in lockdown with remote learning. The balance between teaching and writing is still in a BIG flux; I haven’t taught full-time since before Blondie was born ten years ago, so I’m no longer accustomed to working with over one hundred students. But with the right sounds, be it fall ambience or instrumental music, I can stir a few story things around in my mind while grading. Even if I don’t get to physically write that day, I’ve still been brainstorming a fight, working out the kinks of some dialogue, or revising a plot line.
Honestly, I look back to five years ago when my three B’s were tiny, and I have no clue how I got the writing in that I did. Now that Biff and Bash are, as they put it, “pre-tweens,” I can usually let them occupy themselves for at least a little while so I can work and write. Often this leads to Bash using up all the tape in the house to build robots or his own paper story books about robots while Biff is drawing collections of favourite characters or cars—whatever strikes his fancy. Once the battery runs out on the Nintendo (or is simply removed and hidden, mwa ha ha), Blondie grabs her pencils and paper and leaves us all behind with her comics about dragons and pet detectives. All three can be like this with books, too. I wonder how many parents around us have to say, “Would you stop reading and___”? Like, we actually have to make them stop reading to finish meals or clean their rooms. It’s a good problem, that.
2. Your main characters, particularly Charlotte, ping off the page with such vividness in Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. How did you stay so closely in touch with them, between writing Stolen and Chosen? Hmmm. I suppose it helps that large portions of the storyline have been in my head for a long time—ever since I first drafted Stolen back in 2010. This is largely why I couldn’t turn my back on the series and turned instead to self-publishing: I wanted to see these characters complete the journeys I’d imagined for them all these years.
It also helps that each of the major characters, in their way, connect to something I am, or aspire to be. And to be clear, this includes the antagonists. If a reader cannot relate to a story’s villain somehow, then that villain no longer feels real and is therefore no longer a threat. A villain made of lies and air is too easily waved away. So whether it’s Charlotte’s passion for music or Bearnard Artair’s utter refusal to accept he’s wrong (yes, I can be a stubborn bastard), there is something real, something of my human nature, inside both hero and villain. For better or worse, we’ll always be connected.
3. Your writing is so full of sensory input – touch, taste, and sounds, as well as the images – do you always put these descriptions down on the page during your first draft? Which is the sense that you most easily visualise when writing? I am a BIG fan of sensory detail! Often my rough draft is overloaded with detail I have to scale back for the sake of pacing. Sounds—or lack thereof—are usually my initial input I get down, followed by the visual. The smells of emotions and desires comes from an older place, where the sense of smell aided far more in survival. There’s something very ancient and instinctive about smell that just feels a bit dismissed, if that makes sense, which is why I love using that sense, too.
4. Which scene in Chosen was the easiest to write and why? And which was the hardest? Well I don’t know if it was “easy,” but I had gobs of fun writing the fight scenes. Being the action junkie I am, if there’s a chance to bring horrifying creatures of dark magic onto the scene to fight, I’m going to take it.
Hardest…there’s a lot of hard scenes in here. That tag line I put on Chosen’s cover of “The Bloody Days are soon returning” is not just about the return of Liam’s family; it is also a reference to what Arlen says to Charlotte in the first book about the difficulty of facing one’s own “bloody days.” Arlen studies Charlotte’s face for a long, quiet moment before he says, “We have all of us had our bloody days, Charlotte. For many it is easier to remain in them than to change. To change requires facing a past stained by screams.” Pause. “It is not an easy trial.”
Redemption is not given only because one experiences dark trauma. No. Redemption comes to those who battle through that darkness and change for the better, and in Chosen, Liam and Charlotte both must come to terms with their own bloody days in order to change—not just for their own sakes, but for each other’s and those they care about.
5. I loved meeting Liam’s terrible family, as it gave a real insight into his personality. Which of his horrible relations was the most satisfying to write and why? Ooooooh, that’s a toughie! Liam’s parents were both fun to write, especially when they interact together—I have a whole post about Ceasar Augustus and Ewoks and why Bearnard and Livia interact as they do. The most satisfying, however, would have to be the one remaining family member never mentioned in Stolen, but who comes with Liam’s parents to River Vine in Chosen. To avoid spoilers, I will only say this: Livia Artair is not the only one with a plan.
6. You use a lot of nature-inspired imagery in your writing – what is your own favourite natural place, where you feel inspired? This may sound a little strange, but there is something…something fascinating about standing at the border and not seeing what’s beyond. Ever since I was very small, trips in the car between small towns always meant driving through farmland and wilderness. It was a like a quilt, these squares of corn, pasture, and forest, stitched together by streams and tall grasses. I loved imagining what could live in those forests. I still do. Were I to physically walk into those wild places, the spell might break, so on the outside I remain. I walk along the road, or near river’s edge, the woods always in sight, but out of reach. That is where I feel storytelling’s potential at its strongest, imagining impossibility into reality.
7. As soon as I got to the end of Chosen, I was keen to know when the next one will be available! Have you started writing it, yet? And is there any spoiler-free teaser you can give us as to what is next in store for Charlotte, Liam and those relying on their success? The third book, Fallen Princeborn: Hidden is in a very, very rough state, but it’s there! At this point, I see a 2022 release so I can get some other projects taken care of (see my answer to the next question, lol). Let’s see, a little scene…how about visiting someone we didn’t get to see in Chosen—Jenny, the farm girl who lives just beyond The Wall?
The freak snow starts just after Jennifer Blair passes the wishing well. Flakes fat with cold tease her, melting onto her glasses and at the nape of her neck to slide in under her hooded sweatshirt. But does she go back inside for a proper coat? Of course not. It’s Wisconsin. A typical fall day can jump twenty degrees up or down, easy peasy. So Jenny runs on, leaves of red, gold, and brown sucking tight onto the souls of her sneakers as she makes her way across the farm yard, beyond the old white barn and the tractor shed to the woods that rim the eastern edge of the farm. A few blood droplets fall from the bag she carries, melting snow clusters as she goes. She dodges the poison ivy bush, sticks to the worn path to the nice little grove of maples that her dad finally agreed to tap this year because Jenny promised the wolves wouldn’t bother him. More snow runs down Jenny’s spine and she shivers, eager for some furry hugs, maybe even a sandpapery wolf tongue to lick the cold from her cheek. D always gave her so many happy welcome kisses that she’d laugh, and scratch his ears, and— Silence. The glen’s roofed in fiery colors among the trees, all the brighter for the snow clinging every leaf’s edge. The wind carries Jenny’s panting white breaths out of the glen, away from the tap tap of sap dripping from the maple trees on either side of her. A mound of fur huddles on the other side of the glen, but there’s no giant of black fur. No green eye paired with a blue eye. Just…normal looking wolves, speckled shades of winter woods. One lifts its head, flares its nostrils. Whimpers. “D’s still not here, huh?” Jenny tips her bag. Half a dozen cuts of venison slop into the bed of snow and leaves of bygone autumns. “Serves him right if I eat all my coffee cake by myself.” She talks snotty, but the crack in her voice, the whimper of another wolf—they say otherwise. Especially when they do not come for the morning treat. Jenny wipes her glasses clean even though the snow continues to cover her work. That shivering of the pack, it’s not just her blurred vision. “What is it, a bear?” She spins as she moves towards them, a scouting dance to check for marks of some sort. But nope—just the half dozen trees tapped. One’s lost its bucket, but nothing else is different than yesterday. There’s a bit of a stink in the air, too, but duh, it’s a farm. The air’s going to smell like manure sometimes. Only when she’s next to the pack does one separate to say hello: a half-breed runt, she wages, considering his size compared to the other wolves. His head’s a bit different, too—more pointed, like a collie, and fur much coarser than the others. One of his ear’s torn from a long-ago fight—the test to get into the pack, maybe? But D liked him, so the others accepted him. He licks snowflakes that land on her nosebridge, smothering her glasses with spit. “Dangit, I just cleaned those!” And Jenny giggles, because it feels way nicer to giggle than to cry over a missing friend. “I gotta check the taps quick. You grab your breakfast before the snow buries it.” The runt gives his family the once-over, then takes a few cautious steps toward the meat. The others follow, eyes darting from Jenny to the tapped maples. Even the biggest of them all, the one with holes in his fur marking an enemy’s bite, scratches at the ground like he’s searching for something before heading over. His whimpers trail him like winter’s pawprints. Jenny wipes her hands clean in the leaves and snow. No extra blood. No impressions in the ground. But still, Jenny bites her lip and checks her back pocket for her dad’s old jack knife. Something’s spooked her friends. Could it be… Jenny stands up, turns to the north. To the Wall. No snow sticks to it. Never does. No moss grows on it. No cement or mortar stuff. Just stones, smooth and round like from a river, all fitting just so to make a wall too high for a person to jump or peek over. Old as the farm, too, probably older. She’s tried to research it on national park sites. She’s gone through books and pamphlets on historical markers and tribe histories. She even tried that weird microfiche machine the library keeps of old newspapers. Nothin’ about a wall that just goes on and on in the middle of a forest in the middle of Wisconsin, or even the three-story stone fortress-type place her family converted to a farm house. How does no one ever mention stuff like this in the history of ever? Well Jenny has her guess, sure, not that she likes to dwell on it much. The fairy-animal things. They took her brother. Tried to make her come with them, with their creepy purple swirly eyes and the dreams they’d stick into her head. But D never let them get her. Never let her go over on her own, either. Any time she got close to following him, he’d turn right around and bat her to the ground and growl until she promised to stay away. Then off he went, bounding over the Wall like some horse into god knows what over in god knows where. Six months now, he’s been gone god knows where. Is he hurt back there? Dead? One fairy-animal appears on the ground before her now, orange-feathered and tiny. It chirps super short, like singing’s an after-thought for this songbird. But it always lands real nice in Jenny’s hands, and listens when Jenny talks about school all the way up until Jenny says thanks, and takes care to chirp once before flying off. Its purple eyes never swirl or glow at her like the bad fairy-animal things. “Any sign of D today?” Jenny always asks that first. The bird shakes its head. “Bad fairies?” The bird pecks the ground once, twice, three times, only it doesn’t pick up anything. “Sure wish you could talk.” Jenny kneels. The cold damp quickly seeps through her jeans and numbs her knee. She pulls out a handful of coffee cake crumbs from in her pocket. “Something’s spooked D’s pack. I was gonna look around after checking the taps. Wanna come?” The little bird hops into Jenny’s hand, chirps, then starts pecking away. “Thanks.” A little yip from behind—the runt half-breed’s finished first. He trots up to Jenny, smacking his chops. “Sorry, buddy, that’s it. Come on,” she pulls out her knife, breathes, deep, “let’s see what’s what around here.” The sugar maples for fall are pretty close, about as far as a kickball pitcher from home plate. It’s the last one with its bucket off, a weird happening since the hook is beneath the spigot. Wind shouldn’t be able to do that. A squirrel—a normal squirrel, anyway—wouldn’t have the strength. Raccoon, maybe, or a curious animal sniffing around. “You knock that off?” Jenny asks the half-breed. His tail’s between his legs, nose sniffing fast, steps slowing down. Too many leaves crunch as Jenny walks, the bird still and watchful in her hand. “How about you?” she asks the bird. It chirps twice, flies into the bucket to shake off the snow clawing at its wings. Pecks. Chirps. Hops onto the ground. Pecks. Shakes its head like it’s found a worm. “You found somethin’.” Jenny goes on without the runt and…oh yeah. She can smell it now. That ain’t a poop smell. It’s pee. Kinda faint, the sort when someone uses the bathroom but forgets to flush. “So…another wolf, maybe. Cuz if it were someone in the pack marking here, they wouldn’t be so spooked.” The bird shakes its head, pecks the ground again. Jenny follows the beak and picks up the snow clumps. Impressions. Half circle. Curvey rectangles. A boot. Two boots. Air freezes in Jenny’s chest. She has to look up from the ground, she’s gotta— —and sees the spigot. A few thin rust-ish lines rim the nozzle. She’s seen lines like that before when her dad drinks from a glass after a long day outside: cracked lips. Someone drank from the spigot. Someone is here. The bird circles the spigot before landing for a closer look. A branch snaps deep inside the wild brush. Jenny bolts upright. The runt growls, once and quick. The pack echoes, closes ranks. Could just be snow too heavy for a stick. Or not.
8. Have you any other writing projects you’re currently working on? Oh, it’s such a higgeldy-piggledy pile of WIPs! 😊 I suppose the one I’m most keen to complete and publish next year is my expanded edition of Middler’s Pride I started some years ago. It’s a fun little escape, this land of Idana, and writing a fantasy series that does NOT focus on romance but instead building identity and friendship while also kicking butt is something I think today’s girls—girls like my daughter—would like to read. In the land of Idana, where enchanted blades and goddesses can be found in the unlikeliest of places, no one wants to be a middle child. All the best inheriting goes to the firstborn, and all the best blessings in life elsewise go to the youngest. Meredydd was a middler, and therefore useless. Unlike her handsome heir of an elder brother, or her lovely little sister, Mer was…there. Well, not really there. She did her best to stay out of the manor as much as possible, preferring the company of others whether they preferred her company or not.
Because my brain has a hard time flowing creatively in one lane, my other big goal is to finish What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, that NaNoWriMo project I started in 2019. It features some characters from the Fallen Princeborn universe, but is set in an isolated forest home in the dead of winter back in the 1960s. Trust me when I say this is no story for my daughter or any other child. Oh no. This story comes from the corner of my heart that loves a good scare with a splash of horror.
The kitchen itself wasn’t overrun with crows, at least. There were more pictures pinned to the walls, sure, but there weren’t feathers pinned to the cupboards or beaks in a bowl. It was actually pretty plain in there–wooden cupboards too old for their varnish lined one wall, interrupted only by a window and a sink. A long, narrow butcher’s block sat in the middle of the room, and a simple ovular table with four chairs sat over by a row of windows along the far wall–the back of the house, Chloe figured, since there was a back door, a pile of wood for the fire, and an axe. A big axe stained with blood. Stained with the same blood, maybe, as the blood on one of the kitchen chairs. On the furthest cupboards. In the sink. Maybe the same blood as that which sizzled atop a coating of grease, of oil, of God knows what else on the old gas stove where a kettle steamed.
Lockdown has continued throughout June, though we have been able to see more of our family, which has been wonderful. We were particularly thrilled to be able to meet up on my birthday and have a picnic. Most of the time, though, we have been continuing with the new normal. Himself going off to work, while I have stayed at home reading and writing… While we have had some wonderful warm weather, the cooler windy episodes means spending time with visitors outside hasn’t been practical.
I read seventeen books in June, which is still more than usual – though I am increasingly unsure what usual means anymore. I had a single DNF and once again, I’m struck by the overall quality of the books I’ve read. My Outstanding Books of the Month were TUYO by Rachel Neumeier and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. Neither were audiobooks, as most of the month I’ve been in the thickets of The Priory of the Orange Tree, which I am listening to at 1.5x slower as the narrator’s voice is quiet. I might have completed it by Christmas…
My reads during June were:
AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby – see my review
The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green – see my review
Flower Power Trip – Book 3 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
NOVELLA To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
The Ruthless – Book 2 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman
Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden
Perilous Hunt – Book 7 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier – see my review – Outstanding book of the month
The Calculating Stars – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal – Outstanding book of the month
Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart
Writing and Editing
I worked on editing a friend’s book for the first quarter of the month, then turned to a space opera adventure I’d written several years ago to see if it was any good. I worked on rewriting and tidying it up and hopefully will have it ready to publish before the end of the year.
I then published my short story Picky Eaters about a grumpy elderly dragon, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of family life when he gets unexpectedly evicted from his lair and has to move in with his daughter. I have been really pleased with the reception, as I’d hoped it would provide an enjoyable escapist read. All proceeds will go to mental health charities.
Because I was editing and rewriting, my wordcount is far smaller this month, but that’s how it goes. Overall, I wrote just under 31,000 words in June, with just over 21,000 on the blog, and just under 10,000 on my writing projects.
I am finding being able to chat about books a great comfort on my blog, but as Himself is now on holiday from the last week in June, I haven’t been around to comment and visit as much as I’d like – sorry about that. Hopefully once we get back to normal, I will be around more. I hope you are all keeping well, both physically and mentally. It’s an ongoing strain and I’ve been rather frayed at times, even though I’m also aware we have been very lucky… so far. Take care and stay safe.x
This is now an annual event – in the dying days of the year, my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson and I sit down together and set ourselves targets for the coming year. The theory is that in aiming for the insanely unrealistic, we’ll achieve more than if we were more cautious in our goalsetting – did this work for me during 2018? • Rewrite Miranda’s Tempest and submit it to the agent who expressed an interest in it
Well, I did the rewrite, submitted the manuscript to an editor in June and got the feedback. By then, I was in the throes of rewriting The Arcadian Chronicles, which I thought wouldn’t take all that long. However, it has. It is still doing so. Which means that Miranda’s Tempest is still waiting to be sorted out. I am hoping to get to it during the summer, However, during the long break from it, I have had a major epiphany regarding the beginning. A – duh! moment where I can’t believe I didn’t take this approach before. It should improve the pacing, make the reader immediately aware of what’s at stake and start the story with a bang.
• Organise new covers for Running Out of Space and Dying for Space
It helps when your best writing buddy also happens to be an awesome cover designer – I was so grateful when Mhairi agreed to help me out and the general response has been nothing but positive since I released the books with the new covers.
• Rewrite, edit and publish Breathing Space
Yes – this was all achieved, so that Breathing Space now completes The Sunblinded Trilogy, after being published on 18th July. I have also set up the story so that Lizzy is poised to start a new chapter in her life, once I start writing the crime series featuring her next series of adventures.
• Rewrite, edit and publish Mantivore Preys and Mantivore Freed
This is another casualty of my poor writing performance during the latter end of the year. I’m now nearly halfway through Mantivore Preys, which I more or less started on schedule – and then started wading through glue as the story graunched from one dead-end to another. At last my writing is gathering momentum again, so I’m hoping to complete the book by the end of February. With luck and a following wind, I’ll also have the first draft of Mantivore Freed finished by the end of the summer. Fingers crossed… I have the covers ready for these books and am really looking forward to getting them completed and published.
• Release paperback editions for Running Out of Space, Dying for Space and Breathing Space
I have released Running Out of Space as a paperback and had hoped to have Dying for Space done before the end of the year. However, it didn’t happen – again due to my illness. Hopefully, I’ll have Dying for Space and Breathing Space both available in paperback format by the end of February.
• Write the first draft of Bloodless
No, I didn’t get close. My health became a real issue from the time I returned from my lovely writing retreat. Even before then, I wasn’t happy with the quality of my writing which had lost its bounce and energy. It turns out I was the one without any bounce and only now, since my diagnosis of hypertension, am I starting to feel like my old self as the medication is starting to take effect.
• Learn to market my books
Himself and I attended a marketing conference at the early part of the year and came away a tad overwhelmed, but enthusiastic. With Mhairi’s help, I plunged into the rarefied world of Amazon ads and felt quite pleased with my progress for a few months – before the algorithm abruptly changed and nothing was working any more. It takes a lot of time and energy I simply don’t have to keep on top of these developments, so I’ve decided to put the Marketing aspect on the back-burner until I have more books available to make it more economically viable.
• Read and review at least 100 books on my blog
I read 162 books during the year and published 124 reviews on the blog, although I have a few more written that will now have to wait until the coming year to see the light of day. I always love blogging and discussing books, but during the year I had to cut back from posting daily to about four times a week once my energy diminished as I became unwell. I’m not rushing to resume my daily posts, as I think one of my issues has been overwork.
• Continue teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook
Since Northbrook merged with Brighton Metropolitan, the Adult and Community Learning Department has had a new lease of life and during 2018, I was delighted to be able to run an extra session every week. The start of the new academic year in September saw my 10th anniversary teaching Creative Writing, which I still can’t quite believe.
• Continue teaching Tim
I will be continuing to teach Tim for the rest of the year, while he also attends college three days a week and still needs ongoing support. I cannot quite believe how far he’s come – it’s marvellous to see how well he is coping in a course for neuro-typical students, as he’s busy making new friends and extending his musical skills.
• Continue getting fitter
This was an epic fail. I was enjoying my Pilates and Fitstep classes, but as the year wore on I found it increasingly difficult to keep my attendance regular and finally, regretfully, I gave up first the Fitstep class and then the Pilates class as my energy drained away. I am hoping to resume my Pilates classes next week. Wish me luck!
As you can see, it’s been a mixed year. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with the results, given how my illness impacted my productivity and I’m hoping to put in place some lifestyle changes to help me stay healthy during the coming year. I have already set my targets for my Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2019 – I will be sharing them on the blog at the end of January. In the meantime, have a peaceful, healthy year, everyone – hopefully with lots of wonderful books to get lost in. Thank you all for your kind comments, likes and visits – even during the dark times when I couldn’t summon up the energy to post, I always found the kindness and good will evident within our blogging community a continual source of encouragement.
We are sliding into autumn after a thoroughly grotty summer, apart from a glorious fortnight at the start of July, which is now a distant memory. So how are the crazy writing targets I set with the aid of my friend and encourager, Mhairi Simpson?
• I have just completed the first major edit of Dying For Space. The good news is that it is better than I remember and wasn’t riddled with a lot of the errors plaguing Running Out of Space. Mhairi has just returned the manuscript of Running Out of Space having done a wonderful job checking the Spanish phrases in it (someone hit me with a very big brick if I ever waffle about dotting another series with a lot of foreign phrases, again. Particularly if said foreign phrases are accompanied with accents all over the place…) and also suggesting some improvements, bless her. However she really enjoyed reading it, which is heartening! Having Running Out of Space ready for Fantasycon should be doable. I now need to turn my attention to stuff like ISBN numbers and book covers… As for Dying for Space – not so sure. But I’m continuing to work hard at it. Challenge – To have first two books of The Sunblinded Trilogy published by Fantasycon. Hm. Watch this space…
• I wrote 10 reviews during July and read 11 books. Still not sure I’ll make this target, but it’s not one I’m going to lie awake worrying over. Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2015. In progress…
• I am now gearing myself up for the new academic year, now writing the notes for my Creative Writing course on viewpoint and narrative time and during the next fortnight I have a series of planning and training meetings to attend. Challenge – To strive to make my Creative Writing courses enjoyable and informative for my students. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with everybody in a couple of weeks.
I’ve found editing the first two books in The Sunblinded Trilogy incredibly hard work. For starters, I cannot get my head down and simply plough forward, as I do when I’m writing. I have to keep breaking off, or it’s pointless. While my editing skills have dramatically improved and I quite enjoy it these days, I’m really missing writing. But I simply cannot start another project, while my head is in Jezel’s world… The curse of the ultimate monotasker.
I spent a fair chunk of time grannying over the summer, which is a joy. But I sometimes wish I had a writing clone to continue toiling away at the computer at the same time. I wrote just over 10,000 words reviewing books and blogging this month and 7,200 words on rewrites on Dying for Space. It is a delight to announce that during August, I didn’t write a single word on teaching admin, which will doubtless rapidly be rectified during the coming month. So the total wordcount for August is a paltry 17,000 words, bringing my yearly total to date to 168,500 words.
We are now in the middle of what should be high summer, but for the indifferent, damp weather. So how am I getting on with the writing targets I set myself back at the beginning of the year with my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson?
• I am now busy in mid-edit of Dying For Space, but I’m grannying right now and I find it extremely hard to become the edit-goddess while in granny-mode… Challenge – To have first two books of The Sunblinded Trilogy published by Fantasycon. Yep – if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice that this target has changed.
• I wrote 8 reviews during July and read 9 books. I think my target is hanging in the balance at the moment, but when all is said and done, it isn’t one of the vital ones. Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2015.
• Submitting my two novels Mantivore Dreams and Netted to agents has taken the back seat while I’ve been firefighting other, urgent deadlines recently. Hopefully this month I can get this one back on track. Challenge – To seek and procure representation for at least one of my novels. Still ongoing.
• I have now completed all my teaching commitments for this academic year. The one day Summer Surgery at Northbrook College was really enjoyable and sufficiently successful such that I’m aiming to repeat it next year, all being well. Challenge – To make this term’s Creative Writing courses more interactive. Yes, I succeeded in this target and hope to continue when writing next term’s course later this month.
• I completed Chapter 23 of the joint science fiction adventure Chaos in New Cluster I am writing with my buddy Michael Griffiths. So when he finally ties up the last dangling plotpoints, we’ll have completed the first draft. Challenge – To complete the first draft of Chaos in New Cluster before the end of the year.
I’ve decided not to faff about whether The Sunblinded Trilogy is ready or not, but just get my head down and get on with it. I’m about a third of the way into the second major edit of Dying for Space. While I’m on a break from my teaching commitments, I’ve just completed reading 70 short stories and helped to compile a longlist of 20, then a shortlist of 10 for the West Sussex Writers’ National Short Story Competition. Although it is enjoyable to read the variety of stories submitted, it takes quite a chunk of time to read and mark them all. My time on the West Sussex Writers’ committee is coming to an end as I am stepping down in September. It has been a blast, but after 6 years and with recently taking on another teaching appointment, I don’t feel I could continue to give it my best effort.
I wrote just under 10,000 words reviewing books this month and 5,500 words towards Chaos in New Cluster. Writing my one day course and completing the necessary admin took just under 6,000 words, which took my July wordcount to just over 21,000 words.