Thursday, 30 September 2010

And 6k later

I'm in the list-making stage of getting my reality under control. If I try and get control over anything, I start making lists. Sometimes, they are flow charts. They happen at work, in writing, and sometimes even turn into spreadsheets.

"Scorpion" has hit 36k. Which means I have more than half a novel. I'm currently adding to it at a rate of 500-1,000 words a day, which is not bad for a workday wordcount.

I'm awaiting news on two submitted novels and pushing hard for the third one, while researching the fourth. Keeping my head down and working. I also passed probation at work, sorted out my first visit (ever) to the US (I'm attending a conference), and will soon have to arrange my travels to Poland. Looks like I'll do a whole lot of travelling in this new job.

My first real "investigative" article was accepted at a prestigious financial magazine (not my own). That's definitely a writing credit I can add to that resume. Maybe the equivalent of the WSJ? I'd have to check circulation. It's a big deal and I'm proud my boss pitched it to them.

It's also great to hear that my style is "delightful" and my features "truly excellent". That's my livelihood (and the way I pay my mortgage), and my boss has those incredibly high standards that make me want to stretch higher and write as good as I can. And learn how to be better. I still have a huge amount to learn, but I'm enjoying the way there.

Been touching base with a few old friends again. My past is the main thing that keeps me rooted, but that's okay. I start to understand the "backstory". If I was a character, I was starting to figure myself out.

Been reading about homosexuals in the Third Reich, and the book has a huge amount of good detail, while doing a pretty good job of narrating the main points of it all. I'll read some more accounts, but I think in a few weeks I'll be so chock-full of details that the scenes and characters will chrystallise around them and then magic happens - and the story comes out.

Now off to do my 500 words today.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hitting 30k

After really too much time spent staring at the screen, "Scorpion" has hit 30k yesterday. 30,600 words, to be exact, but I tend to not round up with wordcounts - what's acceptable in financial journalism (hey, what's a billion between friends when you're talking trillions?) feels sleazy and dishonest in writing. Dunno. Funny mind.

So this will quite conceivably turn into a novel... which makes me start to look at the options I have among publishers. The fact that some of them seem to do paper when things get above 60k and others do paper only when it sells well enough in ebook - that's a pretty strong incentive to do the "paper immediately" route. I just like paper. I started as a paper author, and I do like having paperbacks on my trophy shelf. Even if I sell more ebooks (so far, my print sales are still higher than my ebook sales... but the market is young and we'll see where things go).

I have a very strong image of the cover of "Scorpion" (talk about putting the roof on before the walls are up). I'm seeing, as the central element, to the right of the cover image, the raised tail of a scorpion, all shiny black chitin. I should not be doing that and leave cover artists to their devices and pretty much embrace whatever comes back... but that's very very difficult when the image is so strong.

I also find that expressions I coined are creeping into my every day mundane thoughts. "Gods below" as a curse/invective, like "heaven above". It makes the gods of that world seem pretty sinister - and they are, since they are fictional. This is a fantasy world without gods. These people are alone, and many of them know it. Atheist fantasy.

I'll balance that out with the "Avatar" series - or novel - I'm planning to write next. It's basically a rip-off of all my unfinished, unpublished work on that fantasy world I'd been building for years and years and that never amounted to anything. Now that I can write it in the genre these are meant to be in without fear of getting the "ewww" from your the usual fantasy mainstream crowd in Germany - I feel this could flow quite freely. The shame about German fantasy is - that most of those books are being targeted at a target group that is only too real, and still completely fictional, because they are not as dominant as the publishers think.

Books are chosen to be published if they fit for the pimpled sixteen year old boys or lives still with mama polo shirted doughy bachelors.

I'm happy and productive, and I still work too hard, but it feels far more sustainable now than it was. Settling into my rhythm again. Not working until complete exhaustion settles in. I'm just plugging away at this and that's an awesome prospect.

Here's to winter, and 2011.

Friday, 24 September 2010

More Moscow Thoughts

I've blogged over at Slash and Burn about my trip to Moscow.

Check it out here.

In other news, "First Blood" is out with Dreamspinner. It's the sequel to "Clean Slate", and you can get it in paper or e-book (because, yeah, it's a full-sized novel).

I now have to update websites and do a little bit of "promo" - and then I have to do the final editing pass of "Transit", at least for this stage. I already edited and approved the blurb.

I've taken Monday off. I need a little to recover from Moscow - and to write.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


I'm safe and sound in Moscow, in a pretty soulless, 4 star conference hotel a short way away from the centre. We went through Domodedovo airport, which can be pretty strange when there are a lot of young, dark-browed males lounging about. You're getting that distinct feeling they aren't hanging out there for fun or to wait for family.

The jovial arm of the law kept the taxi drivers at bay - telling us they'd drive us with a "Lexus, Lexus!". All communication failed. I don't even remember how to say "Sorry" in Russian. How DO you say sorry in Russian? Smiles and nods get you far, otherwise. Worked with the room maid just now.

The immigration officer fit the old stereotype well, visually, at least.In my mind, he looked like Nikita's younger brother. Food so far is decent, even the Italian in the hotel. I had to chuckle when I saw that the "pancakes" they serve with maple syrup looked like blinis on steroids.

What is very striking on the 40 minute drive from Domodedovo to Moscow (we're on Olympinski street - next to an old Olympic stadium) is the clash between "old", Stalinist and current. There are picturesque churches in pastel colours - looking like the love child of Byzantine and French architecture - brightlylit. Then the landscape tears open and reveals... hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vast beehives - habitation silos, featureless grey concrete blocks, lots of flats warmly lit, hinting an individual fates thus sheltered. Driving past those beehives for half an hour makes you want to run screaming back home and embrace your little terraced Victorian.

The architectural violence of a totalitarian system is heavy on the mind. The churches act like breathing spaces - something fancy and ultimately useless in the drab utilitarianism. I'mnot sure how else to house 13 million - certainly not the way London, half as big, does it. Then the modern buildings. Industrial quarters off shopping centres, like the worst of out of town, corugated iron development. There are German tech shops here (Media Markt), and in between, the brightly lit restaurants in yellows and reds - usually reds - as gaudy and loud as the worst in Turkey.

The Russians are either rude and graceless, or gracious and warm in ways that invites an embrace. I've not yet encountered middle ground. Worst was the passenger on the flight behind us, bitching loudly at a hold-up, sounding like those three minutes would cost her a fortune. Most people are great though. I've noted that kids are generally better behaved than anywhere in Britain, or at least a lot less loud when they have their "five minutes".

Otherwise, the frustration of being unable to communicate outside of English - my fault, not theirs.

I've read the "Moscow Times", and the human interest stories are quite different. Gangster got shot on the street with his bodyguard. Silenced Kalashnikov assault rifle (why silence an assault rifle? Must investigate. Residents fighting plans for an unnecessary kindergarden, Putin welcomes Arab money in Sotchi. Pensioner's only possessions - three pedigree Shar Peis - about to be seized by authorities as she's owing the state money. Authorities said they'll sell the dogs for a thir of their market value "to attract more interest". Politkovskaya, abbreviated, the tone is half amusedly resigned and ironic, hiding a deeper weariness and lots of scars. You can touch so much scar tissue in this country, it would be enough for anybody. I really want to learn more.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


All journalistic assignments are done. This month, I was far less frantic and sleep-deprived than last time. I think I might get into a routine, even though finding an angle is always hard. Bloody angles.

My boss liked a piece I did on the side enough to offer it to the Big Magazine that our company is doing. It would be awesome to get a by-line there and be the only journalist in the world (or at least the internet) Who Has The Full Story. Nevermind it's a huge writing credit and will look very very good on my resume.

Ten days until my probationary period is done. Once I have the full rights of an employee, I also get access to pension plan and share scheme, and that seems pretty awesome, especially the shares.

Currently spending a lot of brain-power on re-jigging our personal finances - me, I'm preparing for either stagnation or a double dip in Britain. Both works well for us, but we can save even more money if we make some adjustments now.

Will also start investing on the stock market. I have some good ideas that I want to test. Beats putting them into a savings account that pays less than inflation takes away. Are you KIDDING?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

By will and caffeine

One of my two big journalistic assignments is done. I'm currently working on the second one, which will mean I'll get up very early tomorrow, head into the office and work through this as fast as possible, because tomorrow is the last day I can do this.

I did spend my lunch break taking part in a trading simulation, "working" as a prop and flow trader, and I can honestly say it's like crack, mainlined. What an awesome, awesome job. It definitely feeds into some of my worst or best character traits - the obsessiveness, the risk-taking, listening to my guts (unless it's about choosing friends, but I'm getting better at that, too), and the kick I get out of being right and winning a game or competition. Trading, full time, would turn me into a cocaine-snorting, foul-mouthed, shouting speed junkie. It's not the people - it's the job. And I only did it for 45 minutes.

Quite funny when a trader tries to tell you it's not "casino capitalism", while you play the market and get those intense and irrational ups and downs. It's maybe not a casino, and more like the highs and crashes of a full-blown addiction.

Well, in the simulation I came third and made 200 grand. Not bad working eight stocks for 45 minutes in a super-volatile market and serving fictional clients with completely outrageous spreads. If I don't update here anymore, I've started a prop trading firm. Voinov Capital. Sounds like a winner to me.

Monday I'm in Russia for four days, currently setting up meetings. I already have a couple meetings set up, so should be fun. Four star hotel and our own driver. I've come a long, long way from being laughed at in the "Job Centre" in Germany, and I'm having an absolute ball.

The muses are stirring quite strongly, but right now I don't have time for them. I'm making notes and do some planning and reading, but no serious progress in terms of wordcount. It'll happen on the weekend and at Heathrow, no doubt.

Right, back to writing about agricultural commodities investing and then bed. Helps me ignore the fact that that nasty old man is now in London for two days. I'd wave at him from the centre of the hedonistic wasteland in the City of London, but I'm too busy.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

What I've always wanted to do

When I bought the house (OK, I co-bought it, but it was ultimately my decision) and set up the "back reception room" as my library, and then bought a table and chairs and put my Turkish rug in there, I imaged working in that room.

Today I did. I took my 4k of very messy notes, made myself tea in a Japanese cast iron tea pot (green tea and peppermint is a great combination), and found the structure in my notes. It was pretty important to get away from the Internet, or all I'd have done would have been surfing the internet.

So I sat there, surrounded by books, with tea, at my table on my chair on my rug in my library. It was awesome (and very productive).

We've also completed the edits of "Father of all Things", which went to a publisher today (yeah, I wrote the query and the blurb, too, the synopsis was done a week ago).

After sending that off, I sat down and built the first draft for one of my features. It's still a bit rough - like Frankenstein's Monster, you can see the cuts and seams very clearly. It's also way too long (I'll have to cut a third), but it has come together and is one of my two big stories done this month. The second one will be harder, but I'm not even thinking that far yet.

One feature done, one novel sent out, not one fresh word written on Scorpion, but I guess that might have been asking for too much out of the day. I win.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Rising tide - and thoughts about blackness in "Scorpion"

I'm running myself ragged, sorting out all manner of things before I'm off to Moscow. At least my visa should show up tomorrow. Three days now to sort out the stuff I have to write - long hours, stuff coming in at the last minute, but unlike last month, I'm mostly sane and in control. I'm still balking at the amount of work that needs doing.

And of course the muses aren't leaving me alone. They are more insistent when I'm stressed and the schedule is tight. I have Kendras sitting in my ear, commenting on whatever else is going on. Let's say a cynical mercenary is damn funny company, but laughing out loud when there's no external stimulus for it gets you strange looks from the sales team. Just saying. I always pretend I got a funny email.

I'm also "casting" characters. That woman over there looks a bit like the Lady Protector's step mother. That banker over there - lose the pinstripe and the spiky hair, and cast him as Puppy or Stick. I'm more conscious of black men, too (and here I am, cruising for a beating from the "white privilege bashing crowd" - I shouldn't even go there, not even in my thoughts, let alone on a blog). I'm just saying I'm more aware. I guess my empathy gets a fine-tuning when I'm close to a character.

And of course it's crazy to write black when you're white, but it's also crazy to write anything that you're not, and when I think about that, I wouldn't have written any of my books that don't have journalists or some kind of analyst or keyboard mercenary as a character. So, that's all of them. I'm still conscious of the racism debate (having been called a racist because I didn't have any non-white characters), and I think it's one of those questions that you can only answer wrong ("Are you still beating your wife.").

In this case, Kendras is black. So is his officer. And the officer's mother. I can't do "all black people" justice, just like I can't do all women, men, bankers or soldiers justice. But I can do one character justice, and if that character happens to be black or disabled or whatever it is that I haven't tackled before, then that's cool. But that's not what the character IS. That's part of him, but not the whole thing.

And now I've moved very far out and stuck my head out (granted, several months after the "white privilege" discussion swept the intarwebs, but it's bound to come back). All in all, I write fiction, not philosophically treat or even solve the Big Issues of Humanity. That's not my remit or intention. Still means that discussion is bound to come up once I release "Scorpion" into the wild. I guess they'll stick it into "Inter-Racial", even though Kendras is black in a different way. He has blue eyes. Which is part of the plot rather than a cop-out, but I just know that people will call it a cop-out. But, in any case, the most awesome character in the book is black. (No blue eyes).

Slavery is a fact of life and colour-blind. I even think that the two warriors in "Scorpion" are black because the scorpion species in question is black - but I may be making stuff up after the fact.

If I attack anything or anybody, then it's the priesthood, but you need a villain, and that particular shot, while pretty cheap (unelected, hierarchical, greedy, parasitic cult based on invisible forces and superstition that runs the kingdom behind the scenes), nobody who knows me should be surprised by my stance on religious cults that make other people miserable.

Today at least, there's no venom. I'm too strung out to feel very strongly about anything - or muster much negative energy. Life's looking very fragile again, too many people are ill or had really terrible news. Some people have had great news, too. Me, I just have to allow this wave to wash over me and breathe once the water's gone.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Weekend accomplishments

On Saturday, I finished my edits for "Father of all Things", aka "FOAT", and now waiting for Rhianon to sort out her edits. The synopsis is primed and ready.

I went back to "Scorpion" and added another 1,200 words. I surprised myself there, too, as the plot made a reappearance halfway through a pretty grim sex scene. I'm now at 26k, and hoping for 60k at least, so I might get a paperback out of it. Maybe. Depending very much on the publisher I go with and a couple other factors. I'm certainly not rushing this one.

This is going to be the tough week just before the magazine goes off to the printer. I have a long list of stuff that I should have done and didn't, for various reasons, so I don't expect to get much writing done this week as I try and catch up with the plan.

But then, I'll be off in Moscow next week, and I get a lot done while on the move - airports for me are incredibly productive places. I think I'll get a lot of reading and research done for "Iron Cross".

So, yeah, I'm now working on both novels at the same time. Researching one while writing the other. That's my year sorted. Bring on Christmas.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Unforgiven, et al

Today I did my debut blog post over at Slash and Burn. Read it here.

I'll blog over there every two weeks, always Friday.

I'm currently in the hot phase at work. Everything has to come together in the next 9 days, and then I'm off to Moscow. Should be fun. And stress. And fun.

Today, I pondered what the most unforgiveable things are that I've ever heard. Funnily enough, I've taken everything from "you're an asshole" to "you'll end up just like your mother/the rest of your useless, antisocial family" (gee, thanks, Dad) just fine. Above all, I've proven them wrong - which is even better.

The real barbs were always the ones levelled at my writer-self. That ranged from "you have no right to write about something you haven't lived through", to "you pretentious wanna-be" and "you are burnt out and need me to write at all."

Those hurt for months. But I've proven them all wrong, too. I've gone through "where have you copied that?" (thanks, grandma) and come out on the other side, writing. I've tackled my pretentiousness - which was actually correct, I was pretentious, but for certain reasons. If you haven't found your voice yet, of course words ring hollow,. If you use big words that are hollow, that's pretentious. I've been doing better at finding my voice. Now, my convictions are behind every sentence. It's like that sound-based weapon in "Dune". If you hit the right note - if you use the Voice - it *will* be heard.

But regarding the Big Unforgiven - the biggest of them all - I've decided to not accept one euro of my father's money. I've carried the burden of that inheritance for five years. It's nearly - or already - legally void, and I feel relieved. I don't want one single euro from a rapist, wife-beater, alcoholic and all-round abusive asshole. There are many reasons for that, but the biggest one is that he always thought that was the only thing people wanted from him.

Well. No. I wanted you to be human, "Dad". But above all, you don't have any power over me. Not ever, not now.

One day, I'll write about "good fathers" - but I'm not quite done here with the forgiving. It's an ongoing process, and part of what fuels a certain deep anger I have inside. But it's good anger. You showed me everything that is bad about "Fatherhood".

Dark, twisted soul-mirror. I have your blue eyes, but mine are warm and clear, and I use them to see.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Just before the break

Currently in edits for the secret project, it's absolutely hopping at work and only gearing up towards getting crazy!mad again. So very little to report - too busy, brain too worn down after work for long introspective pieces.

"Lion of Kent" keeps getting great reviews, though, and ranks highly on the Amazon bestseller lists (#36 in Gay fiction and #56 in the gay Kindle list). I'm curious to see what the sales are like, but I'll know in about 6 months.

Today I went to St Paul's Cathedral where they have a Spitfire and a guy in a costume and some relevant bits and pieces exhibited. Made photos on the iPhone, but not sure yet if they are any good. Seeing one of the planes up close is still pretty awesome when you're writing about them. I was pretty close to going to the RAF Museum just to see one, and then they put one directly outside the office extra for me.

Very worried about an online friend with no idea what's happened to her. And dreading, as every year, November. There's this sense of impending dread which might be in part worry for friends and in part just general anxiety. I reckon I might pull back further and marshal my troops for a couple weeks. It's also, always, a tough time when I'm trying to get a novel launched and one finished. Attention/focus can only be split so many ways.

I think once the secret project is done, I'll take a break from writing for a few weeks. Let's see how that goes, but I think I need to recover my energy and fill my heart with images and fresh words. A good time to read and exercise and otherwise do very little at all.

Friday, 3 September 2010

More reviews

Ah, do I like having Google Alerts set up. I'd otherwise never find reviews such as this.

"THE LION OF KENT is a novella where passions and danger blend in to a beguiling and character driven read."

And I've made good progress on "State of Mind" by Libby Drew. This is actually fiction I'm reading just for fun. No reviewing or judging involved. Makes for a change. There is still stuff to read for judging and reviewing, and I'll get to that, but right now, just leaning back with a book is nice.

Talking about great books, my friend and co-writer soon has her own book out, called "Erekos", soon out from Candlemark & Gleam. I've seen the advanced readers/review copy (ARE), and it's beautiful. The prose is completely something else - it's one of my favourite books, a far cry from the cheap, mass-produced fantasy series that swamp the market. This is a wise book, a warm and affectionate book - if I'd have to compare it to anything, I'd compare it to Peter S Beagle's "The Last Unicorn".

I hope it sells a million, wins prizes, and that everybody reads it. The book deserves a huge audience, and I believe everybody should read it. Me, I'm getting the paper copy as soon as it's available and will probably give this as as birthday/Christmas present to my friends for years to come. Yes, it's that good.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Another review for "Deliverance"

Amora's Place liked "Deliverance" - thanks, Amora. :)

Review link here.

I'll try and get my 500 words in today and then call it an early night. (Because the last two weren't.) I've never been good at dealing with too little sleep. It's my way of getting hung over - working too hard, sleeping too little. I assume the traditional way is more fun. :)

I've read one of my source accounts for "Iron Cross" on the train today, so I feel a bit better about my research pile. Right now, pure fantasy is the way to go. I need to build up a critical mass of ideas and "energy" (for want of a better word) for Iron Cross. I'm not quite there yet. And Scorpion has been coming together beautifully.

First reviews and lots of travel

Reviews of Lion of Kent at Goodreads are doing good, - it's on track to be one of the highest-rated I've written/co-written. :)

I knew all the research of medieval boar-hunting would pay off...:)

Yesterday I got the galley of "First Blood", which all looks very solid. At this stage, it's all done and dusted, the main issues here are if the paragraphs look good. The galley stage is not really an editing stage, just a checking stage - are the pages in the right order, are the author names spelled right, that sort of thing. At work, when I do the galley, I end up knowing the magazine by heart... and you always, always miss something.

The secret project is moving apace. The lovers are reunited, now they only need to evade the crushing boot of the law. I'm not quite sure how they'll do that (especially since the law is personified by one of the coolest secondary characters... who wouldn't be stupid or do something without a reason). So, yeah, there's a 70-80k novel coming your way. And its first draft is 90-95% done.

I reckon it can all be wrapped up in the next 2 weeks or thereabouts, then needs editing and I need to finish writing the query and synopsis, which tends to take a week. I'll talk about it some more once it's done. There are some world-building details that need to be filled in, mainly some geography and technology.

Work is gearing up to be mad again - how I love the cyclical nature of magazine editorial work. Not. One relatively calm week, then progressively busy, until the last week is all mad dash and no sleep. But on the positive side, the Russian visa application was really quite straightforward.... compared to what they make my British colleagues go through, my application was fast and easy. I may keep that German citizenship - travel is uniformely easier than on a British passport. (And cheaper... I don't have to pay to enter Turkey, for example).

But right after the mad week I'll be in Moscow and help run a conference, which should be fun. And then Chicago in October. Wonder how many hoops they make me jump through to enter the US of A.

So, yeah, a couple big trips before the year's up. I do expect to catch up with my reading while at the airport/in the queues. I reckon I'll take WWII stuff and review stuff with me to Russia.