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Cultural Refugee

Cultural Refugee

I wasn’t born into this world of fast media and constant connection. The world I grew up in was one with four television channels and a home computer that could just about manage word processing. Now I have high speed internet in my pocket and instant access to millions of hours of television and films. It’s not a world that I am equipped to handle.

Few of us are.

Even people raised in such a world are about to have the rug pulled out from under them with the mainstreaming of virtual and augmented reality. We can barely handle the internet on our phones, which we at least have to take out of our pockets to look at. How are we going to manage when it’s right in front of our faces, all day.

The turnaround for cultural change is getting shorter and shorter. We had the internet at home when I was at college. Then I got a computer with internet access in my room a few years later. So I would guess there is about twenty years when things were similar. Now, the changes are coming quicker than ever, I would be surprised if there are five years.

The systems that I was taught were designed for a world where you weren’t constantly fighting to keep your attention on things. If I want to continue living in the culture of the modern world, then I need to find new ways of handling things. But that is a question, not a certainty. There is always the option of not trying to live in a modern media landscape.

Lessons Learned from the first draft of Symphony of Shadows

Lessons Learned from the first draft of Symphony of Shadows

This week was my first week back at writing after a couple of weeks off for Christmas and the new year and it takes me a week or so to get back up to speed. Rather than do that speeding up on a big project, I decided to write a short story. This morning I finished writing Symphony of Shadows.

The story has to go through editing before I release it, but should end up around 5,000 words long. It’s set in the world of Galdorland and follows an investigative reporter who receives a mysterious package which contains something terrible. It was good fun to write and let me dip my toes back into the world.

I changed some parts of my process with this short story, some of those changes didn’t work out, but I am fairly settled on the following improvements:

  1. Writing a set word count: in the past I have worked to an amount of time, and that was starting to get tough for me. I always enjoyed the writing, but staring down the barrel of a two hour writing session is kind of intimidating. So for this project I decided to work to a word count each day and it made a massive difference. Even though I probably wrote for the same amount of time, I never once found myself looking at the clock.
  2. Writing on my iPad: I would love to have a separate space purely for first draft writing, with a separate computer that I only ever used for that. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So for this project I decided to try writing on my iPad using a Magic Keyboard, which is a setup I don’t use for any other type of work. It went very well and I’m planning to keep that system up as I move into writing the first Jessica book.

It feels pretty good to have a story written so early in the year. I don’t have a gap in my editing schedule to work on it for a while yet, but I’m glad I am off the starting block now.

Reading Challenge for 2024

Reading Challenge for 2024

I haven’t set a reading goal before but over the last few years I have been struggling to read as much as I would like. There always seems to be other things I should be doing instead. Consequently, the number of books I have read has decreased year on year.

  • 2015: 76
  • 2016: 60
  • 2018: 49
  • 2019: 72
  • 2020: 60
  • 2021: 41
  • 2022: 37
  • 2023: 36

There are a number of reasons for that. Some of it was due to things happening in my life that left me with little mindspace to read. Some of it is due to the fact I read the first three Stormlight Archive books last year and each of those is over 1,000 pages long.

Regardless of the reasons, I decided that this year I want to read more. The goal I have set myself for it is 75 books. That’s the simple goal.

It gets more complicated though, because some books are long (Stormlight Archive) and some books are not so long and I don’t want to be able to manipulate the results by reading shorter books.

I figured that 100,000 words is a good length to make an average and worked off that number. I read both on my Kindle and audiobooks so a rough guess is that I average about 200 words a minute across those. So all I did then was work out how long it would take me to read 75 books and then broke that down to a daily goal of 1 hour and 45 minutes. If that ends up being more or less than 75 books it doesn’t matter, I will be happy having read that amount each day.

That was the plan. The start of the year didn’t work out quite how I planned and I am only now catching up to have an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes per day.

The goal is to read more and in order to hit that amount of time, I am having to read at times I didn’t used to. Times when I would have been on Reddit or wasting my time on something else. So this challenge is having an added benefit in making me spend less time on social media.

As of this morning, I have finished three books this year:

  1. A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik (2024-01-04 Thursday)
  2. How To Be A Stoic – Massimo Pigliucci (2024-01-08 Monday)
  3. The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik (2024-01-11 Thursday)

I am starting the last Deadly Education book now. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recomend it. It’s very good.

What is Galdorland?

What is Galdorland?

In my post yesterday I threw in the term Galdorland and you might be wondering what that’s all about. Simply put, it’s the umbrella term for all the books set in a world I have created. Think of it like Discworld, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Star Wars.

Galdorland is a world that is very similar to our world. So similar, in fact, that the term Galdorland is really only something I will use to refer to the universe. As far as anyone living in that world is concerned, it is still called Earth.

The big difference between our world and the world of Galdorland is that magic and monsters that we think of as myths and legends, are very real there.

I published the first books set in Galdorland about ten years ago. Since then, the possibilities for the universe I created have kept coming back to me and every now and again I sit down and try to write them. Outside of the main books I have published a couple more “side books” and a few short stories.

The trouble with publishing more, was that I was never quite sure how that world worked and it has taken me until now to make firm plans. That means there is going to be a lot of changes.

As you may know if you’ve read some of my other posts, I am currently in the process of going back through old titles and tidying them up. What I am calling “Remasters” for want of a better term. Unfortunately, a fresh round of edits and a new cover isn’t going to be enough to fix the original Galdorland books and bring them into continuity with what I am writing now. Instead, they are going to need a bit more work.

That means I will be removing the original books from sale to do the work. The new editions will be available again in the middle of the year.

I am really excited about this project. These are books and ideas that have been with me since I started writing professionally and it now seems that I am in a position to do them justice.

Books for 2024

Books for 2024

I hope you had a good holiday season. We got through it, which is about the best we hope for these days. I don’t like to dwell too much on the season, other than it being a time to hang out with family and eat some good food. There was plenty of both. Now it’s back to work and I have some exciting plans for the year ahead.

What I thought I’d do today is list the projects that I am planning to publish. The further from today’s date they get, the less fixed things are. There might be a few changes later on in the year but whatever the dates end up being, these are the books I am expecting to release in 2024.

The White Silence – February
An apocalypse story set during a long winter. This is one of four books that I will be publishing this year which were written previously and never published for whatever reason. I took the draft I had and treated it like a first draft, going through all the usual editing stuff. Most of that work was done last year and I am now in the process of getting the cover made.

Night Hunter 1, 2, & 3 – March, April, May
The first three books in an urban fantasy series. Like The White Silence, these were written a while ago, but unlike that book, I know exactly why these weren’t published. I will write about Galdorland in more detail another time, but suffice it to say for now, that these books are set in the same world as the Blood Hound series, albeit in the modern day. I have been thinking about that world for a long time and when these were written I had specific plans for what I was going to do with it. I then changed those plans and decided not to publish these. Well, the new plans never worked out so I get to publish these now.

Jessica 1, 2, & 3 – October, November, December
A second Galdorland series, set in the modern day. A story that I have been trying to write for a long time but is now finally moving forwards. I am really excited about these books. As of right now, they are the only books I plan to write and publish this year. I will have a lot more to tell you about them later on.

Short Stories – Whenever
While I get back up to speed with writing after the winter break, I am writing short stories. I started the first one this morning. I am not sure what I’ll do with them yet. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for short stories. More than likely I will send them out to mailing list subscribers, so if you haven’t already signed up and you would like to read the short stories, now would be a good time.

There is loads more going on at the moment, but I want to keep this post focused on the books I will be publishing. More news to come.

It’s a Messy Process

It’s a Messy Process

I have a natural inclination towards orderliness. I like everything to have its place and to put things away where they belong when I have finished with them. On my computer everything is neatly filed away in the correct folder and the desk where I write is arranged so that it doesn’t get cluttered. It gives me a sense of peace to work in an orderly environment.

For years, I have tried to write in an orderly manner, but I am coming to the conclusion that the process is inherently messy. Ideally, I want a system that I can follow each time, which should generate minimal debris. The way I have set that up is to plan stories using Goodnotes on my iPad, then using the plan I come up with there to write the first draft in Scrivener, to then export as a PDF, so I can do the edits on my iPad again and then type them up and the whole thing should be neat and easily contained.

That’s not how it works, though. Every time I try, I find myself compelled to get out pads of paper to make notes there rather than on my iPad. I jump back and forth between paper, Goodnotes and Obsidian.

It used to frustrate me, but I am coming to the conclusion that doing that isn’t a failure in my process, it is the process. Switching from one medium to another (even between two that are pretty much the same) is where the story comes alive. There is no way to systemize this process and there is no point looking for a single tool I can do everything in.

Planning a story is a messy process, I guess, and I just have to make my peace with the piles of paper that litter my desk. They aren’t a sign of failure, but of a system that has evolved naturally over the years.

The Problem With Endings

The Problem With Endings

When Jude died, life felt impossible. There are entire months of time that I can barely remember. Somehow, we got the important things done; Oscar went to school, we ate, we slept. We had a lot of help. We watched a lot of television.

The television we watched was mostly old stuff that we’d seen a dozen times before. It was comfort food. One thing I remember watching was Friends. It was a good show to watch because nothing about it was too serious and we had both grown up watching it as kids, so it was familiar. There were a good number of episodes, so we didn’t have to think about what to watch next. Just start it on Netflix and let it keep going until we started falling asleep in the evening.

It was also the first time I realized I had a problem with endings. Not just me, either. Without needing to discuss it, neither Tamzin nor I wanted to watch the last episode of friends and have it end. I have noticed the same thing with books and other television shows.

The books I read tended to be things that went on for a long time. I started re-reading the Discworld books, and even now I haven’t finished the series. It is just there, unfinished.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to realize why endings were such a problem for us; we had just dealt with the ultimate untimely ending and the idea of anything else finishing was hard to handle. Plus, there was no need for us to handle it. No one cared whether we watched the last episode of Friends. It didn’t matter whether I read the last few Discworld books.

There is one place where it does matter, though; my writing. If I can’t end a story, then I don’t really have a story. I quickly found that I did still have the desire to write (which surprised me, in the early days I had assumed I would never write again) but couldn’t bring myself to finish any of the stories I wrote.

It took me a long time to get over that, and along the way I found other ways to get the comfort I desperately needed from books that I was reading and books that I was writing. But it still isn’t easy.

Endings are tough.

Diminishing Returns

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems as if there is a fundamental difference in the way we think about books and other mediums. The longer a book series goes on, the smaller the readership. It feels as if we have accepted that each new installment will only appeal to a percentage of the readers who liked the previous book.

On the surface, that makes sense, but we don’t think that way about other things.

No one is suggesting they should stop making Star Wars or Marvel films because they will only appeal to a few existing fans! No one expects viewers of Doctor Who to have watched 60 years’ worth of stories.

In film and, to a lesser extent, television, we view each new entry in the series as a potential entry point for new fans, but I rarely see books talked about in the same way. 

There are reasons for this. Films are more self-contained; you can watch the latest super hero film without having seen all the others leading up to it because all the relevant information will be explained. I don’t feel so confident about picking up the latest in a book series.

So then is it because of the way we write books we expect each new edition to sell worse than the one before? To an extent, and if that’s the case, then can we overcome it? I think so.

The only long-running series I can think of that doesn’t have this problem is Discworld. You could jump in at any point in the 41 book series and enjoy the story. That is largely down to the brilliance of Terry Pratchett, but also because the stories themselves are self-contained, like films are.

As I begin the process of re-launching my series with new titles and remastered editions of old books, I’m looking at these lessons closely. I want each book, or sub-series, to be something that anyone could pick up and read. Sure, you will get more out of it if you read them all, but they should be accessible to all. And as I think about that, it seemed interesting that the best lessons for how to do it are contained in films and television, rather than books.

Ideas That Stick

It started off as an idea for a television show about a super hero called Champion. I came up with that while I was at college, so around the year 2000. It was a pretty good idea, highly influenced by the Tim Burton Batman films and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I produced a lot of notes and plans for it, and then, because I was dreaming big, I came up with an idea for a spin-off that would be set 150 years before.

The spin-off, was called Blood Hound and that went through various incarnations before ending up as a quartet of books that were published in 2018. Which seemed to be the end of it, but the idea didn’t go away.

In the years since then, I have written other books set in the same world, some in the Blood Hound era, some in the modern era. Some were published, others have not been yet. The idea kept growing and I started thinking that I should rewrite the whole thing with all the new information and ideas. I made some notes on that as well, but it didn’t get very far.

Now I once again find myself working on a story set in Otherland, which is the name I’ve given to all the titles set in this universe. This new story is set in the modern world, which is very similar to our world, except there is magic and monsters in it.

I have written a lot of stories but it is rare that a world sticks with me the way this one has done. There are a lot more stories to tell about it, and I’m excited for this new era. There are going to be some changes to the existing stories, nothing major, just a few names and things that need to be updated to bring them inline with one another.

The first new releases are a series I wrote a while ago and never published. Currently called Night Hunter. That’s almost done and should come out in March 2024. There are three books, with more to follow. Then it’s the new series that I’m starting now.

This world is not done with me yet.

Things I Should Have Written About Before

I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have thought about writing this. It’s something important, and it’s difficult. Although it is never far from my mind putting it into words, let alone writing it down, is painful and I have been avoiding it. But I can’t keep avoiding it. Writing this preamble is a form of avoidance. The original title of this post was Honesty, and that was also avoidance. And it’s time to stop avoiding this and start being honest.

Jude Robert Victor Loscombe died on 1st June 2021. My son. He was seven years old. It was the most painful thing I have ever felt and two and a half years later, that pain is still there, barely beneath the surface, ready to come out again with the slightest provocation.

Jude was our first child. He was amazing. The most loving person I have ever met. Losing him was worse than losing a limb.

We don’t know why Jude died. He was at a holiday club when he went to sleep and never woke up again. Something happened in his brain. Tamzin got a phone call from the people running the club who told her he’d been sick and gone to sleep, but he seemed okay. She went to collect him and on the way home, he stopped breathing. She gave him CPR in a lay-by until the ambulance arrived.

I was working from home and my mum had collected Oscar. When I got the phonecall, she drove me to the lay-by and by the time I got there Jude was in the back of an ambulance and a paramedic was using a device to breathe for him. The police had closed down a lane of traffic and took Tamzin to the hospital. I took the car home to get stuff we would need and arranged for Oscar to go to my mum and dad’s house. Then I went to the hospital.

The whole way there, I was telling myself I was overreacting. Jude was going to be fine. I almost convinced myself because who can really accept the fact their child is dying?

At the hospital, there was a lot of waiting before a doctor came to see us and tell us that Jude had had a catastrophic brain incident and that it was unlikely he would live. We cried. We didn’t want to believe it.

They had put Jude in a private room and he was covered with tube and wires and it was awful. The next few days were terrible. We told Oscar that his big brother wasn’t coming home. Our families came and said their goodbyes. The nurses and doctors were amazing. It was the worst experience of my life.

I want to be honest, but I need to do justice to Jude. There is a lot more I could say about those final few days together, but Jude was much more than how he died. So much more.

Jude had additional needs and never learned to talk, but he had other ways of showing us what he wanted. Of showing us, he loved us and was happy.

He loved music and books and writing things with plastic letters. I miss finding the little messages he would leave for us around the house, things he’d seen written somewhere and copied out. He used to come and get us and lead us over to what he’d written so we could read it out for him over and over again.

There is no way to adequately sum up a life in the space of a blog post, but I can no longer avoid writing about it here. My son died, and that has really fucked me up inside. As it should. There’s no way you can go through something like that without being damaged.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but there was more shit coming my way. Five months after Jude died suddenly, my dad got diagnosed with terminal cancer and a month later he was gone as well. Shortly after that we moved house and then our cat died and then I lost my job and then some other shit happened that I’m not going into here, but it was unpleasant.

It has been a really bad time and I still don’t know how to talk about it properly, but I feel like I have to. I can’t keep acting like nothing has changed while my world is falling apart.

This post isn’t the end of talking about this stuff. It’s the start. It isn’t enough, but it is a beginning.