Category Archives: writing updates

Taking stock

Now feels like as good a time as any to take stock.

I’ve been writing stories and novels since 2011. Before that point, I liked the idea of writing but put down barely any words – the classic error of waiting for ‘inspiration’. I was an idiot back then.

So now it’s seven years later. I guess that’s quite a long time – my wife and I had two kids during that time. We moved house twice and moved town once. I got a promotion, then quit my editorial day job to go freelance. But on the other hand, it’s not that long. I’m trying to focus on achievements here, so let’s say it isn’t that long at all.

I’ve stuck with writing. I didn’t know I was a sticker, but it turns out I am. Happily, it turns out that writing is what I love doing. (And editing too; it would be tough to get very far with all this if editing was entirely a chore.) Another thing in my favour is that I’ve never seen rejection particularly as a critique. My first aim when I started writing was to submit a story to Interzone—not to get published, you understand, only to have put in enough work to allow me to send the story without feeling ashamed of myself. Receiving that first rejection slip was a triumphant moment: here I am, doing this whole writer thing!

Anyway. Seven years. In that time I have written:

  • six novels
  • two novellas
  • thirty-seven short stories
  • one non-fiction book

This all adds up to around 840,000 words—i.e. around 120,000 words per year (plus editing).

Of the novels, one has been published and two are due to be published within the next year. The two first novels were honestly never intended for publication (they were NaNoWriMo-style exercises when I was learning how to go about the whole business) and the last-but-one novel has been shelved, perhaps never to be published. Both novellas have been published. Twenty-nine of the short stories have been published or have been bought, and three of the remaining eight stories will appear in my first short story collection next year. The non-fiction book will be published within the next few weeks.

That’s good, I think. I’m very bad at telling myself that. It’s good.

But 2018 has been really good. Like most people, I tend to move goalposts, so that any ambition fulfilled becomes just the first step to the next thing. I’m writing this blog post so that I can appreciate that things are happening that I should stop and maybe marvel at.

So, 2018.

  • My story, ‘The Walls of Tithonium Chasma’, was selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2017. The story was first published in Shoreline of Infinity in March 2017, but I wrote a first version of the story four years before then. It was the first thing I wrote that I really loved – but magazine editors didn’t agree. I tinkered, resubmitted, tinkered, resubmitted. I’m delighted that it’s ended up doing well.
  • Ellen Datlow selected my story, ‘Eqalussuaq’, for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. I was stunned when I received the email (pretty much literally: dizzy and bumping into things). This was another story that had had a rough ride. I wrote a version in late 2014, then reworked it entirely for a themed anthology, but then the Kickstarter didn’t work out… It was published in Not One of Us in October 2017, which is where Ellen Datlow spotted it. I look at the contents page of Best Horror Volume Ten and I see my name there, and it still doesn’t seem real.
  • I got an agent: Alexander Cochran at C+W. More than anything, getting representation was my big hope for this year. But it was my big hope for last year and the year before that. And now I have an agent, and d’you know what? He’s a really decent guy, and we went for lunch and it was terrific. I’m really excited that my future projects will be planned and plotted with Alexander. I think we’re going to be a good team.
  • Titan Books offered to publish my SF novel, SNAKESKINS. I’m thrilled. I honestly can’t imagine a better home for the book, and already it’s a pleasure working with editor Gary Budden and publicist Lydia Gittins.
  • Other things, too. My second Interzone acceptance. Three new stories published, with five others lined up. My first invitation to write a story for an anthology. Invitations to write articles for three non-fiction books.

Then there’s that warm feeling of having book publications lined up. Over the last month I’ve been checking onscreen proofs of three books: a monograph about the silent crime film LES VAMPIRES for Electric Dreamhouse Press; my first YA novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY, for ChiZine; my first short story collection, AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM, for Luna Press. And edits on SNAKESKINS, steady work on the next novel, and plans for the thing after that.

I’ve been working hard. I haven’t finished what I think of as my writing apprenticeship and I hope I never do, but I’m busier than ever. More importantly, I’m busy doing what I love doing.

I’m very bad at recognising where I’m at. I announce stuff when it needs announcing, but beyond that I struggle to know how to talk about it all. I don’t think I’m likely to get better at that any time soon…  but this blog post—self-indulgent as it is—is an attempt to face up to the fact that I’m very happy with everything that’s happening. A lot has gone on, and yet it still feels like the start of something.

[Oh, that image at the top of this post? That’s a chart generated by my writing tracker spreadsheet. It shows the accumulating number of words of all my long projects since around March 2013. The steeper the slope, the more concentrated the work. The gaps represent phases of writing short stories or having children.]

My writing year 2017

It’s been an intense year. My family and I moved house twice (from Oxford to a rental house in York in January, then to a house we bought in York in June), the first move being when my youngest son was only six months old. Sleep has been hard to come by and work has been sporadic – not that it’s been hard to get, just difficult to schedule given that my wife and I now share childcare duties right down the middle.

On the plus side, my day job has been hewing closer and closer to my ‘hobby’: much of my freelance work this year has involved fiction editing. In October I became co-editor of the British Fantasy Society’s fiction journal, Horizons (along with Shona Kinsella), and I’m looking forward to putting together the first issue early next year.

Finding time to write has been a challenge. I’ve written fewer new words this year than in any of the previous five years – around 80,000 as opposed to the usual 120,000ish. I finished up an SF novel, which is now out on submission. Other than that, I’ve completed a handful of short stories and a novelette, but I’ve spent most time writing non-fiction and doing revisions on earlier projects.

Speaking of which, 2017 has been mostly enlivened by Things Happening With My Writing, which is a great relief given that I’ve been doing so little actual writing. I had four new short stories published, including appearances in Shoreline of Infinity and Not One of Us, as well as the first of two inclusions in Hic Dragones anthologies – all of these publications had been on my wishlist. Perhaps more significantly, having signed contracts this year, 2018 will see various projects reach fruition:

  • My first novel for young adults will be published by ChiZine, likely in October 2018. It’s about a prison for young offenders situated within a virtual world and modelled as a sleepy English village. The original Westworld film from 1973 was a big influence, as were the London riots a few years back. The first task in the new year is to decide upon a title.
  • My first non-fiction book will be published by Electric Dreamhouse Press in summer 2018 as part of the Midnight Movie Monographs series. The book is dedicated to Feuillade’s 1915 silent crime serial, Les Vampires. Along with an analysis of the film I’ve written ten pieces of weird fiction, each inspired by an episode of the serial.
  • There’ll be another fiction publication in either late 2018 or early 2019 too! I’ll have more information before too long.

There will also be more short stories published in 2018, including my first audio reading and my first sale of a mystery story – see here for a list of upcoming publications.

So, I’m not at all glum about having had a static year. In fact, I can’t wait to get started on my writing in 2018. I have a few commissioned pieces to complete at the start of the year, a novel planned out and more ideas bubbling up. But as much as all that, I’m looking forward to getting a bit more sleep, too.

Oh, one other thing. I did reach the writing milestone of passing 75% of my first million (new) words.

Half a million words!

First million words ometer 50

Yes, it’s an arbitrary figure. Yes, it ignores the many hours I’ve spent editing and revising. Yes, it took quite a lot longer than I expected.

But here it is anyway. As of today I reckon I’ve written 500,000 original words of fiction since I began in February 2011. It’s not quite enough to match the word count of War and Peace (587,000 words), but it’s still two Moby Dicks plus a Picture of Dorian Gray…

What’s most interesting to me is to take stock of the change in the quality of writing I’ve produced over this period. I’m an awful lot better at drafting and editing. Equally importantly, I’m an awful lot more efficient, to boot.

Anyway. The 50% mark is also a good excuse for a writing update. So far this year I’ve been funnelling my time into longer projects rather than short stories:

Short stories

  • The Forge (7300 words) – SF

Longer fiction

  • Blighters (16,300 words) – SF
  • Untitled medieval time-travel novel (40,000 words and rising, though only 15,000 of those words were written this year)

And, although the following are nothing to do with actual writing (as they’re all stories written during previous years) and all to do with the tenacious sending of submissions emails…

Publications and sales

  • Like ClockworkSQ Mag Edition 18, Jan 2015
  • By the NumbersThe New Accelerator #3, Feb 2015
  • The SleeperPhobos, Issue 3, Feb 2015
  • Screaming His ScreamPerihelion, May 2015
  • The House Lights DimDark Lane Anthology Volume 2, forthcoming
  • Finding Waltzer-Three – Pantheon Vol. 7, forthcoming
  • Read/Write HeadThe Museum of All Things Awesome And That Go Boom anthology, forthcoming

Oh, and one other notable thing, for the sake of completion:

  • The Walls of Tithonium Chasma – Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest (Q1 2015)

My writing in 2014

Novels written in 2014

  • The House-sitter (74,000 words) – SF time-travel mystery

Short stories written in 2014

  • A Crest of a Wave (2300 words) – SF, Mars
  • Like Clockwork (3000 words) – SF, Mars
  • Cast In The Same Mould (4200 words) – SF, Mars
  • Finding Waltzer-Three (1400 words) – SF
  • An Empty Vessel (3000 words) – horror
  • What Are We Going To Do With You? (5900 words) – YA horror

Flash fiction written in 2014

  • For a Tooth (850 words) – humorous SF
  • Kraken Mare (250 words) – SF
  • Corvus Cornix (250 words) – horror
  • All I Can See Are Sad Eyes (850 words) – horror

Fiction sales in 2014

I wrote about 124,000 (new) words in 2014. That’s less than last year, but that figure doesn’t reflect the huge amount of time editing and reworking ‘The House-sitter’. Also, I’ve often been exhausted due to my son’s sleep patterns, so this is still a higher word count than I’d anticipated.

To date, my fiction word count total is now something in the region of 448,000 words. I’d hope to reach the half-million mark at some point in early 2015.

First million words ometer 45

Writing update, May 2014

First million words ometer 40Ting!

OK, so my writing spreadsheet didn’t actually go ‘ting’ when I hit 400,000 words, but it should’ve. Anyway, I’m using this tiny milestone as an excuse to summarise my writing up to this point in 2014, following on from my 2013 update.

Short stories

  • A Crest of a Wave (2400 words) – SF, Mars
  • Like Clockwork (3500 words) – SF, Mars
  • Cast In the Same Mould (4200 words) – SF, Mars
  • Finding Waltzer-Three (1400 words) – SF

Longer fiction

I’ve temporarily shelved the historical time-travel novel I was working on from Sept-Dec last year. The main reason is that, with the birth of my son and resultant general exhaustion, the research element was beginning to bog me down. Another good reason is that the main premise seems to share a lot of similarities with a project I’ve heard is in development elsewhere. Grr.

Instead, most of my writing this year has been towards adapting one of my stories, The House-sitter, into a novel. It’s another time travel story for adults, contemporary, and pretty dark. It’s currently running to 56,000 words after a bare-bones first draft. I’m really enjoying writing this one.

Publications

  • By the Numbersanthology reprint, upcoming

And that’s it.

I’m telling myself that this is no bad thing. Since my modest success in getting stories published last year, I’ve set my sights aimed higher and submitted only to semi-pro and pro markets. No bites, but several positive comments, just enough to give me hope. And as I mentioned earlier, my novelette, Carus & Mitch, received an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future judges. I got my certificate in the post last night. It’s blue and sparkly.

 

So, 400,000 words written in total, and 40% of the way to my first million. Not too shabby. So far this year I’ve written around 75,000 words (along with edits of various projects) despite sleepless nights courtesy of my son.

Writers of the Future: minor success

An email this morning informs me that my novelette, Carus & Mitch, has received an Honorable Mention from the judges of the Writers of the Future contest (Q1 2014). It’s a decent result for my first entry to the prestigious SF/F writing contest, and hopefully a sign that I’m on the right track…

However, it’s difficult to know what to do with Carus & Mitch itself, now. Where do 17,000-word novelettes belong, these days?

My writing in 2013

Short stories written in 2013

  • The Walls of Tithonium Chasma (2400 words) – SF, Mars
  • The Sleeper (1600 words) – SF, Mars
  • The House-sitter (7200 words) – SF, time travel
  • Tunnel Vision (2000 words) – general
  • To Ashes, Dust (2500 words) – SF, Mars
  • The Man Screaming His Scream (1200 words) – SF
  • First Cashpoint on Mars (1000 words) – SF, Mars

Flash fiction written in 2013

  • The Puzzle Box (250 words) – horror, entry for Apex flash fiction competition
  • A Christmas Tradition (250 words) – horror, entry for Apex flash fiction competition

Longer fiction written in 2013

  • Mercy (73,000 words) – YA novel, finished & edited
  • Carus & Mitch (16,500 words) – horror novelette, finished & edited
  • Untitled time travel novel (25,000 words and counting) – in progress

Short stories published in 2013

By my reckoning, that’s about 138,000 words written this year (including deleted words, excluding planning and editing). Not bad going, whilst working full time and taking two months off after the birth of my son…

Combined with stories and novels from the previous two years, I’ve written about 320,000 words of fiction in total. I read somewhere that writers only find their voice, or write anything worth a damn, after completing their first million words.

First million words ometer 32That feels about right.