I’ve said many times –in many places– that I don’t write because I want to, I write because I have to. It’s a compulsion, which if it’s blocked off, leads to something close to clinical depression (my name is Colin, and I am a creative junkie….)

Ever since I ended a particularly brutal bout of writing a couple of weeks ago, with the synopsis and sample chapter for a new novel, I’ve been concentrating on administration and blogging.

Which is a pain, but keeping adequate financial records is a legal requirement as well as a particularly time-consuming chore; the other time sink has been completing an application form for an MA, which has taken up most of the last two weeks.  and of course, there’s the blogging, which takes more time than you might expect from the haphazard way I seem to throw words onto the page.

In theory then, no time for writing fiction.

Which would seem to contradict my theory that you need to write every day. Except that by blogging I am writing (although it’s not fiction), and I’ve racked up enough experience (I have written over a million published words) not to need to write every day as much as a novice does. But still….

…the urge to write fiction runs deeper than even I realized. I awoke on Saturday morning with the scenes from an unfinished story called Razorbill Island running through my head.

For a variety of reasons I’ve needed for some time to road test the Scrivener package, and this was the perfect opportunity.

I only got a couple of hundred words written, but I’ve worked out what to do with the story now (the problems were as much structural as of writing the words).

Which just goes to show that even when I think I’m okay with my schedule, my subconscious knows better; that like magma beneath the Earth’s crust, the words are always ready to ooze out any time.

• August 8th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

The Future In Blogs

I like to see what other writers are doing on their blogs. Three of my favourite blogs all deal to some extent with the future. (There’s a surprise, I hear you mutter – you’re a science fiction writer.)

Actually,  SF is often as much to do with the present, and much though I love the genre I’m not really a scientist.

But Gareth L Powell has a clear view of what may come, and in thi

s excellent post he deals with the implications of a future that looks increasingly influenced  by Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Meanwhile, Madeline Ashby is working on various projects involving the futures in media, and is also blogging for Tor about the differences between her fiction and her futurism work.

Charlie Stross is perhaps the pre-eminent blogger in this area and generates more ideas in a couple of weeks than some writers do in a year. Here he blogs about obsolete threats to the world, while here he posts about potential new ones.

• July 4th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

The Hammer by KJ Parker, Reviewed

KJ Parker’s twelfth novel in thirteen years is detailed, slow-building but ultimately utterly compelling.

Gignomai (known as within the family as Gig) met’Oc, youngest son of the illustrious met’Oc family, is a loner in a family as skewed as anything created by Mervyn Peake. But Parker’s land is more like an early Australia, complete with savages who seem unable to see the settlers, and Gignomai seems at first read a much more ordinary youth.

The Hammer of the title refers to a device that Gignomai begins to build seven years after something happens at home – what it was is only made clear toward the end of the book, but it’s sufficient to cause the young man to run away repeatedly from home, and to bend his whole personality toward exerting a terrible justice.

In this vast, almost empty land, where a lone settlement and outlying farms are overshadowed by the plateau on which the met’Oc mansion rests, the met’Oc live by their own laws, refusing to accept that they no longer live in ‘civilization.’ 

The Hammer is a slow burning book that is laden down with the weight of detail of making things – of swords, carpentry and primitive heavy industry. It is also, with one exception, almost entirely devoid of the Fantastic, save for one important point that could be defined as SF or Fantasy. That the novel is classed as the latter is the rural -but certainly not bucolic setting- and the publisher’s classification.

KJ Parker is perhaps the most self-effacing writer since James Tiptree Jr. entered the field in the late 1960s – even Parker’s gender is unclear, although French publisher Bragelonne’s website implies that Parker the author is female. Without a single piece of short fiction published until 2009, Parker didn’t even have the traditional medium within speculative fiction for building a following – the novels have had to build a base on their own.

What is known about Parker is that she has previously worked in the law and as a journalist; nowadays she “makes things out of wood and metal,” and this fascination with craftsmanship runs right through her prose. The book is so full of the minutiae of manufacturing that initially it threatens to sink the story (though it does give it a refreshing solidity), a handicap that it gradually overcomes. In some ways The Hammer resembles a narrative avalanche; slow to start, almost unstoppable as it roars toward its climax.

• June 10th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

New Article on Suite101

In which our intrepid blogger reneges on a commitment he made to himself and friends…but he has his reasons…

Some time ago I decided to stop writing for Suite101. I’d become increasingly frustrated with the poor returns, and saw no way -short of working myself into the ground, or hitting the blogging equivalent of the jackpot- that I was ever going to earn more than three or four dollars a month however much work I put in, which was frequently ten hours a month or more.

I didn’t make a general announcement, but did tell some friends, which left me with the chance to keep my options open. But now, as part of my decision to optimize my blogging that I talked about yesterday, I’ve looked again at their demands.

Now Suite have cut their  quota of targets, and since I have a couple of articles left over that probably won’t get past the gatekeepers of most magazines, it seems to be a good time revisit that decision, even if it is for only a few more months. And for the first time, posting one article a month will give me the clarity I’ve been seeking for a long time.

Sometimes in business, one has to look again at previous decisions.

• May 31st, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Blogging: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Revisiting the topic of improving blogging and blogs – including this one.

 I’m a member of the Codex writing group of pro, neo-pro and aspiring professional writers. The group, which has at least 130 members, includes one of last year’s Hugo and two of this year’s Nebula winners amongst their ranks; they are collectively and individually, a formidable group.

Perhaps arising out of the Codex Blog Tour which I’ve been participating in –-along with Aliette, Gareth, Alathea, Gray and many, many others—there’s been a lot of discussion just lately about the quality of blogs, and how to improve them. And change starts at home; that is,  here.

Author Sandra Taylor, has started posting on the topic, while Amy Sundberg has started a series of posts titled Get A BackboneThis has led to me to do some more head scratching about my own blogging.

Based on stats that internet usage drops by 40% at weekends as people spend their time doing things rather than sitting in the office surfing the net, I’m going to drop one of the weekend posts, and perhaps one of the weekday ones.

I’m aware that this blog doesn’t really have an identity – in that respect, my earlier blog -Random Mumblings- was probably a good title for this one.

Is that eclectic nature a strength or a weakness? Do you prefer specilist blogs rather than my grasshoppering across subjects? Short blogs every day or long ones once a week? (Madeline Ashby and Tania Hershmann are examples of the latter sort, whereas the former is more the default setting)

If you’re posting a comment and your website has a commercial orientation (ie Wolverhampton computer repair dot com) you might want to leave your website off your comment, so that the ever hungry spam filter doesn’t eat it.

I’ll post more on this whole topic in a few days.

• May 30th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 2

Glass Walls

This morning has been a real battle, in stark contrast to yesterday morning when I laid down a good four hours and ended up with about eight hundred words.

It shows how variable a writer’s output can be. This morning I feel like one of those birds that you sometimes see trapped in greenhouses or conservatories – they’ve flown in, and at every attempt to get out they fly into a glass door or wall.

I awoke with plans to do three or four jobs, and at every turn I’ve thudded into an invisible wall; that, or I managed to finish the job, but after several times as long as it should have taken. The delays have been tiny, but niggling; a phone call at an inopportune moment, a notebook that locks up and refuses to respond, a chequebook that isn’t where I think it should be and which takes ten minutes to find, my own inability to concentrate.

It’s probably that last factor that’s the real cause of the problem.

I may have had one beer too many, last night (the monthly meetings are on the whole becoming ever better attended), or that I’m tired. It may be that without the constant relentless pressure of assignments, but also without the structure that uni provides, I’m adrift. Whatever it is, it’s only with typing this that I’m starting to regain some clarity. That’s one of the many reasons why I blog – talking about it to someone helps me see where the problem is.

Years ago, on a course run by Bruce Holland Rogers*, he (or it may have been co-organizer Eric) observed that sometimes writers procrastinate, finding a million and one things to do rather than actually write. “That’s fine,” he said, “but you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re not getting much done, give yourself the day off.”

So I did. And since I gave myself the day off after I finish this post, the pressure and confusion has lifted. I have no idea why, but I’m just going to go with the flow; if I write one word today, it will be one word more than when I started this blog.

* I don’t normally link to Wikipedia, but Bruce has so many sites that it seemed sensible to link to a hub – you’ll find his websites at the base of the article there.

• May 24th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 1


Regular readers will know that we gained not only a blackbird and his mate nesting outside our back door at the beginning of May, but their four chicks as well. Three of them survived to leave the nest, but unfortunately they dropped into the garden next door, which is separated from ours by a high brick wall.

Nonetheless, two of them have survived and have  returned and started foraging on their own (one of them is pictured here – not very blackbird like is he? But they only develop the black colouring when they’ve moulted and assumed adult plumage).

As well as blackbird fledglings, I also startled a young starling that was lurking amid the pots on Saturday, and we also have a juvenile sparrow who missed Kate’s head by bare inches. It seems to me as if more and more the garden is starting to resemble an avian crèche!

• May 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0

Film Evening

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’ve been taking as one of my electives the Planning & Making A Film module, which includes a separate film blog.

Last night came the big emotional pay-off, as the eleven short films made by the students were shown at Bath’s Little Cinema. It was almost a red carpet evening- outfits verged from student-chic to dinner jackets- with host Mike Johnston donning a wholly appropriate tuxedo (He’s on the left of this shot with the winning team).

Our film, Heads or Tails was first up which meant that we got to relax after that and just enjoy the show. Sadly, we didn’t win; See What I Say deservedly won both the audience and the critic’s awards, but it was enjoyable just to see it up on the big screen.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the module, and also to one of the crew, as Jaeeun flies home to Japan at the end of June. I have one more tutorial and then the academic year 2010-11 is officially over, but it felt very much like the end of term last night.

I never thought I’d say it, but I’m almost sad it’s over.

• May 20th, 2011 • Posted in Events • Comments: 0

Time Flying

I had so many plans for this morning; read the paper, then blog, before knuckling down to assembling Transtories.

I managed to get the paper read (it’s not as self-indulgent as it sounds; I find newspapers helpful for generating ideas, not for what they write, but how they write it, with less immediacy and more analysis) but then I remembered a couple of jobs that needed to be done. A couple of pitches later, and three and a half hours have gone by.

Partly it’s in the nature of the job – facts need to be checked, sources tracked down, websites lock up and machines crash, but it all adds to the sense of dislocation. I feel as if I’m aboard Poul Anderson’s Leonora Christian – with the elapsed time, in my head it’s barely eight o’clock, but in the universe outside, it’s ten past eleven…

• May 17th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 1

Guest Interview at EC Ambrose’s Blog

Some months ago, a group of us writerly types on the net formed the Codex Blog Tour to cross-promote each other’s work. Codex is a group that’s open to writers with a promotional sale, or who have attended qualifying workshops such as Clarion, Odyssey or Viable Paradise. Many of us have blogs such as this one, and you may have read my interviews with Aliette de Bodard and Brad Beaulieu.

 One of the bonuses of this sort of activity is that it brings us into contact with writers who we wouldn’t normally meet.

Such an author is the mysterious Dark Historical author E.C. Ambrose, who has posted an interview with me on their website, in which I talk about Dark Spires at some length. That gives me an excuse to put up Andy’s lovely dirigible fuelling station again!

• May 10th, 2011 • Posted in Interviews • Comments: 0