Just fucking DO IT.

I was going to blog about family today. I was going to talk about working your writing around your children, your career and your home life in pursuit of one day being able to call yourself an actual writer and not a pretender or a hobbyist, but I’m not going to do that. Not today, at least, because there is only one thing in my life today that I can bring myself to even consider writing about, and that is just getting your head down and writing when you feel like you really don’t want to.

Right now, as I write this, I’m at work. It’s lunch time, I have a sweet potato and some chicken, and I want to throw them across the room. Things are not going my way, people are asking me questions and not listening to the answers, I feel thoroughly trapped and that is ALL that is stopping me from trashing my desk and walking out.

I am looking at the stats for my blog and realising that those closest to me, with a handful of exceptions, are singularly uninterested in reading anything that I’ve written. They don’t take the time to read the blog, to take an interest in my writing, my hopes, my dreams or my interests. They didn’t say anything when I got published for the first time, don’t respond to any mentions of my recent advances or successes, don’t voice any form of support at any time and are in no way helping me to achieve my dreams of being a writer, full time or otherwise.

Is this a tantrum? Nope. This isn’t me trying to get any help or attention because, as I’ve already said, I KNOW those people won’t ever read this, only those who do support me will, plus the randoms from the internet who happen upon my blog by whatever means.

To those fine people, thank you. I really do appreciate everything you’ve done, the small gestures of love and support and believe me, those are invaluable to me, but this isn’t why I’m writing this. I’m writing this to say that there will be days when you want to smash things, throw things, scream a massive “fuck you” into the face of those that are making things harder for you, and on those days you may well not want to write. Maybe someone’s upset you or you’ve had bad news, maybe you’re just not in the mood, whatever. Write.

Maybe you can’t bring yourself to write what you’ve started? Fine. Write something else. Maybe you’re too mind-bogglingly happy to write about the harrowing sex-crime that you’re in the middle of detailing. Fine, go write about fluffy bunnies. Maybe you’re too pissed off to tell the world about how Cotton-balls and Mr Plim are having such jolly japes at the Wiggly-Piggle Circus. Fine! Write about feeding Piers Morgan into a bacon slicer. Just WRITE.

Writing is freedom. It’s also captivity. If you want to do it and be successful at it, by whatever measure of success you are applying to yourself, you have to just keep on doing it. Don’t spend your life reading lists of spurious facts that will make you a success, just go out like anything else in life you want and fucking GRAB IT. Bleed for it, live for it, do it because it is what you have to do. Pour your heart, blood, sweat, tears, fury and sadness into it. Nurture and love it while you curse it and wish it would die. A real story that lives and breaths and is honest is a sliver of your soul distilled in prose. You can’t create something so vital and truthful by waiting to write until a day comes along where you feel wonderful and everything is going your way.

If you do, you’ll never, ever fulfil your potential.


Characters – an endless parade of bastards.

Prior warning: Today’s blog entry is brought to you by a tired, irrational and somewhat exhausted Alec. He may bite if startled.

Ever heard of a Mary-Sue character? If you have, well, tough. Go on, smart ass, fuck off to Wikipedia and read about Latvian Gorilla-Llamas for a few minutes while the adults are talking.

Basically a Mary-Sue character is an idealised version of the writer, with all the strengths they lack and without their weaknesses, or something. There’s some debate about precisely what makes a character a Mary-Sue as opposed to a boring, overpowered cretin of some other creed, but frankly this is the definition that suits my current aims. If there was a door, I’d be directing the disgruntled towards it at this moment. Just poke yourself in the eye and kick yourself firmly up the arse and we’ll pretend I’ve just evicted you from the blog, ok?

The point is, don’t write a Mary-Sue. Unless you’re including one for a good reason other than polishing your own cock (or lady cock) they’re a dull, lazy way to write a character that smacks far more of self-indulgence than it does of creativity. Filling the pages of a book with a Mary-Sue is almost rude, it’s almost a form of masturbation and frankly I don’t want you flopping your wedding tackle out where I am forced to look at it.

What we need, or at least what I need, are flaws. That doesn’t mean Kryptonite, before any rabid Superman fan-boys approach, flapping their limp-wristed, clammy little hands in my general direction. Look to the mundane and go from there. Is your character unspeakably badass? Are they the sort of person who could kick the asses of 90% of the population unarmed? Fine! That’s cool, just hamper them enough to make them interesting.

For example:

Meet Jimmerz. Jimmerz is a boxing champion, billionaire, super-genius philanthropist who is capable of anything. Sound interesting? Maybe, at first, but now imagine meeting him. He’s tougher than you, better looking than you, smarter and funnier than you. Though your wife would swear different if she’d had to choose her partner from what’s on paper, she’d be doing him now and not you. And yeah, he’s bigger than you too. In that way.

You would HATE him. Or become his Igor or something, if you swing that way. Loser.

Add any flaw, any flaw at all to the above, and it will make him more interesting. Again, for example;

Meet Jimmerz. Jimmerz is a boxing champion, billionaire, super-genius philanthropist who is capable of anything. Sound interesting? Maybe, at first, but now imagine meeting him. He’s tougher than you, better looking than you, smarter and funnier than you. Though your wife would swear different if she’d had to choose her partner from what’s on paper, she’d be doing him now and not you. And yeah, he’s bigger than you too. In that way. But his left nut is haunted by a former chancellor of the exchequer who constantly screams his latest budget ideas at the top of his lungs.

Or he’s got a radioactive nipple. Or no elbows. Or an ostrich growing out of his ass.

ANYTHING is more interesting than a god made flesh, so for the love of crap don’t make one. There’s no need to just write someone incredible and insert a dark past or something obvious, but remember that characters are people, and people suck. We’ve all got something wrong with us, from the mundane to the harrowingly dreadful, and it is often what is wrong with us that makes us interesting. Sometimes, like it or not, it’s the presence of flaws that make people comfortable in our presence. They equalise us and provide us with opportunities to improve and to learn. They inform and direct us as people and they are essential to your stories.

Without flaws, what are your characters overcoming? Nothing. What are they learning? Very little. Why should we care? We shouldn’t, not even for a moment.

Now, bugger off and write something. I’m going back to sleep.

The importance of inspiration.

Sitting there, scratching your head, simply is not likely to work. Not forever, anyway. No matter how fertile your imagination might be, sooner or later you will run out of ideas, you’ll lose that spark of ingenuity and your brain will need topping up and this, my delightful sun dodgers, will mean going outside, reading, listening to music or doing something else to reinvigorate your exhausted noggin.

For me, my most recent foray into blatantly stealing ideas from my environment was yesterday’s Steampunk festival and I can tell you, it’s given me some fantastic ideas. You see, at events like that everybody is working from the same brief. Come dressed up if you so wish, the theme is Steampunk. It’s a mish-mash of old and new, with Victorian influences, a dollop of HG Wells and a smattering of Isumbard Kingdom-Brunel to create something totally unique and interesting, all for the sheer hell of doing it.

I personally lean towards the military aspect as I’m sure you might have guessed, but this isn’t about me. It isn’t really even about Steampunk or about anything in particular; it’s simply about how the environment can charge your mind with ideas at random and how other people’s ways, dress and behaviour can create images in your head with only the token effort of note taking and a touch of observation. For example, yesterday there were pith helmets, militaria, gypsy dress, jet packs, all manner of bizarre weapons (mostly wielded by some very well behaved and thoroughly cheerful children, which immediately spawned a race of gun-wielding diminutives from somewhere or other), some fantastic gizmos and an assortment of goggles anyone would be proud of, all of which sparked different ideas for my upcoming novels or at least became notes for potential use later on.

It isn’t like I was sat there with a notebook all day, in fact I was joining in and having a great time while my brain refilled itself all of its own accord, though my trusty BlackBerry does contain a few things I actually bothered to commit to proper storage. 

Rambling as always but the message is simple; if you’re out of ideas, don’t sit there pounding your brain as though a boss is likely to appear and fire you for being unforgivably shit, just go and do something else for a while. Go read a book, go for a walk, go take a leak or get a change of scenery. Real life is the inspiration for basically EVERYTHING. If the idea you’re looking for just isn’t in there at the moment, it most definitely is out there. Somewhere. Just go have a look.

An outdoor festival… and it’s sunny… almost seems too good to be true!

Steampunk Nerf Gun - N-Strike BarricadeSteampunk isn’t exactly something I’m that familiar with or that involved with from the point of view of dressing up, but there is certainly something about the combination of old, new and futurism that appeals to me as a writer. Taking many apparently disparate ideas and mixing them together produces such surprising results and leads to all new avenues of thinking, so it has to be said that I’m really looking forward to our trip to the “Steampunks in Springtime” festival, event thingy over in Laddock today, organised by our friend Seraphina Sprocket-Twitcher (who also goes by the name “Abby,” but in a community it’s good to have a name that immediately announces what you’re about when people first hear it, especially when you’re trying to organise things.)

I don’t think I’m ever likely to dress up in as intricate a fashion as some of the community do, but it does present an interesting opportunity for self expression and having a bit of a laugh, possibly at my own expense, so I’ve dutifully put together a costume that at least shouldn’t make me stand out too much while being far more interested really in seeing how everyone else dresses up, hopefully giving me a little inspiration for future writing projects and characters. It’s also given me an excuse to paint a Nerf gun up in Steampunk fashion (I think, I’m certainly no expert) and it’s come out very nicely indeed as I’m hoping you’ll agree.

For those who may be interested, there is a very slight Steampunk vibe in my novella “Spares,” which I should be self-publishing in the next month or two and a considerably larger Steampunk vibe to come in the three novels that follow on from it. I decided that rather than throwing myself into that style of writing from the get-go my protagonists, faced with being cut off from resources and modern technology, turn back to basic industrial ingenuity in order to prepare for a war that they have no chance to avoid. So if you like the idea of the undead combining some incredibly unpleasant surgery with the sort of thing Brunel would have probably kept in his tinkering shed, they may well be for you. If not you may want to block this blog, my FaceBook page and my Twitter account, as when they’re written and I’m trying to get them published, I’m going to be talking about them A LOT.

Enjoy today, because this weather isn’t going to last!

To milestones. Hip-hip, somethingorother.

Today is a milestone day for me. Well, the milestone itself technically came yesterday, but while the completion of a project might make you want to celebrate, it also sometimes makes you want to slump. I chose the latter, in as much as it’s possible to slump a few hours before waddling off to my Thursday evening Muay Thai class.

As usual, I digress. I’ll probably do so again in a moment.

I completed a full chapter-by-chapter plan for my first novel, currently entitled “Lucher,” yesterday afternoon. So ok, it’s a part of a project as opposed to the project itself, but there is a very good reason for this being a milestone for me that is perhaps greater than the completion of a piece of writing in and of itself: I never plan anything.

Beyond a swirling vortex of notes on paper, my computers at home and at work, my laptop and my BlackBerry, there is never anything resembling a structure on which to pin my ideas, an idea of where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. I’m a disorganised mess in many aspects of my life and it has served me very well, or at least it did up until the point where I had a family and decided that somehow, more was expected of me. This has rubbed off on me from my wife who is super organised, makes lists, keeps large sections of my brain in her diary and generally is the scaffolding that holds our family together. I won’t gush but she’s brilliant and, thankfully, quite tolerant of my slightly erratic nature. Very fond of my wife. I’ll probably name the planet after her once I take over.

It’s not all bad though; it isn’t that I don’t get things done it’s just that I have a very direct approach to things in general. Life’s planners are often highly valued and rightly so, as they make the world go around and keep the buses running on time (har-de-har-har) and that is a strength that my wife has in abundance. I, on the other hand, have an entirely different skill set. If you want to organise a music festival (for example), Kat would find a way. She would remember to book the porta-loos, would get estimates on the numbers expected and how many cars to prepare for and would have ample first aiders on hand. All the required permits and licensing would be dealt with and for every eventuality she would have a contingency, within reason, that would make the whole thing a success. She’d also have organised a clean up crew and would leave the place as she found it, with everyone having been paid and having fully enjoyed themselves.

But what if aliens invaded during Iron Maiden’s encore?

That’s where people like me come in. I would probably make a reasonable go at the organisation if I put my mind to it, but it would cause a major headache for me as it goes against my nature. Kat would have it all running smoothly until the first mothership loomed overhead, and then she would phone me. I’m the sort of person you drop into the centre of unmitigated chaos and then stand back and let them get on with it. I think on my feet, deciding on solutions and dishing out tasks to other people and shooting from the hip, grabbing anarchy by its dreadlocked testicles and pounding it with sheer determination until it gives up and does as it’s bloody told.

When things go wrong, I’m your man. When you want to plan something so it probably won’t go wrong, Kat’s your lady, and between us there is nothing we can’t manage.

But, ever eager to improve myself, I thought I’d give this planning thing a go, and I have to admit that it has gone fairly well.

It isn’t the super-anal, well thought out and bullet-pointed sort of a plan that some other people seem to swear by, but it’s certainly a happy medium that will make writing this novel considerably easier for me. It’s very “stream of consciousness,” not a little disjointed and quite scrappy in places, but it undoubtedly plots the entire story from beginning to end with all of the appropriate stops, character points and even some “witty” dialogue options inserted along the way. It isn’t the sort of thing I would send to an editor who insisted upon seeing one (let’s hope I can avoid that for the time being) but it represents a point of personal and, hopefully, professional growth for me as a writer, and as a person.

This may be the last of these that I ever write but it might well also be the first of many. This could mark a failed experiment in altering my approach to my work or it might represent an epiphany that leads to a smoother, more productive creative process for me. I’m betting on the latter, and it has to be said that I have my wife’s example to thank for that.

While I’ve got you here…

Quick blog-plug for all-round good egg and Mslexia runner up Nichola Vincent-Abnett, who is celebrating her 100th blog post! She’s written a blog every day for the last 100 days and I think you may enjoy them.


The curse of the expansive slush pile; a self published blog by Alec McQuay.

It’s a frustrating time to be a writer, no doubt. Whether dedicating every waking moment to the putting of words onto paper or chipping occasionally away at that manuscript between feeding a baby and juggling a forty hour working week, the world and his/her wife seems to be writing that novel we’ve all supposedly got inside us.

This has a variety of consequences, not all of them good. Editors have slush piles at risk of avalanche, small publishers are springing up and publishing works that lie anywhere from the incredibly good to the absolutely pants-shittingly awful both in writing ability and editorial quality and, thanks to the dubious wonder that is the shopping and porn-drenched wasteland of the internet, we also have the phenomenon of the self published writer. People have been self publishing for years of course, but never before has it been so simple. Within moments even the dullest of semi-literate fuckwits can have their name on Amazon as a “published” author, complete with or without any form of editorial process and in return for a small quantity of your money should you wish to buy.

Cool, huh? Well… it really depends on how you look at it.

Becoming a professional, semi-professional or at least published author in the traditional sense can be incredibly daunting and it really isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. Self publishing is fantastic as it can provide an audience for those who are starting out, can provide the truly great writer with a larger return on their time and effort in the form of considerably larger royalties and it has that awesome indie vibe, like unsigned bands playing in dismal bars in return for free beer for the evening and perhaps a kebab if they’re not totally shit. It’s fun, it’s a bit cool and feels a little edgy to me and all of those points are great, but in self publishing you really do have a “diamonds in shite” situation. The cream will rise to the top and the muck will sink to the bottom, as will those who publish but fail to promote and don’t maintain their presence. Getting it out there and getting it sold are two different things, and doing it for a living is something else altogether, but it can be done. This all, of course, alters the state of the competition.

Slush piles are growing larger, inboxes are crammed to the gunwales and the signal to noise ratio is not necessarily favourable. In a world where word processors and spellcheckers do a fair amount of turd-polishing on our behalf for a sincere and hard working writer on the up-and-up, it can all be a tiring, long winded and unrewarding experience to get their beautifully honed manuscript through the massive wall of crap and get it onto the desk of the person best placed to get it published. Jumping up and down at the back of the crowd is not a pleasant experience for anyone, particularly when we know that a large percentage of our competition is utter dross (a bit of literary X-Factor I suppose) and has no business in being submitted in its current amateurish, poorly planned, badly executed and almost totally unedited form.

My point? It’s a bit of a ramble of course because this is a complex issue that isn’t going away any time soon, but the whole thing makes me smile. Sure the playing field has changed and we have to shout above the noise to be heard, but we also have to makes sure that our manuscript really jumps out at the poor bastard tasked with reading through the tottering heap in the inbox. It presents a greater challenge to overcome and yes, it lengthens the process considerably, but frankly I am so, so pleased to live in a world where so many people are writing, whatever the quality of it may be.

All I ever heard as a child was that children were rude, ill mannered, dirty, lazy little wastrels. As a teenager we were all stoned, violent, barely literate, sexually charged thieves and compulsive masturbators. As a young adult my kind were lethally poor drivers, scrounging dole money from the government and popping out children at a rate that would alarm any self-respecting rabbit. I was looking on to my thirties as an overweight, football shirt wearing, heavy drinking, chain smoking, thuggish moron. In my mid-life I would be glued to my sofa while my teenage children picked up where I left off and I could focus my efforts on becoming older, more and more miserable and complaining that things were not “like they were in my day.” All to the constant glow and throbbing background noise of the television.

But do you know what? Children are reading. So are teenagers, young adults, adults, middle aged people and the elderly, of both sexes. A great many of them are so inspired by the world around them, the world that they see on TV, the music they hear and the books that they read that they are writing about it. Reading and writing have positively exploded in the last few years and I, for one, could not be happier about it.

So yes, it makes it harder for the writer to get published, but as far as I’m concerned the best of us will be the ones that get the good deals, the best pay days and the greatest exposure.

Cream floats and shit sinks, for the most part. Of course you’ll get the odd floater from time to time, but you can’t please everyone.

Apologies for the numerous comparisons between dairy products and faeces. I’ll adjust them during the editorial process…

Progress report on “Spares” and the following novel.

Well I’ve been busy, to say the very least. The novella is very nearly complete and I am simply awaiting feedback from a couple of truly wonderful people (cheques are in the mail, honest) before I can get it totally polished, completed, formatted and ready to publish, which I intend to do via the self publishing route.

Other projects have been leaping up and down in my field of vision but I’ve swatted those aside in favour of going straight into the novel itself, so that when I come to actually publish the novella the novel will be very much in progress. I get the feeling that it won’t take too long to write either, given the level of information and inspiration I have for this book, and I hope to be able to make it available to agents and publishers at some point in either late 2012 or early 2013. The novella will be on sale and will serve as an introduction to the world I’ve created but, of course, the novel will be written in such a way that you won’t have to have read the novella for it all to make sense. I’m doing this in the main to ensure that when I approach an agent or publisher, they won’t be given a product that makes no sense without something published elsewhere, from which they will possibly never see a penny. If I can persuade them to include it as a promotional download or similar than I will, because the novella is a story in its own right and adds something to the story, but no-one’s going to be scratching their heads if they don’t ever see it.

Cool, huh?

In the meanwhile I’m busily planning away and have the beginning of the novel plotted and ready for writing, shifting everything forward several years and shifting the focus of the novel away from the first person and into more familiar third person territory.

Over the next few months I’ll keep you all posted with updates, samples and any news I have about the progress of the novella reaching the weird, digital shelves of Amazon and the like.

You never know, this could just work.