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And so I’m back… from outer space… I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face. Presumably because you’re in my house and shouldn’t be. Now… get out…

So… it’s been a while. How are you? How are the kids? How’s the WEATHER?

I think that’s still how people speak to each other, but hey, I’m no expert.

Anyhoo…

I’ve been busy. I’ve had exams of the HOLY FUCK I REALLY HAVE TO PASS THIS variety. I’ve had a lot on writing-wise and that’s only going to get worse. Well, better, depending on how you look at it. There’s going to be more of it, put it that way.

Currently:

Spares (in novella form) was submitted to and then rejected by a very nice publishers who liked the idea, liked the writing and are keen for me to submit further writing to them. Super! It’s a rejection of the very best kind so I’m feeling highly confident and happy at the moment and it’s really spurred me on. Not bad at all for a “thanks, but fuck off” letter!

My magnum opus (Coburn: The Black Saint cycle) is in the planning stages and will remain so for “some time.” I’m not rushing this one and it will be going on in the background for as long as it takes to do it right and get it finished. It will be a trilogy and, once I’m done writing it, I will start to pimp out the first book. This is going to take YEARS, so I may be boring you with updates on it infrequently but for a long time. Haha.

I have three short stories in with publishers and am waiting with baited wotsits for news on those. One of which I would have expected to hear about if it had been accepted, so I’m writing it off as a dead ‘un. One I should hear about this month at some point, probably, and the third I’ll hear about sometime in September, probably. I’ve got one more to write for one of these publishers and will then be off

One other short story I have written was done to spec, so that’s in with the editors at the moment and there’ll be a proper announcement for the anthology once we’ve got dates and artwork to bandy about. The anthology is going to be called “The Night Wind’s Whispers” and features myself and several others writers from the Black Library Bolthole, talented bastards all. More on that soon…..

Now; current project. I can hammer out short stories pretty fast and novellas with reasonable alacrity, so I’m going full-bore to write a novel as quickly as possible. There will be semi-regular updates on this one (semi-regular like someone who eats only bananas and prunes, presumably) and this one will be a little… erm… it’ll be odd.

Expect to hear about the completed “Gumptions Follies” in the next four months. I aim to have it done (first draft form of course) by the end October. Why? Well, it’s fun writing to a deadline and the anthology I’m to be a part of is to be released in time for Halloween, so I’ll be racing alongside. This gives me four months to complete the project and, hopefully, that will be plenty.

Watch this space for a sample in the next couple of weeks!

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Are you a writer? Well? Are you?

You can’t do it. You lack the inspiration, the drive, the capabilities or the creativity. You have the time     management skills that the White Rabbit would have if he was off his furry little tits on absinthe and weapons-grade ganja. You’re never going to get published because you have three pounds of goat shit where your brains are supposed to be. Your typing fingers are greasy, flaccid nubs, incapable of creating superlative prose or pleasing a woman. You have the creative aptitude of a two inch rubber cock. You suck, like, really bad, you dumb fuck. Put that pen down and back AWAY from the writing industry and go do something you were born to do. Wanking yourself silly into a paper bag on Wimbledon Common or something, like some sort of filthy-minded, indecent Womble. If you’re female then substitute the last few details for Smurfette, Alan Carr’s back garden and a rolled up copy of the Radio Times. It doesn’t matter. You’re still rubbish.

I very much doubt anyone has ever said any of the above to you but these are the sorts of things that go through my head after falling into the negativity traps that lie all over the bleedin’ shop when you’re an aspiring writer. It often feels to me like you’ve got a writer or interested party on each hand pulling you up, while an entire PACK of bastards are either yanking you back down or standing there with their foot on your head. Everyone has an opinion on what it takes to be considered a writer and a lot of the time, you’re going to find out that you’re not it. In their opinion, at the very least.

My advice to you is two-fold. Firstly, define and describe yourself however the fuck you want to. Fine, you’re going to come over as a twat if you introduce yourself as a writer and will look a prize cock if they ask what you’ve written and you have nothing to tell them, but you can qualify it however you like. Writer in my spare time, shit-house poet or the man with the golden pen. If you love to write, like to write or just do write, no matter how much or how little, as far as I’m concerned you are a writer. How good you are is your fucking problem, right? But that brings me on to the second piece of advice: fuck’em. Conceptually, not actually. Unless you want to, you sick puppy. “Writer” is a vague term. Just because someone else’s personal definition precludes you, don’t let that ruin your day. There are a great many people that I both respect and like that would not consider me a writer and, on that one key point alone, I couldn’t give a flying basket full of tortoise turds what they think and neither should you.

YOU know what you consider makes someone a writer. If that is your goal then aim for it and go balls-out to get it, and don’t allow self-doubt to creep in because some asshole has a different set of criteria. Let’s use a crude analogy, shall we? What makes someone a good lover? Some like it long, some like it quick and some like it while being hung upside down by the ankles while being shot repeatedly in the ass with paintballs. One term, millions of definitions, and only one set of criteria that you should value in any way: YOUR OWN.

The best inventors in the world create a few great things while standing on top of a fucking MOUNTAIN of failures that would fill a hundred sheds, stacks of blueprints for daft things like grape-toasters and thermal-imaging goggles for aphids and dozens of rejected patent applications because the patent office couldn’t be arsed to register the “intercontinental ballistic hamster magnet.”

As and when you get to where you want to be, you’re going to need a thick skin. Those who love your work might praise you but they will be drowned out by those that don’t like it, and who have the many tools of the internet at their disposal and will do their best to stop you ever producing anything else, simply because they mistake their own opinion for cold, hard fact. Oh, that and because they’re pricks.

You have a hard enough path ahead of you and, believe me, it is LINED with bastards. At some point you will need to realise that you must judge yourself on your own terms, identify the helpful noises in the deafening cacophony of bullshit and ignore the twats. Might as well start as you mean to go on, really.

 

 


Writing and the perils of advice.

The deafening sound of thousands of writers, creatives and others talking directly and noisily out of their asses. That is how I would generally sum up writing blogs, this one included.

Advice, even from the very best and most qualified or sources, is bullshit. Or at least it is in part. It may be well intentioned bullshit and it might well even be tried and tested bullshit, but as far as you as an aspiring writer are concerned you are best off taking it all with anything from a pinch to a whole 18-wheeler full of salt.

Let me make this completely clear so there can be no misunderstanding of my point: no matter who is giving the advice and in whatever form it comes, no-one’s advice will be anything more than another person’s opinions, and we all know what they say about opinions, don’t we?

Don’t we? No? Well… You’re a writer. Bloody make something up.

One person’s experience colours their own view just as your own will colour yours. It’s inescapable but none of us can claim to be truly objective when it comes to writing, what works and what doesn’t work, even in areas where we may have a great deal of common ground.

We each have prejudices and preferences that have grown organically from how our own time as writers has gone and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially considering that a lot of the advice givers will be trying to save some other poor bastard from negative experiences they may have gone through on their way to wherever they are. That’s a good thing, finding a little altruism in a competitive industry. Relish it. Read it and soak it up, but never forget that pinch of salt.

All you can do is approach advice in the same way you would approach any other form of research, assuming you want to do it properly of course. You need several reliable and qualified sources, never, ever take just one and accept it as gospel. If you’re in a bind and want a solution, ask two or more people or sources before throwing yourself at the nearest easy answer. Don’t immediately assume that someone who has been in your position has had the same journey as you have. All of our points of origin are a little different, we take different routes at different speeds and have different, though often similar, destinations. Don’t make the mistake that a coincidence is a direct reflection of your own issues when you can’t be certain of how the other person arrived there.

Just because our paths sometimes intersect for one fleeting moment, that doesn’t mean any one of us has all the answers.


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.


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.

http://www.nicolavincent-abnett.com/


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.