start of second draft

The first draft of Stealing Fire is done, topping out at 132,000 words. I think I'm as happy with it as I am with any first draft, in the sense there's some good ideas in there, but this deep in you get the 'can't see the wood for the trees' effect that prevents you from gaining sufficient mental distance from the story to be sure you can be even distantly objective about its credits or failings. This distance can be achieved by the simple act of printing out the manuscript and leaving it in a desk drawer for two years before reading it again. Unfortunately, since I'm on a deadline, I don't have that luxury.

Nonetheless, I started work on the second draft/rewrite, which is proving to be fun, involving as it does some level of research. But the hard work of typing thousands of words every day, at least, is over.

Things I Have Learned in Taipei

That you should never throw out your shopping receipts because they've all got lottery numbers printed on them (the rationale being as far as I understand it that: shoppers will always ask for an official receipt, and the shop will thereby not be inclined to not record the sale for tax purposes). Why don't we do that?

You can fit one fully grown adult and at least three children onto a scooter.

Even large dogs fit quite nicely in the space underneath a scooter's handlebars, and can be trained not to jump out while their owner is doing sixty in the middle of heavy traffic.

That road rage is a concept largely confined, I think, to the British Isles; despite the density of traffic here, no one - I repeat, no one - gets upset.

That the one true universal language is spontaneous mime.

That drunken fighting in the streets is a cultural phenomenon, unrelated to the availability of alcohol well into the early hours (I've seen one drunk person in my whole time here).

That television programming back home looks an awful lot better once you see what's described as 'entertainment' outside of the UK.


increasingly scarce

Apparently there's less than two hundred copies of the hardback of Stealing Light out in the wild, so if you were thinking of getting one and haven't yet ... now might be the time, and I'd suggest ordering online rather than getting it from an actual bookshop given its current scarcity. It's unlikely that the hardback will be reprinted before the mass market paperback comes out on June 20th this year. It's still available on Amazon right now, and there a few copies for sale through Amazon-affiliated new and secondhand dealers.


my new favourite waste of time

First off, if you have any serious work to be getting on with, do not go to www.bitstrips.com. (from where this strip was taken, one of the best I've seen there - linking isn't as easy as it could be, and if it appears too small on your screen, click on it and it should open up much larger). Repeat, do not go. It's a black hole of time-consuming fun. Basically, it's a flash-driven site that allows you to assemble one to six panel newspaper-style comic strips with a ready-made catalogue of furniture, backgrounds and characters, the latter of which are heavily customisable. It took less than an hour for me to knock together two very professional-looking (I thought) comic strips. I'm not telling where mine are, because my efforts at humour are feeble enough without exposing themselves to the wider world.

Secondly, there's a very nice review of Stealing Light up at the Sci Fi London site, which is apparently closely tied to the Clarke Awards (he who has gone to the great monolith in the sky).

Progress continues on the last hard slog to the rough-as-hell-until-I-revise-it end of book two, though the other day I could hardly get any writing done; I literally stared at the screen slack-jawed, feeling burned out. But in the past couple of months I've come up with some ideas for the book that hadn't occurred to me when I started it. That's something I was pleased to find out when I started writing books; that you come up with really good ideas even when you're deep into a book, that can substantially change it in a positive and unexpected way.

I started thinking, as I often do, of books I imagine I might write at some indeterminate point in the future if I genuinely had the motivation and ability to spend a solid three months doing nothing but writing furiously 'between the books I get paid for', as it were. There's the non-genre ''40's Noir murder mystery based around the filming of a '40's noir murder mystery movie just before the US entry into World War 2' book. Then there's the definitely genre 'sort of ERB's Barsoom, but set in the near future and with weird and exotic alien tech on Mars' book (since I have a feeling intertextually self-referential, postmodern heroic pulp action may be the 'in' thing in the next couple of years). There's the 'mid-21C environmental disaster' book ... and some other stuff. Or maybe I should just get on with finishing this one ...


Nearly Done

Just about finished the first draft of Stealing Fire - maybe one, two thousand words from the end, but couldn't get up much steam to actually get to the end of this draft today. There's a lot to change, though possibly not as much as I changed in Stealing Light; I ripped fifteen or twenty thousand words out of the first draft of that, but I really don't think I'm going to have to cut that deep with this one. Using the Mac-only Scrivener software has helped a lot for organising the manuscript and giving me a better overall sense of the book's structure than I've previously managed to get using more standard software like Microsoft Word (and before anyone mentions Open Office, it really doesn't work at all well on a Mac. Especially not with novel-length manuscripts).

I'll probably take a couple of days to lounge around before I start on the second draft. After that, hopefully it's no more than finessing to get the book into its final shape for submission. And then a more thorough outline of book three, followed by actually writing it. Lots to do. There's a bunch of things that have been happening I could talk about - the Hugo awards and why I sometimes wonder if they've become devalued, why the Olympics are possibly going to be an enormous public relations disaster for China, the election of the KMT back into power here in Taiwan, Tibet - lots of things. But I've just been too busy with the book to pay much attention to anything beyond my laptop and the four walls around me.


short read

I really like this short story, which has also been mentioned on Boing Boing, and I can see why. And it's only Desmond Warzel's first publication. Someone ought to go back in time and ...


close to the finish

I'm probably no more than a fortnight, if even that, from finishing the first draft of Stealing Fire. Like everything else I've written, it looks like it's going to come in at just about bang on 130,000 words. It's still pretty rough, like first drafts usually are, but I think this time I'm only going to take a few days off before I get started on the second draft. There's not a huge amount of time before I have to get it to the publishers, so I've got my work cut out.


Surely you're joking, Mr Goldsmith

"SCHOOLCHILDREN are to be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and promise to obey the law in ceremonies similar to those for new immigrants.

A review of citizenship by Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney-general, will say this procedure could strengthen children’s understanding of what it means to be British."

(From The Times Online)

For all the furore this is certain to cause, it's still a silly season news item. The chances of anything like this happening are, I believe, ridiculously low. For that reason I'd normally ignore it, but I'm Scottish, and it's stuff like this that really, really gets my back up.

I have a distinct memory of returning to Scotland by car from London in the late Seventies with my Dad after a weekend trip. It was the time of the Queen's Jubilee. It was also a time when the Sex Pistols were in the charts with God Save The Queen. All the way back up through England, there was bunting everywhere, along with the street parties, the commemorative mugs, the union jack t-shirts - you name it.

The closer and closer we got to the border between England and Scotland, the less and less street parties and obvious signs of commemoration there were. As soon as we were over the border, there was nothing. I mean it stopped dead. The Jubilee might well have been happening in England, but it was an awful lot rarer north of the Border.

I, like a lot of Scottish people, was also later somewhat mystified by the outward signs of public grief over the death of Princess Diana. Lots of celebrities who got where they were by marrying the right person have had unfortunate deaths. What on Earth was the big deal? I was far from alone in this judgement.

So you can imagine my reaction to even the suggestion that British kids could be 'encouraged' to swear allegiance to the Queen. I can also imagine a lot of other people's reaction north of the Border were something like this to come anywhere near to being implemented, which I suspect would largely take the form of voting for Scottish independence in unprecented numbers.

One does of course wonder what the people behind this suggestion might have put forth on how to treat those opting not to 'swear allegiance' to an unelected Head of State who represents so much of what is wrong in the United Kingdom, not least class inequality. And let's all breathe a sigh of relief when this particular item fades quietly into obscurity along with the Sinclair C5 and other famous bad ideas from the past.


Missing pages?

Here's a question for anyone out there who owns a hardback copy of Stealing Light. I want you to turn to the end and tell me what number the last page is. It should be 441. I ask because I have a sneaking suspicion there might, just might, be a very, very few copies out there missing a few pages from the end. If this is the case, leave a message in the comments. Thank you.


An end to book trailers

Can I make just one small request? An end to book trailers. God knows I understand the need to promote books, to make the potential reader aware of your work for that incremental fraction of a moment during which it might, just might, lodge in their brain long enough to lead - hope of hopes! - to an actual purchase. But book trailers - the choice du jour for the marketing-hungry author - are not necessarily the way, if the frequently insipid and even depressing evidence available online is anything to go by.

Here's the basic format for developing your own book trailer - as evidenced by the majority I've seen - and believe me, I've seen quite a few:

1) Find a friend with a crappy band, or even better another writer who uses a home studio as an excuse to while away the hours that might otherwise be spent writing. Cajole them into letting you use their stuff as a soundtrack.

2) Scan the cover of your book into your hard drive, and maybe chop it up a little if you've got some skill with Photoshop.

3) Use whatever free software came with your PC or Mac to make the pictures move about in a slidey, fadey sort of way.

4) And lastly, the most important part: have a bunch of vaguely descriptive text taken from the back cover fade in and out between the pictures of your book, your dog, or whatever the hell it is you've inflicted on the YouTube-watching public

5) Upload it to Youtube, where the world will forever get to see something vaguely reminiscent of a cheap-as-chips movie trailer, possibly for something called Chainsaw Martians III: The Massacre, circa 1983. Minus the professional sheen and production values.

And voila, yet another generic book trailer makes the rounds.

Don't get me wrong, I'm completely open to the manifold marketing opportunities offered by the internet. But when it comes to marketing books off your own bat, you really have to try a lot harder than the next guy. I've seen one or two great ones; the US crime writer and working cop, for instance, who tries out a bunch of assault weapons on copies of his new book (the irony is, I've forgotten his name, hence no link, but forgive me - it was a while ago). I'm sure there are other terrific examples out there. I remember one guy's self-published fantasy novel made headlines when he nearly convinced a couple of journalists the photo of a dragon-in-a-jar on the cover was, in fact, real.

If you're thinking of doing a book trailer, please, remember, you're a writer. It's what you're good at. Not making movies. Even a talking-head interview with the author, assuming they've got at least the minimal set of social skills, would quite possibly be better and more interesting. It could, for instance, help identify whatever you feel makes your book just that little tiny bit different from the next. Name your inspirations. Aim for some classy production values. You can find legally free music to use online that sounds a lot better than an ageing Maxell tape of that Cure tribute band you were bassplayer for back in the old days.

So here's some suggestions: watch the better TV adverts, the kind that don't look like they cost the annual budget of Venezuela to make, and see if it inspires some ideas on how to market your new novel. Even better, find a starving film-maker with a camera, and maybe even a couple of starving actors. God knows, there's no lack of them. Give them a budget, buy them a sandwich, introduce them to your sister, tell them it'll be great on their CV, whatever it takes. Then stand back and watch as they make gold where you could produce only mud. The chances are they'll come up with something far better than anything you could produce yourself.