The Festive Chasm, The (Alleged) Snub and The Bio

With a toast to you my readers, and a merry commencement of 2018, we begin afresh the vital work of storytelling with renewed vigor. This is going to be the year that I get something finished and out, the year that I move forward with projects to a new level, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even play an open mic. Meanwhile, on the horizon, there already a few treats to look forward to. Jonathan Wilson brings his new songs to the UK in March, and award for Best Christmas Present 2017 goes to Sam (you better be reading this!) for getting me a ticket.

It certainly perked up the festive period as in recent years I’ve found Christmas to inspire in me a certain attitude of humbuggery, and whilst not being a total curmudgeon, what I usually sense is the yawning chasm of the holiday period in my mental calendar, that dark void of inactivity where I’m in limbo. Thankfully this year there was also a certain levity to it as my little boy reminded me of what it was like to actually be excited for the festive period. Master Bruce oft seems to reveal things that I had forgotten, to clear away the jaded cobwebs of middle age. He is enthusiasm personified.

In the run up to that point I had been working hard to conclude the draft and as I came to the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist I needed to give shaped relative to the themes of the book. This would make it feel meaningful. So I stopped writing and printed the whole lot out, feeling that by going over it from the start I would be able to simply roll into the resolution with all that I needed to sculpt a satisfying ending.


I thought I’d find it made more sense. It’s the weirdest thing because I know the story, yet reading it back gave me no idea of whether it worked or not. Certainly I found errors to correct and small plot details to tighten up, but it was strange that it felt so ephemeral. I assume that my understanding of the narrative took away the enjoyment of building an unfolding narrative in my mind. So, with it all marked in red, I’ll just have to go through the rewrites and edits and then give it out to my test readers in the hope that their feedback will furnish me with the knowledge of whether it works or not.

Anyhow, with everything on the shelf for the holidays it was into that temporal chasm I dived with sweet surrender to the festive spirit and nary a thought to liver nor waistline. Amid the tinsel, wine and mince pies I unwrapped a copy of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, a book that was recommended to me by Kat (the writer I met working for the Council). I’d seen Hobb’s books many times and got the impression that she was another cornerstone of the fantasy genre, but never picked her up.

Then Boxing Day rolled around and off we went to visit my partner’s family where I received two more books: the first was The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway, for reason’s of which I am unsure – it’s fantasy (from the New Weird subgenre)? Or perhaps they had read it and thought I would like it? It’s popular? I don’t know. The second was written by, ostensibly, my brother-in-law and self published through Amazon. It was comprised of two short stories. My first thought was to wonder if it was some kind of snub or dig, inspired by my belief that my partner’s sister in particular is somewhat ambivalent towards me.

Of course I dismissed the notion almost immediately, suspecting that I had just stung myself because of the pressure I feel I’m under;  both from that which I heap upon myself and that which I perceive (rightly or wrongly) to come from the expectation of others (my partner, my family, not to mention ALL THE PEOPLE WHO I EVER TOLD I WAS A WRITER!).

Yet it had sparked a momentarily brief amusement with the initial allegation because I felt a certain….. bulletproofness. It didn’t matter to me if it was a snub because I knew one very important thing: my voice is unique, and that’s what counts. No one can write what I have written. In that sense I’m untouchable, and although it doesn’t mean my work is necessarily good, it did help to diffuse the sullen impatience with not having my work published.

Typically the swirl of thoughts bled into each other as I sat on the Boxing Day couch and whiled away the wait for lunch. Flicking through the two books I read Nick Harkaway’s bio, and then was surprised that the self published book didn’t have one because from what I’m given to understand is that one’s bio will be like a shadow, a spectre haunting a writers every move. It’ll be in my submissions, it’ll be on the inside cover of my book, it’ll be online via social media (and on this blog when I actually settle on what I’ve written) and it’ll be in any press releases about me.

So it appears that I’d better make it good right from the start…….

The inevitable question then is what do I say about myself? Can I make myself sound interesting without come across as a pretentious twat? So begins the examination of my life, and just how interesting a person I am. It feels a little strange to rake across all that has come before, sifting memories and achievements in order to (modestly) boast about them.

And writing the damn thing is almost harder than writing the book itself, despite there being plenty of advice out there. At it’s core I think this is piece of advice is pretty key:

…..your bio should not be a dry, dusty affair. Even more important, it must make the case for why you are the ideal person to write this book and to sell it to the reading public……The bottom lines is, if you don’t toot your own horn (albeit in a way that drips of humble sincerity), who will?

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

So, by way of example, let’s look at the biographies from the two books I’ve mentioned:

Assassin’s Apprentice:

Robin Hobb is one of the world’s finest writers of epic fiction. She was born  in California in 1952 but raised in Alaska, where she learned how to raise a wolf cub, to skin a moose and to survive in the wilderness. When she married a fisherman who fished herring and the Kodiak salmon-run for half the year, these skills would stand her in good stead. She raised her family, ran a smallholding, delivered post to her remote community, all at the same time as writing stories and novels. She succeeded on all fronts, raising four children and becoming an internationally best-selling writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington State.

And The Gone-Away World:

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He likes deckled edges, wine, and breathtaking views. He does not like anchovies or reality television. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

What the fuck, may I ask, is a deckled edge? More importantly, who cares? This bio seems to reflect the book itself, my first impressions from the first couple of pages being that it was all too damn smart for its own good (and perhaps worth mentioning that I later found out he’s the son of John le Carré and had a good amount of money spent on his publicity).

So the big question then is which one sounds better? Which one sounds like someone who’s story is worth reading? It’s amazing to think that there is so much emphasis on building a one paragraph persona that will be your projection into the literary world, and it must clearly be done with some finesse if it is going to shadow my every move.

It’s tempting to put the problem on a shelf for a time, but I suspect that it would be best to keep it in mind and jot down any ideas that crop up during the days, week and months ahead.

And there’s always one’s friends and family to ask about just what it is that makes you interesting…….

Then again, maybe not eh?

Suffice to say dear Reader that if you stick around here long enough you’ll find out just who I want you to think I am.











The Joy of Restraint

Salutations dear readers.

Following my standard pattern of doing some blogging and then just disappearing for months on end it seems that the cycle has come around and here we are in June with an update on what’s been happening.

Well, for a start I stopped going to the cafe to work, and while it is certainly important to find somewhere where one can work, I opted to make a space in a spare room where I set up a desk and my old record player. The upshot of this is no more stress trying to get to the cafe in time to claim my preferred seat before the cycle brigade make their sprawling conquest of the shop. As a result I’ve been listening to plenty of vinyl and am currently in the depths of an afrobeat binge – I don’t remember how I came across Fela Kuti, but his story was fascinating.

Anyhow, more importantly I started to double up on my day to day sessions where I could, writing both in the morning and the evening and sacrificing some of the less virtuous past times. The pressure, you see, is on.

For a start the book was becoming huge. Not necessarily a problem for fantasy, but a potential problem for a first novel. Publishers see BIG and think COST! A good friend of mine asked if I could not break it up, but it didn’t seem likely. Pondering the problem I thought I would remove the first chapter of about 4k words as it was somewhat disconnected (but still vital to the story). Realising that there was a small story between it and the main bulk I decided that I would fill it in. Two months later and I’m in the final arc of what might have been a prequel, but now makes the whole thing easily split into a nice trilogy of moderate sized pieces.

And the title of this post? Well, it wasn’t to do with my accidental clicking on something called Shibari You Can Use. Consider me enlightened, but I now have bondage rope appear in my recommended items thanks to those pesky algorithms.

No, what I refer to here is that working on this previous segment, there was a sense of limitation to the story. There was no chance to go wandering down creative tangents, or to deviate into grandiose plot sequences. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be creative or inventive, but rather there was a simple joy in just filling a gap that already had a size and shape.

The aim now is to have it revised within a month or two and sent out to test readers. Then begins the work of writing the proposal for it – one element of which is the bio for yourself, something that I have played around with. I wrote a new one recently late at night for this blog by way of experimentation.

For now it’s back to the grind as I wait for the postman to bring some more vinyl, this time offerings from Fela’s son Seun.

And as the year swings into summer, I’m certainly feeling a surge of optimism. Until later then, dear readers.