At some point you have to get feedback. No man or book is an island. It may on occasion  be a peninsula with very few visitors and no gift shop. However whilst it is often said you should create art for your own pleasure without reference to others, the reality is that all acts of creativity exist in some form of context and it would be a perverse type of solipsist that didn’t want some reaction to their work  critical monetary or otherwise. Of course friends and family are usually the first port of call and, let’s be honest, you are expecting uncritical praise and encouragement which by and large I have received . Except from my eldest son  who, as a scientist and blogger in his own right, is genetically incapable of not telling the truth who struggling, I suspect, with my slightly florid faux Victorian style suggested that I should read Hemingway “he’s a really good writer.” Point taken David. In my defence the style, however badly executed, is deliberate.

Eventually though you need to show what you have done to someone who doesn’t know you, has no idea about the context or reasons for your writing but who does have experience and knowledge of writing and the publishing world. You need to do this for many reasons the chief of which is “am I deluding myself that I can write” closely followed by “is what I am writing of any merit or interest to anybody else”. I genuinely don’t believe there are many artists who do not want their work to be enjoyed or appreciated by others. Even if driven by inner demons, we are at heart social creatures who prefer to be accepted and by extension that includes any act of creativity. So objective feedback is critical, nothing and nobody is perfect whatever we aspire to say or do.

So here is verbatim my first objective independent feedback on the first few thousand words of my first draft.

“Well, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far of your book. The thing that stands out the most is the characterisation which I think is superb. Mr Babbage and Salt really appeal, though the others are very distinct also.I think that’s one of the most difficult things to do; to give a number of characters distinct and three dimensional personalities. They all really come alive. The whole idea of the cadre is apparent here..each one bringing a particular skill to a particular enterprise. The fact that they are personally at odds with each other makes it really funny . Tennyson and the poem for example…….Salt’s overpowering, threatening presence amongst the learned men..though he’s certainly not without humour himself. I keep seeing Oliver Reed.

I can see that dialogue is not a problem for you here. I think you’ve captured the texture and mode of the elongated sentence  structure associated with the period. My only point here is that it may obscure meaning for the average reader who may find this sort of language difficult. At this point you really need to ask yourself who the intended reader is. I think also you should spell out in this opening segment what exactly ‘the mission’ is going to be ( the idea is implanted) though you don’t have to go into a massive amount of  detail.

I like the roughness, rowdiness of the general scene created. I think a lot of writers and screen -writers avoid that kind of detail…the sheer filth of it all. I do think the first segment could be cut back a bit but don’t worry about that now.

Is this novel going to be from Perrin’s point of view throughout? Are we going to follow him through the whole novel? He’s a really good character. ..rather naive though by no means stupid.I think the reader will want to get to know why he is there pretty soon.

I do admire your ability to stay in the present tense. Our natural story telling mode is in the past tense. I don’t think you slipped once!

What fun you must have doing  some of your research on the streets of London.”

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. “He only published it ‘cos it was positive. I bet he’s got lots that told him  not to give up the day job”. Well all I can say to you unbelievers is no that’s it. As and when I start to get rejection or negative correspondence I shall publish that to. However at the moment I am buoyed and comfortable in the thought that I am not completely mad and useless, which is after all what we all want to know.

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First Contact

We are all sitting in the reception area of West Suffolk Regional College not making eye contact. Are all writers introverts? Discuss in no more than 250 words and 3 paragraphs. You have 20 minutes to complete the exercise. Welcome to wacky wild but very polite world of a creative writing course. Our host for the evening is Pat McHugh who I suspect has done this sort of thing before. What must she be thinking. “Oh good/god here we go again.” What motley band of miscreants near do wells and fantasists have decided that a degree of self actualization lies at the end of 10 weeks trying to write about themselves, a tree falling in a forest or even (god forbid) poetry! Don’t take that last sentence seriously I am just channeling the likely response of Charles Babbage one of the main characters in my book who hated poetry almost as much as he hated street musicians.

My rationale is clear, I am trying to write a novel. I have never attempted such an exercise. I need help guidence and insight into almost every aspect of the process, from point of view and tone to charater and plot development. As for the rest of our merry band of pranksters the reasons are many and various from just wanting to complete a piece that they are proud of; those wanting to hone their blogging skills; someone who believes there must be more to life (amen to that brother!); some like me who want to write a novel or short stories but need help and those that see writing as a form of catharsis and self development. Some are here for the first time and some are repeat offenders one of whom is here because ………well actually I have no idea why they are here, but it is their choice and we respect that.

So the bulk of the evening is spent  going round the room establishing our motives and alibis for being here and at the moment the only thing we have in common is the  very real fear that none of us will be able to find this room again next week having followed Pat through a labaryinth of school corridors that all look exactly the same. Finally we get the chance to do some actual writing. The challenge is as follows. In no more than ten minutes write about an early childhood memory. We all scribble wander around stare into space until told to stop. We are then all asked to read out our meagre offerings and accept the encouragement and praise that is/is not our due. We are given homework, 250 words on an object that is important to you. Describe it and explain why it is important. You will note that both exercises are rooted in the individual. As I said in the last blog “write what you know” and for us this is the tried and tested way to start taking our baby steps. Don’t try to  create something new reflect on what you already know and put it into words. Here is what I came up with in my ten minutes.

“Pea Shoots”

My brother and I are sitting on the steps in front of the French windows. The summer sun is filtered through the garden’s growth and the gentle breeze creates dappled motion on the two of us. We have a saucepan a colander and a large brown bag arranged between us. The bag contains fresh peas secure, for the moment, in their green amour. We are engaged in fecund activity at the behest of our mother who has asked us to shell the peas into the saucepan. However we are engaged in a ferocious pea battle. Running our fingers along the margin to reveal the fresh peas within then then flicking them at their giggling target as fast as possible. The colander is full of spent green cartridges and the saucepan remains empty except for the few that bounce off their intended target and fall in, and we are surrounded by a squishy green carpet, a testament to our industry and application to the task at hand.

See you all next week.



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How Many Books Does it Take to Write a Book


Write what you know they say. Well as I wasn’t around 200 years ago there has to be an alternative way. So over the last few months I have been gathering my own rather arcane library of background material and references. Some are contemporary, big shout out to Lovelace & Babbage by the ridiculously talented Sidney Padua, some are historical Like Mayhew’s London  and Bradshaw’s Handbook (particularly useful if you want to know what pubs were around at the time) and some are tech support. This plus Wikipedia and my own ideas will form the basis of this first novel of a rather sketchily mapped out set of books. Everybody loves a good trilogy especially  in the fantasy/steampunk/alternate reality/grimdark seam I am going to mine and it also allows one to expand and develop your pocket universe. This is a concept I have loved since the days of Larry Niven and more recently the late great Iain M Banks wonderful universe of The Culture and Joe Abercrombie’s very hard nosed First World novels. Of course no discussion of pocket universe’s can pass without mentioning Terry Pratchet’s Discworld so I have. Actually Discworld (surely you don’t need a link for this?)is also an influence from the contemporary narrative parallels that formed a core part of Pratchet’s books. The difference here is that I don’t have to go looking for them. Victorian society is a mirror of our own and history truly does just repeat itself, all you have to do is just exaggerate it a little. Oh and some of the eagle eyed amongst you may spot the autobiography of Lemmy in the pile. WTF is he doing there you might well ask. To which I reply wait and see………

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How To Write Your First Novel without ever starting it.

As Peter Cook once observed. “Everybody has a book inside them. Luckily that’s where most of them stay”. The thought that as a avid reader of novels you are qualified or even able to write one is either based on blind arrogance about your own ability or a wilful ignorance of the issues and complexity of actually writing the dammed thing.

Yet here I am having handed in my notice at work preparing to embark on such a process. Is this merely a new year fad like abstinence from alcohol or that gym membership that finds itself increasingly unused from February onwards or will  I actually find that the creative process itself is something I crave and that has been missing from my life. In my more lucid moments  I suspect that the actual novel  will merely end up in a state of perpetual unfinishedness or just cluttering up the self publishing websites that now cater for the aspiring/deluded JK Rowling’s of this world. But what the hell, if crap like 50 Shades can make it why not me…..Actually that’s pretty hard to argue against as it is crap on almost every level but it did make EL Grey a shedload of money, so kudos, and please can I follow in her footsteps along with the thousands that use her as an example and or excuse for not doing a proper job anymore.

So this blog will be an outlet to the process and frustrations that I encounter whether it be issues of plot, characterisation, world building, writers block, sheer naked fear and even the dreaded creative writing courses – oh yes I have succumbed to the new year lure of signing up with other hopeful/desperate  souls eager to learn the secret truth about writing and how to do it proper.

Do I actually have an idea? Well yeas actually I do. Have I got the plot and characters all sorted errr well mostly. Has it got a title? The working one is “The Differences”. Do I have any prior experience? Well I have written two pantomimes and adapted/re-written over a dozen. I have  dabbled in sketch writing and during my so-called career written a lot of PR and technical literature, so sort of but not really.  Have I actually written a word of it? Oh yes he said smugly a pristine 6.5k worlds that I gaze upon with the fondness and love only a father can for his new-born. Have I dared tell anybody else? A few select people know, my partner who reads more books in a month than most people do in a year my kids who say (in the same breath) “Well done go for it…are you completely mad?” The response is usually the same, a sort of bemused encouragement occasionally tinged with a hint of jealousy, not that I am writing, but that I have given up work to do it. Why am I doing it? Well when you have a mother only twenty years older than you with vascular dementia and your better half lost both parents in the space of eight weeks it does rather crystalize the fact that we only have one shot at this life and you are more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did.

So to finish this first post I will just explain the title of this blog. It refers to an insult a colleague at work was once on the receiving end of. “You are like a lighthouse in a desert….brilliant but fucking useless!” Let’s hope that only the first half of that is true eh.

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