books craft writing

What’s on my slate

Pretty accurate, minus the pipe and the haircut.

Let’s skip all the stuff about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in lockdown, shall we? He didn’t have the internet, probably for the best, as he would never have written a damned thing. I’ve been at this a while, and of late, there has been a massive upswing in my production.

So, at the moment, I split my attention between a few projects:

  1. Editing Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere. I am publishing this under the Dahlia Bliss pen name, for the sexual content and the dramatic element. If you’ve read any of the excerpts here, I would love to know what you think about it and if it compelled to read further?
  2. Lawful Evil – this is with my reader, who takes my work and does an autopsy of it, because none of this is by divine inspiration, even less so as experience and process become involved. So, once he’s completed his read-through, then I go to work, much as I did with Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere and Laughing Boy.
  3. Laughing Boy – paperback. I use ebooks for convenience and ease, but physical books are important to me. The Dahlia Bliss material will stay electronic for now, but the same amount of work goes into every book written.
  4. Fiction and poetry. I’m considering entering and submitting more of the former for anthologies and competitions. It raises my profile and also, brief stories are a tremendous way to work on my craft in the micro. Where I feel I’ve improved, has come from the testing ground of a story.
  5. The quality problem is I am prolific and also time poor. My girlfriend has said that if someone funded me for a year, I could make a lot of material available.
  6. Craft. I value this as part of my practice. I love reading books about writing and find an impressive deal of insights and tools applicable to my writing. A recent and recommended purchase was Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This. I’ve started or continued to develop the things he recommends and discarded the parts which don’t apply to me. I am a nerd for story structure and archetypes, but also there’s a working-class element to me which sees the production of actual writing a better outcome than the perfect literary piece which languishes in your head. There’s a massive amount of instruction out there, but it can be a means to procrastinate. Get it down and get it out. You’ll suffer pangs of guilt and shame at the mistakes, but you’ll learn from them. Write and finish things. Put them out. Repeat the cycle. I don’t do everything as a self-publisher, but as time goes on, I have taken on more responsibility.

So, there are things in the pipeline, but the aim is at least a book a year and to treat this with the same intention as a business. Sure, it’s art books are dead as a cultural art form according to some very smart and learned people but what matters is what you do and show up with.

If you’ve questions, please comment below or get in touch.

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My Favourite Things – Books

Here are some of my favourite books, there are books on the craft of writing, lectures about nihilist philosophy and pop culture as well as fiction and non fiction. For disclosure, if you buy through these links, I have an affiliate account so it throws some pennies in the hat but get these books because I love them and the world needs more sharing the good things in it rather than the bad.

This is what the series of American Horror Story: Freakshow wishes it was. Humane, bizarre and beautifully written. It is one of those books I return to time and  again. Dunne is no longer with us, but this book is. I envy you reading it for the first time.

Percy has produced some fantastic cross genre work and this collection of essays speaks to an appreciation for literature and pop culture without casting either one in a negative light. It has a robust honesty which I find invigorating and useful.

Stephen King, much like Prince, was one of the artists which resonated from me at an early age. I’ve followed his work and example and resisted aping his mannerisms but his working class generosity of spirit and craft makes this book indispensable to me. He offers up a toolkit and reflects on his own experiences, professional and personal to give you an idea of what might be possible if you put the work and energy into the writing you do. There’s a lot on offer here, and if you’re looking for good, solid advice on the craft of writing, then King is your man.

Grammar is an important consideration in writing. A poor choice of phrase rips the reader out of the moment and undoes the hard work you’ve done establishing mood and setting. Don’t be precious, you’re never as good as you think you are, so something like this is worth investing in. Learn the rules in order to break them and Strunk tells you the rules in a pithy, elegiac way which makes it a useful reference work when editing.


Holiday has established a niche in mining the wisdom of Stoicism for it’s applications in the modern world and for his fantastic understanding of marketing and media. Here is a united work which talks about finding your own place and developing work which resists trends. He talks about Iron Maiden and The Shawshank Redemption in glowing terms, especially with the factoid that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise were up for the main roles but Frank Darabont the director went with his own choices instead.

Next I will talk about music, then films with links to them for you to click on and preview/buy.

It’s strange how we will rush to interact with something bad but distrust a recommendation of quality or worth, relative as they are.

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Writing Update 09/04/17

I hit 40 pages on the first draft today. It’s been a progression apparent to myself, in terms of what I am writing about, but not who I write for. I know what works for me as a practice, which cuts down on the amount of time spent being indecisive, I guess.

Sorry, couldn’t resist it.

I also changed the title, which is common for me to do. I have a predilection for fancy titles that sit on the axis between awkward and cool, and eventually something in me signs and suggests something better which I stick with until my agent tells me they don’t like it and I have to scrabble to find something else instead.

I have been reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey which is a great book, useful for me as I have a bit of knowledge about C G Jung and Joseph Campbell, the two major influences on Vogler’s work. It is pragmatic and I’ve made plenty of notes two chapters into it, just to clarify and cement my own understanding.

I study the craft of writing and storytelling, in order to forget it when I write. If something screams ‘CROSSING THE THRESHOLD’ I know I have fucked up somewhere along the line. I don’t resist structure or archetype in the slightest, but I do like to make it invisible and seamless. I read for pleasure as much as craft and writing at this volume means that I become more comfortable with the work I am doing, less prone to the mistakes or making new ones, which still represents growth to me.

It gets done. I don’t wait for inspiration but instead she turns up, smiles, gropes me somewhere inappropriate and then flies off again. I love that woman because she’s flighty and constantly changing, not in spite of it.

Being British means a reluctance to talk about ambition but I do push myself towards my goals, just not in a way that invites open ridicule. Closed ridicule, on the other hand, more than welcome.

If you were kind enough to buy or read the latest issue of Infernal Ink and you liked my story, please leave a review as it helps Hydra’s profile in terms of the magazine and, of course, mine. It was a seamless experience and surreal to look at my own work outside of the blue frame of the blog page editor. I want more of it, and it has renewed my enthusiasm beyond my fierce ambition and dedication.

I really appreciate the likes that my work generates. A writer wants to be read, even if sometimes the anticipation lends itself to anxiety of one kind or another. People come and go, disappoint and injure but the page is the page and I love pretty much everything about it

So, forgive the rambling, but wanted to peek from behind the curtain and say hello to you all. Thank you for your support and appreciation, there are over 900 of you now, which is a good sized crowd for a gig, I feel. If you really like anything I’ve done, please share it with others.

Take care, we have to be our own heroes out there now.

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Writing Update

I finished the second draft of Lawful Evil yesterday. 435 pages. 79,904 words. It is not finished in the respect that it will need another draft or two before I am happy with it, if I ever am. The more that I learn, the more nuanced my appreciation is and so I drive myself a little harder each time out. The process allows me to gain courage and reach further for each new piece. It is a mixture of relief and regret to finish a project, and from there, where to go next.

I cannot control whether a publisher will pick up a submission but what I can control is the quality and depth of the work I do. If I study, practice, commit to the work then I know that I am doing all that I can and taking pleasure in it. I love what I do, and have written with that in mind. I do not wait for inspiration but keep working until she shows up, and enjoy the look of surprise that I have things to show her.

So next up is either starting the second draft of Stranger Lights or an entirely new piece that I have percolating called YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE. I believe in remaining productive and present with my craft, and sometimes it is not about finding an idea for a book or story but which one to choose from. It is the same with the short fiction and poetry, all sourced from within me, reflecting thoughts and feelings at any given time and not always presented here. Chris Rock characterised the difference between a job and a career as there never being enough time for the latter, which is true for me.

I have a process and an approach that works for me, which is why I seldom give writing advice. There are no shortcuts for you as an individual artist, even if you take on every single piece of wisdom offered to you. Life throws up external and internal obstacles to us all, and it is how we negotiate them that defines us. I am not pretentious about what I do, proud and dedicated to it, yes but the same approach applies to a lot of things in my life. Discipline, focus and passion underlying the principle of it being about the work and what it offers rather than me. I call it my purpose because it is, and the more that I have aligned my life around it, the happier I have become.

Thank you for reading this, your likes and comments are important to me as they let me know that someone is reading my work and relating to it. I work towards the point where there are tangible pieces of my work in the world for you to buy and share, and when that point comes, you will be the first to know.



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Patience and Process

Sit down, listen and I will share something I’ve learned.

I have learned this through pain and upset, which is how the best lessons are learned. Ask a thwarted lover, they will tell you, if they can manage to stop crying long enough for any degree of clarity.

The most difficult thing to learn when pursuing a goal, artistically or otherwise, is patience. Society is geared towards instant gratification, to the point that it sinks into the unconscious and you are unaware of how that desire has been stitched into you. So, for instance, when you’re writing and you want to get feedback even as the first draft resembles a hostage demand written by a dyslexic clown with a crayon between its teeth.

You know what I am talking about but you need to breathe through it.

I got your back on this. Trust me.

It never goes away, but you make your peace with it. It is a long game, and you have to approach these long periods as part of your training. Think of a montage in an action movie and use that time to educate and improve yourself. Develop a practice that can sustain you through those times. My patience is being tested whilst waiting for a nod from a publisher about the second book so having a process inures me to that, to a certain degree.

When I say that, I will break that down into stages so that we are clear on this matter, together, okay?

By that I mean, something that you commit to daily/weekly/monthly for an amount of time where you focus either on the act of, or learn something about your art form.

I write two pages a day, sometimes it is done in one heady rush, it can be awkward or slow but it gets done. That two pages can be part of a first draft, it can be editing towards a later draft, it can be two pages of a short story but it gets done.


OK, so my reasoning, and it is sourced in research and experience,

  • It gives you something to do whilst waiting for the time to pass. The devil makes work for idle hands, and all that. If you’re always working on something, you’re using that ambient emotional energy in a productive fashion.
  • You improve over an organic period of time, by working on it in small (manageable) increments without being consciously aware of it. I don’t believe in the idea of natural genius. There is talent, there is hard work that gets you to a level of talent and genius is normally the perfect storm of the two.
  • A little each day builds up courage, like saving pennies. I think it’s a good antidote to ‘writer’s block’ which I prefer to frame as resistance, and in turn, think it’s a fear of writing poorly. Don’t worry about it, get it down and get it done.
  • You get used to the idea of being productive regardless of circumstance. Writing to inspiration is great, but it is inconsistent and doesn’t lend itself to a professional mind set. I believe in being professional, it is a source of my personal enjoyment in the craft. Behaving like a professional tends to get you treated like one, and I believe in that attitude for a number of reasons. One, it lowers the pressure if you do get to that point and two, it lends itself to a better nuance of enjoyment when you are honing in on different levels of craft or the project. That’s before we get into things like manifestation and goal setting, which I probably won’t. A man has to keep something back, you know?

OK, so hopefully that gives you something to think about. Montage over.

If you have any questions, then please use the contact form and I will answer them. Anonymity is assured, should you wish and please put that in the body of the question so I know.



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Basics of Writing

Ok, so I have been writing a little while now, and have things to show for it, some of which are in arenas beyond here. Infernal Ink in April of this year and the For Her anthology in Cleiss Press (release tbc). I have an agent (Kelly Marshall at SMART Talent Agency), a writing practice and I must stress, I’ve written things, other than reams of material about writing advice. It’s a small distinction because the theories and practices of writing can generate a large amount of theories and esoterica related to it but I’ve learned there’s no substitute for doing and failing/succeeding.

Most writing advice offers the idea that you can avoid or circumvent mistakes and you should not do that, nor should you view them as mistakes or failures.

They are setbacks, roads taken and discarded. If you consider how we learn anything, it is through repetition, from walking and speaking through to everything else, then you should apply the same approach to writing. I don’t believe myself to be especially gifted or blessed, other than understanding that there is work and determination involved. What tends to happen is that you enjoy it enough that your brain forgets all the dead ends and you get lovely rushes of dopamine and serotonin when you get it right.

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried and discarded thousands of variations that did not work until he found the one that did. Look up or around and see a light bulb, it is a tribute to the determination of one individual. See the same with a book or a short story or a poem.

Don’t worry about being good to start with, don’t worry about it at all.

Here’s an analogy I really like, it comes from the bass guitarist Victor Wooten. When you play air guitar, do you play any bum notes?

So the first basic is just to write it, put it down somewhere and go from beginning to end. Enjoy it the way a child would, without expectations or notions of quality. It is the simplest and most difficult notion attached to art, because you compare yourself to those who have been doing it for decades. It will not look like the work of anyone that you admire or even hate, but that’s okay.

The second basic notion is that you are not in competition with anyone other than yourself. The person you were yesterday.

No, note that I am not selling you anything, or even going that deep into it. The basics are there, within you. Flannery O’Connor once said a couple of things that stayed with me.

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
Flannery O’Connor

It feels quite bitter that, but don’t let anyone dissuade you. If you enjoy it, then write or draw or paint, because art is healthy. If it gives you a reason to go on, then keep doing it.

If anyone wants me to continue these, let me know. There’s enough of this sort of thing out there, and I don’t disparage that, but I just want to give my version of it, which reflects my experiences thus far.


If you have any questions that might be useful to other writers, please contact me and I will answer them in future editions.

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On Talking About Writing.

I sometimes talk about writing in a brusque, taciturn way, much like I do about a lot of things in real life. My concern is that it comes across that I view writing as something almost cruel and dry, a soul masochism that chips your nails and makes your mouth taste of grit. Write the fucking book, which might work for some of you but it’s not all I feel about writing.

It often is a thing of wonder for me. I do it everyday because it’s something I can do, for the most part, alone. If my ambitions were to get eyes on things I’ve written, then this blog serves as a triumph of sorts. I have people read my work from countries I’ve never visited, which is really wild. We take so much for granted with technology, always looking ahead to some platonic ideal but in truth, if we looked backwards we would be in awe of what we have.

So, yes writing, like any art allows for the slightly abrupt, drill sergeant approach which can be pared down into drills and practices as well as the woo, sprinkled with fairy dust magical thinking approach. My attitude to it is sourced in a lot of passion about the potential without being especially pretentious about it. You can learn the basics, and it lends itself to a deeper enjoyment of the experience. A little nuance goes a long way and for me, the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to find that there are new challenges and prizes to award myself within that.

Writing saves lives. It saves souls, and even the most earnest, clumsy effort lightens your life in ways that will continue to surprise and delight you. It draws people to you, either to serve as shining examples or horrible warnings, friends, lovers, companions and peers. There’s a community of people who are all after the same thing and each of them either knows or believe they know the path to get there. Or are honest in admitting that they don’t care, or have a clue and are too busy enjoying the journey to care either way.

I am into the second draft of Lawful Evil, and I think that I will talk about editing in an upcoming post. There is a lot of writing advice out there, and some of it comes from those who have produced nothing but writing advice, which is great and I would never stop them from doing that, but I have written and gotten to a stage where my experiences reflect more of the everyday than perhaps is intimated. It is not for me to say that my advice is any better, but it is informed from a different perspective. More working class/blue collar than anything else, but I like to speak as I find, and I am passionate about writing.

The important thing is not to be so passionate that you spend more time talking about it than doing it. Or get so immersed in the gathering of advice that you use it to prevent yourself from doing it.

Talk to you soon, thank you for reading.



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I am quite disciplined in my writing practice. I feel, for me, it’s important to be productive and to work to a schedule. I aim to be as professional as possible, even though there’s no money involved at this stage for me, I turn up every day and do the work.

Inspiration is lovely, but it’s not reliable. I work at it every day.

The trick, for me, was to build up to it. I studied the habits of people who are really good in their respective fields and figured out what was applicable to my situation, and then applied them.

  •  Start small. I have a general rule of two pages a day for first drafts in longhand or five when editing. I built that up through doing it every day. Start with as small an amount as you can easily manage. Use a calendar to mark off the days you achieve it. Jerry Seinfeld calls it a row of Xs.
  • Stick to it for 30 days. The science behind this is that a practice like this creates neural pathways and you move the habit from the conscious to the unconscious.
  • Finish what you start. Abandoned projects are part of the territory but seeing something through that doesn’t work is instructive. If you can balance your desire to be good with a little humility, then every mistake is not failure but feedback.
  • Protect your writing time. I get up at 4 in the morning, it’s quiet and when I go to my day job, I know that no matter what else happens, I have attended to my heart’s purpose.
  • Leave your completed first drafts alone once they’re finished for as long as possible. I set a reminder for eight weeks and in the meantime I am usually editing or working on something else. Editing is something worth a post on its own.


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On poetry

Poetry is a useful practice for a writer at any level. It is a tool to hone focus and develop clarity of expression, in that we all have an inherent sense of what a poem is, to us as individuals, so we give ourselves room to play. 

Benjamin Franklin would translate his own prose into poetry as an exercise in  consolidation. You can do this as a literary x ray to find flaws in your own prose. 

A good friend of mine once said that my prose reflected what was in my head whilst my poetry reflected what was in my heart. I would say that you should, as with any artistic path, work from a place of genuine emotion and passion, and not as a limiting choice. Write for a person, an ideal, a belief and put your heart into the work. 

Don’t let anyone stop you from expressing yourself. Use a pen name, keep it private if you want to, but do the work and find solace in it. It can be healing or a beautiful riposte to injury, but mostly it is an art form that invites everyone. Good or bad are relative terms and don’t apply if you love what you do. 

I will let you in a secret, I don’t necessarily rate myself as a poet. I write poetry and enjoy it but I’ve never submitted any poetry for publication. The means of expression is what matters and the honesty of that expression is what resonates with people. 

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On First Drafts and Editing

The first draft of anything is shit.  – Ernest Hemingway

It might sound like cause for dismay, but it is liberating. You are not under any obligation to share it with anyone, so you can struggle through that sensation of clumsiness with all the joy that you can muster. You can make your mistakes in private, then when your work is ready for public consumption, you will look more competent and focused. By public consumption, I tend to refer to submitting editors, agents and publishers who are busy people. If you have time to do this, then don’t assume that anyone else does. Fuck up alone or with a trusted friend/beta reader so when you are showing your work, you know that you’ve done what you can to make it work on the page.

You also have the freedom to chop and change as you need to. Which is something that I healthily admit to doing. I don’t outline beyond having a story grid, but I am never rigid about what I have decided if something better comes along to replace it. You keep the story moving, much like emptying the basket of a hot air balloon to maintain elevation, discarding the excess baggage to keep the damn thing afloat.

Lawful Evil is a perfect example of that. I’ve discarded an ongoing thread of antagonism between the two main characters, and one of those characters is now an amalgam of two characters, because there was a backstory element that felt too good to be used to flesh out a secondary character. I’ve simplified and pared it back to the core elements, which is making it easier to write and it’s moving faster.  It’s not about working faster but smarter and not being precious about the work. After a few rounds of agent’s notes and in anticipation of publisher/editorial notes at some point, I work to an idea of what is required and balance that against my need in terms of the book. What I want to express is a story. My politics, my beliefs, my passions and preferences may come out within that but ultimately the story is the boss.

What you will ultimately read is not the same thing that I finished. So much of the relationship between me as author and potentially you as reader is that I give up control of the interpretation when it is in your hands. My intentions are irrelevant, so I just make sure that it is as good as I can manage it and hope that you enjoy it. Part of that is resisting the urge to show off, to be clever and harness that passion into something accessible and clear. I look at my earliest writing, all the purple prose and need to cover everything possible, seeing the insecurity and accepting it as the price of a ticket to the big show of writing. I love my process and find triumph within that. The work is the juice, but I keep working towards a point where I can do that all the time.  It is a challenge because I suffer the insecurities and fears that besiege us all, and sometimes I do so alone, but the work is the cure.

Thank you for reading.