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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

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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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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Two Pages (25/09/16)

I’ve moved the story back into the main story again. I reserve the right to emote on the page and the ending, well I’m not sure I landed it. I will go back to it in the next draft and find another way to tell it, if it needs it.  Happiness is sometimes more difficult to write about than anguish, which is why it’s sometimes so fleeting.

A good ending is not always a happy one, so long as it is true to the story.

I did another batch of editing on Until She Sings yesterday and will do some more today. I am waiting for notes from the agent, but am having another look through regardless. I look to make it smooth, the story works but there’s always room for improvement with the writing. A different way to phrase a sentiment. It’s a lot of practice but it shows up in the finished work. I don’t want to look stupid with something that has my name on it. We risk embarrassment when we write but should not invite it unduly.

I have another short story developing. As I develop craft, I find myself going over it more. Some time away gives it perspective and armed with that, you can spot the flaws and excise them.

Mostly though, it’s Lawful Evil.

It’s important that I spend a lot of time reading I am reading Different Class by Joanne Harris at the moment and it is great. Observed, chilling and emotionally engaging, it really is a pleasure. There’s a lot you can learn from understanding how a writer does something. You go with ideas not ideology and remain open to what you are feeling.

I have books that I will revisit. Marcus Aurelius’ book of letters and also I want to finish The Tao of Pooh because that is delightful. I enjoy studying those books for practices and a way to think through my issues and ideas. Before the new season of Game of Thrones, I usually reread A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s probably unnecessary as the show has gone on past the published books.

Please leave comments and questions below. Thank you for reading.


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Two Pages (17/09/16)

It was a touch spare this morning, and I hinted at a story point that will pay off later. Two actually, because I wanted to give things a touch of narrative tension. In retrospect, I may cut it but that will come later on. Some mornings, I go with the flow, and letting things breathe is a little bit indulgent, but you need to breathe.

I finished The Girl On The Train last night, and it works in terms of it’s paring back to a perfect, bone clean thriller. It will be a formula that will appear in varying forms of quality, a template that will see a rash of similarly themed conceits without any real examination as to what made the original such a success. It moved constantly, between multiple viewpoints and it’s characters were duplicitous, unreliable and were magnificent sketches of self-deception and damage. It’s noir, essentially, if you were to define it, with a nod to psychology in that it deals with alcoholism, transference and a few other concepts. It is chockful of reversals and revelations and even the ending itself doesn’t fade out on sunshine and kisses, looking instead to retain the same atmosphere until the final word. You can tell that Paula Hawkins was a journalist in the retention of focus throughout. She also shares the same gift for the portrayal of female damage as Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott.

It’s strange to read that, whilst working on Lawful Evil, although I can’t say what my book is, truly, until the second draft. The exploratory draft, although working to a story grid, which allows me to hit certain points and meet genre expectations is still a slow walk, a long exhale until my lungs are empty. However, my experience knows when I am meandering a little, but I still get it down anyway. In the next stage, I might read through it and not transcribe it all, a paragraph, a sentence can advance things along and if the scene doesn’t speak to the controlling ideas of the book, then it is cut without hesitation. You cannot be precious about the writing that doesn’t move the story forward or illuminate the theme.

Look at Charles Dickens, and how his stories, his characters were always moving things forward, variations on a theme. In jazz, which I used to think was just noodling until I started playing bass guitar, you work to a common theme and then each instrument is playing variations within that, against one another. It can be as complex as Weather Report or simple like early Miles Davis. Writing can offer that experience, in it’s creation. I see forests of post-it notes outlining every plot point but I know, and have written, from chasing an image or a concept down until I catch it. Sometimes, when it’s on the page, it becomes something else and during the chase, there are insights that go into the book that surprise me.

Sometimes it is about keeping going, building momentum and knowing that you can edit, refine and cut the unnecessary if you need to. I used to believe that the great books I devoured sprung from raw id, thrown into the world with an ease afforded to a gilded few. It takes discipline, effort, a lot of different elements and commitments and those are things you either have within you or learn. Get those things right for you and you’ll produce work every time. Whether that sells is a question I cannot answer yet. When it does, I will let you know. When my first manuscript did not land a publisher, my contemplation of it afforded me a great deal of insight. It was invaluable to me, and informed my writing afterwards. The first book was too heavy on the sexual content but erotica is a wonderful place to develop the conveyance of something primal and refined at once, just that the story meandered a little, details were sent to the sex scenes and then the dramatic elements did not breathe. I’m still working/editing from agent notes on the second book and it’s done from a place of wanting success and focus. The balance between art and commerce is a debate to be had by smarter people than I. Is there a market for your work? That’s the question you should hold off asking until the second draft, just write it and then bring other forces to bear.

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Two Pages 05/09/16

(Haven’t done these for a while, but I enjoyed doing them and I thought with all the new followers, it’s a director’s cut/commentary deal here, mucho meta on writing and such, so disregard if that’s not your thing)

The latest book PROJECT BASTARD, came about through a number of different avenues, one of which was the desire to write a crime novel. I have a deep passion for the genre, so much so, that the thought of even attempting it used to paralyse me with dread. I can’t do Don Winslow, Elmore Leonard and yet after a bit of thinking, I thought why not?

Another route to this was Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid, which was a revelation for me in terms of how I thought about the structure of a story. Mostly, it educated me about genre which led me back to the stalwart text for me on story structure, Robert McKee’s STORY and realising that, so long as I hit the beats, then I would produce something that held the conventions whilst still being something in my ‘voice.’ so to speak.

A further route was an article in Private Eye, where the ex-girlfriend of a serving police officer took legal action against him after his colleagues stopped her in her car on at least 80 occasions. I could not find the article, but it struck me as an interesting idea. Most horrible things do, though which is part of being a writer, but I live with that. Oftentimes it’s two or more horrible ideas have a baby and then it starts crawling around the skull playpen, demanding to be picked up and fed.

Totally could have said breastfed but I don’t want to make you sick, plus the nipple bars would make it messy.

So, the initial inspiration rarely survives my vetting process, and a lot of it is simply down to how I am feeling when I put the pencil to the page. I say that, as my exploratory draft is always done longhand. I like Staedtler HB pencils and A4 lined pads, and it’s easier for me to do that so that when I type it up, I edit as I go then but that’s also after I take a lengthy break in order to remove that attachment in order to really drill down and be ruthless in editing.

In terms of research, I don’t necessarily go for verisimilitude but I do like to hint at it. Research sometimes lends itself to thick wedges of exposition, which screams ‘look I know stuff’ but slows it down. The story is the boss, and if a fact derails it, then the fact goes by the wayside. It’s important to remember that, even though it’s human beings in an actual setting, it’s still made up, as in not real in the slightest.

So, with this one, I’m 166 pages in, two pages a day as well as some sessions when I have been inspired to do so, but mostly it’s the first thing I do during the day so that no matter what, I’ve attended to my purpose.

(Please give feedback, ask questions in the comments below)

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Update 10/07/16

The four am starts and the two pages a day have resulted in a completed manuscript, marked by the elegant phrase ‘The End’. I then started in on the next project, in longhand again, HB pencil scratching against the page and seeing what comes out.

I like longhand because it is organic, less pressure and you’re not tempted to send it out before you’re ready to. You can cross out dud lines, make notes towards structure and noodle in the margins in order to capture important information. The benefit of experience and routine is that you can start to focus on specific things, whilst still preserving the flow of exploration.

Each book benefit from the lessons learned on the last one, but there will be new challenges and risks ahead of me. I aim to improve with each book and it’s a matter of flinging myself off the cliff and hoping that I learn to fly on the way down. So, with some of the pressure off that a book-length project demands, I will be resuming a more fecund schedule of posting.

Finishing a project is a mixture of relief and regret, and starting the next one is an opportunity to wrestle with doubt again. The cure, though, is the work itself and I will always be putting the energy somewhere. To be all things to all people is oftentimes a recipe for alienating everyone, so I spent a lot of time working on the book, preparing short fiction and studying as well as large amounts of reading for pleasure and inspiration too.

It’s the same process. Two pages a day, every day. Editing is done at a good clip and I work from my agent’s notes accurately and warmly before I send them back. There’s no magic to be sprinkled around, just a dedication and a framing of the work as part of my purpose and it’s application. It turns down the volume on the thing that do not matter. Why fret about the things that you cannot control when there are things that you can? I’ve been dipping into Seneca’s letters and there’s something that he says in one that is just lovely.

Be kind to each other.

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Books I’ve Been Reading

The Martian by Andy Weir

It’s a neat, bold book. It captures the urge to survive, it shows the science and it manages to tell an old archetype in a new way. The use of the journal ties in with how we read now. Blog posts although the book has third person sections to demonstrate the efforts of NASA back on Earth and his former crewmates.

The science is explained well, as a dramatic device to show the challenge and the means to overcome it. It’s a condensed version of the issue that comes up in writing, the tension and release of problem and solution. It’s expressed well and the book, although a little earnest in places, has the classic energy and structure of great adventure fiction.

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve enjoyed the essays that he puts up at Litreactor and his class is well worth taking. He has a unique and personal style, he writes about powerful things and his voice comes across very distinctly.

In being positive, I hope that this book is simply a private joke made public. The tone, the exposition and the characterisation all mark this out as Fifty Shades of Grey for hipsters. As satire, it’s too broad and breathless in tone to land the joke. Have you ever seen The Following? Awful show, thinks that it’s far cleverer than it actually is, or maybe I’m missing it somehow but I have no care to continue to interpret it. Shame, really.

The Internet Is A Playground by David Thorne

There’s a playful intelligence and sense of humour on display here. Various neighbours, employers. colleagues and administrators play straight man to the cynical and mercurial wit of David Thorne. A man who pays for chiropracter bills with a drawing of a spider.

The site is here.  The book contains a selection of the correspondences, some articles and towards the end, a hilarious and bittersweet travelogue about a trip to the US. There is a second book out, which I will be ordering.

I am close to 150 pages of the second draft of Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere. The book is a different direction from the previous two, definitely more challenging in a lot of ways but it reflects the things that I have learned from the previous two.  The challenge of it has been enjoyable, demanding different things from me in terms of craft and structure. I am waiting for the agent to get back to me on the second book but I am always working on something. There’s a complete exploratory draft in longhand that I will be transcribing in the new year and the aim is to get Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere finished before I go into that.






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Dark Places

It is a good book, not as disturbing as Sharp Objects nor is the plot as engaging as Gone Girl but it represents a transition between the two books in an interesting evolution. There is a sense of rural noir, the desperate bleak horror of what an economy in freefall does to people and how that horror compels some terrible, long reaching decisions and consequences. There are moments of nihilistic decadence, and the narrative shows the lies and self deceptions as having a reach beyond the immediate.  Yet for all it, it lacks the passion of the first book and the inexorable logic of the third. It is still a cut above the majority of it’s imitators but it slightly dips for me.

At the moment, I am working on an uncomfortable dinner scene that moves things forward and reveals some hidden subtexts that arose between the first draft and this, that gave me some really powerful insights into the book and the characters. These moments are really what shape the story for me, they’re borne out of that time spent marinating in the universe of the characters as well as a general playfulness, best espoused as  ‘what if’.

It’s good to be in this place, where the book is evolving and I can also cut away the dead ends that clutter a first draft. I aim for a smooth, legible read and resist anything that reads too much like WRITING’ to me. The story, the book is the boss and although beautiful language is aesthetically important, whatever poetry exists does so at the story’s behest. It has to follow it’s own logic, and sometimes that frustrates me, especially when there are points where it feels like I am trudging rather than flying through things but that’s necessary sometimes. I can always cut. I can always cut. Two pages a day builds up a routine where it becomes autonomic on one level and frees up mental real estate for when I come across story issues.

I’ve started The Martian by Andy Weir, which has an engaging, avuncular voice as well as a well staged increase in scale and urgency. Science is amazing but here, we get to see how even the simplest of tasks can be fraught with danger in the most hostile environment known to us, an alien planet. The tone is engaging and even from a layman’s perspective, Weir makes the explanations of the dangers and trials involved as tense as a gunfight.