Flaws or Features

With every story I finish I seem to see more flaws in my writing style. And then have to wonder whether they’re flaws or features.

For example: I’m not good on descriptions, and tend to make them brief when I do use them. Which means the prose isn’t necessarily as immersive as some might like. Conversely, they don’t slow the story down. So in that way it could be considered good.

If it’s not something I feel I need to, or can, change, then I’d probably have to consider it a feature of my style.

I’m becoming convinced epic fantasy is not what I should be writing, because it doesn’t really fit my style. Or anything that long.

The third part of Dwimmerfall (I think it’ll be four parts) feels like it has too many meetings. It’s an inevitable part of the story, since much of this part is world building based on the disappearing of the dwimmer (magic) that’s so ingrained into civilisation. A couple of viewpoint characters are leaders, and getting stuck in meetings is unavoidable.

Some problems I’ve shown, where the character (either the leaders or another) can go to an example of the failure, and do other things while there. But there’s some stuff where discussing it is more useful for the examination, and I want differing opinions.

In meeting scenes, I try to have some degree of different agendas, but I’m not sure if that’s enough. I don’t necessarily have much real plotting (characters plotting, not story plotting), where the viewpoint character has to get seriously involved and have a sub-plot that occurs during the meeting, or over a few meetings.

I’m not sure whether I should have something like that, or whether it’d slow the story down too much. They aren’t really necessary for the overall story, and I could easily lose control of things if I go too far along that path.

My inclination is that unless such a subplot can actually say something about the situation that otherwise wouldn’t be covered, to leave it out. But I also worry that without the added drama the meeting scenes may fall flat, dragging on without having any real punch.

They’re only in first draft at the moment, and it could be a while before they get any revisions (maybe not until after the first draft of part 4, sometime after I work out what happens in part 4), but it remains a problem I increasing think about: am I writing scenes with too little depth?

Which of course comes from the idea that there’s a proper way to write stories, which is possibly ridiculous. I need only as much detail as is necessary to tell the story I want to tell. Everything else is texture and flavour.

Or is that philosophy simply an feature of my style?

Should I Just Give Up?

[Warning: Another posting in my depression cycle. May include mopery.]

So I had this idea for a crime thriller, and thought maybe this time I’d try the traditional publishing route. Just to see if I could get any kind of traction.

Less than ten days from starting pre-writing to finishing the first draft, and it turns out All Roads Lead to Hell is only 40,000 words. So on the border between novella and novel (by some definitions), depending where revisions take it.

It’d need padding out to twice that length to be acceptable for submission to standard markets. There area a couple of extra chapters that could go in , and there’re gaps in the story where other stuff could be shoehorned. Maybe.

A quick look around doesn’t find many markets for crime thriller novellas, but I could always search further.

For the immediate future, I’m setting it aside to cool down while I get on with other work.


I have real trouble estimating how long a story will be. Even after breaking it down into chapters, I seem unable to call on past writing experience to properly gauge such things. And I’m not sure I really want to. The story’s going to be as long as it wants to be, and trying to force it to be otherwise to fit a certain standard seems dumb. Unless you want it traditionally published.

And I seem unable to write things of a commercially acceptable length (as defined by the traditional publishers). I feel part of the problem might be I’m too influenced by movies and television, so my storytelling muscle memory is drawing more from those than from other prose fiction. I’m not sure whether I can unlearn that though.

I also wonder whether writing so fast is part of the problem. I’ve tried slowing my writing rate slightly, but do feel an increasing desperation to produce more in a vain hope of breaking out of obscurity.


The not knowing whether I’ll ever achieve any success writing is causing increasing anxiety. I kind of want someone who’s opinion could be subjectively classed as authoritative to tell me I can’t write, and to stop trying. (More so than telling me I can, since I have trouble accepting praise.)

It’s tiring to keep pumping out stories that never find much of an audience. The readership for most of my stories is probably only in double digits (okay, some are in five digits, but that’s the free stuff). And even that might be too optimistic a view, since there’s no way of telling how many have been completed, or even read at all.


Of course I have no idea what else I’d do with my existence, so I’ll probably keep writing for now.


Behind Her Eyes – A Hype-Enhanced Reading

I can’t be the only writer, or reader, who takes the marketing of a book as having an ending you’ll never guess as a challenge. Which it basically is.

Can you outsmart the writer? Which is a stupid way of thinking of it. Because its the marketing campaign that’s making such a big deal of it. I doubt there’s many books where you can’t try to beat the author by guessing how it’ll end. But when the marketing campaign out and out challenge you like that, you can hardly not try to beat them.

Behind Her Eyes probably isn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It sounds a bit too domestic, to be honest. But Sarah Pinborough had been entertaining at a convention I’d seen her at, and on twitter. And the book had good word of mouth. And there was that challenge. And it was on sale for a fiver in the first week (and not simply as the fastest in history to the bargain bin).

The writing draws you in, making it hard to put down. While the description makes it sound like a primarily relationship-centric story, the mystery behind it propelled me through the parts that may be less interesting to me. (Not that relationships aren’t at the heart of most stories, but it did sound a bit too soap opera-y for my tastes, and that kind of thing can rely on characters acting stupid.)


Looking For Clues

The pre-publication hype (of which there was quite a bit) and ARC reviews, while staying free of spoilers (that I saw), did admit there were supernatural elements. Which may be good, since it could discourage those inclined to dislike such on principle. It also gives a larger scope for what kind of things to look for.

And I found as soon as I had some ideas (and I had a few), I was looking for more buried beneath the obvious ones.

Since I did work out the two twists before they were revealed (around chapters 46 and 51 I got the end twist, and the deeper twist, respectively), I have to say it felt fair on the reader. No cheating, out of left field, surprises here. It was foreshadowed if you looked at it the right way. Admittedly a twisted way. Even then, though, I wasn’t certain I was right until the end.

It was only after finishing the book that I realised they were vaguely similar to twists I’d used in one of my stories, which may explain why I got them. And I can imagine the author had to resist the same impulse to laugh out loud when the idea struck.


Did the Hype Damage the Reading Experience?

Not for me.

I don’t feel that going in knowing there was, and looking for, a twist detracted from the story. If anything it may have encouraged engagement, getting me to look deeper than I might otherwise, in the hunt for clues. I did find myself admiring the way information was laced through the story, and how the pacing kept you moving too fast to necessarily focus on the clues.

I may well read it again soon, to deconstruct exactly how it was done.

Progress Report

I’ve finished an initial tidy up and review of the state of Paragon Protocols. The main bugbear must have cleaned up the last time I revised it (seven years ago), but there’s still a couple of things (at least) that need addressing.

First of all, there’s too much plot packed in there. Too much background detail on stuff that happened, which was sometimes a problem with some of my early work (shut up). I’d include too much detail to avoid plot holes, which then slowed down the story. So I’ll need to do a pass to pare that back. Not so much dumbing it down, as clarifying the main points and then getting out of the way of the story.

Secondly, it doesn’t feel all that novel, and I’m not sure how much of that’s down to my familiarity with it. Stories need an element of originality, even (or especially) if they aren’t really. As a result, I’m not sure how much time to waste on polishing it.

I might do the pass for the plot cull and see how I feel about it then. It’ll at least be a useful exercise. (Not that I don’t have other, more productive, work I could be getting on with.)



I do occasionally submit stuff to the olden publication routes. Mainly short stories and such, since few of my longer works are long enough for the traditional markets. I usually try and put it out of mind until the inevitable rejection.

The anticipation gets more assertive when the story stumbles across themes that happen to become topical. Such as the alternative facts that kind of play a part in the novella I wrote in November. I submitted it to Tor.com’s novella imprint back in December. Their reviewing, of course, slowed over Christmas, and my weekdaily checks of its position say it hasn’t moved in a few weeks.

Not that there’s necessarily much I could do with it when they reject it (it’s easier to just assume stuff will be rejected, rather than get my hopes up every time and face the deepening of my default state of depression). I could possibly revise it to enhance that element, although I’m not sure how far the story will stretch in that direction. Then I’ll try submitting it to one place I know will accept something of that length (and then wait for them to reject it).

But even accepting there’s little I can really do with it, it’s frustrating to have a story that’s vaguely topical and not be able to do anything with it.

Although, now I consider it, probably not as frustrating as having it available to use and no idea what to do with it.

Take your time, Tor.com.


Still having trouble focusing on actual work, but I have managed to spend the last couple of days compiling a list of potential reviewers (thanks to The Indie View) and sending requests to around thirty of them. A process I find far more excruciating and stressful even than blurb writing. It’s communicating with people directly, no matter how remote the communiques.

I also busied myself making new covers for Stoneweaver and Coral Throne. They’re not perfect, but the old ones were really starting to irritate me. I need to do more with them, since they look slightly bland. But they’re closer to my aesthetic tastes than the Createspace ones I had, and at the smaller size they’ll be viewed at on estores I feel the simpler designs stand out better.

Post-Publication Depression

My books don’t really sell. Which may (or may not) come as a surprise to anyone reading this. But there probably aren’t many of you either. They certainly don’t sell well straight off, even using pre-order.

Which is mainly because I don’t do enough marketing or selling of them. I know I should, but I’m just incredibly awkward at that kind of thing. I usually start looking at ways to market the book beforehand, but there are so many options, most of which many say don’t work. So eventually I get fed up with the entire process, and get on with some actual work instead.

I know reviews are what I really need, but that runs into the same problems. I get incredibly anxious about approaching reviewers to look at my books. And when I’ve done it in the past it’s not paid off (no responses or reviews from maybe a dozen, with one largish review site closing down to review requests within a week of me sending them the request).

I really need more reviews, but I could seriously spend a day trying to write a request, getting anxious over every word, and still end up with nothing comprehensible. The very thought of trying threatens a panic attack. It’s something to do with writing as myself (blog posts are mildly less disturbing, because I’m sure nobody reads these).

Yet even being aware of this deficiency, I find I’m at a loss for how to address it. It would functionally involve changing who I am. While not necessarily opposed to changing, I also don’t know who I’d need to be. So generally I get stuck in a spiral that I only get out of by ignoring the whole thing and writing.


Why Bother?

Whatever the reasons, I don’t sell much. Which bring inevitable wave of self-doubt, and why do I bother spending extra time getting this stuff ready for publication. I’m wallowing in obscurity, and there doesn’t seem any way of dragging myself up out of it.

Not that I feel compelled to stop writing. I’ll do that anyway. It’s just publishing that feels pointless. I want it to be read, but part of me wonders whether I should just give up on releasing any more until my existing work gets noticed.

But there’s the traitorous voice whispering that maybe the next one will be the one that gets noticed (what’s the definition of madness again?), and surely that little extra work to get it ready for publication won’t be so much.

So I’ll continue this pointless cycle, telling myself that the more titles I have out there, the more chance people will find my work, that I’ll build an audience.


The Depression Wall

Not that that thought makes it any easier to get work done when the depression sets in. I’m supposed to be working on breaking the third part of Dwimmerfall (working title). I’ve managed to get the general structure, break it down into chapters, and know what happens to whom in each.

I’m partway through breaking the chapters down, so I’ve got a decent plan of the various story strands. Then publication day hits. Now I’m barely getting anything done. Maybe five minutes of an hour sat working on it I can concentrate on it. Which further frustrates me.

So I may set that aside for a while, and look at finally trying to revise The Paragon Protocols. This was the first novel I ever wrote, but never released. It’s been a decade since I originally wrote it, and seven years since I last looked at it. But I’m sure the general structure still works, and tinkering with existing work, even rewriting everything, I find easier than the pre-writing and first drafting. I have something concrete to tap away at, and can focus on the words rather than the ideas.


Depression Renovations

Also spinning around my head is the financial cost of this writing experiment. I’m still in an overall deficit at the moment.

The largest expenditures have been the couple of edits I’ve been able to afford. I still look back at them occasionally, to remind myself of the general flaws they highlighted in my work, to ensure I don’t relapse. I could probably do with another edit sometime soon to look for flaws in my current writing style, and consider these worthwhile investments.

Close on that cost is hosting and domain costs for my website – which also hosts this blog. I’m not sure it’s worth the cost. It gets some visits, but I’m not sure whether they lead to sales, or how useful it actually is for visitors.

It’s started me wondering whether I should stop them. My hosting is paid up until 2018, so I won’t be immediately shutting them down. But I am considering moving relevant information from here to free sites, like maybe Facebook. I could probably (I think, having only limited experience with it) use Facebook for storing the blog postings, and maybe additional material from the website. And I already use Twitter for notifications mirroring this blog.

The only thing offhand that could be difficult is the listing of my books. Being able to order them in a more comprehensible arrangement than say the Amazon author page does. (It occurs to me that having the default Buy buttons go to Smashwords rather than Amazon may have been an initial design flaw. Most of my sales have been other than Amazon anyway, but not so many on Smashwords, so I wonder whether that put off casual visitors.)

While I have issues with Facebook and Twitter, I’m just not sure maintaining my own website is really worth it. So that’s another thing on my list to think about, and hopefully take my mind off the depressing sales.

But probably not.

Soul Food

Soul Food is available today. I’ve done an interview about it on the wonderful Darcia Helle’s site (try her books).


Soul Food

A woman dead in a derelict hotel. Hardly an unusual sight working homicide.

Already under IA scrutiny, Blake must hunt the killer through a maze of cults, criminals, fake mediums, and things whose existence makes him question his sanity. All the while trying to shoot as few people as possible. Fatally, at least.

And there’s the very unreal possibility of his soul becoming food for things that shouldn’t exist.

A paranormal suspense story.






Soul Food: Cover design process

Soul Food is out in a few days. In a shameless reminder of its existence to anyone who stumbles across this blog, here’s the process I went through in designing the cover.

The first stage in cover design is coming up with an idea that’ll be within my limited artistic ability to realise. I’m inclined towards simple designs, which tend to be better for covers that have to work at the smaller size displayed in online bookshops. Of course they also need to not be too obviously dodgy when seen at a larger size, and in print – if it’s going to be.

[The work below was all done in GIMP, a free graphics program]

For Soul Food, since angels and demons have an important role, I decided on a central bar, with an angel rising out of it, and a demon descending below it. Silhouettes, of course. Since you’re more likely to find license free images of them, and they’re easier to customise (also, less fiddly detail to be lost at a smaller size).

The two also need to kind of match up (not necessarily in size, which is easily scaled). In this case I found some wing silhouettes that offered the right approximate shapes.

So I resized them and put them in the approximate locations I wanted them.

[I use the page dimensions suggested by KDP and Smashwords, 1600px by 2400px, to work in, and save my working files as .tif. They take up a lot more space, but they don’t lose as much detail as saving them as .jpgs do from constant revisions. Once I have the final version, I save a .jpg version to upload as the cover, and a smaller 200px by 300px version for the website.]



Next up I looked for a body silhouette I could adapt to fit both sets of wings.








I didn’t really need the detail on the arms and legs, so filed it away into just the general shape.







Then it was relatively simple, only resizing a few times, to get the body to fit the wings.







Next step was colouring them. Red for the demon, white for the angel. The exact shade of colour can take time to settle on, and often may change when all the elements of the cover are set in place, and the contrasts can be properly judged. As with the font used for the title, it mainly comes down to what feels right for the impression of the story you’re trying to convey.

The first step was to delete a section in the middle, so I could use the filler tool to make the bottom demon half red.







Then I changed the background colour, so I could change the angel half white.








I also extended the middle section so the title had more room to fit.







Then I used the gradient tool to make the central bar transition in colour from white to red.







For the background, I looked for a granite effect. Something dark that the angel would stand out against, but giving a sense of the city in which the story occurs.






Then I copied the image onto the background, using transparency to make the blue background invisible. [It doesn’t go completely invisible, and against a lighter background I’d probably have changed the darkish blue to something lighter, or it may have discoloured the background]

I also raised the position of the image, since I wasn’t thinking of where I’d want it on the page when I started fiddling.




Then it’s a matter of looking through the fonts to find something that matches the style I have in mind. In this case, Bookman old style semi-bold.

For my name, I usually go with Arial. Unless it clashes with the rest of the cover.





I did experiment with fancy stuff for the title, but it just doesn’t show up too well. And it’d look even worse at a smaller size.

[In case your interested, this was done in a separate file by doing a gradient block the inverse of the bar. I then typed the text block elsewhere; copied the text block and background over the gradient block, making the text colour transparent. You then have a block with the text in the gradient colouring, which can be copied over while making the background transparent]



Then I adapted the cover for the print version, rotating the banner image for the rear cover (just so it’s not boringly blank).







Print covers can take time, and a few iterations, since you’re guessing at where the spine is going to be until you can look in the proof review after the books been reviewed by them. If Createspace made the spine markings viewable before review, they’d save themselves work, and authors time.


When the proof arrived, the granite background really wasn’t working for me. It was far more subdued than it appears in the images above, but even they started to look less than appealing. While the banner image is fine to my eyes, I needed to work on the background.

This was a working version to test out more of a picture in the background. The cityscape part is only a free license for personal use though, so I’d need to hunt something else down for a proper cover.






It doesn’t really work at a smaller size though, and can make the angel shape hard to distinguish.






So I went back to the simple background idea, and started looking around for another image. Granite initially, then I browsed the dark metal images.

This is the one I settled on. Large enough to also be used on the print cover.

The streaky metallic look also gives the impression of rain, which matches the mood of parts of the story.

And here’s the final version of the cover.

The Sin of Hope Giveaway on Goodreads

I’m running a Giveaway on Goodreads for a copy of the recently revised The Sin of Hope. It runs until the 16th.


The Sin of Hope

A secret older than religion, or a more recent delusion?

Hired to find the witness to a crime, PI John Daly soon realizes he hasn’t been told everything. With the Vatican and local mobsters also on the man’s trail, does his loyalty to a client of questionable sanity outweigh his religious devotion and his chance at redemption?