Let the adventure begin

photo by Corey Silva

Actually, I have three adventures waiting to begin. Three writing projects ready for me to dive into.

There’s Space Train 2. When I finished Book 1 with such a prolonged, intense adrenaline rush, I thought  I would continue right into Book 2. But it turns out my mind wants to refresh itself first. I’ll be happy to press Go on that project when the time is right, but for now it’s waiting patiently.

There’s my palate cleanser fantasy, now with the working title 90 DAYS, which I showed you a raw snippet of last week. That opening scene has developed, as I expected it would, and my hero is in the process of becoming an anti-hero. He’s a man who acts on urges that many of us might only daydream about. Someone who will beat the living shit out of a nazi as easily as others will RT an activist tweet. Someone who might even kill a very bad person and then sleep peacefully. Wishful thinking? You bet it is, and I think this one has the legs to go all the way.

And there’s a co-authored cozy mystery that Holley Trent and I have been talking about for a while. We’ve both had deadlines to fulfill this autumn, and desks to clear, but we’re approaching the point where we can do some work on this one and see how it goes.

Three projects, and each one quite delicious. That’s my 2018 planned.

A palate cleanser fantasy

Photo by Valeriy Andrushko

Space Train 1 is finished. Completely finished at this point. Crits and beta reads are all back, and it’s tweaked and polished accordingly, as finished as I can make it until an editor works her magic on it.

Space Train 2 is planned and ready to go. In fact I’ve written its opening chapter. I was going to forge ahead with it, even though November and maybe December will be my recovery time after that big filled-with-delight-and-excitement push to finish Space Train 1. But then last week a plotbunny appeared in my mind and stayed put.

It’s a contemporary fantasy about a mother tree who takes human form and joins a small town protest group fighting the callous development of her ancient woodland. The two human POV characters are George, a young activist from London hiding out in the town, and Amber, a history professor with a special interest in the town and its woodland. The two other human characters I’ve met so far are George’s landladies, who are witches.

Don’t know where this story will take me. I mean, I know how it will finish – I always know that before I start writing – but don’t yet know if it’ll be a full novel, although I think it probably will. I don’t even know if I’ll write it all in one go, or return to Space Train 2 and keep this fantasy story as a nice palate cleanser when I need one. Think it’ll probably be the latter.

Anyway, I wrote Chapter 1 over the weekend. Might change a lot, but for now, here’s the beginning of my latest plotbunny come-to-stay:

1.

George

Plane Avenue curves gently around to the right, into the early evening sun, with Victorian villas standing on both sides. They used to be all detached family homes, but none are now. Some have been split vertically into semis, more of them horizontally into flats with external stairways to their upper halves. Some look smart behind their small front gardens. Others don’t.

The mature trees that give the quiet avenue its name are staggered fifty feet apart. Many of them have sent their whippy new summer branches to drape broad five-fingered leaves across the gutters and roof slates of nearby houses. Some have lifted the paving slabs and kerbstones around their roots. It isn’t recent damage. No doubt the town council has more urgent calls every year on its ever-shrinking pot of money.

Commuter home time has come and gone. Both sides of the road are lined with parked family cars and tradesman vans. Three motorbikes. Two black cabs.

74a is as silent as its neighbours. I stroll past with an incurious glance into its two front windows and another at 74b above. No one’s looking out. No one’s looking out from anywhere.

Five minutes later I’m at a T-junction, and still haven’t seen anyone. I cross over and walk a big twenty-minute D that takes me back to the start of Plane Avenue, and then eventually back along to 74a just two minutes before I’m expected.

No doorbell. I give the metal knocker a respectful rat-tat and step back to await my landlady-to-be.

She’s a fiftyish romantic goth in lacy black, with bright blue eyeliner and a welcoming smile. “George?”

“Yes.” It’s as good as any. I plucked it out of the air when I had to leave London at the rush this afternoon and my contact needed a name to send on ahead.

“I’m Helen.” She calls, “Val, will you bring the key?” into the flat, and then leads me up the wrought iron stairs.

By the time we reach 74b, Val is coming up behind us. She’s fiftyish too, but dressed more conventionally in a retro Blondie t-shirt and blue stretch jeans with white trainers.

“Val, this is George,” Helen says. “George, this is Val.”

Val nods a hello as she unlocks the front door, and we file into a hallway that ends like a blunt arrow with two doors set diagonally into its point.

Helen opens the one on our right. “Bedroom and bathroom.”

I drop my bag beside the made-up double bed, and poke my head into the en suite. Shiny chrome fittings with white tiles on the walls and navy blue tiles on the floor. Clean and bright, and it has an open window. That’s a result.

My landladies are already through the other door. “Living room and kitchen,” Helen says when I follow them in.

It’s open plan. The kitchen is as fresh and shiny as the bathroom, and the carpeted living room is comfortable with a soft leather suite and a big screen TV.

But I barely notice the furnishings, because the French doors are standing wide open on to a wrought iron balcony and the view is… arresting.

At the far end of the long garden is a forest, lit dramatically from the left by the evening sun. I stare out, aware that the women have stopped talking, assuming they’re looking either at me, or with me at the radiant red view.

Eventually I blink, and shake myself free of its spell, and turn to find them watching me with indulgent smiles.

“Right,” Helen says. “Details. First thing is, we’re a couple.”

I shrug a shoulder.

“Just to get it established, so as you know and don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to ask or anything. And on the same scale of things, we know what you are.”

Ah.

“We approve,” she continues. “We never need to discuss it again. Just want you to know.”

I nod.

“You’re paid up for three months. Rent and services and board, which means we’ll shop for your food as agreed but please don’t expect us to cook it, because that’s not happening.”

“I stocked your kitchen this afternoon,” Val says. “They said no special dietary requirements, but if there’s anything you’d like that isn’t here, sing out and we’ll put it on the weekly shopping list.”

“Thanks.”

“Internet connection’s by the telly, but they said you don’t want it. Or the phone.”

“No.”

A synchronised shrug. “Okay then,” Val says, “you know where we are.”

They turn to leave, but then Helen thinks of something else. “We’re eating out tonight. Want to come? Our local pub does a steak and gravy pie to die for.”

Just what the belly doctor ordered.

“Before you say yes,” Val says with a note of caution in her voice and a frown at Helen, “you should know there’s a protest group meeting there tonight.”

Bugger. “Protesting what?”

Helen nods out at the glowing trees. “The proposed development of our wood. First meeting.”

I glance into the kitchen. Looks like I’ll be knocking something up for myself after all. At least there’s a microwave.

“I don’t expect you to get involved,” Helen says. “Obviously. You’re here to disappear for a bit and keep your head down. Just thought you might give us a few strategy pointers.”

“No. I don’t know what you think I do, but it isn’t strategy.”

They give me blank looks.

“I break things.”

Still blank looks.

“Nazi heads mostly. I’m not a strategist.”

Their eyes widen. There’s a pause, and Helen looks embarrassed.

“You can still come if you want,” Val says. “Now we all know the score. The steak pie is gorgeous.”

I’ve eaten nothing since a kebab late last night. My train promised a buffet carriage, but it was a lie. “If you promise not to try and recruit me.” I wink, to soften my words for Helen.

She smiles in response. “Be ready in twenty minutes?”

🙂

Leaping into the traditional publishing mist

Photo by Filip Zrnzevic

I think I know how those deer must feel.

They’re racing through the trees. Thundering, steaming, quivering, heavy, powerful, and fast.

There’s a road. Right ahead. A split-second decision: slew aside and stay in the trees, or leap across the road? If they leap, there’s a chance some random speeding truck will crash out of the mist and SLAM!

The odds? Unknown. Unknowable. Truly random.

The road in my path is traditional publishing.

A description of my race through the trees so far:

When I came home all wartorn and started learning how to write novels for my chosen second career, there was only one route in. Traditional publishing. Represented by a literary agent and published by one or more of the big houses. So at the same time as I was learning how to create and craft a novel, I was also studying the industry.

It didn’t happen. Not for me. I finished my first novel, polished it to the highest gleam I could possibly produce, and started submitting it to agents while getting on with writing the next one, and the one after that. No joy. Quite a few “good work, keep trying” responses, but no offers of representation. And as we writers all know, that long process is utterly exhausting.

What I did get was an offer of publication by a small publisher. Which I accepted. Then another, and another. Three in four months. It put me on the small house publishing path, and I followed it. Until the path and I went in different directions when the economy pushed those houses into focusing on genres I don’t write. But that was okay, because by then self-publishing had become a thing. So, I thought, there was my new path.

Meanwhile, my writing was developing, as anyone’s will if we keep working at it. I’d become a craftsman, even a craft mentor for others, and I really work at my art. So when, toward the end of 2015, I finished two big novels, Storywalker and The Honesty of Tigers, I decided to sub them to agents and see what might happen.

Nothing happened. At least, no offers. Quite a few more encouraging responses, and six heart-in-the-mouth “so nearly there” ones. Each of those six agents said she absolutely loved the book and had no doubt that someone would rep it and someone would publish it, but. Various industry-related reasons.

So a year or so later (because, yeah, glacial response times) I self-published Storywalker and Tigers, and they’ve been very successful. Within certain terms of reference. Those who’ve read them love them. Their reviews are wonderful. But of course my books, no matter how great they might be, have done what most self-published books do no matter how great they are. They’ve disappeared into the huge mass of self-published books.

I have a short reach. Those inside it are loyal, and I love you, but those outside our cozy campfire glow never hear about my books.

My path, I came to understand, is to keep writing the best books I can while accepting that if any of them ever achieve great success, it will probably be a posthumous event.

That’s how I started 2017, and I continued to feel that way while writing this year’s book, Space Train. Right up until I was tying off its loose ends and getting ready to send it out to my lovely crit partners and beta readers, and I happened to see someone’s tweet about Angry Robot opening to unagented subs in November.

Now, I like Angry Robot. A lot. I would very much like to be published by them. And if I’m going to try traditional publishing again, despite all those wasted years spent banging my bruised head against locked doors, I’ve discovered there are now one or two other respected houses who also accept unagented subs.

So there’s my road, right ahead. I’m pounding powerfully along my path with a newly finished space opera novel I’m proud of, and suddenly there’s a road to be either slewed aside from, or leapt.

I’m leaping.

Wish me luck! 🙂

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