Category Archives: plans

2017 – Reach for the sky (the stars are too far away)

1400513_10152016386043478_2032579305_oFor reasons I’ll not go into here, I found 2016 to be a very challenging year. This had an impact on nearly every part of my life, not least my writing.

In 2015, I was consistently writing over 1,000 words a day, winning awards & contests, and churning out a large number of novels, novellas and short stories on Amazon. In 2016, I was lucky sometimes if I was writing one word a day, hardly even entered a contest let alone win one, and watched my poor (self)neglected works gather virtual dust on Amazon’s virtual shelves.

Here now on the penultimate day of 2016, I say “enough” (or, more accurately, “not nearly enough“).

2017 will be different.

Different from 2016, most definitely, but also different from 2015 and the years before.

In 2017, my focus is on quality over quantity. I’ve proven to myself, and a fairly respectable number of loyal readers, that I can write. Now I want to prove to myself that I have the discipline and commitment to write things with much more depth and attention to detail than I have ever done in the past.

Though I’m shying away from 2015’s “half a million words” target (which I surpassed, even though a large percentage of them were “the“, “and” and “a”), I’m still setting the bar high.

2017’s goals therefore look like this:

  • Plot, draft, edit and publish two full-length novels
  • Write one short story every month
  • Enter every relevant writing contest I come across
  • Actively seek publication from a traditional publisher and/or literary agent

And who knows, I may even resurrect Fairytale Hit Squad (Tony, I know you’ve been gagging on it…)

So farewell and to a large degree good riddance to 2016.

And as for 2017? Well, let’s just say …

Coming soon: Pointy Eared Bitch.

Looking ahead

As soon as the Christmas ads come on tv, I start thinking about writing plans for the year to come.

This year, I’m 20,000 words short of my half million target set this time last year, with some affirming contest successes and e-book sales to keep my writing fingers going.

Next year, it’s more of the same, but with a bit more focus. In 2015, I was leap-frogging from one series to another, which — whilst enjoyable — didn’t give some of them the breathing room they needed to grow. So, rather than have umpteen things on the go at once (other than short stories, Fairytale Hit Squad, flash fiction and poetry, which I’ll always have on the go), in 2016 my plans are as follows:

Lady Jessica, Monster HunterLady Jessica, Monster Hunter

The steampunk adventures of Lady Jessica McAlpin and the Black Diamonds are my most successful series by far. In 2016, I will continue their escapades in Season 2, taking them beyond the borders of the Empire to face new threats and dangers which will shake the very foundations of everything they thought they knew.

The Bells Of St GilesProfessor Henry McAlpin

The cosy mysteries set in 1950s Britain are hugely enjoyable to write, and – in Henry and his accomplice Bella Munro – feature what are probably my favourite and most well-rounded characters to date. 2016 will see their investigations continue, taking them to St Andrews, London and locations not yet plotted.

Redrawing The Lines

This was my main novel project in 2015 – a contemporary adult fantasy which sprung from a short story which was shortlisted in Edinburgh University’s Palimpsest contest. It’s the work I’m probably proudest of to date, though the first draft needs a lot of surgery. This will be my main editing project in 2016 – honing the draft into something which I’m then satisfied to release into the wild.

Rise Of The God Child

I’m a geek. I admit it. And dark fantasy is my favourite genre of all time (with steampunk a close second). My main novel project for 2016 is therefore an epic adult fantasy with themes of religion and destiny. Inspired by the likes of Joe Abercrombie, it will be gritty and brutal with elements of dark humour, and is the project I feel I’ve always been waiting to write.

It’s time, therefore, for the God Child to rise…

Making plans for 2015

2015 planThe only time I touch tools like Project and Excel is when I’m planning my writing activities.

I’ve just put the finishing touches to 2015’s plan, and am now sitting back and cracking my knuckles in readiness. It’s an ambitious undertaking – which will see me aiming for a 1500-2000 wordcount every day – but I’m as fired up and as motivated as you’d expect after drinking six cups of coffee…

My goals for 2015 are primarily around continuing production of serial fiction: including sci-fi, horror, young adult and fantasy. And, following 2014’s successful completion of Season One of Lady Jessica, Monster Hunter, more steampunk shenanigans will ensue as I return to the alternative Victorian world of the The Black Diamonds in Season Two.

All going well, I shall publish the second of Professor Henry McAlpin’s cosy crime thriller mysteries, and continue working on my dark epic fantasy novel The Rise Of The God Child. I’ll probably churn out a few short stories too, and aim to publish a weekly short serial on this blog entitled Fairytale Hit Squad.

Three days to go until 2015 and I’m facing it with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and sheer naked terror…

…and a very big jug of coffee.

Welcome (back) to Sunnydale

Buffy The Vampire SlayerWith its episodic format, cast of misfit characters and supernatural foes, Lady Jessica, Monster Hunter owes more than a little to Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

I have fond memories of watching Joss Whedon’s seminal series at the time, following the characters through an ever-increasingly emotional series of story arcs and marvelling at Whedon’s storytelling prowess.

Those memories are vague now – the Master, Adam, that musical episode, the silent episode, the whole Buffy/Angel thing – so I have decided it is time to reacquaint myself with the residents of Sunnydale and have treated myself to the complete seasons 1-7 on DVD.

I’m therefore about to embark on an epic rewatch, and will recount some of my thoughts and views here as I progress.

Best of all, with the continuing adventures of Lady Jessica and my new YA serial Download now underway, I can put the whole thing down to research …

Why I’ll keep my resolutions this year (probably)

Time for a changeWhen is a goal not a goal? When it’s a new year’s resolution.

I really should cut down my sugar intake, eat more healthily, join a gym and stop smoking. In the past, I have usually tried some or all of these things in the first few days of January, my head and heart full of optimism and good intentions.

But before long, I’ve ended up washing down a biscuit with a mouthful of diet coke whilst sitting at my desk smoking my tenth fag of the day…

Why do I suck at keeping resolutions? I think it’s because I never really want to stop or change those things in the first place.

Instead, I’ve felt obliged. So my resolutions are the the knee-jerk reactions of the early days of the year; those guilty feelings I have about the things I know I shouldn’t really be doing.

But my heart’s never really been in it.

Not like goals, on the other hand:

  • Write four hundred thousand words…
  • Self-publish eight books…
  • Start a podcast…
  • Send my manuscript out to prospective agents…

I know I’ll do those things. Because I want them. I need them. With a hunger in my soul I can’t ignore.

However…if I did eat more healthily, spend some free time at the health club and kick the weed…well, imagine how much more energy I’d have…(I know this, I’ve stopped smoking in the past and felt like I had an extra hour a day.)

  • Maybe I’d be able to write half a million words in 2014…
  • Perhaps I could get ten books out there as an indie author…
  • I might even be compelled to give that other draft novel I have kicking about the rewrite it so desperately needs…

Ah well, it looks like I actually want those other things too…because now I realise that, in order to really make the best of everything I want to do… well, some other things need to happen too.

So here, in a heady cocktail of goals and resolutions, is my list for 2014:

  1. Publish ten eBooks as an indie author
  2. Stop smoking (go eCigs!)
  3. Write 500,000 words
  4. Cut down on sugar
  5. Revise, edit and submit that other draft novel
  6. Go to the gym (but only the pool…there are limits, after all)

There. And now I’ve published it on the internet…well, it must be true now, mustn’t it…?

And whatever your resolutions for the new year happen to be, have, as Balfour Bryce McAlpin might say, an incomparably splendid one!

2014: my planned writer’s journey

coversI’ve been busy over the last couple of weeks putting a writing plan together for 2014.

I’ve found this year to be hugely fulfilling: finding my writing voice, discovering storytelling and getting recognition in a number of short story contests. Now I feel it’s time to ramp things up a bit.

So there are 3 strands to my 2014 plan:

  1. Traditional publishing – I wrote two novels this year (Time Keepers and Murder Ballads) and my plan for these is to get them in a state where I can submit them to literary agents and publishers. Time Keepers is just about ready to go (Murder Ballads is still in first draft and needs quite a lot of work), and I’ll be sending that out in January. I’ve got a premise for a sequel too, and will be plotting that out and probably drafting it later in the year.
  2. Becoming an indie author – I’ve been inspired and excited about the world of self-publishing after reading books and blogs on the topic. The opportunities (many of them complementing the traditional publishing route rather than competing with it) are out there, and becoming an ‘indie author‘ is something I want to pursue. I’ve already published a few short stories on Amazon, but now I’ve set up my own indie publishing arm (McAlpin Press) and plan to write and publish several novellas and serials via that over the course of the year.

    I view this as an opportunity to have fun and hop around genres, although my planned indie projects all have one thing in common – history (and characters with the same surname, for no reason other than the fact I think that’s cool). In no particular order, they are:

    • Balfour Bryce McAlpin – the humourous misadventures of a Victorian Edinburgh gentleman, misanthrope and cad about town.
    • The Henry McAlpin Mysteries – a ‘cosy crime’ series of novellas set in the 1950s.
    • Lady Jessica – Monster Hunter – a series of episodic steampunk adventures (think Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and you’re somewhere close…)

  3. Developing my storytelling – I’m now a member of a couple of storytelling development groups and will be a frequent attendee at storytelling events in Edinburgh, as well as planning to go to the training events run by the Scottish Storytelling Centre. I also have plans to make a series of audio recordings of my stories, so a significant chunk of my activity next year will be as much about the spoken word as it will be about the written one.

It’s safe to say that hardly a day in 2014 will go by when I’m not writing, editing, publishing or telling (and some days, probably doing all four). I’m excited about it and can’t foresee my motivation waning as the weeks and months progress.

I’m of course expecting downs as well as ups, but will be blogging my progress – and sharing my experiences – as I go.

So happy Christmas and all the rest, and here’s to 2014.

Now, time to get writing…

Done, done, on to the next one…

Gone but not forgottenI feel a bit strange now that I’ve finished the first draft of Murder Ballads, given that I’ve been spending an average of a couple of hours a day in its rather bloody world for almost three months now. But, on Friday, I wrote the final line of the final chapter, and now it’s time to put it away in a (virtual) drawer, with a view to coming back to it in January to start revising and editing it.

I don’t have another novel ready to go yet (well, I do, but it’s not the one I want to write yet), so I’m going to fill the Murder Ballad-shaped hole with the following writerly plans and activities.

  • Finish editing Time Keepers, my teen adventure novel. I’m on the third pass of it now, so it’s getting pretty close to being ready to submit…
  • Plot out an idea I’ve started kicking around for Time Keepers 2 (working title The Stones of Eternity), with a view to having it plotted and outlined by the end of the year
  • Keep writing the short stories – Murder Ballads’ first person present point of view was at times exhausting to maintain, so the short fiction is a good opportunity to play around with other structures and viewpoints
  • Finish my ‘experimental’ interactive fiction tale, Going Home.
  • Plot (and write the software code) for something even more experimental, provisionally called Unseen Voices.
  • Continue to look for every opportunity to practice, hone and refine my storytelling, which I’ve absolutely fallen in love with.
  • And I might even think about bringing Balfour Bryce-McAlpin back, beyond him just opining on Facebook every now and again…

So it’s head down, Scrivener fired up, and onwards I go…

A short song about killing

Ok, three or four strands have come together and caused me to take a ninety-degree turn in my writing direction.

First, I found out I’ve been shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland crime festival short story contest with my story Bad Luck & Trouble (which you can read and vote for here – hint hint).

Second, the things I see and hear during Edinburgh’s Festivals are always a fertile source of inspiration for me and this year it’s been no different. In fact, the harvest has been even more bountiful than ever.

Between the deliciously dark US roots songs of Lady Carol and a wickedly inspiring talk on Scottish weirdness & peculiarity from Margaret Atwood & Ian Rankin at the Book Festival, something stirred in my brain. A spark which became a premise and which has now become an outline for the novel I’m going to write next.

Murder Balladsthis time there will be no encore


So, as I return to plotting something far darker than I’d anticipated, I leave you with this…


Post-festival inspiration

I didn’t expect (apart from reviews) to get much writing done in August, and I was right.

From the 2nd to the 26th, things were pretty much full on with the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe and — my favourite — the Book Festival.

However, as in years previous, it was a bewitching and inspirational experience. From the sheer amount of creativity emanating from every pore of the city, to themes and influences discussed by authors and artists: part of my intention was to let everything seep in.

And seep in it has. After doing the annual mind map, I’ve got ideas for three short stories and premises for (at least) two novels soaking into my brain.

Organised chaos - the post August mind map 2013

Organised chaos – the post August mind map 2013

I’ll fling these about my mind for a bit longer and see what settles, but for now, a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who came and shared — directly or indirectly — the irresistible allure of their own creativity.

I miss it, yes. But now — at last — I am writing again.

A journey through the Edinburgh International Book Festival

With over 800 events planned for two weeks in August, one of the best things about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is that — whatever your interests and favoured genres — you can plot a personal path through the talks, signings and events to meet your own tastes.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

This year is no different, and with my interest in magic realism & fairytale, historical fiction and young adult writing, my own meandering journey through Charlotte Square Gardens this year promises to be rewarding indeed.

Opening with young adult author Patrick Ness, discussing his new novel for (old?) adults The Crane Wife, the first day of the festival also features the many lives and many layers of Life After Life with Kate Atkinson, and the mythic YA fantasy of Michelle Paver.

The next few days see a dip into YA humour & adventure with Barry Hutchison and the ever-entertaining Eoin Colfer; Ian Rankin on the return of Rebus; the always brilliant A L Kennedy; and a crystal ball peek into the future of publishing at Future Books.

David Ashton promises some Victorian Edinburgh intrigue with Inspector Levy, whilst Melvin Burgess & Jeremy Dyson look set to provide a horrifying evening (in the best possible sense).

Neil GaimanMore evidence of the book as time machine comes from James Runcie & Sara Sheridan, who bring their Christie-like crime counterparts Sidney Chambers and Mirabelle Bevan; Kate Mosse, who will speak about Citadel, the third novel in her Languedoc series; then Lauren Beukes and Mikhail Shishkin, who will weave their time-travelling tales on the 23rd.

The patron saint of fairytale Neil Gaiman arrives on the 22nd for the first of several appearances, talking about his new novel Ocean At The End Of The Lane, whilst Charlie Higson and children’s laureate Malorie Blackman will definitely be YA highlights.

The Stripped comics & graphic novels mini-festival flexes its superhero muscles on the weekend of the 24th and 25th, with appearances from Bryan & Mary Talbot, a retrospective on groundbreaking Brit-comic 2000AD, and Gaiman on his seminal Sandman series.

Another literary giant inspired by myth and fairytale, Margaret Atwood makes her first appearance at this year’s festival on the 24th, then co-hosts two unmissable events with Ian Rankin and Neil Gaiman on the 26th.

Slainte, IainPerhaps the most poignant event will be A Celebration of Iain Banks on the 25th, where Ian Rankin, Ken MacLeod, Val McDermid — together with what is bound to be a sell-out audience — pay tribute to the late author. As I mentioned before, even if I could only make it along to one event this year, this would be it.

There is more I plan to see. Debates on the future of publishing, yet more YA authors, spending too much in the bookshops, and random trips to Unbound in the festival’s own Spiegeltent. And even just soaking up the unique literary oasis atmosphere which the Book Festival always bestows upon Charlotte Square (even if it’s raining and the rubber ducks come out…)

As I’ll be covering all of this for Edinburgh Spotlight, my own writing is bound to take a bit of a back seat during August.

However, I don’t mind in the slightest: I know I’ll come out the other end moved, enlightened and — above all — inspired by what is my favourite of all city’s many festivals.