Worlds and words.

On Monday of this week I finished the first draft of my first attempt at a YA dystopian fiction novel, working title The Boy From the Blue Zone. I’m not unhappy with it. I was just shy of 70,000 words and flying along when I realised that if I carried on it would probably end up being about double that. That felt like it might be too long for the YA market. I did some checking.

Apparently, typical ball-park word count for debut YA novels is between 55,000 and 70,000. Who knew? I decided to find a place in what I’d already produced to write The End. I did that at 60,000. (And so I have a start on book two. Yay!) But it does feel a little abrupt. Mind you, one Young Adult’s abrupt ending  is another Young Adult’s cliff-hanger, perhaps.

I’ll stick it in a ‘draw’ for a while. Give myself a little breathing space. In the meantime  I’m going to try to find some experienced YA novel readers who will give it a whirl for me and give me some brutally honest constructive feedback. I’ve already put out a few feelers. If the general consensus of opinion is not encouraging I might need to rethink whether it’s worth persevering with. It’s taken me just over three weeks to write it and have a couple of edits after read-throughs. Has anything any good ever been written in such a short time? I doubt it. (I might Google that later.)

OK. I Googled it. (Stupid, stupid me for asking the question: Has anything any good ever been written in such a short time? Stupid, stupid me for doubting it.) And from the links I realised that I’ve been down this road before with myself – word count and speed of completing a project. Back then it was about Bad Sons (B&C#1). (Stupid, stupid me for forgetting that.) My memory is so bad. (Which for some aspects of my life is actually a blessing.)

Did you know that…


Written in about three weeks. Word count: 58695.


Written in about three weeks. Word count: 43385.


First draft written in under three days!!!! Word count: 46778

I could go on.

Like a lot of people who end up writing novels I do have a bit of a fixation/fascination with word count. I’ve always got my eye on the counter. I get cross with myself about it sometimes because that’s a terrible way to gauge a book. But I can’t help it.

I can’t seem to write anything over 100,000 words. I don’t want to. I like to write shorter novels. And I like to read shorter novels. I saw a comment on the web from someone musing about word count in novels. Regarding Stieg Larsson’s books, he said. ‘Do I really want to know in detail about every single item a character puts in the their shopping basket?’ It kills a book for me to read that shit and it would kill me to write like that.

Flitting about the web I found numerous references to iconic short novels. The great telling of a great story told economically really interests me.

Last week was a bit depressing in a way – writing dystopian fiction by day, reading dystopian fiction by night, (living in a dystopian culture by choice). 1984 by George Orwell is what I’ve been reading – coincidentally I heard today that it’s rocketed up the charts because of something an American politician said. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m not talking exclusively about its prophetic nature – the man was a genius with the English language, such a wealth of intellect beautifully expressed. An absolute joy to read. How satisfying it must be to write something intellectually weighty. Sigh. One day, Oliver. (But it’ll probably take longer than three weeks.)

Next major project on the horizon is B&C#4. (I’ve got a good start in the bank for that). But first, when B&C#3 ends up back in my inbox, all being well, I’ll be straight onto formatting that to get it out ASAP. Hopefully before I head home in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to getting involved with those two again. I need cheering up after all that doom and gloom.

I won’t crack on with B&C#4 until #3 is out of the way – I might end up confusing myself over things. So what I’m doing in the ‘dead time’ is devoting some love to a short story idea that I quite like.

Won’t be long now.


This week I took time out of my current WIP to give Poor Hands (B&C#3) a final read-through. It’s now gone down the production line for proofreading. It really works for me to put some time and space between myself and projects. A few weeks away and I return to them with with a freshened perspective.

I started this book a year ago and kept allowing things to get in the way of pressing on with it. I had some issues with character direction that I struggled to resolve and that led to me moving onto other things while they sorted themselves out. I believe it’s all been for the best and that things have worked out well in this installment. I’m happy with it, and that feeling of being ‘happy’ with a project has stood me in good stead so far regarding finished articles.

Here’s the blurb:

Out of a big old building on the south coast of Kent David Booker runs a book-themed coffee shop and Jo Cash operates a private investigation business. They live there, too. But not like that.

Jo needs help with tracing a mystery client’s living relatives. David needs help with his staffing problems. Sometimes two heads are better than one. Sometimes a poor hand is better than none.

I don’t think I’ll be doing the preorder thing on this one. Probably as soon as I get it back, format it and read it through again I’ll list it. (I’ve got a few readers  making thinly veiled threats regarding what will happen to me if I don’t hurry up and get it out there.)

I have a working title for the current WIP (my attempt at YA dystopian fiction). The Boy From the Blue Zone. If nothing else it will stick it to those millions of ‘The Girl (insert word or phrase of your choice here)’ titles.

Finally, I saw a great quote this week that made me feel good about what I’m doing at the moment. It’s from Cyril Connolly:Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. (You can tell he didn’t need the money.)



Poor Hands (B&C#3) and WIP

Poor Hands (Large).jpg

Every now and again I like to remind myself that this blog is essentially my writer’s diary. As such its primary purpose is to record events relevant to my life as a writer. Sometimes the links are a little tenuous but mostly I try to keep on track.

I now have the cover for the third in my Booker & Cash series Poor Hands. It was another difficult choice to make from the suggestions that the excellent cover designer Kit Foster sent over. After a little bit of tweaking this is the one I’m going with.

Now I must find time to give the thing another read through so that I can forward it along the line for proofreading. I really, really, must. But I can’t get away from my current work in progress (WIP) – my attempt at Young Adult dystopian fiction. It’s monopolising all my writing and reading time. I’m so engrossed in the new project that I don’t want to break the spell. Over the last two weeks I’ve averaged between four and five thousand words a day, which is pretty good going for me. One day this week I’d managed five thousand words by lunch time. My brain felt like it was going to overheat and I had to retire to the gym to let off some steam. Sometimes I have to force myself to leave the flat or I honestly believe I could sit at the computer all day.

I said reading time too. It’s a first for me that I’m reading other fiction to deliberately influence my fiction writing in a focussed way. I’m not talking about reading other fiction so that I can avoid using the ideas other writers have imagined for a dystopian world, I’m talking about reading them to incorporate the best of their ideas. There’s a good reason for this that I hope I can justify with the telling of the tale.

On my list of books to read, or reread in most cases, are George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and  Jack London’s The Iron Heel. I recently read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m currently reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

I’d never heard of We until I embarked on this reading for research. It was first published in 1924 and is credited as being highly influential for some of the writers and the books I’ve linked with them above. I’m enjoying it and I can see a lot of the influence of this work in the writing of Orwell’s 1984 particularly.

A bizarre coincidence that I can’t begin to fathom to do with the book We. For reasons that I have no idea about I decided to call my central female protagonist Dee. A few pages into We and the name Dee is used. What are the odds? It’s not exactly a common name. The book is nearly a hundred years old and translated from Russian. I know what you’re thinking – I’ve read this book before. I haven’t. I would know if I had.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a thing for dystopian and post-apocolyptic fiction both books and films. I’m very happy to be finally having a go myself.

Something I’ve realised about my writing: I need to ‘see’ it in order to write it. I’ve mentioned here before how writing B&C conjures up vivid images of Romney Marsh for me to draw on. I visualise every scene in those books and the Acers and the Romney and Marsh Files. But the current WIP is the most visually realised book I’ve worked on. It’s bordering on startling at times to ‘wake up’ from a scene and find myself not down a sewer in a broken city but at my desk. I wonder if I might be going just a little bit mad.

A couple  of stats to record for posterity this week: Rope Enough (Romney and Marsh File #1) received it’s 1100th comment on Amazon UK and Goodreads ratings for all my books crawled past the 2900 mark with a fairly healthy batting average.

Poetical asylum

I returned to Turkey in November on a three month tourist visa. I’d known from the moment I set foot on Turkish soil that I had to sort out another visa which would allow me to stay longer and come and go as I please, or else I’d be having to get out of the country soon and not be able to return for three months. That would mean three months I’d have to spend on my own in the UK or travelling, pleasing myself, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, with no responsibilities and no one to nag me about the washing up and… Why is this not seeming like a bad option? Oh yes, three months without my son. Unthinkable.

So, after checking things out, the family residence visa seemed the way to go. Forms were filled, documents gathered, photocopies made, blood and bribes given, statements sworn and an appointment was made. I had that yesterday. And I got a glimpse of something I’m glad I’m not part of – the refugee crisis that Turkey is currently embroiled in. (Technically, perhaps I am part of the problem.)

As soon as we turned up I knew it was going to be challenging just to get through the gate of the government building compound. My garden gate back home is wider than the barbed-wire-festooned opening that gives access to the consulate. And I’ve never tried to get 300 refugees through it in two minutes. (Mind you with the way things are going at home I wouldn’t be surprised next time I’m back to look out of the window and see the odd ethnic gentleman in the back garden looking lost.)

The gate was locked for lunch. The heavens chose that moment to shower me and my brothers in the struggle for legal status with freezing sleet. Unlike most of those gathered looking miserable, downtrodden, filthy and destitute I had a laptop bag that I was able to hold on top of my head to keep the worst of it off my suit and the perm I’d invested in to impress the interrogators. I got some admiring and some envious glances from my fellows.

If only I’d remembered to do up the zip on my bag.

I ignored the first few taps on my shoulder – I’m used to being accosted by brazen beggars in the street. But I couldn’t ignore them for ever. I whirled around prepared to impale some swine on the end of my umbrella (why hadn’t I used my umbrella to shelter me from the elements?). The poker was now pointing at the ground. There were pieces of paper in handwriting that I recognised. And passport photographs… of me sailing away in the gutter. Most of my visa application documentation had slipped out of my open bag and was littered about the soaking pavement being trampled on by the dirty boots of illegal immigrants. Scrambling about on my hands and knees ruined my suit trousers and cost me my place in the queue as the machine-gun-toting guards chose that moment to throw back the bolt on the gate. Human stampede.


The act of gaining access brought back memories of the film World War Z, where the wall is breached and hundreds of zombies pour though it like so many gallons of liquid humanity. My cries of excuse me, please and I beg your pardon, but that’s my foot you’re standing on and no, sir, that’s my pocket your hand is in were lost among the clamouring cries for sanctuary and alms and visas… in Syrian and other tongues I am less familiar with.

But we were in. Then it became more like a jumble sale in the village hall back home. Elbows, knees, shoving and shouting. We fought on against the odds. My furled umbrella became a thrusting weapon, my briefcase containing my sodden and filth-smeared documents my shield.

We got our number from the desk and joined the others in tearing up and down the four flights of stairs looking for the room we needed to be in. It had turned into an episode of The Crystal Maze. A sign or two would have been helpful. But maybe too easy. I can only imagine the fun it must be to sit in front of the CCTV camera screens in that building watching the headless chickens all day.

Exhausted, cold, filthy and wet we found the offices that were our destination. Another queue. But at least the waiting gave me time to dry off and sort out my documentation. The paper of one of my passport photographs had become so saturated that my image was distorted. I was staring at me with Bell’s palsy. Would it matter to the rubber stampers? There was little I could do about it then.

My name was called. I was escorted by armed guard to a smoke filled interview room. My interviewer was waiting under harsh lighting. A woman. She looked me up and down and I could read the resentment for my comfortable western life in her eyes. I asked if we could crack a window because of my asthma. Rather ominously she said they didn’t open.


My gaze strayed around the room as she scrutinized my documents. I saw blood (on the ceiling?!?) traces of vomit, urine, whole finger nails, teeth. And the stench. No wonder she was chain-smoking.

Her: So Englishman (she broke off to spit on the floor, narrowly missing my shoe) you are seeking the poetical asylum in my country, yes?

Me: Little laugh Some of my writing is quite… lyrical. Nothing. No. And it’s ‘political’.

Her: What isn’t these days?

Me: My application.

Her: That’s what they all say. Your papers seem… in order. But I have questions.

Me: Fine. Shoot. Noticing she was armed I hastily rephrased. Ask away.

Her: You have seen the film with the big-nosed ugly Frenchman?

Me: Aren’t they all. Little laugh.

Her: My husband is French. No little laugh.

Me: You mean Green Card with Gérard Depardieu?

Her: Whatever. I will ask you the questions and I will ask your Roddy MacDowell the same questions.

Me: Andie.

Her: What?

Me: It was Andie MacDowell. Roddy McDowall was the ugly monkey in Planet of the… actually, never mind.

Her: And you’d better be singing from the same menu, capiche?

I thought she’d been watching too many old Bogart films.

Me: I think you mean hymn sheet.

Her: This is Muslim country – no hymns.

Me: Why not just ask us the questions together? Save time.

Her: Because, Englishman, people lie to get visa.

Me: Understood. Shall we get started?

Her: What is your wife’s full-name?

Me: Can’t we start with something a little easier? I’ve never been very good with names. Especially good old Johnny foreigner’s.


It went on like this for half an hour. Her asking things like my wife’s birthday (Me: soon, I think) her eye colour (Me: the real one or the glass one?) the date we were married (I couldn’t even remember the year. How the hell am I supposed to retain this information?) her favourite dessert (that was an easy one and rather a long list).The Spanish Inquisition would have nothing on this lot. At one point she asked what was the last film we saw together at the cinema. I said we’d never been to the cinema. Together. She asked what was the last book we’d both read. Another awkward explanation about cultural differences from me. She asked me what we had for dinner the previous evening. I had to confess that we didn’t actually eat together. She threw down her pen and asked the question with her eyes. I answered with a shrug and raised eyebrows. And then I remembered something.

Me: We have a child.

Her: At last! Something. Why the hell you not say so already?

She concluded her business with me. I was ordered out. My wife was frog-marched in. I sat outside,  laptop bag on my knees, with all the other asylum seekers, listening to the shouting, the screaming, the sobbing coming from inside. I received some withering stares from the women. A few of the men nodded their approval. My upper lip remained stiff. I tried to read but water had got into my Kindle. I watched the second hand of the clock behind the iron grill make its tortuous way around and around and around.

The bolts were shot on the other side of the door. My wife emerged, mascara-smudged and red-eyed. She and our interrogator embraced warmly. Over my wife’s shoulder the armed woman sent me daggers.

As we left the building I risked saying to my partner in crime, ‘How did it go in there?’

Her: ‘Not now.’


In other writing related news this week I was bitten by yet another writing idea last Friday, which encouraged me to put B&C#4 on the back burner while I devoted time and energy to it. A week later and I’m 25,000 words in and looking good. What is it? It is going to be my best book ever. It is going to be the first of a trilogy. It is going to be my first foray into Young Adult dystopian fiction. What did I say about change of direction?