Clint McCallister, the new Cinderella, in his father’s Stetson. Image by PSBrooks.com.
‘What?’ said Clint. ‘Well, you’ve heard of Cinderella?’ ‘The fairy tale?’ ‘Exactly. Heard of Snow White?’ ‘Yyyyyes,’ admitted Clint. ‘Sleeping Beauty?’ Clint nodded. ‘Clint McCallister?’ ‘What?’ ‘All the girls? All real,’ said Tubal Cain. ‘You… next.’ ‘What?’ said Clint again. ‘Every now and then, we in the fairy community perform an outreach to you in the human world. We pick one lucky lad or lady and we turn their humdrum little life upside-down. They all live happily ever after (terms and conditions apply), and the human world gets a timely reminder of how cool it is to share a planet with us fairy folk. Capiche?’ ‘Ca-what?’ said Clint. ‘Understand?’ ‘You wanna turn me into a fairy story?’ Tubal Cain looked around the kitchen. ‘You’re already a fairy story waiting to happen. You just need… y’know… the fairy. Ta dahhhh!’ ‘Stop that.’ Tubal Cain grinned. ‘And you can cut that out when you like, an’ all. Gives me the heebie jeebies.’ There was a thing Clint should be doing, he knew. A morning thing. Tea. He filled the kettle and put it on, scrolling to ‘Make Johnny’s Tea’ in his mental Stuff To Do list and crossing it off.
There’s a mad man in our kitchen, his brain chuntered. And you’re making tea.
Meet Clint McCallister. He’s a thirty-five year-old ‘paperboy’ in the East End of London, oppressed by his frustrated brother Johnny, terrorised by his would-be Sister-in-law Mary, and almost certain never to live up to his potential in the shadow of his late father, the Cowboy Newsagent of the Mile End Road. Your typical Disney princess, he is not. But the hero of Happily Ever After he is, after a fashion. Can Tubal Cain, the worst fairy in the world, arrange things so that this man lives happily ever after?
‘Man may not live by bread alone,’ said Hammersmith, ‘but he’ll get a damn sight further with it than he will by The Word. You can’t eat The Word, Hark. The Word can’t keep you dry, or safe, or alive until tomorrow.’
‘I dunno,’ said Bailey, belching quietly again. ‘Doesn’t “The Word” inspire charity? Doesn’t The Word make people help their fellow man? Give him shelter? A roof? A meal?’
Hark looked at him, frowning.
‘No,’ said Hammersmith. ‘Being alive does that. Look at it this way – you’re out for a drive, and you come across a guy whose car has gone off the road, and he’s hanging off the edge of a cliff. If you walk away, he’ll fall to his death. What do you do? Do you help him, or do you look up Ecclesiastes, Chapter Four, to see whether it says you should help strangers hanging from the edges of cliffs?’
‘You help him, because that’s what people do for people. People that don’t do that are psychopaths. Or bankers. Or believe it’s the will of their deity that the other man dies. If you think you need The Word to make you act that way, you’re missing the opportunity that being alive gives you.’
It’s been a good writing day – d was supportive when, early in the morning, I suggested we might, in fact, not spend our Saturday together, but instead that I might dash to Starbucks to write. Which I did – got about 5,000 new words written, and more importantly, conquered a scene that troubled me the last time I tried to write this book, to the point that I stopped writing.
The snippet above is of course still very raw, but it’s part of a conversation in which Hammersmith the demon, Hark the angel and Bailey the suicidal human sort out the business of morality and religion’s part in it. As I say, still raw, but I’m feeling rather pleased with it in the immediate aftermath of writing it. On to tomorrow, which should involve interrupting the Moon landing.
A quiet day on the writing front – the demands of my remaining day-job occasionally mean there’ll still be days like this.
The illustrations below, both as ever by PS Brooks, show the evolution of a demon – my lead demon from Wonderful, my comic fantasy novel.
Hammersmith was human once, but that was a long time ago and he doesn’t like to talk about it.
For the last 1200 years, since winning the diabolic lottery, the former blacksmith to King Offa (yes, he of the Dyke) has been a demon, getting into trouble both in Hell and on Earth.
For once, the illustrations have been less about giving me inspiration to evolve and change the character than they have been about capturing what’s already full-formed in my mind.
On the left is the first visual of Hammersmith that Patrick drew for me. To be fair, the long hair was something that was in the manuscript, and about which I was certain – until I saw it. Hammersmith when the novel begins has been on Guardian Demon duty for 80 years, looking after a suicidal human in whom Hell has a vested interest. I felt he needed to look grumpier and more exhausted. On the right is an evolution of Hammersmith’s face – older squarer, more fundamentally miserable. and the coat he wears needed to be a lot less tasteful. Not to be a complete artistic pain in the neck, our emails crossed, and I told Patrick I’d found some images of people who could ‘play’ Hammersmith in the movie version – a game I think most authors play. The thing they all had in common was a boyish smirk. So Patrick’s working on a slightly tweaked face that as well as looking exhausted and miserable, is also smirkable, and capable of a childlike joy. You’ll get to see the finished Hammersmith next week, but for now, here he is in evolution.
Hammersmith as he started out – Hair by Anne Rice.
Hammersmith – older, squarer, more exhausted. Much more like him.
An odd couple of days. Yesterday, I finished off the ‘final, sneaky edit’ I tried to fit in before the imposition of my three-month writing jag. It was a really enjoyable book, by an author named Matthew Hole, whose first cosy crime novel – equally enjoyable – I edited a year or so ago. So I know for a fact it wasn’t the book that affected me. All I can tell you is that by evening time, I hadn’t written anything for myself all day.
The cheesed-off writer.
d, my wife, took a picture of me at my laptop, just to show me what I looked like. I looked like this.
She called it my ‘cheesed-off writer’ face, which seems to say everything it needs to say.
It’s interesting to me, because I’m always saying that I simply don’t have time to write. But have I written anything like as much as I could have in August to this point? No, not really. There’s always a series of things ‘to just finish first’. Even as I sit typing this, I know I have two peer-reviewed journal papers to edit and a magazine to put together. Oh and I should do another couple of non-fiction pieces. And maybe write a short story for a competition I saw today. And…and…
Clearly, while there are things that do need doing, there’s also still the internal fear of being taken seriously, even by myself, as a writer – the first and foremost job of whom, surely, is to write. This is undoubtedly a fear issue and a discipline issue, and clearly it needs to be tackled or I’ll get to the end of three months and still be thinking ‘Y’know, I could do this if ever I really applied myself…’
Today, I applied myself. Went to Starbucks, did some day-job, and then just wrote. Powered my way through 50 pages. See? Application, discipline and simply writing. I felt my mouth do a different thing, and took what’s nowadays known as a ‘selfie’ while I was writing.
The Joy of Writing. Serial killer eyes optional.
This was it.
I showed it to d, and once she’d got over the shock of the moderately psychotic, cattle-prodded eyes, she said ‘That’s got to go on the website. It’s the joy of a writer simply writing.’
So here you go. Fear or joy – the choice is yours every day you could be writing. Here’s to more days like today. More joyful days.
The truism that people are busier when they’ve retired than they were when doing a ‘regular’ job seems to hold true in the sense of creative endeavour too. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day preparing for the accountant. Today, I’ve spent most of the day talking to the accountant (for the business, incidentally – I’m just as much of a starving artist as any of you!). The result is that at close to 9 pm, I have yet to write anything creative today.
This is not the sort of thing that needs to happen. I have the urge to write, and the ideas to write, and even technically now the time to write, but still, as yet, today has seen me write nothing.
There have been positive developments though – the notification that I’d earned a professional critique, with which news we launched this site, has today materialised into the request for a two-page synopsis, within three days. This will go along with my opening chapters (yes, the opening chapters I’ve now added to and changed significantly) and within 4-6 weeks, the pro crit will come back.
I’ve also had a stunning image through of a character in Wonderful, and as predicted, it’s both inspired me, and got me thinking about ways in which to re-write the character for more funny dialogue.
Tomorrow, there will be nothing written until at least the evening, as I’m going to Cardiff for the world premiere of the new series of Doctor Who.
So tonight, after dinner, I’m going to come back to my office and just write. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not even jump on this website. Just…write.
This seems like such a stupidly simple thing to say, but if one thing has come home to me over the last few days, it’s how easy it is to squander your writing time. The procession of gnats that make up daily life, besides a home life, a family, and the other commitments of daily life, can make you wonder where the days have gone. So tonight, in the grand tradition of students the night before an exam, I’m going to be pulling a late one – just me, one angel, one demon, one suicidal human and the shenanigans in which they get involved. Tonight, I will be a teenager again, drinking coffee and in all probability laughing at my own jokes, late into the night and on into morning.
The man was tall and thin and dressed in black. Black boots, black jeans, black shirt, black hair, black leather jacket. Black sunglasses. If the man had ever heard that some other colour was the new black, he clearly hadn’t been convinced. He grinned, bright and white and mutinous against all the black. Clint was probably, he thought, the least violent man that he himself knew, but looking at that grin, he couldn’t escape a twitching urge to punch its owner in the face. It was that sort of a grin.
That’s how, in the most recent version of the manuscript to float through my brain, I introduce the reader to the character of Tubal Cain – the worst fairy in the world. Seven lines, and they probably could and probably eventually will, be better.
Welcome Tubal Cain, in his tweaked and evolved version, as rendered, as ever, by PS Brooks.
Tubal Cain, proving that there are also 50 Shades of Black.
The trademark scowl he wears in the Fairy Kingdom at the general flutteriness of things.
Tubal Cain…grinning, having just arrived in the human world, where all the best toys are.
It’s a continuing revelation to me how people can take what you write, and breathe the life of their own imagination into it. I’m finding it inspiring, seeing these characters coming to life – Peony for instance, developed through the visual process and will now undergo a fruitful re-write when I come to focus on Happily Ever After.
This of course is the delicious irony of the thing. I had character profiles for the Happily Ever After characters available for Patrick before I had any to give him for Wonderful, despite it being Wonderful that I’m starting with. So there’s a thrumming itch of fairy-based inspiration at the back of my brain right now. But I’m starting to understand how this works. In the next few days, Hark, one of my Wonderful characters, will be visually arriving, and the thrum will rev into the work that I’m doing now.
And how’s that going? Well, I have 15,000 words that I’m sort of happy with. They’ll need a buffing towards the end, but I’ve solved a fairly major plotting issue early in the book (at least to my own satisfaction). Oh and to prologue or not to prologue? As it turns out, not to prologue – felt like I was unnecessarily slowing my opening, which d (did I mention my wife likes to be known only as d?) actually hates because if anything it’s too fast, and a bit multi-scenic, but which I think lends itself to the perfect “pre-credits” sequence. I’ve added the new prologue in as a flashback a little later. I’ve been wanting to write all day, but have instead been focusing on preparing for tomorrow – annual accounts day. Positively shudderworthy. I know from the feel in my head that the urge to write is still there, but am perfectly aware that what I write now will need rewriting tomorrow. Still, the point surely of a draft is to instil the discpline and do it, for all you have to re-do it when you’re more properly conscious. So here goes.
Wendy Jones has the perfect prescription to sweep you off your feet.
What happens when a medic writes romantic fiction?
In the case of my mate Wendy Jones (whose work I first encountered when she submitted a book for editing), you get beauty, conflict and a realistic, heartbreaking, heart-mending story, as in her two novels for HarperImpulse, The Songbird and the Soldier and By My Side.
This morning, Wendy posted a positively delicious semi-medical breakdown of The Anatomy of a Romantic Hero. Well worth a read, for both its steamy tone and the ready reckoner of what exactly is where!
Continuing my collaboration with fantastic illustrator PS Brooks, I got some initial images back today of Tubal Cain, the worst fairy in the world – one of the lead characters in Happily Ever After.
Patrick took everything I told him and delivered. As with the Peony illustrations, we’re now discussing fine tweaks to the artwork, but Tubal Cain in essence is definitely in the house. Say hello – you’re going to love him. Just don’t let him near a wand if you like your head…erm…head-shaped.
Tubal Cain, the worst fairy in the world, grins at arriving in the human world. Artwork by PSBrooks.com
Tubal Cain…Nnnnotsohappy at being stuck in the Fairy Kingdom.
Started the rewrite of Wonderful last night, having identified a major issue some weeks earlier, in that one thread of the story wasn’t sufficiently explained, either in my head or in the text. Spent a few hours last night, and quite a bit of today, working on a prologue that tries to set up the issue clearly.
The question really is whether a Prologue is a cop-out or not. I know plenty of writers who’ve been told by agents or publishers not to use Prologues as they’re some sort of storytelling get-out-of-jail-free card. On balance, I don’t feel that’s the case. Nor do I feel readers will read a prologue and necessarily expect the characters in it to be the focus of the book, or that they should then appear in Chapter 1. Prologues are precisely what the word implies – things that come before the main action.
That said, am I happy that I’ve added about three thousand words at the front end of my story? No. Is there possibly a better way of rendering it slightly later in the story? Yes, possibly – I could probably do it as a flashback (though there are plenty of people who tell you you shouldn’t do that either), and I may well end up doing that – but either way, the scene had to be written, and now it pretty much is. Whether it’s a prologue or a flashback, it sets up the story thread much more cleanly than was previously the case, so for me, it’s been worth spending a day and a half on.
Where do you stand? To Prologue or Not To Prologue?
Well now, that’s enough to put a spring in your step.
I belong to an online writing group, called www.youwriteon.com. It’s a mostly convivial place, with some really impressive writers on it. By all means, click the link and come play.
It offers peer reviewing, and a deliciously enticing prize. If you happen to be in the top ten rated stories at the end of the month, you get your work shoved beneath the noses of (usually) some major publisher or other. Naturally, the top ten is a place people contend hotly to be, but there’s a degree of science in the methodology of getting there.
You earn “reading credits” by reading and reviewing other people’s work. You can only review a maximum of six pieces per day, and you score them on all the things you’d expect – characters, plot, dialogue, description etc.
These “reading credits” are what you assign to your own work, and the more you have, the more reviews you yourself can get. There’s a background algorithm that stops you being reviewed by those with whom you have most interaction on the site. For every five reviews you get, you can remove one, and so boost your rating.
Now, look again at the image that accompanies this entry. Wonderful, the book I’m beginning to work on today, has had its first seven thousand words on the site for some time, and today – bingo! Number one spot – which means it will get a professional critique from a publisher in all likelihood.
Of course, getting a professional critique does not equate to them loving the work. They may send me back with my tail between my legs. But either way, it’s going to be in front of people I need to impress, ultimately, and it’s an experience from which I can learn.
Even if I say so myself – and you know I do – that’s a Wonderful beginning.