Saturday, December 31, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors January 1

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla realizes something is wrong with the air in her room. Someone has released a drug intended to knock her out but she held her breath at the first taste.


Shayla stumbled forwards a couple of steps, feigning the effects of the drug. Two figures stood to one side in servants’ robes. Barras and Gingallia? No, these couldn’t be her servants. They were still standing and any innocent party breathing this air would be comatose by now. Instead, these two imposters moved with stealth and menacing purpose. One behind Shayla, cut off her escape, the other between her and the doors leading out to the balcony and sitting room to her right, the only other ways out of her suite.

Anyone else?


As I mentioned last time, I’m still looking for one or two more beta readers for The Ashes of Home. I’m looking for people who can provide honest opinions and suggestions on things like plot, structure, and characters - in other words, how does this hang together as a story? Is it a compelling read, and if not, what’s missing?

If you are interested, please drop me a note either in the comments or through my contact page. Please include an email address I can reach you at, an idea of when you think you could finish by, and also what I could do for you in return.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Season's Greetings

I've been dithering about whether or not to post anything this weekend, but over lunch, Ali & I just reminisced yet again what a year it's been for celebrity deaths. It's hard not to notice the growing number of posts on social media cataloguing the loss of talent this year. It's something I noticed and posted about all the way back in February, and the trend has continued throughout the year.

This conversation finally prompted me to write a brief post, because I know some readers here are dealing with losses and hardships of their own.

I would like to hope everyone had a joyful and peaceful Christmas, but I know reality to be different.

So I would like to spare a thought for those whose Christmas has not been the time of joy it's supposed to be. I hope you at least have friends and family close by, and the strength to see you through the hard times. May you all find peace in your own time and place.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors December 18

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla realizes something is wrong with the air in her room.


Ambushed! In my own fucking bedchamber! Shayla pushed aside the annoyance. Questions of who and how could wait. The first priority was survival.

Time slowed as Shayla’s mind kicked into overdrive. The thump of her heartbeat in her ears doled out the seconds of her life. Peritax was not a poison, it would just leave her helpless. It dispersed and broke down quickly, which meant someone was nearby to release it and to finish the job. Whatever that might be.


I am looking for a small number of beta readers for The Ashes of Home. I'm looking for people who can provide honest opinions and suggestions on things like plot, structure, and characters - in other words, how does this hang together as a story? Is it a compelling read, and if not, what’s missing?

Although this is a sequel, you don’t need to have read Ghosts of Innocence. In fact it would be good to hear from people who have and who haven’t, to see how this works both as a sequel and as a standalone read.

If you are interested, please drop me a note either in the comments or through my contact page. Please include an email address I can reach you at, an idea of when you think you could finish by, and also what I could do for you in return.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Queen of Trumps

I thought the madness would die down once the election was over. How naive of me. The news these days seems to reach new heights of silliness daily with no end in sight, but on the basis that you gotta laugh or else you'll cry, here's something that made me smile this week...

There's a whole album of similar nightmare fodder on Instagram here.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors December 11

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

It’s been a while since I took part in WWW. Since my last such post in August, I finished the draft of The Ashes of Home and have gone through several rounds of editing. As I’m getting ready for more in-depth critiquing I thought I’d put up some posts from the opening chapter...


‘Hope springs eternal’ the ancient saying goes, but you need more than hope on your side when death comes knocking. Shayla Carver, master assassin (retired) and first governor of the Freeworld of Eloon, enjoyed more security than any ordinary paranoid could possibly hope for.

Any ordinary paranoid would be dead by now.

The official security measures handled casual bounty hunters and the merely competent. The most serious threats she relied on her own senses and training to deal with. Her airways clamped shut instinctively at the first salt-sweet taste on her tongue. Years of assassin training identified the airborne drug immediately. Peritax. A small dose would knock her out in seconds.


Friday, December 2, 2016

November miscellany

I know it’s been a while, and even then my last post was hardly startling, but I’m not one to apologize for my absence. I blog when I have something to say, I don’t when I don’t, that’s it :)

November kicked off with a work trip to Ottawa. I really wasn’t looking forward to the hassle of traveling, especially after such a tiring October, but it all worked out well in the end.

This was my first experience of long-haul (roughly six hours in the air) domestic flights over here so I didn’t really know what to expect. Compound that with the multiple connecting legs (two outbound, three return) and what looked like ridiculously short intervals on the ground in between, and it all felt rather daunting. But it turned out to be easy. Bag checked through to final destination, so it was just a matter of hopping from gate to gate to the next flight. Then there’s the never-ending entertainment of carry-on Tetris as passengers rearrange the overhead lockers to find space for their multiple ridiculously oversized bags.

I was there for a three-day project workshop, a collaboration between the federal government and multiple provinces. It was good to meet folks from elsewhere in the same line of business.

In between times there was a little bit of time for a stroll around Parliament Hill, and as a bonus I even managed to visit the public gallery while a debate was in progress.
I was 'ere :)

Megan finished football this month, which she is sad about. As this is her final year she discovered the sport rather late, and wished she’d thought to try it out sooner. The school team hasn’t been going long and isn’t rated as particularly good. They are so short of senior players they have to bring in some of the juniors to make up numbers, but they reached the play-offs which nobody expected. They got beaten by the one unbeaten team in the league, which was understandable, but it could have gone either way until the home crowd turned nasty and intimidated the heck out of the players in a very unsporting display. That was a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable season.
Yes, that's our Megan in the middle

This month I organized a Movember team in our office, and found we had a couple of new hires who were very enthusiastic fundraisers. Between us all we raised over $3,000, which was a spectacular result.

And of course I’ve been working on the latest novel. A hard copy went with me to Ottawa and whiled away the hours of travel. For once, I’m actually enjoying the editing process, although it has not yet been subjected to any independent critique. That stage will come soon.

Next stop ... Christmas!

Monday, October 31, 2016

What the heck happened to October?

It’s Halloween, last day of October, and it’s been a bloody exhausting month. Lots of things happening ... good, not so good, and just plain tiring. In the whole month it seems there’s hardly been a normal routine day, let alone week.

One of the biggest factors is Megan joining the football team this season (yes, actual American-style football as opposed to real football that the Americans call soccer :) And that means practices after school and matches every week, so a lot of late evenings home and daily planning of logistics getting food on the table around all the other things in life.

We don’t begrudge the effort. She’s enjoying it, it’s doing her the world of good, and last Friday I caught the tail end of a home game on a crisp and bright afternoon. I don’t know anything about the game, but I learned enough to see what a nail-biting finish it was, and the best bit was - they won. Against last year’s champions!

Add in an unusual number of other sundry events - drop-offs, pick-ups, before- and after-school help, a conference, charity fundraisers, multiple sleepovers and camps and parties - all contribute to an overwhelming feeling of busyness this month.

Yes, it’s been busy, but mostly good-busy.

The only real downer was two weeks ago we lost Gypsy, our husky who’s been with us almost as long as we’ve been in Canada. It was sudden, no signs of illness leading up to it. And the hell of it was she’d been back & forth to the vet recently because of a knee injury we’d been nursing her through, and they said she was in good health overall. So when we found her flopped on the floor and having trouble getting to her feet we thought - daft pup’s been overdoing it again playing with Ellie. But Ali realized this was more serious and whipped her off to the 24-hour hospital (why did she always insist on finding trouble on the weekends?) and within an hour she was gone.

On the writing front, I’ve completed a few passes through The Ashes of Home and tidied up a lot of points from my revision notes. The scene list (which I blogged about last month) has been very helpful in making adjustments to the order, tightening up timelines, and evening out points of view. I must remember that tool for future projects.

Over the weekend I printed the whole thing out for my first serious nit-picking pass through, which I always like to do on paper. Soon be ready for critique partners.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


How reliable do you think your childhood memories are? Are all those half-remembered events and general impressions from decades ago truly representative, or are they distorted through filters your life has since placed around them?

I got to wondering about this recently, with the unusually damp Autumn we’re enjoying up on the west coast. The last couple of days in particular, I’ve been saying to myself, this reminds me of Guernsey winters.

My recollection, especially from my teens, is of long spells of leaden skies, blustery winds, and endless rain. Day after day I’d wait for the bus, trudge up through St. Peter Port to school, and dash from class to class (my school was spread out over many separate buildings) to the sound of drops pattering on my umbrella. Rain coats and umbrellas were essential accessories.

When we moved from Guernsey to Victoria, we remarked again and again how different conditions were here. Yes, annual rainfall is pretty similar but here it mostly seemed to fall at night. Hauling groceries in a wet dash to & from the car seemed to be consigned to an occasional (as in maybe once or twice a year) discomfort rather than the expected norm.

As people in the office grumble, I find myself glibly saying, this is nothing compared to where I came from. But at the same time I can’t help wondering how objective I can be. Having made such a drastic move twelve years ago, it’s easy to fall into the trap of selective memory. We want our new home to be better, to have made the right decision, so are we selectively playing up the good sides and contrasting with the frustrations of our former home?

How about you? How do you view your life from year ago, and what filters today might be unwittingly distorting those memories?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The pace of change

I’m an IT director in our provincial government, and last week my ministry organized a two-day conference to explore themes and trends in technology.

One of the biggest messages I took from those two days - reinforced by one speaker after another - was the pace of change in the technology world.

It’s scary!

No, I mean really scary, as in ten years from now will anyone who’s an adult today even understand the world any more?

Ideas that were pure science fiction ten years ago are reality today. And the scariest part is that the pace of change is exponential. That means that in five years time we’ll be living with technology that is speculative and far-fetched today. And the same will be true a mere two years after that. Then a year after that.

Will we be able to recognize the world a generation from now?

Regardless of the real world, this poses serious problems for sci-fi writers. We all know how novels from the 1950s feel dated today because of the changes in technology, but they still enjoyed a few decades’ shelf life first.

Ten years ago I was writing a novel (which I never finished) that involved computers worn as jewelry, gesture recognition, direct neural stimulation to provide sensory input, and an exclusively virtual interface. That all seemed safely far-fetched back then, but ten years on all those elements are here today in some form or another.

When I wrote Tiamat’s Nest, autonomous self-driving cars still seemed safely a few decades away because computers as a whole were still too prone to stupid errors and failures to be entrusted with the task. But this year we have them on the streets in some cities. That frightens me because no matter how well they perform when things are going well, computers are still dangerously error-prone. Not to mention prone to malware, and how about the prospect of being kidnapped by your own car - the ultimate in ransomware?

So, to all member of Homo Sapiens V1.0 out there, how do you cope with the accelerating pace of change in the real world. And to sci-fi writers, how do you stay speculative when the most way-out ideas you have might become reality before your book is even published?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Simple pleasures

It’s been a really tiring week so far. Not bad, just tiring. A few disturbed nights. Lots of after-school driving around. Yesterday I had an all-day training course that involved lots of talking and interaction - and you can guess how that feels to an extreme introvert!

Tomorrow at work we have a couple of end-of-summer events on the same day, a coincidence born of the way our organization has been split and reorganized over the past couple of years. A lunchtime barbecue for our physical office, including some of my staff plus colleagues in the same office but now belonging to a different branch, and an after-work round of mini-golf and pub meal for my branch involving staff from three different offices.

This afternoon I sat at my desk looking at my calendar and the very thought left me feeling drained! Not that I don’t enjoy all those things but ... introvert ... it’s tiring at the same time.

This evening I dropped Matthew off at Venture Scouts, a ten minute drive from home, and drove back along the coast road.

The sun was almost set behind the hill to one side. It was nearly dark, but the sky - immaculately clear - still glowed above and the mirror-smooth sea picked up the light in a luminous milky blue.

I thought, “That’s pretty” and drove on. Then I thought, “Dammit, I live in such a beautiful part of the world yet when did I last take just a few minutes to stop and look at it?”

So I did something drastic and daring for me. Instead of driving on home, I pulled in and stopped. Just for five minutes. But it was quiet, introvert, me time. Islands in the distance. The lights of a few boats. Mountains off to one side. A seal sculling lazily near the shore.


So simple.

So rare that we take the time to appreciate it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Have you scene?

My process in drafting The Ashes of Home has been quite different from previous novels.

Up to now, I generally think and write in chapters, and mark the start of new chapters as I go.

This time around I started along the same lines but eventually found it far easier to forget about chapters during the drafting stage. In part, this is because I am tracking three main points of view, and I found it more productive to focus on each one’s story without worrying too much about what was going on elsewhere.

That, of course, meant that I had no idea where chapter breaks would eventually fall.

What I did do, though, was mark where natural scene breaks might fall. Sometimes this was just a natural pause in the action, or a jump in time. Better still I’m always on the lookout for natural pauses that are also cliffhangers - the shock of an unexpected revelation or a sudden twist in events.

Yes, I’m looking for points in the story where, as a reader, I would desperately want to read on. Then *bang* new chapter, or even switch to another point of view and leave things hanging.



I did weave the separate strands together as I went whenever I had enough of each one to make it worthwhile. Mostly that was done to keep things ticking along roughly the same timeline. So now I’ve got a novel draft that kinda hangs together as a story, but which is a long list of scenes in need of overall structure. And I’ve got lots of notes about things I need to change, make consistent, or incorporate.

To help with this stage of the process I’m trying something I’ve not tried before. I’ve gone through and made a scene list.

This chart shows each scene with point of view, a rough idea of length, and a one-sentence description. Some of these scenes might end up running together, but I’ve also started noting which scenes would make ideal break points.

My hope is that this outline view will help to refine the overall flow (maybe things need swapping around a bit), work out where best to add in new scenes, and eventually work out how best to chunk things out into chapters.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Crystal's Timeless

Today I'm helping Crystal Collier share the news about Timeless, the third book in the Maiden of Time series.

TIMELESS (#3 Maiden of Time) by Crystal Collier #CoverReveal

Book Title: TIMELESS (Maiden of Time #3)
Author: Crystal Collier
Genre: YA Paranormal Historical
Release Date: November 1, 2016


In 1771, Alexia had everything: the man of her dreams, reconciliation with her father, even a child on the way. But she was never meant to stay. It broke her heart, but Alexia heeded destiny and traveled five hundred years back to stop the Soulless from becoming.

In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission.

Can Alexia escape her own clock?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Crystal Collier is an eclectic author who pens clean fantasy/sci-fi, historical, and romance stories with the occasional touch of humor, horror, or inspiration. She practices her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her Blog, FacebookGoodreads, or follow her on Twitter.

Want the first chapter free? Sign up HERE.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

And ... we’re done!

A big day for me. After just under seven months of intensive effort I’ve finished the first draft of The Ashes of Home.

Shayla Carver, master assassin (retired) and planetary governor has made more enemies than is good for her. All she wants is to rebuild her home planet, burned to a cinder many years before, but ghosts from her past haunt her. Among the many plots on her life, one especially dangerous enemy is intent not just on revenge but on plunging the galaxy into a devastating civil war.

I started this project all the way back in 2008, while I was revising and querying Ghosts of Innocence first time around. After roughing out a number of scenes and a high level outline (which the finished story bears no resemblance to) I set it aside while I went through more rounds of revising and querying, then self-publishing Ghosts, and writing and publishing Tiamat’s Nest.

This draft has gone really well, but of course it’s nowhere near ready for publication. Eventually I’ll be looking for critiquers and beta readers, but before then I’ve got a lot of editing and revising of my own to do. I normally dislike this stage of the process, but for once I’m actually excited about it. I’ve got a set of notes on things I need to go back and work into the story, and most of all I’m looking forward to reading it through as a whole - something I’ve not yet done.

Time for a celebratory drink...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labour Day

Hope you all enjoyed Labour Day (or Labor Day south of the border.)

This is the weekend of the local Saanich agricultural fair. For once, Ali and I visited on our own. We gave it a miss last year but have gone every other year since moving here. We like to mooch around looking at the animals, the crafts, and some of the entertainment. The kids used to love doing that also when they were younger. Now, not so much.

This time, we really noticed the dwindling numbers of livestock on show. Here’s a couple of photos from 5 years ago.

This year the shed with the goats in only had about half the number of animals. As for the draft horses, I can count 7 rigs in the arena in that old photo compared with only 3 when we watched this weekend. The same pattern was repeated in many of the animal sections around the fair - pigs, sheep, cattle, geese - all down in numbers.

Other sections thankfully are still going strong - all the arts and crafts, and the farm market, and the place was still buzzing with activity.

Megan invited some school friends over to spend the afternoon and evening on the rides, followed by late night pizza and a sleepover at our house. Thankfully we've had today to recover before back to work and school tomorrow.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors August 28

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

I’m still on a blogging break, but I’m taking a couple of days off work to enjoy a long weekend while summer is still here, so I can afford a bit of time for distractions. Drafting The Ashes of Home is going well. I just breezed past 100k and feel like I’m on the home stretch.

Last night I needed to foreshadow a dramatic event I was writing, so backtracked a few chapters to embellish a description earlier on. I kinda liked the description, and thought why not share it. It is far removed from the scenes I’ve posted previously. Here, Shayla has stowed away on a massive battleship and infiltrates an engineering crew...


Industrial ear muffs barely deadened the noise echoing back and forth in the cathedral space that rose through most of the height of the hull. She’d grown used to near silence in Blazer’s machinery space, but here the quintuplet of hulking, pot-bellied power units was anything but quiet. The curving shells that filled most of the compartment hummed an almost subsonic note that tingled her bones. Accustomed as she was to technology from the microscopic to the gargantuan, she had never been this up close and personal with the living heart of a capital ship. Despite herself, her skin crawled in awe at the unimaginable power contained a few feet away. Behind layers of armor and magnetic containment fields, humans dared to subvert the power of suns.

She shivered, and returned her attention to the job at hand and the instructions in her earpiece fighting to be heard. From her vantage point high above the deck, the shrieking din of ancillary equipment that clustered at floor level was lessened, but only just.

A narrow slice of unencumbered air ran the length of the power plant on either side, giving minimally-adequate working room. Canary yellow gantries spanned the engineering space and hoisted the two ton dead weight of the fuel injector high into the air, but it took sweat and muscle, and a constant stream of commands mingled with coarse invective to line the cylinder up with its housing forty feet above the deck.


So, how's your summer going? Taken vacations? Ready for school yet?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors August 7

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

This is the last post before I take a blogging break and concentrate on finishing the first draft of The Ashes of Home. I ended the chapter with Randall, who comes across as a religious madman, talking about fire falling from the sky. His words hit Shayla hard when she realized he was describing the literal truth of something he’s seen, something she herself is intimately familiar with ... the systematic burning, thirty years ago, of the planet they are now standing on and trying to coax back to life. This snippet picks up the thread in the next chapter which leads on to new adventures, but I felt it was a tidy point to conclude this series of posts.


Shayla leaned against the wall, taking in the sounds of the night. Shouts and coarse laughter drifted through the near wall, tinny and distant. Further afield wind rustled leaves, an unaccustomed sound from a lifetime ago.

Her thoughts whirled through her mind, muddy, fragmented. A survivor. From his speech he was obviously educated. What had the years alone on a global tomb done to him?

And how had he survived? She had watched the Cleansing broadcast from remote drones - propaganda to keep the peasants in line. The fleet of Swords systematically slagged large towns and cities, then bathed the remaining landscape in province-wide swathes of plasma, a gentle goodbye kiss after the fierce intensity of those first thrusts.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors July 31

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a scene from my current WIP, The Ashes of Home, Shayla has tracked a mysterious madman, Randall, to a makeshift bar in a forestry work camp. The patrons have been plying him with drink, and he rewards them with an insane rant about fire falling from the sky. Shayla asked about the fire and Randall described an impossibly pure bight lilac.

Note - a Sword is a class of battleship, the largest in existence.


Despite the warmth in the room, goosebumps raced up and down Shayla’s body. The table in front of her swam in and out of focus. She pushed herself upright, steadying herself against waves of vertigo, ignoring angry protests as she stumbled from table to table towards the door.

Outside, the night air restored a measure of balance. She gathered herself and, with an effort, walked around the corner to the shelter of a dark alley. There she doubled up and was violently sick.

There were no immigration records of this man because he hadn’t arrived and dropped off grid as Brin supposed. No, he had always been here.

Shayla and a few hundred others had escaped the Cleansing, taking flight while the Imperial navy closed in, but this man had lived through it. He had just described perfectly the flash from an exawatt plasma cannon, the signature weapon of Imperial Swords.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors July 24

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a scene from my current WIP, The Ashes of Home, Shayla has tracked a mysterious madman, Randall, to a makeshift bar in a forestry work camp. The patrons have been plying him with drink, and he rewards them with an insane rant about fire falling from the sky. Skipping ahead a few paragraphs from last week’s snippet, the ‘audience’ has been goading Randall on with questions about his visions. Shayla pitches in with a question of her own...


“What color is the fire?” Shayla called.

She ignored the puzzled stares nearby.

Sightless eyes turned towards her, then lifted to the ceiling. Randall raised his arms, hands outstretched like a priest before the altar of Unity. His voice was hushed. “It is the purest, cleanest, palest lilac. Too bright. Too bright. No mortal eyes should look upon that light.”


Hmmm...what will Shayla make of his answer? See her reaction next week.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors July 17

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a scene from my current WIP, The Ashes of Home, Shayla has tracked a mysterious madman, Randall, to a makeshift bar in a forestry work camp. The patrons have been plying him with drink, and he rewards them with an insane rant about fire falling from the sky. He’s so far described scenes of terrifying destruction. This snippet opens with Randall speaking.


“It is Judgment Day. We harbored snakes in our midst and the punishment is swift and terrible.”

The rant sounded insane yet curiously convincing. It had the sounds of religious zeal yet Shayla puzzled. In her undercover assignments she’d studied the Book of Unity and many other holy works. She knew the Pillars of Duty inside out and could quote sermons wholesale from a dozen mainstream religions. This was nothing she recognized. Besides, the details were too precise. This man had seen something. And it had driven him mad.


Just a reminder, The Critique Survival Guide is still available as a **free** e-book packed with tips for writers to get the best out of the (sometimes harsh and intimidating) process of being critiqued.

See the links in the side bar...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Writing progress

Just a quick writing update because this evening I passed the 75k mark drafting The Ashes of Home. That’s worth a celebratory glass of wine because it represents roughly 3/4 of the likely final novel.

Knocking out a first draft is a big task and can get overwhelming, and sometimes it’s hard to see how far you’ve come. When I’m in full-on writing mode I find it helps to set a word count target, and to graph the results week by week. This picture helps motivate me, giving me a kick up the pants when I’m struggling. It draws me back when I don’t feel like writing, even if it’s just to add a couple of hundred words. And when things are going well it reminds me to celebrate progress and milestones like this.

Back in February I picked up the smattering of rough scenes I’d written a few years ago, and set myself the goal of hitting 90k by the end of August. That works out at a little over 400 words a day. Not much by many writers’ standards, but with other commitments it’s a stretch for me to sustain day on day.

As you can see from the graph (blue = target, red = actual word count) I’ve been doing well, tracking just ahead of target. You can clearly see the slump when I hit a sticky patch last month. But with such a clear depiction of the slump (something it’s impossible to get just looking at a list of figures) I gritted my teeth and sorted out the root of the problem. There will be more slumps to come, especially as I try to bring all the story threads to a conclusion, but I hope to blast through them in the same way. Right now, words on the page is the name of the game. Kicking it into shape will come later, but you can’t edit an empty page.

Incidentally, the traffic light colors at the top of the page illustrate my fractal planner/pantser writing approach. Each column represents a separate Word document (I like to split the manuscript into manageable chunks) and the colors show state of readiness, with red for raw work in progress, and green for a section in good shape. You can see how I tend to leap ahead in the story and draft later scenes while I’m still polishing up earlier ones.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors July 10

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Shayla has tracked a mysterious madman, Randall, to a makeshift bar in a forestry work camp. The patrons have been plying him with drink, and he rewards them with an insane rant about fire falling from the sky.


“The earth melts; it opens up before me.” Tears glistened on ruddy cheeks. “Buildings gone. Trees like torches. People are matchsticks in the wind.”

“Yeah, the wind,” someone near the back of the room called. He made a farting sound and collapsed, laughing.

“Fear the wind,” Randall bellowed. “It roars like a lion and sweeps all before it. It levels whole streets at a single breath, turns them to glass.”


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

This is what happens when a husky decides summer has arrived

After the sunshine last week, Gypsy finally decided to start shedding her winter coat. Yes, that is a full carrier bag of fluff I combed out in a couple of ten-minute sittings, and there's more to come out yet!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors July 3

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Shayla has tracked a mysterious madman, Randall, to a makeshift bar in a forestry work camp. The patrons have been plying him with drink in anticipation of some entertainment.


“Hey, Randall,” someone jeered from the back of the room. “Tell us a story.”

For the first time, Randall seemed to react to another person. His eyes swiveled in the direction of the cry, then lost their focus again. “Hellfire,” he roared.

People cheered and clapped.

“Fire from the sky!”

More cheers. This is what the crowd had come to see.


A reminder, the SIA Free & Bargain Books event is still on until the end of July 4. Lots of free or discounted e-books to pick up from the event website.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Yes, the SIA Free and Bargain Books event is on!

See all the details on the event website.

Among the large number of bargain books on offer, Ghosts of Innocence and Tiamat's Nest are down to $0.99.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Alone with a good book

I’m getting to the age when I’m more and more often thinking ahead to the prospect of retirement. The last decade has zipped by and I’m sure the next will go just as fast, so best be ready for it.

It’s not something that worries me. As a profound introvert I’ve always liked my own company and always feel I have way more that I want to accomplish outside of work than I ever have time for, so endless days of free time should be a blessing, right?

Well, I’ve got the chance to put that to the test this week. Ali has taken the kids over to the UK for her father’s 80th so I’m holding the fort and caring for the animals. As we are unlikely to be taking a camping trip this summer I decided it was a great chance to take a bit of vacation and have some serious alone time.

Things I’ve learned:

The freedom is great. Being able to do what I want, when I want, without having to constantly factor in other people’s plans. Being able to plan a menu and pick up groceries based on my tastes, without worrying about whether anyone else will like it. Recalling the simple pleasure of roaming the house naked, which we used to do before the kids grew up too much.

I do miss having the family around. Not to the point of loneliness, but I will be glad when they’re back. Meanwhile, thank goodness for Skype!

But the biggest thing I’ve discovered, which I suspected might be the case, is that I don’t have half the energy to do stuff as I need. You’d think with a whole day ahead I’d be able to write thousands of words. Not so. Writing is darned hard work at times. And having concentrated blocks of time doesn’t help so much when you need to mull over things in the subconscious to get past a blockage. I don’t think I’d cut it as a full time writer. I need other things to do to break up the day. Luckily I started the week with a long list of odd jobs to deal with.

And there’s always reading. Chewing my way through a good book helps recharge the batteries.

And a reminder - tomorrow is July 1, the start of the weekend-long “Free and Bargain Books” event. The list of books on offer will be posted to the SIA website here at midnight tonight.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Escape the News with some free and bargain books

I saw the results of the Brexit vote last week, and a part of me wanted to cheer and say “At last!” (and not just because something finally gained more headlines than the US presidential race!) while a part of me looks to the future with some anxiety.

Living in Britain through the formation of the Common Market, its evolution into the European Union and the birth of the Euro, the whole EU thing often left me feeling more frustrated than anything.

Yes, being in the Union gave people the freedom to live and work where they pleased. The single currency presumably gave people and businesses in member states a lot easier time of managing their money. But I would say that Britain’s heart was never really in it. I think the writing’s been on the wall for years now since Britain chose to stay out of the Euro.

Any plus sides to the arrangement were probably felt more by politicians, big business, and the City than by ordinary folk in Britain. On the downsides, new stories popped up regularly of the latest bureaucratic nonsense to emerge from Brussels. We were drowning in floods of news rules of breathtaking absurdity from regulating the permitted curvature of bananas to the recycling of teabags. And bureaucrats were being paid outlandish salaries on an obscene gravy train to come up with this nonsense.

And while the British instinctively believe in “playing fair” some countries always seemed happy to flout the rules while grabbing as much as they could from the Union. Dang it all, that’s just not cricket old chap, what?

I honestly don’t know if, given the choice, I’d have voted Remain or Leave. The frustration was clearly boiling over, but the effects of the vote will be far-reaching. Trouble is, there’s a lot of noise and speculation out there but precious little useful information.

I’m not going to make any predictions. Leaving the EU may be good for Britain, it may be disastrous. The UK may stay whole, it may fragment. The same goes for the EU. The knock-on effects around the world are incalculable.

All we can do is hang on for the ride.

And what better way to distract yourself than with a good book? The Goodreads group Support for Indie Authors is holding another “Free and Bargain Books” event this weekend, from July 1 through to July 4. Lots of authors and e-books of all genres to enjoy, either for free or priced at 99 cents.
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I’ve already discounted Ghosts of Innocence and Tiamat’s Nest to 99 cents ahead of the event to give time for the reduced price to filter its way to all the outlets.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors June 26

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing with my current WIP, The Ashes of Home, we last saw Shayla Carver see off some work camp bullies. She is under cover, tracking down a mysterious wild man of the mountains and her information has led her to a makeshift bar in another camp. The man she is seeking has entered the bar, as described some weeks ago here.


He sat. A drink appeared in front of him. The server backed away, unacknowledged.

He scarcely seemed to notice the glass as he picked it up and tossed it back. His eyes flicked back and forth, following imaginary or remembered events in his own head.

Another drink appeared.

Out the corner of her eye, Shayla noticed the group at the next table flag down a server. Coins clinked. This seemed to be part of the scheduled entertainment.

More drinks flowed, with no perceptible effect on the giant in the corner, but the mood in the bar grew tense with anticipation.


Do you like free and bargain books? Next weekend is a major holiday weekend in North America, with Canada Day on Friday and American Independence on Monday. To celebrate, Support Indie Authors is holding a 4-day event with 50 authors offering nearly 100 e-books either free or 99 cents.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

iDraw - grids and things

I talked last week about the usefulness of layers in iDraw, and made passing reference to a grid. I’d like to talk a bit more about techniques for measuring and positioning in drawings.

Pretty much any drawing software will have some sort of a grid feature. Like drawing on graph paper, a grid gives you a sense of scale. In software there is also a “Snap to Grid” feature which means as you draw, edges, vertices, end points etc. will always “snap” to the nearest grid lines. This makes it very easy to ensure, for example, that the line you’re drawing is exactly 3.5cm long, rather than just approximately. If you’ve ever tried positioning something on screen using a mouse you’ll know how hard it is to be precise, so the grid makes things easy.

The grid in iDraw allows you to set the spacing between lines, and it is also a two-level grid with thicker lines at intervals that you can also set. For my battleship project, I’ve chosen a grid size to match my drawing scale, so that each big square is 10’ across with 1’ subdivisions. Yes, I was taught metric at school but I still think in feet & inches.
The grid lines are very faint here, but if you click on the image you'll see a larger version. As I mentioned last week, I usually supplement iDraw’s grid with extra placement lines of my own. In this image, a detail of the battleship’s main armament, there is a red line running down the center. I typically use some combination of center lines, boundary lines showing the outside edge, and additional grid lines at suitable intervals, such as a 100’ scale. It depends on the project, I only add what I find useful. These lines go into their own drawing layer so they are easy to hide, and they don’t get in the way and can’t be accidentally selected or moved.

iDraw has another really neat positioning feature. Suppose I want to make a second copy of this object and place it directly underneath the first. I copy and paste as normal...
Then as I move it around, iDraw flashes up vertical and horizontal lines as the object I’m moving comes into alignment with other objects on the page. This tells me when I’m lined up, without having to measure against the grid.
This feature is very useful, though it does have drawbacks. As you move something around these lines flash on and off, and sometimes it’s hard to work out exactly what object it’s aligning to, which might be well off the edge of the screen.

Also I’ve found iDraw will sometimes snap to some alignment it’s detected instead of snapping to the grid. I often look at something and think it looks a little off. I zoom in and find it’s ignored the grid. It’s easy to correct things when you’re zoomed in enough so that the software can distinguish between the competing grid/alignment lines, but the trick is to spot the error in the first place. I’m now in the habit of zooming in periodically to double-check sizes and positioning. I guess that’s the price you pay for making things mostly easy :)

One more thing iDraw is not so good at, especially when it comes to line drawings like this. If you select a collection of lines, squares, boxes etc. it can be tricky to pick them up with the mouse pointer. You have to position the pointer very close to one of the lines, or it thinks you’re making a new selection and will “drop” everything you so carefully selected. This is especially true when you’re zoomed out a long way like in this view...
Individual lines here are hard to see, let alone grab, but in this project I often have details (such as stairwells or elevator shafts) on one deck that I want to copy and paste to the same locations on other decks. To make this easier, you’ll notice some red triangles down the left-hand edge.. If I select a triangle along with the details I want to copy or move, this does two things: it gives me something easier to grab when zoomed further out, and, because I draw those triangles in the angle of my main grid lines, it gives me a reference point to ensure things get properly positioned again. All I have to do is ensure the triangle ends up back in its “home corner”.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Getting to grips with iDraw - the importance of layers

I’ve blogged about this before, but when I write I’m an enthusiastic drawer of plans and maps to help me visualize the setting. These are usually rough hand-drawn affairs filed in a binder, which works fine for getting the writing done. However I also want to produce more professional-quality images to post to my website to supplement the books.

Since early last year I’ve been getting to grips with iDraw for a variety of drawing projects. I’m a long way from being an expert, but I’m sharing a few things I’ve learned along the way.

One of the most important tips I can suggest for a drawing project of any complexity is to make full use of layers to organize your work. Nowadays I’m in the habit of putting a bit of thought into how best to split things up into layers before I start.

Right now I’m working on probably the most ambitious project to date - a 2000’-long battleship with full deck plans. Here’s the front section profile and part of one of the decks.

It’s not obvious here because all the layers are showing, and iDraw presents them as one image, but the layer arrangement here follows a general pattern that I’ve found useful.

The foundation is a grid. Like most such software, iDraw has an inbuilt grid feature to help with alignment and positioning. This is visible here as a set of faint lines in the background and is not part of the drawing itself. To supplement this, I almost always find it useful to have a much coarser set of reference lines establishing the boundaries of a plan, center lines, or simply a larger scale grid. These are the red lines you see here, and I place them in their own layer.

I always put annotations and labels into their own layer on top of everything else, and then the main content of the drawing goes into one or more layers in between.

Why do this? A number of reasons. For starters there’s the obvious fact that layers are, well, layers. Whenever you add elements to a drawing there’s an implied “Z-order”, a third dimension, which determines which element is in front of which. This can sometimes get messy to sort out, but layers can help simplify things. For example, the labels in this drawing are in their own layer on top of everything else, so they will never get accidentally hidden by anything elsewhere in the plan.

Also for this kind of technical drawing it’s important to be able to select and manipulate lines and other objects once you’ve placed them. Maybe there’s a piece that I want to copy and paste elsewhere, for example, or I need to move a set of walls and doorways over a bit. Having different parts of the diagram held in different layers means that when you’re working in a particular layer, even though you can still see the rest, you can’t inadvertently select elements from anything but the layer you’re working in. In other words all those gridlines and labels don’t get in the way. And if you need a clearer view of the bit you’re working on you can always hide the layers you don’t want to see.

In this example, I chose to keep the gross structural elements - the frame of the ship - separated out into their own layer. Here’s the same picture with the fine detail hidden.

When I finish the drawing and want to publish it, I will choose to hide all those gridlines - an easy job if they’re in their own layer.

iDraw makes it really easy to add and arrange layers. One of the tool palettes lists them all out, and you can add, delete, and move them around easily.

One last use I’ve found is to add actual drawing effects. In this picture of the Emperor’s palace, you see some of the building appear fainter than others, giving an impression of depth.
As a kid did you ever try that trick of creating a foggy landscape by drawing parts on pieces of tracing paper then laying them one on top of each other? I did the same here, by setting up layers for foreground, middle, and distant buildings and placing a semi-transparent layer in between. The tool palette in iDraw has all sorts of options for how to blend each layer into the overall picture, a set of features I’ve only just begun to explore.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Take my advice ... or not

I often see discussion threads in forums like Goodreads started by writers wondering about some part of the writing process. They feel insecure because they aren’t doing it exactly like [insert big name author here] and they wonder what’s wrong with them.

There is one piece of advice that I invariably give whenever discussions start up about the “right” way to do things, whether it’s about writing or critiquing or worldbuilding or editing or any part of the process. In fact, I think it’s the only true piece of advice I ever give. All else in my mind falls into the category of “this helped me, maybe it will help you too, but that’s for you to say.”

My advice is simple: develop your own judgment about what works for you and what doesn’t.

There is no “right” way.

The only things that matter are the words you have on the page when you reach the end of your writing process and decide to share your work with the world. How you get there is immaterial.

Now, this sounds like a recipe for ignoring any and all advice that people throw at you. No, that’s not it. Advice is good, but it is not God.

This is a tricky balancing act, especially because it involves self confidence, and writers on the whole are a desperately insecure bunch.

On the one hand, you should recognize that what is good advice to one person may be poison to another. Try things out, but have the courage to know when something just doesn’t cut it for you and to know that that’s OK.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean be a jerk and refuse to ever listen to advice. At least hear why the proponent thinks it’s such a great idea and make a reasoned choice for yourself.

“I’m different,” “This is my voice,” “I’m trying to be experimental,” are all fair enough, but have the courage to recognize when it actually isn’t working for you and that maybe those dinosaurs who pay attention to little things like spelling and grammar might actually have a point ...

So, listen to advice, be receptive, look at what works for a whole bunch of people and work out why it works for a whole bunch of people. Don’t be afraid - or too proud - to try things out. But know that the goal is to get a story down on paper by any means that works for you. You’re being judged by those words and the impact they have on readers, not by conformance to somebody’s idea of a good writing process.

How about you? What perfectly reasonable advice have you discarded because it just wasn’t right for you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A little bit of a wine

One of the early adjustments we had to make in moving to Canada was the steep price of alcohol compared to the UK. Forget the exchange rate, when you compare prices against disposable income I reckon it’s at least double in real terms.

It was a benefit that we both ended up drinking far less - and with the more relaxed lifestyle here, feeling the need to drink far less, too.

All the same, we like our wine, so we started making use of the local U-brew businesses and bottling our own batches. We’ve just bottled a batch of red and one of white this year, now sitting pretty in my home-made wine rack. Looks like we’re all set for the summer :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors May 22

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a draft scene from my latest WIP, The Ashes of Home, Shayla Carver is in disguise and stopped off at a work canteen to refuel. She inadvertently took some of the good food, supposedly off-limits to “her kind”. On her way to a table, she is confronted by three men. The ringleader is intent on taking her food off her and probably has other punishments in mind to put her in her place.


Shayla placed her tray down on the table alongside her, just out of his reach. He leaned across, whether to take the tray or flip it on the floor she never found out. Her balled fist lashed out, striking him squarely in the solar plexus. As he staggered back, she landed a couple more lightning blows to make sure damage would be visible for the next few weeks. Blood sprayed from a broken nose.

He crashed into the table behind, eyes rolled up in their sockets. His henchmen leaped forward then stopped as they took in Shayla’s casual contempt and her fighting stance.

When they hesitated she widened her eyes, pretending to notice her downed assailant for the first time, and brought her hand to her mouth. “Oops, I didn’t realize I hit him that hard.” A picture of innocence, she picked up her tray and stepped over the comatose figure and past the nonplussed sidekicks.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Unblocking plot - what happens next?

It’s been a while since I posted on writer’s block. I had a whole series of posts mapped out, then April got in the way. I find that during the A to Z challenge most folks are so busy with the challenge itself that few have time to visit elsewhere, so I gave myself a few weeks off posting anything other than Weekend Writing Warriors snippets.

But now, after a really good three months keeping to (and ahead of) my writing goals on The Ashes of Home, I’m hitting a sticky patch. It’s my old Nemesis - plot.

Of all the aspects of crafting a story, I think this is the part that gives me the most trouble. Figuring out where the story is going, what happens next, and what twists to introduce to liven things up.

I have a few tools to help, but no silver bullet and this part is still a struggle for me.

I find it helps to sit down to a dedicated brainstorming session, usually drawn out on paper as a mind map. Throw thoughts down on the page without judgment, let them spark and collide off each other, then sift through the wreckage for anything useable.

Other background preparation can help here. If you know your characters, how would they act or react? Use that to drive events forward. If you’ve mapped out details in your setting beyond the obvious needs of the story, features in your characters’ surroundings (that you placed there but hadn’t paid much attention to) can suggest actions or plot twists: places to hide, to escape, to ambush...

Sometimes the brainstorming might be tightly directed: the protagonist is in a fix, so how do they get out? Sometimes the challenge might be more vague. Right now, I’ve just had Shayla framed for a crime and under house arrest, and it will be a week or two of story time before the next firm piece of the story kicks in. Meanwhile, is she going to just sit there meekly and let fate take its course? No. But at this point I have no idea what she’s going to do instead, which makes it very hard to write.

When I’m stuck on “what happens next”, I sometimes find that the thread I’m working on has run ahead of other point of view threads. It’s a bit like leading a charge at the enemy and finding yourself all alone with your comrades lagging far behind. The answer to that is easier. Go back and write those other threads. Where I’m following multiple points of view I usually manage to keep them in step, writing a scene in one then swapping to another. I often have a feeling for the points where I want to leave the reader hanging, and I know what scene I want to cut to. But at other times I find it better to just write two threads as separate continuous stories, then splice them together. That’s when the problem of running ahead can crop up.

There is a related but more subtle problem that can crop up to block me. When I’m struggling and I tease apart the reasons, the answer may be that there should be events happening off stage that I’ve neglected to map out. These won’t be point of view scenes in the story, but they will make themselves felt when their arcs intersect. Paying attention to what people are doing while they are out of sight can help unblock the flow.

Do you find it easy to come up with plot twists and keep the action flowing? If not, what techniques do you use to overcome this?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors May 15

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a draft scene from my latest WIP, The Ashes of Home, Shayla Carver is in disguise and stopped off at a work canteen to refuel. She inadvertently took some of the good food, supposedly off-limits to “her kind”, and is going to see what response her actions will provoke. A guard, trying to avoid trouble, has just tried to head her off but Shayla told him to be ready to fetch the clean-up crew.


She pushed past and found her way barred by a wall of muscle. The two thugs she’d originally marked stood a respectable distance behind, clearly nothing more than lieutenants in this bully ring.

The wall of muscle was topped by a face wearing an amiable grin. “Your folks sit back there.” He glanced down at Shayla’s tray. “And I see you’ve brought me my rations.” The grin widened.

Shayla gazed back at him, unfazed, expressionless.

“Stupid Woolly,” one of his henchmen muttered. “Dumb bitch can’t even understand you.”


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weekend Writing Warriors May 8

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a draft scene from my latest WIP, Shayla Carver is in disguise and stopped off at a work canteen to refuel. She inadvertently took some of the good food, supposedly off-limits to “her kind”, and is going to see what response her actions will provoke.


She finished loading her tray and sauntered toward the front, angling towards an empty table near a window.

A lanky youngster in a guard’s uniform intercepted her. It wasn’t clear whether he was on duty or simply passing through, but he glanced over his shoulder then jerked his head towards the back of the room. “You should find somewhere with your own people.”

“Back off, soldier.” Shayla kept her tone low but firm. She held his gaze, expressions set like stone. “And be ready to fetch the clean-up crew.”

He swallowed and nodded. Shayla breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t too green to catch on to the Firenzi military slang.


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