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Getting It Right

Today I worked a bit more on a big scene near the middle of The Merchant of Dreams where a bunch of Venetian noblemen are discussing Important Plot Stuff. All well and good, I think to myself, dialogue’s easy enough to write – except that I don’t want it to be all “As you know, Bob”, so it needs to reveal the important information without overloading the reader with factitudinousness (I’m sure that’s not a word).

Add to that my obsessive attention to detail, which mean that I have to try to stick to at least the basics of historical accuracy. Now, in Renaissance Venice, they took slander against the Republic very seriously – one could be exiled or even executed for casting aspersions on the government – so how do I deal with a potentially treasonous situation that needs to be revealed to the reader?

That’s the problem that’s exercising my creativity at the moment, and the reason I’ve only written a few hundred words today. If I don’t get this stuff right, I might as well have set the book in a made-up world where I can change the rules to suit myself…


This is, I have to confess, something I’ve never really had. I’m terrible at establishing new habits because I can’t even keep them up for the 21 (or 28, or whatever) days it takes to establish them. I succeed in this writing game by sheer bloody-minded refusal to actually give up, rather than positive self-discipline.

And yet I can also never give up the good intentions: to write every day, to focus on my work instead of goofing off online, to exercise and eat healthily and do all those other little things I know I ought to. Apparently we only have so much discipline to go round, so even if you manage to sort one thing out, you’re bound to succumb to temptation on another front. It explains a lot about my life…

Anyway, I really do want to press on with this draft, so I’m going to try and post to this journal more often. Not necessarily daily (nothing is more depressing than having to record one’s lack of progress during a dry spell), but maybe a minimum of weekly, to record how I’m doing. Put it public and shame myself into doing something. Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Web Presence 101.1 – Claim Your Name

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NASA/courtesy of

Nowadays it’s generally considered vital for an author to have a web presence, and yet a lot of writers don’t really know where to start. I’ve been online since the mid-1990s, and a professional web developer for over a decade, so I thought I’d share some of my experience – what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do!

Once I started jotting down ideas, I realised there were a lot of things to consider, so this is going to be a multi-post article. First up: laying claim to your online identity.

Register a domain name

There’s really no excuse not to have your own domain name nowadays; they’re very cheap (as little as $5 a year) and they look so much more professional on a business card or email footer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a website yet – the important thing is to lay claim to your online identity so that no-one else can. Buy a domain the minute you’ve decided on the name you will publish under. Seriously.

You can buy a domain name from any domain registrar – a company that looks after domain names and handles all the techie details for you. In the UK, I recommend 123-reg, as they’ve been around for a long time. Although they aren’t the cheapest, they aren’t overly expensive, and when it comes to a cornerstone of your online presence, reliability is too important to scrimp on. Do some research before you choose a registrar, as there are plenty of cowboys out there! For starters, your registrar should offer the ability to forward web addresses and emails for free, not as a paid add-on.

Caveat: If you are planning on putting up a website or blog, I strongly recommend not buying your domain name through the company that hosts the site. About ten or twelve years ago I had a web host go bust on me, and it took weeks, months even, to get my domain name back. During that time I couldn’t use the address for email, and anyone following links to my site was presented with a holding page saying the site was no longer available. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. A decade ago it was an irritation; nowadays it would be a disaster. Register your domain with a well-established domain registrar and host your website elsewhere.

Before you register a name, you have to choose what it will be! I recommend not registering the title of your book – or rather, not as your sole domain. Firstly, the title may change. My first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, went through several working titles before I even submitted it, then my publisher asked me to change the title I submitted it under. Secondly, you’re going to write more than one book, right? So you don’t want your web presence tied to a single title. I have registered my series title,, but I forward that address to this website rather than using it directly.

Of course if your chosen name is common, someone else may have already nabbed the .com address. (I got lucky – whilst neither my first name nor my surname is rare, the combination had not been registered.) In that case, you may have to try a different TLD (top level domain) such as .net or .info, or choose a country-specific one like (they are often cheaper because there’s less demand for them than the generic ones).

Once you have your name, I recommend you start using it. If you’re not ready (or don’t want) to set up a website, forward the URL to your blog, Twitter profile, Facebook page – anywhere is better than your registrar’s standard holding page! Similarly, emails to “” can be forwarded to your existing email account, and your mail client can often be configured to use the same address in the “From” field. No-one need know you’re still using Hotmail 😉

Claim your name on social media

I’ll get onto the ins and outs of social media in a later post, but right now I’ll just say that it’s worth at least trying out the various social media services. Some of them, like Twitter, allow you to use a unique name from the start, so it’s a good idea to claim your author name there if it’s still available. Twitter has a limit of 15 characters on user names, however, so you might have to be a bit more creative on that one (you can still display your full name in your profile).

That’s it for names. Really. Why are you still here? Go forth and stake your claim. Now!

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts

Book review: The Road to Bedlam, by Mike Shevdon

Another book review so soon?

There are two reasons: firstly, last week was a major deadline for my day-job, so I didn’t have a lot of mental energy for writing, and secondly – this book is a fast read!

The Road to Bedlam is the sequel to Sixty-One Nails, picking up where the first book left off. Blackbird is nearing the end of her pregnancy when Niall’s daughter from his first marriage is apparently killed in a freak accident. However Alex is not dead – she has inherited her father’s fey blood and been bundled off to a secret facility for those who cannot control their powers (very reminiscent of Selma Blair’s character Liz in Hellboy). Niall is desperate to find her, but the Courts of the Feyre have more important things on their minds…

I confess I found the opening chapters a little slow. Shevdon understandably doesn’t want to short-change the impact on his protagonist of the apparent death of his child, but it does mean we spend quite a while with him in the mundane world as he tries to visit her in intensive care, attends a memorial service at the school, and so on. I felt this robbed the story of the forward momentum set up in the prologue, and it took a while to get going again. Maybe that’s just me, though; I don’t read much contemporary fantasy, so I’m accustomed to more “exotic” settings that are interesting in their own right.

Once Niall finds out the truth, however, it’s a steadily escalating adventure as he tries to balance his duty to Blackbird and his new kinfolk with his impatience to find Alex, and the book ends with an all-action finale worthy of a summer blockbuster! On the way, we get more fascinating glimpses into obscure corners of English folklore and tradition, like Oakham Castle with its great hall decorated with horseshoes of all sizes.

This is the real strength of Shevdon’s writing: the rich blend of ancient and modern, with a very English flavour (I would say British, but so far all the stories have focused on England, from London to Shropshire). I would love to see these books picked up by BBC Wales and made into mini-series – they would sit very comfortably alongside recent SFF productions like Being Human and Torchwood.

The third installment in The Courts of the Feyre is due out from Angry Robot next summer, so if you haven’t read the first two books, you have plenty of time to catch up!

Book review: The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Back in 2007, when I was starting to revise what would become The Alchemist of Souls, I picked up a couple of books that sounded from reviews like they were in a similar vein. One of these (The Lies of Locke Lamora) I read straight away, the other – The Blade Itself – sat neglected on my shelf until a few weeks ago. I am now regretting that delay.

The thing that put me off for a long time was that one of the viewpoint characters, Glokta, is an inquisitor. A torturer, not to put too fine a point on it. And having been so grossed out by a torture scene in The Lies of Locke Lamora that I had nightmares, I wasn’t about to launch into another book that might do the same. Thankfully Abercrombie has a much lighter touch than Lynch, and it’s a credit to his writing ability that Glokta is one of my favourite characters in the book.

Spoiler note: I’ve tried to avoid major spoilers, but it’s proved impossible to explain why I like this book without at least a little detail!

The Blade Itself is in some respects a typical first volume of an epic fantasy. It introduces a cast of colourful characters, including the obligatory white-bearded wizard, a huge “barbarian” and a handsome, sword-wielding nobleman, and ends by sending them off on a quest – but none of these characters is much like the clichés you’re familiar with. Also, the wizard and his quest are practically a subplot in this first volume, most of which is taken up with the political machinations in the city of Adua, as the Union (a large kingdom somewhat resembling Georgian England) teeters on the brink of war.

To be honest, it was the main plot that really caught my interest and attention; it’s a dark fantasy-of-manners – think Jane Austen meets The Borgias – packed with intrigue and humour. This part of the story rests on the shoulders of two very different characters: the aforementioned Glokta, and Jezal dan Luthar, the self-centred young nobleman who is destined to be dragged into the magus Bayaz’s quest.

Sand dan Glokta is a lonely, broken man, a former fencing champion who, during the last war against the Ghurkul Empire, was captured and tortured beyond the endurance of most men. Faced with a choice between going home to his doting mother’s country estate, or working for the Inquisition using the skills he learnt from his tormenters, Glokta chooses the latter. He is set by his superior to root out corruption amongst the merchant class, and uncovers a conspiracy that could threaten the fragile peace with the Ghurkul Empire to the south, even as the Union is about to go to war with the northern barbarians.

Jezal dan Luthar is one of the latest hopefuls entered into the same fencing contest that Glokta won in his youth. Unfortunately Jezal would rather drink and play cards with his fellow officers, to the despair of his trainers. However when Jezal falls in love with the sister of his friend Major West, he discovers new motivation…

Abercrombie’s strength is most definitely in his characters, all of whom are complex and, in their own way, sympathetic, despite some pretty deep flaws. I particularly liked Jezal’s objet d’amour, Ardee West, who starts out as a vivacious cross between Lizzie Bennett and Mary Crawford, but is revealed to be a much more complex (and, somewhat inevitably, tragic) character. And then of course there’s Glokta, whose dry humour and stoicism in the face of constant pain (both physical, from his war wounds, and the emotional impact of the contempt of others) makes him totally sympathetic despite the horrible things he has to do for his job. Thankfully Abercrombie skips over the gruesome details, knowing how to give you just enough information to be creeped out rather than nauseated – something I wish Lynch was better at!

If anything, the Adua sections were so enjoyable that I found the more traditional epic fantasy parts rather dull in comparison. Maybe I’m just jaded by a lifetime of reading such things and, more recently, seeing amazing CGI in movies, but for me the Big Magic felt at odds with the gritty realism of the rest of the story. I suspect I’m out of tune with the majority of the fantasy audience, however, who seem to demand this kind of thing, since practically every epic fantasy has this kind of buildup from the mundane to the ZOMG SFX’n’dragons!!1! (Not that there are any dragons in The Blade Itself, thank the gods.)

Some readers may find the complex, multi-threaded narrative hard to follow, and I confess I found the conspiracy plot particularly hard to keep a handle on because of all the switching back and forth, but on the other hand the writing was so assured, it was that rare kind of book where I could just sit back and enjoy the ride, without worrying where the author was heading.

In conclusion: excellent stuff, and I’ll definitely be picking up the second volume – whilst hoping the epic doesn’t overwhelm the intrigue!

Slogging through the middle

The last week or so has been increasingly heavy going, with not a great deal of progress. It hasn’t helped that I’ve had a busy week at work and some minor health issues, punctuated by the excitement of seeing my finished cover – but I’ve really not written anything for several days.

I’m hoping I made a breakthrough this afternoon, during a long soak in the bath (seems to be my best place for inspiration!). I’ve been trying to re-use some of the scenes from the first draft, but I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that some of them just don’t fit the new plot, so I keep having to back-track and cut material then replace it with something that actually works. As I said in my last post, if I can get past this stage, things should start to pick up, but it’s slow, tedious work at the moment!

Alchemist of Souls: finished cover

Got a nice surprise in my email today – the final version of the cover of The Alchemist of Souls, complete with lettering. Like, my name on it, and everything!

Awesome or what?

Book giveaway: September

August winners

Congratulations to Reetta (Stealing Fire from the Gods) – there were no takers for The Owl Killers, so that’s off to the charity shop…

September giveaway

Page After Page, by Heather Sellers

Subtitled “Discover the confidence and passion you need to start writing & keep writing”, this is very much a book for beginners, which is why I don’t need it any more!

From the Amazon blurb: “Ninety percent of beginner writers stop practicing their craft before they have a chance to discover their talents. This essential and encouraging guide: Helps readers build a writing life, one that will help them continue to write without giving up; Approaches the writing life without using new age and self-help techniques, so writers from all walks of life will benefit from the advice; Provides engaging exercises to help readers shape their writing life and achieve their goals; Written by an author with more than twenty years of teaching and writing experience, Page After Page helps writers keep writing, page after page, day after day.”

Mindstar Rising, by Peter F Hamilton

This is another freebie I picked up recently and will probably never get around to reading, since I’m not really into military SF. It’s a reprint of Hamilton’s debut novel in the Greg Mandel series.

“It’s the 21st century and global warming is here to stay, so forget the way your country used to look. And get used to the free market, too – the companies possess all the best hardware, and they’re calling the shots now.

In a world like this, a man open to any offers can make out just fine. A man like Greg Mandel for instance, who’s psi-boosted, wired into the latest sensory equipment, carrying state-of-the-art weaponry – and late of the English Army’s Mindstar Battalion.

As the cartels battle for control of a revolutionary new power source, and corporate greed outstrips national security, tension is mounting to boiling point – and Greg Mandel is about to face the ultimate test.”

Same rules as always – only UK/EU residents may enter, owing to postage. Leave a comment below, saying which book you’d like (or either, if so inclined!), before noon (UK time) on the second Saturday of October. Please use a valid email address in the comment form so I can contact you to get your snail-mail address if you win (don’t put either in your comments, for security reasons!).

Please note the extended entry time – I will be at FantasyCon on Saturday 2nd and then on holiday the following week, so I won’t be around to pick winners and send the books out until Saturday 8th October.

Good luck!