Saturday, 19 January 2013


This poor neglected blog may get a little more attention, thanks to something that will put the fear of God into my editor:

My writing shed now has Internet. 

Thanks to the miracle of a massive piece of thick wire going shed-to-garden-to-living-room-to-router which I've promised my wife will soon blend perfectly into the background (LOL!), this shed is online.

Previously my procrastination options came down to Freecell, or arsing about with Sonar X1, but now...  they are unlimited!

I'm celebrating this luxury, plus the fact that it's my birthday, by sitting out here freezing and getting just a little drunk.  I have beer (Tanglefoot and Hobgoblin), Guinness, and JD&Coke at the ready, chilling in the foot of snow outside the door.

This is the point in a blog's life where at most two people read it, and I feel entirely justified in drunkenly slapping bollocks down that is of no interest even to them.  So I'll crack open another beer and do that thing everyone does on their birthday:

A review of How Things Are Going.  The plus-and-minus summary of the year.  Apologies in advance!

Plus:  I got the big rewrite of Reviver done.  All the problems I secretly knew about got hit and sorted.  Everything finally worked!

Minus:  I ended up fucking exhausted.  I have two kids and a full time job.  I got very familiar with the wee small hours and five hours sleep.  Every little bug that my kids got, I succumbed to.  This year, viruses were like bad guys in a Bruce Lee movie, queuing up to punch my face.  With phlegm.

Plus:  The book was finished!

MinusThe book wasn't finished. A few more changes, then a few more, then the copy edit, then proofing... It means that just when you think you're done you have to go over everything a few more times.  I realised that a writer ends up reading their book more times that anyone else ever will, by a factor of twenty.  (This is why making it genuinely entertaining is so important.  It protects the writer from insanity, which in turn explains why reading the output of mad writers is rarely any fun.  You know those writers who have no sense of humour remaining, the ones who look like they're chewing glass?  It's their own fault!)

Plus:  Movie deal! Holy Jesus! Out of nowhere, a great production company optioned the book! When I was sixteen, if you'd asked me what things I wanted to achieve that I didn't really think would ever happen?  Get a job writing computer games!  Check!  Publish a novel!  Check!  Movie deal?  No way!*

Minus:  I found out I was allergic to chocolate. Decades of sporadic mouth ulcer catastrophes, and I finally realised it was down to chocolate. 'That's actually really common,' someone told me after I'd worked it out. Nobody says these things before you work it out. Although maybe that dream about Satan was real after all.  ('You get the movie, all I want is to take away your ability to eat chocolate!'  'Uh, what about my soul?  My soul's tasty!'  'The chocolate thing or no deal.')

Plus:  I started to write the next book, and discovered I was actually really enjoying it.

Minus:  There is no minus to this one.  I'd been terrified, I'd been putting it off, and then found it was great fun. Hang on, isn't that what I should be doing right now?  Maybe just one more beer!

*OK, so there were more things on the list. Some involved girls.

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

Reviver owes its existence to Edgar Allan Poe, born 19th January 1809.

I was browsing the web at work (it was lunchtime!  probably!) and someone pointed out there were entries in Wikipedia for specific dates, and you could find out if you shared your birthday with anyone interesting.

Mine came up with Dolly Parton and Edgar Allan Poe.

I'd been browsing because I was hunting for a story idea.  I'd joined a creative writing course run by Peter James, back at the tail end of 2004.  This was just before Peter's first Roy Grace crime novel had been released, and he was still best known as a horror writer.  At the end of the first class, he set homework for the following week: write the first 250 words of a scary novel, introducing your protagonist and a murder weapon.

I had a week to do it, but after four days I was still blank.

Once I'd found the birthday connection, I read Poe's Wikipedia page.  As I did, two of his stories, which I'd read years before, collided in my brain.

The first was The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.  Here we have Monsieur Valdemar, on the point of death;  a friend, with an interest in mesmerism, asks permission to mesmerise Valdemar to see what happens.  (Clue: not happy stuff.)  When it was published, some actually took it to be a true account.  That gives me goosebumps.

The second was The Murders in the Rue Morgue, widely considered to be the first modern detective story.  (It was also riffed on in one of the most memorable X Files episodes, Squeeze.)

These two stories fused, and what flashed into my head was the image of Valdemar being given a post-mortem interview by Poe's detective, Dupin.

That evening, I started to write.  It was the first page of what would become Reviver, and it has hardly changed since.

Now I'm not sure if Poe ever had a happy day in his life, and, well, he's long dead*, but I'll raise my glass to the man all the same... Happy Birthday Edgar!

(*There's a slim chance that someone who looks a lot like Peter Cushing has Poe stashed in his basement churning out new stories.)