Archives for December 2011

2012: The Plan

Having gotten side-tracked on Wednesday into writing about the usefulness of the knowledge of our own mortality, I am back to a slightly more cheerful subject today, my plans and resolutions for the coming year.

You’ll notice that most of my goals are stated in numbers. I’m a great believer in what gets measured gets done and I find setting things down in cold, hard numbers makes them easier to track and achieve. It’s much easier to judge the success of I will write 2000 words per working day than I will write a novel this year. The first will fairly inevitably lead you to writing a novel this year if you have any competence in narrative architecture at all. The second allows so much wiggle room you might never start. For example, with the second resolution it is possible for me to wake up on January 1st, think I will write a novel this year– starting tomorrow then go right back to sleep. I can repeat this process every day for most of the rest of the year. The first goal gives me a measurable goal, that must be attained that day, if it is a working day. For me a good goal is one that forces action in the near term, not promises grandiose achievements at some distant date.

The other thing about goals, as most anyone will tell you, is that they should be within your control, achievable entirely by your own efforts. Thus I will write 2000 words per working day until I finish a novel then I will submit it to an agent or publisher is a good goal. I will sell a novel this year is not because it relies on the decision and effort of someone other than yourself.

Having belaboured this point, I will now proceed to my own goals for 2012.

In case you haven’t guessed, one of my goals is to write 2000 words per working day. You’re probably thinking that sounds suspiciously like your usual working practise, Bill. You’re right too– I mean why should I abandon a method that has allowed me to earn my living doing something I love without having to work very hard at all? If it works, don’t fix it are words I live by.

That said, my goal this year is slightly different. My normal practise is to write 2000 words a day until I finish a book and then edit and rewrite until I am satisfied then move on to the next book. This year I am actually going to attempt to write 2K new words every working day, even as I edit work that has already been done. It means working for slightly longer than my normal 3 hours a day but I think I ought to be able to manage it if I put my mind to it.

My other work related goal is to release something new every month. This may sound like madness given what I have said about setting achievable goals within your own control. It would have been insanity even a few years ago, if I was going to release something through normal publishing channels. However, with the coming of Kindle Direct Publishing, I can release stuff at my leisure so the whole niggling find a publisher thing is not an issue.

I also have a fair amount of the work for this already done. My two novels Sky Pirates and Mask of the Necromancer are more or less ready to go. I have two Warhammer books due next year as well, Sword of Caledor and Angel of Fire. These are already done. I have a bunch of short stories written and I will most likely put out an omnibus edition of the Terrarch novels at the end of the year. So you can see there is no danger of me abandoning the principles of creative laziness by which I have guided my life. You’ll notice that in keeping with my principle of setting achievable goals I am including short stories as part of the schedule.

I intend to lose one kilo a month for the whole of the year. I am mentioning that here in the hope that the embarrassment of having to admit to failure at the end of the month on this blog will keep me on the straight and narrow. I intend to do this by walking for an hour or so every day, and cutting out the usual selection of junk food I indulge in.

And that’s what I am prepared to admit to planning in the coming year.  At the end of each month I will update my progress. As I’ve said before there is plenty of personal stuff I am uncomfortable discussing in a public forum, so in the interests of good taste, decorum and my natural reticence to talk about anything personal or emotional I am only going to write about the things I am comfortable  tracking in public. Let’s see how this all works out next year.

And on that note, I will bow out for 2011. I wish you a Happy, Safe and Prosperous New Year when it comes!

What Would You Do If You Had Only Five Years To Live?

What would you do if your doctor told you that you only had 5 years to live? How would you change your life? What would you do differently? Where would you visit? What would you tell the people you love? What hatchets would you bury? What relationships would you try to mend. 

Make a list of these things. Go do it now. Come back when you’ve written it down.

Take a look at your list.  You know what you have there? A list of the things that are truly important to you, of your hopes and dreams and aspirations, of the people you love, and what you would like to tell them. You probably have a list of things that you haven’t done but would like to do and maybe, just maybe, might someday.

Now imagine that there’s been a mistake. The doctor tells you that you have a year to live. What would you do now? How would you change your list? Who would you speak to? Who is really important?

It gets worse. You’ve only got a month now. Take a pen to your list. Refine it. Put your affairs in order. Settle what you can. What must you do? What goals can you still achieve? Think about it.

I do this exercise at this time of year every year, not just because I have a morbid turn of mind (you already knew that!) but because it provides me  with a map and a compass for where I want to go over the next five years, for where I want to go with my life. I’ve done this  every year since I read it in a self-help book over a decade ago. I can’t remember which book, mores the pity, because I would like to attribute it if I could.

I take those lists and I try and do the things on them. I do this because it works. It helps keep me focused on my goals, on the things that are important to me. And that’s important because so often in life we do what we think is expected of us, what our parents, friends, spouses, children, bosses want. We try to impress people, keep up with the Jones, bury ourselves in a welter of busy-work and material acquisition.

I take those lists and I try and do the things on them because by doing so I make my life into what I want it to be.  And you know what? I have written some of the novels I wanted to write. I have travelled to Tokyo. I do tell my wife I love her as often as seems reasonable to a dour and emotionally stunted Scotsman like myself.

I was going to talk about my goals for 2012 today but I thought I would talk about this instead because someone might find it as useful as I do. You see, the clock is always ticking. So ask yourself what you would do if you only had five years, one year, one month or one day to live. Because I can say this with utter certainty, some day you will have only that amount of time left. You may as well make the life you want. You get only the one.

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Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail or Something Like That

It’s that time of the year again. Christmas has come. I’ve played with (or read) my presents and it’s time to get back to some serious work. The space between Christmas and the New Year is usually when I review my goals from the previous year and set my goals for the coming one. This year, because I am lazy and going to have to do this anyway, I am killing two birds with one stone and writing a blog post about it.

As long term readers will know I believe in planning and measuring things, in setting milestones and trying to pass them. I do this all the way from the macro level to the micro level. I have a Life Plan, which is basically just a list of all the things I want to do before I die, set down in order of importance.

Then, like the Soviets I have a Five Year Plan. I have one year plans, I have monthly plans and weekly plans and daily plans. I use the high level ones to guide me through the lower level ones. The Five Year Plans set the goals for the One Year Plan, the Yearly Plans let me set my monthly goals and so on, all the way down to the daily To Do lists. All of these things are aimed at letting me achieve my Life Plan. I know this probably smacks of over-planning but it works for me.

Anyway, it’s time to review my goals for the last year and see how I did. I had a fair list of goals, personal, financial, social and work-wise. Being a middle-aged Scotsman I am not comfortable discussing many of these in a public forum so we’ll just stick to the ones I am comfortable with. If I failed to achieve a goal, I like to look at the reasons why and see if there is any way I can do better.

On the health front I set myself the goal of losing one kilo a month, for an overall target of 12 kilos. I managed to lose 8 over the course of the year. I have to chalk this down as a failure. How did I blow it? Sloppy self-discipline is the simple answer. I cut myself too much slack, let myself eat too much chocolate and not enough healthy food. I did not exercise as much as I would have liked either.

Workwise, I set myself several related goals. I was going to start releasing my backlist at the rate of one a month on the Kindle and in other ebook formats. It took me some time, a lot of reading and a good deal of procrastinating to get round to doing this but in July I started and the books have more or less rolled off the production line ever since. This has gone pretty much according to plan and I’m glad. It’s been a real blast to see the Terrarch books and The Inquiry Agent out there finding an audience.

In 2011 I was going to start a regular blog. Again this took time. I had to set up web-hosting and learn how WordPress works. It was not hard, I just needed to find the time. Then, as ever it was a case of getting started. I have never been really comfortable with the concept of blogging but it’s one of those things that everybody says a writer needs so I decided to give it a serious try and find out if they were right. Well, I started it and I have managed to post at least once a week since then so that has gone all right. As a side-effect, I set up a Facebook page and went on to Twitter too. I confess Twitter still utterly baffles me, but Facebook has been fun and a useful way of getting and keeping in touch with people.

I set myself the goal of reading one new book a week. Once this would have been absurd. For most of my life I have read a book every couple of days, sometimes a couple of short books a day. Recently though, I have found myself retreating into reading books I have read previously, wilfing on the web and playing online games instead. The Kindle has been an enormous help with this goal. I live in a place where English language books were for a long time hugely over-priced and quite hard to get hold off. Amazon’s little device has changed all that. It has made reasonably priced and interesting new books available wherever I am, in a form factor where I can carry a library with me everywhere I go. I am pretty sure I managed this goal although with not as much new fiction as I would like. I read a lot of non-fiction from Robin Lane Fox’s biography of Alexander the Great to When Money Dies Adam Ferguson’s apocalyptic and terrifying history of the post-World War One German inflation. On the fiction front I enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovski’s Apt series. There was of necessity a lot of technical reading, about WordPress, about Linux and about computing in general. But I digress…

One of my long term life goals is to travel to a new country every year. I singularly failed at this in 2011. I think there was just too much else going on. This will be a hard one next year with the arrival of Number Two Son.

I was going to set out my goals for 2012 but I am close to having written 1000 words here and it strikes me that those might make another post. I confess I often struggle to come up with subjects for blog posts so I think I will save those for next time.


The Best Laid Plans

I had planned on writing about Tyrion and Teclis today but my new-born son had other plans that trumped my own. He decided last night he really did not want to sleep and if he could not sleep, none of the rest of us would either. I can’t remember the last time I went a night without sleep and I’ve done it twice this week already. Worth it though! Anyway, I am going to spend the rest of today, hopefully, catching up on the rest I missed. My apologies for that. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all. Back next week, the wee man willing.

The Inquiry Agent Released

I always wanted to write a tough-guy, first person detective story in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammet but it’s a very American form and I never felt confident that I could carry off the setting. Somehow Scotland never seemed quite to fit my vision as a setting for this sort of story. Other people, such as Ian Rankine, have managed it but I never could make it work for me; too close to home for the way I write, I suppose. It was one of those ideas I put on the back-burner while I went my merry way writing sword and sorcery and science fiction. I always figured I would come back to it someday. To be honest, I thought I would eventually do a detective story set in a city like Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar but things turned out a bit differently.

I can remember exactly when the idea of using a Victorian setting for a noir novel came to me. I was reading an extract from Henry Mayhew’s awesome London Labour and the London Poor. Mayhew was a Victorian journalist who compiled a massive series of articles about the population of London in the 1850s. He recorded their speech in short hand and his work the closest thing we’ll get to hearing the actual voices of the people of the time telling their own stories in their own words.

There was a scene describing a night market. It was a compelling picture of the street life of a long gone era and, bizarrely enough, I realised I was familiar with it. I recognised the things being talked about; the shoddy trestle tables, the way people moved and talked, the shadowy illumination, the desperation. Here was a man describing a place 150 years gone and yet it resonated with me, matched something in my own experience. It did not take me too long to work out what that was. I was reminded of time I had spent in the poorer parts of Bangkok. It came to me that I could describe viscerally and emotionally the slums and red-light districts of Victorian London using my response to things I had seen travelling in Asia and Africa.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian period. Charles Dickens is one of my favourite novelists, possibly my favourite, and Oliver Twist is probably my favourite novel. There’s something to those shadowy courtyards and twisted alleys, those desperate, seedy characters which has always drawn my imagination. Reading Mayhew I began to see a way of setting my own stories there. This was after all, a lawless time, when even ordinary citizens in Britain owned their own firearms and made their own bullets.

I studied the Victorian period as a student and I’ve read a lot of stuff about the eighteenth and nineteenth century underworld since as a form of research for my fantasy novels. The times are odd and alien as the Middle Ages but because of the rise of printing enormously better documented. I’ve always enjoyed reading blood and thunder melodramas like Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard that date from the period too. I actually own autobiographies of Bow Street Runners and some of the confidence men of the age, and I’ve come back again and again to books like Kellow Chesney’s The Victorian Underworld, with its haunting reproductions of Gustav Dore’s black and white illustrations from the period. (Actually, they are from somewhat later, being originally illustrations for Blanchard Jerrold’s London: A Pilgrimage, which dates from 1869 but they catch the feel of the time as it exists in my imagination!) Here was a chance to put all that reading to good use.

I picked 1841 for the book because it was the beginning of a crucial period in early Victorian history. It was near the start of Victoria’s reign and many of the things we now think of as distinctly Victorian were just exploding onto the scene and transforming the world before people’s eyes: the railways, industrialisation, urbanisation. It was a period of turbulence and uncertainty and economic depression, of Chartism and unrest. Here was a chance for me to look at some of the cruel underpinnings of the modern world.

I knew I was going to write the book in the first person. I knew it was going to be a down these mean streets a man must go sort of book. I needed a hero. In came Jack Brodie, Calvinist sinner, former Bow Street Runner, ex-bare knuckle boxer, a man with his own share of dark secrets and guilt.

One of the little known facts of the period is that it was a crime to seek to recover stolen goods from criminals. It was called compounding and it was illegal because men like the infamously corrupt thief-taker Jonathan Wild had built empires of crime on having minions steal goods so they could sell them back to their owners. That law was still on the books in 1841 and it makes Brodie a man who exists on the shady side of the law since his business is the recovery of stolen goods. (In this he echoes one of my favourite tough guy detectives, John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee.)

So there was the basic plot that sets Brodie down the mean streets and alleys. It was not enough though. He needed to uncover dark secrets and encounter violent men. Enter Billy Tucker a psychopathic criminal returned from New South Wales specifically to take revenge on Brodie whom he blames for the death of his brother. So begins a game of cat and mouse through the alleys and courtyards and rookeries, as two very dangerous men are set on a collision course that ends in death.

The Inquiry Agent will be available for free on and until Midnight Pacific Time on December 23rd, after that it will cost $3.99/£2.99. In case you are wondering why I am releasing the book for free, it’s because I am testing some of the features of Amazon’s new Select program and that will be the subject for another post, once I have the results of the experiment back in.

Good News

My son William Karel King was  born yesterday at 5:44 am. I am not planning on doing much work today as a consequence. I will be doing the happy dance and visiting the lad and his lovely mother Radka in the maternity hospital.

In the meantime, if you feel the urge to read something new and King-ian, I shall just mention that my short horror story Carp is free until 12 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday on Amazon, Amazon UK and all the other Amazons as far as I know. This story is set in Prague and combines Lovecraftian horror, Xmas, absinthe and Bertrand Russell on the subject of turkeys. What more can a reasonable person ask for in a Christmas story?