In the media

Review by So So Gay: The Pink and the Grey

Leading and fast-growing online LGBT lifestyle magazine So So Gay has reviewed The Pink and the Grey, awarding it four stars. I’m happy with that – who wouldn’t be happy with a review that starts “Undefinable and brilliant”?

Read the review

Interview for Stonewall Times

The internet-based role-playing game Star Trek Online has a large and active community of LGBT players, Stonewall Fleet, and there’s a community magazine called Stonewall Times. A few weeks ago its editor interviewed me about Till Undeath Do Us Part, and has kindly given me permission to reproduce the interview here.

Read the interview

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Till Undeath: photos part three

Here’s the third part – the final part, unless anyone has any specific requests – of the photographic tour of some of the locations in Till Undeath Do Us Part. I don’t think the captions are spoilers.

Look closely and you can spot the faces used for the cover image of the book.

Click to embiggen…

Till Undeath: photos part two

And now the long-awaited part two of the photographic tour of some of the locations in Till Undeath Do Us Part. As in part one, the captions are excerpts from the story and I’ve tried not to make them too spoileriffic.

I took the photos earlier this year during a short intermission between month-long rainstorms. Click to embiggen…

Out now: The Pink and the Grey

It’s done. The Pink and the Grey has been published for the Kindle, for Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and as a DRM-free ePub from Lulu.

I’ve created a page where you can read the blurb and find links to the book. I’ll update that as more formats come onstream, as a stereotype in braces would probably say.

Stats fiends: it’s 81,867 words long. In a standard 5in by 8in paperback format that’s about 280 pages. And yes, I am planning to release it in print form if you’d prefer an actual paper copy for your groaning bookshelf.

Hey, why not buy the ebook in all its formats and the print version? Why not buy a dozen copies to give to your friends? It makes an ideal Christmas present. Look, just buy it, will you?

I love the cover, which shows a shield not unlike that of St Paul’s College in the story. It’s designed by Mike Smith, creator of the excellent Blogshank blog. (He also writes and illustrates children’s books, so while you’re book shopping you should buy his Edward Hopper and the Carrot Crunch too — available for iPads and iPhones.)

Mike has also produced a new cover for Till Undeath Do Us Part in the same style. None of the story has changed but if you want to buy another copy I shan’t stand in your way. The new cover shows a detail from the stained glass of the west window of King’s College chapel, the magnificent medieval building that plays a part in the story. I simply cannot stop looking at the two faces. Wonderful, expressive — and very appropriate to the story, I think. (As I write, Amazon is still showing the old cover. I imagine there’s some caching somewhere. I twiddled all the necessary bits, I think.)

I guess I now have a brand. All I need are some sales…

Till Undeath: scene one in photos

In an earlier post I promised you a photographic tour of some of the locations in Till Undeath Do Us Part. Here’s the first post in that series. Expect further posts at highly irregular intervals.

These locations appear in the very first scene. The captions are excerpts from that scene and you might consider them spoilers if you’re particularly phobic (I know I am). In the scene the action takes place at night, but I couldn’t possibly visit the locations after dark, you know, in case of zombies.

Click to embiggen…

From concept to publication

The path from hazy idea to page is long and rocky and filled with cliché. Ideas can tumble into my brain anywhere and at any time, but they usually sidle up and cough quietly while I’m doing something else, like showering or sitting in a coffee shop staring through the crowds at the Superdrug opposite.

Sometimes the idea is a plot point, or a snippet of dialogue. Occasionally it’s a full-on story idea, a neat concept, an ending, or a what if? question.

Till Undeath Do Us Part sprang from the title: a scribbled line in my notebook, written in my favourite bar. From that I sketched a bare-bones opening paragraph — not too far from the final text. Here’s what I originally wrote:

“I love you.” And he was gone, lost behind me in the pack, and I ran, I ran, not looking back, tears, grief, fear, please be dead.

I had no idea who either character was, or how they got there, or what happened next. I just loved the idea and knew I had to write the story.

With The Pink and the Grey (coming very soon!) the catalyst was the concept of St Paul’s College. Combined with two characters I’d been playing with in other settings, Spencer and Conor, everything began, slowly, to slot together.

I’m not one of those writers who can start with a concept and a blank page and then batter the keyboard until done. I’ve tried it. It never feels right. I can write an opening scene and some character ideas, maybe even a couple of thousand words of scene setting and unsupervised playtime, but then I ask myself: “what’s the plot?”

I’m an outliner. I like to write knowing how the story ends, where the plot points are, and the broad ins and outs of each scene. What’s the scene for? Why does it exist?

Once I have an outline — which means I have a bunch of characters and their backgrounds — then I can write. (That’s often when the procrastination strikes. Damn the internet and all the things!)

But eventually the engine roars and it’s A to B to C to Z, and we’re done.

Except that never happens. Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, whom neither of us has heard of, said it best: paraphrased, no plan survives contact with the enemy. An outline gives you a rough scramble through an unfamiliar mountain pass. Bringing in the hard hats and bulldozers and trying to lay down the tarmac uncovers ancient Indian burial grounds, rich seams of gold, and a sewage outflow. There are always surprises and difficulties, and new, more interesting choices are revealed.

The arty-farty explanation is “my characters refuse to do what I tell them”. If it helps, read that out loud while fanning yourself on a chaise longue and listening to whale song.

The truth is, sometimes as you’re writing a better idea pops up — because you’re not mechanically transforming an outline into grammatical sentences, you’re a person with an imagination that loves to creep up behind you and dig you in the kidneys. And suddenly the character who was going to die an exciting and violent death in one scene… doesn’t (true story!).

The fun is then rippling that change through the outline: replanning what’s left of the book (and sometimes tweaking what you’ve already written). I say fun… I call these plot crises, and they tend to happen on Mondays. Such is my brain.

If I have a strong ending in mind, it can be tricky wrenching the new plan to fit. But hey, you can kill off that character there instead and you’re back on the rails (true story!). Or maybe this leads to an even better ending. (The original ending outlined for Till Undeath was subtly different, and the published ending is stronger, I believe.)

The key is to keep your mind open. Your plot is not set in stone: not before you write it, not during, and not afterwards either. Accept new ideas. Recognise when something needs to change.

One downside of this flexibility is the impossibility of an objective definition of “done”. Like software, there’s always another bug to fix. You can fill your remaining days finessing that description, roughening up that dialogue, sharpening that plot point, and never, ever finishing.

I keep Steve Jobs’ phrase in mind: Real artists ship. At some point you just have to say OK: I’m done.

There’s no such thing as perfect: only not started, work-in-progress, and published.

Talking of which: <click>

Pride and visibility

Last Saturday I marched through central London as part of World Pride 2012. I was with friends as part of the Families Together London group, helping boost their numbers and generally pointing my camera around the place. (I’m not directly associated with FTL but they do good work.)

For me Pride is about visibility above all. Visibility for the marchers and their causes, of course, and also visibility for the faces in the crowd. And it’s an amazing crowd, all the way from Baker Street to Whitehall: smiles, cheers, clapping, cameras. Families of all kinds and ages. Tourists and locals. Straight people and GLBT.

Visibility for straight people in the crowd at a pride march might seem an odd concept. But it’s a kind of solidarity. Sure, you’ll get a small fraction of homophobes waving their prejudices, and a chunk expecting some kind of freak show. They’re not worth getting too worked up about as long as they’re not causing any trouble — it’s a free country, for small values of free. The vast majority of the straight people in the crowd are supportive, and happy to be seen to be supportive. That form of visibility is unquestionably a good thing, equally as good and important as the visibility of GLBT marchers.

But what struck me while marching, as it did at my last Pride two years ago (I was unwell in 2011), was the number of gay couples in the crowd. They were lined along almost the entire route: holding hands, or with arms around each other in every configuration, or just being together. No worried glances around, concerned about the reactions of others. Simply couples and families in the crowd, alongside and no different to other couples, other families. Being visible.

Prejudice evaporates by pressure of numbers, because bigots are bullies, and bullies are cowards, and cowards shrink and fold and crumble when outnumbered.

And prejudice evaporates by familiarity, because people fear the unfamiliar, the different. Visibility shows that GLBT people are not that unfamiliar, and not that different.

And this is one of the reasons why (cue the inevitable plug) my own stories include strong gay characters: for visibility. That doesn’t mean my stories are written exclusively for a gay audience, although some aspects of a story might resonate more with gay readers.

Sometimes, as in Till Undeath Do Us Part, the sexuality of the characters is almost entirely irrelevant to the story.  In my next book, The Pink and the Grey, the sexuality of the characters is more to the fore — though not in an X-rated way. Events centre mostly around a fictional Cambridge college, St Paul’s, slap bang in the middle of the city and very much the gay college — just as the real Newnham College is a women’s college. But the core of the plot isn’t about sexuality. It’s just the backdrop upon which the action takes place.

Which is a bit like Pride, I suppose. And like Pride, St Paul’s is a bit short of cash…