It's about now that every writer worth their sodium chloride goes back through the year that was and summarises their spreadsheet for all to see. (What? You don't have a spreadsheet?) I'm not going to do that this time - oh sure, I'd love to wax lyrical about the highs and lows and in-betweens, as it's been a pretty good year for me, but...I'd like to do something else.

Instead, I want to talk about some of the life lessons you're faced with as a writer.

The writing process takes place in isolation. No matter how many tweets I share (when I'm not selling, promoting someone else or entertaining myself), no matter the intrinsic value of writing groups and no matter the benefits of online feedback, it all comes down to a full head and a blank page and no distractions please. Sometimes the words flow like honey and other times they're as stodgy as a water sandwich. Either way, if your goal is a completed piece you'll stay the course. The end may not always justify the means, but it's the reason we stay as keen as mustard.

You have to be your own writer. Take heart from other people's triumphs and a sense of gratitude when you're not the one who chokes on the page or gets a Parcelforce delivery of rejections, but keep true to your own work. You are going to hear about amazing successes around you and that's truly a good thing. Other people are doing it their way (you can read about some of them elsewhere on this blogsite) and sometimes it's working out for them. You need to keep that in mind and be true to your characters and plots.

Continue to learn and develop, though, whether that's through books, courses, other people or the feedback on your own work. There are no guarantees, no magic formulas (I know, but I prefer writing it this way) and no all-seeing judge of what is and is not literature. If you don;t like someone else's work, just don't buy it. Don't waste your time sulking or bad-mouthing another writer - they have been through the same process as you - turning up, filling the pages and doing their best to make the best of them.

Respect your writing time. Don't let it be snaffled away by social media, 'come and join us' invitations, creative collaborative projects or artsy endeavours. Or, if you do, remind yourself that you're choosing to do it (that way you won't get so pissed off about it later on).

Writers are just people with a pen. Everyday people with their foibles. Some will support your work, offer time and experience. Others will want to shoot you down in flames for daring to call yourself a writer. And even for the decent ones, their time is finite too, so try to understand if, unlike the good folk in Friends, they're suddenly not there for you. Don't get too attached to the status quo - it can prevent you from seeing new opportunities.

Let your writing take you on an adventure as well as the reader. I started out wanting to write a novel and enjoyed penning a gag or two. Those first steps have led me to amazing opportunities (some wondrously paid) and fabulous people. Long may it continue and long may the turns of the trail surprise me. And thanks again for the business!

Have the courage to commit to goals. In my experience, goals help you focus on what's important to you. And even if you don't get to the finishing line - which is usually down to not being clear on your own priorities, motivations and level of influence on the matter - you'll still have moved forward in one direction. And hopefully learned something valuable too.

It isn't all about money. Or readers. Or likes. Or followers. Or comments. Or reviews. They all help to keep the fires of belief and aspiration going, but none of that changes the quality of your writing. And writers write. Whatever else they're doing or not doing, they write. Otherwise they may as well turn in their pens (and I can always use a good spare pen).

And finally, dear blog reading chums from the other side of the glass, step back regularly. Sure, your book matters. And yes, it hurts when no one sends you a contract or buys your book or even lies your 19th draft. But there's a whole world out there filled with inspiration and challenge and enough conflict to fill a fiction workshop. Don't let your obsession to be a writer prevent you from engaging with life. 

And don't take any crap!

There, I've said my piece. Now I can get back to writing about chickens and planning a new novel. Thanks for popping over this past year and thanks to those of you who, knowingly or otherwise, have contributed to the development my writing and my character.

And they all lived*...

One of the general observations about my writing is that I don't really seem to do happy endings. Don't get me wrong, both the short and long fiction usually concludes with some sense of possibility for the future. And, by the time they reach the last line, most of the questions have been answered and the plot lines neatly drawn together. Even so, perhaps it's no surprise that I'm not famed for my 'heartfelt' and 'contented sigh' final pages.

I submit the following as character references:

Item 1. Years ago, Anne and I went to see Bridget Jones's Diary with a friend of ours from Germany. The last bit is only relevant because she lived in the UK at that time and her friend was over on a visit. Anyhow, there must have been a maximum of four guys, tops, in the whole cinema audience.

Our friend's friend turns to me and she says, "I am watching this film and I see all the people around us, laughing. But I notice you are not laughing and I am wondering why this is?"

I explained, "When I was 13 I broke my nose and frankly that was funnier to me than this film." I can confidently surmise that she didn't get that either. It's not true of course - there's nothing funny about breaking your nose, as I well recall.

The point is that I didn't connect with the jollity and comedy drama.

Item 2. I have, in the past (duh, well it couldn't be in the future), admitted that if I watch any TV programme with too contrived an upbeat scene or ending I get physically uncomfortable. It's like a pressure across the top of my chest, combined with a sort of cringing irritation. I'm not making this up.

Item 3. I've been to at least a dozen funerals. My brother used to say that I ought to have my own parking space.

However, in writing Scars & Stripes, which is loosely based upon a year I spent in the US, back in the late 80s, I've begun to really appreciate the skill that's required to send the reader or viewer away happy. Deftly done, it's a conclusion the audience was hoping for that still manages to surprise and enchant them. However glib or trite the 'reader, I married him' final minutes might appear (I nearly said dying minutes), it has taken thought and effort and craft to get you there.

So, am I a convert now? Well, somewhat. 

I've watched Bridget Jones once or twice since that time in the cinema, as well as Notting Hill and Love Actually. I'm more comfortable seeing About a Boy (apart from the Hugh Grant bit on stage, near the end, which still makes my flesh crawl - though it's nothing personal, Hugh), but I do appreciate them all.

It's easy to trivialise the value of spreading a little joy, especially when the Christmas schedules are awash with lashings of festive good cheer, redeemed Scrooges and families who learn the value of Crimbo just in the nick of time. As a counterpoint, a lot of comedy, from where I sit, can seem like a theatre of cruelty.

So, taking everything into account, even if I don't always manage to light them myself, it's good to see some candles burning away out there, telling the darkness to go whistle.

And speaking of a little positivity, check out Frequency - a film I found by accident that I've loved ever since.

* Readers of my novels will know that even this half of the sentence cannot be substantiated in three out of the four of them.

The world's laziest post...

...or certainly somewhere in the top 1000 (hey, it's a big list).

I've been shouting myself hoarse about the paperback version of Covenant now available. 

But...just in case you didn't get to hear about it, you can order it from all these lovely places:






And if you still need a Crimbo prezzie (and you've made it this far down the page), here are the ebook links:


No one can fail to be moved by the news stories making the headlines right now (and that's as true today and as any other time in history). Pick any part of the globe and, wherever there are people, there will be strife and loss, triumph and adversity, unspeakable cruelty and heart-stopping generosity of spirit. 

But sometimes it seems as if we are the ape who got all of the brains at the expense of any sense of collective well-being. 

While we can't change the world on our own, we can influence our own little part of it. 

Even within the context of the family or a workplace what we do and say not only matters, it affects others. So this is just a plea for us to pause and ask ourselves, "Is this really how I want to be?" Maybe even, "Is this the best I am capable of being?"

Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International, is credited with saying, "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness," and it's wisdom that will surely stand the test of time. 

It's not always easy to find the positive when people around you seems to be intent on blowing out candles. It can even feel like a betrayal when you know other people are suffering. But the stories we tell ourselves - and one another - have more impact than we realise.

Can't stop...

Hot chocolate, anyone?
Hi there!

Yes, I know, I've been meaning to write. So much going on - the column, the novel out in paperback (blog post in the next few days) and an attack of man-flu.

But never mind all that, here's a great interview about one writer who's living the dream.

New novelist.

Two submissions

Second agent.

Loved it.

Chloe Banks, now an agented author!

What a lovely way to end her year.

Read the interview here: