April 30, 2024

What I’m up to - April 2024

In which I can have some new stuff I can’t talk about.

This is a cross-post from my current Now page. You can also get these updates (and other cool stuff) in your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

April was bananas. But almost entirely secret bananas.

New work and submissions

It’s coming up to two months since we announced my novel, A Reluctant Spy, and it’s been fantastic to be able to talk about it. We’re at the proof stage now, which is where the typeset manuscript is very carefully checked by me, my editors and a proofreader.

This is also the point where we send out bound proofs to early readers for blurbs. One of the things I have really enjoyed has been getting in touch with a series of authors, bloggers and podcasters that I really admire and asking them if they would like a copy to read. I’ve been absolutely blown away by the responses I’ve received. It is really weird and cool to think that these people whose work I have enjoyed for so many years might be now enjoying my own work in turn.

As you can see, we don’t yet have a finalised cover, but it will be coming soon. I’ve seen some draft designs and I am stoked about them. I can’t wait to show you as soon as the final designs are live. In the meantime, you can pre-order the novel, and/or add it to your Goodreads TBR.

When I wrote my last newsletter, I was right at the beginning of a Very Exciting Thing that I couldn’t talk about. I still can’t talk about it, because it’s still very much happening, but it’s related to this book, it’s so exciting I’ve felt several times like I was having an out-of-body experience and it has led to some of the most surreal hours of my life thus far.

It’s also very much one of those Trousers of Time moments in my life, when choices become incredibly hard because it is impossible to know if you’re making the right one, and the choices I’m making are not good/bad options, they’re just all different kinds of amazing. It is simultaneously the most fun I’ve ever had and one of the most draining and stressful things I’ve been through for a long, long time.

I’m hoping that by the time my next newsletter comes out, I’ll be able to share a little more, but we’ll have to wait and see. Nothing about the last month-and-a-bit has been anything like I expected. And the only thing I really expect from the next couple of months is that I will continue to have no idea what’s going to happen.

In news I can talk about, I also found out in April that a story I wrote is going to be included in the Nova Scotia 2 anthology, which is being produced to coincide with the Glasgow Worldcon in August. My story New Town’ is about a copper in Edinburgh investigating a grisly murder that may be a lot stranger than it seems at first glance. I had a lot of fun writing what starts as a fairly straightforward police procedural story but gets… weird. Once we’ve got pre-order links, I’ll let you know. It’s my first anthology and I’m really excited to read the other stories.

Writing and editing

I spent the middle part of the month on a writing retreat (more below) so I had a decent writing month. It wasn’t a big word count month, because I’m mostly editing at the moment, working on PROJECT SHARD, my big SF novel. That said, I got just a shade under 6,000 new words (mostly writing new scenes in SHARD) and cut -455 words. So 5.5k new in aggregate.

That said, it was definitely one of those plodding forward kind of months. When I’m in a big drafting phase, it often feels like I’m really making progress, because there are big, measurable outputs that I can stack up in a row and nod at with satisfaction. It’s fast bricklaying, and at the end of it, I have a wall. Is it a structurally sound wall? Hmmm, not really. Is the pointing any good? Are all the bricks sticking out at funny angles? Well, perhaps. But it’s still a wall.

When I’m in an editing phase though, it’s the finicky, annoying detail work, finding a dodgy brick and carefully wiggling it out like one giant game of Word Jenga, sighing and taking off a whole layer of brick then relaying it. I described heavy editing to another writer as being like unpicking embroidery, but the threads are made from rebar, and it really does feel like that sometimes.

But the difference is that when I stand back, it looks so much better. It’s not just a wall, it’s a wall that I’m proud of. I was reminded of that on my retreat when (incredibly fortuitously since I had the time to do them) I got the edits for my Nova Scotia 2 anthology short story New Town’ and also the page proofs for Best Practices for Safe Asteroid Handling’, currently planned for the September/October issue of Analog magazine. Both stories were ones I hadn’t laid eyes on in months, and I was delighted and surprised to find that as I read them back for edits, I really enjoyed them. Remember, it’s near impossible to judge the quality of your own work either in the moment of composition or right afterwards. The only thing that will give you even a tiny bit of objectivity is time.

Publishing and community

I had two very cool things community-wise this month. Firstly was going on my writing retreat with some writerly friends and spouses (shoutout to Erin Hardee and Morag Hannah AKA MK Hardy, Lyndsey Croal, Katalina Watt and fiancé Craig, Annabel Campbell and husband Omar, Nick Binge and Nicole Devarenne).

It was a glorious week in a converted steadings just outside Falkirk, in beautiful rolling countryside, with a hot tub, enormous spaces for writing in, big comfortable rooms and incredible food we took turns cooking (I ate way too much all week but I have zero regrets). We wrote, read, edited, played boardgames, finished not one but two jigsaw puzzles and generally had a terrific time. Some pics filched from MK Hardy’s instagram, because I’m terrible at remembering to take pictures.

The group Some but not all of the group after the first long weekend portion.

The group A rare action shot of me actually writing with canine companion, the wonderful Jake.

If you’ve been following these posts for a while, you may remember I went on a similar trip with some friends to North Wales last year (where I started the book that’s coming out in September!). The cool thing about writing is you can do it literally anywhere, so going on a special retreat’ can feel like a bit of an absurd luxury, but there really is something amazing about going away with other writers and really focusing on your creative work for a while. And if you find big houses in slightly out-of-the-way parts of the country and do a bit of hunting around, it can work out a lot cheaper than going away on someone else’s organised retreat.

The second cool thing that happened this month was my first visit to a reader’s group. The fantastic Electric Sheep reading group invited me to be their visiting author and I showed up (via Zoom, since most members are in the US) to the second half of their weekly event to talk about my work. It was a real privilege and delight to talk to the group and they asked some really great questions. This kind of thing is one of the great ancillary joys of writing, I think, talking to people about what they’ve taken from your stories. Definitely a pinch me’ moment. Unfortunately I was unable to relate the secret of how I’ve managed to sell four stories in two years to Clarkesworld Magazine, in large part because I have no idea myself. But I’m very glad people are noticing, reading and enjoying my work there.

Oh, I thought of a third thing! Through Edinburgh SFF, I’ve been friends with the writer Benedict Anning for a couple of years. I’ve read several of his pieces of work in that time (including a fairly cutting beta read of the big cosmic horror novel he’d been working on for ages when I first met him). To his enormous credit, he took that feedback and ran with it, starting new projects and working incredibly hard on his craft. I beta-read his latest, called Atomic Coffin, back in January and hugely enjoyed it. And now, some Very Exciting Things are happening for Ben. It’s not public yet, so I won’t say any more, but one of my favourite parts of this whole writing game is seeing people stick with it, develop their writing and editing skills and then break through in the way that Ben is about to. It’s cool as fuck.


Nothing to report on the published book reading front I’m afraid, as I’ve been beta-reading two phenomenal novels by author friends.

The first was Marco Rinaldi’s book The Spanish Conspiracy, which is an absurdly fun, fast-paced historical fiction heist thriller set in Renaissance Venice. It’s fantastic, with dialogue that crackles and a setting that is an immersive, deeply-researched portrait of an amazing city at a pivotal time. Marco is a friend through ESFF and also the host of the Page One Podcast, and this is the third book of his that I’ve been lucky enough to read. Just like Ben mentioned above, Marco has also persevered through a bunch of drafts and edits and rounds of feedback and it has been amazing to see his work get better and better. And that has paid off - Marco got his agent through the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect’ event when he stood up and pitched this book. I was in the room to see it and though he didn’t win the event itself, it was very clear why he was immediately approached by his now-agent. This should be going out on submission to editors soon, and I can’t wait to see who snaps it up.

The second was Lorraine Wilson’s The Salt Oracle. I’ve only just started this and I’m already absolutely lost in Raine’s phenomenal prose - I beta-read her next book We Are All Ghosts In The Forest before it sold to Solaris and this novel, which is set in the same world, continues in the same vein of deeply haunted beauty. Plus it satisfies the side of me that loves a good post-apocalyptic-yet-hopeful yarn. When I read We Are All Ghosts I told Raine that she should call it mosspunk’ (which she did in her social media, much to my delight) and this definitely has that same feel, though with a new, briny edge. If you loved Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, or Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, you will love these books. You can pre-order We Are All Ghosts through Raine’s Linktree (please do, it’s phenomenal) and I have no doubt The Salt Oracle will also be bought by a publisher soon. It’s one of those books I keep neglecting other tasks to read.


For the Exciting Reasons noted above, I’ve been all over the place with my personal routines this month due to late starts, calls and just generally vibrating with excitement. I’ve been getting out for walks, but mostly spending those walks muttering rapidly into my digital recorder (which I use for brainstorming and just wittering about my writing and what’s going on in about equal measure).

We have finally started using our garden again though, as the weather improves a bit. Even sat outside a couple of times. But we’re still in that go into a shadow and the temperature drops ten degrees’ time of year here in Scotland, so it will be a week or two more before we set to clearing up the garden in earnest. It’s gotten very overgrown over the winter, so there’s a lot to do, but I’m looking forward to neatening it up soon.


May is going to be an almost-entirely event free month (which to be honest I will need given June, July, August and September all have one or more events - it’s going to be a busy year). The only thing I’ll be doing is the fantastic Cymera Festival which starts on the last day of the month. I’ve already got my tickets booked, mostly for the Saturday. It’s my anniversary on the Sunday, so I won’t be there, but for those who will there is an absolutely jam-packed schedule all weekend. If you’re coming along, please do stop and say hello.

I’m also running a workshop at Cymera with Nick Binge on finding, creating and running critique groups. Come along to learn what you can both give and get out of a critique group, common pitfalls and more.

There will also likely be many more Exciting Calls. But they are both unpredictable and I can’t talk about them, so they’re hard to plan for. We’ll see what happens.


Beep boop here’s some internets.

According to TS Eliot, April is the cruelest month. It’s true that it is definitely the most changeable weather, though it has mostly been a bit crap this year, so in that way it’s actually been quite consistent.

It’s also when I personally go wow, okay, a third of the year is gone’. And boy howdy this year is moving really fast. In busy years, like this one will be for me, I think it is really easy to live solely by your calendar or whatever notification just popped up on your phone, and to always be thinking about next weekend, next week, next month, next quarter.

So I try my absolute best to build in some moments in the day or the weekends when there’s a few pockets of time to just be where I am, take a breath and appreciate what’s going on right now. I’ve never felt the need for that more keenly than this year, with an absolutely packed schedule that is frankly giving me The Fear a bit. But the days, much as they feel like they’re all rushing towards you like a brick wall, still only turn up one at a time.

I hope you get a chance to breathe and the days don’t come flying at you too fast.

In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.

If you have a question, suggestion or something else you’d like me to write about, please get in touch over on Bluesky, Instagram or Twitter, or send me a message on my contact form.

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