What I’m up to - February 2023
A short but busy month.
Ah February, the Tuesday of the year. But I’ve had a good one, with a new short story and a good third of my edit done this month.
I’m still on submission and still doing my best to ignore the whole business by working on other things. There are some small glimmers of optimism to be had, but nothing I can talk about yet.
In the meantime, I spent about a third of February on a new submission. I had been eyeing the 2023 Black Library Open Submissions Call for a while, trying to decide whether to give it a go.
I was never a huge tabletop gamer (I enjoyed a bit of Space Hulk, but my brother was the one who was into painting the miniatures) but I always enjoyed the fiction set in the various Warhammer universes, from little snippets in the game manuals to short stories in White Dwarf, the monthly magazine of the hobby. And I’ve read and enjoyed a bunch of the novels put out by the Black Library.
I decided to give it a go and had a whale of a time writing a multi-POV story of an Astartes recruit learning where the equipment he is being issued has come from. I’ve written bits and pieces of military-adjacent SF (like my story in Clarkesworld last year, ‘Carapace’) but never anything in someone else’s universe. It was a really fun exercise in writing with a very specific voice and atmosphere which were quite different to how I usually write.
As this is an open submission call for a specific IP, this story will only see the light of day if it gets chosen for the anthology (it’s so specific to the Warhammer 40,000 universe there’s no real way it could be reworked for anywhere else), so it might be ‘wasted’ effort. But I learned a lot writing it and got to play around in another fictional universe for a few days.
The remaining two thirds of February, I continued my editing work on PROJECT SHARD, which is now more than 42,000 words shorter than it was when I started my edit last year. I’m now in the home straight on this initial length edit and about 14k away from my 130k rough target. I think that I’ll probably end up somewhere between 120k and 125k, once I get into subsequent rounds of edits, both on my own and with my critique partners. I’ve got a week writing retreat in March (more on that below) where I might try to push through and hit my 130k target.
So far I’m pleasantly surprised at this book! When I was drafting it I was kind of internally cringing as I worked, convinced it was waffly nonsense, but it hangs together pretty well. There’s work to do to deepen some of the characterisation and trim a lot of fat still from the dialogue and transitions (there’s a lot of walking and climbing and overly-detailed waffly info-dumps), but it’s readable already and I think there might be something really good under all that first draft verbiage.
Still no idea what book comes next after this edit. But I’m writing pitches and having a good old think about it.
My beta read adventures have been continuing in February, including helping my friends Erin and Mo (AKA MK Hardy) by beta-reading their new book The Needfire, as they finished the second half of it.
This was a genuinely wonderful experience, seeing a book coming together in real time. It was an immense privilege to see how they worked together and honestly a little intimidating to see how effectively their process produced a very, very high quality draft. They talked a little about The Needfire in this Twitter thread.
I’ve got high hopes for this book - it’s a wonderful, atmospheric and heartrending novel.
I’m continuing with Couch to 5k, although the horrible cold I had in January put in a reappearance and slowed me down substantially. However, one of the things I’m trying very hard to do is to not fall prey to the ‘missed a day, may as well quit’ impulse which has dogged my efforts at exercise for years. So I’ve been cracking on regardless and repeating weeks. It’s going fine. I’m just trying to accept that regular exercise is a given now, not really optional for a homeworking writer and designer who spends a lot of time sitting.
I was very chuffed to discover in early February that I was a finalist in the 2022 Clarkesworld Reader’s Poll for my novelette ‘Carapace’. I’m sharing the finalist list with some incredible stories and honestly it is an honour just to be nominated. I’ll find out next week how I did in the final poll when the March issue of Clarkesworld comes out.
I also found out last week that ‘Carapace’ had made the Tangent Online 2022 recommended reading list. This story just keeps on trucking!
Finally in February I was lucky enough to be invited along to the 8th birthday celebrations of Luna Press Publishing, an amazing small press putting out some gorgeously designed and curated speculative fiction in Scotland. It’s amazing being part of a thriving writing community in and around Edinburgh and I had a fantastic night.
March is going to be very editing-heavy again, as I push towards my 130k target. I’m also going on my first ever writing retreat along with some friends from Edinburgh SFF. Four of us are heading to the North Wales coast for a week of writing, reading, walking and probably commiserating about being on submission.
I can’t wait, honestly - I set a goal to go away on a writing retreat this year, then this opportunity came up and I jumped at it. It will be a real treat to have a full week to write, without having to get up at half five in the morning to squeeze it in.
Other than that, I’m also writing a short piece for my upcoming appearance on the Tiny Bookcase Podcast and putting together a pitch package for a possible opportunity I’m trying not to get too excited about.
Just a few wee links to see in the New Year:
- I recently discovered the Always Take Notes podcast and binged most of their backlog. I particularly enjoyed the episode with the agent Jonny Geller.
- I really enjoyed Genoveva Dimova’s piece on the differences between adult vs YA fantasy. Highly recommended if you want to get beyond ‘it’s just a different vibe’ level of understanding that I had.
- A great blog post by Chelsea Abdullah on her debut year experience.
- I loved this short piece by Matt Gemmell on ‘prose echoes’.
- This post by Susan Dennard on how to write a 1 page synopsis is an absolute godsend, let me tell you.
- My friend, critique partner and superb novelist Nick Binge did an excellent Ask Me Anything over on the indispensable PubTips subreddit.
- A fascinating blog post from Michael Mammay on what he actually earned from writing in 2022. Mad props to authors who write posts like these - anything that demystifies the process is good in my book.
It’s been a busy month, despite it also being a very short one. February is also the month where the days noticeably lengthen up in Scotland and that has made a big difference - writing in the mornings with light in the sky and being able to go for an evening walk in daylight is wonderful.
I’m looking forward to an exciting March and hopefully the end of this first redraft of PROJECT SHARD. And of course, my first ever writing retreat. More on that in the next edition.
In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.