June 30, 2024

What I’m up to - June 2024

Finishing a book and clearing the decks.

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.

The middle of the year is an excellent moment to take stock.


New work and submissions

First thing’s first - A Reluctant Spy, my debut novel, is now available on Netgalley! So of course I made an Instagram reel.

I try (and sometimes fail) to stay off review sites like NetGalley and Goodreads, because those reviews are meant for readers, not authors. But after a couple of brief peeks prompted by pleased messages from my editor, it looks like the book is doing pretty well so far! If you’re a reviewer, blogger, BookToker, Youtuber or Instagrammer and you want to read my book, now’s your chance.

Along with the nice reader reviews, I’ve also been lucky enough to receive some wonderful reviews from other writers. I’ve posted a few in my daynotes (more on that below), but this one from bestselling crime writer M.W. Craven was so incredibly gratifying to receive.

A blurb from M.W. CravenA blurb from M.W. Craven

I don’t know Mike directly (we’re represented by the same agency, but different agents) but it was so nice to first of all see that he was reading it (via Instagram) and then to get this blurb from him. I hope to furnish him with a pint at Harrogate Crime Festival in July.

The cover for Nova Scotia: Volume 2The cover for Nova Scotia: Volume 2

The other new work announcement in June was that I have a story coming in a new anthology called Nova Scotia Volume 2, coming from Luna Press Publishing on July 30th. It’s available now for pre-order!

The first volume of Nova Scotia came out nearly twenty years ago, in 2005, which was the last time that Worldcon was hosted in Glasgow. Just like last time, this book features an incredible group of authors. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been picked alongside both veteran authors and some of the best new SFF writers working in Scotland today. My story New Town’ is set in Edinburgh and follows a police detective investigating a particularly strange murder. Of course, complications ensue.


Writing and editing

I spent the first half of the month finishing my last revision on PROJECT SHARD, a big SF novel that’s been kicking around in various forms since 2019. This revision was my beta-reader feedback edit, after ten people read the book earlier this year. At the time the consensus was this is a great book, but it could be a superb book if you push pretty much everything a little further’. At first, that felt like a pretty daunting challenge, but after a lot of thinking and sticky-note-based reorganising and consolidating lots and lots of different viewpoints, I cracked on with another front-to-back linear rewrite.

In most places I was deepening and broadening elements of the plot, specific characterisation, worldbuilding and motivations. Thankfully, all of my beta reader feedback indicated that the core plot machinery was pretty much okay, which was a relief, because a book with a broken or underwhelming plot is a lot harder to fix than one which just needs a bit of expansion work, or editing for pace.

I sent SHARD off to my agent on the 17th, as well as to one of my crit partners who kindly volunteered to re-read and let me know if I’d managed not to screw up the rewrite. This particular crit partner was the main driving force behind a fairly fundamental change plot change. Or, at least I thought it was fairly fundamental, until they pointed out all the groundwork I’d already done and the inconsequential, lightweight flim-flam that was hanging out in the middle of my draft where the emotional resolution should be. I was annoyed with myself for resisting the suggestion once I realised how well it was going to work. And this is why I get so much joy from working with trusted critique partners - they help me get my work somewhere I’d never wholly manage on my own.

The remainder of the month has been spent bouncing between an outline for a notional Reluctant Spy sequel and doing a last-and-final pass through the eBook version of A Reluctant Spy to re-familiarise myself with it. I’d hoped to get the outline done by the end of the month, but a couple of missed or curtailed writing sessions means it will just tip over into July.

I also wrote an absolute ton of daynote entries on my website. I very deliberately didn’t call these daily notes because I didn’t want to set that expectation, but I’ve pretty much managed to write one most days that I’m doing writing work. And they’re a lot of fun, following a simple template and providing a really valuable archive of what I’m working on, thinking about and taking in over days and weeks. I did it as an experiment in May, continued it in June and I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

When it comes to fiction though, I still don’t know what I’m writing next. These periodic mini-limbos are a feature of becoming a working writer, because what to write next’ is not wholly and solely down to your personal whim anymore - first of all you’re balancing discussions with your agent and editors you’re working with about what they’d like to see from you. Then you’re probably also doing marketing and editing work on existing books and shorts. And there’s also the growing and constant general admin that comes along with beginning to earn money from writing. These are all extremely luxury problems to have, but it does mean the little 2-4 week periods where there’s no definite NEXT THING come along more frequently. In general, I use these to write new short stories, because I can write, edit, proof and submit one or two stories in that time. So that’s probably what I’ll be doing in July, unless the mini-limbo ends sooner than I think.


Publishing and community

The very first day of the month started with Cymera Festival which was an absolute delight as usual. Festival director Ann Landmann’s pact with the sun gods held for another year and we had three days of stunning sunshine. I was unfortunately only able to go on the Saturday this year, but I managed to squeeze three panels (watching) and a workshop (running) in, while also making time for courtyard banter, getting books signed, spending too much money in the festival bookshop, perusing the Creator’s Hall and even an impromptu Open Mic reading (I read the first scene of Such Is My Idea Of Happiness which seemed to go down very well). I really can’t recommend attending Cymera enough. It’s still relatively new (the first one was in 2019) but it’s been going from strength to strength and is one of the friendliest SFFH events I’ve been to.

Other than that it was a quietish month community-wise, as I missed the monthly Edinburgh SFF meetup. If you haven’t checked out the Edinburgh SFF website recently, I strongly recommend you do so - our incredible admin Shell Bryson has built a wonderful SF writer’s map of Edinburgh’ which is jam-packed with bookshops, writer-friendly cafes, venues and more.


Reading

I have finally finished my beta reading for the year, with the exception of my regular critique partners. I’ve basically been beta-reading continuously since late last year and I really need to take a break from it, but the two books that I finished in June were both absolutely fantastic.

  • Murder At The Hotel Orient by Alessandra Ranelli - This book is a tremendously fun, fast-moving murder mystery set in contemporary Vienna, following the exploits of concierge Sterling Lockwood after a murder in the famous anonymous love hotel where she works. It was an absolute delight to read and I have no doubt you’re going to be hearing about it soon. A lot.
  • Flesh & Blood by Nick Scaramanga - This is a pseudonym for a critique partner of mine and it’s an absolute belter of a Scottish crime novel, set in my home town of Edinburgh. I was there for the initial burst of inspiration that led to this book (at last year’s Bloody Scotland) and it has absolutely lived up to the concept from that first discussion. This is a great book that I think fans of the genre will absolutely eat up. It’s got a gangster’s daughter framed for a crime she didn’t commit, blackmail, corruption, a fish-out-of-water English detective, break-ins, break-outs and more. Keep an eye out for it.
  • Moscow X by David McCloskey - I’ve actually had this book in my reading roundup before, because I started it way back last year (November, I think?). Back then I read the first seven chapters, then got pulled into beta reading, so this month after finishing the beta reads, I thought I’d restart it. It’s, bluntly, fantastic. It’s sitting beside me on the train where I’m writing the draft of this newsletter, and as soon as I finish I’m going to dive into it until I get home.

Doing

Things have been quite summery around our way, so we’ve been out in the garden regularly this month, including clearing half of our front garden to put in some new plants and a bench, and finally pressure washing our back patio. It’s north-facing, so it gets mossy and covered in algae over the winter. But also I haven’t done it for a couple of years, so it took most of a day.

I also started to get back into my morning walking routine after fully recovering from my Covid dose in May, which has felt great, although I’m usually quite sweaty by the time I get home. Lots of deer and hares in the woods and lovely fresh breezes down at the beach.

There’s also been a lot of admin this month as various contractual things came to fruition and we had to do a load of paperwork and suchlike. I have a pathological fear of messing up money and tax stuff, so I’m probably overcautious and slower than I need to be with this stuff, but it’s a relief to have it mostly squared away.


Planning

July is when I will launch myself headfirst into the crime and thriller world after my brief toe-dip last year at Bloody Scotland. I’ll be heading to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in mid-July for three days of panels, dinners, networking and blabbing about my book to anyone prepared to listen. It’s a festival I’m hoping to one day attend as a panelist, but for the moment I will be content to meet a ton of my writer friends, hang out with my editor and agent and soak up the Yorkshire atmosphere. I’ve heard so many good things about this festival and I really can’t wait.

Other than that, as noted above, I’ll mostly be typing and regretting my choices to not schedule an actual holiday in the summer. I’ve reserved most of my annual leave for book stuff later in the year, but let me tell you, next year I’m going to do a far better job of balancing publishing time off’ with actual breaks. Just because I have a lot of fun doing publishing stuff doesn’t mean it’s not work (and exhausting, especially without time off to cushion the blow).


Linking

Fresh baked links, just for you.


Well! That’s half the bloody year gone. Summer solstice has passed, an election is rumbling into view, temperatures are rising and summer breaks are beckoning. This is apparently the year when the linear progression of time continually surprises me and this month has been no different. I was told by a few friends that your debut year has a weird sort of telescoping effect, like a dolly zoom in a Hitchcock film, where you appear to be both standing completely still and zooming towards the future at the same time. This early summer feels strangely endless, but also like it’s flickering past the window faster than I can take it in.

So, despite my lack of forward planning when it comes to annual leave, I’ll be trying quite hard to stop, breathe and smell the roses, literal and metaphorical. That means blocking out the odd weekend to do absolutely nothing with my wonderful wife, getting out in the mornings to enjoy the cool dawn haar as it pours over the land from the Firth of Forth and spending as much time as I possibly can under our back garden plum tree, sprawled in the heat, reading and thinking.

I hope you can carve out a bit of time for yourself too, whether on a nice holiday or just taking five minutes during your workday or over the weekends. And if you can’t right now in this sweaty, fractious summer, I hope you’ll be able to soon.

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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Daynote - Wed 26th Jun 2024 Not much going on this morning, as I’m off to London for my day job and needed to pack this morning, because I clean forgot last night. ON DECK:
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Daynote - Mon 1st Jul 2024 My monthly newsletter for June went out yesterday, featuring this super nice blurb from Mike Craven as well as a ton of other updates. You can

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