Breaking Out

First things first, whenever I achieve something as a writer, it has to be publicised here pretty damn quickly.

With that in mind, I’d just like to say that my story ‘Expedited’ was picked up by The Other Stories podcast and released as their latest episode. I’ve been really fortunate to have Josh Curran read my work again, this dude really lands my stories every time he reads them. He’s a great talent.

The story is about a delivery driver who takes a fancy to some of the parcels he’s delivering but soon realises that there’s a reason curiosity is something we warn our children about…

Away from celebrating getting a story on my favourite fiction podcast, there’s been a lot of real work going on. By that I mean, arse in chair and fingers on keys. Today I reached the 60k word count on my latest project, tentatively titled Rangers.

As with the other recent books I’ve written, this one has really flown by. For me, first drafts are about getting the structure of the book down correctly. Getting the key events in the right order and going from there. Much changes between the first and second drafts but that rarely involves the structure of the book. It’s more to do with characterisation or dialogue. If nothing else, by the end of my first drafts, the skeleton of the story is there. To my mind, that’s the hardest work done.

But completing books isn’t enough. Not really.

In 2020, I started and completed Lionhearts which is now out in the real world trying to find a home. I started and abandoned Static at 40k words deep. I’m now 60k deep into Rangers. One thing I can honestly say is that I have a hunger to write. I complete things. I am a writer.

But so far, I’ve fallen short with getting the book out there.

My 2018/19 project Nobody Wins is in good shape. Beta readers liked it and there was some agent interest that ultimately ended in disappointment – to be clear, not rejection but something much worse – inertia.

Lionhearts is complete. The book is fierce and honest and uncomfortable to read. What it needs now is a home. An agent to nurture it. A publisher that adores it. The search for those things is exhausting and upsetting and time consuming although hopefully (please Jesus) worth it. But if it comes to nothing, I know I have a great book to take to indie publishers or to bring to market myself.

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s 2020 (as if we could forget the year of the plague). The world is at our fingertips. Technology not only makes things possible, it makes them prevalent. There’s no stigma to getting things out there yourself anymore. Hell, it’s almost an indictment on me that I haven’t tried it yet. What the hell have I been doing?

There’s no better time to make things happen for yourself.

Let that sink in because I am right now.

One of the things that has held me back for years is waiting for permission. Who from? Why? I’m not sure I can answer these questions.

We write to get our stories off our chests. We write to get the stories out of our minds and into the eyes of readers. To share the joy or fear or tension that drove us to create in the first place. Without this final output can we ever be complete as writers? Without eyes on our work, does it even exist? I doubt I’m clever enough to answer such an existential question but I do know where this is going.

I need to publish.

Novels serve no purpose on my hard-drive. Without being out in the world, the words are empty.

Starting soon, things are going to change.

Short stories, podcasts, novels. They’re all coming.

It’s time to not only create but to publish.


Photosynthesis. Plants. See what I did there?

One of my favourite things to listen to is the magnificent Desert Island Discs. I rarely get chance to listen to it on the radio, instead gobbling it in podcast form. Sometimes I’ll smash through six or seven of them in a day.

For those that haven’t heard of it, the format is simple. A famous person is interviewed about their life and career. The list of interviewees ranges from politicians to musicians and writers. Each castaway chooses 8 records to take with them when they’re stranded on a desert island. Hence the title.

Since lockdown began, I’ve been changing what music I listen to more often than I’ve changed my pants (although rest assured, I still change those daily). It all depends on mood.

When writing Lionhearts, my very angry novel about northern pride and the insidious impact of nationalism, I was hammering the music of Idles. They’re a ferocious live act and their songs are not an easy listen. Idles ramped me to write the prose style and content that I needed to for this book.

I should add, I listen to music before writing, not during. The way athletes get pumped up in the dressing room before a match.

Now that novel is in the can and waiting to be sent out into the world, I’m moving on. The rage I needed for Lionhearts has passed and left me empty on the inside. I need comfort now. I need laughs. I need a change.

I started another book, Static, that has hit the skids. Despite finding the voice I wanted, I didn’t quite find the joy in it that I needed. The story didn’t light me up. Didn’t keep me thinking about it in the way that my other novels have. The foundations are there, maybe just the timing is all wrong.

I took a deep breath. Dusted down my pride. Put it on pause. 40k words on hold.

I hate not having a project. I have to be busy. Putting this book on hold, consigned me to empty time. My nemesis.

As I do when I feel down or slightly off, I turn to music. This one was an easy choice. I fell back to an old favourite. A firm classic in our household, so much so that my three year-old daughter knows all the words.

Photosynthesis by Frank Turner.

A defiant song about living life your own way and on your terms, it’s the antidote to work and all the other things that sometimes take up space in my head.

“But no-one’s yet explained to me exactly what’s so great, about slaving fifty years away on something that you hate.

Or by meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity, if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me.”

Blasting this song and having a little dance in the kitchen with my daughter helped me to let go of the novel that wasn’t working. Like when it helps me forget the drudgery of the day job, this song helped my worries that this novel wasn’t quite right slip from my mind.

Life isn’t about being mediocre or making do. It’s about finding what lights you up. About following that through. Making the best of it.

For me, that’s what writing is about too. Pausing a novel is hard when writing time is limited. But for now, it was the right call. I needed to clear my head. Fill up the well with books and music and get some joy back.

I took the time out. I turned to Frank. He provided. A weight has been lifted.

And the best part of it all? I’ve cracked what I’m writing next.

Long story short. We all deserve a little bit of joy, especially with what’s going on in the world right now. Find your joy. Find your desert island discs – the songs that keep you going and save your life on demand. The songs that help you remember that work is not who you are. That writing and reading and expressing yourself can keep you human and sane and happy. Focus on those things and do your best to keep smiling.

Look after yourselves.