Writing Advice

The other best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard – one I’ve done my best to pass on through what’s been ten years of school visits – goes something like this:

The only good reason to write is if you’ll be miserable if you stop. Or, as one author put it to me when I first started out, ‘Don’t do it – not unless you can’t not do it.’

A year ago, after twenty years of doing it, I quit writing to become a musician. I’d decided at the time that the writing part of my life was over. The fact that in the months since I haven’t missed writing at all suggests I was right.

I’m still a Patron of Reading (reading: now that’s something that really would make me miserable if I ever had to stop). My published books still exist. Velvet still exists, though when or if I’ll go back to it I don’t currently know. There is one more complete short story that may make an appearance somewhere sometime – and, for now, these websites still exist. But this blog ends here.

My thanks to anyone who reads this message, and to all the people I’ve had the good fortune to meet through what remains, to me at least, an astonishingly lucky writing career.

If you’re interested in following or hearing what I do now, the places on the internet where I’m currently least inactive (;p) are Facebook and Soundcloud.

Best wishes to you,


I haven’t admitted this officially before because I’m still raw about it, but here goes: the big book I’ve been working on these last four years? I’ve put it aside.

Last October, after we’d gamely knocked three drafts back and forth without agreeing what we wanted, my publisher cancelled my contract. My agent – before she quit the business – told me that she didn’t think she could sell the book to anyone else. Now my new agent has gently but definitely confirmed to me that the book has fundamental problems and ‘needs a lot of work.’

I can take a hint. ;p

One problem with the book is that I’ve put so much time and love into it that now I’m too close to it to see or accept what I would have to do to take it further. So, until/unless I get the distance and objectivity I need, I’m doing the next best thing I can do: I’ve stopped working on it, and started writing other stuff.

I’ve got a brand new novella out under consideration, I’m working on another short project right now, and my next full-length book is already underway. Meanwhile, for the time being, I’m sad to say that all that anyone else will hear or see of my broken but beautiful, crazy-ambitious, utopian SF rock-and-roll epic is its title and this gorgeous cover by genius illustrator Barnaby Richards:


To those brave, kind few who have read the book as it currently stands, my thanks.

To VELVET, au revoir.


This is from a fascinating and inspiring book called The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I feel it always, and this week especially.

When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.

There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.

Mine snapped a while back. It’s held together with tape and hope. But it’s still there.

This below is from Agota Kristof, author of my favourite thing I read in 2014, The Notebook. It’s from another and almost equally astonishing book of Kristof’s, called The Illiterate:

How do you become a writer? First of all, naturally, you must write. Then, you must continue to write. Even when it doesn’t interest anyone. Even when you feel that it will never interest anyone. Even when the manuscripts pile up in the drawers and you forget them, while writing new ones.

…Here is the answer to the question: you become a writer by writing with patience and obstinacy, without ever losing faith in what you write.

That’s the mission. Now to get back to it.

I’m in full deep dive mode on Draft Three of the new book. As a matter of fact I recently upgraded my writing bathysphere to one of these:


The current challenge, as often before with stories of mine at this stage, is characterisation. You’ve heard of authors who know their characters inside out before they start to write, or claim that their creations come to life and drive the story themselves? I’m not one of those. My tendency with early drafts is to focus on plot, world-building, action, structure – stuff. But of course the people in stories need attention too. Hence the question above, as posed (often) by my editor Ruth K. during the redrafting of Crawlers and resounding in my brain ever since.

That gas tank? Mine’s full of coffee. And sometimes Scotch. ;D

We still have his books. I took yesterday off to reread one of my favourites, Look to Windward. While enjoying it just as much and maybe more the second time, I was reminded very powerfully of the influence his writing has had on mine; his attitude too.

Around when I first read Look to Windward I saw an interview with Banks in which he said something to the effect that you’re not a Serious Writer until you’ve had at least a hundred rejections. Acutely unpublished as I was then, I began adding up mine, from the first short stories I submitted to magazines, competitions, publishers and agents through the first novels that came and went later. Before I got my first ‘yes’ – for my fourth novel, The Black Tattoo – I received one hundred and thirty-four messages saying ‘no’.

Sometimes sensible young people at my school events ask me why I didn’t just stop and give up. I tell them that all my rejections hurt of course but as their total got closer to triple figures, I got excited. At one hundred rejections I had a party, to celebrate becoming a Serious Writer. I tell young people about Iain Banks, how wonderful his books are, and how it’s thanks in part to his example that now I get the chance to do so.

He told us it was coming. It was still too soon.


1. Write the exact book that you yourself would be thrilled to read.

2. It is not going to come easily, by itself, without thought or effort.

3. It is not going to come whole and perfect first time. Expecting first time perfection only reduces the chance that anything will come at all. Duh.

4. Using wordcount as your only proof of progress – let alone as justification or otherwise for your existence – is always, always a mistake.

5. Frustration is the worst kind of prevarication. Other kinds only waste time; frustration can also destroy you.

6. See 1.

This week on TBM: Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima .