Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I've recently been asked by WYLMT's publisher to act as an 'author mentor' to some of their newer recruits.
I said yes, obviously (hey, publicity's publicity).
My first thought was - what the hell do I know? What the hell could I tell anyone that they couldn't learn from spending ten minutes online?
That's a question yet to be questioned. It will be, eventually. By me.

The thing it made me think about, though, was the notion of a 'mentor'. What does that mean, really?
There are things I do, in life but they're not my life. There are areas I choose to get involved with, but they're hobbies. They're not that important. Writing, music - they matter to me, but they don't actually matter.

In my real life, outwith my family, I've had two mentors. One, I'll call 'A', and the other I'll call 'P', just to be contrary.
Neither of them are writers, but both of them are truth tellers, of the highest order. One showed, and taught, me the difference between being a silly teenager and being an adult, with adult responsibilities.
Okay, at times he showed me by doing the absolutely wrong thing, himself. He knew he'd done it, though, and, through his mistakes, and his honesty about those mistakes, he taught me how to be a better person. And a better barman.

Then I met the other one. What did he teach me? Every, single, thing, I know about the job I curently do. There are a number of fuckwits who do my job. 'P' taught me how not be one of them. While my sense of ethics and morality were still forming, he guided them in the right direction.
He once said something along the lines of - I'd rather have one Danny who doesn't know the rules yet, than ten people who think they do.

I've been lucky - I have two people I admire who choose to spend time with me, and take the time to teach me, in my life. Add to that my wonderful parents and sisters, and I'm a very lucky person.

And not one of them is a writer.

One of my mentors got some bad news, recently. Ill health has found him. Could be serious, we don't know the full extent, yet.
He's joking, we're shitting ourselves.
He's the funniest person I've ever met. He loves, and supports fully, my life as a writer (he travelled several hundred miles to be at the launch), but, he'll be the very first person to call me a twat if I ever act like one.
I'm not letting him go, even if he wants to leave.

How important is writing?

Not very.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Block

It's every writer's nightmare.

The block. The darkness in front of their eyes.
The blank page, the empty screen. That's what we call it, that's what we pretend it is. The page, the screen, the canvas that refuses to fill itself. It's not our fault, ever, it's the fault of the blankness we force ourselves to confront.
It's an empty brain. A deficit of imagination, a failure of creativity, a lack of, for want of a better word, craft.
Craft, that's the thing. Any writer who thinks they're anything more, anything better, than an artisan, is lying. To themselves, and to anyone daft enough to listen.

When you want, sorry, need, to write a song or a piece of music, you don't wait till inspiration hits you. You play every chord, every note you know, in every combination you can think of, then the ones you can't, or haven't previously thought of, over and over and over again, until something happens that's worth pursuing. Then you chase that little piece of imperfect diamond. You chase that uncut stone down, you jump on top of it and hold it close to your heart. You become its trap, its world.
Then, when you're sure it's yours and yours alone, you explore it. You use whatever tools your talent allows to chip away at it, chip away at it's edges, at it's flaws.
Eventually, after many hours, days or weeks, your ability is exposed, for better or worse, and you make the choice - give it to the world, or keep it safe, in your world, never to be seen by other, judging eyes.
But you finish it, either way. You finsh the thing. You may choose to discard it, but the thing you throw away is complete, with all its perfect imperfections.

Writing isn't like that. It should be, but it isn't.

The block lets you start things. It begins things, but doesn't give you the tools to end them. It gives you characters, situations, scenarios. It doesn't give you stories, though.

Where do the stories come from? The easy, and lazy, answer is - I don't know.

The truth is different. The truth is, they come from exactly the same place as the music and the songs. They come from work.

It's a very rare writer who is a true artist. Mostly we're artisans, and need to work hard for our words.

And that's exactly what I intend to do. After I take Jake for a walk. Then wash the dishes. Then do the hoovering. Then pay the rent. And my road tax. And, well, other stuff that's important.

Once that's all done, I'm writing. Honest.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Writers

There are two writers I'm currently having multiple wordgasms with. One published, one not.
Charlie Huston has just released the fourth volume of his Joe Pitt series, called Every Last Drop.
He writes about vampires, but not in any way you're used to. These suckers are a bit different. They have a vyrus, and not all of them are happy about it. It's a disease that sets them apart from the 'normal' world, and they hate that. These guys and gals wish they were 'normal', but there are politics involved.
For a new take on noir, with added blood issues, you'd do a hell of a lot worse than checking out these books. They're published by Orbit. Read them, that's an order. Imagine Raymond Chandler without the ... actually, just imagine Raymond Chandler, James M Cain or Dashiell Hammett, with a twist.
From a writing point of view (sorry, POV), Huston does something that I'm entirely in awe of - he creates characters, a world and a history through very little more than dialogue and action. The exposition is in there, but you'll have to be very clever to spot it as you read. You get it later, but not at the time.
Any fans of sparse writing, read his books. They're a masterclass.

Which brings me to the second of the two writers I'm in awe of at the moment.

JW. Hicks.

Jesus, that lady can write.
If you're fortunate enough to know her work, I know you know exactly what I mean.
This woman can say more in a couple of words of dialogue than I could ever say in four paragraphs of prose.
When I was pretendng to be a guitarist in my youth I found my 'heaven' when I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan. It was a heaven I knew I would never attain, but I had something to aim for. It made me more determined to try harder, even if I had to copy him first, before I found my own 'sound'.
That's how I feel about JW Hicks writing. I'm going to try to copy it, because it's just that fucking good, and I hope that by apeing it I might find a voice half as good for myself.

I'm not normally one for having 'heroes'. Turns out I have two, today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Short Fuses (or How I learned to stop worrying and love the Anthology)

At the end of last year a number of members of an online writing group I'm with decided to put together an anthology of short stories, mainly just to see what happened.
It seemed simple - anyone want to contribute? Yes? Okay, post the story you want to go in the book here. Done? Cool, now someone else will do a proof-read on yours and you can proof-read someone else's, sound fair? Yes? Good. Is that us, we have our list? Yes? Excellent. Would the couple of us who can actually do things other than writing and talking crap like to design the cover, format the text and generally do shit loads of work at your own expense so the rest of us can look good? Yes? Really? Cool! Let's proceed, then.

From that point on the shit hit the fan, pushing the fan into the bath, electrocuting the barely formed anthology so badly it almost died a crispy yet damp, slightly smoking and comically depressing death.

The problem was that, initially, the idea was to take advantage of a 'free publishing' offer from another writing site, simply because it was, well, free, and, despite many reservations about the wisdom of the offer, it was a site many of us had benefited from in the past and we felt they deserved our support.
The previously mentioned 'reservations' were, however, pretty damned big, for some of us. This other site had promised (yes, actually promised) to publish several thousand books before Christmas. For free. This was in September. if you want to know more about this whole thing there are other websites, blogs, prisons etc where you'll find a wealth of opinion so I'm not going to go into it here. Mainly because I'm bored shitless with it all.
Anyway, for some of the anthology's contributers the, eh, ambition, of the proposed publishing endeavour was a little on the 'that's fucking impossible and never going to happen' side. So some started proposing that we look for other options - Lulu, Createspace etc. Some, though, were dead set on going with the free offer, to support the other site (right, I'm sick of typing 'the other site' so, in order to protect the innocent I'll call it WHO? from this point on). WHO? has been good to us, they said. Well, yes, the others said, It's been good to us, too. Doesn't mean they've got a hope in hell of pulling this off, though. The other others came back with - They deserve our support and we should stick with them. While other of the other others added - And it's FREE! The others (the first others not the other others) countered with So's Lulu, and Createspace, and lots of other places! And loyalty only goes so far ...
And so, being a group of intelligent, creative, articulate and like-minded individuals, it descended into an epic barney. Friendships died, flounces occured, injuries were sustained on both sides and it ultimately ended in stalemate - where stalemate means everyone got sick of the whole thing and gave up on the entire idea. There was some serious bad blood created during this episode, and, in truth, the wounds are still there, festering, for many involved (not me, I hasten to add - I did my usual and sat on the sidelines, waving at the combatants as they spilled each others' words). I think it's fair to say that neither side won, and the whole thing goes down as a sorry episode in our site's history that shall never be mentioned again. It seemed highly unlikely that the anthology would ever see daylight.

Anyway, it's called Short Fuses and went online with Lulu this week. It'll be listed on Amazon some time in the next few weeks. It's pretty good, you should buy it. here's the link:

We've got a Facebook group going for it, too:

See ya