Rambling through a full edit…

Stephen King explains in On Writing that his approach to second drafts and editing involves reducing the word count of a novel by a good ten per cent. Having read my fair share of Mr Kings novels, one hates to think how long they were to start with, but I can see his point. There is a natural desire as a writer to be wordy. At least I find that to be the case for me. (regular readers of this blog are shocked by this revelation I am sure…) So If I do not watch myself, I have a tendency to ramble in early drafts.

With previous novels, that tendency to ramble has perhaps been less checked that it should have been in final edits. Though I do make a conscious effort to avoid rambling too much, and no one has yet accused my novels of being too verbose, so I’ve hopefully got away with it. People generally like them for a start…

But with ‘A Spider In The Eye’ I have a different problem. Unlike my previous novels, this one is narrated by the main character. It is in effect first person, but at the same time because of where and when he is telling his story it has a degree of the memoir about it. All of which is fine, it is a stylistic choice I made after I originally wrote the first few chapters as a third person narrative. While it worked in the third person, the first person just suits the story I am telling more. Hannibal’s own insights into events are what makes the story work for me as a writer.

But therein lays a problem. For a while I tend to ramble a little if left unchecked, Hannibal is far more inclined to ramble than I am, and finding that sweet spot between what is Hannibal’s voice and what is my own rambling is somewhat challenging. Not that I am complaining, the challenge of bringing a fictional character own voice to life was the reason I decided on writing this particular novel this way. If it were easy, well it would be no fun at all…

There is a touch of the masochist in every writer. If we did not secretly enjoy the struggle, I suspect none of us would do it. Though that could be just me.

So here I am, editing away my rambling, while not editing away Hannibal’s rambling, and trying to cut away the chaff… Which begs the question, as I am consciously trying to cut more than I add, of how a mere 76 pages into a 416-page document, the word count has grown by another 1000 words.

Still, I know that the 75 pages I have done are far more polished and cleaner than they were when I started this edit, So I guess, as Hannibal would say “small victories and all that…”


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The Call Of Cthulhu: TCL #47 Part 2 The Tale of Inspector Legrasse…

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

The above is from the second part of Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s most well-known work, and one of his best. I’m not going to make any bones out of this, Call of Cthulhu is something of a masterpiece as far as Lovecraft’s stories go. It’s a sea change in his stories, moving from smaller personal tales to a wider perspective. This is a tale of events that span years, aeons in some respects, and are global in scope. It doesn’t tell of horrific events in one location happening to a single narrator. Instead, it instils a sense of dark wonder, at a horror that encompasses all human and the world. Importantly, however, tries to do so in such a way that the reader’s disbelief can be utterly suspended, and make them envision that menacing darkness that lays beyond this pool of light we call the rational world…  Which is a neat trick, if a writer can pull it off.

The Tale of Inspector Legrasse…

This part of the tale explains why the erstwhile Professor Angell was so interested in the bas-relief that gave the first part of the story, ‘The Horror In Clay’ it name. As opposed to dismissing the sculptor of the foul piece of art as a madman for his talk strange haunting dreams and driving urge to create the image of the being we know of as Cthulhu… the simplest explanation of which is, it was not the first time the professor had come across such a figure. The first time was some seventeen years prior at a meeting of the American Archaeological Society when an inspector of the New Orleans police came before the gathered alumni of that organisation bearing an ancient statue of an unfortunate province…


That statue, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one of the most popular Lovecraft collectable’s, or at least the several hundred different versions of it that have been created over the last few decades by various artists. Which is a wonderfully odd fact when you think about it. The Statue in the story had been in the possession of an ancient cult practising foul rites in the worship of the great old one represented in this strange piece of cunningly carved soapstone. Now representations of this fictional statue of a fictional god-like being reside on mantle pieces and in display cabinets around the world. The fictional cult of Cthulhu has far and away been surpassed by the cult the fiction created…

Whats that old chestnut about the power of belief shaping the gods, and the power of gods stemming from belief… In moments of whimsy, it is a strangely worrying thought that so many Cthulhu ‘worshipers’ look up at the craven image of the one who awaits the stars being right…

But idle speculation of the nature of belief on one side lets get back to the story. Inspector Legrasse tells the assembled great and good of American archaeology how he came by the statue, in the depths of the swamps below New Orleans, breaking up a strange ritual gathering where ten people were murdered to be the beat of tom-tom drums. A tale dark enough in the telling but what adds to its credence are the observations of Professor Webb one of Angell colleagues who came across a similar cult in Greenland years before, also practising dark rites. One which chanted in a strange dead language the words…

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Words which he could not translate at the time. Legrasse, however, heard that same chant in the swampland of Louisiana and managed to ‘persuade’ one of the members of the cult he arrested to translate it as much as it could be into English…

“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

So now we have events in New England, Greenland and Louisiana swamps all tied to this strange image. But more than this as the narrator begins to investigate his uncle’s papers and beyond. He also begins to suspect that his uncle’s death was not entirely as innocent as it first appeared. Was his uncle killed by this strange cult that seems to have tendrils everywhere? What secrets lay behind all this…

It is the secrets that lay behind it all that really make this tale what it is, and it is this second part that the reader really starts to get a greater view of it all. Its disjointed in places, and suffers the fate of any tale that tries to encompass something so huge in scale so quickly. The further the narrator’s story goes into his own journey, the more he discovers, the more profound the mystery… the more horrifying the possibilities… It would be an easy thing to fail in this story, yet it doesn’t, all it does is draw you further in. A certain level of awe is inspired along the way.

I’m not going to talk much more about it, or all the lays upon lays of story here. Because at the end of the day I would not wish to spoil this tale for anyone who has not read it. But this is myth building at its finest, the growth of the mythos and the darker history of the world before humanities rise feels real, for all it is just a story, which is the real trick here, this is not just a suggestion of a time before human histories narrow scope but something darker and more fleshed out than in any earlier tale by old tentacle hugger…

The middle third of a tale is normally a tough cookie, but this builds on the first and sets up the third masterfully. So another five tentacles reaching out of the depths of the ocean… which is where we will be going next come to think of it…

5out 6

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

The first part of this three-part post is here …

Next, the final part, ‘The Madness from the Sea...’

Until then I am off to move my statue to a more respectful part of the mantle place because you never know…

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”


Posted in amreading, cthulhu, goodreads, Lovecraft, mythos, Nyarlathotep, opinion, rites, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advice for writers in a slump

A facebook friend struggling with their first novel was asking for advice or more accurately was bemoaning the struggle they are having getting words on paper. So after telling them not to be so hard on themselves. I wrote out a quick set of tidbit advice for those aspiring to write in the hope, vain though it may be, that it would help them a little. So I thought I would share it here, as I had written it anyway. There is probably nothing new in this I have not mentioned before, and as ever I don’t always follow my own advice, but for what its worth …

  1. Change your writing routine, if you write on an evening, get up early and write, if you write on a morning try a late night writing
  2. If you normally write with music on, turn off the music
  3. Turn off all social media, just close down your browser and stop all alerts coming through
  4. Change where you write. Its a laptop, you can move to another room, sit on the bed, slouch on the sofa, writing at the kitchen table
  5. Avoid distractions by not let the distractions access to you (leave your phone in another room)
  6. Change your chair (this actually works really well for me,)
  7. If you normally write in silence, turn on some music, but something that can sit in the background
  8. Pick a time to be your writing time and stick to it
  9. If you edit as you go, stop, no first draft is perfect, Hemingway was right on that score
  10. If you never edit as you go, read back the last two chapters and edit them
  11. Write, just write,, don’t worry about it being good, or right, or perfect, just write,
  12. Set your self a target, remember 300 words a day every day for a year is 109200 words, that’s a novel, just 300 words, make yourself write that many because really 300 words a day, of course, you can do that, and if you do more some days… Well then…
  13. Did I mention write?
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The Call Of Cthulhu: TCL #47 Part 1 The Horror in Clay…

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

No story by H.P. Lovecraft has had a more pervasive impact on popular culture or done more to establish ‘old tentacle hugger’ as a major literary influence than ‘The call of Cthulhu’. As for the old star spawn itself, Cthulhu is without a doubt the most widely known of all Lovecraft’s creations. Cthulhu is simply everywhere in modern popular culture.

Just how widespread Old Tentacle Face is can be demonstrated by a quick look around my front room at home, which for the sake of pretentiousness I’ll call my study. I have in there a Cthulhu POP figure, a crocheted Cthulhu made by my friend Cal, a Cthulhu inspired piece of wall art (technically a page of the Necromonicon made by a Canadian artist), several Cthulhu T-shirts occasionally hang on the radiators to dry, any number of Cthulhu inspired books, Cthulhu inspired comic books, the Call of Cthulhu B/W movie on the shelf with other DVD’s, Cthulhu inspired board games, Cthulhu inspired card games, Cthulhu Dice, Cthulhu badges, and several  RGP game books for everything from The Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark Ages, Cthulhu Romans, Cthulhu in Space. And remember this is just in my study, I did not bother looking for my Cthulhu cufflinks  …


Old Tentacle Face is frankly everywhere in my house. Which is surprising because when it comes down to it, I am not actually a collector of  Cthulhu memorabilia, this is just stuff that has accumulated over the years… Even if you bear in mind that I am a habitual geek who has a fascination with such things, it is safe to say that beyond just Geekdom itself, Cthulhu is everywhere in the modern cultural zeitgeist of western civilisation… So with that in mind, this is a tale with a reputation to live up to.

The story itself is told in three parts, which begin with our narrator, one of the endless unnamed, Not-Randolph’s who inherits the papers of a deceased wise old uncle… Stop me if you have heard that little nugget of plot before… Yes indeed, we are back in Not-Randolph’s discovering strange rites and mysteries, through the medium of an old uncle… I guess after reading ‘Cool Air‘ last week I should not be surprised by this, but let’s not get bogged down in that old trope once more. I covered it well enough last time out.

The three parts of this tale are titled The Horror in Clay, The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, and  The Madness from the Sea. In many ways, you could treat them as three different tales all closely linked by a central thread. Unlike other episodic tales by Lovecraft, Herbert West being the example that springs to mind, this central thread really holds it all together and makes it the complete tale it is, and the threads left hanging by the first two parts are all sewn together in the final one. It is this that sets it apart for me over some of Lovecraft’s other long tales, for while he had tried to do this before in the likes of ‘The Lurking Fear’ he never really managed to hold the reader’s interest (mine at least) or build upon the foundations he had laid in the earlier parts of the story.

But ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is built on stronger foundations than anything he had tried before. Not only does it build on the foundations it lays for itself as you read it. It builds on the foundations of the best of his earlier tales and sits astride them, going all the way back to Dagon one of his earliest tales of all. Threads upon threads are in here. Cyclopean columns from the depths of the ocean, the ravings of everyone’s favourite mad Arabian, the Necronomicon itself, all that otherwise tedious wondering about in the dreamlands he is so fond of, all the mythos stories that came before this have all been building irrevocable towards ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. In some respects, this is where Lovecraft really starts to come together, and while I am aware I have said similar things with other tales, this really is the point Lovecraft starts to put all the pieces of his mythological jigsaw together.

As I said this is a tale in three parts, and while I have kept these witterings on Lovecraftian lunacy to one post a story in the past. With the occasional small diversion off topic. In the case of this one seminal tale, I am going to wonder a little further than normal, as its a tale in three parts I am going to review it, if what I do with these stories could be accused of being reviews, in three parts also. You may have figured that out from the title…

The Horror in Clay

So it begins, and our narrator another ‘Not-Randolph Carter’ sorting through the effects and papers of his deceased  Grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Providence. The Uncle died in mildly strange circumstances, though nothing seemed to be untoward as such about his death, and the sorting of his old papers should have been relatively dull is studious activity. That is save for one box of papers, a set of papers filed under the strange heading “CTHULHU CULT”. Within these papers are documented evidence that centres firstly around a young sculpture who was suffering from strange dreams and making an even stranger object. A Bas-relief of a strange, impossible nightmarish creature. A creature with the head of an octopus, the wings of a dragon and the body of a man, with the script of an unknown language upon it.


The young artist who crafted this had been beset with strange dreams in the last week of March and the first of April. Which lead to him to the Professor and to make the Bas-relief. The professor for reasons which come to light later in this tale takes a great interest in this rather than kicking the young fool out the door. More so when he connects it to other events around the world at the same period of time. The young artist is not alone in suffering from strange dreams and odd compulsions.

This first part, as is the nature of first parts, spends a lot of time laying down the land and this part of the tale most closely matches the opinion expressed by Lovecraft’s himself of the story as a whole, which was:

“rather middling—not as bad as the worst, but full of cheap and cumbrous touches”.

While I’m no more inclined to agree with Lovecraft’s opinion than I normally am, it does sum up this first part rather succinctly. It is a bit of a trawl, interesting certainly, but hard going in places. But it does cover an impressive scope. While it tells the story of the artist and his compulsion to create the hateful little tablet, it also is full of hints and portents of something much bigger, indeed, global in its scope, linked to what would otherwise seem nothing more than a man being driven to near insanity by bad dreams. It is the scope of the uncanny that is going on which sets this story apart. For our artist is not alone, others around the world are taken be a strange madness, driven to create strange art and other oddities. Obscure little religious cults are oddly active. the inmates of asylums are restless causing concern among the medical community. All of this is played out in a collection of strange and otherwise unrelated cuts discovered among the professor’s papers by our Not-Randolph. Even then this seems a strange obsession for an academic who specialises in ancient languages… But this is not the first time he has comes across that strange ominous name, Cthulhu…


As a read goes, this first part is slow and it only really starts to build towards the back end of it all. But it does give a sense that something big has happened, something beyond the normal ken, and far beyond a simple ghost story. Which is the key, for me, to this story, both in this first part and as a whole. The idea that humanity is as nothing in the greater scheme of the cosmos, and there are things hidden from us that we should be grateful lay hidden. In the end, the opening paragraph of this story betrays the scope of it all, and with it the scope of what Lovecraft was attempting to convey in this story. And it is among the best opening paragraphs of anything Lovecraft ever wrote in my opinion…  I defy anyone not to want to read on after reading it…

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

So to the score, for this the first part of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. It’s not the best part, its weaker than the other two, but it lays the groundwork so well, I was tempted just to give it six and be done with it, but I have dropped a mark for trawl it feels in the middle…  So five it is…

5out 6


Next, Part two, ‘The Tale of Inspector Legrasse.’

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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Rage against the reviews…

It’s been a while since I had a really good rant. Which is probably a symptom of relative happiness, so the lack of me having a good old-fashioned rant about something is probably a good sign. All the same, there are on occasions things that you just need to have a good rant about, if only to get it out of your system for a while. So as I stumbled over something which to many of you may seem like a minor irritation I felt the need to have a good old-fashioned rant. So, consider that a minor warning for small children and the easily offended.

My first novel, Cider Lane, has 17 reviews on Amazon.co.uk. A week ago it had 18. I have lost a review, just as it seemed I was making some headway. Oh for the love of the imaginary deity of your choice… And why has this grave injustice occurred? Because the reviewer in question was a writer. Fan-bloody-tastic, well done Amazon, three cheers for your bloody ridiculous review policies. Yes, the review has been withdrawn, despite the book having been purchased from Amazon and verified as such because the review in question is a fellow author.

About this point the non-writers reading this are probably wondering why this bothers me so much, it is only one review after all…

Well firstly because reviews on Amazon are extremely important to writers. Once you pass a certain threshold, which changes every now and again whenever Amazon’s review policies change, Amazon will make your novel more visible. It will, after around 20 reviews start appearing in the ‘books you may also like’ recommendations they send out and that pop up when you finish a book on Kindle. After the 50-65 threshold, they will actually recommend your book. So getting as many reviews as you can is important to a writer. Wherein lays a trap, the cause of this angst-ridden post and general disgruntlement on both my part and the part of other writers. It is also a system ripe for exploit, Amazon knows the system is exploited, so Amazon patrol book reviews with the veracity of the republic party and Hilary’s emails… And about as much validity…

review picture

What rankles me most is not that this review has been removed from Cider Lane ( and it was a bloody lovely review into the bargain… ) But the reasoning behind it and my own ethical approach to book reviews. I did not ask for the review in question, not even in a polite’if you like it, please review it’ kind of way. I did not even ask the writer to read my book, she just decided to buy it, give it a go and enjoyed it so left me a review. I did not do a reciprocal review, this was no bargain or deal between us. I don’t do or offer to do, reciprocal reviews. Not least because I know, Amazon will in all likely-hood rescind both reviews, but also because there is something basically dishonest about reviewing someone’s novel because they have agreed to review yours. I will read people’s books if they ask me to, if it appeals to me, and I will review them if I do.

Amazon’s review system is rank with abuse, paid reviews, reciprocal reviews, more paid reviews. General cheating of the system as much as possible. What is worse is that a lot of people do get away with it, the argument for doing so goes something like this. If you can pay for 50 reviews in a short time, and it takes Amazon a couple of months to redact them then you get the benefits of being a highly reviewed book for a short time, hopefully, sell a lot more books that way and thus get genuine reviews in the mix… So every time Amazon clamp down the people abusing the system move on to another way to cheat it… I don’t try to cheat the system, I play by the rules. Indeed I play by my own rules which are somewhat more ethical than those of Amazon…

As such one of the things Amazon have started to do is remove reviews by authors. Often quite randomly, because of the unethical authors out there trying to cheat the system. I seriously doubt that the writer who reviewed my novel falls into the category of ‘unethical authors out there trying to cheat the system’. Yet her honest ( and loverly) review of Cider Lane has been removed because she is a writer. Which is insulting to her even more than it is an irritation to me. Indeed that is what has pissed me off the most about this.

The world is full of people who are willing and quite able to cheat the system. I wish it weren’t, because I wish the world were full of honest people, for all I am a realist. But I am bloody annoyed, and utterly frustrated when honest reviews from honest people are removed in the name of Amazon’s war on fake reviews.

What is the point of playing by the rules and being honest, when you get hammered for it, indeed because you’re honest and play by the rules that hammer is far more damaging to you than it ever is to the cheats of the world?

Clearly, honesty is not its own reward and given my insomnia it doesn’t help you sleep at night.


EDIT:  everything above in this little rant is still relevant, however, in their wisdom, and because the review complained, the review has suddenly come back a couple of months later. Which I did not expect, and I would like to thank the reviewer for complaining to Amazon about there unfair treatment.

Thanks, Lynne 🙂   I hope all the other reviews you have kindly done for other people have come back too

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The wisdom of the edit…

Having written ‘The End’ on the completed main draft of ‘A Spider In The Eye’ a week or so ago, I have the daunting task of doing a full edit of the manuscript. I both love and loathe editing in equal measure, but as such, I find myself in need of a little inspiration form the worthy and the wise. (And I haven’t put together a post of quotes from writers for a while, and they always seem popular for some reason.)   Here then are a few snippets of wisdom for anyone setting out on that strange journey of self-flagellation that is a final edit…

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.  ~ Dr. Seuss

I edit my own stories to death. They eventually run and hide from me.   ~  Jeanne Voelker

Verbose is not a synonym for literary. ~ Constance Hale

No words are too good for the cutting-room floor, no idea so fine that it cannot be phrased more succinctly.  ~ Merilyn Simonds

Related image

Whatever in a work of art is not used, is doing harm.  ~ C.S. Lewis

You should edit before and after editing.  ~ Dwayne Fry

Writing is like shadow boxing. Editing is when the shadows fight back.  ~ Adam Copeland

I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers. ~ Vladimir Nabokov


Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love.
~ Stephanie Roberts

Editing is like pruning the rose bush you thought was so perfect and beautiful until it overgrew the garden.  ~ Larry Enright

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~ Mark Twain

When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split…. ~ Raymond Chandler

And finally, what could and indeed probably is my personal mantra on the subject…

There is no great writing, only great rewriting. ~ Justice Louis Brandeis


Previous posts on writing, publish, editing, anything else to do with the craft and a whole lot of quotes…


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Writing The End…

Back in March, I wrote a post called ‘Searching for an ending’  about the struggles I was having with my latest novel ‘A Spider in the Eye, a Hannibal Smyth Adventure. Since then I have spent a lot of time doing just that, searching for the right ending and not quite knowing where it was hiding.

In the course of that search, a couple things happened. The first of them is ‘A Scar Of Avarice’ a novella which is currently sat with my proofreaders because I discovered there was a whole section I needed to take out of ‘Spider’ but did not want to go to waste because while it did not need to be in the novel, and if anything it was part of the problem I had with the flow of the novel, I still really liked the little story that was being told in those chapters and built a novella out of them set in both Hannibal Smyths twisted little steam punk universe , and the Passing Place . So, in essence, I have ended up with two books, not one, out of this whole enterprise.

The second thing the happened is having finally sorted out the ending I managed in the course of doing so to completely change several aspects of the greater plot, because one twit led to another, as these things have a want to do, and a character who I thought was one thing turned out, as much to my surprise as any readers will have, to be something else entirely. While the final climactic events for the last several chapters changed the plot of the sequel which I had nicely mapped out. I have always intended this to be the first of three books set in Hannibal’s world. A world of steam and airships, that is built on the foundations of 19th-century sci-fi but brought forward to a modern setting in a world where Queen Victoria never died and the British Empire has never seen the sunset upon it. Yet here I am with my vague plottings for the second and third novels just got completely twisted in on themselves, and all the better for it I may add.

Nothing does more to change a story that the writing of it, but there is also no better feeling than finding that twist you never saw coming. You can plan your story all you wish, but the moment you start to write it, characters will do things you don’t expect. It isn’t till you write about a character that you really get under their skin so it should come as no surprise. Yet they never cease to surprise me, and in the closing chapters of this novel, they threw me more curveballs than I had any right to expect.

But all that’s on one side, last night I finally wrote THE END… and yes there is the whole redrafting, editing, re-editing, first proofing et all to go through yet. But beyond that moment when you type the first word of a novel all full of expectation and desire, nothing beats the moment when you type in those last two words and know you have created something. Even if you’re not 100% sure what it is…

This is not in anyway the cover the novel will have, but still, its sort of a cover reveal …


A Scar of Avarice’ will be out in the next couple of months, and hopefully, now I have a full draft ‘A Spider in the Eye‘ will follow before the year is out.



Posted in books, fiction, goodreads, indie novels, novels, Passing Place, self-publishing, steampunk, writes, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment