Writing At Speed 2: the book review

Book Review

20K a day: How To Launch More Books and Make More Money by Writing Faster, Better and Smarter by Jonathan Green

This is the second blog post about the writers’ advice book, “20 K a Day”. I didn’t name it overtly before, but this is the one. I think the title is fairly self explanatory. I’d love to do that! So I read it and I followed it. Here is my report.

TLDR: This would work. If you were exactly like the author of the book, for whom it works. And if you understand that your 20K a day is only calculated on days you spend dictating your draft text into a voice-recording device. It does not include time spent planning, researching and daydreaming or transcribing, editing and correcting. For people who cannot or don’t want to devote their lives to this process and methodology, your mileage will vary. I have tested all the productivity tips here and I can verify that they are good and based on sound reasoning and worthwhile principles of workflow and productivity. I don’t want to, and indeed cannot, bend my life and its circumstances to this method, so my gains have been much more modest than 20K a day. But I have still benefited.

Long Version:

The Charm

What struck me about this book, aside from how charmingly candid it is, is the frequency of reference to the author’s lovely life on a paradise island, relaxing on the shore while his children frolic about at a near distance. There’s a certain frantic anxiety underpinning the emphasis placed on how wholesomely lovely it is, exactly like those ads on YouTube which are always telling you what a fabulous laptop lifestyle you could have if only  you dumped everyone and everything you knew, liquidated all your assets, set up an online retail store and spent your time in jumbo jets hopping from one exotic AirBnB destination to the next, like a sort of penny-wise James Bond of the internet. Stick it to The Man! (This book is part of the Serve No Master series, after all, so I’m fairly sure the whole set is a big SuckIt message for the 9-5). So far so good.

The Reality

There was one mention, I seem to recall, of a child going missing at one point when her father became too absorbed in his work (I may have imagined that, but the implication kept cropping up). And there were a few references to an unfortunate afternoon in a restaurant where he was trying to dictate in the zone whilst staff went about their business of filling in the empty hours on minimum wage by dragging chairs around and playing pool. There may be a nanny in the background. There was certainly an accommodating spouse dealing with (I assume) at least some of the domestic chore load so that the author had a good few uninterrupted hours to hang out with a large armoury of wifi-enabled linked-up devices. Anyway, he did a good job of persuading that he was a hands-on family guy doing his best to make ends meet and create the ultimate lifestyle for his loved ones all paid for by writing and publishing a massive load of ‘content’ online and in print. He compared his output to that of a literary friend in terms that were really quite fair. 20k vs 500 words. Yep. And without loss of quality, although we’re not writing the great novels of the world here either. I can’t say anything about his other books, although this one was breathlessly chatty, but I can confirm that it is exhausting just keeping up with the go-getting.

The Check-My-Ride

Oh, and there was a lot of check-my-inches chat about being a hotshot can-do write-anything kind of guy who ghosted a ton of books, fiction and nonfiction, at the drop of a contract. I enjoyed this. It feels good to think you are being taught by a successful master. I think the implication was that if you are very intelligent, competent, have good working methods and no ego in the way (well, not in the way of your writing at least) then you can make a good living being the fixer in a world desperate for product. I’ve got no reason to think this isn’t true but I don’t think that many people would be able to follow in his footsteps for the simple reason that he is a rare combination of two things. Very smart (OCD definitely) and completely, ruthlessly focused. He would have sorted Brexit in four days, leaving one day for negotiations and two for everyone to unwind with a few rounds of golf and drinks on the patio after. That kind of mind. Most people don’t have anything like that kind of mind for good or ill.

The Down and Dirty

I can do the first one (smart). The second (ruthless microfocus) – let’s not kid ourselves. I’m struggling with my envy at the kind of focus he brings to bear. In fact, when I followed his working practices I did have that kind of focus, for a few days, and it did not make me a happy camper. I was an achievement monster running on adrenals and after 3 days I crashed fairly hard into the exhaustion wall. When I was younger this might not have happened but I’m in menopause and I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Had to take a week out, so, that was not productive at all in the end. If you’re young and in your prime this might not happen to you, I don’t know. I have not yet learned to manage that kind of fatigue whilst remaining a human being tolerable to other lifeforms or functional in the non writing part of my life where my kids rely on me to stay alive. To be fair to Jonathan he does talk about managing yourself so this does not happen. He thought of everything. But only trial and error will reveal the inner tortoise that is your true writing self.  This is the main reason I have not excelled, bought a bunch of dictation software and started filling your inbox with mailshots. You’re welcome.

If we take out human failings of physiology then these methods do work. The author correctly identifies every single issue holding back writing projects the world over and gets them down to ‘you’re failing to make decisions and plan actions in a timely way’. Factually I couldn’t fault him. All blocks and delays are never down to the fact you’ve suddenly forgotten how to put a sentence together and always down to the fact that you don’t know what you’re writing about and have to pause and try to marshal some sense and purpose. It can happen a multitude of ways and for all kinds of reasons but the delays are all down to not knowing your shit.

If you do enough research and planning, his theory goes, you can plan the hell out of a project to the point where you will never find yourself in the position of not knowing what comes next.

The Hard Truth

Usually I never do this. I only plan a short distance ahead, maybe one or at most two scenes. I have a vague outline of the whole thing. It exists in different levels of detail. When I trie the methods in this book the most difficult challenge was learning in what detail things had to be planned in order for them to be clear enough that I could compose the draft without pausing even for a second. The first few times I got it very wrong and realised that what I thought was detail wasn’t even close. To get to the no-pause limit you really need every beat of a scene nailed down in every specific.

Two things I didn’t like about that. It doesn’t leave room for creative inspiration. It means you have already written the thing, more or less, and second it requires that you imagine it in the same way you would if you were writing it, not planning it. It’s like a predraft. The first of these objections he does cover, noting that when innovation happens you do have to readjust your plans (no shit, this is why I don’t plan a long way ahead in detail. I know I’ll trash it.) The second (nearly done but for the actual words) he doesn’t seem to have an issue with, but I do. It’s like doing the whole job twice, and the second go feels like a massively boring experience which would leave my mind already rocketing off to the next job rather than focusing on creating. I’d never make it through.

One of my ‘delays’ as I switch between detailed plan and actual writing is the game I play with myself to keep it sufficiently interesting all the way through that I don’t burn out my fuel for the journey. I definitely don’t write with the aim of crashing some product through the sales gate. I have another agenda at work which is to entertain myself on the way. This explains a lot about my output, I reckon. (I can do 5k on a good day).

The Summary – Surprisingly Good for a book with that title

On the whole though, without giving away any of his tips in particular, I think all the advice in the book is sound and well-presented. It could get you to a high speed of production and it is very good in forcing you to face the worst procrastination-generation features we all share. You can see the same kinds of work-relaxation structures operating in other systems for getting things done, and some of these he does employ, like the Pomodoro method. Mostly it’s all about organising the right part of your mind to do the right job at the right time and never to get these tasks mixed up and out of order. Analysis, research, decisions, execution. That’s what efficiency is made of. Oh, and turning up for work ready to go instead of spending hours noodling around. On the negative side it has all the downs that you can already experience for free online as you watch people posting their word counts every day while you sit and stare into the computer screen wondering what you’ve done with your life. Ultimately it is a work advisory tool. Use with caution.

All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl…etc. You know how this goes. If not please refer to Mr Stephen King’s works.

On a final note I think that this book was worth the cover charge for the realisation that the only thing that holds me back on a daily basis is fear, put into many various forms of one kind and another. Now if I am delaying some decisions I’m aware it’s a luxury I’m playing with rather than something to dread because I might make the wrong choices and damn my future by writing a total pup of a project. (I mean, I might do that anyway, even if I wait for ages while I mull things over so we may as well rush to our doom). Quite a liberating experience all around as well as a humbling one. Recommended for its no-nonsense practicality and truthful, well considered solutions. I hope you make your fortunes and that Jonathan Green achieves his dreams. He’s worked hard enough for them.

Meanwhile I will settle for a cup of tea and the theme tune to Hawaii Five-O.

I have put in lots of headers because WordPress claims I am unreadably verbose. It still says that. How very dare you, WordPress.


Salvation’s Fire: Fresh Outta Hell

Salvation's Fire (After the War Book 2) by [Robson, Justina]

It’s not Hell. It’s more of a non-physical plane full of disintegrating ghosts and elemental beings, but I digress.

Get Outta Hell (Nearly) Free – Click HERE!

Now that Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky is launched, my book will soon follow. Huzzah! Adrian’s book is super fantastic fun and I recommend it without reservation. Over on his blog Adrian has done a casting call for Redemption’s Blade so I thought I’d follow suit and do a fantasy cast for Salvation’s Fire.

“The Tzarkomen necromancers sacrificed a thousand women to create a Bride for the Kinslayer so he would spare them in the war. But the Kinslayer is dead and now the creation intended to ensure his eternal rule lies abandoned by its makers in the last place in the world that anyone would look for it.

Which doesn’t prevent someone finding her by accident. 

Will the Bride return the gods to the world or will she bring the end of days? It all depends on the one who found her, Kula, a broken-hearted little girl with nothing left to lose.”

I’m keeping the casting of characters he created (Celestaine, Nedlam, Heno, Ralas, The Undefeated) and about whom I also wrote. You can click on the link text above to see those. But here’s the casting for characters I add to the mix in Salvation’s Fire. As before, if you have better ideas for who could fill the roles in the stories please don’t hesitate to re-cast it and let us know in the comments!

Marsai Martin Picture Marsai Martin as Kula. (Well, Marsai is too tall and grown-up now for this role, but I so loved her as Diane in Black-ish that I’ve picked her. If you know of the ‘new’ Marsai Martin, aged about 9,then it would be that actress). (photo: Martina Tolot)

Danai Gurira Picture Danai Gurira as Lysandra. (photo: D Dipasupil)

Aimee Garcia Aimee Garcia as Tricky. (photo: ?)

Theo James Picture Theo James as Bukham. (photo: Michael Barnard)

Amber Heard Picture Amber Heard as Caradwyn. (photo: Barry King)

Amanda Seyfried Picture Amanda Seyfried as Horse (a centaur). (photo: Jesse Grant)

John Hurt Picture John Hurt as Taedakh (Voice Over). (photo: Eamonn McCormack)

Ed Harris Picture Ed Harris as Wanderer. (photo: Lester Cohen)



Writing At Speed: Pathfinding vs Going By The Map

In this post I discuss the merits of Pathfinding and Mapping as methods for creating fiction at speed and ask can we write at super-high speed without losing quality?

At the moment I’m reading a book called something like “How to Write 20K words A Day”. I’m not quoting the exact title because I haven’t finished it yet and I won’t be reviewing it until I have given all of its methods a fair crack of the whip. I think this will take me at least until the end of the year to reach a verdict so time’s out on that one. However, I can explore one of its suggestions below in the next paragraph. This suggestion raises an age-old conflict of impulses we can find on any long creative project (like novels, in my case) : are we going to follow the instructions on our Map or find our Path as we go? (This is also known as Plotting and Pantsing ).

A Map Shows The Way


The book suggests that to create words at this vast speed (20K a day) you can’t be doing it without a solid map. Therefore, before you slap the start on the word counter you need to make a very detailed study of the territory and a route through it which is clear, with all the relevant waymarkers and checkpoints. In terms of a novel this would mean knowing pretty much everything about it before cranking out word number one. To avoid the dreaded ‘clung!’ sound of coming up dead against the white screen of doomy nothingness you require a plan which is articulated down to the beat.

A beat is one dramatic unit of a scene: a worm appears, a wizard feels a tingling in his fingers, a soldier witnesses a moment of tenderness between two rescued refugees, a woman notices a dog without a collar under a park bench. A scene is a larger dramatic unit in which some major moment of the story happens: the worm turns, the wizard rediscovers his powers, the jaded army sergeant realises his love for his mother is an undimmed light that allows him to take action and find a new life for himself outside the forces, the sad wife finds a lost dog on the street and a new outlet for her creative talents for making dog coats out of basketwork. Beats make scenes. Scenes make acts. Acts make a story.

You need your novel itemized down to the beat level to be able to reach maximum warp with the words. After that it’s just a question of generating each moment in your imagination and setting it down as vividly as you are able, limited only by your body and your energy. As with all marathons, some training will be required to get up to the 4 hours per day minimum you’re going to need to get that word count down on some kind of recording device.

In order to generate a beat-level map you will have already taken the creative journey of the story without writing a word of the actual text. Being at the Mapping level gives you a certain kind of power. You’ll be able to manipulate ideas and connections at much higher speed than you can when you’re meandering along, Pathfinding. However, because you’re not meandering through the fields at your leisure, you will not be able to notice interesting things happening along the way, so you won’t be able to knit these discoveries into your work as you go, unless they are relatively minor and don’t change the entire course of the journey. What you gain at high level, you lose at low level.

NB: level here just means the focal level of the story. – At high level we can see that Red Riding Hood goes to see Grandma, is met by a wolf in Grandma’s clothing and gets the better of him, the end. – At low level we can see that Red Riding Hood might find the wolf rather attractive which would lead us to think maybe she has a certain wolfish quality of her own which leads her to assert her dominance and liberate Grandma whilst keeping her ignorant of the fact that Red Riding Hood is running the local werewolf pack. Or any other variation by which you can go through the high level story arc without altering it.

The above high level storyline was created by Mapping. Bing, bang, bong. Beginning, middle, end. And I used an existing Map – Little Red Riding Hood. The details at a lower level were discovered when I started to focus down. The first notion – RRH’s wolfy quality – led to me mapping out the rest of the consequences of that very quickly. As I did this I noticed that I’m using both methods. It’s never one or the other. It’s always both. Hah, I contradict my own thesis. How juicy.

Anyhow, back to the book and the Path vs Map/Pants vs Plot situation. Creatively people really differ in how much they enjoy these two ways of creating fiction. I’ve always been a Pathfinder, by habit rather than choice, as when I started writing I had no clue about any of this, I just picked up my pen, or switched on my typewriter and got cracking with whatever came into my head next. I made no effort at all to structure anything. I didn’t even know that was a thing you could do, or should do. I was happy and oblivious and I could easily sit and write for hours at a time, no problem.

A Path Finds The Way


I created some really, really long, meandering novels, full of interesting bits of stuff which made almost no cohesive sense whatsoever. People who criticise my work now still notice this tendency – you can check out my reviews on amazon if you want to see for yourself. When I read these notes of frustration at my lack of clarity I feel sad. In my mind the stories aren’t confused. In my mind they’re quite obvious. I sometimes worry that they’re so obvious that people will think I’m patronising them when I connect up the dots of the story.

The reason this happens is because when I put the story down in my Pathfinder way the time it takes to complete the job means that by the time I arrive at the ending all the various threads are clear. To me. I’ve lived with my ideas a long time, I’ve woven the story out of them, I’ve made all the connections. I think they’re clear in the text. But, as my editors can testify, this is not usually the case for anyone coming to read the story. I have to do quite a lot of work during the editorial stages to fix this.

My experience of Pathfinding is that it provides many (possibly too many) rich connections and ideas as the novel progresses.  These are ideas I have because I am mulling and dwelling and exploring as I go. I’m up to the ears in the undergrowth. It’s a fascinating place. But it isn’t a place of great clarity. I’m down in the grass staring at the ants, whereas if I were operating the other way and creating by Mapmaking I’d be looking down on the landscape from my hawk-eye view.

What’s obvious about these two methods is that you cannot do both at once. We have only one focal point of our awareness and that means one thing at a time. However, with practice most authors of any calibre have learned to zoom between these viewpoints, pausing at whatever magnification is required to allow them to do necessary works. An interesting point to note here is that as they use energy differently, this switching is a very useful way to pace yourself.

Writing the actual text (Pathfinding) is high energy usage, draining; your inner movie theatre is at full power, creating everything and you are at the limit of your ability all the time in the effort to capture everything that’s happening in your story world. However, planning the routes and making the connections (Mapmaking) is energising. You can see the ideas, the motives and the story arcs without all the delays caused by rendering your vision into actual words. By doing first one, then the other, you can extend your ability to keep going by orders of magnitude.

What actually divides these methods is only this – at which point do you make the map? Before, or after? (You don’t have a map after Pathfinding. You have territory, which you then have to prowl about on in order to map it. You can do this en route, at your rest stops, but you’re still prowling the already-extant ground.)

I think it is possible that the best outcome would be Pathfinding, followed by ten years off to Forget, then a Mapping session and then a Remastering session. When I look back now at my most Pathfindy book, “Living Next Door To The God Of Love” I think – pow, what I could do with that sucker if I could only map and remaster it! Although it has a certain weird charm to its waywardness that I might destroy and which I really like. I digress. The point is that in the publishing industry you can forget the ten years off bit if you are at all concerned about Career Paths and Money. If you’re not a career track author you have the leisure to experiment and you definitely should.

Pathfinding probably generates better Art, is my guess, because great art lies in bringing together connection and comparison between subtle elements and ideas which are non-obvious. You’re more likely to encounter opportunities for that by taking it slow and meadering around in the woods. Pathfinding is much more time-heavy. It may be that genius rolls out of you like a red carpet unrolling at the feet of a legendary princess, but most Pathfinding of any serious territory can be a very long job and you will find yourself discarding a huge amount of material as you master the thing. Worst case you have to throw out the entire ‘novel’ and start it again because you’ve found a great story but it’s invisible in the mess you’ve made doing it. (There should be a T-shirt for this.)

Mapping definitely gets you better-structured fiction as long as you know how to structure your fiction in the first place. It would be the go-to method for commercial projects which have strong pre-loved paths (like Red Riding Hood) which have audiences who only like minor variations. Mapping is fast, as fast as your ideas can go. Then it’s followed by execution, but as you have already been through the whole thing in your mind you may feel really flat and bored at the idea of ploughing through it all again. In order to gain the energy required for the generation of the text you take the confidence given by the great map in your hands and focus on the joy of imagining everything in its most convincing detail – what a treat your readers are going to have!

The question for me is, will aPathfinder story be better, juicier, more aware than a Mapped story? This is the story I have told myself about it, but if I’m honest I’ve never written a book by Mapping first, not really. I’ve only ever done mini-maps en route. I am now about to write a novel for the first time by the Map The Hell Out Of This method. It is, suitably, Hell’s Ditch (Glorious Angels 2) and I will notify y’all of how it goes.

On a really good day I can do 10K, so far, before the quality starts to slide out of sight and I begin to fall out of my seat with exhaustion. But I can’t do that every day. I’m hoping the things I learn from this 20K book thing will help me turn out novels of great marvellousness with speed and flair. But if I am going to get to 20K a day I will have to change a lot of how I work.

Back to the 20K a Day thing then. I think we could do 20K a day if we were either uninhibited Pathfinders romping in ignorant glory or if we were Orienteers zooming along according to the instructions on our map. Neither of those people has a block in sight. They’re rolling. Rollers are happy. (But Rollers could not do it 7 days a week. It’s only in exceptional bursts though if you can burst through 5 days you’ve got a book).

Time will tell. I will be blogging here about my experiences with this experiment and other writing issues as I go. I hope you’ve found something useful in this to take away.


Patreon and Glorious 2

Hello there. Just a quick note to let you know that, in response to many requests YES – there is a Glorious Angels 2 in production as of now. Tentatively titled Glorious Angels 2: Hell’s Ditch it will resume the story of Tralane and her daughters and the whole city of Glimshard on its voyage of discovery. Join me as we discover what happens as the creators of the downed swamp-ship arrive on-world. Friend or foe? Hard to say I should think…

For anyone who can’t wait there is a tier reward on my Patreon where you can not only get early looks at the story but also your name on the dedication, as I am writing this story especially for all the patrons. I will self-pub it at the end of production, unless some genius in publishing snaps it up first. Either way, it shall exist.

In other news I am finishing up a fantasy novel for Rebellion, which will follow the fabulously un-followable Mr Adrian Tchaikovsky in an all new series to be launched later in 2018. Such fun!

A few short stories will be floating about next year too, I’ll let you know when they’re about.

Happy New Year and all the best to you for your future stories.

Will Machines Have Better Minds?

I wrote this in response to this article in Aeon magazine and thought I’d put it here as a record of my consideration of The Singularity and all that jazz.

Apparently we are about to run into an energy wall. There isn’t enough power to run the machine calculations which are still far from displaying anything like the capacity of a human being to be aware, to think and to act. So, obviously there is something very wrong with the method the machines are using. Really, it can’t be that hard, whatever it is. What, an SF writer not gung ho for the tech of the future? The AI-gasm? The Singularity in which we are all uploaded and never have to have a feeling or a dental appointment again?


I’m a machine and I run on about 2000 calories a day, many of which are spent extracting calories from my food and converting it into me/my energy/my fat behind. Many people have far less to play with and get along perfectly well. I can work for hours on a mini muffin.

As noted in the essay, something about all this desperate rush to create AI feels very much like terror of death and the body (thank you, religious inheritance) coupled with the notion that we can build a better human by removing all the human bits (the sinful bits) and leaving just a calculation engine (the pure bits) if only we could figure out how it worked. Well, like my favourite YouTuber says, you can take a human apart to see how it works but you won’t have a human at the end of it. Nor will you be able to put it back together again, or from scratch, and ‘activate’ it.

Also, I am puzzled as to what people think we need more intelligence for. We aren’t using the intelligence we already have: people have pointed out frequently that rational actions to increase our well-being, sustain the planet and move forward in our relationships are all chucked aside in favour of completely unfounded beliefs about wealth and the supernatural as a matter of course across all societies. We clearly have enough intelligence. We lack awareness, sensitivity, attunement, clarity and organisation. I guess it’s easier to try to outsource evolution rather than undergo it ourselves. This Elon Musk-ery all feels like chucking in the towel rather than a great leap anywhere, though.

Plus, aside from fantasies of conquering the galaxy (a terrible place, full of cold and not a tree in sight) I’ve yet to come across a decent set of aspirations: what will this better intelligence DO? What’s it for? Where’s it going? Where is there TO GO? By all means calculate your way to fun insights about the world but most of us would rather watch Celebrity Love Island. Because feelings, bodies, all that. People advancing these ideas are hopelessly overidentified with their minds, so much so they think it is a thing that can exist without their colon, feet and etc.

Leave the fantasy to religion and SF stories and face the world ASAP, I say. Running the other way with your fingers in your ears screaming about the singularity – that’s offensive in current circumstances. We need a machine’s relentless pursuit of its program to discover the truth and to act accordingly. We’re trying to reinvent cojones.

Where’s Your Head At?

Hi everybody!

Thanks for stopping by. Today I’m writing about something I’ve always found difficult to contend with – the fact that people have different views on reality. I don’t mean that I have found it difficult to believe they have different views. I can see they do. I mean that I’m puzzled that these views are no nearer to a considered conclusion than they were thousands of years ago.

When I was young I always supposed that although it was clearly true that many visions prevailed they would one day resolve into a common viewpoint, the right one, which was in complete agreement with whatever ‘reality’ actually was. It seemed like an obvious conclusion to human evolution. History was a thorough testbed of what the world was like when many different views prevailed: mostly a disaster, and with the exception of natural events, an entirely human horror show. Although there was a clear trend of development going on in terms of technology and the use of tools (cognitive or physical) to perform ever more impressive tasks, there was also an emergent process of awareness about thinking. Yogis had started it, philosophers had taken it up here and there, people of all sorts at all times and places had given it a good go although it had never formed up as a mass-movement. Nonetheless, this self awareness would change the ways in which we perceived the world and our place in it, collectively and individually, and it would inevitably change it for the better.

In my mind this ‘better’ future, contained an entire global population who were in broad agreement about what reality was and, in contrast, what was a human invention. The Human Invention bit was, as an invention, up for refinement and negotiation until a pleasing story was settled on which allowed everyone to get along. Because everyone knew it was made-up nobody would have trouble suggesting good adjustments or making such adjustments. They would see that

Reality = what there actually is, viz, a planet with some water and some rocks and living things on it.

Human Invention = everything else.

Reality in this definition is something humans have done a lot to engineer, with mixed results.

It’s also something with which we have only an indirect contact via our senses. Much philosophical hay has been made about the trouble this causes when it comes to trying to get a clear picture of what’s going on. But we don’t really have a lot of trouble with wondering whether our table exists or how we’re going to get lunch on it if it doesn’t. What we have trouble with is:

God – what category does this fall in
Wealth – who should have this and why
Life’s Meaning – what is it, if there is one

These questions are traditionally answered for us by the culture we are born into. The answers we are given determine who we are going to fight next, since we’ve made little progress on seeing all of human meaning as clay out of which to sculpt a better world. Instead we tend to see it as baked solid and are ready to defend its fragile vessel to the death, against any blow. This is true at all levels

the ego
the family
the group
the culture

and probably it is, to stretch the baking thing, cooked into us as social animals at a physiological as well as a mental level, although many individuals can attest to it being far from inescapable. In the past, before we became such technological whizzes, those identities were crucial to our survival. Of course they’re enshrined in us in so many ways. Our ancestors lived, struggled and died within their bounds and they were successful or we wouldn’t be here. They were so successful, in fact, that any hint of giving up their legacy can feel like a terrifying and wanton foolishness that threatens our own lives, even if there is no chance that it would do so. The trappings of a family and cultural history are passed on like treasure, sometimes they were the only treasure a person could ever have. But I don’t think that having it passed to you as knowledge means you have to live as if the conditions of the past prevail. By doing so we are ensuring the conditions of the past prevail. Good if you’re in the top five percent. Not so great elsewhere and, for a future of the planet, very un-great indeed.

If we don’t question this, personally, we will pass it on wholesale to the next generation, leaving them to repeat the same old warfare ad infinitum. If we do question it we immediately begin an Exit process from the culture (secular or religious), and possibly also the group, the family and even the ego. Given how identified and attached most people are to those things the idea of giving them up entirely as fictions is probably entirely out of the question even though it is the only rational conclusion. Does this mean my utopian future is impossible?

The shift in consciousness required would put us firmly into Sapiens 2.0. The difficulty is that these shifts require every individual to shift, until a critical mass is reached, and that mass is very large and deeply unmotivated because the benefits all look like losses: lose group, family, self. Gain??
Actually you gain the entire universe. It’s the inverse of identification. You get everything because instead of dividing yourself off you’re joining all that exists. But this is conceptual and, pragmatically speaking, abstract, something you can experience but it won’t translate into worldly wealth and what is seen as the trappings of success by the present standards. It looks nice on paper but it won’t feed you unless everyone else goes too, and even then there are no guarantees.

If it’s even possible I realise I’ll never live to see it. I’m surprised, disappointed. I really wanted to know how the story ends. I felt sure it was going to have a happy ending and that this was how it would happen. And I’ll never know.

To me this feels like a progression that’s natural, because it reflects how my own thinking has changed over the course of my life and I am one of those people who can’t stop trying to improve things, whatever that means…

What do you think? I’d love to know. Thanks for reading.

Ebooks of Silver Screen, Mappa Mundi Out Now

Dear Readers,

Once again I arrive late to the site! But I arrive. Just to let you know that ebook versions of my first two novels, Silver Screen and Mappa Mundi, are now available from all good online retailers.

These are re-issued by me via Jabberwocky Literary Agency with splendid fun covers by the US artist Carly Janine Mazur.

I hope that you are all surviving the roller coaster of 2016 and look forward to posting more often in case any of you are still around 🙂

best wishes to everyone. J.

Hello world!

Hello readers,

Thank you for taking the time to visit the site/blog, I hope to add more to it soon now that I have handed in “The Glorious Angels”, my first book after finishing the Quantum Gravity series and “The Covenant of Primus”.

I’m pleased to announce that all my backlist will be available on Audible in the UK, for those who enjoy hearing books read aloud, starting this March with “Silver Screen”.

I have also signed up to write a short story for a multi-author collection set in the fabulous fantasy world of “Shadows of the Apt” by Adrian Tchaikovsky.  This is still in the concept stages but it’s a good excuse to go back and read the novels again and to start making plans. Mwa-ha-ha….


Ignoble Facts?

The title of this post refers to the ongoing dispute situation between Barnes and Noble, the US bookstore retail giant, and Simon & Schuster, publishers.  B&N lately took a decision to react to the situation by refusing to stock S&S titles emerging in March/April, as far as I understand, and this seems to be borne out by authors who write for S&S reporting that their books which would normally have been ordered by B&N stores in this period not appearing in any store listings or on the shelves.

As with the previous occasional actions in which retail sellers have refused to sell certain products due to dispute with publishers (the temporary disabling of BUY buttons on Macmillan books by amazon, for example), what is most dismaying about these actions is that although superficially they seem to be corporate level tit-for-tats intended to show who’s got what powers in the wrangle for more profits, the people who really pay a long term price are the actual people who make the products – authors, and in turn their editors whose fates are tied to the rise and fall of the writers in their stable.

Because an author’s market power, shelf life and general saleability is generally most reckoned upon their sales figures for the previous recent years, unless they are exceptional by virtue of mass popularity or extreme artistic value – that is, the majority of us – any interruption to the appearance of stock in retail outlets has a dramatic and permanent knock-on effect in dented sales figures. This might be mitigated if indie sellers and other stores pick up the slack, but that will only work for when fans are prepared to find a book regardless of retail outlet.  It does effectively stall a huge amount of casual passing trade, particularly since the book retailers streetside are so few in number.  So thanks to this dispute there are many authors now who are going to get a reputation fall which will impact all their future deals with publishers and their current market visibility is going to be drastically reduced.  Nobody will care about the reason or that it had nothing to do with them, that never matters.

What I’m about to say now is purely from my own perspective as a midlist writer and someone who has been in the business for the last fifteen years.  There is a certain worldly wisdom about business which suggests that anyone who disputes the capitalist paradigm of expansion and profit – and how the requirements of that determine the behaviour of the people executing the grand strategy – is a fool who will be ground up and spat out by the machine.  To expect otherwise is to expect some other facet of human desire, such as the need to develop reliable units of allegiances, to trump a much more powerful human motivator – raw greed.  The most likely argument to be wheeled out in ‘scientific’ support of this is the rule of survival of the fittest.  It’s not people – it’s evolution what doin’ it (cue the hasty passing of responsibility to Nature so that nobody has to face any consequences of their own choices).  And we can point to a lot of supportive evidence for that; I would guess the first example would be the rise and rise of amazon.com.

Originally I was about to argue that the pervasive, panicky sense of ‘every one for themselves!’ which seems to have bitten very hard lately – meaning that people tend to ally with whatever looks like the greater power in the moment and authors are never, historically, the greater power in this scenario – is actually exactly the opposite reaction to the one which would do the most good – ‘all for one and one for all!’.  However, I wonder if what we are actually looking at is the dividing up of the spoils of a war that is already over, even though a lot of the participants haven’t realised it yet.  Actually I think most of them haven’t realised they’ve even been in one.

What amazon are good at, much more than anyone else, is spotting the advantages offered by the latest technological opportunities and exploiting them immediately, massively and to the hilt.  They are simply faster adaptors.  The result of their rapacious speed to the market has cumulatively, over time, given them colossal buying power in every retail sector they have touched upon.  To stick to books for the time being: to begin with amazon was an interesting online alternative to ordinary bookstores, which had, in the late ’90s, already experienced a tough change in the general retail trend from many indies to a few large national or multinational chains dominating the outlets.

Whatever bookish ideologies people had – authors, publishers or retail sellers – they had to express these passions within the paradigm offered by the retail sellers and that meant it was going to be ultimately driven by profit because at these kinds of operation scales the demands of the shareholders -many, diverse and completely uncaring about the nature of the business concerned – are paramount.  So there was already a sense of division, between the product and its fans and producers, and the outlet stores.  The story of why this situation occurred relentlessly – bigger outlet stores offer cheaper prices and wider selections, slowly leaching customer interest and loyalty away from committed idealist indie markets. Indie suppliers then take on increasingly specialist roles and exist on the margins.  They can just about survive but in terms of the war for the sales, they’re already out of it.

Internally at the publishing houses the retail outlet battle meant they were going to start losing in a way they hadn’t lost before – because fewer and more powerful buyers meant that they came under massive pressure to drive down their own sales prices, and in order to do that, to drive down their production costs in order to maintain cash flow.  This was inevitable and that they would have to capitulate, first to large book retailers, then to the supermarkets, was also inevitable for exactly the reason at the top of the page – publishers can only sell something on the shelf, they can’t sell it directly from a warehouse in the middle of nowhere.  The only alternative to being screwed to the wall by giant buyers with huge potential markets (albeit limited ones) would have been to become a retail operation in their own right, but that would have required massive capital investment in infrastructure, outlets and etc – I doubt any of them had the cash for it, particularly when you consider they would have been competing with massively successful and rich companies already well established and dominating a limited market area.  So that wasn’t going to happen either.  At this point the writing was already on the wall for traditional publishers or at least their old methods of operation.  The power moves to where the money flows from…and it was flowing from retail giants.

However, amazon’s appearance forced even those giants to take a check – amazon made it simple to buy whatever you wanted from home without any effort at all, frequently at LESS than the on street price.  They could do that.  They didn’t have to run any shops.  All they needed was a good internet site and some warehouses.  They didn’t even bother having a dedicated distribution network.  They used the Post Office.

Yeah I know, you’re wondering what this is all going to cook down to – bear with.  I’m getting there.

The results are well known.  Borders – gone.  More indie stores – gone.  A few onstreet retailers harried and pressed into trying to make more attractive deals – 3 for 1, BOGOF (buy one get one free), massive discounting.  The results of that and of supermarket mass-buying?  Squeeze the publishers for smaller unit prices.  But there is a limit to how low you can go and still make any money at all.  One thing that surprises me here is that publishers did not put UP the price on particularly desirable titles, as the only thing they actually hold of any value at all in this system is a desirable title – they have the bottleneck on that.  Not the cover charge, but the wholesale charge.  Their difficulty is the obtaining of desirable titles.  Authors make these, but the desirability cannot be determined until the product is already widely distributed and available, and nobody knows, ever, why some titles take off and others don’t.  You can only be sure that if it’s not available, it won’t sell, and if nobody knows it’s there, it won’t sell either.

There is another aspect to this which publishers have historically traded on which is changing, and that is reputation.  In this age of anyone being able to publish anything via Smashwords and other related sites, what a paper-based publisher of long standing has is kudos.  They have already vetted out the rubbish, so you don’t have to read it, and present only those titles that have been pre-selected for quality.  An author’s own reputation is affected by the publishers they have had – some holding more respect than others.

The amazon-hate that can often be seen around, because of the effect their seizure of the market has had – putting a lot of people out of industries they loved and changing those industries – reminds me of the hate that Margaret Thatcher got for standing on the unions and snapping their hold on the mining industry.  From her perspective she was saving the national economy.  From the perspective of the miners she was ruthlessly taking apart their source of income, their social network and all the glue that held it together.  From amazon’s perspective they’re simply expanding and doing good business.  From the other end they’re systematically taking apart the way that business historically operated (unspoken assumption here: which we all loved and revered and were nurtured by…).  And then, in the third corner, there’s self-publishing via ebooks and print on demand.

Self publishing seems to offer something the miners could never have had – the chance to own and operate your own mine.  Customers even come right to the gate and buy the coal, so you don’t have to lug it about.  All you need is a way to advertise your presence and guarantee the quality of your product…a lot of midlisters who have reasonable audiences already have that particularly those who are also successful bloggers and social networkers (ahem, so not me really but nvm that…) and who have been doing a lot of their own publicity for years thanks to the nonexistent budgets at publishers for all the reasons listed above.

Is there really so much added value in going through a traditional publisher for that kind of writer, when it means you can be subject to the No Sales For You situation at the drop of a contract because you’re the unlucky tank driver in someone else’s battle?  I guess there’s safety in numbers – publishing contracts often pay out over the odds even for midlist books and don’t earn out the advances.  Plus there are other people involved to take some of the responsibility for sales off your shoulders.  You also get editorial for free, instead of having to contract an editor to do that for you.  But it’s close, and if you are driven and have the time and energy there’s never been a better time to feel your own power on that score.  If you aren’t – and most of us still aren’t – then it seems like the vagaries of fate must just be dealt with as they come from one’s position at the bottom of the heap: stoically.

However, lately amazon have been taking on writers themselves in a test of whether they too can cut out traditional publishers from the cash loop… I hope publishers are racing to make the most of their ‘we can build you’ attitude that seems to have been lost in the last 10 years of panic reactions to the assaults of the retail giants, because if amazon successfully pries away enough of your production stream…you don’t need a wizard to tell you what’s going to happen.

So – originally pissed off mightily by the effects of the B&N decision,  I wanted to write a lamentoblog crying about how nobody loves each other enough to make a socialist world work.  I was going to stand up for the ‘all for one’ vision and say that people should take responsibility and not try to claim that Nature Dunnit when the consequences of their choices mean things they like end up failing and falling over – yeah I’m looking at all you people who bleat about how terrible the situation is whilst still having everything shipped to you at the cheapest possible rate regardless.  (I’m still strongly behind that last point, nobody was born capitalist or forced to buy anything at one store rather than another).  But instead I’ve ended up thinking that, given how things are, it could be worse for midlist writers even though it looks bad.

At least there is the opportunity to take things much more into your own hands than ever before.  At least this option should free you enough from the terror of being dropped off the shelf entirely so that you can voice a few more protests about being considered last by an industry that only exists at all because you make their stuff.

To those personal friends of mine who are being smacked hard with the S&S dispute that must seem like cold comfort, and it is.  But it’s better than no comfort at all.

S’Been a Long Time

Since I posted here.  I was thinking, about the novel I’m writing, which led one thing after another on a very long journey – pretty much around the entire Hundred Acre Wood.

I also paused to write three short stories in the interim.

You can find them respectively:

On Teresa Derwin’s fanzine Andromeda’s Offspring : I wrote a Lila Black story for her which started turning into a novella so it may appear in a longer and better worked out version sometime later.  “Blood and Ink” – so many more possibilities than I had time to explore…

In the new anthology from Comma Press – so new it isn’t listed or out yet but I will notify when it is.  This is a follow up anthology to “When It Changed” in which I also had a story written with and by and for actual scientists!

The third one, “Pwnage”, will appear next year in the Technology Review SF edition, again, I’ll flag after publication.

They were all fun but so diverting.  That’s what happens when the grass looks springy on the other side of the fence and you’re just a gal who cain’t say no…

And meanwhile the next two months will be filled with an short but exciting project that thrills me through my childish soul.  I can’t tell any details, but let’s just say it involves some robots in disguise…

I have always loved those.