The first million is the hardest

They say the first million is the hardest. They’re talking about money, of course, but I imagine it’s the same with wordcount. In which case, I’m about a quarter of the way to my first million.

Earlier this week, I finished the first draft of The Wreck of the Argyll, my children’s novel set in Dundee during the First World War. It’s a short book – just under 32,000 words – but it was almost a surprise when I realised that it was actually my fifth completed manuscript. That’s not bad for a touch over two years – I started The Chimney Rabbit in March 2012 – especially when you consider I’ve stalled badly a few times. (Half-way through The Chimney Rabbit, I got stuck, and didn’t write for several months.)

I just totted up the wordcount of my five novels, and it comes to a smidgeon over 251,000 words. Just over a quarter of a million. I’m not counting any of my earlier work, my short stories, or any of the started, stalled, and abandoned novels that clutter up my archive – only novels that have been completed. Or completed to first draft, anyway.

Of course, the problem is still that I don’t know if any of these quarter million words are any good. Success on the path to publication has been exactly zero – not even an encouraging nibble. But still. Never mind the quality, feel the width. Even if it’s all rubbish, it’s taken a certain amount of application to write a quarter of a million words over five books, so at least I can be proud of the effort, if not the results. I don’t know if being proud of the effort is enough motivation to keep me writing over the next few years, but you never know.

I’ll never have a million pounds, but at this rate I might reach a million words by sometime in 2020.

Juggling projects

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post, but that’s because I’ve been pretty busy with my other writing projects recently. I completed my conversion of Tales of the Ancient Rabbits into The Panopticon Papers and sent it off to a handful of literary agents and a couple of competitions. So far it’s meeting the same fate as my other submissions, but c’est la vie.

I started some preparatory planning for the second draft of The Dragon on the Tower, but I’ve been deliberately holding off doing any writing until a reasonable amount of time has passed and I can look at it with fresh eyes. I’ve got some reservations about this book, and my partner, who is my primary beta-reader, made some suggestions about how to improve it that are going to take a fair bit of rework. I’d also made a bit of a mistake in my historical chronology, so I read another book about Dark Age Scotland (Tim Clarkson’s The Makers of Scotland) to get the details of the period straight in my head.

To fill in the time, I tried my hand at a short story – but it didn’t go particularly well. I’d intended it to be very short, perhaps in the 1500 – 2000 word range, but when I reached 2000 words while hardly scratching the surface of the story I wanted to tell, I decided that perhaps I needed to take a step back and do some proper planning on this one before it turned into a novella. Short stories used to be so easy! I used to be able to sit down at the keyboard and just bash out a story. Writing all these novels has messed up my short story writing abilities.

Having sent The Panopticon Papers to a couple of competitions, I was having a search for more children’s fiction competitions when I came across the Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize Competition – where the brief is to write a children’s book about Dundee during the First World War. “Oh well,” I thought. “My book is about Florence in an alternate 1800s, not Dundee in the First World War.” But then I started idly speculating about what I’d write about if I had the time. And then I thought a bit more. And started taking some notes. And before I knew what I was doing, I’d written a plan for a children’s book set in Dundee during the First World War.

“Ah, but I don’t have enough time to write it,” I said to myself. The deadline is at the end of August. That’s not much time to get a whole book written and through at least one subsequent draft. But the idea and the plan wouldn’t let go of me, so I started writing. And here I am, two-thirds of the way through the story, with over a month left before the closing date. I’m still going to be cutting it close, but if I can keep up my momentum, I might be in with a chance. If I don’t make the deadline, so be it. It’ll be another few tens of thousands of words under my belt, my fifth completed novel, and I can stick it in a drawer until I’ve got a free slot for submitting to literary agents – I only submit to a handful of agents at a time, and I don’t plan on having two different novels making the rounds at the same time, so that might be some time off.

Keeping all these projects going is a bit of a struggle, and unfortunately it’s this blog that’s suffered. I’ve read some cracking stuff lately that I wish I could find time to review – Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, and the free digital comic Moose Kid Comics, which is as mad as a sack of badgers.

Let’s not talk about the short story I wrote a while back that I might try to polish to submit to yet another competition…

A change of setting

The first three books I wrote were set in the same world – a pseudo-Victorian era Europe, where humans lived and worked alongside anthropomorphic rabbits, dogs, cats, bears, mice, and other animals. The first book, The Chimney Rabbit, was set in The Great City, which was basically London with the serial numbers filed off. The second book was a direct sequel, set once again in pseudo-London, incorporating the development of my version of the London Underground. Both books had plots that were tied inextricably to the layered society I’d created, where humans were in charge, larger animals like wolves and bears owned the businesses, cats and dogs ran the streets, and rabbits were stuffed up chimneys and treated like dirt. The second book, The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice, introduced the dirty sooty mice from the Underground, who were considered beneath even chimney rabbits.

The third book, Tales of the Ancient Rabbits, was slightly different. It was a prequel set in The City of Flowers (Florence) which was being attacked by the forces of Lagoon City (Venice). Our heroes made their way to Tower Port (Pisa) then The City of Light (Paris) before finally arriving in London, or The Great City as it was known in my world. The hero was a rabbit, and there were dogs and cats and badgers and wolves, but the species of the characters wasn’t important to the story.

So when The Chimney Rabbit came to the end of its lifecycle of submissions to agents, and I shelved it indefinitely, I took another look at Tales of the Ancient Rabbits. The whole idea was that it would serve either as a prequel or as a standalone adventure – with The Chimney Rabbit now out of the picture, Tales just had to serve as  a story in its own right. In that case, did it have to be set in The City of Flowers – why not just set it in Florence? Did Roberto have to be a rabbit, or could he just be a boy?

Anthropomorphic animal stories are out of fashion these days. After Tales failed to find much favour with agents or competition judges, I wondered what would happen if I removed the anthropomorphic element.

So began the de-furrification of Tales of the Ancient Rabbits. I gave everyone surnames rather than “Signor Rabbit”, changed all the reference to “paws” to “hands”, and named all of the locations back to what they’d all secretly been anyway. But there was one more thing – I needed a new title, one that didn’t mention rabbits. Fortunately I’d included a MacGuffin.

Alfred Hitchcock said a MacGuffin was:

…the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.

In the book I have a secret organisation called The Panopticon, and they’re trying to keep some papers from falling into enemy hands. And so Tales of the Ancient Rabbits became The Panopticon Papers.

I’m going to run through another edit, then send The Panopticon Papers out to a few agents to see if I get any nibbles. To be honest, I don’t expect anyone to bite – Tales already had its chance, but it will be interesting to see if Panopticon fares any better.

I’ve already polished the first 5000 words for a competition entry. The only problem is, it’s the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing, which is sponsored by luxury pen company Montegrappa. Who are based in Venice. Who are now the villains in my book.

Somehow I don’t think that’ll go down well with the judges, who won’t realise that I actually really like Venice (we went there on holiday a few years back, and it was amazing) and that Venice are only the aggressors by sheer chance!


I might have got away it if I’d left it as Lagoon City.

Review: Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall

Shadow of the Wolf

Robin Hood, in his many forms, has been an influence for virtually my whole life. The first film my parents ever took me to see at the cinema was Disney’s 1973 version, with anthropomorphic foxes, bears and wolves taking the parts of Robin, Marian, the Merry Men and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. The 1984 TV series Robin of Sherwood was essential viewing in our house, and a ripe topic of playground conversation. (One of my school friends insisted the lyrics to the Clannad title song ran “Robin, be-diddly-bom” rather than the more commonly-accepted “Robin, the hooded man”.)

I can’t claim to have seen all the film or TV adaptations – there are hundreds! – but I’ve certainly seen my fair share. I still maintain that the 1991 Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the movie with the greatest trailer-to-feature quality drop off ever. Seriously – the trailer is incredible. A utterly stunning piece of film-making. Edge of the seat stuff. While the movie itself… not even Morgan Freeman or Alan Rickman can save it. More recently, I gave up on the 2006 BBC series after it jumped the shark at the end of the second season.


A few years ago, we took a trip to Sherwood Forest. It’s a kid-friendly tourist trap, all plastic bow-and-arrow sets and overpriced refreshments, but still… you come upon the thousand-year-old Major Oak, where legend says Robin Hood once hid, and the history and myth shine through. It’s still a magical place, despite the commercialisation.

Major Oak

The Major Oak

I liked the Hollywood movie posters in the visitor centre restaurant, too. For me, Robin Hood has always been a star of the screen. I’m not sure I’ve read many books on the legend – not since my Ladybird book when I was a very small boy, anyway. I mean, what is there to say? What could you possibly put in a novel about Robin Hood that hasn’t been said a hundred times before?

Which brings me to Shadow of the Wolf, by Tim Hall.

I was lucky enough to get an advance proof when David Fickling Books, the publisher, was giving away copies on Twitter. When you’re given an opportunity to read a book before everyone else, you don’t just stick it on your shelf to wait its turn, so I started reading as soon as it arrived in the post.

And I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t that it was bad. Tim Hall has some stylistic quirks that I’m not keen on (for example, every once in a while he’ll drop into present tense for a few paragraphs, and while I can see he’s doing it for effect, I really don’t like it) but the story just wasn’t gripping me. The names were familiar – Robin Loxley and Marian – but the book begins with Robin and Marian as little children. The story is well enough told, but it’s Robin Hood – we’ve seen it all before. We’ve got hints of the supernatural, but that was popularised in the mythos by Robin of Sherwood back in the 1980s, which inextricably tied the myths of Herne the Hunter and Robin Hood. There’s a boot-camp section, where young Robin joins up with a band of trainee knights, forming friendships and earning rivalries. It’s nothing new.

I was enjoying the book. But for the first two hundred pages, my internal rating was hovering around the 3/5 mark. B-minus. Shows promise.

And then.

Just before the half-way point of the book, two hundred or so pages in, it all changes. Robin fails, and falls, and is defeated utterly. He’s destroyed. Ruined. Crippled.

And that just makes him more dangerous.

Robin of Sherwood hinted at a supernatural element to the legend. Shadow of the Wolf takes this premise and kicks it into orbit. Robin’s journey deeper and deeper into the forest, where gods walk as men, as women, and as beasts, tears apart his humanity, and leaves him more of an elemental than a man. A combination of Zatoichi and Swamp Thing.

It’s only Marian that connects him to the world of humanity, and only Marian that can hold him back from becoming a savage demon of the forest. Not that Marian is a shrinking violet, either – Tim Hall’s vision of Marian isn’t someone you’d ever want to cross. Not if you wanted to live.

Shadow of the Wolf resembles a superhero origin story more than it resembles Errol Flynn clad in Lincoln green, slapping his thigh and laughing heartily. It’s dark, and it’s violent, and it displays enormous humanity by throwing Robin’s nature into sharp relief against the darks shadows of inhumanity that surge within him.

Towards the end, we’re guided back towards more familiar territory, although the band of forest outlaws that include Will Scarlett and Much could never be called “merry men”, but the path we’ve taken to get to that point, the path through the darkest part of the forest, makes it feel like we’ve earned it.

Shadow of the Wolf is the first in a trilogy. If the next two books can keep up the momentum that begins after the first 200 pages, it has the potential to be something very special indeed.

A first draft, at last

Pictish symbols - originals from

A couple of days ago, I completed the first draft of my latest book, The Dragon on the Tower. It’s been a long process – I started the book on the 19th of October last year, so it’s taken me about five and a half months, which is quite a long time for a short 32,500-word book – and a lot has happened in those five months.

For a start, I finished the book in a different home to the one in which I started it. Moving after nearly 20 years in the same place, with all its accumulation of mountains of stuff, has been extremely hard work, work that hasn’t finished yet, and has left little time for writing. The reason we were able to put down a deposit on this flat was that my Dad left me some money – he passed away at the end of October, and that wasn’t easy to deal with either. I was only a few thousand words into the book when I got the phone call from my Mum that both came as a complete surprise and at the same time I’d been expecting for years, and I don’t think I managed to sit myself down at my laptop and open the manuscript for nearly a month after that.

But I did eventually carry on, even incorporating a fairy story about a magic tree that my Dad wrote about 40 years ago, and now the first draft is complete. It’s a story of ancient Scotland, set on the Tarbat Ness peninsula at the end of the eighth century AD. I based a lot of the historical detail on the archaeological dig carried out by Martin Carver and documented in his (excellent and readable) book Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts.

Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts

We used to live at Tarbat Ness, where my dad was a lightkeeper at Tarbat Ness Lighthouse. Writing the book brought back a lot of memories of the place, and made me want to go back and visit it sometime.

I don’t remember any dragons being there, but maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

Up to my neck in books

We’ve just moved into a new flat, after nearly twenty years in our previous home. It turns out that you can acquire an awful lot of books in twenty years, so for the past month I’ve been trying to thin out the herd – I’ve taken loads of books into the office to let people pick through them, and the unwanted ones are going to charity shops.

It’s hard, though. I found a box of my scifi books from my teens – Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, and oh so many Robert Silverbergs – and it was a difficult decision to get rid of most of them. Realistically, though, I’d never read them ever again, so they’d just be taking up space.

It was great to find my favourite John Brunner books, though – Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, The Shockwave Rider, The Traveller in Black – I’m definitely hanging onto those. Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness – there’s no way I’m getting rid of that. I’ve found three or four copies of Frank Herbert’s Dune so I’m keeping one and getting rid of the others – don’t think I’ll bother holding onto the sequels, though. I won’t get rid of Herbert’s The Dosadi Experiment, either.

So while I’m getting rid of a huge number of books, I’m looking at it this way – I’m boiling down my collection to a thick glossy reduction of rich literary goodness.

There are some authors who don’t go anywhere near the charity shop pile. Iain Banks. Haruki Murakami. John Crowley. Alasdair Gray. (Although actually I did give away one book of Gray’s short stories to a friend – only because I had all the stories in a collected volume. And we do have some duplicates of Iain Banks books where my girlfriend had her own copies – unless they’ve been signed, we’re giving those away too.)

But lately I’ve spend more time unpacking and sorting and carrying books than reading. I managed to finish David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, which I thoroughly enjoyed – if you like steampunk, airships, vampires or just good old-fashioned adventure, I highly recommend it. If I had time I’d write a review, but time is something in very short supply at the moment. Since then I’ve been reading Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston – the novel by the man who wrote and produced the recent stunning TV show True Detective.

As for writing, though, I’ve had very little opportunity. I don’t have anywhere set up in the new flat where I can sit and work on my laptop for any length of time, so the last bit of work I did on The Dragon on the Tower was a few hundred words on March 6th, World Book Day. I’ve still got most of the last act to write before I have a first draft complete, but I hope to get onto it again in the next month or so.

In the meantime, I’ve got more books to unpack and sort through.

Everything is amazing

The comedian Louis CK has a routine about how everything is amazing, and no-one is happy. It’s a rant about how quickly we become used to the technological marvels that permeate our society, and how quickly we take them for granted. When the high-speed internet on our long-distance flight goes wrong, our sense of entitlement to something that we didn’t even know existed 10 minutes before kicks in.

Everything is amazing, and no-one’s happy.

Since hearing that routine, I’ve tried to keep an eye out for these amazing moments that we take for granted. When we flew to Australia to watch the Ashes in December 2010, and it took a gruelling 24 hours, I thought about the sea voyages that the cricket teams of the 1900s took between Australia and England – voyages that took well over a month. When I was struggling with the 3G signal on my phone in Melbourne, I thought about how I was using a pocket-sized computer to access a world-wide information network that was reaching out to the other side of the planet to programme in a recording on my satellite TV box of the highlights of the match that I’d just watched in Melbourne. If it took a couple of attempts, so be it!

Today’s “everything’s amazing” moment came when I was on the bus coming back from doing a bit of shopping in the centre of Leicester. The bus got stuck in traffic just outside the Highcross shopping centre for about 20 minutes, so I pulled out my phone, fired up the Kindle app, downloaded the book I’m currently reading (The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes) and carried on reading from where I’d left off the previous evening – my Kindle had uploaded my latest page read to Amazon’s servers, so I didn’t even have to flick through to find my place: the book automatically opened right where I’d left it.

It was a good reminder for me of the benefits of ebooks at a time when I’m having to give away dozens upon dozens of my old paper books. It’s been a bit of a wrench at times, made slightly more bearable when people in the office have taken them off my hands – it feels less like I’m abandoning my books if I’ve found them a new home.

But as amazing as ebooks are, my book giveaway has highlighted one way in which they’re completely lacking – when I’ve finished with a paper book, when I need to make some space, I can give it to someone else, and that person can enjoy it, and perhaps pass it on to someone else. You can’t do that with an ebook. You can’t say “this ebook is amazing, here, read it” to a friend.

That’s right. Ebooks are amazing, and I’m still not happy. Sorry, Louis.


The last couple of weeks have been very busy. After twenty years of living in rented accommodation, we’ve put down a deposit on a new flat and are currently going through all the admin and paperwork required to apply for a mortgage. Most people of my generation went through this decades ago, but for a variety of reasons we never took the plunge into buying our own place until now – reasons mostly revolving around a series of jobs I had that teetered on the edge of redundancy for years. Thinking that I might have to move away if I got another job, I’d prioritised mobility over security.

Now, though, I’ve got a stable job in a company that’s doing fine, and I’m not getting any younger. We were going to have to move at some point anyway, as our current rented flat is in need of a serious amount of renovation and modernisation that the landlord doesn’t seem very interested in, so when the opportunity arose to look at buying a new-build flat, we took it.

If we’d bought a flat when I first started work, we could have had the mortgage almost paid off by now…

But now the real work begins. The new flat is a similar size to our current one, but lacks any storage space. In addition, we want to make use of the second bedroom as a study/library, rather than a store-room filled with stacks of boxes of books like we have now. This means we have to have a clear-out.

Step one is thinning out the herd of DVDs. I don’t have the emotional attachment to films that I do to books, so I thought this would be the easier job. So far I’ve got rid of a couple of hundred DVDs – some to online “send us your stuff and we’ll give you £0.14 a disc” companies, and some to colleagues in the office. I used to have a huge anime collection – whole seasons of Ghost in the Shell, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neon Genesis Evangelion and so on – and I decided I’d feel better about giving them up if they went to a good home.

Even trying to be completely ruthless, there are some DVDs that I just can’t bring myself to part with. Cowboy Bebop. Haruhi Suzumiya. Air. I consider Haibane Renmei to be one of the finest pieces of art I’ve ever seen. I could no more part with my Studio Ghibli films than lop off a finger: give up Totoro? No chance!

It’s all a balancing act. It’s all about prioritisation. I need to get rid of as much as possible to save space, but I don’t want to give up films and series that mean a lot to me.

Books are going to be more difficult, and there are a lot more of them to sort through.

In the spare room are boxes of books that my parents packaged up and sent down to me when they moved house and didn’t have space for them any more. I’ve got a sci-fi collection that dates back to the early 80s, when I first started buying adult fiction: Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg, Herbert. Going through those is going to be hard. Logically, if they’ve been hidden in boxes for the best part of 20 years, I’m not going to miss them if I get rid of them – but emotionally, it doesn’t work like that.

My Iain Banks collection is mostly in hardback, several of which are signed – I can’t get rid of those. Will I ever read my Haruki Murakami books again? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it’s a hard thing to consider leaving them in a carrier bag in a charity shop. I’ve got the whole series of David Feintuch’s Seafort saga – Midshipman’s Hope and its sequels – and they are, objectively, a bit rubbish, but they’ve been my comfort re-read for 15 years, so how do I part with them? (Although I’ve just noticed that they’ve finally been released on Kindle – perhaps that’s an option. Kindle books don’t take up any shelf space…)

Prioritising my book collection is going to be very difficult.

A year of failures

On 13th January, 2013, I sent a sample of my first completed novel, The Chimney Rabbit, to an agent for the first time. Today, just over a year later, my third novel, Tales of the Ancient Rabbits, failed to make the longlist for the Chicken House competition.

I’ve sent my work out 34 times – almost all to agents, apart from one publisher and one competition – and to date I’ve been rejected 28 times and received no response 6 times. If you add those up, you’ll see that over the course of a year I’ve had a 100% failure rate.

I almost had… well, not a foot in the door, or even a toe, but maybe a toenail in the door when one of the agents to whom I sent a sample of The Chimney Rabbit actually asked to see the full manuscript. That’s right – I’ve had only one request for a full manuscript. She ended up rejecting me, but did provide some useful feedback. What’s perhaps most disappointing was when I sent Tales of the Ancient Rabbits to this agent, having listened to the reasons that she gave for not taking on my first book (length and pacing), she didn’t even want to see the full manuscript, but rejected me on the basis of the first two chapters. So that seems to suggest that after a year of hammering out draft after draft and revision after revision and book after book and submission after submission, instead of improving (as you might expect) I’ve actually got worse.

It’s very dispiriting, to say the least.

It’s all taking the shine off actually writing. I think the problem is that I’ve used the prospect of getting published as an incentive for sitting down, hammering out the words even when I didn’t feel like it, and doing the less fun parts like editing and revising. If I hadn’t made the decision that I wanted to get my books published, I might never have completed The Chimney Rabbit, and it would have joined all my other uncompleted novels from several decades of just mucking about pretending to be a writer.

It’s distinctly possible that I don’t have any talent. That my writing is no more than anyone with a decent grasp of spelling and grammar could produce. That I’m literate but not literary. I hope not. But the more I get rejected, the more I fear that this might be the case. Every time I get a rejection my motivation suffers.

I think it’s time I found another source of motivation, because it’s quite clear that getting an agent, never mind getting published, is highly unlikely any time soon. I think it’s time I forgot about the grind of submissions and drafts and just concentrated on the writing.

So, good-bye, then, Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Time to unfollow all the literary agents on Twitter. Time to archive my submissions spreadsheet.

Time to slink back into the shadows and write for myself.

New Year status report

It’s been almost exactly a year since I first sent The Chimney Rabbit to an agent for the first time. In that time, a lot has happened, but unfortunately not much in the way of progress towards getting published. In this article I’m going to provide a quick summary of my projects and their statuses.

The Chimney Rabbit

The Chimney Rabbit was my first completed novel. After an early career in short stories, some of which were even accepted for publication in the speculative fiction magazines of the early 1990s, I’d spent decades in abortive attempts at writing novels. Perhaps it just took the right novel – I wanted to complete The Chimney Rabbit because I wanted to see how it ended. I wrote it because I wanted to read it.

Unfortunately, it now looks like the book has run its course in terms of my attempts to get it published. I sent out my last batch of submissions to agents back in June. At the end of 2013, there were a handful of agents who still hadn’t responded after over six months, so as a matter of housekeeping I sent them quick (but polite!) emails saying that I had assumed that they’d reviewed my work and decided not to proceed, so I was withdrawing it from their consideration. Not all agents respond to all submissions, for a variety of reasons, but it offends my sense of tidiness to have submissions eternally open, and I’d never know whether to inform them in the event that I got interest from elsewhere, hence my emails – a pure formality.

So, farewell, The Chimney Rabbit. I still love it as a book, but I will no longer attempt to get it published. Perhaps sometime in the future I might rewrite it, bearing in mind all that I’ve learned since I completed it – I’ve got an idea for a restructure that might just work. But that’s a long way off.

The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice

The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice was my second completed novel, a direct sequel to The Chimney Rabbit. No-one but my partner has ever read it, and probably no-one else ever will. That’s the problem with writing a sequel to an unpublished book.

I’m glad I wrote it, and I learned a lot doing so, but in terms of getting published it was a waste of time. Its future is entirely dependent on The Chimney Rabbit, and that’s not going anywhere at the moment.

Tales of the Ancient Rabbits

Tales of the Ancient Rabbits was suggested to me by my partner after she’d read The Chimney Rabbit. “There’s a story behind how the rabbits came to the Great City,” she said, and she was right.

Tales of the Ancient Rabbits has been entered in the Chicken House competition, and is concurrently making the rounds of a small number of agencies. With The Chimney Rabbit, I sent out submissions in waves, and I made several changes to the text over the course of six months, including a major rewrite of the first three chapters. With Tales, I’m not doing that. I made sure that it was as polished as I could make it before I sent it off, bearing in mind all the lessons I learned while writing the first two books and going through countless submissions for The Chimney Rabbit, so I’m being much more selective about who I sent it to.

If none of the current batch of submissions comes to anything, I’ll send out one more small batch. If nothing comes of those, I’ll put Tales away in a digital drawer, and start concentrating on my next book. Which brings me to:

The Dragon on the Tower

The Dragon on the Tower is the working title of my current project. So called because in the first chapter there is a dragon on a tower (hence why it’s a working title and may gain a better title if I can think of one), it’s a story of Dark Age Scotland in the time of the Picts. I’m trying to make it historically accurate, based on the archaeological study of a Pictish monastery in the Dornoch Firth area. The tower is a broch – an Iron Age fortification that by the time of the Picts would already have been an abandoned ruin. Ideal for a dragon to nest in, don’t you think? What do you mean, you don’t think dragons are historically accurate?

This is my first book to feature a human rather than a talking anthropomorphic rabbit as the protagonist, so it’s unknown territory for me. Three books starring rabbits might have left me in a bit of a rut (and almost certainly out of fashion) so I think it was the right decision to make a bit of a change.

The first draft is currently around the mid-point, so there’s still a lot of work to do. I’ll try to complete the first draft in the next month or so, then give it a rest for a while, before getting onto the second and third drafts. I might be ready to start submitting it to agents by summer.

Future projects

I’ve got a few notes for my next book (possibly also featuring dragons), and a vague idea for a book after that, which is more science fiction than fantasy. So even if 2014 isn’t a breakthrough year for my writing, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.