Idle Hands

...are the Devil's playthings. A collaborative writing partnership. Let's see where it takes us.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

D'youKnoWriMo - part 3

21st June
Started plotting a synopsis for Clovenhoof book 4 chapter 10 (was going to be chapter 9 but then we split chapter 8). The chapter involves a nasty demon being hoisted by his own petard. Turned to the Bible and the Book of Esther to see if there’s inspiration to be had from that story. Read Esther and then some DC Lucifer comics and a Neil Gaiman novel and did no more plotting for the rest of the day.

22nd June
Made editing and proof-reading changes to the steampunk chapbook, The Well of Shambala, and sent over to Heide for conversion into an Amazon .mobi file. Heide returned a functioning .mobi soon after.
Fiddled with the planning documents for steampunk chapbooks 5 and 6.

23rd June

Started editing Clovenhoof book 3 chapter 9.
The Well of Shambala submitted for publication on Amazon. Confirmation returned within a few hours. It’s a steampunk adventure of late Victorian derring-do, featuring yeti, orbital space cannons, dead gods and steam-powered huskies. You can buy it here.

24th June
A third of the way through the edits of Clovenhoof book 3 chapter 9. Some absolutely delightful silliness involving an army of dogs invading Marseille plus Joan of Arc getting déjà vu as she goes “on trial” in a mental hospital.
Received notification of the edits made to my contribution to the Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 3. A little chit-chat with the editor over 1940’s hardboiled detective slang but I was very happy all round.

25th June
Went to Writers’ Network Wednesday at the Railway pub in Birmingham. Talked about bold new publishing models with PowWow’s Andy Killeen and the BBC’s drive for on-line content with Birmingham Writers’ Group friends.

26th June
Rejigged our plans for editing Circ, the Ten To One novel. I’ve got my grubby mitts on it for the first half of July. Heide will have it for the second half.
Started the synopsis for Clovenhoof book 4 chapter 9 for Heide to start writing next week.

27th June
Finished the Clovenhoof book 4 chapter 9 synopsis.
Read a William Gallagher blog that mentioned a word new to me, humblebrag. Looked up the definition. Might have to rethink all my public posts and statements in the light of such knowledge.

28th June
Continued editing Clovenhoof book 3 chapter 9. Fire engines, dog armies and the end of the world.
My Createspace proof copy of Clovenhoof arrived! Discovered that all the pictures visible in the Word doc, the PDF and on Createspace’s on-line preview are missing from the physical book. Furious at their failure and the fact that it’s cost me money. I feel maybe a fraction of the rage that traditional publishers feel towards Amazon.

29th June
Finished editing Clovenhoof book 3 chapter 9. That’s my chapter-level editing finished on that novel. I’ve got chapter 10 to write in July and then it’s in the hands of beta-readers, proof-readers, etc.

30th June
Did nothing. Yep, nothing. The author changes for Circ come in at midnight tonight and the editing process will begin tomorrow. But today… nothing.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

D’youKnoWriMo - part two

11th June

Read a couple of chapters of William Gallagher’s engaging The Blank Screen, a book about productivity for creative writers. Turns out he has kept a public log of his writing efforts on his website for some months.
Did no other writing work today. So much for my own productivity.


12th June

Up to 1200 words on chapter 8 of Clovenhoof book 4.  Got fully underway now and the beginnings of chapters are always the hardest.


13th June

Up to 3400 words on chapter 8 of Clovenhoof book 4 although, according to my writing plan, at that point in the story I should have only written 2706 words. Yes, my writing plans are that detailed. This 6000 word chapter is already going to be much longer than planned.


14th June

Tried to find some interest and support for the one day steampunk event in September. No replies as yet. Not worried.
Received a shocking National Insurance bill from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. But, after some conversations I discovered that I earn so little from writing that the accountant can just make it go away. Hurrah for being poor!


15th June

Added my tuppence-worth to some application forms to run events in Birmingham this autumn. As always, Heide has done nearly all the work.
Continued to rejig the blurb for Circ, the Ten To One novel. Happier but not happy.


16th June

Up to 4300 words of chapter 8 of Clovenhoof book 4.
Also, frantically writing my entry for the Birmingham Writers Group summer short story competition: word limit of 3,000 words on a theme of “The City After Dark.”


17th June

Finished my entry for the short story competition and sent it off. A retread of some favourite themes and chock-full of lazy storytelling and Iain’s writing shticks. It’s a pastiche of my own work but, hey, it’s the taking part that counts.
At least five writers I know have waved their social media hands at me to indicate an interest in the one day steampunker. Heide has submitted the relevant forms to Library of Birmingham.


18th June

Concluded that chapter 8 of Clovenhoof book 4 would need to become chapters 8 and 9, not purely because I am going over my self-set word limit, but because it will work best as two separate chapters. Heide and I have set ourselves certain rules about comedy and I can’t do this part of the story in one chapter without breaking one of the rules.
Chapter 8 finished at 5,320 words. On with chapter 9.


19th June

Finished tinkering with the blurb for the Circ launch event and forwarded on the Library of Birmingham. The event, taking place on 28th November and part of their Voices season, should be appearing in their literature soon.
Accountant has posted me some forms that will make the nasty National Insurance bill go away. That’s nice.
7,427 words into chapters 8 and 9 for Clovenhoof book 4.


20th June

Finished chapters 8 and 9 for Clovenhoof book 4, just twelve hours ahead of Heide’s completion of chapter 9 of Clovenhoof book 3. My two chapters weighed in at 8,766 words, Heide’s at 8,179.
Poked my proof-reader (AKA wife AKA Amanda) into finishing the proofs for my third steampunk chapbook, The Well of Shambala. With the artwork already sorted and Heide having e-book preparation down to a fine art, it could be available to buy by the end of the month.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

D’youKnoWriMo - part one

(D'youKnoWriMo - Do you know what I’ve been writing this month )

Why is this blog here?

Is it just a poor pun on the current JuNoWriMo?

Well, not just that.  I was thinking about how I spend my time as a writer. What do I do each day? How to I divide up my week? Am I writing all the time? If I am to consider myself a writer, what do I actually spend my time doing?

Here’s the first ten days of June:

1st June

Edited chapter 7 of Clovenhoof Book 4, in which seawater is pumped into Hell to cool it down.  Brief attempts to research how “natural” underground steam can change local climates became a time-wasting exercise.

2nd June

Createspace previously rejected the cover for our book, Clovenhoof, because the “active elements” were too close to the edge of the book. Fiddled with the artwork and resubmitted the images. Createspace rejected it an hour later because the “active elements” were now going to overlap the ISBN code bar. Grrr.

3rd June

Fiddled with cover artwork for Clovenhoof Createspace book and submitted it again.

In the evening, did an author event, Off the Page, at the Library of Birmingham with my co-writer Heide Goody. Audience of seven seemed very tolerant of our prattling and asked some good questions. Heide told me off for scowling at her again (it’s not deliberate, honest).

Heide gets expressive at Off The Page
Evening e-mail from Createspace told me that my files are now, finally, acceptable. Clovenhoof can now be bought as a Creatspace paperback.

4th June

Ran a workshop on character development for the Birmingham Writers’ Group, with particular focus on stock characters, archetypes and characters as functions of a plot. This was a test run for one of a series of professional workshops Pigeon Park Press should be running later in the year. Didn’t have much opportunity to stay for feedback from participants as Heide and I later had an emergency meeting to discuss the final two chapters of Clovenhoof Book 4. Much discussion had about a demonic character, Rutspud, having his arm replaced with a dead seabird. The issue over how and why Rutspud should have a dead bird for an arm did not revolve around what was sensible or realistic but around what was actually funny. A suitable scenario was devised.

Ordered a proof copy of Clovenhoof from Createspace. Estimated delivery date, 21st July!

5th June

Edited Chapter 8 of Clovenhoof Book 3, in which Joan of Arc, sent from Heaven to earth in the modern day, goes to a seedy Marseille bar to recruit mercenaries to help storm a French naval base. Once again, made invaluable use of Google Maps and Streetview to plot a fictional route between places I will never visit.

6th June

Began plotting chapter 9 of Clovenhoof Book 3  for Heide to write next week. In this chapter, the earthbound saint, Joan of Arc, is carted off to a Marseille mental hospital from which her inept friends must rescue her. Spent afternoon researching the inter-related subjects of Joan of Arc’s trial, the arsenal at Toulon and the script for Terminator 2.

Received confirmation from the Library of Birmingham that our ten-way collaborative novel, Circ, will have its launch event in the Studio Theatre on Friday 28th November. That’s five and half months away and the book’s still in the editing stages. Those five and half months are just going to fly by.

7th June

Ran a workshop on collaborative writing at the Library of Birmingham. There were only two attendees (which was two more than I was expecting) but we had a great couple of hours, discussing character and devising a potential novel between the four of us.

While there, Heide pitched an all-day steampunk event to the library to coincide with the Science Festival taking place in Birmingham in early September. They seemed keen on the idea. Now wondering how many steampunk authors and artistes we actually know.

8th June

Received some preliminary interior artwork from Giuseppa Barresi for my children’s book, Angel Bob. A little e-mail back-and-forth to discuss the finer points of character design but overall I’m very happy. Being my first foray into self-publishing a children’s book, will need to carefully consider how to market and promote such a book in a busy marketplace.

9th June

Struggled with the horrible task of writing the blurb for the Ten To One novel, Circ. How do you both convey the essence of a novel in a few short sentences and simultaneously intrigue the potential reader?

Also worked on a different blurb for the Circ launch event, to go in the Library of Birmingham’s Voices Season brochure. The cover artwork we’ve got to accompany our promotional piece is astonishing but I’ve got to find the words first.

10th June

Started writing chapter 8 of Clovenhoof book 4, based on a synopsis written by Heide. After having accidentally killed off the last two birds in an endangered species, the monks of Bardsey must fool a group of visiting birdwatchers that the birds are perfectly alive and well. Some silly dialogue led me to recall Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch. Four minutes of youtube fun once again cuts needlessly into my writing time.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

Index cards - an essential part of our writing process

Thanks to Jacqui Rowe, who nominated us, we're taking part in the "My Writing Process" blog tour.
You can see Jacqui's blog at

The idea is that we answer 4 questions about our writing process:

1) What are we working on?
We are currently writing books 3 and 4 in the comic fantasy world that started with Clovenhoof, where Satan is made redundant from Hell and has to come to terms with living in suburban Birmingham.
The new books are known by the working titles of "Monk Story" and "Joan of Arc". You can see that we need better titles for these.
The monk story is based on the monastery on Bardsey Island, which we visited in the story of "Pigeonwings", our second novel. We loved the characters of the monks so much that we thought they deserved their own novel.
The Joan of Arc story is a road trip across Europe, featuring some of the saints that we have met in our previous stories. Joan is a wonderful character, she's an optimistic bundle of energy who wants to make everything better. She's accompanied by St Francis who goes everywhere with a huge, man-eating wolf, and St Christopher, who was appalled to discover that the pope declared in 1969 that he never actually existed, which brings its own problems.

2) How does our work differ from others of its genre?
We categorise our novels as fantasy, but the humour is really important to us. We find that it's the part most suited to collaborative writing, as it's possible to take something funny and stretch it into lots of different directions between the two of us.

3) Why do we write what we do?
We wanted to write something that we are both comfortable with. When we started to think about what that might look like, we considered the types of story that we'd both written and where there was the greatest overlap.

4) How does our writing process work?
We work together at the highest level when we're about to start a new novel. The "brainstorming ideas" part might involve us throwing ideas into a document over a couple of weeks, it might involve us getting ideas off our friends in the pub, or it might involve us working together over a big sheet of paper. Mostly it involves all of these things.
Next we need to organise these ideas into a plot. This really needs to be done in an extended meet-up session where we use HUGE pieces of paper (wallpaper lining paper is ideal) with lines connecting ideas into plot strands to give us an idea of the order that we need.
Once we know at a high level what our chapters will contain, we work through them in a leapfrogging manner. One of us will write a chapter synopsis for the other. Then we swap, so that we can write the chapter. Then we swap back for editing, to smooth out the style. Working this way, we can turn around two chapters in three weeks.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Collaborative book selling

Our stall. Subtle and understated

Pigeon Park Press had a table at the Birmingham Independent Book Fair on 12th April. 
We wanted to explore some of the ways that we might draw people in to look at our books, so we tried to make our table visually attractive and interesting in as many ways as we could.

We made some colourful bunting with the Pigeon Park Press logo on it. If you're interested in how we made it, there's a Youtube video! We also painted up a couple of chalk boards with our logo, which we were pleased with. We realised during the day that while the logo was nice and visible, it wasn't too obvious what our actual name was, as several people asked. This is something we'll need to fix for next time. 

Another idea that we had was the Birmingham Reader's Map. The low-tech version of this was an ordnance survey map of Birmingham that we spread out on our table and speared with little flags. Each flag represented a story or poem that took place in the location where we placed it. The idea was to show people who live in Birmingham what fictional things take place near to where they live. Lots of people came and helped us to add things to the map during the day, and racked their brains to come up with authors who'd written things set locally. We're working on an online version of the Reader's Map, so that we can share it more easily.

So all of these things drew people to our stall, but what worked best of all? Free cookies. 

Pre-bought discs can help to disguise a complete lack of decorating ability
We made them the day before the fair, but cunningly ordered some little rice paper discs with our logo, so that we didn't have to work very hard to make them look nice. The words "free" and "cookie" seem to work well together to get people's attention. 

Having drawn people to our stall, it turned out that we had a secret weapon. 
James Brogden (right) showing that he and Mike Chinn (left) share a sense of shirt style

Author James Brogden had joined us for the day. His (excellent) books are published by Snow Books, but Snow weren't present at the book fair so he put some out on the Pigeon Park Press stall. James apparently worked in a shop in one of his previous incarnations, so knows a thing or two about selling stuff to people. We watched in awe as he made sure that nobody could glance sideways at our books without being subtly charmed by his patter. It's possible that for future book fairs, various booksellers will be fighting to have James's books on their stalls.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Ten To One Author Interview - Jason Holloway

Iain is currently acting as editor and cat-herder-in-chief on a collaborative novel with TEN (count them, TEN) writers. A contemporary story set in a tacky British seaside resort, the Ten To One novel follows ten characters whose lives intersect that of a mysterious old man…


We thought we’d ask those ten writers about themselves and their involvement in collaborative writing. All ten interviews will appear here over the course of the project.


Today, Jason Holloway…

Who are you?

Just a guy, wandering the earth, getting into adventures, ripping off lines from movies. I live across the Potomac from DC. Just close enough to smell the rot. You can’t live inside the Beltway and not be influenced by it. Not even the pure of heart, like me.

To date, I’ve written non-fiction editorial pieces, mostly. I’m your guy if you have a rag up against deadline and need fifteen hundred words of sarcy nonsense.

In terms of fiction, in fourth grade I wrote, produced, directed, edited, managed, and casted, a three act play that a very evil man decided should be inflicted upon my entire grammar school which, in turn, inflicted multiple daily beatings upon me in its entirely justified righteous wrath. I called it a day as a playwright after I was released from the hospital.

Since then, I’m not sure I had any specific writing goals until Ten To One came along. I thought about writing more than actually doing much of it and fiction seemed like an absolute non-starter to me. Things are different now. I’ve been blessed/cursed with at least some degree of validation that I can write compelling fiction. Sort of changes everything, I feel like if I can do it, I probably should.

Tell us about your writing.

I write in bed like Proust on a laptop. I usually have the TV on to distract me from working. I can’t think of anyplace more ideal than bed. If I fall asleep midsentence, I know I probably need to pick up the action a little.

I write for an audience. I like to entertain with stories. Something about being the center of attention, I think. I write one draft, edited on the fly, and avoid ever reading it again. Writing is difficult for me. I’m not interested in making it even more so.

Would you say that fiction has to be “correctly” written?

I spent time in the publishing trenches as an editor. I can, when necessary, be very correct but that’s usually not much fun. My rule is that I’m allowed to break every grammatical rule as long as 1) I have a reason for doing it, and 2) I know that I’m doing it.

What first drew you to the Ten To One project?

I truly don’t remember. I didn’t even have a decent piece of fiction to submit as an example of my work; just a bunch of nonfiction filler. But I caught fire on the idea and wouldn’t let up on Iain until I’d sold him on letting me participate.

I think it must have been the prospect of working with serious writers. When I read the backgrounds of those vying for a place in the final ten, I realized that this was something that was going to happen with or without me. Once I understood that, I understood that I needed Ten To One if I was ever going to write fiction in earnest.

What were the challenges that you faced in writing for Ten To One?

The flagrant disobedience of the Ten To One writers to kowtow to my character was a bit of an obstacle. Luckily, I’m not much of an egotist so I was able to let much of that resentment go.

And how much of your protagonist was a reflection of you?

Bobby? Bobby’s out of his head. I’m sanity personified, rational to the very core of my being. People confuse me for the latest edition of Aurelius. I’m nothing like Bobby. Of course, my favourite kind of character is the antihero or antagonist. How much cooler is Iago than Othello?

The character of Bobby has certainly taken us on a rollercoaster ride through murder, madness and possibly something that’s beyond the realms of human understanding. Is it possible to describe him? Who is Bobby and what is his story?

Bobby is something other. I'm not prepared to put a label on what he is at the moment. I'm working on various Bobby-related projects and his evolution as a fully developed character is still evolving.

There are certain things I know about Bobby. For instance, physically he's not entirely subject to the realities of Newtonian physics; however, that doesn't make him some sort of superhero, only that somehow he is able to act as if subatomic theory is his reality. The extraordinary speed, for example, he occasionally displayed in Ten To One, is based on his instictive ability to manipulate empty space which, from a subatomic perspective, is much of matter's substance.  If angels dance on the head of a pin, they do it on a subatomic level.

Bobby also subscribes to a moral code that values pragmatism over idealism. He's not without honor, but it's honor rooted in his self-appointed role as the lesser of many evils. In Skegness he had his fingers in all the traditional criminal activities: drugs (which he despises), prostitution, usury, gambling, protection, and general racketeering. His role, as he sees it, is to provide order and justice in a world founded on avoiding those very principles. Lawlessness is accommodated, but only with Bobby's countenance.

As you can probably tell, I like Bobby. His antics entertain me. Insane, delusional, supernatural, whatever he is, he's a lot of fun.  

Do you think you’ve been able to take away some positive experiences from Ten To One?

Frankly, I simply wouldn’t be considering writing additional works of fiction without the kick in the ass (arse) Ten To One gave me. Like I said earlier, writing is difficult for me. Being responsible to other writers drove my continued participation. A few times I wanted to throw my hands up and say to hell with the project (note my reference to the disobedience of the writers), but that wasn’t an option and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Writing-wise, what’s next for you?

I'd like to continue collaborating with some of the Ten To One authors--if any of them will have me--while reworking Bobby into a stand-alone character. I've also outlined (a HUGE step for me) a novella-length work of "dark" fantasy which should be notable simply for its absence of vampires, werewolves, teenage angst, star-crossed lovers, and quests for objects of ultimate power. I've tentatively entitled it "Freddy Mercury Wore Obscenley Tight White Jeans, Why Can't I?: A Tale of Unwashed Laundry". I have great hope for it,

Do you have favourite authors?

First and always, Papa. He was so full of shit and no one ever called him on it. I can’t imagine anything better than being drunk with Papa and saying “Say one more word and I’m going to punch you in the brain.”

Twain can make me laugh aloud even after multiple readings, as can Wodehouse. Then there’s me, of course, and I’m very fond of Joss Whedon as a TV/Film writer. I like Tim Powers. He’s an epeeist and, to my mind, one of the modern greats of fantastic/alternative fiction.  At the moment I’m into Raymond Chandler. I go through a lot of genre phases where I devour everything produced during certain eras.

Martin Amis, P.J. O’Rourke, Joss Whedon, Raymond Chandler, Guy Ritchie, William F. Buckley. It’s a very long list.

I still refuse to read Kesey, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any other Beat writers. I have some standards.

If you had to pick one, what would you say is your favourite book?

That’s like asking which is my favourite child. It varies from day to day.

It’s been a subject of disagreement in previous interviews. Where do you stand on the Harry Potter books of JK Rowling?

I hate them all like poison but I also find them very heartening. They’re proof you can rip off every author from Mervyn Peake to Tad Williams (another I should have included in my writing group) to Tolkien and be successful. I think Rowling is the worst kind of hack.

I like Tolkien and I’ll take to the piste to defend him. I’ve heard Brits describe his work as “twee” which is a word I don’t think I fully understand. I think it means self-consciously cutesie. If that’s the case, I see their point, what with the hobbit holes and such, but that’s such a small part of an epic fantasy adventure that’s the foundation for almost all modern fantasy that it seems petty to use as an excuse for dismissing his work.

My fencing club, by the way, is the “Olde Town Fencing Club.” Is the “e” at the end of “Olde” twee or just supercilious?

If you had any advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Anyone who posts platitudes about writing from famous authors on social media is someone to stay well away from.


Dear Reader,

You can help us shape the final Ten To One story by joining our beta-reader event. Simply click on this link, say you’re attending and start giving your views on the questions on the page.