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Blog on the motorway

Confessions of a man mad enough to live amongst beasts.

New Release: Genesis

New Release: Genesis

Genesis, the tenth episode and the grand climax of Season Two, is out now in ebook. This is the tenth episode of the sci-fi/horror series The Sunset Chronicles, a monthly dystopian sci-fi thriller that will delight and terrify fans of science fiction and horror alike. 

Author of the forthcoming Mastodon and horror supremo Steve Stred said of the first season of The Sunset Chronicles: “This book whipped along and Stephenson writes the characters lean and true, making for some fantastically done action sequences, all the while retaining that claustrophobic feeling you need with outer space based books. I had a blast and I think you will too!”

What will happen under the ice with Wyn and the crew of the Minos? What will Yan find in the securely guarded compound of a Russian mobster? Will Judd ever catch a break? And against the backdrop of Christopher Sun’s grab for power, will Jules find her way? All these questions and more come to a head in the heart-stopping climax to the second season. 

You can pick up Genesis at all good bookstores, but if you get it direct from my website you’ll be helping me in the absolute best way, as that means I’ll get the biggest share of the cover price. All transactions are securely processed by Woocommerce, and the ebook will be sent by Bookfunnel directly to the e-reader of your choice.

And if you’ve not yet started the Chronicles, why not pick up the first episode, completely free?

Genesis

£1.99

Happy birthday, internet me

Happy birthday, internet me

Got a weird email this morning. No, not one of those spam type ones, nor anything from the seemingly eight million email lists I have no recollection of subscribing to. Today’s the first day of getting the kids back to school after their three weeks of trying to get as close to sloth-like in their movements, which meant everything was a bit manic, and I was feeling a little groggy. So as I stood there, swaying slightly, holding a kettle in one hand and my phone in the other, I was somewhat bemused to see that I had an email from Livejournal.

Fucking… Livejournal…

Did I wake up back in 2004?

So, apparently, I set up my Livejournal eighteen years ago today. It’s quite something, to be smashed around the face with a brick of nostalgia at 8 in the morning on a Wednesday.

Although I obviously had ‘the internet’ before then, I didn’t really know what to do with it, as was the case for a lot of people, early on. It’s easy to forget now, but unless you were involved in forums, the internet was basically just going to a website, saying ‘cool’ and logging off again, or sending emails. I guess not a lot has changed, except perhaps that we don’t see as much cool shit these days, and most of the rest is nascent fascism, doomscrolling, picking on the transgender community for no fucking reason, or selling copies of a jpg of a monkey for thousands of pounds because it lives in a folder somewhere.

Livejournal was the first time I actively had an online presence. I’d recently joined a weird little startup for creatives in York, a city I’d just moved to and where I didn’t really know anyone. My new work friend, Jonic, found out I was a writer, or that I wanted to be, and introduced me to the concept of blogging. I believe he even helped me set up my Livejournal.

I was hooked. For the next four years I blogged most days, made friends across the world. I absolutely bloody loved it. At some point I decided to move my blog to my own site, and I kind of forgot all about Livejournal. Or I thought I had. This morning’s email had me going back to check on my profile, where I found I briefly went back in 2014, but the place was dead by then.

Blogging on Livejournal was very different from what we think of now, which is more akin to CONTENT MARKETING MUST GRIFT ALL THE TIME than anything approaching human connection. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to post four or five times a day, anything from a thousand word screed to something more akin to what we’d now think of a being a tweet. But there was a sense that we were all writers, somehow. Or at least, that was how it felt to me. Maybe that had more to do with who I was following, but it was a pretty special place. Now, where did I leave my rose-tinted glasses. Oh, they’re on my face!

Of course, most of the role that LJ filled back in those days was soon usurped by Twitter, which back in the day was actually a fun place to be. Remember that? My LJ friends were some of my first Twitter friends, some of which friendships still last to this day, some of which haven’t, eroded away by the sands of internet time. I miss them.

I’ve had a rocky relationship with blogging since LJ. First, a blog post I made got me fired from a job I was at, for reasons I won’t go over now, but over the last few years I’ve found myself developing a weird shyness about being online. Part of that has to do with being an author, and everything that has to go with ‘selling’ oneself. I just ended up saying not very much at all. But this year I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to go back to my LJ roots. I’m still going to try and sell from books, from time to time, but I miss blogging. So that’s something for you to look forward to, eh?

2022 – THE YEAR THAT MIGHT

2022 – THE YEAR THAT MIGHT

Just over three years ago, in the before times, the pre-plague years, my family and I packed up our home in Whitby (aka the most wonderful place on Earth, the place where all my dreams reside, my happy place, the good place, the okay-occasionally-its-so-cold-your-testicles-shrivel place) and moved to the other end of the country. The cotswolds, to be precise. Another lovely place to live, to be sure, but not exactly the wilds of the North. It’s very quiet here, and there’s not a single Dracula museum in sight.

We moved for a job. My job. As well as being a writer and publisher, I work a day job, because the writing and publishing side of the equation doesn’t really pay, well, anything. The job that had me in the north had gone, taken on a sea of promises to Switzerland, of all places, and it turned out I wasn’t going with it. I had to find a new one. And find one I did, because that’s the kind of upstanding citizen I am. It was decent, too. Massive company, acres of history, and working in a new industry I’d not been in before. I was quite excited.

So, I was about to be taught a lesson, and that lesson was ‘don’t get excited, doofus.’

Five months into the job, the new company announced they were closing. Shutting up their shop here in the UK, and taking their ball with them. Bit of a shock. Then came the slow death. Two and a half years of being in the weird place where you know the job is ending, but it’s still trundling along. It should have come to an final ignominious end in July, when the last car rolled off the production line, and I said goodbye to the vast majority of the people I’d been working with over that time.

Except, they asked me to stick around for another year, to help close things out and generally make a nuisance of myself. So I went from working for a company of several thousand people that makes cars, to a company of a couple of hundred that makes… well, nothing. It’s been that way now for about five months, and while the work’s still pretty busy, working from home and not commuting any further than the bottom of my stairs has given me more time to focus on my writing.

I’m good at my job. I don’t hate it, by any stretch, but I also don’t think it’s what I’m here to do, either. I feel like I am here to be a writer. Or, more precisely, to be a creative. So, since my contract comes to an end at the end of July, I figure I’ve got seven months to make a go of this. Somehow.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I’m a long way from being able to make my living as a writer, and the chances are that the bridge is too far to leap in that amount of time. I will PROBABLY have to get another job in August. But if I can take the first half of this year and make as much of it as I possibly can, then… I dunno. But it’s good to dream. It’s better to stretch for something and get halfway there than not go anywhere at all. I’d rather get to a new Job in August and think ’well, shit, I did my best’ than ‘I wish I’d tried.’

So with that in mind, my goals for this year are A LOT. Let’s dive in!

Release everything.

I’ve been working really hard these last few months preparing a load of projects that will be launching in the next few months. Starting with:

More Sunset Chronicles. Season 3 is already written and edited, so that takes us all the way to July, and I’m already hard at work on season 4. There are nine seasons planned out in total. No matter what, that’s going to be seen through to the end, if it’s the last thing I do.

Even more Sunset Chronicles. At some point this year, I’ll also be releasing an exclusive prequel novel called Walker. I’m currently planning on releasing that as an EXCLUSIVE novel only for people who’ve signed up for my reader’s group, so if you’ve not yet done that you can stick your email in the sidebar or at the bottom of this post, and I’ll even send you an ebook with seven short stories while you wait.

A brand new podcast. As part of my diploma in creative writing, I’ve been working on an entirely new project, a podcast that will feature short stories by myself and a number of other authors, all individual stories set in a fictional British town. It’s called Bleakwood, and production is well underway on it. I’m really excited about this one, and I’m hoping to launch it in March this year.

Another new podcast! Following on from that, I’ve been working with a good friend, the ludicrously talented Kev Harrison, on a second podcast about creativity in the modern world. We’ll be interviewing creatives of every flavour about what it means to be a creative in the digital world, how life is changing for creatives, and the opportunities that make this the greatest time in history to be a creative. It’s called All Creatives Now, and it’ll be launching in the first half of the year. And hey, look, both the podcasts have art!

Audiobooks. Yep, I’m going all in on audio. I’ll be aiming to have the whole Blood on the Motorway trilogy released on audiobook in the next twelve months, and at least the first season of The Sunset Chronicles.

Print expansion. As things stand you can only get the Blood trilogy through Amazon Print on Demand, and the quality of those books can be a bit hit-and miss. I’ve not done paperbacks for the Sunset Chronicles yet. But along with the audiobook releases for the Blood trilogy I’ll be launching new paperback and hardback editions that will be available from any bookshop in the world, and from your local library for free. Then I’ll be launching some pretty cool looking pulp print versions of the Sunset Chronicles episodes that I’m hoping to be able to launch for about the price of a bottle of wine. I’d also like to look into doing some extra-special hardcover versions of the full seasons at some point, too.

Wow. That sounds a fair lot of stuff when you write it down like that. 

Go Legit

This year, I’m going to get a diploma in creative writing from Oxford University. Now, that would be a lofty and some might say impossible goal, were it not for the fact that I’m already in the final year of said diploma, having somehow been allowed back in after the first year. Things are going pretty well, and I need to close out this year as strong as possible to see what kind of mark I can get. I may well be looking at doing a Masters after that, though these things are not cheap.

Not only that, but I think this might be the first year in which I try and get an agent. I’ve not previously bothered, since I was only really interested in publishing indie, but I have a new first-in-series book that I think has pretty broad appeal, so it might be time to try and dip my toes in the murky waters of trad publishing.

Mr Productivity

Over the last six months I’ve been getting very into how to improve my productivity. I’ve started tracking habits, and I built what amounts to a second brain in Notion, which saves the meat version of me from having to remember to do stuff. I just need to hook it up to some kind of cattle prod that actually gets me to do the things. But as we enter into 2022 it’s time for me to put everything together, from new writing practices to habit tracking and Notion project planning to be able to get the absolute most out of the year.

Mr Healthy Bastard

It wouldn’t be a yearly goals blog post over here at Hollow Stone Towers without me setting some kind of health goal, but this year is slightly different, in that I already lost two stone last year, so it’s more a case of carrying on. But as well as losing enough weight that I look vaguely like something other than a haphazardly thrown ball of dough, I want to focus on being healthy in other ways. I’ve been meditating, or trying to, and the habit tracking mentioned above will help. I want a healthy mind, and a healthy body.

No more Mr Imposter

Being on my course has really helped my confidence as a writer. I’ve gotten some really helpful feedback, some great positivity, and it’s really helped me grow as a writer. And recording the audiobooks for the Blood trilogy has reminded me of how proud I am of those books, and of everything that I’ve put out into the world. Weirdly, I don’t feel bashful about calling myself a writer.

But over the last few years, I’ve developed a pretty nasty case of imposter syndrome when it comes to being on social media. Not just about promoting my work, but just about being part of the conversation, in general. Almost every day I open up Twitter, or Facebook, or a blog post, and I write something, then delete it without posting. I compose replies to my peers, then delete them. Because who wants to know what I’ve got to say about anything, right?

But being a creative these days means you need to be online. I feel like someone whose nose is pressed against the window of a wider reading community, waiting to be invited in. But I need to invite myself in. So this year I intend to be a lot more present. I’ll try not to be obnoxious about it.

That’s about it. Not much to be working on, then? If you’ve read this far, well done, and my apologies. There’s no super-secret codex at the bottom that will grant you wishes, but I do offer you my thanks.

2021 – a few of my favourite things

2021 – a few of my favourite things

Hello there, it is I, your humble bard. Please spare me a moment to wax somewhat lyrical about some of the things I’ve loved this year, as is my want.

Top 20 Albums of 2021:

Much like 2020, it seems that the pandemic is no inhibitor of great music. My shortlist of potential albums of the year brushed up against the number fifty this year, which is frankly ridiculous. As hard as it was to narrow down to just twenty, that’s exactly what I’ve done, because I’m nice like that. Please note, I am not arguing that these are the BEST albums of the year, simply my most favouritest. But of course, my opinion is worth the most around here (on my blog), so they are the best. SUCK ON THAT!

1. MastodonHushed and Grim. I genuinely never thought I’d be putting a Mastodon album anywhere near my end of year lists ever again, such was my disdain for their new directions after Crack The Skye, but then they go and release this. An hour and a half long, and the perfect distillation of their many faces, this never feels anything less than vital and urgent.

2. TurnstileGLOW ON. A great big warm hug of an album by a bunch of American hardcore kids who look so achingly cool that one wouldn’t be surprised to find out they were grown in a GAP warehouse, this takes everything that’s cool about hardcore and marries it to shimmering pop melodies. Their record release gig on youtube is so lovely that it genuinely made me tear up. But then again, I once cried at the trailer for the film Armageddon, so there’s that. I can’t wait to stand in a field and dance like a grinning loon to all these songs in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.

3. Jeff RosenstockSKA DREAM. I’ve always quite liked Jeff Rosenstock’s brand of too cool for school punk, but it wasn’t until he released this, an entirely ska reworking of his previous album, No Dream, that he hooked me in, and I ended up falling entirely in love with everything he’s done. Music is magic, and this is the catchiest magic you’ll hear this year.

4. Black Sheep Wall Songs for the Enamel Queen. Okay, enough nice stuff, this is utterly grim, in the best possible way. Howling, swirling, hate-fuelled bleak metal that batters you about the head with so many riffs that you’ll be begging for mercy, then asking them to do it again. You sicko.

5. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To DieIllusory Walls. Just a genuinely gorgeous melding of whatever-wave emo and college rock, and the two climactic tracks, each weighing in over fifteen minutes, as a staggering finale.

6. Amigo the DevilBorn Against. Murder folk ballads with a wicked sense of humour and a glorious voice. I just can’t stop listening to this album.

7. Sugar HorseThe Live Long After. A band who seem to play all the genres, all at the same time, and somehow manage to keep all the plates spinning right up to the moment they drop them on your head. Post metal, doom, grind, hardcore, shoegaze, screamo, and everything in between. Properly dizzying, brutal as fuck, and epic as a Robert Jordan series.

8. AmenraDe Doorn. Oh looks, it’s Amenra being utterly miserable and brilliant, yet again. The most consistently brilliant band in bleak. If any album is the perfect soundtrack to being a sack of skin suit of meat and offal in these plague times, it’s this one.

9. Genghis TronDream Weapon. If I was expecting Genghis Tron’s return after over a decade to have tempered their digital grindcore tendencies, I would have been bang on the money. But I’m not that prescient, as evidenced by the fact I dipped my toe into the waters of buying bitcoin at what historians will one day recognise at the absolute summit of its value. To be honest, I wasn’t even expecting The Tron to come back at all, but I’m bloody glad they did. This is shimmering digital sad pop of the highest order, and about the biggest about turn you can imagine, even though it’s somehow still undeniably Tron.

10. Every Time I DieRadical. You might know what you’re getting with an ETiD album – breakneck hardcore with a decided party groove all shot through with brilliant pop hooks from one of the best vocalists in hardcore, but it doesn’t make the reliability of their incredibly high standards any less remarkable.

11. Converge: Blood Moon. I mean, it’s Converge meets Cave In meets Chelsea Wolfe. It was always going to work, wasn’t it?

12. King BuffaloThe Burden of Restlessness. I could have picked either album released by these blissed-out stoner progsters, but I got to live with this one a bit longer, so we’ll go with that. A perfect antidote to the gloomy grimness of not just the majority of 2021, but a lot of the bands I’ve listed above. Also, it’s got big fuzzy riffs. Who doesn’t like big fuzzy riffs?

13. IdlesCrawler. I kind of gave up on Idles on their last album, thinking them a one-trick pony whose trick wasn’t that great, after all, but this is a stonking return to form, albeit one they needed to change form in order to achieve. Sleazy goth pop is now draped over their wiry punk frame, and it really works.

14. MØLDiorama. Black metal with a shoegaze twist is hardly a new idea, but I’m not sure it’s ever been done to such a high standard as this.

15. The Hyena KillA Disconnect. It’s about time Britain produced a proper rock band capable of filling stadiums with anything like the regularity we used to in the 90s, and on this evidence we may well have found one, if we can get enough people to sit up and notice.

16. Emma Ruth RundleEngine of Hell. With a stripped back sound from her usual layered haunting brilliance, this is even more haunting and brilliant. Also, if we were including EP’s in this list her work with Thou would have definitely featured. Such a phenomenal talent.

17. DVNEEtemen Ænka. Just the best prog metal band in the world right now, in my humble opinion. Bewilderingly complex, heavier than the weight on Tony Blair’s conscience, and with massive soaring melodies. Proper good, innit.

18. ThriceHorizons / East. There is no way Thrice should be making albums this good this far into their career, but they are. Not only that, they’re showing that it is possible to mature and mellow without losing one iota of your brilliance. I can’t wait to stand in a field and shout all the words to Scavengers back at them in a non-threatening way in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.

19. TeethgrynderHostages. Very weird album this. But I do like it a lot. It’s a whole album, but with an extra album bolted onto it in bonus tracks, and it veers from ambient drone to haunting post rock to MASSIVE RIFFS and big epic vocals.

20. Deafheaven Infinite Granite. Black metal shoegazers drop the black metal and are all the better for it, in my humble opinion.

And there you have it! But wait, there’s more!

I’ve watched a grand total of 168 films this year, which is not bad going. And 107 of those were films watched for the first time. I even watched enough new releases to be able to cobble together a top ten films of the year.

Top 10 films of 2021.

1. Blood Red Sky. A film almost entirely designed to sit in my wheelhouse, a proper new vampire classic.

2. Tick, tick, Boom. A gloriously uplifting movie, with an outstanding performance by Andrew Garfield.

3. Don’t Look Up. I really don’t care how on-the-nose this is as a satire. It kind of feels like on-the-nose is what’s needed for this particular moment in time. And I thought it was brilliant, funny, and utterly terrifying.

4. The Fear Street Trilogy – yes, I know this is three films, you want to fight me? I’ve got a big beard, you know. Good old school slasher films with some great performances, and some of the worst accent work in the final chapter ever committed to film. That they don’t derail the whole thing shows the quality of the films.

5. Tina – this documentary about Tina Turner was absolutely incredible, heartwarming and inspiring and horrifying in equal measure. An icon, in the truest sense of the word.

6. Black Widow. After all the Endgame stuff, it felt nice for Marvel to go back to basics with this. Funny, thrilling, and rattles along at enough of a pace that you don’t see the holes. Oh, and putting Scarlet Johansson, Florence Pugh, AND Rachel Weisz on the same screen? Be still my heart.

7. The Green Knight. Watched this as a Christmas film, which it absolutely is NOT, and I still don’t know what to make of it, except that it was absolutely brilliant, and the best looking film I’ve seen all year. Weirdly ethereal, like a fever dream in places, and with a fantastic performance by Dev Patel, a man seemingly incapable of giving a bad one.

8. Spider Men – Too many spidermens. This really shouldn’t have worked, really, but it did. A film that you can’t really review without spoiling things, so I’ll just say that I really enjoyed it.

9. Encanto – A great big lovely blanket of a film.

10. What Drives Us – In which Dave Growl is A VERY NICE MAN and talks to loads of people about being in a band. A really nice documentary.

Books of the year.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not actually read many books this year that came out this year, so I’ll just say that I LOVED Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig, and that if you want some brilliant short stories, you should definitely check out Dark Missives by Dan Howarth, because it’s brilliant.

THAT WAS 2021!

A day late and a dollar short – 2021 Accountability post

A day late and a dollar short – 2021 Accountability post

Well, that was a stinker of a year, eh? Or is that just my stinking hangover? Quite possibly it’s both, or I’m still seeing double from my gargantuan effort to finish off all the Christmas booze last night so there wouldn’t be any left cluttering up my attempts at dry January. Oh, wait, I’m not talking about this year, yet, am I?

*takes deep breath*

I’m good, I’m good. Let me just lean against this wall for a bit, gather myself.

Every year I write myself a little accountability blog for the year just gone, and another for what I want the year ahead to bring. That was I can look back at the end of the year and see how much I have or haven’t managed to achieve, which is a dangerous game to play in these pandemic plague times, but I’m English, and as such crave disappointment.

Actually, for all that 2021 continued the running trend of being a general dumpster fire for the majority of the population of the planet, if I zoom in just to the bit where I’m trying to be a writer, cock my head and squint, it doesn’t look too bad. Let’s crack open those goals for the year and see what I managed to achieve, shall we?

2021 Goals

1. Launch two books. Aha! I didn’t just release two books, I released nine! IN YOUR FACE 2021! Okay, well, so that’s not quite right. At the beginning of the year I was planning on releasing what was at that point the second book in my Sunset Chronicles series, as well as the first book in a vampire series. Neither of which technically happened. As I was preparing the second Sunset book for release, I looked back at the whole thing and realised that it didn’t really work in its current form, and would lend itself much better to being a serial. So I pulled the first book from sale, spent a few months rejigging everything and rewriting some stuff, and I re-released it as a monthly ebook serial. Season One covered the same ground as the already published first book, and as I write this, I’m two weeks from releasing the last episode of season two.

This has actually worked really well. Loads of people seem to be really enjoying the ride, and as I’m working on Season Four at the moment, with a full nine seasons in the planning, it’s going to be a huge focus of mine for the next few years.

Incidentally, if you’ve not checked out the first episode yet, it’s completely free from this website, and at any of the dystopian hellscapes that pass for online corporate megaliths these days. Why not check it out. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, how about these covers, eh?

2. Focus on my course. I’m currently studying a diploma in creative writing at Oxford, and I wanted very desperately to do well in it, which I duly did, passing my first year so close to getting a distinction that I could practically smell it. If you’re wondering what a distinction from Oxford University smells like, it smells like a mixture of soy sauce and cinnamon.

I actually really enjoyed the first year of this course, especially the social side of it, once the world opened up enough for us to have one. There’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers. But the validation I’ve felt from getting such good feedback from such luminaries has been phenomenal.

3. Launch Hollow Stone Press. What I actually wrote on this was as follows: ‘I’m planning on taking Hollow Stone from being a name I put in the publisher field of my books on Amazon to being, you know, an actual publisher.’ Now I can’t say I’ve actually achieved that, yet, but I’ve put in a lot of groundwork toward it, and I reckon this is a lot closer to being a reality in 2022. So I’ll take that. Oh, and I’ve got a cool logo now, so that’s half the fight. Right?

4. Get more readers. As I said this time last year, ‘I plan on collecting readers like Panini stickers, and I won’t stop until I have a full set, which is equivalent to Stephen King’s readership.’ I’m still many many miles from the King, but I will say that I’ve found a lot more readers this year. In fact, while I’m still a fair distance away from being able to do this full time, this year has been far and away my most successful in terms of selling books, and finding readers. Given that I’ve been able to achieve that without spending any money on advertising, I’m pretty chuffed with that. If you’re one of those readers, I cannot begin to thank you, it really does mean the world to me.

5. Get healthy: An old perennial this one, one that’s graced my yearly goals since I’ve been old enough to have them. And again, this year I’ve done… not too bad. Between April and November I lost just over two stone, and got into a nice exercise routine in the mornings, the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. Of course, that ship got completely derailed in December, but I’m back on it again, the minute this hangover clears, which should be around…. October 17th, 2025.

6. Get a life: A bit more complicated, this one. I still don’t feel at all connected to my new home, Cirencester, even though I’ve been here for over three years. I don’t know anyone here, and while it’s a pleasant enough place to live, the pandemic has completely robbed me of the ability to make connections here. But that’s not to say I’ve not made connections in other places. I joined an online group run by the good people at Hawk & Cleaver, who are very much my tribe. So while I’ve not got a tribe in the meatspace, there’s one that lives in the tiny box in my office, and that one will do.

I also had a wonderful moment earlier in the year when I went back up to my old university stomping ground for a gig with my good lady wife, and got to see a load of, quite frankly, the best friends a person could hope for. It was a wonderful time, the kind of thing that makes you remember what true friendship is, and it’s probably my favorite thing that happened this year.

So there you have it, accountability achieved for another year. I’ll be following up with a separate post about my favourite albums, films, books and stuff of the year, because this is already a good thousand words of waffle. Then I’ll be back again with my goals for the year ahead.

CONTENT!

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