Blog on the motorway
Confessions of a man mad enough to live amongst beasts.
I’m back! I’ve had a fair chunk of time off recently, so if you’ve been waiting for a long time for the latest episodes of The Sunset Chronicles, Bleakwood, or All Creatives Now, I can only apologise. There’ll be some news about all of them a little bit further down this very article. (Insert *skip to the end* Spaced gif*)
The time off was as the result of what I can now see quite clearly as a bit of a burnout. Which isn’t in any way a cry for sympathy, but I thought I’d let you into a bit of a peek behind the curtain about what it’s like to burn out as a creative, and then claw your way back again. Because I am definitely back.
For around four years, I had a job that I knew was coming to an end. It hung over me in a very much Damoclean manner, and I dealt with its impending and yet turgid arrival with an endless mantra: I was going to make it as a writer.
Now, that’s easier said than done. Modern publishing, in all its varied and interesting forms, is an absolute bastard. Very few living writers make a living out of it, and those who do have a combination of the right book, the right marketing, the right support, and a metric fuck-tonne of good luck on their side, all blowing their sails against the prevailing winds of publishing orthodoxy.
I tried. I really did. Over the course of four years I poured endless hours (and lots of good old English pounds) into writing, publishing, marketing. Again, not looking to play the sympathy card, but it was a hell of a slog. I made some progress. I found some new readers. But at the beginning of this year of our grim deity twenty twenty two it became pretty apparent that I was a long way off the ‘full-time-author’ goal.
I had to find a job. It was strange; mine is a career I fell into by accident and got quite rapidly promoted in, and I’m actually really good at it. But I hated it. I got kind of depressed about it, but was still throwing everything into both finishing my job properly, but also the writing. On top of this I had to find a job, and it all got a bit much. I even started to hate the writing. The thousand words in the morning was getting harder and harder, and the sheer amount of admin involved in being a one-person creative endeavour was just grinding. And not in a fun ‘Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed’ kind of grind.
Once I got a new job I actually felt pretty good about it. I hated my time at the last place, but the new place is very different, much more my kind of company. I don’t ever talk about work stuff online but I’ll go so far as to say that I had a really good feeling after the interview, and now I’ve started I see no reason to question that assessment.
Once I got the job, I knew I had a decent chunk of time between finishing one job and starting the next. At first I was like ‘okay so let’s get as much stuff done as humanly possible’, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was still stuck in that mindset, the grinding, snarling MUST BE WRITING ALWAYS place I’d been for four years. And I realised I don’t want to be that person anymore.
I think I was getting comfortable with the idea I wasn’t going to be a full time writer.
Look at me, couching that language. Let me be more plain.
I don’t want to be actually want to be a full time author. There, I said it. Okay, that’s not strictly true. I do, but in the Stephen King sense of the word where he can just sit in a lovely big house and do whatever he wants and he has lots of other people to do all the rest for him. It’s not the writing, it’s all the rest of it. I don’t want to have to spend months and months trying to find an agent, but I also hate social media. Which, if you want to make it as an author these days is a bit like saying I want to lose weight but I don’t want to change my diet or my exercise regime. Incidentally, that’s also very much my approach to weight loss.
So I made a decision. I took the time between jobs off completely, and I’ve now come back to it with the mindset of treating writing as a hobby. If I do that, none of the stuff I don’t actually want to do matters. I can put books out, and if people like them, great. I really hope you do. But I want to go back to just doing what I want. I’d love an agent, someone to cheerlead and put you in the kinds of rooms that can drive your career forward. But it takes people YEARS to find an agent, and it’s almost a full time job in itself. And there are plenty of indie authors who make a living writing, but they spend most of that ‘full time author’ job doing marketing and admin. But if I treat it as a hobby, I don’t have to do any of that stuff.
See, I’m smart!
The time away from writing was incredibly beneficial. I spent the whole time with my family and learned (to my great relief) that they didn’t hate me by the end of it, and we went and saw some lovely parts of these sceptred isles just in time, before our government filled all the beaches with effluent. But what was really lovely was just not thinking about writing. At all. In order to reconnect with writing, I needed to disconnect, too. I read loads of good books, and when it came time to sit back down at this keyboard once more, I was really glad to be back at it. Okay, so it was a bit like pulling rusty nails out from my fingertips at first, but that didn’t last too long.
All of which does mean some changes to The Schedule. I’m still fully committed to The Sunset Chronicles (and I’ve got some really crazy plans for where it’s all going), but I’m not going to be able to release an episode a month any longer. So, I’ll be releasing episodes every other month. Starting…. Today! Broken Ground, which is the second book in the third season, is out right now! You can order it right now. In fact, why don’t you do that?
Not started the Chronicles yet? Well now’s as good a time as any to start, which brings me to my second announcement. The Sunset Chronicles is coming to print! In fact, you can already pick up the first episode in print right now. Head to the episode page for all the links you’ll need. Obviously, with as many episodes as there are, I’ve priced it as low as I can possibly go after printing costs etc. In fact, I’ll get less from the print than the ebook, but I don’t care. In the last few years I’ve transitioned completely away from reading fiction on screens, so I wanted to make sure there’s a print option available. And it’s been designed to be a cool, pulpy little thing to grab and read quickly. Each episode works out to be about 120 pages, so that’s not too shabby, either. They’ll be coming out every few weeks until they’re caught up with the ebook versions.
So that’s the writing, but what about the audio? Well, I’ve decided I’m definitely going to continue making Bleakwood, and it’ll be five seasons of ten episodes each. The first season is completely written already, and there’s episodes coming up soon written by some serious names in modern horror – Kev Harrison and Luke Kondor, as well as up-and-coming stars like Sam Tindale. Oh, and me, obviously. But since I’m looking to do a little more self care, and since I’m only one little old me, I’m going to change the release schedule to monthly. New episodes will drop on the fourth Wednesday of the month. So that’s not too long to wait until the next one. In the meantime, if you’ve not been keeping up, why not check out the first four episodes already released, including absolute bangers from Dan Howarth and Helen Lane?
That just leaves All Creatives Now, the podcast about creativity run by myself and Kev Harrison. Well the good news there is that we’re not walking away from that, either! We’ve already put out a great episode with Gemma Amor ahead of her new book Full Immersion, and we’ll be coming back with a bi-weekly schedule in future, where we’ve got lots of really interesting plans and some great guests lined up to talk all things creativity. If you’ve not checked out the other episodes yet, we’ve got an amazing interview with Djamila Boden Azzouz from Ithaca (who just so happen to have released the best album of the year), a hilarious chat with Michael Legge, and a fascinating chat with Luke Kondor. We’re only getting started with ACN, and I’m looking forward to getting into more discussions around the future of creativity with a whole host of people more talented than me.
New episodes of ACN will come out on the first and second Wednesday of every month (though we’re off next week because Kev wanted a holiday, the absolute bastard). That means that on Sunset release months it’ll be on the second Wednesday of the month. So basically if you want to mute me on twitter one day a week, Wednesday’s a safe bet.
No, wait, don’t do that.
Now, I said I wasn’t asking for sympathy on the above, and I meant it. And I hope I’ve not put you off. The full nine seasons of The Sunset Chronicles is going to take a fair chunk of time now (the final episode will come out in March 2028!), but I’m not going to be George RR’ing it, either. And there is a way you can help. Since I’m not going to be putting much effort into marketing, well, anything, I’ll be relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth. Yep, that means you. If you enjoy these books, these podcasts, or even this blog post, please to tell anyone you think might enjoy them, too.
It’s good to be back.
I’ve been trying to write a blog post abut something for about a week now, and I’m really struggling with it. In fact, I’m struggling to write anything. I’ve got the last assignment for my creative writing course over the lines, fumbling it like a nuclear football juggled over a fire pit, as well as editing a few episodes of my two podcasts, Bleakwood and All Creatives Now, but that’s it. Beyond that, my well is well and truly dry.
Which is kind of what I wanted to talk about. But how do you write about not being able to write? Let’s find out!
I’ve had a bit of a weird few years. I’ve spent half my life wanting to be a writer. Just over six years ago I released my first novel (independently), the result of nearly a decade of work and learning about writing craft and indie publishing and all that jazz. Always with the same aim — one day I’m going to become a full-time writer. It was a mantra, one that has, at times, become all-encompassing.
All the while, I’ve been working a day job. Not by any means a career I would have chosen (the other options of crusading journalist and bloated rock star having long since fallen away) but a decent one. Progression, decent salary, security, all that jazz. But I kept writing, always with the idea in the back of my head that one day I’d be saying goodbye to that career and hunkering down into writing full time. In these dreams I weirdly look just like Stephen King, but my bald spot has long since rendered that impossible.
Four years ago, that day job suddenly went away, as jobs occasionally do. I had to find a new job, because my Amazon sales of the Blood on the Motorway novels would barely cover one round of fish and chips a month, let along match the wages that were about to disappear.
I found one, maybe less than ideal in terms of who I was working for, and it meant upping sticks and moving the family across the country. Which we duly did. No sooner had we moved than the company announced they were closing and that I would lose my job.
So, that was fun.
The long tail of that job has been far longer than anyone could have imagined at the time. So my writing brain (which takes up the roughly 47.3% not taken up by alternative rock lyrics from the 1990s) kicked into overdrive. Paul, you fucking cretin, it whispered (it’s a mean motherfucker, this bit of my brain), this is your chance. MAKE ME A GOD!
I was going to shoot for the moon.
I’ve been very lucky these last few years. The declining workload of a closing company, coupled with the ability to work from home, meant I could work almost as though I was a full-time author, while still earning the steady paycheck. Sure, that meant working a ridiculous amount of hours, but it’s amazing what you can do when there’s a goal to shoot for. Over the course of those years, I’ve written over half a million words, launched four websites, two podcasts, and tried to put the hard yards in when it comes to promotion. Let’s just gloss over the fact that I’ve done that bit really badly. Oh, and I’ve been doing a diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford University, which requires just a tad of additional focus.
It wasn’t enough. Sometime around March I had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to get another job to start when this one ends, and suddenly on top of launching the aforementioned podcasts and work getting much busier, I had to find a new job. Anyone who’s been in that market recently will tell you — that’s a full-time job of its own.
Then something really great happened. I found a job (hooray) but not only that; it was a job that was a lot different to what I’ve done before in a lot of ways. The actual work I’ll be doing is the same, and something I know I’m pretty good at, but what’s different is the company. I don’t really like to talk about work stuff on social media all that much, but I’m actually working for a company I can really believe in after two multinationals with somewhat shady records on different issues. But here I’ll be able to make a difference in actual, tangible ways. I’m really looking forward to getting started with them, and I honestly never thought I’d feel that way about the career I’ve fallen into. I can see myself working there for the rest of my career.
Which does then call into question, where does that leave the writing? At first, I looked at the fact that I’ve got a bit of time off between jobs and thought HOW MANY PROJECTS CAN PAUL DO IN THAT TIME? That is because I’m an idiot.
The whole thing is making me think a lot about my relationship to writing. I’ve concluded that it’d be a lot healthier to go back to just writing for fun, for me. But I’ve got so many projects on the go, it seems… tricky. When you’ve been trying to spin so many plates for so long, what does writing for fun even look like?
At the moment, I feel so burned out. Looking back now, I can see that I’ve definitely taken on far too much. Most of that work has gone into things that nobody ever sees or notices. Web redesigns, mailing list automations, updating sales descriptions across multiple episodes of a monthly serial… the list is endless. I’ve spent the last three years putting everything into trying to reach a point of going full time. It’s been all-encompassing. When I realised back in March that it wouldn’t happen, I got kind of depressed about it, but was still throwing everything into it. In fact, that’s a bit of a lie. I got very down, not just about writing, but about my whole place in the world. A lot of us do. In fact, one of my biggest struggles in wiring this is my good buddy imposter syndrome, who spends all his time breathing down his neck whispering you fool. Nobody cares. Look at the world, it’s on fire. And you’re bleating on about waa waa waa I’m not sure what kind of writer I want to be?
Fuck, I hate that guy. Anyway, after a good few weeks of soul searching, I think I’m getting comfortable with the idea that I’m not sure I still want to be a full-time writer.
Look at me, couching that language.
So, let me be clear. I don’t want to be a full-time writer any more. If it happens, marvellous, but I don’t see any way that it will, and the reasons for that are twofold. One, I don’t want to find an agent or a traditional publishing deal, because I kind of despise what the publishing industry is, and boy, does that seem as much fun as trying to find a new job. But I also hate social media and self promotion, so I’m never going to make it as an indie author. Not to FULL-TIME AUTHOR levels.
If I go back to doing this as a hobby, none of that matters. I can put books out, and if people like them, great. If they don’t; hey ho. Or I could put it all aside for a while and learn the sitar. Who knows? But I want to go back to just doing what I want.
I’ve been looking at this time coming up, a good chunk of weeks of no work. My good lady wife starts a new job in September and until then isn’t working either, and the kids will be off school for most of it. So, do I really want to spend all that time sat at this desk?
No. In case you’re wondering. So, I’ve decided to take a proper break from everything, until September. I’ll write if I want to. But I don’t think I will. When I start work in September, I’ll revisit it again, but on a more sustainable level. I don’t know what will look like, yet, and I think I need a clean break from it all and have a good rest before I can even think about it.
So, if you’re waiting for the next episode of the Sunset Chronicles, or Bleakwood, or All Creatives Now, I’m afraid they’re all going on the back burner. I actually love all three projects, but I just can’t face them at the moment. Let’s see where we are in September.
In the meantime, you can find me hanging around on socials, probably. Actually, possibly not. I might delete them all. Maybe I’ll be in my back garden, if you can find that.
Hey, look, I wrote about not being able to write after all…
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?
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.