My new book, Sunrise, the first book in my epic Dystopian Sci-Fi series will be out in less than two months. That’s pretty exciting, and a little bit terrifying, if I’m going to be honest. But as I ramp up, one thing my readers have been asking me is... what’s it like?Read More
I’m working on the first draft of a new series at the moment, which mean I’m doing an awful lot of ad-hoc research. Which is to say, I permanently have one tab open to Wikipedia.
It’s often said that you should never look at the search history of a writer, but a quick look over my Wikipedia history alone would have anyone reaching slowly for a panic button. It’s an odd mix of human decomposition rates and mid-90’s alternative band discographies, of articles on the lifespan of petrol vs diesel and the smoking rates of different countries.
I can’t imagine what it was like being a writer before the internet. Imagine walking down to your local library and asking for information on what colour a corpse is after 48 hours one week, and what popular foods for peasants in mid-nineteenth century Yorkshire the next. No wonder we’ve got a reputation as weird, slightly nervous types.
Research in the age of the internet, however is all about the overwhelm. If, like me, you’re a writer who can only spare a few hours a day to the task and you have a daily word count to hit, it’s no good getting a few hundred words in and realising you need some tiny nugget of information on ammunition for UK police weapons if you then fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole that ends somehow with you reading the history of the police baton for the next two hours. The great enemy of creativity is procrastination, and research is just about the purest form of procrastination there it.
Thankfully, research isn’t just Wikipedia wormholes for me. I can also legitimately sink many hours into watching television, all in the name of research, and I don’t even have to feel remotely guilty about not writing when I do it, as long as I have a pen and paper next to me as I do it. The UK has some great fly-on-the-wall documentaries constantly spying on our various emergency services, and I mainline several of them directly into my corneas in the name of research. The always excellent 24 Hours in Police Custody is a great source of life slices, as well as shining a light into the everyday practices of the UK police department. I became obsessed with it around the same time I was writing Blood on the Motorway’s final drafts, and a lot of the humour and practices of Burnett and Tana were very heavily flavoured by it.
The book I’m writing at the moment has a paramedic at its core. It’s my first time writing a book with a single protagonist, and as a result I’m watching a lot of the show Ambulance – at turns brilliant and heartbreaking and life-affirming and also very, very useful. It’s giving my main character what is I hope a real feel, but at the same time I am becoming acutely aware that this is a profession I am fortunate enough to have had little encounter with over my years.
There is, after all, nothing like the real thing, so I have a favour to ask. If you are reading this and you are a paramedic, or you are close to a paramedic (either emotionally or, I dunno, there’s one next to you on the bus right now as you read this), could I ask you to get in touch, or ask that person if I could get in touch with them directly? The more I write this character, the more I like her, and the more I want to do her heroism, her bravery, and her compassion justice. I’d just like a bit of a chat, see if I’m on the right lines with where I’m going, and make sure I can do justice to what is probably one of the most important jobs in the world.
Writers, what is your favourite research method/procrastination technique?
Paul Stephenson is a writer of horror and science fiction novels. Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining the mailing list or reading along at Wattpad. Oh, and he’s got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more.
There are a lot of ways to screw up writing science fiction. I’ve done pretty much all of them.Read More
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As anyone who’s ever been foolish enough to try and write a novel will know, the biggest thing standing between you and the finished book is not the limits of your imagination, finding the time to write, or even writer’s block. No, the true enemy of the writer is procrastination.
It’s amazing, once you commit to sitting in the chair and getting some words down, how many other things present themselves as utterly urgent. Ironing, the internet, the urgent need to sharpen pencils. Or, in my case, making Spotify playlists.
It’s an addiction. I have hundreds of them, all arranged in folders, almost all created when i should have been writing. Today may well have been my nadir. Today I have completely wasted an entire writing day making a playlist of music to listen to while writing.
I am, as I’ve noted before, an idiot.
Still, it’s a pretty damn good playlist, if you’re into writing while listening to an array of music that sounds like the world is coming to an end in the most spectacularly aggressive or miserable way imaginable. It’s crammed full of post rock instrumentals, post metal aggression, and oddball weirdness. And I may have lost a whole day making it, but as I finish editing Sunrise in the next few days and move straight on to writing the second draft of its follow up, Sunburn, it’s going to be a pretty killer soundtrack.
Anyway, if you’re a fellow writer in need of some musical accompaniment, or just a fan of musical genres prefixed by the word ‘post’, check it out below.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more.
Over the course of many books, I’ve compiled a handy list of things that sharpen up my writing, so here it is, for your self-editing needs.Read More
Something happened to me back in November that I can’t seem to shake. A simple interaction over on my weekly mailing list (sent every Tuesday to an elite group of my readers). It was back on the day of the American Midterm elections.
Those of you who know me will know just how obsessive I can get about American politics. It’s a compulsion. It’s like watching sports, except there are no clear winners and somehow we all lose. But I’m very invested in it. I blame Martin Sheen.
Anyway, as America went to the polls, I couldn’t help but reach out to my predominantly American mailing list with a small request. As I wrote in my mail:
“I love the States. The culture of your land runs through me like candy corn. You know how so many Americans consider themselves Anglophiles? Well, consider me the opposite. My favourite bands are American. My favourite authors. Most of my favourite films and tv shows. Hell, I even studied American Politics at University. I consider Aaron Sorkin to be almost at deity level.
So, and please do take this with the greatest of respect (and with the full knowledge this might earn me a few angry responses), as someone who loves your country so much, please can I implore all of you who are Stateside to go and do your best to go out today and vote to save it? It feels increasingly like you guys are standing at some kind of last chance saloon, and I’ll be staying up most of the night tonight to see if you make it through. Hell, if you mail me back to tell me you’ve done so, I’ll even send you a free ebook.”
I sent it. My initial fears that I had opened up a can of American brand gammon on my own arse were swiftly quashed. I had a number of quite lovely responses from readers excited to get out to the polls, some even taking me up on that free book. As the results came in and were not too shabby, there were even a few elated and relieved readers mailing me their stories. And my unsubscribe rate from that particular mail remained fairly low. All told, a good thing.
But, of course, I did get one.
“Guess I’m on the other side and now you've brought this to the fiction I read. You have literally lost me.”
I sent a cordial response, but the tone of that reply, it’s something that’s gotten under my skin in the weeks since. In particular, it’s that one line – “now you've brought this to the fiction I read” – that grabbed me. It brought to mind a lyric from an old Skunk Anansie song I perhaps didn’t understand fully at the time, but which I do now – ‘Yes, it’s fucking political. Everything’s political.’
I consider myself to be a pretty political person, even if I’ve long ago given up on the notion of online debate as a means to resolve the stark differences in our society. But I’m a writer. A writer of genre fiction about killer storms, space monsters and telepaths, yes, but a writer nonetheless. It might not be right out there, front and centre, but politics is key to the stories that I write, and to the characters who live them.
Then yesterday, I had a quick check of my books to see if there were any new reviews, and WOWSERS. This is from the UK Amazon listing for Sleepwalk City.
Apparently I need to brush up on my concept of Western European Identity. I love this review, more than I can say. It's hard to choose a favourite part, but I'm going to go for the errant comma in the third sentence. I’m going to go ahead and assume that for the most part, it’s not going to cost me any sales, and those it might would probably not end up as part of ‘my tribe.’
The Blood on the Motorway trilogy is, at its heart, a story about the battle between good and evil. Not based on any mythological gods or great powers, but on people. It’s about the decisions we make, and the way we approach things. We choose, every day. A thousand small choices, and each of those speaks to who we are as people. Do you approach the world with empathy, or with concern only for yourself? For characters like Tom, Leon, Mira, Burnett, Jen, and the others, it’s these choices that inform who they are, and which rebuild or destroy the fragile world around them. It’s that, personal choice, which decides the balance between good and evil in those stories.
As I’m editing Sunrise, my next novel, I’m seeing the same question play out, albeit on a bigger canvas. But at its heart, I’m still trying to work out that chasm between empathy and its hollow opposite. It’s a story about where we might be heading, about the consequences of the terrible mistakes we seem to be making right now, and how it’ll be choices that get us out of it, in the end. But with space monsters. And telepaths.
I’m not saying that you can’t sit at the opposite end of the spectrum to me and enjoy my books. I welcome everyone. You might disagree with me on, well, everything, and still like my books. That’s great, because my books are not me, and I’m not my books. But I’m not going to entertain for one second the notion of ‘not bringing politics into it’. Because politics is there, in every choice we make. It all goes back to empathy. It’s not ‘keep your politics out of it’, it’s ‘don’t challenge my politics because I’m not comfortable with that.’ And that’s a whole other thing. It’s a choice.
Incidentally, if you’d like to join the mailing list and get weekly updates, a free copy of my first novel, Blood on the Motorway, a free short story, and much more, you can sign up below. Go on, you know you want to.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more