Shock and Awe and Swans.

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Awards are funny things.

 Well, writing is a funny thing, awards are just another funny part of it. I used to see people come up for awards and be amazed but how confident and professional they must be now they had got to that point. I would imagine they had craft. You know, I had this image of them sitting down and having a clear idea of their theme and what it was they wanted to achieve and who their writing would speak to and how they would do that.

I kind of longed for that, I couldn't imagine the sort of peace that it must bring when your mind is always turning over, 'what if', 'is this good enough,' 'am I writing rubbish?'

I mean, you kind of imagine that you get the answer to 'am I good enough' when you sell your book to someone like Orbit - but you really don't, because signing to a publisher isn't entirely about the art of writing, it's also about the commercial business of writing. And a look at what sells will tell you good writing and being commercial are really not inclusive of each other. So you are still, always asking that question, is it good?

And let's not forget, even when your book is out and you're getting good reviews (as I've been lucky enough, mostly, to get so far) you're not writing that book any more. That book is finished. You are doing something new by the time that books comes out and if you're pushing yourself (which you probably are because, 'is it good enough?'). Then what the reviewers like may well not be what you are doing now[1].

But anyway, awards and nominations. I am now a twice award shortlisted author (for the Kitschie Golden Tentacle and the Gemmell Morningstar.) You'd think it would bring you some sort of surety, some sort of 'yes, I am doing this right.' That was exactly what I thought all the authors on these shortlists must be thinking. Yes, here is MY VALIDATION. I AM VALIDATED.

Sadly, not true.

Cos what you don't see is that I am still doing exactly the same thing every day that I did before I had signed with Orbit or got an agent. I get up, take the boy to school, come home. Find a reason not to write for the first couple of hours of the day[2] drink coffee, eat crisps. Then stare at what I am meant to be doing and become filled with doubt about it. And I am lucky, because my doubt isn't about sales or things like that because I never really think of that. I'm not commercially minded and  I have an agreement with my agent that he can deal with all that and just tell me what I really need to know. But the actual material of my life has not changed. Publishing deal, reviews, award nominations these do not change the substance of my life or the way I approach what I do.

Write, doubt, keep writing.

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this. Just maybe what I am saying  -in a very long way round - is for me, and maybe for most authors, no matter how well it may look like someone is doing we're still just swans; appearing to glide serenely along the top of the water while paddling furiously below in an effort not to sink.

I'm not complaining though. Because it's still amazing, shocking and wonderful to think the things I write sat on my couch here in Leeds are being read all round the world. And I think, probably, the doubt is a better thing to have than complacency.



Leeds. April 2018.



  1. In my case, so many people commented on how likeable Girton was in Age of Assassins just at the point I was consciously moving him away from that while writing Blood of Assassins. As an aside, this is one of the places where your editor is invaluable. When you are going, 'oh I have done that wrong'. They can be a calm voice going, 'no, go with it, It's right. (Thanks, Jenni. )

  2. Like, I dunno, writing blogposts or something?

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  1. David

    [mild soilers] RJ, as you know, that led to the phrase some of us used: ?oh, Girton...? as a comment on certain themes in ?Blood?. But looking at the character and the context it is absolutely the right thing and just shows that you have excellent judgement - and I?m glad your agent supported you on that. Perhaps next time it will be easier to do?

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