2015: Here We Go

Goodbye, 2014. Hello, 2015.

These are my goals for the next year. I suppose they’re resolutions, but I don’t often make very detailed goals these days.

1. Concrete writing stuff: Finish Brainfreeze Book. Edit False Hearts. Finish editing Masquerade. Finish my Masters. Let the two book ideas clamouring in my head percolate, then outline and write samples, perhaps. I’d like to write more short stories and novellas, too.

2. Less concrete writing stuff: Try to write most days, but don’t worry if life gets in the way for a bit. Don’t worry so much about word count. There’s more to writing than how many words get on the page per day. I spent over an hour the other day researching Los Angeles to try and discover a good setting for a secret base, and then went back to my original idea anyway. Who cares–some of those other settings might show up later in the book. Write the best books you can. Try not to stress out so much about the business side of publishing.

3. Fitness and health: Keep exercising. I did a lot in 2014: ran my first 10k race, did some pole fitness classes, which was super fun though I have a shoulder injury from it that doesn’t seem to want to heal. I did a rowing event for work. Did yoga, Pilates, and other fitness classes. My arms have some definition and I have the slightest hint of actual abs for the first time ever, whoohoo. I might try to do two races in 2015, and keep doing the other stuff. As for diet, I’m trying to cut down slightly on sweets and things (my sugar addiction is strong) and eat more homecooked meals, but I don’t plan to actually diet or aim to lose x amount of weight.

4. Work/life balance: this is my main goal. Seriously, my biggest “resolution” I’m determined to do is to do less. Last year I tried to do way too much. I managed, barely, but I’m excited that this year, I don’t have to always work about 60 hours a week. I don’t have to work full-time at an office anymore, at least for a few years. I’m going to take full advantage of that. I’ll still be writing plenty, but I’ll also be making time for actual life: cooking more, exploring more, cleaning my flat, seeing friends, sitting on my butt on the sofa and watching a lot of TV and films and reading. It’ll be great.

A 2014 Roundup, or: Well, That was Quite a Year

Well, 2014. That was a year. Here’s a brief roundup.

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Reading from Shadowplay at Borderlands Books in San Francisco

January 2014: This month had a good start. Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2) was released. I was lucky enough to be able to fly back to San Francisco for this, where I did a few events: a book launch at Borderlands Books, a talk at my alma mater, California State University East Bay, a visit to one of my professor’s classes, and another visit at my old high school, Hayward High. I was also able to do some research trips around San Francisco for the book I’d just finished drafting. I found out Pantomime had been listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association Rainbow List. The end of January was less pleasant, for I found out there’d be no contract for Masquerade, Micah Grey #3. I was, frankly, beyond devastated.

Favourite book read in January:  either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

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Waterstones Aberdeen Launch. Photo credit: Laura Benvie.

February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.

Favourite book read in February:  Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.
Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.

March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.

Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.

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Laya’s first piece of fan art for the Micah Grey series

April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy.  There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.

Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.

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May 2014: Pantomime was listed as a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month! I shared the first Vestigial Tale cover and blurb, for “The Snake Charm.” I went to my friend Elizabeth May’s wedding in Gretna Green and ran my first race, a 10k. By this point my mental health was a lot better. I’d been accepted into a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Favourite book read in May: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. I love it so much.

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June 2014: Pantomime WON the Bisexual Book award! I posted my acceptance speech. I released “The Snake Charm,” and it had a great first month! I shared the cover and blurb for “The Fisherman’s Net.” My short story “They Swim Through Sunset Seas,” was accepted in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology. I was nominated for Best Newcomer for the British Fantasy Awards and wrote musings on being a baby writer at the beginning of my career. Strange Chemistry, the publisher of Pantomime & Shadowplay, announced that it was closing down very suddenly. I participated in a rowing competition for work dressed as Princess Leia. Behind the scenes, I’d received and implemented edits from my agent on Bonkers Book and it was getting ready to go out on wide submission.

Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

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July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED:  Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.

Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

Best selfie ever: Ewa, Kim, Mahvesh, Me, Anne, Jared. Photocred: Mahvesh Murad
Loncon3. Photo credit: Mahvesh Murad

August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.

Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

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Reading from False Hearts at Fantasycon

 

September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!

Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.
More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.

October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.

Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).

Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.
Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.

November 2014: I did my full-time masters. I worked part-time. I stupidly decided I’d do NaNoWriMo because who needs free time, right, though I had to adjust my goals to include blogging and university work. My nephew, Theo, was born on November 5th. Shadowplay was Gay YA’s November Book of the Month and False Hearts sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag. Shadowplay was nominated for the ALA Rainbow List! I posted another hybrid author roundup. I took a weekend trip to Glasgow. I “won” NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth and swore I’ll never do it again, but it does mean I wrote a good chunk of Brainfreeze Book, my option book for Tor. Things happened behind the scenes regarding *stuff.*

Favourite book read in November:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.

The double rainbow in Arran.
The double rainbow in Arran.

December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.

Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

And that was my year. Let’s see what 2015 brings!

The Isle of Arran Writing Retreat

Last week was my first proper week off in…a long time. Except it wasn’t really a week off–I went to the Isle of Arran with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne for a writing retreat. But it was the first week in so long where I wasn’t going to the day job, or going to a convention, or going to class or doing homework, or on holiday somewhere where you explore all day. I sat on my butt, didn’t move off of it much, and was a proper full time writer for one whole glorious week.

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On the ferry to Arran

 

It did have a bit of drama: the day after we arrived the weather worsened, to the point where we were technically trapped on the island for two days as the ferries weren’t running. Due to the microclimates on the island, it’d be sunny one minute and furiously hailing the next. Wednesday night, lightning flashed and thunder shook the Retreat Cottage of Wonder (and Whisky). Because it was cold and we had the heating up high, a few wasps came out of hibernation. Only queen wasps hibernate. They were the size of small birds (slight exaggeration) and we had to vanquish them with a hoover.

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The nearby town of Lamlash, where we went for supplies
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In search of vittles
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The view from our window. I know, right? That’s Holy Isle, which has a Tibetan monastery.

 

Aside from that, it was a lot of writing and eating a lot of cheese.

What I did:

– Finished re-reading Pantomime (to refresh myself for Masquerade‘s edits. And whoo man, it was really weird reading a book I wrote in 2010-2012. In general I still like it, but there’s also plenty I’d change, and I can tell my writing’s grown and matured)

– Re-read Shadowplay (because this was written in 2012-2013, it wasn’t as painful to read)

– Edit Masquerade into a readable draft, as that first draft was most definitely not. This was what took most of the week. It’s now out with the first round of betas.

My main task
My main task

– Edit my short story, “The Lioness,” which will be released in the Cranky Ladies of History anthology from Fablecroft Press next year. It’s about a badass lady pirate who killed a lot of people (Jeanne de Clisson).

– Read 1 book for the Bisexual Book Award I’m helping judge (in the general fiction category).

– Finish my research book on corporate espionage for Brainfreeze Book (my option book for Tor).

– I also managed some fun reading: most of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig and some of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

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The morning we left, the rain cleared up a little, and a perfect, marvelous double rainbow bid us farewell.

This week I’ve been thrown back into day job stress, but as of next week that calms down and then there’s the Christmas break. I’ll either actually take the break off work entirely, or I’ll start drafting Brainfreeze Book again (which I’m currently 40k through).

It was a marvelous week, and I think I’m going to have to find a way to go on more writing retreats.

 

Books Read in November

1. The Comforters – Muriel Spark. For university. Very meta, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I’m afraid.

2. Shark – Will Self. Also for uni. I actively despised this book. A 500 page book of one paragraph, post-post modernist prose with no q
uotation marks. So the opposite of my cup of tea.

isla3. Isla and the Happily Ever After – Stephanie Perkins. After reading Shark, I needed a palette cleanser of something easy to read and fun. I loved Perkins’s previous work and this helped me recharge.

4. Complete Atopia Chronicles – Matthew Mather. Book research. Mather is an IT security expert who self-published some short novellas, which were then put into one collection. I really liked how the novellas overlapped between the various characters, and found the ideas fascinating.

5. Austerlitz – W.E. Sebold. Another book without paragraphs. Though I still found it hard to get into, I enjoyed it more than Shark. I’ll enjoy every book I read this year more than Shark.

Total for this year: 67 books in 2014.

November: In which I sort of won NaNoWriMo

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SORT OF.

 

At the halfway point of last month, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on reaching 50k.

But turns out cheating worked really well for me.

I had 4k of a draft before November started, which I input into day one’s total, but as I wrote pretty much exactly 4k between guest blogs and this blog in November, that evened out. Because I was able to include my university work, as a result I wrote about 6k for uni and my final projects are not that far off from done, which is good because they’re due this Friday and I’m in London from Tuesday to Thursday. As of today, the draft of my option book, codenamed Brainfreeze Book, is 39,091 words. I’m not sure of the percentage of the draft; I feel like I’m around 40% through the story. I’m sure at least 10k of what I wrote is going to be scrapped and rewritten. But it’s a lot of progress.

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The NaNoWriMo graph

So, maybe I didn’t “technically” win. Who the heck cares? It’s an arbitrary number anyway. Back in January I planned to keep track of my word counts all year in a spreadsheet because I am a nerd. I gave up on it in mid-July, pretty much right after Tor offered on False Hearts and Brainfreeze Book. But in the first 6.5 months of the year I wrote around 155,000 words. From mid-July to the end of October, I think I wrote at least another 45k of Masquerade & the Vestigial Tales. So in as of December 1st, I’ve written at least 250k, and I’m going to edit all of Masquerade this month and finish my final projects for the first half of my MLitt. That’ll be inching pretty close to 750 words a day on average, all year long, despite working full time for almost all of it and, for a brief time, working 32 hours a week AND studying full-time (note: not recommended). Despite some shitty things happening, and then some really awesome things happening (which can be just as distracting for getting words on the page). I kept on pushing through, kept on writing, no matter what life threw at me. I’m really proud of that.

And, as I’ve said before, writing is not a race. There’s been plenty of 300 word days I’ve had that have been far more useful than other 3000 word days. A book is more than its word count. Some of the most important work you can do is stare out of a window and think really hard, or read a book, or watch a film, or get out into the world and live in it and be inspired that way.

I hereby declare 2014 a writing win.

rock-on

 

Ten Snaps: Glasgow

I did this a long time ago for my trip to Barcelona, then stopped. But Ten Snaps is where I share 10 photos from a trip.

I went to Glasgow last weekend as a wee break before things really rev up for finals for my university and work for an upcoming audit.

For more photos, follow me on Instagram, as that’s where I’m pic spamming these days.

“Being Human” and Book Week Scotland

Book Week Scotland

Last week the University of Aberdeen had a festival called “Being Human.” Unfortunately, I was only able to go to one event, a lecture on time, time machines, and the Victorians by one of my professors. It was good research for a book idea I’ve had for years that hasn’t quite gelled yet. The festival also had and interview with Will Self, a talk on Viking funeralscapes, an informal “Skeptics at the Pub” event, and more. I really wanted to go to a talk on the history of disability, and another on terrors, gods, and magic in the north, but between part-time day job, existing studies, and the fact that I was away in Glasgow Thursday and Friday meant that I couldn’t go.

This week is Book Week Scotland. I’m a Patron of Reading for the Aberdeen City Library, so a letter to the library I wrote will be on display within at least one branch, I think. There are some great events on both through the public library and at the University of Aberdeen library, though again, due to the semester nearing an end and the day job needing me for extra hours this week, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend any. I’d like to go to the historical crime event on Saturday, and I’m going to at least look at the miniature books on display before my lecture tomorrow at the University library! Tonight there was a bookbinding workshop I wish I could have gone to rather than toiling on my essay. One day, I’ll have free time…! But if you’re free in Aberdeen, you should definitely pop along to some of the upcoming events if you can to celebrate books an libraries.