Christmas Message

Well, the Queen does one, and mine are shorter. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, and remember there is no such thing as too much turkey. Seriously, there isn't, not as long as you have enough pickled onions with it.

General sitrep – books and assorted stuff

Newsletter subscribers have now had a sneak preview of the cover for BLACK RUN, the sequel to GOING GREY. I'll be revealing it to everyone else next week, but if you want to be notified when the book's published, sign up to receive updates on new releases and other relevant stuff. The timetable is slipping because of family illness that requires my time. I'm sorry about that, but you're adults and you understand.

There won't be pre-orders for BLACK RUN because Amazon won't run a Kindle pre-order page for indie authors without a manuscript being uploaded. As far as I'm concerned, if it's in a fit state to be entrusted to someone else's servers, then it's in a fit state to go on sale, and there's no point in messing readers around by making them wait just so I can to try to get a little visibility on some new titles list for a fleeting moment. (There's no pre-order system for CreateSpace trade paperbacks, by the way.) Publishing companies can list a book for pre-orders long before the author ever starts writing it, and with no more guarantee of it ever being finished, but indies have to operate under different rules for whatever reason. It makes no difference to me, so I'm carrying on with Plan A.

Getting back to the real world, i.e. people with real jobs that actually matter, I'm going to do an unusual thing and post my thoughts on Kajaki in the next week or two. It's more to get stuff off my chest and to try to work out my reactions than to inflict an actual review on anyone, which it won't be. I think all professional reviews of books, movies, or anything creative are irrelevant at best and an exercise in smart-arsery at worst, whether they're good or bad or neutral. I used to review movies in my journo days, so as I know all too well what goes into the reviewing sausage, and how worthless and possibly toxic that sausage is unless it comes from someone you know personally and trust, I never eat the bloody things. I don't read any reviews (pro or otherwise) of my own books, either. I never have, and I never will. I've told editors never to send them to me. Well-meaning friends sometimes forward what they call "great" ones to me, but I after thanking them (because it's a kind gesture, and they genuinely have my interests at heart) I simply delete them unread.

To call Kajaki a movie is something of a slight: it's actually more like standing there and watching a situation you're helpless to solve or prevent, with all the accompanying heartfelt anxiety, and it indulges in none of theatrical froth beloved of even "serious" war movies. This is a glimpse of 3 Para in Afghanistan, God bless them, and it's not easy viewing. It's a testimony as far as I'm concerned. I would clip open the eyes of every politician in this country and force them to watch it. I would also make it compulsory for the general population to watch it before being allowed a vote. But then you know what I'm like.

This isn't insulting toss like Hurt Locker. (There are bad movies, and then there are insulting movies, and Hurt Locker was insulting. Don't even get me started.) I can't even classify Kajaki with other war movies I think are worthwhile and honest, because Kajaki is about real, named people doing and saying what they did on the day, and makes few if any concessions for artistic licence or civilian lack of knowledge. It's also the only film I've seen that depicts private security contractors fairly, too. It's extraordinary. I'm still at a loss to find the word to describe how I experienced it, and if a writer can't pick a word, that tells you a lot. Enjoy isn't appropriate at all, and moving doesn't begin to cover it, but whatever verb or adjective conveys the meaning that I feel changed, better, more committed, and angrier for seeing it, that's the word. Whatever it is.

Managing complex plots – nuts and bolts.

Years after I left overhead projectors behind and switched to Powerpoint as my corporate narcoleptic of choice, I've returned to transparent plastic and marker pens for a wholly different purpose.

I'm currently writing two storylines that can best be described as Byzantine in their complexity regarding who's who, who knows what, when they knew it, what mistaken assumptions they make and then act upon, and what their personalities drive them to do; the comic series THE FALL OF G.I. JOE, and the sequel novel to GOING GREY, which is BLACK RUN. (Which will now be on sale in late January.) Thrillers in any medium depend more heavily on small detail and not falling into plot holes, and managing the ins and outs of that isn't something you can always entrust to your memory.

Whether you're working out plots, character arcs, or just trying to keep a grip on canon, there are as many methods as there are writers. Despite being a technical girl, I've opted for non-digital methods to manage G.I. JOE and BLACK RUN. There's a lot of software out there to help you manage stuff like that, and it's an integral part of the excellent Scrivener app. But I'll share these analogue methods with you because I know they'll suit some of you better than doing everything on a screen.

1. Whiteboard. Old school, and a lot of writers use them. You can slap everything on a single sheet and get an overview that can identify those oh-no-I-missed-that plot holes, timelines that don't work, and so on. Magic Whiteboard, plastic film on a roll that will stick to any smooth surface by static alone, is my personal fave because you can cut it to any size and literally slap it up anywhere, in your eyeline or out of it.

2. Sticky labels. Beloved of many. (I use the translucent Stalogy variety.) You can move them around on any surface or stick them in a master notebook, colour code them, file them anywhere, and take them with you if you want to work on plots and outlines when you're in the coffee shop. (Because sticking a whiteboard/ Magic Whiteboard up in your local Starbucks is even more Lame Poser than conspicuously typing your latest opus there. Unless you know the other customers well enough to invite them to brainstorm with you, of course.)

You can also use card systems – 3 x 5 filing cards, those handy little flashcards on a ring, or whatever you find easiest. Display is the issue; if you're comfortable flicking back and forth between leaves, fine, but if you want to be able to see it on one surface like a D-Day chart table, then you're going to need a puzzle mat or slotted stands.

3. My current method, as pimped in the intro: OHP sheets. Yep, transparent plastic. The kind you use on overhead projectors. One page per character, then assemble them so that you see one flow chart linking who does what, colour-coded as you prefer. It requires a bit of discipline to write in the right place so that it's not a jumble of overlaid text when you lay one sheet on top of the next, but you can ink in columns or a grid on a master sheet using a permanent marker. I use Staedtler markers, the Lumocolor Permanent for the grid guide and Lumocolor Non-Permanent for the character sheets. (It wipes off with a damp cloth but it's resistant to wearing off.)

OHP sheets can be trimmed and punched to fit whatever loose leaf system you use, too. I now have a B5 26-hole master ring binder for BLACK RUN that holds all the OHP sheets, notes-on-the-go/ summary notes on Maruman B7 mini sheets, and regular B5 paper. It's a Kokuyo Smart Ring Binder and those are slim and compact enough to assign one per project and carry several with you.

This all sounds bleedin' obvious but I'm still experimenting with the best ways to manage fiction projects after ten years. Your needs will vary, you'll change as a writer, and one size doesn't fit all. So try stuff out and see what works for you.