#1 New York Times bestselling author

I wasn't myself at the time: a theory

Where did the year go? It’s been another long hiatus, I admit. Black Run is nearing the end of the editing process, and I’m still learning lessons about why it’s taken me more than a year (or two) to do what I used to do in six to twelve weeks on the previous twenty-odd books. Some switches don’t reset as fast as others, and I think it’s related to the subject of this blog today: getting into characters’ heads so profoundly that you aren’t yourself for the duration of the writing process. I haven’t been able to do that properly over the last couple of years because of real life events, and the amount of revision that’s been needed to fix “non-immersed” writing has been extraordinary.

Anyway, thanks to a question on Twitter from a reader – was I interested in what had happened to franchise stories I’d worked on in the past? – I started thinking again about why I can close the door and move on immediately from a project without a backward glance.

And I do. The moment I stop working on something, it’s almost like it never happened. I just move on to the next job, and it’s not even because I’m not getting paid. In a very short time, I forget most of the story, and not long after that, if I have to read what I wrote, it feels like a stranger’s work. On occasions, I’ve actually been convinced that it was edited and that I didn’t notice, but when I check it against the manuscript, it’s all my own words.

I used to think it was just a habit picked up from decades in journalism, where moving on is the only way to work, but while thinking about what this reader had said, I realised it was something different. The cognitive process wasn’t the same. Any journo worth their salt doesn’t forget a story. It just sits on the back burner indefinitely. You think you’ve forgotten it, but as soon as something relevant triggers the memory, you’re on it again like a rat up a drainpipe. You might not recognise your copy when you pull the cuttings from the archive (and in many cases, that’s because the subs cut it or merged it with another reporter’s story) but you’re back on the case. It’s yours.

So what was happening with me and fiction? It was a very different experience. The story never “came back” like it did when I was reporting. Then the penny dropped and I realised it was an inevitable part of the dissociation process I use to write characters. You’ve seen me blog before on how I write characters, that I stop being me and see the world entirely through the characters’ eyes so much that I’m in someone else’s mind, which is often a pretty uncomfortable feeling when you step out of it. There’s no authorial overview in any of my books. My novels are a jigsaw composed wholly of each character’s personal experience of events.

It should have been obvious that I didn’t recognise my own writing because it wasn’t me “talking.” It was the characters. When I’m back to being me, I really am reading what a stranger wrote, or to be more accurate, what a stranger said and thought. It’s not my heart that’s in the book; it’s theirs. And, of course, the ability to step in and out of multiple characters is essential when you write the way I do – very tight third person point of view for a cast of six, seven, or more characters. That adds to the tendency to walk away from something I’ve been immersed in and not think about it again. If I couldn’t do that, my tight third person technique would lock me into doing something akin to first person, the world seen through one set of eyes instead of many.

I feel better knowing that it’s not my memory playing up. (That starts to be more of a concern as you get older, believe me.) I simply wasn’t experiencing the events of the book at the time – it was the character I’d immersed in who was living it. The real me would now have to make an effort to think myself back into that character’s mind, which I’d only do if I had to.

Mystery solved, thanks to a reader.


Back in the land of the living

I know it’s been a very long time since I last blogged, but the simple answer is that I had nothing to say – nothing entertaining, anyway. There are few things worse than (a) spraying your personal woes all over the internet, and (b) depressing everyone else at the same time.

I’ve just resurfaced after a really, really bad year which started in earnest last December. It’s down to Real Life, which is a pain in the arse when it intrudes on work. In short, I’ve had a long-term family illness to manage, I’ve had surgery (with a good outcome, thankfully), and I’ve had another medical issue of my own to resolve. This has involved being unable to avoid the NHS, which I’d done quite successfully for the last decade, and having some bad experiences with it. (There’s been a hospital enquiry as a result of one of them. But that’s all I can say.) So although I wrote about half a million words this year trying to keep up with my schedule, I might as well not have bothered. I should have had the sense to hit the pause button and focus 100% on the domestic front, but I didn’t.

Sometimes work is a respite when you have an ongoing problem at home, but sometimes it simply spreads you too thinly; you can’t fight on two fronts without the risk of losing on both. My writing during that time is best summed up by paraphrasing the excellent and much-missed Eric Morecambe. They were all the right words, but not necessarily in that order.*

Anyway, long and nose-bleedingly depressing story short, I stabilised the problems (some things can’t be fixed, just contained) and decided to restructure a lot of stuff on the home front to avoid hitting that kind of wall again, all of which drained my batteries. I’m now back on recharge, and I’ve (re)written more (and more coherently) in the last few weeks than I ‘ve managed all year.

So Black Run really is coming soon, and I mean in English, not whatever the hell the previous version was written in. And there will be other stuff in 2016. Stand by for more news.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thanks for sticking with me.

*Re Eric Morecambe – seeing as it’s Christmas, I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you the clip in context. (It’s all funny, but the relevant part starts around 10.00.) One of the great comedy classics. For you young ‘uns who’ve never seen this, that really is Andre Previn being a good sport. Thank you, Mr Preview.

Nine Days with Wonder Woman and a classics text book


If anyone tells you comics aren't educational, counter their case with this. I don't mean educational for the reader. I've learned a lot by reading well-researched, intelligent comics. I mean for the writer.

To write NINE DAYS, a story about Wonder Woman in a different* Greek mythological context, I had to brush up on my classics after a very long hiatus (Latin was still a modern language when I was a girl, you see) and believe me, it was like homework all over again. I always do a lot of research anyway, even for a shopping list, but this plunged me straight back into exam mindset. I had a mental picture of running into my old classics teacher, and she'd ask me: "Did you actually make any use of your Latin and Greek?" And I'd say, "Yes, Miss, I used it to write Wonder Woman for DC Comics."

But that's never going to happen, alas, so I'll share the imagined moment with you. (And, in case Miss is still around and reading this, I make active use of Latin every day.)

Anyway, Wonder Woman was a step outside my cammed up, weaponised, hairy-arsed military comfort zone, so it was a blast.

Oh, and I also had to brush up on dark matter and cosmology stuff. So there you go.

NINE DAYS is on sale on September 16, digital first. I'll let you know when other editions are available.

(* The Greeks were a bit flexible on canon. They rebooted the gods from time to time. I've gone with a lesser-known Olympian genealogy for some of the characters.)


On sale SEPTEMBER 16 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Getting the human side of military fiction right

I bang on about this a lot, I know, but a conversation this week with a serving US soldier reminded me why I should harp on about it forever: getting military fiction right, especially the human side, matters more than ever. Fiction is frequently the most powerful and sometimes the only window people have on the real military world. My crusade in life is to erase lazily written military stereotypes from the face of the Earth, unless it's forced to carry a CONTAINS BULLSHIT warning in big red letters.

The first part of my guest blog for Fictorians is here. Part II is here. And remember that just because a movie, book, or whatever tries to pass itself off as authentic, it doesn't mean that it is. Try my three-movie test, as outlined in the blog.

If you get the details of a fictional plasma-powered rifle wrong, you've upset a few fans. It doesn't impinge on the real world. If you portray military personnel inaccurately, though, you've done real people (and dare I say it, the best of our species) a serious disservice. I know which matters more in the global scheme of things.

No Joe

If you're a regular G.I. Joe reader, you've probably worked out that the Fall of G.I. Joe series is ending next month after eight issues instead of twelve. It's a shame, because I was really enjoying it and Steve Kurth and I had developed a great creative partnership. Inevitably, a story planned for twelve issues can't suddenly be collapsed into eight with five issues wrapped up in the final book without some gouges and dents, so I left the characters in as good a shape as I could so that some story arcs were resolved and the characters could be picked up again in the future if needed.

To give IDW their due, they were open with me from the start that they weren't sure how long they could keep the new series going, and I took the job on that basis. All we could do was plan for a year and see what happened month by month. They finally pulled the plug at issue #7, which gave me one issue to tie up what I could and give readers some closure. That meant making drastic changes to a couple of storylines; but, like all stories that go off at unplanned tangents, it just made them more interesting for me and I was quite sad that I wasn't going to be following where they went. Working with Steve Kurth was a treat because we found our mutual "zone" fast and then we were on a roll. It's a great experience when you really gel with an artist. Kito Young (colourist) and Jeffrey Veregge (cover artist) did some fabulous stuff too. It was a cool team and I learned a lot from everybody. We were aiming for a modern spy thriller, a little different to the traditional G.I. Joe, and I feel we delivered on that.

Anyway, that's how comics are. Readers and creatives all know the industry works on tight budgets, and we're used to series suddenly getting chopped. It's a tough market. But I had a great time with IDW, who were honest and courteous throughout. I met some great Joe fans along the way, too. So all in all, I'm glad I worked on it and sorry that it had to end too soon.

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