Update 31/05/2015

Hello everyone! Remember me? 

As those of you with long memories may recall, The Devil's Gate is currently in what I think of as the beta testing stage. Fortunately I've now got the feedback I need to make the next round of editing. It's extremely valuable to hear what other people make of the book, since thing that make perfect sense to me may turn out to be complete nonsense to someone who lacks the benefit of having written it themselves. 

It's taken longer than I intended to get to this stage, but that's probably a good thing: a) I've been so busy over the last few months I probably wouldn't have got much done anyway; and b) it's been sufficiently long now since my last edit that I can now re-read the manuscript with a little bit more perspective. The plan is to read over what I've got, making notes as I go, and then edit based on my own thoughts and those of the readers. 

We're not quite finished yet, but it's getting close. Watch this space! 


'Sorry-For-The-Lack-Of-Updates' Update 22/03/2015

So I've been rather quiet this month. Whoever first said 'no news is good news' clearly wasn't talking about publishing. This is partly because I'm waiting for feedback on the Fourth Draft, which I'll need in order to make my final revisions. In all honesty though it's been so busy for various reasons that I'm not sure I'd have achieved much anyway.

The good news is that I am finally moving in a week's time (I should have known better than to invoke the curse of 'completing before Christmas'). That means that soon I'll be living in Cambridge, and I'll be able to settle down to finish off my book. Or, alternatively, I'll be so distracted by the bright lights of the big city/Netflix that I fail to make any progress whatsoever. We'll see.

Update 25/01/2015

This has been quite a significant weekend for The Devil's Gate. I recited the magic words and carried out the secret computer rituals that turned a bunch of documents into a single EPUB file. This means I can now read it on my iPad like any other novel; for the first time it feels like a proper book rather than a simple manuscript. 

Obviously the cover is going to need a bit of work

Obviously the cover is going to need a bit of work

And I am reading it, once again. I'm picking up on some of the errors that slipped through the last edit, and I'm looking out for things that don't make sense (or could be better handled) when it's all read together rather than a couple of chapters per week. Hoping to finish this off before too long, and then it can finally be shared with my test readers. 

Of course, there will still be plenty to do after then. For one thing, I need to put together a proper cover. But I think we're getting close.

Update 12/01/2015

I've been working recently on the not-particularly glamorous task of transferring the edits of the third draft from paper to screen. It's hardly the most creative of tasks, but it has to be done if the book is ever going to come together.

Today I finally finished the job. Hopefully I'll be able to remember the arcane rituals and obscure scripts required to transfigure 27 Word documents into a single properly-formatted EPUB file. I'll then be able to see how The Devil's Gate reads as an actual complete novel.

The wall of old Tallinn

The wall of old Tallinn

Happy 2015!

Happy new year everyone! I know it's a bit late, but I've just got back from Finland and haven't had much chance to post anything.

2014 has been quite a decent year, at least for me personally. Not only was it very productive for writing, but I've had some great experiences along the way. RYLA was one highlight of course, but there have been plenty of other really good times too.

I don't believe in making traditional new year's resolutions, since once you've broken them the first time it's hard to find the motivation to resume them. Instead, I take the opportunity of the new year to set myself goals for the following twelve months, that I can work towards all year and assess myself against at its end.

The results this year have been variable. I've certainly finished the first draft of The Devil's Gate, for one thing. I've not quite made my target of kilometres jogged, but I have kept up with the jogging, which is the more important thing. I've not really made the progress in learning Finnish that I'd planned, but that's mostly because I've been working on the book. Overall, I'm quite pleased with how things went.

2014 went out in an appropriately fun manner. I've been to some good new year parties in the past, but this is the first time I've ended up in Tallinn for New Year's Day. My friends and I travelled on the ferry from Helsinki for a night's partying, and explored the capital of Estonia on the following day. The old part of the city is really beautiful and well worth seeing.

2015 has therefore got off to quite a fine start. I don't expect it to be parties and sightseeing all the way, but with an apartment to buy and a new book to publish in the next few months I think it's going to be a good one.

The Story So Far

As anyone who knows me could tell you, it's been a long journey to get here ('here' being, as of right now, eight more chapters to edit before final publication). I'm struggling to recall when I first started writing The Two Empires, but it must have been some time before 2006. I know this because the first chapter (as it then was, which is virtually unrecognisable compared to the current version) was submitted as part of my GCSE English coursework in a 'here's one I made earlier' moment.

The Two Empires wasn't my first idea for a book. The first story I seriously tried to turn into a full-length novel was a kind of modern-day Swallows and Amazons with less sailing experience but more child gang warfare. It never got beyond the first couple of chapters, but I had some cool ideas. Who knows, maybe I'll come back to it someday.

My second attempt was effectively Harry Potter in space. Given my vast love of J K Rowling's books and of all things Star Wars, this seemed perfectly natural at the time. The first few chapters related what I thought was a quite plausible first contact scenario, with aliens landing around the world and taking our young hero along to develop his latent magical talents.

With hindsight, the most interesting thing about it was the way I clumsily tried to shoehorn fantasy elements into a sci-fi setting. The Two Empires (and its sequels) rather turn this on its head, by approaching what is at first glance a fantasy world through a logical and analytical style more typical of traditional science fiction. I rather like it.

It was I think a while between giving up on my second book and starting The Two Empires. I wanted to get it right this time, and I spent a long time planning. There's a cute/stupid story about where the first seed of an idea came from, but I'll save that for another day. By the time I started on the first chapter I had the basic skeleton of the first book pretty well mapped out, and a rough idea of where the series was going.

The first draft of the book was entirely typed out on my dear old HP Ipaq PDA. I certainly got my money's worth from that thing; there can't have been many that typed 150,000 words in their lifetime. It certainly wasn't as fast as typing on a desktop, but I did quickly pick up enough speed with the stylus that it wasn't far off. The point was that I could take it with me and write whenever I wanted (for those reading this in the future, this was a time before ultrabooks, iPads or even smartphones). The Two Empires was written on car journeys, holidays, and sometimes just at home. It wasn't a regular process - I could go weeks without writing a word when I got stuck, only to blast through a chapter or more in a few days once inspiration finally hit.


While I knew what I wanted to happen at certain points in the story, the flesh of each chapter was largely made up as I went along. The exception to this are the last couple of chapters, which I had quite a detailed idea of in my head long before writing them.

My old PDA

My old PDA

The first draft was finished in late 2008. I celebrated with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, which I had read somewhere was traditional on finishing a book. Of course, it wasn't really anywhere near finished.

The second draft involved simply running the first draft through a spell-checker. The third draft was a big one. I printed the whole manuscript and went through it editing in pencil before making the amendments on computer. By this time of course I had 150,000 words under my belt, which was considerably more than when I started, and I'd like to think my writing style had improved a little over that time. The result was a manuscript that from a distance looked like someone had simply shaded the whole thing in pencil. I was pretty ruthless, and whole sections were either entirely re-written or removed altogether if I decided they didn't actually add anything to the story. Even where I was happy with the plot, there was hardly a single sentence that didn't get tweaked or reworked to some degree. It was quite a long-winded process.

The third draft

The third draft

The fourth draft was more about reading the manuscript as a whole and checking that the plot made sense and everything fitted together. Of course, I still found plenty more linguistic amendments to make at the same time. Throughout the editing process there were a number of occasions where I came across a plot-point that didn't quite make sense. The temptation is to add detail to explain it in order to preserve what you've already got, but then often you find that introduces further problems that lead to further additions and eventually the whole thing becomes very contrived. I learned early on that it's better to simply re-write the original awkward point or lose it altogether.

It was at this point that I finally thought the book could be ready for other people to read it. Well, that's not completely accurate: I still hated the idea of anyone else seeing it, since it certainly didn't feel finished, but I had resigned myself to the necessity of getting an outsider's opinion. I got some of my friends to read it and provide feedback, which proved to be extremely useful. When you're as intimately familiar with something as you are with your own work it can be hard to tell how someone reading it for the first time is going to understand it.

The fifth draft was a response to that feedback, as I cleared up things that had been misunderstood and changed the parts that hadn't been liked. After that I kind of sat on it for a while. During this time I was planning out the remaining four books of The Malkovari War in quite some detail, and I had actually started on the first draft of the second book (it's immensely satisfying after so much editing to actually get back to writing afresh). In the process I had become a lot clearer about the direction things were going and the themes that I wanted to develop more, and so I finally produced a sixth draft in which I made sure that the groundwork was properly laid for what was to come.

After the sixth draft I got some more reader feedback before embarking almost immediately on the seventh draft. At this point I had a clear plan in mind for publishing, and so I knew that this was going to be the last edit. The fear of finally revealing it to the public has driven this to become rather more of a re-write than I was originally expecting, but things are moving. Eight more chapters and one epilogue to go.

Please bear with me a little longer. I think it's going to be worth it.


Right, here we are: my new website and new blog.

I'm currently half way through the seventh and final draft of The Two Empires. This last rewrite is party based on feedback from the last person to have read the manuscript, but I'm also fixing a few minor plot points and improving sentences here and there. I'm happy with my current design for the cover, though I might tweak things a little more before publication.  Other than that, I just need to put together the front and back matter and then the book itself will be complete.

I've been building this site as a break from editing. I was originally planning on coding it from scratch, but I'm very much an amateur web designer and I could have spent twenty hours or more on something that would at best have been just good enough.  Instead I opted to try Squarespace, and so far I'm very pleased with the result. There's no way I could have produced something like this on my own.

I've got a couple of ideas in mind for blog posts.  I want to write a bit about how The Two Empires got to this point, and I also want to put together something about the process of self-publishing online.  Expect to see both in the next few days.  Beyond that, I intend to use this blog to keep people updated about what's going on with the book (and future books!), and to share whatever else happens to be on my thoughts.