Update 15/06/2014

Well, I haven't finished Chapter Twenty-Three yet, but I have made some decent progress on it this week. Hopefully there might be something more concrete to report by this time next week.

In the meantime, and in keeping with recent updates, here's a picture taken earlier today of a young jackdaw perched on my arm. He appeared in the garden of my firm's Bury office for the open day, and was very much the star of the show.


Update 24/05/2014

There hasn't been a whole lot of progress on Chapter Twenty-Two this week, if I'm honest. I've got the plot nailed down but the details are, for now, eluding me. I'm happy enough to let it turn itself over in my mind until it figures itself out, which hopefully won't be too much longer now. That's one of the luxuries of not being a part-time writer, I suppose: if I was reliant on the next book to feed myself I suppose I'd just have to keep writing by brute force.

While it hasn't been a particularly good week for writing (or for UK politics, for that matter), it has been a good week for reading. I've had Jack Kerouac's On the Road on the to for a while and this week ended up reading quite a lot of it. It's a fantastic book and I'd definitely recommend it if you've not read it, particularly if you've ever been to the USA.  It's not a typical novel, in that not a lot of any great drama seems to happen (I've not got to the end yet, I should point out!), but it conjures such a wonderfully atmospheric image of travelling through late 40s America, and the characters and situations inside feel strangely relatable. Oh, and the Penguin Modern Classics edition is, as always, a quiet masterpiece of book design.

It also helps that whenever the book finds itself back on or around the West Coast it seems to make a point of passing through the same places I visited while on my own Great American Roadtrip in 2012. Reading On the Road is making be want to write something about that and the dozens of stories it produced...so watch this space.

I'm not usually a filter kind of guy, but some shots practically demand it

I'm not usually a filter kind of guy, but some shots practically demand it

Update 18/05/2014

Pleased to report that Chapter Twenty-One is now complete. It's a good one, I think. Now I've started on Chapter Twenty-Two, which is also going to be a good one. As should they all, if I'm doing this right.

I've also today started on a secret project that ties in to the book. Most relevant to Book 3, actually though it will put in a bit of a cameo appearance in this one. But I'll say no more for now - more on that to come :-)

For now, here's a picture from the roof of my office in Ipswich. Though given the weather at the moment, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for Monaco.



Update 13/04/2014

Just a brief update now to let you know how things are going with the mysterious Book 2.

So how are things going? Good, actually. Managed to get the first half of Chapter 18 down on paper (or pixels, whatever). That will be the seventh chapter of the year so far. The plan is for Book 2 to have 25 chapters in total, plus prologue and epilogue, so at this point the end is very much in sight, albeit several month off at best. (And by 'end' I mean the completion of the first draft, not including any of the many rewrites and beta testing - so, not really the end at all, I guess.)

I am however intending to properly announce the title of the book, and reveal a synopsis, once the first draft is complete. So if you're anxiously awaiting a sequel, there's something to look forward to.

The good progress this year is in large part a side-effect of having the first book out. It's unimaginably motivating to have people actually reading it and saying they enjoyed it. So, if that's you, thanks.

The other news this week, in case you missed it, is the blog post I published on Friday all about Finnish design. If you think that might be something that interests you, take a look. 

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.