Blog Hop – My Writing Process

Hi Folks,

We’re having a brief interlude in Scarlet’s Web today because I was asked by the lovely Jonathon Fletcher to participate in a writing process blog hop.

Below are four questions and my answers about my writing process. Beneath them is a link to Jon’s blog where you can read his answers to the same questions. I’ve tagged another great writer, Kela Lewis-Morin and will add a link to his blog when I have it later. Please check them out once you’ve read this.

Without more ado…

reflected birds

1. What am I working on?

I’ve been working on the next story for the blog. The Life Without Tumblr series has lasted six months and come to almost a hundred episodes, so it’s time for something new. It’s tentatively titled The 13th Rose.

Every morning, the Flower Seller leaves his chambers in the Flights and travels to earth. He sets up his stall on Embankment and waits. Every day he meets his one customer, to whom he sells a bunch of twelve red roses and gifts one extra. His subject has already been chosen for him. His task is to pull that person away from the edge and save their soul, regardless of what state it’s in. For some the choice means life and death, for others, lies and deceit.

But this week isn’t going well. If he doesn’t hit his quota, he’ll get banished and what’s worse, the Father is coming to visit on Sunday.

One by one our characters are introduced and one by one, they make their choice. Come the end of the week, everything changes and the world as we know it will cease to exist. Who will still be standing to take their place in the wreckage?

It’s part character study, part zombie apocalypse, part fantasy. The usual mash up and so far, great fun to write.

In terms of editing, I’m mid-re-edit on The Spirit Room while the third book in The Assembly trilogy is with my editor. I’m tidying up the language and refining it more than anything. I’m also formatting the ebook and print editions of A Game of War seasons One and Two in time for late May release.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Hopefully the answer above gives you some clues to this one. My favourite reading genre has always been fantasy first and foremost, with science fiction and horror close behind. My favourite TV and movie genres have always been Urban Fantasy and Zombies/Horror. I’m a huge comic fan and have been all my life.

These genres all fit together so well, I couldn’t figure out why they shouldn’t be combined. So my Epic Fantasy assassin trilogy, ‘The Assassin Cycle’, features zombies, and my epic fantasy ‘1000 Hours’ features characters with super powers. My modern-day-magician series, ‘The Broken Circle’ has goblins running around London and The Assembly Series features superheroes, alien invasion and the world’s greatest magicians.

Aside from the genre-splicing, I’m hooked on characters and always have been. My aim is to create characters within fantasy that affect the reader as much as those in any other genre, something I feel has been missing in many of the books I’ve read growing up. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m working hard on it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love to write and love to tell stories. I write what I write because I love the freedom and the escapism. Growing up, fantasy gave me new worlds in which to exist; an escape from real life and all it entailed. I get that in most books I read, but fantasy was always an especially exciting prospect because you didn’t know where you were escaping to. Plus, of course, dragons. And swords. And zombies.

Why content yourself with writing ‘person A travels to place 1, meets person B on the way and they fall in love’, when you can write ‘person A travel to place 1, finds the sword of Danelar, meets person B who turns out to have magic powers. Together they defeat the Witch King of Shail and fall in love’?  Maybe it’s just me, but I know which I’d rather read and write.

being creative is not a hobby

4. How does my writing process work?

I’ve been working on this a lot in the last year or so. I’ve read countless blogs that tell me to plan and outline and so forth, so I’ve tried, in various ways. However, my basic process has stayed the same. I sit at my computer, open a new Scrivener project and start typing. I will have nothing in my brain. In fact, the emptier it is the better.

By the end of the first page I’ll have a character, maybe a place and some questions.

By the end of the first chapter, I’ll have the answers to those questions in my head and lots more I can’t answer.

By about five thousand words, I’ll have a world. My protagonist will have an aim, some baggage and if they’re really lucky, some friends. They’ll also have an antagonist.

By, hopefully, twenty to thirty thousand words, I’ll have an ending in my head. I’ll also know whether the book is standalone or part of a series/trilogy.

there's nothing to writing

That’s the process. From there till the end I put my head down and write. I try to write my first draft as quick as possible in order to stay in the flow, so I’ll average 25-30,000 words a week and bash it out in three to four weeks.

I then put it in the drawer with the rest and let it sit. When I come to edit, I read it cover to cover. If it still excites me, I begin to pull it apart and make it work. If it doesn’t, it goes in the virtual bin of ‘useful things I might use one day but probably won’t but can’t bear to throw away’. :)

I don’t ever take a break from writing, so in the last fifteen months, since I started writing seriously, I’ve clocked up around twelve books and a bunch of novellas and short stories. The real positive about this is that it stops me being too precious about my work. I don’t feel I have to use everything and it has to really stand out to make it to the editing stage. Now if I only had a bit more time…

we rarely know where we are going

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little dip into my writing life, do pop over now and check out Jon’s blog on GoodReads for more writing related goodies. It’s interesting how different our processes are to achieve the same end goal.

I’ve tagged @KelaLewisMorin…link to his post on Deviant Art coming later.

Thanks so much for reading. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on my process or would like to share your own. Scarlet’s Web will return on Wednesday, when she’ll finally meet the Council…

What I do when I’m not eating chocolate

It’s been an insane fifteen months since we started Cairns Writes, particularly since the new year. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we are going to achieve going forward and wanted to share just a few of those things here, before Scarlet pushes her way back in and gets all, like, rowdy.

2014 so far:

I’ve added a number of regular things to my plate. Because, you know, why not?

I’ve begun podcasting. I’m reading Life Without Tumblr, and posting it every Saturday night on the blog, on iTunes and on YouTube. As I get better at it, I’m becoming keener on the idea of recording my books. However, that’s a little way in the future at the moment.

Podcast set up

I’m posting Life Without Tumblr on Wattpad every week. It’s a different forum and a very different audience to the one I’ve met so far. It’s early days, but I’m enjoying the interactions I’ve had on there as well as some of the stories.

I’ve been making my own pins and delving deeper into Pinterest. I’m not sure I’m adding that much value yet, but it’s something I enjoy and makes some of the more admin-based tasks easier to stomach. I’ve also been creating some secret boards for when I release certain books, which is exciting in a sad, geeky sort of a way.

I'm better than that

I’ve written a bit. Around three novels since the turn of the new year, all of which are better than what came before, which is a relief!

Perhaps most excitingly, I’ve started my publishing run for 2014. We’re aiming to have something come out most months of this year. We want to get as much of my writing out there as possible, and it started on 15th March with the fourth part of A Game of War, optimistically titled, Breathing in Space.

Below is an excerpt (spoiler alert if you haven’t read parts 1-3 yet) and the cover. It is the fourth in the series and the first is available by signing up to the newsletter. The others are on all the big ebook retailers for a wallet-busting 99 cents or pence.

Breathing in Space cover

The warning light had been flashing for a couple of hours. Each time she came back to herself, it was that much harder to breathe. Stem was in the pilot seat, head resting to one side, eyes half-closed. 

They were drifting, breathing vapours. Close to death, and still so far from earth. Would she feel it, the point when her body gave up, or would she just stay on the spiritual plane forever, searching? 

She closed her eyes and slipped free of her body, and the Vale. The stars glittered around her and she forgot the fear and the heaviness in her chest. Life lapped at her like waves striking a beach, a universe of souls vibrating and being. But they were too far away!

It was like the beach just kept getting bigger, the sea forever out of reach. She picked a new direction, traveling miles in seconds, only to be met by the same quiet murmur. 

She came back to herself and glanced one more at Stem. His mouth hung open, his eyes closed.

“Stem? STEM.”

She pushed herself up from the cot, then sunk back, gasping and coughing. Her mind was drifting and she found herself out of her body again, looking down at her pale, skinny form. Her hair had gone pale, and her braids were fraying. 

She rushed from the ship…


What’s to come:

It’s tempting to list them… ow, what the hell.

  • April 15th – A Game of War part five – Escape
  • May 15th – A Game of War part six – Gateway to Earth
  • Mid July – The Assembly book two – The Story of Eris
  • Mid July – The Assembly book one rerelease with new cover – The Spirit Room
  • September – the complete Season One and Two of A Game of War in print!
  • Christmas – The collected Life Without Tumblr, ebook and print.
  • Christmas – The Assembly book three – The Way Home

Phew. I wonder whether we’ll manage it, but I’m convinced we will. We have to, because I’ve got another six books waiting to be edited and unleashed upon the world :)

Speaking of which… I also received my first print book through the post, courtesy of the fabulous Createspace. This was, without doubt, one of the highlights of my short publishing career to date. Within a day we’d decided to get new cover art done…

My First print book

Finally, a quick word about my current work in progress. I’m loving writing it, because I’ve deliberately done a few things very differently this time around. It’s a cyber-punk/post apocalyptic action-adventure story. It’s told in the first person, from the point of view of three very different people. One is an assassin, only he is to assassins what Robocop is to the police force. The next is an ex-prostitute, who may just be the second coming, and the third is a failed theology student turned space-ship pilot. The Cleansing is coming and the fate of every person on Earth is at stake. Of course, the only people left on Earth live in the city, and the city’s a dangerous place to be at the best of times…

It’s also exciting because this first book will be a freebie. Once this full length is done, I’m going to write episodes, similar to A Game of War only perhaps twice the length. It’s also far grittier and a little more philosophical. I’ll keep you posted on that, but I think it might be quite good. Of course, I’ve got to edit my zombie versus assassin trilogy first and get that out there…

Right, back to work. :)

Scarlet returns on Monday in her longest and most exciting adventure yet. I hope you’ll join her, Martin and few surprise guests.

I’d also love to hear your plans for the year, so please leave a comment below.

A Change of Status – Part One

Scarlet hated Christmas. No, that wasn’t true, she hated buying presents. Actually, that wasn’t true either. If she had, like, a thousand pounds, buying presents would be amazing. What she hated was buying presents with no job, and no money, and too many random relatives she only saw once a year.

They’d all be getting books, anyway, ‘cause what else would you give? They wouldn’t be delivered in time, but it also meant she could do Christmas shopping via the mecca that was Amazon, thereby entirely avoiding leaving the house, freezing to death, or seeing stuff she wanted and couldn’t afford. Like food. And clothes.

Mum had done the yearly clothes shop last week, the not-so-mecca that was Primark fulfilling all their garment-related needs. Scarlet was trying to find the silver lining, there had to be one. Had to be. She looked down at the stripy, purple and grey jumper she was wearing, and sighed. Quotes lied. Not quite as much as old sayings, but often enough for her to be losing all faith in them.

She hadn’t had a lesson in two weeks, and it was all Martin’s fault. If he hadn’t been so stubborn, she wouldn’t have called him a dick, and he wouldn’t have got all high-horsey and told her ‘to respect her master, lest he decide that teaching her was no longer part of his life.’

She needed to do something, anything, other than sit in here, and stare out at the cold, and spend money she didn’t have on people she didn’t care about.

She needed a change, and that meant a change of status, and with a feeling akin to discovering the last frozen pizza, tucked down behind the wall of ice that was threatening to escape the freezer and take over the house, she closed Amazon, and opened Tumblr.

She had a couple of comments, a few reblogs, which was nice, and she spent a few minutes trawling for quotes she didn’t actually hate. Once that was done, she began to change her account, deleting all the old crap and finding new.

She would be seventeen in the new year, and things had to change. At least, her profile did, or her ‘people’ would get bored. The thought made her shudder. Losing friends who didn’t actually know you had to be the worst possible comment on you as a person.

Also, she wasn’t talking to Martin, and the threat of complete isolation over Christmas was enough to make her curl up and die. Just her and mum, for two weeks. Meh.

She played around with her theme, searching for the right poem to set the tone. Poetry was still, for the most part, a mystery to her, but there were some that spoke to her, often in the voices of weird old people. Did other people read poems to themselves in voices from Downton Abbey?

She found the right one, finally, that expressed just the right tone of loneliness and impotent rage. It was tough to find one that mentioned Christmas as well, but she got pretty close. It was beautiful, and mysterious, and made her want to know what happened after it ended.

Scarlet flicked idly, trying hashtags, but finding nothing that got to her the same way. She sighed, pushing her computer, blog blank but for the one poem, off her lap, and lay back. Her eyes drifted closed, and dreaming of snow, she fell asleep.



Huh, what, who the…? She sat up, blinking, shaking her head. The call came again and she stood, groaning, covering her face with her hands so the mirror couldn’t ambush her on the way out the room. She had the door half open when she turned, and glanced at her computer.

That was weird. The screen saver should have kicked in ages ago, unless she was only asleep for, like, two minutes, and there was no chance of that, because she could tell she had horrendous bed hair, even without looking in the mirror.

She let go of the handle and stepped back to the bed, brows coming together as she frowned. There were posts. Someone had posted to her new blog. How the hell had they done that?


She raced down the stairs, the smell of dinner filling the house.

How I wrote a million words in twelve months – Seven more tips for motivation

In the final post in this series, I wanted to talk about all the motivators I didn’t fit in the first one.

They didn’t go into the first one because my focus for that was internal, the way I approach my work and what makes the difference mentally. These pointers have an element of that, but they are also about reaching out, about using the global community to help inspire and enrich my writing life and keep me going when things get tough.

So, without further ado, another seven ways that I stay focused, self-disciplined and motivated:

Inspired by success: There is a lot of talk on blogs about there being enough audience for everyone, and I couldn’t agree more. Few things are as inspiring or exciting as reading on a blog, or via twitter, that someone has managed to sell some books, or connect with a publisher, or had a great book launch. Tapping into those things every day keeps my excitement sky high. On a more personal note, I read a couple of blogs that have been created by people coming to terms with grief, or personal issues, and seeing those people find peace and support via their platform, is a wonderful thing.

Seeing how others work, (or, pinching the good stuff): The great thing about being part of the community of writers is the sharing of ideas. I find the comments sections on the great websites I’ve listed below to be particularly good. People will share where they are, what they are working on, and how they go about their writing via that medium. I am endlessly inspired by what I read, and will often leave a blog fired up with ideas, and desperate to try things.

Common ground: A few days ago, I was going back through last year’s manuscripts, and discovered that somewhere in the backing up process, the last thirty thousand words had been chopped off one of them. This is where being a pantser comes back to bite me, as I have only my memory to fill in the blanks. But I tweeted my pain :) and was blessed with some lovely responses, people commiserating, and offering welcome advice. Nothing like people being lovely to make things easier to deal with. That and chocolate.

Trying new things: Way back in January of last year, my wife pointed me the direction of Chuck Wendig’s blog. There I discovered, amongst many disturbing things, the world of flash fiction. My first short story in about twenty years was inspired by one of his challenges and I then made it a rule to search out some form of flash fiction each week. Sometimes I write something and bin it straight away, sobbing into my brownie. Other times, more rarely admittedly, I’ll post the results, and enjoy trawling through what everyone else came up with. This normally goes like ‘oh of course, why didn’t I try that, oh, bloody hell, that’s what I was trying to do, only they got it right’ and so on. But it’s fun, and inspiring, and the perfect way to shake off those mid-manuscript blues that can slow you down and demoralise you.

Finding and learning from my mistakes: OK, it’s confession time. The last time I studied English on a serious level, was back in school. I did my AS level English Language a year early and got an A, then ran away from Wuthering Heights, not daring to look back until I was ensconced behind my drum kit. What I have spent the last year discovering is that, for the most part, I’m not too bad at the basics. I understand how language goes together good, and can say stuff quite good, too :) But boy oh boy, is there still a lot to learn. From story structure, to the finer points of grammar, to conflict and a whole lot more. Most of that stuff, I do naturally, but do I do it as well as I can? Hell no. In my published books, I’ve had the help of an editor, and beta readers to help drag the good stuff from me, and ensure I’m producing stuff people actually want to read, but aside from the guilt I feel at inflicting my shoddy first drafts on the poor souls, I want to be better, all on my own. So learning where I have holes, and filling them, is not only a constant job, but also an inspiring one.

Reading: I feel slightly embarrassed I didn’t mention this on the last one. It should go without saying, that reading comes before everything else. I won’t harp on about it, because so many, far better writers than me have said it better, but it does bear repeating. Also worth mentioning, is the importance of reading everything. I read classics, fantasy, mysteries, scifi, horror, YA, modern literature, comics and anything else that comes my way. I haven’t yet found time for much romance, but I loved Gone with the Wind, so there’s that :)

Wifey: For me, the greatest source of encouragement and belief comes from my wife. She has been nothing but completely supportive since I put my first word to paper, and continues to be so, even taking on some of the less exciting tasks of the business, and forming an integral part of the marketing and promotion side of things. This could of course be your best friend, your mother, anyone who believes in you unconditionally. As an author it’s essential to have all those people who question; critique partners, editors, beta readers and so forth, but I think it’s just as important to have some to turn to when the well of self-belief runs dry. Being a successful writer demands patience and an eye for the long haul, and having someone for those moments when the sales aren’t quite what you hoped, or you get that first edit back and realise how much work you have to do, is a wonderful thing.

The pick of the blogs that motivate me:

The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy

The Creative Penn

Mythic Scribes

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Your Writer Platform

Thanks for reading. I hope this series has inspired you in some small way, and if so, please drop me a line and say hi.

Scarlet’s story will continue next week in a new series entitled ‘A Change of Status’, in which Scarlet discovers that unicorns are grumpy bastards, learns that cults are filled with wierdos, and gets a girlfriend.