Novel Excerpt

It’s been almost five years since I wrote my first book, but in 2015 I started writing book two, so here’s the opening chapter from my second novel, IKIWABIDKIWS. It’s a work in progress; I’m currently about half way through the story at 40,000 words, so everything is on track. I mean, I don’t have a job and my dog died, but everything is on track with the writing… apart from the chapter where I shoehorned in a dog death. I thought it might be interesting to document this early unedited draft – maybe it will go through a complete tonal shift, maybe I’ll correct my grammar, maybe it’ll end up as chapter thirteen – but whatever happens, here’s what it looks like now.

Chapter One
November 28th, 2014

The sound of some guy who committed suicide twice depositing quarters in a jukebox scratches at my unconscious. I recognise his voice from that movie where he isn’t allowed to love, and then I’m fully awake and it dawns on me I’m alive, really alive, and I sit up, sucking air into my throat like it’s the first time. I focus on breathing. Easing my lungs out of tornadoes. The distant groan of transit undulates through the wall from the bypass. I can just about see the cars streaking through rat-tail midnight drapes like hallucinogens. Capsules. Silver-tongued secrets speeding past at seventy miles an hour, and I’m reminded of their existence but never their wholeness. Their intermittent headlights illuminate invisible hairs on my body. I am different in the light.

When the weight of ten wasted years is a fish hook through your heart, nothing dances. Everything is impassive. Sobbing isn’t solace, it’s a device of decay. Sobbing keeps the time slowly ebbing away. Here, in The Dog Tunnels, time croaks, growling grudgingly forward. Ramshackle shop-fronts sag, clandestine and asthmatic with winter steam, inside hunchback terraces. An eczema of worn cobblestone streets runs broken bones through the thinning dockland outskirts. Sure, it’s a quaint enough midday tapestry, but by moonlight The Dogs is host to a skittish menagerie of broken, crippled creatures… I’m late, I should leave. The heaviness of dreams will disappear against the night.

Wrestling into my jacket, I pull my hood tight around my ears so I can be faceless in the dark. The fear I had when I first moved to this part of the city all too abruptly left me for another; the fear of having nothing to lose. I’m safe walking along these cobbled bones the same way the homeless are safe in their cracks. I’m a zero sum game. The last time I had something real to lose, something other than myself, was ninety-seven. It was the day after my thirteenth birthday. An antiques fair with James and his parents. I can’t remember James’ surname now, but I remember that day. It’s caustic; burned into me. I was paralysed and enraptured standing in a thin alley formed between wooden stalls. The rickety table in front of me was covered in vases and flutes, chipped bowls and figurines, dusty lamps and waxy candelabras, but it was the dull, tangy glow of amber that hypnotised me. Entombed in that tiny orb was a spider caught suspended and crumpled at sharp angles. I’m an arachnophobe, but I’m an arachnophobe the way people roll down windows to better view accidents on the motorway; I couldn’t look away. I don’t know if I felt the hands on my shoulders, or heard the words in my ear, but I must have because my tears began to merge with theirs. The stalls warp and fade around me now, and I am left with that tiny lump of amber which wasn’t, but was, the shard of glass inside Tommy’s brain. The shard of glass which had, the day after my thirteenth birthday, killed Tommy.

The air tonight is so fucking cold it’s scratching my skin. But I go anyway. I go because I’m the only one who will listen, and the idea of his talent seeping out of that room unheard and trickling into the docks kills me. He puts it out there. He says it aloud to the world but the world never listens. He has more courage than I do these days. Secreting words in notebooks, hiding them in creases and folds; that’s my life. And that’s the problem with success, the expectation stifles. An artist at eighteen created a hollow man at thirty. Sometimes I miss the fire… I’m sorry, Tommy. I’m trying.

The door to the Tooth and Penny screeches in pain with each body entering its gut. Hunching over as it screams for me, I melt into the crowd. The discomfort of my entry ricocheting around the pub tells Quentin I’m here. Smiling, his willow-limbs scuttle around me. A long hand reassures my back, another gives me a whiskey.
‘You’re here!’ The grin cuts his cheeks and lights his eyes. All of him is in this moment.
‘I’m always here.’
‘You’re a good friend.’ I am not. ‘I read your book.’
‘And only twelve years after I wrote the fucker.’
‘It’s good.’
‘The right people read it, I got lucky.’
‘It won awards!’
‘There are a lot of awards to win.’
‘I’m not sure if I understood it.’
Then how can you think it was good? ‘Which part?’ The whiskey howled.
‘Everything you didn’t say.’
Ceci N’est Pas Une Personne,’ the whiskey whimpered. ‘I was eighteen. It was about a soldier and a prophet.’
‘If there wasn’t any more for you, Q, then there wasn’t any more.’
‘Why did you stop writing?’
I haven’t. ‘Because I had written.’
The smile softened. He took his whiskey in one.
‘How much of it was true?’
‘Most of the time travel.’
The moment happened again, ‘How much of it was true?’
‘You mean-’
‘I mean the resentment.’
I was angry when I wrote it. At everything. ‘I was eighteen, I felt everything.’
‘She’d be proud of you.’
She’d think I was a stranger. ‘She wasn’t the sort of person you could disappoint.’

I’m curled on a stool, relatively sober, but my bones crumple over one another with the weight of apathy. I’d be four inches taller if I ever straightened my spine. Quentin is on the makeshift stage, addressing the room like he’s purging art from a lung. His organs are a gallery of fears. Along the bar, gnarled fingers cradle a stout whiskey glass, ice barely remembered against the heat of palms. A napkin, folded into a soft origami crane, rests wet and sagging at the beak. Younger hands are nearer to me; the forefinger and thumb absently massaging a pale ring of skin. A trail of water meanders closer still, waltzing towards yet more hands anxiously padding curves against the condensation of a cold pint. I look down. My own knuckles are pronounced from constant popping and cracking but otherwise soft and unmarked. I don’t know the faces of these men holding their vigils, but their stories are poorly hidden. Clues on fingertips. Relationships lacing joints. None are listening to Quentin. His words are drowning in the dock.


When We Were Alive, Cover Reveal

Okay, lads. Here it is. Here’s the cover. My previous post detailed the process of working with my publisher to decide on a cover we were both happy with, so have a click there if that’s of any interest to you.

When We Were Alive

I’m really pleased to have a cover that is (hopefully) neutral, whilst still being relevant to the story. I think it avoids being masculine or feminine, it could be picked up by a reader of any age, and it doesn’t presuppose the type of person who might enjoy the story. When asked ‘Who is the target audience of your book?’ I always think, can ‘people like me’ be the answer? And by that I don’t mean a white female in her 20s, I mean someone who has a crippling fear of death, only likes simple coffee, loves dogs and hates cats, doesn’t want to grow up in some ways but grew up too fast in others, feels most alive when scared, cracks their knuckles, feels trapped by routine, is super into the idea of sea-monkeys, feels guilt from others’ sadness, loves pulling fluff out of their eyelashes, dropped their snack biscuits in a puddle at age four and is still haunted by it, doesn’t believe in ghosts, gets freaked out by them anyway, and at the same time desperately wants to see one so that life and death still have mystery. Just someone human, really.

Whilst I adore pretty books, and I obviously understand the necessity of commercial design, I think reading is so personal, that it seems absurd to subtly suggest a book should be read by a certain ‘type’ of person. If some guy who works in finance and plays rugby at weekends loves Twilight, that’s his prerogative. If there’s some twelve year old girl sitting in a room plastered with One Direction posters, staying up into the middle of the night reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, fine, that’s what she’s into. People are complex, let’s not insult them by telling them what they should read. How the hell am I meant to know who will like my book? If anyone will like my book? I’m going to be grateful to every single person who takes the time to sit down and read it.

Of course, assuming that a pink glittery book cover would be aimed at young girls, or a stark, black minimalist cover at adult males, is a problem in itself. But right now I’m just showing you the cover of a book I wrote that will be available on real shelves in physical shops. Or you can pre-order it, which I think you can do here (or at least there will be a link to Amazon there, I don’t know, I just do the writing).

Please buy, read, and then pretend you like my book. Thank you.

Book Cover Design

A big part in the publishing journey of any novel is settling on a cover. I’ll admit this is what I was most apprehensive of when signing with my publisher. A novel is a lot like a baby, I imagine, I haven’t got a baby and I don’t want one. But I do have a novel and I don’t want people to look at it, squint, and ask if it’s a boy or a girl, only for me to explain that it’ll let me know it’s preferred gender when it’s good and ready.

Cover Design

I had no idea how much input an author would have in the cover of their novel, but I assumed it was minimal/none. Regardless, I made the above design and sent it to my publisher to sort of hint at what sort of style I might like, hoping to influence the style somewhat.

My book was originally to be published earlier this month (1/9/2015), but when I received the cover proposals I was slightly disheartened. The designs were definitely attentive to my story, and I really appreciated what I was shown, it just didn’t fit in with something I’d pick up in a book shop. And obviously I’d read the novel I wrote, so there was a slight disconnect there. I told my publisher this, and they were so very accommodating in altering one of the designs to something we both thought would work. I was worried it looked too YA for a novel which wasn’t YA, and they obviously wanted it to be commercial. They knew what would work on a shelf much better than I did, and all I knew was that I wanted my novel to look like something I’d own. We eventually settled on a design I didn’t love, but could live with. However, this back and forth meant the release date of When We Were Alive was delayed, and had to be re-shuffled into their catalogue at an appropriate time.

I want to point out that whilst I didn’t like the cover, I felt incredibly lucky to be working with people who were willing to listen to my criticisms when they really didn’t have to. Over the past few months I came to terms with the cover, and was just excited to one day see it in a bookshop.

Because of the new six month delay, I asked if I could make some small edits to the original MS. Four years had passed since I had first written it, and I like to think my writing has improved, so I wanted to tidy some areas up stylistically before a professional got their hands on it. My publisher said of course, and gave me an October deadline.

I finished editing a couple of weeks ago and sent it back to them. Yesterday I received an email with some new cover designs. This was a complete surprise. I didn’t expect any, and they certainly didn’t have to do them, but the email said they wanted us both to be happy. I was very grateful. And luckily there was a design which we both loved. It’s very different from anything we had discussed before. It’s ugly. In fact, it’s almost boring. But I really like it. I like how ugly and boring it is, because it’s somewhat different from everything else. It’s adult. It’s simple. It’s gender neutral. And it allows the story to speak for itself. Most importantly, it’s something I can be proud of without a ‘but’. I fully expect some people to dislike it, and I don’t care. I think it will reach the right audience and, most importantly, my publisher and I both love it.

I can’t show it yet, as I’m not in charge of the reveal. But I’m really pleased.