My writing process

I’m a sixty-something Scotsman, now living in Newfoundland, a graduate of Glasgow University, in Botany, after which I had a career in IT in London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh before I came over here to write full time.

I grew up on a council estate in a west coast of Scotland town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lives of quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation

When I was at school my books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The local steelworks shut and unemployment was rife. The town suffered badly. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I’d get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.

So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.

I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.

I didn’t get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn’t an option.

But my brain needed something to do apart from write computer code, and fiction gave it what was required. That point, back more than twenty five years ago now, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.

Back in the very early ’90s I had an idea for a story… I hadn’t written much of anything since the mid-70s at school, but this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I had an image in my mind of an old man watching a young woman’s ghost. That image grew into a story, that story grew into other stories, and before I knew it I had an obsession in charge of my life.

So it all started with a little ghost story, “Dancers”; one that ended up winning a prize in a national ghost story competition, getting turned into a short movie, getting read on several radio stations, getting published in Greek, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, and getting reprinted in The Weekly News in Scotland. ( You can read it now in my SAMURAI And Other Stories collection from Crystal Lake Publishing )

Since then I’ve sold over 300 short stories in 13 countries to a wide variety of paying markets and I’ve had 30 novels published in the horror and fantasy genre presses, with more coming over the next few years.

The biggest influences on my particular style of writing would have to be the reading I did as a teenager in Kilbirnie in the early-seventies, before Stephen King and James Herbert came along. I graduated from Superman and Batman comics to books and I was a voracious reader of anything I could get my hands on; Conan Doyle, Alistair MacLean, Michael Moorcock, Nigel Tranter and Louis D’Amour all figured large. Pickings were thin for horror apart from the Pan Books of Horror and Dennis Wheatley, which I read with great relish. Then I found H P Lovecraft and things were never quite the same.

Mix that with TV watching of Thunderbirds, Doctor Who, the Man From Uncle, Lost in Space and the Time Tunnel, then later exposure on the BBC to the Universal monsters, 50s scifi and creature features and the Hammer vampires and you can see where it all came from. Oh, and there was Quatermass. Always Quatermass.

I also grew up in a storytelling environment – my granddad, dad and their cronies down the local pub, my gran, mum and a whole squad of aunties and cousins sitting around drinking tea in gran’s house, and me and my mates vying to scare each other in the local woodlands, rivers, ruined castles and disused factories. It all comes together like a finished jigsaw when I start writing.

Probably as a result of consuming a lot of film and TV media, for me ideas come visually at first, I have a notebook in which I jot them down. It tends to be full of fragmentary pieces of information such as “Remember the fat man with the umbrella”, but it is enough to jog my memory later on.

For me it’s mainly inspiration. I wouldn’t write at all if the ideas didn’t present themselves in my head. I find I get a lot of ideas clamoring for attention all at once. I write them down in a notebook that never leaves my side, and sometimes one of them gathers a bit more depth, and I get a clearer image. At this stage I find myself thinking about it almost constantly, until a plot, or an ending, clarifies itself.

Once I’ve written down where the story should be going it quietens down a bit. Then, if I find myself still thinking about it a couple of days later, I’ll probably start writing the actual story. At any given time I have about 20 ideas waiting for clarity, two or three of which might end up as finished works.

That’s the inspiration bit. Soon after that I hear them all in my head, like actors reciting lines, or people telling me stories. Having that kind of auditory hallucination can be a curse when you’re trying to get to sleep, but it’s great for me as a writer, as I just listen, and write it down. At least, that’s how it feels sometimes, when it’s going well. The voices in my writing are also the voices of my favorite entertainments – Victorian Britain, hard boiled detectives, Scottish history, mad scientists, sword wielding barbarians and gibbering Lovcraftian entities, all shouting to be heard. The ones who shout the loudest are the ones that get written down.

At this stage, some people like to have a plan.I’m not one of them.

I’ve tried writing outlines, both for short stories and novels, but I’ve never stuck to one yet. My fingers get a direct line to my mojo and I continually find myself being surprised at the outcome. Thanks to South Park, I call them my “Oh shit, I’ve killed Kenny” moments, and when they happen, I know I’m doing the right thing.

That’s the inspiration part.

There is also a certain amount of perspiration, especially in writing a novel. But I find if it feels too much like work, I’m heading in the wrong direction and it usually ends up in the recycle bin.

And, yes, there’s a certain degree of desperation in that I want to get better, to make the big sale, to see my name in lights, all that happy stuff. But I try not to think about that too much. 🙂

At the first draft stage, the most important thing you can do is sit on your rear-end at a table and write. It doesn’t matter what medium you use, pen and paper, word processor, charcoal or crayon. Get the idea out of you and onto something else. Only then can you sit back and look at it without passion.

I generally start about noon, having spent the morning getting the chores / shopping / admin / pissing about on Facebook etc squared away. I sit at my laptop and write in bursts of about 300 words at a time punctuated with more visits over to Facebook and email and trips downstairs for coffee and biscuits. That goes on through the afternoon until teatime. After food I’m generally back at it for a couple more hours. I average, what with editing, deleting and rewriting, around 1300-1500 words a day. The day usually ends with us watching a movie or some old scifi series. I used to have regular breaks for guitar playing but that’s been curtailed quite a bit in recent years by the onset of a touch of arthritis in wrists and fingers. Luckily it’s not stopped me typing – yet.

Writers write. It’s who I am, it’s what I do.

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