Author Archives: Charlotte Nash

Winter Warmer Book Pack Giveaway!

A winter warmer book pack giveaway – just comment to enter!

Charlotte Nash

Winter Giveaway

Now that the chilly brrr weather is finally upon us, it’s the season of coats, doonas and hot drinks. If you’re down south, maybe you’re already cracking ice off the windscreen. And if you’re up north, well, maybe you finally put on a t-shirt instead of a singlet!!

Regardless of where you are in our great land, to celebrate the appearance of winter, perfect season for reading in your long socks, dressing gown, or snuggie**, I am giving away a winter warmer reader’s gift pack, including:

  • Personalised signed copy of both Ryders Ridge and Iron Junction
  • Chocolates to nom nom while reading
  • Tea mug to hold hot beverages (perfect for melting chocolates in mouth into saucy heaven). To set the mood for your rural reading adventure, mug is carefully selected to be at home either in a station kitchen or crib room, aka “trendy industrial chic”***
  • Tasty tea to brew…

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Thoughts on critique, the writer’s medicine

Charlotte Nash

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow that we’re approaching the business end of the uni semester, I’m spending a fair bit of time marking. Now, I love teaching for its own sake, but it’s also a fabulously instructive experience for my own writing. And this week, after marking about 180 critiques of fiction, I’ve been thinking a bit about the art of critique.

I’m hardly the first to write about this, and I won’t be the last (see here for a great vid on crit partners). Like many writers, I remember well my first experience of critique, and the meltdown that followed. Given I consider writing an apprenticeship, that was some sort of initiation ritual. But for those of us who didn’t pack our bags after the experience, it does make you stronger. And by stronger, I really mean: tunes your senses for who’s good to critique you and who isn’t.

Good critique is an…

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Reminiscing about bikes: the first travel writing attempt

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

Change is afoot here. Very soon, I’m going to launch a new blog/website, just before my first novel heads into the world. The new semester has started in earnest, I’m ensconced in a new home. And amidst all this … I have a new bike.

I won’t attempt to convince you how important this is. If you’re a biker, you get it already. And if you’re not … well, that’s ok. I claim a genetic disposition for biking that showed itself despite my mum having stopped my dad riding before I was born. Sorry, Mum.

My new ride is a spanking purple Street Triple, a thing of two-wheeled joy that also eliminates parking hassles everywhere. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I still think fondly of my first bike, a 250cc cruiser, and the first piece of travel writing I attempted from its back. I orginally submitted this to an online biking mag, which accepted it, but I’ve gotten permission to put it up here, in this reminiscy post.


The first long trip … or 2000 km on a 250cc cruiser (October 2011)

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My original cruiser, somewhere south of Kempsey, NSW

When I separately told three experienced biking friends about my proposed road trip, I got the same reply: “That’s a long way on a 250cc!”

My first reaction was naturally, “What does that mean?” But I didn’t ask. As I said to one, sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re in for. He was kind enough to say it would be an adventure.

And that’s what I was after. I was pretty fresh on my LAMS in October when I got the road trip itch. I love the open road, the act of getting from place to place. It’s a little bit about where you’re going too … but nothing beats the act of travel itself. Especially adventuring. I had a bright, shiny new LAMS bike (Suzuki Intruder VL250). That would do, wouldn’t it? All I needed was an excuse.

I spotted TeamMoto Blacktown’s Demo Day by the Hawksbury River, a Sunday event roughly 1000 km from home in Brisbane. I also had a client in northern Sydney. A few clicks on Google maps and I had a plan. Two days to ride down, Demo Day, work in Sydney for a day, two days to ride back. Down on the inland route, back on the coast. No problem.

The only additional gear I got for the trip, on advice, was a pair of waterproof pants (Dririder). Those really came in handy when I met a thunderstorm coming down the range into the Hunter Valley early Saturday morning. Otherwise, I got myself decent roadside assistance cover, and improvised a waterproof cover for my bag, which I bungee corded down in the pillion space. I had some soft panniers already with waterproof covers, although the first time I used them, I melted one to the muffler. Still picking the damn stuff off. Lesson learnt.

So, duly equipped, I left Brisbane 5:30am one cold, foggy, smoky Friday morning. I discovered pretty immediately I needed different gloves. My well-vented summer gloves couldn’t cut it in the early morning chill at 100 km/hr. But there’s not that many gear shops on the highway. I toughed it. Got to Tamworth around 3:30pm. Hot shower had never felt so good.

Next day was an easy ride down to Windsor, initially over the worst road all trip (through the Hunter Valley) then the last part along the famous Putty Road. Then Demo Day Sunday. Being still on LAMS my choices were limited, but I lined up two Yamahas – XJ6SL (600cc) and XVS650 Custom cruiser. About five seconds into my first ride, I suddenly understood the, “That’s a long way on a 250cc”. Oh. The power! I nearly fell over when someone described it as “severely limited”. Yeah, clearly, I’m still learning. Then I worried I couldn’t get back on the 250. I was 1000 k’s from home – was I really going to ride it back? Then I got on it. And bless it’s 140ish kg heart, I still loved it. It doesn’t have the power to overtake a road train, but it got me reliably from place to place, and no numb arse to boot.

I headed back up the coast on Tuesday morning, reaching Coffs Harbour by 4:00pm. Liked the vibe of the place, and had some work come in, so I stayed a day. Met more interesting locals, watched whales from Muttonbird hill while the storm clouds rolled in. Talked bikes with Virago owner where I was staying, and stayed up way too late enjoying the end of the trip while drinking bad tea. The next day, perfectly sunny, I rode home, picking up an hour over the border. Bone tired, I was also high on the thrill. It was a fantastic ride.

Route Map (2)

The route …

Quite a few people seemed surprised I did this as a solo trip. But the best thing about not being in the companion bubble is you meet new people. I met two BMW owners who enlightened me that some bikes have grip warmers! Yeah, I pooh-poohed that for about thirty minutes, then as my hands re-frosted, I wanted them. Another Triumph owner heading south to Philip Island told me about good places to stay. About a dozen really pleasant folks at the Demo Day completed the experience. And one guy at a truck stop took the time to point out all the ‘legendary’ routes on my map. Duly noted. Bike culture out on the highway was like car culture way out in the middle of nowhere. It was a lovely surprise.

I also came away with a heap of new knowledge and skills. To be honest, I left with a few aspects of riding still shaky. I came back with far more intimate knowledge of my bike, its handling, what I could do and where the limits were. I had two scary moments. One involved a loose shoulder on Putty Road. The other involved a lot of fog and a road train. More healthy respect from me. I also had one moment of stripped dignity, where I dropped the bike in front of a large number of people. It involved sand covered concrete and my foot slipping … we’ll say no more save I’ve learnt to be cautious in unfamiliar parking spots. And thanks to the gentleman who helped me get the bike up again. Sorry I was too embarrassed to buy you a drink.

So, long way on a 250cc? Yeah, it was a long way. But this is Australia. Everywhere is a long-bloody-way. I suspect my enjoyment of travel isn’t dependent on pure power. I had reliability and comfort (except for the hands, and I can fix that). Not saying a more powerful sports tourer wouldn’t be fabulous fun, but I would do it again on the 250. I probably will.

********************

The first novel, in the flesh :)

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This is going to be a very short post, mostly because I’m in the grips of moving back to my home city, which necessitates driving all over the place, from real estate offices to banks, and outlaying more cash than any sane person would be comfortable with.

BUT! Amidst all this, I got an exciting package: the first copy of my debut novel, Ryders Ridge, in the papery flesh. It looks good. It smells good. It’s difficult to describe how I feel looking at it. Of the story, I am very proud. But seeing it in its final physical form is still amazing. I can remember very distinctly, in 2007 when I’d just decided to take writing seriously, wandering (as I often did) into my local Dymocks in Indooropilly and looking round at all the books on the shelves. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool, I thought. Amazing to think that in just a few weeks, my first book will be on the shelves. 🙂

In other exciting news, Kim Wilkins will launch Ryders Ridge on 9 April at Avid Reader in West End. Tickets are free, but booking required for numbers. Click here if you’d like to come!

On Michael Crichton

I’ve been a Michael Crichton fan for more than twenty years, ever since I got my hands on Jurassic Park in high school. And no matter what I’ve been doing since that time, he keeps cropping up in my attention. I’ve read, with one or two exceptions, every book he wrote. I loved almost every one. I remember where I was when I heard he’d died in 2008. I’ve heard many disparaging things said about him – that his work isn’t serious, that it’s ‘airport fiction’ – I’d dispute them all, but I really don’t care about that now. I loved his stuff, and I want to talk about is two particular places that he influenced my life, and what they meant.

jurassic-parkWhen I was a first-year med student, one of my (probably well-meaning) consultants had a go at Michael Crichton out of the blue one day. I don’t remember what prompted it … something about usefulness of professions. The consultant was indignant that someone who graduated medicine and hadn’t stuck with it. More or less, consultant said, “I mean, he’s not helping anyone.”

At the time, I mumbled the usual non-committal assent of the lowly student. But afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe it. The consultant didn’t know how many times I’d read MC’s stories, and other favourite authors’. The enjoyment I’ve had from them, the comfort, and the insight. The consultant may have felt medicine’s way of ‘helping’ is the only, or perhaps the most noble, one, but it isn’t true. Good stories help. They enrich, inspire and prompt discussion. Writing matters. And what this one person wrote is still with me long after his death, and will continue to be so. I wish I could go back to that moment, be braver, and say so. Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Years later, when I too decided not to pursue clinical medicine, I would often hear in my head people like that consultant who looked down on me for my choice. And I was comforted because I knew others, like Crichton, had done the exact same thing before me. When I finally got around to reading his early-career memoir, Travels, I found the med school experience he described eerily similar to my own, even though our medical education was 30 years apart. And it was interesting to me that all his bios imply he’d completed his internship before leaving the profession. Travels made it clear this wasn’t the case, just like me. Another comfort.

Fast forward many years to this week, and I’m in the post-completion of a manuscript turmoil. I know it needs lots of work. Lots of work. And out of the blue, my friend Bek sent me this:

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”crichtonbooks

And who said it? Michael Crichton. And from a writer I’ve admired so much, this was like a removalist that packed away my apprehensions. Yes, it needs work. A lot of work. And it can be done.

Next week, fingers crossed, I’ll be unpacking my long-boxed books in a new apartment. And I’ll be running my fingers over the stained, dog-eared and much-loved pages of Crichton’s books, and thinking about what a profound influence someone I never met had on me, and how special that is. The magic of stories. My friend KimWilkins describes it as an ordinary magic (which is lovely). Just the kind we often need.

Publishing short stories – truths from a serial submitter

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a nerd to the core of my soul, and one of the particular manifestations of that is my love of spreadsheets, graphs and numbers generally.

One of the upsides to this bent is that BAS time is actually fun (I see that look you’re giving me). The other is that I tend to record data on my writing for later analysis and tracking. I’m planning a blog soon using the data I have from the five novel manuscripts I’ve written, but today I wanted to present a few insights about short stories, and more particularly, submitting them to markets.

I’ve been fortunate to have some successes in the short story arena. I consider myself an emerging writer, but I’ve been tracking my short stories since I started trying to have them published. I find it essential – I can’t remember otherwise where they’ve gone, how long ago, and when to re-query. So today I’ve made a preliminary troll through the data and I present three insights that showed themselves.

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets ...

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets …

————-

[Note: The data below is based on 70 submissions (13 different stories to 39 different markets) over about a 3 year period and only represents my experience.]

1. How long does it take to get a response?

Average time for my submissions is just over 6 weeks, but I tend to favour fast-responding markets and I try to match my submissions so I’m not wasting time sending things that market would never go for anyway. Anthologies and competitions take longer, because their reading periods are often months and I tend to submit early. If I remove the anthology and comp submissions, the average response time has been 4.5 weeks. The fastest responding markets (with average times) for me have been: (the aptly named) Lightspeed (3 days), Clarkesworld (5 days), Shimmer (6 days). A few markets have never responded. I have ignored these in my analysis as two have folded since.

2. What’s the success rate?

After 70 submissions, I have 7 stories actually published (or in press). That’s 10% success rate. I have no idea if that’s good or not – I think perhaps it’s not too bad … it’s better than the acceptance rate for some academic journals. The fewest submissions before acceptance was 1 (one story was picked up by the first market I submitted it to). The most is currently on its 14th submission – it may yet have many more. The average is 5 subs per story; 4 if only counting those published.

3. How much is it worth?

There’s two ways of looking at this. The first is: depressingly little. Only 3 of my 7 published stories earned me actual money, and the total is just a shade over $200. When you look at the number of hours invested, that’s really a negligible return. I’m early career though … it’s possible there may be more money in it in the future, but I suspect not that much more. I can remember a well-known sci-fi author at the last AussieCon saying that, during the sci-fi zine hey-day in the 60s and 70s, he could write two stories in a day and sell them both, which earned a fairly tidy income. I suspect those days are long over, even if I could write two stories a day.

The other way of looking at it is investment. Time in craft, time in exposure, not to mention returning an awful lot of pride. I’ve had a few lovely comments come from readers, which was worth every revision-riddled minute. And one submission eventually published was solicited, which was immensely satisfying. Plus … there seems to be some kind of snowball effect happening – 5 of the 7 pubs have been in the last year.

———

No-one would do this for the money, but then I suspect no one does. I’ve heard so many times from more experienced writers that “talent is cheap; persistence is rare”. Good advice. If you have any questions about short story markets, feel free to comment them up – I’m not the most experienced in the game, but willing to wield the spreadsheet’s power to shed some light 🙂

Do you spoon your cuppa?

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Warning: this image contains disturbing words

This blog is a confession of sorts. I happened to read a post recently about beautiful sounding words in the English language. Opinions are naturally divided, but there was a throwaway line at the end about ‘moist’ being nominated as the grossest sounding word. That made me titter – as a panel at last year’s RWA conference certainly agreed (the panel was on language use in sex scenes – among the other offenders were ‘orbs’ to describe breasts, and anything ‘swelling’ – you know what I mean).

But this put me to thinking – not of beautiful words – but the ones I loathe. For whatever reason, two words in English – ‘cuppa’ and ‘spooning’ – have a special ability to set my teeth on edge. The title of this blog actually curls my lip. I have a bodily aversion to either word when I hear them spoken. They are insufferable; like Kevin Bacon and Uma Thurman on screen.

Why? I’ve spent time wondering. For ‘cuppa’ (gah …) I think it’s the mawkish sentimentality it invokes … of doilies and covered teapots and shortbread on plates. I don’t really have anything against those things in practice, but when lassoed and thrust forth by those two syllables, somehow it’s intolerable. And ‘cuppa’ (gah!) is an Australian institution. For ‘spooning’, no idea. The sound displeases me. I have no problem with ‘spoon’. Maybe it’s the connotation. Or it’s too cute. I have problems with cuteness.

This may be a sign of some kind of mental deficiency, who knows. But the aversion is real and produces practical consequences as I attempt to avoid using either word. ManBeast laughs when I insist on using ‘forking’ as a substitute for ‘spooning’. I quite like it, especially the cheeky euphemism, and let’s face it – both cutlery items nest in the same way. But for ‘cuppa’ … I’m coming up short. I complained to ManBeast about this the other day. Here’s a brief re-cap.

Me: There’s no suitable one-word equivalent. It’s driving me nuts. English has so many words you think there’d be one.

MB (in Sheldon voice): Hot beverage?

Me: Too formal. Besides, that’s two words.

MB: Cup of tea?

Me: Okay, but that makes it specific to tea. And it’s three words.

MB: Hmmmm. Yeah, what if you mean coffee or chai? Misleading.

Me: I do like ‘beverage’ though. Maybe I could shorten it.

MB: Shorten it?

Me: Bevvo.

MB: [laughs uncontrollably] That sounds like a bogan saying bevan. Too funny.

Me: [pouts] I don’t care.

So … I’m appealing to readers for suitable alternatives for ‘cuppa’, otherwise I swear I’m using bevvo. Either I need a better word or someone needs to point me towards a literary desensitisation program. I’d also be interested if anyone else has words they can’t stand to hear. Confess all! 🙂

Farewell to Auckland

I’ve been living in Auckland (or Orc-land) off-and-on for the last seven months as the ManBeast has been working on a job here. In two weeks, though, my Auckland habitation will be at an end as I head Brisbane-side for the start of the academic semester, and we’ll return to the FIFO arrangement until mid-year.

Suitcase living had become a mainstay over the last four years (firstly because of my job, and then because of the trans-Tasman working separation which began in 2011) and generally I enjoy the wanderyness of it. New places to explore, and air travel is still as exciting to me as it was that first time way back in 1992 en route to Great Keppel Island. This is chiefly because aircraft are powered by turbofan engines (exciting!) and I get heaps of time to write, do marking … or catch up on Downton Abbey. But I digress.

The downside to wandering this way is missing your friends (Skype is not a substitute), and all the great stuff back home, like Brisbane’s riverside running track, and Kraft macaroni cheese. But of course, having been here long enough, there’s now stuff about Auckland and the wider New Zealand that I’m going to leave behind. I won’t miss living next to a pub – that wasn’t a particularly great idea. But in this last few days, I’m trying to forget the endless U2 track tape and reflecting on the best of this chapter instead.

location

Auckland Harbour … boats, trendy bars, and loud Irish pubs.

Firstly, rum racing. Auckland is a harbour city, and we live right on it. Every week, I’ve walked past massive cruise ships docked right near our apartment, and seen the sails fly past. I joined a yacht club (after a conversation in the gym steam room … that’s another story) and on many a Thursday or Friday afternoon, we belted across the bay on the Higher Ground. We won (rum) a couple of times, had one race ended by the NZ Navy. It was all good. I’ll miss being able to get to the harbour in five minutes. It’s a forty minute drive in Brisbane.

Racing ...

Racing …

... and rum!

… and rum!

Secondly, the ZXR. I bought this beasty little 250 without much care (still mourning the loss of my recently sold cruiser), seeing it as a temporary ride. But it had spirit and gusto and with the ManBeast’s ZZR stablemate, it went wherever I asked it, which included some places that knobbly tyres probably would have been a better idea. The wheels allowed me to see so much awesome in the nearby region. I sold it a week ago to a new owner, who I hope will have as much fun with it as I did.

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames – ZXR at left

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

Finally, Piha, and the Bay of Islands, which kind of combine the previous two entries with NZ’s spectacular scenery. Piha is a black sand beach about an hour west. The aptly named Bay of Islands is about four hours north. We saw Piha by bike and the Bay by boat. Spectacular. And despite the fact that I flattened my bike battery at Piha (and was given a jump by one of the Piha Rescue guys) and that I spent a day in the Bay trip shit-scared I’d run our charter into something, both were unforgettable trips. Might be worth a blog of their own. I know Queensland has the Whitsundays, which I love too, but the Bay of Island has penguins, which is just a delicious juxtaposition in a place that looks so tropical.

Piha from the high road ...

Piha from the high road …

... and from the ground

… and from the ground

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Skipper Char

Skipper Char

That’s it for now. I could keep going… I haven’t mentioned Phillipe’s amazing chocolate and pastry heaven, Mr Vintage, fossilised trees, the Auckland half-marathon, the hilarious coverage of the Hobbit premiere, or a dozen other places visited, but this has been the best. Farewell, Orcland. It’s been great.

Iceberg, right ahead!

icebergI’ve just made it through the copyediting phase of my first to-be-published novel Ryders Ridge so I thought I’d pause to reflect on the iceberg-y nature of books. And who doesn’t love a good Titantic reference? (for a fun and actually balanced sidebar, check out this).

When I was a beginning writer (a phase I might be just moving out of now), just getting the manuscript done was the big hurdle. The whole task. Once that baby is finished, you think, you’ve done it. Send it out and let the admiring begin. Mission accomplished, Captain!

Yeah, no. A little later, I learned about editing, a painful realisation – but by all the wordy gods, a necessary one. Over the last few years, I’ve come to love it. Editing is where characters and story actually get tuned into something passable, and possibly even something good. First drafts must be made into order to edit them, and nothing more, which is immensely liberating.

You hear many times how it’s critical to be able to edit your own work, and it’s true – at both structural and line level. But then, there’s being edited by someone else. Oh, the pain. Not usually of what’s actually said/suggested (any professional editor should have a professional tone), but acknowledging someone else has actually read your work and thought about it. This too, however, I’ve learned to love. They spot things I never would. This is also one of the the reasons I think it’s important to move on if you find yourself endlessly editing the same project (my first novel was set aside for this reason).

But, back to the iceberg. Ryders Ridge is something of a miracle in production speed. I’m a quick writer usually, but this was still unusual effort, and the condensed timeframe allows me to estimate hours of actual work with better accuracy than with a project done over longer periods. Here’s my numbers:

  • 150 hours to write the first draft
  • 300 hours to structurally edit – at least (2 edits before sale and 1 after)
  • 60 hours to go through the copy edit

rydersSo, I think more than double the work in editing than in writing. Editing was also much more mental work than writing; and in my case, unfortunately, involved more dithering (at least in the first two edits). Was there more work because I wrote it fast? No, I don’t think so. I actually think it was the best quality manuscript I’d produced to date, not least because I didn’t have time to forget scenes and plot-lines. It’s not quite the 1/9th above water level of a real iceberg, but it feels like most of the work happened after writing “the end”.

I actually think this isn’t something I was ready to know when I was starting out. It’s helpful sometimes to not realise these things until you reach a certain stage, at least for me. But I think there’s two things you have to know if you’re close to finishing that first manuscript. Firstly – you must edit. And secondly – you must structurally edit first. Otherwise all that careful line editing will be wasted time, probably hacked out or changed in the first structural review. Happy editing. 🙂

On Writing Book 2

Picture3Second books are supposed to be hard, right? All that expectation to meet. Knowing how hard the sucker can be to finish. Imagining others reading over your shoulder every step of the way. Right?

Well, no, actually. Something rather strange is happening. You may have gathered from my previous post that Hachette Australia are publishing my debut novel, Ryders Ridge, early next year, which is awesome. And so, while the publication process is going on, I’m working on a second book, with the working title Iron Junction. And the project is neither drowned in expectation, nor insurmountably difficult, nor burdened by imagined readers at my shoulder.

How so? Part of it is what I’ll call ‘unexpected genuineness’. In the past, I’ve always written with a kind of steely barrier between myself and the page. I never used writing as catharsis. In fact, I really had to be on the even keel to get any words down. But not this time. I am feeling everything in this book, and I seem to have some kind of bridle on the hyperemotional thought space where it can be directed into word production. These characters are shards of me thrown into some magical supersaturated liquid (a potent brew of wise advice from more experienced writers, my own experiences, and blood from a longing heart). As with Ryders Ridge, I’m writing about things that I actually experienced. Emotionally. And while I have actually experienced the settings of these stories, the emotional part is the key to making it real. I finally understand ‘write what you know’. (An earlier article about this here).

Where has this come from? I have a pretty good idea. The last two years have been incredibly difficult, personally speaking. I may blog about that sometime later (much later). Let’s just say it started with the Brisbane floods, a great watery catalyst, whose effects are still bouncing off every surface like a huge fracking sonar, mostly due to disruption of ‘home’. I wrote an oddly prophetic post about it on what I later learned was a grand watershed day. Life is strange. And wonderful.Encouragement cat

But that is only part of the story. What else is helping? A few things, I think. Firstly is the fact this isn’t really book 2 at all, but book 5. I’m never thinking ‘what if I can’t do this again?’ because I have done it four times before. Combined with this is that I’ve worked on a productive word ethic that doesn’t depend on me feeling like writing (and works despite the amount of YouTube I watch … oh god, just discovered Honest Movie Trailers). So, I can get lots of words down if I need to, which is all clay on the wheel. My goal is to finish the draft by the end of January (which is about 4 working weeks away), to give it a good rest before editing.

Of course, there is plenty of room for it all to go pear-shaped from here. What’s that I hear? Hubris? Nah, it’s alright. I can control what I can (and I think that’s enough to get a decent book finished, and edited) and if nothing else goes to plan, that’s just the biz. And I still love it.