Each night I sleep in the car and each morning rise to the summit of Castlelaw. There is a reason I chose Scotland as the setting for Dreamwords and it lies beyond the obvious impulse to write about what you know. Perhaps it is only in seeing other places that you truly find the worth of your own. The Alps, The Himalayas, Pyrenees and The Grand Canyon dwarf the ripples of our land and the great cities of the world buzz with an energy hard to grasp in one lifetime. The oceans and seas teem with life in every corner and vast herds are stalked by monsters on great plains that could eat our open spaces without a burp. As crystal warm waters beckon in the Mediterranean, our cold grey shores invite waterproofs and wellies.
In scale and in record-breaking, something somewhere will likely top the bill before Scotland but in our thirst for labels it is easy to miss the magic mix that makes this country more than a storyteller’s dream. Here, you can walk a hundred miles with hardly a human in sight or veer slightly from your course at any point and meet a welcoming stranger or a town full of them. It is accessible to all and yet a proven training ground for the best climbers in the world. Few places allow you to touch nature in the raw with such ease. In Edinburgh, I love that you can walk from the city centre to the Summit of Arthur’s Seat with as much planning as a stroll along the High Street of any town. It is as though all the good bits of the planet have been condensed into a space that can fit your life.
To see this you have to get out there. I promise; it’s worth it.
I am excited.
Over the last few weeks, head down and going over The Journal one last time, I felt a sense of elation. Unlike the whirlwind production that was Tom Corven, this book has gone through multiple versions and numerous reader cycles in an attempt to nail it before publishing. I loved the seat-of-the-pants podcast delivery of TC but the Dreamwords story is complex and wide-sweeping and I was worried that (if I was not careful) I would end up with something akin to the TV series, ‘Lost’. Unlike that show, I always knew where Dreamwords was going but it would have been too easy to take one twist too many and a mystery beyond its breaking point. The Journal is still only one piece of the puzzle but (to me) it feels coherent and exciting.
Working in isolation, a writer is prey to subjectivity. I will not be the arbiter of its success - you will. Thankfully, you will not have long to wait. I set a target of the end of Summer, hoping to launch digitally by 31 Aug. I’m pleased to announce that – although I’ve overshot a little, I am close to target and satisfied that I have done everything I can to make the novel worthy of its champions. To all those who have supported me in so many ways and particularly to those who responded so well to The Honesty Project; Thank You. The countdown is on.
Mark your calender for the 15th of September.
Designing a book cover is no easy task. Apart from the artistic challenge, there is all that stuff about subliminal messages. A potential reader responds automatically at an emotional level with a cover. It sends signals, telling you something about the story, it can give the book life and it can kill it dead. As more people buy online and convert to eReaders, some might think the cover is not so important. That is not true. I worry about it obsessively.
I have a number of ideas and as I work through them, I would appreciate any thoughts you might have. I include three potentials here. They are extremely rough but I hope you will see past that to the concept. While it is important for me to know which cover you like best, it is also important that it fits the book. Since you, dear reader, know more than anyone else about Dreamwords apart from me, I just need to fill you in on a couple of details.
Although Book One was almost claustrophobic and had a small set of characters, the story opens up to a sweeping adventure set in a future that has much in common with the past. With themes of love and family, power and superstition, we travel through a world where technology is everywhere and yet invisible to those who fear the empty houses and towns that dot the land around them. Swords and castles, brutality and love are reminiscent of a Braveheart setting and yet what they see and hear in their heads has more to do with those who have gone before than the taboos the inhabitants invent to explain them.
With that in mind, would you please tell me what you think of when you see these covers? Comments to FBook appreciated
Thank you for your help.
The forecast said light wind and so I took the chance, placing books in various towns north of Perth. Everything was calm until early evening when suddenly that light wind began to growl. I imagined all these poor books snatched from park benches and town centres and tossed into the maelstrom. Losing the books was not a concern but the thought of littering the streets and parks was. I hate litter and love that much of Scotland is thankfully free from it.
Early morning I drove into Blairgowrie, breathing easier after spot-checking the centre which was litter free and various copies were still in place. A close shave. Dancing the project through snow, ice, rain and sun (honest, sometimes!) is a challenge but, although I love stormy weather, I hope it stays calm until all five thousand books are in safe hands.
Onwards to Coupar Angus.
Using the solar panel at Laggan changed the dynamics of working there as long as you could see the sky occasionally. Unfortunately, that happened less and less as time went by. I could write, but only using paper or one of the power-miser devices I have. As soon as I needed the laptop, things would start to fall apart if the weather was against me. And yes, the weather was against me. It was quite astonishing to open the door day after day to another bout of rain.
Writers have their rituals and I am of the type who can work long hours for months at a time as long as the spell is not broken. The frustration of not being able to work on something so close to the end is maddening. Even so, I did enjoy being there and particularly meeting the steady trickle of intrepid walkers exploring the coast.
As winter brings shorter days, the chance of using the laptop falls with each week. For this reason, I am striking out in my van/car to tour Scotland. I will load up with books and spread them far and wide in many of my favourite places. By embracing the limitations of light I will use the time better to complete The Honesty Project. At the end of this process I will be in a position to publish Book Two and close to completing the first draft of Three.
I’m looking forward to this phase as I have no idea what lies ahead. I like that.
Resurfacing after a marathon writing session.
The Journal is out to readers and Book Three is well under way. Writing from Laggan is both a priviledge and a challenge. On one hand, I get the freedom to work and on the other, I get to meet lots of wonderful people. With no roads to this spot, you really have to want to be here and so the attitude of those you meet is one of enthusiasm and positivity.
After changing my phone, I find the stray signal coming across the sea from Bute a little weak. The connection is unreliable and this means that I end up sucking the battery dry every time I’m on the Net.
While this gives me an excuse to just write, I know it needs fixed. For that reason I’ve just ordered a new solar panel. I just wish there was a rain-powered energy device… all my power problems would be over!
It should be up and running in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, if anyone with a Kindle wishes to read a pre-publication version of The Journal and is willing to give honest feedback, please mail me and I’ll happily send you your very own copy.
Glasgow is such a cool place. I spent most of yesterday in and around my old university, leaving books on the streets for people to pick up. Around 350 were taken and, if popular opinion of students and young people are to be believed, they will disappear without a trace. I would not have done such a crazy thing if I believed that.
If we were to swallow the image handed to us by common view, the young will pay for nothing unless you watch them closely. They are drugged-up, violent layabouts who think the world owes them a living.
It’s easy to take a few stories from around the country and apply the ‘lesson’ to everyone in the room. The truth is that students today have to try harder than we did way back then. They do not have the support we took for granted and competition is beyond belief. This makes them sharper. They are connected and switched-on. My bet is that many will ‘get it’ and respond to what I’m trying to do.
It’s the biggest gamble of my life. We shall see.
It’s bad enough when you forget the milk but over the past few days I’ve been playing book-mule, hauling a box of sixty at a time on my back. I took this photo yesterday. The rainbow’s end was better than gold – a cup of tea and a decompressed back. If only I’d brought the milk.
I reached another landmark yesterday, too. 400 payments exactly. A huge thank you to everyone. All those honest people. It’s quite humbling.
And ‘they’ said I was mad… (Well, OK, maybe just a bit).
Principle proven, I am in the mood for another experiment. I can play it safe and build Dreamwords’ readership steadily over a number of years or take an enormous sink-or-swim risk.
Now, where’s that coin?
Now I’ve got some kind of handle on what works and what doesn’t, I’ve gone into writing mode to take advantage of the quiet winter to come. With an almost 30% rate from Lanark and Arran, I should concentrate on trying to learn from that. With 7,500 copies to go, if I can get anywhere close to that result, the project will be an astonishing success. The thing is that being a quiet island, I won’t shift many books in the cold months. Given the honesty of the people here and the fact that many love the book, I am happy to compromise.
This means that I can write at the same time as I slowly spread the word to let more potential readers know about the project.
Book Three is now underway and I’m loving it!
In the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a number of experiments. I had to be patient because results from the festival would determine which experiment would take priority going forward. It is astonishing that payments from Laggan are still coming in. Last week I received money from two people who each picked up a copy from there on different days in May! With that in mind, it is always possible that the Edinburgh phase might suddenly take off. Over 300 people have now paid and the project is still on track, but payments from the festival are slower than I’d hoped for. The project is still on target simply because Laggan was so successful that it could withstand a downturn.
The takeaway lesson is one that any businessman could have told me – targeting is all. As I write, there is almost a factor of ten between the rate from Laggan and Edinburgh. This is a blow because I had hoped to use Edinburgh as a model to speed up distribution. The signs are that if I repeated such a scatter-gun give-away in other cities, the project would soon be in jeopardy.
With such a fabulous return, it seems obvious that I should stick with Arran but, with winter on its way, there will be no-one passing the cottage for months. With Laggan at its core, I will be able to build on the success there but only starting in the spring. It is tempting to switch to writing-mode, get book two out and continue building the series by working on the draft of book three. That is the sensible thing to do and my preferred route. The story is burning in my head and I want to get it out there.
The other option is to figure out a way to match the targeting associated with Laggan that can also scale and is not seasonal. I’m in the middle of preparing the ground for such an experiment and pretty excited by it because it has the potential to positively impact someone else’s life. Before I can try it however, I have to perform some due diligence. That is my task for this week.