October Phantoms

A friend of mine goes in for open water swimming. I’ve never tried it, or gone to watch them, but I imagine there is a moment in which when you’re not quite sure where you are you slow down, tread water, poke your head above water and take a breath. One of those moments of serenity, not simply because of the open water around you being beautiful, but also because for a moment you’ve stopped struggling. You’ve slowed down, you’re at a safe pace, and you can breathe easily as you make your plans for the next mad dash into the unknown.

… Maybe open water swimming is nothing like that, but my writing certainly has been for the last month or so.

Born Under A Bad Sign. I’m not sure if that’s the title, or if it’s Mouse Cage – fitting the <Animal> <Noun> schema of Dog Country – or if it’s something else entirely. (Where the grass grew green? Dry grass burns bright?) It’s moving, though slowly.

As part of that process I’ve been dipping into very old material, some of the oldest San Iadras stuff, material I haven’t looked at for so long it almost felt like it had been written by someone else. And yet I can dimly remember belting out this bit or that bit while sitting here or there, a little more than fifteen years ago.

The most surreal thing is that I discovered a follow-up to Dangerous Jade, titled ’12 Jackies’, which I wrote twice – at some point close to the end of reaching the first draft I just started rewriting it from scratch from the same outline, and there’s around 20 000 words just… sitting there. Almost forgotten. I remember the work, but I simply haven’t thought of it in years.

I don’t know if I’ll brush that up and send it out some day – I might – but that was far from the only treasure. An early version of Dog Country which focussed entirely on MilSim and, honestly – to my mind – lacked a lot of Edane’s soul, although many scenes directly became part of Dog Country. ‘Scribble’ files, where I used to gleefully engage in literary sketching. Chunks of scenes, ideas, fragments of possible outlines.

In a way, it made me sad.

There had been this fount of creativity in me, and difficult times squashed it.

Except, that’s not really true. I can look at all this now, as this mass of material, and think to myself ‘wow it all came so easily back then’, but it didn’t. I worked really hard. I pulled late nights, I once wrote over 10 000 words in a day and it left my brain goo for a week. Writing can be a marathon, and it takes preparation. Finding the right work-pace and momentum takes time. When a project is done, there is a definite need to rest.

(Incidentally, word counts make lousy goals, in my opinion, especially if your circumstances allow you to sit in a chair for twelve hours at a time. Yes, you can sit there until you bang out 10 000 words, an impossibly high number, but it’s healthier to sit there for a couple of hours, accept whatever you get out of the process, and live your life.)

It’s not that there was a fount of creativity in me, and it was squashed – I was in a place where I could work, a lot, and if I stumbled or had a bad day or crashed out and needed to sleep for a week, I didn’t have deadlines and I didn’t have the kind of project goals that meant I needed to work on writing every single week. My living situation was more secure, life was less scary, and I had the room to spend hours writing scenes without stories attached to them.

I am sad, though. I think about the author I could be, now, without the gap of years and difficulty between then and now, and I wish I could be that guy. But, at the same time? I’m in a pretty decent place where I’m pleased with myself as a writer – just because the journey to get here was, frankly, sub-optimal, does not make the place I’m in a worse place.

And I think, contemplating it a little more deeply as I write this post, that there’s a lot I can learn from the younger version of me and bring back with the wisdom of all these years between then and now.

Aconite Braid is still resting a little bit, but I am starting to do the low-intensity work to begin selling it – gathering the names of agents as I casually browse around, to build a list to more fully research later, contemplating the feedback I’ve gotten, and while that may be slowed down a little – I’ve been ill this past week, oh no, tummy bugs! – I’m absolutely looking forward to getting final polish on it and sending the book out into the world.

As ever, thank you all so much for your support. Thank you for listening/reading. And thank you for continuing to give me the opportunity to entertain you with the things I make up.

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By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.