Wednesday, 31 October 2007


First of all thank you for your patience - our technical difficulties now seem at last to have been resolved and my internet connection is once more fully functioning.
Some years ago now - round about the time I published my first book, in fact - I came across Mexicolore, a small teaching team dedicated to providing a range of educational resources on Mexico and the Aztecs in particular - including a remarkable and growing website and presentations to schools. Ian Mursll and Graciela Sánchez have been doing this work since 1980, and having exchanged emails over the years, I had the great pleasure of meeting them for the first time yesterday.
It's a rare thing to be able to spend an evening chatting with two extremely nice people whose sympathy for and understanding of the Aztecs is so apparent. My books are aimed at entertaining rather than educating, of course, and are pitched at a different audience, but in a sense we are in the same business - trying to set the record straight about an extraordinary people by dispelling some of the myths about them and persuading others to see them as they saw themselves, rather than according to modern prejudices. I think Ian and Graciela would agree that the important thing is to understand that the Aztecs, like all peoples, were first and foremost human beings, with the needs and instincts we all share. The cultural differences between us are fascinating, but shouldn't blind us to what we all have in common.
I can't recommend their Aztec website too highly - you'll find it at

Thursday, 25 October 2007


I nearly gave in to the temptation to post another rant today - this time about the news that Wiltshire County Council are ploughing their ex-library books into landfills rather than recycling them (ie giving them away to people who might actually want to read them). But I won't. Anyway everybody knows that libraries in Britain no longer have much to do with books, they just take up space that might be used for DVDs or Internet terminals.
What I really wanted to tell you about was the interview with me on another blog at Jeri has kindly given me the opportunity to answer a wide ranging and penetrating list of questions on topics ranging from what made me write about the Aztecs to what actor I'd get to play Yaotl (!) For the answers go straight to Jeri's site - and if this is egotistical of me, well, I figure if you're reading my site or my blog anyway, why not?

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Celebrity authors

I'm still in technological limbo, alas, and so only intermittently in touch with the outside world. Hopefully this state of affairs will be put right soon. In the meantime, however, I couldn't restrain myself from this short rant. What's the point of having a blog if you can't rant occasionally?
The news item that caught my eye was the story about Wayne Rooney's fiancee being offered a five-book publishing deal. Which means she joins the ranks of such literary lion(esse)s as Jordan (or whatever her real name is) - those celebrities who don't even pretend to have written (or, I suspect, even read) the books that appear under their names.
Oh, you're just jealous, will be the response. Well, actually, no: after all, if someone offered me a contract to ghost-write a novel for a celebrity I don't suppose I'd turn it down - I bet it pays well enough. And footballers' WAGs seem to make money enough that the odd publishing deal is probably small beer to them anyway. No, that's not what I'm ranting about.
What gets me about this is that for years publishers have been trying to justify their existence by claiming that they in some way mediate between the writer and the reader: the reader expects that a commercially published book has been chosen and edited so that it is guaranteed to be of a certain quality. I have heard publishers say this, more than once. But what are we to make of this? Here are books, commecially published, that are offered to the public on the strength of nothing more than an endorsement by someone who - how can I put this politely - isn't exactly renowned for her taste in reading (apparently Rooney was once asked what his fiancee had on her bedside table, and his reply was "the radio"). Why should readers continue to trust publishers when they're prepared to stoop this low?
I'm beginning to wonder now whether self-publishing my fourth book was such a bad move after all. Either people will wake up to what publishers are trying to do them, and will start looking for other ways to select their reading, or else they have totally lost any vestige of judgement and don't care what they read. Either way conventional publishing is doomed and we might as well all start scouring the catalogues of print-on-demand publishers for real books by real writers...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Technology - update - and the Competition

Well, I'm back online after a fashion - via a dial-up connection, of all things. What will they think of next - stone circles?
Now, if you're reading this the chances are you got to it through my website, That being so you may have noticed that I've been running a competition to win my latest book, "Tribute of Death". As my internet connection issue means I can't update the main site, and this is the only page I can update, this is where I announce that the competition has been won by a lady in Armenia, to whom I will post a copy of the book as soon as possible. Congratulations!
The competition is now closed, but there may be others in the near future.


No, I haven't gone away, or given up!
Unfortunately my internet connection is down and likely to remain so for a few days while my ISP and my 'phone company between them work out who is responsible for fixing it... So there won't be any posts for a little while but normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Monday, 15 October 2007

I haven't posted for a couple of days because I assume you don't want to know what I did at the weekend. (If you do want to read about me cutting the grass or taking my son to his karate lesson, then please comment and let me know!)
Back to work today though. I've been toying for a while now with a couple of writing projects - one a straight adventure story about Robert Clive [of India], of which more anon I expect, and one a thriller set during the Winter of 1963, when Britain experimented with being Siberia for a while. (I like the idea of putting a bunch of ordinary characters in a drastically transformed landscape and then seeing how they cope when something really bad happens). I decided to have a go at writing some of the latter, and straightaway, I found I'd hit a snag.
My wife once said I couldn't write a book with a contemporary setting because I don't know anything about contemporary life. Well, there's an element of truth in that (comes of not having a television, I suppose) but I thought I could cope with the recent past easily enough. But it's damned complicated, I've found.
The Aztecs are easy. There isn't so much material available that you can't grasp most of it pretty confidently, at least for the purposes of writing fiction, and there are plenty of gaps that a novelist can fill in using his imagination (so long as you own up to it afterwards, as I did in "City of Spies"). And you can create the illusion of a detailed background with real depth just by dropping the few known facts in in their appropriate contexts. After all, you're not writing a textbook.
With the recent past, of course, the known facts are legion. There are whole websites devoted to telling you, day to day, what the weather was doing. There are all the details of daily life. Here's an example: one thing that will happen to my characters is that the power goes off, and stays off throughout the story. Some of the characters are children. OK, I can write about a power cut from my recollections of the miners' strikes and the three day week (British readers of a certain age will remember this!) It meant candles and no telly. I found myself looking for old TV schedules simply to find out what my younger characters would complain about having to miss, and then found myself wondering whether it matter so much to a child of 1963 as it did to us in 1973.... Knowing that I probably won't even use the information when I've found it!
Of course it's fun, but at this rate, it could take forever to write a chapter. Maybe I'll do India after all!

Friday, 12 October 2007

Bits and pieces today. Actually I spent the morning on displacement activities, which is a posh term for mucking about when I should have been getting on with some real work. As a change from staring out of the window I went to IKEA to buy my wife a stuffed elephant because, well, we're that kind of people.
Did a bit more marketing and a little work on the plot of an adventure story I've been mulling over for a while.
In response to a self-deprecating message I sent out about my fourth book yesterday somebody was kind enough to remind me of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Very appropriate! The first three lines of this long poem read:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself
And whatever I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you

So there!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A difficult day. I've devoted most of it to a job I've been putting off, namely sending off emails to (almost) everyone I can think of in an effort to interest them in my new book. If you haven't received one don't breathe a sigh of relief - I haven't done them all yet!
Self-publishing unfortunately means self-promotion; nobody else is going to help publicise my book (not that my publishers were especially active over publicising its three predecessors, either). I say "unfortunately" not because I'm averse to blowing my own trumpet - I'm quite egotistical enough to bask in the limelight as long I can! - but because I've learned over the years that I'm just not very good at it. I'm too self-conscious: the secret to not boring people is to project total confidence in yourself and what you're doing, and I've never been able to do that. It's a very common failing among writers, of course - it's one of the reasons we become writers in the first place, because in many cases we're not so good at talking to people. So I probably won't be trying to give any talks or readings or sit on any panels, but I shall go on sending out emails until my fingers fall off.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Short stories

Spent today rewriting a short story. Like the others, it has an Aztec theme - one that's almost topical, as it's about the ritual that I suspect may have evolved (very much changed) into the modern custom of Trick or Treat. But more of that later, maybe in a couple of weeks when it is topical.
Short stories are funny things. At one time writers could, allegedly, make quite a comfortable living out of them, but those days are long past. Now the market is so small - a few highly specialised genre magazines and literary competitions and that's about it, really - that everybody concentrates on novels. In my case I tried writing short stories long ago, but gave up when I sold my first book, and had pretty much come to the conclusion that I was strictly a long-distance runner. But I was asked for something for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine a few years ago and, rather to my surprise, found that I could do it. I've now sold four of them, and had one picked for an anthology. Hopefully this one will appear in print somewhere too.
The real surprise, though, is how much I enjoy writing them. Short stories are hard work. You can cock up a page or two of a novel, or a chapter even, and as long as it's not right at the beginning, nobody really notices if the rest's good enough. A single bad sentence in a 5000 word story is fatal. And of course you have to do all the work of plotting and character creation and everything else every 5000 words and not every 100 000 or so. More to the point, readers have to make more effort, and pay closer attention, for the same reasons.
But, as with anything else that involves a lot of effort, when it works, it's enormously rewarding.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Reluctant blogger

Well, I'm a reluctant blogger.... but here I am. "More people write 'em than read 'em", has always been my mantra. On the other hand people keep telling me a blog is a good thing for a writer to have. So for what it's worth, here are my vacuous ramblings for the day.
I feel I ought to start with something about the life of an intermittently successful novelist, or some learned stuff about mesoamerica (where my novels and stories have been set, so far) but I'm afraid I've been spending most of today fighting with computers, or things that plug into them. Not much I could say about that except that after I had spend hours tweaking software settings and waiting for someone in our ISP's call centre to come to the 'phone, my wife appeared and suggested we pull the router's power lead out of the wall and put it back in again, which needless to say worked instantly.
I did do some updating on my website, though - so you can now go straight there (if you aren't there already) and find the sample chapters and other goodies - and if that is blatant self-promotion, well, what other kind is there?
I shall do some real work tomorrow and rewrite my short story.