Friday, August 9, 2019

Why I Keep Writing (Or... Russel keeps up his old tradition of very late blog posts...)

Given that it is ten years since Do Some Damage started, there are certain traditions I felt I should keep up in this, my reunion post… such as being late in posting… (In fairness, this was an admin error… Probably Weddle or Stringer’s fault)….

In truth, there are a lot of reasons for this. The last week has run away with me. Since I left DSD due to work commitments, I’ve made a living as a freelance editor, working for various publishers in the UK and the US, as well as running workshops on writing crime fiction (although I think my lessons apply as much to any form of fiction as they do genre) and working for various manuscript assessment companies. And this last week saw all aspects of my work converge at once.
Especially when I realised I haven’t had a book published for three years.

Why not?

Its not writer’s block – I know the book I want to write, and I know how to write it. And I know that I’m dedicated enough to create time to write. I wrote my first five books while working a full time job, and now my schedule is far more flexible than it once was.

No, it’s all due to circumstance. The enemy of the author is almost always the circumstances outside of their control. I’ve been ill (kidney stones that saw me in and out of hospital for six months), I’ve been struggling to get a home after the flat we expected to buy was pulled out from under us at the last moment. And I’ve just generally been running the treadmill of life (with some high points too: I got married to the incredible novelist, Lesley McDowell, and I’m now working on two hush-hush projects that are quite exciting)

So this isn’t a “poor me” diatribe – it’s a fact of life. Most authors acknowledge that we’re pretty much in an uphill struggle to get the time to write. Look at now-bestselling author Adrian McKinty – a man whose books I admired for years – who essentially quit writing because of the lack of money. You could argue that he got lucky, of course (but part of that luck involved the fact he’s a damn good writer and deserved to be noticed!) but for every fairy story ending, there’s a handful of equally talented writers struggling along to get noticed, turning out great work that fans love but that doesn’t get the exposure it needs for some reason.

I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as good as McKinty, but I do sometimes wonder why I continue to write, and why I continue to fight against the enemy of circumstance and passing time. The new book – set in the late 70s, an attempt to do to the Scottish city of Dundee what James Ellroy did to LA, and clearly from that pitch alone, a massively uncommercial idea! – is almost ready to go to my agent, but I still don’t know that it’ll set the world on fire. So why do I pursue its publication? Why do I keep writing?

Because I love what I do. I love my readers (all three of you!) and I love words, storytelling, the creation of other worlds and the exploration of why people do what they do. It’s been at the heart of everything I’ve done since I entered the publishing world. As a bookseller, I championed the unusual and the odd in my preferred genres, as a writer I’ve tried my best to make characters feel real, even if that means they’re not always “likeable”, and always challenged myself to try something new and different in each book (even the McNee series had a different “feel” to each book, or at least that was the intent). As an editor I like to push my authors a little, try and get them to think about what they’re doing works on a practical level – how do we build stories? – and to maybe try something new each time.

Circumstance has stopped me from writing my own fiction for longer than I would have liked. But I’m not going away. This is an industry I love, and I want to champion. I’m lucky my day job allows me to do that “behind the scenes” but I’ll be back on the stage, soon enough, even if only my dedicated readers are there. There may not be a magic moment in my future, but I’m going to keep at this as long as I can, because, goddamn, I can’t imagine a life where I could be doing anything else.

And you know part of what kept me going back in the early days? This damn blog.

Happy Birthday, you Do Some Damagers – here’s to another ten glorious years!

Russel’s latest book is Ed’s Dead, the story of a young Glaswegian bookseller who accidentally ends up becoming “the most dangerous woman in Scotland”. He has a new short story that acts as a coda to his J McNee quintet due to be published in the upcoming Book of Extraordinary Amateur Sleuths and Private Eye Stories edited by Maxim Jakubowski. He was one of the first bloggers on Do Some Damage, and misses those carefree days. More information on Russel and his workd can be found at 

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