writing meme

It’s a writing meme! The idea is that writers answer ten questions about the book they are currently working on, then tag five writing friends to do likewise. Jon was kind enough to tag me, so I’ll answer the questions here.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

It doesn’t really have one. Although ‘next’ book kind of suggests that there’s a book for it to be next from. Which there isn’t. I have written a few short stories though, and have started a couple of non-Monty stories.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Monty isinspired in no small part by the adventures of one James Bolivar ‘Slippery Jim’ di Griz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, with a dash of Thomas Crown (the Brosnan version), soupçon of Danny Ocean. Basically a bunch of heist books/flicks with a smart-talking main character.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

See #2. Heist/Con with added funny. Wisecracking one-liners a speciality.

4. What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

Monty: For a long time at the start he was going to be played by Ewan McGregor, though currently I’ve cast Tim Roth (albeit a slightly younger version) after seeing him in Lie To Me.
tim roth

Molly: This is the one I have the most trouble with. Kelly Macdonald?

Jenny (the cute barista): not sure. Had been thinking Carey Mulligan perhaps. Maybe.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Monty, ace gentleman thief, gets himself into trouble, again. Dangerous amounts of coffee are consumed. Hijinks ensue.

6. Is your book represented by an agency?

Good lord no. Using the word ‘book’ is scary enough.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Again, this sort of implies that I’ve finished a first draft. Which is not entirely true.

8. What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

See #2. Possibly with a bit of Donald E. Westlake thrown into the mix.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Lawks. I can’t quite remember. I do recall doing a character sketch for Monty many many years ago, which turned into a Chapter One, which was pulled apart (in the nicest possible sense) by my friend Pete. So I rewrote it from scratch. It’s better now. However, I’ve done lots of Chapter Ones, but not many Chapter Twos.

10. What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?


I’m not tagging any other writers though. If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

If you want to read some of my Monty stuff, it’s collected here

[1] the chocolate may be a lie.

Tower of strength

Let me take you on a journey through time and space, back some twenty-odd years (and trust me, some of those years were very odd), and about 80 miles north from my current location…

Are we sitting comfortably? I’d get a coffee or something[1], as this is pretty long.


Then I’ll begin…

Hereby hangs a tale of shameless self-aggrandisement. We journey to 1986. Durham university. YT[2] has been chosen, though he knows not why, to take part in an inter-schools technology conference, called Input ’86. Schools from around the North East send promising young things to the conference, to Learn Stuff and Do Exciting Things.

We’re split into teams of four, and given Tasks. First task is to build a machine which will transport a can of Coke (or generic soft drink of choice) down a ramp, into a swimming pool, across thepool and up a ramp on the other side. Without sinking, tipping over or otherwise falling apart. Much in the style of The Great Egg Race. The great Heinz Wolff himself is in attendance, of course, though there is no sign of the lovely Lesley Judd.

English: Professor Heinz Wolff at the Ealing C...
English: Professor Heinz Wolff at the Ealing Civic Society public annual lecture. Location: The Queen’s Hall, Ealing Town Hall, Ealing W5. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our team spent several hours constructing our device, only for it to fall apart, tip over and sink, approximately halfway across the pool. Kind of embarrassing, really.

Our heads hung in shame, we retreat to lick our wounds and await the next task the following day.

We are to construct a tower, from assorted pieces of metal. This tower must not exceed one metre in height, and must be capable of supporting a weight of 50kg. We cackle with glee[3], and start drawing plans of a *really* short tower, say about an inch high, made of solid metal. Our hopes are soon crushed when we are told that the rules had been hastily amended, as everyone had the same idea.


New rule: The tower must not be less than 75cm in height.


So, we crumple up our original plan and start again. We devise a tower *exactly* 75cm tall. With legs just slightly off vertical, for balance. Comprising of lots of triangles, as triangles are Strong and A Good Thing. We reinforce the top of our tower with lots of metal, as this is where the weight will go. We also strengthen the base, as this is where a lot of the outward force will go.

At the very last minute, we add a band of metal around the centre of the tower, to try and hold it together, as the legs would otherwise buckle.

Our tower is a flimsy little thing. Four legs, where they should be. Rivets cover every joint. Surely not up to the task in hand.

Time’s up. Testing begins.

There are about ten teams, and the winner will be the one whose tower holds the most weight. Our team is last in the running order.

Each tower is tested at various loads up to 50kg. The first tower passes. Their team heaves a sigh of relief. More weight is added, and it quickly buckles under the stress. Pretty good.

Towers come and go. Each passes the 50kg mark easily. Some crack early, some last slightly longer. Towers of various shapes and sizes are put under the test rig and, eventually, destroyed.

Time for the penultimate tower. The record at this point is around the 200kg mark. Pretty impressive.

Tower 9 is loaded up on the rig.

150kg. Pass.
175kg. Pass.
200kg. Pass.
250kg, 275kg, 300kg. Pass. Pass. Pass.

325kg. Pass. The uni guys are nervous, the test rig can only supply a load of 350kg. Students mill around, looking for the weaknesses.


One joint finally collapses under the strain. Legs skew and buckle, and Tower 9 is crushed.

Time for Tower 10. Our tower. Our little bit of metal, against The Rig.

50kg. Pass. A sigh of relief. Imagine the embarrassment if this had failed as spectacularly as the coke-carrying machine.

We make it to 200kg, and it’s looking good. 250kg. 300kg. Our team looks nervous, apprehensive. Beads of sweat appear on furrowed brows. Could we match the 350kg? We’re in comfortable 2nd place already.



Solid. Absolutely rock solid. We’ve won! We’ve beaten the rest.

Cheers and pats on the back, grins all round. We’re presented with a souvenir pen of some description, to mark the achievement.

A couple of weeks later, I’m back at school. The teacher comes into the lesson, and hands me an envelope. It’s from Durham uni. They decided to set up a stronger test rig, to see what our tower could take.

It finally *started* to go at 682kg, nearly doubling Tower 9’s record. Our tower weighed in at less than a kilo, the lightest of the lot.

My point? I don’t really have one. This is a story that has made me smile with a fierce kind of pride since that day back over 20 years ago.

I just wanted to share it with you.

[1] other hot drinks are available.
[2] Yours Truly. Me. Hi!
[3] no, not literally

To write, or not to write

On "Aspiring" Writers...
On “Aspiring” Writers… by curious_spider on Flickr, aka Chuck Wendig

Sage words (as ever) from Chuck. If you’re even remotely interested in writing, get yourself over to his blog, sign up for his emails and buy his books.

I’ll wait.

Right. I’m done waiting. Onwards.

I’ve got ‘writer’ down in my bio on most places around the internet but I usually feel slightly fraudulent in putting it there.

Then again, I *do* write. I write this, for example. I also do a mean line in email.

I’ve written a couple of short stories which have been published[1] and well over thirty thousand words featuring Monty, arch gentleman thief. Some of which ends up on here. I’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, though the sheer effort of churning out 50 thousand words in 30 days left my writing mojo quivering in a dessicated heap, sobbing quietly to itself.

I learned some lessons in the process, but I’m not sure I’ve entirely recovered from the experience.

It’s just that it never feels like *proper* writing. My friend Rachel over at Courtyard Lullaby summed up it up in a recent blog post:

Whenever I read a great novel like Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman or A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, the sheer gravitas to these books makes me want to shrink away and hide like the amateur I am.

Which captures exactly how I feel about my writing.

I’ve read a ton of brilliant books this year – Nick Harkaway‘s stunningly brilliant Angelmaker is just one example. I marvelled at the sheer scale and inventiveness of the ideas, and the beauty of the prose. There were sentences and paragraphs in there which I stopped and read and re-read several times just so I could savour them.

Then I looked back at the stuff I’ve written, and it’s just a pale shadow, wilting in comparison.

OK, I know it’s probably an unfair comparison, and I strongly suspect (nay, hope) that Angelmaker didn’t leap fully-formed from Nick’s head onto the page. His first draft probably sucked.

Then I saw Chuck’s post this morning and was struck by the statement.  Yoda summed it up neatly too.

Do, or do not.

I write, therefore I am.

Look out world.

Writer on the loose.

[1] though I suspect that I’m one of the few people with actual physical copies of the publications in question. One was a very trendy artsy heavy-on-the-style magazine, full of beautiful people doing beautiful things, mostly wearing sunglasses indoors. One of *those* types of magazine.


Spam spam spam spam... [cue the vikings]
Spam spam spam spam… [cue the vikings]
Do you ever read the spam comments on your blog? I’ve noticed a few creeping through the usually excellent automatic filter and into my inbox for approval. One of them caught my eye:

First of all I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Appreciate it!

First of all, thank you for the kind words, random spambot! I’m ever-so glad you like my blog, and don’t mind answering your question at all.

I also have a tough time clearing my thoughts to get my ideas out there.

Well, that’s not entirely true. What usually happens is that I cast about wildly for something interesting to talk about, something catches my eye (hello, spam comment!) and I waffle on about that for a bit, try and find a suitable photo to go with it, and Robert’s your mother’s brother[1].

The hardest bit of writing I find is getting the first few words on the page. Once they’re there, it’s like opening a tap and the words just fall out of my head via my fingers onto the keyboard.

It’s jolly messy.

Once I’ve knocked out a quick draft I’ll sit on it for a while to let it brew properly, go back and fix the various things that are wrong, sit on it some more, fix the other typos, then schedule a post.

I used to skip past the whole editing thing and the process would go idea > draft > post > realise I’d missed a bit > edit > repost > realise I’d said something stupid > re-edit > re-post > delete > start over. The new way is so much quicker, plus you get a blog post which has had a bit of thought (no, honestly) and care & attention.

Stop laughing at the back.

[1] Bob’s your uncle. Keep up.

follow the humming…

I present for your consideration a new blog I’ve started following, followthehumming | Then and now, and some bits in between.

Andrew is using the 10 years of diaries he kept from 1985 to look at what’s changed between then and now. Looking at such things as Elite, why a Kindle is more than just reading and why we used to call places, not people. It’s an interesting blog, well worth following.

You can follow him on Twitter too, at @followthehum. Ten points to anyone who gets the reference in the blog title.

All this talk of diaries made me realise that I missed my ten-year anniversary of starting a blog. It was on 13th March, 2003, to be exact, over on LiveJournal. I’ve had a variety of blogs in a variety of places since, but the LJ blog is still going.

I’ve made dozens of friends around the world, and posted an awful lot of stuff.  In fact, it’s 10,109 journal entries, with 34,840 comments posted and 62,420 comments received. I know that’s over ten years, but, like whoah, dude. That’s totally a lot. </Keanu>

Anyway, via the wonder that is LJ Archive I’ve, well, archived it all to a handybendy archive on my PC, dropboxed it up so I don’t lose it, and can use it to see what I was up to, ten years ago. Full credit to the Chief Hummer for the idea. *hat tip*

Back in 2003 we were down in Kent, visiting the in-laws. We’d gone to the beach and Ed was communing with the sand and eating ice cream. I was laid up in bed, watching Kind Hearts and Coronets. Brilliant film.

Ten years on and young master Ed still likes nothing more than a good day out down the beach, more or less irrespective of what the weather is doing, and, of course, ice creams, and  I still think Kind Hearts and Coronets is a fantastic film. So, not much has changed in that respect. Hopefully future entries will be somewhat more enlightening.

So, dear reader. I give you a shiny new blog to follow, and a new blog series from YT.

Watch this space. And follow the humming…

Monty & the Minefield

The red phone on Molly’s desk rang.


She knew it was him, as he’d insisted on installing the old-fashioned bright red phone a couple of weeks earlier. It had no dial or keypad, just a large red button on the phone’s body which flashed in time to the ringer. Molly had asked if it was the actual Bat Phone, but Monty had just smiled a cryptic smile, tapped one finger against the side of his nose, and left.

Molly had, of course, made some modifications of her own. Old telephones are all very well and retro was quite the thing these days, but they gave a girl neckache, cradling the receiver on your shoulder and all that.

She pressed a button on her bluetooth headset.

“Yes, boss?”

“What’s the worst thing that you can hear when walking through a minefield?”

She paused. She was used to Monty calling her at random times wanting something or other. Was this a trick question?


“Let me rephrase that. Aside from the sound of the explosion, moments before your legs shoot past your ears, what’s the next most frightening sound?”

This time he didn’t give her a chance to answer before continuing.

“Actually, I suppose you wouldn’t actually hear the explosion, what with pressure waves and the fact you’d been more or less instantaneously turned into so many pounds of damp pink goo, but…”

She could almost hear the cogs turning in his brain.

“Sorry, yes. Where was I? Ah. I can reliably inform you that it’s the sharp ‘click’ of a pressure sensor being activated. And, since I’m still here talking to you, no prizes for guessing which one I’ve just heard.”

“Oh, shit…”

“Exactly, my dear. Are you terribly busy? I really could do with a spot of help. Rather urgently, if possible…”

~~~~ Continue reading “Monty & the Minefield”


Watching someone write out the alphabet (draw the alphabet?) is oddly soothing. Hat tip to Chip for the link.

Sketchbook, February 2013 from Seb Lester on Vimeo.

BlackLetter was used throughout Europe from about 1150 until the end of the 17th century. One of my current preoccupations is developing a set of modern BlackLetter capitals that are highly legible, in BlackLetter terms, and yet retain the richness and beauty inherent in this ancient category of letterform. From time to time I will film clips like this to record my progress. Prints and originals available from http://www.seblester.co.uk. Music by Carlos Márquez, https://soundcloud.com/cmdigital


I love notebooks. I may have already mentioned this. I wasn’t entirely telling the whole story though.

Moleskine bookmark

It’s true, I do love a nice Moleskine notebook. And I *do* have a stash of them, and there *is* one in my bag.

Truth is though, my beloved notebooks are all too often left unblemished by pen or ink. I suspect I’m not alone in this – a fresh, pristine notebook is all too immaculate to actually spoil by writing in it. Moleskines feel like they should contain Great Thoughts of Great Importance, not random scribbles like ‘2 pints of milk, some cheese and a loaf of bread’. They should contain beautiful handwriting, delicate sketches of Venetian architecture…

Oh, of course they shouldn’t. They’re a notebook, just like any other. So why is it that I find it so hard to actually *use* one?

A friend, many years ago, got Wreck This Journal, “an illustrated book featuring a subversive collection of suggestions, asking readers to muster up their best mistake – and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the book (and destroy them).”

I need to do that, to exorcise my notebook demons. So I’m going to take one of my unused Moleskines and whilst not *wreck* it per se, certainly *use* it. I’ll make notes, try my hand at sketching and maybe write a bit of my own as-yet-unwritten novel.

How about you, dear reader? Do you use notebooks? Do you suffer from the same problem when it comes to starting a new one?

Stationery geek

a potful of pens

#DaBloPoMo, day 4.

My twitter bio says “writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, bookworm and stationery geek.”

Today, dear reader, we’re going to talk about that last bit: stationery geek.

No, not stationary geek[1].

Stationery, as defined at Dictionary.com

sta·tion·er·y [stey-shuh-ner-ee]
1. writing paper.
2. writing materials, as pens, pencils, paper, and envelopes.

I just love the feeling of opening a new notebook, finding the perfect pen or pencil[2]. I have quite a selection, as you can see. My favourite pen is the Muji gel ink pen, but sadly the Muji in Leeds closed some time ago (sob), so I’m on the hunt for a good alternative. I’ve heard good things about the Pilot G2 gel pens, but they and I have never really got on. I’m quite fond of the Sharpie fineline pen, but it’s a bit too heavy in the line department for regular use.

If anyone can recommend a good, regular daily use pen, drop me a comment.

I’d love to get a decent fountain pen too, though I don’t know when I’d ever get to use it. They’re so nice to write with, but require time and patience that I’m not sure I have any more. I’ve been known to spend entirely too long browsing the used pen categories on ebay, looking for the perfect fountain pen, something classic, but not *too* expensive.

Ah well. One day.

As for notebooks, I do love a nice Moleskine. They’re the perfect size, have deliciously off-white paper that’s really nice to write on, and just look great. I’ve got a stash of them, and always have one in my bag – though I do find that it’s most often filled with just odd notes and reminders, rather than earth-shattering truths or swathes of my as-yet-unfnished Great Novel.

On a separate but tangentially-related note, I started a project many years ago where I sent a fresh Moleskine off into the world to visit my various online friends. It’s been travelling for… seven years this year, I think. It’s been to a whole host of interesting places, including the White House on the day after Obama was inaugurated the first time.

How cool is that?

One day I hope to be reunited with it. Given current rate of progress, and my general uselessness at prodding people to move it on, I’m expecting it home some time in 2016/17…

[1] Though, according to my Fitbit[2], I do spend quite a lot of time not moving. Pesky office jobs, eh?
[2] of which more, inevitably, later
[3] the Dixon Ticonderoga is my current pencil of choice. That classic yellow pencil with the pink eraser that you see in American schools. I got sent a box of 4 dozen many years ago by my good friend Greg, who is sadly no longer with us. Every time I pick up one of those pencils, I think of him. To Greg! *raises pencil*

blogging, or look out February, DaBloPoMo is coming!

I really enjoy blogging. I’ve had a blog in various guises and flavours for the past ten years. Some of you have been following me all this time. Crazy stalker types. I love you.

But, for one reason and another, my posting has become a little… sporadic.

I’d like to propose a challenge. You may have heard of NaBloPoMo (akin to NaNoWriMo, on which I have mused elsewhere) – National Blog Posting Month.

It’s usually held in November, alongside NaNoWriMo, but for my purposes I’m treating February 2013 as my personal NaBloPoMo. Or DaBloPoMo.[1]

The premise is simple. A post a day on a subject of my choosing, every day in February.

Who’s with me?

[1] Dave’s Blog Posting Month. But you worked that out already, didn’t you? Clever reader.

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