The first of November only means one thing to me – apart from the fact that I need to arrange for my car to have its MOT test in the next couple of weeks, that is. It’s National Novel Writing Month! Last year at this time I was facing the month ahead with some trepidation as for some bizarre reason I had decided to write a grim post-apocalyptic novel in response to certain political events that have now disappeared into the mists of time, at least as far as I’m concerned – others may have different opinions about this, which is fine. This time I’m actually looking forward to it, and this morning I made a start on what I hope will turn into the fourth novel in my ‘Quest’ series – working title ‘A Quest for Clemency’. Even better, the first chapter takes place on a train, which evokes memories of some of my favourite mystery novels and old black and white films. There is even a draft cover design, shown here.

Draft cover design

Draft cover design

I’m not sure if this will be anything like the final cover. I am possibly going to re-design the covers for the whole series when I get a moment, which the way things are going will be some time in 2017.

Please see my ‘Drabbling’ page (link at top here) for a new 100 word creation ‘inspired’ by the start of NaNoWriMo.

Also, in case anyone likes short comedy films and hasn’t seen this yet, please follow the link for the chance to see an award-winning film (made in 48 hours from start to finish) involving a chip shop, a piggy bank and a group of interesting characters: https://youtu.be/1OSHJVUBmxM

This is quite unusual and I’ve surprised even myself. The day after publishing ‘Closer to Death in a Garden’ – which has bizarrely spent some time vying with ‘Tree and Shrub Expert’ and Ian Rankin’s ‘The Hanging Garden’ for top of the ‘Gardens in Britain’ chart on Amazon – I got out a new notebook and started writing something in it.

A writing notebook

A writing notebook

Before anybody gets over-excited, I don’t think this is going to turn into a full length novel, although I suppose I could be wrong about that! It started out as more of a short story idea, although as I have now begun chapter 3 I don’t know if it qualifies as ‘short’ exactly. I suppose I could call it ‘Project Ten and a Half’ if I wanted to be cryptic about it.

As often happens with writing, I couldn’t have started on something new at a worse time. The past few weeks have been so full of other stuff that I am really glad I took the plunge and published my last two books at the time I did, before everything kicked off. Not content with going to Thurso* on a work trip which took three nights because of the distance involved, the following week I went on an overnight trip to Pitlochry to go to a play about a writers group at the theatre and then on a lightning visit to Derby to meet – guess what! –  a group of writers. While I was still recovering from all this jaunting about, our central heating broke down and I have spent a few days arguing about it with the gas company, managing to fit in some work in the intervals of doing this.

Another reason why this is the worst time to start on something is that I was sort of  planning – to the extent that I ever plan anything – to write a great novel of the Great War for NaNoWriMo in November, which would require me to spend most of October researching.  However, as I have also been distracted by family history research, which I have a feeling may result in historical fiction at some point, but not for a while, it’s actually quite a relief not to have to spend October in the trenches, so to speak. Instead I will keep on with this thing in my notebook, and see what it turns into, and choose a less research-heavy project for November. The best-laid plans etc.I will not include a picture of my updated plan for 2015, which is more or less in ruins! Not to mention all the coffee stains.

*There is more about the Thurso trip on my ‘trains’ blog – link at right hand side.

Somehow the closer I get to finishing something, the more ways I find to procrastinate. You’d almost think I didn’t want to finish. It isn’t so much that – I love the feeling of having finished something. It’s all the work that’s needed to get to the end I object to! Laziness is a positive advantage in my ‘other’ career in database management – it forces you to find shortcuts and clever little tricks to make it all less tedious. It isn’t so useful when writing.

Nearly there

Nearly there (x2)

However… I have managed to tear myself away at intervals from the delights of carrying out random family history research and even more random spells of posting political comments on ‘The Guardian’ website, and in the above picture you will see that I currently have two printed copies of different books awaiting the final edit. I must say I didn’t quite intend to be working on them this close together. But the state of play today is that I’ve completed the final edits for ‘Two Adventures at the End of an Era’ and still have to start them for ‘Closer to Death in a Garden’. I feel as if I should apologise to anyone waiting for ‘Pitkirly X’ – but the other one has been waiting longer and I knew it would be quicker to edit as the two stories together are only about half the size of a novel.

structural edit notes

Structural edit notes

If you look closely at this second picture, you will see my notes on ‘Pitkirtly X’ for my so-called structural edit. That makes it sound like quite a difficult undertaking, but actually all I had to do on this occasion was to list the chapters in order with a short description, and then go through making sure the sequence made sense. It doesn’t always!

My summer’s work

Now that I’ve reached the end of the first draft of ‘Pitkirtly X’ I think it’s time to reveal the actual title, which I must confess I have had in mind since before I started writing it. I’ve thrown together a cover to go with it, and now all that remains is for me to knock the book into its final shape. [Just imagine the sound of heralds’ trumpets here before reading on – or maybe even a whole trumpet voluntary if you want. Stanley’s voluntary is my favourite – we once wrote a song to go with it for one of our shows… ‘Hail to the King / And long live Princess Starlight of Askedal’.]

Closer to Death in a Garden

Closer to Death in a Garden

You’ll notice this is the 10th novel in the series. I will be using that as the excuse for a celebration of some kind – definitely online, maybe even in real life too – when the book is finally ready for publication.

If anyone wants to quibble about the title, yes, it is a misquote, and the fact that it’s a misquote is mentioned in the book. Anything else? Well, I can also exclusively reveal that the last line has something to do with fairy cakes – the newfangled term cup-cakes hasn’t yet reached Pitkirtly, naturally.

Keep the clarinets and ice-cream in mind too – I will be returning to them soon.

Thanks to everyone who has so far downloaded a copy of ‘Death in a Cold Spring’ – I am pleased to say it has two very nice five star reviews already. Unfortunately our real spring here is still a bit on the cold side, and the cats and I were sitting in the conservatory on Friday with hailstones battering on the roof and thunder not far away. Saturday was much nicer so I ventured out to Gardening Scotland. Although I like gardens anyway, and could do with spending a bit more time in mine, there was also a hidden purpose in this trip which will be revealed in due course!

Cat and dogs at Gardening Scotland

Cat and dogs at Gardening Scotland

The dogs pictured here were part of a ‘war dogs’ garden which caught my eye – it was a tribute to dogs which have been involved in war over the years.

In June I plan to write the 4th in my Edwardian Adventure series of shorter things. I’ve now realised that the 3rd and 4th of these are not technically set in Edwardian times, but people do seem to regard the time from 1900 to 1914 as more or less Edwardian so maybe I will get away with this, although as a history graduate I keep wanting to correct myself. Originally the title for the 4th one was ‘Adventure at the Zoological Gardens’ but I’ve had to change ‘Gardens’ to ‘Park’ because I’ve been reading a book about the history of Edinburgh Zoo, which opened in 1913, and the man who was instrumental in founding it insisted on it being called a Zoological Park. I already have the 3rd in the series ready but it isn’t yet published as I wanted to put the two stories together for better value.

Assuming I can get the Zoo story finished in June, I plan to make a start on ‘Pitkirtly X’ in July. I already have a title for it but that’s a secret for the moment. I’m pleased to have something else to write in between the two Pitkirtlies, a bit like having a sorbet to cleanse your palate in between courses in a posh meal – although what I know about posh meals could be written on the back of a stamp and is completely gleaned from fictitious meals and not from real ones!

While I’ve been frittering my time away, I am very proud to say that my son Alex Perry and his film-making group of friends (which actually includes my other son and his fiancée as well) have just won a ‘best film’ award from the Edinburgh 48 hour film project along with other awards including ‘best writing’ and ‘audience award’. I think some people reading this blog would probably enjoy their short film with an unseasonal Christmas theme, available here: https://youtu.be/9QCn3GaeIuo

Final frontier

Today I made a start on what I hope are the final edits for ‘Death in a Cold Spring’. This is the stage at which I will be really cross if I find a huge plot hole! But of course there is still time to fix it as I have no actual schedule for publication (as ever) and I’m only being driven on by the clamour from readers (!) and my self-imposed tasks of writing another almost-Edwardian novella in June and then starting on ‘Pitkirtly X’ in July so that I can free up some time later on to write something more difficult in November. Don’t ask me why I should use one of the more difficult months of the year to write something difficult. It’s a mystery to me too.

Final edits

A tantalising glimpse of ‘Death in a Cold Spring’ with my trademark elephant and post-its.

It’s a lovely day here and I think I might manage to get right through the edits in one go if only I could sit here in the conservatory or even in the garden if it doesn’t rain, and get on with them, but unfortunately I’ve taken the day off work not to do this but to go to some local meetings. This is probably a good thing on balance, as there is nothing that makes me want to spend the time writing more than the need to do something completely different. Equally, if I plan to spend all day writing I will occasionally – not always – get a sudden urge to go round with the vacuum cleaner, or go shopping, or do the washing-up. Or (more likely) binge-read on my Kindle.

Alex Perry (‘son of Cecilia’) has just published his first novel, ‘The War of Undoing’*. Although this is a massive fantasy novel and completely different from anything of mine and so in some ways it doesn’t fit into my blog very well, I thought I would write something about what it’s like to have two writers living in the same house, and that led me to the idea of interviewing him properly.

King Neptune

King Neptune

Personally I feel very lucky to have someone else in my family who also writes novels. This is not entirely because I’m hoping at some point Alex will publish an international bestseller and keep me in luxury in my old age, or because we can talk about grammar and character development without boring each other’s socks off. It’s mainly because he doesn’t give me the look that sometimes passes over people’s faces when I tell them I write novels. The look is a sort of mingled incomprehension and panic. I think the panic is in case I try and get them to read something I’ve written and they have to confess they didn’t like it. Not everyone has that look, I hasten to add – one of my friends ‘secretly’ reads all my novels and suddenly said to me only the other day ‘If you keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them’.

Anyway, on with the questions and answers. There is a little treat – or at least, I hope it’s a treat – at the end, so keep reading if you’ve got this far.

Cecilia Peartree: What made you want to be a writer?

Alex Perry:  I can’t remember, but I know what makes me want to keep being a writer: it’s an escape from all the worry and uncertainty of real life. When my brain is boiling, writing cools it down. I also like the idea of connecting with strangers who share some unspoken sensibility with me. Plus I don’t have many practical or social skills, so at this point writing may be my best hope at a career!

 CP: When did you start writing?

AP: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what the first thing I wrote was, but I think my first full book was The Thinking Tunnel, a shameless rip-off of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, which I loved. Then I wrote The Red Water World Mystery, a meandering fantasy starring a boy called Alex, then Super Bubble Mix, an even more meandering Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy rip-off. After that — when I was about eleven or twelve, I think — I started writing a bunch of beginnings for epic fantasy novels, one of which eventually mutated and grew into The War of Undoing.

CPHave you always wanted to write fantasy?

AP: Yes. For one thing, many of my favourite books are fantasy: The Hobbit, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Discworld. Almost everything I’ve ever written has some element of fantasy in it. I like it because it allows us both to escape from the real world and to confront it. Somehow these two are not mutually exclusive in fantasy. That’s part of its magic.

CP: Did you ever consider separating ‘The War of Undoing’, which is a very long novel, into more than one book?

AP: I did when I started seriously thinking about publishing it. All the advice I read told me that debut novels should be less than half the length that The War of Undoing was. But by then I’d already written a draft, and there was no good place to split it — the story only seemed to work when told in one piece. So my rebellious streak kicked in, and I decided to ignore the ubiquitous advice. I’m wary of writing advice anyway — I don’t like strangers assuming they know all the problems with what I’ve written without having read it. I suppose I’ll find out for myself if publishing such a long book was a mistake.

 CP: Do you write from an outline or make it up as you go along?

AP: A bit of both. The basic plot for The War of Undoing was born one day when I had the idea for the big thing that happens at the end of part three (I won’t spoil it here). Suddenly a bunch of other elements I’d been playing with for ages fell into place around that, and before I knew it I had a four-page outline. The first draft more or less followed this outline, though I got to know the characters a lot better along the way. Then, at every stage of rewriting, the story changed a little more. Mostly I just wove more story threads in between the ones I already had, until the book felt nicely dense with character and theme.

CP: How much time do you spend every day writing?

AP: That varies wildly. I used to only write when the mood took me, which is why the first draft of The War of Undoing took years. But after university, when I decided to treat writing as a career, I came up with a routine which involved writing for six hours a day (I now split this into three blocks of two hours each). That’s how I got TWOU from an early, messy draft to a finished, slightly less messy novel. But I still have trouble staying productive — I tend to have two or three week bursts where I follow my six hour routine, punctuated by weeks of trying to find the motivation to get back into it.

 CP: What do you do to relax?

AP: I’d say reading, but nowadays there’s always that jealous voice in the back of my head telling me I’ll never write anything as good as this, or, less frequently, that bitter voice telling me I could write something better. So reading isn’t exactly relaxing, although I still love it. I enjoy working on smaller projects like podcasts, songs, silly short videos and so on, but these inevitably become stressful in their own way. The only way I can really relax is to completely tune out of reality for a while — for the past few years I’ve mostly been doing this by watching Let’s Play videos and other nonsense on YouTube, and listening to podcasts about subjects I’m not too personally involved in. I know this is a waste of time, but there’s something incredibly soothing about it, especially once you get to know the voices.

 CP: Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit? Or to live?

AP: In theory I’d like to visit pretty much every country in the world and experience all their cultures — Italy, New Zealand, India and the US spring to mind — but in practice I’m not a great traveller. I tend to get anxious, stressed, travel-sick, sleep-deprived, or, more often than not, all of the above. It is an ambition of mine to get over all this some day and go on a round-the-world trip. But for now I’d probably be happiest living somewhere peaceful and secluded — maybe a cottage in the Scottish highlands.

CP: Do you prefer cats or dogs? Or don’t you like either?

AP: I like both. Dogs want to be everyone’s best friend, which is a nice quality, but a little exhausting after a while. As an introvert I can relate to cats more.

CP: What’s it like when two writers live in the same house?

AP: It’s great! I would feel quite isolated if I didn’t have someone to talk to about the writing process, rogue characters and fiddly grammatical matters. It’s even better that the other writer in this house has already been through the self-publishing process many times and can encourage and advise me about it. And in this case she also pays the bills, so I can’t really complain…

 Now for the treat….

Way before all this Kindle nonsense came along, Alex and I used to write scripts together for a children’s drama group – writing collaboratively was a good but different experience, and writing to a deadline could be a nightmare at times,because we didn’t put a line in the script unless we had both approved it. We re-wrote some of the traditional pantomimes such as ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Snow White’, and Alex also acted in them. At some point we recorded a few of the songs with my older son, and I have set up a short video based on these, with photographs that may or may not be relevant. For instance, as far as I know this is the only place on the internet where you can see me dressed up as a pirate and hear me singing! Or at least I sincerely hope it is. Fortunately Alex is the lead singer in this selection. If you want to have a look / listen you will find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hLYjJorG_s

(Please note that the third song seems to have been recorded with the volume a bit lower than the other two)

*The War of Undoing by Alex Perry is available here:


or here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/534042

Find out more about Alex here: http://www.alexperrywriter.co.uk


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