T & F Print Volume 2

So, I’ve finished the formatting for the paperback Tyack & Frayne volume two – Kitto, Guardians of the Haunted Moor and Third Solstice. If I say so myself, I’ve done a bloody lovely job. (Modest as ever.) Nice font, good layout, pretty guttering and margins. These things please me. Now it’s off to Shutterstock for a bit of cover art, and I can get my proofing copy, check that all’s well and put it up for sale.

I have to say, formatting for Createspace prints is a nit-picking swine of a job, at least if you want all the bonny headers and footers and page numbers, and for the chapter heads to be on a page on their own and all that kind of thing. You can hire Createspace formatters to do it for you, but of course that costs, and I make such tiny returns on my print stuff that the only way to render the project viable has been to learn the skills and do it myself.

And, to be honest, there are worse ways of spending a fireside evening than noodling away with my section breaks. I am getting close to the end of Seven Summer Nights, but the final chapters are kicking my brain’s butt, and this is maybe my equivalent of a down-time knitting project or an embroidery piece. Hey, I like the idea of the Tyack Tapestry! Tamsyn levitating kitchenware would make a good scene.

electricitySo give me a fortnight or so, and I’ll have buy links for Volume 2. Priddy will soon come following after. As I think I’ve said, it’s my intention to get all my FoxTales books into paperback at some point, which in part is to shore myself up against my Apocalyse Complex, and in part just to please my print readers.

I hope you both enjoy it. ;-D

Announcing winners!

lucy-for-dalLucy Fur is exhausted but happy after picking the names of the winners from the hat! Mrs H is holding her paws to show there are no sneaky candidates concealed between those little toes. Three of you will receive a free ebook copy of Dal Maclean’s new release, Bitter Legacy. Carolyn, congratulations! You’re a winner from the blog commenters here, and the other two came from Facebook – Jeffrey Carvish and Sula Holland. I just need you to email me at harperfox777@yahoo.co.uk and let me know your preferred choice of format. Dal can offer mobi, pdf and epub, and will be happy to send on your prize to you.

A big huge thank-you to everyone who entered, and to Dal herself, who allowed me the great pleasure of being involved with the launch of her debut novel. We’ll be hearing a lot more from this talented writer in future, I’m sure.

Introducing Dal Maclean

dal-coverFirst off – what a great cover, and I am in full agreement with Josh’s opinion on what lies beneath!

So, everyone, tonight it’s a first at the Foxhole. I have the very great pleasure of hosting Dal Maclean, an exciting new author about to make her debut with Blind Eye Books. Dal’s novel, Bitter Legacy, releases tomorrow, and in this post you’ll find not only an excerpt from the book but a very unusual personal encounter with her main protagonist, and a great craft insight into how Dal created her vivid evocation of London, where her story plays out.

And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a giveaway! Just leave a comment – anything at all you’d like to say – here or on the Facebook link, to be in with a chance of winning one of three ebook copies of Bitter Legacy. Lucy Fur, who has finished hiding out in a barn (terrifying the living bejabbers out of us!!!) and returned to her duties, will pull three lucky winners out of her little hat on Friday.

I haven’t hosted an author here before. Two reasons – the first one purely practical. It’s not that I’ve been standoffish – just that, until recently, this small blog-space of mine hasn’t been sufficiently well known to offer authors any kind of useful platform! And I’m still not, like, Pirate Ninja Blog Queen of the Universe, but you, dear readers, helped me out a huge amount with the character-interview suggestions you gave me a few months back, and the Foxhole has been quite a lively little burrow since then.

The second, and far more important reason – Bitter Legacy is, quite simply, an outstanding book. I’ll be honest – I don’t read a lot in my own genre. I get terrible, paralysing cross-interference, so as a rule, it’s deep space or Victoriana for me. But once I’d dipped my toe into Dal’s prose, I found myself wading all the way in. This is an uncompromising new voice. Bitter Legacy is not a comfortable read, so don’t expect one. However, the book carries an emotional legitimacy and truth that will, I’m certain, carry you along with James’s story, and involve you as deeply as it did me.

Let’s start with the blurb, to get you oriented within James’s world…

“London… Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance. But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company. Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity. But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.”

Wow! That is quite some intro. And now let’s meet the man himself. I had the pleasure a little earlier, and a most intriguing conversation it was. I advise a cautious approach. James is feeling a little fraught…

James: Oh. Hi.  Yeah. Is it okay if I just take a moment? Catch my breath a bit?  Thanks.  That’s very kind of you. You have a beautiful place here.

Harper: Thank you. Happy to offer you a little change of scene!

It’s nice to meet you. My name’s James.  James Henderson.

Enchanted. Harper Fox at your service. Er… Are you feeling a bit under the weather, James?

No, I’m just… just a bit knackered. I had a bit of a hard night.

Out on the town?

Yeah, I went clubbing with my girlfriend and a few… friends and we ended up at a party. Some oligarch. Too much coke. Too much expensive booze. I’m just… 

I’m just tired. 

It looks like more than that. I remember London – it can be a tough gig.


Tiring, emotionally as well as work-wise and socially. The whirlwind of it all can bring you down.

Oh. Well. 

You’re very… perceptive.  

Yeah, I suppose I might be feeling a bit low.  But it’s totally self indulgent of me. I mean…I have no right to be depressed. It’s probably the coke. I don’t do it much. It’s not worth the comedown.

Yeah, I can dig that. Fun times can extract high prices.

The thing is, I have everything – a fantastic flat, a brilliant car, a beautiful, sweet girlfriend, and my job’s challenging… God it’s challenging. I have a great future, if I keep my head. 

Okay. But it’s not as simple as that, is it?

It’s just that… sometimes I can’t help thinking… it’s useless, you know? I have so much money, and I’m just making more and more. And what the fuck’s the point of that? 

Well – nothing, not when it’s just you. But that’s not true, is it, James? You’ve got someone important in your life.

Yeah.  She’s…my girlfriend’s…really great. Her name’s Ellie. She’s the daughter of my father’s business friend. So he’s pleased. For once. But, she’s… kind. That’s important you know?  Not enough people are kind. She’s an actress. I mean, a female actor. You may have seen her in a few things.

I live in a bit of a cave out here, but I bet I have. You two are in pretty good shape, then?

Are we in love? 

Not what I asked, but you know I’ve got to be interested in the answer to that.

Oh. Well. She loves me a lot. I think. She really does. 

Have you ever felt… like a rat in a trap, Harper?


Well – I wanted to tell James that I had, but he left pretty abruptly at that point. He’s a man on a mission, and he has a hell of a lot on his plate, as you can probably see. I just had to step aside and let him back into the rushing white-water raft-ride of his story!

Which leads me to the excerpt. Hope you enjoy this tantalising slice of Bitter Legacy. Once you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Dal is a great scene-setter, so be sure to take a look at the short Q&A that follows!



The windows caught his attention as he pulled his car into a parking space, several yards along from No. 22 Selworth Gardens.

They were huge, multi-paned, Georgian, and James could tell that they would drench the space behind them in pure, bright light.

No. 22 proved to be part of a terrace, built of yellow-brown London brick. Like all its neighbors, it had three floors of windows, no basement and a painted, paneled door, surrounded by a whitewashed portico. And on the first floor, those amazing windows were decorated with finely wrought mock balconies made of iron, gazing across to the twee, pretty little Georgian houses, peering out from behind their privet hedges on the other side of the road.

This would be prime real estate. And, James knew, sadly unlikely to sport external CCTV cameras. They tended to sit on new apartment blocks and commercial buildings. But hell—no one could blame him for dreaming of finding incriminating footage of Maria arriving for afternoon liaisons with an obvious suspect, could they? He still hoped in his heart of hearts that it could be that easy.

James stretched carefully as he slammed the door of the car, a loud, obtrusive noise in the comparative quiet of the street. He felt surprisingly alert given he’d spent the night at the station, but he’d caught three hours of sleep on one of the office camp beds. It would never be a comfortable fit for his frame, but by four a.m. he’d have slept on a bed of nails. He’d even managed to fit in a shower and a shave before setting off here.

On the whole, he’d done considerably better than Scrivenor, who’d resembled an exploded mattress when James left the office. On the whole, he thought, he’d best make an emergency visit to Costa for a takeout, before he got back to the station.

He stretched again as he walked along the pavement until he reached the pale-grey front door of No. 22. A brass plate was fixed to the brickwork with three buttons, placed vertically very close together, and an intercom. There was every likelihood that no one would be in at this time of day, but then again, maybe some of the residents were too rich to need to work. James started, methodically, at the bottom. The name beside the button read Nicholas.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he fumbled for it as he pressed the door button blindly.

He glanced at the screen and sighed. He’d set an alarm a couple of days before, to remind him of his viewing appointment at the Earls Court flat, in half an hour. He’d already phoned that morning to cancel, but the guy had sounded unconcerned; he thought he’d found someone anyway. It didn’t ease James’s restless conviction, though, that he’d missed out on something good.

Beside him, the intercom crackled into life.

“Okay. You’re really early, I’m afraid.” An attractive, cultured male voice, which managed to sound, somehow, both friendly and politely accusing. “I’ll let you in, but the guy before you’s still here. Can you just come up and wait in the hallway? First floor.”

James blinked at the brass plate for a confused second. First floor. He’d pressed the wrong bell. But as he opened his mouth to identify himself, the intercom shut off with a loud buzz.

He frowned and pushed the heavy door, which opened at once into a well-decorated, artificially lit hall. A flat door stood to his left, and fresh white paint covered all the woodwork and walls. None of the communal hall smells he’d become used to were in evidence—no stale smoke or urine, and definitely no cabbage. Instead, the place smelled of expensive polish and new carpet. There was no room for a concierge and, as he expected, no CCTV. Obviously, it had once been an old house, converted into flats.

He eyed the door beside him, the one he’d meant to start off with, and deliberated taking his opportunity now and knocking. But the man on the first floor would be expecting him.

His feet made no sound on the bouncy thickness of the dark-blue carpet.

The door on the left at the top of the first flight of stairs appeared identical to the one on the ground floor—paneled and freshly glossed white. But though James knocked on it, ignoring the intercom-man’s instructions, and though he definitely heard voices behind it, it remained stubbornly closed. He knocked again. The door didn’t open. The man had meant what he said.

James had no real reason to feel as pissed off as he did. The man inside couldn’t know he was a detective investigating a murder. He wasn’t purposely disrespecting the police. Yet, as James lurked, frustrated, in the plush hallway, stealing irritated glances at his watch, he found himself almost deliberately pushing himself to conclusions.

The visitor in there had an appointment. And the man who’d answered had said there’d be another right after James.

So. What kind of men were most likely to have serial “appointments” at expensive residential addresses? High-end hookers.

He glowered at the pristine door, copper’s imagination running with it. Fuck—the last thing he needed was a vice collar right now, but he couldn’t exactly ignore a high-class prostitute operating under his nose.

Or maybe—he could. He really didn’t have time for this.

He frowned fiercely, slumped against the opposite wall. Then, without warning, the door to the flat opened with a shocking blaze of light, and a man slipped out into the hall.

James, as he straightened, could hardly fail to notice the guy was flamboyantly good looking—all extravagant cheekbones and pouty lips, like a catwalk model—and to all appearances, extremely pleased with himself. As he strutted past, he gave James a quick once-over and a knowing smirk, then he trotted down the stairs and out of sight.

James stared after him. He didn’t look like the kind of man who paid for it, but, if police-work had taught him anything, it’d be that people rarely obliged by fitting their stereotypes. Whatever the guy had been there for, he’d emerged appearing very satisfied indeed. James’s suspicions solidified.

“Sorry about that, mate. Overran a bit.”

James snapped his head back to stare at the figure now standing in the open doorway of the flat, assessing him in turn.

The man was startling. Caucasian, round about James’s height, but with a more slender build and thick, dark, shoulder-length hair in silky, loose curls. He had a fine bone structure, straight black brows and large, dark eyes whose color James couldn’t determine in the dimness of the hall. If the guy fucked for money, James thought in those first moments, he could fully understand how he could afford to live in Selworth Gardens.

Suddenly James felt very aware that, while he was wearing a very nice Paul Smith suit from his old life, it needed a good pressing. And after only three hours’ sleep, he could do with the equivalent himself.

The man smiled brilliantly, which rendered him even more startlingly attractive.

James found himself fighting not to blush. It was his fatal emotional tell and he hated it—a lifetime of self-discipline, and he still colored up like an adolescent.

“Hey,” the man said. “Come in.”


Great stuff, Dal! One of the things I admired most about Bitter Legacy was your evocation of background, a real tangy taste of realistic London life. Could you take a moment to tell us how you, as an author, set about that amazing piece of scene-setting? I think both readers and fellow authors would love to know.

Dal: Thanks so much,H! I’m glad you felt the feel of London came through! I worked there for a while (and truly loved it) so I got to know it a bit, but I think having lived abroad too, you realize what an iconic city it is. There are things about it that are like …cultural shorthand? Certainly for anyone interested in crime – there are these famous places I got to use in the plot, like New Scotland Yard and The Old Bailey. It can be a place of extremes too. There’s the opulence and almost chilly elegance of places like Knightsbridge and South Kensington and then just a short drive away, there’s the multi-cultural vibrancy (and often deprivation) of areas like Brent. It’s a gift to use as a setting for a book to be honest. The scenes set themselves!

Well, I think there was a hell of a lot of hard work and talent involved too, but whatever you say, lady.😀

Thanks, everyone, for visiting the blog tonight! I’m certain you’ll join me in wishing Dal the very, very best with Bitter Legacy. Good luck with the giveaway, and here is the buy link for this excellent debut novel!


Update on my latest


My post this Sunday is about my current work-in-progress, Seven Summer Nights. Forgive another “industry” post: next week I’ll be doing a character interview/coda.

I’ve decided to self-publish SSN. This was not an easy decision to reach. I would really have loved to work with a publishing house again, but even if I managed to place the book right away, I’d probably be looking at a wait of up to a year before release. Financially, that’s not a viable option for me. My own fault – ideally, before submitting a long book to a publisher, I’d have a shortie in an advanced state of preparation to self-pub while I was waiting. (SSN became a much more intense and complex novel than I’d intended, and took over my brain and my schedule to an overwhelming extent.) As I think I’ve said before, the hybrid model is working very well for me as an author. I love the freedom of FoxTales, but I also love the opportunity to refine my craft, and a good publisher’s editing team will do that. Not to mention the marketing reach and the chance to build rep.

The bright side is that SSN will be with you sooner rather than later! The main plot arc is consummated and I’m looking to land the plane. The runway is in sight, my landing gear is deployed, and as I’m sure my fellow authors know, at this point all my concentration will be required not to hit an air pocket or slew this baby into the ATC. Um, the novel isn’t about planes at all, so I’m not sure why this metaphor has run away with me.

Another advantage is that I won’t have to dial back on the scope, reach and general glorious weirdness of my story. This one’s set in the 1940s, and will bring to you Dr Rufus Denby, an amnesiac archaeologist struggling with post-war flashbacks. Sacked from his prestigious job at the British Museum, he’s sent to work on restorations at a church in a sleepy village on the Sussex Downs. There he meets Archie Thorne, a vicar with a war record of his own. Rufus’s investigations of the church soon unfold into a numinous ancient mystery that will sweep the whole village into the labyrinthine depths of the past. Meanwhile, Rufus and his vicar are both finding out for the first time in their lives what it means to fall in love.

I like this book. I might have had to streamline/shorten it considerably for a publisher. But this time I want it long. I want it to develop at its own slow, sexy, potent pace, and I want my support cast to have time and space to do their thing. So self-pub has many pleasures, not least of which is that this time around I can afford to hire a great cover artist and realise my vision for the book. You get a little bit of input into cover art when you trad-publish, but usually not a huge amount.

I’d like to share an excerpt with you. I know a lot of you don’t like excerpts, so this is your alert to stop reading now! I hope to release the book within the next couple of months, so watch this space for a firm date. Also, there is mild naughtiness in this excerpt – just a gentle heads-up to the lovely real-life friends who’ve been kind enough to befriend me on Facebook for reasons other than my writing. ;-D


From Seven Summer Nights

Rufus lay down flat and read as he’d used to do in childhood, the book poised just off the tip of his nose, his toes clenched on the footboard as if he would otherwise float off into deep space. The Reverend Thorne’s house held him like a hammock, like a chrysalis, like a deep embrace from strong male arms. Night came down, and at some point of shimmering non-darkness from the summer skies, a careful hand lifted the open book off his face.


He woke in the trenches, his enemy near him. This time the hallucination didn’t eat him whole: the awareness was left to him, dim and distant, that his body remained in a beautiful place, guarded and cared for and safe. Utter misery seized him. No matter where he went, he would end up here. No matter who he reached for in friendship and love, the shadow would fall. A bull in a labyrinth, a faceless Minotaur, groaning and snorting in the dark, a demon with the power to take a firelit room and fill it with mud, blood and horror.

Rufus tore the bedclothes back and lurched onto his knees. He would kill the bastard this time, that was all. He flattened his hands to the mattress and let loose a long, raw howl of desolation. It was too bloody grim that every beauty he found, every safety and sweetness, could be ruined and torn down to shit. He burst into racking sobs.

The bedroom door flew open. Rufus seized his chance. He couldn’t see, but that didn’t matter – who else would dare find him here in the firelit trench but his enemy? “Charles,” he roared, scrambling off the end of the bed and into the bullet-pocked hell of the earthworks behind Fort Vaux. “Stop, damn you! I won’t let you do it this time!”

He collided with flesh and bone. The devil of it was that he recognised Archie straight off, by scent and warmth and the well-restrained power that cushioned and held him even as it fended him off. “Rufus,” Archie gasped in his ear, but it was no use. The logic of flashback ate both of them whole.

They crashed together onto the bedroom floor. Rufus made a grab for the gun at Charles’s belt, but the coward had hidden it somewhere, ready for the atrocious scene that always followed on from this fight. “Give it to me,” he grunted, rolling Charles over, and cried out as a huge strength lifted and rolled him in his turn, dumping him hard against the base of the wardrobe, whose scrolled and clawed feet Rufus couldn’t account for here, unless the Minotaur had learned how to dance.

He lashed out wildly. The blow connected, sending a pang of exhilaration through him. He could taste his enemy’s blood. Connections formed hotly in his mind: Charles was the enemy, the monster he’d been seeking through the mud-lined tunnels of his dreams since his return from the Front. Charles, his commanding officer. His brother-in-law, the sweet-natured boy he and Rosie had run with through childhood’s meadows… “Charles, stop,” he begged, aiming another knockout blow at the once-beloved face. “Stop. Please.”

“I will if you will.”

He couldn’t. Wherever he travelled, no matter how far he ran, this dream would compel him to hunt down the nearest likeness of the beast, the greatest threat. He twisted out from under the beast’s weight – so warm, this beast, smelling of love, not death – and struggled onto his feet. The beast stood too. “Rufus, stop,” it commanded, and this time it stopped his fist in mid-air. “You’re looking for the strongest man? You’ve found him. You’ve found him.”

Rufus woke up. The mud and blood dried to thin, brittle shells on his skin and fell away. The trench burst wide open to dawn light. Archie was holding him, not Charles – Archie in rumpled dressing gown and brightly patterned pyjamas, staring down at him, such a blaze of passion and pity that Rufus would have fallen in love with him right then, if he hadn’t already dropped and dived and lost that battle somewhere among the Droyton lanes. “Archie,” he whispered, lifting a shaking hand to caress the face he’d bruised. “Archie!”

“Yes. You have to stop this now.”

Rufus couldn’t. He slipped a hand around his nape, pulled him down and kissed him – brief, hard, full on the mouth. Let him go immediately and stumbled back, almost thrusting him away. Easier to do that than be pushed, than to see shock gathering, rejection, distaste… But Archie only frowned. He touched his lip wonderingly, as if remembering. Then he shot out a hand and seized Rufus by the front of his nightshirt. “Come here.”


“Come here, man. For God’s sake.”

Rufus stumbled back to him. Archie didn’t relinquish his grip: used it to haul him up and in, at the last instant catching him tenderly with his free hand, cupping his jaw. He dipped his head. A faint sound escaped him, a muffled sob of yearning. He closed his eyes and pressed his mouth to Rufus’s in return.

Clumsy, awkward. He must have got at least one punch in – pain popped like a flashbulb on Rufus’s lip, delicious and wild. He kissed like a man who’d been tied hand and foot while other people fucked and danced and loved all around him, inches away, untouchable. Christ, Rufus knew how that felt. He threw his arms around him, left off trying to keep his rising erection a secret. Archie groaned and pushed back at him, knocking him off-balance. They crashed against the wardrobe. “Dear Archie. At least let me take you to bed.”

“I can’t. I… Oh, yes.”

“Make sure the door’s shut.”

“It is.”

“You’d better close the window. Pull the curtains too.” Rufus clutched his shoulders, hardly able to bear the answering stiffness behind the absurd pyjama trousers. Elspeth would have bought those, he was willing to bet, a pocket-money present for her borrowed father, and Archie would faithfully wear them to show her he valued her gift. “Do the windows have shutters?”

“Er… yes, but – ”

“Better close them.”

“Rufus, this is my house. We’re up on the attic floor. I won’t shut us away in the dark.”

“You have to. You don’t understand. You could be jailed and disgraced for what you just did to me, let alone…” Rufus caught his breath. “Let alone what I’m about to do to you.”

“Only the birds will see us. The moths and the bats flying home.”



I don’t often talk about money, but…

Redeswood1The cheque for my eleven-book deal with Audible arrived this week. I can’t actually explain how much this payout means to me as a working author. Once more, I have to thank my agent, Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency: there is no way I could’ve swung this one on my own. I’m not even going to say how much the cheque was for, although if any of my hard-grafting colleagues out there are wondering what agent-sold audio rights are fetching these days, feel free to email or PM me. For the purposes of today’s blog, the amount isn’t relevant. What’s relevant is the effect upon my daily life, and I do want to take up a few moments of your time to talk about that. The daily life of an author, because I know the market is tough at the moment, and I’ve seen a lot of discouraged people, and I’ve had more than a few queries lately about what it takes to make it as a writer. And I still think it’s possible, so I’ve tried to answer.

That’s a tricky task, although in each case I’ve tried my best. I can only tell you what it takes me. Am I making it? Well, just about, according to my own unsteady lights. First off, as my dear friend Josh Lanyon has said recently, you really have to decide what you mean by making it. Do you want to be JK Rowling? Do you want to get one book – yes, dear Goddess, please just one teeny tiny little book and I won’t ask for anything again ever – published, to obtain that one moment of orgasmically sweet validation and triumph? Do you want, like me, to enjoy the dubious, dangerous benefits of living off your wits, free from employers, in the middle of the wilderness, no savings, no pension, no sick pay, making just enough to cover the bills? There’s all kinds of making it.

Second, what are your circumstances? You need to balance out what you need to do against what you can do. I’m all in favour of pushing boundaries, but unattainable goals will wear you out and make you miserable. For me, in order to progress my career, stop living hand-to-mouth, get some money in the bank and make some provision for my frail (and rapidly advancing) old age, I’d need to produce about 5,000 words a day.

I can’t. I max out on 1,000, or 1,500 when I have no other commitments. Do you have kids? I spent five minutes with a kid the other day, and I was depleted and drained beyond imagination. I salute authors who have kids. How the bloody hell you do it, I have no idea. Do you want to have some kind of life outside your authorial vacuum flask? I didn’t think I needed one, but as I moved from part-time to full-time writer, and ploughed head-first into the menopause at the same time, I realised how badly I did. Depression and borderline agoraphobia presented themselves and asked to be considered for the role of Wolves at my Door. I had to chase them off while I was still capable of leaving the house in order to do so. Changes in my metabolism meant I could no longer get away with the utterly sedentary lifestyle I’d rejoiced in so far. We came back to my native northeast, where my family embraced me, undeserving as I was. I discovered Sacred Circle Dance; a wonderful group of fellow Pagans. I felt better. (Note: my problems were causative, circumstantial, temporary. Companionship and activity may help with cases of clinical, chronic depression, but far more likely will only act, if at all, as adjuncts to therapy, meds, and the sheer, gritted-teeth, back-to-the-wall courage of the sufferer. There’s a very big difference.)

So – 1.5K per day, zero future security, but a hell of a good time in the present moment. There is no prospect of retirement for me. That’s okay. I wouldn’t want to stop anyway. But that 1.5K per day has to happen. It has to, if that’s the figure you’ve come up with to allow you your work/life balance and to get you to the point of making it. Whatever figure’s come out of that complicated sum, it has to happen. Sometimes people ask me how I do it, and I don’t really understand the question. I mean, some of the people asking me this have proper jobs! And they’re asking me how on earth I manage. I want to say to them, “How do you do it? How do you get up at six, face a brutal commute, deal with your boss and whatever mountain of stress you have to scramble up and over every single working day in life?” I think they’d just say, “Well, I have to.”

And that’s it, precisely. As an author, you have to. Can you bring that combination of guts, persistence and sheer necessity to a computer screen, typewriter, notepad, whatever, every single day, and dig out of yourself your sacred and carefully calculated Daily Word Count? If you’ve ever had a job you hated and you stuck with it and did it anyway, you’ve got the character skillset for this game. You’ll stick with it and do it anyway, through illness, adversity, family upheaval, loss, just as you had to do with your day job. You’ll do it in sensible places and strange ones: at your desk, on riverbanks, on the back of bus tickets. And hopefully, one day – it took me about five years, transitioning slowly – you’ll be doing it in order to serve the needs of a job you love. At the very least, at the end of X amount of time doing X amount of words per day, you will have written a book! And even if you don’t think it’s a good one, it’s there. You can’t edit, polish and rework something that doesn’t exist. You can’t even chuck it in the f*ck-it bucket in favour of the next project, at least not with a satisfactory clang.

It’s still a tough ride. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the impact of that Audible payout, and that’s all I meant to talk about. The trouble with establishing yourself as an author, letting go of the Day Job jungle vine and swinging wildly on your new one, is that you have to keep swinging. My self-pubbed books do pretty well, but still drop off a three-month sales cliff at Amazon. And you know what that means, don’cha?😀 My trad-published novels have a longer run, but it’s getting increasingly tricky to place one’s word-children with good and reliable adoptive parents. Essentially it’s a case of run, run and then run some more. So a sudden big cheque – wow, I can’t even begin to tell you. Missus and I will be down to B&Q on Monday morning faster than a pair of rats leaving a house with a leaky roof! I feel like all the boys in those eleven books went out, got second jobs and sent their wages home to Mama. More than anything else, I can breathe.

But you know what? I probably won’t. I could let myself off the word-count treadmill, for a month or even more. When I think about that, I get a rush of elation, and then a backwash of panic. I have a horribly addictive nature, and my primary addiction – thank God; it could have been so much worse – is writing.

It’s just nice for me to know that I could, and I’m so grateful. Grateful to my agent, to Missus for keeping the world around me sane and safe while I ride this bizarre roller coaster to wherever the hell it goes, to my family for their endless love and support, to my circle dancers for enfolding my abstracted, isolated brain into the warm realities of the group. As ever, to Josh, because all these eleven titles are self-pubbed, and it was Josh who set my FoxTales boat afloat. And just as much to every single person who’s ever bought and read – or, indeed, listened to! – one of my books. Thank you for the ride so far, and for the breathing space, which I’m now fairly certain I won’t – can’t – use. I’m not much good at saving, but I’ll try and save a bit of this one for a rainy day, and when I do, I’ll be thinking of all of you.

Aaron to CT Green!

LifeAfterJoeWelcome to the Sunday blog! Unbelievably, we have finally come to the end of the questions I asked people to send me during my Christmas competition. I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped this blog become a much more active and fun place to be this year, and I’ll try to keep it going. We’re not quite finished with the “meet the characters” series, though – I’m happy to say I have had a couple of email queries for future editions, so watch this space.

Now I’ll hand you over to Aaron from Life After Joe, and CT Green, who said she’d like to meet him, because…

…he was such a calm, but incredibly charismatic character – the line about it not making the pain go away…oh, that just gets me every time! Plus this was the first of your books I read, so it’s a sentimental favourite. <3


Aaron: Strange place to bring you for a chat, but I often come out here at lunchtime for a break and to get some perspective. This is the Grey Croft stone circle, and if you look that way – over the earth bank they built a while back to shield the old stones, or maybe to shield the monsters of the modern world from their mystical influence – you’ll see Sellafield nuclear power station. It’s not easy to visit this place nowadays. The land is private, and power-plant security increasingly touchy: some poor guy was trying to fly a drone across the circle to get some aerial shots, and they had him in the holding cells at Carlisle police station before he could prove he was an archaeologist looking for crop marks. I got involved in that ruckus, actually – the guy and his partner had stopped to talk to me before they started work, and I phoned a mate of mine who’d used to do security on the oil rigs and is now a sergeant on the Cumbria force. Told him I was pretty sure the guys they’d hauled off were legit, and I didn’t want anyone accidentally getting shipped off to G-Bay, or whatever they do with suspected terrorists these days. My friend told me I could relax: the archaeologist turned out to be some high-level prof at Salisbury University, and had clearly been arrested by far bigger things than the Sellafield squad. As for his friend, he was going head-to-head with the military police like a true pro, so I probably needn’t have worried.

My Matthew loved that story. I don’t get to bring many exciting tales home from work. “Hey, Matt, today we managed to synthesise a five-stage polymer link!” Doesn’t really compete with the stories of life and death he could tell. But the thing is that he doesn’t, not as a rule. He’ll come in like the east wind blew him, throw his coat onto a chair, grab me for a rib-creaking hug, then pour us both a drink and sit down at our kitchen table, genuinely enthralled to hear the latest from the front-line of radioactive-material containment research. I work at Seascale Reprocessing now, battling it out to beat the deadlines on the old underground tanks, which will decay to the point of leakage approximately twelve thousand years before their clicking-hot contents cool off. It sounds exciting – or terrifying, depending on your outlook – but the details of it, the chemistry and molecule-by-molecule advances, ought to be boring as hell to an outsider. But Matt rests his chin on his hand and listens as if his own life depended on it, not the lives of future generations.

Sometimes, if we’ve gone out for a walk in the fields after dinner, he’ll tell me a story in return. It might be something very good, a cancer remission, a kid waking up from a coma after a car crash. Far less often, something terrible. Between one drystone wall and the next, across a stretch of beautiful northlands moors, he’ll tell me, usually with his coat collar turned up, his hands pushed into his pockets, fixing his attention on the turf.

I’m always so bloody grateful when he does talk. About the bad stuff, I mean. Would he have been different if Joe had never left him, if he’d never had his fight with drugs and booze? Stupid question – of course he would. All our experiences change and affect us. But with my poor Matt, the transformation was radical, deadly, marrow deep. I was at his side for the long process of his rebuild. I don’t say recovery because he never does; he never makes that fundamental error. He can never drown his bad days in alcohol again. The man who rebuilt himself out of his own wreckage knows that, and instead – eventually – shyly, as if we hadn’t been lovers for years – he drowns himself in me.

I took a big chance, telling him what I did from the high moral ground of my bar stool in the Powerhouse on that first night. He might have walked away from me forever. I thought he had, when he stumbled off straight into the arms of his spiky-haired nemesis from Scotswood and gave us all that memorable floor-show. I suppose, technically speaking, he kept walking after that – across the city, into the underpass, and I’m not sure what would’ve happened if the Parfitt lads hadn’t interrupted his progress home. If – thugs as they were – they hadn’t given me the priceless opportunity to catch him up. The beauty about Matt, though, is that even when he’s on the run, he keeps thinking. No wonder he makes such a good doctor, rushing between other people’s crises, always alert! Wasted as he was that Powerhouse night, he’d turned over my one line of unsolicited advice – this won’t take the pain away – and instead of running on, or maybe punching me in the mouth for being a self-righteous prick, he let me walk him home.

Well, it’s the end of my lunch hour, and my polymers await. It’s been a pleasure meeting you here up among the old stones, CT. Thank you for coming and listening to me.


Harper: Thanks for that great conversation springboard, CT!

Scrap Metal – Nichol to Chad

Scrap Metal cover art final 72LGAfter a pretty chunky sabbatical, the Sunday blog is back! Today Nichol is talking to Chad, who said…

I’d love to meet Nichol and ask him how the farm was going; to find out how he was doing without his Granda and whether he and Archie were still friends; whether his Cameron was still sculpting, and whether they ever got to meet the Basque gardner ;-) I’m really looking forward to hearing from Nichol about his progress on his PhD – I don’t envy him having to do it by distance.


You know, I did have a week or so when I almost thought of giving it all up, grabbing Cameron and running away? It was January, and cold enough to freeze the bollocks off our best Leodhas ram. I’d had another dose of flu and got behind on my dissertation, so Cam had had to go off on his own to the mainland to sort out a new winter-feed supplier. As soon as he’d left, half the farmhands had gone down with a worse flu than mine, so instead of shedding brilliant new light on Brythonic-language syntax, I was running ragged round the fields with Gyp, Floss and Vixen (who at least now consented to work with me, though I’d never perfected Harry’s semi-mystical system of whistle-commands), preventing our herd of pregnant ewes from slithering into snowdrifts and off the clifftops. And, despite our best DIY efforts with the old house the year before, we hadn’t got around to loft insulation, and just before midnight on one grim and sleet-lashed night, the pipe above the kitchen burst, spraying freezing water through a crack in the ceiling, shorting out the internet, my laptop, and the few pathetic paragraphs I’d managed to squeeze out of my aching head. So when Cam arrived home, he found me up a stepladder, soaked, sneezing, swearing the game wasn’t worth the candle and I’d damn well sell up, sacred Seacliff traditions and all, because why in God’s name would any sane man ever live such a way in the 21st century?

But the fact was that Cam had taken the last ferry home through heaving seas, and tackled drifts and black ice all the way from Brodick to get back a day early. He walked in like a miracle, hoisted me down off my ladder, and I held out for about thirty seconds, assuring him I was okay and had everything in hand, before dropping like a snotty avalanche into his arms. Once he’d duct-taped the pipe, checked on the ewes in the barns and set the laptop and modem to dry out gently on a rack over the Aga, he sat down with me, and asked me – because he always listens, even when I’m just blowing off steam and frustration – if I’d been serious. If I wanted to keep our life here for its own sake and for ours, or if Harry was throwing a longer shadow over me in death than he had in life.

Because I wasn’t doing quite all right without the old man, and Cam knew. Neither of us was, though we’d done all the things we should – made our donations to the British Heart Foundation, cleared out Harry’s wardrobe for charity, even drained that damn lochan and sown wildflowers there, my mum’s ghost flickering around the edges of perception, helping the seeds to thrive. We both knew there was a danger that we’d end up running the Harry Seacliff Memorial Farmstead for sheer baffled love of him, even if that was no longer in our own best interests. And unlike me, Cameron has the emotional balls to come out and say all these things, and at that moment I was able to admit, fully and maybe for the first time, how big a hole the old man’s death had punched in me. Cam got into the fireside armchair with me, tipped the rest of the hot whisky toddy he’d made for me right down my throat, took me into his arms and let me cry like a toddler banshee over it all.

We were better after that – both of us, though all poor Cam had got out of the deal was seasickness and a damp sweater. Archie and Shona were banging on the front door at first light, shovels in hand, stand-in farm lads waiting in the Land Rover. Their romance was well established by that point, although Shona mostly showed it by vigorous denial. As for me and Archie – not many friendships could have come out of our debacle intact, and ours wasn’t, but in its own banged-up way, it was pretty indestructible. And yes, my Cam is still sculpting. Once we’d fought through that day and a couple more tough ones, once the pipes were fixed, the winter feed delivered and the whole Memorial Farmstead dragged back onto even keel, I followed the clatter of a sledgehammer on steel to find my brave, lovely lad in floods of tears himself, having finally brought out the bits of the tractor we’d found down in that drained lochan and begun his next and most extraordinary piece of work.

What was it? I’ll leave that for another tale, but suffice to say, between the plantation money he’d found for us and his gallery sales (our scary lady from Birmingham really came through), we were afloat. And January loosed its bitter grip, and soon after that we were celebrating an anniversary – the date of his arrival, when he’d come to me out of the storm, with the wind and the hail and first of the springtime lambs. We’d made all kinds of plans, but ended up in the room where he’d once imprisoned us both, the door only locked against wandering sheepdogs and farmhands this time. By nightfall, we’d decided that nothing would part us from Seacliff. That life on the island was a beautiful struggle, and in each other’s arms, that fight became a dance, and a dance neither of us ever wanted to end.

Having said that, I should also get the hell away from it for the residential Easter and summer weeks now available for PhD students in Edinburgh, because Chad is right – taking those courses by distance is gruelling, and sometimes you just need to sit and chat about lexical-functional grammar face-to-face. We’d arrange with Shona and Archie to cover the farm, as we did theirs when Archie could lure her away for dissipations in Glasgow, and Cam could come and meet me for a long, wild weekend of luxury hotels and gay nightclub bump-and-grind, like normal human beings.

Which brings me (kind of) to the holiday we had in the Pyrenees, and that Basque gardener…

But that, too, is a story for another time.


Those were some great questions, Chad. Thank you very much. Next Sunday we’re off to Newcastle for CT Green, who said she’d like to meet…

Aaron from Life After Joe – he was such a calm, but incredibly charismatic character – the line about it not making the pain go away…oh, that just gets me every time! Plus this was the first of your books I read, so it’s a sentimental favourite. <3

Thank you, CT! Aaron will look forward to talking to you.