Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Andrew's Big Fat Blog Of The Year

2016 is careering towards its inevitable, and many would say, long overdue conclusion. The proverbial goose is getting decidedly podgy, and the senior citizen's headwear is inviting generous contributions. So, what the world really needs to know is what I got up to throughout the last twelve months, in one lengthy but easy to read blog post, arranged by month.

So here goes.

Who does anything much in January? I was mostly rehearsing for some stuff that we'll go into later, to the extent that I even had to give up writing for a bit. Luckily, I had something in the pipeline to make the month seem a bit more productive.

Chantecoq and the Aubry Affair is my translation of Coeur de Francaise, the first Chantecoq adventure. This book had never been translated into English before, and I self-published after a proposed venture didn't work out.

It's a rip-roaring adventure story of spies and cars and daring escapes, set just before the First World War in 1912. The sales have been... look, it's one of my "quieter" books. But I'm very proud of it.

The first of many crazy months. Midway through rehearsals for a thing in March, my director and playwright chum Naomi Westerman asked if I'd be in her brilliant play Tortoise again for a rehearsed reading (having appeared in excerpts from the play at N16 and at the Criterion Theatre towards the end of 2015). I played various male roles in the otherwise female and feminist play, and I still can't decide whether this makes me the Carol Cleveland to this play's Monty Python, or the Dave Lamb to its Goodness Gracious Me. As always, I suspect I was Ringo. Anyway, I was on stage with some brilliant actresses who've been on telly and everything, and they didn't twig that I was a lowly amateur until we let it slip at the cast party. Achievement unlocked.

A long-awaited book was also finally published. Grimm and Grimmer: Volume 4 was originally slated for August 2013, along with my updated SF fairytale, The Frag Prince - which I consider to be among the best things I've ever written. I was hopelessly awestruck to be in the same book as Sarah Pinborough, who provided the foreword. Mad props to editor Colin Fisher, for stepping in to salvage this series. Just don't ask him if the promised Volume 5 will ever actually happen.

Back to the stage in March, with Black Comedy, directed by Naomi Westerman. This charity production sold out across all six performances, and gave me the opportunity to act opposite my lovely wife Mel, who played Carol Melkett to my Brindsley Miller. Chaotic hi-jinks ensued, and we raised a whole bunch of cash for local causes.

I then got my head down and started writing stuff for a whole bunch of anthologies and charity collections. Spring 2016 was probably the most productive period for my writing that I can remember in a long time. Not all of that stuff has yet come to light, however...

As the weather began to pick up a bit, Mel and I took our adorable cocker spaniel Eccleston ever further afield. Richmond Park is a particular favourite for the fluffy nutter, but you have a very narrow window between the weather being pleasant enough to enjoy a long walk, and ten thousand picnics sprouting from the bowels of the Earth. If there's one thing our dog loves, it's charging into a picnic and stealing the cake.

When we weren't walking the dog, I was going all out on short story writing. A couple of the books I contributed to around this time were secret projects with some excellent writer friends. I'm not about to spill the beans, but the end results were so much fun that I hope one day they might see a wider release.

May, not quite officially Summer, but near enough that you can wear a t-shirt outdoors. What better month to release a Christmas-themed short story as a standalone thing on Kindle? Pantocrime: A Theatrical Christmas Adventure was originally part of Sanity Clause is Coming...: A second twisted Christmas anthology, but the rights had reverted to me, so I thought I'd stick it out there.

After quite a long period of other people designing the covers to my books, I decided to have a crack at this one, and ended up using just about every effect I could find. My finished effort is slapdash, garish and absurd. I love it.

This story, which is free on most platforms (except, oddly, Amazon UK), is a bit of a white elephant. I've never particularly liked it, and I think it will be retired quietly in the New Year. I've always thought the world of amateur dramatics has potential for great fiction, but I've revisited it in another short story which will be published in early 2017, and which I think does the job much better, and much more kindly.

There were baby coots in the pond just behind our flat in June, and I did my best to see them every day, while walking Eccleston.

June also saw the publication of Flash Fear - an anthology featuring a very silly short story I wrote way back in 2012. Stuffed with horror writers of every stripe, it was a lively and diverse little book, and it seemed to find a good audience.

The first of the year's charity anthologies. A collection of Doctor Who short stories to raise funds for Tommy Donbavand's cancer treatment. Tommy's a great writer and an all-round nice guy, and it was brilliant to see the fan community rally around and give their best work to this book, with its stunningly colourful design. My own story was Time War Cutaway, a short adventure set during the Time War and featuring Paul McGann's Doctor - essentially a reworked excerpt from my much longer fan fiction attempt to chronicle the Time War (only with more silliness than you'll see in the TV episodes...).

I'm happy to say both that the book did the business, and that Tommy is on the road to recovery, after some terrifyingly hairy moments. The book is no longer available for sale, so if you have a copy, take very good care of it. I have something of a fascination with the amounts that some of these charity books can sell for later on, but I can tell you that the numbers can get very big. If you do the eBay thing, please promise me you'll at least kick a few quid of your ill-gotten gains to a cancer charity.

It's been an amazing year for me on every level except, you know, every time I watched the news. Writing success, acting success, and great nights with good friends. And in August, after far too many years of near misses, my friends and I finally won the pub quiz in our local boozer. £100 bar tab, which we drank into oblivion about a month later.

While all this was going on, though, one of my short stories won an award! Bushimi: The Cat That Wanted To Be An Art Critic was originally written for children, in an anthology that was scrapped mid-development. I put the story in Something Nicer , my second short story collection, and it always stood out by virtue of actually being nice. Anyway, it won Best Short Story at 2016 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards. Something Nicer was also on the shortlist for Best Short Story Collection.

I'm cheating a bit here, as my first stab at the superhero genre Of Mice And Men And Sausages only went up for pre-order in September, and actually only went live a few days ago in December. But... there's a few links coming for books, so I thought I'd space things out a bit. This novelette is a superhero retelling of The Mouse, The Bird and The Sausage as told by the Brothers Grimm.

With a fabulous cover illustration from the talented Gina Allnatt, I'm excited about this book, and it's my first serious attempt to write a series - though we'll see how long Ocean Spray takes to be written.

Also in September, one of my oldest original short stories was published in a free to download collection of flash fiction. Bite-Sized Stories has had a simply terrifying number of downloads on both sides of the Atlantic.

And finally, on my first wedding anniversary, Mel and I had another outing on the professional stage together, in Naomi Westerman's short play Puppy, a full-length version of which will be playing at the Vault Festival in Feb-Mar 2017.

Well, yes, that is a colourful shirt, and I'm not at all surprised this rehearsal pic was put into black and white. The Ladykillers was my first outing with Chiswick-based am dram group St Michael's Players. I played the supporting role of Constable MacDonald, so it was one of those where I got a few solid scenes, and a lot of time "relaxing" in the dressing room. It was probably the most purely enjoyable show I've ever done, and I'm quietly chuffed that it was an absolute sell-out as well.

October was otherwise marked by panto rehearsals, and by the odd decision to go Sober for October. Mel and I raised just over £100 for Macmillan, which was nice.

The release of A Time Lord For Change was a cause for celebration - partly because it coincided with Doctor Who's 53rd birthday, but also because I wrote my two drabbles for it back in November 2014. Between me writing 200 words in the pub, and the finished book hitting Amazon, a lot happened. Celebrity contributors rocked up in their droves, so I'm now in a book with Joanne Harris, Colin Baker, Katy Manning, Jane Sherwin, Paul Magrs, Rob Shearman, and I'll stop there because every time I list the authors, I miss out someone awesome and lovely by mistake. It's that sort of book.

By this point, we were well into the pantomime rehearsals, and my writing had slowed to a crawl. This has been a bit of a frustration throughout the last few months, but plans are in place to make sure I have a lot more writing time throughout 2017!

The pantomime was Cinderella, and it ran from 6-10 December. I played Ugly Sister Grizelda, in a cast which included my wife Mel playing Dandini, the Prince's valet. We rehearsed a lot, and thank goodness we were both in the show so we could do it together.

Again, we had several sold-out shows, and the audiences were brilliant. It was my first time playing a Dame (we're not counting that time I played an Ugly Sister aged 10, we're just not), and I was going for a sort of Tim Brooke-Taylor Lady Constance voice, which I toned down throughout the week as my throat began to rebel against all the warbling and trilling and filthy chuckling.

As soon as the panto was over, though, one of my older books had a new lease of life. My Casanova translation The Story of my Escapewas promoted through Bookbub, and I sold a terrifying number of books in a single week. For a dizzying moment I was the 5th highest selling author in Canada. For a few brief days, I felt like one of the world's biggest writers. And that was pretty cool. It's all died away now, and my book is plummeting back through the ratings, but it was a crazy time and I'm convinced that some day... I'll be back. I just need to write a great deal more.

Next year, I'm still waiting on one short story to be published, in a very exciting collection indeed. I'm also going to be in one play, at the Vault Festival. Other than that, it's going to be writing all the way. I have a lot of projects to finish, and it's my New Year's Resolution that I will simply have to find the time, one way or another.

So while all sorts of dreadful things have happened in 2016, I've often been able to find the silver lining. In addition to the highlights above, I've cooked a lot of tasty curry, spent a lot of lovely time with the wonderful Mel, seen some incredible theatre and, oh yes, even taken part in a Royal Shakespeare Company workshop or two.

And finally, Summer's End, an anthology of end of the world fiction from Alternative Realities. Edited by Stewart Hotston, this was a book I wanted to be in, as soon as I saw the call for submissions. I then hated every single moment of writing my story, only to be pretty pleased with it when I finally read it back at the editing stage. When I heard that I'd been accepted, I may even have done a happy dance. This book was released just a couple of weeks ago, and has been doing incredibly well. It's a brilliant book containing many writers I admire hugely.

In conclusion
I've had a great year, and I hope next year will be bigger and better in all sorts of unexpected ways. Have a brilliant Christmas, an awesome New Year, and see you in 2017

Happy times and places