99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all) #7. Really love and trust your partner.

 A loving heart is the truest wisdom.
– Charles Dickens

Once, when a succession of publishers rejected one of my early, yet-to-be published masterpieces (The King of Cartoons), I slid into a deep slough of despond (maybe even a Slough of despair).

I’d been sure this was the one. I had fabulous endorsements for the book from two fantastic, award-winning writers, Michael Marshall Smith and Graham Joyce – but the publishers, as is their right, disagreed. One American publisher was downright hostile (I think it was because I renamed New York, Old York … ‘that just would not happen‘, they said, even though the book was absurdist sci-fi … you’d have to read the book, believe me there was a good reason).



This hit me hard. I’d spent a lot of time in the states. Travelled through 26 states. Had great times there and met wonderful friends.

This rejection derailed my writing for a long time. Made me doubt myself. Made me second guess publishers. My book of future story ideas suddenly seemed like a book full of nonsense. It was pointless.

It was my partner – now wife – who helped me to find a way out of this spiral of negativity, by pointing out rule #4 – Don’t Use Criticism As a Razor.

Not everybody will like what you write,” she said. “If it wasn’t by you, I wouldn’t buy it. It’s not the sort of book I enjoy. And even publishers have subjective tastes with a genre.” I’m paraphrasing – her advice was much sharper, but you get the drift.

Sometimes it’s only those closest to you that can tell you the truths you need to hear. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and write! Or as the late, great Ray Bradbury put it: Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build our wings on the way down.


& Why you should ignore this golden rule: Don’t.

Up next: Write like a Stephen King style writing machine!

99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all). #5 Don’t think you can make it on your own.

Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.
– Isaac Asimov

There can be no greater succor and anchor for a writer than finding a confidant who understands the trials and tribulations, the unadulterated masochism, uncertainty and self-doubt involved in becoming a writer.

In reality, there can be no more comforting confidant than a fellow writer. Somebody that has toiled over character, plot, motivation and all those other things a writer has to agonise over, and then agonise over more.

I remember attending a British Fantasy Society Open Night for the first time. I was a bag of nerves (they all know more than me, they’ve all read more than me, they all know each other). The meeting was held in an upstairs room at the Princess Louise, a traditional Holborn pub, all glass, brass, class and history. I was a neophyte. Raw. Self-conscious. Unsure.

And I was welcomed. What a wonderful thing it was. Here was my tribe. The writers. The readers. The drinkers. They laughed and didn’t take themselves too seriously but knew what was serious. I talked books and football with one of my literary heroes Graham Joyce (who died far far too young last year – if you have read none of his works I strongly recommend you do – try the award-winning Tooth Fairy or his last book, the magnificent Some Kind of Fairy Tale). Jeff Vandameer snapped me holding his little green alien. I got drunk. Blathered on about Cormac McCarthy. Bought some books.

Later, I attended the BFS annual conference and met more of my heroes including the absurdly talented Michael Marshall Smith. His debut Only Forward, an amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and dream logic remains firmly in my all time top ten books – if you haven’t read it, read it. He writes superbly about friendship and heartbreak and talking fridges. He also writes top notch, NY Times bestselling thrillers and had the darkly fantastic Intruders adapted for TV. See, told you he was talented.

I also met industry luminary Stephen Jones who has edited oh… close to a million anthologies and collections. I was still nervous meeting all these people and  fuelled by nerves and beer managed to offend Mr Jones with some ridiculous point I was struggling to frame (I can’t even remember what it was) and was only rescued from making it worse by a tactful Mr MMS.

There were new writers like Tim Lebbon and Simon Bestwick who are now well established and admired authors writing award-winning genre fiction.

One of my golden rules was born: attend and be damned.

I wrote a batch of short stories on the wave of confidence that rolled off the back of that meeting. It left me feeling invigorated, intoxicated and invulnerable. Later, I received great encouragement and critical feedback from members of the society – redundancies that needed cutting, sections requiring a polish and it allowed me to get my writing career back on track.

& why you should ignore this golden rule: see the next golden rule.

next time: You absolutely have to make it on your own.