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A Year of Writing Franchise Fiction

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

...a chance to follow in the footsteps of my heroes Ronald Welch

…a chance to follow in the footsteps of my heroes Ronald Welch…

“Would you like to be paid to write Historical Adventure set in the Wars of the Roses?”

“Well I really wanted to write a literary novel set in the Wiemar Republic about Great War veterans coming to terms with their fractured lives, but: Yes.”

That’s roughly the Skype conversation I had a year ago, except I just made up the bit about the literary novel.

This was a chance to follow in the footsteps of my heroes Ronald Welch and Harold Lamb. It was difficult to say yes without sounding unprofessional (by swearing and whooping, e.g.).

I’m supposed to say something like: This ushered in a crazy year etc etc.

It wasn’t like that.

You just can’t write fiction day in day out if your life is Hollywood-crazy, perhaps with a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl jogging your arm. Almost all the professional writers I know have tranquil home lives and sane routines balancing work and social life.

Nor can you actually have much output if you lead a cinematic creative life, staggering to your keyboard after a booze-fueled night of carousing, then spending long hours angsting about your imagery.

No. Writers write and that is neither cinematic nor dramatic (though I did break my keyboard (and kudos to Microsoft for rapid replacement).

and Harold Lamb

…and Harold Lamb

Mixing writing with what people used to call house-husbanding could however be quite surreal….

Me (typing): Tap tap tap blood sprayed bone cracked tap tap tap screamed and clutched his innards tap tap–

(Two pink little girls appear in my sword-lined study.)

Morgenstern (aged 5):  Daddy, can you print us My Little Pony colouring in sheets?

Me (dad voice): Of course… now here’s the site… you want Twilight Sparkle? And you want Princess Celestia… there here they are. Do you need any more pink milk? OK then. Just call if you need another snack.

Girls: Come on… after this I want to play with Hello Kitty…

(Exit little girls)

Me (typing): Tap tap slipped in gore tap tap skull split tap tap whimpered…

What was a little crazy was the Pulp-Era style rapid turnaround. I signed in January and my first novel, The Sword is Mightier, appeared in something like July. That’s not how modern publishing works.

Before anybody asks, there was no sense of “hack work” or “selling out creatively.”

First, my previous profession was technical author. No, really, it’s not creative. It’s one of those jobs that looks like the thing you like doing, uses some of its skills, but really isn’t. A bit like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, I will write ‘most any kind of fiction if you pay me to and whatever it is will still be more interesting than technical documentation. (Granted, I used to get some cool clients. For example, did you know there’s software for designing your own model railway layout?)

That's not how modern publishing works.

That’s not how modern publishing works.

Second, both franchises gave me heaps of creative freedom. Foreworld had its Name-of-the-Rose style conspiracies and both franchises expected historical accuracy, and that was that. Essentially, people paid me money to wallow in my favourite eras and write adventure stories in the tradition of my favourite writers. Better yet, for Foreworld I bagged my hero William the Marshal and the War of the Roses books let me paint German Longsword as the ultimate martial art.

Reader, the angst was unbearable! Unbearable!

What was almost unbearable was the catalogue of things that got between me and my work.

I couldn’t type fast enough, so I learned to touch type (a program on the BBC Children’s website uses talking hippos to irritate you into typing properly). Touch typing put a strain on my bad ergonomics and I got RSI. Meanwhile, my fading middle-aged eyesight collapsed under the strain. It took two weeks to get my first pair of glasses, which quickly became scratched and unusable. More recently, my new ergonomic keyboard broke.

If you’re freelancing, you can’t call in sick, can’t coast through the day. Worse, if your profession is one you are desperate to stay in, then–having pottered through most of your working life only slightly engaged with your job–you get introduced to new feelings of panic and insecurity.

Several things kept me sane. Hearth and home, of course. Fencing with longswords — any physical activity is good for a deskjockey, getting bashed around by younger people is a great reality check, and companionable geekery in the pub afterwards is just what the doctor ordered (after I finished hitting him with a sword (Hi Mike)).

Then there’s my circle of creative friends. Edinburgh is crammed with professional writers and animators, so no surprise that I have colleagues to drink coffee with. Sometimes we have the kind of chat you hear at convention panels: designing new worlds, tinkering with alternate histories, or what’s happening in publishing. Mostly though, it’s the usual geekery. What matters is that we can talk about our lives without risking sounding like attention seekers. “Stuck on my opening chapter” sounds pretentious in almost any other company, but around our table is as mundane and unremarkable as “had problems with our fridge.” Plus we let each other rant… Writer lives may not be crazy, but writing revs up the crazy flywheel in the head.

So here I am, a year later. Older, more broken, but still writing professionally.

And I dodged the heck out of my midlife crisis.


M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based writer and swordsman. His novels are all on Amazon.

7 Comments »

  1. Your description of writing action scenes between bouts of parenting is charming and familiar. You’ve pegged one of the reasons I rarely write in my own house. (And for another, as Howard Andrew Jones has noted, the anticipation of interruption can be more damaging to the writing process than actual interruption is.)

    Oh, hey, John has proposed that Keith West and I use gladiatorial combat to settle competing interests in an ARC we both want to review. Care to be my champion?

    Comment by Sarah Avery - February 13, 2014 11:21 pm

  2. I’ll despatch him in narrative summary! But pay have to pay the airfare… failing that, as a consolation prize, there’s always my War of the Roses books which are still in need of a review.

    I can cope with interruptions as long as they don’t involve me thinking, engaging or leaving my desk. It helps that I outline scenes before writing them, so am not carrying more than one level of thought in my head.

    Mostly my kids leave me alone, the eldest in part because he wants to support me, and in part because he knows the only way he’s ever getting back to Greece is if I can make a go of this.

    TOP TIP: Viking Metal keeps older relatives out of your study.

    Comment by M Harold Page - February 14, 2014 5:17 am

  3. “TOP TIP: Viking Metal keeps older relatives out of your study.”

    Oh, I’ve got to try that one. Might be a deadline saver when I work on the weekends!

    Comment by Pete Nash - February 14, 2014 8:48 am

  4. This month’s a little tight for airfare, but I would be delighted to take you up on the books.

    Viking Metal would probably inspire my young percussionist to play along on his drum set. As the Chinese say, if you would drive your enemy mad, give each of his children a drum.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - February 15, 2014 10:28 pm

  5. Yes, oddly my daughter prefers the Turisas rendition of Rasputin to the Boney M one…

    Check your email for a review copy.

    Comment by M Harold Page - February 17, 2014 5:06 am

  6. […] But imagine if when you sat down to write, it just flowed? Nothing short of a zombie apocalypse would stop you (not even little girls demanding My Little Poney printables). […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Writerly New Year’s Resolutions and How to Make Them Work: Part 1 - January 9, 2015 3:01 pm

  7. […] It’s such a lovely high concept and the implicit conflict — modernity versus barbarity — gives it instant viral appeal for those in the know (a bit like, I hope, Swords Versus Tanks). It also pings that contrast we Blackgate folk all experience: reading heroic fantasy on the way to a desk job, pausing Halo to change a diaper, leaving off writing a fight scene to print off My Little Poney coloring in sheets. […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Conan is My Spirit Guide - September 25, 2015 6:48 pm


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