East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Plots, Nefarious or Otherwise

Sitting here wrapped in blankets, drinking hot tea and popping aspirins to try and get back on track after two days spent on the road and in the cold, I find that there is little I can do but plot future stories.

I sent a detailed pitch to my Italian publisher, but I’ve yet to hear back from them, and I have here two open calls that would be madness to miss – so I sit, and drink tea, and plot.
This is the phase in which I do not write, but rather I pile ideas upon ideas, and let them simmer.

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We are still having fun

I read the news today, oh, boy, just like John Lennon did. In my case, it was a social media post by someone I know. It was a masterful piece of brand management – three paragraphs with all the right keywords and all the bits and pieces to reinforce the author’s brand, the SEO perfectly balanced.
His pet topics, his by-words, even a subtle call-back to his first book.
The sort of thing you read in books by social media gurus about how to establish your presence and reinforce your brand.
It was, also, a piece about the recent death of a person, a public figure, a musician.

Me, I’m old fashioned, probably even Victorian in such things, but I found it in poor taste, and my respect for that person dropped a few more notches.

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Spare change and writing classes

Talking about my generation, like Roger Daltrey used to do, we never really got used to the copper spare change that came when we transitioned to the Euro system. It’s psychological, and cultural – the 1, 2 and 5 eurocent coins feel like ballast, feel like a waste of time counting.
Back in the days, soon after the advent of Euro, older people used to refuse to take the change, when shopping… “ah, seven cents, keep them!” and anyone paying a 1 euro candy bar with 20 five cent coins was looked at by everyone in the shop like he was some kind of beggar with a sweet tooth.

So what happens now is, when you take an old jacket out of the closet and brush it up, you find a selection of ones and twos and fives. Ditto when cleaning drawers, or when you happen to look in old china vases and other odd containers.

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Selling stories to foreign magazines

Today I was told yet again that I should write a handbook to explain to my Italian colleagues how to sell stories to foreign magazines and anthologies – especially English-language magazines in my case.

I had to explain that such a handbook would be pretty short – so short, in fact, that I can publish it here in its entirety…

  • write a story
  • mail it to a magazine
  • if they buy it, cash in the cheque
  • if they don’t buy it, send it to another magazine
  • in both cases, start writing another story as soon as you’ve mailed the first

And that’s it, really.

But a lot of people want to know “The Secret”.

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Are you by any chance the guy that…?

Yesterday something happened that had never happened before to me: I was discussing a comedy sketch with a friend on her Facebook profile, and one of her contacts joined the discussion. It was all very civil and amusing, until this new person I did not know suddenly went…

No, sorry, wait a minute, are you by any chance the guy that wrote The House of the Gods?

And I could only confess that yes, I am the guy that wrote The House of the Gods, but I did not do it by chance, it was premeditated. I did it on purpose.
She went on to say she had greatly enjoyed my novel, and we sort of became Facebook friends and all that.

It’s the first time I am identified by a total stranger as “the guy that wrote the book I liked”, and it’s strange, and funny, and sort of feels like a milestone.
This writing thing is really starting to go the way it should.
Another fifty years, and I’ll be a household name. And beyond that (fanfare) brand recognition!

But I am just being stupidly flippant – it was good, and it saved an otherwise average day.

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The countryside is dreary (and not in a good way)

Like Supertramp used to sing, It’s raining again, and the whole territory is under red alert for floods and landslides.
Yesterday night the take away pizza girl wrote down the wrong address – as a result, the pizza delivery guy drove under the pouring rain up to the door of our next door neighbour, and the moment he stood on their doorstep, the pizza boxed in his hand, the lady there started screaming, because who is this strange man bringing pizzas to her place in the middle of the night (as to say, a quarter past eight in the evening)?
My brother had to run there and intercept the lost delivery boy, and secure our dinner.

And I don’t know if this is a good starting point for the next Horror of the Belbo Valley, or if it’s just one of those funny things I should make cartoons about (if only I knew how to sketch) in order to attract people to my Patreon, as a social marketing guru told me about one year ago.
The only thing I know is it’s raining, the Belbo Valley is slowly slumping into the river, and we had to re-heat our pizzas in the microwave last night.

The dreariness of the countryside under the beating rain is not helping with my black moods and my general feeling of fatigue, the sort of things a warmed-over slice of pizza can only aggravate. And probably the two courses about forensic archaeology – that is, digging out the bones of the dead to find out what killed them – I am taking, while incredibly interesting, are not exactly contributing to cheer me up.

But who knows, things might get better.
They usually do.



Conveying emotions in writing is particularly tricky but also an essential skill if you want to write. The basic rule of thumb should be that you do not declare the emotion of an action or a line of dialogue, because doing it explicitly is not elegant, and the clear mark of the amateur.

“Two sugars and no milk,” she said angrily.

… in other words, is not the best we can do as we write a scene in which an afternoon tea turns into a duel with cake knives.
We need to find a way around it.
This is not, of course, an unbreakable commandment – but as usual when writing, we need to keep an eye out and try to suggest tone and mood tot he readers without telling them.
This is the notorious show-don’t-tell rule, that’s generally abused by first-timers.

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