When I say that I don’t plan, that it all happens at the keyboard for me, that is perhaps a little bit Inaccurate. I do have vague plans in my mind that are usually related to images. There’ll be something there for a conclusion to a book somewhere off in the misty future and then plans for the nearer future when I start writing and consider what section to write next. The ‘happens at the keyboard’ bit is what determines how or if I bring them to fruition. Sometimes I do, sometimes I destroy them completely and go in a different direction. Sometimes I find something I’ve completely missed.

Take for example some highly dangerous and irascible assassin drones. These actors were on scene and, while I was concentrating on other matters, I left them twiddling their thumbs … or perhaps other more lethal appendages. You can’t do that. Yeah you can provide some make-work but that’s pretty difficult when the characters concerned are so effective. The thing to do then is throw them into the fray and see what happens.

It’s a bit like strategizing a battle between horse cavalry then having a tank roll onto the scene, then deciding to make some of the horses pacifists and then have all of them sprout wings when you abruptly turn the battlefield on its edge, and then note that the tank has Velcro treads. The word I’m groping for here is protean. I make plans and I plot but the work in progress is often derailed and always falling into a new shape. Corrections and new ideas constantly alter that shape. Sometimes I chew on the edge of my desk in frustration. Sometimes a solution and epiphany appears in just one sentence, like, for example:

She had just rail-gunned the prador fleet, and the other Polity ships opened fire a moment later.    

I wonder what the shape will be after that?

Writing Routine

I’ve just been writing out some bits and pieces for publicity, specifically ‘Top ten things about me I’d like my readers to know’ for a website called Female First. Like all this stuff it then went into my ‘Articles’ file. There’s a lot in there so I took a look. I found this one, which appeared somewhere or other. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but not much has changed…


Writing Routine

When I started out I didn’t have any writing routine, I had a job. Writing was a hobby I indulged in over the weekends or in the evening when I wasn’t: too knackered, watching TV, reading a book, or up the pub. I only ever started counting words upon discovering, in John Braine’s Writing a Novel, that this might be a professional approach. This was probably when I was in my early twenties, and then I used the old technique of working out a line average and from that a page average. It wasn’t until I had been writing on and off for maybe ten years that I started to establish any kind of routine, thought I couldn’t put a finger on an exact date, and this routine relates simply to the aphorism ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

When you start word-counting you realise that the pages you have written ain’t adding up to a book (and here I’m talking about the time when the average SF novel was a mere 70,000 words). The prospect can be daunting, and my approach was to ensure that I wrote something every day. That’s all.

The next routine I established was when I went self-employed. Getting tired of working in factories on milling machines and lathes, I looked elsewhere. This was perhaps because of a boredom factor creeping in when I was either on production work (Neal, we want a thousand square aluminium blocks this size with a hole drilled in them) or pressing the start button on some computerized machine. I tried building and then, as a result of some work I did clearing up the mess left by the storm of 1987, ended up doing tree-work, hedging, contract grass cutting and just about anything else I could turn my hand to. The bulk of this work was during the summer, so I had plenty of spare time in the winter. I spent most of my free days during those winters writing, almost as if this was a real job.

I started writing down my daily word-count, then I got the stunning idea that maybe I should set targets for myself. Well, I think it was my idea, though it’s just as likely I picked it up out of some ‘How to’ book. I can’t remember the target I set, but suspect it might have been about 1,000 words. It was during this time I discovered the small presses, had my first short story published in Back Brain Recluse then a series of stories elsewhere, then Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, The Parasite and The Engineer. Then came the big hit when Gridlinked, The Skinner and a third book as yet written were picked up by Macmillan. Sensible word-counts briefly went out the window when Peter Lavery wanted Gridlinked expanded from about 65,000 words, (I took it up to 135,000 in two weeks – and added Mr Crane) and The Skinner expanded from 80,000 words (I was a little bit more leisurely over that as I took it up to 150,000 words).

I gave up the day job a year or so after this – after Gridlinked and The Skinner had been published and while The Line of Polity was growing nicely – and began to establish a proper routine. Here I was at an advantage over many writers in that I’d been self-employed for 15 years, therefore knew what it was to motivate myself. I knew how to get up and get to work without the driving fear of a clocking-in clock, angry foreman or written warnings. The cuts to the pay packet were there, of course, in that the moment I stopped working, even for a cup of coffee, I would cease to earn.

I started the new job by being up at 8.00 and writing until 5.00. I aimed to write 1,000 words a day for five days a week (the words were of course now much easier to count with a word processor program), but after a year found myself way ahead and knew the target was just too easy. I upped this to 2,000 and still found it too easy, but then this was all my words, so next I discounted journal entries, blog posts, and stuff I put on message boards (yes, I even counted the words in them) and reset my target to 2,000 words of fiction. This is what I’ve stuck to ever since. When I get started each day I read through and correct the previous day’s 2,000 words, then start on the next. As I reach that figure I try to simply stop, and not go on until reaching a natural break. If you just stop while you know what you’re going to write next, it’s easier to get going again the next day.

Now, those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will be thinking, where’s the 365,000 word novel every year? Unfortunately, turning professional brings home to you the importance of other aspects of writing that can take up many weeks. And now, I no longer feel guilty when I simply write the word ‘editing’, in my journal, where I usually note down my word-count.

That’s it really: the glamorous life of a writer.

We’re Physical

Weird the trials and tribulations my body has been going through lately. I started weight training and gained weight. A lot of it was muscle but there was also a fair quantity of fat. I dieted and fasted losing getting on for 20lb. Also at this time I started walking again so was walking 7 miles every morning and hitting the gym for an hour plus every afternoon. I also increasing repetitions at the gym. Then I had two days of walking and mainly leg exercises at the gym and goodness me the DOMS would not go away, and I felt really tired. I took a couple of days off without much in the way of recovery, went to the gym again. That was okay, but over the next couple of days I was completely pooped. I’d hit the overtraining, under eating (and hydrating) wall. Oops.

In retrospect it was inevitable. I made some calculations. My Base Metabolic Rate is about 1650 calories. Roughly, a 7 mile walk eats up 700 calories while the gym sessions (hour and a quarter minimum) does 500 calories. This is beside what my authorial brain burns while making shit up over a number of hours. Anyway, minimum total of 2850 calories. I was eating a couple of stir fries that added up to about 700 calories. Then there was fruit, veg and peanut butter on Ryvita biscuits. The total there could be high but no matter how I work it, that evening binge eating still left me at a minimum of 1000 calories short every day.

I decided to reintroduce bread, crumpets, malt loaf and butter back into my life. This started to make me feel better but the big step up came when I started drinking pints of cordial. Obviously endless cups of tea weren’t doing the job. Silly sod. Time now to apply my brain to this. I need rest days and I need those carbs. I can’t go through life perpetually knackered else I’ll have no mental energy to spare to write those books!

Fast Words

Well that’s good. I tried out this fasting and did four, then two then three days, with the days in between eating my usual amount. I’ve lost 10lb+ in that time, but hard to judge precisely since when you eat again that’s a pound of so of food plus the fluid you retain while digesting it. Doesn’t take a lot – a cup of tea weighs half a pound. If I were to measure it from a month ago, when my weight hit 192.8, then I’ve lost 20lbs. I do feel a lot lighter! Anyway, fasting is a damned sight easier than trying to diet. Near analogy would be the difference between feathering the clutch while in traffic on a hill or putting on the handbrake. But I’ve gone on enough about this already so … writing.

I finished up the first book of the Jain trilogy a week ago then turned to a file marked Jain2. Here I’d dumped sections I’d excised from the first book. I had a few little hiccups when starting the new book – lot of checking and reiterating – but soon things were running strong. This week I’ve been clearing my 2,000 words a day. Today I looked at one of those previously dumped sections where I introduced a new character. I then realised it would be better to make this new character an old character, this being a (sort of) renegade prador from the previous book. It made it more interesting and allowed for better continuity. However, I then had to go back to the first book and make some alteration there. Glad I didn’t prematurely hand it in to Macmillan.

So what else can I tell you without giving too much away? There’s a Polity assassin drone nailed to an anti-gravity disc. There’s a very dangerous alien with its … manipulators on some serious weaponry. Orlandine is having an existential crisis, and a lethal war drone called Knobbler has a crucial mission. And then there’s the Clade, ooh let me tell you all about the Clade. Maybe I should start with how it –

What was I saying?

One Week Fast

When I came back from Crete in August, still suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I was pretty slim from kayaking, swimming and walking and weighed about 175lb. However I wouldn’t have styled myself as fit and healthy. A year and a half plus of anxiety and cortisol overload hadn’t left much in the way of reserves and I was frequently exhausted. After I settled back in here I decided I needed some other exercise of interest besides walking so I joined a gym. Since unaccustomed muscle groups were involved and I was still exhausted I found this hard at first. I had to give up my long morning walks and just go to the gym.

Over a number of months I put on weight and it mostly seemed to be muscle. I had to go up a shirt size because of restriction about my shoulders and even a bangle I wear on one wrist started to get tight when before it hung loose. However, in the last month or so I could not deny that I was running out of holes on my belt, had developed a male muffin top and that the 192lb I reached at one point wasn’t due to my brawny arms.

I started dieting. Potatoes, bread and pasta ceased to go into my shopping trolley, while the pork scratchings were definitely out. On stir-fries I dropped about 5lb. Not so exhausted now I started walking again (in the last couple of weeks), doing 7 miles every morning. I then considered something else I had done in the past, which was take a day off every now and again and eat nothing at all. But I didn’t do anything about that.

On the day before my birthday I went out for a meal with someone. I ate a scallop starter, spaghetti carbonara followed by a sweet of profiteroles, washed down with a couple of gin and tonics. But even as I was eating I felt unhappy with the way my midriff was pushing against my shirt.

The next morning my weight was 184lb and I kinda fell into not eating that day. Because, obviously, I’m an avid reader of what interests me, I started reading up on fasting. My last post here tells you much of what I got from that. But I’ll reiterate:

Your body has evolved to store fat in times of plenty then burn it when there is no food about. We live constantly in times of plenty and that’s why so many of us are fat. The mechanism is this: over a few days of fasting your body burns through its reserves in your liver. It then starts burning fat (ketosis). The idea that you burn muscle and store fat is, in my opinion, apocryphal. Autophagy accelerates during this time breaking up those cells that are redundant and yes, some of those are muscle cells – useless, damaged inefficient cells. However the meme has been promulgated by people who have fasted seeing their biceps or whatever shrink and think, ‘Oh my god it’s true I’m burning muscle!’ Wake up. One of the closest animals to us physiologically is the pig and, bearing in mind that pigs are less well-fed than us, how much fat do you see in pork? Your muscles are getting smaller because they’re losing the fat in them. This story is also promulgated by those who stop exercising when they fast. Yes, you’re losing muscle BECAUSE ITS REDUNDANT IF YOU DON’T USE IT – autophagy taking out what is surplus to requirements. Also, consider this: if your body is carrying 10lb of extra fat – the equivalent of five bags of sugar – then logically it requires muscle for that, which becomes redundant as you lose it. That is my opinion anyway.

The next day my weight was down 4lb, almost certainly all of it was the stuff in my liver, in my gut and fluid. Because I had not quite understood the above and feared ill effects I ate a banana and two satsumas in the morning then spent the rest of the day without food. The following morning I was down 1.6lb and the day after a further 1.4lb. The day after I was out for dinner again. I ate something at about 5pm to prepare my stomach for that (and the gin and tonics) and the following day my weight had gone up 2.6lb. And no I was not rapidly putting the fat back on because that was almost certainly the weight of the food and the fluid retained to digest it – no food again for a day and I dropped 3lb.

Throughout this I have continued exercising, walking 7 miles each morning and going to the gym for an hour and a quarter every afternoon. I had a couple of small dizzy spells at one point but mostly I’ve felt sharper mentally and had no problem exercising, quite the reverse in fact. Over four days my ‘love handles’ reduced by about half while my belly shrank about the same amount. My arms also shrank, but to give better muscle definition. Hunger was an issue but, three or four days in, it was no different from how it was on day one. It wasn’t constant either – I didn’t wake up hungry and I certainly wasn’t hungry while exercising. It was patchy throughout the day. And it wasn’t so severe I wanted to eat a raw buffalo liver or eat a fish while it was still wriggling (from the film The Revenant). I guess that kind of hunger occurs when ketosis is over – no fat left – and you do start eating your own muscle – protein starvation.

To sum up: Over a period of a week I lost 10lb. An awful lot of that has been around my waist. I have lost from shoulders, arms, chest, bum and legs but I like that there’s less to pinch under the skin and my musculature is more defined. I’m now going another day without food but not exercising. It’s snowy outside and cold and grey, but I also want to take the opportunity to see if there is any change in the hunger pangs and whether I’ll keep up the constant loss average of 1.5lbs a day.

Burning Muscle

I posted this on Facebook yesterday and there was quite a response – debate, agreement and even outrage:

Interesting. I’ve been reading stuff about weight loss and exercise etc for quite a while now. Some of the things I kept coming across are, ‘Don’t eat too little or your body will go into starvation mode! It’ll burn muscle to preserve itself! It’ll retain fat!’ I raised an eyebrow at this because it made no logical sense. The body is a fast machine for the transmission of slow genes. When food is plentiful it stores it as fat. When food isn’t plentiful it burns that fat. Surely? Yes it does. Starvation mode is a myth, probably from people who inhabit that world where squirting coffee up your bum is a good idea.

Note: I mean here ‘starvation mode’ in the world of the fad diet whereby some believe the body burns muscle in preference to fat.

So, apparently, the theory is this: if you fast, your body undergoes changes to utilize its resources more efficiently. It burns up the supplies in the liver and then turns to glycerol in the fat and amino acids in the muscles. After two or three days it switches over to ketosis i.e. it stops burning any muscle and instead burns up fat stores. Or … it starts laying down fat and burns muscle. Or just within a day it starts doing that. Or…

You see the problem.

This stuff is rife with contradictions and fallacies and my goodness you mustn’t go into ‘starvation mode’ and experience ‘muscle wasting’. When I start reading emotive terms like that my bullshit radar comes on and starts beeping. The immediate mental image that arises is of people staggering out of Auschwitz or skeletal children in some African village. The problem here is that the internet is a breeding ground for the apocryphal and that ninety per cent of what you read is from somebody who has an angle, or a repetition of the same. Try the turnip and mealworm diet to avoid starvation mode and muscle wasting! The majority of the stuff you’ll read about diets, nutrition and exercise sits on the borderland of real science where self-appointed experts sell their snake oil. And all of this gets promulgated by people repeating stuff they want to believe (confirmation bias) and thus creating memes that are not necessarily true.

In the end you have to go back to first principles. What are we? We are fast machines for the transmission of slow genes evolved over millions of years by and for that purpose. The biological machines that are us take in energy to power us (food), ensure that we are capable of simply staying alive and gathering more food, and breed. That is all evolution requires of us. So, apply that logic to the above.

Is it logical that we would burn off muscle before fat? That we would experience ‘muscle wasting’? Does it make any sense to sacrifice the machine in preference to the fuel supply?

No, not really. Yes there might be a small loss, but in that respect I would go with the school of thought that says your body starts catabolising cells that are damaged, not functioning correctly or redundant (autophagy). That makes sense – there was no imperative to deal with that mess while our guts were providing a bounty of nutrients.

Yes, muscle wasting does happen, and it happens when your body runs out of its usual food, that is, what is in your guts, liver and fat stores. It happens when you go below minimum body fat, which, beside the relocation camp victim, is something that can apply to body builders too. Your body does start eating itself to stay alive – almost certainly in order of importance i.e. the muscle in your biceps will go before the muscle in your heart. But this is irrelevant to the world of the fad diet and Joe Public (very few of whom are at the low end of body fat and very few of whom are likely to go without food for days on end), and the ‘burning your own muscle’ meme is an overblown scare story.

I think the reality is this: Strict diets and fasting in the healthy will only cause problems in THOSE WHO DON’T NEED THEM.

Kill Your Darlings

So, anyway, I think I’ve promised to post here more regularly about four or five times over the last couple of years, so I won’t be doing that again. The reasons behind my lack of posting are various: private, professional and finally due to a degree of boredom and irritation with the social media.

A little while ago I decided that in the mornings (rather than sit in my living room with a cup of tea, with my Ipad open while farting about of Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere) I would go straight into my office and get to work. I also decided that in the evenings I would again avoid social media and read and watch more TV. In these the only one I haven’t stuck to is the reading – must make more of an effort there.

My working day now usually runs like this: I am at my computer by about 8.00 AM, I warm up my brain by reading about 10 science articles from various sites across the internet, then I get to work. At midday I stop to cook and eat (a stir fry is usual now), then at about 4.00 – 4.30 I head to a local gym for about an hour or so. There I do 20 minutes on a cross-trainer, 30 – 40 minutes on free weights etc., finishing off with 2,000 metres on a rowing machine (I have four routines I do and intend to add more, because I’m getting bored with them now).

My aim has been to do my 2,000 words each day. I had a week or so when I was doing more than that – continuing to work after I got back from the gym and not stopping till 8.00 in the evening – but generally it has been less. The results? I’ve done a couple of short stories titled Grawl and Logan. The first is an elves and orcs siege while the second is a Polity story loosely based on High Plains Drifter. I intend to write some more short stories soon since doing so is something I have wanted to get back to for some time. Then there’s the book…

As I have noted here before, the latest book for Macmillan was a bit all over the place, having been written in spurts over a couple of years between periods of anxiety and depression. I’d ripped it apart and stuck it back together again many times. When I finally figured out where I was going with it, a few months back, that was after I whittled it down from 110,000 words to 90,000 words, while it sat in a file named ‘Jain’. Further work brought it back up to 110,000 words, then I hacked it down again moving sections from it into a file named ‘Jain2’ for a second book. More work, which involved further deletions and the diversion of a black ops attack ship called Obsidian Blade, resulted in the file name ‘Jain1’. Next I decided I had too many character POVs. I removed the POV of one character along with about a chapter of work on the same and this resulted in the file name ‘Jain1a’. I then decided this character was superfluous, so I killed her, and this resulted in ‘Jain1ab’…

‘In writing, you must kill your darlings.’ – William Faulkner

The quote is quite apposite in this case. I found myself writing more and more about the character I mention above, and drifting away from the main thrust of the story. She had to go, so I whacked her. Maybe it was doing this that led on to what happened next. The end of the story in this book was in sight. I had three plot threads I needed to tie off in a satisfying way, while also keeping them open for the next book. I worked with two of them, thinking to myself that maybe I needed to do more. I then moved onto the third yesterday, wrote another section and then finished it with three words. I realised that this was enough – that because of those three words I didn’t need to do anything more with the other threads. There is more to do – tidying up, some sections to be expanded, additions to be made – but I looked at those three words for about 30 seconds then after them wrote:


Story Engine Working

Last week was pretty good with a word count above 5,000 but still, sadly below my target of 10,000. I think I missed recording one day so I can’t be sure of the exact figure. No matter. I’m writing. The book has now reached 107,000 words. This figure would be higher but for the fact that I’ve excised one section and transferred it to file marked Jain2 – the second book. My ending for this book is in sight, though I have to do some careful manipulation of what certain characters do and do not know. Other manipulations too. And one other plot thread that I’ll probably cut out and move to that second book too.


The problem I face here is that I’m writing a story that will extend across three or more books. My job, for you, is to deliver an enjoyable, violent, sensawunda romp that extends across one book with a beginning, middle and an end. However it must also be the beginning of the overall story arc of the ensuing books. Here I have to deliver an ending that satisfies to a degree but leaves hints of that overall arc and leaves the whole open to continue. It’s a bit of a balancing act. Nobody said it was easy, but then my ability to do this is why I’m sitting at home tapping out stuff about an alien AI, the Machiavellian schemes of an entity called Dragon and the arrival of a Jain super-soldier … rather than having to do a proper job.

At present I am just aiming to just get this first draft done. However I need to do some research. Some concerns the Schwarzchild radius of a black hole relative to its mass. But the other thing I really must do is read some of my own books again. I need to read the Cormac series again (please, don’t get excited some of you – Cormac does not make an appearance in the present book). I either need to read all five books or, specifically, read from when Orlandine appears on the scene i.e. Polity Agent and Line War. To be frank, probably many of you reading this know the events that occurred in those books better than I do now.

But it’s all going good. The complications and convolutions that in past months had been worrying me are really no different from those in the previous books. All that was different was me. I mean hell, what made me throw in a character like Orlandine in book 4 of the Cormac series, or earlier decide on introducing Skellor or pulling a certain brass man out of his grave? It is precisely this stuff that makes it!

Okay, back to back to a little venture into Jain pre-history…

Moving On

Okay, that’s the final page proofs of Infinity Engine gone through and sent back to Macmillan. I’ll just say that I haven’t copped out on this – Penny Royal does have an aim…


Now it’s time to get back to the present book. I am past 100,000 words into this (the previous books were 140 -160,000 words) and things are going well. I do have one plot thread and one short section (a prador of the King’s Guard paying a visit to the king) that I may excise, but only to transfer to the next book. ‘The shape of things to come’ is nicely solidifying in my mind and I can promise exploding spaceships, hostile alien life forms, highly advanced technology and ultra-violence. Of course it wouldn’t be a Neal Asher book without them.


On the personal front things are looking good. My numerous visits to the gym are paying off. I don’t feel quite so knackered each day and I’ve now got back to walking too – going off for a 7-miler (thank you Google Earth) four or five times a week. I did get a bit pissed off at one point when my weight started to climb, but then I noticed how my T-shirts are getting a bit tighter and my arms seem to have exploded. Psychologically I seem to have won, with no more depression, anxiety or panic attacks.

Also, because I’m single, not inclined to visit pubs or clubs and because my profession is a lonely introverted one without much in the way of a social aspect, I’m having a crack at this online dating. I guess, because of my profile, this is something I shouldn’t mention. But I’m not inclined to give much of a toss about that.

Anyway, it has been interesting to say the least.