Progress, not perfection / Mars

Keep on Bridging

I haven’t sent one of these out since new year, so with the end of February fast approaching, I figured now’s as good a time as any. 

Part of the reason for my tardiness is simply that I haven’t had a lot to say. I began work on a big videogame last autumn, and I’m still working on it, and it’s taking up a chunk of my time… but, as is so often the way in games, and as I’ve spoken about here before, I can’t tell you what it is or who I’m working with. It’s enormously frustrating, but I’m used to it.

When I’m not working on the game, though, I’m doing something I can tell you about…

…Because at the start of this month I began writing the third Brigitte Sharp thriller, THE PATRIOS NETWORK.

In The Patrios Network, MI6 cyber-analyst Brigitte Sharp faces her toughest and most puzzling challenge yet. A ‘deepfake’ video of an American politician calling for race war in Europe leads to violent clashes and a growing militia threat on the continent, while Bridge pursues a traitor to Paris with fatal consequences. What do online conspiracy theories, sudden power blackouts, and an old Moscow grudge have in common? A night of blood threatens to explode, and Bridge must decipher the network’s dark agenda before time runs out…

And working on the book today is what prompted me to finally put something down here.

I’m a big advocate of what I call the ‘zero draft’ approach to writing. Others call it the ‘vomit draft’, or the ‘shitty first draft’, but the principle is the same: it’s easier and better to write a rough initial draft, as fast as you can, and not worry about revising it until you’ve finished.

There are many reasons for this, and I won’t go into all of them here. I’ve written and talked about it extensively, including in THE ORGANISED WRITER, and you can read a condensed summary in the For Writers section of my website.

Today was a good reminder of why I do it, though. Today I wrote a short chapter, early in the book, which frankly isn’t my best. I might even admit it’s a bit weak. It doesn’t contain much conflict, it doesn’t follow a character’s journey from desire to goal, and it only does one thing to advance the story. 

But that one thing is very, very important. So the chapter is necessary, or at least right now I’m pretty sure it is. And, in the final version, I hope it’ll be more interesting, more compelling, more engaging.

For now it just needs to exist.

When I’ve finished the whole draft, I’ll come back to it. It’s even possible I may realise what I need to do, how I can improve it, in the coming weeks while I’m writing another part of the book entirely. If that happens, I’ll jot down those thoughts as a note in the virtual margins of that chapter. What I won’t do is go back and edit the chapter there and then, because – for my way of working, at least – that’s a slippery slope, and before I know it I’ll be wasting days revising everything I’ve written so far, instead of actually making progress.

Making progress, to me, is by far the most important thing. Learning to live with subpar work in my zero draft, reassuring myself that I’ll go back to it later and make it better long before anyone else will read it, was a major step in my development as a writer and has stood me in very good stead over the years.

One of the things I love about doing my podcast Writing And Breathing is seeing how everyone’s process is different. Even those of us who work in similar ways still have wrinkles and idiosyncrasies that mean no two writers write in the same way. So I always try to be clear that my process isn’t going to work for everyone, and if you have no problem sitting down to write and making your deadlines, for heaven’s sake don’t change for the sake of it.

But if you are having trouble finishing drafts, or getting your words done every day, you might want to try this approach. Just focus on getting words down, and worry about making them *good* words later.

Mission to Mars

Just one last thing: you probably heard that NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars last week. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But even better, thanks to modern camera tech, we now have hi-definition video of the landing. Incredible.

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2020: Good night and good riddance

Well, everyone’s doing year-end wrap-ups, so here’s mine. What a strange year 2020 was – starting out so promising, trudging through a long slough of existential despair, and finally ending on some sort of promise again…!

In January I presented the WGGB award for best videogame writing to Jon Ingold for his work on OVER THE ALPS…

…and was lucky enough to spend much of the evening chatting with the wonderful Sandi Toksvig (sometimes it’s okay to meet your heroes!). I had two books coming out later in the year, and everything was looking rather peachy.

Until suddenly it wasn’t, and we all know the rest. But those books were still released, marking the year’s major events for me: THE TEMPUS PROJECT in May, and THE ORGANISED WRITER (for which I also narrated the audiobook) in October. That month also saw a US edition of THE EXPHORIA CODE.

The other big announcement was of course Red Planet Pictures picking up THE EXPHORIA CODE option for TV, just last month.

So, not a bad year despite everything, right? Well, no… but there was also a lot more going on under the radar, as it were.

This year I’ve actually written 1.5 spec novels (both still works in progress); two short stories, FOOD BY HAND and A DECENT COUNTRY; finished work on one videogame, consulted on another, and began work on a third; and wrote and directed CROSSOVER POINT, a short film made entirely during lockdown, starring Moisés Chiullán and Casey McKinnon.

I also outlined the third Brigitte Sharp novel; finished the draft of a card game I’ve been working on for some time (but of course can’t now easily playtest!); rewrote a bunch of the Crime Writers Association’s website content for its planned 2021 revamp; and wrote SHELTER IN PLACE, the coronavirus thriller parody.

I also launched WRITING AND BREATHING, a new podcast where I chat with other writers; composed a new SILENCAEON album, Shelter / Place, to help new at-home workers focus better; and acted in an Incomparable Radio Theater show for the first time.

Finally, I spent time doing ‘virtual pitches’ for a couple of film projects; I was elected to the CWA’s board, and helped organise the virtual Daggers award ceremony; plus I gave online Organised Writer talks, with more scheduled over the coming months.

So, somehow, I managed to stay pretty darn busy. I’ve barely left the house since March, which is depressing as all hell, but frankly that’s how I stave it off – by making things.

2021 should be calmer. There’s Brigitte book #3 to write, as well as the videogame; talks/workshops to conduct; and hopefully the EXPHORIA TV show. I have nothing else planned for the year…

But as always, let’s see how that goes by next December 😅

Meanwhile, in real life, I hope you all stay as well and healthy as you can. Take care of yourselves, and your loved ones, and here’s hoping we can all get together again in person some time soon.

Happy new year, everyone!

– Antony

Brigitte to TV / Le Carré / Free short story

Well, let’s face it; 2020 really didn’t work out the way anyone thought it would. Here’s hoping for a return to sanity in 2021. Not least because…

A Bridge to TV

Red Planet Pictures, the people behind Hustle and Death in Paradise (and founded by one of the co-creators of Life on Mars) have optioned THE EXPHORIA CODE for TV.

Red Planet is a great production house, with the experience and chops to bring Brigitte & Co to life in a way that will hopefully make readers happy. I’ll also be involved as a producer, so of course will try to help steer things along the right path. But RP presented us with a great creative pitch as part of the option process, which showed they get the book and characters, so we’re off to a good start.

Of course, something being optioned is not the same as it being made, and in the current climate there isn’t a whole lot of production going on. But here’s hoping we can get underway soon enough.

http://redplanetpictures.co.uk/red-planet-pictures-bolsters-slate-for-2021

Agent Writing in the Field

John Le Carré died last week. He was a titan of literature, and sui generis in spy fiction. 

Of course I’m a fan – what espionage author isn’t? – but more than you may even realise. THE COLDEST CITY, the graphic novel which became ATOMIC BLONDE, was an intentional homage to Le Carré’s work. 

There’s a fair amount of spy fiction in the comic form, and some of it is truly great work. But – for perfectly understandable reasons, mainly that it doesn’t make for particularly energetic artwork – little is from the bleak, grey Cold War school of tradecraft in which Le Carré wrote so deftly. THE COLDEST CITY (along with its follow-up THE COLDEST WINTER) was my attempt to do so, with the help of artists Sam Hart and Steven Perkins, who understood the desired flavour. Hell, my original draft of the back cover blurb for CC actually namechecked Le Carré, but we ultimately removed it so as not to seem like we were riding his coattails.

We were, though. Just about every espionage writer of the past half-century was.

I never met him, though I was amazed to learn he was somehow aware of me and my work. He was apparently researching his next novel even as he was taken ill. We can only hope that we all remain as vital, curious, and skilful as he while the years wear on. RIP, maestro.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19888446

“A Decent Country” Free Online

I recently wrote a new short story, A Decent Country, and made it free to read online.

It’s a quiet sci-fi satire on our current parlous state of politics and voter apathy, with a (small) glimmer of hope on the horizon. As a no-deal Brexit thunders down the tracks towards the UK, it felt like the right time to make it available.

https://www.wattpad.com/994999267-a-decent-country

Antony on “Monocle Reads”

I appeared on the Monocle Reads podcast to talk about THE ORGANISED WRITER. It’s a fairly short segment (I could have talked for a lot longer!) but nevertheless insightful:

https://monocle.com/radio/shows/meet-the-writers/monocle-reads-84/

7 OR C?

Finally, if you’re looking for some amusement over the holidays, I was roped in to the unexpected second episode of Tony Sindelar’s bizarre (and thankfully hilarious 😂) game show 7 OR C, in which all the questions are about… well, no points for guessing that.

https://www.theincomparable.com/gameshow/145/

Happy Holidays!

2020 really has been terrible for many of us, and I hope wherever you are that you’re able to find some way to celebrate the holidays and relax a little. Fingers crossed for the coming year, and a return to something resembling normality.

— Antony

And I saw him through his disguise:

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Tempus giveaway / Bridge in America / Technology: Threat or Menace?

TEMPUS PROJECT AUDIBLE GIVEAWAY

THE TEMPUS PROJECT, the second Brigitte Sharp novel, is now out on Audible UK with narration by the excellent Lucy Brownhill.

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/B084QGL2Z1

Audible were also kind enough to give me some freebie codes to give away. To get one, send an email to antony.johnston@gmail.com telling me BRIGITTE’S FULL NAME. The FIRST THREE people to answer correctly will get a giveaway code.

(NB this is specifically an Audible UK release. If you’re registered with Audible anywhere else, please don’t enter as it won’t work for you.)

NOT YET BREAKING

If you’re wondering why it’s been a while since the last newsletter… well, I still can’t actually tell you. I’ve been holding off in the hope of being able to share some Very Exciting News™, but I still can’t, so to hell with it.

Of course, now that I’ve actually sent this thing out it’ll probably be announced tomorrow. Hey ho.

So, what am I up to? Well.

Project Gojira, the big video game I’d been working on for a couple of years, is done and dusted. Still can’t say what it is, but you’ll find out early next year. 

In its place I’ve begun work on Project Speedfreak, which will keep me busy in game for at least a few months, and possibly a year or so depending on how things go. No idea if there’ll be a public announcement about my involvement, but suffice to say it’s a big triple-A project for which I’m leading a writing team.

Projects Bomber and Mean Machine, being movie/TV things, are in holding patterns. Will anything ever come of them? Your guess is as good as mine. C’est Hollywood, and all that.

Project Snaggletooth, a novel I wrote during lockdown earlier this year, is in the notes/revision stage. The Project Damage Case novel, meanwhile, hit a roadblock about halfway through. I need to give that some deeper thought before continuing.

I’ve completed a rough outline for Project Overkill, which is the third Brigitte Sharp thriller. Hoping to get typing away on that soon – to be frank I didn’t dare start before the US election was over, and then it turned out people couldn’t even agree on the definition of “over” for a couple of weeks…!

And while all that is going on, I’ve been delivering talks and arranging workshops around THE ORGANISED WRITER, which is lots of fun. If you’re interested in taking part in one, I’m doing two classes in the new year, for Arvon and Pen To Print. Keep an eye on those, and my Twitter feed, for more info.

I also spoke to the CWA’s London chapter about THE ORGANISED WRITER, for one of their ‘In Conversation With’ evenings, and that’s now on YouTube:

(Bonus for the nerds: the person interviewing me is none other than Bonnie MacBird, who was one of the writers of TRON! I’m hoping to get her on Writing And Breathing soon)

STATES OF EXPHORIA

The North American edition of THE EXPHORIA CODE was released last month by Pegasus Books. It was featured in The Big Thrill, the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers org, where I was interviewed:

https://www.thebigthrill.org/2020/09/up-close-antony-johnston/

There’s also a Q&A with me at Marshal Zeringue’s Writer Interviews:

https://writerinterviews.blogspot.com/2020/10/antony-johnston.html

And finally, I did an event for Brookline Booksmith with my old friend and thriller writer extraordinaire Greg Rucka about the book, Brigitte, writing, my obsession with technology, and more. It was a really good chat, and the whole event is now on YouTube:

MEANWHILE, TECHNOLOGY

As always, it’s how people use tech that makes such a big difference. So first, some bad: a pilot program to give police livestream access to Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/11/police-will-pilot-program-live-stream-amazon-ring-cameras

(This is a good example of what my friend futurist Jamais Cascio calls the Participatory Panopticon, as we willingly partake in our own constant surveillance.)

Then, some good: using a Boston Dynamics ‘Spot’ robot dog to help monitor the still-incredibly-dangerous Chernobyl site.

https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/boston-dynamics-spot-chernobyl

And finally, some middling, where once again reality draws ever closer to the fiction of THE EXPHORIA CODE: in a simulation demo, an AI-controlled fighter plane absolutely demolishes a veteran human pilot.

https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/ai-slays-top-f-16-pilot-in-darpa-dogfight-simulation/

WRITING AND BREATHING

There have been quite a few episodes since last time, so I won’t clog up your inbox with all the graphics! Suffice to say the show is going strong and my guests continue to be fascinating people 😊 Such as…

THAT SURE WAS THE ’80s

Finally, I’ll leave you with this insane video by Jean-Michel Jarre, for the track ZOOLOOKOLOGIE from his excellent and unhinged album ZOOLOOK. As one friend pointed out, the only thing that could make this more ’80s would be a filofax.

INSIDE THE MORAL KIOSK:

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The Organised Writer on sale this week

Just a quick one today, to remind you all that THE ORGANISED WRITER goes on sale this week.

HOW TO STAY ON TOP OF ALL YOUR PROJECTS AND NEVER MISS A DEADLINE

The Organised Writer is the first productivity system designed for writers, by a writer.

Built upon solid, practical principles like clean mind theory and memory offloading, its purpose is to help you write more, and more easily — by allowing you to relax and forget about everything except writing when you sit down at your keyboard.

Designed and used in the real world for more than a decade by prolific bestselling author Antony Johnston, The Organised Writer is a no-nonsense guide to being more productive — and more organised! — that understands the life and needs of a working writer. It doesn't bamboozle you with lingo, ask the impossible, or saddle you with endless lists and charts.

The Organised Writer is a practical and focused approach to writing in the real world.

Available at all good stores, including the usual online places. There are buying links at the official site, http://organised-writer.com

(Yes, Americans, you can type http://organized-writer.com instead and it will take you to the same site 😉)

Overnight we even hit #1 in Amazon’s “Publishing & Books” list. That’s pretty awesome.

(pic courtesy Casey McKinnon)

Online Events

I’m also doing two ORGANISED WRITER online events over the next few weeks. Both feature Q&As, so if you want to ask me questions about the book, and hear why and how I wrote it, come along.

On October 8 I’m with the Nottingham Writers Studio:

https://www.nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk/event/the-organised-writer-talk-qa-with-author-antony-johnston/

And on NOV 10 I’m doing a Writers & Artists masterclass (the mere fact I’m doing one of these continues to blow my mind):

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/events/the-organised-writer

Tickets and info at the above links.

***

Hope you’re all well and safe. Have a good one.

— Antony

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