Thursday, 29 December 2011

How do you find the time?

Hello again, my blog-reading brethren. In the spirit of me opening the remit of my blog up a teeny bit to include my writing career, I thought I'd pop in a quick entry here to mention that Marc Schuster over at small press reviews has very kindly (and very gently) interviewed me about my new fantasy book, The Ancients. You can,if you are so inclined (for instance, you're having a masochistic day) read the interview here.

But that's not all! Oh no! Not by a long chalk! (I really should google how on Earth that expression came about. What's so great about a long chalk? It'd just snap). As a special not-Christmas-any-more-but-not-quite-new-year-either treat, I thought I'd include a short article that I wrote for the New Writer's UK newsletter. Hold on to your hats! (If it's windy. Or your hats are particularly valuable)

How do you find the time?

I am not, to my eternal regret, Doctor Who. The closest I have come to a sonic screwdriver when I accidentally dropped one in the dishwasher. I don‟t own a TARDIS and, probably the bitterest pill to swallow, I don't get to spend extended amounts of time in an enclosed space with Amelia Pond.
Time, therefore, is a problem – a problem familiar to many part-time writers. How do you hold down a full time job, talk to your spouse (there might not be so much of that after my Amy Pond comment, mind you), perform your domestic chores, eat, sleep, walk the dogs...and still find time to sit down and write?
It isn't just the writing, of course. There‟s a whole heap of procrastination to get over before you get anywhere near filling a page with your brain juice. Before I even started to write this essay, for instance, I‟d drunk three cups of coffee, checked my email, twitter and facebook feeds, read a random Wikipedia entry about how pencils are made, re-checked my email, twitter and facebook, and visited the toilet twice (largely thanks to the coffee). All that before I had even begun my titanic battle with the dreaded BLANK PAGE.
"How do you find the time?‟ - a question I am asked often by clients when they discover I'm an author (not that I mention it at every possible opportunity. Ahem). How do you find the time to hammer (or at least tap) out a novel in between all those petty mundanities that modern life throws at you?
The truth is disappointingly prosaic. We use the classic 'stolen hours'. Late in the evening. Early in the day. We find the time because we love it. We sneak those words out in the quiet watches of the night and the gentle hours of the morning because it's our escape, our breath, our passion. We make room in our lives for writing because without it there would be a hollow, empty shell where our souls would be, and we would shrivel away ghosts, almost-people, unable to express our one true love. A TARDIS would still be nice, though.
Just saying.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

We need to talk

Okay, blog, it's time to be honest. I know I haven't spent much time with you lately. I've taken you for granted, I know. Things have been crazy, I've been writing, I've been doing my certificate, and you just...well, you were always there, in the background. I just never found the time. And now I know we've grown apart. It's not you, blog, it's me. I just...I guess I felt you were holding me back, and I wanted to be free.

Can you forgive me, blog? I'm so sorry I haven't been around for you, but I can change, I promise!

There, I said it. I haven't written any blogs since...since May? And even that was a cheat, 'cos it was just an essay (if you're interest, I passed my 'A' unit for my CertAVP! Yay! Only B and C to go know...the ones where you have to know stuff, rather than waffle. Oh dear).

This blog started as a semi-anonymous musing from myself to vent my spleen about veterinary life. Turns out, my spleen didn't need quite so much venting as I thought. Perhaps it has it's own air-conditioning system? In any case, internal organs aside, the blog was really meant to be a veterinary-only chat about the work side of my life. The problem is, getting home from work and then writing about it has recently seemed about as welcome as watching a three-hour marathon of Animal ER - I just wanted a bit of a break from the work, rather than go on about it. Consequently, I'd got into the bad habit of only blogging when I was depressed or annoyed about something - and although I'm happy about all my blog posts, there's no denying the recent ones have had something of the black dog about them!

In the spirit of 'if you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say anything', I took a bit of a break from blogging, to concentrate on my writing - which has worked very well, and I've got loads done. But I have missed blogging, and I'd like to get back to it - with a few changes.

I'm going to broaden out the scope of my blog! It's no longer just about veterinary life, you lucky people! I want to use my blog as a bit of a pimping point, to bling up my writing career though, innit (I think that's how people talk nowadays, anyway. Rofl.)

Brits are not generally very good at selling themselves or their work (well...actually, a lot of them are, but I'm using that as an excuse for why I'm not very good at it. I wouldn't do well on the Apprentice, anyway - though I must admit I'm still mystified as why Alan Sugar is regarded as some kind of business God when his products have been, and I'm trying to be generous here, almost uniformly second-rate) but from now on this blog is going to have a smattering (and hopefully just a smattering) of talk about my literary career, and possibly even the odd geeky post (though I'll try and keep these to a minimum as t'internet is littered with the blighters). I'm still going to keep blogging about veterinary life too, so don't/do despair, and though I'll try to keep them a bit more upbeat I'm not going to shy away from the less cheery aspects of the job, either.

So, there we are, blog? Our relationship has changed, but I think we can make it work.

Can you forgive me? I'll give you my last Rolo if you do...

Happy Christmas one and all! As something of a reward/punishment, I've done a whole two other blog posts today as well! They might provide a few moments blessed relief from the terrible Christmas telly!

Have a good one, and I'll see you all in the New Year

Always two there are...a master, and an apprentice

It's been a pleasant few weeks at the practice.

Actually, now I come to think of it, that's a bit of a fib. It's been a teeny bit horrible, what with the pre-Christmas busyness and the usual set of 'clearout' euthanasias - but one of the things that has made it a little more enjoyable is the presence of a couple of vet students seeing practice with out.

Ah, vet students. They all look so young, fresh and excited. Makes me quite nostalgic for my student days, and all the things that will never come again - pound a pint nights, Oasis versus Blur, my hair...happy days. I can almost smell the formalin from the dissection room (if hte aforementioned formalin hadn't already sizzled most of my sense of smell away)

Vet students are nice to have around for a number of reasons. Firstly, they're a lot more interested than the typical stand in the corner and look bored work-experience types - probably because they're thinking 'Oh my God I actually have to do this job in a year or so and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing!' (Don't worry, vet students. I've been doing it for ten years and I'm still not entirely sure either).

Secondly, it's nice to have some company in the consulting room, partly to share some of the strange experiences we have in there (see previous blogs for details), and party to be able to talk medically with someone. Maybe this sounds a bit feeble, but nice as it is to talk to clients and try and explain to them what you think is going on in simple terms, it's also nice to be able to talk to someone who can understand medical terminology, and follow your clinical reasoning. Well, if nothing else, it makes me feel clever (unless the student asks me a question that I don't know the answer too, but I usually brazen that out by telling them to clean my table, or put up some drugs, or as a last resort faking a fainting episode)

The enthusiasm they have is a little infectious too, and reminds me why I wanted to do this job in the first place. I genuinely do love animals, but I also love medicine, and am fascinated at what a complex, wonderful machine a living creature is. It's nice to be reminded of that from time to time, and to talk to someone who feels the same way, without the jaded cynicism that comes from ten years in (I suspect) any job.

For every Jedi, though there is a Sith, and the Yang to the Yin of having a vet student watching me consult is that I'm suddenly very aware of my own consulting skills. Fairly soon into the surgery, I hear myself saying for the fourth time in a row 'Now, the reason I gave that cat an injection of steroids is...'

Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories, which probably relieve more suffering than any other drug I have in my arsenal. They also have many other effects upon the body, and so using them is a bit like the medical equivalent of using a cluster bomb. Lots of things other things will get hit, but you'll probably get the job done. They are regarded with horror, fear and loathing by veterinary colleges, and students (like me) have it drummed into them to avoid falling into the trap of using steroids at every available opportunity. They're a bit like the Dark Side of the force - quicker, easier, more seductive. And very cheap, to boot.

To me, however, and to many vets in practice, steroids' reputation amongst more academic members of our profession as the drugs of Satan himself is somewhat overstated. Yes, you get side-effects, but these effects are predictable and, for the most part, reversible. One of the more serious side effects, particularily in cats, can be diabetes - but this is rather rare, and I always explain the risk of this to clients. I can think of many cases of mine that would have had to have been euthanased years ago if it wasn't for the anti-inflammatory and itch-relieving power of steroids.

All this I can justify to myself...except when I have a vet student with me, who can't help but notice that I keep reaching for the same bottle on the shelf.

It's not just steroids of course. It's all the little things that you find yourself doing 'just to be on the safe side' - the things that you know probably aren't necessary but you just want to be sure. Things like giving antibiotics for diarrhoea in dogs, or for cystitis in cats. You know you probably don't need to, don't want them coming back tomorrow, and another vet doing it, and you looking stupid for not doing it in the first place.

(The antibiotics issue is, actually to me, a more serious point that the steroids. Vets are as guilty as anyone else (well, more so than doctors, less so than farmers) of the overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria are getting wise to our antibiotics pretty fast, so we've got to try and be more responsible over their useage - but perhaps that's a topic for another blog)

So, I raised this as a bad thing about having vet students at the practice - but it isn't, really. It's a little like watching yourself on video - you're suddenly unpleasantly confronted with all the weird things you do that you weren't even aware you were doing.

As you get older as a vet, there's a certain arrogance that creeps over you - you've seen most things that can happen at least a few times before, and you've got a fair idea of what's going on with a patient within the first few minutes of a consultation. It's the common things occur commonly principle - sure, this animal that is presented to you after collapsing out on a walk -might- have myasthenia gravis...but it's probably just sprained its leg - because the leg sprainers will outnumber the myasthenia cases by tens of thousands to one.

The trick, when you reach my level of experience, is knowing when to listen to those little alarm bells ringing at the back of your head that tell you something isn't quite right here - it might appear to be a normal gastroenteritis, but it seems a little too pale, or a little too sore in it's abdomen, or just...just not right. It's the difference between giving a shot of steroids, or admitting immediately for a blood sample, x-ray and intravenous fluids. It's very easy just to slip into the steroids-every-time-because-you'll-be-right-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine-times-out-of-a-thousand. I can feel myself of the brink of this 'old-vet' approach. teetering on the tightrope, ready to fall from experienced professional to, essentially, a knowledgeable amateur. It's my duty to my clients, and my animals, to avoid that slippery slope! This is part of the reason that I'm studying for my certificate in advanced veterinary practice.

Which is why vet students making me squirm as I reach for the steroid or antibiotic bottle once again is a good thing. It makes me question exactly what and why I am doing what I am doing, and what the consequences could be if I'm wrong. And, If nothing else, my excuses will get more finely honed!

So thank you, Laura and Jess, for making the last few weeks more enjoyable, if slightly harder on the brain!

The Ancients eBook now available

I'll be the first to admit, that isn't the most subtle, clever, or punny of my blog titles. It's my way of flagging up that this post is largely one big (well, medium-sized) advert for my new book, The Ancients, which I am now going to attempt to sell to you - and if that makes you angry, feel free to screw this blog up, eat it, or flush it down the toilet.

(I should point out that this really only applies if you've printed the blog out, and are currently reading it on paper, because doing any of the above to you laptop/desktop/tablet/smartphone would likely invalidate your warranty, not to mention possibly cause internal bleeding)

And, if you have printed this blog out, then, like, what gives? Get with the program, daddy-o! All the cool stuff nowadays is made of electric - it's like all our dreams from the eighties have come true! Music, games, books - all of them are now essentially made of nothing! It's only a matter of time before E-food catches on. The point is - E-books are where it's at, man. Innit.

Which brings me to (I'd started to forget the point of this blog entry) my new book - The Ancients, now available as an eBook at the Amazon Kindle store.

The Ancients is a rollocking (that's a great word, isn't it? It's like swearing only without actually swearing! I'm going to say it again. Rollocking. Heehee.)

(Oh. I've just looked up rollocking in the online dictionary, and it turns out it doesn't mean quite what I thought it meant. Sigh. Okay, let's try again.)

The Ancients is a rip-roaring (better?) fantasy tale of betrayal, mystery, romance, war, kings and assassins. It starts with a young, embittered knight returning from a civil war that his ripped his country asunder. Here's a little excerpt to wet your collective whistles...

As he turned his face back to the road something in the darkness caught
his eye; a patch of light amidst the unrelenting black, lying by the side of the
road. It was impossible to make out any detail. He nearly ignored it. The last
thing he wanted was another delay, to have to spend all night in this accursed
weather, but something made him stop and look again. A smear of white, fuzzy
in the rain. Something was familiar about the shape. He approached it and as
he did so felt a peculiar feeling of having done this before - walking towards a
lonely shape in the rain. He tensed with expectation and dread, although he
didn’t know why. A brief image of the elven child flashed into his mind. Dazlar
ignored it, as he had learned to over the last few months, and reached the
shape, which finally became visible through the onslaught of water. He sighed.
So close to his home, must he be plagued here as well?

A body lay face down in the mud just off the road - a pathetic, crumpled
figure wearing scraps of soaked peasant clothing, silent and unmoving. Dazlar
rushed forwards and turned the body over, feeling the chill of the skin and
knowing even before he pressed his fingers into the neck that he would find no
lifebeat. He was right.
The corpse was that of a young woman with short, mousy brown hair
and a thin, pinched face. Dazlar suspected the girl had been starving for a time
before she came to this sad end. Her limbs had not stiffened yet but the skin
was cold. She couldn’t have been dead long. He sighed again and rubbed his
eyes with the back of his hand. He had seen so much death in the years he had
been away, but to find it now, almost on his doorstep, made the homecoming
even worse than the rain and wind had done. He looked down at the girl again,
searching for any sign of injury, any clue as to why she lay here. He could see
no blood around, no obvious wounds on her. It seemed as if she had collapsed
as she walked - or more likely thrown from her mount, the way she way been
lying when Dazlar had found her. She was not dressed for riding, though,
horse or drake. What to do now? Dazlar couldn't simply leave her here, not like
this. Burying her was not a prospect that he wanted to think about with the
weather the way it was. He really didn't have much choice, so close to Oldmeet.
He knelt down beside the body and with a grunt of effort hoisted her onto his
shoulders. The body was surprisingly light, despite the rain-sodden clothes.
Wondering if his homecoming could possibly get any worse, Dazlar stepped

back onto the road, such that it was, and continued towards the village he
hadn’t seen for three years.

A few miles down the road, Dazlar is picked up by a smelly, unpleasant farmer, Glanvic. After the sort of stilted conversation that normally occurs at parties where everyone is sober, Glanvic makes a surprising discovery...

The two sat silent for a time as the big shire pulled the wagon on
through the night. Then the small man broke the silence.
‘I'm Glanvic, by the way. Glanvic ap Glanver. I'd shake yer hand but...’
he grinned and wiggled his body to indicate he needed both his hands on the
‘Pleased to meet you.’ Dazlar said, not entirely truthfully. ‘So, how do
you come to be out on a night like this?’
‘Hah!’ said Glanvic, ‘Wouldn't believe it! I've 'ad worse bloody luck
tonight than the sodding Orc Empire, I ‘ave.’ He flashed his brown teeth at
Dazlar again. ‘I'm on my way into Oldmeet for the market tomorrow.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Dazlar said. Of course, there was always the market. It seemed
strange, but reassuring. The country was in chaos, ripped apart by civil war,
but they still held the weekly market in Oldmeet. Dazlar had been half
expecting everything to have changed. Perhaps it was because the homecoming
was turning out so differently than he had imagined. He took it as a good omen
that some things were still the same as they had always been.
‘Yeah,’ said Glanvic. ‘I'm a pig farmer, see.’ Dazlar nodded. He had
guessed as much from the smell. ‘Farm's a few miles from 'ere. Normally only
takes an hour or so to get in, only this bugger 'ere,’ he gestured one arm to the
shire driving the wagon, ‘only goes and throws a bloody shoe a mile into the
trip!’ He paused for the drama of this to sink in.
‘Oh dear,’ Dazlar said politely.
‘Oh bloody dear is right, my son!’ said Glanvic. Dazlar was hit with a
waft of Glanvic's breath, which was even worse than his general body odour.
He leaned back a little. ‘A bloody hour it took me to sort that out, and if that
wasn't enough a mile after that the wagon only bloody...’
Dazlar never found out what had happened next on Glanvic's ill-fated
journey. The pig farmer had stopped mid-flow and turned to look at the back of
the wagon. Dazlar had turned too. A loud spluttering noise was coming from
the covered section. Glanvic narrowed his eyes and brought the wagon to a
halt. He turned and his front half disappeared through the covered flap. When
he emerged he stared suspiciously at Dazlar.
‘I thought you said that girl was dead!’ Glanvic said, the tone of his voice
changed, accusing. ‘She's breathing!’

Ooh! Mysterious! What could possibly happen next?

All this and more can be yours for less than the price of a Starbucks Coffee! (probably...I haven't actually checked the coffee prices. Must be cheaper than of those frozen ones with raspberry juice poured on them, anyway - you need a mortgage to get one of those babies.)

The first few chapters can be read online at amazon, so why not hightail it to your local ebook store, if for no other reason than to check out the lovely cover designed by Eric Smith.

Amazon UK version here - The Ancients at

Amazon US version here - The Ancients at

Thank you for listening! Normal blog service now resumed.