Doing the Janus


2017 was a year in suspension. Either there were these terrible events hanging in potentia above the world, potential orange catastrophes, or I was feeling like I was unable to get traction, trying to run but impeded because… well, mainly because I was obsessively checking twitter to see if any of the potential catastrophes had become real.

Obviously, the big wonderful news is the novel deal, of which more anon, but for my own benefit, I’ll run through the year and lessons learnt. (Most of these lessons I’ve learned already, of course, many times over, but it’s time to put them into effect again with resolutions and clean slates.)

Part of my frustration with this year is that one big project – Night’s Black Agents SOLO, the GUMSHOE One-2-One rulebook – has proven to be a book that doesn’t want to be written. I rarely get stuck like this on a book – the last time it happened was, I think, Jrustela – but there’s been a lot of wheel-spinning and rewriting and banging my head on the keyboard. Fortunately, my other recent big Pelgrane project – Cthulhu City – came out to a modicum of critical acclaim and was immensely satisfying to write, so I’m able to mentally bracket off the delays with SOLO as a one-off problem, and not a sign that I’m suddenly unable to write.

Another big project in the latter half of the year that’s finally been announced is the Moria boxed set for Cubicle 7. I’ve been planning this one for years – there’s effectively a ‘coming soon’ ad in the last year of Darkening of Mirkwood – and it’s wonderful to be able to dig back into Middle-earth and interpolate epic adventures between, er, obscure lines in Appendix AIII.

The other secret project remains secret.

One thing that makes this year doubly weird is that I wrote a lot of words on two projects that are now on hold – a GUMSHOE-powered fantasy game, and an OSR setting. Both were personal projects, not freelancing, and they’ve both been backburnered for lack of time. The fantasy game definitely won’t see the light of day in anything close to its present form, if ever. The OSR thing is an extended parody, and I find it hard to avoid making jokes even if the punchline hits three years late.

Novel update: I have novel edits! I met my new editor at Orbit, Emily Byron, in London at the start of December.

I shall now offer my Official Writerly Advice! Stand by to receive wisdom!

When meeting your editor, do not show up an hour early. If you do show up an hour early, do not think “hey, St. Paul’s Cathedral is just there. I could take a quick look around before lunch.”

And if you do think such a thing, definitely do not think “ooh, you can clamber around the inside of the dome if you take this obscure windy back stairs that goes down narrow passageways! You get to see the scars left by the blitz!”

And if, against all advice, you do explore that stairway, don’t drag a heavy book-laden suitcase after you. I showed up to the Important Lunch dusty and somewhat bedraggled. Fortunately, writer is one career where looking like a crazed hobo is within the realm of acceptable.

Anyway, I have novel edits, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through them. Fortunately, Novel #1 required no serious surgery – it’ll all tweaks and polishing. A lot of the changes are for consistency. While the three main protagonists were always supposed to be friends, it was only as the novel went on that I got to know them, and they got to know each other. So, most of the changes involve going back to those early chapters and backfilling that emotional closeness.

Novel #2 is temporarily on pause while I make the changes to #1; it’s going well. 55,000 words or so down, and approaching the first big drop.

I have stopped obsessively checking email to confirm that this is actually happening, and tentatively accepted that yes, I’ve got a book deal with Orbit Books. At the start of the year, I was feeling very frustrating with fiction, and kicking myself for putting time into the novel instead of working on my own games (or doing something, y’know, human like sleeping or acknowledging the existence of my children or hoovering more). Sending it to an agent was really only a stopgap while I looked into self-publishing options – “by the time it’s rejected, I’ll have lined up a cover artist and planned a kickstarter to recoup some cash from the whole thing”.

Instead, through the alchemy of John Jarrold and the generosity of Orbit, wonderful things are happening, and 2017 is ending on a very high note.

2018. Priorities for the first half of the year can be summarised as “deliver”. All the deadlines are manageable. Time to get (mostly) off twitter, ignore more podcasts, and do some Deep Work(tm). We’re also possibly moving house this year, so I need to block off time for that.

The second half of next year, though, is bright and glittering and full of excitement.

(May we all live to see it, and not get nuked by an orange catastrophe.)

(Image by Loudon dodd – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

3 thoughts on “Doing the Janus

  1. Just got Cthulhu City in the mail yesterday. It’s gorgeous to look at (love the map!) and loaded with so much inspirational goodness! Definitely an accomplishment to spur you onward!

    I’m planning to run a campaign set in the dread city, but splice it with Armitage Files and Bookhounds of London (because how will I ever find the time or the group patient enough to run all three individually?)

    The Armitage Files campaign frame will be adapted to the locations from Cthulhu City, and the city and campaign itself relocated to England, with Arkham about an hour east of London (London will also be a major location by way of Bookhounds of London). As the Armitage Files campaign frame progresses and we get closer to the enigmatic apocalypse, Greater Arkham will grow more and more sinister and hostile, until Armitage is chased into hiding and the investigators find all access beyond Arkham blocked.

    Also just wanted to let you know that I ran The Kidnapping from your Detective Tales recently for some players new to roleplaying (not just Cthulhu). It was a stupendous amount of fun and everyone can’t stop speaking about it. I’m sure running the unholy trinity of Cthulhu City, Armitage Files, and Bookhounds of London will be an even greater success.

    Keep up the great work and all the best for 2018!


  2. Oh excellent! Thanks for the tip. The journey to and from Arkham can seem peculiarly faster than the investigators expected, their pocket watches always out of sync with Big Ben whenever they arrive in town.


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