12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it



I Have Questions

Further to Monday’s shout out for guest bloggers, for the rest of this week I am answering the queries of Andrew Blair, an Edinburgh-based writer of comedy and other things.  You can see some of his work on this website, or follow him on Twitter @aagb1884.

Tuesday 26/4/11, 08:00


I have been reading your blog sporadically. I have questions.

Number 1. You are writing in 12 different genres. This is not a question. What genres of books do you predominantly read and have you enjoyed the experience in researching others? That is a question.


Tuesday 25/4/11, 13:01


I don’t really have a favourite genre, although I lean towards books with a sense of humour and quite like things with a fantastical element.  I also like a lot of YA and kids books, and Scottish fiction.

To give some examples: some of the best and funniest books I’ve ever read are the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton, which I’d recommend to anyone (even though they’re really aimed at 8 year olds).  Meanwhile in fantastical terms, I go from the very dense prose of Isabel Allende to Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman graphic novels with a bit of future dystopia from Aldous Huxley or Margaret Atwood along the way.

In terms of YA, I’ve recently enjoyed stuff by Holly Black and Gemma Malley, as well as The Gates by John Connolly who started out writing adult crime novels.  You can read the first chapter on his website, and I think it’s awesome.

Great kids books I’ve read lately include The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forrester and The Secret Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  I’d also recommend Steve Augarde‘s ‘Touchstone Trilogy’ which is suitable for 11+.  Good Scottish novels include The Ossians by Doug Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Alan Bissett, and anything by Muriel Spark…  Essentially I like to think I’ll give anything a go, and as such my ‘to-read’ list is very, very long.

In terms of research for 12 books, so far I have probably enjoyed the romance month the most because the genre is often unintentionally very funny.  It’s quite rare to find a romance book that is genuinely romantic, I think partly because a lot of authors tend to get caught up in sex scenes – one of the reasons why I decided to go for unrequited love, actually – and these are notoriously difficult to write well.


#WIP – Mhairi Mclennan

“It’s they kids,” she stated flatly.

I wondered whether Mhairi Mclennan could read minds.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she could.  Folk from up north are always more magical, I’ve noticed.

“I’ve seen them outside your house, throwing things,” she explained when I didn’t respond.  “They target me, too.  Ring the doorbell and run away.  Put things through my letterbox.”

She paused.

“Nasty things.”

Western Tropes

Obviously you can’t write a piece of genre fiction without researching the genre.

Well, technically you can, but chances are it won’t work.  Sometimes it doesn’t work even when you do research the genre, as with my first novel, which was supposed to be a Mills and Boon romance parody but became something very different – even though I read ‘The Millionaire’s Inexperienced Love Slave‘, one where an American tourist falls for a Greek Tycoon, something about a Rake, a deeply disturbing one in which a grieving widow falls in love with her dead husband’s long lost twin brother… the list goes on.  My one regret is that I never got around to the charmingly alliterative ‘Mediterranean Billionaire’s Blackmail Bargain‘.  I say regret, but that’s not what I mean.

Anyway, this week I’ve been researching the Western genre by reading short stories from a rather amazing website called Rope and Wire.  This is essentially a bunch of Western enthusiasts enthusing, and as such some of the stories are quite fun, whilst one or two are kind of terrible.  I enjoyed ‘Mexico George and the Cabin at Rio Del Poncho‘ in the same sort of way as I enjoyed the Owen/Gwen dialogue up against a tree in the ‘Countrycide‘ episode of Torchwood – slightly open mouthed in disbelief and going ‘really?  You thought that would work?’

As I go along I’ve been compiling a list of elements to consider including and updating for Book 3.  Here are some of them.

– Area used to be home to an industry such as mining (in my book could be steelworks, or some other factory) but is now very poor
– Injuns (maybe mine could literally be a person from India – possibly owner of a local business or something)
– Shaggy eyebrows (well, those are timeless)
– Whisky, straight up (ditto)
– A weatherbeaten complexion (he likes gardening…)
– A mysterious stranger to blame ill fortune on – who ends up saving the day (not sure how to use this yet)
– A trusty steed (scooter?)
– A nemesis (slightly older teenage lead of the gang)
– Guns (air guns?)
– Mention of the war (the one mentioned in Westerns is obviously the American Civil War between north and south – Victor’s would have to be one that happened in the 1950s or later – could potentially be a ‘war’ as in industrial action rather than armed combat?)
– A beautiful woman with a tragic past
– People in need of help (someone to stand up to the kids who are terrorizing the street)

Any more for any more?

Set Up

First thousand-ish words of my Western.  To tell the story I’ve decided to try using the inner monologue of main character, Victor, an old man in a schemey bit of town who has trouble with a local gang of miscreants.  He reads a lot of Westerns and watches a lot of old movies, and gradually starts to equate his daily life to a fictionalised Wild West more and more, culminating in a face off between him and the gang leader.  He is a lot more eloquent in his thoughts than when he speaks out loud.

“Any trouble, laddie?” I asked impressively, stepping out onto my front porch with purpose.

Sykes, my dog, followed close behind in case the stranger tried anything.  I scratched him reassuringly behind the ear.  I didn’t think this one was going to cause us too much bother.

The boy stopped what he was doing – raking about in my hedge – and stared at me suspiciously.

He was short, but his face suggested to me that he was small for his age, rather than young.  I’d put his age at maybe ten or eleven.  He had a pointy chin and sharp nose, very dark eyes, and brown hair with a blush of pink running through the side.  Experience told me that made him a member of one of the local gangs, even though ten seemed young to be part of all that.  He was probably the wee brother of one of the main players, I thought.  They drag them into it from about eight or nine.  Train them up.

He was dressed in a grey tracksuit, with grubby neon green socks hauled up over the top of the trousers to just below the knee.  His trainers were sparkling white and very new, but I couldn’t put an age on the rest of the gear.  Older, though.  I reckoned those trainers had been obtained in a manner that wasn’t entirely above board.

“Well?” I said.  “Anything I can help you wi’?”

“Ah wiz just lookin fur ma baw,” he explained squeakily, eyeing Sykes with trepidation.  Maybe he was afraid of dogs.

“Don’t mind him,” I said reassuringly, “he dusnae bite.  No often, onywye.”

I laughed loudly at my own joke.

The boy said nothing.

“Whit’s your name?”  I asked conversationally.

The boy still didn’t respond.

“I’m Victor,” I informed him.  “Victor McGlynn.”

“Ah ken who you are,” the boy squeaked, “awbiddy roon here kens you.”

‘So,’ I said to myself, standing a little straighter at the thought – ‘I’m famous!  A local hero, nae doot.’

Didn’t say it out loud, though.  I didn’t want the young lad to think I wiz tooting ma ain trumpet.  Folk dinnae like it when ye dae that.

“This here is Sykes,” I said.

The boy rolled his eyes.

“Ma dug,” I added, somewhat unnecessarily.

The boy tutted and returned to raking about in my front garden.

There clearly wasn’t a ball there, I’d have seen it land.  It so happened that I had been gazing out of the window for most of the morning as I waited for the local library to open, and nobody had even been past my low garden wall, never mind kicked a ball over it.

Still, I wanted to resolve the matter without causing a stink.  Sure, the boy was trespassing, but he’d probably made an honest mistake.  It wasn’t as if he was ruining my garden on purpose.

“Will you stop lookin’ at me?”  the boy said suddenly.  “What are you, a perve?”

All of a sudden, I knew this wouldn’t be resolved in a civilized manner.

I readjusted my hat, and took a few steps forward, looking as menacing as I could manage, given it was such a lovely day and part of me quite liked having the company.

“D’ye want tae get oot ma gairden?” I said in a gently threatening tone.  It was phrased as a question, but intended as an instruction.

Sykes growled, obligingly.

The boy cracked what looked almost like a grin, but I think in actual fact it was a sneer of derision.

“Nut,” he replied, “no really.”

Rocking back and forth on his feet, he leaned forward and – with some effort – yanked one of my rose bushes clean out of the ground.

“What are you gonnae dae aboot it?”

He threw the mass of branches and soil carelessly over his shoulder.  It landed on the pavement, bounced once, and rolled into the road to obstruct any oncoming traffic.

I considered the question.

What was I gonnae dae aboot it?

The logical thing would be to get in touch with the boy’s parents and tell them about his behaviour, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about doing that.  I didn’t even know the kid’s name, and chances were they’d side with him anyway.  The other option was probably to ring the polis, but that seemed a little melodramatic.  They’re busy folk.

“Looks like I’ll have to take the law into my own hands,” I told Sykes under my breath.

Then I jumped back as something hit me square in the forehead.

Blinking, I rubbed the affected spot and looked around to see where it had come from.  There was no-one to be seen except for me and the kid, but I thought I could hear sniggering from somewhere.

I bent down for a closer look at the missile.  It was a small white stone, like a piece of harling from the outside of a house.

As I straightened up, I was hit again, this time on the cheek.  Then again, on the back.  Then all at once, a barrage of small stones came at me from all directions.

Throwing up my arms to protect myself, I whirled around in a circle to locate my attackers, Sykes barking angrily all the while.

“WEE… TOERAGS!” I decided, remembering that my neighbour had toddlers who might be playing outside at that time who would not want to be subjected to any of the expletives I wanted to use.

The kid in the garden had retreated to the relative safety of the other side of the road, where he was doubled over in laughter.

He must have been bait, I realised.  They knew I’d come out and ask what he was doing in my garden, and he just had to keep me outside long enough for them to attack.

“Ow,” I yelped, as a particularly large stone smashed off my earlobe.

“Bullseye!” Whooped a voice from somewhere to my left.

“Come on Sykes,” I muttered, as it became clear they had more ammo still, “retreat.”

I moved back towards my front door, with one last look around for any faces I recognized.  The only kid I could see was leaning around a wheelie bin at the end of my neighbour’s drive, but he had a scarf pulled over his nose and mouth and a hood up that obscured his hair and cast his eyes in shadow.

Hell, he could’ve been a she for all I know.  Some of those gangs have girls in them, these days.

“You haven’t heard the last of this,” I railed at nobody in particular, although I sounded more confident about that than I actually was.

These kids had been terrorizing the street for months, and nobody had bothered to do anything about it. At that point, it didn’t seem to me as though there was an end in sight.

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