Jonathon Dean

Writer. Human. Nerd.

Tag: Blog (page 2 of 3)

There and Back Again

So here we are, the third and final [yeah, this was the plan – sorry, you’ll just have to put up with another part or two, otherwise it’ll nd up far too long!] part of my summer roadtrip adventure.

After the exhausting, exciting and ex…tremely awesome week that was Metaldays, it was time to bid farewell. Farewell to metal (particularly since the van’s music system had gone bust), farewell to the awesome Metaldays arena pizza, farewell to that melon flavoured vodka stuff that we drank near constantly… and back on the road.

Getting out of Slovenia was considerably easier than getting into the country. The lack of any van-related smoke was a good sign, for starters, and it wasn’t long until we had crossed the border into Italy.

Just a few days after we left continental Europe, it entered a danger-level  heatwave, with the temperature in many places exceeding 40°C. Luckily we missed those highs – in a van without air conditioning, that sounds like a pretty good approximation of hell. Passing Venice, the heat hit its highest temperature of the week at around 34-35°C, and even that was a little too much, with windows open fully as we belted down the autostrade, trying desperately to make enough breeze not to cook, and guzzling down litre after litre of water.

In fair Verona, where we made our first stop, the sun was high, the river was beautiful, and our clothing was already soaked with sweat. Well, we had to have something icky, otherwise it’d all get horribly, sickeningly romantic.

Of course, we couldn’t go to Verona without doing something a bit Shakespearian, so we all held up skulls and… nah, just kidding. We did actually go to the balcony of Juliet. Two things struck me while there – first, the decades of regular rubbing have meant that Juliet’s statue’s breasts are a noticeably different colour than the rest of the statue, thanks to the repeated polishing. Second, that the romance of lovers writing their names on paper and sticking them to the inside of the courtyard entrance is slightly undercut by the fact that a not-insignificant number of them are written on sanitary towels.

Much of the pageantry and tradition here seems to be for people hoping for luck in their love lives, which seems particularly unusual to me. Do these people not know what happens in Romeo and Juliet? Luck in their love life is pretty much the exact opposite of what they got. Might as well rub a statue of Richard the Third in the hopes of good posture. For that matter, I wonder what happens if you rub Bottom’s bottom?

Our bed for the night (I know, actual beds!) was at a hostel at Lake Garda. Annoyingly, the absolutely stunning Lake Garda was a place we had deliberately planned to spend time in, but by the time we get there it was early evening, we had a vanload of laundry to do on the single washer and dryer available, and another gigantic thunderstorm was about to start. And so, the night was spent eating watermelon in a large room filled with Italian teenagers playing drinking games, and waiting for our laundry to finish, because we are just so damn rock and roll. Any other night I’d have personally outdrank the lot of them, but the night after a seven-day booze-filled metal festival? Nah man, I just needed to go to bed.

The next day, another disappointing lack of time meant that we couldn’t spend any time at all in Lake Garda (so that one’s in the “to revisit” folder!) as we had to hightail it to Milan, as luckily we had a local guide to show us around.

My first thought in Milan was “Wow”, my second thought was “Bloody hell”, and my third thought was “I really wish people would stop trying to scam money out of me.” This third thought was primarily intended for the street-level scammers, who attempt to tie string bracelets to you and then guilt you into payment, but in hindsight I should have also applied it to the local shops, who apparently quoted us a price of €2.50 for gelato, before revealing it was in fact €6 after the fact.

Many of the sites in Milan are churches and cathedrals – including one church that’s made out of bits of other churches (and also has the skeleton of Saint Ambrose on display in a glass coffin, because why not?). Which does mean that I’ve been to more churches this year alone than I have at any other point in my life – which, for someone who had a full Roman Catholic education, is actually quite impressive.

Holy hell though, Milan is pretty. The sheer amount of marble and gold and effort that must have gone into everything is truly staggering. It does make you wonder what architectural treasures the UK might have had if Henry VIII hadn’t bulldozed as many monasteries as he could get hold of, if there had been a true British Renaissance in the Italian sense, and if the Georgians and Victorians hadn’t simply decided they could do better and gone on demolishing sprees of their own.

I couldn’t let this write-up of the day in Milan end without my favourite statue of the whole place, though;

Yeah, that’s right, I am not a grown-up.

After loading up with a hell of a lot more drinks, we made for the final campsite in Italy – based in the grounds of the Monza racetrack – before making our way northwards to Switzerland.


To be continued. Again. Sorry.

On the Road to Metal

So, I’ve been pretty quiet lately, and that’s because I’ve been pretty busy.

I mentioned before about all the groovy stuff getting in the way of getting any actual work done, but it’s kinda difficult to feel bad about it given how just gosh-darn awesome everything has been for the past few weeks.

I suspect this will be a pretty long thing, so I’m gonna have to split it into a few parts. First up, the route to Metaldays!

For those (I suspect most) of you who’ve never heard of it, Metaldays is a week-long heavy metal festival in the mountains of Slovenia.

And guys, it’s really hard work.

I’ve been to this festival before, back in the long-long-ago when it was called Metalcamp and I could recover from hangovers much more easily.

But I’ve always flown, and this year we decided to roadtrip the thing, all the way from sunny Manchester, through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. And hell, what an idea that was!

With a bit of a rocky start – the Eurostar sold out just before we managed to book our tickets, so had to reorganise the trip around the ferry instead, leading us to spend the first night of the trip crashing in the van in a pub car park in Maidstone – the rest of the trip went pretty smoothly.

As we got into Belgium, ready to stock up on water and snacks for the long drive south, we were surprised at how quiet it was. Slightly later, we were surprised at why the Aldi was closed, even though the sign quite clearly said it should still be open for another six hours. Slightly later still, we discovered that July 21st was Belgian National Day, and thus everything was closed. Bugger. Eventually, after some frantic googling, we managed to find a supermarket across town that was still open for half an hour. Foot down,  a scramble down the supermarket aisles and some frantic French translation later, and we had some basic provisions to last us all the way to the camp site in Luxembourg. Huzzah!

Actually, the camp site in Luxembourg was by far the nicest one we stayed at over the course of the trip. Even in spite of the kids’ disco that inexplicably ran into the early hours, a camp site with decent facilities makes all the difference, particularly when you’re unlikely to sleep indoors for another week and a half.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. Despite heavy traffic, and heavier rain meaning that we were delayed in getting to the city – and didn’t have time to explore, boo! – we met up with some friends in Freising, and got drunk Bavarian style with those guys, before crashing on their collection of couches and air beds.

It was a shame that the heavy rain and heavy traffic meant that we didn’t get to see a great deal of Germany, but the next day driving through Austria was completely different. Driving through the tunnels and mountains afforded us stunning scenery. And if the mountains themselves weren’t stunning enough, the Austrians have done a bit of decorating over the centuries, and adorned half of the mountaintops with magnificent castles. Who needs fantasy landscapes when this is the view from the motorway?

From there it was a flat out drive to Slovenia!

…with one stop. Of course, it couldn’t be that simple. As we entered Slovenia through the mountains, the weather was at a balmy 27°C, the roads were steep and single-lane, and the brake discs began to let off smoke.

Now, this isn’t a good thing at any point, but at the top of a mountain, with at least a mile until the next place it’s possible to stop, in the blazing sun and a steep downhill road where the brakes will be needed constantly? That’s an issue. Eventually, though, we found a place to stop, and honestly, I can think of worse places.

Luckily, the stopping point was by a glacial river. Not that that helped a great deal; over an hour later, and after around 8 litres of icy cold water dumped on each brake disc, and water was still boiling on contact. Honestly, I think that if it has been a little further away, the van just wouldn’t have made it intact (or at least, the wheels wouldn’t).

Clearly the gods of metal were raising the sign of the hammer at us that day, because we made it to Metaldays, rather than Valhalla.


To be continued.

Handsfree Summer

The whole ordeal is over – more or less – which is marvellous news! It means that I can get back to work… sort of.

After almost four months with either a completely or partially useless right hand, rather a lot of things have started to slip. My typing speed, for one, has simply plummeted, and it’s going to take a lot of practise to get that back to anything like what it should be.

Other things are a bit ambiguous as to whether or not they are technically problems. See, my hand has broadly healed just in time for various trips and events that obviously eat into my writing time, though I’m not exactly the first in line to call these things “problems”.

Taking part in the Manchester Day parade, for example, was a lot of fun.

Not exactly a problem, per se (though my wings did keep getting caught in various things), but with a lot of preparation and recovery involved with marching several miles in the blazing sun pushing a giant phoenix float. Not something that leaves me a great deal of time and energy to get the writing show back on the (paper?) road.

And this was just a few days before the other big issue-but-not-issue; a week in Corfu with the girlfriend. Technically I’m claiming the amount of swimming done counted as part of my physiotherapy, because, well, it can’t have hurt, right? But living in Manchester, where summers are an endless procession of grey, miserable days, interspersed with the odd bright day that turns to rain the instant someone lights a barbecue, a little bit of guaranteed sun is required to not go mad. And who can argue with this?

So this leads me to the next predicament; Metaldays. In a week’s time, I embark on a ridiculous road trip through Europe, to a  7-day metal festival in Slovenia, and then back again. That’s another two weeks where writing will be… let’s say difficult, for various reasons, some of which aren’t even alcohol related.

So that’s seven days. Seven days to get as much work done as humanly possible.

It’s… it’s just not looking good, is it?


Isn’t it nice having two hands?

Time for another update on the hand front; after two months, hand surgery and the implantation of wires into my hand (making me a temporary cyborg – huzzah!) the cast is finally off, and I can shower without a plastic bag taped around my right hand for the first time in a long, long time.


Since the cast came off and the wires were yanked out with a pair of pliers and no anaesthetic (both causing pain and ending my cyborg status – boo!), I was hoping the recovery would be swift and easy. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t like that so much, meaning that the two months immobilised in a cast have led to a pretty hefty amount of muscle atrophy, and a massive drop in my ability to move my wrist and fingers.


So here I am, typing slowly, clumsily and wrist-brace-ily, waiting for a letter telling me when I get to start physiotherapy, and the long journey back to actually being able to use my newly de-prisoned hand, and the very strange-feeling new skin that lurked beneath the cast.


Joining the Cast

Another update re: the hand, since it’s been over a month since the last blog post.

Long story short, rather than getting my bandages taken off at the fracture clinic appointment, I was booked in for surgery, and now there’s a pretty hefty wire holding the bones in my hand together, underneath an even bigger, solid plaster cast.

I advise the squeamish to look away now.


Pretty hideous, right? Trouble is, now I’ve seen it, I can feel the thing in the side of my hand.

Another three weeks of this, and then I get to start the exciting world of physiotherapy.

Trouble is, I’ve achieved basically nothing in the last month. Partially because typing is difficult, clumsy and painful, and partially because I’ve been on codeine for big chunks of it.

Three weeks, and then with any luck I can get back to writing, back to being able to use a knife and fork, and back to showering without a bin liner taped over my arm. Huzzah!

My Productivity is Fractured.

So, here’s the latest hiccough in my productivity:

Can you, uh, can you see the problem here? I can type, but it is one of the world’s slowest things trying to type with only my left hand. Not to mention how astonishingly uncomfortable it is to sit at a keyboard with the strange angle my right arm has to be (and don’t even get me started on trying to capitalise or use punctuation!).

So why is my entire arm bandaged up and near unusable? Would you believe a minor fracture in my little finger? No? Neither would I, but that’s what it is. Unfortunately, the fracture is so close to the joint that my wrist needs to be immobilised too.

Apparently, the unofficial name is a “boxer’s fracture”, since the usual way that part of the hand gets broken is by punching something damn hard with improper technique.

But that makes me sound a lot cooler than I am, because I just tripped over a cycle path kerb.

Fracture clinic appointment in just over a week. Let’s hope I can take this bloody thing off by then and get back to work.

Redrafting and Querying – Story of a Writer’s Life

The last two months since I finished Draft Zero (and then Draft One) of Airborne Empire have been a flurry of nothing.


There’s something soul-destroying about months spent redrafting and writing queries, then redrafting the queries, redrafting the manuscript and everything else. I think it’s the perceived lack of forward momentum involved. Don’t get me wrong, redrafting is important, and it absolutely improves the work, but there never seems to be an end-goal in sight. When you hit the George Lucas style of tinkering around the edges, you can drive yourself mad with it, but it’s still work that never seems like it’s done. At least with writing a first (or zero-th) draft, there’s a definite point when you’re finished.


As a result, months of rewriting and working on queries just feel like busy work; you’re pouring time and effort in, and getting no sense of accomplishment in return.


To make matters worse, the other writing project I started in the meantime needs more development work than I had imagined. Which, naturally, means I’m not doing the bits of that that I enjoy either.


Still, at least the news hasn’t been uniformly depressing so that I don’t really want to write Stories Behind Stories posts at the moment and… Oh, yeah, that one’s happened too.

Never mind.

The Long In-Between Times

I finished “draft zero” of Airborne Empire just before Christmas. I call it draft zero, because it’s not yet polished, fixed and adjusted enough that I am happy enough to call it “draft one”, yet. Yes, that is exactly how my numbering scheme works.

But now comes the difficult part; conventional wisdom says to let the manuscript sit for a while before you revisit. This is, of course, sensible. There’s no point in going back through your work the second you finish typing out the bare bones. You’re too close to it, the things you accidentally left unsaid are still in your brain. The characterisation is in your brain but might not necessarily be on the page. You need some distance, and to come to it with a fresh mind.

Which requires a break, and some in-between time, and a palate cleanser. And, if you’re me, at least, a palate cleanser includes a dozen ideas for new projects welding themselves onto my brain, and not letting go. Which can be difficult if your goal is to go back and redraft something else, because you simply don’t have time for a new writing project on top of your old one. I’m still not sure I’m happy enough that the Twist and its associated queries, are good enough to send off yet. In fact, Airborne Empire started as my palate cleanser for the Twist, and look at how that worked out.

At this rate I’ll reach a point where I have a dozen novels at various stages in the redrafting process that never get sent anywhere, while I continually write new projects and send them to join the old ones in their very own pre-query hell.

All we can do is push ahead, and try not to drown in a stack of unpublished manuscripts.

Who Invented Query Letters, Anyway?

I think if I had to go back in time and pick one thing to just never exist, it’d probably be ironing.

Alright, and the concept of social class.

And bananas.

In any case, query letters would be somewhere up there as well. Near-ish the top.

Because at this point I think I’ve spent almost as long writing, rewriting, redrafting, researching and junking the query letter for The Twist than I spent writing the novel in the first place. I know there’s some arcane formula for the perfect query letter out there (that may actually be what the Voynich Manuscript is), but there’s just no straightforward way to twist my brain around that formula.

The difficulty, clearly, is that there’s very little to actually go on, and to judge your own query letter against. I know what a good book reads like, because I’ve read (almost certainly) thousands of books in my lifetime. By contrast, I’ve read maybe a few hundred query letters – and those are mostly drafts or rejects over on QueryShark. While QueryShark does a great job of pointing out flaws and going over what to do and not to do, it’s still not even close to wiring my brain up in the right way to be able to see what does and doesn’t work, and to instinctively know what a good query letter looks like.

Which is all, of course, compounded by the fact that there are limited chances to actually submit it once it’s been agonised over.

Still, we keep at it.


Odd Weeks for Odd Folk

So I’m having something of a strange week.

I’ve always been a weirdness magnet. Strange things just keep happening to me wherever I am, and I don’t really get much of a say in the matter.

Still, this week’s been one of those weeks. Continue reading

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