Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Taking the plunge

My first week and a bit as a full time author has been a real eye opener. I'm hitting my targets as writer but I seem to be working harder than ever. The age old problems of working at home are a definite factor. I start early but there always seems to be someone pushing for your time. I've had meetings with pension and insurance people, my accountant and my bank manager. The roof fell in last Thursday and I've had to see people about that. People need lifts and I'm too nice to refuse. Next Thursday I'm presenting a signed copy to an elephant (Blair Drummond Safari Park, actually).

I realise now I could never have hit my publisher's September deadline unless I gave up the Scotsman and maybe that was subconsciously part of the decision-making progress.

On the plus side, I'm free to do what I like when I like which is truly liberating, even if your work ethic won't let you take advantage.

(I wrote this a week ago but for some reason it didn't publish)

Friday, 17 July 2009


Books will have had posher send-offs, but few will have had warmer ones than my second novel, Claudius, was given last night at Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh.
Around 120 people packed the upstairs venue on South Bridge to launch the epic tale of the Roman invasion of Britain on a tidal wave of good will that was followed by an evening of good company and even better conversation. It was a fantastic turnout and what made it even better was that ninety per cent of them were my friends.
My roots are in the Scottish Borders and we had a big contingent from Jedburgh and Ancrum, made up mainly of family and old school pals. My neighbours from Bridge of Allan filled a train carriage to make the hour-long trip. And my former workmates at the Scotsman turned out in large numbers. There were familiar, but unexpected faces from my past, and unfamiliar ones who had turned up purely out of interest in writing and writers.
I gave a speech and a couple of readings that got a great reception then I signed books until my wrist ached.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Claudius is published today and I no longer work at the Scotsman.

There's a fair bit to catch up on, but I'll have to keep it short because I'm getting ready to go to Edinburgh for the launch.

Last Friday Alison and I were guests at the 2009 Jethart Callants Festival, a celebration of my home town's history and its links with the Border reivers. It was a fantastic occasion, with 250 riders following the Callant (a young man of the town chosen to lead the festival) and hundreds more enjoying the spectacle. We were treated like royalty, wined and dined, and spent a great afternoon in the company of some great people I hadn't met for about twenty-odd years, followed by a great night which rather fades away.

On Tuesday I left the Scotsman after almost nine years and was given a wonderful send-off by my workmates. My boss had some incredibly nice things to say about me, which were repeated by the forty or so people who came to the pub across the road for a leaving drink. I've never felt more appreciated in my life. I won't miss the job (I calculated that I'd put out 2,000 newspapers, attended 4,000 conferences and probably designed and overseen at least 50,000 pages, enough is enough) but I will miss the people. Ofcourse I have concerns about where I'll be in a few years, there are no guarantees in life, but it was time to move on and the new book deal was too good an opportunity to miss.

The launch of Claudius takes place in Blackwell's bookshop in Edinburgh tonight. The family is staying at The Scotsman hotel, which was once the newspaper's old headquarters, it will be something of a last hurrah because there will have to be a bit of belt tightening from here on in. We've arranged to go for a drink at a bar caled Biblos afterwards. I told them to expect 40 people but Sam, my publicist tells me she has had 40 acceptances for the launch, plus the 40 from the bookshop. I know of at least twenty people who will just turn up, so it might be quite a party.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Apologies for the two week absence. I've never been busier in my life and I'm writing this when I should be getting ready for the train, so it will have to be quick.

Only ten days left in the Countdown to Claudius. Only seven days left until Doug Jackson's life changes entirely, completely and irreversibly. My leaving date is now July 14 because I'll be editing The Scotsman on the Sunday. Twenty-four copies of Claudius arrived in a large box on Friday and it looks fantastic, even better than Caligula. The three people who've read it so far have enjoyed it, but I'm married to one, the father of another and I work in the same office as David Robinson, but I'm in no way related to him.
But Caligula showed me how fickle the books business is. I got a lot of great reviews, but a couple of rotten ones. The hardback sold brilliantly, but the paperback has been a bit slow. Now that I'm committed to making a living out of this there's a huge amount riding on Claudius, so if you read it and like it, get on to one of those online review sites and tell the world!

Got to go, or I'll miss the train.