Fiction Therapy

April 7, 2019

Long before I started writing fiction, I was aware of the therapeutic benefits of writing, particularly for someone like me who is not quick thinking and articulate.  It takes me time to put words together and by then the opportunity to speak them may have passed.


I first started to understand how it could be therapeutic for other people when I worked for a number of years for a boss who had an unfortunate habit of always speaking his mind.  Some saw this as a virtue, but it didn’t always make him friends.  However, outspoken remarks can be glossed over, re-interpreted and explained.  The written word is less forgiving.


It became a problem when a letter came into the office that contained a complaint.  He found any criticism difficult to cope with.   ‘Let me draft something for you’ I would say.


‘No, no need.  I can reply to this’.  He would take it away and cover several sheets with angry scribble, pressing so hard that his words punctured the paper.  The sheets would then be put on my desk for typing.  ‘This is what I want to say and I don’t want you to change anything.’


Having read through the pages of vitriol, I would set about drafting a response that took quite a different approach, one that would promote better understanding while avoiding antagonising the recipient.  He always signed without a murmur and once it was in the post, I could shred the closely written sheets.


This made me recognise how important it was to him to be able to write down his feelings, but how equally important it was to be careful how these words were shared.


When I started writing fiction, I realised what a perfect vehicle it is for feelings and emotions that can’t otherwise be easily expressed.


Fictional characters almost always develop from real life models.  The unpleasant characters are sometimes the easiest to create.  When I shared my first novel with work colleagues, one of my characters made them fall about laughing.  This was not because the character was in any way amusing, but because they recognised the source.  I had been on the receiving end of this person’s unpleasantness many times and writing the character had given me great satisfaction.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have given him a name and occupation so similar to the model.  I’ve now changed a few non-essentials, but kept the essence of this character’s unpleasant nature.  Every story needs a villain or two. Another aspect of writing villains is that you have to explore what makes them the way they are.  This can bring greater understanding and even empathy.


The characters closest to the writer tend to have something of the writer in them.  They are the characters that the writers may use to express their own emotions, feelings and views.  Probably they will have some personal enhancements that the writer quite fancies.  They may be bigger and stronger or prettier and more agile.   Almost certainly, they will be more articulate, able to express themselves exactly as the writer would wish.


One of the great things about writing fiction is the opportunity it provides for exploration.  This can be the exploration of relationships or the environment.


Most of my writing has involved the exploration of relationships.  We all want to know what makes other people tick. Once you place one character you have created in the vicinity of another and allow them to interact, the result can be quite unexpected.  As you start to ask the big ‘what if’ question, you can allow your characters to act out your deepest anxieties and desires without any real life bloodshed.  It can be a very liberating experience and teach you a lot about human nature and incidentally about yourself.


Exploring the environment is something else.  Perhaps you have longed to travel to other countries or closer to home to see what’s behind the door of that house half way down the street that doesn’t seem to fit in with all the other houses.  You can send your fictional character on a journey to find out more.  If your own street seems a bit dull, then you can carry this to extremes and build a whole other world. If you hate the political system, you can make up your own and find out how it could work.  The possibilities are endless and may help to reconcile you to life as it is on planet earth.


You could start by collecting stories.  They really are all around you and people use them in all sorts of ways.  There may only be seven basic stories, but the variations are limitless. You only have to listen to a television debate or be present at a business meeting and sooner or later someone will come up with a story. It may not start ‘once upon a time’, but you will learn recognise the various openings that people use.  It will probably be a story that has been told a million times and each time it has been embroidered a little to make it more amusing or more interesting or to hammer home a point.  Names may have been changed to protect the innocent or not so innocent. It has become more fiction than fact so that in the end the two may be difficult to separate.


Most children are able to escape into imaginary worlds when the going becomes tough in this one.  At school we are encouraged to write stories.  As we get older and life becomes more serious, many of us lose this ability.  Day dreaming has no place in an adult world obsessed with facts and figures.  Perhaps fiction therapy could help people unlock this under-used area of the brain and find fulfilment in creativity.

Photograph of Pam Pheasant

Pam Pheasant

Post Retreat

February 3, 2019

So, it is Sunday February 3rd. One week ago it was our last night at Mill House Retreat in Devon.

Mill House Retreat

The fire was roaring and we gathered in the main room to talk and to read. We talked about lots of interesting technical things related to writing. The use of the passive voice, the five act structure, our plans for the group in the year ahead…

Then we each agreed to read something to the rest of the group that we had written over the weekend. I think this is my favourite part of the weekend.

Pam got us going, reading a beautiful piece about using writing as therapy. As somebody who has a child who has used ‘art therapy’ as a coping mechanism for their anxiety and depression, Pam’s reading really resonated with me. I really hope you she turns it into a blog and you get to read it too, because it’s wonderful.

I’m not sure who went next, but I think it was Julian, who read from a new chapter on his current WIP that he’s been working on while on the Curtis Brown Course in London for the last six months. It was a wonderful insight into how the novel has developed since we critiqued it as a group last year. I like the change in direction and the reasons Julian has made it. There was some feedback from the group – positive plus some suggestions that Julian said he would take away and ponder.

I will pretend Helen went next who read from something very new for her – a children’s story. Written from scratch over the weekend. At 1200 words long, she read the whole story out and it was engaging and fun and we can all see the potential for a long running series of stories from this single idea. It was great to hear Helen doing something new in the run up to her starting a new writing course with her main WIP.

I think I might have gone next – I read three pieces of Flash Fiction I’d written/rewritten/remastered from snippets of ideas I had trapped in the amber of my 75-word stories that I often submit to Paragraph Planet. All were well received, I particularly liked Helen’s reaction to my final story about a werewolf. The thought of her expression will have me smiling for a long time to come. Of course the group made some very sensible suggestions and I edited the stories the following morning (just before leaving the retreat) and two days later I had submitted the entire Flash Fiction Anthology to the competition I’d been hoping to enter.

I have to say here that trying to chose from well over 150 pieces of flash fiction and then to down select, re-edit, re-write or just abandon some, to make what I hope is a coherent collection of Flash Fiction was much harder than I thought it would be. And, other than this blog, I haven’t written a word since I submitted the collection, as my tank of creativity is empty and only filling slowly.

Right – back to the evening. John Potter read next (I’m pretty sure). He gave us a chapter that contained a thrilling, fast paced fight scene from his futuristic but low-tech WIP. The group’s only criticism of the piece was that the fight was a little too long. John agreed and, like me, editing that section before he too, finally departed the retreat the next day.

Finally, Maurice, who has put himself in the unenviable position of having two novel writing projects on the go. The piece he read out that evening was from the first novel he started. As ever, Maurice is the master storyteller, he has a knack in both his writing and reading to spin you a yarn that on one level is somehow filled with the mundane and yet is absolutely real and engrossing. I’m really looking forward to reading the whole novel when it’s finished.

So, that’s it – a blog written almost as quickly as the weekend seemed to pass.

I am very lucky to be in such an amazing group and to feel completely safe reading to them (something that I had only finished a few minutes before reading it!), knowing that an points or criticisms will be aimed entirely at making the story better.

Mill House Retreats is a balm for the bruised writer’s soul and ego. It also seems to do the group as a whole a great deal of good too – we always seem to leave more invigorated, keener, with just a smidgen more self-belief our unofficial tagline – ‘Serious about Writing’.

WordWatchers pose for a group photo on our last evening of our retreat.


A retreat, but no surrender

January 19, 2019

This time next week I will be at Mill House Retreat a beautiful old house in Devon. This will be the second time we will have been there and almost exactly a year since we were there last. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that a year has really gone past. In some ways, so much has changed, and in others so little…

In the month before the last retreat, a few weeks before Christmas, I finally admitted that I had depression. It was not the Christmas present I had been expecting. I was off work and at my lowest ebb. I had stopped writing and I didn’t see the point in going to the retreat.

My family and my fellow WordWatchers were amazing, they rallied round and got me to the retreat. The atmosphere of Mill House was calming and soothing and over the weekend I tentatively started to write again – unsure if I actually had a story in me – but at least willing to give it a go.

I wrote a story, themed around ‘fire and ice’ for a competition that my publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing, was running at the time. I wrote the story – I read it out to my fellow WordWatchers on our final evening, sitting round a roaring fire. I could not have asked for a better scene, atmosphere or audience. Responses to the story were positive, suggestions to tweak it were insightful and were, over the next week or so, made.

I submitted the story.

It was long listed.

I was as surprised as I was delighted. I could still write!

The story is currently in a state of limbo since FBP haven’t announced how many of the long listed stories will actually make it into the Anthology. I really hope I do make it into the anthology, not for me, not really, but because I told my counsellor that I just wanted to write again. She helped me achieve that. I’d really like to present her with a copy, as a thank-you, for being my guide from the darkness back into the light.

So, throughout 2018 I ‘ticked over’ – low dose antidepressants, practising my CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and lots of walking. I presumed I was doing OK. I wasn’t writing much, but I had several short stories accepted for publication and I had half a dozen 75-worders published on Paragraph Planet.

I took a chunk of November and all of December off work to spend time with my family, in particular my wife, Vee, who was recovering from major spinal surgery. I mostly ignored work, I cut back on my time on Facebook (and was so much better for doing so) and we, as a family, had a lovely Christmas.

I returned to work at the beginning of January to discover, in my absence, a course that I ran, that had been cancelled the year before, was no longer cancelled and that I had less than a month to get it organised to be run again. That’s when I discovered that depression, like many other illnesses, isn’t cured, it just goes into remission. I felt overwhelmed again, heard the little voices whispering the excuses I could make to not go to work today, or not even get out of bed.

I went back to my GP immediately. We had a really good chat. He doubled my antidepressants (still a low dose, but, also, still doubled) and wants me to get a refresher on my CBT, to make sure I haven’t picked up any bad habits over the last year.

So, here we are again. The WordWatchers retreat is upon us and I’m depressed again. I’m nowhere near as unwell as I was last year and I’m much better equipped to cope, but this blog is the most I’ve written in several months. So, I have set myself a target. There’s a flash fiction anthology competition being run by EllipsisZine which has a closing date a few days after the retreat. I intend to enter that competition.

Wish me luck! I think I might need it.

As ever, I thank-you for your time.

John Hoggard

National Flash Fiction Day

June 16, 2018

This isn’t actually a blog, which, considering how long it has been since any member of WordWatchers wrote a blog, that’s rather embarrassing, however, that’s a discussion for another day.

Today, June 16th, is National Flash Fiction Day – or it is, here in the UK – and looking a the links to the flood of tweets with that or the #NFFD hastag on Twitter has been a delight to follow.

So, this all ties in rather nicely with the fact that I recently submitted 3 drabbles to a new Science Fiction magazine, The Martian Magazine and the editor, Eric Fomley, chose one of them to be included in the forthcoming run of the magazine. He’s actually paying for the stories too – 10¢ a word, so my 100 word drabble is worth $10. It’s been a while since I was actually paid for my writing and I forgot what a lovely feeling you get from the phrase ‘I’ll send a contract over’ appearing in an email. Also, because Eric is actually paying for work, he’s trying to raise funds with an Indiegogo campaign, so he can publishing more stories, more often and pay more writers for their efforts.

So, I have two ‘spare’ drabbles and I have decided that today, of all days, would be a perfectly reasonable day to share them.




I hope.

It’s a Dangerous Place


Somewhere en route between the Earth and Moon a transport shuttle transmits the briefest of Mayday calls. Two rescue ships power away from the nearest orbital station and head for its last known position.

Against the pinpricked blackness of space, a bloom of orange appears. It expands like the time-lapsed swelling of a mushroom cap. Moments later ribbons of swirling fire erupt from the perfect sphere. They are as beautiful as they are deadly.

The fires flare and fade to nothing. Sensors indicate that there is nothing left to be rescued.

The ships return to dock, crews offering silent prayers.

Life on Mars


The shutter winds noisily upwards, filling the small, metallic room with a pale, red light. I glance at the clock beside the bed noting both Earth and Martian time. The sun is already quite high in the sky, but it’s still early morning for the base as we slowly become accustomed to the length of a day here.

It used to be strange, thinking that I would die on Mars, but I look to my side, where Rachel still sleeps, and I realise I will live here, and eventually, like all humans, no matter where they are, I will die.


As ever, thank you for your time,

John Hoggard

Guarding your Manuscript against Computer Gremlins

November 12, 2017

A writing buddy recently lost half the book they’re writing to a failing disk drive. That was over 20,000 hard to come by words gone in the time it takes to smack the palm of your hand hard against your forehead.

I’m always stunned when I find writers like my buddy invested huge amounts of time and energy in the creativity of planning, research, and writing of their books. To find they spent no time looking into protecting that work from the myriad failures you should readily expect your laptop/PC/Mac to inflict on you. Especially when there’s no need for the worst kind of failure to lose you more than a paragraph at most.

Computers are complex, consisting of thousands of small and fragile components. They are designed to last on average 3-4 years, manufactured at extremely low cost to be sold for very low margin. They’re susceptible to damage by repeated fluctuations in heat, impact, wear and tear, contact with the environment. Or they will randomly fail because they really were cheap in the first place.

Compounding this is Microsoft’s Word, which you’re probably using to build your narrative, with the whole manuscript likely contained in one document. Word was designed for writing letters and reports. The bigger the Word document the increased risk you have of something nasty randomly happening.

Let’s start with simple steps for minimising risk.

Separate Word Documents

Consider breaking your book into separate word documents which will reduce the size of the working file. If the current document is corrupted or lost at least the rest of the book is retained in these separate files. As a starting point consider breaking the book document into first half and second half, or first act, second act, third act. Separating each act into two documents would be my preference, leaving you with six documents in a finished manuscript.

Backup Copy

Turn on ‘Always make a backup Copy’ from Word Options, Advanced, Save.
This will make a full copy of your document every time you save. You will always have a pristine copy of the whole document to the point of the last save even if chaos leads you randomly down the rabbit hole after that save.

Autorecover Frequency

Autorecover saves the changes made to the document since the last save. A sudden failure in Word means you will lose up to 10 minutes of work with the default settings. You can change the frequency of these saves from Word, Options, Save, Autorecover. I would drop this down to the lowest level that works with your computer’s ability to do this without interrupting your writing, starting at 1 minute.

Don’t use Word

There are plenty of alternative and very reliable tools designed for building large text projects. I highly recommend Scrivener if you’re in this writing lark for the long haul.

Protecting yourself from your laptop/PC/Mac

If the disk or computer holding your documents fails you have either lost everything or are in the hands of a very busy repair engineer invested in making things work, not protecting your data. Copying your documents from the computer daily, per session or even between saves is a great way to protect yourself against hardware failure.

Flash drive (and file copy)

USB flash drives are very cheap. A single 8Gb drive will hold more books than you could write in five lifetimes. Buy one. Buy two. One for daily copies of your project documents and another for weekly/monthly copies. Label them with a Sharpie. Keep them safe.

You must never EVER use flash drives to actually edit the book files. You are far more likely to damage, break or simply lose a flash drive than you will your laptop or computer. That’s why we only use flash drives as backup. For those worried about someone stealing your ideas from a lost drive many now come with reliable password protection.

Copying your files

Plug in your external drive and a few moments later it will be ready, often with on-screen notification. Browse to your book documents on the computer and copy them to the drive. You will need to know where your files are stored and how to copy. Both Windows and Macs use a Documents folder by default. You can also specify you’re own location to save files.

If you don’t know where your documents are on the disk or how to copy, then you need to employ the same determination used for book research and planning into finding out. The Google search will go something like ‘Copy files from my Mac/Windows Laptop/PC to external drive’. Better still befriend someone who can show you.

Online Backups

If you are open to using the internet for storing copies of your documents then Microsoft – OneDrive, Apple – iCloud, Google – Drive and my recommendation; Dropbox, all provide online services that will automatically copy your important documents to their servers the moment they are changed on your computer. The storage offered by these services for free is more than you will ever need for your books.

If Word fails you, simply roll-back to the last version automatically stored online. Even if your computer spontaneously combusts, not only the very latest versions but previous iterations of the documents (even ones deleted) will be waiting for you when you do log in.

Online backups require you understand the basics of file structures. Setting up requires a tiny amount of knowledge. Your Google search will look something like ‘Protecting my files using Onedrive/iCloud/Drive/Dropbox’ Or call a technical friend if you’re not sure.

Writing a book is a huge undertaking. Why risk all that work when a small amount of planning will give you peace of mind.

Elite Encounters

October 21, 2017

Elite Encounters RPG

Elite Encounters RPG

Almost exactly four years ago (November 2013), I wrote a blog (here) about my trip to Manchester to meet up with a bunch of people who had all fallen in love with the computer game Elite or one of its many, later, derivatives. Well, a lot of time has passed since then. Elite: Dangerous was released in November 2014, just in time to still be ’30 years since the original Elite was released’.

My friend, Drew Wagar, who I knew through one of those derivative games, Oolite, released Elite: Dangerous Reclamation, via my own publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing. Indeed, Dan Grubb, who co-owns FBP with his wife Gabi, had never heard of Elite until, Drew, plus a host of other authors (including BBC Click Tech reporter Kate Russell) produced a brilliant collection of themed special edition Elite: Dangerous Novels. Dan has now fully embraced the Elite: Dangerous family and his own Con, FantastiCon, is one of the many highlights of the Elite: Dangerous social calendar.

Drew has gone on to write and publish the only authorised follow-up novel to the Elite: Dangerous game, Elite: Dangerous Premonition. I can see my own copy sitting on the coffee table from where I am sitting writing this. This novel is rather unique in the sense that events in the game determined the final outcome of the book. If the main protagonist Salome survived an event in the game she’d survive in the book, if not, she wouldn’t…

Throughout all of this, I had a small vested interest in the fictional world of Elite: Dangerous – the Elite Encounters Role-Playing Game. My friend Dave ‘Selezen Lake’ Hughes, like Drew, had raised, via Kickstarter, the funds to buy a Writers Pack during the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter. Now, I didn’t feel I could write a whole ED novel and so had not considered trying to raise the funds to buy a Writers Pack. I had also missed out on the opportunity to buy my place in an Elite: Dangerous Short Story anthology when Frontier Developments announced that the anthology couldn’t have any more than fifteen short stories in it. However, there was still the Elite Encounters Role-Playing Game. Dave had offered a limited number of slots to write a drabble (a 100-word short story) for the game and as you know, if there’s one thing I love, and I’m good at, is flash fiction.

So, I invested in a slot for a drabble, knowing it would also go through the Frontier Developments vetting process, and that if Elite Encounters was signed off, then, so would my drabble. I’d be ‘in’, I’d have some of my fiction weaved into the Elite Universe – my dream since I’d read Robert Holdstock’s, The Dark Wheel, way back in 1985, when I was just 14yrs old.

So, time passed, quite a lot of time actually. Elite Encounters was a massive project and Dave was working on it pretty much completely on his own. I was still writing my flash and so offered Dave a few more Elite themed drabbles that I had written, just in case he need some padding here and there amongst his own words. He took them and filed them away. Then Dave announced via Kickstarter that the project had properly stalled, his ‘Lore’, the backbone of the Role-Playing Game, reaching back into the original history of the original game had to go, Frontier Developments no longer considered it to be canon, or anything to do with the Elite: Dangerous universe. I was heart-broken for Dave (as were many other old-timers) and figured that would be the end of my drabbles too – figuring they wouldn’t pass this new scrutiny and attitude from Frontier Developments.

Dave, pressed on, slashing hundreds of pages, hundreds of thousands of words of the old lore and content from the game. Eventually, finally, Frontier Developments said ‘yes’.

Five of my six drabbles survived and are in the game.

At the time of writing this blog, the game has been available for purchase for three days. It’s happened. It’s real and for my friend Dave and all his hard, hard work and, no doubt, many tears, I am so very delighted to be even a tiny part of this amazing piece of work.

As those involved in the fiction side of Elite (Dangerous) fiction say – ‘Write on Commander’


John ‘CMDR DaddyHoggy’ Hoggard


Sci-Fi London Flash Competition

April 18, 2017

At the end of March 2017 I signed up for a short story competition. It was a competition that involved two of my favourite things in writing: Flash and Science Fiction.

The premise was relatively straight forward: At 10am on April 8th, the Sci-Fi London guys would send me a title, a line of dialogue and a scientific premise to weave into a story. The story could be no longer than 2000 words long and would need to be submitted by 10am on Monday, 10th.

Brilliant, thought I, two days to write 2000 words? Not a problem.

On April 6th, my boiler blew up and threw the house and my plans for the weekend into total chaos. It was not looking good for my entry to the competition.

April 8th duly came round and my Title and other details became available. The title was, in my mind, utterly uninspiring, indeed, it made no sense. ‘Flow Me All’ was the title I’d been given. Throw in a truly awful line of dialogue and I was pretty much done with the whole sorry idea. In frustration, I went outside to dig my garden up for the next four hours (having promised the guys coming to fit the new boiler that I would clear it sufficiently of brambles, ivy and jasmine so that they could lay a new gas pipe).

Turns out four hours of digging, scraping, cursing, being cut and jabbed gives the subconscious mind a chance to muse on the writing challenge it had been presented with. I came in from the garden, cleaned my aching hands and dumped a short story into my computer. 1800 words in less than 2hrs. I went about the rest of my day, came back to it later that evening and edited it as best I could. It crept up to 1850 words and, knowing I didn’t really have time to fiddle, and fearing more boiler frustrations would make me forget to send it, I packaged it up and emailed it.

Sci-Fi London received over 400 short story entries and, at the time of writing, have not yet presented their short-list. I’m really not expecting to be on it. I was just really pleased that I managed to come up with something in response to an uninspiring title. I’m pleased with the story, especially given all the constraints imposed by life and the competition itself.

So here it is, ‘Flow me All’.

(I’ll let you guess, what the line of dialogue was that I had to include)



Dan waited patiently in the Reception of Unit 4. He stood with his arms behind his back staring at the name that glistened in the Hologlass:

Nicola Jefferies – Head of Sanitation.

He wondered how long she would make him wait today. Four minutes was her average. He turned his head slightly, catching the eye of the girl behind her desk. She dipped her head immediately, refocusing her vision on the data filling her eyepiece.

“You are distracting my trainee,” said the wall mounted ‘Bot, swinging its sensor in his direction. “Can you desist please?”

“Desist from being male?”

The door slid open before the ‘Bot could respond.

Four minutes. She was getting predictable.

He stepped inside and the door slid shut behind him. He was not offered a chair. He wouldn’t have taken it even if it had been.

“You know why you’re here of course?” she said as Dan stood to attention.

Dan nodded. The question was rhetorical. He noted the modulation to her voice, she’d taken another enhancement perhaps? Sub-vocal transmitter? To go with her cybernetic eye from last year? Perhaps she was worried about an up-and-coming junior? Or a new ‘Bot? He’d heard the Series 7 was pretty special.

The air between them lit up in response to a tiny click she made in her throat, confirming his suspicions about the enhancement. The image was a 3D map of the city. It panned and zoomed, bringing them down to street level. Street and ‘Bot sensor feeds of the incident were overlaid on the scene, before the view plunged underground, into the old drain and sewer system, where the only useful sensor overlay became that of Dan’s own visor.

In response to another click, time accelerated.

“How long did the chase last?”

Another rhetorical question, but Dan answered it anyway. “One hour and six minutes.”

It was for the six minutes that he was here.

“Getting sloppy in your old age?”

“No. There were more bugs than normal and they’ve changed tactics.”

“Nothing in our studies of them has given us any indication that they have sufficient mental capacity to have ‘tactics’, despite your repeated claims.”

“I’m sure that’s true, and yet, tactics they have, and those tactics have changed.”

She tutted, partially masking another throat click.

They watched the closing scene of the chase. There were minimal additional sensor overlays now. There was little need to have sensors actually in the Flow Me district, at least not official ones. Nobody worried about male-on-male crimes and their sub-dermals tracked and updated their positions to the authorities.

Except in the sewers of course.

The visor feed showed Dan emerging from a drain and running towards a nearby building. The view became unstable as he raced up a fire escape and in through a window on the fourth floor. A bug was still pulling itself out of the toilet bowl when Dan hit it with the containment field. The bug writhed furiously, managing to break free where the field was struggling to mesh with the ceramic of the toilet bowl. Dan had immediately cranked the field up to max and it had collapsed, crushing the bug, squeezing it out through the collapsing mesh like pushing jelly through a colander. Dan’s visor was covered in a sticky innards and the view was killed, both then and in the office now.

“A failed containment and six minutes over our Guaranteed Service Delivery maximum process time.”

“Indeed. I’ve had better days. One small consolation is that the apartment resident, Phil 16, is a former Sanitation Specialist. He seemed to take things rather well.”

“Yes, quite. We have an audio only transcript of his reaction ‘Geez, what the hell did you do to my bathroom, it looks like you exploded the Dulux dog in there.’ Somewhat of an understatement considering we had to send in a level five decontamination team to remove all traces of bug contamination. The City will, of course, be extracting the cost of this from your Awards and Privileges.”

Dan nodded. He performed a quick mental calculation of his current Awards given he’d moved back to Flow Me rather than keep his entitlement of a Main City apartment. He winced internally when he subtracted the value of a level five team from it. Things were going to be tight for a little while. The important thing was, he’d still have enough to keep his boys at their academy, he didn’t want them coming to him in Flow Me until they’d finished their training next year. A partial trained Sanitation Specialist was an expensive nobody.

He let out a slow calming breath as Nicola continued to talk at him.

“You’ve had your medical clearance I see. No additional signs of infection or mutations other than those previously logged it would seem. Phil 16, also given the all clear.” His results and DNA profile flashed up above the desk in the space between Dan and his superior. “His mutations are at acceptable levels too. You do realise that the cost of that will also be deducted from your Awards?”

Dan didn’t, but nodded and smiled anyway.

“Very well. Dismissed.”


Dan reached ground level and headed for a transport hub before he remembered his Award situation. He’d have to walk back to Flow Me. If there was an incident, they’d send a Sanitation Unit to his location and pick him up.

He kept his eyes straight ahead as he walked. He ignored the stares and the gasps. “A man here? Outrageous!” he heard one female say to her companion. The companion seemed less outraged. He knew that look. Curiosity with a small side order of lustfulness. He was forbidden fruit and the attention made him uncomfortable. Give him a bug any day.

The smell of bugs was strong here. He knew that’s what his mutation was. He knew that’s how he tracked them. That was another reason he’d moved back to Flow Me, no bug smell. The bugs did not live under Flow Me. That made him curious. He’d asked the question several times but they just smiled, as if his little male brain might not be able to cope with the answer, or that he’d asked a question that was so silly in nature that even its very utterance was the source of amusement.

He was grateful for the rain which started as he walked. It emptied the streets, and pulled the smell out of the air and down into the gutters. Down into Bugland.

He preferred it down there. Fewer sensors watching his every move. Down there he wasn’t the inferior. Down there he was untracked and free.

It was growing dark as he crossed the park that separated Flow Me from the rest of the city and, as the tree canopy thinned, there was the ‘FLOW ME ALL’ sign, glowing red in the darkness.


The spacing between the letters and words was jarring. He guessed that was a deliberate choice now. He remembered when it used to say ‘THE FOLLOWING OF MEN IS NOT ALLOWED’

It had fallen into disrepair, only ‘F L OW      ME       ALL’ remained illuminated. It had become a tourist attraction, ‘I got me some Flow me’ street slang for a female who had dared to visit a man for pleasuring in the traditional, biological way, rather than the recommended cerebral stimulation followed by synthetic womb pregnancy if so desired.

Dan had tried that, just the once, despite the woman’s best efforts she’d fallen pregnant, with twins. A month’s worth of illicit Awards as payment had quickly paled into insignificance compared to the costs of keeping two boys at a training academy. He’d had to pay for it of course, the pregnancy had been his fault after all. He had seduced a sweet and innocent young woman the court had declared. That’s not how he remembered it, but his opinion didn’t count for much, then, or now.

He entered his apartment, dumping his wet clothes in the cleaning and drying unit on the way to his small office. He slid back a panel in the wall and removed some cabling, hooking up a small terminal to a socket that looked crudely attached to the cable.

The terminal began to bypass the minimal security on the Dataflow. While his actions were illegal, so was the cable itself. He was grateful that his neighbour in the apartment above was so popular with the ladies. Happy to do their bidding via illicit streaming for the sake of a few Awards and Privileges.

Piggybacking the signal, he jumped across feeds, back-tracing towards Unit 4’s Medical Section. He logged in via a test account he’d found left on the system months ago and began to dig.


The phrase ‘Sanitation Specialist’ still made Dan smile. He was a specialist in sanitation in the same way an outlawed, old-fashioned butcher had been an animal welfare specialist.


The terminal was struggling with the datafeeds. It was not designed to handle the multi-dimensional datastack, but Dan was getting good at down-selecting data even when he couldn’t see all the menus due to their failure to render in 2D.

He looked at the two DNA profiles, his own and Phil’s. He saw now what he had seen, briefly, in the office. He asked Unit 4’s Medical AI to confirm his suspicions. The Medical AI was happy to oblige.

The chance of Phil 16 not being Dan’s paternal grandfather were so remote, they were effectively zero.

This explained a lot about grandma and the attitude of the family towards her, towards Dan’s father and, when he was old enough to notice, towards Dan himself. Not only had she dared to get pregnant ‘the old fashioned way’ but it would seem Dan’s grandfather, her companion at the time, wasn’t actually his grandfather.

How many Awards, how much power, had his family had to relinquish to keep that one quiet Dan wondered. It would certainly explain their meteoric descent from the upper echelons of the new post-Man world order.

He looked at the DNA data again on the terminal which was trying its best to render it. However poorly that rendering was, the mutation was as obvious as it was identical. Dan had not acquired his bug mutation through an early, on-the-job, scratch or a bite, it had come to him via his grandfather, and that grandfather had been Phil 16. Not a carefully selected synthetic sperm.

Dan wondered if this is why his bloodline was cursed and still producing males.

Bug sniffer and Male-Maker.

He disconnected, hiding the terminal before sliding the panel back over the data cable.

He put his clean and dried suit back on. He was heading back to the sewers under Flow Me. There were rats, not bugs, in the sewers here. He was hungry and had a sudden appetite for real meat.

He would manage without his Awards just fine.

Tomorrow, bug incursion notwithstanding, he would pay a visit to Phil 16. They had a lot to catch up on.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

Not a blog!

February 16, 2017

Nope, this definitely isn’t a blog, because I don’t have time to write a blog, because I’m supposed to be editing my novel, and if I’m writing a blog, then I can’t be editing the novel can I?

OK, maybe this is a blog, but just a little one.

So, why am I here? Well, on Facebook, yesterday, it reminded me that, six years ago I promised, on Facebook, that I would finish my novel on the day of my 40th birthday.

I even produced an Excel Spreadsheet, showing the wiggly line of my daily word count against my projected, estimated end point of 120,000 words.



So, here I am, 2017, six years on. I didn’t finish the novel before my 40th birthday, or my 41st, or 42nd. I got stuck at 95,000 words and sat on my hands for over a year before working my way, painfully, to a massively overwritten 145,000 word total. Then, faced with a monumental edit, I panicked and ran away from the novel for another year, despite having fantastically useful feedback from my fellow WordWatchers and a small select clique of trusted Beta Readers.

I am however, finally, editing the novel. I promised my family at the beginning of January (it was not a New Year’s Resolution as I don’t believe in such things) that I would finish the edit of the novel and then, no matter what, I would ‘do something with it’. So, each weekday morning the alarm goes off at 5am and I drag myself from my warm comfortable bed and sit at the laptop and carry on the edit. In the last five weeks I’ve managed to get to the end of the novel, cutting it down from 145,000 to 117,000 words as I went. Two days ago, I went back to the beginning and started again, implementing changes at the beginning of the story that I didn’t decided I needed until I got half way through the last edit. It’s getting harder now, I’m not just cutting fat now, now I’m looking at some of my favourite scenes and ask them the hard question ‘Are you progressing the story?’ Sometimes the answer is ‘no’ and that scene has to go. Highlight, Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V – and it’s gone (but pasted into another document (just in case)). I’m now removing one of my favourite characters, because this is not her story and she’s not helping. I feel for her, we’ve spent many years together, but she has to go. I hope she understands.

I have no idea what the final word count will be, I’m trying not to fixate on it (ignoring the evidence that first time novels that are over 100,000 words struggle to find agents and publishers). I also have no how long this will take or how many times I will go round this buoy before I decide enough is enough. At least once more I suspect.

And here’s the final rub – the thought that this novel is actually picked up and published is actually terrifying. I’ve had six luxurious years to play with this novel. I’ve watched many of my fellow WordWatchers get a publishing deal and then immediately turn into book producing machines. Editing one novel, while writing another, while promoting another with the clock ticking in the background all the time, a constant reminder that they now have to produce one book a year…

I shall make the most of the time I have, because I may never have it again.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

When is a story, not a story?

January 31, 2017


The answer is simple….. When it is not the right one to be told.

I only discovered this at the weekend, when staying at the fabulous Gladstone Library in Howarden. As usual our writing group had arranged a weekend away for us to have some time and space to focus on our writing; as individuals and as a group. Sadly, we were a depleted group, as life sometimes just gets in the way, and some of our members were unable to attend. Normally, non attendance is my forte, as I can be a bit ‘flaky’; but not this time.

Last year had been a tough one for me, and as such, my writing had really taken a back seat. So much so, I was becoming embarrassed to call myself a children’s author.

I had ‘blagged’ my way through various meetings promising to write xx amount of words, but in reality I had done very little. In 6 months, I had probably written about 2,000 words; 4 chapters. That’s it. There is only one word for my attempt. Shabby.

Then came Gladstone, and as I sat in the beautiful room, surrounded by books, an open fire and looking out over the frosty gardens, I had my ‘Aha’ moment!

The real reason for the struggle to write the story, is because it was the wrong story! I had no idea how it was going to work, or where it was going. I like to begin with the end in mind, (thank you Steven Covey for that nugget), and quite frankly, had no clue; I was blindly writing and hoping things would fall into place.

Once I realised this, I felt the pressure of having to write, fall away. It’s strange, once I had given myself ‘permission’ to accept it was going nowhere, a new plot with new characters came to me within minutes.

I now have my plot outline, characters and first chapter written, but more importantly, I have rediscovered my mojo.

Writing is like anything in life. If it doesn’t feel right and you’re dragging your heels; it probably isn’t right.

I now have a better story, and I can’t wait to write it.












Get on with it

January 1, 2017

This year’s New Year Resolution


This year’s New Year resolution is the same one that I have made for (maybe) the last ten years. Nope, it’s not the one about eating healthily or giving up smoking or building a new back gate or even painting the study. It’s so much simpler than that. It’s this:


Get on with it.


Just that. Get on with it. Crack on, saddle up, let’s roll, strap yourself in, move right along the bus, let’s light this candle, keep your arms inside the vehicle at all times, let’s rock, just Do It, kick yourself and get going.


I’m talking about writing, of course. Because like all genuinely lazy people (and when it comes to lazy, I like to think that I’m as genuine as you can get) I need to prod myself into action. I need to type that next sentence, prune it, delete half of it, write the next one, then the next, then throw away the first sentence, and keep adding until I have a nice round paragraph, then a second, a third, chuck out the middle one, reward myself with a cup of tea or a quick game of Chess Titans (lose) then back at it until I achieve the mystical moments of flow and then I can feel good about the words on the page, the ideas, the process and, ultimately, myself.


Because, in the end, writing is writing, not dallying and dilly-ing and it’s just the hardest thing and application is more significant than inspiration and if you have to write it badly before you can later write it well, hell, then you had best get on with writing it badly, because one thing is for sure: nobody else is going to do it for you.


And from stuttering process of idleness and effort, interrupted by dog-walks and day-dreaming of the glory in the future (“Firstly, I’d like to thank the Nobel Committee”) I have so far managed two novels and 65% (and counting) of a third.


So I’d like to thank everyone in the wonderful Word Watchers of Newbury for all their help in 2016, which has played no small part of the 65% and counting, and hope for more of the same in 2017.

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