'The literary equivalent of gold dust'

Occasionally an author gets everything their work deserves. One such is Kirsty Capes, a fellow student on a novel-writing course I took three years ago. But how hard is it to get a novel published?

Happy Friday!

And welcome to edition 270. For those of you who are new around these parts, I’m David Charles and I’m a UK-based writer and outdoor instructor. I split this week between three days on the Jurassic Coast and four days locked up indoors burning my retinas onto a computer screen.

On Wednesday, I was happy that I could deliver lunch to a friend of mine (and subscriber to these words) while she waited in a local vaccination queue… for nine hours. 😱

I also found the time to drop a skateboard on my little toe (ouch) and pull a muscle in my back while stopping myself from falling off said skateboard. One day I’ll be able to get up a curb. One day.


'The literary equivalent of gold dust'

Or: How hard is it to publish a novel?

Back in the winter of 2017, I went on a novel-writing course with literary agency Curtis Brown. For me, it was a way of forcing a decision point: do I really want to get any deeper into the world of publishing? The answer, as it transpired, was ‘no’.

The reality of the industry is that authors work extremely hard, often alone, typically for several years, without reward. At the end of this purgatorial period, a successful author might be paid a retrospective minimum wage for their work. An unsuccessful author will, of course, get nothing more than an RSI.

As much as I enjoy writing books, I much prefer the higher pay, shorter deadlines, tighter feedback loops and creative collaboration of writing for radio or theatre.

Occasionally, however, an author will get everything their work deserves. One such is Kirsty Capes, a fellow student on that novel-writing course three years ago. Her book, Careless, was published last week to great critical acclaim. Benjamin Zephaniah called it ‘the literary equivalent of gold dust’.

To give you some idea of the work that goes into writing a novel, Kirsty came to that Curtis Brown course with over 100,000 words of the story that became Careless. I remember reading and critiquing a couple of the chapters she’d written.

I say ‘critiquing’—really my feedback was nothing more than an appeal for more of the same. It was clear that Kirsty’s writing was destined for the big time: an exciting, young voice, telling an important, often untold, story about social care. Even so, it took her more than three years to edit the novel and get it into press.

Comparing the opening lines of Careless with the opening lines I read all those years ago, I was fascinated to see that not a great deal has changed. The framing has been tweaked and moulded, yes, but the imagery not materially altered.

The long and short of it is this: it’s the kind of day where the heat sticks plimsolls to tarmac and I’m standing in the toilet in the Golden Grill kebab shop with a pregnancy test stuffed into my backpack.

Novel writing is not for everyone. It’s not only about talent. It’s about hard work and sheer bloody mindedness. Well fucking done, Kirsty.

Now, finally, I can get my hands on the rest of the book!

Buy Careless wherever you can—ignore where it says ‘pre-order’, it’s already out.


PPF3: Grey-sky thinking

While walking the Jurassic Coast last weekend, I had an idea for how to think about sharing our lives with others.

Introducing PPF3!

PPF3 is an awful acronym that stands for Past, Present, Future and Far Future. The idea is simply to exchange with your interlocutor one meaningful memory, moment, occurrence, coincidence, problem, hope, fear, ambition, dream, day-dream or impossible dream from each of these time periods.

In doing so, I think we’d learn a lot about what’s really important to each other. Maybe in ways that wouldn’t come out in normal conversation.

Here’s something I might share:

  • PAST: It’s amazing to remember that I once cycled over four thousand miles around the whole of Britain. It feels like I’ve seen everything—and nothing.

  • PRESENT: I’m really lucky that I get paid for hiking around the countryside with funny/interesting/weird young people. Facilitating those encounters between human and nature feels like worthwhile work. The problem is how to extend this to schools who can’t afford to hire the company I work for.

  • FUTURE: One day, I’d like to run free outdoor experiences (hiking? cycling? running? camping? firelighting?!) for people typically excluded from the outdoors. Given my background, refugees would be an obvious starting point.

  • FAR FUTURE: I’d like to be involved in a project that finally bans cars from town centres and plants forests over all the concrete car parks.

How about you?


How to light a fire using a map compass

Today’s random bushcraft instructional video is how to light a fire using a map compass. Or, as I like to call it: yet another way I can fail to make fire.

But here’s someone who can.

(Ironically, this video is a bit of a slow burner, so skip forward to 5m30 if you want the hot action.)


Blue poop?!

Those clever people at Zoe have found a way of analysing your gut health by eating blue muffins. This is a real crowd pleaser for people fascinated by their bowl movements…

MISSION: Go to the Zoe website. Bake blue muffins, eat two for breakfast and start your timer. Stop the timer when you see blue poop and go online to get your results!

Read the original research here: Blue poo: impact of gut transit time on the gut microbiome using a novel marker.

I’m hoping to do this experiment this weekend so stay tuned for the results… (No photos!)


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That’s it for this week—I’m off to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Happy birthday, dad, and have a great weekend everyone else!

Big love,
dc: