Your questions answered - Music while I write, dream projects, Skywalker Ranch memories and more...

...including working from home, unused ideas, new cases for The Ward, my writing goals and…dog biscuits?

Your questions answered - Music while I write, dream projects, Skywalker Ranch memories and more...

A couple of weeks ago, I asked subscribers for questions over in chat. The answers were supposed to be for one of my Friday updates, but I had so many great questions I decided to give them a post of their own, so here we are! Let the quizzing commence!

Do you put any music on whilst you write?

Usually no. I play music while I plot — instrumental only, never songs with lyrics — and have particular favourites that I return to time and time again, depending on the genre. But when I actually write, hammering out drafts, I largely need silence to get the words down.

I currently have a desk in a shared workspace in the centre of Bristol (keep scrolling to find out why) and, while it’s usually quiet, there are times when one of my desk buddies has to have a video meeting or two. If I need to drown out the chat, I either activate ‘brown noise’ from my iPhone’s control panel or choose one of the many ambient soundscapes I’ve saved on YouTube. Nine times out of ten, these are heavy thunderstorms, complete with rain lashing against windows and sometimes the added crackle of an open fire. There’s just something about the sound of rainfall that puts me in work mode. I also love the wonderful disconnect of listening to torrential rain on a blisteringly sunny day. I guess it’s all about putting myself in a different place.

Other soundscapes are a little more…specialised…

I’m planning posts about my favourite soundtracks and soundscapes too, so keep an eye on the newsletter (and subscribe if you haven’t already!)

What’s your dream writing project?

Ooh, good question, Jendia. I think it’s being a showrunner of my own TV show. A lofty goal but one I’d love to achieve one day.

As part of our production company Strange Matter, George Mann and I have several projects to pitch around (including the adult animation concept I shared with my paid subscribers last week) and I kicked off 2023 by writing a TV pilot based on one of my creator-owned comics, although the writers’ strike has paused some of our plans for obvious reasons.

Connected to this question, people often ask me if I have any particular IPs still on my bucket list, especially after writing for many of my favourite fictional universes.

In all honesty, there are some franchises I just want to keep as something I can enjoy as a fan.

I often wonder if I’d enjoy writing a James Bond adventure, for example. Largely the answer is no, as 007 is something I want to keep enjoying without Britain’s greatest secret agent becoming ‘work.’ That’s always a danger when you work on universes that mean a lot to you. It’s been a couple of years since I wrote Doctor Who, and it’s returned to being something I can enjoy as a fan first and foremost. Star Wars, on the other hand, is pretty much my day job right now and so I find it harder to switch off when, say, watching the current Ahsoka series on Disney+. Part of me is always thinking about how the events on screen could/should/will affect my own Star Wars projects. It’s why I don’t usually read current Star Wars novels for pleasure when I’m in the middle of a big SW project, especially before bed when I need my brain to switch off.

That said, I would love to write Superman, who has been my favourite superhero from the day I saw Christopher Reeve don the red, blue and yellow and first believed a man could fly. I’ve written a little Man of Steel over the last few years - primarily in my work with McFarlane toys - but I’d leap a tall building in a single bound to do something more substantial.

Just putting that out there universe (and more specifically, DC Comics!)

What’s one of your favourite memories of the early brainstorming sessions for what eventually became The High Republic?

There are so many Trevor, but one of them is watching the then-brand new 4k A New Hope print in George Lucas’ art-deco theatre at Skywalker Ranch.

The 300-seater cinema is housed in the Tech building, home of Skywalker Sound, and features, as you’d expect, the best cinematic sound you will ever hear. Talk about the ultimate movie night, watching Star Wars with my fellow writers, editors and story executives, followed by pizza and pasta in the Tech Building’s lobby surrounded by Lucas’s vintage movie posters collection. What could make that better?

Oh, discovering that Palpatine’s Sith statues stand on either side of the screen, that’s what!

Charles Soule, Daniel José Older and yours truly about to return to a galaxy far, far away a long time ago (A.K.A September 2018!)

A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

Is there any idea you had for The High Republic that didn't make it into the project but you're hoping to write one day? I obviously understand if you can't share details ;)

Yes. But I will have to leave it at that, as I hope to revisit the idea at some point in the future.

I mean, you didn’t really think I’d tell you what it was, did you Patricia?

I was wondering if we'd ever be heading back to The Ward? I really enjoyed it!

Thanks for the kind words Eric! This was a question also posed, and something I’m exploring at the moment.

For those who don’t know, The Ward was a comic book mini-series from me and artist Andres Ponce published by Dark Horse and currently available from all good book shops as well as my online store. It tells the story of Nat Reeves, a doctor with a double life who works at a secret hospital for supernatural and mythical creatures. Basically, think of it as ER meets Hellboy!

I’d certainly love to return to St. Lilith’s, although the question is whether it will be another comic book or…something else…

What about the rest of you? Would you like more supernatural medical adventures set at St. Lilith’s? Or have you yet to discover the first book? Let me know in the comments!

I've read your writing in comics for all ages, novels for all ages, short stories, audio drama, and even wicked fun choose-your-own-adventure books. Is there any other types of media you enjoy writing or want to write? TV or movies maybe? The backs of cereal boxes?

I’ve never written for cereal boxes Ben, but I have written marketing copy for premium dog biscuits. That’s a little-known fact right there! Back when I first quit the day job thirteen years ago I took a number of corporate jobs like that to pay the bills. Many writers do, especially when trying to establish themselves. I also took a couple of ghostwriting gigs in the early 2010s, but can’t reveal who I was writing for… or should that be as!

I know, I know… so mysterious, but NDAs are binding for a reason!

As I’ve hinted above, I’ve gradually been moving into screenwriting over the last few years. During lockdown, I wrote a pilot for a show called Billy Fēi and the Cloud Trials, currently being pitched by its studio Lil Critter Workshop and have since written a number of episodes of another animated series which will hopefully be announced soon.

Ultimately, I always enjoy script work above prose work. It’s not that I don’t like writing novels or short stories, it just doesn’t come as naturally to me. Scripts flow in a way that prose never does, meaning I have to work harder to get ‘into the zone.’ But hey, no one said writing a book was easy!

Are you doing any book signings in the Uk? :)

There are no plans at the moment, Emma, but I’ll keep you posted via the newsletter if that changes.

Do you have any tips to help focus and to eliminate distractions when working from home?

Noise-cancelling headphones are a must, Jaylen. In fact, I think they’re my biggest tip, especially during school holidays. I currently use a pair of Apple Airpods Max although I have a Bose 700 set as backup.

And wherever you work, I think it’s best to turn off everything else when you need to write. If you can, hide your phone in another room, or flick over to aircraft mode. At the very least shut off all your notifications. And I mean ALL of them. Don’t let apps demand when you need to look at them. The messages and emails will wait until you decide it’s time to look.

If all else fails, use an app-blocking service like Freedom or, if you can, turn off wifi completely (which is admittedly trickier if you’re writing in Google docs or using a resource like Notion!)

I also think it’s best to have a space that is exclusively for work. That’s something that’s been impossible for me the last few months as my youngest daughter has taken over my study, which has been transformed into a teenage dressing room complete with incredible wall art

It was fair enough, to be honest. She's been living in a box room for the last 15 years and adopting the study as her own gave her the chance to spread. And I promise I didn’t moan too much as I packed all my books and nonsense into crates. Honest.

I’m in the early stages of having a dedicated studio built in the garden, but in the meantime have set up a little workstation in the corner of the kitchen, which isn’t ideal when I need to get the words down. It also makes it more difficult to separate work and life, as it’s all too easy to fire up the screen to check emails and whatnot after dinner. But all that will change when the studio is completed later this year.

How do the other writers among you help focus while working from home? Let us know in the comments!

Plus, feel free to leave questions for my next Q&A!