Play Hard: A triumph of fun over real-world rubbish

It’s release day for Play Hard! I’m here today to share the story behind the story. But first, the essentials:

One of Play Hard’s taglines is, “The feel-good, staying-in-love story the world needs right now.” But it’s also the feel-good, staying-in-love story I needed when I wrote it.

Book promo graphic. Text: "I'll always want more of you." and "Liam & Robert return! Book cover features two young men snuggling on a tartan duvet, plus title “Play Hard: A Glasgow Lads Novella by Avery Cockburn"
I love this cover. Thanks, Damonza!

Rewind to January of this year, if you can bear it. That month is always dark and gloomy, but January 2019 was extra dreadful. The US government was shut down, with no end to the impasse in sight. The UK government and its Parliament were battling it out over Brexit—again with no end to the impasse in sight.

My refuge from the daily drumbeat of despair was Play Hard: a purely fun, minimum-angst, maximum-sex novella.

Upon returning to the bedroom, Liam found Robert sitting up with his laptop, once again fully dressed—minus the gloves and knit cap. “Are you rating our bonk on Sex Yelp?”
“Aye, five stars,” Robert said without looking up. “Action-packed, a howling good time, literally.”
Liam had long ago stopped protesting he didn’t howl during sex, after witnessing video evidence to the contrary.

Play Hard, Chapter 1

Play Hard is a bit of departure from most Glasgow Lads books, in that it has very little sociopolitical content (apart from the usual LGBTQ awareness), and the characters aren’t dealing with trauma, mental illness, or other major life-quaking challenges. As a bonus: no terrorists! After the three-year odyssey of writing and rewriting Playing in the Dark, I needed a book that was a wee bit easier on the psyche*.

I figured it wouldn’t last. I figured it would go something like this:

  • Me, Week 1: Play Hard is going to be sex and fun and more sex and more fun!
  • Me, Week 2: But also maybe with a family of refugees who need a home for themselves and their three-legged dog, and it turns out that Liam’s long-lost deadbeat father became a mercenary who burned down the refugees’ village; and then Robert, whose heart is touched by their plight, decides to give up making video games and instead develop an app which safely detects land mines from a distance.
  • Me, Week 3: Note to self: Learn Arabic and also British Sign Language because one of the refugee kids is deaf.

But somehow that didn’t happen. Somehow I overcame both the January blues and my natural tendency to complicate things. I wrote the first draft in about a month, which is a record for a novella to pop out of my snail brain. My beta readers and copyeditor had some minor adjustments, which I made promptly and without heartburn.

So I want to thank Liam and Robert for cooperating like no characters have cooperated before and probably never will do again. You made me happy when I needed it most, and I think you’re going to do the same for a lot of readers.

*PS: If you’ve not read Playing in the Dark, don’t let my pain in writing it deter you—it’s the book I’m most proud of and might be the best one yet.

Foodie Friday: Popcakes!

To kick off this regular-ish feature, I had to start with breakfast, the most important meals of the day (yes, meals plural—I’m a solid fan of second breakfast and sometimes even elevensies depending on the timing).

Since I’ve been focusing on Playing With Fire this week (Play Hard comes out Tuesday!), I thought I’d feature the invention that strikes awe into Robert and Liam after their night at the hotel: the Popcake machine! I first saw one at the Glasgow Hilton and immediately thought what later became Robert’s line: “If I owned one of these, I’d never leave the house.”

I mean, you push a button AND A PANCAKE COMES OUT. Halle-freaking-lujah!

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s how I feel about the Popcake.

The porn-tastic music accompanying this video feels so appropriate somehow.

Liam’s Alarming Alarm

I needed a laugh today, so I recorded Liam’s text-to-speech alarm from Playing With Fire, the one he uses on a Thursday when he has to wake at Fuck My Life O’Clock to go running with Fergus.

Contains profanity (beginning around 0:09), so use earphones if you’re at work. And be sure to play all the way to the end!

To make this video, I used an Android app called Gentle Alarm, which features a text-to-speech (TTS) option for both the initial alarm and the dismissal. Then I changed the date and time to match those in the book. Finally I used the AZ Screen Recorder app to capture everything that happened on the screen. The whole process took about half an hour, probably the most productive and happy-making 30 minutes I’ve spent in a long time. 😄

If you can’t listen to the video, the TTS readout–in a robot lady’s voice–says:

“It is Thursday which means it’s time to get the fuck out of bed and go running with Fergus he’s your best gay mate and really fucking important to you and anyway you didn’t work last night so you’ve no reason to be tired.”

Playing With Fire, Chapter 17

Then, after Liam shuts it off, she says:

“Did you not hear me say it’s Thursday don’t let Fergus down, you fanny.”

Playing With Fire, Chapter 17

Play Hard cover reveal and ARC giveaway!

Thanks to all the lovely bloggers who took part in last week’s cover reveal for Play Hard (coming April 23), and an even bigger thanks to Signal Boost Promotions for organizing it. For those who missed the official reveal, here’s the cover! What do you think?

Play Hard cover - two young men on a tartan bedcover, faces nuzzled together, laughing.
Liam & Robert snuggling like a couple of snugglebunnies.

I’ve never been one for faces on covers, as a writer or a reader, but I told my cover artist (at the amazing Damonza) to try a draft with faces just to see what they came up with. And when I saw it…well, I got something in my eye. The artist managed to find a photo that perfectly captured both Robert and Liam as well as the spirit of the book: loving, playful, sexy.

The artist also sent me fonts and images used to build the cover art, and I was pleased to discover that the original photo featured a same-sex couple. Often on M/M romance covers, the artist takes two separate models and places them together. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that method if it looks convincing. But I love that there are more same-sex couples available on stock photo sites, and I’m proud that Play Hard features one of them.

ARC Giveaway

For a chance to win one of 5 Advance Review Copies of Play Hard, simply share my Facebook post, retweet my cover tweet, or post the cover to your Instagram. For every social-media platform you get one entry (i.e., once each on Facebook and Twitter gets 2 entries), but only ONE entry per platform (no spamming followers with multiple shares).

  • Giveaway open internationally.
  • Entries close 11:59pm EDT Sunday, April 14.
  • Drawings will be performed using a random number generator.
  • All entries from every social-media platform will go into one pool.

Meet Team Smiley 5/5 – Oliver Doyle

Time to wrap up this week’s celebration of the World Men’s Curling Championship and the spotlight on Throwing Stones (Glasgow Lads on Ice Book 1, currently on sale through today and also available in paperback).

Smiling young dark-haired man with quote, "'Oops' should be engraved on my headstone."
Wow, that is a bright red. It’s the same red as the Canadian flag–I looked it up! It’s Hex # = #ff0000

Technically Oliver Doyle is not on Team Riley–in fact, he coaches their arch-rivals, Team Boyd, skipped by Luca’s brother-in-law. But he’s one of the main characters, so I couldn’t leave him out.

Also, Oliver is very special to me, because we were both diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as adults, and despite life being better since we sought treatment, we both still struggle immensely.

For instance, this post is a couple days late because a) it was the last one, and completing projects is very difficult for ADHDers and b) I knew it was the most important because I would be discussing the disorder, and the more important a task is, the more we procrastinate, until it becomes THIS HUGE THING.

So I’m making it not a huge thing by just getting it out and letting it be imperfect. Progress, yay!

Here Oliver explains to Luca why, when the athletic anti-doping agency turned down his Therapeutic Use Exemption for prescription stimulants, he never got round to appealing it, even though it meant risking his career:

“You can’t possibly fathom how anyone could put off something so important day after day after day after day.”

“I can fathom it. Everyone procrastinates. Usually it means there’s some sort of block or fear about that task.” Luca gave Oliver’s shoulder a soft tap. “Maybe deep down you didn’t want to curl anymore. Maybe it was taking over your life. Maybe this was your way of getting out without having to quit.”

Oliver knew his meds were all that kept him from kicking the boat wall in frustration. He’d hoped Luca would magically understand. But like everyone else, he needed Oliver’s help.

“Maybe that’s why most people procrastinate. But for us, it’s not so complex.” Oliver took a deep breath, preparing to feel ridiculous. “The appeals process had so many steps. Every one of them was tedious or frustrating or both. I’d get up every day and tell myself, ‘Just start the process. Just start.’ But I couldn’t see the start. All I could see was the entire journey.” Oliver shifted his feet apart, bracing them on the rolling deck. “I know this sounds insane, but the thought of filling out that paperwork and making those phone calls felt like a spike through my skull. Just imagining it made me want to take a nap, or have a drink, or play a video game. Anything to dull the dread.” Oliver gave a bitter laugh. “People asked me, ‘Didn’t you think about your future?’ as if the future was something I could clearly picture. As if the future was something that mattered.”

Throwing Stones, Chapter 6

As Oliver explains, an ADHD brain doesn’t experience time the way neurotypical brains experience it.

“The thing is, stimulants don’t fix ADHD any more than insulin fixes diabetes. They just manage it so we can live better lives. I can’t remember the last time I flew into a rage or wasted an entire day surfing the internet. But meds haven’t cured my inability to see the distant future as a real thing.”

“Hm.” Luca rubbed his dark stubble, which was becoming a pretty decent beard, Oliver had noticed. “So what you’re saying is, the way your brain is built keeps you from seeing the consequences of your actions?”

“Sometimes, yeah. People call it time-blindness, but it’s more time-nearsightedness…I can move mountains on a tight deadline or in a crisis—all that adrenaline helps me focus. But the agency gave me ninety days, which was like an eternity. It might as well have been stamped ‘Due Never.’”

“That makes sense, because tight deadlines are close to you, so you can still see them. Like some people are so shortsighted, they can only read the giant E on the eye chart, but nothing below it.” Luca’s eyes popped wide. “So your meds are like contact lenses for your brain?”

“Yes! Exactly!” Oliver wanted to hug him. “I still can’t see all of the chart. The teeny letters at the bottom will always be fuzzy. But now I can read most of it, and that feeling is…” He rubbed the back of his neck as he searched for the word. “Miraculous.”

“Wow.” Luca regarded him for a long moment. “I’m happy for you.”

Throwing Stones, Chapter 6

If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out one of these useful resources:

How to ADHD: Fantastic YouTube channel. Start with “How to Know if You Have ADHD” then continue from there on a roller coaster of self-discovery!
ADDitude Magazine
CHADD
Totally ADD

Books:
Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley, PhD
Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy? by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo

No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to learn how to manage this condition that can result in so many difficulties, including secondary anxiety and depression, accidents, financial troubles, and damaged relationships. There’s no cure for ADHD, so we’ll never be “normal”–luckily we don’t place a high value on normalcy, so that’s okay–but with treatment we can reach a place where every day isn’t a blindfolded walk through quicksand.

Phew, wrote a whole blog post and now my brain needs a nap.*

Koala sleeping in a tree.
*nap may take the form of a brisk walk or a video game

Meet Team Smiley 4/5 – Luca Riley

Continuing with this week’s celebration of the World Men’s Curling Championship and the spotlight on Throwing Stones (Glasgow Lads on Ice Book 1, currently on sale through Sunday and also available in paperback).

Young smiling man with dark hair and beard. Text: "I was expecting more awkward fumbling and confusing subtext before we got round to being honest."

Ah here’s our lovable skip! Luca is the even-keeled leader that keeps everyone relaxed and reasonably sane. They call him the Comeback King, as he never loses his cool when he falls behind early in a game. As a part-time teacher of mindfulness meditation, he handles stress with deep breaths and a heavy dose of perspective.

Until he meets Oliver Doyle. The unintentionally mercurial Canadian coach leaves Luca guessing, and the fact their relationship is a bit Romeo & Juliet (with Oliver coaching Team Riley’s rivals) makes romance that much less certain.

As he moved behind the house to await Team MacDougall’s first throw, Luca pulled in a long breath, then let it out slowly as he mentally recited his mantra:

This. Here. Now.

David’s guard had given Team Riley an auspicious start, but it was only the first stone of hundreds they would throw this weekend. Luca would take them one at a time, like always. He wasn’t the most talented or clever skip in the rink, but if he stayed true to himself, he could be by far the most chill. And no tall, handsome, R-chewing coach could stop him.

Probably.

Throwing Stones, Chapter 8

Fun facts about Luca:

  • He has a fear of strong aversion to clowns and balloons (which is perfectly reasonable!).
  • He’s somewhere on the ace spectrum, maybe demisexual or gray-sexual, still figuring out which if any label he wants to put on it.
  • One of the Glasgow Lads’ most popular characters, Lord Andrew Sunderland, is in his meditation class.
  • He dropped out of medical school and now edits medical textbooks as his day job, which makes him adorably/annoyingly pedantic about proper grammar and word usage.

Luca took a sip of coffee. “Christ, that’s good.” He remembered the writing on the sleeve of Oliver’s cup. “Team Boyd’s coach drinks decaf in the morning, like some sort of depraved supervillain.”

“Maybe that’s why he was chucked out of Canada.” David snickered as he counted out five pounds in small change for Ross. “He broke the Tim Hortons Act of 1938, which famously forbade antemeridian consumption of non-caffeinated beverages.”

“It’s ‘ante meridiem,’” Luca muttered into his coffee.

Throwing Stones, Chapter 5

Luca is not in the habit of falling for men he hasn’t known for ages. But once he and Oliver get together, he falls hard and fast.

Luca murmured against his shoulder, words that sounded like gibberish.

“Sorry, what?”

Without opening his eyes, Luca turned his head and spoke more clearly. “Munit haec et altera vincit.”

“Wow, you’re the first guy who ever spoke Latin to me in bed. I gotta say, it’s pretty hot.”

“It’s the motto of your own Nova Scotia.” Luca pulled the covers up another inch. “It means, ‘One defends and the other conquers.’”

“Who’s the one and the other?” Oliver asked.

“Scotland and Nova Scotia.”

Oliver didn’t get it. “Why would we conquer you? You’re the ones who came here—I mean, who went there. Not that I’m complaining, since my grandparents are Scottish.”

“Don’t be so literal.” Luca’s arm tightened around his chest. “You’ve conquered me, Oliver Doyle.”

Throwing Stones, Chapter 14

And with that, I have some news! I plan to release Luca and Oliver’s followup story (title TBD) this December, a holiday short to accompany Garen’s holiday novel in late November. Those two releases will wrap up the Glasgow Lads on Ice series.

Thanks for stopping by!

Meet Team Smiley 3/5 – Garen McLaren

Continuing with this week’s celebration of the World Men’s Curling Championship and the spotlight on Throwing Stones (Glasgow Lads on Ice Book 1, currently on sale through Sunday and also available in paperback).

Young man with sandy hair and beard wearing a knit cap. Text: "It's a penis, Luca, not an alien." - Garen McLaren, Team Riley vice-skip

If you’ve read Throwing Stones, you know Garen is the offbeat author of the occasionally snarky chapter headings, the ones that double as curling-term definitions. Like this:

Chapter X – Vice

VICE or VICE-SKIP: Second in “command” after the skip. Usually throws third and is often the best all-around shooter. A vice does several important jobs the skip can’t be arsed to do, such as writing definitions to introduce book chapters once His Excellency has finished the glamorous bits.

Garen is also a bit superstitious. He leaves a bit of whisky behind at the Mad Tea Party “for the faeries.” He tells his friend/Team Riley fan Ben to use the same battered old “RILEY ROCKS” sign from the previous tournament, which they won. He and his teammates agree not to shave before and during this competition, for good luck. Unfortunately, Luca doesn’t comply 100%.

“But we all agreed not to shave,” Garen said.

“I didn’t shave,” Luca said. “I trimmed.”

“Can I shave too?” Ross asked.

“No!” Garen turned back to Luca. “Trimming counts, mate. The good-luck magic is in every hair, like with Samson. Why did you need to trim?”

“Vanity, of course.”

Garen gave him the side-eye. “Big plans tonight?”

“No plans.” Luca stroked his jaw again, hoping he’d left his beard symmetrical. “Just possibilities.”

“Fantastic.” Garen flipped his banana skin. “We’re now doomed, thanks to your ‘possibilities.'”

Throwing Stones, Chapter 12

Other fun facts about Garen (some of which I guarantee you don’t know because they’ll be revealed in his upcoming book this November):

  • He is Luca’s flatmate, ex-boyfriend, and occasional source of dubious advice (see above quote graphic regarding whether Oliver, as a North American, might be circumcised).
  • He has a sister named Karen, because their parents had extremely poor judgment.
  • He’s terrified of commitment and responsibility.
  • He is bonkers about Christmas.

I cannot WAIT to write his book! *dances*

Meet Team Smiley 2/5 – Ross Buchanan

Continuing this week’s celebration of the World Men’s Curling Championship, the spotlight remains on Throwing Stones (Glasgow Lads on Ice Book 1, currently on sale through Sunday and also available in paperback).

Young blond man quoted, "We were a sorry bunch of pretenders, but you wanted us anyway."

Ross isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. He’s the last person in the entire curling rink to learn that Luca and Oliver are having a “secret” affair, and when the team holds an impromptu “Mad Tea Party” (with whisky and bourbon) at an abandoned lighthouse, he’s assigned the least flattering character:

“Luca’s definitely the Hatter,” Garen said, “cos of that fucking mental cap.”

Luca just smiled and preened the white bunny whiskers on his forehead.

“But it’s a rabbit hat,” David said, “so he should be the March Hare.”

“Don’t be so literal.” Garen gestured with his chipped teacup. “You’re the March Hare, cos you’re the hare-iest. Ross is definitely the Dormouse.”

Ross pouted. “Why am I the Dormouse?”

Throwing Stones, Chapter 7

Still, beneath his big, broad chest beats a heart full of quiet confidence in his teammates and a deep loyalty to his skip. Whether it’s bucking up Garen after a less-than-perfect hit or discreetly offering Luca a tissue when he’s getting emotional at the sight of Oliver, Ross is the kind of stalwart second any curling team would kill for.

Besides, the man brushes like a badass.

Meet Team Smiley (1/5): Lead David Moffat

To celebrate this week’s World Men’s Curling Championship in Lethbridge, Alberta, I’m spotlighting Throwing Stones, first in the the Glasgow Lads on Ice series! It’s currently on sale for only $2.99/£1.99/€2.99, but the discount ends Sunday. It’s also available in paperback, if you like that sort of thing (I do).

It was obvious how Team Riley had earned the nickname “Team Smiley.” The four men had an enviable looseness about them, with nearly every interaction ending in laughter.

– Throwing Stones, Chapter 1

In curling, chemistry is key. In sports like football (soccer) where you field a larger team, or like hockey/American football/basketball where players are popping in and out of play every few minutes, you can afford to have a few teammates who don’t get along. Not so in curling, where the same four people are equally crucial to each throw. Any tension between curlers can lead to disaster.

Young man with red hair and admirable beard with quote, "We gingers are swimming in testosterone." - David Moffat, Team Riley lead, Throwing Stones by Avery Cockburn

David is one half of Team Riley’s “front end” (the ones who generally do most of the sweeping). Like most front-end players, he’s got immense strength and stamina. Built like a brick shithouse, as they say.

He’s also got an uncanny ability to remember every shot taken by both teams throughout a game, allowing him to track the ever-changing ice conditions with precision. So he’s usually the one skip Luca Riley turns to when deciding where to place the broom (i.e., where the next curler will aim his throw).

Of the four members of Team Riley, David is the most blunt, the least sentimental. He has few qualms about taking advantage of his good-natured best friend, Ross Buchanan. Which probably makes him the most Glasgow-y Glasgow Lad of them all.

The passenger door opened, and David jumped in beside Luca. “Fuck’s sake, put on the heating.”

“Good morning to you, too.” Luca turned on the engine, then fumbled with the climate controls. “Thought you were bringing coffee.”

“I delegated to Ross. Seniority and all.”

“He’s the second and you’re the lead. Technically he has seniority.”

“Aye, but I know how much you hate hierarchies.”

– Throwing Stones, Chapter 5

Stay tuned tomorrow for a closer look at the soft, squishy heart of Team Riley: Ross Buchanan!