Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The leave to mature trick

I seem to have got into the habit of completing a first draft of a novel and then leaving it for some time before working on it again.

As I handwrite all my first drafts (I have blogged on that before) my second draft is the first electronic version and also the first time I get chance to properly restructure the book. I don't think I'll ever change this approach - doing it the old-fashioned way MAKES you get the plot and its various component steps pretty much right first time; I'd get lazy and more relaxed about this key element if I had the flexibilty of electronic drafts first off.

But it is not that that is the subject of this post, it's the 'leave and come back to' aspect of this process I want to write about.

I have come across this in many writing guides and in workshops so I am pleased that I have, virtually by accident, adopted this technique.

I know I wrote the thing in the first place but although I have the outline in my head I always find that I've forgotten the detail. It is remarkable how fresh it all seems to me (although I am worried that advancing age is giving me the retentive memory ability of a goldfish!). I even find myself reading on from the bit I'm typing up to see what heppens next - which has to be a good sign!

I do think that this is the reason why this technique is so effective and recommended; we all like fresh, new things. Going straight into a re-work of a piece that you have just finished is going to find you bored with it; it's stale, uninteresting, you know it too well. I am sure that is the reason why, when I've tried this in the past, I get nowhere and progressively make the piece worse.

Going back to the novel I'm working on now, The Honey Talker, I'd totally forgotten how much I'd gone to town with my main 'baddy'. Boy, is he evil! I've just done one of my 'cheats' and read ahead to a section where a transcript of an interview describes what this character, Mickey Smith, does to one of his henchmen who crossed him...Hell, I didn't think I was that sort of writer! Anyway that is to come; maybe I will launch an excerpt onto the world as a preview, but going back to this issue, leave your words to stew.

They may not mature like a fine wine but you will be able look at them with fresh eyes when next you see them and make the chances of a sucessful edit far higher.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Words of wisdom

Some words of wisdom from a writer friend of mine, Barrie Lillie:


Well worth a read

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Observations on writing and publishing

It's quite odd how different, different parts of the writing and publishing industry can be.

I see it in three ways - I write technical/professional books under my 'academic' name, I ghost write non-fiction books and I also write fiction under this name.

I have contracts, professional editors and a publisher for my textbooks. They try not to but they give me quite a hard time, always chasing and pressurising me to produce - and on time! It feels like a proper job.

With my ghost written books I have deadlines but my clients seem pretty relaxed. They give me a long leash and trust me to produce to their brief but the best of these relationships has a two-way, open back and flow of information. I need a fair bit of discipline in my schedule but, all told, it is quite a pleasant experience - and I often learn a lot from the research I do.

Fiction writing is so different from the other two it could almost be a totally different activity. You have no one sitting over your shoulder making you produce. There are no deadlines, no clear finish - who is to say when a novel is really 'finished'? One could edit forever, draft and redraft. Above all, if you deal with the publishing industry - agents, publishers, whatever - you have to have unbelievable levels of patience. It feels like the slowest velocity industry in the world, frustrating, remote, sometimes unfathomable. An author needs a level of faith that is rarely seen outside religous movements to believe that they can suceed in this mysterious world.

Yet guess which one of these three I want to do more of?

You don't have to be mad to write fiction but...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

On writing groups - again!

Last night I was, once again, reminded of the value of being a member of a good writing group.

Writing is a lonely, often selfish business. You create your world, you people it with characters, you give them things to do and say - generally you play God with them. But this is your world, yours alone. A single brain alone is rarely enough to make all the correct calls, to get it just right. There is nothing better than reading out a passage to a group; firstly it highlights the mistakes you have not picked up yourself despite how many times you've been through the text but, more importantly, invariably the group picks up areas that you have over or under written, where the narrative is tedious, unnecessary or misleading. They often also suggest directions for the plot that you haven't thought of.

Now, there are different forms of writing groups. Some are aimed at the novice writer and go in for writing exercises - these are quite useful, particularly if you are starting out, but the one I'm a member of, the Renegade Writers http://renegadewritersgroup.blogspot.co.uk/ is one of the more mature type where you are encouraged to read out work in progress. It can be hard to have your beloved prose torn to shreds - but it is really effective in improving what you do!

The best thing an improving writer can do is find a group like this. Mind you, after last night, they have created a lot of work for me rewriting one of my characters...!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Well it is to me anyway!

Has anyone else noticed the interesting little quirks of the free promotions that you are allowed on Amazon's Kindle service? I, like many other authors, make use of these days when we can offer our books for free in order to encourage readers to discover us and, hopefully, give us feedback for reviews. The free days are limited - I chose 2 days over a weeked for Contrail - and I monitored the downloads over the time it was free, which ended on Sunday.

Yet this free period didn't quite end. Over the next 3 days the odd 'extra' free download happened, the last couple overnight last night.

As I said, interesting. Anyone else seen this and, if so, do you know why?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Good and Bad Writer's Habits

I have two habits which I know are the most beneficial to me when I'm at my most productive with my fiction writing. One I have heard several times in various contexts - in writer's groups, on courses, in books - whilst the seconf I think is one of my own. I don't remember hearing it anywhere else but, like many things, I might have unconsciously picked it up.

The first beneficial good habit is to set a time every day when you will write something and stick with it. No excuses, just do it. Sometimes it's painful, you know you are writing rubbish and it seems pointless. Whatever, the more you get into the writing habit, the easier it will be. Write a 1000 words a day and in 70 days you have a decent sized novel. This has to be the number one tip for any writer (and its the one I'm breaking at the moment - I will have to stop making excuses to myself). I managed this every day for 5 years and the output I created was fantastic.

The second tip is the one that might be mine - At the end of these regular sessions you will find that you are in the flow, that you know what section/passage/event you are going to write next. When you get to this point, stop before you reach the end of the piece you are writing.

This might seem counter intuitive - surely the whole point of this regular writing is to reach this 'flow' point? Well, yes, but you will find that, in the long term, this will be really beneficial. One of the great difficulties that most writers find when starting a writing session is getting going. If, when you sit down, you know what you are going to write first you will find that you will get into that flow much more quickly. These times for writing are precious and often short, you need to make the best of it and I have found - for me - that it is this trick that works best.

Try it. This may not work for everyone but I have found it really useful.

And I must take my own advice because I have strayed into bad habits....!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Playing the game or playing it straight.

There seems to me to be endless amount of advice from people who seem to speak with what is either authority (or a very good impression of it) on book promotion. I am sure it is all good stuff; all about seeking out the right reviewers, collecting thousands of twitter followers, making a big impression etc., etc. It's all about knowing the tricks, playing the game, knowing the insider rules.

The trouble is I think a lot of making this impression is window dressing, it's all show and no substance. I have tracked back a number of author's who have a whole armful of reviews - many more than my The Last Mountain has gained - yet I know from their sales position on Kindle that they are selling much less copies than my effort.

Maybe I'm just naive but I think people can easily see through this game. If something is dressed up to the nines, if there is an excess of presentation over substance, people will spot it (though in the case of Tony Blair I would have to add the caveat eventually!). We have a saying in my native Yorkshire; 'Fur coat but no knickers'! I think that sums up the approach of too many.

I just think it's simple. If you write something good, that people like, then they will take the time to review it and, even better, tell their friends who will also read and buy it. In that way a good author will build up a readership. Sure, this weekend I've been on Twitter telling everyone about my free promotion on my new novel Contrail but hey, I'm not a JK Rowling or a Dan Brown, I need to get the ball rolling, to get people reading. But that's all I will do. If people like it a few will hopefully review it. They will tell other people and...

But if they don't I know that it is the most eloquent criticism that people can give me. That would tell me far better than any number of manufactured reviews that I need to try harder.

I think playing it straight is the only way for me.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Letting go

Now that Contrail is out there I'm suddenly getting that feeling I had as a parent on my children's first day at school. You know that it has to be done, it's the next big step in life and you're pretty sure that they'll do just fine but you still worry about them.

Will it be popular? What if the fashionistas laugh at its cover? Will the big boys, the HarperCollins and the Random Houses be mean and gang up on my little baby?


All parents have to let go at some point.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Four/Thirds Paradox

If I had to describe myself I guess I would say I am the following: I'm 1/3 surveyor, 1/3 freelance writer, 1/3 specialist software consultant and trainer - and 1/3 novelist.

Now do you see the paradox? Four into three doesn't go!

The big problem with being self-employed and having no independent wealth behind me (or have a partner who has a nice steady salary alongside me) is that the first three have to have priority because, well let's admit it, I rather like eating and having a roof over my head!

So when do I find time to do the bit I actually love doing, writing fiction?

I suppose this is something that applies to all people who write as a hobby or write with the ambition of doing it professionally. Life gets in the way of prose. It's something we have to live with.

It doesn't make it any less annoying though!

Thursday, 14 March 2013


After much soul searching and delay, I have at last published my new 1950's spy adventure, Contrail on Kindle and Paperback. Check out my author page on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Why I am old-fashioned

I have a confession. Although I live and work in an internet age - my novels are all on Kindle, I love my e-reader, I am an E-lancer etc, etc - I write all of my fiction first in longhand. And preferably using a fountain pen!

Why? Surely I would be more productive creating everything in electronic format?

Well yes, I probably would but I have found that I write far better when writing creative fiction when I hand write. And best of all when my pace of writing is constrained by a real ink pen. There is something so connected by the act of writing - physically writing - putting a real pen to real paper that is just magical. I just feel like I'm connected right back to those scribes in ancient Ur scratching away on those clay tablets...

Or perhaps I'm just a sad old git!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Spread thin

I have to say that I am beginning to understand the difficulties of committing oneself to the self-publishing route.
Of course the act of self-publishing is easy - I know because I have already done it once. In fact it is probably TOO easy; I know I have learnt a huge amount about what not to do from the exercise and it is quite clear that there is a lot of material out there that badly needs the ministerings of an editor.
No, self-publishing is easy; it is doing it well that is hard.
I thought I was ready a couple of weeks ago but in fact I was nowhere near - last weekend was spent trying to formulate a marketing plan and trying to get a tailored website together. In the meantime I have also been sorting out things like the half-titles, copyright etc...all whilst trying to earn a living (I'm self-employed which means I tend to have a very irregular work structure).
Writing fiction? That was something I used to have time for! (But it is the thing that I have to remind myself that this is the ultimate goal of what I'm doing.)
I still think it's worth it. The more I do, the more convinced I am. I want a voice, I have things to say, I need to be read. I believe in the quality of my writing so this act of faith has to be carried through.
Boy though, do I feel very thinly spread at the moment!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

This is a preview of my forthcoming novel 'Touched' - It's a rather different romance - honest! This is an extract from chapter one

Annie hung up and Tess settled down on the settee. She poured herself a glass of wine, being careful to avoid getting any of the deep red droplets on either the cream carpet or the even creamer suite, ruing again her colour choice given her natural clumsiness. Safely negotiating this task she carefully put the bottle down and took a sip. Not bad. She was trying hard to get out of the thrift habit, the three for £10 syndrome that had been with her since student days. She had to consciously tell herself to look at the label, to go for quality not price. She was an associate now, she could afford it. It still made her feel guilty though and always made sure the bottle was on offer even if she paid more for it now. She took a sip; yeah it was a good choice. Rich, round, a hint of blackberry, a touch of oak. Lovely.
She found herself staring into the glass, watching the light reflect off the facets of the cut crystal, the infinite shades of red within the microcosm of the tulip. Her mind went back to what her sister had said. She was right, she should be out having fun, seeing a bit of life, spending some of her new improved salary on herself. But still she couldn’t, not yet.
It was still too soon.
Tess brought herself back to the present. She realised she hadn’t watched any of her soap. She checked her watch. Ten minutes! Annoyed with herself she tried to concentrate, to pick up the thread.
The commercial break came all too soon. And with the adverts came a feeling she didn’t at all like, a feeling of unease, a prickly tingle that seemed to cover her whole back. Her skin seemed to be shrinking away from her clothes. She tried to ignore it, she told herself that she was just being silly. She gave herself a good talking to in her head. She was safely locked inside her flat, up on the 7th floor. She absolutely would not give into her instincts and go and look around. Monsters under the bed indeed! She was a grown women for God's sake.
She took another sip of wine and adjusted her position on the sofa, kidding herself that she was just getting comfortable but now, out of the corner of her eye, she could now see the door into the hall, which was open. The hall was dark, the only lights on in the flat were the uplighter by the window and what the TV gave off, so she could not see far into the gloom. What she could see though was the spot of light from the spyhole showing the well-lit corridor outside her front door. Everything else was just dark shapes.
Harmless dark shapes, Tess, she told herself silently, harmless.
‘Pull yourself together,’ she muttered out loud and turned to the TV, deliberately turning her back on the open door, and the hall, and its gloomy corners.
The tickling, prickly feeling was back. She couldn’t get rid of it, couldn’t get the thoughts out of her head. Every sense told her to turn back and look, look. Look. Look behind you! She fought it, tried to rationalise. To be a grown up but then a thought nag, nag, nagged at her.
The spyhole.
Could she see the light of the spyhole when she first looked? Or had it appeared as her eyes adjusted to the gloom? If it had appeared then it meant something was in the way. No, no, no, she was just being stupid, letting her imagination run away with her.
She forced herself to watch the TV.
But the urge to turn around was so strong. And so was the fear, the fear of seeing something dark, something malevolent, something or someone that shouldn't be there. She found herself hardly able to breathe and this made her very angry with herself.
‘Stupid cow,’ she muttered getting to her feet, annoyed that she was giving in to what had to be her childish fears.
She found herself looking straight into the eyes of a masked man.
She felt a blow to her midriff.
A brief, dull pain, then an icy numbness.
Tess looked down. There was blood everywhere; over the carpet, on the sofa, soaking her t-shirt, dark as the wine in the glass that she still held. Even at that moment it struck her how odd it was that she was still being careful not to spill a drop.
Blood? It was on the knife held in the hand of the man, the blade big and evil and silver, no, silver and red; his hands in leather gloves, black but darkened further by her blood.
Her blood.
She looked back up into the eyes of the man, a question framed on her lips, but suddenly the eyes shot upwards, away from her, whilst the carpet rushed up to meet her.
She sighed.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Decision Made

I am have made the decision that I want people to read my novels so Contrail and Touched will both be published shortly. Contrail, my 1950's story spun about the Comet airliner will be first - I just need to organise my website etc. Touched will follow - it is in with a couple of agents/publishers so I will be polite and wait for their response but I do feel it is time for me to take control. Alea Jacta Est. The die is cast.

Monday, 4 March 2013

With great apologies to the Bard

To self-publish, or not to self-publish: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous critics, Or to take arms against a sea of rejection letters, And by giving it up (and doing it myself) end them? To die as an author: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks of continual rejection That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come Dreams of publishing contracts, the death of control of ones own output... When we submit to agents it seems like they must have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must they give us such pause: there's no respect That makes calamity of such long silence; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love of our prose, the law of publishing; delay, The insolence of their office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after rejection, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of (or someone who the writers group recommends)? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution to go through with putting our precious words on Kindle Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment that no one will otherwise read With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. - stay the 'publish' button and foolishly submit to yet another agent! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd.

Demystifying twitter

It is amazing how social media has crept up on us, and how most of us pick up the basics as we go along. I guess that all of us of a certain generation (AKA old!) struggle to keep pace with it. Its hard to keep abreast of everything, if we did we probably wouldn't have time to do what we term 'real' things. I personally have got into twitter but have never devoted the time to facebook - it is a mystery to me. However for those who are the reverse way round, below is a potted guide to twitter. @ - the @ symbol has a very specific meaning on Twitter, as opposed to its use within an email address where it signifies the recipients domain. On Twitter, every single username is prefixed with the @ symbol, which is then used to mention or reply to another user in turn. # - the hashtag symbol started as a way of categorising tweets; tweets with the same hashtags would be viewable as their own list, allowing people to track popular subjects. The hashtag has now moved beyond this to something more creative, that people use to make amusing allusions, hint at a subtext, or to mount awareness campaigns. A key example of this is the #kony2012 campaign aimed at combating child violence in Africa. The hashtag has become more than a means of making tweets searchable; it is more about sharing values through language and affiliating with values. RT – RT is an abbreviation of the full term to Re-Tweet; this is where a user can distribute somebodies tweet on their own timeline; in some ways this is similar to forwarding an email, but the discourse features of twitter are sufficiently different to make this an entirely different orthographic approach. HT – This is an abbreviation of ‘hat tip’, where somebody wishes to acknowledge the contribution of another to their own tweet, or the source of some particular information. MT – a modified tweet, whereby somebody has not just retweeted something somebody has said, but altered it slightly as well, often for reasons of brevity. PRT – a partial retweet; often retweets have to be shortened to accommodate additional usernames, or they may be edited for clarity. Shortform URLS – because of the limited characters it is often not possible to include full form website addresses for linking; Twitter and other services offer an automatic shortform redirect, which takes on peculiar combinations of characters; this has broadened beyond twitter now, particularly in cases of extremely long web addresses that are better communicated more simply ‘Follow’ is an unusual feature of Twitter; in this context it means to subscribe to someone’s, or something’s, tweets. This sounds a very straightforward action, and the action itself is. However, great currency has been afforded to how many followers a Twitter user has; as a means of demonstrating their popularity, and indeed their power, among people who can self-select to subscribe to their output. As a consequence of this, a great deal of energy – both honest and deceitful – is expended in trying to acquire a large amount of followers, particularly now by companies. This has gone to the point where someone with a large amount of followers will try and leverage that support to get others many followers; it’s a strange lexical feature to imbue the simple word ‘follow’ with such importance. Trending is another lexical feature that is much more complex than it first appears. This is entirely related to the #hastag tool; Twitter automatically tracks which people are using which hashtag and where, and then provides lists of popular topics based on different geographies. It did not take people long to realise the exposure implications of getting a hastag onto a prominent national or global list. Thus, getting something ‘trending’ has become a major preoccupation for marketing companies, charities and television shows. There are a number of discourse features that are prominent upon Twitter as well, some that are native to it, and some that are not necessarily so, but take upon a new form through this particular media. The most noteworthy of the discourse features is the way that tweets form into conversations, or threads, as people retweet or reply to tweets, which creates a much more interactive form of communication. In part this is similar to a group text, as that is where Twitter ultimately owes its technical inspiration from, but Twitter has actually gone much further with the possibilities. The key element is that each conversation is publicly accessible, and anybody can contribute to it at any point, which means it has a greater degree of interaction than a group text.