Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Should old attainments be forgot

It’s traditional at this time to reflect on the previous 12 months and then to make a list of well meant but seemingly unachievable goals (that are neither SMART not SHARP), in order to improve one's circumstances in the coming year. And who am I to stand in the way of tradition? So, a drum roll if you please, as we skip through the highs and lows of a writerly year.

2014 saw me working for a bonafide millionaire – and not in a Monopoly sense, although property was involved. They really are just like any other client, which is probably why, once I'd signed on to the project, the scope of the job expanded like a festive waistline and I learned definitively that ten hours’ worth of work cannot fit into the seven you’ve agreed. Even so, it was a great experience, and one day I hope to find the speech on Youtube.

There was another even more interesting client once, although I didn’t find out exactly how interesting until I’d agreed to take on the job. Two words for you: Naked. Sushi. And don’t even ask me about seaweed. (And yes, of course I know you’re going to look it up now.)

2014 saw the launch of three mini-ebooks, each one a collection of 100 or so themed gags. You can find out about them here - you won’t find cheaper laughs anywhere else...

Elsewhere in my dream factory, my monthly green living / humour column finally came to an end after two and a half years (and 16,000 words). The mag editor and I are discussing other topics and meanwhile I’m exploring the world of second rights. Speaking of rights, my short story, The Silent Hills, reverted to my ownership after three years with Musa Publishing, following a mishap after I misread what I was signing (genuinely true and not added for comedic effect). They’re still the publisher of my mid-grade ebook, Superhero Club, so I’ll know better for next time!

Although NaNoWriMo was a great opportunity to make some headway with third thriller, The Caretaker, I have to report that I didn’t get the entire 100,000 word first draft down on paper. Still, 77,000 isn’t bad going.

I met some brilliant new web / blog clients and contacts, mostly as a ghostwriter. Part of the joy of meeting new clients is the challenge of writing about something different. Sometimes, as in the case of healthfoods, pedelecs or zombies, I already had a headstart. However, I can now also wax lyrical about history, mobile discos and digital advertising with the best of them. You could even say I’m a beacon of information – and if you understood that quip award yourself a bonus point. 


A special end-of year shout-out to Chloe Banks, who celebrated the publication of her first novel, and to David Brown, who completed the first draft of his first novel (and who is now making headway into his second).

As for next year, I have a few things planned. I want to finish the first draft of my third thriller, The Caretaker, which is timely because I’ll be hearing from an ebook publisher in January about whether they want to work on the series. I also have a short story collection I want to put together as an ebook, using the cover supplied by 
www.goonwrite.com. Work, obviously, is important, but it’s only as aspect of life (and don’t let them tell you otherwise). 

My thanks to you for reading my words and may 2015 bring you happiness, joy and creativity. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

The truth of it?


Do writers of fiction, like journalists, owe a responsibility to the truth?

As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction I've been asked how I compartmentalise my brain when it comes to finding inspiration.

"How do you know whether an idea will result in a blog piece / article, or a story? I mean, they're completely different types of writing, right?"

Erm...not really. Oh, sure, I know that writing about reincarnation and magical beings clearly isn't what you'd call conventional copy, unlike anonymised data and the value of terabit storage. However, even once you get past the requirements of grammar, spelling and punctuation, there are other shared conventions.

1. The writing has to meet the needs of its audience in terms of information, tone and relevance.
2. The writing has to obey the logical conventions of the genre (I'm calling non-fiction a genre today).
3. You need to deliver on your promises.

Examples? Certainly, step this way.

Your headline deliberately provokes a reaction and the subheaders suggest you have pertinent answers to your core question. But you skirt around the issue and end up leaving your readers high and dry.

You write a fantasy novel, where a magical ring can save the good guys, but each time it's used one of their kin has to die. All the way through the book there have been noble sacrifices, until our two heroes are there, unarmed, cornered by marauding orcs / wizards / demons. Never fear, they can use the magical ring - only which one of them will survive to tell the tale? Imagine how peed off you'd be if no one died (oh, just me then...). You might feel as though you'd been cheated.

Writing for children and young adults places further demands on the writer. Mostly, there are happy ever afters, but that hasn't always been the case. The shadowy heart of many traditional 'fairy' stories is well-documented, despite the Disney cinematic versions that have all but replaced them in popular culture.

Should we though, sometimes, just tell it how it is?

Let's face it, Disney Studios are unlikely to option The Old Curiosity Shop; not without substantial rewrites, anyway. The fabulous writers, Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling, are just two authors among many who allow children to experience some of life's harder lessons on the page.

When I came to write my mid-grade ebook, Superhero Club, I spent some time considering why children and young adults read books. Here was the list I came up with:
-    Escapism.
-    Wish fulfilment.
-    Looking for answers.
-    Curiosity.
-    The enjoyment of a good read.
-    Permission to experience experience.

Once I'd met my main character, 12 year-old Jo, and understood what the story was about, I realised I had a duty to show the shadows of her world and to accurately portray the ugliness of bullying and its impact on lives. As the plot developed and secondary characters found their way into the spotlight (that's how it worked in my head), I also saw how friendship and self-acceptance were the shining threads in the tale. It was important that the story wasn't too preachy, although I wanted Superhero Club to include the following messages:

-    It's never the victim's fault and there are positive things they can do.
-    Hope.
-    Everyone has a story, a reason for what they do, even if we never get to hear it in detail.
-    There aren't always easy solutions.
-    We are more than our circumstances, whatever they happen to be.

Today I'm being interviewed about Superhero Club over at Sharon Ledwith's blog. To be in with a chance of winning a free copy, pop over this week and leave a comment.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Life hacks from writing fiction

Lovers of fiction, whatever the genre, will often tell you that it's true to life (for them) and portrays real people with real emotions, often going through extraordinary circumstances. Fiction allows us to live vicariously, and to explore 'what if', often - to quote from the TV classic, The Water Margin: "...In a world very different from our own."

Of course, it could be said that fiction - and especially the writing of fiction - also has a lot to teach us about life in 'the real world'.

1. Character is revealed by how a person responds to circumstances.
Think about Stephen King's The Dead Zone for a moment, and the insight we gain into Greg Stilson from his first scene. It tells you everything you need to know. We have the full measure of him for the rest of the book.

2.   Show, don't tell.
Following on from the previous item, talk is cheap actions speak louder than words (although they are revealing too).

3.   Adverbs give colour to actions. As Bananarama sang, it ain't what you do but how you do it. Think about the difference between smiling joyfully and smiling malevolently. For those of you who rally against the humble adverb (one wonders exactly how you rally), just consider how you might want your actions described in some other way.

4.  Life is a series of drafts, followed by a series of edits.
There's a common idea that the first draft is for the writer, the second draft is for the reader, and all subsequent drafts are for the agent / publisher. The important point is that writing - like living - is a process rather than a destination. It's also not a pass and fail exam. If life deals you a rejection or a failure, it's time to regroup, redraft and redouble your efforts.

5.  It stops when you do.
One often cried writers' lament, especially in the early days, is: "When does it get easier?" Or they ask what it takes to be a proper writer. The funny thing is that getting published doesn't make you a writer. It makes you published, sure, but it's only writing (and continuing to write) that bestows that title on you fairly. In life, a dream or ambition is only over when you say it is. No one else, just you. Of course, you may have to modify your goals and aspirations - that's part of the editing process too!

6.  NANOWRIMO
November is National Novel Writing Month, although any month will do. It's a commitment to lay some foundations, however rocky, and worry about the quality later. Writers aim for and commit to a certain word count per day for an entire month. They share this goal and activity with other writers who offer mutual support, because everyone wants everyone to do well. Whatever you are doing, it's important to find a supportive environment, preferably with knowledgable peers, and to learn as you go along.  

7. Plotters and Pantsers
Some writers don't write a word of prose until they know exactly what happens to whom and when. For others, writing is a glorious leap of faith, starting with a seed of an idea and raw enthusiasm. Whatever your style, either way, it's a journey of becoming. Sometimes in life, prior planning prevents poor performance. At other times, you can't afford to wait, so dive in!

8. Take your inspiration from life and the lives around you.
Many first novels draw directly from personal experience, whether it be composite characters from your own life, or true stories you've seen, heard or known first-hand. Writers know that when you pay attention, look closely and listen, the world is filled with extraordinary people, each with their own unique stories. There are also universal themes, played out in subtly different hues on living canvases. Whatever you aspire to become, or struggle to deal with, know that someone else has stood in very similar shes and found a way through it.  

9. POV
Point of View. Three small words that make all the difference on the page. I once started a novel drawing directly upon personal experience, so I naturally wanted to write it in first person. However, I soon found that intimacy constraining. What I did was start afresh, in third person, and then I found it easier to separate my book and what my characters did from what had actually happened (well, according to my recollection, anyway). In the end, after several chapters and a few thousand words, I went back to first person, but with a different perspective on the scope of the book and what could happen. 

Another word for POV is perspective. Writers learn that even in their own books it's not always about them. Characters do strange things, suggest new ideas, confound us and generally breathe new life into our fiction - if we're lucky. Life can do that too, often when we least expect it. Sometimes it's about something bigger than our needs and our concerns. A shift in perspective can make all the difference.    

10. Writers write - what are you?
Like I said earlier, you can tell a writer because she or he writes. It's as simple as that. Any qualitative assessment is for the critics. So if you want to know who you are, and who you're perceived to be, take a close look at what you do on a regular basis!