Saturday, 25 April 2015

Authority

Making waves and creating a splash.
Hello there. I'm writing this in advance, so this may only be accurate at the time of typing (on 22/04). My debut thriller, Standpoint, is doing well. I know it's not a very British thing to say,  and I'll come back to British things later, but there it is. There were 20,000 free downloads and, as I write this, there's every possibility that subsequent sales will reach into four figures soon.

It's an exciting and slightly bewildering time - a little like winning the raffle when you quite had your idea of the box of dark chocolates, and then seeing that mouthwatering box of delights heading your way. Some people are cheering for you and some want to arm-wrestle you for chocolate (who can blame them), and there's really no adequate explanation for why it has turned out that way. Maybe, sometimes, life is like a box of chocolates.

I'm acutely aware of all those people whose generosity and kindness have helped Standpoint's success, and those who aren't here to see it. It's all a learning curve and here are some of the things I've learned so far.

1. You can only write your own book, your way.
Any other option is pretty much impossible in the long run. Ghostwriting is a different kettle of fish. If you are creating something for yourself (the starting point of all books) you have to set aside what critics may think - they'll be along in time, trust me.

2. Once you've written your own book it's time to think about the reader.
I've had editors in the past and I've edited other people's work, but this is the first time I've had a complete novel edited by someone else. It's not only liberating, it's also made me look at my work differently. If something that seems obvious to you isn't obvious to your editor, you can bet your bottom dollar a reader will struggle with it too. 

3. Change is inevitable.
Beyond a word here and a semi-colon there, you may find that your cherished - and obscure - reference to 1980s' synthesiser pop doesn't translate well to a Canadian reader who wants to follow the plot not go on a Wikipedia quest. In my case I was happy to compromise on some of the minor details because they only added something for me. I also needed to think about what might add to the book.

4. Everyone's a critic and the web is their sounding board.
Feedback is an interesting thing. As writers we want the audience to engage with us and to feel something by the end of the book. However, what if their feeling is tedium? Interestingly, I've noticed a split between UK and US readers. The Brits like the relationship side of Standpoint, the tone and the character development, while some US readers struggle with the slang (now addressed by the inclusion of a glossary) and the pacing. My protagonist is not James Bond, or Jason Bourne, and I never intended him to be.

You can't please everyone and nor should you try to, but show me an author who doesn't want people to enjoy the experience of reading their book and I'll show you someone who has misunderstood the point of publication.

5. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Today it's all going well and I'm thrilled. Five months ago I had two and a bit novels in a series nobody wanted. Later this year my second thriller will be published by Joffe Books - spoiler: there will be slang! Sometimes things align for you and the stars are favourable. Immerse yourself in the experience and don't waste time questioning it, or looking for the formula that can replicate it. Do pay attention though!

A quote attributed to the artist, Tracey Emin, about the media, runs: "I don't ask for an apology because it's only tomorrow's fish-and-chip paper." Today's best-seller will inevitably slide down the charts and there will always be something new to surpass what once was. It's a continuum rather than a destination.

Whatever happens, going forward, I am going forward. For now, that's all I need to know.

Where do you draw the line?

Monday, 20 April 2015

In the Long Run

Who truly knows where the path leads?

Repeat clients are a freelance writers' best friend. When you build up trust and a dependable working relationship with someone it's a win-win situation. They know they can rely on you to produce the content they need, on time and on budget. You, on the other hand, are happy to prioritise their needs because they have clearly defined requirements, give relevant direction and pay their invoices promptly. It's like the end of a rom-com movie, only without the kitsch.

However, working relationships are not something you can ever afford to take for granted - pun intended. Situations change, editors move on and all businesses are subject, to a greater or lesser degree, to market forces. As a wise project manager once told me: always have a Plan B.

Your freelance what-if strategy needs to take into account the following questions:
1.     What if the client decides they want something different?
2.     What if I could increase the rate?
3.     What if there were other ideas I could pitch to them?

Not so long ago I faced all three questions with the same client. It started when I reviewed my rates and realised that I'd written over 20,000 words for the same editor. I approached the editor carefully, by which I mean I was succinct and that I led with the benefits of continuing our business arrangement. The editor agreed to a percentage increase so quickly that I could have kicked myself for not doing it sooner.

However, having reviewed my contributions, the editor also decided that it was time to retire one of my magazine columns. Foul play? Not at all. She went on to explain that most monthly columns do not extend beyond two years - like mine had - and that she would continue to need occasional top-up pieces.

More encouragingly, she was now keen to hear if I had any other column proposals (which I did, naturally), so now there's a potential opportunity to research and write about a completely different topic. I also have around 17,000 words of content that I can repurpose or offer as second rights material.

If you remember nothing else:
1.     Know your own worth, which lies somewhere between what you think you're worth and what your client thinks your work is worth to them.
2.     Don't rest on your laurels. Change is inevitable. Be prepared and be ready to take advantage of new opportunities (and the gaps left by old ones coming to an end).
3.     Push yourself in your writing. My 17,000 words and 30 columns began with a piece about our chickens and grew to encompass composting, recycling, foraging, water management, gardening, grow-your-own, herbs, making a mini-meadow, and much more besides.
4.     Be professional. Anyone who reads this blog will know that over the years I've made some clangers worthy of a campanology for beginners workshop. Even so, if freelancing is your business and your livelihood you need to take a mature, long-term view. Today's stupid client could be tomorrow's work reference!

Take heed. In the long run, you'll thank me for it.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Standpoint - Glossary of British Slang Terms



It's always struck me as slightly strange that we refer to this language as English when it's really an amalgamation of many languages that have changed and enriched it over the centuries. Back in the day (the late 80s, in case you were wondering) I spent a year in the US and soon realised that their English and my English were merely cousins. I realized it with a z for one thing, and that z was a zee for another.

A recent Amazon review for Standpoint reminded me how important it is to have common reference points, as well as a common language, when communicating. With that in mind, here's a glossary of British slang terms in Standpoint for American readers that will appear with the book from now on.

British slang: US equivalent

’andouts: handouts/charity
’scuse: excuse
4 X 4: four wheel drive vehicle/off-roader
arse: ass
bitter (type of drink): ale
blighty: informal/nostalgic term for England / the UK
bollocking: a severe reprimand
bollocks: nonsense (noun)/damn (exclamation)
booze cruise: ferry trip to bring back cheap alcohol
cheers: when not used as a toast can mean thank you
chuffed: pleased/delighted
civil servant: government worker
clogging: filling/blocking
Cockney Sparra: Cockney Sparrow - native Londoner
comprendez: do you understand [French]
craic: an enjoyable time [Irish]
Diwali: Hindu religious festival of lights
dogsbody: servant or underling
downed: drank
dunno: don't know
durn’t: doesn't
easy-peasy: trouble free
exocet: type of missile
fat chance: slim chance
Feng Shui: Chinese system of balancing energies
get it down yer: drink this
give them a tug: pull them in for questioning
had a skinful: was drunk
hen party: bachelorette party
industrial estate: industrial park/trading estate
jammy: lucky
Jaysus: Jesus [Irish]
lamped: beat up/punched
landed one on: punched
matey: friendly
might’a: might have
mobile: cellphone
Murphys: common Irish surname
nicked: arrested/busted
nought: zero
o’him: of him
oik: peasant/lowlife
okey dokey: OK
on’t: on the
oppo: work buddy
owt: anything
Oxbridge: Oxford and Cambridge Universities, equivalent to Harvard or Yale
paracetamol: painkiller
plonked: placed something without care
poss: possible
prat: jerk (derogatory)
promo: promotional film
quid: one UK pound (currency)
Rififi: a classic French gangster movie
s’pose: suppose
scrunched: squeezed into a ball
shandy: ale or lager mixed with a soft drink
shiter: crappier
skint: poor
snidey: contemptuous
Sotheby’s: Name of a premier auction house
summat: something
sussing out: weighing up someone's character or motives
ta: thank you
telly: TV
tenner: ten pound note (currency)
tête à tête: meeting between two people (French)
tha: you
tossers: jerks (derogatory)
tutted: expressed disapproval
walkie-talkie: two-way radio
wi’: with
yer: you
zip-gun: home-made firearm

* * * BREAKING NEWS * * * 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Catch Up

The writing journey is a little bit like climbing Mount Everest (or Sagarmāthā, or Chomolungma, if you prefer). There's preparation and perhaps some form of sponsorship, training on smaller climbs, and then you're ready for the off. Except that nothing prepares you for something quite like doing it. The only way to sustain yourself on that long, arduous and potentially treacherous ascent is to treat it as a set of stages.

In writing, we tend to see our stages as: the first draft, the first edit, other drafts, and then submission to an agent or a publisher (which could also be ourselves). Of course, that doesn't take us to the final stage but merely another tent on a ledge.

Against the odds (statistically, I mean) I secured a two-book deal with Joffe Books. Standpoint is out there now, as you're probably aware (I may have mentioned it once or thrice). The sequel, Line of Sight, will be edited this month and is scheduled to launch later this year. I'm also beavering away (a slow beaver, admittedly) on the third book in the series, while beginning to plot the fourth. 

It can get a bit obsessive and all-consuming, but the reviews are coming in now, and the various blog posts are going up, and I'm starting to see daylight again. All of which sounds like the perfect moment to thank everyone who has supported my writing - and especially Standpoint since it has launched. I'm very grateful to you, seen and unseen, and would particularly like to thank Sarah and Richard for flying the flag, and in Richard's case reading an early version of Standpoint on a mobile phone - that's commitment for you!

A more varied blog diet coming soon.