Thursday, 28 August 2014

Copy That! (Change Please - part 2)

As opposed to the ones on holiday.
The word epiphany is bandied about a great deal. You could argue that it has now joined the upper ranks of cliché, proudly taking a comfy seat next to 'upping my game', 'this would mean the world to me' and the mathematically dubious 'I'm going to give it 110%'. Oh, go on then - let's also make space for 'I've been on a journey', which, ironically, doesn't travel well. 

However, epiphanies can and do occur. And, in my experience, once you've epiphed, it always seems so obvious.

So, picture the scene if you will. I have some freelance clients lined up, fees have been agreed and I'm good to go. Except that, rather than feeling elated, or just grateful (it's been a sticky month financially), I had that Sunday evening feeling you used to get as a kid when you used to think about school the next day. "What gives?" I ask myself. (I find talking aloud soothing because I've always enjoyed the sound of my own voice.) My reply is that some of the freelancing I do just isn't fun any more. I actually laugh then, but I can see what I mean. 

At this point in time, freelancing isn't a full-time occupation. I do okay out of it, for the work I undertake, although I don't remember the fun part being an essential component. I mean, how many people find their jobs fun even part of the time? 

Only...only now I realise that it does matter and I recall a conversation with our Dad, back when I was unloading lorries for a living. "No one enjoys their job," he assured me. He then qualified it by telling me about how a Radio 4 programme only found one person who really enjoyed their job - a man who made wooden wagon wheels using traditional tools and methods. (This conversation would have taken place around 30 years ago, back in analogue times.) 

I remember insisting that I was going to find a job I enjoyed, and how he'd gave me a knowing and slightly patronising smile, as if to say, 'Yeah, good luck with that.'

Anyway, back to the epiphanous present. I love writing, always have. The first thing I bought for myself out of my savings, when I started working, wasn't a suit, or a moped, or driving lessons; it was a typewriter. It dawns on me now that what I enjoy about writing is a blend of information and character; I like to add my own voice and make a piece of writing distinctive. That's much easier to do when you know the subject matter well - less thinking involved.

When it comes to copywriting I've been a bit of a generalist.

 Subjects I've written about include: Sushi, yoga, poo, voucher discounts, matchmakers, relationships, weddings, sex, VOIP, PTSD, exhibitions, technology and software, ageism in the workplace, privacy, start-ups, interior design, website design, social media, branding, life-long learning, online dating, private investigations, education, interviews, coaching, freelance writing, safeguarding, staff motivation, parental engagement, exercise, cycling, art, health, green living, green tech, chickens, creative writing, big data, cycling, comedy writing and creativity.

What can we learn from this? (Apart from my range, versatility and suppressed humility.)

1)    Become the writer you are (and not just the writer you think others want you to be).

2)    Get noticed for who you are.

3)    Develop your own, unique style. Whatever I write, when I have a free hand to create the voice of the piece, it's more often than not a conversational, informal tone with a sprinkling of humour. That's the bit that makes it fun - adding character to content.

I know what you're thinking: whatever happened to part one? It set up home here:

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Value of Feedback

It's said that a true friend is one who will tell you what they really think - and why. For a writer, getting reliable feedback is invaluable. Just as a good proofreader can spot those rogue apostrophes and homonyms that you read past without noticing, so a good reviewer can tell you the essential and occasionally bitter truth. 

One must use discernment these days, of course, when reading social media and online book reviews because they offer such a wide canvas for jealousy, mean-spiritedness and invective, as well as encouragement, support and constructive feedback - if you're lucky. 

It's all in the game, I suppose, and for every book that's praised to the rafters there will also be a proportion of readers who thought it stank like last week's haddock. In fact, I received what must surely rank as the worst review I'll ever receive (on that site at least!). If I tell you it was for my magical fantasy, Covenant, and on one of the major - and tax ambiguous book retail sites, you can easily find it if you're curious.

I'll wait for you...

Ah, there you are. What did you think? Me? I was both disappointed and amused by it. Firstly, it suggested that I hadn't given the reader something of value - which is what I think most writers strive to do, irrespective of the topic or genre. Secondly, it amused me because I'd be hard pushed to get a review that bad again under any circumstances. (Although no one has reviewed my gag ebooks yet...)

The real worth of feedback, to me, is that it's an indication of whether I've succeeded - in the reader's eyes - in parceling up my ideas, feelings and themes into a cohesive package. More than that, where it's fiction, I want them to have felt something. Where my reviewer, who didn't like Covenant, is concerned, I can at least be certain that they felt something!

Many months ago I spoke with my editor at Musa Publishing about finding out if my mid-grade book about bullying and transformation, Superhero Club, might be suitable as an education or support tool. With their blessing, I contacted two organisations connected with young people's well-being, as well as a couple of local schools in Cornwall. The schools didn't respond, but eventually, after some polite reminders - over five months and one year respectively - the two organisations said they either didn't have time or were not in a position to review my book. And you thought agents and publishers took a long time...

Undeterred, although frankly pretty ticked off by the experience, I contacted two more organisations, and almost immediately (within a day or so), I had responses from each. (Note to self: choose wisely in future and perhaps ring up first.)

One organisation has now provided three brilliant pieces of feedback, yielding some unexpected comments. Remember the context here - this feedback is from professionals working with vulnerable / troubled children.


- Suitable for a young person who enjoys reading.
- Liked the style and conversational approach.
- Felt it illustrated the benefits of talking therapy.
- It's simple and gets to the point, making it quite accessible. 
- It gives awareness that adults have issues as well.
- An interesting story covering various issues, giving an insight into how bullying affects people.- A very touching story and easy to follow, it could help a young person understand how a group could help them.

- Didn't like the use of American English although it probably wouldn't be a problem for young people.
- Concerns that the group of young people in the book were copying the bullying behaviour towards the bully.
- Some of the language was difficult for some children to understand.
- The supportive group of young children bullied the bully and the teacher just ignored the situation, sending out a negative message to vulnerable children readers that there's no point in telling teacher as they won't do anything about it anyway.

I'm indebted to the reviewers because it has given me a completely different perspective on my children's book. 

It all raises some interesting questions:
1. Would a rewrite of Superhero Club turn it into a useful educational / support tool?
2. Would a rewrite of Superhero Club increase its popularity?
3. If I hadn't had that feedback from professionals, would I have been content with the book as it stands?
4. What would my publisher, Musa think?

I was talking recently with abstract artist Harriet Hoult, who will be guesting on this blog soon, and she felt that each piece of art she produced had its own conclusion. Perhaps every piece of creative output, once it exists in the outer world (i.e. beyond a drawer or a file on a desktop), has become what it was supposed to be. Maybe, where a book or a story is concerned, revisiting and editing after that point only unravels all the elements that put it together in the first place? 

What's your feedback on that?

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Miscommunication Masterclass

The plan was simple, oh so simple. I'd ring Anne from the penultimate station, giving her time to drive down to the terminus and pick me up. What culd possibly go wrong? Several things, apparently. It's a comedy of errors, unless it's happening to you at the time.

1. It was only at the penultimate station, when I dialled home, that I realised I had no credit left on my phone. No problem - go to plan b. I emailed her to say I had no credit and that I'd be at the terminus soon.

2. Ten minutes of waiting at the terminus with no sign of a pick-up and I sent my 'free' text to make contact.

3. Ten minutes after that I emailed to say I'd start walking and hopefully find a payphone on the way.

4. Hooray, I found a payphone. But she didn't get to the phone before I'd given up listening to rings.

5. I decide to wait anyway, just in case.

6. A minute or three later I get a text back to say she's on her way.

7. Then it starts raining. A lot.

Naturally, when she does pick me up, I use the opportunity to turn sarcasm into an artform (for me, anyway). I forget that a sensible person would check they had some phone credit, and instead I mention my original plan, which was to only phone if the train was going to be late. 

It didn't help that Anne had:
a) Forgotten which train I was on and my arrival time.
b) Forgotten that the Internet could have told her, based upon my planned departure time.
c) Was in the attic when the phone rang.
d) Couldn't get a decent mobile signal.

The lesson here is that communication is a two-part process of sending and receiving (preferably with the original message arriving intact). As writers, whether we're communicating with clients, with agents and editors, or with readers, we have to take responsibility for what we say and how it's interpreted.

And always, always, give credit where credit is due!

Monday, 4 August 2014

On Failing and Failing Better

Like many of us, I read a lot of blogs. Some are informative and some are entertaining; the favoured few are both. I'm not sure how long I've been following Chloe's blog but it's one that  I always make a beeline for when I see it in my list. As one of many who enjoy her writing, I'm   delighted to be part of her debut novel's blog tour. Come and meet her, and hear what she has to say about success, failure and final requests.

Chloe Banks lives in Devon with her husband, son and an obsession with words. She started writing for a dare and forgot to stop until it was too late. She is a prize-winning short story writer and a first-time novelist, represented by The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency.

The Art of Letting Go tells the story of Rosemary, whose peaceful seclusion is disrupted by the man who she was involved in a traumatic relationship with decades earlier; only this time he’s lying in a coma and Rosemary must decide whether to let him live, or let him go. In the midst of her secret dilemma  she meets an abstract artist who is used to manipulating shapes and colours to make people see things differently. But what else is he manipulating? And can he help Rosemary see her own situation in a different light?

The Art of Letting Go is available as a paperback and an e-book here.

On Failing and Failing Better

Many people have asked me where I got the idea for The Art of Letting Go. I wish I had something creative and brilliant to tell them. But the simple answer is this: I failed. I failed three times actually.

The first time I failed was in writing a piece of flash fiction (Dear Margaret) about a vicar who was trying to find God again after losing his wife to cancer. It got some good competition feedback, but never won the prize.

The second time I failed was in writing a short story about a girl who meets an artist on a beach during a wet summer holiday (Absence Makes The World Go Round). I loved using colours to enhance the mood of the story, but the plot itself didn’t work.

The third time was another short story (Flicker). This one was about a woman whose abusive husband was in a coma. She was convinced he could hear everything and wanted to live, but the doctors thought he was completely unconscious and so she had to choose whether to keep him alive or let him die. Her dilemma interested me, but I just couldn’t get the writing right. The plot was there; the good writing wouldn’t come.

In autumn 2011, I was looking for a new writing project and was browsing my file of stories that never made it. In a moment of flippancy, I wondered what would happen if I took the positive elements of Dear MargaretAbsence Makes the World Go Round and Flicker and smashed them up into something entirely new. I invented a new main character to tie the stories together – picking an woman in her seventies as I think older people are often more interesting than younger ones! – and started writing. 

It wasn’t the easiest way of making a coherent plot, I’ll admit that. But in starting out with three failures, that each had their own positives, I was able to create something far richer than I would’ve done if I’d started with one idea and built it from the ground up. Although The Art of Letting Go has been through many re-drafts, there are still one or two lines in it – and many ideas and themes – that come directly from those three pieces of failed short fiction. And – here’s the lesson, folks – I couldn’t have done it, if I’d deleted my failures. 

There are loads of files on my computer that I am ashamed of – stories where the writing is appalling. But I haven’t deleted them because you never know when the ugly duckling of one bit of fiction might become the swan you were looking for. I would be mortified if anybody browsed my writing folder, but I am proud of what has come out of it. In addition to those three total failures that made a success, some of my best and prize-winning short stories have been ones where I have failed first time round and taken a fresh look. Sometimes I’ve just edited more critically, sometimes I’ve re-written the story from a completely different point of view or in another tense. The originals weren’t terrible, but they weren’t right. Sometimes getting things right takes time, patience and a lot of trial and error.

So I have one piece of advice and one request for you, dear readers of Derek’s blog...

Advice: never delete or shred any piece of writing.

Request: if I die, please burn my computer before reading.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Lessons from the Freelancing Frontline

Time and tide wait for no one in plimsolls.
Freelance writing can be a movable feast and sometimes the table seems to be on castors with you running behind, reaching for nibbles. It's all too easy to go from week to week, or month to month, without looking up occasionally and smelling the coffee peppermint tea. 

A quarterly review can give you valuable perspective, revealing not only issues but also what's working well. In short, there are useful lessons to be had that can help keep your freelancing business on track.

Here are a few thoughts, both old and new, from my recent tête à tête with myself...

1. Get a well-defined brief before you write a word (or live to regret it).
The client really know what she wanted. Well, she said she knew, setting out her requirements in five bullet points. The only, slight, teensy fly in the ointment being what she hadn't said. Of course she'd specified the theme and key messages, which source material would be sent over and when she needed the draft and the final version. However, what she hadn't mentioned was her week's holiday slap bang in the middle of the project, or her penchant for changing the theme, mid piece, to the point where the finished version was a distant (and more time-consuming) cousin of its predecessor.

2. Agree the number of edits / drafts.
The need for a  completely new quarter of a lengthy article, last minute, because a TV programme inspired her is not a minor tweak. It's a rewrite.

3. Even with a fixed rate job, know the hourly rate at every stage.
£100 for five hours of work is £20 per hour; at least, until the two hours of further edits kick in and then you're looking at around £14 per hour - an hourly reduction of 30%. Perhaps more importantly, you need to balance the client's needs with the economic viability of the job. Have an absolute base rate and, if you feel the job has exceeded its originally agreed scope,  be ready to talk about renegotiating the price.

4. Your client's time is not the same as your time.
Even the best of freelancers, unless you have a longstanding (and positive!) relationship with a client, is a mere spear carrier in your client's drama. Sorry to break the bad news to you, but you might not be the only freelancer on the job. Also, client response times can vary, depending upon whether you're seeking approval for a draft, checking requirements, or waiting for the invoice to be paid.

5. Know when to walk away.
This can be a painful one, but it comes with the territory. Sometimes, to use one of my favourite Americanisms, writers get hosed. This can happen if a client deliberately takes advantage, or they simply didn't understand the amount of work involved (and let's face it, you're the writer so you're responsible for managing their expectations), or they commit the gravest of all sins and don't pay you.

True story time.

I did some work for a US client several months ago. They're a start-up for people who want to learn or teach new skills and are looking to set up local hubs. (Think 'Craigslist' but with new experiences.) I wrote some blogs for them and did some branding work to create a personality for the organisation, as well as a character they could develop graphically. 

Anyway, all was going swimmingly and payments were made on a regular and timely basis until blogs seven and eight. Emails went unanswered; invoices grew lonely. Ironically, it wasn't even a great deal of money, as I'd adjusted my rate for a start-up. Weeks passed by and then, out of sheer capriciousness, I sent them a wry email about what we'd say if we met at a party and what their response might be. Well, cover me in daisies and call me a meadow if they didn't respond within minutes, apologising for the delay - all 16 weeks of it - and promising to settle their account immediately. Their explanation for the delay was honest and weak, a bit like when I make a normal cup of tea for someone. 

No matter though because my Paypal invoice would be dealt with promptly, right? Wrong. Eleven days later they had evidently paddled away. What's a freelancer to do? Simple. Cut Your Losses. I emailed the client to say tell them they were fired, reminded them that the two blogs they hadn't paid for were my copyright and not for their use, and walked away. 

Of course, I could have used a site such as samplesafe and listed them as a bad debtor. This time, though, it doesn't feel worth it.

6. There is no direct line from outcome back to motive.
You can never make assumptions where clients are concerned, when it comes to late responses, late payments or even no payments. That said, what you can do is take action.

Time for another true story.

I did some script editing for a client. It was a short job and I negotiated the top of the client's budget. Everything seemed to be progressing well and I was asked to include a few ideas about characterisation and development, including suggesting a better title. Halfway through, the client paid half the fee. Naturally, I completed the second half of the work and sent it off. Payment was promised and this time I waited days before following it up. Nothing happened. I chased the client again and indicated that I had tracked their online activities over the internet, so that I knew where they were based and which competition the script was heading for. Still nothing. And then I thought about it a little and did something a little different. I compromised. I emailed the client and said that I'd take a smaller second payment in full settlement, bringing payments to the level of their original baseline budget. They emailed, apologised and explained that, even though they'd said they were happy with my script edits, they had (unreasonably in their own opinion) expected more. A payment swiftly followed.

7. It's your business, so run it your own way.
Every client is different so treat them as individuals. My favourite quote of the moment is one attributed to Gandhi: Action expresses priorities. (Not motives though - see earlier in this post.) I also like to adapt that into: Actions reveal priorities. In business or on the creative page, do what's useful to you.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Grapes of Roth

A chicken in every pot and a trash can for every home.

I watched a two-part interview with American author Philip Roth recently - interviewed by Alan Yentob with additional contributions from Salman Rushdie and Edna O'Brien. The dialogues were intercut with archive film footage that captured turbulent times in the American psyche.

I will confess here that I've never read any Roth, nor Updike, although I'm on nodding terms with other US authors such as Joseph Heller and JD Sallinger. Somehow, Roth always seemed too grand and imposing an author for me (his prose, I mean) - such a big deal. All nonsense  of course, but every reader makes a choice of the flimsiest of pretexts.

In that light, it sounds trite to condense a two-hour retrospective with one of the most celebrated of American writers, but nevertheless some reflections and insights struck home for me. 

- According to Alan Yentob, Roth has written over 30 novels, which gives him a broad perspective as a writer. Doubtless, not every one of his novels was lauded.
- Roth said he had doubts about his ability to write again, in between his books. What tok him through that fog was an idea that ignited him.
- He wasn't afraid to let his imagination take him into dark places, which some people might find objectionable.
- He gives 'what if' free rein, rewriting personal and world history on the page.
- He writes powerful opening lines that conjure up a voice or perspective, while intriguing the reader.

Those points made me think about how writers use their own experiences, thoughts and unresolved to create good fiction. The emotions are authentic because they're drawn from truth (or, at least, what we have believed to be true at the time).

There is heroism in that approach, but also, I suspect, collateral damage. It made me wonder what I'd write, that moment, if I were willing to be as vulnerable, as raw, and as secure in the validity of my own words.

It could go something like these opening lines:

She gave me the black eye by mistake, so she said; I never told anyone the truth.

The day I nearly got arrested was the same day I got my head kicked in by football supporters.

I was so angry with my parents for not being around when we really needed them - I only forgave them because they were dead.

Perhaps most of all, that two-part retrospective and interview gave me an insight into a man who has committed to baring his soul and his ideas on the page. What you see is what you get. Whether you think of his writing and his views, that's worthy of respect. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

July 4th

Every item tells a story.
That's right folks, it's an on-the-hoofer...

Well, of course I wasn't going to let US Independence Day pass without a blog post. 

After all, as someone once said, parodying a comment allegedly made about Billy Connolly and the shipyards, I spent one year living there and 25 years talking about it. (To which, I replied, "Don't forget about the short fiction and the novel.")

July 4th is one of those occasions steeped in myth and history that has come to mean something fixed, even though some of the reasons behind the decisions, battles and, ultimately, the birth of an independent nation can still be open to debate. If you're open to a good conspiracy, I recommend The Temple and the Lodge. On the other hand, whether you're British or an American and if you're capable of reflective humo(u)r, you might enjoy this glorious piece on revocation, which airs periodically and has been wrongly attributed to John Cleese over the years. You see, mythology again.

Our ability to attribute fixed meanings to events, or even to non-events, is probably connected to our seemingly primal need to tell stories. As Mark Twain may have said: "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, unless you can't think of anything better."

Recently, Thorn Sully and I were chewing the fat over skype about A Word with You Press's inaugural anthology - Coffee Shop Chronicles, Vol 1, Oh the Places I Have Bean. It's a conversation we've had a few times since the book was released into the wild. Should we create a second book? Ought we to focus on an ebook rather than a more expensive paperback, and could we maybe reduce the size of it to slim down the unit price. We chat about the weather too, sometimes.

Anyhow, I happened to mention that it may be time to promote the book a little more deliberately by cranking up Twitter, Facebook and all the other toys. Out of interest and intrigue, I checked the book out on Amazon and discovered that we had zero reviews. That's not a terrible thing; we had sold in low figures after all, opting for a more organic (some might even say lesiurely) approach to marketing. But none

If I explain that there were 100 entries in the anthology, it might go some way to explaining my disbelief. And, since you ask, as I was on the editorial team (as well as being a contributor), it didn't seem right to me to wave the flag personally. We've since emailed all those involved with the book, to ask for their participation, and at least a couple of reviews have appeared.

There is a valuable lesson here, and it's in no way a criticism of those non-reviewers. People are busy; people form and lose connections with equal speed and so we, as writers, need to work hard to maintain a relationship with our readers and contributors. Creating a book is not enough in itself to keep a reader engaged. 

Maybe they didn't like it. Maybe they didn't even know it was out there. Maybe they're wondering why we haven't been in touch since the book launch (we actually have a website and online community at, but we have had some changes recently). 

Who knows?

What we do know is that it's up to us to make the relationship work with the reader. 

It's important to separate facts from conjecture and to not get lost in our own stories about what we consider to be the truth. So, stories on the page but not off it!

Speaking of the USA, in case you're wondering what's been happening with my transatlantic comedy drama, Scars and Stripes, here's the latest news:
1. Useful feedback from my latest beta reader - thank you, Helen.
2. A potentially shark-jumping attempt on Twitter to get a book-related celebrity to read my manuscript, with a £50 charity donation if he isn't entertained.
3. An email exchange with a 'chick-lit' site to find out if they know of any 'lad-lit' sites.
4. Conversion of Scars and Stripes to a epub and mobi formats for easier beta reading.
5. The search for a suitable agent or publisher continues.

Happy Independence Day, people, wherever you are!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

In search of a perfect formula or Cu2CO3(OH)2

Not quite Cu2CO3(OH)2, but wondrous, nonetheless.
We are drowning in a sea of information, except that we're not necessarily becoming any more informed. More opinionated, possibly, but that's not quite the same thing.

Wanna be a writer?

Sure you do, and now it's easy. You don't need to live, to challenge yourself, overcome difficulties and express your inner truth; no, you just need to follow the steps, connect the dots and, most importantly of all, trust in the formula. 

Because there's always a system, right? 


Alongside opposable thumbs, superior intellect (superior emotional intelligence pending...) and an ability to make and use tools, surely one of our greatest gifts is the ability to make and recognise patterns. We are adept at observing and recording, and then making deductions to allow us to make sense of whatever we're presented with.

When it comes to writing, which - frankly - can be a difficult thing to do - the notion of a surefire pattern or formula can seem oh so tempting. Here's the thing though: most of those patterns have worked for one or two individuals. When they say 'it did it for me' they're not kidding. But they're not you.

I'll wager few of us have deliberately tried to live a life like Ted Hughes, or Jack London, or J K Rowling, but somehow all the elements of their lives - skills, experiences and opportunities - coalesced together wonderfully and the results are literary legend. 

And yet...

There are courses aplenty that not only show you techniques to free up your own creativity, they also give you the formula. Ah, that tingly formula - making us wonder why we ever tried to take the long way around. Forget "Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, lizard's leg and howlet's wing," the formula for writing is, ironically, a lot less formulaic.

- You need a proper education, or an intuitive grasp of language.
- You need to apply the standard rules of grammar, or to apply your own (James Joyce and Eimear McBride).
- You need to have contacts, or you need to be lucky.
- You need a social media presence, or no one ever sold novels through social media.
- You need a strategy, or you need to learn as you go.
- You need an agent / publisher, or you need to go it alone.

Chamomile tea is available at the end of this post.

I'm not saying that there aren't many useful things to be learned from courses. For examples, a novel writing summer school I attended at University College Falmouth (and if you want to know why it's written in that order, look at the initials - I was genuinely told that) radically changed how I write and gave me new insights about plotting, POV and characterisation.

What I am saying is that you need to find the formula for you. The fact that there are no guarantees and no absolutes is not a tragedy. Sure, it can feel that way when you think you've tried everything and nothing has worked. But that just isn't so. No formula, no fate and no destiny is not a tragedy, it's a liberation.

(And yes, you might say that thinking that way is fated anyway, but how would we ever know that one way or the other. Unless we're fated to, I mean.)

Science relies on formulae, which, by definition, produce the same results when the same elements - in the same combination - are combined in an identical set of circumstances. And that's the point. No two people, no two book and no two sets of circumstances are identical.

Writing, like life, involves risks, chances, connections, timing, opportunities, inspiration, influences, money, talent, perseverance and not a little luck. Who knows? Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.

Whatever your system (cosmic ordering, how to write a perfect novel pts 1 to 24, the 'you can sell a ton of books like I did' course, or my parents own a publishing house and distribution network, etc.) please don't let any of it distract you from the only system that does work.
- Select from any of 26 letters.
- Add appropriate punctuation (and only you know what's appropriate for you).
- Write with passion, style, talent and authenticity, or none of those things.
- Get to The End.
- Edit.
- Now you have yourself a book.
- Figure out what to do next.

And why Cu2CO3(OH)2 in the title? Well, if you haven't looked it up yet - and I seriously doubt that - it's the chemical formula for Malachite. When I was first introduced to geology as a child, and later, when I used to make jewellery from semi-precious stones, I thought Malachite was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. Still do, actually.

The picture above holds its own story. Anything super green tends to catch my eye - broccoli, the Faery tradition, emeralds, algae covered rocks - all those and more. So when we were walking on the beach and I saw them, how could I resist? No matter that the rocks were unstable and only an idiot doesn't have two hands out to steady themselves, right? That picture is the last one the camera ever took. Shortly afterwards it - and my elbow - had a close encounter with a couple of boulders. Memory cards are surprisingly robust these days, don't you think? It must be something to do with the manufacturer's formula...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Seven Useful Tools

Sometimes it seems as though the writing life is just so damned complicated. You can't help wondering how the likes of Hemingway or Jack London managed with just a writing pad, a typewriter, and a bottle of liquor for company. But manage they did; they and countless others who did not have the blessings - and the tribulations - of technology to get them to The End.

Are you overwhelmed by choices and possibility?

Do you ever feel that sometimes this writer's life is missing something? I think I can help. I know just what's missing.

It's you.

Unless your writing has your undivided attention, mentally and emotionally, you're doing it - and your readers - a dis-service.

Fret ye not. Here are seven everyday tools to help you free up the writer within.

1. An Alarm clock. (What? You were expecting a high value development system?) This state-of-the-art time measuring tool will enable you to get up earlier, keep track of your time - in real time, and give you a reminder when your writing time starts and ends.

2. Spreadsheets. Yes, I know, it doesn't sound very creative but bear with me. Spreadsheets can help you track your submissions (so you're not waiting a year like I did...), keep running totals of chapter and story word counts, and - when the money starts rolling in - use formulae to work out profit, loss, tax and expenses. All you have to do is set the spreadsheet up properly (see Youtube!) and remember to input the data.

3. The trusty notepad and pen. Sure, it seems obvious. But how many times have you had a brilliant idea and by the time you commit it to paper your precious treasure has become a tarnished knick-knack? That notepad should go everywhere with you except in the shower. You can use a permanent marker for that and clean it off somehow later.

4. An answering machine. If you're writing, bar a genuine crisis (that's bigger than your protagonist's crisis), you are not available. You can leave a message to that effect if it makes you feel any better. Think of it as a time stealer training device. The more seriously you take your writing, the more seriously other people will too.

5. The remote control. I like Judge Judy as much as the next writer, and some fly-on-the-wall documentaries are truly compelling, but what about the dramas in your own head waiting for an audience? Turn off, or turn off and record, and prioritise your activities in line with your intentions.

6. A writing system that cannot go online. This could be an A4 writing pad; or an old laptop; or an old laptop, a router and some self control. You can make a note of anything you need to research and tackle it later to avoid interrupting the flow.

7. An open window. This will provide you with fresh air, cunning designed by Nature to help keep you awake. It will also provide background noise, and occasionally speech, to ground you in reality (now and again) and help to inspire you.

Just to show I take my own advice, I am switching off the TV for July. I will record anything I feel is worth waiting a month for, and any actual downtime can be used to watch the 30 hours of recorded material (mostly films) that I've never found time for in the last two years. I'll let you know how I get on!