Monday, 28 September 2015

Writer as Gardener

Autumn is a time of harvest. As a former 'green living' columnist* the environment and the page are inextricably linked for me. Whether it's planning for the season to come, falling in with the rhythms of the year, or taking careful note of what's developing, the metaphor of garden as creativity was - and is - ever present.

Sometimes the words fail to germinate and lie waiting in a notebook. And then, by some unseen signal, physiological dormancy ends (thank you, Carol Klein!) and the ideas burst into life.

Occasionally you forget what type of seed / idea it was and you find yourself tending and nurturing a mystery. We always have a guest or two in the garden. This year it was corncockles and knapweed; last year it was an oriental poppy that miraculously appeared. 

Like plants, some ideas take a long time to become anything recognisable. Words can be medicinal, fragrant, colourful, toxic, and even nutritional. They can provide cover, or privacy, and are laced with hidden meanings and history. Sometimes they are just pretty to look at.

While the veg garden largely capitulated to the slug hordes (although the garlic was a notable success), it's been a better harvest as a writer. 

I started the year with my green living column coming to an end after two and a half years, and my debut thriller, Standpoint, a dormant seed. All it needed was favourable conditions. Joffe Books provided the right environment for Standpoint and for Line of Sight, and we're now working through the final stages of the third novel, Cause & Effect. I've also started a new column about writing.

The thing about gardening is that you never really know what's going to work. You can no more predict the coming weather for the year than you can which plants will thrive. It's a constant process of response and adjustment. I think that's part of the attraction. All that matters is you keep going and you focus on whatever seems to be thriving, and don't get too caught up in the failures and setbacks. As in the garden, so on the page.

* 18,000 words of second rights' material available!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Read anything!

A while back I was reading about crowd-sourcing and the flak that the actor and writer Zach Braff received when he opted to use a crowd-sourcing site to get funding for a movie. 

In a filmed reply he said that he had supported other creative projects as a funder, and that the main players in the industry were still reluctant to back one of his projects financially. Therefore, it made sense to try the same avenue. 

Critics said he was sucking out funding from other projects because of his fame. His response was that, if you don't enjoy the things he does, don't fund them. However, he added, check out all the other great projects that need backing - and if you see one you like the look of, back that one instead.

Books, like the movies, are awesomely diverse. If my thrillers are not your bag (even after you've bought one and started reading), don't let that put you off thrillers, or Brit thrillers, or reading in general. 

Reading is more than just words. It's about empowerment, connection, finding a voice that speaks to you and, perhaps, developing a creative voice of your own. 

Here's a groovy graphic from that paints an eye-opening picture. 
Literacy Day

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Last minute nerves

Plot holes or windows of opportunity?
I'm writing this when I ought to be editing, tweaking and freaking out. I needed a break (especially from that last one). 

The third book in the Thomas Bladen series, Cause & Effect, is fully plotted, largely written and ready for some sanding and sculpting. I have chocolate on standby (for health reasons, naturally) and a writer friend ready to do some sanity checking over the weekend.

I'm aware that I'm bloody fortunate to have the 'problem' of getting a third thriller ready this year. But there are challenges.

A squint at my reviews on Amazon will tell you the books are either fab or fooey, and that one reader's meat is another's tofu. I have my own agenda of course, envisaged over five novels (although I'm already wondering about other plot ideas beyond that). 

For loyal readers, you may find this book a little different to its predecessors.

Points of interest:
1. It's shorter than Standpoint and Line of Sight, and hopefully more pulpy
2. A plot element from book one is resolved.
3. A character returns from book one and there's a cameo from someone in book two.
4. There's a new key character and another slice of Karl's backstory.
5. Swearing is still very much on the menu.

What has definitely changed are my expectations as an author. Yes, I want Cause and Effect to do well and for virtual cash registers to ring throughout the land. But...I'm much more aware of the bigger picture, of developing as a writer so that I can tackle the other stories taking up space in my head. I'm now clear about the outlines for Bladen books four and five, and I know I have to make decisions about Thomas's future. Or maybe he does and I have to try not to get in the way.

Mostly, frankly, it's one long rush. A ride every writer hopes for that validates persistence without blinding me to the importance that luck and timing have played. Mostly, I'm just glad I kept on writing.  

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Cold Heart

One from the vaults...

The Cold Heart by Derek Thompson

I can see by the way you’re working that you’re preoccupied. You have a kind of sombre intensity radiating from behind your glasses. I offer you a nervous smile, but you look straight through me. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally; it’s my first time here at the Path Lab, a new intern.

I move behind you silently, peering over your shoulder; watching as you delicately peel back the layers of flesh. And as I listen to the methodical, monotone delivery of your investigations, my mind starts to drift. You’re not wearing a ring - divorced maybe? Nah, you look too clean-cut for the rigours of marriage, bereft of that lived-in look. I’ll bet you’re the sturdy, independent type.

“Subject was between twenty and thirty years of age.”

You don’t pass comment on the body before you; you just stick to the facts. But there is a kindness in your voice, a softer side that I hadn’t expected. When I arrived early this morning, they’d said you were abrupt, more used to lecturing than teaching. I’m pleased to say that they were wrong.

Your hands have the gentle artistry of a surgeon. A pity then that you work on the dead rather than the living. Maybe you prefer it that way, no complications or risk of emotional attachment. Two hours straight without a break - such dedication. I wonder what drives you, what allows you to do this kind of work, day in day out? It’s different for me of course, first time here and all; but you look as though you were born to this strange vocation. There’s no let up, not a hint that you’re anything other than quietly enthralled with your work. And I wonder to myself, could you love a warm human being the same way?

You’ve switched the microphone off now and called for the orderlies. The job is almost done. I shuffle to the side and wait nervously. Stripped of your white coat I get other glimpses of you. Your jeans bear the scent of the park in autumn, your musty jacket of too many Sunday mornings in cheap cafes. The ID card doesn’t do you justice - I guess you’ve heard that many times before.

I stand there beside you as you write up the last few notes. Even now, you make a point of pausing to watch as the orderlies put the cadaver back in the cold store. There’s so much care, though your demeanour betrays nothing. I try to catch your eye again, wonder how to make the first move and I’m lost in that mane of brown hair, aching to ruffle through it like the wind. Picturing us on warm weekends, camping under the stars, that same, calm voice promising me forever.

It’s a moment before I realise that you’re walking away; I feel like an idiot. It’s all finished now, the session is over and not a single word has passed between us. I’m glad to have met you Dr Richardson, whoever you are. It’s just a shame I had die for the privilege.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Miracles of Kindness

There's a lot of information on the internet for writers. You can learn all about techniques and templates, how to craft your work, sales, marketing and how social media is your new best friend. (I think that's the freezer actually, but only because I recently freelanced a piece on the subject.)

There's some - though notably less - information out there about how being a writer impacts on the rest of your life (and the lives of those closest to you), and even a little about how your writing can help others. 

What struck me recently though was how often writers are the recipients of kindness from other writers. Even when they're embroiled and immersed and often submerged in their own work writers will give you an honest opinion. They'll also add a review or offer a blog interview or tell their friends about your book, or make a you a cake with your cover on it. (I'm told that happens...) If you write you are a part of a culturally rich and diverse community.

At A Word with You Press, time and again I have seen connections form over a love of words and stories, and the transformative and liberating power of language. More than that, I see kindness in action. A friendly word to a fledgling writer sharing their work for the very first time, or a question answered, or an insight offered. Each time seeking only to lighten someone else's literary load. (Yes, I do love alliteration.)

It's a cliche that writers are competitive, frustration-filled adversaries, fuming at one another's successes. I have to tell you though that it's not my experience. Writers understand one another's struggles to make sense of the stories in their heads and the all-consuming desire to spend chunks of their otherwise perfectly happy lives in isolation, staring at the screen or the page. 

Yes, we obsess about feedback, reviews and 'the numbers'. However, I have a theory about all that. I think, rather than yearning for fame and fortune, we are really looking for some indication that it's getting easier. A sign - from royalty sheets or online reviews or attendance at book signings - that we are making progress along the path we have chosen. We want to know it's getting easier because we also know, come what may, we will never stop writing. 

If you're in need of a reminder that the glass is half-full, there's a collection of uplifting true stories available, which includes my anecdote Street Angel.

Miracles of Kindness
True Tales of Kindness in the Modern World

Miracles of Kindness is also available in a multimedia format on iTunes.

Miracles of Kindness is a collection of stories, submitted by participants from all over the world and rewritten for dramatic consistency, that tell of simple acts of kindness that have had a profound effect on people’s lives. The stories are told from the perspective of the recipient of the act, so that the impact of the miracle of the event, spelled with a small “m”, can be truly felt. There are also three “Profiles in Kindness” stories which tell of visionaries who helped thousands of people by simple but determined acts. The stories in Miracles of Kindness range greatly in subject matter, from simple acts like a well-timed hug or the return of a lost wallet to getting a wounded grandmother to a hospital or helping to find sobriety for a lost soul. Each story will inspire as you are reunited with humanity’s good side.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Hats off to writers

Nature's hatstand
I love a good back story. Now we've decided to shorten the third thriller in the Bladen series (giving it more of a pulp novel feel in my opinion) I've busy doing some pruning. It's entirely possible that some scenes, flashbacks and dialogue will live again in another form, but they'll more likely just inform the writing for me.

One of my battle cries is "Context matters." If you're a fan of The Monkees, you'll know and love 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' but try the Carole King version (she write it with Gerry Goffin) and you get a completely different take on it. Or maybe you're a fan of Dylan's Tambourine Man but you don't really know Melanie's version, where the lyrics turn from rebellious to soulfully melancholic.  

One song can be interpreted so many different ways. One scene, even one line of dialogue, can be rendered as comedy, tragedy, or high drama. Writing, like other art forms, can be nuanced and subtle. That's the case for artists too.

Writers can allow themselves to become pigeonholed. I've mentioned before (somewhere in this blog, I think) about the time someone read my magical fantasy, Covenant, and remarked that it was like a clown trying to write Shakespeare. The comment's kinder than it sounds, honest. I was a bit of a jokesmith at the time. Writers can buy into the belief that they may only wear one hat but it's just that - a belief.

Recently, I had a visit. Well, a remembrance really. Just a name - Stephen Heick - that popped into my head. He was a character from a book I wrote (and burned) in my teens. It was a brief visit and, in my imagination, he acknowledged me with a touch of his fedora, and walked on through the scene. I haven't thought about him in a long time, although one of the characters from his book did join the cast of Standpoint. 

As the third Bladen novel draws to a close so my eager publisher can turn it into a book, I've had time to reflect on what an extraordinary journey it has been since the contract was signed in January 2015. Three novels available in a year has far exceeded my expectations. It's also happened at such a pace that my writing cupboard (we all have them, trust me) is getting bare. For fans of the Bladen series, Book 4 is being sketched out by the sleeping part of the my brain.

But those other hats...
1. My standalone transatlantic comedy drama, Scars & Stripes, is still in need of representation. That's high on my priority list.
2. I still keep my hand in with gag and sketch writing, which results in a nice little cheque from time to time.
3. There is talk of another edition of As Above So Below magazine. Possibly.
4. I have a new standalone novel in mind, involving time-travel (though not what you're thinking) and second chances.
5. A novella about a man whose dead brother rings him up for a chat from time to time.

Thriller writer, jokesmith, clown trying to write Shakespeare, fantasy author, magazine co-creator, comedy novelist. Guilty as charged, m'lud, with another seven offences I'd like taken into consideration. 

I'm a veritable hatstand - and so is every other writer.

Friday, 24 July 2015

What can you say apart from please buy my book? Pt 2

Sometimes you need to branch out.

For a novelist, being published presents a whole new set of challenges. You suddenly have to do other sorts of writing, including writing about writing. There are online blurbs, interviews (I'll mention in passing that I'm still available...), and the subtle - or not so subtle - art of promoting your novel.

The first hurdle is deciding what to say after 'please buy my book'. On your marks...get set...write!

Let's start with a little deconstructing.

What makes your novel distinctive?

1 - Genre.

2 - Characters.

3 - Themes.

4 - Plot.

5 - Setting.

6 - The way you use language and / or the use of slang.

That's six topics right away without breaking a sweat and here are four examples.

The next place to cast your net is in the direction of your own writing practice. 

This may include:

7 - Where your ideas came from.

8 - First drafts.

9 - Editing.

10 - Submissions.

11 - Rejections.

12 - Tips you've picked up along the way.

Here's one of mine:

That's another six topics to stick in your quiver!

Further afield? 

Why certainly!

13 - Your journey as an author.

14 - Things people might not know about you.

15 - Your other novels (because you can never have too many).

16 - Other forms of writing (short fiction, non-fiction, copywriting, etc.).

17 - Feedback - the good, the bad and the ouch.

18 - Writers / artists / musicians / films that inspire you, and why. (Four for the price of one.)

Some of the above:

Those 18 topics ought to keep you busy for a while. Try and find as many different places to host the posts and remember to include a little information about yourself and your book/s. 

Speaking of which...


Line of Sight

Why not leave a comment to let people know how you blog about your book? (And where!)

Monday, 20 July 2015

What can you say apart from please buy my book? Pt 1

Time and tide...get your feet wet.
We're told that everyone has a book inside them* although many would-be writers are unable to commit themselves to the page. Who can blame them? It's hard work and when you finally reach 'the end' another adventure beckons. Then, when you've finally reached the final 'the end', it's the joy of submission. And then, finally, finally, your book is out there. (Please note: the whole process can take years, or lifetimes.)

Then rainbows follow you and royalty receipts are strewn at your feet by welcoming angels.

Well, not exactly. Now you have to switch off the artist side of your brain and think about marketing. Whether you're self-published or traditionally published, you will need to play your part. Most writers I've spoken to on the subject are not natural marketeers. 

When it comes to promotional activity, they go through the author's give stages of promotional grief. If you'd care to follow me...

DENIAL - I don't have to promote my book. That's what agents, publishers, angels and my social media contacts are for. I just write the books. It can still sell if I don't promote it.

ANGER - Why isn't my bloody book selling? It's not fair. I bet JK didn't have to deal with this.

BARGAINING - If I just do a little, surely that will be enough? If I ask all my friends, and everyone in my writing group, and anyone I've ever met online, won't that do? 

DEPRESSION - This book is never going to sell. I can't do it. It's too hard. (And even the classic: I'm not a good enough writer and people will see that.)

ACCEPTANCE - This is the book I've written. I want to reach readers. My literary child may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the most erudite but goddarn it I'm gonna love it all the same. I wrote it and now it's depending on me. Where's my pen?

The solution is writing about your book without simply creating a page with a sales URL. Do make sure you include one of those with every promotional post though. Art for art's sake; money for food.

On Friday I'll give you some suggestions. See you then.

* Not like Manny in Black Books.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Not a poet and I know it

I recently attended a couple of events at this year's Penzance Literary Festival. The first was a writing and mythology workshop, facilitated by poet and prose writer Angela Stoner. I mucked in as a steward for one event the following day and that turned out to be Angela's as well. I hope to interview her soon either on this blog or the sister blog

Like many writers I found expression through poetry in my teens, although no one dug my doggerel at the time. Maybe I was channelling my inner William McGonagall

The session Angela gave on myth took me in an unusual direction when I got home. I started to think about those elements of my storywriting that come from other people, often without their knowledge. Those precious slivers of overheard conversations that I skewered on my notebook pages, the borrowed memories, and the brutal cannibalisation of other people's experiences.

Graham Greene is said to have said: "There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer." Some say it's jagged glass, but I prefer the idea of ice as it suggests the possibiity of a thaw.

Anyway, taking all of the above as inspiration, here's a poem.

I Confess - More or Less

I stole your pet's name
And I took your cousin's too.
I ripped your life into ribboned strips
And sewed them up anew.

I altered crucial details
To hide my heinous crimes.
I changed the date you met your fate
I lied about those times.

I painted myself in the picture
When I wasn't even there.
I made a heroine out of you
And pretended that she cared.

I moved you to a country
Where I know you've never been.
I gave our lines to others
And reordered all the scenes.

I wrote you out of context
With a wild and wicked pen.
I plunged an ice shard in my heart
To serve the story's ends.

I'll never share the secrets
Of a thousand personal worlds.
But I'll scatter fragments liberally
To turn them into pearls.