Thursday, 31 December 2009

As the minutes tick away...

I always get a bit gooey at this time on New Year's Eve. After tonight I'll never write 2009 on a letterhead again. This year will be consigned to history, along with all the rest of the so-called Noughties. And on this night I traditionally take stock; look back over the months, wonder what I achieved. Some years I've been glad to see the back of, but not this one. It's been a year of change but mostly for the good. My son finished Uni - after the previous worrisome years that was like achieving the peak of Everest. I revamped the WIP and got to grips with a new one - it's been a busy year on the writing front but I've learned a huge amount. I passed the 25 year mark on co-habiting with my better half (the official Silver Anniversary to follow in April). We even managed to ditch a bit of the mortgage - cause for much celebration.
On the downside, my old cat Sooty finally gave up the ghost at the grand age of 19. But he had a good innings and nobody lasts forever.

So when the bells ring at midnight I'll be thinking about 2010 and what it has in store. Who knows what we'll be looking back on this time next year, but whatever it is I hope you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous year - with lots of things to write about.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

How was it for you?

Well, that's it for another year. Did Santa bring you something nice? Or was it the usual cheap aftershave and socks?
I'm quietly chuffed because I got the new iMac I've been promising myself for years. And so far I'm very impressed - nice solid piece of kit with lots of bells and whistles. I hadn't expected the whole itunes thing,especially the radio channels of which there are hundreds with all sorts of music which saves me the wasted half hour trying to decide which cd to put on when I write. Very nice. The only game is chess, which I haven't played in years and never was much good at anyway. But it's no bad thing to have fewer distractions.
And I'm finally getting to use Scrivener. So far I haven't done much on it but it's early days. Last night I figured out how to import some images of my characters. I"ll keep you posted about my progress.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Are you a Santa or a Scrooge?

In eight more days it'll be ...sorry, I said I wouldn't utter the C word, but there's no avoiding it...Christmas. So what does Christmas mean to you? Does it fill your heart with Joy, or your stomach with bile?

Why not take Sandra's quick festive quiz to find out if you're a Santa or a Scrooge:

1) When it comes to decorations, do you:
a. hire a lorry to bring home the biggest tree in the shop and cover your house in so many lights it can be seen from Mars and DC10s keep landing on the lawn.
b. go for a tasteful wreath on the front door and a modest tree in the window
c. grudgingly resurrect the carcass of last year's tree from the bottom of a skip

2) Does the sound of Christmas songs playing on Tesco's public address system:
a. get you choked up or joining in.
b. bring a smile to your face.
c. put you off your poptarts.

3) Do you get your Christmas cards:
a. from charity shops.
b. from a large retailer.
c. by keeping the ones you received last year and changing the name with correction fluid.

4) Do you think of Christmas as:
a. a blessed time of hope and goodwill.
b. a good excuse for a party.
c. a waste of money.

5) When choosing a present for a nephew you will:
a. spend hours roaming the shops for just the right one.
b. give him cash - he knows best what he likes.
c. wrap up that lousy pullover someone gave you three years ago.

6) When carol singers come to your door you will:
a. invite them in for sherry and mince pies.
b. shake their hands and put a fiver in their collection tin.
c. sneak out the back door and go to the pub.

7) Christmas telly is:
a. an extravaganza of entertainment.
b. not bad, but you're too busy with the family to watch much.
c. another reason to go to the pub.

8) When invited to spend the day with family you:
a. are overjoyed and insist everyone come to you.
b. steel yourself but enjoy it on the whole.
c. pretend your cooker has exploded and wangle a free meal from someone else.

Mostly A - Congratulations. You are more Santa than Santa, and should have a wonderful time whatever disaster might be lurking. Nothing puts a dent in your Christmas spirit.
Mostly B - You probably have the most balanced attitude. Again you'll enjoy yourself but you wouldn't miss it if it stopped.
Mostly C - Well, if ever someone needed a visit from three ghosts it's you, you miserable git. You'll have a lousy Christmas - it's the only thing you enjoy.

Well, I may not be blogging much over the holidays so let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

What's happening to all my gadgets?

The planets must be in a peculiar alignment or something. Did Nostradamus predict this? Everything technological seems to be crashing out on me this month.
The laptop is only just back from the shop where it had to get its ego stroked for the second time this year. Even so it still goes into a massive sulk whenever it has to download an update - which seems to happen far more often than strictly necessary if you ask me.
The dvd player gave us a turn the other night, unilaterally deciding to self-check while recording an episode of my favourite sitcom. OK it hasn't repeated this bizarre behaviour but I get the feeling it's biding its time.
Then last night the sky box finally gave up the ghost. To be honest I'm not too bothered, we'd been debating whether to say F***Off to the Murdoch empire for a long time but never got around to doing it. Now this has forced our hand and we'll get a freeview box instead.
But I'm anxiously wondering what's next on the techno meltdown.

Still, on the plus side my spanking new Mac is sitting under the Christmas tree waiting for me to excitedly switch on come the Big Day. Hopefully it won't give me any problems...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

To Mac or Not To Mac, that is the question...

My software lust is biting deep this year.
Many moons ago I discovered a writers' programme called Scrivener. I remember that day well. Here at last was the answer to all my writing needs. I got all hot and heavy and whipped out my credit card so fast I got friction burns only to discover it's for Macs only.

Drat. It took days, weeks even, for the sting of disappointment to fade.
Since then I've seen it lauded time and time again on various writers' boards. But to date it's still Mac only so if I really wanted it there would be only one way...
Yes, the Unspeakable Switch.

I've worked on PCs forever. Well, that's not strictly true, they haven't existed forever. Our first computer was a BBC - remember them? - not quite steam driven but about as hi-tech as your granny's knickers. Since then it's been Microsoft all the way. It's been an interesting journey - not always fun. Whatever the Hell they were thinking when they dreamt up Vista is anyone's guess. But I've stuck loyally with it, never seriously considering the alternative until now.

So now I am considering it. It's scary. Everything about the Mac looks different. Is it better? Well it costs a lot more, so it should be.

I'd welcome any thoughts, people. This is a huge step for me.

Oh, and on a happier note. The procrastinators among you (who isn't?) might be interested to know that the lovely Nathan Bransford now has his own writing forum attached to his blog. Find it here.

Toodle-oo the noo!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Crits - good or bad?

There's been a fair bit of talk lately about critiques and how to deal with them. It's a double edged sword and no mistake. You want people to read your work or you wouldn't be doing it, but you also want them to like it - or better still LOVE it - and anything less is a disappointment. When you get your first critical response the temptation is to throttle the bastard and curse them and all like them. If you've any sense you'll resist this urge and you'll find the sting wears off in a few days (or months, depending on how bad the crit and how sensitive a soul you are). Around that time some of the distasteful criticisms may start to make sense. Actually, you may think, that camel isn't necessary to the plot and perhaps six pages is a little long for the hero's closing speech.

We do need crits but sometimes they will hurt. It's human nature. If you care about your work, and of course you do, you won't appreciate some smart ass pointing out its flaws. That's what really hurts, of course. Someone spotted it before you did.

But if you stick with it you'll get better at spotting the flaws, which is the whole point of the exercise. That's why I believe critiquing other people's work is even more use to you than getting crits. It teaches you to look critically at a piece of writing, and before long you'll be doing the same with your own work.

In the end you have to be your own best critic. The better you get at this writing lark, the harder it is to find useful honest criticism unless it comes from a professional. But before they'll bother with you, you have to make that first step yourself.

Anyway, here's a link to a blog post by the lovely Nathan Bransford on this very subject. And being a pro he says it so much better than me.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

An Obituary

So Farewell then,
Borders UK.
I used to enjoy
Your headphones and
Your Starbucks.
But Must Admit
You pissed me off
When you denied shoppers access
To your toilets.
Will we ever see your like again?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Please forgive...

...some unashamed motherly pride.

Today I saw my first born graduate with a BA(Hons)in Multimedia Design and Digital Animation. Sitting in Carlisle Cathedral for the ceremony, watching the graduates process past in their robes, listening to the fine words of the Dean and University Chancellor, my mind was on the long journey it has taken for him to reach this point. It's not been an easy journey. Like the attainment of everything worth having, it's been a long struggle. But today all that was forgotten, because it was all worth it.

Congratulations, Mike!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Write It Now

As this is Nano month, the title of this post seems particularly appropriate. I'm not doing it this year, but on all my writers' haunts I can see the symptoms of Nano fever:
1 Panicked questions about plot problems.
2 Panicked anxiety about word count.
3 Panicked anxiety about family/work commitments being neglected.
4 Desperate cries for encouragement.

Well, I'm happy to oblige folks. Been there, done that more than once and I can relate totally to what you're going through. After the event it pales to a rosy memory, rather like a horrendous twenty-four hour labour is quickly forgotten once the healthy baby is delivered. But at the time it's terrifying, thrilling, heart-stopping, even agonising as you struggle to push this screaming infant out into the world. Let me say what many a midwife has whispered in the ear of her charge at these difficult times: It's All Worth It. No pain, no gain. Keep going. Neglect those children, ignore your boss, just keep writing whatever happens. Soon it will be over and you'll have a wonderful story to tell well-wishers at your book signing.

But I digress. The title of this item relates to another piece of software I've purchased. One thing the last six months of rewrites has made me appreciate is the need for razor sharp organisation, so to that end I have invested in Write It Now a novel writing programme. I've been using it this week to revamp my latest WIP (the one I got about half way through before events overtook me in the Spring). So far, so good. It's fairly simple to navigate and lets me flit around which is good at this early stage when ideas keep popping into my head and demand to be written down at once. I'll keep you posted about my progress.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Eek! It appears I've won an award! And I haven't even got an acceptance speech written or anything. Oh well, I'll just have to gabble incoherently instead.

So, thank you to Sophie Playle for awarding me this badge.

Now to fulfil my badge-holder responsibilities:

Terms of acceptance include forwarding the same award to 7 other more deserving bloggers, who must follow the instructions below:

1. Copy and paste the pretty picture which you see at the top of this post onto your own blog.
2. Thank the person who gave you the award and post a link to their blog.
3. Write 7 things about yourself we do not know.
4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award.
5. Link to those 7 other bloggers.
6. Notify your 7 bloggers.

Seven things about me you do not know:

1. My first full-time job was putting the walnuts on walnut whips.

2. I once met Billy Connolly in a pub.

3. I am addicted to stationery.

4. I have no interest in snooker.

5. My first teddy bear was called Bobby Happy.

6. My feet are different sizes.

7. My favourite comedian is Stewart Lee.

Here are my seven nominated blogs:

1. Wise Words by Louise Wise, aspiring novelist.

2. Tall Tales and Short Stories by Tracy - a very interesting collection of interviews and articles for aspiring authors.

3. Welshcake by Justine, observations by an aspiring author.

4. A Writer's Notes by Bill, retired editor and publisher.

5. Col Bury's New Crime Fiction by Col, self-explanatory.

6. Pitch Parlour by Miss Pitch - insider view of publishing.

7. Lexi Revellian by Lexi, insights from another aspiring author.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

More netsurfing

Well I'm at a loose end again, having completed the latest revision. Conventional wisdom is to plough on with something else in the meantime, if only to get some distance from it, and I really want to but as usual I'm surfing the net instead. It's at these times of hiatus I succumb to the lure of Writers' Software.

Downloaded a freebie this morning: Storybook is a novel writing programme which looks pretty good although I've only tinkered with it so far. The website has tutorials to help get you started, and best of all it doesn't cost a penny so nothing to lose.

Another one I'm wondering about getting is Quick Story which is a plot generating tool. I'm always attracted to the idea of a structure to work to instead of my usual rabbiting on. It does strike me as more efficient in terms of man hours, but would the spontaneity suffer, I wonder? Anyway it's about £30 for that one, so I'll mull it over a bit first.

Talking of structure, I'm also looking for inspiration in Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt. I bought this book a while back and it's very handy for dipping into when planning a new project.

Finally, an early Happy Birthday to my elder son Mike who will be 23 tomorrow.
Yes, 23. I know...imagine how it makes me feel...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

And when will you be published...?

One trap I've steadfastly avoided is to tell anyone apart from the people who daily trip over my manuscripts that I'm writing a book. The reason for this is not simply obsessive secrecy, although that comes into it. For one thing, I think it's dangerous to speak about your story before you have it written down. And if I said By the way, I'm writing a book I know the response would be Really? What's it about? And if I then tried to clam up and say nothing they'd likely take offence, so to avoid that scenario I don't let on at all. It really saves a lot of heartache in the longrun.

But someone asked on a forum lately for witty come-backs to the usual "Have you found a publisher yet?"

I've given it some thought and reckon there are two possible courses. The first is to lie outrageously:

But I am published. My pen name is JK Rowling/Dan Brown/Jackie Collins (depending on preference). NOTE: The downside to this is everyone will expect you to pay for lunch from now on since you are obviously vastly rich.

The other is to be blindingly honest. This further breaks down into

(a) honest but deluded:

The world is simply not ready for my books.

(b) honest but paranoid:

I would be published by now if it wasn't for the international conspiracy to keep good literature off the bookshelves

(c) honest but pathetic

You wouldn't happen to know any publishers, would you?

Friday, 30 October 2009

What Publishers Want

OK, I'm very busy with the book this week so I'm copping out a bit to post a link to the latest post on The Book Deal. Please note Alan's stellar credentials in publishing and his comments about the writing being key to success (not the query letter) and the need for imagination in this ever changing publishing landscape:
"Agents and editors are tearing down old conventions and experimenting with new ideas".

Sunday, 25 October 2009

More Internet Paranoia

I love the internet. Don’t laugh, I really do. For all its faults it has revolutionised communications and research. YouTube is brilliant. Where else could you listen to the theme song from Stop The Pigeon after all these misspent years and without paying a penny?

And of course there are the message boards. Now, I’ve written about these before so you’ll know I hang around a good few writers’ boards. They’re useful for picking up tips and bits of news, even getting peer review if that’s what you’re after. But this week I made a sobering discovery I want to share with you.

Unless you set up your own forum where you have editorial control of your posts, you can never be sure they will be left unedited for all eternity.

That’s it. Is it a big deal? Well, let’s just think about it. Suppose you hold a strong viewpoint on something and it differs from the administrators of the message board. Not only can they ban you from the forum, thus denying you the opportunity to delete your posts, they can also edit your posts to reflect what they believe. This isn’t an issue for those of us who hide behind clever usernames – although most people with a modicum of sense can track you down if you post links to your website or blog – but for any honest unsuspecting person who uses their own identity it’s potentially hazardous. Imagine the indignity of coming up in a Google search spouting fascist dogma you don’t even agree with! And it could happen. I’ve seen it happen this week and the implications for writers are far-reaching and troubling.

It came as a shock and made me realise that no forums are actually really free. There’s always a price to pay of some sort, and I wouldn’t like to think it was my integrity. So should we trust writers’ forums? From now on I’ll be taking a much closer look at who’s pulling the strings behind these groups before I post a thing. You can’t be too careful.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

More quotes

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."
Harlan Ellison

Boy, don't I know it. I'm now forty chapters down on the Big Revision. Some bits fly past and don't need much work, other scenes need completely rewritten. So it's hard to know how fast I'm progressing. Forty chapters sounds a lot, but there's still the hardest part to come - the End. Apart from the beginning it's the most important bit to get right.

I do have mixed feelings about revisions. In some ways it's better than the first draft because the story is down, all you need is to add colour and texture. Other times it's headbangingly frustrating; trying to find the right mood, trying to steer the characters and make the dialogue believably real while serving the plot. When it's going badly it isn't going at all. Everything stalls. When it's going well it flies and nothing is more satisfying.

"Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet."

Another one that's funny and true. I spend too much time online, or have until lately. Nowadays I'm not getting as much satisfation from the various writers' groups I have belonged to in the last two years. The tips and advice seem to be on a loop and I've heard 99% of it before, the arguments never change and just wind me up. This week I've been so busy on the book I've only checked in briefly to make sure nothing major is going on, but I'm seriously considering giving up on them for good. Facebook is better for me, and as a friend observed this week, writing is really a solitary business and the fewer distractions we have the better.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Writing Quotes I Love

I love writing quotes. Here's one that's particularly apt at the moment:

It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.
C. J. Cherryh

This is sooooo true for me, and of course for all of us, but especially for me right now because I'm embarking on my second Grand Revision of the dreaded Magnum Opus. There's a lot of stuff I thought was bloody brilliant when I penned it a few months back that on re-reading is...well, let's just say it isn't quite as good as I first thought. OK it's shit. But as the quote says, it DOESN'T MATTER because I'm going to edit it into something better. Hopefully a lot better.

Here's another:
Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public.
Winston Churchill

Boy, I can relate to this. I think I'm now at the tyrant stage.
The last revision was all wild excitement, the fevered headlong rush to get words typed up before the Muse deserted me. Not unlike a love affair (I imagine, she adds hastily).
But this time round it's taken a good girding of the loins to face this ravening beast. Now I'm well into it, I at last have some momentum, but starting was HARD. And inspiration is elusive.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Woody Allen

I particularly like this one, not just because I'm a woody fan. In fact it's all that keeps my arse in the chair some days, when I'd rather be off picking daffodils or cavorting over sand dunes. Keep going. Take a step every day and guess what - eventually you'll get somewhere.

Just as long as it isn't Wester Hailes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Micro tension

OK I said I wouldn't do it, but I have. For months I've been resisting buying Donald Maass's new book The Fire In Fiction. Not that I have anything against him, you understand. His earlier book The Career Novelist is a very good read and available as a free download if you haven't already seen it. It's just that my bookshelves are already fit to burst with writing books and these days I try to keep acquisitions to a minimum.

So I bought it. It's a small addiction, really. Just when I think I've got it cracked I weaken again.

But the good news it's very good and has already given me plenty to think about. I'm particularly interested in the chapter on maintaining tension throughout the story. Not an easy trick to pull off, but necessary to keep people reading. The secret, according to Maass, is micro-tension: "the moment by moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds."

If you want to know how he achieves that you'll have to buy the book. Sorry, didn't mean to tease, but you could do a lot worse.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is Traditional Publishing Dead?

Here's another argument I see a lot on Writers' Boards. Fairly regularly someone writes an article pointing to slumps in book sales and the success of Kindle and moans sybil-like that publishing is dead. Others say the future lies in self-publishing and twenty years from now we'll all be publishing through Lulu et al and hawking our books out of car boots or on Amazon Marketplace.

I don't pretend to know enough about the business to have any glib answers to this. Nor do I have any premonitions about what the Future of Publishing is. What I do know is I get bloody sick of all this bickering. OK, it's a contentious issue with lots of people's livelihood at stake, but what's the point in indulging in circular arguments when none of us really knows what the future holds. All we can do is wait and see.

It seems to me, as a disinterested novice in this field I hasten to add, that you need to do 2 things to succeed at publishing.

The first and most important is write a bloody brilliant book. Note: not a good enough book, but a bloody brilliant one. Knock their socks off good. Having done that you need to get it into people's hands. This is where the self-publisher is up against the odds, but it has been known to happen.

There should be no two-tier attitude to this. Publishing is publishing. We're all in it together. The Enemy, if there is one, is other media; tv, film, computer games. As authors we have to drag the punters back into the book shops to buy our books. Have them rushing to order from Amazon instead of vegitating in front of the telly letting their brains turn to mush.

It's whether we can succeed at this that will determine the future of publishing, not which press prints our books.

We all love books or we wouldn't be trying to get into this field. So maybe we should spend less time bickering about the Future of Publishing and write that bloody brilliant book!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Reading other people's work

I'm posting this article because it made me laugh and highlights the pitfalls of being a successful writer when everyone thinks they can collar you for a free crit of their manuscript.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Am I too young to write a novel?

Sometimes it seems like everyone and their auntie is writing a novel. If you hang around writers' boards as much as I do (procrastinating - er - I mean, researching) it starts to look that way. And some of them are very young - teenage young.

Ah, it takes me back to my own misspent youth. Donnie Osmond, tartan patches on my jeans, fly smokes behind the bike sheds. I don't remember ever thinking about writing a novel. Stories, yes. But my attention span was so brief back then I could barely get to the third page before chucking the whole thing in favour of watching Top of the Pops. What with all those raging hormones, swotting for exams and worrying about boys I barely put pen to paper.

And looking back I don't think it ever occurred to me that anyone would be remotely interested in my scribblings. Maybe that's just a symptom of my low self-esteem, but it's something that still hangs over me today when I write. Writing a novel is not the same as pouring out your angst into a diary or penning a short story for you and your family to read. Writing a novel is for a larger audience, and their interest in what you have to say is key.

This week I noted a post from a fairly young writer who bemoaned the attitude of some older people in this respect, quoting a college tutor who said she was too young to write a novel. The encounter had obviously knocked her confidence, but was he right?

I gave it a lot of thought, because in my gut I think he has a point but at the same time I wouldn't want to deter any young person from pursuing a writing career. It seems to me there are two aspects to writing a novel:

The first is the technical side - knowledge of grammar, description, dialogue etc. For this you can never start too young and the more you read and practice writing the better you will become.

The other is having a story to tell. This is where I think age is an issue. I do believe you need to have lived a little and experienced all kinds of emotions, but not only that; you need to have enough maturity to be able to see your experiences in perspective. This is something that comes to everyone at different times, so it's hard to generalise but usually only comes with age in all but the prodigiously talented.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Description - good or bad?

Another one of those rules you see flung around in writers' circles is about description.

"You use too much description. The story gets bogged down. Cut, cut, cut." Is the gist of it.

And I agree, on the whole. You see, I have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat with its arse on fire; I'm not the type who loves to spend days reading about the redness of her hair or the blueness of the sky. I had to wade through enough stodge to get my degree and at my age I'm too old to waste any precious minutes absorbing some pretentious writer's endless wordplay when they get to go for the Booker. GET ON WITH IT is what I'm thinking during long descriptive passages - and if they go on much longer than that I'm chucking the book at the wall and blacklisting the author for all time.

It's something all writers should be paranoid about. Exactly when is Joe Schmoe gonna chuck my book away? If it's on page three you're in trouble because they'll never forgive you, believe me. You get one chance to impress in this game so don't blow it.

But how do I set the scene? You cry.

Well, it's true. You do have to set the scene, but the trick is to tell just enough to get the reader into what's happening. Once they care about your characters you can slip in more description - it's best to drip feed it, much like the dreaded backstory. And always ask yourself, is it really necessary people know he has grey hair sprouting like gorse bushes out of his flaring nostrils? A lot of the time people like to draw their own picture from the sketch you've given them; your version of the picture is like the screen adaptation that everyone hates because it's not how they imagined it.

Writing is a collaboration between writer and reader. Without their imagination in play the reader will never get fully into the story. And you have to trust them by giving just enough description to get them there.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Great Genre Debate 2

Ever heard of James Kelman?

I hadn't, I must admit, until this item popped up on a writers' board recently. Now everyone in Scotland, and a lot further afield, knows who Kelman is and what he thinks about the state of Scottish literature.

I'm not surprised his outburst has caused such a fuss. For a start it's practically sacrilege to say a word against the Harry Potter franchise. I've noticed this elsewhere - whenever anyone dares to criticise these books their legion of fans responds with such vitriol you'd think it was their mother's chastity that was being besmirched.

Yet why does everyone in Western Civilisation know who J K Rowling is when many (including me) had never heard of Kelman despite his having won the Booker in 1994 for How late it was, How late and some would say thereby deserves more attention?

Such is the power of commercialisation. That's why you can't move for Harry Potter merchandise and Rebus tv spin-offs. It's an indictment of publishing, but also of our profit chasing culture where everything has to be about getting the fast buck. Mediocrity is King in the land of Chased Ratings.

I think Kelman has a point and I'm glad he's raised this issue. I shouldn't be surprised at the vitriol aimed at him in response, but isn't it the role of writers to rattle our cages once in a while and get us all thinking?

And now I know another Scottish writer to look out for.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Why Blog?

Why should people blog?

This question came up recently on a writers' board and it got me thinking. There have to be thousands if not millions of blogs out there - some of them hardly ever read by another living soul - so why do we all bother?

Well, I blog for my own benefit as much as anyone else's. It's a good discipline to write with the possibility (however remote) of being read. And it's fun. Sometimes it gives me a chance to show off about my successes, moan about my problems and vent some spleen when some injustice winds me up. It's frustrating sometimes not being able to say exactly what I want to say, for fear of giving offence or being sued. But that's part of the discipline. Writing is more than just pleasing yourself, after all. You have to have the reader uppermost in your mind at all times.

There are lots of different types of blog out there. The most boring ones are not the personal, meandering type, but the ones that nag endlessly about the same few subjects. When the blogger stops writing about their own impressions and starts shamelessly preaching I get turned off. So in my opinion some of the most high profile blogs are actually the worst. Small scale and personal are usually the more interesting. I'd far rather read one person's honest reactions than be lectured.

Thursday, 20 August 2009


I love learning new words and urban dictionary is a good source. Here's one I encountered lately:


According to the urban dictionary it means:
The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss.

And it got me wondering how many people get published not because of their talent or burning ambition but because of assmosis. There is no shortage of people in the business to suck up to: agents, editors, other published authors. Anyone in fact who can put a word in for you.

Networking is generally regarded as a Good Thing, but at what point does it become assmosis? I've seen it on some writers' boards - the double standard that says We the Publishers and Published are better than You the Wannabe and so you better tug your forelock and bend the knee and hope we like you enough to give you a chance. And a lot of wannabes play the game for all it's worth, showering praise and sucking up shamlessly as if their very life depended on it. Yes, plenty of wannabes play the game, but does it get you anywhere in the end?

I'd like to think not. That kind of grovelling really turns my stomach. And surely writers should be more concerned with Truth than demeaning themselves this way?

But people being people, I'm sure there are those who rise to the top by sucking the hardest. So if you lack talent or driving ambition, have you ever considered assmosis?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Where do you get your stories?

I'm at the brainstorming stage - looking for likely threads to weave into my next project. What I need are interesting characters, intriguing plot lines, problems to be worked out and lessons to be learned. In some ways I love this part of the process the best. After months - even years - of being hamstrung by the limitations of a project I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. I can run around grabbing chocolate and jelly beans from every glass jar and tossing them into the mix. Nothing is out of bounds, nothing too extraordinary; everything is allowed.

But where do these ideas come from?

A useful tool I'm trying this time is tarot cards. Pull a few at random and try to arrange them into a story. Here's a useful site I discovered that explains the process. It's basically a randomiser, but anything that helps break the linear mode of thinking is a big help. I'm trying to be open to the process and let my imagination have free reign.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

As Truman Capote once said...

"Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it."

That's kind of how I feel at the moment. I finally sent off the revision on Thursday and since then I'm like a dog with no tail. In the past I've been left with lingering doubts and fears - symptoms no doubt of unfinished business. You know the sort of thing: waking in the night in a sweat thinking should I have said this? or why didn't I do that?. But not this time. For some reason it really feels finished and it's almost like a bereavement.

Of course, that'll only last until the next rewrite...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Busy, busy, busy...

Not been blogging much lately because

a. it's hot

b. I'm very busy

OK, I know everybody's busy, but this week I'm especially busy. For one thing I made the mistake of entering a flash fiction competition on Critter's Bar a couple of weeks back and won - don't get too excited, there were only 2 entries so it's not such a huge achievement - but the upshot was I had to judge the next one. It's the first time I've had to judge anything and let me tell you it's a lot harder than it looks! All the stories were clever and well written so I felt a right heel picking one over the others, but what can you do?

So that's one thing I've had on my mind. The other is I've more or less finished my revision of the novel. I've printed it out and this week I'm line reading it all in its entirety before sending it into the ether. How do I feel about this? Well, it's a curious mixture. I expected to feel elated but it alternates with bouts of pessimism. So far I've read about half and it's Not Bad, if I say so myself. But then, what do I know?

Anyway, once I've ironed out the glaring typos and other miscellaneous mistakes it'll be winging its way and then it's back to nail biting in a big way.

Why am I doing this again...?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Joy of Editing

Never mind the Joy of Sex (I'm too old for that now anyway), have you treated yourself to the Joy of Editing?

Yes, I'm going to stand up and admit it. I love editing. Especially when it's done without any time pressure, it can be as good as luxurious lovemaking - well, maybe not, but the satisfaction that comes of reshaping something competent into something much better is hard to beat.

But I realise it's an acquired taste. I'm linking to Nicola Morgan's latest post about this because I could try and rip off her idea but she says it much better and besides it's too hot to work hard today. Must get back to my editing...

Friday, 24 July 2009

The End: So near but so far...

I'm now about 77k words into my major revision and the End Is In Sight. It's looking like it'll end up about 85-90k. But here's the weird thing. I've got a lot of distractions at the moment; all of the family have been home for the past fortnight so never a minute's peace. But in spite of that I've managed to rattle through between 1000 and 2000 words a day. I've never been more motivated because I really want to get this puppy finished if only so I can lay down in a dark room and never type another word. But the more I really want it finished, the harder it seems to be to get down to it. I've noticed this before. The End becomes one magnet and I become the other, mutually repelling each other.

I don't understand this. But over the last two days I've cleaned and reorganised my kitchen - for the first time in six years - so something drastic is obviously going on. I suppose finishing it means I have to send it out and perhaps I'm happier in limbo, wondering what Might Have Been?

Ah well. I'm not about to succumb to this tendency, you'll be relieved to hear. It just makes the process that bit harder.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Rules and why you should ignore them

I read a lot of blogs by writers and editors, not to mention writers' forums. In this isolated life it's a good way to feel connected and as long as you let it all slide off your back does no harm at all. (Note: this isn't true of everybody - some people can't join a website without ending up in a fight with someone and seem to thrive on it. But I've always believed arguing on the internet is a bit like taking part in the Special Olympics; even if you win you're still mentally challenged.)

One thing bloggers seem to be particularly fond of is preaching about the Rules; particularly published writers and editors who see it as their mission to educated the Ignorant Unpublished. Not only is this arrogant in the extreme it's pretty self defeating. No one likes to be preached at, so all it's likely to do is reduce your readership. Those who care about getting it right will find their own way, the rest aren't serious and won't take it to heart anyway.

But who's to say what the Rules are? The adverb debate continues to rage on various writers' boards and blogs. This is such a circular argument it astonishes me how many intelligent individuals keep getting drawn into it. And at heart all it reveals is their own gargantuan ego: Do it my way, everything else is wrong. Yes, I know J K Rowling has adverbs but she's published and therefore a Great Writer and exempt from the Rules which only apply to lesser mortals like YOU.

The sad part is they alone are blind to it.

I watched Tracy Baines' brilliant interview with Agent Peter Cox this week and was struck by something pertinent that he said in the last segment about passion being the only thing that really matters. People get too bogged down, nitpicking over the Rules and ticking the boxes, they lose sight of the bigger picture.

I agree with this view. Your story should move the reader, transport them to another time and place, let them see and feel what the characters are living. Nobody picks up a book to count how many adverbs are in it. If the use of language supports the story, it doesn't matter how long/short it is, how many adverbs it has, how many full stops or semi-colons or anything. No one gives a shit. Make them forget their own lives for half an hour and you're winning. Reading is entertainment, after all.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Should money flow to the writer?

Money should flow to the writer.

This is a phrase I've seen used a lot on various writers' boards. Usually it comes up in response to a query about using editorial services or scam publishers. The first time I saw it I thought "Damn Right! Give me the money!" but as with all things I've come to realise it's not the coverall mantra for every situation I first thought it was.

The trouble with these stock responses is they can blinker you into a mindset that doesn't help you in the longterm. Of course I want the money to flow to the writer. Who wouldn't? But the hard reality is money will only flow towards you if you have something to sell. And until you reach that heady peak of perfection everything has to be seen as a learning curve. You wouldn't refuse to pay for a university education on the basis that money should flow towards you even if you had no skills to offer, would you? So it's the same with writing. Until you learn enough to sell your work you have to be prepared to pay for the education you receive.

Now, I've got nothing against peer review groups. If you're lucky you can pick up some great tips from them as well as gauge reaction to your work. But to say they provide all the training you require to become a publishable writer is naive. Over the years I have spent hundreds of pounds on writers' courses and books to research and learn this craft and I still don't think I know it all. To believe you can get all that for free from a few well meaning amateurs on a website is dooming yourself to failure.

What I'm saying is, Yes, Money Should Flow To The Writer - but only once you have earned that title by producing something someone will buy. Until then, be prepared to pay for your education.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Writer's Block

Does Writer's Block really exist?

My son Mike is home from Uni and after a couple of weeks recovering from flu (swine or not it floored him) and getting his breath back he's now on the job hunt. One thing he has to do is prepare a showreel of his work to put in with his CV.

No problem, you'd think. But he suddenly feels so blocked he can't get started.

Hence the question. What is the creative block exactly and why do we find ourselves crippled by it just when we need to go full steam ahead?

Well, I think a lot of times it's fear. I've experienced the same thing - usually when I come to the end of the mandatory research period and the time comes to start writing. On my first project I'd been researching the subject for years and had imagined the shape of the book for a long time, so you'd expect it to be a cinch. Yet, it was the hardest one to start. And I think there's a connection there. If you have invested a lot of time in the preparation you are going to feel more than a bit anxious the prose won't do your effort justice. And because it was my first attempt, I literally didn't know where to start.

One thing I'm currently learning from the revision process is not to be so precious at the start of the writing because I now know in all likelihood those first few chapters I worried so much about will end up in the bin anyway. This is a very liberating discovery. Nothing is so important it should be sweated over. Get it wrong, by all means, but you must GET IT WRITTEN!

But of course job hunting brings a whole new level of anxiety to the equation, so all I can do is give motherly encouragement and wish him the best of luck!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Hiring a Pro?

I'm posting this fascinating article on hiring a professional editor to help prepare your book for submission. It's not an issue discussed very often on the internet and there doesn't seem to be an easy yes or no answer, but I get the feeling it's becoming a lot more common than people think. As publishing companies cut back more and more the prospect of getting editing in-house gets less likely, so the more you can get your own submission into shape the better your chance of acceptance.

And here is a bit of shameless mother's pride. My elder son Mike has just completed his degree in digital animation and his project for this year has been nominated with two others for a Royal Television Society Student Award. Here is the link to his animation, but you will need to have installed Quiktime and be running Firefox or Safari for the best results. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Ego Has Landed

Following on from last post, and not unrelated to the whole issue of Writers' Groups, is the role Ego plays in the life of the writer.

Now, I expect you're thinking I'm going to say something like this:

Ego = bad, wicked writer - get ye to the submission pile for ever and ever!

No ego = good, nice writer - have a publishing contract!

Because that's what you see on a lot of blogs about this subject. But I don't think it's as simple as that.

What is Ego, anyway, if not a sense of self. Without it, we'd all behave like sheep, bending to the will of every editor or agent without the guts to stand up for ourselves, our work or the vision that inspired us in the first place. You can't afford to cave to every whiff of criticism or your work will suffer. And to add steel to our resolve we need our egos to big us up in our own estimation.

Ego is the only thing that can pull us out of those deep dark holes of despair the submissions process casts us into. It's the thing that makes us grit our teeth, muttering oaths and swearing revenge on the b******s who binned our precious stories. It's the thing that keeps us going through seemingly endless rewrites, too proud to admit defeat, too stubborn to admit all our critics might be right and we are hopeless.

So don't knock ego. In its place, it's your best friend and most reliable ally in this business.

However, it can run amok and I've seen this happen a lot on writers' boards. Somewhere down the line some writers begin to get addicted to the ego boost of showing off to their peers and lesser mortals. Perhaps they get worn out by the endless rejections; perhaps they haven't the guts to even send anything out. After all, their precious overblown egos couldn't take the rejection, could they? So instead these online addicts would rather lord it over a few adoring strangers, or spar with perceived inferiors at their own pseudo-intellectual game of tag than do any real writing.

YouWriteOn has for a long time been plagued by this sort of behaviour. The culprits are easy to spot. They have long running arguments with each other, communicate in private jokes and oblique references no one else can get. They set themselves up as experts and everyone else as idiots. They hijack other people's attempts at a reasonable discussion by flaming or alienating everyone with their condescending attitude. Yes, as Edie would say, they are Mega Pains In The Ass.

But however annoying they are, the person who suffers most from this behaviour is themselves. The rest of us can walk away, or switch off, but having to live with such an overbearing ego which won't allow them to fail is a terrible cross to bear. Because without failing, they can never get better.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Writers' Groups - a word of caution

I don't share Edie's cynicism about Writers' Groups; I probably wouldn't still be writing if it hadn't been for the camaraderie and encouragement I received early on from online Writers' Groups, and for that I'm eternally grateful. Writing is a lonely business unless you happen to live in a writer's commune or have the good fortune to come from a family of writers. I don't. So any contact and friendship is valuable.

And you can learn a lot from them, not just about the craft of writing although there's that of course. To be honest I haven't found critiques to be terribly helpful on the whole. Critiquing other people's work is more useful - it teaches you to look critically at your own work which is what you ultimately need to be able to do. Crits of your work do prepare you for the scathing criticism you'll be subjected to if you ever submit your work for scrutiny, helping you to develop a thick skin which is definitely necessary.

They are useful places to exchange tips and information about the publishing business. It's a good way to find out about new agencies and who's recruiting. They are good places to ask for advice from people who've already travelled your path and have some experience to share.

BUT - here we get to the snag - it's always important to remember that not every poster on a website knows what they are talking about. Think about it. You don't really know these people except by what they say about themselves, and sadly there are many deluded fantasists out there. However well meaning they are, their clumsy and badly thought out advice can be worse than nothing.

And then there are the few whose motives are a little more sinister; another thing to bear in mind is there is a lot of frustration and jealousy in the writing community. Some people cannot bear to see someone else getting the success or even attention they crave and will do all they can to put a fly in the ointment.

So, how do you know who to trust?

Well, honesty is usually easy to spot because it chimes as "common sense". You may not always like this advice at first, if it isn't what you want to hear, but the truth of it will usually sink in after a day or two.
Check out their credentials if possible. Do they have a book published by a reputable company? Do they hold the respect of the people around them? Or are they always getting into flame wars and causing arguments on the site?
Always take advice with a degree of caution, wherever it comes from, and use your own discretion about following it. Even industry insiders can be so jaded and embittered their advice is tainted and not worth much, so learn to follow your instinct first and foremost.

Remember - no one can tell you what is best for you - only you can do that.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Revision checklist

I saw this on the lovely Nathan Brandsford's blog this morning and had to share.

As I'm currently revising I can attest to the fact it is a valuable list to keep handy.


Thursday, 4 June 2009

Ello, ello, ello...

I'm looking for a bit of help with research. One of my characters is a Detective Sergeant and I need to fill in a bit of bio and procedural information (mainly for my own benefit) to fill him in a little. Unfortunately all I know about police begins and ends with The Bill which probably isn't the best source material. So I'm issuing a plea to anyone reading this who knows a bit about police business from the inside (preferably British - or Scottish to be specific - but other countries might be useful on general questions) and doesn't mind asking a lot of questions from an ignoramus. Please leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Anyone remember Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green? I'm sure things have moved on since then...

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Rules of Writing

Have you ever noticed how much time and energy people waste on writers' boards debating the "rules" of what constitutes good/bad writing or more importantly acceptable/unacceptable to publishers?
As a wide-eyed newbie I soaked it all up like a sponge at first, but inevitably you reach a point where you're getting conflicting advice.

Here are a few I've heard along the way:

Adult fiction should be 80k words long.

Changing POV mid-chapter will get you rejected.

Using adverbs is a sign of sloppy writing.

On the word length question, I have it on very good authority - I'm talking editor at a major publishing house - that a story is as long as it needs to be. If they love your story they couldn't give a tinker's cuss for the word length. So, reading between the lines if you're rejected on the basis of word length it's just another way of saying your writing isn't up to scratch.

The fact is - and this has taken me a while to realise - there are no rules. If you tell a good story well, you can get away with just about anything. It's all in the writing, and don't let anyone tell you different.

As an illustration, here is another great blog from The Book Deal to prove my point.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Writing and music

Another love of mine is music. I've dabbled with guitar and piano, written a few songs along the way, even taken some OU courses to learn more about the theory side. You might think there's no connection between writing and music but I think there is. Both music and good prose have a definite rhythm; it's the thing that pulls you along when you're reading a good book. It's so subtle you aren't aware of its presence. It's in the length of the sentences and the choice of words. Of course we expect to find rhythm in poetry, but it should be there in good prose too. And it's only when our eyes skim along the page without interruption that the magic of the story can ignite our imagination.

Where the rhythm is missing, we notice it as "clunk"; unwieldy sentences awkwardly arranged - usually too long with too many clauses. Ever had to go back and read the same sentence several times to get the meaning? It's very frustrating and the thing most likely to turn off the reader.

Word choice is important too. There should be poetry in prose, just as it's essential in the tight structure of a song lyric. The right word in the right place is a joy to behold. The sound and resonance of a word can evoke an image or emotion better than a page of description. Getting the right word is an art in itself.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Writer's Life

How natural is "the writer's life"?

I spend hours, days, weeks living in my own dream world, drifting around Tesco's or walking the dog muttering dialogue to myself like some inebriate down the precinct. I agonize over plot points, tuning out my spouse's conversation at mealtimes, until I come round and realise I haven't heard anything anyone's said to me in the last twenty minutes. This morning I woke in the small hours and lay awake playing scenes in my head. It makes for an odd existence, all this story weaving. I'm not at all sure it's quite sane behaviour.

But I love it. And ultimately that is why I do it. Oh, I know, the lure of the name on the bookjacket is seductive, but if I never make it into print I'll still write stories because it's a way of creating my own world. It's the ultimate power trip. I am God in my own little make-believe Kingdom. Nothing can happen unless I say so.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Publishing and marketing

I'm pushed for time this week, so I hope you'll excuse me for posting a link to this excellent talk on book marketing which I found recently.

Stacey Cochran has many interesting talks posted on YouTube and they're worth a look. This one is with John Fuhrman on the joys of getting an agent, shopping for a publisher and useful tips on marketing your book.

Hope you enjoy it and I'll do a proper post shortly.

Thursday, 30 April 2009


eeeek! Just realised I haven't posted here for over a week. Sorry about that, but this has been a very eventful week. I can't go into detail but there has been some movement on the agent front and hopefully I will have some news to give you in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile I'm having fun researching the witchcraft aspect of WIP. I recently purchased some new tarot cards (I dabbled once before many moons ago but let it lapse) and joined some Wicca forums. The cards have been giving me some startlingly accurate predictions and I've discovered that Wiccans are lovely people who contrary to popular mythology wouldn't hurt a fly never mind turn anyone into a toad. They've been only too happy to give me advice. I'm wondering how they ever came to be so reviled and burned, but then people do the strangest things!

Research is one of the things I really love about writing a story. It gives me a chance to dip into another world, to live the experiences of my characters. Mind you it has its dangers. I have a tendency to get sucked in and then it's hard to pull back and use the information in the story. Or worse, get an idea for a whole different book that takes me away from the original project. Argh! Discipline, woman! It's self-indulgence, pure and simple. You'd think I'd know better at my age.

To close here is a link to another new agency looking for clients which I spotted on my surfing travels.

Toodle-oo the noo!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Anyone involved in creating anything has to live with criticism. It's a tough one to swallow but it's true. For every eager fan there will be an unimpressed critic only too willing to demolish your ego with the wrecking ball of their scathing remarks.

I've recently read a few best sellers and as always took a look at the reviews on Amazon to see what everyone else thinks about them. It never fails to amaze me how two people can view the same book so differently. What makes one ooze praise gets the other's goat. I often come away wondering whether they read the same book at all.

I've never felt annoyed enough by a book to post a bad review. That's not to say I haven't been disappointed by plenty and given up before reaching the end. I have given fullsome praise at the other end of the spectrum. Not sure why it's easier to say nice things; perhaps it's to do with not wanting to seem like a bitter old crone. Some negative reviews do seem fuelled by a vehemence borne of more than disappointment. I sometimes wonder how many bad reviews are the product of professional jealousy rather than critical insights.

One thing in favour of peer review sites is the process of being reviewed teaches you to be philosophical about the subjectivity of other people's opinions. You need to be more objective about criticism and not completely destroyed by it. Because criticism is the name of the game if it's your aim to be published. Agents and editors will want changes, inevitably. If you think your world has come to an end any time someone doesn't fall in love with your precious manuscript you're in for a rough ride.

Let's face it. No one likes criticism. But if you're wise you'll take from it what you can. It might be an opportunity to improve, disguised as a slap on the face. Resist the urge to throw a tantrum, mull it over and then decide whether you agree or not. Not all critics are right.

Here's a humourous take on it.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Never stop dreaming

Well, that’s another Easter over with. Elder son now back at Uni and I’m another year older, a few pounds heavier (thanks to birthday choccies) and £1.08 poorer thanks to my brother putting the wrong postage on my birthday card (8p short to be exact, but Royal Mail add another £1 “handling charge” Godbless’em).

The trouble with birthdays at my age is all they do is help sound the death knell for your hopes and aspirations. For years I believed I was too young to make a career as a writer – everyone says you have to live a little (or preferably a lot) before you start putting pen to paper. Whether one believes that or not, I don’t think I’d have had the patience or staying power for it in my youth. And you need a lot of those, I’m coming to learn.

But now I have another worry. In the intervening years attitudes have somehow changed – now it’s hip to be young and successful. Being middle aged and having experience doesn’t seem to count for much. I’ve even heard whispers that some agents are less interested in an older writer because they haven’t much mileage left in them.

So I was seriously chuffed to see this on Janet Reid’s blog yesterday. Not to mention moved to tears. There is something about the individual spirit confounding expectations that uplifts us all. And if one dumpy Scottish housewife can knock their socks off, there’s maybe hope for me too!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Nearly the worst query letter

I had a bit of fun this week entering Nicola Morgan's Bad Query Competition. I'm a bit chuffed to get mentioned as a runner-up. Do take a look at the winning entry and some excerps from the other contenders. In case you're interested here was my entry:

Dear Derek

I’m sure you’ll remember me from last year’s Duffleberry Writers’ Conference. I was the one shouting and waving at the back of the hall during your keynote address. Anyway, you may recall advising me to go off and write, or words to that effect, so it is only fitting I give you first look-see at the fruits of my labours.

“The Gore of Edna” is my debut novel of 250k words. (I know you don’t normally handle fiction, but this sci-fi/detective/romcom/thriller crossover is bound to change your mind). I would say it sits somewhere between Agatha Christie and A.A.Milne. Hector Brash is a troubled, pipe-smoking, crossword solving, ex-wrestling detective, still haunted by his wife’s demise in a bizarre knitting accident. Called in to solve a particularly brutal murder, he finds himself drawn into a web of vice by the prime suspect, pert paraplegic Edna. But there’s a snag. Not only is Edna in the frame for murdering her millionaire playboy husband, she has a penchant for drinking the blood of live animals and decorating her house in Seventies memorabilia. Can Brash come to terms with these failings and find true love? Or will he stick to his crosswords and send her down instead?

I don’t want to pressure you at all, but I should warn you I saw a very similar storyline on Afternoon Theatre last week so it can only be a matter of time before Meryl Streep’s agent comes looking to buy the film rights. Trust me, this is going to be HUGE, so act now or you’ll be kicking yourself.

I am happy to send the manuscript, so if you are interested please call me on 23456 567890. Any time is fine, only please don’t call after 9pm as the phone ringing makes the neighbour’s whippets go mental and it takes hours to settle them down.

Yours sincerely,
Kevin Futtock

P.S. At 250k words I realise it’s a tad on the long side, but I could probably cut it down to 240k at a push.

P.P.S. Please excuse the smudges on the page but I have a heavy cold.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Spring Has Sprung

You know what - I think summer has come! The sun is shining, there are no puddles in the drive and the lawn is farting out of the ground like stubble on a navvy's chin.

But as always there's a down side to this rural idyll. After months of studiously ignoring it I now have to start paying attention to my garden. For the time being that really means keeping everything under control; weeds, grass cutting, hedge-trimming, etc. Time was when I was heavily into propagation (back in the days when this garden was little more than an overgrown paddock). Now I'm getting too old to lug barrow loads of soil - the old elbows give me gip - so I'm scaling down to the low energy level of gardening which means lifting nothing heavier that a hoe.

The Easter holidays start tomorrow so elder son comes home from University and the house will be a much less peaceful place for a week or so. The blogging might have to take a rest for a wee while, but I'll get back to it when I can.

Happy Easter one and all!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Literary agent and editor

Trawling around the internet I came across this very interesting interview with a literary agent and editor (nothing like Stu Stuart or Edie Tor, you'll be pleased to hear) which answers a lot of questions about how the business works.

It's a little over an hour long but worth taking the time to view.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cracking on

I'm cracking on with the current WIP, now a few words shy of the 50k word mark, Chapter 17. In the last week the story has really taken off and I feel like it's moving along at a cracking pace. Sometimes it's like that, leaving me struggling to keep up.

Part of the drive to get this one finished is I really want to go back to the story I wrote last year. It's a funny thing. I'd wanted to write about this particular historical event for years - even tried a couple of times but didn't really get anywhere. Do you ever get a theme or subject in your head that won't go away? Eventually I got inspiration from two books I read in quick succession; that gave me the idea for a dual narrative (think The Hours with two stories instead of three) of women living in different times with parallels in their lives. Finally I managed to write something I felt did justice to the subject. However bad it was, I at least got it out of my system.

Anyway, I finished it last year (first draft anyhow) and put it away. Since then I pretty much made up my mind it wasn't commercial enough, but I recently had to describe it to someone and you know what - it didn't sound half bad. So my next task after this story is finished is to revisit it and see if I can make something of it.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Toilet Books

I'm devoting this post to giving a plug to Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle which started this week. (In case you haven't heard of it, it's on Monday nights, BBC2 at 10pm)

I'm a longtime fan of Stewart Lee, going back to "Fist of Fun" and "This Morning With Richard Not Judy" with his long-time writing partner Richard Herring. But he's been away from TV for a while - not surprising, given some of his targets. But if you get the chance to see him perform live and you like dry observational humour he's just what you need.

Anyway here is the link to the BBC iPod of this week's show in which he talks about trashy celebrity books and publishing generally. Very funny.

Monday, 16 March 2009

My Web Site

Did I mention my new website?

It's been up and running a couple of weeks now and I've been amazed how easy it was to set up and maintain. It's a free domain, so it costs me not a penny. The only downside is there are ads on it over which I have no control. But I haven't found them intrusive at all.

The problem I have is I keep going back to tweak it and there's this marvellous thing called Clicky which you get free for a month or something and it tells you all sorts of data about who has visited, what they did, where they linked from etc. Everything except the colour of their underwear (major omission).

So in addition to all the pointless surfing, networking, facebooking and writers boarding I'm webbing too. Where do I find time to write?

Anyway, do visit my new website.

Did I mention I have a new website?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

How important is attitude?

Another full request last Friday, so I'm back up to 2 "out there". Not to mention all the unsolicited queries and partials that are still pending.

It truly is a rollercoaster ride and no mistake. For a few days after I send the manuscript out there's an emotional high of excitement. With each subsequent rejection that period gets shorter and shorter. But the sting of disappointment proves hope is still alive and well and thriving in my weary breast. (Sorry, attack of the Bard there.)

I see a lot of submission Tales of Woe on my internet trawling. Writers' boards are very sociable places with lots of free advice to offer, but bitterness and negativity can lurk there too. You have to wonder about the effects years of rejection can have on some poor souls. And it can manifest as paranoid delusions about the publishing world being out to get them, or at least out to exclude them. When you've just had a knock-back, it's so easy to buy into that line of thinking. Believe me, I know. But it's futile and ultimately damaging to your long-term goals.

You can end up feeling like the victim in a Them And Us scenario of your own invention. But that doesn't bear scrutiny, when you think about it. Agents need writers for their very livelihood. Publishers ditto. Without the magical stories we weave these people would have nothing to edit, sell and make a mint on.

So don't give in to self-pity. If no one accepts your work, find out what's wrong with it and put it right. It's in no one's interest to knock you back; it's wasteful of everyone's time and energy.

There is no Great Conspiracy.

Except possibly the one your Ego is up to, trying to convince you you are a much greater writer than you really are.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Are you an intrepid explorer?

Lately I've been thinking about first drafts. First drafts of the whole novel, that is. When I started looking into this novel writing lark every authority I consulted said it was best to get the whole book written, warts and all, before going back to revise and edit. And that's more of less what I've done. It's one of the reasons I'm a big fan of NaNoWriMo as I've mentioned in an earlier post.

But I know opinions vary on this. Some writers I've encountered hone and edit each chapter before proceeding to the next. I think that's fine as long as you know what your story is and can stick to it. Some people seem to be able to keep their story in their head, or in outline form, and if it works for them then great.

Personally I can't work that way. Writing a novel is too big a project to keep in my head and outlines have to be sketchy because when I sit down to write the characters take me in all sorts of directions I never expected. And if I kept going back to rewrite I know I'd never get to the end.

Take my current WIP. I know who it's about and have a list of characters. I've worked out their bios, even given them a face thanks to Liquid Story Binder. I know how it starts, have a rough idea what the main plot points are and how it ends. But until I reach the end I can't know for sure how all the threads will work out. So writing the first draft I allow myself to write badly and just keep going until it's finished. I know a lot of it will be changed when I revise so I try not to get hung up on any particular scene. If I can't think how to end a chapter I just abandon it and move on to the next one.

I know from past experience that after it's finished and I've had a little break from it I'll go back to it with Editor's eyes and see the things that need to be fixed. But this part is relatively easy because now I know the story I'm trying to tell. I can write new scenes, discard the rubbish, even introduce or discard characters.

It is fun writing the first draft, but it's also a little scary - like exploring in the jungle; you don't know what you'll find but it's an exciting journey.

Anyway, here's a very interesting article on this from another great website I discovered.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

There are no rules

I hadn't intended to blog today, but I wanted to post a link to this interesting blog.

I find a lot of vitriol about self publishing on the boards I frequent so it makes a change to see a different view from a publishing professional. I have to say I'm not convinced about self-publishing, as I've said vis-a-vis YWO, but none of us knows what the future holds. So have a read. It's food for thought if nothing else.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Submission update

One of the fulls bounced back to me in the post this morning, the latter of the two as it happens - after only three weeks which is a pretty good turnaround time.

The letter with it said it would be impossible to sell in its present form. Well, it's feedback I suppose, but not specific enough to help me revise. Maybe they just think the story stinks?

Oh well. I'd be lying if I denied feeling a bit of angst for about 20 minutes, but there's no point in self pity, is there?

So it's back to the old keyboard...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

My new website

It had to happen, and now it has!

Check out my new website. It even has a forum so please join in the discussions.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Great YWO POD Debate (cont.)

Just when you thought it was safe to look on self-publishing threads this argument shows no sign of going away any time soon. I'm not sure what it is about YWO that brings out the extreme opinions I've seen on writers' boards, but you either love or hate it. Some - mainly editors and industry professionals - can't find a good word to say about it and its founder, Ted. I've seen him vilified and practically tarred and feathered on some sites supposedly because he has fudged the boundary between peer review and publishing, but is that really the reason or is something much deeper the cause of all this vitriol?

Because the vitriol seems out of all proportion to his alleged "crime", if indeed it is a crime to allow people to publish their books for free. I'm not a fan of the scheme and said in an earlier post I doubted whether it would produce adequately edited books, but if someone wants to do it isn't that their business? In a time when books are being squeezed out by other media, shouldn't we all applaud an initiative that produces more of them, even if they only satisfy the author?

I have to say I detect a whiff of paranoid fear in all this hysteria. Publishing is in a state of flux with new technology like Kindle and ipods and POD making the old methods increasingly outdated. Change is always painful. Who knows where it will end? Maybe in twenty years time we'll all laugh at the memory of people going to a bookshop to buy paper books?

And I bet they'll still be arguing about it on Writers' boards.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Still no news....

But, I found this great blog and had to post it here to pass it on.

As writers, confidence is so important simply because writing is such a solitary activity, (unless you co-write but that's a different story). I find my confidence can evaporate quicker than morning dew, especially here in Submission Hell. With so many "No's" coming at us, it's hard to keep our inner voice saying "Yes".

And I suspect the more sensitive you are as a writer the more of an issue this is. There are always loads of reasons not to do something - it takes courage above and beyond the call of duty to do it anyway.

So, writers everywhere - I salute you!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Getting the jitters

It's been cold this week. Very cold. And the snow finally caught up with me. Now, I'm no killjoy - it's very pretty and all that - but it stops being funny when you can't walk the dog without breaking a limb and have to get rescued by someone in a car. And snowmen are ok for about 20 minutes, but after that I'd rather be in the warm thankyou very much.

So, I really hope we've seen the last of snow this winter.

And I'm still waiting...

By Thursday night my nerve cracked and I shot off an email to the agency, asking nicely whether they got my full and phone number. (Joking aside it wouldn't be funny to find the email had gone astray - yeah, I know it's unlikely but you never know!)

So imagine my surprise to get a reply within the hour - jeez, what hours do these guys work? - to say he's still reading it and he'll phone me next week.

Good news, but now my nerves are twanging like overhead cables in a snowstorm.

Watch this space...