Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wills and Kate get spliced

Well the much hyped Royal Wedding went off without a hitch. I spent a lot of the morning reading the hilarious tweets about it and some of the comments cheered me up no end. It's nice to see that people are pretty astute and don't all fall for the publicity. It seems to me, as a casual observer, that the media were the ones most excited about it. I could only stand to watch about twenty minutes of the tv coverage and most of that with the sound off because the obsequious ramblings of journalists and so-called experts was bringing on my gag reflex. I sincerely hope non-Brits don't imagine this kind of grovelling is representative of Britain. What we weren't allowed to see were the hordes of riot police keeping any demonstrations well away from the cameras.

But that's them married and good luck to them. The track record of royal marriages isn't great, but I hope theirs lasts into old age. A good marriage is the greatest gift anyone can have.

If you were on the dark side of the moon and managed to miss it, here's the livened up version.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Well, after five (or is it six) years on writers' boards it has finally happened. A post of mine was deleted on Absolute Write Water Cooler. Yes, I'm still reeling from the shock too. Anyone who knows me knows I don't post Without Due Care And Attention, unlike some. Usually I agonise for hours before poking a tentative toe into a discussion - even then I mince my words so finely the meaning is almost lost for fear of upsetting anyone. I'm not a troll by any stretch of the imagination.

Of course I understand the need to edit - as writers we do it every day and only a fool gets so attached to his words he can't accept the process. But obliterating someone's opinion is a very dangerous road to go down. You may not like what others think, but even if you disagree it should be an opportunity to reevaluate your own opinions. As humans we need that outlet. Without the ability to express ourselves what else do we have? Terrorists plant bombs because they have no voice. They up the stakes until someone listens.

But don't worry, I won't be planting any bombs. This has however made me reevaluate my opinion of that board. Any place that has no respect for individual writers and allows the mob to rule is probably best avoided. It's taken some years, but I am learning.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Backstory and Royal Weddings

Someone very wise once said we don't know who we are now unless we study our past. That's why backstory has an important place in the stories we tell.

A few months ago, when the impending Royal Wedding was announced, I was somewhat astonished at the largely negative reaction I saw on the boards I frequent. Why would anyone react this way about celebrating a happy event? After all, William and his betrothed are young, glamorous and photogenic. It's an extra day off work for many people and a moment of glory in these hard recession-weary times.

But I too had those sinking feelings, and I know exactly why. Anyone who is old enough will remember the marriage of his father and mother, nearly 30 years ago. That too was a big production - Hollywood couldn't have done it better - and for months before it was all over the media. On the day crowds lined the streets and everyone tuned in to watch. It was sold as a fairytale wedding and it certainly looked like it.

In the years that followed people gradually woke up to the fact that it had been a sham. The groom was marrying to please his family and had no great love for his bride, in fact he was heavily involved with a married friend. Of course their personal lives are their own business, but what makes me bitter is the way the public, who paid for this sideshow, were completely lied to for years until the marriage ended in bitter divorce.

All of which serves to illustrate the importance of backstory. We need to know something about the background of a character in order to understand the story happening now, simply because events of the past shape us as people. Of course that doesn't mean a complete biography, and the skill lies in getting that balance between giving enough information with moving the story forward.

But never underestimate the importance of backstory in helping your reader understand who your character is today.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Surely everyone has heard of Kindle. First there was Amazon - cheap books by mail order, then cheap just-about-everything by mail order. Then cheap second hand books by mail order. With bookshops closing on the High Streets, Amazon seemed set to take over the world.

And then they launched the Kindle, their own e-reader. This moved them from bookseller to publisher in one easy step. Download your Kindle version of Favourite Author's book. No more tiresome trips to the shops to buy a book - you can have the electronic version in seconds. So easy. It was only logical that Kindle would move into Direct Publishing, giving everyone and his auntie the chance to put their magnum opus online for the world to read.

And why not? It's democratic, after all. In the Bad Old Days authors had to get past the Gatekeepers, as agents and editors fondly viewed themselves. Unless a deluded or misguided author was conned by a Vanity Publisher into parting with their pension for the joy of owning a garage full of copies of their unsellable memoir, this was the only route to publication. But not any more. Now you can upload your manuscript quicker than you can say "Unsolicited Manuscript". No fuss, no rejections, just instant fame and - possibly - fortune.

And some Kindle authors have done rather well. Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking have become rallying cries for the Kindle Crowd. Quite how many Kindle millionaires there will eventually be is too soon to know. Will early interest dry up once the novelty wears off and quality issues turn the tide? Or will it herald a new age of real reading choice where you can buy a book on anything by anyone for as little as you are willing to spend?

Needless to say this is a hot topic on writers' boards. I don't belong in either camp - the argument does tend to get polarised and unnecessarily heated. It seems to me nobody knows what the future holds and all we can do is wait and see.

But, with the ease of publishing on Kindle I'd hazard a guess more people are putting their books up there than subbing to agents/editors these days. This is bound to reduce the slushpiles considerably. I've seen it said agents are paying more attention to self published books and it has been suggested they will eventually replace the slushpile altogether. Amanda Hocking is a case in point. If you can self publish and sell well you make yourself a hot commodity.

Launching a new author is a hefty investment for a publisher which is why so few get accepted. But self-publishing on Kindle is free - no cash outlay other than whatever the author spends on it. I can see why people would choose the instant gratification of having a book published there, even if no one ever buys it, over the relentless cycle of revision/rejection. That doesn't make them all undiscovered gems, nor does it make them all rubbish. But as the numbers grow the challenge is going to be finding the former in amongst the latter.

Friday, 15 April 2011

My Advice To You Is...

Many moons ago when I first lost my soul to the Internet I lapped up all the tips and advice so liberally available. Want to know about how to write a synopsis? - here's my recipe for cracking it. Don't know which agents to approach? Just try this site to put you straight.

All was hunky dory until I faced an unusual quandary regarding a submission I'd made to a well known and respected agency. I posted a query about it on a couple of boards and confidently waited for my new writer friends to wade in with some solid gold advice on how to proceed. What I got back opened my eyes for all time about the quality of advice on offer on the internet, and since then it's made me very careful about taking anyone's word for anything.

The trouble is that, wonderful resource though it is, the internet is full of people who for one reason or another don't know what they're talking about. I'd say the majority of message board posters don't know any more than you do, but rather than say so they have to chuck in their tuppence worth without a thought about the impact their advice might have. Then there are those further up the publishing ladder; surely they know a thing or two? Well, yes. But they probably don't know everything - and I'd hazard a guess they know a lot less than they pretend. One published author told me "This never happens" when it had happened to me, therefore it must happen.

And that's assuming everyone who offers you help online is a kind, well-meaning friendly person. Not all are, and you should be aware of that. There are many embittered and jealous individuals on these sites who have their own agenda. Don't believe everything you read. For a long time I comforted myself with the thought that people would sue if the things said about them were untrue, but that's not always the case. Not everyone has the wherewithal to go to law, and those who do often don't want the bad publicity it would attract.

So the lesson is, take online advice with a large pinch of salt and learn to exercise your own judgment rather than rely on others to lead the way.

But, having said that, here are some great query tips (of the tongue-in-cheek variety). They made me smile.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Birthday Wish List

It hardly seems like a year since I was writing about this, but they say that happens as you get older. Another birthday, another milestone. And it's been a momentous year in many ways, but I'd rather look forward than back. So I've been thinking about what I'd like to see in the coming year. Here is my wish list...

1. World peace and an End to Hunger (OK, sorry to be trite but I thought I'd get that one out of the way first)

2. My son settled and happy in a job he loves, or at least enjoys. It doesn't look very hopeful in this climate, but we can wish.

3. To lose at least a stone and get fit again. I've made a start on this but there's a long way to go.

4. To get a publishing deal for my book. Or my next book.

5. To sell the film rights for a record sum and retire to the Med to live on Bollinger. (Too much? Ok, a cottage in Melrose would be nice)

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Oops - a whole week gone by and I've neglected my blog. Sorry, dear followers. But a large yellow thing called The Sun (or so I'm told) has appeared unexpectedly in the sky, causing havoc with my normal troglodyte activities. Service has been resumed...

So..rejection. Are you sick of it? Do you cringe whenever you see an email in your inbox or hear the thud of mail on the mat? I have a fat file of rejection letters which I fondly think of as my battle trophies. Seems you can't really call yourself a writer without them, as this article would seem to prove. There is some comfort in knowing the Great and the Good suffered the same indignity as we lesser mortals. So take heart and look on every rejection as a step along a rocky road to success.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

For Mother's Day

This is so sweet I couldn't resist posting for all mothers, or parents or anyone who's ever seen a baby.

This conversation is so intense I'm tempted to think they must be discussing the various merits and demerits of self publishing - I've seen similar arguments on writers' boards! What do you think?