Saturday, 30 November 2013

Tonights sunset over Crewe's Queen's Park

Dan, one of the characters in my novel 'Touched', talks about how he 'hunts light'. His hobby is photography, as is mine - when I have time that is. The last few years as I've tried to juggle building up a business, doing consulting work, writing for work and writing for pleasure so that time has been limited but, this evening, I did some light hunting of my own. I suspected with the broken cloud cover that there would be a great sunset and, for once, my timing was just right.

See what you think.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Every cover tells a story

I remember attending an author night at my local library a couple of years ago when the author in question (a well known female author) had quite a long grumble at her publishers for the decisions they had made about her book covers. They insisted on giving her 'chic-lit' covers that she said - quite rightly - put off potential male readers of her work.
It struck a cord with me then and it does even more now. I know I have messed up with one of my covers, the one for 'Touched'. It gives entirely the wrong impression of what the book is about and I am pretty certain has put off readers from certain groups.
I should know this. It's all about decision making, heuristics, mental-shortcuts etc. A large chunk of my PhD was on this.
Anyway, with the talents of Mick Walters on board I'm going to go for a re-branding. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Some Autumnal Images

Thought these might brighten up my blog - particularly as writing time lately has been rather restricted! The first is Queen's Park in Crewe, proof I guess that Crewe can be pretty. The second is Manchester after a thunder storm a few Saturday's back and the last is....a blue VW!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Doing things wrong and doing them right

About 18 months ago I self-published for the first time. I made lots of mistakes, did a lot of the no-nos that all the gurus say you shouldn't. The book (The Last Mountain) did very well both in terms of reviews (which is why I published it) and downloads/physical sales - and continues to do so.
The next time I self-published I did it by the book. A professionally produced cover, social network buzz, a website etc., i.e. everything the gurus said to do. The result has been very underwhelming even though, as an author, I know the novels to be stronger.
I think it shows the danger of following the so-called experts, those who blog and write with such authority. In fact the evidence is that they don't know what they are talking about and are just, like many others, just selling themselves or some service they offer. They are just as much in the dark on what sells and how to sell novels as the rest of us.
My advice to other authors? Do what you feel deep down is right - you have as much chance of succeeding as following the gurus.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Well this is going to be fun...

Realisation has just hit me. The Renegades are going to be contributing to a a Story Telling Cafe at the Gladstone Museum in the Potteries. We've been asked to do a Potteries themed evening - not surprisingly, given the location.
The problem is I'm a Yorkshireman who lives in Cheshire...what do I know about the Potteries?
As I said, this is going to be fun!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The latest 'Last Mountain' Review

I have to say that this one made me smile:

Not that,as an author, I should really gain pleasure for unsettling my readers.....

Anyway, you can read the original review here

Monday, 13 May 2013

Would the classics have been published today?

I am about halfway through reading Jane Eyre. To my shame, I have to admit I have never read it before (though, on the plus side, this has to be a positive for e-readers as I probably wouldn't have read it at all if it didn't come free on my Kobo) however, now I have, I have to speculate whether Miss Bronte would have got beyond the standard rejection letter these days!

I can imagine the criticisms; the unrealistically mature language ascribed to a ten year-old in the school scene; the rather sketchy characterisations and the clumsy plotting and pacing of the novel. I could see poor Charlotte being sent packing with the suggestion that she perhaps should take an access course in creative writing...

Yet this is clearly a classic, with sumptuously rich language and a story to get lost in. I do have a feeling though that CB would, today, have been scrabbling around for a few reviews with her self-published Kindle novel!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The joys of being self-employed

I think that any regular readers of this blog will note periods when I post a lot and talk about my fiction writing (aka the thing I want to do) and my other work, the self-employed bit (aka I need to eat and pay the bills). The latter is a necessary evil having traded that lovely regular salary and one employer to the tightrope act of many employers and the slightly scary business of no guaranteed income it is one of the trade-offs. As a result there is an inverse relationship between my ability to write about what I like (and, in fact, to write fiction at all) and the amount of other work I am doing.
For the last 6 weeks I have been firefighting work, 6 days a week, long hours etc. so it is no surprise that I have not been posting on here. Hopefully things are easing off a bit so I may be able to add a few more bits here - you have been warned!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

If only I'd known....

This is a slightly embarrased post, the post of an author who spent 3 years writing a novel about the Comet airliner only to find that there was a Mark 1, basically the very aircraft I wrote about, just 30 miles down the raod from me in Cosford!

If I had known this (or taken the time to find out - a reminder not to be complacent about ones research, however much one thinks one knows) it would have made my job writing about it, its layout and operation, much easier. Anyway, this is her in all her glory at Cosford. Oh, and I've put the novel, 'Contrail', on Free on Kindle today in penance!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Message in a Bottle (or Waiting for Reviews)

I am getting to think that self-publishing novels is a bit like being marooned on a desert island and throwing notes in bottles into the ocean in the hope of getting a reply. Several times during the day I do the equivalent of going down to the beach looking for a response, a ship or another bottle sent back in return - I log onto Amazon and check for reviews!

Usually I'm disappointed and have to do the equivalent of kicking driftwood down the sand for the rest of the day but, hust occasionally, there is something, a few words - good or bad - that shows that there ARE still people out there and that they have spent a little of their time to write something about your book.

Those moments really make my week. So a big thanks to my first reviewers for Contrail and Touched

They made me smile!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Knowing your characters

It never ceases to amaze me how some writers do not seem to know their characters. I have seen it a few times recently; a writer who has written some very pretty descriptions and given their characters lines to say but, when asked why they are saying what they are saying or doing what they are doing, replies, 'well, I don't really know, I haven't thought of that.'

Maybe it's just me but I think that is a very odd way of working. I personally cannot give my characters dialogue or actions without knowing them first; I mean, how can I predict what they are going to do or say otherwise?

Okay, you might point out that these are my characters, my inventions and I SHOULD know but, to me, character use is much more than just giving someone names and leaving them to it.

Consider this: If you found yourself in a crisis, nothing major, just something like a burst pipe or the need for an emergency babysitter to look after the kids whilst you went and sorted something important out, who would you call? The chances are it would be a relative; mum, dad, brother or sister, or a good friend. Why? Because you know what they can and would do. Dad has done years of DIY, he can easily deal with a burst pipe; your best friend will not mind at all sitting with the kids, it's what friends are for.

What you wouldn't do in either situation is ask a total stranger off the street to do either of these things. Why? Because you do not know them; you don't know what they say, you don't know what skills they have, you certainly do not know if you can trust them.

Yet, if you don't spend time getting to know your character, their background, what they like, what their beliefs are, who they know, how do you write them believable lines or know how they will react in a crisis? You don't, they are strangers - and will act like strangers!

That doesn't mean that they will always be entirely predictable though - isn't that also the case in real life? Aren't the most memorable episodes in life the times when someone you know well does something completely out of character? When my fictional characters start to do that then I know that they are 'real' and believable. They create problems for me when they do this but it's great when they do!

I have what I call a 'magazine' test. Think of a time when you have been sat in a room full of strangers, perhaps in a doctor's waiting room. Imagine you have to buy a magazine for each of the people in the room, one that they would really enjoy reading, that would be in line with their interests. Could you do it successfully for each person in the room? I know I couldn't because I do not know them. I might get half of them right just by guesswork. But ask me what magazine I'd buy for my characters and I'd know straight away; Dan from Touched would enjoy a high end photography magazine full of equipment he wants but can't afford; Harriet from Contrail would read Cosmo if she was around today whilst for her brother Stafford, I would buy Flight International and Motorsport.

Try it, it's a great test! The thing is, and this is important, once we as writers know all this we don't need to tell our readers. I get convinced that a lot of the description some writers' put into their novels about their characters is as much for their benefit i.e. a desperate attempt to quickly get to know the character they are writing about, as it is for the readers. If you know your characters inside and out before writing about them their traits will come out far more naturally.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going out for a drink with my character Harry from Contrail. I just KNOW he is going to be fun to spend time with!

Monday, 1 April 2013

A note to the powers-that-be

1. Stop messing with the clocks. Choose a time you like and STICK WITH IT!

2. Please don't start British Summer Time when there is snow on the ground. It confuses people.

3. Losing an hour's sleep in Spring is NOT compensated by having an hour's lie-in in the Autumn.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The leave to mature trick

I seem to have got into the habit of completing a first draft of a novel and then leaving it for some time before working on it again.

As I handwrite all my first drafts (I have blogged on that before) my second draft is the first electronic version and also the first time I get chance to properly restructure the book. I don't think I'll ever change this approach - doing it the old-fashioned way MAKES you get the plot and its various component steps pretty much right first time; I'd get lazy and more relaxed about this key element if I had the flexibilty of electronic drafts first off.

But it is not that that is the subject of this post, it's the 'leave and come back to' aspect of this process I want to write about.

I have come across this in many writing guides and in workshops so I am pleased that I have, virtually by accident, adopted this technique.

I know I wrote the thing in the first place but although I have the outline in my head I always find that I've forgotten the detail. It is remarkable how fresh it all seems to me (although I am worried that advancing age is giving me the retentive memory ability of a goldfish!). I even find myself reading on from the bit I'm typing up to see what heppens next - which has to be a good sign!

I do think that this is the reason why this technique is so effective and recommended; we all like fresh, new things. Going straight into a re-work of a piece that you have just finished is going to find you bored with it; it's stale, uninteresting, you know it too well. I am sure that is the reason why, when I've tried this in the past, I get nowhere and progressively make the piece worse.

Going back to the novel I'm working on now, The Honey Talker, I'd totally forgotten how much I'd gone to town with my main 'baddy'. Boy, is he evil! I've just done one of my 'cheats' and read ahead to a section where a transcript of an interview describes what this character, Mickey Smith, does to one of his henchmen who crossed him...Hell, I didn't think I was that sort of writer! Anyway that is to come; maybe I will launch an excerpt onto the world as a preview, but going back to this issue, leave your words to stew.

They may not mature like a fine wine but you will be able look at them with fresh eyes when next you see them and make the chances of a sucessful edit far higher.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Words of wisdom

Some words of wisdom from a writer friend of mine, Barrie Lillie:

Well worth a read

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Observations on writing and publishing

It's quite odd how different, different parts of the writing and publishing industry can be.

I see it in three ways - I write technical/professional books under my 'academic' name, I ghost write non-fiction books and I also write fiction under this name.

I have contracts, professional editors and a publisher for my textbooks. They try not to but they give me quite a hard time, always chasing and pressurising me to produce - and on time! It feels like a proper job.

With my ghost written books I have deadlines but my clients seem pretty relaxed. They give me a long leash and trust me to produce to their brief but the best of these relationships has a two-way, open back and flow of information. I need a fair bit of discipline in my schedule but, all told, it is quite a pleasant experience - and I often learn a lot from the research I do.

Fiction writing is so different from the other two it could almost be a totally different activity. You have no one sitting over your shoulder making you produce. There are no deadlines, no clear finish - who is to say when a novel is really 'finished'? One could edit forever, draft and redraft. Above all, if you deal with the publishing industry - agents, publishers, whatever - you have to have unbelievable levels of patience. It feels like the slowest velocity industry in the world, frustrating, remote, sometimes unfathomable. An author needs a level of faith that is rarely seen outside religous movements to believe that they can suceed in this mysterious world.

Yet guess which one of these three I want to do more of?

You don't have to be mad to write fiction but...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

On writing groups - again!

Last night I was, once again, reminded of the value of being a member of a good writing group.

Writing is a lonely, often selfish business. You create your world, you people it with characters, you give them things to do and say - generally you play God with them. But this is your world, yours alone. A single brain alone is rarely enough to make all the correct calls, to get it just right. There is nothing better than reading out a passage to a group; firstly it highlights the mistakes you have not picked up yourself despite how many times you've been through the text but, more importantly, invariably the group picks up areas that you have over or under written, where the narrative is tedious, unnecessary or misleading. They often also suggest directions for the plot that you haven't thought of.

Now, there are different forms of writing groups. Some are aimed at the novice writer and go in for writing exercises - these are quite useful, particularly if you are starting out, but the one I'm a member of, the Renegade Writers is one of the more mature type where you are encouraged to read out work in progress. It can be hard to have your beloved prose torn to shreds - but it is really effective in improving what you do!

The best thing an improving writer can do is find a group like this. Mind you, after last night, they have created a lot of work for me rewriting one of my characters...!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Well it is to me anyway!

Has anyone else noticed the interesting little quirks of the free promotions that you are allowed on Amazon's Kindle service? I, like many other authors, make use of these days when we can offer our books for free in order to encourage readers to discover us and, hopefully, give us feedback for reviews. The free days are limited - I chose 2 days over a weeked for Contrail - and I monitored the downloads over the time it was free, which ended on Sunday.

Yet this free period didn't quite end. Over the next 3 days the odd 'extra' free download happened, the last couple overnight last night.

As I said, interesting. Anyone else seen this and, if so, do you know why?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Good and Bad Writer's Habits

I have two habits which I know are the most beneficial to me when I'm at my most productive with my fiction writing. One I have heard several times in various contexts - in writer's groups, on courses, in books - whilst the seconf I think is one of my own. I don't remember hearing it anywhere else but, like many things, I might have unconsciously picked it up.

The first beneficial good habit is to set a time every day when you will write something and stick with it. No excuses, just do it. Sometimes it's painful, you know you are writing rubbish and it seems pointless. Whatever, the more you get into the writing habit, the easier it will be. Write a 1000 words a day and in 70 days you have a decent sized novel. This has to be the number one tip for any writer (and its the one I'm breaking at the moment - I will have to stop making excuses to myself). I managed this every day for 5 years and the output I created was fantastic.

The second tip is the one that might be mine - At the end of these regular sessions you will find that you are in the flow, that you know what section/passage/event you are going to write next. When you get to this point, stop before you reach the end of the piece you are writing.

This might seem counter intuitive - surely the whole point of this regular writing is to reach this 'flow' point? Well, yes, but you will find that, in the long term, this will be really beneficial. One of the great difficulties that most writers find when starting a writing session is getting going. If, when you sit down, you know what you are going to write first you will find that you will get into that flow much more quickly. These times for writing are precious and often short, you need to make the best of it and I have found - for me - that it is this trick that works best.

Try it. This may not work for everyone but I have found it really useful.

And I must take my own advice because I have strayed into bad habits....!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Playing the game or playing it straight.

There seems to me to be endless amount of advice from people who seem to speak with what is either authority (or a very good impression of it) on book promotion. I am sure it is all good stuff; all about seeking out the right reviewers, collecting thousands of twitter followers, making a big impression etc., etc. It's all about knowing the tricks, playing the game, knowing the insider rules.

The trouble is I think a lot of making this impression is window dressing, it's all show and no substance. I have tracked back a number of author's who have a whole armful of reviews - many more than my The Last Mountain has gained - yet I know from their sales position on Kindle that they are selling much less copies than my effort.

Maybe I'm just naive but I think people can easily see through this game. If something is dressed up to the nines, if there is an excess of presentation over substance, people will spot it (though in the case of Tony Blair I would have to add the caveat eventually!). We have a saying in my native Yorkshire; 'Fur coat but no knickers'! I think that sums up the approach of too many.

I just think it's simple. If you write something good, that people like, then they will take the time to review it and, even better, tell their friends who will also read and buy it. In that way a good author will build up a readership. Sure, this weekend I've been on Twitter telling everyone about my free promotion on my new novel Contrail but hey, I'm not a JK Rowling or a Dan Brown, I need to get the ball rolling, to get people reading. But that's all I will do. If people like it a few will hopefully review it. They will tell other people and...

But if they don't I know that it is the most eloquent criticism that people can give me. That would tell me far better than any number of manufactured reviews that I need to try harder.

I think playing it straight is the only way for me.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Letting go

Now that Contrail is out there I'm suddenly getting that feeling I had as a parent on my children's first day at school. You know that it has to be done, it's the next big step in life and you're pretty sure that they'll do just fine but you still worry about them.

Will it be popular? What if the fashionistas laugh at its cover? Will the big boys, the HarperCollins and the Random Houses be mean and gang up on my little baby?


All parents have to let go at some point.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Four/Thirds Paradox

If I had to describe myself I guess I would say I am the following: I'm 1/3 surveyor, 1/3 freelance writer, 1/3 specialist software consultant and trainer - and 1/3 novelist.

Now do you see the paradox? Four into three doesn't go!

The big problem with being self-employed and having no independent wealth behind me (or have a partner who has a nice steady salary alongside me) is that the first three have to have priority because, well let's admit it, I rather like eating and having a roof over my head!

So when do I find time to do the bit I actually love doing, writing fiction?

I suppose this is something that applies to all people who write as a hobby or write with the ambition of doing it professionally. Life gets in the way of prose. It's something we have to live with.

It doesn't make it any less annoying though!

Thursday, 14 March 2013


After much soul searching and delay, I have at last published my new 1950's spy adventure, Contrail on Kindle and Paperback. Check out my author page on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Why I am old-fashioned

I have a confession. Although I live and work in an internet age - my novels are all on Kindle, I love my e-reader, I am an E-lancer etc, etc - I write all of my fiction first in longhand. And preferably using a fountain pen!

Why? Surely I would be more productive creating everything in electronic format?

Well yes, I probably would but I have found that I write far better when writing creative fiction when I hand write. And best of all when my pace of writing is constrained by a real ink pen. There is something so connected by the act of writing - physically writing - putting a real pen to real paper that is just magical. I just feel like I'm connected right back to those scribes in ancient Ur scratching away on those clay tablets...

Or perhaps I'm just a sad old git!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Spread thin

I have to say that I am beginning to understand the difficulties of committing oneself to the self-publishing route.
Of course the act of self-publishing is easy - I know because I have already done it once. In fact it is probably TOO easy; I know I have learnt a huge amount about what not to do from the exercise and it is quite clear that there is a lot of material out there that badly needs the ministerings of an editor.
No, self-publishing is easy; it is doing it well that is hard.
I thought I was ready a couple of weeks ago but in fact I was nowhere near - last weekend was spent trying to formulate a marketing plan and trying to get a tailored website together. In the meantime I have also been sorting out things like the half-titles, copyright etc...all whilst trying to earn a living (I'm self-employed which means I tend to have a very irregular work structure).
Writing fiction? That was something I used to have time for! (But it is the thing that I have to remind myself that this is the ultimate goal of what I'm doing.)
I still think it's worth it. The more I do, the more convinced I am. I want a voice, I have things to say, I need to be read. I believe in the quality of my writing so this act of faith has to be carried through.
Boy though, do I feel very thinly spread at the moment!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

This is a preview of my forthcoming novel 'Touched' - It's a rather different romance - honest! This is an extract from chapter one

Annie hung up and Tess settled down on the settee. She poured herself a glass of wine, being careful to avoid getting any of the deep red droplets on either the cream carpet or the even creamer suite, ruing again her colour choice given her natural clumsiness. Safely negotiating this task she carefully put the bottle down and took a sip. Not bad. She was trying hard to get out of the thrift habit, the three for £10 syndrome that had been with her since student days. She had to consciously tell herself to look at the label, to go for quality not price. She was an associate now, she could afford it. It still made her feel guilty though and always made sure the bottle was on offer even if she paid more for it now. She took a sip; yeah it was a good choice. Rich, round, a hint of blackberry, a touch of oak. Lovely.
She found herself staring into the glass, watching the light reflect off the facets of the cut crystal, the infinite shades of red within the microcosm of the tulip. Her mind went back to what her sister had said. She was right, she should be out having fun, seeing a bit of life, spending some of her new improved salary on herself. But still she couldn’t, not yet.
It was still too soon.
Tess brought herself back to the present. She realised she hadn’t watched any of her soap. She checked her watch. Ten minutes! Annoyed with herself she tried to concentrate, to pick up the thread.
The commercial break came all too soon. And with the adverts came a feeling she didn’t at all like, a feeling of unease, a prickly tingle that seemed to cover her whole back. Her skin seemed to be shrinking away from her clothes. She tried to ignore it, she told herself that she was just being silly. She gave herself a good talking to in her head. She was safely locked inside her flat, up on the 7th floor. She absolutely would not give into her instincts and go and look around. Monsters under the bed indeed! She was a grown women for God's sake.
She took another sip of wine and adjusted her position on the sofa, kidding herself that she was just getting comfortable but now, out of the corner of her eye, she could now see the door into the hall, which was open. The hall was dark, the only lights on in the flat were the uplighter by the window and what the TV gave off, so she could not see far into the gloom. What she could see though was the spot of light from the spyhole showing the well-lit corridor outside her front door. Everything else was just dark shapes.
Harmless dark shapes, Tess, she told herself silently, harmless.
‘Pull yourself together,’ she muttered out loud and turned to the TV, deliberately turning her back on the open door, and the hall, and its gloomy corners.
The tickling, prickly feeling was back. She couldn’t get rid of it, couldn’t get the thoughts out of her head. Every sense told her to turn back and look, look. Look. Look behind you! She fought it, tried to rationalise. To be a grown up but then a thought nag, nag, nagged at her.
The spyhole.
Could she see the light of the spyhole when she first looked? Or had it appeared as her eyes adjusted to the gloom? If it had appeared then it meant something was in the way. No, no, no, she was just being stupid, letting her imagination run away with her.
She forced herself to watch the TV.
But the urge to turn around was so strong. And so was the fear, the fear of seeing something dark, something malevolent, something or someone that shouldn't be there. She found herself hardly able to breathe and this made her very angry with herself.
‘Stupid cow,’ she muttered getting to her feet, annoyed that she was giving in to what had to be her childish fears.
She found herself looking straight into the eyes of a masked man.
She felt a blow to her midriff.
A brief, dull pain, then an icy numbness.
Tess looked down. There was blood everywhere; over the carpet, on the sofa, soaking her t-shirt, dark as the wine in the glass that she still held. Even at that moment it struck her how odd it was that she was still being careful not to spill a drop.
Blood? It was on the knife held in the hand of the man, the blade big and evil and silver, no, silver and red; his hands in leather gloves, black but darkened further by her blood.
Her blood.
She looked back up into the eyes of the man, a question framed on her lips, but suddenly the eyes shot upwards, away from her, whilst the carpet rushed up to meet her.
She sighed.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Decision Made

I am have made the decision that I want people to read my novels so Contrail and Touched will both be published shortly. Contrail, my 1950's story spun about the Comet airliner will be first - I just need to organise my website etc. Touched will follow - it is in with a couple of agents/publishers so I will be polite and wait for their response but I do feel it is time for me to take control. Alea Jacta Est. The die is cast.

Monday, 4 March 2013

With great apologies to the Bard

To self-publish, or not to self-publish: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous critics, Or to take arms against a sea of rejection letters, And by giving it up (and doing it myself) end them? To die as an author: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks of continual rejection That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come Dreams of publishing contracts, the death of control of ones own output... When we submit to agents it seems like they must have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must they give us such pause: there's no respect That makes calamity of such long silence; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love of our prose, the law of publishing; delay, The insolence of their office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after rejection, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of (or someone who the writers group recommends)? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution to go through with putting our precious words on Kindle Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment that no one will otherwise read With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. - stay the 'publish' button and foolishly submit to yet another agent! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd.

Demystifying twitter

It is amazing how social media has crept up on us, and how most of us pick up the basics as we go along. I guess that all of us of a certain generation (AKA old!) struggle to keep pace with it. Its hard to keep abreast of everything, if we did we probably wouldn't have time to do what we term 'real' things. I personally have got into twitter but have never devoted the time to facebook - it is a mystery to me. However for those who are the reverse way round, below is a potted guide to twitter. @ - the @ symbol has a very specific meaning on Twitter, as opposed to its use within an email address where it signifies the recipients domain. On Twitter, every single username is prefixed with the @ symbol, which is then used to mention or reply to another user in turn. # - the hashtag symbol started as a way of categorising tweets; tweets with the same hashtags would be viewable as their own list, allowing people to track popular subjects. The hashtag has now moved beyond this to something more creative, that people use to make amusing allusions, hint at a subtext, or to mount awareness campaigns. A key example of this is the #kony2012 campaign aimed at combating child violence in Africa. The hashtag has become more than a means of making tweets searchable; it is more about sharing values through language and affiliating with values. RT – RT is an abbreviation of the full term to Re-Tweet; this is where a user can distribute somebodies tweet on their own timeline; in some ways this is similar to forwarding an email, but the discourse features of twitter are sufficiently different to make this an entirely different orthographic approach. HT – This is an abbreviation of ‘hat tip’, where somebody wishes to acknowledge the contribution of another to their own tweet, or the source of some particular information. MT – a modified tweet, whereby somebody has not just retweeted something somebody has said, but altered it slightly as well, often for reasons of brevity. PRT – a partial retweet; often retweets have to be shortened to accommodate additional usernames, or they may be edited for clarity. Shortform URLS – because of the limited characters it is often not possible to include full form website addresses for linking; Twitter and other services offer an automatic shortform redirect, which takes on peculiar combinations of characters; this has broadened beyond twitter now, particularly in cases of extremely long web addresses that are better communicated more simply ‘Follow’ is an unusual feature of Twitter; in this context it means to subscribe to someone’s, or something’s, tweets. This sounds a very straightforward action, and the action itself is. However, great currency has been afforded to how many followers a Twitter user has; as a means of demonstrating their popularity, and indeed their power, among people who can self-select to subscribe to their output. As a consequence of this, a great deal of energy – both honest and deceitful – is expended in trying to acquire a large amount of followers, particularly now by companies. This has gone to the point where someone with a large amount of followers will try and leverage that support to get others many followers; it’s a strange lexical feature to imbue the simple word ‘follow’ with such importance. Trending is another lexical feature that is much more complex than it first appears. This is entirely related to the #hastag tool; Twitter automatically tracks which people are using which hashtag and where, and then provides lists of popular topics based on different geographies. It did not take people long to realise the exposure implications of getting a hastag onto a prominent national or global list. Thus, getting something ‘trending’ has become a major preoccupation for marketing companies, charities and television shows. There are a number of discourse features that are prominent upon Twitter as well, some that are native to it, and some that are not necessarily so, but take upon a new form through this particular media. The most noteworthy of the discourse features is the way that tweets form into conversations, or threads, as people retweet or reply to tweets, which creates a much more interactive form of communication. In part this is similar to a group text, as that is where Twitter ultimately owes its technical inspiration from, but Twitter has actually gone much further with the possibilities. The key element is that each conversation is publicly accessible, and anybody can contribute to it at any point, which means it has a greater degree of interaction than a group text.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Interesting Strategy

I came across an interesting twitter post last week - though I've been so busy it's taken me until now to comment on it. The poster was another indie author. She was recounting how she had just put her new novel out on Kindle (nothing unusual there) but was continuing to send it to agents (which I think IS unusual). I have always held the view that it was either/or - you either independently published or you went down the publisher/agent route. Am I wrong? I'd be interested to hear views on this.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Renegades come through again!

A week or so ago, I blogged about the importance of writing groups. Their importance to a writer was underscored this week when I read the last chapter of my novel 'Touched' to the group. Not only did the act of reading out loud to a group flag up the odd 'silly' and also where my wording had been clumsy, but there were also some very useful suggestions about the nuances of this crucial final scene. I have spent this afternoon trying out the suggestions that were made and I'm delighted with the result. The changes are only subtle but they have made the scene smoother and the key element, the sacrifice made by my lead female character, Tess, clearer and more believable. I really could not have done this without their input - it's invaluable.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Do we write with an accent?

As frequently happens, attending a meeting of The Renegade Writers has got me thinking, this time about accents. Not so much about the way we speak - although I'm sure just about everyone thinks that their own accent is neutral and that its everyone else who speaks funny - just that the way we write betrays the place and, more importantly, time we are from just as much as the short 'a' ain the words path and bath mark me down as being from the north of England whenever I open my mouth.
The reason why a short discussion at The Renegades got me thinking about this is due to the fact that, in my reading habits, I mix contemporary novels with some classic books, some drawn from the popular end of the reading spectrum. I am currently reading Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, which I had never read before. Even before the meeting I found it to be like a visit to a grandma; slightly old-fashioned, a bit eccentric, quite amusing and casually racist! The latter really made me wince in places but it has to be expected because Verne was writing in and about his time. He could not know attitudes and beliefs would change.
This took me back to another discussion at the Renegades. I mentioned my love of John Wyndham, how brilliant his ideas were but Jan Edwards commented how she didn't like him because he was so sexist. As a youth I'd never really seen it, but going back and reading a couple of novels again I can see what she means. But again, Wyndham was of his time; it was natural for him to write from a male dominated context because that was his life experiences. I went back and thought about some of my other favourite books and could see just the same biases - Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands for example, a book I loved as a youth and widely accepted as being the first spy novel, projects the Germans as being very one dimensional scheming Huns; in 1905 that was what was expected; The 39 Steps, very similar.
I could go on but the key reason why this has got me thinking is about us as writers. What 'accent' does our writing have now, in the first part of the 21st century? What quirks and prejudices in our society will date us, make people who might read us in the future wince. Before others say, 'No, surely not, we are a balanced, educated society' remember none of us are accentless except to ourselves. Of course we are biased. That is a problem in itself but what happens when we set our stories in the past? Although we can mimic the way of talking of the past, do the research so our historical framework is accurate but should we also mimic the prejudices and sometimes unpleasant attitudes of the past in creating the characters who populate our world? Or do we put a more modern set of principles in our characters because the consumers of our words are of today and tomorrow and not of yesteryear? Tricky, and, as someone who has written two novels set in the 1950's, worrying because I do not have an answer. I just know it's a problem.javascript:void(0);

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Oh to be a full time writer of fiction...

...then I wouldn't have to juggle clients in such contrasting timezones! My main client is Australian (13 hours ahead currently) but they have an office in Dubai (+4 hours) but this week I have collected a new client in Florida (5 hours behind) who today wants me to talk with a client of theirs in California (-8 hours). I am going to have to timetable sleep into here somewhere....and where is the chance to write the next bestseller? This is never going to work...

Monday, 18 February 2013

writing projects never end...

...each printed version is just a rest in between editing! I've just been reminded of that because the big, non-fiction book that has been the bane of my life for the last three months, which has largely prevented me witing much fiction, which I signed off and sent to my editor last week is back already...grrr. But I am an avowed tinkerer and adjuster anyway, at least I've become that way in recent years. I used to hate going back over things, my attitude was I did things ONCE. Now I can always seem to see better ways of doing things, different ways of saying things. Final versions never exist. Perhaps I've gone too far, there is a happy medium somewhere when you should simply stop, where the rough edges have gone but you haven't completely polished out the detail and quality of the underlying piece. The difficulty - and fun - of writing is working out where that point is.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Link to the Renegades...

...and the group would definitely have pulled me up for not being thorough and putting a link into them in my last post!

The importance of writing groups

I have got into a habit of going for a long, often muddy, country walk on Saturdays, usually ending up in a nice pub where I do some editing. It's a job I've never been fond of but am getting better at doing. Today I was looking at a novel that I wrote in the winter of 2010 - spring 2011 and which I had an abortive start at a second draft at in the Autumn of 2011. I think it's quite a good story but, looking at it now, I found myself thinking 'hmmm, the Renegades would pull me up for that clumsy phrasing', and 'that's lazy description', etc., etc. Then it struck me - this 'inner voice' which is improving the detail and quality of my writing is down to going to The Renegade Writer's most weeks and reading out sections of my work and having it criticised. I've written non-fiction (published) for 12 years, fiction for about 6 but I've made more progress in the last 13 months than I have made at any other time. Writing groups can be just back slapping exercises ('oh, how very nice, dear') or ways for writer's to boost their ego's ('listen to this - aren't I just the greatest?') but when they work at their absolute best is when writer's are unafraid to read things out which they know are not perfect and the group is unafraid to offer genuine and unabridged criticism. It can be alarming, you can sometimes get a rough ride but, boy, is it effective! Writing can be a very lonely business. The actual hard slog is almost always done alone. Even joining an ineffective, non-critical group will be beneficial to most writers. Joining a group that will criticise your work will not give you the easiest of times but if you are genuinely interested in improving (and we can all do things better) then it is the single best thing you can do.

Friday, 15 February 2013

'Touched' - A new hope?

I have got closer and closer to putting 'Touched' out as a self-published novel - and getting more and more reluctant to take this step....! I understand the arguments for doing it; people have asked when I am going to put a new novel out because they liked the last one; It is a decent strategy for getting yourself noticed, more reviews etc., etc.... The problem is though I still am not sure. It is easy to publish, easier now than it has ever been. There is a lot of good stuff being put out but a lot of rubbish too. I have faith in what I write; the feedback I have had for 'Touched' has been great, yet I do feel that I am risking tainting my writing with the label 'not good enough to be published conventionally' if I go down this route. I do want to be a SUCCESSFUL writer not just a published one. I want a lot of people to read what I write, to be touched by my words (pardon the pun), and I do think that means a professional publishing contract. Anyway, I have tried again today. I do believe in fate and I've found a writer/publisher/agent whose website I could have written myself if I was creating a wish-list of the ideal qualities I was looking for. I hope I hit a chord with her, I hope she has the time to take me on. There is a lot of 'hopes' here. It may be a long shot but, well, maybe I believe in Angels!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Cover for Contrail

In the meantime, this is the cover and blurb for 'Contrail', my novel based around the de Havilland Comet - and also the book that introduces Harry Jones to the world...mind you I'm not sure if the world is ready for Harry!

Selling books one at a time...and freeconomics

It's amazing when opportunities to sell a book come along! I was in desperate need of a hair-cut so I made a beeline for a barber I know that is (a) cheap and (b) usually quiet - when you have a hair style as simple as mine there is no point paying more. I found the young lady barber was deeply engrossed in her Kindle. As one does, we got chatting. To my slight dismay I found that she only read free books. I guess that is understandable; if you get offered something for nothing you are going to take it. It is hard on an author though; sure I like to have people read what I write but I would also like to receive something for my efforts in creating something that they enjoy. Fortunately, I found that her father was also an avid reader and was willing to pay for books, so I left her the details of 'The Last Mountain'and told her that I would be putting new stuff out at the end of the month. It has got me thinking though. There is no doubt that the trend is towards free. Think of the really successful companies/ventures in recent years - Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. All are free at the point of consumption, the corporations who own them have found otherways of monetising them. This has even got its own name now - freeconomics. Perhaps that is what the publishing world and us writers need, though what exactly that should be I can't, at this moment, say what that should be or even look like. Amazon with KDP have taken a small step in that direction (VERY small in monetary terms). I would be interested to hear what people think. But in the meantime I'm glad to get another sale, even if it is one reader at a time!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

BBC 'The bottom line'

I quite regularly listen to the radio when I'm out walking and, on Thursday night, I have a brisk 40 minute walk to the pub for the quiz night I'm a regular at (I always look at this as neutral in terms of health - 80 minutes of walking + mental exercise = too many pints of real ale - but that's an aside) and I tend to listen to Radio 4's 'The Bottom Line'. I was doubly interested to hear that it was on publishing in the digital age. Now, as someone with a vested interest that I admit to, I have tried to remain objective about the industry. I have to say though, my slightly prejudiced views are that (a) it has had a cosy, old school existance for generations that are very hard to shake off, and (b) if I ran my business like they do I wouldn't stay solvent for long! (I do have a certain vision in mind about how some agents and publishers deal with submissions: have you heard the story of the airliner that disappeared in South America in the late 1940's? It reappeared 50 years later having travelled all the way down a glacier....You heard it here first, folks!)It was interesting to gauge how they were handling the shock of the new. There was an agent, a publisher and a guy from Kobo on the programme. I am not going to say what I thought, I will put the link into this post and let you decide for yourself, but, to me, whilst two of the panel sounded proactive one sounded rather complacent and gave the impression of being a rabbit in the headlights. Listen to it and judge for yourself....

Friday, 8 February 2013

Some people have no shame

Those people that know me also probably know that, as well as being a surveyor, I am also active on Elance. Elance is one of the homes of electronic freelancing and, I have to admit, I love the work that I get off there. Some of it is in my specialism of property economics, some academic work but some is ghostwriting work (which as my forthcoming novel, 'Touched', has a ghostly theme is quite apt!), and it's this that I want to blog about. There's nothing wrong with the type of ghostwriting I do. It's generally business related stuff, usually with a broad connection to my background. People who use me do so usually because they want to get over a message to their audience but find that either they have not got the time to devote to writing or that they struggle to get over what they say in a written format. I work to their brief and their notes - it's what they want to say, it's their work, I just interpret and present it for them. There is, however, another type of ghostwriting that I'm seeing more and more - and it really winds me up. These are the 'I've had an idea for a novel...' ones or, even worse (and I've seen it a lot), 'I have published the xxxx series of novels on Kindle and I want someone to write the next one...'. Yes really. And, if I wanted to, I could name and shame. As someone who writes fiction, I'm pretty annoyed at the people who think having the idea for the novel is the difficult bit - I have 5 or 6 good ideas a week I could use if I had the time - but they are just misguided and lazy. It's the second type I'm just disgusted by; it's like passing off horse meat as beef! To write a piece of fiction, the writer invests their time, creativity and, quite often, a bit of their soul in their work. To ask a writer to do this, pay a pittance for their time (because these people aren't shamed enough to pay decently), receive no credit for it but for the commissioner to pass it off as their own work is just so distasteful. What is the point of putting this work up? What do the people who do it gain from it? Kudos? Status? No, you are frauds, pure and simple. If I have had a few too many glasses of red the next time I see one maybe I will name and shame....