25 September 2014

The Eight Phases of Writing

If I divide my writing process into phases, phase 1 was reading the 'best bits' out to my wife and discussing plot and characters with my immediate family.
Phase 2 was handing a script to anyone who expressed the slightest interest and asking them for feedback. The most successful example I can recall involves an early draft of Technical Difficulties, my unpublishable SF trilogy. I gave a copy to a friend who was having health problems and found sleeping difficult. A week later, I asked him what he thought of it. 'Perfect' he replied 'just what I needed. I lie in bed with it and I'm asleep before I get to the bottom of the page.' I'm sure there's a market for a product that induces sleep without pharmaceutical intervention but it's not the best recommendation you can get for a novel.
Phase 3 involved writer's circle and writing courses, sharing my work with others who were interested enough to be helpful and kind enough to be gentle.
Phase 4 was a professional editor being paid to give my work a proper critique. This was the most important phase so far. After I got over the initial shock I began to recognise the truth in what he was saying and how my writing style was too distant and matter-of-fact. Also, my main character was a prat. I shouldn't have based him on myself. Another valuable lesson.
Phase 5 was realising that 250,000 words with a prat as the protagonist wasn't going to be salvageable and deciding to write something different and in a different way.
Phase 6 was working with an editor, polishing my work and sending it off to agents and publishers.
Phase 7 was doing the rounds, talking to agents and publishers. I was lucky enough to be able to do this and get a good feel for the state of the publishing industry and what opportunities there were for new authors like me. The conclusion I reached was disappointing. Even if I managed to get a publishing deal, this would involve a couple of year's wait to get my book out there. This was academic, though, as deals for new writers are few and far between.
So, I had what I considered to be a good book that had been well edited. Now what? Self-publish?
The whole self-publishing thing filled me with disquiet. I felt uncomfortable in the absence of someone knowledgeable and independent deciding that my book was worthy of being published.
In the event, I was fortunate enough to be able to become part of a publishing business. I saw an opportunity in the market and approached a best-selling thriller writer with my ideas. To my great good fortune, he agreed to become involved in the business and his extensive experience proved essential. To do it properly, publishing is neither easy nor straightforward, particularly if you want to have both print books and ebooks distributed widely. We needed a first book to try out our business model and I eventually suggested my own. My author read it and agreed it was fine. That was the best moment in my writing career. Phase 8 could begin.

Which phase is your writing in?

Do you recognise the process I've been through?

Please let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

If you share this blog or leave a comment, I'll pick one of you out of a hat to get a free critique of the first twenty pages of your novel. Now that's a risk worth taking.

photo credit: Eric.Parker via photopin cc

16 September 2014

Interview with Alex Salmond

'Fifty quid and it's yours'

NW: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Alex. You must be very busy now that the referendum is won and Scotland is an independent country.
AS: You're welcome.
NW: So what are the next steps in the independence process?
AS: I have absolutely no idea.
NW: But surely the negotiations are underway, there's a tight timescale, isn't there?
AS: Apart from having a hell of a party, which I'm still suffering from, there's been very little to do.
NW: What about all those issues that need to be resolved?
AS: Listen, pal, I don't do issues. My job was to win the referendum, and I did. End of story.
NW: Are you keeping the pound, as promised?
AS: No, they won't let us. As flaming promised by them.
NW: So what are you going to do?
AS: We won the referendum, that's enough. It's the will of the Scottish people that counts.
NW: How about the EU?
AS: We can apply for membership so that's not a problem. I expect we'll be fast-tracked in. If all goes well I expect we'll get admitted along with Turkey.
NW: When?
AS: Not exactly sure, should be before 2050 though.
NW: And in the meantime?
AS: In the meantime we listen to the will of the Scottish people. That's what counts. We're all better off without Westminster telling us what we can and can't do.
NW: So what can you do about the EU and the pound?
AS: You'll have to ask Westminster, it's all in their hands. Me, I just won a referendum. How good is that? I bet they're all wishing they were me down there. They lost, I won.
NW: Congratulations

photo credit: Scottish Government via photopin cc

15 September 2014

Writers and Authors

Whew! That last post on Scottish Independence went well. That's if abuse is any measure of wellness. I was accused by someone Scottish of 'using OUR freedom debate to advertise YOUR tosh.' The capitals are his. Well, I was only expressing an opinion. If the rest of Scotland are feeling so tetchy no wonder the result is going to be a close run thing.

Back to safer ground, then. Tosh about writing.

I have found that there is a class system being applied to writers. It goes something like this, from bottom to top. From lower class to top class.

Lowest form of writer: Aspiring writer

This is someone who would very much like to write but is waiting for their circumstances to change. They tell me things like 'I'd love to write but I'm so busy' then they indicate some change in their circumstances that will allow them to write. These range from a lottery win to retirement. The urge to write is there, without any doubt, it's just being kept down below the threshold where it might actually become active.

Next level up: Writer

is a person who writes. In other words it's most of us. Anyone who puts pen to paper or finger to keyboard. What we write doesn't have any merit, even in our own eyes. (See previous post on Scottish Independence for an example)

Then we come to: Author

who is a writer who has actually finished something. It doesn't have to be a full length novel to qualify, it can be a short story, flash fiction. For heaven's sake, a neatly written note to the milkman might even qualify, but that's pushing it a bit too far. Poems might count, though I have my prejudices and won't be drawn further on that subject.

Top of the pile: Published Author

who is a colossus amongst us mortals. This is a writer who has had their work purchased by a publisher and can stand proud and tall, if not exactly rich. The published author is the pinnacle of aspiration, the Everest of achievement, the flagpole of desire for a writer.

Then there's the Self-Published Author. Where do they fit in the hierarchy? Public perception places them at absolute rock bottom. Below everybody and everything else. These are 'writers' who have had the temerity to inflict their dribblings on the outside world. They've bypassed the gatekeepers of taste and quality. They've let themselves loose without permission. Nobody can be safe from their vanity.

So, where are you on the list? I'm somewhere between the top and the bottom. In fact I'm all of the above.

It doesn't matter where you are as long as you feel the urge to write and respond in your own way.

One word of advice, though. Don't be too hasty in publishing your own work. Once it's out there it's out of your control. So make it the best that it can be. Take your time. Put scripts to one side and let them mature. Don't condemn them too quickly but don't inflict them on others until you feel really proud that they're yours.

Oh, and vote NO if you're living in Scotland. I, for one, would be sad to lose you.

photo credit: Abizern via photopin cc

14 September 2014

Scottish Independence

I suppose I've no say in the matter, I've certainly not got a vote.

However, the Scottish referendum is something that has been intruding into my thoughts quite a lot recently. In a world where everyone is trying to effect closer ties, the Scots seem to want to go it alone. I believe this is because nobody understands what this means. The campaigning so far certainly hasn't made it clear and I guess it's because nobody ever imagined there would be a Yes vote.

What are the reasons for voting 'Yes'?

1. Alex Salmond

You get to have this man as president/ prime minister.
My impression is that he makes Tony Blair look trustworthy and George Bush look smart. The chip on his shoulder isn't going to disappear, ever. When times get hard, he'll just blame everything on the intransigence of the English as usual.

2. Job Creating Powers

According to the Yes campaign, this is what it's all about. An independent Scotland would be able to create more jobs. No they wouldn't.
Really, it's like saying everyone will be taller and better looking. They won't. Think about it.

3. Have your own money and spend it on what you want

Hmmm. What money? I believe that Scotland runs on a deficit, this means they have less money than they spend. It's the fact that the UK Government decides what share of the overall budget is devoted to Scotland that sticks in the Yes people's craw. Wait until it's the International Monetary Fund that decides. Wait until pensions depend on China lending you a few more quid.

The whole 'why can't we still have the pound?' question can be answered simply. If you want the pound you can't be independent. The big financial decisions will still be made in England, that's the way it has to be. If you want the Euro, you're very welcome to it (see below).

4. Europe

Scotland gets to be an independent country and play its part in the EU. 
Not possible, apparently. At least that's what the EU are saying. There's a queue to join the EU and Scotland will have to take their place in it (behind Albania, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and others).  Don't take my word for this, ask John-Claude Juncker.
Oh, if Scotland are eventually let into the EU, they will have to adopt the Euro. That's one of the rules of entry.

5. If it all goes pear shaped we can always go back into the UK

Again, this isn't an option. Once you're out, you're out. The referendum isn't like a general election where if you vote the wrong way you can correct matters five years later, then do it again five years after that. This is it, once and for all.

It's not any of my business, really. I don't live in Scotland and I'm not Scottish. I have some friends in Scotland, that's all. My bet is that they'll all be voting Yes.

The key issue for me, though, is the practicality of an independent Scotland. A lot of very inconvenient and expensive things will have to change. Currency is one, EU is the other. No pound, no EU membership.
It will also mean that we have to control the border between England and Scotland. Not because we want to, but because it has to be. The're can't be free passage from non-EU to EU. Also, Scotland will have a different immigration policy. EU apart, England can't allow people who Scotland decide to let in to also have access to the rest of the UK. Controlling the border will be difficult, costly and very damaging to the Scottish economy. Think about it.

The Yes campaign has run on the basis that all matters will be up for negotiation after the vote. That everything will be done sensibly and reasonably. That nothing detrimental will happen. That denying Scotland the pound would be unthinkable. That the EU will automatically let Scotland in.

Just because no pound, no EU and a closed border would be disastrous for Scotland doesn't mean it doesn't have to happen. It does.

I fully expect the Scots to vote yes. It would be my gut reaction if I were them. Show the English and the Tories and the rest what they think of them.

If they do, the lack of fun will begin, I fear.

Of course, I could be wrong. I really do hope so.

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