10 December 2015

It's not fayre

I was driving north from Swansea through the beautiful rain soaked and autumn coloured countryside when I felt a blog coming on. The thing that prompted me to divert my attention from the scenery (but not the road ahead) was a sign advertising a Wedding Fayre. I pondered on the word fayre and wondered about its validity. So I looked it up when I arrived home.

Fayre n. a pseudo-archaic spelling of fair and fare.

Get that? Pseudo-archaic! So when you are tempted by a sign outside a pub that announces Traditional Pub Fayre I suggest you do the following. First scoff at their use of a pseudo-archaic word. Then wonder about the quality of the pseudo-food they're serving. Then scoff some place else.

As a writer of fantasy, I can have my characters adopt any form of language I want. I'm sorely tempted to have at least one of them speak in a pseudo archaic manner and perhaps all of them should.

Here's an extract from my latest Tyrant book which I have changed to incorporate this new (or pseudo-new?) style.

‘What’s this?’ Cuthbert asked.
            The wizened soldier had already turned away and was fishing about in a sack. ‘It’s a pyke.’ He replied, plonking a heavy hat made of strips of iron on Cuthbert’s head. ‘And this is your helmyt. Now move along.’
            ‘I don’t want to be a pykeman.’ Cuthbert said.
            ‘It’s all we’ve got left. Be thankful you’ve got a decent weapon, there’s plenty who won’t be so lucky.’
            ‘It’s hardly that.’ Cuthbert said. ‘It’s a branch from a tree that’s been sharpened at one end. That doesn’t make it a pyke. Where’s the pointy bit of metyl? Without that it’s just a piece of wyd.’
            ‘We’re a bit short of metyl at the moment. You’ll just have to make do. Now move along.’
            ‘Here.’ Cuthbert said. ‘Take it back. Give it to someone else who might appreciate it. Like I said, I don’t want to be a pykeman anyway. I’d rather wait and get myself a nice crossbow.’
            ‘Don’t want to bear a pyke on behalf of the Kyng? I reckon them’s treasonable words. Now be gone with you, form a nice straight line over there and try not to poke any of your mates with that pyke.’       
 ‘Another thing, this helmyt doesn’t fyt.’ By way of demonstration he turned his head sharply to the left. The helmet remained still, its noseguard now protecting Cuthbert’s ear.

OK, maybe not. Just putting in a y here and there is a bit lame I suppose. And the whole process might become a bit wearing when every other word has a wiggly red line from Word underneath it. Ah well, all's fayre in love and war.

Fayre enough?

Meanwhile, a very happy Christmas to everyone. 

19 October 2015

Literary Agent

Who needs a literary agent in the modern era of book publishing?

Well, I do for a start and I'll tell you my reasons.

I have a limited amount of energy. You might also describe it as time but I prefer the use of the word energy because energy determines what I can do with my time. As you may be aware, I'm a partner in a publishing business as well as being an author. My crime thrillers have sold well, particularly as ebooks, and I've picked up the skills and experience that a publisher needs. So I know how to get cover designs, format manuscripts, employ editors and produce good quality books that people are happy with. I also know the best ways to get our books noticed, including Facebook and Twitter, and who can help me grow our market.

I would, however, rather be writing. That's what makes me happy. I do get some fun and satisfaction from all the peripheral tasks involved in producing a book but once the novelty wears off it does seem a bit too much like work.

My ambition was always to write a full length novel. I've now finished nine of them since 2007 and three have been published. That was my second ambition, to be published. Then I wished that people would buy my books and they did. I really wanted some indication that they had read and enjoyed them and lo and behold they wrote very positive reviews. Whew! My wish list appears to have been fulfilled.

But not quite, we humans are beggars when it comes to wanting even more. Now I feel that I want to expand my readership, especially now that I'm writing fantasy as well as crime thrillers. In order to do that I need an agent. Someone who will champion my work. Someone who has the boundless energy and know-how required to deal with mainstream publishers. Someone who has a vested interested in my success because they are investing their time in the project. Agents are purely commission based, they have to back the right horses and then ride them to the finishing line before they get paid. That's the energy I need. Yes they take a proportion of my earnings but they're welcome to it, they'll have earned it.

I'm convinced I've found the right one but there's every chance that she won't have me. All I can do is ask her nicely, which I've done.

Wish me luck.

photo credit: Ann Arbor Cook Book, 1899 -- frontispiece advertisements. via photopin (license)

5 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader has been a disaster for me. Where do I start in order to explain?

Ah, yes. Movember 2015. The month I decided to grow a moustache for charity, an act that proved strangely prophetic but more of that another time. Once Movember was past I decided to retain my facial hair on the grounds that my primary relationship had improved because my wife dissolved into laughter every time she looked at me.

Movember turned into Decembeard. I went the whole hog and stopped shaving altogether. My face became spiky and uncomfortable to the extent that my new grandson would squeal if I held him close. Still I persevered as it was for a cause that turned out not to be as good as I had imagined, but that will need a whole blog to explain so we'll not go there right now.

In January, I watched a film called Finding Forrester. I recommend this if you've not seen it. You can get it free if you've a Netflix subscription. Sean Connery played a distinguished writer in the film. Part of his being distinguished was the beard he wore. I modelled mine on his and every time I looked in the mirror I murmured James Bond quotes in a peculiar accent that I fondly imagined might belong to Connery. My wellbeing and self-esteem were greatly improved at a time when I needed a boost. Walking around looking like Sean Connery's portrayal of an author felt pretty good. It ticked plenty of the boxes that I might have been inclined to tick had I been in the habit of filling in surveys. I never do surveys, even the ones that offer fabulous prizes just for spending ten minutes of my time. The nearest thing I do to surveys is occasionally respond to consultations which are relevant to my work. These are Government exercises and don't even have the merit of offering a free iPad if you're drawn out of the hat. It's important to respond to these because it's good practice in being ignored. By the time a consultation has been sent out, someone has already decided what the change in legislation is going to be, regardless what response they get. I once asked a Treasury official why they decided to change when ninety percent of the consultation responses urged them to leave things as they were. 'We obviously consulted the wrong people,' was the reply.

Where was I? Oh yes, Jeremy Corbyn.

I'd never heard of Jeremy Corbyn before the Labour Party leadership election. More importantly, neither had I seen a picture of him. Now it's too late, he's been elected and disaster is staring at me from every mirror. He's got my beard. Or, worse, I seem to have a beard exactly like his. People at work have started to call it a 'Corbyn,' I know they never called my beard a 'Connery' but silence is indeed golden when it comes to facial hair.

Jeremy is here to stay. Even if he resigns on principle tomorrow, the damage has been done and can't be undone. None of us can unlook at something so that it's erased from our memory. Pity. If Men in Black hadn't got there first that might have been the basis for a good story.

photo credit: Jeremy Corbyn spoke out against TTIP via photopin (license)

18 September 2015


There are many violent things happening in the world. The murderous actions of extremists are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis. In reaction, governments pledge to drop more bombs in the places that the terrorists might be. The term is fighting fire with fire. In the real world, it's what the general public seem to require of our politicians.

In the fictional world of Jenny Parker, violence isn't an option for her. Even if it were available to her, which mostly it's not, she realises that the kind of people she has to deal with actually thrive on violence. It's something they understand. Jenny has to find other means of saving herself knowing that threats of retaliation in kind aren't going to change her antagonists' mindset.

If someone's trying to kill you shouldn't you just kill them first? Isn't that the only way?

I don't believe it's that simple. I find plots that rely on a hero being able to out-fight, out-shoot or out-muscle the villain somewhat unsatisfying. There is, of course, a degree of might-is-right inherent in the way we humans conduct ourselves and it's a horrible fact to contemplate. But that doesn't mean violence has to be the only way out of a difficult situation.

One of the reasons I write the Jenny Parker series is to get away from the convention that a hero has to be able to beat up the bad guys. My old karate teacher, Billy Higgins, used to say that a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un. He also taught me that, regardless of how proficient I might be, someone bigger and stronger would most likely kick my ass. The point of the training was to be able to defend myself long enough to be able to run away. Sprinting is a noble form of defence, in my opinion. Mind you, I only progressed to the level of yellow belt which some might find highly appropriate.

Jenny Parker doesn't have super powers, nor does she wield a samurai sword to deadly effect. She has to think on her feet and talk her way out of danger. It doesn't always work, mind you.

In the world of thrillers as in the real world, I firmly believe that violence will never bring a satisfactory resolution to a conflict. There are more subtle and effective means. And these are much more interesting to me and, I hope, to my readers.

photo credit: Explosion (Verleitung, Ablenkung beim SEK-Einsatz) via photopin (license)

25 August 2015

I am a BAD Writer

The previous blog post to this one was 27th June. Almost exactly TWO MONTHS ago. I've been a very bad writer.
Not only have I not blogged for two months, I haven't updated the Facebook page or the website. Twitter has also been a stranger to me, apart from a few thanks for the follow tweets.
This makes for a very bad writer in this day and age. No wonder book sales have slowed to a trickle.
On a positive note, I've written a couple of short stories for a competition and 30,000 words of the new Tyrant novel. I've been enjoying this so much that I've neglected my primary duty as an author, to promote my books.
The fourth Jenny Parker novel has been through a first, structural, edit and I'm going to get round to rewriting the bits that need it very soon. However, even the prospect of getting another book out into the world hasn't managed to tear me away from Tyrant's grasp. It seems I'm writing this series for myself and not giving any regard to the marketplace. I'm not even anxious to have the first Tyrant novel, Horse, released any time soon. Maybe I'll be able to write a couple more before that happens.
Which brings me to the point, a thing that all blog posts should have. Most writers these days have to look after themselves. It's not easy writing a book so it's a bit unreasonable to expect an author to also be editor, publisher, distributor and salesman. Personally, the thought of going anywhere near Waterstones with my books terrifies the life out of me. You see, I've never been good at sales. I once had a job selling vacuum tankers where I only needed to sell three a month to make a good living. Six months into the job I was eighteen behind schedule and they let me go. My total earnings during that period was two hundred and thirty pounds. And don't think that might have represented a fortune in those days, it wasn't that long ago you cheeky beggars. Mind you, that's not much less than I've earned from my book sales while I've been away from this blog.
So, I really do need to start being a good writer again.

photo credit: Rue des Mauvais Garçons via photopin (license)

27 June 2015

Amazon Royalty System

By the time you read this, Limited Liability may have been voted Book of the Year. Thanks to everyone who voted for it.
This whole book promotion and awards thing got me thinking. What am I really trying to achieve with my writing?

Then the news came from Amazon that they were changing the way they pay authors on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library. It used to be that if someone borrowed one of my books I got an equal share of the fund with everyone else whose book had been borrowed. Now I get a share which is calculated from the number of pages read. I don't know about you but that seems perfectly fair to me. It means that a writer is rewarded for writing well and that authors whose readers can't get beyond the first awful page get nothing.


The KU/KOLL thing only applies to books which are exclusive to Amazon so almost all of them are unreadable self-published crap anyway. The new arrangement will be interesting.

Which brings me back to my original question which I'll pose in a more specific way. If a hundred thousand people bought my book but none of them read it, would I be happy? I doubt it, even if I did have all those royalties in my bank account. What if they all read it but none of them liked it? Again, I'd be rich but unhappy.

Which leads me to the conclusion that I'm writing in the hope that my books will be read and that my readers will enjoy them. So why not give away my work for free? Two reasons. First I need to at least pay my editor, proof reader and cover designer. Secondly, it would brand my work as worthless. There are so many free books out there that most people are no longer interested in them.

I've been very fortunate that my books have been promoted by best selling author Stephen Leather without whose help I wouldn't even be published. Because I've had this help, the Jenny Parker series has done well in terms of sales. The question I ask is have the people who bought my books actually read and enjoyed them?

I just realised that I can answer that question. I have sold several thousand copies of the second Jenny Parker novel, Proceeds of Crime. Those readers will almost certainly have read the first, Due Diligence, and liked it enough to buy the second.

So there you are, I can be officially happy according to my own terms of reference. I can also stop agonising over book sales and Amazon reviews.

I've just finished a fantasy novel involving a character called Tyrant. I enjoyed writing this more than anything I've ever written. It will be out in September and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

17 June 2015

Top Gear

The recent shenanigans over Top Gear have led me to thinking about how that television programme managed to catch the attention of so many people and keep it for so long. There's Clarkson's loutish irreverence, Hammond's innocent face and the willingly lampoonable May but even they have to bow down the the undoubted star of the show.

The Stig.

Since 2002, Top Gear have employed a mysterious racing driver to do all the serious driving on the show and to coach the celebrities who try their hand in the reasonably priced car. I don't think that most viewers would be surprised to know that when they see an external shot of a car powersliding majestically and are cut to a picture of an unruffled Clarkson explaining the controls on the CD player, the two pieces of film have not necessarily been shot at the same time. Or with the same driver. It may even have been a different car. That's TV. And that's why they need the Stig.

The first Stig used to wear a black helmet and he was filmed flying off an aircraft carrier to his screen death. His name was Perry McCarthy.

I remember Perry from his F3 campaign in 1987 which turned out to be a bit of a classic. Johnny Herbert won five out of the first eight rounds but failed to win again against a very strong field that included Damon Hill and Mark Blundell.
The last time I saw Perry was at Brands Hatch in 2012 where he was still racing against his mates from the F3 class of '87 but this time in a VW Scirocco. I don't remember much about the race but the party afterwards was epic. Perry is very good company indeed. He tells me that he finished well ahead of Damon.

I know that the BBC have announced that the cast of Top Gear is changing and that Chris Evans will be taking over but I firmly believe that Perry McCarthy would make a brilliant member of the team. He's funny and he can drive. Two things he does better than Mr Evans, then.

So I don't suppose it'll happen.

If you want to find out what it's like to drive the fastest cars and compete against the best drivers in the world, I recommend Perry's autobiography, Flat Out Flat Broke. It's also very funny.

You can get it here:


US Link


While you're waiting for it to download, please vote for my novel, Limited Liability, in the Book of the Year awards for which it has been shortlisted. It only takes a second or two and no personal details are required.

Book of the Year Awards

Just click on the little circle next to the Limited Liability cover then scroll down to the bottom and press the red VOTE button. Then do the same thing for the Best Cover category.

5 June 2015

How to Write with Style

Kurt Vonnegut is very special to me. I commend to you everything he has written. His life is also worth reading about and Shields' biography provides a very rich and detailed account.
If you've read anything by Vonnegut you'll know how special he is and if you haven't then, golly gosh, you've got a treat coming if you do. Start with Cat's Cradle. And do it right away, don't bother with the rest of this blog post. You can always return to it while you're waiting for the ebook to download.

For the rest of you, I'll mention some of the things Kurt had to say about the art of writing.
First up, he offered eight rules which are:
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
From the preface to Vonnegut's short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box.
My particular favourite is number 6. If you've read my Jenny Parker series, you'll know that I have very much taken that one to heart.

I also suggest that you read a short article he wrote on 'How to write with style,' the full text of which can be found through the link below.

How to write with style by Kurt Vonnegut

In summary, he suggests the following:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have the guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean to say
7. Pity the readers
8. For really detailed advice read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

What I really love about Vonnegut is his ability to express the most complex sociological observations in a simple and engaging manner. When he urges us to keep it simple he shows us how it can work so beautifully.
I used to think that to be considered well written, a novel had to be constructed from long sentences using obscure words. Vonnegut, more than anyone else, showed me that using short, common and easily understood words is much more powerful and engaging for the reader. It also means that I can more easily sound like myself.
No matter how much I might try, I'll never be able to write like Vonnegut. That used to make me sad but now I'm happy to write like me.
Thanks, Kurt.
I'll finish with a quote from A Man without a Country
"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

29 May 2015

Incontrovertible Truth

Some years ago, I was working as a consultant for an Irish organisation called Coillte who managed the forests in Southern Ireland.
There can't be many better places to work than Ireland when you're being paid by the hour and not by results. But more of that sort of thing another time.
A very old, very senior, member of the organisation was retiring and I was not so much invited to his leaving do as found myself in the right pub at the right time. A long evening of celebration ensued which culminated in the great man being given a rousing send-off into retirement. A member of the audience asked this venerable chap for the one thing he had learnt that he could pass on to those taking up his mantle.
He paused, thought for a moment, then said: 'The one thing I've learnt over the last sixty years is that when it comes to pub toilets incoming traffic has priority.'
Wise words and an example of an incontrovertible truth.

I've thought about what my contribution might be in similar circumstances. I offer it to you now so that you don't have to wait for the retirement party, or even bother to attend.

Here it is:

In order to be a writer all you have to do is to write

There you are, a bit obvious isn't it? Yet it's something that I've only recently understood. There are a lot of accompaniments to the writing process that I've tended to get snagged on in the past. One of these is the nagging thought that what I write has to be good. For most of my life this single misconception has effectively prevented me from doing what I love most.

So, write.
Don't judge what you've written. That's not a writer's job, we pass that task on to our readers. Even if a reader should find what I've written isn't to their taste then, hey nonny no, that's completely up to them. I have to resist the temptation to explain to them why they are wrong and point out all the aspects of my work that they should be enjoying. That's futile. It's like extolling the virtues of apple juice to a beer drinker and expecting them to change their preferences. Or arguing that tea is somehow intrinsically better than coffee.

Quite honestly, if someone does me the courtesy of reading something I've written then I'm not only happy I feel privileged. Whatever they might think of it.

Writing is not a competitive sport.

My advice is to write down your story from start to finish. Try to make sure that it is as easily understood as you can manage. Know that finishing the whole thing is vitally important before any form of revision should be attempted, including spelling mistakes.

When you've finished, put your story in a drawer, virtual or real, then write another story. Leave it there as long as you can manage. Some of my stories have been in there for fifty years and I'm still not inclined to drag them out. One year is a good target if you can manage it. After that length of time the story will either have breathed its last or be raring to go.

It matters not a jot how long, or short, the story is. Some stories can be told in a few words, others require more. Don't get hung up on word count. This is a mistake that I'm still making but a little less often these days.

I could go on, as many of you know, but I'll leave today's message as uncomplicated as I can manage.

And remember the pub toilets protocol at all times, you'll be glad of it one day.

photo credit: Spice Island Inn Toilets via photopin (license)

7 May 2015

How many books will I sell?

People ask me this question quite often. How many books can I expect to sell when I self-publish?
My answer is:
Not many.
Or, maybe some.
Quite a lot, if you're lucky.
Actually, I have no idea.

Some books sell and some don't. You will only find out if you try. Few authors actually make money from the sales of their books. Bear that in mind at all times.
What I'm saying, or rather beating you over the head with, is my advice not to base your publishing decisions on some sort of business model. You know the sort of thing. If I sell 200 books per month at £2.99 and get 70% from Amazon that will give me £5000 a year. So I need to write 10 books then I need never worry about money ever again. Yay!
I've tried this and, believe me, it doesn't work.

Books don't sell themselves. Promotion costs time and money and doesn't guarantee sales. Think of your own buying habits. Do you buy a book written by someone you've never heard of just because it pops up in your Twitter feed? No, neither does anyone else.

Publishing is a lottery, that's a fact. Unless you're an established author or a celebrity, there's no guarantee of sales. That's why conventional publishers are so picky these days. If they can't deliver a good return on their investment they're soon going to be out of a job.

If you self-publish there are lots of things you can do to promote your book but there's no guarantee of success. And it has very little to do with the merits of your offering. It has more to do with the quality of your cover and the first few words.

My advice is to accept that whatever you spend on publishing your book, and spend you will have to, bear in mind these priorities. Cover. Opening paragraph. Blurb (book description).

Promotion can get your book noticed but once you've attracted someone to your website or Amazon listing what they see is going to have to impress them mightily for them to part with their hard earned cash. What's not going to get their custom is seeing something that in any way looks inferior to the professionally produced books they are used to buying. Your book has to look at least as good as they do and maybe even better if you're going to get a sale.

And this means you are going to have to spend some money.

Which brings me back to the question. Even if you spend money on editing, cover design, production and distribution there's no guarantee you'll ever get any of it back.

What you will have is a product that stands a chance, that's all.

photo credit: iamos via photopin cc

20 March 2015

Making the Best of Things

Sometimes life can be cruel. It leaves us wondering if anything will ever come right or if the struggle continues forever. OK, not forever. But that's something none of us likes to contemplate. The end of it all.
The more difficult life is, the more interesting. This works especially well when you're writing fiction, as I do. Allowing my characters an easy life is something which would not rest kindly with my readers. They'd say 'so that's alright then' and put down the book. Vonnegut once said that the best way to kill a story is for love's young dream to find fulfillment. Atom bombs could be falling everywhere and all your reader feels is 'as long as they've got each other, that's all that counts.'
Conflict is the watchword for a good story. Not necessarily the fighting sort, though that can work well, but anything that prevents your protagonist getting what he or she wants. The more things you can throw at them the better. If they ever get close to a happy ending quickly snatch it away. That's when they become doubly upset. And twice as interesting.
There does have to be some progress and resolution, even a happy ending isn't a bad thing to offer as long as it is the end. There has been trouble and toil all along the way if we're going to feel any pleasure or satisfaction from it.
Boy meets girl, he loves her, she loves him, they get together. Not a story anyone wants to read. Not for long, in any case.
Boy meets girl, she loves someone else, he becomes disillusioned and falls into a life of crime. Better, but still not very interesting.
Boy meets girl, they love each other but there's a big misunderstanding and they don't realise the real situation. Every time they interact, the love grows stronger but the confusion gets worse. In the end they both settle for someone else. Then they meet up years later and gradually become aware of how they really felt. Not my cup of tea but I've seen this plot in lots of books and films.
Conflict then resolution. That's what's interesting.
If you're writing something, especially a short story, get the conflict right.
In real life, unlike fiction, there's rarely any form or resolution. Have you noticed that the thing that you're preoccupied with at the moment is something that wasn't on the radar yesterday and certainly will be well forgotten in a year's time? That's because it will have been superceded by something much bigger and scarier.
My heroine, Jenny Parker, has plenty of conflict in her life. Too much, some might complain. Maybe I should be kinder to her. In Critical Analysis, the fourth in the series, she is having a tougher time than ever. I could be kinder to her if that's what you want, though. There's still time to let me know if you feel that she deserves a break at last.

photo credit: Tom Simpson via photopin cc

3 March 2015

Astrology and Writing

The first Jenny Parker novel, Due Diligence, was published a couple of years ago and sold (is selling!) remarkably well. I'd actually use the word spectacular in this context and not be overstating the facts.

This triumph seems now but a distant memory. Once I had a readership, writing took on a more urgent quality.
Still, it's nice to take a trip down memory lane.

I'm reproducing the early designs for the cover, both of which I liked. Obviously we eventually settled for the one you see at the side of this blog and I'm glad we did. It provides a style that can be continued over the four novels in the series.

So, the fourth Jenny Parker novel is on its way. What actually started as a writing exercise is now a series. There was me thinking that Due Diligence was only a bit of practice before I returned to the fantasy/science fiction. I've been wrong before, but not quite as mistaken as this.

Now my novels have to be written to a deadline. No more absently admiring the word count and being very proud that I managed a book a year.

The fourth Jenny Parker novel, Critical Analysis, will need rewriting, editing, all that kind of thing. Fortunately, I have Dea Parkin www.fictionfeedback.co.uk to help. She did a great job on the others and I'm hoping she'll like Critical Analysis just as much.

It felt much better to be writing crime fiction after I consulted an astrologer. She told me the time for fantasy would come two and a half years later when something or other enters the house of something else. It's only now that I'm well on with a cracking fantasy novel that I've remembered what she said to me two and a half years ago. I'd completely forgotten what she said to me. How spooky is that?

For those of you raising eyebrows at me mentioning an astrologer, relax, please. I don't run my life on the basis of a paragraph in the newspaper that must apply to a twelfth of the world's population. I don't actually believe in astrology but I do believe in Margaret Koolman. www.soulastrology.com

For fans of my crime fiction, I think that four Jenny Parker novels is plenty. It's three more than I intended, after all. And you just might learn to love the fantasy books as well, you never know. Try asking an astrologer about it if you don't believe me. 

27 February 2015

Why do I write?

It's an interesting question. And one with more than one answer.

First of all, I'm a writer. I've always been a writer but I've not always been writing. I've spent half a lifetime excusing myself from writing on one spurious basis or another. The most prevalent has been the myth that I need a long stretch of undisturbed peace and quiet in front of me before I can even contemplate putting pen to paper. This just isn't true and is a construct of the part of me that feels threatened by the wonderful peace and satisfaction that writing brings to my life.
Other excuses include having to have a favourite pen and the right notebook for it to work. Or having lived an interesting enough life to be able to write something interesting. And so on, you're getting the picture, I'm sure.

I suppose the above is more of an explanation of why I don't write as much as I would like.

I like the feeling I get while I'm writing which also lingers on as a nice afterglow. (Reason 1)

I enjoy telling a story. (Reason 2)

I get a lot of satisfaction from the way my plots form themselves and make sense, even to me. (Reason 3)

It gives me a thrill when someone buys one of my books. (Reason 4)

It makes me proud when people tell me how much they've enjoyed reading my work. (Reason 5)

I know that the more I write, the better I get at it. Since 2007, when I really began to write on a regular basis, I have completed three science fiction novels which weren't really good enough to publish but taught me a hell of a lot about myself and the craft of writing. Three published crime thrillers ( the Jenny Parker series) which are published and selling very well. The latest of these, Limited Liability, is by far the best of the three but that's because I am learning all the time. The first two are pretty good themselves, it's just the way that Limited Liability flowed onto the paper that I really like.
I had expected to be done with Jenny Parker after Limited Liability but I have had enough expressed disappointment about it being the final installment that I caved in and wrote a fourth, Critical Analysis, which is at the editing stage. now and should be published later on this year. I find it takes about half as long to go through the editing process as I take to write the first draft. It also depends on the availability of my editor, who is always very busy because she's so good.
Then I'm collaborating on a joint project with an Irish writer called Daragh O'Reilly. He's a comic genius and I'm learning a lot from him. He's written a colonic irrigation scene that's pure poetry!
My latest project involves a new character called Tyrant. It's coming along very well. Just so you know, it's not a crime thriller.

photo credit: Journal Entry via photopin (license)

23 January 2015

Publishing Pitfalls

J K Rowling is worth £1 billion.

A friend of mine has written a book about her experiences in Japan. It's a warm, caring account of an emotional journey. It's taken a long time and a lot of effort to write, and it shows. It's a quality book.
She sent the manuscript out to various publishers and agents but became used to receiving gentle and polite rejection letters. It seemed her work was destined to remain unpublished.
One day, a letter came. It began with the words 'We have read your submitted manuscript and liked it very much. We would be happy to publish it.'
She was understandably over the moon. She rang her friends, told them of this wonderful news. Felt a great relief and unbounded joy that her words would at last be read.
Because that's what we writers need; to be heard.
It's all very well sitting there, labouring over a hot keyboard, agonising over every word. There needs to be an end product, otherwise the frustration builds.
Not so very long ago, we had a publishing industry that wasn't afraid. It meant that lots of different types of books were given a chance. Publishers weren't looking over their shoulders to see the grim reaper poised to strike. They controlled book production and distribution and could afford to take an overview, allow one book to subsidise the next in the interests of diversity. Sometimes they were surprised, now and again this surprise was very pleasant indeed.
Amazon has ripped the guts out of publishers, squeezing their margins to the extent that they are closing down imprints, consolidating businesses and generally taking less risks. This is bad news for authors, particularly mid-list authors, who rely on the publishing houses for their livelihood.
Amazon has also opened the door to self-publishing, a much derided route previously referred to as vanity publishing. It achieved this by demolishing the hurdles to book distribution previously controlled by the big publishers.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold 100 million copies.

To continue the story, my over the moon friend was brought down to earth when she finally read the whole letter. The gushing praise for her work eventually subsided and the real truth was revealed. 'Send us £9000 and we'll get on with the publishing process.' They said. She nearly did. The only thing that stopped her was the inconvenience of not having nine thousand spare pounds at the time. The letter was very optimistic regarding the prospects of sales far exceeding that measly investment and she was inclined to agree. Her disappointment was complete until she found out that she could get published for much less than this so-called publisher was demanding. That there were people out there willing to help at a cost that she could afford.

We all need help. Sometimes it's not the first sort of help that's offered. Make sure its the kind of help that suits your situation.

There's help to be had at www.opencirclebooks.com, but there's lots of other places you can find it as well. Don't be seduced by potential sales figures, bear in mind that few self published books sell more than fifty copies.

photo credit: Will Lion via photopin cc

20 January 2015

The first paragraph

When I write, I often find that I take a little while to warm up. The first few sentences, or even chapters, are not always where I need my reader to begin. It's as if I need to start a bit earlier, get my thoughts in order, before the story can begin at its proper place. This is one reason why a good editor is vital.
Opening paragraphs are very important. They can make a big difference to a book's success.
There's a school of thought that you should drop the reader straight in to the action, have our hero in a life threatening situation at the outset. Cut to the chase, in other words. This can be a problem, though. Unless the reader has some emotional connection with the protagonist it's hard for them to care. Then there's the difficulty of starting with a climax. Where do you go from there?
So, establish character first, then.
It depends on how you do it. There's nothing more off putting than the 'getting out of bed in the morning' opening. Some years ago, I heard a literary agent bemoaning the fact that more than half of the submissions he received began with someone waking up. When I looked at the first sentence of the novel I was thinking of submitting to him, I read 'As the insistent drilling of the alarm clock roused him half sensible...' I hoped he might make an exception in my case but, to be on the safe side, demoted this scene to the second chapter and promoted the giant lizard priest in the damp crypt to prime position. In case you're intrigued and eager to read more, I'm sorry to disappoint you. This particular novel did not get published. I could send you a copy if you insist but I'm certain you have better things to do with your time.
So, get your character out of bed before the reader gets to meet them. Sounds eminently sensible to me.
The opening should encourage the reader to read on.

My new Jenny Parker novel, Limited Liability begins with:

‘Jill Williams?’
My nod of agreement is fractionally late. I’ve been Jenny Parker for most of my adult life and no matter how much I’ve practised for this moment hearing my new name still takes me by surprise. 

Let me know how this works for you.

photo credit: Charles16e via photopin cc