They were friends after all

So, after only five months from starting our project on putting together a collection of stories from our writers’ group, MEAS Writers, the book and ebook are now out. Wild Atlantic Words hit the shelves this weekend and we’re very proud of it.

We went down the path of self-publishing through Ingram Spark¬†and found it relatively painless. They require files to be submitted in pdf waw-3d-cover-3smallformat and images need to be quite high quality so it can be fairly stressful at the point of pressing the ‘send’ button. However, there is an online checking service to make sure they’re technically correct then it is good practice to order a proof copy before splashing out on a few hundred copies. The proof copy service was very good and we actually had it in our hands three days after I placed the order. Admittedly, we paid (only) a few euro more for the rush printing service but it was definitely worth it on the single copy.

We’re now starting to work on the official launch and on finding reading spots. What fun.

If you’re wondering why ‘MEAS Writers’ – meas is Irish for respect and although it is the name of the community group which spawned our writing efforts, it also sums up the way we treat each other’s work when we read and critique. We’re a group of authors based in Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Have you self-published? Who did you use and what was the experience like?

Old friends or foes – next steps

In my last post I referred to a short story collection I was working on with six other writers and was looking forward, with some trepidation, to digging out and polishing some old stories as my contribution. I’m now surfacing from that exercise and we’re hoping to begin the publishing process of Wild Atlantic Words in the next week or so. It’s been an interesting exercise, not least being navigating the tricky waters of editing and proofreading as a collective endeavor. Lessons have been learned and generally the process of working with others has been fun.

Would I recommend it? On balance, I think so, but I’d do it differently if I went that way again. It is one thing to meet regularly to share writing but quite another to pick up a complex task with a deadline when the participants are all good writers but may have different skills and preferences when it comes to design (e.g. which font to use? how far to indent?), competency in some of the murkier corners of Word (e.g. paragraph styles), and what a book cover should look like. We should, I think, have spent more time at the beginning working out some of the practicalities and thinking through a timeline to meet the crazy deadline we set ourselves – out for Christmas market!

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’s been down this path.

Old friends – or foes?

I’m a member of a small writers’ group – the group is small, not the writers – and we meet regularly in members’ houses to share our scribblings. There’s usually five of us, three writing novels and the other two concentrating on short stories. Another three members attend occasionally but geography and other commitments sometimes make it difficult for us all to be together at one time. So it is, I imagine, with all such groups.

Recently we decided we would compile an anthology of our short stories and aim to self-publish. The technology is now fairly straightforward and the costs can be reasonable if you shop around. The important thing for us about the venture is it would allow all of our writers to participate, even if they can’t make meetings. We decided the theme would be our county, Donegal, in the north west of Ireland, or, perhaps more broadly, the area now widely known as the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches 1,500 miles along the coast from Derry in the north to Kinsale in the south.

So, with due diligence, I started to trawl through old, forgotten, short stories I’d written over the years, trying to decide which could be reworked for this new enterprise. What an experience. Some still made me smile, some made me cringe, most made me wonder if I’d actually written them. They were like friends not seen for many years. Those you went with to school or college half your lifetime ago. Vaguely remembered but somehow changed.

I know I’ll need to work at it but I’m enjoying getting to know them again.

Research – is it a step too far?

I’m a procrastinator in my writing. In real life I’m pretty good at making decisions and figuring out the shortest path between two points. My creative self is significantly different.

First of all I plan. Some time ago I discovered the joys of Scrivener after working my way through FreeMind, Writers’  Cafe and half a dozen other programs designed to supposedly increase my output. I can’t help thinking that if I’d dedicated half the time to writing as I did to mastering (huh!) the software I’d have finished my first novel in half the time. Still, you never know if the effort is going to be worthwhile before you put it in. I’ve certainly been impressed with the way Scrivener has helped but it’s a shame it took me so long to get to it.

Secondly, I commit that cardinal sin warned against by writing pundits – I edit as I go along. I’m not sure why it is but I read and rewrite every sentence, every phrase, two or three times before I move on to the next. Not that it stops me making mistakes, nor enables me to write faultless prose, that would elevate it to the status of being time well spent, it’s just something I do.

Finally, I have a need for accuracy and this leads me to endlessly research history and location. My family and friends tell me this is because I prefer the chase to the feast and I’m afraid they might be right. Today, for example, when writing two short scenes, I happily Googled 1930s women’s fashion, the distance on foot between Alexandria and Suez, and the names of British troopships sailing to Cape Town in 1852. I thought, perhaps, I was going too far when I typed ‘how far can a donkey walk in a day’ into my browser. I was going to include the answer in this blog but decided you can waste your own time if you really want to know!

Elementary my dear Watson

I’ve recently returned from a long holiday in France and whilst I did do some writing (honest) a lot of my time was spent reading. I’d loaded my Kindle with a mix of material but I set myself a goal in the first few days of getting through an anthology of the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. There are four novels and five collections of short stories.

In one respect I failed, I only read three of the novels and all of the short stories. I chose to miss out on The Hound of thsherlock-holmese Baskervilles, partly due to me having read it before (but then I’ve read them all before) though primarily because it’s been done to death on TV and film and also I didn’t enjoy reading it the last time.

The plots of all of them are absolutely bonkers but they’re largely very well written. The crux of the story is almost always revealed within the first couple of pages then Holmes darts here and there gathering clues until the culprit is revealed. With alarming frequency what happens to the perpetrator depends largely on their social class. Genteel, or just plain rich, murderers always seem to have had a good reason to have done away with their wife/husband/business partner so Holmes lets them go or speaks on their behalf at trial. Woe betide anyone from the lower classes, however, as they’ll find themselves shot or at the end of the hangman’s noose.

A device used quite a lot by Conan Doyle is to have the perpetrator, once they’re caught, tell the background story of why they committed the crime, it seems quite a clever way of revealing this without Holmes having to appear even smarter. Unfortunately, if you’re wading through every story it can become a little wearing.

Conan Doyle wrote many of the stories for publication in periodicals and I was fascinated to see two of them share the first few pages word for word. I was also interested to note that the title of Mark Haddon’s highly successful mystery novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was taken from one of the Holmes short stories Silver Blaze.

The stories are of their time, as is the language (I lost count of how many times Watson ‘ejaculated’), but I think any aspiring crime/mystery writer should at least take a look at them to consider structure and how to move a plot along.

For my part, I loved them, though I’m not likely to try to read them all again on one holiday!

A new project

So the final draft of my Inspector Given sequel is finished and with my publisher for consideration, it’s also been submitted to a couple of agents and I’m sitting here with fingers crossed – making the typing much more difficult than it needs to be. I’ve had some excellent help from my daughters and their spouses with the final edit. Two spotted the villain quite early so that’s been changed!

I’ve started a new project, significantly different to the detective novels and I’m finding it both challenging and thrilling. It’s certainly something I couldn’t have written a few years ago because I simply wouldn’t have had the skills nor the confidence to make it work. I’m not sure that I have now but I’m enjoying trying to write it. It only has a simple working title for now, so I can file it, and I’m finding that the time spent learning to use Scrivener was worth it because it is a complex structure, switching time, point-of-view and voice frequently.

Basically it tells the story of three generations of a family through the medium of a mother sitting at the bedside of her daughter who is in a coma. The timeline begins at the height of the Irish famine and ends in the last days of the Second World War – so not much danger of historical accuracy errors there then.

If you’d like to see a draft of the opening scenes, or maybe ask a question about my use of Scrivener email me at charlie@charliegarratt.com

Sorted!

A couple of years ago I damaged my back so now find it difficult sitting at a desk for long, consequently I use a laptop in a good armchair when I’m writing. This still wasn’t a problem whilst doing the edit on a paper copy, the way I prefer. However, over recent weeks I’ve been transferring the changes on to my digital copy and balancing the manuscript on the arm of my chair whilst typing has been a real pain. Then this morning ‘Eureka!’. I came up with an idea that’s transformed the situation – my music stand.
Now, with paper copy firmly displayed and Scrivener on the laptop I’m flying.
IMG_0231 (1)
I even have a ledge for my pen – magic – I may stay like this forever.

Why can’t they get it right?

As an author of crime fiction I strive for accuracy and continuity. Now, I may not always get it right but at least I try. As a result, both a blessing and a curse, I notice flaws in other people’s work, particularly on TV. Sometimes it’s just the easy ones, the result of editing or costume changes but at others it’s just plain poor.
I’m currently watching Homeland and ended up screaming at the screen last night for two awful errors. The first was the dialogue between the various terrorists switching between English, German and Arabic with no rhyme nor reason to it. The one language they’d have in common, I imagine, would be Arabic – notice I say ‘imagine’. I hope I’d have researched it and explained the differences if there were any. The second was more subtle, though a double blunder. Someone is called into a room with ‘you’d best watch this on TV’, then a news item starts (so how did they know it was going to be on?). On the item an American is being interviewed by a German TV journalist in English. The programme is on German TV but no subtitles.
I know we have to suspend disbelief but come on, give us half a chance.

Another rejection

Can’t believe it’s so long since I posted anything – where did that time go? I’ve been editing my novel, not as much as I should have been but it’s been perched on my shoulder pecking away at my conscience all the time. Oh, and I went on holiday. Part of my paper draft is marked ‘edited in Bruges’ so that’s a pleasant reminder of sitting in a pavement cafe in the sun with an inevitable Belgian beer.

Earlier I posted about a rejection letter (email actually). Yesterday I had another. It began ‘Dear Author’. Three months to send back a standard email which they couldn’t even bother to personalise. I wrote back, politely, to express my dismay at this rudeness. I started the email ‘Dear agent’!

I’m not surprised by the rejection, especially as I’ve edited deeper and deeper – I’d have rejected the sample chapters myself. I found a massive error in the second chapter, a mind-numbingly stupid one, even though I’d edited several times. The general advice seems to be to have the draft as polished as you can get it before submission and I thought I’d done that. The step I missed, I think, was having someone else read the sample chapters once I thought I was happy with it. I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who is also a writer and we actively critique each other’s work but I didn’t run these past her. She’d have spotted the errors in an instant. I’ll not make that mistake again.

How do you make sure your material is as good as it can be?

Thank you for your proposal.

Yesterday I received a rejection email from a literary agent and I was pleased to get it. Disappointed in the rejection, naturally, though happy someone had been courteous enough to let me know. I’m old enough and life-experienced enough to understand I won’t always get what I wish for, so I can cope (just!) with being told my book isn’t good enough or suitable for their list. What I find difficult to accept is that agents and publishers don’t seem to understand this.

In scouring the submission guidelines on the websites of literary agents I’ve found quite number saying ‘we try to make a decision within three months and if you haven’t heard from us in that time please assume we won’t be proceeding’. I’m aware that many agents are extremely busy – but they haven’t time to drop back an email saying ‘thanks but no thanks’? One agent justified their position by saying they receive 1500 submissions a year. By my calculation that’s around 6 each working day – consequently possibly ten minutes a day, maximum, to email a standard rejection letter to six authors waiting for a reply. Authors who’ve spent years writing the book, not to mention spending ages researching a particular agent’s guidelines, writing a synopsis, constructing a covering letter and making the submission.

I’m not having a blast at agents, just asking for a little professional courtesy.

What’s your experience?