This week I spent a couple of hours researching the availability of cross-Channel ferries during the first weeks of the Second World War. Why? Because a character needs to get to France from England in September 1939. I found my answer after extensive googling and three emails to people who might possibly know.Continue reading
Today I have received an offer of contract from a publisher, Sapere Books, and am so excited. Sapere Books has offered to publish the new novel, A Rose by Any, alongside a relaunch of A Shadowed Livery and possibly a third in the Inspector James Given series which is currently at an early stage.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware I’ve been looking for some time to place my second novel, following the decision of Holland House to stop commissioning new work for its Grey Cells Press imprint. It was a shame, because I have nothing but admiration for the dedication and editorial insight of Robert Peett and his team at Holland House, but independent publishing is a difficult game and I fully understand his decision.
One of the effects of these changes is that the digital version of A Shadowed Livery has ceased to be available for a while, although the print version may remain available via Amazon and other online outlets, or directly from Grey Cells Press. Hopefully, they will both become available again, alongside the new Inspector James Given novel, in a few months.
I’m very much looking forward to working with Amy Durant and her colleagues at Sapere Books on this new phase.
I was just running through the main plot of my new crime novel with my wife a few days ago and she pointed out some similarities to the plot of my last one. After arguing for a few moments and trying the ‘there are only so many stories and it’s how you tell them’ defence I acknowledged she was right.
Unfortunately, by this time, I’d outlined almost 60 scenes and three sub-plots. I couldn’t abandon it all and I couldn’t go on – not with this ‘you’ve written this before you dummy’ gremlin sitting on my shoulder. So I tried tinkering. Could I use a different murder method? Could I use a different victim? Different killer? But I was so wedded to all the work I’d done and the intriguing (in my eyes) characters I’d developed that I couldn’t see past it.
In the end I drew a deep breath, pulled out my mind-mapping tool (mine’s Freemind but any will do) and started a new page. I asked three questions:
- What are the methods of killing someone?
- Why are people murdered?
- Who might the killer be?
I didn’t bother with all the subsidiary variations, just enough to give me some choices and ideas, though I would have broken them down further if I was getting nowhere.
What I ended up with were half a dozen or more options in each category and within a few minutes I’d freed the head to completely rethink the story I was going to tell. I’m now writing a few alternative story-lines to see what works and what doesn’t.
The figure below shows my initial results. Try it for yourself. Let me know what you think.
Finally. The writing of James Given number three has started. I’ve been plotting for a few weeks, and planning to start for much longer, but the actual words on the page have eluded me.
True, there have been a few changes in my life over the past few months (selling the house, moving country, etc, etc) and I’ve not quite settled in to a routine yet, but it’s not really a good excuse for not writing. I’ve still been sitting at the keyboard for a few hours every day reading those all-important Facebook posts, checking vital emails from holiday companies, and generally wasting time. I’ve told myself that if only I was still able to go into my favourite coffee shop (Mrs B’s in Killybegs, County Donegal if you’re passing) the prose would flow, though I know it isn’t the reason. The real reason is I’ve just been too lazy and easily distracted – not a good combination for a writer. I did have a traumatic experience in one new café though – I was accused by one of the locals of writing down everything that was being said. He might have been right but I wasn’t going to admit it!
So, to get a grip, I started to plot. I began with a vague notion of a body being found – there almost always is, you know – then asked ‘how did it get there?’. A chance encounter with a ‘what’s on’ guide gave me a murder weapon. Whilst thinking about who the villain might be, I wrote a ledger for the victim using some characteristics from someone in a newspaper article. The murderer came to me part way through the poor corpse’s scribblings so I wrote their journal next. Then, using a three act structure passed to me in a recent workshop, I sketched out the three main storylines.
Today, I wrote the end, then the beginning. At least it’s a start, and only 75,000 more words to join them together.
I’ll keep you posted.
My last post was a short piece I’d written some time ago entitled A New Life. Little did I know that within a few weeks I’d be ‘twisting and turning’ myself, embarking on an adventure which threw everything into turmoil. I sold my house and moved back to England.
Not that this was entirely unexpected, we’d been trying to sell for a few years, but boy was it a shock to the system when it happened. I’d moved house before, I’d even changed countries before, though the world has changed. There’s no trust any more. I’ve been totally unprepared for the weight of officialdom and bureaucracy involved these days. No service providing (hah!) organisation is willing to take, for example, a simple note telling them of a new address, oh no. My bank wanted a form completed which included my tax code in my new country of residence which, of course, I didn’t have because I didn’t live there yet. They also wanted the form signed by both signatories on the joint account, even though, as I pointed out, a cheque to empty the account could be signed by one person, and this was only a change of address. I could go on, but will spare you the details, and me the rise in blood pressure.
As a result of all this nonsense, there’s been little time for writing over the last few months. My current novel, thankfully, had reached the end of the first draft by the time this whirlwind hit and I’m hoping that the enforced absence will provide the distance to help in the redraft.
My sequel to A Shadowed Livery continues to receive regular rejections although I’m given hope by a well respected editor who found little to change when reading it at a recent workshop and suggested that 25 rejections is nothing. A major author he edited had 90 rejections before his book was accepted – and later turned into an acclaimed film.
So, as I settle into my new life, in a new house, in a new town, I’ve three tasks awaiting: keep submitting until someone gives in; get on with the redraft of A Mother’s Love; and post more often.
Wish me luck.
I’m falling. Twisting and turning through the air. One moment I can see the brightly lit bridge rapidly moving away from me. The next I’m hurtling towards the inky black river below. I can hardly breathe as the air is sucked from my lungs by the air rushing past and my heart is pounding in my ears. I never thought it would be like this. Not the graceful dive through the night air and the faultless entry into calm waters that I’d imagined as I stood on the edge contemplating my next move. No perfect 10s for artistic impression with this one.
I hear a crack. Pain momentarily sears up my spinal cord and lights up my brain like a cluster bomb. Then it stops. I realise, with no passion, that my neck has broken and I can no longer feel my arms or legs. If I could still sense the pain I’m sure there would be lots.
After an eternity my broken body smashes into the solid wall of water. Christ, I felt that one.
I explode out again through a veil of red, unable to open my eyes or mouth. My chest strains for air. I’m grabbed and lifted, and realise I’m naked. A slap stings my skin and I shout at the bastard to cut it out but all that emerges is a pitiful wail of pain. I’m laid gently on something soft against my back, and I open my eyes to see a giant smiling down on me.
I can fit none of this with what’s gone before. Months of anguish as first the job, then the savings, disappeared, soon followed by the house, my lovely wife and the boys. The final bout of drinking. The long walk out of town. The scramble over the railing to the very edge of the concrete parapet. The last, searching conversation with my long-dead father, seeking his forgiveness and his guidance in my latest hour of need.
Warm hands wrap a blanket around me. The hand above my face is small, pink and wrinkled so I close my eyes for a while and find I’m gurgling.
Not so long ago I could see the face of Anna and our children in high definition but now they’re smudged like there’s Vaseline on the lens. Father’s features have all but disappeared. Even his voice is a distant whisper.
I drop my lids again, striving to get it all back in focus but all that I have is a void growing out from the centre. The only memories that remain erupt like solar fires, before dying back, forever lost in the darkness.
I awaken and the void is complete.
I gurgle again and the eyes continue to smile down.
(With thanks to https://openclipart.org for the great image)
It’s well known that Scrivener is one of the most versatile and useful programs around for creative writing, although it does take a little getting used to, and there are some annoying differences between the Mac version and the Windows version. Also the lack of an Android version is a distinct disadvantage if, like me, you use Windows and an Android tablet, so working ‘on-the-go’ can be fiddly and frustrating at times. It can be done, and given all the other advantages of Scrivener, perhaps one shouldn’t complain.
I’ve recently completed the first draft of my third novel, which has four story-lines over a hundred years, interspersed. So, I needed to check each story-line for consistency of language, voice, etc and ensure they followed naturally from one scene to the next (in the same story-line). This is where I began to discover the joys of ‘collections’ in Scrivener. One of these joys is that the collection is a virtual state – that is, the scene stays in the binder, even if you decide to remove it from the collection, but changes made to the scene in the collection, will be reflected in the ‘main’ scene in the binder. So no need to worry about which is the latest version.
I had, of course, every scene listed in my binder, so I created a collection for each story-line and popped all of the relevant scenes into each. This can be done in a couple of ways:
- Highlight each scene in the binder (using ctrl + left-click), then right-click for the context menu. Choose ‘Add to collection’, then ‘New collection’, naming it as you see fit. Or,
- Click on the ‘+’ sign next to ‘Collections’ at the top of the binder window, naming each collection as you see fit. Then right-click on each scene, choosing ‘Add to collection’ from the context menu, having chosen the collection you want to add it to. Again, this can be done in multiples.
Both of these are really the same, just in one the collection is created first, whilst in the other, the scenes are highlighted first.
My collections are shown below.
From here you can compile each collection for on-screen use, print it out, or export to something like Word. I compiled to Word, saved in Dropbox, and then have been able to read each story-line independently on my tablet. If I’d had an iPad, I’d have stayed in Scrivener and edited directly – putting comments in the document notes, so this is a bit of a compromise, but it works, even if I do have to then flip between Word and Scrivener later when I’m redrafting.
I’m looking forward to starting a new novel in a couple of months and using this feature from the start to plot the story-lines. I’d be interested to hear if other people are using this feature.
A month ago I was mired in writer’s block, or to put it another way, feeling so despondent about my current novel that my mind went blank every time I opened Scrivener. I’d been like that for months. At first I thought it was the usual ‘half-way-through blues’, my demons telling me it wasn’t good enough so why bother. But after a while I felt there was something more and the block became self-fulfilling,
Then the magic happened. I found myself with an hour to waste in a town I didn’t know, so settled in a coffee shop (with a cake, naturally) and returned to pen and paper. The words flowed – no, gushed – and I was sorry to stop to meet my appointment. Since then I’ve managed to write most days, even on the laptop.
And last night I finished the first draft. No champagne nor balloons – this is where the work really starts.
I think the problem, and perhaps the solution, was that I’d changed my routine. My pattern over recent years was to go into town with my wife every Friday, then sit scribbling in my notebook while she did what she had to do. This was augmented a couple of years ago by a similar activity earlier in the week. Producing this material, typing up the longhand, and developing it in the ensuing days, meant I was in a discipline of writing regularly. Then a couple of things changed and my trips to the café stopped for a while. Even when I had the chance to go my mindset had shifted – an ‘I’m not writing so why go to the café’ kind of thing.
Until today I hadn’t realised what the problem had been, I only knew I’d got over it. Just goes to show how difficult and fragile this writing process is. So, if you’re facing the same, try changing your routine, or look at what you were doing when you were writing, and try going back to it for a while.
Last weekend I took a trip to County Wicklow, partly to carry out some family history research, and partly to check locations for my current novel. I’ve already written around two-thirds of the first draft, imagining the street scenes and roadways, backed up by miles and miles travelled on Google StreetView.
On the ground, however, I discovered that so much needs rewriting because my understanding of the history of the places was distinctly under par. The period of the novel I was investigating covered 1847 to 1921, and, of course, much has changed in the intervening years. Houses that I thought of as old, were actually new or didn’t even exist in that time. The landscape must have been different because the trees lining the fields, or forming huge woodlands, though large, were nowhere near 150 years old. Even the rural roads would have been different, with little or no tarmac, and the town layouts have changed beyond recognition.
I’m not dismayed by this, it’s important to get it right, and the experience of getting the feel of the places; seeing the way the light fell, hearing the sound the river made over the gravel and feeling the wind blasting down the mountain, made it all worthwhile. Even if I hadn’t been researching, it would have been pleasurable.
The hard task now is to translate it all on to the page.
Two weeks ago several members of our writers group attended a day workshop on Editing Your Novel, led by Brian Langan of Transworld Press. The breadth of advice was immense and it prompted me to get back into gear with submitting my second novel to publishers – but not before a ninth edit.
I’ve written before about the excellent ProWriting Aid software (or is it ‘app’ these days?), and this was my first port of call – oh oh PWA would definitely pick that up as a cliché – and that one as an adverb. So, I ran the range of reports on my first ten thousand words and gasped at the number of adverbs, passive verbs and personal pronouns it highlighted. How could I get it so wrong?
Simple. We all use these devices every day in our speech, often as a kind of shorthand: clichés probably exist for that primary purpose, to avoid extensive explanations; adverbs help us avoid flowery imagery; passive verbs often sound more natural than their active counterparts in English speech patterns; and personal pronouns are almost unavoidable regardless of whether we’re writing in first or third person. I’ve given you seven personal pronouns to this point in this paragraph alone. However, I’ve dodged the cardinal sin here of repeating the same pronoun at the start of successive sentences.
Try a little test if you use Microsoft Word. Search your manuscript for ‘I’ (better to search for ‘. I ‘ – that’s: full stop, space, I, space – to avoid finding the letter as part of other words) if in first person, or ‘He’/’She’ in third person. See how many you find. If you miss out the full stop from the search you’ll be likely to find lots more.
Before going further perhaps a short explanation might be beneficial:
- Personal pronouns are used to replace names and denote gender and/or number. Examples include he, she, I, it, you, they, them, us, and so on.
- Adverbs are used to qualify verbs, nouns and adjectives. They tend to be frowned upon in creative writing. In most cases (or at least most cases I could think of) they end in ‘ly’. Examples include quickly, slowly, gleefully, quietly, etc, etc, etc.
- Depending on where you use a verb in a sentence it can be active or passive. For example: ‘John throws the ball’ (active) or ‘The ball is thrown’ (passive). Both are valid but active verbs tend to give more movement and immediacy to writing.
Finding these little devils isn’t difficult, it’s fixing them that is. Sometimes we can avoid them, sometimes we can’t. A good thesaurus can often provide alternatives to adverbs, though we shouldn’t dispense with them altogether. They can be used in opposition to the verb to provide atmosphere where an alternative verb wouldn’t. For example ‘He laughed grimly’. The personal pronouns are like grains of rice dropped on the kitchen floor – you sweep and sweep but they still pop up days later where you were certain you’d got them all. Passive verbs can be so hard to fix – the ball was thrown and you don’t know who threw it, and you want to avoid ‘Someone …’ where do you go. Wholesale rewriting of the sentence is often the only option. Sorry folks, no easy options here.
So, I bounced into my novel, scanned the analysis from ProWriting Aid, wept a little, then set about reducing those low scores. The results, I think, are looking beneficial. Let’s hope a publisher thinks so soon.