Social media – Good? Bad?

We’ve had an explosion of social media opportunities over recent years and as someone who pre-dates these digital connections I watch with a wary eye. I’m not a Luddite, I use the technology every day and I have done for over thirty years, so I don’t think it’s the fear of change which bothers me.

The ability to maintain connections with friends and friends of friends is, without doubt, useful. The fact that I can email or run a blog is fantastic but there are some downsides.

Sometimes, I have to admit, the common abandonment of spelling and grammatical structure causes me concern but I acknowledge that’s perhaps me being a little long in the tooth and still remembering being slapped by teachers when getting it wrong.

The biggest negative, for me, however, is the inability to express an opinion without facing the possibility of catastrophic negative responses. What people used to restrict to shouting at the TV or the newspaper is now fired off in response to a Facebook, or similar, post with, seemingly, as much venom as can be mustered.

Yesterday, a Facebook ‘friend’ posted an item with which I didn’t agree. I was about to respond then spotted the article had over 10,000 ‘likes’ and 4,768 comments so I didn’t bother. Why? Two reasons: firstly, because it seemed a waste of time adding my thoughts to this morass of opinion, anything I might have said had already been addressed 2000 times; secondly, because what had developed was a shit-storm of abuse. No rules of engagement, no manners, no structure, no mediation and, definitely, no conclusion. Something I didn’t want to get involved in.

Shame really. I understand we’ve always had the ‘Angry of Walthamstow’ banging off letters to the papers but this is just so immediate and so widespread. Differences of opinion are inevitable and are crucial in ensuring a balanced society but when this translates into people being afraid to pop their head above the parapet perhaps we all suffer in the end.

A new reality show?

Having watched the final of the amateur painting reality show  ‘The Big Painting Challenge’ and being a fan of ‘The Great British Bake-off’, I wondered if it was time to have one on writing. Half an hour to compose a poem? 50 word flash fiction piece based on a trigger. A novel by the end of the series? A complete story in six words? Convinced it would be a winner, I started thinking of possible titles. How about ‘It’ll be all write on the night’ or ‘Do it like the prose’.

Any others out there?

Building an audience

So we’re all out here in blogworld trying to communicate, yet there seems to be a chasm between those sites with a stellar audience and those with just a few dedicated followers. I’d be interested to know how you get your stuff out there.

I’ve now read quite a number of on-line articles and they mostly say the same things. Either:

a) pay me lots of money and I’ll build your audience, and/or,

b) write good, interesting content.

But there must be more to it than that. How important is it to ‘follow’ other bloggers? Are there any tricks to setting WordPress tags? Does appearance of the page matter that much – I’d assume that’s more about keeping an audience than finding one in the first place? Are there bits of advice out there that I’ve missed?

A time to write

I haven’t posted anything for a week or so and I’d like to say it’s because I’ve had my head down redrafting my novel. But it isn’t. In fact, I don’t know where the time has gone. I was reading a post from an author a few days ago where she thought her idea of heaven would be to have a couple of days with no work, children, etc so she could write. Unfortunately I don’t think it works quite like that. Someone once said ‘genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ and I’d probably paraphrase that as ‘writing is 1% intention and 99% dedication’. We can find any number of distractions to avoid the perspiration: the internet, emails, keeping up to date with reading, family, friends, even writing posts but any serious writer needs to put those to one side for at least part of every day and get on with the task in hand.

I no longer work so should have all the time in the world to spend writing. I do now spend much more time than I did when I went out to an office every day, but have to admit that I don’t put in the hours that I could. Stephen King, in his excellent book ‘On Writing’ talks of writing 2000 words a day, every single day, until the first draft is finished. It would be easy to dismiss this as him being a full time author so he has the ‘luxury’ of writing  that much, but it’s more than that. He’s dedicated to his job, as well as enjoying it most of the time.

I’m not a big fan of Stephen King’s writing, but I do so wish I could emulate his commitment.

Sticky end

I’m musing over a villain I want to dispose of and can’t decide between a number of options. This bad guy isn’t the main one in the novel, though he’s caused quite a bit of trouble for our hero, a police inspector, let’s call him Henry,including kidnapping him and attempting to kill him.The options are:

  1. Henry chases bad guy (henceforth known as BG) in car, resulting in fatal crash for BG;
  2. Henry chases BG through derelict building and floor/balcony collapses and he falls to his death;
  3. Henry chases BG through new building and he runs into electric cable, frying him;
  4. Henry discovers BG setting a fire in an arson attack, chases him and BG becomes trapped and incinerated;
  5. BG is attacking someone and their son (or other protector) kills him.

Just typing it out helps me see my preference. What’s yours?

Death in the stars

telescopeFunny where the inspiration comes from. I downloaded an astronomy app this weekend, Night Sky Pro, and began thinking of where I might put a telescope if I bought one, again. Then I remembered that when I had one some years ago, it was usually too cold on clear nights to go out to use it. So I considered the option of building a shed, with an opening roof. But thought this still might not be warm enough. The obvious solution would be a paraffin heater. Dangerous though, unless the roof was actually open, because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Blam! How about a story where an amateur astronomer is found dead in his shed-cum-observatory, presumed to have been overcome by fumes. But, of course, our intrepid detective discovers this isn’t the case. I’ll need to put that one in the box marked ‘ideas’.

Where do you find your inspiration?

UPDATE: I did write this story, called ‘Stargazing’ and it is published in ‘Wild Atlantic Words’.

Burning enthusiasm

Having spent the last hour or so stoking a bonfire, getting rid of old files, with Paloma Faith on the iPod, I drifted into that sublime state of contentment where the world doesn’t get any better. My thoughts wandered firstly to all the work which had created this mass of paper; all the people I’d met, all the meetings I’d attended, the dozens of reports I’d read and written, the years that had passed by. The flames drew me back to an article I’d read recently about how difficult it is to dispose of a body in a fire. It seems that, with the exception of a crematorium furnace, it’s almost impossible to get sufficient heat in a fire to break down flesh and bone to the necessary fineness of ash. Not that I have anyone in mind, of course, except perhaps a victim in a future storyline, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

There are probably dozens of novels where the villain digs a shallow pit in the woods, douses the corpse in petrol and sets it alight, then he/she bounds free with all traces of the dastardly deed destroyed. With modern forensic techniques, however, anything less than total destruction of the skeletal remains just won’t be sufficient. Luckily, my hero, Inspector James Given, is active in the late 1930s so he may have his work cut out at some point in the future.

ps I know I should have been disposing of the papers environmentally but the pile was literally a foot thick and they were confidential so several hours of shredding would have been the only alternative.

Give me that old time detection

A few nights ago I watched a thriller on TV where a couple were being tracked via cell locations where their mobile phones had been used. I made a mental note to read up on the technology. Earlier, the police had triangulated phone records to link three people of possible interest. The case was finally solved when DNA from a previously unsuspected woman appeared on a murder weapon. A further note to myself to learn more about DNA matching.

Then I remembered. My detective, Inspector James Given, lives in the 1930s. No mobile phones, no computers, and almost 15 years before Crick, Watson et al published their seismic discovery of the structure of the double helix. James Given has to actually solve the crime with very little use of technology.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love all the modern methods. They’re fascinating and when used well in fiction they add to the drama. We all know they now exist so their inclusion is an accurate reflection of how policing works in the early 21st century. But I sometimes wonder if gadgetry is being used by authors to replace deduction.

I was brought up with detectives who used their superior reasoning powers, or just plain slog and determination, to catch the criminal. Where we, as the reader, can participate in the hunt and feel the thrill of being only one step behind our hero. It’s perhaps even more satisfying when we’re a step ahead and we can scream at the pages that it was Colonel Mustard, in the library with the candlestick.

What isn’t so good is following 200 pages of a convoluted plot only for some minor character to dash in from the lab with the results of a DNA test showing the murderer was the victim’s aunt who only appeared briefly on page four. The ‘rabbit out of the hat’ ending is never good, it’s far too easy for the author and disrespectful of the reader, but using technology to achieve it is just plain sloppy.

To blog or not to blog

With the publication of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, due in April I’m advised I need to put the word out. In fact, I was talking to a bookshop owner yesterday who, when I told him I had the book coming out, he said ‘well good luck if it’s fiction, we rarely order any fiction by unknown authors’!

So today I set my mind to the task, but where to go? I have a Facebook page but that doesn’t seem appropriate, similarly LinkedIn. So, as the novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, I thought I’d set up an author page on their Author Central service. Easy enough but then realised people will only see my author page if they’re looking for it or looking for the book, so not the best starting point for a freshly published writer.

I bought a domain name awhile ago but didn’t have a web page to go with it. After a couple of hours fiddling about trying to design a landing page I thought ‘why not point my domain at the WordPress page I’ve set up?’. It looks clean, it’s (fairly) easy to use and I can both blog and keep other content in the same place. Eureka! I’m sure if I read articles I’ll find the advice is to have as much presence as possible but I’m not sure I have the energy to keep track of lots of places and to keep them all up to date. I guess the real challenge is not where to write but how to get people reading it.

Any thoughts most welcome.


Revisions again today. I can only do so much at a time without having to lie down in a darkened room.

It’s all very well deciding to move a scene from one place to another, but then any subsequent and consequent action needs to be changed. Keeping track of this is killing me. I don’t know if it’s just detective novels which suffer particularly from this though I suspect it isn’t. The problem becomes worse with each new draft because it’s hard to remember what has been changed. It is possible, of course, to track changes using Word but constantly flicking back and forth through 80,000 words is a nightmare.

One of my readers asked me how we knew a particular fact which a character had just mentioned. I knew I’d written the background but discovered it now came in a later scene. My how we laughed.

Then this morning I decided I needed to move a couple of sentences into a scene where they fitted better, due to other changes, but when I looked for the sentences, which I also knew I’d written, they were no longer in the current draft at all. Thankfully I’ve kept virtually all the previous drafts so I can retrieve the missing stuff. This aids the process but not my state of mind.

I’m seeing lots of posts on NaNo about writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. Hats off to you guys – maybe I’ll try it next year.