Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Writing for Beginners (20)

Rejection is Just the Beginning

(Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - Accent Press - p/b and ebook)

During a creative writing class I led once, a student bravely confided that she had received her very first rejection (of a short story submitted to a magazine). It was especially brave because another student had just announced her first sale. Bearing in mind that rejection can be a traumatic disappointment to any writer, she was quite flummoxed when everyone clapped and offered their congratulations!

They weren’t being unkind. In fact, most of her student colleagues were expressing justifiable admiration, because she had done what many of them had not: she had actually submitted a story for publication.

This comes back to one of the great - often unconsidered - hurdles for new writers: if you never submit anything, you will never know whether you have written something worthwhile. Instead, all you will have is the judgement of well-meaning friends or family, who either (a) pull their punches because they wish to be kind or (b) kick your legs out from under you because they wish to be ‘honest’.

As has been covered here before, talking about being a writer is fine; thinking about it is good. But to be a writer, there’s no substitute for simply getting down and doing it. It’s no different to any other line of endeavour, such as saying ‘I’d love to be a high diver'. Unless you walk along the board and jump off the end, all you're doing is fantasising about it.

In the same way, wanting to write and sell your work is never going to become a reality until you send your stories or articles out into the world to be considered by a professional.

So what are the reasons for this common dilemma?

Confidence. You may feel that you’ve written an absolute blinder of a story, with all the required buttons and bells, lots of beautifully drawn characters and a sizzling plot. But you just don’t have that final surge of confidence required to boot the thing off the end of the branch and allow someone else to see whether it has merit. Well, you’re not alone, believe me. Plenty of people find this a real struggle, and spend their days writing stories which go nowhere.

Remember this: you are sending your work out anonymously (or as good as), because the editor doesn’t know you from a hole in the hedge, your name is just that – a name – and he/she will judge your writing on its merits rather than who you are, where you live or what you call yourself.

Quality. This is linked to confidence, but comes down more often to specific feelings of doubt about whether your story is good enough. This is something only you can answer, but don’t forget that all successful writers had to start somewhere. And every writer under the sun has been rejected at some stage.

Another point about being judged: some editors can spot a good story the moment they see it, but may still reject it for various reasons (got one like it already; wrong time of year; not a current topic; needs polishing, etc). If it’s close enough, some editors will make a comment rather than simply sending it back. If so, take heed and take advantage of the fact that someone has noticed your work. And if they make a positive comment, they are opening the door for you to try again!

Competition. This means, quite simply, that you subconsciously feel there must be lots of better writers out there whose work will blow yours out of the water and show it up for what it is.Actually, not true. Yes, there are many talented writers around. But your envelope will fit through the same letterbox as theirs, will open just like theirs and will look the same on the page. In other words, you start on the same line as everyone else.

Focus. Are you unsure about who you are aiming at? If so, check your target market again and make an honest assessment about whether your work fits that market or should be sent somewhere more appropriate to the content. If it really doesn’t fit, don’t waste your time or theirs; look for another target.

Parameters. Are you sub-consciously aware that you have been a little ‘elastic’ with word count, content, characters or genre? It’s easy to do when you’re in the white heat of creating a story, and you may hate cutting something which you consider fundamental to the story. But the first thing to do is become absolutely comfortable and familiar with your target magazine’s guidelines, so that when your story goes into the post, you are confident that it will meet their most basic requirements, rather than falling at the first fence.

If it still comes back, even though you’ve followed all the guidelines, take the opportunity to re-read the story and make an honest judgement about what might have caused the rejection. If you really cannot see anything wrong, send it somewhere else!

·        Get it finished, get it right for the market and send it out.
·        A ‘no’ from one editor isn’t a rejection by the entire industry.
·        Take rejection as an opportunity to re-read your story.
·        Challenge yourself. Be daring and submit your work.
·        You have an absolute right to try. Don’t waste it.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Book Review

The Rules of Backyard Cricket

My latest book review in SHOTS Magazine is of Jock Serong's 'The Rules of Backyard Cricket'.

Don't be put off by the title; you don't have to understand the rules of this game to enjoy this book. (If you're a baseball fan, think baseball - it's a similar theme).

You can read the full review by clicking on the Shots link above.

As I mention in the review, although being English, I've never been a cricket fan, so approached the book with mixed feelings. Was it going to be a ball-by-ball replay, full of arcane rules and insider terminology I wouldn't - or couldn't be bothered to - understand? There was only one way to find out, so I piled in.

And I'm glad I did. As I indicated above, you don't have to know the game, because this is essentially about two boys growing up in Melbourne, Australia, and on reaching adulthood, achieving the highest levels of their national sport. (For any other country, insert your national or favoured sport and you'll be fine).

Jock Serong won the Ned Kelly Award for his book 'Quota', and his latest work explains why. He writes about tension, passion, corruption and sibling rivalry, set against the sleazy side of international competition, and brings off a thoroughly good read in the process.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Latest article in Writing Magazine

Another Brick in the Wall

No, not that song by a famous group, but the title of my latest 'Beginners' piece in the September issue of Writing Magazine.

It's not uncommon for writers to find themselves staring blankly at a sheet of A4 or a monitor screen, desperately trying to get an idea down. It might be a scene, a piece of dialogue, maybe building a character. But creeping in under the wire is a relentless flow of other ideas for the same project (or maybe others if you're lucky), all of which interrupt and deflect the focus.

Result. Nothing. Or at best a few feeble attempts that are likely to convince nobody, least of all yourself.

We've all been there. It's called trying to bite off more than we can chew.

Far better to push back the unbidden invaders and focus on one at a time. At least then you will accomplish something meaningful.

They might not 'fit' at first, because these are still ideas in the raw... and growing as you work on them. But they're the essential parts of your project.

Like bricks in a wall, each one contributes to the overall work. Create each brick, adding them one by one and filling in the 'mortar' between each layer, and soon you're looking at something approaching a wall... or in your case, a complete story.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Canada has it.

I read a lot of American thrillers, but I tend not to notice whether the authors actually come from north or south of the border. That's my fault, I confess. I just like to get to the story.

However, to redress the balance in just a small way, I've been watching the progress over the years of Ethan Jones, the prolific author of the Canadian Intelligence Service (CIS) operative, Justin Hall, series, and the Carrie O'Connor series. If you like your stories with a relentless pace, buckets of action and a recurring lead character, these are most definitely worth checking out.

To add to his already impressive output, his latest title, The Central Connection, (Knightsville Books) is out this month.

After going rogue, will Justin Hall still be a part of the CIS? Will his boss forgive Justin's disobedience? And what is cooking in Mossad's kitchen? These and more questions will be answered in the The Central Connection, 

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1sudhn4

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Trust Your Inner Editor

In Writing Magazine's latest (August) issue, my 'Beginners' page deals with the issue of doubt; doubt that we've done a good job of writing; doubt that a sentence sounds right or that a word might be in the wrong place; doubt that the manuscript isn't full of hidden typos that will blow any chances of publication out of the water.

The simple solution is, if you've read it through, edited it (more than once) and read it through again on paper - always a sure-fire way of spotting a hidden horror you'd missed first and second time out far better than on screen - and got someone else to read it for an objective view, then you've done as much as you can.

Anything else is just fiddling and a waste of time and worry.

Throw off the doubts and send it off. Then get on with the next project.

You'll get a response sooner or later. In the meantime, rather than staring at the post box or checking your email every couple of minutes, push it away by doing something positive.

My New Author Profile in the same issue covers Peter Breakspear, who gained publication of his first book, 'End Point' by winning a writing competition run by WM in collaboration with Matador Books.

In addition, Peter got something most authors never get to see: to follow every stage of his book through design and production.

As he points out in his interview, winning a competition was the only difference when it came to producing a book. What he shared with all other writers is checking his facts and doing his research.

And most important - getting the story on paper.


Friday, 8 July 2016

Latest Article in Writing Magazine

Boxing Clever

My 'Beginners' article in July's edition of Writing Magazine is called BOXING CLEVER.

It explores what some might refer to as a slightly tenuous comparison between the craft of boxing and the art of writing (one I used to do, the other I still pursue).

As with boxing, there are certain points you need to consider to be a writer. Not precisely the same ones, of course, but just as important. One of them is KEEP MOVING. Boxers who stand still rarely progress because they get nailed.

In the same way, writers need to stay on the move in their chosen game, too. That means don't throw your writing punch and sit around waiting for the response; it may never come - or if it does, it may be a request to see what else you've written.

If you've been languishing on your couch, dreaming of book deals, events and lots of royalties, instead of writing the next project... well, you'll be disappointed because those requests are few and far between, and you need to be a in a position to take advantage of them.

And the only way to do that is to keep writing.


Monday, 20 June 2016

The story behind the book - 'The Locker'

It’s not often I get inspired by a visit to the gym. I get bored easily and think of all the writing I could be doing instead. But there was one time when an idea hit me and took root. It illustrates how something seemingly insignificant will stick in the memory until days or even months later.

I’d just completed Close Quarters, the second in the Marc Portman spy thriller series, and hadn’t got anything specific in mind. It's a bit like that for me, after completing a book; suddenly the ideas cup seems horribly empty. However, I knew I wanted to try something different, to see what came out. I’ve always worked that way, switching between magazine fiction, features and books, and within the book genres themselves; from the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France (Death on the Marais, etc), to the Harry Tate spy thrillers (Red Station, etc) and the Portman series.

Anyway, here I was at the gym, opening a locker to put away my clothes, when I saw a business card on the shelf. A white one, stark against the dark interior, with a name, telephone number and address - I forget the details, but they’re irrelevant.
When I turned it over out of idle curiosity, I saw it had my name scrawled on it. Adrian.

 It was a little spooky for a second, although I knew it couldn't be addressed to me. Call me psychic.

I put it back, did my session of self-torture and went home. But what stayed with me was the sheer randomness of a piece of card with my name on it being in a locker at a public gym.

I kept thinking, what if... ? What if it wasn’t a guy’s name written on the card, but a woman’s? What if the woman - let’s call her Nancy - is the mother of a little girl named Beth. She arrives at her gym one morning to find a card lying on the bottom of her chosen locker. And it's addressed specifically to her.
Hello, Nancy.
You’re at your usual locker at Fitness Plus. The time is approx. 09.15. Your cell phone is dead, your home phone won’t answer and your daughter Beth is alone with Tiggi, her cute Polish nanny.
It will take you 18 minutes to get home. If you drive fast.
Shame. You’re already 18 minutes late...
She checks, of course, and to her horror finds her cell phone dead and the landline doesn’t answer. Worse, when she gets home there’s no sign of Beth or the nanny. But there are instructions which tell her two things: she mustn’t tell the police but she has to tell her husband, Michael.
The problem is Nancy has no way of reaching him; he’s a charity field worker somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. She recalls, however, that he’d once impressed on her one important fact: that if anything out of the ordinary ever happened, she should call a special number and mention CODE RED. This she does.
Shortly afterwards, two people arrive. One is a former British soldier and cop, Ruth Gonzales;  her colleague, Andy Vaslik, is an American, and former Department of Homeland Security agent. They are investigators with a private security contractor/insurance company called Cruxys Solutions, and they’ve come to solve the problem of Beth's kidnap and provide whatever other assistance she might need.

As they quickly discover, Nancy's husband, who is clearly fundamental to the kidnappers’ actions although they have no idea why, not only out of reach, he doesn’t seem to have a footprint: no bank account, no documentation, a seemingly invented past… and only Nancy’s word that he actually exists.

Other queries quickly begin to mount, such as why have the family moved house several times within a short period? Is the nanny, Tiggi, in on the kidnap? Who would have been close enough to know which locker Nancy might use… and how did they disable her cell phone? Most important of all, why does Michael appear not to exist?

When they discover that Nancy has been under covert surveillance from a nearby empty house, and is then subjected to an attempted snatch off the street, followed by the murder of a charity expert Ruth Gonzales has consulted, it’s soon obvious that this is no ordinary kidnap-for-ransom, and involves something much darker and deeper, with implications involving international terrorism.

And that's how THE LOCKER was born: by chance encounter with a piece of card, followed by a whole series of what ifs and maybes.

Of course, being a series writer, I was asked if this was the first of a series... and I replied, 'of course.' The second in the Gonzales & Vaslik story is called 'THE BID', which is due out next January. But that's for another time.
'The Locker' (Midnight Ink) - now available in paperback and ebook.