Thursday, 1 December 2016

A lovely review of 'The Bid' by BOOKLIST


"In the second in the Cruxys Solutions series, globetrotting investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik (who were introduced in the widely praised The Locker, 2016) are in the U.S., looking into the disappearance of one of the world’s top experts on military drones.
Meanwhile, the missing man is rather upset to find himself being held captive in a small room by people who, he’s assured, have some nasty things in store for him if he won’t do exactly what they say.
As we follow these two alternating plot threads, we gradually put together a picture of a terrorist plot that could spell disaster for the U.S. The question, of course, is whether Gonzales and Vaslik can beat the clock and stop the villains.
With some intriguing characters (especially private-security experts Gonzales and Vaslik—a nice mix of superheroes and regular folks); some snappy writing; and a timely story, the novel should find a large and enthusiastic audience among fans of Daniel Silva and Alex Berenson.
Devotees of the author’s Harry Tate novels should have no trouble switching over to this new series, too."
David Pitt
BOOKLIST Reviews - December 2016

'The Bid' - the second Gonzales & Vaslik mystery thriller - JANUARY 2017 in ebook and p/b.

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Friday, 25 November 2016

Latest Articles in Writing Magazine

AS we're now heading scarily fast towards December (and next month's issue of Writing Magazine is already available on bookstands and online), I might as well give a heads-up in case I forget later.

First, my latest Beginners piece, 'Turn to the Dark Side', deals with giving your characters some rough edges. That means your heroes, not merely the villains.

You often hear actors say that slightly dubious or downright bad characters are the most fun to play. Well, the same is true when writing them; you need to get some fun out of your writing, and giving them that little extra to make them stand out can help you do that.

It helps to make sure your characters on either side of the fence are not unremittingly the same all the way through. A little moral looseness - even vulnerability - helps them become real, as does an occasional touch of humour, especially the dark kind.

'Good' characters with a bit of 'rough' about them can be exciting to write, too, because you can play with this extra facet and make them far more than one-dimensional.

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My New Author profile this month is Jules Grant, whose debut 'We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire' was published by Myriad Editions in April.

Depicting the lives of an all-female street gang in Manchester, and written by a former barrister who knows the area well, it was, in Jules' own words, 'great fun to write', reflecting what I said in the Beginners article above.

Available on Amazon here.

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Monday, 21 November 2016

Writing for Beginners (22)

Believe in YOU.

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

It’s not unusual for people meeting famous writers they admire to say afterwards something like, ‘He/ she was so ordinary!’

Now, whether there was a suspicion beforehand that said famed author might have a spare head tucked under their arm, or a silicon chip in place of a brain, I’m never sure. Ten to one it means the author was found to be surprisingly genial and down-to-earth, rather than so far up themselves light couldn’t penetrate the surrounding darkness.

Ego – or lack of one – aside, it helps to reflect that successful writers (and how you measure success depends on you) are, for the most part, ordinary people. They breath the same as everyone else, they survive the same daily rigours of life and,  as my sainted old dad used to say about VIPs, they have to get out of the bath for a pee, the same as the rest of us.

So what’s so special, then, that gets these other people published?

Let’s ignore for the sake of our blood pressure, the celebrity writer. It’s a fact of modern life, and pointless getting too worked up about people cashing in – or being shown how to cash in on their supposed fame by a smart agent/PR expert. It’s like saying, ‘If only I’d been born taller/thinner/blonder/smarter/faster than I am.’ (tick whichever is applicable).

It didn’t happen, so suck it up.

(Actually, if I may confess a childhood wish here, I always wanted to be 6’2” tall. Don’t ask me why – well, okay, I’ll tell you why: my fictional hero, Simon ‘The Saint’ Templar was that height, so I figured, why not? Of course it was nonsense; but when you’re only eight years old and 3’ 6” on a bucket, it’s allowed. Did I hang like a bat from doorways in the vain hope that I’d stretch a bit? I tried it once, but succeeded in ripping the beading off the doorframe. The resultant lecture from my father convinced me that there are only certain things you can change. And ruining a perfectly good doorframe wasn’t going to work.

In other words, you have to make the most of what you’ve got.

In writing, success in getting published is usually down to luck, hard work, persistence and producing what the market wants. But it also needs a hefty measure of self-belief.

I know a couple of people who will never drive a car as long as there are spots in front of their eyes. It’s not because they’re dim-witted or have the coordination of a mud puddle; it’s because they simply don’t believe they can do it. Yet those same two people do all manner of other things in life without a second thought, purely because in their subconscious, they think – or assume – they can. No doubts, no lingering fears – they get on with it.

Looking up at successful authors and thinking ‘I couldn’t do that’, can prove a real problem for some people. Lump on top of that all the other fears and self-doubts we’re prone to from time to time, and it might become almost insurmountable.

But there are certain things you can do to put yourself in the right ballpark.

Write for the market. Recognising that there are things you can write which will probably never be published is one thing. In other words, produce what the market wants, thereby getting your foot on the ladder and building a track record. If, once you’re there, you want to take a punt on writing something outside the mainstream, that’s your choice. But you have to get your foot in the door first.

Be professional in your attitude and approach. Mavericks who write in green ink on both sides of the paper, then insist on phoning an editor the day after posting the manuscript to see if they’ve syndicated the idea around the English-speaking world without telling the author, are prone to disappointment. And yes, they do exist. Freelance writing is like any other job: treat it seriously and professionally, and the approach will usually be reciprocated. It still doesn’t guarantee publication, but at least you’ll be closer than otherwise. The alternative is like turning up for the office party wearing a creepy smile and a suit made of cling-film; it won’t get you asked back.

Be prepared to write to order. Most writers try all manner of things along the way, be it poetry, short fiction, articles, comedy material or books. Much of it is to find out what they can or cannot do; others do it because they like to vary their output.

Don’t be precious. Be prepared to accept criticism. Yes, it’s your baby and you’ve spilled blood getting every creative word on paper. But if an editor says they want changes, be prepared to consider it and, if reasonable, do it. It might be the only chance you get.

Keep writing. Writing one story and sitting back to wait for results is a sure-fire way of getting old and disappointed. Write another, then another. Submit them and if they come back, review them and send them out to someone else. Activity breeds results and inspires more ideas.

Assume that everything is possible. Don’t even give a moment’s thought to doubt – or doubters. Nobody can guarantee you success, no more than added height, brains or beauty. But neither should you promote obstacles for yourself by thinking ‘I can’t do that.’

TOP TIPS

·       Be professional – turn in the best work you can.
·       Don’t try to cut corners.
·       Don’t be precious about your work - be prepared to make changes if asked.
·       Study the market and follow any guidelines.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Latest Article in Writing Magazine

November's issue of Writing Magazine is called 'Burning up with Ideas'. That's less to do with feverish brain activity on the part of the writer (although there is that), but more to do with stumbling on some renewed ideas while having a clear-out.

Not normally one to throw any of my past writing efforts away, in the hope that something old and near-forgotten may strike a fresh spark of brilliance, I decided to do just that with a hefty mound of manuscripts and a couple of matches. Not one to do things by half, I also reached for a bottle of fire-starter liquid.


No, I didn't suffer any degree of burns - nice of you to worry - but I did pause occasionally to read some of the stuff I was dumping in the flames. In fact what should have been a quick burn-up became a lengthy process alternating between wincing at some of my more pedestrian efforts and wondering how I'd managed to write something I was pleased with. (In fact some of the manuscripts have been published, so it wasn't all failure).

The upshot was, seeing snatches of the unpublished paragraphs in passing, I found some of them stuck, even found their way into my pocket for future reading. And that's the way of writing: all you need is a brief prompt and you're away on the chase for a new story.

One practical thing I did learn (mainly a timing thing brought about by the sound of a police siren approaching the area where I live), is the time it takes to burn a pile of A4 paper. Forget about a quick flash and a pile of ashes; paper doesn't burn that easily. So if you have a character anxious to dispose of some damning evidence before the cops arrive, get them to plan ahead or get caught in the process.

Happy writing!

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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Short fiction isn't dead.

I used to write short stories - lots of them. Most of them were in the relationship/romance genre because in the UK (way before the internet age) there wasn't much of a market for my preferred stories, which were crime/thrillers.

Thankfully, I found a niche selling my stories to women's magazine in the UK and overseas, and did so successfully for a number of years. Actually, although crime stories weren't usually sought after back then (in fact 'nothing below the chin' was the unwritten rule, which included any violence or bad language), I did manage to slip the occasional cosy crime past the editors. This was all while trying to get a book deal.. which I finally managed to do.
                                                                                                            
But I've never lost sight of writing short fiction, because that was my apprenticeship, the learning curve of writing to a market, a word-count and - certainly for the magazines - a style.

Like I said, nothing below the chin.

BUT... I did manage to put out some darker stuff, to assuage my desire to get down to the gritty. And one of these stories came back to me just a few days ago, when, thanks to J. Kingston Pierce's RAP SHEET - required reading for every crime and thriller fan - I learned that a US e-zine I'd sold a story a few years ago is still alive and kicking.

Plots With Guns, it's called, and it does what it says on the tin. Don't expect kittens and cosies because that isn't their style. You can find my story in the archives from March 2010, called 'Shooting Fish'. And it features a spear-gun. Chowk!

I'm sure PWG won't mind me passing on the link so you can read this story. They deserve some attention, so if you like your fiction on the darker side of gritty, this is the place to go (although my story isn't really that dark. But be warned, PWG doesn't take prisoners).

With kind thanks to Rap Sheet and PWG for the use of their material.

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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Writing for Beginners (21)

So what have you done today…?

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


This may unnerve some writers, but I have to confess to a secret: I don’t write every single day. Well, I have a life to lead, too, and it has a habit of getting in the way sometimes. Take last week, for instance, when I put my foot through the ceiling while insulating the loft. Or maybe that’s best forgotten…

But, while I might not be actually writing, you won’t know what I’m thinking about. As my wife can testify, repeated calls from Earth to Planet Adrian often fail to penetrate the muggy wool of creative thought, no matter what I’m up to.

It’s said, Grasshopper, that every journey begins with the first step. Unfortunately, some journeys - in a writing sense, at least - never take place. Why? Because many writers never actually get round to doing what they’re dreaming of, which is writing.

‘If only I had time … ’ is one of the most repeated complaints one hears from would-be writers (and readers, sadly, which is quite scary). And nobody is doubting the relentless pull of work, family, relationships, DIY, chat-room, mobile phone, holidays and so on.
But who said you had to write a whole book in one sitting? Do you eat a whole year’s supply of food in one go? Do you paint the entire house in one day (especially when having to extricate your foot from the ceiling)?

I know setting goals can be boring, and I wouldn’t suggest anyone regiments their life to the extent that they constantly have their eyes on some kind of daily writing routine if it doesn't suit them. That can stifle creativity faster than a dose of migraine, and we all have enough routines to choke an elephant. But looking at a way of getting round that flurry of everyday activity which kills off any attempt at writing, it can be done realistically, if you have the willpower and desire.

A gentleman recently told me with absolute conviction: ‘I never have a minute to write – I only wish I did.’ He then went on to list all the things he had to do every day, which kept him on his feet and unable to pursue his love of writing. My suggestion was to use his time in the bathroom to greater effect.

I’m not sure he was too impressed by this. But if he really was as hectically busy as he implied, surely he owed it to himself to snatch at least a few minutes with a notepad – no matter where? If a man’s home really is his castle, then his bathroom must be not only the smallest, but the most private room in the house.

Conversely, a lady in a bookshop had a completely different attitude. She told me that whenever she managed to write something, no matter how brief, she felt a huge sense of achievement, even pride. She was also very busy, but managed to find and use little pockets in her day to good effect, even if it meant writing just the first line of a new story or sketching out a fresh scene which had suddenly occurred to her.

She was doing it rather than merely thinking about it.

Foot through ceilings notwithstanding, even when I’m working on other projects, I jot down ideas, take snatches of dialogue which sound appealing, and constantly think about what I’m currently working on or would like to work on next. In fact, if I were to check my IDEAS folder, I’d find stuff which will probably take me years to get round to… or maybe just a couple of days, because in there might be something that will fit in with a project I’m currently writing.

I liken it to chipping away at a large chunk of wood; eventually, I’ll have something recognisable which I can work on more fully and with more energy and focus, because the desire to do it will push me to get on with it.

And that’s the key: if you want to do something enough, you will manage it somehow. If you have that inner burn to write, that itch that won’t go away, especially when you pick up a good book or a short story and think you could do just as well, you will find a way. It may be a sentence here or a short piece of dialogue there; it might even be thinking of a name for a character, or a description. But those small, even minute achievements are not to be dismissed lightly. Because they will add up, and they will grow, as will your determination to make something of them, no matter how busy. And that’s a greater achievement. 

TOP TIPS

·        Snatch those pockets in your life (travelling, queuing, waiting – and yes, in the bathroom) to write something.
·        Got a scene in mind? Sketch it out in six words – you can flesh it out later.
·        Get a buzz from starting something – but don’t let it stop there.
·        Say ‘I’m writing’ - and mean it.
·        Go to sleep with a sense of achievement.

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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

October's issue of Writing Magazine brings two pieces from me; one the usual Beginners page - 'Read Your Own Book' - the other a New Author profile.

As writers, reading our own work usually comes in the edit process, when we're looking for typos, bloopers or plain clunky writing that should never see the light of somebody else's day.

But how often do we read what we've written as a reader; that is to say without the editorial portion of our brain?

The main reason for doing this is to get a sense of how the book flows, where the peaks and troughs of action and emotion versus descriptive narrative are... effectively, what does the story feel like to an outsider.

You're doing this not for a sense of self-satisfaction, but to put yourself in place of an agent or editor (and ultimately, of course, a reader or few). It is they who will judge your writing, and you need to get an impression of how others will see it.

It's the acid test of all tests, and if you feel you can pass that, you'll be on your way to submitting your work with a lot more confidence.

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New Author profile - Mark Hardie

A writer who didn't allow a serious problem to stand in the way of his dreams of getting published is Mark Hardie, author of 'Burned and Broken' (Sphere - June 2016).

Most of us couldn't begin to imagine trying to write without being able to see. It's simply too huge. But not Mark. After losing his sight in 2002, he took a creative writing course... and the rest is history. But it wasn't that simple and reading the piece will give a tiny hint how he manages.

'Burned and Broken' is a crime thriller which uncovers the death of a policeman investigated by two colleagues. The force doesn't want anything revealed that will reflect badly in it, but the two cops involved have other ideas. Then they find that their dead colleague wasn't everything he was cracked up to be.

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