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.


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. 


·        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.


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.


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.


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