Sunday, 18 December 2016

Latest Article in Writing Magazine

January's Writing Magazine is now out and available, with my latest 'Beginners' piece called 'Courting Success' - or, as the strap line says, Make Your Own Luck.

Easy to say, of course, but on the surface, not that simple to carry through. But is that right?

If you look at the basic message, like any task or job, writing successfully gets better and easier the more you do it. Sounds trite, but I firmly believe it. And where some writers go wrong is completing a project, then sitting back to await the results.

That way lies disappointment. You have to get on with the next one - straightaway.

Courting success in writing is a bit like courting in the romantic sense; you have to try more than once if you want any chance of finding someone you really want to spend time with. Unlike romance, you also have to be professional and be prepared to write something new over and over again. (And no, that comparison probably doesn't really bare too much inspection - but I'm sure you understand).

Do it consistently, and editors will get to know that you can turn in the goods and meet deadlines.

Until then, however, don't sit on your laurels. Finish one project, punt it off - and start another. When I was writing short fiction years ago, it wasn't uncommon to find I had 30-40 stories out there on submission. It wasn't a scattergun approach, but my way of not agonising uselessly on what I'd done, but of getting on with the next potential sale instead. Not so easy to with books, but the idea is the same.

As the old saying goes, the harder you work, the luckier you'll be.

This is likely to be my last blog post for 2016 (unless I get a whizzer of an idea that needs airing), so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the best of all years to come in 2017.

Happy writing, too, of course.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Writing for Beginners (23)

The story-teller's apprentice.

A plumber friend of mine was recently talking about when he started out in the profession many years ago. He began as an apprentice - what in some trades is known unbecomingly as ‘an oily rag’ - to an experienced plumber. This introduction to the noble art of water-and-waste management meant he was given all the fetch-and-carry jobs, such as running off every few minutes for whatever materials were needed (including a one-way pipe and a long stand), digging trenches, drilling holes… basically, whatever the plumber required him to do. One of the worst jobs, which he hated due to suffering mild claustrophobia, was clambering about in gloomy lofts.

In time, of course, he realised something the plumber hadn’t told him: that all these ‘apprentice’ jobs were merely a run-up – a taster – to the real work, and that whatever he learned as a beginner would stand him in good stead. Because while he might not like fetching and carrying, or crawling about in confined spaces on his hands and knees, it would soon become second nature. And, as well as being instructed formally where all the pipes went so that the system worked efficiently, he was learning subliminally, too.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. I’ve met quite a few writers who have launched into their very first book without actually putting pen to paper in any other way. No short stories, no articles – probably not even a letter home to dear old Mum. I haven’t personally met one for whom it has worked, although I’m sure they're out there. But for most writers, it’s not that simple. One way or another, you have to do an apprenticeship.

But why? Well, like the plumber’s apprentice, you learn more about any craft simply by doing it. And even though a lot of what you do might appear mundane, even uninspiring (and we all go through that), there’s no beating getting in at the sharp end. Because while you’re plugging away, you are beginning to absorb skills, habits and knowledge about the art without thinking about it. And in doing so, you are learning how to assemble all the requirements for making a story come together.

Doing the groundwork. Like the apprentice, you have to make sure everything is ready before you begin. Yes, in writing, you can do some research as you go. But the job is so much easier if you don’t have to keep breaking off in mid-flow, thus spoiling your concentration.

Pacing yourself. You may be desperate to finish a scene or story. This could be because of time constraints, or because the sheer excitement of a good scene threatens to take over. And while this is a wonderful feeling for any writer, you have to learn to temper your enthusiasm and not splurge out the ending all in one go. To do so might ruin what should have been a gradual build-up of tension. The main rule is, don’t cut corners, no matter how tempting.

Alternative routes. Occasionally, you may find yourself up against a brick wall with no easy way through. Learn to look for an alternative, instead of automatically junking the whole thing (although that, too, might be an option you have to consider). Essentially, find out what works for you, and it will stand you in good stead for the future.

Having enough material. The story must have legs – not padding. Have you got the storyline, plot, characters and scenes to last? Or will you run out of material halfway through? Building a synopsis or chapter plan might help here – as will experience.

Quality control. Unlike the poor apprentice, you won’t have a plumber looking over your shoulder. But if you can develop a critical eye for your own work (most easily learnt through analysing what you like about other writers) you will find yourself checking your output as you go, thus avoiding some of the more obvious mistakes.

Pride in your work. This should be a natural development, because everybody likes to think they’re getting better as they go along. Hopefully, the more you write, the more you improve.

Learning to take criticism. Whether it comes in the shape of a refusal letter from an editor or the comments of a writing tutor, it’s something all writers have to face. And like the weary apprentice, after a hard day slaving over a U-bend, being told something isn’t right can be depressing. But that’s all it is; it means it’s not right. So fix it. Even if you do decide to junk it and start again.

Stretching yourself. Don’t settle for the easy jobs. If you only ever write short stories aimed at magazines, enter competitions once in a while. Try a non-fiction project. It might not be what you want to do all the time, but working on something different, with different demands, can be a useful challenge.

Don’t hide in the attic. Like the apprentice hoping that if the plumber can’t find him, he won’t be landed with another job, keeping your writing to yourself won’t help you grow. Get it out there. Submit it to agents, magazines or websites, show it to writing group members and friends. Good or bad, feedback is essential if you want to know - and learn by - what others think of your work.

TOP TIPS

·       Like any other job or craft, writing has a learning curve. This is best served by doing it.
·       Learn the rules of market guidelines and presentation, and you will move forward a lot faster.
·       Be professional in your presentation, language and attention to detail.
·       Study your competitors and analyse how they do it.
·       If offered advice, accept it and learn from it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 


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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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. 

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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!

TOP TIPS
·        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.
 
From: AMAZON      BARNES & NOBLE      INDIEBOUND (US only)
 
 
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book review

'Riker's Calling' by Rico Lamoureux

I rarely review books off-piste, as it were, because I'm either reviewing books sent to me by the Shots Magazine website or writing my own books - usually to a tight deadline.

However, I happened on one book in between projects, and this was 'Riker's Calling' by Rico Lamoureux. It's not a long book, but packs a lot into the pages, with investigator Jeremy Riker
finding that he has a psychopath on his tail for reasons he can't fathom. But the Spyderco Killer, as he is known, isn't interested in Riker alone; he wants to take out the people Riker knows and values, and in the most personal and coldly brutal way that he can.

Rico Lamoureux's writing has a deft touch and a nicely descriptive style alongside the fast pace. He spares some of the characterisation in preference to action, but that's not a bad thing in a story that goes from wham to bam and back again, and his main character, Riker is a likeable one to follow.

'Riker's Calling' - available for pre-order on Kindle right here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Writing for beginners (19)

Who do you write for?

(Taken from the chapter 'You as a Writer' in 'Write On! - the writer's help book' - Accent Press)
 

A subject which occasionally pops up whenever writers gather together in furtive huddles and talk about the art of putting words on paper, is ‘writing for a market’. Now, if you’re new to the business and taking your first tentative steps onto the page, this won’t mean much. You may, after all, still be wondering where the heck the market is, let alone trying to write for it.
 
The term simply means aiming a feature, story or book at a specific type of publication or genre, depending on readers’ interests. Thus, a short story featuring love and romance would usually find a home in women’s magazines. A non-fiction piece about cars would generally be best targeted at one of the motoring publications. (That said, depending on the slant, it might be of interest to other publications where an element of the same story – perhaps the personal experience of the writer – could make it more of a general-interest piece).
 
With any market, the most important thing is to study the available guidelines. These will tell you how many words to use, the style to follow, the ‘do nots’ as well as the ‘dos’, and how to submit your piece. Ignore these basic requirements and the editor will likely have an attack of the vapours and set fire to your manuscript.
 
It makes absolute sense for anyone trying to make a commercial go of their work to get used to writing for a market in this way. They may, after a while and a few acceptances under their belt, find themselves being commissioned to write more, ending up concentrating on a specialised market for which they feel comfortable writing.
 
Penning novels is somewhat less precise. Like pregnant elephants, they go through a lengthy gestation period accompanied by a lot of fuss and noise. They take longer to 'sell', edit and publish, and may finally hit the bookshops anything up to two years after acceptance. Many an eager writer has taken note of what is currently ‘hot’ in the best-seller lists and rushed home to feverishly thrash out their version, convinced of sure-fire success, only to find at the end that tastes have moved on and everyone is going bananas about something else entirely.
 
It’s essential for any writer to keep an eye on what is selling, whether producing a 1,000-word story or a book of 90,000 words. Choose a topic which hasn’t been in vogue since papyrus was the big thing, and you’re wasting your time. Magazines cannot use them, agents can’t place them with publishers and bookshops may have a problem categorising them. And in this compartmentalised and fickle world, if something can’t easily be labelled, it may be all too quickly ignored.
In effect, these are basic market rules that are as old as the hills. As Confucius might have said: ‘He who loads barrow with stuff nobody wants is dumb bunny’.
 
The only way round this is to study your target market. Haunt the racks in newsagents, browse the bookshops and see what's in vogue. Find out what keeps on selling and you stand a better chance of success than simply pitching any old story into an envelope and hoping for the best.
 
There was a time eons ago, when I used to write stories I knew my mother would like. (Not as weird as you might think because my mother used to inhale magazine fiction, and it seemed like a good idea at the time). It was also a great training ground. I didn't run my stories past her first, as early experience showed it merely led to doting smiles and being told to finish my tea. But I knew what subjects she liked and sometimes used her as a sounding board - until she turned to reading hospital stories, in which I had no interest whatsoever. It's a tough call when your own mother loses interest in your work... but character-forming.
 
This leads neatly onto an important proviso: be wary of writing anything that goes against your instincts, or about which you don’t feel comfortable. If romantic stories are what float your boat, then why not stick with what you know? If you prefer reading crime or fantasy novels, and are comfortable with the terminology, pace and style, then go with them.
 
The easier it is to begin writing, the easier it will be to finish.
 
Along with studying a market or genre, you first have to please yourself. If you aren’t happy with what you’ve written, ten pence to a pound of old kippers, neither will the agent, editor or reader. You should enjoy what you’re putting on the page, because if you like it, it will have a more genuine, fresher feel than if writing about something in which you have no real interest. Equally, creating characters you don’t really like will come across as cardboard cut-outs, lacking depth. (They may be thoroughly unlikable to the reader, but that's a different thing altogether).
 
They say it’s a poor comic who laughs at his own jokes. I take the view that if I’m not pleased with what I’ve written, why should anyone else be? Yes, most of us will feel at some stage that we could have structured something better, or approached a story from a different viewpoint and so on. But that’s the learning process, and how we become better writers.  

TOP TIPS
·       What market do you really want to write for? Having a focus is a huge help.
·       Writing against your instincts can be frustrating and off-putting.
·       Try to be pleased with what you have written.
·       Have fun with your writing – suffering for your art is an urban myth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A sneak look at the latest new cover

Like most authors, I look forward with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation to seeing what my next book cover image will look like. In this case, it's 'The Bid' (Midnight Ink), coming out in January 2017.

This is book No 2 in the Gonzales & Vaslik series (following on from 'The Locker'), and here is the cover blurb to give a taste of what's inside:

The prisoner who wakes up in a box miles from anywhere.

The jailer who doesn’t question his job.

The shipment of drones stolen in transit from a cargo hub.

The kidnappers planning a devastating attack on US soil.

When James Chadwick, a drone expert, disappears suddenly, Cruxys Solutions investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik are assigned to track his last movements. With few clues to go on, the hunt moves from London to New York, gathering speed as they close in on a horrifying plan to kill the US President and inflict total damage on a US Air Force base.

And time is running out...

Not to influence you in any way, I have to say I love the cover image, which is telling as far as the plot goes, but sufficiently sinister in tone and colour to be very eye-catching. I think the Midnight Ink designers have done a great job here on my behalf.

'The Bid' - Out in paperback and ebook on the 8th January 2017 - see Amazon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The story behind the book - 'Close Quarters'


‘Close Quarters’ – the 2nd Marc Portman spy thriller (Severn House)

 He's a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he's guarding have no idea he's there.

Some people know him as Portman.

 After the success of ‘The Watchman’, the first in the Marc Portman series, which zoomed to No 1 on Kindle in the Espionage category, and featured Portman fighting Somali pirates and terrorists, I had to choose somewhere equally challenging for him to go in the second book, ‘Close Quarters’ - (see cover right).
 
Sad to say, I wasn’t exactly short of options.

At the time of writing in 2013/14, Ukraine was heating up to be another long-term centre of conflict, with pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian Government forces in the east of the country, and increasingly seen to be backed by active Russian forces (or volunteers, as they were described by Moscow).

Watching the flurry of diplomatic activity as politicians from various quarters tried to help, I was struck immediately by the possibility of one of these well-meaning advisers or monitors being taken captive and used as a bargaining tool between east and west. After all, it has happened before.

Very quickly the idea of a US State Department official sent to check out the developing situation finding himself in custody and an unknown fate became the plot for a story, and Portman was on his next assignment.

This time he was hired by the CIA as a ‘black’ operative to extricate the official, Edwin Travis, from the hands of extremists and get him out of the country. But this time, unlike the wastes of Somalia and Kenya (‘The Watchman’), he has to get Travis free of his ‘hotel’ in Donetsk, which is teeming with Ukrainian forces, Russian-backed militia, and mafia killers on the lookout for his blood after a near-lethal confrontation on his arrival at the airport.

With only the distant voice of CIA Langley-based comms newbie, Lindsay Citera to guide him, Portman has to travel from Donetsk in the east right across the country to the border with Moldova, in order to get Travis out. But the one thing he cannot do in the hot-bed political atmosphere is rely on help from identifiable US forces or the embassy.

As usual, Portman is on his own.

Unfortunately, the CIA has an enemy in the camp, in the form of powerful and vindictive US Senator Howard Benson, who would like nothing more than to shut down their ‘black’ ops and bring their covert activities under control. When he gets wind of the operative known only as ‘Watchman’, he does all he can to identify him and use him to discredit the CIA, while also taking advantage of the worsening situation in Ukraine for his own financial ends as a member of the select and highly secretive Dupont Circle Group.

And he doesn’t care if ‘Watchman’ and the State Department envoy become collateral damage in pursuit of his schemes.

I have to say there was a point during the writing of ‘Close Quarters’ that I came close to giving up. It was after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July, in the Donetsk Oblast (region), said to have been caused by separatist forces helped by Russian-supplied ground-to-air systems.

I was deeply shocked by the event and felt it was all-too close and something around which I couldn't - maybe shouldn't - centre a work of fiction, especially a thriller. I left it alone for several days while trying to make up my mind, should I ditch the entire book or continue? One way or another I didn’t want to be thought of as making capital out of such a dreadful event.

It was a close-run thing until my wife pointed out that the timeline of the novel was around May, so the airline disaster would not feature at all. In addition, not writing the book couldn't materially affect what had happened.

In the end I decided to continue with it, but I made sure I avoided any similar ideas creeping into the novel.

 Synopsis.

Portman is used to finding himself in hostile situations. But none can be more unpredictable than the troubled Ukraine, teetering on the brink of civil war.
When a US State Department official on a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine is placed under house arrest by Russian-backed rebels, the CIA hire Portman (codename Watchman) to get him out of the country. In that dangerous and volatile region, Portman soon finds himself up against local gangsters, Ukrainian Special Forces, professional snipers and pro-Russian separatists. And being a ‘black’ operative, the only support he has is the distant voice of recently-recruited CIA Langley-based comms operator, Lindsay Citera, on her first assignment.

What they don't know however, is that Portman’s most lethal enemy comes from his own side …

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Close Quarters' - Severn House - available in ebook, p/b and h/b editions.

For signed hardback copy - see here: Goldsboro Books

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Writing for Beginners (18)

You can’t be a beginner for ever

(Taken from the chapter 'You as a Writer' in 'Write On! - the writer's help book' )

There will come a time when, having written some pieces, maybe sold a few, you might begin to wonder about the next step in this thing called being a writer.
 
One approach is to think about cutting loose – mentally, at least – from the ‘beginner’ label and start thinking of yourself in a slightly different light.


If, after having completed some projects (submitted or not), of entering competitions, of taking writing classes, of slaving over endless manuscripts - or even just a few - you still think of yourself as a beginner, perhaps you need to grasp the nettle and recognise that you are, in fact, a writer.
 
Imagine for example, finding yourself half a mile out at sea and going down for the third time. A lifeguard comes bobbing along just in time, but in response to your gurgles, he chirps, ‘Me? I’m just a trainee …’
 
There’s a hoary old saying often trotted out more in judgemental anger than true wisdom, and usually bellowed with biting self-conviction by an enraged parent, which goes, ‘Life is not a dress-rehearsal, you know …!’
 
Actually, I think life is a whole series, a multitude of dress-rehearsals, where each day is a practice session for the next, each phase of our life a preparation for what lies ahead. The daft thing is, we don’t realise it at the time.
 
In the same way, writing and submitting a story is all practice. Every time. And each work written and submitted, no matter what the outcome, should be treated as a step nearer success. Because whatever else you need in your toolbox to become a published writer, be it ideas, style, voice, stamina or dedication, you need the big-daddy power tool of inner conviction. Without that, you’re simply running uphill.
 
And to grasp that contrived sporting analogy before it slithers between the floorboards and disappears forever, there are gazillions of runners out there who train daily, weekly or less frequently, for the race they will one day enter. They wear the kit, check the stopwatch, use the correct footwear and clothes and monitor what they eat and drink.
 
But most of all, they run.
 
And for a few, training is all they will ever do. Because that’s all they need; the self-knowledge that is fed by doing something for the pure, unbridled pleasure of it, not for any tangible adulation or reward.
 
For others, putting themselves to the ultimate test is a step too far, where the possibility of failure is something they simply cannot contemplate. They may have the talent; they will certainly possess the intent and ability, the sheer will to overcome the many obstacles such as discomfort, lack of time or opportunity – even the call of family or work to do other things instead. But deep down, they still think of themselves as ‘training’, where shaving off a second or a minute here and there will make all the difference, where just a few more runs will extend their stamina and allow them to compete on terms with the rest of the field. One day.
 
They may be right. But there’s only one true test of ability, and it’s the same in writing as it is in sports. You have to step up to the line.
 
Instead of thinking of failure, consider how you will deal with success. How will you capitalise on your first (or next) sale? Will you go bigger and better or will you find your niche and enjoy it to the full? Ask many sports men and women, and they will usually tell you the same thing: coming second is simply not enough.
 
But at least in sports, there are three places on the podium to aim for. For writers, there is just one: an acceptance letter.
 
Equally, ask many keen sports men and women if they constantly try to improve their own times, and the answer will be yes. Shaving off those seconds or minutes is vital, and a reason to celebrate. It may not be a win, but it’s a measure of improvement – and a step towards a greater goal.
 
For most, it’s an inner drive which they respond to, something peculiar to each individual. So it is with writers, who see success in many different ways. But most would agree that receiving an acceptance note is a marvellous acknowledgement that they have finally produced something of value which is going to be published for all to see.
 
We’re learning all the time. It’s another fascinating aspect of life; that learning never stops. But there’s a point at which you have to put that learning to good use, rather than simply doing more of the same. And one way to do that is to think of yourself as a writer. Not merely a beginner.
 
TOP TIPS
  • Don’t think of your writing as a step in your training, but as a step towards success.
  • Consider your strengths as a writer and use them.If you write, you’re a writer.
  • The rest is simply a matter of progress.Every writer is a beginner at some stage.
  • YOU must decide when you are no longer there.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
'Write On! - the writer's help book' (Accent Press) - on Kindle and in paperback.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~