Sunday, 28 May 2017

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

June's issue of Writing Magazine comes with my latest new 'Beginners' piece called 'SELF-service'.

The capitals are deliberate, as this deals with the fact that to a certain extent (no doubt even a considerable one in some cases), writing requires a degree of what might be seen as selfish behaviour.

In fact George Orwell was said to have uttered about writers:
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
 
I'm not advocating deliberate selfishness, but as with any important following or interest, there has to be a level of focus to the inevitable exclusion of other things. Like any day job, really, only the hours are different.
 
I know from experience how 'focussed' I can be when the writing takes hold - usually once a day if I'm lucky,and often at about 4pm, just when the rest of the household is winding down. (I've tried to adjust my timing on this aspect, but so far without luck. I must be a late afternoon scribbler).
 
Whatever your own particular situation, success demands sacrifice, and that can often be seen as selfishness by those around you.
 
The secret is to be aware of it and not let others suffer by allowing your writing to become a burden on them or what should be their shared time with you.
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This month's New Author profile candidate is Xan Brooks, a freelance journalist whose debut novel 'The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times' was published by Salt Publishing in April.
 
Described as a social-realist fairytale of 1920s England, it follows an orphan, Lucy, who meets up with four 'funny men' or broken souls every Sunday, who have been named after the characters from the Wizard of Oz.
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Thursday, 25 May 2017

Writing for beginners (30)

Reviewing Your Writing Tools

Like anyone else in the creative business, writers need certain tools to do their job. Whether using pen and paper or computer, without them we would find it difficult to do what we do - which is putting down words on paper for others to read. It is no different to a bricklayer needing a trowel, spirit level and mortar; they are fundamental requirements.
 
But just as a bricklayer needs the basics, he also needs plans, materials and somewhere to build. And writers should also consider the intangibles which are vital to the creative process.
 
Ask any writer what they value most, and you’re likely to get a variety of answers ranging from peace and quiet through to simply having plenty of fresh ideas on tap. (Add to that the latest piece of electronic hardware or software, since we are, like it or not, bedded into the age where some think a good computer will make us better writers. It won’t, but it will help the process).
 
Let us examine atmosphere as a tool. A friend of mine works at her kitchen table. She does so because she feels it is her ‘place’ and she can sit down whenever the mood takes her. She also worried that friends will think she’s putting on airs if she bags a specific room to do her writing. Unfortunately, what is her place to write is also a major trade route for the rest of creation; family, pets, children from down the street, neighbours and visiting family members, all wanting a slice of her time. No wonder she complains of not getting enough peace to write.
 
Another friend tucks himself away in the spare room where nobody can get at him. Up there, he plays classical music and gets in the mood, Well, almost. Unfortunately, he often finds he can’t get in the ‘right’ mood for the words to flow, and ends up wandering the house like a refugee, trying to find where he left it.
 
Atmosphere is important, and varies according to the individual. Friend A needs to allocate herself a specific place where she can work in comfort with the minimum of interruption. Friend B needs to think about how, in the kind of place A can only dream of, he needs to create the right ambiance.
In both cases, they are victims of their own circumstances. Having a quiet place to write is not a crime, not is it pretentious, silly or even suspect. We wouldn’t, after all, expect a keen gardener to be satisfied using a tub in the middle of the living room carpet.
 
Friend A, if her writing is that important to her, needs to grasp the nettle and inform the family that she needs somewhere for herself. She isn’t locking herself away like a hermit crab, merely distancing herself for a while from the hurly-burly.
 
Friend B needs to think about what he is writing, and how the music he plays fits into that. Classical music may be something he enjoys, but it might be wrong for his frame of mind while writing. He could try varying the output to alter his mood.  A gentle violin piece may be too bland for creating a suspense story, and a piece of Wagner rattling the rafters certainly won’t do much for a story of soft candlelight and whispered sweet nothings.
 
Or how about some actual peace and quiet? Now there’s a novel thought (pun intended).
 
Another tool we tend to forget is a good source of reference. How often do we know the kind of word we need, yet can't quite bring it to mind? How accurate is our geography in a story – details of which might be subsequently picked apart by an editor at the expense of all our hard work? How often do we forget that what we knew even five years ago has changed dramatically because of shifting circumstances? (I must confess to this mistake once, when I quoted a 40-minute journey time from one part of London to another – a trip I used to take regularly. An editor queried whether I had done so recently, since that time has now doubled as a result of increased traffic, cameras, the congestion zone and reduced speed limits, which impacted quite seriously on the flow and time-plan of my story).
 
Thinking time is another tool we tend to overlook. Taking time out to think seriously about where our story is going can pay real dividends, rather than just giving it the odd thought over dinner along with interest rates, the children’s schooling and that bald tyre on the car.
 
Thinking, allied with jotting down ideas, alternative plots, ‘what ifs’ and some wild mind-mapping on scrap paper, can often serve to unblock the creative processes far more effectively than labouring painfully over a hot keyboard. So can walking, window-shopping or performing some other automatic task.
 
Our tools are important for us to do the job, whether it is part- or full-time. Having the right ones at hand - and reviewing them from time to time - could make all the difference between a job done well or simply snatched at and wasted.
 
TOP TIPS
·        Think about atmosphere and place. Are yours suitable for writing?
·        Take your writing time seriously and others will do so, too.
·        Having sources of reference at hand will save time and effort.
·        Give yourself time to think about what you are doing and where you are going.

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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.
  

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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rocco re-branded

I mentioned a couple of days ago that a new Inspector Lucas Rocco book called 'Rocco and the Nightingale' is out in paperback via The Dome Press in October. This will bring the series to five full-length books plus a novella.

Fortunately, they have also taken the novella ('Rocco and the Snow Angel') under their wing and are re-branding it with a completely fresh cover.

This brings the appearance in line with the new design, which I'm delighted to see.

Available only on Kindle at the moment, this short edition finds Rocco on the trail of a killer after a former village priest is shot dead execution-style in a snow-covered field in Picardie, northern France.

For the locals it re-opens memories of a wartime scandal around the villages of Poissons-les-Marais and Fouillmont, when young infatuation led to a spate of coldly efficient assassinations. But who is responsible for this particular death? And if there's a wartime connection, why so long after the event?

For Rocco it means pushing aside the veil surrounding old Resistance activities and fighting dangerous political connections to track down a deadly long-range killer with the ability to hide in open countryside.

'Rocco and the Snow Angel' - on Kindle.

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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Rocco's back!

I'm delighted to announce that my series featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco is back with a bang.

The Dome Press are releasing 'Rocco and the Nightingale' in paperback on October 19. This is the fifth book in the series, set in Picardie, France during the 1960s. Other books (previously published by Allison & Busby) are:


'Death on the Marais'
'Death on the Rive Nord
'Death on the Pont Noir'
Death at the Clos du Lac'
 
There's also a Kindle novella out there called 'Rocco and the Snow Angel' - but more about that later.

I've been wanting to write more about Rocco's investigations and his tenuous professional relationship with the suits in France's Interior Ministry and his boss and former army commanding officer Commissaire Francois Massin for some time, but other projects and series somehow got in the way. (Blame it on my short attention span and a grasshopper mind).

However, now The Dome Press  have picked up the baton and I've been given the opportunity and impetus to bring Rocco out of semi-retirement and back into his Citroen Traction Avant (a car I wanted my father to buy when we lived in France many years ago, but he decided on a sleeker, more cost-effective Simca Aronde instead. Well, I was only 10 at the time and knew zip about gas-guzzling cars).


As with all my Rocco books, I tend to use or refer to as a backdrop a piece of France's history (Algerian Independence, assassination attempts on President de Gaulle, illegal immigrants, celebrity kidnapping, international trade deals, etc).

In 'Nightingale' the link is with the country's former African colony Gabon, and a government minister on the run from enemies. But that's only a small part of the overall picture, because this time Rocco has a professional assassin on his tail.

For future reference - 'Rocco and the Nightingale' - (The Dome Press) - paperback edition - 19th October. goo.gl/C9YGQq

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Saturday, 6 May 2017

Latest article in Writing Magazine

My latest 'Beginners' article in May's issue of Writing Magazine is called 'Avoid the Unlikely'.

This title came about because years ago, when I was writing lots of short fiction for women's magazines (during the period known by my wife as the frock years), I used a lovely literary agency, sadly now defunct, run by two agents, Cari and Lesley, who had the most charming way with rejections.

The words they used mostly were 'not very likely', meaning it lacked that certain something, whether depth, colour realism... in fact anything rendering it unlikely to be accepted for publication. And then explained why, which was a lot more helpful than sending a blank rejection slip.

I took this seriously, and carried it into writing my later novels. It made me slightly anal about checking detail, place, geography or anything likely to make a reader throw the book aside in disgust, but that was no bad thing. (A nod of thanks there to Google Earth, Street view, Wikipedia and a host of other sources that help with my research. It takes time to do but it's worth it in the end, even if I do get dragged off-topic endlessly when I spot something totally not to do with what I'm writing. But that's part of the fun). 

In addition, however, the story itself has to make sense in the structure, not simply the detail.

While it's okay when setting your stories against real-world backdrops to bend reality slightly , writing something that is simply not possible or plausible is another matter altogether.

As I learned very quickly, there are some very knowledgeable readers out there, and if I write something that simply doesn't wash, they are likely to write and tell me. Thankfully, that hasn't happened in a long time, if only because I try to avoid the unlikely.

So thank you, Cari and Lesley, for helping turn the unlikely into the likely.

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Writing for Beginners (29)

Stop fiddling!

A common topic of conversation came up recently, when a lady asked me about a book she was writing. ‘How do I know when it’s finished?’ she queried.

The cheeky answer would have been ‘When you write END at the bottom of the final page’. However, while there’s an obvious truth in that, I’ve heard the same point mentioned on several occasions, and found that the question usually arises for two very different reasons. Which of the two is causing the problem is where the individual writer has to decide.

The first comes out of the editing process. This encompasses everything from crossing all the ‘t’s’ and dotting the ‘i’s’, through verifying facts to checking timelines and continuity of detail (blue eyes suddenly turned brown, for example). Whether this is done during or after the main task of writing depends on individual preference. Some people like to edit as they go along, tidying up any mistakes or omissions at the end of each day; others prefer to TTBS (tell the bloomin’ story) and get the bulk of the work done, leaving it until later to worry about the grind of editing, when they can don a different hat.

Personally, I find there is something to be said for the TTBS approach, since coming back to a chapter after an absence often gives me a new perspective on the content and layout when judged against the rest of the work. I believe this allows me to see the detail with a more dispassionate eye, and I tend not to spend as much time editing as I do when I take the do-it-as-I-go-along approach and end up fretting myself into a nervous wreck over dots, commas and doubtful phraseology.

Whichever way works for you is best. But where some writers trip up is simply in over-editing their work. This usually occurs where you find yourself drawn back to a specific paragraph or section of a story, altering the wording because you are not quite satisfied with what you have written. If this happens more often than is usual, you should give it to somebody you can trust and ask their opinion, on the basis that a fresh eye might see what you cannot.

Because we sometimes get too close to a story, and can’t see the wood for the trees (apologies for that cliché), we begin to fiddle and pick away at the work until it risks becoming an obsession. The end result – other than never finishing what we started – is that we end up so far away from where we began, it no longer makes sense.

It’s a bit like the DIY bodger who, trying to level a rickety dining table, saws off bits from each leg in turn, eventually ending up with everyone eating Japanese-style.

In general, you wouldn’t have thought there would be too many problems with deciding how a sentence or paragraph should be set down on the paper. Yet occasionally, something about the appearance on the page can look odd, causing you to be dragged back time and time again without knowing why, and reaching for your fiddling pen.

It could be simply a matter of clumsy spacing, which can hide or interrupt the pace of your delivery. If you want to say something that has some impact for example, introducing a piece of information that, in a film would be accompanied by some dramatic dum-dum-dum music, don’t bury it in a busy section of ‘he said’, ‘she said’ dialogue, where it will get lost or watered down. If it’s important, then far better to have it out there by itself, where it gets noticed.

Your answer may simply be in revising the layout of the problem section. You may have, for example, character A confronting character B, with the all-important high point being where A places a truly damning document on the table. (Cue dramatic music). Yet for some reason the passage doesn’t look right or command the weight you were looking for. The question is, have you put the information in the right place, or has it become little more than a vague gesture which your reader may not spot, thus losing the dramatic inference?

Try giving it some room, and alter the layout. Use the line space to set the action apart from the dialogue, and it could make all the difference.

The second reason for fiddling is more a matter of confidence; many writers find it difficult at first to let their work go out into the big, wide world. This is a great shame, because if you want your work to be read - and published - you owe it to yourself to face this ultimate test. In a  nutshell, it comes down to having the brass neck to say ‘Enough’ and to stick your pride and joy in an envelope and entrust it whatever fate awaits it. 
 
Thinking about it, why short change yourself? There are some who might prefer to hover in that writing limbo, where judgement is never passed on their work. Most people would probably agree that the not knowing is more difficult to live with.

TOP TIPS

·        Learn to know when you have done enough. Over-editing can be counter-productive.
·        If it looks wrong, try re-writing a passage. Then move on. You can always come back later.
·        Finish the story first, then read it through to gain a sense of the flow.
·        Don’t get hung up on one point. If you really don’t like it, cut it out or replace it.
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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.  

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