Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Guest Post: Pam Howes - Conversations With My Characters And Other Ramblings

Hello there and thank you to Debbie Bennett for the kind invitation to write a guest post for your lovely website. I've taken a while to read the various and interesting posts from many of the authors involved with the site. I came up with several ideas and then scrapped them after seeing similar. Dan Holloway's where you write and what does it say about you, Andrew Croft's computer crisis and vanishing files, Rosalie Warren's idea of allowing her characters to have their own twitter accounts and blogs. All similar ideas to the ones I had. So now I'm stumped. Or maybe not. I've got a few thoughts up my sleeve.

One of my regular characters, Roy Cantello, is sitting on my shoulder right now, bending my ear and wanting in on the action. He's itching to get his guitar out of the case to start rocking again. I've foolishly promised him a fourth novel. He was only ever meant to be in a single book, not a series. But due to his attraction (that's what he thinks anyway) to the fairer sex, I'm allowing him and his chart-topping band, The Raiders, yet another story. He's quite proud of the fact that last year the girls on an Amazon Forum in the US voted him "The World's Worst Cheating Male in a Romance." It made me laugh. They either loved him or hated him. But for me to have created a character that involved such a lengthy discussion and brought out such strong feelings in a group of readers was quite something. And so Mr Cantello and I have begun having conversations about where I'll be taking the next novel. He'd like life a bit easier this time around, he says. He's been rocking with me for four decades and he's reminded me that he'll be sixty this year and can't carry on hell-raising like he used to. But I reminded him that Mick Jagger, Macca and Rod Stewart are all still out there strutting their stuff and they're a bit older than he is, so he'd better buck his ideas up or I'll pension him off and bring in a younger replacement guitarist. He was quite shocked by that and sulked for a day or two. That's when I humoured him and made the foolish suggestion that I might allow him his own blog posts and twitter ID, like Rosalie's character. He likes the idea, so we may go down that road soon and then he can big up the new novel as we go. We're calling this one Not Fade Away. He likes that. We always use song titles and spend ages choosing the right one to suit the novel's content.

I often wonder if, when I'm sitting at traffic lights or in a jam and I'm having conversations and arguments with characters in my head, do people think "Why is that crazy woman talking to herself?" I can't possibly be the only author who does that, surely. So who's going to own up to talking to themselves? I even burst into song and tap my fingers on the steering wheel to make it look as though I'm singing all along and not really certifiable. I never used to be like this until I started writing, so maybe it does send us slightly crazy after a few years. I'm sure everyone becomes very attached to their characters as I have with The Raiders. After finishing my first novel Three Steps to Heaven, I missed them all so much that I decided it wouldn't do any harm to write a sequel. I'd left the ending sort of open, just in case. 'Til I Kissed You came next and was very well received. Again I left the ending with the possibility that there could be more. And there was. Always on My Mind is the third in the series. And now I have a following of fans and they want a fourth. I've recently taken time out from writing the series to complete a novel that is a stand alone Rock'n'Roll romance, based on a true life story. I'm looking forward to e-publishing Fast Movin' Train, named after one of my favourite country rock songs, next month.  

Thank you for reading my ramblings. If you'd like to learn a bit more about me I have a website, with links to my books on Amazon, all available in paperback as well as e-books. There is also a blog in there. It's a new website and I'm still learning, but the first chapter of my newbie is in the blog bit if anyone is curious. 

Monday, 30 January 2012

Guest Post: Lee McAulay - Where Will You Be in Ten Year's Time?

I recently fired up an old PC to rescue a novel from a zip disk, and in doing so I discovered a lot of old web links from ten or eleven years ago, saved onto the disk along with my novel. Reading through these has given me a lot to think about. 

I thought about the ten years since I downloaded those links - life events, changes online and in the real world, successes and failures and other experiences. I looked at my meagre achievements as a writer.

And I began to think ten years ahead.

Last year, I wrote twenty short stories, one novella, one-and-a-half novels. I built a new blog up to fifty pages and had an article and a book review published in a niche magazine.

I work a full-time job. Last year I had an allotment garden and a hobby which took me away from home for a couple of weekends and occupied my spare time in the evenings and weekends for months beforehand.

I didn't write nearly as much as I hoped. But I planned my writing around work, around the allotment, around the rest of my life including holidays and family visits and friends and exercise and learning new stuff.

And I wrote.

My output last year wasn't prolific. Far from it.

However, I now have a suite of products up for sale on Amazon and via Smashwords to a number of international markets. I have publication credits in a print magazine. If I produce as much this year, I'll double the size of my suite. I'll also have a little planetary system of stories in the same universe. Two universes, in fact.

In ten years time, if I keep up the same leisurely pace of production and nothing else changes, I'll have
  • ten novels
  • ten novellas
  • two hundred short stories
  • ten non-fiction booklets
  • an as-yet-unplanned number of variety packs - novels+novellas, novels+shorts, twin novel packs, themed packs, character packs, etc. which add up to at least another hundred products
  • a 500-post blog

If I'd started this ten years ago, at this pace, even with all the life issues that cropped up in those years, how would that body of work make me feel?

Rather chuffed, I can tell you.

Never mind the state of publishing, the crisis of the internet, the downfall of western civilisation. Ignore it, and look at that body of work. I want to be able to look back in ten years and see that list with my name against it.

What does your ten-year plan look like?


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012



Here's my latest ebook, originally published by Walker Books. It's a thriller, involving two girls who are doubles, a crazy mongrel called Dracula, a fashion designer who's in deep trouble - and some very scary people. The book's set in West Cornwall, in the little coves and inlets around St Just.

To celebrate Chinese New Year - the Year of the Dragon - here are the opening lines of DRAGONCAT, my as-yet unpublished junior novel about a kitten born with extra flaps of skin under its front paws which enable it to glide (a bit like a flying squirrel). The story takes place in and around a small Chinese supermarket in North London.

The kittens were born in a cardboard box.
Ma showed them to Wing-Yu after breakfast.
Wing-Yu tried to pick one up, but Ma wouldn't let him. "They're much too new," said Ma.
"You let me hold Mei-Ling," grumbled Wing-Yu.
"Mei-Ling was your sister,' said Ma. "Not the same thing."
Wing-Yu noticed the dried garlic husks and the needles of straw stuck in Lulu's black fur. He said, "I could have made Lulu a proper bed."
"She wouldn't have used it." Ma smiled. "Mother cats have to choose. Lulu chose the garlic box. She must have liked the smell."

Wing-Yu ran his fingers along Lulu's back. She was lying on her side under a jumble of fur. There were black bits and white bits and speckled brown and ginger bits. Wing-Yu touched them, trying to sort them all out.
He asked Ma, "How many babies has she got?" He could hear Mei-Ling starting to yell again.
"Five," said Ma, already moving away.
Wing-Yu was glad Ma hadn't had five babies. One howling sister was enough for him.

I was given a Kindle for Christmas, and I've been reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS on it, after watching the recent TV film. On meeting Miss Havisham for the first time in the original text, I wanted to scream at the producer: but she's old! Old and decaying - read the book!! Since then I've been pondering on Miss Havisham. I love Dickens's image of her sitting for decades in her yellowing wedding dress, and the cobwebbed wedding cake on the long table, and the insects (shudder!) but a more prosaic and practical me has begun asking things like: did she take it off to go to bed? And how did she manage the loo? She's described as frail, and wedding dresses aren't the most practical of garments, but no one seemed to be on hand to help her physically. Was Pip the only person to walk her round and round that immense table? But look - here I am, deeply concerned about an imaginary person. This is what good writing does (and I haven't yet finished the book).

On the Kindle itself - using it still feels strange. Real books aren't flat, like that - it's so flat it almost feels convex. It's great to read at breakfast. Paperbacks are notorious for springy pages, and if you're reading with a coffee in one hand, the Kindle's good. It's also good for loo reading, but a bit losable for bed reading, but then mine hasn't yet acquired a cover, so it's just a flat, anonymous rectangle. I'll report back when I've acquired some appropriate accessories.

Before I finish, I must mention Vigo. Vigo's the grandchild of an author friend. He's three years old, and has cerebral palsy. He'd love to be able to walk, run and play football, and a specialist operation in America could make some of that possible, but it costs. His family's trying to raise enough money to fund it, and to quote Mr Tesco - every little helps. If you'd like to learn more, go to: http://www.vigoswishtowalk.co.uk 

Enid Richemont  www. enidrichemont.org.uk  Follow me on Twitter @enidrichemont

Friday, 27 January 2012

Is it Time for a New Relationship? - Andrew Crofts

My computer, who I mistakenly believed was my friend, thought it would be funny the other night to hide all my documents, just so that it could watch my face when I came down in the morning and discovered them gone. When it realised that I was not going to see the funny side of this merry jape it took umbrage and flatly refused to tell me where they were. In the end I had no option but to take it to see a man who is better than me at disciplining recalcitrant machinery and he agreed to spend a couple of days persuading it to reveal where it had hidden my life’s work and to teach it the error of its ways. I handed it over and returned home alone.

Once my fury at its thoughtless behaviour had abated I found myself missing my friend with an almost physical pain. It is, after all, my closest companion. I probably spend more time with it than I do with my wife, (which is food for thought in itself). As I sat, twiddling my thumbs and thinking of all the work I should be doing, all the messages I should be reading and sending, all the interesting things that I must be missing, my eye fell on the iPad which I was given for Christmas a year ago and on which I do most of my book reading. Because of my long-standing relationship with my desktop, I had never got round to using the iPad for other things, (despite having seen the amazing work that David Hockney has been doing on his). I picked it up and began to play around.

When my computer came back a couple of days later, having finally given in to interrogation and returned the missing documents, it immediately sensed that something had happened while it was away. I think it could tell that I had a new friend now, someone who was more fun because they didn’t insist on us always being alone together in one room. My new friend is happy to come out and Google with me on the sofa while I watch television or to sit beside me at meal times and hang out with the children’s iPhones while my desktop sulks in the office. I hope it has learned its lesson. No one is indispensable.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Encouraging your characters to publicise their own books - by Rosalie Warren

Well, why not? I'm a writer - what I do is make things up and write them down. OK, I accept that an author in today's world can't get far without doing at least some of her own publicity. But for me, however much I may enjoy it, publicising and marketing my books will always be a sideline - one I think of as not quite worthy of my best creative energies.

But what if I were to combine the two? That's the thought that struck me a few weeks ago, when I was working on the sequel to my first published novel, Charity's Child (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2008). The main character in the sequel is called Marie-Thérèse, or Marie T, and she is already taking up quite a lot space in my mind, vying for attention with family and friends, as my characters always do.

So why not let her loose? Create an account for her on Twitter and encourage her to tweet (possibly lending her a helping hand to build up her followers by retweeting some of her tweets). Give her a Facebook page of her own (I haven't done that yet, it's on my list, Marie, I promise..) And set her up with a blog of her own, so she can start to tell her story.

You can view Marie's blog at Brought Up By Ghosts

Marie has now made several posts to her blog and I must say I'm a bit surprised. Rather than simply introduce herself, she seems to have started telling her story in instalments online. Not quite what I expected, but hey... that's what characters do. You give them space on a page and they run away from you, becoming much more full, rounded, interesting people than you could ever have imagined before you started to write. That's my experience, anyway (I'm not a planner or, at least, I don't write my plan until I've finished at least one draft). So, rather than fret that Marie has gone off at a tangent, I suppose I should sit back and listen to what she has to say.

What I will do next is anyone's guess. Marie possibly knows - I don't. Perhaps she will tell part of her story, then stop and encourage her followers to buy the rest. Marie's story will almost certainly be released as an eBook, so that's not a problem. Charity's Child is due to be re-released as an eBook, too, later this year. Perhaps I can bundle them together, or give one away free with the other. One thing I'm sure of - I'm not going to plan. I'll follow this process as it develops and I'll keep you posted with news of how it goes.

By the way, I'm sure I'm not the first person to give my character a Twitter identity, a blog, etc. Whether I'm the first person crazy enough to start this before the book is fully written, I don't know. Probably not. Most kinds of madness already exist, somewhere out there. But there's no copyright on ideas like this and if anyone wants to try something similar, I'd love to hear how you get on.

A little more about Marie. She's telling the story of her childhood in a rambling old house on the Brittany coast, where she was brought up by a group of five rather unconventional nuns. The sisters are kindly, on the whole, but very odd. Marie does not question this while she's young - she has lived with them since she was dumped on their doorstep as a baby. Only as time goes on and she starts to meet people from the outside world does she begin to realise quite how strange her family is. A newcomer called Claudine arrives and stirs things up, and Marie is introduced to fear.

I hope you'll take a look at Marie T's blog, which you can find at Brought Up By Ghosts. You can follow her on Twitter at @MarieTGhost. The Twitter link is here.

Marie would love some more comments and followers. I'd also like to know what you think of my idea and whether you've thought of or tried anything similar yourself.

(Please note: Charity's Child and its sequel are intended for age 14+)

Tell me what you think!

Best wishes,
My blog
My website
My Facebook author page

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

BLOTT AND HIS WRITER - Susan Price with Adam Price

          Blott - the writer's muse who manifests as an ink-blue cat - investigates e-readers...

           I'm cheating a bit here, as Blott is written and drawn by my brother, Adam Price, and not by me.  But I thought it might give people with old and brand new Christmas pressie e-readers a laugh.
          More Blot cartoons can be found, most weeks, at my blog: http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.com/

          And at my website: susanpriceauthor.com

          There may even be a Blott e-book one day....

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Escaping to Write - Avril Joy

My Room in France
Several years ago I spent two months living and writing in France. I came away with the first draft of a novel - 80,000 words - and I have to admit that since then I’ve become something of an expert in escaping. Don’t misunderstand me I love my home, my house that’s full of light and looks out over trees and fields to the edge of the Wear Valley. I’m pretty happy with my writing room too – bijoux it may be but it has everything I need as a writer : its full of books, its cosy, warm in winter and has a window with a view (a necessity for me having spent many years working inside prison in rooms with barely any windows to speak of). Yet still I find that writing at home is often difficult; too many other concerns, mainly domestic, intrude and I never feel entirely at ease writing if there’s shopping or cleaning to be done – and I do try to ignore them, believe me.
So for me the most inspirational and productive times as a writer are when I can get away. On a day to day basis this can be as simple as café writing or heading off to the local library, hotels can be rewarding too. I find in large hotels you can easily be ignored for hours and all for the price of a pot of tea or coffee. But getting away for longer is frequently my goal and I managed this recently when I went to Oxford with my friend, writer Wendy Robertson, for four days. We stayed in rooms in Balliol College which fronts onto Broad Street, and sits right in the heart of the city, only minutes from the Sheldonian and the Bodleian.

A glimpse into Oriel College

Being free from everything domestic so close to Christmas felt dangerous and delicious. It worked!  We wrote whenever we pleased, did whatever we pleased. We had four days of glorious blue sky, intense winter light, immaculate lawns and breath-taking architecture. We explored the city’s lanes and cobbled streets, its ancient gates and doorways:  glimpses into hidden worlds. Breathed in the gardens on our doorstep: tree ferns flourishing in sheltered corners and cyclamen flowering on the lawns under the beech, all of which made me think of the lush gardens in my novel The Orchid House.

I'm happy to report that The Orchid House has had some great reviews on Amazon and also on Kathleen Jones’ Book Blog, Kathleen says - I have to say that this is one of the most erotic novels I've read for a while.  Getting good reviews is a real boost for any writer and it certainly helped inspire my new writing in those away days before Christmas.

At the end of each day in Oxford we had impromptu readings. We did a great deal of talking about our work, and on one occasion treated ourselves to a glass of champagne in The Randolph!
It was fun. I even did a spot of Christmas shopping in the fabulous Blackwells. But we went to write and write we did. For what more does a writer need than a room of her own, a desk and chair and of course her best writing buddy with her – someone as obsessed as she is, who wants to talk writing into the night over a bottle (or two) of red and a plate of cheese and biscuits? (There’s a handy Sainsburys only minutes away.) You could say it was heaven and you’d be right.

Many universities offer rooms out of student term times you can check them out here

Oxford Window

Monday, 23 January 2012

Parents! Here's How To Get The Kids Reading! - Simon Cheshire

My ebook of
sample chapters 
Attention all parents! It struck me the other day that there's a simple answer to the constant parental dilemma What Books To Buy To Get The Kids Reading. Sure, you could stick with what's in Sainsbury's, or Waterstones, or the review sections of the Sunday papers, but don't forget that these are all required by law to feature only children's books which have a name you've already heard of on the cover. There's a far better alternative: yes, the good ol' Kindle!

Give your kid a Kindle, or download the Kindle app for their iPod or smartphone, and let them loose in the wonderful world of SAMPLES. They can try the first chapters of dozens, hundreds, thousands of books, and all for free. Even the pickiest of readers is certain to find something they like!

Since I've had a Kindle, I've definitely widened the range of stuff I read, all because I can download a couple of chapters at the press of a button. Naturally, a lot of samples just get deleted after a page or two, but I've come across some terrific books that I might otherwise have passed by. For instance, I've read Judith Flanders' excellent book about Victorian crime reporting, The Invention Of Murder, discovered China Mieville's wonderful sci-fi epic Perdido Street Station, and laughed out loud (on the train) at Alexei Sayle's memoir Stalin Ate My Homework.

If the proof of the pudding really is in the eating (and oooh boy, have I eaten a lot of puddings...) there can't be a better way to discover new books, new writers, new everything. I've got so keen on the idea I've even put a free Selection Box of chapters on my own website (plug plug).

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at www.simoncheshire.co.uk and his site for self-publishers is at www.bookdesign.me.uk

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Adding Pictures to an Ebook by Diana Kimpton

As a children’s author, I’m used to my print books having illustrations so it seemed natural to include pictures when we created my first children’s ebook, Perfectly Pony. But before we could do that, we had to find out how.

Behind the scenes, ebooks have more in common with websites than with printed books. Both the mobi and the epub formats use cut-down versions of HTML - the language used to create all websites.

Although, as publisher, you have some control over the layout, readers can change the font, the text size and the line spacing so the way a book looks on one person’s Kindle may differ from how it looks on someone else's. That affects the way pictures  display. You can decide where you want them in the flow of text, and you can put a page break just before them to make sure they  appear near the top of the screen. But you can’t control how much text shows on the same page.

After experimenting a bit, we decided to use pictures in the book in three ways:
1.    To have a picture under the heading for each chapter.
2.    To have a galloping horse icon beside all the sub headings.
3.    To have a really good horse photograph on the cover.
That left us with the next problem – finding the pictures themselves. Luckily we already own Art Explosion – a massive collection of royalty free art from which we found most of the pictures we needed. There was even a drawing of a Pony Express rider that clearly showed the mochila that was central to one of the stories.

However, none of the horse photographs were good enough for the cover, we didn’t like any of the flying horses and there were no pictures of Przewalski horses. (Not surprising really – the demand for those can’t be high.) So we turned to a brilliant website called istockphoto.com. This holds a huge selection of photos and drawings which you can license to use in a book for a very reasonable fee that covers use in up to 499,999 copies. If I sell more than that, I’ll have to go back and pay more money but, in that case, I’ll have earned so much that the higher fee won’t hurt at all.

The search facility on istockphoto.com is awesome and so is the quality of the photographs. A search for photos of palomino horses looking towards the camera produced a large selection from which we picked the one we finally used on the cover. More surprisingly, there was also a good selection of photos of Przewalski horses. (Maybe the demand’s higher than I thought.)

We used all the pictures in jpeg format and manipulated them to make sure they were the right size and looked the way we wanted. The cover picture was originally landscape so we cropped it heavily to fit onto the portrait shaped cover. We also took a drawing of one galloping horse and repeated it three times in different shades to create a racing image for the Grand National chapter.

E-ink Kindles currently only show pictures in black and white, so we lightened the background in the colour photo of the Przewalski horse to make sure its upright mane showed clearly enough in the black and white version. (If you want to put pictures in your own ebooks but you haven’t any suitable picture editing software on your computer, try one of the web based utilities like http://pixlr.com)

The pictures after the chapter headings are each in their own paragraph and centred. However, to put the galloping horse icons beside the headings, we left the pictures as an in-line image beside the text.  But we soon discovered that the Kindle's got a trick up its sleeve: if it thinks the picture is too small, it enlarges it. That spoilt the effect we wanted and made the edges of the picture fuzzy. 

The only way we found to combat this was to go into the HTML, find the picture and set the size. For example, where the HTML originally said: <img src="h3icon.jpg alt="little horse />,
we edited to say <img src="h3icon.jpg alt="little horse" width="30" height="20" />.

This worked neatly in the subheadings and in the table of contents.

Perfectly Pony is a collection of stories and information for horse and pony lovers everywhere. You can find out about my other books at www.dianakimpton.co.uk


Saturday, 21 January 2012


To write is one thing. To cast spells another. How to do it? Aged three years old, I used to tell stories to the children next door, weaving fantasies by means of my imagination. Those children were big ones who went to school and could read and write - but they’d line up on their side of the wall to ask what happened next. They were desperate to know but couldn’t for reasons I didn’t understand figure it out themselves. It fell to me - the little squirt peering over her garden wall - to tell them.

There’s a knack to casting spells over the imagination. I didn’t know that then, but I do now. Not everyone can do it. But there are a greater number of people who can than do, and it’s not just the hard work, time and effort required that puts people off.

It takes a supreme act of self-confidence to believe that the stories going on inside your head are of interest to anybody else. At three I never questioned that they were, but at nine - when I started my first few secret stories - I was full of questions and self-doubt. Never once did that doubt stop me writing, but in order to be a ‘proper writer’, as I saw it, I had to sound like someone else. The innocent days of story-telling over the garden wall were over. I spent my childhood, even right up to my early twenties, trying to write like A.A.Milne, Hans Christian Anderson, Emily Bronte, Dylan Thomas, J RR Tolkien, Graham Greene – whoever I admired at the time, in my desperate attempts to sound like a ‘proper writer’.

It didn't work of course. I learnt a lot, not least to take the art of writing seriously, and I certainly worked hard. But casting even the most mundane spells, let alone electrifying ones that might capture imaginations and set people on fire? That didn’t happen. In my early twenties - under another name - I succeeded in getting a book of short stories published. One kindly reviewer said this author will win prizes one day, but the review I really remember is the one who said my toddler dropped this book down the toilet, and I didn’t know whether to bother fishing it out.

Reviewers, hey? I didn’t know then what was the problem, but I do now. It was all to do with voice. In an attempt to make my short stories seem literary and important, I’d pitched their tone somewhere between Tolkien and the King James Bible. Every time they’d sounded remotely like me, I’d rewritten them, unable to believe that anyone would want to read them if they were by a novice like me. So my natural voice – the one that came out of me unchecked – was removed, and the strangulated tones of badly-written ‘old-man’ prose went in instead. And I thought this was being a writer.

I was wrong, of course. As wrong as anything could possibly be, but it wasn’t until many years later that I saw this for myself. By then I was the mother of five young children, with very little time to write. I'd had a few successes with articles in magazines like Homes & Gardens, but that was all. Then one day, absorbing some magazine's house style for an article I planned to write, it came to me that I was doing what I'd done since I was child - taking on other people’s voices instead of using my own.

This was my breakthrough moment. The moment when my writing career really took off. Given freedom of choice and expression, what did I really want to write? My mind went immediately to a short story I’d written about a hot air balloon flight. I dug around and found it. ‘Ben the Balloon Man’ it was called. I read it through. It had come directly from heart to page in a burst of inspiration, and it definitely had my voice.

This was my inspiration for writing ‘Midnight Blue’ - not just the balloon flight, but the willing acceptance of my own voice. And I’ve never looked back. When people who know me claim to hear my voice in my books, I take that as a compliment.

So, how about you? You may write stories too, but do you cast spells? Completely apart from whether you have talent, there's a dimension to writing which is there to be run free with or disallowed. What makes your stories different? What makes them special? It’s your voice. So, have confidence in who you. Don’t try to be somebody else. Take what you’ve got and work with it.

Recently I brought out the 21st anniversary edition of 'Midnight Blue's Smarties Book Prize win. All those years ago I never would have thought I'd even get it published, let alone win a prize. And as for electronic books, or bringing them out myself - it's all a far cry from where I started. But everything began with trusting my own voice.


visit www.paulinefisk.co.uk

Friday, 20 January 2012

How long should a book be? Roz Morris

If two writers move house, by far the worst job is transferring the books. When we did we hired two guys who cheerfully manoeuvred unwieldy items while we took the small stuff. Finally it came to our books. Hundreds of boxes of books, 20 years' worth of greedy collecting. It was like one of those biblical epics where slaves build the Great Pyramid, block by block, all day. For the first hour we joked with the cheerful chaps about how boring it was. For the rest of the hours after that, we wore lobotomised stares.

Publishers are well aware that moving books takes time and money. That - and hundreds of other factors including the size of book that looks good in a shop - means there are certain book lengths that aren’t profitable. As I found when I wrote Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How to Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.

Why I wrote a writing book

For years I've critiqued novels, helping new writers to polish their books to publishable standard. Invariably, many of the problems are in the structure. A character's arc peaks in the wrong place, or they don't have an arc at all. Back story is clogging the start. The middle is a mass of same-old scenes where characters talk and drink tea.

Whenever I mention this I know what comes next. Panic, and the words: 'how on earth do I do all that?' It’s like I’m telling them to start again.

But I happily disembowel my work and look for bold changes that will squeeze more out of my story. I thought the most helpful thing I could do is write a book about how I do it.

I also know a lot of people who start writing and fizzle out, so I added how to plan, research and organise the writing.

Voila, a complete guide to writing a novel. In 40,000 words.

Too wee?

My agent said: ‘it’s very good but can’t you make it 80,000 words’?

Tsk, but that wasn’t the point. Everyone has shelves of writing tomes that they mean to read. Like diet books, they sit on the shelf as displacement for the real thing. Nail Your Novel came out at 40k and it didn’t need to be any longer. For heaven’s sake, these people have books to write.

I self-published. On Kindle, its dinky size doesn’t matter. Ebooks can be exactly as long as the material requires. Even better, you can have it beside you as you write (no need to jam the pages open or crack the spine) and follow step by step. Which is exactly how the book is designed to work.

Or not too wee?

Not too wee at all, it seems. Rather like Goldilocks and the third porridge, it seems just right. I’ve had thrilled emails from readers saying ‘this gave me exactly what I needed’. ‘I never thought I’d finish a novel and now I have.’ Visiting an author friend, I found the print edition on his desk. 'You don't need that,' I said. 'I use it all the time,' he said.

It’s even crossing desks in high places. Another friend - a senior editor at a Big Six publisher - saw the print copy on my hallstand and said 'can I take this?' 'Get off,' I said, 'it's too short for you to publish'. ‘I don't want to publish it,' she said, because she's like that. 'I lose days every month writing letters to tell promising authors what revising a novel really means. All the writing books are incomplete or full of waffle. I'm going to tell them to buy Stephen King and this.’

And as Kindle has emancipated my writing book, have the Morrises decided to abandon the colossal paper library for an ether one? No. We buy books two ways now, and twice as many. May we never have to move again.

Thanks for the bookship pic Lilivanili and thanks State Library of Victoria for the nuns

Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. She also has a novel: My Memories of a Future Life

Thursday, 19 January 2012

WHICH ONE FIRST? by Karen King

Like a lot of writers I sometimes suffer from an overload of ideas. My notebooks are full of characters and storylines that I never get time to write about and I am always working on at least two projects at the same time. And as I write for children of different ages and adults too this means the ideas can be completely different genres, ages and topics. Take my two ebooks for example, one is a children's fantasy novel and the other is a contemporary romance.

And my traditionally published work includes picture books, children’s detective novels, plays, writing courses and romance stories.

Like now, for instance. I’m working on a fantasy trilogy for tweenagers and a series for 7-9’s which is quite enough to be getting on with you’d think. But no, the ideas just won’t go away. Creeping into the back of my mind is an idea for a YA novel, a novel for adults and there’s also a TV script I’ve been dying to write. I’ve jotted all the ideas down, of course, but which one do I write first? They’re all fighting for space in my head and shouting to tell their story so what I want to know is does this ever happen to you and if it does what do you do? How do you decide which story to write first?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bird of Passage - Where Did I Get My Ideas From? Catherine Czerkawska

Cover art by Matt Zanetti 
You know that question somebody always asks you, sooner or later, when you're a writer?  The one that makes you want to shriek and run away instead of smiling politely, which is what you always do? The 'where do you get your ideas from?' question. Because let's face it, ideas are almost never the problem. Time, personal space, money, application and luck may be problems. But not ideas.

Well, this is an attempt to answer that - but only about one particular project. Because in the case of  my new novel, Bird of Passage, now available on Kindle, even I'm not sure where I got my ideas from!

This book  has been a very long time in the writing - probably the longest of anything I've ever written, if you count the time from the smallest germ of an idea to the finished book.

In fact, I can remember that first little bit  of inspiration. When I was twelve years old, we moved from Leeds to the West of Scotland. At that time, Irish workers were still coming over to Scotland - mostly from Donegal - as 'tattie howkers' - seasonal workers who 'dug the potatoes'. I remember seeing them working in the sandy fields along the shoreline, and I also remember being aware of a certain local hostility to them - this part of Scotland was somewhat sectarian at that time, and there are still nasty little pockets of bigotry even today. Some people (fewer, now, thank goodness) still ask 'where did you go to school?' when they aren't really interested in the where, only in the religious denomination to which that school belonged, and if the answer is St Patrick's or St Margaret's or The Holy Family, they can slot you neatly into your place.

Not long after we moved to Scotland, my parents bought a new house, but it wasn't quite finished, so we spent some months living in a caravan, in the countryside, with most of our furniture in storage. We saw the tattie howkers there too - one beautiful young woman used to walk through the fields by herself in the evening, looking very weepy and homesick, and my mother (of Irish parentage herself) used to go and talk to her. But it wasn't the 'done thing.' Not then.

Later, when I was doing my postgraduate Masters degree in Folk Life Studies (I know - it was an odd course, but quite useful for a writer) I did a bit of research on the history of the tattie howkers, and came across one terrible, tragic tale about a group of young Irishmen who were burned to death in a barn fire. They were supposed to have been smoking among the straw - something which was forbidden because of the risk of fire - but a lifetime later, a local man confessed on his deathbed that he had locked them in. Curiously enough, a few years later, I came across a bog oak pipe at an antique market. It's carved with an Irish harp and shamrocks and was seemingly found tucked into a beam when a barn was being renovated. I bought it, and have it still. It's a spooky little piece because even now, when I hold it, I'm overwhelmed with a feeling that seems a lot like misery.

Tattie Howkers by Alan Lees
Surprisingly, I didn't include any of these things in Bird of Passage. But they all fed into the background - that barely concious pool of ideas from which our stories spring: the Scottish resentment of these visiting Irish,  the suspicion with which they were treated, the harsh conditions in which they had to live - as well as my early upbringing in an Irish Catholic family in Leeds, albeit one with significant Polish elements. All these things were important. They had figured in drafts of stage and radio plays which I hadn't ever finished - perhaps because the 'form' wasn't right. There was even a poem, clearly in my heroine's voice, some of which I incorporated into a chapter of the novel.

Bird of Passage started out with a simple image of a young boy - too young, really - coming to dig the tatties on a Scottish island farm - and a little girl with freckles and fat red plaits, who was watching him work. The hero had a different name then. He was called Darragh and the first draft of the book was called Darragh Martin. But after a while, I realised that although I had named the novel after him, I had somehow shyed away from writing about him. A couple more drafts down the line, I knew my heroine inside out - but I still felt I knew very little about Finn, as he eventually became.

Finding out was hard. Finding out was a challenge, and even now, I don't think I know all there is to know about him. And I'm still not sure where the ideas came from.

It was only some years later, when I started to read about the very real scandal of the Irish industrial schools to which young children had been committed, only to be treated - in so many cases - with extremes of physical cruelty by people who should have been most concerned for their welfare, that I suddenly began to see what it was in Finn's background that had made him into the person he was. There has been a concentration on a certain sort of child abuse in our media - with good reason - but arguably, intense and persistent physical cruelty of this kind has been neglected, or treated as 'normal for the time' and yet some of the stories told in excellent but harrowing books such as The Irish Gulag are utterly horrifying.

The more I focused on Finn, the more I tried to get inside his mind, the sadder I became. Now, when I reread certain chapters from Bird of Passage, I still become emotional. I didn't base Finn's story on any one account of the time, or on any particular individual  - rather I read a number of accounts and looked at a great many images and then set them aside, thought about them for a long time, and tried to discover what this fictional character's story might have been, in the context of all that I now knew about the Dickensian horrors of the Industrial School system.

And here's Finn, as an adult, going back to the place he knew as a child:

'He drove on for a couple of hundred yards, parked his car some distance away from the house and got out. His hand was shaking when he tried to put the keys in his coat pocket. His feet sank into mud as he walked towards the building, found a door swinging loose on its hunges, pushed it open and went inside. His heart was in his mouth. What did he expect?  Demons, lurking in corners, waiting to snatch at him from the shadows? For sure, the place was disturbing. Terrifying even. The rooms were leprous with damp, paper shredded off the walls like peeling skin, the floors deep in bird droppings, plaster fragments, all of it stinking of mildew. The very air of the place seemed sickly, heavy with decay, but after all, there were no cries, no shouts, not so much as a whisper. Nothing human. And it was human beings who had rendered this place truly terrifying.'

Interestingly, the cover, by a young digital artist called Matt Zanetti, captured exactly what I wanted. There's a powerful sense of isolation, imprisonment, loneliness and a longing for something better in his amazing picture. Below is one of the images Matt used when he was designing the cover.

But the answer to my original question is - as with so much fiction writing - I'm not at all sure where I got my ideas from. It didn't feel like making it up so much as finding it out, from somewhere deep inside myself. Writing about what I knew, and realising that I knew far more than I thought I did.

Catherine Czerkawska