Today was an exciting new first as my fellow fantasy author, M. E. Vaughan, and I prepared for the launch of our new podcast. ‘Dissecting Dragons’ is aimed at fans of all forms of speculative fiction – fantasy, sci-fi, horror, dystopian, steam-punk – you name it and we’ll be discussing it. As we are both driven writers and avid readers, we wanted to produce the kind of show that we would like for ourselves. So we will be looking at books, films and T.V. series as well as discussing the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction.
We recorded our first podcast today and will be launching it early in February. (Check out our Facebook page for more information. You can also contact us there.)
While Madeleine and I had both had a little podcasting experience before, it was the first time we had ever tried to direct our own show with our own original content. After some natural nerves and more than a few giggles it went really well. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget there’s a microphone on when you are in the middle of a really interesting discussion about books and writing!
Anyway, this is just the beginning of our adventures. We already have some fellow writers who will be making guest appearances on the show, as well as a very long list of interesting speculative fiction topics to tackle. (Not that we’re not open to suggestions on that score.) Look out for our first episode – we hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making it 🙂
So what have I been working on recently? Well it’s a bit of a step away from my forthcoming book and its sequels, but I’m really proud of the result. Here is a bit about this anthology of reflected tales, which will be available from amazon, kobo, barnes & noble, apple, nook, smashwords etc and from createspace as a paperback from 7th August 2014.
‘How can I read the futures if I cannot see your skin?’
Six mysterious swans glide on a holographic pond in a totalitarian capital city. A terrified girl awaits her part in a ritual that could change the future… and the past. A dancer in ancient Jerusalem mourns her maimed sister and prepares for the performance of her life. A sword of legend sends its wielder back through the fiercest battles in history. A freshly qualified vampire hunter experiences the practical side of his vocation. Fourteen intriguing, dramatic, humorous and unsettling tales, inspired by existing stories and reflecting the breadth of storytelling from Greek myth to Hammer Horror, via fairy tales and Arthurian legend.
It’s good stuff…and yeah, maybe I am a little biased, but that doesn’t stop it being 260 pages of quality writing 😉
Wearing the Editor’s Hat
This was a completely new experience for me and to say that it was a little scary would be an understatement. Exhilerating, exciting, fascinating – but definitely a little scary.
My friend and co-editor, Matthew Willis, (author of the fab age of sail historical fantasy,Daedalus and the Deep) came up with the idea, when he noticed how many of our writing group RASSSA) had written stories that were re-tellings of old tales and myths. No sooner had the words ‘we should pull together an anthology’ tripped off his keyboard and onto the group wall and I was all over that like white on rice.
Incidently there is a similarity in how I embrace a project and how I make friends. If you have ever read AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – think Tigger…
Luckily Matt was happy or at least resigned to having me on board as co-editor and it’s been quite a learning curve!
Firstly we set a date – approx three months away – when we would want submissions for the anthology in by. We then allowed ourselves two weeks to sift through and decide what to include. Luckily we had fellow author, Shell Bromley, to help or we might just have become hypnotised by the flow of words!
In some ways I think the selection process was the hardest part. I had had short stories published in the past and, while I’d never said anything aloud, had wondered why it took such a long time to get a yay or a nay. The reason is quality. If you have a large proportion of stories that are badly written, unimaginative, poorly spelled, grammatically incorrect or just plain lazy, it’s easy to cut those out. Our problem was that none of the stories were poor. The standard was universally high. In the end the three of us had an online meeting courtesy of google+ chatrooms and picked out the 14 stories that made it into the anthology.
The authors who’d made it in were notified and so were the authors who didn’t. We all agreed on this last as a courtesy – it’s very annoying when you never hear anything back about a submission. We went further and offered feedback and suggestions on where the rejected stories might find a home. In all honesty, if this had been open to more than just The Randoms, we might not have been able to do this. It does allow you to see things through an editor’s eyes – when you get a bog standard form rejection, it really isn’t personal: they’re just really busy. On the other hand a line or two of feedback means you genuinely wowed someone – so be pleased, it’s a partial success.
From there it was a fiddly, complicated process of copyditing the stories and returning the proofs for approval to each author. (Legally no one can make changes to your work without your permission). Formatting the returned proofs into a book – this took a while as it had to be done individually for four different formats (I think I now have the hang of it and can do it a lot quicker though ), proof-reading – by two proof-readers (and thank you so much for all those reverse apostrophes by the way…yes you know who you are lol) and finally getting it all uploaded on various platforms ready for distribution.
Yes, you can find companies that will do all of this for you from £800+ or individuals who will do specific parts for significantly less but we decided from the beginning that we wanted full creative control and moreover, we wanted to out lay as little as possible. This worked fine for us since between us all we had the necessary skills in the group. It did pique my sympathy for go-it-alone authors who can’t afford professional level copyediting, proof-reading, cover design etc – it has to be really tough on your own.
The cover was mostly designed by Matt. He’ll generously say it was a joint effort but really he did the donkey work and I looked at fonts and paint samples. A good cover is deceptive – it looks simple but actually a huge amount of work has gone into it – google ‘the golden mean’ if you don’t believe me.
Anyway we pulled it together and I still get a little choked up looking at it all – the way everyone’s stories enhance the whole, rather than one strong story pulling away or detracting from the others. There’s no jumble here: the standard is universally high. So I’m honoured to be a part of this and really proud of The Random Writers. They rock, one and all.
As a final sidebar, we didn’t just leave our stories there. If you check out the Random Writers website, you’ll find weekly blog posts on being part of the group, individual’s writing processes and a piece of FREE flash fiction to complement the worlds the stories from the anthology encompasses. Take a peek – just to whet your appetite.
And in short, that’s what it’s like being an editor: a tough business.
Whether you want to be published traditionally or not, most of us are interested in what happens when you’ve crossed that fence. There have been some excellent posts on the mechanics of the publishing and I’m certain I can’t do any better. So here for your amusement is a series of observations from my first experience of publishing, told not in chronological order but as a series of alphabet snippets.
(Warning – shameless mention of new book contained within)
A – is for agent or in my case agentless. It can be done without one, depending on which publisher you hope to be picked up by. However, having done the trapeze act without a net, so to speak, I think it’s probable that most of them earn their percentage!
B – is for balance. I’ve found it is really easy for your life to skew over sideways until everything is revolving around the new book/ writing/ edits. The book is not going to sprout legs and run off like the ginger bread man. Before your eyes start spinning like fruit machines, put it down and do something else. Ideally something mindless or at least different. Your brain (not to mention your significant other) will thank you.
C – is for contract. Possibly the scariest document I have ever seen in my life, full of esoteric phrases like force majeure. Even if you have a background in law get someone who has experience with publishing contracts to go through it. The Society of Authors are brilliant.
D – is for dread. That feeling you get when your mum says she is going to read your book. Yeah. And I’d already killed off the mother before the book starts. That led to an interesting conversation where I, quite justifiably, got laughed at by my mother for being daft.
E – is for edits, by extension editor. Depending on where you are published, this could be a really significant relationship for at least this book if not others as well. My editor is lovely but I still have to admit to a fair amount of initial dismay when my book came back covered in red writing detailing areas that needed attention. There was only one bit of major re-writing (about 300 words) but it was a hard one to swallow as I’d had it fixed in my head that the book started with this one particular line. As it turned out, my Editor was right. The next two re-writes were much less heavy. (Oh yes my MS went back and forth three times before my editor was happy!) While we’re talking about edits, lets bear in mind that I did seven edits (that’s within a six month period – see what I mean about balance?) before I sold the book. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the first draft is the finish line.
F- is for first draft. Having sold the series rights it was less than pleasant to start book two only to find that, guess what? The first draft of that was crap, just like the first draft of book one. I don’t know if there is a vital capacity for writing crap first drafts, but if there is I’m a long way from exceeding it yet. Still, it’s ok for draft one to be rubbish. And that’s what you have to keep telling yourself as having got one book to the publishing stage, a little imp pops up in the back of your mind telling you that you are losing your mojo. Not true. You’ve just started a new cycle. Which begins with a crap first draft.
G – is for gatekeepers. Actually I’m not sure if these really exist to the extent they are supposed to. There’s an amount of luck involved in being published but you can maximise your luck by writing the best book you can at that time in your life. You can maximise it further by trying and trying again. And you can max your luck to +10 luck armour of awesomeness by taking on board any feedback you get with rejections and making changes if necessary. Or by putting that book aside and writing another one and trying with that. Never give up, never surrender is the best and most long lasting form of luck.
H – is for ‘hang on a minute…’ there will be a moment, maybe several moments, where you will be convinced everything is going to go pear shaped. Or that your publisher/ agent/ hitherto best friend is trying to get one over on you. Or that you shouldn’t have written that scene thatway. Hang in there. Be sensible and try not to rush in half-cock, flinging accusations. Chances are there are good explanations if things really are off and it’s just that nobody has told you yet. Or perhaps that you are paranoid because there is nothing like the whiff of success to setthose juices flowing. If there really is something wrong, then make sure you address it directly and politely straight away. In my case the ‘hang on a minute’ moment came when I found out the editor-in-chief who had picked up my book was leaving. I had no reason to think that was the end of the road; it was done professionally, notice was given, a handover period established… But I’d heard enough horror stories of books vanishing from the ‘to be published list’ because staff had changed. This was not the case I’m happy to say but it does feel hopeless when you think you have to do the whole dance again.
I – is for ignorance. You’re only just learning about how many stages a book goes through at publication. It’s a lot. So when a family member asks for the 40th time ‘when’s your book out? You said it would be out in…’ take a deep breath, smile and say ‘one of the funny things no one tells you, is that unless a publication date was agreed in the contract, the author actually doesn’t know exactly what date a book is coming out and even then it can be subject to change. It is on its way though.’ Or something similar. Ignorance also goes between publisher and author; don’t assume they know you’re unhappy about something, tell them/ your agent. If you’re lucky you’ll get a publisher who communicates with you. Mine does.
J – is for joy. Not just being happy that your book has made it half way to the public but fun in general. Have fun with your book. It’s ok to talk about it on your blog or with your friends (as long as that’s not all you talk about.) If you really want to go crazy set up a dedicated website to that book’s universe and put up quizzes and cartoons and other bric-a-brac. I didn’t do any of this but I can see now that I would have had more fun if I had done. And I might have been able to relax and enjoy the process more.
K – is for karate. Or any martial art will do. Somewhere you can legally get into a fight under controlled conditions. Excellent stress buster.
L – is for launch and by extension launch party. I wasn’t going to have one of these but I had a good think about it (remembered item J) and decided ‘what the hell? When am I next going to launch my first book again? Plus wine!’ So I will be having a launch party later in the year. Watch this space…
M – is for *whispers* Marketing…considered a dirty word by most of us and I used to include myself in that group. It’s not actually a bad thing and ,newsflash, no matter who you’re published with, you will be expected to do some if not all of your own marketing. It doesn’t mean auto spamming people about your book on twitter. It’s about being the best version of yourself you can be and making connections with people. Think about it; if you ‘con’ someone into buying something once, they’re not going to come back are they? That earns you nothing. Far better to make friends and be open. Be willing to do some reading and critiquing for others without thinking ‘ah and now they will feel they owe me one.’ It doesn’t work like that. But in writing what goes around really does seem to come around. Aside from writing the best book you can, and then writing the next one and the next, the best marketing you can do is to make lasting connections. No one likes a hard sell or a grifter. Just be a decent person and willing to talk about your book if asked. Any strategy is secondary to that.
N – is for no way! As in (small brag) within 48 hours on pre-release my book made it onto number one new releases on Amazon! Ok it was a kick for me watching in disbelief as it rocketed up the charts. (Update: it has now occupied this spot six times and is staying fairly steadily high in the amazon.co.uk charts!)
O – is for obsession. You said you wouldn’t watch the ratings on the amazon book charts. You said you weren’t going to bother with them and yet here you are opening up amazon on your laptop again…yeah…no. It’s time to stop. That way madness lies!
P – is for paranoia. What if no one buys my book? What if no one reads my book? What if I get a negative review? Or a lot of negative reviews? What if no one reviews it at all? Or worse, what if it is really successful and I can’t EVER DO ANOTHER ONE… GAHHH! No. Again with the deep breathing. You’ve controlled everything within your control. You like the book you wrote. It’s out there. It’s gone. Too late now. So stop. And anyway what are you doing worrying? You should be doing that other ‘P’, you know? Project? You should be so busy writing your next book that you don’t have time for this. Well? Go on then!
Q – is for quiet. Specifically mental quiet. Some days it can feel like it gets pretty crowded in your own head while all this is going on so find ways to get away from it. Have designated times where the internet is not on and do something else.
R – is for Readers! Yes we all want a lot of these but in the end having just a few people really love your book is worth it. You won’t please everyone. There’s a good chance that you will get at least one negative review. But it’s nothing compared to getting a few lines from a complete stranger saying they loved your book. Remember B for balance! As in keep yours.
S – is for style. In this case ‘house style’ with regard to the publisher. It’s funny but you’ll notice little things that don’t necessarily matter which don’t go where you expect. I’m stretching things a bit here but I’m including cover design and artwork in ‘style’. Your publisher should consult you on the cover of your book although they have no obligation to go with what you want. I was really lucky and got consulted on every aspect of it. I still think the artist is psychic since I got what I wanted but didn’t think to ask for!
T – is for terror I mean trailer?! It wasn’t something I’d ever considered but I’ve seen some really good book trailers now and in keeping with my decision to have more fun with this whole thing…well I might just consider it…
U – is for universal. Writing is personal. Reading is subjective and publishing is is a business. Once your book is out there it belongs to the public; to the readers. It isn’t just yours anymore so – like sending a child off to school – you have to get a bit of distance and perspective because what other people think of it, and its journey now, (by and large) isn’t up to you anymore.
V – is for victory. So what if you only sell two copies. So what if only your mum reads it. You still did it. You wrote a book and got it published. Many people never finish a writing a book. Many people say they want to write a book and never start. You’re in the top 5% of 5% of 5% already. Enjoy that. (I’m working on it.)
W – is for Wine. One glass, apply as needed when situation is stressful.
X – is for Xperience…yes I am blatantly cheating now. Still it is all experience and there isn’t anything quite like it. And if you decide to do it all again, it will be less horrific the second time. (Or more horrific because you know what to expect but less surprising for the same reason.)
Y – is for Y not have some more wine?
Z – is for zzzzz. I don’t sleep much but I reckon I still lost out on some sleep with this publishing malarkey. I intend to learn from that, And if you are still with me and haven’t surrendered to the zzzzz yourself, thank you for reading.
And this is what all the fuss is about;
My debut YA novel is now available for pre-order from amazon, smash words etc. Print copies will be released soon.
Release date is 25/04/15
If you know anyone who might be interested, I’d be grateful if you passed it on. Many thanks 😉
If you’re a writer, then you may well have no trouble coming up with an insightful, clear, entertaining and thought provoking review of whatever you have just finished reading. Well, maybe anyway. Ok some of the time. Er occasionally…? Because let’s face it, unless you are in good practice, writing a review is actually hard.
If you’re not a writer how much harder is it to put yourself out there? You’re not used to stringing your thoughts together and editing them for people to read. Professional writers have enough trouble with this so it’s hardly surprising if you baulk when presented with the ‘what did you think’ dialogue box on the review section of Amazon. I book-blog and I still gaze blankly at that little white rectangle. So first let’s look at why you might want to leave a review;
– You want to support the author; perhaps you know them or perhaps you don’t, but either way you think more people should be reading this book. It needs exposure.
– You agreed to review the book in exchange for an ARC (advanced review copy – not the biblical kind).
– You just loved the arse and balls off the book. It was awesome. You don’t know anything about the author, you just want to share your love of this amazing book.
– You hate the book. It made you so furious you flung it at the wall. You felt insulted by it. Really, it was personal.
– You just like reviewing things and sharing your opinion. In which case this blog is probably not going to teach you much 😉
What gets in the way of writing a review;
Perhaps you know or vaguely know the author. You want to be honest but you also want to be kind; to leave a review that will help. Unfortunately you really didn’t like the book. Perhaps it just wasn’t a good fit for you or maybe you felt there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Perhaps you actively disliked it or you couldn’t even finish. If it was a book you had to read for a book club or because you agreed to do so in exchange for an ARC or even as a favour, then this can be quite a sticky situation.
Or maybe you really loved the book but all you can think of to say is that it’s great, people should read it. I mean the book has really said it all. What is there left for you to add?
Or the book as made you so angry you are almost rabid and can’t form a coherent thought let alone write it down.
Or maybe, just maybe, you feel that you can’t explain yourself properly because literary terminology and knowledge of plot structure etc just isn’t part of your skill set. You might think you’ll look silly if you do post a review or maybe you’re worried about other people disagreeing with you and you don’t want that sort of hassle.
A Fact about Reviews;
Whether an author reads them or not (and the received wisdom for authors is to NOT read reviews of their books), reviews are helpful. Every review counts. So yes if you see one author has 400 reviews on a book you might think that they don’t need yours. You might even be right. Most people when reading reviews rarely read more than two or three. They won’t read all 400 before they decide whether to buy the book or not. So why does your review matter? Well it’s like voting except that books have proportional representation – each voice counts, whether what is being said is explicitly heard or not. Reviews help people to decide whether to buy a book; reviews and the amount and quality of reviews, sell books; selling books helps authors, who then are able to write more books. You would be surprised at just how much effect you can have on an author’s career merely by recommending a book to someone in passing. Reviews are word of mouth for the digital age and there is no greater marketing tool.
What to do if you really hated a book;
– don’t review it. Simple. Unless you have a reason to of course. Either you’ve agreed to in advance or you really feel the author has cheated the reader.
– if you know the author, weigh up whether or not to give them the option of you posting a review or not. If you decide to go ahead and post a negative review (and you have every right to do so) if the author is a friend it might be an idea to give them a head’s up. Writers are not known for their thick skins and while such an action from a stranger may cause grumbles, from a friend with no warning it could be lot worse.
– that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post negative reviews. They can actually help sales. You reviewing a book and giving it one star, explaining why, can mean that someone else, on reading your review, thinks that actually the things you didn’t like are things they look for in a book. A negative review can also cause a flurry of more positive reviews as people who disagree with you rush to protect the book. (So the people who were unsure about leaving a review because they felt self conscious rush in!)
– be constructive. Saying a book is shit is not constructive. Not acknowledging that you are only putting forward your opinion is not constructive. Pointing out plot holes, saying you couldn’t connect with the characters or that you felt the writing was rushed – those sorts of things are constructive. I’d be wary of swearing in a review anyway – try and keep it polite. By polite I don’t mean lie about how you feel but calling something trash helps no one; it’s much easier to destroy than create and even easier to criticize and complain than to compliment. Bear in mind that it’s easy to get carried away.
How to Write a Review;
It really doesn’t have to be onerous. You’ve read the book. You have an opinion. All you have to do is share it and that can be done in a short, concise paragraph that still conveys everything it needs to. Perhaps you find yourself able to write peons of praise or fully de-construct the book for analysis. Great. But if not here is a quick guide.
– a review should be at least four lines long. Five to ten lines is brilliant but you can cover it in four. One line reviews are worse than useless.
– Give your overall impression of the book.
– Say what worked for you and why.
– Say what didn’t work for you and why.
– Mention a character or idea you especially liked/ disliked and why.
– Say who you would recommend the book to and possibly add whether you’ll read the author’s next book.
That’s it. It is that simple. You may well find that by just following those guidelines that you remember other things you want to mention and the review grows. That’s fine too. Just don’t give away any spoilers – at least not without warning the reader of the review that your review includes spoilers. If you have any sort of relationship/ friendship with the author you don’t have to declare it but for the purposes of an honest review you probably shouldn’t conceal it. Finally, be honest.
So, simple really, huh? Not quite so painful as you’d think. It’s a lot easier to support your favourite authors and incidentally get them to produce more books than you might imagine.
A couple of Don’ts;
-Some authors will take a review, negative or positive in their stride and be unaffected. Most will be moved or upset privately depending on what they took away from the review. Some may send a brief thank you message. And some totally crazy authors may, just may, pick a fight with you over a review. I’ve heard of it happening although I don’t know anyone it’s happened too. While there are a lot of people who like to troll authors, there are a few authors who can make themselves quite unpleasant in defending their work. Don’t engage. Don’t get into an argument. Walk away. If someone demand you remove a perfectly reasonable review, you decide. I’d be inclined to leave it and not buy any of that author’s books again but that’s my take.
-Don’t praise something when you really don’t like it. Don’t talk something down if you do.
– Don’t be any more catty or snarky than you can help in your review. Yes I’ve left negative reviews and there’s always been a good reason for them being negative, however I try very hard not to indulge in bitchiness over books – if you are that annoyed by a book wait until you are in a better mood before reviewing.
– Don’t leave a review without finding at least one genuinely positive thing to say. Actually that’s not a bad perspective to apply to life in general…
Reviews that Don’t help;
– one line reviews like ‘this was brilliant’ or ‘i really liked this.’ This tells the person reading the review nothing and it looks like the author has rounded up a few friends who haven’t read the book to say nice things about it.
– ‘just buy it, you have to read this’ this might be genuinely enthusiastic but if it’s not presented carefully it looks like hard sell and readers do not like hard sell.
– negative reviews that don’t explain why the reader didn’t like the book.
– positive reviews that don’t explain what was great about it.
– reviews that start ‘I wanted to like this’ and then go on to say that really it was the author’s fault not the reader’s that they didn’t like the book. It’s a cop out start anyway. Own the fact you didn’t like a book and take it from there. It’s not a crime to dislike a book. Just be constructive.
So in a nutshell that is a simple guide to leaving a review. Now go to it – your writers need you 😉
As an avid reader of …well pretty much anything, I often find myself thinking certain, repeated thoughts about a variety of Main Characters. ‘Why did you make that obviously foolish decision?’; ‘what are you doing that for?’; ‘You realize that you’ve brought all of this on yourself by doing x, y and z?’ ; ‘For god’s sake, any god, don’t open the f****** box/ door/ diary etc!’
Sometimes an MC will do something so obviously stupid or poorly considered that you find yourself almost shouting at the book in frustration. Clearly the writer has then done their job.
The reason we read on is not so that we can hear about what a nice life the MC has or about how everything goes his way or how she always gets the result she wants. We read on because in an act of literary voyeurism, we want to see the MC suffer. Perhaps not consciously, but there it is. Conflict equals interest. If the author has really done their job, then we, the readers, will suffer and fail and triumph with the MC.
What does this mean in term of our own writing? Basically when you choose your main characters, you are choosing your victims. Bad things are going to happen to them. Horrible things that you, the writer, are going to describe and evoke for the reader in loving detail. The fact that you like a character, whether it’s one you’ve created and got to know over time or one who walked fully formed into your brain one day when you were doing the washing, is no excuse for not piling on the pain.
This is something I have found hard with my own MCs. The most telling example comes from an as yet unfinished novella, which started life as a short story and then like topsey it just growed. I’ve had feedback on this character throughout writing the piece. From a few different people in fact. What really struck me at the time was that people liked the MC. Almost everyone who read this piece said how much they identified with her.
Really?! I thought. That’s just the weirdest thing. I didn’t make her to be liked. I made her as a vehicle for this story. This was when I still believed that a writer had absolute control over her characters. It was a rude awakening but a useful one. When you write, bits and pieces of your world view, and your hopes and fears bleed into your writing without you even being aware of it. It’s usually very subtle. I made this MC initially out of the bits of me (and others) that annoyed me. The times I didn’t speak up when I should have. The constant need to apologise. In point of fact I think the resulting MC isn’t much like me at all. What didn’t occur to me was that everyone has these sort of anxieties and insecurities. Without even meaning to I had made an MC people could identify with. By extension she became likeable.
The penny dropped for me, when I realised I didn’t want to write the next scene. Things were already pretty bad for her and they were about to get a whole lot worse. Somehow she had made me like her too. This was the key perhaps. Tiny things, character traits and tics that others can relate to. So how does this relate to the subject above? I had a quandary. I no longer wanted to torture her. I didn’t want her as my victim.
Experienced writers (if any come and read my lowly blog) will be nodding their heads about now. At some point Reader you says “no, don’t put them through any more. Do something nice…” Writer you says, “Ok I’ve broken her leg, ruined her career, her partner’s left her, the police are on the way and that’s if the Russian hitman doesn’t get there first. Hmm how can I make this worse for my MC. I need more pain.” Invariably, it’s writer you who has to take the lead on this one.
I’ve written a full novel and half finished two others since starting that novella. I’ve written dozens of short stories too. That first MC is still just where I left her, waiting for things to get worse. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it now. It and she, stand as an abject lesson in how an MC can take you by surprise; as can the urge to go soft on them because you’ve discovered that you’ve fallen for them a bit too. I’ve had no trouble torturing any of my other characters by the way. In the novel I’m currently editing I’ve really put my MC through the wringer.
But somehow I can’t bring myself to go back and do that to my first proper MC. At least not yet. So the moral of the story, if there is one, is like your characters by all means. In fact you probably should like them. Just don’t let that ever stay your hand when it comes to writing their stories.
What to say about my book? Having spoken to a lot of other writers now, I can safely say that when you’re starting out, talking about your writing is very difficult. There is a first 15mins, half an hour when all you seem to be doing is making ‘gluh’ type sounds as you attempt to unglue your tongue from your soft palate. At the same time this is absolutely your favorite subject. This is your passion. You care about this in a way that is unique. All wrapped up – it’s like having visited the country on the other side of the wardrobe only to be forbidden to talk about it. Magic is real…but don’t upset the world’s equilibrium by telling anyone.
It’s maddening to say the least.
That aside there are a few things I can tell you. I did manage to stumble through a few questions when asked them by a non-writer friend.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Three places. Firstly, although my earliest memories go back to when I was eight months old (reliably), I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. I know I learned but I could read before I went to primary school, to an extent, before I went to nursery school. The thought came to me one day ‘what if I couldn’t read?’ closely followed by ‘what if my ability to read, my ability to articulate, was taken away from me?’ This forms one of the early plot points of the book.
Secondly, while I haven’t re-written Wuthering Heights, I am heartily sick of it being described as a love story – especially in YA fiction. It’s so much cleverer and more multi-layered than that. I’m also a bit fed up of love triangles as a trope in YA fiction. What if there was real jeopardy involved? What if the MC is not trying to chose between two boys, what if she is choosing between her boyfriend and her sister? What if she is the lowest point of the triangle? I wanted to take both ideas and turn them on their head, or in the case of Wuthering Heights, put it right way up again.
Thirdly and finally, the dynamic between sisters. It’s a complicated relationship, especially growing up. Take three utterly diverse personalities that spark and clash, each one trying to take up the mantle of ‘lady of the house’ without being fully aware of the fact, and force them to live in close proximity. Worse still, they all love each other but so much has happened to the three sisters in the story, that they’ve lost sight of that. Add a few other pressures in and… BANG. No one can get under your skin like a sibling. You can have a dirty, no-holds barred fight with them in a way you couldn’t with anyone else, even a spouse. And the closer you are to each other, the more you really hate each other at times too. Looking at that, I can’t imagine why I wanted to explore that relationship but I did.
Why write an urban fantasy or a ghost story?
Why not? Seriously though, 98% of what I write comes out with a speculative twist, even when I don’t intend it too. In a practical sense, a tale ‘of ghosts and goblins’ reinforced the inability of Emlynn, the main character, to talk about the problems or seek help. It forced her to dig deep and try to communicate with people when all she had been doing after the ‘accident’ was hiding; closing herself off from the world.
Besides, everyone needs a good scare 😉
Did the story turn out exactly as you expected?
Er no… I knew roughly how it would end. I always do when I start writing. But I had no idea how I would get there. In this case, since it’s a paranormal mystery as well, I had no idea who dunnit until I wrote through it – which I did in 14 hrs straight for the last quarter of the book – I just had to know how it all tied up. It was a bit of an eye opener! Not going to say more here 😉
There were other questions but I think that’s probably enough for now. Maybe you’ll get to meet Emlynn in another blog.
(Originally posted on my old blog 25th August 2014)
This week I am pleased to welcome indie writer, multi-tasker and fellow red-head, Vanessa Wester as my guest. Vanessa and I met through the charity anthologies which she has produced in aid of such causes as NSPCC and Food Bank. Vanessa graciously allowed me to be a part of ‘A Test of Time’ and ‘Reading is Magic’, which both now carry my stories alongside those of other, talented writers. (For more information on these please see the ‘Buy’ page and ‘Other Works’.) Although I was fairly late to the party and there were several anthologies before I came along… But for now, I give you Vanessa, talking about her unusual and exciting take on vampires in the Evolution trilogy.
Tell us about yourself in seven words.
Author, teacher, blogger, mother, wife and friend.
Who is your favourite character in literature and why?
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I think her strength of character, resolve, relationship with her father, disregard for frivolity, English reserve, and love for books make her my ultimate heroine.
Who is your favourite character that you’ve written, and why?
Caitlin Chance, my main character from The Evolution Trilogy. She is partly based on me (so it made it fun to include characteristics I know well), but she makes decisions in her life I have never been brave enough to do.
Why vampires? A lot has been said, and written, about them recently. You managed to come up with a unique twist but were you wary of treading over tired ground?
Of course! When I started HYBRID, I shared some of my work on The Word Cloud and asked the same question. Ultimately, vampires will always be interesting (my curiousity of them has been there since a child; it had nothing to do with Twilight) so people will want to read about them.
In hindsight, I wish I had done something else since the market is now completely saturated… yet, because of what I wanted to write about it worked. I could have just copied Spiderman though… but, that would also have been done! Marvel ideas have been replicated a lot more than vampires.
What are you currently working on?
A historical novel based on the life of my great, great grandparents… Victorian times are fascinating!
Do you have an author who has most influenced you as a writer? Who and why do you admire them?
Agatha Christie – the ultimate master of suspense! I have always been in awe of the books she managed to write and was obsessed with her writing at one point. Love the whodunit!
What is your desert island book?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
What are your plans for writing in the future?
To keep going, finish a lot of the ideas I have started, and to try and believe in myself more.
You’ve worked on several anthologies, are you likely to do any more?
I doubt it. I might do some more for schools if the opportunity arises. But, they are too time consuming and I need to focus on my own work.
Tell us one really random fact about yourself?
I am scared of heights, especially when there are no barriers… I have been known to have panic attacks!
So very early this morning I did something terrifying; I spoke about my writing and my new book, I Belong to the Earth, on live broadcast. I’m a confident public speaker and not much fazes me …except talking about myself and my writing.
But I did it (with a little unexpected help in the form of the fabulous M.E. Vaughan) and I’m quite proud of the result. So if you’re interested in the writing process or my book or me (for some reason) or all three then tune in for a free listen I read an extract of I Belong to the Earth too so you can enjoy a sample at the same time 🙂
(This originally appeared on my old blog 06/09/2015)
Over the weekend, I attended my third Festival of Writing at York. I can’t see myself ever getting tired of this yearly event. For one thing, writing is quite a solitary career even when you have a fabulous online support network of fellow writers and keen readers. Ultimately it’s still you, plodding (occasionally racing) along, putting one word after another and hoping very much that you’ll arrive roughly where you set out for. Actually during the novel writing process there are usually several points where you’re hoping to arrive (or finish) at all! So a chance to attend a three day event where you are among your own kind and don’t feel like an alien visiting a strange world where the natives regard you with varying degrees of disbelief is naturally quite a buzz!
Of course FoW York is more than just a writerly buzz. The workshops are excellent – let’s face it, as writers we never stop learning our craft. There is always more you can do, more you an try. There’s the chance to chat to industry professionals so you get an idea of what is and is not selling. And everywhere there are writers to talk to. And not in a ‘distinct whiff of desperation’ way but genuine, friendly people who want to talk shop and trade tips. Plus York is just a great place to visit!
This year I came away with a sense of just how much further I had to go with regard to writing. Bit like climbing what you think is a massive mountain, breaking through the low cloud at the top … and then seeing the full scale of the mountain range yet to be scaled before you. I will admit to a moments dismay. However looking at it from another perspective, I’ve still got all those mountains to climb. And I loved climbing the last one. However many or few the remaining days of my life might be, I’ve still got a lot to keep me occupied. Challenge accepted.
It might all sound like work-work-work but we all had time for a good knees up at the gala dinner on Saturday night. This year there was dancing. There should be dancing every year in my opinion.
Plus I was given books. This is always a good thing 😀
Plus I had a mini signing session of my own and much to my surprise sold out of copies of ‘I Belong to the Earth’ in 20 mins! I may still have a very long way to go but I seem to have managed to get somewhere. So overall a lot to celebrate and feel grateful for.
On a final note, the thing FOW does best for me, is to re-inject that sense of fun and wonder. A sense of possibility. I don’t think I get that anywhere else, so I’ll definitely be going back next year!
(This was originally posted on my old blog May 2015…and it’s even funnier now that Book Two – I am the Silence – is finished and with my editor at illusio&baqer!)
From now on, I vow to have a little more fun with all this writing business. Mix things up a bit. To that end I have taken part in this quiz, which was put together by M. E. Vaughan, to see what would happen if my characters ended up in situations that they are not likely to encounter in the books. The results are eye opening…
Just a wee warning before you read on – while I have striven to keep any spoilers out, if you are an adept of the laws of narrativium you may catch a glimpse of things to come. So if you’d rather not know, come back after book two 😉
And for those of you who have read I Belong to the Earth, this includes one new character who turns up in book two – Lucas. You’re going to be seeing a lot of him. Read on at your own risk and enjoy!
Multiple OC (original character) Questionnaire using characters from the Unveiled Series.
Character 1 – Emlynn
Character 2 – Ciaran
Character 3 – Amy
Character 4 – Lucas
Character 5 – Mrs Cranford (Aunt Mary)
Character 6 – Grace
If Character 1 and Character 2 were to fight, who would win?
Er…fisticuffs? Well probably Ciaran. Battle of words or wits, Emlynn.
Character 3 and Character 4 decide to leave the country together – where do they go?
Ok that is just sooo surreal… Florence. Lucas has some er history there and Amy is pretty much up for anything if there is adventure and museums involved.
Character 5 and Character 6 enter a drinking game – who wins?
I really want to say Mrs Cranford…and I think despite Grace being 63 years younger, Mrs Cranford would have had more practice so yeah. Grace would lose.
Character 1 and Character 5 are lost – whose fault is it?
Hahaha. Probably Emlynn’s for opening a gap in reality by accident. But very likely also Mrs Cranford’s for having a private agenda that she conveniently forgot to disclose 😉
Character 3 and Character 2 fall in-love. How did this happen?
I assume the world ended and no one saw it coming! Since Ciaran is kinda involved with Amy’s older sister and Amy is only 13… Still in a few years they might have made a good enough couple. Particularly if thrown together and forced to depend on each other during a zombie apocalypse or something, with everyone else they know dead. Man that’s bleak.
Character 6 and Character 2 are locked in a room together, what will inevitably happen between them?
After what happened in I Belong to the Earth? Embarrassed silence. Accusations. Arguments. Possibly Grace swinging a punch at Ciaran – not that he really deserves it but he thinks he does.
Between character 1 and Character 3, who has the worse temper?
Oh easily Emlynn – artistic temperament? Frustration at not being as physically articulate as her internal narrative is? Anyway Amy is just really cheerful 90% of the time.
In a life and death situation, would Character 5 ever betray Character 2?
Yes, Mrs Cranford would betray her godson, Ciaran, but only if it meant saving a greater number of people by doing so.
Who, between Character 4 and Character 6 would be more likely to be arrested for indecent exposure?
Probably Lucas, for reasons I cannot disclose…
Character 4 and Character 1 get into a bar brawl? How did it happen, and what do they do?
They were in the same bar. That’s it. That’s all they need. The rest of it is just emotional space debris pulled into the orbit of their mutual loathing. The fact that they would then need to team up to save each others’ behinds wouldn’t help. Ultimately, they would both manage to get out, with a few judicious punches and pints of beer thrown, while the fight was at its peak, before anyone remembered who had started it in the first place. They are both quite strategically minded like that and neither of them actually enjoys fighting or is all that good at it.
Character 5 and Character 3 are part of a squadron of Spies, one of them is a traitor – how would the other find out?
Amy would find out that it was Mrs Cranford (acting with the best of intentions as usual) because she is super-bright and just can’t leave a puzzle unsolved. Eventually, Mrs Cranford would forget one crucial detail in her enthusiasm. That’s what she normally does to give herself away.
Character 4 and Character 6 are on TV, how did they get there and what are they doing?
Lucas is being interviewed about the Milton Abbey music festival when Grace storms over to have a go at him for how he’s been treating her sister. She doesn’t see the camera until she’s already socked him one. Hilarity ensues.
Character 2 is believed to be dead, how does Character 6 react?
Grace is upset but mostly because she has no idea how she is going to break it to her sister, Emlynn. Ciaran doesn’t mean as much to her as an individual. She’d be more worried about Em emotionally checking out again.
Character 3 goes crazy and tries to kill Character 1, how do they go about it? And do they succeed?
This very nearly happened in book 1! But enough possessed people had tried to kill Emlynn by that point… Anyway, it would have to be a similar situation with Amy not aware of her actions at all, just completely taken over or brain washed or something. And Amy herself would probably succeed because she’s clever. Gradual poison would be the most likely method. Or an accident resulting in a fatal fall of some kind. No one would ever suspect sweet little Amy… If it had happened in I Belong to the Earth then ‘Amy’ would have attacked Emlynn when they were on the moor in the rain – plenty of places to fall – and she would have had supernatural strength thanks to the circumstances.
Character 5 is suddenly landed with a baby and appeals to Character 4 for help, how does Character 4 react?
I am now crying with laughter. Neither of them is overly equipped for a baby although I imagine Mrs Cranford would do better than Lucas. Yeah asking Lucas for help…not all that useful. Although there is a very amusing nappy-changing scene now writing itself in my head…
Character 1 goes to a haunted house and demands Character 6 comes with them. What happens?
Well of course Emlynn goes to a haunted house, it’s what she does. Taking Grace along with her would be very unusual though. Grace hates ‘that weird shit’ and doesn’t think much of her sister’s bizarre ability. There would be bickering. They’d find they couldn’t leave the house and then a confrontation with the malevolent spirit – because why would you bother with any other kind. Grace might pull it together long enough to distract it while Emlynn opens the gates of death and shoves it through. Grace would probably have something very snarky to say at that point.
Character 2 has been in a terrible accident, and it’s up to Character 4 to keep them alive. What was the accident, and how does this work out?
It would be more reasonable for Lucas to cause an accident for Ciaran, then change his mind at the last minute and have to save him. I can see Lucas pushing Ciaran into the sea in North Wales at high tide…during a storm…at night… If it worked out how Lucas wanted, Ciaran wouldn’t come back but Lucas isn’t all bad so Ciaran with amnesia would probably suit him. There really isn’t a universe where those two are going to play well together.
Character 3 suffers a blow to head and loses all of their memory. Character 6 finds them – what happens?
Grace would take care of her little sister, and find someone to wreak vengeance upon for Amy hitting her head in the first place.
Character 5 has been acting strangely, disappearing on midnight expeditions, avoiding conversation and appeared distracted. Character 1 goes to investigate. What do they find?
Emlynn finds that Mrs Cranford didn’t tell the entire truth about certin events coming up in book two. That’s all you’re getting. Sorry… 😉
Character 3 has been kidnapped by slave-traders, and only Character 4 and Character 2 can rescue them. How do they go about it?
Oh my holy gods, yeah that might be one of the very few situations that would make them work together. Lucas has the cunning and Ciaran has the physical courage – it would be a bad day to be a slave trader. In fairness Amy should not be underestimated in that situation.
Character 5, Character 1 and Character 6 all share a common hatred – what is it?
I can’t say just in case anyone who hasn’t read book one should happen to read this. The second common hatred would be being made helpless, by circumstance or injury, though.
Between Character 3, Character 6 and Character 2 who is more likely to lose their mind and go on a killing spree.
Amy. She hasn’t found her own darkness yet. She can’t really be that cheerful…
Character 5 has been brain-washed into thinking they’re Character 1! How does Character 1 react?
When Emlynn has picked herself up off the floor and stopped laughing, I imagine she’d be quite distressed to find that Mrs Cranford believes herself to be a 17 yr old girl in love with her own godson!
Aliens attack and Character 2 reveals themselves to be an android scout sent to help destroy the Universe. Can character 4 convince Character 2 to do otherwise?
No. Not a chance. Lucas would only make the situation worse.
Character 5 And Character 3 have sex, how does Character 1 react upon finding them?
I really don’t think I should answer this one… 🙁
Character 4 and Character 6 decide to elope, how do Character 2 and Character 3 feel about this?
Grace eloping with Lucas? I’m pretty sure Amy and Ciaran would just be utterly baffled.
Character 6 is caught stealing and put in jail, does Character 2 leave them there, or break them out?
Ciaran would break Grace out. Out of loyalty to Emlynn if nothing else. Besides there’s the whole guilt thing from book one.
– Character 1, Character 3 and Character 5 form TEAM A, Character 2, Character 4 and Character 6 form TEAM B. They enter a series of Mini competitions.There is an eating competition, which team members do TEAM A and TEAM B nominate? Who wins?
Amy for Team A and Ciaran for team B. Ciaran would win – Amy is tiny.
TEAM A are given a foul when one of the team members tries to put laxatives in the other teams tea. Who was responsible?
Mrs Cranford. She has a practical alls fair in love and war outlook.
A TEAM B member and TEAM A member start consorting, who are they?
Can’t answer this without future spoilers.
A TEAM A member throws a fight, so a TEAM B member can win, who would do that and why?
And again, Can’t answer this without future spoilers.
TEAM B are in the lead, but TEAM A gain several points in what kind of competition?
Psychic detective skills 😉
TEAM B and TEAM A are tied, and go onto the questionnaire round. Between A) Sports, B)Current events and Politics, C) Literature and D) General Knowledge, which topic to each Team choose?
There would be a lot of squabbling in Team B about this but they’d pick general knowledge. Team A would choose literature.
TEAM A and TEAM B swap a member, who and why?
Team A wouldn’t be willing to make the swap. Team B would be trying to swap Lucas.
Between TEAM A and TEAM B who would win the last challenge of an obstacle course relay race?
Team B. Better overall athletic ability.
How does the winning Team celebrate?
There’s a pub nearby, right?
Do both teams remain friends, or is it time for Round 2?!