Tag Archives: #amwriting

Launch Day – And a Free Book!

Ok, it’s finally here. Launch day for the second novel in the Unveiled series. I have been a bit rubbish about promoting ‘I am the Silence‘ here  – possibly giving in to my natural urge as a writer to hide whenever a book I’ve written is released.

Anyway, the usual anxieties around book releases aside, I am really excited that Book 2 is now available. I feel that I’ve really found my voice with this book and that it’s even better than ‘I Belong to the Earth‘ – and it appears there is a growing consensus of opinion to that end, so it’s nice to know that I am not entirely delusional 😉

Released 19th January 2017 ebook and paperback

“Have you found your inner darkness, Emily Lynette?”

A year after breaking the Pattern, Emlynn no longer fights her gift. She’s become adept at sending the Dead on to rest. Perhaps a little too good…

Sent to investigate reports of a haunting, Emlynn finds herself facing a crushing embarrassment, and worse, a deep betrayal. Deciding it’s time to leave the supernatural alone for a while, she travels to Dorset to stay with her childhood best friend, Beth. The Milton Abbey festival of music should take her mind off everything; Ghosts, betrayals and disappointments. Except Beth has changed. She’s definitely running with a new crowd – a cooler, dangerous group whose leader, Rhys, has an unhealthy interest in Emlynn.

As if that isn’t enough, Emlynn’s violin tutor turns out to be a young man she used to know. Lucas has definitely changed – hostile, volatile and rude, but also intense and disturbingly compelling. That’s one mystery Emlynn can’t leave alone. Torn between her connection with Beth’s troubled younger sister and the terrifying black beast that stalks Emlynn in her dreams, there’s no rest for the weary psychic. Facing the reality of what Beth is mixed up in, Emlynn may have finally picked a fight she cannot win…

I’ve mentioned in the acknowledgements that this was a really hard book to write and it’s no exaggeration, so I am also strangely relieved that it’s now available for general consumption. I am looking forward to hearing what you all think.

Also available for those who enjoy the Unveiled series – two novellas and a short story. You don’t have to read these before you read ‘I am the Silence’ – or at all for that matter, but there are easter eggs and snippets of back story that give a richer reading experience if you decide you want to. (Only available in ebook at present.)

 

 

 

Free Book – Ciaran’s Chance

Anyone been wondering what Ciaran has been up too since he exited stage right at the end of ‘I Belong to the Earth’? This companion novella to ‘I am the Silence’ will tell you all.

There are things we do in life that we can’t ever take back. Bad things that follow us, no matter how we wish we could change them. So I needed to find him. See the man. And the monster.’

A year after the events in Arncliffe and Ciarán is giving up hope of ever being able to return. Marked by what he did that night, he is no longer the person he thought he was. Surly, directionless and irritable, he reconnects with an old friend whilst staying with his sister. Somewhere between friendship and hatred, he starts to pick apart the strands of whatever darkness hides inside him.

A trip to find his father and confront his past turns into a nightmare that dates back centuries. Because something hunts the men of Ciarán’s family. Something ancient that cannot be reasoned with or bribed. Amongst the O’Connors, the sins of the father really are visited on the sons. If Ciarán ever wants to be able to see Emlynn again, he must succeed where all his ancestors have failed and stop the creatures that have stalked his family for generations.

This book is ONLY available through my website BUT I am giving it away FREE.

All you need to do to claim your copy is join my Readers’ Group . 

(I send newsletters around once a month or less, no spam – promise. And if you don’t like the content then you can always unsubscribe. You’ll still have the free book 😉  )

That’s it for now but there will be more updates in the days to come. I’ve been silent but extremely industrious – there are many more books on the way. Thank you for reading and to everyone who’s been part of the journey so far, and to everyone who has contacted me to ask about writing or for book recommendations or just because they liked something I’ve written. I love hearing from you – you all rock.

An especially big thank you to everyone who has reviewed my books. Seriously, authors live and die by word of mouth so every time you recommend one of my books or write me a short review (or a long one!) you are making a difference and ensuring I can write more books for you.

Ok so back to finishing book three it is then…

 

 

Back in Print and Better than Ever!

Just a quick update post to say that I Belong to the Earth is now once again available as an ebook (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). The shiny new print version will be available around mid October 2016 – I’ll keep you posted. This second edition has been tidied up, given a new and improved formatting and interior design, any errors eradicated (hopefully!) and includes the FREE and exclusive short story ‘Friendly Fire’.

All for the special introductory price of £0.99 or $0.99 -depending on where you live.

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In addition, Unveiled #1.2 – Girls’ Night In (a short story) is also available for the princely sum of £0.99/ $0.99. (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)

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Happy reading 🙂

(And if you can spare the time – whether you love it or hate it – I really appreciate an honest review – just a line or two would be great! 😉  )

P.S. Look out for this week’s episode of Dissecting Dragons on Friday 29th September 2016 – I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind the books in the Unveiled series and just why I wrote such an unusual and in many ways, disadvantaged, MC – all with my fabulous co-host, M.E.Vaughan.

Cover Reveal – I Belong to the Earth

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Artwork copyright – J.A.Ironside

Cover Design copyright – M.E. Vaughan

From the back cover:

“There.” Grace pointed towards the moor and I saw it: there was a shape in the dark. A tall, masculine shape. No, not a man; a piece of darker darkness in the shape of a man. We were being watched.

Seventeen-year-old Emlynn knows all about grief and guilt, not to mention secrets. Being able to sense the Dead wasn’t so bad before the accident which killed her mother. Now it’s taking over her life. Broken and shut off from the world, Emlynn is horrified when her father moves the family to a remote Yorkshire vicarage: a house that stands at the centre of a centuries-old curse born of betrayal, jealousy and poisoned love. A curse that feeds on the lives of young girls. A pattern about to repeat itself once more… When her older sister, Grace, gets involved with local bad boy, Haze, Emlynn knows she has to act fast. Somehow Haze is connected to the curse. Is Grace his next intended victim? Hurtling towards another family tragedy, Emlynn must find the strength to stop running from her gift, or risk losing the rest of her family for good. Only the dead have the answers she needs. If she can bring herself to speak to them…

 

Available from Amazon on 25th September 2016 (Paperback to follow October 2017)

 

Announcing the third Random Anthology

The Random writers have not been idle in their silence. And here it is – the new anthology!

Stalking Leviathan – A Bestiary of Tales 

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“It’s out there. I can feel it in my water. I can hear it…”
 
Twelve tales that go in search of creatures of myth, legend, and the spaces between the real and the imagined. From the overwhelming confusion of the Irish Civil War to the eerie expanse of modern day Bodmin Moor; from Elizabethan England to the skies above Persia, the Random Writers quest for an answer to the question – What is the nature of the beast?
I am proud to have been an editor on the project, and I and my fellow dragon -co-host, M.E.Vaughan, as well as historical fiction co-writer, Matthew Willis and long term writing buddy, Shell Bromley, all have stories included in the collection.
Get ready for creatures that personify the wild, guard and guide the dead whilst helping the living out of grief, non-binary Unicorns, beasts that personify the madness and destruction of war or the gift of life and nature itself.
Release Date: 29th September 2016 in ebook and paperback formats.
(Special thanks to M.E.Vaughan for the fabulous cover.)
Final bit of news: Tune in the same time tomorrow for the grand cover reveal of
I Belong to the Earth – second edition.

I’m temporarily out of print but…

WINTER

I decided after much soul searching that it just wasn’t working out with my old publishers, so we have amicably parted ways. (Since then, they have shut down. Pretty sure it wasn’t anything to do with me – more in a future blog post maybe?) So I have my rights back but I Belong to the Earth is temporarily out of print. I say temporarily because I will be releasing all of the Unveiled books, short stories and novellas under my own imprint. This means that those of you waiting patiently for book 2 – I am the Silence have just had the release date brought forward by 18 months. Can I get a whoop whoop?

Anyway, for those of you interested, I thought I’d provide a release schedule of dates to keep an eye out for:

 

Unveiled Book 1- I Belong to the Earth (second edition, new content, new artwork) release in ebook – 20th September 2016, in paper back – 10th October 2016 (roughly).

Unveiled short story – Girls’ Night In ebook release – 27th September  2016

Unveiled Novella #1.5 – Amazing Grace ebook release – 1st October 2016

Unveiled Novella #1.9 – Amy’s Academicals ebook release – 30th October 2016

Unveiled Book 2 – I am the Silence – ebook & paperback release – 19th January 2017

Unveiled short story – The Black Dog of Lyme – ebook release – 25th January 2017

Unveiled Novella #2.1 – Ciaran’s Chance – ebook release 2017 … or is it 😉 (Check back, you won’t hear Ciaran’s story anywhere else!)

Unveiled Book 3 – I Hold the Tide – ebook and paperback release June 2017 (approx)

Unveiled Novella #3.5 – untitled – ebook release July 2017

Unveiled Book 4 – I Rule the Night – ebook and paperback release December 2017

There will be regular cover reveals, short stories, other novellas and freebies coming up so keep your eyes peeled!

Hopefully I’ve given you all something to look forward too. However, if you’ve read book one and you just cannot wait until January, I will be giving away an e-sampler of the first five chapters of I am the Silence free, here on my website. (If the ‘Get your free Sneaklet’ button isn’t up on the main menu yet, please check back later. Otherwise, click away and find out what is in store for Emlynn in book 2.)

Finally, in the next couple of weeks Emlynn will be visiting haunted houses and other spooky areas all over Britain. Check back for more details or follow #EmlynnsTrail on twitter, instagram and tumblr.

 

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume One – How to write a Sentence

 

You might be looking at that deceptively simple title thinking, but everyone can write a sentence. Well, yes, illiteracy aside, everyone probably can. The point is to write a sentence that grips people and makes them want to read on. To write sentences that create sympathy between your audience and your characters. Used correctly sentences can alter the flow and rhythm of your prose, adjusting it to the correct pace.

This seminar was taught by Andrew Willie (www.willie.org). He is an experienced and enthusiastic copy editor, with a real knack for spotting good prose.

So to break things down to their constituents before we reassemble them;

Parts of speech

A noun – names a person, place, thing, idea, quality or action.

A verb – describes an action or a state (doing something, being something)

An adverb – usually describes a verb, or how, when, where or how much something is done.

An adjective – describes or limits a noun.

A pronoun – is used in place of a noun, to avoid repeating the noun. (She, him, it)

A conjunction – joins two words, phrases or sentences together (and, as, but)

A preposition – usually marks the relationship between nouns or pronouns (of, on, in, into, around, along)

An article – is used to introduce a noun. (a, the, an)

An Interjection – expresses emotion or surprise. Often followed by an exclamation mark. (Hurray!)

A participle – is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun or noun phrase, and thus plays a role similar to that of an adjective or adverb. (Singing, writing – present participle. Written, sung – past participle.)

So those are the parts of a sentence. How do you string them together?

The subject of a sentence is the person/animal/ thing which the sentence is about.

The predicate is what the subject does.

Eg; the cat (subject) sat on the mat (predicate)

The most interesting thing in a sentence is not the subject but what the subject is doing and why. Ideally you always want to scatter a breadcrumb trail of ‘why’ for your readers to follow. So that the read the next sentence and the one after that and the one after that.

In most cases the best way to do this is to avoid using the passive voice.

An example of the active voice would be ‘the cat sat on the mat.’

In passive voice it might read ‘the mat was sat on by the cat.’

The passive voice is less gripping, less interesting. It doesn’t convey action in the same way. However there is a place for the passive voice. If for example you wee setting a scene where there was about to be a lot of action, you might start with some passive voice to lull your reader into a false sense of security or to even out pace. If time has been spent setting up an event the passive voice provides contrast.

Eg. The mat was sat on by the cat. The mat exploded.

Also passive voice is useful if you are extending sentences.

Eg the mat was sat on by the cat, where he then went and shat. (Sorry that was the class example.)

For more information, try the guardian essays by Phillip Pullman and Phillip Gardner.

A few other things to consider;

You can use first person, second person or third person but second person is harder to read and much harder to sell.

Present or past tense – either is fine but in general most people write better in past tense. A notable exception is Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, where the present tense adds to the tension.

I’ll leave you with the same quote Andrew left us with;

‘A first draft is just a writer telling himself the words of the story.’ Sir Terry Pratchett.

Recommended reading; Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale (which is on my kindle but I haven’t read it yet. Must get on that!)

Thanks for reading. If you missed this class, I hope the above notes helped. 😉

 

Throwback Thursday: A Perfect Dystopia

(First published on my old blog, 24th October 2013)

One of my favorite forms of genre fiction is dystopian fiction. The word Dystopia is of greek origin, coming from two words meaning ‘hard land’. It was used in answer to Thomas Moore’s coined term ‘Utopia’ from the book of the same name. While a Utopian world is an idealised version of our own, a dystopian world takes the darker aspects of human nature and examines them. This is what I find endlessly fascinating.

Dystopian societies may be anti-utopian, in other words taking the worst of human behavior and setting, and magnifying them. Or it may be Counter-Utopian – presenting a society which is Utopic on the surface, with one fatal flaw. The latter is the one I find most interesting. Just as a character’s fatal flaw may help drive the plot of a book or film, a society or races fatal flaw may do the same in dystopian fiction. As unsettling as much of it is, I think dystopian fiction allows us to look at ourselves, at our current society and ask ourselves ‘is this where we are heading?’ There are often strong moral conflicts involved, revolutions and uprising against a totalitarian regime or subtler struggles for public hearts and minds or even just a pocket of resistance clawing out some space to think for themselves; all of which is right up my literary alley.

Here are some of my favorites, try not to laugh at the first few;

The Stand by Stephen King –  ok so many people would class this as a horror story. For me, despite it’s opposing poles of good and evil, it is a huge tome set in a dystopian future (though technically we’ve gone way past the year it is set in.) A human designed plague has been released killing 99.9% of the worlds population. It has caused society to grind to a halt while those survivors who happened to be immune try to find each other and reestablish some sort of working civilisation. The thing with plague killing off the populous is that it has not destroyed buildings, power plants, supplies, weapons etc. They are all waiting to be picked up and used. Add to that a force for goodness and a force for evil fighting over the scraps of mankind. This is self examination in it’s rawest form in many ways. Not all of the people who followed the dark man were wholly bad, not all of those who went to Mother Abigail were entirely good. Everyone is caught up in something bigger than themselves and not just the plague. It  is the choices you make in those situations that make this so interesting.
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Watership Down – Richard Adams. – Yes I know it’s about bunnies. I still maintain that there’s a case for it being included in dystopian fiction. Fiver the seer, knows that  bad danger is coming to the Sandleford warren, with his brother Hazel and several other rabbits they manage to leave before, what would be to them, a catclymic world altering event occurs, killing all the others. Struggling to find a place in the world they stumble on Cowslip’s warren. This is a false Utopia, as it turns out all the rabbits there, while never hungry or worrying about enemies, are being kept safe and fat for when the farmer wants to catch a couple. The whole area is snared. And yet the rabbits of that warren make believe that they serve the shining wire, that death chooses them. Hazel’s group moves on and eventually finds Watership Down. It’s near perfect except that they have no does, without which their ociety will die out in a generation. Finding the Efrafra warren, a true totalitarian regime, where you are perfectly safe as long as you don’t disobey orders and live in (for rabbits) unnatural conditions, Hazel’s group effects a daring plan to break away a group of does to join them. The final battle for the survival of their own warren is against the dictator General Woundwort – possibly the scariet rabbit ever.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – The World State controls almost everything, it is all surprisingly peaceful, a stable society with plentiful goods and supplies. Natural birth has been done away with. Children are instead created and raised in hatcheries where they are conditions and separated into five caste systems. Citizens are conditioned to value consumption above all else. All need for transcendent, spiritual experience is managed by the state with Soma – a hallucinogenic approved for ‘holidays’. Recreational sex is encouraged. So with everything provided for you and everything figured out for you, where is the reward of thinking for yourself? What is there to strive for?

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – there’s a lot more to it that this but books are outlawed and burned as they promote free-thinking. This is literally my personal hell on earth.

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – not so much a favorite as a must read. After a global atomic war (so set in obvious dystopian landscape) we follow the story of Winsten Smith, who is at intellectual war with The Party and has an illicit romance with Julia. His consequent imprisonment, interrogation, torture and reintegration are chilling.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood – read this first when I was 16 and was horribly struck by how possible it seemed. A christianity based theocratic regime rules everything after a global disaster. Few women have viable ovaries. Those who do are re-educated and sent out as handmaids to bear children for members of congress. The ritualistic adultary  in which the wife takes part, rendering the handmaid merely a womb for hire while the husband inseminates her is truly horrific. The ambiguity at the end is disturbing but right for the story, especially as one of the themes of the book is not knowing.

The Chrysalids – John Wyndham – possibly my absolute favorite. Man is made in a specific image, people are conditioned by a cut off, theocratic state, not to succour the mutant. Something as simple as being born with an extra toe can get you forcibly serilised and sent into the barren lands. But what about mutations that don’t show? A group of children develop a kind of telepathy which is found out and abhorred as a mutation. Their struggle is to find somewhere they can live un-persecuted. It is suggested that this mutation is actually one of nature, rather than nuclear fallout. So the question is how far will society go to control natural gene expression?

Pure – Julianna Baggott – in a post nuclear/ dirty bomb society, there are the pure, who live within the dome – seemingly perfect lives. And the aberrants who have eked out an existence outside the dome. As the politics unfolds it turns out that there is less perfection inside the dome than the imperfect aberrants think. There is also a question on just who set the bombs – surely not their own government on a mission of enthnic cleansing, attempting to set up their own superior race?

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins – I don’t care what anyone says about this being ripped off from ‘Battle Royale’. I don’t believe it is but even if it was, Collins took an idea and portrayed it a hundred times better. Deal with it. What the series looks at is what war really does to society, in particular, to children. The twelve districts of panem are controlled with a constant mix of fear, oppression, hardship, humiliation and a tiny insidious but of hope. Every year each district is forced to provide a male and female child tribute to compete in the games, where they are expected to fight to the death. A pretty good analogy for the pointlessness of war considering the arbitrariness of the  rules and what the games turn the children into.

There are dozens more books that cover various themes in a dystopian world. This is merely a small selection of my favorites. The attraction does not simply relate to reading either, I enjoy writing dystopian fiction. The themes it explores are close to my heart, questions that must be asked over and over in order to avoid such dark futures ourselves.

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume one – Plot and Character

(First Published on my old blog, 28th October 2013)

By now I wouldn’t blame you if you were thinking, ‘just how long can she go on about York FoW13? It was a month ago!’ And you’d be right in as far as no amount of blog posts can recapture the experience of going yourself. That said, I did learn some quantifiable skills with regard to writing so I’m passing them along. Think of it as a taster in case you decide to go to York FoW yourself one day. (Also I have a quota of posts to fill this month. Don’t worry though – there’ll only be a maximum of two more York rambles.)

Jeremy Sheldon (who taught ‘Lovers and Buddies’) also covered this seminar on plot and character. Strong storytelling, hinges on one or both of these elements. If you ask an agent what they are looking for, they will nearly always reply ‘strong storytelling’, that’s if they’re not replying with ‘voice’ or ‘style’. What they don’t do, is explain what they mean by this. What is a strong story? What is Voice or Style? Aside from a technical description,  which is about as much use as someone telling you that a light bulbs blown but then refusing to tell you where the light bulbs are, no one can really say. I think in part this is because they mean different things to different people, but also t seems to be jut one of those things. You can’t put your finger on it to describe it to someone, but everyone knows when it’s not there.

However, all is not lost. If you look at plot and character in enough detail, chance are that you’ll build a strong story anyway. With voice and style. So, plot and character, is there a difference? Yes and no. It depends entirely on your point of view. Personally I think some narratives are more plot driven and some are more character driven. The best narratives, in my book, are both. The only person whose opinion matters there is the writer’s. Having said that, while you may prefer plot over character, or vice versa, in order to build a strong story you cannot consider them entirely disconnected. A character without a plot is just  collection of vices, virtues and mannerisms, all dressed up with no where to go. A plot without a character, is a fantastic stage set without actors.

“Tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of the action not of narration; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions” Aristotle.

Basically, Aristotle argues that in Tragedy, plot is more important than character. (He later goes on to say that in Comedy, character is more important than plot.) Actually I’m not sure I entirely agree. While it is important to ellicit an emotional response in your reader, surely one of the best ways of doing this is building a bridge of sympathies between your characters and your reader? Yes plot is important in tragedy – the events in Romeo and Juliet or Oedipus have to follow the set sequence or the gradual upping of the stakes and dawning horror of the situation, just won’t happen. I’d be inclined to say that it was just as important rather than more important though. But then Aristotle would have said I am emotionally un-house broken due to my hair colour so…

Anyway, within a plot you have the writers perspective and the readers perspective. They should ultimately dovetail and that’s what you need to bear in mind when plotting;

The Writer;

Story = Crucible of invented human activity – affected by time and causality – resulting in The Final Outcome.

The Reader;

Story = investment of time   –      leading to Reader Expectation – resulting in, Reader Investment Confirmed.
(sense of place, dialogue
writing etc)

In other words you can’t suddenly throw in bits and pieces and bend your plot to suit yourself without going back and sowing the seeds of suspicion. Think Chekov’s Gun. If you are going to use the gun in the third act, then it should be visible on the wall in act one. Not I said visible not necessarily blindingly obvious. Readers like to have their suspicions confirmed; it makes the book feel like a friend. Readers do not like being cheated or misled through laziness – do that enough times and the reader will put the book down. Remember you are the tour guide of your created world, it is your job to make the reader feel that you know what you are doing and will take care of them, otherwise they won’t feel like they are in a safe pair of hands.

Story should not contain any filler. So anything that does not build your plot or your characters has to go. We all know what it’s like with a first draft; there are place holders, half names, undecided bits. That’s fine. The finished product needs to have been on the mother of all Rocky style training montages so that it’s a lean beast, not a flabby, soft read.

Basic Structure (which you can adapt at your leisure.)

-Set Up (scene setting/ world building/ character introduction)
-1st turn – hamartia or fatal flaw. This is where the story stops telling what it’s about and starts being what it’s about.
– Development, Character tries to achieve goal, but is thwarted, often repeatedly.
– Mid point – Character starts to break through/ make progress, but isn’t there yet.
– Crescendo – protagonist is making greater step toward goal. Antagonist counters more strongly.
– Crisis – everything appears to be going wrong / unsavable
– Recognition and reversal – the protagonist recognises their fatal flaw and reverses it.
– Climax – protagonist triumphs (or not, depends if last point occurs in time!)

In a tragedy the protagonist is unable to recognise their hamartia or reverse damage, at least not in time. Eg King Lear, Macbeth, Chasing Amy, Red State

In a comedy the protagonist recognises their fatal flaw and reverses it in time for a happy ending. Eg Much ado about nothing, Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones

Character and Flow
– the flaw should appear unconsciously (to the protagonist) in the set up
– mid point plot break through is the first moment of real character insight. Significant step towards goal.
– Crisis – the self realisation and plot all go pear shaped. Character has not yet reversed his flaw.
– Character has to engage with changing on a positive level, turning the flaw into an asset.

With regard to hamartia or fatal flaw, it may be conscious or unconscious (usually the former is better.) It is a deep character weakness. It is also often the same as a character’s greatest strength. How self aware the character is and what use he puts that quality towards is what defines it as a flaw. For example the film As Good As it Gets – the MC has massive OCD issues coupled with social ineptitude. On the other hand he notices things, everything that other people take for granted. By the end of the film he’s learned to use the positive aspects of his OCD, namely noticing and anticipating, and controlling the negative aspects, the desire to control everything and push people away.

Or to use a personal exmple, in WIP my MC is incredibly resilient. She endures and doesn’t allow things to flatten her. She keeps going. The fatal flaw is that she doesn’t trust anyone to help her, she is to independant. She pushes people away and becomes isolated during a very dangerous sequence of event. Does she recognise and reverse this? Well if I ever get any where you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out 😉

Thanks for reading!

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume One – Slushpile hell to Slushpile heaven

(First published on my old blog, 12th October 2013)

 

Right, after my lazy attempt last night, I feel I should deliver some substance today so here is the next installment in my York FoW13 chronicles.
This seminar was run by the lovely Julia Churchill and Penny Holroyde (both well known agents). It focused on what you can do to make your manuscript stand out of the slush pile, giving you the best chance of being picked up by an agent. As I said in an earlier post, agents are serious book lovers (and don’t have horns) so don’t go in with the attitude that they are your enemy, out to prevent your book from connecting with its audience.

It was extremely interesting and heartening to get the take of two agents on this. They didn’t talk about specific genres – why would they? It’s not their job to write the book. That’s our job! But there are special annoyances to avoid when submitting your manuscript to an agent. I’m going to list what I gleaned from this seminar but I will mention Nicola Morgan at this point. She is a published author and self-styled ‘crabbit old bat’, who writes brilliant, helpful posts on how to get published on her blog. I strongly recommend checking this out before you submit anything, I found her advice really helpful in preparing for York.

Ok then, hints, tips and other gleanings;

– Finish the book! Do not submit your manuscript until it is finished. I heard a lot of agents say this over the course of the weekend. Nothing is more annoying to them than reading the first three chapters of something, loving it, calling up the author asking to see the rest – only to have the author say ‘ oh, but I haven’t written that yet. Can you wait?’ Well yes they might wait and they might still want to see the rest of the manuscript when you’re done but the chances that they are still going to be as excited about it, as they were when they first read it are very slim. If you write non fiction, sample chapters, an outline, synopsis and CV are fine. If it’s fiction then finish it first! Remember, though publishing moves slowly, agents and publishers actually move very fast; they have to in order to be a step ahead of various literary fairs and book lists.

One at a time.   Perhaps you’re massively prolific in your writing or the planets have aligned and filled you with strange energies so you have finished off half a dozen novels that have been lying around in various states of undress for some time. Pick one and submit. The others have to wait their turn. You might be really good and highly marketable but if you bombard an agent with submissions you’re likely to get a no, just so you’ll leave them alone.

Do your homework. Make a list of possible agents, checking into them a bit to see if you think you’d like to work with them. These agents should be people you want to work with and they should handle books in your genre. The ‘pray and spray’ approach to submissions, rarely works. If you send your historical romance to an agent who only deals with  yachting biographies then the answer will be ‘no’ and everyone has wasted time.

Formatting. Most agents have a list of formatting guidelines with their submissions policy. Read them. If you don’t, you are going to appear either lazy, as if you haven’t checked out the agent (which by the way the agent expects) or that you don’t bother to read. None of that is attractive to an agent. Most agents nowadays use Kindles to read submissions. So don’t send PDFs as they are illegible on kindle. Title your files clearly – if an agent has two dozen files on a kindle and eighteen of them are titled ‘sample chapters’, she is going to read the one titled with the books name first. Remember, when the files are loaded onto a kindle, only a certain amount of the title appears in the list. So if you title something ‘sample chapters; [title of your book]’ then the only bit that appears is ‘sample chapters’.

Submitting you MS. Have a great title; they’ve seen a lot of it before. A great title makes them more likely to pick up your book first. In the covering letter, use a reasonable sized one paragraph pitch. Include a bit about yourself. Agents are interested in building careers not just one book, if they are thinking about representing you, you will probably be asked what you’re working on now. Agents don’t really care about previous publishing credits. They don’t need a CV of published short stories. Ultimately they want good debut authors.

Resubmissions and Replies. Yes you might get a rejection. Everyone does at some point. What you never ever ever do under any circumstances, is write a rude reply to the agent. We saw some in the seminar and I felt horrified and embarrassed for the people who sent them. Publishing is actually a fairly small world and they DO all talk to each other. On the other hand if you’ve done significant work on your MS and really feel you’ve improved it (especially if you got a ‘no thanks but think about looking at this’ sort of reply) then it’s encouraged to resubmit to the same agent. Agents usually only leave feedback if they are interested in your book – they are not a critiquing service. So don’t expect some in a reply. And don’t be a pest. Your MS is getting read. They can’t take the chance that a gold nugget is getting swept away in the pile of rocks. Four weeks is about the right time to send a friendly inquiry about your sample chapters. Six weeks, if they’ve asked to see the whole MS.

Finally, here are the Submission Bootcamp Dos and Don’ts;

– ‘I have submitted this to a handful of carefully selected agents but will of course inform you…’ Big don’t. In reality agents know that you can’t submit to them one at a time but highlighting it at the sample chapter stage is foolish. At worst it smacks of trying to force their hand.

– Don’t use silly email addresses; agents want to know they are dealing with someone professional.

– Do drop the names of authors on their lists that you admire. This doesn’t mean saying that you are the next Philip Pullman, but you can say ‘would appeal to fans of Philip Pullman’ about your work. Also showing that you know who an agent represents proves you’ve done your homework about them.

– Don’t include copyright pages. What you’re saying when you do this, is that you don’t expect an agent to act professionally. And of course your MS is copyright protected. The minute you write it and send it (even if you only email it to yourself) it’s under copyright.

– Do re-submit

– Don’t submit unfinished manuscripts.

– Don’t request a receipt on your email. Agents hate this kind of trickery!

– Don’t direct an agent o dropbox, Yousendit, a link or amazon.

– Don’t lie. Ever. They will find out. They are spooky like that.

– Do mention if you’ve met the agent before.

– Do highlight if it’s a resubmission, but this isn’t essential.

– Do submit your next book, even if the first is rejected. They still want to see what you write.

And there you have it. Much of it is business courtesy but these are all important  points. Remember. it’s just as big a deal for the agent to call an author and offer to represent them, as it is for the author to receive that call!

Throwback Thursday:Tales of York, Volume One – Lovers, Buddies and the Tragedy Paper.

(First published on my old blog, 7th October 2013)

The first seminar I attended at York FoW13, was ‘Lovers and Buddies; 7 steps to friendship and romance’, by Jeremy Sheldon. I’d never been to a writing seminar of any kind before. In fact any seminars I usually attend have horrifying medical slide shows attached, so this was not only new and interesting but quite restful as well. The added benefit is that I learned a lot.

I won’t give you a direct transcription of my notes. That would be extremely dull. However I will attempt to sift through them for the bits that struck me most and compare and contrast it with a similar set of guidelines which I used in A-level English, in a critical essay on Shakespeare. Ok, that already sounds dry. I promise this won’t be. The best thing about this seminar, was it’s versatility. As soon as you’ve clocked the main points, you can apply them to any story shape in any medium you like and it still works.

So what do romantic relationships, friendships and tragedies have to do with one another? Surely they are three different scenarios? Well no not really. They follow a very similar pattern of occurrences in roughly the same time frame. It’s really the actions of the characters and the outcomes that make the difference.

The seven steps;

1) The meet-cute (in movie terms). Quite literally the point where the two characters in that relationship dynamic meet. Think Romeo and Juliet dancing at that party or Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy NOT dancing at the ball at Mereton. Or if you want to think friendship how about Murtagh jumping Riggs in the police station before he knew that was his new partner (classic buddy cop) or Luke Skywalker meeting Han Solo in the Mos Eisley bar. (Yes I know they weren’t alone. And yes, Han shot first *sigh*) It doesn’t have to be main characters meeting up either. If a friendship or romance is a sub plot then you would have those character meeting up for the first time. Or at least at a significant time when the relationship is about to change.
Tragedy wise it’s much the same – Luke Skywalker meeting Darth Vader for the first time and fighting him unaware that he is fighting his father. The only family he has left and they’re mortal enemies (ok there’s Leia but they don’t know they’re related yet…) Or Irish folktale CuChullain fighting and killing Conlai only to find out he’s killed his son. (Admittedly in that case, the entire story would be the fight but I’ll get back to that.)

2) Dislike/ Attraction – there is a strong feeling between the two characters. Aside from Romeo and Juliet, all the examples I’ve listed above started out disliking each other. That’s possibly because I find that dynamic of overcoming pre-conceptions and learning to like someone or even fall in love with them, endlessly fascinating. Either way, they can’t be indifferent to each other, or they won’t progress to step three.

3) Complications – the reasons that a pair of characters can’t be together or can’t be friends (or in tragedy sense, can’t overcome their burgeoning mutual enmity.) Darcy is far too proud to consider Elizabeth and therefore doesn’t see her clearly. Elizabeth is thoroughly put off Darcy firstly by his bad behavior and later by the tales Mr Wickham spins her. They can’t be together because they create barriers. In addition there are also barriers of class, money and social convention to overcome. Those sort of barriers are only beaten by a pair of characters if they are pulling together, which Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t. On top of this, they are continually thrown into each others company. If they hadn’t been, it’s possible that one unpleasant encounter at a dance at Mereton might have been the whole story.

4) Increased purpose for being – whether they initially were attracted or disliked each other, the presence of the other, causes an increased will for life in a character. The very thing that attracts Darcy is the way Elizabeth laughs him off, managing to deliver some impertinent remarks in such a way that they don’t give offence but make him stop and think. From a tragical POV, take Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. They are on a collision course from day one. Both are directly in the way of what the other wants and both want the other out of the way. There is an increased sense of purpose in both characters. Neither can rest until the other is dead. It’s not given to everyone to have one great enemy, anymore than it is to have one great love. In both cases it brings out the best and worst in a character. (I’ll admit that Harry Potter isn’t exactly a tragedy but I’m trying to choose random tragical elements.)

5) Alignment – the characters fall in to line with the discovery that they want the same thing. However, how they achieve this is still up for debate; they are not aligned in their opinions. In simplest terms Darcy discovers that he wishes to marry for love, a belief that Elizabeth has held already. They are not agreed on who is to marry whom! Harry and Voldemort are in one accord that one of them must die, neither of them agree which of them it should be – unsurprisingly. In a friendship perspective, Murtagh and Riggs are working together to solve the case, but neither agree on the others methods. It’s about prolonging conflict. Sometimes a big conflict, sometimes something small that can blow up completely, making the whole relationship look un-salvageable.

6) Crisis – This would be the point where that difference of opinion causes a moment where everything looks like it’s going wrong and can’t be saved. This is the darkest moment, the lowest point on the character journey. For example Jane Eyre discovers on her wedding day that Mr Rochester the groom, has a wife still living, shut up in the attic. In despair she runs away and nearly dies of exposure (which still seems a bit daft to me but I’m willing to forgive much as I love the book and I admire anyone who really sticks to their principles.) At that point there is no way for them to be together. This is usually where there is a huge argument in the friend plot line – all the things that annoy them about each other come out in the most hurtful way possible. In the tragedy sense the climax is the worst becoming worse. Think Romeo killing Tibault, after Tibault kills Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. Then think the message to Romeo getting delayed by a plague blockade but word of Juliet’s death reaching him, followed by Romeo drinking poison moments before Juliet wakes up.

7) Resolution and Surrender – this is the ‘I’ve got you’ moment. Reconciliation between lovers. They acknowledged their flaws and learnt from them. Elizabeth realises that she should have given Darcy more of a chance and not formed her opinion based on a second hand report. Darcy having had time to think over Elizabeth’s telling off, realises that he’s not behaved well and sets out to do better, proving to her that he’s worth a second chance. Harry faces death and comes through, wiser and now unafraid. Voldemort still fears death so much that he cannot comprehend anything but defying it. Harry, having recognised his flaws and reversed them triumphs, whereas Voldemort destroys himself. Or for tragical purposes, Juliet recognises that everything has gone wrong and comes to the same conclusion as Romeo; that she doesn’t want to live on without him. The characters are aligned still even if they don’t have a happy ending. Murtagh has gained a new appreciation for his seemingly dull life from his friendship with Riggs. Riggs has someone to care about and who cares about him and now wants to live, he’s overcome his death wish.

So those are the seven steps. You can look at almost any film or book and identify them quite easily. There are exceptions in the sense of a defeat being joyful. The English Patient for example. In the romance sense, love becomes a choice rather than a need or obligation. Two characters enter into it willing to be emotionally vulnerable with each other. They shed the emotional armor they’re carrying. Love in itself is a kind of surrender.

So, other things to look out for;

Hubris or fatal flaw – the one thing in a character’s make up that prevents them from achieving their goal.

Magnitude – at some point a decision will be made, the consequences of which overshadow the rest of the story. The story becomes about dealing with those consequences.

Recognition and reversal – a character must recognise and reverse or mitigate his fatal flaw in order to achieve his goal. Or if it’s a tragedy must not recognise it, or recognise it too late. Think King Lear, realising and admitting that he was wrong about youngest daughter, Cordelia, just before they are all executed.

These are the ingredients of all really good, enduring character relationship plot lines. I had come across some of them before but it was an eye opener to take them and apply them to more modern film and literature. I haven’t incorporated the entire seminar but I think this is enough of the gist. It’s definitely helped make my decisions regarding character reactions much more conscious and deliberate.