And anyone daft, or masochistic, enough to want to publish a novel will no doubt have spotted it. However, just in case any budding book-reviewers are busy sharpening their critical pencils, the one in the title of this post is deliberate…
Anyway, what’s prompted this blog is a fascinating email I received about Firebird from Amazon last week which advised me, most helpfully:
There are typos in your book. You can see this error at the following Kindle location(s): 6548 … “An unusual number compared to the surrounding arid countryside.”
i.e. the sentence in quotations contains a typo…
Well, I looked and I looked…
And I looked some more…
‘This must be a real cracker of a typo,’ I thought to myself. ‘Not like that blistering, bold typeface, spelling mistake I just saw in the middle of XYZ [yep: my self-preservation instincts force me to refrain from naming of oft-offending but otherwise entertaining novel, and its perhaps-responsible professional publishing house]…’
So I tried reading each word out loud. First forwards, then backwards…
Nope. Still nothing…
Then I noticed that Amazon had kindly offered their erudite wisdom to aid me: poor illiterate that I am.
Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what I’d apparently got wrong?
Well, according to Amazon, my sentence should read:
“An unusual number compared to the surrounding and countryside.”
You may need to look carefully… I had to; before I laughed out loud…
I have, of course, not inserted the above, grammatically-incorrect and ill-advised text into my book… The word arid is welcome in my vocabulary, and it can stay just exactly where I’d carefully placed it in Firebird.
So, has this experience diminished my paranoia of all things typographical? Not a chance. My passion to eradicate any real mistakes I might find lurking somewhere on my pages remains indefatigable… Or as an Amazon proofreader would perhaps have it: in the fat gable…?
Typos, eh? I think they’re just the fingers’ way of keeping authors’ minds humble…
There’s not much writing going on at the moment: partly because the routine distractions of life are preventing me from having much mental bandwidth and partly because I’m simply not in the mood. Given that my writing is a hobby, I’m not going to try to force myself…
Instead, I’m trying a bit of an experiment. Having two books in circulation gives me the opportunity to try out different pricing regimes.
I’ve always kept my pricing as low as possible within the constraints of Amazon’s royalty-based rules. I’ve also learned, from promotions, the risks of ascribing zero value to a book. One thing I’ve not done so far is try out the lowest royalty band and, as the levels of royalty I receive are pretty much nil, now seems a good time to play with a few changes!
Personally, I think Thunder is a big step forwards from Firebird; so I’ve been considering for a long time adjusting my pricing to reflect this. Although, as an aside, the first US review for Thunder claims that Firebird is better… hey ho… each to their own…!
Anyway, for a few weeks I’m going to trial having Firebird at the lowest price point available to me: 0.99 cents. Let’s see how it goes and I’ll let you know if I see any results…
I’m back from my trip to Canada. The long journey was recompensed by lots of nice powder-snow, some bright sunshine, and news that the UK was colder – at times – than British Columbia! Have to admit: it is blooming chilly here… Roll on Spring!
I’ve noticed that, whilst I was away, both Firebird and Thunder have picked up some nice reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m always very grateful for any words of support and encouragement, so thank-you to those who have taken time to write them! I really appreciate your support.
Am still storyboarding my next project which will be a return to a science-fantasy, action and adventure, theme. More news and updates shortly…
[Now then, where did I pack my woolly jumpers...???]
I entered a short story contest, a few weeks back, which was Valentine’s Day themed. It was something of an accidental entry, in that I wasn’t originally planning to join in but then I had a whacky story idea and decided to use the exercise for a bit of descriptive-practice. My twist – because I seem to have an inherent need to swim against prevailing currents – was to try to write a Valentine’s piece from an Action and Adventure slant, and to do it in as few words as I could whilst successfully circumnavigating the competition’s mandatory word-hurdles… Well, nothing-ventured, eh?
The main character had to be alone on Valentine’s, the word limit was 600 to 1200 words (I ended up at around 800 after edits) and the mandatory words were: heart, ice cream, toe nail clippers, black and flower (yes; Mistress Suzie can be just plain strange at times).
Anyway, here’s the story:
Forget Me Not
by Anthony Bellaleigh (830 words)
His heart beat furiously against the rough-spun fabric of his shirt as if it was trying to fling itself out of his chest. Above the trench-line, the sky was a swathe of angry black-grey clouds tinged with a barely visible hint of amber that might be from the distant fires but was, more likely, from the pending dawn. Another day was starting: February 14th.
With one trembling hand he reached inside his jacket – his fingerless woollen gloves had done little to hold back the frosty cold of another French winter’s dawn and his fingertips felt as if they had been planted in a tub of ice cream – but he was relieved to find her letter was still there: tucked into an inside pocket. Despite his icy-digits, he could just make out the well-thumbed edges of the scented parchment and, for a second, he felt warm inside.
‘I wonder how Lucy will spend Valentine’s,’ he thought to himself as something whistled overhead, streaking away into the far distance, heading inexorably in a direction that he really didn’t want to travel but knew that he’d have to follow soon…
“Look sharp!” a deep booming voice barked out through the half-light from somewhere to his left, “Keep your eyes peeled!”.
Oh, how he longed for the chance to be at Lucy’s side today! How he longed to be able to return to the so-called trials and tribulations of his earlier life. To days when looming exams made you think that nothing could get more stressful. To days when the worst you could expect for failure was a whipping from your father. To days when…
“Hodgkins! Look alert, I said!” The booming voice demanded his attention. “Jump to it you miserable Toenail! Clippers, get the ladders up!”
Another of his fellows – he knows only too well that he has no real friends here; just those who shoot at him, or don’t shoot at him – moved in front of him as he quickly straightened up and readied himself: pulling shut his jacket to cocoon its precious paper contents close to his chest, and buttoning the fastenings tight as if in some crazy way this fabric could offer shielding from what was to come.
Clippers glanced back at him. Nicknamed after his role as make-do barber for the squad, and generally a quiet and softly spoken soul, this other man’s wide eyes now betrayed only mortal fear and terror. He guessed his own would look much the same. Neither of them smiled.
“Ready?” Clippers asked.
He grimaced and nodded, but could not speak.
Oh, to be back in the schoolyards, to be stealing glimpses of her beauty across classrooms, to be running hand-in-hand across the muddy lanes, and into the meadows. To be grabbing handfuls of wild flowers to present to her whilst hot blood rushes to warm cheeks. To be feeling; not fear, but an animal flush of lust and desire. To be kissing her soft lips…
The last remnants of night vanished in a sudden blaze of white light which turned the trench wall before him into a hard line of black-haven and the sky beyond into a fiery glimpse of Hell. A rippling concussive boom ripped through the air, pounding at his stomach and blasting at his eardrums. And now more blazing lights. And more concussive booms. Until it all becomes an endless, awful, roar of noise. And the white light becomes swathed in red, and yellow, and even black as huge handfuls of earth are grabbed by monstrous invisible hands and thrown skyward…
“Get ready now!” yells the voice.
He places one, unexpectedly steady and supportive, hand on Clipper’s trembling shoulder, and leans forward so he can be heard as he whispers into his comrade’s ear, “We’ll be okay, mate. This push’ll be the one. Just you wait and see. The barrage will clear the way this time…”
“It didn’t before,” Clippers whimpers.
He knows that Clippers is right. It’s never worked before…
Not in 1914, nor 1915, nor yet in this year…
A piercing whistle strikes up from somewhere in the distance. Then another. And another. The chorus builds and the alien sound moves ever closer…
This is it then.
“Now!” yells the booming voice and his own Captain’s penny-whistle joins the piping throng.
Clippers starts up the ladder in front of him, legs shuddering and bouncing the rickety wooden frame as he climbs fearfully toward the reaper who waits patiently for them all: bare inches inches above, bare seconds away…
And he pushes his own reluctant limbs forward and starts to follow as fizzing and whistling sounds and small plumes of dirt announce the arrival of machine gun rounds.
In the distance the barrage continues.
Screams begin to rip through the air.
Clippers disappears over the top.
Disappears into Hades.
And now he is following.
And he wonders as he climbs, how his Lucy will spend Valentine’s Day…
[p.s. Am going to be off-line for a couple of weeks: see you when I get back!]
I’m pleased to report that I’ve had a very encouraging couple of weeks. Out of the blue, several very nice people have sent me messages of support for my writing which, beyond the selfish pleasure I derive from playing with words on my own, makes it all feel worthwhile…
It’s therefore the ideal time to put some concerted effort into my next project…
For me, a story-idea begins as a base premise, usually comprising of one or possibly two central themes. I churn these concepts in the back of my mind, usually over several years, until one or more of them take root and start to blossom into potential story-lines. At this point, characters have usually started to appear though, in these early stages, they are mostly only vague wire-frames of what they might become. As an aside, I’m currently juggling about half-a-dozen, variously well developed, concepts in the dark and dank corners of my mind.
What seems to happen next is that, toward the point when I’m finishing one manuscript, I start to down-select the next most personally interesting theme. I discovered a while back that my levels of personal-motivation are critical to me actually finishing a novel-length story. In other words, I have to be excited by something for it to get done. Let’s face it: there’re enough burdensome tasks in life so writing – at least for me – needs to be fun!
The new theme then becomes subject to more detailed scrutiny and testing; during which I’ll try to imagine important individual scenes in more detail, start to flesh-out the main characters and begin to define any supporting cast. This then leads to two things, which I seem to do in parallel: character biographies and story-boarding.
Character Bio’s were an area of weakness when I wrote Firebird so, for Thunder, I developed a more extensive single-spreadsheet based system to capture and develop the key characteristics for each player. Along the columns I list the characters, along the rows I list key attributes (eye colour, hair colour, physique, attitude, penchant for getting themselves killed, etcetera). I found this tool provided two benefits: it showed up any key gaps where detail was missing and it also made for easy reference when writing and thereby helped to maintain consistency and avoid silly mistakes. Unlike some writers, I don’t bind myself down, nor my characters, by trying to plan out every last nuance of personality for them straight away. Rather, I let myself get to know the characters during the writing and am prepared – cautiously – to fine-tune aspects of their behaviours, or sometimes even role, downstream.
For my storyboards, I use a couple of A1-sized flip-charts which are hanging on the wall of my workroom. I write up ideas – scenes, characters, hook-lines, names, and anything else that pops up into my mind – on post-it notes and then stick them randomly on one of the charts. This is my “idea pool” for the novel and it usually gets added to right through to the end of drafting. Unused ideas are noted at the end of the process and saved for later projects. On the second flip-chart, I use tiny post-its to build up swimming lanes – often by main character – of key scenes and staging points from front to back of the story. Initially, these are usually very high level with only one or two signposts along the way then, as I start to draft, I fill in the gaps, cross-overs and interlinks. The great thing about using post-its is that you can reshuffle as you go – useful if you need to make a change or if you come up with a new and interesting dynamic during the draft. This kind of storyboarding helps me to avoid plot-holes and any huge leaps or disjoints between diverse – or even chronological – sections. It also seems to help develop a more constant pacing and balance throughout a longer manuscript.
These two processes are what I’m in the middle of for my next book and, as per the title of this post, it’s time for me to get cracking with them! But, having read my ramblings, what about you? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any tricks or tips for Character Bio’s or Storyboarding that you would recommend? Now is the perfect time for me to find out about them!
So you’ve toiled long and hard to pull together your first manuscript – or second – or whatever. You’ve fought the good fight and, by some miracle, formatted it so it looks at least half-decent on an eReader. You’ve swallowed back your fears, assembled your ego around you, grimaced, and pressed the publish button…
How do you judge success?
It seems to me that this is just as variable a concept as the diverse subject matter of stories themselves…
For me, my views have varied over the last couple of years and I guess I’m now coming to terms with the following phrase: whatever defines success for one of my stories, it will likely take a long time to reveal itself.
I suppose a lucky – very lucky – few will see success immediately. For some reason their books will spark a wildfire of enthusiasm amongst readers and their stories will fly off the shelves; personally I think this is an extremely remote possibility if you don’t have the weight and power of a publishing house’s promotional machinery behind you.
The rest of us will need to be much more patient.
I started writing with a simple ambition: to test myself at a personal level. Pretty much just to see if I could do it… It’s not an easy task, as I’m sure most of you will agree… In the end, I produced a book and faced a new question: what next? This was what led me to publish… no dreams of grandeur, or huge reward, or whatever… Basically, if I’d done nothing, Firebird would have sat rotting on a disk-drive somewhere. It would have had absolutely zero possibility of being enjoyed by anyone else.
Now Firebird has been out there for almost two years. It has been downloaded several thousand times but, generally, I feel pleased if it moves even a tiny handful of copies in a month. Is this the benchmark? Well – given the amount of books on offer, the amount of books I personally get through in an average year and the very limited exposure my books get – maybe the answer is yes? For sure, I feel very honoured and humbled that my story is still occasionally being picked up and read by people.
What publishing also did though, was give me new insights. The simple, brutal, reality of having your writing in general circulation, the often critical nature of feedback, and the occasional positive encouragement have enabled me to step forwards and hone my writing skills. I am, despite the occasional pains, eternally grateful for this.
It has also helped me to move on and produce a second book.
These things would have been denied me, if I’d not taken the plunge.
Like so much in life, the different facets of success are often hidden in the corners of the obvious, tucked away behind so-called measures of popularity, masked by charts, star-ratings, and sales figures… In my opinion, being successful is not, on its own, a viable motivation for writing. Better, surely, to write simply to find out if you can, to stretch your imagination, to see if you can find personal pleasure and enjoyment from the process and, in the end, to discover whether your tales can entertain others?
Perhaps the bottom line becomes: does it matter; tell your stories anyway?
Because an untold story has no chance at all.
… Almost permanently wet.
It feels like only yesterday that I sat and drafted last year’s resume and here I am again: doing my annual audit and checking off what’s happened. It’s kind of scary how quickly this comes around - time flies past us at an alarming pace, doesn’t it?
So anyway, 2012 was a year of quite significant contrasts for me. Almost a “game of two halves”, if you’ll allow me to disabuse a soccer analogy…
For much of the year I was, effectively, unemployed. This is never a great place to be but I didn’t give up on finding gainful employment (of the type that pays well enough to cover the bills) and was lucky enough to land a new role this Autumn. That, on its own, would probably be achievement enough for one year but I have a few more:
- Garden fences painted (despite the perpetual rain)
- Garage woodwork stripped and painted (despite the perpetual rain)
- Loft boarded (because there’s only so much rain you can take…)
- Bedroom decorated (will it ever stop raining?)
- Olympic flame watched (in a brief gap in the deluge – lucky me!)
- Olympics cheered (along with 55 million other damp Brits)…
And, probably most importantly:
- Thunder written (12 hours a day until May, then left alone for three months, then edited alongside starting my new job – i.e. over a month of far too many hours a day)…
With Thunder, I’d set myself a personal goal to see if I could improve on some of Firebird’s flaws: I think I have. I’d also set myself a goal to publish in Autumn: I only just made it. So why push so hard? Why not just kick back, or give up, or not bother to set stretching goals?
Well, regular visitors will know that my year also included the unexpected and sudden loss of a friend. A friend from whom I’d drifted apart, but was on the verge of meeting up with. A meeting that circumstance kept delaying until, one day, he just didn’t come home from his holidays…
It’s shocking when something like this happens. Especially when death comes prematurely to someone only a handful of years older than me. But it serves to remind us that life is a short and fleeting gift. Time travels past us too quickly. The rain may never stop…
We have a choice as to what we do with the life we’re given: use it, or lose it. And I’m determined to try my best to grab every second I’m lucky enough to be gifted, and to wring the most I can out of every single one…
Here’s to 2013: another cycle, another raft of seconds, another chance to do crazy things, to laugh, to cry, to make merry, or hay, or just to have fun…
Happy New Year Everyone!
So this is it. More than five years of musing, and over a year of hard writing, bring me to this point… Thanks to all of my visitors and alpha and beta readers for your help over the last few months. Now it’s time to see if Thunder can stand the scrutiny of general release!
Available from today…
Mine is a love story, written in blood.
A tale of an ordinary life, destroyed in the same white-hot furnace of fire and metal that snatched away everything I ever wanted, that stole everyone I loved, that scorched my soul and then forged me into something new.
I am changed, alone, and in pain – with no friends, no allies, and no-one I can trust.
People call me Nick Tonner, but I don’t care much for names. Some might say I’m a hero. Some might say I’m no better than those I despise. Call me what you will, because it doesn’t matter to me.
I have nothing left to lose, and only one thing left to live for…
I want you.
These are just a few of the words which run through my mind as I hear about the heartbreaking news from America today.
I can’t begin to imagine the pain and suffering being felt by the families, friends and communities of those who have been so cruelly stolen from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut… For once, words fail me.
I’m in the middle of publishing Thunder – which I’ll continue to do – we must never let evil distract us from our path, we must never let it win – and there is a section in the book which, I think, is fitting… I won’t glorify the sick gunman by naming him here. But this is my message to whatever twisted spirit he might have left behind him…
Personally, I hope he’s found himself in the midst of my preferred version of the afterlife. I hope he’s discovered that Hell is a very different reality. I really hope he’s screaming in agony in a fiery pit of eternal torture. Because, if he is, I know exactly how he feels…