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Fifty, not out…

It’s been a summer of semi-solid writing for me.  A little bit selfish on my part but worthwhile all the same and very enjoyable to boot.  So I’d like to offer a quick apology to my on-line friends for not seeming to be around much over the last couple of months.

I’d also like to say a big thank-you to the continuing trickle of new readers and especially those who’ve taken extra time to post reviews for Firebird and Thunder.  I’m really grateful for your encouragement.

So, how’s G’host coming along then?  Well, I’m satisfied with what I’ve managed over these last few weeks.  I’ve written around 15,000 words of draft which takes the base text to circa 45,000 words.  Allowing for edit, that’s about 40% of my target length.  Importantly, these 45,000 words are the opening and, for me, this always takes the longest.  Once the scenes are set, the key characters are in place and the main threads are initiated, the writing tends to feel like it’s all downhill from there.  That’s not to say the rest of the story will be easy.  Or that I won’t get bogged down or blocked from time to time.  It’s just that the start, for me, is always the longest part of the process.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a future-thinker and in my head I can always see where I’m going more clearly than where I am right now?  Perhaps this is just normal for writing?  Who knows?

And, on the subject of downhill from here, I suppose I should also mention that I’ve just turned fifty … Long pause … I’m not quite sure how this milestone crept up on me, or how I feel about it, but my friends and family have done a fabulous job of making sure I didn’t just ignore it! I’d like to thank them all for not allowing me to follow my normal routines and let it pass by unnoticed.

So this is where I am.  Fifty, not out … and still chipping happily away.

 

 

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You Can Look, but…

… You can’t touch.

Over the last couple of years I think I’ve slowly started coming to terms with some of the unexpected side-effects which emerge when you put out a book.  I’ll be honest, it’s taken me a while and, lowly part-known that I am, I can understand why those who are more famous often have a love:hate relationship with the internet and social networking sites.

This blog is probably the only part of my on-line portfolio that I have any real control over.  By this I mean, in terms of content.  Everywhere else is subject to  random coincidence, semi-intelligent web-crawling programmes, industrial-scale marketing, the good side of humanity and sadly, on occasion, the worst side too.

This site is therefore the only place I feel confident enough to respond publicly to anything I see or read elsewhere.  Yes: I’ll reply to Twitter direct messages, or to emails, but these are by nature quite private exchanges. Most importantly though: I have a policy of absolutely not responding to any book reviews I receive for Firebird or Thunder.

As far as I can tell – at least so far – this is turning into a good strategy…

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time talking with some communications professionals.  The context of these conversations was business-oriented but also interesting from a writer’s perspective.  You see, business – as much as anyone else on-line – suffers from Trolls and the professionals’ consensus for dealing with these sorry souls was simply: ignore them.

Of course, downright illegal, threatening or abusive messages can and should be acted on – usually by a request for deletion of the offensive matter to the relevant web-site service provider.  As for the rest of the sad-garbage, it’s most often an attempt to stimulate a reaction and, hence, gain a platform – i.e. to be noticed – and the recommended means to deal with this is to do nothing.  With no fuel, the experts advise that the fire-starter will head off and try to make misery elsewhere.

Of course, on the rare times when I need to do this, I come away with my sense of justice feeling bruised and I have to work hard not to react and try to fight my own corner.  This is tough but one thing helps me to get through it and stops me from posting something I know I’ll regret.  And it’s one thing not even the smartest troll can feed off, something no one single individual could ever trace backwards.  It’s one thing that adds value to me and yet vilifys the worst of them.

My one thing?  Simple: I take any form of inflammatory or abusive feedback as a free insight into areas of human-nature which would normally be alien to me.  A free insight which I can adapt, amplify and feed into my next bad-guy.

And anyone who’s read any of my work will know that the bad guys in my novels rarely enjoy much in the way of a happily-ever-after…!

[p.s. I’m off travelling for a while during March, so I apologise in advance if I seem slow in responding to comments or questions…!  Cheers, AB]

Hopes and Fears…

The truth is: I’ve not been writing much recently.  The start of 2014 has been incredibly busy, in the main due to an intrusive level of work but also due to a series of enforced home maintenance tasks – brought gustily to various walls, roofs and fences by the UK’s unprecedented run of storms.

I’m not too stressed about the writing because the extra thinking time is always helpful.  And besides, I’m not prepared to force myself to write against my will.  It would steal the pleasure of the task, and it’s only for the fun of it that I write.

I have, however, been reading and this is what brings me to this post.

I’m not sure if other writers have the same problems that I have with reading nowadays.  My problem is that since starting to write, reading has become more difficult.  I notice more and more detail.  Can almost feel the author’s writing process as much as see the story.  Am fascinated by layout and punctuation.  And the net result, is that a book for me now has to jump an even larger hurdle for me to become engaged with it.

To be honest, I sometimes wonder if this is robbing me of enjoyment I would otherwise have just settled back and taken in.  But there’s not much I can do about it now…

Anyway, I’ve recently read the second Lee Child (Jack Reacher) novel, called Die Trying, and I really enjoyed it.  I’ve only recently discovered Lee Child’s work and can see why he’s so popular.  His main character is accessible to both sexes, strong yet vulnerable, mysterious, likeable.  His writing style naturally lends itself to creating pace and excitement through the use of short, often staccato, sentences.  In his first novel this technique was somewhat overdone, perhaps even clumsy.  It was therefore a real pleasure to see how both story structure and layout had evolved into the second instalment and it is with genuine interest that I now look forward to seeing how his writing evolves into the rest of the series.

And here is my first observation: evolution.  For me, writing isn’t just about a good or unique premise.  It isn’t just about pounding out another few thousand words.  It’s about learning a craft and producing something that’s  fractionally more elegant than what was done before. I’m not sure that I find this very often when I’m reading.

After Lee Child’s book, and in my usual eclectic style, I decided to try out Wool, the ex-indie writer Hugh Howey’s now ultra-successful novella bundle.  I picked it out and dived in and, to start with, I could see why.

The opening of the first part (Novella One) is packed with mystery.  The main character is human, real, accessible and quite obviously in mortal jeopardy.  The world he starts to paint is bleak and frightening: a compressed social-microcosm.  I can sense that there is every chance that this character’s tale will carry a lengthy storyline and I, as a reader, wanted to know more.

Then it ended.

Abruptly.

And Part Two started over.

And Part Two ended.

Just as abruptly.

And Part Three started over…

For the record, there is obviously nothing wrong with this soap-opera style of episode based drama that cycles endlessly around an ever expanding character base.  It’s at the heart of a number of bestsellers.  It’s just unfortunately not for me.

More specifically, my greatest disappointment was that the structure stamped out all hope. Yes, it’s a post-apocalyptic, doomsday tale.  I was ready for that.  Yes, it’s bleak.  It has to be.  But, nonetheless, amongst fear, hope burns brightest.  Without hope, where would we venture, why would we even begin to strike out into the unknown, how could we reach forwards into the future?

Looking back into Lee Child’s book I can see this blend of hope and fear played out before me.  Can see him directing his characters across the pages.  See the clear beginning, middle, and end.  With Wool, all I can see is a fractured series of character driven sound-bites, revolving around a single basic theme, with no clear direction, no prescribed intent, and no real hook to make me want to find out what happens next.

Don’t get me wrong: books are different for everyone, and I’m delighted Hugh Howey has found success.  His story doesn’t grab me but it clearly grabs lots and lots of other readers.

I certainly don’t regret trying the book out.  If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on an unexpected insight into something valuable: a deeper appreciation of hope and fear.  So, thanks Hugh, I genuinely hope your sales continue to soar.  The challenge for me is to see if I can take this lesson and to see if I can develop my own skills a little bit more…

To Blog, Or Not to Blog, That Is The Question…

First off: apologies to the esteemed Mr. Shakespeare who has probably just spun a merry pirouette in his grave…  Alas, poor Yorick!  I couldn’t help myself, Horatio…

Okay.  Enough of that…

On my daily travels around blog land – which are an occasionally-disciplined meandering; motivated by my desire to support fellow authors, an interest in other like-minds, and my genuine belief that there is much that we can learn from one another – I come across all kinds of blog strategy.  They range from “post, post, post,” to “once in a blue moon.”  Personally, I don’t mind either, providing the content is interesting and, for me at least, that’s the rub.

My strategy has always been to post only when I feel I’ve got something to talk about and I try to treat posts as being a “shop window” onto my imagination.  This means that I follow a similar, if shortened, process to the one I use for my books, namely: draft, leave alone for a few hours, review/edit, leave alone, review/edit, etcetera, then finally, post.  A side-effect of this is that posts are not quite realtime, but I’m of the opinion that timing is less important than inadvertently undermining my, albeit embryonic, brand as a writer.

Of course, I’d agree that blogs should always be something of a personal ledger, a lighthearted collection of random thought-fragments and ideas, and they should provide an insight into personality and general Weltanschauung.  They will, most often, be light-touch and will likely play host to the requisite population of mischievous typos.  After all, we’re only human, and the next major manuscript is probably crying out for its rightful attention.  But, nonetheless, I would still advocate a careful approach to all publication, especially for authors.

Perhaps this is wrong?  Perhaps I should worry less and post more?  I’d be interested to hear what other people think on this subject.  Especially given that I know – and respect – how successful and popular many of your own blog sites are…

[p.s. On the off-chance that Mr. Barker (whoever you are) is passing through here: I’d just like to say a quick thank-you for your recent review of Firebird on the US Amazon site.  For the record: I do read, and appreciate, every piece of feedback.  I am very grateful that you took the time to share your thoughts and I was deeply touched by your kindness.]

[p.p.s. The use of question marks?  Hmmm, perhaps you’re right?  I’ll have a think about it…  :)  ]

On Yer Bike…

…Or the post also-known-as, Some Things Don’t Happen Every Day – Part Two.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but something unusual is happening in the UK at the moment. No, I’m not talking about the orange-yellow, hot, glowing orb that has been peeking out, from time to time, from behind our more normally gunmetal-grey cloudscape.  No, I’m not even talking about the sudden rash of Union Jacks currently fluttering from any available stick or length of string.

No.  What I’m referring to is the sudden – and somewhat disconcerting – propensity for smiling.  I’ve never seen so many happy, talkative and friendly Brits before.

I was out on Saturday and took this picture so you can see what I mean…

What’s going on here then?

A few weeks ago, it was random runners with flaming torches.  Now, it’s brightly coloured bicycles, completely jamming up the highways, and hurtling around like there’s some sort of race on…?

What next, I wonder?

Any minute now, someone’ll be telling me we’re playing host to the Olympics and I can’t see that there’s much hope of us doing that…

For that, we’d need some real support: support of monarchs, princes, lords and ladies; support of parliaments and prime ministers; support of infrastructure providers, police, emergency services and, of course, the public…

For that, we’d need to be prepared to stand in the world’s spotlight and to be examined for all of our strengths and weaknesses: good and bad.

For that, we’d need to be confident in our eclectic – and often eccentric – culture, history and legacies: good and bad.

For that, we’d need to remember how to smile and be friendly to one another…

Good Luck to all the Olympians.

Your achievements are truly breathtaking.

And, of course…,

“GO, TEAM GB!”

Some Things Don’t Happen Every Day…

Olympic Torch

Check out this picture…  Amazing, isn’t it…?  The sun is shining in Warwickshire!

I took this photo yesterday…  I’m not sure who the random strangers are in the foreground, and those brief minutes of glorious sunshine made carrying that flaming torch a bit of a redundant gesture. Nonetheless, it was nice of them to bring something along to brighten up the normal gloom.

So, there it was…  The UK Summer caught on camera… All fifteen minutes of it.

I’m bored of the British rain now.  So I’m going to go away for a few days, to see if I can find some Scandinavian rain instead.

I’m off on my annual pilgrimage to Finland.  Not for Midsummer this time.  No, this year the visit is carefully timed to coincide with the local Tomato Carnival…

Hmmm, it feels strange even just typing it…

Anyway, as a result, my next post is likely to be cram-packed full of the latest fruit news (or ‘vegetable news’ depending on your personal tomato-bias).  I’ll bet you can’t wait and I’ll have to make sure I post something when I get back – and as soon as I’ve eventually sobered up again.

What’s the betting that the weather turns lovely whilst I’m away?

[p.s. Note to self: try not to fall out of any boats this year.]

[p.p.s. Congratulations to all of the Olympic Torch Bearers and to the Relay organisers.  It was great to see everyone out on the streets and enjoying themselves. Here’s to a successful, though doubtless damp, Olympic Games!]

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