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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.

 

 

Three Years Later…

Firebird Front Cover (v5)And still learning.

When I published Firebird, in May 2011, I wasn’t sure what would happen. At the time I was simply bored of playing the traditional submissions-lottery with a book that was never intended to conform.

You see, there are no youthful wizards in Firebird.  Nor any tribal wars fought by teenagers.  There are no vampires, zombies or tortured Scandinavian policemen.  I deliberately set out to avoid convention and can imagine the reaction of the publishing houses when Firebird hit their desks: “Nope,” they would have been muttering, grimly shaking their heads, “this book’s not the same enough for us…”

Three amazing years later, I’m pleased I took the plunge.  I’m pleased that I released this tale of one extraordinary creature, and a handful of very ordinary humans, from its years of enforced incarceration on my hard disk drive.  Why?  Because there are clearly a great many readers who, like me, are on the lookout for something different.  Who enjoy change.  Who don’t mind if the next page is not as entirely predictable as the last.

So here I am: three years on, with two novels in circulation, both of which continue to be picked up by adventurous bookworms.  I always have and shall remain eternally grateful to everyone who dips into my writing.

Would Firebird look different if I wrote it again today?  The answer to that question is a resounding, yes.  There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t discover a new nuance of language, a new word, or a new technique I might be able to apply.  Would Firebird be any better if I rewrote it?  I doubt it.   There comes a time when too much tinkering destroys raw accessibility.  As far as I’m concerned, Firebird’s a done deal now.

Besides: I’ve got too many new stories to tell and, who knows, with the amount of spare time I have for writing, I might even finish one of them by the time Firebird is six…

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…

‘Tis The Season…

To be … whatever you want to be!

Merry Christmas

❄❄❄ Merry Christmas! ❄❄❄

And on that basis, here’s a quick update on what’s been happening in my busy world over the last few weeks.

First off, I’ve managed to find a few fragments of time and done some more work on G’host.  Admittedly, not as much as I’d have liked, but some all the same.  I’m pleased about that, but also slightly disappointed that I’m not going to be able to post a scene from it, here, as a tribute for the holidays.

The scene I am working on suits the season very well and my idea to use it as a post is what inspired me to get back to the keyboard.  Unfortunately, inspiration can only get you so far, and tiredness from several months of long work days doesn’t facilitate good prose.  So the scene is coming along but is, sad to say, nowhere near ready enough for a public airing.

It is, however, nice to report that I’ve had some more, very nice, positive feedback from a number of readers over the last month.  This is always a real joy.  Thanks to anyone who’s ever offered encouragement to any writer: dark days haunt more than just winter months…

I could blather on about restarting my ski-fit regime in readiness for heading for the slopes next year, or about finally sorting my kitchen out after six years of putting up with randomly painted duck-egg blue walls but, as you can tell, it’s not exactly rock and roll news, and so I’m not going to waste any more of your precious seconds in the countdown to the big day…!

Rather, I’ll close by saying: to any stranger who happens past, and to all of my kind and wonderful friends, I wish you all a joyful Christmas and prosperous New Year.

See you in 2014…!

Back; Not Necessarily…

… in the land of the living.

Yes: I’m back from my holidays.  For the record, I only had a couple of cheap weeks on the beach and returned a while ago to the usual chaotic crash-dive of return-to-work-related issues.  To be honest, I feel like I need another break already!

But enough of that.  My holiday did exactly what I needed it to.  It cleared my head and, sitting on the beach, a little bit every day, I’ve somehow, amazingly, drafted over 25,000 words of my next story.

Being straight with you, I’m under no illusions that many of these draftings will end up in the recycle bin.  Equally, many sections will require considerable, relatively easy, expansions when I start pulling it all together into a comprehensive whole.

When I get some time, I’ll pull together a graphic like I did for Thunder, to illustrate progress. I have no idea whether any of my visitors find this useful but, hey ho, it does serve as a bit of self-stimulus to make sure I keep putting in the writing hours!

Anyway, I suppose I ought to get back to the somewhat abstract title of this post: it’s a veiled reference to the subject matter of the new novel.  I’m not going to reveal too much yet, but I can say that I’ve settled on the title…

The next book will be called G’host.

The Numbers Game…

I’m not sure why, but there’s a seemingly endless fascination with rankings and chart numbers.  In certain circumstances, sports for instance, this all makes sense: it’s about competition and determining victory and there are a whole host of governing bodies to ensure fair play.  Charts are also considered helpful to indicate relative popularity but this kind of benchmarking is much less reliable and is liable to manipulation or abuse.  Of course, you might have guessed that the charts that I seem to be most fixated with are Amazon Sales Rankings.  I confess: I try not to look at them  but for some reason I can’t help it!  Anyway, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve experienced about them over the last few years.

When I first published Firebird, back in 2011, the concept of ebooks was still very new.  Back then, Firebird would oscillate between the top 10,000 and top 100,000 books in both the UK and US Amazon charts.  At that time, the general author consensus was that if you were in the top 10,000 then that was a very good sign.

Nowadays, however, things have changed.  All of the major publishing houses have, to some extent, conceded to the ebook format and published their back catalogues.  Indie writers, good and bad, are pouring their wares into the e-marketplace and the trend of publishing shorter stories as “novellas” is not doing anything to reduce this literal tsunami.

So, two years on, Firebird is selling more strongly than ever – albeit that this means approximately two copies per week – but is now generally ranked as being between 100,000th and 200,000th.  A good day might see it spring up to a circa 30,000th slot but, within a day, it’ll drift back into its more normal resting place.

Thunder, despite having a lower overall circulation, is not too dissimilar.  It ranges between 200,000 and 500,000th.

Initially I was concerned about this.  Now I’m not.

I celebrate days when either book breaks the top 100,000 as this tells me that someone new has been kind – or perhaps crazy – enough to try out my efforts and I have settled into being satisfied that if my books are anywhere in the top million then that’s still pretty impressive considering the wealth of global competition they’re up against.

And who knows?  I may have to add even more zero’s to my benchmark in another couple of years!

That’s it, I’ve started…

Well my trip to Finland was, once again, extremely restful.  Except for the journey home where, somehow, I managed to damage my lower back on the way to the airport.  Eight hours of transit and tight connections later; I couldn’t even stand upright unassisted!  Ouch …

My doctor says, “Things like this happen, as you get older…”

Thanks, Doc.  That makes me feel much better…

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve made a start on the new novel and the opening pages – assuming I don’t shuffle things as I go – have been drafted.  Openings are vital for any piece of writing, particularly novels.  They need to drag readers in by the eyeballs and may, in the end, determine the entire success or otherwise of a story.  As a result, I try not to be too precious about the opening pages.  If I get a better idea later, I’ll swap stuff out.  Looking back, Firebird hasn’t got a ‘bad’ start but I think Thunder’s is better.  For me, I’m looking to stir up shock, confusion and to create intrigue from the get-go – although I don’t deliberately sit down and try to force this to happen – and recently I’ve been to paying more attention to missing things out, rather than putting them in…  In other words, I’ve noticed that a little deft cutting sometimes adds more value than a hundred extra words…

On another subject entirely, I noticed yesterday that Amazon have adjusted their pricing regimes again.  As a result, I’ve been able to reset Thunder’s pricing so that it’s a little bit lower than it’s been since publication.  Other authors might also want to check out the pricing policies in detail.  Certain country price points are lower than the US which, thanks to Amazon’s global price-matching rules, means that there’s a little bit of headroom to offer better deals for your readers (and for us to still get a few cents to contribute toward our next computer upgrades!).

Right, it’s time for me to go and enjoy the, highly unusual and probably short-lived, British sunshine…!

Tomato Time…

Yes, it’s almost time for my annual pilgrimage to Finland and I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and family over there.

This year’s visit is timed to coincide with the local town’s Tomato Carnival which celebrates the community’s agricultural cornerstone of… you guessed it… tomatoes.  Blog regulars will be familiar with this concept and there are even a couple of photos in here somewhere.

It’s always fascinating for me to have chance to visit, what is for me, a completely different lifestyle: almost a different world.  Where noise consists mainly of the sounds of wildlife, where affluence is having fresh food and a good fire, where happiness blossoms from simple social interaction and rich conversation.  The Finns do always make me feel so very welcome.

Work has been, what can only be described as, “mental” for these last few weeks and, whilst this has been going on, I’ve only been able to find enough moments to continue to develop the story-lines, content, and characters for the next novel.  As a result, I’m also looking forward to getting some solid writing time whilst I’m away.  I’m really itching to start drafting; whole passages are queuing up in my head and bursting to get out!  And I might even have finally settled on the book’s title, but I’m not quite ready to share that, yet…

Firebird and Thunder continue to tick over gently, which is a real delight, and I’ve even received some nice encouragement from readers recently.  So, wish me luck: it’s time to get Book Three started…!

RIP Iain Banks

And so, once again, we are reminded that the only certainty in life, is death.  And that death can come with little warning, at any time.  Every breath is precious, every second should be treasured…

This is not a long post.  I cannot claim to be anything other than one of the many hundreds of thousands of people who have been captivated by the words, worlds, and utterly staggering imagination of this seemingly quietly-spoken Scotsman.

Iain, wherever you are, know that your life made a lasting mark on me and I, for one, will sadly miss you.

What’s Up?

Apologies for a distinct lack of posts recently.  I’ve been kept rather busy by the boring and mundane necessities of living a normal life and only being a part-time writer!

Nonetheless, I am cracking on in the background on the storyboard, character biographies and research for my next novel.  Things are progressing nicely although, for the first time, I’ve realised that the scope of the tale is now definitely far beyond a single work.  This is kind of tricky, and new ground for me.  Whilst Firebird and Thunder are both written with open hooks for pre or sequels, the storyline I sat down with for each of them had a contained beginning, middle, and end.  It was clear how much ground they’d cover.  This is not the case with the new one. In fact, I’m scoping and storyboarding across what will likely be several manuscripts.

There is the option to write one, massive, blockbuster – but I’m not sure that the few fans I’ve got – or even I – have got enough patience to wait till I’ve finished it! So, as it is, I’m just marking up thoughts and ideas for later works and concentrating on honing the important components for at least a “Book One”.

It’ll be another sci-fi/fantasy/action and adventure mashup with possibly a tiny dash of UF just for the hell of it…  Crazy?  Maybe, but my objectives have and always will be to try to create stories that are a little bit off the beaten track!

Anyway, I also promised an update on how my pricing programme was progressing.  Well at the moment, my jury is still out.  Firebird does seem to be ticking over slightly more regularly at its price of 99c and Thunder is also selling the odd copy at my old base price.  Recent weeks have seen a very slight upturn, but that might just be a seasonal effect.  I’ll keep you posted as the months roll by.

To be honest, I’m way past thinking my books will ever earn me more than the odd pound or two and I’m genuinely excited and honoured whenever I see that someone has taken a punt to give one of them a go.  And at least with slow sales I’m not under any pressure to pump out the next one!

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