Thursday, 15 December 2011

Starting the next one . . .

I began writing the sequel to The Toy Sorcerer a week or so ago, after a couple of months constructing the plot, sub plot, beginning, middle and end. I knew where I wanted to finish - with a nice cliff hanger in readiness for book three - so the rest was quite straightforward. Until I actually began to write.
I’ve already had another idea for a sub-plot within the first couple of chapters; this doesn’t exactly smash the months of planning, but most certainly warps it . . . for now. I’ve never really followed any set of rules for creative writing, rather, I’ve learned by trial and error and some fabulous coaching from my editor, Susan Malone. But having said this, I wonder if other writers ‘make it up as they go along’. Personally, I prefer to think of my stories evolving naturally, with well rounded characters leading the way.
Having spent a number of years as an actress and then a commercial script writer, I learned the key skills of immersing myself into a character, so that the performance was completely natural. The very same principle works when writing fiction; if the characters have strong - or even weak - characters, then that is what you portray to the nth degree. Never make your character do something out of character, unless it is integral to the plot (or sub-plot).
One of my characters is destined for great things, however, so the more powerful she becomes, the stronger my storyline is going to have to be to do her justice. Truth is, I don’t know what is going to happen next, only what will happen at the end. Alice’s adventure is mine too and I know she’s going to take me to some incredible places and show me amazing things. Her enemies have some nasty surprises up their sleeves too. Human kind will be seen at its best and its very worst. I will be left wondering if humanity deserves to survive at all, when the darkest truth of our species is revealed - from a very surprising source. . .

I just love these journeys into the unknown . . .

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Marketing Maze

Okay, so you’ve written your book, then rewritten it again, a few times, edited it a few times more and then sat on it for another month or so - or in my case, fifteen years - deciding whether or not it’s ready to be read by anyone else.
When you’ve had one or two stern conversations with yourself, you finally, and rather naively, press the upload button. Upon preview your file looks like it was written in several different languages in numerous fonts. Your serial-abused PC suffers yet more verbal assaults as you reformat your book for the tenth tedious attempt.
Some time later, much later, your preview gets a little tick alongside of it and the deed is ultimately done. You are . . . elated? Popping Champagne corks? Ringing your friends?
Wondering what to do next?
Then your little bubble of self-satisfaction pops upon reading the phrase, ‘Marketing your book,’ and you realise that self-publishing is a little like pulling a loose thread on a sweater.
Everywhere you look someone ‘in the know’ states that you should begin marketing your book at least six months BEFORE you publish! Your attention is momentarily diverted to the copy of ‘Catch Twenty-two’ on your book shelf.
 Ah well, one step ahead you think, no one will have to eagerly await anything.
You read all the blog and author resources pages your sore eyes can handle and sign up for a twitter account.
You gaze vacantly at the little blue bird as the cursor blinks with monotonous impatience, waiting for you to tweet something. You’ve just written a 140,000 word novel, but the seventeen word maximum renders you a drooling fool.
You start a Facebook fan page and offer swapsies with your Linked In groups to ‘Like’ your page. You spend a day religiously perusing hundreds of fan pages, reading profiles, hitting buttons etc, then wait eagerly for reciprocation and hundreds of encouraging comments on your fresh new page.
The numbers look like a death row reunion party.
It can’t be because they don’t like the book - Google stats tell you that so far, NOBODY has read it yet! Well of course they haven’t, because you haven’t SOLD it.
You try and keep from picking up your copy of ‘Catch Twenty-two’ in order to avoid the issue of self-publicising after self-publishing.
And then it hits you. Until someone - a complete stranger - reads the book and reviews it, you may be deluding yourself you can actually write worth a damn.
You need an impartial review from a respected source; preferably someone who has a penchant for your genre/subject matter. Google works overtime for another few hours and you bookmark a number of review sites and blogs. Most of them are not accepting submissions at the moment. Those that are have a backlog of titles before yours comes to the top of the pile.
The cruel trill of marketing demon laughter echoes somewhere in the recesses of your bewildered mind.

Ultimately, there is little point in looking or hoping for shortcuts. The maze beckons, but as I’m beginning to discover, you meet some very interesting people navigating the same route.
An upside at last!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

When do we make our genre preferences?

Some love to curl up with romantic fiction, others bloodcurdling horror; when do we make the choice and what draws us to specific types of genre?
When I was at school the curriculum included Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, Miller, Kipling and best of all, Orwell, but for my own pleasure I read all the fantasy and science fiction books I could get my hands on. My mother has a voracious appetite for reading and although it was she who introduced me to the world of fantasy fiction, she isn’t a particular devotee of it herself, so it must be the machinations of my own slightly eccentric mind that seeks soulmates on Planet Strange.- - good name for a book!
Friends of mine turn their noses up at fantasy novels, claiming that it’s all nonsense and far-fetched make believe; truth is stranger than fiction after all. That maybe so, but often it’s not always very entertaining when your mind has had enough of the 'real world' for one day. And what’s more, it very much depends on the source of the ‘truth’ as to whether one can believe in it. After all, news reporting is supposed to be factual though we’re all aware it’s largely politically biased propaganda.
Mysteries and thrillers; yes I like those too, but then they often border on fantasy to some degree, which is probably why they are on my reading list. One might even suggest that George Orwell’s 1984 is more prophesy than fiction. Sadly, ‘Big Brother’ is now more synonymous with vacuous reality TV than his original incarnation.
Mainstream fiction; what is that exactly? It's a little all-too-encompassing and woolly a description for my brain. I apologise for my ignorance, but it's a category that has always slightly confused my sense of purpose.
Ultimately, we somehow, at some point in our lives, choose which writing genre we would rather spend an evening with. And it seems to me that our reading choices more often than not reflect our personality.
Oh, dear!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why a professional editor is an absolute must for newbie authors.

When I finally decided to actually write my first book, rather than just daydream about it, I was brimming with enthusiasm and determination. I knew what it was going to be about, I had my principal character, my main storyline, basic plot and a reasonable construct. I scribbled away merrily for weeks, with the story and characters evolving nicely, or so I thought, but as I read and re-read I realised that I was losing my way. It had too many points of view and even I was becoming confused as to which of my characters bore the brunt of the action. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
I struggled on, deleting or switching chapters around, editing as brutally as I could, but I still wasn’t happy with the end result. This was back in 1996, when the internet was still fairly new - to me at any rate - and ‘surfing’ meant large waves and hunky fellas as far as I was concerned. However, I fumbled around search engines and eventually found a professional editor with a string of her own published books; Susan Malone.
I sent her my manuscript and upon its return a few weeks later I was blinded by red marker pen. Was I devastated? Not a bit of it; her notes and suggestions were spot on, as though she’d hacked all those spindly trees down and created a clear path for me to follow.
Her criticism was constructive and thought provoking; she made me realise that I needed to visualise my characters in more depth; give them unique idiosyncrasies, thereby enabling the reader to relate to them as ‘real’ people. And yes, I had to stick to no more than three or four POV’s at the very most, making certain that my principal was just that: principal. My skills as a writer improved exponentially as I employed Susan’s rules and tactics and my book became infinitely superior to its early incarnation. I probably rewrote the entire thing a half dozen times, with my editing ever more brutal and pernickety before I was sufficiently confident to ask Susan to make her final comments.
She loved it.
My life underwent a few drastic alterations shortly after I completed the book - another story - but although it has sat on a virtual shelf these past few years, like The Toy Sorcerer himself, it has been dusted down and set on the right path.
Thank you, Susan.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


That elusive and most necessary thing we all need; no matter what the occupation. And when we most crave the spark that could develop into a work of genius, or at least something worthy of a self-congratulatory pat on the back, it remains irritatingly beyond reach.
Conversely, when a shiny bright idea strikes, it tumbles out voraciously, demanding immediate chronicling.
Some insight, however, sneaks in subliminally and takes a while to recognise.
The Toy Sorcerer inveigled its way into my consciousness after twenty-odd years of vividly persistent night terrors.  Like most people I forget the majority of my dreams shortly after waking, but there are some images that remain as dramatic as the full HD late night features that invade on a regular basis.
As a child I was terrified of the nightmares that wouldn’t let me out; repetitious horrors that forced me to participate, despite my being aware that I was dreaming. Decades later I learned that they were lucid dreams. Had I known how to control them as a child, I might not have woken up to a sweat-soaked imprint of my entire body in the bed sheets. When they raid now, I turn the tables and go where I want to, after a fashion. It’s very difficult to describe the boundaries of what you can and can’t manipulate within a lucid dream, but essentially, one creates an entire ‘realm’ with a single thought; almost as though the thought itself is the architect of the landscape. From that point on you interact with and design more dreamscapes. When you finally exit this state, it manifests as an indistinct transition between sleep and consciousness; sometimes taking a while before you can be unequivocally certain that you are actually awake. I occasionally go through a déjà vu stage where I dream that I have sat up in bed and am about to switch on the light etc. It’s only when something mad happens that I realise I’m still caught up in the maelstrom.
Lucid dreams took a bit of getting used to, but I actually look forward to them now. I haven’t yet managed to trigger one, but I know there is a way to train your unconscious to respond to certain stimuli, such as a flashing light or rhythmic sound at the REM sleep stage. Nevertheless; my realm adventures come to me when I most need them and that’s good enough for me.   
It took years of self-analysis to figure out that my nightmares were the symptom of an abyss of repressed feelings. And it took years more to fathom out what to do about it, but once I did, The Toy Sorcerer was born. There is always a little of the author in every fiction book; either in a character or characters, or in their experiences, but Alice is one projected facet of me. Through her I heal myself.
Self-analysis, as opposed to the professional third-party kind, might be considered a cowards way out; hindered by egotistical bias and denial. But even the most tenacious psychoanalyst can never be certain they’ve penetrated the murky depths of their subject’s inner miasma.
Only I can be sure of what is true and real. Dealing with that truth, however, is an entirely different matter. Fortunately for me, I write. And these outpourings have proven to be my salvation.
But I’m still barking mad, thank God!