Sunday, 20 August 2017

The perils of not being able to say 'no' by Sandra Horn



I am untangled!

I am, constitutionally, a weed. A sad ‘people-pleaser’. A gal  who cain’t say no and is always overly optimistic. Consequently, at great cost to my writing time and energy, I tend to get enmeshed in endless proof-reading for friends, mentoring other friends and, of late, writing a story based on a man’s sketchy recollections of bedtime tales his mother told him almost 70 years ago.

It was great fun to write, I should say, knitting the fragments together and extending it all into a magical adventure, but there was a HUGE snag. He knows nothing about the publishing world and has not even read any children’s literature – or anything about it – since he was a child himself, but he is convinced that the book will be a best-seller and Walt Disney would be bound to want it for a film and we’d end up being millionaires. I had several increasingly firm attempts to tell him how it really is in the publishing world, none of which he listened to.

I have sent the finished version to an agent. We haven’t heard anything yet, of course. It’s a long shot anyway. Meantime, he went ahead and commissioned an artist to illustrate it, at huge expense, in spite of my saying until I was blue in the face that it doesn’t work like that.  Finally, I had to make it absolutely clear that writing the words was the beginning and end of my involvement (we do have a Memorandum of Agreement which says I’m not putting any money in) because I couldn’t bear the nonsense any more. He is very angry and has cut communication – for which relief, much thanks. It’s been exhausting.
What now, though? I’ve also just finished two lots of proofs and some subbing for different people. The new ‘The Silkie’ is just about ready for publication and I’ve even managed to write the back-cover blurb, with some help (why is writing blurbs so impossibly difficult??).

 The Silkie final illustration: Jeannie giving back the Silkie's skin and setting him free. Anne-Marie Perks' lovely delicate work

So, freedom! I’m still on the 52 Poems challenge and am, at present, a week ahead, so at last some headspace to get back to some other writing. After several attempts – opening the file, closing it again in a panic – I have gone back to a YA novel I started more years ago than I care to think, and which I thought I’d finished at least twice. Readers’ comments on the last revision but one were along the lines of ‘some lovely writing but it doesn’t quite work’. Perhaps it will never work, but I have never quite been able to let it go. Some of it is in the first person of one central character but the other main protagonist is mute, so it switches to narrative. I now think that’s OK, but at some point I tried to make him speak so as to overcome any problems the switch between formats might have. It was hopeless. He doesn’t speak and that’s that. He has an extraordinarily rich inner life, verging on the mystical, and it stays inside his head. That’s just how he is.

Reading it again after a very long time with sinews duly stiffened, I can see some inconsistencies that need ironing out, and some places where the continuity needs to be clearer. They are relatively straightforward to correct. I’ve read it with as fiercely critical an eye as I can muster, and I still like it and feel good about it. The next step is to take it to my writing group for their input. After that... who knows?  Just feeling that it is finally complete and I’ve done all I can with it will be something - and perhaps it will be enough.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Just The Facts, Ma’am by Jan Edwards

I am very much aware of the fact that I can be a bit of a cracked record when it comes to research, constantly banging on about how important it is to check even the smallest details before using them in any sort of writing.
It is something that I maintain is hugely important, but when I  came against a phenomenon of commonly held perceptions and whether being correct in the face of general opinion will alienate a reader, I had to wonder if veracity is always seen in that light through a readers’ perception.
A few weeks ago I read a small section from the first draft of Bunch Courtney bk 2. This latest crime novel is firmly anchored in the first weeks of May 1940.  Dunkirk, the Blitz and Battle of Britain are yet to come, yet May remains a pivotal month during the conflict as a whole, not least because it saw a momentous change in our Government.  
As I saw it, in order to place a peg in time, quoting a newspaper headline in which the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain faced a vote of no confidence, dated events quite precisely.
‘Oh, but you are wrong,’ several of the group cried. ‘Churchill was Prime Minister throughout the war years.’
‘Not so,’ I replied, lacing up the hood of my imaginary researchers’ anorak firmly beneath my chin. ‘Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by Churchill on 10th May 1940.’
It was argued that stating Chamberlain as PM at that point might raise questions in the minds of some readers for the above mentioned reasons, and that the distraction of Googling the facts could risk my losing their interest.
It made me think. Should I fudge the facts merely to avoid confusion?
One of Churchill’s first moves in his first month as PM was the mandatory internment of “all potential enemy aliens”, a move that Chamberlain had done all he could to delay because he feared a backlash against innocent people fleeing Hitler and the war. These, I felt, where the event-led issues against which my book are set and thus wholly pertinent to my plot.
Others in the group agreed with me and declared that facts were facts, and it was a given that all writers should use them correctly, especially when they fly directly in the face of misconception.
As I had been reading from a first draft I let the matter pass. The text will be rewritten several times, because that is how I work, and as I had clearly failed to get the point across in this early version it obviously requires some stern revision.
The second point of research raised, however, was a correction too far.  My protagonists had decided to go ‘up to London’ to shop for some urgently needed clothes. Once again the banner of verisimilitude was raised. This time over that old wartime chestnut; rationing.
‘Ah, ‘I was told.  ‘This would not happen because these women would need sufficient clothing coupons to spare for somebody who did not live in that household and that would be very unlikely.’
‘Not so,’ say I. ‘Clothing coupons were not issued until June 1941- a whole year later.’  
I do realise how many people fall into the trap of believing that all things were rationed from the outset (including many items that were never rationed at all). And I can quite see how a casual mention on such a point might raise questions.
But... In my humble opinion it behoves all writers of historical fiction to be as accurate as we are able.
The Chamberlain point can be rephrased easily enough, but shopping is never to be taken lightly whatever the era – and facts are facts!
In her Reith Lectures earlier this year the historian Dame Hilary Mantel raise a similar point, saying something along the lines of; “Our image of a squalid, filthy, disease-ridden past isn’t entirely accurate. Life was precarious, childbirth was dangerous and epidemics did kill, but people wore freshly washed linen, observed complex table manners, associated dirt with disease and managed to retain most of their teeth. In the pre-industrial era, the air even smelled sweeter and sounded quieter.” Mantel says, “When we imagine a lost world, we must first rearrange our senses – listen and look, before judging.”
It is comforting to know that I am not alone in wanting to address inaccurate perceptions of our past, and whilst I may not have Dame Hilary's clout, this should not detract from the points we have to make.
Or alternatively, when it comes to research for my crime fiction, what better than to paraphrase one the of the mis-quoted lines attributed to a fictional crime-buster of yesteryear...
‘Just the facts, Ma’am.’

***
Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @jancoledwards


Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats:

Friday, 18 August 2017

Nervous as ever, by Tara Lyons

Last month, as everyone packed their bags and headed home after another fantastic Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, I was buzzing. And, as much as I enjoyed the festival, it actually had nothing to do with my feelings of excitement and fear.

Sunday 23 July was a big day for me because the third book in my DI Hamilton series, Deadly Friendship, was published. I thought my emotions would be far more contained than they were - not only was this my third book in the series, but, in total, it's the fifth I've published, so I should be used to publication day, right? Wrong! I've realised my nerves build the more I write ... and I'm sure many authors feel this. We're constantly in competition with the last book we've written - if readers loved it, can we match, and even exceed, their expectations? And if they hated it, can we better ourselves and our stories? We all know that we can't please all the people all the time, but gosh, we can continue to try ... and that in itself is nerve-racking.

Above: The fantastic authors, readers and bloggers who
shared a glass a fizz with me at midnight and
right: author Lee Child 
even stopped to pose for a good
luck photo with me on publication day



















I'm sometimes asked by bloggers and readers if I have any special traditions for publication day, and the answer is always no. They've all been on a weekday, so I'm usually at home with my son, doing the nursery run, washing and cooking, and of course interacting with people on social media. So, maybe Harrogate did have something to do with the butterflies in my stomach, because as midnight hit, I was surrounded by amazingly supportive readers, bloggers and fellow authors who shared a drink with me and wished me luck. It certainly made for a memorable publication day.

To the other Authors Electric writers, do you have any fun traditions for publication day?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Editing, by Elizabeth Kay


The days of reliable editors in publishing houses and magazines are long gone. Although many of them are still excellent, the changes in English teaching here in Great Britain over the decades have taken their toll. I notice far more mistakes in professionally-published books than I ever did forty years ago. And if you’re considering the self-publishing route, you need to be your own editor which is very hard work. Always remember that writing is about communicating; if you cannot express yourself adequately, without waffling, you won’t achieve the impact you want.
In the commercial world, word-count is very important. Magazines have specific slots to fill, and children’s books may be part of a series with a house style that doesn’t vary. Competitions will have a maximum word-lengths for short stories, and if you run over you’ll be disqualified.
It is always possible to cut, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Honestly.
For the first pass, look at ways of eliminating repetitions, condensing what you say, and cutting out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. It’s surprising how much you can get rid of this way.
For the second pass, look at the order in which you present information. Would it be more economical to do it another way? Do you have any superfluous characters? If they’re necessary for furthering the plot, can you combine two of them? Do you really need that scene – what does it achieve? Try justifying each sentence to yourself out loud, and asking yourself whether it furthers the plot, develops the characters, and illustrates the theme. Not every scene can do all these things, but it’s something to aim for.
The third pass is the most difficult, and really applies to longer pieces such as books or plays. This is when you still need to get rid of a lot of words, and you have to decide to get rid of a plot thread. It’s a bit like unravelling knitting – when you knit it back together, you must remember to pick up all the stitches. I know I’ve read plenty of books when I suddenly think – whatever happened to X? It’s almost certainly because the book has been edited, and a plot thread hadn’t been extracted all the way back. Now that we have word processors, and search facilities that can hunt out such things it’s much easier to do than previously.
Sometimes it seems as though you’ve edited out important moments to ensure the piece doesn’t over-run. This kind of thing is an integral part of being a professional writer. I have often been required to drastically cut a manuscript – usually because I’ve decided to aim it at a different target. My book for reluctant readers, Fury,
was originally a full-length book for adults and started life at 75,000 words. My agent suggested that, as the main protagonist was a teenage girl, I should cut it to 40,000 and aim it at a different market. When this didn’t sell we re-thought it once more, aimed it at reluctant readers and cut it to 9,000, whereupon it was published by Barrington Stoke. I realized that as the main protagonist was a teenager, it might work better for a younger age-group, so it went from 70,000 words to 40,000. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, and my agent suggested I cut it still further for a different readership. So it went down to 9,000 words, and was published by Barrington Stoke. Now that it’s out of print I’ve re-done it for the Kindle, and this time I can illustrate it myself. It also means re-doing the cover, of course, so that I don’t infringe the copyright of the original cover designer.  So now there's the UK cover, the American one, and my Kindle version.
The whole process of doing such a drastic edit was really interesting. You start by getting rid of everything that isn’t vital, and you condense wherever you can. But that’s not enough for a cut this drastic, so plotlines have to go as well. It’s rather like trying to unpick a piece of knitting or embroidery. If you don’t follow the thread all the way back to the beginning you’re left with a question – what happened to the man in the top hat? Where did the horse go? What was the result of the drought? I think we’ve all read books where something has gone unanswered, and neither the writer nor the editor has spotted the problem. It’s an easy error to commit, but it may stop the suspension of disbelief because it’s reminding the reader that this story is a fabrication – it only ever happened in the mind of the writer, not real life.
Don’t be afraid of cutting. All things are possible!



Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Getting Covered by Jane Thornley

These days, I consider selecting a cover for my books to be as fraught with trauma as writing a blurb, or penning a synopsis, all of which are akin to tooth extractions.

Giving birth to the covers for my four-book series was comparatively easy. Half way through the respective manuscripts, ideas for the cover began percolating, sometimes only in snatches and occasionally arriving fully-formed. Because the series has an art and design thread, I conjured my ideas from a variety of historical and archaeological references, and ran a city skyscrape of Istanbul, London & Rome in the background of all four to denote the international thriller vibe. My graphic designer grasped the concept and used the photos I sent to create four luscious covers that definitely helped sell my books.



Then I decided to switch genres from a fun adventure thriller to psychological suspense--much more serious, much more penetrating, and definitely in need of a different approach. For the first time in my cover history, I hit a wall. It took me ages to come up with anything. Then, because there's a creepy dreamy quality to some sections of the book where my character is climbing the London rooftops, I imagined a cover capturing that one aspect. I sent my notions off to my graphic designer who, unfortunately, did exactly as I asked. I loved the result, by the way--the profile of a woman gazing down over the Victoria rooftops with St. Paul's cathedral in the background, all luminous blues and moonlight like an Arthur Rackham illustration.

However, I soon found out that such a cover said the opposite of psychological suspense. One of my Facebook writing colleagues suggested Peter Pan getting high, as usual, which would be perfect if Peter Pan was a serial killer.

Back to the proverbial drawing board went I. A cover designer reached out to be and floated another concept entirely: a woman crouching on a roof, obviously up to something nefarious in her black leather and spandex, with rain pummelling St.Paul's in the background. Now the mood said edgy, dangerous, utterly suspenseful ... and, as one author suggested, also communicated a vampire US political thriller. Regardless of what my opinions are regarding blood-suckering US politicians, that was not my book.



By now I was beginning to despair. I had alienated my graphic designer who didn't much like another designer's work encroaching on his territory, understandably. On the other hand, he wasn't a cover designer who understood the intricacies of targeting today's book market, and only took my directions, which I apparently wasn't qualified to give.

That's when I stepped back, way back. I turned the task over to the new cover designer along with my blurb and ended up with a striking cover I can live with. She switched Big Ben with St. Paul's to eliminate any US-centric notions that only one dome exists on the planet, and hardened up the scenery to denote the suspense aspect. All potential vampires and resemblences to comic book heros were quickly banished. Job done.




And the whole experience has left me sobered. I have learned that choosing the right cover requires more than a professional artist, it requires a knowledgable cover artist. I realize that I don't want a cover to echo the book's plot so much as to entice and intrigue within the reader's expectations of that genre. I also learned that group-think over covers can be a feeding frenzy. Among the helpful and supportive comments there will always be both haters and lovers, but that the most brutal opinions are often the most beneficial. The best advice I got was to just step away, Jane, step away ...

The general response among my individual writing friends is that they love the new cover. Those who are friends but not writers love it, too, but say it's "not me". Obviously designing one's own cover, even conceptually, puts so much of one one's own creative DNA into the mix that the story may be eclipsed. All my existing series covers definitely bear my brand and reflect the plots, but now I'm changing directions. Actually, I'm a cross-genre buffet writer, anyway, so switching gears suits me just fine.

Now let's see if the cover helps sell the book. That story's yet to come.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Write to Live or… Live to Write? by Louise Boland

Late one evening, some time ago, after the millennials of our group had taken themselves off to bed, an old friend and I decided upon one for the road. The only option left at that hour was an underground nightclub.  

A bouncer stood before the doorway, his bulky frame breaking the sound of the drum and bass pounding up from below; a queue of young kids snaked around the building. I looked down at my beige cardigan and at my friend’s summer wedges, and suggested we might not fit in.  
She looked at me aghast.

‘Nonsense,’ she snapped. ‘We’re writers!’ and taking me by the elbow, she whisked me under the arm of the bemused bouncer and away, down into the throbbing darkness.
What a great philosophy it is, that being a writer is an excuse (no, an actual reason!) for living – for doing things and being in the world and meeting people. As we all know, without it writing can too easily become a regurgitation of other people’s written visions or worst yet, a vessel for Hollywood to pour onto the page.

This last month I haven’t written a jot. My list of excuses to my writing group grows long and ever more extravagant, despite their polite reminders that the point of a writing group is that members should write occasionally. But it has been busy, perhaps a bit too much living and not enough writing.
Fairlight Short
Fairlight Shorts opened in July
The Fairlight Short website (www.fairlightbooks.com) finally launched two days after my last blog. We now have 14 short stories from 10 authors and more on the way.  And we seem to have gone global (in a locational sense) without necessarily meaning to. Our latest contributor is from Oklahoma but lives in Paris and the website stats show readers are visiting from all over the world. Goodness knows how they have found us (which reminds me I need to have a chat with our Creative Web Design Professional about SEO..) but it’s fantastic to see so many lovers of the short story out there, enjoying this wonderful form of literary art.


Helen Stancey, author of The Madonna of the Pool – Fairlight Books’ first publication of a short stories anthology – certainly seems to have found the knack of living to write. Sarah Morgan of On Magazine, said it better than I can. She said, ‘Stancey writes as if she is one of us – an ordinary person, an observer of life who is well briefed in the populace’s little foibles.’
http://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/short_stories/10-minutes/shall-we-dance/
Shall we Dance?

Each of the stories in The Madonna of the Pool is told from the viewpoint of a different character, and yet each rings true with enormous veracity. One of the stories, Shall We Dance, is available for reading on the Fairlight Short website.

Helen first published a couple of novels in the ‘80s and then took a long gap from writing. When I asked her why, she spoke of marriage, of children, and a career. Finally she stopped talking, and shrugged. ‘I suppose what got in the way..’ she said, ‘Was Life, dear boy. Life!’

***

All of the short stories featured on Fairlight Shorts can be found at www.Fairlightbooks.com
Helen Stancey's collection of short stories, The Madonna of the Pool was launched on 27th July.
It can be purchased in UK bookstores and online in the usual places, including Blackwell's bookstore online: Blackwell’s

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Life of Crime by Ann Evans


Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Fest
Over the last few months, there's been something on my mind that's not totally wholesome – crime! No, I'm not about to commit any dastardly deed, I'm talking about crime writing.

I know we're Author's Electric, but I hope you'll forgive me for talking about my latest book, a crime thriller published by Bloodhound Books. 

I wrote Kill or Die (under a different title) some years ago. I sent it off to a couple of publishers, who rejected it for very different reasons. One said it was too graphic and gory, the other said it wasn't graphic enough for a crime novel. So what did I do? Put it away in a drawer and forgot all about it.

A couple of years ago I came across it again, and noticed a handwritten comment on the front page from a reader who had said they liked my style. Encouraged, I read through it again myself, and decided it wasn't too bad. So I re-worked and re-wrote and then eventually sent it out. 


The first publisher I sent it to wanted to publish it, however they turned out to be bogus – and the whole situation was really traumatic. Once I'd extricated myself from their clutches, I tried again. This time I struck gold, with an English publisher called Bloodhound Books, who have been brilliant to work with.

Really getting into the crime scene, I booked to attend the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate in July. It was four days of author talks, author panels, networking and socialising – oh yes, and eating and drinking!


Meeting Lee Child



It was loads of fun, and I came back buzzing with inspiration. Amongst the highlights for me were meeting up with my publisher and some of the other Bloodhound authors, and meeting Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame. 

What a lovely man!! He mingled with the visitors throughout the festival and was happy to chat to one and all.







There was also a really fun evening also when comic Sarah Millican hosted a 'chat show' panel with Lee Child, Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. It was so funny as she asked the sort of personal questions no other mortal would have had the nerve to ask.


Ann and Francis Pryor



Another special event was the Author Dinner where every table had its own well known crime writer, and we had Francis Pryor of Time Team fame. The evening included a Murder Mystery where we had to figure out who the murderer was – and why.








While one of the daytime events was a 'Could you be a Detective' session with 'Think Forensic' who are real forensic detectives, who talked about the things they search for when faced with a crime scene. 

They also run workshops throughout the year, so if you ever need some forensic advice for a book you're working on, they are the people to call. (www.thinkforensic.co.uk)





Since being with Bloodhound, I've read lots of other author's crime novels, and I'm really getting a taste for psychological thrillers and detective books. So much so that I've joined the Crime Writers' Association, so chances are, I'll be heading off to some other crime writing workshops and festivals before too long.

What's your favourite genre for writing and reading?





Kill or Die (ISBN 978-1912175147)is available from all good book stores in paperback and Kindle.


Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/annevansauthor

Blog: http://annsawriter.blogspot.co.uk/
Website: http://www.annevansbooks.co.uk