31 December 2014

Wednesday Writing Prompt #5

If you've been following December's weekly tickles to your writing fancy you should be in the groove by now...

Jocelyn Armby liked to be frightened

So, what have we got?
  • a statement; you could make it speech by adding quote marks, a full-stop to finish the statement, or a conjunction (and/but...) to add a qualifying phrase.
  • who is making the statement: an off-page narrator, or a person implicit in the story?
  • Jocelyn Armby - is a precise rendition of a female name. Do you refer to your friends as such? 
  • Jocelyn Armby - from the name alone, how old is this person?
  • liked to be frightened - use of past tense could mean the usual past tense of current-time fiction, or it could mean that Jocelyn Armby no longer likes to be frightened. Why?
  • frightened - everyone's threshold is different. For some people a painted clown jumping up and saying Boo! is frightening; for others the painted clown itself is frightening. What is Jocelyn Armby's threshold?
  • Jocelyn Armby - is this a person, or an avatar?
This list of questions might be longer than used for previous Prompts, but it isn't exhaustive. Before its end, though, your mind should be fizzing with possibilities. This is what habit does. Make your habits good ones for 2015.  And remember, if you'd like to read a full short story, and see the writing of it dissected and rebuilt, sign up for my occasional Newsletter (top right) and receive a free PDF chapter from Reading A Writer's Mind...

Happy New Year!

27 December 2014

#Ebook Price Rise - Buy! Buy! Buy!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas with family and friends. As we slump out in the nuts, choccie,fruit & alcohol lull before the New Year celebrations, please be aware that this is the final buying weekend of the year. 

On Thursday January bursts through our doors with promises of Health, Wealth & Happiness. At that precise moment the European Union slams a price rise on all downloadable digital items via its VAT "readjustment", and has the brass-neck to declare that micro traders in the rest of the world uphold its onerous regulations and collects, and passes on, its taxes.


So if you have your eye on a downloadable game, or a craft design, or a list of ebooks, DO NOT DELAY. On Thursday you'll find they will cost substantially more - in the UK approximately 17% more. Buy - buy - buy! Now.

24 December 2014

Wednesday Writing Prompt #4

Yes, even on Christmas Eve. Your mission [should you wish to take it] is to make something Festive from this:

'Do you come here often?'

Okay, stop laughing and concentrate for a minute. Cliches become cliches because of overuse, but that doesn't mean they should be disregarded altogether. They need to be interrogated, and then turned on their heads.

So what have we got:
  • a spoken question - and the single speech marks, just like the double quote marks below, are not a mistake; it's the way we punctuate in the UK. Reverse them if you'd prefer.
  • you - who is "you"? "You" can be a single person or an entire group of people.
  • is the speaker the narrator?
  • why is the question being asked? Clue: because he/she doesn't know.
  • therefore, what is happening around the speaker that is so out of his/her norm that the question needs to be asked?
  • Be festive. And I suggest you interrogate that word, too, before jumping to the nearest conclusion.
Have a great mid-winter... festival!

17 December 2014

Wednesday Writing Prompt #3

You know the score by now, so here is the opening phrase:

The wall felt sticky beneath my palm

Okay, so what have we got? Don't jump to immediate conclusions, or run with your first impressions. Think it through and think round the obvious:
  • What sort of wall? 
  • Where is this wall?
  • ...felt sticky - note the 'felt'. Why not looked?
  • ...sticky with what? Think smell, taste, temperature - use the five senses.
  • ...my palm - denotes a first person narrator. Or does it?
Add more questions of your own and go for it.

Join me again next Wednesday for another Writing Prompt, or drop by Prompt #1 and Prompt #2 to kickstart your writing.

10 December 2014

Wednesday Writing Prompt #2

Here's the second in the series. 

He stood on the opposite pavement, a tall man in a calf-length overcoat

Now read it again, and this time think about that phrase. List the questions it throws up. This is the sort of thing you should be aiming for:
  • The He denotes that someone else is seeing this person - and give the reader a break... please don't make the narrator an off-page omniscient entity.
  • pavement denotes more urban than rural setting
  • a tall man - why would the narrator mention this? Why not just a man? Because his being tall means something to the narrator. Why does it?
  • calf-length overcoat - this is a specific observation. Again, why? Is it out of the norm dress for other people on the street?
  • There is no full-stop (period) given. Should there be more to the sentence?
With no clue given, the narrator could male or female or a child (dependent on age - articulating calf-length coat), and could convey the story in a third or first person viewpoint.

Drop by next week for Wednesday Writing Prompt #3.

8 December 2014

Micro Businesses (including writers) told to 'break the law'

Oh dear, the writing life gets worse. Now we are being advised by our own UK Government to break the law - so long as we don't go moaning back to it when we get hit by the consequences.

This follows on from my blog about imminent price rises on ebooks due to a change in the way VAT (Value Added Tax) is applied to sales throughout the European Union, all 28 countries. Businesses making digital sales will have to apply VAT at a rate dependent upon where the purchaser lives. Except, of course, that most digital-only sales are made via email addresses which aren't boundary defined. 

Micro businesses - that's what we are now, according to the government, no longer sole traders - have only just found out about this which comes into effect on 1st January 2015. As a consequence a last minute challenge is being promoted via Change.org asking the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills to uphold the current VAT exemption threshold, which this new EU Directive drives a juggernaut through. Earlier today Vince Cable MP responded. 

I shall not bore you with my thoughts but instead point you to the blog of Penny Grubb, writer and past Chair of the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society, so she understands the finer points and can untangle the tangles far better than me. And she does so. With gusto. If Vince Cable's ears aren't burning it's because he's made turning a deaf ear into an artform.

The late Joseph Heller, American satirical novelist and author of Catch 22, will be sitting on his cloud, weeping with laughter.

6 December 2014

Readers Beware - Imminent Price Rise on Ebooks

If you are a reader of ebooks and live in the EU - including the UK - be warned that from 1st January 2015 the prices of your downloaded ebooks are set to rise. How much by? By a minimum of 17%. And which supplier of whatever commodity could absorb such a price rise and not pass it on to its consumers?

This has arisen because the EU, in its wisdom, has decided to re-apply the rate of VAT (Value Added Tax) not based on the supplier's country of origin, but on the consumer's country of origin - and in the process amass a weight of bureaucratic paperwork enough to sink the entire continent. And having sold just a single ebook (or anything downloadable, be it a song, a game, a teaching class, etc) the supplier will be trapped in interminable paperwork *forever*.

And the inequity of the entire thing? I can sell one of my paperbacks in the UK, any distributor can sell a copy of one of my paperbacks in the UK, and no VAT is chargable. I, they, sell the same title as an ebook and 20% VAT has to be applied. And the unelected heirarchy in the EU want to know about it. And about you, the purchaser. Big Brother is not only watching, but wants the information, probably in triplicate.

It's not often I get political, but I do get angry.

My advice to readers of ebooks? Download your wishlist before Big Ben chimes in the New Year.

3 December 2014

Wednesday Writing Prompt #1

For those creeping - or screaming - over the NaNoWriMo deadline of 50,000 words, well done you! I hope you find the November Wednesday editing tips useful in the days to come.

For those who wished they'd had a go, it's never too late to start. For those who'd prefer a little hand-holding, my new series of Wednesday Writing Prompts could well help you out.

Each week I shall be offering a quick and easy start - literally the beginning of a sentence. But don't be fooled by a handful of words; these have been chosen with care so their connotations, and computations, can be thought through to a myriad of finished fiction. Let me show you what I mean:

Johnson laid across the corner of the crumpled bedding

Who is Johnson?
What is Johnson?
Note the laid - this denotes a past tense conveyance.
Note that there is no mention of an actual bed.
Where is this bedding?
Whose bedding is it?
Why is it crumpled?
Do you want to add a full-stop (period) to that phrasing, or add more words?
Do you want to enclose the entire phrase in speech marks?
Who might be speaking those words?
To whom are they being addressed? And why?

Who, What, Where, When, How and Why are the mainstays of a fiction-writer's thought process. Put yours to work here.

And when you have come up with a story - and edited it, AND polished it - don't rest on your laurels. Take the same opening and write a Romance, then a Thriller, then a Crime, then a Fantasy. That should keep you occupied until next Wednesday when there will be another prompt waiting. Sign up to the blog to get it directly into your Inbox.

29 November 2014

#BlackFriday or Colourful Weekend? Book Sale!

This weekend - 29th & 30th November - are the final days to grab my Native American historical at 99p / 99c (or equivalents) at Amazon Kindle stores worldwide. And, yes, I'd forgotten about Black Friday when this was scheduled. But why fight over a TV when you can download colour and excitement at the mere touch of a button?

This multi 5* reviewed novel came from a passion, held from childhood, for the everyday life of the northern plains peoples. My mother used to regale acquaintances with tales of cutting a warbonnet from folded newspaper when I was four years old. None of this needing actual feathers, you'll notice. Obviously my imagination held reign even then. 

The old game of "cowboys and indians" was popular when I was a little older, fired by the Westerns prominent on television. No guessing who made herself a bow and arrow quiver.  This obsession became so well known that books picked up by neighbours at church bazaars were dropped at our house. I would pore over them, inspecting the photographs with a magnifying glass, reading every word. 

Those good people, who would smile somewhat knowingly and shake their heads at my shrugging mother, would have no idea that those precious books, which I still own, would become the basis for a minor research library. Good on them, I say! 

And to you, dear reader, I say encourage a passion in a child, don't deter it, no matter how bizarre it seems at the time. You never know where it might lead in later life.

Beneath The Shining Mountains can be downloaded for Kindle USA or UK.

26 November 2014

#Editing Tip 4: Reading A Writer's Mind

This is the last in the mid-week series running concurrent with #NaNoWriMo, though there are more editing tips in Reading A Writer's Mind. Many writers work hard polishing speech in their fiction, but...

Are you making the most of dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags are important. Keep them simple and do not augment them with adverbs. Said becomes opaque in the run of a conversation, especially when it becomes necessary to delineate who is speaking in an exchange of more than two people.

A dialogue tag also acts as a pause in a string of speech, so take care where it is sited. Replace with action for weight, keeping it short so as not to detract from the spoken words. Readers will take the inference not just from the one line of speech, but in partnership with the narrative that surrounds it. Subtlety in pacing is the key.

‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘No,’ said Jerry, ‘I don’t think so.’
‘No,’ said Jerry, lifting his gaze to stare at me. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘No,’ said Jerry. He lifted his gaze to stare at me. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘No.’ Jerry lifted his gaze to stare at me. ‘I don’t think so.’

22 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo Alternatives: Retreating to a Retreat 2

In Retreating to a Retreat 1 Jex Collyer and Alan Wilkinson shared their reasons for escaping their normal writing spaces. In this concluding part they explain what they get from the experience.


Yes, it really is that simple.

Writing has been Alan Wilkinson’s day job for the past 20 years, and when he’s writing fiction he schedules for 1,000 words a day five days a week. ‘That way I know how long a project will take me to draft.’

We both know novelists who can complete that in an hour, and some days he’s not far behind. Other days... ‘I may be at my desk by 7am and reach lunch with only the first sentence down, then I know it’s going to be a graft day.’ Graft days can sprawl across sixteen hours, but he’s philosophical. ‘Regardless of whether it is by 10am or midnight, those 1,000 words get written. It’s my job and my partner accepts it.’

Jex Collyer has been writing consistently since 2008 and her schedule is more akin to the normal life of most people. She has a full-time job, a partner and “a healthy social life”. She uses the walk to her day job to ponder plot points, and emails these to herself from her phone so she can work on them during evening stints at her keyboard. She also believes in having a pad handy to scribble notes while she's cooking, but accepts that the bitty aspect of fitting writing around other work is not ideal.

‘It would be easy to decide I didn’t have time to write, which is the very reason I book myself into a retreat, so I have dedicated time to concentrate on my drafts.’  Being disciplined about distractions is the key.

'Even if I'm only in a cafe for a morning or afternoon's stint, the wifi is switched off and the phone set to silent. I'll check for calls when it suits the writing, not stop the writing to take the call.' And other people's noise? 'I always write to music. At home it's on surround sound, everywhere else it's on headphones.'

It's the same routine when she stays in a retreat, be it a residential library or a small hotel, with the addition that there's no sweating the small stuff, like do I need to buy potatoes? or knowing the washing-up is waiting; meals come all-in. 'Retreats are ideal for full immersion into your fictional world. It's one of my favourite sorts of holiday.'

Alan relishes his breaks when he's on a residency in America as driving into a small mid-west town, or calling into a diner for a meal, can throw up some wonderful copy. 'I'm usually there to concentrate on a specific work, but I'm also very aware that the act of being in unusual surroundings can stimulate new ideas, or provoke responses to the place that no amount of previous book or internet research can provide.' And don't get him started on the people he meets. 'They'd only be believed in the sort of travel-writing I do; never in a fictional novel.'

What Alan and Jex completely agree on is the need to focus. 'Just do it. This is your work, your career, your calling. Demand that it be taken seriously, by others as well as yourself.' 

And if you need to separate your writing time from your home-life time, even if it's just to prove a point to yourself, what better way than to find your own writing retreat. 

I thank my guests for their input over these two posts. Do leave a comment if you've found them useful, or add in how and where you found your personal bolt-hole.

For how Alan and Jex choose a retreat to suit their different needs go to Retreating to a Retreat 1.

Alan Wilkinson has just completed Chasing Black Gold (The History Press, July 2015). His account of a six-month retreat on a western cattle ranch, The Red House on the Niobrara, is available as an extensively illustrated e-book, or paperback. Toad's Road-Kill Cafe, his sharply observed trip up the 100th meridian from Mexico to Canada, is available as an ebook.
Visit his website or catch his ruminating blog

J.S. Collyer is a Science Fiction novelist from Lancaster, England. She likes narratives that are larger than life. Her first book Zero: An Orbit Novel (Dagda Publishing) is now available internationally in paperback and for Kindle, and she's working on a sequel.  
Follow her on Twitter: @JexShinigami
'Like' her on Facebook or drop into her writing blog 

19 November 2014

#Editing Tip 3: Reading A Writer's Mind

Continuing the series running concurrent with #NaNoWriMo, here is another question a writer should ask of a short story or section of a novel:

Does your story stay with the chosen viewpoint and distance?

Third person or first person viewpoint makes little difference. Almost everything that is seen or occurs should be filtered through the viewpoint character’s thoughts or senses. Omniscient viewpoint is a trap marked “Authorial”, and it is all too easy to cross the dividing line. Is this story about your characters or how you feel about your characters? Get off the page and let them do their own thing. 

If readers start a story close in to the third person viewpoint character, sharing his every thought, keep to that distance, don’t push readers to arm’s length during action sequences. If you have difficulty keeping so close in, return to the opening and match the distance to that used later in the story. The flow should be smooth, part of a single whole. Nothing irritates readers more than working their way through a text to discover near the end that the viewpoint character has been hiding a pivotal nugget of information when all else has been shared with the reader.

Check out other posts in this November series:
#Editing Tip 1: Does your story start in the right place?
#Editing Tip 2: Is your story overloaded with description?

15 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo Alternatives – Retreating to a Retreat 1

Like most writers, I started with a pad and pen on the kitchen table after my toddler was in bed and my spouse on his shift. From there it escalated to a grocery box into which reference books, portable typewriter, paper, etc, could be stored when we were eating. A house move allowed me a small desk in the corner of a bedroom to site a desktop computer. Our current house allows me an entire room, and my “office” has grown accordingly. What hasn’t grown in tandem is my writing output. Should I retreat to a Retreat?

I first came across Writing Sheds while tutoring a course at one of the UK Arvon Foundation’s centres. Dotted in the extensive grounds, they were 6x4ft with a window and the bare minimum of folding chair and writing shelf. A few novelists I know now have larger, more plush versions in their gardens ...where the household jobs aren’t glaring at me. I can certainly see the advantage of that, but do I want to cross a muddy lawn in the pouring rain to a cold shed?

Jex Collyer writes speculative fiction and her debut novel, Zero, was launched this summer. ‘In my experience, a novel demands a lot from you. To keep all the threads of your plot together, to get all the events down, to build a proper pace and keep your characters and style consistent, you need to dedicate a large amount of time to work and in big chunks when you can.’

Too often she caught herself trying to slot writing around domestic and employment responsibilities which was when she first decided to look into using residential libraries and study centres. It worked; the words flowed.

‘I find these offer the best environment as usually they provide an inspirational place to work as well as accommodation.’ And these can prove surprisingly inexpensive. ‘One of the libraries I go to is only £60 a night and this includes breakfast and dinner.’ Country retreats offered by religious foundations such as the Quakers, also prove excellent value.

Alan Wilkinson, a ghost-writer and long-time writer of fiction and non-fiction, needed a creative retreat when he had to complete a book in seven days. ‘It was a lovely old house, and there was a painter and a musician staying, too. Food was all in, and all responsibility of domesticity was removed.’ Even better, it was situated in his original home town, not visited for years. ‘Once the words were flowing I could take time to walk down memory lane. For me, the retreat has to be an adventure in itself.’ 

And these adventures have taken him to the USA. ‘One was in Florida and related to a writer whose work had long fascinated me – being the former home of Jack Kerouac. A second was in Nebraska, close by the home-place of a writer, Mari Sandoz, whose work was the subject of my writing at the time. This winter I’m taking one in northern New Mexico, a place I have lived in, enjoy, and am fascinated by.’

With his writing credentials, Alan has often been able to apply for bursaries, even if they don’t always come his way. ‘This started one dire day when the words wouldn’t come. As displacement I searched “writer’s residencies” and kept following links. It’s amazing the opportunities out there if you are willing to hunt them down.’

Bursaries – financial help towards fees and/or travelling expenses – aren’t just for those writers with an extensive back-list. Check the small print of your chosen centre to see if your circumstances fall within its guidelines.

For Jex Collyer it isn’t the wider surroundings that’s the priority. One of her most productive stints was undertaken in a B&B half an hour’s train journey from home. ‘I’m not a fan of writing where I sleep so I look for somewhere either with a residents’ lounge or a library within walking distance.’ And whereas Alan takes residencies infrequently, for Jex little and often works best. ‘Even if I have a month when I simply can’t afford to go away, I spend a day in a local cafe, library or bar – just so I’m in my own mental space separated from the jobs that are always waiting at home.’

Convinced? I think I might be. To learn how Jex and Alan utilise their time away, join us next Saturday for Retreating to a Retreat 2. This NaNoWriMo series started with #NaNoWriMo is Live - But is it for You?

J.S. Collyer is a Science Fiction novelist from Lancaster, England. She likes narratives that are larger than life. Her first book Zero: An Orbit Novel (Dagda Publishing) is now available internationally in paperback and for Kindle.  
Follow her on Twitter: @JexShinigami
'Like' her on Facebook or drop into her writing blog 

Alan Wilkinson has just completed Chasing Black Gold (The History Press, July 2015). His account of a six-month retreat on a western cattle ranch, The Red House on the Niobrara, is available as an extensively illustrated e-book, or paperback
Visit his website or catch his ruminating blog

12 November 2014

#Editing Tip 2: Reading A Writer's Mind

Following on with editing tips from my writers' guide, here's the second in the series:

Is your story overloaded with description?

Do readers need to be aware of the different types of vegetation growing in every crack on the pavement, or the amount of rust on a beer can in the gutter? Or, indeed, that a character’s eyes are …a striking cornflower-blue… or …matched the rich cerulean of the Tasman Sea an hour before nightfall...? Which character is thinking in these descriptive terms? Often it isn’t a character at all, but the writer supposedly being… writerly. Description should enhance the story, not be the story. Deft touches filtered through a character’s viewpoint are what are needed, just enough for readers to gain an approximation and so allow them to mentally dress the scene from their life experiences.
For instance, if it is necessary in the story for characters to be delineated by their height don’t fall back on bald measurements. Have them step up onto a box to reach something that would be handy to most of us, or duck as they enter a room; have them be self-conscious or pragmatic about their height, just don’t state “the facts” as if it were written on a police report - or in your character notes.

Other editing tips in this November series:
Editing Tip 1: Does your story start in the right place?
Editing Tip 3: Does your story stay within the chosen viewpoint and distance?

11 November 2014

Lest We Forget

It is 100 years since the start of the Great War, and among the annual Remembrance for the Fallen in all conflicts since, particular attention is being given to those involved in WW1. The ceramic poppies filling the moat of the Tower of London is one such act.

I am concentrating on something smaller, something closer to home, but no less poignant. Across Hull and the East Riding displays make us stop, and think. This one is at the Ferens Art Gallery. Tap the image for a closer view. 

The central portion is made up of the poppies worn by many up and down the country, produced by the British Legion which sells them to raise funds for the benefit of our maimed armed forces. The outer poppies were all hand-made by primary school children from the city. The white flecks are parcel tags, each tied to a poppy and bearing the name of a young man who never returned to his family from World War 1.

There were those who did, of course, perhaps injured but grateful to be back in Blighty. 

One such man was my grandfather, Joseph Kammerer, a rully-man who worked for the local railway company - a reserved occupation - before being given special dispensation to join up in 1916.

While in France he was involved in an incident marked on official paperwork as an "own shell explosion". This eventually sent him back to Hull to be cared for in Reckitt's Hospital. And there he died, on 5th November 1918 - of the influenza pandemic that killed so many more than the guns of WW1.

                                                        RIP - every one

8 November 2014

#Editing Tip 1: Reading A Writer's Mind

When I was first published, my fiction edited professionally, it was a revelation, and I still have my old copy typescripts painstakingly marked in red to match the published versions. It became my goal, a point of professional honour, to submit a typescript that would match the published version. I wanted my name to be linked to fiction that would require no editing. Time is money, and editors are busy. If they know from experience that a submission from a certain writer needs minimal work on their part, not only does the submission rise to the top of the reading pile, but it will also be chosen over a better story that needs a lot of editing. Why? Because this is the real world.

When I became a writing tutor, then a fiction consultant, those same initial mistakes I’d made began to pass before my eyes, and it is those mistakes that I included in Reading A Writer's Mind... when I dedicated a chapter to self-editing. A few of these will be added to the blog over the rest of the month. Sign up for my Newsletter to get a free full chapter.

#1 Does your story start in the right place?

There is a lot of preamble in a writer’s thought processes when conjuring an embryo story, not least in considering a character’s past life so as to be able to portray that character true-to-life on the page. You might need to know that your character spent four years in the army, but if this information is not pertinent to the storyline, or pertinent to the character’s emotional responses in this story, then to readers it is superfluous information.

The same applies to the ongoing story. Do readers need to follow that character through a broken night’s sleep due to gorging on cheese and pickles, through the morning’s toilet and breakfast routine, through the trip to work, through saying hello to the receptionist… if the nub of the story is physically centred round the office water cooler?

Beginning at a moment of change, of decision, of minor crisis, helps hook the reader into the fiction. In your drafted story, if the moment of change, of decision, of crisis, does not erupt until a third, or halfway, through the typescript, you need to ask it why, and what can be cut. Readers, especially editors, will not hang around until the story gets into gear.

Other posts in this November series include:
Editing Tip 2: Is your story overloaded with description?
Editing Tip 3: Does your story stay within the chosen viewpoint and distance?

5 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo is live - But is it for You?

It's November so it must be (Inter)National Novel Writing Month, when hardly souls sign up to undertake cracking 50,000 words in 30 days. 

If you have, then you certainly won't be reading this post. It equates to 1,700 words per consecutive day, 7 days a week, or 2,500 words per day, 5 days a week if you wish to remain on speaking terms with your nearest and dearest during December.

A straw poll from close writer friends found that half wouldn't even attempt it because to write at the required speed over such a period would produce "...substandard crap, riddled with plot-holes and trillions of adverbs..."

This brings to the fore my misgivings from last year [read here]: most participants expect to produce a typescript near enough there bar the polishing, when in truth what they are more likely to have is a very dirty draft. And chances are that participants will be so emotionally exhausted they won't be able to tell the difference.

Not everyone I contacted thinks this way. Two who accepted the challenge in previous years found there were pros and cons. Tiredness was certainly a factor, both mental and physical, and after putting in so much work the fear of missing the target, no matter self-imposed, crept in when the cascade of words turned to a dribble. On the other hand, procrastination was eliminated, and hitting the deadline gave a real lift to the senses. As one put it "...I felt energised and renewed...".

If your immediate domestic circle isn't on board to support and gate-keep for you, it won't happen.
Being normally disciplined in your writing is a great help.
Pre-planning is a must: characters, outline, research...
Never look back; keep ploughing forward.
Remember that what you have at the finish is a draft.

So, if you are reading this, were you tempted but didn't sign? Why not?

It is always good to push back the boundaries; we never know what we can accomplish if we don't try. But there are other ways, and I'll be covering these in later posts during the month. In the meantime let's consider quality rather than quantity. If you have a finished script, or a work in progress, this could be useful.

For a short period I'm offering a complete chapter of Reading A Writer's Mind... to anyone who signs on to my occasional Newsletter - see top of the page - and subsequent posts will carry a tip from the editing chapter of the book.

In the meantime, do leave a comment on the blog. I'd be interested to hear if you've undertaken NaNoWriMo in past years, or what you undertake as an alternative.

31 October 2014

Feed Your Gothic - #BookADayUK

It's the end of October. Halloween beckons. Time to feed your Gothic.

But what actually constitues Gothic?

Gothic started its life in medieval religious architecture, a highly decorated style coming out of the Romanesque, even though the term 'Gothic' didn't arrive until the 15th century when in Italy it came to epitomise anything barbaric.

The script itself is truly referred to as Black Letter, and comes in many forms. It was Guttenberg's early presses that brought it to the populace, but not until the 19th century, during both the Gothic Revival in architecture and the explosion of the Industrial Revolution, did it come into its own. Penny Dreadfuls - lurid tales aimed to make the heart race - were often set in ancient decaying buildings or the tenement warrens rural workers found themselves crammed into in the growing cities. Life was both bewildering and dreadful. Reading about worse put their own into managable perspective.

Perhaps it does our own.

The end of the old cultivation year was a time for festivals, for celebration, for divining what life might hold during the dark days of the coming winter season. Pre-Christian peoples believed it was a time when the barriers between this world and the next grew thin enough to breach, and those who dared... or were in the wrong place at the wrong time...

Modern Gothic reflects our own lives, our own wishes, our own fears. We might be more comfortable than our 19th century forebears, but our need to overcome, to make order out of chaos, remains as strong.

How do you feed your Gothic?

Feed it a little more. Fantastic Books Publishing is currently running a short story competition - 666 precise words to chill readers to the bone. Its accompanying promotional video will certainly give you sleepless nights.

26 October 2014

#BookADayUK Never Overlook Your Own Relatives

A week ago I was at Eden Camp just outside Malton in North Yorkshire. It's a modern history theme museum constructed in the 30+ huts of an original Prisoner of War camp built in 1942. It's not the place where politicians or brigadiers are seen to pontificate; it's dedicated to ordinary people who were caught up in the conflicts of the 20th century. 

I was attending a reunion of the Veterans of Palestine - members of the British Military forces and British members of the Palestine Police who served in the region up to 1948 when the British Mandate terminated. As can be understood, there weren't a great number attending.

I was there because my late father-in-law had served as a Palestine Policeman 1936-43 when he had been shipped back to England due to injury, and from there sucked in to the war in Europe. When bereaved many years later, my husband had encouraged him to write down his experiences, and recently we came across a thick ringbinder. Some of those experiences we had heard, the often humorous anecdotes, but much of it was new to us - and now it is too late to ask for futher details.

Upon arriving at Eden Camp we went into the Canteen for refreshments. After we'd sat at one of the long tables an old man tottered by us, his cup of tea slopping on a tray held in unsteady hands. I watched to make sure he managed to set the tray on his table without mishap. He did so, and took his seat with some relief. Perhaps it had been a long journey; perhaps it had been just a long walk from the counter.

He was a thin man, not tall, his tie slightly askew above an open collar button, his hair standing out at odd angles. As he made himself comfortable he pulled something bulky from a pocket and placed it on the table beside his tray. It was the maroon beret of the Parachute Regiment.

Too often we look at someone, even someone close to us, and see them as they are now, not the wealth of experiences they have both enjoyed and endured. Do you have someone close within your circle, someone who was conscripted into the National Service, perhaps, was in Malaya, or Korea, or one of the many other conflicts that have beset the world since the end of World War II. What about their stories? Time to ask, time to commit to paper, may be shorter than you think.

Adendum: Just to emphasise the theme of this post, while looking through the photographs taken on the day I came across this, one of many boxes adorning the walls in the Medal Room of Eden Camp.

At the time of taking the photograph I didn't recognise the name in context, but Vivian Stuart - 2nd Lt Women's Auxiliary Service (Burma), the "WASBs" - was a founder member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, and someone I recall from writers' conferences in Scarborough when I was making my first forays into writing fiction for magazines. I recall her as a tall, rather austere-looking lady often seen wearing tartan trews. If I'd had the nerve to approach her, think what other memories I might now be carrying.

18 October 2014

The People’s Bookshop – Durham #BookADayUK

A week ago today I was in Durham on a research jaunt for Book 3 of the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. While picking up a brochure for the city’s Litfest on at the time I bumped into a gent from The People’s Bookshop. We exchanged postcards, as you do.

“We’re the only independent bookshop in Durham. You must visit us. We’re just over there.”

So I did.

What he failed to mention was that the premises was down a ginnel and up three – it could have been four – flights of brown-painted stairs which in sections twisted on themselves in keeping with the age of the interesting building full of odd, and unfortunately locked, wooden doors. I must profess to being intrigued by interesting buildings.

I was followed by two other prospective customers who toppled into the bookshop on my heels. Between drawn breaths they asked if oxygen was provided free, and everyone chuckled. If not oxygen, the shop has a handy grouping of cushioned chairs, but by then we were browsing the shelving.

The People’s Bookshop, down Saddler’s Yard, carries a host of out of print and radical titles. Browsing was both a revelation and a joy. If you have a spare half hour do call in. You might do more than just say hello.

11 October 2014

Books of Nature and Beyond #BookADayUK

Today is Event Day for Books Are My Bag, where bookshops up and down the country are festooned in orange and authors are meeting readers and... you know how it goes. The #BookADayUK Twitter stream will be full of intriguing titles found and purchased. 

I thought I’d concentrate on books already in my care, two in fact, brought to mind because the clear blue sky seen from my desk is full of skeins of geese – pink-footed, greylag, Canada – all heading south for the winter. They are flying low over the roofs intent on stopping at the mere at the edge of town to rest and feed on what’s left in the cereal fields. 

First title up has, of course, to be The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico written during World War 2. Condemned as a sentimental tear-jerker by some critics (who listens to them?) it was the first book I read where I was aware of – and took on – the use of metaphor and symbolism.

Years later I attended a litfest to hear the fascinating story of William Fiennes. Recuperating from a debilitating illness in his teens, the birds beyond his window became his mental lifeline to the world, and Paul Gallico’s book an inspiration and a goal for health: he would follow the snow geese on their annual American migration. The Snow Geese is the result – a fascinating travel book of both man and bird that I can heartily recommend.

9 October 2014

Not Judging A Book By Its Cover #BookADayUK

We do though, don't we? Judge books by their covers. It's the very reason indies like me hire professional cover designers, why the design team of mainstream publishers coordinate their efforts with that of the marketing department.

Take, for instance, this poor specimen found while moving bookcases and giving the incumbents a long overdue clean. Slightly foxed, its corners a bit battered, on a stack in a second-hand bookshop, I wouldn't give it a second glance. And I doubt you would, either. It was already halfway to the pile for a charity shop donation when I read its spine: Painting A Portrait - De Laszlo. Inside, it was a revelation. Not for its content, but for the craft of the book-maker.

First published in 1934, I was holding the 1947 Fifth Impression, 'printed and engraved in England'. Think about that. It was two years after the end of World War II. Britain was still on rationing, and would continue to be so into the 1950s. Most of the pictures - and there are a lot of them - are in b&w. I've picked out a colour below. Take a good look at it.

That image, printed on glossy paper, has been hand-glued along one edge. Hand-glued. Every print is the same. The artist's palette of colours is reproduced in eye-smacking brilliance that my camera doesn't do justice to... specially prepared for this volume by Winsor & Newton Ltd. And somehow it is in 3D. Running a fingertip over the brush marks, it feels as though it is dried paint. 

All in all, it is a masterpiece of the bookmaker's art. Let's hear it for old-fashioned bookmakers. 

And Mr de Laszlo? Oh yes, Mr de Laszlo. It might be a how-to book, but he was certainly no how-to painter.

7 October 2014

#BookADayUK #Crime: Fiction v Reality

The Beverley Literature Festival is in full swing, and at the weekend I attended a Crime panel discussing Fiction v Reality. 

Anya Lipska’s novels give insights into the London Polish community where she lives; Mari Hannah writes fiction set in her native Northumbria with research help from Mo Dowdy, a former DI on the Serious Incident Squad; David Mark, hosting the event, was fifteen years a journalist, seven as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post and sets his novels in Hull. 

Their discussion was lively and informative, veering from the emotionally serious to the light-hearted as aspects of their writing were unpicked. Each had faced opposition from mainstream publishing for their settings, though none could imagine conjuring a fictional town or city – it would be far too much work – and they agreed that TV programmes not only glossed over much police procedure but escaped with anachronisms that would be hounded as fantasy in novels. 

I understand their, and their readers’, need for reality. It’s something I take pains to imbue in the Torc of Moonlight  trilogy, even having a handy ex officer reading the police sections to ensure authenticity. Crime, Mythic Fantasy... both are about people set in a contemporary world. Writers should always be faithful to their subject and readership, and to be honest I’ve never met one who wasn’t.  

The East Riding of Yorkshire's Beverley Literature Festival continues until 11 October. If you're in the area, don't miss it.

3 October 2014

What Constitutes Your Personal Library? #BookADayUK

I am an unashamed e-reader – of fiction – but it wasn’t always the case, and even now I prefer my non-fiction paper-based. I’ve always loved books, the sense of information encapsulated ready to hand, and even as a child I knew I wanted a ‘library’, holding my books among others.
Actually I wanted a castle, or at least a castellated house, because such wonderful buildings always had libraries. I coveted Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, situated near Melrose. We had visited during a family holiday and I’d found its huge library and Scott's study awe-inspiring. At that time his writing room held not only books on two levels but a whole array of fascinating collected artefacts. I had a fossil; I’d made my start. 
Dreams of a castle, even a castellated house, faded into obscurity – mature minds tend to consider the enormity of heating bills and the never-ending dusting – but from the moment I had a place to call my own I collected books. And kept collecting them when funds allowed. After all, if I passed up the chance to buy that volume on the history of nursery rhymes (Cinema Bookshop, Hay on Wye, long before any Literature Festival) where would I be when I needed the information it contained? And did you know that Jack and Jill weren’t called that when they originally went up the hill, ostensibly for water? 
But I digress, just as my widening collection did, and my ill-fated card-based catalogue. Even the shelving system based on a historical timeline fell foul of lack of shelving. Stacks ensued; focus shifted. 
This summer’s re-lacquering of the wooden floors has meant the stacks have been moved, the bookcases unloaded. As the books are cleaned to be rearranged in loose order forgotten gems spring unbidden: Monastic Britain (with maps!), Life In The Age Of Chivalry, Britain Before The Norman Conquest (more maps)... just the information I need to help with book 3 of the Torc of Moonlight trilogy.
Finding old friends is a wonderful moment, each eager to impart anew its wonders. I’ve set them, and others, aside. I’ll never get the rest cleaned and replaced if I start reading. 
Which ‘old friends’ have you recently become reacquainted with? What constitutes your library?

1 October 2014

October is #BookADayUK - Enjoy!

Now the nights are drawing in, thoughts turn to cosy cushions and log fires, hot chocolate drinks and... a good book. BooksAreMyBag.com are hosting #BookADayUK on Twitter. Catch them on https://twitter.com/booksaremybag for some indulgent reads. On Saturday 11th there may well be an event at a bookshop near you, so keep an eye on your local press.

And if you want to participate, check out their handy suggestion list:

1st October: a book to curl up in front of a fire with... I'm choosing This Time Forever by Linda Swift. She's a good friend, the title is launching today as an ebook, and it's currently being made into a short film, Clarissa's War. Can an author do better than that? By the time I've stopped typing, with a bit of luck it will have downloaded to my Kindle.

Which book are *you* choosing to kick off #BookADayUK?

30 September 2014

End of... End of... Back to the Desk

Gosh, it's the end of September. How did that happen?

Renovating, that's what happened. There's an old adge that says buy a new lamp and you'll end up buying a new table to sit it on and a new rug to stand the table on and... 

My own started with rubbing at a mark on the wallpaper. The trouble is, these things take faaaaar longer than anticipated. Not only that, I gamely thought I'd be able to write while I was decorating. Ha!

But, just as with the change in autumn colours, the new garb is both uplifting and stimulating. So, with due irony, tomorrow I shall close the door on it and decamp to my office to search out all those dusty work-in-progress notes. And blog. How about that for turning a new leaf. What did you do this summer?

20 August 2014

FantastiCon was Fantastic - 2

FantastiCon was, ostensibly, a book launch by Fantastic Books Publishing (top that, London literati).

The books, four novels and an anthology of short fiction, are based in the universe of the SF Elite series of combat and trading computer games. Back in the 1980s the late Robert Holdstock wrote a novella The Dark Wheel to accompany the initial launch, and gaming and fiction have gone hand-in-hand ever since.

This may come as an eye-opener, as to many the stereotypical gamer equates to a pale-faced bloke in a black T-shirt staring at a screen, often wearing full 3D-immersion goggles and headphones. There were some of those in attendance, and a friendly lot they were, too, but believe me, they read books. Helping with the bookstore I watched as an eye-watering amount of cash changed hands for the printed word. Even I sold books and I’m writing Contemporary Mythic Fiction, almost as far from SF gaming as it is possible to get. As one buyer quipped ...a good read is a good read... How fantastically refreshing.

At any –Con, authors and books means panels and they were all extremely interesting: actors from the earlier episodes of Dr Who rubbed shoulders with the cast of anime Vampire Wars. The Q&A session with the writers of the Elite: Dangerous novels was funny and inspiring, and one of FBP’s audio downloads from the anthology made the busy room hush – the sound effects were extraordinary.

And then, at just gone 8pm, Stuart Aken and I were asked to the stage to talk about our different Fantasy novels, and give a reading. By this time there were around ten in the room; hey, I’ve spoken to less. But when we’d answered our introductory questions our audience had grown substantially, and very appreciative they were, too. JS Collyer followed with her debut SF novel Zero, launched that day, and she handled the spotlight as if she’d been doing it all her life.

Throughout, Dan Grubb, FBP’s CEO, acted as compere with a never-ending supply of enthusiasm, insightful questions and seemingly no script. The surprise video tribute to him was hilarious and for once left him speechless.

At midnight I bowed out for the drive home, leaving the event still going strong, and that was before it closed for the night and everyone headed for the bar. Now I understand why these things are held in hotels. Next year... or even before. I feel quite privileged that an entire new and welcoming world has opened up to me.

18 August 2014

FantastiCon was Fantastic - 1

In Hull on Saturday, Fantastic Books Publishing put on the book launch to end all book launches – an SF&F Convention

FBP was launching the hardback and paperback editions of four licensed novels and an anthology of short fiction based in the universe of Elite: Dangerous, a space combat and trading online computer game.

If that reads like a bit of a mouthful, the whole day was a bit of a jaw-dropping mouthful. Never having attended a Con, and knowing nothing about the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as can be seen from a selection of photos there was plenty going on, and never a dull moment.


...a few of the Cosplayers...

...photo opportunities...

...and a fast-moving Dalek intent on chasing me round the raffle mountain.

There were also the gamers, both old school round a table...

...and 3D immersion via Occulus Rift, which unfortunately I never got to try.

Not that I'd have known what to do. And probably I would have ended up going on the stage suffering from motion sickness.

Add in X-Box consoles, Manga, Anime, and various merchandising stalls, the biggest problem was finding time to eat. This doesn't even touch the stage panels, including Dr Who actors, or the eye-opening amount of books sold, but I'll cover that side tomorrow in FantastiCon was Fantastic - 2.

Everyone was friendly and ultra chatty, and most willing to explain the inner workings of anything in words of one syllable. I had a spectacular time and will definitely be going to another.

11 August 2014

Supermoon Monday

I managed to see the supermoon tonight, a day late thanks to the remnants of ex Hurricane Bertha tearing across the UK over the weekend. Not that I would have realised, by eye, that the moon was a waning gibbous 97.9%. It looked bright; it looked beautiful; it looked big. I’m aware that it is a mere 356,994 kms distant, instead of the more normal 400,000+kms causing it to seem up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter.

Did it help fuel Bertha? Debatable. It certainly increased the tides. Supermoons do, and it was a phenomenon understood by our ancestors – those who built the pyramids, those who built Stonehenge. Full moons played a role in ancient belief systems, in water worship, when the guardians of those health-giving Otherworld portals were believed to be able to pass from their own plane to ours. How much more powerful did they become with the onset of a supermoon?

It is this element that plays a pivotal role in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. It fuels a need to survive in a time that lacks belief. No matter the cost.

2 August 2014

FantastiCon in #Hull - 14 Days and Counting

Funny how life can change. One moment I'm attending Hull's FantastiCon as an inquisitive visitor, the next I'm invited to participate on a panel!

On 16th August the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel will be the venue for an SF/F and gaming extravaganza hosted by Fantastic Book Publishing. It's part of its launch for its Elite: Dangerous tie-in novels that seems to have taken on a life of its own and now includes Cosplay, RGP Gaming, Dr Who actors and an I-AM-A-DALEK, independent films, a Star Wars speeder bike complete with a green screen,  R2D2, and...er... me.

I'm on a panel with Stuart Aken and JS Collyer talking about our books. For obvious reasons I shall be concentrating on the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, and this is where I really should have written faster as those taking notice will recall that only books 1 and 2 are available.

And Cosplay? If there are any Roman legionaries attending, do call by the author table. Other than that, what costume to wear for a Celtic water deity? I knew I should have bought that torc when I saw it advertised.

If you're on Facebook, FantastiCon has an Event Page, a link to the Programme, and as can be seen below, a rather eyebrow-raising YouTube trailer. I think I need to raise my game.