The weather’s awful, Christmas a distant memory, the only signs it even happened being stray pine needles in the carpet and the need to slip into elasticated waistbands for the first quarter of the year.
However, I have found an answer to the winter gloom, something to lighten the long trudge to spring –
I have become my own Santa.
As I apparently wasn’t good enough to deserve Iain Kelly’s latest book – State of Denial – from the real Santa, I thought I’d cheat and order a copy for myself.
And there it is, above (apologies, Iain, for the terrible photograph, especially as your covers are so wonderful! Did you know he designs them himself?).
I haven’t delved in yet, but anyone who read the first book, A Justified State, will share with me a need to know just what happened to beleaguered detective Danny Samson, how he’s fared living under the controlling, sinister influence of the State, especially after his earlier shenanigans.
To read more about the trilogy, pop over to Iain’s blog here.
Or just skip straight to your territory’s Amazon and buy the first two State books, links here.
‘Lesley Howard?’ Patricia pulled on her cigarillo, puffed a cloud of blue grey smoke into the air. ‘Is that the Brief Encounter chap?’
‘No, that’s Trevor Howard. Leslie Howard was Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.’
Patricia selected a card from the hand she was playing and slapped it on the green baize table. ‘So in answer to the question, “which film actor would you want to be”, you choose the one who loses the girl.’
Bobby rubbed his stocking feet against the flank of a dozing Labrador. Firelight flickered around the living room, casting picturesque shadows over the threadbare rug, the stacks of mouldering newspapers. ‘Always seemed like a decent sort,’ he said. ‘Shot down over the Bay of Biscay, 1943.’
‘A dead war hero? So decent, so proper, such a good egg.’
He recognised the hard chink in her voice. ‘You and Scotch do not make happy companions.’
She raised a hand. ‘I’m just saying you sound very alike, you and your dead actor.’
‘Always doing the right thing. Fighting for King and country. So noble. So very, very bland.’
Bobby reached for his own glass. New Year’s Eve and she was as impossible as always. Well, this year he refused to bite. ‘Who would you be then? Greta Garbo, I suppose, wanting to be alone?’
Patricia’s teeth chinked against her glass tumbler as she threw her head back, laughing hoarsely. ‘No, not Garbo. Too sulky. Perhaps Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. Remember that scene? Her in a top hat and tails?’
‘Huh. Very, very you.’
She raised her glass. ‘I always was the butch one, dear.’ She drained the last of her Scotch, rolled the glass between the palms of her hands. ‘Ideally, I would have been Gable.’
Patricia nodded. ‘That sharp moustache, the oiled hair, stamping around the Deep South, shooting Yankees.’ Then with a watery smile, she added, ‘Not giving a damn.’
I’m currently planning a new novel and these are two of the main characters. Their spiky relationship keeps drawing me back and Patricia talks to me, even when I don’t necessarily want her to.
For reference, the novel is set in the early 1970s and they’re both in their 70s, hence the selection of old film stars.
When I was at school, pretty much my favourite thing was creative writing. Back then I wrote dark stories with plenty of ghosts, fairies, wicked stepmothers, vampires, monsters and ordinary kids like me being caught up in fantastical situations. Only my protagonist’s use of a magic amulet/sword/potion (supplied by a mysterious stranger, of course) or their own untapped abilities would win the day.
Many of those stories finished along the lines of
And they were never heard of again…
My endings have (hopefully) improved, but otherwise I pretty much write about the same things. Love a ghost story, would write vampires but they’re a bit ‘done’ and though I might not employ magic potions, I still recognise that my heroes and heroines – even if they aren’t a magical Chosen One – should find qualities within themselves to achieve their goals.
One major thing that has changed is my ability to plan.
When I wrote those childhood stories, and even when I began writing novels, my enthusiasm for an idea would have me rushing to my exercise book/keyboard, hammering out scenes in the order they appeared in my head, plucking characters from the air, smushing the whole thing together like play dough, hoping it would stick together.
That worked when I was a kid. Or at least I was happy enough with the results. As an adult? Not so much.
With my first book (my first three in fact, all unpublished) I returned to the same, tried and tested method of sitting in front of a screen and emptying my brains. The result had some pleasing moments… and flat, aimless characters, meandering plots and an end product as loose as Nana’s knitting.
Then I began to write for a women’s magazine and funnily enough, the editors required rather more than
Well, there’s this girl and I’m thinking maybe she falls in love and does some other stuff – probably to do with horses or goats – then she argues with the guy cos he does something stupid, but then he kisses her…
No. Editors want the first part of a proposed serial, they want character bios. Most of all, they want a synopsis.
Now, if you’re like me, just the mention of the S word will have you scuttling into the corner with a blanket over your head.
But once I’d dragged my inner writer kicking and weeping to the task, I actually found something interesting. A synopsis makes me focus on the shape of the story, its highs, its lows, the start, the resolution. It helps me know whether the idea is going to hang together and whether I can tell the story I want in the required word count.
It’s a cliche, but a synopsis is like having a Sat Nav in your car. You might take a different turning here and there, but if you have one – a good one – it makes it a heck of a lot harder to get lost.
So on my current journey through the realms of Novel (fifth go and yes, still unpublished), I’m taking a Sat Nav with me and not just relying on a trail of breadcrumbs to get me home.
How about you? Do you plan before you write or just go boldly where your creativity takes you?
Writing novels is a strange way to spend your life.
You take months (in my case, years) working alone on a project then there comes a point – if you want your baby to develop, to grow and not remain swaddled to your over-protective breast forever – when you must push what you’ve made into the world and watch from a safe distance to see if it will fall on its face or walk, perhaps even run.
But what if it manages to both face plant and saunter cockily round the block on the same day?
A few weeks ago, I learned I’d come second in a Writing Magazine competition (more on that nearer publication day). My prize was either a modest amount of cash or a critique of 9,000 words.
Now, as I’m a writer with heaps of artistic integrity and a yearning to polish my craft until I can see my squadgy face in it, I opted for a critique of my Urban Fantasy novel opening.
On Tuesday the critique popped up in my inbox and I avoided reading it for three days.
This was my Schrödinger’s cat moment. I left the email unopened for the same reason it takes me weeks to check the numbers on a lottery ticket – if I don’t look, the unread critique/lottery ticket has the potential to be at once a marvellous review of my talent/worth millions and a hideous rip in my self-esteem/a worthless scrap of paper heading for the recycling bin.
Better not to know, right?
Except of course, wrong. I had to know because otherwise what’s the point in any of it? I opened the document …
And read the most delightful feedback I’ve had in a long while. The opening was engaging, the reader said, the characters realistic and sympathetic. My descriptions were good. I create a sense of mystery and the only thing that she truly found disappointing was not being able to read more.
Now, I’m British. Pretty reserved generally.
I tell you, I was dancing round the kitchen in my slippers after reading that. I fist bumped the air and I’ve never fist bumped anything in my life before.
Filled with renewed self-confidence, I sent a (very polite) follow up email to an agent I sent my chapters to back in August and submitted to three new ones. This could be it. If a professional reader at the UK’s bestselling writing magazine thinks my story has promise, it could be the vehicle that sees me become a published novelist, right?
Towards the end of the afternoon, another email popped into my inbox. From the agent I’d sent my (very polite) follow up to.
After apologising for taking so long to get back to me, she took around a page to say:
That no publishers want Urban Fantasy just now.
That the perspective in the first scene was confusing.
That the premise was too well-trodden to grab her interest.
Basically, that she didn’t think the story was strong enough to sell.
At this point there was not another euphoric little dance around the kitchen. A professional had now told me my story was unoriginal, not good enough to warrant a read in full.
A black hole, a nobbly Hell especially for writers would surely now open up in the lino and swallow me whole. Tiny demons armed with nothing but sharpened quills, reading extracts from Fifty Shades of Grey would poke my eyeballs for all eternity, whispering, If E.L.James can get published, why can’t you?
Of course, this didn’t happen.
Because she also:
Said the mystery at the heart of my story was a strong one.
Said I wrote well.
Actually gave me a personal response, took time to read my submission carefully and gave me guidance on how to improve. And anyone who’s been down the submission route will know that getting any kind of personal response feels like a small win.
So, what have I taken from yesterday?
That writing is utterly subjective. That what one professional enjoys another will not.
That I need to be more adventurous with my story telling, not just thinking outside the box, but climbing out of the box – hell, I just need to burn the bloody box!
And that I can write. I really can.
And for now, that’s all the speck of gold I need to keep me panning for more.
NB For my dear, generous beta readers, Maureen, Chris,Jane, Karen, Sammi, Jane and Lauren, I’m not giving up on finding Caro and Neil a home just yet. And whatever the story’s merits, you’ve helped make it that way. Many thanks again, all of you.
There’s an old Chinese curse that wishes the unlucky recipient to
Live in interesting times
Now, no one – be they Brexiter, Remainer, environmentalist, climate change denier (Donald Trump, I suspect, might be all of the above, depending on what time of night he’s tweeting and how much cheese he ate before he snuggled up in his jammies) – could say the early 21st century isn’t just that
It is election time in The State, the citizens prepare to vote. A journalist from the Capital City, Maxine Aubert, heads north to report on growing resistance to the powerful ruling Party. Ex-police detective Danny Samson returns to the City he once fled, leaving behind a new found peace in the wilderness. Together Max and Danny become entangled in a burgeoning opposition movement with links to Danny’s past. Soon they learn the ruling Party will do whatever it takes to remain in power, and one life is all it takes to spark a revolution.
Having finally finished the first draft/second draft/alpha read rewrite of my work in progress – The Restless Dead – I’m now searching for some lovely people who enjoy fantasy fiction to be my beta readers.
If you’re interested in being a beta reader, here are some things you should know …
The book is Urban Fantasy, not High Fantasy. There are no swords and mages, no orcs or elves. It’s set in the present, in real towns in the UK. Supernatural things occur, and a lot of them, but think more Neil Gaiman or Ben Aaronovitch than JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin.
The book is around 300 pages long.
There will be a questionnaire to fill in. I’m working on it now and will try not to make it too onerous! Though, if you’re used to sending critiques, want to write your own notes and are happy to cover the points I raise, that’s fine too.
Ideally, the process will last no further than Christmas. Though that’s open to discussion, of course – you all have other stuff to do!
This book is based in the UK. One of the main ‘characters’ in the book is the city of York, UK (see above!). The settings are English, the language is ‘English’ English, with English phrases and references.
Now, on to the fun bit …
I loved writing this book! I loved getting to know the characters – good, bad and utterly demonic – and I hope that comes across. I want reading it to be enjoyable too. I want the readers to be caught up in every the running, screaming, drunken, creepy scene.
And if you’re still there, here’s the blurb to give you a flavour of the beast …
Thirty-five-year-old Neil sees ghosts. Or at least the last few minutes of an individual’s life, repeated over and over. Death fills every street he walks along, every home he enters. No wonder he lives a reclusive life alone in his bedsit watching Miss Marple reruns and eating cheese puffs.
Then one day an old friend – Caro – comes knocking, telling Neil her brother is dead. The police say it’s suicide. She says it isn’t. Luckily, she knows someone who can tell her if she’s right …
Can Neil solve the mystery, evade Victorian psychopaths, shape shifting demons and save the world from an invasion of the Restless Dead?
Interested? Want to know more? Then pop me an email. You’ll find the address by clicking the ‘hamburger’ symbol up the top of the screen. My email is in ‘view full profile’ under my terrifying photograph! Look forward to hearing from you.