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Thoughts from a distant shed

2018 - New Year, new impetus

2017 was a very hectic year for me. 

Writing wise, I completed the second MG novel I’d been working on and had received some initial feedback from Ben, my agent, which I worked through and then sent to a couple of writer friends (one published and an award winner no less) for their comments.

While I waited for them to get back to me (having a huge to-be-read (TBR) pile is an occupational hazard for writers) I began work on a new idea that had been bubbling away in the back of my mind, writing a few initial chapters.  It really excited me, but I was conscious I wanted to complete the book I’d actually done a second draft of before getting side tracked on an exciting new project.

When I got some of the feedback, I started work on the amendments, but then a number of different things conspired to eat up my free time; big changes at work, major building work at home and both of my sons going to university at the same time.

By the time things had started to settle down, I’d received the second bit of feedback and started work on it - except now it was only a month to Christmas.  I did my best, but had only got part way through when life got in the way again, bringing both kids back (and a multitude of other things that I won’t go into here that did nothing to decrease my alcohol consumption or improve my editing output.)

Over Christmas, I’ve been able to sit down and get cracking and I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made, mainly thanks to the excellent quality of feedback I’ve had to work with.  Now I’m also submitting Pandora Wolfe to an open submission (wish me luck) and I hope to have the second WIP edited and sent back to my published writer friend to see if I’ve cracked the main problems before sending it back to my agent, Ben.

Once I get that sent off, I’ll then be full steam ahead with the new project (a fantasy story set here in the North East.)  I may even find time to actually update my blog more regularly. You never know!

Posted 72 weeks ago
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Posted 112 weeks ago
<p><b>The secret to inspiration?  My
fellow authors</b></p><p>Like many other people who write, I sometimes get bogged down in the general grind of life - the day job, things
needing fixed in the house or any one of the myriad of distractions life throws
at me. It can demotivate you, it can make you slump in front of the TV watching
something you don’t like rather than writing another chapter or doing some
editing.  Life really does get in the way.</p><p>But then, if you’re lucky like me, you know people who have
succeeded. People who are actually making a living from writing or getting
critically acclaimed people to plug their books.  It’s these amazing
people that keep my eye on the prize and keep me motivated.</p><p>I’m going to talk about two of those people here.  Both of
them are signed to the same wonderful agent as I am, Ben Illis of
<a href="http://www.the-bia.com">www.the-bia.com</a></p><p>The first is Claire McFall, a teacher from Scotland who
writes young adult fiction.  You could be forgiven if you haven’t heard of
her novels, although they’re excellent - Ferryman, Bombmaker and Black Cairn
Point - but she’s a superstar in China, where her book tour was a
sell out in packed halls and she’s a well known name.  There’s an article
about her in the Independent - reproduced above.</p><p>The second is Chloe Daykin, a new, Northeast based children’s writer, whose debut novel, Fish Boy, came out this week.  It’s already had rave reviews and has been lauded by the award winning author of Skellig, David Almond.  Everything I hear about Fish Boy is good and I can’t wait to read it.  I’m also attending the book launch at Seven Stories later this month and I really can’t wait. <a href="http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/arts-culture-news/northumberland-writer-chloe-daykin-snapped-9220653">http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/arts-culture-news/northumberland-writer-chloe-daykin-snapped-9220653</a></p><p>So to these ladies - thank you.  Your success and talent has got me away from boxset bingeing and back to editing on a sunny and actually springlike (for a change) Sunday morning. </p>

The secret to inspiration?  My fellow authors

Like many other people who write, I sometimes get bogged down in the general grind of life - the day job, things needing fixed in the house or any one of the myriad of distractions life throws at me. It can demotivate you, it can make you slump in front of the TV watching something you don’t like rather than writing another chapter or doing some editing.  Life really does get in the way.

But then, if you’re lucky like me, you know people who have succeeded. People who are actually making a living from writing or getting critically acclaimed people to plug their books.  It’s these amazing people that keep my eye on the prize and keep me motivated.

I’m going to talk about two of those people here.  Both of them are signed to the same wonderful agent as I am, Ben Illis of www.the-bia.com

The first is Claire McFall, a teacher from Scotland who writes young adult fiction.  You could be forgiven if you haven’t heard of her novels, although they’re excellent - Ferryman, Bombmaker and Black Cairn Point - but she’s a superstar in China, where her book tour was a sell out in packed halls and she’s a well known name.  There’s an article about her in the Independent - reproduced above.

The second is Chloe Daykin, a new, Northeast based children’s writer, whose debut novel, Fish Boy, came out this week.  It’s already had rave reviews and has been lauded by the award winning author of Skellig, David Almond.  Everything I hear about Fish Boy is good and I can’t wait to read it.  I’m also attending the book launch at Seven Stories later this month and I really can’t wait. http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/arts-culture-news/northumberland-writer-chloe-daykin-snapped-9220653

So to these ladies - thank you.  Your success and talent has got me away from boxset bingeing and back to editing on a sunny and actually springlike (for a change) Sunday morning. 

Posted 115 weeks ago

Inspiration - the enemy?

I sit here, taking a breather after two hours of editing my latest book this morning.  I should be pleased with myself, but instead, I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t done more this week.

Why? Have I been watching too many box sets on TV? Was I zoned out in front of an Xbox? Out carousing? Caught up reading other books?  Nope. I’ve been researching and plotting a new book idea that just won’t settle down and remain in my subconscious until I need it like a good idea should.  

This is in one sense an embarrassment of riches.  Having the next idea lined up and ready should be a good thing, right? Except when it stops you completing the edit of a complete draft of a different book, it isn’t. It’s a distraction.  So put it out of my mind and focus on the job in hand, right? Should be simple.  Except my imagination doesn’t play by common sense rules.  When it has an idea it likes, it won’t let go. It creeps in as I drive to work (where it came to me, as it happens.) It’s there in meetings, in conversations with friends and family.  Ever present.  It wants me to write it.

Except…except that’s exactly how you don’t get things finished.  It’s how you rush off a half arsed job to get on to the shiny thing your brain wants to play with, and I don’t want to do that. I want to complete each book until it’s something I (or my agent) feels is good enough to submit to publishers, then start something new.

So I’ve compromised.  I’ve ordered books to begin researching ideas and material for the new book and I’ve started a note book to write down plot ideas and characters as they appear, but I’ve insisted I don’t write a single word of it until the editing of the current book is done.  And you know, it’s working…sort of.  I may spend a little longer writing notes and reading Northumbrian legends (details of this in a later post) than I should, but I am still making progress, and when I edit the book, I remember how I felt when I wrote the first draft.  That I do think it’s quite good and worth finishing. Two hours isn’t bad, but I need to do a lot more if I’m going to edit it into publishable quality.  

I just need to keep my imagination in a place where it’s fed enough to keep the new idea alive until I’m ready to write it, but not strong enough to take over the work I’ve got to finish before the hard work is done.  In fact, I’ve had a long enough break already and there’s still a fight with an evil henchman to polish……  TTFN

Posted 130 weeks ago

Why is it so easy to write on trains?

This is an odd title for what the blog entry is - an explanation of what I’ve been up to, but I promise I’ll get to the point eventually. First of all, I must apologise for the ridiculous pause in posting on this blog, which was purposefully set up to make non-specific updates so I kept writing. Well, it turns out, I’m even more rubbish at updating my blog regularly than I am at writing (actually editing, rather than writing) lately.  

The problem? I suppose it’s been a multitude of things -  life has been a lot busier at work in the last few months, leaving mentally drained when I get home. I’ve returned to running, with the intention of losing weight and living longer. It’s supposed to give you energy, which it does - during the day, but by evenings I’m all conked out by 9.30.  I hadn’t even had the energy to read - which is very unusual for me in recent weeks. Finally, the main problem is that I’m editing a book, something that I know is essential, but which requires more concentration (at least for me) than the creative part of writing. Especially when there’s another exciting book idea constantly knocking at the door of my subconscious.

These things happen to everyone and a lot of people write or edit through it, but I was making such slow progress, it was barely noticeable.  Anyway, work calmed down and I got used to the running - 3 miles, 5 times a week - go me - but when I found myself with time to write or edit, I just couldn’t face it. Well, I did work, but it was tiny amounts, just so I could look myself in the mirror. If I’m honest though, I wasted far more time on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or just surfing the net.  I knew I needed to do more. I felt bad I wasn’t doing more - I had new ideas I wanted to start on, but I needed to finish the current project before I could move on because quitting this far into a book just isn’t me.

Then I went on the train to Manchester.  

There’s something oddly calming to me about a long train journey, something that for some reason helps me write, so I always bring a laptop. I don’t know if it’s the terrible mobile signal, the absence of TV or a reliable internet. Maybe it’s the fact I can just sit at a table for 3 hours and not talk to anyone if I don’t want to. Maybe it’s the romance of being on the train, which I’ve always been a sucker for. Whatever it is, it works for me. I had no real expectations after my recent slow period on this day, but I brought my laptop along anyway.  I drank a coffee, read the free paper and thought. “Let’s give it a go.”  Wow. Immediately I was in the zone - an editing machine.  Hours of editing on the way there, hours on the way back.  It’s like it unblocked something in my brain and now the thoughts can flow freely again.

Now I’m back, I’ve done more editing and am making good progress.  The book I’m editing (a middle grade sci-fi book - sort of Heroes meets Firestarter for kids) needs a couple of good edits before I can send it back to my agent, Ben.  I’m now almost finished edit one, based on his initial feedback.  I need to get this book polished and out.  I think it’s a good book, but my mind keeps wanting to move on to that next project that is insisting it needs to be brought into reality.  I just need to maintain my momentum and get it done. Maybe I just need to be sent away on the train more often. Maybe it’s only something I need in situations like this. 

Either way, I’m hoping to update more often from here on in, both on the current book (watch this space for more detail ) and the next one, the insistent, unstarted project, which will be set in Northumberland and involves a magic well.  Feel free to send me mocking messages if I don’t!  TTFN

Posted 133 weeks ago

A small Pandora update.

July 3, 2016

While I haven’t been working on Pandora recently, I haven’t forgotten about her either. I did some major editing work before deciding to concentrate on the new book and got the book down to 62,000 words (a 10,000 word cut.)

I need to keep concentrating on my new book, but a friend told me about a competition (auspiciously in Somerset, where Pandora is set) and also an unusual 24 hour window for open submissions at a publisher. I didn’t do all that work on Pandora to leave her unpublished, so I’ve entered her in the competition and also sent her for the open submission (with my agent Ben’s blessing.)

Wish her luck!

Posted 150 weeks ago

I love it when a plan comes together

Well, here we are at the beginning of Easter and for once, I’ve hit a self imposed deadline with time to spare. 

I finished the first draft of my new Middle Grade (that’s 9-12 age range, shortened to MG) novel over a week ago (I’d aimed to do it before Easter, if you remember my last blog entry) and have sent it to a valued friend, a published and award-winning writer, who gave me some very positive feedback.  Now obviously, this is still a first draft, so it still has all sorts of flaws, omissions, un-fleshed out characters and continuity errors, but she’s experienced enough to see through those things to imagine what it will be like when I’m finished editing (a bit like those make-over experts who can visualise an old-run down house as it will look when it’s fully updated and decorated on those house porn shows) so I’m taking that as a very encouraging sign. 

Since then, I’ve been doing a first edit.  The purpose of this one is to tidy up anything too glaring before I send the book to my agent, Ben Illis, for his opinion.   

Normally, I’d wait a while before editing (“put it in a drawer for a month and don’t look at it,” Ben usually says) because this helps me spot things I’d otherwise miss when editing too soon because immediately after writing something, I’m still too close to the book.   

Why am I just doing a first edit now, you ask? Didn’t I listen to my agent? Well, to be honest, editing is probably too grand a description - it’s more of a slight tidy up.  Ben can see through all the things that will be taken care of in an edit too and so I’ll just tackle the absolutely obvious stuff.  The fact is that Ben will be giving me the benefit of his considerable experience when he reads the first draft and I fully expect him to suggest I make changes. Possibly major ones, and If I’m going to make a lot of changes, then there’s not much point in polishing the book too much, I can do that later when it’s closer to its final form. 

So I’m about 50% through the edit/tidy up and expect to be finished in the next few days, after which it will go to Ben. Then, I’ll have to wait.  Ben has a lot of other clients besides me, several of whom have book launches coming up and there are also book fairs in Bologna and London coming up (where agents pitch books to publishers) so I don’t expect him to get back to me immediately. 

In the past, I’ve paced a bit, complained a bit (ok, a lot) and generally tortured myself while waiting for feedback, but this time, I’ve got something else to do. Remember Pandora Wolfe?  How a publisher said that they really liked it, but it was 10,000 words too long?  Well, while I wait, I’ll be going back to Pandora to edit it down to under 60,000 words. This is something I feel will be a lot easier to do now (the new book is under 50,000 words) and it’s a productive use of my time.  By the point when Ben responds about my new book, I could be finished editing Pandora down.  At that point, I’d have two books to offer, albeit one (the new one) needing lots of editing and changing. 

And of course if all else fails, I’ve another new idea bubbling away in the back of my mind, which I’ll be starting on when I get the time.  I finished the first draft of the latest MG book in about 6 months (even with a couple of unproductive months in the middle) and I feel like I’ve found my writing pace, so I think I’ll be faster when I write that one.

In the meantime, since my last deadline seemed to work so well, I’m going to set another.  Once I send my new book to my agent, I’ll immediately start work on Pandora Wolfe and I want to have finished a re-working of it by the end of May.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

 TTFN

#writing #editing #deadlines

Posted 164 weeks ago

Success breeds success

A short update on my progress so far – I’ve written almost 10,000 words in the last 2 weeks and to me, that’ s good going.  I feel like I’m back “in” my story and able to tell the rest of it with relative ease (touch wood!)  Moreover, I’ve had encouraging feedback (given that it’s still an unfinished first draft) from a published writer I respect, which has given my writing additional “oomph.”

In fact not only am I feeling like I’m making headway with my current work in progress, I’m also having some pretty exciting new ideas pop into my head at random moments, including a whole new MG fantasy book plot that popped into my head randomly as I drove to work.  An idea that I was very excited about.

So excited, that I’ve had to exercise self discipline.  Not easy at the best of times for a man who can almost never answer “no” to questions like “another pint?” or “fancy a cupcake?” -  but necessary if I want to finish the story I’m working on.  So I’ve written down the ideas, discussed them with my wife, Marie (who’s always my first sounding board,) fleshed out some of the characters and plot and then put it aside.  It was difficult, but I did it – and the best thing is, the idea is there and ready to be picked up when I’m ready to work on it.

I think inspiration (at least for me) is something that comes when I’m already doing well writing something.  I could be doing nothing for months and I’d never have a single idea, but when I’m making good writing progress then ideas come at me at random times out of the blue. This makes me think that the imagination is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Sitting on the sofa watching box sets just makes it atrophy.

So, I’m about 85-90% of the way through my first draft.  My plan is still the same; finish the first draft, do a quick edit to deal with the worst of the continuity errors, characterisation problems (my first draft characters can sometimes be so wooden, you’d need to polish them with linseed oil) and other major problems, then send it off to my brilliant agent, Ben Illis for his feedback (and at that point, I’ll be really nervous.)

Then, while I’m waiting, I’ll go back to my first book - Pandora Wolfe – and try to edit the story down to 60,000 words while I wait for Ben’s comments and suggestions.  This way I’ll stay busy, keep my imagination in gear and hopefully, eventually, end up with a book that’ll be published at the end of it.

Till then, I’ll keep you posted.  TTFN.

�}3 Yƚ

Posted 167 weeks ago

I am pleased to announce the triumphant return of my mojo.

After some fits and starts in the last week , I made a concentrated effort over the weekend to get my head back in the game and start writing. I wasn’t suffering from “writer’s block” or anything like that - the problem was simply that I’d been away from it for over a month and hadn’t really looked at my current project in that time – this meant that when I came back to it, my head was no longer “in” the story.  It’s a lot like where you’re reading a book and stop, then come back months later – the book and characters feel unfamiliar, you’ve forgotten details the characters are referring to and can’t get into it. Sometimes you never finish.

Something similar happened to me when I read the brilliant “5th Wave” by Rick Yancey.  I loved the book, but when the sequel came out, I found it really hard to get into because it had been so long since I’d read the first one (I tend to come to book trilogies late and read them one after another and this is why.)   So I went back and did a cursory read of the first book again, reminded myself who the characters were, why they mattered and what their relationship to one another was.  Then I happily read and enjoyed the sequel (The Infinite Sea) and I’m looking forward to number 3.

As it is with reading, so it is with writing. When you’ve taken a break, sometimes you’re better off going back to the beginning and reading what you’ve already done to refresh your memory before trying to write anything else.  So that’s what I did.  

Now since this was a first draft, I tried to ignore the multitude of things I wanted to change (though I filed them away in the back of my mind for the second draft) – one of the main ways I’ve discovered to keep my word count going up is NOT to edit as I go. It kills the perfectionist in me, but it keeps the words flowing.  As Ernest Hemingway once observed “the first draft of everything is shit.” Well I like to think it isn’t completely shit, but it’s still light years away from being a publishable or even readable quality; full of plot holes, un-fleshed out characters and quite a bit more “tell” than “show” – things I deal with in the edit.  But despite all the shortcomings, I got to a point where I was “feeling” the book again and could continue with the next part of the story.  In the last couple of days, I’ve written 3000 words and I also know where the next few nights of writing are taking me, so that, my friends is progress.

I’ve also sent what I’ve written so far to a trusted friend, a published, award winning writer to take a first look at it so far.  What I need from her is brutal honesty – is the story likely to work?  What isn’t working?  Where are the plot holes? Which characters are jumping off the page and which look like cardboard cutouts?  At the end of the day, while I want to finish the book, I don’t want to spend months and months flogging a dead horse – however painful it would be to bin several months worth of work, it would be more painful to have to bin it after a year or eighteen months.  So I’m more than a little bit nervous, but we’ll wait and see on that and in the meantime, I’ll keep on writing.  TTFN

Posted 170 weeks ago

Normal Service will be resumed shortly

Early this month, when I’d shaken off my festive (self-inflicted) alcohol and chocolate induced fug, I picked my writing back up again. I was making good progress; lots of words in a short space of time. I knew where the story was going - I was on a roll.  Then things changed.  Out of the blue, I lost my mam.

It knocked me for six.  Someone who had always been there for me my whole life was suddenly just - gone.  Probably quite understandably, it had a pretty detrimental effect on my writing.  In fact the only thing I managed to write this month (until this blog) was a eulogy that I read out at her funeral, which was definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write and was even harder to read out loud, but it was something I felt I needed to do.  Apart from that, I’ve done nothing. I just haven’t been able to concentrate.

It’s a funny old thing, grief.  At first, you’re numb. You intellectually know what’s happened, but can’t absorb it at a gut level.  Then, suddenly, the enormity and permanence of it all hits you like a tsunami. It’s everywhere you look.  You’re a hot mess pretty much all of the time and when you’re not sorting practical things or supporting those who are even more affected than yourself (like my poor dad) you’re no good to man nor beast.  People are nice (the ones who can deal with it) or they avoid mentioning it altogether (the ones who can’t) – but realistically, there’s not much anyone can do to help other than be there and I’ve been very lucky in having so many lovely friends, family and work colleagues to support me through this.

Slowly, it gets easier. You start feeling normal - even happy -  for most of the time (which then makes you feel guilty - thanks, brain.  Like I needed to feel worse.)  

Eventually, while you might feel sad when you think about it, you get back to more of an even keel.  You start to adjust.  Things start to return to normal. That is until something happens.  Usually it’s something stupid; out of left field. Most recently, it happened when I was reading a book about a marooned astronaut (I’m sure you know the one). I’d reached a bit when the character gets an email from his mother and I suddenly realised that I’ll never get another one from mine - ever again - and I was off. Where the hell did that come from? But as soon as it came, it went, leaving me wondering why something so innocuous had such a profound effect on me.  I suppose nobody ever accused emotions of being consistent or logical. They just are what they are and I’m learning to roll with the punches.

Now it’s three weeks later. The “left field” moments are much fewer and further between and I’m settling into a normal routine.  After successfully reading books without incident, I want to get back into writing again.  It was something my mam gave me a lot of encouragement in – she read my first book avidly and was very proud of me, which meant a lot. It means even more now.  So I’m going to get back in the saddle.  This week’s plan is to read the last bits I’ve written of my latest book and then continue where I left off.  I’d like to get a first draft finished before Easter.  I’ll update you on the progress.

TTFN

Posted 173 weeks ago