Inspired by Dog Poop

It’s often said that writers find inspiration in the most unusual places. One example that sticks in my mind is that of song writer and famous singer Barry Gibb who tells the tale of how he came up with the idea for the song, ‘Chain Reaction’. Apparently he had been sitting on the lavatory and then pulled the chain to flush it (back in the days when lavatories had chains rather than a handle). This prompted the idea, ‘I’m in the middle of a chain reaction’, which is a line from the chorus of the song ‘Chain Reaction’, penned by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and sung by Diana Ross.

 Toilet

A few weeks ago I was writing a particular scene from my latest novel, which is the third book in the Riverhill Trilogy. During the scene I have an unsavoury character walking through the shopping precinct on the Riverhill estate. I wanted to capture how run-down the estate was and how this particular character fitted into his environment. I had written an initial draft of the scene, but wasn’t quite happy with it. It didn’t feel seedy enough.

I took a break and went for a walk, which often helps to clear my head and make me feel more relaxed. In fact, I often find that when I switch off for a while rather than toiling over a difficult scene, the ideas flow more easily.

Whilst I was out walking, to my dismay, I noticed an unusually large amount of dog dirt on the streets. After recoiling from the filthy mess, an idea hit me. That’s it, I thought – dog dirt. Yes, dog dirt, with flies buzzing round it. This triggered other thoughts and by the time I returned home I had the scene written in my head. I just needed to type it up on the computer. I’ve included the scene below, and hope that it now hits the right tone:

Fly

As he progressed through the precinct, Maurice encountered occasional globules of yellowy green mucus stuck to the ground. Its consistency was so thick and slimy that it usually took several downpours of rain to wash it away. Catarrh; a product of pollution, cheap cigarettes and poor diet.

Maurice trudged along, kicking up greasy paper wrappings that had spilt from the overflowing bin outside the fish and chip shop. The wind had blown litter against a small wall surrounding a bogus raised border. Its upper area was now a failed garden full of barren bushes, downtrodden weeds, cigarette butts and the occasional used condom. Among the litter, flies fed hungrily on dog faeces and discarded chips spilling from a carton.

He continued on past the last shop, a bookies. Curiosity made him glance inside; it was the busiest shop on the precinct, crowded, dark and fuggy with the haze of exhaled cigarette smoke and cannabis hanging in the air.

This was his sort of area; a place where the menacing and the vulnerable co-existed.

Book 3 in the gritty Riverhill Trilogy of crime thrillers is scheduled for publication in the summer. I’ll be including more excerpts and background information as we approach publication date.

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Why I’m Using a Prologue

I’ve just been doing some rewrites for my latest novel, which is book three of the Riverhill Trilogy. Although (to me anyway) this novel screams out for a prologue, originally I didn’t include one. The book’s opening is a departure from the rest of the book as well as from the first two books in the trilogy. It takes place in a different year and setting from the rest of book three, and a different setting from the first two books. However, its relevance is revealed as the book progresses.

Trilogy

Feedback from my beta readers was mixed in relation to what was then chapter one. They commented on its detachment from the rest of the book but said that it was an effective device in terms of what follows later. This reaffirmed my belief that it should in fact be a prologue rather than a chapter.

So, why didn’t I go with my gut instinct and make it a prologue in the first place?

I’m embarrassed to say that I bowed to outside pressure. You see, prologues are on those lists of things to avoid, which the publishing industry are fond of producing. Although I’ve already sounded off about this topic in my previous blog post Breaking the Writing Rules, I still avoided having a prologue when it was clearly the right thing to do. Silly me.

In fact, the publishing industry are so emphatic when they set these rules that I was still hesitant. I therefore carried out some research about prologues. Apparently, the reason they fell out of favour was because many authors weren’t using them to good effect. One of the cited examples of poor use of prologues includes using an excerpt from a later part of the book to stimulate reader interest. Publishers and agents have now dubbed prologues as ‘overused’.

Researching

During my research I read several articles about how and when to use a prologue. These all agreed that prologues can still be effective if used in the right way. And the good news is that my prologue fits in with many of the stated guidelines for effective prologues. It is set in a different time and place and it carries additional information which is relevant later in the book.

Once I had established all this, I felt more confident about using a prologue. But really, I should never have doubted it. After all, I’m an independent author and therefore don’t necessarily have to bend to the will of traditional agents and publishers. Isn’t that part of what being an independent is all about? My prime considerations should be my readers and what works best for the book.

In terms of readers, those who have read the first two books in the trilogy are used to reading books about feisty females from council estates battling against the extreme challenges life throws at them. Therefore, they will expect similar from the third book.

Soldier

My readers aren’t necessarily into reading about all action heroes in war zones. So I don’t want to put them off by giving them the impression that the whole book is about a group of soldiers in Iraq. Therefore, the way to achieve this is to use a prologue. That way, it will be more evident to readers that the opening of the book is additional background information rather than part of the main setting. It comes into play later in the book as it helps to explain the motivations of one of the main characters.

I’d love to hear views from other authors and readers regarding prologues. Do you like prologues? If not, why not? Have you used a prologue in a book? If so, what made you use one?

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The Importance of Beta Readers

For independent authors, beta readers play a key role in getting a book ready for publication. If you become traditionally published, you will have an editor (or sometimes a team of editors) assigned whose job it is to help bring your book up to market standards. However, if you’re an independent author you won’t have this advantage. So it’s great to know that there is a willing bunch of volunteers out there who will act as beta readers.

Essentially this means that they will read through your book before it goes to market and give you valuable feedback. This enables you to make any necessary adjustments and bring your book up to as high a standard as possible before publication.Magnifying glass

What they do – Some of the tasks that beta readers will carry out are to check for inconsistencies (plot holes) and errors, and problems with character development, continuity or feasibility. They could also make suggestions on ways in which to improve the story, for example, if there are areas of the novel in which you need to show more of the action rather than just telling the tale.

When you’ve been working on a book for several months it’s sometimes difficult to be objective. It’s therefore invaluable to get the opinion of an unbiased third party who will notice things that you may have overlooked.

Sometimes beta readers will also highlight proofreading errors, but this depends on the beta reader. On most occasions, proofreading is undertaken as a separate task and it doesn’t generally fall under the remit of the beta reader.

Man readingHow to get them – There are various ways of getting the message out that you are looking for beta readers. You could try putting a request on your blog, or put a message up on social media to let people know. Goodreads is another good way to make people aware and there are Indie author threads in many of the Goodreads groups, which will allow you to put up messages about your books. If you have a mailing list, you could also try adding a request for beta readers to your newsletter.

Who they are – Sometimes fellow authors may offer to beta read for you, and it’s often useful to have a reciprocal arrangement whereby you help each other. You may also find enthusiastic readers, book reviewers, people who are interested in your work, or others who want to improve the quality of published books on the market.

It’s great to have a good balance of beta readers to offer different perspectives. My current beta reading team includes male and female, authors and readers, and people from both the UK and the US.

It’s probably not a good idea to ask family and friends to be beta readers. It’s difficult for somebody to be totally honest when they share a close relationship with you. They may hold back or, on the other hand, if they give you some unwelcome criticism it may cause ill feeling between the two of you.

How many? – As each beta reader will concentrate on the aspects of a book that are important to them, it’s useful to have Woman readingseveral beta readers. I would aim for at least four, but more if possible. I personally think that five or six is an ideal number but other authors may disagree.

Dealing with feedback – It can be difficult when you realise that your book isn’t at quite as high a standard as you thought it was. Bear in mind though that it’s best to have it brought to your attention at this stage rather than have reviewers point out any failings.

Each beta reader will have their own preferences and their own point of view, and because you will write your book in your own particular style, you won’t necessarily want to act on every single one of their comments. It’s up to you as the author to decide which changes you want to make to enhance your book. It’s also worth bearing in mind, though, that if more than one person brings something to your attention, then it’s probably something you need to address.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful team of beta readers for the excellent job they do. I value their input and appreciate all their helpful suggestions.

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The Indie Author’s To Do List

Now that I’ve finished an early draft of my third novel, and sent it off to my beta readers, I’m thinking about the other tasks that I have to complete before publication. I’ve taken a look at the ‘To Do’ lists that I prepared for the previous two books and, to be honest, I could easily become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work still to be done. There’s the front and back matter, cover design, editing, proofreading, listing with Nielsen and BDS (for libraries), formatting etc. etc. And that’s before I even think about marketing.

The job of an independent author isn’t just to write a novel, but it’s similar to managing a project. However, unlike business projects, which may involve huge teams of people, the independent author is responsible for the whole project from start to finish. Although it is possible to hire help for certain tasks, ultimately, the overall responsibility for delivery rests with the author.

To Do List

I therefore thought it would be interesting to share a mock-up of a typical Indie author’s to do list. I hope that it might be helpful to others, especially new authors. I personally find a ‘To Do’ list invaluable because you can keep track of exactly where you are up to, and mark off your tasks as you complete them. I use grey highlighting to cover the areas that are completed, and use either bright highlighting or red italics to draw certain items to my attention. In this way I can tell at a glance what jobs still need to be tackled. By breaking tasks down in this way, and keeping track of them, the process will seem less daunting.

The following ‘To Do’ list includes only those tasks that have to be undertaken once you have produced your first draft of the book. Therefore, it refers to those activities that I would normally start organising once my book is with my beta readers. Here goes:

Task Done
Arrange cover design asap. N.B. Need both a Kindle and a print version.
Front and back matter.  

 

Write online press release.  
Allocate an ISBN number and register the book on Nielsen Title Editor website for the print version (takes 3 working days to show), (for the Kindle version Amazon allocate an ASIN number).
Libraries – Register with BDS once book is on Nielsen database: http://www.bibliographicdata.co.uk/ before I publish.
Write a series of blog posts related to the book, which I can publish at regular intervals until publication.
Re-read ‘Slur’ and ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ to make sure there are no inconsistencies in the three books (as it’s a trilogy).
Draw up a list of quotes from the book and from early reviews that I can add to Twitter.
Do a newsletter for people on mailing list announcing the launch (once available for pre-order), telling them about the Goodreads Giveaway & any other launch promotions.
Deal with feedback from beta readers once I receive it (deadline is 11th April).
Edit using editing software.
Arrange proof-reader in advance then do final proofread myself when he has completed it.
Arrange eARCs to all reviewers. Try to give them at least three weeks before I launch. Arrange any interviews.
Format for Kindle, upload, make available for pre-order and announce via newsletter.
Format for CreateSpace – Refer to typesetting instructions under ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ folder.
Upload to CreateSpace. Then approach bookshop with launch date (once I know when I will receive my print copies) & set up promo activities. N.B. Have to order a print proof first and check that before ordering my copies.
Organise a Goodreads Giveaway as soon as the book is published (make sure that the Kindle and print versions are linked together before I do this).
Send for personal copies from CreateSpace once the print version is available (this should cover friends, libraries and book shop signing).
Organise book shop signing. Make sure I have all the promotional materials ready for the signing e.g. A4 display stands for book posters, and that I have sufficient stock of the two previous novels.
Add the book to Booklinker to get the short form link.
Change profiles on WordPress website (all relevant pages), Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook to include the new book, and replace old author photos. N.B. Must include the Amazon link once it is available.
Notify everyone about the launch – Twitter (pin launch tweet), schedule a new release tweet for next few days, FB, mailing list, blog, text friends if not active on FB etc.
Organise any ads in relation to any launch or pre-launch promotions (see below).
Once the book is available, possibly organise a book promotion in relation to one or both of the first two books in the trilogy.
Make up a marketing list for any additional promotional activities that may prove fruitful e.g. book trailers, radio interviews etc.
Do sales to libraries – Would have to approach re AGG at the same time as I haven’t done yet.

 

Your own ‘To Do’ list might vary depending on, for example, whether you are producing a digital or a print version of your book, or both, as well as other factors. However, the above list will hopefully give you some ideas to consider.

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Breaking the Writing Rules

Recently I have noticed a profusion of articles and blog posts by people involved in the publishing industry with titles such as ’10 Ways Not to Begin your Novel’. The suggestions of ‘things to avoid’ include having your protagonist waking up from a dream, prologues, going back in time and many others. The reason they give is that these types of openings are overused and are therefore sure to get your book rejected by publishers.

Clipartsalbum_16620 Books

Personally, I think this reasoning is crazy. Just because a particular approach has been used previously doesn’t necessarily mean it has been done in the same way. Similarly, because the opening to a book is of a certain type, it doesn’t follow that the book will have anything else in common with other books that have used the same type of opener. Of course, to justify their reasoning they often cite that it will put readers off. Really? Are readers concerned over whether or not a book has a prologue, or has the current dislike for prologues got more to do with publishing fads?

When I wrote my debut novel I opened it with my protagonist waking up from a dream. I had been reading books for 40 years prior to publishing Slur and I can honestly say that I cannot recall another book that opened in this way. It may be that I have read one years ago and retained it in my subconscious, but it isn’t as though every other book I read begins with a dream. Certainly dreams have been used to effect in novels, but does this mean that we should put a ban on the use of dreams in case they become overused?

This brings me to the bigger picture: if the publishing industry insists that we avoid openings that they consider are overused, then why restrict this ruling just to openers? Why not put a ban on jaded cops? Flawed heroes? Middle class chic lit full of dating and/or career dilemmas? Romance novels where boy meets girl but fate conspires to keep them apart for most of the novel until they finally end up together? Or, before this latest trend gets too clichéd, why not put a ban on the female cop who thinks she tougher than all the guys, but has a vulnerable side known only to the reader?

The important point I’m trying to make in all of this is that what’s more important than the type of scenario you create is how well it’s executed.

Another ‘rule’ that drives me to distraction is that it’s now become unpopular to replace the word ‘said’ with alternatives. Although we were encouraged to come up with more creative alternatives at school many decades ago (in my case anyway), those alternatives have now become anathema in certain quarters. I can understand how the overuse of alternatives can become jarring, but there are instances where certain words are more expressive than the word ‘said’ and they can convey the mood of the person speaking.

Gossip

The ‘point of view rule’ is another example that came to my attention recently through a book that I read. This is a rule that most writers follow, and I try not to break this one myself because it can become confusing if an author switches point of view mid-scene. However, in ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith there are many instances in the book where the author switches POV from one paragraph to the next. Yet, this is a bestselling novel, which has received rave reviews in the popular press. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision on the part of the author to take this approach, but I found that it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book and there were only one or two parts of the book where it caused confusion.

While there is a lot of good advice out there, which can improve your writing, sometimes I feel that there is too much. It is impossible to take it all on board especially as so much of the advice is conflicting anyway. Too much emphasis on ‘the writing rules’ can make your writing become stilted, so I think the best thing is just to enjoy your writing. Any howlers can be sifted out at the editing stage anyway and if there is any advice that doesn’t make sense to you, ignore it.

Rant over, for now, but if there are any writing rules that irritate you, please feel free to have a moan in the comments below. 🙂

Signed, Rebellious Indie Author.

P.S. My opening for Slur is staying.

Why do you Love Being an Author?

During a recent email chat with an author friend we were discussing how frustrated we become when other work pulls us away from writing our novels. I commented that it was probably because other work didn’t give us the same sense of satisfaction as writing novels. This led me to thinking – just what is it about being an author that is so satisfying? So I thought it would be interesting to try to pin down some of the reasons:

Escapism – When writing a novel you can escape into your own world which can be anything you want it to be. That does beg the question – why is my writing world full of violence, bad language and warped characters, and why does that give me so much satisfaction? Hmmm!

Creativity – I gain a sense of fulfilment in having created something from nothing and I’ve no doubt it’s the same for other authors. Your book is like your baby that you feel proud of and it gives you tSatisfied Readerhat special feeling of having nurtured it from start to finish. A lot of us are familiar with the buzz of holding the print version of our own book in our hands or seeing it on the shelf in our local book store or library.

Reader Satisfaction – It’s lovely to receive feedback from readers and know that somebody has enjoyed one of your books.

Organisation and Planning – In the (non-writing) world of work, good organisation was always one of my strengths and I think that both non-fiction and fiction books require good organisation skills. You have to be able to plan the chapters, and carefully interweave the main plot and sub-plots. Organisation and planning are also important in achieving a good balance with the pacing of a novel. Because of my organised nature I actually enjoy these challenges.

Kudos – If I’m honest it’s always flattering when people take an interest in what I do although I also get a little embarrassed sometimes. Even though there are increasing numbers of people publishing books, it still attracts a lot of attention when you say that you have written and published a book.Money Pile

Huge Potential for Financial Gain – Yes, there’s a golden carrot dangling on the end of that metaphorical piece of string. The trouble is, every time you try to grasp the carrot, somebody yanks the string and you find you’ve got a bit further to go until you reach your reward. But as long as we can see the carrot, we’ll keep trying to grab it.

I’m speaking for the majority of authors, of course. There are some who are already reaping large financial rewards, which provides further encouragement for the rest of us.

Now for the things I don’t love so much:

I don’t think I’m very good at the whole marketing and promotion thing. I’ve never been one for selling myself. I’d rather shy away and get on with my writing but I expect a lot of authors are like that, which is probably why we choose to do what we do.

TimeThe other negative aspect for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. This is another one that I often hear other authors complain about, especially independent authors. It would be wonderful if we could devote all of our working hours to writing and have somebody else take care of all the promotion, editing, proofreading and formatting etc. but for most of us that isn’t feasible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. What is it about being an author that you love or are there any aspects of being an author that you’re not so keen on?

Anyone fancy a carrot?

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Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you to Guy Portman of http://guyportman.com/ for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I have been following Guy’s blog for some time and it is full of entertaining author–related information as well as interesting anecdotes about his travels.

Versatile Blogger Award

Here are the rules relating to the award:

  • Nominate 15 other bloggers relatively new to blogging (I’ve dispensed with the ‘new to blogging’ bit since I could only find a few of them)
  • Let the bloggers know that you’ve nominated them
  • Share 10 random facts about yourself
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you
  • Add the Versatile Blogger Award picture to your post

Ten random facts about me

Since my blog is about things related to my writing I’ll start with some bookish facts:

1. The oldest book I own is ‘As you Like It’ by William Shakespeare. It is a 1941 version by the Oxford University Press marked with a school stamp. Don’t worry, I didn’t acquire it by nefarious means. My school were having a clear out and were giving old books away to the pupils.

2. My favourite book is ‘Guests of the Emperor’ by Janice Young Brooks. This is the story of a group of women and their fight for survival in a Japanese prison of war camp during World War Two. I also love ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy.

3. My first foray into commercial writing was when my junior school teacher asked the pupils to submit poems for a book that was being published. It was a collection of poetry by children from Writingschools all over the area. I have a vivid memory of the last day of junior school. We were asked to rewrite the poems in our best handwriting. Everybody else had one or two poems for submission but the teacher had selected several of mine. While all the other children were celebrating the last day I was busy writing. Somehow it felt more like a punishment than a privilege and I never did find out whether any of my poems were published.

4. I’ve lived in Manchester all my life and I love it (despite the weather). I love everything about Manchester and consider myself lucky to have so much on my doorstep – great music, sport, culture, shopping, countryside etc. etc. etc. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. Despite all this we have our share of crime, like any other city, which is why I’ve chosen Manchester as a base for my novels. I hope this doesn’t mean that I am showing the city in a negative light because it doesn’t represent Manchester as a whole.

5. Prior to becoming a writer I used to work in credit control and I became a graduate Member of the Institute of Credit Management (MICM). Although I hated the job I finished studying for my professional qualification because I figured that all education is worthwhile. That has proved to be a wise decision because I’ve produced a lot of copy in the consumer finance niche over the years.

6. My favourite drink is cappuccino.

7. I enjoy the theatre but mostly go to local theatre rather than central Manchester. It’s a lot cheaper, easier to get to and we have a high standard of amateur theatre groups in our local area.

8. I used to enjoy knitting and crochet but haven’t done any for ages because of the need to wear varifocals for the last couple of years. I’m definitely not a fan of them and had a separate pair of glasses made up specifically for computer work.Knitting

9. As a child I loved reading so much that for a long time I refused to watch TV. I even told my school teacher that I didn’t like the television. While the rest of my family were watching TV I used to lie on the carpet with my head underneath my dad’s legs as he used to rest his feet on a stool. The gap underneath his legs used to obscure the TV screen and drown out part of the sound so that I could concentrate on my books.

10 The other place I love is Spain. I can talk the language a little although not as well as I used to. I spend holidays in a town that is occupied mainly by British ex-patriates so I don’t get sufficient opportunities to practice my Spanish.

That’s enough about me. I would like to nominate:

Marilyn Chapman

Joanne Phillips

Georgia Rose

Crime Writer’s Blog (Sue Coletta)

The Lavender Field (Kim Smith)

Katherine’s Bookcase

Geoffrey West

Annethology (Anne Goodwin)

Writer Babble (David Delaney)

Martina Munzittu

Pauline Wiles

Clare Davidson

Best Dad I Can Be (Mark Richards)

E L Lindley

Linda Huber

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