Tag Archives: writing

Something new and doubt

I’ve just sent in the first draft of something totally new to my agent for her feedback. This is still fantasy, but the story is not set in the same world, there aren’t any mages in this book and it’s a bit different in terms of style and pacing. Now comes the waiting.

It was both refreshing and scary to start something brand new. Clean slate means no preconceptions and a totally new world where everything is shiny. There’s so much for me to discover and build. New characters to create. A whole new continent to populate with towns and cities. I spent so much time thinking about random things like heritage, architecture, trade and industry, weapons and armour. The list is endless.

It’s liberating but I also need to make sure that everything I create fits together in a cohesive and logical manner. It always baffles me when people who don’t read fantasy think we can basically write without rules and do anything we like, as if readers won’t mind that none of it hangs together. If anything fantasy authors have to work harder, especially when it comes to things like magic. It has to make sense, there have to be rules and costs, otherwise any time there’s any kind of a threat in a story someone can just wave their hand and the problem is solved.

The scary part comes from the little voice inside that wonders if I know what I’m really doing and if the first time was a fluke. That little voice of doubt is healthy, but it’s also a jerk. I think every sensible writer has doubts (any sensible creative person really) and if they don’t then we’ve all seen what kind of monsters they turn into (see Hollywood for example). Whether it’s your second book or your twenty second, if you don’t have doubts then it means you think you’re perfect and everything you write is gold and that is scary. Doubt is fine, it keeps me sharp, it keeps me hungry and it keeps me moving forward. But there are times when I have to point out to that little voice that I’ve gone a lot further than thousands (maybe millions?) of other people.

Even now I meet an endless stream of people who when they ask what I do and I tell them I’m an author their response is ‘Oh, one day I’m going to write a book.’ That one line has many connotations. When people say it now I just smile back, because I’ve done it. I wrote the book. I got the agent and then the book deal, and as of June this year I will have had 6 books published.

It’s not arrogance. It’s me reminding myself of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved. I put my money where my mouth was and I did it. It took a long time. Many years. Many failures. Many false starts and rejections. A lot of sacrifice and effort. But I’ve done it. They really can’t say the same.

So I still have doubts, but for now I’m going to ignore that little voice, put my head down and get on with writing a new book.

 

 

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Recent TV

The joy of Netflix means I can start on a series and just really soak into it, and consume the whole thing in one stretch. No waiting weekly for episodes, and go at my own pace. There are some shows that are released weekly, to keep them in line or just behind the US, but for those I’m just stockpiling episodes until the series is done. It’s not as if there’s nothing else to watch in the meantime.

I’ve avoided spoilers in the following, so I’ve not given away anything about the stories for anyone who is worried.

The Last Kingdom – I’m not sure why I held off watching this show for so long. I’m a big fan of Bernard Cornwall’s books, I enjoyed the odd Sharpe episode back in the day with Sean Bean, and I’m a massive fan of his Arthurian trilogy. This falls into the same kind of mould, based on his long running book series that has been renamed to The Last Kingdom series I believed. Only instead of King Arthur, we’re focusing on King Alfred of Wessex.

Uhtred Ragnarson, son of Uhred of Bebbanburg is a Dane, but not, an English man of Northumberland but also not and heir to Bebbanburg (Bamburgh to use its modern name). Fantastic stuff. I cannot fault the show. The cast is amazing and some characters are really interesting, both to love and hate, sometimes at the same time. Uhtred himself is not someone you always root for and I have to praise David Dawson who plays King Alfred. You want to hate him so much for some of his decisions and yet a moment later you feel sympathy and can understand his motives. Such a gloriously rich and layered character, it must have been a dream of a role for the actor. The brilliant Ian Hart as Father Beocca and so many of the others in the cast are amazing, especially those who play Hild, Finan, Brida, Steapa and Leofric. Three glorious series to soak into, do it now, and season 4 is in production.

Titans – So, as an old school long time DC comics fan I was torn about this and initially had mixed feelings. I read Teen Titans growing up. I know the characters and the trailer for the TV showed something very different. However, I gave it a shot and if you can get past some of the changes to the main characters, and put that aside then it’s an enjoyable show. The writers had to change some stuff to adapt it to TV, and I don’t have an issue with that, but at times it feel as if some of the violence and language was dialled up to 11 just because they could, not because it was always necessary for the story. Changing characters is fine, as long as they stay true to the heart of them.

Dick Grayson is a lot angrier than normal, however, they explain why this version id Dick is like that. Kori is perhaps the most difficult character to do in a TV series (more so than Beast Boy in fact with modern CGI) because she’s not human. She has orange skin, which the could have created using CGI, however, it would mean wherever she went people would stop and stare, and since it’s supposed to be set in the real world where there aren’t many aliens walking around, I can see why they didn’t go with that. The actress in the role Anna Diop fills the character with warmth, heart and compassion, and I think she did an amazing job, although the wardrobe they gave her initially, and in the trailer, was not a good choice, at all. It really gave out the wrong message.

The first series is also packed with a lot of cameos, and I mean A LOT. There is the potential for at least 3 spin off TV shows from this, and I know that one of them, Doom Patrol, has gone into production. In Titans we get to meet all of those characters for the first time, get a basic introduction to them and their powers, and then the story moves on. Lots of tie-ins to Batman and the city of Gotham, which is to be expected as part of the story explores Dick’s backstory. Overall I was able to put aside my issues about the changes that were made and I enjoyed it. Will definitely be tuning in for season 2.

The Punisher Season 2 – Given all of the faffing around behind the scenes between Marvel and Netflix this could be the last time we’ll see Jon Bernthal playing Frank Castle so I’ve mixed feelings. He’s the best version of Frank I’ve ever seen. The first series was perfect. Gritty, brutal and heart-breaking in equal measure. This season is trying to recapture that formula and although there are moments, it doesn’t reach the heights of the first season.

The acting is all spot on, but some of the storylines are jumbled, the pacing is off, it gets quite mixed up at times, and not in a good way, so Frank is bouncing around between things, juggling too much stuff, but it just doesn’t work. Some of the actors don’t have a lot to do except mope about, a lot. I understand this season is all about broken people and those kind of people don’t always make logical choices and deep-seated mental problems are not resolved overnight but even so, this is a TV show not a documentary and it’s an action show too, so some parts of this season were a bit repetitive which made them dull for me.

When Frank is unleashed the violence is explosive, difficult to watch and Bernthal is terrifying, as he should be in the role of Frank, a brutal force of nature. Some outstanding acting once again from a few people in the show. It’s worth watching but I don’t think this season reached the highs of season 1 by a good way. I hope there is a season 3 but I have massive doubts that will happen. I expect Netflix to announce the cancellation of The Punisher very soon and then Jessica Jones.

 

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Other Worlds Event – Sat 6th October

Just a quick post to serve as a reminder that next Saturday, 6th October in Nottingham, I will be taking part in the Other Worlds event at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

This is a full day of panels and workshops. The schedule and more information about the event is available on the website here, as well as how to buy tickets for the day.

I’m going to be there from mid-morning and I’m doing a couple of panels and a workshop on Fantasy Worldbuilding, with a special subtitle – Consider the Potato. All will be revealed about what the heck I’m talking about in the workshop which is going to be interactive and hopefully a lot of fun. All you need is a pen and an imagination!

Click here for more information about the event and to book your tickets

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Breaking all the rules

I’m currently working on my 7th novel (since being published – not including all the trunk novels) and something weird has happened. I’m breaking some of my own rules.

You have to write every day. You have to plan every book. You must not plan the story, let it flow organically. You need to set a daily word count. You should write to music. You should write in silence. Write in different places. Don’t have a set routine, be organic. Write in public. You absolutely have to get scrivener (or another program) in order to write. Use cards on a white board and plan stuff that way.

There is not one way to write a book. I need to make that clear because the most common questions I’m asked by writers trying to get an agent and then get published are focused on the above. Do I have to write a 100o words a day? Is it better to write in the morning or afternoon? Should I write with music? Should I work on more than one book at once?

Find your own way. Find what works for you. My way might not work for you. I’ve included a few conflicting statements above as I know some people who plan and some who write organically. Some who write in silence, some who need music. The following in my approach. It may not work for anyone else except me.

I always write at home, on Word, and nothing else. I plan my books, start, middle, end and milestones. The creative part comes in the leaps between milestones. I make notes in a notebook, on post it notes, on my phone, on scraps of paper, then write them up, and collect them together. I plan my stories. I always write with soundtrack music and can’t write with any music that has lyrics. I tend to write most days but am not rigid about taking a day off and I tend to set a daily word count for myself as I have deadlines. The word count keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and I constantly have one eye on the calendar. All of those are my rules and that’s what works for me. The music and being at home helps get my brain into a familiar space and off I go, sort of like muscle memory.

For my 7th novel, I’ve broken quite a few of my own rules. I found out when I started I couldn’t write with any kind of music. Nothing was working, which at first had me worried. So one day, after I’d revised my notes so many times I knew I had to actually write something I just tried it without any music. And suddenly it worked. The words started flowing. I had a new rhythm. I didn’t care why it was working only that it was working, so I continued. Months later I’m still writing this book without any music.

I’m tweaking my chapters. I never do this. When I sit down to write, I look back at what I’ve done on the previous day, I might tinker with the last paragraph or two, if it’s mid-chapter, or just glance at it if I am starting a new chapter. Then I move forward. Always forward so I finish a first draft and don’t get stuck in the endless cycle of trying to make it ‘perfect’. A first draft is never perfect. It’s always a mess. As Terry Pratchett said ‘A first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ and I absolutely believe that. The reworking comes later to make it flow and make it into more cohesive whole.

But this time I’m…tweaking things. Not to the point where I’m frozen and stop, but overnight, or when I’m away from the keyboard, I’m running conversations or bits of the previous day in my head, then I rush back and fix it that day, or first thing the next day. I’m still making good progress but this is very new and different. It might be because it is set in a new world, and I am still discovering it and the characters, but I also think it’s partially because this is a new style for me.

No music and polishing as I go. The first draft is still going to be rough, no doubt, but I’m happy with it so far. Ask me again in 6 months when I start to revise it and I will have a different answer, but it’s good to feel that way right now. I’m still planning and I have a skeleton plot which I’m following. I still set daily word counts and I still take a day off when I feel like it, especially if I’m tired or the well is getting a bit dry. A rest and complete break really can help me recharge the batteries.

So, somehow this time, it’s all new and different and fresh, despite it being my fifteen or sixteenth novel. I’ve honestly lost count at this point. But the important thing is it’s working and I will finish this first draft as planned. Stop worrying about how other people do it. Find what works for you and just finish the book.

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On Time Every Time

This post has been bubbling under for a while but it was brought to the forefront of my mind today by a tweet. Someone commented that they wait until the series of books is finished before picking them up in one go because they were shy about starting a series with an unpublished finish. Ok, there’s a lot to chew on there.

First, I’m not picking on this individual as I know it is an attitude shared by some SFF readers. However, it’s actually one that is damaging for writers. Myke Cole sums it up very succinctly here.

It really is that simple. I know binge watching is now common and binge reading is a thing too. There’s nothing wrong with either. So, one person posted a simple and elegant solution if binge-reading is your thing – Buy the books (or pre-order them) on the day they come out and then leave them on the shelf until the series is done. Then you can still binge read the whole lot in one go. There are drawbacks to this approach such as talking and engaging with other readers in the SFF community as the books come out, but I also realise that some SFF readers don’t get involved in conventions or social media. They just buy and read the books in their own time.

The second important point I wanted to raise is the vast majority of SFF published authors deliver their books on time, every time. Yes, there are a few very high profile, very celebrated authors who are behind on their deadlines (we all know who they are and the books in question) but everyone else just gets on with it and delivers their books. And no, this is not a dig at those authors either. The only issue is, some readers then assume that the rest of us will follow suit and it is just not true.

Here’s my current timeline of published books from Orbit :-

Battlemage – September 2015

Bloodmage – April 2016

Chaosmage – October 2016

Mageborn – October 2017

Magefall – September 2018

Mage3 – Sept/Oct 2019 (first draft is written)

Of Gods and Men (novella) – February 2018

That list is not there so I can pat myself on the back. Nor is it a pity party, because while it was difficult to work on the first trilogy of books at the same time, all of them at different stages so they could come out every 6 months, it was and is my dream job and something I’d wanted to do for decades. I also want to stress something because it is very important – writing is my job. This list is there to demonstrate I delivered the books on time, every time.

To that end, I’ve already handed in Mage3, and my deadline is December 2018. I’m now hard at work something new and different, which if all goes to plan, it will be published in 2020, or sooner, who knows. In theory, I could finish the first draft of the brand new book by the end of this year. It’s possible. Again, this is not here for people to pat me on the back. I love writing books. Yes, sometimes the process is difficult and challenging and I’ve written about that in previous blog posts. This isn’t about that. If I don’t hand in the books I don’t get paid and as I’ve said, writing is my job.

How you can help

The bottom line is if you like an author and want to support them – buy their books when they come out (from your local bookshop if possible). If you want to do more, then tell someone else about the book and the author. Word of mouth and personal recommendation from friends are very powerful. Shout about a book on social media if you loved it. If you want to go one step further, write a review and post it somewhere online. Goodreads and Amazon if possible because that will help other people find the books. Even if you didn’t buy the book from Amazon, it is the first port of call for a lot of people and reviews on there matter. Lots of people now have book blogs and vlogs on YouTube. Talking about books on there is another great way to spread the word.

Buy the books. Don’t wait.

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That’s a wrap….for now

The first draft of Mage3 (currently untitled), the third book in the Age of Dread trilogy, has now gone off to my editors at Orbit. So that’s it, I’m done….for the time being at least. In a few months’ time the next round of hard work will begin with edits and so on, but for now, I’m finished.

Looking back I think it will be about 10 years since I first sat down and started writing the first draft of Battlemage. I worked on that book for about 3 years on and off before I finally thought it was ready to submit to an agent. After that there was more work on it with my agent and then the publisher, and then I started work on the subsequent books in the first trilogy, the second trilogy and the novella.

I hate how everything is now ‘a journey’ and I’m not going to say I’ve been on one but these last 5 years in particular have been very interesting. Whenever you enter a new industry there’s always a lot to learn. In my case there was the perception of publishing from an outsider’s view and then I discovered the reality once I sat down with people like my agent, my editor and so on. It’s been eye-opening and thought provoking experience, that’s for sure.

Over the last few years I’ve definitely learned a lot from professionals in the industry but also from other writers. Those who have been in the business longer than me and have more books on the shelves. People have been happy to share their experiences and although everyone’s is unique to some degree there are patterns you can learn from.

When I started trying to get published (many years ago) self publishing was purely a phrase that meant vanity press. Now it’s transformed into something totally different. Many people prefer self publishing. Some have moved from self publishing to more traditional publishing and I know of a few authors who have gone the other way, preferring more freedom and control over all aspects of the process. I also know of a few hybrid authors who do a bit of both. So the landscape has changed dramatically in the last ten years, especially with the growth of ebooks and the internet.

So what’s next? I’ve already got some ideas, but I need to sit down to discuss them with my agent before being able to share any news. I can say that whatever I do next it will not be set in the same world. It will be something different and fresh in a new world. I need a change. That’s not to say I won’t ever come back to the same world, just not right now. I have two very distinct options at the moment but I need to mull them over and talk them through before deciding.

So at the moment I’m having a little bit of a break, I’m going to put my feet up, catch up on all the TV I’ve missed, maybe see a few films and then get back to work. So watch this space for any news!

 

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The Slog

I’ve not done a post about writing in a while and given where I am at the moment it seemed appropriate. This post is going to be all about my experiences with writing novels but this also applies to writers of other long-form projects. This is for all writers, whether you are published are not.

I wanted to talk about the slog. That is the effort to keep going and press on no matter how tired or fed up you are with the book. No matter how much you hate it and think it’s crap. No matter what else is going on in your life with your family, your friends and your day job. No matter what time of year it is as sometimes you want to be outside doing something else, anything else, rather than staring at a screen and writing the damn novel.

I plan my novels. I know the start, middle, end, and milestones. I don’t have every single detail plotted out, otherwise it would be boring to write, as there’s no discovery for me, and therefore boring to read. But with that structure in place the story can’t go off the rails sending me into a dead-end where I have to backtrack, delete a huge chunk of text and start down another track. Been there, done that, never again. Everyone has their own style of story plotting, architect, organic or somewhere in-between. However you approach it you still have to finish the book. And that’s a slog.

Someone recently asked me if the next two novels in my new trilogy, the Age of Dread, would be longer or shorter than the first book, Mageborn. Honestly, I have no idea. I know what the story is but not the final word count. There’s always some flex. Some chapters end up shorter than expected and others longer. Sometimes after scanning the first draft I realise it’s missing a beat here or there on certain characters so I might add in an extra chapter or two. So it really can vary up to a point. Even with all of that planning, and preparation, the toughest part of writing a novel is still getting to the end.

It takes me months and months to write a novel. Anywhere from eight months (my quickest ever) to three years. That’s a lot of time. A lot of evenings and weekends.  A lot of hours. And a lot of time. And it’s tough. It’s tough to focus on the end goal for all of that time. To think, great, when this is over I will have a finished book. So like a marathon runner, I’m always looking ahead to the finish line. Sometimes that’s all that keeps me going and it can be really hard to keep writing. (I’m not even going to touch on what happens after the first draft, that’s for another day).

The grind of it can be mentally and physically exhausting. I’m not going to compare writing novels to the difficulty of other jobs, like being a doctor, nurse, police officer or school teacher. They are all very difficult jobs. This isn’t a competition or a game. But that doesn’t mean writing novels isn’t difficult in its own way. I write because I love it and it’s my job and it also helps pay the bills. I was writing for years before I was published, many years in fact, producing novel after novel. I just kept going because I had to and I needed to write. Would I still be writing novels if I wasn’t published? Absolutely. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. If you think this post is me moaning about writing, or a pity party, you need to go back and reread it from the start. This is about the slog. This is about stamina.

Writing novels requires effort. It means digging down inside yourself and bringing forth an idea into the real world. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas. Hundreds every day. Turning that idea, for whatever it is, into a real finished thing is the hard part. How many people say they are going to write a novel but never actually do it? Tens of thousands is my guess, if not many more.

Writing means exposing a part of your mind to strangers who will then hold it up to the light and scrutinise it. Writing means readers will go through what you’ve been working on for months or years in a matter of hours or days. Writing a review can take 30 seconds and if you do read reviews, which I don’t think is healthy, they can be quite unpleasant, especially after everything you’ve poured into the project. No one sets out to write a bad novel.

I’m often asked if at this point, working on book 6, it gets any easier, and the answer is no. It should never be easy because I’m still working hard every time on every book. If it was easy then it means I’m phoning it in and not really putting in much effort. I wrangle with dialogue and rewrite it over and over. I worry about characters arcs and their development. I worry that I’m just stuffing in too much exposition or  world building that will bore people and slow down the pacing. I work hard to create satisfying stories with complex characters that feel real and relatable. I worry because I care about the book, every single time.

Getting to the end of that book and finishing it requires a lot of internal fortitude. A lot of stamina and it is a real slog of will. So. If you’ve made it this far, and you’re working on a novel, your first or fifteenth, it doesn’t really matter, know that you’re not alone and that there are many writers out there that are going through exactly the same thing as you.

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MCM London Comic Con this weekend

MCM London Comic ConThe title says it all really. This weekend I will be attending the MCM London Comic Con alongside some other fantastic fantasy and science fiction authors.

The event is 3 days but my fellow authors and I will be appearing on panels and doing signings on Saturday and Sunday. After each panel there will be a signing with books for sale in the room for all of the authors appearing on each panel.

Apparently, as well as authors, there are some other guests attending the event! Who knew? People like Anthony Mackie, Hayley  Atwell, Manu Bennett, David Bradley, Andrew Scott, Julian Glover, three of the boys from Red Dwarf…the list goes on and on. There’s going to be tonnes of cosplay, comics, Marvel have a big presence there this year, video games, manga, the list goes on and on.

In May this year at the event they had a footfall of something like 110K people over the three days making it the biggest convention in the UK. I wonder if they will exceed that number this weekend?

Check out the Author corner for the full list of authors attending and keep an eye out for the panel schedule in the Platinum suite. See you there, and if not, next month I’m in Derby at Sledge-Lit on Saturday 25th November, but more info on that soon.

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And that’s a wrap

Just a short post to say the first draft of book 5,  (well book 2 in the new Age of Dread trilogy), is done.

The first draft is raw, rough and it still needs a lot of work, but the main framework of the story is now done. I’ve had this story in my head for over a year and it’s taken me months and months to gradually shape the idea into a real thing. It’s changed a bit, despite planning it ahead of time, and I’ve already got a few things in mind I need to revise before anyone sees it. Then once I’m relatively happy with it I will send it on to my editors.

I know it is going to be edited several times and I’m going to be revising this text for the next year or so, but even so I want to get this current version to a comfortable state. There are a number of things I need to fix. Namely writing tics. Things I’ve realised I’ve started to develop, and some I didn’t even know I was doing but have been pointed out by other people. They’re crutches or cliches I might use too often so I’m going to file them off for starters. Other things are part of the plot that already stick out like a sore thumb. Polish the dialogue to make it more natural. There’s a list.

Now is actually the best time to do this, because once it goes into the publishing process I’m on much tighter deadlines, and working on the next book, so my focus is split. I’m ahead of my deadline at the moment so I have time to knuckle down and sort it now. Hopefully by doing so it will pay off later when I get my first set of editorial notes back on this new book. That’s the plan anyway.

Once this goes off to the publisher it’s back to fleshing out my notes for book 6 and then the hard work of a first draft begins again! No rest for the wicked and all that.

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Writing questions for April

This is going to be a short post with some questions that I’m hoping those of you who are following this blog, and anyone else who sees it, will respond to as it will give me a better idea of who is reading this, and also, why. I have a feeling that a lot of people who pop in here are writers, but I will see what the results show.

Questions

1.  With so much information out there now readily available via the internet on blogs, vlogs, social media, author websites, as well as attending events and courses, are there any parts of the publishing process that are still a mystery? And if so, which parts?

2. Are you a writer aiming to, one day, get published? And if so, how far along are you with your current work in progress?

3. Are you struggling with a particular part of the writing process? If so, which part?

4.  If you’re not an aspiring writer, are you  fan of fantasy? Science fiction? Both?

That’s it, short and sweet. Let me know in the comments.

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