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Minor Character Shift

When writing Locked Up, Charlie developed pretty quickly, and soon after I had Teddington too.  But it’s a rare book indeed that survives on just two characters.  Even when you only actually see two, others tend to get referenced.

And since my book is set in an overcrowded prison, I needed lots of characters and I had to know who each of them were.  Some I knew better than others, and some became friends faster than I was expecting.

When I started writing the whole book was to be carried by Charlie; that he would do all the leg work, find out everything.  But the reality of any real investigation is that it is a team effort and Charlie really wasn’t at liberty to go far.

Of course, Teddington was the obvious choice to assist, but even she was limited by her knowledge  (or rather lack of) investigative practices.

Besides, there was Piper.  DCI Piper was always going to be in the book, because procedural checks told me that the police would look into a murder inside a prison.  Originally that was all he was going to do.  Turn up and allow a whitewash.

Then I wrote his opening scene.

Without me really thinking about it, Charlie knew Piper, knew him well. Worked with him.  Admired him. And I knew Charlie.  Charlie wouldn’t admire a bent or even a lazy cop.  He just wouldn’t.  His instincts are good enough he wouldn’t be easily fooled either.

That changed who Piper had to be.  Then I started really thinking about who he was, what he would be like, how he could help.

Suddenly Piper stepped out of the shadows.

And when Piper stepped out, Carlisle stepped out too.  DS Carlisle was a bit of a surprise to me.   Hadn’t expected him to be much more than a couple of “Yes, Sir”s,  but he turned into way, way more.  In fact, it’s Carlisle that keeps surprising me.  I am currently writing book three and Carlisle has taken a path I never expected from a character originally intended to be a nothing more than a procedural prop.

Then there were the other characters; the prisoners and the prison officers.  There had to be enough of them for the population to be realistic, but not so many it confused the reader.   Have to admit I kind of misjudged this one and in the final edit I slashed ten characters out of existence.

Have to also say that there is one minor character in “Locked Up” that I have known for a very long time.  Jack Perkins.  Perkins is a grade A (insert insult of choice – they all work).  He’s  a misogynistic wife beater, a bully of the worse kind.  I know Jack because I know his wife. I wrote two and a half books about her.  They didn’t stand up to scrutiny so you’ll never meet his wife but I’ll always know her and Jack, being the “man” he is, with a back story of jail time, fit perfectly into “Locked Up”, so I used him, it’s what he’d do to any woman he had under his control.  He’s still a minor character, and that is all he’s worth, but I know him very well.

I know many of the other inmates, may be not quite so well, but better than the readers will ever know them. I know what they are in for, their crime, and I know what they are in for, their fate.  The readers won’t necessarily see all that because there are a lot of things that I didn’t put on the page – there is nothing worse than trawling through superfluous information that doesn’t matter.  I also know that I can afford to forget these people now because they aren’t likely to crop up again; unless like Jack they are the piece that fits the puzzle, in which case, knowing the weird way my memory works, I’ll remember them, and if I don’t, they’ll knock on my skull and make me remember them.

Characters really are people, the good ones are real people, and like people, characters can surprise you.  As a writer, I think that makes for better, more interesting characters, which makes for more interesting books, but you, the reader, will be the true judge of that.

While most of the intended to be minor characters stayed that way, Piper and Carlisle did not. That pair have more surprises in store and if you read the Locked series, they may surprise you too.

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Stories from the Fringe

As unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…

Yes well, I am unused to it, but I’m getting there.  I need to.  While writing is a solitary activity, writers survive by the words of others.  The words of reviews, and more importantly, word of mouth sells our books, and that is what we all need.

So when there is an opportunity to promote a book by doing a reading, then a writer has to take that chance.

The truth of the matter is – I don’t like public speaking.  Getting up in front of a crowd is one of the most frightening things I do.  But I did a read in London a few months ago and today I’ve been in Swansea to do another.

This weekend is the Swansea Fringe and there are many and varied activities going on.  So when Cthulhu Cymraeg 2: Off the Page event came up, of course, I had to agree to do a reading, after all, one of my short stories is in the anthology “Cthulhu Cymraeg 2.”

I arrived early (a bad habit of mine), meet Mark Howard Jones, the editor of the volume and other writers and was given slot three to read.

Picking a middle section of the story, “Confluence of Graves”, I read of how the main characters had found tunnels under an abandoned house, and the terrible things that they started to find there.

It wasn’t the world’s largest audience, but I didn’t dare look up from the page in case they looked bored.  I was still near the start when I was put off by the arrival of a woman at the top of the stairs to the room we were using.  I paused and invited her in, but she was just there to take photos.  Now that is another thing I am not comfortable with.  So there I was already uncomfortable reading to an audience, made more uncomfortable by the photographer doing what she’s supposed to do.  Thank God I’d had the sense to put on green base to counter the blushing!

I got through the reading and was applauded (there’s a strange experience), but after, one lady from the audience came up and told me that after the reading she couldn’t wait to read my story and find out what happened.  Now that’s praise!  It may not sound like much to other people, but it matters to me.  I write because I write, I am truly driven to write.  Now I could easily just keep my writing to myself, but I don’t, I want to share it, to show what I really am.  So to have a reader say how much they enjoyed my work means so much to me that I don’t know how to properly explain it.

Then came the other weird experience – being asked to sign books.  That’s never happened before, but I must have signed about ten today, and to add to the piquancy of this experience, I’d cheekily taken copies of two of my other books – “Locked Up” and “Shades of Aether”.  I sold copies of each!

DSCN2085Not a bad days work at all.

Thanks then to Mark for including me in the anthology, thanks for Swansea Fringe for offering us all a spot, thanks to Gamers Emporium for hosting the event, and thanks to those wonderful people who turned up and listened, and a special thanks to those who dug deep and bought a copy of a book, any book.

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Call Outs

I’ve kind of hit a roadblock with my WIP, so on the way to work this morning I decided I was going to write a blog tonight, you know, do something creative.  I had a theme in mind, and you’ll tell you what it is during this blog, because it’s still in here.  But during the day something else happened and I feel like sharing this.

If you follow my blog you will know that I can come out with some random stuff and the last piece was about the reaction to the latest Dr Who, click here to read more.  Today on Facebook I was ‘called out’ on it, by a white middle-aged internet using male, his description, for the lazy way I’ve approached that and was told that I’m the prejudiced one, because this person doesn’t know a single other person who’s upset by the news.

Well good for him.  And thanks to the other friend who waded in with some salient facts proving my case.  Not that the first friend would know because he flounced out of the conversation.

Now here are some things you should consider if you want to call me out on anything I write:

1. I welcome your comments, especially constructive criticism.  These are learning opportunities and I enjoy the chance to discuss any points.

2. Generalisations are just generalisations, they are not pointed attacks, they are just ways of expressing a point in a readily understandable way.

3. Just because you haven’t experienced it, don’t mean it ain’t happening.

4. This is a blog not national journalism.

5. Call me out, I will respond, that’s what discussions are about – two way exchange on points of view.

6. If you flounce out of the conversation with your male privilege held high remember I don’t have to make you look foolish, because you did it to yourself.

 

But one of the things that was thrown at me was that if I want to ‘get upset’ about discrimination I ‘need’ – yes need – to write about what Trump is doing to the LGBT communities.

Yes, I could do that.  I really could, I could rant for hours on that topic and many other misogynistic and/or downright stupid things that the American administration is doing, but here’s the thing.  I’m an EU – soon reluctantly to be British – citizen and this blog is mostly read by those in the UK.  I do have some Americans followers – and thanks for taking an interest wherever you are – but not many.  Besides, the thing is I don’t have a voice in an election I can’t vote in and most Americans have already realised what a dreadful mistake they’ve made.  Also, ranting against anything is a very negative thing to do and I am trying to make my life more positive.

Do I think people of the LGBT (and the ever growing acronym to LGBTQIA) community deserves a voice? Yes I do. Do I want to actively promote that voice?  Yes I do.  So what am I going to do about that – Well writing this blog was part of the plan.

I believe that people, more than administrations, can make a community what it should be, and I think it’s the quieter ways that will help integrate communities.  But I have a limited reach (hence comments above) and a limited skill set. I’m not a politician, not a great campaigner, nor am I a martyr, nor even a bleeding heart liberal.  Hell, I’m not even a journalist, just a blogger in that respect.

What I am is a writer, and a freelance editor.

So when one of the guys I freelance for comes to me and asks if I’d be willing to give my time and effort to help support the writing community to bring forth some good fiction with main characters who happen to be LGBTQIA, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

So Jefferson Franklin Editing is offering free and discounted edits to writers who advance the LGBTQIA cause – to help get more LGBTQIA stories into the hands of readers.

Now I will admit that I’ve never had a main character who is anything other than hetrosexual, because that’s what I know.  And I am aware of the very great offence I could cause if I were to poorly portray that community, and let’s face it, if I did poorly portray that or any other community – I’d deserve criticism.  There are in my books some characters who I think are probably gay, but I’ve never made a thing of that, because it hasn’t been relevant to the story.  And now I’ve actually committed that to the page, I think I’m going to have to find a way to amend the situation and try to better present this under represented section of the community.

So if you have a gay soldier, or a lesbian teacher, or a gender-fluid private investigator (oh how useful would that be?), if you’ve a transexual dragon-trainer, or an omni-sexual/pansexual(?) space-traveller, then let’s hear from you.  Mind looking at those I may be a limited in my thinking, so please, please, please, come up with something original to surprise and delight in whatever genre you want.

Here’s the link with all the details – 2017 LGBTQIA Edit Giveaway.  And I look forward to seeing some of your work.

(Right now I’m going to go cogitate just how useful it might be to actually be gender fluid investigator because I can see that could bring up some really interesting plot and action possibilities.)

 

 

 

 

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Write Away

Last time I blogged I may have mentioned being a happy bunny because I got a three book deal.  Well, now I can actually give a few more details.

I’ve agreed to publish Locked Up, Locked In and Locked Down with Bloodhound Books, I know this is going to happen because I (a) have a contract and (b) I’m actually on their website!

Locked Up should be printed in Autumn this year, and I can’t wait.  Locked In is written and will follow in due course.

Locked Down, is the third in the series.  This hasn’t been written yet.  I have a bit of a story to tell about this book.  I planned it a year ago, but when I spoke to my agent I had this idea and an idea for another thriller, something quite different.  The advice was that without selling the first two of Locked, I was best starting the other book.  I did, I’m over 70k words in.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing it and I will go back and finish it because it’s a great book, but right now I have a contract for Locked Down and that’s the one I have to concentrate on.

So I started writing Locked Down on April 11th and I’m 20k in so far. The book isn’t going the way that I thought it would.  Which isn’t a bad thing, this version is much more interesting than the first draft I started.  That’s the thing I had started Locked Down, but I wasn’t that keen on it.  So when I got the contract.  I started again.  Didn’t like that version either.

So I threw the plot in the bin and just started writing.  The book doesn’t start quite where I thought it would start.  It doesn’t even start with the person I thought it would.  Now it has started it’s flowing nicely.  Have a moment earlier on this weekend when I realised I’d written to a crux moment when a clue needed to be revealed.  The problem was – I had no idea what the clue was going to me.

That meant I put the writing aside.

Then I went to the Llandeilo LitFest listened to a panel of female crime writers, and then some very dark poetry. It was an interesting day, and well worth the journey.

A day away from the laptop and writing and I came back with a clear idea of what had to happen next and have been writing it since.

I guess that’s all I have to say. Sometimes you have to ditch what doesn’t work, start over, and even take time away from writing in order to actually be able to write.  Worked for me.

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How to drop your Agent

Carefully!

Okay, well this is a blog I never expected to write.  And somewhat different from the tone of the last one.  For many, many years I have been desperately trying to get an agent, and in 2015 – I got one.

Whoops of glee did, in fact, abound.  I even blogged about.  I was so happy.  I knew not to expect miracles, but I figured I’d get a publishing deal in a year or two.

Only I didn’t.  And when I asked my agent about it, he was saying that a lot of the big boys were cutting their commissioning editors, especially in crime, and that until they appointed new editors, it was unlikely that they would take on any newbie writers.  Not good news for a newbie writer.

And yet, I know so many authors who are getting published, admittedly by the smaller press, but they are getting published.  The small press are guys my agent wouldn’t touch because the margin just isn’t there to make it worth his while.  Well, sitting around forever and earning nothing isn’t worth my while either.

I have a load of friends who are full-time writers, and a few of them were giving me the same advice all the time – Ditch the agent and self-publish.  I knew they were right, sort of.  But it still took me six weeks from admitting that to actually doing the deed.  Saying goodbye to an agent after so many years of trying to get one was without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever done. (And I’ve jumped out of a plane.  And had two kids.)

So I sent an email, acknowledging what my agent had done for me, but also recognising how the industry is and admitting the fact that I don’t want to be in my 50s before I get a book published.

Yes, I have self-published, Last Cut Casebook (LCC) is still out there.  And that’s one example of why self-publishing is not great for me.  I don’t have the know-how that is needed for marketing – nor the contacts.  I wish I did.  That’s why LCC, good as it is – and it is – I have the 5 star reviews to prove it – has only sold in single figures.

I didn’t just send an email and forget about my agent though.  I followed the email with a call, and spoke to my agent.  It was actually a lovely, reaffirming conversation, reality accepted and no blame laid on either side, because frankly, there isn’t any.  We’d have both sold the book if we could have.

And that’s really the point of this blog.  If you are going to ditch your agent, accept that as much as you want the book sold – so does he/she!  Agents only make their money by selling their clients books.  So if saying goodbye, recognise the professionalism of your agent, appreciate any work he or she has done.  And be honest.  Being honest is something I went on about when giving advice on how to get an agent, well it’s just as important for ending that relationship.  And don’t forget – read your contract and be clear on what you need to do from a legal standpoint – chances are there is a contract end period.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, once the relationship with my agent was – sadly – over, I sent off my manuscript to a publisher.  Within 8 days I had a publishing contract.  Not just for one book – but three!

A three book deal!

I can hardly believe it.  Such a happy bunny.  All I have to do now, is write book three.  Which I’m off to do.  Ta-ta for now.

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An Incontinent Dog

I really should be writing.  It’s a simple as that.  I even want to be writing, but when I open up my current WIP or either of the other two I have reason to be writing, all I see is a blank sheet and no words.  Well I see the words I’ve already written, but nothing new springs to mind.

So I was about to close down, and give up for the day, when I saw Document1 was still open.  This document.  Not having any trouble writing this document.  But that may be because of the nature of this document.

This is my blog.  I can write whatever I want to write here.  I don’t have to make sure that it makes sense as it follows on the heels of the last blog.  It doesn’t have to relate to anything in the next blog either.  It’s its own little world of words – a standalone.  This way I am free and can just type a stream of consciousness scribbling thing, and let sentences kind of get away from me like this one did. I do go back and edit – most of the time – but sometimes I let the creative weirdness stay in.

The truth is that the last six months have been well, pretty naff actually.  I have struggled with stress and depression.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a good life, there is a great deal that I have to be grateful about in my life.  But getting depression isn’t one of them.  Depression can dump all over you like an incontinent dog with diarrhoea, and sometimes there is just nothing you can do to stop it.  Which is where I am now.

I’m trying to get past it, really I am, but this mental block on the writing is just starting to wind me up.  I’m not sure if being able to write this is helping or making matters worse since it’s such a stark contrast to where I was a few minutes ago.  I want to write the next scene of my WIP.  Even kind of know what it is, but I sit down to try and can’t, been like that a few days now.  I suspect that somewhere in the back of my mind I know there’s a problem with what I’m going to write.  That probably means that I’m going to have to wait until that “somewhere” figures out what is going on and jumps up to tell conscious me what the problem is.

This mid-book funk is unusual for me and I don’t like it.  I want it and the depression to go away.  Hand in hand into the sunset.  Yep, that would do.  A romantic break together.

I suspect what I really need is a restful break from the day job, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon either.  Well, except that I’m going to Crimefest is 46 days, that’s always something I look forward to.  Anyway, sorry it’s a bit of a blue afternoon, hope to have something more cheery to write next blog.

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Editing is Hard

“Editing is hard.”

One of my editing clients said this to me the other day – yes even after I’m done tearing apart their manuscripts clients do still speak to me.

My internal voice said “No sh** Sherlock,” but externally I smiled and nodded and agreed.  But it made me realised that this is news to some people.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that writing is easy, that you just scribble a few lines and that’s it, you can self-publish and everything will be great, best seller, right.  Wrong.

You can write a novel in 30 days (see NaNoWriMo), I’ve done it.  Normally I can write a novel in two months – well that is 60 days of work, not always every day for sixty days on a trot because I have a life and two jobs.  But if I had sixty days on full-time writing, I could do it in 60 days, hell full time I would write it in 30 days.  But it wouldn’t by any means be publication ready.

That’s where editing comes in.

Writing is the quick part, editing takes forever, and sometimes it feels like it’ll never end.

Let me give you the example of my last completed novel, Shades of Aether.  This is my first steampunk novel, and I wrote it in about 60 (non-consecutive) evenings.  Then I reread it – the first self-edit.  With that, I picked up any obvious inconsistencies, made any changes I thought necessary, in this case, I upped the level of steampunk in the text. Then I booked it in for an edit.  My editor couldn’t do it immediately, so I have time for another read through to find a few more typos, tweaks, and corrections.  Then it went off to my editor.

Let me underline that – it went off to an editor. At no point did I think that could ever get a book complete for publication on my own.

So it went off to edit, that’s another four weeks gone – though I think in this case it was five weeks.  Then it came back with loads of questions that I hadn’t even thought about, so I had to do some major edits after that to ensure that I answered all those questions for the reader.  Having the facts in my head are no use if I can’t get them onto the page.

So that was another couple of months of rethinking and rewriting, editing and tweaking. And it wasn’t easy.  Some of the questions and queries that had been raised really stretched me, forced me to re-imagine my ending completely.

Then – guess what – more editing.  Yes, I sent it off for another professional edit, because to a certain extent I had a new book.  That one is due back to me any day now, but even then, I’ll still have to edit it, then reread it.  So there’s another couple of months gone by.

Once that is done, then there is the last stage – proofreading.  More time, more money, because proofreading, like editing, cannot really be done by the writer.

Writing the full novel is only the beginning.  Once it’s done all the hard work really starts, that is editing.  So don’t underestimate how much time and effort editing takes, but it’s well worth it.  Editing is the only way that you will ever get a publication ready book.

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