Monday, 21 October 2013

Writers and Responsibilities

Hi Guys,

New topic from me this time. Partly because I'm at a loose end having just finished the first draft of Guinea Pig and sent it off to be edited. And partly because this has been a question that's been popping up in several of the writing fora which I participate in. So in a nut shell it's simply - what are the responsibilities of a writer? And here of course I'm thinking of novelists particularly.

Now obviously we can all think of a few absolute no no's. For example let's not copy wholesale other people's books - someone is always bound to notice and then start jumping up and down. That however hasn't stopped people trying, and I know of at least one author on Kindle who has been doing this (or I suppose now who was doing this). Those of you on Kindle Boards will know the same example.

Another good one is don't defame people. And this is a question that keeps being asked. - I've written a book about my neighbour / friend / business partner etc and it's not flattering - can I just put up front a standard disclaimer that the work is one of complete fiction? Well unfortunately no. If a person can be identified from your work then the disclaimer won't hold any water. After that your two standard defences would either be that the work is true and you can prove it, or that no reasonable reader could assume that the work is about said person. If you were a comedian and the book is one about a public figure then you can claim that it's satire, but that may still need to be tested in a court.

But probably the one that will matter to most writers is the idea that their work will lead to nothing less than the decline of Western Civilisation (A claim as old as Western Civilisation!). And in particular that it promotes unhealthy values - eg violence, pornography etc. Or it may lead to impressionable people doing unfortunate things.

And against this we have the old arguments of freedom of expression in its various forms. Authors I think are very keen to claim this. Certainly I would be if Western Civilisation sudenly fell over and it was put down to my work. And there is no doubt that it is an important defence. But I do sometimes wonder if some take this right to freedom of expression too far.

In part I think this is because many writers - and again here I'm thinking mostly of novelists - tend to be a little removed from society. It takes days, months and sometimes years of hard work and reflection to write a novel, and you don't generally do it in an office surrounded by other people. Writing can be a very lonely profession. In part I suspect it will also depend on the nature of the writing itself. If you get negative feedback about a jounal article which took you all of an hour to write then it's not going to be as personally traumatic as will be the negative feedback about a novel that took six months of intense creative thought.

Having said this I think that there is a responsibility upon all of us to be mindful of our neighbour's wellbeing. And there are laws put in place in all parts of our lives to reflect this responsibility. These include everything from speed limits so that hopefully we won't run our neighbours over, to the passive smoking legislation. And in the same vein there are laws that limit freedom of speech. For example yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre will land you in a lot of trouble.

In the end I think it's important for writers to be considerate of what their books glorify, advocate or promote, whether they're works of fiction or not. And the golden rule would surely have to be that if your work promotes harm to others, think twice about how it's written and what it says. I'm not saying don't write it, but I am saying that as a writer you need to recognise that you do have a responsibility to others - your readers in particular.

I think it's also the duty of every writer to mke certain he or she spends plenty of time with friends and family, out in the real world. It may help your writing, but it's probably even more important for your own mental well-being.

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Pleasure and Pain - Publishing

Hi Guys,

As you'll have noticed I've returned to my old ways and not put out a blog for a while. But this time I think you'll agree the wait was worth it since I just published Wildling - my first new traditional fantasy novel in a while. I'm really pleased with it by the way, and with the cover. But that's probably the same with every author and their latest book.

I did think I'd share with you a little of what it's like to publish a book for me. It may be of particular interest to those of you thinking of taking that plunge.

The first thing I'd say is that - Yes - while publishing is I think an essential part of a writer's life and we should all strive for that goal, it is a heady journey. There are highs and lows along the way.

For me publishing begins with the end of the first draft. Up until then I've been writing, tapping away on my keyboard, but for me and me alone. The books I write until that stage are the books I want to write and to read. Even though there's a lot of editing during that process, there is never any real consideration of what other people might think of them. But publishing is when that all changes.

It all begins when I finish the first draft, take a deep breath, and send the completed draft to my editor - who happens to be my wonderful baby sister Lucy. That's a big step for me. For two reasons. The first is that in taking it I have committed myself to the publishing process - a brand new change in focus. And the second is that like all authors I suspect, my work is my baby. So handing it over to someone else to paw through, comment on and criticise is a very hard thing.

After that comes the waiting. That's hard. Not just because my sister is very thorough and detailed and therefore slow, but because for all that time I'm sitting there waiting for the report. It's like waiting for your exam results. And during this time I find it hard to think about anything else. I barely write at all.

Then comes the return and the piles and piles of red pixels. At once I feel incredible relief to have my book back, and shock and horror at seeing how many mistakes she's found. And a lot of them are mistakes. It's a sad thing to have to admit, but I'm not perfect and neither is my work. It's not the typos and the grammatical errors that trouble me so much - I could never spell so I can live with them. It's the issues with language and plot that cause me consternation. These are the story telling part of the work, and the parts that I do think I do well.

From there the process is methodical and sadly more pain than pleasure. It's about going through the edited draft bit by bit, and seeing what she's found and then arguing with myself about whether they are fair. But of course by then I am committed to the publishing process, so I will work all the hours that I can, sometimes falling asleep in front of the computer, to get things in order.

All the way through as the writer I am torn with doubt. Asking myself the same questions I'm sure every author has at this stage. Is she right? Was there not sufficient narrative before to explain this event? Let the reader understand? Is it really right that I can't use the English language this particular way when it sounds so right in my head? Is this truly my "voice" that she's striking out or just bad English?

Editing for all of you intending to go through the process, is a difficult process. A lengthy conversation between you and your editor that will test you. And the most difficult part - that you have to go through it several times for each book. So my first redraft after the editing, goes back to my sister and then returns in due course for a second run etc.

Eventually - and though it probably only takes a month or so all up - it will come to an end. And at that point a switch is flipped on for me at least. The text is done, now it's about publishing. But that involves more work. There is of course the format edit, setting the text out so that it looks good on a page, chucking in things like chapter numbers and a front end - title, dedication etc. The cover -though usually I will have created that long before - needs to be completed. And then worst of all for me - the blurb. I don't know why but those one to two hundred words are the most difficult to write.

All up here I'm talking three or four days without sleep and most of my supply of coffee and diet coke. But the switch has been turned on and it becomes an all out rush. It has to be done.

And then finally there's the battle with Amazon - which never goes smoothly - not for me. I have never once managed to upload and publish a book within the promised hour. Admittedly I'm on dial up which slows things down. But still sometimes it's days as things fall over, the computer won't upload etc etc. (This time however it was incredibly quick though there were still hiccups. And Amazon a huge thank you to you and the Kindle team for putting those changes in to require automatic saves throughout the process. The number of times before this that I've lost everything and had to start again from scratch is beyond belief.)

Then comes the publish button. The moment where I push it and can finally go to bed.

You'd think this would be a victory - a triumph of sometimes seemingly biblical proportions. And it is. But it's also a moment when everything ends and for me, a huge sadness. The book is finished, my baby has left the nest, an as well as exhausted and relieved there is something incredibly difficult about that moment. So difficult that after having done it I actually feel as though I never want to see that book again. It's over, finished, gone.

Maybe that's just me. But for me the easiest thing to do then is start something new. The hardest thing to do is go back into what's done.

Anyway that's my publishing process. I expect you will all have your own experiences of it.

Cheers, Greg.