Monday, 5 December 2016

A Writer's Voice - What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Hi guys,


The wonderful cover art was obtained from SelfPubBookCovers:

Well The Wolves of War went out just on a week ago on kindle {and two days later after much hair pulling, wailing and gnashing of teeth, on CreateSpace!}And so I find myself with a little free time on my hands to blog.

This time I thought I'd turn my attention to voice. That almost indefinable something that gets mentioned a lot by writers, and hardly ever explained. But here I thought I'd set out what “voice” is in my view, and why it matters so much.

For me the simplest definition of your voice as a writer, is that it's who you are as a writer. Many people tend to define voice as mostly about prose. Your style of writing. To me it's much more than that. It is the gestalt of everything you are when you put finger to keyboard. So it includes your prose. The way you express your thoughts in writing. And of course it includes things like active and passive writing, purple prose, sentence length and structure and all the rest. But it goes much further than that.

It includes things like word choice and phrases you use. So note that before I used the term “finger to keyboard”. Why? Because it's more representative of current writing methods? Maybe. But also because it sounded better to me to use it there than the more familiar term, “pen to paper”. That is a part of my voice. Where and when I choose to use a more common phrase and where I prefer a one off.

Voice of course goes well beyond this. It impacts on your character creation. What are they like as people? What do you want to say about them? Does it matter to you as a writer if they are pretty people? Good people? What flaws and qualities do you want to write about them? Voice is there in your world build too. What parts of your world do you want to describe? Does architecture matter? Are you more about the detail of the world? Do you prefer instead to paint in broad brush-strokes and metaphor? You see voice in the pace of your writing. Whether you choose to use short, punchy sentences, have lots of action, and be light on description. Or if you prefer longer sentences and to lovingly linger over descriptions.

It's even there in the choice of stories a writer wants to write. Do you like sci fi or fantasy? Romance? Western? Do you want your story to be happy? An epic tragedy? A contemplation on the meaning of life?

And so in everything a writer writes, his writing voice is there. It informs and guides him in a thousand different decisions. And most important of all, those decisions are not usually either right or wrong. They are simply choices.

So if that's what voice is to me, the next obvious question is – why does it matter?

Now here I'm going to start by saying that every writer is or should be on a journey. A writer's journey as they slowly become more aware of who they are as writers, and what they like and dislike. It's not just about becoming a “better” writer, it's about becoming the writer that you want to be. It's about learning to express whatever you want to express, how it seems best to you. And it feeds into self confidence which is absolutely critical.

Many of the best writers I know and love, have very distinct voices. Voices that are so strong that you could pick up a book by one of them, and know who wrote it without needing to check the cover.

So who stands out to me? Stephen Donaldson as always with his longer sentences and detailed, lovingly crafted descriptions. And also with his underlying sadness, which shows through in all his characters and their story arcs. Against him the wonderful Clifford Simak, with his simple writing and bucolic charm. The warmth that shines through in his worlds. And the wry humour too. JRR Tolkein again with lengthy prose and detailed description like Donaldson, but also with a dated {obviously I suppose} style of prose and an almost poetic turn of phrase. And perhaps most important in his work, a clear focus on moral rights and wrongs / values. Dean R Koontz for his not so horror filled horrors where you can open the book and know before you begin reading that his heroes will do okay in the end, and that they will all be remarkable characters with bad pasts who have turned their lives around somehow to become impossibly successful, and yet are just ordinary Americans. {I admit, sometimes that gets to me a little and makes me feel inadequate. Damn – if only I'd been born into unbelievable suffering I could have grown up to become an unbelievably talented and successful artist / writer / detective etc with an utterly virtuous heart!}

Anyway the point here is not that these are good writer's voices. They are in my opinion, but that's not important. What does matter is that these writers have at some point in their journey, discovered who they are as writers. They've found their voices. And as a result they've begun writing their best work. And by best I don't mean that their work is of great literary merit. It may be, but that's not the point. Nor that it is commercially successful. Or that it will go down in the annuls of history as masterpieces. By best I mean that it is true to who they are as writers. It says what they want to say how they want to say it. It is true to them.

By contrast there are a great many writers out there, most of them new to the craft, who are determined to write the next JK Rowling or Stephen King. Not that these are bad goals to aspire to, but are they the right goals for you? Do you want to write the next schoolboy wizard or sparkly vampire? Or do you really want to write the story that's in your heart? The one that's going to emerge onto the computer screen and fill you with pride? The one that's going to be “truly yours”?

As I said at the beginning, I think every writer who is serious about writing, should be on this journey to find their voice. It is probably the most important part of a writing career.

Because of this I would simply add this to those starting out on your journey. Throw away all the writing guides you have. They may be full of wonderful words of wisdom but they are of no use to you at the start. The only book that should matter to you at the beginning in terms of your becoming the writer you should be, is the book you are writing. Instead of reading what others tell you about what to write and how to write it, write what you want to write, how you want to write it.

Yes there will come a time before you are ready to publish, when you'll need to put your work out there for opinions. And it will be hard to show your baby to others and hear criticism about its eyes being too close together. That is just another, difficult step on the journey. But if you've completed the first step in your journey, you should then be able to accept the criticisms and after the tears have dried up, step back a little and dispassionately listen to what was said and ask yourself the most important question. Is what they're saying true to what I wanted to write? Or if I do as they suggest am I betraying my vision?

That is the most important stage in a writer's development. It's hard and it takes self-confidence. But if you can achieve it. If you can hear criticism, weigh it, measure it, decide if it's right for you, and then either use it or put it away when you have to, you have moved from being a generic wannabe writer slavishly doing what other people think you should and following trends, to becoming who you want to be.

You have found your voice.


Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Wolves Of War Cover

Hi Guys,

Just a short post this time. The Wolves of War is with my editor at present, so I started on the cover and blurb stage. Unfortunately two previous attempts at using photos fell through as each time I found a photo I liked a check of the sites revealed that the owners had no idea who actually took the pictures, and I'm not game to use a photo without the permission of the owner. So in the end I did some shopping and bought a cover. I was going for something slightly fantastic as Wolves is an epic fantasy, and also a little on the scary side but trying to avoid the entire werewolf side, as the book isn't that. 

Let me know what you think.

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Steam-Punk or Not?

Hi guys,




Having just sent my first draft of The Wolves Of War down to my editor earlier this week I had a little time to do some online browsing etc and I found myself intrigued by some of what I read. In particular one forum poster asked me a question the other day that stuck with me, and I thought I'd share my answer with you. He asked me what the boundaries of steam-punk are? When something is steam-punk and when it isn't.

That stuck with me because while I have written some books that I consider as containing elements of steam-punk in them – most notably of course The Arcanist and the upcoming Wolves of War {which I've posted a mock up of the possible cover to above}, I don't consider that I'm a true steam-punk writer. I'm a fantasy and science fiction writer and both of the books I've mentioned are epic fantasy.

So what's the difference? Is steam-punk a sub-genre of fantasy? Or of science fiction? Or is it a genre in its own right?

For me it's a genre simply because steam-punk can't really be fantasy if it's portrayed as possible. And it can't be science fiction if the science is essentially impossible. {I know, there are many science fiction books where you know the science can't possibly be possible – ever. Most of them are that simply because they are dated and science has now told us the truth. But all science fiction books hold out as their basis that single question – what if?} Steam-punk straddles this divide between science fiction and fantasy that makes it quite distinct. On the one hand it doesn't allow for the fantastical and mythical. There are no elves and dwarves. It tries hard to say to the reader – this is real science. But on the other hand the science it uses is completely mythical and can't be anything else.

As a genre steam-punk has two chief features that separate it from others. The first is of course the amazing, improbable if not impossible technology. And the second is of course the era. Traditionally steam-punk would slip somewhere into the Victorian era and the underlying basis of the technology would stem from them. So you would have of course steam power, the beginnings of electricity and magnetism, herbalism rebranded as alchemy or the art of the apothecary and so forth. This is in essence a romanticised vision of the outlook of a Victorian gentleman or woman, discovering these new technologies all around him and thinking the secrets of the universe are just around the corner.

To explain this perhaps a little more clearly, think of the classic Frankenstein. You can just imagine Shelley and Byron and the others sitting around in their parlours after dinner discussing the wonders of this new technological age, and in particular the experiments of Galvani as he made a frog's leg twitch with the application of electricity. And you can see the logical extension of this in their minds as they considered that he'd discovered the essence of life. And in fact there is a story {probably just a story} that Percey Shelley tried to reanimate the body of his first wife this way. From there it was a short step to the age old riddles of resurrection which was suddenly possible through electricity and alchemy. Only now it was reanimation via science, and then of course there were the inevitable consequences of playing God.

So from today's perspective, knowing that this sort of reanimation is impossible, that life and electricity aren't the same thing, that alchemy doesn't work, we can see this as an early example of steam-punk. Though of course when it was written it wasn't. It was a straight up science fiction / horror novel. Taking the knowledge of the time and extending it and then saying – what if? Which in itself raises an interesting question. In a hundred years time will the science fiction we write become the steam-punk of their age? Will our descendants laugh at our simplistic and unrealistic ideas and yet write books based on the dreams we have given our technology?

But getting back to the topic, this then is the heart of steam-punk. Putting ourselves back in the past, to an age that we can romanticise, and then taking the technological dreams and wonders of those times and fashioning them into a story. It is more complicated and confused than that of course, as there are a thousand different variations on the theme. And of course there are derivatives like diesel-punk, gunpowder-punk and maybe cyberpunk {I'm really in two minds about this genre as it's been around for so long and speaks less about the technology in my view and more about the nature of the human condition.}

The next question is when does a story go from being one in which there are steam-punk elements to a true steam-punk story? To me that's when the steam-punk technology goes from being mostly part of the world build to an actual plot element. This is why Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is not a full blown steam-punk novel in my view but rather a fantasy with steam-punk elements. Because while the story contains the elements of steam-punk – specifically the impossible technology, the mad inventor Professor Caractacus Potts {i.e. Crackpot} and indeed the car itself is practically a character in the work, it's not the basis of the plot. And in truth it's accepted in the story that what the car can do is not actually possible.

By contrast Wild Wild West for those who've seen the movie, is steam-punk in my view. The technology, though we know from sitting in our twenty first century homes that it's complete balderdash, is not just set out as completely feasible and justified by various ludicrous theories, it is part of the plot. It's what allows the villain to dream of taking over the country, and what makes the hero capable of catching him. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for all its wonder, is just a vehicle {pun intended!}

So this leads us to the other half of the question. When does a steam-punk story, leave the realm of steam-punk? Because there are plenty of stories out there where steam-punk is not just part of the world build but also a key plot element, but which are still not steam-punk.

To me there are two main reasons why a steam-punk work leaves the realm. The first is magic. And by this I don't just mean the existence of magic in the world build as a legitimate force of nature though this is part of it. I mean the acceptance either tacitly accepted or specifically mentioned, that the technology is itself magic. This is why for example The Arcanist is not a steam-punk novel.

To explain this consider Herbie – the spiritual successor I would guess to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The technological wonder of a car that does impossible things. Herbie could never be steam-punk, because it's accepted that what the car does is impossible. And the explanations given are that the car was simply built better or has a big heart. In doing so the story immediately gives away any pretence that Herbie is possible based on the technology of the time.

Then contrast Herbie with the Nautilus from Verne's Twenty Thousand leagues. The submarine even though we know it could not be built from our twenty first century knowledge, is based on the extension of what was believed to be known of science at the time. Even though the author did not have the knowledge to explain it exactly, its conception is completely in keeping with the beliefs in technology of the time. Thus Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is either tacitly accepted as living or magical in some way, Herbie is “alive” and the Nautilus is a technological wonder rooted in the imagined science of the age. It is only a wonder in that it is so advanced.

The other thing that ironically enough may take a story out of the genre of steam-punk is industrialisation. Mass production. Now here I'm not saying that the story can't take place in a world where the industrial revolution has happened. Obviously it can and in fact in Wolves it does. But the key feature is that that industrialisation cannot apply to the chief inventions themselves.

Consider the Nautilus again. It is a technological wonder because it's so advanced and nothing like it has ever been built before. But if mass production applies to it and there are suddenly others like it – it's no longer a wonder. It's just a sub and Twenty Thousand Leagues is just an adventure story set on a submarine. Think of Frankenstein. If the exact nature of reanimation is known and there are others around who have been reanimated through technology, then Adam is no longer a one of the kind tortured soul / monster looking for the acceptance of a father. He's just a reanimated man and it's a simple family drama.

The fact is that these technological wonders must be wonders even if they are rooted in the science of the world build. They must be one of a kind, extraordinary things – usually created by mad scientists in private labs or workshops – that go far beyond anything the rest of their fictional world can conceive of. They cannot be mundane.

So for example in The Wolves of War my villain who is the technologist of the piece, has a pistol that fires bombs, a bracelet that shoots lightning, and a miniature steam wagon that can drive through a forest. Things that make him a formidable and deadly enemy. And things which the rest of the characters have never before encountered and have to deal with.

Anyway guys, that's my take on steam-punk. You will all no doubt have your own thoughts.

Cheers, Greg.








Saturday, 6 August 2016

Even The Penguins Are Freezing!

Hi Guys.


Haven't posted anything for a while as usual – this time mostly because I haven't had much to say. But just at the moment I feel inspired.

It may have something to do with the polar blast that seems to be streaming up the country at the moment. The big chill certainly doesn't inspire me to head out of the house any more than absolutely necessary, which leaves me stuck in front of the computer more often. That would be good except that I'm also sure my fingers have frozen to to the bone which makes typing difficult! Fortunately my cat has selflessly volunteered to take over the writing duties by sleeping on the keyboard at every opportunity. Unfortunately I have no idea at all what she's been typing. I just don't read cat!

Then again it could be because of the latest news in the world of writing which is a disgruntled author who has apparently been turned down three hundred and nineteen times by agents and decided to have a bit of whine about it. Unfortunately not about being rejected so many times, just about the latest agent to do so and her appearance, dress sense, and motives for not paying him the attention he so richly deserves. I won't mention his name or give a link – because I'm just cynical enough to suspect he may have written such an offensive piece simply to gain publicity and if so I don't want to help him. It'll be easy enough to find his blog and the endless scathing reviews of it if you just google “how to get yourself blacklisted” since it's gone viral.

But in the meantime to said author – dude a few words of advice;

First, agents are people too. Yes I know it's hard to believe, but personal attacks will not endear you to them. And yes, the rest of the writing community is largely unimpressed by your rant too. So you probably have got yourself blacklisted. Congrats!

Second, despite your rant, you actually know her motivations. She wants clients with books that are going to sell and make her lots of money. Was that not perfectly obvious from the start? So why did you even bother going to see her if you weren't prepared to sell her your book on that basis?

And third and probably most critically – three hundred and nineteen submissions?! Did you get dropped on your head at some stage?! It's time to go indie and let the readers decide whether your book's any good. Though I'd probably put it out under a pen name if I were you. Readers also read blogs, and most I suspect won't be any more impressed by your rant than I was.

However, to switch to a more positive note my latest space opera “Spaced” has now completed two full edits with Tickety Boo Press and I believe they're just finishing up now as they prepare to publish. So really looking forward to that. It's been a challenging process, using different editors with different styles and an emphasis on different aspects of the writing, but I think well worth it. So I'm hoping you'll all agree and it sells well and I can afford some new winter thermals!

Anyway, must get back to freezing to death! But looking forwards to the news in the next few days. Selena Gomez is coming to town for a concert, and I'm expecting records to be set. One in particular. Most concert goers ever to come down with hypothermia in one go! Also her new single which is really quite good may well be retitled after the event – Killing them with Frostbite!

Stay warm guys!

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

New Space Opera In The Works.

Hi Guys,

Just thought I'd give you an update of what I'm doing - if only so you don't think I'm simply sitting on my backside all day! (I am - but I don't want you to think that!)
My next book a space opera called "Spaced" has just come back from the editors last night, and I'm currently going a little blind going through the revisions. But it's all in a good cause and with a little luck Spaced should be published within the next month or so. I should also say I'm enjoying the experience of having it published by Tickety Boo Press - you guys should check out some of their other authors. They do a lot of space opera and fantasy. And as you can see above, their cover art is pretty cool too!
And just to wet your appetites here's a first draft of the blurb:
The Translation Drive. The wonder of the ages. And the drive that opened up the universe to exploration. But the drive has a down side. With the push of a button you could be anywhere in the universe. But you could also be eternally lost – Spaced.
This is the fate that befalls Doctor Carmichael Simons. Returning to Aquaria after a successful mineral survey he finds himself named as a terrorist and bomber. With the police trying to kill him and the navy closing in, he does the unthinkable. He jumps wild, in effect spacing himself. Now he can never get home and clear his name – but that won't stop him trying.
Back on Aquaria Detective Annalisse Samara, given the task of investigating the bombing and finding out why a respected scientist would blow up a hydroponics reserve, begins work. But what she uncovers may well turn the Commonwealth on its head and get her killed.
In the end they may both be spaced.
Cheers, Greg.

Monday, 2 May 2016

No Rules!

Hi guys,


This time I thought I'd write a post that returns to writing. A topic that's really a continuation of some debates I've been engaging in in a couple of fora lately. The rules of writing.

Okay let me begin by stating quite clearly my position on this. There are no rules. In fact the very concept of rules of writing is something that can actually destroy both writing and writers.

So lets begin with the basics of the problem. Every new writer who is desperate to become a writing success, starts by going on line or buying books about how to write. They attend writing groups, online or in the flesh. They get critiques and beta readers, maybe even editors. And all of these things are good. They do help a writer to grow in his craft. I've benefited immensely from those groups I participate in.

But here's the problem. In every group and every guide I've read there is always a rule or ten put forwards. You know the ones. You must get rid of the passive voice. You need more shorter, punchier sentences and to get rid of the run on sentences. You need to amp up the tension, raise the stakes. Decrease the purple prose. The list goes on and on. These things are spouted almost as mantra. And while they may be good advice in some cases, they can also be terrible advice.

And here's the why. No two authors and no two books are the same. Therefore no rule can be simply applied to every book as a sort of cookie cutter template. Because what will work well in one case may damage another book.

Lets just look at a few of these so called rules. Let's start with passive and active voice. In essence active voice is connecting subjects with actions. So “Michael fired the gun” is active. “The gun was fired”, is passive. And of course there's always that master piece of political passivity - “Mistakes were made”! (But not by anyone in particular!)

In essence using a more active voice makes a piece stronger. People do things. They aren't just done with no one taking responsibility. So this is perfect when writing characters like Conan. Conan is an active character. He does things. There is nothing meek or indecisive about him. If he chops your head off then “He” really chopped your head off! It wasn't just chopped off.

But what if your character isn't Conan? What if you want to get into the head-space of someone meek and indecisive? Then passive voice is your friend. Because you're writing a character who not only will never want to admit to doing anything, but even in his own thoughts won't want to accept responsibility.

There are probably a thousand other situations in which passive voice will work better than active. Particularly where you don't want to apply agency to characters, or blame. Perhaps where you want to leave a little ambiguity in a plot. That could be very important in detective / police procedural works. The gun just went off Sir! Because maybe that's exactly what happened.

So my point is simply that there is no rule that you must use active voice wherever possible. The rule is always you have to use your judgement. Write what works. What feels right for your character and your plot. And if someone tells you otherwise, thank them for their opinion, but stick to your guns.

How about run on sentences? Another of those rules that gets spouted repeatedly, and a mistake that gets jumped on, especially these days where the trend is for shorter more action packed reads. In essence a run on sentence is one where there are too many clauses in it, and the sentence starts dragging on and confusing readers.

But here again this is about judgement. Your judgement as the writer. There are run on sentences and then there are run on sentences. You draw the line about how many words and clauses you want in your sentences. And you remember that everyone else will have a different opinion about what is too long and what isn't. There is no rule that says – three clauses, you're out!

As a general guide I would say that if readers are getting lost in your sentences, losing their meaning as the clauses mount up, it's probably too much. But I would also add that run on sentences will be a part of your rhythm / voice. And so maybe you want to have longer sentences because it works for the style of writer you are. Maybe you don't mind losing a few readers here and there because those who stay will be learning to appreciate your voice as a writer. And honestly read some fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. Much of what we now call run on they would have called normal and even good writing.

The same applies to purple prose – prose with too many adjectives in it. What is often also called flowery writing. Again there is no rule that you can have this many adjectives and no more. This is again about voice. Your voice as a writer, and your characters' voices. So if your editor / beta reader / critique partner comes back and says strip these out, again thank them for their opinion and step back, sit down, and think. Is this the writing that I want to write? Or will it be better with all those adjectives stripped out? Remember, it's your book, not anyone elses'.

And then there's the amp it up meme. Make things more tense. Raise the stakes. Put your character through more hell. Go Game of Thrones on the whole damn thing! But is that the right thing to do? Remember it's your book. Your story. If you change the plot significantly to ramp up the tension, is it still the story you wanted to tell? Does the tension add to the story? Or does it detract? Are you turning what was a pleasant romance with a bit of an edge into a seat of your pants thrill ride?

Yes amping up the drama / tension may make your book better. But it may also completely transform it into a book you never wanted to write. It may wreck it.

So to get back to where I started, there are no rules of writing. There are no absolutes. There are only opinions. And no opinion should simply be accepted as gospel. Yes they may be right. They may also be wrong. And the worst thing that any author can do – and this is particularly a problem with new authors – is to simply accept the opinions of others. What you need to do is listen, then sit back and think – is this the story I want to write? Is this the style I want to write in? Is this who I am as an author?

Never simply substitute another's judgement for your own. And never simply imagine that there is a particular formula for writing book that will work. If there was, everyone would be writing it and we'd all be million sellers!

In the end you are the author. The artist. And whether this is your first book or your thousandth, it's still your book. Your baby. You want to be proud of it. You want it to be your vision brought to paper. And if you're just starting out you want one thing more – you want to find your voice. And your voice should not be what someone else says is good writing.

Anyway, enough ranting from me. I have my own writing to do.

Cheers, Greg.









Tuesday, 5 April 2016

One and a Half Degrees from Boiling Point!

Hi Guys,

As usual once more my apologies for posting so seldom. But this time I have an excuse – actually I always do – I'm lazy! But life does intrude as usual on my time, and I have been busy editing Samual as I prepare it for publication. At present the book has gone through its first pass with my editor, and then I've gone and more or less rewritten it! Such is the life of a writer I suppose.

To add to my woes I've also been wrestling with the thorny matter of Tables of Contents in books. As some of you may know Amazon has recently had a problem with these, insisting that they can no longer be in the back of a book. (Not my problem since I don't use them of course – I just can't see the point and it would look ridiculous. A list of chapter numbers sitting by page numbers. Why?) However it looks as though Aunty Amy is insisting that books should have them. So I've been attempting to do one – without page numbers. So really just a list of hyper linked chapters at the front of the book. Trouble is, no matter what I do, I can't seem to get Libre Office 5 to do something so simple. I could get it to row the Atlantic while reciting Pi to a million places – but produce a table of contents without page numbers? Hell no!

And then wisdom came to me – or alcohol, they may be the same thing. And I remembered that the reason I use Libre Office 5 is that it not only can produce a Word 2000 file, it has the look and feel of it. That's important to a computer moron like me. I don't want to learn a new programme. So I thought since it does that, and Word 2000 is still the industry standard, why not see what the actual programme can do? And what do you know the damned programme has a lovely little toggle button in the dialogue boxes to toggle page numbers on and off! It's just so damned simple! Libre Office take note!

Live and learn as they say!

Anyway Samual at this stage should be finished and published hopefully this month. It will hopefully even have a table of contents at the front! (The ebook version anyway.) And when it does go out I may finally have some time to have that nervous breakdown I've been putting off!

So crisis over and having a little free time on my hands before Samual comes back from its second edit, I thought I'd turn my aching brain to a crisis of global importance. No not the man with the worst comb over in history becoming president! Sorry to my American readers but he's your problem! And not Kim Jong Un either – what is it about bad leaders and bad hair?

No this time I wanted to talk about something much more serious than such matters. I wanted to talk about global warming and climate change – a subject that should be dear to all our hearts. And in particular my view that we've been looking at this problem all wrong.

As you know we recently had another conference of world leaders and countries coming up with ways to limit our carbon emissions, and hoping to control the global temperature increase over the coming century to one and a half degrees Celsius. Even they though believe it will be over two degrees. My guess is it will actually end up over five simply judging by the way temperatures seem to be rising and the polar ice is melting. And it may be worse than that. Though few seem to be mentioning it, there may well be a sort of runaway effect where after we reach a tipping point the rate of global warming increases beyond our ability to slow it. And if you want to take a guess as to how bad that could end up, simply look at Venus. No one would survive that.

Still enough scaremongering. Hopefully I'm wrong. Whether global warming merely heats the world at a couple of degrees per century or a couple of hundred, we've still got to stop it. Because it does mean the end of life on Earth. And thus far it seems to me that we've done absolutely nothing to stop it.

That's the thing I think we need to address.

All our strategies to limit global warming are a form of playing defence. And as any rugby player will tell you, you can't win by playing defence. The best you can ever hope to do is draw. And with all the strategies out there it seems to me that the best we could ever hope to do is reduce the temperature rise to zero degrees – but at a superhuman cost of effort and resources which no one is prepared to do. At some point you have to go on the attack. You have to start scoring tries. And not a single strategy that we seem to have come up with, is about that.

Okay, time for a very simple science lesson. Global warming is about carbon. Put simply, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Carbon in the form of carbon dioxide absorbs heat from sunlight. So put even more simply the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the hotter the world gets. That's the greenhouse effect. Conversely the less CO2 there is the cooler things get. The ice box effect?

Now sea levels are rising and will continue to rise even if we add not a single extra gram of CO2 to the atmosphere. Island nations will be drowned. Polar caps will continue to melt adding not only to sea level rise but also the heating effect since ice being shiny and white reflects heat, whereas when it turns to water it absorbs it. Animal species will continue to become extinct. In short we are well past the point where simply reducing the amount of extra carbon we add to the atmosphere will stop things. We don't need to stop adding less. We need to start taking it away. And not a single policy I've seen seems to be directed at this goal.

Current policies are all about limiting the damage, and decreasing the amount of extra carbon we add to the biosphere. They are like putting band aids on a wound that's only getting bigger. We need to do some surgery! We need to get rid of that extra fat that's making our wounds worse.

And what do you know – the Earth has already been doing that for us – for a billion years. We need to start doing that for ourselves.

To explain this lets take a step back and look at global warming from a simple perspective. The predominant agent of global warming is carbon. Carbon which exists either in bound forms such as wood and animals and algae etc. Or in gaseous form as carbon dioxide. All of these things are contained within the part of the Earth known as the biosphere. The living zone just on top of the world's crust more or less. And the part where we live.

The other thing we need to remember is that carbon exists in the biosphere in a cycle. It is never destroyed or created. It simply changes form. From fixed carbon to gaseous carbon and then back to fixed carbon again and so on.

Fixed carbon is bound up in life forms like trees and animals. And as fixed carbon it does not add to global warming. Then those life forms die, and through processes like digestion, rotting and fire the carbon is released into the atmosphere. In chemistry this is oxidation – you add oxygen to carbon and you get CO2. Now if that was the end of it, the Earth would have been destroyed a billion years ago. But it isn't. Because a reverse chemical process also exists – photosynthesis. Plants breathe in the air take the carbon from it and bind it once more into living structures like wood. That's what photosynthesis is.

So that's the carbon cycle in a nutshell. There's only one other thing to consider. It's a closed system. There may be more carbon in the atmosphere at certain times and less in the bound forms, but there's always fairly much the same amount of total carbon in the biosphere.

And that's important. Because it means that until say a couple of hundred years ago whatever you destroyed and converted to gaseous carbon would sooner or later be returned to a bound carbon form. There was a balance. Burn down a forest, and the atmospheric carbon increased a tiny amount. But sooner or later, trees and plants regrew and the carbon was once more bound. You got minor fluctuations.

But then we started doing two things that destroyed that balance. The first was that we industrialised. Spreading out, growing all over the world, beginning wide scale deforestation etc. And the second was that we started burning fossil fuels – coal and oil. And we did it in massive amounts.

That matters because fossil fuels and the carbon in them are not part of that balance. This is extra carbon being introduced to the system. And this is what's caused global warming.

The minor fluctuations in carbon in the air due to the existing carbon in the system changing are nothing to fear. If the amount of carbon in the air rises, in time the amount of plant growth will increase and the carbon will be reduced. It's all perfectly balanced.

But with global warming the problem isn't the carbon trapped in this system. It's the additional carbon that's being introduced into the system that matters. Coal and oil. They are actually carbon that has been taken out of the system over millions of years. And so when they're added to the system, they increase the total carbon available. And most of that since they're burnt, ends up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. That's the thing that's slowly killing us.

And every strategy we've come up to deal with this so far has been about reducing the amount of extra carbon we add to the biosphere and hence our atmosphere and the temperature. So we burn less fuel – not no fuel. But what we actually need to do is start taking carbon out of the system. Out of the atmosphere / biosphere.

So how do we do that you ask? It sounds like a big thing. And actually it is. But the first part of it is simple. We use the world to do it for us. To do what it already has been doing naturally. Plants are already in existence to take carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into wood. And they've done a brilliant job of it for a billion years. The hard part is what follows. Taking that fixed carbon in the form of wood etc, and removing it. Making it unavailable to the life cycle. Making it unable to be broken down and released as CO2.

Now there are some chemical processes that could do this. We could for example turn it all to diamond. But that would of course be an incredibly slow process that would require an enormous commitment of time and energy. We could combine it with other chemicals to turn it into say, plastic. But always when we do things like that we seem to end up polluting the plant. Or we could simply physically remove it.

Logic tells us there are only two ways to do this. Two directions we could send it – up or down. We could stick it all in rocket ships and blast it into space. A glorious system, but one that is likely beyond us. Or we could do what nature has been doing for a billion years – bury it.

This is rather like drilling for oil – in reverse. But again we already do this. We dig mines and wells. We spend enormous amounts of time and effort digging ever bigger holes in the Earth. Why not use those holes? Why not fill them up with carbon? So grow something fast growing – bamboo perhaps. Burn it in an airtight container perhaps through a solar furnace such as those we use to destroy toxic wastes. Reduce it to carbon. And then bury that carbon – which is really coal – somewhere where it can never become part of the carbon cycle again.

Yes this is a lot of work. And yes it will take centuries to do. To fix the damage we have already done to our world. But we are in a situation where we don't have a lot of choice. It's time to go big or go home as they say. And since we are already home, the second option isn't really an option. It's our home that's leaving us.

I say its time to commit ourselves to one and a half degrees. But not the miserable, unachievable goal that came from the politicians so recently. To the reduction of global temperatures by one and a half degrees by the end of the century. It's time to clean up our mess.

Anyway, that's my solution to global warming. What's yours?


Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Shonky Self Promotion

Hi guys,



Just finished the first draft of Samual and sent it off to the editor, which gives me a little time to post something here.

And this time it’s a topic I haven’t dealt with before. One that is prompted by a number of events that have happened recently in my online life – not that I really have much of one of those. The shonky practices engaged in by some aspiring authors as they try to sell their books.

As many of you may know, I tend to stay away from the entire world of promotion of my work. My thought is that if I produce good books that people enjoy, then the work will sell itself. The golden rule for me is produce a good book, well edited, with a good cover and a good blurb, get it out there and then start writing the next one. And while last year I may have revised that view slightly, deciding that cover design should be outsourced to people who actually know what they're doing, I'm still mostly happy with that position. So you won't find me running advertising campaigns across Twitter or bombarding Facebook with promotions. I won't be at writer conventions flogging my books. I won't be sending off endless emails to book bloggers getting them to review my books etc.

It may be dewy-eyed and foolish, and I may be missing a trick in making money, but I'd rather get to work writing my next book than wasting my time with all of that stuff. That's not to say I decry others who go down that road. My thought is each to their own. If that's what they want to do, good luck to them.

But recently I've been annoyed by a number of self promotion tactics by other writers – I won't mention names – that have intruded on my writerly life style. (I'm not actually sure that I make enough money to have a life style but the concept still applies!) And in this blog I'm going to go through them and say why I think they're things we shouldn't do as writers.

Okay so my month began with the usual annoyances, but one started bugging me more than the rest. Writers trying to hawk their works through writer fora. It happens. Moderators do their best but still some of this dross still gets through. We've all seen it. But it is annoying. Usually what happens is that an author joins a particular group whatever it happens to be. And then they completely spam the forum with thinly disguised – sometimes undisguised – posts trying to sell their books. You know the ones. Every post contains endless links back to their own book under some sort of irrelevant pretext. “Yes I agree, you shouldn't use the passive voice which is why in my new book – link, link, link – I didn't do it!”

Here's why I think those who do this, absolutely shouldn't.

First it pisses me off! Yeah, I know – that goes without saying. But I wanted to say it anyway! And it is actually an important point. Because if it pisses me off, then it probably does the same for most other contributors to the forum. And if I'm not going to be inspired to buy your book, then they aren't likely to be either. And some of them – not me because I am too damn lilly livered to do something like this – are going to get angry. So if you do this, expect scathing reviews on your book page. Expect complaints. Expect a backlash. And for goodness sake – don't imagine that you're being clever. Writers are clever people too – and they know what you're doing!

Look writing fora are for writers to get together and discuss writing issues. Some fora provide places where you can advertise your latest work. Use them by all means. I do sometimes. But don't upset everyone else.

And if that isn't enough for those who still want to do it, think on this. We aren't your audience! You sell books to readers. If you're going to insist on spamming some forum with your oh so cleverly disguised post that no one will ever guess is really an add, spam a reader's forum!

There's also one other reason for anyone who wants to be a writer not to do this. And it goes under that lovely old saying - “even a seagull doesn't shit in its own nest”! If you want to become a good writer you are going to need the help of other members of the writing community. That's going to be a problem for you down the track if you've already been banned from all the writing fora out there.

Okay – I'm calm now. But that is one thing that gets me a little wound up from time to time. Here's another which is somewhat less annoying to me personally, but which will land a lot of fools in very hot water.

This one cropped up last week on a Facebook group I frequent. The use of name dropping. You've all seen it. The use of tag lines etc that compare your book to someone else's. “If you loved – insert best seller title – you'll love this.” Or; “What if – insert best seller title – was only the beginning.” Or that perennial favourite; “It's – insert best seller title – meets – insert best seller title”.

Why shouldn't you do this? Well first it is shonky. It's cheap and parasitic. It's desperate. And it looks all of those things. In fact it looks like what it is, some wannabe author trying to hitch his book to a successful one and ride his coat tails.

And yeah I've heard the excuses too. The typical “I was just trying to tell readers what the book was about.” Yeah right! As if they can't read the damned blurb! Or that mantra of teen criminals everywhere – “other people do it!” Yes and other people steal too – what's your point?!

Look bottom line from me – your work should be strong enough to stand on its own. If it isn't no amount of riding the successes of others in a desperate attempt to sell it is going to help you.

But hey, it's your morality and not my place to judge. I'll simply see the line, realise that your book is probably poor, and not buy it. But if that doesn't convince you that you don't want to go down this shonky road, here's something that might. The dreaded word – Trademarked!

Yes I know, you can't copyright a title. That's true. But I'm not talking about copyright. I'm talking about trademarks. Things that identify one product from another in customers' minds. And many if not most of the highly successful works that end up as best sellers and movies end up with their titles trademarked. That means the use of those titles is restricted.

So what does that mean for you if you use that title in your marketing? Well first it means asking yourself all sorts of questions. Did you have permission from the trademark holder to use the title? Does your use of the title in any way allow your product to be confused with the other in the minds of readers? Does your use disparage the original work? Is what you said in any way untrue? And if any of the answers to that are not good, then it means lawyers at a dozen paces!

You may be lucky. The trademark holder's lawyers may just issue a take down notice. I.e. get this thing off the shelves! Or you may not be and they may sue for damages. And here's a heads up for you – the more successful your book is the worse it's going to be. You sell a dozen copies to your mum and a few friends, the chances are you'll just get a notice. You sell a million copies, and the chances are you'll be in court losing not just every cent you made from the book but also your house, your left kidney and your first born child!

So bottom line here for authors is don't do it. You're playing with fire as well as making used car salesmen look good!

But here's the third shonky self promotion strategy that impacted on me this month, and the one that really set my blood pressure to boil. And again it's a Facebook one.

This month I received a number of “friends” requests, and unlike my usual cautious self, I didn't think to check out the people who wanted to be my friends. Okay, that was my mistake, and so perhaps I had a right to be annoyed but not one to be surprised when some of my new “friends” started posting dating posts on my page. Needless to say they got unfriended fast, blocked and reported as spam merchants. And from here on out I will remember the golden rule of Facebook – I hate everybody!

However what really caught me by surprise was when one other of my new “friends” was actually an author trying to flog his book on my Facebook page! Now that hasn't happened before. Not to me at least.

Again he's been unfriended, blocked and reported as a spam merchant. But in his case my wrath is unabated! (Hence this entire rant!) He is a fellow author, defacing my Facebook page with his shonky self promotions of his book. So just who the hell does he think he is?!


So if I, a mild mannered writer am utterly pissed off by this sort of behaviour, imagine what others who aren't quite so lilly livered are going to be! Imagine what they might do!

And so readers and would be authors I can only come back to this one point after my entire, foaming at the mouth, rant. Don't ever do any of these things. They will surely come back to bite you!

Cheers, Greg.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2016 And Beyond

Hi guys,

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are enjoying the new year. I thought I'd start this year off by making some predictions for what's coming in the literary world in 2016 and beyond. Feel free to agree with them or not.

1) In store on demand printing – espresso book machine.

I think this is an idea whose time has come. In 2007 the espresso book machine was developed –essentially a portable small scale printery / bindery which can be set up in a back room. It has made some inroads into the world of books, mostly being taken up by large public libraries as it allows their customers to simply print any one of the millions of publicly available books, many of them no longer in print, and walk out a couple of minutes later with the book under their arm. The EBM though was an idea that the world wasn't ready for. It was expensive –one hundred and some thousand green backs, which has held things back a little. Never the less it is out there and slowly becoming more common.

But now I think, we sit on the cusp of its arrival. Look at the market forces at work in the industry at present. Booksellers are being squeezed. Ebooks are now a significant segment of the market and booksellers don't sell them. (You wondered why your corner book shops were closing down?) At the same time the big five (used to be six) have sort of cornered the market as far as what booksellers can sell. They essentially have arrangements that say they will supply the shops with their goods, provided that the store doesn't stock competitors. This means indies. (You wondered why your book stores often don't sell indie books? That's one reason. Another is of course the perceived quality issues and the issue of unsold returns making each indie book they stock a risk.) And the cost of EBMs? Coming down. There are now even second hand machines available.

This is heading for a perfect storm of economic factors, and my prediction is that over the next few years the uptake of this technology will explode.

Soon customers will simply wander down to their local bookseller with either a name of an out of print public domain book, or a file and walk out with their book. Any book. Not just the ones on the shelves.

There are no copyright issues for the bookseller, since the work is either public domain or the files were provided by the customer, and in any case they did not “sell”the book – they printed it. Suddenly they have a whole new bunch of customers in store, those who want books in the physical format, but don't want to have to wait for them to be delivered in the mail, pay freight etc, or be limited to what's on the shelves.

Expect the big five to start squawking though.

2) Kindle Unlimited 2 is here to stay.

Around the middle of 2015 Amazon changed the algorithms of Select and came up with KU2 as it's called. The new Kindle Unlimited. Under the original algorithm authors were paid a flat rate for every book downloaded by customers regardless. This meant those who wrote short stories got the same fee whatever length it was or how much the book sold for. This in turn led to a strange market distortion on KU where novelists were less encouraged to use it and more encouraged to go non Select and sell through other channels. The monies from borrows were often less, even much less than they were getting from sales and novelists don't write as many books a year as others. Meanwhile short story writers were over the moon as an author could price a book at 99c get 35c commission every time he sold a copy, but get a couple of bucks every time someone borrowed it. In extreme cases they were actually getting paid for borrows of books that were free!

KU2 has corrected these issues and now authors get paid by the number of pages read. This means a short story writer who was making a killing on KU1 as he could write a book a week, now only gets paid according to the number of pages Select customers read of each story. So bad for them I'm afraid. But novelists who could perhaps only put out a few books a year by comparison, now also get paid according to the pages read. And whereas a short story might only have ten pages, a novel might have five hundred. Suddenly the economics swing to them in a big way.

And add to that the fact that KU2 is boosting recognition of their books / names and providing a significant revenue boost for many, and it becomes a godsend.

For Amazon of course this means that Select is slowly being stocked with novels as those who write longer works suddenly see the value in it over selling through other channels. Naturally there will be a migration to Select by them. And the economics for Amazon are telling too as Select now becomes a tool whereby it can increase its market share over the big five etc.

So I see this model staying no matter that many short story writers are unhappy. Speaking as a novelist – I certainly hope so! (Also speaking from a purely selfish and probably somewhat judgement impaired point of view, there is something incredibly satisfying about seeing your monthly balance sheet from Amazon with figures in the millions on it! Even knowing it's pages read and not books sold it looks so damned good!)

Expect to hear the big five squawking some more though.

3) Increased uptake of successful indies to dark side (oops – I meant trade publishing!)

This is a trend that has been going on for some time. Agents and publishers have been perusing the shelves of Amazon and others looking for indie authors who seem to be doing well, and making offers. After all it looks like a win win to them. If an indie with limited resources for covers, printing, marketing etc, is hitting the mark, imagine how much better they could do with a professional team and industry contacts behind them?! And for the agent why should he waste so much time with submissions from writers who've never been tested when he can go straight to a ready made crop of authors who have been tested and achieved some success, and start harvesting?!

I expect this trend to continue over the coming years and grow until ultimately (and somewhat ironically) the best way for an author to get an agent will actually be to self-publish.

Of course there will be winners and losers as always. If this is good for indies it's bad for those just starting out and desperate to go to the dark side (Damn – did it again! I keep meaning to write trade publishing and my fingers slip on the keys!). It will become even harder to get an agent and a contract, and contracts as we all know, are becoming smaller.

The big five may actually coo a little bit here – very quietly – if it means they get more successful authors and hence more sales.


4 Greater acceptance of self publishing as a legitimate career choice.

This isn't so much a prediction for 2016 as it is an ongoing trend. But I think as ebooks start to dominate the market and self publishing becomes the norm, the potential for us indies to make a living writing grows. Granted I don't mean all self publishers. Most of those who do self publish will have problems; poor editing, poor covers, weak plots etc etc and they will naturally enough fall by the way. There's no way around that. But for those who are willing to put in the hard yards, hire editors and cover designers, school themselves in the business of writing and publishing, the prospects of making more money going indie than dark side (naughty fingers!) improve.

In the old days those who weren't willing to do this would simply never have got an agent and so would have made nothing. Now they can get their work out there, but still probably won't make a lot. However, for those who are willing to invest the time and effort, the economics of indie publishing are undeniable. You get better commissions on each sale, you can put out more books per year than a dark side author (I'm trying to stop it – really!) and you have far greater artistic control of your work. You don't have to write the gazillionth version of sparkly vampires or whatever trend is out there that your publisher wants to see.

In 2015 we saw another writers organization start accepting indies as members – the SFWA. (Too little too late in my view but that's another matter.) We've seen surveys showing that indies are becoming ever greater segments of the ebook market. We've heard ever more indie success stories. And some of the old stereotypes are being washed away.

In the old days the advice given to aspiring authors was always – “never self publish”. Then people went sort of quiet with that advice. And now I think the advice would be– “yes, self publish – it's your best chance of making a go of writing – but do it well!” And these days that would be my advice too.

I'm damned sure it won't be the advice of the big five or agents though!

Anyway, that's my guess as to where things are heading in 2016 and beyond.

Have a great year all.

Cheers, Greg.