Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Week in Writing

Hi Guys,





They say a week is a long time in politics. I think it may be even longer in writing!

Last week and a bit ago, several things happened almost simultaneously. First I sent a copy of my latest book - "The Dotard" off down to the editor, relieved that the first draft was finally done and thinking to myself - nothing can go wrong. Oh what a foolish thought!

Days later the North Korean's called the US President a dotard, and I was left shocked and floundering. Wondering, why do they suddenly use this archaic term right bloody then! And also wondering do I now have to change the title of the book now that I've gone to all the trouble of getting a cover done etc?

The problem is that some people seeing the book cover will connect the two things, and immediately either assume that I'm making some sort of political statement - which I am absolutely not - or else that I'm simply cashing in on the sudden notoriety of the word by copying North Korea - save that as far as I can tell they're copying me! Good to know I have readers there though! On the other hand - it was such a brilliant title for the book and I've already gone and got the cover done. I don't want to change it.

What a miserable couple of days that was! You just wouldn't read about it! (Except of course if you read the book when it comes out!)

Then just when I thought things couldn't get any worse my computer crashed. Actually the hard drive had a complete break down with all data lost. Thankfully it was only my desktop, so I lost no writing. I normally write on my laptop and back up regularly to burner discs. The desktop is purely for connecting to the net. That was the good news. The bad was that I did have one file on my desktop that I absolutely needed - the one with all my logins and passwords! The one I never backed up!

So after a week with no online presence, I'm now in the process of trying to resurrect all my logins and passwords - with limited success. Most of the time I had the computer remember my passwords and addresses for me which was extremely convenient - until now! At this stage I'd guess I can access probably half of the fora I used to, which means if you're looking for me under my alternate persona, don't be surprised if I'm not there.

Emails have of course also died, which means I've lost loads of names, contacts and reference material. And some of my contacts will shortly be receiving emails starting off "you remember that you sent me ...? Can you send it again!" And of course many of my online contacts like cover artists I won't be able to contact at all.

The moral of the story is of course - back up everything. Not just the data files on your laptop!

Anyway that's been my week. At this stage I've decided to leave the book as it is (as you can see above). Hopefully the North Koreans will find some other language to use and people will forget the word. And dotard really is a brilliantly old fashioned word that perfectly encapsulates the book.

So that's been my week or so. One out of the box really. All I can really say is that I hope people can learn from my mistakes. And that the title of the book like the book itself, has absolutely nothing to do with US politics.

Cheers, Greg.


Friday, 15 September 2017

The Dotard


Hi Guys,

 

Short post this time. Just to let you know that there's a new book coming out shortly. It's just gone off to the editor yesterday, and I'm now playing Skyrim and waiting for the normal round of abuse from her! But really, it has I think, the quality she most looks forward to in my books – fewer words! So that's got to count for something!

Anyway the book's called The Dotard and is a steam-punk with wizards battling one another. It's hopefully a little more light reading than A Bitter Brew, and with a little more humour. The plot's also not so convoluted though there are a few surprises in it. Even I can't spend eternity weaving plot elements into a complex tangle that only makes sense right at the end!

For those who want to know where the idea came from, the book was started about a year ago on a whim. At the time I'd just read something about the then up and coming final wolverine movie and there was a piece in it about Professor X. The man with the most powerful mind in the world suffering from a deteriorating illness of the brain and losing control of his abilities. And it occurred to me – what if he was a wizard?!

So that's where the book began. Where Wilberforce Wilberton came from. With one of the most powerful wizards known, suffering from advanced dementia, losing his sanity and the control of his spells. With magical accidents happening whenever he cast a spell and him refusing to hang up his cauldron! And with a town living in fear of what he might do next. You just never know when a cow might unexpectedly fall out of the sky and wreck your house! Or your day!

Anyway that's all I have for the moment. So as they say in Skyrim – Watch the skies, travellers!

Cheers, Greg.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Unexpected Perils of Holding a Pen!

 

Hi Guys,

 



I've been without a computer for the last week or so, since the machine decided it no longer wanted to start. But it kept telling me it wanted to – if only I'd select the right operating system from the list provided so it could automatically repair whatever was wrong with it. Unfortunately the list it presented me with was blank – something that made me think the fault might be somewhat terminal! Thankfully, as you can tell, it wasn't and here I am a week later, still kicking and screaming.

However, the computer's breakdown gave me a little time to think about things. For a start it gave me a chance to be grateful that the breakdown occurred a week after I published A Bitter Brew and not a week before! It also gave me a chance to get back to the basics of writing. At which point I discovered that my fingers have forgotten how to hold a pen!

I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it's actually true. I've been typing for so long that the actual physical act of writing with pen and paper is alien to my hand. And the script that flows from it is less than pretty. Not that it was pretty before, but things have definitely gone downhill! For those of you who think I'm kidding but equally don't write with pen and paper, all I can suggest is that you try it for yourself. It is actually quite shocking as you sit there with cramped fingers trying to remember which way the pen goes to link to the next letter!

That in turn set me to thinking about some of the other odd effects writing – either with pens and paper or computer – have had on my world. The downsides. And here I'm not talking about the traditional downsides of being an author – poverty, an ever decreasing circle of friends, a never ending need to shout from the rooftops that no one is listening to you, followed by alcoholism, death and a pauper's grave! No here I'm thinking of the ones that no one normally talks about.

One of them is what people think is shyness and embarrassment. The absolute aversion I've developed to telling people in the off-line world that I'm a writer. But it's not because I'm ashamed of what I do, or because I'm shy. It's because it inevitably leads to two questions, neither of which I know how to answer, nor want to try.

The first is –“where do you get your ideas from?” I hate this question, because I have absolutely no idea. They just come. I write and they flow. More than that I can't tell you. And if you ask me this question face to face I'm just going to have to think of some clever answer, because let's face it – “I don't know” sounds terrible!

The other question of course is that perennial favourite – “have you written anything I know?” I hate this question because the answer is mostly – no. Of course I haven't. A lot of people read what I write and some of you say nice things about it for which I'm eternally grateful. But that doesn't make me Stephen King. On top of which I only write in a couple of genres and there are hundreds of others that people read. So it's really quite unlikely that any particular person would have read my books. But saying that just makes me feel like a failure.

Another of the unexpected consequences of spending so much time writing these past few years is that I've become a grammar Nazi! I don't know when it happened exactly. And I loathe being that person. But still it's there. And the inner grammar Nazi reveals itself at the most unexpected times. For example there's a song on the radio I listen to quite often. And every time I hear it a part of me cringes as they sing part of a line “… gets me overwhelmed.” I usually end up yelling at the car radio that it should be “… leaves me overwhelmed.” As you can guess this particular song is not good for road safety in my case! And I'm already in the process of writing up the legal argument for the day that the inevitable happens! I'm not sure that anybody has ever before cited dangerous song lyrics leading to a car crash as the grounds for a civil action!

In fact the pain of hearing this line annoys me so greatly that many times I've considered writing the boy band in question a letter demanding that they fix it. (Of course they're quite safe at this stage since my fingers can't hold a pen and my computer has only just come back to life! Also I understand that they've broken up – in fear perhaps of my scathing note and legal action!)

Reading has also become problematic over the years. I find it hard to slip into someone else's prose these days – not because there's anything wrong with it, but because I've become so used to my own style and in the back of my mind there's always this little voice saying; “well I wouldn't have written it that way”. These days whenever I do any critiquing for fellow authors I have to constantly check myself as to whether I'm suggesting a change because it's good for the work or because it fits my style.

Google has become a nightmare. Yes it is my friend. But sometimes you can have too many friends! The problem is that whenever I write something and I touch on a topic I'm not familiar with, whether it's gun handling, the Ninth Legion or brewing ale, I have to go and research it online to make sure I've got it right. And the amount of research I can end up doing for a single scene or even a sentence in a book, is mind blowing. It can take longer than writing the actual book! And the amount of material I download is frightening. (Maybe that's what killed my computer!)

And then there's stress. Yes I know, who can lie around all day typing a few words, and somehow discover stress?! It seems unlikely. But it's real. All day I'm constantly wondering – will people like my latest book? Will they read it? What about typos? What if I run out of ideas? (I don't know where they come from after all so I can't tell how many might be left!) And will my cat finally claw my face off in my sleep?! (Yes that one's my own personal demon, but still it's not a nice way to finally close your eyes!)

Anyway, for those of you wanting to embark on this journey of writing, I thought I'd share some of the unexpected perils you may find along the way.

 

Cheers, and good luck, Greg.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Loose Ends, Tight Beginnings – And Lets Not Even Talk About The Middle!


 
Hi Guys,

 
 
 
Been a while since I posted. Mostly because I've been busy with my new book – A Bitter Brew. For the past two weeks since it came back from the first pass by the editor I've been deep in the throws of pulling my hair out and swearing at Track Changes as I tried to accept / reject the untold thousands of edits she made! And I'm sure every other author out there knows exactly what I mean.

But finally – roughly two days ago – I finished it and sent it away for its second run through and I thought I should finally write something. And this time the topic was fairly obvious. Antediluvian writing!

Now I'm not talking here about writing about the pre-flood times. (Though it is an interesting idea.) Nor about the writing that was done before the flood. (Though I'm pleased to report that I have one of the largest collections of pre-flood books in existence with exactly zero books! One of which is entitled – “What's That Big Wall Of Water Coming My Wa …!) I'm actually reflecting on my own writing style – which may be a little archaic for want of a better term.

I always get a bit nostalgic when my latest books away for editing. Especially when my editor contacts me to tell me about the latest fashions which she thinks I should try – in this case a white coat that buckles up at the back! But in this case my nostalgia was brought on by reading some of the critiques done of another fledgeling writer's work.

Now I've said this before, and I'll undoubtedly say it again. Probably until I'm in my grave. There is no right way to write a book! There are no rules of writing! Not every book should be written with minimal description and character development and constant page turning seat of your pants action! And those who give critiques are giving you opinion – no more. The challenge for the writer is to decide whether they agree with those opinions or not.

For me, I like good long reads. I like a complicated world build, an involved plot, and deep character work. My editor does a great job of curbing the worst of my excesses – or else every book I wrote would be a thousand pages long! But always as I go through the changes she's made, I sit there with a single question on my mind – do I agree with each change? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.

And for all of you out there going through the process of putting your work up for critique, this is the same thing you need to do. Don't simply accept what others say. And for the sake of your peace of mind, don't look at all the edits and think – shit I'm a crap writer! I guarantee the same people could make just as many edits on Tolstoy. And in any case this is not a business for the thin skinned.

So simply thank people for their time and effort, and then go through all the comments with with that one question on your mind. Do you agree? Or put another way – if you do what they say will it still be the story you want to tell being told the way you want to tell it?

Anyway, enough whining from me. I've got to get back to writing. And this time I've got caught up in a strange plot involving the missing Roman Ninth Legion, some Celts and a few fae, an alternate world, and a mist that keeps carrying people away. If I don't keep writing I won't know where the story is going! (People keep asking me where I get my ideas. And quite frankly I'd like to know too – because some of them baffle even me!)

So as always, be good or don't get caught.

 

Cheers, Greg.

 

 

 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Mages, Covers and The Woes of Princes

Hi Guys,
 
 
 
 
Tornado Mage by WarNick on DeviantArt
 
Been a while since I last posted, but I've been busy writing so I guess I have an excuse?! In fact I've written a bit over 160K in the last month, which is something of a record even for me.
 
The new book, which is about 80% complete, is called "A Bitter Brew" and is another epic fantasy. But this one's a little bit different to my others. The hero is a mage, but like all those with magic in his world, he isn't called that. He's called "afflicted", and magic is considered a disease. The afflicted have become a lower class in his world, like the untouchables, and are relatively powerless. They're also easily spotted, since as part of their gaining magic, they become marked with one of seven magic metals. In Hendrick's case the metal is Mithril, and the markings run up his entire left arm.
 
In his world - Styrion - the afflicted aren't just shunned. They are discriminated against in law. They may not hold any office or station. They can't enter the capitol city or any Council Chamber in any other. If by chance they have a useful spell, they cannot charge for its use, and if someone in authority asks, they have to provide the magical service immediately and for free. In short they are the lowest of the low, without any hope of improving their lot in life.
 
The reason those with magic are so powerless is that the way they gain their magic is different to that in other books. They aren't born with a talent, and they don't learn it. Instead they pick up a fragment of magic metal, usually not knowing what it even is, and it promptly dissolves into their skin marking them for life. And then instead of acquiring (or absorbing) a whole type of magic, they only acquire a single spell. One spell per fragment. And to add to their woes, there's no telling what spell any fragment contains. It could be a useful one. It could even be a warspell. But the most likely outcome is that it will be something completely useless - the ability to grow body hair for example!
 
This means that most of the magical are left in their world with one or two spells which are of no earthly use to them, and marked as afflicted for all the world to see. Probably the worst of all possible situations for a spellcaster! And yet there is an even worse possibility for some. That they pick up their spells by having the fragment of magic metal touch a part of their body normally covered by clothes, so the markings are hidden. These poor souls are called witches and warlocks, and are considered to be hiding their affliction. Naturally the normal distrust people have for the afflicted is multiplied for witches and warlocks, and in fact they're often simply considered evil.
 
For Hendrick the situation is more complicated still. As well as being afflicted and trying to run a brewery in a small town, he is also a prince - seventeenth in line to the throne - and yet the law actually forbids him from ever assuming the throne or even setting foot in the royal city. So he's a prince in name only, and an outcast! (I so love putting my characters in difficult situations!)
 
Of course I couldn't leave it there - it was just too easy! So naturally I had to give him a sociopathic mother who discarded him in favour of his older, unafflicted brother, and who spends her days plotting against the other wives in the royal household. A father - the King - who sent a squad of mercenaries to kill him on the pretext of escorting him to his latest royal wedding. A brand new step-mother who isn't so much monstrous as actually a monster. And a war. Actually, several wars!
 
So that's where the book begins.
 
Anyway the book is nearly finished, and will probably head off for beta reading in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I'm at the stage of looking for book covers - which is where the image at the top comes from. I was hoping to use it, if I could get it a little modified by the artist, but thus far he has failed to respond to my message. Still it is I think a powerful image and so hopefully he'll get back to me at some point.
 
Meanwhile I'll leave you guys with a rather brilliant word I came across while doing my research for the book. It's a ye olde timey English word which I found and loved - Mumblecrust. And for those of you who, like me had never heard of it before, a Mumblecrust is in fact a toothless old beggar who because of his lack of teeth can't speak clearly - bit like a few politicians I can think of!
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
 
 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Getting The Little Things Right


Hi Guys,




This time I thought I'd turn my attention to one of the problems that faces all writers, but especially pantsters like myself. Getting the details right. So here I'm talking about the things that in film and tv become known as continuity errors, where for example the hero gets in an overturned yellow sports car with damage in its side and drives away in an unblemished one – Commando. It's also about the issue of major plot holes and nonsensical plots. In Powers for example one of the anti-heroes forces another to help him in a complex prison break to murder a common enemy, simply because there is a “drainer” in it that could rob him of his teleportation ability. Problem is, all he really needed was a pump action shotgun and a balaclava. Teleport in, shoot his enemy in the head, shoot the machine and jump away. Simplicity itself.

These mistakes occur in writing as well as film and television. Sometimes they can be amusing, and occasionally they can completely ruin a book. But whichever they are, they shouldn't be there.

So how do we stop them? Or rather – how do I stop them? You will all have your own ideas as writers.

There are actually two approaches to preventing them from happening. Each approach is based on the style of writer you are. For plotters – those who like to plan out their books in advance of writing them – their approach actually protects them. Not perfectly. But it's hard to write in a plot hole when the plot is already laid out in detail with all the key developments written down in front of them. For plotters the best approach is simply to up their plotting so that their plots, time lines, world builds and character bio's etc, are written down in meticulous detail. A simple fix.

But for those like me who simply like to wade into writing the book without doing anything like that – pantsters – the fix is not quite so simple. For us we generally look at these issues as problems that we get around by constantly rewriting and editing our books as we write, and by being utterly focused on our work. But this isn't always enough.

So speaking purely for myself, I use a second approach. I write out the plot, time line, world build, character bio's, beastiary etc in a second document at the same time as I write the story. And as I write the story I have this second file open beside it. Then as I write I constantly update the data file. So for example for The Wolves of War, I had the story file Wolves in which I was working, and the data file WolvesData both open on my screen at the same time, and I simply swapped between the two as I wrote.

Sounds like a simple fix? It is. And it will save you a thousand headaches, and a thousand questions from beta readers, critics and readers as they hopefully enjoy your work. But I want to extend this a little to show just how invaluable this approach is in your writing for a pantster like me.

To return to Wolves for a bit which is obviously freshest in my memory, I'm going to look at just a couple of places this approach helped me immensely. I'll start with travelling.

Wolves is a traditional epic fantasy, and like many in the genre it involves the characters travelling large distances periodically. As the writer of course, I want for that travel to be realistic. To fit with the distances involved, the terrain crossed, and the means of travel. And I want to synch everything up with the plot so I don't have unreasonable time gaps where people are either not doing anything for excessive and inexplicable lengths of time while other characters are advancing the story, or else, rushing impossibly fast to do things so it all fits together in a logical story arc.

So to do this I include in my data file, two vital sections – the map and the time line.

The map is actually not a map for two very simple reasons. The first is that I can't actually draw a straight line even with a ruler. And the second is that my data file like all my writing is done in an older version of Word which doesn't handle graphics well. So instead my map is actually a series of locations, towns, cities, realms, and their distances / compass directions from another key location. And that actually works better for me than a map would since the distance and the means of travel give me the time taken to get from point A to B. And that in turn gives me a couple of notes to add to my time line as I write. The day the journey began and the day it ends.

In practise this becomes a straight forward approach. First I have the start point of the journey set out and a distance. So say my hero Briagh sets out for the fae realm on foot and carrying a large pack on Day Twenty One. His journey is a hundred and twenty leagues – three hundred and sixty miles. And the terrain is snow covered and flat. I simply estimate how far he can travel in a day under these conditions, and make an estimated time of twenty four days which means he arrives on Day Forty Five.

Now here's where the time line becomes so valuable. Because while Briagh is busy travelling my other main hero {anti-hero?} Elan is busy with her own story arc – arguing with the Court, escaping the city and giving chase for the second time. The time line allows me to place her story, chapter by chapter, at the exact right points in the story so that she can then arrive in the fae realm and start hunting down Briagh at the right time for him to have done what he needed to.

Another section included in my data file is the characters. Now here I don't just include the basic details like name, gender, race etc. I also include a minor biography for the important characters. Who is this man? What are his values? What does he care about? It doesn't have to be much. But it does have to be there. Because in any situation who a person is will determine how he will respond. So in Wolves, Briagh was a thief and a morph. A man whose entire life was based around running and hiding. Not trusting others with his secrets. Fearing exposure. So thrown into a new environment where his secret is known – how is he going to react? The bio is there as my guide to answering those questions, and it like the time line and the plot is being constantly added to as I write the story. {This of course is especially vital when as a pantster I tend to wander between writing different books at the same time and often don't write anything on the same book for days or months.}

Normally I include a beastiary in my data file – for a couple of reasons. The first is that I want a consistent set of creatures in my work that relate to my world. Is my world based on ancient Greek / Roman / Babylonian mythology? If so then I want it to include creatures from those mythologies like hell hounds, cerberi, minotaurs and not those of other mythologies. Similarly I need to nail down the characteristics and abilities of those beasts so that I don't have them doing things that they can't or wouldn't do. For example if a manticore is an ambush predator operating from its den in the forest depths, I don't want it to suddenly be out chasing down its prey across the savanna.

Other sections I usually include are the gods and religions of the world – you never know when you need a good curse or a priest to tell your characters about right and wrong. Likewise I add a language section – terms I use through the book. So in Wolves I took a number of terms from middle English and scattered them throughout the work, simply to keep the steam punk feel of the book alive. {This can be fascinating and fun research by the way, and you can learn a lot. For example in writing the book I discovered the term 'rakefire' which is essentially an over-stayer in an inn who refuses to pay for his lodgings and needs to be booted out in favour of paying guests.}

And last but by no means least I add a comments section. This I cannot stress the importance of strongly enough for pantsters and probably plotters to. This is simply a section where as I'm writing the book I have a random thought eg 'explain the magic of scrying somewhere in book'. This matters because obviously I as the writer know what scrying is and how it works in the book, so as I reread and edit it makes perfect sense to me. But if that isn't in the book somewhere, my readers may be left scratching their heads wondering what's happening.

So to those of you who like to write in the manner I do – by the seat of your pants – this is the approach I use, and I would commend it to you.

Here's hoping you have a great new year ahead.

 
Cheers, Greg.