Tuesday 28 January 2014

Novel Idea: Pre-op Post-edit

Traditional Ones

I've just finished the first edit of the penultimate chapter.

That means there's one left to go, and potentially an epilogue.

This'll bring it to thirteen chapters, which is freakin' wicked as the number thirteen, and its relation to chaos in the Persian New Year, is well stated within the story. So it's sort of poetic, and completely unintentional, which gives me this glowy feeling that the book wants to exist.

I started the first edit shortly after finishing the final chapter on 4th January, so it's taken the best part of a month to comb through. That's actually not bad at all. There have been far fewer major issues and mistakes than I was anticipating. Especially as, just before Christmas, MS Word collapsed on me, claiming there were too many spelling mistakes for it to continue pointing them out. Guess technology just can't hack the pace of a real life, flesh and blood proofreader.

My major concern being that this is the first novel I've written where I deliberately banned myself from editing as I go. It means I probably got to the end a bit faster, but, over the course of seven months and 100,000 words, I was a little nervous about what I might find on the first read-through.

Surprisingly, there was only one major boo boo in which I completely contradicted an earlier plot detail, although I think there may be another in the final chapter. Nothing irretrievable though, so worst fears not realised. 

Each chapter that I've finished has been e-mailed over to Martine & RuairĂ­, beta reader and proofreader extraordinaire. So I'm taking this moment to pause for breath, because once I send the final chapter it's open season - they get to shoot me down on grammar, plot, characterisation, dialogue, and general 'feel'. 

First edit is about me checking that the words form roughly (and only very roughly) coherent sentences and that plot and character continuity remains stable - to my mind at least.

Second edit is about rigorously shaping up the grammar, flow and continuity with fresh eyes involved, plus identifying places where the story might benefit from padding out or trimming down.

Feeling fairly good so far. Hard to be objective about it now - some days you're insecure and you think it's all crap, other days you're inspired and it's brilliant. Which is why you need people that you trust, with the literary skills you need, to look through it with you. Every author has at least one person like this, but sometimes they take a while to find - I'm lucky enough to have two.

[Top Tip: family members are fantastic too, but they're pretty much guarantee to love anything you write, so they don't make the best beta readers. You need someone with a critical eye and enough distance to tell it like it is without crushing your soul. Delicate balance.]

Funny thing is, I've already got the next project lined up.

Can't wait to get started.

My story takes place over four years in three
different calenders. Here's how I tried to keep
track of that whilst editing.

Monday 27 January 2014

Avoiding Amazon

Image from Gawker article - worth a read.

It has now been two months since the Panorama programme exposing Amazon's mistreatment of employees. You can still watch it online.

I decided to embark on an experiment, to see how difficult life would be without Amazon.

The fact that I'm reporting back after only nine weeks should be some indication of how I'm coping. I have definitely noticed it missing from my life.

There are two parts to all of this: Amazon from a consumer's perspective, and Amazon from a sales perspective.

Ethical Consumer
Boycott Amazon Campaign

We'll take the second bit first, because this is something I hadn't really considered when I set out to boycott Amazon. Of course it'll be easy not to use it, I thought. It's only a website.

I quickly realised the gap in my logic when several other authors tweeted on this topic. As a consumer, you get some choice over where you buy things from, yet as an author you don't get any say over where your books are sold.


Amazon stock just about everything ever published. No publisher in the modern age is going to ask for your title to be removed from the world's biggest book sales site. The number of publishers willing to sign an author who demands their work be removed from Amazon probably runs into negative figures. 

Publishers need to make money, they make money from selling your books (theoretically, at least), therefore books must be stocked and sold. Yet it is the paperback - the physical book - that contributes the most misery to workers, as they hurtle down unlit corridors against the clock, tripping over themselves to distribute your product through the post. Every time I make a sale, I hear a minimum-wage employee scream as she falls down a flight of stairs.


Meanwhile, I'm lucky to retain the e-rights on two of my novels, plus my self-published short stories. However, what would be the point in removing these? Nobody has to locate them in a warehouse or post them. There's no physical book to dispatch. They're not directly contributing to the mental and emotional destruction of workers. You could argue that the profit from ebooks oils the slave machine, but unless you're Kerry Wilkinson, that contribution is likely to be minimal.

Still, it was a bit of a wake-up call to realise just how deeply Amazon one-click culture had twisted its tendrils into my life: not just the things I choose to spend my money on, but what other people choose to spend their money on and, therefore, where I derive my income from. The web spreads far wider than I had originally considered.

I also received a number of presents this Christmas which I know must have been bought through Amazon. I wasn't about to return them.

Setting aside the conundrum of Amazon as an author for the time being, I went back to focusing on Amazon as a consumer. I've been an avid Amazon customer for years. Would I miss it?

Paxus Calta's Boycott List

Sales aside, how hard could it be to boycott Amazon that close to Christmas?

Well, the same reason I faced the sales conundrum - being an author - was the same reason I didn't find it too difficult to begin with.

I'm lucky in that I know a few talented writers, and I enjoy supporting their work. It's a bit like hitting the 'shop local' button on Etsy.

Non-Book 'Stuff'

Whilst we're on that topic, not using Amazon did force me to get a little more inventive about presents. I spent quite a bit of time browsing Etsy (which has teamed up with Kiva), Not on the High Street, and purchasing from friends who make things. 

I have to admit that I hate 'real' shopping. I'm not a crowd person, I don't enjoy spending hours browsing windows to find the one thing I actually want to buy. I'm an absolute convert to internet shopping. The internet has also brought a wider audience to many local shops, like the one in Yorkshire where I bought my dad a box of beer bread mix. I never would have heard of them or bought from them if it weren't for the internet.

As for non-craft-related things like children's trampolines, lawnmowers, DIY tools etc., there are plenty of other shops out there. They may seem more expensive, but if they're paying their taxes then at least you're getting that extra back in the form of healthcare, policing and streetlights. I know it doesn't sound as sexy as a bargain, but you have to admit it makes more sense in the long run.


All that said, it's books we're interested in, right?

Shopping for 'stuff' elsewhere wasn't hard, and neither was shopping for books - to begin with. I bought several books as Christmas presents, including Hubble Bubble, which is Jane Lovering's new one, and No Peace for the Wicked by Adrian Magson. I ordered signed copies with 'Happy Christmas' messages, which gave them a personal touch, and even got some free soap off Jane - she says it was from her book launch, but I secretly think it may have been a hint...

All of that was fairly straightforward because I am lucky enough to know these lovely people. It worked out much nicer than an impersonal copy off Amazon, and I felt all glowy and warm knowing that the sale price was going directly to the author, sans la middle man.

You don't have to know an author to get a signed copy, by the way. Many authors offer this through their website, either explicitly or if you drop them a line. The first time I did this was with Fay Sampson's Daughter of Tintagel omnibus about ten years ago. There's no harm in asking, and most authors are only too happy that someone cares enough about their stories to want a signed copy. Plus, again, the money goes directly to supporting your favourite authors and their publishers.

It wasn't so easy when I started to look for titles by authors I didn't know, and didn't need autographed. Basically, anything I would normally buy through Amazon. 

I started out by visiting the 'alternative to Amazon' mentioned in the Panorama programme: Bookmail. I really wanted to support it, as it'd been set up by a bookshop owner who lost half his chain to online competition - namely Amazon. Unfortunately, though, it is just like a high street bookshop online. You can only buy the books they have in stock, and the books they have in stock are fairly limited. Although they are very competitively priced, they didn't have any of the titles I wanted to buy.

There's an uncomfortable argument here. Just as Amazon have closed down indie bookstores, indie bookstores, with their limited range of stock, close down new authors. Amazon may appear wicked to a bookshop owner, but they're liberating for an indie author.

Moving on... Whilst searching alternatives, I did discover IndieBound. It allows you to locate your nearest independent bookstore, which is a brilliant idea... but only if you're in America. Still, it might catch on in the UK eventually.

The other thing I really missed was Amazon's second-hand prices. Although I'm a huge supporter of buying books at full price to support authors you like, I'm also a fan of the second-hand book market, too. Sometimes I'll read something by an author who's already huge, or dead, or who's moved onto other titles that are doing better, and the book reminds me of one of my friends, and I think 'they'd enjoy this', so I hunt down a cheap second-hand copy and send it to them. The prices on Amazon for second-hand books are the best anywhere. 

There are other, more ethical options, like Green Metropolis, but again, their selection and delivery options are very limited. [UPDATE: Green Metropolis appears to have gone out of business.]


This is where things started to get a lot more complicated.

I love paperbacks, but I also love ebooks. Often I'll read an ebook and enjoy it so much I'll order a paper version for the shelf. Or I'll pick up a paper version, decide I can't cope with the font, and purchase it on Kindle. I also love that there's such a variety of literature out there in e-format, so you can try out new authors and story collections without spending a fortune. 

Things started well. A friend had written a short story that I wanted to read, so I dropped him a line and asked if I could get a copy for my Kindle and pay him directly. As it was, he gave it freely, and I was able to convert it to Kindle using Calibre

Didn't work so well with author Bethany Griffin, who had written a series I was very interested in reading. I wrote to explain that I was sidestepping Amazon for ethical reasons, and asked whether there was any way in which I could purchase an e-book directly from her or via another outlet... to which I was met with silence.

Fair enough.

A friend's housemate had also written a murder mystery. It was self-published, so the paperback cost a fortune. Again, I asked my friend to ask whether it would be possible to pay directly for the Kindle version, rather than going through Amazon, but that didn't get me anywhere either.

It is unusual to find authors this averse to selling their work, but perhaps it's back to convenience culture again. If you can buy it through Amazon, why wouldn't you? Perhaps doing it any other way is too much like hard work? Afraid of pissing off the publisher? More costly in time than you stand to make in sales? Or perhaps they've just skipped town for reasons best left to the Mafia.

Who knows. 

Either way, I didn't get the book.

The Other Stuff

Then there's a whole load of other stuff I use Amazon for that I didn't realise I did. I'm regularly looking up book blurbs for reviews. I run a book review site, so I look up ISBN numbers and publication dates a lot. When I want to recommend a book to a friend, or on this blog, 90% of the time I'll post an Amazon link to the title. If I want to know who wrote a book, or which other books that author has written, the top search results are usually always Amazon. It's Wiki-shly hard to avoid.

The other thing a lot of people don't know is that ABE Books and Book Depository are also owned by Amazon. So even when you think you've found an alternative, you might not have done.


I think the biggest gripe that I've got is that I don't particularly want to avoid Amazon, I just want them to be a little less shit.

Once upon a time, when they were first starting out, they were bloody brilliant. They had an excellent business model, they'd sorted out their customer service, they were convenient and all-round great guys. Then they chowed down on some Monsanto GMO and mutated into this horrific picture of monopoly-mad, greed-filled abusemongers. 

Seriously, it's tiring for consumers, it does nothing for the company's own image. Why persist? 

One can only assume they're working on the .com bubble-bursting theory, trying to reap as much cash as they can before the whole thing goes inevitably belly-up.

If it's not inevitably doomed to failure, then what's to lose by returning to a friendly, ethical, tax-paying and sustainable business model?

Why not just be not crap?

Wouldn't it make everyone's lives easier?

Their tax-avoiding, rights-quashing, taking-the-piss antics have been documented in other countries too, such as Germany and France (dodgy Google translation).

It's led to lists of tax-paying alternatives to Amazon, as well as MPs calling for widespread Amazon avoidance (which must annoy the Welsh government, who paid millions to the company to encourage them to come and abuse worker rights in their country).

I'm certainly not the only person to be trying out this boycott. Check out Why I'm boycotting Amazon and where I'm going instead and How to kick that Amazon habit for more on the subject.

The ethics of this are up to each individual. I don't think I can cut Amazon out altogether just yet, but that doesn't mean I won't try to wean myself off slowly. 

I've decided:

  • I can't do much about where my books are sold, and I probably don't want to. But I will make sure that all ebooks are also available on Smashwords, avoiding Amazon's exclusivity offers like KDP Select and assuring a more ethically sourced copy is available for those who are boycotting them.
  • I won't buy any non-book items or new paperbacks from them if I can find them elsewhere.
  • I won't buy any second-hand books from Amazon or ABE if I can find them elsewhere, and I will make more of an effort to use ethical second-hand sellers.
  • I will continue to purchase ebooks through Amazon as a lesser of two evils, as I do have a Kindle and nobody has to physically go and get my book in order to deliver it.

I do love my Kindle, but perhaps I will check out other e-readers when this one collapses.

To reiterate a point here, what annoys me more than anything is the sheer unnecessary inconvenience of all this, brought about by a once-great firm turning into a bunch of flying monkeys. Amazon -  sort out your ethics and we can all go back to doing business again.

You built a vast global empire out of selling books. Surely it can't be beyond your capabilities to stop being dicks?

Saturday 25 January 2014

Musical Matilda

Went to see Matilda last night. Tim Minchin's adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's classic.

It. Was. Brilliant.

You knew it would be, because it's Tim Minchin, but it was excellently cast, and so well acted. As for the stage design - too clever for words. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was extremely clever too, and it was certainly along those lines, but that's quite a tough story that you really have to think about, whereas Matilda is unadulterated fun. It was wonderful to hear the whole audience laughing along. So much imagination went into everything. It was a story about telling stories, and how much we all love stories - until we grow up.

Or, even when we grow up, in this case.

Bertie Carvel, who plays The Trunchbull, is just spectacular. It's hard to believe it's his West End debut, he completely embodies the character in all her cartoonish, larger-than-life terrormongering wonder.

The whole thing is really well paced, just the right balance of slow songs and big numbers. Especially liked the ticker tape and the laser net - completely joyful.

Possibly the thing I like best is summed up in the number below, with the lines: Just because I find myself in this story, doesn't mean that everything is written for me. It's such a healthy, strong and important message for both young and old in the audience. If you don't like the story, change it.

Ending on a fun A-B connection. Tim Minchin wrote the music and lyrics, he performed on Jonathan Ross with Jamie Cullum, who is married to Sophie Dahl, who is the granddaughter of Roald Dahl, who wrote Matilda.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Novel Idea: That's Told Me

I'm down to the last 22k on the first edit. I'm a little cross-eyed but generally feeling positive.

Was combing through Chapter 11 when I chanced across the word 'jail' and wondered, idly, as one does, which might be the most in-keeping of the two spellings: jail, or gaol.

As I do on a regular basis, I turned to my trusty fallback: Etymology Online, usually a fairly high-brow and informative tool for checking the origins of words.

However, on typing in 'gaol,' I got this:

see jail, you tea-sodden football hooligan.

I sense this may be a tetchy subject for its editor.

Wednesday 22 January 2014


This is outstanding.

Finished reading it last night.

Having read most of Davis' work, including The Trapeze Artist and the My Side of the Story duo, I am constantly impressed by how adaptable he is to different literary styles and genres. This is nothing like the others, and very much like one of the most disturbing stories you will read in a long time.

When spoilt eighteen year old Miranda suffers a terrible accident she survives, but her face is hideously scarred.  
Unable to bear what has happened to her, she locks herself away. Her only companions are Veronica, her cruel and beautiful mother, and Nelly, the sympathetic housekeeper.  
As time passes Veronica inflicts cruelty after cruelty on her disfigured daughter. Lonely and filled with despair, Miranda is astonished when Bernard, Veronica’s handsome younger boyfriend, takes an interest in her circumstances.  
For Bernard believes there is an operation that can restore Miranda’s face. But it will involve committing an unspeakable crime. A decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life...  
In the tradition of Angela Carter and Daphne du Maurier, Demonica is a terrifying modern fairy tale. 

Demonica is brilliantly executed. Instantly engaging from the off, and drenched both in blood and poetic prose.

Guaranteed to keep you awake at night.

Monday 20 January 2014


Yesterday I got the blue screen of death.

Thankfully I didn't lose anything important, but my lovely friend Catherine Dunster sympathised by sending me this. I thought I would share it for all those who have ever closed Word without saving, encountered the blue screen of death halfway through an important scene, or had their hard drive crash on them without backing up their novel. Apt isn't even the word.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Novel Idea: Couchsurfing the Edit

Good news!

I am well and truly over Editor's Flump.

I don't care what anyone else thinks, I haven't been this revved up over my writing for quite some time. I'm loving every minute of it.

At the moment I'm happily wading into the middle of the story, the part I don't remember much about writing. You tend to remember the beginning of a story very clearly, because you spend a lot of time reading and re-reading it early on, trying to decide whether it's worth committing to. Then you usually remember the ending pretty well, because you agonise for weeks over how to get there. But the big chunk in the middle can be a bit of a blur. 

At times, it really does feel as though someone else wrote it. Every now and then your eyes glide over something and you have to back up, thinking 'did I really write that?' 

Having split the chapters into hefty 7-9,000 word chunks, I'm quite amazed at how much happens in a chapter. It's certainly action-packed. Fairly dark, brimming with bloodshed, lust and death, all wrapped up in some fashionable costumes and involving horses. All good books have horses in. Horses are cool.

So, yeah. I am stupendously relieved right now. It's definitely not another Nemesis Novel, which I think was my secret fear. What if it turned out to be another waste of rainforest for the 'Lost Manuscripts' draw? 

But it isn't.


I'm still shipping off the chapters to Martine in Laos. Haven't had any feedback yet other than a short and reassuring line that it's hanging together well, and that she's enjoying it. Let's hold on to that thought before the onslaught of corrections start flooding in.

Also, something miraculous has occurred!

I've met someone.


There is a really, really annoying fact-check I couldn't get around, involving the spelling and location of a river in a rural part of Iran. I had one Wiki source to go by, and anybody who knows Wiki knows that you never base your facts on one entry. You've always got to verify them.

I tried everywhere: Facebook, Iranian ex-pat forums, special interest language and geography groups... couldn't find a single person to help me out.

Then, I tried CouchSurfing.

I've known about that site for a long time, having been both a host and a surfer in the past, but for some reason I just hadn't though to use it for research.

One hour and two e-mails later, I had the answer! Plus some interesting linguistic info I hadn't known before. The place had a Farsi name that I'd heard about, which alluded to a cow who fought a lion to protect her calf, the placename meaning 'lion' + 'milk'. But in the local language it also meant 'wet place', because it's built where two rivers meet, and is famed for its bridges. This suited me perfectly, because the house in my story is situated right where the rivers meet. That last fact won't go in, because I can't think of a neat way to do it, but when you learn things like that it gives you a sort of glowy feeling that you're on the right track, and that your story wants to be told.

Big 'thank you very much' going in the Acknowledgements for that one.

I'm in such a good mood, I thought I'd share a couple of short bits I've been enjoying most.

They are riddled with typos and littered with awkward alliteration, but Novel Idea is about sharing the process with you. Mess is all part of that process, like a Morcheeba song, and we should revel in it.

I've been revisiting this passage from the 40,000 word mark, only the line zoetrope has been changed to a daedalum. 

I love words with Z in. You don't get much of a chance to use Z very often, so when the opportunity presents itself you sort of feel as though you owe it to the letter.

But zoetrope was more of a patent of the daedalum, which predates it etymologically and would fit within my dates better. Also, the daedalum 'was popularly referred to as "the wheel of the devil"'... what author could resist such a thing?

I've had a little fiddle with the bit from 60,000 words in. Instead of laughing and looking away, we're turning away, but there's still something about this passage which makes me smile.  

It could be one of my favourite parts in all the book, because it is a defining moment, after which things take a turn for the (even more) sinister.

One of those moments where you could change something, but you don't, so fate crashes on regardless.

Okay, okay, on to something fresh.

This is a piece of narrative I rather like. It's a bit messy. The penultimate line is too much of a tongue-twister to stay, so it won't look exactly the same come the final edit, but I do like it nonetheless. Sometimes you just have to get the words down, then figure out how to fit them together afterwards. That's what editing's all about. 


By the time our horses drew to a halt outside his apartment, I was no longer feigning sleep. He must have carried me to my room, for I have the strangest memory of hands undressing me. Not his, they were far too soft. All the time, whilst my clothes were being removed, voices rose and fell like the tides of the sea. I could not make out the words, or perhaps they were sung in another language, yet I recognised it as the most painful of ghazal; a song of love enduring heartbreak, enduring death itself.

I believe I wept as sleep returned to swallow me. I wept for my sad situation, to be born of mountain blood, and a girl at that. I wept for the loss of a mother I barely remembered, and a father more distant than the Russian Empire. I wept for the loss of Shusha and the knowledge he took with him, for all the things I did not understan and had never been taught. I wept for the poems I no longer wrote, and the brothers and sisters I had despised, yet in losing lost parts of myself.

At one point the song rose to such delicate pathos that I felt as though a cord had been pulled from my privates to the crown of my head. The very fabric of my being burned with flames of grief, the blistering pain of mortality blissfully defiant of oblivion.

I breathed in the dragon of the dawn, and it ate my soul.


I'm going to have to chew on that last bit for a while, but a top tip for editing: your first guess is usually your best guess.

This isn't the same as 'your first draft is your last draft' - it isn't. Your first draft will always be dreadful.

But one thing I've noticed time and time again whilst editing, is that I will change something, only to return and change it back again. If you find yourself caught in uncertainty, what you wrote originally is likely to be the best word or phrase for the job, you just need to change the rough edges around it. Sometimes nothing more than an at or an of or an and.

Finally, a little dialogue I've enjoyed.

This story is heavy on descriptive and lower than usual (for me) on dialogue. What follows was a bit of a gamble. It's a conversation between two characters at a masquerade ball, but the topics they cover tie the story very much to the historical world of our own past. The story is only very loosely historical, the characters are complete fiction, so it's sometimes a little dangerous to bring them too far into true history. It runs the risk of sounding unnatural. I think this falls just the right side of character affirming, rather than plot destroying.

The conversation is between the daughter of a Shah, who is in disguise, and her companion, the Iranian-Italian son of a philosopher, who is dressed as a jester. They have only recently met, and she is opening this scene.


“Tell me, what are your father’s philosophies?”

“He had the heart of Aristotle, but the pragmatic acceptance of Machiavelli.”

“I do not understand.”

“Well, Aristotle was a Greek. They invented the concept of democracy, whereby the populace consent to be governed. He believed that true democracy occurs only when those with the least, rather than those with the most, hold rule. Machiavelli was a Florentine. He saw democracy outstripped by wealth and power every time, and concluded that although love and consent are admirable, given the opportunity, it is always better to be armed and feared.”

“Was he right?” 

“They both were, but moral rightness is secondary to might, which would make Machiavelli the most right of the two.”

I laugh.

“He wrote an entire thesis on governing nations. It is a shame the Shah can’t read Latin.”

“Why would the Shah have need of a Florentine philosopher?”

Ludevico reached for a slice of dried mango. He tore a strip with his teeth and chewed thoughtfully.

“This dynasty has run its course. The Shah has made all the fatal errors of statesmanship. He has strengthened his enemies, deferred to them, and not only invited foreign forces in, but allowed them to walk out with half of his country’s resources.”

I felt cold hearing this. Nobody had ever spoken so honestly to me, for everyone had always known who I was. Suddenly, I longed for Shusha’s kind smile and quick mind. Someone to explain what this man was telling me of my own family’s failings.

“Which foreigners?” I asked.

“He refuses to pick between the Turks and the Russians, so neither despise him but neither will help him either. He’s auctioning off every asset to the French and the English, and even my mother’s people, for whatever price they are willing to pay him. Where do you think the money for nights like this come from?”

“The Shah is rich,” I replied.

“Was rich. Half the female population of the country has joined his harem. Since murdering his friend and former adviser, few statesmen trust him, and no one can abide his mother.”

“You talk liberally beneath his roof.”

My companion laughed.

“That is why we spend most of our time in Milan. Our family runs the fault of liberal thinking. We are tolerated because of our wealth, though wealth is worth little behind bars, where we have long suspected we may all end up.”

“That does not frighten you?”

“Of course it does. Sadly, philosophy leads us to contemplate the implications of our lives beyond merely our lifetime.”

“Oh, so you are a philosopher also?”

He smiled and took another bite of mango.

“Enough of philosophy, let us talk of beauty. It is far more engaging.”

“Whose beauty might we talk of?”

“I don’t know,” he said, glancing around. “That lady over there, perhaps?” He inclined his strip of mango towards a woman in a peacock-feathered dress with a mask of equal splendour. “Or perhaps that one over there?” He raised his chin towards another woman in a snow-white gown, her bosom as wide as watermelons. “No,” he said with a sigh. “I would rather talk of yours.”

“How do you know that I am beautiful when you cannot see my face?”

“Your eyes are beautiful, and your voice. Your figure is beautiful, as is your hair. What could possibly be imperfect in the small space between your left ear and your right?”

He pulled himself up and traced a finger along my jaw.

I held his wrist to prevent the progression of his finger to my lips.

“Many things may be uglier than you imagine.”

His eyes held mine, uncertain what to make of my warning.

Friday 17 January 2014

Sex, Lies & Book Publishing

I've been meaning to mention this for a while. 

Sex, Lies & Book Publishing is an insider's guide to getting published, written by UK literary agency Rupert Heath.

Sex, Lies & Book Publishing is a field guide to the nature of publishing – the unspoken rules and conventions deciding which books get published and which don't. It is an up-to-date insider's guide to an often mysterious business, and an invaluable resource for any author seeking an agent and, ultimately, a publishing deal.

Along with the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, it was one of the first things I read after I'd finished writing my debut novel.

It's packed full of useful information, and at only £1.99 it's an absolute bargain.

Gerrin' there.

Thursday 16 January 2014

50k and Counting

For li'le ol' me? Of course not ;)

I'm only a couple off, though.

No, this is something else entirely. You remember the post I made back in December about that Pagan Writers page I accidentally inherited? It went a bit viral and we took it from 14,000 likes to 45,000 likes in the space of two months.

Then the Facebook bubble burst, and things slowed down considerably. Something appears to be mucked up with the view counter, too. We used to average 1,500-3,500 views per post but we're lucky if we hit 300 at the moment. Text-only posts seem to generate the most views.

We know it's broken because sometimes it tells us that absolutely nobody has seen a post... yet three people have liked it. It's hard to like something you can't see.

Anyway, mysteries of Facebook aside, we've just sailed past the 50,000 mark.

That's fairly incredible, and rather groovy for the team of lovely volunteers I took on to help run everything. 

We've also added some other bits and bobs. We're in the process of getting Twitter (@PaganWriting) rolling, plus there's now a book review blog, an author spotlight blog, and a blog blog.

It's been a lot of fun so far and I'm quite excited to see where we can take it. It's also a privilege to be able to help other people to get their work out there and noticed.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Novel Idea: Editional Issues

Heh, that's the cartoon I promised to share a while back.

Good inni'?

Well, I've just finished chapter five now.

I went with the re-sectioning of chapters idea. Usually my chapters are very short, ten pages or less. I decided that as this is a longer novel, I quite fancied having longer chapters. There's still easy-reading section breaks in there, but now each chapter is about 25 pages, which is around 8-9,000 words.

It makes me feel like an adult, writing all grown up and literary, like.

I reckon I should get about twelve to thirteen chapters out of it.

That would be nice.

Depends on whether the word count goes up or down. I assumed down to begin with, as I managed to knock several thousand words off Lucid when I came to edit that. So far though, this one seems to be going up. Partly because it's historical rather than contemporary, which means you tend to take a more formal approach to both dialogue and prose. Less don't, isn't and I'll, more does not, is not and I will. A small distinction, but over the course of 100k it really does start to add up.

Also, I left a couple of notes for myself throughout the first draft, which are basically a list of things to go off and research more carefully. For instance, something might happen beneath a famous landmark, but that only works if the famous landmark existed in 1853 - did it? Go look it up. If not, think of something else.

Each of those usually results in a couple more lines, sometimes even a paragraph.

Chapters one to four have already gone to Martine & RuairĂ­, but I've asked them not to comment or feedback until the end. This way I get through it in blissful ignorance of all the things I've done wrong. There will be plenty of time to kick myself and mope about feeling disheartened later.

I've already taken a spin on the roller coaster of Editor's Flump.

The best way to describe flump is erectile dysfunction of the mind.

My last novel, the Nemesis Novel that remains unpublished, was just a nightmare. It was the first time I'd written something and just gone 'meh'. I thought it was good when I wrote it, then I edited it and decided it was shit, now I have absolutely no idea what it is, so I've put it in a draw labelled 'Lost Manuscripts,' second star to the right and straight on till morning.

That's the first time flump ever got that bad, but I hazard most writers will know the feeling.

Dialogue you wrote with as much enthusiasm as licking ice-cream, suddenly turns to sherbet sour. You find yourself squinting at passages that flowed like Tolkien when you wrote them, asking 'Is it any good? Is it even legible?'

Never edit when you're tired, because the answer to both those questions will be a resounding 'no.' Contrary to the old adage write drunk, edit sober, sometimes a glass of wine can help. I used to love editing with a large glass of red and a liquorish rollie dipped between my lips, back when I smoked. You tend to take a much brighter view of your work if you can relax a little.

The other way to push through it is to accept that the first edit is about grammar, and only read it for that. Once you've got most of that fixed up, the second read gets a lot better, because you can enjoy the story for the story's sake rather than combing it for everything that's wrong. Compartmentalise the fixing of the story and the enjoyment of the story, don't try to do both at once, otherwise you'll start to get that creeping downer.

I have a theory, you see.

Back when I was a kid, I was always imagining stories. There were vampire hunters and shops with secret worlds in the basement, monsters that lived in trees, and creepy old ladies who ran secret cults. Being a child was quite an exciting time. It was all about living the stories. Writing them down was secondary. There was very little separation between the mind and the page. You might say only a paper-thin separation.

And it is good that it was all about the story, because my handwriting was shocking. Still is. I was well above average on vocabulary and reading, but nobody could read anything I wrote, which was probably a good thing because if they had been able to my spelling would have left them weeping. I was a late developer in the grammar stakes.

I'm fairly good at spelling now, and usually even better at grammar. Which isn't to say I'm brilliant, it's just to say I'm a lot better than I was. I've sort of caught up. Plus, with the invention of the keyboard, it's no longer a disability that my handwriting is illegible.

Yet with the correct use of every semicolon, em dash and ampersand, you sort of feel as though the wall between reality and fiction is somehow one brick higher. Or, rather, you're not consciously aware of it until you find yourselves reading through some of the best stories you've ever written and instead of saying 'wow, awesome!' you're berating yourself for repetitive use of an adjective.

Seriously, that was never the effing point of writing in the first place.

And that's not a fair assertion either, because stories that are 90% enthusiasm and 10% skill only ever tend to enthral their creators, unless delivered through the medium of film, radio or interpretive dance. Writing is an art, and it's also a skill. You start off in remedial spelling and claw your way up to being good at something (usually because you love that something so much that it consumes you, to the point where you actively enjoy learning about it) and then you take what you've learned and use it to create stories that are not just fun for you, but engaging to lots of other people, some of whom you may never even meet.

But I was thinking in the shower this morning (which is where I do a lot of my thinking) that writing and editing a full-length novel as an adult is definitely very different to the way it felt to write and change stories as a kid. The more novels I write, the more it starts to feel like a clinical operation. Who gave a crap about word count or character continuity aged ten? I know I didn't.

It's not that I don't enjoy writing any more. Obviously I do, I'm just getting started. But I am aware that editing makes me a little grumpy, and that, especially since Nemesis Novel, I find it harder to engage with what I've written after I've written it.

There's this golden space when you're editing where you get so carried away with the story that you realise, several hours and many pages later, that you haven't really been paying attention to the job. I've done that on every novel I've edited at one point or another. Spent an entire day sometimes just enjoying the story rather than weeding out the typos. Yet I find this blissful appreciation for my own work is harder to attain the more I write. It's like those 3D images: try too hard and you'll never see the big picture. You need to relax and allow yourself to be entertained.


Maybe it's just a phase.

I spent yesterday despairing that the story was dreadful, and today feeling as though it was wonderful. No doubt tomorrow I'll think someone else wrote it. 

All of which goes to prove that, beyond a certain point, most authors are completely incapable of being objective about their own work. At which point, you might as well let somebody else read it.