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There may be some of you out there who recall me writing last year about giving a talk. Although I’m involved with Sheffield Speakers Club, I hadn’t spoken to a group of complete strangers for a while and, thanks to a distinct lack of preparation, I was a bag of nerves when I got there.  Even so, it went well, and I enjoyed the experience (for those of you who didn’t read it, the post is here).

I was left feeling enthusiastic about the prospect of doing it again and, sure enough, within a month or so, I got a call from someone who’d heard the talk, asking if I could give it to a different group.  What I’d forgotten about groups like this – WI, Rotary Clubs, etc. – is that they have to book their speakers for the forthcoming season.  That means your booking can be for a year or more ahead.

So the opportunity to repeat the talk has only just occurred and, having had a few days to let the experience settle in my memory, I wanted to reflect on it.

The first thing I noticed was how relaxed I was about it this time – by comparison, at least.  It’d be a lie to say I had no nerves and, frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I actually commented to my partner that I was worried by the fact that I wasn’t nervous enough.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be a quivering wreck.  But I know from experience there’s a sweet spot, where there’s just enough tension to keep me sharp and focused, and not so much that I can’t be removed from the Gents.

As it turned out, I must have been pretty close to that sweet spot.  There was a tremor in my hand as I began to speak, but a few minutes later it was gone.  As for how well the talk went down, you’d have to ask the audience to get a fair answer.  From my perspective, I didn’t feel it was quite as strong as the first time, but the reaction seemed positive.  One member of the audience did say afterwards that it must have been good because no one fell asleep, which does leave you wondering about the standard of speaker they’re used to.

A more positive indicator was being asked for my card by someone who was interested in arranging for me to give a talk to another group.  And the organiser of this event asked if I gave talks on anything else, so I guess if I can come up with a different theme I’ll be invited back.

For those of you who are curious, the title of the talk is How to Become a Bestseller, which plays on the fact that Ravens Gathering was briefly a number one bestseller.  If you don’t believe me, check out my Twitter page.  As I say at the beginning of the talk: I’ll tell you the story of how it happened – but, as with most good stories, there is a twist.

The story I tell explores the modern world of publishing, the rise of the Indie author, how digital developments have changed the market, and how the sale of books has been transformed over the last 10-15 years.  And all in 45 minutes to an hour, so you can tell I don’t get technical.

Of course, it also presents an opportunity to talk about Ravens Gathering and – hopefully before too long – other books that I’ll be bringing out.  And they paid me for turning up.

I know that public speaking isn’t for everyone, but if the opportunity presents itself, it’s a great opportunity to get out and promote your work – and actually meet people.  This cyber world we inhabit has many great attributes, but as anyone who attended a Bloggers Bash knows, it’s even better to open up your senses and see, hear and touch (appropriately, obviously) other people*.

So give it a try.  You never know, you might even sell a few books as well.

 

 

 

 

*Smelling and tasting is optional, and only with the consent of the other party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Unusually for me, I’ve had The Sister on pre-order.  There was something of a buzz going on around it and, at 99p, I thought I’d grab it before the cost went up (yes, I have Scottish ancestry).  Also, if the buzz turned out to be over-exaggerated hype, I won’t feel conned.

When a book is billed psychological thriller, that can cover a multitude of sins. At the same time, flagging up “a brilliant twist you won’t see coming” creates two thoughts in this reader’s head.  The first is that I’m going to try and work it out in advance; the second, that I’ll be disappointed because I worked it out in advance.

As a result, I did find myself trying to second guess the plot and, along the way, I got a few things right – but not many. Because there’s more than one twist.  As for the twist, I did think I could see it coming, but wasn’t quite right.

The beginning of the book felt a little slow but, reflecting on it, the slow-burn worked well, the momentum picking up steadily. Also working well was the decision to write the “Now” sections in present tense, while the “Then” sections were past tense – and I say that as someone who’s not a fan of present tense writing.

Characterisation was generally good, though I found Grace’s mum hard to get a grasp of. Similarly, the sense of village life was very clear, its very ordinariness providing a contrast to the unfolding drama.

There were a few instances where I felt the tension wasn’t allowed to build up sufficiently but, as there were plenty of tension points, it’s possible more build up would have overloaded things.

On a technical note, it’s rare these days to read a book (any book) without coming across typos or other editing issues that can distract the reader. The Sister is one of those rare beasts.

So, was my 99p well spent? Yes.  More importantly, would I have spent more on it?  Absolutely.   This was a great book, released at a time when it should be picked up as an ideal holiday read.

Anyone else wanting to give Louise Jensen’s novel a go while laying claim to their Scottish heritage (or Yorkshire, if you can’t stretch that far north) can find it here (UK) or here (US) – other Amazon sites are available, and it can be bought in other e-book formats as well as in paperback.

 

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Like several others, Oak and Mist has been sitting on my Kindle for months waiting to be read.  Now I’ve got around to it, I’m glad I made the effort – even if I’m not really the target market.

This is the first in a series about Ambeth, a fantasy world that sits parallel to our own. In many respects, it follows some well-worn fantasy paths: a quest of sorts, a young heroine, and clearly defined dark and light sides.  And yet there are some neat twists on those themes that give you pause and make you think harder than you might expect to.

A potential downside with a first book in a series is that it needs to set the scene for what’s to follow. In doing that, the pace can slow down a bit, and this was the case at times. I particularly felt this in the final chapter, though it did set things up nicely for the second book.

I also felt the sense of peril was underplayed. Indeed, the greatest feeling of threat the heroine seemed to experience was in the “real world” when confronted by a bully. Nevertheless, I can see the potential for that to be ramped up in future episodes.

For the most part, the characterisation is good.  The writing style is accessible without being simplistic, which strikes me as important for the YA market.  There were some minor issues with editing, but that seems to be the norm these days regardless of the publishing house.

The book’s greatest strength, though, lies in its descriptions of Ambeth and its inhabitants, conjuring up images so clear you’d swear you’ve been there.  What Helen Jones has done here is create a very real world that forms a terrific setting for what may well prove to be an interesting series.

Some other books are calling me at the moment, but I will be back to find out what happens next.

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Four Things, Apparently

In my recent post about prologues I gave a short list of things that I felt a prologue could do for a story.  However, I also added that my list wasn’t exhaustive and asked you (dear reader) to let me know if you came across any others I could add.

Fortunately, someone was paying attention and not only thought about it, but went to the trouble of telling me.  In the unlikely event that you have not encountered the… (what’s the adjective I’m looking for?) …unique (that’ll do it) …talent (another suitably ambiguous word) …that is Tara Sparling, please do make the effort to go and visit her blog.  To be fair, you may never come out again, but the experience will be well worth it.

Anyway, Tara kindly pointed out the following:

Another good reason to have a prologue – or so I’ve been told – is because you’re using a POV which doesn’t appear in the rest of the book, or at most once or twice more. For example, the killer in a crime procedural.

I’d like to elaborate on that, because point of view can be interpreted in different ways.  The obvious way to write from a character’s point of view is to do it in the first person.

There’s been an increasing trend in recent years for stories to be told in the first person by different characters.  James Patterson is probably the most high profile author to do this.  I’ve got to be honest: it’s not a style I’m particularly fond of.  To me, a first person narrative should be from the same person, otherwise the book should be written in the third person.  But who am I to judge?  I’m the writer with only one book out there earning next to nothing, and he’s the one with millions of dollars in the bank (or is it billions now?), and a team of monkeys with typewriters.  Not that I feel in any way bitter about this…

Anyway, taking my own prejudices out of the picture, it can be very effective to have a particular character appear in the prologue and for the reader to see something from their perspective.  In a sense, they fall into the significant character box, but not in the same way as the Simon Templar example.  Especially  as they may not appear until much later in the book.  Or maybe they do, but you just don’t know it, and you’re left guessing who it was.

Funnily enough, it occurred to me as I wrote the last sentence that I’ve done exactly that in Ravens Gathering.  It’s funny how the obvious passes you by.  Bearing in mind my earlier comments, though, it should come as no surprise to know it was written in the third person.

Anyway, we now have four things a prologue can do for your story.  Does anyone have any other suggestions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After giving some feedback to Marje (find her on the delightfully quirky blog site Kyrosmagica) about the prologue to her current WIP, she suggested I write a post on the subject.  I suspect my enthusiasm for prologues came across quite strongly.

To be fair, I think that enthusiasm stems from a misspent childhood. (Sadly, when I say misspent, I mean my life revolved around the TV rather than getting up to any more interesting shenanigans.)

You see, a lot of the TV shows of the 60s and 70s opened with a scene to set up the rest of the programme. That set-up might be a crime being committed, a pursuit (surprisingly often in the case of The Avengers), or even an incident unrelated to the rest of the story, but demonstrating the hero’s abilities.

The bottom line, though, is that prologues are basically pre-title sequences.

I was talking to another author a couple of years ago who’d read Ravens Gathering and felt I should get rid of the prologue.  I can’t recall her exact argument, but the sense I had was that prologues were no longer considered either necessary or (for want of a better word) fashionable.  Never having been noted for my fashion sense, this wasn’t an argument I was ever going to agree with.  What matters to me is whether it works.

So here’s what I think a prologue can do:

  1. Introduce a significant character
  2. Create a question in the reader’s mind – e.g. I wonder what was really happening in that scene?
  3. Set the tone or theme for the rest of the story

I don’t mean they need to do all of them, but at least one.

Let’s look back at some examples from the TV of my childhood.

Every episode of The Saint introduced Simon Templar.  There would often be an opening monologue, sometimes action, then the inevitable halo.

A lesser known series, Department S has fallen off the radar for a lot of people, though more will remember its spin-off Jason King. While the production values of the programme would be laughed at now, the openings were always very good at drawing you in.  Watch this one up to the titles and I dare you not to be left wondering “How did that happen?”

Also drawing you in, but really setting the tone for what happens next was this short prelude to an episode of The Sweeney.

I’ve picked on those examples because you can watch them in a couple of minutes (unless they really worked and you were dragged into watching the whole episodes). Do you see what I mean, though?  They’re a hook.

And, if you use a prologue in the same way, unlike the first chapter, they don’t have to be directly part of the narrative. What I mean by that is that the prologue doesn’t have to fit sequentially into the timeline of the rest of the book.  Events there can take place:

  1. At some point in the dim and distant past – an event that foreshadows what will happen in the story
  2. At the climax to the story, but shown as a preview – a teaser, if you like, of what’s to come,
  3. At a significant turning point in the story, which may well be part way in – again a preview/teaser

To the reader, it won’t always be clear which applies – that’s part of the mystery that they’re looking forward to unfolding.

Obviously, these are my interpretations of what prologues need to do for the story. Their ultimate aim, though, is to leave the reader wanting to read more.  If they don’t do that, they shouldn’t be there.

So when you’re deciding on the next book to read, look at the sample on Amazon or, if you’re still supporting bookshops, pick up a hard copy. If it has a prologue, read it, and ask yourself if it fits into any of the criteria I’ve mentioned.  If it doesn’t, but it still hooks you in, let me know.  I’m not claiming this is an exhaustive list, so I’ll be happy to add to it.

If anyone wants to give me feedback on my own prologue, follow this link and click on “look inside” for a free sample.

And, if you’re writing a prologue yourself, ask yourself whether it meets the criteria. But consider something else as well: how would the ending blend into theme music and a title sequence?

 

 

 

 

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One At A Time

I’ve been away from my blog for a while, dipping in occasionally, but not really focusing on writing posts. There have been good reasons for that, the main one being that I completed the first draft of a new novel, Birth Rights, in January.  I’d been working on it in fits and starts for several months, but I really got my teeth into it in December, and wrote over 50000 words in six weeks.  So I hit a major milestone, but to do that you have to sacrifice things.

A fellow blogger was asking a short while ago about the merits of working on one project at a time, or having them overlap, or even working on several at once. It’s difficult to come up with a definitive answer to that one, because we all function in different ways and, for some of us, one process is more efficient than another.

But one thing I do know is that you get more done if you focus on one thing at a time. I don’t just mean when it comes to writing, but life in general.  Some people are able to multi-task and, in the modern age, this seems to be a general requirement for living life.  But it’s not particularly efficient.

When you’ve got several things to do, you tend to be distracted by all the things you’re not actually doing. So the thing you’re working on doesn’t really get the attention it deserves.  (And sometimes the thing you’re working on can be as fundamental as a relationship.)

So, in response to this blogger’s question, I suggested he should concentrate on one thing at a time. But it’s not quite as straightforward as that.  In my own case, having finished the first draft, it’s not my expectation that I’ll continue to focus on the same novel until it’s completed and published.  We all know that we need to set the draft aside for a while and come back to it later.  So my plan was always to take a break, but to do something else constructive in the mean time.

My initial something else was to do a sailing course – an interesting experience that I will share another time. The second thing (which I’m concentrating on at the moment) is to get back to the day job and put a bit more effort in there than I did in December and January.  After all, I’ve got to earn some money.

But, as that routine beds in, I will then turn to the more important project, which is re-writing Carrion, a novel I’ve been working on intermittently for over eight years.  I thought I’d cracked it once, but my editor pointed out some pretty significant failings, so I need to strip it back and restructure it – but this time I’ll do it properly.

Only when I’ve completed that revised draft will I return to Birth Rights.  That makes it seem like a long and drawn out process, but with the impetus I built up with in recent months, I feel confident that Carrion will come together more rapidly this time.

The problem had been my lack of focus, which was a symptom of trying to do too many different things at once. This time, I’ll be more focused.  You see, the advice I offered was right, but I hadn’t always followed it myself.

This year, I’ll follow it more. I have a big incentive.  The clock is ticking and I’m getting older, so if I don’t get on with it, I’ll never actually write the stories I want to.  But I know that when I start writing, I’ll have to do it in a much more focused way.

At the moment, then, I’m giving myself time to write some blog posts, but I may disappear again later in the year. If I do, and if you notice, you’ll know what I’m up to, so please cheer me on.

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One of the great things about deciding to read more work published by indie authors is that you make a point of hunting stuff down that you might ordinarily not have considered.  I’d seen a review of this book some months ago and, on the strength of that alone, I downloaded the sample and added it to my “samples” folder ready to look at when I had time.  That time arrived a week or so ago and I zipped through it, downloading the full copy without even checking the price (what can I say, I’m very careful…).  Anyway, it’s safe to say that this definitely didn’t fit in with my normal reading material, but I’m glad I read it.  Here’s the review I’ve posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Sometimes you pick up a book simply out of curiosity.  And then you start to read it and you become even more curious.  And I mean that in a good way.  The premise behind The Me You See is that every person means different things to different people – but I’m not spoiling the story for anyone by saying that.  Knowing it, though, means you expect twists along the way. 

To be fair, the main twists were at the end, and that worked well.  Normally I’m not a fan of books that include first person narratives from more than one character, but in this case it was the only sensible way to gradually create a portrait of the central character.  It’s also a little unorthodox to include so many characters telling the story, but here it aids the story’s construction.

As a study in character, it works brilliantly.  It also works really well in building up suspense and – as already mentioned – curiosity.  You’re curious about the real Stefia (the central character), you’re curious about what really happened in the opening chapter, and equally curious about how those events came to pass. 

From a technical point of view, I did feel the book would have benefitted from a little more proof-reading.  The errors were minor and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story, but it can affect the flow if you have to go back and re-read a sentence because a word has been missed out.  There was also a minor issue with the formatting, which was probably more distracting for me because I’d had a similar problem with my own book, but managed to correct it quite easily.  It’s for this reason alone that I’ve knocked a star off my rating. 

In spite of those comments, I would recommend any reader to explore this original, well-constructed story.  You won’t be disappointed. 

 

If you’d like to know more about this book, click here for Amazon UK, or here for Amazon.com.

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