Archive for the ‘Regarding writing’ Category

ergocalciferol-injection-500x500

I’ve talked about rejection before, and I think anyone who talks about writing (however infrequently) has to address rejection, because for the majority of writers it is just one of those immutable facts of life. As always there are exceptions, but they are rare, and whilst one may feel an annoyance with the lucky buggers, I do wonder if not getting rejections— if having your first story/book picked up, then the next one and the next one, without ever getting that hit of disappointment— is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Rejection is horrible, I’ve talked before about how being a writer is a bit like being a boxer getting pummelled by punch after punch, but can you imagine a boxer who never takes a hit? Some kind of inhuman pugilist who’d make Muhammad Ali seem flat footed, a preternaturally fleet-footed ninja who no one could lay a glove on. Know what, eventually even such an individual will take a hit, and I’d be willing to bet that one punch, however light, will drop them like a stone.

Nietzsche’s assertion that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is naïve in the extreme, but on occasion there is some truth behind the notion, in particular when it comes to rejection. Just as eschewing shoes (eschoeing?) will eventually lead to the skin on the soles of your feet hardening, then hopefully rejections, assuming you don’t buckle and quit after the first few (and I would never begrudge anyone who does that because rejection is like a knife to the heart) will harden your heart and mean future rejections maybe won’t hurt quite so much.

Don’t get me wrong though, they’ll still hurt, and maybe they always should, but as counterintuitive as it sounds rejection can be a positive, I know I’ve channelled the despair I’ve felt over having been rejected in many ways. There’s the visceral “well, I’ll show you!” response to rejection, and often one of the best ways to handle a rejection is to take that story and fire it off towards someone else, and I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way to respond. The only note of caution I’d sound is that before you do you should always give a moment’s consideration to whether you can make it better first. Have you proof read it enough, could you polish some more? At the end of the day with any work of art, be it a sculpture, a musical composition, a painting or a story, there’s always a danger of it never feeling finished, but by the same token it would be annoying if a great story kept being rejected because publishers felt your grammar and spelling weren’t up to scratch.

cd1099ba387fa030bcfd46e9997e65a1

J.Kitten. Rowling suddenly had a new idea…

Rejection can prove a positive in other ways. In the last week I’ve been hit with a double whammy of rejection. Both were stories I felt were good, and both were stories that had been with publishers long enough that I’d started to feel overly hopeful (never a good idea, but there is some truth in the notion that the longer someone holds onto your story the more they like it) so in both cases it was a hard pill to swallow when the “Thanks, but no thanks,” came back. What’s curious is that in both cases, within an hour or so of getting the rejections my mind came up with new story ideas, one for each rejection, almost as if subconsciously I was saying; “Ok, you didn’t like that story but how about this one?”

As a wordsmith it’s quite obvious that the word rejection and the word injection are the same if you remove the first two letters, so next time you get a rejection take away the RE and add an IN, make it an injection of something; whether it’s a desire to polish your story further, whether it’s a sheer bloody minded belief that someone else will like your story so you send it somewhere else, or whether you channel your disappointment into firing your imagination to come up with a brand new story.

Oft times I find rejection prompts all three of those reactions in me, and I’m not sure this was always the case, but being a writer is often about evolution, not only in what we write and how we write, but also in how we react to what people feel about our work, whether that’s a positive or a negative.

In conclusion I’ll circle back to the use of my boxing metaphor once more. In Rocky 3, Rocky was beaten by Clubber Lang, and in order to come back and reclaim his title he had to learn to fight a different way, knowing he couldn’t beat Clubber in a lengthy fight, he had to change his approach and beat him quickly. He took his defeat, his rejection, and turned it around, used it to inject something new into his technique.

Keep punching folks, and if they do knock you down, just make sure you get back up again before the count hits ten!

ROCKY203

I pity the fool that rejects my stories!

The Seven Rs

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Regarding writing
Tags:

4-computer-catAt one time in the UK education was boiled down to the pithy catchphrase of “The Three Rs” which were Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic. Now the first thing you’ll notice is that only one of those words actually starts with an R, but it does highlight the areas you’d want a child to do well in; Reading, Writing and Mathematics. Of course, “The R the W and the M” doesn’t sound anywhere near as catchy.

I haven’t done a blog post about writing in a while and thought I should correct that omission, and so I’d like to talk about the seven Rs. These are seven things all writers will need to do or get used to experiencing. Actually in fairness I’d better state off right off the bat that only six of these are certain, the seventh is something beyond your control I’m afraid. On the plus side you’ll be pleased to know that six of my seven Rs are actually words that begin with an R at least!

Anyway let’s begin.

1. Reading

animals___cats_cat_reading_a_book_088072_It goes without saying that it’s impossible to be a writer unless you are a reader. I’m sure there are some perfectly successful writers who aren’t voracious readers, but I imagine they must be in the minority. Reading helps expand your vocabulary, it helps you understand what works and more importantly what doesn’t; never underestimate the benefit of reading a badly written book.

Reading the kind of book you want to write will give you an appreciation of the genre, identifying what sells and what doesn’t, and also highlighting which tropes and clichés are overused (and sometimes which ones are de rigueur for the genre). Reading books outside of your comfort zone expands your worldview and can only improve your writing. Factual texts are useful for research and generating story ideas, the same with reading newspapers (how often have you read a book or watched a TV drama that was “ripped from the headlines.”?) Of course you should never let reading get in the way of the second R…

2. ‘Riting

It stands to reason that if you want to be a writer, then you have to write. Plenty of people watch a film and think they could do better, lots of people believe they have a novel in them, plenty of people have vivid imaginations and can come up with plots and characters. What separates these people from actual writers is that writers write. It really is that simple. If you’re a frustrated novelist then the only way to turn yourself into a writer is to write. You can fill notebooks full of ideas, you can read books on writing, take writing courses, but until you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, any potential you have is untapped.

Now once you start writing you’ll have need of the third R…

3. Routine.

Writing is like exercise, the more often you do it the easier it becomes and the better you become at it (usually). But like exercise writing is something you must make yourself undertake. A large proportion of writers can procrastinate to an Olympic standard, and in the modern world there are a whole heap of potential distractions; friends, family, chores, work, TV, Facebook, Twitter…the list goes on and on, and some people won’t write because they don’t have the time.

So, with that in mind having a routine, making time on a regular basis to write, is an essential. Some people will claim to write for several hours a day, some people aren’t happy unless they produce 1000+ words a day, but there is no right or wrong here. If all you can spare is 15 minutes a day, then that’s all you can spare. Just do it every day. Produce a few hundred words a day and within a year you should have produced over 70,000 words. That’s technically novel length. Of course, what you have to factor into your routine is not just writing, but also the fourth R…

4. Reviewing.

It may be that there are a select few writers who pour pure gold down on paper with their very first pen stroke, but somehow I doubt it. Writing is hard work, but harder still is reviewing and editing what you’ve written, polishing the lump of coal you’ve created until it’s a sparkling diamond, or at the very least a highly-polished lump of coal.
You’re not just correcting spelling mistakes and other typos (I once had a character take his shit off and throw in on the floor) you’re also rewriting, changing the emphasis and removing extraneous detail—and you’ll be amazed just how much you can excise from a story whilst not altering its structure one jot. I’ve trimmed down multiple stories to fit a word count; try doing flash fiction to really hone this skill.

The difficulty with reviewing is knowing when you’ve finished. Like a sculptor who keeps chipping away at a stature, or an artist who keeps adding a brushstroke to a portrait, your story might never feel finished. At the end of a day you’ll always find something to refine, even after your tenth draft, the trick is knowing when enough is enough. More than once I’ve realised that I ended up changing words back to what they’d been multiple drafts before!

Again there’s no right or wrong number of revisions here. There comes a point where you really don’t feel you can polish a story any more, but be warned; I know I’ve submitted stories before now that, in hindsight, maybe still needed another going over, but by the same token don’t do 25 drafts if all you’re doing is changing ‘It’s’ to ‘It is’ and back again.

Once your review is complete, or as complete as it can be, it’s time to send your story out into the big wide world, which leads us on to the fifth, and lousiest, R…

5. Rejection.

As with several of the preceding points, rejection is not an absolute given. Some writers get lucky (famously James Herbert had The Rats picked up by the first publisher he sent it to) however 99.99% of writers don’t. That’s as true for me as it is for Stephen King or JK Rowling, and it will probably be true for you as well.

Rejection comes with the territory. It’s the same for actors, singers; in fact anyone in any creative field (and in fact anyone who ever went for a job interview, see this blog post has real world applications.)

Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is shit; it might be that a publisher needed 20 stories to fill an anthology and out of the 300 they were submitted there were 20 that were better than yours. It might be that your story was too similar to another, or not the kind of thing they were looking for. Or it could just be it was because it was shit. Sadly you rarely find out unless the publisher is kind enough to provide some feedback.
Rejection is horrible, it’s shitty and dispiriting and depressing, but it’s also par for the course I’m afraid. This is where the sixth R comes in…

6. Resilience.

I once equated writing with boxing, and I still think it’s a good analogy. Rejections are like punches and you have to learn to take them, or throw in the towel. Just as there are many talented people who never start writing, similarly there are many talented writers who give up. I won’t ever denigrate anyone who quits the fight. Until you’ve received rejection after rejection for stories you’ve poured hours of work into, put your blood sweat and tears into, you can’t understand how much of a punch to the gut a rejection is, and plenty of times—especially when I’ve had a little run of rejections—I’ve thought “Sod this for a game of soldiers” and seriously considered knocking the whole thing on the head. Of course for me such feelings thankfully don’t last, and usually within a few days I’ve either sent a story off to another market, or started writing something else (or sometimes both!)

closeyouareThis is where resilience comes in. It’s hard and its painful, but often what separates the published author from the talented amateur is that one keeps going where the other decides enough is enough, and the sad irony is that this means talent and hard work are not enough, and often the people who make it are simply the ones who can take one more punch, or maybe even a dozen more punches. Frankly the only thing that keeps me going sometimes is the fear of quitting just before I make it.

If you keep going this is where the seventh R might come into play…

7. Reward.

Or maybe it doesn’t, because this is the one you have the least control over. You can be talented, you can work hard, you can be resilient, but the sad truth is that this doesn’t mean you’ll be successful, and in fact most published authors earn very little.

But then it maybe depends on your definition of reward. Reward can mean money, it can mean a three-book deal with Headline or a million dollar Hollywood film adaptation, or it can mean something less tangible. Seeing your name in print can be rewarding, holding a book with your name on the cover can be rewarding, having a nice review, or the respect of your peers can be rewarding.

None of which means I’d turn down Hollywood if they wanted to option anything I’ve written of course!

mld106334_1110_catparty055_vert

Party Time!

So there it is, the seven Rs. Or is it? When I told my girlfriend about this blog she suggested that after Reward there should come Rejoicing, and maybe she’s right, and, after giving it more thought, it strikes me that there’s yet another R after that, because even if you read, write, review, handle rejection and get your reward, then after you finished rejoicing you need to think about what you’re going to do next. Which is where one final R comes into play.

Repeat!

clipboard01My new novel Darker Times arose out of an idea I had a decade ago, an idea which eventually merged with another idea to become something very different, yet something that, in essence, was still the same idea I came up with ten years ago.

Bemoaning all the ideas we come up with but never get around to using is something a lot of writers, myself included, talk about, I’ve even seen some consider getting rid of old notebooks of ideas as they imagine they’re never going to use them, but I think Darker Times shows why this is never a good idea. Even fragments of ideas ‘you’re never going to use’ might find a home within a totally new story, a character you’d envisaged for a space opera set in the 25th Century might, with a bit of tinkering, make for an interesting 18th Century pirate (or vice versa).

Darker Times went from being a haunted house story to a post-apocalyptic melodrama, and yet in so many ways it’s still the damn same story!

Let’s start at the very beginning. The year was 2006 and I was on holiday with friends in Egypt. Along with two others I’d plumped for a hike up Mount Sinai, where Moses supposedly collected his stone tablets from God, to witness the sunrise. It was an amazing, if exceptionally tiring, experience, but before I climbed down the mountain, before I saw the sunrise, before I even climbed up the mountain, I came up with an idea.

We were picked up by a coach late at night and advised to try and get some sleep on the drive out to the mountains (because there sure as heck wouldn’t be time for sleep later). I can’t recall if I actually slept or not, I probably dozed at least in the darkened coach, but what I did do was daydream, and that daydream quickly evolved into a story idea that, by the time we reached our destination, had become fully formed, complete with initial sketches of the main characters.

dscf0056

me atop the mountain with a head full of ideas!

The original story, if I’d written it (I started chapter one), would have been called Ten Photos of Coffin House, and would be a contemporary ghost story set in a small cottage near the tiny village of Blodwel Nave. Four people would visit the cottage for a holiday, but by the end of their stay three would be dead or missing and one would be so severally traumatised that they wouldn’t be able to tell what had happened, and so the only evidence of what had occurred would be ten photos taken on a disposable camera that was found at the scene.

The idea of the book was that an academic (or possibly some pulpish writer of mysteries) would contrive to fill in the blanks based on the photos, and myths and legends relating to the cottage.

I’m not sure it was an idea that could ever really work. The photo conceit seemed like a good idea at the time but I can’t see how it could have worked, outside of getting models to pose for ten photos that could be used as chapter headings. Similarly I might not have been a good enough writer at the time to make it work because the whole point was going to be that maybe there was a supernatural element involved, or maybe it was just that one of the groups went doolally. Nuance isn’t one of my strengths.

But what the initial idea did give me was four characters, most of whom had secrets, and in some instances actively loathed one another, trapped in a confined space.

Like I say, I worked on chapter one and then tossed the idea to one side.

51wpt1jhu1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Flash forward a couple of years and the sadly now defunct American indie publisher Pill Hill Press issued a submission call for post-apocalyptic stories to be published in an anthology inspired by the supposed Mayan prophesy that the world would end in 2012. Given I’ve always had a thing for post-apocalyptic stories (“you don’t say” groaned everyone who knows me) I decided to submit a story. I wanted to come up with something slightly different from the more usual nuclear war/zombie apocalypse/pandemic/asteroid strike/alien invasion kinda thing. In the end I can’t remember quite where the notion originated from, but I decided to go with a future world where, for some unspecified reason, it had got suddenly dark one day and stayed dark.

41hb7ggl6jl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The story that arose was Stranger Times, featuring a mysterious stranger named, er, Stranger, who encounters a community of survivors on the Californian shore. It’s always been a favourite story of mine and I did like the universe, even so it wasn’t something I expected to return to—although as with many stories there was a recurring fantasy that it would be noticed by someone big in publishing who’d commission me to write a whole slew of Stranger novels and pay me millions for the privilege. I’m still dreaming obviously— but then a few years ago another Indie publisher, Fox Spirit, issued a submissions call for their Girl at the End of the World anthologies, and I duly obliged, writing Savage Times, which can be found in Girl at the End of the World volume 2. Savage Times featured a teenage girl surviving in darkened Nottingham.

For another open submission I then wrote Darker Silence (originally titled Silent Times before I decided I’d give all works in this universe the Darker prefix). Darker Silence follows the adventures of a deaf young man in France, and is currently unpublished. This year I’ve also written Darker Sins, a story set in Vegas at the start of the darkness, it’s also unpublished at the moment but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

After writing Savage Times and Darker Silence I decided I really ought to write a Darker novel. I considered several ideas before deciding that maybe it would be good to focus on how a small group of people dealt with the sudden darkness and impending collapse of civilisation.

Now if only I had a cast of characters and a remote location I could use…

Slightly embarrassing to admit that the lightbulb above my head didn’t immediately flare into life, but oh when it did! Suddenly everything slotted together as smoothly as it it’d been planned all along. I had four characters I knew inside out, they had secrets and animosities that would make being stuck in a confined space bad enough, even before you landed an apocalypse on top of this. If anything the darkness worked better as an antagonist than potential ghosts would have.

Of course some other things changed. Coffin House would have been an old property (all the better for ghosties and ghoulies) whereas the cottage in Darker Times became a much newer, prefabricated construction. The eventual fates of each character changed as well, so don’t take the above comment about three of them dying/disappearing and one going nuts as any kind of spoiler, that isn’t how Darker Times ends!

dolly-parton

Inexplicable Dolly pic!

But in so many ways if you strip away the veneer of Darker Times, there’s still a whole lot of Ten Photos of Coffin House underneath. So, the moral is, hoard your ideas, you never can tell when you might end up stitching a few rags of ideas together to make something stylish, just like Dolly Parton and her coat of many colours.

home

I think one thing you don’t realise until you start writing, is just how many stories a single person can produce. Of course this always assumes you don’t give up after your first few rejections. I’ve talked about rejection before however, so for the purposes of this article I’m going to assume that you’re the stubborn as a mule who’s particularly stubborn kind of writer who won’t let a few (hundred) NO THANK YOUs slow them down. I’m also going to assume you’re the kind of writer, like me, who writes in both long and short form (and everything in between.)

I probably could tell you roughly how many stories I’ve written if I could be bothered to do a check on my story folder, but frankly I’m too lazy, and besides that kind of thing (like totalling up how many rejections you’ve received) can be counterproductive. Suffice to say that I’ve written a lot. Five full novels, three novellas and several dozen short stories at least.

Many of these stories have yet to find a home outside of the digital one squirreled away on my hard drive (and backed up several times over, don’t EVER make that mistake!) and, like the crazy old relative in the attic, quite a few of them I’ve chosen to forget ever existed. If you’re not aware of the term ‘Trunk Stories’ then I’d recommend Googling it. Suffice to say that every writer is probably going to have stories he or she could never find a home for, because not matter who you are and how successful you are you’re going to get rejections. Just the other day on Twitter a writer I follow, who’s had multiple novels formally published, was bemoaning the fact that an American sci-fi mag had rejected a story submission, so don’t imagine that even if you become a bestselling novelist everything you write will turn to gold. Everyone, at every level, will have stories they haven’t found a home for.

And it’s possible that they imagine they never will. Now I’m not quite so defeatist. I firmly believe that every story has a home, even the terrible ones, because every story has merit, even if the only virtue was as part of your development as a writer. In today’s world anyone has the ability to publish their words, whether as a print on demand kind of way, or as an eBook, or simply by posting them on their blog—and I’ve done all three of those things. As I’ve always said, it’s better that 3 people read your story than nobody does. Hidden away in the attic or hard drive nobody is going to read it. And, you know, even though you think it’s terrible, someone else might not, and sometimes writers are their own worst critics (and, in fairness, their own most blinkered champion).

None of which is my way of admitting that if I’ve self-published or posted a story on my blog that I think it’s terrible. Far from it. That’s just the right home as far as I could see, especially for the novels because it is so very hard to get interest from an agent or publisher these days, the opportunities are infinitely fewer for a 130,000 word novel than a 5,000 word short story, and given how much time and effort it takes to write a novel the thought of no one ever reading it is so much more depressing. Especially when I think my novels are, for the most part, good. To date, as I’ve said, I’ve written 5 novels. The first, third and fourth ones are now available to buy as print on demand, pdf, or via Amazon. The fifth book may end up in the same place, but at the moment I haven’t exhausted all the options for attracting a publisher or agent to it. So it will be published, either because someone wants to publish it, or because I want to publish it. That leaves my second novel, a twisty turny time travel story worthy of Steven Moffat. That one may never see the light of day. In part because I’m not sure how good it is, in part because my characterising of certain characters is quite heavy handed, but also because the nature of the story necessitates a very specific time period within which it can be set so it would have to be published, if at all, as a kind of weird period piece.

Maybe one day…

Going back to short stories, I think there’s a lot more scope for finding a home for these, but persistence is the order of the day, persistence, a touch of luck and, just perhaps, the lowering of your sights.

The first thing to state is that just because you’ve been rejected by a mid-range publisher, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can only ever pitch that story at the independent end of the market, far from it. I once had a story rejected by the sadly now defunct Pill Hill Press, very much an indie concern in the States, that story ended up being published by the British Fantasy Society. Remember, a rejection of a story is just that A rejection. Every editor has their own tastes, every editor has their own idea what they’re looking for, and maybe that story about spider cowboys you wrote happened to be the third spider cowboy story they’ve seen that week—they can’t take them all. Abaddon Books’ commissioning editor David Moore makes the point very eloquently here about the process of cutting through a submission pile. But just because your story didn’t fit one editor for one publication, it doesn’t follow that it won’t grab hold of the next person you send it too (remember there are editors out there who turned Harry Potter down).

If you believe in a story you have to keep sending it out, I’ve eventually sold many stories that had been rejected many times because they finally found the home they were made for. So maybe that is luck, but really I think it’s more down to persistence. I also talked about lowering your sights, though as I say sometimes it can be as simple as heightening your sights as well, don’t be afraid to target the indie market. That isn’t to say they’ll automatically take your tale, they have standards just like anyone else, but the truism is, well, true! The wider you cast your net the more chance you have of landing a fish.

Don’t be afraid if it takes some time, often a story will fit a particular niche (Horror western, superheroes, erotic sci-fi etc.) and anthologies that are looking for that kind of story might be few and far between (and then three might come along at once like Number 6 buses!) but there’s no greater feeling than scrolling through somewhere like The Horror Tree and suddenly spotting an anthology you have the perfect story for.

Time to dust it off, maybe give it a polish and another proof, and send it off.

Every decent story can find a home; if you’re patient, persistent, and pig headed enough. Good luck!

DSCF4864

My childhood took place during the 1970s and 1980s, which gives you a rough idea how old I am. As a child I had no smartphone, no laptop. There was no internet, or at least no internet as we understand it and certainly not one an ordinary person could access, and I can still recall such milestones as us getting our first telephone, our first colour TV and our first VCR.

But it wasn’t all bad, I had something the kids of today can only dream of, because I lived under the shadow of global nuclear war.

Result!

The Cold War had been chilling for decades, and the West and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons pointed at each other to destroy the planet multiple times over. Growing up in such an environment is it any wonder I became a little obsessed with the end of the world?

At the time there was a plethora of apocalyptic fiction; books, comics, TV shows, films…and whilst some of these were harsh, utterly realistic portrayals of the potential for atomic Armageddon (see the BBC’s Threads and America’s The Day After for further detail) many of them were, shall we say, slightly more action packed.

They shared many elements however, the hero would be a rugged type, usually an ex-soldier, and he’d know how to handle himself in a fight; with his bare hands, with a knife or, most usually, with a large arrange of firearms. There’d be bad guys aplenty, and they usually rode motorcycles, as if a huge army of evil Hell’s Angels had just been waiting for the end of the world so they could take over.

There’d be women, and they’d be tough too, but also sexy of course. And, despite huge amounts of radiation in the atmosphere, the hero would suffer no major health problems.

Of course it wasn’t all about nuclear war. On the BBC John Duttine unwrapped the bandages from his eyes to discovered a comet had made most people blind, and man eating planets ruled in an adaptation of Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Luckily Duttine’s Bill could still see, despite the blinding yellow jumpsuit worn by co-star Emma Relph. A comet was similarly to blame for wiping out most of humanity (and turning large numbers of the survivors into zombies) in the superbly schlocky Night of the Comet.

Meanwhile Charlton Heston had to fight albino psychos as the result of biological warfare in The Omega Man, a film that had a huge impact on me, and a favourite film of me and my dad while I was growing up (and I still love it today.)

I still recall borrowing the Waste World novels from the library, and over the years I’ve acquired three of them (still missing number 2 which is a shame as I remember that one being quite good). These novels featured Matt Chance (these guys are never called Nigel or Tarquin) who was tagged as ‘the ultimate survivor’ although he had nothing on John Rourke, the titular hero of The Survivalist novels that I religiously collected during my teens and early twenties. He really was the ultimate survivor, hell he even had his own secret bunker hidden inside a mountain! I still own my collection of Survivalist novels, though I only got up to the mid-twenties, I believe they carried on but the later ones never showed up in the UK. It’s probably just as well, by book 10 Rourke and his family had been catapulted centuries into the future and by the later books he was battling the denizens of an underwater city, as well as future Nazis and Commies!

Sure they were a touch on the NRA side of things, but they were somewhat less right wing than a lot of similar books out there, and a touch more character driven, even going so far as to feature a post-apocalyptic love triangle between Rourke, his estranged wife and a Russian spy who probably should have been in a Bond film. In fact book 9 is effectively a Bond film, and as I recall an action packed cracker—plus it featured a Doctor Who joke which was somewhat surreal!

Of course I eventually graduated onto more substantial literary fare, and another book that had a big impact on me was James Herbert’s Domain, the third book in his Rats trilogy (technically I suppose there’s a fourth but it’s a graphic novel) which saw WW3 take place, London get levelled, and a group of survivors playing tag with man-eating rats inside underground bunkers. It’s Herbert at his grim and gory best.

It’s perhaps not surprising that some of my first forays into writing involved similar fare. One of the first things I recall getting down on paper was a story that bore so many similarities to The Omega Man that it was essentially just a rip off! I only wrote a couple of pages of that one, but my next effort was much longer, and probably a tad more original, but it was just a British take on Waste World/The Survivalist, featuring a rugged teenage hero with a penchant for automatic weapons and a pretty girlfriend and, yeah, I know: Can you say Mary Sue?

So of course it was logical that my first novel, City of Caves, would be a post-apocalyptic story, and my latest, Darker Times, also deals with the end of the world.

But what is it that I, and so many others, find so fascinating about the apocalypse? Well as with any genre I think there are myriad reasons. Firstly there’s a certain cantharis to dealing with the end of the world in fiction. In the 70s and 80s nuclear war was a real possibility, and nowadays there’s still the fear of terrorism, pandemics, asteroid collision, climate change etc. etc. Post-apocalyptic fiction allows us to face these terrors, knowing they won’t really happen (we hope) but that if they did the indomitable human spirit would survive. Stories like The Day of the Triffids, John Christopher’s The Death of Grass, ITV miniseries The Last Train and a plethora of others don’t feature rugged action heroes, they feature everyday people in extraordinary circumstances, and just as in horror, seeing people survive, or at least go down valiantly fighting, against extranormal odds makes our own trials seem less onerous.

There’s also a very clear libertarian angle at play, the end of civilisation doesn’t have to mean the end of civilisation, it can be more clearly seen as a wiping of the slate, ready for a new kind of world to emerge. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that you’ve got a dead end job, that your relationship are, to quote The Rembrandts, “DOA”, that you’ve never followed your dreams…in the aftermath of Armageddon anyone can be a hero (or a villain), all you need is a fast car and a big gun (though frankly in the event of the end of days, tempting though it will be to nab a Porsche, I’ll probably go for something that gets more miles to the gallon) and you can ride around like it’s the Wild West and you’re some kind of bastard love child of Mad Max and Wyatt Earp.

And after Doomsday there’ll be no taxes, no debts, no worries (apart from, you know, starvation, thirst, infectious diseases, rapists, cannibals, rapist cannibals and the ever present worry about what happens if your appendix bursts when there’s no longer an A&E—in your face suckers I had mine out decades ago) and whether your idea of a new world is a grungy motorcycle gang, a medieval fortress, or something much more middle class and John Wyndham’esqe that involves rational conversations about how many babies we’ll need to have, your dreams can come true.

Of course these days nobody’s scared of nuclear war anymore, it’s all about the zombie apocalypse, but at least you no longer need to worry about the guy who looks like a Hell’s Angel ‘cos he’s probably one of the good guys!

daryl-dixon-motorcycle

Cross Pollination

Posted: September 23, 2015 in Published fiction, Regarding writing

Bloodlines

Just a bit of cross pollination here. About a year ago I submitted a short story titled “The Tenderness of Monsters” for an anthology titled Bloodlines, to be published by Australian publisher Ticonderoga Publications. The story was accepted and the book is due for release very soon.

Obviously once it’s available to buy I will be pimping it here, but in the meantime here’s a link to a guest post I’ve made on the blog of the book’s editor to give you a flavour of what’s coming, you can also read similar ghost blogs from some of the other authors featured in the book.

http://amandapillar.livejournal.com/224880.html

Writer Beware

Posted: August 21, 2015 in Regarding writing
Tags:

cat-on-typewriter

Kitty’s Proofing Service wasn’t all it appeared…

It’s been a while since I blogged about writing so I thought I’d correct that error with a little commentary on those who make money from writing.

No I don’t mean writers, silly. And no I don’t mean publishers or book shop owners or anyone like that.

No I mean those who make money on the back of selling the writing dream. The internet is awash with people who will teach you how to write that bestselling novel, or who promise to critique your work or edit and proofread it before you send it off to a publisher. Some will even publish you themselves.

None of these services come free of course.

Now I’m sure there are decent people out there who really can help you to become a better writer, I just suspect there are an awful lot of people who’ve just seen a niche in the market and are after a quick buck, and don’t even feel the need to provide a decent product in return.

Now me, well I’ve always been of the opinion that the best way to learn how to write a novel is by reading a lot of novels, dissecting them to see how the narrative structure works, how characters evolve and plot is developed. This process doesn’t even need to cost you a penny if you have a library card.

Now I’ve bought the odd book on writing it’s true, but a decent book on writing might cost you £10 (or it might even be free from the library) which is a lot different to paying £100 or more for an online course, and usually these books are written by people who are actually quite successful writers in their own right (or should that be write?). Two of my favourites are by Lawrence Block and Stephen King. This is a lot different than signing up for a course run by Betty Rubenstein whose main claim to fame is that she once had a poem published in the St Jude’s parish magazine…

Similarly there are those who’ll offer to critique your work, sometimes this is a standalone service but sometimes it’s linked to a submission call and I’ve seen examples of that. If it’s free to submit a story but you can request a critique for a nominal amount and you feel this would be useful, then by all means go for it, but realistically if you want your work critiqued you might be just as well joining a writers group, likeminded people who’ll happily take a look at your work and offer constructive criticism for the cost of you returning the favour.

This brings me on to those submission calls which charge a fee. I remember when I started out writing stories and, pitifully naïve as I was, I did pay a couple of £5 fees to submit stories to competitions, but with hindsight I think it’s a lousy thing to do. I appreciate that an indie publisher needs to afford to publish a book, but frankly in this age of print on demand firms and eBooks there can’t be nearly as many overheads as their once were. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not (and never would) having a go at indie publishers who pay a token amount and/or a contributors copy, or even those in the ‘For the Love’ category, most of these provide a great outlet for writers, especially those just starting out, which doesn’t mean they take any old guff—far from it they still have standards—and there’s something to be said for holding a book you’ve contributed to in your hands, it’s a wonderful motivation, and as I’ve often said, it’s better for a story to be out there being read than languishing on my hard drive.

But paying for the privilege of just being considered? Nah, steer clear.

Next up are the companies (or I suspect more likely individuals) offering to edit/proof your work. Now I have friends who are professional editors, some of whom are employed by publishers some of whom work for themselves, and they do a great job, its hard work and such work does not come cheap, and usually they work for big clients (as in actual companies I’m not suggesting there are giants who pen novellas in between collecting golden eggs or anything). I’m not talking about the likes of these editors, but I’ve seen people advertise their services to proof or edit your fiction, to help you smooth the rough edges off a story and get it in a good position to send off to a publisher.

One of these individuals had a website advertising their wares many years ago, and I found several typos in it. If you’re going to offer that kind of a service failings like that speak volumes. Now my editing isn’t perfect, my grammar’s getting better (but she still isn’t out of the wood yet, boom boom…cough, sorry) and I proof things more times than I ever used to, but mistakes do get made (I once famously had a character throw his shirt on the floor, only I missed the ‘R’ out…) but that said I’m not setting myself up as someone who’ll edit your work for a price.

I think so long as you’ve shown due diligence, and you’ve gone through your work multiple times to iron out any errors, then publishers will be forgiving of the rare typo (especially when it’s the kind that won’t be picked up by Word). Invest in a book on grammar if you’re concerned, or take an evening class. Or if it’s more about polishing the work, well we’re back to a writing group again.

The final people to talk about are the ones who’ve been around for ages, and in many respects the most villainous of all: The Vanity Publisher!

Now once more, before you accuse me of hypocrisy, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with seizing the initiative and getting your own work out there, and obviously I’ve done that myself, but nowadays this can be done at no cost to yourself. Print on demand companies like Lulu, or the ability to self-publish electronically, think Amazon, mean there’s no place for the company who will print you off a few hundred books, for a price.

Over the years I suspect many an aspiring writer sent their manuscript off to what appeared to be a perfectly respectable publisher only to get a letter or an email back explaining that they loved the book, and they’d be honoured to publish it, of course they’d need some capital to authorise the print run, but that’s just a formality…

At best people possibly did get boxes of their books, and maybe over the years they managed to sell them off and break even, but I fear many people didn’t even get the books. At the end of the day there’s little difference between some vanity publishers and the friendly Nigerian who says he wants to offer you £6,000,000, only he needs a few hundred up front to prove you’re serious about the whole endeavour. Both are scams, just different kinds, one preys on people greed, the other preys on people’s ego and desire to see their work in print.

As the old adage goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. But don’t just take my word for it, check out the absolute write forums, they have a whole thread dedicated to the literary ne’er-do-wells.

Writers have to be self-aware enough to take on board criticism, to even seek it out and to learn from it in order to develop as an artist, and as I said I’m sure there are people out there who can help you become a better writer, you just need to be very careful about who you choose to help you, and what their motives are. I’m a capitalist at the end of the day, and there’s nothing wrong with people selling a service, but if you’re going to partake of that service just be damn sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Me, I want to make money from writing, but I want to make money through selling my stories rather than from my fellow writers, which is why any writing advice in this blog—which is hopefully useful to some people—will always remain free.

Call it literary karma.