Sunday, October 27, 2013

The New Idea

Last Friday was a great day for many reasons.  Number one, it's bank holiday Monday coming up this weekend in Cyprus which means and extra day of weekend, which even when you work for yourself still feels good knowing that there is the chance of an extra hour in bed with no alarm call.  It was also the day when I finished the first edit of my next book.  It is no longer called Crazy Girl and now sits under a new file name in a version that is probably quite close to the finished product.  And finally, Friday was also the day when I came up with a new idea for the next story, and that is without doubt always an exciting time.

As part of ‘Operation Long Weekend the husband and I have found a love of YouTube documentaries.  It started off with a documentary about Ted Bundy, followed by the fattest woman in the world who was blamed for the murder of her nephew, and ended up in a much more promising place called Birth of the Earth.  As we are both science geeks we love a show about space, and this one was particularly interesting.  It explained how what started off as nothing but a cloud of gas and dust particles took the long journey to eventually become the planet we live on today.

This got me thinking that this process is quite like the idea for a book, and is much like my latest concept.  An idea always begins with a tiny snippet in the beginning, just like the dust and gas cloud.  Mine happens to be a countdown clock, or perhaps a board with numbers on that the whole world is watching.  As of yet, I have no idea why they are watching it.  I have no idea what they believe will happen when it gets to zero.  I have no idea even who is watching it.  But this idea has been floating around in the space of my brain for a while now, minding its own business.  It is still waiting for a supernova to strike and smash these dust like ideas into something of substance that can actually begin to become something more than a cloud.  Something that has substance. 

This is what happened in the first steps to create the earth, a huge injection of power, a shockwave that smashed into a cloud of gas and dust.  It compressed the gas and dust into a new star, the centre of a swirling mass of charged dust particles which over the course of the next four billion years underwent enough changes to become the planet we live on and the solar system we know as our own.  It took lightening to force the clumps together and chance collisions with other rocks.  When they became large enough gravity took over.  It held these clumps together until they were so large in size that the gravity was strong enough to drag these rocky lumps in on themselves to shift from an irregular comet shape into a spherical, early version of the earth.  But this is still just the beginning.

I am thinking about trying to bash this idea out in NaNoWriMo, but I have huge reservations.  It seems like a great idea at the moment.  One month, one book.  How can that not be a good idea?  But the process to form the earth took billions of years, and the destruction of other smaller early planets before our world became something that can sustain life.  Perhaps by trying to force a book out during NaNoWriMo, all I'll end up with is a rocky comet that doesn't grow large enough for it to ever become a planet, and fifty thousand words of an idea that never fulfil their true potential.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writing when you are not an expert

When I lived in England I had a rule.  No soap operas.  I forbade myself to watch Emmerdale, Eastenders, and Coronation Street because once you get involved you start following a particular storyline and then before you know it BAM.  You are hooked and cannot live without knowing who it was that burnt down the underwear factory, or who shot Phil Mitchell.  You can see that my rules were not always followed.

But when I moved to Cyprus everything changed.  New job, new routine, new home, new roads, new food, and new language.  In many respects at the beginning everything was so unfamiliar I may as well have been on the moon.  I didn’t know anyone or anything with the exception of my husband.  I am sure than in the first few weeks I walked around with a constantly surprised/confused look on my face.  Especially when somebody spoke to me.

The biggest thing to tackle was without doubt the language, and this is an ongoing challenge.  I am reasonably ‘fluent’ now, but still at times I meet somebody with such a strong accent that I feel like I haven’t learnt a single thing since day one, and I am left slack jawed and stupid looking when I don’t understand.  But luckily I am not shy, and don’t care about making mistakes, and it’s a good job because there have been plenty.  One example that stands out from the rest occurred whilst describing what I thought was a snowball fight to my in-laws.  It turns out it is very easy to get one word wrong and make this a very different story.  One that included balls of a very different nature.
But my previous rule about not watching soap operas has slowly dwindled.  You cannot imagine the excitement of watching the television in a foreign language and understanding for the first time.  It was like Christmas had come, and Santa Claus had brought it to me personally.   But what started off as a language learning exercise quickly turned into crack-like addiction and now there is not a night that goes by without watching a show called (insert bad translation) The Waltz of the Twelve Gods.
But there is another reason that I never wanted to watch soap operas, and that is because they just, well, aren’t really that good.  We’ve all seen the fight scene that left us laughing rather than concerned, or the kiss that looked more like their lips accidentally got glued together than passion had overcome them.  But why is this?  One theory is this.  The writer didn’t know how to write it.
So let’s take an example from last night’s viewing.  There is a big exit scene of the main star.  She is leaving the show.  Best way to exit has to be a death, right?  Now one thing I have witnessed in real life more times than I can count on any number of hands is death.  It tends to work that way when you work in a hospital for fifteen years.  What most people would be surprised about when things go wrong in a hospital is how calm everybody manages to stay.  OK, of course there is a bit of drama and there is a sense of urgency, but the staff involved know when somebody has a cardiac arrest there is a job to be done.  Somebody will manage an airway, somebody will start chest compressions, somebody will secure IV access if it hasn’t already been done, and in the case of where I used to work somebody will most likely call a cardiothoracic surgeon to come and help us out.  So because everybody knows what they are doing you’ll most likely have plenty of people that just look like they are hanging around.  There will be drips going up, drips coming down, somebody shouting I can’t find a vein, somebody else shouting that they are charging the defibrillator, and somebody else looking shattered and sweaty from the chest compressions.  It’ll look like chaos.  But organised chaos.  Ask anybody who worked in a ‘crash team’ to describe this situation, and this is roughly what you’ll get.  There are lots of good examples in film and television.  So how can a writer get it so wrong?  How can it look so fake?  Do the general public even know it looks fake?
Writing about something specific like a cardiac arrest needs an opinion of somebody who has actually been at one.  Without it you end up with a series of ten or so shocks (I lost count in the end) which happened through the patient’s clothes whilst the patient was wearing an oxygen mask.  Not only is this like to result in the most horrific case of hospital induced burns, there was nothing else at all happening around her.  No fuss, no drips, no help, no nothing.  It’s no wonder she died.
 At the moment I am writing Crazy Girl, a story about a woman who suffers with severe mental illness, and fortunately I have never been in this situation.  So what do I do?  Make it all up?  Yes, but not without a really good book called ‘Psychology for Writers’ and the help of a psychologist friend who I am sure is going to remove my email address from her contacts list soon.  If you don’t know about guns, find out about them before you write.  If you don’t know the first thing about being a cop but are writing about one, do some research that will add an air of authenticity to your work.  Soon I am planning to write the second instalment of Identity X and want to go to a shooting range to get a feel for a real handgun, and see what it would be like to actually shoot one.  Bringing authenticity into my writing always has to be a main aim and a central task.  This is what helps the characters come to life, to become real, and for the story to seem genuine and believable. 
I will keep watching my Greek soap opera and I know that I will forgive it for its flaws.  I can accept its issues.  Because it is above all entertaining, and that’s all any of us are really looking for in the television or in books, right?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Danger of a Single Story

I am always impressed by TED talks.  If you haven't previously heard about them, this is who they are, taken directly from their website.

"TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader." 

Their video talks are always thought inspiring, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally nothing short of awe inspiring.

Here, Chimamanda NgoziAdichie, a novelist born in Nigeria talks about her experiences as a writer, and how she has faced the world's narrow view of Africa, and how that often singular perspective can mould the impression of a whole country. 

For me, this video speaks not only on the wider level about humanity and the world in which we all live, but specifically as a writer.  The importance of building reality, not just fiction in our novels.  The complexity of the world that we create is paramount to it being believable, and the different layers of a character help develop not just names and characteristics, but people who come alive and leap from the page. 

This talk is quite long, but if you have time it is worth it.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Options for getting your book reviewed

If you spend any length of time in a writers forum, or a discussion group it won’t take long before you come across a writer asking for reviews of their work.  In fact, many writers put as much effort into their solicitation of reviews as they do the writing of their books in the first place.  But why is it that we consider reviews to be so important?

When consumers buy a product, they naturally wish to do so with confidence.  They want to determine that their decision will represent value for money, and therefore often seek out the collective consumer opinion to see what it has to say about the product before they commit to buying it.  It makes them feel like they have done their homework.  This is also true when it comes to books.  Readers want to know what somebody else has to say about it before they consider reading it themselves.  In 2009, a Nielson Survey found that out of 25,000 respondents from over 50 different countries, 90% would trust the review of somebody that they know, and up to 70% of respondents would trust a consumer opinion posted online.    Consumers believe peer reviews to be credible and therefore use this information when taking a decision to purchase a product. 

But it is not just the consumer that uses reviews to gauge the value of a book.  Reviews also nurture online credibility and help to improve sales figures, which in turn improves rankings and product visibility with an online retailer.  I myself have noticed this sort of positive feedback.  When I receive a new review, it is often followed by a sharp sales bump and I consider this positive effect likely to be secondary to a more favourable position in search algorithms, with my book being shown to a greater number of online shoppers.  Therefore it doesn’t take much imagination to see why numerous positive reviews seem like an attractive option for an aspiring writer.

But it is also true, that should the credibility of these reviews be called into question, this can result in an entirely different perspective on the work.  This fact was detailed extensively last year in The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy in the New York Times, August 2012.  It discussed the case of John Locke, a self published writer who had clearly understood the benefits of having many reviews.  In 2010 he solicited the services of the now defunct firm  This company offered a paid service for writers to gather a set of reviews for a onetime fee, and Mr. Locke initially paid $1000 in return for 50 reviews.  Whilst he remained entirely confident in his work, clearly stating that all reviewers should feel free to express an honest opinion, and ‘freely admit if they did not enjoy his book’, readers would receive a lower payment should they not write a positive review.  One reviewer even admitted that she often read no more than a fifteen minute sample, such was the demand on her time, and desire to produce an adequate number of reviews to ensure her payment.  There was much criticism of this approach to reviews, not only from Amazon as demonstrated by their removal of many of these false reviews, but also from other writers who work honestly to carve out their own niche.   False reviews have the effect of diminishing the achievement of every self published author, those very authors that already fight against a predetermined industry belief that their work is of substandard quality, if readers cannot be certain of the genuine nature of the reviewer’s comments.

So as writers in a community where we crave reviews, and where it seems they might be the difference between our work remaining on the Amazon servers or arriving on consumer's kindles, what exactly are our options?

There are paid services that writers can employ, but which function entirely differently from the aforementioned paid services.  These are real reviews from well respected publications.  Kirkus was established in 1933, and has long since established itself as a dependable voice in the world of publishing.  It is not a cheap service, and by no means guarantees you a glowing report.  From $425 you can acquire yourself an editorial review which you can use in marketing, in letters to agents and publicists, and additionally have your work considered for inclusion in their own magazine, which is distributed to 40,000 industry professionals and consumers.  Another revered example of a paid review service would be, and their ‘Clarion Review’ service comes with a price tag of $335.  For this you will receive a 400-500 word review with a turnaround time of around 6-8 weeks.  Also worthy of note for all authors who have an impending release, is their prepublication review service which is free of charge and offers writers a chance to appear in the pages of ForeWord Reviews.  All submissions must be sent to them three months prior to publication.  This can be a useful service if you are hoping to generate some prepublication buzz about your work.  Inclusion however is not a guarantee.

Whilst these services are highly regarded, the price may render them inaccessible for many writers.  There is also no promise of a positive review, so it could be that after paying for the review you are left with an honest, but less than favourable evaluation of your work.  However there are other review channels that you can investigate that cost you little more than a copy of your book. will list your book for a fee of $25.  This fee will ensure that your book is available to their reviewers, a group made up of avid readers, and up to five of these reviewers has the chance to request your work.  The review is then listed in over ten different locations online, which could mean up to fifty reviews.  They accept either paperback or eBooks, and each time the book is requested you must send another copy of the book. offers a free review service, but numbers are limited and your book will only be reviewed if it is chosen by one of their reviewers.  They also offer publicity packages which start from $119, which guarantees you an honest review.  Remember, I didn’t say positive.  They will not post the review to Amazon, but you can use an excerpt yourself to post as an editorial review.

The Midwestern Book Review will consider your work for review.  You must furnish them with two copies of the finished book, a cover letter and press release.  If your work is chosen it will be reviewed and available in their online publications.

The San Francisco Book Review/Sacramento Book Review accepts a similar submission.  They will review books that have been released in the last ninety days, and you have to send them two copies.  This is not a guaranteed serviced either, but they also offer a sponsored programme starting at $125, which gives authors a chance to be professionally reviewed and subsequently promoted to a wide audience of potential readers.

Other than paid services you also have the option to approach people individually.  Through the channels of Facebook, twitter, and personal book blogs you can develop individual relationships with readers and potential reviewers, and whilst time consuming this stepwise approach may help to form excellent personal relationships with other writers and readers.  Book blogs are created by avid readers, and they are keen to receive complimentary copies for review, and will often post their review to the site of your choosing.  This individual approach works very well when contacting book bloggers, especially if you take the time to write to them personally and state why it is you have chosen them, rather than sending out mass emails.  Be sure to include a press release and contact details, so that should you get lucky and find somebody willing to review your work, they can blog about you and your book easily without having to come back to you first.  The validity of such reviews is on occasion questioned, as the provision of a free book is considered as a payment and therefore less likely to result in an impartial evaluation as the blogger may not want to appear negative or rude about a book that was provided to them for free.  However, many book bloggers take their blogging as seriously as a writer takes their writing, and want their own readers to value the content they choose to display.  Without offering an impartial and honest opinion, their readers would likely find somewhere else to read about books.

A final and very important note would also be to consider the use of giveaways.  Both and offer the chance to set up pre-release giveaways.  Readers will request your book (eBook or paperback for Librarything, but paperback only for Goodreads) and after sending it to them they have the chance to review your book.  Not everybody who receives a copy is likely to review it, but you are likely to pick up some reviews from this process and generate a buzz prior to release day.

There are clearly many options available, and the options outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg, and it is important to remember that reviews are not the only piece of the jigsaw.  Even searching for J.K. Rowling’s latest offering The Casual Vacancy on reveals a listing with 188 one star reviews.  Books sell with bad reviews, and other books which have nothing but praise from critics still fail to hit the mark for the reading public.  Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy what you write, you cannot expect to be convincing enough for others to enjoy it.  But, no matter how many reviews you seek out, there is one other type of review that will mean more even the most expensive review from the most hardened of critics; a glowing review that you didn’t chase and that you didn’t expect.  It will come, and when it does, it will hold a personal value greater than any number of solicited reviews because it will be from somebody that chose your book just because they wanted to.  These sorts of reviews, we might say, are priceless.
UPDATE 15.10.2013  I have come across another website that is a great resource for writers seeking reviews.  This is not a review site, but a listing of book bloggers who you can approach for reviews in exchange for a book.  The Indie View has a very comprehensive list and is worth a look.


Michelle Muckley has no affiliation to any of the organisations mentioned, and the comments stated are the opinion of the writer and not supposed to reflect the opinion of the organisations listed. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Introducing Elizabeth McKenna

To celebrate her latest release, Elizabeth McKenna is joining us here today and sharing an excerpt of her latest novel Venice in the Moonlight.  When she is not writing novels, she works as a full-time technical writer/editor for a large software company. Though her love of books reaches back to her childhood, she had never read romance novels until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene). She had always wanted to write fiction, so when a psychic told her she would write a book, she felt obligated to give it a try. She combined her love of history, romance and a happy ending to write her debut novel Cera's Place. Her short story, The Gypsy Casts a Spell, is available for free on her website She hopes you will enjoy her latest novel, Venice in the Moonlight, as much as others have enjoyed her previous works.

Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband, two beautiful daughters, and sassy Labrador. When she isn't writing, working, or being a mom, she's sleeping.

A Story of Vengeance, Forgiveness, and Love

After her husband’s untimely demise, Marietta Gatti is banished from the family’s villa by her spiteful mother-in-law. She returns to her hometown of Venice and her only kin—a father she hasn’t spoken to since her forced marriage. Her hope of making amends is crushed when she learns she is too late, for he recently has died under suspicious circumstances. Grief-stricken, Marietta retraces her father’s last night only to discover someone may have wanted him dead—and she may be next. When the prime suspect turns out to be the father of the man she is falling in love with, Marietta risks her future happiness and her life to avenge the death of a man she once hated.
Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel takes you back to eighteenth century Carnival, where lovers meet discreetly, and masks make everyone equal.

Read an excerpt.........

Nico shrugged in the French wingback chair they had placed by the fireplace for his portrait. He looked regal in a black silk suit trimmed in gold and a waistcoat of burgundy and gold leaf-patterned brocade. It seemed Raul had excellent taste in men’s fashions.

Marietta rolled her eyes before she settled in a chair behind the easel. “Please keep still while I draw.”

“May I talk?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.” Looking at him was going to be enough distraction. She didn’t need to listen to him also.

He ignored her request. “I have to ask—why Palladino?”

Marietta blew out an exasperated breath. “I can’t sketch you properly if you talk.”

“You could have chosen any man at the Consul’s villa. Casanova himself expressed interest in you, yet you leave with that pig.”

“It’s not what you think.” She compared her drawing to Nico and frowned. His shoulders were no longer in the same position.

“You didn’t have to suffer the man’s dismal lovemaking. What were you thinking?”

“We did not make love,” she replied through clenched teeth.

He continued as if not hearing her. “You’re the first woman in years that he didn’t have to pay, though he would never admit to his need for courtesans. I just don’t understand how you could find him appealing.”

“We did not make love.” She practically shouted it this time. “I’m not attracted to Palladino or any other man for that matter.”

This silenced him, gratefully, but only for a few moments. “Well, in that case, I know of a few courtesans that can accommodate you. I am told they are quite beautiful and skilled.”

Marietta threw down her charcoal and marched over to him. She grabbed his shoulders and repositioned him. “That is not what I meant and you know it.”

He smiled up at her innocently. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you have refused my charms, so what should I think?”

She glared at him for her own benefit, knowing it would have no effect on the man. “You need to stop talking and moving.”

When he didn’t respond, she said, “That’s better.”

He lasted almost fifteen minutes. “So, what kind of man are you attracted to? Perhaps, I could suggest a few potential lovers.”

“How about one who has fewer conquests than fingers and toes? Or one that values honesty and fidelity over all else? Do you know any like that?”

From the thoughtful look on his face, he took this as an earnest question. “I’m afraid, Kitty, a man like that will be hard to find in Venice, especially this time of year.”

“Well, then, I guess I’ll have to go without.”

“How depressing. What will you do for amusement if you don’t take a lover?”

Marietta rubbed at her temples and decided she deserved more than the coins she’d already been paid. “There’s more to life than pleasuring oneself.”


“Yes, Signore, really.” She placed her stub of charcoal on the easel’s tray and rolled the stiffness from her neck and shoulders. “That is all for today. I have another appointment.” It was a lie, but she felt the need to rest and the bed in the corner was tempting her tired body.
Buy Venice in the Moonlight from AMAZON

Friday, October 11, 2013

Using music in fiction

When I was eight I loved Madaonna. By the time I was ten, Guns N Roses. By the time I was in my late teens my tastes were varied, but I always fell on the side of metal and rock music and spent many a sweaty night in flea-pit pubs listening to music that only just about qualified to be considered as such. I remember one night in particular. I found myself in a punk gig in Wolverhampton feeling much like what I was listening to wasn't really for me, whether it actually counted as music or not, and that perhaps my ears might start to bleed by the end of the night. Nights like this explain why most questions people ask of me nowadays are met by a polite, 'sorry what did you say?' Tinnitus for four consecutive days does not for good hearing make!

But written questions don't pose the same problem, and considering that I am an author doing interviews whenever I get a chance I get lots of them to answer. There are certain questions that always come up and they are never difficult to answer. What do I need to be able to write? What kind of environment do I like? People like to picture how we as authors get the books written.  The easy answer was always silence. Perhaps years of 'noise' forced me into craving silence. I didn’t care for anything that created it whilst writing. TV or music, radio, chatter. Whatever it was, if it wasn't silence, it was out.

And then I started writing my latest book, and it became pretty evident that music featured heavily. Gregory, one of the characters has a love of classical music, and the importance of this fact is told through his wife's eyes and helps document a complex aspect of their relationship. So after the first scene cropped up with a bit of Rachmaninoff in, I decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to start a YouTube search and check I had got the right piece. It started off as a simple ten second check that I was using the composition that I wanted to, but then I decided to leave that song on to play. It turned out that having the music in the background helped. I had chosen that song for a reason. It had a mood to it, it delivered a certain feeling, and by listening to it I found that I could get into the spirit of the scene with much greater ease. Ultimately by having the music on I found that the emotion that I wanted to create flowed into the writing.

After this first scene I found that I craved the music, and that my prerequisite of silence was suddenly no longer quite so important. I spent time searching through YouTube for the right songs as I was writing different chapters. I wasn't even mentioning the songs in the writing, but just having them on in the background helped the words to flow. One scene I found that I was playing one particular song repeatedly until I got the scene exactly as I wanted it.

So no longer can I answer the question about my writing environment with such flippant ease. It seems that I am learning all the time about what I need in order to get the job done. Just like my tastes in music changed, so do my requirements to be able to write successfully at different stages of my life.  Writing sometimes needs silence and sometimes it needs, well, something else. Right now I am listening to an album from my youth, Megadeth's Youthanasia and wondering how I even considered that writing in silence was the thing I needed for this particular challenge!  I might only be one more riff away from producing a set of metal horns!

What do you need when you write? Has it changed like my needs have?

Monday, October 7, 2013


Most indie writers like me like a double life.  We work in a 'normal' job, and then we snatch minutes when we can to work on our passion of writing.  Stephen King was a teacher, Hugh Howey was a jack of all trades, and I was/am a scientist.  Managing our time has always been and will always be a challenge.  Now I might not be in their league yet, but there is no harm in dreaming, right?
But therein lies the problem.  I am a dreamer.   I have one section of my brain that loosely focuses on the task in hand, whatever that might be, and I have another part of the brain that does the essentials like breathing, keeping my heart beating, and stopping my blood from boiling in the insane Cyprus summer.  But there is another part of my brain which I think only writers, and perhaps artists and other creative types share, and that is the bit that is in no way attached to reality at any point in time.   

This part of my brain spends its time doing not very much.  It has one primary function.  Day dreaming.  I might be using the other two aforementioned brain function for general living and completing tasks, but this little appendix just does its own thing, it would seem under no conscious kind of control.
My conscious brain has in mind that I have just released a book, Identity X and that I have to put some work behind it.  I have reviews to chase up, appearances to complete, a blog tour currently sort of happening, and a ticket to book for London so I can attend the book fair I have in mind.  But yet I am having a lot of random thoughts about several other things, and I blame this writer only brain add-on that comes like an optional extra that you didn't order but nevertheless you're glad is there.
Currently, I am part way through the first edit of a book that I am currently calling Crazy Girl.  This is subject to change, but for now it has stuck.  I am about 30 pages in of 160 (which equates to about 92,000 words at the moment, rising steadily all the time) on the first big edit.  Plus, I am having a great time.  Thoroughly enjoying it.  But there is another idea that is whirling around that seems to be getting the better of me.  
This idea, way more Sci-Fi in than anything I have ever done before is currently on ice.  I am trying to keep it in mind so that when it comes to getting something on paper it's there and ready to go.  There is also the first chapter of an Identity X sequel half mentally written, and that too needs to find an outlet.  My writer brain add-on is working over time! 
I thought it was bad enough trying to time-manage between ‘real’ job and writer, and now it seems there is some other creative inlet that I have accidentally opened, and I can’t even manage my writing tasks.  But I guess they do say the best kind of marketing is the next book.  Don’t they?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Inside the Mind of a Writer

When I was asked to write a guest post entitled ‘Inside the Mind of a Writer’, I have got to say I was a bit intrigued.  Whilst I love writing my guest posts about characters, writing technique, and book ideas, nobody before had asked me to write anything about who I am.  What goes on inside my brain?  What makes me tick?  So the novelty of it really got me thinking.

Like all good thoughts in 2013, I decided to start with Google.  Google has become my best friend for the unanswered questions of my curious mind.  I typed Inside the mind of, but it wasn’t writer that followed in my search results.  Whose brains are we all desperate to riffle through?  Top searches are serial killer, killer, sociopath, and narcissist.  And Google itself.  What a narcissist!

So it seems that what we all really want to discover is what goes on inside the mind of somebody who hangs out in the dark places, the shady corners of life.  The world has gone crazy for the likes of Dexter, CSI, and the many true crime shows on TV.  We want to know what drives these people, why they committed their crimes, and how they could possibly have done the things they did.  We want to understand the things that really we cannot imagine ourselves. 

Well, I am not really any different.  Let me tell you a bit about me.  The basics.  Female, thirty two, married to a Greek guy, two step kids, scientist by trade and qualification.  All sounds pretty normal so far.  And it is.  I am in fact pretty average.  My DVD drawer is full of horror, my bookshelf houses a mixture of thriller and suspense, and as for a good crime show just try and drag me away.  But what drives me to write about such things?  Why do I spend hour upon hour of my time typing up stories, writing about the things most people don’t want to think about after the show has finished and their curiosity has been satisfied?

It was about ten years ago that I first I announced to a very good friend of mine that I was going to write a book.  But the will to do it began a long time before this initial conversation.  I was still a child when I decided that I wanted to be a writer.  I was holding a copy of Gerald’s Game by Stephen King in my hand, marvelling at his black and white picture on the back cover.  I was nine, I think, and I thought he looked like the coolest guy I had ever seen in my life.  When my parents told me he must be crazy because of the things he writes about, I became convinced that my earlier assumption was correct.  He became cooler than cool in my eyes.  I took that book home, read it in a week, and from that point on decided I would one day be as cool as Stephen King.  My secret desire to be a writer was born. 

It was secret because it seemed to me to be a bit, well, fanciful.  A bit of a woo-hoo-head-in-the-clouds type of idea.  When the careers counsellor asked me what I was going to do with my life, saying I’m going to write a book seemed like the wrong answer.   So instead I came out with something sensible.  I am going to be a scientist in healthcare.  Excellent.  One tick for me. 

But the idea of being a writer was still lurking in the background refusing to go away.  I had ideas, thoughts, all jumbled up in a mixture of stories, floating around in my cloud-dwelling head.  I think that many writers are introverts.  I know I certainly can be at times.  So writing is in some way a form of expression.  A lot of internal thought processes and ideas which only come out on paper, like some sort of catharsis.  That’s not to say my books are therapy, but rather I know when I look at them they are absolutely bursting at the seams full of me.

But understanding why I write goes much deeper than me putting my ideas down on paper in an attempt not to go crazy.  In all honesty, I would be unlikely to go nuts if I never wrote another word in my life.  So it still doesn’t really explain why I write.

Words themselves are one of the earliest things that we are taught.  If we hold a new baby, no more than hours old, we talk to it.  We tell it things, things it will learn, things we promise it.  It hears these words without any clue of what they really mean, and yet we say them anyway.  We keep doing it as they age until the point when they say their own first word, and then we celebrate it as a milestone in their development.  Whether it’s mum, dad, dog, or pooh, we celebrate the knowledge that comes with the onset of the spoken word.  Afterwards we teach them to write, and from that point on almost everything they learn is associated to words and writing.  Even people who don’t ‘write’ use words every day.  Some of us even keep diaries, which has to be the most personal and private form of writing that there is.

Before we developed language we communicated through sound, from one Neanderthal caveman to another to link them together in thought or action.  Ancient civilisations used hieroglyphics, images and symbols to communicate and to spread ideals.  The first scriptures on stone, papyrus, and before that cave walls, all linked the writer or artist to another person.  To the reader.  To their civilizations.  To the people in their time and beyond. 

People do not write because of fame or money.  Most who write never find either of those things through their writing.  Writing itself can be lonely and tiring.  Writing can stop you doing other things because slowly it takes over.  Those two hours of free time at the shopping centre sound good, but when you’ve got a couple thousand more words to write you chose to stay home and get it done.  Writing is a way that we communicate to the world, but writing itself is just the medium.  Words are the true magic, and whether it is written, spoken, a poem or a song, we use them every day to link us to our society and those people within it. 

So inside the mind of the writer is simply to be inside the mind of a person who chooses to communicate.  It is no more complicated than any other mind.  People see it as introverted and closed, but truly it is one of the most open minds there is because the writer shares everything of their thoughts through his or her words.  Our world is one huge society, and we are in some way all linked as a community.   We are a world because we communicate and we all choose our medium.  Be it words, art, knowledge, or cinema.  We all deliver our message.  Perhaps this is why we are Googling our way into the minds of sociopaths and killers.  We want to understand them because they are part of our world.  We want to hear their message because they are in some way linked to us.  But then again, this all sounds a bit woo-hoo-head-in-the-clouds to me.  Maybe I am a writer because I’m crazy after all.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Going on tour

About a week ago a very kind reviewer made me an offer.  A ten stop blog tour free of charge.  Well, that kind of offer doesn't come along too often, so of course I said yes.  So I am going on tour!

Here are the details.  Ten different blogs and one huge giveaway (still two to add).  This time there are two paperback copies of Identity X up for grabs and a whole bunch of eBooks.  Here is the schedule.

5th Weblogaboutbooks Biography & Interview and excerpt.
6th The Book Read Cave Biography & Interview and excerpt.
7th Oct Biography & Interview
8th Oct Biography & Interview
9th Oct Biography & Excerpt
10th Oct Exclusive Excerpt
11th Oct Synopsis and interview
12th Oct Biography & Interview and excerpt.
All dates include giveaways so don't miss a stop!
Grab the button, share the free, and share the fun!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Say what?

As a writer, it's not going to surprise you much if I tell you I love to read.  I don't read quickly, but I read constantly.  In bed, on the settee, in the kitchen, even standing in queues, which in Cyprus is like nothing you might have seen before.  There is no line for one, no order, and a whole lot of shouting about not very much.  Alright when you know what's being said, not so easy when you don't.  It resembles what you might imagine an early Athenian democracy to look like, minus the togas.  An amphitheatre of people surrounding the target, be it doorway, cashier, whatever, all pushing and shoving, handing out opinions to the air and perhaps even numbers to each other for who was first.  Of which there might be five contenders.  Anyway, I digress.

One things that is so important to me when I read a book is the dialogue.  It is the difference between me liking and believeing in a character or believing that they are just that.  Just a name on a page which does certain things or acts in certain ways to move a story along.  It doesn't matter what a writer does in the prose, if you screw up the dialogue you might as well stick a nail in your protagonist’s coffin right then and there.  If he or she doesn't speak like a real person, they die on your page.

I read a good novel a few months ago (which shall remain nameless) and the story was pretty good.  However, every few pages somebody would come across a problem and irrespective of what it was, their response was, 'oh no'.  If they ran out of milk it was 'oh no'.  If they lost their phone it was 'oh no'.  They found a dead body, and yep, 'oh no'.  I think most characters might have something a little bit more to say about a corpse tied up in a cupboard.

And then you come across an absolute gem, which is why I am writing this post.  Sometimes you don't realise what bad dialogue is until you see the absolute standout-in-a-crowd dialogue that just blows you away.

I started reading American Psycho yesterday and it is full of dialogue.  I have, perhaps, never read dialogue quite like it.  It's all over the place; I have to re-read sentences to follow where I am properly.  It's random and jerky, and there are interjections from outsiders.  Jokes thrown in which seemingly have nothing to do with just 'moving a plot along' as we are told dialogue must do to fulfil its purpose.  It feels so real that I feel I might be sat in a fifth chair at their dinner table just listening in and checking out the women nearby and then dismissing them for their petty imperfections. 

Real dialogue breathes life into a character, and this has has got me thinking about the dialogue in the manuscript that I am currently editing and wondering how I can improve it.  My only problem now is making it as good.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Geting over the hurdle of chapter one

So, you always wanted to write a novel, and finally you have an idea that you just know will work.  You have sketched a few notes out on paper and maybe brainstormed a few character traits (if you planned a lot).  You are all set.  So out comes the computer and as you type Chapter One you are so full of excitement and enthusiasm you can barely focus to write the first sentence.  You watch the cursor flicking in and out of view each second.  Tick-tock, tick-tock.  Half an hour has passed and all you have written is the first sentence.  Five times.  Because you have also deleted it five times, and now you find yourself sat in front of a blank screen with those initial dreams and endless possibilities never seeming further away.

I heard it said once that everybody has a book in them.  I don’t know who said it first, but I heard it from my friend when I first said I was going to write a novel.  This was a wet New Years Eve in a cold pub garden in England.  I felt very encouraged by her obvious enthusiasm.  If everybody has a book in them, I must be able to write one.  But why if it is that easy isn’t everybody doing it?  Why doesn’t everybody leave work and hunch themselves over a computer at night at the expense of friends and a social life?  Because when you sit down to do it, you soon realise that it’s harder in practice than it looks.

What seems like a great idea at the beginning can soon run into problems, especially if you haven’t planned well.  I know this because about the only thing I manage to plan is sitting at the computer.  I have managed to increase the attention to planning with each book I have written, but it remains anything but impressive, and the material is always subject to change.  Getting from point A (A being the time when you say to your friend in a pub garden that you are going to write a novel) to point B (finished product) can take a long time.  For my first book it took me about eight years.

I procrastinated for at least four years after that initial conversation, save the odd bit of note taking here and there.  In all honesty, the initial idea had at best been lame.  But what never left me was the desire to write.  I always believed that I would do it, but was never really sure how.

So the big question for any of you out there who are thinking that this sounds a lot like you, is how do you actually get started?   The difficult part is that there is no simple answer, although the realisation for me was indeed something simple.  I realised that in order to be a writer, I had to make a very simple change in my life.  I had to actually start writing something (other than ideas on post-it notes!)  It sounds too easy, doesn’t it?  Why hadn’t I realised this before? 

Beginning a new writing project always requires a bit of a hurdle over the starting blocks.  But what happens in time is that as a writer you develop your own methods of managing this leap.  Staring at a blank word document with a total word count of two, knowing that you have to reach somewhere in the region of 80-90,000 for a full length novel and never having done it before is a big undertaking.  Also, with the daily demands of work, children, partners, school fetes and PTA meetings, when exactly are you supposed to fit it all in?  Days might go by and you don’t manage to write anything, and slowly the habit of not writing becomes exactly that.  A habit.

So writing a book takes time and determination.  Nothing you didn’t know there.  What can you do to manage the doubts before you have even started?  I’ll tell you what I did.

1.       I stopped imagining the publishing contract.

It’s so tempting when you sit writing your first few sentences to daydream about what the future might bring and how you might be the next King, Banks, or Meyer.  Focus on the now.  What you are doing right now.  Right now you are writing chapter one, so stop thinking about the celebratory cigars and brandy, at least until you have finished the first draft.  Celebrate small success along the way, rather than waiting for the big one at the end.

2.       I stopped analysing what I was writing.

First drafts are exactly that.  They are not supposed to be the finished product, and neither should they be.  My first drafts don’t even make sense in places.  There are words missing, added, and mistyped.  Write the first draft as quickly as you can, and as Stephen King would suggest, with the door closed.  It’s your first draft, so keep it that way.  Don’t let people influence you yet.  Write what you think, not what your husband or your best friend thinks.

3.       I made a schedule.

It’s great to write every day, and now I just about manage that.  But at the beginning life was very different.  Back then I worked about fifty hours a week, and quite a few extra hours on call too, running in and out of a hospital at all hours of the night.  Writing every day back then was a hopeless dream.  So instead, if I couldn’t write I dedicated a little bit of time each day to thinking about the book.  I thought about the plot, where I was going with a particular character, or new ideas.  Some of these ten minute chunks snatched at lunch or in the car were really helpful, and it kept my mind in touch with the book.  When you do get half an hour to get down  500 words you will find that you feel fresh and in touch with the work, and don’t have to spend 10 minutes catching up.

4.       I gave myself a pat on the back.

I remember feeling very nervous the first time I told anybody I was writing a book.  By then I was probably two thirds of the way through the first draft and thinking that I might actually finish it.  I knew the first draft was crummy and needed work, but I had still written over 50,000 words.  It was a small celebration of what had been achieved so far.   Plus, the response was great, and it was nice to celebrate with somebody and listen to their enthusiasm. 

5.       I sat on the first draft.

Once you finish, crack open the bubbly.  It’s time to celebrate.  You have written the skeleton draft of your book.  Take a rest from it before going back and starting the edit.

The idea of writing a book has never been so attractive to the thousands of people out there who want to do it.  Perhaps my friend was right, and that everybody does have a book in them.  The difference between the doers and the non doers is nothing more exciting than dedication and commitment.  Writing a book is hard, and there are times when you feel like you are churning out rubbish and want to give up.  Something else I heard the other day is that a professional writer is simply an amateur who never gave up.  It’s something to remind yourself of when the sight of a blank page seems like the biggest hurdle to overcome.