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Saturday, 26 July 2014


Thirty, Fifty thousand, Zero; days, words and excuses respectively and the essence of NaNoWriMo, but what does it mean?

People ask me questions all the time, an intrinsic part of my daily life is answering questions, and some have to be given time to reach an answer. A friend (and a reader of The Grange Novels,) asked me earlier this year, what does NaNoWriMo mean to me?

A simple question and  harder than I thought!

The smashwords interview asks about my choice of eReader. I have a Kobo mini, a slim pocket sized device, inside a sleepcover and the most frequently read book is Chris Baty's "No Plot, No Problem," the guide to surviving NaNoWriMo. I read it at least once a year, especially in the late summer as preparatory reading.

NaNoWriMo means a lot to me, it's an unbridled release of creativity, a raucous adventure of clacking keys, word counts, hit and missed targets for the day and at the end of all the fun; 30 and fifty thousand completed with no excuses. It is about letting go, chucking the rules out of the window and having a ball; why do it if you don't enjoy it?

My writing breakout is encapsulated in NaNo WriMo; that stories can be written the way they are told; one shot, no rehearsal (no opportunity for a rubbish first draft!) With the essence of the idea in your head and letting it pour out. The ludicrous challenge to write a novel sized chunk with a high word count and a short time limit creating a built in deadline!

In less than a week the happy, and probably tired campers from Camp NaNoWriMo will be winding down after their literary excursions and some of them may be ready to start thinking about the November challenge. that's it; the challenge!

The landing gauntlet clutching a pen asks: can I - on top of everything else - face the prospect of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days and make no excuses - Just Do It!

I borrowed the title of my second NaNoWriMo winner from a quote attributed to the British fighter ace, Douglas Bader, as famous for being a double amputee as anything. He is quoted in the film biography "Reach For The Sky" saying "Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools." Portrayed as a man for whom things can be done; earlier in the story he argues that the Regulations may not have said he could fly, they didn't say that he couldn't; He flew!

NaNoWriMo sets the challenge; thirty/fifty thousand, and the zero excuses are down to me. It doesn't matter whether you say it can be done or not. I know it can! Roughly ten per cent of those who sign up reach the target on or before the deadline. It is down to me, am I self-motivated enough to plough furrow after furrow of words across the page or screen until the clock strikes midnight on the 30th?

Entered twice, finished twice (2012, What You Ask For; 2013, The Obedience of Fools) the extra element is can I do it again (2014, and no idea at the moment)? Sticking my neck out - am I going to take up the gauntlet for the third time. Fifty thousand words in thirty days breaks down to an average 1667 words a day. Of course I am.

Been there, done it, got the tee shirt(s);  what matters now is what comes next -another Tee shirt - got to go for it!

Now all I need is a story - no problem!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Interview with an author

Smashwords author interview, an idea from the people at Smashwords to bring the author and the reader together.

The first question came before I started the interview; how to answer?  Do I think about it for hours and come up with something deep and meaningful, or as a live interview, taking each question in turn and answering off the cuff. I stayed with the pre-set questions and answered off the cuff and published. There is an option to write your own questions, to unpublish, edit the answers and republish; effectively giving the chance of re-interviewing the author on  a regular basis. 

A couple of the questions made me think, asking me to reach back into the recesses of my memory for the first story I wrote and the first book that had a major impact; I tweaked the answers, I honestly don't remember the first story I wrote,and so many stories have made an impact it is difficult to choose the one which made the greatest.

Put something in front of me and I will read it, even the cereal packet at breakfast has been seconded as reading material. As a youngster I read very little fiction, apart from the weekly comics and Commando war stories (Kurt Langhers' name comes from a character in the Commando War Stories), Instead I devoured reference books and factual accounts. This may be why I prefer to write stories based in reality rather than science fiction, fantasy, or any other genre.

I was challenged to read a Mills and Boon romance after making disparaging comments and forced to admit I hadn't actually read one (Cautionary note; research first then open mouth). I was pleasantly surprised, a well crafted story in an enjoyable style. Judging by the number of romance novels sold and distributed through ebook channels the readers are not a community any writer would wish to hack off.

I digress, flying off at a tangent again. The upshot of the questions was a look at where The Grange came from, along with the inhabitants and visitors. The original idea was focused on an officially sanctioned security team based in the country house scenario, the shift to a freelance operation came slowly and by degrees.

The idea was kicked around and played with for the best part of twenty years before Iceline was written and back then Steel wasn't Steel and Josie was someone else too. Bill Jardine appeared with the house, and I really must find out how he came to be there. It feels like that sometimes, that the writing process is based on an interview with the characters, and every so often a new one appears, like a guest arriving for the week-end.

The Thirty Nine Steps, Casino Royale. Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, The Eagle Has Landed are all part of a long list of books which have influenced me, and the authors; Ian Fleming, John Buchan, Alistair Maclean, and Jack Higgins. There are others, remembered for fragments rather than the whole story.

John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps is always a favourite, a simple plot of one man against the conspiracy with only his wits and stamina, unsure of who he can trust. I like the idea that he's a relatively ordinary man, given the period he may have had some military experience. Richard Hannay, a mining engineer had recently arrived from South Africa and grown tired of London, he is on the point of going back when his adventures begin. 

Jack Higgins is different, "The Eagle Has Landed" was his breakout. He was advised to allow his characters to tell the story, not force them to fit the plot.  "The Eagle Has Landed" was a massive success.

That idea: of letting the characters tell the story struck a chord with me. The first Grange Novel was the culmination of a long journey and arrived at a distinct way point (Twenty Five years service in post), and through a lot of forced planning and preparation, false starts and frustration. The more detailed the planning and preparation the greater the frustration. I was itching to get on with telling the story!

In NaNOWriMo terms I write by the seat of my pants, start at the beginning, usually with an end in sight and let the characters show me the way. Bare notes and jottings are the sum of my preparation, years of fighting the frustration ended in the local bookstore chatting about an interview with Philip Pullman. Who apparently admitted that he rarely planned his novels, and the one occasion he did the planning found he couldn't write the story because he had already done so. 

Pieces fell into place with a battered laptop and printer and the determination, or desperation that it was now or never happen kick started a four month dash through a hundred thousand words and the first draft was finished by the second week in December 2002.

I struggled for years, frustrated by the detailed planning everyone said was involved and  fighting the urge to throw it all away and sit down and write. I finally sat down, told the story and bounded through Iceline, and then I discovered NanoWriMo.

I'll talk about that another day...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

How do you read it?

What is your eReader of choice? One of the pre-selected questions in the Smashwords author interview. The simple answer is a Kobo mini; pocket sized - well, at least jacket pocket sized.

The not so simple answer depends on what I am doing and the device I am working with. If the cost of purchasing an eReader makes you hesitate before taking the plunge, look at what you  have in the electronic cupboard at home and see what will fit. The majority of the ereader software to  can be downloaded on to a variety of machines and will run with operating system and is available free.

I often  work on a 7 inch Acer Iconia tablet loaded the with software for Kobo, Kindle, Nook, Aldiko, 'txtr, FBReader and Diesel eReaders (the Diesel eBookstore and Sony readerstore closed March 2014) Most of them require an acccount; usually a simple process of creating an account name, adding an email and providing a password. With the exception of the Kindle, all are linked to sites where my books are available. As Iceline is permanently free they all have copy downloaded from Smashwords. 

Why install them all;  to find out what my book looks like and how it works with the different formats provided by Smashwords' Meatgrinder conversion process and  to discover how the book will look to you, the reader. I am converted to the electronic format. Why the variability of the font, changeable background colour and all the other options that are available makes the reading experience easier.

It's obvious from my profile photo that I wear glasses; my eyesight has never been brilliant and my optician insists that the small print is the same size as it always was!

That may be true, but my reality is difficulty reading the small print. Peering over the top of your glasses at something close to the end of your nose looks and feels wrong and this is where the eReader comes into it's own. The choice of font size, background colour, day or night setting all swing into gear and ease the process.

Print too small, enlarge it, change the colour and the contrast, and  change the settings from Day to Night to read in bed with the lights out. The illuminated screen of the eReader does change one of the great delights of childhood, sneaking a torch upstairs and hiding it under the pillow to wait until everyone is asleep and then dive into whatever volume is tucked away waiting. Keep reading until the batteries begin to fade and even shaking the torch won't make the bulb glow brighter.

It may have changed a childhood adventure; it has transformed my reading. The flexibility of the electronic format makes it a boon for anyone with less than perfect vision.

You can tailor the settings to suit your own comfort, bookmark page you are reading, suggest new titles to read and with the links to the right websites, connect you with titles that have been out of print for years.

The Kobo mini eReader is a no frills device designed for reading in daylight or under artificial light; the Kobo software download on a tablet or smartphone has all the bells and whistles you might want.

Take the plunge; find one that works for you on your device and enjoy the experience.
Have fun and find some great writing from talented writers!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Myths and Legends.

How much of what we know, or think we know about writing is down to a strange communal memory. Somewhere way back in the mists of time, or just a couple of years ago it was said that such and such was true, maybe.

The strongest myth is that self-published books are by default of inferior quality to traditionally published. That may not be a given truth anymore, Yvonne Hertzberger made a comment to a blog post on Indies Unlimited that the standards of traditional publishers are falling, and now expect authors to arrange their own editing and proofing. Leading to a decline in standards and the likelihood of sub-par volumes hitting the bookstore shelves.

There are three particular strands that intrigue me; the first draft is always rubbish; the first book is always bad and that the longer you spend on a book the better it is.

Taking the last first; it is true that Iceline went to publish ten years after I sat down to write, so I could say that I spent ten years working on it. Sorry, honesty outbreak coming up; nothing like that;  a year, maybe a year and a half actually working on the manuscript, editing and proof reading, then it sat on file for a couple of years before I had another look at it.

Working in a literary environment it is easy to take things literally, we forget that we also spend our time making it up, fiction is not lying it's more about being  creative with the truth.

By all means spend the time polishing but bringing out the best needs one crucial piece of knowledge; knowing when to stop. It is as easy to under polish as it is to over polish. Taking  a moment to stand back, or put the manuscript back in the file may be the moment that reveals the polish is at its best, the lustre at its most luminous.

The first draft is always rubbish, sorry, that's rubbish. We all have a natural talent for storytelling, it is a basic human trait, the variation comes with the degree and the ability to entertain that comes with it. Think about your favourite subject, how, long can you talk about it for? Five, ten, fifteen minutes, half an hour or can you rabbit for hours; long beyond the point where you're listener has crawled into a room somewhere in the back of the mind until it blows over.

That story is always a good one, thinking as you go and supplying the details as the story unfolds: now apply that to your first draft. The beauty of NaNoWriMo for me is the release of the mental brakes and the constant looming of the deadline versus the word count forces me to think on my feet and allow the story to develop a natural flow, often surprising myself in the process.

Writers talk about the characters taking over, of pushing the story in a way not envisaged at the planning stage. Who are they, where do they come from, but how often do we ask where are they going. Once they are released into our conscious world, where might they go from here?

With an inherent ability for crafting a fascinating tale on the go, why should we ever accept that our first draft is rubbish. There is a good solid argument for making the first draft the best you can; it reduces the amount of subsequent  work required to achieve the desired level of polish.

The first book is always a bad one, OK, if we accept that the first draft is bad (No!) then the first draft of the first book must need work far beyond our capabilities to make the grade, whatever that or the grade setter might be! Sorry guys, I don't buy it!

Are any of these myths true? Do they hold a truth within them, or are they simply retold stories about how the odds are stacked against the independent and self published. Fairy tales to frighten the children and make them behave, to follow tradition blindly or the bogeyman will get you!

So what are your myths; the odd stories that tap into your psyche when you switch on and attack the keyboard?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The World Cup is well on its and Wimbledon is close to finding this  year's champion and to prove that great things come in threes.  Smashword summer/ winter promotion has just kicked off. From now until the end of July Control Escape is half price with the code SSW50.

Check out the other titles on offer this month at www.smashwords.com