Archive | October 2012

Bah Humbug!

Is it just me? I’ve been browsing the latest posts with the writing tag and it seems like half are to do with this NaNoNuNah thing.

I think I understand the concept but it leaves me cold.

Maybe I’m just fundamentally too lazy to sign up to the concept of writing 1,637.56 words every day for a month.

But it also smacks of some kind of masochistic glorified school project. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the spontaneity?

I write because I want to write. I also write when I have something to write. Some days I can happily write 5,000 words – and know that most of it is good. Other times I’ll struggle to write anything.

Writing is like any other form of exercise, mental or physical: you need to practice to get better. But NaNoWriMo just seems too artificial.

Strange Bedfellows

My first career was as a newspaper journalist. It’s a job that takes you into many different worlds – some that you’re happy to enter, some that leave you totally cold/bemused/horrified.

Who are you calling strange?

All journalists in the UK are expected to know and understand the workings of local and national government, the courts, the education system, the health system etc, etc. Sometimes, though, the knowledge required for a particular story can be a bit more specialist.

Working on a paper up in the north of England, I once had to stand in for the farming editor and cover a local sheep show. It was… different. I didn’t know that much about sheep beforehand and funnily enough the experience didn’t tempt me into becoming a specialist.

Another time, I was covering the ongoing trial of a man accused of sending a fishing boat to sea in such a terrible state that he was blamed for the subsequent deaths of all those involved. As part of the coverage I had to write an in-depth report that explained aspects of Britain’s trawler industry.

I also spent some time as crime reporter for a daily paper. That certainly exposes you to the darker side of life – and makes me very glad to live in a village in a quiet corner of southern England.

The range of topics you get involved in is one of the things that makes journalism an attractive career. (Believe me, it’s not the pay, the hours or the respect!)

As an author (a job that’s a bit more socially acceptable but otherwise generally similar conditions), I’ve found myself taking all kinds of tangents. My writing has taken me through the deserts of North Africa (Pagan’s Sphinx), kayaking (Findo Gask) and into the life of a young journalist (Thin Ice).

Those are all subjects I can write about from personal experience. Other times though, considerable research is involved. One group of character in The Vault have… well, let’s say ‘dodgy’ backgrounds.

Okay, they’re a group of mercenaries who are ex-Soviet military. Which is where the research started to get interesting. I needed to know various things about members of the Russian Special Force: tattoos, location of their bases and the weapons they might use.

The details mentioned in The Vault are things that most readers will probably skim over without blinking. But there’s always the chance that a reader might know the subject better than me. Which is why the facts need to be, at the very least, plausible for these characters.

Hopefully I’ve got it right. No-one’s picked me up on any mistakes yet. But it was a piece of research that took me into a new world yet again. Spetsnaz killers make strange bedfellows but that’s one of the intriguing things about being a writer; you never know where it might take you – or in whose company.

Too Many Projects

I need another 12 hours in the day. Alternatively I’d settle for an unexpected inheritance or a win on the lottery.

There are just too many things to do in life. I simply don’t have time to go out and work for a living. Take today for example: I need to work on my new book, play my saxophone, put up a curtain pole in the lounge, sort out some insurance, get dinner ready, register with the tax office…

Now that’s what I call a bicycle.

Instead, here I am adding another page of photographs to my blog and writing a post to tell you about it.

You see, I’m very lucky. My life has had dull moments but my wife and I have also managed to get out there and have a few adventures. One of which involved a 10,000-mile cycle ride!

Which brings me back to my starting point. That ride took up a year of our lives (not including the planning) and involved all kinds of memorable experiences. Dramatic ones like fires, floods, earthquakes. It also reaffirmed my belief in the fundamental decency of the great majority of people.

We were strangers in various strange lands but were the recipients of all manner of spontaneous acts of generosity and kindness along the way (and that’s apart from all the money we raised for the charity ShelterBox.)

Now, I really, really want to sit down and write a proper account of that incredible journey. But that’s yet another project. I’ve also got the new novel to write, I need to work on promoting the launch of Pagan’s Sphinx (coming out in December) and keep plugging my other books.

How and when do I fit in another project? There’s definitely no time for a 9-5 job. Maybe I’ll have to go and rob a bank. Or pray for a fairy godmother. Or… Any ideas?

White Rabbits & Haunted Postboxes

It’s summer: 1998. White wings soar as a seabird climbs into a blue sky. Sunlight glints off rooftops still wet from the most recent shower. Down in the harbour a loose sail flaps and cracks in the wind.

The gull turns, a jarring territorial shriek coming from its beak. It drops towards the houses, swooping low. Then up again, heading for a perch on the crenellated façade of the big house that looms over King’s Port.

Splat!

A beige explosion obliterates a large portion of the view from the first floor of Tower House.

“Hawkins. Clean that window.”

“Right away, sir.” Scurrying towards the window, Jed Hawkins pulls a cloth from his pocket and starts wiping at the glass.

“Not this side, you fool. Clean the outside.”

“But…”

“Just wipe that muck off.”

“But…”

“Just do it, man.”

“Right you are, sir.”

Fumbling awkwardly, Jed opens the low door that’s set into the wall next to the window. He looks timidly through. The narrow balcony is barely two foot wide: the waist-high railings almost eaten away by decades of rust.

“Sir?”

“Close the door after you, Hawkins. You’re letting in a cold breeze.”

“Right, sir. Yes, sir.”

As Jed reluctantly exits, Clarence Wherry turns away. He dismisses his unfortunate assistant from his mind. Instead he directs his attention to the matter at hand. His agitation shows in a small tic in the corner of his left eye. The problem is what’s in the accounts. Although the details are as muddled and unhelpful as he can make them he can’t fake them completely. Certain information still has to be there. Including a profit and loss summary for the whole company.

Clarence knows the accounts are accurate; he prepared them. Which is why he’s worried. It’s not the future of the company that really concerns him. More disturbing is the fact his own position could be in jeopardy. Unless help arrives, it’s getting hard to see how he can prevent the whole house of cards from tumbling around his ears…

To read the rest of the story, click here.

I spend a lot of time blogging about writing. This time I thought I’d just share a new story.

This is the first chapter of my latest project – provisionally called King’s Port Rock. Enjoy and have a good weekend – it’s been a long week and I’m off to bed!

Breaking Through Writer’s Block

Writer’s block can be a terrible thing. Suddenly all your inspiration leaves you, the words won’t flow and the ideas just don’t work.

It’s even more annoying when you’re part way through a novel. The concept seemed fine, the plot was coming together and then… nada.

I had that experience with The Vault when about half way through the first draft. Luckily I found a solution…

But to know what it was you’re going to have to read my guest post on Dave and Donna Brown’s blog.

(Sorry, I know that was a bit of a mean trick to hook your interest and then send you off to another link but hopefully the journey will be worth it!)

Dave Brown’s also posted his own review of The Vault.

Three Years, Three Views

Today: some more pictures.

October 2010: Gateway near Angel Fire, New Mexico, USA.

October 2011: Carolyn on beach near Ribamar, Portugal.

October 2012: Boats moored off Hurst Spit, Hampshire, England.

Three years, three very different places. Life is amazing.

For now just enjoy the pictures. I will explain their relevance in a later post.

Final 24 Hours

Just a quick reminder: today is the last day for grabbing a free copy of The Tale Of Findo Gask from Amazon.

Findo is my story of a young boy who turns to theft after being born into obscurity and poverty in a city in northern England.

It’s a story full of escapades: from saving drowning dogs to an armed raid on a security firm depot and stealing the diamonds from an opera singer’s head.

But it’s also got some moral questions at the heart of it: why people obey the law and whether we should expect people to play by our rules when they don’t have a stake in society.

The Tale Of Findo Gask was the national winner in a UK competition for new writers in 2005 and has got some very positive reviews (4.3 average on Amazon.com and 4.7 on Amazon.co.uk).

For your copy, just click on the link:

Findo on Amazon.com

Findo on Amazon.co.uk

Read, enjoy and tell your friends! (Oh, and if you like it, please post a review – thanks.)

Thieves Are Fun!

I’ve been blogging away from home again – this time about the sheer pleasure involved in being a writer.

Not only can we address moral conundrums but we also get to do all sorts of things – through our characters – that we wouldn’t normally do (or admit to at any rate).

To see what I’m on about, click here to hop across and read my guest post on the blog by fellow author Samantha Holt.

Samantha is a medieval romance writer and author of the award-winning The Crimson Castle.

Wake Up To My Genius!

I’m cooking up a recipe for success… well, that’s the plan.

All writers would like to think it’s the quality of their creative output that counts. End of story.

In which case, how come so many of us have unread masterpieces hiding away in desk drawers or on computer hard drives?

Sadly – just in case there’s anyone who hasn’t worked it out yet – that’s not true. Your incredible, inspirational, potentially life-changing words of wisdom are only a small (but important) ingredient.

There’s also that dreaded thing called ‘marketing’. (Yeuch!)

When I started this blog, it was primarily to provide a platform (little buzz word there) for my books. But it’s developed into a bit more. My thoughts on writing, creativity and, occasionally, life in general. Blogging has also opened up opportunities to chat with people all over the world – I was learning about Bangalore the other day.

But I digress. One of the other things I want to do is to share what I’ve learnt about indie publishing and how to get my books noticed in that big, bad, largely unknown world out there.

Yesterday, I was blogging (kind of) about why giving away your books is good for real sales. And, yes, one of my books is now on a free promotion.

This is the fourth promotion for The Tale Of Findo Gask since it was published on Kindle last December. Previously, though, I haven’t done anything to promote the giveaways other than mention it on this blog – which I’ve only really started to give regular time to in the past three months.

For those interested in figures, I had around 440, 630 and 280 downloads (from all Amazon sites) during the previous promotions.

Now, there are some sites – like the Kindle UK Forum – that automatically list free books. But there are many others that you have to approach, register with, email etc to let them know when you’re books going to be available.

And this time round I’ve done quite a lot of advance work to make sure my book is listed in as many places as possible – and I’m really interested to see what impact my efforts will have.

Findo went free from today and as of 3pm this afternoon (UK time), there had been 69 downloadsfrom Amazon.co.uk and 26 from Amazon.com. (I’m assuming – and hoping – the lower figure from the US site is because you folks on the other side of the pond are only just waking up.)

Anyway. Once the promotion is over, I’ll let you all know the end result and share with you which sites I’ve used to promote Findo – please do point out any I’ve missed!

In the meantime… come on America! Wake up and download my masterpiece!

PS. None of the downloads were by me. Honest.

Is This Cheating?

I think I’ve come up with a new way to ‘massage’ Amazon’s sales figures. My question now – both to myself and all you other indie authors and book lovers out there – is whether it’s ethical.

I read recently that once a book sells 1,000 copies on Amazon the company’s computers will automatically start to promote the book online on the basis it’s got demonstrable sales potential.

Swans: nothing to do with the subject of this post other than as a way of attracting your attention.

I also know that sales of a book can rise noticeably following a giveaway. Back in the summer my book Thin Ice was free for five days. There was a sudden spike in downloads from Amazon’s UK site and my novel suddenly shot up to about No. 5 in the Top 100 Free Books.

Better still, having given away thousands of free copies I found actual sales of all my books went up in the six weeks or so following. (Sadly Amazon UK’s figures have no impact on Amazon.com rankings so I made little impact on that market.)

Making a very rough calculation, I reckon I sold a book for every 23.2 that I gave away. And working on the theory that there are many millions of book readers out there, I’m quite happy with that. (Put it like this, if I gave away 10 million books the subsequent sales would probably mean I wouldn’t have to work for the next decade or two.)

So. More free downloads = higher rankings = increased sales. (And cracking that 1,000 books barrier will get Amazon’s computers on my side.)

From tomorrow, The Tale Of Findo Gask – the book that won a UK contest back in 2005 and got me my one and only publishing contract – will be free for five days.

If I delete the copy already in my Kindle library and then download a new one that counts as a ‘sale’. If I repeat the process every two minutes and do it for five hours each day, I could register 450 downloads. If I got 100 friends to help me (or someone with a cunning computer programme) I could start to multiply that figure dramatically.

It would be a lot of work but – potentially – I could also make several thousand in subsequent sales AND crack that 1,000 sales target. But all those free downloads wouldn’t be genuine ‘sales’.

It seems like a neat ruse but it also smacks of the kind of tactics of authors who buy fake reviews. What do you think?