Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Removing The Blockage

I have recently started another blog, "New To London", because...well, I'm new to London. Yesterday, I made a post about the Tube, because one of my friends posted about an amazing blog on his facebook page. 

Today, that same friend — a very good guy from my now distant comedy days — posted on facebook again about his experiencing writer's block for a long time. He wrote that he was "brimming with ideas but just can't get motivated", and invited contributions of advice from "friends who have written books". 

Normally, I shy away from giving advice, never feeling qualified to dispense it. Previous attempts to give advice have always caused me great embarrassment (who the hell am I to suggest to someone what they should do?) and fear (what if someone follows my advice and something bad happens?). However, I have written a book and he did ask. So what follows is what I told him, edited for flow and clarity.
Try to get rid of the fear of seeing something on the page that you think is terrible. That was the biggest thing stopping me. I expected my first draft to look like polished prose. It won't, and nor should it - that's what subsequent revisions are for. How you do that is something that I can't tell you, because it will be different for everyone. For me, I just kept reminding myself that I alone would suffer the embarrassment of seeing my own half-formed ideas, clunky and stilted dialogue, and pedestrian descriptions.

The second biggest obstacle for me was hitting a wall in the development of the plot as I wrote. That was why ten novels since the age of 22 petered out after between 15,000 and 30,000 words and went to the recycle bin. I decided to insert "DEVELOP FURTHER" whenever this happened, and just move on. It can be rectified later.

The third main obstacle, for me, was the plot itself. I'd always tried writing and seeing where it took me, because I'd heard a lot about plot-driven pieces being considered boring and stilted, and that was the last thing I wanted to be. But then I learned that, because I'm a structure fanatic, I should work within my limitations. A structure doesn't need to be slavishly followed; all it is is a framework. It's like having a chord sequence upon which to improvise, to use an analogy from jazz.

Try to get into the habit of writing something - anything - every day, but don't beat yourself up if you don't. Simply take each new day as it comes.

I was very lucky when writing my novel. Due to illness (nothing serious), I was in the position of having the luxury of a couple of months free to write, and writing my novel was therapeutic. Writing from the heart was about all I was capable of doing, during this period.

I was also lucky because my wife was, and is, incredibly supportive of my writing - she is my single biggest source of encouragement.

So there it is: my advice on fighting writer's block, with a bit of extra stuff about adequate time and true love. I used to have writer's block myself; in fact, you might say I was a chronic sufferer. I remember searching for remedies, several years ago. Some people suggested writing free flowing "morning pages" every day (in fact, Julia Cameron wrote a book about creativity, in which this was recommended), whereas others' advice was: read. I always find the latter bit of advice unnecessary, since writers are invariably readers (in my experience). I would never suggest to someone that they read, because it seems a bit patronizing. I know Stephen King advised reading in his book, "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft", but somehow, I think people would be more willing to take such advice from him than they would from me. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

One Month In

Well, what a month it has been. 

Steps In The Shadows has sold a few copies (is it correct to describe electronic downloads as copies, I wonder?) and has gained a couple more reviews. The first of these is below:

I downloaded this and then read it in a couple of days .... Not because it is short or has no depth, but because I simply couldn't put it down!

The characters are captivating the story thrilling. I usually read Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, this is right up there with them, I can't praise it enough.

I really hope there are more books to come in this series.

Thank you, Cappib, for your kind words. It's nice to be mentioned favourably along with Cornwell and Reichs! 

The second review is from the amazon.com site (primarily US):

A page turner, you won't want to put down until the mystery is solved. A detective crew for the modern era - thoughtful, brainy, and honorable, rather than brash and macho. Looking forward to a follow up by this new author.
Thank you, Joyce A. Weinstein , for this - and you won't be disappointed, because Detective Inspector Molyneux will be back with his team in the second instalment of the Northern Quartet in April 2013. I started writing this book last week and the first draft already has about five thousand words. Expect some character development and more strands to emerge - it will be a bit more complex, this one. 

Apologies to any regular readers for the lack of updates. I recently moved house (a complete relocation, in fact) and it's been difficult to do little else but unpack. The blog will be updated more regularly from now on, and I have another blog idea which I hope to implement in the next week or so. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

My Book Is Out!

Shortly after midnight, on the early hours of Wednesday 12th September, I uploaded Steps In The Shadows to Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon. I have now sold some copies of it, and I feel pleased to call myself an author -- a published (albeit self-published, something for which I make no apology) one, at that.

Now, my mind turns to marketing. As an indie author (indie sounds so much better than self-published, doesn't it?), it falls to me to promote and publicize my work. That's a challenge I relish, and I want to learn as much as possible about it.

I think I'm already learning. I've tweeted and facebooked extensively. I've prepared a press release and sent it to the Free Press Release Service. Someone invited me to the facebook group for Stoosh PR, which will enable me to help others promote their work (not just writers, either -- musicians, artists, actors, etc.!). I've let my friends and family know about it, and they've been very happy to promote it. I've even posted about it on an internet forum or two, and I have a couple of blog interviews coming up (and I'll ask for more of these, as well as guest blog posting opportunities). Finally, for now, I sent the press release to several publications, along with an author photo and book cover. No one has replied to me from  any of these publications, but now the book's actually out, I'll try again by emailing them with the link to the book, which has the "look inside" feature so they can check out the first few chapters, and asking them to reply if interested in reviewing it and/or interviewing me (in reply to which I'll send them a free copy).

The only concern I have is that a review was posted very early on: a five-star review! Why the concern? you might ask. Well, given the recent sockpuppeting scandal (which actually seemed to be largely a problem among well established, high selling, traditionally published authors rather than the indie community) and the talk of reviewers being paid to write reviews, I think it was inevitable that I would feel a hint of concern. The writer of the review is none other than my dad, and he did this completely unprompted. He didn't tell me about it, but instead texted my wife to tell her that he had posted it. He has read the book - in fact, he was the first proofreader! - and he genuinely enjoyed it. He's proud of his son and wanted to post it. Yet I still agonized over whether I should ask him to remove it.

It would be nice to get a few reviews in addition to this, though -- so if you want to read a new crime fiction book set in Manchester, click here!

Monday, 3 September 2012

One Down, Several More To Go: Future Plans

With my debut novel still in the hands of my proofreading and fact-checking team (comprising family and friends, all very kind and with a laser eye for detail -- if there's a missing comma, they'll notice it), I have had some time to think about other things. This latency period will, I hope, enable me to look again at the final, checked and edited copy before uploading it to KDP, and see it through the reader's eyes rather than my own. I certainly experienced some degree of this beneficial detachment last night, when my wife was reading it on her laptop. Looking over from the book I was finishing (Peter Robinson's excellent Past Reason Hated), I read a few pages and, after a couple of paragraphs, forgot for a moment that I was reading something I had written myself.

Even though I've only just finished my first novel, I've made a start on my second, bashing out five thousand words over the weekend. This is not a detective novel. This story, a dark comedy, is about a course of action taken by a normal, everyday man during the Jubilee Weekend, and I plan to release it before the end of the year. 

After that, there will be a return to the crime genre with my third book, a second detective novel featuring the characters from Steps In The Shadows. When I started writing Steps, I set out to write a detective novel. Just one book, because I had always wanted to write a detective story. But as I wrote, my mind started wandering. I would create a character and think, what if they did X, Y or Z? I would refer to a particular incident and start to wonder, what were the antecedents to that? Before long, my simple, uncluttered story was at the centre of something greater, and I started to sketch out some possibilities. By the time I had finished, I had enough material to create an overarching theme and some more plots to give my characters a lot of work to do. 

There will be four books in total to deal with the overarching theme, and Detective Inspector Molyneux is the central character throughout. The stories are set in Manchester and focus on events within the Northern Quarter of the city, hence the title I have decided to give the series: The Northern Quartet. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


It's shortly after midnight. Gary Burton's warm vibraphone and Pat Metheny's lush guitar, playing "Hullo, Bolinas", are streaming through the laptop's tinny, built-in speakers. I've just finished off the remains of a bottle of Shiraz and emailed myself the latest saved copy of my second draft of Steps In The Shadows, which has -- and I'm determined this will be the case -- just one more day to go.  One more day before it's finished and I can pass it to four people to proofread and (in the case of one) check for procedural errors.

Whilst going through, editing the odd sentence here and writing the odd chapter there, I have been thinking about what influenced me to write a detective novel. Rather surprisingly, it's not other detective fiction, although I have read some Chandler and Hammett, Pelecanos and Ellroy, and Ian Rankin. In the crime fiction realm, David Peace was the writer who made me think, I wish I'd written that. His crime fiction is rooted in true crime and, from the first few words of Nineteen Seventy Four, I was riveted. I have read the Red Riding Quartet so many times, I've lost count. What it it about Peace's fiction -- dealing with the Yorkshire Ripper, the Stefan Kiszko case, and the Stalker Affair -- that had such an impact? 

Peace deals with cases that resonate with me. I am also an avid reader of true crime -- Gordon Burn and Joseph Wambaugh are two of my favourite writers -- and it is Peace's treatment of his subject matter that excites and inspires me. 

I was born shortly before the Yorkshire Ripper was caught and, although I'm not from Yorkshire myself, both my parents are -- in fact, they're from the city where Peter Sutcliffe lived when he was arrested -- and when I was a kid during the 1980s, the Yorkshire Ripper was often mentioned in passing. (Interestingly, Peace's work is, for me, even closer to home than that: his first post-Red Riding work, GB84, deals with the Miners' Strike; I am from a former mining town and I am just old enough to remember clearly what was happening at the time.) 

When I was at university, I read a lot of material on the Stalker Affair and, shortly after that, I picked up Peace's Nineteen Eighty, which seamlessly fused the Ripper investigation with elements of the former Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable's aborted investigation into several killings in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

David Peace is probably my biggest influence as a writer, but I don't write in his style. Lately, I've been reading a lot of Peter Robinson, after a brief phase of Henning Mankell with Ian Rankin getting a look-in; this was followed by Michael Frayn (not detective fiction at all!). In addition to the writers mentioned above, if I look back several years, I've read several Ann Rule books, including her famous The Stranger Beside Me. I've also read a detailed book about the investigation into the Fred and Rosemary West case, by the Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Superintendent John Bennett. And I don't think any true crime reader's bookshelf would be complete without a copy of Bent Coppers, by Graeme McLagan -- I've read it four times. 

My book is a work of fiction but I think I'm perhaps a frustrated true crime writer. I've been influenced by all the writers above, and more. The book is set in Manchester -- it is in and of Manchester, and couldn't be anywhere else. When I'm writing, I walk through the scenes in my mind -- it's like watching a movie being filmed on the city streets, co-directed by Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese. 

So there you have it: a range of influences, filtered through my own experience and converted by my mind into something coherent (I hope) and, if not already formed in my own "voice", at least starting the process by which I find my own voice. 

STEPS IN THE SHADOWS is out on Amazon Kindle in September 

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Few Changes...And The Second Draft

After a long absence, I think it's a good time to post again. I've undergone and undertaken so many changes during the past couple of months that I simply haven't had the time to blog.

First of all, I've changed the name of the blog from "Titmouse!" to my own name. I decided on this course of action because, as much as I love Larry David and the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm from which the title came, I am a writer in my own right and I need to start promoting myself.

The reason I'm promoting myself and becoming "brand aware", or whatever term is in use, is that I have now passed the seventy-thousand mark. That is now the word count of my novel. It is on its second draft.

Soon, I shall publish the novel through KDP on Amazon. I'm determined to do this in early September, and now I've posted to that effect, I've damn well got to get it done. It's a detective novel set in present-day Manchester. Now to finish it...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Published Article

I logged back into Titmouse! tonight to find that I had been away for more than two months. I felt a slight sadness at not having kept up with the blog, but my absence was for several good reasons.

I'm back, though, with great determination to write in earnest. Back to editing those blogs. Back to the detective novel (which, by the way, now stands at thirty-two thousand words). Back to jotting down every idea I have, in case it proves useful (in addition to enough ideas for a series of detective novels, I have a plot outlined for a separate, non-detective story that I intend to write as soon as the first detective novel is finished). Back to scouring the newspapers for gruesome stories. 

Some great news today, though: I have my first credit in an online newspaper article for a review that I wrote. Take a look at it here. I feel more comfortable calling myself a writer now.