BASIC Boy and Falling Girl: free this weekend – with new covers

BB cover Oct 14       FG cover Oct14

Last night I got a call from the New York Times. ‘Christopher!’ barked the stressed journalist. ‘Your books are selling so fast, they’re breaking all records! Seriously, we’re thinking of taking them off the best-seller list, just to give everyone else a chance! For crying out loud, stop writing such excessively successful books!!!’

Partly because the above isn’t true, but mostly because I’m an incredibly kind and good-hearted human being – and also, both are ghost stories and it’s nearly Halloween – the Kindle editions of my two novels BASIC Boy and Falling Girl are free on Amazon this weekend, starting tomorrow (Friday 24th October) up to and including Sunday (26th October). Links to US and UK Amazon are at the bottom of this post.

(If you’re reading this after 26th October, don’t despair because (1) Falling Girl is always free on this website anyway, in PDF form, and (2) both books are very reasonably priced. And also available in slightly less reasonably priced paperback form.)

And … after reading some advice on cover design, I’ve slightly revised the cover of both books. I’ve also been giving some thought to the ‘do-it-yourself versus pay someone else’ conundrum. But that’s the subject of a future post.

Amazon links for BASIC Boy:

US: http://www.amazon.com/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1387582153

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384117495&sr=8-1&keywords=basic+boy

Amazon links for Falling Girl:

US: http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Girl-Ghost-Christopher-Peter-ebook/dp/B0095862M8/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1387582752&sr=1-3&keywords=falling+girl

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Falling-Girl-A-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B0095862M8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384117617&sr=8-1&keywords=falling+girl

Reading: speed or slow?

slowreading1251

Have you heard of the slow reading movement? I hadn’t until I came across this article recently. It was in the Wall Street Journal and you need to subscribe or log in to read the whole thing, but here’s a quote:

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

“I wasn’t reading fiction the way I used to,” said Meg Williams , a 31-year-old marketing manager for an annual arts festival who started the slow reading club. “I was really sad I’d lost the thing I used to really, really enjoy.”

Apparently there are ‘slow reading clubs’ popping up all over the place quite, er, quickly. And there’s something pleasingly counter-cultural about the whole thing. In these days of reduced attention spans, changing reading habits on electronic devices, blizzards of tweets and sound bites, not to mention the ever-increasing time pressure more and more people find themselves under, the idea of immersing yourself in a good book in quiet companionship with like-minded souls is more than a little appealing. Isn’t reading supposed to be enjoyable, after all? Are we sometimes putting too much pressure on ourselves to read too much, too quickly? So that something that’s supposed to reduce our stress levels actually starts to have the opposite effect?

Funnily enough, a few months back I started on a book about speed-reading – which (just to demonstrate how fickle I can be) also struck me as a thoroughly good idea. After all, writing swallows up huge chunks of time, but us writers are also meant to keep reading too – and since writers generally love books that’s no great hardship, except that too takes yet more time. So the promise of doubling or tripling my reading speed, of being able to devour book after book and still have precious writing (and oh yeah, day job, relationships, food, sleep, etc.) time to spare, is an alluring concept.

However, I never finished the speed reading book (I struggled to find the time – yeah, I know: irony overload) and now I seem to have mislaid it. Ho hum.

So should I be reading fast or slow? I guess it depends on what I’m reading. If it’s non-fiction – if it’s for basically cramming facts into my brain as quickly as possible – then a way of doing that more quickly seems to make a ton of sense. But fiction? That’s more for pleasure. And if I’m reading something really good, lovingly crafted, I’d like to linger over it a bit more. Only if I’m reading something I’m not really enjoying – but still want or need to finish for some reason – would I want to speed up too much.

Bottom line, then, is it depends. I guess I don’t want to worry too much about how slow or quick I’m reading. I’m reluctant to put pressure on myself either way. I need to dig up that speed reading book, finish it and see if it equips me with something useful. But I hope it’s something I’ll be able to switch on or off as the occasion demands. I’d really hate it to rob me of the ability to linger over a good book.

Because when I’m reading a good story, I’m going to try not to dash on to the next page or the end of the chapter too fast. Fiction is made to be enjoyed and appreciated. Who knows, I may even join one of those slow reading clubs one day … but I’m in no hurry.

 

Improving my book: manuscript critique vs beta readers

eye-magnifying-glass-book

I wrote last week that I’d finished the second draft of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer, and that my next priority to get some outside input – people who can help me clarify what’s good about it (hopefully something), what could be improved … and what stinks. For me, this step is absolutely critical.

For one thing, I’m reading the book aloud to my two sons. The other thing I’m doing is getting another adult to review the manuscript. I know of two common ways to accomplish this. First, find someone (or more than one person) to be a beta reader. Or, second, to pay for a manuscript critique. I’ve chosen the second option. Why?

Well, there are several reasons:

  1. By choosing an established, reputable literary consultancy (I’m using The Writer’s Workshop) you know you’re getting someone who knows that they’re doing, an experienced editor and/or author who’s been there, done that. WW use a pool of published authors, from which they select the most suitable to review your manuscript.
  2. I’ve used WW before and I’ve always been impressed with the results. You get a pretty detailed report (typically about 8-10 pages) which identifies problem areas, along with suggestions for improvement. There’s always some very perceptive stuff in there. There is usually also some encouraging feedback about those things that do seem to be working.
  3. The report can also give advice on where to go next with the book, post-revisions. My first two books are self-published, and I totally buy in to the ideals of indy publishing. But it’s unavoidably true that most books sell very few copies – and most of the biggest success stories there have tended to be in certain genres. DCFS is a children’s book, and I believe that’s an especially difficult market to succeed in with self-publishing. (If anyone has any views or experience about that, I’d be very interested to hear it.)

I have no doubt whatsoever that Falling Girl and BASIC Boy were much the better for having been critiqued in this way, and for me then implementing the majority of the reports’ recommendations.

Just to clarify one point, however: the critique is not a line-by-line edit, nor a proofread. The WW report is an assessment of the books a whole, including the plot, characterisation, dialogue and general writing quality. If you need a copy-edit or a proofread, that’s a separate thing – and, in my view, a second draft is much too early for that. There’s no point in proofreading something that’s bound to be at least partially, if not extensively re-written.

The most obvious drawback of the critique is the cost, which is dependent on the length of the manuscript. Fortunately DCFS, being a children’s book, is relatively short – the second draft is just under 27,000 words. For that, the WW critique cost just under £300 (i.e. around $500).

For some, of course, spending that might not be an option. You might also take the approach that, if you view self-publishing as a business, how likely are you to earn back the money? Well, if my first two books are anything to go by … probably not.

But then, I don’t view my writing as a business. I’d love it to be, but so far at least I haven’t had the sales to make that a reality. Instead, I see it more as my hobby. Some people have fairly expensive hobbies. They might renovate old cars, play golf or tennis or join a gym; I do less expensive things like running and cycling, and spend the money on improving my writing instead. That way I can justify spending money on things like this.

Of course, I don’t want to waste money, and apart from the critique my costs are minimal. I publish on Amazon, doing layout and design myself. I also do my own proofreading (wisely or not, I’m not completely sure). So manuscript critiques, so far at least, have been my only major expense. I see improving my writing as the area where paying for outside help adds the most value.

Asking for beta readers to review the book would, of course, avoid this expense. But I haven’t gone down that route, at least not this time, for three reasons:

  1. Finding the right beta reader might not be quick or straightforward. Anyone’s opinions are valuable – but some probably more so than others for this purpose. I’d want an experienced editor who knows a lot about about writing for children. In reality, it’s hard to avoid having to pay for that kind of expertise, along with the time and effort involved.
  2. Time. People are busy, writers certainly not excepted. It might take a beta reader some considerable time to get round to doing their review.
  3. If you don’t pay money, there’s bound to be a reciprocal element – i.e. someone reviews your manuscript, and you review theirs. That’s fine, and in many ways I’d like to be able to do that. But at the moment, I’d find it very hard to find the time.

If you can live with and/or mitigate the above drawbacks, then I can see that beta readers would be a good option. Especially if you already have one or two that you know and trust. But for now, for me, for this particular project, the paid critique seemed the better way to go.

Now the question is – will I be brave enough to reveal the feedback (warts and all) on this blog? Of course I will! [crosses fingers …]

 

Draft 2, here we go …

Flying saucer

Last time I wrote about my new project, a children’s book provisionally titled Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. The 27,000ish word first draft was finished a few weeks ago. I churned it out pretty quickly – as I’ve mentioned before I’m a bit of a first draft bodger. I had a rough plan but to be honest a lot of it took shape as the words hit the screen.

After that was finished I deliberately left it a couple of weeks. Then I held my nose and started to review what I’d written. This is a tricky time, because that first draft is – how should I put it politely? – a mixed bag. Or a pile of steaming horse manure, if you’re less generous. Bursting with typos naturally, but there will also be problems with plot and pacing, uneven and underdeveloped characterisation, poor sentence construction, too many adverbs, and more than the odd cliché. (Probably also too many parentheses – I’m a terror for that.)

The purpose of the first draft review is to find all those nasty little (and big) issues, to painstakingly (and painfully) document them. And to resist making any changes at all while I’m doing it. It hurts, let me tell you. But it’s a necessary step before I try to rush in and fix everything.

I keep positive in two ways. First: along with the wrinkles, hopefully I will also see a lot that’s good, or potentially good, in the first draft. Things that will be kept, or can be improved and enhanced, as well as things that need to fundamentally changed or cut out altogether. I should glimpse that good book that’s fighting to get out – and my first draft review will be the first step towards its freedom. Second: having written two books before, I know from experience that this really works, that the book will get better as I review and redraft. Something much better will emerge at the other end. Losing the dross is just part of that process. It can’t be avoided.

If you’re interested, here is my completed first draft review of DCFS. I don’t expect anyone to read all of this – indeed, much of it won’t mean anything if you haven’t read the book yourself. But anyway there are three sections:

  • A chapter-by-chapter plot synopsis
  • A list of characters and their main traits
  • Notes on what I think is good, bad and indifferent, along with ideas for improvement – generally, and chapter by chapter.

What this shows is that there’s a lot of work ahead in the second draft. The good thing is that I think the basic structure and plot is fundamentally OK. That’s a relief, because that’s often the hardest thing to fix without virtually a complete re-write. There’s lots to put right though. And one of my main conclusions is that I think there are too many characters (a common problem in my first drafts as it happens) and I could lose one of them. And swap the genders of two more! Well sometime you need to be radical …

Now I feel ready to dive into the second draft proper. I aim to take about 2-3 weeks for that.

And then? That’s when I feel ready to show it to someone else. Someone who will give that vital, fresh perspective and tell me what’s really wrong with it – everything I’ve missed. All good fun!

Wish me luck …

Are you a first draft bodger?

thumbs up

I am a very happy writer, having a few days ago finished the first draft of my third novel. I will be sharing more about my new project next month. It’s a middle-grade children’s story – a departure for me, since BASIC Boy and Falling Girl are both teen/YA. This means that it’s somewhat shorter than what I’ve written before, the first draft coming in at 27,000 words. And of course there’s still a lot of work ahead. Both BASIC Boy and Falling Girl went to five or more drafts, and I don’t expect this one to be much different.

It also feels especially good because, as I shared not long ago, I’d been finding it quite difficult this year to really get going with anything, let alone finish it. The first draft is always a milestone and I’m relieved to have stumbled past it once more. Maybe I am still a writer after all!

Mind you, I’ve realised that I’m something of a first-draft bodger. In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘bodge’ (it might be peculiarly British, I don’t know), it basically means to do something quickly and without too much care. I don’t want to ‘bodge’ my books – but the way I see it, a first draft is always going to be a highly imperfect work-in-progress which remains in need of a lot of TLC. It’s a start, basically, not anything close to the finish.

So, I try to whack out my first drafts pretty quickly, once I’ve got a good idea of plot, structure and the characters involved. I don’t spend much time going back and fixing things – I’d rather do that in the second draft, when I can view it all as a whole. At that point I’m in a far better position to assess the novel, its structure, strengths and weaknesses etc. That said, if I see any obvious errors or something that clearly isn’t working as I’m writing the first draft, I will change it right away; but I just don’t look too hard for those things.

I imagine some people approach this a little differently, and spend a lot longer crafting their initial draft, so that perhaps less radical work is needed further down the line. Everyone’s different and I’m not saying that’s wrong. If that works for other writers, then great.

There’s another thing I’m quite happy about, which is that recently this blog passed the one hundred followers mark. I’m amazed that that many people deem my random ramblings as worth following, so if you’re one of them then thank you.

Finally – I’m going on holiday tomorrow with my family to France, so taking a rest from WordPress for a couple of weeks, though I may dip in occasionally when I find wifi. Hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer. I think I will – though of course part of my brain is still mulling over the first draft and thinking of possible improvements, even while I’m trying to shove it to the back of my mind, ready to approach it again next month with fresh eyes.

Au revoir!

The book that most influenced me

The Scarecrows

It was the night before the Fund-raising Effort that the devils came. So it seemed to Simon Wood ever after …

Do you have a favourite novel of all time, or one that’s influenced you more than any other? You might think that’s an impossible questions to answer; if you’re anything like me then your response might be something like, ‘heck, where do I start, there’s so many?’

Yet in my case, there is one that stands out above all others. It’s called The Scarecrows by Robert Westall. I’ve posted a full review on Goodreads, which you can read if you’re interested. But here I’ll try to briefly explain why it was such a significant influence for me.

I first read The Scarecrows at the age of thirteen, which happened to be the same age as the main protagonist, Simon Wood. Its original attraction – the reason why I picked it off a bookshelf in the first place – was that it’s a ghost story, and I’ve always liked those. But there turned out to be much more to it than that. In fact it’s roughly one part ghost story, one part psychological thriller, and one part emotional drama.

Central to its power is the main character. Simon is utterly believable as the lonely, angry and confused boy who idolises his late father and sees his relationship with his mother begin to disintegrate after her remarriage to a man he hates. Simon is not always a nice person – in fact he’s sometimes pretty horrible – and so Westall did a brilliant job in making the reader root for such a dark and complex character.

What makes the story so gut-wrenchingly real is that it’s mainly Simon’s own inner demons that are tearing his family apart – and as his misery and isolation grows, so the unquiet ghosts in the ruined water-mill across the fields begin to stir, grow in power and move closer and closer … and yet, cleverly, you’re never completely sure to what extent the ghosts are ‘real’ versus how much Simon is imagining the whole thing. Nor is it at all obvious which is the most terrifying of the two prospects – you end up hoping the ghosts are really there, because the alternative – that Simon’s mind is sliding into madness – seems even worse.

Re-reading the book recently, I was able to appreciate afresh how well it’s written. The quality of Westall’s writing is superb throughout, clearly superior to most other writers (childrens’ and adults’) that I’ve seen since. It hooks you from the intriguing first sentence (at the start of this article) to the rather abrupt, slightly ambiguous ending. There’s the odd flash of humour too, despite the dark themes.

So, in conclusion, how exactly has this book influenced me? Well, aside from becoming a confirmed Westall fan, it’s no coincidence that when I finally got round to writing myself, my first two novels have been YA ghost stories, both with a background of domestic pain and upheaval, the characters contending with family strife as well as troublesome phantoms. Although I read a lot more than paranormal stuff now, and I don’t expect all my future writing to be necessarily quite so haunted (and in fact most of my short stories aren’t), my love of all things-going-bump-in-the-night was confirmed by The Scarecrows.

Falling Girl: A Ghost Story – part 7 of 7

Here it is … the final chapter of my novel Falling Girl: A Ghost Story: Falling Girl – part 7 . (Also includes some background information on castles.)

The previous six instalments can be found on the Falling Girl page.

I’d love to hear what you thought of this book, whether you’ve managed to read all of it or only part. As all writers know, constructive feedback (along with practice, practice, practice) is the best way to improve. So thank you in advance for any feedback you can give.

FG front5

“This castle is haunted. It really is. There are ghosts in the walls and towers, the passages and the dark rooms, the secret places away from the warmth and sunshine, where it’s cold and clammy and … lonely.”

When eleven-year-old Ellie Black runs into Pentrillis Castle, she’s desperate to escape her depressing family life. Her parents have split up, Dad is Mr Angry, and her new step-brother is obnoxious beyond belief.

At first, it’s much better inside the castle. The sun shines (even when it’s still raining outside), there’s fabulous chocolate cake, and she meets a friendly story-teller and two cool new friends. (There’s also a scary bit in the chapel, but she was probably just imagining things, right?)

But the story-teller has a dark and unsettling tale to tell, of tragedy … and something menacing in the shadows.

And there’s some very odd things about those new friends.

And where did that awful scream come from?

But the worst part is when Ellie realises that there’s nowhere to hide from the ghost of Pentrillis Castle …

Falling Girl: A Ghost Story – part 6 of 7

I’m serialising my novel Falling Girl: A Ghost Story on this website. Each part is free to download. These two chapters form the penultimate instalment: Falling Girl – part 6

Next week, part 7, will be the very last chapter.

Previous instalments can be found on the Falling Girl page.

FG front5

“This castle is haunted. It really is. There are ghosts in the walls and towers, the passages and the dark rooms, the secret places away from the warmth and sunshine, where it’s cold and clammy and … lonely.”

When eleven-year-old Ellie Black runs into Pentrillis Castle, she’s desperate to escape her depressing family life. Her parents have split up, Dad is Mr Angry, and her new step-brother is obnoxious beyond belief.

At first, it’s much better inside the castle. The sun shines (even when it’s still raining outside), there’s fabulous chocolate cake, and she meets a friendly story-teller and two cool new friends. (There’s also a scary bit in the chapel, but she was probably just imagining things, right?)

But the story-teller has a dark and unsettling tale to tell, of tragedy … and something menacing in the shadows.

And there’s some very odd things about those new friends.

And where did that awful scream come from?

But the worst part is when Ellie realises that there’s nowhere to hide from the ghost of Pentrillis Castle …

BASIC Boy: A digital ghost story – free sample

BB cover April 14 Here are the first three chapters, free to view or download: BASIC Boy sample. You’ve heard of haunted houses … but what about haunted computers? What do you do when there’s literally a ghost in the machine? When the past collides with the present and something sinister has come along with it …? Cal Stubbs has big problems. It’s not just that he’s struggling to get used to his stepdad Rob, who’s weirdly obsessed with stone-age computers (what the heck’s a ZX Spectrum anyway?), while his real dad’s gone to ground.  It’s not even that his geeky best friend has more luck with girls than he does. No. It’s definitely more the creepy nightmares and the freaky messages coming through on the laptop from some sick psycho troll. Meanwhile, back in 1984, the teenage Rob has a dark secret. He’s done something terrible … and a kid who died but won’t stay quiet is hell-bent on making him pay. And, mad though it sounds, the price might be his future stepson. As Cal gets more disturbing messages and Rob struggles to remember exactly what happened in 1984, they soon realise that a malevolent shadow is breaking through into the present, intent on wreaking havoc. How do you fight a ghost that can program a computer? They’d better figure out how and quickly, before time runs out … Available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions US: http://www.amazon.com/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1387582153 UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384117495&sr=8-1&keywords=basic+boy

BASIC Boy: A Digital Ghost Story

View or download a free sample (first three chapters): BASIC Boy sample

BB blog cover 8oct13

You’ve heard of haunted houses … but what about haunted computers? What do you do when there’s literally a ghost in the machine? When the past collides with the present and something sinister’s come along for the ride?

Cal Stubbs has big problems. It’s not just that he’s struggling to get used to his stepdad Rob, who’s weirdly obsessed with stone-age computers (what the heck’s a ZX Spectrum anyway?), while his real dad’s gone to ground.  It’s not even that his geeky best friend has more luck with girls than he does.

No. It’s definitely more the creepy nightmares and the freaky messages coming through on the laptop from some sick psycho troll.

Meanwhile, back in 1984, the teenage Rob has a dark secret. He’s done something terrible … and a kid who died but won’t stay quiet is hell-bent on making him pay. And, mad though it sounds, the price might be his future stepson.

As Cal gets more disturbing messages and Rob struggles to remember exactly what happened in 1984, they soon realise that a malevolent shadow is breaking through into the present, intent on wreaking havoc. How do you fight a ghost that can program a computer? They’d better figure out how and quickly, before time runs out …

Available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions

US: http://www.amazon.com/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1387582153

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384117495&sr=8-1&keywords=basic+boy