Fathers’ Day quotes

Fatherhood

In celebration of Fathers’ Day, here is a link to some inspirational quotes. Well, some are inspirational and others are just funny. As the father of a thirteen-year-old daughter, I was especially amused by Mark Twain’s wise words (#3).

Fatherhood can be so underrated, and it’s true that some men fail to take this awesome responsibility as seriously as they should. But it’s always meant a great deal to me, as a dad myself. I love being a writer, but being the best possible parent is much more important.

This has been reflected in some of my writing, with fatherhood an important theme in my first two books, Falling Girl and BASIC Boy. Both stories featured the character Robert Black, a man who often struggled to be a good parent but came through in the end despite his imperfections. I think there’s quite a lot of Robert Black in me.

Annoying! – or, Does it ever end?

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So I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’m sitting with the paperback of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer in my hands, and I’m reading it to my six-year-old son (who’s already suffered an earlier draft so knows the story, but wants to hear it again which is nice).

The problem is, I have mixed feelings when reading the ‘final’ version of any of my work. I’ve come across too many problems, mistakes or typos in the past, blatant errors that I’ve somehow seen straight through in the previous gazillion times I’ve painstakingly gone through the flipping thing.

Even if I don’t see actual mistakes, I feel my fingers twitching when I read a particular word, phrase or sentence and think, ‘hmm, maybe that would read slightly better if …’. Once you’re conditioned to constantly edit your work, it’s hard to stop.

But anyway, today’s reading was going pretty well. No typos at least. And then on page 18 I come across the following sentence:

He decided not to mention the tree-talking Captain Frost to Mum – she had enough to worry about.

Nothing much wrong with that, right? Wrong. Danny first meets Captain Frost a few pages earlier. The problem is that he doesn’t know her name yet. He doesn’t actually learn she’s called Captain Frost until a few pages later.

And I know how this error happened: in an earlier draft, the first encounter between Danny and the Captain was somewhat longer and they learnt each others’ names. For various reasons, that scene was re-written and their conversation became a lot shorter. But I missed this particular reference to the Captain’s name between that scene and the next time the two characters meet.

So I guess you’d call it an error of perspective or context, or something like that. Anyway, it’s a mistake. Perhaps a fairly subtle one – and I take some comfort from the fact that none of the other people who’ve reviewed the book so far have pointed it out. But now I’ve noticed it I’ve just got to fix it.

Of course I can correct and upload the Kindle version pretty quickly and easily. As for the paperback – well there are already a few copies printed that have the mistake in perpetuity. There’s nothing I can do about that. (Maybe they’ll be valuable one day when I’m famous, right …?) But I can create a new printer file and ensure all new copies from now on are fixed. At least it’s on POD so it’s not like hundreds or thousands have been printed.

It’s got me thinking, though. How can I get better at spotting mistakes like these earlier? Is it just a case of going through it again and again and again? Maybe I should have paid for a final professional proofread as well as the earlier copy-edit, but I had to draw the line on spending somewhere. Oh well, it could be worse … and actually might be, as I’ve yet to re-read the rest of the book! There might well be more to come. So I’ll hold back on creating the new versions of the text for now.

What’s the worst (or most frustrating) error you’ve spotted in something you’ve written?

Short story: First Contact

First Contact front page

I’ve written a kind of short prequel to Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer to put on the book’s website and possibly use for publicity purposes. I enjoyed writing it; it’s the first short story I’ve produced for a while (probably more than a year – I’m not even completely sure how long it’s been) and I’ve missed them. Novels are so time-consuming, but I hope I can get back to doing some more short fiction before too long.

Well here it is: First Contact.

 

 

An inspiring story

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(Picture (c) Jason Bye, reproduced from Supply Management magazine)

Nothing in particular to do with writing, but I found myself sufficiently impressed to relate this story I’ve just come across in Supply Management magazine. (Yes, I know – rock n roll or what? I don’t read it for fun, I hasten to add – most of the content isn’t quite this interesting – but blame the day job.)

Karen Hester joined Adnams – a Southwold, UK based brewery – as a part-time cleaner in 1988. In April this year she was appointed as the company’s Chief Operating Officer, the first female board member in the company’s history. A pretty remarkable rise by any standards, but the full story is well worth reading – see the full article here. There are several things worth celebrating here:

  • For someone to start at the very bottom of a company and rise to more or less the very top is still, sadly, the exception rather than the rule. But through sheer hard work and basically being herself, Karen succeeded in doing just that.
  • The above is, unfortunately, still doubly true for women. More and more are shattering that glass ceiling, but upper management remains mainly male-dominated throughout the business world. I work in publishing, an industry in which females are well represented at pretty much every level except the very top. Almost all the executive VPs in my company are men, and it has never had a female CEO.
  • And it’s probably triply true for an industry like brewing, which doesn’t exactly spring to mind as a trailblazer for gender equality.
  • So well done also to Adnams for recognising and nurturing the talent in its ranks. It makes me want to rush out and buy their products right now. Which would be no hardship, as their beer is phenomenally good.
  • Karen comes across as a pretty remarkable individual generally. In the British Army at age 16, starting her own business four years later … perhaps her subsequent success isn’t so much of a surprise after all.

So this isn’t really about writing … but you can take this as an inspiration for writing or anything else – that with talent, persistence and hard work, amazing things are possible. But that success doesn’t always come overnight – and probably rarely does, to be honest. It took her 27 years to get from the mop cupboard to the boardroom, but she got there in the end. So let’s raise a pint of Adnams to Karen Hester.  Cheers!

It’s nearly landed …

DCFS back DCFS front

OK, it’s been available on Amazon for about a month now, but now the print edition of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is almost here. My publisher Albury Books sent me pics of the proof copies today … I haven’t actually seen it ‘in the flesh’ yet, but that should be any day now. Can’t wait. E-books are great and all, but nothing quite beats the feeling of holding your own printed book in your own hands.

And that’s it – possibly my shortest ever blog post! I’m now off to send a few more review requests … a writer’s work is never done, even when they’re not actually writing …

 

The fall of Falling Girl

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I reached a momentous decision today. I’ve basically unpublished my first novel, Falling Girl from Amazon. Why?

Well, there were a number of reasons really. If you believe (as I do) that your writing gets better with time and practice, then it follows that your earliest work may not be as good as your more recent output. I’ve heard it said that a first novel should be seen as a dry run, a place to make all your mistakes (or even more than usual anyway), and should remain locked in a desk drawer (literally or digitally) rather than published.

Which may not always be true obviously. But I was re-reading the prologue and first chapter earlier today and … I don’t know. I think there’s much there that’s positive. I just think that if I was writing it now, I’d do it differently. I believe I’d lose the prologue for a start. It’s quite different from the rest of the book and has a different POV. I’d say it’s a reasonable piece of writing in itself but, bottom line, the book doesn’t really need it.

There’s another reason. Since my first two books, which were both YA, I’ve switched to middle grade with Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. Maybe that only accentuates the difference in my writing I see between then and now.

And besides, Falling Girl is available for free on this site now anyway, and has been for some time. It does occur to me that, if I don’t believe it’s a good advertisement for my writing whether I should make it available in any form at all, even for free.

But I’m not ashamed of it. It was my first novel, an achievement I remain proud of, and I’ll always have a special affection for it. I worked very hard, paying for a professional critique and redrafting many times, including one fairly significant revision several months after the original publication. Many people have said nice things about it, and I’m fairly sure most of them were telling the truth. It’s not a bad book. I still believe it’s a pretty good one in fact. It’s more that I’ve moved on and I don’t think it’s a quite good enough reflection of where I am and where I want to go.

And no-one was buying it anyway. Would I still withdraw it if it was selling well? Probably not, if I’m honest. But it wasn’t, so that’s a moot point really.

My second novel, BASIC Boy, is still on Amazon as a Kindle edition, though the paperback is no longer available. I do think that’s a better book and I’m more comfortable with keeping it on sale.

Have you published a book and then withdrawn it from sale, or thought about doing so?

 

How carefully do you proofread your blog posts?

waste paper

OK, not the most thrilling of questions, but I’m interested nonetheless. I’m always a little conflicted over this. One part of me thinks: look, I’m a writer, writing is my craft, I should aim to make everything I produce of the highest possible quality, whether it’s a novel, a short story or a 500-word post.

But then the demon (or is it an angel?) on my other shoulder whispers: nah, don’t stress so much. It’s a blog. It’s supposed to be spontaneous, human, real. It’s supposed to convey something of your personality (though I’m not sure what some of my posts reveal about that). What does the odd typo, cliché or misplaced apostrophe really matter? Most people won’t judge you for the odd mistake.

In the end I guess I lean more towards the first point of view, but take something from the second too. I do think it shows some respect to readers to take a least reasonable care. I redraft my posts at least a couple of times, then do a last scan/proofread before uploading. And after all, I am supposed to be in the habit of spotting and correcting errors. If I produce a sprawling, incoherent splurge of a post, what does that say about me and my attitude to my work?

On the other hand, a blog post isn’t the final draft a book before publication, nor a competition entry, nor a query letter to an agent. It doesn’t really hurt if it’s not 100% perfect, and I don’t really believe most people expect it to be. Therefore I don’t proofread everything to the nth degree. (Though I am anal about apostrophes – can’t stand it if they’re wrong.)

However if I spot an error after posting, I usually can’t bear to let it be. A recent example, in my post Your pulse in the pages: music to inspire your writing, I originally wrote that:

… good fiction can infer of kind of immortality upon its subjects.

As soon as the post went live, that word infer leapt out and poked me in the eye.  It was of course the wrong word – it should have been confer. (Or at least I’m fairly sure it should be – now I’m starting to doubt myself, so if anyone wants to correct me, feel free!) So I changed it (and then encountered WordPress’s occasional annoying habit of mucking up the formatting when you try to edit posts, but that’s another story). A touch obsessive perhaps, but it wasn’t correct and, knowing that, I wanted it to be right.

P.S. I absolutely know I will have made at least one error in this post. It’s just inevitable.

A good day to publish a sci-fi book?

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Well, Star Wars Day seemed a good a day as any. Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is now available on Amazon (links: UK, US), initially as a Kindle edition only, hopefully to gain a few reviews and help with the marketing. The paperback edition, along with availability in other channels including the iBook Store, will follow in the coming weeks.

So … after all those drafts, all that re-writing, my third novel has finally seen the light of day. It’s always a special moment. Not that I will pause long to savour it – there’s still so much to do, not least the second book in the series which is currently still stuck in first draft. And the third, not yet beyond outline form. And … a writer’s work is never done. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into – but it’s worth it.

 

 

Your pulse in the pages: music to inspire your writing

Bastille

Do you find it helpful to listen to music whilst writing? I know some people do I tend not to as it doesn’t always help me concentrate, unless I’m doing something particularly monotonous that only requires half my brain. Particularly if the song has lyrics, I find myself listening to them rather than focussing all my mental energy on trying to squeeze something creative from my reluctant brain.

However I’ve recently come across a track with very interesting lyrics. It’s called Poet, from CD2 of Bastille’s double album All This Bad Blood. (I’ve got into Bastille big time recently and am in grave danger of wearing out the CD.) The song is about a slightly obsessive writer and the object of his affections. Take a look at the excerpt below:

I have written you down Now you will live forever And all the world will read you And you will live forever In eyes not yet created On tongues that are not born I have written you down Now you will live forever … Your body lies upon the sheet, Of paper and words so sweet. I can’t say the words, so I wrote you into my verse. Now you’ll live through the ages, I can feel your pulse in the pages.

OK, on one level it’s a bit creepy (the first lines of the song, not reproduced above, are: Obsession it takes control / Obsession it eats me whole … I prefer to believe this is a sweet shy guy. It would spoil the poetic ambience somewhat if he turned out to be a serial killer.

But as a hymn to the power of the written word, it’s pretty good: In eyes not yet created / On tongues that are not born / I have written you down /  Now you will live forever …  a reflection on the fact that good fiction can confer of kind of immortality upon its subjects.

And, even better: Now you’ll live through the ages / I can feel your pulse in the pages … as a writer I want my characters to live and breathe, to be real. To ‘jump off the page’ as the saying goes. Can you feel their pulse in the pages? If you can write a character like that, you‘ve created something truly special.

Why I’ve decided on hybrid publishing

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I’ve been neglecting this blog big time recently, being far too busy with life in general but more specifically with putting the finishing touches to Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer and completing the first draft of its sequel. But I’m resolved to blog more regularly from now on. Writing’s a solitary business at times and there’s such a great community on WordPress that’s well worth keeping in touch with.

Anyway – back to the main point of this post. When I posted my writing resolutions for 2015, high on the list (after completing DCFS) was to finally decide on whether to continue down the self-publishing route or to hurl myself into the purgatory of query letters, agents and slush piles hoping to win one of those vanishingly rare traditional publishing lottery tickets.

Both options have their pros and cons of course. For me, the biggest problem with self-publishing is that your book will almost certainly be lost in the crowd. And traditional / conventional publishing, despite the unbelievably high bar confronting prospective new entrants (unless you happen to be a You Tube sensation or random celebrity who may or may not be able to string three words together), is perhaps not a great deal better. Put bluntly, most books don’t sell very well, however they’re published. There are exceptions of course, but they represent a tiny percentage of the tidal wave of new titles published every year.

The fact that I’ve sold very few books so far hasn’t stopped me, mainly because I love writing for its own sake. However, I love it so much that I’d like to spend a lot more time doing it, and that’s not really possible unless I start getting a decent income from it.

So is there a middle way? Some way to improve your chances of success – to help you make your books as professional as possible and to have more chance of selling it? There is much talk of hybrid or partner publishing, and these terms tend to mean different things to different people. All I can tell you about is what I’ve decided to do, and why.

DCFS will be published by a company called Albury Books. They are not a conventional publisher but neither do they publish anything and everything that comes their way. DCFS had to be accepted in order to carry their imprint. I have no doubt that their selection criteria were nowhere near as rigorous as a conventional publisher’s has to be when confronted with a tottering pile of hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts and a budget that probably allows them to take on perhaps one of them. But the fact that Albury do have minimum standards was reassuring.

I also liked their website, the fact that they have a children’s book programme, and the appearance of the books they were selling. The covers looked quite professional, for instance. That is not the case with all hybrid publishers’ websites I’ve seen, some of which looked quite amateurish and were jam-packed with covers that absolutely screamed ‘self-published!’ and not in a good way.

I know what you might be thinking at this point. I know because I’d probably be thinking it myself: isn’t hybrid just a polite word for vanity? Ah yes, the dreaded vanity press, exploiting authors’ dreams, taking their money for over-priced services and giving poor value in return. Have I fallen into that trap?

Well, for me, paid publishing services are not a dirty word (or words) necessarily. Design, editing, distribution, marketing … these things, especially if done properly, all cost time and money. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who secures a conventional publishing deal, they won’t come for free (and even then, much is still expected of the author, especially on the marketing side). Sure, a self-publishing author can do much or even all of it themselves – but to what standard, and how successfully? Let’s be honest. Amazon is full of books that aren’t very good, or have lousy covers, or sell few or no copies. There are also many that are very good, look amazing and/or sell in decent quantities, but they are the exception especially on the sales.

So I have concluded that if I want to do things better, going it alone is not the best option. I need some help, and yes that’s going to cost me something. To some extent, how much it costs is up to me. Albury do not sell fixed-price packages or require you to buy services you don’t need. I have got the cover designed through them (see above) – they were OK with my own design but I decided to go professional this time, and I’m pleased with the result. They did require, as a condition of acceptance for publication, that a copy-edit of the text was done by a specialist children’s editor – but they did not insist that this was sourced through them. I could have gone out and found my own copy-editor. (The edit was a good thing, by the way – I’ve never had one before, and I’m certain the book is better for it.)

There are some things I’m still doing myself, and therefore not paying for, because I’m confident I can do them to a good standard. This includes the text layout and the set-up on Amazon. Albury will be handling the set-up in other distribution channels, on their own website and in POD. The standard of the POD printing of their books, by the way, is definitely a cut above what I’ve experienced with Amazon’s, and therefore I won’t be setting up this book in Create Space.

I have to sign a contract, but I get to keep a high percentage of the royalties. The percentage is higher than Amazon’s and certainly miles better than those of a typical conventional publishing contract.

But of course, a high percentage of diddly squat is still diddly squat. The idea is to sell some books. Which brings me on to marketing and publicity services. These are available through Albury but they cost, and I’m still evaluating the options here. Two things I know: there are no guarantees when it comes to sales, and even if I pay for some services the onus is still on me. If I don’t believe in the book, I can’t expect anyone else to. I’ll post more about the marketing another time.

If you have any views or comments on any of this, I’d be pleased to hear them. Thanks.