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 I’ve basically unpublished my first novel, Falling Girl from Amazon.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?

 

My New Year Writing Resolutions for 2015

Big Ben

“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” – Neil Gaiman

Well that’s another Christmas wrapped up. Like many people I will now make the usual boring and/or over-ambitious New Year resolutions concerning fitness, flossing, family, finance, etc. And most of those will be broken by about 4th January. Some a bit sooner than that.

On the writing front, however, it’s a good time to focus on what I really want to achieve in the coming year. I have to be honest and say that this time last year I had little idea of what I was going to write in 2014. I had just finished BASIC Boy and published it on Amazon, but none of the various ideas I had for a follow-up ever really came to life. BASIC Boy has sold no better than its predecessor, Falling Girl, which made me question whether I should keep writing in the supernatural YA genre. It’s a very crowded market (mind you, aren’t they all?) and I haven’t been able make any kind of impact in it.

So the first half of 2014 witnessed a sorry litany of false starts and frustrated navel gazing. It wasn’t until the summer that I hit upon the idea of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer and experienced the simultaneous joy and relief of seeing my writing spark into life again. At last I had a real project again, something I was truly enthusiastic about. I realised that writing for a younger age group was what I really wanted to do – for now at least.

Looking forward to 2015 … now of course what I want is for zillions of people to stumble upon Falling Girl and BASIC Boy, belatedly realising that they are in fact solid gold classics and proceeding to buy them by the truckload, thereby earning me enough money to give up the day job and pursue my writing passion full time.

However, back on Planet Earth, some more basic and achievable aims would be far more useful than daydreaming. So this is what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Complete Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. I’ve recently finished the third draft, but I will do another spit-and-polish job on it. And then …
  2. Finally make a bloomin’ decision on whether to try to get a publisher or agent interested, or carry on along the self-publishing route. My instinct is the latter, but I really need to come up with some kind of coherent marketing plan, because as we all know it’s vanishingly rare for zillions of people to stumble upon your books on Amazon and buy them by the truckload just by chance. And so …
  3. Come up with a coherent marketing plan. I actually do have some ideas here, which might initially involve producing a pre-publication version of DCFS and giving it out free to lots of kids, possibly with the cooperation of my sons’ school. I hope thereby to gain some more useful feedback, and perhaps make further changes to the book as a result. (Note that my definition of ‘complete’ in #1 above is therefore somewhat elastic.)
  4. It also means sorting out the cover and blurb. I do already have a blurb, but not yet a cover.
  5. I also can’t quite get rid of the crazy notion of buying a load of cheap Frisbees and customising them with the DCFS logo (which doesn’t yet exist – there’s another objective) as a marketing giveaway. It’s probably just another of those bad marketing ideas I sometimes come up with, but I might just do it anyway.
  6. More sensibly … DCFS is not meant to be a standalone, so I need to produce a series plan. Initially this will comprise two further books, so three in total, but there could be more in the future.
  7. Outline the second and third books, and complete the first draft of book two by end February. Ideally I’d like the second book finished by the summer and the third book by the end of 2015; so that by this time next year I will have a short series.
  8. More generally, I want to do all I can to become a better writer. It’s an ongoing process. That means – among other things – reading widely and picking up tips and advice from a variety of sources, including some of the many excellent WordPress blogs on writing. And of course it means actually writing, as much and as regularly as I can. I should write some adult fiction as well as the DCFS series, maybe some short stories.
  9. Better networking and sharing with other writers, both online and off. I know a couple of other budding writers in my local area, and we’ve talked about setting up a writers’ group without ever quite getting around to it. Time is a scarce commodity, but maybe 2015 is the year to make it happen.
  10. Stop coming up with long lists of action points that I probably won’t achieve. Especially silly ones about Frisbees.

I hope you have a happy, peaceful, productive and fulfilling 2015.

 

The art of walking nowhere: What helps you get creative?

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People have different ways of relaxing and of getting their creative juices flowing. For me, nothing beats a walk. It doesn’t have to be a ten-mile hike – it can be a ten-minute stroll to the shops. The point is, if I spend too long hunched over a keyboard, my shoulders start to throb and my brain turns to soup; and that’s when I know I need to head outdoors.

Walking is the most beautifully simple form of exercise, good for mind and body, but too often it’s under-appreciated. It may not burn off the calories as quickly as sprinting or pumping weights, but it’s such a great way to relax and unwind. What’s more, you don’t need to be going anywhere in particular. Walks don’t have to serve such a mundane purpose.

I was delighted therefore to come across this article yesterday celebrating the art of walking nowhere, of a good aimless wander. It’s no surprise that writers are among its greatest proponents. Take this quote: ‘Charles Dickens was a walker. He could easily rack up 20 miles, often at night. You can almost smell London’s atmosphere in his prose.’ I can’t think of a greater recommendation that that.

Freeing your mind to wander over the sights and sounds, whether of serene countryside or busy city streets, combined with all that oxygen washing through your brain … no wonder creativity can get such a boost.

I’ve also always found walking a fantastic stress relief. I can remember as a moody, hormone-addled teenager, trying to get myself lost in the streets of Southend. (OK, Paris or London would sound better there, but when you’re from Essex you take what you can get.) When my novel BASIC Boy starts with the protagonist Cal walking aimlessly, trying to escape the pressures of his life just for a moment, there’s more than a little bit of me in there. The difference was in Cal’s case it led to adventure. It never really did for me – but when you leave your home and head off wherever, there’s always that possibility isn’t there?

Do you like to take a walk? Or do you have other ways to lower your stress levels and unleash your creativity?

Dungeons & Dragons: Moral Panic, 1980s style

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The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it often seems. Back in the 1980s the Internet was a distant dream. So we didn’t have online porn, videos of jihadists beheading infidels, paedophile-haunted chat-rooms or unlimited 24-hour gambling. And although we had video games, blobby little men being chased around by unconvincingly blocky aliens was about as scary as they got.

But there was another threat to our youth, one that involved dice, optional miniature figurines and characters with names like Thong. (Well maybe not Thong – at least not in the version I played …) I was fascinated by this article which describes some of the controversy caused by the craze for fantasy role playing games in the pre-WWW era.

Reading the article now, it seems quaint, almost laughable that such a primitive (in more ways than one) pastime was a source of so much moral panic. By the time I got involved, in about 1983, the principal fear (as reflected in BASIC Boy) was of the mantle of geekhood increasingly being bestowed upon the brave goblin-fighting warriors by the rest of society. I wasn’t afraid of being branded a Devil worshipper so much as a spotty oik who couldn’t get a girlfriend (which I kind of was – a spotty oik that is, not a Devil worshipper – but never mind).

(Actually I wasn’t so much into D&D – I’ve always had an aversion to overly complicated games that last four days – but I did absolutely love the Fighting Fantasy solo role playing books.)

Anyway, this is one reason why I like history. It gives you a perspective on events that you can only get from a distance. I wonder what future generations will make of some of the issues and neuroses that obsess us today?

Changing the subject – I’m taking a break from blogging until after Easter. I’m going on holiday with my family and I’ve made the momentous decision not to take my laptop with me. Call it tech detox if you will. It also means I won’t do any writing as such for nine or ten days.

However I am taking the printed-out synopsis of my third novel, which I’ve done next to no work on for several months, and I’m going to ponder and scribble on it in an unashamedly pre-digital kind of way. The era of the word processor has been a massive boon to writers, and I just can’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter or – even worse – by hand, though of course that’s what authors used to do and it didn’t stop some pretty good stuff being written! But sometimes I think there are drawbacks too. It encourages us to dive in and just write – which might be a good thing in many ways, but not perhaps always. And of course there are all those distractions – the Internet, e-mail, games, blah blah blah …

I’m hoping the space and focus of the next week will allow me to really think about my novel, to plan and ponder, read other stuff, and hopefully come back energised and ready to pound the keys and get the damn thing written.

Hope you have a wonderful Easter.

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

Happy New (80s Games) Year!

Manic Miner

OK, that’s not quite what people usually say. But I’ve just come across a really cool website full of retro 1980s computer games: http://www.80stopgames.com/site/

I haven’t spent much time on it yet – just enough to establish just how cool it really is – but I predict many a wasted hour in 2014 will be spent revisiting those blocky, bleepy and ridiculously addictive video games of my youth.

And I think that even the younger generation will appreciate some of these. Eighties games may have been primitive by the standards of today’s smooth, sprawling, uber-reality experiences; but the growth of mobile and the demand for compact, bite-size fun has led to huge success for Angry Birds and the like. Games that don’t take hours to learn and days to play. Games that are just fun. I don’t have loads of free time and my brain gets taxed quite enough elsewhere; so when I play a computer game, I don’t want to deal with yet another big complicated thing to add to all the other big complicated things in my life.

That fascination with retro technology and the simple delights of old-style gaming was my key inspiration for writing BASIC Boy. That book is about the clash of cultures between today’s sophisticated, ultra-connected teens and their 1980s forerunners. (With a vengeful, time-travelling ghost thrown in, naturally.)

I hope you have a fantastic 2014. With or without Manic Miner.