Danny Chaucer and the author who’s a glutton for punishment

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Last week I announced the third and latest instalment of the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer series – Mars Mission – now published as a Kindle edition.

Every published (whether self or traditionally) writer will surely be familiar with the heady mix of trepidation, exhilaration and relief that accompanies the release of their precious baby into the big bad world. It’s the culmination of so much hard work, occasional (or frequent?) bouts of frustration and self-doubt – but hopefully also of some enjoyment.

Why do we do it? It can’t be for the money! Like many others I do hold out the hope that one distant sunlit day I might make enough from my books to be able to write full-time, but I also recognize the odds stacked against me in the regard. Simply put, I love writing and I always will. For me to a large degree it remains its own reward.

Mars Mission is my fifth novel (it gives me a buzz just to reflect on that – who’d have thought it?) and in some ways the business of writing has become perhaps a little easier; or at least I’m more confident of the process and the fact that (lazy as I am) I do after all have the motivation and the ability to finish the job. But that’s not to say, of course, that I find it exactly easy. It’s still proper hard work and it takes time and a certain psychological resilience and persistence (or just sheer bloody mindedness) to be able to keep chipping away at my lumpen prose and finally, slowly, transform it into something fit for publication (I hope).

To that end I need help. Writing is such a solitary pursuit most of the time, but I’ve found it vital to get my manuscripts reviewed by someone else. Some use beta readers, but I always pay for a critique from an established author / editor with experience in my genre (in this case, middle grade children’s fiction). The results of this are always fascinating and hugely valuable. Now I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’d love it if, just once, one day, once of those critiques simply turned out to be: “It’s perfect! It’s brilliant! You’re a genius! The world will buy this book by the truck-load!” But that’s not reality – it wouldn’t be true or helpful.

With Mars Mission, for instance, the critique uncovered one of the book’s central problems, related to the fact that it was the third title in the Danny Chaucer series. This is the first series I’ve attempted, and I’ve realised there are some particular issues and pitfalls to be aware of, as well as opportunities. In some ways things become a little more straightforward in a series: you get to know your characters better, you have a ready-made background and template to work from. It’s interesting to have the opportunity to explore themes and characters in more details and move forward a more detailed story arc, to flesh out a whole new world.

However, one particular issue I had was how much about what happened in the two previous books to include in Mars Mission. I’ve always been mindful of the dangers of the dreaded Info Dump: great slabs of excessive background information weighing down the hapless reader, breaking up the narrative and slowing the pace. There are ways of feeding it in more gradually of course, but how, when and how much? The problem with a series is, you don’t know how many readers will have previously read the earlier books, or how long ago. They might come into a series at any point.

(Also, I don’t want new readers to believe they know the earlier books so well they don’t feel they want or need to go back and read them too!)

I have to admit that with Mars Mission I erred on the side of caution and tended to include too little (beyond a very short prologue) about the earlier books. But worse, it wasn’t just what had happened before that I over-skimped on, but also the characters themselves. The reviewer pointed out that I hardly bothered to describe them, or give away enough about their backgrounds, history or even appearance, and so in general (and with one of them especially) they were sketched rather too thinly. I think that, without really meaning to, I simply expected the reader to be as familiar with the characters as I was. That was a fundamental error and I felt pretty bad about it. As a fiction writer, it’s vitally important that your characters are well drawn, believable and relatable. To present anaemic cardboard cut-outs to the reader is one of the worst sins you can commit, in my opinion.

Furthermore, in a series the characters must be allowed to move on, to change and develop. It would be pretty strange if they didn’t. The three Danny Chaucer stories so far have taken place within a very short time period – over just a few weeks – so no-one has aged very much! Even so, their adventures and their interactions together are bound to have some effect on them. One character in particular does move on quite significantly in a very short space of time, but I needed to show some development in all of them.

Phew! Well I worked very hard on the next draft to put all that right. I made sure I assumed nothing about how well the reader would know the characters: they were each introduced fully, and more key memories of their earlier adventures were woven into the narrative. In so doing I strove to maintain the right balance, to avoid too much ‘info dump’ or dragging down the plot of the current story. I hope I succeeded.

Incidentally, as well as manuscript critiques (which I’ve always strongly believed in), with the Danny Chaucer books I’ve also used a professional cover designer, and had the last two professionally proofread too. Covers are just so important … and I was getting fed up with spotting so many typos after publication (you can’t beat a fresh pair of eyes – one or two errors always seem to slip through anyway, but far fewer than before).

Anyway, I could write for much longer about this, but enough for now. I’m aware of how little I’ve blogged during the past year or so, and that’s because I made a conscious decision to focus my limited time on Mars Mission and other writing projects (including the odd short story). Of course blogging is also writing and I do enjoy it, but I had to prioritise and blogging came second.

As for what happens next … well I’m going to be working more on marketing Mars Mission and the rest of the Danny Chaucer series – I don’t think any author who wants to sell any books can afford to neglect that. I’ll be trying a few things and I’ll let you know if I make any breakthroughs or have anything profound to share! Well, it’s possible …

 

Mars Mission: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer 3

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Kindle edition published on Amazon 14th December

‘No-one really likes their kids being dragged off to alien worlds by mega-intelligent super-computers in galactically advanced flying saucers. Especially if they’re late home for tea.’

Danny Chaucer leaves his house one morning expecting a nice normal day out with his friends Nat and Sandy, not to mention BOB the hyper-intelligent but annoyingly smug cockney computer. (If you can call a trip on a flying saucer a normal day out, that is.)

But things quickly take a turn for the worse. For a start, why is creepy Captain Frost plotting with oily bully Chad Wilson? Of course Frosty-knickers is still after the saucer – but what exactly is her plan? And is Sandy up to something as well?

Then before long DISC’s crew are racing across the solar system on a stupidly dangerous mission. What with killer radiation, poisonous air, a monster dust-storm, a slightly depressed Martian rover and an unexpectedly troublesome hologram, it soon becomes clear that being late home for tea could be the least of Danny’s problems …

The third book in the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer series is available now as a Kindle edition from Amazon (links: UK / US) and coming soon (January 2017) in paperback/ hardback.

Moon Zoom: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer #2

Moon Zoom cover Amazon 1dec15

The saucer’s back – and it’s about to whisk Danny and Natalie off on another awesome adventure!

BOB – the super-computer with a personality as big as its brain – needs more Moon Zoom, the mineral that powers the saucer’s anti-grav drive.

The only problem is, it’s locked away in the top-secret Ganymede Institute. To get at it, Danny and his friend Nat will have to deal with flying scooters, obnoxious classmates and a big bad missile. Not to mention the sinister Captain Frost in hot pursuit.

And there’s only one place to get even more Moon Zoom (no prizes for guessing where). But when the saucer’s crew find themselves stranded, Danny realises that only an incredible act of bravery can save them …

Kindle edition now available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk – and FREE this weekend (5/6 December). Reviews / comments very welcome.

 

Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer has finally taken off

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OK, I think I’ve used the ‘taking off’ pun before, probably when the e-book was published. But now the paperback of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is here too. I mean I now know this for sure, having seen and handled copies myself and not just seen pictures of them.

Well, it’s available on Amazon.co.uk anyway. On Amazon.com it’s still only available on Kindle (and I guess that’s also the case on all the other assorted Amazons too, though I haven’t checked them all).

Having got this milestone safely out of the way, I’ve now turned my attention back to the second draft of the second book in the series. Which I’d better get back to right now.

 

 

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.