Monday’s Friend: Sarah E Smith

Today’s guest is fellow KGHH author and crime writer Sarah E Smith. Welcome, Sarah!

Inside the Mind
By Sara E Smith

A couple of months ago, Sara asked me to blog about my processes, and whether it’s changed as I’ve developed as a writer. So I thought I’d explain how I do a whodunnit and why Byrd books are taking much longer to write than the Secret of Aldwych Strand did.

For mesarah e smith (2), writing a time travel trilogy was like falling off a log. Mark and Lucy’s story oozed from every pore. Tumbling like a river in flood; desperate to reach the world. This new set of books is best compared to wading through treacle without waders.  Symington, Earl Byrd,  my latest creation for KGHH publishing, is a gentleman detective; living and working at the start of the 20th century. His world is dark and dangerous. His opponents vicious, clever, and always one step ahead. Hence the treacle. I had to rethink how I wrote; had to become more methodical. Plot more, think more. Draft and discard more.

You see whilst I know exactly who the murderers are and why they have committed such heinous crimes, these tales aren’t put together from chapter one to chapter last.

Right from the beginning, before you write the words Chapter One, it’s important to know who the murderer is and why their victim, or victims, had to die. So, I write the murderer’s confession first. You know the drill: “Of course, I murdered Major Plumb in the Study with the lead piping…” and in early draft, this section always ends with: “And I would have got away with it, were it not for you pesky kids.”

After establishing the who and why, I write the first murder and continue up to the point where Byrd shows how clever he is by examining the evidence at the crime scene.  Then I stop, and write Byrd’s final speech to the suspects: “I’ve called you all here today to…” This allows me to establish the red herrings,  and the lies these people need to tell during the rest of the tale in order to make them possible murderers.

From then on it’s pretty plain sailing. Get the rest of the main story written predominantly from Byrd’s perspective – except when 3rd person or another POV is needed; meet and interview the suspects; and then kill off at least one more person. This done, it’s time to open the files: “I called you all here today” and the “Pesky Kids”; copy and paste them in, and job jobbed.

Except of course it’s not.

It’s at this point I realise I’ve  missed out one motive,  or forgotten to murder someone. In the worst case (as at the moment with his second book) the plot’s twisted in on itself and the universe will implode. So back I go and change, rewrite, and add until I’ve had enough… and never want to write a murder mystery again.

SB COC NEW MASTER COVER (2)So

Am I

Finished?

No!

Because as I read this draft through, it becomes blindingly obvious there’s no badinage and interplay between Byrd and his bizarre entourage: cousin CC (a chief inspector with Scotland Yard); Sampson and Watkins his servants. There’s no sub plot; no tantalising glimpses into the central characters past – or present.  By this point I also realise the history is missing. Those passing references to the events of the early 1900’s, which I must include, or burn in the fires of inaccuracy. So, after a short temper tantrum, I add those bits, and send it off to the editor before I make any changes … or throw any more toys out the pram.

At this point peace descends. A short month(ish) truce broken by an email from the editor. This reveals: gaping plot holes and an ending that doesn’t make sense; sections of text which drag, she doesn’t like or are a pile of poo – my words. It’s also now I realise, that some of the voices are too similar. A constable on the beat speaks like a toff. Byrd doesn’t have enough whimsies and mannerisms, and the least said about Sampson and Watkins the better.

Eventually though, the final product emerges and it’s over to you dear reader for your verdict…

twitter pics1 (2)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Born in Plymouth in 1967 to a naval family, Sarah never wanted to go down to the sea in ships, she wanted to travel in time. For some people this would be a daunting challenge. For Sarah it was easy. There were three ways to do it: stow away in the TARDIS, study History and write a book. The last two were achievable, and she may not have travelled in the TARDIS, but she did once travel in a Mini Metro with Tom Baker, the fourth (and for those of us of a certain age, the best) Doctor Who.

Learn more about Sarah and her writing on her website, her blog and her Amazon page, or follow her on Twitter.

 

BOOK LINKS:

Meet Symington Byrd. Playboy. Gentleman. Detective.
viewBook.at/COC

For the Time Travellers out there: the Trilogy is complete:
getBook.at/CompleteTrilogy

 

 

Monthly Round-up: July 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This month’s round-up post is a week late, but this time last week I was sunning myself on a beach in France. The weather was lovely, but wifi access was appalling.

Hence, here we are now in August, reviewing July.

OUT NOW/COMING SOON

I’m hoping to promote the third Shara Summers novel, SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, at Bouchercon in October, and hopefully I’ll have a release date by then. In the meantime I’m plugging the first book the series, DEATH SCENE.

PUBLICITY

The third Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH has finished. The lucky winners were Angela Paull from Hampshire and Olivia Silva from Hertfordshire. They have each received a signed copy of THE WHISPERING DEATH.

I am very excited about the forthcoming Bouchercon in Toronto, which will be my first time attending this particular conference. And I am particularly thrilled about being offered a panel. The panel is about violence in crime, and should be very interesting, though since it’s on at 8:30am on the Friday, I am not sure how many people we’ll have in the audience.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I am pleased to report that the first draft of the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, is finished, and work has commenced on the second draft. At this stage I am feeling confident I will hit the 1 October deadline to submit this one. Hopefully I’ll be feeling just as confident at the end of August.

Until then, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy the rest of the summer. And if you are in then Southern Hemisphere, you’ve still got summer to look forward to.

Friday Fears: Two-sentence Horror #12

Hello horror hounds!

I’ve had another two-sentence horror story submitted to me from Claire Fitzpatrick, which makes it time for some more Friday Fears!

Here is Claire’s story:

“This tastes divine,” I murmured, shovelling the soft strips of meat into my mouth. “It’s a pity you’re so thin,” I added, slicing off the cheek from my sister’s hack-up face.

And here’s one from me:

I always dreamed of being famous, and fame has finally come to me. It also came to the man who murdered me, but at least he’s still alive to enjoy it.

Happy Friday, and don’t have nightmares!

 

My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

The Ten Commandments of Writing #10: Thou Shalt Never, Ever Give Up

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I get quite cross with people who imply that I write ‘for fun’. Or ‘for pleasure’. This generally comes into a conversation where I’m trying to explain why the writing is not my full-time profession. I’m trying to explain that I don’t make enough money from the writing to do it for a living, and so they say, “oh so you do it for fun then.”

There is nothing fun about writing. Yes there are moments of exhilaration, like when the WIP is going well and words are flowing, when you’re in that stage when you can re-read the words you’ve written and think to yourself, “actually this is pretty good. And I created it.” But you know this is going to be followed by a period of crashing self-doubt, when you are absolutely convinced that everything you’ve written is a steaming pile of turds and you should give up deluding yourself that you’re a writer and go and spend your time watching TV instead. This bit of the process is not fun. Neither is the constant lurching from self-confidence to self-loathing that I am convinced absolutely every writer, no matter how successful they are, experiences.

No, we don’t do it for fun. So why do we do it? It’s more a need, an urge. We need to write to keep on living, the same way we need to breathe.

You need to remember this once you have accepted the fact that you are a writer, because the road will not be smooth. There will be rocky patches. There will be times when you want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again. Every time you submit something to an editor, you will spend the next few hours, or days, or weeks, on tenterhooks. You will be checking your email every two minutes to see if you’ve had a response yet. When you discover there isn’t one, you will experience conflicting feelings of disappointment and faint hope, because no response at least means no rejection. Yet.

And then when the email finally comes you’ll be afraid to open it, trying to put off the inevitable rejection and the crashing self-doubt that follows for as long as possible.

But then one day it won’t be a rejection. It will be an acceptance. And it will all be worth it. On the dark days, it can be tempting to just pack it all in. But it’s important to keep on going. When each rejection comes, give yourself a few days to pick yourself and dust yourself off, and then send the story back out into the world again. And carry on working on the next one. Whatever you do, you have to keep at it, because being a writer is in your psyche and no matter how hard it can be sometimes, it will always be who you are.

 

 

 

My Life in Music: 1970

I really don’t remember much about the music of 1970. I was too busy eating, sleeping, pooping, and growing, the way babies tend to.

Baby Sara, 1970

I am not sure how old I am in the accompanying photo. Six months, maybe? So it was probably taken in the spring of 1970. Colour photography had been invented by then. But my grandfather, who took the picture, was a keen amateur photographer and had a black and white camera.

Anyway, back to the song. I’ve gone for a song that was a hit in 1970, and it’s an Elvis song. My mother is a big Elvis fan, and I grew up knowing rather a lot of Elvis songs, because she was always playing them.

I’ve picked this one, because I remember this song on the radio, though I very much doubt I remember it being played the year it was released. It was apparently Elvis’s most successful UK single, staying at #1 in the charts for six weeks in the summer of 1970.

Because this blog is all about the memories associated with music, I should also mention what I think about whenever I hear this song. I think about my mother, and the way she cried when she learned about Elvis’s death. But that was not until 1977. I also remember the flat we used to live in after my parents divorced, but we did not move there until 1976. My memories of the house I was living in in 1970 are rather vague, and aren’t really associated with any particular song, but I will explore this further as we move on in this series.

I always thought of this song as a ‘big song’. The sort of song you want to sing along to, even if you’re not a big fan of Elvis.

The video I’ve chosen for this song is not actually a video – it’s a collection of stills of Elvis. But he’s looking pretty good in most of them, and I think my mother might appreciate it. And the sound quality of this recording is a bit better than the other versions I could find on Youtube.

So may I present the song for 1970: ‘The Wonder of You’ by Elvis Presley.

Monthly Round-Up: June 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Well, summer is here. The UK enjoyed some sweltering hot weather this month, over 30c for several days. This is pretty unusual for us – so much so that we all bake, since very few places have air conditioning. Fortunately for us, our office does. The underground does not, however, and being packed in like sardines on the Central Line in rush hour when it’s so hot is pretty close to being in Hell.

But of course British weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and now we’re back to rain again. I love the long days at this time of year, and there is still plenty of summer left before we’re back to the long nights of winter.

Anyway. On with this month’s news

OUT NOW/COMING SOON

There’s nothing new to announce, and I’ve got no further news on when SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH is coming out. So this month I’m just going to plug my current publications. They are all available on Amazon US and UK, so why not have a browse?

PUBLICITY

On 4 June there was an interview with me on Rochelle Weber’s blog, in which I talk about the Shara Summers series.

There’s another Goodreads giveaway running at present for THE WHISPERING DEATH. It’s only open to UK readers, due to postage costs, but if you fancy a free signed copy of THE WHISPERING DEATH, the contest is open until 15 July.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I was aiming to have the first draft of the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, done by the end of June. Well it’s not quite done yet, but I am nearly there. I have over 60,000 words done and I reckon I’ve only got another 10,000 or so to the end. If all goes well I should get there in July. So, hopefully there’ll be more news on this next month. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it’s sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher’s minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department – and even then you’ll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange – you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there’s no point in setting up social media accounts until they’ve got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you’re published, and at least by the time you’ve got something to sell you’ve built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or WordPress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don’t require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I’m half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don’t live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don’t be that person that only ever Tweets ‘buy my book’ because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I’m on holiday, if I have cause to mention I’m a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, “oh, what do you write?” I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I’d packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that’s where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I’ve never made that mistake since.

Once you’ve got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It’s mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn’t cost anything to do it. Go to conventions – as many as you can afford – to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can – you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.

You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you’re with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop’s buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren’t interested in taking anything they can’t buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that’s generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.

In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven’t sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it’s something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

My Life in Music: 1969

I’m introducing a new feature to the blog, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Music has been important to human culture since the dawn of time. In all the travelling we’ve done across the world, I am always struck by how there is always music. No matter where you are in the world, when a crowd gathers, instruments will be played, there will be singing, and there will be dancing.

In addition to that I think music has a powerful influence on our senses. I can hear a song and be transported back in time to whatever I was doing, and whatever I was feeling, when that song first came into my life. No other medium has that impact.

So with that in mind I am presenting a new feature on this blog – My Life in Music. Each post will feature a year of my life and a song from that year that had a particular impact, and why. At least, that’s the idea. And since there are 47 years to account for (and counting), this one could keep me going for a while.

babysarahospital

Baby Sara heading home from the hospital, in those heady days before health & safety…

Anyway, I thought the best place to start is the beginning. I was born in the North of England in 1969 (in the middle of a thunderstorm, apparently). Of course, this is a bit of a cheat because I don’t remember the music of 1969. For most of it, I was a foetus. The world was a very different place. I am including here the first picture of me that was ever taken. The little bundle in the nurse’s arms is me, being handed to my mother in the car for the journey home. In the front seat. Never mind there was no car seat, seat belts were optional in those days as well. How times have changed.

And embarrassingly, this song was number 1 in the UK pop charts the week I was born. It’s something of a novelty song – performed by a group of fictional teenagers in the cartoon TV series The Archie Show. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and recorded by a group of session musicians. And apparently it became a runaway hit. It was number 1 in the UK for eight weeks, and the most popular song in the world I was born into.

And so here it is. May I present the song for 1969, “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Let’s hope the music gets better from here on in…

High School Reunion

I spent eight years of my life living in Canada. I moved out there with my mother, stepfather and sister in 1980. I was ten years old at the time. I resented having to move countries. I moved back in 1988, at eighteen years old, after finishing high school.

The high school I attended was Grand River Collegiate, in Kitchener, Ontario. I spent five years there because in those days Ontario had a grade 13 – now long gone, I understand. The school opened in 1966. Last year, 2016, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it decided to have a ‘reunion weekend’ to celebrate fifty years of ‘Renegades’.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories of my teenage years. Does anyone ever have a good time during puberty? But in high school, at least, there were some good experiences, and it was a big improvement on junior high. It was in high school I began to have confidence in my writing – that this was, at least, something that I was good at, and I had some very encouraging English teachers. I made some good friends in high school, friends I am still in contact with. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. And I was finally able to drop that most hated of classes, Physical Education. The Canadian education system – at least when I went through it – did not seem to comprehend that some people will never, ever, be any good at sports, no matter how hard you push them. But that is a post for another time.

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Me (L) and my sister, haunting the old school corridors 30 years on

Ultimately the most important lessons you learn are those you discover after school. I was bullied in school. I suppose most people are. Perhaps we had it easier, in the days before social media and the internet when your bullies had to come face to face with you instead of hiding behind Twitter accounts. Bullying is always tough. But you grow up, you learn to love yourself and you learn to put the hurtful things the bullies said behind you.

Anyway, the school opened its doors for an open house weekend as part of its reunion celebrations, and I decided to go. My sister, who still lives in Canada, came along. We were both, briefly, at the same high school. But she was three grades below me and at the time she found me terminally embarrassing, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time.

It was a strange experience, going back into my old high school after nearly thirty years. I think back to those times and sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me – like it all happened to someone else. And the school has changed quite a lot since I attended. There’s a proper drama room with a stage now. We just had a room with a carpet and no desks – we had to sit on the floor. There’s a really high-tech music room, with soundproof practise booths. But as I walked around, every so often a memory would hit me. We went up the stairs to explore the upper floor and I suddenly remembered clattering up and down those stairs every day, between classes. I went into the girls’ toilets and remembered that these were the ones I used every day, at school, because they were conveniently placed between corridors. I’m pretty sure the decor, or the facilities, hadn’t changed in 30 years either.

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Exhibit A: Evidence of Sara’s terrible dress sense during adolescence?

In the corridor that used to be where all the French and business studies (ie: typing) were, ‘decade rooms’ had been set up. So of course I headed straight for the 1980s room. Photographs of the time were hung up every where, and who should I see in that room but my old typing teacher. While I was talking to her telling her how in all honesty her typing class was the single most useful class I ever took in my life, my sister was prowling the room looking at the photographs. I was in quite a lot of them. I threw myself enthusiastically into high school and joined all the clubs. I was trying to get people to notice me. My sister was making a point of trying not to be noticed. She kept bringing me pictures I featured in. Most of them I remembered – I bought all the yearbooks, and most of the pictures were there somewhere. But then she brought me one I hadn’t seen before. “How you can tell that’s me?” I said. “The face is turned away.”

She gave me a look and pointed at the picture. “Look at that outfit! Of course it’s you. And socks with sandals? Who else would wear that?”

Perhaps she had a point. I am attaching the picture as Exhibit A. I am the person with long brown hair in the foreground, lookng away from the camera. You can judge for yourself whether or not my dress sense was as terrible as my sister perceived it to be.

On the whole it was fun, revisiting my high school for a day, and it brought back some good memories that I had forgotten all about. But I think the most important thing about reminiscing on high school days is to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.