Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

Monthly Round-Up: January 2016

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’m not a big fan of January. It’s a dark and dreary month, no bank holidays, and everyone’s broke after Christmas. So this is one month I’m glad to be nearing the end of, as it’s time once more to round up my writing-related activities.

COMING SOON

I’m pleased to say that SUFFER THE CHILDREN will be released in Spring by MuseItUp Publishing. This is a re-release of my first published novel, but it’s undergoing a whole new editing process. I don’t have a release date yet, but watch this space.

PUBLICITY

I was pleased to be a guest on David O’Brien’s blog this week, especially since I’m his first guest horror writer.  I’m talking about a previous experience that made me aware that not everyone likes horror writers.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Revisions to SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH continue at a good pace. The end is in sight on this manuscript now. I’ve also moved past the stage of thinking, “this manuscript is complete rubbish” to “actually, this manuscript’s not half bad after all.” This is usually followed by the “this manuscript is amazing! I rock” stage, and then finally back to the “this manuscript is rubbish” stage. But for now, I remain in a happy place about it. The fact that my editor is already looking forward to reading it gives me incentive to finish.

That’s about all the news for now. Join me next month, when hopefully we’ll be seeing longer days, warmer weather and maybe even the first signs that Spring is round the corner.

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Monday’s Friend: David O’Brien

I’m pleased to have David O’Brien on the blog today as the first guest of 2016. Welcome, David!

DOB: Thanks for having me on your blog today, Sara, and giving me the chance to answer a few of your questions.

SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

DOB: I suppose when I was around seventeen or eighteen. I’d written a lot of poetry by then, and had a few short stories, but I started to write one what was a lot longer, and it turned into a novella, which in time became my first published novel, Leaving the Pack. I knew there was no going back to just reading stories, then.

SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

David J Covershot (2)DOB: I am a big fan of Hemingway, but I don’t think he’s really influenced my work in that I have long since given up trying to emulate his writing. I do try to cut back as much as I can on the second and subsequent drafts so I can leave as much unsaid as possible, but I am wordy writer in the first drafts.

My first novel was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s Wolfen, and some streets in my unnamed city are given his name. Another of his books sparked an as yet unwritten novel.

In terms of my writing career, I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Richard Adams, who had the luxury of writing long books on very different types of subjects, each with a really engaging story that one didn’t want to end.

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

DOB: My advice would be simple: keep writing. That’s the only way forward. Nobody can teach you how to write, really. If you want to be a writer, you can be one just by writing. You don’t need to go to classes or get a degree in fine arts. You might have to discard 90% of your work for the first decade, but it will get better. By the time you’ve done five or so, you’ll see what was wrong with your first, and you can fix it. And keep sending finished things out while you write more stuff. If your first novel is getting bounced back at you, go ahead and start your second, but keep giving that first one the odd throw now and then. It’ll help you keep editing it, keep refining it, and someday it might hit the right place.

I didn’t have anyone say that to me, but I was on my own and I figured out pretty quickly that if I was to wait to have my first novel published before I started my second, I’d never write another. So I had five novels finished before I got the first accepted for publication. It took twenty years for that to happen. All bar one of those five are published, now, though.

SJT: You are from Ireland, and now reside in Spain. Have your experiences living in different countries had an impact on your writing?

DOB: I also lived in Boston for seven years in between my two stints in Spain, and yes, each new place has affected my writing. A new city, and especially country, is a real boon to a writer, I think. It gives you a new set of locations. You have a new place that is exotic to you, that you see with the fresh eyes of an outsider, much as a reader would if they were to visit one day, and have more likely visited more of the tourist sites and important areas which a reader might be interested in than actual local people have (in Dublin I’ve never visited the Guinness Brewery, the most popular tourist attraction in the country!). At the same time, however, when you live in a new city you garner enough local knowledge and deep background information that you can give that authenticity to the subject matter – at least without having to do a whole lot of research!

New locations also make some stories pop up in your head; the new jobs and new experiences are great idea fodder. As well as my published novels set in the British Isles, and imaginary places, I’ve one unpublished novel set in Madrid and one started that takes place in Boston. Under the name JD Martins, I have three erotic romance novellas set in Pamplona, Madrid and Boston, the first two of which have been published and the latter will be hopefully this year.

Meeting lots of new people also gives you ideas for characters, and a good base for the characters’ voices, their accent and back-story. I’ve characters from Boston, Seattle and Madrid, as well as places I’m more familiar with Ireland, England and Scotland.

As an aside, leaving one place can make one nostalgic and more likely to get around to starting and finishing that novel which was inspired when one first arrived…

SJT: Tell us about your new release.

DOB: Last summer I had two novels published under my own name – a YA paranormal called The Soul of Adam Short and a contemporary romance with a bit of mystery set in Scotland, called The Ecology of Lonesomeness. I’d rather not say too much about the latter, because I don’t want to give away anything about the plot, except I spent a few weeks in the Highlands when I was younger and I’ve done my best to capture the essence of the Great Glen, which I remember well.

the-soul-of-adam-medium (2)The idea for Adam Short came to me when I was at a junction on my bicycle and felt a strange presence. I wondered what would happen if a ghost car went through you – while it might not affect your body, would it affect your spirit, the ghost within you? We’d all like to believe we have a soul, something that lives on after we die – what if it left before you’d died? What would that be like? I explored the idea and invented an English town around that junction where a boy had such an experience.

You can read the blurbs for both below…

SJT: Your list of published work seems to cover a wide range of genres. How would you describe your writing? Who is your target audience?

DOB: Eclectic? Erratic? Unfocused? I do have a wide range of genres – even more so in the books as yet unpublished, and unwritten!

What unites all my books, as much as possible, is the natural world, and some science where appropriate. My characters are all usually aware, or made aware, of the non-human life around them. A few of them appreciate it as much as I do. Some of my books are what I’d like to describe as biological, or ecological fiction, if that genre existed – a science fiction that is not about physics and astronomy and space, but of speculative biology. A kind of scientifically-coherent explanation of the supernatural or paranormal. Thus, my werewolf novel explains how a werewolf myth could have been created around a race of people who have a slightly different physiology to the rest of us, and Peter and the Little People explains how elves or Leprechauns could actually be real…

Sometimes I wish I had a narrower target audience, but I don’t have one, really. If I could come up with stories that only appealed to one group of people I might give it a shot. But my audience is just readers in general – those who like to read good stories no matter what the genre; hence wishing I could follow Richard Adams’s footsteps. I read widely myself, and the story comes first, the marketing after – it has to be that way to do justice to the story or the novel won’t come out right. So the story that came to me, which ended up as The Soul of Adam Short, was just perfect as a YA story, since teens were going to be the protagonists. The idea that Leprechauns were real but hard to spot just had to be for children. But I think (hope) that they appeal to adults too. The adults who’ve read Adam Short thus far have said they didn’t feel they needed to be teens to fully enjoy the story. I’d like to think my books are all at least a little thought-provoking as well as entertaining.

SJT: What writing projects have you got in the works at present?

DOB: At the moment I am going through drafts of the two sequels to my werewolf novel, Leaving the Pack, which will complete the Silver Nights Trilogy. I hope to submit them to my editor at Tirgearr Publishing later this month. We just had a new baby in November, though, so it’s hard to get the time to be sure of deadlines!

My novella One Night in Boston, under the name JD Martins has just been accepted by Tirgearr, and Peter and the Little People should be published by Museit Up Publishing later this spring.

I am also working on a YA novel set in Ireland, about some teens who hope to stop some of the illegal wildfires which were set there last spring. And my long-term project of a long novel set on a pre-Columbian Caribbean island is ongoing… Then there are the usual five or six stories that are floating around my head which I hope to get to sometime soon.

Blurb for The Ecology of Lonesomeness:

Kaleb Schwartz isn’t interested in the Loch Ness Monster. He’d enough cryptobiological speculation about Bigfoot while studying the Pacific Northwest forests. He’s in Scotland’s Great Glen to investigate aquatic food webs and nutrients cycles; if he proves there’s no food for any creature bigger than a pike, then so much the better.

Jessie McPherson has returned to Loch Ness after finishing university in London, hoping to avoid the obsession with its dark waters she had when younger and first discovered lonesomeness. She knows any relationship with a scientist studying the lake is a bad idea, but something about Kaleb makes her throw caution to the depths.

When Kaleb discovers Jessie’s lonesomeness refers not just to the solitude of the loch, he’s faced with an ecological problem of monstrous proportions. Can he find a way to satisfy both the man and the scientist inside himself, and do the right thing?

10% of the author’s royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.

Blurb for The Soul of Adam Short.

The cares of life are beginning to cloud fifteen-year-old Adam Short’s carefree existence. Important exams are looming, his girlfriend Julie thinks he’s unfocused, and right now he’s about to be late for the school trip. Neither his teacher, nor Julie, will be pleased if he misses the bus.

Adam has much bigger problems when, in an extraordinary accident, his soul is torn from his body. His body loses all consciousness−reduced to a mere automaton existence: eating when food is put in its mouth, moving when guided, reacting only to touch. Meanwhile, Adam, discovering that ghosts are very much real, is trapped without a body, and stuck in a place from which he cannot freely leave.

Only the untiring efforts of his girlfriend Julie−who had never considered the existence of a soul, and for whom the idea of ghosts is laughable−against the advice of everyone around her, including her parents, Adam’s doctor, and his best friend can save Adam. Will she be able to figure out what has happened to Adam? Even if she does, can Julie helpAdam escape the scene of his accident, and return the life to his body?

10% of the author’s royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund

The_Ecology_of_Lonesomeness_by_David_OBrien-500 (2)Links:

Website
Amazon author page
Author page at MuseItUp Publishing
Author Page at Tirgearr
Facebook

THE SOUL OF ADAM SHORT buy links:

MuseItUp Publishing
Amazon US

THE ECOLOGY OF LONESOMENESS buy links:

Tigearr Publishing
Amazon US

 

 

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Writing #6: Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has been some time since I posted one of The Ten Commandments of Writing. I am returning to this series today with the Sixth Commandment – Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers.

I’ve been running The T Party Writers’ Group for over 20 years now. Various people have come and gone over the years. Some people have stayed for a little while and then moved on; others have been with us so long it’s hard to imagine a time before they joined.

Then there are others who came once, for a critique of their masterpiece, who  threw a tantrum when one or two members dared to suggest that perhaps this piece needs some improvement, instead of heaping effusive praise on it, and then they flounced off, never to be seen again. Just a tip – don’t be this writer.

The other end of the scale is the writer whose work receives a ritualistic flaying during a critique session, and they get so depressed they shove the work in a drawer and never finish it. I admit that this latter category has applied to me once or twice.

Sending your work out to a critique group takes courage. You have spent months or possibly years on your novel, sweated blood for it, gone through the usual rollercoaster of feeling alternatively like you’re an undiscovered genius or a blatant fraud, and now you have to sit there while a group of people take it in turns to tell you how ugly your baby is.

However, it is something that every writer has to learn to deal with. A common mistake that many self-published writers make is that they don’t get their work sufficiently edited. There is only so much a writer can do with their own work – you get too close to it to see the full picture. You need someone who’s not involved in it to give an honest critique.

That’s why it’s important to have beta readers and critiquers. People who will tell you honestly, and frankly, what needs improving. The problem we have in our group, though, is that for everyone who says ‘I didn’t like your character – she’s bossy and annoying’ there’ll be someone else who says, ‘I love the way this character argues with everyone and stands up for herself”.

There is a balance between listening to all the criticism and not listening to any of it. If you belong to a regular critique group you’ll get to know after a while which writers are on your wavelength, and which ones are genuinely interested in the genre that you write in. If you write cosy crime, for instance, you’ll probably find that the critique from the person who reads a lot of cosy crime is more relevant than that from the person who only reads hard SF.

On the other hand, if there are six people looking at your work and five of them make exactly the same point, it’s worth heeding it.

So this is today’s lesson. Find critiquers. If there is no ‘realspace’ writing group in your area, join an online critique group. Or start a group of your own (well, it worked for me). Once you have found them, submit your work to them and be prepared to listen when they take the time to read and comment on it. And be prepared to get your heart broken, because it’s never easy to accept criticism of your work.

But the only way to grow as a writer is to understand where you need to improve. No writer is beyond editing.

 

New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

Best Books of 2015

(Cross-published on the WriteClub blog)

I usually start each year with a round-up of all the books I read in the previous year, and highlight the ones that I thought were the best. To clarify, my ‘best books of the year’ includes the ones I have read – not necessarily those that were published – in the relevant year.

Those who have been following the blog a while will know that I keep track of this via Goodreads, which allows me to log all the books I read and give each of them a star rating. The ability to do this appeals to my overdeveloped sense of law and order. Generally the way I pick out the best books of the year is to select all those I gave a five-star rating to. I can be quite critical when it comes to books. Not many get a five star rating.

In 2015 I read a total of 70 books (reaching my Goodreads target, hurrah!) and I rated six of them five stars. Only two of them, however, were books I had not read before.

I started the year re-reading Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and throughout the year not only completed all the previous books, but read the latest one, SKIN GAME – purchased as a signed copy at EasterCon in London this year – for the first time as well.

They all warranted four stars or higher. Four of them I gave five stars to. They are, in chronological order:

Dead Beat (#7)
Proven Guilty (#8)
Changes (#12)
Skin Game (#15)

So why did these ones rate higher than the others in the series? These are the ones that left me breathless. That had me gripped from beginning to end, turning pages faster and faster to find out what happens next, even on the second reading. But if we want to a bit more specific – and if you don’t mind spoilers (if you do, stop reading this post now) – there are specific incidents in each of these books that warranted that extra star in my mind. For DEAD BEAT, it was the T-Rex. No question. PROVEN GUILTY adds an extra complication to the series with the introduction of Molly Carpenter as a rebellious and confused teenager, who just happens to have burgeoning magical ability. A whole load of magical ability, and enough angst and anger to have her teetering on the precipice to the Dark Side. Harry just has to try and stop that from happening.

CHANGES is possibly the darkest book of the series. Jim Butcher says he likes to make Harry suffer, and he pulls no punches in this one. Harry loses everything. Literally. Starting with his office, which is blown to smithereens early in the novel. As the story progresses he pretty much loses everything else as well, including – at the end (SPOILER ALERT) his life.

But this is not the end of Harry, and the series carries on. SKIN GAME I was anticipating for a long time. I actually got to meet Jim Butcher himself at EasterCon, after standing in the signing queue for what felt like an age (and then babbled idiotically like a fangirl when I finally got to the front of the line). I had high expectations for this book. It did not disappoint. The series has taken a decidedly dark turn now, as has Harry. He is still as charismatic as he ever was, and still on the side of good, but due to various reasons is not quite as nice a guy as he was at the beginning of the series. But this means you never really know what to expect when you pick up a new Harry Dresden book. And that’s not a bad thing.

My only regret is that now I’ve re-read the series and the new book, I’ve got to wait a while for number 16 in the series to come out.

So, that’s four of my six ‘best books of the year’. One of the others is also from a series I’ve been re-reading.

I started re-reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books a little while ago. I take comfort in the fact that there are rather a lot of books in this series – over 50 is the official count, I think – and I’ve only got to #7 in my re-read so there are still lots more to go. Number six, however, has made this list because I think it is the best one in the series.

Hence the next book on my list of ‘Best books of 2015’ is –

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett.

I know there are factions of Pratchett fans, divided by the sub-categories of the various characters whose stories make up the Discworlds. The Watch have their loyal fans, as to the wizards. I have to say I have always favoured the witches – the crotchety Granny Weatherwax (the Crone); the earthy Nanny Ogg (the mother); and the spinsterish Magrat (the Maiden, though this latter category is represented by various characters throughout the series after Magrat gets herself married and can no longer be classified as a Maiden). And this book sums up why I love the witches. It parodies Macbeth; it features Shakespeare as a playwriting dwarf, regicide, dastardly royal politics and even magical time travel. What’s not to love?

Finally, last but not least, the sixth book on my list is one I read for the first time this year:

NOS4R2 – Joe Hill

Son of Stephen King, Joe Hill proves himself here to be a horror writer in his own right. Featuring a supernatural and spooky car, rather like his famous father’s novel CHRISTINE, NOS4R2 may appear to cover familiar territory but it soon becomes evident that this novel is not just a retelling of CHRISTINE. It’s creepy and disturbing, and original enough to be a classic all by itself.

I have set myself a goal of reading another 70 books this year. I’m already working on the first two.