The Final Chapter

Short and sweet this week. I have started the last chapter in the book. No, I stand corrected. I have started the last chapter of the first draft. Not so impressive, but strangely satisfying. I have got here. I know how it is going to end. There is sense of achievement. When I first started this project, I had no real idea whether or not I would, or could finish it. I had no track record, only several pantomimes and a few sketches. Of course I am adept at fiction, having written a lot of PR in the past.

So here I sit with a story in front of me. Whether good, bad or indifferent, that is a decision still in the future, and one for others to decide. For myself, it is enough to have (nearly) finished, to prove to myself that I am capable of creating a tale, where no tale existed before. If nothing else it is unique. I have found a voice, created some characters with whom I enjoy spending time with, wondering what they are thinking and feeling. It has been fun finding out what happens next. The core of the next book is already mapped out. There is another story to tell that leads from this one. There is already something beyond this, which is good.

So, the plan is now thus. Finish the first draft this week. Spend the next few weeks revising and re-writing with the aim of having a finished manuscript that I feel comfortable in sending to prospective agents interested in the realms of speculative historical fiction with a side order of Sci-fi.

I don’t think that is going to be a very long list.

See you next week.

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In The Zone

Or, why does word count matter. But before all that, a slight apology for the delay in posting. This was caused by an impromptu decision to go camping in the wilds of Norfolk, to a pop up campsite in Cromer. You can find the details here.  It’s only open for August, but it’s a great location and Cromer…..Well Cromer is a bit down at heel and woebegone, but somehow wonderful. Well worth a visit. Ok, Ok back to the substantive issue, word count, why does it matter?

In many ways it doesn’t. You have a story to tell. You tell it. It takes just as many words as you need to tell it. End of story, so to speak. A good example is the short story The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. This was given to me by my son as an example of how to right economically and yet convey a great deal of information (he has a problem with the faux Victorian style of writing I am using for this novel). Reading it is quite easy to see that the story could have been extended into a full length novel, but I think that is to miss the point of Hemingway and his style. It leaves you wanting to know more about the characters and their story/history and perhaps that is a good thing. However when writing a full blown novel it seems there are clear guidelines based on the type of novel you are writing.  If you are interested, here is an excellent article on novel length by genre. It seems word count is quite a critical factor in the commercial reality of a novel and authors need to show that they understand  this to improve their credibility in the business end of the market. So no good writing the next Bridget Jones barnstormer if you need 120k words to do it. How am I doing? Well it seems Ok, as I am writing in both the historical and sci-fi genres where the readership expect a bit of world building and want to immerse themselves in a particular story and expect detail. Here you can go up to 150k without spooking the horses. My current word count is 110k or 112.5k if you include the as yet optional epilogue. I estimate that after the rather epic action scene I am writing, it will be time to sort out loose ends, wrap up certain key plot lines and leave others wide open as a lead into the sequel. So, I think that the final word count will be 120-5k. Of course, this is only the first draft. The next one may involve substantial rewriting, but I suspect the final manuscript will still be that ball park area. It feels about right to me. I don’t want to short change the reader. Ultimately I want him/her to join me on a much bigger journey in the next book which currently has the provisional title of “Manifest Destiny”. But more of that later.

See you next week.

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Just The Facts Ma’am, Just The Facts

This week I shall focus solely on the actual novel writing process as it has transpired this week. Something odd happened on Monday. Up until now I have written in a purely linear way, that is I have started at the beginning and written the novel in the order it happens. No idea if this is normal, or odd. Although I have had ideas about later bits of the book, they have, to date remained either in y head or just a few scribbles in my trusty notebook. It somehow seemed wrong to jump around. I suppose I wanted the same experience as the reader whilst righting it. Hopefully not knowing what was coming next and looking forward to the next chapter.

Perhaps when a great idea about a later bit hove’s into view through my sub conscious I should just let it take over, lest I loose the insight or inspiration. But up till now that has felt like cheating. Anyway if writing this novel to date has taught me one thing it is that the plot is a very elastic beast. It’s no good thinking you have the whole thing planned out in advance, the characters and the settings have a habit of changing their and your mind about what happens next. In-fact I have learnt to trust them and my instincts more. I have my major plot points, places and situations I know I need to get to, but the route can be completed without turning the mental sat-nav on. Rather I find it more fun to peer out the window and navigate by intuition. This is probably a bad thing to confess, probably means I am writing it the wrong way, too risky , too prone to wandering off at tangents perhaps.

Hey, but not this week. It’s my damn novel I can write the thing in any order I choose. So in a break from the norm I started writing an epilogue. Why, I hear you cry? Well, it’s complicated. I have many plot strands to incorporate into the planned three books. Some have been started fairly early on, some currently exist just as part of conversations between characters, ideas that will emerge as reality later on. Others exist only in my mind and in some broad synopsis written as planning essays. Some of these are absolutely central to the whole premise of the novel and I need to think and plan how and when they are introduced. Hence the idea of the epilogue, which allows me to come out of the place and style of the book and start to tell/hint of things that both help the reader understand and make sense of what they have just read and set up story’s and events to come. To whet one’s appetite so to speak.

The net result of all this is that last week was the most productive in terms of overall word count, with around 7.5k words, 5k on the main novel and 2.5 for the proposed epilogue. This is still optional, not sure if it is the best way to proceed, but it has been a very useful exercise in getting some of the bigger themes out of the realms of thought and into cold hard words on paper.

In other news, I have added another section on creative writing. This is a place where I can publish the exercises I am set as part of my writing group. You can read the first one here. Apologies for the bad language. Do not read if easily offended….just easily impressed.

See you next week.

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Tell Me Why I Don’t Like Endings

To badly paraphrase Bob Geldof or indeed Frank Sinatra (…and now the end is nigh..) today I want to talk about endings. This is an important bit for me as one of my pet hates in so many novels I have read is their lame ass ending. I have lost count of the books that start out brilliantly, set up a great premise/story/world view and then balls it up at the end. I have a couple of theories about this which are…..

Firstly, the writer gets bored with their own story. Initially they were fired up with the idea and characters, then they literally just lost the plot or will to live or never thought it through and just rushed off the first thing that came into their head so they could put it to bed or meet their publishers deadline.

Or, it was the editor wot done it. No author can be trusted to edit themselves. They need an editor to cut through the verbose crap (or as we authors like to call it, inspiration) to make the story work. Sometimes this means cutting the word count, and it may be just me, but they seem to do it at the end. The novel ends abruptly without a satisfying dénouement. Characters just drift off and the reader is left hanging.

Now this issue is a particularly tricky one for me as I am writing a trilogy. The stories are related, take part in the same universe, share some consistent characters, but will be set at different times. So how to end the novel? The challenges are…

1 Complete the individual story arc for this novel in a satisfying way that does not short change the reader.

2. Leave some issues clearly unresolved as a lead in to the next book and ,hopefully, whet the readers appetite to stick with me.

3. Leave the characters in a state that allows for their satisfaction, frustration and mind set to be both plausible and realistic. In other words they have reached the end of this road, but it is clear they have much further to go both in terms of experiences and personal development. Just like real life in fact.

Needless to say I have not resolved all these issues yet, but they are a constant dynamic in my mind, and as I type this I have numerous ideas about how and when to finish the book.

In other news the word count is now above 100k. Yay! I know it is an arbitrary number but it feels significant so Yay! again. We have celebrated this moment together. I hope you feel as moved as I was when it happened (not)

See you out there.

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Change of Scenery

Something different this week. As part of the writing group I am now attending, our host Pat sets us writing exercises. These are excellent in a number of ways. Firstly they take you out of your comfort zone and make you think and write in a way you hadn’t thought of or subjects you would not normally consider. Secondly it exposes you to other styles of writing and the different thought processes other people go through to answer the same challenge. This week the exercise was to write about an Edwardian picnic, where you are the tutor to the children to a wealthy family on holiday in Cornwall and nature of your relationship to the family. This is my submission. I approached it as a stream of consciousness in a letter form. I deliberately did not think to closely about the content. Just let it flow from the original idea. It took less than half an hour to write and apart from some minimal grammar and a spellcheck is unedited or refined. So for better or worse enjoy.

My Dearest George

God how I miss you! I know I am supposed to be a writer, but words cannot convey the frustration I feel at being apart, by virtue of having to play this woe-begotten part. Although we are trapped and denied by our feelings, I find myself even more oppressed by the stifling mediocrity of the middle-class. These automatons seem to revel in their conventions that prevent any emotion or pleasure escaping their fixed expressions.

Let me tell you of my plight. last week we went on a picnic. A picnic! An occasion for pleasure, for laughter, for words and feelings to be exchanged in the full view of the sun. The warmth should have fuelled our excess, our lust for life and each other. It should have been a time to make memories to be treasured and to warm the dying embers of our old age. Instead what did I find? Yet another occasion to display circumstance and class, preserved like the salmon, in aspic. Even beneath the glorious sky, perched on a hilltop with the sea close by, my family found a way to suck the majesty of our location. Servants moved like agitated chess pieces, ruled by a nervous queen, desperate to ensure that everything and everybody were in their correctly allotted roles and places. A formal imposition on the ragged fecund nature that surrounded us. And there was I, dear George, a piece with no real role, a token to be played with by whomsoever saw fit. The father, thinking I am interested in his dull job in the city. The wife, anxious about the progress I am making with her dense progeny. The daughter, precocious only in that she thinks I find her attractive. She looks at me with wide bovine eyes and imagines I find her irresistible. The only think I am resisting here is the overwhelming urge to tell them all how pointless they all are. That there is no nobility in their lives, no future that has not yet been decided and mapped for them. Theirs’s is a life already over. It has been written, like a poor script to be performed by amateur actors in life. Not even a good farce to be enjoyed with friends.

The dull ache of playing my part is taking its toll. I cannot write. All that emerges is bile and doggerel. I am consumed by my position. I thought it would be an escape. A summer to teach and a freedom to compose. Instead I feel more trapped and more observed than ever before. My soul has retreated. It longs for our peril. That is the fuel I know I need to create. Not a picnic, not responsibility for learning, but fear of discovery, of illicit talk and clandestine meetings. That is what I crave. So, if you hear a knock, late at night, do not be afraid. It will be me, escaped from my cell, free to join you in our dangerous future.

Yours Forever


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Heart of the Matter

A lot to update you on this week. So in no particular order we have.

Went to the first local writers meeting. Good fun it was. The immediate difference is that these people can and do write. They have crossed the line of thinking about it and doodling around the edges. They are writing. Whether for fun or potential profit remains to be seen. Getting feedback from this group was interesting. Firstly, they listen and are interested. You never learn in a vacuum. So hearing from people who are going through similar stuff to you is very useful. Their feedback had led to….

Rewriting the opening section of the book. Everybody appreciated the prose but….too long man. No point in having a virtuoso guitar solo at the beginning of the song if you haven’t even had a few verses or a chorus.  So the book now starts with a bit of the opening section but leaves out the extensive description of  the London stink and gets Perrin to the pub in double quick time for his meeting with the Cadre. However…….

All is not lost as I have added a prologue, which is essentially a scene setting exercise with a slight twist, the nature of which only becomes clear in hindsight as you read the rest of the book. It’s not essential that you read it, but by separating it from the main text I think it allows me to set up the flavour of the book and the world I am asking you to spend some time in. We’ll see what they think.

As to the writing, well we have reached the heart of the matter. The central plot premise. The big reveal. The moment everybody, well me, has been waiting for, an encounter with Oklo, the God of steam. This is somewhat daunting as I’m not sure how it will go. I’m still telling myself the story, but this bit has been on the cards for just about a year. It was one of the original ideas behind the novel. A lot of the rest of the plot has emerged whilst writing, but this bit has been waiting for me to reach it for sometime. I suspect it will take sometime to get it right so I don’t expect the word count, now 90k, will reflect previous weeks progress. I have to nail this sucker, because after it, things get weird, dangerous and out of control….well that’s the plan at the moment.

See you out there.

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Back In The Saddle Again

A word of advice for all you budding writers out there. Never on any account whatsoever, and whatever the inducements, take a holiday whilst attempting to get that first draft finished. That is an absolute, inviolate order. Ok got that? Good, let’s move on.

This last week has been painful. Not so much in word count, but in terms of getting back into the mind set of writing. There was a fear I had that the characters and the plot would have gone on holiday too. Well that turned out to be true. For the first few days, words emerged that seemed to suffice in terms of filling pages, but in reality and the cold hard light of the following day, not much more than that. So although the word count progressed, the story didn’t. It seemed I was just treading water, or if one is being charitable getting used to the idea and discipline of telling a story. On holiday, I had made lots of notes about future issues and , quite frankly, they have distracted me from getting to grips with the immediate story I had in front of me.

However, by Thursday, something clicked, all of a sudden, the groove returned. Characters started talking to me and each other in a way that was consistent with previous behaviour. Issues that I hadn’t really considered (from the characters perspective) suddenly started to surface. The dynamics of their interactions became better and more credible. This resulted in extensive re-writing of previous days work, but that didn’t really bother me, as the narrative was returning. The other noticeable thing was that short term plot points were resolving themselves without conscious thought again. Finally the route to move the story from A to B, as well as short story arcs for particular characters became much clearer. Phew!

So the week ended with the word count up to 85k and most of them were Ok. I’ll settle for that. Tonight I am off to a writers workshop organised by Pat McHugh who ran the creative writing classes. This is a sort of a follow on group for those writing “seriously”. I’ll let you know what happens.

See you out there

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