Tag Archives: Books

Resolving to write

Now all the celebrations have died down, one thing that many of us think of when it comes to January are new year’s resolutions. Whether that’s to exercise more, eat more healthily, or finally finish that book we’ve been working on for years. Hey, you may have even decided that it’s time to start that book you’ve been talking about writing for years. Wherever you are on your literary journey, the truth is, the overbearing, inbox-invading new year’s resolution is rarely your friend. But why?

Too much pressure
Well, it puts pressure and expectation on you for on thing. Now, I’m not saying having goals is bad, of course it isn’t, but choosing to start your book because it’s the time of year when you’re expected to make an effort can seem a little forced. You can still make a resolution, but just make it a bit more realistic. Something like ‘I promise to make a start’ or ‘I’m going to spend some time researching ideas.’

Break it down
The key thing is, breaking your book-writing process down into manageable chunks. There’s so much to think about after all. Genre, format, length, target audience, time, cost, artwork, promotion, marketing… the list goes on and it can easily start to look overwhelming. Just approach things one bit at a time. For example, you could say to yourself: ‘January is a quiet month. I’m going to spend a couple of hours each week throwing some ideas around’. Or if you already have an idea, try expanding it into a rough story arc.

Get involved
Even when you’re not writing, you can do a lot of research into the marketing and promotion side of things. Look on Twitter to see how people are promoting themselves, follow other writers, promoters, reviewers and businesses to get a feel for how it works. You’ll feel yourself getting immersed in the ebb and flow of self-publishing, and that can really help when you get going. Why? Because there are thousands of others who are on exactly the same journey as you and hearing about their frustrations and even successes can be helpful and insightful.

Just write something
Like many of you, I have a notepad of ideas and half-formed stories, some if which will never see the light of day. The important thing is though, I wrote them down. One of them I turned into a short story which just came out of one image that sprung into my mind, which I wrote down. Even if you don’t have an idea, just start writing something. Even if it’s a ramble, a blog like this or a journal, you’re getting yourself into the rhythm of writing, and that’s always a good thing!

So whatever your goals, dreams and aspirations for 2023 are, I wish you the best of luck!

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Filed under Authors, Books, resolutions, self-publishing, Writing

The Span part 1 (Dungeons and Dragons fiction)

So, something a little different for this blog!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I play Dungeons and Dragons (which is great for any writer wanting to get the imagination going!) and sometimes I’m Dungeon Master. That’s great for me, because I get to write a story that a group of my friends play along with! It’s great dreaming up encounters for them and frustrating when they come up with reactions to situations that I never expected!

Anyway, a while back, I wrote a short story which was based on those players and how they met as they embarked on the first adventure I wrote for them. I had lots of fun fleshing out their character descriptions and shared my work with them afterwards, which they enjoyed a lot! It was also my first attempt at writing fantasy – a genre I love, but had never written in before, so I’d welcome any comments regarding that!

Just for legal purposes, certain non-player characters and places named in the story are the property of Wizards of the Coast who make Dungeons and Dragons, but the character names are the creations of my players.

So here’s part one of the story…

1 Unfinished business

It seemed like an age since Kaldir had got the word out, hoping for enough of a response to get things moving. He knew enough about the various inns and taverns in and around Phandalin, and he’d even reached out to some of his less than savoury contacts down the High Road in Neverwinter, for maximum exposure. His contact had stressed that he needed trustworthy people for the job, but tough ones nonetheless. And where do adventurers go when looking for work? Picking up rumours in taverns was all part of the job and by the gods, there were enough of them in that city.

It was in such a place that he’d got talking to a fellow dwarf called Gundren Rockseeker. A while back, Gundren and his brothers had uncovered none other than the lost mine of Phandelver – something every dwarf knew the stories of. Located in Wave Echo Cave, tales told of not just boundless minerals to refine but none other than the Forge of Spells itself. The forge had entered into dwarven folklore around 500 years ago and had been searched for ever since. If it could be found, and restored to working order, then countless weapons could once more be imbued with magical properties – and the dwarfs who found it imbued with much wealth as a result. Rockseeker was eager to get the place up and running again, knowing that it would open the door to some much needed prosperity in the area. The thing was, it had become overrun with goblins and a network of bandits, all overseen by a shadowy figure known as The Black Spider.

This was more that the Rockseekers could deal with and clearly, they needed the help of some adventurers to find out what was going on. They enlisted the help of the Gauntlet, a seasoned band of adventurers who had happened upon Phandelver while travelling. True to their word, the Gauntlet flushed out the Black Spider and his followers on an adventure that took them far beyond Wave Echo Cave and into the Neverwinter Wood.

All this was being relayed to Kaldir at great length, and he had spent the last five minutes wondering when Gundren was going to get the point. However, he knew all too well how much his kind enjoyed a story, so he indulged the dwarf. Besides, he’d heard of The Gauntlet himself, so it was interesting to hear an account of their adventures from somebody who had actually spent time with them. As if reading Kaldir’s mind, Gundren slammed his tankard down on the roughly-hewn tavern table:

“So, that brings us up to date I think.”

“Go on,” Kaldir said.

“The Black Spider may be gone, but something’s still not right in that cave. There are no bandits or goblins, that’s for certain, but when I sent a party of my lads in to start investigating, they came out again pretty sharpish.”

Kaldir had to admit he was intrigued. He didn’t need to say anything and his fellow dwarf could see it in his expression, continuing unprompted:

“They saw ghouls in there, and zombies. Just for a fleeting moment, but even in torchlight, there’s no mistaking that pallid flesh…not to mention the stench.”

Gundren paused then, looking around him at the tavern’s other occupants to check that none were within earshot before lowering his voice to continue:

“There’s been tales of an ancient evil lurking in those caves, long before the Black Spider arrived on the scene. And I know even though they got rid of him, the Gauntlet didn’t explore every part of it. One of their party was fatally wounded in there after a particularly nasty encounter and once they’d set out to do what they came to do, they were eager to move on.”

Kaldir was even more intrigued but equally perplexed: “Ancient evil? But how did the Black Spider keep his network operating, take control of the caves and not find it?”

“Exactly the question I’ve been asking myself” replied Gundren. “That’s where you come in. I need you to assemble a new group of adventurers and find out what’s going on.”

“Seems straight forward enough, I’ll just do the rounds, spread the word, put up a few…” Gundren held up a hand, interrupting Kaldir. “There’s something else you should know, about this ancient evil I spoke of. Does the name ‘Mormesk’ mean anything to you?”

Kaldir’s heart seemed to skip a beat. “Yes I’ve heard the name … it’s been used to liven up campfire ghost stories and warn children away from places they shouldn’t be going for hundreds of years…surely he can’t still be around?”

Gundren held up a hand again. “Here’s what I know. Wizards once tended the Forge of Spells, working for an ancient race of dwarves to create all manner of weapons. Mormesk was the last wizard stationed there before the last great orc invasion. No doubt he had good intentions at the time, but who knows what’s happened since then? It may be nothing, but for me, well, it’s too much of a coincidence. That’s why we need to discover what’s going on, so we can finally get the mine working again, so all the Gauntlet’s hard work won’t be for nothing, and so we can get some damned money flowing into the region again. The gods know we need it.”

Gundren took a quaff of his ale, drained the tankard and wiped his moustache on his sleeve before continuing: “We need you to expand the Gauntlet’s span since they’ve moved on. Enlist some new recruits and find out what’s going on. You know the drill. We’ll need a well-balanced party with monster-slaying experience but I’d certainly make sure there’s a magicuser or two…”

The Rockseeker brother left the sentence unfinished, but it was clear to Kaldir what the inference was. He believed that Mormesk was still around. One thing was for sure, if it turned out to be true, the bards would have a few more verses to compose for their campfire tales when all this business was done with.

“OK Gundren, I’ll get to work. Before I do though, there’s a few things I need to get straight. In my experience, adventurers are only really interested if there’s any treasure to be found. The chances of me finding a band of eager paladins to do the job for nothing more than the wholesome joy of ridding the land of a bit more evil are slim to say the least.”

“Of course, Kaldir, of course. Very well then. Anything the party finds inside is theirs – once we can be sure that the mine is clear and we can get to work. Now, get the word out and inform anybody who is interested that they should meet at the Townmaster’s Hall in Phandalin. We’ll see you there.”

That was over a week ago and now, Kaldir sat anxiously in the Townmaster’s Hall. Even though he had no control over who, if anybody would hear the call, he nevertheless felt responsible, and glanced nervously around the old building, which so far was devoid of would-be adventurers. Currently the only other occupants – the Rockseeker brothers Gundren and Nundo – were sat to Kaldir’s right, and both were glancing over expectantly in his direction. One of the things that came with being a thief was the assumption that you knew things, got things done, had connections and made things happen. Kaldir had ensured that all the correct free-spirited underworld contacts with even freer tongues received word of the trouble in mines, and surely, anything with the potential for treasure was always guaranteed to capture the attention of adventurers, wasn’t it? Just as he was beginning to think he’d have to call in a few old favours to assemble a party himself, the hall door opened.

2 Brom

The sun rose slowly over the Sword Mountains, and Brom greeted its first rays with a grateful heart. By the end of this day, he would reach Phandalin, and hopefully be able to find out more about the mysterious goings on in the nearby cave. The possibility of treasure didn’t interest him at all, but treasure rarely came without its associated risks, and risks were something he needed to take if he was to complete the trial. It was a long time since Brom had left the relative safety of the Bearheart tribe in the forest to embark on the Trial of Awakening and he was a long way from home. The amount of time he spent away from the tribe and what he did in that time were decisions to made only by him, but so far, he’d encountered little that he felt tested, or even educated him. The trial was about exploring the world, discovering more about it and bringing this knowledge back, for the good of the tribe. If he did this, he would become a Den Ward, a title never before bestowed on any in his family. Family. The word immediately made him think of his mate Corla, and little Abrom. Having only just opened his eyes, he closed them once more. Just for a moment he was back within the safety of the tribe, lying next to her, the dying embers of the fire of the previous night still casting a warm glow on her pale skin, as Abrom began to stir, eager for his feed.

Brom shook his head and opened his eyes. It would be a long time before he would see them again and he would have to get used to it. He’d not seen nearly enough to consider himself ready, and wondered how he would know when he was. The tribe elders had assured him that it would be clear to him eventually, at some point on his adventures, he would awaken on a morning just like this one, and feel deep inside his heart that he was truly awakened and could return to the tribe.

His thoughts shifted to Phandalin. It was a town he knew, and towns meant people. Brom preferred warm bearskin and a canopy of stars to cold stone and rowdy gatherings but his dealings with the dwarves from Kraghammer had at least give him some introduction to the outside world. Brom and his tribe were leather workers and as the barbarian had soon learned, leather was something that was always in demand – good quality leather even more so. He could still remember the day, when as a young man, he’d accompanied some of the older tribesmen out of the woods to a trading post. A party of dwarves had arrived in search of supplies, and one had cast an experienced eye over a money pouch that he’d made – the first item of his own that he was allowed to bring. The dwarf nodded and added it to the items for trade. Since then, he’d had a number of dealings with dwarves, so felt that he was a little more prepared than he might otherwise be for meeting those who had reached out for help. Mining was the stock and trade of many a dwarf and though Brom could think of nothing worse than spending time deep underground, he knew that the adventure, whatever it would have in store for him, would contribute a great deal to his awakening. It was on one of these trading trips that he’d heard the dwarves talking about Wave Echo Cave, and the possibility of treasures lying within. Maybe this could prove to be the spark he needed to light the flame of his awakening, and begin his own journey?

With a sigh, Brom rose to his full height, drawing his bear skin about his broad shoulders. The touch of it between his fingers reminded him of his first ritual the Trial of Cub Warding – this was becoming a real morning for memories. As a younger man he had longed to be a Cub Ward but had heard of the dangers from older tribesmen. It wasn’t just the fight with the bear they said, though that was bad enough. It was finding someone who was willing to risk their own child, all for the sake of granting the candidate a chance to earn the title. He remembered the knot of anxiety in his stomach as he crouched next to Rantra by the fire, and asked her if he could take Rento into the woods. She looked at him for a time, then nodded once, solemnly. She’d lost her own mate to the trial, so it must have been even more difficult for her to agree. She must have seen something in Brom however, sensed his natural leadership qualities and trustworthiness. Try as they might, the elders couldn’t keep the looks of surprise off their faces when they learned that Rantra had agreed – surely she would be the last person in the tribe to say yes? So moved were they, that two of their number volunteered their own children for the trial – saving Brom the task of asking another two tribe members.

The whole philosophy of the Bearheart tribe was one of respect. They lived symbiotically with the bears of the forest, honoured the creatures’ strength, cunning and strong family bond. It was this respect that led to the stipulation that no weapons be used in the trial. The candidate must lead his ‘cubs’ – three of the tribe’s children – into the forest and wait for a bear to arrive. When it did, it would make for one of the children, whereby the candidate would engage the bear in unarmed combat and kill it. Only then would they earn the title of Cub Ward and have the right to wear the skin of the bear he killed that day. As well as adding to his already intimidating appearance, it served as a constant reminder of his trustworthiness – and it was exceptionally good at keeping the cold mountain air at bay. Breaking camp, Brom began his descent from the mountains and made for the small cluster of buildings in the distance far below.

3 Hilir

“Go on darlin’ sing us another one…I’m enjoying the view!”

The cheers that followed this latest drunken outburst sounded equally inebriated, but it wasn’t anything Hilir Dyernina hadn’t heard before. Jeering drunks washing away their worries with warm ale were a necessity of the job and it had always been that way. She’d been on the road and earning her own keep since she was young, finally persuading her father that she was old enough and responsible enough to leave home. He’d understandably been especially protective of her when she was a child, ever since the day when that creature…she was grateful she had no memory of her mother’s abduction. Her father had rarely spoken about it and when he did, it was usually only to express his regret that he hadn’t got to her sooner, and that he hadn’t been there to fight the creature off. Partially because she was frightened to hear the truth, but also because she feared upsetting him further, she’d never asked her father if he thought her mother could still be alive. He’d said she was “attacked and taken” never that she had been killed. Was it irrational to hope that her mother was alive? Most probably. But even the slightest prospect helped to give her a purpose in life.

In the intervening years, she’d built up quite a reputation for telling tales and weaving her words together with enchanting sounds from her viol. The more you travelled, she reflected, the more experiences you had to share, and so it went on. Nights like this were a hazard of the job. The rowdiness had quickly turned to violence, and she had to duck to avoid a tankard of ale which had been inaccurately flung by a young man still getting to grips with his ability to handle his ale. He hadn’t been throwing it it her, but at an older dwarf who was berating him for his lack of drinking ability. Hilir knew the innkeeper well, and a quick nod and a hand gesture to him as she ducked and scurried towards the entrance conveyed what the two needed to know: Everything was fine and she’s come by and collect her payment in the morning.

Wisely, she’d chosen her lodgings at a more sedate inn up the road on the outskirts of the town. She found it was easier to practice her playing and also to rest and well…contemplate her ‘power’. Hardly a power she thought, but then what else was it? From what little she’d learned from her father, magic was used on that fateful day when her mother was taken and somehow – perhaps because she was young and her mind eager to soak up the energy – some of it had leached into her. She’s never call herself a wizard, but the ability to cast a number of spells was something she’d started to develop alongside her musical trade. The roads were dangerous and though she teamed up with other musicians and players who often travelled together to keep each other safe, her abilities had got her out of a number of dangerous scrapes already. The sound of animated conversation up ahead brought her attention back to the present:

“Look Wilbor, you’re too old for any of that carry-on now, and so am I! Our adventuring days are over. Leave it for the young ‘uns.”

“But Jens, it’s perfect! Not to far away…probably lots of treasure…bet there’ll only be a goblin or three to see off…”

“Leave it Wilbor! You can go if you want, but I won’t be joining you.”

As Hilir got closer, she could see two middle-aged men totter tipsily away from the town’s notice board, their conversation trailing off as they walked further along, suddenly forgetting all about what had got them so animated. Alongside the usual requests for farmhands, advertisements for home-brewed ale and requests for general labourers, she saw what had caught the two old adventurers’ attention:

“Adventurers wanted. Those skilled in blade or magic may apply. All treasure can be kept. Interested parties meet at the Townmaster’s Hall in Phandalin on…”

The date was two days from now. Hilir was well-travelled and quickly worked out that she could reach Phandalin in time. She’s been there before but a long while ago, and not from this direction. Still it was workable. There was a gap in her schedule in which she’d planned to work on her spells anyway…maybe this could be the adventure she was looking for to really try them out?

4 Cronos

Cronos couldn’t fail to see the irony of the path his life had taken. The son of jeweller, who was himself the son of a jeweller (and so it went on), gems had been a part of his life since he was a young boy, over 150 years ago. He’d been curious since he first set eyes on a shimmering topaz that his father was crafting into a necklace to gift some visiting dignitary or other, and his fascination with gems had stuck with him ever since. The smithing, tinkering and smelting he could do without. Breaking away from the family business was virtually unheard of in tight-knit traditional gnome communities, and those who did were considered virtual outcasts as a result. So Cronos bided his time. In the intervening years he helped his father out as best he could but it was when the box arrived that the die was truly cast.

“I can’t get to those settings to replace the stones if I can’t get in the box.,” his father had said, after a fruitless hour tinkering with the Nackle family heirloom.

“Father, Tana already said she doesn’t care about what’s in the box, just that the gems…” “I know that son, but like I said I need to get inside…”

Just then, the bell jangled to indicate someone else had entered the workshop. His father left the workbench in the room at the rear, after which his fawning voice could be heard, attempting to pacify a representative from the Turen family who was asking how the wedding ring was coming along: “I assure you, it’ll be ready in time for the ceremony…I want it to look its best, as I’m sure you do as well.”

Their exchange continued as Cronos began to study the key hole on the box. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult could it? He’d tentatively reached for the needle-thin tweezers that his father used for delicate work, an idea forming in his mind. He could never really explain it. Somehow, he could develop a clear mental picture of each of the tumblers, willing them to move in his mind before he actually moved the tweezers. On this day, he would never know if it was pot luck or that the lock was a simple one. Either way, with a satisfying click, the box opened, as did the path of Cronos’ life. The family business expanded into locksmithing, and it wasn’t long before he was helping people get into chests and sometimes helping them get into their own houses, after they’d lost their keys following to much time spent in the tavern.

Then one evening in that very tavern, Cronos had been approached by a seemingly innocent-looking halfling, saying he was a member of a special guild, just for people like him, and would he like to join? It turned out there was a ‘test’ that anyone wishing to join had to take. He winced inwardly now, remembering how gullible he’d been. Was it the lure of the gem that he’d been asked to steal from the locked house? Perhaps. Boredom with his life? Maybe. Whatever the reason, he’d decided to leave everything behind and throw his lot in with guild. Whether what he was doing was right or wrong took second place to the thrill of adventure and the possibility to add to his ever-growing collection of gems.

Then one day, he’d seen an old woman sat on the low bench that surrounded the well of the square in the town where he was currently residing, awaiting the next job. She was sobbing, staring at her hand. As he drew closer, he could see the determination in her face, even through the sobs. It seemed like she was willing something to appear…then it clicked. The ring he’d stolen last night. Not from some rich dignitary who wouldn’t miss it, but from this poor woman, who looked for all the world like she’d lost all that she had left.

Whether it was an epiphany or a crisis of conscience, he didn’t know. All he did know was that he had to leave the guild. However, ‘leaving’ the guild wasn’t an option. Running away from it in the dead of night was. He knew he couldn’t return home, not just because he wouldn’t be welcome, but because he feared putting his family at risk from the vengeful guild. He’d instead taken to a life on the road, a travelling odd-job man who never stayed in one place too long. It was one of these mundane jobs that had led him to where he was today. The mayor of the town he was staying in had asked him to repair the notice board, which was in a terrible state. Embarrassed at himself by what he had become, he’d agreed to take a look at the creaking ruin in exchange for a night’s stay at the inn. It was on this board that he saw the notice. Nobody would come looking for him in Phandalin.

The story continues next time!

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Can’t help yourself when it comes to self-help?

Well-being and self-help in general is something that has enjoyed a much higher profile in recent years. Whether that’s Insta feeds offering all manner of wise words and inspirational photos, or famous faces speaking out in public about their mental health struggles, awareness is continuing to grow. That’s a good thing.

But to be honest, nobody likes enforced wellness, much in the same way as they don’t like enforced fun (think back to that company away-day when Dean went full-on SAS Who Dares Wins). We should be encouraged to think about our mental health in our own way. That’s not to say wellness books don’t have their place, but it’s all about finding the ones that work for you.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to wellness is important. You don’t have to restrict your reading to books labelled as ‘wellness’. Lifestyle, cookery and fiction are all linked to down-time and the act of reading itself, whatever the subject matter, is good escapism. It encourages conversation, much in the manner of book clubs. Though I’ve discussed those in an earlier post, they can be a great opportunity to meet new people who you have something in common with.

Writing is another form of wellness. Personal journals are everywhere these days, and some people get a lot out of writing down their thoughts, plans and observations. Or you could write a blog like I’m doing now, or even a story or two. Getting my creative juices flowing and writing something is a great form of self-care for me, because it makes me feel like I have created something, and contributed to something somewhere. That gives me a small amount of satisfaction. It may sound a bit simplistic, but it works for me!

Ultimately, self-care is about more than having a bath with candles, an audiobook and a herbal tea (though that does sound nice, come to think of it), so find your own wellness, your own way.

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Want a new perspective? Go to an old place

Thinking that I may as well go old school to try and generate some sales, I recently had some fliers printed up for my book, which I dropped off at my local bookshop and library. As any self-published author will tell you, it’s so hard to get noticed these days and marketing yourself is like a full-time job in itself, so I thought I’d try to cover at least one extra base.

The print shop was about a mile away from my house, so what better idea than to walk over there in the stifling heat of the hottest day on record here in the UK to pick them up? Anyway, shade-hugging as I went, I found myself walking through my old neighbourhood on the way. It’s not somewhere I usually have to pass through, even though I walk into town regularly. The first thing to hit me was the presence of a nice-looking coffee shop that I would’ve been very grateful of back in the day. The second thing I noticed was how different that and other recent builds had made my old street look.

Once these cosmetic changes had settled in though, I was left with a strange feeling, part nostalgic, part melancholic. It was as if for a moment, I was transported back in time, and my mind of that time was inside my head of now (I realise how weird that sounds). It reminded me of all the goals and ambitions I had back then, the things I’d just done and the things I would go on to do. I don’t know why such an inconsequential thing as walking over to a shop to pick something up got my imagination going, but it did.

So if you find yourself in search of ideas, a fresh perspective or just a change of scenery, take a stroll around somewhere familiar from your past. You never know where it might lead.

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Test the Waters

OK, OK, I’ve made the obvious analogy of the literary ocean and throwing your work in it before, but sometimes it really can feel like that. Writing is hard. Marketing it is harder.

Sure, you can throw your hard-earned at any number of social media-savvy agencies who will promote your book and it may even work, but the hard truth is that with the freedom of self-publishing comes the reality that everybody is doing it. And that’s great. Let’s just make that clear SELF PUBLISHING IS GREAT.

So what does it mean? It means that even with a serious advertising budget, you’ll be up against some serious competition to get noticed. That’s why it’s a good idea to test the waters with your first foray in to self-publishing. OK, so you’ve been slaving away at your 100,000-word fantasy epic for months – years and it’s finally ready. Now, the world will know the true power of destiny and the irrepressible lure of the Tanthis Stone…but wait. Rush headlong into marketing it with no experience and it’ll probably just end up being read by your eccentric Auntie and Jeff your old college friend. And maybe Alison from work.

When I say experience, I don’t mean time served as a social media executive, either. I’m just talking about the experience of self-publishing and marketing and everything that brings. It’s tough, and a relentless grind. Doing it first with a shorter novella, like I did, is a sensible idea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my novella Whisper Wood and worked hard at it, but I’m glad I used it to get some experience. I’m always learning and that’s the best way to look at self-publishing. Don’t expect readers to come to your book, take it to the readers, tell them why they should read it.

Comment on other authors’ stuff and write too. I’m genuinely grateful to fellow bloggers who follow and share my updates on here – each of them on their own creative journey. The same goes for Twitter’s supportive and fun #WritingCommunity. There’s enough space for us all, so let’s get writing!

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What Harper meant to me

harper-lee-tease-today-160219International Women’s Day 2022 reminded me of this blog, which I originally wrote shortly after Harper Lee’s death. I thought it was an appropriate time to share it again.

Every time I hear Harper Lee’s name I’m transported back to the English classroom at high school, which was the place where I was introduced to this remarkable story of courage, prejudice and human nature. Of course, the race message will always be the novel’s strongest voice but we should not forget that it speaks with many.

The sense of mystery when I first heard the children talk about Boo Radley was one that I identified with only too well. I think many of us will have memories of ‘that weird bloke who skulked around the town’ when we were kids, or the neighbourhood recluse next-door-but-three.

I already knew that prejudice was bad when I read the book, but it brought home to me the hypocrisy of people who, on the surface, appear honest and upstanding yet project their paranoia and insecurities so they manifest themselves in disrupting and harmful ways. Of course, this is a theme that is resonating very clearly around the world at the moment.

There’s a lot of Lee’s own formative years in the book too. She grew up in a small town and her father was a lawyer. Also, her mother lived with mental illness that resulted in her rarely leaving her own home. Like so many literary souls, Harper fell in love with English at high school, which put her on the path to creating her own timeless slice of writing.

To Kill a Mockingbird was of course a lesson within an English lesson. A lesson of human nature and the inexorable presence that it is. Above all though, it was and will always be a damned good story, which in the end is the most important thing.

So, thanks again Harper Lee for opening all our eyes.

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To Club or Not to Club?

No, I’m not talking about hitting the dance floor. This isn’t that kind of blog. Though that said, throwing some shapes like nobody’s watching is a guaranteed wellness tip I can certainly get behind!

I’m talking about the book club, reading club, reading circle or whatever you want to call it. Whether it’s a classic library meet-up in person (something which I guess will have become a bit of a novelty again after the last couple of years) or as part of an online community like Goodreads, book clubs are certainly alive and well. The thing is, I just don’t get them.

If you’re still reading, either you don’t either, or you’re a tensed-up ball of book club-loving anger, only sticking this out to the end so you can take me to task in the comments. Well, please feel free! I’m not here to pour scorn on the idea of like-minded peeps getting together to discuss a book, just sharing my general ignorance of the whole thing.

If I like a book, I’ll recommend it and most often lend it to a friend. I’ll also occasionally offer my opinions of one retrospectively in an online discussions page. However, even though I’m a very sociable person, paradoxically, I’m also a bit of a loner in some ways too. I go for a run alone, I’m not interested in team sports and I like to read something in my own time and on my own terms. I guess if there’s a book that ‘everyone is reading’ or is the ‘big hit of the summer’ I’ll automatically avoid it and come back to it when all the fuss has died down. I think it’s just wanting to do my own thing, and pick up a book at random, whether it’s an old Iain Banks paperback I’ve found in the charity shop, some Sherlock Holmes on my tablet, a Michael Moorcock I picked up years ago and never got round to reading (I know, sorry!) or Dave Grohl’s excellent The Storyteller that I got for Christmas. I mix them up, don’t have a plan and just go for it.

For me, reading is a very personal experience. Certainly as far as fiction goes, it’s pure therapeutic escapism, and I want the characters to be preserved in my mind exactly how I imagined them. It’s my little world and I want it to stay that way. I say to people who don’t read fiction that really for me, it’s like a film or a box set in my mind. I love movies, I love video games and I love books. I’ve no time for the snobbery that I’ve sometimes seen on social media regarding all these. Why can’t I enjoy a bit of everything? It’s all escapism and it’s all fun. As long as there’s a story, I’m in.

Well, that turned into a bit of a rant didn’t it? I guess if you’re as passionate as I am, they why shouldn’t you meet with other like-minded people to talk about what you’re reading and share the magic? I might even join you. Just not yet.

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When writing’s a chore, get in the game!

I’ve blogged in the past about keeping irons in the fire when it comes to your writing, and it is indeed good to have a few projects on the go. These don’t all have to be novels though! When building a believable world seems like it’s the world away, the last thing you’ll be wanting to do is try to dream up another!

That’s why I have a mental list (but you can physically write one, if your a list type) of projects to work on. When I was finishing off my novella I was also Dungeon Master with a group of friends who love the escape is of a good old RPG! I started off by running a pre-written adventure, and loved it so much that I wrote a sequel to it myself. I got great satisfaction from seeing the party negotiate the dungeons and forests I’d mapped out, fight monsters I’d thrown in their path and bring some of my NPCs (non-player characters) to life as they met the part in any number of situations. If you’re a gamer yourself, writing your own adventure is a great way to keep those creative juices flowing and try out some of your imagination’s creations on a captive audience!

Another thing on my list was lyrics, though you could easily create some poetry or just catalogue your free-form thoughts. Being in bands, I’ve found it’s always useful to have some spare lyrics lying around, even if you’re not the singer!

Short stories are great too! If a crazy idea fleetingly pops into your head while sat in front of your computer – don’t let it pass and just run with it and follow where it goes. The short story format is great because you don’t have to worry about creating lots of characters or excessive world-building. It’s just about capturing that burst of imagination you had in an effective way.

And lastly, you could do what I’m doing now – just blog! There’s sure to be something that’s on your mind, and it’s always rewarding to get it out there and get some opinions. It’s a great way to share your knowledge too.

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Always have another iron in the fire

Aside from the (very) rare flash of inspiration which has produced a short story or a lyric, I’ve always been a methodical plodder, a workhorse doggedly sticking to one project through fear of distraction. The problem was, ‘sticking to it’ for me meant hammering away intensely for a bit, then leaving it for a few months because life got in the way. Hardly living life at the literary coalface.

Sound familiar? Maybe you know who all your characters are, what they’re going to do and how everything turns out, but you’re procrastinating over that first edit or beta read submission, fearing it might come back tattered, bloody and full of holes.

After finishing the first draft of my novella, this was me. I felt like I’d done all the creative stuff, but still needed something to keep me occupied when the editing stage got a little bit much. So I started a ‘no pressure, just for fun’ project; something I could chip away at in between bouts of editing and worrying. I found this really useful, because it kept my creative juices flowing while I was wearing my editing hat. Because my mind was still in a creative mode, I think it helped me resolve a few things with my main manuscript, and I also managed to create something new along the way. (In my case, a novelisation of a Dungeons and Dragons adventure I’d written for my players.)

If you haven’t tried this, why not give it a go? Who knows, your ‘just for fun’ project may end up growing some serious legs and scurry off to enjoy a life of its own. But if dragging out the toolbox for another bout of world-building sounds like too daunting a prospect, no pressure. Just write a bit of your own fan fiction and take some of your favourite characters on a whole new journey. The world’s already there, so just have some fun exploring it.

Another approach is just to write. It doesn’t matter what it is, just stream-of-consciousness musings, some poetry or maybe even a blog like this one.

So go on, add a few more irons to the fire and see what you can forge.

Photo by C D-X on Unsplash

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*SPOILER ALERT*

It’s so much a part of our modern-day lexicon these days. Indeed, I’m hoping you read past that one, or else this blog would be rendered completely pointless!

Thanks to social media, and the internet in general, the latest film or book can be pulled apart, mercilessly dissected and strung up for all to see as soon as it’s released (and quite often before). Who among us actually wants to know all that stuff, if it’s something we’re passionate about? Why would someone, presumably of a like mind to us because they’re into the same kind of things, want to ruin it for everyone else? Is it just a power-crazed keyboard warrior mentality, that they have the power to put a downer on someone’s day, or is it that they’re simply just truly rubbish at keeping a secret? Is the irresistible urge just to blurt out what they know, like the knowledge is just too much for their brain?

I guess I’ll never really know what makes that kind of person tick.

Because I never went in search of my Christmas presents as a child.

I don’t want to see behind the scenes.

I don’t read blurbs for books or films.

For me, it’s always been about keeping the mystery alive. But why? Is this me desperately scrabbling for that lost childhood innocence, or merely just seeking out a bit of escapism? OK, contradiction time. I said I don’t read blurbs, but I was faced with writing one for my novella. Not everyone’s weird like me, and let’s face it, I can’t expect people to part with a bit of their hard-earned if I don’t tell them just a little about what they’re getting themselves into!

So, I gave them just one tiny stocking filler, one little sneak-peek behind the curtain. I think self-publishing has taught me a lot of things, but the willingness to dangle the ole’ literary carrot was one of the most important ones. When it comes to your blurb, it should do two things:

1) Entice the reader

2) Not give too much away.

It’s sometimes a fine balancing act. Even now, (only after I’ve finished reading a book, obviously!) I read the blurb, and quite often think that it’s giving too much away. But well, that’s just me. I enjoy being whisked away on the journey and never try to guess the end, so my way suits me fine.

Your readers however, may want a couple of the key map points laid out to help them on their way. That’s fine, but just make sure you don’t lay down too many clues as to where the treasure’s hidden.

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