Tag Archives: novels

Change of seasons, change of format?

If you’re anything like me, your inbox has been mercilessly bombarded of late with ‘end of summer’ ‘back to school’ and ‘last of the summer savings’ emails, heralding the inevitable change of seasons that happens every year, but somehow seems to catch us unawares.

I think reading is tied in to all this. ‘Summer reads’, ‘holiday reads’ ‘curl up with a good book’ are all phrases you’ve no doubt seen or heard numerous times over the years. They’re emotive though, and this recent flurry of in-box activity got me thinking. What’s the ideal book format for the time of year?

The humble paperback is synonymous with summer. It’s more portable and less valuable, so if it succumbs to a poolside splash or some scuffs of sand, big deal! It weighs less and is smaller so easier to carry around. An oily fingerprint from your sun tan lotion can add its own story to the existing one, reminding you of where you were when you read it.

You’d be less likely to take your hardback, dust-cover volumes away with you though. After all, you probably reserve this more pricey format to add to the collection populated by your very favourite writers. Though they’re far less practical, I do like hardbacks. Aside from the pages staying open much easier, there’s something instantly scholarly about them. For me, the idea of ‘winter reading’ conjures up images of Holmes and Watson, combing through musty old volumes from the Baker Street archives by lamplight in a bid to track down their latest adversary. Oh and they look great on the shelf too!

Then there’s Kindle. Whether it’s the device itself or through an app on your tablet, the e-book format has made millions of books available to everyone, everywhere. No need to agonise over which book to take on holiday with a digital library at your fingertips. Of course, it’s great for self-published authors too, and – here comes the plug – it made my novella available instantly to anyone around the world.

An audiobook is certainly your best friend at bath time. No book-drop mishaps or steamed up glasses for the short-sighted here. Of course, they’re great for car journeys, park runs and gym workouts too, making them the perfect choice for any multitasker.

Whatever format you prefer, losing yourself in a new book is the perfect way to ease yourself into autumn.

Let me know your favourite format in the comments!

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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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You don’t always have to box off

Believe me, that was a hard heading to write. I’m the kind of person who likes to box things off and get one thing done before starting another. It makes me feel good because I’ve achieved something and not left any loose ends. It doesn’t always work that way with writing though.

Sure, you want to get that novel finished above all else. You want to commit dedicated time to it and not procrastinate. I get it. But I’m guessing that if you like writing, you’re an imaginative person and you’re always getting random ideas. These could be a scenario, a sentence, or even just a bit of dialogue – it doesn’t matter. Write them down. Make sure you keep a notebook for all your random ideas and don’t worry about keeping them spinning away while slaving over your main story.

This is great for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll have a few ideas floating around, which is always rich food for the imagination. Secondly, it’s a brilliant solution if you’ve set aside time to write but you’re hitting a literary brick wall with your main project. That time will never be wasted, because you can pick up on one of your other ideas and see where it goes. You may develop a storyline for a sequel, or a whole new series. You may even dream up something so amazing that it becomes your new main project. Lots of fantastic things have grown from the germ of an idea, and your next idea could be one of them.

So, don’t be afraid to start something new and keep all those plates spinning. Great things could happen.

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Now’s the time to read and write

OK, you may argue that any time is a good time to do one or both of those things, but hey, let me jump on the Corona virus bandwagon for just a short time.

While it’s important to keep track of everything that’s going on and all the latest updates for the sake of our own health, it’s also important not to get bogged down with feelings of foreboding and desperation. Our own mental health is as important as our physical health and if we don’t keep our minds occupied in these times of social distancing and self-isolation, we risk putting ourselves at serious harm.

I realise that’s easier said than done in a lot of cases, but finding the time to read and treating yourself to a little escapism really can help. (Just stay away from any post-apocalyptic epics if you’re feeling particularly susceptible!)

It’s also a great time to start writing that book you’ve always wanted to write; you know, the one you spend so much time procrastinating over. If you’re in a situation where you have a lot of time to yourself – get writing. Now is the time. Not only will it keep your mind exercised and active, but it’ll help your well-being by just having your mind on something else for a while.

Of course, life goes on. Don’t lock yourself away expecting to churn out 100,000 words in a couple of weeks. Plan your day, get a routine. Work in some writing time. This could be the moment you finally get started. Or maybe you’ve already written a book and are putting off the dreaded re-draft. Again get stuck in while you can, and grow your next novel some legs.

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It’s fine to sit on your first draft

After months (maybe years?) of sketching out ideas, procrastinating, fleshing out characters, developing plots, then procrastinating a bit more, you’ve finally got your novel finished. Well, the first draft of it anyway. So what to do now?

It’s safe to say that nobody ever got their first draft published, so the next logical step is your second draft. The important thing is here though, don’t rush it. After all, it took you this long to get here didn’t it? Sit on your first draft for a while. Leave it alone. Don’t look at it and try not to think about it. Go off and write about something else – maybe that short story idea you’ve had simmering away in the back of your mind for a while, or even just another blog post.

This will make it much easier to look at your writing objectively when you do get to your second draft. After being immersed in your book’s own little world for months, you need some time to purposely forget some of the detail, so when you do come back to it, you’ll find it much more easy to notice all those parts you want to develop or change. And, because your brain has still been creatively active, but in different ways, you’ll be able to look at your book with fresh eyes. Who knows? Maybe something else you write may trigger off an idea on how to fine-tune that character who in your heart of hearts, you still have niggling doubts about.

Read as much as you can, too. It’s a great way to improve your own writing. Obviously I don’t mean you should go and steal someone’s idea, but you’ll subconsciously absorb lots of things you don’t even realise. After all, what you read for most of your life shaped you into the writer you are today, and you probably didn’t even know it! When you think you have your final draft ready, send it over to me, and I’ll put the finishing touches to all your hard work!

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It doesn’t matter what you write

woman typing writing programming

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

OK, that’s a statement that could be viewed in a positive or negative light.

But what I guess I’m saying is, the ‘act’ of writing is often more important. You know, in that ‘the point of the journey is not to arrive’ kind of way. It’s what I’m doing right now. I decided I wanted to share my thoughts on the act of writing. I won’t be any worse off if you don’t read this or share it, but obviously, it would be great if you did!

Just getting those creative juices flowing and stimulating the mind with some good old-fashioned ramblings is a great way to start the day. You may find the very act of writing too daunting, and think it’s somehow the preserve of people who wear no socks and work on their novels in coffee shops, or sage journalistic masters, who enjoy telling anybody who’ll listen about the dark days before the internet. The truth is, anyone can write and modern technology makes it easy.

If you’re unsure of where to start, start small. A review of a book or an album you’ve just bought, some of your favourite travel destinations – all these things can be left in the feedback sections of the site you bought them from. It can be a good way of finding your voice if you’re not sure what it sounds like, and you’ll be informing people too.

So, get writing! And when you’ve worked your way up to that novel you’ve always wanted to write, give me a shout!

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Literary musings

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I touch on specific authors in other blog posts, but this particular post is just a bit more of a free-form ramble about things I’ve read. I add to it periodically, with the most recent books I’ve finished at the top of the post.

 

I’m sure the author would appreciate my candour in admitting that the first reason I downloaded How to Punch Kids in Bathrooms is that it was free. It is in fact a stretch to call it a book, something which Marszalkowski readily admits close to the end of its 32 pages. Offering frank and insightful recollections of his childhood feelings and experiences, it’s an interesting read but is really more of an extended advertisement for his next book. That said it’s free and is a great taster for an author I now find myself wanting to read more of.

Is it really that long since my last holiday read? Well, time as they say flies, and it also plays a massive part in the book I spent my time poolside reading last year. Michael Moorcock’s quirky and unmistakable shadow looms large over the science fiction world, so I’m even more ashamed to admit that I never got around to reading him until last summer. I found Dancers at the End of Time in the superb Bookends in Carlisle, Cumbria (Attention bookworms, if you haven’t been, please do, you’ll be there all day) and picked it up solely because it was three books in one. No ‘you must read this one first’ sage advice for me. Thrift won out. Regardless, it’s a fantastically imaginative read. Based in a far-off future society where mankind has grown bored and complacent, it’s brimming with dark humour, cautionary warnings and plenty of time travel.

Having now polished off Andrew Hall’s complete Tabitha trilogy, I can honestly recommend this to anyone who loves science fiction, fantasy, or just a damned good story. Anyone who has not had the pleasure of immersing themselves in Hall’s strange and colourful world(s), well, I actually envy you, in that you’ll be able to read the whole thing in one go, one book after the other.

For sheer escapism and more than a little political history, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (American date format you understand) takes some beating. Say what you want about Stevie, he tells a cracking yarn and this ambitious what-if about a man’s mission to foil the Kennedy assassination plot is every bit the spectacle you’d hope it to be. I had my doubts on how King would tackle such a historical legend but crazy as it sounds, this story isn’t really about Handsome Jack, more so the book’s protagonist, his issues with time travel and very significantly, the people he meets on his travels.

Everyone’s favourite punk rock nihilist, sometime Hollywood actor and successful spoken word performer to boot, Henry Rollins is someone I’ve been wanting to read for a while. Broken Summers is a fascinating and very accurate look at life on the road, consisting of Hank’s tour diaries from various times in his life, while Black Coffee Blues is a stream of consciousness collection of short (in some cases, positively minute) stories, dream recollections and tour diaries to boot. I found Summers far more satisfying, possible because of what I was doing while reading it, and Black Coffee… a little too fragmented, but certainly extremely thought provoking. Hell, I love a narrative and Black Coffee isn’t really about that – more of a ‘dip-in’ job. Gearing up for Black Coffee Blues 2.

Ah, the much-touted Ready Player One from Ernest Cline. As a child of the 80s and a Science Fiction geek to boot, I absolutely loved this! I read it quite a long time before the film came out, and was beseeching everyone to read it first, so they could appreciate where it was coming from originally. Suffice it say, the film version, though successful in its own right, was a completely different animal.

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