Washy-Wishy

I saw this thing on the BBC website and loved it enough to want to tell you about it. As a writer, I love words and what they can do. I also recognise that years of practice have instilled in me some basic rules that serve me well. A writer’s job is to tell a story and not to advertise the way in which the story’s being told.

If I write a clumsy sentence, or even a single inappropriate word, the reader is immediately pulled out of the situation my protagonist is faced with and back to reality. Do that often and any reader will put down my book in disgust and give up. Having a compelling plot and interesting characters isn’t enough. The story needs to flow in a way that a reader will find comfortable and satisfying.

There are many craft books out there that help a writer to understand what works and what doesn’t. However, there are some extremely powerful rules that are instinctive and rarely expressed.

Take this, for instance:

Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.

The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth


Break this rule and, as the man says, you’ll sound like a maniac. Which will be off-putting to your English wonderful readership. ARRGH! See what he means?


Of course there’s more too it, there always is. I can almost hear the cries of Big Bad Wolf. What about that then? Shouldn’t it be Bad Big Wolf according to the rule, even though that would sound pretty awful?


The brilliant Mr Forsyth explains:


Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (lovey-dovey, fuddy-duddy, nitty-gritty), and sometimes with an altered vowel: bish-bash-bosh, ding-dang-dong. If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong.


So linguistic reduplication is so important that it outranks the adjective sequence.

We don’t have to learn any of this, it’s all natural. Which makes it so powerful because my readers don’t spot that I’m breaking any rules, they only know that it sounds wrong and they don’t like it. So they stop reading. And I don’t want that.


No more washy-wishy prose for me, I’m getting Mr Forsyth’s book. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elements-Eloquence-Perfect-English-Phrase/dp/1785781723/






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Characters

There’s a big difference between central characters and minor characters. Here’s what I mean:

1. Getting punched in the face

Minor character collapses unconscious in a heap, never bothers anyone ever again.

Major character rides the savage blow, comes back for more. And more. No matter how often he’s hit, he keeps on going even though he’s obviously going to be battered to death. Then, just when you think he’s finished, he swings a hay maker of his own and his assailant collapses unconscious in a heap and never bothers anyone ever again.

2. Getting shot

Minor character dies without fuss from a single wound.

Major character staggers slightly, looks down at the blood seeping from his shirt then carries on regardless. May take several more bullets with similar minor effect. By the next scene all traces of injury have gone and he’s restored to full fitness.

3. Dialogue

Minor characters rarely speak and if they do it’s usually monosyllabic.

Major characters can’t stop spouting on. They have an opinion about everything and a back story that they can’t resist constant references to. Their speech defines them, makes them real and tells us what we should feel about them.

4. Names

Minor characters, like farm animals, don’t usually have names. The reader/viewer has enough information to take in without having to memorise names that may never be heard of again.

Major characters have memorable, carefully chosen, names. Like Bilbo Baggins and Lyra Belacqua. Or Milo Minderbender. Or even Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool.

I suppose you’re getting the drift, now. But, apart from the potential amusement, why am I pointing this out? I as usual with me, it’s a observation that might help my writing. It’s important for me to remember to make a clear differentiation between major and minor characters so that readers get a helpful steer on who to engage with and who to ignore. Otherwise, I risk overloading them with information and maybe get myself confused as well.

But how many major characters are allowed? As many as I can keep up with, I suppose. It’s a bit like spinning plates, if you’re old enough to get the reference. For the younger readers I should explain that it was once considered top class entertainment to watch a man keeping plates balanced on thin poles by keeping them spinning. The audience would gasp with excitement at such a wonderful spectacle, I’m surprised that nobody has been on Britain’s Got Talent with such an act. Problem with spinning plates is the ones that fall off and spoil the trick. If a character or plate is going to smash on the ground I’d advise making it happen rather than watching helplessly.

Did you recognise the names I used as examples? In case you didn’t they came from The Hobbit, His Dark Materials, Catch 22 and Neuromancer. If there’s any of these you’ve not read I suggest you stop what you’re doing and get reading.

photo credit: plynoi Why so serious? via photopin (license)

Review of 2017

Dark days ahead?

 

 

I really commend the blog written by Tara Sparling, a talented lady that I met at the Harrogate Crime Festival.

https://tarasparlingwrites.com

I mention Tara’s blog because I’m about to do something that writers get into big trouble for and that’s plagiarism. She’s already done a very witty and perceptive review of 2017 and I have been inspired to copy her. Sorry, Tara, but you missed some very important events.

Including:

January

President Donald Trump is sworn in as the most charismatic, intelligent and honest president in history, according to his inauguration speech. President Putin hails him as a visionary and good friend to Russia.

February

A leaked intelligence report revels that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were having an affair during the presidential campaign. Trump makes a categorical denial and accuses the media of inventing false news. Hillary Clinton says she didn’t know that Trump was Republican and that everyone is entitled to be forgiven for an honest mistake. Bill Clinton refuses to comment.

March

President Trump announces that a wall will be built on the border with Canada to prevent Americans escaping northwards.

Paula Hawkins releases her follow-up novel to The Girl on the Train entitled Another Girl on Another Train.

The UK trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty confirming withdrawal from the EU.

April

The Canadian Government offers to pay for the wall.

Another Girl reaches number one in the bestsellers. At number two is A Girl on a Train.

Ireland, Denmark, Poland, Holland and Belgium invoke Article 50.

May

President Trump agrees to Canada’s offer. Canada point out that the offer was made on 1st April and was meant as a joke. Trump asks the CIA to provide a detailed briefing on the subject of jokes.

The remaining EU members except France and Germany invoke Article 50.

Leicester City, Sunderland and Hull City are relegated from the Premier League. Manchester United and Manchester City share the title. Dagenham and Redbridge both win the FA Cup.

June

Work on the Mexican wall is delayed because of a labour shortage.

France and Germany invoke Article 50, meaning that the UK has nothing left to leave. Teresa May holds a snap referendum which votes to stay in the EU now that Britain is the only remaining member.

July

Trump meets Putin in Moscow. Both men hail a new era of cooperation. Putin promises not to invade anywhere west of Germany.

August

The European Parliament is relocated to Milton Keynes now that Britain is the only member. UKIP change their name to EUPIP and Nigel Farage is elected President of Europe.

September

Britain agree to re-admit all the previous members to the EU, apart from France.

October

Putin visits Trump in Washington. The two men decide to swap jobs for a year in the interests of better understanding.

November

Civil unrest in Russia results in Putin returning to Russia.

December

Civil unrest in the US greets Trump’s return from Russia where a week long celebration is held.

Nigel Farage renames the European Union as the British Empire. India, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies are admitted.

Christmas is moved to July in order to relieve the backlog of undelivered parcels caused by Amazon’s drone pilots going on strike.

You thought 2016 was bad?

Happy New Year

Violence

 

There are many violent things happening in the world. The murderous actions of extremists are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis. In reaction, governments pledge to drop more bombs in the places that the terrorists might be. The term is fighting fire with fire. In the real world, it’s what the general public seem to require of our politicians.

In the fictional world of Jenny Parker, violence isn’t an option for her. Even if it were available to her, which mostly it’s not, she realises that the kind of people she has to deal with actually thrive on violence. It’s something they understand. Jenny has to find other means of saving herself knowing that threats of retaliation in kind aren’t going to change her antagonists’ mindset.

If someone’s trying to kill you shouldn’t you just kill them first? Isn’t that the only way?

I don’t believe it’s that simple. I find plots that rely on a hero being able to out-fight, out-shoot or out-muscle the villain somewhat unsatisfying. There is, of course, a degree of might-is-right inherent in the way we humans conduct ourselves and it’s a horrible fact to contemplate. But that doesn’t mean violence has to be the only way out of a difficult situation.

One of the reasons I write the Jenny Parker series is to get away from the convention that a hero has to be able to beat up the bad guys. My old karate teacher, Billy Higgins, used to say that a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un. He also taught me that, regardless of how proficient I might be, someone bigger and stronger would most likely kick my ass. The point of the training was to be able to defend myself long enough to be able to run away. Sprinting is a noble form of defence, in my opinion. Mind you, I only progressed to the level of yellow belt which some might find highly appropriate.

Jenny Parker doesn’t have super powers, nor does she wield a samurai sword to deadly effect. She has to think on her feet and talk her way out of danger. It doesn’t always work, mind you.

In the world of thrillers as in the real world, I firmly believe that violence will never bring a satisfactory resolution to a conflict. There are more subtle and effective means. And these are much more interesting to me and, I hope, to my readers.

photo credit: Explosion (Verleitung, Ablenkung beim SEK-Einsatz) via photopin (license)

Inspiration

As Stephen King will tell you, writers rarely ask each other where they get their inspiration from because we don’t know. The more we think about it, the weirder it becomes, so we tend to take it for granted that the ideas will flow.

Some of us find inspiration comes more easily than others. There’s this horrible thing called writers’ block that gets in the way some times.

I’m very fortunate to have worked with the brilliant and insightful Barbara Turner-Vessalago for many years now. She has taught me the process that I use whenever I write. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing, this really works for me.

Most of the time, I’m writing a novel. I used to think that a novel was an enormous almost never-ending task. I was often so daunted by the immensity of it I would feel like giving up. Then I learned that any piece of writing has to be written one word at a time. One word isn’t so difficult to do. The next one comes even easier than the first and I’m away.

My starting point is almost always a place into which I parachute my characters and allow them to have a good look around. Then I see what happens and write it down.

Barbara’s writing process is called Freefall and I heartily recommend it to you. I have found that most books on writing craft only become useful when I’ve more or less finished what I’m writing and am looking for technical assistance to make it work. Freefall is so wonderful because it gets me going. Starts me off. I lower my self into a time and place, sniff the air, listen to the rustling of the wind in the trees, narrow my eyes against the setting sun and…

I think you’ve got the picture.

Until recently, the only access to Barbara has been through her workshops in Canada, Australia and two per year in the UK. I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to attend at least one a year since 2007. Now, she has published two books on Freefall. Get them. You will find them useful and inspiring.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Without-Parachute-Art-Freefall/dp/1908363045/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Freefall-into-Fiction-Finding-Form/dp/178592172X/

At the moment, I have the fourth Jenny Parker novel away for copy edit. The two Tyrant fantasy novels are sitting in a proverbial drawer maturing and my SF novel, Voyager, has just reached the 30,000 word hump which means it’s now got a life of its own and all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down. So I’ve taken a couple of weeks out to write a radio play. This is really good fun and a complete change to my usual form. As a prelude, I attended an inspirational one-day course presented by a radio producer called Polly Thomas. If I like what I produce, I’m going to actually submit the script to the BBC, who sent me the only rejection letter of my career in 1972.

Wish me luck.

photo credit: SFB579 Namaste Candle-Light via photopin (license)

Accountants

Sometimes I get asked why my protagonist, Jenny Parker, is an accountant when most thrillers are written about members of the police force or private detectives. My answer is simple. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

This legislation has changed the whole dynamic of criminal activity. Previously, the job of a criminal was to rake in as much cash as possible while avoiding the police and the taxman. After 2002, the business became a whole lot more complex. No longer were the bruiser, the enforcer and the hitman the arch-criminal’s most important ally. A new regime evolved in the criminal fraternity. The accountant came to the fore. Without one, organised crime syndicates were lost. Having huge piles of cash became a liability rather than an asset. Converting ill-gotten gains into legitimate money that could actually be spent was the new priority.

I also believe that any plot that can be resolved using violence leaves a lot to be desired. Who’s got the biggest muscles or largest calibre weapon doesn’t do it for me. Jenny has to survive in a world of danger with only her wits and determination. Nor does she have the safety net of an institution like the police force.

So that’s why Jenny is an accountant.

There’s a fourth Jenny Parker novel, Exit Strategy, that is scheduled to be published in December 2016. Although I say it myself, it’s the best one yet. I invite you to catch up with the others while you’re waiting.

I enjoyed reading this particular review of Due Diligence because it reflects the way that the money laundering regulations affect every one of us.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Read, 5 Jun. 2013

Verified Purchase(What is this?)

This review is from: Due Diligence (Jenny Parker Book 1) (Kindle Edition)

I couldn’t put this down. So glad I wasn’t reading this on a bus or train because at times I was near to crying in frustration at the cruel fates suffered by the protagonist Jenny. I could easily empathise with the “Kick me when I’m down” life she is experiencing. May say more about me than the book! Minor, occasional suspension of belief (see other reviews) is a small price to pay for a thoroughly absorbing novel, which after all is a work of fiction to entertain, not a treatise on money laundering.

(Have you tried to open a bank account recently? I couldn’t open an account to pay in a cheque from the Inland Revenue because it was in my old married name after I had reverted to my maiden name following my divorce. I’d tried paying it in to an existing bank account but they returned it saying I had told them I was the only resident in my property when actually there were two people – yep, me -married name, and me -maiden name. Caught by the money laundering rules for £1500 from the tax man! You couldn’t make this up.)

Anyway, this novel is entertaining, absorbing, gets your sense of injustice working overtime and is just a very good read.

photo credit: Bank of England Fan of £50 notes via photopin (license)

Plodding Along

Sometimes its all you can do, plod along. Rapid progress is always nice but rarely achievable. Doing big things in one fell swoop is generally impossible and is very daunting. Like writing a story. Whether its a novel or a short story there’s little prospect of doing everything required at one sitting.

So, best not to try.

Many times I’ve heard the refrain ‘I’ll write my book when I’m [insert here a set of conditions that might never happen].’ Nobody has the time to write. There’s always something that needs doing. That’s why a writing habit is so important. Writing every day, even if it’s only a few words, is the best gift you can give yourself.

The arithmetic involved is compelling. I can write about a thousand words in an hour. So, if I wrote for twenty minutes a day I would have 121,000 words a year. A fat fantasy novel or two skinny crime thrillers! Twenty minutes a day!

I’m sorry to bang on about this but if you can’t grant yourself twenty minutes to do what makes you feel good then you’re not having a good day.

So I’m telling you to write every day.

I’m also suggesting that if you don’t manage to write then don’t feel bad about it. Be kind to yourself. But remember that writing is actually being kinder to yourself than forgiving yourself for not writing.

Then there’s another thing. Write for yourself. Don’t worry about readers in general or a reader in particular. In my experience, if you don’t have fun writing it then nobody is ever going to have fun reading it. Equally, if your guts aren’t churning with emotion as you put down the words chances are that it will leave most readers cold.

The publishing bit has been dealt with in numerous previous posts (as has this advice). Don’t worry about markets or genres or what you think might grab the eye of a literary agent. By the time you’ve competed your story, the market will have changed anyway.

Do seek help in improving your writing. Join a writers group, find someone to mentor you, don’t take any notice of the effusive praise lavished on your work by your friends and family.

Plod.

That’s my heartfelt advice.

It works for me.

 

Image courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk

Book sales and reviews

There’s a lot said about self-publishing. Much of it is derisory, as if self-published books are inherently inferior to those conventionally published. I suppose it’s because the vast majority of them are.

I’ve already referred to the plethora of titles that have been released by the relative ease of self-publishing and the way in which the sheer numbers make it difficult to be seen and purchased. Most of the self-published work is really awful, that’s true. This makes the half-decent or even quite good stuff hard to distinguish.

One of the ways to boost visibility and sales is through reviews. However, it drives me mad that unscrupulous authors are using fake reviews to boost sales.  If you’re willing to pay, there are people out there who will provide them.

I see reviewers on Goodreads giving five stars and a long positive review to a dozen books a day. You can buy fifty 5* reviews for about $1200 at http://www.buyamazonreviews.com.

If you want to make sure they’re good, you can write them yourself then send them to http://buyreviewsnow.com/ who will post fifty of them for $250.

I’m not recommending you do this, only pointing out what we’re up against. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your book is inferior just because you have fewer reviews.

To the honest author, reviews are gained with difficulty one at a time.

My experience is that a good book will get its fair share of reviews eventually, there’s no need to panic. People are busy, even if they absolutely love your book it’s not often they will take the time to put up a review.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging readers to review your book. Many authors provide free copies in the hope of more reviews. It’s never worked for me, though. Begging is my preferred option.

There’s another side to reviews, though. Some people may take exception to what you’ve written and leave a really bad review. It’s hard to take at first. When I received my first negative review, I forgot all the good ones and believed my book was as bad as this person was saying. I considered giving up writing altogether. It’s human nature to be hard on ourselves.

I’ve been fortunate, I suppose, I’ve only had a couple of real stinkers. My advice is to welcome any review, good or bad, but never enter into a dialogue with the reviewer. I’ve seen experienced household name writers answer critical Amazon reviews and I don’t believe they achieved anything other than to give added exposure to the review. When I see a negative review I can make up my own mind about the person who wrote it and whether they have been reasonable and fair.

So come along to this, share your experiences and get that essential publishing strategy sorted out.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/self-publishing-workshop-tickets-14168627747

It’s being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It’s a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you’ve self published loads of books, I’m sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.

photo credit: symphony of love via photopin cc

What Writers Need

I’ve been thinking. Dangerous, you might well say but bear with me.

As I wrote in my previous post, my writing has gone through various phases. I’ve learnt a lot and am still learning. There’s things I wish I’d known at the start, but isn’t that the same with anything in life?

So, what is it I most needed early in the process?

Encouragement, sure. But I believe I got plenty of that from friends and family.

Time. There’s never enough time. I made enough time to write a novel a year by cutting down on the amount of crap telly I watched. Now, I tend to wake up and start writing straight away. Time is just a matter of priorities.

Feedback. Once I began to employ professional editors my writing began to improve massively. I love the editing process, I like being told what to write, what works and what doesn’t. Having an editor gives my writing greater freedom.

A plan. That’s what I needed. I still need one and it needs constantly updating. The plan I’m talking about is my path to publication, and beyond. Had I known as much about the publishing industry when I began producing novels as I do now, things might have been different.

For a start, I would have been much more encouraged. I may have been sufficiently motivated to devote even more time to writing.

What I needed was someone that knew what they were doing to take me through the steps and the decisions that have to be made in order to get a book out there and into the public domain.

Someone friendly and knowledgeable. Someone like me.

So there’s this:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/self-publishing-workshop-tickets-14168627747

It’s being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It’s a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you’ve self published loads of books, I’m sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.

photo credit: Eigappleton via photopin cc