7.30am and I’m writing this in the comfort of the summerhouse. I say comfort although it’s actually 8degC at present, the coldest morning of the autumn so far. This means the coat and an electric fire. (I count myself relatively hardy but there are limits to what I’m prepared to suffer for my art – although you wouldn’t think so, see below re Ilkley.) Above 10degC I can dispense with the fire and above 15 I can dispense with the coat.
So what brings me down here under such adverse conditions? Mostly habit, I guess. As you probably know, I’ve been using the summerhouse since the springtime to write a new novel, MALAREN. I’m pleased to say that as of yesterday, that has now been finished. Actually, I’d like to withdraw the word ‘finished’ and say ‘completed the first draft’ – it won’t be ‘finished’ for quite a while. I began the project on 19 March and ended it on 9 October. I actually wrote on 131 of the intervening days (bear in mind I took the whole of May off for various reasons – and a couple of weeks in September) produced 282 pages and 94000 words. That’s over 700 words a day, a good average for me as I’m more used to 500. I struggled a bit toward the end and I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the ending which I wrote under stressful conditions. Plus the fact that a couple of my characters started misbehaving themselves and did things I hadn’t planned or expected. I usually pride myself on being able to control them but for once they got away from me. Anyway, it’s done now and I can always change it in revision. Meanwhile, I’ve got used to being in the summerhouse …
So what do I do next? I ask myself. As of today I have no official Work In Progress, although you could hardly say I’m out of work. I will no doubt spend a few days mentally relaxing without the pressure of having to write, we have guests for the weekend and England have a World Cup qualifying game or two to play, but come Monday I’m sure I’ll be scratching round for something new to do.
I suppose I could always bask in the sunlit uplands of being nationally published. Ha! If only that were true! There’s not much basking done by low-ranked authors such as me, I can assure you. To prove my point, here’s a resume of my week so far.
Monday : Hornsea and back (90 miles) to give a talk to a local writers group. Made 1 book sale.
Tuesday : Worksop and back (130 miles ) to give a talk to a local writers group. Made 1 book sale (although the Chair, bless her, told me she’d ordered one on Amazon).
Wednesday : Attended a lecture at York St John (5 miles) on The Morality of Austerity. No book sales.
Net results : Three evenings out, 225 miles, 2 books sold plus 1 ordered. It’s hard going.
I’m hoping for better results today. I’m off to Ilkley Lit Fest to appear in a Fringe event called ‘A Pair of Shorts’ where I will be reading two short stories about birds. My hope is that this will lead on to a discussion about BIRDS OF THE NILE and subsequent sales. To promote the event I’ve convinced myself to dress up in my birding gear and wear a real pair of shorts. Inside the summerhouse it’s now 9degC. Looking outside, I can see it’s blowing a gale and raining. What was I saying about sunlit uplands?
A week gone by and much to report but with so little time to do it. Not least of which is the fact that I am now a nationally published author as BIRDS OF THE NILE was successfully launched last Friday! The party on Friday night was fantastic and before too long I hope to be in receipt of some decent photographs of the event which I can share with you. Meanwhile my thanks go to all concerned ie. the Bowls Club, all my helpers, Ant & Ben, Beanie (who was amazing) and of course, Union Jill. More of that anon.
You will note that I said ‘nationally published’ rather than my stated objective of ‘nationally recognised’. Being published is one thing, being acknowledged is another. As I said to someone last week, you can now go into a bookshop in Truro and order a copy of my book. The trouble is, nobody’s heard of me in Truro …
But I’m working on it. Firstly, I have a fairly full programme of face-to-face events lined up in the North East region. Next week I give talks to writers’ groups in Great Hatfield and in Worksop. On Thursday I appear at Ilkley Festival Fringe to read ‘A Pair of Shorts’ (you should come, it’ll be fun) and on Friday, York Authors hold their inaugural event at Waterstones (6.45 to 8). The week after … Well, I’ll worry about that later.
And now that the big book launch is out of the way I can get back to the online campaign. Hence the redesign of the website which is intended to make it more ‘Egyptian’ and serve as a focal point for the sale of the book. (Please feel free to buy one by the way – the links are there for Amazon, both print and ebook versions.) But I’d also appreciate some comments about the website and how it could be further improved. If you have anything constructive to say please use the ‘contact me’ to let me have your thoughts.
So now that we’re off and running and the excitement of the first few days has settled down, I’m hoping that I can get back to the regime I’m more used to and get some real work done on MALAREN. Last time I was here I was bemoaning the fact that I’d lost touch with my characters and I was suffering from a mild case of writers’ block. Thankfully I seem to have got through that and I’m back to my old habits (Day 126, Page 270, 90000 words) although I don’t seem to be producing the same daily output as before and things have slowed a little. No matter, I’d prefer to be putting something down on paper every day rather than continually stopping and starting. Besides, we’re so very nearly there …
Well it’s all gone to pot now! I can’t concentrate, can’t focus and as far as the writing’s concerned I can barely string two words together. I’m even having trouble with this …
I can recognise the signs – I don’t know what to do with myself, I wander from one room to another in the house and then forget why I went there and I struggle to find the right letters on my keyboard. I don’t actually feel like doing anything at all, so if none of this seems to make sense, you’ll know the reason why.
It’s not because I’m too busy. I’ve always been busy, every day of my life is packed but (but what? Forgotten what I was going to say. Went into another room and wondering why). Oh yes, I’ve always been busy but I’ve always set aside time for my writing. I’ve set aside time for it today, plenty of time actually, but I just can’t settle to it. I can’t even force myself to go down to the summerhouse …
I tried to get into my tried and tested routine last night and I was just about to drop into it when Ant called (bless him) to drop all his kit off ready for tonight (it’s the Big Book Launch if you remember – and if you think that’s what’s causing my problem, I can assure you it’s not. Everything is well under control, thank you for asking) and that seemed to knock me off my stride. It’s more than that. Over the last week or so I seem to have lost touch with my characters. I went down to the summerhouse yesterday but I was barely able to write 100 words. I just didn’t seem to be ‘there’. I need to reconnect. How can I get back to it?
I remember this happened with BIRDS OF THE NILE. I’m sure I’ve written about it somewhere, either in a blog or in my log-book. I managed to get back in touch with my characters then, that turned out alright and I’m sure I can get back in touch with them again. I didn’t write a single word on MALAREN for the whole of May and yet I was able to pick it up again in June. I’ve done tremendously well in getting as far as I have with it. I started writing on 20 March, I took the whole of May off and here I am on 27 September, Page 260, 86000 words and close to completing things. A little more push and I can get over the finishing line.
This all sounds like PAST PERFORMANCE, the first step in my talk, ‘Defence Against The Dark Arts’. So what if it is? That can’t be such a bad thing. If that’s what it takes to get me going, then so be it. A new plan is required and I must stick to it. Let me get through the big night tonight, tomorrow I have an early start for Meet The Authors, but Sunday is completely free and next week doesn’t look too bad. Let’s get this thing done for goodness sake!
Sunday was the only day in my diary last week with nothing in it. Fairly easy to cope with then you might think, but it turned to be the most difficult. Every other day there was something specific to do, something that had to be done. But Sunday was free, and with so many other things on my mind, it made it impossible to concentrate.
I had planned a morning in the summerhouse working on MALAREN. It’s always my first thought, my first priority every day. It should have been easy with a clear day in front of me but I couldn’t focus. It’s not often I have a failure like that, the summerhouse is invariably a haven of peace and tranquility where I can drift off to Sweden at a moment’s notice but yesterday it didn’t work. Worrying … But I’m not going to panic. I achieved my target of Page 240 and 80000 words before the York Conference and things generally continue to go well (Day 117, Page 256, 85000 words). My next objective is to have it completed before I go to Chicago at the end of November and I don’t see that as being a problem. I can afford to miss out a day or two.
And it will be a day or two, I’m afraid. I didn’t write on Saturday either as I had an early start to get to Wakefield Lit Fest for a 10am session. It was the opening day of the Festival and as I am appearing there on Wednesday (Egypt in Crisis, The Orangery, 8pm) I thought it was an opportunity to get to know the place and meet a few of the people. It was an extremely interesting morning. It featured two first-time novelists, Gavin Extence and James Wheatley (both young men), and was run by New Writing North and their Chief Executive, Claire Malcolm. Besides becoming interested in their books (I bought ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ for my wife’) I found the characters of both writers interesting in themselves, Gavin comfortable with himself and his book while James was conspicuously neither and it showed. This had the effect of making people wary of his novel, which was something I noted for the future. The other point of interest was the fact that I was the only male in the audience of twenty. I’m used to being outnumbered by women at literary events, but I could have done with at least some support … Anyway, back on Wednesday to talk about Egypt and promote BIRDS OF THE NILE. I’m looking forward to it!
Meanwhile, I’m off to County Durham – to give a talk about Writers Block!
I’ve dated this Monday, perhaps because I can then legitimately call it a ‘Monday Blog’ and perhaps because it should have been done yesterday anyway. But what with things being the way they are, I didn’t do it yesterday and so here I am at 6.15am on Tuesday morning still trying to pretend it’s the day before. The fact is, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
And it’s no use me trying to tell you everything that’s gone on in the last week, there simply isn’t the space – neither on the page nor in my head. I can’t recall past last Friday without looking in my diary but I do know that was the last day I wrote anything (MALAREN, Day 113, Page something or other, I think it’s 246 but I’m not sure and I can’t go and check because it’s all in the summerhouse, it’s no longer summer and it’s too dark to see a thing down there at this time of day). I said September was a train wreck and now it’s all coming home to roost.
Anyway… I spent the weekend at York Festival of Writing (irony – I didn’t do any all weekend, writing that is) and spent most of yesterday in recovery mode. But I can’t sit around in recovery mode because there are other things to be done although what I would really like to do is think through what happened at the Festival. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of these affairs but it all takes place at breakneck speed and there’s hardly time to catch your breath. However … somewhere in the middle of it all (actually mid-morning on Sunday) I attended a workshop which seriously impacted on me and may well change my plans. So let’s just focus on that.
Robert Sheldon, Plot and Characterisation – which I thought would be a talk about, well it’s pretty obvious really, but it turned out to be an exposition of the 4 Act Structure. Now I’m not a great believer in workshops etc. (more of this another time perhaps) and I’ve always rebelled against being told how to write. I’ve always rejected the formulaic approach they seem to imply, probably because I write ‘literary fiction’ and consider myself way above that sort of thing (how vain is that!). So I sat down thinking about my next one-to-one and believing I was just passing the time. How wrong can you be! What I discovered blew me away.
After ten minutes or so, it began to dawn on me that BIRDS OF THE NILE fitted this 4 Act Structure almost exactly (well, not even almost) and I could recognize all 4 acts, the first turn, the mid-point and the crisis, not to mention the main character’s goal and his flaw/weakness. What it meant was that I had written a book that complied with this structure without intending to or realizing that I had. And when I started to look at MALAREN, I could see that pretty much the same thing applied. In fact, I’m sure I’ve even blogged to the effect that MALAREN is made up of four parts. I can see the first turn, the mid-point and the crisis and I know what the main character’s goal is although I’m not quite sure about his flaw/weakness. As you can imagine, I came out of that workshop with my head in a spin.
I think it’s mostly good news – hopefully it means that I’m a natural story-teller and my books are marketable. My concern is whether it throws doubt on my work being ‘literary fiction’ and whether it’s more ‘commercial’. It also leads me to believe that I should press on with MALAREN as the next book to come out rather than AS DAD LAY DYING which doesn’t seem to fit the 4 Act Structure thing at all.
If only I had time to sit and think about it …
Monday, and hopefully an easier week than last. Having said that I was wake at 4am with everything swirling round in the brain and unable to get back to sleep. So up I got (you can’t fight it) and did whatever I could at that time of day to lighten the load.
I couldn’t write, of course. Firstly my mind wouldn’t settle until I’d at least got something done and secondly, it was far too dark to see in the summerhouse which is my preferred place of work at present. I’ve been away from the desk down there for over a week and in that short space of time things have changed and I can sense that the days are already shortening up. Have I missed my opportunity to finish MALAREN off before the bad weather sets in? I could always run an extension lead down there I suppose and cheer myself up with a lamp and an electric fire. Or maybe just take a torch and some gloves …
Did I mention that I’ve installed a thermometer? Just over 10 degrees Centigrade in there first thing this morning – and just under 20 when I left at ten to eleven. So yes, I did manage to get out there and put some words on paper to start off PART FOUR. Just a gentle beginning but it takes me to Day 109, Page 237 and 79000 words. I need to stick at it now whatever else is going on and finish off in the next month or so.
And just a quick word about last Friday. You may remember that I was going to Wakefield for the day in preparation for the Lit Fest event at the end of the month. I wanted to check out the venue, meet David Green (my co-conspirator) and scatter some promotional material about the town centre. (Here’s a copy of the leaflet itself).
Unfortunately it decided to heave it down so I got decidedly wet but hey ho, it’s only water. Fran Smith at The Orangery was very welcoming (hot coffee soon revived my spirits) as was David Green at Deli Central where we spent a very pleasant hour or so over a goat’s cheese and vegetable panini. More leaflet distribution followed, including a visit to The Hepworth.
Now, as anyone who has read my blogs will know, I take an interest in art and I have a particular ‘thing’ about conceptual art. I don’t understand it and I’m not sure the public at large does either. Imagine my delight (?) when I discovered that The Hepworth is currently hosting an ‘artwork’ by Roger Hiorns. And when I heard what it was comprised of – well, I just couldn’t wait to see it so at 2pm on Friday afternoon (having successfully delivered my quota of leaflets) I presented myself at The Calder for the ‘performance’.
I found myself inside a disused warehouse about 30 metres long and 15 metres wide. Down the centre, a series of steel columns supported the metal ceiling joists. Placed at strategic locations about the warehouse were a number of industrial objects (some concrete blocks, a stainless-steel table, a metal bench of the type you would see in a modern bus shelter, a partly dismantled jet engine etc.). At the appointed hour, two young men entered the warehouse, stripped off all their clothes and took up sitting positions on their selected objects. Shortly afterwards, their young female assistant came along and lit a fire on part of the object they were sitting on. Each young man then adopted a reflective pose staring at the flames. After a while the flame went out, they moved on to another object and the process began all over again. The accompanying pamphlet told me that this is supposed to pose fundamental questions about the nature of our relationship to the objects that surround us. ‘Hiorns is renowned for powerful and uncompromising works about technology, poetics, belief and meaning.’ I have to say that the fundamental question it posed in my mind was why The Arts Council sees fit to waste money on artwork that the common man (ie. me) fails to understand or connect with. A disused warehouse, some industrial objects and two blokes with their kit off? As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a load of bollocks …
Ok, so maybe the Spurs thing didn’t go too well …
And now another short break in what is a hectic week. It’s 2pm and I’m waiting for Staples to call and tell me that my posters and flyers are ready for collection. Hopefully that’s sometime today as I’m off to Wakefield first thing in the morning. I’ll be checking out the venue for the Lit Fest event on the 25th, meeting up with David Green (my co-conspirator) and delivering the aforementioned promotional material to certain strategic locations (which I have yet to be advised of). Tomorrow is get ready for Wakefield day …
I have definitely stopped writing for the time being. I am beginning to think that I’ve taken on too much in September and I need to focus on what must be done each day and make sure I do it. That means I can’t settle to the writing, but hey, a break will do me good. I plan to be back in the saddle on Monday.
A brief summary of my week so far :
Monday : Manchester Airport and back to drop daughter off to catch flight to Chicago. York Station and back to drop her boyfriend off to catch train back home. Ilkley and back to attend preliminary Festival Fringe meeting.
Tuesday : Design posters and flyers for Wakefield (and get them approved). Drop some flyers off at Spoken Word, say hello and shoot off to slide show about birding in Morocco in advance of my visit there next year.
Wednesday : Redesign website in readiness for online launch of BIRDS OF THE NILE at the beginning of October. Attend meeting with my Social Media Consultant to discuss online campaign. Then off to the regular monthly meeting of York Writers Group (remembering to take a handful of flyers).
And besides having to fit in buying a new lawnmower, in between all this I’ve been doing the rounds to deliver Book Launch tickets and books (the latest count is 116 allocated - somebody gave back word - 10 complimentary and 24 paid for).
No wonder I can’t get any writing done …
3pm and an hour to fill before Spurs take on Arsenal at The Emirates. This may be the last bit of down time I get before it all takes off tomorrow …
Now I have stopped writing – but only for a couple of days and for good reason. MALAREN is composed of four parts – on Friday I finished Part Three (Ray and Kurt have managed to get themselves plastered and have driven off in the speedboat leaving Katerina, Anna and Alan on the quayside - cue boating accident). Day 108, Page 236 and probably 78000 words. On Saturday I sat and plotted out Part Four (ending) and as I won’t be writing tomorrow (early start to take my daughter to the airport) I didn’t think it worth doing anything today. Better to start from fresh on Tuesday and take a run at it.
Meanwhile, I have started to firm up on The Book Launch for BIRDS OF THE NILE. I have allocated all 120 tickets – but that doesn’t mean they’re all sold. Yesterday afternoon I did the rounds of some prospective attendees and I’m pleased to say that almost all were good to pony up so I’ve actually been paid for 12. There are 10 complimentary tickets for helpers and performers so only another 98 to sell …
And just to say that during my ‘quiet’ time over the last two weeks, I did manage to read a book. I picked ‘Seating Arrangements’ by Maggie Shipstead. It’s been getting some good write-ups and won The Dylan Thomas Prize for 2012. That means it’s rather poetic and I guess that is one of its more noticeable features. I tend to prefer my prose simple (see my blog about Rodenbach and Shute). The storyline can seem slow and pedantic in places but the overall thrust of the book (the life of a man ie. Winn Van Meters) does come through in the end. For that reason, I liked it – it certainly had something about it. My wife hated it – partly because she thought Van Meters was a prat. But I don’t think you always have to like your main character in order to enjoy a book. Let’s hope so, as some of my main characters aren’t exactly adorable …
Oh, look – it’s half past three. Thirty minutes to kick off!
12 midday and an hour to fill before the motor racing starts. I’m indulging myself today and allowing myself a slump in front of the TV. In fact, I’ve been indulging myself all this week as I’ve tried my best to back off a bit and have something of a rest before the **** hits the fan in September. My diary for the month to come looks like a train crash …
That doesn’t mean to say I’ve stopped writing – I couldn’t possibly let that happen, never mind how much I need a break. So I’ve put in eight solid days since I last blogged, I’m now Day 103, page 224 and probably 74500 words into MALAREN. I’ve reached crucial parts of the story, everything is going well and I’ve every chance of making my goal of 80000 words before the York Conference. Looking back on how things have gone, I seem to have suffered far less setbacks and blocks with this book than I have with any other. I seem to recall that in the past I’ve been able to sustain things for a few weeks (maybe 6 at the most) before hitting a really bad patch when I have to take a step back and re-programme. Well, I’ve been going almost continuously now since the beginning of June (May was a wash-out for writing due to other factors) and, fingers crossed, so far there have been no hiccups. Maybe it’s the summerhouse, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve now ‘turned professional’ and see things differently. Long may it continue, whatever it is.
As to progress elsewhere, eg. BIRDS OF THE NILE, there’s nothing really to report. As I say I’ve taken a step back over the last few days before girding my loins at the end of the month. True, I’ve allocated 119 Book Launch tickets and one of my first jobs back in the saddle will be to start firming up on them – I mustn’t leave that too late. But beyond that, it’s all been very quiet …
Meanwhile, a spot of lunch and on with the TV. Come on Lewis!
Day off today, writing wise, as I’ve reached the end of Chapter Fifteen and I need a break to gather my thoughts before starting Chapter Sixteen. This a key moment in the book as ALAN (the main protagonist) is about to start an affair with ANNA. In the meanwhile, MALAREN progresses to day 95, page 205 and 68000 words.
I also need some time to play catch up with the pile of correspondence and ‘stuff’ in my study which has been steadily accumulating over the course of the last week or so. I even found some post from Wednesday which hasn’t been opened yet. Anyway, it doesn’t matter as it’s from the taxman …
I meant to get things sorted out before the weekend but Thursday got thrown into confusion after the latest round of conflict in Egypt. I was out walking in the Dales with a friend on Wednesday and came home to a telephone message. ‘Could I come and do a radio interview?’ Well, yes I could but a day later than requested so spent time on Thursday boning up followed by the interview at 5pm. It was my fourth on the topic so far.
I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, they clearly provide an opportunity for publicising BIRDS OF THE NILE. On the other, it means that there has been more violence and unrest in Egypt and that is always distressing. The idea that I might be benefitting from someone else’s discomfort does not sit easily. However, if I didn’t go and do the interview, somebody less sympathetic might.
Took advantage of the good weather yesterday and spent the afternoon gardening – very therapeutic.
Which my diary tells me is the first day of the grouse shooting season – whoopee …
MALAREN, day 92, page 197, 65000 words and a particularly pleasing piece of dialogue done today. Pleasing because dialogue can be tricky and it can be difficult to make it sound realistic but also because it enabled me to fill in a lot of ‘back story’ by means of actual conversation rather than having to ‘tell’ the reader – which is all the more important when you’re writing in first person as I am.
Regular readers and the more astute amongst you will notice that I’ve missed a few days at the desk. I said I would, primarily to go to Middlesbrough on Saturday for an ‘author event’. As it turned out this also cost me Sunday’s slot as well …
Saturday was my third visit to the city. I went twice for the Lit Fest and once for the author event. While I was there on Saturday I had time (lots of it, as it happened) to reflect on the success (or otherwise) of the Middlesbrough campaign and I drew up a mental balance sheet. Here it is.
Saturday 15 June, Middlesbrough Lit Fest Open Day
Good Things – An excellent radio interview which I thoroughly enjoyed (my thanks to Radio Tees). I also sold 4 books and had a good response to my reading.
Bad Things – A £60 parking fine. Hmm …
Thursday 27 June, Middlesbrough Lit Fest Seminar
Bad Things – Nobody at all turned up to my fascinating talk on The Modern Author and I didn’t sell any books.
Good Things – Middlesbrough Lit Fest paid me £125 for the privilege (which I wasn’t expecting).
And finally, Saturday 10 August, Author Event at The Forbes Building Arts & Crafts Fair, courtesy of Boro Bookworm
Good Things – Not a lot, really. Sold one book (I think the woman concerned took pity on me) and I had a fun conversation with my companion on the bookstall. This revolved around one of the items for sale being a book of tattoos. There being little else to do (despite the presence of a life-size Dalek and a Star Wars Storm Trooper to attract visitors, there actually weren’t very many) we firstly fell to talking about tattoos (as you do), then to who in the room might be wearing any and if so, where they might be wearing them. The conversation then became entirely inappropriate and I have no intention of repeating it here except to say that it involved ******’s backside which, owing to the nature of her leopard-skin tights, left little to the imagination. Suffice it to say that my one abiding memory of Saturday … Anyway, we’d better move on.
Bad Things - ?
So all in all, the jury’s still out on Middlesbrough. Financially it was probably a break-even while in other respects, I’ll leave you to judge. But if you’re asking, I returned quite depressed and failed to get my head right for Sunday – which explains why I lost the day. A lesson learned, I suppose ...
A few spare minutes in what is an extremely busy week so time for some Writing Life …
And we begin, as usual, with MALAREN. Day 91, Page 194 and somewhere around 64000 words I guess, so still going well and every chance of making my target of 240 pages and 80000 words
before York Festival of Writing in September (more of that anon). I do foresee a few days when I won’t be able to write but at the rate at which I’m going, it may not matter.
Something that crossed my mind today whilst I was down in the summerhouse – my characters do seem to behave themselves. And by that I mean they do what they’re told when I tell them to do it. Some writers tell me that their characters misbehave and go off on jaunts of their own. Mine, I have to say, stay firmly under my control. That’s probably because I plot very thoroughly in advance. I know the beginning, the ending and pretty much everything that happens in between so there’s no scope for deviancy. That might not suit everyone, I’m sure, but it’s fine for me.
So, apart from that, how goes my week? As you’re already aware my main focus has been The Book Launch. Posters and flyers have been circulated (see the Home page!) and I’ve now allocated 100 tickets. And when I say allocated, I mean asked for but not yet paid so I’m not getting too excited yet but with 7 weeks still to go, things are looking good. The Function Suite will take 120 (so they tell me) so that’s my target and I think it’s achievable. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, I’m out three nights this week and both days over the weekend. Tuesday was curry night at Ve Raj in Shiptonthorpe with the Give Back Works team from Hull as organised by Caroline at Business Boots. I made some good contacts and received an invitation to speak at one of their meetings - can’t be bad. The curry was really good too.
Last night I chaired the monthly York Writers Group meeting, our chairman being away on holiday. The attendance was small (but perfectly formed) and there were some good readings. I also sold a Book Launch ticket …
Tonight I’m at York Authors where we will be talking about our promotional programme for the coming months. As for the weekend, I’ll leave that until another time.
Back to the York Festival of Writing. I need to send in an opening chapter for my agent one-to-ones so tomorrow I’m going to sit down and get that done. It may well mean losing a day’s writing on MALAREN, but as I say, I’m well in front and I’ve reached a convenient point to break off having just finished Chapter Fourteen. My problem is which opening chapter to send in. It’s no good sending BIRDS OF THE NILE (already published), AS DAD LAY DYING isn’t exactly ideal for trying to impress an agent and MALAREN is only at first draft stage and nowhere near polished. I’m thinking BOXED IN. There, that’s got you! You didn’t know about that one!
I’m just full of surprises …
Well, well – what a terrific day it’s been today. Great progress with my current novel and England avoid defeat in the Third Test! Does it get any better than that?
Dealing firstly with MALAREN … Today was Day 88 and although things had been going very well up until now, I sensed I was coming to a sticking point. I went to bed last night thinking I was stuck and wondering where on earth my two pages for Monday were going to come from. Added to that was the fact that I woke to pouring rain and the great disincentive of having to walk through it to get to the office at the bottom of the garden. Even my daughter said ‘It doesn’t look like a summerhouse day today, Dad’. How wrong can you be – and it made me think how important it is to have a ‘place’ to write in.
Despite the rain (and my lack of ideas), I decided to make the trip down there. I spent the first twenty minutes telling myself that just like the cricket, I might have to abandon play for the day, but gradually I settled into it and the ideas began to come. Suddenly I was into it and although it took me a couple of hours longer than usual (I didn’t leave off until 1pm), by the end of the session I had not two, but three pages to my credit. And they were good pages too, with the narrative driven by a new thought that really takes things forward. And all because I stuck to my routine and made the effort.
I’m sure this was due to my choice of writing venue. Had I been elsewhere, in the study indoors for instance, there would certainly have been too much to distract me. But out in the summerhouse there is no phone and no computer (I write by hand) and I have come to associate it purely with writing. The fact is, once I get down there, there’s nothing else to do and it’s so easy to fall into character. When I’m in the summerhouse, I am Alan Harrison and I am in Sweden – and whatever I’m thinking is what he’s thinking and all I have to do is put it down on paper. It was a revelation – and I’ll be back there tomorrow, whether it’s raining or not!
Tonight though, it’s back to Book Launch business and another evening on the telephone. Since we last spoke I’ve had some posters and some flyers printed and I need to get them circulated …
Another day, another dollar …
MALAREN goes to Day 83, Page 174, 58000 words and getting to the really interesting part. ALAN has met ANNA and you get the feeling something’s about to happen ...
Meanwhile, ever since my son acquired a pug there’s been a saying in our house – ‘it’s all about the dog’. For me, it’s all about the Book Launch (it’s even got to have capital letters now). I take the tickets everywhere I go and sell some at every opportunity – I’ve now allocated 74 out of my target of 120. Hard work but hopefully it will be worth while. Details are now on my Events page if you fancy coming.
As for the rest of my promotional programme for BIRDS OF THE NILE, I have an interesting proposition going with Wakefield Literature Festival. They have invited me to apply for ‘seed funding’. And yes, I had to ask too and it's nothing to do with gardening. It's actually a grant of up to £200 to put on an event for 2013 and I’ve come up with the idea of buddying up with an academic and having an onstage debate about the problems in Egypt. This would be entitled ‘Egypt in Crisis – Fact and Fiction’ and would obviously enable me to talk about the book in a roundabout way. Subtle, eh? Anyway, the proposal has gone in and I’m waiting for a response. My next job is to tackle a few more writers’ groups. The diary is looking very thin after the middle of October …
Days are passing by so quickly here it’s becoming hard to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Every time I sit down to update my Writing Life, I keep having to refer to the diary.
One thing is, however, certain. MALAREN continues apace (day 75, page 156, 52000 words). And I can recall worrying at the start as to how I was going to ‘fill’ 80000 words! Now it looks as though I might go over 100. Still, better to be on the thick end of things and have to cut rather than be short and have to pad out.
As for BIRDS OF THE NILE, the main focus at the moment is definitely the booklaunch at the end of September. I’ve set a date (Friday the 27th) and chosen a venue (New Earswick Bowls Club in York). Admittedly that doesn’t sound very glamorous but the people there are really nice and we can get up to 120 in the Function Suite. Added to which, their rates are very reasonable. That means I can spend a bit more on the entertainment provided I get the numbers. So far, I’ve spent two nights on the phone and I’ve provisionally sold 35 seats at £10 each. Only another 85 to go … On the strength of that, I’ve booked Union Jill to come and play plus Beanie, The Colton Comic to give us twenty minutes of stand up. Ant and Ben complete the line-up, so it looks like being a really good evening.
To promote it I’ve had 500 special postcards made with the front cover of the book on one side while the other side is blank (my thanks to Vistaprint). If I can put up a picture of it, I will. I’ve had120 of these printed on the other side (my thanks to Staples this time) to make them into tickets for the event. My plan is to use the rest as giveaways and /or bookmarks. I’m also thinking of having some printed with a message on the back eg. ‘Thank you for buying my book, I hope you liked it. If so, please pass this on to a friend’. I could then have my website address and/or the Amazon links at the bottom. Plenty of ideas, anyway.
Meanwhile, I’ve been out and about selling some of my author copies. Last week I was at Poems, Prose and Pints on Tuesday (sold 2) and Give Back Works in Harrogate on Wednesday (sold 3) where I gave a fifteen minute talk based on my ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’ seminar. A visitor to the house on Friday bought 1, so 6 for the week. Which reminds me, Terry Kettle bought 2 more yesterday, I must update my inventory. Taking into account a few complimentary copies and those I’ve given out on sale or return, I’m now down to 159 left out of the original delivery of 224. I must keep 120 for the booklaunch (obviously), maybe I should think about ordering some more …
I’m still plugging away …
Day 69 of MALAREN and I’ve reached page 144 (48000 words). I keep changing my objective as to how much I should complete before I go to the York Writers Conference in September but hey ho, I can only do what I can do and at this rate of progress I’m way way ahead of what I’d planned.
I took yesterday off from the immediate task of writing as I’d finished Part Two on Monday and I wanted to take a day out to do some planning on Part Three. I now have a reasonably clear idea of where Part Three is going so down to it again this morning. And to be honest, if I get Part Three done before the Conference, that’ll do for me. I may even have some time for a short holiday …
Or not, unless things slacken off with BIRDS OF THE NILE. My attempt to market the film rights has met with little response (surprise, surprise) although I did have one reply which suggested that my chances of success would be greatly improved if I could ‘attach’ a major film director/actor to it. I have accordingly sent the details to RALPH FIENNES agent (don’t laugh) and I am awaiting their reaction.
Meanwhile, on to much more mundane matters and the business of organising a serious booklaunch in York to shift the large pile of author copies which are presently cluttering up my hallway. The idea behind leaving them there is that firstly, every time I leave the house it reminds me to take some with me to try and sell and secondly, every time someone comes in the front door they feel bound to ask what is that all about and can they have a copy?
Anyway, the booklaunch is booked for Friday 27 September and if you happen to be in York that evening why not come along? Details will be made available in due course …
Now that the recent upheaval in Egypt has quietened down (in terms of news headlines at least) so have things at home and I have been able to settle back into some kind of routine again. So I’m back to my regular morning stints in the summerhouse plugging away at MALAREN although as I highlighted the other day, I am concerned as to the quality of what I’m writing. Nevertheless, some words are better than no words I suppose, even if they’re not in the right order.
Post 11am I am still trying to maximise the Egypt effect. After the immediacy of last week’s radio interviews, I firstly thought of writing two or three perceptive newspaper articles which I could then send out for circulation. The easy part is writing them of course while persuading a newspaper editor to take interest in them is damnably difficult. You can read them on my blog without having to go to the bother of buying a newspaper while I am left to reflect on how hard it is to make a breakthrough. I haven’t experienced rejection like this since – well, my visit to Middlesbrough a couple of weeks ago to be honest. Fortunately the thick skin I have acquired while amassing a pile of agent’s rejection letters in the past has seen me through.
So much so that I have now embarked on the idea of trying to get someone interested in the film rights to BIRDS OF THE NILE. With Egypt still in the news I’m hoping to catch some film agent/executive on their way back from a meeting at which the boss has been berating everyone for not having anything ‘Egyptian’ in their portfolio. Cue my timely telephone call. Two days hard work bashing through The Writer’s Handbook and several hours on the phone has yielded 17 invitations to ‘send us an email’, 2 ‘please call us back’ and 1 ‘and by the way you’ll need an agent to go with that, please send me the first 3 chapters and a synopsis’. Hey ho, more work …
Meanwhile, a pleasant evening was spent at Ripon Writers ‘Literary Allsorts’ on Tuesday. Groups from Ripon, York, Leeds and Nidderdale were present and much good work was read. Thanks go to Maggie Cobbett for organising.
Can it really be 10 days since I last posted anything here? My, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun …
And if I haven’t been blogging, then I certainly haven’t been writing as much as I would have liked either. The problem has been these pesky Egyptians who, instead of doing the decent thing and waiting until my book about them (BIRDS OF THE NILE) came out, have taken it into their heads to foment another revolution (of sorts). The result has been three radio interviews and several days of trying to keep up to date with it all.
All that began on Sunday 30th June, another day that will be etched in my memory just like 25th January, the date of the original revolution. Having spent the Friday and Saturday in Glasgow (helping to move the contents of a flat) I returned to find Egypt in turmoil. In fact I did manage to get in 4 days at the desk on MALAREN before I became overwhelmed by events and could no longer focus.
The turning point was the York Writers Group meeting last Wednesday when I was a panel member in a debate about 21st century publishing. The question of self-promotion also came up and I rather off-handedly said that there was no point in talking about Egypt and BIRDS OF THE NILE until the book was available in bookshops at the end of September. My current publisher, Stairwell Books, violently disagreed. I should be striking while the iron was hot, they said, and so first thing the following morning I sent out emails to three radio stations. By lunch time I had appeared on Radio Leeds, was booked for Radio York on the Friday and Radio Humberside for the Sunday morning. My thanks to Stairwell for geeing me up!
Fortunately, all three interviews went well - but that’s because I put in a lot of time in preparation and felt like a wet rag afterwards. When they were all done, I wrote the first of my ‘Egypt’ blogs (keep an eye out for these, they will be a regular feature from now on) before I felt relaxed enough to watch the tennis.
So, four days writing lost but hopefully a lot of publicity gained. We’ll see …
Some days are good days. Today, unfortunately, is not.
I have been away on a ‘tour’ of the North East for a few days (hence my absence from these pages) and after completing some personal business in Durham, I was trying to make the best use of my time. This morning I was supposed to be doing an ‘Author Event’ at a bookshop in Middlesbrough – but no-one turned up. This afternoon I was supposed to be appearing at Middlesbrough Literary Festival to give a talk entitled ‘The Modern Author’ – but no-one turned up. This evening I had booked myself onto an open mic in Darlington - but feeling rather dispirited at the earlier turn of events, I decided to cut my losses and come home. So no audience, no talk and no books sold. Nought out of three.
I console myself with the thought that these things are bound to happen from time to time. On the journey back I reminded myself of an extract from the talk I was due to give regarding dealing with rejection. I experienced plenty of that before finally getting published as I’m sure many of you have too. When people asked me why I kept making submissions when all I got was rejections, I used to tell them that if I didn’t make submissions, I didn’t get any rejections. And if I didn’t get any rejections, I didn’t feel any pain. And if I didn’t feel any pain, how was I to know I was alive?
I certainly feel alive today - I have been ‘rejected’ twice and it hurts. After the initial frustration has died away, I find myself turning to another of the mantras I use to motivate myself on such occasions – ‘Don’t get mad, get even’. I don’t mean this in the sense of revenge (who would I want to take it out on?) but rather as a means of encouragement. It seems that I must clearly work harder in future to make these things succeed.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The bookshop in Middlesbrough has agreed to take some copies of BIRDS OF THE NILE on a sale or return basis and I find I am to be paid a fee (which I wasn’t expecting) for my unproductive afternoon at the Literary Festival. Perhaps I should think about driving back to Darlington this evening …
These are exciting times – or at least they should be. Advance copies of my debut novel, BIRDS OF THE NILE, have arrived - which, apart from a minor hiccup regarding the endorsements page, look tremendous. I’ve even sold a few to start the ball rolling. I have a (very) full diary of engagements to promote it and plans are in hand to launch an online campaign as and when the time comes.
I continue to move forward with my current work in progress, MALAREN (a Swedish affair). 50 days at the desk, 102 pages written (34000 words?) and every prospect of completing the first draft before my target date of 13 September.
I’m in good health (touch wood), I have no money worries and I even managed to complete my first ever radio interview without becoming a gibbering wreck.
Why then, am I not feeling good about it all? My wife might say it’s because I’m an eternal pessimist and I do have that streak in me, it’s true. It tends to manifest itself particularly when things are going well and I say to myself This can’t last, something’s bound to go wrong. Then, of course, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and I start looking for the downsides.
At present, I think it’s exhaustion. The last six weeks have been hectic, the prospects for next week are just as busy and I think the writing’s beginning to suffer. It finally hit home to me this morning when I came to prepare a Q&A for my fellow author Helen Cadbury. She will be my next guest on GETTING TO KNOW. Normally I’m able to rattle off some fairly relevant questions without too much of a problem, but today my mind was a blank.
I think some rest and recuperation are in order. Don’t be surprised if I go quiet for a few days …
Another day, another dollar … Or, in my case another visit to the Summerhouse. Day 46, page 92 and it must be 30000 words of MALAREN now. Strangely enough I’m finding it easier to work out there than in the office. This may be due to the fact that there are no distractions (no phone, no internet, no people) and so there are no excuses. I also seem to have been able to take my own advice (as in my seminar on Writers’ Block) where I’ve talked about giving yourself permission to write whatever feels right and ‘loosening up’ in the full knowledge that this is just a first draft and it can all be tidied up later. I think this is due to the experience I had with BIRDS OF THE NILE when things changed so much in revision and I was able to improve both the narrative flow and the prose. So whereas in the past I might have been pedantic about initial sentence construction and even individual words, now I plough on and tell myself I’ll sort it out later. All I can say is, it seems to be working.
As for BIRDS OF THE NILE itself, I’m gearing up ready for Middlesbrough Lit Fest Writers Open Day on Saturday and hoping that the books arrive in time. I’m also meeting the poet Khadim Hussain. I discovered that Khadim runs an independent bookshop in Middlesbrough called Boro Bookworm and (hopefully) we’re going to talk about a book-signing/author event to coincide with my talk at North Ormesby library on the 27th. Oh, the power of networking! I’ve also had news that I’ve got a spot at Ilkley Festival Fringe in October. It’s all happening – I think.
Meanwhile, I suppose you’re all dying to know how I got on with the birding on Sunday. If you remember, the target species were Red Grouse, Redstart and Ring Ousel. Well, the Red Grouse were easy, the Redstart were difficult (but extremely rewarding – what a beautiful bird!) and the Ring Ousel were conspicuous by their absence. Still, two out of three ain’t all bad ... And the fresh air? That was wonderful.
Just a quick update and I’m using my 6.30am writing spot to do this as I wont be at the desk (or in the Summerhouse) today. Today, I’m off birding on the North Yorkshire Moors to look for Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel and Redstart. I’ll let you know how I get on later.
Meanwhile, I’ve got in 6 days of my 100 this week and it’s been pretty productive (hence the day off today). I’ve now completed Chapter Six of MALAREN and all in all I have 83 pages done in the 43 days since I started. That means c27500 words out of my target of 80000 and every chance of getting that done before York Writers Conference in September.
Now let’s get out and get some fresh air!
Ok, so I’m back at the desk and into the old routine but not everything is running totally smoothly yet.
The good news is that I’ve started writing MALAREN again after almost a month’s layoff. I thought it would be difficult to pick up where I left off but in fact it’s been surprisingly easy. I’d originally scheduled to start on 1 June (the day after I got back) but that proved unrealistic. I needed a run at it and actually got going on Monday so four days at it now and I’m averaging 2 pages a day. The sunshine has helped as I’ve decided to work in the summerhouse for the next few months. For the most part, MALAREN is set in Sweden and the summerhouse is the closest I can get without actually going out there. At one time I considered doing that – writing in situ as it were, a bit like the Impressionists taking their easels outdoors – but with the launch of BIRDS OF THE NILE being imminent, I really need to be based at home. So around 6.30am each day I sneak across the garden, coffee mug in hand, and lock myself away for a few hours. And so far, so good. For those who didn’t see my Summerhouse blog, here’s a picture of my new office.
As for BOTN, I’ve already mentioned that a pdf of the cover arrived and I’m pretty pleased with it. Proof of the pudding etc. and that will soon be tested as I’ve ordered a box of copies for personal sales which is due to arrive in the next week or so. I’m hoping they get here for the 15th so I can take them to Middlesbrough Lit Fest Open Day where I’m sharing a bookstall with Stairwell.
It’s the third element of daily activity that I haven’t fully caught up with yet ie. my online work, including this column, so I’m trying to address that now.
I must mention my night out last night, the first part of which comprised attendance at a fellow York Authors booklaunch. Helen Cadbury’s TO CATCH A RABBIT came out yesterday at Waterstones in York and the evening was a resounding success. Helen is published by Moth Publishing, a new venture under the auspices of New Writing North whose remit now extends as far south as Yorkshire. Hooray! Let’s hope it brings more success to those of us in this part of the world.
Home at last! The wanderer returns …
I knew that May was going to be a difficult month but I think I underestimated just how difficult. In the course of the last four weeks I’ve been to Bruges, Somerset, Devon, Durham and Darlington. I’ve seen great art, tasted religion, scoured wetlands for the Common Crane (and found it), decorated a kitchen and appeared at two literary festivals. I’ve slept in several different beds and driven hundreds of miles and when I arrived home yesterday the first thing I did was go out to the theatre (Rutherford & Son - brilliant). I’m exhausted. Reality struck when I was forced to lie down on the sofa for an hour this afternoon and take a nap. I felt as though I was jet-lagged although in all my travels I’ve been nowhere near a jet. I’ve had a great time but I can’t tell you how glad I am to be back. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good cup of tea and a night in.
What I haven’t been doing of course is writing. Even if I’d set out with the intention of taking my pen and paper with me I doubt I would have been able to settle to it – it’s been far too disruptive and I need a regular routine to enable me to produce any work. True, I’ve managed a couple of posts about Bruges, huddled over my computer between 6 and 8am in my hotel room in Street, and I’ve attempted to keep this column alive – but I’ve not always had access to the net and I’ve not always had time to write. As for having both simultaneously – that’s been rare. I would have liked to have recorded more about my journey (I’ve said a little about the Helmsley Festival of Writing but nothing on the Darlington Arts Festival, both of which are worthy of mention) but that’s all history now.
So what about the future? I may have to spend a couple of nights away but I’m planning nothing dramatic for the next three months. What I’m hoping for is a clear and uninterrupted period at home where I can settle to some writing and get things back on track. My next major commitment is a weekend at the Writers’ Conference in York in the middle of September and in theory I can squeeze in 100 days at the desk beforehand. So that’s my target. Let’s see how I get on. But first
I’ve a blog post to write for Monday …
Having let things drift the last time I went away (Bruges – it still haunts me) I’m desperately trying to keep in touch. As a result, I find myself writing this at 6.30am in my hotel room before going out for a day’s birding. We’re staying in Somerset somewhere near The Isle of Avalon - which sounds terribly romantic (I can hear the creak of the oars as the boat carrying King Arthur to his final resting place slides by in the mist) but it’s really only Glastonbury Tor.
I have good reason to try and post today as I have received important news regarding BIRDS OF THE NILE. I’d barely arrived here on Monday when an email arrived from John Hunt Publishing to advise me of my publication date (27 September) and enclosing a pdf of the book cover. I think it’s brilliant although there are one or two little things we could do to improve it and I’ve made some suggestions. I may have to wait until I get back to sort it out as work and birding were never intended to go hand in hand and shortly I’ll get called to breakfast.
As for the birding, we got caught up in the BBC’s TV coverage of the nature awareness campaign yesterday but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment of a great afternoon at Ham Wall. Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and Hobbies were the stars of the day which also included a good selection of migrant warblers. Oh, and some Ravens and a pair of Kingfishers …
Well, well ,well – you go away for a few days and everything falls apart …
My few days in Bruges have proved immensely costly it terms of my Writing Life – in two senses in fact, as not only has it stopped me from contributing to this blog but it’s also succeeded in preventing me from writing altogether.
I knew that May was going to prove a difficult month. I had pre-arranged visits both to Bruges and then a week’s bird-watching in Somerset with a week at home in between. I thought it would be impossible to continue writing under these circumstances so I made the conscious decision to stop with the intention of picking it up again when I return at the end of the month. Now I find I have personal business to attend to in Durham which will keep me there for another couple of days so the best I can hope for is a return to the desk as of 1 June. Added to all this l have appearances at Helmsley Festival of Writing and Darlington Arts Festival, both of which mean writing and rehearsing the material I intend to use.
So May comprises a week at home, a week in Bruges, a week at home, a week in Somerset followed by a few days in Durham – breaking off here and there to go to Helsmley and Darlington. No pattern, no rhythm and it’s all extremely disruptive. I don’t feel settled and frankly, I don’t like it.
Yesterday was Helmsley and I could think of nothing else until I’d got my talk on Writers’ Block out of the way. With this done, by half past three I was able to relax a little and at five headed off to The Feathers Hotel for a ‘Literary Tea Dance’. It was an event I was expected to attend, and rather sceptical about, but it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Not only was there good conversation but the band were brilliant. ‘Maniere des Bohemiens’ apparently hail from Nottingham. We nearly didn’t get to see them as they claimed to have had a puncture on the way (how many times have we heard that excuse) but once they arrived they were sublime. My programme tells me they are ‘an outstanding 5-piece whose Manouche Jazz and rough-edged, virtuosic Eastern Eurpean Gypsy Swing is utterly irresistible’, a description I can thoroughly endorse. Every cloud must have a silver lining, I suppose …
A week gone by since my last post and I’m struggling to recall why or what’s been going on. Time to get out the diary and have a look …
What I can tell you is that after last Friday’s hiccup I’ve managed to get MALAREN back on the rails and I’ve completed six more straight days writing. Well into Chapter Two now and looking to get that finished over the Bank Holiday weekend. With a bit of luck I might award myself Monday off. I’m also looking to get out into the garden and exploit some of the good weather that’s been forecast. I have a plan in mind regarding my summerhouse. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog on a regular basis (my thanks to both of you) will know that I built one with the aid of my son last spring. The gory details are still available in the archive if you want to refresh your memory. In the not too distant future I can foresee it being called into action. All will be revealed …
As for the rest, I seem to have got bogged down in a lot of personal business. These things happen and have to be dealt with but they are so time consuming. Nothing untoward I hasten to add, just ‘stuff’. The only bright spot was my visit to Harrogate Writers’ Circle on Wednesday night where I was made to feel most welcome. They held a reading night and I took a piece in case I was asked. They organize these affairs differently to my group in York and if there are several people wanting to read, they invite you to pick a number from a cloth bag (it’s a bit like the FA Cup draw) and then you read in turn. Imagine how I felt when I drew number 24 - I didn’t think I’d get on before midnight. Fortunately a lot of numbers between 1 and 23 weren’t drawn (one, two, skip a few, ninety-nine, one hundred – remember that?) and other than the chair, I was the last to read. So that turned out alright.
I’ve also picked up another invitation as Guest Speaker as I will be visiting Arlington Bennett House Writers in September. Gradually things are falling into place there.
My online campaign is not going as well however and sales of A DAY AT THE RACES continue to be slow. So slow they have come to a grinding halt. Strangely enough FERIA still ticks over even though I’m not promoting it at present. Hey ho. Remind me to speak with my Social Media consultant …
Aarghh! And just when it was all going so well …
Still I suppose it was bound to happen. Up until now I’ve very pleased with my progress on MALAREN. 10 straight days writing, 5000 words, Chapter One in the bag – and all of a sudden the wheels have come off. At the desk as usual this morning but try as I might I simply could not get started on Chapter Two. My head was not in the right place and I was unable to get myself focused. And here am I, preacher of ‘How to Defend Against the Dark Arts’ and I become prey to one. Ah well, pride before a fall and all that ...
I blame it on the Steve Nash book launch. There were over 80 people at The Spurriergate Centre last night to welcome Steve’s first volume of poetry (courtesy of my own publisher, Stairwell Books) and it was a resounding success. It was the first event held at the venue and although there were one or two problems (we learnt a lot about the need for a good PA system), everyone had a great time. A guest musician and half a dozen guest poets made sure the evening went with a swing and by all accounts plenty of books got sold and signed. No wonder it was still fresh in the mind this morning.
I’m afraid I couldn’t think of much else and as much as it shames me to say it, I soon abandoned play for the day and resorted to writing my blog for Monday instead. A busy weekend lies ahead so I thought I may as well get it done while I could. As for this afternoon, now my day’s been disrupted I’m not sure what to do …
I can’t believe I’ve left it 5 days since my last post. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so busy …
The good news is I’ve finished Chapter One of MALAREN (c5000 words). It’s all been going much better than I expected. Took today off writing as a celebration (I am allowed these small concessions). A deep breath and back to it tomorrow.
I’ve spent time instead on gearing up my marketing campaign to writing groups. As part of my marketing plan (the one I keep telling you about), I’m contacting writers groups and offering my services as a guest speaker. I began the other week by using the list for groups that are members of the National Association of Writers Groups, started googling them individually to get contact details which led me to another (online) list etc. I soon found more groups etc. but the contact details were mostly out of date and led to hardly any contacts. I tried telephoning local libraries for details but this too has proved frustrating. I also found a very helpful lady who sent me a copy of a national directory of writers groups and I’ve worked with that but the answer’s the same – out of date information and little in the way of direct (phone or email) contact details. So I’ve had to resort to a mailshot to what are probably defunct addresses so don’t hold your breath, I’ve not got a lot of confidence in it. As for what contacts I have been able to make, there’s been some success and I think I have three groups to go and talk to. Time will tell whether all this effort is of any use.
Out last night to a Literary Pub Quiz in Pickering hosted by the Ryedale Book Festival. It was very well attended (25-30 people) and we had a lot of fun. As a result, I now know all about stand-up sit-down bingo …
Just a quick update …
MALAREN going well – Day 5 and still writing to 11am most days. Meanwhile …
Following my meeting with fellow JHP author Dan Ingram-Brown, I’ve been having a few thoughts about the cover for BIRDS OF THE NILE. He told me that he was unhappy with John Hunt’s initial attempt and sought to get it changed. They were apparently very helpful and responded to his suggestions and he soon got what he wanted. And I have to say I think the results were well worth the effort as I really like the cover of his children’s book, RISE OF THE SHADOW STEALERS. This set me thinking that rather than wait until they offered me something I didn’t like, I would take the bull by the horns and put forward a proposal of my own. So I’ve spent most of the rest of the day doing just that.
JHP’s website encourages you to search Shutterstock and find an image that you like. I hadn’t used Shutterstock before (I’ve usually relied on Flickr) but it was fine. And there are thousands of images so you can be there all day but I did come across something that caught my eye. Then I went looking for a suitable font and on my Word programme I found Papyrus. What better font for a book set in Egypt! And the italicized version really does look the part - I just hope JHP can go with it. Anyway, I’ve sent it off to them.
But it all takes so long - and by the time I’d got that done there was barely enough chance to check and respond to the mound of emails.
Tonight I need to post this on my website, then spend an hour or so on Twitter. Tomorrow it’s back to the desk and it all begins again. Where does the time go?
Wednesday already! And three days writing on MALAREN – at least I’ve got going. I’m pleased to say it’s been easier than I thought and the words have come fairly easily. Perhaps that’s because I’ve had things in my mind for so long that some things were already there. Be that as it may, I still have to put them down on paper.
The really pleasing thing is that I seem to have found a ‘voice’. I took the decision to write the book in first person so the voice is crucial. It will tell the reader so much about the main character. What kind of man is he? Is he an educated person or is he a simpleton? Is he aggressive or gentle by nature? How does he think? Since first person allows us to get right inside his head, I have to know him inside out – in fact I have to ‘be’ that character all the time I am writing. I’ve often likened this to an actor ‘getting into’ character. I don’t quite do the warm-up exercises and the breathing but I certainly spend the first ten minutes or so of any writing session getting the right head on. And so far, so good …
Spent yesterday afternoon getting to know one of my fellow John Hunt Publishing authors, Dan Ingram-Brown. Dan is the author of RISE OF THE SHADOW STEALERS, a children’s book, which was published in January. We exchanged JHP experiences (good and not so good) and on the whole it was very useful. I was really impressed by the fact that Dan has personally sold 700 copies since launch, principally through the childrens’ workshops he takes into schools. It has told me that I need to find a similar niche market/method for BIRDS OF THE NILE. I’ve put my thinking hat on and I will be looking closely at my marketing plan again. And yes, I have got one and I know I said I’d go public with it and it will happen, I promise!
PS : You can find Dan Ingram-Brown at www.danielingrambrown.co.uk
Another short writing day - 9am finish. I often find Saturdays are like that, other (weekend) things to do that get in the way. Essential things, nevertheless.
However, I did manage two hours before breakfast, time enough to finish my book plan for MALAREN.
According to Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts. MALAREN is divided into four. That doesn’t mean to say I will actually call them Parts One, Two etc. it simply means there are four distinct phases of action - like acts in a play I suppose. Yes, exactly that. So,
Act 1 : Deals with events up to the point at which Neil/Alan (I’m liking Alan more and more as a name, by the way) flies out to Sweden.
Act 2 : Covers the period during which Neil/Alan forms his relationship with Ray and Katerina and ends with the telephone call which completely changes the dynamic.
Act 3 : Kurt and Anna arrive on the scene, Kurt subverts Ray and there’s a boating accident.
Act 4 : Neil/Alan brings matters to a head and forces the final ending.
I’m trying not to give too much away here, but the point is I have a clear idea in my mind of how things are going to play out and the phases I’m going to need to take my characters through. This didn’t take two hours to think through of course and I spent the rest of my time plotting out Act 1 and breaking it down scene by scene. I originally thought there would be four scenes/chapters as follows –
Chapter One : The Funeral
Chapter Two : The Wake/Reception
Chapter Three : Neil/Alan’s return to work
Chapter Four : The decision to go to Sweden
But on working things through I realized that Chapter Three/Four could really condense down to one. And even if not, I can always change it later …
So there you have it. The planning is over, the easy part is done and now it’s down to the writing. Tomorrow I’m going out bird-watching (I deserve a break) and on Monday I’ll start filling in the words. I can’t wait to get started …
Another setback – this time because of the situation regarding Margaret Thatcher. The thoughts I had about the reaction to her demise would not leave me alone and I could not get started this morning until I had set them down on paper. It needs a few tweaks but look out for my blog on Monday.
However, it’s another writing day lost! That’s two this week already – but it couldn’t be avoided, my head was simply not in the right place however hard I tried to focus. So you see, I am human after all …
But on two days I’ve worked and I’m reminded of the ‘glass half full/half empty’ quote. Whether the glass is half full or half empty is irrelevant – the important thing is you can get more wine in it. Well, I’ve a lot more wine to get into my glass but I am at least making progress. I have now completed my character studies. I’m liking Neil or Alan as the name of my main protagonist (remember he’s quiet and unassuming) and I’ve also taken the decision to write in the first person. POV is a big issue as it defines how you see things. First person narrows the reader’s view of the world but it’s much more intimate and enables us to get right inside the character’s head. I found myself thinking of the events of the book purely through one person’s eyes and so it seemed to come naturally. And the good thing is, if I’m wrong I can always change it later …
My next task is to look at the layout of the book. By that I mean how it’s going to be structured in terms of timeline and principle actions so I can then break it down into the individual scenes. More on that soon.
There’s been a minor setback over the weekend – and no, I’m not talking about Spurs 2-2 home draw with Everton although that obviously didn’t help. I’m referring to my writing life and it all began with a TV programme I watched on Friday night.
You’d think that ‘The Road to El Alamein: Churchill’s Desert Campaign’ would be pretty innocuous viewing – a few tank battles in the sand punctuated by some pithy speech-making from Britain’s archetypal bulldog. But it was far more than that. Crucially, it benefitted from an articulate and enthusiastic presenter in Jonathan Dimbleby and, unlike many of the so-called ‘documentaries’ on TV these days, it also contained some riveting content.
Two things stood out for me. Firstly, Churchill’s absolute conviction that it was vital to win the war in North Africa before invading Europe and how he held to that view in the face of all advice to the contrary and almost single-handedly convinced everyone else, including the President of the most powerful nation on earth. The mental courage it must have taken to do that under the circumstances is hard to imagine. Thank God he prevailed.
Secondly, and more to the point, I was deeply moved by the individual accounts of some of the soldiers who took part in that campaign. They must have experienced the most unimaginable horrors and yet they managed to convey this in the simplest of words. I found myself becoming envious of their ability to do so and I remember saying to myself ‘I wish I could write like that’. As writers we strive to ‘show’ not tell, and here, without training, without knowing it, these simple souls were doing just that.
This caused me to become rather depressed about my own ability to write. How could I possibly express the emotions they imparted if I had not experienced the same horrors? Did that mean I could never write about war because I had never been in one? Did it mean that I could never write about any emotion I had not personally experienced? Yes, I have had emotional experiences in life but not always to the extent or the depth which would warrant writing about them. Suddenly, my whole writing life was potentially in tatters. I’m currently trying to write a novel about a man whose wife has died at an early age – thankfully, my (only) wife is still alive. See my problem?
It also occurred to me that some novels encompass more than just personal emotion. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ (Khaled Hosseini) says as much about life under the Taliban as it does about Laila and Mariam as individuals. I’m sure you can think of other equally relevant examples (War and Peace?). I have never aspired to write such novels. Is that because I have never lived through times and in places that inspire these thoughts? Britain in the 21st century is hardly Afghanistan in the 1990’s or Russia in 1812. And although BIRDS OF THE NILE is set against the background of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, it’s not about the Egyptian revolution, nor is it fundamentally about life in Egypt. It’s about the lives of three different characters, and one in particular.
So where does this leave me? I can accept the idea that I may not have the emotional breadth to write novels on a wider canvass. I’m a practical person - I tend not to worry about things that have no immediate consequence and such novels are not currently on my agenda. But any doubt about my ability to convey personal emotion bothers me. My novels (past, present and future) are all based on what are, for the individuals concerned, life-changing events and I need to illustrate the effects they have in the deepest personal terms.
The answer? Try, try and try again, I suppose, and hope that my imaginative efforts are good enough. In the meanwhile, I’ve lost a day’s work to thinking about it. Perhaps I simply shouldn’t watch TV on Friday nights …
An altogether scrappy and unsatisfactory day – in which I feel I’ve got little or nothing done. Having said that, I stuck to my 11am routine like glue despite (or perhaps because of) numerous interruptions. I typically blame myself for not being focused enough to ignore them. I should have shut the door, taken the phone off the hook and dismissed everything else that got thrown at me.
The problem was that I started late, having been up the night before watching Spurs pathetic first-leg performance in the Europa League quarter finals. This was not helped by the presence of my son (an Arsenal supporter) who came to gloat. So it took time to get going this morning and I never really got settled.
But I did manage to make a start on my character sketches for MALAREN. I tell myself that I’m not very fond of making character sketches and that I’m just going through the motions because that’s what I’m supposed to do. Why do I need character sketches? I know my characters like the back of my hand. Or do I? Perhaps not …
I had always assumed that the main protagonist in MALAREN was in fact the same character who had appeared in an earlier book. In fact, I had always thought of MALAREN as the sequel to THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS. Forcing myself to make character sketches showed me different as I soon came to realize that they needed to be different. MALAREN requires a perfectly ordinary, unassuming man who has never done, or aspired to do, anything special except be in love with his wife. Something will make him ‘change’ and cause him to do something which, for him, is extraordinary. Thinking this through meant it could not be the same person as in the earlier book. I’ve changed things accordingly and thereby avoided what might have been a costly mistake. Hey ho, we live and learn …
It also means changing his name and therefore having to think of a new one. I’m a believer in the power of ‘naming’ because I think someone’s name instantly implies something to the reader. Eg. Arthur and Edna say one thing, Wayne and Tracey another. I’d be interested in what your thoughts are about a name that suits the perfectly ordinary, unassuming man I have described above. Please use the contact box on my blog page or elsewhere to respond. I look forward to reading your suggestions.
A few days ago I started this new feature with the brave objective of keeping a log of what a writer actually does. My intention was to update it on a regular basis – otherwise it would lose impetus and become ‘just another blog’. The last week has been an object lesson in that respect and it has quickly become clear to me as to what a writer ‘actually does’. In my case, he struggles for time and despite the best will in the world, he gets overtaken by events. My apologies and I‘ve now broken off from whatever else I had in mind to come back to my ‘diary’.
Let me bring you quickly up to date. I last posted on Sunday afternoon. Monday afternoon I spent writing my blog piece ‘Hot Cross Author.’ Monday night off. Tuesday pm I took myself down to the Summerhouse and finished reading Susan Louineau’s THE CHAPEL IN THE WOODS. This so that I could then compose the questions for her Q&A which I hope to be posting on my main blog next Monday. Tuesday night out at The Spoken Word open mic. Wednesday pm was spent contacting Writers Groups in the hopes of securing some speaking engagements (part of my marketing plan for BIRDS OF THE NILE – which I solemnly swear I will post about soon, honest guv) and Wednesday night chairing this month’s meeting of our own local Writers’ Group (a short story workshop by Danielle Hancock from York University). In between I’ve managed a few tweets and kept up to date with my emails. Is it any wonder that I haven’t had time to contribute anything to Writing Life?
The good news is that I’ve maintained my 11am discipline throughout. As a result I now have a completed synopsis for MALAREN. To tell the truth, I already had one – but it was written in the summer of 2005, almost eight years ago. We have relatives in Sweden, we’d gone out there to visit and I found myself wide awake at 3am (it’s broad daylight by then) with this plot running through my head. And of course I simply had to get up and write it down, as you do. When I got back home, it went in the drawer and hasn’t been taken out since, waiting for its place in the queue of things to do. Four novels later and it was time to fetch it out. I had intended to read it but decided against and plumped instead for rewriting it from scratch as I wanted the physical exercise of putting pen to paper in preparation for what was to come once I got started. And besides, there were a few minor changes that I wanted to incorporate along the way. Anyway, it’s done now and I have a clear idea of where I’m headed over the next few months. And yes, I know the ending (I always have) and I’ve already written the closing lines. I’m not quite ready to start on it though as I need to do some character sketches and I’m on with those now. More about them maybe next time.
5pm and a few short minutes on the computer before heading out for an evening with the family.
Easter Sunday and supposedly a day off but I did manage to get my MALAREN time in before 11am. Of course it was really only 10am in old money and an hour of writing time lost but enough to make some progress on the synopsis. Then spent the rest of the day in the garden where I opened up the summerhouse for the first time this year. Those of you who read my blog last summer will know the background – those of you who didn’t can catch up by way of The Summerhouse Story which is archived on my Blog page. It was surprisingly warm inside – which is good news as I plan to spend some of my writing time in there later … Today though it was a pleasant hour reading The Chapel in the Woods by Susan Louineau.
Spent yesterday afternoon at the inaugural meeting of York Authors. This has been set up by Anneliese Emmans Dean with the intention of promoting the work of authors based in the city. Early days but it shows promise. I’m keen to be involved because it could form an integral part of my marketing plan for BIRDS OF THE NILE – which I promised to talk about yesterday and will do just as soon as I get a free moment. If there is such a thing as a free moment …
30 March 2013
Hello and welcome to this new feature on my website.
Earlier this week on my Blog I said that I was going to change things up. I had imposed a new regime on myself and by ‘going public’ I was more likely to stick to it. So here I am, a little belatedly perhaps, ready to try it out.
As a writer, I read quite a number of blogs and articles about ‘How To’. How to write, how not to write, how to do this, how to do that, etc. etc. I’m sure you do the same. And the last thing I want to do is impose another one of those on you – you can get all the help and information you need elsewhere. But I rarely (if ever) come across anything that tells you what a writer actually does. We never seem to get to see what ‘writing life’ is really like, to get under someone’s skin, to experience their ups and downs, to watch their mistakes as well as their triumphs. God forbid that you should ever want to get under my skin (I daren’t think what you might find) but I thought it might be fun to try and record what I was doing on a regular basis, a kind of writer’s diary, so as to find out what’s it’s really like. So here we go, Writing Life, warts and all.
And this seems a good time to begin because as I said in my Blog, I’m about to start writing a new novel so why not get in at the beginning and see how things go? I warn you, it will be a long process. Experience suggests two years, but if I want something out in the marketplace in 2015 I’d better get going on it now. So firstly let’s see what I’ve been doing with MALAREN.
Well, at least I’ve got a title – but that’s been in my head for a long while. What I need to do is translate that into a book of 100k words and that’s not so easy. At the beginning of the week I said I was starting a new regime and that I would be focusing on MALAREN until 11am every day. So far so good, and I’ve pretty much stuck to that but I’ve found it difficult to get into it. So much else has been going on (more of that later) and I’ve needed time to persuade myself of how important it is and how I must not let the need to promote my current work prevent me from creating something new. Hence the discipline of the 11am target. So every morning this week I’ve sat at the desk for as long as I can bear it thinking about MALAREN. But that’s it – all I’ve done is think about it. I’ve tried a few writing exercises in an attempt to get going. None of them have any relevance to the book but at least they’ve got me into the habit of putting something down on paper every day.
But it’s not all bad news. The time I’ve spent thinking has convinced me of the importance of the work and that I can do it. It’s also helped clarify my ideas about the plot. My next objective is to convert the writing exercises into something practical and create a synopsis based on the thoughts I’ve had during the week.
Meanwhile, in my post 11am session, I’ve been creating a marketing plan for BIRDS OF THE NILE. I’ll talk about that next time.