It’s a really scary thing to write a book, especially a fictional book. It’s like opening a door in your mind and letting everyone see inside! So I am full of admiration for my friend Cathy Hemsley who has published this story, which you can buy here
I say this because fantasy is not a genre I would normally pick up. But even though the dominant race in the story are people who are literally very brightly coloured and gifted in highly unusual ways, the whole concept didn’t seem too alien.
Gifts that are wasted, plans that fail, a world on the brink of war………
The Gifts is now published! With a beautiful, perfect cover designed by Beck Hemsley. Worth buying for the cover alone. Thanks to all those who helped along the way: there are too many of you to mention, but especial thanks go to Edwina Mohtady, all the writers in Rugby, Beck Hemsley and Izzy Jarvis.
I am so happy – and slightly scared…
Available on Amazon as a paperback for £8.99 of the Kindle version for £1.99
Do you know what the ‘passive voice’ is? It is to be avoided! I have discovered that I have a tendency to use it too much, thanks to my excellent proof-reader, and I am learning how to fix it.
For example, consider these:-
He was walking towards her.
He walked towards her.
He strode towards her.
Example 1 is the passive voice: ‘was walking’. It tends to give the impression of something that has been happening for a while and is still happening – and is therefore rather dull. Changing it to the non-passive in example 2 gives the impression that something has started to happen! But it is even better to use a stronger verb: ‘strode’, not walked.
Her hands were numb from the cold and wet.
Her hands felt numb from the cold and wet.
Example 1 is passive, 2 is slightly better.
Her bossiness irritated Sam.
Sam was irritated by her bossiness.
Sam felt irritated by her bossiness.
Sam gritted his teeth as her bossy, irritating voice went on and on.
Example 1 is passive, and also reverses the subject and the object, so example 2 is better because we care more about how this is affecting Sam, so it’s better if he is the subject. Example 3 is less passive, we have some emotion in the sentence. But we can do better: example 4 – ‘show, don’t tell’!
How about these?
His face was covered in biscuit crumbs.
Biscuit crumbs covered his face.
A generous sprinkling of crumbs from a shortbread biscuit obscured his pudgy features.
Example 1 is passive, example 2 seems less passive: in our writer’s group last week we weren’t sure which was better. But example 3 is much more ‘sensuous’ – in that we get a better feel for the crumbs and what they are doing.
And finally, the first sentence of ‘The Gifts’ has been improved from:-
Rain was falling. Written when I had no idea about how to write
Rain fell. Written when I had better ideas about how to write
Rain drenched the city. And I’m still improving
There are probably places where only the passive voice will do, but I can’t at the moment think of any. Interestingly, I have started to notice it in published books e.g. J. K. Rowling uses it a fair bit in the Harry Potter books!
After ten years, I am about to self-publish my first novel, The Gifts, on Amazon, via their Kindle Direct Publishing. And I am procrastinating. Why? I’ve realized there are huge mental obstacles for me.
Sending to others something that I have put so much effort, emotional energy and thought into, is to put myself in danger of rejection. The failures that I have had (so many competitions!) leave scars. Even the small successes don’t overcome the pain.
Suppose I give/sell copies to my book group and they discuss it and don’t like it much, or tear it to pieces? As we have done to so many books! I’d rather they were honest, but after so much work and learning, this book is the best that I can do, and it’s not going to be re-written again.
I haven’t even tried to send The Gifts to agents/publishers, as it doesn’t fit quite into any neat categories (not quite fantasy, more like allegory/fantasy/romance/adventure) and it’s definitely not the next ‘Game of Thrones’.
It could just fail. Just be completely ignored.
Loss of ownership
This is, strangely, the main reason. Once the book is published, I can now longer work on it, and I have enjoyed writing it so much! It is out of my hands. It’s like sending my eldest child off to another country. All the joy that I have had in it will become mainly a memory.
No reviews at all
Worse than bad reviews…
Having to self-publicise
Because I’m self-publishing, I will have to self-publicise as well. That’s going to be so hard. I haven’t even had the courage to ask my best friends if they liked my book of short stories, (or have even read it) so how can I go to friends/acquaintances/work colleagues and ask them to buy my book?
But I have to do this, otherwise what was the point of it all? And I know that Phil, Beck, my family, my friends will be supportive. It won’t make any money, but maybe someone will enjoy it. I truly hope so. I hope and pray that one of my friends will honestly say to me ‘I really enjoyed it, especially the scene where …’ or ‘your characters are so interesting, and … is such a strong person’ or ‘it was fascinating how it resonated with a lot of things that are happening in the world now’.
I’m re-posting this this page, because of some discussion about workbooks in our writer’s group recently.
At Christmas, a lovely friend gave me a writer’s workbook, called ‘Ready, Set, Novel!’ It has become one of my best presents ever.
Even if you are not a big fan, generally, of the ‘how to become a best-selling writer’ type of books; even if you feel that it cannot be as simple as ‘follow these three bits of advice and – bingo – tenth ranking in Amazon’; even if you know that methods, workbooks and prescriptions, no matter now thorough, cannot make up for imagination, research, passion, peer-reviewing and hard work; even if you believe that you can write a great novel without that sort of help – I would consider this workbook.
You will find it surprisingly encouraging and helpful, even if your novel is partly written. There are about 100 pages to work through, followed by about 30 pages of ‘playground’, and a vital ‘procrastination station’ at the back, which made me laugh!
When I got the book, I already had characters, a complex plot, even a plan of the chapters. So I thought I probably didn’t need the workbook, but I’d give it a go anyway. And I’ve had such fun with it! Cutting out pictures from magazines and newspapers to give a hint of what my characters look like. Brainstorming the things that inspire me and how they could form the basis of a novel. Creating a story arc with post-it notes. Writing scraps of dialogue. Drawing out family trees. Discovering the background of my characters.
The benefit of this workbook is that it encourages you to think deeply about your characters, to make them fully-rounded, to give them a history and a motivation, to see what they look like, and to start to like them. It also pushes you towards developing a good story arc: setting, mini-conflict, mini-conflict, climax, resolution.
The other benefit is that it is just fun! The authors want you to enjoy writing, to play, to mess around, to get side-tracked. There are some excellent creative exercises like ‘lock a few of your characters in a broken elevator’, ‘list up to ten problems that your main character will need to solve before the climax’, ‘write the pet peeves, bad habits, secret talents and guilty pleasures’ of your characters. Using these, I have learnt that my unpleasant female antagonist loves Saint-Saëns’ organ symphony, wears chunky jewellery and can be hugely generous. That my protagonist is a ‘free-running’ aficionado with five skateboards and a habit of cycling through red lights. That my artistic coffee-shop manager paints, not wishy-washy watercolours as you’d expect, but complex abstracts in stark and dramatic colours, and secretly gives chocolate bars to traffic wardens.
If you want some help getting started, if you want some encouragement, if you want to brainstorm ideas – I would highly recommend this book. Currently I have reached page 99: I’ve got my main characters, my setting, the plot and sub-plot, snatches of dialogue and description, a map of the locations, my opening scene and closing scene, and a title. All I have to do now is write the novel…
The book of short stories, ‘Parable Lives’, got some good reviews but hasn’t sold many, and I’m finding it hard to promote it myself. Sadly, my agent/publisher has been taken ill, he’s a great guy and has been incredibly helpful, but that has also stalled any promotion.
The first book in my fantasy series, The Gifts, is being prepared for self-publication on Amazon, using Kindle Direct Publishing. Beck Hemsley has done a gorgeous cover, see below.
The second book, The City, is being proof-read.
The third book, The Curses: that is the difficulty! I know the plot, I have the characters, but having experienced how long it takes me to complete a novel (years and years) I am very daunted. And I have a worse problem: the hero’s name. He really needs to have a name that I like, that suits him, that works, but I can’t find one that is right, and until I do, he doesn’t seem real. Jobe, Braldur, Naithan, Hurst, Brafe, Hobert, Yorge, Huckerbumf… nothing works.
Other novels: The Blue House is permanently shelved. The plot has huge structural issues that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to face fixing. Sad, because I think it had some beautiful scenes, especially the last one. Two Steps Away may get published if I can ever summon up the courage to try agents/publishers.
If you would like to read ‘Parable Lives’ it is available on Amazon, or contact me and I’ll get you a copy at a reduced price.
I am bored and scared. Sometimes I’m a bit more bored and a bit less scared and sometimes I’m a bit less bored and a bit more scared. Sometimes I’m really really bored and really really scared. I’m bored because I’ve had enough of scans, immunotherapy, consultations with Prof; I’ve had enough of breathlessness, wheezing and chest infections (six so far this year), trying to talk to the GP and get the antibiotics and steroids I need urgently (“No, a GP call back tomorrow is not acceptable!”), I’m tired of needles, I’m tired of never knowing from day to day how I’ll be. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I know that I’ll be even more wiped out than usual in the three or four days after immunotherapy; I know that after talking with people or doing anything social in the garden I will be exhausted. I get so excited when…
A friend recently something like this: “I don’t want to read dystopian fiction. I mean, we’re in it!” So here is a list of cheerful fiction instead. These are books I’ve read recently that I have enjoyed, that are encouraging, that are well written and intriguing, and that don’t have awful endings. If you’d like to borrow any, let me know.
Lars Mytting: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme: it sounds like ‘yet another book about the World War One’ but it is more about Norway, families, people, the Shetlands, relationships, and flame birch. Growing up in Norway, with his grandparents, Edvard is astounded by the discovery, on his grandfather’s death, that his uncle had not been executed by German firing squad in 1944, but in 1979 had sent a perfectly made art-deco coffin of scintillating amber flame-birch, to be used for the his brother. This sends him on a quest to find out what had caused the death of his parents and a hunt to find his strange inheritance in the Shetlands. A very complex plot, with twists and turns, and an evocative sense of place.
Mrs Gaskell: Wives and Daughters. An obscure Victorian masterpiece: clever, insightful, fascinating characters, a complex plot based on a doctor’s second marriage and its effect on his daughter. Not a quick read, but immersive and emotionally absorbing. There are touches of witty irony from an acute observer of human passions. It was unfinished at the author’s death so the last chapter is missing, but a conclusion has been added giving her intentions. You may have heard of ‘Cranford’ by Mrs Gaskell: this is even better.
Susan Fletcher: Eve Green: A woman looks back on the events of her childhood, following the death of her mother when she is sent to live with her grandparents in Wales. It doesn’t sound promising, but it is! Sharply observed, subtle, mysterious, full of evocative family history, and – being in Wales – quite a lot of rain, mountains and sheep.
Joanne Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep: Set in the long hot summer of 1976, two young children start to investigate the disappearance of a woman from their street, and try to find God in their neighbourhood. As they do so, the events of the past are revealed. The heat, the sun and the emotions of that scorching summer fill the story. Beautifully written, with telling details such as playing clock patience and Monopoly, eating Angel Delight and Wagon Wheels. I loved the scene when the vicar comes to see the ‘face of Jesus’ that the locals have found on an old drainpipe and Mrs Forbes says, “I do hope we’re not going to be overrun with pilgrims. They’ll make a terrible mess.”
Francine Toon: Pine: Another book from a child’s perspective, and another brilliantly written novel. The author is also a poet, apparently, so writes superbly. The story, set in Scotland, was genuinely frightening at times and very dramatic, full of haunting atmosphere as the complex story unfolded. The start was very bleak, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I was unable to stop reading towards the end, it was so compelling.
Originally posted on The Red Wine Box: On 11th March 2019 I was in St Cross Hospital in Rugby. St Cross is a small but excellent hospital and I’d managed to sleep in the night. I’d just had two nights…