Riding that wave of learning.

That's better. I was feeling a little agoraphobic for a moment.

That’s better. I was feeling a little agoraphobic for a moment.

Still working on Smoke & Mirrors. I’ve given it another read through this week after the wake-up call, which has led to me striking nearly 4000 words from it. I’m very happy about that. It’s now down to 90,000 words. There are some weeks where I feel that I’ve really learned something about the craft of writing. This has been one of them.

And that's just the title page.

And that’s just the title page.

I’ve learnt that I don’t like adverbs and I should use them sparingly. I’ve learnt that the use of clichés should be a birching offence. (I think that to include them occasionally in dialogue is acceptable. People do use them in speech.) I’ve learnt that there isn’t anything much more distracting and irritating for me in a story than a cringe-worthy home-made simile. (Good ones are worth their weight in unicorn semen. But use sparingly.) I’ve learned to stop saying something and then saying it again differently. I’ve learned not to be so verbose. I’ve learnt not to tell so much. I’ve learnt that Hemingway was right when he said writing is rewriting. I’ve learnt that Elmore Leonard was right when he said if the author’s voice comes through get rid of it.

I’m not saying that my stories from now on will be free from all the above but I’ve learnt to recognise them better and the need to weed them out/do something about it when I do. I believe that is an important step towards becoming a better writer. (For those thinking: about time, Rome wasn’t built in a…oh crap – is that a cliche?)

I’ve enjoyed myself on this. I didn’t relish the prospect of taking the knife to the text again but as I was going along I found the removal of every word and phrase something satisfying.

The most important thing is that I am much happier about the book. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating (some things are): my aim with every book I bring out is that each addition should contribute to the series. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, ever. And I don’t want to let myself or my characters down. That brings a certain pressure to bear. But then no one said being an attention seeking vanity publisher was going to without its challenges.

I am determined to have Acer #3 out before Christmas.

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

My ‘author year’.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 26.06.2014

Less than two years into my self-publishing adventure, and already I have established my ‘author year’. And why not? Other walks of life have the calendar year, the financial year, the fiscal year, the budget year, the sporting year and the academic year, for examples.

My ‘author year’ runs from September 1st to June 31st. Because I said so. And I’m in charge. Decisions have to be made and the buck stops with me.

First week of July we are heading back to the UK for the summer for the holidays. And if the weather can manage what we had last summer it will be another wonderful break, I’m sure. If you have never been to Dymchurch beach on a fine summer’s day you’ve missed something special.

In the UK my home is a two minute walk from the beach. Perfect for my three year old boy to commute to and play safely on.

Here is a snap from last year if you don’t believe me. (It’s worth clicking on it for the full-screen effect.)

Halcyon days in The Children's Paradise.

Halcyon days in The Children’s Paradise.

I won’t be hauling my laptop with me because that might tempt me to try to find time and space to write. I want to write. I love writing. I will miss writing. But I also want to enjoy my holiday with my family. If I take my laptop there will be a temptation and I don’t want the conflict to threaten my family holiday. Don’t forget I also have a day job; I need a break from everything, too. (There is no regular Internet connection for me back home, but I’ll try to keep up with correspondence on my trips with the ipad to Wi-Fi zones.)

I anticipate doing a lot of reading. There is a charity bookshop in Dymchurch which always has shelves of good and reasonably priced paperbacks for sale. How I’ve missed browsing bookshops. I anticipate long mornings reclining on the golden sands in The Children’s Paradise under the sea wall enjoying the sun and a good ‘real’ book while my son amuses himself on the beach.

This last ‘author year’ I self-published two books. Bad Sons and A Dog’s Life. I’ve also written the third in my Acer Sansom series, Smoke & Mirrors. I won’t get that out now until I return to Istanbul. It would have been good to, but it’s not ready, it needed extra work and still needs more. One of the great things about being a self-publisher is that there are no deadlines. When it’s ready and I’m happy, I’ll click publish. My apologies to any who were perhaps looking forward to this title for a summer read, but I’m sure you understand.

I’ve made a good start on the second B&C but I’m going to have to shelve it until I return. I had hopes of at least finishing the first draft before we head home but I forgot to factor in the World Cup to my ‘author year’. Watching three matches a night in my time zone is taking its toll on my creativity and energy. Again, it’s a choice and one I’m happy to make.

My realistic predictions for the next ‘author year’ are not particularly encouraging, but it’s best to face up to them and get used to them rather than live in denial. That won’t be helpful, and life can be tough enough without creating additional pressures for oneself.

I start at a new school in September. I’ve walked to work for the last five years and that’s been worth its weight in gold to me as an author and a human being. The new job is an hour’s commute away…by bus. The fact that I’ve done that to my working day is a reflection of how bitterly disappointed I have been with the new administration at my ‘old’ school this year. I’m leaving behind some wonderful colleagues and brilliant students. I’m also leaving behind a position and routine that provided me the opportunity to find time to write. I don’t anticipate that at my new school I’ll find half the time I had here.

Those familiar with this blog will know that I started writing when I came to Turkey five years ago. I’ve written eight books while I’ve been working at this school. (Not during lessons, of course, I mean in my time here.) I can still remember banging away on the first Acer Sansom – the first book I wrote – on the school computer, which kept crashing, in the old staffroom in my free periods. Before I started carrying my laptop to school every day I was always trying to find a computer that worked to practice my hobby. There probably isn’t a computer here that doesn’t have a chapter or two of something I’ve written on its hard-drive. I feel quite nostalgic about the technology here, which is quite appropriate seeing as most of it is from another age.

On top of my new working life, my son is growing up – he was three this week – and becoming  more demanding. Like Elton sang about Mars, Istanbul is not a place to raise your kids. We live in an apartment, which, like most apartment blocks in Istanbul has no play area or garden to speak of. The nearest park to us is a twenty minute speed-walk away. My usual routine is to come in from work, put his reins on him and go there for an hour or two each evening after school. (Coming from a rural area, I can’t bear to think of him not having the space and opportunity for outside play in his day.) This coupled with my new commute, I can see myself getting less time to write at home in the evenings and weekends. I won’t ignore my parental responsibilities with him just so that I can write. I wouldn’t want to. It’s a choice I’m happy to make.

This will be my last blog-post for the ‘year’. That’s something else I won’t be killing myself over while on holiday.

I’d like to take this seasonal opportunity to offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all my readers for their interest, downloads and support of my writing. It’s worth repeating: writers are nothing without readers. I’d also like to say a public and huge thank you to Martin, my gentleman friend, who has worked with me on the Acer books, the fourth R&M and the B&C. Through his diligent proofreading and editorial suggestions my writing has achieved a much more polished and professional finish – absolutely necessary as a self-publisher if one is to continue to attract readers and maintain their interest.

Have a great summer everyone and I look forward to further communication with you all next ‘year.’

Smoke and Mirrors – Acer Sansom #3

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

Yeah, OK, I know it’s a bit ‘in your face’ size-wise, but for its first showing I think that’s allowable.

I really like the covers for all of my books. I have no regrets or what ifs regarding any aspect of any of them. I think the fellow who does my cover design does a great job. While we’re at it, he’s very easy to work with, very reasonably priced, happy to listen to suggestions and make any number of revisions to pander to the ‘creative’ input of me. He is Kit Foster you can find him here: http://www.kitfosterdesign.com 

I think that professional cover art is one of the most important aspects of ebook publishing. As Kit says on his website…because we all judge a book by its cover. I think he’s right. I’d also add that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

In his best-selling book Blink Malcolm Gladwell looks at the power of spontaneous responses – judging from first impressions. He coins the phrase ‘thin-slicing’ to describe one’s ability to make a rapid judgement based on a small amount of data.

Data doesn’t come much smaller than a thumbnail image. It’s the bait, the lure, the enticement. When they’re all lined up together you’ve got to encourage the reader to click on you out of dozens of possibilities. And if your cover screams professionally produced, among other things, then probably readers will feel some assurance that the rest of the book will meet a production expectation. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the inverse was true.) At least they might be encouraged to read the blurb, or try the ‘Look Inside’ feature, maybe look at other readers’ comments.

I feel like showing all three of my Acer covers. So I will.

Dirty Business Final (Large)    Loose Ends Final (Large)    Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

This week, writing wise, I’ve been  working on Smoke and Mirrors. I had some editorial suggestions to respond to. It’s the most work I’ve had to do on a book I’ve written. I agree that the book needed the work. I’ve since read it again and I’m sure it is better for it. And I wasn’t chopping passages out, I was shoring them up. I added another couple of thousand words.

I’m finished with Acer!!!!!!

Let battle commence!

Let battle commence!

Writer’s diary: 23.05.2014

Chapter 1

When I say I’m finished with Acer, what I mean is I’m finished with the first draft of the third novel. We haven’t broken up. Acer and I will likely endure for a while yet, I hope.

It all started coming together quite quickly in the end and I had a good gallop – a few late nights and early mornings – to the finish line. But I don’t think the ending is rushed. I think the book has a good pace all through.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 2

I’ve moaned a bit about this book and how challenging it was to write for reasons that I won’t rehash here. I know that I’ve spent much longer on the Internet looking up this and that for this book than I have for any other I’ve written.

For my own amusement I had a look at when I started writing it thinking that it must have been a loooonnnng time ago. I found a blog-post I wrote in February of this year where I said that I had the idea for books three and four in this series on my way to the airport. I did some maths and was amazed to calculate that this book has only taken me fourteen days to write to this stage. Then I double checked my figures and realised it was actually three months. (I’m an English teacher not a maths teacher.) That’s no longer than any of my other books time-wise.

Books one and two in the series were both 100,000 words. This one is 91,000.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 3

The gentleman who helps me out with my writing ‘issues’ suggested a while back that I consider chapter length when writing. He probably said why, but I forget. I’m not a very good listener. It’s not easy to tell me something.

Books one and two were both twenty-six chapters long. Book three is currently ninety-two chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue. That’s different. And here’s why.

When I’d finished and was going through the file on the computer I thought that some of the chapters were a bit too long. And then I got to thinking how that seemed to make things drag in places when what I was looking for was a sense of pace. I cut those chapters in half. And it dawned on me that utilising something that has to go into a book anyway – chapter breaks – in the right way can be a convenient and legitimate tool for creating pace and tension. If I’d ever done a creative writing course, they probably would have taught that in the first week. And I realise that loads of others do it/did it: Chandler, Lee Child etc.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 4

I’m temporarily happy with the overall effect.

I have it printed off and I’m now on stage two – going to town on it with various coloured highlighter pens. I don’t mind this part. I like getting surgical with it.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 5

If anyone ever asks me what’s the best thing about writing a book, I’ll answer: finishing it.

If anyone ever asks me what’s the worst thing about writing a book, I’ll answer: finishing it.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 6

As a writer, the worst thing about finishing a book for me is that I have to start another one from scratch. The blank page/screen is waiting and it’s daunting. So here is a tip for myself that’s worked for me this time. Start another book before you finish the one you’re on.

I started Booker & Cash#2 a while back with a good idea. I got to 20,000 words and had to put it to one side for R&M#4 and then Acer#3. Now I don’t have to start a new book from scratch. I’m already a quarter of the way in! Kerching!

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

The End

Part 2:

I had a nice surprise via Twitter this week that is worth recording for posterity here. I won’t go on about it. I’ll just paste the link.

http://francesdiplinoreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/review-of-rope-enough.html?spref=tw

Part 3:

The link below provides some great ideas for those looking to get their Christmas shopping all finished early this year.

http://www.sadanduseless.com/2014/05/weird-amazon-books/

Fantastic Fiction?

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Writer’s diary: 16.05.2014

The tag line for my wordpress site has always been ‘on trying to make it as an author of note.’ I have often wondered what the hell I meant by that, and how I would know if it ever happened. I sometimes wish I had chosen something more clearly definable, more transparently achievable.

I’ve had two things happen since last week’s blog-post that make me feel I might be a bit closer to whatever it is I’m after that I don’t understand and wouldn’t know if I fell over it.

1) Amazon chart positions: Last Saturday books two, three and four in the R&M Files were all in the Amazon top 20 for the paid chart British Detectives. It was only for about half a day but it was special enough for me to give myself the afternoon off and buy the family an ice-cream at the park. (It wasn’t my fault that they weren’t there and I had to eat three.) Little successes must be celebrated, I think, as much as the big successes.

No one outside of Amazon knows how chart rankings are calculated (I wonder if Amazon do) but I’m pretty sure that while one could get one book in the top 20 of a chart by some random algorithm there is a bit more than luck and randomness involved to get three books in it. People must be downloading them and they wouldn’t be downloading them if they weren’t enjoying the series after and including book one which is my free try-before-you-by initiative. (For the record it should be noted that the British Detective category is an Amazon category and not one of those obscure ones I made up in order to get Amazon to list me in it so that I could manipulate chart positions and look like a best seller. See below.)

(As I was writing this post on Monday morning Dirty Business made it to #1 spot in Amazon.co.uk Best Seller list: Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Suspense > Political (see above) and Loose Ends was there in silver medal position. By Monday evening they’d swapped places (see below). OK, so that’s a bit of a remote category but it’s a chart with a top 100 and you have to pay for them. So I think I can rightly refer to myself as a double best seller. (Three more ice-creams later.)

Acerrrrr2

[Acer’s rubbish is he? Grrrrr…..]

Before we all get carried away with my roaring success and start ordering Rolex watches let’s give that some perspective. Up until lunch time 12.05.2014 the books had had the following numbers of downloads on Amazon.co.uk. Dirty Business: 68 sales and 3 borrows. Loose Ends: 58 sales and 3 borrows.(That’s twelve days remember. Best seller in name only, I’d say.)

2) Recognition: I now have an entry on the Fantastic Fiction database, which I consider to be the fiction reference equivalent of ‘Who’s Who’. I did not pay for it. I did not write begging for it. It just happened and I couldn’t have been made happier if all my books were in the Amazon top 10 Kindle books best sellers list.

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/t/oliver-tidy/

I have used Fantastic Fiction as a reference point for years as a reader. When I started my self-publishing journey I dreamed about getting on it. And now I am. I have no idea how one gets on there and I don’t care. I’m just thrilled to be there. But I do wish I’d used a better profile picture for all my social media outlets. Me in a bow tie just looks so… For anyone who ever wonders, it’s from my last wedding. (When I say last I mean the one before the next.) To be honest I think I look more like one of the waiters than a groom.

This week it really feels like I have edged towards becoming an author of note as opposed to an author of ‘rubbish’. (Is he still banging on about that? Get over it, will you?) There, I said it so my daughter doesn’t have to.

What do you do?

 

Writer’s diary: 09.05.2014

You’re minding your own business, jotting notes on an A4 pad. A man takes the seat next to you. You don’t know him. He’s sweating, clearly anxious. You can feel the heat of indecision coming off him.

‘Excuse me.’

You ignore him.

‘Excuse me.’

You look up. There are others around but he’s talking to you. Looking at you. What you see in his eyes frightens you. But he does not frighten you. It is his knowledge. He does not look insane but they don’t always.

‘Can I have one piece of paper and borrow something to write with? Please. It’ll take seconds. It’s important.’

You hesitate. You look around at the faces staring in your direction. All strangers to you and to each other. You are the temporary entertainment in the boredom of their routine. You tear off a piece of paper and lend him your pencil because it is easier that way.

He writes on his knee. The pencil goes through the paper and he swears quietly. You pass over your pad for him to lean on. He mumbles a thank you. He doesn’t look up.

You try not to look at what he’s writing. But you see that his hand is shaking. You meet the stares of some of the others. They either look away or stare blankly back. No one smiles.

He has finished.

‘Thank you.’

He hands back your pad and pencil. You breathe out quiet relief and hope that’s it.

You cannot ignore the noise of him folding the paper neatly into four.

Minutes pass.

It’s your stop. You get out. He gets out behind you. You walk. He is matching your pace. There are others around you. You are not properly afraid, yet.

He gets in front of you and blocks your path. He is trying to smile at you but he can’t beat his fear. People are jostling you in their hurry.

There is something in his face. Something genuine. Do you know him? He holds his paper in front of him. He holds it for you to take.

‘Forget your day. Take this paper. Find a policeman. Give it to him. Tell him about me. Make him read it. Make him take it seriously. Lives may depend on it.’

He turns and hurries away. Within seconds you have lost him in the sea of heads.

What do you do?

(Can’t stop. Acer needs me. Time’s ticking. He’s alone, again. Things are bad. And it’s his fault. Failure is not an option.)

Acer Sansom is ‘rubbish’ :-(

Dirty Business Final (Large) Loose Ends Final (Large)

Writer’s diary: stardate: 02.05.2014 😦

This week I broke through the 70,000 word barrier of my first draft for Acer #3, which I might call Smoke and Mirrors. It’s been slow going compared with other books I’ve written, but it’s coming together nicely, in my opinion. I had a couple of good sessions this week and have started to feel quite positive about it.

And so it was with some dismay that I was given to understand that I’m wasting my time on this series. I received a couple of negative comments on Amazon.co.uk just yesterday – one for each of the Acer books: Dirty Business and Loose Ends. They are both from the same reader. For Dirty Business he said: Paul needs to scrap this Acer Sansom killer and go back to Dover and his good books, at least they were readable. (Paul?)

For Loose Ends he left this comment under the title ‘Rubbish’: Just like his other Sansom book rubbish and not worth the money, his books with Dover as the back ground were readable this lot are not.

(Some of my detractors I’d like to run over with ‘de tractor’.)

It’s not often I am left baffled by a reader’s feedback. (I know these book aren’t going to win any prizes but equally I know they’re not ‘rubbish’ because I’ve had too many favourable comments on them from impartial reviewers whom I respect. I accept that they might not be everyone’s cup of tea but that’s different to ‘rubbish’.)

I’ve experienced my fair share of negative comments and almost always I can find a way to understand them. I’ve invited him to enlighten me regarding what it was in these books that so displeased him. I’d really like to know. (There must be a quote from some old sage out there somewhere about understanding alleviating anguish but I can’t be arsed to look for it. Besides, I feel my time is better spent trying to find out where this bloke lives. He only went and used his real name 🙂 )

There are many things I’ve learned through self-publishing. One of the most important to remember, if one wishes to remain sane, is that you really cannot please all the readers all the time. So I try to be philosophical about negative comments. I try not to let them ruin my day. But the truth is: I can deal with them a lot better when whoever leaves them is not so unnecessarily unpleasant. It’s so rude. Rudeness makes my blood boil. Rudeness and stupidity.

The reviewer in question is entitled to have his say over my book. He paid for that privilege. But why is it that some people feel the need to be so horrible? I mean, ‘Rubbish’. That’s not nice is it? Who is he? Who is anyone to say anyone’s book is ‘Rubbish’? It’s such a rotten, spiteful, nasty, lazy thing to plaster as a comment title.

And it’s not just him. It’s endemic on Amazon. Some of the things some people write for comment titles and comment content should make them ashamed of themselves. Passing judgement on a book you’ve read is a subjective thing. You might hate it, but maybe that’s just you. Express that privately if you have to, but why must people be so nasty on public forums?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for constructive criticism. I’ve learned a lot from decent readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to feedback to me constructively. Not everyone loves my books and that’s fine with me when readers comment using language that isn’t inflammatory and hostile. But I ask you, comments like those I’ve copied and pasted above, how do they help anyone? Readers or writers.

People like that remind me of people like this:

 

and I don’t like it. And it’s not about passion; it’s about being civilised. Ah, what’s the point?

He’s not my first and, of course, he won’t be my last. I just wonder how long I will be prepared to bite my tongue and remain affable in the face of such nastiness.

Mind you even smiling nicely and responding philosophically can upset a comment prowler. Example: A little while ago on Amazon.com a woman gave this comment for Rope Enough under the title of Rather boring: Couldn’t get into this book – even though it is an English crime novel. Not sure what the problem was, but it didn’t hold my interest and I didn’t finish it.

Fair enough, I thought. Because of my policy of commenting on every comment I had to write something. And it had to be fittingly philosophical. I replied: Hello Miriam, Just goes to show, I suppose – you can’t please all the people all the time.
Regards.

That seemed harmless enough to me and to the point and honest in an ‘oh well’ kind of way. There was certainly no sub-text of unpleasantness intended.

So imagine my surprise when this week I got this comment from a reader who’d seen my response to Miriam: You are not going to win readers with that kind of attitude. I was about to give this book a shot because I love anything set in England. Most of my favorite authors are English. Your comment is off-putting and I will now pass on this one.

Still, one good thing to come out of all this: I was struggling to find a name for the hunchback kiddy-fiddler in my latest R&M File. Not any longer. Talking of which, oh look, his address came through – now where did I put de tractor keys?

(Please, just in case, I don’t want anyone springing to Acer’s defence on Amazon. I know I have some splendidly loyal readers who might do that, but it’s not what I’m fishing for. This is my writer’s diary and I’m simply sharing something to do with my writing journey that happened this week. That’s all folks.)