Going back to my (R&M) roots.

 

Three Short Blasts  (Medium)

Just sharing the cover for the forthcoming short story collection. Another cover I really like. I’m excited about this project.

I dithered about writing a blog-post this week. Because time is really stacked against me for reaching my targets before my Turkey time is up. And I didn’t help myself this week by adding significantly to my workload. But the blog is important and it’s my writer’s diary. So here goes with a brief entry.

In no particular order:

This week I read a non-fiction book that I would recommend to anyone who is writing or thinking of writing. It’s called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Great read. Entertaining, too. We think so much alike on so many aspects of writing, Steve and I. I now want to meet this guy and shake his hand. Awesome. (One thing we don’t agree on is listening to music while writing. SK says he listens to it; I can’t listen to music when I’m thinking and trying to write, not even classical. I can’t work with the distraction.)

Unhappy Families is still doing well. And it’s had over fifty reviews/comments on Amazon UK already. It’s not been out a month yet. Thanks to all involved anywhere with making this book a success.

Last Monday I started a writing job I’ve been putting off and putting off for over a year. And now I’m on it. Feelings-wise it’s been a mixed bag for me. Some good, some bad. I’m performing edits and overhauls of the first three R&M Files. It’s needed doing. And I’m doing it. But it’s going to take going on a month out of the time I’ve got left here.

I’ve been through Rope Enough twice, already. I’ve changed some stuff in line with general reader feeling for aspects of that read. There were two things in particular that I’ve had more negative feedback concerning than anything else: Romney’s apparent misogyny and the sex. I’ve addressed both. Toned one down and been less explicit on the other. Why? Because I’ve come to realise that these aspects of the book did not appeal to a certain reader demographic and the last thing I should be doing is putting people off my writing when what’s putting them off isn’t essential to the book or my writing or how I feel about my writing. I’ve written before that Rope Enough has always felt like a bit of a cuckoo in the Romney and Marsh Files’ nest. I feel less so about it now. That makes me happy. (Don’t worry: Romney is still Romney.) (On Romney – this week a reader got in touch and mentioned that Martin Shaw the actor would have made a good Romney. In his day I think he could have been perfect. Too old now. He’s seventy!!!!!!)

Romney remains stiff towards Marsh in book one but from book two he is now calling her Joy and not Sergeant Marsh all the time, which has been embarrassing to read. In fact first names are being used a lot more now (but not Romney’s. He remains ‘sir’ to his subordinates or ‘guv’. That’s the way that it is.) And in books one and two I kept referring to Romney as ‘the DI’ (it seems so… TV show cop-drama). Dumb and cringeworthy. He’s now just Romney. Romney, Romney, Romney. And why, oh, why, in Rope Enough did I keep referring to CID as ‘the squad room’? (Hot flush creeps up neck.)

I’ve been embarrassed by other things in these read-throughs. (A reason I’ve been putting it off. I knew I would.) To cut a long, self-critical story short, let’s just say that I feel I’ve improved quite a bit as a writer over the few years I’ve been at it. I needed to. Looking back at these early texts I’ve been spotting all sorts of mistakes: grammar, language, sense, punctuation, structure, tense… get the picture? (Not spelling because readers helped me a lot with those errors and I fixed those a while back.)

I gave myself a crash course in the use of commas before I got going. (Better late than never.) I’ve got the six main rules on Post-its above my desk. Applying those rules as best as I can over these three books is proving quite an intense, concentrated and educational exercise. But I’ll tell you what: knowing something about commas makes you look at your writing differently. Understanding a comma rule can unlock vision in sentence structure, for example. I’ve changed a number of sentences about to make them better in several regards, simply because I understood them better because of my new knowledge and insight. (I know what I’m talking about and that’s what matters.)

I’ve also increased the number of chapters in each of the books and cut down on the word count. Example: Rope Enough was 80,000 words. It’s now just under 77,000 words. (That wasn’t all Romney being horrible about women and having sex.) It was 16 chapters. It’s now 46! (Shorter chapter length, like shorter senence length, gives an idea of increased pace. It works.)

I’m still working on the other two books Making a Killing and Joint Enterprise but they are following similar patterns.

The positives? Despite doing a lot of cringing and tutting and punching myself in the face from time to time, I get one thing about these books that has pleased me. They are each good stories. I’m basically enjoying reading them again – getting back to my Romney and Marsh roots. I think that a yardstick of my reflected feelings is that even with all the English errors, and misogyny and objectionable explicit sex and overlong chapters and wooly sentences in Rope Enough it’s still had a lot of good reviews and ratings.

I strongly believe I’m making these books better reads.

One of the two reasons that I’ve never commissioned print on demand books for the R&M Files is because I’ve always known that the early ones needed work. Probably still do. I’m so glad I hung on. I’d feel particularly bad if I thought that there were physical copies of these books out there with all these errors in that could never be changed. I’d be hunting them down and burning them. The beauty of epublishing is that you can change your work every day if you want to and then readers can simply upload the updated version if they choose to. (I think.)

I haven’t uploaded any revised versions yet. I’m going to finish doing all three books and then read them all again back-to-back. Then I’ll upload. I’ve also got to update front and back matter and blurbs for all of my books with links and stuff. I want them all to be as good (make that correct) as I can make them before I push off ‘cos when I get back to the UK I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to write and do all of this shizzle.

Oh yeah, something that is really cheesing me off at the moment is my aging laptop. I think it’s ill. When I’m halfway through typing a sentence it keeps changing lines so that half the sentence is on the right line and half of it is in the middle of a line up the page. Lots of messing around and frustration with that. I’m saving for a new one.

Finally, apologies for all the spelling, punctuation and other errors in this post. I’m in a rush.

Eleven weeks and counting! Holy crap.!

The dark side.

 

I was pecked (!) on twitter last week by a book promotion outfit. They offered help with promoting my book, obviously. It’s the first time I’ve been approached. They said to get in touch if I was interested. I emailed for details because I’m interested in the world of self-publishing and self-promotion. It’s good to know what goes on.

They offered the following:

Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble Review – £20 / $30 (Verified if the ebook purchase price is included for Amazon reviews) 

Like / Click up to 5 positive Amazon / Goodreads / B&N Reviews as Helpful, and up to 5 Negative Reviews as Unhelpful – £5 / $7.50

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Lists – £10 / $15

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Shelves – £10 / $15

Get your book rated by 100 separate Goodreads Accounts adding huge credibility to comments of reviewers and your own success as an upcoming Author to look out for – £100 / $150

Have a book review of your choice shared with over 12000 Facebook Followers and over 11000 Twitter Followers – £10 / $15

Multiples of all options are available. It depends only on how far you want your book to go.

There was a good deal of spiel with it. Like I say, it’s nice to know what goes on. And a bit saddening to know that you can quite easily buy yourself some credit, buy your way up the charts. I don’t know why I’m surprised, the principle is nothing new in business – you know: cheating. Maybe because it’s my chosen career path and I’ve just walked round a corner to find it’s strewn with litter.

*

I’ve learned something new about myself as a writer this week. When I finish the first draft of a book I suddenly become quite exhausted. I hadn’t understood that till this week. I’m the same with teaching. When I get to the first week of the summer holiday I invariably suffer with extreme tiredness. I think it must be to with the handbrake going on on the struggle: the struggle to spoon a story out of my brain on the one hand and the struggle to spoon-feed learning into the brains of young learners on the other. Draining. Yes. Drained is the word I’m looking for. I finish a first draft, I finish a school year and I’m drained. That’s what I learned about me the writer this week.

I finished the first draft of R&M#5 last weekend. Naturally, I’ve felt pretty drained all week. I started back at the beginning almost immediately. But because of my state of drainedness it’s been a tough few days on the grey matter. It’s really not easy to keep a whole book in your mind at once. Jumping backwards and forwards; did İ remember this; did I mention that; x has happened but is the build up there? How can that guy be dead in chapter three and having a phone conversation in chapter six?

But I quite enjoy this phase of writing a story. Things start feeling like they’re coming together. Reading back through I often come up with little asides and comments to drop in – a bit of embroidery. I’m not focussing on where the story is going because I’m already over the line. My mind is free to revel in the detail, to explore the cul-de-sacs of the narrative.

At present the book, Particular Stupidities, is 100,000 words. As I said before, it’s the longest R&M File so far. I’ve read it through once already. I like it. It’s made me laugh a few times, which I always take as a good sign.

I ordered the cover yesterday. Another step along the way.

*

Last week I mentioned making an enquiry on Goodreads. It evolved into something of a thread as it went off at a tangent with other posters’ thoughts and questions. A few people have weighed in on the direction it’s taken. And then they’ve started weighing in on each other. I nearly got involved (it’s my thread after all) but I’m glad I didn’t. Jeez! These people end up at each other’s throats. I have opinions and experiences to share, I really wanted to, but I’ll be keeping them to myself. I have enough angst in my life.

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2241246-star-ratings?page=1

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.)