Sunday, 31 July 2011


I may have already mentioned I have the painters in at the moment. Well, out rather than in, since they're giving the exterior a facelift.

It's a week since they started and so far all they've painted is the chimney stacks. For the rest of that time they've been scraping off old paint, spraying down the walls with fungicide, rendering broken plaster. In a way it's frustrating to see so little progress although I know it's all necessary and for the best. Without proper preparation the job won't look finished and won't last.

And when I look at my WIP - the one I'm currently editing - I cringe at some of the crass mistakes I made when I penned the last draft. Overwriting, adverb abuse, info dumping - it's all in there. But even though it disappoints me to find such a cornucopia of cock-ups I know I can fix the mistakes and make the book better. In a way the early drafts are the preparation - the discovery of the story - ready to be refined and polished and fit for human consumption.

Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Draft 3

I started this week feeling depressed. Not only did I have a pair of decorators crawling all over my house with ladders and jet sprays and scrapers, but I realised that my rolodex of excuses for not starting my third redraft of WIP had run out. So amid all the banging and spraying and scraping outside I had to open up my WIP and face the type face armed only with a dried up pool of enthusiasm.

But, an odd thing happened. I recently did a few crits - yes, I know I complained about crit sites in a recent post, but that just proves what a hypocrite I am - and found the experience oddly rewarding. Starting to work on Chapter 1 of WIP I began to relive that rush of excitement I remember of old. That feeling of power and control. Now, two chapters in, I'm getting drunk on it.

It's so long since I did any serious editing I'd really forgotten how much I enjoy it. At this stage anything can be changed. The drudgery of churning out X many words a day is past - now it's about the bigger picture. Does this work? Should this go here, or there? Chopping, changing, deleting, rewriting. Crafting. I LOVE it.

Mind you, I'm only two chapters in. Watch this space.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The 27 Club

Someone pointed out, eerily, that recently deceased chanteuse Amy Winehouse is not alone among her peers in shuffling off this mortal coil at the tender age of 27. So many other rock stars have nose dived into self destruction at this age it is flippantly referred to as The 27 Club. The roll call is remarkable: Kurt Cobain, Robert Johnston, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones.

So why do so many of these high fliers crash and burn at such a tender age, leaving the rest of us to wonder what might have been? Is it the excesses of wealth and premature stardom? It's interesting to note that most child stars suffer in their adult years and the death toll is high, which would support this theory. Witness River Pheonix and Judy Garland. Or is that confusing cause and effect? Are they drawn to the risky life of entertainment by the same self-destructive streak that eventually kills them?

Whatever the answer, there is always something seductive about the young star dying in their prime. And in Whitehouse's case, the downward spiral could not have been more public. Only last month she was forced to pull out of a European tour after being booed off stage in her opening concert, clearly out of it and unable to even remember the words of her much loved songs.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Writing Software

I've finally forked out some cash for a real - ie. paid for - word processor. Couldn't quite stomach the $150 demanded by Microsoft Word so I've gone for Apple's Pages instead. At £13.99 it seemed like a no-brainer.

I used to be a serial software junkie. Since I got the Mac my wanderlust has abated. I use Scrivener for just about everything but there are times when you need a reliable programme to open downloaded files. I've used the freebies, Open Office and Neo office but always ran into some sorts of problems with them, usually compatibility issues. Hopefully I won't have to contend with those any more.

People often ask about writing software on writers' forums. It amazes me how much negativity they engender, usually among people who have never tried them. And if anyone thinks they will write a book for them they are deluded. But there are some really useful programmes available.

For novels, Ywriter is free and about all you need to organise your chapters and scenes, research and files. I've used it in the past although these days I prefer the flexibility of Scrivener. For plotting there are a number of programmes available, the most expensive of which is Dramatica Pro. I looked at it some time ago but found it too complicated and jargon filled to help me. Others swear by it. A cheaper alternative I've dabbled with is Contour.

But the thing to remember about them all is they are only tools and may not suit everyone. But if you find Writing Software that helps you, then have at it!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Crit Groups

So you write a book and you edit it to within an inch of its life. You get so sick of looking at it and thinking about it you want to toss it in the trash, but something holds you back. No - better keep it on the hard drive, just in case. A few months later you stumble across it and start reading. Wow! Not bad! Maybe I should get a second opinion on this.

So you join a critique group. Lots of clever writers to tell you what's wrong and how to fix it. Just the ticket.

So you post your chapters and await their responses with baited breath. Some may be complimentary, which gives you a boost. Some may miss the point entirely which makes you feel frustrated and upset. Occasionally someone is perceptive enough to see what you're trying to do and offers some solid gold advice on how to improve your work. But that's rare. The fact is, the crit shoot is a long shot at best.

I think the problem with crit groups is:

They are populated with a wide range of people - wide ranging in taste as well as ability.

They exist to find fault with a piece so people don't read something to appreciate its merits, ie the way a reader would read. If you study the first chapter of any novel you will find faults of some sort. It's inevitable. A reader reads to be transported but that won't happen in 'edit' mode.

Unless you beta read the whole thing, there is no way of gauging the whole story. Early chapters can only tell a very limited amount about the writer's ability.

Critters can become full of their own importance, in the way a lot of critics think their critique is more important than the art they are describing. Opinions can become entrenched, rules written in stone. Show don't Tell is one of the favourites, despite the fact many novels are chock full of tell. And bad advice from inappropriately applied 'rules' undermines a writer's confidence.

So, when dabbling in crit groups have a care and always remember a crit is one person's opinion and nothing more.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

People and Stories

The big scandal this week is phone hacking. It would appear news hounds will do anything to get juicy morsels of information to fill their newspapers, and there's probably nothing new about that.

So why are we so fascinated with other people's lives? Every story we read, every movie we watch, every bit of gossip we hear is about people and how they manage their lives. That's what keeps the newspapers filled - and why hacks tap phones. The more private we try to be, the more desperate they are to get the dirty on us. Because that's what sells. By why the fascination?

Some years back television went through a sea change. Instead of actors or presenters taking centre stage the docu-drama or fly-on-the-wall became fashionable. A whole raft of programmes filled the schedules, mostly following the same format: camera crew follows a group of ordinary, but generally larger than life, people going about their every day life. Edit the footage down to a thirty minute slot, containing the requisite moments of melodrama, and Bob's your uncle. Because people are interested in people.

And that's why it's the people in your story who are the single most important element in it. If readers don't buy them as real you're sunk.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

New Desk

Waiting in today for my New Desk to be delivered. I feel foolishly excited about it for some reason. Maybe because it will be nice to have a proper desk with drawers and space to put things, instead of the postage-stamp size computer table I have at the moment.

Of course I'll have to be careful of letting the clutter build up...

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Got an email this morning. Apparently one of the people I follow on Twitter had sent me a message saying, "Read this funny blog post - it mentions you!" The message included a link to take me to said blog post. For some reason I didn't fall for it. It might have been because I barely knew this person. Lucky, really. After making enquiries it turned out this was a phishing site, the result of someone's account being hacked.

That's the trouble with Twitter. It's instant and can be exhilarating if you get swept up in some trending topic. It gives you the chance to talk to anyone anywhere. It can make you feel connected. But with every tweet you're revealing information that some can use against you. I've been spied on recently and the result wasn't pleasant. No real harm done, but it seems no sooner do we find new ways to communicate than someone finds a way to use that against us.

So if you're on Twitter, beware of prying eyes.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Crit and Chat

Just a quick post to say me and some of my online writer buddies have started a new free-to-join writers' forum. Crit and Chat is for writers who enjoy the company of other writers to..well, crit and chat. More news about this soon.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Harry Potter to leave JK Rowling

The book world hasn't been rocked this week by the news that fictional schoolboy wizard Harry Potter has announced he is to leave his long-time creator JK Rowling.

"We have been close for many years," said Potter outside the premises of his new internet company, EvenmoreHarryPotter. "But I've grown up now and it's time to move on." He denied the split was due to the founding of the new company in which Rowling has no share. "EvenmoreHarryPotter is my own project. It's going to help develop me as a fictional character and give something back to my millions of fans who will pay handsomely for it."

Potter is the main character of Rowling's Harry Potter books which have netted the Edinburgh based author millions and spawned several movies. This news comes hot on the trail of unsubstantiated rumours that The Famous Five are to leave their now deceased author, Enid Blyton, to form their own internet casino, and that Hercule Poirot will leave Agatha Christie to start an online ant farm.

"I have no long term plans, but if I appear in any other Harry Potter books they will be sold through EvenmoreHarryPotter," added Potter before stubbing out a spliff. "I'm sorry it has come to this but I am a grown up now and she keeps treating me like some dumb kid wizard in a school and I want to do my own thing, innit."

A spokesman for Rowling said, "JK is not bitter, but that ungrateful little bastard owes me, I mean her, everything. Wait till this gets to court and I'll, I mean she'll, sue the arse off the little turd. He's nothing without me. Nothing. (I mean her.)"

Harry Potter is 22.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Poem For July

Summer Lawn

As fresh green blades of lawn are we
Each soft slipped tip
Unseeing, spearing up and out
The drought dried ground
In hope. A hope so whole
So silent, so supremely
All encompassing.
All defining. We, the fresh green
Lawn of hope. Certain
Of our welcome, sure
Of our contribution.
Never in the darkest dream,
Waking, startled, frightened
From our slumber by
The low drone of whirring blades
Dew damp and primed
To cut us down.