Category Archives: Author

Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on the living dead.

cover on devicesHave you ever thought about what the dead get up when you’re not looking? Not in a terrifying, trying to drive you out of your house sort of way, just in a ‘getting on with their own lives’ sort of way? That’s what got me thinking, and what led to me writing Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, my debut novel, published in October 2015 (international Amazon link here, to take you to the country of your choice), and currently just 99p/c in the Crooked Cat Easter Sale.

Come and find out what Richard III, Anne Boleyn, Queen Jane Grey and a host of others talk about whilst we’re not listening, and what they get up to when the staff of the Tower of London are busy elsewhere. With family feuds having had centuries to build up, star-crossed couples trying to find each other, and a certain King of England looking for a certain pair of princes, there’s always plenty going on, and especially in the greatest historical prison England has ever seen!

If you do dip a toe and take a chance of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London this Easter, and you like what you read, then my second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming in June 2017, and I’d love you to attend the online launch party – click here for more information. We’ll be having virtual food and drink, there’ll be music and, of course, a couple of book-related competitions.

Hope to see you there!

JenniferCWilson-HolyroodPalace

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015; she (and it) can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog.

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.

***

meltdown

Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown

Guest Post: Gill Hoffs on the Collywobbles

Gilll Hoffs has been a guest on this blog many times before and it’s always a pleasure to have her guesting for us. 

Today, in the wake of her second book being published, Gill shares with us the nerves related to the release. Thanks to Gill for being so honest about this topic. 

Vic x

the-lost-story-of-the-williammary-gill-hoffs-hi-res-image

Killing your collywobbles: how to handle the release of your next book.
By Gill Hoffs.

My second shipwreck book has just come out and while I’m delighted to have 18 months’ work come to fruition, I also feel kinda sick about it.  With my first book, The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015), everything was new and exciting and the only way was up.  As a relatively unknown author writing about a long forgotten shipwreck, I could reason with myself that whatever I did was an improvement on the status quo and no matter what, my research and writing would raise awareness of the people involved and help memorialise them – so whether my book was a success or not, it was something.  And something is better than nothing.

the-sinking-of-rms-tayleur-gill-hoffs-paperback

But fast forward two and a half years from that first book’s release and you’ll find me fretting, full of excitement mixed with fear.  My Tayleur book has been in national newspapers, on TV and the radio, and led to trips to Ireland, the wreck site, and to meet descendants of people involved.  It’s been wild and I’ve loved every second of it but – and it’s a big BUT – this means the stakes are raised, considerably, for Book 2.

The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson (Pen & Sword, 2016) came out in September and although the advance reviews and feedback so far has been great, I still feel queasy with nerves.  What if no-one reads it or likes it? What if, what if, what if… Many of you reading this have felt (or will feel) the same with your own second book or subsequent title, so here’s a list of things which have helped me through the summer and will hopefully help you too.

Do add suggestions in the comments section – killing collywobbles is a work in progress!

  • Keep lists in a project book of precisely what you’re doing to promote your book, e.g. a section on reviews (who approached, when, yes/no, what site or publication, etc.), interviews, articles, talks/signings. When you’re panicking and struggling to sleep you can look at all the positive steps you’re taking to get your book out there and noticed, and rest easier knowing that this is in hand and still to come.  Of course, this only works if you have put effort into promotion…
  • Remind yourself that people who enjoyed your first book are now rooting for you. They want your new book to be great, they want to love it, and they will come at your new title with a positive state of mind.  Make the most of connections made during your research or via your first book, keep in touch with readers and reviewers and if you can send them something extra (not a bribe, think bookmarks, pens etc.) then do so.  Don’t point out to them what you’re unsure of in your work, or otherwise try to put them off it – most people get the jitters and that’s no reason to sabotage yourself (and your publisher).
  • Celebrate every little thing to do with your new book. Enjoy the ride!  You’ve earned it!

Gill Hoffs is the author of Wild: a collection (Pure Slush, 2012), The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015), The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson (Pen & Sword, 2016), and hundreds of short stories and articles.  She lives in Warrington, England, and can be contacted via email and on twitter.

Guest Post: Bernie Steadman on Writing Groups

Bernie Steadman is our guest on the blog today. Bernie is here to talk to us about writing groups. 

Obviously, as the facilitator of two regular groups, I am an advocate of writing groups. But don’t take my word for it – have a read of what Bernie has to say.

Thanks to Bernie for taking the time to write this piece for us.

Vic x

Bernie Steadman

Bernie Steadman on Doing it together (an antidote to the loneliness of the long-distance writer. 

It can be a lonely business, writing. At some point the avoidance tactics have to stop, the bottom gets attached to the chair, fingers flex and the process of creating a new story begins. You settle into long hours teasing out the plot twists and fleshing out the characters.

It’s easy, however, to fall prey to doubts when you are alone for so long with only a screen or notebook. Is it any good, or is it total rubbish? Even worse, you read a brilliant book and want to throw yours at the wall.  Support was needed. I tried several ways to build it; a local writers’ group which meets regularly, an on-line community, and attending as many writing festivals as I can afford.

I belong to Bow Wharf Writers. We meet in the back room of Art Tea Zen in Langport, Somerset.

art-tea-zen-back-room

Regular critiques from the members and having to do ‘homework’ or plan and lead a session are invaluable in keeping me fresh and open to new ideas. I started writing short stories and poems; things I hadn’t done since school. We read and critique each other’s work, find stimuli to get us writing during the session, and enjoy days out in places with a bit of atmosphere to spark our creativity.

 

A few of us finding inspiration in the history of Bridgwater.
Also enjoyable are the twice-yearly ‘Ways with Words’ evening which form part of the Langport and Ilminster Litfests. It can be challenging for writers to stand up and read their own work aloud, but it’s an invaluable skill to develop.

Reading an extract from Death and Deception

When I first started writing I joined the Word Cloud, an on-line writing community that takes particularly good care of new writers. On there I could submit short pieces, and learn the language of critique, as we were all expected to comment on other writers’ work. I had to learn how to give criticism fairly, and to receive it graciously (yes, that was hard…)

In the meantime I was working so hard on drafting and re-drafting my first crime novel. Writers’ Workshop (parent company of Word Cloud) offered an on-line ‘Self-Edit your novel’ course, so I signed up for that, and learnt a huge amount. After applying the skills learnt on the course to the first novel, I can honestly say writing the second one was a lot more straightforward. Not easier, of course…

So, five years after starting to write seriously, Death and Deception, which took two years to complete and was rejected six times, was signed up by independent publisher Bloodhound Books (never give up!). They are about to publish the second in the series, Death and the Good Son on December 6th, and I’m already getting butterflies.

Death and Deception

Do look in your local area for writers’ groups and go along and see what they do. Take care to find one which is serious about writing, but not full of its own self-importance. You need to feel able to experiment there, to challenge yourself… and to fail. A supportive group will enable all that, and you may well find some good friends and the support you need.

Bernie taught English for many years but only dabbled in short fiction and poetry.  She completed her debut novel, Death and Deception, when she escaped the classroom and could finally stop marking essays.

Death and Deception was the first in a series featuring DI Dan Hellier and his Exeter-based team. She has also completed the second, Death and The Good Son, which will be published by Bloodhound Books on 6th December 2016.

Bernie lives in a small village in East Devon with her husband and two cats. She is a Trustee of the Ferne Animal Sanctuary and a keen practitioner of Iyengar yoga. Regular application of cake and coffee may also feature in her writing lifestyle.

Getting to Know You: BA Morton

Today, I’m joined on the blog by writer BA Morton.

Published by Caffeine Nights, Babs left the rat race and headed to deepest Northumberland where she now lives in a haunted house.

I thought it showed great commitment that Babs came all the way to Newcastle for the first Noir at the Bar Newcastle – just to be in the audience. I was honoured to have Babs appear at the second NatB NE and I’m thrilled to have her on the blog.  

Vic x

b-a-morton

Hi Vic, thank you for inviting me along to talk about my favourite subject – books!

My pleasure! Tell us about your books, Babs. 

I currently have nine published novels and novellas across a number of genres ranging from historical romance to psychological crime. My debut crime novel ‘Mrs Jones’ and the follow-up ‘Molly Brown‘ are set in New York, while my medieval series ‘The Wildewood Chronicles‘ follows the many misadventures of Templar Knight Miles as he returns to Northumberland after crusading in The Holy Land. More recently I’ve concentrated closer to home with North East based psychological thrillers ‘Bedlam‘ & ‘Twisted‘ (published by Caffeine Nights).

Bedlam

What inspired them? 

Wildewood‘ was inspired initially from research carried out on my own home which was built on the remains of a medieval chapel. By contrast ‘Mrs Jones‘ was simply inspired by lyrics from the song of the same name.

Mrs Jones

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere! Sometimes it can be an image or the lyrics from a song, or simply a snatch of conversation or a news headline. Today, for example, I’ve been mulling over the word ‘knowledge’ too much is as dangerous as too little … hmmm… I have a plot forming already.

wildewood revenge

Do you have a favourite book / character that you’ve written? 

That’s difficult because my favourite book is usually my most recent. That said, my kookiest and most weirdly lovable character has to be Spook from my Newcastle crime novel ‘Twisted’ Spook likes to play dangerous games. She hears voices in her head and slips into rhyme when she’s pushed too close to the edge (which happens quite often). Favourite tortured hero has to be DS Joe McNeil from my psychological crime thriller ‘Bedlam’. Jeez, that poor bloke has it stacked against him… and you really want things to turn out right for him, but you’re scared they won’t.

Twisted

What can readers expect from your books?

Generally, fast paced action, a character driven twisted plot, and a measure of black humour. There’s often a ‘will they or won’t they’ element and that could either be romance, as in ‘Mrs Jones‘, with the witness and the cop, or simply about whether the character will do the right thing against impossible odds.

Most useful piece of writing advice: who was it from?

I’ve had lots of advice since I started writing, and I guess the one I find most useful is that ‘less is more’ I’m a ruthless self editor and will go over a piece repeatedly to prune out anything that strangles the prose. I read aloud to check the authenticity of dialogue and will labour over the choice of one word against another.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers? 

If you have an idea, get it down on paper (or computer) while it’s fresh in your mind, even if it’s just one word or a name or a scene. I have a file with hundreds of one-liners and scenes and images that are just waiting to be brought to life.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 

I like research, particularly when it entails a trip to Barter Books in Alnwick… ah, heaven. I like creating good characters with a vein of badness and bad characters with the capacity to shock and surprise. I don’t like the isolation of creating a world that can’t be shared until it’s fully hatched, or those moments of self doubt when you think it’s probably rubbish anyway. I love to read/perform my work. I hate the whole self promotion thing … arghhhh.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 

I have a few WIPs on the go. Nearest completion is a new North East crime series. I’ve also just completed a short crime story for a charity anthology to be published by Bloodhound Books in time for Christmas.

What’s been your happiest writing moment? 

It has to be when ‘Mrs Jones‘ took second place in The Yeovil Prize literary competition. It was the first competition I’d entered and I was overwhelmed by the response. I was invited to stay, expenses paid, at Brympton for the Yeovil Literary Festival and for 5 days I was wined and dined with some marvellous writers who were all so kind and supportive. ‘Mrs Jones‘ was subsequently published and was a surprising success.

What did you think of Noir at the Bar? 

Living where I do in rural Northumberland, I don’t often make it into the city, but it was well worth the trip. It was the first time I’d attended anything solely crime related and it was marvellous to hear such an eclectic mix within the genre and to meet up with so many like-minded folk, many of whom I’d met only on social media. Perfect venue and organisation too!

Noir at the Bar NE #2

Favourite book of all-time? 

Again, a difficult question, so I’m going to give you three. Favourite historical – ‘Pillars of the Earth‘, Ken Follett. Favourite crime – ‘Every Dead Thing‘, John Connolly (in fact anything by John Connolly) Favourite kids book – ‘Noggin the Nog‘ (that book is just so wonderful to read aloud.)..

For more information, you can visit Babs’s Amazon Author page.

Guest Post: Patrick Kelly on An Editorial Question

As an editor, I often remark upon the lack of variation in writers’ language in order to help them improve their work. Today on the blog, we have writer Patrick Kelly on the blog to explore an interesting editorial conundrum: the use of the very ‘to be’. I hope you enjoy his insight into this issue. 

Vic x

Patrick Kelly

 

To Be or NOT to Be: An Editorial Question

By Patrick Kelly

No magic trick will improve your manuscript—it takes hours of hard work. But I’ll share with you the next best thing. My editor once gave me this feedback:

On this next pass you might also watch “it was” lead-ins—there are a lot of them, and it’s not the strongest prose choice. You might check for “to be” verbs overall (“were” “are” “is” “was”).

Oh dear: time to go to work.

Using Microsoft’s Find/Replace function to count specific words I found 3,866 instances of the verb to be in my manuscript. (Details in table below. Hint: don’t forget the contractions.)

Next I scanned every sentence for forms of to be. Many times, after a minute of thought, I found a better way to craft the prose. It took fifty hours for me to perform the Not to be edit pass, and the revisions came in many forms: change passive to active, rearrange words, etc. Heck, a few times I deleted the sentence altogether.

You’ve probably already heard that you should avoid using the passive voice.

Passive: The ball was thrown by Bob.

Active: Bob threw the ball.

Note: Microsoft Word will coach you to rephrase passive sentences with a green squiggly underline.

The next example removes four instances of to be in three steps:

There was a dog that was quick and was brown and was running up the hill.

This sentence is grammatically correct according to MS Word, but yikes! We can all do better than this. Start by placing two adjectives in front of the noun they modify:

There was a quick, brown dog that was running up the hill.

The verb “running” tells the reader the dog was quick, so we can cut that adjective. I suggest you perform a dedicated search of your work for instances of “there was.” Try to eliminate every one.

A brown dog was running up the hill.

 Occasionally, because of other events in the story, you need the words was running, but often you don’t.

A brown dog ran up the hill. 

Voila!

 

Here’s a short passage from my manuscript that shows some detailed changes I made with the Not to be pass.

Original version:

The houses were small, less than a thousand square feet. Streetlights were rare. There was no cultivated grass on the lawns, only the weeds that survived on their own. The trees were stubby, the bushes unkempt. Some of the homes were well maintained, with fresh paint and bright lighting, but most yards were littered with random items: old bikes, abandoned cars on cinder blocks, plastic chairs.

The verb to be occurs six times in that passage. In my first pass, I eliminated all six. On a subsequent pass, I added two instances back.

Final version:

Small houses, less than a thousand square feet, lined the sides of the road. A few streetlights struggled against the darkness. The lawns had no cultivated grass, only stubby trees, unkempt bushes, and weeds that survived on their own. Some of the homes were well maintained with fresh paint and bright lighting, but most yards were littered with random items: old bikes, abandoned cars on cinder blocks, plastic chairs.

After the full Not to be edit pass, I did a recount of various forms of to be in my manuscript and found I had eliminated over fourteen hundred instances. This table provides the details:

 

Specific Form             Before             After               Decrease

Was                             1322                480                  842

Were                            332                  129                  203

Am                                  8                      7                      1

Are                              254                  210                    44

Is                                 285                  222                    63

Be                                264                  181                    83

Being                             18                      9                      9

Been                              97                    53                    44

‘m                                230                  202                    28

‘re                                203                  165                    38

isn’t                               10                      6                      4

‘s                                 843                  772                    71

Totals                          3866                2436                1430

 

Try this yourself and compare your results to mine. Hey, post them in the comments.

I hope you write often, write well, and earn faithful readers.

Hill Country Siren

____________

Patrick Kelly holds a BA in software engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA in finance from Carnegie Mellon University. He served as Chief Financial Officer for six different companies before beginning his career as an author of the Joe Robbins Financial Thriller series, including the novels Hill Country Greed, Hill Country Rage, and his latest release, Hill Country Siren. Patrick resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife and family.