Thursday, 26 October 2017

All About Rocco

A self-plug this time, for my latest book in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series.

'Rocco and the Nightingale' is the 5th title, following a couple of years lay-off, and I'm delighted to have got back to writing about this French detective. Set in Picardie during the 1960s, it's a world away from my usual output of spies like Harry Tate ('Red Station' et al), Marc Portman ('The Watchman' et al) and Gonzales & Vaslik ('The Locker and 'The Bid').

For a start you can forget all about technology like cell phones, computers, facial recognition cameras and, what seem these days like instant DNA and fingerprint analysis. Instead, there's old-school detection based on evidence, investigation, intuition and kicking down the odd door, French-style.

However, that doesn't mean we have to revert to forgetting current methods when it comes to actually publicising the book. And that's being aided this week by a blog tour, where a number of lovely
                     
blogger/reviewers have kindly taken to flying the Rocco flag via their websites and social media.

Some are using Q&As to find out the how and why of my writing life, while others have asked for features, where I get a free hand to let it all hang out on matters Rocco.

It's been a very interesting experience thus far. I've never used a blog tour before, and this one has been brilliantly managed by Emily at The Dome Press, (who have taken up the baton of publishing my new Rocco book - there are 4 previously-published in the series by A&B): 'Death on the Marais', 'Death On the Rive Nord', 'Death on the Pont Noir' and 'Death at the Clos du Lac'.

'Yes, a lot of 'death', and I decided there should be a change of title style.

If you'd like to plug into these blogs to read a bit more about Rocco, drop the appropriate blogger @name into Twitter, and you'll find the link:

Ayo Onatade @shotsblog - 19th October
Philomena Callan @cheekypee27 - 20th Oct
Marion Grace Woolley @authormgw - 21st Oct
Megen Bailey @mgrnwrite - 22nd Oct
Kate Moloney @bibliophilbec - 23rd Oct
Linda Green @booksofallkinds - 24th Oct
Sonya Alford @ destinylover09 - 25th Oct
Alison Drew @drewcomps - 26th Oct
Karen Cole @karlou - 27th Oct
Lucie Poole @ifindoubtread - 28th Oct
Mary Picken @bethsy - 29th Oct
Janet Emson @janetemson - 30th Oct
Kerrie Waller @lovedreadingthis - 31st Oct
Victoria Watson @vpeanuts - 1st Nov
Jackie Law @followthehens - 2nd Nov

I'm grateful for all these bloggers/reviewers for giving their time and webspace to this blog tour.

'Rocco and the Nightingale' - in p/b, h/b and ebook, on Amazon, The Dome Press  and in all good bookshops.
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Sunday, 8 October 2017

Writing for Beginners (36)

It’s called make-believe

Never one to pass up on a good quote, I read recently that Times columnist Robert Crampton described how conversations between him and his young son consist of  ‘…taking two worlds that do exist and smashing them together to make one that doesn’t.’
My immediate thought was, what an appropriate way to describe writing fiction. As writers, we’re accustomed to using things that we know of in the real world and bringing them together to make another world which doesn’t exist. (Except in our heads, of course, where anything is possible and obscenely big book deals do happen).
One might argue that since everything we’ve used in our fictional scenarios has been copied to one degree or another from real life, then it is real. Well, not quite. Because we’re merely borrowing those things (scenes, characters, items, events) and slotting them into a world which only resembles the one we know, but is entirely false.
Of course, certain pseuds might argue that, look, dude, y’know, existentially speaking, what you’ve created is just, well, a construct, see, fashioned from reality, so in effect, it must be, well… real, right?
No.
It’s made up!
Characters. We might dare, bearing in mind the ever-increasing litigious nature of those around us, ‘borrow’ certain facets of people we know, to help us give flesh to our fictional heroes and villains. Even characters in sci-fi or fantasy books will bear certain similarities to real people. But the personae we create are still not going to be real. They may seem like someone we know by appearance, sound or manner; they may even have a similar name – although I’d advise against that, personally, it’s pushing your luck a bit. They may even be based on fictional characters created by someone else. But they will only ever be what we have created in our minds. (Incidentally, just in case a certain someone down the street is wondering, the miserable old biddy in a blue hat described in my last book was pure coincidence).
Events. Many stories and books borrow from true events in history, to give weight or realism to the plot, or to attract a certain type of reader. Some may even be written as reconstructions of true events, but with a strong fictional twist. But whatever a work might borrow in this way, some of the original elements will eventually be taken in another direction entirely according to the whims and requirements of the author, because that’s what writing fiction is all about. We take what we know (or know about) and amend it where necessary in order to make it fit our scheme of things.
Items. Again, making allowances for specific genres, the majority of things we describe, be they cars, houses, clothes, guns or teapots, are familiar to us because it’s far easier to write about something you can see or touch than something you cannot. It helps if they also have some familiarity to the reader. An object which they have read about, used or seen before, brings instant recognition without the constant mental question mark popping up over something they’ve never heard of. Once or twice in a book might be acceptable, especially where someone is venturing into a genre they haven’t tried before, but too many of these and it becomes like a technical manual and the reader will begin to lose track and interest.
Scenery. There’s a healthy divide on this point, but like many authors, I prefer to use real places in my books, rather than invented ones. The main reason is laziness; real places are easier to write about and describe (even if I transpose them somewhere else entirely). However, if I do need to get a named location spot-on accurate, I can visit the place and do the necessary research. It’s worth bearing in mind that readers love to spot places that are familiar to them, too, and if that helps bring them back to your books, then all to the good.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to alter certain aspects of a place if it happens to suit your storyline. And that’s the great thing about making it all up; it may be based on a real place, but it will never be entirely real. Put in a pub? Easy job. Straighten a road for an action scene? Couldn’t be simpler. Drop in a nightclub where there isn’t one? Consider it done, my son. Some left-over tarmac? Oh, hang on …
Outcomes. This is where the head really flies off the hammer, as my dear old dad used to say. (I never knew what it meant, either - I’m just borrowing … ) Anyway, the outcome of our story is where whatever else we may have borrowed from the real world, be it people, places, guns, cars, houses or rainstorms, becomes less than real. It has to, because what becomes of our heroes and villains is pure fiction. Most of us, after all, don’t consciously write an ending to a story which is true in real life. Where’s the fun in that? If, after having dragged our loyal and wonderfully generous readers on a journey which we’ve, y’know, dude, made up from elements of real life, the very least we can do is give them a larger than life, different to life and much more thrilling than life ending. That way, they might just come back for more.
It’s called make-believe.

TOP TIPS
·       In fiction, you can use real objects, places or events for inspiration – but the finished work is still make-believe.
·       Using real events as a backdrop or starting point can lead to a new dramatic ‘take’ on history.
·       Using real people can help colour your characters – but be careful of going too far.
·       It’s your fiction, your world; you can do anything you like.
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Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook.
Perhaps you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

New Ethan Jones thriller - ENTRY POINT

'Entry Point ' (Carrie Chronicles #3) is the newest Carrie O’Connor spy thriller from #1 Amazon bestselling author Ethan Jones (see also his Justin Hall series). If you get your copy of Entry Point now, you’ll enjoy the special low price of $3.99 (£2.99 in UK) and exclusive bonus material that includes:
 
1. An alternate ending - so you can decide which ending is better;
2. A deleted chapter - which explains a crucial point of the main plot; and
3. The first four chapters of Ethan’s next spy thriller, The Cyprus Coverup.



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Why would a Taliban commander ask for you by name?
Carrie O’Connor survived Afghanistan twice before and swore she would never go back.
But at the request of a high-level Taliban commander, the Europe Clandestine Service is sending her back to investigate a suicide attack that targeted a remote, provincial police station.
Reluctantly, Carrie agrees to the mission and soon after arriving, uncovers a widening conspiracy involving the Taliban, the CIA, and the Russians: a conspiracy that reaches all of the way to the President of the United States. Unsure of who to trust, she must rely on her years of training. Is the president the terrorists’ target? Or is that a diversion for something more sinister?
Entry Point is the heart-pounding spy thriller that will electrify your days, with well-crafted characters, captivating storylines, and pulse-pounding plots. If Daniel Silva, David Baldacci, or Lee Child is one of your favorite authors, you’ll love Entry Point by Ethan Jones, the new undisputed master of spy thrillers.

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Order Entry Point (Carrie Chronicles #3) spy thriller now
to enjoy exclusive bonus content and the low price from the link below
 
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Monday, 25 September 2017

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

October's edition of Writing Magazine - which is out now in paper and online - has, among many excellent articles and advice on the business and craft of writing, my usual monthly Beginners piece and a New Author Profile.


'What's your Problem?' deals with the knotty habit of repetition in writing. In my own case (on the first read-through of my latest project), my editor suggested I'd begun using the semi-colon a little too often. I have no idea why this had crept in, but it had.

Not content with that, I'd somehow got fixated on the same brand of car for different characters - in this case a Citroen. (I'd changed the model details each time, but the use of a 'Citroen' doing various things, sometimes when more than one on the same page, had indeed got a bit repetitive and likely to become confusing).

My editor was absolutely right, of course. No reader wants to get irritated by a habit like this, and I made the necessary changes and made a mental note to watch it in future.


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My New Author this month is Naomi Hamill, author of 'How to be a Kosovan Bride' published by Salt Publishing in August.

Comprised of the stories of two young women in modern day Kosovo, one traditional and married, the other not, the narrative follows their journey, ably helped by Naomi's own close knowledge of and regular visits to the country.



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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Writing for Beginners (35)

As simple as BCA

A common question from writers is: ‘How do I get my initial, basic, written-note-on-the-back-of-my-best-friend’s-neck idea to grow into something I can call a story?’

Well, there are lots of ways. And I should know, because I’ve tried most of them. There’s the starting at A and going through to Z method; or starting with the ending and working backwards; or even cannibalising two or more unused stories into one. To paraphrase the old cliché, whatever floats your particular bateau.

Many methods of creating a story from a smidgen of an idea are pushed by the subconscious. We don’t actually think about the workings of the process involved; it just happens, be it over days, weeks or even years. For the lucky ones, there won’t be any effort - the idea will blossom into something fully fledged, the words tumbling out of the brain and onto the paper, thus avoiding all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that most writers go through at some time in their lives. (And for those of you who never wail or gnash…  you lucky, lucky b… )

I once set an example for a 50-word story competition, with the basic idea being that a woman working in a bookshop sees her love-rival arrive. She goes through all the emotions of such a situation as she watches the other person, until finally she throws a serious wobbly and drops a very heavy book on her rival’s head.

Result: accidental death and end of love rival.

Okay, so I was aiming at dark humour here rather than high drama. But if we take the premise and run with it, what do we have? It’s a story of love, hate, jealousy, rivalry, resentment and finally, uncontrollable fury. A bit like a government press briefing.

But how do we make this idea grow into a full story? Where do we start?

Well, let’s dispose of one convention for a moment: You don’t have to start at the beginning.

I've touched before on the dreaded writer’s block (hell, who hasn't?), and advised circumnavigating a ‘muddy’ patch – a scene where you were ‘blocked’ for some reason - and jumping ahead to write a future scene instead. This is a useful way of freeing up your mind by concentrating on something else, until you can come back and write the sticky scene later. Another way is to break the proposed story down into ‘chunks’ or scenes, and deal with them as separate units. Then all you have to do is bring them together like links in a chain.

Some writers (me included) occasionally begin with a scene that may be somewhere in the story, but rarely at the start. Usually, it’s because we have a vivid picture of what we want to write, and it pretty much tells itself. We then go back later and compose what might be the introduction and subsequent scenes.

If we take our Bookshop Avenger (BA), the scene which called to me the most was the final busting of the bubble where she climbs a ladder and a huge book manages to ‘fall’ on her love rival’s (LR) head. (Okay, so how many really huge, potentially fatal books do you find in bookshops these days that wouldn’t be banned by a health and safety nut? But this is fiction – work with me, here).

Writing this scene might be your first choice, too. On the other hand, the story needs some background. Who is the lucky person who has two lovers vying for equal air-time? It could be male or female. How old are they? How did they meet? How did the BA find out she was being cheated on? Or is LR the one being supplanted – the cheatee - if you wish? That’s for you to decide.

The scene where BA watches LR walking round the store has a lot of potential for word-play in BA’s mind as LR browses the various sections: Mind & Body, Psychology, Fantasy, Medicine, Horror… but most especially, CRIME.

Equally, you could tackle BA’s motivation as she lurks behind the shelves, plotting her rival’s downfall. What will be the outcome in her own mind? Might it change her relationship with her lover – or does she give a hoot? You could, stepping out of the bookshop for a moment for a change in pace, try a scene where the person at the focus of these two women’s attention is preparing to meet one of them. This could act as a way of setting up a scene where our sympathies may undoubtedly swing away from this far from innocent party to one of the characters he/she is cheating on. But which one?

Wherever you start in your story, your writing is the most important thing. Each scene has to be consistent in quality, and must eventually fit seamlessly with other scenes. You have to bring them all together to form that whole story, from beginning, through the background, to building up the tension right through to the final, dramatic ending.

Most important of all, get writing. There's no other way.

TOP TIPS
·        Don’t try to write the whole story at once - break it into separate pieces or scenes.
·        Tackle whichever scene appeals to you at the time.
·        Gradually flesh out the backgrounds of your characters, building description and narrative as it occurs to you.
·        Constantly ask yourself whether what you are writing helps tell the story or not.
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Alert! Christmas gift idea!!
Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Perhaps you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out.

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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Latest 'Beginners' article in Writing Magazine

Lift Your Chances (of being noticed).

September's edition of Writing Magazine contains, as usual, a whole host of great advice, news and guidance for writers. My latest Beginners piece is called 'Lift Your Chances', and centres on the hook of the 'elevator pitch' of Hollywood legend, where a hopeful screenwriter has the time it takes to go up in an elevator with a producer to 'sell' his or her screenplay.

Now that's pressure.

Most would-be authors might start off thinking they don't have quite the same setting to worry about. After all, theirs is a book, not a screenplay.

Umm... I wish that were true.

The fact is, there might come a time, if you're truly serious about being a published writer, when you get a chance to 'pitch' your book to an agent or editor. This involves doing so in a matter of minutes (usually against the clock if it's in a pitch session), effectively selling your book - and to a degree yourself.

It sounds as if it's not for the faint-hearted, but many writers have done it successfully. And why?

Because agents and publishers are ALWAYS looking for the next book. And they're prepared to go out there and meet writers with an idea to sell.

So why not you?

Look for the writing conferences, book fairs and special events where there are 'pitch' sessions, and get practising. It could be your chance to get representation - or even better - a deal.

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Friday, 18 August 2017

Being grateful for loyal readers

I've recently been emailing past readers of my books to let them know that a new title is on the way ('Rocco and the Nightingale' - out 19th October from The Dome Press, since you ask).

It wasn't a spam mailing or anything that could be seen that way, as I prefer to stay in readers' good books rather than drop into their junk mail box. It means tailoring each email to specific comments they've made where necessary, but to me that's all part of the interaction. If they've been nice enough - and taken the trouble - to comment on my work, the least I can do is keep them informed in as personal a way as possible.

One very heartening aspect has been receiving acknowledgments that readers I'd thought were perhaps only wedded to one type of book, such as the contemporary Harry Tate and Marc Portman spy thrillers, or the Gavin & Palmer crime series, are quite happy to make a sideways jump into what is classified as a historical series - the Lucas Rocco novels set in France in the 1960s.

(Having lived through that decade, I still find it hard to look on it as historical, because that makes me sound like Old Father Time! Still, it could be worse).

Perhaps their loyalty happened because I tend to write series rather than standalones. In fact I've so far only ever written two of these singular beasts, one a YA novel ('The Lost Patrol'), and the other a light-hearted fiction adventure ('Smart Moves'). I never really set out to write series, but each time I came up with a new 'first' book, either the publishers or my agent asked if I was aiming at a series. Sensing what in the sales business is termed a firm 'buying signal', I of course, said, 'Series'. Well, as a working writer, you take the opportunities as they arise. And it's not just publishers who ask the question. Not long ago I received an email from a reader who'd thoroughly enjoyed 'Smart Moves', and asked if there was a sequel on the way. (There isn't yet, but maybe... )

The good side of this following is that readers like a series for various reasons, whether it be familiarity of characters, enjoyment of the settings, or simply knowing that there's a good chance they'll get a satisfying read like the last one. And plainly that can translate across even if an author writes a different kind of book. It doesn't work every time, I know that. Some spy thriller readers won't follow my Rocco series any more than fans of these French-based books will make the transition into a contemporary thriller. But clearly many do and I'm glad of that.

Whatever the reasons, I try to write the best, most entertaining story that I can. And if people like it and come back for more, then that's my job done, and I'm grateful for their loyalty and support.

'Rocco and the Nightingale' - the 5th Insp. Lucas Rocco book. Available in hardback, paperback and ebook on the 19th October.

 When a minor Paris criminal is found stabbed in the neck on a country lane in Picardie it looks like another case for Inspector Lucas Rocco. But instead he is called off to watch over a Gabonese government minister, hiding out in France following a coup.
Meanwhile, Rocco discovers that there is a contract on his head taken out by an Algerian gang leader with a personal grudge against him.
Against orders, he follows leads on the original murder case, discovering as he does so that the threats against him are real. When the minister he is supposed to be protecting is kidnapped, it soon becomes apparent that the murder, the threats and the minister's kidnap are all interconnected...

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