Sunday, 29 January 2017

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

February's edition of Writing Magazine is now out there, and includes another Beginners piece - 'The Variety Show', along with a New Author profile.

The Variety Show is not, as you might think, about writing comedy or light entertainment performances, but simply about what kind of author one can be. This came about when the term 'hybrid author' popped up in conversation.

I regard myself as something of a hybrid simply because I write in different genres, from spy thrillers to crime, to non-fiction. I always have done, so I got used to jumping from one to the other to suit my needs - mostly financial, being a working writer.

This piece goes into why writers might try genre-hopping, whether out of interest, spontaneity, writing to one's strengths - or weaknesses - or a preference to following rules.

Whether you find yourself following any or more of these, it doesn't matter. In my view, you make the most of all available options; if you want to try something else because there's a chance of a sale and publication, go for it.

Be a hybrid. Or not. The choice is yours.


The New Author profiled this month is Linda McLaughlan, and her debut novel 'Chasing Charlie', published by Black & White Publishing last April.

Described as a comedy of errors, it follows Sam, who follows her ex-boyfriend around London, trying to win back his heart.

A reflection of many - maybe most - other authors, Linda's writing was accomplished part-time, juggling jobs, children and other demands, all the while with an eye on getting that idea out of the bone and onto the paper. And like many others, she knew she wanted to write from an early age.

'Chasing Charlie' - out in ebook and paperback.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Writing for Beginners (24)

What Makes a Story?

There are various elements which go towards making a story, such as a strong descriptive narrative, interesting characters, an unusual setting – even a brooding atmosphere. But by themselves, they won’t necessarily drag the reader beyond the first few words or the opening lines. To do this with any degree of success, and to make sure the reader doesn’t lose the will to live and use your story to line the budgie’s cage, you need to Make Something Happen.

As an example, I’ll paraphrase a certain well-known poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans:

The boy stood on the deck.

(Yes, I know – there's a key word missing… but stick with me). As it stands, this is merely a scene – and not a very helpful one. The deck could be on a boat or one of those hardwood patio structures; it doesn’t tell you about anything else. So what? Well, if we apply the full text of Mrs Hemans’ first line, we get a totally different picture:

The boy stood on the burning deck.

Now you have a story – or, at least the beginnings of one. (Especially when the next line tells you that everyone else had bunked off – and not to the pub). The sentence describes the same person and place… but by the addition of a vital word, you have something to sink your teeth into. The word ‘burning’ spells conflict, danger and the inevitable questions which come rushing at us when the words are used in conjunction. This is what leads us to read on, rather than ignoring it. Questions such as Why?…Who?… and What happens next?

Another example:

The river was relentless, flowing steadily to the east as it had done every day since anyone could remember.   

Very nice. Scenic, even. A scene of reliability and permanence. But not riveting. However, if you add something else to the mix:

The river was relentless, flowing steadily to the east as it had done every day since anyone could remember. Only today was different: today it carried Betty Mortensen's body in its cold embrace.

Another example might be to take a seemingly innocuous sentence also describing a person and place:

J stood and marvelled at the beauty of the river.

Very nice. But other than allowing the imagination to conjure up a pretty picture of a person looking at a river, there’s not much here to draw the reader in. What we need is something to kick the sentence into a whole new dimension.

J stood and marvelled at the beauty of the river, and wondered how cold it would be down on the bottom.

That pretty much takes the ‘nice’ out of the scene, and should lead even the most incurious of minds to ask why J – whoever she is – should be entertaining such melancholy thoughts. Is she suicidal? Vengeful? Disturbed? Going scuba-diving? Or has she been given a grant by DEFRA to study riverbed temperatures and conditions?

Another sentence, this time describing a common enough street scene, does little to make anyone wonder about whether they should carry on reading.

Mac sat in his car at the end of the street.

One might wonder who Mac is and why he’s sitting there, but not much more than that. Maybe he’s a car stereo nut, or loves the smell of his leather seats and brand-new carpets. By itself, this bland statement won’t really tell us. It needs something else.

Mac sat in his car at the end of the street, eyes fixed on the doorway of No 24.

Better - but still not enough. He could be a car nut with a door-knocker fetish.

Mac sat in his car at the end of the street, eyes fixed on the doorway of no 24. His mouth was bone dry, his knuckles white on the wheel ...

Now we’re getting somewhere. At the very least, Mac might be about to go and make an offer on a house he can’t afford. At worst, he’s in need of some anger-management classes. Either way, we’re led to imagine all manner of scenarios here ranging from family conflict to a crime or thriller setting.

For a story to begin to work, we need to add in that special element which plucks at the reader’s subconscious, be it a word or a supplementary sentence, hinting at something worth delving into but without giving away the whole beeswax.  And that element usually involves excitement, danger, threat - or something scratching at our innate curiosity. Almost akin to stepping into the unknown.

In short, we want to know more. And the only way to find out is to continue reading.

But here you have to be careful; part of what makes a story work is not revealing too early what is happening or what is about to happen. Tell everything right at the start, and there’s precious little point reading further. No surprise equals no tension.

This drip-feed flow of information, whether in a thriller, romance or any other genre of writing, allows snippets of information to fall onto the page, gradually building a picture for the reader to share. Too much too soon, and there’s the danger they might see the ending and give up.

Most stories also need people to make them work. A tree on a hill is merely a tree. Add a person – preferably two – and you have the makings of joy, conflict, a burgeoning relationship or a journey – all the things which make a good read.

·       Something must happen - or have happened - to make it worthwhile reading on.
·       A setting without people is just scenery. It can only last so long before it loses the reader’s attention.
·       A hint of what lies ahead is enticement enough to draw the reader on.
·       Don’t reveal too much too soon. The reader has to uncover things for themselves.
 Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - Accent Press - available in p/b and ebook

Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Some nice reviews

Every now and then it's nice for an author to report that someone, somewhere likes their book. It's a natural thing because you've put in a lot of time and effort, and you like to think that it's gone down well out there.

Here's a trio of reviews that came up just recently of my latest book, 'THE BID' - the second in my new Gonzales & Vaslik series.

An unnamed reviewer with slight reservations comes from Publishers Weekly. My initial thought was, is there a problem with gunfights, car chases and other stock thriller elements? But you can't win 'em all, and I'm grateful for the review because it's a whole lot better than being ignored.

The second comes from Fresh Fiction review's Viki Ferrell, and is the kind of response that makes it all worthwhile. I especially value her lovely comment ,"We can always expect an exciting thriller from Adrian Magson, and THE BID is no exception."

And again from Fresh Fiction, this time from reviewer Tanzey Cutter, with the immortal words, "THE BID is thrilling suspense at its best."

There are some truly lovely people out there and I'm very grateful to them.

I also had an interview piece about 'The Bid' by fellow author Alison McMahan in the International Thriller Writers monthly newsletter, The Big Thrill. You can read it right here. (That's not me on the horse, by the way, and I wouldn't look as relaxed as Greg Hurwitz does if it were; horses and I don't mix well).

This interview gave me a chance to talk about other aspects of my writing, too, especially touching on the long build-up to becoming a full-time writer. Hopefully, after 21 books in print, most of them thrillers in the spy and crime genres, I'm getting it right and readers find them entertaining and enjoyable.
Thank you, Alison, for your time and patience!


Thursday, 5 January 2017

Review: 'Paradime' by Alan Glynn


Not a new book exactly - it came out in May last year - but new to me and one I was asked to review. I'm glad I was, because it turned out to be very different to what I initially thought.

Conspiracy thriller would be too easy a label. But there's certainly a conspiracy at work here, along with an innocent dupe who's not quite so innocent... nor entirely to blame for what happens to him.

It's a good one and you can read my review on the Shots Magazine website.

You can also see where to buy it right here.

Go for it - it starts slow but will draw you in.