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.


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...


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Writing for Beginners (34)

Learning to Focus

A recent shopping expedition to find a birthday present for my wife found me in a similar situation, writing-wise, to a friend who writes short fiction. Surrounded by a plethora of goodies, all suitable (and, what’s more, all potential vote-winners in the pressie stakes) I dithered and shuffled like a nervous teenager on a blind date, not sure what to choose.
Basically, (and here I hasten to say I depart from the teenager analogy – my teens, anyway) there were so many possibilities on offer I couldn’t decide which one to go for. In the end, I allowed greed to heap disaster on me by snatching at something in haste… which, as it happened, proved unsuitable.

But back to my friend. He mentioned that in spite of an abundance of ideas, he had recently found himself in a cycle of constantly starting something, then running out of steam because he couldn’t focus on where to go next. This had resulted in a string of projects, all abandoned at various stages and each resembling a lengthy art-house film: no end in sight and not a lot that made sense.

‘Lucky beggar!’ I hear you mutter. ‘If only I had so many.’

The fact is, many writers experience moments like this, when they can't focus on one particular task.  So eager are they to get their ideas down on paper they flit from one to the other like a honeybee on steroids and end up making a pig’s ear out of each one.

I usually find it hits me just after I’ve completed a large or difficult project, as I slough off the mental concentration of the previous job and try to fix on something new. With ideas collected all around me, I find my wastebasket becomes full of paper balls, my PC games get a hammering and I tend to drift around the house like Marley’s ghost.

This is where self-discipline comes in, and you have to rein back your enthusiasm for grasping at straws or launching into something without some forethought.

Begin by clearing your desk of all those project idea notes you’ve gathered save one. Yes, of course the others are wonderful gems, harvested in the bath, on the train or wherever it is your best ideas hit you. And yes, you want to write them all. But they are also a huge distraction. Stuff them in an envelope and put them somewhere temporarily out of reach, or give them to your neighbour with strict instructions not to let you near them for at least a week.

Now look at your choice of market. One way to help decide what to write, is to focus on the market you want to write for. Given that most magazines have a limited range of subjects or story styles they will accept, this immediately limits what you can work on. You should inevitably find yourself discarding all thoughts about writing anything that is not appropriate.

An alternative is to check the current stock of writing competitions. These may call for a genre or topic you wouldn’t normally try, but as a discipline it will focus your thinking away from that vast plethora of ideas swirling around in your brain.

This is also useful in that as well as a subject goal, you are automatically set a time limit. There’s nothing like knowing you have to meet a deadline for focussing the mind. It cuts out the temptation to dash off at a tangent – usually in pursuit of an idea which has just popped into your mind along with that little voice on your shoulder telling you it will be a real doddle to knock off in a couple of hours. It won’t, of course, and you know it.

Another stumbling-block to completing anything mid-stream is a lack of regular planning. This can be over a simple but important scene which, although small beans compared to the whole story, is enough to make you down tools in frustration and reach for something else.

Instead of letting this minor glitch derail your thoughts completely, take a long, hard look at the scene where you are stuck. On separate lines beneath it, type the key words of what you would like to happen next. (I generally use capitals to ‘shout’ at myself so I don’t miss anything – even if I eventually discard a particular idea). Forget grammar and punctuation – simply put down the points you need to cover.

For example, your key scene might have a character agonising over resigning from a high-powered but hated job, and the inevitable furore that will follow. You could end up with: FEAR – DECISION – DECLARATION – BOSS’S REACTION. Then think about what kind of scene could logically come next. You might end up with: FINANCES – OTHER CONSEQUENCES – ALTERNATIVES - WALKING OUT – FREEDOM – RELEASE. Repeat, as the old medicine bottles used to say, as needed.

In this way you are focussing on a small but crucial part of the story each time, instead of the whole feast. Rather than letting it defeat you, tempting you to grab hold of something else in the hope that it may be easier, you are building stepping stones towards completion of the larger picture.

Before you know where you are, you’ve got the path forward to the next scene and can repeat the exercise as required, instead of pigging out on ideas and ruining all your hard work.


·        Focus on one idea at a time. Trying too many at once will inevitably water down your efforts.
·        Plan what you intend to do next and stick to it.
·        Look for writing challenges (competitions, story websites requesting themed submissions) and see what inspiration they throw up.
·        Read, watch and listen. There are ideas out there everywhere.

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.