Saturday, 28 November 2015

Thinking about books: Going Against Type

I never did like star systems. How do they work? If you give a book five stars it has to be perfect, right? So if there’s one tiny thing that irritates you, do you have to take off a star?

Sorry, I’m a bit niggly in the wake of my worst-ever review, marked down (heavily) for a couple of things I did deliberately in book 1 to allow for plot development in book 2. Writing’s a long road and bad reviews are the potholes in it. In fairness the criticism was constructive so I won’t complain. You live and learn.

After that, I needed a laugh and I found it in Sharon Black’s Going Against Type. It’s clever, it’s witty and it’s beautifully written. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Regan is a sports reporter, sole woman in an office full of men. Derry Cullinane is a fashion journalist, sole man in an office full of women. Skilfully set up to begin with, the pace escalates as their relationship develops in real life while, professionally, they engage in a raging weekly row through their (anonymous) columns in their respective newspapers. 

There are no real plot twists but the book doesn't need them. It’s inevitable that they’re going to find out at some point that they’ve been abusing each other in print and the skill is in the writing — in setting up their meetings and balancing that against their professional fallouts. When will they find out? What will happen when they do? And it doesn’t disappoint. I loved the Dublin setting, I revelled in the writing and I even fell a little bit in love with the hero. That doesn’t happen often.

I had a couple of niggles, because no book is perfect. I thought there were too many minor characters flitting in and out, most of them not actually moving the plot on at all; and I’m not entirely sure the dilemma between their personal relationship and professional vendetta was satisfactorily resolved, but maybe that’s because I was so keen to find out what happened that I read on long after I was too tired to concentrate.  

If I gave stars I would have given this five, so Sharon Black can be quietly annoyed with me for cheating her of that, though I suspect (I haven’t checked) that she’ll have plenty of 5* reviews already. Lucky her.

You can find Going Against Type on the Tirgearr Publishing website. You can also find A Portrait of my Love there, to see if you really think it deserves just 2.5 stars. 

Bitter? Moi? Never.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Can't resist a challenge

I’ve never thought of myself as a self-starter. I know strange things happen as you get older but I really didn’t see this one coming. Perhaps I should have done, because I don’t like mysteries and I don’t like not being able to do things that ought to be fairly simple. (Or, as my mother might have said, I can’t resist tinkering with things I don’t understand.)

I never saw myself as a self-publisher, either, because why would I? I love my real-life proper publisher (winks towards Tirgearr). But just as I made myself do a quite unnecessarily complicated statistical exercise as part of my Masters thesis, I suddenly realised that I wanted to self-publish something. The same reason applies in both cases. I want to see if I can do it.

I see this as an ongoing process and I feel more than just a stand-alone blog post coming on the back of it. There’s so much to learn. I may have the raw material, in the shape of five rather old short stories with a broadly similar theme, but that’s all I’ve got. I don’t have formatting skills. I don’t have computer skills. I don’t know what to put in as the front matter or the back matter. The thought of producing a cover fills me with dread. I don’t, as yet, even have Word for Mac — although I do have a book and several YouTube videos. 

So let’s start at the very beginning, with the title. Quintet: Dark Tales With a Twist. How does that sound? Enticing? They’re a bit of a departure from my usual: two love stories, two war stories and a couple of hauntings (yes, one fits into two categories). How does that grab you?

All of them began life as prompts from a writing class I used to belong to. I’ve a whole mine of material (another blog post in the making, there) some of which found its way to publication in women’s magazines and one of which even led to my first novel — not that you’d recognise anything of it in the original 500 words. 

I haven’t edited them, other than taking out the extraneous spaces. That’s not to say they don’t need editing but I rather like the idea of preserving a style and a voice from a few years ago. They all share a twist, quite unlike the usual romantic approach with its yearning for a happy ending. I only managed to rustle up one even potential happy-ever-after between the five of them. But they’re different from my normal output and I think I benefit from the reminder that I can write the dark stuff too.

Theres nothing to link to yet, of course, but I might just tease you with a taster. As I settle down, grim-faced, to read my manual, I have a sense it might be a while before you get to read the rest.

She’s dead. I saw it in the paper. And now I’m somewhere I’ve never been before: I’m in Hell. 

You’d never think it to look at me. Every day I stand in front of the large mirror in my Harley Street consulting rooms, checking that there’s nothing out of place, noting that I’m looking sleek and prosperous — Savile Row suit, silk tie, exactly the right amount of matching handkerchief in the top pocket. I’m your perfect therapist, your instant best friend. You trust me, because you have to — because I know everything there is to know about you. As I did about her.

Now she’s dead.”

From Emily Garlock’s Nightmare

Monday, 23 November 2015

Whack-a-mole on social media

Reviewing and book promotion have become a bit like a game of whack-a-mole these days. As soon as you find something that works, it changes.

I’m not just talking about markets, either: I’m talking about platforms. Facebook allows people to create groups with the prime purpose of authors promoting their book and then deletes posts from authors who promote too heavily (whatever that means). Amazon, in a well-intentioned but heavy-handed attempt to crack down on the (real) problem of fake reviews, is taking down reviews from people who know each other. 

I get where Amazon, at least, is coming from, but it doesn’t address a key problem for a lot of authors. We tend to be friends with a lot of other authors and read their books. Our author friends read our books because they are part of a shared interest. We have shared interests because that’s what friends do. And we review each other’s books because there’s a value to reviews. This is not the same as paid-for reviews or, indeed, review swaps.

I keep intending to write reviews and one of the excuses I make to myself is that I don’t want the ones I write deleted because I’ve overstepped an invisible -- and constantly-shifting -- line. I say excuse because it could be that I’m just lazy. So I’ve come up with a solution - I’ll review books here, on my blog. Maybe deep down I always thought I would — the clue’s in the name of the blog!

It’s not a book review blog. It’s a blog where I might occasionally discuss books (and talk about them in the same breath as my own, because it’s my blog and I can). I won’t do review swaps. I’ll only review books I buy, and like. I won’t be tied down by a star rating. And if I want to review books by my friends and fellow authors, because they’re my friends and fellow authors, then that’s what I’ll do. 

There are no obligations and nothing in it for me. I don’t even have ads on my blog. If anyone wants to read it, share it, link to it, it’s up to them. But I’m tired of endlessly chasing my social media tail. I just want to read and discuss books, from time to time.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Introducing the Lake Garda series...

I’m getting to feel like an old hand at publication days. The excitement still mounts but the sense of panic that came wit the first book (What if it doesn’t actually publish? What if there’s a technical problem? What if nobody likes it? Worst of all, what if my kids read it?) is missing. (And in any case, misplaced — my children still haven’t read it, or any of the others.)

Today is publication day for my fourth book; and it’s a departure from the previous three, all of which were stand-alone. (I do confess to a continuing niggle from book two, No Time Like Now, where Tim and Megan’s relationship still has some way to go before the happy for now turns into a happy ever after.) A Portrait of my Love is the first in a series — the Lake Garda series.

It tells the story of Skye Ashton and her adventures on an Italian holiday with her wealthy friend Leona in the lakeside resort of Sirmione (blurb below so I won’t reproduce it here). I originally intended it as a standalone novel, just like the first three, but I wasn’t far into it before I realised that just wouldn’t happen. Although Skye’s story is self-contained, the subplot, involving Leona, is left unresolved. 

I knew early on that I’d have to tell the story of Leona and her beau, Nico, who ended the first book on very bad terms indeed. As soon as I had Portrait drafted out I plotted the sequel — so soon after that I almost wrote the two together (which was a good thing, because I ended up going back and changing several things, such as introducing a couple of characters who would come in later). When I had the two done in draft form I polished up Portrait and sent it off and went back to the second (Going Back).

At that point it became apparent that another of the onlookers in the first two, Nico’s downtrodden younger sister Giorgia, was itching to break free of her Cinderella existence and likely to do so very unsuitably indeed. So I plotted her story as well. Couldn’t help it. Some stories have to be told.

At the time of going to press, as they say, A Portrait of my Love is ready to drop in to your kindle. I’ve signed a contract for Going Back but as yet have no publication date. And Giorgia’s story, so far untitled, is in its first set of heavy revisions. If you buy Portrait, I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you care enough about the characters to want to read the rest. 

A Portrait of my Love

"Terrified of commitment, Skye Ashton ditches her artist boyfriend, Zack, and disappears off to Italy with her best friend, the fascinating and fabulously wealthy Leona Castellano. When Zack turns up, Skye realises how much she really cares for him. But she has a fight on her hands, because Leona has taken an instant fancy to him, and she’s used to getting what she wants.
When Leona sets out to uncover the true story behind an old family feud, she puts herself in danger, and Zack finds himself drawn into an attempt to save her.

Will his intervention in Leona’s life lead to him losing Skye, the girl he really loves?"

Buy it here


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Silencing your inner editor

No guarantee of quality...
You hear a lot about the inner editor these days. 

For those of you who don’t know, your inner editor is the voice in a writer’s head — a kind of literary conscience, if you like — that won’t let you get away with things that are wrong. (Yes; I know some people have a more highly-developed inner editor than others.) Mine is a pain. Sometimes when I’m writing I hear her whispering. Is there something missing there. Or: Do you think that’s too much backstory too soon? Sometimes she gets very shirty and raps my knuckles. Cliche alert! Or: Repetition! Or (on very bad days): Stop right there!

Your inner editor fulfils a very valuable function in keeping you on the rails but she (or he) isn’t always your best friend. Sometimes she can be persistent, niggly and downright off-putting. Nothing’s ever good enough for her. That’s when she can be your worst enemy. But there are ways to deal with her.

It’s National Novel Writing Month right now, when writers all over the world challenge themselves to write a draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words during November. This is a lot, if you’re writing with the IE sitting on your shoulder like an angel with a fixation on perfection. 

NaNoWriMo is one of the best ways of shutting her up. Its emphasis on numbers is perfect for the target-driven (like me). You can jump straight in and get on with the story. If you come to a difficult scene you can skip it, or skimp it, or just make notes. If you suddenly realise you need a new character who should have been introduced earlier, you just write them in and worry about how to introduce them later. Ditto the character you’ve already introduced but no longer need. Don’t bother with them any more. Keep writing and worry about them later. 

The important thing is to get to the end, and quickly. To do that, you can’t afford to listen to the inner editor, because you don’t have time. Which is hard, because she does know what’s right. T

The struggle I had to subdue mine was long and deadly, so much so that you won’t see her again until the police come to dig up the patio. 

I love NaNo, purely because to gives me permission to be bad (in writing terms, of course). I’ve made all the mistakes she nags me about and some she wouldn’t dream I’d ever make. My characters appear in impossible places given where they were five minutes before. They scream, they cry, they shout, they make rash decisions. They change their hair and eye colours and are painfully inconsistent in their thinking and their speech. My story, riddled with factual inaccuracies, starts in the wrong place, sags in the middle and comes to a shuddering and abrupt end.

But it’s done. And now I need to sort the plot. And the characters. And the stylistic howlers. And the inconsistencies… Pity I did away with the only one who could help me. 

Wanted, one inner editor. Must have at least nine lives.