Launch Day Arrives!

Well, it’s been a long journey – about seventeen months on the calendar – but I’ve finally arrived at the official launch day for One Equal Temper, my first novel.

It’s live on Amazon’s various national sites, and I have distributed it via Smashwords to a number of other sellers including Barnes & Noble – I don’t have a lot of control over this part of the process, but it seems to be rolling out.

For the moment this is just the ebook edition, and I’ve priced it at $0.99, or similar amounts in other currencies. This is just an introductory special offer for early bird purchasers, so get in quick if you want a bargain!

In a few weeks time there will be a paperback (POD) edition via CreateSpace: this is nearly finished, I just need to make the final tweaks on the cover design and then get hold of some proof copies before releasing it to an unsuspecting world.

There’s a lot to do today: WordsUnlimited have been kind enough to post the back story to this book, and I’ve other sites to visit and interest to stir up.

Let’s hope someone likes it!

End of Project Party

All right, all right, everyone, pipe down. Can I have a bit of hush for a moment? Yes, please Chapter Five, do close the door. We’d hate all those people outside to hear how much fun we’re having.

Well, what can I say? We did it!

No not that, Chapter Seven. Well, you might have, but what you get up to in your spare time among consenting adults is your own business.

What I mean, of course, is that we have finally finished The Novel and it is, even as I speak, winging its way across the ether to our Readers. Let’s hope they like it!

There were times, I’m sure we all thought, when reaching this target felt a touch unlikely. For example, there was the occasion when Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen went off on a romantic break without telling anyone where they’d gone. Where was it you went, by the way? OK, still not telling, fair enough. Ah, look, Chapter Fourteen is blushing! Whatever they got up to, I hope it was worth it.

And, of course, I’ve lost the plot more times than any of us can count.

Yes, yes, thank you.

There’s no need for that, Chapter Five. Or that.

Anyway, we did it. So all that remains is for me to say a huge well done and thank you to all of you, and the drinks are on me!

What I Have Learned

I recently completed the writing, editing and self-publishing of my first novel, One Equal Temper – available soon in all good online ebook stores! There were several reasons for wanting to do it in the first place, but high on the list was that I wanted to learn something.

And, boy, have I done that.

In the last seventeen months I have learned so much stuff that I’ve forgotten what it is that I didn’t know. So I thought it would be instructive to try and capture some thoughts on the topic, before it all disappears into the mists of unreliable memory.

There have been a zillion little things, but listing all of them would take forever and a small sample would sound like I’d just learned a few bits of trivia, which isn’t how I feel about it at all. So I’ve tried to come up a level of abstraction to some summary headlines of what know now that I didn’t know then. I have learned:

1. How to write a novel. That sounds obvious, or possibly even content-free. Of course I have, but what does that mean? I think it means that I now understand the process in a way that I didn’t before. Not that there is just one standard process to be followed; but I know what the parts are and roughly how long they might take (a LONG time).

2. How to write English. To be frank, this came as a big surprise to me. I thought I already knew this, but it turns out that I didn’t. Not just the specific rules that apply to fiction, such as how to punctuate dialogue, but more general rules of grammar and punctuation. Not to mention writing prose that is easier on the eye.

3. About Social Media. I was a casual user of Facebook for the standard social purposes, but had never got into Twitter. Now I have over 1300 Twitter followers, and I’m using some of the tools like a pro to see what is and isn’t working. That means buffer, justunfollow and the amazing followerwonk. I’ve also met and interacted with a lot of people!

4. About websites and blogging – more than I thought I would. I have published websites before, but not for a very long time and I was completely off the technical pace. I’m still a bit of a beginner, but I do now have my own self-hosted wordpress site.

5. About the self-publishing process. I was always expecting this, and I wasn’t disappointed. No matter how easy Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords and CreateSpace say it’s going to be, you just know it’s not, at least if you want a decent looking product. It took me a few goes but I think I now have at least the basics in place.

And, finally, I’ve learned how much more there is to learn. This isn’t a surprise at all: in a field as big as this, you’d have to be mad to think you can master it all in a year or two. My learning curve is still steep – I feel I’m learning something significant every single day – and is showing no sign at all of levelling off. That’s how you know there’s a lot more to go.

Learning stuff is what I enjoy, which means I have years more fun to look forward to. How great is that?

Jeannie

There was a dead body in the bushes at the end of our street, but this isn’t a detective story. There’s no cynical old inspector with a personal problem and a sidekick who smokes too much like you see on the telly, because everyone knew who did it.

We take care of ourselves in this street, and if any stranger believes he can just wander in and take one of our own, well, he’s got another think coming.

The body was young Jeannie from number twenty-seven, no more than sixteen years old. Though, when she went out on a Saturday night, you’d have thought she was more like twenty. Eighteen, at least. She had heels that were so high she could hardly walk on them and a pathetic excuse for a skirt that showed everything she had to offer, no matter how cold it was. She tottered off towards the bus stop for a night on the town with her mates, and never came back.

We all knew it was that funny bloke who lives on his own at number six. What’s a man his age doing in our street, with no wife to look after him or kids to spend all his money? No, he had a shifty look from the start, and when a group of us called around to check him out, he as good as admitted it, just standing there and crying like a baby. So we sorted him out, and he won’t be troubling anyone else’s daughter again, not round here nor anywhere else.

But I can still see Jeannie’s face as she lay, blinking, in the bushes.

The Final Push

Good evening,Brantham Works everyone, and once again thanks for coming. It’s been some time since we last met, and although our final deadlines are getting very close, I thought it was worth taking our eyes off the page just for a few minutes to take stock.

The big news is that I’ve decided that the current version, Draft Five, will definitely be the final one.

OK, settle down everyone, I know you’re as excited by that decision as I am. What’s that, Chapter Seven? You’re not that excited? Fair enough, I apologise for misinterpreting the fist you just threw at Chapter Eight.

So what does this mean? Well, for a start it means that all of the feedback from Draft Four has now been triaged and processed. No, Chapter Twelve, I said “Triaged”. It means that each comment has been reflected in the manuscript, unless of course the Editorial Board – that’s me, by the way – has exercised our creative authority. That means “screw you, we’re doing it our way whether you like it or not,” in case you were wondering.

There should be no further substantial changes, which means if that if any of you come up with a fabulous new plot twist, or a previously unknown second cousin of our protagonist, please keep the idea to yourself. I don’t want to know.

Our only focus now is on fine tuning the manuscript, which means staring at commas, semi-colons and gerunds until our eyes swivel in their heads and fall out.

Now get back to it, you lazy SOBs. We need to get this job done!

Selfie

Christmas_tree_swIt was tough being cool, Harry thought, as he sauntered out of his room on Christmas morning. He cringed at the memories of previous years, when he and Abi had bounced downstairs, getting excited about the presents that “Santa” had left under the tree.

Now he was grown-up – nearly fifteen – he had no time for such childish things, and he ambled down to the living room where the family had been waiting for at least half an hour.

“Nice of you to join us,” Dad said. “Is it all right with you if we open our presents?”

“Oh, never mind that,” Mum said. “We’re all here now. Abi, why don’t you start dishing them out, so we can see what Santa’s brought?”

And so the annual ritual began. Harry slouched in his chair and tried – not very hard – to look pleased when he unwrapped yet another CD he’d never play or jumper he’d never wear.

It was always the same: a bunch of filler presents that didn’t really count, with the biggie held back till last. That was the only one that mattered: the question was, would it be bad enough to be worth sharing on Facebook?

His parcel was passed over, and everyone stopped to watch him unwrap it.

Harry opened it up to find – a shiny new iPhone! It really was something wicked! He fired it up, snapped a photo of the tree, and then looked for the result.

Odd; in the photos folder there were already several pictures. He opened one up.

It was a classic selfie: a grinning closeup, with the arm stretched out towards the camera.

But, in the background, alongside their tree, there was a large animal with antlers on its head. And the smiling face was bearded, and his sleeve was scarlet.

Plotter, Pantser, or Just-In-Timer?

CaptureNov29Well, NaNoWriMo is over and I am officially a winner! I crept over the 50,000 word finishing line late on 29th November – so it was close, but I made it.

However, my main objective for this month wasn’t just to write 50,000 words: I was testing an approach to building that elusive first draft of a novel.

I’ve read dozens of articles about this, and the usual dichotomy is between “plotter” and “pantser”. The ideal plotter plans everything to the last detail, probably using dozens of forms to describe every scene, character, plotline and location, before writing a single word of manuscript.

The extreme pantser, on the other hand, eschews such aids and – with possibly just a nod to planning in the form of a few vague ideas about what this story might be about – just sits and writes. Inspiration comes, and the story goes where the characters take it.

Personally I doubt that either extreme is completely achievable: even the most dedicated of planners will allow changes to creep in while the story is emerging, and I guess that pantsers often have more of an idea of where they are going than they might be prepared to admit.

My question was: where on this scale is right for ME?

For my first attempt at writing a novel – “One Equal Temper”, which I hope to publish in February 2014 – I picked a path and had a go. It involved creating a lightly constructed plan or outline, with a paragraph for each scene. These laid down the basics of who, where, when, what and why: each scene was summarised in 50-70 words, which isn’t very much!

I played around with this outline, adding, changing and shuffling scenes, until I had something that looked like it might work. This took about three weeks. Then I sat down and wrote the first draft, from beginning to end, following the outline, which took three months. So, from the time I first put mouse to paper to “The End” was just under four months.

At the time I was proud of it for two reasons. First, I had completed a draft of a novel, and that was indeed something to be proud of – it took a lot of hard work, and is more than many would-be novelists manage. Second, it was complete: that is, there were no abbreviations, notes to myself to add more detail, bullet points, or unnaturally summarised dialogue. You could have read it from beginning to end, like a proper novel.

I was pleased with myself for having done this, but later came to feel that it was a mistake. It was, to be honest, dreadful. That’s not a surprise, or a problem: first drafts, and especially first drafts of first novels, are expected to be dreadful. I had no intention of showing it to anyone, and knew that the next thing I would have to do would be to revise it for structure, before moving on to editing it for prose quality.

So, if I was never going to show it to anyone, why did I waste time making it “complete”? All that meant was that it took longer to write, and resulted in a product that was hard to update.

For example, if you’ve written out a scene in a restaurant, with all the detail of description and fully spelled-out dialogue, and you then want to change it to a park bench, you have a lot of changes to make. If the scene is left at a high level, it’s a lot easier to change.

What came next, by the way, was nearly five months to do Draft 2, fixing and refixing a broken structure, and then another two months on Draft 3 before I had anything I felt able to share with a couple of trusted readers. Three more months elapsed before I got to Draft 4, which I was comfortable enough with to call “Beta” and send out to more readers for comments. That’s where I am now: fourteen months from first typing to Beta.

Which feels like it was much too long.

The other problem was that the expansion from, say, 50 words of summary to 1500 words of manuscript per scene, was just too much. I was having to make up plot on the hoof, because so much was missing from the outline. This, in my case at least, led to a lot of blind alleys and whole chapters which ended up being deleted because they didn’t contribute enough to the end product. I guess I’m not a natural pantser, then.

This brings me to November 2013, and the opportunity presented by NaNoWriMo. Could I write a rough first draft, at around 50,000 words, in a month?

More to the point, could I find a better way of managing the plotting/pantsing balance?

My aim was to spend the month of November coming up with a plot: creating a plan, an outline if you like. But to write each scene out, roughly, as I went.

It’s a long way from pure planning: I was writing scenes long, long before I had a plan for the whole story. But it wasn’t pantsing, either: I was constructing a plan. This involved adding characters, themes, scenes, and plotlines, and juggling them around on my electronic paper (I was using the Scrivener cork board for this), just as a pure planner would. At the end of my month, I have a plan that shows me clearly what happens to whom and why in each scene.

However, once I had a few scenes that looked as if they might be making sense, I picked one – the one that ‘felt’ most stable – and wrote it out. It was rough: very little description, often with abbreviated dialogue, sometimes bullet points, and quite a few [CHECK THIS] notes to myself. But I found the process of writing these scenes, however roughly, was massively helpful in uncovering ambiguities and assumptions, and also in turning up new plot ideas.

So, after writing one scene, I’d take the time to add electronic cards for a couple more. And so it continued: towards the end of the month, the number of scenes didn’t change much, and I was adding layers to existing scenes, so the word count per day fell significantly: it’s much harder to add to a scene than it is to create from scratch.

Where NaNoWriMo came in was that it created a demand to write words, right from Day 1. And I did, averaging just over 2,000 words per day for the first two weeks.

I think this might be called “Just In Time Planning”. I did create plans, but only just before I needed them. And, as with Just In Time Manufacturing, this is a whole lot more efficient. In the time it might have taken me to complete a well thought out plan, I’ve gone a whole step further and got a rough draft as well. Not only that, but I can have a lot more confidence in the plan because so many more details have been thought through than I could possibly have managed if I’d just been filling in forms instead of creating manuscript.

Has it really worked? Well, only time will tell. I’m now going to take a break from this new novel while I go back to Draft Five of the first one. Then I will come back to it, and see whether my lightweight but complete first draft can be manhandled into a well formed second draft, with all the structure and plot kinks ironed out, before creating the beautiful prose that’s going to make me famous. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Compass

CompassMark entered the doors of the Bodleian Library: so clever of her to hide it in here. Or so she’d thought. But now he had the key, and it was going to be his.

He knew the place well, as did she. They had spent many an evening here, in happier times, researching their respective projects. He, hidden among the history of science shelves, reading about old astronomical instruments; she, lurking among the astrology books.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that theirs was not a match made in heaven, with their entirely contradictory views of the universe: at the time, it had seemed amusing, the source of many a party anecdote.

But their romance had inevitably crashed like a spent satellite, burning up in the cold atmosphere of non-communication, and now here he was with a slip of paper in his hand, leading him like an old-fashioned compass to the buried treasure.

The note he’d stolen from her desk specified a section, aisle and shelf number: not identified as such, of course, but easily deciphered once he’d deployed his considerable analytical skills. And then a series of letters that had to represent the title of the book he was looking for – “NHUYCD”.

It only took five minutes to locate “Northern Hemisphere Uranus Yearbook: Constellations Discovered”, by JR Partly.

He looked to either end of the aisle to see if anyone was watching, but he was alone. He removed the book from its place, and leafed through it: a single sheet of paper slipped out on to the floor, and he snatched it up.

When he’d read it, he flew into a rage the like of which the ancient library had never seen before: security guards were summoned to take him away, and he was dragged, screaming like a banshee, to the police van that awaited him outside.

On the floor, the paper lay, silently mocking him: “Not Here: Up Yours, Clever Dick”.

The Invitation

MemorialThe invitation is unremarkable: it’s the date that stands out.

Printed on embossed card, as if for a wedding. It specifies a hotel, in a nearby town, and a time. But not the event or the sender.

And the date is twenty years ahead.

You examine the envelope. No return address. You peer inside, poking into the corners in case the key to the puzzle is hiding in a crease or a fold. Nothing.

You try the internet; Google finds the place immediately. It looks normal, an old country house with columns beside a grand entrance, and weather-worn statues standing on fake battlements. Hotel and conference centre, swimming pool for guests.

They should know: you call, feeling foolish. Is there a booking? The girl on reception must think you are drunk, or mad. No, sir, we don’t have reservations more than two years away.

For no good reason, you put the details in your phone.

Time passes, but you faithfully carry your diary through many upgrades, and the event silently follows you.

Until, one day, you are looking at your schedule six months later, and there it is. Your curiosity is reawakened and you search online again. The hotel is closed now, and standing empty. There are no more clues.

The day arrives. Will you go, or not? Two o’clock, it says. It’s an hour’s journey: at ten to one, you depart, still uncommitted. At least you will have the option of being there. Not that you’ve decided to go.

You arrive in the deserted car park. The traffic was heavy; it’s nearly two, there is no time to think. You leave your car and head for the door. The clock in the tower above strikes the hour, and you glance up to see the statue, falling.

Thomas and the newspaper

BridlewayJust a bit of fun: this story was created in three stages, as responses to writing prompts at thewritepractice.com  – (1) write about a crime, (2) write about money and (3) write about a character experimenting with a new identity. This has no connection with my WIP!

The bell on the door tinkled as Thomas pushed it open. Two boys on the inside, eager to escape with their purchases of sticky sugar, almost pushed him over as they rushed out to the street. No patience, that’s the trouble with youngsters today. No patience and no respect.

He shuffled over to the newspaper section. Piles of each of the national titles stood on a shelf at ankle level. This meant bending over to pick one up, he would have to be careful not to fall over again. He read the headlines and didn’t understand any of them. References to people he’d never heard of, words he didn’t know. Huge pictures of death or flesh that meant nothing.

Still, he had to have his morning paper. He usually bought the Express, but the pile was especially low today, he didn’t think he could reach that far. The Mail would do, and there were more of them, so he picked one up. Now, what else did he want today? There was definitely something else he meant to buy, what might it be?

Thomas tried to remember, and pretty soon had forgotten that he was even supposed to be trying to remember something. This was no good. The nice girl at the drop-in centre had talked to him about this a few days ago; she had tried to give him some tips for managing in situations like this. What had she said?

Oh yes, that was it. Retrace your steps to the beginning. Go back to where you were when the thought first came to you, and see if something comes to mind. He went back towards the door of the shop and stood there for a moment next to the lottery display. It was covered with bright colours and patterns and invitations to win millions. Thomas didn’t understand the lottery, either. He had bought a ticket once, when it was new, but didn’t know what to do with it. The ticket was probably still at home, in the kitchen drawer along with all the other unexplained pieces of paper.

He was standing at the door of the shop, where was he supposed to go now? He looked at the paper in his hand. Ah, yes, that must be it, he’d bought his paper and now it was time to go home. He pulled the handle, the bell tinkled again. Why does it ring when you are leaving, surely it’s only to let them know that someone has just come in?

Thomas had just stepped onto the street when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. “Not so fast, mate. You’ve not paid for that.”

He turned, and saw that it was the shopkeeper, a burly man who didn’t look like he was about to take any prisoners.

“I’m very sorry,” Thomas said. “I didn’t mean to leave without paying, but I forget sometimes…”

“That’s OK, just come inside and we’ll get sorted out, shall we?” The man ushered Thomas back to the counter in the cool of the shop. “Fifty-five pence, please.”

Thomas reached for his purse, which was always in the right pocket of his jacket. His daughter teased him whenever she saw him wearing a jacket and tie even on a hot day like today, but he had standards to maintain and he wasn’t going to let them drop now. Besides, he would feel naked walking down the street without his tie, and a tie without a jacket just looks silly, like some office junior who’s been sent out to buy lunch.

Now, where was he? His hand was in an empty pocket, and for a moment he didn’t know why. Then he saw the expectant face of the shopkeeper, and the hand reaching out for something. Oh, yes, money. There was none in his right pocket, how about the left? He started to tap all of his pockets in turn, but could find nothing of any value.

The shopkeeper lowered his hand.

“Could I bring the money tomorrow?” Thomas asked.

“Sorry, no credit. Not that I don’t trust you personally, but if I let you then off I’d have to let everyone out without paying. Perhaps you could pop home and come back later?”

Thomas’s head dropped. There was no way he was going to manage the journey twice in one day, but he couldn’t argue. He put the paper on the counter, and shuffled back to the door. No news today, then.

A fit young man might have managed the journey home in five or ten minutes. For Thomas, it took thirty, and by the time he reached his front door he was exhausted and hurting. Even his aches had pains of their own.

He fumbled in his pocket for the key and let himself in. Once inside the familiar surroundings of his hallway, he was able to relax for a moment. He rested his hands on the console table, and felt the strength return. It flowed from the very fabric of the house, through the stout solid oak of the table, and along his arms.

Wrinkles smoothed. Pains disappeared. Muscles, long since withered, were reborn. His stooping posture was replaced by an upright position, his chest thrust outward and his biceps rippled.

He was no longer Thomas, the old man at number 72.

He was ElderMan.

The newborn hero reached into the coat cupboard, retrieved his cape and mask, and put them on. He retreated to the small garden at the back of his house, where he could not be overlooked by nosey neighbours, and soared high into the sky, seeking justice and vengeance on behalf of old people everywhere.

First stop was the newsagent.

When Thomas pushed the door open this time, it didn’t so much tinkle as chime with the power of Big Ben. The door smashed into the lottery stand behind it, and two small boys ran for cover. Thomas marched up to the counter, where the man who just a few minutes earlier had refused him fifty-five pence of credit was cowering, wondering whether to reach for the baseball bat that he kept under the till.

“Don’t even think about it,” boomed Thomas. “I can see that bat with my X-Ray vision and it wouldn’t even put a crease in my cape.”

“W-w-what can I do for you, sir?”

“You can stop being so damned rude to your older customers, that’s what you can do. Show them some respect. Next time a regular customer leaves his cash at home, you let him take the paper and pay you the next day. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir, sorry, sir…”

His first mission for the day complete, Thomas returned to the door with a single bound. He listened, carefully, for any signs of distress in the vicinity. What was that? Mrs Tobbs having trouble crossing the road? He leaped over the row of shops opposite and landed in the next street, where the exceedingly frail Mrs Tobbs was indeed stuck.

Thomas was having none of this. He picked her up and, in less than a flash, had her on the other side of the road. “Oh, thank you, thank you,” she said.

Pausing only to rescue Mrs Johnson’s cat from one tree and to retrieve Mr Wall’s hat from the next, Thomas zoomed back to the wood behind his house where he could safely remove his costume without being identified.

Just another day for ElderMan.