Friday, 28 September 2018

Publication Day and my Online Book Launch

Today is the day that Buttercup goes live. I decided to do a short video blog about this. After a few false starts I realised I didn't quite know what to say on an online book launch, so started over, let the camera roll and tried to be as genuine and honest about why Buttercup Sunshine is so close to my heart and why a real-life book launch would be too difficult for this particular book.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Unboxing Buttercup

My author copies of Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom arrived today. It's great to see the final product. Exciting too because I'm currently doing the final illustrations for book 2, Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman's Hill, due out next April.

Here's a little authortube thing.


Monday, 9 July 2018

Back to work

I've had fun playing with authortube vids and uploading a couple to YouTube, but I was amazed at just how long the whole thing took.

1. Recording
First of all is the recording itself - actually, there is a more important stage before that, but you don't realise that until you've tried recording and utterly messed it up. Then you realise that stage one is actually...

1. Thinking of what you want to say.
I spent soooooo long on this bit, usually because I'd go off at tangents and end up way off topic. I tend to ramble - which is why blogging suits me because I can backtrack and edit as much as I like. Once I thought I knew what I want to say, then it's time to record.

2. Recording (again)
Talking to a camera is tough. I record sound separately so I'm constantly starting and stopping both, then realising that I've forgotten what I meant to say and have to start again. Yes, I can edit and chop, but doing it every sentence is a pain and doesn't look natural. Better to have as much as possible in each take and fit them together.

3. Editing.
Assuming it's all gone right, the editing is next. I use Shotcut to edit because it's open source, but I encountered a couple of bugs if I tried to cut the sound and video separately. There was one time where I just couldn't get the sound to sync with the video and had to start over.

4. Uploading.
The easy part. Except I had to create a thumbnail to go with it, so that was another twenty minutes in Photoshop.

All in all, doing a couple of author vids was a lot of fun but it really cut into writing time. One video took almost an entire Sunday by time I'd got everything the way I wanted and finally uploaded it. For me, that's just too demanding on my time. I work full time and like to do at least some family things on a weekend, so the remaining time I have is kind of precious. Do I want to be a YouTube star, or a writer?

Writer. Every time.

If I find a way to do vids in a shorter time, I might give it another go. But for now, I'm heading back to writing to play with my current WIP.

Laters...


Monday, 2 July 2018

Chapter One of Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom

That's right, in my second YouTube vlog you can have a taster of Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom. A full reading with pictures. Share and enjoy!


Monday, 25 June 2018

New attempt at a vlog

I thought I'd have another go at a YouTube vlog. This time I tried to keep a few things in mind:

  • I want it to appeal to people who might be interested in my books, so comedy horror fans and young writers!
  • I want the fun factor - my favourite vloggers are entertaining.
  • I want to offer something. If you're good enough to tune it, what do you get out of it?
  • I want to keep it short - I tend to watch vlogs in bite sized chunks. 

It took a few goes. Things I found difficult:
  • Looking at the camera rather than the screen (otherwise you don't make eye contact)
  • Not mumbling (it's hard not to be self conscious when talking to a camera on your own)
  • Remembering what I was going to say (it's not like I have a script)
  • Not going off on a tangent (too easy to ramble on about other stuff)
  • Keeping my own accent (I have a habit of doing a really bad American voice)
  • Uploading it (and not feeling, oh no this is terrible)
But I managed to do it, edit it and even make a little thumbnail. The moment it was up, I really wanted to delete it and do it all over again, but instead, I'm going to think about the next one and try to see if I can keep this thing going. The best vloggers vlog regularly - probably the reason they are the best - just like the best writers write regularly.

Here's the result. It's cheesy and embarrassing but kind of fun... enjoy.



Monday, 18 June 2018

Writing Day and my first writing vlog

I set myself a bit of a writing challenge yesterday - a Writing Day to see how much I can get through in one day without it impacting too much on other things. I completed my Buttercup #2 edits on Saturday and I don't have another project on the go, so there was nothing to lose. Besides, I wanted something to keep me busy today.

I started the day without much of a plan. I knew I wanted to write about a ghost and the basic premise but not much more than that.

I decided to use Google Docs for this rather than Word so I can take it out with me. As it turned out, I didn't do much on the go but it's nice to know you've got the manuscript wherever you go. (The down side of course, is Word is just way, waaaayyyyyy faster.)

I did two writing sprints early in the morning letting the idea find its feet. After 2,000 I took the dog out which got my thinking about the next scenes, came back and did another quick sprint then the world of Sunday took over - shopping, cooking, washing and ironing (we usually share this, but my wife is otherwhere this weekend).

Ploting or Pantsing

Around the 5,000 word mark I realised that the idea might work. So here comes the argument between plotting and pantsing. I could easily have spent today plotting this idea to the Nth degree, but sometimes putting too much focus on the big picture doesn't allow for the development of the more subtle points that happen within chapters, the stuff you can't plan until you're actually writing it that has massive impact on the way the journey flows. So, although I always say I'm a plotter, it's certainly been interesting to just dive in and see what happens. But it's early days. Chances are, if I get through a first draft I'm going to have to fix a whole load of things at the end. We'll see.

Vlogging and YouTube

Another part of the challenge was to record the day and make the leap into the world of Vlogging. I've kept a blog for years, but I've only played a little with YouTube - but over the past few weeks I realised that I do more research on YouTube than anything else. When I was looking at Chromebooks vs laptops - YouTube. When I was learning how to use Scrivener - YouTube. Plotting - YouTube. I still read blogs, but they don't pull you in the same way that video does. The other main thing YouTube has in its favour is the way you can't help but bounce from one vlog to another. Which is precisely how I ended watching so many writing vlogs, and there is so much great stuff out there.

Of course, when it comes to doing it myself, it's a different story. I don't think I'm particularly camera friendly. I mess up my words, my accent is quite broad and if I try to soften it I sound weird. But what the hell... I decided to give it a go.

The result... well, it wasn't that fantastic. Why? Well once I put it out there, I quickly realised that the target audience for my video was different to the target audience for my books and this whole website bloggy type thing.

But, it was a fun learning curve. I still intend to vlog, but I think I'm going to start with something unique to me, something that I know well enough to talk about and that fits with the audience that I want to share ideas with - so stay tuned.

As for my Writing Day, I managed a total of 6,200 words.






Friday, 15 June 2018

Streaks, Deadlines and Vlogs

Streaks

I'm cutting my current writing streak short. Two reasons - firstly, it's getting way too complicated. As I said at the beginning, I've taken an old script and tried to breathe some new life into it. The book is a puzzle/treasure hunt kind of thing, and I focused so much on the puzzles and solutions that I never stopped to wonder what the antagonist's motive was, and in trying to address that, it's become a monster. The second is that it's beginning to drift away from what I want to write right now - comedy horror. This had both initially, but in trying to deal with the first problem, the central theme of the story became so much darker, which made the comic relief moments more of a distraction than a natural part of the story.

Is it time wasted? Of course not. Every sentence written makes you a better writer, and regular writing streaks increase stamina. It's all about keeping the machine ticking over.

Deadlines

Buttercup #2 edits are underway and need to be done as soon as possible so I can work on the illustrations over the summer. Most of the weekend is going to be spent doing that. However... there's a however attached to this. which leads me on to...

VLOGS

I've been watching a few of these lately. Most are by young, unpublished writers but that doesn't make them less valuable. In most cases, they burst with enthusiasm, and that's infectious. They are often fun and honest - a real warts and all reflection of the hurdles that regular people face on their journey, and because it's done during that journey, it gives a better insight into the creative process than a blog or an interview written after the event.  It's like seeing an artist's portfolio - the rough sketches are always so much more interesting because they give you a better appreciation of the final product. They reflect the struggle, the persistence and development that forms the heart of the creative process

I think vlogs like these are important because they help other writers realise they are going through the same difficulties. I include published authors in this too, because when it comes to that first draft, there isn't a lot of difference between me struggling with a new idea and a young writer doing exactly the same. Experience makes the journey easier because you get to know the pattern of the game, but you still have to sit down and turn out the words. Seeing other writers in the same boat really gives you that inspirational buzz.

I keep meaning to dust off my own YouTube channel - I'll certainly do a Buttercup promo in the next few weeks. That might be enough to get the ball rolling and do a few vlogs of my own.

But right now... I'm going to watch the Hobbit. I started watching this on DVD last night, then discovered our Jack has got the lot on BluRay. Now I'm going to have to start all over again as I feel cheated on quality.

Added - "however"

I forgot the "However!" One of the vlogs was to log a Writing Day, just head down and see how much you can turn out. Sounds like a fun challenge. 


Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Writing Streak - day 10

Running on empty right now, so I'll make this post short and sweet. Fab round numbers today (I have rounded up by about 20 or so - so it's not exactly perfect - that would be weird).

I will quickly say this though, when I came to looking at reviewing this project, one of the things I wanted to do was to switch two of the characters, make the protagonist male and antagonist female. Today was the scene that would really test that. I'm happy to say, I feel it works fine.

Right, that's it. Might skip tomorrow as I'm out with our Year 6 kids to Flamingo Land all day. I won't get back too late, but I think it'll be take away and an early night. Does you good to have the odd break though - bit of a recharge.

Words today - 3,000 (500, 600, 1900)

Total to date: 20,000



Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Prologues, Opening Chapters and a taste of things to come.

It's Day 9 of my writing streak but I thought I turn this into a general post rather than a simple update because I've hit a scene that I wish I could have at the opening of the story.

If you haven't read the previous posts, here's a quick update: I'm between projects at the moment, (about to start edits of Buttercup #2) so I thought I'd take and old script and have a bit of a play. I spent a week re-planning and plotting the whole thing and began a complete rewrite nine days ago.

Today, I'm really happy. Not in the amount of words written, but in that I've knocked out a key scene which has turned out lovely and horribly and creepy. Proper shivers down your spine stuff. That's when I had a moment of thinking, 'Ah, if only I could kick the story off with something like this.'

Of course, I can't because it's a turning point, but if I've got that lying in wait somewhere in the middle of the book, I really need to give the reader a hint of what to expect. That's one of the things I addressed when I planned this version - you need the reader to be sure of the kind of book they are reading. This is why agents ask for your first three chapters on a submission and not your best three. If you can't let the reader know what they're in for right there, you've already lost them.

One trick is to write a Prologue. Prologues are fiction Marmite - some love 'em, some hate 'em.
Personally, I quite like reading Prologues, but I rarely use them. A better trick is to use similar language to describe the ordinary opening scene with key words that give a flavour of what's to come.

The best example I can think of right now comes from William Gibson's "Neuromancer" which begins:

The sky above the port was the colour of television,
tuned to a dead channel.

Booom! Misery and technology in the first line.

In Buttercup, I made sure to show it was comedy and horror - a little girl with a chainsaw running to Granny's cottage pretty much nailed that. As for this current project...

Well, that's going to have to remain a secret, buried deep, deep down where the earth is cold, where the worms churn the soil in blind ignorance of what they're feeding upon.

Yeah... something like that.

Anyway, counts for today.

Day 9 words - 1,470 (200, 1,270)
Total so far - a nice round 17,000.

Monday, 11 June 2018

writing streak - day 8

Good news: no more crashes.
Bad news: my word count is 1,600 less than what my Excel file says it should be.

Despite saying in last night's blog that I was going to leave the current chapter as it is, I wrote a brief, almost throw-away note to myself just before turning off my laptop. It was just a short sentence about scrapping both ideas and doing it completely differently. This morning, I looked at that, had a think and started to plan out a few ideas. At lunch I set up a new approach and tonight wrote the intro to the new scene. It works, and it's better than the original idea that I had so much trouble in ditching.

However, in rewriting that chunk, I've stripped it down from a 2,000 word chapter to something short and rather horrible, so my output has gone up by my Total word count is down. Which means I need to include -1,600 in my Excel document.

More good news - now that this scene is set, I can move forward again with some fresh ideas.

The hardest part about rewriting an old project isn't cutting out the bad stuff, it's cutting stuff you actually like. 

Anyway... stats for day 8

Total today - 900 words (400, 500) and 1,570 deleted.

Which brings down the total so far to - 15,530 words.

Estimated final word count  - 30,000.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

writing streak - day 7

Sorted out my Word file first thing this morning. There was definitely a bug in there somewhere. I ended up saving it as .txt file to clean everything out and start over.

Once it was fixed and reformatted, I spent an hour bouncing between Word, LibreOffice and Google Docs trying to decide which is the best option to take it forward. Google Docs is safe and super easy to use, but a fully installed word processor (either LibreOffice or Word) is just faster. Much faster. So, hoping that the problem is fixed, I've gone back to Word. For now.

I didn't get any actual writing done until late afternoon. I managed around 1,800 words, then came to a halt. I realised most of the last 1000 words needs changing. Just doesn't sit right.

Long break. Something to eat, watched Passengers - great movie! - then did another hour, most of which was going round in circles.

The problem is that this story is based on an old project, and there are aspects of that which I still like, but trying to include them feels clunky, and trying to rewrite them feels like I'm letting something genuinely good slip by.

I think tomorrow I'm going to leave it as it is and try to move on. Get the first draft finished, read through and make a decision then. Onwards!

Today's total - 2,470 (1870, 600)

Total so far - 16,200.


Saturday, 9 June 2018

writing streak - day 6

There's good and bad about today. I'll get the bad out of the way first.

Bad news

Another computer crash. Whoop whoop. Don't they just make using computers all the more exciting? The extra exciting bit this time was that Word decided NOT to do an autosave, despite all the settings assuring me that it really, really would this time - honest. I didn't lose too much work, but it is annoying. I've got a feeling it could be a problem with the file itself and the strange way Word mixes things up - it's been a bit glitchy ever since I deleted a load of comments, which reappeared for a while. Strike 3 and I switch back to G-Docs.

Good news

Planning and plotting is all good, but you can only plan so much. To plan in full detail is... well, that's writing the thing, isn't it? This morning I had a fairly set plan for a scene that I wasn't really looking forward to writing at all. It felt like a case of writing by numbers, just joining the key points with a few hundred words. That's a warning sign though, it really is. If I find it dull then how can I expect a reader to enjoy it? Once I began writing, the creative bit of my brain kicked in and took over. I ended up with something that isn't only fresh and fun, but adds its own stamp to the main story - to a degree that I've no idea what will happen at the end. I'll deal with that whenever I get there. 

The other good news is that I finally got Age of Mythology to work on Windows 10. Of course, that means I've spent two hours playing AoM when I could have been writing, but some things are just too good to miss.

Not a huge amount of writing done today, but I have done a bit of back-tracking, fixed a few problems and edited along the way. Here's the stats.

Total for day 6 - 2,240 (1000, 350, 850)
Total so far 13,730

(I guess I've slipped a bit. I should be at 18,000 if I was going to complete it in 10 days.)

 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Writing streak - day 5

A fairly low word count today, so here's the main excuses: I'm bouncing back and forth in the script at the moment and I've spent a lot of time writing little rhyming clues that form part of the story (pretty much all I did first thing this morning). 

But I do have another excuse. A really good one, too! We've just started our class Family Assembly, which means a good deal of big voice teaching (or "shouting" to those not working in education), which is sooooo draining. I left work shattered with a beast of a headache. All I really wanted to do when I got in was either go to bed or crack open a few cans and chill. 

Instead, I watched the worst ever Nicholas Cage movie. Paula gave up and went to bed but I had to watch the rest to see if they it would have any kind of ending - it didn't. I only turned the laptop on to have a quick browse over what I'd written at lunch time and ended up doing a quick blast of 800 words. 

So... not fantastic, but it's the weekend tomorrow. I wonder what excuses I'll find then.

Totals for today - 1,800 words.

Total so far - 11,500

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Writing streak - day 4

Things didn't get off to a good start. Following my computer crash last night, my laptop wanted to install an update so I set it away. An hour later, it was still busy so I left it on and went to bed. This morning, it was shut down, so I thought it must have finished. God, no. As soon as I turned it on, it had more work to do. An hour passed and it was time to leave for work, so I had to leave it once again. The result: no writing done this morning.

I got a big chunk at lunch and a bit more tonight, but I've hit a stage where the outline simply isn't detailed enough to cover all the small complexities of a plot and things are beginning to get fiddly. It's only by writing the full copy to this point that I can see that for certain things to work, I have to do a bit of backtracking, drop a few clues and then carefully juggle the surrounding scenes.

Long story short, most of this evening was spent on the finer points of planning. So, once again, the word counts don't reflect the time and effort. But it doesn't matter, the plot itself is tightening up and the more subtle mechanics are beginning to tick.

Words on day four: 1,610

Total so far: 9,680

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Writing streak - day 3

Grrrrr... Just had a computer crash, losing a chunk of work. Not a big chunk, but enough to be annoying. My own stupid fault for returning to Microsoft Word.

About an hour ago, I thought I'd finish early and call it a day - have a cup of tea, watch a bit of TV and have an early night. Then I realised that my word count so far was 200 words short of 8,000. So, I put the post on hold, opened my document and thought I'd do another ten minutes or so. 250 words later and the screen froze. The only solution was to take a photo on my phone, just in case the auto-save wasn't working (it's messed up in the past).

Hard shut down and restart. Open Word and see that it hadn't auto-saved (despite the settings saying it should). Glad I took the photo now. I wrote it up, saved it and finally can do my post.

I'm exactly 1000 words behind where I should be. That's an average of only 300 words short each day, but it soon mounts up. I'm going to have to do a lot of catch up at the weekend in order to finish this draft in ten days. Still achievable though.

Anyway, stats for today.

Before work - 559
lunch - 920
early evening - 370
late evening - 1070

Words written on day 3 - 2,919
Total so far - 8,068

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Writing streak - day 2

Today has been a tricky one. I've put more hours in that I'd like, but that was mainly because I spent the last hour going around and around in circles rewriting the same chunk. 

This, of course, goes against my own advice that writing a first draft is about banging out the words as fast as possible, and that you should leave the editing until later. But with this section being the moment that give the story the first big push, I couldn't leave it alone until it was nailed down. 

Which means I've probably written about 4,000 words and boiled those down to about half that.

Here's the figures.

Morning - 630
Lunch - 650
Evening 1 - quick half hour in front of the TV, resulting in 160 more words

Computer off. Watched a movie - I'm not spending all night writing!

Evening 2 - basic draft - 600
Evening 3 - editing that same draft over and over, resulting in 180 more words.

Words on day 2 - 2,219. Not as many as I'd like, but I've solved a truck-load of niggly problems.

Total so far: 5,149 - so about 850 words behind where I should be, but not bad. I'm quite happy with that.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Writing streak - day 1

I'll make this short and sweet. It's 10:30 and I've just finished my last half hour sprint. I managed four today, here are the counts.

Morning - 500 words
Lunch -  730
Early evening - 930 (about 50 minutes)
Late evening 770

Total for day 1:  2,930 words.


Sunday, 3 June 2018

Planning, plotting and a new writing streak

I've spent the last week planning a story. Not writing or drafting or anything like that. Just planning. For a whole week.

Yup, this is me. Except that I plan in Word. Otherwise, it's like looking in a mirror.

A week?? Why so long?

I took an old story that was a bit of a mess and wondered if I could revise it. I stripped the whole thing down and wrote a list of the major plot points, then started over.

At first I started considering other story ideas - effectively planning a whole new story - but I quickly realised that was not what I wanted to do; I wanted to fix the story I already had, not create something completely new.

I went back to the basic skeleton and spent days identifying the key points. Then I looked for the obvious gaps and built it up, only to have it all collapse. Then I started over again... and again... and again. Each time it got closer to something that made sense.

I finished this morning. The result is a 2,000 word outline of 32 balanced story beats in 4 acts (I split Act II into 2A & 2B, if that makes sense). The result isn't too different from the original story at all, but mechanically, ie how the pieces fit together and the story flows, it's a LOT better.

So tomorrow, I'm going to start writing the thing. I can use elements of the old script, but that often causes more problems that not, so I'm going to avoid cut and past and write the whole thing fresh.
With an estimated word count of 30,000 words, and an average of 3000 per day, it should take me ten days to bang out a first draft. Although, in practice, things often go differently.

Note: I don't know whether or not this is a project I'll actually submit or do anything with. I write all of the time, especially between projects. Picking up an old project is a good way to keep the engine ticking over. Fun too.

I'll blog each day to keep track of how it goes.

Colin M

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

First reviews of Buttercup

And best of all, they are from the target audience. Thanks to my sister-in-law Michelle for bringing these across.


Colin Mulhern. Buttercup Sunshine.

Monday, 28 May 2018

A walk in the woods

Instead of buying Christmas cards this year, we bought a couple of memorial trees for Matthew (my son who died due to his cerebral palsy) and Paul (my brother-in-law, who died of a brain tumour). These were planted in a new woodland somewhere in Durham.

Yesterday we had a drive up. You don't get to find your actual tree, you just know that you are helping with a bit of conservation. Plus, it's a nice place to go for a walk. So, for no other reason than the memory of a canny day walking around newly planted woodland in Durham, here are a few photographs.

Nice place for Poppy to explore
Red hot down here. Wish I'd brought me towel and a cossie.

Poppy found a way down to cool off.


Climbing up a steep hill and see a Wicker Man

Not scary at all. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

First week of sprints

I'm quite happy with my first week. I ended up writing 11,000 words in 7 days.

Now on first sight, that sounds pretty fantastic. Going at the rate, I could complete a Middle Grade novel in three weeks, or an adult novel in seven. But consider that when I first started playing with writing sprints, I was hitting around 3,000 words a day. If I'd continued like that I should be closer to 21,000 words per week. That would mean a Middle Grade novel in ten days or an adult novel in three and a half weeks.

Of course, there's a little more to a novel than writing fast. Part of successful writing sprints is knowing what you are going to write before you get going, which means a lot of planning and pre-writing. So you have to add that into the mix - does that count as writing every day? If it does, I'm laughing, because I jot down ideas and scenes all the time. It doesn't result in word counts, and sometimes it's just doodles on paper, but it is development and creativity.

The other thing about writing quickly is you get lots and lots of errors. The theory is sound - Most of what you write in a first draft will be rewritten or deleted.

But I like to play with sentences as I write. I usually do something called cycling, where I write a chunk, go back and edit, polish then move on. That's not possible with writing sprints. To maintain high speeds, you have to ignore grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and simply push on. And if you want to hit the magic 5000 words per hour goal, you need to switch to dictation. I've tried that with Google Docs, both in the house and while out walking the dog. With my accent the results were usually hilarious and needed more work than ever just to get them to make sense.

All in all, I really like the fun and the challenge element of writing sprints, so I'm going to keep with them for now, and plan to really go for it when I start my next project. I'm going to plan in advance and see just how fast I can complete a 30k Middle Grade novel. I'd like to get a first draft in ten days.

But for now, I'm going to keep the sprints for fun projects that aren't really about anything. Just writing for the sheer fun of it.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Streaks, sprints and word counts

Yesterday was the first of May, and I agreed with a writing friend to go for the #100daysofwriting challenge.

It all stems from my post a couple of days ago about following Chris Fox's guide to writing 5000 words per hour, but it also goes back to the writing streaks I've done in the past, where a streak is the amount of days you can go by hitting a minimum word count for each day. I think I managed 500 words per day for 53 days which isn't that fantastic at all.

This time I'm taking a new approach by going for streaks of sprints. Sprints are small chunks of time (15 minutes for me) where I just bang out the words and track the amount written.

I'm not going to blog every day because blogging takes up valuable writing time, but also because publishing word counts doesn't really make good blog material. The only function of tracking is a motivator for myself and to see on the long term if writing sprints really do help.

Also, 100 days is a long time. Most of this is going to be just play - writing for the sheer fun of it. What's the point in that? Well, the fun of it! But also, it's the fun writing that creates the best ideas that I can eventually take to the next level. There's no need to keep the Nano approach just for November!

Colin Mulhern



Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Scrivener pros and cons

Okay, so here's my verdict on Scrivener. I've spent the last couple of weeks absolutely submerged in this thing. I didn't want to simply tinker, I wanted to know the thing inside and out. To do that, I transferred my current WIP across and dove in.

Overview

Scrivener is a piece of writing software specifically designed to work to a writer's needs. Someone sat down, took a look at how they work, at how other writers work and decided to make a piece of dedicated software that can handle everything from concept notes, to research, photos, character profiles, synopses, scenes and chapters. It's got everything you can think of, and if you've got the time, everything can be customised. Clever stuff indeed.

Everything a writer could wish for... isn't it?

Pros

Great for outlining, plotting and researching. If you do bags of research that you need to refer to as you write, then Scrivener can keep it all under one roof. You can split the windows and have anything in either - ideal if you are redrafting or need to keep notes on screen. You can colour-code keywords, add tags and labels to folders and files. You can also track all of these. As for writing, you can work directly in the window or bring up a full screen, having everything else either faded or blacked out.

Cons. 

Learning curve. Even a simple project will cause frustration. I consider myself quite IT literate, and I'm used to complex software from my time in the games industry, but I spent a LOT of time watching YouTube guides. Some things seemed just too complicated or difficult to find. Also, getting your work out of Scrivener and into something else is also a pain. What you see on screen is not what the final document looks like. It isn't very portable. You can save to Dropbox, which works fine if your other laptop runs Scrivener, but this means syncing those files (lots and lots of them). Scrivener will also back up locally, so that other laptop needs to be secure. Not good if you're using a work's machine.

Conclusion.

I want to like Scrivener more than I actually do. It ticks so many boxes, and once you get into it, isn't particularly difficult to use at all. Unfortunately, it makes playing far too easy. So when it came to actually writing, I didn't get a lot of work done. While having everything at your fingertips has its advantages, it's also a distraction. Having everything right there was like having a screen full of sparkly things when all I really need is my manuscript. I ended up compiling my document, took it into Google docs and slipped straight back into the writing seat.

Google Docs on full screen.

And that for me is the acid test. When it came to getting work done, I reverted to something simple because for me, to be able to write, I need to clear out the clutter, remove the distractions and simply get to work.

Added.
It's less than 24 hours since I wrote this post, and I've already gone back to Scrivener to give another, last last last go. I'm my own worst enemy. It's like having toothache - I just can't help wanting to give it a prod and a poke. At least this time, I've written a couple of thousand words.

Colin Mulhern

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

5,000 Words Per Hour and my move to Scrivener

I've been watching the YouTube channel of Chris Fox, a Science Fiction and Fantasy author who also wrote a great little book called 5,000 Words in an Hour.

I decided to give it a go, writing in Google Docs and tracking my word count and WPH in a spreadsheet. The results are quite impressive. I don't want to give all of his secrets away, but if you are interested, take a look at CHRISFOXWRITES where you can download the ebook for free.

I haven't broken the 3000WPH mark yet, but I find it almost impossible to write without correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation along the way. But, I have been knocking out over 3,000 words each day without having to sit at a my computer for hour after hour. This is important, because I  work full time, have a family and I like movies, TV Box Sets and eating crisps!

One other thing that has come out of watching Chris's channel is that I've become even more fascinated by Scrivener. And so, a few days ago, I started the trial and had a play. Last night, I transferred my current WIP over. This means I haven't done a word of writing today, but I'm looking forward to giving Scrivener a full working trial to see what all the fuss is about.

I'll report back...

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Google Docs Vs Microsoft Word - the verdict

(Note - on recommendations, I also looked briefly at LibreOffice and Scrivener.)

Is one really better than the other?

The simple answer is no. The problem with choosing writing software, or having it recommended, is that different writers have different working habits. Some gather loads of research. Some plot to an insanely detailed degree. Some keep detailed character files. Some write scenes then shuffle them about. And some just start at Chapter One and see what happens on the page.

It also depends on where you work. Some writers have a single desktop machine that never moves. Some have a laptop and write while watching TV or on the go. Some have different machines with different operating systems (eg PC and Mac) and work between the two. Some even write on tablets or smartphones.

So, in order to find the best platform, simply playing with different word processors isn't enough. I need to nail down where I work and how I work and then find the best fit for my needs.

Where I work

Mainly, at home on a personal laptop and during my lunch hour on a work's laptop.

I have worked with Word and Dropbox for years, but that means syncing my documents to a specific machine at work. If that laptop isn't available, it means logging into Dropbox and copying the files, working, then saving and copying back. Google Docs works across different machine and operating systems effortlessly. I can open a document on any device and it is ready to edit without any fuss. I also found that I really like having my documents to hand on my phone, especially if I'm sitting waiting in the car or something. I tried using Word and Dropbox apps to balance this out, but they feel clunky by comparison.

Google Docs rocked this round. 

How I work

I like to bounce between documents and have lots of information at hand - specifically, the working document, character profiles and a working outline. Scrivener should be perfect for this, but it's just not mobile. It also feels a bit messy and quite 90s, if that makes sense. I can have multiple documents open in Word, but flipping between them isn't as fast or instinctive as Google Docs (CTRL + TAB). I can also work FULL SCREEN. This option is available in Word, LibreOffice and Scrivener, but LibreOffice leaves a button on screen, Scrivener leaves the background semi-visible and Word had the option hidden (I only found it this week, and I've had my W-2007 copy for over ten years!).
Edit: I didn't realise that Scrivener can completely black out the background. The choice is there. I've also discovered that Scrivener works very well with Dropbox or Google Drive. 

Google Docs wins.   After taking another look at Scrivener, I  feel I should give it a fair trial and blog an update. Right now, it feels like Scrivener offers more than I realised.

Final manuscript

I have a particular look for my final manuscripts, and want my file to look that way from day one. Scrivener fell flat on its face as far as this is concerned simply because of the learning curve. I know it's possible to get a full WYSIWYG mode, but it's not clear how on day one, and right now, I don't want to lose hours of time trying to do something that should be right there. Google Docs is good, has lots of the features of Word and produces a great final draft, but Word gives me just a little more control over style guides. (Note, I also looked at LibreOffice here too, but it didn't sway me at all).

Word wins - but it's a fairly close finish.

Editing

Word is the industry standard, and that's what most editors use, but I would like to really test Google Docs here. One of the best features of Docs is that two or more people can work on the same document at the same time. As one person edits, those changes appear on all open devices. That's the future, right there. Most people I know that work in Scrivener go to Word when it comes to working with Editors.

Word wins by default. However, I have heard of one writer doing a pitch by sharing a Scrivener file through Dropbox and showing off all the research and back material. How cool is that?

Overall Verdict

Word: I've worked on Word for years, and together with Dropbox I thought I had a system nailed.

Scrivener: I've played with this a few times and should love it, but I'm yet to see the magic that everyone else talks about. Ideally, I'd like to give Scrivener a full soak test of using it for a month, just as I did with Google docs. Quote: Hicks in Aliens, "It's the only way to be sure."

Google Docs: This really surprised me. I'm amazed at just how easy it is to use across platforms, and love the added bonus of being able to see and edit my documents on a mobile device without any fuss. I don't need to worry about saving or the program crashing either. But more than anything, for sheer productivity, Google Docs blows everything else out of the water because I can work absolutely anywhere - I can even dictate text directly into the document while I'm walking my dog.

Conclusion. 

I love Google Docs. Just love it. It's simple, quite fast (not as fast as Word) and I can use it alongside Google Sheets to track my writing targets. It's perfect for writing if you want a very simple editor and your documents aren't too big. However, I can't ignore the buzz surrounding Scrivener and I want to know more, so... the only real conclusion here is to look deeper into writing software.


Colin Mulhern

Monday, 26 March 2018

Google Docs Vs Word

I've finally decided to give Google Docs a full trial - not by playing or fiddling and saying, 'Yeah, that's cool,' but by using it for the next few weeks and seeing how it goes.

Why change?

I have looked at Google Docs in the past, but felt it too difficult to give up the more advanced controls of Word - I was formatting ebooks at the time and couldn't be bothered to wrestle with something new. And really, I think that's the hold Word has - it offers soooooo much.

But there's a lot to be said for simplicity, and Chromebooks fascinate me. Their whole charm seems to be one of liberation rather than limitation. But I don't need to buy a Chromebook to see what they are like, do I? I can just use Chrome on my laptop and start using Google Docs now and see how.

So that's what I'm doing. Already, I've found a lot to like but I'm going to hold off putting any details just yet - it could well be the shock of the new. So I'm going to stick with it. I've switched over completely, converting everything I have to Google Doc format. For the next few weeks, perhaps a month, I'm not even going to look at Word. I want to give Google Docs a full test and report on a working trial - although it's very, very tempting to start shouting about the bells and whistles.

I'll get back on this.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

World Book Day 2018

Had a great day on our postponed World Book Day at school last week. We were closed due to the snow on the real World Book Day, but that wasn't going to stop us - besides, if parents have been good enough to pay for costumes or put the effort in to make costumes, then how could we let it go?

It's fabulous to see so many children dressed up as their favourite book characters, and great to hear them talk about books they love. Sharing experiences of favourite books is a big part of the day - after all, there is a point to World Book Day. We have a lot of children with reading ages much lower than their peers, and peer excitement can be a great motivator to make them want to learn, so we make a big deal of giving them time to talk to each other about what it is that makes their favourite book so fantastic.

We invited Class 5 to come down and pair up with our Class 2 kids and read to each other. 

In the afternoon, one of the Year 2 girls read out a book she had written and illustrated all by herself. This inspired everyone to make their own books, so I handed out blank booklets I'd prepared earlier and everyone got to work. 

We finished the day with the last couple of chapters of Buttercup Sunshine. Class 2 are the only class IN THE ENTIRE WORLD to have been an audience for it, and they loved it! I'm pretty chuffed about that - it was a real buzz to read my own story to the kids I work with. Just awesome.   

As you can see below, things got quite animated. Being attacked by a zombie Harry Potter has got to be the highlight of the day. 


That's not my real hair! I'm in disguise.

Being attacked by a zombie Harry Potter

Photos courtesy of the school's Twitter feed.

Colin Mulhern

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Buttercup Sunshine - two book deal with Maverick

Delighted to shout from the rooftops that 
Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of DOOOOOM! 
will be released in September by Maverick Childern's Books. 
They snapped it up, two days after submission and offered a two book deal.

I've been dying to reveal this cover. I absolutely love it.



If you've been following the story of Buttercup on this blog, from development to submission, you might know the story behind the book, and what inspired it - which makes me extra proud. Plus, I was given the opportunity to illustrate it. So it's my first book for younger readers and my first illustrated book all in one.

Book 2, Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman's Hill comes out April next year.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Morrissey at Newcastle Arena

I got a bit of a surprise on Christmas morning when my wife told me, "I've got tickets for you and Dean to go to a concert in Newcastle." - Dean is my brother-in-law.

"Great. Who are we going to see?"

"Morrissey!"

Me, confused: "Morrissey?"

"You do like him, don't you?"

All of my life I've listened to punk, thrash metal and goth. But I have got a Smiths album somewhere, and once had a girlfriend who had a poster of Morrissey on her bedroom ceiling. Does that count?

"Erm... yeah. Love him. Great."

I met up with Dean a few days later. "Here, was this your idea? Morrissey?"

He gave me the same confused look. "Morrissey? I think I've got a Smiths album somewhere."

It soon became clear that the present was more the night out than the actual gig, but I wanted to get the most out of it so I started out on a diet of nothing but Morrissey for the next few weeks. Every time I got in the car - Morrissey. Every time I walked the dog - Morrissey. Lunchtimes - YouTube. I started singing the songs in my sleep. I even got his new album. By time the gig came round, I was well primed.

A few drinks in Newcastle meant we missed the support act - unless the archve footage of Ramones, James Brown, New York Dolls and a few others was it. Our tickets were for the Standing section, so we got a good view of the show - until we heard the opening chords to Suedehead and everyone went crazy and Dean spilled his beer all over my head.

The one thing that really hit me was how good his voice was. The sound in general was superb. I'm used to seeing bands that play so loud, all you can hear is distortion. But his voice... just incredible.

So there you go. I now listen to thrash metal, punk and goth... and Morrissey. Good night out. Good Christmas prezzie.


Sunday, 18 February 2018

Entering the Author Twilight Zone

The Author Twilight Zone - that's something they don't tell you about in those writing manuals. It's a special little place where time stands still and frustration grows like an itch you can't possibly scratch.

For anyone who has followed this blog, in particular the development of Buttercup, you might have the idea that things in publishing run slowly. Actually, in the case of Buttercup, it's racing along at top belt. Bearing in mind that this time last year, I hadn't even started on the first draft. Often it takes more than a year to just place a manuscript, never mind all the edits and other stuff.

One of the hardest things is keeping the major details under wraps. I've blogged about the process: the pitch, meeting an agent, working on edits, sketches and illustrations - because I think that's interesting to anyone who wants to write and go through this process. But I've avoided giving any official details of the book, the publisher, release date and other things. The reason is simple enough: the publisher has made the investment, the book is their product, so it's only right that they get to make the announcement first.

But the further along the process you get, the tougher it is to keep all this news to yourself. I've seen the cover go from roughs to final artwork, I've seen the promotional flyers - I've got a date for release, another date for the promotional launch... I've even seen the ISBN number (nerd central, right there!). I am so close to the finish line that I can almost taste it.

But I can't say a word. Not for another week and a bit.

That's the Author Twilight Zone. And it's itching like mad.

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

My Secret Dog by Tom Alexandar

I love this book. Love it. It's short, simple and funny. Kid wants a dog - kid finds a dog and keeps it secret.

I work with reluctant readers, so something accessible, entertaining and short enough to get through in a couple of sessions is a great find, but I also liked it for what it is - just a great little story.

The illustrations are deceptively simple, just stick figures and line work, but they work. What's more, it gives another great message to kids because they are easy enough to copy, showing that you don't need to be a brilliant artist to tell a fantastic story.

Brilliant. I'd give it six stars if I could!.