Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

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, 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.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Writing stuff - Editing time

The book is written, I've done the pitch, made a sale and got a top agent to negotiate the contact. Now it's time for the real fun to begin. It's editing time!

Working with an editor is very much like being back at school. You've done your best piece of work ever - and it must be good if you've got an agent and a publisher, right? Right, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. It's the editor's job to take a good script and make it even better. 


Here's a screen shot of a page somewhere near the end of Buttercup. There are two colours of comment box because I've got two editors working on this. 

No one writes a perfect script. Even Stephen King says that every writer needs and editor. That's simply because it's often impossible to see your own mistakes. Not just typos but continuity errors - someone out of breath in one scene, fine in the next. Wearing a yellow scarf on one page, a purple hat in the next. Also, because you have the full story in your head, if you haven't managed to get all the details across to the reader, some parts might not make sense. An editor will see those things, and a lot more. They also come up with suggestions to improve or strengthen the story, they spot areas where the story dips or moves too quickly. 

For a writer, there's something genuinely exciting about receiving a manuscript filled with edits and comments. Someone has read your work enough to really, really think about it. You also have to weigh up suggestions - if you really don't feel a suggestion works, argue the point. This isn't someone pulling your work to pieces for the fun of it - you're all in the same boat, trying to build the best sail that will take you to Land of Commercial Success. Or at least, trying to make the book the best it possibly can be.

So here goes...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A nibble!!!

I only sent my submission of Buttercup Sunshine... out on Tuesday. On Friday I got a nibble from one publisher showing interest and wanting to know more about me!

Really, really happy about this because I only targeted four, but also because it's good to know that authors can submit directly and get a positive response. What's good about this is it means a writer can get the contract first, then the agent second. This sounds an upside down way of doing things, but getting the top agents is tough, so approaching them with a deal, rather than just a manuscript, stands you in a very attractive light.

Colin Mulhern





Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Yikes... submission time!

I've just made my first unagented submission. It's only to a couple of publishers to test the water, but I'm fizzing. It's been so long since I sent something out on my own.

The story is a 10,000 word chapter book aimed at younger readers, subtly titled:

Buttercup Sunshine
and the
DEADLY UNDEAD
ZOMBIES OF DOOOOM!

It's probably the silliest thing I've written, but it was great fun. A huge change from the edgy YA stuff. Couldn't resist a scribble of the MC and one of the zombies as I see them.


But I'd also like to leave it up to the editor, and see how they'd like this story presented. 

So... fingers crossed.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Behind the Curtain


Image result for behind the curtain wizard of oz

One thing I like to read on author blogs is what they are up to and how they write. I've just made a submission, so here's a quick peek behind the curtain.

My next Young Adult novel is called The Mayfly but while the publishing cogs are turning I thought I'd set myself a challenge and write something else before The Mayfly comes out.

I decided to go for Middle Grade (age 8-12). All I had was a very basic idea but no plot and no outline. On the 3rd July, I started writing.

Over the next three days I wrote about 8,000 words of nonsense to get a feel of what I could and couldn't do and began to develop a character I could work with. Once I had a better feel for where this might go, I went back and started again. I didn't have a plot at this stage, but I did have certain markers - a short list of scenes and ideas that I'd been thinking about. The plot developed as I followed the MC along the route. 

At the halfway point I mapped out a basic overview with a few chapter markers. I didn't really have an ending in mind, but it was starting to take shape. I returned to the main draft and knocked out another 10k. The plot began to develop so I went back to overview to get a God's view of what was going on. It wasn't perfect, but enough to push on and finish. Most writers speed up as they reach the end of a book. On my second last day I knocked out 6,500 words, writing the final 1,500 the following morning. In all, it took 26 days for that first draft 

So... job done?

Not really. Next comes the structural edit. This is a story edit, and involves reading through to search for mistakes and weak points in the story. What makes this difficult is it's very easy to slip and begin to correct grammatical mistakes. The purpose of a structural edit is to make sure the plot works, that clues are foreshadowed and found items are where they need to be. This is also the time to keep track of point of view, and that characters are motivated and react believably. Another important part of this stage is to strip out anything that doesn't push the story along, no matter how good the writing or idea. 

The structural edit isn't done in a single draft. Because it involves taking the story apart, there is a lot of backtracking and bouncing from one point to another. It can be very fiddly - often because changing one thing has knock on effects with the plot. Some writers try to do this at the planning stage - the snowflake method, for example - but I find planning in that amount of detail almost impossible. The result is the same though - a finished draft with a plot that works. 

Next is the storytelling edit. This is reading through (aloud if possible) to see if the story flows well, that it has a nice beat. I suppose you could call it style. It's where I look at sentence structure, grammar, control of voice. I try to strip out any repetition and try to work out if the simple stuff like dialogue tags or pronoun vs proper nouns causes confusion or slows down reading. 

Example: 
  • Emily looked at the wolf and said, 'Stop right there.' 
  • She looked at the wolf and said, 'Stop right there.' 
  • She glared at the wolf. 'Stop right there!'
stuff like that.

So now I'm at the stage where I've got a full draft, the story works and reads well. But there will still be a few copy errors.

Copy edit. Time to read through again. This time there should be no hiccups in the text, nothing that makes me think, 'Oh hang on,' and start to fiddle. I'll be honest here and say there were a few, and I also noticed a couple of plot quirks that needed tweaking - that sudden moment when you realise character A would have realised what character B was doing much earlier. If that happens, I fix it then go back to the start of that chapter and copy edit all over again. 

And that's it. Finished. It took 26 days for the first draft and 16 days for the edits (I had a couple of days rest during each edit).

So what happens now? Now it goes to my agent - Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency, and there's several ways this could go. 
  1. Agent loves it. It's the best thing I've written and she wants to send it out right away. In that case, we'll work on a short pitching blurb together and it will go out to editors. And here, my control ends. If things go well, Joanna will negotiate the contract, at some point I'll get a copy to sign and I might be included in cover blurb and art. That's a long, long process though. Probably 18 months, so I might as well work on something new.
  2. Agent loves it but it needs a few tweaks. I tweak the problem areas, clean and copy edit and send it back. Go back to step 1.
  3. Agent likes but doesn't love it. This is the tricky one, and probably the most frustrating for authors trying to get an agent, or authors that have an agent and think they simply don't get their latest book. An agent's main job is to sell, and in order to sell successfully they have to love the manuscript because they are putting their reputation on the line. An agent that makes sale after sale is going to have a better reputation than an agent who sends out any old shite in the hope it will stick. It doesn't necessarily mean the book is bad, but it's a good sign that something is missing. Agents have different ways of delivering this news. I feel very comfortable that Joanna doesn't sugar coat her responses. In that respect, number 3 is really number 4 in disguise.
  4. Agent doesn't like it at all, but still holds the belief that I can write. I've written a lemon. It's a one off. I tried a different genre and it didn't work. Get back to what you do best and write a decent book.
  5. Agent suddenly realises she's made a massive mistake in ever taking me on because I can't write for toffee. This is probably the worst outcome, short of taking out lawsuits, injunctions or attacking me with an axe. Realistically, an email or telephone conversation steering things towards a mutual split. Termination of contract. Author goes for another agent or decides he knows best and self publishes.
Ideally, option 1 would the best outcome, but 2 would be okay. 3 and 4 are pretty much the same, and the aren't the end of the world. You simply move on and write something else. 

Fingers crossed it isn't 5.

In the meantime, I can read, relax or start on something new. And that's it. That's writing. Good, eh?

Colin Mulhern

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Puppy Poppy Postpones Publishing

Well, how can you edit when you've got a 5 month pup on your keyboard demanding a walk?


Monday, 17 June 2013

Arabesque Shortlisted for Award

Arabesque has made the shortlist of the Stockport Schools Book Award in the KS4 section. It is up against Cracks by Caroline Green and Someone Else's Life by Katie Dale.

There is a Q&A interview page on the Stockport site. Click here to take a look.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A novel in 7 days?

Sounds impossible, right? Well, Dean Wesley Smith is planning to do just that next week.

Dean is a best selling author, has written over 100 novels and over 200 published short stories. He gets a lot of ghost-writing jobs because he can make such tight deadlines. Editors also turn to him when they have novels that the paid author failed to deliver on, and need it finishing quickly.

This time, he isn't writing to an editor's deadline, but his own, just to prove it's possible. The novel he's planning to write is a ghost writing project for a major name, destined to become a bestseller when it comes out, because as Dean says, "This author's books always are."

And just to add to his workload, he's going to be blogging about every step of the journey.

So, if you want a masterclass on how a novel can be written at high speed, or how an author can work to incredible deadlines under insane pressure, check it out.

deanwesleysmith.com

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

FCBG Conference 2013

The Federation of Children's Book Groups is a national organisation made up of volunteer parents, teachers and librarians who love children's books so much, they actively promote and introduce them to children in their local areas. Each year they have a conference. This year, I was lucky enough to be invited along.

Culford School - big, old, and probably haunted.

I was gobsmacked really, considering other writers included Melvin Burgess, Eoin Colfer, Michelle Paver and Marcus Sedgewick. Well, okay - they were on the main stage and my seminar was on the second floor in a haunted classroom, but it was still cool to be in the same place.

A snow storm battered the country this weekend, which made the drive up to the school postcard perfect. I even saw little deer-things. Like dogs on long legs, so I think they were deer, or deerlets, or something.

The driveway leading to Culford School

Still on the driveway to Culford School, passing a church.

The talks were fantastic. Gill Lewis even gave us a home-made animation, Sally Nichols sold the Black Death as an alternative to dystopian fiction and Melvin Burgess debunked the myth that YA novels are all negative, misery and issues.

Rachel Ward, Graham Marks and Melvin Burgess

I loved Emma Chichester Clark's amazing PlumDog blog (here's a link) which made me want to go out and get a dog (I really hope my kids aren't reading this). Liz Pichon was equally brilliant. The result of these two talks got me to buy a few pencils, come home and doodle - and thanks to a breakfast conversation with Pip from Bounce, I know exactly what I'm going to draw!

My own seminar went well. It covered time management, family stories, warts, blood splatters, acoustic guitar and the reason I'll never be a rock star.

To end this post, here's a photo of the toilet I found when I got lost. It was installed in the school back in 1905 to get ready for a Royal Visit and has since been referred to as the King's Toilet.

The King's Toilet - a 100 year old bog!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Magic of Facebook

When I was 10 or 11 years old, me and my best friend decided it would be a good idea to get well and truly lost. We walked for miles and ended up a wooded area on the far side of the West Park in South Shields (in reality, it wasn't that far, but in the days before mobile phones and having any real idea where we were, it was far enough). This is the only photo I've got of us at that age.

Me and Wardy in our first year at Harton Comp


We were mucking about in those trees, sliding down the mud slopes and climbing on the rocks down the bottom part of the bank when my friend just disappeared. I could hear him laughing, but no matter where I looked, I couldn't find him. Eventually, he lifted up a small curtain of ivy that was hanging over a rock. He'd been hiding in the space behind.

His name is Layton Ward - Wardy to me, back then - and I haven't seen him for over twenty years. The story of what he did that day stuck with me and ended up inspiring a good chunk of Clash. So much so, that I wrote about it in the Author's Note at the end of the book, not really knowing whether he'd ever see it.

I'm dead chuffed to say that now he has. He found me through Facebook, heard about the book and ordered it online. He also posted that photo of us in our first year at Comp - age 11!

Computers are ace!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Playstation, Scooters and Short Novels. Fight!!!

So the new Playstation has been announced, and that affects YA authors how..? Well, if you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to write for them? The PS4 is the first of the new generation consoles, machines with so much power the games look more like interactive movies. But is this really what modern kids are after?

Killzone: Shadow Fall on the PS4
Back in September, I appeared on Litopia After Dark with internet legend Frank Edward Nora. Frank is a modern day Samuel Pepys, recording his observations of humanity on thousands of podcast diaries. He is convinced that as technology advances, we’re going to be lost in a virtual work, unable to separate reality from the digital universe, and it looks like the PS4 marks the next stage of that development.

Scary stuff if you buy into it. But I don't, and here's why.

Personally, I am quite excited about the PS4, possibly because I’ve followed the rise of video games since the PONG of the seventies. I spent my youth spent playing arcade games, followed the development of early computers from the ZX81 to Atari ST and eventually found myself working as an artist on 3D virtual reality games.


But my kids are more interested in iPods and those mini app games, so much so that we have an XBOX 360 and widescreen HDTV gathering dust while they move an iPod left and right to roll a ball about the screen - spending chunks of spare time on games that have the most basic of 2D graphics. A Facetime call comes in, then suddenly it’s "helmets on" and they're all off to the skatepark with stunt scooters. In between stunts, they’re pulling out iPods and iPhones, filming each other, (or “doing edits”), updating Facebook and streaming video. They’re not lost in a virtual world at all; they’re merging modern technology with their fun, exciting, busy lives.

Jack, doing a flying tail-whip (whatever that is)
And that’s the problem. Teen lives are busy as hell and console games are far too demanding. The average console game costs around £50 new and takes a good 60 hours to play through. You can’t simply shove it in and shoot stuff, you have to go through the standard tutorial level, then build up skills and weapons as you go. App-games, on the other hand, are cheap (many free) and so simple, you just need to see a few seconds and you know exactly what to do. Take Temple Run or Fruit Ninja. Both free, both simple, free and bags of fun. Turn on, play. Friend calls. Grab your skooter, a can of coke and voooooom, you’re off, with the game in your back pocket.

That’s what YA authors have to compete with, not the PS4.

So, is there a literary equivalent? If certain games are getting simpler in order to attract attention, can the same be done with the novel?

When I was a teen, I was a terrible reader. I could never finish a full novel. But then the Fighting Fantasy series came along and I was hooked. It was reading, and a game, all in one. But best of all, each time I read, it felt like I’d reached the end of the story.

I’m not suggesting these make a return, but I would like to see more short novels for teenagers, rather than doorstops that seem to be the current trend. Books like The Hunger Games, Northern Lights, Gone or The Enemy would have scared me shitless when I was a teen, just by their sheer length, even though the content would have been spot on for my tastes. That’s probably why, back then, I read more James Herbert than Stephen King.

The bottom line is that teens have so many easily accessible, bite-sized bits of fun screaming for their attention that they don’t have time for long games, let alone novels. The publisher that realises this, and captures the attention of the iPod crowd is going to make a lot of money. Maybe it’ll be another kind of adventure book, maybe it will be compact novellas or a modern take on chapbooks. I don’t know, but I’ve got a hunch that a new wave of short, exciting and accessible titles could be one way to grab this young, exciting, and very busy audience.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Big Day Out

I was invited down to London for two small events organised by Bounce. The first was an informal lunch with a few (very important) booksellers. The second was an event at Foyles, a fantastic book heaven on Charing Cross Road, where I met reviewers and key bloggers.

Me, holding an invisible balloon.
This was very relaxed and chatty, and I tried as well as I could not to go off on tangents - every now and again getting a subtle cough from Non, and then a clear, 'Colin! Tangent!' I managed to get back to Arabesque and answer a few questions.

The main ones were to do with strong language in teen fiction and the way I chose to end Arabesque. I'm not going to give any spoilers about that, but to give a taste of what I said at Foyles, the end is not meant to be a cliffhanger (I'm not planning a sequel, at least, not at the mo), but reflect the book's opening. However, I also felt it important to add that the YA books I enjoy the most don't tie up all of their loose threads. Life isn't like that, and as I like to write about teens being thrust into a cruel and violent adult world, it wouldn't be fair to have a lovely, happy ending where everything turns out just dandy. To illustrate this, I told a personal story of my uncle's tool shed, and what I found in his vice after he died.

Life can be shit, and death sucks too. I guess we're stuck with both.

Book Signing - this one was an
Arabesque poster for Sister Spooky
As for the strong language - I could blog all day about this, but I want to save as much as I can for Litpopia After Dark on the 16th. I'll post a link for anyone who misses that, and do a full blog on strong language shortly after.

At the end, I got a chance to ask questions of our bloggers, and how valued they feel - if they do at all. I hope they do, because usually, even when I find a book that I want to buy, I tend to hang fire and check reviews first, and I find myself going back to the same bloggers. So keep at it! Bloggers are mint!

Between the two events, I managed to do a quick run, around London, snapping as many photos as I could.

Meeting local celebs
At the Tate Modern
Cool phone box near Foyles
Chinatown at night

When we left Foyles, I went with Non, Matt and Caroline (two mega-librarians) for my first experience of a Japanese restaurant.

And this morning, on my way home, I used all of the photos I took to make a Powerpoint of my Big Day Out for my youngest. So much more fun that just telling him.

On the train, making my Powerpoint for Cameron

All in all - a mighty fine visit. Thanks to everyone involved in organising the day, and everyone who came along. It was a blast.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Event: Colin and Non at Foyles

Several events coming up. The first is Foyles in London. I'll be there with my editor, (and YA author too!!) Non Pratt, talking about YA authory stuff. - okay, that's not selling it very well...  (coughs) I'll be telling horrible stories, juggling knives and trying not to make the audience sick (like I did at Shiney Row library :o))

Click here for the FB page. 
ARABESQUE event at FOYLES

So er... come along. It'll be brilliant!!!

ADDED: Erm.. well I tried a quick juggling practice in the garden. Might not be the best idea.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Advance Copy Arrives

This probably seems a strange thing to do, but for anyone who dreams of being published, this is one of those key moments when the dream becomes a reality.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury died last week, on the 5th June, age 91. The news knocked me because Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books I've picked up so many times, meaning to buy, but has always remained on my "to read" pile. So the news caused me to get it and finally read it.

Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman. But in this world, a fireman's job is to locate and burn books, which usually means burning the entire house - even the owner.

The language is a bit of a hurdle. It is so colourful and loaded with metaphors that, at times, it strangles the story, and I had to struggle to get back on track. But I persevered and the story opened up. It's not the best novel I've ever read, but it certainly made me think, and that is the reason for this post.

More than anything, Bradbury's view of the future made me think about Facebook and Twitter and the way they can soak up huge amounts of time. In the story, books have been outlawed, but only because society has naturally moved away from them, wanting more immediate entertainment and boiled down versions of stories. Most people have huge, wall sized TVs, some have all four walls converted, but the only programmes are endless feeds of chatter of family and friends - and none of it having any real substance. The result is that they have no time for independent thought. They don't think; they don't question. All they care about is that they are entertained and kept happy. They have no idea they are being controlled, don't realise how doped up they are, don't even realised that other nations hate this future America and there is a war going on right above their own heads.

But Montage begins to question. Montag wants to know why he has to burn books. He realises that there is something wrong about subduing an entire nation like this, turning everyone into mindless zombies.


But what are the Facebook and Twitter addicts? There are too many times I've got up on a morning to write, only to waste all of that time reading feeds of people I don't know talk about stuff I don't care about. I've even found myself responding, laughing and nodding when people post anti-Facebook/Twitter messages, or merging the names as a parody of what an utter waste of time it is... and yet the first thing I did this morning was check for notifications and any new posts.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Swearing in YA fiction

Does strong language have an impact on the commercial success of a book?
There is a big difference between dialogue and transcribed speech. When people talk, in the right environment, every other word can be expletive and no one cares. Usually, this is because the swearing in speech is often used as a wild-card adjective to save having to think of anything more suitable. With teens, there is the added whammy that bad language can define independence. It becomes such a prominent part of their language that some kids can speak in nothing other than swear words and still get their point across.
In a book, that would be awkward to read and ultimately dull. Some writers of adult fiction suffer from this; their novels are so peppered with profanity that you end up having to skim through repetitive crap to get to the story. That bugs the hell out of me and usually puts me off.
So when is it appropriate?
A carefully placed f-bomb can have real impact in certain situations. Rather than just anger, attitude or strength, they can define a specific turning point for a character, their failure, or sudden confidence. There are only a few instances in Clash, and I battled with each one, deciding whether they were justified. If not, they went.
The alternative use of bad language is to show realism - because in the real world, villains tend to swear. The problem with this is that if you have villains in several scenes, you need to be consistent in their language. The single f-bomb no longer works, because that first instance wasn't a revelation; it wasn't a surprise. So if your baddy swears in chapter two, you need to follow through wherever else they appear. If you do that, the f-count rockets up and you end up wondering if this is going to cause a problem. Book sellers can refuse to stock it if they don't consider it suitable for teens, as can libraries and schools, parents...
But can you have a strong, violent thriller without bad language?
Two writers come immediately to mind. Suzanne Collins and Lee Child.
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, a book that’s chock-a-block with childhood violence and murder, but has no bad language. Is that because it’s a children’s novel? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it selling to adults. The three books in the trilogy top the ebook charts as well as paperback sales. Does a lack of bad language hamper the story? Well... in places I can’t help thinking Katniss would react a bit more strongly.
But Lee Child is something else. Lee Child writes commercial thrillers for adults. His books are violent, include murder, imprisonment, brutality, violence, rape and paedophilia with a main character who is strong, moody, and at times explosive. But no bad language. Nothing. I actually reached the end of the first novel (actually, I read #11 first) before realising. So in that case, it worked perfectly well.
But why? Do these authors feel like I do, that too much bad language is repetitive and boring, or that too little makes it obvious that it has been toned down? Or is it a commercial strategy? It might not make a difference with adult thrillers, but I can't help wondering if the Hunger Games was splattered with swear words, would it still be the massive success it is?
I don’t know. All I do know is that Arabesque goes to proof in a couple of weeks... and I need to decide if the strong language I've got so far is essential to plot, or a bullet in the foot.
What do you think? Should YA novels have strong language, or can you maintain the illusion without?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

BOOOOOM!!!

I feel like my head's exploded. I've just completed a mega turbo ninja edit of ARABESQUE.

I posted a blog at the start of this edit when I first went over the document. It can be difficult for a writer to see all those red lines and comments, but ultimately, it's the sign of a good editor. Of course, the other sign is the editor who insists that all those marks are suggestions, and not orders.

In the case of Arabesque, I think I agreed with about 95%. Copy edits are a doddle - you just decide whether the gramatical changes suit. The suggested changes are the tough ones, but the most satisfying - that's the fun stuff.

So there you go. Writing a novel takes a bit more work than just churning out the words. And just because you've been through the process once, doesn't make your writing flawless the next time round. You'll still need an editor, but the process of editing become easier. It's also good to look back on old attempts and see how far you've come. You realise that what you once thought was brilliant, is actually crap. But more importantly, you'll realise why!

Right... off to find something else to do.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Kyle's Drawing from CLASH

Okay, Kyle is fictional, so no, this isn't really his drawing, but it is the image that inspired a certain scene.



In Clash, Kyle is at a loss what to do when his mother is in the maternity ward and her baby (Kyle's brother) is in an incubator in Special Care. He ends up doing a drawing so his mother can have an image of her baby by her bed - all because the other mothers in the ward have their actual babies in cots by their beds.

This scene was taken from real life.

When my wife had our first boy, he was in an incubator in the Special Care Baby Unit, and she was up in a ward where other mothers had their babies in cots - a bit cruel, but there you go. A decent ward might have put her in a side room.

For some reason I thought you weren't allowed to use cameras in the special care unit (there were some very premature babies in there under special lighting). So I nipped home, grabbed a drawing pad, pencils and set to work. I went back up to the ward and pinned the picture to the wall.

However, there is a spooky side to this story. When we lived in Washington, loads of strange things happened when Matthew came home. His mobile would spin on its own, the cat would go nuts for no reason... there were other weird things too, but the strangest was the morning when this drawing (in its frame) fell off the wall for no reason. This happened at 6am while we were still in bed. The bang woke us up, and I came downstairs to find the frame behind the TV. Rather than refix it there and then, I put in on the bookcase and went back to bed...

...That evening, we had a flood and every picture that was still hanging in our front room was ruined as water streamed down the walls.

Whoooooooooooo.