Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WIP Update - March 2013

Time for an update on current Works in Progress.

I've got several things going on at the moment. The most progressed WIP is the horror novel. It's been to beta readers, I've had feedback, and I have recently started work on Draft 4.

This novel, in summary, is about a group of live action roleplayers who unwittingly unleash a lich on the world during a game. Said lich wields powerful dark magic, and leaves death and destruction in its wake. And it sets about raising an army of zombies, as sort of a sub-plot. Anyway, on the whole the feedback was fairly positive. All my women beta readers love my main female character - she's a crack shot with a shot gun, she's ace with Resident Evil, she takes out many of the real-life zombies and she saves the boy.

There are some plot holes, and some characterisation issues, and these I am working to fix in the current draft. But I'm feeling pretty confident about this one. This one will be finished before the end of this year. In fact, I'm aiming to have it out on sub before 2014 dawns.

In the meantime, there's a second project - a collaboration with Hubby. Now, he's not a writer. But after more than 25 years of running D&D games, he's pretty good at plotting. And he's a musician. This new project is a crime thriller featuring a young female bass player, against the backdrop of the music scene in the late 1960s. We start her off at the Monterey Festival in 1967, and then bring her to London. This project is at an early stage. We've been doing a lot of the plotting together. And I have started doing some of the writing. But there's a long way to go yet, and since I've never collaborated with my life partner on a writing project before, it's somewhat uncharted territory.

And what of Shara 2? Well, that one's still languishing in a drawer. I got a bit discouraged after the crit session. Every time I get it out and review how much work there still is to do on it, I get depressed and put it away again. And DEATH SCENE has not exactly been flying off the cyber-shelves, so it's not as if I have a long queue of fans impatiently waiting for the further adventures of Shara Summers.

Nevertheless, she has one or two fans. And I would rather like to get this one finished. So perhaps I'll finish it for you. You know who you are.

This does make three WIPs on the go at once, however. And talking about them doesn't make them any closer to being finished. It's time to get back to the writing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

RIP James Herbert

Today's post was going to be an update on current WIPs. But on the way home from work today, I learned news that rocked my world. The news came to me via my Twitter feed, which I was checking on my phone on the train home, as I usually do. Say what you like about Twitter, it's the best place to go for the real news. The important news.

And the important news today - more important than trials and political scandals, more important than the fact that it was Budget Day - is that James Herbert has died. It is not an exaggeration to say I was shocked by this news. It is not even an exaggeration to say I was devastated.

James Herbert was Master of British Horror. In the 80s, when I first got into horror in a serious way, he dominated the shelves along with Stephen King. I have read many of his books. I have an entire shelf of them in my library.

I am not the only person affected by this news. Looking at my Twitter and Facebook feeds this evening, many people I follow are all saying the same thing. James Herbert informed their adolescent reading habits. James Herbert turned them on to reading, and writing, horror. James Herbert is among the greats, and the world will not be the same without him. Most people, it seemed, started off with THE RATS. I have to say I didn't get on with this particular book, which as I understand it was his first published novel. It wasn't the first James Herbert novel I read, and by the time I got to that one I was in my early 20s. It seemed to me to be a book largely preoccupied with describing - in graphic detail - people having sex, followed by said people being eaten by rats while they were cozying in the afterglow, and not much to the novel beyond that. I've said before that I'm the sort of person who skips the sex scenes, in search of something more interesting. In this case people being horribly eaten by rats was more interesting, but after three or four scenes of this it started to feel a bit 'samey'. So, no, THE RATS was not my favourite Herbert book. There are plenty of others, though, that I would rate up there as amongst the best horror novels every written. HAUNTED. THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH. THE MAGIC COTTAGE. CREED.

And then last year I read a James Herbert book that blew the rest of them out of the water. That book was NOBODY TRUE, and if you've been reading my blog for a while you may recall I wrote a glowing review (found here in case you haven't been).

I have never met James Herbert personally, in spite of going to two Cons in recent years where he was Guest of Honour - generally someting else interesting was happening, or the queue was just too long. I'm now rather regretting that I didn't take the time to stand in that queue, to get a book signed and get the chance to tell him how he inspired me as a horror writer, and how I devoured his books when I was just discovering my calling as a horror writer.

In spite of that, I still feel that I've read so many books of his that I knew him. And news of his death feels like a personal loss - a bit like losing an old friend.

Only yesterday I was contemplating buying his newest book. ASH. I decided against it at the time, my TBR pile being already so vast I shouldn't add to it until I've managed to get through some of the books in it. Now I feel the need to re-read all the James Herbert books on my shelf, and go out and buy all the ones I haven't read yet. I might even re-read THE RATS. Maybe the passage of time will make me like it more.

Goodbye, Mr Herbert. The world will not be the same without you, and you leave behind a hole in British horror fiction that no one could ever fill.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We're Number One! Oh, Wait...

Courtesy of
Last year, the Kentucky Wildcats were the number one seed in the NCAA tournament. This year? Not so good. They didn't even earn a seed in the tourney. As I type this, they're playing the first round of the NIT (National Invitation Tournament). Despite the setback, Kentucky fans are loyal. We're not called the Big Blue Nation for nothing.

But this post isn't only about basketball, it's about successes and setbacks. If you're a published author, you know the excitement of getting that contract, of seeing the final version of your book, whether in print or digital file. Images of great reviews and high-ranking Amazon sales dance in your head. (Okay, maybe not all writers feel this way, but I'm probably not too far off the mark.) :-)

In the world of basketball, a win can boost the players' confidence, make them feel like winners because they are. But what happens when the next game results in a loss? Or when a writer gets a rejection from a publisher, a bad review, or lackluster sales?

How do you bounce back?

First, realize that not every game nor every book is going to be a "winner." And you learn from mistakes. Coaches and editors advise their players and writers to be the best they can be. Take the advice of your editor and beta readers and use it to help you become a better writer.

Next, give yourself time to deal with any setbacks. After all, we're only human. We're not perfect, and we experience a myriad of emotions. What's important is not letting these emotions rule you for too long, otherwise, they can eat at your confidence, and perpetuate that vicious cycle.  

Finally, most important, get back into the game. Don't let a loss or rejection set you back. Persist and keep telling yourself that just because you didn't succeed this time, doesn't mean you'll always lose. The next winning game brings a team closer to a championship. Another accepted manuscript helps a writer establish a back list.

Now, back to the game...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I've ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it's short, I can get one more in before it's time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I'm reading in bed. It's getting late, and I'm tired, but if I'm enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I'll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I'm looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I'll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I'm enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett's 'Discworld' series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don't think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I'm writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it's unavoidable - like if I've started a chapter but I don't know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what's supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long - often less. If I'm on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there's been no chapter break, there's a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters - my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you're a writer, or a reader, what's your take on chapters?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another Rung of the Ladder

The illustrious Mike Carey, in a talk to the writing group, once told us that success in his writing career did not come from one big break - instead it was a series of fortuitous small breaks. Success comes gradually, with each new milestone worth marking off. There are a lot of significant milestones over the years that I decided were worth celebrating as I forge the road of my writing career. The first professionally published story (1989). The first novel contract (2009, for SUFFER THE CHILDREN). Seeing the first novel cover. Seeing the finished book for the first time was exciting, even though it arrived as an email file and not a print copy. Holding the first print book (2012, SOUL SCREAMS) for the first time was equally exciting. My first 'proper' signing session, at the BFS open night, for the paperback version of SOUL SCREAMS was a thrill.

All of these things have been significant milestones, to me, in the journey from Writer to Author. They mark the way to writing as a career, instead of just a hobby.

Another First Milestone has recently come my way. This year's EasterCon (officially titled EightSquaredCon) has published their list of 'Attending Authors'. And I am on it. That's very exciting - I'm normally in the regular delegates list.

I've also been asked to participate in a panel at EasterCon. This is my first panel, and a big moment. Since the schedule's not published yet I'm not going to say too much about this, but needless to say it marks another 'First'.

From being very young, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. As each milestone is achieved and I check it off my List of Dreams, I move the goalposts a bit and set it ever higher. The Ultimate Dream is being able to make enough money from the writing to quit the day job. That might never happen, but setting the smaller goals in the meantime means that with every little goal I check off, every step of the ladder I take, I'm just that little bit closer.