Saturday, September 21, 2013

At Last! It is Launch Day - Learning to Dance Again

The first time I published a novel on Kindle, it was a very quiet affair. I uploaded Dancing with the Ferryman onto the Amazon site in March 2011. It happened silently, with no fanfare and no real sense of celebration. Hardly anyone I knew owned a Kindle, so not even friends or family could take advantage of my self-publishing project.

Fast-forward to 2013 and it feels very different publishing my third full-length novel. Learning to Dance Again was scheduled to hit the virtual bookshelves sometime on the afternoon of 20th September and it was a much scarier prospect; and made rather more stressful due to Amazon's failure to stick to my carefully worked out timetable, which delayed it by 24 hours.

Almost everyone I know has a Kindle, an iPad or some other gadget for reading books. The relative success of Dancing with the Ferryman and Chasing an Irish Dream means I now interact on a daily basis with people who have read those novels and have asked for more. It has been the best thing about my fledgling writing career. I never sought fame or fortune when I started writing. I did it for the same reason other people watch soap operas or play bridge or collect porcelain pigs. It was a hobby that turned into a little bit of an obsession. If I put half as much effort into getting fit as I do writing, I would be able to compete against Paula Radcliffe in the next London marathon.

But instead of collecting gold medals and hamstring injuries, I collect feedback on twitter, messages on Facebook, random comments from people in Tesco and Amazon book reviews. All of these things have propelled me forward and kept me going in the wee small hours of the night when I do most of my writing and daydreaming. So, today as I launch my new novel, I know there are people waiting for it and there has been a kind of virtual launch party where some of my friends and family joined me in celebrating its eventual publication. It is fabulous to have such support, and a little nerve-wracking too. It does not necessarily follow that because someone likes my first two novels, they will like the third – but I hope so!

I cannot let this moment pass without mentioning three people who have been particularly supportive. First is my good friend Melanie Hudson who wrote The Wedding Cake Tree – as ever Mel is my go-to gal for discussing plot development and characters. Basically we talk a lot of nonsense about who we would pick for our leading men if our books ever became films. Top of our daydreaming list is Daniel Craig and Ewen McGregor – but I digress! And secondly, my sister Stephanie who also suffered through long conversations about the novel as it progressed.

The third person I have to thank is Becky Sherry. Becky really ought to be a “personal trainer” for writers. Although I have never met her yet, she effectively strong-armed me into finishing Learning to Dance Again way ahead of my intended schedule. Basically, she made me think that if she could kick cancer’s butt then I could put a bit more effort into giving her something to read while she was having chemotherapy. Becky read the very earliest drafts of the novel, that hadn’t had any kind of editing, and still she encouraged me to carry on. And yet the way she comments on Facebook/twitter you would think that I had done her a favour. I don’t think so – I think I got far more out of the deal than she did. And I am so glad that she has recovered and is back to do her mad long distance running thing. I should really hire her as my fitness coach too!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And now for something different

I have never hosted a blog tour before, but there's a first time for everything. So here I am introducing Mark Iles, a friend and former fellow student of University College Falmouth. Mark writes science fiction so we don't have much in common with our writing styles. But that's good, because I would hate to be in direct competition with him. I think I might lose! Mark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, and His first full length work was ‘Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo’, and he also has a short story collection entitled ‘Distant Shores’. ‘A Pride of Lions’ is the first in ‘The Darkening Stars’ series. Having written features and fiction for over 30 years Mark applied to do an MA in Professional Writing. ‘Pride’ had been bouncing around in his head for some time, and he seized the opportunity of the MA to produce this first novel as part of the course. Mark says it’s without doubt the best choice he’s ever made, as it really focused him, and that getting this novel accepted is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful experience. He’s now focusing on the second book in this series, ‘The Cull of Lions’.
Here's what Mark has to say about his new novel - A Pride of Lions: A Pride of Lions When Selena Dillon is caught in an assassination attempt on her planets ruler, she finds herself sentenced to 25 years servitude in mankind’s most feared military force, the Penal Regiments. Much to her surprise she enjoys the harsh military life and is quickly selected for officer training. But something’s wrong, worlds are falling silent. There’s no cry for help and no warning, just a sudden eerie silence. When a flotilla of ships is despatched to investigate they exit hyperspace to find themselves facing a massive alien armada. Outnumbered and outgunned the flotilla fight a rearguard action, allowing one of their number to slip away and warn mankind. As worlds fall in battle, and man’s fleets are decimated, Selena is selected to lead a team of the Penal Regiments most battle-hardened veterans, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens’ home world. If she fails then mankind is doomed. But little does Selena know what fate has in store for her, that one of her crew is a psychopathic killer and a second the husband of one of his victims. Can she hold her team together, get them to their target and succeed in the attack? Selena knows that if she fails then there will be nothing at all left to go home to.
Mark said, "I’ve always found it odd how we can take an immediate dislike to some people. We may only have to look at them to feel the hackles rising on the back of our necks and, more often than not, the feeling is reciprocated: yet, others may find them the nicest people they know. Conversely we may get on with someone from the word ‘go’, only to discover they’re bad with a capital ‘B’. On rare occasions we may brush hands with someone we’ve known for a long time, only to feel an electric-like shock – a rush of untold desire that leads to an affair which burns like a flame and consumes everything in its path, even eventually including that very love itself; until we’re left alone, abandoned, forgotten." In the following excerpt from the novel Bryn confronts Selena’s over her evident dislike of him. In the early hours of the next morning, Selena started them on hard physical training, to ensure that they were at the peak of their condition. It was just like being back in basic training, but with her doing all the shouting. This was followed by updates and familiarisations with the equipment and controls they’d be using on the Dutch Lady. Despite the latest FTL drives, they’d still be in suspended animation for some time. Selena drove them savagely all week, for they all knew that their survival would depend on physical fitness, as it wasn’t uncommon to hear of deaths of the unfit or ill during hibernation. Veterans had their own cabins on modern ships whenever possible, but the designers of their new vessel had either not taken this into account or had completely ignored it. Consequently they’d be crammed into one large dormitory, but Selena preferred it that way. She knew they didn’t have much time and was trying hard to form them into a team. In her book, familiarity didn’t breed contempt; it created a bond in a body of people who needed to be able to rely on each other, through intimate knowledge of their comrade’s strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the first week, Selena found herself alone in the cafe, waiting for the others to finish their showers and join her, when Bryn walked in. She sipped her coffee and watched as he acknowledged her with a nod and got himself a drink, before walking over to join her. “Mind if I sit down, Ma’am?” “Help yourself, Lieutenant.” “You don’t like me very much, do you. That’s been apparent over the past week.” Selena put down her cup and fixed him with a stare, her blue eyes boring into his. “It’s not that I dislike you, Bryn. But I’ll be honest, I think you’re a loose cannon. If it was my choice, I’d have both you and Lacey replaced immediately. I know that after the battle for Theta you two broke into a compound, injured six guards and killed the alien prisoners being held there; depriving us of valuable intelligence. Luckily for you, the Commodore says you two are the best we have, so it looks like I’m stuck with you – at least for the time being.” “For the time being,” Bryn repeated slowly, as if savouring the words. Taking a sip of his coffee, he stared into her eyes, undaunted. “It sounds to me as if you’re determined to get rid of us.” “I fully understand that you lost your family, and for that you have my condolences. But I need people I can trust, who’ll stand with me through thick and thin — not someone who’ll go off on some half-witted act of revenge when mankind’s very survival depends on our success. So yes, Lieutenant Clayton, if I can talk the Commodore around into getting you replaced, then I will. Until then, however, I’m stuck with you. So make the best of it, while you can.”
Links Books: Distant Shores: Kwaks Competition Taekwondo:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fifty Rocks!

I started 2012 with a sense of trepidation. I was about to turn 50 - yikes - and was really hoping that 50 would turn out to be the new 40. And in some ways it has already proven to be true. The expression life begins at 40 applies to 50 too! The first three months of this year have been incredible - life changing even.

First off - 50 wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be. Surrounded by good friends and family, it was rather nice in fact. Then a few weeks later I went down to London and the South Coast to see more friends and family. But just before I went away I had set my novel up on Amazon's special promotion for a few days. It meant that book was essentially free for 60 hours on all Amazon sites. I expected there to be a few more downloads - after all who can resist a free book. However, I was not prepared for the shock of seeing it shoot up to #1 in the free charts, ahead of such brilliant books such as Pride and Prejudice. At the end of the promotion nearly 12,000 people had downloaded it. I had expected no more than about 1000.

But I imagined that after the promotion ended the book would drop back into relative obscurity. Except that it didn't. It carried on selling - fast. So much so that it briefly reached #2 in the Amazon sales chart. And since that time, although sales have naturally slowed down, it continues to sell far more than it did before the promotion.

Increased sales also led to more reviews - mostly good I'm pleased to see. And finally just when I thought life was going so well, I got the results of my MA - a Distinction, no less. I was stunned. I decided to do something special to celebrate the success of the book and my MA - so I booked a holiday in Sicily for later this year. I'm already day dreaming about the potential for a Sicilian novella.

It just goes to show how much difference a year can make. This time last year we were making plans to leave Ireland. I felt like a failure for not getting a job. I was also considering dropping out of the MA course because I felt guilty at the expense of it. My novel had just been launched on Amazon and a grand total of about 30 people had bought it in the first month, and I probably knew most of them. A year later over 17,000 have downloaded it or bought the paperback.

But the one constant thing I had both last year and this year - my friends and family - who encouraged me to carry on with my dreams.

Thanks everyone XXX

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Busy - so busy!

The new cover of the novel!

As the year, and my MA course draws to an end, I am busier than ever. I am in a frenzy of finishing my screenplay, writing an essay, tinkering with my novel and trying to get Dancing with the Ferryman published in paperback - all in time for Christmas.

The screenplay has been a really interesting and worthwhile exercise in learning how to tell a story in a different way. Just this relatively short experience of writing the script has changed the way I think about my plot when I am writing or editing a novel. As someone pointed out at a recent writers' group meeting, scriptwriting really brings home the "show not tell" element of writing.

I have designed a new cover for Dancing with the Ferryman and must give grateful thanks to Dave Wheeler from Fair Isle for allowing me to use his wonderful photograph of the Northern Lights. OK, so anyone from Shetland will know that this photo was taken on Fair Isle and not Whalsay, but I still thought it was the perfect picture to use on my new cover. I had to redesign the whole cover when I decided to launch the novel in paperback, as I needed something that would work for the back and spine of the book.

I am just waiting for Createspace to load up the novel and send me a proof copy. And then once that has been approved it will be available on Amazon. I cannot wait to see a real paperback book with my name on it. This will be the best Christmas ever!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer in Shetland

The Russian Tall Ship "The Mir" that visited Lerwick for the Tall Ships recently.

It is more than a grey day outside my window. Even the freshly painted bright red of the Malakoff Boat Shed seems dull in the midst of the mid-summer deluge of rain. It has not been the best of summers yet. The Tall Ships Race which was to be one of the highlights of the summer was marred by the type of weather we would normally grumble about in mid-winter. Although thankfully the event still proved to be a great success.

I was invited to a private party aboard the very impressive ship The Mir which was crewed by some very smartly dressed young Russians. One of the best things about the Tall Ships event was the huge numbers of people it attracted from around the world, some from as far away as Colombia. The streets of Lerwick almost resembled Notting Hill Gate on carnival day with all the dancing, singing and live music. It was a great place to be, regardless of the poor weather.

Russian Sailors on Parade outside my office

The weather has not worried the wildlife here though and many visitors have enjoyed the spectacle of Killer Whales, Dolphins, Pilot Whales, Basking Sharks and Sperm Whales from the shores of Shetland in the last few weeks. Sadly the only place I have seen them is on Facebook, thanks to the Shetland Wildlife group putting up regular pictures and videos.

I took a walk along the beach at St Ninian's Isle yesterday evening. It has to be the most incredibly beautiful beach in the UK, if not the world. Totally unspoilt by commercial development and crowds.

A few weeks ago I was invited to BBC Radio Shetland to talk about my novel which has been doing its own little bit in marketing Shetland as a place to visit. My novel has now been acquired by nearly 900 people, a huge majority of them from overseas, mostly USA. I only hope that if people do visit Shetland on the strength of this novel that they will experience marginally better weather than todays. Because when the sun shines (and it does more often than you might think) then Shetland really is the most amazing place to be.

The Colombians

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing Buddies

In my last post I mentioned that one of the most valuable things to have is a great writing buddy. Well that works both ways. I have been priviledged to read some of the first drafts of a novel that one of my friends is writing. I use the word "friend" and yet we have never met, yet. However, it is amazing how well you can get to know someone just through writing. Can't wait to actally meet up in a few weeks.

Mel is writing a contemporary romantic novel and it is shaping up to be a fabulous read. It has all the essentials, a female lead who has a great character and a fabulously heroic Royal Marine as the leading man. The plot is great, intricately woven family history, drama and comedy, as well as the growing romance. But what is interesting for me is to see how other people work. Usually we only see a novel once it is fully formed. So seeing one develop, that is not your own, is quite amazing.

In some ways Mel works in the same way as me; that is, she knows where the story is going, and all the different elements that will be included along the way. But even so, it is amusing to see how a well planned work can change because of the characters. As they develop it becomes necessary to tweak the plot to accommodate their behaviour. It is also amusing to see how other people make the same typos, and I can see how they happen. The high speed typing that takes place when you are on a roll, and you simply cannot type quickly enough to get the words out onto the screen, and there just isn't time enough to spell check.

I am so glad I'm not the only one like that.

So all you budding writers, get yourself a writing buddy, you will learn a lot about your own writing style simply by seeing how others work too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Writing Tips

I have read many writing tips over the past few years. I am always looking for good advice from those in the know. Only recently did it occur to me that I might be able to provide some tips of my own. So from my own experience, these are a few things that helped me:

1 - Make sure your day-job is compatible with writing. If you need to work to pay the bills, and who doesn’t, make sure it is a job that doesn’t leave you physically or emotionally drained at the end of the day. I thought I had obtained the perfect job working in a bookshop – it seemed a no-brainer for a book obsessed person like myself. However, anyone in retail will confirm that being on your feet for seven hours a day leaves you fit for nothing but the sofa and a glass of wine at the end of the day. Likewise, try to avoid a job that keeps you chained to a PC. You are less likely to want to sit at one to do your own work later on. The best kind of job is one that you enjoy, and that brings you into contact with people. You need social contact to keep you buzzing with ideas.

2 – Try to avoid sharing your computer with anyone else in the family. If you can afford to, buy your own laptop and refuse to lend it to anyone. Sounds mean, I know, but there is nothing more irritating than getting stuck into your work than being interrupted by someone who wants to see the cricket results, or to update their status on Facebook.

3 – Take your characters everywhere with you. At the start of your work when you are in the process of creating new people in your head, keep them close to you. Take them for a walk; to the beach; to the shops; to a football match or even out to dinner. Take them to work with you and let them sit next to you while you are busy. OK, if you are reading this and think I'm mad, perhaps I should explain. Your new characters need to become your imaginary friends. In order to get to know them well you need to spend time with them. So try having imaginary conversations with them (in your head please!). You will probably find you have more spare time than you thought possible, if you make it all count. When you are travelling, do some active daydreaming. When you can’t sleep, ditto. When there is nothing on TV, ditto. You get the picture right? Keep a notebook close by to jot down anything useful.

4 – Get stuck into your research. You may not think you need to research much if you are writing a novel. After all, it’s all in your head, isn’t it? Maybe so, but it pays to keep up with what is going on in the landscape of your novel. Make sure you don’t introduce a song in the book that wasn’t available at that point in time. Keep up to date with local news and gossip. It might be useful to know if something major happens in the town you are setting your story in. Try and avoid writing about a place you have never visited. It often shows – at least to the locals, so if you have to use a place you are unlikely to visit – the moon, for example, or Mogadishu, then make sure you do tons of research to get a feel for the place and the people.

5 – When you are still in the writing process, don’t get too hung up on editing it while you work. As the novel grows in length you will waste too much time if you try to go over what you have already written, in order to get stuck in to the story again. In all probability the editing process will take as long as the writing process. In my case it took longer. Editing is a tricky business, and it is not simply about weeding out typos. It is about making sure your structure works, and that the story starts in the right place. When I had finished my novel I was given the advice to cut the first three chapters. Being a novice I ignored this for a while, as so much hard work had gone into those chapters. But Carl MacDougall was right. A belated thanks here!

6 – Equally, don’t get too hung up on the publishing process. Everything takes a long time. You need to let your work settle in any case. Don’t be in a rush to get it out to the wide world, unless of course you are lucky enough to have got an agent and a book deal already. Put your manuscript away and don’t look at it for ages. Do something else instead. Read, redecorate, go on holiday, and pay attention to the family and friends you have neglected. Anything but pick away at your novel. When you think you have forgotten it, pick it up and read it again. If you have a Kindle you could try saving your manuscript into a PDF and emailing it to your Kindle account. Before you do, change the font size into something huge – 20 or 22, big enough so that there are only about two paragraphs to the page. That way it will fit on your screen in a way that you can read. There is no better way to pick holes in your work than to read it in the way that other people might. As you do, write notes about the plot, structure, characters etc. This is not the time to sort out the typos. That is a long job to be done with a printed version and a highlighter.

7 – Find a writing buddy. This could even be someone you have never met. One of my best writing buddies is someone I met online through my MA course. She is also writing a novel, so I can return the favour when it comes to getting a critical appraisal of my work. And you do need someone who is brave enough to offer serious criticism without fear of being crossed off your Christmas card list. It is lovely to get feedback from your friends and relatives, but they are very unlikely to give you anything other than a boost to your ego. What you need is the cold hard truth about your adverbs!

8 – Get into social networking. It has many purposes. You can find out what’s going on in the big wide world outside your writing room, and you can make virtual friends with other writers and readers. And once you have expanded your platform of social connections you will be in a good place to launch your book upon people who just might be interested enough to read it. Now if that sounds too much like jumping up and down and shrieking “look at me” then rest assured unless you are tweeting all day long about your book it won’t be seen as attention seeking. If you don’t believe me take some time to study twitter and the like. The chances are your attention will be drawn to some new film, book, or recording artist that you had never heard of before, and that you like the sound of.

Don’t you just love being given the name of a new author or book to read? Yeah, me too!