Saturday, 28 February 2009

Just a reminder...

Sarah Davies gave a talk this week on writing a breakout novel. With the whole world feeling the credit crunch blues she warned that publishing too was feeling the pinch, and for that reason breaking in was harder than even (from being near-impossible already).

BUT...publishers are still searching desperately for the next BIG THING. Julia Churchill reminded us all that if there's no new talent, the well will dry up. There's only so many copies of Harry Potter special editions anyone would want on their shelves.

For those of you who couldn't make it, I've picked up the main points below. It was a timely reminder to me about not getting arrigant about writing. There's still lots to learn and Sarah's a great teacher. I hope Sarah won't mind me 'stealing' her talk.

The key points then:

1. The Concept. Needs to blow people's socks off. Sarah used the example of 'Thirteen Reasons Why' as a story with a great concept. A boy discovers a tape from a girl who's recently commited suicide. In the tape (there's 13 of them) she expains the boy is one of the reasons why she killed herself. Of course it needs great writing (we're assuming you know how to write by now), but its the concept that took it put it on the best sellers list.

2. Larger than Life characters THAT YOU KNOW INSIDE OUT. This has probably caused me more rewrites than anything.

3. HIGH STAKES. What are the personal stakes, and what are the public stakes? Failure must matter! It keeps the reader rooting for the hero. If they fail it will be VERY BAD.

4. Deeply felt theme. In the end, what's the story about? DO NOT preach to your readers. But why are you writing in the first place? What story do you think is so important that you want to spend years trying to tell it? If you're going to spend that amount of time, it's got to be something that matters, right?

5. Vivid Setting. The setting must be a character of its own. Think Hogwarts. Think Gotham City. Batman in Milton Keynes wouldn't work, would it? It doesn't have to be a fictional place, but it's got to breathe just as deeply as the rest. In fact it could be second only to the protagonist in importance.

There endth the lesson.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


Firstly, thanks to all those who've given such great feedback on the DEVIL'S KISS. I feel elated and slightly 'aw shucks' embarrassed. Glad you liked it. There's a small but perfectly formed children's book festival forming at Crystal Palace in April. I'll be there and it looks like we'll have a few early copies of DEVIL'S KISS out, a few weeks before the official release. Do come along just so I don't stand there like some lonely git. There's only just so many times I can have my wife pretend to be a complete stranger and ask for my autograph. I think I'm Saturday afternoon but there's writing workshops and talks throughout on a lot of subjects.

Just back from Turkey and it was great. We visited various ancient ruins (Ephesus, Priene, couple of others) ate lots of kebabs and generally had an excellent break. During the quite evenings watching the sun going down (it's a hard life) the subject of the next book came up. With DK almost on the shelves and TDG draft done I am now unemployed-ish.

What to do?

You spend half an evening thinking about some brilliant hero then stop and realise he's just like Harry/Alex/Artemis/whoever and the plot's a rip-off of this or that. Bloody hell, this is harder than I thought. The trouble is Billi SanGreal was a LONG time in developing. Years, in fact. I could more easily just write stories about her and the Templars (hope I'll have a chance, there's a few more tales in Ms. SanGreal yet), but the deal was just for two.

Stay in genre or branch out? To what? Full fanatasy with dragons and elves and wizards? sci-fi? Spy stories? Change age groups? While I contemplate I've decided to re-read the Iliad (I've decided it doesn't count as one of my text reads this year so have Dickens beside it). I've talked enough about it so won't dwell on it anymore.

I have something in (very early) development, and the moment I'm able to tell you about it I will. Needless to say it'll be violent...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Dark Goddess is DONE!

Woo-hoo! Spent ALL day in a frenzy finishing book 2. The great thing about violent climaxes is that you get so caught up in them you don't want to take a break. So, after smashing out 5,000 words today I finally wrote 'THE END'.

Feeling on a bit of a high.

So, what can I tell you without spoiling the plot..?

The story's been a work in progress since last March, when I knew I needed a sequel to DEVIL'S KISS, so it's been a year, give or take. There's been quite a few interruptions as rewrites on Book 1 have gone back and ofrth but that's to be expected. There was a major bit of reworking after Xmas as there was a sense the story was going a bit off-piste. That's helped enormously and I've realised with deadlines I needed a strong sense of direction. It's been a huge advantage to be on this full time, the amount of work I put in today would have been a full week of evenings otherwise. For you all trying to write with day-jobs and families, you have my sympathy!

The story's bigger than Book 1, and that was pretty big. Likewise the first draft is a bit longer, just knocking on 70,000 words, which seems a natural length to me. It keeps the pace, I hope, fast and furious. What I want to write are pumping page-turners, something you'll blitz through because the stories don't hang around to admire the scenery.

Being Human

There's a new series on BBC3 called Being Human that I have to write about. It's a werewolf, vampire and ghost living together. It's horror, it's comedy and a great drama about these three characters. Mitchell is your sultry vampire (piccie left in the leather) and while he's able to go out at daytime (hmmm...) all other vampire functions are in full effect. Episode 3 has him and one of his fledglings 'transfusing' each other in the hotel bathroom. The bloody smears and the serial killer decor when they've finished is what it's all about. Edward Cullen has nothing on this guy.
George is a sweet, big-eared chap with a sort of puppish face, just as well since he's the werewolf. Annie is the ghost, sweet, eager to please and just so very dead.
It's on iPlayer, so you can catch up on any you've missed. The first episode is a bit tricky as you're struggling to get your bearings since it doesn't settle into one easy genre. BBC are giving it a big push and it deserves to do brilliantly.
Meanwhile...THE DARK GODDESS is into its final few chapters. All the players are in place. Billi's not got any easy choices ahead of her and she's walking the path of blood to the bitter end...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Signed copies and such. On being a fan boy.

I've discussed The Book of Lost Things before and basically how I think it's absolutely AWESOME and when I grow up that's the sort of book I want write. Actually, The Dark Goddess IS very heavily influenced by BOLT (weird how that's worked).
Anyway, I mentioned this to a friend who just happend to know the author, John Connolly, and, lo and behold, a signed hardback turns up!
Wow. It's right here in front of me.
But what's the talismanic property a thing acquires (usually a book or photo) when someone's scribbled their name on it? It got me thinking that President Kennedy's autograph is worth a hell of a lot, but not as much as Lee Harvey Oswald's.
It's the oblique connection with one's hero I suppose. I went to a Darren Shan event and there were kids turning up with their ENTIRE collection, which he very dutifully signed. Great event (especially as he got a few kids to act out a chapter, and he read from his WIP, and he took loads of questions, and answered them pretty honestly). THEN I'd been to a Stephen King event and he would only sign his latest book, which was a shame because I didn't have it. I don't know how much of that was a policy of the organisers (I like to think King wouldn't care) but it seriously pissed off a lot of people. The King talk was an interesting event. There were a good few thousand of us, each having paid £15 to see him. BUT there were no questions from the audience (the questions were all previously submitted) and as he was talking, people started shuffling across the hall towards where the queue would be, the rattle of chairs moving and people hustling past you meant I deidn't catch the last 5 minutes of his talk. A shambles from start to finish, especially as it was his first trip over here in 15 years or something. You might as well have seen the entire thing on Youtube, there was no audience involvement at all.
Oh, hit my January target on writing. What's more exceeded it by a large margin. Fingers crossed and TDG will be done by the end of this month. The end's in sight and it's going to be violent. No, really violent. This is my Thermopylae. But without the leather thongs.
Plus it snowed today. A lot. Most of the street decided to take the day off and we had a chaotic snow ball fight where I used a small child as a human shield. I'm not proud of it but with five year olds, they're light enough to carry but still offer significant coverage, at least the upper torso.