We need more trees

I grew up on Shetland, famous, or infamous for it’s lack of trees. It always puzzled me as a child why there weren’t many trees on Shetland. There are some. Small woods have been planted, encouraged by government grant schemes. But most of the islands look like this:

Most of the time, the peat covered landscape copes well with the heavy rains the islands get, allowing the water to drain away. Every now and then the islands get longer spells of dry weather, the peat dries out and if it rains too hard before the peat has had a chance to recover, land slips can occur:

Several landslides occurred in Shetland in 2014. The islands were fortunate that more didn’t occur.

Soil erosion is a major problem affecting humanity around the globe. The loss of soil cannot be easily repaired and areas that lose their soil may never fully recover.

Planting trees is a long term solution to a very real problem. It takes decades and sometimes centuries for trees to build a system of roots that can hold soil in place and prevent landslides and soil erosion. Yet, if we do not start replanting the billions of trees that we have cut down around the world, our children and grandchildren may eventually have no soil left to grow crops on.

Just keep swimming…

I used to have a colleague at work who often used to say “Just keep swimming…” A layered statement delivered in Dori style that could either be taken as a positive message of encouragement or an ironic acknowledgement of the pressure we were all under at that time.

Are you under pressure?

I am. Self-imposed pressure to complete a first draft that is probably not healthy. I think I have a bit of writers block. I feel a pressure to write a story that matches what I think readers are expecting after finishing Fallen Warriors. A pressure to write a draft that requires less editing and proof-reading. Too much pressure to let the story flow.

It doesn’t help that I’m also supposed to be on holiday and spending time with my family…

I went swimming this evening. It was good. I think I need to take a step back the rest of this week and allow myself to maybe just be.

Fallen Warriors – What is it all about?

As best as I can remember, I had the idea for Fallen Warriors during a church service, where something said triggered off a series of thoughts about a story where Christians were like superheroes, using miraculous powers. Originally I thought this would make a great movie or TV series with lots of action and the miracles taking centre stage.

I started writing and the characters kind of took over. While the story certainly starts with a miracle, I found the real story lies in how the characters each react to what has happened.

The central character in the story is Emma Hunter, a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who enjoyes clubbing and partying, whose life is cut short when she dies at the start of the book… She is brought back to life and this then started to intrigue me. What would that feel like?

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is familiar to many Christians, but the story gives so little detail and no insight into what it felt like for Lazarus to hear Jesus commanding him to come out of the tomb, to be wrapped in grave clothes and finding out he’d been dead for several days. I wanted to explore this through Emma’s experiences and the direction of Fallen Warriors started to take a different turn as the story became more about the consequences of miracles, especially for people who had no previous experience of them.

If you would like to try Fallen Warriors out, here’s a free sample:

Lydia’s Song – a book review

I was in tears by the time I’d finished this novel. Katherine Blessan has written a deeply moving story of a young girl’s experiences of being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.

Lydia’s Song is not a book I’d have normally chosen to read. Neither thriller, nor crime fiction, nor mystery, yet containing elements of each of these that eventually hooked me in to the point where I finished the last half of the book in one sitting, desperate to know how it ended.

The novel starts from Lydia’s point of view, looking back on her time working for a Non Governmental Organisation in Cambodia. I found the beginning slow going initially as it could almost have been a romance as Lydia (the Westerner) develops a relationship with Radha (the Cambodian). I don’t read romance generally, so struggled with the start. Yet even in this, it was fascinating reading about the daily life in Cambodia and I enjoyed that insight. I worked abroad for a time myself, also for an NGO and could relate to some of the struggles and incidents.

Lydia finds a young Cambodian girl in her garden one night – the Song of the title. Song has effectively been orphaned and the story gently shows the developing relationships between Lydia, Song and Radha. Until it all goes wrong…

This for me is where the story really started to come alive as Katherine Blessan manages to create a sense of realism in her descriptions of a child being made into a sex slave, without titillation or eroticising the experience. Harrowing is one word I want to use, yet, because of the way the story is structured, there is a sense of hope throughout.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song. If you would like to try it out, a sample is available below.

Available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Out of my comfort zone

Book reviews… I became obsessed with getting as many as I could back at the beginning of the year, hoping I could maybe reach 1,000 for Fallen Warriors. At the same time I’ve realised that I should make an effort to review the books I’m reading and take more of an active part in the community that blogs about books generally.

This summer I’ve arranged to be part of a Meet The Author event at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September 2017, from 2-4 pm. With me will be Wendy H. Jones, winner of Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017 and author of the DI Shona McKenzie crime series and The Daggers Curse, a young adult novel; and Caroline Johnston, author of What If? a young adult novel.

We’ll be interviewing each other as part of the event and so I am reading both Wendy and Caroline’s latest novels in preparation for the event. I’m planning to review both books this summer.

Also, I’ve just finished reading Lydia’s Song, a novel by Katherine Blessan and will be posting my review of this tomorrow.

I have to say, these are not novels I would normally have chosen to read and I’m finding myself out of my comfort zone with genres I’m not familiar with, yet the stories are hooking me in and delivering an emotional punch that is the hall mark of a good story for me.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of Lydia’s Song…

[Spoilers] – The End Is Revealed!

I don’t like spoilers. Not for books, not for movies or TV. I want to be surprised, caught up in the story and blown away by the reveal.

At least when enjoying fiction. I’m quite happy knowing what’s going to happen in real life and conversely can get quite stressed by uncertainty.

Which is one of the many reasons I like the Bible so much. It contains spoilers. Lots of them. From the moment the first book (Genesis) was written down, hints and reveals and clues towards the end were added. As the books (66 individual books make up the Bible) were written down, more spoilers for events yet to happen were given and while a good many of those have now indeed happened, there are still a number we’re waiting for. Spoilers for the end of history…

Right at the end of the book of Revelation, the final spoiler is given. No matter what happens between now and the end, this world will be transformed and made new, we will all face judgement and some will receive entry into this transformed world while others will be cast out, the God who created us will walk among us, healing and eternal life will be freely given to all who are welcomed.

We are living with the end revealed. Everything we do contributes to how we will be received by God. It places an awesome responsibility on us to keep that end in mind.

The final proof!

My final proof copy of Fallen Warriors arrived! Well actually, two copies (not sure what went wrong there…)

The blurriness on the font on the matt version has been fixed and the corrections have been made to the interior. The paperback version is ready to go! I’ve ordered 100 copies from the printer (five of which will have to be sent to the British Libraries), leaving 95 copies available for sale.

I’ve had four pre-orders already from friends and need to figure out how to take orders through this site. For now – if you would like to buy a copy, use the contact form on this website. The price will be £9.99 per copy including postage for anyone in the UK. If you live outside the UK then contact me giving your address and I’ll send you a quote.

Fallen Warriors has 35 ratings and 21 reviews on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.7.

Going Physical – Getting a book printed

Getting your novel ready to be printed as a paperback book is a challenge – much more so than publishing an eBook. Formatting is more involved as the template has to fit to certain specifications, but several companies (including CreateSpace and Book Printing UK) offer templates you can start with. (I have to say, CreateSpace offer an excellent range of templates!)

Some in the indie-author community simply won’t bother with having a printed copy made available, but the markets I’m aiming for with both The Great Scottish Land Grab and Fallen Warriors still has a lot of readers who prefer physical books and I would lose out on a lot of sales if I don’t provide a physical version.

So, I’ve been working with Book Printing UK over the past three months to get 100 copies of Fallen Warriors into print.

It’s taken so long as I’ve been fitting the work around my full-time job, my family, and initial attempts at marketing the eBook version of Fallen Warriors.

I had two initial proof copies printed up, one with a gloss cover and the other with a matt cover to see which worked best.

The matt cover looks a lot better, but unfortunately the initial printing of the matt cover was blurry (the gloss was sharp) and also, despite having had several proof-reads, I found some additional typos inside that I decided had to be fixed. Myself and a friend re-read the whole book (I went backwards, a page at a time!) and found some more missing commas etc. so I’ll be updating the eBook version soon as well.

I was expecting the final proof yesterday, but only received a card through the door from our Postie…

Guess I’ll be getting up early tomorrow…

Character Led Scripts

Following on from yesterday’s post, David Robinson used Gustav Freytag’s pyramid to discuss the expected story arc in most scripts and novels. Some useful explanations of this are here and here.

David performed a couple of sections from scripts he has written to allow us to examine the script and the characters being portrayed. We, as the audience, shared our different conclusions about the characters which was useful to understand how important it is to take time with scripts and novels to create real characters, who have layers to them which can drive the story forward.

Ultimately, the audience, whether sitting in a theatre or reading a book or watching a movie will take more pleasure from the experience when we have thought through our characters.

  • Who are they? Honest, uncaring, cruel, devious, kind, passionate, boring… However we reveal our characters they can add nuance and depth to the story.
  • What is the setting? The names we give our characters can place them at a particular point in time.
  • What is the location? What is our character doing there? Do they belong? Are they out of place? Are they remembering other events in different locations, if so – are these likely locations for our characters to have been?

If at all possible, write out a backstory for your characters and their description. This can be added to at any time during the process as thoughts come to you or as you research and may provide a rich source for you to draw on as you write.

I found the day to be useful in thinking about how I am tackling the sequel to Fallen Warriors. The first novel was very much a character driven story, each person dealing with their own inner demons, the character journeys often driving the story forward in ways I hadn’t expected.

It was also really encouraging to be able to meet with so many writers who are each going through similar experiences and to be able to encourage each other. If you would like to find out more about the Association of Christian Writers and find out about membership and events you can do so here: http://www.christianwriters.org.uk/

Finally, David told us about The Watermill Theatre in Newbury that runs the Raising Voices critique service, reviewing scripts for a nominal £33 fee. Details can be found here: https://www.watermill.org.uk/raising_voices_2017

Also, if you are in a good mood, or perhaps even a funny mood, you might be interested in entering the ACW Comedy Writing Competition, to be judged by David Robinson. The theme is Bringing a Little Sunshine and they are looking for comedic sketches (maximum 1000 words) or comedic poems (maximum 24 lines.)

Details are here: http://www.christianwriters.org.uk/competitions

The difference between scripts for theatre, film and novels

Continuing on from yesterday’s write up of the Association of Christian Writers day where David Robinson was speaking on performance writing for the stage, film, television and radio…

David led the day very much as an interactive workshop, involving us as he discussed script writing, getting us to act out short parts, and ultimately asking us to write parts for specific characters to combine into a play.

He asked us to think about what is different between scripts for theatre, scripts for film and novels.

Dialogue. We need to understand that directors and actors will both put their own spin on our dialogue. A script may go through several transformations as it passes into other hands. Scripts of course, are mostly about dialogue, but this can tell us something useful about our writing. If you prefer to write dialogue and your stories have almost no description, perhaps you are missing out on a calling to be a script writer… If a play lasts two hours, that is two hours of mostly dialogue. Consider pauses and beats when writing a script. Those words that you felt would take only a few minutes to say might lengthen in the performance of a good actor, or even shorten as urgency is used.

Balance. How much should the script direct what happens on stage? Should the actor walk on from stage left carrying a bowler hat, or just walk on stage… Lighting, set… All can be directed from the script or left for another to decide or perhaps both…

Set and Cast. While a novellist can change scenes all the time and make the cast as diverse as desired, the script writer has far more limitations. Scripts for stage that require too many set changes, or that require props, backdrops that cannot be carried may never be taken on due to cost restrictions and impracticalities. The same goes for cast. If it will cost too much or be impractical to use the number of actors the script requires, it may never be performed. Scripts for Film or TV also have to consider the same limitations, though perhaps at a different level.

Exposition. The audience need to know quickly who is who and any relevant backstory. The novelist can explore backstory in depth, can cut and change or use flashbacks at any stage. A stage play has much tighter limitations. Shakespeare was an expert at using soliloquy to overcome this and give important detail quickly to the audience. Think of the length of a typical scene, maybe 20 minutes, think of the length of the whole show and when intervals need to occur…

The final section will be posted tomorrow…