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:

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.

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…

A Christian Writers look at Script Writing

I’ve been a member of the Association of Christian Writers twice, first back in the nineties until I left the UK to work abroad, then for the last couple of years, but have never attended any of their events… until this weekend.

I had the opportunity to travel down to Newcastle for their writers day with David Robinson
who was speaking on performance writing for the stage, film, television and radio. David has extensive experience as an actor and was Artistic Director of the Saltmine Theatre Company. He is co-founder of Searchlight Theatre Company and has written many stage plays including Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy, Woodbine Willie and An Angel’s Delight.

His theme for the day was developing character led scripts, something I found really useful as I’m still working on the plot for my Fallen Warriors sequels.

I’m going to split my write up of the day into several posts. To start with, David gave us a friendly ice-breaker – what books, plays or films would we, as writers, take to a desert island…

I found myself jotting down titles suggested as people explained how the selections had impacted them and as I’ve never read most of them!

The Frogs by Aristophanes – Struck by how relevant this was to modern society.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – A strong female character who took control of her life.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller – Such a powerful story.

The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster – Despite being published initially in 1909, this short story/novella could almost have been written yesterday, so prescient about the impact technology has on our lives today, the way people have changed communication with each other.

Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton – Describing the process of change.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

And in case you’re wondering, I decided on Robinson Crusoe as a book and The Martian as movie… For me it would be all about survival and getting off that island!

More tomorrow!

Day 50 – Half way through the 100 words in 100 days challenge

I’m half way through my self-imposed challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days.

You’d think it would be easy…

I’m beginning to get an appreciation of what the life of a daily columnist must be like. A need to come up with a set amount of words day in and day out regardless of what else is going on.

I’d lost track of how many posts I’d written, but fortunately checked yesterday and realised today is half way.

To be honest, I’m struggling.

The last couple of weeks I’ve found myself slipping in my commitment to write tomorrow’s posts today. I’ve been posting late in the day and have not been able to keep a focus on what I would be writing next.

That has allowed me to come up with some posts I wouldn’t have written otherwise, but it is not developing the discipline I want.

If you’re interested, here are the high level numbers:

Over the last 24 days I’ve published another 11,308 words. That’s 2,000 words more than in the first 25 days! My average has gone up to 471 words a day from 410! I had wanted to write less each day, but in general, am not managing it.

However, one post in particular really bumped that number up: 10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book was 2,172 words. If I exclude that post, my total and average are very similar.

I’m now working as a full time writer and had planned to have written 15,000 words towards my sequel to Fallen Warriors by this time. I’m only at 4,165… The planning is taking me longer than I’d hoped. I should have expected it. I’m adding characters and am trying to plot out two novels instead of just one. I will keep on persevering!

Looking at whether people are actually reading this blog is useful:

The fact is that the spikes I’ve seen in page views are all due to publishing information that’s useful for other authors (that big spike in the middle also due to the 10 ways to fail post…) I’m glad to share this, but longer term, I come back to the big question, who I am writing this blog for?

I’m feeling more and more strongly that I want to aim this blog at readers. That I want to write posts that will encourage people to want to read more of my writing. I wonder if that means posting more flash fiction, but also sharing short stories, or even teasers, the first page of a story to encourage people to buy or sign up to my mailing list to read the rest.

Of course that would mean writing more short stories and I’m not sure I’m there yet in terms of being able to do that. At least not until my next novel is complete.

I am planning to publish some book reviews over the summer and have some other posts planned, so will be working with that for now.

Onwards and upwards!

The word of the Lord

I was reading the book of first Samuel this morning and was struck by this verse: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” 1 Samuel 3 v 7 KJV If you’re not familiar with the story, Samuel was a young boy who had been conceived after his barren mother had prayed at the temple. After he had been weaned, his mother had given the boy back to God to serve him in the temple.

I love the way God is sometimes described as The Word. The first verse of the book of John especially uses this description to associate Jesus as being The Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1 v 1 KJV

I relate this to the first chapter in Genesis where God said… And then there was. Without God’s words, nothing around us would exist. Without God’s words, we would not have life. Without The Word of God, without Jesus, we would not be able to know God, to talk to him, to hear him.

Until this point in Samuel’s life, the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him… Which seems really important to me. Samuel had been living in God’s temple, had been sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant. It seems inconceivable that Samuel did not know of God, did not know who he was. Samuel must have hear about God from the priest Eli, must have heard and maybe even read some of the books of the law. Yet the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him…

Reading on, we see that after Samuel had been told to tell the Lord that he was listening, the Lord – the Word of the Lord – came and stood next to him. The Lord spoke and Samuel listened and finally we read “And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 3 v 21 KJV

It seems to me that it is not enough to know about God, not enough to read his word and hear about him. If we don’t have a relationship with God where we are able to talk, where we are listening and waiting for him to speak, then we do not know him.

God is speaking to us, to me, to you. Will you take time to listen, to hear what he has to say?