Tag Archives: Author

What does a being a writer actually mean?

Phil: A few weekends ago, Candice and I attended the Writing West Midlands  National Writers Conference – get us going big-time!

There’s lots to blog about, but the event started with a keynote speech from Illustrator Shoo Raynor which tied in very nicely to the first session I was booked to take part in – Sustaining a Creative Career.

I kid myself that writing about trains and editing a modelmaking magazine means my “career” (this makes it sound like I planned it and didn’t just luck out) can be described as creative. I guess that is because you can’t really call it “useful” in the same way doctors, policemen, firemen, farmers, workers making Tunnocks teacakes etc. are.

As writers, or at least aspiring writers, the challenge is to earn enough money by your trade to survive. Years ago, you’d do this by sending your latest manuscript to your publisher and they would send back a big pile of cash. Sadly, as Shoo explained in his speech, since the demise of the net book agreement, this doesn’t really work. You might get some money, but by the time everyone else has taken their cut, you’ll be reduced to the own brand beans aisle of Tesco for tea.

No, the modern author, or creative, has to have a number of strings to their bow.

Those taking the session I attended wrote, taught, mentored, ran sessions for other writers and any number of related jobs to make ends meet. This isn’t seen as such a bad thing – it provides a variety of experiences which can build the writers experience, feeding back into the work. If you reside in an ivory tower, can you write anything other than how it feels to be in splendid isolation? Rapunzel has been written and it pretty much covers all the tower-based hero genre.

Shoo is the sort of proper, published writer that we all aspire to be, but his output goes beyond traditionally published books into self-publishing and using YouTube tutorials to provide another income stream. It’s fascinating stuff, and I strongly suggest that you sit back and enjoy his half-hour long speech.  Ignore the slightly odd camera viewpoint, but remember that he recorded and posted this on-line himself. Another of those tasks that writers have to find time to become skilled in.

Turns out, being a writer isn’t just about writing.

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20,000 words

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Candice: So there is often a conversation when we get just past this point in book writing where Phil and I will go “How are we ever going to get to 80,000 words?”

This time around we are motoring along, with over 20,000 words in the bag and, with an overnight in a hotel for me this week and a long flight for Phil coming up, we will easily get to 30,000.

I’ve been busy putting together the random collection of ideas we have already written into one document so we can see how the flow is working and what gaps we can spot.  Though we have already had a few plotting sessions often, even with something written down, we can go off piste as an idea takes us, and then you have to work out if it will fit with everything else. A perfect example is a forgotten chapter, written months ago, that references a character than Phil has brought back, but with them having a different name and the chapter having an end that doesn’t fit with our timeline.

After an hour over tea in Solihull Library the other day we’d pinned down a few more things in my spreadsheet, both plot lines and dates and then spent a pleasant hour and a half drafting up 1500 words each, before the high stools that we had to sit on gave me so much back pain a lunch break had to be called.

At the moment I can see us creeping towards that magic number easily, we’ve two chunky plot threads that need to be fleshed out and then a big finale which always takes at least a third of the book.

So don’t knock the spreadsheet.  Though I have to say I think we’ve hit that point much earlier this book, it just shows how you fine tune your art every time you do a new one.  We’ll have this book out by Christmas…

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Death of a Bore

Phil: My pile of books to read has been going down and I found myself recently with a selection that while appealing, didn’t grab me. I felt the need for a proper novel with a story that I could fall into.

Dropping into my local library, I spotted Death of a Bore by M.C.Beaton on the shelves. As one of the dullest people you could wish to meet, I wondered if she was writing about me, and there is a picture of a steam train on the cover. Perfect. Out came the library card and the book came home with me.

First up, under the author’s name is “Author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series”. I’ve heard of these but this book is from the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries. I remember those, televised by the BBC back in the mid-1990s with Robert Carlyle in the lead role. It seems that this is so long ago, the more recent Raisin series, also televised a couple of years ago (but only on Sky so I haven’t seen it) is considered more of a selling point by the publisher.

Anyway, thanks to snow cancelling an event I was supposed to devote a weekend to, I decided to read the book in a day. The chance to do this rarely occurs but it’s lovely when you can devote the time to it. Proper relaxation.

Is the book any good?

Let me start by saying that Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) is a breathtakingly prolific author. There are 33 Macbeth books, 28 Raisin ones and 76 others according to Wikipedia. She is a writing machine!

So it’s no surprise that this isn’t the greatest work of fiction ever. I’ve read books with more depth, less clunky narrative and more polish. Characters are paper-thin much of the time and I didn’t really warm to Hamish much.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. That Hamish on the page bears no resemblance to Robert Carlye is a bit odd, but then Morse on the page isn’t much like John Thaw and people deal with it.

The style really reminds me of Agatha Christie. It’s a bit of a pot-boiler but who cares? I’ve tried to read books that were allegedly much “better” and gave up on them. This rattles along nicely and entertained me for a few hours. If you have a sunbed to lie on or just want to read for pleasure, its all good stuff.

Since the plot revolves around an authors murder and one of the things he does is inspire the local villagers to write, it’s odd that this has done the same for me. I think our books are every bit as well-written as Death of a Bore so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t enjoy them every bit as much as they obviously enjoy these.

Entertainment and inspiration. Not bad for a snowy Saturday afternoon.

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Who looks after the writers?

Phil: I’m starting to worry about our burgeoning careers as humourous novelists. I’m worried that we might be invited to work in television and I’m not sure I like the idea very much any more.

Reading Paul Merton’s autobiography “Only when I laugh”, he describes working on a TV show (and I can’t work out which one despite 20 minutes leafing through the book again) where there was a script. Being a writer himself, he trotted off at one point to thank the scriptwriters for their efforts. He finds them shut away in a little room hidden down a corridor. They are surprised as none of the previous hosts has bothered to pay them a visit.

This compounded the best TV I saw over the festive period.

Eric, Ernie and Me, tells the story of how Eddie Braben essentially created the popular duo Morecambe and Wise.

Lured away from working for Ken Dodd, he saved the pair from being nothing more than a footnote in entertainment history by changing their act dramatically. Basically, what you see on TV is Eddie’s work. And if the drama is to be believed, they didn’t always appreciate his work, at least in the early days.

For his efforts, he got two bouts of “nervous exhaustion” thanks to the stress of single-handily writing the most popular TV shows of the period. The audience demanded Morecambe and Wise and Eddie was the only one who could deliver.

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. I know I need a deadline to produce work, but I also know how I fall apart when the deadlines are continuous and never-ending. At least I have a friend to share the burden and commiserate when times are tough. And someone who appreciates the effort.

She still nicks bits of my cake though…

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Time to gather up our ideas

think_aheadPhil: With Kate vs the Navy now out, we are pondering the third in the series.

Much of the humour and many of the important scenes in both books are based on our own experiences. HIA, from Kate vs the Dirtboffins, is influenced by one of my past employers. Recently, I met someone who reckoned he could write a list of real people who match the characters in the book…

Kate vs the Navy has the plot pivoting on an incident that happened to Candice. I’ve wondered for a long while what we would have done if it hadn’t happened to her (no spoilers, but if it helps, she did blog about it at the time). The resulting plotline made a lot of sense both for this book and the story arc covering the whole series.

So, now it’s time to mine our lives for more events to turn in to the plot. We already know that my job history is likely to provide the location for the latest set of adventures. I know it’s Candice’s turn, but I’ve worked in weirder places than she has – which probably tells you something about me.

One little tidbit I’m keen to include is a driving assessment I recently undertook. These are a requirement for anyone driving one of the firm’s cars and so I had to cruise around country lanes for 50 minutes trying not to crash into any tractors while a man decided if I was safe to do so.

Now the idea of people criticising your driving is a real horror for most people and I reckon that all our characters would be hilarious if placed in this position. Kate especially would find it hard – she’s not good at “feedback” at the best of times and she’ll be just the sort of person who thinks they are a great driver simply because they know which foot makes the car go quickly. Tracey, on the other hand, thinks she’s a good driver because her lipstick, applied while looking in the rearview mirror, is perfect.

The poor examiner doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, Book 3 starts in the new year. We better hope our festive crackers have thinking caps inside them.

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Seeing things from the other side

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Candice: A while ago a friend of mine gave me a synopsis of an idea they’d had floating around in their head.  She professed to not having time to write it, but would I have a look and see if I thought it was worth exploring.

My view, any idea is worth exploring, and it sounded interesting to me, so I said go for it.

A few weeks ago she contacted me with a first draft, asking for my thoughts.  She’d asked me because I had experience in this area and was a ‘professional’ writer. Well, if the cap fits…

Reading someone else’s work is always hard.  I know that Phil and I struggled the first time we handed out pristine copies of book one.  We thought it was great, but we actually lost a few friends over some of the feedback.  So I gulped and dove in.

I’m not going to say much on my thoughts, I need to give them back to the author first.  But I can instantly some of the pitfalls that Phil and I fell in to when we did the first draft of book one.  And I can also see how much we have grown since we wrote the first Kate vs book.  The fact that I can see these things straight off shows we’ve learnt something.  We hope that is demonstrated with the feedback that we are getting on Book two, ie not a lot.

So, I shall carefully point out her where she can make things better and hope that she has another bash at something that is shaping into a good story.

But also go off and think about our marketing plan for Book two… more of that next week.

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Navigating your way to publishing success

Phil: While might be blisteringly succesful with our writing, I banked another £1.56 from sales earlier, we are both still interested in the whole publishing world. With this in mind, I attended a seminar at Stratford Lit Fest last week looking at the continuing changes in the industry. An interesting hour, which provided some welcome pointers.

  • Series sell better than 1 off novels. Readers prefer to invest in something that isn’t a one-off story.
  • Sales don’t really kick in until book 3 or 4. This seems pretty consistent – it worked for Harry Potter after all.
  • Differential pricing works. Price book 1 cheap to get people hooked and then offer the follow-ups at full price
  • Publishers are using e-books as a slush pile and picking up the best-selling ones. Traditional submissions still exist but more and more they are letting sales on-line handle some of the filtering process for them. Why read a thousand poor manuscripts when you can just cherry pick something other people already like and has a proven track record of sales?
  • The biggest trend is authors selling direct to readers. 9 out of 10 members of the Independent Publishers Group are doing this at events.
  • To sell non-fiction, try relevant special interest groups or sports bodies. They may be willing to offer grants to help pay for the work. At the least, they will offer a route to a potential audience.
  • Authors can go to the London Book Fair in April, it’s not trade only any more and there are seminars worth attending.
  • Quality matters. Do not launch without a professional edit. Likewise, get someone who knows the market to design the cover and don’t get upset if they reject your ideas on this.

Of the 40 people in the room, 1 had traditionally published and 2, including. me had self published. Only half the room seemed to be working on a book at the moment which makes me wonder why they had given up a Wednesday evening to find out about publishing.

Anyway, from this, I took that we are doing the right thing. Once Kate vs the Navy launches we are another book towards big sales. The point about the covers was well made too, long-term readers will know that we changed ours at the suggestion of our publisher to something more market-friendly. As a bonus, it’s more bloke friendly too, I’ve been reading something with an overly chick-lit cover recently and couldn’t bring myself to finish it on a train ride…

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