Monday, 25 August 2014

The Writing Process

When that magic moment happens, and you've signed your first contract of publication, you feel on top of the world. But then.... the work really begins. Somehow your manuscript is converted into a commercially published book, but there are various stages along the way.

Every book has a few amendments to make before it finds its way onto the press. A in-house editor from the publishers will work with you to ensure the book is in its best shape before it lands into the hands of the reader. If you find your editor's comments upsetting, give yourself time to relax and think carefully. Everyone wants the same thing, the best book. They're all on your side, even if it may not feel like that. So, count to ten, calm down and think objectively. After all, that's what the editor is doing, thinking objectively. Your reaction is only so wild because it's your own sweat and toil that has gone into it so far. Now it's time to be professional. Of course, you should discuss things with your editor, but don't forget that they're the experts in the industry. They know what sells, and why.
Polish your dialogue. It can help build pace, sustain suspense and bring your characters to life. Double check your structure. Ensure everything plot point hangs together and check for inaccuracies. Is your book readable? Strange question but a valid one.

The Final Check
When all the re-writes are complete, it's time to proof read and check. Whilst a professional proof reader will read your manuscript, more than once, you should also take time to carry out this task. After all, you're the writer, you know what should appear on the page. Remember to check every spelling, even those you think you can write with your eyes closed. Punctuation is important. There will always be a reader who knows it back to front, and punctuation mistakes can annoy the reader. If you're too close to your project, step away for a bit (as long as you can, given the deadlines!) and return with a fresh pair of eyes.

Marketing - your brand
If you remember nothing else from this blog, let it be this. NEVER tell your marketers anything you wouldn't happily share with the world. They want to know about you, the author. In this day and age we tend to share everything via social media networks. That brings with it joys, advantages and pleasures, but it also brings danger and a lack of privacy. Remember, share only what you're happy to. Marketers know how to market books, and they will want to use any snippet of information you're happy to give them. They are people like you and I, and they will respect your privacy, but ultimately they're doing a job so be wise from the start. It pays to think about your "public image" or "brand" in advance. Know what you want to tell the world, and be consistent.

The Cover
It's an exciting time when you first see images of the proposed cover for your book, and in particular your first published novel. Your publishers graphics team will devise the book cover based on the back cover blurb and your combined ideas. The artists may not have read the book so the authors input is essential here. Look at it objectively and think about what it says to a fresh pair of eyes. Ask someone for their first impression. It's surprising how often people see different things.

Public Relations
It's generally thought best not to confess to the following:
  • I'm hopeless with technology
  • I can only write when, it's quiet/I'm in the mood/I have two cups of tea and stand on one leg
  • I'm a terrible public speaker, very shy, an introvert
  • I don't want to do book signings, events, interviews
  • I hate social media
These are sure turn off signs. Even if the above are true for you, don't admit it! You need to remember that you're a professional now. Keep your public image separate from your private life and manage it, just like any other business. Consistency is the key. Even the most introverted of us can manage to speak or conduct an interview, if we put our minds to it.

Good luck!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Synopsis

It's a tough call but we all have to write the synopsis. It's not as difficult as you think. Having said that, you need to write it with dedication and thought. Redraft as often as necessary until you're happy with it. The point of a synopsis is to tell your proposed publisher or agent what the book is about. Only they, and you, will read it. It's not for the general public.
If you're polished your manuscript to an inch of its life and you've written your synopsis, you're probably ready to submit to your chosen agent/publisher. What then....? You wait. Then you wait some more.
Agents and publishers are busy people. They receive thousands of submissions every year and can only take on a small percentage of those. If you receive one, two, three, forty, four hundred rejections then you may have to consider the possibility that something's not quite right with your work. There are various reasons why this might be. Here are just a few:
  • Your work isn't good enough - harsh but possibly true.  Have another go and study the marketplace. See what's selling well in your chosen genre, study that and see if you can learn anything from the authors already making a success of writing.
  • There isn't a market for your work. Is your novel a cross-genre? Think about where it would fit on the book shop shelves. If you're struggling to answer that question, chances are, the agent/publisher is also struggling, and therefore can't sell your work on easily.
  • The agent you've chosen doesn't have an immediate place to sell your work to.
  • The publisher you've chosen is already committed to too many other authors at present and has no space to take you on.
Read interviews by other authors. They've all had a long journey, even those who appear to have arrived overnight. It's not an easy job, but it's very rewarding so don't give up. Keep going and trying hard, and one day you'll get there.

The Moving Writer

Writing is a sedentary job, but we need to move. Take exercise every couple of hours or so. Move your limbs. Ideas to keep yourself moving include, wrist rotations, shoulder rolls, spinal twists and bends both forwards and sideways. Twist from the waist and bring your legs up one at a time onto your knee, raise your legs, rotate your ankles and feet.

Anything is better than nothing, but be careful. Don't suddenly leap up if you've been still for a while. Get up gently and build up your movement to avoid shocking your muscles.

With any luck, most of us take regular exercise as part of our daily lives. Housework even counts as being active. If you play a sport, belong to a running club, dance school, attend a gym or even just like hoping along to an exercise DVD at home, all the better. Exercising the body also keeps our minds alive and fresh.

If you're in any doubt, ask for medical advice and/or consult your GP. This blog takes no responsibility for any injury caused. Always seek medical advice from a qualified professional before commencing a new exercise routine.

Top tip: If you're not a fan of exercise, try dancing.

Genre Types

There are various crime fiction types within the genre. It's a wide platform and the best selling genre of the day. Which ones do you like best?
  • The police procedure is as realistic to policing as the author can make it, whilst applying poetic licence to suit the plot. Authors writing in this genre will most probably have spent time with the police, will certainly have asked for guidance from the authorities, and the central characters are often in the police force. It's quite complex in places and takes a specialist skill to do it well. The central character will often deal with more than once case at a time - just as the real police have to.
  • The medical thriller is a hospital based suspense story, with a crime linked to the characters there.
  • The forensic thriller is an ever popular option these days, following pathologists and other medical experts working with victims of unexplained deaths.
  • Modern Private Investigators are usually former police men or security experts, and often alone, hired by individuals to find someone, or solve a mystery/crime that the authorities have either forgotten about or can't handle.
  • The legal thriller is often a court-based novel, where the action is largely inside the court room, but could possibly incorporate flashbacks to scenes of crime etc. Authors of this type of novel will, hopefully, have studied the legal world carefully.
  • Cosy mysteries often have amateur detectives, ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation. A good example of this is Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple'.  The modern day author of these kinds of novels must have a character who is well placed to come across crimes, and will have access to lots of people. Usually they are small towns or villages, where people tend to know each other better than urban dwellers of the city.
  • The military thriller is usually based around MI5, Mi6, American CIA or FBI etc. Professional spies and action packed tales. James Bond is the best example of these, or Tom Clancy's 'Jack Ryan'.
If you're starting a career in writing, read widely and decide early on what type of book you want to write. Remember, this could make all the difference when you submit your work to publishers/agents.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Secret Of The Plot Twist

The Twist

A twist is essential in a crime fiction novel. Well, that's my opinion, anyway!

Crime writers need to throw a twist, or two, into their tales. It's what the reader enjoys about the genre. Defying common sense and convention is always popular and readers like to read a bit of wit, intelligently applied to the page. Put your trust in your narrator. They can be unnamed or they can be your main character. If the twist involves the narrator, it will surprise your reader beyond their wildest dreams.

The other key ingredient for the crime novel is the red herring, and misdirection. Magicians use misdirection to distract the eye away from what's really going on. It's your classic trick but we've loved it for centuries and there's no reason why we won't continue to do so.

When the final solution, the truth, is revealed at the end, it should be satisfying for the reader. We've all been there, that feeling of yes of course, why didn't I see that coming?

Finally, a quick word on integrity. Whilst the reader often wants to be pleasantly surprised by the ending, they want to believe in it too. The villain needs to be in the novel, they can't be someone who waltzed in three pages before the end. Clues for the reader to solve the puzzle themselves should be there. It's the author's job to disguise the clues well enough, but it's unfair not to put them in at all.

The Mystery of the Series

The Mystery of the Series

Are you writing a series of novels, stand alone books or something in-between?
A series of novels is a set of novels featuring the same cast of characters. The central character often has a personal story running through the series. Stand alone books are exactly what they say. One cast of characters for one novel only. You could pitch your skills in the middle e.g. Ian Flemming managed this with James Bond. Each book was a stand alone story but the central character re-appeared for each new assignment.

Series novels are like chapters of one very large book. Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones, Family Sagas etc. If you're going to write these you need to have a longer term vision. Often, the main characters re-appear, and their individuals stories are spread over several books. You'll need to map out what you're doing over several book plots without leaving the individual books lacking in any way. This is where strong characters will help you out. Each should have a great back story, even if you don't use all or any of this straight away. Throw in the little details as you go so that when you come to use part of this back story, say in book no. 4, the following reader will think, ah yes, of course, that makes sense.

You'll need to keep track of where you're up to. Here are some ideas to help you:
  • Flash cards. You can shuffle them around the table top and they won't crash and burn like technology!
  • Notebooks - keep notes for each character and the main plot lines, so you can refresh your memory at any stage.
  • If you're fond of looking at a large visual map, get a whiteboard or a corkboard and pin your post it notes into position.
  • Build your character profiles as you go. Each time your character tells you something new about themselves, add the detail to their growing file.
  • Keep a "where I'm up to" file so you can see what you've discovered so far, what each character is thinking, what they've found out and where they're heading next.
  • Plan your plotlines, at least the key turning points and always think ahead, not just the current novel but three or four ahead of that.
One last point, you'll need to be disciplined. Keep writing, keep yourself emerged in the book and the characters. Read back what you wrote last time before you start writing again. Oh, and smile, you'll get there in the end!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Who moved the goal posts?

Who moved the goal posts?
Starting a novel is great fun. It's all there, energy, drive, ambition.... then there's a snag and the engine starts to struggle. This is the moment when many people will quit. The warning signs are easy to spot.....
  • do you find other things to do instead of writing?
  • does the rest of the world seem to be having more fun than you?
  • do you believe your work is rubbish?
  • does writing feel more like a chore than fun?
  • do you have lots of ideas and half written projects but haven't finished any of them?
I've got good news for you. You can overcome these hurdles and reach the end. You can finish your novel, and here's how.
  • Know your characters, intimately. Talk to a friend about them, as if they were really real people. Tell your friend everything about them, what they do for a living, what they look like, how they reacted when something good/bad happened. It'll make them come alive in your mind, again, and freshen your ideas.
  • What does your main character do? If they go mountain climbing in your novel, hadn't you better try it? (You can always start off on the safety ropes at the local leisure centre and climb the rock wall) Writing the experiences through the eyes of your characters can only be a good thing. This is partly where the saying, "write what you know", comes from.
  • Remind yourself of your dream. Try writing the back cover blurb for your novel. It'll concentrate your story into a compact paragraph or two, and it'll refresh your mind of the theme and thread of your novel.
  • Have a holiday. You can always hop on a plane and jet off to the sun, but just a break from your writing will help. Have a couple of weeks off and don't think about it at all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • Re-read a favourite book. It'll restore your desire to write.
  • Be confident. If you're feeling great, your writing will be great. We are human beings at the end of the day. We can only do our best if we're feeling up to our best.
  • Find a quote from a favourite author and put it where you can see it every day. It'll remind you to keep going.
  • Don't let yourself be distracted with new ideas. Jot them down and put them aside until you've finished your existing work. Only then, go back to them. Just keep going. You'll get there, eventually. We all do.
If you've got more ideas about how to keep writing or how to finish that first novel, please feel free to comment. Having completed four novels and several other unpublished volumes, I can testify that the above is true!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

#Writing_Process #Blog_Tour

Next stop in the #Writing_Process #Blog_Tour

Next stop in the Writing Process Blog Tour 

Crime fiction author, Judith Cranswick ( invited me to participate in a unique blog tour on writing. Judith spreads her wrings to tutor and speaker as well as being a well-known and hugely successful crime writer. In an interview Judith said she wrote because it was like an obsession. I must confess, I feel exactly the same. Judith's books are well worth a read; 'All In The Mind, 'Watcher In The Shadows', 'Blood On The Bulb Fields', 'Blood In The Wine', and 'A Death Too Far'.
To carry on this great tour, please find my four question responses below.

What are you working on?

My first crime thriller series featured the unique Inspector Allen, but I'm working on a new series now, featuring DI Rachel Bennett. Newly promoted to the rank of DI, Rachel has her work cut out leading a new team, dealing with a husband whose profession puts him in a dangerous place, not to mention the cases she must handle, and the mysterious deaths she must solve.
The first novel is completed but it hasn't hit the bookshelves yet. Books two and three in the series are already under construction. At the moment I'm working on the outline for book two in more detail. As always, I have a bursting ideas file with lots of snippets, phrases, words and titles. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle, yet to be slotted together. Amongst this stash is a desire to blend two specific crime genres together, but I can't tell you much about that just yet!!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My novels tend to favour cold cases. I've always been fascinated by those cases that seem unfathomable and remain so for years and years, before something triggers a review. My first series ran double timelines with alternating chapters between the time of the crime and modern day where the inspector was trying to piece things together. I'm keen to keep the cold case element in my work for two reasons, one being that people seem to like it and comment favourably, and two because I like it. It's always good to write something you enjoy yourself. I think this keeps your writing fresh and alive.

Why do you write what you do?

As a child, I loved reading. I was never not reading something. Back then I used to read two or three books at the same time, but now I tend to stick to one at a time. Aged about 13, if memory serves correctly, I was introduced to Agatha Christie. That was it. I was totally hooked on mystery and its sister field of crime fiction. Several years later, I'm not about to tell you exactly how many, I'm still transfixed by this genre. It has such a vast range of writers, styles, sub-genres, and plotlines. My characters are always normal people. Life's rich tapestry tells us that the most ordinary of people can be driven or pushed to do the most extraordinary things. That's what really interests me, and that's why I write crime fiction.

How does your writing process work?

There are two methods generally referred to, when one speaks about how to write a novel. There are the 'start with a blank page and see where the story takes you' type of writers, and the planners.  I'm a planner. I always plan my story outline, at least the key points of the main plot and the links to sub-plots. Historically I've worked things into chapters but I don't do that anymore. I'll start a new chapter when I think it's a good time, quite simply.  My planning does involve a list of scenes, with notes for each reminding myself of the purpose of that scene. Does it reveal something about the central character, a hidden clue to the mystery, or both?
Characters are different. I like to see them in my mind so I tend to note down how I see them before I start penning the novel; their hair colour, eyes, general build and demeanour. Whilst I'll know what type of person they are, I let them take the stage and reveal their own personalities as the words flow.
Once I've completed the first draft I take out my red pen and scribble all over the manuscript. Like most people I find it easier to spot a mistake on a printed page, than I do a screen. My planning often means that a ruthless edit is sufficient and saves me from actually re-writing a second draft. Other writers do almost re-write their novels on the second draft but I can't help wondering if these are the ones who started with the blank page. It's a personal choice, there's no right or wrong here. The destination is what you're striving for, doesn't matter which roads you travel along to get there. When it's done, I cross my fingers and pray the industry will love it!
Please also like my author page on Facebook -

On with the tour

I'm delighted to invite Leigh Russell to join the tour for the next post. People's book prize finalist and CWA Dagger Award Shortlisted, Leigh writes two crime series, both of which deserve a place on your shelves.  Leigh is published by No Exit Press (UK) and Harper Collins (USA).
My second follower on this tour is Geraldine Evans. In her own words, Geraldine is the trad-turned-indie author of the 15-strong Rafferty & Llewellyn procedural series. In order of publication (but can be read as standalones), the series consists of the following: Dead Before Morning, Down Among the Dead Men, Death Line, The Hanging Tree, Absolute Poison, Dying For You, Bad Blood, Love Lies Bleeding, Blood on the Bones, A Thrust to the Vitals, Death Dues, All the Lonely People, Death Dance, Deadly Reunion and Kith and Kill. Her other procedural series is. Casey & Catt: Up in Flames and A Killing Karma
She is also the author of the biographical historical novel: Reluctant Queen, about Mary Rose Tudor, the little sister of infamous English king, Henry VIII, a suspense-thriller: The Egg Factory, and several non-fiction books, some under pen-names.
Her interests include getting ‘volunteers’ to sit for her amateur portraiture, trying to learn to play keyboards and getting God-like in the greenhouse.
Originally a Londoner, she moved to a Norfolk (UK) market town in 2000. LINKS: Author Website:

Friday, 20 June 2014


The Double Story
Do you fancy writing a double take story; one with two time threads running through it? Parallel lines are a really fun way to tell a story. It's a personal favourite of mine so I'm always keen to share the joys of the double tale. It's a popular method, provides the author with double narrative voices and offers fantastic scope for plot twists. So, what are your options? You can alternate the chapters, or you can spin multiple storylines. The trick is to link your storylines with a robust connection, preferably one that keeps the reading guessing until the very last page.

I have placed double time lines in all three of my Inspector Allen novels, and I have to say, it's the single most popular comment from readers. They love the back and forth between the time zones. It's interesting to write too. Readers can be confused so always make sure you place your time lines clearly in the readers minds. I tend to use the first person for one storyline and the third person for the other. It's immediately clear to the reader where they are.

Both time lines must be equal, have suitably strong plotlines and pull for the reader. An example of this would be Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", which sees two couples courting, one then the other, then back to the first etc. One way to gage this is to use your own reaction. Do you prefer writing one more than the other? Is one more fun, more engaging, housing a more attractive cast? If so, you need to address the balance. By the end of course, you can link the two.

Personally, I tend to bring the two together at the climatic point and tidy up the loose ends just in time to conclude with the more modern day setting of the two.

The double story often works well for family saga novels, although I have managed to apply it to crime fiction, which means you can apply it to any genre. One thing the parallel narrative has in its favour is suspense, which is why I choose it for crime fiction. The reader is not only trying to fathom the mystery that you've carefully plotted across the pages, but also how the two time lines connect with each other. A great idea, and one I haven't tried myself but is already popular, is to switch between the police detective and the criminal. You don't even need a time zone difference for this, the entire thing would be set in the one time period.

In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock is said to have quoted the following, when asked about suspense during an interview with Francois Truffaut:  "Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, boom! There is an explosion. The public is surprised but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there..."  How would you set this up? In one chapter the bomb is positioned. In the next an innocent couple sit at the table. In the next chapter.... well, you decide. You get the idea. Take a tip from me. You do need to keep track of who knows what when though, to remember where you are at every point of the narrative.

The less obvious method of parallel narrative is the hidden back story. This would underpin the entire novel. A good example of this is Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". By this I mean that one storyline has already concluded by the time the second one starts e.g. Captain Hastings and his friend have already met, Hastings is already recovering from his injury at his friends house and the murder has occurred. Cue Poirot and the second storyline begins. The first part underpins why the second part is necessary and therefore both have equal depth in the novel.

It's not an easy writing method, I grant you, but very rewarding and great fun. Give it a try!