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Lift Off!!

26 years after I first put pen to paper, after millions of words. countless cups of tea and coffee, and quite a bit of mental gymnastics, yesterday a dream came true.

My debut novel Badlands was published.

Launch day began with a sunrise walk after dropping my wife off at the station and then it was on to the socials to post and promote the book as widely as possible.

There were tweets, posts, stories, shares and uploads galore across Twitter, Facebook, Insta & Tik Tok.

On the spur of the moment I decided to do a Book Tour with a difference, snapping my book in various locations around town.

Highlights of a Book Tour with a twist…

At 7pm GMT I did a YouTube livestream consisting of some background on the book, a reading of the first few pages and a brief Q & A session.

Launch day culminated in a nice pint of Cornish Gold a.k.a Proper Job, an appropriate beverage for a novel set in Cornwall.

A slice of Cornish Gold at the end of Launch Day…

Judging by what I can see, the results were good, with some good sales activity coming in for the eBook & paperback.

And it was a fun day. I really enjoyed the interactions across the socials and hosting the livestream (even though I did drop the book halfway through reading!!).

And that’s it. Four and half years after the first glimmer of an idea, Badlands is out there now on paperback, kindle & kindle unlimited.

So what next? Well it’s back to the day job today. Then on Monday, I’ll start the edits on my new project, Bleak Waters.

The Circle of (the Writer’s) Life spins anew.

Did you catch any of the posts, tweets, videos and shares yesterday? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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St. Agnes, Cornwall

The beach at Trevaunance Cove, St. Agnes

My writing is often inspired by place and my debut novel “Badlands”, out now from Darkstroke is no exception.

When I first visited St. Agnes in Cornwall, back in the summer of 2015, I knew from the minute I walked down Quay Road, heading to Trevaunance Cove, that I had found the perfect setting for a story.

Turquoise seas and jagged cliffs.

There’s history and mystery in equal measure in St. Agnes’ sloping lanes, in the old engine houses that stand as monuments to long abandoned coal-mines, and in it’s turquoise seas that crash against cliffs and stacks of jagged granite.

The view towards Churchtown, St. Agnes.

On my first visit, I was particularly entranced by the Driftwood Spars, a dazzling white-walled pub towards the bottom of Quay Road.

Having visited numerous times since, I can safely say it’s my favourite pub in Britain (helped in no small part by its outstanding range of craft ales brewed in its own micro-brewery across the street).

The Driftwood Spars, Trevaunance Cove, St. Agnes.

When you step inside the Spars, it’s oak-beamed ceiling, wooden furniture and grand stone fireplaces give it an “olde-worlde” feel, like you’re stepping back into Cornwall’s mining and smuggling past.

That feeling was heightened by one special feature in particular.

The stone fireplace and the warm lights of the main bar in the Driftwood Spars

Tucked away on the inside wall of the room adjoining the main bar is what looks like a ship’s porthole.

Peer into the porthole and you’re peering into the remains of an old Wrecker’s tunnel that used to run from the village at the top of the valley down to Trevaunance Cove.

A lamp inside the Wrecker’s tunnel.

It was the Wrecker’s tunnel, with its links to smuggling and the darker part of Cornish history. that really got my imagination firing and made The Driftwood Spars a key setting in the book, alongside the neighbouring coves of Trevaunance and Trevellas.

Trevaunance Cove

The wider area around St. Agnes, covering the surf breaks at Porthtowan and Chapel Porth, was dubbed the Badlands by the original surf crews of the seventies and eighties.

I discovered that nickname by chance in 2017 and it immediately inspired my novel’s title. It also marked the start of the process of weaving several different ideas together into what became the finished novel.

Trevellas Cove

As well as being inspired by the physical elements of the Badlands, I also drew on some of the conflicts and social issues that affect all tourist hotspots (the seasonal nature of demand and the environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism upon local communities) as well as the close knit, community vibe that underpins the area.

I wrapped it all up into a story of deception, betrayal, conspiracy and murder.

As I type this, I’m halfway through the pre-publication edits for Badlands. The release date and cover reveal will be announced in the coming weeks.

After nigh-on five years, for my part, Badlands is almost finished.

Or so I thought.

I thought I’d explored all the dramatic possibilities presented by St. Agnes.

I thought I’d told all the stories that the Badlands had to tell.

Then, back in the summer, as I was walking down to the village centre from Churchtown, I found this…

A barred gate with a stone staircase leading up. But to where?

Guess I’m not quite finished with the Badlands yet.

The pictures in this post were all taken by me on various visits to St. Agnes between 2015 & 2021.

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Wednesday Writings #2

Hi all, and welcome to another round of musings on the creative writing process.

I’ve just past the 25% mark on my new work in progress, and in the last session I wrote the first big turning point in the plot which sets me up nicely for the next quarter of the book, leading up to the mid-point.

As previously mentioned, my plan for this project didn’t survive first contact with the characters, but although the plan may have gone by the wayside, the underlining story is still there, and I’m aware of what needs to be revealed when.

I also knew what had to happen in the first big plot point, so in a way, I always heading in the right direction.

But when I came to writing it, the “how” of the plot point came out of nowhere, and I didn’t realise what was going to happen until about three paragraphs before I wrote it.

Of course, once the “how” clicked into place, I realised that it always had to happen that way.

This is one of the pleasures of writing; when the groundwork you’ve laid takes the story in new, surprising but totally logical directions.

There’s also the added bonus that this new direction sets up the next few scenes nicely, and leaves a major conflict point lingering in the background. Plus it brings the MC and another key character closer together, which is important going forward.

So what does all this mean?

For me, it means that plans are never wasted, but should also be freely disregarded if you come up with something better during the writing process.

In my experience, you frequently do.

Have a great week!

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Sparks are flying…

And I’m not talking about fireworks.

I’m talking about my new work in progress, provisionally titled “Broadlands.”

It’s all kicking off in “Broadlands”…

I’m up to 18’000 words now, which means, based on a target word count of 90’000 words, I’m coming up to the quarter mark in the story.

The first 17’000 words were quite tough. I knew what had to happen, but there were a lot of false starts, a lot of writing parts only to delete them and then rewrite that section.

Common writing advice when it comes to first drafts is to get the whole thing down as quickly as possible, to resist the urge to tinker as you go.

The reasoning for this is that if you tinker too much, you may never actually finish the story.

That’s also one of the reasons why having an outline is recommended. An outline stops you from going too far off piste, and gives you a framework around which to costruct your story.

I had, if not an outline, at least a plan for Broadlands.

That plan didn’t survive first contact with the characters.

In all honesty, none of my plans ever do.

The reason for this is because once I start writing and the characters start coming to life, it’s their actions and reactions that dictate how the story unfolds.

In short, they expose all the plot holes in the outline.

When this happens, as a writer you have two choices; plough on regardless, or go back and fill the holes.

I choose to go back and fill the holes.

Why?

Because if I plough on regardless, when it comes to draft two, I’m working with an inconsistent story that has more holes than Manchester United’s defence (sorry Red Devils fans!).

At the end of it all, this is still draft one, and I already know that, come draft two, large chunks will have to be rewritten.

But draft one, for me, is about getting the framework of the story 90% correct so I know what to change and rewrite in draft two.

That’s not to say this is the best way of doing things or the right way. It’s just the way that works for me.

There is a risk that by tinkering you end up constantly rewriting one part and never finishing.

The trick with this is to be disciplined. Only change what needs to be changed to make what follows logical and in character/situation.

It’s not the time to worry about description or prose or mood. That’s for later drafts.

As a result of my tinkering, my characters came to life in the last writing session.

For the first time on this project I was able to get down over 2000 words in one day.

And everything is set up for the first big turning point at the quarter way mark.

Finally, after four weeks of work on Broadlands, sparks are definitely flying.

Have a great Sunday!!

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Wednesday Writings

It’s another hump day in another week!

Somehow we’re already in November. Halloween is done, and for those of us in the U.K. Guy Fawkes night is fast approaching with Christmas hot on its heels.

Right now most of my time is being divided between edits for my upcoming debut novel “Badlands” and work on my new WIP, tentatively titled “Broadlands”.

It’s weird jumping between two long projects, but I think that them being two separate stories really helps. I’m not working with reoccurring characters and the stories, although similar in themes to some extent, are quite different.

Revisiting Badlands is fun. I loved writing the book and its awesome to have the chance to spend time with these characters again. I’m really enjoying having the opportunity to discuss the characters and story lines with my editor (I still can’t believe I’m writing that!!!) and working on making it the best possible story it can be.

The book is due for release early in 2022, with the exact date to follow, and I can’t wait for readers to meet Willow, Raven, Goddard, Harrison, Ruby and the rest.

Moving on to Broadlands, I’ve hit the 14K words mark so far. It feels quite slow at the minute, but I’m into Act 2 now, and starting to build towards the first major plot point. I often find the first half of the book takes longest to write, with the second half flying along.

In other news, I’ve set up a Mailchimp mailing list to send out updates on Badlands as we build up to release.

Plus if you sign up to the mailing list, you also get exclusive free access to my short story “Curse of the Ancient”, a story about an archaeological discovery that leads to a night of horror.

To sign up to the mailing list and get access to your free short story, fill in your details on my homepage.

Finally, Festival of Fear was released this week from Black Ink Fiction. My drabble, “Beneath” is featured. The book is now available to order in paperback and ebook. It’s the third Black Ink Fiction title to feature my work after “Blood Lust” and “Legends of Night”.

That’s it! Have a great week and catch up soon!

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Editing Tip #2 – Self-editing on a budget

New writers are frequently advised to get their manuscripts professionally edited before querying/self-publishing.

At face value, this seems like sound advice. The market place is competitive and it is absolutely imperative that you make your work as good as it possibly can be.

The problem is that editing services can cost a lot of money, which is fine if you have disposable income or savings, but not every writer can afford professional editing services.

So if you don’t have the budget for a professional editor, what options are there for whipping you manuscript into shape?

Firstly, there’s books that can help you. I use “On Editing” by Helen Corner Bryant & Kathryn Price, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne & Dave King. The advice is practical and easy to apply and I highly recommend both.

Two useful guides for writers who want to self edit.

As well as books on editing, you can use free online tools to check grammar and spelling. Most word processing packages have an in-built spelling and grammar check, but these don’t pick up everything.

Instead, the last thing I do before submitting any piece is to run it through Grammarly’s free grammar check (There is a paid-for premium service too, but I don’t use this).

A word of warning.

Don’t accept every change Grammarly (or any grammar checker) suggests.

Read each suggestion carefully and in the context of the larger piece. Only change it if it improves what’s written.

Of course, there are some grammar rules that must be followed (e.g. when writing he or she said after dialogue, there must be a comma inside the closing speech mark (,”) unless you’re using an exclamation mark or question mark).

Outside of these, consider any suggestions against what you’re trying to convey.

Grammarly has its supporters and detractors but I recommend it because using it was the final step to cracking a magazine market I’ve been subbing to for years, and it’s led to my biggest writing success to date (more details in a future post).

My third big tip for self-editing is to enter competitions that offer a critique. You may have to pay a few pounds more, but the advice they give can be invaluable, not just for the piece in question, but also when considered against other pieces you have written.

Writers’ Forum magazine run a monthly short story competition. Basic entry fee for non-subscribers (at the time of writing) is £6, but for a further £5 you can get a critique from the head judge. Esther Chilton, which covers both the spelling & grammar elements of fiction and also plot and characterisation.

Magazines that offer critique services as part of a competition entry fee can be invaluable for your development as a writer.

Editing is a skill that can be developed, much the same as plot, character and description. It requires you to be honest and, dare I say it, ruthless with your work.

And while having the luxury of hiring an editor is possible for some, not everyone can afford to do that.

This year has been my most successful in terms of acceptances and publication. It’s purely and simply down to the improvements I’ve made to my editing skills by using the tips above.

I hope they work for you. Feel free to comment below and share your own editing advice.

Happy Editing!

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Editing Tip #1

Get your laptop to read your draft back to you.

I find the hardest part about editing is distancing yourself from the text.

All revved up and ready to edit…

It doesn’t matter how long I leave between finishing the first draft and starting the edits, I can never read the text completely fresh.

Whilst some writers recommend changing the font to get some distance from what’s written, I prefer using the speech to text function on my MacBook and getting the laptop to read the text back to me.

My MacBook has a very dry, almost monotone English voice. With limited inflection in the speech, the words and sentences have to work hard to carry the emotion and tempo you’re trying to convey.

Listening to the text helps me to identify where my sentence structure is weak or confusing, and also helps to highlight areas for development in plot, description or characterisation.

The only downside is that once the read through begins, you can’t stop or pause it to change things on screen or make detailed editing notes (and if you do, you risk missing the rest of what’s being read).

This is where the “Insert Comment” function in Word comes in handy. It allows you to put a quick note in the margins for changes as the computer reads.

How you activate the text to speech function depends on your operating system. A quick online search should provide a solution. The keyboard short cuts are straightforward but you may need to set up the capability in your operating system first.

For me, this is always the first step in editing and since I’ve started doing this, I’ve had more acceptances and successes.

The final part of my editing process is to put the text through Grammarly, and I’ll talk about my experiences with that little slice of controversy in another post.

Happy Editing!

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Autumn updates!

The seasons are changing and summer is slipping into autumn. The nights are longer, the mornings cooler and the first leaves are already on the ground.

The new season brings some new releases featuring my work and plenty to keep me busy as the nights draw in.

Firstly, my story “Beast of Bodmin” is published in the “Legends of the Night” Anthology from Black Ink Fiction on 21st September.

“Beast of Bodmin” was inspired by a night-time drive through Cornwall and a picture of a vampire girl I saw back in the late 90’s.

It was also the first outright horror/spooky piece I’d written since “Mirror Mirror” and I’m thrilled that “Beast…” has found a good home!

Looking further forward, I’ve got a drabble featured in “Festival of Fear”, due to be released in October, and my story “Why Grandmother…” appears in the “New Tales of Old Vol 2” in November, both published by Black Ink Fiction.

Links to these will follow once available.

October also sees my first short story published in a national magazine (U.K.). It’s also my first story to win a competition, having been shortlisted three times previously. There’ll be a separate post on this to come.

Alongside that, I’m finished the first draft of two new short stories, and have a number of other projects on submission, so hoping for some news from those soon.

Finally, “Rock Band” from Ghost Orchid Press and “Blood Lust” from Black Ink Fiction are now available to order in e-book and paperback.

Have a great autumn and feel free to let me know what you’re working on in the comments!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #16

Someone asked me yesterday how many drafts I do when writing a novel, and couldn’t quite believe it when I said that for Badlands I’d done twelve drafts in all, including three rounds between acceptance and publication.

How many drafts does it take to go from manuscript to finished book?

So for today’s post I thought I’d explore exactly what I do during each of these drafts.

Draft one is the initial writing phase, and draft two is usually where the major changes happen. At this point whole sections of the text will change (or in the case of Bleak Waters it’ll be a complete rewrite).

Characters may be cut, new characters added in, storylines removed, rebuilt, redeveloped.

Draft three is normally more of the same but to a lesser extent. The final framework of the story is in place after draft two, it’s now just a case of figuring out the best way to tell the story.

Scenes may be cut or combined or shifted to a different order in the text. Information will be delayed or revealed earlier and there may be new scenes written.

By the end of draft three, the story is probably ninety five percent finished.

Draft four onwards will be reviewing the text for clarity. At each draft I’ll focus on one element of the text, so draft four may be looking for weak words (just, very etc), draft five may look at passive and active voice, replacing adverbs with stronger verbs, draft six could cover spelling, punctuation, grammar.

These take less time so while draft one or draft two may take three months, drafts four, five and six etc… may take a week each, maybe two.

I will also be gathering beta reader feedback while doing this, and also reflecting on my own instincts towards the story, particularly with regards to the opening scene.

In Badlands, the last scene I wrote was the first scene in the finished book.

The importance of the opening scene cannot be overstated, particularly if you’re an unpublished author.

It’s the hook into the story for your readers, who will, during the querying stage, include agents and editors.

You need to make it the best scene it can possibly be, so if you’ve got any doubts over it, you need to be thinking constantly of how it can be improved.

Want proof of how important it is?

When I did the first two rounds of queries for Badlands, I had a different first scene. Result? No full manuscript requests.

After rewriting the opening scene, I sent another batch of queries out.

This time, I got three full requests and one offer to publish through Darkstroke, which I accepted.

Nothing else changed. Just the first scene.

Changing the first scene meant draft eight became draft nine.

As it stands, I’ve just rewritten the opening scene of Bleak Waters, which is the start of the third draft.

I don’t know how many drafts in total I will do. I’m projecting six at the minute, but that may change.

The risk with editing is that you get caught in endless revisions. After all, there’s always something to change.

So when do you stop?

Well, for Badlands, I stopped after nine and yes you could argue that it was because I got published.

But when I’d finished draft nine, (the rewritten first scene) I knew that was it. It was done, for good or ill.

Fortunately for me, it got picked up.

When I reach the point where I know that Bleak Waters is finally done, fingers crossed it will join Badlands in publication heaven.

Notes from a Writer’s Life #15

Editing Bleak Waters

So was it worth it?

That was the question on my mind as I started the read through of Bleak Waters draft two.

Long time readers may recall that after writing draft one I realised I had told the story from the wrong point of view.

At that point I had two choices. Ditch it or do a full rewrite.

I took the big decision to do a full rewrite.

The rewrite itself was not exactly plain sailing. I wrote myself into dead ends and plot holes so deep I wondered if I could get myself out of them.

Somehow, I found a way and after a few months of toiling, I finally completed draft two.

With the draft finished, I printed off the manuscript for the second read through, and as I picked it up to start, I was more than a little nervous.

What if the story was no better or, disaster of disasters, even worse than the first draft? Had I wasted months of my life on a project that ultimately would have to be put aside?

Now, having read chapters one to twelve, the good news is no, I haven’t wasted months of my life.

It’s a better story now. It works. Ish.

There is more work to be done.

Based on what I’ve read so far I need to write five new scenes, delete the first two, and re-jig chapter one, but these kind of changes are standard for me for any long project like a novel.

I don’t have the feeling of being completely lost that I had after draft one.

I’ve still got two thirds of the book to read through but, six months after I started writing Bleak Waters draft one, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Trouble is, if the history of this project is anything to go by, it’s likely to be a freight train heading full pelt towards me.

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Notes from a Writer’s Life #14

With the second draft of Bleak Waters complete, I’m in that in-between phase, letting the text cool off while I prepare for the edits.

Rewriting Bleak Waters under the watchful eye of my debut novel Badlands.

The second draft is always the one with the most changes, whether that’s plot, character or story structure, but Bleak Waters is another level again.

It was a full re-write, draft one having been scrapped completely when I realised that I was using the wrong main character, so technically I suppose what I’m working with now is draft 1.5.

On reflection, I think re-writing the second draft from scratch was the hardest thing I’ve done writing-wise, but I felt it was essential that I didn’t quit and start something else.

I wanted to. Oh boy, did I want to.

There were days (usually when I’d written myself into a plot-hole) when I wondered why I was bothering, why I was torturing myself telling this story when I could have just moved on to something easier.

In those moments of doubt there were three reasons why I persisted;

1) I believed hard enough in the ideas, the conflict, the drama of the story to see it through to the end.

2) There is no guarantee that another story is going to be any easier, and experience from my younger writing days has shown that giving up on one story makes it easier to give up on the next one when that doesn’t quite go to plan (there’s a whole folder of incomplete novels on my laptop dating from 2006-2013).

3) I had to see this one through if I wasn’t going to repeat the problems I’d faced in those years.

To give a bit of background, in 2006 I wrote a novel called Siblings, which got some positive reviews on a website called YouWriteOn, received great feedback from agents and almost got picked up by a London based independent press. (It was down to Siblings or one other book, and unfortunately for me, they went with the other one).

As Siblings was battling through the query trenches, I started work on a new story called Ruins.

Like Bleak Waters, Ruins was set on the Norfolk Broads, but writing the story was hard. It started as one thing, became something else and never quite worked as either.

So I put it to one side and moved on.

To an unfinished project called Ghosts in the Snow. Which I abandoned for a story called Moonshine, which I abandoned for… you get the idea.

Eventually I stopped writing altogether for a while as life took over, but in 2014, I started again, writing a novel called Half a World Away (which featured a certain red-dreadlocked hippy runaway who would reappear five years later as the protagonist of Badlands).

The idea for Bleak Waters came about in the autumn of 2019, between drafts of Badlands, inspired by my visits to the Norfolk Broads.

When Badlands was accepted for publication, I realised that I needed to knuckle down and complete a follow up.

Partially this was for commercial reasons. If I’m to capitalise on reader interest in Badlands there can’t be a ten year plus gap between completed novels.

The main reason however was to work through my own doubts and creative insecurities.

Siblings was comfortable-ish to work on. So was Badlands. But Bleak Waters couldn’t go the same way as Ruins. A story set on the Norfolk Broads wasn’t going to derail my writing a second time.

Which is why I took the decision to rewrite it from scratch. It had to be done. There was no other choice.

I’m glad I’ve got through it. Whatever it’s faults are, the second draft is better than the first.

And with that draft in hand, I can now start the process of knocking Bleak Waters into shape and making it a worthy follow up to Badlands.

But before I start that, I’m going to have another tinker with Siblings and see if that’s ready for a second tour of duty in the query trenches.

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Notes from a Writer’s Life #13

The best two words a writer can write!

It’s finished!

Almost three months since I started the full second draft rewrite, Bleak Waters draft two is complete!

It’s safe to say that this has been the hardest book to write so far.

The plot is complex, the back story crucial and needed to be drop-fed into the plot at the right time and in the right way.

No heavy bouts of info-dumping here. The characters had to work to find out what they needed and part of the problem with draft one was that the revelations were just too convenient.

Right now, I’m in that dizzy afterglow you get when you finish a draft, and I’m sure there’s plenty of work still to be done before it’s ready for submission.

Badlands went through 12 drafts in all, including those for publication after acceptance, so I’m sure I’ll be working on this project for a good few months yet.

But right now, my instinct is that the story is strong. It feels like it works now.

So what’s next?

A break for a few days, during which I’ll be looking at an old project and seeing what I can do to bring that up to standard, and also developing notes for my next project.

I’ll also be churning over a new idea I had for a story set in the same area as Badlands.

Then, it’ll be a read through and on with the edits!

Wish me luck!

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Notes from a Writer’s Life #12

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, as I have been putting all my effort into getting through draft two of Bleak Waters.

I thought I was going well, but this last week I’ve hit two major hurdles that have threatened to derail the whole thing.

It started with the discovery of a plot hole so big it could’ve sunk a decent sized ship. After three or four days of furiously trying to think myself out of it, I stumbled on the solution almost by chance.

Relieved that I’d solved that problem, I carried on working through draft two, only to write myself into a dead end.

Cue a bit of backtracking and a whole lot of deleting (4K words in all), but finally it’s moving again.

I’m still 40K words off the target word count, but with a week off of work to come, I’m hoping I can make some real progress over the next few days.

In other news, Badlands now has a shiny Amazon Bestseller sticker on the front cover, courtesy of hitting the number one spot in the ghost suspense category in the U.S.

Badlands – replete with Amazon Bestseller sticker!!!

From March 21st to 27th, Badlands was also featured on a Blog Tour with Rachel’s Random Resources which saw a flurry of reviews and ratings pouring in of the 4 & 5 star variety.

The tour itself was a fun seven days and I made some great new connections with bloggers and book reviewers, as well as with Rachel herself who proved to be an organised and efficient host.

The success of Badlands, both in terms of downloads/sales and in terms of the good reviews it’s getting, is a welcome reminder that I can do this at time when my current work in progress seems hell-bent on convincing me I can’t.

Finally, I’ll be launching a newsletter in the next week or so.

It’ll feature updates, maybe a few book recommendations, the odd writing tip or prompt to get those creative juices flowing and I’m sure there’ll be other writing related shenanigans in there too.

Plus, when you sign up, you can get exclusive access to my short vampire story, Curse of the Ancient.

If you’re interested, sign up here.

Notes from a Writer’s Life #11

Hello!

Been a while since my last post, but things have been hectic and I’ve been cracking on with the rewrite of Bleak Waters.

I’m currently at 33K words now, well into Act 2 and the plot is coming along nicely.

Ditching draft one and rewriting from scratch definitely feels like the right decision. The characters feel deeper, the plot a more natural progression of cause and effect. And the conflicts are building nicely.

A little unedited snippet of Bleak Waters draft 2.

In other news, Badlands continues to get some great reviews. A few of which are shown in the image below.

It’s fantastic to hear people having such a positive response to a project I first conceived over five years ago.

Outside of Badlands, this was also released last week:

A new anthology from Black Ink Fiction.

My short story “Why Grandmother…” is featured within its mighty pages alongside dozens of outstanding short retellings of fairy tales featuring Wolves.

It marks the sixth anthology featuring my work to be released since last year, although ironically, this was the first story to be accepted!

Going forward, I’ll be ploughing on with Bleak Waters rewrites but keep an eye on my social feeds from next weekend (19th March) for some special Badlands-related news!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #10

Navigating the plot maze.

Writing sometimes feels like getting lost in a maze.

A month since I started and the rewrites on Bleak Waters are moving on well now. I’m approaching 30K words and am almost at the 1/3 mark of the target word count of 90K.

As always, the writing process involves listening to my intuition as I write. As technically this is the second draft, you’d probably imagine that the process should be easier.

After all, I know the key plot points, the main characters, their motivations and their conflicts. Plus, I’ve already written it once.

The truth is however, that this draft is no easier or harder to write than draft one.

Firstly I’m not just rewriting parts of the story, I’m rewriting the whole thing.

As with draft one, the plot points are fixed. They are destinations that each quarter of the book works towards, but figuring out how to get to those key plot points is the tricky bit.

This process is very much like walking through a maze.

There’s a lot of dead ends, a lot of stalling and backing up and rewriting again, until you find a clear path, or at least a path of least resistance.

The resistance is generally caused by the characters, and normally it’s because I’m trying to get them to act in a specific way, rather than in a way in keeping with their character.

For example, during one recent scene I was writing a conversation between two characters and as originally written they were both aware of the truth of the situation they were discussing.

But, by making those characters aware of this truth, for the plot to advance, they had to act in ways that meant they essentially forgot they knew this truth.

Writing sessions stalled, and progress ground to a halt until I realised I had to go back and fix the problem.

The solution, in this instance, was to make up a bit of character back story that essentially put both characters out of the picture so that, as the story and that particular sequence plays out, they are as oblivious of the truth as the Main Character until the point they need to know.

Once they find out, murder follows, and the stakes are raised for all involved.

By now, any writers amongst you who write extensive character biographies and outlines before you write are probably reading this in horror, wondering how I can create anything out of this chaos.

The truth is though, this process, this pattern of writing myself into dead ends that I then have to go back and unpick, is the only way I can work.

I’ve tried biographies and outlines but they always fall apart the minute I start writing because I don’t actually know what I need to know and write at any given point until I actually write it and get lost in the maze.

I get there in the end though and once I make it out of the plot maze, when I look back, the route through is the only one I could have followed.

Notes from a Writer’s Life #9

From despair to ecstasy…

The swings and roundabouts of the writer’s life

At about 10.15 this morning, I was sitting in the Costa Coffee in the local Next store, staring at the screen and seriously contemplating closing the file on Bleak Waters forever.

It’s now 1.30 in the afternoon and not only have I pushed through this malaise, I’ve really enjoyed writing the latest scene in the story. In fact, it’s been my favourite part to write of both drafts so far.

I’m pretty sure that this swing from one state of mind to the other is standard for anyone who writes or otherwise creates (whether that’s painting, music, stories, drawings, acting etc).

For me, the problem I faced this morning was that the scene I was writing felt melodramatic. A minor incident, and not even a negative one, had the main character Theo reacting in a way that was over the top.

The cause of this was a problem that I had written into the text a few chapters back.

Bleak Waters revolves around Theo’s search for his birth mother, having recently found out that she gave him up for adoption just after he was born.

He has arrived at her home village of Hickling on the Norfolk Broads, but for “reasons” I didn’t want him to blurt out his purpose there on arrival.

Initially, I had dealt with this by making Theo secretive about it, like it’s some big mystery. And it is… it’s just Theo doesn’t know that yet. And as the story went on, I could feel that resistance again, like an anchor dragging through sediment as I wrote.

I knew I needed to go back and change that for the story to come free again.

And while that seemed simple, making that one change in the scene when Theo arrives in Hickling meant changing elements of four separate scenes.

Hence my moment of doubt in Costa Coffee.

When I was a younger, more in-experienced writer, this was the point when a project would be shelved in a tantrum.

But today, with the benefit of years of experience behind me now, I sipped my coffee, scrolled through the text… and changed what needed to be changed.

Theo’s reluctance to reveal all became less a melodramatic desire for secrecy, more a nervous reaction to possibly meeting the person who should’ve loved you most but gave you away.

Much more in keeping with character, but also with the tone of the story at that point.

The tone will change as the narrative moves on, and I am now approaching the quarter point, where the first big revelation will happen, shifting Theo’s perspective further.

I think part of my reluctance this morning was also due to the fact that fixing things would mean going backwards again. At times, it feels like Bleak Waters is stalling.

The wise amongst you (we’ll call you Plotters) will be saying “Ah, this is why you need a plan!”

And yes, you may have a point, but I’ve always worked this way, and even when I have planned, when it comes to the actual writing the plan goes out of the window anyway as I realise the inherent plot problems within said plan.

Anyway, the problem was fixed, and I’ve added another 2000 words to the text, and as I said just written my favourite scene so far. Bleak Waters is rolling on again.

And whether you are a plotter or a pantser, I’m sure that you’ll agree that the most important talent a writer (or any artist) can have is a stubborn refusal to give up!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #8

Welcome to another round up of writerly shenanigans from the past week or so.

Edits, or rather rewrites, of Bleak Waters are moving on. I’ve hit the 12.5K word mark now, although there’s been the odd wrong turn and hiccup along the way.

Grab a signed paperback copy here!

The overall framework is in place though, and I’m working my way towards the quarter mark and the first big turning point in the plot.

Over the weekend, I took part in the darkstroke promo weekend. Promoting Badlands through Twitter, Facebook, Insta & TikTok the book found a whole bunch of new readers.

If you were one of them, thank you, and once you’ve read it, please do leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads. You can also review it on BookBub and follow me there.

With the free weekend done, it’s back to marketing Badlands through the socials.

Today’s Twitter and Facebook posts are focusing more on Willow, and how her guilt and desire to make amends drive the plot.

One of the most flawed MC’s I’ve ever written, Willow’s story is one of redemption as she seeks to repair the damage she caused to the relationship with her sister Ellie.

Once close, after Willow ran away from home, their relationship fell apart, and in a tearful tirade, Willow said that Ellie was dead to her.

This was just the last in a series of betrayals and bad moves that Willow made, and it burnt the last bridge she had with her past.

When the book opens, Willow is on her way home, bought back by a warning that she hopes is from Ellie.

She comes back looking for reconciliation, but the search to find her sister forces Willow to face up to the mistakes of her past, and leads her into a deadly confrontation with the darkness at the heart of the Badlands.

As I’m working on Bleak Waters, I’m struck by the differences between Willow and Theo, the main character in Bleak Waters.

Although there is trauma in Theo’s past, it’s less of his making, more the making of others. He has been lied to, deceived and led to believe he’s someone he’s not.

While his quest shares similarities to Willow’s (they’re both trying to uncover the truth about someone close to them, and they both fall into the web of a sinister villain), they come at it from very different angles.

When we meet Willow she’s already in the middle of her own personal hell.

When we meet Theo, his hell awaits.

Fancy a hand-signed and numbered paperback edition of Badlands? Buy yours here!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #7

Bleak Waters updates + a special Badlands promo!!

I did it…

I did the scary thing…

The thing that brings fear and terror into the hearts of writer’s everywhere.

I deleted my first draft of Bleak Waters.

In reality, it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds.

The first draft still exists in its own file. Before I started the rewrites, I duplicated the file for the first draft and renamed the new one as draft two.

Then, as I was working through draft two, I came to realise that less and less of the first draft was going to make it into the new version.

The new draft feels so much stronger than the first and it got to the stage where keeping the first draft text in the second draft document seemed pointless.

So I selected all the remaining text… and hit delete.

Suddenly I have blank pages ahead of me rather than inferior text that I would then be trying to shoe horn into draft 2.

With draft 1 sitting on its own in my files, if I do suddenly decide that there’s a scene that can be transferred into the new version, I can still copy and paste it into the text.

But for now I can move on with making Bleak Waters a better, stronger story which is ultimately what matters when editing or rewriting.

And in the meantime…

Badlands marches on!

It’s three weeks now since the release of my debut novel Badlands and sales seem to be ticking along nicely BUT….

For this weekend only you can get Badlands on Kindle completely FREE!!!

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Badlands – a Dark Suspense novel

A runaway with a wounded soul searches for her sister…

While a scarred orphan with a lust for blood hunts her down…

And a man of God with a heart of darkness plots both their downfalls…

Who will survive the Badlands?

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