Notes from a Writer’s Life #6

In the last post I talked about how the edits on Bleak Waters were caught in limbo, but may suddenly have hit lift off.

Coffee! A writer’s best friend. Particularly when editing and rewriting!

Now, a few days on and the rewrites are slowly but surely progressing.

The key to unlocking the story was changing whose story I was telling. Throughout draft one, I had thought it was Lily’s story to tell, only to realise that actually it was Theo’s when I looked at the heart of the story again.

So far, this change has worked well. I’ve completed two chapters from Theo’s point of view, and have just reached chapter three, where Theo meets Lily for the first time.

I’ve also changed how much Theo knows about his situation.

In both drafts, Theo’s motivation for visiting Hickling is to find out more about his birth mother.

In draft one, Theo knew a lot about her and what had happened to her, which meant there was a lot of telling to do as Theo related the tale to Lily, who then took on the search.

There were two problems with this.

Firstly, it led to a lot of filler scenes which were, quite frankly, boring.

Secondly, and more importantly, to make the story work with Lily as the Main Character, I had to invent a secondary mystery surrounding Lily’s family that gave her a motivation to get involved.

As a result, the heart of the story always felt forced.

By focusing on Theo, and by making him ignorant as he searches for his mother, the story already feels a lot more meaty, with more scope for drama and conflict.

The back story doesn’t change, and there’s still mystery in Lily’s past, but now the story is about Theo, and the conflicts he faces as he searches for the truth.

This does mean that, as I thought. the majority of the story will have to be completely rewritten.

While this may seem daunting, it’s necessary to make the story better, and that ultimately is what editing and rewriting is all about.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #5

Limbo… then lift off… maybe…

The lesser-haired writer in his natural habitat…

So as we approach the end of week 2 of Bleak Waters edits it’s safe to say that those Bleak Waters have been pretty choppy of late.

To recap, the story as it stands is weak and needs some pretty hefty work, but that’s not unusual for a first draft, particularly for longer works.

For the past week or so I’ve been wrestling with the best way to fix the story’s many problems, and while I’ve had loads of good ideas, and have fixed some of the back story issues, whenever I’ve come to starting the rewriting process, I felt resistance.

Well, not so much resistance, more a massive brick wall that I keep beating my head against.

I figured I needed to really underpin exactly what the story was about, so I went back to one of my trusty writer’s guides; “Saves the Cat Writes a Novel” by Jessica Brody.

Going through the exercises in the book again (I’d already done this in the early stages of planning) was an eye opener because this time I was coming at them with a deeper understanding of the characters.

And it bought a moment of clarity.

I was writing the wrong person’s story.

The first draft had mainly been told from the point of view of Lily, who I believed was the main character of the story.

Turns out though, it may be Theo, who is a viewpoint character in the first draft, but not the main one.

On the commute to work this morning, I started rewriting the first chapter from Theo’s viewpoint.

And so far, so good. I haven’t written much, but what I have written doesn’t feel forced and I’m also not feeling the resistance that I was feeling with previous attempts.

I write this in the full knowledge that as I progress, this could all change, and by this time next week I could be drowning in a sea of screwed up bits of paper, but right now it feels right.

I’m also well aware that, if you’ve been following these posts, you may be wondering whether I actually know what I’m doing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

I don’t.

I write largely by intuition, by gut feeling. This does mean that I take wrong turns. It happened with Badlands and that turned out okay in the end. The important thing though is to persevere.

Because that’s the only way I’ll see Bleak Waters through to completion.

Badlands news!

Talking of Badlands, it continues to tick along nicely and I’m getting some good feedback from those readers I’m in touch with.

If you’re not aware, it’s a dark suspense story of Willow, a runaway with a wounded soul who is searching for her sister, and Raven, a scarred orphan with a lust for blood who is tracking her down.

It’s also the story of Richard Goddard, a man of God with a heart of darkness who is plotting both their downfalls.

Tackling themes of deception, betrayal, conspiracy, broken families and identity, it’s available from Amazon in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or paperback format.

If you’d like a signed and hand numbered paperback copy, they’re available direct through my website.

Thanks to everyone who’s reading Badlands! It’s finally sunk in that it’s out in the world. And it’s a great feeling!!

Notes from a Writer’s Life #4

A new month beckons! It’s February 1st, Imbolc in the pagan calendar, the first day of Spring, which means new beginnings and new opportunities.

In other words, it’s the perfect time to be starting the rewrite of Bleak Waters.

Truth!!

In a change from my usual editing process, I’m using the Word track changes feature as I start the work through. Having used it when editing Badlands over the last few months, I thought I’d give it a try when working through this novel.

The advantage is that none of your changes are fixed until you approve them, so the first scene that I just deleted is still sitting in the file with a load of red lines through it, awaiting its fate.

Similarly, the new opening I’m writing for draft 2 is also currently awaiting approval. My plan going forward is to finish edits on each chapter, approve or reject them as necessary and then push on to the next.

With the beginning of Bleak Waters being it’s weakest part, I’m hoping that at some point the two texts will merge into one (probably between the quarter point and halfway stage).

But there is still the distinct possibility that I’ll end up rewriting a good chunk of the whole thing.

In short, yes, I’m “pantsing” the second draft as well.

Why? Because at this point, I’m still not 100% sure in which direction the book needs to go. Doing it this way means I have the flexibility to incorporate existing text where I can or ditching it all and going again.

This is the most crucial stage of writing a novel for me. I know the themes, the ending, the plot development, and how to strengthen its weaknesses. If I get this draft right, subsequent drafts become a whole lot easier.

Will it work? I’ll keep you posted…

Notes from a Writer’s Life #3

Re-read, Re-write, Recycle…

Nothing is ever wasted when you recycle…

The read through of Bleak Waters is complete and it’s onto revisions.

The first thing I decided to do was nail down the timeline of events. There’s a complex back-story to this one and I wanted to get all the dates of the events in order before I started re-writing.

Working out the timeline also gave me the opportunity to reconsider the back story afresh, although this time with the hindsight of having written one draft and being aware of that draft’s issues.

One of the biggest problems in draft one was that the back story as written was full of plot holes that undermined the credibility of the whole story.

Reviewing the timeline became an opportunity to find a way to fill those holes without compromising the whole story.

Fortunately for me, the solution to those problems already existed as the back story to a project that has been sitting in writing purgatory for several years now.

Back in 2008/09 I was working on a novel called Ruins.

Like Bleak Waters, Ruins was set on the Norfolk Broads, Ruins in Potter Heigham, Bleak Waters in Hickling.

Over the years I’ve done about a dozen drafts of Ruins, but none of them have ever quite worked, and the novel has never reached the stage where I think it’s ready for submission.

As a result, its languishing in my files, waiting for its annual round of read throughs and revisions in the hope that this time I’ll finally fix it.

I never do.

But as I started working through the plot holes for Bleak Waters I realised that most of them could be solved by incorporating one of the storylines from Ruins into the story.

The few that do remain can be cut without any major damage to the story. In fact, cutting them makes the story stronger structurally as well, as well as giving added importance to the ghostly elements of the story.

None of the actual text from Ruins will be incorporated into Bleak Waters. But a few of the characters from that story will find their way in, again at the expense of weaker characters from Bleak Waters.

What does this all mean practically?

A lot of rewriting. Some parts will need minor revisions, other parts more major surgery. And some scenes and chapters will be removed altogether.

But they won’t ever be gone. They’ll sit in my files, and maybe one day, a few projects down the line, they’ll be recycled into another story as well.

Notes from a Writer’s Life #2

Happy Friday people! We made it to the end of another week.

Alas, the same cannot be said for my WIP, “Bleak Waters”, the first draft of which is now facing a fate as grim as its title…

The first draft of Bleak Waters needs major changes, but the first draft of Badlands was exactly the same.

I’ve read through about ninety percent of the draft as I write this, but I already know that major revisions are needed.

In fact (and if you’re a writer you may want to look away now), it’s looking very likely that a full re-write is incoming.

Why?

Well, put simply, what’s on the page at the minute just doesn’t work.

The bare bones of the story are there, but the characters are flat and lifeless, the conclusions they jump too are irrational and far-fetched and the tone of the book is bland and monotone. The prose is all one-paced and the scenes are thin and devoid of any real emotion.

The good news is that Badlands was exactly the same at this stage. And this isn’t altogether unexpected.

Most first drafts are poor. The late great Terry Pratchett once said that the first draft is you telling yourself the story, and I think that’s true.

I’ve told myself the story now, and for the most part the back story and plot developments will remain the same (although poor Ollie from my previous post will definitely be getting the chop!).

I am already churning over ways to make the characters deeper and more rounded, how to increase the tension in the plot, how to close all those niggling holes in the story, how to flesh out the scenes and draw every nugget of dramatic potential from them.

The process will be long and draft two is always the hardest slog. But once it’s done, Bleak Waters will be so much stronger.

BADLANDS UPDATE

Signed & numbered paperback copies of Badlands are now available direct through my website. Get your copy here.

Notes from a Writer’s Life #1

So Badlands is out in the world being read and (hopefully) enjoyed and now I move on to the sticky business of bashing “Bleak Waters” into shape.

The first draft was completed a couple of weeks back, and I started the first read through of the text yesterday.

Currently, I’m nine and half chapters in and thus far the notes I’m making consist of “Expand”, “Move”, “Add Detail” and (my personal favourite) “Who the f*** is Ollie!”.

(On that last one, I have no idea. He’s mentioned once in a brief conversation between Lily, the main character, and her best friend, Mel. I don’t even remember writing it!!).

For me, editing the first draft is the hardest part of the whole writing process, particularly when working on a novel.

It’s the stage where the biggest changes are made to plot and character (sorry readers, but Ollie’s for the chop I’m afraid), and the changes I make in this stage will have a profound effect on the story as a whole.

To give an example, with Badlands the first draft came in at 110’000 words. At this stage of the process I cut a whole plot line, changed the beginning and the end and rewrote a good portion of the text.

The second draft came in at 93’000 words, roughly the same length as the finished book, and while some parts were extensively rewritten last summer, for the most part the story in draft two is pretty much the same as the finished book.

My approach to this part of the process is to read through the text as a whole and try to limit note taking to the odd observation. The aim is to read the whole thing as quickly as possible and remind myself of the story from start to finish.

There is, of course, the temptation to start tinkering with the text straight away, particularly as, at this stage, the beginning of the book is normally the weakest part.

I force myself to ignore that temptation, whilst simultaneously allowing new ideas and thoughts for the beginning to percolate. If I didn’t, I’d never get past the first few chapters

Another reason for this is that I can only see the relevance of the beginning once I read through to the end. Change it too early and I risk derailing the whole project.

So for now the plan is to read through the text as quickly as possible, to get an overview of the forest rather than the trees. Once that’s complete I should have a better idea of what needs to be done to improve the work.

Then it’s out with the red editing pen (or in this case the track changes function on Word) and on with turning Bleak Waters into a worthy companion to Badlands.

Badlands is available now in Paperback, Kindle eBook and free to read through Kindle Unlimited

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.

Book Reviews – Hunter’s Chase & What Happened To Coco

Hunters Chase – Val Penny

The first book in Val Penny’s Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series gets down and dirty as it follows Detective Hunter Wilson and his team as they work to stop the flow of cocaine into Edinburgh, only to stumble onto a murder when a body is discovered on a local golf course.

Though Wilson is the lead character, the book takes you into the lives of his team as they try to unravel the case while dealing with the relationships and conflicts in their personal lives.

It also takes a deep dive into the lives of people affected by drug crime and murder, and paints a realistically grim picture of life amongst the working classes that echoed my own experiences growing up on the council estates of Dagenham, East London.

I loved this gritty crime drama. It was full of conflict and twists, but amidst the death and darkness, there are threads of love and human warmth woven skilfully through the tale.

Rating 4/5

What Happened to Coco – VB Furlong

V B Furlong’s debut follows Ella, Bea, Conrad and Harrison as they try to come to terms with the sudden disappearance of their friend, the dazzlingly vibrant Coco.

Each part of the book is told through the viewpoint of one of the respective characters, and as each part unfolds, you learn how Coco impacted their lives for the better.

At the same time dark secrets, conflicts and personal betrayals are revealed, straining the relationships between all four.

But what none of them realise is that Coco has some dark secrets of her own.

The story is an emotional rollercoaster that has you smiling one minute and on the verge of tears the next, and concludes with a stunning twist that I didn’t see coming.

Rating 5/5.

The Power of Perseverance

In three days time my debut novel Badlands will be released, marking the end of a process that began with a single note in 2017 and a rogue character (Willow) in 2014.

While Badlands may be my first published novel, it’s actually the eighth novel I’ve written overall (not to mention the countless short stories in that time).

The journey began back in 1996 when, inspired by the Lost Boys & The Craft, I began scribbling a witches vs vampires story in exercise books. This eventually became my first full novel, Blessed Be.

In 2001, I followed this up with The Garden, a Herbert & Hutson inspired Horror novel about a deserted patch of land disrupted by a girl who trespasses on it, releasing a malevolent entity that had been bound within.

The paperback cover for my debut novel Badlands.

In 2002, I switched genres and wrote an epic Fantasy novel called The Gateway that was shortlisted for the WHSmith Raw Talent competition but never got picked up.

By 2004, I’d switched genre again and wrote a magic realism book called The Man Who Changed His Past. For the first time I wrote about the world I knew, the culture and place I’d grown up in. The book was stronger, and although I hadn’t realised it, gave me a glimpse of the direction I wanted to go in.

In 2006, I embraced that direction fully, writing a book called Siblings (for a while it also went under the name of (s)Kin). There was a lot of me in this book. It was set in my home town of Dagenham, in the summer of 2002, and featured a lot of the places I knew from my youth. The plot smashed Romeo & Juliet and To Kill A Mockingbird together, and when I posted the first few chapters on YouWriteOn the response was overwhelmingly positive.

By 2008, I was pitching it to agents & publishers and it came close to being picked up (a publisher wrote me a lovely rejection letter telling me it had been a choice between my book and one other and unfortunately for me, they went with the other book).

At the same time as I was pitching Siblings, I was working on a new novel called Ruins. Feedback from agents and publishers who had read Siblings suggested it was more a Young Adult novel, so based on that feedback, I wrote Ruins with the YA market in mind.

Set on the Norfolk Broads, the story was hampered by a convoluted plot with multiple viewpoint characters. It’s still sitting in my files and it’s been rewritten on and off since 2008. I may come back to it, who knows, but as it stands it was a dud.

After Ruins, life (or redundancy and retraining) got in the way, and I didn’t write another novel until 2014 when, inspired by a visit to Sydney, Australia I wrote Half a World Away (or as it’s now known, the book that Willow ruined).

I worked on that off and on for four years, in between trying to knock Ruins into shape and occasional resubmitting Siblings again, but nothing really clicked.

Until that little note on August 2017 which set me on the path to writing Badlands, and publication.

So what’s the lesson here? For me it’s keep going.

Each book I wrote taught me something about either myself as a writer and what kind of stories I wanted to tell, or the nuts and bolts of writing and how to better apply them next time.

The same is true even of Badlands. Whilst it is about to be published I learned lessons writing it that I’ve applied to my new work-in-progress Bleak Waters. I’m sure it will be the same with my next book, and the one after that.

If you’re an unpublished writer, persevere. Learn from each project and keep going. It only takes one “yes” from a publisher or agent to change your life.

Badlands in published through Darkstroke on 21st January 2022.

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