The Circle of (a Writer’s) Life

Hard at work…honest.

In six days time my debut novel Badlands is launched into the world.

Four and half years after the initial idea, my work in writing and editing the story is complete. And while launch day on Friday 21st January will be a celebration of the book’s completion, the circle of my writer’s life will continue unabated.

I’ve already completed the first draft of my next work-in-progress, Bleak Waters and edits on that will begin on Monday 23rd January.

In the meantime, today I’ve gone back to the notebook to revisit ideas for my next novel and to develop some new ideas that have been percolating for a few months now.

This is the way of the writer’s life. By the time a book or story is released into the world, the writer is already onto the next project, maybe even the project after that.

And for me, that’s the way it has to be if you want to build a career as a writer. I hope that Badlands is the first of many books I publish, but to make that happen I have to be constantly on the look out for new ideas.

This is because ideas take time to develop. It took almost two years for me to slot all the pieces into place for Badlands. Bleak Waters began when I visited the Norfolk Broads back in May 2019. I started writing the first draft in October 2021.

I got the initial idea for what may be my next WIP back in Summer 2020, when I was out on a run and I noticed someone loitering in a car park, watching me as I ran. (This was in lockdown, when the building for the car park was closed).

It’s now January 2022 and it’ll be October, probably November before I start the first draft of that idea.

In the meantime, there’s a fourth idea sitting in my notebook from last Summer, with a few development notes already.

And I’m sure something will happen this year to trigger another idea for a novel.

All the while I’m also collating ideas and inspiration for short stories that will be written in between drafts or as I’m doing read throughs.

Back in the mid-noughties I was in a very different position. I was always waiting for the right idea, and dismissing any idea that wasn’t stunningly original. As a result, when I did get ideas I felt so much pressure to run with it straight away that inevitably the work felt forced.

Ideas are everywhere, and not all of the ideas I’ve mentioned above will become completed works. Some will form part of other stories, others will sit in my notebook, maybe for years, maybe forever.

But at some point, for a few of the ideas, something will click and new piece of writing will be born.

The humble notebook. The writer’s best friend.

My dream, ultimately, is to write full time for a living. To do that, I need a steady stream of ideas.

This means keeping my ears open, my eyes peeled, and my notebook close at hand. Because you never know when you’ll see or hear or feel something that becomes the basis for your next WIP.

Badlands is released on 21st January 2022. Preorder here.

The First was the Last…

With the launch of Badlands now just one week away, on my social media channels I’m currently counting down to the release with a series of posts under the heading 10 Facts About Badlands.

Every day I’m posting a fact about the characters, settings or creation of the book and today’s fact was…

Follow me on Twitter!

So why was the first scene in the published book the last scene I ever wrote for it? Well…

Common writing wisdom is that the first line and the first page are the most important part of your book, particularly if you are unpublished. It’s your calling card to any agent or publisher who picks up your manuscript, and is considered to be the make or break part of your query package.

The first line and first page also has to carry a lot of weight. You’re introducing at least one character, a setting, a potential conflict or at least a question that you hope will keep the reader turning the pages.

If you’re a student of story structure, the first page should be your hook, with the next section being the set-up followed by the inciting incident that kicks the story off.

So getting it right is key.

It’s also ridiculously difficult precisely because of all the reasons listed above.

When it came to Badlands, I had a dilemma. The inciting event in the story is when Willow receives a text message from an anonymous number that she believes is from her estranged sister, Ellie.

But, when she gets the text, Willow is in Sydney, Australia. She’s ended up there after running away from home and burning every single bridge she had with Ellie and her family and friends.

So my problem was if I started the story before Willow got the text, I had to set the scene in Australia, and then jump back to Cornwall a few pages later and set the scene again.

But if I started the story with her arrival in Cornwall (which I preferred) the inciting event has already happened before the book starts.

When I look back through the drafts of Badlands, the scene that changes the most is the opening scene.

It never felt right, but I completed the book, went with what I had and started querying to a wall of deafening silence.

In the summer 2021, I picked up the writing guide “Saves the Cat Writes A Novel” and in that, the author talked about having a strong opening image.

Once I read that, everything fell into place.

The book opens with Willow, tired, dirty and footsore from three days of travel, trudging along a deserted country lane in Cornwall. In the next three pages I managed to weave the key plot lines, plus an image that foreshadowed what was to come into the text. From there, the text continues pretty much as previously written, with just one minor adjustment in the final scene to bring the book full circle.

After this revision, I queried again, and this time I got three full manuscript requests, and finally an offer for publication.

While advocates for story structure will argue about the importance of every beat being featured in the book, I prefer to think of structure as a loose framework which underpins everything.

In Badlands, the inciting event happens before the book starts and Willow is already on her journey when we first meet her.

This technique is called in media res which means the story opens in the middle of the plot (the most famous use of this is in Hamlet, where the play starts after the death of Hamlet’s father, which is the inciting event).

Reading the opening scene now, it’s clear to me how much better it is than before.

I strongly believe that re-writing the opening scene last summer, and bringing all my understanding of the story built up over countless drafts to bear in that new scene, was the key to landing a publishing deal for Badlands.

Badlands – from idea to book.

A lot of work goes into a novel before a writer starts the first draft and my upcoming debut novel, Badlands was no different.

As I count down to publication, I went through some of my old notes from when Badlands was in its development stage and I thought I’d use today’s post to give a glimpse of how the story grew over time.

It began with this note…

Even at this early stage, two things stand out; the idea already featured someone trying to uncover a mystery about a relative, and there was going to be a gang or bikers/surfers.

Although these elements have changed between then and finished book, essentially the core of the story was there from the start.

By early spring 2019, the book was in full development phase. Yes, it can take that long for an idea to brew, but by March 2019, I had a cast list.

Of the characters mentioned above, only one remained unchanged from this point on; Goddard. You’ll notice there’s no mention of Willow (although she had existed since 2014, when she appeared in another story I was writing then; Half a World Away). While “Suicide Girl” was called Ellie, she wasn’t Willow’s sister Ellie Rae (and though this version Ellie was dead, she hadn’t committed suicide).

From March until May, the story stumbled through development hell. Then came the note that changed everything.

At this point, everything came together. Turns out Willow, the girl with the red dreadlocks who had ruined Half a World Away, was the missing piece of Badlands.

With some minor tweaks to her back story, she slotted into the plot perfectly and by 18th May 2019, the cast was pretty much set.

There were a couple of name changes, (Melody became Fiona and Amber became Ruby), and one particular character was still missing from the list (Raven) but otherwise things were set.

On 3rd June 2019 (the day after my birthday btw), I started writing the first draft of Badlands.

Two and a half years and one global pandemic later, as of writing, it’s only 9 days until the book is released.

There were many changes between then and now, including the removal of one whole storyline that could form the potential for a sequel.

But while the finished book is a very different animal to the first draft, at its essence it’s stayed true to that original note.

It’s the story of a young woman searching for a missing relative, while a gang of smugglers, blackmailers and murderers close in around her.

I hope you enjoy it.

Badlands is released on 21st January 2022 & can be pre-ordered here.

The Roots of Badlands #2 – Goddard

Welcome to the second blog post about the roots of the characters in Badlands.

The first post looked at the creation of the book’s protagonist, Willow and can be read here. In this post, I’ll look at how I created the main antagonist, The Reverend Richard Goddard.

Most of my ideas come from places I visit or articles I read. Occasionally someone I see out and about will spark off a new story, and very often my interests outside of writing show up in my work also.

I very rarely get my ideas from dreams, but that’s exactly how the Reverend Richard Goddard, chief antagonist in Badlands, came about.

The Kindle version of Badlands.

In the dream, I was a copper in the town of Newquay, pursuing a bunch of petty thieves through the streets. In the way of dreams, the viewpoint shifted, and suddenly I was one of the thieves reporting back to their boss.

Their boss was a dog-collar wearing Reverend who hid his nefarious ways behind his saintly public image.

He didn’t have a name. That came later. But the template of the character was there fully formed and he fit perfectly with the ideas in development for Badlands at that point.

A few things changed; I gave him long hair, a beard, and a surfer vibe. His network of petty thieves became a gang of smugglers and drug runners known as The Chosen.

In keeping with Goddard’s biblical background, all of the inner circle of The Chosen were given angelic nicknames. The only exception to this was his chief enforcer; the blood-thirsty and merciless Raven.

When it came to writing, a weird thing happened. I’m a visual writer, in that I see the characters in my head as I write.

As I wrote Goddard’s character I found myself “seeing” two different characters depending on which facet of the character was on show in that scene; a “light” version in scenes with Willow where he’s manipulating her, and a “dark” version in scenes with Raven and the Chosen where he’s up to all sorts of criminal activities.

Of course, this is exactly as Goddard should be. There is a Jekyll & Hyde quality to Goddard, and this juxtaposition between beauty and danger is reflected on other characters and settings throughout the story.

When it comes to creating antagonists in my fiction, I always have some sympathy for my devils. There’s tragedy at the heart of Goddard’s story, and like so many villains before him, Goddard’s road to hell is paved with good intentions.

He began as a figure in a dream, but he has become so much more.

Though not the most brutal character in Badlands, he is the story’s dark heart, and the architect of all that befalls Willow.

Badlands is available to pre-order on eBook now.

See the Badlands Launch Page on my website for details of the online launch live-steam event taking place at 7pm GMT on Friday 21st January.

Badlands launches in 2 weeks!

As I write this, there is only two weeks remaining until the release of my debut novel, Badlands, from Darkstroke.

As we approach release date, let’s take a deeper dive into the characters in this tale of surf, sand, smuggling and murder…

The story follows Megan “Willow” Rae, a runaway in her early twenties. Haunted by guilt after betraying her friends, and devastated by the row that saw her relationship with her sister, Ellie, fall apart, Willow has reinvented herself Down Under.

When she gets a cry from help that she believes to be from Ellie, Willow runs home to North Cornwall, desperate to help her sister and save their relationship.

When she gets there however, Ellie is nowhere to be found and appears to be embroiled in a local scandal. The only person who seems willing to help Willow find Ellie is the Reverend Richard Goddard.

Goddard is St. Agnes’ surf and salvation guru, a former Reverend now running his own surf and prayer meets in between managing the eco-farming business he took over from his father. Goddard uses his local reputation to campaign for social change across Cornwall, and is ramping up pressure ahead of a key council vote that could see his ambitions met.

But behind Goddard’s social conscious and spiritual trappings lies a darker creature. Manipulative and ruthless, Goddard is the hidden heart of a dark network of smuggling, blackmail, coercion and murder.

Key amongst this dark web of lies and violence is Goddard’s ruthless enforcer, a hooded and masked killer who hides behind the name Raven, her true self lost in the fire that claimed her family and sister a few years earlier. Driven by revenge, Raven is merciless, cruel and unyielding. And Goddard is gradually losing control of her.

While Goddard and Raven work against Willow from the shadows, she is aided by allies old and new; her ex-boyfriend, Harrison Gould and Ruby, a barmaid with a sharp tongue and a fragile soul, chief among them.

Willow’s journey to find Ellie will force her to face up to the dark secrets of her own past and bring her closer than ever to Richard Goddard. But can she uncover the truth about him before he hands her over to Raven and she becomes another victim of the Badlands?

A dark suspense tale, with hints of the paranormal, Badlands is released on 21st January 2022 and the eBook is available to order now.

The paperback proof of Badlands

“The End” is just the Beginning

Yesterday I got to type those two magical words on my work in progress Bleak Waters…

The best words a writer can write…but are they deceiving?

For any writer working on a project, short or long, those two little words represent the final goal. After comes elation, relief, and sometimes sheer bloody exhaustion!

But ultimately, those two little words are deceptive.

This morning, I finished proofreading the paperback version of my debut novel Badlands.

Badlands, finally ready to launch to world…

I originally typed “The End” on Badlands back in summer 2019.

Of course, “The End” actually means anything but.

“The End” actually means the end of the story as a fresh piece. Regardless of what happens next, I will never approach Bleak Waters as a new project again.

It’s the story of Lily & Theo and their attempt to find out what happened to Claire Baldwin, who vanished from Hickling 25 years earlier, and the first draft is their story in its rawest form.

It will never be written from fresh again, even if I do a full re-write because there will always be this draft of the story.

Is the story ready for the public yet?

No. There’ll be a couple of weeks pause while I launch Badlands, and it’s story of Willow’s search for her sister and her descent into a dark conspiracy.

Then it will be on to the editing stage for Bleak Waters.

Scenes will be cut, new scenes written, characters changed, pacing adjusted. Maybe I’ll read it through and decide the best course is a complete rewrite. Or maybe there’ll be enough there for me to sculpt and mould what exists into something better.

For me, this is where the real work, the real magic of writing happens.

And it continues all the way up to publication.

As mentioned, the final read-through of Badlands is complete, and even at this stage, there are a few last minute edits to be made, minor punctuation errors that have crept in during the countless rounds of edits and rewrites.

Barring any last minute urgent changes, this finally is “The End” for my writing involvement in Badlands.

For better or worse, it’s ready for the world, and my involvement now switches to full on marketing and promotion for the book. (Pre-order the eBook here!)

Bleak Waters still has some way to go. My target is to have a fully polished version ready for submission by October. That means at least two, but more probably four or five more drafts.

Yes, I typed “The End” on my manuscript yesterday.

But as I let Willow’s story go out into the world, my work on Lily and Theo’s story is just beginning.

It’s 2022! – Let’s do this!!

New Year! New opportunities!

At least, that’s how most people feel on New Years Day, although admittedly that is a bit harder in these times.

Normally I begin each new year with the hope that this year will finally be the one that I see my work in print, but in 2022 I find myself in a new position.

If you’ve followed my reviews of 2021, you’ll be aware that it was the year that my work got published, so as we move into 2022 I have a whole new set of hopes for the year ahead.

Firstly, my debut novel Badlands is released in under three weeks.

My novel, in print, for the first time!

I’m not going to lie, as the release date approaches, the imposter syndrome is growing stronger with every passing day. It’s nerves, obviously, so I’m doing my best to ignore it as I do the final read through of the paperback before launch.

Beyond Badlands, I also have one more short story from last year still due for publication sometime in the next few weeks. More info on that when I have it.

And finally, I’m currently writing the climax of my latest novel, Bleak Waters. Due to illness and Christmas I’ve lost momentum in December, but I’m probably two to three scenes away from finishing now. Fingers crossed the first draft will be completed this week.

And after? Well, much of January will be spent prepping for the launch of Badlands, but I also plan to write some more short stories and maybe revisit some of the stories that didn’t find homes last year and see if I can get those into print.

Then it will be onto draft 2 of Bleak Waters. My target is to complete edits and re-writes by October 2022, and then jump back on the query train!

And what about you? Feel free to share your goals and dreams for 2022 in the comments.

Whatever they are, I hope this year brings you good health, success and happiness!

2021 – Review of the Year – Part Three

If you’ve read the last two posts in this series, you’ll remember that my main goal this year was to get one piece of fiction published, with a secondary goal of getting paid for a piece of writing if possible.

Putting in the hard yards (aka editing!)

With both those goals achieved, I felt the year had been successful and didn’t really expect anything more.

All the while though, I’d been querying my novel Badlands with agents in the hope that someone would pick it up.

Badlands is a dark suspense novel about Megan “Willow” Rae, a runaway who returns home to North Cornwall to search for her missing sister.

Haunted by ghostly visions, stalked by a sinister conspiracy and forced to face the demons of her youth, Willow has to unpick the web of deception and betrayal around her to find the truth, but when she does it leads to the biggest betrayal of all.

I started writing Badlands in June 2019, and began querying with agents in summer 2020.

Querying with agents is a tough gig. I saw this morning that one agent got almost four thousand queries in a year.

Four thousand.

The odds of getting picked up through that route are astronomically small, no matter how well written your book, and how close to the agents wish list it fits.

Around August 2021, having found success with indie publishers for my short fiction, I changed tack and started adding indie’s to my query list.

Within my first batch of queries including indies, I got a full request, the first I’d ever received.

Ultimately that turned into a rejection as it didn’t quite fit their imprint, but a few weeks later, I got another full request.

This time, instead of a rejection, I got an invitation to a zoom call to discuss the book.

What a call that turned out to be.

By the end of the call, an offer for publication had been made, and Badlands was on its way out into the world, courtesy of Darkstroke.

I wrote my first novel in 1996, and have written around 10 since (although only one other has been written and edited to what I’d call completion).

At times I wondered if I’d ever get anything published.

In fact, between 1996 and 2020, I’d had a grand total of three pieces published, all non-fiction.

Then 2021 hit and it’s been my most successful year to date, even though the rejections still outweigh the acceptances by about fifty percent.

As 2022 creeps into view, I’m looking forward to the release of Badlands. Pre-orders of the eBook are going well (thanks everyone who’s ordered!), and the paperback will be available on release day; 21st January 2022.

Success, even of the modest sort has been a long time coming, so the last thing I’d say to any aspiring writer is this.

Keep going. The road is long. There’s a lot of rejection. But persevere and you’ll find your market.

Have a great New Year and I’ll see you in 2022!

2021 – Review of the Year – Part 2

The payoff of persistence

In part one of this series of posts reviewing my writing life in 2021, I talked about how my major goal for the year was to get a piece of fiction published.

A secondary goal was to get paid for a piece of fiction if possible.

You may be reading this and thinking surely writers should be paid for every piece they publish, but this isn’t always the case.

After “Mirror Mirror” made it into print, I went on something of a roll.

I had drabbles (100 word flash fiction pieces) published in “Blood Lust” and “Festival of Fear” from Black Ink Fiction, and in “Rock Band” from Ghost Orchid Press.

I also had longer short stories published in “Legends of Night” and the upcoming New Tales of Old Vol. 2, again published by Black Ink Fiction.

Compensation for each of these was a gratefully received complimentary copy of the eBook for each title.

A selection of titles featuring my short stories & drabbles

But I still had that goal of receiving a cash payment for my work, and with that in mind I kept entering short story contests and paid market calls in the hope of success.

When it came, it came in the place I felt to be the least likely of all.

Short story competitions are super competitive.

Whereas in an anthology submission call your pitching for a varying number of vacant slots, for competitions it’s normally only the top story that gets published (although the 2nd and 3rd placed entries may win a cash prize).

I’d been submitting to the Writers’ Forum monthly competition for many years (in fact, an early version of Mirror Mirror was entered in the competition back in 2006) and hadn’t been successful.

Then, at the start of the year, I entered a new story into the competition, the first one I’d entered for a while.

And it was a stunning surprise when I got editorial feedback saying it was a possible finalist with a bit of polishing.

So polish I did, and I resubmitted with bated breath, but the deadline passed and I heard nothing, so I wrote it off as another near miss.

In the meantime, I began work on another story called “Hope in the Dark.”

“Hope…” was a very different story for me.

I took elements from real life that were happening around me or to people I knew, and wove into that a story built around the enemies to lovers trope.

The result was a story with what I felt were some nice original characters twists, but also one that touched on a real world issue, namely how we care for relatives with diseases such as dementia and Motor Neuron Disease.

I polished it as best I could, crossed my fingers and submitted to Writers’ Forum again.

And once again the editorial comments said possible finalist once polished.

Needing help, but unable to afford an editor to look over my work, I turned to the next best thing; Grammarly.

After another round of Grammarly-assisted edits, I hit send and crossed my fingers. And this time… I hit gold.

A day or so before the deadline I got an email advising me that “Hope…” had been shortlisted and I would hear more shortly.

Cue a wait of what was really just a few weeks, but felt like a lifetime.

I was hopeful at this point. I felt the story was good, and I had my fingers crossed that it would scrape in to third place.

But time went on and I heard nothing. I started to doubt whether it was any good at all.

Then, on a cold and wet Tuesday in summer, I got confirmation.

“Hope in the Dark” had won first place.

I had to read the email two or three times to digest it, and it took me another couple of hours to finally believe it.

After years of trying, finally… finally one of my stories had won a competition in Writers’ Forum.

“Hope in the Dark” was published in the November issue of Writers’ Forum and a few weeks later I received a cheque for the prize money, along with a complimentary copy of the magazine.

For the first time I’d been paid for my writing, and with that cheque I achieved the second of my goals.

And then a strange thing happened.

Between the publication of the story and the arrival of the cheque, I got hit by a bolt from the blue that would change my writing life forever… (to be continued).

2021 – Review of the Year – Part One

As we approach the end of 2021, I wanted to take a look back at the last twelve months in my writing life.

2021 began with a lockdown for us in the U.K. but as the New Year rolled in, I had one major writing goal for the coming twelve months; to get a piece of fiction published.

I also had a bonus goal of getting paid for a piece of fiction, but it was the first one I put my energy into as January began.

In the summer of 2020, I’d dug out an old story of mine called “Weird Mirror”, first written in 2005 or 2006, gave it a rewrite and a new name (it became “Mirror Mirror”) and began submitting it again.

In February 2021, I saw a competition organised by WriteHive with the theme “Duplicitous” and felt that “Mirror Mirror” fit the bill nicely.

So I submitted it, then thought no more of it, believing that, like every other piece of fiction I’d submitted it would be rejected.

Then, in March I got an email from the head judge telling me that not only had it not been rejected, but it had been selected for the long list.

After I regained consciousness, I read the editorial feedback that the head judge, Cass Kim, had provided, and promptly set about revising and resubmitting for the final judging.

An anxious wait followed until, during the Write Hive Conference 2021 I found out that my story had made the top 10 & so had been published in the conference handbook.

Goal one achieved… ish. It was published, but only to conference attendees, which was thrilling in itself, but I felt that, to truly achieve my goal, I needed to have a story published in a collection or magazine that could be read by anyone.

A few days after the conference however, I got another email advising that all shortlisted entrants could, if they chose, have their story published in a print anthology that would raise funds for WriteHive and would be put together by Cass Kim & the team at inkedingray.

Of course, I accepted the offer and on 15th June 2021, Duplicitous, featuring my story “Mirror, Mirror” was released to the world.

It was an amazing feeling to see my name on the cover of a book for the first time.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this is that it was “Mirror, Mirror” that became my first published piece.

My story, “Weird Mirror” had always been a favourite of mine and I really believed in the concept behind the plot.

On the surface it’s your standard ghost story; a couple move into a creepy looking home and weird things start happening. But the mirror of the title gave the story just the twist it needed to make it different and reworking it in summer 2020 and then again after the editorial feedback truly allowed it to shine.

My words in print for the first time!

It was a long time coming, but I’m thrilled that “Mirror Mirror” is out in the world.

It’s still available to buy, and what’s more, all profits from its sale go towards raising funds for WriteHive, so they can continue to support the Writing Community.

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