Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Busman's holiday? Anyone else feel the same?

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. The stories inside their covers transport me to other countries, other worlds, other universes. I am me, and not me. For the brief time I am immersed in a story, I am looking out through someone else’s eyes.
Not even majoring in English Lit at University and the subsequent dissecting of a plethora of classic works, didn’t spoil my love of fiction. But during the last couple of years most of the reading which I do for pleasure feels like a busman’s holiday.
This is for a couple of reasons. One of them is that now I am a writer myself, I am much more conscious of the mechanics of the craft. As I read, I realise I am subconsciously wondering why this character did that, or why this particular piece of information was inserted here and not somewhere else. I also find myself thinking things like, ‘oh, that was a good twist’, or ‘that was skilfully done’.
And another reason is that I spend a considerable amount of time beta reading and critiquing other authors’ work. Analysing a novel in order to submit an essay involves a different set of skills and priorities to beta reading. I have no interest in the motivation behind the writing, or the social and cultural history of the author, which may affect their writing, and which students are expected to comment on. For example, when I submitted an essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was expected to include details of her private life – the fact that she had lost a child, and how this influenced her ideas for bringing the dead back to life. 
With beta reading, critiquing, and reviewing, all I am interested in is the story, and the things that go into making it work. The more alpha and beta reading I do, the better I hope my own writing becomes because I am constantly analysing what is good and what is not so good. I nit-pick at grammar and typos, spellings and homophones, and at the same time, I am looking for clichés, both in the actual words used and in the concepts. I am looking at believability and consistency, and plot lines and how well characters are drawn, and how they develop.
I hope every book I read adds to my own author skills set, but there is a downside to this: I now find it very difficult to completely lose myself in a book when reading for pleasure.  Even those written by well-known authors are subjected to only a slightly lesser level of scrutiny than when I am critiquing. And in fact, I am probably harsher because of the level of editorial support the major players receive. If a high profile author produces a novel with typos, weak plots, etc, then what hope is there for us far less resource-rich indie authors?

Okay, rant over. But my point is that I now do not get the same level of enjoyment as I once did from reading. And that is such a shame…

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Evolution by Kate Wrath

I am SO happy this book has been published. I enjoyed the first one in the series and can't wait to get my hands on this one. No writing for me for a while, cause I'll have my nose buried in someone else's story!

Evolution, the second book in the E series, is now available! Get Evolution and E for only 99¢ each during release week, November 12th-19th, 2014.
Outpost Three is still standing… barely. But the deadliest threat it has ever faced is on its way-- a violent force that will annihilate every man, woman, and child.
With the Sentries under his control and Grey’s army defeated, Matt is more powerful than ever. Eden is little more than his prisoner, but that line is blurring as her affection for him grows. Now, as the Outpost faces total destruction, Matt must sacrifice the possibility of attaining Eden’s love in the vague hope that her past might hold the key to saving them all.
Eden’s journey will begin to unravel the mysteries of her previous life, reveal dangerous new questions, and change not only the future of Outpost Three, but shape the course of history.
This eagerly anticipated sequel to Kate Wrath’s E begins an epic quest into the dark, dystopian landscape of Eden’s world.

Get both books in the E series, E and Evolution, for 99¢ each on Kindle for a limited time only: November 12th- 19th, 2014.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Llewelyn the Great - supporting cast

Been doing some research on the supporting cast for my next novel - A Familiar Situation. I'm still working on The Medium Path, but I want to have everything ready to go with the next one. Talk about multi-tasking!

Llywelyn the Great, Llewelyn Fawr in Welsh, was a Prince of Gwynedd in north Wales and eventually ruler over most of Wales.
Born in 1172, Llywelyn came to power in the classic way of Welsh princes bedevilled by the dividing rule of Welsh inheritance - he seized it from his uncle, and he proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages.

Llywelyn the politician raised his head in 1201 as he concluded a treaty with King John of England. In return for John's recognition of Llywelyn's territorial gains, he was to pledge fealty (allegiance) to the English monarch. In 1205 he married John’s illegitimate thirteen-year-old daughter, Joan. He benefited from this relationship with English royalty when Gwenwynwyn, his main rival in Wales, was arrested and stripped of his lands by John, and Llywelyn took the majority of his lands. He also fought alongside King John in a war against King William I of Scotland.

But things were not to remain rosy. He fell out with John, but military defeat was mitigated by Joan, who convinced her father not to strip Llywelyn of all his lands. Over time Llewelyn formed alliances with the other rulers of Wales, until he became the leader of the free princes of Wales, and was ruler of the vast majority of the nation.
King John died in 1216 and Henry III (John’s son and Joan’s half-brother) became king. Llewellyn, through marriage, was now brother-in-law to the King of England. He further entrenched his position by marrying his daughter, Gwladus, to Reginald de Braose, one the Marcher lords, (English/Norman lords who held lands along the Welsh/English border), and planned to marry his son, Dafydd, to Isabella, Reginald’s daughter by his first wife.

Llywelyn seemed to be unable to avoid conflict with Henry, however, and mounted regular incursions across the border into English lands or picked fights with the likes of William Marshall and Hubert de Burgh, two of the most powerful men in England. Largely, though, his position remained unchanged and he was able to exert a political power possibly never again reached by a Welsh prince. By a combination of war and diplomacy he dominated Wales for 40 years. He died in 1240.

Not sure about the moustache...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

New book cover?

Proof for the cover of my new novel. I'm not sure it's quite right. Without knowing anything about the story - if you saw this cover, what sort of book do you think it is? What do you think it might be about?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Does it have to be happily ever after?

I’m not talking about romances, here (that’s a whole different ball game), but other genres.
Personally I don’t think it does. In fact, many of the books which have stuck in my mind, and that I remember well, have had unusual or unorthodox endings.  Gone Girl, for instance - the ending was definitely not what I was expecting, but I think it was totally appropriate for the story (although there are many readers who disagree with me).
Gone with the Wind is another. All the way through the book I was anticipating Scarlett and Rhett’s HEA, and it never happened, and I think the story was that much better, and more memorable, for it.
Possibly the most famous love story in the world, Romeo and Juliet (and yes, I know it’s not a novel), has a tragic ending, and the play would be a dismal affair if it was anything else.
Perhaps it’s not the lack of HEA, but the unexpectedness of it, that is the key. And sometimes the technique of leaving future events to the imagination of the reader is a powerful one. It also leaves the story open to a sequel, but that’s another story (excuse the dreadful pun!). As been as I’ve deviated from books, I may as well go the whole hog and bring other media into the argument. The Sopranos – it couldn’t have ended any other way. Leaving it to the viewer to decide is pure genius.

On the flip side – Gravity. What a waste of an ending. How much more powerful would it have been if Sandra Bullock had died on re-entry- or is that just my dark side peeking through?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Those darned characters!

     I've said before that I'm a seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. I get an idea, the start of a story, a premise, and then just run with it. I know roughly what the end is going to be, sort of... maybe, but the in between bits tend to get worked out almost as they are written.
     I started my current WIP in exactly the same way, like a truck driver heading to Timbuktu when he has no idea what continent it's even on. Then I got stuck, which is not unusual, and normally I go and do something else for a while, until the elusive muse strikes again. But this time two months had gone by, and I still had no clue as to what was going to happen next in the story.
     So I joined Scribophile and stuck the first couple of chapters on there to see what other people thought. This rekindled my interest in the manuscript, and I read it through, all 37,000 words, playing with the odd scene and correcting any typos. I got to the end of it and thought. And planned. And worked things out. And had the odd idea or two about how to get my MC from A to Z, with a few of the other letters of the alphabet thrown in to help the story along.
     In other words, I had a plot, a story line. I knew what I was going to write for each scene, and how the whole thing was going to unfold (you can see where this going, right?).
     I sat down to write this morning, my first proper work on this manuscript since July, not just playing with what was already there, only to find my MC has played a blinder. Ruby has decided that she was not too keen on my carefully thought-out planning, and has done her best to scupper it.
     And the darned woman has succeeded. I'm going to have to have some sharp words with her, the next time I'm wide awake at 3am and trying to get inside my characters' heads. It's about time they realised that I write the story, not them!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Readers never read the book the author writes..

I read somewhere that ‘readers never read the book the author writes’.
And to a certain extent this is true. Two readers will have a different experience whilst reading the same book. Each reader brings their own mix of likes and dislikes, expectations, experiences, imagination and so many other factors to the table. No reader is the same, so why should their reading experiences be?

Sometimes, though, when I read reviews I wonder whether we were reading the same book! As an example, I picked a book at random, one I read and enjoyed a while ago. I read it before looking at any reviews, not wanting to be influenced by what other people think, and wrote my own review before checking anyone else’s.

So, to the example – well-known book, well-known author. I checked out the one star and the five star reviews and tried to look for similarities of content (but obviously not opinion!). Here’s what I found

1*  no real conclusion
5*  brilliant ending

1*  shallow
5*  brilliantly disturbing

1*  pretentious
5*  dark and bitter, like good chocolate

1*  boring
5*  gripping

1*  hackneyed storyline
5*  original storyline

1*  predictable
5*  great twist

1*  unlikeable characters
5*  believable characters

1*  talked about irrelevant rubbish
5*  one of the best novels I’ve read in ages

1* I didn’t get it
5*  kept me guessing

I think the moral of the story is – don’t be too influenced by reviews. What you might love, someone else is bound to hate, and vice versa. Though I will say at this point, that if the majority of a book’s rating are 1* and 2* then I might give it a miss on the premise that not everyone can be wrong.
Saying that though, there is a reverse side to this assumption – I was recently asked to review a novel, the blurb was good, the genre one I enjoy and was in the mood for. But I couldn’t even get half way through. To me it was clichéd, there were loads of typos and spelling errors (yes, I know, I’ve been guilty of those, too, but I put them right, and learned from my mistakes… I hope), repetitive words and phrases, stereotypical characters, and a weak storyline.  I gave up, then checked out the reviews to see if it was just me. Looks like it was. The book had numerous reviews, hardly any of them less than 4*.

            My conclusion? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so are books!