Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reading for yourself…

Sometimes I think it’s all too easy for us would-be authors to get lost in the business of writing – to forget the simple pleasure of reading without feeling the need to analyse every detail in case we've missed something that could make us better.

But a couple of weeks ago I read a book that transported me so far away from everything that I forgot to think about techniques or plotlines and literally lost myself in a good book.

At times, this story was so poignant, the characters’ pain so acute, that I felt as though I was looking over their shoulder as events unfolded. And the only way I could cope with what was happening was to physically stop and remind myself that it wasn’t real: that these characters were simply a figment of somebody’s rather brilliant imagination.

That may sound a little over the top, but it’s absolutely true. I can lose myself in a book – for hours, eating into the long hours of the night because I can’t bear to go to sleep on an unfinished story. Because of that, it never usually takes me more than a day to finish something that I’m reading. It’s an extreme – and often expensive – habit, I know, but at least I’m easy to buy for!

When people talk about having their novel published, I can safely say that my greatest thrill would be to encounter a reader who feels that way about my own story. I could definitely live with the idea of my writing keeping someone up at nights!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Everything that goes before

I’m working on a detailed plan for book no.2 at the moment.

What started out as a few tentative steps towards a whole new project has now gathered pace and I can feel the familiar excitement mounting as I consider new characters and settings.

It struck me the other day, however, just how much of an achievement it was completing my first MS. Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not saying it’s perfect – and won’t be subject to some serious revisions if I’m lucky enough to get to that point in the process – but for all intents and purposes, as it stands, I now have a 100,000-word novel that I can call my own.

Now, at the planning stage for book no.2, I’m acutely aware of what a serious undertaking this book-writing lark is. And I’m not simply referring to the discipline involved. For me, it’s a leap into the unknown – with a set of characters that I can only hope to become as attached to as I did those within my previous MS.

As my enthusiasm for a completely new project begins to increase in earnest, I find myself looking forward to the challenge.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Not an e-book in sight...

If you’ve ever read the post I made on this blog about the love affair I’ve been having with my e-reader, then you’ll have some idea of what my friends and family have endured from me in recent months.

At some points, having the device surgically removed has been mooted as the only chance I may have in order to lead a full life once again. At times, when I do look up from my strangely compelling black and white screen long enough to notice that while I may rather fond of my Kindle, those around me do not hold it in such high regard.

To be honest, I don’t care what the critics say, as far as I’m concerned, having access to practically any book I want is worth the constant ribbing or threats to sabotage it. In saying that, even I have to admit that I would probably make an A-class saleswoman for the product – because I know more about its uses than anyone else I know. But that’s a whole new blog post!

Something that has surprised me during these conversations with people is that no one else seems as excited as I am by the technology. Even other writers I’ve spoken to have insisted they will stay loyal to conventional books and show no signs of opting for any compromise arrangement.
For my part, I appreciate the convenience of having my own mobile library in my handbag while still holding some of the same books on the bookshelf in my office. But, in saying that, it’s certainly the case now that I haven’t actually purchased a paper-bound book since acquiring an e-reader. But a lot of that simply comes down to the time I spend abroad and the trouble I have actually sourcing physical books.

On a recent trip to England (which lasted over a month, by the way, so I feel it counts as valid research), I was really looking forward to judging the uptake of mobile readers like the Kindle and I expected to see some serious e-readers on the London tube and various suburban trains.

I can tell you I was shocked to discover none of my fellow passengers using a similar device. Now, obviously they could have using an e-reader on their mobile phones, but from the persistent tapping taking place, I’d say that was unlikely… Instead, I found myself staring at the book covers of traditional volumes – which was obviously an interesting exercise in itself.

But still, no one using an e-reader?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic…

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A question of freedom

I read a book this week that had me grimacing at the male protagonist’s serious lack of hygiene. I won’t name the novel in question but can tell you it is the work of someone who’s a permanent fixture on the New York Times bestseller list – having written dozens of books which have sold in their millions.
Don’t know about any of you, but I can never leave a book unread, so I duly waded through the grime and quite enjoyed the story after a few baths had been taken – and the rats removed from the rushes. But it certainly wasn’t the best thing I’ve read by this author.

What made far more of an impression on me than the story, however, was the feeling that such a novel would surely have been unthinkable for a first-timer trying to get published. While I’m certainly not of the opinion that everyone should be religiously following trends, or simply rehashing the same character traits, what really struck me was the freedom I felt this author had been allowed to exercise in what is really quite a strict genre.

That may be an unfair assumption on my part, of course. After all, the dirt-loving characters and setting were undoubtedly unique – and while I may not be a fan of a main character who has an aversion to soap, I suppose I should concede that there may be many people who remain unfazed by such details. ;o) However, a quite look at some of the book's reviews seemed to confirm my original feeling and I was left wondering whether such plotlines are only deemed to be acceptable when they come from authors with a established following.

I’d love to know your thoughts about this…

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Heaven is an e-reader

It’s official: I am now a dedicated e-book reader!

After declaring on more than one occasion that I simply wouldn’t know what to do without the feel of a ‘real’ book in my hands – or the sensation of actually turning the pages – I’ve discovered the wonderful world of the e-reader. And I’m addicted. I’m not going to say which one I own as I’m doing my best not to sound like an advertisement. :o)

While I would obviously like to play the green card here, I have to admit my love of my e-reader is entirely selfish (not that I’m not happy to be doing my bit, of course). As someone who divides their time between England and Bulgaria, this form of reading is the perfect medium for me.

And here’s why: at present, a trip to my nearest bookshop consitutes a six-hour round trip – and is no guarantee of success if I’m hunting down a particular volume; lugging a groaning bag of tightly packed volumes through airport security; or hoping against hope that the courier has finally worked out where I live and will soon be delivering my book order. (You may find the latter amusing, but I’m still waiting for a parcel sent in October… unfortunately, this emergency package also contained a box of Toffifee.)

The other thing I love about my e-reader is the sheer portability of it – barring the worrying sheen of moisture that steam from a particularly long bath (my excuse for sneaking another few chapters) will cause, I’d say this thing works just about everywhere. It’s even taken to accompanying me on the daily dog walk.

As far as I can tell, its only drawbacks include a real risk to personal relationships and 3G capability, which means that you can literally purchase books anywhere and at anytime – which bodes ill for the bank balance. The worrying part is that books feel free when you’re acquiring them via a couple of clicks rather than physically parting with your hard-earned cash. Well, they do to me anyway…

I’ve also found being able to read my own work via this medium really helpful too – things look a lot better in this format and you can easily make proofing notes etc and skip between chapters, so you can get a real feel for how your MS flows.

Now that I have one, I can’t really see any argument against such a medium. Bar one: if everyone was using an e-reader, I think I would really miss being able to sneak a look at what everyone else on the train is reading on the morning commute…

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The dreaded synopsis

Apologies for not updating this blog for some time now... My excuse? I’ve been busy preparing my synopsis and query letter for submission to an agent – I think that’s a pretty good one for an aspiring writer’s blog though so I'm sticking to it!

Anyway, the whole point of this blog was to share tips and really get a discussion going about writing, so I thought I ought to pull my finger out and start making my contribution… And, considering what I’ve been working on of late, I thought a post about the dreaded synopsis would be just the thing.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve probably got around twenty versions of both the aforementioned items sitting on my computer. I know the general consensus amongst authors – and debut authors – is that putting together the synopsis is more difficult than writing the novel itself, but I’m starting to view it as a very useful tool for a writer.

When I first started putting together my synopsis – which was sometime last year, I found myself really struggling. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was a very good reason for this: the indecision, which was apparent in my synopsis and query, was reflected in the manuscript itself. Every glaring hole in the plot or characterisation was there in black and white. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, I can tell you – and it certainly wasn’t welcome. After wrestling with it for a little longer, I realised that drastic action was required.

So, I ending up doing a major revision of the book – during which I tightened up the plot and really took the time to examine why I really wanted to tell this story so much, for me to arrive at a place where I think the synopsis is truly representative of the novel it is selling. And not simply in terms of summarising the story either: to my mind, it conveys the same tone – and is going to give an agent a pretty good idea of what kind of book I’ve put together.

I began working on presenting it as both a detailed two-page synopsis and also a one-pager for those agents who insist on that length. Condensing all the things I wished to convey into a single page that did not simply resemble book blurb was tricky, but I found honing the two-pager to be the way to go. Once I was completely happy with that, I just took the red pen to any superfluous information that I could detect. Again, I found that being really confident about the story you’re telling and all its composite parts and themes made this a relatively easy process.

Once I was at the stage where I thought I had it, I sent it out to a couple of writer friends who came back with some really positive feedback. There were two main issues that were pointed out, however. It may well be obvious to anyone reading this, but it wasn’t to me – so I’m including them below in case you find them of use.
  • Stay active: Don’t say a character ‘may’ be able to help or is fairly sure about something. As far as the synopsis is concerned, if that’s what happens in the book – then they can and they are!

  • Your main protagonist:  Keep your synopsis focused on them – and don’t introduce them through secondary characters… eg, "When secondary character meets main protagonist he realises that she"

I hope my experience (albeit coming from an unpublished author!) proves useful, but I’d love to hear any of your tips, as well…