It’s a book!

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

It’s a book!

Name: Smoke and Mirrors

DOB: 18th December 2014

Gender: Mixed

Weight: I think it was worth it.

Should be live on Amazon sometime tomorrow.

Copies will be free to download on Christmas Day. I’d love to think that my regulars will help themselves then, but please remember that Amazon’s Christmas Day starts later than GMT. (Last time I advertised a free give-away the price didn’t drop to £0.00/$0.00 until sometime in the morning. It all got a bit tense.)

Christmas>present>ebook

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

I have finally got to a stage with Acer #3 where I’m as happy as I think I will ever be with it. (And I’m not sure I could face reading it through again.)

I’m going to list it on Amazon in the next few days. But don’t buy it then! It will be free to download on Christmas day. My intention in giving it away on Christmas day is to say thank you with a virtual Christmas present to those of you who have enjoyed the first two and who have supported me with my writing. I really am more grateful to you all than I think I can properly articulate. So, please, if you’ve been looking forward to it grab a copy then. I hope you find something in it to enjoy.

Compliments of the season to everyone who follows this blog and I hope that you all have wonderful festive seasons.

PS A long time ago I saw this: a book is a present you can open again and again. That’s something that didn’t change with technology (so long as your battery is charged).

Riding that wave of learning.

I didn't take this pic of the morning commute for the sunrise. There is something more remarkable about the view. See next photo for normal service.

I didn’t take this pic of the morning commute for the sunrise. There is something more remarkable about the view. See next photo for normal service.

That's better. I was feeling a little agoraphobic for a moment.

That’s better. I was feeling a little agoraphobic for a moment.

Still working on Smoke & Mirrors. I’ve given it another read through this week after the wake-up call, which has led to me striking nearly 4000 words from it. I’m very happy about that. It’s now down to 90,000 words. There are some weeks where I feel that I’ve really learned something about the craft of writing. This has been one of them.

And that's just the title page.

And that’s just the title page.

I’ve learnt that I don’t like adverbs and I should use them sparingly. I’ve learnt that the use of clichés should be a birching offence. (I think that to include them occasionally in dialogue is acceptable. People do use them in speech.) I’ve learnt that there isn’t anything much more distracting and irritating for me in a story than a cringe-worthy home-made simile. (Good ones are worth their weight in unicorn semen. But use sparingly.) I’ve learned to stop saying something and then saying it again differently. I’ve learned not to be so verbose. I’ve learnt not to tell so much. I’ve learnt that Hemingway was right when he said writing is rewriting. I’ve learnt that Elmore Leonard was right when he said if the author’s voice comes through get rid of it.

I’m not saying that my stories from now on will be free from all the above but I’ve learnt to recognise them better and the need to weed them out/do something about it when I do. I believe that is an important step towards becoming a better writer. (For those thinking: about time, Rome wasn’t built in a…oh crap – is that a cliche?)

I’ve enjoyed myself on this. I didn’t relish the prospect of taking the knife to the text again but as I was going along I found the removal of every word and phrase something satisfying.

The most important thing is that I am much happier about the book. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating (some things are): my aim with every book I bring out is that each addition should contribute to the series. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, ever. And I don’t want to let myself or my characters down. That brings a certain pressure to bear. But then no one said being an attention seeking vanity publisher was going to without its challenges.

I am determined to have Acer #3 out before Christmas.

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

Stop, look and listen.

If you don't immediately understand, you soon will.

If you don’t immediately understand, you soon will.

Two days ago I was walking to catch my bus and I had to cross the road. It’s a busy road. I was not paying good attention and misjudged the speed of an approaching maniac, sorry, Turkish driver. I had to hurry the last couple of yards to the pavement and relative safety. As the car sped past, inches from my trailing heel, horn blaring, a voice said, ‘Careful, you idiot. You nearly got us all killed.’ In English. Out loud. It was me. And I was addressing myself. I know this because, thankfully, there was no one else around. To be precise, I think it was the DI Romney in me that was addressing the real me, as I was thinking about him at the time. It made me feel a bit weird about myself. It still does.

It was a bit of a wakeup call for me about the dangers of becoming too involved with my characters. I’m not sure when I crossed the line or if the advanced level of my condition can be reversed. Clearly, the episode was brought on by a particular event, a near death experience in this instance. But what if the DI Romney in me can be triggered in other ways? What if I’m teaching and one of the kids does something to elicit a reaction from one of the characters who live within me? I could end up swearing at or punching a five year old or a colleague. How could I explain it and remain at liberty? You don’t know them out here. It’s straight-jackets first, ask questions later.

But it did make me think that I need to take more care generally. I mean, if I die in a traffic accident, for example, it’s not just me who’s gone.  I’d be taking Tom Romney, Joy Marsh, Peter Grimes, Acer Sansom, David Booker and Jo Cash with me, not to mention all the supporting casts from these series. I think I owe it to English literature to use the pedestrian crossings from now on.

***

Just 'cos I like the cover.

Just ‘cos I like the cover.

Last week I got Smoke & Mirrors back from the gentleman who proofreads my books. I’ve been reading it through and, as per his advice, the red pen is out again. I’ve been guilty of a lot of waffling, repetition, and the text is littered with clichés and crappy similes. In places it reads like the kind of books I give up on for just those reasons. I’m pretty disappointed with myself.  It really needs a good pruning. I don’t mind that as an exercise. In fact I get some satisfaction out of tightening up a text. But I wish I’d made a better job of it before I sent it off. Still, better to find out now than through reader feedback.

I also realised from this read through that I have a bad authorial habit of writing something and then finishing the paragraph with a summarising sentence that says it all again, just in case the reader might have missed what I was on about. It ends up as show and tell instead of show not tell. Actually, it’s a cardinal sin for a writer. I should be past all that for crying out loud. Again, I’m doing something about it.

***

Something else to highlight for my writer’s diary this week. I’ve recently finished Booker & Cash #2, so a lot of it is still quite fresh in my mind. While working on Smoke & Mirrors today I recognised a couple of lines that I remembered using in B&C#2. Cue cold sweat. They were quite generic, which makes it more forgivable.

Being philosophical about it, I suppose it shouldn’t be such a shock to discover that I have used a line that I liked more than once. (Having spotted them I have changed them.) It made me think about writers who have long running series with their characters. People like Lee Child and his Jack Reacher, for example. He has written nineteen books in this series so far. Has he never repeated himself with a line, a phrase or a bit of dialogue? It’s something else to watch out for and guard against the more books I write.

As far as crossing the road and writing goes (not at the same time, obviously), this week has given me some important lessons to learn from.

An attention seeker by any other name…

If self-publishing can be analogised as pregnancy, I'm experiencing labour pains.

If self-publishing can be analogised as pregnancy, I’m experiencing labour pains.

Part one:

Since self-publishing went digital, people (writers who self-publish mostly) have been coming up with ways of referring to themselves that don’t have the old derogatory connotations of traditional vanity publishing attached to them. No one wants to be tainted with that label. The publishing industry has always looked down its collective nose at such enterprise. Vanity publishing is conventionally associated with people who believed they could write, were not able to get traditionally published and who then paid to have a print run of their books produced. These they would often try to shift themselves only to end up with large numbers of books in their garages awaiting processing for mouse-nest bedding. Even in the digital age it still goes on.

On my email signature I refer to myself as an ‘author-publisher’. I think I got that from Joe Konrath, a phenomenal success in the self-publishing business and something of a self-appointed champion/mouthpiece for self-publishing, like him or loathe him. I thought if it’s good enough for Uncle Jo, it’s good enough for me. It is, I think, tinged with a little more respectability than a term with the word vanity in it. Vanity smacks of attention seeking. But are we self-publishers in the digital age conceptually any different to the vanity publishers of old and new, regardless of how we label ourselves? Are we not all seeking attention for our work and therefore for ourselves?

It occurred to me a little while ago that I wished I hadn’t self-published under my own name. The more I have come to think about it the more I see that as the single defining standard regarding whether one is a vanity publisher, as putting the vanity into vanity publishing – is the author self-publishing under his/her own name? I’m referring to those of us who are going it alone from nowhere in the hope that we might receive some positive reader attention, maybe even be ‘discovered’. Of course, we want attention for our writing. None of us is writing to be ignored. But I can’t help equating self-publishing under one’s own name with walking around sporting face piercings and exposed arms covered in tattoos – things that shout look at me!

Hindsight is often a wonderful thing. I wish I could start again. I would write under a pseudonym because writing under my own name makes me feel like an attention seeker in a bad way. And the older I get the more I dislike attention seekers and attention seeking.  I don’t know what pen name I would have used and there is no point wasting time on that aspect of this attention seeking lament now.

Being honest, part of why I decided to write under my own name was that when I was in my first flush of self-publishing youth I hoped that enough readers would like my books enough and then I might make something of a name for myself. I was seeking attention for my name. It’s vanity. It’s ego. It’s narcissism. It’s self-importance. I feel like doing a penance. Has that hair shirt been through the wash, I wonder.

Part two:

Last weekend I received Smoke & Mirrors (Acer Sansom #3) back from the gentleman who proofreads my books. That gave me a decision to make: devote my time to looking at his comments, corrections and suggestions with a view to getting the book on to Amazon post-haste, or finish my own final read throughs of He Made Me (B&C #2) so that I can get it off to him. I flipped a coin and option B won. So, this week I have made the best that I think I can out of He Made Me and sent it off. Now I can turn my full attention to Smoke & Mirrors. I’m looking forward to it. All being well it’ll be out shortly.

I’ve been working on the Amazon blurb and it’s looking like this:

Reeling and vulnerable from news regarding the sudden death of a woman who he thought he might have had another chance at life with, Acer Sansom has agreed to do a one off job for Crouch of British Intelligence. He’s not doing it for money. He’s not doing it for his country. He’s doing it for the children.

Acer has gone undercover in Iran in search of evidence that British scientists believed dead are, in fact, alive and being forced to work in one of the regime’s nuclear facilities. 

A straightforward reconnaissance assignment becomes something far more involved, more complicated and more dangerous. In light of new knowledge and reason, Acer finds himself with no alternative but to risk his life and the lives of others with a change of plan.

A fisher of men

Rainy day fun.

Rainy day fun.

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19.

Have I finally found God?

Walk along any shoreline in Istanbul and you will often see men fishing. In fact men fish from anywhere here: boats, bridges, beaches, banks, trees. I even once saw a man fishing from his moped. When I walk with the Halfling down by the sea we often exchange a few words about the men fishing.

David: Look. Fishering.

Me: Fishing.

David: Fishering.

Me: FishING

David: Fishering.

Me: FISHING!

David: Fishering.

Me: Whatever.

A couple of weeks ago, because I’m basically a good dad, I blew last month’s royalty cheque from Amazon on a 6ft bamboo cane. (It’s only money.) The type people use for constructing runner bean frames back home. I thought the little chap and I could go ‘fishering’ together down at the seafront. I fixed a length of string to the end and off we went hand in hand. We had fun. Because we didn’t have a hook or bait we didn’t catch anything. But it didn’t matter. It was all about the taking part.

Last Sunday it was raining. We didn’t go out. David wanted to go ‘fishering’. I had a good idea. I set him up on the sofa and spread out some of his toy cars on the floor and then I attached one of those massively over-sized paper clips to the string of his ‘fishering’ rod. I encouraged him to fish for his cars. He cast (He’s not bad. Might make a good fly fisherman one day.) and I crawled around on the floor hooking cars on the paperclip that I’d bent to enable such. Then he would ‘strike’ and reel them in. We had a lot of fun and he was thrilled with the activity. I’m so creative.

After an hour of this I was getting a bit bored and my knees were hurting. I decided to have a bit of fun with the lad. Next time he cast I scrambled around on the floor with my back to him. When I turned to face him I had the paperclip in my mouth. Like he’d caught me. His little face lit up. He let out a squeal of delight and before I could react to the wicked glint that came into his eye, he yanked back hard on his fishing rod like the compleat angler he is becoming.

They said they heard my scream four floors up. And this is a well-insulated solid concrete apartment block.

My howling and thrashing about on the slippery laminate flooring seemed only to encourage the little ‘fisherman’ in my son, much as, I suppose, a real fisherman is encouraged when he has a big fish on his line. David sprang down from the sofa still clutching the rod in his pudgy little fists and started for the door. I had little option, as I didn’t want half my face torn off, but to go after him on my hands and knees as fast I could. The corridor between the lounge and the end bedroom is a good fifteen metres and over fifteen metres the Halfling is pretty quick.

I was shouting at him to stop but to be fair to the boy, with a mouthful of over-sized paperclip and blood I probably wasn’t being too clear about it. I like to think that if he had understood the pain I was in and my terror at not being able to keep up with him as I scrabbled along like his leashed pet chimp he would have stopped. As it was he seemed to double his efforts, and his cruel mocking laughter echoed down the hallway.

In the end bedroom he soon ran out of room, if not steam, and I quickly closed the gap between us thereby taking some of the tension out of the line. Because I no longer needed my hands to propel myself along the floor I was able to grab the line and yank the rod out of the boy’s fists. He immediately began to howl. (Turns out he got a splinter, but that’s a story for another day. Yeah, I know, a splinter from bamboo. They don’t make those canes like they used to.)

I rushed to the bathroom to assess the damage in the mirror. There was a lot of blood by this time. The face that stared back at me with the metalwork sticking out of one cheek reminded me of an aging punk-rocker I’d seen somewhere.

The paper clip came out easily enough. Thank goodness I hadn’t gone as far as fashioning the end of it into a barb. No doubt a hospital visit would have been necessary. And embarrassing.

Start to finish my ordeal lasted only about thirty seconds but the skin-chilling horror of what could have become of my ‘best side’ has plagued my dreams all week. The puncture wound is barely noticeable now. I still have some rather nasty friction burns on my knees, however. (I was wearing shorts.) They needed some explaining.

*

Last week I blogged about having a German translation of Rope Enough/DOVER (The First Romney and Marsh File) listed on Amazon.de. Daniela and I had decided to give it away for the weekend. By Sunday evening it was number one in all Kindle categories for free books. That was a strange feeling. Very encouraging. We’re charging for it now and it’s climbing the paid chart, and it’s got two five star reviews.

*

I’ve really been thinking about the craft of writing this week and it’s because of the current project I’m involved in. (As a writer, shouldn’t I be thinking about the craft of writing more often than that?)

When I started this book I thought I was looking at a labour of love that would span years of my life and hundreds of thousands of words (I honestly think that the concept could survive it, if I pursued the detail) – something I would work on between other books; something I would attack sporadically and then leave to fester before another burst of feverish activity. But I can’t write like that and more to the point I don’t think that I want to.

There’s nothing puts me off reading a book more than seeing it’s several hundred pages long. I just know it’s going to drag. I just know there’s going to be sooooo much to retain and most of it will be stuff the book could have done without (says me). It’s going to take me weeks to read it and I’m going to end up resenting it for that. I like to read a book in a short space of time – a couple of good sessions on the sofa, or a week of bedtime/commute reading, for examples, something that I can get deeply into the narrative and stay there for a devoted, concentrated short burst, as it were.

Some memorable reads that spring to mind that were not long reads: Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness. (Why do I always mention these titles when I talk about books? It’s always the same ones.) These are books that stay with one for life. (Maybe that’s why.) Imagine the pleasure to be taken from writing something that stays with a reader for years, and that is doubly impressive because it was short.

And so my thinking progressed to, what if I could tell a really big story in as few words as I possibly could but still retain the enormity of the idea. So much would be left unexplored by me, the author, but the reader would inevitably (bit presumptuous) want to consider the untold aspects of the story. Is that what I would want as a reader? Finishing a book with questions crashing into each other in my mind? (I don’t mean cheating the reader out of information, like having a murder mystery and not revealing whodunit.) Or do I want everything I read to be neatly tied up and explained so that I just forget it and move on? I don’t imagine my thinking is anything original. The point is it’s new for me.

And so it was that I found myself finishing the first draft of this current project, exactly eight weeks to the day after I wrote the first line – the one I shared on this blog that week and that does NOT now have the ‘f’ word in it – ‘the blockbuster’ aka ‘my magnum opus’… with only sixty-two thousand words on the clock. (It’s officially my shortest book by over ten thousand words.) It worried me at first. But then it didn’t. A week later, after time to reflect, I still feel positive about the word count aspect.  Good things come in small packages and all that. And really, when a story is told, it’s told. It’s just the story I’m not sure about. One for the bottom draw, maybe.

The End.

Vorsprung Durch Technik!

Dover (Medium)

Some interesting and exciting personal writing news to enter into my writer’s diary blog this week. Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) is now available as a German translation on Amazon.de. as well as .co.uk and .com. It is titled simply Dover. That’s the German cover up top.

A few months ago I was contacted by Daniela Brezing. She said she’d read the first couple of R&M Files and wondered whether I’d like to enter into an arrangement with her whereby she translated my books and we split the proceeds. She wasn’t without experience of translating English to German in book form. She said that the R&M Files might go down well in Germany. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Who knows, they just might and if you don’t try you never know. So we drew up a contract. Daniela has done the translation and the rounds of her beta readers and this week she uploaded the book to Amazon.

More than just the excitement of having one of my books (hopefully more to come) available to be read in the German language I’m thrilled to be part of, dare I say at the forefront of, a development in the evolving self-publishing scene. And I didn’t even do anything.

Not so long ago, with all the financial issues and language barrier issues and editorial issues and printing issues and distribution issues, if you weren’t being published by a proper publishing house who would organise and pay for everything to get your physical book translated into a foreign language and into foreign bookshops then forget it.

But today with Amazon’s dedicated markets all over the world people are seeing and seizing opportunities. People like Daniela. Bi-lingual people who have a passion for books, who are ready to embrace technology, who have a good entrepreneurial business idea and who aren’t afraid to ask the big question and then do some work to create and develop a market.

I think that I’m right in saying that Daniela is not a professional translator just like I’m not a professional author. We both have families, other commitments on our time and other responsibilities before we can find time to sit down and devote some of our ‘spare’ time to our sidelines. Part of my point is that today you don’t need to be a professional, as in it’s your main occupation and main source of income, to be able to succeed in the ebook market place. So long as your approach is professional and your commitment is professional then the gap between professional and semi-professional is closed right down.

Technology, self-publishing and platforms such as Amazon have levelled that playing field for those of us who want to make the effort to close the gap.

I have no idea how far advanced is the practice of people like Daniela and me – non-professionals from different cultures, countries and languages, and who are quite unknown to each other – getting together and going on to collaborate on translation projects of self-published books. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there wasn’t a lot of it about at the moment. Equally, I won’t be surprised if such practices don’t become more and more common. And why not? There’s Amazon France, Germany, Italy, Spain for starters. Millions and millions of readers who are going to come to the ebook and ereaders sooner or later – it’s all going to catch on and catch up like all technology – and most of these people will want to read books in their own language and a good lump of them might like to read good old British police procedural novels set in Dover that are being offered for sale at a fraction of the price of the translations being offered by the big publishing houses because our overheads are so much less, while our product is able to compete. (I’ve had enough feedback on the R&M Files now to know that readers generally enjoy them, the cover is professional, the translation’s professional and we’re all using the same technology.)

Anyway, viel glück (that’s good luck in German) to us for our venture and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a few of my self-publishing chums read this and thought it’s worth getting involved too. I’m sure Daniela would be pleased to hear from you…after she’s finished mine. :-)

Just in case I have any followers who crave a German language copy of Dover aka Rope Enough it’s free to download from the following Amazon outlets over the weekend. Just click on the links.