Groundhog Day

Groundhog DaySo here I am once more, back on the final chapter of the Ferret Files, nineteen months after the last time I was here.  Things have moved on – in a good direction, the whole novel feels much better and my characters are much happier with their lot.  How do I know? They’ve stopped bitching to me about unfulfilled desires and hanging plot lines.

So what have I learned during the second revision?

1) If you have a novel inside you that’s demanding to see the light of day, write it.  Perseverance is key.  Set to and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished.  No excuses.  Really want it.  Focus on how great it will feel once you’ve reached that final chapter.  Make pictures of the day you write ‘The End’.  Chances are you’ll have to reorganize your life and miss out on things you’d otherwise do.  Sacrifice is no bad thing.  It hardens your resolve.

2) There will be days when you want to tear your hair out, days when you think you’re a dillweed for ever imagining you can write and days when you don’t get started until 8 hours after you planned.  On the flip side, there will be days when you feel amazing inside.  You’ll have a smile for everyone, especially yourself, over some delicious one-liner, a clever plot twist or a paragraph of narrative that’s good enough for Jehovah.  Those are the days that make it all worthwhile.  People will think you’re on drugs.  Let them.

3) Listen to your characters.  They know what they want better than you do.  If you push them about, they will fight back.  Take heed of what they say, take a deep breath and go with it.  You’ll learn things about your characters that you didn’t know and that’ll make you feel on top of the world.  See (2).  Any good story is the story of characters and how they change over time when faced with issues they didn’t expect to encounter.  If you’re ever in doubt about who your characters are, imagine them all at a dinner party.  Who forgets to wear a bow tie?  Who takes two, just in case?  Now lob a grenade in the room and watch them react.  This is a metaphor for something unexpected BTW, it doesn’t have to be a real grenade.  The point is to take your characters out of the novel, put them in a situation that doesn’t exist in the novel, add some chaos, watch and learn.

4) Not every brilliant idea you have has to be used immediately.  If it doesn’t fit, don’t try and cram it in.  Some ideas are so good, they’re novels on their own, they need space to develop and breathe.  So keep a notebook, jot them down and then leave well alone.  Rabbit holes will derail you. and once you’re down one, it’s easy to forget how you got there.  Think Alice in Wonderland.

5) If you’re stuck, blog it.  Social media is your window to the world.  If you have something that’s bothering you in the way of the plot, characters or even technique, write about it, put it down for a day and then think about pressing the publish button before you re-read it.  That should get the juices flowing.  Now you can re-read.  Saying something out aloud is very different to saying it in your head.  Often the shock will provide the answer.  If not, bash the problem around.  I tend to use other writers rather than my friends, just because they’ve not been up to their elbows in words and don’t fully understand what’s going through your head.

6) Write about stuff that interests you.  You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on brain surgery to have an interest in it.  Research is all part of the writing experience, whether you do it before you start, or while you’re going along.  If you find brain surgery to be as dull as ditch water, then leave it well alone.  Ultimately, you’re no different to anybody else out there.  If you choose to write about something that you have no interest in whatsoever, it will show.  Excuses will abound and you’ll find it difficult to finish.  Overall, you won’t enjoy the writing experience and readers will enjoy the reading experience even less.  Being happy is the key to being productive.  Writing about things that interest me while listening to music I love – there’s no better feeling.  See (2).

7) Read often.  The more you read good fiction, the more you learn unconsciously about the writing process and the art of story telling.  If you have difficulty with a particular plot point, see how your favorite author deals with it.  Ultimately, every story has already been told, but not every combination of words has ever been used to reach the conclusion.  Writing and music have a lot in common.  There’s only so may notes, yet new songs come out all the time and they still manage to be original.  Musicians have their influences, authors too.  Read.  Digest.  Be inspired.  Dare to reach for Heaven.

That’s it for today.  Now I’m back in the flow, I can’t seem to shut up…

 

Spooky Ferret

Here’s the final Ferret illustration, for now, from my good pal Richard Argent over at Argent Art.

Spooky Ferret

When I set out to write, I wanted to create the novel I’d been waiting 40 odd years to read.  At some point, I figured, someone would combine the paranormal, an extinct Nazi drugs program, City of London banksters and financial malfeasance into a coherent story.  But no.  Still waiting.  Lob in a healthy dose of humor, some consultant doublespeak and several years of my own experiences working for the Government on programmes I can’t talk about, and you’ve got the Ferret Files.

Ultimately, I’m no different to anyone else.  If I want to read this story, then you do too.  And you will.  Very soon…

A Bit of Friday Fun

It’s been a while since I finished the first draft of the Ferret Files and started on the second.  To be honest, I really had no idea how long it might take, having not written a full length novel before.  In the background, I’ve been working with my good pal Richard Argent over at Argent Art to put some Ferret visuals together (Richard is a very talented artist, please check his other stuff out).  Firstly, I have a funky new Avatar which I’m very pleased with:

Ferret in London

Ferret in London

 

I should point out that Ferret the Detecting Consultant is a real person, not a cartoon character.  He runs a detective agency, this is his logo and it’s what appears on his business cards.  Very kindly, he’s agreed to lend it to me, to help promote his story.

Over the next few days I’ll publish some of Richard’s other Ferret illustrations – they’re very good.  He’s currently working on a half dozen sketches, drawn in his usual style, as illustrations for the finished novel.  I can’t wait to see key scenes of London, populated with my characters, it’s going to rock big time.

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, but then so much has happened over the last eighteen months.

On a personal basis, a family bereavement stopped me in my tracks.  My mother had been ill for some time, fighting Lymphoma.  I was desperate to finish the Ferret Files while she was still alive, and thus muffed the ending, which only became apparent on first read through.  Back to the drawing board for the last six chapters.  More importantly, from a writer’s perspective, I was faced with a huge dilemma.  The key event in my hero’s life is the death of the father he didn’t get to know.  This is an allegory for the relationship with my own father, which was strained for many years (to put it mildly).  With him being a good few years older than my mother, we’d always assumed as a family that he’d pop off first.  But then the stubborn ole bugger never has done anything according to plan.

That was Sept 2013.

The death of a loved one certainly brought clarity to my life and gave me a whole bunch of hitherto unexplored emotions to draw on in my writing.  It also made me question what I was doing.  Is writing really that important?  I’d grafted very hard to accomplish something, only to get it wrong at the last.  Perhaps I should have spent more time with my mother, rather than keeping my head down and persevering with the details of an imaginary world.

And so it was, with great pain in my heart, I put my writing down while I worked through the trauma.  My mother used to be a teacher, which is where I get my love of literature from, including comics, which was part of her dissertation.  Later on, she fell into business and ran her own successful employment agency.  As I discovered, she also had a secret life beyond all of this, which none of us knew about.  I suspected, but it was only once she’d gone that confidentiality was surrendered and all the pieces fell into place.  She was an amazing woman to have three lives.  So competent.  Yet at the end, so feeble and addled with massive quantities of prescription drugs.   That’s what hurts the most, the loss of strength and vitality.

I miss her and I want her back

For a while I thought I was writing Ferret for her, and with her gone, there was no point to anything.

It’s taken over a year, but I now realize that I’m writing for me.  And for you.  Because ultimately, it’s the YOUs of this world that have helped me get through the loss.  The real life YOUs, who say hello on a daily basis, who chew the cud over a noisy beer.  The Facebook YOUs who I laugh and joke with, but have never met.  The Twitter YOUs, who make me giggle out loud with your delicious sense of humor.  The Pinterest YOUs, who are so inventive it hurts.  There is pain out there in the world, yes – but there’s also so much more.  As an author, it’s my job to find the good in all that pain, and turn it around into something positive.  I’ve never stopped loving, but for a long time I did stop feeling loved.

Opening up was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

It was also one of the most rewarding.

I want my mum back, just not the mum who died on me.  The one before she got ill.

I’m descended from Vikings.  Hence the Old Gods suit me.  They suited my mother too.  She used to like a good drink, a cuss and a swear.  I can’t imagine her sitting on a cloud, playing a harp somehow.  Neither can I imagine her sweating in chains, moaning, which she should be, given the details of her secret life.  If she’s anywhere, she’s with Odin, tossing axes in his Great Hall, sloshing beer with the gods.  The code she lived by was a Viking code.  She wasn’t perfect by any means, but she always did her best to show respect and not hurt other people, even when she was off pillaging in her long ship.

Here’s raising a glass to her in Valhalla!

This is THE END (my friend, the end)

I recently wrote those two little words that I didn’t think I’d ever see: THE END.

Two weeks later, I realise it’s anything but!  It’s simply the beginning of another cycle of hard work, towards creating a complete product.  Overall, I’m very happy with where I am, although a couple of key characters did things I hadn’t planned them to do near the end, which made for a few hairy moments.  As an author, if you don’t let your characters be themselves and express their flaws, then really you don’t have a body of work.  So they did their thing, created chaos and also revealed secrets I was previously unaware of.  One reveal has repercussions right the way back to the beginning of the book, which actually gave me a squeal of delight, as it helps to make sense of a pair of earlier scenes.

On the negative side, it’s taken nearly six months to write the Ferret Files.  I’d allowed three.

On the plus side, I did a word count and was delighted to come in at 105K – 25k less than I feared.

On the negative side, I’ve now got to go find a paying job.

On the plus side, an old friend who I’d lost contact with resurfaced, and with her a brilliant comic book artist who remains mostly unknown – now onboard for cover duties and illustrations.  I’m very excited about working with this guy, his drawings are nuts.

Mostly, what I’ve taken from the experience of writing my first novel is a feeling of great satisfaction.  I knew I had the stamina and will to finish, but that’s not the same as actually doing it full time (I tried part time, it didn’t work for me).  What’s come out the other end in terms of first draft and story exceeds my expectations.  Considering my plan went to hell after three months, that’s good.  Yeah?

Neil Young got me started and saw me over the finishing line.  Nightwish and The Ramones supplied a lot of fuel in the middle.  FYI – I took a break to Berlin last weekend and let hair down at Rammstein.  Visited The Ramones museum just off Oranienburger Strasse – if you get the chance, go.  It’s a proper rock n roll shrine.  Bat for Lashes helped slow things down.

Jim Morrison and the Doors provided the closing song, with ‘The End’.

As long as the influence of all the great music this novel is infused with seeps out in the reading, you’re gonna have fantastic fun with this one.  I set out to write the novel I want to read, which no-one else has so far written.  And succeeded.  The rest is dominoes, all the way to the bookshelves.

A quick brush-up and it’s time to find some readers…