Tag Archives: fiction

Ferret the Paperback hits the Airwaves

11 Sep

It’s taken me a lot of page wrangling to get there, but finally Ferret is coming out in paperback!

The release date is set at Friday 15th September, available on Amazon.

This is the same version as the e-book, with the exception of a single pesky comma that shouldn’t have been there. As a perfectionist, I saw the opportunity to remove it and did so. The biggest issue I had with the e-book was that the illustrations were not inline with the text as I originally envisaged them. To my (uncultured) mind this spoiled the flow of the story somewhat. That’s now fixed. As a bonus there are 7 x vignettes which aren’t in the e-book. They’re not exactly new as they’ve all been extracted from the full page illustrations. Overall, in my opinion, they add to the Ferret feel.

Personally I’m truly delighted with the finished article. It does justice to Richard’s crazy artwork in a way that the e-book didn’t.

Enjoy the read – it’s an awesome adventure!

Phillip Legard

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The Perils of Print-on-Demand

9 Aug

I’ve always loved reading, be it comics or novels and from a young age I could often be found lying in the corner of the lounge, head in the pages of a book. My mum was an English teacher, so Enid Blyton was strictly verboten – as in her work was not allowed in the house.  Everything on the home bookshelf was game, including my dad’s many volumes of very rude Rugby Songs, some of which my brother and I learned and then recited in public, causing much parental embarrassment. My early leaning was always towards science fiction, thanks mainly to Gerry Anderson; as a teen, I moved into fantasy, powered by the discovery of Michael Moorcock, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. Sometime in the mid 70s, I bought the Lord of the Rings as a three volume set, having begun reading it around a friend’s house. It was the first printed book I’d ever held in my hand that totally blew me away. If you search Google for ‘LOTR book cover’ there are hundreds of images to choose from, covering many reprints in many languages. The set that I had was similar to the illustration here – simple, understated, yet profound in its symbology. When I held the book in my hand, moving my finger around the one ring and the Dark Lord’s incantation, it felt as though the novel was possessed by an arcane power.

The second novel I encountered that had a presence was Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Colour of Magic‘ and shortly afterwards ‘The Light Fantastic‘. In both cases, it was Josh Kirby’s artwork that initially hooked me. Pratchett’s writing was fresh and funny, it blew away the cobwebs of traditional fantasy, which had become trapped within its own framework of stale plots and staid characters. As I read both books, I felt as though I was holding a complete package that oozed magical charm. [As an aside, Harry Potter has never done it for me, but I have a couple of friends who had a similar experience with some of the hardback editions to the point where they couldn’t put the books down!]

When I set out to present The Ferret Files, I did so as an independent author with full control over the internal artwork, the contents and the cover. I was intent on creating something that spoke to the reader before the pages were ever turned. Why then, as a massive consumer of paperback and hardback books for most of my life, with a vision to create something truly awesome, did I opt to publish Ferret as an e-book only? That’s a question that’s not only haunted me for the early part of 2017, but it was also the most asked question by my readers. One of the primary drivers for going digital was a fear that the original artwork wouldn’t scale down for print. Richard’s full page drawings are A3, and they’re very detailed. Astonishing, in fact. Hence I shied away from producing a physical print version because I didn’t want to create an inferior product. What I didn’t know when I set out on my journey is that one of the limitations of digital is that images cannot be embedded in with the text. As a result, the e-book didn’t fully realise my dream.

Print-on-Demand

Having worked in IT for most of my life, keeping up with trends as they emerge, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water and remedy the situation with a Print-on-Demand (PoD) version of Ferret. I mean, how difficult could it possibly be? The question was posed on a Friday afternoon three weeks ago. I now have the answer…

PoD is exactly what the title suggests. An electronic copy of your work is uploaded to a central location and when a customer presses the button to buy, a copy is printed off within the country of purchase and despatched within a few days. I figured this was likely to be expensive, but as it happens I was wrong. As a printing methodology PoD is cost effective up to around 50 copies of a book. After that, traditional print wins the day. I had a quick look around Amazon to see what other authors are doing, and two options became immediately obvious. There’s Amazon’s own offering called CreateSpace and there’s Ingram Spark. As an Amazon subsidiary, I decided that CreateSpace must be pretty good so they made the cut. Ingram Spark, as an independent author platform also ticked all my boxes – the downside being that it costs $$$ to create a title (unless you happen to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, which I am). I came across a third option, a site called Lulu, which I also wanted to explore. A comparison of the three options suggests that Lulu is the more expensive of the trio in terms of the cost to print a book, with CreateSpace and Ingram Spark costing roughly the same. On the plus side, the Lulu site has a lot of help to offer, as well as some very useful and active forums. Most importantly of all, I found and downloaded a free A5 template with instructions (go here: http://www.lulu.com/create/books and click ‘Download Template’). Once you have this piece of the jigsaw puzzle, everything else becomes so much easier. I wish I’d found this link at the beginning, rather than two weeks in.

Lulu allows you to format the book and cover, do some basic checks and then you’re off to the races. It’s very much down to you, with no human checks performed. Ingram Spark inserts a human check at each of the major stages of production, so is a little bit slower. CreateSpace follows the same format. Both of these services aid in preventing mistakes around the formatting of the interior and the cover, which believe me are easy to make.

I’m not going to go into massive detail about everything PoD related, but here are the basics.

The Interior

  • The cost of a printed book is determined by the number of pages it contains and the weight of the paper used. If it’s in colour, then it costs more than black and white. The addition of b/w images takes up page space but doesn’t affect the overall cost.
  • A page must have margins top & bottom and left & right. There’s also a gutter margin, which is where the spine is located. The Lulu template shows pages side by side, with mirror margin set. This is very useful when determining what a book will look like. The minimum margins all around are 0.25″ (6.33mm), but it’s usual to use 0.5″ (12.66mm). This is what I settled on. The size of the gutter margin is determined by the total number of pages in the book – the more pages, the thicker the spine overall, the larger the gutter.
  • It appears that different countries have different standards for retail book sizes, so your template will be determined by where you live in the world. CreateSpace likes a 6″ by 9″ template, which is standard for the USA but also applies to the UK and Europe. Ingram Spark and Lulu also operate in these countries but want me to print using an A5 template (5.9″ by 8.51″). Fortunately, the Lulu template allows the page size to be changed with ease, and the book insides adjust accordingly.
  • As a tip, always use a page break to break between pages, and not hard returns – otherwise changing the page size may catch you out. Page Break Odd / Page Break Even proved very useful with the large illustrations.
  • The choice of font is down to you. Times New Roman is a favourite, but anything that’s San Serif will do (Lulu lists the standard options). Ideally, the text should be set to 11 or 12 point. The smaller the text, the less pages you’ll have and the cheaper your book will be to produce. However, going down to 10 point will make the finished article very difficult for seniors to read. As an example, A5 format Ferret with 12 point Times New Roman clocks in at 420 pages. Cutting the text size down to 11 point results in a novel that’s 356 pages. The difference in Lulu production costs between the two is £1, or £6.79 vs £7.80 to me. CreateSpace uses a 6″ by 9″ template, which is slightly larger than A5. Here, 12 point Times New Roman produces a book with 356 pages.
  • Images can be added onto a page and embedded in the text, but they must be 300dpi. For Ferret I embedded the 9 x vignettes in with the text and then set each of the 4 x large illustration on a page on their own, with a blank side on the rear. The large illustrations have the margins set to 0.25″, which allowed me to scale them as large as possible. A massive tip if you’re using Word: size your images in the drawing package of your choice at 300dpi then import the image without adjusting its size. Any size alterations made within Word will reduce the image quality down to 72dpi.
  • All three services require the interior to be in PDF format. Lulu and CreateSpace accept Microsoft Word and will happily do the conversion for you. Ingram Spark requires a PDF. However, as I soon discovered, not all PDF convertors are created equal. I messed about for a couple of days experimenting with Lulu and finally concluded that the optimum results with embedded images are obtained by using the Word ‘Save As’ function, and selecting PDF. The fonts must be embedded in the document, which is an ISO save option. Allowing Lulu to do the conversion results in the large single page illustrations being rendered unviewable.
  • Finally, as part of the distribution data you’ll need an ISBN number. You can obtain one yourself which costs $$$, or allow Lulu / CreateSpace to allocate one for you. The disadvantage of a free ISBN is that it is not transferable between services, so I’d recommend purchasing your own. If you’re also going to create an ebook, you’ll need a separate ISBN, as the number is media specific. In the UK, it’s cheaper to buy a pack of 10 ISBNs than to purchase just 2. Whichever option you choose, the ISBN must appear on the inside cover, on the copyright page.

The Cover

  • All three services have the capability to create covers for you. As I already have some rather nifty artwork for the front cover, I opted to upload it. I messed about for a couple of days trying various settings – initially I tried to upload just the front cover and use Lulu’s inbuilt templates for the back cover and spine, but matching the colours proved to be impossible. In the end I had to download an evaluation copy of Adobe PhotoShop and edit together a full wraparound cover. The end result is very pleasing, but if maths makes your brain hurt I suggest you either: a) get someone else to do it for you; or b) use the auto-build templates as provided. The CreateSpace and Ingram Spark editors looks very snazzy, but I didn’t go there on the grounds that I’d already taken the decision to make a full A5 jacket.
  • If you’re using your own artwork for the cover, it needs to be slightly larger than the printed page by 3.3mm per side (this is called the bleed and will be cut off in the manufacturing process). The full wraparound cover for Lulu’s A5 (148mm wide by 210mm high) version of Ferret is (151.3mm + spine + 151.3mm) by 216.6mm. The width of the spine is based on the number of pages the completed work contains, so cannot be accurately calculated until the page count is known. For Ferret this works out at 20.4mm. The size for Ingram Spark is identical.
  • The spine is intended to bend where the covers meet, so has an area each side of the fold that should not be printed on. A gap of 0.0625″ (0.15875mm) either side of the spine must be left blank. This caught me out with CreateSpace, who flagged up the Ferret logo as being too large. As I was unaware of this potential issue until it was brought up, I’m pretty sure that the proof copy I ordered from Lulu is going to be wrong (update – it’s arrived and it’s out by about 0.5mm, which I can live with – yippee!).
  • If you intend your work to be available to resellers, then it requires a barcode on the back cover, which contains the ISBN number. CreateSpace and Ingram Spark will helpfully add this for you when you upload the artwork or use their cover creator. With Lulu and a full wraparound cover, you have to follow the links to create a barcode which must then be cut & pasted onto the back cover.

Once the uploads are completed, all that remains is to order a proof copy of your work and wait for it to arrive. Mine turned up yesterday and there are a couple of small amendments that need to be made (my name is ever-so-slightly wonky on the spine and I discovered a missing ‘‘ in one of the later chapters), but otherwise we’re good to go. All in all, my experience of PoD has been really good if somewhat drawn out, but then I enjoy learning new things so it’s not a hardship. Plus I have a genuine enthusiasm for creating printed works, so the roadblocks thrown up in front of me were only ever going to be driven over. I’m really pleased with the results and unless an earthquake strikes Ferret will be out as a POD novel by the end of August.

If you have a project that’s underway and you need any encouragement I’m happy to hear from you…

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Exciting Times…

28 Jul

One of many items on my agenda for this year is to produce a print-on-demand copy of Ferret. I used a third party company to assemble the e-book, mainly because my head was full of other things at the time and I didn’t have the space to learn yet another way to format text. With hindsight, I wish I’d explored all of the options available and done it myself, because one of the things I’ve always found exciting is holding a finished, quality document in my hand, even if it is virtual. We are where we are, as the saying goes.

For the record, I have no issues with the quality of the e-book; I do, however, have a few issues with the format, the biggest of which is the (non) placement of graphics inline with the text.  I’ll cover the whole print-on-demand experience in a follow-up article, as I learned a lot of tricks that I’d like to pass on.

For now, here’s a preview of the finished cover:

I have a proof copy winging its way through the ether. Hopefully everything will be just fine and I’ll be able to make Ferret available in printed form within the next few weeks. I’m really excited to see the finished article as the e-book didn’t do justice to the artwork. Fingers crossed that those big pictures aren’t one messy splodge!

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How to Launch a Successful e-book in 10 Easy Steps (parody)

13 Jan

dollar-signsI’ve recently been engaged in launching an e-book and despite reading many useful tips and techniques, I’ve still managed to write the manual on how not to do it properly. In order to assist those who wish to follow in my footsteps, I present how to launch a successful e-book in 10 easy steps.

  1. The starting point for our e-book is an accumulation of text we’ve written. The objective is to make $$$, so under no circumstances will we employ a proof-reader or an editor. Our time is the most precious commodity we have, so we’re not going to edit the text ourselves, we’ll simply go with what we’ve got. If in doubt about the readability of our manuscript, we’ll sprinkle it with random, additional commas. It’s impossible to have too many. There’s no need to bother with character arcs, a killer first chapter or a killer ending, as around 20% of downloaded e-books are never even opened. Of those that are opened, around 70% are abandoned before the end. Our e-book must be priced enticingly, so we’ll set the price at $0.49. We’re in the quantity box-shifting game, but at the same time we have no interest in people actually reading the book. In my experience this price break nets us some $$$ whilst asking for minimal commitment from the easily distracted reader. If writer’s block is an issue, we’ll have to think about plagiarizing someone else’s work. We’ll borrow from the bowels of the Interweb as we don’t want to make the same mistake that The Verve made with their hit single Bitter Suite Symphony. They leased the melody from a little-known instrumental track by The Rolling Stones and they thought no-one would notice. Bands like the Stones have armies of lawyers and they’ll pursue you to the ends of the earth for fifty cents.
  2. We need a title that’s short, snappy and attention grabbing. We can’t use Short and Snappy, that’s been done. For this exercise we’ll use Jizz! Books by well-known authors feature their names in huge letters on the cover, with the book title in slightly smaller script. In our case, as an unknown author, the title will be huge and our name relatively small. One of the reasons why the title needs to be short and sweet is that it must fit on a single line. In the world of reduced attention spans, calling our e-book My Viral e-book that will Take-over the World is a no-no. Most people will get bored before they even reach the third word. One additional piece of advice: we don’t want our book title to contain a word which is spelt differently in the US and the UK. This will simply wind up the Grammar Nazis, and they’re harder to shake off than Rolling Stones’ lawyers.
  3. Next, we require a pseudonym. This is our fake name, or if you want to get all author-y, it’s our pen-name. This is important, because should the crap hit the rotating device big time, we’ll need to vanish sharpish. We’re not going to use our real name, even if it’s Steve Smith. Instead, we’ll choose a name that sounds female, implausible and slightly offensive. Lady Bigflaps and Titty McMammogram are both taken, but Victoria BJ is free. As the ultimate objective of the campaign is to turn our e-book into a viral sensation, we’re not going to use the name of our worst enemy (even if they’re called Foxy Cox). Sure, they’ll get their 15 seconds of infamy, but they’ll also boast about it for the rest of their life and that’s intolerable.
  4. Our e-book needs a cover. We could spend hours fretting about look and feel, but honestly who cares? What’s your favorite jizzcolor? Sorted. There’s over 6 billion people on the planet and a good proportion of them will like our choice. Next, fire up Google, type in ‘free book cover’ and we’re off. We won’t waste too much time choosing the background as the title will take up most of the cover space. The title font is our most important sales tool. It has to lodge in the brain of the casual browser and give them a screaming headache. Once it’s jammed in the grey matter, they’ll be compelled to buy our book just to stop the pain.
  5. A blog is a must. We can set one up for free at WordPress.com. It doesn’t really matter whether we blog using our author name or our book title. All of the functionality we’ll need is built-in for free and it’s easy to configure a good looking website. Don’t buy a funky custom template or a custom domain name. Both cost money. It might look professional, but the only people who pay attention to such trivia are other authors and techies. We want to make sure it’s possible for other bloggers to follow us. Also, we need the subscribe button enabled, to allow non-Wordpress users to receive email updates. Our customer list is our most important sales tool – it’s our funnel to our followers and we need to collect as many as possible. This way we can annoy them remotely with incessant posts and emails until they eventually give in and buy the damn book. Remember: it’s only $0.49 and it’s a life-changer.
  6. We need an Amazon account. Once we’ve created one, we can upload our manuscript and Amazon will convert it for free. We’re not going to bother checking the formatting, because if we find a mistake we might fret about getting it right, and that costs time. See how I’m saving us money. Every expense is spared. Once we’ve uploaded the cover art, we’re nearly ready to go – all that’s missing is a description of the book. They say that sex sells, so let’s make sure that the description is liberally peppered with the word sex. Let’s settle on: Sex on a bus. Sex on a plane. Sex… sex… sex… Want some? Read Jizz! now! Get all the sex… sex… sex you deserve! Blimey. I want to read it already.
  7. We now need a pair of Twitter accounts – one configured as the title of the book and one that matches our author name. In the book account profile, we’ll use the c

    [Rude sofa]

    over picture with a description: Sex… sex… sex… For the author account we require an out-of-focus picture that’s vaguely rude. This will make our punters curious. We must embed the Amazon URL in both profiles. Next, we’ll spend 24 hours a day following everyone under the sun from both accounts. We’ll need a big jar of coffee and a packet of strong caffeine tablets. From the book account, we’ll like random posts and retweet random tweets often, until we have 10,000 followers. At this point, we’ll switch into promote-the-book mode. We must be ruthless and dedicated to the cause. We’ll use a service such as buffer.com to schedule our tweets for free. Ten an hour is about right. Every tweet should claim our book is a 5 star read and contain the hashtags #ebook and #sex. We’re looking to wear the b’stards down through repetition. We don’t tweet a thing from the author account. This gives the appearance that we’re one of those ladies of ill repute who want to get down and funky before formal introductions. This is our secret stealth sales tactic. Guys will follow back under the assumption that we have a webcam loaded with extreme filth, ready to be streamed straight into their porn parlor. When guys follow, we’re going to send a Direct Message (DM) plus URL to promote Jizz! They’ll immediately think we’re a cunning little vixen and download the book, anticipating tons of sexy pictures. Job done. In the worst case scenario, they’ll complain loudly and often via Twitter. That’s what the BLOCK function is for – we don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives. We must avoid any protracted conversations once we’ve got a sale, as we don’t want to end up on the TV show Catfish.
  8. Facebook is invaluable, which is why we’re going to create a pair of Facebook pages that are managed from our regular Facebook account. It’s important to use a page as this gives us more functionality and management capabilities than a standard account (such as promoting posts and paid advertising, which BTW we’re never going to use). We’ll call our first page Jizz! the book.  For the sake of legitimacy, we’ll call the second page: Victoria BJ Author. This stops anyone else pretending to be us, which is important for the scheme to work. We don’t want to accidentally appear on any TV shows before we’re ready, especially if the manuscript is plagiarized. We’ll link each of the Facebook pages to the respective Twitter account, so that anything we write of Facebook is auto-tweeted. Now we’re ready to start boasting about how successful our book sales are. We’re going to make stuff up. We’ll tell the world how many copies we’ve sold in the last hour. It’s important that everyone thinks we’re doing great. More importantly, we need to convince ourselves we’re doing great, as this is the key to being a successful author. How we feel about ourselves is far more important than actual sales.
  9. While we’re getting up to speed on Twitter and Facebook, we’ll take some time to get reviewed on Amazon. If we’re going to spend any $$$ on the campaign, then paid for reviews are the way to go. five-starGoogle is our best friend here. With a bit of effort, we should be able to get 100 x 5 star reviews for $25. Amazon is trying to clamp down on this kind of activity, so we may need to make our book free for a day and then get our friends to download it. Once they’ve registered as a customer they can add a 5 star review. It’s worth making sure there’s at least one 4 star review, so as not to raise suspicions. The 4 star review can say: cracking read, but a bit too much sex for me. See how we’ve turned a negative into a positive. If we manage to get Amazon on our case for posting fake reviews, we’ll resist loudly and tweet our indignation and disgust, as well as letting Amazon have both barrels on Facebook. We’re after total attention, because attention equals sales and sales = $$$.
  10. The final piece of the puzzle is to accumulate Facebook likes. This is where our friends come in again. We’re going to like both of our pages as ourselves and then encourage our trustworthy friends to like those pages too.  The objective is to legitimize our activity. We have to impose on our trustworthy friends and ask them to share our Facebook page with messages of support – we must make that sucker move. Without paid advertising, it can be slow to gain traction on Facebook, so what we’re going to do is to borrow some tasty cat videos from around the web. We’ll post them on our Facebook e-book page with the comment: Want some pu$$y? Read Jizz! and provide a handy link to Amazon. Let’s not be shy and stop at one cat video. People love cats, so we’ll spread that cat love far and wide.  To ice our cake we’ll follow some ‘C’ class celebs and bombard them until they give us repeat tweets. Remember: persistence always pays off eventually.

If we implement each of these steps with panache and a sense of humor, the $$$ will roll in.  Experienced authors might complain that we need to get registered on sites like goodreads.com, but that’s the last thing we want to do, as someone might actually read the damn book. The ultimate objective of the game is to push the boundaries as far as possible until something snaps and we get found out. This is where fame and fortune lie. In the process of following the 10 steps, whether we like it or not, we’ve become expert bloggers and social media whizzes. Once we’re outed, we can either fess up (play the hero) or be fudick_dll of spite and indignation (play the villain). Whichever role we choose, we’re going to make a lot of noise and that means exploiting our new found social media skills to the full, and with the help of local news channels and podcasts we’ll become the great author we already know we are. With enough badgering, someone somewhere will give us a nice little paycheck to tell our story, and that’s when we get to publish our real best seller: Jizz! The Fairytale, which is all about how we tricked the world into buying a $0.49 book that no-one actually read. Naturally, we’re going to employ a ghost writer as we’re going to be far too busy with the partying and fast cars to do it ourselves.

Disclaimer: this article is obviously tongue-in-cheek and there is no way that I as a professional author condone plagiarizing the work of others. May you burn in the bad place stipulated by your religion of choice if you do so…

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Off to the Races

30 Nov

ferret-files-cover-smlWith the final set of tweeks out of the way we’re off to the races. The Ferret Files will be available to purchase from your usual friendly ebook retailers by the end of this week.

A quick check of Amazon and its already there.

Now, how do I sign the first edition of an ebook? All suggestions gratefully received…

 

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Those Final Tweeks

23 Nov

epub-logoI recently received The Ferret Files back from my lovely packaging pals in XML format, so we’re nearly there now. The only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the rendering of the artwork. When it comes to physical print, which I fully intend to follow through on, the 8 x vignettes will be in with the text. For e-book, this isn’t possible if I want reflowing text enabled (the text has to sit top/bottom of the illustrations). I don’t really see this as an issue. Or didn’t…

The pics as submitted were trimmed to size, for wraparound text. As soon as they’re used in the e-book at this size, various readers try to adjust the pics for best fit. The result is best described as ‘a hall of mirrors’, with an end result that being a stickler for detail, I can’t live with. We’re currently working through getting this right. In the process of checking that the e-book is typeset correctly, I discovered a handful of errors with the text.

*Shock*

*Horror!*

superhero-dry-cleanersNot that I’m obsessive, but I’m going to have to read the damn thing again now, from cover to cover, to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve missed.  Unless I trust in my one proven superpower.  When it comes to testing IT, I have this ability to zero in on any problem straightaway. I discovered it one lunchtime back in the day, when a pal of mine, who’d just been intensively testing an identikit program for the previous few weeks gave it to me to play with.  Within 10 seconds I’d broken it. If I recall, there were 8 x face shapes, 8 x noses, 8 x ears, 8 x eyes, 8 x mouths and 8 x hairstyles to choose from. That’s 262,000 combinations. Only one combination didn’t work and I found it with 6 button presses.

Here’s the question: do I trust in my superpower to have found the only 3 errors in the manuscript, or do I read Ferret again? What would you do?

(Seriously, who’d be an indie author…)

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Get Back in the Box

15 Nov

cat1Creating characters is not something I’ve ever had a problem with. If anything, it’s the opposite – I’ve got far too many good characters screaming to be let loose who simply don’t fit in with the story I’m writing. If you try and cram them all in, then proceedings becomes overloaded. The only logical thing to do is park them in the box marked ‘spare characters’ and slam the lid tight to muffle their screams.  I’ll give you an example relating to The Ferret Files. Bob Bobson has been with me for a very long time. In a way, he’s Ferret’s surrogate dad, or at least his older brother. Either way, he was always there for Ferret when the boy was growing up. I’ve written pages of their adventures together. Bob is a good, solid character who I know like the back of my hand. As The Ferret Files progressed and I came to know the rest of the cast, they jostled for position, demanding more screen time and poor old Bob, who’s hard done to and takes things in his stride was steadily pushed out to the periphery. I’d intended to write four chapters from Bob’s POV, but once the pace of the story picked up, whenever Bob made an appearance, it slowed things back down again. One of the other characters would whisper in my ear that they belonged in such-and-such a scene, not Bob. I’d listen, give it try, and lo and behold, the pacing was back on the mark. Bob ended up as a minor character who we meet at the beginning of the book and is mentioned in passing a couple of times. His best scenes are all on the cutting room floor. He will make an appearance in book three, as he has an input into the plot. At the moment I’ve told him he’ll have his own Ferret short story (Curses) and being Bob, he’s happy with that.

My writing style is best described as ‘organic’, in that I framework the entire story before I begin, but once the gloves are off, I’m open to cosmetic changes. The major scenes remain the same but how the characters arrive at their destinations can alter. Really, it’s the difference between arriving at a posh club by cab, wearing a suit or arriving dressed as a clown, riding a unicycle. Cyrano, the elegant Frenchman would never arrive in anything but a cab, whereas Ferret might start out in a cab and end up arriving late on a unicycle…

clownTo begin with, I couldn’t tell the difference between a character leading me off down a rabbit hole for their own gratification, and a change of direction by a character that made the story better. In the unicycle example, Ferret might meet a really interesting street entertainer called Prince Regent. Now I’ve done it. The street entertainer, who was an extra with no lines now has a name. You don’t get called Prince Regent unless you have an engaging back story. So now Prince Regent has a speaking part. Before long he’ll be demanding I promote him to minor character, then if I don’t watch it he’ll want a show of his own. This is a distraction. Prince Regent – it’s off to the box with you, to keep Bob company.

After all the jostling and maneuvering, we end up with a big scene where all the main characters arrive on time, exactly as they should. It’s then that I realise that someone is missing. Bob was supposed to be there as Ferret’s foil and there’s now a gap. Bob pokes his head out of the box and shuffles along, ready to play his part. Except I’d need to bring him back in earlier scenes, otherwise the continuity is shot. And there’s no room for him in the other scenes, because the characters with the massive egos have stolen the show. Prince Regent says he’ll do it. On his unicycle, eating french fries. No, no, no! Both of you, get back in the box! Ferret will have to use a random, incidental character as his foil. It won’t be as funny as Bob being there, but it requires less of a rewrite. One of the waiters steps up. He has a name, you know. Alberto. Except he’s not Italian, he’s from Romania. He speaks English like an Italian because an Italian taught him English. And there you go. Suddenly, Alberto has a speaking part and an interesting back story. It won’t be long before he too wants to be a minor character, and after that he’ll want his own restaurant and TV show. Sorry Alberto, it’s off to the box for you too…

Interestingly, the major villain of Ferret book two is a character who’s been in the box for twenty years. I wrote a couple of unpublished short stories featuring him that long ago. He always wanted more. And now he’s getting it. His gang has changed, as in one of them didn’t make the cut. So it’s back in the box for him. The box has an infinite capacity and a life as long as yours. It doesn’t have to be emptied immediately or topped up forever. It’s your box, to do with as you please.

cartoon-waiter-009NOTE: If you’re stuck for characters and you have a story that requires a unicycle riding clown called Prince Regent who juggles French fries, or a Romanian waiter called Alberto who speaks English with an Italian accent, feel free to give them a good home. Prince Regent may well turn out to be a killer on the run. Alberto is more likely to be threatened by the mob for refusing to pay protection $$$. Bob stays in the box. He’s not for sale or rent. Unless he gets written out of book three, in which case he’s up for grabs. IN the meantime, if the Irish band he sings in makes it big, he’s off on tour to have a few adventures of his own…

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