Tag Archives: writing tips

This is THE END (my friend, the end)

30 May

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…

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The Daniel Day Lewis Method of Writing

19 Feb

Here’s a question for you:

cubes

An addictive substance yesterday

Your hero has a cocaine habit.  In order to appreciate his/her viewpoint, do you seek out the drug and take it as part of the writing process, or do you simply imagine what it might be like when you write about it?  Do you talk to known users as part of your research?  Equally, when it comes to preparation, do you simply read about it in the press and make it up, or do you try it yourself?

Drugs are one of those things that are illegal, but a lot of people participate in – hence my question, which really boils down to this:  for the sake of authenticity, is it important for you as an author, to know about what you’re writing about in detail?  And if so, where do you draw the line?

It’s possible to become a drunk for a night, or a week as part of your research.  You can even sleep rough if you want.  You can develop a cigarette habit until you cough, and know what it’s like to hack one up every morning.  All this is perfectly legal.  Then we come to the illegal – joints, lines and injections, each increasing in addictive qualities and physical effect.  If you try something once and don’t like it, what do you do if a regular user tells you ‘you gotta get a habit man, to appreciate it’?

Then there’s the question of murder. Obviously I’m not advocating killing others in the name of authenticity, but is it something you might consider?

The question is open to the floor: how far are you prepared to go?

It’s a Pope-ish Kind of Day

11 Feb

There are two words which the media frequently like to misuse, which really wind me up when I hear them, in a spitting feathers kind of way.  People who work with me regularly soon stop misusing these words, because they know what’s coming if they do!

Pope-John-Paul-II

Pope John Paul II Pontificating

The first word of the day is to pontificate.  The clue as to what this word word means is in its first half – pontiff.  The ‘cate’ ing of a Pontiff – what does this mean?  It’s like the ‘tate’ ing of a cogi (cogitate), but done at a much higher level.  When a mere mortal chooses to think something over, that’s what we do – give it a bit of a mull, rattle the old six-sided brain cell around inside the skull, see which side it stops on, forget what we decided because it doesn’t really matter, then move on.  When a Pontiff chooses to think about something, he does so with god on his shoulder, in an ineffable fashion.  What comes out after his communion with god is infallible, and has been since 1870 when the First Vatican Council decreed it to be so.  Unlike the rest of us, the Pope can’t break a few balls or enter into banter over the communion wine (in Latin, presumably), because anything he says is true and can’t be questioned, except by god himself.  If the Pope tells you to ‘go f*** yourself’, not only must you do so, you must also be capable of doing it, because he can’t be wrong.

This is what an online dictionary has to say on the matter: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pontificate.  Apparently, the ordinary man in the street CAN now pontificate.  However, I disagree!  Pontification is reserved for the Pope and possibly the Queen, as supreme head of the Church of England.  Since the schism, we need a different word – the ruling monarch of England ‘Majecates’.  It’s a new word, so don’t go misusing it.

Roman_Legion

No Decimation Here

The second word of the day is to decimate.  Whenever anything is destroyed, be it crops, people or things, there are those out there in media land who commit the heresy of declaring it’s been decimated.  OK, I’m not the Pope, so I can’t really declare the misuse of this word a heresy, but you get the idea.  Decimation was a particularly cruel punishment carried out on a unit of a Roman Legion when it under performed. The unit was divided into groups of 10 and lots drawn at random. The unlucky one was then clubbed or stoned to death by his fellows.  Now, I’m all for a bit of decimation, provided it’s done by 10,000 of the general populace on 1,000 well chosen bankers and politicians, without the drawing of any lots at all.  A field of wheat toppled in a storm comes nowhere close to a 1,000 heads on poles.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about decimation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_%28Roman_army%29.

One of my Catholic friends has a particular favourite, which is epiphany,  the common phrase going something like: ‘I had an epiphany the other day’.  Epiphany is either a religious holiday (6th Jan) or a book of the bible, it’s not a thing in itself.  The state to which the word heretics refer is a theophany, which is the appearance of god or a god to a person, and the realisation that follows.  A conversation may or may not be involved.  Every time the Pope pontificates, he undergoes theophany.  When he tells you to ‘go f*** yourself’, what you undergo when you realise that this entails chopping bits off to fulfill the request is also a theophany and not an epiphany.

If you really want to wind me up, the sentence to do it with goes something like this: When I was pontificating I had an epiphany that that crop decimation was carried out by locusts, not by flying cats after all…

Location Scouting for Bunkers

24 Jan

In the last few days I’ve had a bit of a locations ‘mare, in that I’ve got action happening in a government establishment that’s strictly off limits to the public.  Unless you’re a really well known author with connections, how do you write about such a place without ever having been there?

Grrr! Communications, Soho Square

My locations scouting for the Ferret Files to date has consisted of Google Earth, Google Maps, public transport and my legs.  I’ve set the majority of the action in London, with some of the defence industry shenanigans taking place in Bath.  Having worked in London on and off for most of the last 20 years, I know the place really well, above and below ground.   I had a mental list of places I wanted to use, well before I began the project, some of which are well known, others not so.  I have a keen interest in architecture and that includes burrowing, as in the creation of underground tunnels and complexes.  If there’s a London tour which takes in tunnels, chances are I’ve been on it.  My fundamental belief is that it’s not possible to get the vibe of a location if you haven’t been there.  And by been there, I mean recently.  If you don’t experience the vibe firsthand and lock it in, chances are your readers will notice, especially if they follow your characters around.

boris-bikes

A Boris Bike Yesterday

I live in Bath and have done for 12 years.  I’m just nutty enough to commute to London on a daily basis, which is OK for a short period, provided the end destination is near to Paddington.  Last year, I spent 8 months in the capital, living in hotels.  That allowed me to revisit all of the places I wanted to use, in my spare time.  One day, I needed to check out Regent’s Park, and let me tell you – it’s a long walk around the perimeter.  That’s when I used a ‘Boris Bike’ for the first time.  As an author wanting to get the feel of an area, the Boris Bike is an absolute boon.  It’s faster than feet, allows you to cover an area quickly and when you’re done, the bike is no longer your problem!  Thanks Boris!

My method of working, then:

  • Get a general feel for an area using Google Earth or Google maps
  • If there’s a building of interest, research it on the net, especially its history.  What was there before?
  • Go visit and employ your author senses to spot those interesting details that others miss.
  • If you can get inside, do.  These days, with security, it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be, but a mixture of cheek and charm works wonders.  I’ve been really fortunate, in that I work in IT and often get sent to random locations.  If I end up at one that’s interesting, I’ll use it.
  • Take a paid tour.  The London guides are really knowledgeable and they’ll show you things you’d otherwise miss.

The Secrets of Porton Down

Back to the original question: given that I’m an eyes on sort of guy, how the hell do I get inside of Porton Down, in order to write about the chemical and biological weapons research that took place there?  The answer is to use your imagination.  I’ve driven past Porton Down many times, but never actually been inside.  I have been to a dozen military bases scattered across the South West and Salisbury plain, during my time working in Defence, on a 6 month contract that lasted 12 years.

I love being around the military, they have a great mindset and an insane sense of humour.  They work on the premise that being underfunded, stuff will break or fuck-up – that’s life, get on with it then communicate the fix.  For Porton Down,  I know the sort of people who work there from my visits to DSTL in Portsmouth, I know that stuff broke or went wrong.  So I’m going to concentrate on the historical screw-ups that got us to where we are in the story, rather than precisely how it all looks.  All of the military bases I’ve visited in the South West are similar in design, so a generic bunker will do.

When all is said and done, I’m writing a conspiracy novel.  Anyone wanting to locate the exact bunker where the chemical experiments into psychic phenomena took place won’t be able to find it on a map.  Surely, that’s because the government buried it?  Or could the real reason be that I have secret inside knowledge of a black project, communicated to me by a scientist who worked on it and I’ve purposefully moved the location from nearby Boscombe Down, in order to throw the reader?

You’ll have to make your own mind up on that…

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