Alfie Dog Fiction
Celebrates Successful First Year
It is exactly a year since publisher Alfie Dog Fiction set out to provide the best short story download site on the internet. Launching in May 2012 with just 50 authors, the site has grown with new stories going live every week. By its first birthday www.alfiedog.comalready carries over 900 stories from more than 240 authors from every inhabited continent.
Apart from the fact that downloads are offered in multiple formats, what sets the site apart is that all stories go through a rigorous selection and editing procedure prior to publication. Editor Rosemary Kind is excited that the year has given them the opportunity to discover fledgling talented writers as well as providing a new market for highly experienced authors. ‘Some of the writers have found www.alfiedog.com a springboard to much greater success and it is a delight for us to share in that with them.’
The site is constantly evolving with a number of new genres having been introduced and a new range of ebooks being launched. Rosemary says, ‘The ebooks are by our existing authors and are collections of short stories either by a single author or taking a theme, such as our Essence of Humour collection which brings together 17 humorous stories, by different authors, for readers to enjoy.’
They are also bringing out a limited number of novels in the coming months including a ‘cosy crime’ novel ‘Double Take’ for a blind Australian author Annette Siketa and the fast moving action adventure story ‘The Sound of Pirates’ for author Terence Brand.
Rosemary Kind set out to make Alfie Dog Fiction do for the short story market what iTunes has done for single tracks of music and looked at a year down the line that doesn’t seem such an impossible task to achieve.
Latest News From Alfiedog.com. An update from the short story e-publisher.
Alfie Dog Fiction Launches Ebook Short Story Collections
Following the success of its short story download site www.alfiedog.com, Alfie Dog Fiction has branched out into the e-book market with short story collections. With eight books planned for launch in the current year, the first is ‘Six Stupid Sheep and Other Yarns’ a collection of 13 short stories for author Susan Wright. Susan has had over 100 short stories published in magazines in the UK, Scandinavia and Australia, but this is her first book.
Rosemary Kind, Managing Director of Alfie Dog, says, “We want to make it even easier for our readers, with multiple stories in a single download and at a very reasonable price. Some collections will be by author, whilst others will be a specific genre.”
The collections are drawn from stories already published on the site, all of which have been edited and put through a rigorous acceptance process, guaranteeing the reader a quality reading experience.
The ebooks are being made available through a range of outlets to provide authors with even wider market coverage.
Generate Your NaNoWriMo Novel By Developing Its Characters
Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter coming out of the shadows with novels of her own. Her debut as herself is My Memories of a Future Life , an unsettling tale in the tradition of timebending psychic constructs such as The Three Faces of Eve and Bid Time Return. She is also an editor and writing coach, and has a successful series for authors and a writing blog, Nail Your Novel. Recently she has become a contributor on the Writers’& Artists’ Yearbook site. Connect with her on Twitter as @NailYourNovel and @ByRozMorris
Are you planning to take part in National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Briefly, it’s a worldwide online event where thousands of writers buckle down and steam through a novel. The nominal goal is 50,000 words in the 30 days of November - which might be a whole novel or a good chunk of one. Whichever, it’s a great way to sprint into a first draft because you’ve got a support team of other writers cheering you on, sharing their goals and buddying up to drag you over the finish line. If you’re a first-timer, NaNoWriMo is a great way to have a go and surprise yourself. And many seasoned writers use it as a way to get their first drafts motoring.
So, 50,000 words in 30 days? One of the keys to success is preparation. Although you must not start the draft until NaNoWriMo month, you’re allowed to plan beforehand. Research, plot notes and story summaries are all permitted - and serious contenders will be starting on them right now.
Or perhaps planning is the last thing you want to do. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who likes to sit down on day 1, summon the muse and channel the voices. Let the novel gush into your head and onto the keys.
Whichever way you work, there’s one kind of planning that will help you steer a steady course - and write with your gut instincts.
Plan your characters
Indeed, if I had to choose whether to outline plot or characters in detail, I'd spend the time on creating the characters. Why?
Once I know who my fictional people are, they start acting, talking and steering the show - merely by being themselves. This smoothes the writing process enormously, helps you write in a natural flow. It’s especially useful for project like NaNoWriMo, where you want to get your wordcount done - but still have fun. Here's what you need.
Work out their central problem The story will come from this. What do they want to achieve or prevent? What makes this desperate and ultimately unavoidable? How much of it comes from their personality or life situation? Is it something they have been suppressing or muddling along with? Perhaps they don’t admit to it, because to do so would be opening a box they don’t want to look in. The problem might be obviously significant, such as losing a job or discovering a murder. Or it might be apparently trivial - such as buying a puppy that turns nasty or forces the character to face up to responsibility. Whichever it is - whether solving a murder or wrangling with puppy ownership - it will be a big deal for them; and thus will be a landmark episode in their life. How this generates the plot Devise your climax - the horrible moment near the end where the character confronts the thing they want to avoid. Then devise a scene you can put in early that shows the reader they dread this.
The climax confrontation might be much deeper than the early scene suggests and therefore address a more fundamental problem. These fundamental problems come from a character’s deep needs. So, if your MC is trying to solve a murder, he might ultimately discover that the murderer was his own wife. This might prove that he never really knew who she was - a problem he might have been grappling with ever since he met her. You can still have the plot need - to catch a killer. But the deeper arc that makes it such a landmark will have come from the character’s innermost life.
If you want, you can stop planning there. But if you prefer to build a skeleton story, work out the steps between those points. Especially, concentrate on the ways the characters try to avoid or evade this worst-case scenario. Make those escapades create complications and ensnare them further, taking them down twisted alleyways, so that it seems the universe is conspiring, in sidelong ways, to throw them to that final confrontation.
Add other character details Once you have this core, fill in other details. Early life, job history, interests, relationship status will almost write themselves because you’ll have an instinct for what fits.
Add complicating factors These might be a wish to protect someone, a job that drains their energy or makes life difficult. Respite You might also want to give your main characters some respite - a hobby they retreat to, a way they regroup to feel more like themselves and demonstrate a lighter side. Or maybe they need a dark side, an obliterating escape - an addiction, an illicit love affair, a dangerous sport.
Antagonist or antagonists
Their central problem. For the protagonist we asked 'what’s wrong' and 'who are they'. For the antagonist we begin with 'why'.
Why do they cause trouble? Is it their personality, a need to cause mischief or take revenge? Are they the protagonist’s opponents in a competition? Do they have a duty to uphold a law of the land or some other obligation that pits them against the protagonist?
Here’s another why: why are they a credible and serious threat rather than something the protagonist can shrug off?
If the antagonist is an entity (such as society or an organisation) considering creating a character who embodies its role. Or perhaps this could be several characters. Faceless organisations are not as interesting to read about as characters who act for them. And characters are more interesting to write about because of their humanity. They will act unpredictably - get tired, bad tempered, unreasonable. They will perhaps feel the voice of conscience, or be in conflict themselves. They might even make us laugh.
How this generates the story. Once you know these essentials, you will find it easier to decide what they’ll do to intrude on and threaten the protagonist.
Lastly, if you need to, develop some background details as for your main characters.
You need a few significant others - your supporting and secondary characters. Add the people who will regularly interact with your protagonist and antagonist (although they don’t necessarily have to belong to both).
You might want to start with just a handful - perhaps a colleague, romantic partner, close friend, henchman - and add others as new roles become necessary. Or you might sketch out a complete network of people who your leads will regularly see.
Focus on relationships As these characters are secondary, focus on their relationships with the principals. Are they willing participants, wise observers, moral support, meddling do-gooders? Do they have needs of their own that could help or hinder the main characters?
Some salt and sugar in everyone
Protagonists will be tedious if they're thoroughly good. Antagonists will be pantomimish (and wearisome) if thoroughly evil. Give each of your nice people a dash of vinegar, and each antagonist something good (even if it's only the conviction that they're right).
Relationships - again
Now you have a rough cast list, take another look at how they feel about each other. If you do this, you'll never be at a loss when you wriggle inside a scene with them. You’ll know how to make them distinct in their dialogue because you’ll understand their hidden agendas and individual voices. If one of them needs a favour from the other, you know how easy (or otherwise) it will be to get it. If one of them tells the other off, you know whether they gloated about it or found it extremely uncomfortable; whether it drew them closer or drove them apart.
If you know your characters, you’ll want to tell their stories.
Today is both an exciting and a frightening time to be an author. Ditto that if you’re a publisher. The rule book has been snatched up, torn into pieces and patched together again in a fractured resemblance of how things used to function. In all this, two things remain constant: authors seek validation and corporations have to make money.
Some might say the traditional publishing model is broken, but you can still buy books in bricks and mortar stores. Others will tell you that you need never pay for a book again, as thousands of e-books are available for free via web stores. That argument is tempered with the quality of many such offerings. (Until I bought a Kindle I had never, ever given up on reading any published book to the end, as a matter of personal pride. War and Peace, Satanic Verses, I finished them all. Wish I could still say the same now.)
How do readers and authors find their way through the thrilling maze of digital publishing? Beware for here there be monsters.
A new author might take the route of self-publishing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo et al and experience initial jubilation as friends, family and colleagues buy their e-book. When the social circles are exhausted, sales usually begin to flag and the author will either give up the ghost or use up their valuable writing time in a crazy whirl of manic social networking. If the cover, description and content is professional, and Lady Luck deigns to smile upon them, the author might make it through the rain. Most will find themselves in the cul-de-sac of Kindle.
Another budding author will read the success stories of self-publishing and decide to invest some serious money in professional help. They walk down the e-book boulevard of promise and are assaulted from all sides by ‘self-publishing packages’ marked with the badge of respectability. Look! These are major publishing houses and reputable literary agents, offering a slice of the golden future for a fee. Cover design, formatting, pay extra for some editing, the whole technical jiggery-pokery handled by someone else. All for just a few hundred, a few thousand, the choice of options is enticing. If the author makes it out of this avenue, without being eaten alive by a monster, then they might have a respectable end-product, but their e-book will still sink or swim in a sea of millions.
Now look at the situation from a reader perspective. The modern reader is a hybrid creature. They have bookshelves of hard- and paperbacks. Some titles are treasured and well-thumbed. Others enjoy a bit of shelf-life and then are packed off to friends and family, charity shops or recycling. The modern reader also has gadgets: a smart phone, a tablet, laptop, maybe a dedicated e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook. These devices are a WiFi hotline to email and web stores. The recommendation engines of the digital book world push new titles in front of the reader and they sample, buy, download and read. Free titles are sucked up like plankton and the reader has to sift through for something satisfying.
Paying for a title recommended by the web stores is no guarantee of a good read as authors around the globe busily work the system to get their books noticed and promoted by Amazon algorithms. The reviews of e-books contain phrases never used with print editions such as ‘I’m glad this was free, I wouldn’t have paid for it.’ Another phenomena is a plethora of five star reviews, dripping with sycophantic praise and obviously written by friends and family.
Crystal balls, and navels alike, are worn shiny around the planet with authors, agents and publishers trying to predict how all this will turn out. Rumours come and go of an e-book quality purge, restriction of access to publishing platforms, expanded access to platforms etc. Where is the good news in this for authors and readers?
One answer is the new generation of nimble digital publishing companies. Small, genre-focused, they provide a point of reference for high quality print and e-books that provide value for money. Readers can be assured of a good read in their genre of choice and the imprint often has several titles by each author.
From an author perspective these new digital imprints have several advantages. Time to market is much quicker than traditional publishing. With expertise in cover design, editing and digital book production, a finished manuscript can be fast-tracked and made globally available in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. The publisher takes responsibility for design, production and marketing, freeing the author to do what they should be doing - writing.
Authors with a backlist can benefit from the ability of these small publishers to breathe new life into titles that are no longer on bookstore shelves as they have passed out of print. The original paper manuscript can be digitised, copy edited, re-covered and published as a digital edition with a virtually infinite shelf life. Print-on-demand technology can even bring the paper edition back from oblivion.
Marble City is an example of the new face of publishing. We are a genre publisher of crime fiction, thrillers, mystery / suspense and true crime. When we acquired a license for Jim Williams’ back catalogue of historical mystery / suspense titles (including the Booker Prize nominated Scherzo) we were able to rejuvenate his excellent WW2 mystery The Argentinian Virgin and the groundbreaking Hitler Diaries at the same time as releasing Jim’s new title Tango in Madeira. All three titles are now globally available in e-book and print editions via major web stores. A further three titles are scheduled for the second half of 2013.
If you are a new author embarking upon a self-publishing journey then we wish you every success. Do take care that any paid services you are offered have intrinsic worth that matches the price. If you are an established author with a back catalogue, or a budding genre author, then know that the new world of digital publishing imprints offers you a bright future.
My Journey From Self-Publishing To Traditional Publishing.
I’d heard that Kindle was the new slush pile and now I am beginning to believe it. When you think about it, it does make sense. If a publisher is looking for a new writer in a particular genre, where better to find one?
I’m living testimony to the possibility of this happening. Out of the blue I had a message on Facebook from an editor at Pan MacMillan. She had read my novel, Time Passes Time, and enjoyed it so much she wanted to know if I planned to write more books in the same style.
This particular book is a spin-off from The Breckton Trilogy, my best selling saga set in West Yorkshire. It takes the story of one of the characters forward through her war years as a Special Operations Executive working with the French Resistance.
I hadn’t any particular plans for something similar as my regular genre is Historical Sagas, and with this book I had ventured into the new territory of Second World War stories. But I wasn’t about to miss such an opportunity so replied to her saying yes, and here is the outline. There and then I’d sat on the balcony of my home in Spain and rattled off the outline of a book that five minutes previously I’d had no idea I was going to write!
Back to the beginning of the story: I’ve been writing novels since 1989. I was an avid reader and always thought I could write a book, but everything and anything in life prevented me - the usual bringing up a family sort of things. Then, with three of my family having left home to make their own nests and my mother entering the twilight months of her life and needing constant nursing, I found the time.
Initially the exercise provided me with an escape from the sad task I had undertaken of giving tender loving care to my mother. And so, in the afternoons when she slept, I sat with pen and pad and became enthralled by writing my first novel. As happens with all aspiring authors I thought I had the next bestseller flowing on to the page, and could see it as a film with me attending its premier. Oh the thrills of that dream… and how I tumbled down as rejection after rejection piled up.
Down but not out, as they say. The next novel would be the one. But no. So what was I doing wrong? These were powerful stories; they had taken me through many emotions as I wrote them. Why couldn’t the agents see my potential? One did, and told me I was a good storyteller, but needed to learn the craft. My characters were flat. I ‘told’ their stories instead of allowing them to do so.
Having no idea what she meant, I spent the next ten years working on one novel, trying to learn. I paid money to people who said they could help me and didn’t. I read ‘How to’ books. I joined writers’ sites like YouWriteOn and Authonomy where authors help each other. Finally the penny dropped and after thirty re-writes that book became my best-selling title, An Unbreakable Bond.
Still I could not break into the publishing world. I had a bestseller (as I know now) on my hands and no one was interested; sagas were out of fashion. Celebs and Harry Potter - Farts and Fantasy, as I nicknamed them - were all that publishers wanted.
An author friend gave me the solution. She had published on Kindle and was having a lot of success. She urged me to do the same.
If you are an author who has learnt the craft and written a good book, I urge you to do the same too. Forget trying to court agents and publishers. Publish and be damned!
Then write and promote, in that order. Do not flog a dead horse. What do I mean by that? Well, your first masterpiece is a flop, but you believe in it so much that all you do is flog it and flog it; it ain’t working and it ain’t ever going to work. Why have I put this paragraph into what is meant to be a piece to encourage you? Because I see it all the time, authors still slogging away at promoting the one novel they wrote and published two to three years ago, when they should be writing more and building a list of titles with which to feed and grow their followers.
That is what I did. In the two years since I published An Unbreakable Bond I have written and published a further four books. Each book is a platform. If a reader picks up on one and likes it, they look for more written by me. An Unbreakable Bond remained in the top twenty for fifteen months! Its prequel and sequel have all been in the top ten of their genre, as has its spin-off. As we speak, my latest book, Judge Me Not, is number nine. The Trilogy, which includes An Unbreakable Bond, and now available as a box set is in the top thirty and the spin-off is in the top 100!
How can you do the same? You have a good story, yes? Then polish your craft until you can turn that story into a brilliant novel. Learn how to make the characters live on the page. Learn how to ‘show not tell’ and learn all the different disciplines of the writing craft. Do not listen to those who say there are no rules to writing. There are, so learn and use them. Those advocates of free creation are only met in forums. They do not get published.
Once you have published, build on your readership - you may only sell ten books to begin with but if your readers enjoy them they could tell as many as twenty others. Remember, little acorns grow into huge oak trees. These readers will look for your next book. Write it! Find your readers, thank them for their reviews, build a Facebook page where they can interact with you - don’t just invite your family and other authors to it, in fact don’t invite any of these, but of course make them welcome if they do come along, but do invite your readers. You can do this by putting a link in your book and saying how much you would like to meet them and by mentioning your page when you thank a reviewer.
And so, after doing all of this myself I have been ‘spotted’. I caught the attention of a publisher, and then an agent who contacted me not long after. I did it by showing that I could write, I could attract a readership, I was a hard working author and I was worth, at the age of 68, taking on by one of the big six to begin a new career. You can do this too, whatever your age.
My journey has been a long one but it needn’t be so for you. Kindle and other ebook platforms are already there for you. And it is them that have brought me to the top of my mountain. I am to sign a seven book deal - Pan MacMillan are taking all of my back list and two new books, one of which I have nearly finished even though they only contacted me in July! They have offered me a really good advance and are a brilliant team to work with. I feel as if my life is beginning all over again. I wish this wonderful feeling for you all.
I look forward to picking up my story in May, when I will revisit Multi-Story to tell you all how everything is going for me and how I fared leading up to the release of my first traditionally published novel.
Mary's latest release.
Click image for further details.
Five Tips For Writing Good Prose
One of the questions I get asked frequently is how we can improve our prose, develop our use of language, play our literary instrument with more elan and flair.
Predictably, this goes wrong more times than not. I see many writers who seem in thrall to their school English teachers, as if they are on a sponsored exercise to use the thesaurus as often as possible. There’s nothing wrong with using a thesaurus to find the bon mot that’s slipped your mind. But we’ve all seen writing that waxes far too lyrical, and looks self-conscious and overdone - the dreaded purple prose.
But at least these writers have understood there’s an aesthetic involved. And I want to applaud them for seeking a varied vocabulary. Worse is the writer who goes for tortuous obfuscation (sorry), as if they want to prove they are clever. Just for a giggle, look at this example in The Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest. Here’s a taster:
‘If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.’
Now that’s not fiction, it’s criticism (as far as I can tell), but I sense this writer imagines he is being profound and much more clever than his readers. This kind of writing is an act of bullying superiority, not communication. The writer who committed it, BTW, is an English professor. Heaven help those who wish to learn from him.
So how do you write the kind of prose that readers will be impressed with? Here are my tips.
Tip 1: Be clear
Good prose doesn’t try to put up barriers. It might make interesting word choices and deploy an image stylishly, but it wants to be understood - deeply and completely.
This means that before we write a good sentence we need clarity ourselves. Especially on this point: what do we want the reader to feel?
Let’s take an example - describing characters. These are probably some of the most complex descriptions we might attempt as writers. Try these:
‘Someone advanced from the sea of faces, someone tall and gaunt, dressed in deep black, whose prominent cheekbones and great, hollow eyes gave her a skull’s face…’ Daphne du Maurier
‘He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough, and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see, but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man.’ Charles Dickens
There is not a difficult word in either of those descriptions; the effectiveness comes from the writer knowing what he wants to say and wanting the reader to understand it.
Tip 2: Develop an ear
Note also that those two examples are long sentences, but effortless to read. The writer has a sense for how the words beat in the reader’s mind.
By contrast, here’s a famous sentence by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that strangles itself, quoted, funnily enough, on Wikipedia’s Purple Prose entry:
’It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.’
It’s not a bad concept and it’s certainly vivid - but the writing is full of tripwires:
·‘Except at occasional intervals’ destroys the storyteller’s spell by wresting the reader’s attention away and sounding like a news bulletin.
·‘When it was checked by’ is another leaden construction, and indirect for no good reason.
·‘Fiercely agitating the scanty….. blah’ - there is too much going on here for me to stay with the thread. ‘Scanty flame of the lamps…’ with everything else we have to process in the sentence, does it even matter if the flames are scanty? And do we need to detain the reader with the thought that life is hard for the lamps? While we’re at it, is it the darkness the lamps are struggling against or the wind - if the writing was handled gracefully we’d allow a struggle against darkness as a poetic idea, but as it’s so clumsy it is merely ridiculous.
As I said, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of the sentence, following the wind and rain through the streets. But the writer’s thinking is cluttered, clogged and complicated.
And look back at our very first example from the English professor. He stuffed so many words into his sentence that he had to use italics to add stress. A well-written sentence doesn’t need typographical tics. It leads the reader perfectly well with the usual tools of punctuation and the careful use of word order.
Tip 3: Suit the material
Language dictates the way a story is experienced. It’s the filter over the lens, the music on the soundtrack, the way the shots linger or race across the screen. For instance, thriller writers would like you to be gripped by a pacy beat. They use a vocabulary that tingles with action.
‘I downshifted into third as I zoomed past him and shot toward the upcoming climb with a fresh boost of torque and enough raw power and confidence to soar past anybody or anything that might be blocking my way on the curving ascent ahead.’ (Jonathan Kellerman.)
It’s a long sentence, but it’s lean and spare. And it’s not even describing a crucial piece of action, merely the character’s drive home.
More than that, language can operate other senses. Patrick Suskind’s Perfume begins with a description of Paris purely through its smells. Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is told in its own post-apocalyptic pidgen English to connect you deeply to the narrator’s mind and the details that will tell you the story.
All these choices of language are deliberate and serve the material.
Tip 4: Find books you want to savour
I’ve always been a slow reader. I can’t skim through a good book, and often find myself trapped by an exquisite phrase or a startling sentence. I’ll keep rereading it, hoping to decode its power, discover its trick. When I studied for my degree in English literature, I found the workload impossible because I couldn’t gallop through the reading list like everyone else could. Charles Dickens on his own could have kept me profitably occupied for a year. While I may not have been the widest-read English student, that habit of pausing over good sentences has tuned my ear, calibrated my sensitivity.
Tip 5: Try lots of styles
Every now and again you’ll discover a writer who blows a hole through your idea of what good prose is. Let it; soak up the possibilities it shows you. Try to emulate it, if you’re so inclined. Mimic the rhythms, the sentence structure, the tone, the types of things they would notice. You won’t be able to keep it up, and after a while you’ll be back to your own evolving style. But you’ll have learned a new trick or two. Then read, repeat and repeat.
Ultimately, to become a good wordsmith is a process of self-examination and gradual improvement, like getting fit. Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Want to be understood.
2. Develop an ear.
3. Suit the material.
4. Find books you want to savour.
5. Try lots of styles.
Roz Morris's fiction has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, though you won’t have seen her name on the covers as she ghostwrote for high-profile authors. She is now coming into the daylight with novels of her own, My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three. She is also a writing coach and one of her clients went on to win the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012. She is the author of two writing books - Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence and Write Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel. Roz also has a writing blog Nail Your Novel. Connect with her on Twitter at @ByRozMorrisand @NailYourNovel.
Click on the images for more details
How To Write A Blog - A light-hearted guide to the art of blogging
As with so much else in life, I know very little of this subject - effectively damn all. Not least because I write blogs so infrequently. When I started, I had in mind that blogging would be a platform from which to boost my reputation and the sales of my books. After a while - especially once I’d twigged that it might involve self-discipline and hard work - I decided in an informal way that my reputation could go hang and that for the future I would vote with the majority of humanity who don’t give a fig for my books. What can I say, guys and gals? You were right all along. I’m sorry.
Nevertheless my website has this facility for posting blogs and I experience moments of intermittent guilt or enthusiasm. In the present case, to my utter astonishment, I’ve discovered I have a reader who isn’t either me or one of a handful of friends. For other writers (those who actually have a reputation and do sell books) this may be a commonplace but for me it’s distinctly spooky. I feel like someone in a Pentecostal church who has been gabbling away, “speaking in tongues”, only to find that apparently all this nonsense may mean something. I never suspected.
So here is a lesson from the ignorant about writing blogs.
1. Know who your readers are so that you can tailor both content and style to them - I didn’t know I had any readers, so I forgot this lesson.
2. Have a consistent theme or voice so that your readers know what to expect and will come back for more of the same - Yeah…right. I think my voice is “whimsical”. I do it largely because it reduces the amount of actual work.
3. Make it short and punchy. Unless you are among the Great and the Good, who talk about Weighty Things, your blog is just a piece of light entertainment someone might read over a cup of coffee - I am really strong on this point (not the Weighty Things but the coffee stuff).
4. Be cautious about expressing strong opinions on controversial subjects - You are more ignorant that you think you are and may also be mad. These are secrets best kept to yourself.
5. Remember that blogs are a permanent record and the impression they give is difficult to change - If you write whimsical blogs people may think you are an idiot. They may be right.
6. Listen to live music, go often to theatre, opera and ballet, and dance whenever possible with someone you love - This is a general lesson that probably won’t harm your blogs.
7. Be warm and humane - People like it, and it will make you feel better about yourself and the world and not care too much about whether anyone is reading your blog. Since most people will - quite rightly - not be too interested in your opinions, this is the most important lesson.
Q - How did the collaboration come about and have either of you done anything similar before?
Bee - Mark and I have critiqued and edited each other’s work for quite some time. We have very similar opinions on what makes a book really work. When I sent him the two opening chapters of Kill Them Twice - first person voice of the protagonist and third person voice of the antagonist - I mentioned how although I thought I’d made a pretty good fist of the latter I’d found it hard going. Alice, aka Halo, may be a killer with an unusual moral code but she is great fun to write and at that time fun was what I was looking for. When Mark said he’d be interested in taking on the evil angst of Shard I was keen to give it a go. In the past I have co-authored non-fiction and biographies but collaborating on a novel is very different.
Mark - I’m a strong believer in learning from constructive criticism and have benefited from both online and face-to-face critique groups over the past few years. Bee impressed me with her incisive approach and I knew she could flat out write. Her suggestion that I might pick up the voice of Shard in Kill Them Twice sufficiently flattered me into taking the bait. I’d never co-written a novel before.
Q - How exactly did the process of co-authoring work?
Bee - You can’t write a novel by committee. The Kill Them Twice concept and characters were mine so I steered the ship. Obviously as we progressed there was much discussion about exactly where we were going and in general we arrived at mutually acceptable decisions. We began by taking it in turns to write our chapters but this proved to be a frustratingly slow process so instead we established what needed to be covered, wrote simultaneously and then cleared up any overlaps or gaps before moving on.
Mark - It was an interesting experience for me to play Elizabeth Swann to Bee’s Jack Sparrow as she captained the plot through the Seven Seas. I’m used to being at the helm and I’ve had a problem with authority figures throughout my half-century. Also I’m a “pantser” and don’t like to work to a well-defined plot line as I find it can stymie creativity. Our ping-pong of chapter by chapter edits was very enlightening. It soon reached an equilibrium where we could each anticipate the parts the other would have problems with, and sometimes we set a booby trap or two just to test each other. Bee has a small network of high quality beta readers and they were drip-fed each chapter too, resulting in a work-in-progress so shiny we could see our faces in it. John Goldsmith was one of those beta readers and his review of Kill Them Twice http://bit.ly/KillTwice reflects the high level of enthusiasm that we enjoyed in the process.
Q - Did it go smoothly?
Bee - No, not all the time. Expecting it to would have been unrealistic. I think I can safely say there were times when we wanted to kill each other. Twice.
Mark - Yes, it went very smoothly all the time. Whatever Bee says, I’m the one who should be believed. Okay, the truth. We actually became our characters, Halo and Shard. Bee attempted to snipe at me from a safe distance. I was always trying to lure her into the danger zone for deadly hand-to-hand combat (or at least an arm wrestle). It was particularly difficult in chapters where my impulsive creativity had gone beyond the brief and pushed the good ship Kill Them Twice off-course. Bee was the one holding the map and I only managed the occasional glance at it, in-between me - I mean, Shard - brutally murdering his victims. So I did tend to digress and sometimes had to be escorted back into charted territory. But we’re both still alive, which is something I suppose.
Q - What were the positives and negatives of your collaboration?
Bee - Overall it was a positive experience so I’ll get the few negatives out of the way first. I write full time and have no children. Mark has a ‘proper’ job in senior management plus two school-age children. I failed to accurately factor in the extent to which these commitments would impact on the time available for our project. I rather think he did too. I knew from the outset exactly the tone I wanted for the book but it took some time to convey this to Mark resulting - at least early on - in me regularly bouncing his chapters back to him which, not surprisingly, didn’t always go down well. So for me the downside was frustratingly slow progress and achieving a shared vision.
Writing can be a lonely business so having someone equally involved and enthusiastic about the project is a big plus. When we hit problems with issues such as plot holes and logistics two minds were definitely better than one, and the resulting brainstorming often provided new and exciting ways forward. Then there were the lovely moments when Mark’s chapter arrived and he’d introduced a great new angle to the plot or insight into his character.
Finally, being a lazy person it’s much less daunting only having to write half a book!
Mark - The biggest negative for me was that I only had a limited amount of creative writing energy, and Kill Them Twice absorbed all that for a considerable time. Bee didn’t always appreciate or accept the constraints of my day job and family life, and I wasn’t going to compromise on the many hours that I invest in my beloved karate (as it keeps me sane). I didn’t produce any other writing under my pen name for the duration and I neglected the readership I had built. It was a struggle initially to find the Shard voice that Bee was looking for and some of that early back and forth on edits was quite excruciating. Writing to someone else’s prescription can be a strange experience. Sometimes several days are invested in a chapter only for it to end up rejected. Other times a few furious hours’ work can hit the spot first time.
On the positive side, the entire experience has greatly improved the standard of my writing. Before Kill Them Twice I was snuggled down in my comfort zone of quirky first person narrative with a constant vein of dark humour. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea and my earlier novels are always going to be niche. The deep third person of Shard and his humourless take on life and death have helped me broaden my range. I now feel much more confident about writing for a commercial audience.
Q - Would you do it again?
Bee - Had that question been posed as I wrote the closing sentences of Kill Them Twice my reply would have referenced when hell freezes over, but time has dimmed the memory of the pain and I’m left with pride and pleasure in what we achieved. Rather like childbirth.
The Author Collaboration Agreement for Vanquish, the next in the series due to be published in 2016, does however include clauses forbidding us to ever meet in person again and for all disputes to be settled by virtual arm-wrestling. I can take him. I can.
Mark - As an old hand at karate I’m used to pain. I thrive on it. So yes to doing it again. Writing Vanquish is different from Kill Them Twice in that both plot and writing are collaborative this time. That may lead to fewer or more disputes, I don’t know, but the result will be another great read. I won’t be drawn on the arm-wrestling except that it’s futile to describe an unreachable goal. Rock paper scissors would be a better method of conflict resolution.
Q - Both of you have previously been traditionally published so why did you take the indie route with Killer Them Twice?
Bee - I think I can answer this for both of us. Kill Them Twice attracted interest from several agents but we decided that for this particular project we didn’t want to be subject to the long lead time of a traditional publisher or lose creative control on content, title or jacket design.
Kill Them Twice is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon and all major online bookstores.
Bee Eveleigh-Bell’s work has been published internationally and in several languages. She is based in South West France. Mark Turner lives in rural Ireland. His short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and he has penned full-length works of fiction and non-fiction.