I’ve added a new section to the website called “Thoughts” which is basically the stuff I think about when I’m not writing or self-publishing, as such they do not belong in my main blog. These thoughts will usually be about big questions, and some of them will have a direct connection to the kind of fiction I like to read and write.
I’m hoping these thoughts will be entertaining and informative, and give some insight into the background ideas that influence my fiction.
So, dear reader, if you’re interested in discovering what kind of things make me tick then read on, I hope you enjoy.
The title of this entry is a bit of a spoiler, so it will be no surprise to you that I have a very low opinion of prologues. In fact, my opinion is so low that I’ve been known to close a book and not read it if it starts with a prologue.
Years ago I came to the conclusion that not a single novel I’d ever read had been improved by the prologue it started with. I later confirmed this by skipping prologues and only reading them after I’d finished the rest of the book and – without exception – I found the prologues to be unnecessary. Since then I haven’t found a single novel that I ruined or rendered unreadable by skipping the prologue.
Later, when I began to write, my relationship with books changed (sadly, in most cases, not for the better – but that’s for a later post). I began to analyse the mechanics of prologues and found, in most cases, the author had included one just to prop up shoddy writing. There seem to be two scenarios that convince an author that a prologue is not actually a hideous wordy pustule but something like a good idea.
One: Apparently, sometimes an author feels it’s so important to state a vital piece of information, up front, that they’ll add a prologue just for that purpose. Such prologues often appear as nothing more than info dumps, which are a kind of literary cancer anyway (so why you’d do this as the first thing anyone would read is beyond me). This either shows poor planning or the author’s lack of faith that their own writing is understandable, or worse, they don’t credit the reader with the gumption to understand what they’ve written in the main text.
Two: More often, an author seems to feel the need to include a prologue simply to make their book begin at a more interesting point in the story. If the author recognises the first half or their book is dull and in need of perking up, then as a potential reader, I’m not going to be fooled by an action filled prologue they’ve just tacked on the front to try and disguise the fact.
Neither gives me any confidence that the writer knows what they’re doing, and that’s why I will close the book and read no further.
However, I have made the odd exception, usually when I’ve been persuaded by a friend, as with the Belgariad series of fantasy books by David Eddings, and the Millennium trilogy by Larson. In both cases I was coerced into reading beyond the prologue and I was glad for it, but I would still maintain that these examples would have been just as enjoyable without the prologues.
There may be good prologues out there, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve heard that the Harry Potter books have well written prologues, that they serve as abridged summaries to ease the reader into the new book?
But these examples do not convince me to change my opinion, life is too short, and reading time is too precious. Unless I have persuasive evidence to the contrary, if I see a prologue I will automatically assume that the text that follows is not worth reading.
In the future, my reader will no doubt criticise my writing for many things, but my inappropriate use of prologues will not be one of them.
Since I started writing properly, and by that I mean with the goal of eventually being published, I’ve run into many different obstacles over the years. More often than not I’ve managed to overcome them. That was true, until recently, when I hit a real snag.
I simply didn’t anticipate how long it would take to get my first two books edited. I’ve held off starting anything new because I wanted to keep both books fresh in my mind to make it easier to finish them off when the edits did eventually come back. Unfortunately, as a result, with this old material bunging up my thinking I’ve not been able to write any new fiction and very little new content for the website.
Finally realising the situation has gone on for too long, I’ve forced myself back to the keyboard to press on with something new.
This, I now recognise, has been a bout of writers block (although I’ve been kidding myself that it was something else for months). As I mentioned in my earlier post on the subject, I believe that most – if not all – writers block, can be traced to some form of fear. In this case, my fear of distancing myself from my older material guided me to make the wrong choice, and thus stifling the development of new stuff. As the editing delay got longer, my self imposed writing dry spell became a full blown drought.
What a dummy I’ve been. I know hindsight is considered by some to be wonderful, but really all it’s done is mess with my melon. Realising I could have knocked out a new first draft in the time I’ve been dormant makes me feel like a prize numpty.
However, I don’t really believe that self recrimination is the correct response. The right thing for me to do, having identified the problem, is to do what dogs do and just kick some grass over it and move on.
So, hence this rather rambling blog entry and my own shambling stagger from the literary gutter.
Right then, where did I leave my writing mojo…?
Although I write about strange stuff, full of occult magic, the paranormal and eldritch mystery, my thinking and life are grounded firmly in science. I’m not prone to fanciful indulgences, a spade is usually a spade and if it quacks it’s most certainly a duck. However, on occasion, I have witnessed things that have made me wonder if I’m right. I’ve had one, perhaps two, ghostly experiences that I find hard to explain, other than one being a vivid dream and the other an auditory hallucination that would put any cinema surround-sound system to shame. And in nearly forty years of gazing at the wonders of the night sky I have seen many odd things that I’ve later reasoned away to my own satisfaction – except one, and I don’t imagine the pilots that were chasing it could either.
So, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not usually one to let myself get carried away, although I often jump at shadows, I still do know they are only shadows.
However, this Halloween, I saw something strange.
I parked the car in a darkened suburban street, open plan with nice manicured gardens, to drop my son off at a Halloween Party. I decided he could manage his own gear; sleep over paraphernalia, lantern and six foot scythe, but my wife wanted to help (and she wanted a chat with the party hosts). After a short while, she reappeared and I watched her in the side mirror as she walked up the pavement. She was dressed in her own costume and made quite an enchanting sight.
Then a figure, dressed in black jeans and a black hoody, appeared and ran up behind her. For an instant I thought it might be a would-be attacker and I went straight to DEFCON 1, ready to leap into action, but then I realised it was probably my son, running to catch up because he’d no-doubt forgotten something. So I calmed down, and watched the approaching figure for several seconds, still convinced it was my son, and feeling that nothing was unusual.
Then as my wife left the pavement to cross to the passenger side of the car I lost sight of her in the side mirror and switched to the rear view, but the other figure did not appear with her. The side mirror was empty also. I turned around and scanned the street but could see nothing.
When my wife got in the car she was unaware of there being anyone else anywhere near her. In fact, I unnerved her more by telling her what I’d seen.
It could have been someone with malicious intent that reconsidered when they realised she was heading for a car that was already occupied, but as far as I could see, there was nowhere for such a would-be assailant to hide.
I don’t know whether it was my imagination, or we had a lucky escape, or that I saw something truly strange…
As you might have noticed, I’ve been slowly growing a web presence as a prelude to actually publishing a real book that a real person will want to buy. It might come as a surprise but I have given the matter some thought, and will continue to do so, but much of what I’ve done has evolved naturally from the intent to simply entertain. But I don’t want to get all preachy, these are just my thoughts so far, that you may or may not find useful.
I haven’t figured out Facebook yet, or how to make the best of it, and this website and blog is still developing. However, I’ve found Twitter accessible and I’m having a lot of fun building what I hope is an interesting Twitter personality. I don’t just want to post endless tweets about my new book, or about my latest book reviews. Although, I will post some tweets like that, but hopefully not too many. But why? Isn’t that what social media is for? To help you sell stuff? Well, yes, partly, but what is it that I’m trying to sell?
I’m a writer, and soon I’ll be an author, the former because I can’t help it and the latter because I want to share. I’m writing my books to entertain, and here’s the crux of the matter because I want everything I do to emphasise that. I want my web presence itself to be entertaining. I don’t want a potential reader to look at my blog or twitter feed and think – blimey what a bore, I bet his books are just as dull, because if they do then I’ve torpedoed myself. I think this is so important, and it adds value. So yes, I want my reader to buy my books – when I publish them – but I don’t want that to be all I do.
I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve got all the answers, or that I’ve got it right, but I am saying that I’m trying to make everything I do as interesting as possible. That’s not such a bad goal is it? I just want to entertain.
I suppose it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if I’ve actually been successful so far.
It’s taken me about three months to get the second draft of the second book finished, and that’s with a lengthy decorating interruption early on, so all things considered I don’t think it’s too shabby.
But woo, what a feeling, I’ve finished a few books in my time, but never before have I done so knowing that it would certainly be published. I would say I feel so Money Super Market, but I won’t because I’d hate myself.
Anyway, this means that sometime soon, another person, perhaps you, perhaps someone I’ve never met and likely will never meet will read those words and peek inside my head, and that’s both scary and exhilarating. Towards the end, as the number of pages yet to be edited dwindled, this thought grew until it became a serious preoccupation, it never stopped me, but it was there, like someone looking over my shoulder as I wrote. I began to imagine what my reader would say, and it was a fight for me to ignore that thought and simply write the truth of the story.
But wow, what a thrill, I could say it almost felt as good as washing with Herbal Essences but I won’t because I’d hate myself and you’d hate me too.
I’m guessing that this feeling will fade with each subsequent novel I write, but I hope not.
I didn’t give myself too much time to bask in my own self-assumed glory and cracked on with the changes I needed to make to the first book to make it fit with the second. That wasn’t too difficult, but it was surprising the things I’d forgotten, like family members and habits and hair colour (things I should have written down in the first place) and it was difficult not to beat myself up over these lapses. Not only did I have to retrofit changes into book one, but I found new changes I had to make to book two, which this took several iterations to complete.
However, here I am with two complete novels, so what’s next?
Well, it’s off to copy editor to clean them both up and make them presentable, and in the meantime I need to work on the jacket blurbs and the cover art which is a step outside my comfort zone.
I’m starting to get very excited and just a bit scared, a bit like standing in line for a new roller coaster…
In my early writing days I wondered if ‘the block’ was to writers what ‘the wall’ is to marathon runners. I now know what ‘the wall’ feels like, it’s a physical barrier when the body runs out of fuel, and it was only natural to assume that the same thing could happen to a writer when the well of inspiration dries up.
Every writer, great and small, seems doomed to face the dreaded ‘block’ at least once in their writing lifetimes, and sure enough, one day, it happened to me. I was midway through the first draft of a longish – never to be published – novel set in a faraway land, and I froze. The babble of voices in my head were suddenly silent, the keyboard felt alien to my fingertips, and trying to hold the story narrative was like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. I sat and waited but nothing happened, and I kept on waiting for weeks before whatever logjam had been clogging up my brain finally gave way. It eventually did and I eventually finished the book – who knows I may revisit it one day, dust it off and see how it reads, but my experience with The Block left me wondering.
Why had I run into the block? And, how had I somehow got around it?
I realised, that for me at least, The Block was simply my unrecognised unwillingness to write, either through laziness or fear, and it had paralysed my imagination. I’d inadvertently managed to get over it by simply forcing myself to write. Many of those – post Block – words were later discarded, because they were forced and mechanical and by the numbers, but I ground on, word by word, until they started coming to me more easily again.
So, the next time The Block happened, I was ready for it and ready to admit to myself that I was just being lazy. So I put the current project to one side and wrote something different, and I stuck at it, grinding the gears at first, but then with greater fluency until finally the words flowed with ease again. Then I revisited the original project, looking for what had made me lose interest, and I realised I had to cut three lacklustre chapters, and in doing so found my writing groove again.
I had simply lost interest in what I was writing, it was uninspiring, and I had to write something different before I realised it. This is the most common kind of Block I face, where I simply haven’t realised that what I’m writing is dull, and it usually takes a break from the project and writing something else to see my mistake. Once or twice I’ve been paralysed by fear, particularly where an approaching deadline or when I think a little success might be on the horizon, my Block kicks in to delay the inevitable or scupper my chances. Again, the best way I have to get around this is to write something else, particularly something that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, these small distraction projects are not wasted because they often contain nuggets of ideas I can use elsewhere.
Maybe this doesn’t describe everyone’s Block, and maybe different writers have different ways to deal with it when it happens, but this is my Block and this is how I get over it.
Over the years it’s something I’ve come to terms with and accept, but that’s not been so easy for those that know me. When they get me talking about my writing, always reluctantly at first but then quickening with enthusiasm until it’s like trying to jam the cork back into a bottle of Prosecco, I finally realise I’ve gone too far, revealed too much and they’re all staring at me with open mouths, with some even shuffling back a step.
To give you an idea of the usual reactions, here are three.
The first was uttered by my wife after she read the book I’ll be publishing soon.
“What the hell did you write that for?”
This from my mother, spoken with a slightly bemused expression on her face.
“Why can’t you write something like Catherine Cookson?”
And finally from my concerned mother in law.
“Why do you feel the need to write these things?”
The truth is I’ve always been interested in the macabre, grisly things and the suspicion that the world is far stranger and darker than would first appear.
I vividly remember when I was about eleven; my friend and I discovered a dirty hessian sack filled with bloody maggot infested body parts. For several incredibly intense heart-stalling moments I thought we’d found a dead body, or more than one, victims of some rampant serial killer. The truth was a little less sensational, but nonetheless irresistible to a young boy, the sack of bloody bits had been left by sheep rustlers – legs and heads, hair and offal. I remember the police were quite interested in our find, but I never found out if the sack and its gruesome contents had ever led them to make any arrests.
As a child I remember being fascinated by death and used to draw violent and horrific images, and I remember my mother being particularly worried, I just found them compelling. I suspect my teachers too probably had concerns about my imagination, and I’m sure they must have approached my parents, although I can’t be sure. Today, everyone would probably blame it all on the influence of television, but I’m sure the most disturbing thing I watched was Saturday morning Swap Shop.
My love of Hammer films came later, and later still I was the victim of an attempted murder: I’ve seen the fevered but dethatched stare of a would be killer up close, and I know how close I came to ending up on a slab.
These things might have been forgotten had I not been born with a writer’s brain, these days, the haunted house of my earlier life with its occasional dark and creepy interludes are the raw materials that I draw on.
As for books and fiction, I do have a predilection for the darker material. It’s the disturbing stuff that sticks in my mind the most. Since I want to write fiction that lingers in the mind of my reader, I have to use my own relationship with fiction as my guide. Thus, if I want to be honest and write with conviction, I have to aim for the dark side.
I’m afraid that’s how I roll.
The time has finally come to begin the second draft of book two. How do I know? The pressure, I feel like an overheating boiler, all vibrating rivets and whistling jets of escaping steam, because the book is taking up more and more of my thinking time, becoming more distracting by the day. I feel like my hat is on too tight. The more I try to avoid it and think about something else, the worse it gets, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t wait to tear into it. That’s how I know I’m ready. It’s not because I think it’s about time, or that my schedule says so, it’s because I can’t do anything else, I don’t want to work on any other project. Even writing this is tougher than it should be.
Along with the pressure is a sense of heightened anticipation. This is an exciting time, because I’m going to get to read the book properly, cover to cover, for the first time, as if I’m my own first reader. Of course, it’s not quite the same experience because I remember how the story goes and how it ends and I think I remember all the twists, I certainly remember the most memorable scenes. But that’s not the point, whenever I do this, and I’ve done it a few times now, there is genuine anxiety mixed in with the excitement. There is always the danger the book is not as good as I remember, or worse, I’ll discover I’ve been kidding myself and I really can’t write all.
There are two things I need to do. Number one, make the book better. I’ve done this before with other projects, and it mainly involves cutting a lot out and clarifying what’s left. Number two, is take note of were book two overlaps book one, so I can tie the two together. I’ve never written a sequel before, so this is something new, and right now I don’t know how it’s going to work. My initial idea is, as I go through book two, to write down every fact (to check against the first book), everything I want to foreshadow, every linked plot point. Then, once I have that list, use it to go through book one. It might work or I might find a better way, I’ll have to see.
I thought it might be fun to post my progress on twitter. Partly to give my reader something to look at, but also a way of maintaining my own momentum, just as it’s easier to keep going to the gym with a buddy, it must be easier to keep going with someone following me. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
With my sleeves rolled up and a pencil behind my ear I made my first decision: I would complete the first draft of the book before beginning to look into self-publishing, so that’s just what I did. This may seem like a no brainer, but I suspect there are many would-be authors out there who jump the gun. At least with the first draft done I knew I had something to work with, like a rough block of stone ready to be chiselled at, the book is already there I just had to chip away the bits.
It was hard work, but it had to be done.
Of course, a first draft is not a publishable product; at least I don’t think so, although some web authors advocate publishing and then revising “live” – so to speak. For me, the idea of doing this gives me the collywobbles. Before I publish any book I want to be sure it’s so polished it wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a silver service waiter.
But then, I went a bit further and decided to wait until I had two titles ready for publishing, the first two parts of a series. Of course, I know this reads like the very worst case of procrastination, but I did have good reasons. When I started the second book I soon realised I’d have to make some changes to the first, because they are very closely linked and between the two drafts the whole story had evolved in my head. While this seemed a pain at first, I soon realised both books would be stronger for it, and since I was writing two books I also realised there would be advantages to simultaneously publishing them both, not least of all, my potential reader would realise I’m serious about writing and not a one hit wonder.
My original vision for my authoring future was to publish electronically through Amazon, because they have the biggest market share with their Kindle readers. Yes, I know Amazon are unpopular at the moment but I decided not to cut my own nose off to spite my face. To do this, the prevailing wisdom seemed to require me to build up some sort of internet presence, I’ve later discovered that this is not essential, but I still feel it’s important: At the very least, I’m sure it can’t do any harm. So I set up a website using the WordPress free service, and Twitter and Facebook accounts. I found WordPress very easy to use and it didn’t take very long to create a useful and attractive website – I hope you agree. As for Twitter and Facebook, only time will tell how useful they will be; right now, they seem to be frustratingly good at swallowing up my time.
Since I had no idea what I was doing, the next thing I had to figure out how I was actually going to self-publish, so I rummaged around on the internet and found this book: “Createspace & Kindle Self-Publishing Masterclass.” This turned out to be an excellent buy and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking about self-publishing.
Until I read this I had only considered publishing electronically, but this book gave me the idea of using Createspace to also produce hard copies, which is a new and exciting thought.
So, I’ve got two first drafts ready for reworking – I’ll be soon Tweeting my daily progress with those, and I’ll be starting a Facebook business page soon, and as you’ve noticed I’ve started blogging about my self-publishing adventures.
Next, it’s pressing on with the second drafts, and then looking for a copy editor…