Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Once upon a time

Today somebody asked how writers write. That's an easy answer and almost every writer will tell you a similar answer. One word at a time. Just write.

 He made some comment that, if he wrote a story, it would probably start Once upon a time as if that would be a bad thing. True enough; if i started my novel with Once Upon A Time, you'd probably think you were reading something by a five year old and wouldn't get past the first paragraph. So, what if i started with A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? It's basically the same sentence and, yes, it's from a sort of fairy tale. But it's also the opening line of something very special. Well, i think so.

If it works for you, start with once upon a time. That doesn't have to stay in the final version. I wrote a piece about a fireman attending an accident on the motorway. I'd probably written 500 words and it just wasn't working. it wasn't a story, it wasn't exciting and i didn't want to know what happened next. i kept going for a while then stopped, highlighted the first paragraph and pressed delete.

No better. The next paragraph went the same way. Once i'd deleted the third, i realised i have the start of the story, but hadn't been able to see it because it was hidden amongst all the rubbish. The start sometimes isn't at the start.

Joseph Grand, one of the characters in The Plague by Albert Camus is a writer. He is trying to write the perfect opening sentence and rewrites and revises it constantly , never actually getting on to the next sentence and never writing the book. Many people who want to write end up in a similar trap. There is a cure, although it's a bit extreme. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) sets the challenge of writing a fifty thousand word story in a month. Starting with a blank sheet on the 1st of November each year thousands of people try to get 1500 words a day down. It's not easy, particularly if you want to create a masterpiece from the start. However, NaNoWriMo's strap line is that it's all about quantity, not quality. Put words on the page and you can come back and polish, revise, edit, change, delete, add later on. Just Write.

Part of the charm (or not) of blogs is that they aren't thought through properly before typing begins - this one certainly isn't. It's a stream of consciousness, clunky and rambling. Unfortunately, when i run out of things to say, i just press the Publish button. So, what you get is the raw version of what i wanted to say. However, as i'm spending more time blogging and twittering and facebooking in the hope of raising awareness of my book (published on Kindle in February) than writing the sequel, i haven't got time to revise and polish etc etc. Sometimes i'm blogging at midnight, and it shows.

Publish and be damned (he said, out of context).

Monday, 30 January 2012

Live in the moment

A couple of days ago i posted the first half of a chapter written specially for this blog. i was very conscious that it was probably going to be read (presuming there are people out there and my stats page isn't recording me every time i visit my own blog) fairly shortly after it was written and before i had a chance to hone and polish it.

So it was written with the immediate future in mind and i'm not sure it benefited from that.

I also posted a prequel piece that i wrote as part of the creative writing course. At the time i thought it was pretty good and, as it was only 500 words, i'd tried to choose each one carefully. When i read it again (after i'd posted it) i didn't like it so much. i think i'd tried to be too detailed rather than leaving it to the readers' imagination.

So, never look forward, never look back. just write!

The book itself (Have i mentioned i've written a book and i'm going to publish on amazon kindle next month?) was never really meant to be read and that gave it a lot of freedom. When i read i tend to gloss over the descriptive parts and i've tried to do that in my own writing (although i know there are sections where i've failed miserably) as i can see the places that everything's happening in my head. i'd like to think that it moves apace, and that it's populated with characters that aren't two dimensional (apart from the very minor people, mentioned in passing who, obviously, are).

What can i conclude? i'm starting to worry that its all rubbish. Apart from the piece i posted under the title I don't just do science fiction. Only 100 words, each one lovingly selected and put in place. SPOILER ALERT. The original draft was over 200 words and i had to ditch more than half of it. i particularly miss the oak trees where the old man is buried but they added words without actually adding to the story.

100 word stories are a lot of fun, but not as satisfying as a whole novel and won't sell particularly well on Kindle - that's not hugely important, but it would be nice to break even although i'm fairly hopeful as the cover wasn't expensive. Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics did a great job - don't know if she'll still drop by the blog now that i've paid the bill :-)

i've just had a quick read of another piece i did and i'm feeling more positive again.This was a re-imagining of the Snow White story and i still like it. I'll post that in the next day or so. i'd be interested in your comments.

Is there anybody out there?

Friday, 27 January 2012

The ink on this is still wet 1/4

I glanced away from the tactical screens to the station where Nonaka, my First Officer was monitoring the movement of the rest of the fleet. He looked up.
“A few minutes more, Admiral.”
We might not have a few minutes more. The Nemesis had disabled the leading two Vrgarr battleships, but the rest of their formation was closing rapidly and the heavy cruisers of the Church Militant were angling in behind us. Once they achieved a firing position they could turn the main drives into scrap and we would be finished. We were finished anyway, but my task was to hold the combined Vrgarr and Realm warships here whilst our fleets made their escape.
The damage control boards told a sorry tale. Three of the power plants were dark and red lights flashed in far too many critical sections. There were no commands I could give that would make a difference. I had to stand at the centre of the bridge and keep completely calm whilst my ship was blown apart around me. I could feel a tremor working its way down my arm; I clasped my hands together behind my back. The bridge crew were looking to me. If I showed fear, they might panic. I needed them at their posts for a little longer.
The deck was vibrating constantly, each shivver an explosion somewhere. The bridge itself was buried at the centre of the ship and safe from almost every enemy weapon. Screens went dark as power lines and information feeds were cut, but there were no explosions here.
“The fleet is clear.” Reported Nonaka. We had diverted the enemy's attention and now they were too far behind to catch the Imperial ships.
“Orders.” I didn't need to raise my voice. The microphone on my lapel picked up every word and transmitted it to the command crew. “All weapons, cease firing. Engineering; drives to zero, emergency shut down of reactors Two to seven.” One, Three and Eight were gone. Only number nine would be left functioning, providing a small power feed to keep the life support and other vital systems going. “Comms, signal the Vrgarr that we surrender.” I had never been in this position before. Many military units considered surrender a shameful act, but my role now was to protect the lives of my surviving crew.
“Sir?” Called the communications officer. “The Vrgarr commander requires you to eject the reactor core.” This was a standard demand. Without power we were no threat to them.
“Very good. Engineering, eject power cores Two, Four and Five.” The battle was over, but I wanted to keep two reactors intact in case number Nine failed. The Nemesis was an old ship and had been refitted with nine small reactors, spread across the ship, rather than the usual main plant and smaller reserve reactor. Our design meant that enemy ships often targeted the wrong part of the ship and we could take massive amounts of damage and continue fighting. But not today, and not against another eleven capital ships. The Vrgarr would not know until they boarded the ship, but that would not help them in future. The three sister ships also had nine reactors, but they were in different positions.
“Sir!” The second engineer called urgently. “Reactor Two won't eject and the core is going to go critical.”
We wouldn't have long. I looked at Nonaka. He nodded.
“Abandon ship. All hands abandon ship.”
Nobody on the bridge left their post. They would be the last to leave. They were needed to make sure that power was available to the escape pods and hatches. That the damage control teams cleared the right corridors, that the enemy knew we were launching escape craft and not mines or missiles. For the moment we were protected within the armoured shell of the bridge, but it wouldn't protect us if reactor two exploded.
There was little I could do myself but standing in the centre of the command ring was difficult. The tremor in my arm was back, and slightly stronger this time. The chances of us getting out were slim. Getting the crew off was a mammoth task. Judging from the damage control boards many would be dead already and we would lose many more as the injured were too slow to escape and the trapped were left behind.
The status board changed as escape craft left the ship. Every second that the engineers could control the reactor meant more lives saved.
“Admiral, we've done everything we can.” Said Nonaka.
I nodded. “Clear the bridge, make for the escape pods and may the blessing of the Emperor be with you.” I said.
A slight breeze ruffled papers as the massive hatch that sealed off the bridge opened. Somewhere the ship was venting air. It was probably leaking like a sieve. The bridge crew had emergency vacuum hoods which would protect them. They evacuated the compartment in an orderly manner, as they had been trained. They were frightened, but in control. I wasn't looking in his direction but I knew Nonaka hadn't moved.
“Lead them to the escape pods, please, Hiraku.”
“Yes, Sir. He didn't argue. I knew he wanted to stay, but I had given him a direct order. He gave a smart salute and turned towards the hatch, giving a short nod to Cavendish as he passed her. She hadn't moved since we had entered into battle. In her black Ultima armour she was taller than me and much more massive. As always she was completely calm and unmoved by the disaster that had befallen us. Behind her I could see three more of the Bad Girls, my personal bodyguards. The rest would be outside the bridge, waiting.
“It's time to go.” She said.
“You go.” I had to try.
“No.” Like the first officer, she wanted to stay at her post. Unlike him, my orders would make no difference. She had sworn to protect me or die in the attempt. I hadn't asked for that, but I had to respect her choice.
“I can't leave. There's a reason captains go down with their ships, you know.”
“Is it a good reason?”
I had a strong suspicion that, if I said no, she would pick me up and carry me to the escape pod. Even when not wearing power armour she was capable of lifting me with one hand.
“Yes. Yes, there is. We know too much.” I knew the position and intentions of each of the three Imperial Banner fleets in this sector. More importantly, I knew that the twelve Imperial Destroyers that had dispersed through the system whilst we held off the enemy ships were, in fact, large merchant ships with reprogrammed transmitters. The Vrgarr believed that a Banner Fleet was at large in this strategically vital system and would have to bring in a huge number of ships to protect the port and docks that orbited the gas giant. Moving those resources would create a gap that the actual fleets would use to force their way into enemy space where they could cause massive disruption to supply lines and manufacturing orbitals. The Nemesis had been sacrificed for that goal.
“If captains go down with their ships, then they won't be looking for you. Lose the stripes, they'll never know.”
“Perhaps. If they figure it out, there are other options.”
I didn't ask if she would be able to put a bullet through my head. She would do it without hesitation if necessary.
Acre moved closer. “Are we going to stand here until the reactor blows or are we going to go? As much as I like the thought of all the posthumous medals that they'll fasten to our memorial stones, I'd rather collect them in person.” Even Cavendish smiled at that.
“Very good. Where are the others?” I asked. There were four marines on the bridge.
The smile faded from Cavendish's face. “The others are with the bridge crew.” That made sense. In their power armour they could easily clear heavy debris from the path of the escaping crew. “Except Vincent.” She said.
“What happened to Vincent?”
“Gods on bicycles.” Muttered Acre. “Can't we talk about it on the way?”
“Vincent was taking casualties to the sick bay. She was there when it got hit.”
Ross, Cavendish's second in command, picked up her helmet. “There are engineers in reactor two, keeping it from melting so everybody gets off. If you don't go, they won't go.” She sealed the helmet to the locking ring on her armour.
“Is everybody determined to commit suicide today?” I asked
“I'm not.” said Acre. “Let's just bloody well go!”

This is the first half of a chapter that will appear in the second Echo book - OK, i know i haven't published book one yet, but it's coming soon. It's a flashback to an incident that is mentioned in passing in Echo. I've just finished writing it, so there are probably mistakes and bits of it are a little clunky, but i can tidy it up later.Nobody saw a word of Book one until the first draft was completely finished so I thought it might be fun to post bits of book two as i went along. Hope you like it. If you do, buy the book :-) 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Is this the right ballroom for Strictly Come Dancing?

The top rings on the sleeves of York’s greatcoat bore a lustre lost by the others. Although newly promoted, he carried himself with the assurance of a man who had borne the responsibility of command for some time.

He stood at the edge of a group of officers. They were absorbed with spending the night in revelry. York desperately wanted to be on the bridge of his ship. He was a warrior, not a courtier; the scars on his face were acquired in battle, not on the duelling fields.

The myriad coloured gowns swirled across the dance floor below the gallery, but he was focussed on two figures. Admiral Morton was working his way though the cream of society’s female aristocracy. The other subject of York’s attention had been more difficult to identify. York had been trained to look for patterns, gaps and weaknesses that could be exploited.  Despite that, it had taken a full fifteen minutes of study, before he was able to spot somebody whose behaviour was different. The young woman in the green ball gown had not danced, skilfully avoiding engagement with any officer who had tried to approach her.

Two officers stopped in front of him. He wasn’t a tall man and they blocked his view of the waltzing crowd. York could command a deck without raising his voice and, quietly, attracted their attention. Although they acknowledged his rank, it was his aura of authority that moved them on.

Beneath the gaiety, there was an undercurrent of fear. York was not afraid. His whole purpose was war.  The morning would see his ship setting out, part of a fleet that would engage the enemy within a week and he hungered for the visceral excitement of battle.

The temperature of the upper gallery was rising; York could feel beads of sweat beneath his close-cropped hair. He stepped towards the doors emphasising his limp and leaning on his cane to avoid being drawn into the dancing by any of the matrons that hunted for heroes. Morton was feted as a hero but, to York, his reputation was blackened by the fact he was an uninspired commander, employing strategies that resulted in huge numbers of casualties and an uncertain outcome. York championed different tactics, using sudden and overwhelming violence and was determined that it would be he who directed the strategy of the fleet. Morton would be dead by midnight, but not by York’s hand. This had been planned from the point when war became inevitable and, as much as he wanted to be on his ship, York had to be here to see the culmination of the plot unfold.

He walked along the terrace outside, undisturbed snow crunching beneath his polished boots. As he surveyed the formal gardens, the doors opened behind him and the woman in the green dress stepped out. For a moment he felt dismay. If his plan was uncovered, then there was every chance that she was here for him, not the Admiral.

Previously i posted the scene where York and Echo meet, on the castle terrace. After writing that scene i asked myself the question, why are they there? and got the answer - to kill somebody. That's what they do. So, although this scene is set before that one, it moves the story on.

This scene didn't actually make it into the book (but the murder gets referred to several times). Looking back at it (i've not read it for a while), it feels like i was trying too hard. This was a 500 word assignment and we spent a lot of time using as many different descriptive words as we could shoehorn into the limit. Writing 100,000 words is very different. I'm trying to get somewhere, at a reasonable pace, so there's a lot less description (you can make it up yourself) and the language is less flowery.

The green ball gown is a theme that runs through the book. I really have no idea why. I'm sure there was a reason originally but, like so many things, it's been lost (like car keys and several sets of glasses).

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

My name is, my name is, my name is

Names are difficult. i had to come up with a whole load to populate the book. Mostly for people but also for some places. If you're interested, this is where some of mine came from.

Gabriel York. York came first. I was starting to write and there was an article on the news about something that had happened in York. For his first name i wanted something that was completely unexpected and sort of out of character. i remembered a scene from the film Assassin where Gabriel Byrne stares down Bridget Fonda who's armed and angry as i remember. How cool was he.

The Admirals and the Marines. They're all named after streets near where i used to live.

I'm half way through writing this and i've just realised that, as hardly anybody has read the book, most of you won't know what the names were in the first place.

Places - the Sleeper Empire started on five planets where ships from earth arrived with tens of thousands of people in suspended animation. The planets took the names of the ships. There were six "Visionary" ships.

The Asimov, the Bradbury, the Heinlein, the Wells, (one i've forgotten, it's late) all founded worlds.Nobody wanted to get on the ship named after Philip K, and The Clarke was lost (although found again, but that's book two). For planets in book one, i thought of the characteristic then ran the phrase through Google translator and wrote down whatever sounded right.

There's no real science to it. i think i'll tweet and see how other people do it.

And so, i've talked about two main characters. One, who's been called York throughout the blog and one, who's picture was subject of the vote (which is now closed) but whose name i haven't yet used.

Here's a question. What was the name of the spy in the Len Deighton novels The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain? In the films he was played by Michael Caine.

If you said Harry Palmer, go stand in the corner

In the books his name is never mentioned. Never. We know where he comes from, but not who he is. Originally i wanted to do something similar. In my head her name was Chorus - named after the narrator of several of Shakespeare's works  -but i was trying not to use it. A touch of mystery but, in the end it was just too clumsy and i gave up.

However, at the last minute, we changed it. In the first draft her sisters Echo and Legion (there are reasons for this) appear briefly. With a flick of the find and replace button, i swapped Echo and Chorus over. I think it suits her better.

I'm doing the final cut now (somebody else will do the final edit - worry not, professional writers) and the only thing that i worry about is the names. Particularly the one named after a Beatle.

I was 19 before i realised that the Beatles was spelt with an A

I don't just do science fiction

I’ve searched for years for the perfect house. Now, perhaps, I’ve found it.
I knew all along I’d never be able to afford a place that had all the elements that had I dreamed of. Such a sweet old man.  When I knocked on the front door and asked if he would consider selling it to me, he invited me in and gave me tea and biscuits. Unfortunately he had no intention of selling it and had bequeathed it to charity. As he showed me round the house he told a little about himself. He’d been born in this house, had lived here all his life and intended to die here.
It was the least I could do.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The best laid plans

'Bet it's a Scenario Five.' Muttered one of the troops
I wondered if York would explain the comment, but he just held my gaze, waiting for instructions. Although i'd had marines on my shoulder a couple of times, this wasn't a term i'd come across and i had to ask. I turned to the woman. Her hair was short and i could see gaps where the scars ran across the skin. There were similar fine lines visible between the tight cornrows braided into the hair of the woman that had given up her seat for me. Some sort of surgery, but different from that we all underwent as children to insert our implants. She was older than me; ten years, possibly more from the lines around her eyes. I looked into her eyes. This woman killed, often. Not that unusual for a soldier but there was  something in her eyes that said she did it without a hint of remorse and she was completely untouched by it. It was like looking into a mirror. Marine units were trained killers motivated by Hoo!Yah! and shared indoctrination. Born killers and psychopaths were difficult to control and were usually weeded out early on in basic training. Whatever she was, it wasn't a marine.
'Scenario Five?'
'Five basic scenarios.' She ticked them off on her fingers and i noticed that the tip of one was missing. 'Guard, Hot insertion, Cold insertion, Pursuit and, number Five, everybody's favourite, Lost contact. Whenever we find whatever it is we're looking for there are inevitably dark corridors full of traps, xenomorphs, madmen, danger and destruction.'

Before i started out, i wrote a plan for the book, with each chapter set out in some detail. It was a story about an investigator who was sent to find out what happened to a remote research station that had broken off contact. The working title was Scenario Five.

The problem was that the plan ran to fifteen chapters and around fifty thousand words. Half a book. I didn't have a clue what was going to happen in the second half, but NaNoWriMo was about to start and the keyboard was calling.

This is where i discovered that books actually write themselves and that the characters are in control. I'd worked up my two main characters through a number of short pieces and had a side of A4 for each with a biography, description and details on their characters. I knew them inside out. So, all i had to do was ask; in this situation, what would they do? And then write it down.

At times i was surprised. What was intended to be a brief stop at a shipyard to repair damage to the ship ended up being four chapters of violence and mayhem and the occasional pithy comment from one of the marines. It wasn't planned, but i enjoyed it tremendously and it added fifteen thousand words to the count :-)

Around this time i learned not to be frightened of the blank page in the planning book. NaNoWriMo (google it before November) teaches writers that the best way to overcome the difficulties we face is just to write. It's all about quantity rather than quality and everything else can be sorted out in draft two.

The whole back end of the book was written on the hoof. Mostly envisaged in the shower in the morning and then typed up and embellished in the evening. I read that Douglas Adams was typing new versions of the script for Hitchhiker right up to the moment that it was recorded (and possibly further changes to the ending after recording had started), so you don't have to have it all planned out months in advance. Many of the bits i had planned out are completely different now to what they were on the notepad as, when i tested them against the criteria of what would... they just didn't work.

I'd like to think that the final chapters of the book don't look under-rehearsed. I think there are some good scenes and one of my favourite lines.

'Shoot the bitch.' Shouted Cavendish, happily. None of the pain killers i used had that effect.

It's probably better in context.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Were you expecting somebody taller?

Strangely i hadn't a clear picture of what my characters looked like. I've described a couple of features, but that's it. So, when the draft covers started coming through it was very exciting to meet them. 

Then i started to interfere and there was a slight hiccup as photoshop (other manipulation products are available) did something slightly wierd to her face.

So, it's down to a choice from two. I've a vote going on via Facebook, but would like to know what the rest of the world thinks. However, they're busy, so i'll settle for you. Please comment on whether you prefer the first or second picture.

Everybody who votes for the winner will be put into a draw for a prize.

Number one? Slightly prettier than i intended and having a bad hair day

Or number two? More exotic and slightly alien

Vote now. Thanks

Friday, 20 January 2012

One plus one

'Captain York, are you bored with the company?'
'My lady.' He took my hand and bowed, his lips soft on the back of my hand, his fingers surprisingly rough. 'A beautiful dress. It matches your eyes.'
In a smooth motion he shrugged off his greatcoat and draped it over my shoulders. The fine wool was soft and warmed by his body.
'Bored? No. I'm just taking a look at the city whilst i can.'
'Is the Capital in danger?'
He reached for my hand again and ushered me to the stone balustrade. Beyond the outer walls, the bright lights of the old City stretched out below the castle hill in all directions, vibrant and alive, even at this hour.
'No. No, it's so far from the front line. But this war will be different from everything that has gone before. It's going to last for a long time and, when it's over, everything will be different. It might look the same, but something important will have been lost.'
For a few moments we both stood there, side by side, saddened by this thought. The mood was broken by a burst of laughter from the other side of the doors. Difficult times were coming,but not tonight.
'Will you dance with me, Captain?'
He turned, and gently brushed snowflakes from the epaulets on my shoulders. He looked into my eyes for a long moment, an expression on his face that i couldn't read. He could have been about to kiss me or to turn and stride away.
'My lady, I'd be honoured.'

In a previous post i introduced my character.The novel was just beginning and i'm already starting to introduce a back story although i'm telling the reader more about him than about her. She is a spy and a murderer but we don't know her name. His name is Gabriel York and he is a military officer about to go to war.

Writing a book is a process and, for me, that involves asking a series of questions. How did they meet? Where, and why? Who is he and, more importantly, who is she?

The next assignment was to write a short piece entitled A Winter Meeting. That was it. Just a title, with a limit of 250 words. There's a real discipline in a maximum number of words. The section describing the trees, their branches laden with snow in the castle gardens, the points of light going across the sky that were starships in orbit; all that had to go. The only reference to winter is the snowflake and you have to imagine the scene - i'd suggest Stirling Castle isn't a bad place to start. So i focused on the relationship between these two people and, to some degree, this short piece set the framework for the entire book. Although there's  violence and intrigue and betrayal, the themes that run through the book are about the relationships between people. Not just these two, but also the people around them.

When asked, i describe it as a love story, with spaceships. It's not. It's about desire versus duty, the need to belong. It's about finding that things you held sacred were lies.

Deep stuff. You'll be able to download it from Amazon in about a month :-)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

I'm a writer, not an artist

Which is why i engaged Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics to do the cover art rather than making a complete mess of it myself.

There are hundreds of graphic artists out there offering to do ebooks. Some were seriously up their own behind (my children may read this), some could Do Some Stuff, one had a site that gave my computer a nasty virus. And then there was Avalon Graphics.

I picked Avalon because i got a clear feeling that here is somebody who gives a toss about giving me what i want.  It wasn't just a job.

I've never met her, don't know what she sounds like, haven't a clue what she looks like, and she hasn't paid me, but i'm more than happy to put all her contact details at the bottom of this post because she totally gets what i was trying to do.

Having said that, i was probably clueless at the start about what i wanted. The book has two main characters. He's an ex military officer, has shaved his head and grown a goatee beard which makes him look dangerous. She has green eyes and hair in a jaw length bob. They have a spaceship. And some soldiers hang about with them. There will be action and violence. This is what i got.

There are five elements to this picture. I asked for changes to four of them. That's the danger of giving me what i asked for. Now i want more!

So, back goes an email
She's too pretty, he's not old enough and doesn't have a beard, the title isn't chunky enough
And i hate the font used for my name. It looks like somebody in the 1970s trying to do futuristic and reminded me of the set of the Goodies - apologies to anybody outside of the UK or who is younger than 35 who won't have a clue.
And where are the soldiers?

24 hours later
Soldiers - tick
Him - big tick. Scares the life out of me.
Fonts - tick
Her - striking but not pretty. That's good. There's nothing in the book that says she's pretty and the First Readers were divided on the subject.

But those lips! You could lick them and then stick her to the windscreen of your car and she'd still be there next day (you'd need to move the sat nav first, of course), dangling about like one of those Elvis figures

Other than that, i'm well pleased with the result. I think it tells the story of the book and stands out and hopefully shouts BUY ME! (on Amazon, from the 20 somethingth of February).

Theoretically that's all that matters. BUY ME! Well, no. Actually Cathy has brought my characters to life and that's tremendously exciting.

So, I'm their parent, but i think of Cathy as their Godmother. (She also fancies Clive Owen, but don't tell anybody)

Main Website: http://www.avalongraphics.org
On Live Journal: avalongraphics
On Facebook: Avalon-Graphics
On Twitter: Avalon_Graphics
Blog: http://avalon-graphics.blogspot.com/
Direct Email: cathelms@charter.net

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

First time

By necessity I travel light and everything i possessed fit into a standard transit case. I pulled it from under the bed and opened the seals. The things that weren't for public view were stored in the bottom, mostly weapons of various types, secured in cut-outs in the foam. I took a double edged knife from its space and hid it under the pillow as i collected things from the storage lockers. Coveralls, casual clothes, underwear and my boots, stuffed casually in and pressed flat.

On top of everything i lay my green silk ballgown. The last time i wore this i danced with Gabriel York on the eve of the war. For one night we held each other close and pretended that everything we knew wasn't about to be turned upside down. We weren't frightened, but there was a palpable sense of regret. In the morning he was gone before we had a chance to be uncomfortable with each other. I saw him from the balcony as he got into the back of the car sent to take him to his ship, the braid on his uniform catching the first rays of the sun. Captain York didn't look back.

I held the soft fabric to my face and basked in the memories of a previous life. If we both survived, perhaps the relationship would survive as well.

"That's a lovely dress."
I'd heard my room mate come in, but pretended i hadn't noticed her until she stood behind me and spoke. "I don't suppose you get much chance to wear it nowadays."
"No. When the war is over, perhaps i'll wear it again."
"We're holding our own. If we can make the cost high enough, they'll sue for peace. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
"They won't ever sue for peace, Lise. The war will continue until they win."

But unless they could get high quality intelligence about the weak points in the enemy line, the war would drag on forever. I looked up. Lise had just come off duty and her security pass hung around her neck. I reached under the pillow, turning and standing in one movement as i thrust the knife forward. It was over quickly and i had the pass.

Perhaps the ballgown would see another dance sooner than i had thought.

From Thornaby on Tees to Whitby

Where to start? So you've got all these ideas whizzing about in your head and perhaps you've had a few abortive attempts to write the perfect novel. How do you actually turn your ideas into the real thing.

For me it was an Open University online creative writing course. Over three months a group of twenty people worked through a set of creative challenges, each one a little bit more complex than the last. We started with 100 word scenes and worked out way up to a 1500 word short story.

I had a great time and i learned loads. One of the biggest things was understanding what i liked about the books i read. i like novels with a small number of well drawn characters (i can't cope with too many major characters; i just get confused). I love the early Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child but, as the series progressed, i was less enamoured and i realised that, with each new book, i wasn't really learning much about the character. i kept going, and was rewarded for that when i read 61 hours, which told me a little bit about Reacher's back story and introduced a new, enigmatic, character - Reacher's replacement -  who may play a large part in future stories.

As part of the course, i wrote a piece that created a character. I didn't know much about her - not even her name, but thought it would be interesting to follow the character through the rest of the course and see what i could do with her. In the next few exercises another character developed. He had a name - Gabriel York - and a job; a Captain in the Imperial Navy

By the end of the course i'd developed a slight obsession with these two and really wanted to know what was going to happen to them. Suddenly i was a writer and 100,000 words later i had an answer to my question.

The next entry will be the first story i wrote about my main character.

Monday, 16 January 2012

If nobody reads a book, did it actually get written?

It's often said that we all have a novel inside us. It's also said that, for many of us, it would be better if the novel stayed there. Well, for better or for worse, my novel escaped from captivity and is now roaming the hard drive of my laptop and is on the verge of being released into the wild. Or Amazon Kindle.

Almost everybody has a story to tell. For some of us it's a quick anecdote, suitably embellished. For others there is a complex tale of heroes and villains that takes 100,000 words to tell. I've wanted to write a novel for a long time. I've fallen into the trap of writing and re-writing the first chapter endlessly, and never progressing to chapter two. I did once get a couple chapters in to a police procedural / thriller, but some sort of IT disaster wiped it forever. Probably not a bad thing.

I'm writing the perfect book.

I've read some great books. In the really good ones i've connected with one of the characters and followed them through their adventures. But for the majority, there's been something missing. Not something i could really put my finger on. Perhaps the hero wasn't quite brave enough, or vulnerable enough. Perhaps there wasn't enough description for me to see the landscape they were moving through, or so much description that they were lost in it. Or they won too easily, or they were saved by a deus ex machina device.

What i'm trying to say is that so many books are, just slightly, disappointing. So i decided that the only way to get round the problem was to write my own. The Goldilocks of books - just right.

Having finished my first book, i've realised that, actually, it's not just right. Rather than writing just for me, as i intended, i've writen knowing that, eventually, somebody else would read it. The book i wrote is not the book i started out to write. I suspect most writers find that.

Having said that, i still like the book and i'm really happy with it. Perhaps one day i'll go back and write a director's cut that never sees the light of day. Perhaps not. Writers write so that readers can read.

Or something

Sunday, 15 January 2012

My name is Pete and I write science fiction

When people ask about my book i tell most of them that it's a thriller. This is true, but i'm actually avoiding telling them that it's a thriller with a science fiction setting. For reasons that escape me, I'm a bit embarrassed by that. Considering that the shelves are full of books about vampires, mages and people carrying large swords, clearly there are loads of authors happy to put there names on the covers of books that the world at large might consider sad and nerdy. However, if they're being printed then plenty of people are reading it.

So, I don't mind admitting that i quite enjoyed one of the Twilight books, i think Joe Abercrombie is a superb storyteller, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke were great authors and visionaries. All have sold millions of books to millions of people.  SF is mainstream and yet i'm embarrassed about what i write.

(Whispers) My name is Pete and i write science fiction

Writer v Author

I read, today, that there is a difference between writers and authors. Writers are writing and authors have written. Or writers are writing and authors have been published.

I'm a writer. I have written a novel and six people have read it. Now i want to be an author. This Blog starts off as a commentary on the process to get from A to B.

There may be other stuff too.